Penelope's English Experiences

Chapter XX. A canticle to Jane.

There are many donkeys owned in these nooks among the hills, and some of the thriftier families keep donkey-chairs (or 'cheers,' as they call them) to let to the casual summer visitor. This vehicle is a regular Bath chair, into which the donkey is harnessed. Some of them have a tiny driver's seat, where a small lad sits beating and berating the donkey for the incumbent, generally a decrepit dowager from London. Other chairs are minus this absurd coachman's perch, and in this sort I take my daily drives. I hire the miniature chariot from an old woman who dwells at the top of Gorse Hill, and who charges one and fourpence the hour, It is a little more when she fetches the donkey to the door, or when the weather is wet or the day is very warm, or there is an unusual breeze blowing, or I wish to go round the hills; but under ordinary circumstances, which may at any time occur, but which never do, one and four the hour. It is only a shilling, if you have the boy to drive you; but, of course, if you drive yourself, you throw the boy out of employment, and have to pay extra.

It was in this fashion and on these elastic terms that I first met you, Jane, and this chapter shall be sacred to you! Jane the long-eared, Jane the iron-jawed, Jane the stubborn, Jane donkeyer than other donkeys,—in a word, MULIER! It may be that Jane has made her bow to the public before this. If she has ever come into close relation with man or woman possessed of the instinct of self-expression, then this is certainly not her first appearance in print, for no human being could know Jane and fail to mention her.

Pause, Jane,—this you will do gladly, I am sure, since pausing is the one accomplishment to which you lend yourself with special energy,—pause, Jane, while I sing a canticle to your character. Jane is a tiny—person, I was about to say, for she has so strong an individuality that I can scarcely think of her as less than human—Jane is a tiny, solemn creature, looking all docility and decorum, with long hair of a subdued tan colour, very much worn off in patches, I fear, by the offending toe of man.

I am a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and I hope that I am as tender-hearted as most women; nevertheless, I can understand how a man of weak principle and violent temper, or a man possessed of a desire to get to a particular spot not favoured by Jane, or by a wish to reach any spot by a certain hour,—I can understand how such a man, carried away by helpless wrath, might possibly ruffle Jane's sad-coloured hair with the toe of his boot.

Jane is small, yet mighty. She is multum in parvo; she is the rock of Gibraltar in animate form; she is cosmic obstinacy on four legs. When following out the devices and desires of her own heart, or resisting the devices and desires of yours, she can put a pressure of five hundred tons on the bit. She is further fortified by the possession of legs which have iron rods concealed in them, these iron rods terminating in stout grip-hooks, with which she takes hold on mother earth with an expression that seems to say,—

'This rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I.'

When I start out in the afternoon, Mrs. Bobby frequently asks me where I am going. I always answer that I have not made up my mind, though what I really mean to say is that Jane has not made up her mind. She never makes up her mind until after I have made up mine, lest by some unhappy accident she might choose the very excursion that I desire myself.

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