A PRIMROSE AND A PROMISE
MARGARET BUSBEE SHIPP
THE ill-mannered girl was having difficulty with the fastening of her bag. That was her affair. Scarth had shown her courtesy and had been repaid with a stiff bow of acknowledgment, not even a word of thanks. For an hour they had sat vis-a-vis, the sole occupants of a first-class compartment, and she had gazed steadily out of the window on a flat and uninteresting stretch of country as if to block any conversational overture.
Glancing again in her direction he saw that the bag had opened but that she hurriedly shut it again and continued to have trouble with the lock. So it was all a feint; her halfappealing glance at him was a pretence,—but his curiosity was piqued and he went towards her.
“May I help you with your bag?” he asked coldly. “You seem to have some trouble in opening it for the inspection.”
"If you will be so very kind,” she answered. He unfastened it with an ease which was almost conspicuous under the circumstances. “This is twice you have come to my rescue, and it was very nice of you to transfer my bag when the stupid porter had put it in the second-class carriage. Thank you.”
It exasperated him for her to speak with such pretty friendliness after she had pointedly ignored him. His manner was as hostile as hers had been as he returned:o “It was nothing—surely not worth your remembering for an hour.’ x
“But I couldn’t thank you before,” she explained, “7 promised my Grandmother. '
By this time the customs official reached them,'made a perfunctory examination of their handbags, and passed on.
“Let me carry that back to the train for you,” Scarth gathered u p her belongings. “There was such a conf u s i o n about us that I misunderstood you. It sounded as if you said you had promi'ed your Grandmother not to thank me.”
“Not even to speak to you,” she amended, “not to speak on any train to any male passenger under sixty years of age and then only upon dire necessity.”
"Then how is it that I am granted the privilege of speech with you now?” he asked. He stil 10 0 k ed rat her cross.
“This is a Customs House. I did not promise not to tal k in Customs houses, but
the minute I pass through the door it’s a ‘public thorough• fare,’ isn’t it? And then it’s a train, and I’ve signed a solemn document.”
Scarth’s own ill-temper evaporated in a laugh.
“I should like to see that document!”
“I’ll show it to you if you wish. I carry it around with me for fear I might be hit by an automobile or something like that and if I can’t thank my rescuer, I can at least show him the reason why.” She took an envelope from her purse and handed it to Scarth. “I should hate to have anyone think me rude when I’m so happy inside. I’m actually on my way to Holland to see the tulips! Have you eve-—” The words died on her lips as her foot crossed the threshold of the Customs house.
ONCE back on the train, she looked uncompromisingly out of the window while Scarth took the letter from the envelope. It was written in the delicate chirography of a bygone age and signed in the blunter handwriting of today:
“Rose Fairfax Burwell gives her promise that without a formal introduction and proper credentials she will not speak to any man under sixty years of age (nor to any
man above that age except upon necessity) or reply to any overture towards acquaintanceship on his part, on any train, street, car, airplane, boat, canoe, steamer, motor vehicle of any description, carriage, hotel, inn, café, ballroom, theatre, opera, church, cathedral, chapel, tower, museum, picture gallery, library or shop, nor on any street, bridge, or public thoroughfare or any kind. In consideration of this promise she may pursue her studies in Antwerp. This does not apply to policemen, curators, vergers, etc., nor any men authorised to answer questions or to receive fees therefor.”
ROSE FAIRFAX BURWELL
“That’s the most complete silencer I ever read!” Scarth exclaimed. Her eyes met his blankly. Not a quiver of a muscle denoted that she had heard him speak. She conveyed the impression that she was gazing into thin air, but this time he stifled a chuckle of amusement and began to look forward to the fact that there was a Customs house on the Dutch frontier as well as on the Belgian side.
The train soon stopped again and the passengers began to climb out dispiritedly, Scarth alone seemed to view Customs as a benificent institution. Once inside the Customs house, he took up the conversation where they had left it off as if there had been no break.
“I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed in the tulips,” he began.
“Why, how could one be?” she asked. It occurred to him how wide and child-like her eyes were. “All my life I’ve longed to see tulip time in Hollandt h e whole world just a checkerboard of color, fields of hyacinths, narcissus and tulips. It w i 11 be like Wordsworth’s daffodils,—‘tenthousand saw I at a glance’ —but I shall see more tulips than that, shall 1 not?” “If they haven’t been cut. In Holl'and tulips arecut when they reach perfection so as to throw the strength to the bulbs. I’m afraid you’ll find their full glory was last week and that they are being cut by those tens of thousands you speak of, and scattered over the fields to fertilize them”
“Oh,no!” she cried, “I just couldn’t bear it! Madame Lombaerts was prevented from coming at the very last and she gave me permission to go anyway. It’s the first trip I’ve ever taken alone, and it’s such fun to do as I please.”
