The mail had brought from Nice a cardboard box of flowers. The study was hot and close, despite the open windows, so when I opened it the scent of the roses filled the air with a new fragrance. I took out the spray on the top, a magnificent cluster of great pink Bengal roses; but the day of glory of this kind is a short one, and the journey was long; the mere motion of lifting the spray finished the work of destruction. I held in my hand only a bare stalk, whilst the moss green carpet was scattered with the great petals of the flowers. From the open box still came the sweet, simple fragrance of some more hardy Vulcan roses, and that cool, earthy smell which clings around damp moss.
And then a flood of memory rushed over me, aided by that best of mnemonics, a once-known perfume. I lit a cigar, and as I sat in my easy chair, with the roses beside me, the light of the July evening paled and paled, till I sat alone in the darkness. Twenty years of hopes, struggles and success were obliterated, and I lived again an old chapter of my boy’s life, which contained the fragments of a romance. All came back so vividly that time and space were annihilated. I did not merely remember; once more the things were! Ah, me! that chapter of boyish love and jealousy, which has neither youth nor age! Once again I remembered how these things worked into other lives, and then I lived the past again.
* * *
A sweet old garden of a country rectory, large and full of queer nooks and shady places. Great lime trees on one side, where in summer the bees kept up a perpetual hum, and under whose shelter the moss grew deep and green. Just without the shadow, so that there was shelter from wind, but no lack of sun, a great trellis, covered with a luxuriant growth of Bengal roses. Hard by, some prim old trees of yew and juniper and arbor vitae. But of all these the rose trellis was, of old, the most sweet, and is now most full of memories.
Beside it some former incumbent had placed an old Greek marble seat, a segment of a circle adorned with flutings and finished with tigers’ heads and claws. This had been brought from Greece long, long ago by a wealthy patron and given to the rector as a tribute to his archaeological worth. Time had wrought its changes, and the damp and the shade had filled the hollows and crevices of the carved marble with delicate green. This was always a favorite haunt of mine, and here I mainly learned my lessons and also studied such romances as were available. Being a delicate child, I had been sent to live with the rector, so that I might get plenty of exercise and fresh air and country living. Mr. Petersen was an old man, and, although never a brilliant scholar, was an excellent teacher for such a lad as I was. Mrs. Petersen was nearly as old as her husband, and, as their circumstances were not good, I have no doubt that, though the money that my parents paid was hardly earned, it was a welcome addition to the housekeeping. There was but one servant in the house; the gardener attended to the cows and pigs and my pony, these being the only animals kept. After a while I grew quite strong and hardy, and by myself took long walks and rides all around the country. It was my habit to study the county map which hung in the hall, and to so arrange my rambles that by degrees I came to have a local topographical knowledge certainly not possessed by my tutor, whose age and circumstances and whose habits of a quiet, retired life debarred him from such exercise. I had no companion of my own age, except when at home in London, for at Westoby Puerorum the children were few, and of such a kind that I had but little in common with them. We met at Sunday school, and as I did not care for their horseplay and got disgusted with their perpetual lying, they voted me a muff, and left me alone–after I had proved in one or two pitched battles that at any rate I was not a coward.
I was about 12 years old when there came an addition to our circle in the shape of a grand-daughter of Mrs. Petersen by her first marriage, an orphan, with neither home nor friends. Before she came there were anxious discussions between the old people as to the probable result of her coming. It was evident there was some old cause for anxiety, and once I heard a remark which puzzled me. It was made by Mrs. Petersen:
“It is so good of you, Edward, and, my dear. I see through all your sweet forbearance; but it is not right that you should be troubled with folk that don’t belong to you. Arabella always took her own way in spite of me–and of her poor father–and maybe her daughter will want to do the same. We have lived too peacefully, you and I, dear, all these years to be willing to let any disturbance come through some one we never saw,” and the old lady wiped away a quiet tear.
“Nay, my dear,” said the rector, “I might well say, as Ruth said to Naomi, ‘Thy people shall be my people.’ And, my dear, your God and mine is hers also, and we are all children of his family. Let the little girl come. I doubt not that he will watch over her and mould all things to good purpose.” And so it was that Bella Devanti came to us.
To read the rest of this story visit:
“Bengal Roses” at bramstoker.org