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   Chapter 3 No.3

Flower of the Dusk By Myrtle Reed Characters: 16751

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Tower of Cologne

Roger sat in Ambrose North's easy chair, watching Barbara while she sewed. "I am sorry," he said, "that I wasn't at home when your father came over after the book. Mother was unable to find it. I'm afraid I'm not very orderly."

"It doesn't matter," returned Barbara, threading her needle again. "I steal too much time from my work as it is."

Roger sighed and turned restlessly in his chair. "I wish I could come over every day and read to you, but you know how it is. Days, I'm in the office with the musty old law books, and in the evenings, your father wants you and my mother wants me."

"I know, but father usually goes to bed by nine, and I'm sure your mother doesn't sit up much later, for I usually see her light by that time. I always work until eleven or half past, so why shouldn't you come over then?"

A Happy Thought

"Happy thought!" exclaimed Roger. "Still, you might not always want me. How shall I know?"

"I'll put a candle in the front window," suggested Barbara, "and if you can come, all right. If not, I'll understand."

Both laughed delightedly at the idea, for they were young enough to find a certain pleasure in clandestine ways and means. Miss Mattie had so far determinedly set her face against her son's association with the young of the other sex, and even Barbara, who had been born lame and had never walked farther than her own garden, came under the ban.

Ambrose North, with the keen and unconscious selfishness of age, begrudged others even an hour of Barbara's society. He felt a third person always as an intruder, though he tried his best to appear hospitable when anyone came. Miriam might sometimes have read to Barbara, while he was out upon his long, lonely walks, but it had never occurred to either of them.

World-wide Fellowship

Through Laurence Austin's library, as transported back and forth by Roger, one volume at a time, Barbara had come into the world-wide fellowship of those who love books. She was closely housed and constantly at work, but her mind soared free. When the poverty and ugliness of her surroundings oppressed her beauty-loving soul; when her fingers ached and the stitches blurred into mist before her eyes, some little brown book, much worn, had often given her the key to the House of Content.

"Shall you always have to sew?" asked Roger. "Is there no way out?"

Glad of Work

"Not unless some fairy prince comes prancing up on a white charger," laughed Barbara, "and takes us all away with him to his palace. Don't pity me," she went on, her lips quivering a little, "for every day I'm glad I can do it and keep father from knowing we are poor.

"Besides, I'm of use in the world, and I wouldn't want to live if I couldn't work. Aunt Miriam works, too. She does all the housework, takes care of me when I can't help myself, does the mending, many things for father, and makes the quilts, preserves, candied orange peel, and the other little things we sell. People are so kind to us. Last Summer the women at the hotel bought everything we had and left orders enough to keep me busy until long after Christmas."

"Don't call people kind because they buy what they want."

"Don't be so cynical. You wouldn't have them buy things they didn't want, would you?"

"Sometimes they do."

"Where?"

"Well, at church fairs, for instance. They spend more than they can afford for things they do not want, in order to please people whom they do not like and help heathen who are much happier than they are."

"I'm glad I'm not running a church fair," laughed Barbara. "And who told you that heathen are happier than we are? Are you a heathen?"

"I don't know. Most of us are, I suppose, in one way or another. But how nice it would be if we could paint ourselves instead of wearing clothes, and go under a tree when it rained, and pick cocoanuts or bananas when we were hungry. It would save so much trouble and expense."

"Paint is sticky," observed Barbara, "and the rain would come around the tree when the wind was blowing from all ways at once, as it does sometimes, and I do not like either cocoanuts or bananas. I'd rather sew. What went wrong to-day?" she asked, with a whimsical smile. "Everything?"

"Almost," admitted Roger. "How did you know?"

Unfailing Barometer

"Because you want to be a heathen instead of the foremost lawyer of your time. Your ambition is an unfailing barometer."

He laughed lightly. This sort of banter was very pleasing to him after a day with the law books and an hour or more with his mother. He had known Barbara since they were children and their comradeship dated back to the mud-pie days.

"I don't know but what you're right," he said. "Whether I go to Congress or the Fiji Islands may depend, eventually, upon Judge Bascom's liver."

"Don't let it depend upon him," cautioned Barbara. "Make your own destiny. It was Napoleon, wasn't it, who prided himself upon making his own circumstances? What would you do-or be-if you could have your choice?"

Aspirations

"The best lawyer in the State," he answered, promptly. "I'd never oppose the innocent nor defend the guilty. And I'd have money enough to be comfortable and to make those I love comfortable."

"Would you marry?" she asked, thoughtfully.

"Why-I suppose so. It would seem queer, though."

"Roger," she said, abruptly, "you were born a year and more before I was, and yet you're fully ten or fifteen years younger."

