There had been a shower in the gray of the morning; Burton remembered hearing the brisk patter of the falling drops against the sounding magnolia leaves while the open casement was still but an oblong of gray-black in the surrounding darkness; and now, at nine o’clock, the garden was still moist in the sunlight and dripping in shadow. The Daphne-tree was gloriously fresh, the honey-flowers were drenched in crystal drops, and the bees, moving hoveringly from spray to spray, were in constant danger of shower-baths. Across the fence the roses were laughing as the sun, fiercely solicitous, dried leaf and bloom. The hedges were festooned with glistening webs of silver and spun glass in which gems trembled and scintillated. The fallen petals, rain-beaten, strewed beds and paths and were washed here and there into tiny ridges of pale colors like the rim of an artist’s palette. And the air, renewed and refreshed, was fragrant with the mingled odors of the blossoms and moist loam.
rose05 Even Burton’s table beneath the Daphne-tree showed evidences of the recent shower, for the painted top was spotted with tiny pools in which the greenery overhead was dimly reflected. Burton moved it into the sunshine, tipped it until the emerald pools trickled off, and left it there to dry while he lighted a cigarette and, between inhalations, cast casual glances over the rose-bushes at the neighboring door. But the door remained closed. A second cigarette followed the first. The table was quite dry by now, but Burton seemed to have forgotten its existence while he strolled to and fro along the path beside the house. Once he glanced at his watch a trifle impatiently; it was after nine-thirty. He shook his head disapprovingly; the Princess was late. Didn’t she know, he wondered, that punctuality was a virtue in Princesses as well as in others? Besides, it was growing very warm and she was keeping him from his work. Then he had the grace to blush mentally as he remembered the two pencils and the block of paper in his coat pocket which, while they might give the appearance of labor, were intended merely as a cloak for idleness. He rescued the table from the sun, which already showed a disposition to blister the yellow painted top, and laid his pad and pencils upon it with a great show of importance. He had forgotten the chair, so he went to the back door and requisitioned one from the kitchen. Bob, wearing a long blue-checked apron which impeded his progress by winding its folds about his thin shanks, appeared presently—Burton had been in Belle Harbour long enough to cease expecting immediate results—and set a kitchen chair before the table. Burton shook his head.
“No, Robert, the other side, if you please,” he said. “Your tastes may run towards brick walls and Daphne-trees, but mine prefer roses and enchantment. The other side, Robert.”
Kitty “Yessah, ve’y well, sah.” Bob had given up attempting to understand Burton, and had philosophically decided to pay no heed to his vagaries save to humor them whenever possible and so earn as many as he might of the silver coins with which the Northerner’s pockets seemed to be filled. He placed the chair with its back to the Daphne-tree, wiped the seat of it with the end of his apron and grinned inquiringly.
“Robert,” said Burton, “I presume that you agree with me in holding the lack of punctuality to be one of the deadliest of the deadly sins?”
Bob scratched his head and appeared to be giving the matter serious consideration. But as he made no reply Burton continued, accepting silence for consent.
“It seems to me, Robert, that tardiness in plain, ordinary every-day mortals like you and me may be forgiven; I hope so for your sake; but a Princess—I may say the Princess!—Eh? You see the difference?”
“Yessah,” said Bob explosively.
“Of course,” Burton went on, seating himself in the chair and with difficulty getting his knees beneath the table, “of course, living in an Enchanted Castle it may be that one is not at liberty to come and go as we are, Robert. You follow me, I trust?”
“Thank you. I realize that there are times when my remarks possess a certain involution, as you might say, which persons with less penetration than you, Robert, might find confusing. It pleases me that you so thoroughly understand my remarks; your sympathetic attitude arouses my gratitude. That possibly sounds to your finely-trained ear like poetry, Robert, but I assure you that nothing of the sort was intended. So far I have not reached the condition when poetry becomes necessary for the expression of thought. When I do reach that phase of the malady—for love has been not inaptly termed a malady, you’ll remember—when I do, I say, your ears shall be the first to listen to my rhymed periods; that I promise you. But—no, thanks, I beg of you!”
