The Rose Garden
He was sitting in his pajamas and gazing at the appearance of an approaching tomorrow. The door had closed behind her. He leaned forward to catch what air there was. She told him she would remember the rose. He had noticed the impulse to flight and was not altogether displeased. He said something to himself softly. He was feeling a breeze coming from the river.
Through the open window floated a ghost of a smile. He was taking an entirely wrong course with her. Emptiness was written all over the house’s cheap front. He knocked and waited.
It was a fine old town, a town with a past. He had reached the phase of malady. There were many times his remarks possessed a certain involution. He sought desperately in his mind for knowledge of the subject. She strove to control the corners of her quivering mouth. He looked out on an all-enchanted garden. A desire to repossess took hold of him. A prankish fate interposed. It was the glance into a florist’s window that did it. He walked leisurely to it. A stream of persons whose handkerchiefs hung from their hands emerged into the hot sunlight. He made up his mind in an instant. At the next corner he took the right-hand turn without hesitation. He advanced to the fence. There was no light except for the radiance of the stars. She was already wavering along her entire line. A gentle smile hovered under his moustache. For his part, he couldn’t bear them. She bent to rescue a fallen clump. Her accent was delicious, soft and creamy like her cheeks.
They entertained no illusions regarding the desirability of their town. Her expression was one of courteous indifference. He was fortunate to be able to make his business affairs secondary to his whims. The wan light from the sky caught a white blossom. He was not hopeless but at the end of two days he had changed his mind. She was afraid she didn’t have such a thing. He placed a cigarette between his lips. He had philosophically decided to pay no heed to her vagaries. He scratched his head and appeared to give the matter his serous consideration. At present they were both out of action. She knew that real princesses are never happy. The information was limited and unsatisfactory. Crumbling bricks were detached from the edifice walls. He brought his artillery into action.
She was one of those unnaturally cheerful persons who like rainy days. She bent her warm face over a tempting spray. He sat erect with a frown on his brow.
“Bring me a chair,” he said. He lowered the shade with a last look at the darkened garden. Certain associations connected with it endeared it to her. She was older than he thought. His countenance was expressive of other emotions than gratitude. “Were you there or were you not?” he asked the next morning. She was a minx — a dear, charming minx. Without her the garden was devoid of life, an empty expanse of bush and hedge. His thoughts flew southward. It had been sweltering all day.
The pictures were uninteresting, a few depressing. He never felt proud or careless. From the house voices came. A half-moon sailed out from behind fleecy clouds. A glistening drop tickled the side of his nose. He placed a cigarette to his lips but forgot to light it. Fresh roses easily last three days without wilting. She laughed softly and caught up the skirt of her white gown. She was sure they would shake their heads. A letter of introduction is something that shouldn’t be neglected. In the morning he leapt out of bed. He grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the window. Her face came back to him clearly. She idled from window to window. It was a wild race against time. The pavements threw the heat upward with intolerable intensity. The memory brought a queer little ache to his chest.
He rescued the table from the sun. It was quite unjustifiable and incongruous. The broad brim of her hat threw a soft shadow across her face. A trusty steed was waiting and the wide world before them! The idea appealed to him. He was unable to acquaint them with a certain method of detecting them. He seized it greedily across the fence. He turned away with a shrug of impatience. There was something strange and mysterious about his presence. Suddenly from the open window of a house a voice called. There stepped into the scene a flower that dimmed all the others. The psychological moment had passed.
He resolutely took up his papers with a shake of his head. “Stop here,” he muttered savagely. “This won’t do. I’ve had enough.” He gazed across the water to the few scattered lights. There was much talking but what they said he couldn’t hear. She held the rose gingerly by the extreme end of the stem. She scorned retreat. Birds were singing happily in the garden and in the dense oaks. What he saw delighted him. He had his meals sent to his rooms. The streets were a wild waste of weeds. After they stayed a while, they stopped wondering.
