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   Chapter 6 No.6

Flower of the Dusk By Myrtle Reed Characters: 18050

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


A Letter

Discouraging Prospects

Miriam had come home disappointed and secretly afraid to hope for any tangible results from Miss Wynne's promised visit. Nevertheless, she told Barbara.

"Wouldn't any of them even look at it, Aunty?"

"One of them would have looked at it and rumpled it so that I'd have had to iron it again, but she wouldn't have bought anything. This young lady said she was busy just then, and she wanted to come up and look over all the things at her leisure. She won't pay much, though, even if she buys anything. She said the price was 'ridiculous.'"

"Perhaps she meant it was too low," suggested Barbara.

"Possibly," answered Miriam. Her tone indicated that it was equally possible for canary birds to play the piano, or for ducks to sing.

"How does she look?" queried Barbara.

"Well enough." Enthusiasm was not one of Miriam's attractions.

"What did she have on?"

"White. Linen, I think."

"Then she knows good material. Was her gown tailor-made?"

"Might have been. Why?"

"Because if her white linen gowns are tailored she has money and is used to spending it for clothes. I'm sure she meant the price was too low. Did she say when she was coming?"

"Next week. She didn't say what day."

Waiting

"Then," sighed Barbara, "all we can do is to wait."

"We'll wait until she comes, or has had time to. In the meantime, I'm going to show my quilts to those old ladies and take down a jar or two of preserves. I wish you'd write to the people who left orders last year, and ask if they want preserves or jam or jelly, or pickles, or quilts, or anything. It would be nice to get some orders in before we buy the fruit."

Barbara put down her book, asked for the pen and ink, and went cheerfully to work, with the aid of Aunt Miriam's small memorandum book which contained a list of addresses.

"What colour is her hair, Aunty?" she asked, as she blotted and turned her first neat page.

"A good deal the colour of that old copper tea-kettle that a woman paid six dollars for once, do you remember? I've always thought she was crazy, for she wouldn't even let me clean it."

"And her eyes?"

"Brown and big, with long lashes. She looks well enough, and her voice is pleasant, and I must say she has nice ways. She didn't make me feel like a peddler, as so many of them do. P'raps she'll come," admitted Miriam, grudgingly.

"Oh, I hope so. I'd love to see her and her pretty clothes, even if she didn't buy anything." Barbara threw back a golden braid impatiently, wishing it were copper-coloured and had smooth, shiny waves in it, instead of fluffing out like an undeserved halo.

While Barbara was writing, her father came in and sat down near her. "More sewing, dear?" he asked, wistfully.

Writing Letters

"No, Daddy, not this time. I'm just writing letters."

"I didn't know you ever got any letters-do you?"

"Oh, yes-sometimes. The people at the hotel come up to call once in a while, you know, and after they go away, Aunt Miriam and I occasionally exchange letters with them. It's nice to get letters."

The old man's face changed. "Are you lonely, dear?"

"Lonely?" repeated Barbara, laughing; "why I don't even know what the word means. I have you and my books and my sewing and these letters to write, and I can sit in the window and nod to people who go by-how could I be lonely, Daddy?"

"I want you to be happy, dear."

"So I am," returned the girl, trying hard to make her voice even. "With you, and everything a girl could want, why shouldn't I be happy?"

Miriam went out, closing the door quietly, and the blind man drew his chair very near to Barbara.

Dreaming

"I dream," he said, "and I keep on dreaming that you can walk and I can see. What do you suppose it means? I never dreamed it before."

"We all have dreams, Daddy. I've had the same one very often ever since I was a little child. It's about a tower made of cologne bottles, with a cupola of lovely glass arches, built on the white sand by the blue sea. Inside is a winding stairway hung with tapestries, leading to the cupola where the golden bells are. There are lovely rooms on every floor, and you can stop wherever you please."

"It sounds like a song," he mused.

"Perhaps it is. Can't you make one of it?"

"No-we each have to make our own. I made one this morning."

"Tell me, please."

Love Never Lost

"It is about love. When God made the world, He put love in, and none of it has ever been lost. It is simply transferred from one person to another. Sometimes it takes a different form, and becomes a deed, which, at first, may not look as if it were made of love, but, in reality, is.

"Love blossoms in flowers, sings in moving waters, fills the forest with birds, and makes all the wonderful music of Spring. It puts the colour upon the robin's breast, scents the orchard with far-reaching drifts of bloom, and scatters the pink and white petals over the grass beneath. Through love the flower changes to fruit, and the birds sing lullabies at twilight instead of mating songs.

"It is at the root of everything good in all the world, and where things are wrong, it is only because sometime, somewhere, there has not been enough love. The balance has been uneven and some have had too much while others were starving for it. As the lack of food stunts the body, so the denial of love warps the soul.

"But God has made it so that love given must unfailingly come back an hundred-fold; the more we give, the richer we are. And Heaven is only a place where the things that have gone wrong here will at last come right. Is it not so, Barbara?"

"Surely, Daddy."

"Then," he continued, anxiously, "all my loving must come back to me sometime, somewhere. I think it will be right, for God Himself is Love."

