Miss Dangerlie's Roses by Thomas Nelson Page
Henry Floyd was a crank, at least so many people said; a few thought he was a wonderful person: these were mostly children, old women, and people not in the directory, and persons not in the directory do not count for much. He was in fact a singular fellow. It was all natural enough to him; he was just like what he believed his father had been, his father of whom his mother used to tell him, and whom he remembered so vaguely except when he had suddenly loomed up in his uniform at the head of his company, when they went away on that march from which he had never returned. He meant to be like him, if he was not, and he remembered all that his mother had told him of his gentleness, his high courtesy, his faithfulness, his devotion to duty, his unselfishness. So it was all natural enough to Floyd to be as he was. But a man can no more tell whether or not he is a crank than he can tell how old he looks. He was, however, without doubt, different in certain ways from most people. This his friends admitted. Some said he was old-fashioned; some that he was "old-timey"; some that he was unpractical, the shades of criticism ranging up to those saying he was a fool. This did not mean intellectually, for none denied his intellect. He drove a virile pen, and had an epigrammatic tongue. He had had a hard time. He had borne the yoke in his youth. This, we have strong authority for saying, is good for a man; but it leaves its mark upon him. He had been desperately poor. He had not minded that except for his mother, and he had approved of her giving up every cent to meet the old security debts. It had cut him off from his college education; but he had worked till he was a better scholar than he might have been had he gone to college. He had kept his mother comfortable as long as she lived, and then had put up a monument over her in the old churchyard, as he had done before to his father's memory. This, everyone said, was foolish, and perhaps it was, for it took him at least two years to pay for them, and he might have laid up the money and got a start, or, as some charitable persons said, it might have been given to the poor. However, the monuments were put up, and on them were epitaphs which recorded at length the virtues of those to whom they were erected, with their descent, and declared that they were Christians and Gentlepeople. Some one said to Floyd that he might have shortened the epitaphs, and have saved something. "I did not want them shortened," said he.
He had borne the yoke otherwise also. One of the first things he had done after starting in life was to fall in love with a beautiful woman. She was very beautiful and a great belle. Every one said it was sheer nonsense for Henry Floyd to expect her to marry him, as poor as he was, which was natural enough. The only thing was that she led Floyd to believe she was going to marry him when she did not intend to do it, and it cost him a great deal of unhappiness. He never said one word against her, not even when she married a man much older than himself, simply, as everyone said, because he was very rich. If Floyd ever thought that she treated him badly, no one ever knew it, and when finally she left her husband, no one ever ventured to discuss it before Floyd.
Henry Floyd, however, had suffered, -- that everyone could see who had eyes; but only he knew how much. Generally grave and dreamy; when quiet as calm as a dove, as fierce as a hawk when aroused; moving always in an eccentric orbit, which few understood; flashing out now and then gleams which some said were sparks of genius but which most people said were mere eccentricity, he had sunk into a recluse. He was in this state when he met HER. He always afterward referred to her so. He was at a reception when he came upon her on a stairway. A casual word about his life, a smile flashed from her large, dark, luminous eyes, lighting up her face, and Henry Floyd awoke. She had called him from the dead. It was a case of love at first sight. From that time he never had a thought for anyone else, least of all for himself. He lived in her and for her. He blossomed under her sympathy as a tree comes out under the sunshine and soft breath of spring. He grew, he broadened. She was his sun, his breath of life; he worshipped her. Then one day she died -- suddenly -- sank down and died as a butterfly might die, chilled by a blast. With her Henry Floyd buried his youth. For a time people were sympathetic; but they began immediately to speculate about him, then to gossip about him. It made no difference to him or in him. He was like a man that is dead, who felt no more. One thing about a great sorrow is that it destroys all lesser ones. A man with a crushed body does not feel pinpricks. Henry Floyd went on his way calmly, doggedly, mechanically. He drifted on and was talked about continually. Gossip would not let him alone, so she did him the honor to connect his name with that of every woman he met. In fact, there was as much reason to mention all as one. He was fond of women, and enjoyed them. Women liked him too. There was a certain gentleness mingled with firmness, a kind of protecting air about him which women admired, and a mystery of impenetrable sadness which women liked. Every woman who knew him trusted him, and had a right to trust him. To none was he indifferent, but in none was he interested. He was simply cut off. A physician who saw him said, "That man is dying of loneliness." This went on for some years. At last his friends determined to get him back into society. They made plans for him and carried them out to a certain length; there the plans failed. Floyd might be led up to the water, but none could make him drink; there he took the bit in his teeth and went his own way. He would be invited to meet a girl at a dinner got up for his benefit, that he might meet her, and would spend the evening hanging over a little unheard-of country cousin with a low voice and soft eyes, entertaining her with stories of his country days or of his wanderings; or he would be put by some belle, and after five minutes' homage spend the time talking to some old lady about her grandchildren. "You must marry," they said to him. "When one rises from the dead," he replied. At length, his friends grew tired of helping him and gave him up, and he dropped out and settled down. Commiseration is one of the bitter things of life. But Floyd had what is harder to bear than that. It did not affect his work. It was only his health and his life that suffered. He was like a man who has lost the senses of touch and taste and sight. If he minded it, he did not show it. One can get used to being bedridden.
