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Rosemary Roselle by Joseph Hergesheimer

 

It would be better for my purpose if you could hear the little clear arpeggios of an obsolete music box, the notes as sweet as barley sugar; for then the mood of Rosemary Roselle might steal imperceptibly into your heart. It is made of daguerreotypes blurring on their misted silver; tenebrous lithographs—solemn facades of brick with classic white lanterns lifted against the inky smoke of a burning city; the pages of a lady's book, elegant engravings of hooped and gallooned females; and the scent of crumbled flowers.

Such intangible sources must of necessity be fragile—a perfume linked to a thin chime, elusive faces on the shadowy mirror of the past, memories of things not seen but felt in poignant unfathomable emotions. This is a magic different from that of to-day; here perhaps are only some wistful ghosts brought back among contemptuous realities—a man in a faded blue uniform with a face drawn by suffering long ended, a girl whose charm, like the flowers, is dust.

It is all as remote as a smile remembered from youth. Such apparent trifles often hold a steadfast loveliness more enduring than the greatest tragedies and successes. They are irradiated by an imperishable romance: this is my desire—to hold out an immaterial glamour, a vapor, delicately colored by old days in which you may discover the romantic and amiable shapes of secret dreams.

I

It will serve us best to see Elim Meikeljohn first as he walked across Winthrop Common. It was very early in April and should have been cool, but it was warm—already there were some vermilion buds on the maples— and Elim's worn shad-belly coat was uncomfortably heavy. The coat was too big for him—his father had worn it for twenty years before he had given it to Elim for college—and it hung in somber greenish folds about his tall spare body. He carried an equally oppressive black stiff hat in a bony hand and exposed a gaunt serious countenance.

Other young men passing, vaulting lightly over the wooden rail that enclosed the common, wore flowing whiskers, crisply black or brown like a tobacco leaf; their luxuriant waistcoats were draped with a profusion of chains and seals; but Elim's face was austerely shaved, he wore neither brocade nor gold, and he kept seriously to the path.

He was, even more than usual, absorbed in a semi-gloom of thought. It was his birthday, he was twenty-six, and he had been married more than nine years. Already, with his inherited dark temperament, he was middle-aged in situation and feeling. He had been assistant to the professor of philosophy and letters for three of those married years; yes—he had been graduated when he was twenty-three. He arrived at an entrance to the common that faced the row of houses where he had his room, and saw that something unusual was in progress.

The front of his boarding house was literally covered with young men: they hung over the small portico from steps to ridge, they bulged from every window and sat astride of the dormer windows in the roof. Before them on the street a camera had been set up and was covered, all save the snout, by a black rubber cloth, backward from which projected the body and limbs of the photographer.

The latter, Elim realized, was one of a traveling band that took pictures of whatever, on their way, promised sufficient pecuniary return. Here the operator had been in luck—he would sell at least thirty photographs at perhaps fifty cents each. Harry Kaperton, a great swell, was in his window with his setter, Spot; his legs, clad in bags with tremendous checks and glossy boots, hung outward. On the veranda were Hinkle and Ben Willing, the latter in a stovepipe hat; others wore stovepipes set at a rakish angle on one ear. They were all irrepressibly gay, calling from roof to ground, each begging the photographer to focus on his own particular charm.

Perhaps fifty cents—Elim Meikeljohn would have liked a place in the picture; he would like to possess one, to keep it as a memento of the youthful life that flowed constantly about him, but the probable cost was prohibitive. He even wished, as he paused before making his way up the crowded veranda steps, that some one would ask him to stay and have his picture taken with the rest. He delayed, hoping for the mere formality of this friendliness. But it was not forthcoming. He had felt that it wouldn't be; he had divined the careless silence with which the men moved aside for him to mount. There was even a muttered allusion to his famous Scotch thrift, contained in a sharper word. Elim didn't mind—actively. He had been accustomed to the utmost monetary caution since the first dawn of his consciousness. He had come to regard the careful weighing of pennies as an integral part of his being. It had always been necessary for the Meikeljohns, father and son, on their rocky pastures. He didn't mind, but at the same time he bore a faint resentment at the injustice of the marked and perceptible disdain of the majority of his fellows.

They didn't understand, he told himself, still ascending to his room in the third floor back. Every cent that he could squeeze from his small salary must go back to the support of the invalid, his wife. He had never, of course, explained this to any one in Cambridge. They wouldn't be particularly interested and, in addition, his daily companions seemed far too young for such serious confidences. In reality Harry Kaperton was three years older than Elim; and Kaperton had been pleasantly at college, racing horses, for seven years; many others were Elim's age, but the maturity of the latter's responsibility separated them.

In his room he took off his formal coat and nankeen waistcoat and hung them on a pegged board. The room was bare, with two uncurtained windows that afforded a glimpse of the shining river; it contained a small air- tight stove, now cold and black, and a wood box, a narrow bed, a deal table with a row of worn text-books and neatly folded papers, a stand for water pitcher and basin, and two split-hickory Windsor chairs. Now it was filled with an afternoon glow, like powdered gold, and the querulously sweet piping of an early robin.

He dipped his face and hands in cooling water and, at the table, with squared elbows, addressed himself to a set task.

II

Elim Meikeljohn laid before him a small docket of foolscap folded lengthwise, each section separately indorsed in pale flowery ink, with a feminine name, a class number and date. They were the weekly themes of a polite Young Ladies' Academy in Richmond, sent regularly north for the impressive opinion of a member of Elim's college faculty. The professor of philosophy and letters had undertaken the task primarily; but, with the multiplication of his duties, he had turned the essays over to Elim, whose careful judgments had been sufficiently imposing to secure for him a slight additional income.

He sat for a moment regarding the papers with a frown; then, with a sudden movement, he went over the names that headed each paper. Two he laid aside. They bore above their dates in March, eighteen sixty-one, the name Rosemary Roselle.

He picked one up tentatively. It was called A Letter. Elim opened it and regarded its tenuous violet script. Then, with an expression of augmented determination, he folded it again and placed it with its fellow at the bottom of the heap. He firmly attacked the topmost theme. He read it slowly, made a penciled note in a small precise hand on its margin, folded it once more and marked it with a C minus. He went carefully through the pile, jotting occasional comments, judging the results with A, B or C, plus or minus. Finally only the two he had placed at the bottom remained.

Elim took one up again, gazing at it severely. He wondered what Rosemary Roselle had written about—in her absurd English—this time. As he looked at the theme's exterior, his attention shifted from the paper to himself, his conscience towered darkly above him, demanding a condemnatory examination of his feelings and impulses.

Had he not begun to look for, to desire, those essays from a doubtless erroneous and light young woman? Had he not even, on a former like occasion, awarded her effort with a B minus, when it was questionable if she should have had a C plus? Had his conduct not been dishonest, frivolous and wholly reprehensible? To all these inexorable accusations he was forced to confess himself guilty. He had undoubtedly, only a few minutes before, looked almost impatiently for something from Rosemary Roselle. Beyond cavil she should have had an unadorned C last month. And these easily proved him a broken reed.

He must at once take himself in hand, flames were reaching hungrily for him from the pit of eternal torment. In a little more he would be damned beyond any redemption. He was married ... shame! His thoughts turned to Hester, his wife for nine and more years.

Her father's farm lay next to the Meikeljohns'; the two places formed practically one convenient whole; and when Elim had been no more than a child, Meikeljohn Senior and Hester's parents had solemnly agreed upon a mutually satisfactory marriage. Hester had always been a thin pale slip of a girl, locally famous for her memory and grasp of the Scriptures; but it was only at her fourteenth year that her health began perceptibly to fail, at the same time that a succession of material mischances overwhelmed her family. Finally, borne down to actual privation, her father decided to remove to another section and opportunity. He sold his place for a fraction more than the elder Meikeljohn could pay ... but there was Hester, now an invalid; and there was the agreement that Meikeljohn had made when it had seemed to his advantage. The latter was a rigidly upright man—he accepted for his son the responsibility he himself had assumed, and Hester was left behind. Space in the Meikeljohn household was valuable, the invalid presented many practical difficulties, and, with the solemn concurrence of the elders of their church, Elim—something short of seventeen but a grave mature-seeming boy—and Hester were married.

