Kitty of the Roses

by Ralph Henry Barbour

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Chapter IX

A picture for the book Kitty of the Roses

It was June once more.

Burton had been in Washington for two days; it was Tuesday evening now and his business was at last completed. He had earned a vacation, he told himself, and he meant to take it. Washington was maintaining its reputation for torridness, and when at the lunch-table an acquaintance had pictured a mile of cool green waves breaking on the shingle at Virginia Beach and had likened the sea-breezes there to a million electric fans, Burton had made up his mind on the instant. He would take the night boat for Hampton and spend the morrow by salt water; the thought of cleaving his way through gurgling, hissing combers was so enticing that the rest of the hot, humid afternoon was almost endurable.

He took the little steamer after dinner, just as the weary sun was sinking back of the miles of parched brick and fetid asphalt. He was tired, and he meant to go to bed early, but the deck was comparatively cool and the little box-like state-room was incomparably hot, and so darkness found him still smoking with his feet on the rail. Near at hand two men were talking lazily, but he gave them no heed until one said:

“Belle Harbour? Yes, over there where you see the lights. We stop there. Say, have you ever been there? Well, of all——”

Burton listened no longer. Belle Harbour—the Enchanted Garden—and Kitty! How long ago it all seemed, to be sure! And yet the mere mention of the sleepy old town set his heart a-racing and the memory of the girl amidst the roses still never failed to bring a frown to his brow and a queer little ache to his breast. It was June once more, he thought, and the garden would be gay and fragrant with the waving blooms, but Kitty——

He dropped his feet from the rail and sat up suddenly in his deck chair. But would Kitty be absent? Wasn’t it far more probable that she would be at home, there in the garden, now that rose-time had come? It was a long cry from Algiers to Virginia, and yet, as he gazed across the dark water to the few scattered lights, he felt certain that the girl he loved was there.

Only twice since she had gone abroad had he had tidings of her, though he had searched the foreign pages diligently. Once her name was among a list of persons who had registered at the Herald Bureau in Paris: that was in September. In January the paper had mentioned Colonel Simpson Barrett as having been a guest at a Government function given in Algiers to a visiting potentate. That was all. He had instructed Mrs. Phillips to advise him the instant the Colonel and his niece returned to Mary Street, but such advice had never come. And yet—and yet something seemed to tell him that Kitty was back among the roses, that the Castle once more held the Princess!

The steamer sidled across the black waste of water with a warning screech and much tinkling of bells. The lights on the wharves grew brighter and brighter. Burton tossed his cigarette into the wake and sought his state-room. Virginia Beach and rolling waves and sea-breezes were forgotten. The steamer bumped against the spiling and a voice droned:

“Belle Harbour! All off for Belle Harbour!”

A solitary figure, laden with suit-case and umbrella, strode down the gang-plank.

As Burton turned into King’s Street and walked along under the motionless branches of the arching oaks he caught dim glimpses of white-gowned figures on doorsteps and heard young voices. Once the tinkling of a mandolin floated across the street, and with it the sound of a girl singing softly in the darkness. It was June once more, the month of roses and of love! Burton went on with a new lightness in his heart.

“How things do happen!” exclaimed Mrs. Phillips, leading the way upstairs. “The Colonel got back yesterday, and I was just this minute hunting for pen and paper to write to you! Mr. Burton, that is surely a coincidence!”

“It is indeed, Mrs. Phillips. Er—I presume the Colonel brought his family back with him?”

“Well, now, sir, he hasn’t got much family to bring, but he brought what he had—his niece, Miss Fletcher, you know.”

“Ah, his niece? Indeed! There’s nothing I shall want, thank you. I think I will go out again for a stroll. If you will ask the worthy Robert to remember my existence in the morning——”

Out under the oaks again, Burton lighted a pipe and set off in an aimless manner down King’s Street. But at the first corner he turned to the right without hesitation. The third house held a solitary light. He stood for several moments across the way watching it, and then, humming a tune from sheer gladness, strolled on. At the next corner he again took the right-hand turning, and presently the tower of the old church arose, murky-white, against the starlit sky. The green, dotted with its crumbling tombstones, invited him in through the open gate. As he passed the church door he saw that the building was lighted, and simultaneously the sound of voices reached him. Wondering, he stepped noiselessly to a window and looked in.

A little group of men and girls were congregated near the farthest door and a second group stood beside the chancel. There was much talking, and what was said he could not hear. But as he looked the group at the door ranged itself in couples, from the organ loft came the first notes of the wedding-march, and the procession started up the aisle. At the same moment Burton’s heart stood still. Back of the first three couples—apparently the ushers—a middle-aged gentleman and a girl came. For the man Burton had no eyes, but at the girl he gazed fixedly, hungrily. It was Kitty of the Roses!

Up the nearer aisle marched the bridegroom and the best man. The organ’s notes rose and sank. Burton, with a vague disquiet at his heart, watched frowningly. “A rehearsal,” he told himself. The ushers turned at the end of the aisle and took up their stations. Bride and bridesmaids went slowly onward to the chancel; groom and best man advanced to meet them. Then the organ’s notes died away and with them went Burton’s happiness.

Side by side before the empty altar stood the bridegroom and Kitty!

Burton turned away from the window and stumbled blindly down the gravel driveway that led through the darkness to King’s Street. His hands clinched themselves fiercely and his heart was like lead. At the gate he paused and relighted his pipe with fingers that trembled. Then he laughed softly and walked homeward.

“You’re too late, old man,” he muttered, “too late!”

When he was ready for bed he blew out the lamp and drawing a chair to the open window sat and smoked many pipes and looked miserably down onto the darkened rose-garden. In the Castle all lights were gone. The town was silent save for a distant whistle from the direction of the railroad or the occasional cheep of a circling bat.

“Kitty!” he murmured once, “Kitty!” Then he closed his lips resolutely, grimly, over the stem of his pipe.

God! how he hated the fragrance of roses!

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