One thing about him was that he always appeared poor. He began to be known as an inventor and writer. It was known that he received high prices for what he did; but he appeared to be no better off than when he made nothing. Some persons supposed that he gambled; others whispered that he spent it in other dissipation. In fact, one lady gave a circumstantial account of the way he squandered his money, and declared herself very glad that he had never visited her daughters. When this was repeated to Floyd, he said he fortunately did not have to account to her for the way he spent his money. He felt that the woman out under the marble cross knew how his money went, and so did the little cousin who was named after her, and who was at school. He had a letter from her in his pocket at that moment. So he drifted on.
At length one evening he was at a reception in a strange city whither his business had taken him. The rooms were filled with light and beauty. Floyd was standing chatting with a child of ten years, whom he found standing in a corner, gazing out with wide questioning eyes on the throng. They were friends instantly, and he was telling her who the guests were, as they came sailing in, giving them fictitious names and titles. "They are all queens," he told her, at which she laughed. She pointed out a tall and stately woman with a solemn face, and with a gleaming bodice on like a cuirass, and her hair up on her head like a casque. "Who is that?"
"And who is that?" It was a stout lady with a tiara of diamonds, a red face, and three feathers.
"Queen Victoria, of course."
"And who am I?" She placed her little hand on her breast with a pretty gesture.
"The Queen of Hearts," said Floyd, quickly, at which she laughed outright. "Oh! I must not laugh," she said, checking herself and glancing around her with a shocked look. "I forgot."
"You shall. If you don't, you sha'n't know who another queen is."
"No, mamma told me I must not make a bit of noise; it is not style, you know, but you mustn't be so funny."
"Good heavens!" said Floyd.
"Oh! who is this coming?" A lady richly dressed was making her way toward them. "The Queen of Sheba -- coming to see Solomon," said Floyd, as she came up to him. "Let me introduce you to a beautiful girl, Sarah Dangerlie," she said, and drew him through the throng toward a door, where he was presented to a tall and strikingly handsome girl and made his bow and a civil speech, to which the young lady responded with one equally polite and important. Other men were pressing around her, to all of whom she made apt and cordial speeches, and Floyd fell back and rejoined his little girl, whose face lit up at his return.
"Oh! I was so afraid you were going away with her."
"And leave you? Never, I'm not so easily disposed of."
"Everyone goes with her. They call her the Queen."
"Do you like her?"
"You don't," she said, looking at him keenly.
"Yes, she is beautiful."
"Everyone says so."
"She isn't as beautiful as someone else I know," said Floyd, pleasantly.
"Isn't she? As whom?"
Floyd took hold of the child's hand and said, "Let's go and get some supper."
"I don't like her," said the little girl, positively.
"Don't you?" said Floyd. He stopped and glanced across the room toward where the girl had stood. He saw only the gleam of her fine shoulders as she disappeared in the crowd surrounded by her admirers.
A little later Floyd met the young lady on the stairway. He had not recognized her, and was passing on, when she spoke to him.
"I saw you talking to a little friend of mine," she began, then -- "Over in the corner," she explained.
"Oh! yes. She is sweet. They interest me. I always feel when I have talked with a child as if I had got as near to the angels as one can get on earth."
"Do you know I was very anxious to meet you," she said.
"Were you? Thank you. Why?"
"Because of a line of yours I once read."
"I am pleased to have written only one line that attracted your attention," said Floyd, bowing.
"No, no -- it was this --
"The whitest soul of man or saint is black beside a girl's."
"Beside a child's," said Floyd, correcting her.
"Oh! yes, so it is -- `beside a child's.'"
Her voice was low and musical. Floyd glanced up and caught her look, and the color deepened in her cheek as the young man suddenly leant a little towards her and gazed earnestly into her eyes, which she dropped, but instantly raised again.
"Yes -- good-night," she held out her hand, with a taking gesture and smile.
"Good-night," said Floyd, and passed on up the stairs to the dressing-room. He got his coat and hat and came down the stairway. A group seized him.
"Come to the club," they said. He declined.
"Roast oysters and beer," they said.
"No, I'm going home."
"Are you ill?" asked a friend.
"No, not at all. Why?"
"You look like a man who has seen a spirit."
"Do I? I'm tired, I suppose. Good-night, -- good-night, gentlemen," and he passed out.
"Perhaps I have," he said as he went down the cold steps into the frozen street.
Floyd went home and tossed about all night. His life was breaking up, he was all at sea. Why had he met her? He was losing the anchor that had held him. "They call her the queen," the little girl had said. She must be. He had seen her soul through her eyes.
Floyd sent her the poem which contained the line which she had quoted; and she wrote him a note thanking him. It pleased him. It was sympathetic. She invited him to call. He went to see her. She was fine in grain and in look. A closely fitting dark gown ornamented by a single glorious red rose which might have grown where it lay, and her soft hair coiled on her small head, as she entered tall and straight and calm, made Floyd involuntarily say to himself, "Yes" --
"She was right," he said, half to himself, half aloud, as he stood gazing at her with inquiring eyes after she had greeted him cordially.
"What was right?" she asked.
"Something a little girl said about you."
"What was it?"
"I will tell you some day, when I know you better."
"Was it a compliment?"
"Tell me now."
He came to know her better; to know her very well. He did not see her very often, but he thought of her a great deal. He seemed to find in her a sympathy which he needed. It reminded him of the past. He awoke from his lethargy; began to work once more in the old way; mixed among men again; grew brighter. "Henry Floyd is growing younger, instead of older," someone said of him. "His health has been bad," said a doctor. "He is improving. I thought at one time he was going to die." "He is getting rich," said a broker, who had been a schoolmate of his. "I see he has just invented a new something or other to relieve children with hip or ankle-joint disease."
"Yes, and it is a capital thing, too; it is being taken up by the profession. I use it. It is a curious thing that he should have hit on that when he is not a surgeon. He had studied anatomy as a sort of fad, as he does everything. One of Haile Tabb's boys was bedridden, and he was a great friend of his, and that set him at it."
"I don't think he's so much of a crank as he used to be," said someone.
The broker who had been his schoolmate met Floyd next day.
"I see you have been having a great stroke of luck," he said.
"Yes. I see in the papers, that your discovery, or invention, or whatever it was, has been taken up."
"Oh! yes -- that? It has."
"I congratulate you."
"I would not mind looking into that."
"Yes, it is interesting."
"I might take an interest in it."
"Yes, I should think so."
"How much do you ask for it?"
"`Ask for it?' Ask for what?"
"For an interest in it, either a part or the whole?"
"You ought to make a good thing out of it -- out of your patent."
"My patent! I haven't any patent."
"What! No patent?"
"No. It's for the good of people generally."
"But you got a patent?"
"Couldn't you get a patent?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I'll be bound I'd have got a patent."
"Oh! no, I don't think so."
"I tell you what, you ought to turn your talents to account," said his friend.
"Yes, I know I ought."
"You could be a rich man."
"But I don't care to be rich."
"What! Oh! nonsense. Everyone does."
"I do not. I want to live."
"But you don't live."
"Well, maybe I shall some day."
"You merely exist."
"Why should I want to be rich?"
"To live -- to buy what you want."
"I want sympathy, love; can one buy that?"
"Yes -- even that."
"No, you cannot. There is only one sort of woman to be bought."
"Well, come and see me sometimes, won't you?"
"Well, no, I'm very much obliged to you; but I don't think I can."
"Why? I have lots of rich men come to my house. You'd find it to your advantage if you'd come."
"We could make big money together if ----"
He paused. Floyd was looking at him.
"Could we? If -- what?"
"If you would let me use you."
"Thank you," said Floyd. "Perhaps we could."
"Why won't you come?"
"Well, the fact is, I haven't time. I shall have to wait to get a little richer before I can afford it. Besides I have a standing engagement."
"Oh! no, we won't squeeze you. I tell you what, come up to dinner to-morrow. I'm going to have a fellow there, an awfully rich fellow -- want to interest him in some things, and I've invited him down. He is young Router, the son of the great Router, you know who he is?"
"Well, no, I don't believe I do. Good-by. Sorry I can't come; but I have an engagement."
"What is it?"
"To play mumble-the-peg with some boys: Haile Tabb's boys."
"Oh! hang the boys! Come up to dinner. It is an opportunity you may not have again shortly. Router's awfully successful, and you can interest him. I tell you what I'll do ----"
"No, thank you, I'll keep my engagement. Good-by."
"That fellow's either a fool or he is crazy," said his friend, gazing after him as he walked away. "And he's got some sense too. If he'd let me use him I could make money out of him for both of us."
It was not long before Floyd began to be known more widely. He had schemes for the amelioration of the condition of the poor. They were pronounced quixotic; but he kept on. He said he got good out of them if no one else did.
He began to go oftener and oftener down to the City, where Miss Dangerlie lived. He did not see a great deal of her; but he wrote to her. He found in her a ready sympathy with his plans. It was not just as it used to be in his earlier love affair, where he used to find himself uplifted and borne along by the strong spirit which had called him from the dead; but if it was not this that he got, it was what contented him. Whatever he suggested, she accepted. He found in her tastes a wonderful similarity with his, and from that he drew strength.
Women in talking of him in connection with her said it was a pity; men said he was lucky.
One evening, at a reception at her house, he was in the gentlemen's dressing-room. It was evidently a lady's apartment which had been devoted for the occasion as a dressing-room. It was quite full at the time. A man, a large fellow with sleek, short hair, a fat chin, and a dazzling waistcoat, pulled open a lower drawer in a bureau. Articles of a lady's apparel were discovered, spotless and neatly arranged. "Shut that drawer instantly," said Floyd, in a low, imperious tone.
"Suppose I don't, what then?"
"I will pitch you out of that window," said Floyd, quietly, moving a step nearer to him. The drawer was closed, and the man turned away.
"Do you know who that was?" asked someone of Floyd.
"No, not the slightest idea."
"That was young Router, the son of the great Router."
"Who is the-great-Router?"
"The great pork man. His son is the one who is so attentive to Miss Dangerlie."
"I am glad he closed the drawer," said Floyd, quietly.
"He is said to be engaged to her," said the gentleman.
"He is not engaged to her," said Floyd.
Later on he was talking to Miss Dangerlie. He had taken her out of the throng. "Do you know who introduced me to you?" he asked.
"Yes, Mrs. Drivington."
"No, a little girl."
"Who? Why, don't you remember! I am surprised. It was just in the doorway!"
"Oh! yes, I remember well enough. I met a beauty there, but I did not care for her. I met you first on the stairway, and a child introduced me."
"Children interest me, they always admire one," she said.
"They interest me, I always admire them," he said. "They are true."
She was silent, then changed the subject.
"A singular little incident befell me this evening," she said. "As I was coming home from a luncheon-party, a wretched woman stopped me and asked me to let her look at me."
"You did it, of course," he said.
She looked at him with her eyes wide open with surprise.
"What do you suppose a man said to me upstairs?" he asked her.
"That you were engaged to someone."
"What! That I was engaged! To whom, pray?" She looked incredulous.
"To a fellow I saw up there -- Mr. `Router', I think he said was his name."
"The idea! Engaged to Mr. Router! You did not believe him, did you?"
"No, of course I did not; I trust you entirely."
She buried her face in the roses she held in her hand, and did not speak. Her other hand rested on the arm of her chair next him. It was fine and white. He laid his on it firmly, and leaning towards her, said, "I beg your pardon for mentioning it. I am not surprised that you are hurt. Forgive me. I could not care for you so much if I did not believe in you."
"It was so kind in you to send me these roses," she said. "Aren't they beautiful?"
She turned them round and gazed at them with her face slightly averted.
"Yes, they are, and yet I hate to see them tied that way; I ordered them sent to you loose. I always like to think of you as arranging roses."
"Yes, I love to arrange them myself," she said.
"The fact is, as beautiful as those are, I believe I like better the old-fashioned roses right out of the dew. I suppose it is old association. But I know an old garden up at an old country-place, where my mother used to live as a girl. It used to be filled up with roses, and I always think of the roses there as sweeter than any others in the world."
"Yes, I like the old-fashioned roses best too," she said, with that similarity of taste which always pleased him."
"The next time I come to see you I am going to bring you some of those roses," he said. "My mother used to tell me of my father going out and getting them for her, and I would like you to have some of them."
"Oh! thank you. How far is it from your home?"
"Fifteen or twenty miles."
"But you cannot get them there."
"Oh! yes, I can; the fact is, I own the place." She looked interested. "Oh! it is not worth anything as land," he said, "but I love the association. My mother was brought up there, and I keep up the garden just as it was. You shall have the roses. Some day I want to see you among them." Just then there was a step behind him. She rose.
"Is it ours?" she asked someone over her shoulder.
"Yes, come along."
Floyd glanced around. It was the "son of the great Router".
She turned to Floyd, and said, in an earnest undertone, "I am very sorry; but I had an engagement. Good-by." She held out her hand. Floyd took it and pressed it.
"Good-by," he said, tenderly. "That is all right."
She took the-son-of-the-great-Router's arm.
. . . . .
One afternoon, a month after Miss Dangerlie's reception, Henry Floyd was packing his trunk. He had just looked at his watch, when there was a ring at the bell. He knew it was the postman, and a soft look came over his face as he reflected that even if he got no letter he would see her within a few hours. A large box of glorious old-fashioned roses was on the floor near him, and a roll of money and a time-table lay beside it. He had ridden thirty miles that morning to get and bring the roses himself for one whom he always thought of in connection with them.
A letter was brought in, and a pleased smile lit up the young man's face as he saw the handwriting. He laid on the side of the trunk a coat that he held, and then sat down on the arm of a chair and opened the letter. His hand stroked it softly as if it were of velvet. He wore a pleased smile as he began to read. Then the smile died away and a startled look took its place. The color faded out of his face, and his mouth closed firmly. When he was through he turned back and read the letter all over again, slowly. It seemed hard to understand; for after a pause he read it over a third time. Then he looked straight before him for a moment, and then slowly tore it up into thin shreds and crumpled them up in his hand. Ten minutes later he rose from his seat and dropped the torn pieces into the fireplace. He walked over and put on his hat and coat, and going out, pulled the door firmly to behind him. The trunk, partly packed, stood open with the half-folded coat hanging over its edge and with the roses lying by its side.
Floyd walked into the Club and, returning quietly the salutations of a group of friends, went over to a rack and drew out a newspaper file, with which he passed into another room.
"Announcement of Engagement: Router and Dangerlie," was the heading on which his eye rested. "It is stated," ran the paragraph, "that they have been engaged some time, but no announcement has been made until now, on the eve of the wedding, owing to the young lady's delicacy of feeling."
That night Henry Floyd wrote a letter. This was the close of it:
"Possibly your recollection may hereafter trouble you. I wish to say that I do not hold you accountable in any way."
That night a wretched creature, half beggar, half worse, was standing on the street under a lamp. A man came along. She glanced at him timidly. He was looking at her, but it would not do to speak to him, he was a gentleman going somewhere. His hands were full of roses. He posted a letter in the box, then to her astonishment he stopped at her side and spoke to her.
"Here are some roses for you," he said, "and here is some money. Go home to-night."
He pushed the roses and money into her hands, and turning, went back up the dim street.