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Penelope's Postscripts   By: (1856-1923)

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Penelope's Postscripts

by Kate Douglas Wiggin


Penelope in Switzerland Penelope in Venice Penelope's Prints of Wales Penelope in Devon Penelope at Home



Salemina and I were in Geneva. If you had ever travelled through Europe with a charming spinster who never sat down at a Continental table d'hote without being asked by an American vis a vis whether she were one of the P.'s of Salem, Massachusetts, you would understand why I call my friend Salemina. She doesn't mind it. She knows that I am simply jealous because I came from a vulgarly large tribe that never had any coat of arms, and whose ancestors always sealed their letters with their thumb nails.

Whenever Francesca and I call her "Salemina," she knows, and we know that she knows, that we are seeing a group of noble ancestors in a sort of halo over her serene and dignified head, so she remains unruffled under her petit nom, inasmuch as the casual public comprehends nothing of its spurious origin and thinks it was given her by her sponsors in baptism.

Francesca, Salemina, and I have very different backgrounds. The first named is an extremely pretty person of large income who is travelling with us simply because her relatives think that she will "see Europe" more advantageously under our chaperonage than if she were accompanied by persons of her own age or "set."

Salemina is a philanthropist and educator of the first rank, and is collecting all sorts of valuable material to put at the service of her own country when she returns to it, which will not be a moment before her letter of credit is exhausted.

I, too, am quasi educational, for I had a few years of experience in mothering and teaching little waifs and strays of the streets before I began to paint pictures. Never shall I regret those nerve racking, back breaking, heart warming, weary, and beautiful years, when, all unconsciously, I was learning to paint children by living with them. Even now the spell still works and it is the curly head, the "shining morning face," the ready tear, the glancing smile of childhood that enchains me and gives my brush whatever skill it possesses.

We had not been especially high minded or educational in Switzerland, Salemina and I. The worm will turn; and there is a point where the improvement of one's mind seems a farce, and the service of humanity, for the moment, a duty only born of a diseased imagination.

How can one sit on a vine embowered balcony facing lovely Lake Geneva and think about modern problems, Improved Tenements, Child Labour, Single Tax, Sweat Shops, and the Right Training of the Rising Civilization? Blue Lake Geneva! blue as a woman's eye, blue as the vault of heaven, dropped into the lap of the green earth like a great sparkling sapphire! Mont Blanc you know to be just behind the clouds on the other side, and that presently, after hours or days of patient waiting, he may condescend to unveil himself to your worshipful gaze.

"He is wise in his dignity and reserve," mused Salemina as we sat on the veranda. "He is all the more sublime because he withdraws himself from time to time. In fact, if he didn't see fit to cover himself occasionally, one could neither eat nor sleep, nor do anything but adore and magnify."

The day before this interview we had sailed to the end of the sapphire lake and visited the "snow white battlements" of the Castle of Chillon; seen its "seven pillars of Gothic mould," and its dungeons deep and old, where poor Bonnivard, Byron's famous "Prisoner of Chillon," lay captive for so many years, and where Rousseau fixes the catastrophe of his Heloise.

We had just been to Coppet too; Coppet where the Neckers lived and Madame de Stael was born and lived during many years of her life. We had wandered through the shaded walks of the magnificent chateau garden, and strolled along the terrace where the eloquent Corinne had walked with the Schlegels and other famous habitues of her salon... Continue reading book >>

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