THIS brought him back to the contract. “That’s the most amazing agreement. I believe a Customs house is the only thing left out.”
“I believe it is,” she agreed. “Uncle John must have helped Grandmother compile it. I wrote them that it wasn’t a gentleman’s agreement. If they had asked for my word and left it to my discretion I should have felt as much bound in one place as another; as it was, I had signed and would keep my promise to the letter but I told them that if I ever discovered a spot they had not catalogued I’d feel free to follow a passing impulse to exchange a friendly word with a wholly proper person.” “Thank you,” said the wholly proper person with due gravity. “Is that train ready to start again? What’s its rush?”
“I didn’t know the English used the same slang as we do-”
She had crossed the threshold.
All the way to Haarlem no word passed between them and the girl’s face assumed a mask of impassivity.
A dismal and leaden sky greeted her when she left the train and went to the hotel. She was told that the finest tulip-fields were at Hillegom but the steam tram did not leave for two hours. So Rose engaged a taxi meantime to hurry to see some gardens which herjBaedeker advised the tourist not to miss. The hotel-keeper explained that it was necessary for her to report to the police station, as was required of all foreigners within twenty-four hours, so she was driven there first. The polite but somewhat stolid Dutchman found the forms which were to be filled in triplicate and began to make them out with extreme deliberation.
“Can't you fill in one and copy the others?” asked Rose in English.
The official carefully wiped his pen on his penwiper, stuck it behind his ear, and replied in Dutch.
Rose shook her head. He took up his pen again and went on with the questionnaire. The only English he spoke was its list of interrogations.
Presently she tried French: “I’m in a frightful hurry.
Would you be so kind as to hasten as much as possible?”
The man wiped his pen, stuck it carefully behind his ear, and replied in Dutch.
The taxicab champed on its bit outside, rapidly eating up guilders for which the rate of exchange was high; the clock ticked away precious moments, and the man had filled but half of the three forms.
She made a last desperate effort, this time in Flemish— of which she had picked up a smattering during her months in Antwerp. The man dried his pen carefully, put it in its accustomed resting-place, and answered in Dutch. Rose was silenced. She felt that if he dried his pen again she wouldn’t be responsible, she might bite off his ear or do some petulant little thing like that. But at last the red tape was wound up and she drove through the beginning drizzle to the Krelage gardens.
Not a flower was in sight. “The gardens haven’t been here for several years. That is an old edition, there hasn’t been a new Baedeker since the war,” the manager explained. “So that is why you are late for the tulips? You have come at the date he suggests, but this has been an unusually early season.”
ROSE directed the chauffeur to take her next to the Franz Hals museum, and found it due to close in ten minutes. There was only time to glimpse one or two of its treasures, though the guide told her he had known tourists to rush through the entire gallery in that length of time!
As the vestibule, with photographs of the pictures for sale, remained open a little longer, she carefully selected quite a number of them.
The drizzle had changed into a downpour as she emerged with barely time to catch the car which connected with the steam tram to Hillegom. When she got off at the transfer station a man who was rushing to cátch the car bumped into her accidentally, and in lowering his umbrella broke the bright wing in her hat. And just as the car moved off she realised she had left all the Franz Hals photographs on the seat.
“Plague take it!” said Rose Fairfax Burwell to the world at large.
She said it in a small and sobbing voice, and she longed to use the word Uncle John used picturesquely and frequently but which her gran dm other sold was.an expression "only for gentlemen.”
“You’re not afraid I’ll tell your grandmother how badly you are behaving on a public thoroughfare?” Her umbrella was taken out of hef hand and held over her.
The steam tram puffed up noisily and Rose made a prim little bow of acknowledgment as Scarth helped her on it.
They passed along a way which had been a solid blaze of tulips but a little while before. Now stacks of them were piled as high as haystacks; again a field would be red and yellow with cut and scattered flowers which the rain kept from withering. Here and there an untouched patch was a sheet of clear color—purple, mauve, pink, yellow, scarlet or vermilion. They passed a narrow canal where a boat was moored, freighted with hyacinth petals which had been shredded from the stems. The flowers were in pastel shades of rose, blue and cornflower. The Maid of Astolat could have had no lovelier bier.
When they reached Hillegom, Scarth walked beside Rose, trying to shelter her from the rain, but she disregarded him altogether. They stopped at a tulip grower’s to ask if they might see his fields and the owner replied in English that while the greater part of the tulips had been cut he still had a few fields left untouched which he would be glad to show them. Rose hurried happily towards them, Scarth striding alongside, and the .rain coming down in torrents.
When they crossed into the first patch, Scarth had a sudden inspiration:
"Good afternoon, Miss Burwell,” he began pleasantly, lifting his hat as if they had just that moment encountered each other. “I am fortunate to run across you in this tulip field.”
