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Aftermath / Part second of A Kentucky Cardinal"" By James Lane Allen Characters: 8887

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The population of this town on yesterday was seven thousand nine hundred and twenty; today it is seven thousand, nine hundred and twenty-one. The inhabitants of the globe are enriched by the same stupendous unit; the solar system must adjust itself to new laws of equilibrium; the choir of angels is sweetened by the advent of another musician. During the night Georgiana bore a son-not during the night, but at dawn, and amid such singing of birds that every tree in the yard became a dew-hung belfry of chimes, ringing a welcome to the heir of this old house and of these old trees-to the dispenser of seed during winters to come-to the proprietor of a whole race of seed-scatterers as long as nature shall be harsh and seasons shall return.

I had already bought the largest family Bible in the town as a repository for his name, Adam Cobb Moss, which in clear euphony is most fit to be enrolled among the sweetly sounding vocables of the Hebrew children. The page for the registration of later births in my family is so large and the lines ruled across it are so many that I am deeply mortified over this solitary entry at the top. But surely Georgiana and I would have to live far past the ages of Abraham and Sarah to fill it with the requisite wealth of offspring, beginning as we do, and being without divine assistance. When the name of our eldest-born is inscribed in this Bible, not far away will be found a scene in the home of his first parents, Georgiana and I being only the last of these, and giving, as it were, merely the finishing Kentucky touch to his Jewish origin.

But I gambol in spirit like a hawk in the air. Let me hood myself with parental cares: I have been a sire for half a day.

I am speechless before the stupendous wisdom of my son in view of his stupendous ignorance. Already he lectures to the old people about the house on the perfect conduct of life, and the only preparation that he requires for his lectures is a few drops of milk. By means of these, and without any knowledge of anatomy, he will show us, for instance, what it is to be master of the science of vital functions. When he regards it necessary to do anything, he does it instantly and perfectly, and the world may take the consequences and the result. He forthwith addresses himself to fresh comfort and new enterprises for self-development. Beyond what is vital he refuses to go; things that do not concern him he lets alone. He has no cares beyond his needs; all space to him is what he can fill, all time his instant of action. He does not know where he came from, what he is, why here, whither bound; nor does he ask.

My heart aches helplessly for him when he shall have become a man and have grown less wise: when he shall find it necessary to act for himself and shall yet be troubled by what his companions may think; when he shall no longer live within the fortress of the vital, but take up his wandering abode with the husks and swine; when he shall no longer let the world pass by him with heed only as there is need, but weary himself to better the unchangeable; when space shall not be some quiet nook of the world large enough for the cradle of his life, but the illimitable void filled with floating spheres, out upon the myriads of which, with his poor, puzzled, human eyes, he will pitifully gaze; when time shall not be his instant of action, but two eternities, past and future, along the baffling walls of which he will lead his groping faith; and when the questioning of his stoutest years shall be: Whence came I? And what am I? Why here for a little while? Where to be hereafter? A swimmer is drowned by a wave originating in the moon; a traveller is struck down by a bolt originating in a cloud; a workman is overcome by the heat originating in the sun; and so, perhaps, the end will come to him through his solitary struggle with the great powers of the universe that perpetually reach him, but remain forever beyond his reach. If I could put forth one protecting prayer that would cover all his years, it would be that through life he continue as wise as the day he was born.

The third of June once more. Rain fell all yesterday, all last night. This morning earth and sky are dark and chill. The plants are bowed down, and no wind releases them from their burden of large white drops. About the yard the red-rose bushes fall away from the fences, the lilacs stand with their purple clusters hanging do

wn as heavily as clusters of purple grapes. I hear the young orioles calling drearily from wet nests under dripping boughs. A plaintive piping of lost little chickens comes from the long grass.

How unlike the day is to the third of June two years ago. I was in the strawberry bed that crystalline morning; Georgiana came to the window, and I beheld her for the first time. How unlike the same day one year back. Again I was in the strawberry bed, again Georgiana came to window and spoke to me as before. This morning as I tipped into her room where she lay in bed, she turned her face to me on the pillow, and for the third time she said, fondly;

"Old man, are you the gardener?"

The sky being so blanketed with cloud, although the shutters were open only a faint gray light filled the room. It was the first day that she had been well enough to have it done; but now the bed in which Georgiana lay was spread with the most beautiful draperies of white; the pillows were rich with needle-work and lace, and for the first time she had put on the badge of her new dignity, a little white cap of ribbons and lace, the long wide streamers of which, edged with lace, lay out upon the counterpane like bauds of the most delicate frost. The fingers of one hand rested lightly on the child beside her, as though she were counting the pulse of its oncoming life. Out in the yard the lilies of the valley, slipping out of their cool sheaths of green leaves, were not more white, more fresh. And surely Georgiana's gayety is the unconquerable gayety of the world, the youthfulness of youth immortal.

I went over to her with the strange new awe I feel at my union with the young mother, where hitherto there has but been a union with the woman I love. She stretched out her hands to me, almost hidden under the lace of her sleeves, and drew my face down against hers, as she said in my ear,

"Now you are the old Adam!"

When she released me, she bent over the child and added, reproachfully,

"You haven't paid the least attention to the baby yet."

"I haven't noticed that the baby has bestowed the least attention upon me. He is the youngest."

"He is the guest of the house! It is your duty to speak to him first."

"He doesn't act like a guest in my house. He behaves as though he owned it. I'm nobody since he arrived-not even his body-servant."

Georgiana, who was still bending over the child, glanced up with a look of confidential, whimsical distress.

"How could anything so old be born so young!"

"He will look younger as he gets older," I replied. "And he will not be the first bachelor to do that. At present this youngster is an invaluable human document in too large an envelope; that's all."

Georgiana, with a swift, protecting movement, leaned nearer to the child, and spoke to him:

"It's your house; tell him to leave the room for his impertinence."

"He may have the house, since it's his," I replied. "But there is one thing I'll not stand; if he ever comes between me and you, he'll have to go; I'll present him to Mrs. Walters."

I was not aware of the expression with which I stood looking down upon my son, but Georgiana must have noticed it.

"And what if he supplants me some day?" she asked, suddenly serious, and with an old fear reviving.

"Oh, Georgiana!" I cried, kneeling by the bedside and putting my arms around her, "you know that as long as we are in this world I am your lover."

"No longer?" she whispered, drawing me closer.

"Through eternity!"

By-and-by I went out to the strawberry-bed. The season was too backward. None were turning. With bitter disappointment I searched the cold, wet leaves, bending them apart for the sight of as much as one scarlet lobe, that I might take it in to her if only for remembrance of the day. At last I gathered a few perfect leaves and blossoms, and presented them to her in silence on a plate with a waiter and napkin.

She rewarded me with a laugh, and lifted from the plate a spray of blossoms.

"They will be ripe by the time I am well," she said, the sunlight of memory coming out upon her face. Then having touched the wet blossoms with her finger-tips, she dropped them quickly back into the plate.

"How cold they are!" she said, as a shiver ran through her. At the same time she looked quickly at me, her eyes grown dark with dread.

I set the plate hastily down, and she put her hands in mine to warm them.

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