The Bride Roses
Miss Corona awoke that June morning with a sigh, the cause of which she was at first too sleepy to understand. Then it all came over her with a little sickening rush; she had fallen asleep with tear-wet lashes the night before on account of it.
This was Juliet Gordon’s wedding day, and she, Miss Corona, could not go to the wedding and was not even invited, all because of the Quarrel, a generation old, and so chronic and bitter and terrible that it always presented itself to Miss Corona’s mental vision as spelled with a capital. Well might Miss Corona hate it. It had shut her up into a lonely life for long years. Juliet Gordon and Juliet’s father, Meredith Gordon, were the only relations Miss Corona had in the world, and the old family feud divided them by a gulf which now seemed impassable.
Miss Corona turned over on her pillows, lifted one corner of the white window-blind and peeped out. Below her a river of early sunshine was flowing through the garden, and the far-away slopes were translucent green in their splendour of young day, with gauzy, uncertain mists lingering, spiritlike, in their intervales. A bird, his sleek plumage iridescent in the sunlight, was perched on the big chestnut bough that ran squarely across the window, singing as if his heart would burst with melody and the joy of his tiny life. No bride could have wished anything fairer for her day of days, and Miss Corona dropped back on her pillows with another gentle sigh.
“I’m so glad that the dear child has a fine day to be married,” she said.
Juliet Gordon was always “dear child” to Miss Corona, although the two had never spoken to each other in their lives.
Miss Corona was a brisk and early riser as a rule, with a genuine horror of lazy people who lay late abed or took over-long to get their eyes well opened, but this morning she made no hurry about rising, even though scurrying footsteps, banging doors, and over-loud tinkling of dishes in the room below betokened that Charlotta was already up and about. And Charlotta, as poor Miss Corona knew only too well, was fatally sure to do something unfortunate if she were not under some careful, overseeing eye. To be sure, Charlotta’s intentions were always good.
But Miss Corona was not thinking about Charlotta this morning, and she felt so strong a distaste for her lonely, purposeless life that she was in no haste to go forth to meet another day of it.
Miss Corona felt just the least little bit tired of living, although she feared it was very wicked of her to feel so. She lay there listlessly for half an hour longer, looking through a mist of tears at the portrait of her stern old father hanging on the wall at the foot of the bed, and thinking over the Quarrel.
It had happened thirty years ago, when Miss Corona had been a girl of twenty, living alone with her father at the old Gordon homestead on the hill, with the big black spruce grove behind it on the north and far-reaching slopes of green fields before it on the south. Down in the little northern valley below the spruce grove lived her uncle, Alexis Gordon. His son, Meredith, had seemed to Corona as her own brother. The mothers of both were dead; neither had any other brother or sister. The two children had grown up together, playmates and devoted friends. There had never been any sentiment or lovemaking between them to mar a perfect comradeship. They were only the best of friends, whatever plans the fathers might have cherished for the union of their estates and children, putting the property consideration first, as the Gordons were always prone to do.
But, if Roderick and Alexis Gordon had any such plans, all went by the board when they quarreled. Corona shivered yet over the bitterness of that time. The Gordons never did anything half-heartedly. The strife between the two brothers was determined and irreconcilable.
Corona’s father forbade her to speak to her uncle and cousin or to hold any communication with them. Corona wept and obeyed him. She had always obeyed her father; it had never entered into her mind to do anything else. Meredith had resented her attitude hotly, and from that day they had never spoken or met, while the years came and went, each making a little wider and more hopeless the gulf of coldness and anger and distrust.
Ten years later Roderick Gordon died, and in five months Alexis Gordon followed him to the grave. The two brothers who had hated each other so unyieldingly in life slept very peaceably side by side in the old Gordon plot of the country graveyard, but their rancour still served to embitter the lives of their descendants.
Corona, with a half-guilty sense of disloyalty to her father, hoped that she and Meredith might now be friends again. He was married, and had one little daughter. In her new and intolerable loneliness Corona’s heart yearned after her own people. But she was too timid to make any advances, and Meredith never made any. Corona believed that he hated her, and let slip her last fluttering hope that the old breach would ever be healed.
“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” she sobbed softly into her pillows. It seemed a terrible thing to her that one of her race and kin was to be married and she could not be present at the ceremony, she who had never seen a Gordon bride.
When Miss Corona went downstairs at last, she found Charlotta sobbing in the kitchen porch. The small handmaiden was doubled up on the floor, with her face muffled in her gingham apron and her long braids of red hair hanging with limp straightness down her back. When Charlotta was in good spirits, they always hung perkily over each shoulder, tied up with enormous bows of sky-blue ribbon.
“What have you done this time?” asked Miss Corona, without the slightest intention of being humorous or sarcastic.
