Rosemary Roselle by Joseph Hergesheimer
It would be better for my purpose if you could hear the little clear
arpeggios of an obsolete music box, the notes as sweet as barley sugar;
for then the mood of Rosemary Roselle might steal imperceptibly into
your heart. It is made of daguerreotypes blurring on their misted
silver; tenebrous lithographs—solemn facades of brick with classic
white lanterns lifted against the inky smoke of a burning city; the
pages of a lady's book, elegant engravings of hooped and gallooned
females; and the scent of crumbled flowers.
Such intangible sources must of necessity be fragile—a perfume
linked to a thin chime, elusive faces on the shadowy mirror of the
past, memories of things not seen but felt in poignant unfathomable
emotions. This is a magic different from that of to-day; here perhaps
are only some wistful ghosts brought back among contemptuous
realities—a man in a faded blue uniform with a face drawn by suffering
long ended, a girl whose charm, like the flowers, is dust.
It is all as remote as a smile remembered from youth. Such apparent
trifles often hold a steadfast loveliness more enduring than the
greatest tragedies and successes. They are irradiated by an
imperishable romance: this is my desire—to hold out an immaterial
glamour, a vapor, delicately colored by old days in which you may
discover the romantic and amiable shapes of secret dreams.
It will serve us best to see Elim Meikeljohn first as he walked
across Winthrop Common. It was very early in April and should have been
cool, but it was warm—already there were some vermilion buds on the
maples— and Elim's worn shad-belly coat was uncomfortably heavy. The
coat was too big for him—his father had worn it for twenty years
before he had given it to Elim for college—and it hung in somber
greenish folds about his tall spare body. He carried an equally
oppressive black stiff hat in a bony hand and exposed a gaunt serious
Other young men passing, vaulting lightly over the wooden rail that
enclosed the common, wore flowing whiskers, crisply black or brown like
a tobacco leaf; their luxuriant waistcoats were draped with a profusion
of chains and seals; but Elim's face was austerely shaved, he wore
neither brocade nor gold, and he kept seriously to the path.
He was, even more than usual, absorbed in a semi-gloom of thought.
It was his birthday, he was twenty-six, and he had been married more
than nine years. Already, with his inherited dark temperament, he was
middle-aged in situation and feeling. He had been assistant to the
professor of philosophy and letters for three of those married years;
yes—he had been graduated when he was twenty-three. He arrived at an
entrance to the common that faced the row of houses where he had his
room, and saw that something unusual was in progress.
The front of his boarding house was literally covered with young
men: they hung over the small portico from steps to ridge, they bulged
from every window and sat astride of the dormer windows in the roof.
Before them on the street a camera had been set up and was covered, all
save the snout, by a black rubber cloth, backward from which projected
the body and limbs of the photographer.
The latter, Elim realized, was one of a traveling band that took
pictures of whatever, on their way, promised sufficient pecuniary
return. Here the operator had been in luck—he would sell at least
thirty photographs at perhaps fifty cents each. Harry Kaperton, a great
swell, was in his window with his setter, Spot; his legs, clad in bags
with tremendous checks and glossy boots, hung outward. On the veranda
were Hinkle and Ben Willing, the latter in a stovepipe hat; others wore
stovepipes set at a rakish angle on one ear. They were all
irrepressibly gay, calling from roof to ground, each begging the
photographer to focus on his own particular charm.
Perhaps fifty cents—Elim Meikeljohn would have liked a place in the
picture; he would like to possess one, to keep it as a memento of the
youthful life that flowed constantly about him, but the probable cost
was prohibitive. He even wished, as he paused before making his way up
the crowded veranda steps, that some one would ask him to stay and have
his picture taken with the rest. He delayed, hoping for the mere
formality of this friendliness. But it was not forthcoming. He had felt
that it wouldn't be; he had divined the careless silence with which the
men moved aside for him to mount. There was even a muttered allusion to
his famous Scotch thrift, contained in a sharper word. Elim didn't
mind—actively. He had been accustomed to the utmost monetary caution
since the first dawn of his consciousness. He had come to regard the
careful weighing of pennies as an integral part of his being. It had
always been necessary for the Meikeljohns, father and son, on their
rocky pastures. He didn't mind, but at the same time he bore a faint
resentment at the injustice of the marked and perceptible disdain of
the majority of his fellows.
They didn't understand, he told himself, still ascending to his room
in the third floor back. Every cent that he could squeeze from his
small salary must go back to the support of the invalid, his wife. He
had never, of course, explained this to any one in Cambridge. They
wouldn't be particularly interested and, in addition, his daily
companions seemed far too young for such serious confidences. In
reality Harry Kaperton was three years older than Elim; and Kaperton
had been pleasantly at college, racing horses, for seven years; many
others were Elim's age, but the maturity of the latter's responsibility
In his room he took off his formal coat and nankeen waistcoat and
hung them on a pegged board. The room was bare, with two uncurtained
windows that afforded a glimpse of the shining river; it contained a
small air- tight stove, now cold and black, and a wood box, a narrow
bed, a deal table with a row of worn text-books and neatly folded
papers, a stand for water pitcher and basin, and two split-hickory
Windsor chairs. Now it was filled with an afternoon glow, like powdered
gold, and the querulously sweet piping of an early robin.
He dipped his face and hands in cooling water and, at the table,
with squared elbows, addressed himself to a set task.
Elim Meikeljohn laid before him a small docket of foolscap folded
lengthwise, each section separately indorsed in pale flowery ink, with
a feminine name, a class number and date. They were the weekly themes
of a polite Young Ladies' Academy in Richmond, sent regularly north for
the impressive opinion of a member of Elim's college faculty. The
professor of philosophy and letters had undertaken the task primarily;
but, with the multiplication of his duties, he had turned the essays
over to Elim, whose careful judgments had been sufficiently imposing to
secure for him a slight additional income.
He sat for a moment regarding the papers with a frown; then, with a
sudden movement, he went over the names that headed each paper. Two he
laid aside. They bore above their dates in March, eighteen sixty-one,
the name Rosemary Roselle.
He picked one up tentatively. It was called A Letter. Elim opened it
and regarded its tenuous violet script. Then, with an expression of
augmented determination, he folded it again and placed it with its
fellow at the bottom of the heap. He firmly attacked the topmost theme.
He read it slowly, made a penciled note in a small precise hand on its
margin, folded it once more and marked it with a C minus. He went
carefully through the pile, jotting occasional comments, judging the
results with A, B or C, plus or minus. Finally only the two he had
placed at the bottom remained.
Elim took one up again, gazing at it severely. He wondered what
Rosemary Roselle had written about—in her absurd English—this time.
As he looked at the theme's exterior, his attention shifted from the
paper to himself, his conscience towered darkly above him, demanding a
condemnatory examination of his feelings and impulses.
Had he not begun to look for, to desire, those essays from a
doubtless erroneous and light young woman? Had he not even, on a former
like occasion, awarded her effort with a B minus, when it was
questionable if she should have had a C plus? Had his conduct not been
dishonest, frivolous and wholly reprehensible? To all these inexorable
accusations he was forced to confess himself guilty. He had
undoubtedly, only a few minutes before, looked almost impatiently for
something from Rosemary Roselle. Beyond cavil she should have had an
unadorned C last month. And these easily proved him a broken reed.
He must at once take himself in hand, flames were reaching hungrily
for him from the pit of eternal torment. In a little more he would be
damned beyond any redemption. He was married ... shame! His thoughts
turned to Hester, his wife for nine and more years.
Her father's farm lay next to the Meikeljohns'; the two places
formed practically one convenient whole; and when Elim had been no more
than a child, Meikeljohn Senior and Hester's parents had solemnly
agreed upon a mutually satisfactory marriage. Hester had always been a
thin pale slip of a girl, locally famous for her memory and grasp of
the Scriptures; but it was only at her fourteenth year that her health
began perceptibly to fail, at the same time that a succession of
material mischances overwhelmed her family. Finally, borne down to
actual privation, her father decided to remove to another section and
opportunity. He sold his place for a fraction more than the elder
Meikeljohn could pay ... but there was Hester, now an invalid; and
there was the agreement that Meikeljohn had made when it had seemed to
his advantage. The latter was a rigidly upright man—he accepted for
his son the responsibility he himself had assumed, and Hester was left
behind. Space in the Meikeljohn household was valuable, the invalid
presented many practical difficulties, and, with the solemn concurrence
of the elders of their church, Elim—something short of seventeen but a
grave mature-seeming boy—and Hester were married.