The request seemed unnecessary, for Bob’s countenance was expressive of other emotions than gratitude, chief of which, perhaps, was bewilderment. He rolled his eyes towards the kitchen door, and his settled grin—the sort of grin with which one might strive to placate a dangerous lunatic—held a trace of uneasiness. But Burton, leaning with his elbows on the table and levelling a drawing pencil at him, held him captive to his will.
“Robert,” he asked, “have you ever seen a Princess?”
“N-no, sah; leastways, sah, not to know it.”
“Ah,” said Burton with a shake of his head, “that’s it! ‘Not to know it!’ Perhaps, Robert, you have met your Princess without recognizing her, have passed her on the street, at the market, in—Robert!”
“How about cook? You don’t think that possibly—er—she might be your Princess?”
“Who, sah? Lavinia, sah? Ah reckon yo’ makin’ fun, Mister Burton. Why, she ain’ no Princess, sah; she’s jes’ one dem no ’count No’th Ca’lina niggers!”
Burton nodded gravely.
“Perhaps you are right. Nevertheless, Robert, Princesses move in strange disguises, I have no doubt. Unfortunately, I am unable to acquaint you with any certain method of detecting them. Of course, if she lives in a Castle and picks roses in an Enchanted Garden you know at once that she is a Princess; that is simplicity itself. Also, if she has beautiful soft brown eyes and—and dimples—” He snapped his fingers triumphantly and Bob started in alarm. “We have it, Robert! Rejoice!”
“That, Robert, is the secret! Dimples! Look for dimples! All Princesses have dimples. Aren’t you awfully glad I thought of that? When you go back, Robert, observe Lavinia closely. If she has dimples”—he spread his hands wide—“there you are, you have found your Princess!”
“Ah reckon th’ won’t be no dimples, Mister Burton,” said Bob lugubriously. “Ah reckon she’ll jes’ natu’ally snatch me bald-headed, sah, for not comin’ back an’ wipin’ de dishes.”
Burton shook his head sorrowfully.
“You pain me, Robert. All the time you have stayed here keeping me from my work you have been neglecting your own labors. That is not right. Return at once to the kitchen and the Princess Lavinia. Not a word! I refuse to listen any longer to your chatter.”
“Yessah,” said Bob eagerly. “Thank’ y’, sah. Anythin’ Ah can git you, sah?”
“Nothing, Robert. Do not attempt to disarm my resentment; I am disappointed in you.” Burton waved him away. When he had gone, Burton lighted a third cigarette, stretched his arms overhead, yawned inelegantly and—suddenly sat up very straight and attentive in the chair.
From across the nodding roses, from an open window of the Castle, floated again a girl’s sweet, fresh voice in song. Burton’s heart leaped and he tried to still his breathing that he might hear the better, the while he searched eagerly with his gaze the windows of the house beyond the rose-garden.
“O Paradise, O Paradise, the world is growing old; Who would not be at rest and free where love is never cold? Where loyal hearts and true stand ever in the light, All rapture thro’ and thro’ in God’s most holy sight?”
The words of the hymn died softly away and silence held the Castle again, a peaceful silence that now held for Burton a new significance. After a few moments he gathered his pencils and paper together and arose. The hymn had recalled to his mind a fact which he had lost sight of,—namely, that to-day was Sunday. And he knew enough of Belle Harbour and its customs to be sure that, even should he wait there in the garden all day long, he would not be rewarded with a glimpse of the Princess. At the door of the house he turned and looked again over the enchanting scene. Beyond the iron fence the roses drowsed and nodded sleepily, the yuccas gently swung their bells, the leaves cast flickering shadows on the red gravel paths, and the bees droned. The magnolia had already begun to spread its mellow gloom over the garden and from its depths a yellow-breasted songster, half seen like a speck of molten gold between the moving leaves, gushed its soul into song. But for the rest, silence and emptiness.