“I’ve—I’ve bruk your green and yaller bowl,” sniffed Charlotta. “Didn’t mean to, Miss C’rona. It jest slipped out so fashion ‘fore I c’d grab holt on it. And it’s bruk into forty millyun pieces. Ain’t I the onluckiest girl?”
“You certainly are,” sighed Miss Corona. At any other time she would have been filled with dismay over the untoward fate of her green and yellow bowl, which had belonged to her great-grandmother and had stood on the hall table to hold flowers as long as she could remember. But just now her heart was so sore over the Quarrel that there was no room for other regrets. “Well, well, crying won’t mend it. I suppose it is a judgment on me for staying abed so late. Go and sweep up the pieces, and do try and be a little more careful, Charlotte.”
“Yes’m,” said Charlotta meekly. She dared not resent being called Charlotte just then. “And I’ll tell you what I’ll do, ma’am, to make up, I’ll go and weed the garden. Yes’m, I’ll do it beautiful.”
“And pull up more flowers than weeds,” Miss Corona reflected mournfully. But it did not matter; nothing mattered. She saw Charlotta sally forth into the garden with a determined, do-or-die expression surmounting her freckles, without feeling interest enough to go and make sure that she did not root out all the late asters in her tardy and wilfully postponed warfare on weeds.
This mood lasted until the afternoon. Then Miss Corona, whose heart and thoughts were still down in the festive house in the valley, roused herself enough to go out and see what Charlotta was doing. After finding out, she wandered idly about the rambling, old-fashioned place, which was full of nooks and surprises. At every turn you might stumble on some clump or tangle of sweetness, showering elusive fragrance on the air, that you would never have suspected. Nothing in the garden was planted quite where it should be, yet withal it was the most delightful spot imaginable.
Miss Corona pushed her way into the cherry-tree copse, and followed a tiny, overgrown path to a sunshiny corner beyond. She had not been there since last summer; the little path was getting almost impassable. When she emerged from the cherry trees, somewhat rumpled and pulled about in hair and attire, but attended, as if by a benediction, by the aromatic breath of the mint she had trodden on, she gave a little cry and stood quite still, gazing at the rosebush that grew in the corner. It was so large and woody that it seemed more like a tree than a bush, and it was snowed over with a splendour of large, pure white roses.
“Dear life,” whispered Miss Corona tremulously, as she tiptoed towards it. “The bride roses have bloomed again! How very strange! Why, there has not been a rose on that tree for twenty years.”
The rosebush had been planted there by Corona’s great-grandmother, the lady of the green and yellow bowl. It was a new variety, brought out from Scotland by Mary Gordon, and it bore large white roses which three generations of Gordon brides had worn on their wedding day. It had come to be a family tradition among the Gordons that no luck would attend the bride who did not carry a white rose from Mary Gordon’s rose-tree.
Long years ago the tree had given up blooming, nor could all the pruning and care given it coax a single blossom from it. Miss Corona, tinctured with the superstition apt to wait on a lonely womanhood, believed in her heart that the rosebush had a secret sympathy with the fortunes of the Gordon women. She, the last of them on the old homestead, would never need the bride roses. Wherefore, then, should the old tree bloom? And now, after all these years, it had flung all its long-hoarded sweetness into blossom again. Miss Corona thrilled at the thought. The rosebush had bloomed again for a Gordon bride, but Miss Corona was sure there was another meaning in it too; she believed it foretokened some change in her own life, some rejuvenescence of love and beauty like to that of the ancient rose-tree. She bent over its foam of loveliness almost reverently.
“They have bloomed for Juliet’s wedding,” she murmured. “A Gordon bride must wear the bride roses, indeed she must. And this—why, it is almost a miracle.”
She ran, light-footedly as a girl, to the house for scissors and a basket. She would send Juliet Gordon the bride roses. Her cheeks were pink from excitement as she snipped them off. How lovely they were! How very large and fragrant! It was as if all the grace and perfume and beauty and glory of those twenty lost summers were found here at once in them. When Miss Corona had them ready, she went to the door and called, “Charlotte! Charlotte!”
Now Charlotta, having atoned to her conscience for the destruction of the green and yellow bowl by faithfully weeding the garden, a task which she hated above all else, was singing a hymn among the sweet peas, and her red braids were over her shoulders. This ought to have warned Miss Corona, but Miss Corona was thinking of other things, and kept on calling patiently, while Charlotta weeded away for dear life, and seemed smitten with treble deafness.
After a time Miss Corona remembered and sighed. She did hate to call the child that foolish name with its foreign sound. Just as if plain “Charlotte” were not good enough for her, and much more suitable to “Smith” too! Ordinarily Miss Corona would not have given in. But the case was urgent; she could not stand upon her dignity just now.
“Charlotta!” she called entreatingly.
Instantly Charlotta flew to the garden gate and raced up to the door.
“Yes’m,” she said meekly. “You want me, Miss C’rona?”