The winter of his marriage Elim departed for college—his father was
a just man, who had felt obscurely that some reparation was due Elim;
education was the greatest privilege of which Meikeljohn could
conceive, so, at sacrifices that all grimly accepted, Elim was sent to
Cambridge. There, when he had been graduated, he remained—there were
already more at the Meikeljohn home than their labor warranted—
assistant to the professor of philosophy and letters.
Elim again opened the paper before him and spread it severely on the
table. The supposititious letter, “Two, Linden Row,” opened in proper
form and spelling, addressed to “Dearest Elizabeth.” Its progress,
however, soon wabbled, its periods degenerated into a confusion. It
endeavored to be casual, easy, but he judged it merely trivial. At one
paragraph, despite his resolution of critical impersonality, his
“On Thursday we have to have ready a Theme to send off to Harvard.
Of course, every Thursday morning We, with one accord, begin to make
excuses. Well, the Dread Day rolls around to-morrow, and consequently I
am deep in the Slough of Despond. My only consolation is that our
Geniuses can't write regularly, but then the mood to write never
possesses me.... This week, in writing a comparison between Hamlet and
Antonio, I did succeed in jotting down something, but unfortunately I
found that I had said the same many times before, only about different
heroes. My tale of Woe——”
Elim once more took himself firmly in hand; he folded the paper and
sharply indorsed it with a C minus. Afterward he felt decidedly
uncomfortable. He wondered if Rosemary Roselle would be made unhappy by
the low marking? Probably she wouldn't care; probably all that occupied
her mind were dress and company. Possibly she danced—light, godless.
The haze within deepened; he could see through the window the tops
of the maples—they held a green sheen as if in promise of the leaves
to follow. The robin whistled faint and clear.
Possibly she danced. Carried away on the gracious flood of the
afternoon, he wondered what Rosemary Roselle looked like. He was
certain that she was pretty—her writing had the unconscious assurance
of a personable being. Well, he would never know.... Rosemary Roselle—
the name had a trick of hanging in the memory; it was astonishingly
easy to repeat. He tried it aloud, speaking with a sudden emphasis that
startled him. The name came back to him from the bare walls of his room
like an appeal. Something within him stirred sharp as a knife. He rose
with a deep breath, confused, as if some one else, unseen, had
His conscience, stirring again, projected the image of Hester, with
her pinched glistening countenance, on his conjecturing. He resolutely
addressed himself to the judgment of Rosemary Roselle's second paper,
his lighter thoughts drowned in the ascending dark tide of his
temperament It was called Our Waitress, and an instant antagonism for
the entire South and its people swept over him.
He saw that the essay's subject was a negro, a slave; and all his
impassioned detestation of the latter term possessed him. The essence
of the Meikeljohns was a necessity for freedom, an almost bitter pride
in the independence of their bodies. Their souls they held to be under
the domination of a relentless Omnipotence, evolved, it might have
been, from the obdurate and resplendent granite masses of the highland
where they had first survived. These qualities gave to Elim
Meikeljohn's political enmity for the South a fervor closely resembling
fanaticism. Even now when, following South Carolina, six other states
had seceded, he did not believe that war would ensue; he believed that
slavery would be abolished at a lesser price; but he was a supporter of
drastic means for its suppression. His Christianity, if it held a book
in one hand, grasped a sword in the other, a sword with a bright and
unsparing blade for the wrong-doer.
He consciously centered this antagonism on Rosemary Roselle; he
visualized her as a thoughtless and capricious female, idling in vain
luxury, cutting with a hard voice at helpless and enslaved human
beings. He condemned his former looseness of being, his playing with
insidious and destructive forces. A phrase, “Babylonish women,” crept
into his mind from some old yellow page. He read:
“Indy is a large light mulatto, very neat and very slow. She has not
much Sense, but a great deal of Sensibility. Helping her proves Fatal.
The more that is done for her the less well does she work.... Indy is
very unfortunate: going out with a present of money she lost every
penny. Of course she was incapable of work until the sum was replaced.”
Elim paused with an impatient snort at this exhibition of
shiftlessness. If the negroes were not soon freed they would be ruined
beyond redemption. He read the remainder of the paper rigid and
unapproving. It gave, he considered, such an excellent picture of
Southern iniquities that he marked it B plus, the highest rating his
responsibility had allowed Rosemary Roselle. Now he was certain that
her very name held a dangerous potentiality—it came too easily to the
tongue; it had a wanton sound like a silk skirt.
The warm glow faded from the room; without, the tenuous and bare
upper branches of the maples wavered in the oncoming dusk. The river
had disappeared. Elim was acutely conscious of the approaching hour of
supper; and in preparation to go out to it he donned again the nankeen
waistcoat and solemn garment that had served his father so long and so
The following day was almost hot; at its decline coming across
Winthrop Common Elim was oppressed and weary. Nothing unusual was
happening at the boarding house; a small customary group was seated on
the veranda steps, and he joined it. The conversation hung exclusively
to the growing tension between North and South, to the forming of a
Confederate States of America in February, the scattered condition of
the Union forces, the probable fate of the forts in Charleston harbor.
The men spoke, according to their dispositions, with the fiery
emphasis or gravity common to great crises. The air was charged with a
sense of imminence, the vague discomfort of pending catastrophe. Elim
listened without comment, his eyes narrowed, his long countenance
severe. Most of the men had gone into Boston, to the Parker House,
where hourly bulletins were being posted. Those on the steps rose to
follow, all except Elim Meikeljohn—in Boston he knew money would be
He went within, stopping to glance through a number of lately
arrived letters on a table and found one for himself, addressed in his
father's painstaking script. Alone, once more without his coat, he
opened the letter. Its beginning was commonplace—“My dear son,
Elim”—but what followed confused him by the totally unexpected shock
it contained: Hester, his wife, was dead.
At first he was unable to comprehend the details of what had
happened to him; the fact itself was of such disturbing significance.
He had never considered the possibility of Hester's dying; he had come
to think of her as a lifelong responsibility. She had seemed, in her
invalid's chair, withdrawn from the pressure of life as it bore upon
others, more enduring than his father's haggard concern over the
increasing difficulties of material existence and spiritual salvation,
than his mother's flushed toiling.
Elim had lived with no horizon wider than the impoverished daily
necessity; he had accepted this with mingled fatality and fortitude;
any rebellion had been immediately suppressed as a wicked reflection
upon Deity. His life had been ordered in this course; he had accepted
it the more readily from his inherited distrust of worldly values and
aspirations; it had, in short, been he, and now the foundations of his
entire existence had been overthrown.
He read the letter more carefully, realizing the probable necessity
of his immediate return home for the funeral. But that was
dispelled—his father wrote that it had been necessary to bury Hester
at once. The elder Meikeljohn proceeded relentlessly to an exact
exposition of why this had been done. “A black swelling” was included
in the details. He finished:
“And if it would be inconvenient for you to leave your work at this
time it is not necessary for you to come here. In some ways it would be
better for you to stay. There is little enough for you to do and it
would stop your money at college.... The Lord is a swift and terrible
Being Who worketh His will in the night.”
Hester was dead. Elim involuntarily walked to a window, gazing with
unseeing eyes at the familiar pleasant prospect. A realization flashed
unbidden through his mind, a realization like a stab of lightning—he
was free. He overbore it immediately, but it left within him a strange
tingling sensation. He directed his mind upon Hester and the profitable
contemplation of death; but rebellion sprang up within him, thoughts
beyond control whirled in his brain.
Free! A hundred impulses, desires, of which—suppressed by his rigid
adherence to a code of duty—he had not been conscious, leaped into
vitality. His vision of life swung from its focus upon outward and
invisible things to a new surprising regard of his own tangible self.
He grew aware of himself as an entity, of the world as a broad and
various field of exploit and discovery.