The blind man's sensitive fingers lovingly sought Barbara's face. His touch was a caress. "I am sure you are like your dear mother," he said, softly. "If I could know that she died loving me, and if I could see her face again, just for an instant, why, all the years of loving, with no answer, would be fully repaid."

"She loved you, Daddy-I know she did."

The Old Doubt

"I know, too, but not always. Sometimes the old, tormenting doubt comes back to me."

"It shouldn't-mother would never have meant you to doubt her."

"Barbara," cried the old man, with sudden passion, "if you ever love a man, never let him doubt you-always let him be sure. There is so much in a man's world that a woman knows nothing of. When he comes home at night, tired beyond words, and sick to death of the world and its ways, make him sure. When he thinks himself defeated, make him sure. When you see him tempted to swerve even the least from the straight path, make him sure. When the last parting comes, if he is leaving you, give him the certainty to take with him into his narrow house, and make his last sleep sweet. And if you are the one to go first, and leave him, old and desolate and stricken, oh, Barbara, make him sure then-make him very sure."

A String of Pearls

The girl's hand closed tightly upon his. He leaned over to pat her cheek and stroke the heavy braids of silken hair. Then he felt the strand of beads around her neck.

"You have on your mother's pearls," he said. His fine old face illumined as he touched the tawdry trinket.

Barbara swallowed the hard lump in her throat. "Yes, Daddy." They had lived for years upon that single strand of large, perfectly matched pearls which Ambrose North had clasped around his young wife's neck upon their wedding day.

"Would you like more pearls, dear? A bracelet, or a ring?"

"No-these are all I want."

"I want to give you a diamond ring some day, Barbara. Your mother's was buried with her. It was her engagement ring."

"Perhaps somebody will give me an engagement ring," she suggested.

"I shouldn't wonder. I don't want to be selfish, dear. You are all I have, but, if you loved a man, I wouldn't try to keep you away from him."

"Prince Charming hasn't come yet, Daddy, so cheer up. I'll tell you when he does."

Thus she turned the talk into a happier vein. They were laughing together like two children when Miriam came in to say that supper was ready.

Alone

Afterward, he sat at the piano, improvising low, sweet chords that echoed back plaintively from the dingy walls. The music was full of questioning, of pleading, of longing so deep that it was almost prayer. Barbara finished her letters by the light of the lamp, while Miriam sat in the dining-room alone, asking herself the old, torturing questions, facing her temptation, and bearing the old, terrible hunger of the heart that hurt her like physical pain.

A little before nine o'clock, the blind man came to kiss Barbara good-night. Then he went upstairs. Miriam came in and talked a few minutes of quilts, pickles, and lingerie, then she, too, went up to begin her usual restless night.

Left alone, Barbara discovered that she did not car

e to read. It was too late to begin work upon the new stock of linen, lawn, and batiste which had come the day before, and she lacked the impulse, in the face of such discouraging prospects as Aunt Miriam had encountered at the hotel. Barbara steadily refused to admit, even to herself, that she was discouraged, but she found no pleasure in the thought of her work.

A Light in the Window

She unfastened the front door, lighted a candle, and set it upon the sill of the front window. Within twenty minutes Roger had come, entering the house so quietly that Barbara did not hear his step and was frightened when she saw him.

"Don't scream," he said, as he closed the door leading into the hall. "I'm not a burglar-only a struggling young law student with no prospects and even less hope."

"I infer," said Barbara, "that the Bascom liver is out of repair."

"Correct. It seems absurd, doesn't it, to be affected by another man's liver while you are supremely unconscious of your own?"

"There are more things in other people's digestions than our philosophy can account for," she replied, with a wicked perversion of classic phrase. "What was the primary cause of the explosion?"

"It was all his own fault," explained Roger. "I like dogs almost as well as I do people, but it doesn't follow that dogs should mix so constantly with people as they usually are allowed to. I was never in favour of Judge Bascom's bull pup keeping regular office hours with us, but he has, ever since the day he waddled in behind the Judge with a small chain as the connecting link. I got so accustomed to his howling in the corner of the office where he was chained up that I couldn't do my work properly when he was asleep. So all went well until the Judge decided to remove the chain and give the pup more room to develop himself in.

"Pethood"

"I tried to dissuade him, but it was no use. I told him he would run away, and he said, with great dignity, that he did not desire for a pet anything which had to be tied up in order to be retained. He observed that the restraining influence worked against the pethood so strongly as practically to obscure it."

"New word?" laughed Barbara.

"I don't know why it isn't a good word," returned Roger, in defence. "If 'manhood' and 'womanhood' and 'brotherhood' and all the other 'hoods' are good English, I see no reason why 'pethood' shouldn't be used in the same sense. The English language needs a lot of words added to it before it can be called complete."

"One wouldn't think so, judging by the size of the dictionary. However, we'll let it pass. Go on with the story."

