Penelope's English Experiences

Chapter XXI. I remember, I remember.

For example, I wish to visit St. Bridget's Well, concerning which there are some quaint old verses in a village history:—

'Out of thy famous hille,
There daylie springyeth,
A water passynge stille,
That alwayes bringyeth
Grete comfort to all them
That are diseased men,
And makes them well again
To prayse the Lord.

'Hast thou a wound to heale,
The wyche doth greve thee;
Come thenn unto this welle;
It will relieve thee;
Nolie me tangeries,
And other maladies,
Have there theyr remedies,
Prays'd be the Lord.'

St. Bridget's Well is a beautiful spot, and my desire to see it is a perfectly laudable one. In strict justice, it is really no concern of Jane whether my wishes are laudable or not; but it only makes the case more flagrant when she interferes with the reasonable plans of a reasonable being. Never since the day we first met have I harboured a thought that I wished to conceal from Jane (would that she could say as much!); nevertheless she treats me as if I were a monster of caprice. As I said before, I wish to visit St. Bridget's Well, but Jane absolutely refuses to take me there. After we pass Belvern churchyard we approach two roads: the one to the right leads to the Holy Well; the one to the left leads to Shady Dell Farm, where Jane lived when she was a girl. At the critical moment I pull the right rein with all my force. In vain: Jane is always overcome by sentiment when she sees that left-hand road. She bears to the left like a whirlwind, and nothing can stop her mad career until she is again amid the scenes so dear to her recollection, the beloved pastures where the mother still lives at whose feet she brayed in early youth!

Now this is all very pretty and touching. Her action has, in truth, its springs in a most commendable sentiment that I should be the last to underrate. Shady Dell Farm is interesting, too, for once, if one can swallow one's wrath and dudgeon at being taken there against one's will; and one feels that Jane's parents and Jane's early surroundings must be worth a single visit, if they could produce a donkey of such unusual capacity. Still, she must know, if she knows anything, that a person does not come from America and pay one and fourpence the hour (or thereabouts) merely in order to visit the home of her girlhood, which is neither mentioned in Baedeker nor set down in the local guide-books as a feature of interest.

Whether, in addition to her affection for Shady Dell Farm, she has an objection to St. Bridget's Well, and thus is strengthened by a double motive, I do not know. She may consider it a relic of popish superstition; she may be a Protestant donkey; she is a Dissenter,—there's no doubt about that.

But, you ask, have you tried various methods of bringing her to terms and gaining your own desires? Certainly. I have coaxed, beaten, prodded, prayed. I have tried leading her past the Shady Dell turn; she walks all over my feet, and then starts for home, I running behind until I can catch up with her. I have offered her one and tenpence the hour; she remained firm. One morning I had a happy inspiration; I determined on conquering Jane by a subterfuge. I said to myself: "I am going to start for St. Bridget's Well, as usual; several yards before we reach the two roads, I shall begin pulling, not the right, but the left rein. Jane will lift her ears suddenly, and say to herself: 'What! has this girl fallen in love with my birthplace at last, and does she now prefer it to St. Bridget's Well? Then she shall not have it!' Whereupon Jane will race madly down the right-hand road for the first time, I pulling steadily at the left rein to keep up appearances, and I shall at last realise my wishes."

This was my inspiration. Would you believe that it failed utterly? It should have succeeded, and would with an ordinary donkey, but Jane saw through it. She obeyed my pull on the left rein, and went to Shady Dell Farm as usual.

Another of Jane's eccentricities is a violent aversion to perambulators. As Belvern is a fine, healthy, growing country, with steadily increasing population, the roads are naturally alive with perambulators; or at least alive with the babies inside the perambulators. These are the more alarming to the timid eye in that many of them are double-barrelled, so to speak, and are loaded to the muzzle with babies; for not only do Belvern babies frequently appear as twins, but there are often two youngsters of a perambulator age in the same family at the same time. To weave that donkey and that Bath 'cheer' through the narrow streets of the various Belverns without putting to death any babies, and without engendering the outspoken condemnation of the screaming mothers and nurserymaids, is a task for a Jehu. Of course Jane makes it more difficult by lunging into one perambulator in avoiding another, but she prefers even that risk to the degradation of treading the path I wish her to tread.

I often wish that for one brief moment I might remove the lid of Jane's brain and examine her mental processes. She would not exasperate me so deeply if I could be certain of her springs of action. Is she old, is she rheumatic, is she lazy, is she hungry? Sometimes I think she means well, and is only ignorant and dull; but this hypothesis grows less and less tenable as I know her better. Sometimes I conclude that she does not understand me; that the difference in nationality may trouble her. If an Englishman cannot understand an American woman all at once, why should an English donkey? Perhaps it takes an American donkey to comprehend an American woman. Yet I cannot bring myself to drive any other donkey; I am always hoping to impress myself on her imagination, and conquer her will through her fancy. Meanwhile, I like to feel myself in the grasp of a nature stronger than my own, and so I hold to Jane, and buy a photograph of St. Bridget's Well!

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