Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Penny Plain by Anna Buchan (writing as O. Douglas)

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

letter, so I didn't need to break the news to her. She was wonderfully
calm about it, and said that when people went away to England you might
expect to hear anything. She said I was to tell Mhor that the cat was
asking for him. And she is getting on with the cleaning. I think she
said she had finished the dining-room and two bedrooms, and she was
expecting the sweep to-day. She said you would like to know that the man
had come about the leak in the tank, and it's all right. I saw Bella
Bathgate as I was leaving The Rigs. She sent you and Lord Bidborough her
kind regards.... She has a free way of expressing herself, but I don't
think she means to be disrespectful."

"Has she got lodgers just now?" Pamela asked.

"Oh yes, she told me about them. One she dismissed as 'an auldish,
impident wumman wi' specs'; and the other as 'terrible genteel.' Both of
them 'a sair come-down frae Miss Reston.' Now you are gone you are on a

"I wasn't always on a pedestal," said Pamela, "but I shall always have
a tenderness for Bella Bathgate and her parlour." She smiled to Lewis
Elliot as she said it.

Jean, sitting beside Mr. Macdonald, thanked him for coming.

"Happy, Jean?" he asked.

"Utterly happy," said Jean. "So happy that I'm almost afraid. Isn't it
odd how one seems to cower down to avoid drawing the attention of the
Fates to one's happiness, saying, 'It is naught, it is naught,' in case
disaster follows?"

"Don't worry about the Fates, Jean," Mr. Macdonald advised. "Rejoice in
your happiness, and God grant that the evil days may never come to
you.... What, Jock? Am I going to the play? I never went to a play in my
life and I'm too old to begin."

"Oh, but, Mr. Macdonald," Jean broke in eagerly, "it isn't like a real
theatre; it's all Shakespeare, and the place is simply black with
clergymen, so you wouldn't feel out of place. You know you taught me
first to care for Shakespeare, and I'd love to sit beside you and see a
play acted."

Mr. Macdonald shook his head at her.

"Are you tempting your old minister, Jean? I've lived for sixty-five
years without seeing a play, and I think I can go on to the end. It's
not that it's wrong or that I think myself more virtuous than the rest
of the world because I stay away. It's prejudice if you like,
intolerance perhaps, narrowness, bigotry--"

"Well, I think you and Mrs. Macdonald are better to rest this evening
after your journey," Pamela said.

"Wouldn't you rather we stayed at home with you?" Jean asked. "We're
only going to the play for something to do. We thought Davie would like

"It's _Romeo and Juliet_," Jock broke in. "A silly love play, but
there's a fine scene at the end where they all get killed. If you're
sleeping, Mhor, I'll wake you up for that."

"I would like to stay with you," Jean said to Mrs. Macdonald.

"Never in the world. Off you go to your play, and John and I will go
early to bed and be fresh for to-morrow. When is the wedding?"

"At twelve o'clock in the church at Little St. Mary's," Lord Bidborough
told her. "It's about ten miles from Stratford. I'm staying at the inn
there to-night, and I trust you to see that they are all off to-morrow
in good time." He turned to Mr. Macdonald. "It's most extraordinarily
kind, sir, of you both to come. I knew Jean would never feel herself
properly married if you were not there. And we wondered, Mrs. Macdonald,
if you and your husband would add to your kindness by staying on here
for a few days with the boys? You would see the country round, and then
you would motor down with them and join us at Mintern Abbas for another
week. D'you think you can spare the time? Jean would like you to see her
in her own house, and I needn't say how honoured I would feel."

"Bless me," said Mrs. Macdonald. "That would mean a whole fortnight
away from Priorsford. You could arrange about the preaching, John, but
what about the spring cleaning? Agnes is a good creature, but I'm never
sure that she scrubs behind the shutters; they're the old-fashioned
kind, and need a lot of cleaning. However," with a deep sigh, "it's very
kind of you to ask us, and at our age we won't have many more
opportunities of having a holiday together, so perhaps we should seize
this one. Dear me, Jean, I don't understand how you can look so bright
so near your wedding. I cried and cried at mine. Have you not a qualm?"

Jean shook her head and laughed, and Mr. Macdonald said:

"Off with you all to your play. It's an odd thing to choose to go to

"'For never was there such a tale of woe
As this of Juliet and her Romeo.'"

Mrs. Macdonald shook her head and sighed.

"I can't help thinking it's a poor preparation for a serious thing like
marriage. I often don't feel so depressed at a funeral. There at least
you know you've come to the end--nothing more can happen." Then her eyes
twinkled and they left her laughing.


"'My lord, you nod: you do not mind the play.'
"'Yes, by Saint Anne, do I.... Madam lady.... _Would 'twere done_!'"