The winter of his marriage Elim departed for college—his father was a just man, who had felt obscurely that some reparation was due Elim; education was the greatest privilege of which Meikeljohn could conceive, so, at sacrifices that all grimly accepted, Elim was sent to Cambridge. There, when he had been graduated, he remained—there were already more at the Meikeljohn home than their labor warranted— assistant to the professor of philosophy and letters.

Elim again opened the paper before him and spread it severely on the table. The supposititious letter, “Two, Linden Row,” opened in proper form and spelling, addressed to “Dearest Elizabeth.” Its progress, however, soon wabbled, its periods degenerated into a confusion. It endeavored to be casual, easy, but he judged it merely trivial. At one paragraph, despite his resolution of critical impersonality, his interest deepened:

“On Thursday we have to have ready a Theme to send off to Harvard. Of course, every Thursday morning We, with one accord, begin to make excuses. Well, the Dread Day rolls around to-morrow, and consequently I am deep in the Slough of Despond. My only consolation is that our Geniuses can't write regularly, but then the mood to write never possesses me.... This week, in writing a comparison between Hamlet and Antonio, I did succeed in jotting down something, but unfortunately I found that I had said the same many times before, only about different heroes. My tale of Woe——”

Elim once more took himself firmly in hand; he folded the paper and sharply indorsed it with a C minus. Afterward he felt decidedly uncomfortable. He wondered if Rosemary Roselle would be made unhappy by the low marking? Probably she wouldn't care; probably all that occupied her mind were dress and company. Possibly she danced—light, godless.

The haze within deepened; he could see through the window the tops of the maples—they held a green sheen as if in promise of the leaves to follow. The robin whistled faint and clear.

Possibly she danced. Carried away on the gracious flood of the afternoon, he wondered what Rosemary Roselle looked like. He was certain that she was pretty—her writing had the unconscious assurance of a personable being. Well, he would never know.... Rosemary Roselle— the name had a trick of hanging in the memory; it was astonishingly easy to repeat. He tried it aloud, speaking with a sudden emphasis that startled him. The name came back to him from the bare walls of his room like an appeal. Something within him stirred sharp as a knife. He rose with a deep breath, confused, as if some one else, unseen, had unexpectedly spoken.

III

His conscience, stirring again, projected the image of Hester, with her pinched glistening countenance, on his conjecturing. He resolutely addressed himself to the judgment of Rosemary Roselle's second paper, his lighter thoughts drowned in the ascending dark tide of his temperament It was called Our Waitress, and an instant antagonism for the entire South and its people swept over him.

He saw that the essay's subject was a negro, a slave; and all his impassioned detestation of the latter term possessed him. The essence of the Meikeljohns was a necessity for freedom, an almost bitter pride in the independence of their bodies. Their souls they held to be under the domination of a relentless Omnipotence, evolved, it might have been, from the obdurate and resplendent granite masses of the highland where they had first survived. These qualities gave to Elim Meikeljohn's political enmity for the South a fervor closely resembling fanaticism. Even now when, following South Carolina, six other states had seceded, he did not believe that war would ensue; he believed that slavery would be abolished at a lesser price; but he was a supporter of drastic means for its suppression. His Christianity, if it held a book in one hand, grasped a sword in the other, a sword with a bright and unsparing blade for the wrong-doer.

He consciously centered this antagonism on Rosemary Roselle; he visualized her as a thoughtless and capricious female, idling in vain luxury, cutting with a hard voice at helpless and enslaved human beings. He condemned his former looseness of being, his playing with insidious and destructive forces. A phrase, “Babylonish women,” crept into his mind from some old yellow page. He read:

“Indy is a large light mulatto, very neat and very slow. She has not much Sense, but a great deal of Sensibility. Helping her proves Fatal. The more that is done for her the less well does she work.... Indy is very unfortunate: going out with a present of money she lost every penny. Of course she was incapable of work until the sum was replaced.”

Elim paused with an impatient snort at this exhibition of shiftlessness. If the negroes were not soon freed they would be ruined beyond redemption. He read the remainder of the paper rigid and unapproving. It gave, he considered, such an excellent picture of Southern iniquities that he marked it B plus, the highest rating his responsibility had allowed Rosemary Roselle. Now he was certain that her very name held a dangerous potentiality—it came too easily to the tongue; it had a wanton sound like a silk skirt.

The warm glow faded from the room; without, the tenuous and bare upper branches of the maples wavered in the oncoming dusk. The river had disappeared. Elim was acutely conscious of the approaching hour of supper; and in preparation to go out to it he donned again the nankeen waistcoat and solemn garment that had served his father so long and so well.

IV

The following day was almost hot; at its decline coming across Winthrop Common Elim was oppressed and weary. Nothing unusual was happening at the boarding house; a small customary group was seated on the veranda steps, and he joined it. The conversation hung exclusively to the growing tension between North and South, to the forming of a Confederate States of America in February, the scattered condition of the Union forces, the probable fate of the forts in Charleston harbor.

The men spoke, according to their dispositions, with the fiery emphasis or gravity common to great crises. The air was charged with a sense of imminence, the vague discomfort of pending catastrophe. Elim listened without comment, his eyes narrowed, his long countenance severe. Most of the men had gone into Boston, to the Parker House, where hourly bulletins were being posted. Those on the steps rose to follow, all except Elim Meikeljohn—in Boston he knew money would be spent.

He went within, stopping to glance through a number of lately arrived letters on a table and found one for himself, addressed in his father's painstaking script. Alone, once more without his coat, he opened the letter. Its beginning was commonplace—“My dear son, Elim”—but what followed confused him by the totally unexpected shock it contained: Hester, his wife, was dead.

At first he was unable to comprehend the details of what had happened to him; the fact itself was of such disturbing significance. He had never considered the possibility of Hester's dying; he had come to think of her as a lifelong responsibility. She had seemed, in her invalid's chair, withdrawn from the pressure of life as it bore upon others, more enduring than his father's haggard concern over the increasing difficulties of material existence and spiritual salvation, than his mother's flushed toiling.

Elim had lived with no horizon wider than the impoverished daily necessity; he had accepted this with mingled fatality and fortitude; any rebellion had been immediately suppressed as a wicked reflection upon Deity. His life had been ordered in this course; he had accepted it the more readily from his inherited distrust of worldly values and aspirations; it had, in short, been he, and now the foundations of his entire existence had been overthrown.

He read the letter more carefully, realizing the probable necessity of his immediate return home for the funeral. But that was dispelled—his father wrote that it had been necessary to bury Hester at once. The elder Meikeljohn proceeded relentlessly to an exact exposition of why this had been done. “A black swelling” was included in the details. He finished:

“And if it would be inconvenient for you to leave your work at this time it is not necessary for you to come here. In some ways it would be better for you to stay. There is little enough for you to do and it would stop your money at college.... The Lord is a swift and terrible Being Who worketh His will in the night.”

Hester was dead. Elim involuntarily walked to a window, gazing with unseeing eyes at the familiar pleasant prospect. A realization flashed unbidden through his mind, a realization like a stab of lightning—he was free. He overbore it immediately, but it left within him a strange tingling sensation. He directed his mind upon Hester and the profitable contemplation of death; but rebellion sprang up within him, thoughts beyond control whirled in his brain.

Free! A hundred impulses, desires, of which—suppressed by his rigid adherence to a code of duty—he had not been conscious, leaped into vitality. His vision of life swung from its focus upon outward and invisible things to a new surprising regard of his own tangible self. He grew aware of himself as an entity, of the world as a broad and various field of exploit and discovery.