"Don't take me back too far, Barbara, for I hate milk. Please don't deprive me of my solid food. What would you do, if you could choose?"

"I'd write a book."

"What kind? Dictionary?"

"No, just a little book. The sort that people who love each other would choose for a gift. Something that would be given to one who was going on a long or difficult journey. The one book a woman would take with her when she was tired and went away to rest. A book with laughter and tears in it and so much fine courage that it would be given to those who are in deep trouble. I'd soften the hard hearts, rest the weary ones, and give the despairing ones new strength to go on. Just a little book, but so brave and true and sweet and tender that it would bring the sun to every shady place."

"Would you marry?"

The Right Man

"Of course, if the right man came. Otherwise not."

"I wonder," mused Roger, "how a person could know the right one?"

"Foolish child," she answered, "that's it-the knowing. When you don't know, it isn't it."

"My dear Miss North," remarked Roger, "the heads of your argument are somewhat involved, but I think I grasp your meaning. When you know it is, then it is, but when you don't know that it is, then it isn't. Is that right?"

"Exactly. Wonderfully intelligent for one so young."

Barbara's blue eyes danced merrily and her red lips parted in a mocking smile. A long heavy braid of hair, "the colour of ripe corn," hung over either shoulder and into her lap. She was almost twenty-two, but she still clung to the childish fashion of dressing her hair, because the heavy braids and the hairpins made her head ache. All her gowns were white, either of wool or cotton, and were made to be washed. On Sundays, she sometimes wore blue ribbons on her braids.

Simply Barbara

To Roger, she was very fair. He never thought of her crutches because she had always been lame. She was simply Barbara, and Barbara needed crutches. It had never occurred to him that she might in any way be different, for he was not one of those restless souls who are forever making people over to fit their own patterns.

"Why doesn't your father like to have me come here?" asked Roger, irrelevantly.

"Why doesn't your mother like to have you come?" queried Barbara, quickly on the defensive.

"No, but tell me. Please!"

"Father always goes to bed early."

"But not at eight o'clock. It was a quarter of eight when I came, and by eight he was gone."

"It isn't you, Roger," she said, unwillingly; "it's anyone. I'm all he has, and if I talk much to other people he feels as if I were being taken away from him-that's all. It's natural, I suppose. You mustn't mind him."

"But I wouldn't hurt him," returned Roger, softly; "you know that."

"I know."

"I wish you could make him understand that I come to see every one of you."

Hard Work

"It's the harde

st work in the world," sighed Barbara, "to make people understand things."

"Somebody said once that all the wars had been caused by one set of people trying to force their opinions upon another set, who did not desire to have their minds changed."

"Very true. I wonder, sometimes, if we have done right with father."

"I'm sure you have," said Roger, gently. "You couldn't do anything wrong if you tried."

"We haven't meant to," she answered, her sweet face growing grave. "Of course it was all begun long before I was old enough to understand. He thinks the city house, which we lost so long ago that I cannot even remember our having it, was sold for so high a price that it would have been foolish not to sell it, and that we live here because we prefer the country. Just think, Roger, before I was born, this was father's and mother's Summer home, and now it's all we have."

"It's a roof and four walls-that's all any house is, without the spirit that makes it home."

"He thinks it's beautifully furnished. Of course we have the old mahogany and some of the pictures, but we've had to sell nearly everything. I've used some of mother's real laces in the sewing and sold practically all the rest. Whatever anyone would buy has been disposed of. Even the broken furniture in the attic has gone to people who had a fancy for 'antiques.'"

"You have made him very happy, Barbara."

"I know, but is it right?"

"I'm not orthodox, my dear girl, but, speaking as a lawyer, if it harms no one and makes a blind old man happy, it can't be wrong."

"I hope you're right, but sometimes my conscience bothers me."

A Saint's Conscience

"Imagine a saint's conscience being troublesome."

"Don't laugh at me-you know I'm not a saint."

"How should I know?"

"Ask Aunt Miriam. She has no illusions about me."

"Thanks, but I don't know her well enough. We haven't been on good terms since she drove me out of the melon patch-do you remember?"

"Yes, I remember. We wanted the blossoms, didn't we, to make golden bells in the Tower of Cologne?"

"I believe so. We never got the Tower finished, did we?"

"No. I wasn't allowed to play with you for a long time, because you were such a bad boy."

"Next Summer, I think we should rebuild it. Let's renew our youth sometime by making the Tower of Cologne in your back yard."

"There are no golden bells."

"I'll get some from somewhere. We owe it to ourselves to do it."

Barbara's blue eyes were sparkling now, and her sweet lips smiled. "When it's done?" she asked.

Like Fairy Tales

"We'll move into it and be happy ever afterward, like the people in the fairy tales."