The deck was comparatively cool. She stopped here and there as she went — a sweet, dainty figure. His face grew redder and redder. It was a little country town that’s barely on the map. It was hard work keeping back the “You!” rushing to his lips. She was an elderly lady with an extremely suspicious expression. He joined the pushing throng. His brain was a kaleidoscope of colors. It was an imperishable symbol of beauty’s perishableness. He poked with his cane again through the pickets. In a moment the voice was stilled. The evening shadows were blurring. He felt somewhat aggrieved over it. The people in the house over there had all gone away. After many minutes the door opened cautiously. He took advantage of every nook and cranny. His memory failed him and he gave up the attempt. He gazed with polite surprise into her eyes. He closed his eyes, striving to imagine the situation thoroughly. He was fagged by the heat of the day. He took credit for saving her life. What a strange appetite he had!
A wavering filament of gray smoke lost itself in the upper gloom. His pauses were frequent. She made a little movement as though to go on her way. It was just two weeks later to a day that he returned. It was picturesque and interesting. It may be that one isn’t able to come and go. He wanted her to take pity on him. His heart sank. The blinds were tightly closed. The theatre was fairly cool and the music bright and cheerful. The sun was sinking behind the miles of parched brick and fetid asphalt. His business was at last completed. The green was dotted with tombstones. A little group of men was congregated near the door. He was wishing for the sight of a human being. He was counting her roses like a miser counts his gold. He cast a last dubious glance behind him. Never before in the history of ocean travel has a steamer left on time. Only twice had he had tidings of her. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” he said. The house was empty of light.
A disposition to blister. A yellow painted top. A show of great importance. The forgotten chair and a big blue-checked apron: He shook his head disapprovingly. She was keeping him from his work. He blushed mentally to remember the immediate results. He could not congratulate himself. He strove to think of something to say. It would be best if he had rescued her by proxy. He smiled broadly at the thought and filled his glass. A song, sweet, caressing. He couldn’t distinguish the words. The sun was burning his back through his thin shirt. He thought of cleaving his way through the gurgling, hissing waves. The darkness still found him smoking. Rain beat ceaselessly on the trees and pattered on the window sill. The low branches of a rose bush interposed and foiled him. He caught fleeting glimpses of her hat above the bushes.
He studied speculatively the pregnability of the place. Personally, he couldn’t care much. A cool and shady porch and a comfortable hammock awaited them. His welcome was as long as his bank account. A genial fellow sat on a bench in the sunlight whittling a stick. A disconcerting series of bumps and thuds raced faster than he remembered. She turned and looked around, across the laden branches. He bolted his breakfast and waited under the absurd tree. He stretched his arms overhead. He was neglecting his labors. He sat up very straight and attentive in the chair. Even the darkness brought no relief. It pleased him that he had so thoroughly understood his remarks. He had the sort of grin one might use to placate a lunatic. A peaceful silence now held a new significance. The roses drowsed and nodded sleepily. He glanced at his watch impatiently. The garden was moist in the sunlight and dripping in shadow. “Reform should come through repentance,” she acknowledged. She was coming. She was almost in sight. The situation grew intense. He didn’t know what it was. It was a wonderful and quite unprecedented performance. A little imp of mischief danced in and out of sight. A window harbored the foe. He went to his office early the following morning. There was a pleasant warmth under the pocket of his shirt. He rolled his eyes towards the kitchen.
Did she live in a real house? Was there a front door to it? He put a hand inside his coat. He held out a flattened, crumbling rose and smiled bravely. She returned his look with an expression of amazement. “An automobile would be out of the question on these funny roads,” he said. Later he wandered aimlessly home again. There was something odd and mysterious about his presence. He shook his head disapprovingly. Something impeded his progress by winding its folds about his thin shanks. His bag stood in the hallway. His watch said ten minutes of nine. He shook the dust from his shoes for the last time. He stood in full sight at his window. She thought he wanted a great deal. He recalled little the next day. He gladly and humbly performed his mission. Moving over the old wall, surprised by some boys, he saw before him a starving man! She made a little gesture of despair. He hoped she would go on. He pictured a mile of cool green waves. He hadn’t enough moral courage. He was a hardened desperate criminal. They viewed him with extreme but courteous interest. They paid their dimes and quarters for bricks.