There was, his father had bluntly indicated, no place for him at home; and suddenly he realized that his duties at college had been a tedious grind for inconsiderable return. This admission brought to him the realization that he detested the whole thing—the hours in class; the droning negligent recitations of the men; the professor of philosophy and letters' pedantic display; the cramped academic spirit of the institution. The vague resentment he had felt at the half-concealed disdain of his fellows gave place to a fiery contempt for their majority; the covert humility he had been forced to assume—by the thought of Hester and the few miserable dollars of an inferior position—turned to a bitter freedom of opinion.

The hour for supper approached and passed, but Elim did not leave his room. He walked from wall to wall, by turns arrogant and lost in his new situation. Of one thing he was certain—he would give up his occupation here. It might do for some sniveling sycophant of learning and money, but he was going forth to—what?

He heard footfalls in the bare hall below, and a sudden easy desire for companionship seized him; he drew on the sturdy Meikeljohn coat and descended the stairs to the lower floor. Harry Kaperton's door was open and Elim saw the other moving within. He advanced, leaning in the doorway.

“Back early,” Elim remarked. “What's new at Parker's?”

Kaperton was unsuccessful in hiding his surprise at the other's unexpected appearance and direct question. “Why—why, nothing when I left;” then more cordially: “Come in, find a chair. Bottle on the table—oh, I didn't think.” He offered an implied apology to Elim's scruples.

But Elim advanced to the table, where, selecting a decanter at random, he poured out a considerable drink of pale spirits. Harry Kaperton looked at him in foolish surprise.

“Had no idea you indulged!” he ejaculated. “Always took you to be a severe Puritan duck.”

“Scotch,” Elim corrected him, “Presbyterian.”

He tilted the glass and the spirits sank smoothly from sight. His throat burned as if he had swallowed a mouthful of flame, but there was a quality in the strong rum that accorded with his present mood: it was fiery like his released sense of life. Kaperton poured himself a drink, elevated it with a friendly word and joined Elim.

“I'm going home,” the former proceeded. “You see, I live in Maryland, and the situation there is getting pretty warm. We want to get our women out of Baltimore, and our affairs conveniently shaped, before any possible trouble. I had a message this evening to come at once.”

The two men presented the greatest possible contrast—Harry Kaperton had elegantly flowing whiskers, a round young face that expressed facile excitement at a possible disturbance, and sporting garb of tremendous emphasis. Elim's face, expressing little of the tumult within, harsh and dark and dogged, was entirely appropriate to his somber greenish-black dress. Kaperton gestured toward the bottle, and they took a second drink, then a third.

Kaperton's face flushed, he grew increasingly voluble, but Elim Meikeljohn was silent; the liquor made no apparent impression upon him. He sat across the table from the other with his legs extended straight before him. They emptied the decanter of spirits and turned to sherry, anything that was left. Kaperton apologized profoundly for the depleted state of his cellar—knowing that he was leaving, he had invited a party of men to his room the night before. He was tremendously sorry that Elim had been overlooked—the truth being that no one had known what a good companion Elim was.

It seemed to Elim Meikeljohn, drinking sherry, that the night before he had not existed at all. He did not analyze his new being, his surprising potations; he was proceeding without a cautious ordering of his steps. It was neither a celebration nor a protest, but instinctive, like the indiscriminate gulping of a man who has been swimming under the water.

“Why,” Kaperton gasped, “you've got a head like a cannon ball.”

He rose and wandered unsteadily about, but Elim sat motionless, silent, drinking. He was conscious now of a drumming in his ears like distant martial music, a confused echo like the beat of countless feet. He tilted his glass and was surprised to find it empty.

“It's all gone,” Kaperton said dully.

He was as limp as an empty doll, Elim thought contemptuously. He, Elim, felt like hickory, like iron; his mind was clear, vindicative. He rose, sweeping back the hair from his high austere brow. Kaperton had slid forward in his chair with hanging open hands and mouth.

The drumming in Elim's ears grew louder, a hum of voices was added to it, and it grew nearer, actual. A crowd of men was entering the boarding house, carrying about them a pressure of excited exclamations and a more subtle disturbance. Elim Meikeljohn left Kaperton and went out into the hall. An ascending man met him.

“War!” he cried. “The damned rebels have assaulted and taken Sumter! Lincoln has called for fifty thousand volunteers!” He hurried past and left Elim grasping the handrail of the stair.

War! The word carried an overwhelming significance to his mind dominated by the intangible drumming, to his newly released freedom. War upon oppression, upon the criminal slaveholders of the South! He descended the stairs, pausing above the small agitated throng in the hall.

A passionate elation swept over him. He held his long arms upward and out.

“How many of the fifty thousand are here?” he asked. His ringing voice was answered in an assent that rolled in a solid volume of sound up the stairs. Elim Meikeljohn's soul leaped in the supreme kinship that linked him, man to man, with all.

V

It was again April, extremely early in the morning and month, and thickly cold, when Brevet-Major Elim Meikeljohn, burning with the fever of a re-opened old saber wound, strayed away from his command in the direction of Richmond. His thoughts revolved with the rapidity of a pinwheel, throwing off crackling ideas, illuminated with blinding spurts and exploding colors, in every direction. A vague persistent pressure sent him toward the city. It was being evacuated; the Union forces, he knew, were to enter at dawn; but he had stumbled ahead, careless of consequences, oblivious of possible reprisal.

He was, he recognized by the greater blackness ahead, near the outskirts of the city—for Richmond was burning. The towering black mass of smoke was growing more perceptible in the slowly lightening dawn. Elim Meikeljohn could now hear the low sullen uprush of flames, the faint crackling of timbers, and a hot aromatic odor met him in faint waves.

His scabbard beat awkwardly about his heels, and he impatiently unhooked it and threw it into the gloom of the roadside. The service revolver was still in its holster; but he had forgotten its presence and use. In the multicolored confusion of his mind but one conscious impression remained; and, in its reiteration, he said aloud, over and over, in dull tones, “Two, Linden Row.”

The words held no concrete meaning, they constructed no vision, embodied no tangible desire; they were merely the mechanical expression of an obscure and dominating impulse. He was hardly more sensate in his progress than a nail drawn irresistibly by a magnet.

The gray mist dissolved, and his long haggard face grew visible; it had not aged in the past four years of struggle—almost from boyhood it had been marked with somber longitudinal lines—but it had grown keener, more intense, with the expression of a man whose body had starved through a great spiritual conflict. His uniform, creased and stained, and now silvery with dew, flapped about a gaunt ironlike frame; and from under the leather peak of his kepi, even in his fever, his eyes burned steady and compelling.

Scattered houses, seemingly as unsubstantial as shadows, gathered about him; they grew more frequent, joined shoulder to shoulder, and he was in a city street. On the left he caught a glimpse of the river, solid and smooth and unshining; a knot of men passed shouting hoarsely, and a wave of heat swept over him like a choking cloth. Like the morning, his mind partially cleared, people and scenes grew coherent. The former were a disheveled and rioting rabble; the conflagration spread in lurid waves.

The great stores of the tobacco warehouses had been set on fire, and the spanning flames threatened the entire city. The rich odor of the burning tobacco leaves rolled over the streets in drifting showers of ruby sparks. The groups on the streets resolved into individuals. Elim saw a hulking woman, with her waist torn from grimy shoulders, cursing the retreating Confederate troops with uplifted quivering fists; he saw soldiers in gray joined to shifty town characters furtively bearing away swollen sacks; carriages with plunging frenzied horses, a man with white-faced and despairingly calm women. He stopped hurrying in the opposite direction and demanded:

“Two, Linden Row?”

The other waved a vague arm toward the right and broke away.

The street mounted sharply and Elim passed an open space teeming with hurrying forms, shrill with cries lost in the drumming roar of the flames. Every third man was drunk. He passed fights, bestial grimaces, heard the fretful crack of revolvers. The great storehouses were now below him, and he could see the shuddering inky masses of smoke blotting out quarter after quarter. He was on a more important thoroughfare now, and inquired again:

“Two, Linden Row?”

This man ejaculated:

“The Yankees are here!” The fact seemed to stupefy him, and he stood with hanging hands and mouth.