CHE looked as if she had not heard him, then suddenly ° caught the inference. The dimple played a moment in her cheek as she answered sedately: “It is a great pleasure
to see you here.”
“Not a word about tulip fields in the whole blamed list!” Scarth was quite exultant about it. “Let’s examine
these flowers one by one.”
The amazing part was that he felt triumphant over an opportunity to talk to a girl, especially to one so hedged about with prohibitions. He was convinced of his awkwardness, which his mother called his reserve, and other women had classified as a “fascinating indifference because so unfeigned.”
Continued on Page 45
A Primrose and a Promise
Continued from page 10
_ “So this is foreign travel!” said Rose dismally. “When I read about other people’s travels, they always see things ‘under Venetian skies’—no matter where they happen to be. Ever since I’ve been in Europe all that I’ve seen, which isn’t much, has been in the pouring rain!” The kind young man who was conducting them offered to take them into his greenhouse, and after a moment’s hurried consultation of the document, the two agreed to go. Someone came on business and he apologised for leaving them, but suggested they might enjoy a closer inspection of his amaryllis, which were especially fine.
The rain pattered on the glass but as there was no longer any need for artificial heat it was quite comfortable in the greenhouse. And they talked and talked. He learned much about her, finding the subject one of engaging interest.
She was one of three sisters, whose mother had died when the oldest girl was fifteen and Rose eleven. Their father had died some years before. They went from their California home to live with their grandmother in Virginia, at perhaps the most difficult and critical period of a girl’s life. Mrs. Burwell was past seventy. As she had never had a daughter to bridge the years between to-day’s manners and those of the days before the war, she had proceeded to bring up her son’s daughters exactly as she had been brought up. Her ideas of conventionality were as inflexible as her conviction that a proper chaperonage was the only becoming background for a well bred girl. When Helen made her début, she was resigned beforehand to being a dismal social failure. But old Mrs. Burwell’s house parties became the rage, (though she never called them that; she spoke of a house teeming with guests as “befitting Burwell hospitality.”)
“Helen wasn’t exactly a belle,” explained Rose, “I mean lots of girls have more fuss made over them,—but the men just pestered her to marry them!”
'T'HEN came Doris, who married at the end of her first season, and then Rose, who had never admitted even to herself that she was the greatest favorite of the three. She had made her début the winter before, but she had become interested in painting lessons from a Belgian woman who had refugeed in the United States during the war, and when Madame Lombaerts returned to Antwerp the girl had begged to go with her to continue her studies. Her uncle was to come over in the late summer to bring her back.
“You haven’t explained the especial reason why you are held under such strict laws over here,” said Scarth.
A tiny wave of color rippled over the girl’s cheek, smooth and soft as the petals of a hyacinth. “I wrote that I had met two or three painters over here. My grandmother doesn’t wish me to meet any men here, because she thinks girls are much happier if they marry in their own country, especially in Virginia. Of course it’s just her partiality for me that’s at the bottom of it. My two sisters married at the end of their first season, you see, and Grandmother believes that every man is in hot pursuit of us.”
She laughed at the absurdity of it but Scarth did not seem to find it amusing.
The Hollander appeared at the door: “I thought to find you outside since the rain has stopped.”
“Has it?” exclaimed the two rather guiltily.
“Did you like the amaryllis?”
Their confusion deepened.
They hurried outside to find the pale rays of the setting sun lighting up a field of General De Witt tulips—great cups of reddish orange, the color of flame.
“How beautiful!” exclaimed Rose. “How glorious! Oh, I’m so glad I came!”
Later on, as they stood knee deep in a field of mauve tulips, Scarth besought her: “Tell me one thing before we leave this last field: do you return to Antwerp from here?”
“Yes,” she said, and then added, “It doesn’t seem honest to tell you more than that.”
“You must not think that 1 am deliberately following you to Antwerp against your grandmother’s wishes, though I tell you frankly I shall try to see you there. But I had already arranged to sail from Antwerp as I wish to see the ice hockey
between Canada and the United States. I’m rather keen on winter sports.”
She did not say whether she planned to see the match or not.
“You can be as silent as your namesake flower,” said Scarth.
Again the delightful dimple came in her left cheek.
“I’m never called by my real name,” she confessed. “I was such a very proper little girl that one of Helen’s beaus nicknamed me ‘Primrose’ and everybody promptly adopted it.”
Scarth considered it. “It does suit you admirably.”
He was conscious of a quick change in the girl’s manner. She hurried a step or .two past him as if he werejnot there. They had passed from the last field into the street.
He remembered her wicked expletive: “Plague take ‘the public thoroughfare’! It’s no place for a primrose.”
When the steam tram came he lifted his hat and left her, as her silence indicated was her wish.
