Kitty of the Roses

by Ralph Henry Barbour

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Chapter VIII

A picture for the book Kitty of the Roses

Burton returned to Belle Harbour and King’s Street just two weeks later to a day. It was dusk when he stepped on the station platform, and starlit darkness when, followed by a tattered and grinning little darky bearing his luggage, he reached his lodgings. His first act was to throw open the bowed shutters and look out upon the Enchanted Garden. It was a dark expanse of bush and hedge, with here and there an uncertain fleck of gray where the wan light from the sky caught a white blossom. Beyond, the house was empty of light. Something—what he scarcely knew—in the aspect of house and garden oppressed him; had he believed in premonitions he would have accepted that as one of ill augury. He turned away with a shrug of impatience and lighted his lamp.

In the morning he leaped out of bed and again thrust aside the blinds. His heart sank. The Enchanted Garden was still below him; but it looked unmistakably neglected and uninhabited. Most of the roses were through blooming for the while and what blossoms there were seemed faded and imperfect. The blinds in the rear of the Castle were all tightly closed; the hammock was gone from the porch; the vines looked dusty. In a sudden panic of alarm Burton strode to the hall and called loudly for Bob.

“Have those people in that house over there gone away?” he demanded when the darky appeared.

“Which house is dat, sah?”

“There, idiot—beyond the rose-garden! Have they gone?”

“Oh, yessah; they gone; been gone a week, I reckon.”

Burton sat down on the edge of the bed and groaned. Then,—

“Where?” he demanded. Bob shook his head:

“I dunno, sah; somewhars up No’th. The Colonel he al’ays goes No’th in summer.”

“The Colonel?”

“Yessah, Colonel Barrett. Wasn’t you askin’ about——”

“Barrett!” Burton seized Bob by the arm and dragged him to the casement. “Look here,” he said desperately, “do you mean to tell me that Colonel Barrett lives in that house, the one with the rose-garden behind it?”

“Y-yessah, I surely does, sah.”

“You’re not mistaken?”

“No, sah; why, I knows the Colonel well!”

“Then why didn’t you tell me this before, you fool nigger? Why didn’t you tell me Colonel Barrett lived there?”

“Yo’ didn’t ask me!”

“Oh, get out of here!” groaned Burton. “Hold on, though. Has the Colonel a daughter?”

“No, sah, he ain’ never got mahied.”

“Then——” cried Burton in sudden hope.

“He got a niece, though.”

“Oh! So she’s his niece? What’s her name?”

“Name’s Miss Kitty.”

“I know that,” said the other impatiently. “What’s the rest of it?”

“Ah ain’ never heard no mo’.”

“Do you mean to tell me that she has no last name?”

“Oh, las’ name! I didn’t know you meant las’ name, sah. Las’ name’s Fletcher, o’ co’se!”

“That’s all. Get out!”

Bob departed to tell the cook that] “Mister Burton he done wen’ crazy,” and the subject of the announcement remained for many minutes sitting on the bed in his pajamas gazing out into the Enchanted Garden and mentally heaping maledictions upon himself. The thought of the letter of introduction in his trunk was maddening. It was all very plain now; no wonder she had smiled when he had asked about the Colonel!

“Oh Kitty, Kitty!” he muttered, “you’re the cruel one!”

After breakfast he packed his trunk hurriedly and then, armed with the letter, sallied forth. Down King’s Street he went to the first corner; here a half-obliterated sign, nailed against the trunk of a giant oak, bore the legend “Mary Street;” he counted the houses and chose the third one. Emptiness was written all over its sleepy, red-brick front. Nevertheless he knocked, and waited. After many minutes the door was opened cautiously and an aged negress—he was certain it was Aunt Amanda—stuck her head through the narrow aperture.

“Is Colonel Barrett at home?” asked Burton.

“No, sah, he gone up No’th.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Burton, simulating intense surprise and dismay. “I have a letter of introduction to him. Can you tell me where he has gone?”

“New Yo’k.”

“And the address there?”

“Can’ tell yo’ that, sah; reckon, though, jes’ ‘New Yo’k’ will fin’ him.”

“But isn’t there anyone here in town that can give me his address?”

“Don’ reckon so.”

“But his mail, where does that go?”

“Folkses at the pos’-office lookin’ arter that, sah.”

“Oh! And is Miss Fletcher with him?”


“Thank you. I think I will leave my card. Will you kindly see that he gets it when he returns?”