Elim Meikeljohn repeated his query and was answered by a negro who had joined them.

“On ahead, capt'n,” he volunteered; “fourth turn past the capitol and first crossing.”

The other regained his speech and began to curse the negro and Elim, but the latter moved swiftly on.

Above him, through the shifting tenebrous banks, he saw a classic white building on a patch of incredible greenery, infinitely remote; and then from the center of the city came a deafening explosion, a great sullen sheet of flame, followed by flashes like lightning in the settling blackness.

“The powder magazines,” Elim heard repeated from person to person. An irregular file of Confederate soldiers galloped past him, and the echo of their hoofs had hardly died before a troop of mounted Union cavalry, with slanting carbines, rode at their heels. They belonged, Elim recognized, to Kautz' command.

He had now reached the fourth turn beyond the withdrawn vision of the capitol, and he advanced through a black snowing of soot. Flames, fanlike and pallid, now flickered about his feet, streamed in the gutters and lapped the curbs. He saw heaps of broken bottles against the bricks, and the smell of fine spilled wines and liquors hung in his nostrils. His reason again wavered—the tremendous spectacle of burning assumed an apocalyptic appearance, as if the city had burst spontaneously into flame from the passionate and evil spirits engendered and liberated by war.

He stopped at the first crossing and saw before him a row of tall brick houses, built solidly and set behind small yards and a low iron fencing. They had shallow porticoes with iron grilling, and at this end a towering magnolia tree swept its new glossy greenery against the third-story windows.

“Linden Row,” he muttered. “Well—Number Two?”

He swung back a creaking gate and went up a flight of bricked steps to the door. He had guessed right; above a brass knocker filmed with the floating muck of the air he saw the numeral, Two, painted beneath the fanlight. The windows on the left were blank, curtained. The house rose silent and without a mark of life above the obscene clamor of the city. He knocked sharply and waited; then he knocked again. Nothing broke the stillness of the facade, the interior. He tried the door, but it was solidly barred. Then a second fact, a memory, joined the bare location in his brain. It was a name—Rose—Rosemary Roselle. He beat with an emaciated fist on the paneling and called, “Roselle! Roselle!”

There was a faint answering stir within; he heard the rattle of a chain; the door swung back upon an apparently empty and cavernous cool hall.

VI

A colored woman, in a crisp white turban, with a strained face more gray than brown, suddenly advanced holding before her in both hands a heavy revolver of an outworn pattern. Elim Meikeljohn could see by her drawn features that she was about to pull the trigger, and he said fretfully:

“Don't! The thing will explode. One of us will get hurt.” She closed her eyes, Elim threw up his arm, and an amazingly loud report crashed through the entry. He stood swaying weakly, with hanging palms, while the woman dropped the revolver with a gasp. Elim Meikeljohn began to cry with short dry sobs.... It was incredible that any one should discharge a big revolver directly at his head. He sank limply against a chest at the wall.

“Oh, Indy!” a shaken voice exclaimed. “Do you think he's dying?” The colored woman went reluctantly forward and peered at Elim. She touched him on a shoulder.

“'Deed, Miss Rosemary,” she replied, relieved and angry, “that shot didn't touch a hair. He's just crying like a big old nothing.” She grasped him more firmly, gave him a shake. “Dressed like a soldier,” she proceeded scornfully, “and scaring us out of our wits. What did you want to come here for anyhow calling out names?”

Elim's head rolled forward and back. The hall seemed full of flaming arrows, and he collapsed slowly on the polished floor. He was moved; he was half-conscious of his heels dragging upstairs, of frequent pauses, voices expostulating and directing thinly. Finally he sank into a sublimated peace in, apparently, a floating white cloud.

He awoke refreshed, mentally clear, but absurdly weak—he was lying in the middle of a four-posted bed, a bed with posts so massive and tall that they resembled smooth towering trees. Beyond them he could see a marble mantel; a grate filled with softly smoldering coals, and a gleaming brass hod; a highboy with a dark lustrous surface; oval gold frames; and muslin curtains in an open window, stirring in an air that moved the fluted valance at the top of the bed. It was late afternoon, the light was fading, the interior wavering in a clear shadow filled with the faint fat odor of the soft coal.

The immaculate bed linen bore an elusive cool scent, into which he relapsed with profound delight. The personality of the room, somber and still, flowed about him with a magical release from the inferno of the past years, the last hours. He heard a movement at a door, and the colored woman in the white turban moved to the side of the bed.

“I told her,” she said in an aggrieved voice, “there wasn't nothing at all wrong with you. I reckon now you're all ready to fight again or eat. Why did you stir things all up in Richmond and kill good folks?”

“To set you free!” Elim Meikeljohn replied.

She gazed at him thoughtfully.

“Capt'n,” she asked finally, “are you free?”

“Why, certainly——” he began, and then stopped abruptly, lost in the memory of the dour past. He recalled his father, with a passion for learning, imprisoned in the narrow poverty of his circumstances and surroundings; he remembered Hester, with her wishful gaze in the confines of her invalid chair; his own laborious lonely days. Freedom, a high and difficult term, he saw concerned regions of the spirit not liberated—solved—by a simple declaration on the body. The war had been but the initial, most facile step. The woman had silenced his sounding assertion, humiliated him, by a word. He gazed at her with a new, less confident interest. The mental effort brought a momentary recurrence of fever; he flushed and muttered: “Freedom ... spirit.”

“You're not as wholesome as you appeared,” the woman judged. “You can't have nothing beside a glass of milk.” She crossed the room and, stirring the fire, put on fresh coal that ignited with an oily crackle. Again at the door she paused. “Don't you try to move about,” she directed; “you stay right in this room. Mr. Roselle, he's downstairs, and Mr. McCall, and—” her voice took on a faint insistent note of warning. He paid little heed to her; he was lost in a wave of weariness.

The following morning, stronger, he rose and tentatively trying the door found it locked. The colored woman appeared soon after with a tray which, when he had performed a meager toilet, he attacked with a pleasant zest.

“The city's just burning right up,” she informed him, standing in the middle of the floor; “the boats on the river caught fire and their camions banged into Canal Street.” She had a pale even color, a straight delicate nose and sensitive lips.

“Are the Union troops in charge?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. They got some of the fire out, I heard tell. But that's not the worst now—a body can't set her foot in the street, it's so full of drunken roaring trash, black and white. It's good Mr. Roselle and Mr. McCall and Mr. John are here,” she declared again; “they could just finish off anybody that offered to turn a bad hand.”

This, Elim felt, was incongruous with his reception yesterday.

Still he made no inquiry. The breakfast finished, he relapsed once more on his pillows and heard the key stealthily turn in the door from the outside.

He told himself, without conviction, that he must rise and join his command. The war, he knew, was over; the courage that had sustained him during the struggle died. The simple question of the colored woman had largely slain it. His own personality, the vision of his forthcoming life and necessity, rose to the surface of his consciousness. Elim realized what had drawn, him to his present situation—it had, of course, been the memory of Rosemary Roselle. The days when he—an assistant to a professor of philosophy and letters—had read and marked her essays seemed to lie in another existence, infinitely remote. How would he excuse his presence, the calling of her name before the house? This was an inopportune—a fatal—moment for a man in the blue of the North to make his bow to a Richmond girl, in the midst of her wasted and burning place of home. He decided reluctantly that it would be best to say nothing of his connection with her academic labors, but to depart as soon as possible and without explanation of his first summons.... Rosemary Roselle—the name had clung persistently to his memory. It was probable that he would see her—once. That alone was extraordinary. He marveled at the grim humor of circumstance that had granted him such a wildly improbable wish, and at the same time made it humanly impossible for him to benefit from it.

VII

The leisurely progress of his thoughts was interrupted by hasty feet without; the bolt was shot back and his door flung open. It was the colored woman—the Indy of the essay—quivering with anger and fear.

“Capt'n,” she exclaimed, gasping with her rapid accent, “you come right down to the dining room, and bring that big pistol of yours. There's two, two——” Words failed her. “Anyhow you shoot them! It's some of that liberty you brought along, I reckon. You come down to Miss Rosemary!”