There was, his father had bluntly indicated, no place for him at
home; and suddenly he realized that his duties at college had been a
tedious grind for inconsiderable return. This admission brought to him
the realization that he detested the whole thing—the hours in class;
the droning negligent recitations of the men; the professor of
philosophy and letters' pedantic display; the cramped academic spirit
of the institution. The vague resentment he had felt at the
half-concealed disdain of his fellows gave place to a fiery contempt
for their majority; the covert humility he had been forced to
assume—by the thought of Hester and the few miserable dollars of an
inferior position—turned to a bitter freedom of opinion.
The hour for supper approached and passed, but Elim did not leave
his room. He walked from wall to wall, by turns arrogant and lost in
his new situation. Of one thing he was certain—he would give up his
occupation here. It might do for some sniveling sycophant of learning
and money, but he was going forth to—what?
He heard footfalls in the bare hall below, and a sudden easy desire
for companionship seized him; he drew on the sturdy Meikeljohn coat and
descended the stairs to the lower floor. Harry Kaperton's door was open
and Elim saw the other moving within. He advanced, leaning in the
“Back early,” Elim remarked. “What's new at Parker's?”
Kaperton was unsuccessful in hiding his surprise at the other's
unexpected appearance and direct question. “Why—why, nothing when I
left;” then more cordially: “Come in, find a chair. Bottle on the
table—oh, I didn't think.” He offered an implied apology to Elim's
But Elim advanced to the table, where, selecting a decanter at
random, he poured out a considerable drink of pale spirits. Harry
Kaperton looked at him in foolish surprise.
“Had no idea you indulged!” he ejaculated. “Always took you to be a
severe Puritan duck.”
“Scotch,” Elim corrected him, “Presbyterian.”
He tilted the glass and the spirits sank smoothly from sight. His
throat burned as if he had swallowed a mouthful of flame, but there was
a quality in the strong rum that accorded with his present mood: it was
fiery like his released sense of life. Kaperton poured himself a drink,
elevated it with a friendly word and joined Elim.
“I'm going home,” the former proceeded. “You see, I live in
Maryland, and the situation there is getting pretty warm. We want to
get our women out of Baltimore, and our affairs conveniently shaped,
before any possible trouble. I had a message this evening to come at
The two men presented the greatest possible contrast—Harry Kaperton
had elegantly flowing whiskers, a round young face that expressed
facile excitement at a possible disturbance, and sporting garb of
tremendous emphasis. Elim's face, expressing little of the tumult
within, harsh and dark and dogged, was entirely appropriate to his
somber greenish-black dress. Kaperton gestured toward the bottle, and
they took a second drink, then a third.
Kaperton's face flushed, he grew increasingly voluble, but Elim
Meikeljohn was silent; the liquor made no apparent impression upon him.
He sat across the table from the other with his legs extended straight
before him. They emptied the decanter of spirits and turned to sherry,
anything that was left. Kaperton apologized profoundly for the depleted
state of his cellar—knowing that he was leaving, he had invited a
party of men to his room the night before. He was tremendously sorry
that Elim had been overlooked—the truth being that no one had known
what a good companion Elim was.
It seemed to Elim Meikeljohn, drinking sherry, that the night before
he had not existed at all. He did not analyze his new being, his
surprising potations; he was proceeding without a cautious ordering of
his steps. It was neither a celebration nor a protest, but instinctive,
like the indiscriminate gulping of a man who has been swimming under
“Why,” Kaperton gasped, “you've got a head like a cannon ball.”
He rose and wandered unsteadily about, but Elim sat motionless,
silent, drinking. He was conscious now of a drumming in his ears like
distant martial music, a confused echo like the beat of countless feet.
He tilted his glass and was surprised to find it empty.
“It's all gone,” Kaperton said dully.
He was as limp as an empty doll, Elim thought contemptuously. He,
Elim, felt like hickory, like iron; his mind was clear, vindicative. He
rose, sweeping back the hair from his high austere brow. Kaperton had
slid forward in his chair with hanging open hands and mouth.
The drumming in Elim's ears grew louder, a hum of voices was added
to it, and it grew nearer, actual. A crowd of men was entering the
boarding house, carrying about them a pressure of excited exclamations
and a more subtle disturbance. Elim Meikeljohn left Kaperton and went
out into the hall. An ascending man met him.
“War!” he cried. “The damned rebels have assaulted and taken Sumter!
Lincoln has called for fifty thousand volunteers!” He hurried past and
left Elim grasping the handrail of the stair.
War! The word carried an overwhelming significance to his mind
dominated by the intangible drumming, to his newly released freedom.
War upon oppression, upon the criminal slaveholders of the South! He
descended the stairs, pausing above the small agitated throng in the
A passionate elation swept over him. He held his long arms upward
“How many of the fifty thousand are here?” he asked. His ringing
voice was answered in an assent that rolled in a solid volume of sound
up the stairs. Elim Meikeljohn's soul leaped in the supreme kinship
that linked him, man to man, with all.
It was again April, extremely early in the morning and month, and
thickly cold, when Brevet-Major Elim Meikeljohn, burning with the fever
of a re-opened old saber wound, strayed away from his command in the
direction of Richmond. His thoughts revolved with the rapidity of a
pinwheel, throwing off crackling ideas, illuminated with blinding
spurts and exploding colors, in every direction. A vague persistent
pressure sent him toward the city. It was being evacuated; the Union
forces, he knew, were to enter at dawn; but he had stumbled ahead,
careless of consequences, oblivious of possible reprisal.
He was, he recognized by the greater blackness ahead, near the
outskirts of the city—for Richmond was burning. The towering black
mass of smoke was growing more perceptible in the slowly lightening
dawn. Elim Meikeljohn could now hear the low sullen uprush of flames,
the faint crackling of timbers, and a hot aromatic odor met him in
His scabbard beat awkwardly about his heels, and he impatiently
unhooked it and threw it into the gloom of the roadside. The service
revolver was still in its holster; but he had forgotten its presence
and use. In the multicolored confusion of his mind but one conscious
impression remained; and, in its reiteration, he said aloud, over and
over, in dull tones, “Two, Linden Row.”
The words held no concrete meaning, they constructed no vision,
embodied no tangible desire; they were merely the mechanical expression
of an obscure and dominating impulse. He was hardly more sensate in his
progress than a nail drawn irresistibly by a magnet.
The gray mist dissolved, and his long haggard face grew visible; it
had not aged in the past four years of struggle—almost from boyhood it
had been marked with somber longitudinal lines—but it had grown
keener, more intense, with the expression of a man whose body had
starved through a great spiritual conflict. His uniform, creased and
stained, and now silvery with dew, flapped about a gaunt ironlike
frame; and from under the leather peak of his kepi, even in his fever,
his eyes burned steady and compelling.
Scattered houses, seemingly as unsubstantial as shadows, gathered
about him; they grew more frequent, joined shoulder to shoulder, and he
was in a city street. On the left he caught a glimpse of the river,
solid and smooth and unshining; a knot of men passed shouting hoarsely,
and a wave of heat swept over him like a choking cloth. Like the
morning, his mind partially cleared, people and scenes grew coherent.
The former were a disheveled and rioting rabble; the conflagration
spread in lurid waves.
The great stores of the tobacco warehouses had been set on fire, and
the spanning flames threatened the entire city. The rich odor of the
burning tobacco leaves rolled over the streets in drifting showers of
ruby sparks. The groups on the streets resolved into individuals. Elim
saw a hulking woman, with her waist torn from grimy shoulders, cursing
the retreating Confederate troops with uplifted quivering fists; he saw
soldiers in gray joined to shifty town characters furtively bearing
away swollen sacks; carriages with plunging frenzied horses, a man with
white-faced and despairingly calm women. He stopped hurrying in the
opposite direction and demanded:
“Two, Linden Row?”
The other waved a vague arm toward the right and broke away.
The street mounted sharply and Elim passed an open space teeming
with hurrying forms, shrill with cries lost in the drumming roar of the
flames. Every third man was drunk. He passed fights, bestial grimaces,
heard the fretful crack of revolvers. The great storehouses were now
below him, and he could see the shuddering inky masses of smoke
blotting out quarter after quarter. He was on a more important
thoroughfare now, and inquired again:
“Two, Linden Row?”
