The north-bound train left at eleven; his bag stood in the hallway; his watch said ten minutes of nine. Two dreary hours remained before he could shake the dust of Belle Harbour from his shoes for the last time.
There is a strain of morbidness in the most healthy of us and Burton was no exception. That, perhaps, is why, after vainly striving to find interest in the Washington morning paper, he lighted the inevitable cigarette and went out into the yard.
It might well have been a morning of a year ago; everything was unchanged. The Daphne-tree threw its grotesque shadows on the turf; the iris bloomed along the old wall; the birds sang and called from the boughs; and beyond the iron fence the roses were courtesying and swaying—flares of pink and yellow, white and red—on their slender stalks; the Enchanted Garden was as beautiful as ever. Burton, his hands behind his back, a little stream of smoke curling up from under his moustache, stood in the shade of the tree in the corner and viewed the scene with unresponsive eyes. It was all over, he told himself for the fiftieth time—over and done with, dead and buried. In an hour or two he would put the memory of it out of his heart; until then, though, what harm in——
There came the sound of an opening door from beyond the rose-garden. At the top of the steps stood a girl in a muslin gown and a broad-brimmed hat. The gown was caught at her waist with a sash of light blue ribbon. With one gloved hand she held a basket, with the other her skirts. For a moment she stood there in the half-shadow of the rose-vines looking thoughtfully over the sea of color that broke at her feet. Over the garden her gaze wandered to the farther end, to the neighboring house, to a window open to the morning sunlight; and suddenly a flush of color ran riot over her cheeks, then faded. She stepped down to the path between the box hedges, and Burton, watching from beyond the fence, lost sight of her.
He contemplated retreat; he even reached a point half way to the side door; then he stole back, like a thief, to the shade of the Daphne-tree and waited there, his heart galloping and plodding by turns; waited for just one more sight of her, for a word before he went away. He could hear the snipping of her scissors and, as often before, could catch a glimpse now and then of her hat above the bushes. He waited and tried to think of things to say, things which would tell nothing of his heart-sickness. And, ere he had prepared his speech of greeting, she turned the corner of the path and stood gazing full upon him.
She was surprised; oh, yes, she must have been surprised, for the color came and went in her cheeks and her lips parted breathlessly as she bowed to him. Burton removed his hat and took a step towards the fence. But he said nothing; nor did she; and the next instant they were gazing at each other again in silence over the topmost leaves. Burton made a desperate effort; he advanced to the fence and with a picket in each hand for support uttered a remark masterly in its originality, utter simplicity, and veracity,—
“A lovely morning?”
“Yes,” she answered. The blushes were gone, leaving her clear, soft cheeks paler than before. She moved towards the fence until, had he stretched forth his hand, he could have almost touched her gown. She was the same Kitty, he thought with something of wonder; a year had made no change in her that his eyes could discern. And yet—perhaps—she seemed graver, though not a whit less sweetly fair and gracious.
“A year makes little difference to a Princess,” he said smilingly.
“It leaves her a year older,” she answered.
“But perhaps, after all, it hasn’t been a year. Perhaps it was only yesterday that you left me here and went up the path and into the Castle; I could almost believe it.” She shook her head.
“Things have happened since then,” she replied with a little sigh. He echoed the sigh; did not he know it?
“Yes, I suppose so. You’ve travelled much and seen many things since that morning.”
rose02 “Yes.” She showed no surprise that he should know.
“And——” But he stopped. “The Ogre is well, I trust?”
“Very well,” she answered with a laugh.
“You know you fooled me there.”
“Not I; you fooled yourself. We found your card when we returned yesterday.”
“Yes. I remember.” He looked thoughtfully at one of his thin, sunburned hands.
“My uncle will be glad to see you,” she went on a little breathlessly. “He was saying so this morning.”
“You are very kind,” he said, “but I fear I can’t give myself the pleasure of calling upon him this time. I am leaving for the North at eleven o’clock.”
“Oh!” she said. There was silence between them. Then,—
“Are those for the church?” he asked, indicating the roses in the basket.
“Yes, the—the wedding is to-night, I presume?”
“Yes, to-night; but these are not for that. They are having a florist in Washington do the decorating.”
“I see.” He put a hand inside his serge coat and drew forth a pocket-book. From it he brought to light a flattened, crumbling rose. He held it forth, smiling bravely.
“I want you to accept this as a present,” he said lightly. “It is no longer very lovely to look at, but”—with a bow of artificial gallantry—“it has been what I prized most in the world.”
“A present?” she repeated, while a tinge of color crept into her cheeks. “You mean——”
“A wedding-present, yes.” He wondered whether the smile on his face looked as ugly as it felt! She looked from the rose in his outstretched palm to his face and back again to the rose with a puzzled expression in her brown eyes.
“But I don’t understand,” she said.
old Christ Church “I beg your pardon,” he answered gravely, “it was a poor joke.” He began to slip the dried blossom back into his pocket-book.
“But I will accept it,” she cried, and held forth a small hand. “I will take it as a wedding-present, although it is somewhat ahead of time.”
He placed it in her hand, looking, in turn, puzzled.
“But you said it was to-night—the wedding?”
“But why should you give me presents?”
“Why—but—you’re to be married!”
She shook her head, smiling across at him with a new light in her eyes.
“Not I, alas!” He stared back in bewilderment.
“But I saw! I looked in the window last night!”
“And you thought I was the bride?” She laughed deliciously. “Didn’t you know that it was bad luck for a bride to take part in a rehearsal? I was only a substitute, you see.”
rose05 “Kitty!” He had seized her hand and was gazing rapturously into her eyes. “Kitty!”
The lids fluttered down over the brown depths. The hand trembled.
“You—you’re crushing my rose,” she whispered.
“Kitty!” he cried again, releasing her hand as though it were life itself, “tell me again that it’s true!”
“True that I was only a substitute bride?” she asked tremulously, with hidden eyes. “Yes, it’s quite true, sadly true.” She looked up with an attempt at exaggerated woe, but when she saw his face she averted her own again and gave all her attention to the crushed rose in her hand. “I—I must be going now,” she said.
“Going? No, you mustn’t go!” he cried.
“I must,” she murmured from the safe distance of a yard away. “Good-by.”
“You are going North, are you not?” she asked innocently.
“North? I? Never!”
“Oh!” said Kitty.
“North!” he repeated witheringly. “I’m not such an idiot! I lost you twice, Kitty, and now—now I’m not going to let you out of my sight!”
“I fear you’ll have to,” she laughed, with a shake of her head, “at least as far as the house.”
“I shall follow!”
“But you said your uncle——”
“He won’t be at home until dinner-time.”
“But you’re coming back into the garden, aren’t you, after awhile?” She shook her head again.
“No, you forget the wedding,” she answered.
“Hang the wedding, Kitty!”
“I—I don’t think you ought to call me Kitty so—so much,” she protested.
“Don’t you?” he scoffed. “Kitty—Kitty—Kitty! But—but there’s another name I know, and if you like I’ll call you that—Kitty; shall I? May I tell you what it is—Kitty?”
“No, I—I don’t think so,” she answered in sudden alarm. She moved away as though meditating flight. “Good-by,” she said again.
“But it’s not good-by,” he pleaded. “I may come this evening, mayn’t I?”
“If you are not afraid of the Ogre,” she laughed.
She moved farther.
“Kitty,” he called softly.
“It begins with an S!”
She fled to the house.