She stood tense and ashen, and Elim rose on one elbow.

“Some of our liberty?” he queried. “Did Miss Roselle send for me?”

“No, sir, she didn't. Miss Rosemary she wouldn't send for you, not if you were the last man alive. I'm telling you to come down to the dining room.... We've tended you and—”

“Well,” he demanded impatiently, “what do you want; whom shall I shoot?”

“You'll see, quick enough. And I can't stand here talking either; I've got to go back. You get yourself right along down!”

With painful slowness Elim made his preparations to descend; his fingers could hardly buckle the stiff strap of his revolver sling, but finally he made his way downstairs through a deep narrow hall. He turned from a blank wall to a darkened reception room, with polished mahogany, somber books and engravings on the walls, and a rosy blur of fire in the hearth. A more formal chamber lay at his right, empty, but through an opposite door he caught the faint clatter of a spoon.

Rosemary Roselle was seated, rigid and white, at the end of a table that bore a scattered array of dishes. There were shadows beneath her eyes, and her hands, on the table, were clenched. On her left a man in an unmarked blue uniform sat, sagging heavily forward in his chair, breathing stertorously, with a dark flush over a pouched and flaccid countenance. Opposite him, sitting formally upright, was a negro in a carefully brushed gray suit, with a crimson satin necktie surcharged by vivid green lightning. His bony face, the deep pits of his temples, were the dry spongy black of charcoal, and behind steel-rimmed glasses his eyes rolled like yellow agates. He glanced about, furtive and startled, when Elim Meikeljohn entered, but he was immediately reassured by Elim's disordered uniform. He made a solemn obeisance.

“Colonel,” he said, “will you make one of a little informal repast? We are, you see, at the lady's table.”

Overcome by a sharp weakness, Elim slipped into the chair at his side and faced Rosemary Roselle. The latter gave no sign of his presence. She sat frozen into a species of statuesque rage. “Like you,” the negro continued pompously, “we invited ourselves. All things are free and easy for all. The glorious principle of equality instituted lately has swept away—swept away the inviderous distinctions of class and color. The millenium has come!” He made a grandiloquent gesture with a sooty hand.

“'Ray!” the sodden individual opposite unexpectedly cried.

“We came in,” the other continued, “to uphold our rights as the exponents of—of——”

“You sneaked in the kitchen,” the woman in the doorway interrupted; “and I found you rummaging in the press.”

“Silence!” the orator commanded. “Are you unaware of the dignity now resting on your kinks—hair, hair.” He rose, facing Elim Meikeljohn. “Colonel, gentleman, in a conglomeration where we are all glorious cohevals of—of—”

“Shut up!” said the apostrophized colonel, sudden and fretful. “Get out!”

The orator paused, disconcerted, in the midflow of his figures; and unaccustomed arrogance struggled with habitual servility. “Gentleman,” he repeated, “in a corposity of souls high above all narrow malignations—”

Elim Meikeljohn took his revolver from its holster and laid it before him on the table. The weapon produced an electrical effect on the figure nodding in a drunken stupor. He rose abruptly and uncertain.

“I'm going,” he asserted; “come on, Spout. You can be free and equal better somewheres else.”

The negro hesitated; his hand, Elim saw, moved slightly toward a knife lying by his plate. Elim's fingers closed about the handle of his revolver; he gazed with a steady cold glitter, a thin mouth, at the black masklike countenance above the hectic tie and neat gray suit.

The latter backed slowly, instinctively, toward the rear door. His companion had already faded from view. The negro proclaimed:

“I go momentiously. There are others of us banded to obtain equality irrespectable of color; we shall be back and things will go different.... They have gone different in other prideful domestications.”

Elim Meikeljohn raised the muzzle lying on the cloth, and the negro disappeared. Rosemary Roselle did not move; her level gaze saw, apparently, nothing of her surroundings; her hands were still clenched on the board. She was young, certainly not twenty, but her oval countenance was capable of a mature severity not to be ignored. He saw that she had wide brown eyes the color of a fall willow leaf, a high-bridged nose and a mouth—at present—a marvel of contempt. Her slight figure was in a black dress; she was without rings or ornamental gold.

“That talking trash gave me a cold misery,” the colored woman admitted. She glanced at the girl and moved a bowl of salad nearer Elim Meikeljohn. “Miss Rosemary,” she begged, “take something, my heart.”

Rosemary Roselle answered with a slow shudder; she slipped forward, with her face buried in her arms on the table. Elim regarded her with profound mingled emotions. In the fantastic past, when he had created her from the studied essays, he had thought of her—censoriously—as gay. Perhaps she danced! He wondered momentarily where the men were Indy had spoken of as present; then he realized that they had been but a precautionary figment of Indy's imagination; the girl, except for the woman with the tender brown hand caressing her shoulder, was alone in the house.

He sat with chin on breast gazing with serious speculation at the crumpled figure opposite him. Indy, corroborating his surmise, said to the girl:

“I can't make out at all why your papa don't come back. He said yesterday when he left he wouldn't be hardly an hour.”

“Something dreadful has happened,” Rosemary Roselle insisted, raising a hopeless face. “Indy, do you suppose he's dead like McCall and—and—”

“Mr. Roselle he ain't dead,” the woman responded stoutly; “he's just had to keep low trash from stealing all his tobacco.”

“He could easily be found,” Elim put in; “I could have an orderly detailed, word brought you in no time.” The girl paid not the slightest heed to his proposal. From the street came a hoarse drunken shouting, a small inflamed rabble streamed by. It wouldn't be safe to leave Rosemary Roselle alone here with Indy. He recalled the threat of the black pomposity he had driven from the house—it was possible that there were others, banded, and that they would return. It was clear to him that he must stay until its head reappeared, order had been reestablished—or, if he went out, take the girl with him.

“You let the capt'n do what he says,” the woman urged. Rosemary Roselle's eyes turned toward Elim; it was, seemingly, the first time she had become aware of his presence. She said in a voice delicately colored by hate:

“Thank you, I couldn't think of taking the—the orderly from his conquests.”

“Then I'll find your father myself,” Elim replied. “You will come with me, of course; show me where to go. It would be a good thing to start at once. I—we—might be of some assistance to him with his tobacco.”

Indy declared with an expression of instant determination:

“We'll go right along with you.” She silenced Rosemary's instinctive protest. “I'll get your hat and shawl,” she told the girl.

And, before the latter could object, the colored woman hurried from the room.

Silence enveloped the two at the table. Elim replaced his revolver in its belt. He had never before studied a girl like Rosemary Roselle; fine white frills fell about her elbows from under the black short sleeves. Her skin was incredibly smooth and white. It was evident that her hands had never done manual labor; their pointed little beauty fascinated him. He thought of the toil-hardened hands of the women of his home. This girl represented all that he had been taught to abjure, all that—by inheritance—he had in the abstract condemned. She represented the vanities; she was vanity itself; and now he was recklessly, contumaciously, glad of it. Her sheer loveliness of being intoxicated him; suddenly it seemed as absolutely necessary to life as the virtues of moral rectitude and homely labor. Personally, he discovered, he preferred such beauty to the latter adamantine qualities. He had a fleet moment of amazed self-consciousness: Elim Meikeljohn—his father an elder in the house of God—astray in the paths of condemned worldly frivolities! Then he recalled a little bush of vivid red roses his mother carefully protected and cultivated; he saw their bright fragrant patch on the rocky gray expanse of the utilitarian acres; and suddenly a light of new understanding enveloped his mother's gaunt drearily-clad figure. He employed in this connection the surprising word “starved.” ... Rosemary Roselle was a flower.

Indy returned with a small hat of honey-colored straw and a soft white- silk mantilla. The former she drew upon the girl's head and wrapped the shawl about the slim shoulders.