Burton tried the post-office without, however, much hope of success. And, as he had expected, the post-mistress, an elderly lady with an extremely suspicious expression about her thin lips, refused to divulge any information.

“It’s a rule of the Department,” she explained severely.

That evening Burton returned to New York without having obtained any more explicit directions than those given by Aunt Amanda. But he was not hopeless. Surely, he assured himself, it would not be difficult to discover the whereabouts of the Colonel and his niece so long as hotel registers were open to public inspection.

But at the end of two days he had changed his mind. At the end of the third he gave up the search. New York had swallowed the Princess and the Ogre! Burton returned to his affairs, which had begun to suffer, and strove, for their good, to banish thoughts of Belle Harbour and the Enchanted Garden and Kitty of the Roses from his mind. But the task he had set himself was a difficult one; and just when it seemed that he was arriving at some degree of success, lo! a prankish Fate interposed.

It was well into July. New York had been sweltering all day under hot, cloudless skies, and even the darkness brought no relief. To stay indoors was out of the question, and so Burton dragged himself from an already deserted club after a late dinner and hailed a hansom.

“Drive around,” he directed,—“any old place so long as it’s cool.”

Cabby turned the horse’s head up-town and it trotted listlessly along over the still heated asphalt. Burton leaned forward to catch what air there was and smoked and meditated. For some reason—perhaps it was a glimpse of a florist’s window that did it—his thoughts flew southward to a garden of roses and to a small, graceful figure that walked therein. Fagged by the heat of the long day, he had no strength left with which to combat temptation, and he yielded. It came back to him very vividly; closing his eyes he saw the garden and the blank, drowsy old house; he saw the door beside the rose-vines open and a white-gowned figure trip down the steps. She came nearer and nearer, smiling, happy-eyed, the broad brim of her hat lifting in the breeze and chasing the edge of the mellow shadow over her cheek. Never before had her face come back to him so clearly. In the length of eight blocks he lived over those precious mornings minute by minute. In the middle of the ninth he was suffering all the torments of a despairing lover of twenty. He hurled the dead cigar from his lips to the pavement and thrust up the trap with his cane.

“This won’t do,” he muttered savagely; and aloud, “Stop here; I’ve had enough.”

On the curb he found himself bathed in the bright glare of many lights; he had landed at the entrance of an uptown theatre. With a shrug of his shoulders he went in. “As well here as anywhere,” he thought. Of the entertainment he recalled but little the next day. But the theatre was fairly cool and the music bright and eminently cheerful. When the final curtain had descended he joined the pushing throng at the right of the house. Half-way towards the entrance his eyes, ranging carelessly over the scene, were suddenly arrested and his heart leaped. Across the rows of empty seats, at the far side of the theatre, a man and a girl were slowly making their way towards the door. The man was tall, thin, with grizzled hair and moustache, Southern-looking from head to heel, and about fifty years of age. The girl was slight and rather small, with brown hair and warm skin hued like the inner petals of a rose. She was plainly dressed in a street skirt of gray and a white shirt-waist against which three or four pink roses drooped. In short, it was Kitty—and the Ogre!

Burton looked about him desperately. The only course open was to remain in the aisle where he was and trust to reaching the lobby in time to intercept them. He took advantage of every cranny and crevice in the throng and pushed his way through with slight regard for toes or skirts. It seemed hours before he reached the entrance. Now and then he was able to catch sight of his quarry over the shoulders of the throng. It was while so engaged that he heard an eloquent sound of rending silk and felt himself seized roughly by the arm. He turned to face an indignant cavalier.

“Sir, you are very awkward! You should look where you are going! You have torn this lady’s dress!”

“I am very sorry,” replied Burton, striving to wrest himself from the other’s clutch. “Believe me, Madam, I am deeply grieved and—er—— I beg of you, sir, don’t detain me; I am trying to reach some friends who——”

“Deuce take your friends, sir! Your clumsiness——”

But Burton wrenched himself free and plunged into the lobby, followed by muttered execrations from those whom he unceremoniously thrust from his path. But the delay had cost him dear. The Princess and the Ogre were not to be seen. He rushed to the street door just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of a gray skirt disappearing into a brougham.

“Kitty!” he called, and struggled across the sidewalk.

The door closed, the driver snapped his lash, and the carriage rolled away. And yet for an instant he was certain a face had looked from the window and a hand had rested upon the sill. He hailed a hansom.