_The Taming of the Shrew._

Jean awoke early on her wedding morning and lay and thought over the
twenty-three years of her life, and wondered what she had done to be so
blessed, for, looking back, it seemed one long succession of sunny days.
The dark spots seemed so inconsiderable looking back as to be hardly
worth thinking about.

Her window faced the east, and the morning sun shone in, promising yet
another fine day. Through the wall she could hear Mhor, who always woke
early, busy at some game--possibly wigwams with the blankets and
sheets--already the chamber-maid had complained of finding the sheets
knotted round the bed-posts. He was singing a song to himself as he
played. Jean could hear his voice crooning. The sound filled her with an
immense tenderness. Little Mhor with his naughtiness and his endearing
ways! And beloved Jock with his gruff voice and surprised blue eyes, so
tender hearted, so easily affronted. And David--the dear companion of
her childhood who had shared with her all the pleasures and penalties
of life under the iron rule of Great-aunt Alison, who understood as no
one else could ever quite understand, not even Biddy.... But as she
thought of Biddy, she sprang out of bed, and leaning out of the window
she turned her face to Little St. Mary's, where her love was, and where
presently she would join him.

Five hours later she would stand with him in the church among the
blossoms, and they would be made man and wife, joined together till
death did them part. Jean folded her hands on the window-sill She felt
solemn and quiet and very happy. She had not had much time for thinking
in the last few days, and she was glad of this quiet hour. It was good
on her wedding morning to tell over in her mind, like beads on a rosary,
the excellent qualities of her dear love. Could there be another such in
the wide world? Pamela was happy with Lewis Elliot, and Lewis was kind
and good and in every way delightful, but compared with Richard
Plantagenet--In this pedestrian world her Biddy had something of the old
cavalier grace. Also, he had more than a streak of Ariel. Would he be
content always to be settled at home? He thought so now, but--Anyway,
she wouldn't try to bind him down, to keep him to domesticity, making an
eagle into a barndoor fowl; she would go with him where she could go,
and where she would be a burden she would send him alone and keep a high
heart, till she could welcome him home.

But it was high time that she had her bath and dressed. It would be a
morning of dressing, for about 10.30 she would have to dress again for
her wedding. The obvious course was to breakfast in bed, but Jean had
rejected the idea as "stuffy." To waste the last morning of April in bed
with crumbs of toast and a tray was unthinkable, and by 9.30 Jean was at
the station giving Mhor an hour with his beloved locomotors.

"You will like to come to Mintern Abbas, won't you, Mhor?" she said.

Mhor considered.

"I would have liked it better," he confessed, "if there had been a
railway line quite near. It was silly of whoever built it to put it so
far away."

"When Mintern Abbas was built railways hadn't been invented."

"I'm glad I wasn't invented before railways," said Mhor. "I would have
been very dull."

"You'll have a pony at Mintern Abbas. Won't that be nice?"

"Yes. Oh! there's the signal down at last. That'll be the express to
London. I can hear the roar of it already."

Pamela's idea of a wedding garment for Jean was a soft white cloth coat
and skirt, and a close-fitting hat with Mercury wings. Everything was
simple, but everything was exquisitely fresh and dainty.

Pamela dressed her, Mrs. Macdonald looking on, and Mawson fluttering
about, admiring but incompetent.

"'Something old and something new,
Something borrowed and something blue,'"

Mrs. Macdonald quoted. "Have you got them all, Jean?"

"I think so. I've got a lace handkerchief that was my mother's--that's
old. And blue ribbon in my under-things. And I've borrowed Pamela's
prayer-book, for I haven't one of my own. And all the rest of me's new."

"And the sun is shining," said Pamela, "so you're fortified against

"I hope so," said Jean gravely. "I must see if Mhor has washed his face
this morning. I didn't notice at breakfast, and he's such an odd child,
he'll wash every bit of himself and neglect his face. Perhaps you'll
remember to look, Mrs. Macdonald, when you are with him here."

Mrs. Macdonald smiled at Jean's maternal tone.

"I've brought up four boys," she said, "so I ought to know something of
their ways. It will be like old times to have Jock and Mhor to look

Mhor went in the car with Jean and Pamela and Mrs. Macdonald. The others
had gone on in Lord Bidborough's car, as Mr. Macdonald wanted to see the
vicar before the service. The vicar had asked Jean about the music,
saying that the village schoolmistress who was also the organist, was
willing to play. "I don't much like 'The Voice that breathed o'er
Eden,'" Jean told him, "but anything else would be very nice. It is so
very kind of her to play."

Mhor mourned all the way to church about Peter being left behind.
"There's poor Peter who is so fond of marriages--he goes to them all in
Priorsford--tied up in the yard; and he knows how to behave in a

"It's a good deal more than you do," Mrs. Macdonald told him. "You're
never still for one moment. I know of at least one person who has had to
change his seat because of you. He said he got no good of the sermon
watching you bobbing about."