“Now,” she pronounced decisively, “we're going to find your papa.” She led Rosemary Roselle toward the outer door. Elim found his cap in the hall and followed them down the bricked steps to the street. It was at present deserted, quiet; and they turned to the left, making their way toward the river and warehouses.

The fires had largely subsided; below them rose blackened bare walls of brick, sullen twisting flags of smoke; an air of sooty desolation had settled over the city. Houses were tightly shuttered; some with broken doors had a trail of hastily discarded loot on the porticoes; still others were smoldering shells.

A bugle call rose clear and triumphant from the capital; at one place they passed Union soldiers, extinguishing flames.

They descended the flagged street over which Elim had come, turned into another called—he saw—Cary, and finally halted before a long somber facade. Here, too, the fire had raged; the charred timbers of the fallen roof projected desolately into air.

A small group at a main entrance faced them as they approached; a coatless man with haggard features, his clothes saturated with water, advanced quickly.

“Miss Rosemary!” he ejaculated in palpable dismay. He drew Elim Meikeljohn aside. “Take her away,” he directed; “her father ... killed, trying to save his papers.”

“Where?” Elim demanded. “Their house is empty. She can't stay in Richmond alone.”

“I'd forgotten that!” the other admitted. “McCall and John both gone, mother dead, and now—by heaven!” he exclaimed, low and distressed, “she has just no one. I'm without a place. Her friends have left. There's a distant connection at Bramant's Wharf, but that's almost at the mouth of the James.”

Rosemary Roselle came up to them.

“Mr. Jim Haxall,” she asked, direct and white, “is father dead?”

He studied her for a moment and then answered:

“Yes, Miss Rosemary.”

She swayed. Indy, at her side, enveloped her in a sustaining arm.

“Indy,” the girl said, her face on the woman's breast, “he, too!”

“I'm sending a few bales of leaf down the river,” Haxall continued to Elim; “the sloop'll pass Bramant's Wharf; but the crew will be just anybody. Miss Rosemary couldn't go with only her nigger—”

Elim Meikeljohn spoke mechanically:

“I'll be responsible for her.” The war was over; he had been ordered from the column when his wound had broken afresh, and in a maze of fever he had been irresistibly impelled toward Linden Row. “I'll take her to Bramant's Wharf.”

Haxall regarded suspiciously the disordered blue uniform; then his gaze shifted to Elim's somber lined countenance.

“Miss Rosemary's rubies and gold—” he said finally. “But I believe you're honest, I believe you're a good man.”

VIII

James Haxall explained this to Rosemary. Elim, standing aside, could see that the girl neither assented nor raised objection. She seemed utterly listless; a fleet emotion at the knowledge of her father's death had, in that public place, been immediately repressed. The sloop, Elim learned, was ready to start at once. The afternoon was declining; to reach Bramant's Wharf would take them through the night and into the meridian of tomorrow. They had made no preparations for the trip, there was neither bedding nor food; but Elim and Haxall agreed that it was best for Rosemary Roselle to leave the city at the price of any slight momentary discomfort.

Elim looked about for a place where he might purchase food. A near-by eating house had been completely wrecked, its floor a debris of broken crockery. Beyond, a baker's shop had been deserted, its window shattered but the interior intact. The shelves, however, had been swept bare of loaves. Elim searched behind the counters—nothing remained. But in walking out his foot struck against a round object, wrapped in paper, which on investigation proved to be a fruit cake of satisfactory solidity and size. With this beneath his arm he returned to Rosemary Roselle, and they followed Haxall to the wharf where the sloop lay.

The tiller was in charge of an old man with peering pale-blue eyes and tremulous siccated hands. Yet he had an astonishingly potent voice, and issued orders, in tones like the grating of metal edges, to a loutish youth in a ragged shirt and bare legs. The cabin, partly covered, was filled with bagged bales; a small space had been left for the steersman, and forward the deck was littered with untidy ropes and swab, windlass bar and other odds.

Elim Meikeljohn moved forward to assist Rosemary on to the sloop, but she evaded his hand and jumped lightly down upon the deck, Indy, grumbling and certain of catastrophe, was safely got aboard, and Elim helped the youth to push the craft's bow out into the stream. The grimy mainsail rose slowly, the jib was set, and they deliberately gathered way, slipping silently between the timbered banks, emerging from the thin pungent influence of the smoking ruins.

Behind them the sun transfused the veiled city into a coppery blur that gradually sank into a tender-blue dusk. Indy had arranged a place with the most obtainable comfort for Rosemary Roselle; she sat with her back against the mast, gazing toward the bank, stealing backward, at the darkening trees moving in solemn procession.

After the convulsed and burning city, the uproar of guns and clash of conflict, the quiet progress of the sloop was incredibly peaceful and withdrawn. Elim felt as if they had been detached from the familiar material existence and had been set afloat in a stream of silken shadows. The wind was behind them, the boom had been let far but, the old steersman drowsed at his post, and the youth had fallen instantly asleep in a strange cramped attitude.

Elim was standing at the stern—he had conceived it his duty to stay as far away from Rosemary Roselle as her wish plainly indicated; but, in this irrelated phase of living, he gradually lost his sense of responsibility and restrained conduct. He wanted extravagantly to be near Rosemary, to be where he could see her clearly. Perhaps, but this was unlikely, she would speak to him. His desire gradually flooded him; it induced a species of careless heroism, and he made his way resolutely forward and sat on a heap of rope at a point where he could study her with moderate propriety and success. She glanced at him momentarily when he took his place—he saw that her under lip was capable of an extremely human and annoying expression—and returned to her veiled scrutiny of the sliding banks.

An unfamiliar emotion stirred at Elim's heart; and in his painstaking introspective manner he exposed it. He found a happiness that, at the same time, was a pain; he found an actual catch in his throat that was a nebulous desire; he found an utter loneliness together with the conviction that this earth was a place of glorious possibilities of affinity. Principally he was conscious of an urging of his entire being toward the slight figure in black, staring with wide bereft eyes into the gathering evening. On the other side of the mast, Indy was sleeping with her head upon her breast. The feeling in Elim steadily increased in poignancy—faint stars appearing above the indefinite foliage pierced him with their beauty, the ashen-blue sky vibrated in a singing chord, the river divided in whispering confidences on the bow of the sloop.

Elim Meikeljohn debated the wisdom of a remark; his courage grew immeasurably reckless.

“The wind and river are shoving us along together.” Pronounced, the sentence seemed appallingly compromising; he had meant that the wind and river together, not—

She made no reply; one hand, he saw, stirred slightly.

Since he had not been blasted into nothingness, he continued:

“I'm glad the war's over. Why,” he exclaimed in genuine surprise, “you can hear the birds again.” A sleepy twitter had floated out over the stream. Still no response. He should not, certainly, have mentioned the war. He wondered desperately what a fine and delicate being like Rosemary Roselle talked about? It would be wise to avoid serious and immediate considerations for commonplaces.

“Ellik McCosh,” he said, “a girl in our village who went to Boston, learned to dance, and when she came back she taught two or three. Her communion medal was removed from her,” he added with complete veracity. “Perhaps,” he went on conversationally, “you don't have communion medals in Richmond—it's a little lead piece you have when you are in good standing at the Lord's table. Mine was taken away for three months for whistling by the church door. A long while ago,” he ended in a different voice. He thought of the fruit cake, and breaking off a piece offered it to the silent girl. “It's like your own,” he told her, placing it on a piece of paper at her side; “it's from Richmond and wasn't even paid for with strange silver.”

At this last a sudden uneasiness possessed him, and he hurriedly searched his pockets. He had exactly fifty cents. Until the present he had totally overlooked the depleted state of his fortune. Elim had some arrears of pay, but now he seriously doubted whether they were collectible. Nothing else. He had emerged from the war brevetted major but as penniless as the morning of his enlistment. He doubted whether, in the hurry of departure, Rosemary Roselle had remembered to bring any money.

Still, she would be cared for, supplied with every necessity, at Bramant's Wharf. There he would leave her ... his breathing stopped, for, incredibly, he saw that her hand was suspended over the piece of cake. She took it up and ate it slowly, absently. This, he felt, had created a bond between them; but it was a conviction in which, apparently, she had no share. She might have thanked him but she didn't.