"I said a little while ago that you were fifteen years younger than I am, but, upon my word, I believe it's nearer twenty."

"That makes me an enticing infant of three or four, flourishing like the green bay tree on a diet of bread and milk with an occasional soft-boiled egg. I should have been in bed by six o'clock, and now it's-gracious, Barbara, it's after eleven. What do you mean by keeping the young up so late?"

As he spoke, he hurriedly found his hat, and, reaching into the pocket of his overcoat, drew out a book. "That's the one you wanted, isn't it?"

"Yes, thank you."

"I didn't give it to you before because I wanted to talk, but we'll read, sometimes, when we can. Don't forget to put the light in the window when it's all right for me to come. If I don't, you'll understand. And please don't work so hard."

Barbara smiled. "I have to earn a living for three healthy people," she said, "and everybody is trying, by moral suasion, to prevent me from doing it. Do you want us all piled up in the front yard in a nice little heap of bones before the Tower of Cologne is rebuilt?"

Roger took both her hands and attempted to speak, but his face suddenly crimsoned, and he floundered out into the darkness like an awkward school-boy instead of a self-possessed young man of almost twenty-four. It had occurred to him that it might be very nice to kiss Barbara.

Back to Childhood

But Barbara, magically taken back to childhood, did not notice his confusion. The Tower of Cologne had been a fancy of hers ever since she could remember, though it had been temporarily eclipsed by the hard work which circumstances had thrust upon her. As she grew from childhood to womanhood, it had changed very little-the dream, always, was practically the same.

A Day Dream

The Tower itself was made of cologne bottles neatly piled together, and the brightly-tinted labels gave it a bizarre but beautiful effect. It was square in shape and very high, with a splendid cupola of clear glass arches-the labels probably would not show, up so high. It stood in an enchanted land with the sea behind it-nobody had ever thought of taking Barbara down to the sea, though it was so near. The sea was always blue, of course, like the sky, or the larkspur-she was never quite sure of the colour.

The air all around the Tower smelled sweet, just like cologne. There was a flight of steps, also made of cologne bottles, but they did not break when you walked on them, and the door was always ajar. Inside was a great, winding staircase which led to the cupola. You could climb and climb and climb, and when you were tired, you could stop to rest in any of the rooms that were on the different floors.

Strangely enough, in the Tower of Cologne, Barbara was never lame. She always left her crutches leaning up against the steps outside. She could walk and run like anyone else and never even think of crutches. There were many charming people in the Tower and none of them ever said, pityingly, "It's too bad you're lame."

All the dear people of the books lived in the Tower of Cologne, besides many more, whom Barbara did not know. Maggie Tulliver, Little Nell, Dora, Agnes, Mr. Pickwick, King Arthur, the Lady of Shalott, and unnumbered others dwelt happily there. They all knew Barbara and were always glad to see her.

Wonderful tapestries were hung along the stairs, there were beautiful pictures in every room, and whatever you wanted to eat was instantly placed before you. Each room smelled of a different kind of cologne and no two rooms were furnished alike. Her friends in the Tower were of all ages and of many different stations in life, but there was one whose face she had never seen. He was always just as old as Barbara, and was closer to her than the rest.

The Boy

When she lost herself in the queer winding passages, the Boy, whose face she was unable to picture, was always at her side to show her the way out. They both wanted to get up into the cupola and ring all the golden bells at once, but there seemed to be some law against it, for when they were almost there, something always happened. Either the Tower itself vanished beyond recall, or Aunt Miriam called her, or an imperative voice summoned the Boy downstairs-and Barbara would not think of going to the cupola without him.

When she and Roger had begun to make mud pies together, she had told him about the Tower and got him interested in it, too-all but the Boy whose face she was unable to see and whose name she did not know. In the Tower, she addressed him simply as "Boy." Barbara kept him to herself for some occult reason. Roger liked the Tower very much, but thought the construction might possibly be improved. Barbara never allowed him to make any changes. He could build another Tower for himself, if he chose, and have it just as he wanted it, but this was her very own.

It all seemed as if it were yesterday. "And," mused Barbara, "it was almost sixteen years ago, when I was six and Roger 'seven-going-on-eight,' as he always said." The dear Tower still stood in her memory, but far off and veiled, like a mirage seen in the clouds. The Boy who helped her over the difficult places was a grown man now, tall and straight and strong, but she could not see his face.

"It's queer," thought Barbara, as she put out the light. "I wonder if I ever shall."

An Enchanted Land

That night she dreamed of the Tower of Cologne, in the old, enchanted land, where a blue sky bent down to meet a bluer sea. She and the Boy were in the cupola, making music with the golden bells. Their laughter chimed in with the sweet sound of the ringing, but still, she could not see his face.

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