“Keep that brougham in sight,” he said hurriedly. “There’s a five-dollar bill in it if you do!” With one foot on the step he paused, stooped, and lifted something from the asphalt.

lifted something from the asphalt It was a pink rose.

The driver’s task was not a hard one. The brougham went northward slowly for a few blocks and then turned to the west down a quiet side street. Presently Burton’s conveyance stopped.

“All right, sir,” said the driver.

The brougham had paused some dozen doors beyond and its passengers were alighting. Burton descended, dismissed his cab, and keeping the house into which the Princess and the Ogre had disappeared in sight, walked leisurely towards it. It proved to be a small, unpretentious, but attractive hotel. When he entered the hall was empty save for a clerk, behind the tiny desk, and a negro elevator boy.

“Is Colonel Barrett, of Virginia, staying here?” Burton asked.

“Yes, sir. Will you send up your card?”

Burton hesitated; then shook his head.

“No, I think I’ll wait until morning; I presume they have retired?”

“Did Colonel Barrett and the young lady go to their room, Billy?” the clerk inquired. The elevator boy nodded sleepily. Burton turned away and walked homeward through the breathless streets with a triumphant joy and a fragrant pink rose for companions. To-morrow he would see Kitty, his Kitty, Kitty of the Roses!

Burton purchases roses He went to his office early the following morning, and at ten o’clock, summoning a hansom, had himself driven to a florist’s. There he purchased two dozen and one roses and personally superintended the packing and dispatching of them. His selection may have struck the attendant as somewhat unique, consisting, as it did, of a dozen white blossoms, a dozen pink ones, and a single half-blown bud of deep crimson; but Burton, remembering Kitty’s wont, thought she would understand. After the flowers had been sent he hesitated a moment on the curb. In the end he sent the cab away. He did not want to present himself at the hotel before eleven; the thought of sitting inactive in a club window was distasteful; he would walk slowly uptown. So he crossed to the Avenue and, lighting a fresh cigarette, idled from window to window in a desperate attempt to kill time. He allowed no display on the shady side of the street to pass unexamined, and by the time he had reached his northerly goal his brain was a kaleidoscope of sporting prints, French landscapes, jewelry, silk stockings, bric-à-brac, lingerie, and smokers’ articles. But it was eleven o’clock!

This time there was no premonition of disappointment. He sought the desk and produced his card.

“Sorry, but Colonel Barrett and his niece left ten minutes ago for the steamer,” said the clerk.

“Steamer!” gasped Burton. “What steamer?”

“I’ll find out for you in a minute from the porter.” He disappeared, leaving Burton leaning against the desk staring blankly out onto the sun-smitten pavement. In a moment he returned.

“Trunks went to the American Line pier, sir.”

“Thank you,” Burton muttered. Then, turning suddenly at the doorway, “What time is the sailing?”

“Half after twelve, sir, I believe.”

Burton glanced at his watch, compared it with the smug-faced clock over the desk, and strode to the steps. But again he turned:

“I sent a box of flowers here for the young lady this morning; did she get them?”

“No, sir, they came just after she’d left. They’re here; I was going to send them back to the florist’s.”

That was a wild race against time! With the long box of roses between his knees, one hand on his watch, and a cigarette hanging unlighted from his lips, Burton sat like a stern-faced Fate and was whirled from the hotel to the wharf in what was practically one long bump. When the horse was pulled back on his haunches before the pier entrance there was no need to ask questions: a stream of persons whose handkerchiefs still hung from their hands was emerging into the hot sunlight.

With a groan Burton threw himself back against the cushions.

“Never before in the history of ocean travel has a steamship left on time,” he muttered.

“But to-day—oh, damn!”

“Where to, sir?” asked the driver, his red, perspiring face glowing above the opened trap. Burton gulped, and then gave his office address. The wearied horse and creaking hansom crept dejectedly uptown again through close, furnace-like streets and over pavements that threw the heat upward with intolerable intensity. Burton thought of the open, wind-swept ocean and cursed weakly. When the hansom came to a stop in front of the narrow, white-marble monstrosity on the tenth floor of which was his office, he paid three prices to the driver and strode towards the entrance. The cabman called after him,—

“Hi, sir, you’ve forgotten your flowers!”

Burton turned and scowled ferociously.

“I don’t want them,” he said. “Throw them away—take them home—eat them—anything!”

But cabby, being a person of business principles, did none of these things: he sold them at the next corner to a sidewalk vender for fifty cents.

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