An underhanded and indefensible expedient occurred to him, and he sat for a perceptible number of minutes concentrating his memory upon a dim and special object. Finally he raised his head.

“Indy,” he quoted, “a large light mulatto, hasn't much sense but a great deal of sensibility. That,” he added of himself, “is evidently very well observed.” He saw that Rosemary turned her head with an impatient curiosity. “She is very unfortunate,” he continued uncertainly; “she lost a present of money and couldn't work till it was given back.”

“But how,” demanded Rosemary Roselle, “did you know that?” Curiosity had betrayed her.

Elim Meikeljohn concealed a grin with difficulty. It was evident that she profoundly regretted the lapse, yet she would not permit herself to retreat from her position. She maintained a high intolerant aspect of query.

“Have you forgotten,” he went on, “how the dread day rolled around?” He paused wickedly. “The slough of despond?” he added.

“What silly stuff!” Rosemary pronounced.

“It was,” he agreed, “mostly. But the paper about Indy was a superior production. B plus, I think.”

A slow comprehension dawned on her face, blurred by the night.

“So that's where they went,” she observed; “you marked them.” He would have sworn that a smile hovered for the fraction of a moment on her pale lips. She drew up her shoulders slightly and turned away.

His best, his only hope had flickered for a minute and died away. Her silence was like impregnable armor. A puff of wind filled the sails, there was a straining of cordage, an augmented bubbling at the sloop's bow, and then the stir subsided. He passed into a darkness of old distresses, forebodings, grim recollections from his boyhood, inherited bleak memories. Rosemary Roselle's upright figure gradually sank. He realized that she was asleep on her arm. Elim bent forward shamelessly and studied her worn countenance. There was a trace of tears on her cheek. She was as delicate, as helpless as a flower sleeping on its stalk.

An impulse to touch her hair was so compelling that he started back, shaken; a new discordant tumult rose within him, out of which emerged an aching hunger for Rosemary Roselle; he wanted her with a passion cold and numbing like ether. He wanted her without reason, and in the desire lost his deep caution, his rectitude of conscience. He was torn far beyond the emotional possibilities of weak men. The fact that, penniless and without a home, he had nothing to offer was lost in the beat and surge of his feelings. He went with the smashing completeness of a heavy body, broken loose in an elemental turmoil. He wanted her; her fragrant spirit, the essence that was herself, Rosemary Roselle. He couldn't take it; such consummations, he realized, were beyond will and act, they responded from planes forever above human desire—there was not even a rift of hope. The banks had been long lost in the night; the faint disembodied cry of an owl breathed across the invisible river.

IX

She woke with a little confused cry, and sat gazing distractedly into the dark, her hands pressed to her cheeks.

“Don't you remember,” Elim Meikeljohn spoke, “Haxall and the sloop; your relatives at Bramant's Wharf?”

She returned to a full consciousness of her surroundings.

“I was dreaming so differently,” she told him. It seemed to Elim that the antagonism had departed from her voice; he even had a feeling that she was glad of his presence. Indy, prostrate on the deck with her chin elevated to the stars, had not moved.

The darkness increased, broken only by the colored glimmer of the port and starboard lights and a wan blur about the old man bent over the tiller. Once he woke the youth and sent him forward with a sounding pole, once the sloop scraped heavily over a mud bank, but that was all; their imperceptible progress was smooth, unmarked.

Elim, recalling Joshua, wished that the sloop and night were anchored, stationary. Already he smelled the dawn in a newly stirring, cold air. The darkness thickened. Rosemary Roselle said:

“I'm dreadfully hungry.”

He immediately produced the fruit cake.

“It's really quite satisfactory,” she continued, eating; “It's like the rest of this—unreal.... What is your name?” she demanded unexpectedly.

“Elim Meikeljohn.”

“That's a very Northern sort of name.”

“It would be hard to come by one more so,” he agreed. “It's from the highlands of Scotland.”

“Then if you don't mind, I'll think of you as Scotch right now.”

He conveyed to her the fact that he didn't.

“Look!” she exclaimed. “There's the morning!”

A thin gray streak widened across the east. Almost immediately the night dissolved. They were sweeping down the middle of a river that surprised Elim with its width and majesty. The withdrawn banks bore clustered trees, undulating green reached inland, the shaded facades of houses sat back on lawns that dipped to the stream.

Rosemary Roselle's face was pale with fatigue; her eyes appeared preternaturally large; and this, for Elim, made her charm infinitely more appealing. She smoothed her dress, touched her hair with light fingers. The intimacy of it all thrilled him. A feeling of happy irresponsibility deepened. He lost sight of the probable unhappiness of tomorrow, the catastrophe that was yesterday; Elim was radiantly content with the present.

“You look Northern too,” she went on; “you are so much more solemn than the Virginia men—I mean your face is.”

“I suppose I've had a solemn sort of existence,” he agreed. “Life's an awful serious thing where I was born. The days are not long enough, life's too short, to get your work done. It's a stony pasture,” he admitted. He described the Meikeljohn farm land, sloping steeply to swift rocky streams, the bare existence of the sheep, the bitter winters. He touched briefly on Hester and his marriage.

“It's no wonder,” she pronounced, “that you have shadows in your eyes. You can't imagine,” she continued, “how wonderful everything was in Richmond, before—I simply can't talk about it now. I suppose we are ruined, but there isn't a man or woman who wouldn't do the same thing all over again. I'm almost glad that father isn't—isn't here; misery of any kind made him so wretched ... perfect memories.” She closed her eyes.

Her under lip, he saw, projected slightly, her chin was fine but stubborn. These details renewed his delight; they lent a warm humanity to her charm.

“Any one would know,” she said, regarding him, “that you are absolutely trustworthy. It's a nice quality now, but I don't think I would have noticed it even a month ago. You can see that I have grown frightfully old in the littlest while. Yes, you are comfortable to be with, and I suspect that counts for a great deal. It's quite sad, too, to grow old. Oh, look, we've changed! Where do you suppose he is going? This can't nearly be Bramant's.”

The mainsail had been hauled in, and the course of the sloop changed, quartering in toward the shore. The youth, moving forward, stopped to enlighten them. He jerked a thumb in the direction of the old man.

“He's got kin here at Jerico,” he explained; “and we're setting in to see them. We won't stop long.”

The mainsail came smoothly down, the jib fluttered, and the sloop slid in beside a sturdy old wharf, projecting from a deep fringe of willows. No sign of life or habitation was visible.

The youth made fast a hawser, the old man mounted painfully to the dock, and Indy stirred and rose.

“I must have just winked asleep,” she declared in consternation.

Rosemary Roselle lightly left the boat, and Elim followed. “If we explored,” he proposed, “perhaps we could get you a cup of coffee.” She elected, however, to stay by the river, and Elim went inward alone. Beyond the willows was an empty marshland. The old man had disappeared, with no trace of his objective kin. A road, deep in yellow mire, mounted a rise beyond and vanished a hundred yards distant. Elim, unwilling to get too far away from the sloop, had turned and moved toward the wharf, when he was halted by the sound of horses' hoofs.

He saw approaching him over the road a light open carriage with a fringed canopy and a pair of horses driven by a negro in a long white dust coat. In the body of the carriage a diminutive bonneted head was barely visible above an enormous circumference of hoops. Elim saw bobbing gray curls, peering anxious eyes, and a fluttering hand in a black silk-thread mit.

“Gossard,” a feminine voice cried shrilly to the driver, at the sight of Elim on the roadside, “here's a Yankee army; lick up those horses!”

The negro swung a vicious whip, the horses started sharply forward, but the carriage wheels, sinking in a deep slough, remained fixed; the harness creaked but held; the equipage remained stationary. The negro dismounted sulkily, and Elim crossed the road and put his shoulder to a wheel. Together with the driver, he lifted the carriage on to a firmer surface. The old lady was seated with tightly shut eyes.