There is a strain of morbidness in most of us and he was no exception. The town was silent except for a distant whistle from the railroad station. A year had made no change in her. A hymn recalled to his mind a fact he’d lost sight of. A speck of molten gold in the moving leaves gushed his soul into song. He hadn’t obtained any more explicit directions. It sounded to his finely-trained ears like poetry but nothing of the sort was intended. There they were, appearing and disappearing. The girl had been humming. He threw a dubious glance behind him. He arose and lighted his lamp. He glanced at his watch a little impatiently. He accepted it gravely and thanked her. He was convinced she was needlessly alarmed. She had utterly disappeared and never came back. He began to suffer. It came back to him very vividly. He thought he would go out again for a stroll.
She had beautiful dimples and soft brown eyes which caught sight of a neglected basket of roses. “They’re all withering!” she exclaimed remorsefully. He searched desperately for something to say. “There are lots more. How things do happen!” Across the black water there was a warning screech and a tinkling of bells. He went with a new lightness of heart. Then the organ’s notes died away. He wanted to know what she did with herself the rest of the time. Her eyes dropped. “Appetites are capricious things,” he said. His voice was not quite even. The roses whispered in the breeze. She rested her head and looked up silently into his face. She tossed some loose petals from her hands with a gesture of surrender. “How did it go?” he asked with a whimsical smile.
The garden oppressed him. He believed in ill auguries. He sat down on the edge of the bed and groaned. He blamed his faintheartedness. She went forward along the path. Their hands met and caught. He stopped again. She was almost at the corner of the path. “Wait until you hear,” she advised. She picked it up. She didn’t know what it was. They strolled back and forth. She answered in sudden alarm, meditating flight. He came back into the garden after awhile. She gave all her attention to the crushed rose in her hand. She smiled at him with a new light in her eyes. It was somewhat ahead of its time.
A not unpleasant odor of the Orient managed to mingle with the incense of the garden. He paused in his writing. His gaze invariably wandered. A queerly shaped tree threw grotesque shadows on the lawn. He never had dreamed of such roses. They showered the ground with their glowing petals. They gladly fulfilled their mission and set an example. They maintained their hard-won footing. He dropped his pen. She stood on the topmost step, a very rose herself. She turned away. The door was opened by invisible hands. He lifted his head from the pillow to see the falling rain.
He waited there in the garden all day long. He searched diligently with his gaze. It tested his temper as well as his powers of entertainment. He couldn’t detest her under any circumstances. He wanted to take extreme measures. The thought brought some comfort. Did the smile on his face look as ugly as it felt? He knew she’d fooled him there. She’d traveled much and seen many things. It must have been a surprise. Her lips parted breathlessly. He made a desperate effort. He could have touched her gown. He stole back, like a thief. He could hear the snipping of her scissors. She looked thoughtfully at the sea of color. He blew out the lamp. Her manners were really quite nice. He seemed harmless. The moon peeped wanly through the clouds. He stood at his window and wished for the sight of a human being. She was in the kitchen, making cake. She was touched by the pathos of his tone. His heart thumped immoderately. Her cheek found a new color. He was certain that he was not mistaken.
She counted on the tips of her gloved fingers. There was a suggestion of interrogation in the remark. It sounded silly. He sighed ecstatically. Her happiness was not reckoned in minutes. He refused to listen any longer to their chatter. He stretched his arms and yawned. It was simplicity itself. He passed her on the street, at the market. He accepted silence for consent. Across the fence roses were laughing in the sun. He heard the brisk patter of falling rain against the magnolia leaves. To his right was the old brick wall. His self-possession failed him. His heart was like lead.
He heard young voices. His business was at last completed. He cursed weakly. It was practically one long bump. He strode to the steps. There was no premonition of disappointment. He hesitated a moment on the curb. He rushed to the door. The girl was slight and rather small. He gave up the search. She couldn’t foresee filling those requirements. It appeared to be fashioned with one end in view. She took credit for having saved him. Folks often looked at him with compassion.
He accepted her command with ill grace. He mentally heaped maledictions on himself. It never struck him before as a beautiful name. A piece of paper danced out onto the path and landed at her feet. He was sure he could lead a better life. He pretended to search his pockets. He was afraid he would damage the roses. He returned them to her as soon as he was done. He arose from his hands and knees. It was a soul-disturbing crisis. He was conscious of the sorry figure he presented. He had a desire for a special spray. She paused and looked questioningly from the roses to his face.
— from Kitty of the Roses by Ralph Henry Barbour;
— December 2008