This man ejaculated:
“The Yankees are here!” The fact seemed to stupefy him, and he stood
with hanging hands and mouth.
Elim Meikeljohn repeated his query and was answered by a negro who
had joined them.
“On ahead, capt'n,” he volunteered; “fourth turn past the capitol
and first crossing.”
The other regained his speech and began to curse the negro and Elim,
but the latter moved swiftly on.
Above him, through the shifting tenebrous banks, he saw a classic
white building on a patch of incredible greenery, infinitely remote;
and then from the center of the city came a deafening explosion, a
great sullen sheet of flame, followed by flashes like lightning in the
“The powder magazines,” Elim heard repeated from person to person.
An irregular file of Confederate soldiers galloped past him, and the
echo of their hoofs had hardly died before a troop of mounted Union
cavalry, with slanting carbines, rode at their heels. They belonged,
Elim recognized, to Kautz' command.
He had now reached the fourth turn beyond the withdrawn vision of
the capitol, and he advanced through a black snowing of soot. Flames,
fanlike and pallid, now flickered about his feet, streamed in the
gutters and lapped the curbs. He saw heaps of broken bottles against
the bricks, and the smell of fine spilled wines and liquors hung in his
nostrils. His reason again wavered—the tremendous spectacle of burning
assumed an apocalyptic appearance, as if the city had burst
spontaneously into flame from the passionate and evil spirits
engendered and liberated by war.
He stopped at the first crossing and saw before him a row of tall
brick houses, built solidly and set behind small yards and a low iron
fencing. They had shallow porticoes with iron grilling, and at this end
a towering magnolia tree swept its new glossy greenery against the
“Linden Row,” he muttered. “Well—Number Two?”
He swung back a creaking gate and went up a flight of bricked steps
to the door. He had guessed right; above a brass knocker filmed with
the floating muck of the air he saw the numeral, Two, painted beneath
the fanlight. The windows on the left were blank, curtained. The house
rose silent and without a mark of life above the obscene clamor of the
city. He knocked sharply and waited; then he knocked again. Nothing
broke the stillness of the facade, the interior. He tried the door, but
it was solidly barred. Then a second fact, a memory, joined the bare
location in his brain. It was a name—Rose—Rosemary Roselle. He beat
with an emaciated fist on the paneling and called, “Roselle! Roselle!”
There was a faint answering stir within; he heard the rattle of a
chain; the door swung back upon an apparently empty and cavernous cool
A colored woman, in a crisp white turban, with a strained face more
gray than brown, suddenly advanced holding before her in both hands a
heavy revolver of an outworn pattern. Elim Meikeljohn could see by her
drawn features that she was about to pull the trigger, and he said
“Don't! The thing will explode. One of us will get hurt.” She closed
her eyes, Elim threw up his arm, and an amazingly loud report crashed
through the entry. He stood swaying weakly, with hanging palms, while
the woman dropped the revolver with a gasp. Elim Meikeljohn began to
cry with short dry sobs.... It was incredible that any one should
discharge a big revolver directly at his head. He sank limply against a
chest at the wall.
“Oh, Indy!” a shaken voice exclaimed. “Do you think he's dying?” The
colored woman went reluctantly forward and peered at Elim. She touched
him on a shoulder.
“'Deed, Miss Rosemary,” she replied, relieved and angry, “that shot
didn't touch a hair. He's just crying like a big old nothing.” She
grasped him more firmly, gave him a shake. “Dressed like a soldier,”
she proceeded scornfully, “and scaring us out of our wits. What did you
want to come here for anyhow calling out names?”
Elim's head rolled forward and back. The hall seemed full of flaming
arrows, and he collapsed slowly on the polished floor. He was moved; he
was half-conscious of his heels dragging upstairs, of frequent pauses,
voices expostulating and directing thinly. Finally he sank into a
sublimated peace in, apparently, a floating white cloud.
He awoke refreshed, mentally clear, but absurdly weak—he was lying
in the middle of a four-posted bed, a bed with posts so massive and
tall that they resembled smooth towering trees. Beyond them he could
see a marble mantel; a grate filled with softly smoldering coals, and a
gleaming brass hod; a highboy with a dark lustrous surface; oval gold
frames; and muslin curtains in an open window, stirring in an air that
moved the fluted valance at the top of the bed. It was late afternoon,
the light was fading, the interior wavering in a clear shadow filled
with the faint fat odor of the soft coal.
The immaculate bed linen bore an elusive cool scent, into which he
relapsed with profound delight. The personality of the room, somber and
still, flowed about him with a magical release from the inferno of the
past years, the last hours. He heard a movement at a door, and the
colored woman in the white turban moved to the side of the bed.
“I told her,” she said in an aggrieved voice, “there wasn't nothing
at all wrong with you. I reckon now you're all ready to fight again or
eat. Why did you stir things all up in Richmond and kill good folks?”
“To set you free!” Elim Meikeljohn replied.
She gazed at him thoughtfully.
“Capt'n,” she asked finally, “are you free?”
“Why, certainly——” he began, and then stopped abruptly, lost in
the memory of the dour past. He recalled his father, with a passion for
learning, imprisoned in the narrow poverty of his circumstances and
surroundings; he remembered Hester, with her wishful gaze in the
confines of her invalid chair; his own laborious lonely days. Freedom,
a high and difficult term, he saw concerned regions of the spirit not
liberated—solved—by a simple declaration on the body. The war had
been but the initial, most facile step. The woman had silenced his
sounding assertion, humiliated him, by a word. He gazed at her with a
new, less confident interest. The mental effort brought a momentary
recurrence of fever; he flushed and muttered: “Freedom ... spirit.”
“You're not as wholesome as you appeared,” the woman judged. “You
can't have nothing beside a glass of milk.” She crossed the room and,
stirring the fire, put on fresh coal that ignited with an oily crackle.
Again at the door she paused. “Don't you try to move about,” she
directed; “you stay right in this room. Mr. Roselle, he's downstairs,
and Mr. McCall, and—” her voice took on a faint insistent note of
warning. He paid little heed to her; he was lost in a wave of
The following morning, stronger, he rose and tentatively trying the
door found it locked. The colored woman appeared soon after with a tray
which, when he had performed a meager toilet, he attacked with a
“The city's just burning right up,” she informed him, standing in
the middle of the floor; “the boats on the river caught fire and their
camions banged into Canal Street.” She had a pale even color, a
straight delicate nose and sensitive lips.
“Are the Union troops in charge?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. They got some of the fire out, I heard tell. But that's
not the worst now—a body can't set her foot in the street, it's so
full of drunken roaring trash, black and white. It's good Mr. Roselle
and Mr. McCall and Mr. John are here,” she declared again; “they could
just finish off anybody that offered to turn a bad hand.”
This, Elim felt, was incongruous with his reception yesterday.
Still he made no inquiry. The breakfast finished, he relapsed once
more on his pillows and heard the key stealthily turn in the door from
He told himself, without conviction, that he must rise and join his
command. The war, he knew, was over; the courage that had sustained him
during the struggle died. The simple question of the colored woman had
largely slain it. His own personality, the vision of his forthcoming
life and necessity, rose to the surface of his consciousness. Elim
realized what had drawn, him to his present situation—it had, of
course, been the memory of Rosemary Roselle. The days when he—an
assistant to a professor of philosophy and letters—had read and marked
her essays seemed to lie in another existence, infinitely remote. How
would he excuse his presence, the calling of her name before the house?
This was an inopportune—a fatal—moment for a man in the blue of the
North to make his bow to a Richmond girl, in the midst of her wasted
and burning place of home. He decided reluctantly that it would be best
to say nothing of his connection with her academic labors, but to
depart as soon as possible and without explanation of his first
summons.... Rosemary Roselle—the name had clung persistently to his
memory. It was probable that he would see her—once. That alone was
extraordinary. He marveled at the grim humor of circumstance that had
granted him such a wildly improbable wish, and at the same time made it
humanly impossible for him to benefit from it.
The leisurely progress of his thoughts was interrupted by hasty feet
without; the bolt was shot back and his door flung open. It was the
colored woman—the Indy of the essay—quivering with anger and fear.
“Capt'n,” she exclaimed, gasping with her rapid accent, “you come
right down to the dining room, and bring that big pistol of yours.
There's two, two——” Words failed her. “Anyhow you shoot them! It's
some of that liberty you brought along, I reckon. You come down to Miss
She stood tense and ashen, and Elim rose on one elbow.
“Some of our liberty?” he queried. “Did Miss Roselle send for me?”
“No, sir, she didn't. Miss Rosemary she wouldn't send for you, not
if you were the last man alive. I'm telling you to come down to the
dining room.... We've tended you and—”
“Well,” he demanded impatiently, “what do you want; whom shall I
“You'll see, quick enough. And I can't stand here talking either;
I've got to go back. You get yourself right along down!”
With painful slowness Elim made his preparations to descend; his
fingers could hardly buckle the stiff strap of his revolver sling, but
finally he made his way downstairs through a deep narrow hall. He
turned from a blank wall to a darkened reception room, with polished
mahogany, somber books and engravings on the walls, and a rosy blur of
fire in the hearth. A more formal chamber lay at his right, empty, but
through an opposite door he caught the faint clatter of a spoon.
Rosemary Roselle was seated, rigid and white, at the end of a table
that bore a scattered array of dishes. There were shadows beneath her
eyes, and her hands, on the table, were clenched. On her left a man in
an unmarked blue uniform sat, sagging heavily forward in his chair,
breathing stertorously, with a dark flush over a pouched and flaccid
countenance. Opposite him, sitting formally upright, was a negro in a
carefully brushed gray suit, with a crimson satin necktie surcharged by
vivid green lightning. His bony face, the deep pits of his temples,
were the dry spongy black of charcoal, and behind steel-rimmed glasses
his eyes rolled like yellow agates. He glanced about, furtive and
startled, when Elim Meikeljohn entered, but he was immediately
reassured by Elim's disordered uniform. He made a solemn obeisance.
“Colonel,” he said, “will you make one of a little informal repast?
We are, you see, at the lady's table.”
Overcome by a sharp weakness, Elim slipped into the chair at his
side and faced Rosemary Roselle. The latter gave no sign of his
presence. She sat frozen into a species of statuesque rage. “Like you,”
the negro continued pompously, “we invited ourselves. All things are
free and easy for all. The glorious principle of equality instituted
lately has swept away—swept away the inviderous distinctions of class
and color. The millenium has come!” He made a grandiloquent gesture
with a sooty hand.
“'Ray!” the sodden individual opposite unexpectedly cried.
“We came in,” the other continued, “to uphold our rights as the
“You sneaked in the kitchen,” the woman in the doorway interrupted;
“and I found you rummaging in the press.”
“Silence!” the orator commanded. “Are you unaware of the dignity now
resting on your kinks—hair, hair.” He rose, facing Elim Meikeljohn.
“Colonel, gentleman, in a conglomeration where we are all glorious
“Shut up!” said the apostrophized colonel, sudden and fretful. “Get
The orator paused, disconcerted, in the midflow of his figures; and
unaccustomed arrogance struggled with habitual servility. “Gentleman,”
he repeated, “in a corposity of souls high above all narrow
Elim Meikeljohn took his revolver from its holster and laid it
before him on the table. The weapon produced an electrical effect on
the figure nodding in a drunken stupor. He rose abruptly and uncertain.
“I'm going,” he asserted; “come on, Spout. You can be free and equal
better somewheres else.”
The negro hesitated; his hand, Elim saw, moved slightly toward a
knife lying by his plate. Elim's fingers closed about the handle of his
revolver; he gazed with a steady cold glitter, a thin mouth, at the
black masklike countenance above the hectic tie and neat gray suit.
The latter backed slowly, instinctively, toward the rear door. His
companion had already faded from view. The negro proclaimed:
“I go momentiously. There are others of us banded to obtain equality
irrespectable of color; we shall be back and things will go
different.... They have gone different in other prideful
Elim Meikeljohn raised the muzzle lying on the cloth, and the negro
disappeared. Rosemary Roselle did not move; her level gaze saw,
apparently, nothing of her surroundings; her hands were still clenched
on the board. She was young, certainly not twenty, but her oval
countenance was capable of a mature severity not to be ignored. He saw
that she had wide brown eyes the color of a fall willow leaf, a high-bridged nose and a mouth—at present—a marvel of contempt. Her slight
figure was in a black dress; she was without rings or ornamental gold.
“That talking trash gave me a cold misery,” the colored woman
admitted. She glanced at the girl and moved a bowl of salad nearer Elim
Meikeljohn. “Miss Rosemary,” she begged, “take something, my heart.”
Rosemary Roselle answered with a slow shudder; she slipped forward,
with her face buried in her arms on the table. Elim regarded her with
profound mingled emotions. In the fantastic past, when he had created
her from the studied essays, he had thought of her—censoriously—as
gay. Perhaps she danced! He wondered momentarily where the men were
Indy had spoken of as present; then he realized that they had been but
a precautionary figment of Indy's imagination; the girl, except for the
woman with the tender brown hand caressing her shoulder, was alone in
He sat with chin on breast gazing with serious speculation at the
crumpled figure opposite him. Indy, corroborating his surmise, said to
“I can't make out at all why your papa don't come back. He said
yesterday when he left he wouldn't be hardly an hour.”
“Something dreadful has happened,” Rosemary Roselle insisted,
raising a hopeless face. “Indy, do you suppose he's dead like McCall
“Mr. Roselle he ain't dead,” the woman responded stoutly; “he's just
had to keep low trash from stealing all his tobacco.”
“He could easily be found,” Elim put in; “I could have an orderly
detailed, word brought you in no time.” The girl paid not the slightest
heed to his proposal. From the street came a hoarse drunken shouting, a
small inflamed rabble streamed by. It wouldn't be safe to leave
Rosemary Roselle alone here with Indy. He recalled the threat of the
black pomposity he had driven from the house—it was possible that
there were others, banded, and that they would return. It was clear to
him that he must stay until its head reappeared, order had been
reestablished—or, if he went out, take the girl with him.
“You let the capt'n do what he says,” the woman urged. Rosemary
Roselle's eyes turned toward Elim; it was, seemingly, the first time
she had become aware of his presence. She said in a voice delicately
colored by hate:
“Thank you, I couldn't think of taking the—the orderly from his
“Then I'll find your father myself,” Elim replied. “You will come
with me, of course; show me where to go. It would be a good thing to
start at once. I—we—might be of some assistance to him with his
Indy declared with an expression of instant determination:
“We'll go right along with you.” She silenced Rosemary's instinctive
protest. “I'll get your hat and shawl,” she told the girl.
And, before the latter could object, the colored woman hurried from
Silence enveloped the two at the table. Elim replaced his revolver
in its belt. He had never before studied a girl like Rosemary Roselle;
fine white frills fell about her elbows from under the black short
sleeves. Her skin was incredibly smooth and white. It was evident that
her hands had never done manual labor; their pointed little beauty
fascinated him. He thought of the toil-hardened hands of the women of
his home. This girl represented all that he had been taught to abjure,
all that—by inheritance—he had in the abstract condemned. She
represented the vanities; she was vanity itself; and now he was
recklessly, contumaciously, glad of it. Her sheer loveliness of being
intoxicated him; suddenly it seemed as absolutely necessary to life as
the virtues of moral rectitude and homely labor. Personally, he
discovered, he preferred such beauty to the latter adamantine
qualities. He had a fleet moment of amazed self-consciousness: Elim
Meikeljohn—his father an elder in the house of God—astray in the
paths of condemned worldly frivolities! Then he recalled a little bush
of vivid red roses his mother carefully protected and cultivated; he
saw their bright fragrant patch on the rocky gray expanse of the
utilitarian acres; and suddenly a light of new understanding enveloped
his mother's gaunt drearily-clad figure. He employed in this connection
the surprising word “starved.” ... Rosemary Roselle was a flower.
Indy returned with a small hat of honey-colored straw and a soft
white- silk mantilla. The former she drew upon the girl's head and
wrapped the shawl about the slim shoulders.
“Now,” she pronounced decisively, “we're going to find your papa.”
She led Rosemary Roselle toward the outer door. Elim found his cap in
the hall and followed them down the bricked steps to the street. It was
at present deserted, quiet; and they turned to the left, making their
way toward the river and warehouses.
The fires had largely subsided; below them rose blackened bare walls
of brick, sullen twisting flags of smoke; an air of sooty desolation
had settled over the city. Houses were tightly shuttered; some with
broken doors had a trail of hastily discarded loot on the porticoes;
still others were smoldering shells.
A bugle call rose clear and triumphant from the capital; at one
place they passed Union soldiers, extinguishing flames.
They descended the flagged street over which Elim had come, turned
into another called—he saw—Cary, and finally halted before a long
somber facade. Here, too, the fire had raged; the charred timbers of
the fallen roof projected desolately into air.
A small group at a main entrance faced them as they approached; a
coatless man with haggard features, his clothes saturated with water,
“Miss Rosemary!” he ejaculated in palpable dismay. He drew Elim
Meikeljohn aside. “Take her away,” he directed; “her father ... killed,
trying to save his papers.”
“Where?” Elim demanded. “Their house is empty. She can't stay in
“I'd forgotten that!” the other admitted. “McCall and John both
gone, mother dead, and now—by heaven!” he exclaimed, low and
distressed, “she has just no one. I'm without a place. Her friends have
left. There's a distant connection at Bramant's Wharf, but that's
almost at the mouth of the James.”
Rosemary Roselle came up to them.
“Mr. Jim Haxall,” she asked, direct and white, “is father dead?”
He studied her for a moment and then answered:
“Yes, Miss Rosemary.”
She swayed. Indy, at her side, enveloped her in a sustaining arm.
“Indy,” the girl said, her face on the woman's breast, “he, too!”
“I'm sending a few bales of leaf down the river,” Haxall continued
to Elim; “the sloop'll pass Bramant's Wharf; but the crew will be just
anybody. Miss Rosemary couldn't go with only her nigger—”
Elim Meikeljohn spoke mechanically:
“I'll be responsible for her.” The war was over; he had been ordered
from the column when his wound had broken afresh, and in a maze of
fever he had been irresistibly impelled toward Linden Row. “I'll take
her to Bramant's Wharf.”
Haxall regarded suspiciously the disordered blue uniform; then his
gaze shifted to Elim's somber lined countenance.
“Miss Rosemary's rubies and gold—” he said finally. “But I believe
you're honest, I believe you're a good man.”
James Haxall explained this to Rosemary. Elim, standing aside, could
see that the girl neither assented nor raised objection. She seemed
utterly listless; a fleet emotion at the knowledge of her father's
death had, in that public place, been immediately repressed. The sloop,
Elim learned, was ready to start at once. The afternoon was declining;
to reach Bramant's Wharf would take them through the night and into the
meridian of tomorrow. They had made no preparations for the trip, there
was neither bedding nor food; but Elim and Haxall agreed that it was
best for Rosemary Roselle to leave the city at the price of any slight
Elim looked about for a place where he might purchase food. A
near-by eating house had been completely wrecked, its floor a debris of
broken crockery. Beyond, a baker's shop had been deserted, its window
shattered but the interior intact. The shelves, however, had been swept
bare of loaves. Elim searched behind the counters—nothing remained.
But in walking out his foot struck against a round object, wrapped in
paper, which on investigation proved to be a fruit cake of satisfactory
solidity and size. With this beneath his arm he returned to Rosemary
Roselle, and they followed Haxall to the wharf where the sloop lay.
The tiller was in charge of an old man with peering pale-blue eyes
and tremulous siccated hands. Yet he had an astonishingly potent voice,
and issued orders, in tones like the grating of metal edges, to a
loutish youth in a ragged shirt and bare legs. The cabin, partly
covered, was filled with bagged bales; a small space had been left for
the steersman, and forward the deck was littered with untidy ropes and
swab, windlass bar and other odds.
Elim Meikeljohn moved forward to assist Rosemary on to the sloop,
but she evaded his hand and jumped lightly down upon the deck, Indy,
grumbling and certain of catastrophe, was safely got aboard, and Elim
helped the youth to push the craft's bow out into the stream. The grimy
mainsail rose slowly, the jib was set, and they deliberately gathered
way, slipping silently between the timbered banks, emerging from the
thin pungent influence of the smoking ruins.
Behind them the sun transfused the veiled city into a coppery blur
that gradually sank into a tender-blue dusk. Indy had arranged a place
with the most obtainable comfort for Rosemary Roselle; she sat with her
back against the mast, gazing toward the bank, stealing backward, at
the darkening trees moving in solemn procession.
After the convulsed and burning city, the uproar of guns and clash
of conflict, the quiet progress of the sloop was incredibly peaceful
and withdrawn. Elim felt as if they had been detached from the familiar
material existence and had been set afloat in a stream of silken
shadows. The wind was behind them, the boom had been let far but, the
old steersman drowsed at his post, and the youth had fallen instantly
asleep in a strange cramped attitude.
Elim was standing at the stern—he had conceived it his duty to stay
as far away from Rosemary Roselle as her wish plainly indicated; but,
in this irrelated phase of living, he gradually lost his sense of
responsibility and restrained conduct. He wanted extravagantly to be
near Rosemary, to be where he could see her clearly. Perhaps, but this
was unlikely, she would speak to him. His desire gradually flooded him;
it induced a species of careless heroism, and he made his way
resolutely forward and sat on a heap of rope at a point where he could
study her with moderate propriety and success. She glanced at him
momentarily when he took his place—he saw that her under lip was
capable of an extremely human and annoying expression—and returned to
her veiled scrutiny of the sliding banks.
An unfamiliar emotion stirred at Elim's heart; and in his
painstaking introspective manner he exposed it. He found a happiness
that, at the same time, was a pain; he found an actual catch in his
throat that was a nebulous desire; he found an utter loneliness
together with the conviction that this earth was a place of glorious
possibilities of affinity. Principally he was conscious of an urging of
his entire being toward the slight figure in black, staring with wide
bereft eyes into the gathering evening. On the other side of the mast,
Indy was sleeping with her head upon her breast. The feeling in Elim
steadily increased in poignancy—faint stars appearing above the
indefinite foliage pierced him with their beauty, the ashen-blue sky
vibrated in a singing chord, the river divided in whispering
confidences on the bow of the sloop.
Elim Meikeljohn debated the wisdom of a remark; his courage grew
“The wind and river are shoving us along together.” Pronounced, the
sentence seemed appallingly compromising; he had meant that the wind
and river together, not—
She made no reply; one hand, he saw, stirred slightly.
Since he had not been blasted into nothingness, he continued:
“I'm glad the war's over. Why,” he exclaimed in genuine surprise,
“you can hear the birds again.” A sleepy twitter had floated out over
the stream. Still no response. He should not, certainly, have mentioned
the war. He wondered desperately what a fine and delicate being like
Rosemary Roselle talked about? It would be wise to avoid serious and
immediate considerations for commonplaces.
“Ellik McCosh,” he said, “a girl in our village who went to Boston,
learned to dance, and when she came back she taught two or three. Her
communion medal was removed from her,” he added with complete veracity.
“Perhaps,” he went on conversationally, “you don't have communion
medals in Richmond—it's a little lead piece you have when you are in
good standing at the Lord's table. Mine was taken away for three months
for whistling by the church door. A long while ago,” he ended in a
different voice. He thought of the fruit cake, and breaking off a piece
offered it to the silent girl. “It's like your own,” he told her,
placing it on a piece of paper at her side; “it's from Richmond and
wasn't even paid for with strange silver.”
At this last a sudden uneasiness possessed him, and he hurriedly
searched his pockets. He had exactly fifty cents. Until the present he
had totally overlooked the depleted state of his fortune. Elim had some
arrears of pay, but now he seriously doubted whether they were
collectible. Nothing else. He had emerged from the war brevetted major
but as penniless as the morning of his enlistment. He doubted whether,
in the hurry of departure, Rosemary Roselle had remembered to bring any
Still, she would be cared for, supplied with every necessity, at
Bramant's Wharf. There he would leave her ... his breathing stopped,
for, incredibly, he saw that her hand was suspended over the piece of
cake. She took it up and ate it slowly, absently. This, he felt, had
created a bond between them; but it was a conviction in which,
apparently, she had no share. She might have thanked him but she
An underhanded and indefensible expedient occurred to him, and he
sat for a perceptible number of minutes concentrating his memory upon a
dim and special object. Finally he raised his head.
“Indy,” he quoted, “a large light mulatto, hasn't much sense but a
great deal of sensibility. That,” he added of himself, “is evidently
very well observed.” He saw that Rosemary turned her head with an
impatient curiosity. “She is very unfortunate,” he continued
uncertainly; “she lost a present of money and couldn't work till it was
“But how,” demanded Rosemary Roselle, “did you know that?” Curiosity
had betrayed her.
Elim Meikeljohn concealed a grin with difficulty. It was evident
that she profoundly regretted the lapse, yet she would not permit
herself to retreat from her position. She maintained a high intolerant
aspect of query.
“Have you forgotten,” he went on, “how the dread day rolled around?”
He paused wickedly. “The slough of despond?” he added.
“What silly stuff!” Rosemary pronounced.
“It was,” he agreed, “mostly. But the paper about Indy was a
superior production. B plus, I think.”
A slow comprehension dawned on her face, blurred by the night.
“So that's where they went,” she observed; “you marked them.” He
would have sworn that a smile hovered for the fraction of a moment on
her pale lips. She drew up her shoulders slightly and turned away.
His best, his only hope had flickered for a minute and died away.
Her silence was like impregnable armor. A puff of wind filled the
sails, there was a straining of cordage, an augmented bubbling at the
sloop's bow, and then the stir subsided. He passed into a darkness of
old distresses, forebodings, grim recollections from his boyhood,
inherited bleak memories. Rosemary Roselle's upright figure gradually
sank. He realized that she was asleep on her arm. Elim bent forward
shamelessly and studied her worn countenance. There was a trace of
tears on her cheek. She was as delicate, as helpless as a flower
sleeping on its stalk.
An impulse to touch her hair was so compelling that he started back,
shaken; a new discordant tumult rose within him, out of which emerged
an aching hunger for Rosemary Roselle; he wanted her with a passion
cold and numbing like ether. He wanted her without reason, and in the
desire lost his deep caution, his rectitude of conscience. He was torn
far beyond the emotional possibilities of weak men. The fact that,
penniless and without a home, he had nothing to offer was lost in the
beat and surge of his feelings. He went with the smashing completeness
of a heavy body, broken loose in an elemental turmoil. He wanted her;
her fragrant spirit, the essence that was herself, Rosemary Roselle. He
couldn't take it; such consummations, he realized, were beyond will and
act, they responded from planes forever above human desire—there was
not even a rift of hope. The banks had been long lost in the night; the
faint disembodied cry of an owl breathed across the invisible river.
She woke with a little confused cry, and sat gazing distractedly
into the dark, her hands pressed to her cheeks.
“Don't you remember,” Elim Meikeljohn spoke, “Haxall and the sloop;
your relatives at Bramant's Wharf?”
She returned to a full consciousness of her surroundings.
“I was dreaming so differently,” she told him. It seemed to Elim
that the antagonism had departed from her voice; he even had a feeling
that she was glad of his presence. Indy, prostrate on the deck with her
chin elevated to the stars, had not moved.
The darkness increased, broken only by the colored glimmer of the
port and starboard lights and a wan blur about the old man bent over
the tiller. Once he woke the youth and sent him forward with a sounding
pole, once the sloop scraped heavily over a mud bank, but that was all;
their imperceptible progress was smooth, unmarked.
Elim, recalling Joshua, wished that the sloop and night were
anchored, stationary. Already he smelled the dawn in a newly stirring,
cold air. The darkness thickened. Rosemary Roselle said:
“I'm dreadfully hungry.”
He immediately produced the fruit cake.
“It's really quite satisfactory,” she continued, eating; “It's like
the rest of this—unreal.... What is your name?” she demanded
“That's a very Northern sort of name.”
“It would be hard to come by one more so,” he agreed. “It's from the
highlands of Scotland.”
“Then if you don't mind, I'll think of you as Scotch right now.”
He conveyed to her the fact that he didn't.
“Look!” she exclaimed. “There's the morning!”
A thin gray streak widened across the east. Almost immediately the
night dissolved. They were sweeping down the middle of a river that
surprised Elim with its width and majesty. The withdrawn banks bore
clustered trees, undulating green reached inland, the shaded facades of
houses sat back on lawns that dipped to the stream.
Rosemary Roselle's face was pale with fatigue; her eyes appeared
preternaturally large; and this, for Elim, made her charm infinitely
more appealing. She smoothed her dress, touched her hair with light
fingers. The intimacy of it all thrilled him. A feeling of happy
irresponsibility deepened. He lost sight of the probable unhappiness of
tomorrow, the catastrophe that was yesterday; Elim was radiantly
content with the present.
“You look Northern too,” she went on; “you are so much more solemn
than the Virginia men—I mean your face is.”
“I suppose I've had a solemn sort of existence,” he agreed. “Life's
an awful serious thing where I was born. The days are not long enough,
life's too short, to get your work done. It's a stony pasture,” he
admitted. He described the Meikeljohn farm land, sloping steeply to
swift rocky streams, the bare existence of the sheep, the bitter
winters. He touched briefly on Hester and his marriage.
“It's no wonder,” she pronounced, “that you have shadows in your
eyes. You can't imagine,” she continued, “how wonderful everything was
in Richmond, before—I simply can't talk about it now. I suppose we are
ruined, but there isn't a man or woman who wouldn't do the same thing
all over again. I'm almost glad that father isn't—isn't here; misery
of any kind made him so wretched ... perfect memories.” She closed her
Her under lip, he saw, projected slightly, her chin was fine but
stubborn. These details renewed his delight; they lent a warm humanity
to her charm.
“Any one would know,” she said, regarding him, “that you are
absolutely trustworthy. It's a nice quality now, but I don't think I
would have noticed it even a month ago. You can see that I have grown
frightfully old in the littlest while. Yes, you are comfortable to be
with, and I suspect that counts for a great deal. It's quite sad, too,
to grow old. Oh, look, we've changed! Where do you suppose he is going?
This can't nearly be Bramant's.”
The mainsail had been hauled in, and the course of the sloop
changed, quartering in toward the shore. The youth, moving forward,
stopped to enlighten them. He jerked a thumb in the direction of the
“He's got kin here at Jerico,” he explained; “and we're setting in
to see them. We won't stop long.”
The mainsail came smoothly down, the jib fluttered, and the sloop
slid in beside a sturdy old wharf, projecting from a deep fringe of
willows. No sign of life or habitation was visible.
The youth made fast a hawser, the old man mounted painfully to the
dock, and Indy stirred and rose.
“I must have just winked asleep,” she declared in consternation.
Rosemary Roselle lightly left the boat, and Elim followed. “If we
explored,” he proposed, “perhaps we could get you a cup of coffee.” She
elected, however, to stay by the river, and Elim went inward alone.
Beyond the willows was an empty marshland. The old man had disappeared,
with no trace of his objective kin. A road, deep in yellow mire,
mounted a rise beyond and vanished a hundred yards distant. Elim,
unwilling to get too far away from the sloop, had turned and moved
toward the wharf, when he was halted by the sound of horses' hoofs.
He saw approaching him over the road a light open carriage with a
fringed canopy and a pair of horses driven by a negro in a long white
dust coat. In the body of the carriage a diminutive bonneted head was
barely visible above an enormous circumference of hoops. Elim saw
bobbing gray curls, peering anxious eyes, and a fluttering hand in a
black silk-thread mit.
“Gossard,” a feminine voice cried shrilly to the driver, at the
sight of Elim on the roadside, “here's a Yankee army; lick up those
The negro swung a vicious whip, the horses started sharply forward,
but the carriage wheels, sinking in a deep slough, remained fixed; the
harness creaked but held; the equipage remained stationary. The negro
dismounted sulkily, and Elim crossed the road and put his shoulder to a
wheel. Together with the driver, he lifted the carriage on to a firmer
surface. The old lady was seated with tightly shut eyes.
“This here man ain't going to hurt you,” the driver exclaimed
impatiently. “This exdus is all nonsense anyways,” he grumbled. “I got
a mind to stop—I'm free.”
She directed upon him a beady black gaze.
“You get right into this carriage,” she commanded; “you'd be free to
starve. You are a fool!” The man reluctantly obeyed her. “I thank you
for your clemency,” she said to Elim. She fumbled among her flounces
and hoops and produced an object carefully wrapped and tied. “Here,”
she proclaimed; “I can still pay for a service. Gossard—” the carriage
moved forward, was lost in the dip in the road. Elim opened the package
in his hand and regarded, with something like consternation, a bottle
Beyond the wharf the great yellow flood of the river gleamed in the
sun; choirs of robins whistled in trees faintly green. Rosemary Roselle
was seated with her feet hanging over the water.
“Champagne for breakfast,” she observed, shaking her head; “only the
most habitual sports manage that.” He recounted the episode of the
“Yankee army,” delighted by her less formal tone, then the old man
returned as enigmatically as he had disappeared. The ropes were cast
off, the sloop swung out into the current, and their smooth progress
A few more hours and they would be at Bramant's Wharf. There, Elim
knew, he would be expected to leave Rosemary. There would be a
perfunctory gratitude from her relatives, perhaps a warmer appreciation
from herself—a moment—a momentary pressure of her hand—and then—
where? He would never again come in contact with so exquisite a girl;
they were, he realized, customarily held in a circle where men like
himself, outsiders, rarely penetrated; once more with her family and he
would be forgotten. Anyhow, he had nothing.
But in spite of these heavy reflections his irresponsible happiness
increased. In this segment of existence no qualifications from the
shore were valid. Time, himself, at the tiller, seemed drifting,
unconcerned. Rosemary Roselle regarded Elim with a franker interest.
She took off a small slipper and emptied some sand from the shore; the
simple act seemed to him burdened with gracious warmth. Now she was
infinitely easier than any girl he had known before. Those about his
home met the younger masculine world either with a blunt sarcasm or
with an uneasy voiceless propriety. Rosemary, propped on an elbow, was
as unconcerned as a boy. This made her infinitely more difficult of
approach. Her slight beautiful body, not hidden by clothes—as decency
demanded in the more primitive state—was delightfully marked,
suggested. Here was beauty admitted, lauded, even studied, in place of
the fierce masking and denouncement of his father and the fellow
He remembered, from collegiate hours, the passion of the Greeks for
sheer earthly strength and loveliness—Helen and Menelaus, Sappho on
the green promontories of Lesbos. At the time of his reading he had
maintained a wry brow ... now Elim Meikeljohn could comprehend the
siege of Troy.
He said aloud, without thinking and instantly aghast at his words:
“You are like a bodied song.” He was horrified; then his newer
spirit utterly possessed him, he didn't care; he nodded his long solemn
Rosemary Roselle turned toward him with a cool stare that was lost
in irresistible ringing peals of laughter.
“Oh!” she gasped; “what a face for a compliment. It was just like
pouring sirup out of a vinegar cruet.”
He became annoyed and cleared his throat in an elder-like manner,
but her amusement strung out in silvery chuckles.
“It's the first I've said of the kind,” he admitted stiffly; “I've
no doubt it came awkward.”
She grew more serious, studied him with thoughtful eyes. “Do you
know,” she said slowly, “I believe you. Compliments in Virginia are
like cherries, the trees are full of them; they're nice but worth—so
much.” She measured an infinitesimal degree with a rosy nail against a
finger. “But I can see that yours are different. They almost hurt you,
He made no reply, struggling weakly against what, he perceived, was
“You're like a song that to hear would draw a man about the world,”
said Elim Meikeljohn, pagan. “He would leave his sheep and byre, he'd
drop his duty and desert his old, and follow. I'm lost,” he decided, in
a last perishing flicker of early teaching; and then he smiled
inexplicably at the wrath to come.
Rosemary Roselle grew more serious.
“But that's not a compliment at all,” she discovered; “it's more,
and it makes me uncomfortable. Please stop!”
“About the world,” echoed Elim, “and everything else forgotten.”
“Please,” she repeated, holding up a prohibitory palm.
“Rose petals,” he said, regarding it. His madness increased. She
withdrew her hand and gazed at him with a small frown. She was sitting
upright, propped on her arms. Her mouth, with its slightly full under
lip, was elevated, and an outrageous desire possessed him. His
countenance slowly turned hotly red, and slowly a faint tide of color
stained Rosemary Roselle's cheeks. She looked away; Elim looked away.
He proceeded aft and learned that Bramant's Wharf lay only a few miles
The old man cursed the wind in his stringent tones. Elim hadn't
noticed anything reprehensible in the wind. It appeared that for a
considerable time there hadn't been any. A capful was stirring now, and
humanity— ever discontented—silently cursed that.
“We're nearly there,” he said, returning to Rosemary Roselle.
He was unable to gather any intelligence from her expression.
She rose, and stood with a hand on Indy's shoulder, murmuring
affectionately in the colored woman's ear. The sloop once more headed
at a long angle for the shore. Bramant's Wharf grew visible, projecting
solidly from a verdant bank. They floated silently up to the dock, and
the youth held the sloop steady while Rosemary Roselle and Indy mounted
from its deck. Elim followed, but suddenly he stopped, and his hand
went into his pocket. A half dollar fell ringing into the boat. Elim
indicated the youth; he was now penniless.
“The house,” Rosemary explained, “is almost a mile in. There is a
carriage at the wharf when they expect you. And usually there is some
Elim, carrying the cake and bottle, followed over a grassy road
between tangles of blackberry bushes. On either hand neglected fields
held a sparse tangle of last year's weeds; beyond, trees closed in the
perspective. The sun had passed the zenith, and the shadows of walnut
trees fell across the road. Elim's face was grim, a dark tide rose
about him, enveloping his heart, bothering his vision. He wanted to
address something final to the slim girl in black before him, something
now, before she was forever lost in the gabble of her relatives; but he
could think of nothing appropriate, expressive of the tumult within
him. His misery deepened with every step, grew into a bitterness of
rebellion that almost forced an incoherent reckless speech. Rosemary
Roselle didn't turn, she didn't linger, there were a great many things
that she might say. The colored woman was positively hurrying forward.
A great loneliness swept over him. He had not, he thought drearily,
been made for joy.
“It's queer there's no one about,” Rosemary Roselle observed. They
reached the imposing pillars of an entrance—the wooden gate was
chained, and they were obliged to turn aside and search for an opening
in a great mock-orange hedge. Before them a wide sweep of lawn led up
to a formal dark facade; a tanbark path was washed, the grass ragged
and uncut. Involuntarily they quickened their pace.
Elim saw that towering brown pillars rose to the roof of the
dwelling and that low wings extended on either hand. Before the portico
a stiffly formal garden lay in withered neglect.
The flower beds, circled with masoned rims and built up like wired
bouquets, held only twisted and broken stems.
A faint odor of wet plaster and dead vegetation rose to meet them.
On the towering wall of the house every window was tightly shuttered.
The place bore a silent and melancholy air of desertion.
The girl gave a dismayed gasp. Elim hastily placed his load on the
steps and, mounting, beat upon the door. Only a dull echo answered.
Dust fell from the paneling upon his head.
“Maybe they have shut up the front for protection,” he suggested. He
made his way to the rear; all was closed. Through the low limbs of
apple trees he could see a double file of small sad brick quarters for
the slaves. They, too, were empty. The place was without a living
being. He stood, undecided, when suddenly he heard Rosemary Roselle
calling with an acute note of fear.
He ran through the binding grass back to the garden.
“Elim Meikeljohn!” She stumbled forward to meet him. “Oh, Elim,” she
cried; “there's no one in the world——” A sob choked her utterance.
He fell on his knees before her:
“There's always me.”
She sank in a fragrant heap into his arms.
Elim Meikeljohn laughed over her shoulder at his entire worldly
goods on the steps—the fragmentary fruit cake and a bottle of
Here they are lost on the dimming mirror of the past.