“This here man ain't going to hurt you,” the driver exclaimed impatiently. “This exdus is all nonsense anyways,” he grumbled. “I got a mind to stop—I'm free.”

She directed upon him a beady black gaze.

“You get right into this carriage,” she commanded; “you'd be free to starve. You are a fool!” The man reluctantly obeyed her. “I thank you for your clemency,” she said to Elim. She fumbled among her flounces and hoops and produced an object carefully wrapped and tied. “Here,” she proclaimed; “I can still pay for a service. Gossard—” the carriage moved forward, was lost in the dip in the road. Elim opened the package in his hand and regarded, with something like consternation, a bottle of champagne.

Beyond the wharf the great yellow flood of the river gleamed in the sun; choirs of robins whistled in trees faintly green. Rosemary Roselle was seated with her feet hanging over the water.

“Champagne for breakfast,” she observed, shaking her head; “only the most habitual sports manage that.” He recounted the episode of the “Yankee army,” delighted by her less formal tone, then the old man returned as enigmatically as he had disappeared. The ropes were cast off, the sloop swung out into the current, and their smooth progress was resumed.

A few more hours and they would be at Bramant's Wharf. There, Elim knew, he would be expected to leave Rosemary. There would be a perfunctory gratitude from her relatives, perhaps a warmer appreciation from herself—a moment—a momentary pressure of her hand—and then— where? He would never again come in contact with so exquisite a girl; they were, he realized, customarily held in a circle where men like himself, outsiders, rarely penetrated; once more with her family and he would be forgotten. Anyhow, he had nothing.

But in spite of these heavy reflections his irresponsible happiness increased. In this segment of existence no qualifications from the shore were valid. Time, himself, at the tiller, seemed drifting, unconcerned. Rosemary Roselle regarded Elim with a franker interest. She took off a small slipper and emptied some sand from the shore; the simple act seemed to him burdened with gracious warmth. Now she was infinitely easier than any girl he had known before. Those about his home met the younger masculine world either with a blunt sarcasm or with an uneasy voiceless propriety. Rosemary, propped on an elbow, was as unconcerned as a boy. This made her infinitely more difficult of approach. Her slight beautiful body, not hidden by clothes—as decency demanded in the more primitive state—was delightfully marked, suggested. Here was beauty admitted, lauded, even studied, in place of the fierce masking and denouncement of his father and the fellow elders.

He remembered, from collegiate hours, the passion of the Greeks for sheer earthly strength and loveliness—Helen and Menelaus, Sappho on the green promontories of Lesbos. At the time of his reading he had maintained a wry brow ... now Elim Meikeljohn could comprehend the siege of Troy.

He said aloud, without thinking and instantly aghast at his words:

“You are like a bodied song.” He was horrified; then his newer spirit utterly possessed him, he didn't care; he nodded his long solemn head.

Rosemary Roselle turned toward him with a cool stare that was lost in irresistible ringing peals of laughter.

“Oh!” she gasped; “what a face for a compliment. It was just like pouring sirup out of a vinegar cruet.”

He became annoyed and cleared his throat in an elder-like manner, but her amusement strung out in silvery chuckles.

“It's the first I've said of the kind,” he admitted stiffly; “I've no doubt it came awkward.”

She grew more serious, studied him with thoughtful eyes. “Do you know,” she said slowly, “I believe you. Compliments in Virginia are like cherries, the trees are full of them; they're nice but worth—so much.” She measured an infinitesimal degree with a rosy nail against a finger. “But I can see that yours are different. They almost hurt you, don't they?”

He made no reply, struggling weakly against what, he perceived, was to follow.

“You're like a song that to hear would draw a man about the world,” said Elim Meikeljohn, pagan. “He would leave his sheep and byre, he'd drop his duty and desert his old, and follow. I'm lost,” he decided, in a last perishing flicker of early teaching; and then he smiled inexplicably at the wrath to come.

Rosemary Roselle grew more serious.

“But that's not a compliment at all,” she discovered; “it's more, and it makes me uncomfortable. Please stop!”

“About the world,” echoed Elim, “and everything else forgotten.”

“Please,” she repeated, holding up a prohibitory palm.

“Rose petals,” he said, regarding it. His madness increased. She withdrew her hand and gazed at him with a small frown. She was sitting upright, propped on her arms. Her mouth, with its slightly full under lip, was elevated, and an outrageous desire possessed him. His countenance slowly turned hotly red, and slowly a faint tide of color stained Rosemary Roselle's cheeks. She looked away; Elim looked away. He proceeded aft and learned that Bramant's Wharf lay only a few miles ahead.

The old man cursed the wind in his stringent tones. Elim hadn't noticed anything reprehensible in the wind. It appeared that for a considerable time there hadn't been any. A capful was stirring now, and humanity— ever discontented—silently cursed that.

“We're nearly there,” he said, returning to Rosemary Roselle.

He was unable to gather any intelligence from her expression.

She rose, and stood with a hand on Indy's shoulder, murmuring affectionately in the colored woman's ear. The sloop once more headed at a long angle for the shore. Bramant's Wharf grew visible, projecting solidly from a verdant bank. They floated silently up to the dock, and the youth held the sloop steady while Rosemary Roselle and Indy mounted from its deck. Elim followed, but suddenly he stopped, and his hand went into his pocket. A half dollar fell ringing into the boat. Elim indicated the youth; he was now penniless.

X

“The house,” Rosemary explained, “is almost a mile in. There is a carriage at the wharf when they expect you. And usually there is some one about.”

Elim, carrying the cake and bottle, followed over a grassy road between tangles of blackberry bushes. On either hand neglected fields held a sparse tangle of last year's weeds; beyond, trees closed in the perspective. The sun had passed the zenith, and the shadows of walnut trees fell across the road. Elim's face was grim, a dark tide rose about him, enveloping his heart, bothering his vision. He wanted to address something final to the slim girl in black before him, something now, before she was forever lost in the gabble of her relatives; but he could think of nothing appropriate, expressive of the tumult within him. His misery deepened with every step, grew into a bitterness of rebellion that almost forced an incoherent reckless speech. Rosemary Roselle didn't turn, she didn't linger, there were a great many things that she might say. The colored woman was positively hurrying forward. A great loneliness swept over him. He had not, he thought drearily, been made for joy.

“It's queer there's no one about,” Rosemary Roselle observed. They reached the imposing pillars of an entrance—the wooden gate was chained, and they were obliged to turn aside and search for an opening in a great mock-orange hedge. Before them a wide sweep of lawn led up to a formal dark facade; a tanbark path was washed, the grass ragged and uncut. Involuntarily they quickened their pace.

Elim saw that towering brown pillars rose to the roof of the dwelling and that low wings extended on either hand. Before the portico a stiffly formal garden lay in withered neglect.

The flower beds, circled with masoned rims and built up like wired bouquets, held only twisted and broken stems.

A faint odor of wet plaster and dead vegetation rose to meet them. On the towering wall of the house every window was tightly shuttered. The place bore a silent and melancholy air of desertion.

The girl gave a dismayed gasp. Elim hastily placed his load on the steps and, mounting, beat upon the door. Only a dull echo answered. Dust fell from the paneling upon his head.

“Maybe they have shut up the front for protection,” he suggested. He made his way to the rear; all was closed. Through the low limbs of apple trees he could see a double file of small sad brick quarters for the slaves. They, too, were empty. The place was without a living being. He stood, undecided, when suddenly he heard Rosemary Roselle calling with an acute note of fear.

He ran through the binding grass back to the garden.

“Elim Meikeljohn!” She stumbled forward to meet him. “Oh, Elim,” she cried; “there's no one in the world——” A sob choked her utterance.

He fell on his knees before her:

“There's always me.”

She sank in a fragrant heap into his arms.

Elim Meikeljohn laughed over her shoulder at his entire worldly goods on the steps—the fragmentary fruit cake and a bottle of champagne.

Here they are lost on the dimming mirror of the past.

 
 
 

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