To trace a hidden Primrose in Antwerp proved a baffling task. Scarth went daily to the Palais de Glace where the various skating contests were staged and in between times he haunted museums, studios and picture galleries. At last he was rewarded by catching a glimpse of her one evening at the rink, seated next to a middle-aged woman whom he took to be her teacher. As soon as the evening’s contests were over he found the number of her seat, and through a minor official learned the name of the subscriber who had the seat on the other side of her. He went to him and offered to buy his ticket for the game the following evening at any price he would name—five times, ten times its original cost.
Rose looked up with startled, innocent eyes when he took his seat triumphantly beside her. She introduced him to her teacher, Madame Lombaerts, and Scarth made the proper responses while his head seemed literally to be spinning around.
How much more he wanted to see the girl than he had realised! How much prettier she was than he remembered! Something of the sort he managed to stammer out.
“You last saw me in the rain, with a broken feather dangling from my hat. 1 must have looked a fright, a monster! Still it’s not nicfe of you to be so surprised, is it?”
“I haven’t a coherent thought,” he returned happily. “I’m so engrossed with satisfaction that a skating rink wasn’t named on that list. I wish they would play hockey until midnight.”
npHE rink was crowded to its capacity -*■ with a throng of eager spectators, representing every nation from Finland to South Africa. A Japanese elbowed a man from Chili, an Australian talked with a group just back from the Belgian Congo. The curved dome of the roof twinkled in multi-colored lights, flags of all nations fluttered, the orchestra played national airs, the whole scene was one of color and movement and youth. The spectators shrieked, applauded, or booed as their caprices led.
“At your feet, Lady Luck!” came an invocation from a group of American officers, or again a hoarse chorus.
“Give ’em ’ell, Americans, givemell!”
No one from Canada or the United States—the two best neighbors in all the world—could have seen that contest without a thrill of pride in the team with the maple leaf on their breasts and the team with the shield of red, white and blue.
At the end of the first half the score stood 0 to 0.
“I’ve played hockey ever since I can remember,” said Scarth, “but this is the hardest-fought match I’ve ever seen. This is hockey at its best; clean, fast, sportsmanlike.”
“It’s the most thrilling game I ever saw in my life,” cried Rose, her cheeks flushed with excitement. “And the teams are so evenly matched. I feel that whichever side wins the other one really ought to! I don’t mean exactly that ...”
He smiled down at her. “What you mean is that down in the bottom of your heart you are sure the States will win and you are trying to salve my disappointment ahead of time. It’s like your dear gentleness. But I think Canada is
due to win. The States have as fine individual players, perhaps the most brilliant player of all, but the team work of our men is better and steadier and that’s what counts in the long run.”
At the final score of two to nothing in Canada’s favor, the whole audience went wild with applause, the Americans joining as heartily as anyone else in cheering a victory so well fought and hard won.
O OSE was as disappointed as a child.
“Anyway, it’s my side of the world which won, not yours,” she challenged Scarth. “We’re nearer Canada than you Englishmen.”
He looked at her in amazement. “Didn’t you understand that I am a Canadian?”
Her eyes grew bright with pleasure. “You spoke of living in London, and once you told me about that little boy on Piccadilly.”
“I meant London, Ontario. We have a Piccadilly.—even a River Thames—for that matter.”
Madame Lombaerts’ attention had been absorbed by the game, but she began to feel that it was due Rose’s friend to address some remark to him. She leaned across her pupil and spoke in halting English:
“Mees Boorwell tell me of de nice time she made in Holland and de fine toolips in de sunshine and de leetle boat wid de flowers.”
Scarth made an adequate reply and Madame resumed her conversation with the Belgian friend on her right.
“You wonderful little girl!” Scarth’s
voice was perilously close to tenderness. “Out of all the rain and dreariness and disappointment of that trip you brought back only the two beautiful pictures!” She answered with shy daring: “Then you had forgotten the flame-colored tulips in the sunset?”
“The only memory I brought back from that journey was a Primrose,” he replied.
The crowd was surging out of the rink; Scarth realised that the moments which remained to him were few.
“I am sailing to-morrow. As soon as I return to Canada to make a report on the business which brought me over, I am going to Virginia to meet your Grandmother with the ‘proper credentials’ she rightly demands. I don’t want to do anything against her wishes because I appreciate the fact that her sheltering has helped to make you the—the flower that you are. I like your grandmother inexpressibly! I hope to gain her permission to come back over here to tell you—what until then I feel in honor bound to leave unsaid.”
As if he hadn't told her!
Her eyes were soft and shy, her voice a little faltering as she answered:
“When you meet Grandmother tell her first about being from London. Then, when she afterwards finds it’s in Ontario, it will seem quite near by and not foreign at all.” She put out her hand and Scarth’s two hands closed hard over it. “And when you see Grandmother, suppose you wear the suit you have on now! It’s such a becoming suit, isn’t it? Goodbye. Yes, Madame, I’m coming at once, I’m not going to say another word.”
As if she hadn't told him!