"It's because I don't care about sermons," Mhor replied, and relapsed
into dignified silence--a silence sweetened by a large chocolate poked
at him by Jean.

They walked through the churchyard with its quiet sleepers, into the
cool church where David was waiting to give his sister away. Some of the
village women, with little girls in clean pinafores clinging to their
skirts, came shyly in after them and sat down at the door. Lord
Bidborough, waiting for his bride, saw her come through the doorway
winged like Mercury, smiling back at the children following ... then her
eyes met his.

The first thing that Jean became aware of was that Mr. Macdonald was
reading her own chapter.

"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them: and the
desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose....

"And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The
Way of Holiness: the unclean shall not pass over it: but it shall be for
those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein....

"No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it
shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

"And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs
and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and
gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

The schoolmistress had played the wedding march from _Lohengrin_, and
was prepared to play Mendelssohn as the party left the church, but when
the service was over Mrs. Macdonald whispered fiercely in Jean's ear,
"You _can't_ be married without 'O God of Bethel,'" and ousting the
schoolmistress from her place at the organ she struck the opening notes.

They knew it by heart--Jean and Davie and Jock and Mhor and Lewis
Elliot--and they sang it with the unction with which one sings the songs
of Zion by Babylon's streams.

"Through each perplexing path of life
Our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread,
And raiment fit provide.

O spread Thy covering wings around
Till all our wanderings cease,
And at our Father's loved abode
Our souls arrive in peace."

Out in the sunshine, among the blossoms, Jean stood with her husband and
was kissed and blessed.

"Jean, Lady Bidborough," said Pamela.

"Gosh, Maggie!" said Jock, "I quite forgot Jean would be Lady
Bidborough. What a joke!"

"She doesn't look any different," Mhor complained.

"Surely you don't want her different," Mrs. Macdonald said.

"Not _very_ different," said Mhor, "but she's pretty small for a
Lady--not nearly as tall as Richard Plantagenet."

"As high as my heart," said Lord Bidborough. "The correct height, Mhor."

The vicar lunched with them at the inn. There were no speeches, and no
one tried to be funny.

Jock rebuked Jean for eating too much. "It's not manners for a bride to
have more than one help."

"It's odd," said Jean, "but the last time I was married the same thing
happened. D'you remember Davie? You were the minister and I was the
bride, and I had my pinafore buttoned down the front to look grown up,
and Tommy Sprott was the bridegroom. And Great-aunt Alison let us have a
cake and some shortbread, and we made strawberry wine ourselves. And at
the wedding-feast Tommy Sprott suddenly pointed at me and said, 'Put
that girl out; she's eating all the shortbread.' Me--his new-made

* * * * *

The whole village turned out to see the newly-married couple leave,
including the blacksmith and three dogs. It hurt Mhor afresh to see the
dogs barking happily while Peter, who would so have enjoyed a fight with
them, was spending a boring day in the stable-yard, but Jean comforted
him with the thought of Peter's delight at Mintern Abbas.

"Will Richard Plantagenet mind if he chases rabbits?"

"You won't, will you, Biddy?" Jean said.

"Not a bit. If you'll stand between me and the wrath of the keepers
Peter may do any mortal thing he likes."

As they drove away through the golden afternoon Jean said: "I've always
wondered what people talked about when they went away on their wedding

"They don't talk: they just look into each other's eyes in a sort of
ecstasy, saying, 'Is it I? Is it thou?'"

"That would be pretty silly," said Jean. "We shan't do that anyway."

Her husband laughed.

"You are really very like Jock, my Jean.... D'you remember what your
admired Dr. Johnson said? 'If I had no duties I would spend my life in
driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman, but she should be
one who could understand me and would add something to the
conversation.' Wise old man! Tell me, Penny-plain, you're not fretting
about leaving the boys? You'll see them again in a few days. Are you
dreading having me undiluted?"

"My dear, you don't suppose the boys come first now, do you? I love them
as dearly as ever I did, but compared with you--it's so different,
absolutely different--I can't explain. I don't love you like people in
books, all on fire, and saying wonderful things all the time. But to be
with you fills me with utter content. I told you that night in Hopetoun
that the boys filled my life. And then you went away, and I found that
though I had the boys my life and my heart were empty. You are my life,

"My blessed child."

* * * * *

About four o'clock they came home.