"Things have been lively for a week or more. The pup has romped around a good deal and has playfully bitten a client or two, but the Judge has been highly edified until to-day. Fido got an important legal document which the Judge had just drafted, and literally chewed it to pulp. Then he swallowed it, apparently with great relish. I was told to make another, and my not knowing about it, and taking the liberty of asking a few necessary questions, produced the fireworks. It wasn't Fido's fault, but mine."

"How is Fido?" queried Barbara, with affected anxiety.

"He was well at last accounts, but the document was long enough and complicated enough to make him very ill. I hope he'll die of it to-morrow."

"Perhaps he's going to study law, too," remarked Barbara, "and believes, with Macaulay, that 'a page digested is better than a book hurriedly read.'"

"I think that will do, Miss North. I'll read to you now, if you don't mind. I would fain improve myself instead of listening to such childish chatter."

"Perhaps, if you read to me enough, I'll improve so that even you will enjoy talking to me," she returned, with a mischievous smile. "What did you bring over?"

A New Book

"A new book-that is, one that we've never seen before. There is a large box of father's books behind some trunks in the attic, and I never found them until Sunday, when I was rummaging around up there. I haven't read them-I thought I'd make a list of them first, and you can choose those you'd like to have me read to you. I brought this little one because I was sure you'd like it, after reading Endymion and The Eve of St. Agnes."

"What is it?"

"Keats's letters to Fanny Brawne."

The little brown book was old and its corners were dog-eared, but the yellowed pages, with their record of a deathless passion, were still warmly human and alive. Roger had a deep, pleasant voice, and he read well. Quite apart from the beauty of the letters, it gave Barbara pleasure to sit in the firelight and watch his face.

A Folded Paper

He read steadily, pausing now and then for comment, until he was half-way through the volume; then, as he turned a page, a folded paper fell out. He picked it up curiously.

"Why, Barbara," he said, in astonishment. "It's my father's writing."

"What is it-notes?"

"No, he seems to have been trying to write a letter like those in the book. It is all in pencil, with changes and erasures here and there. Listen:

The Letter

"'You are right, as you always are, and we must never see each other again. We must live near each other for the rest of our lives, with that consciousness between us. We must pass each other on the street and not speak unless others are with us; then we must bow, pleasantly, for the sake of appearances.

"'I hope you do not blame me because I went mad. I ask your pardon, and yet I cannot say I am sorry. That one hour of confession is worth a lifetime of waiting-it is worth all the husks that we are to have henceforward while we starve for more.

"'Through all the years to come, we shall be separated by less than a mile, yet the world lies between us and divides us as by a glittering sword. You will not be unfaithful to your pledge, nor I to mine. Nothing is changed there. It is only that two people chose to live in the starlight and bound themselves to it eternally, then had one blinding glimpse of God's great sun.

"'But, Constance, the stars are the same as always, and we must try to forget that we have seen the sun. The little lights of the temple must be the more faithfully tended if the Great Light goes out. When the white splendour fades, we must be content with the misty gold of night, and not mind the shadows nor the great desolate spaces where not even starlight comes. Your star and mine met for an instant, then were sundered as widely as the poles, but the light of each must be kept steadfast and clear, because of the other.

"'I do not know that I shall have the courage to send this letter. Everything was said when I told you that I love you, for that one word holds it all and there is nothing more. As you can take your heart in the hollow of your hand and hold it, it is so small a thing; so the one word 'love' holds everything that can be said, or given, or hungered for, or prayed for and denied.

"'And if, sometimes, in the starlight, we dream of the sun, we must remember that both sun and stars are God's. Past the unutterable leagues that divide us now, one day we shall meet again, purged, mayhap, of earthly longing for earthly love.

"'But Heaven, for me, would be the hour I held you close again. I should ask nothing more than to tell you once more, face to face and heart to heart, the words I write now: I love you-I love you-I love you.'"

A Discovery

Roger put down the book and stared fixedly at the fire. Barbara's face was very pale and the light had gone from her eyes.

"Roger," she said, in a strange tone, "Constance was my mother's name. Do you think--"

He was startled, for his thought had not gone so far as her intuition. "I-do-not-know," he said.

"They knew each other," Barbara went on, swiftly, "for the two families have always lived here, in these same two houses where you and I were born. It was only a step across the road, and they--"

A Barrier

She choked back a sob. Something new and terrible seemed to have sprung up suddenly between her and Roger.

The blood beat hard in his ears and his own words sounded dull and far away. "It is dated June third," he said.

"My mother died on the seventh," said Barbara, slowly, "by-her-own-hand."

They sat in silence for a long time. Then, speaking of indifferent things, they tried to get back upon the old friendly footing again, but failed miserably. There was a consciousness as of guilt, on either side.

Roger tried not to think of it. Later, when he was alone, he would go over it all and try to reason it out-try to discover if it were true. Barbara did not need to do this, for, with a woman's quick insight, she knew.

Secretly, too, both were ashamed, having come unawares upon knowledge that was not meant for them. Presently, Roger went home, and was glad to be alone in the free outer air; but, long after he was gone, Barbara sat in the dark, her heart aching with the burden of her father's doubt and her dead mother's secret.

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