“Take this box down to Miss Juliet Gordon, and ask that it be given to her at once,” said Miss Corona, “Don’t loiter, Charlotta. Don’t stop to pick gum in the grove, or eat sours in the dike, or poke sticks through the bridge, or—”
But Charlotta had gone.
Down in the valley, the other Gordon house was in a hum of excitement. Upstairs Juliet had gone to her invalid mother’s room to show herself in her wedding dress to the pale little lady lying on the sofa. She was a tall, stately young girl with the dark grey Gordon eyes and the pure creaminess of colouring, flawless as a lily petal. Her face was a very sweet one, and the simple white dress she wore became her dainty, flowerlike beauty as nothing elaborate could have done.
“I’m not going to put on my veil until the last moment,” she said laughingly. “I would feel married right away if I did. And oh, Mother dear, isn’t it too bad? My roses haven’t come. Father is back from the station, and they were not there. I am so disappointed. Romney ordered pure white roses because I said a Gordon bride must carry nothing else. Come in”—as a knock sounded at the door.
Laura Burton, Juliet’s cousin and bridesmaid, entered with a box.
“Juliet dear, the funniest little red-headed girl with the most enormous freckles has just brought this for you. I haven’t an idea where she came from; she looked like a messenger from pixy-land.”
Juliet opened the box and gave a cry.
“Oh, Mother, look—look! What perfect roses! Who could have sent them? Oh, here’s a note from—from—why, Mother, it’s from Cousin Corona.”
“My dear child,” ran the letter in Miss Corona’s fine, old-fashioned script. “I am sending you the Gordon bride roses. The rose-tree has bloomed for the first time in twenty years, my dear, and it must surely be in honour of your wedding day. I hope you will wear them for, although I have never known you, I love you very much. I was once a dear friend of your father’s. Tell him to let you wear the roses I send for old times’ sake. I wish you every happiness, my dear.
“Your affectionate cousin,
“Oh, how sweet and lovely of her!” said Juliet gently, as she laid the letter down. “And to think she was not even invited! I wanted to send her an invitation, but Father said it would be better not to—she was so hard and bitter against us that she would probably regard it as an insult.”
“He must have been mistaken about her attitude,” said Mrs. Gordon. “It certainly is a great pity she was not invited, but it is too late now. An invitation sent two hours before the ceremony would be an insult indeed.”
“Not if the bride herself took it!” exclaimed Juliet impulsively. “I’ll go myself to Cousin Corona, and ask her to come to my wedding.”
“Go yourself! Child, you can’t do such a thing! In that dress….”
“Go I must, Momsie. Why, it’s only a three minutes’ walk. I’ll go up the hill by the old field-path, and no one will see me. Oh, don’t say a word—there, I’m gone!”
“That child!” sighed the mother protestingly, as she heard Juliet’s flying feet on the stairs. “What a thing for a bride to do!”
Juliet, with her white silken skirts caught up above grasses and dust, ran light-footedly through the green lowland fields and up the hill, treading for the first time the faint old field-path between the two homes, so long disused that it was now barely visible in its fringing grasses and star-dust of buttercups. Where it ran into the spruce grove was a tiny gate which Miss Corona had always kept in good repair, albeit it was never used. Juliet pushed up the rusty hasp and ran through.
Miss Corona was sitting alone in her shadowy parlour, hanging over a few of the bride roses with falling tears, when something tall and beautiful and white, came in like a blessing and knelt by her chair.
“Cousin Corona,” said a somewhat breathless bride, “I have come to thank you for your roses and ask you to forgive us all for the old quarrel.”
“Dear child,” said Miss Corona out of her amazement, “there is nothing to forgive. I’ve loved you all and longed for you. Dear child, you have brought me great happiness.”
“And you must come to my wedding,” cried Juliet. “Oh, you must—or I shall think you have not really forgiven us. You would never refuse the request of a bride, Cousin Corona. We are queens on our wedding day, you know.”
“Oh, it’s not that, dear child—but I’m not dressed—I—”
“I’ll help you dress. And I won’t go back without you. The guests and the minister must wait if necessary—yes, even Romney must wait. Oh, I want you to meet Romney. Come, dear.”
And Miss Corona went. Charlotta and the bride got her into her grey silk and did her hair, and in a very short time she and Juliet were hurrying down the old field-path. In the hollow Meredith Gordon met them.
“Cousin Meredith,” said Miss Corona tremulously.
He took both her hands in his, and kissed her heartily. “Forgive me for misunderstanding you so long. I thought you hated us all.”
Turning to Juliet, he said with a fatherly smile,
“What a terrible girl it is for having its own way! Who ever heard of a Gordon bride doing such an unconventional thing? There, scamper off to the house before your guests come. Laura has made your roses up into what she calls ‘a dream of a bouquet,’ I’ll take Cousin Corona up more leisurely.”
“Oh, I knew that something beautiful was going to happen when the old rose-tree bloomed,” murmured Miss Corona happily.