An upland country of pastures and shallow dales fell quietly to the
river levels, and on a low spur that was its last outpost stood Mintern
Abbas, a thing half of the hills and half of the broad valleys. At its
back, beyond the home-woods, was a remote land of sheep walks and
forgotten hamlets; at its feet the young Thames in lazy reaches wound
through water-meadows. Down the slopes of old pasture fell cascades of
daffodils, and in the fringes of the coppices lay the blue haze of wild
hyacinths. The house was so wholly in tune with the landscape that the
eye did not at once detect it, for its gables might have been part of
wood or hillside. It was of stone, and built in many periods and in many
styles which time had subtly blended so that it seemed a perfect thing
without beginning, as long descended as the folds of downs which
sheltered it. The austere Tudor front, the Restoration wing, the offices
built under Queen Anne, the library added in the days of the Georges,
had by some alchemy become one. Peace and long memories were in every
line of it, and that air of a home which belongs only to places that
have been loved for generations. It breathed ease and comfort, but yet
had a tonic vigour in it, for while it stood knee-deep in the green
valley its head was fanned by moorland winds.

Jean held her breath as she saw it. It seemed to her the most perfect
thing that could be imagined.

She walked in shyly, winged like Mercury, to be greeted respectfully by
a row of servants. Jean shook hands with each one, smiling at them with
her "doggy" eyes, wishing all the time for Mrs. M'Cosh, who was not
specially respectful, but always homely and humorous.

Tea was ready in a small panelled room with a view of the lawns and the

"I asked them to put it here," Lord Bidborough said. "I thought you
might like to have this for your own sitting-room. It's just a little
like the room at The Rigs."

"Oh, Biddy, it is. I saw it when I came in. May I really have it for my
own? It feels as if people had been happy in it. It has a welcoming air.
And what a gorgeous tea!" She sat down at the table and pulled off her
gloves. "Isn't life frightfully well arranged? Every day is so full of
so many different things, and meals are such a comfort. No, I'm not
greedy, but what I mean is that it would be just a little 'stawsome' if
you had nothing to do but _love_ all the time."

"I'm Scots, partly, but I'm not so Scots as all that. What does
'stawsome' mean exactly?"

"It means," Jean began, and hesitated--"I'm afraid it means--sickening."

Her husband laughed as he sat down beside her.

"I'm willing to believe that you mean to be more complimentary than you
sound. I'm very certain you would never let love-making become
'stawsome.' ... There are hot things in that dish--or would you rather
have a sandwich? This is the first time we've ever had tea alone, Jean."

"I know. Isn't it heavenly to think that we shall be together now all
the rest of our lives? Biddy, I was thinking ... if--if ever we have a
son I should like to call him Peter Reid. Would you mind?"

"My darling!"

"It wouldn't go very well with the Quintins and the Reginalds and all
the other names, but it would be a sort of Thank you to the poor rich
man who was so kind to me."

"All the same, I sometimes wish he hadn't left you all that money. I
would rather have given you everything myself."

"Like King Cophetua. I've no doubt it was all right for him, but it
can't have been much fun for the beggar maid. No matter how kind and
generous a man is, to be dependent on him for every penny can't be nice.
It's different, I think, when the man is poor. Then they both work, the
man earning, the woman saving and contriving.... But what's the good of
talking about money? Money only matters when you haven't got any."

"O wise young Judge!"

"No, it's really quite a wise statement when you think of it.... Let's
go outside. I want to see the river near." She turned while going out at
the door and looked with great satisfaction on the room that was to be
her own.

"I _am_ glad of this room, Biddy. It has such a kind feeling. The other
rooms are lovely, but they are meant for crowds of people. This says
tea, and a fire and a book and a friend--the four nicest things in the

They walked slowly down to the river.

"Swans!" said Jean, "and a boat!"

"In Shelley's dreams of Heaven there are always a river and a boat--I
read that somewhere.... Well, what do you think of Mintern Abbas? Did I

Jean shook her head.

"That wouldn't be easy. It's the most wonderful place ... like a dream.
Look at it now in the afternoon light, pale gold like honey. And the odd
thing is it's in the very heart of England, and yet it might almost be

"I thought that would appeal to you. Will you learn to love it, do you

"I shan't have to learn. I love it already."

"And feel it home?"

"Yes ... but, Biddy, there's just one thing. I shall love our home with
all my heart and be absolutely content here if you promise me one
thing--that when I die I'll be taken to Priorsford.... I know it's
nonsense. I know it doesn't matter where the pickle dust that was me
lies, but I don't think I could be quite happy if I didn't know that
one day I should lie within sound of Tweed.... You're laughing, Biddy."

"My darling, like you I've sometimes wondered what people talked about
on their honeymoon, but never in my wildest imaginings did I dream that
they talked of where they would like to be buried."

Jean hid an abashed face for a moment against her husband's sleeve; then
she looked up at him and laughed.

"It sounds mad--but I mean it," she said.

"It's all the fault of your Great-aunt Alison. Tell me, Jean, girl--no,
I'm not laughing--how will this day look from your death-bed?"

Jean looked at the river, then she looked into her husband's eyes, and
put both her hands into his.

"Ah, my dear love," she said softly, "if that day leaves me any
remembrance of what I feel to-day, I'll be so glad to have lived that
I'll go out of the world cheering."


Book of the day: