Chapter 38 - Red Roses
The garden of the little house was a haunt beloved of bees and reddened by late roses that August. The little house folk lived much in it, and were given to taking picnic suppers in the grassy corner beyond the brook and sitting about in it through the twilights when great night moths sailed athwart the velvet gloom. One evening Owen Ford found Leslie alone in it. Anne and Gilbert were away, and Susan, who was expected back that night, had not yet returned.
The northern sky was amber and pale green over the fir tops. The air was cool, for August was nearing September, and Leslie wore a crimson scarf over her white dress. Together they wandered through the little, friendly, flower-crowded paths in silence. Owen must go soon. His holiday was nearly over. Leslie found her heart beating wildly. She knew that this beloved garden was to be the scene of the binding words that must seal their as yet unworded understanding.
" Some evenings a strange odor blows down the air of this garden, like a phantom perfume," said Owen. "I have never been able to discover from just what flower it comes. It is elusive and haunting and wonderfully sweet. I like to fancy it is the soul of Grandmother Selwyn passing on a little visit to the old spot she loved so well. There should be a lot of friendly ghosts about this little old house."
"I have lived under its roof only a month," said Leslie, "but I love it as I never loved the house over there where I have lived all my life."
"This house was builded and consecrated by love," said Owen. "Such houses, MUST exert an influence over those who live in them. And this garden--it is over sixty years old and the history of a thousand hopes and joys is written in its blossoms. Some of those flowers were actually set out by the schoolmaster's bride, and she has been dead for thirty years. Yet they bloom on every summer. Look at those red roses, Leslie--how they queen it over everything else!"
"I love the red roses," said Leslie. "Anne likes the pink ones best, and Gilbert likes the white. But I want the crimson ones. They satisfy some craving in me as no other flower does."
"These roses are very late--they bloom after all the others have gone--and they hold all the warmth and soul of the summer come to fruition," said Owen, plucking some of the glowing, half-opened buds.
"The rose is the flower of love--the world has acclaimed it so for centuries. The pink roses are love hopeful and expectant--the white roses are love dead or forsaken--but the red roses--ah, Leslie, what are the red roses?"
"Love triumphant," said Leslie in a low voice.
"Yes--love triumphant and perfect. Leslie, you know--you understand. I have loved you from the first. And I KNOW you love me--I don't need to ask you. But I want to hear you say it--my darling-- my darling!"
Leslie said something in a very low and tremulous voice. Their hands and lips met; it was life's supreme moment for them and as they stood there in the old garden, with its many years of love and delight and sorrow and glory, he crowned her shining hair with the red, red rose of a love triumphant.
Anne and Gilbert returned presently, accompanied by Captain Jim. Anne lighted a few sticks of driftwood in the fireplace, for love of the pixy flames, and they sat around it for an hour of good fellowship.
"When I sit looking at a driftwood fire it's easy to believe I'm young again," said Captain Jim.
"Can you read futures in the fire, Captain Jim?" asked Owen.
Captain Jim looked at them all affectionately and then back again at Leslie's vivid face and glowing eyes.
"I don't need the fire to read your futures," he said. "I see happiness for all of you--all of you--for Leslie and Mr. Ford--and the doctor here and Mistress Blythe--and Little Jem--and children that ain't born yet but will be. Happiness for you all--though, mind you, I reckon you'll have your troubles and worries and sorrows, too. They're bound to come--and no house, whether it's a palace or a little house of dreams, can bar 'em out. But they won't get the better of you if you face 'em TOGETHER with love and trust. You can weather any storm with them two for compass and pilot."
The old man rose suddenly and placed one hand on Leslie's head and one on Anne's.
"Two good, sweet women," he said. "True and faithful and to be depended on. Your husbands will have honor in the gates because of you--your children will rise up and call you blessed in the years to come."
There was a strange solemnity about the little scene. Anne and Leslie bowed as those receiving a benediction. Gilbert suddenly brushed his hand over his eyes; Owen Ford was rapt as one who can see visions. All were silent for a space. The little house of dreams added another poignant and unforgettable moment to its store of memories.
"I must be going now," said Captain Jim slowly at last. He took up his hat and looked lingeringly about the room.
"Good night, all of you," he said, as he went out.
Anne, pierced by the unusual wistfulness of his farewell, ran to the door after him.
"Come back soon, Captain Jim," she called, as he passed through the little gate hung between the firs.
"Ay, ay," he called cheerily back to her. But Captain Jim had sat by the old fireside of the house of dreams for the last time.
Anne went slowly back to the others.
"It's so--so pitiful to think of him going all alone down to that lonely Point," she said. "And there is no one to welcome him there."
"Captain Jim is such good company for others that one can't imagine him being anything but good company for himself," said Owen. "But he must often be lonely. There was a touch of the seer about him tonight--he spoke as one to whom it had been given to speak. Well, I must be going, too."
Anne and Gilbert discreetly melted away; but when Owen had gone Anne returned, to find Leslie standing by the hearth.
"Oh, Leslie--I know--and I'm so glad, dear," she said, putting her arms about her.
"Anne, my happiness frightens me," whispered Leslie. "It seems too great to be real--I'm afraid to speak of it--to think of it. It seems to me that it must just be another dream of this house of dreams and it will vanish when I leave here."
"Well, you are not going to leave here--until Owen takes you. You are going to stay with me until that times comes. Do you think I'd let you go over to that lonely, sad place again?"
"Thank you, dear. I meant to ask you if I might stay with you. I didn't want to go back there--it would seem like going back into the chill and dreariness of the old life again. Anne, Anne, what a friend you've been to me--`a good, sweet woman--true and faithful and to be depended on'--Captain Jim summed you up."
"He said `women,' not `woman,'" smiled Anne. "Perhaps Captain Jim sees us both through the rose-colored spectacles of his love for us. But we can try to live up to his belief in us, at least."
"Do you remember, Anne," said Leslie slowly, "that I once said--that night we met on the shore--that I hated my good looks? I did--then. It always seemed to me that if I had been homely Dick would never have thought of me. I hated my beauty because it had attracted him, but now--oh, I'm glad that I have it. It's all I have to offer Owen,--his artist soul delights in it. I feel as if I do not come to him quite empty-handed."
"Owen loves your beauty, Leslie. Who would not? But it's foolish of you to say or think that that is all you bring him. HE will tell you that--I needn't. And now I must lock up. I expected Susan back tonight, but she has not come."
"Oh, yes, here I am, Mrs. Doctor, dear," said Susan, entering unexpectedly from the kitchen, "and puffing like a hen drawing rails at that! It's quite a walk from the Glen down here."
"I'm glad to see you back, Susan. How is your sister?"
"She is able to sit up, but of course she cannot walk yet. However, she is very well able to get on without me now, for her daughter has come home for her vacation. And I am thankful to be back, Mrs. Doctor, dear. Matilda's leg was broken and no mistake, but her tongue was not. She would talk the legs off an iron pot, that she would, Mrs. Doctor, dear, though I grieve to say it of my own sister. She was always a great talker and yet she was the first of our family to get married. She really did not care much about marrying James Clow, but she could not bear to disoblige him. Not but what James is a good man--the only fault I have to find with him is that he always starts in to say grace with such an unearthly groan, Mrs. Doctor, dear. It always frightens my appetite clear away. And speaking of getting married, Mrs. Doctor, dear, is it true that Cornelia Bryant is going to be married to Marshall Elliott?"
"Yes, quite true, Susan."
"Well, Mrs. Doctor, dear, it does NOT seem to me fair. Here is me, who never said a word against the men, and I cannot get married nohow. And there is Cornelia Bryant, who is never done abusing them, and all she has to do is to reach out her hand and pick one up, as it were. It is a very strange world, Mrs. Doctor, dear."
"There's another world, you know, Susan."
"Yes," said Susan with a heavy sigh, "but, Mrs. Doctor, dear, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage there."