A Kentucky Cardinal/Chapter XV

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XV

A poor devil will ask a woman to marry him. She will refuse him. The day after she will meet him as serenely as if he had asked her for a pin.

It is now May 15th, and I have not spoken to Georgian when I’ve had a chance. She has been entirely too happy, to judge from her singing, for me to get along with under the circumstances. But this morning, as I was planting a hedge inside my fence under her window, she leaned over and said, as though nothing were wrong between us, “What are you planting?”

I have sometimes thought that Georgiana can ask more questions than Socrates.

“A hedge.”

“What for?”

“To grow.”

“What do you want it to grow for?”

“My garden is too public. I wish to be protected from outsiders.”

“Would it be the same thing if I were to nail up this window? That would be so much quicker. It will be ten years before your hedge is high enough to keep me from seeing you. And even then, you know, I could move up-stairs. But I am so sorry to be an outsider.”

“I merely remarked that I was planting a hedge.”

When Georgiana spoke again her voice was lowered: “Would you open a gateway for me into your garden, to be always mine, so that I might go out and come in, and never another human soul enter it?”

Now Jacob had often begged me to cut him a private gateway on that side of the garden, so that only he might come in and go out; and I had refused, since I did not wish him to get to me so easily with his complaints. Besides, a gate once opened, who may not use it? and I was indignant that Georgiana should lightly ask anything at my hands; therefore I looked quickly and sternly up at her and said, “I will not.”

Afterwards the thought rushed over me that she had not spoken of any gateway through my garden fence, but of another one, mystical, hidden, infinitely more sacred. For her voice descended almost in a whisper, and her face, as she bent down towards me, had on it I know not what angelic expression. She seemed floating to me from heaven.


May 17th. To-day I put a little private gate through my fence under Georgiana’s window, as a sign to her. Balaam’s beast that I am! Yes, seven times more than the inspired ass.


As I passed to-day, I noticed Georgiana looking down at the gate that I made yesterday. She held a flower to her nose and eyes, but behind the leaves I detected that she was laughing.

“Good-morning!" she called to me. “What did you cut that ugly hole in your fence for?”

“That’s not an ugly hole. That's a little private gateway.”

“But what’s the little private gateway for?”

“Oh, well! You don’t understand these matters. I'll tell your mother.”

“My mother is too old. She no longer stoops to such things. Tell me!”

“Impossible!”

“I’m dying to know!”

“What will you give me?”

“Anything—this flower!”

“But what would the flower stand for in that case? A little pri—”

“Nothing. Take it!” and she dropped it lightly on my face and disappeared. As I stood twirling it ecstatically under my nose, and wondering how I could get her to come back to the window, the edge of a curtain was lifted, and a white hand stole out and softly closed the shutters.

In the evening Sylvia went in to a concert of the school, which was to be held at the Court-house, a chorus of girls being impanelled in the jury-box, and the principal, who wears a little wig, taking her seat on the woolsack. I promised to have the very pick of the garden ready, and told Sylvia to come to the arbor the last thing before starting. She wore big blue rosettes in her hair, and at that twilight hour looked as lovely, soft, and pure as moonshine; so that I lost control of myself and kissed her twice—once for Georgiana and once for myself. Surely it must have been Sylvia’s first experience. I hope so. Yet she passed through it with the composure of a graduate of several year’s standing. But, then, women inherit a great stock of fortitude from their mothers in this regard, and perpetually add to it by their own dispositions. Ought I to warn Georgiana—good heavens! in a general way, of course—that Sylvia should be kept away from sugar, and well under the influence of vulgar fractions?

It made me feel uncomfortable to see her go tripping out of her front gate on the arm of a youth. Can it be possible the he would try to do what I did? Men differ so in their virtues, and are so alike in their transgressions. This forward gosling displayed white duck pantaloons, brandished pumps on his feet, which looked flat enough to have been webbed, and was scented as to his marital locks with a far-reaching pestilence of bergamot and cinnamon.

After they were gone I strolled back to my arbor and sat down amid the ruins of Sylvia's flowers. The nigh was mystically beautiful. The moon seemed to me to be softly stealing down the sky to kiss Endymion. I looked across towards Georgiana’s window. She was there, and I slipped over and stood under it.

“Georgiana,” I whispered, “were you, too, looking at the moon?”

“Part of the time,” she said, sourly. “Isn’t it permitted?”

“Sylvia left her scissors in the arbor, and I can’t find them.”

She’ll find them to-morrow.”

“If they get wet, you know, they’ll rust.”

“I keep something to take rust off.”

“Georgiana, I’ve got something to tell you about Sylvia.”

“What? That you kissed her?”

“N—o! Not that, exactly!”

“Good-night!”


May 21st. Again I asked Georgiana to be mine. I am a perfect fool about her. But she’s coming my way at last—God bless her!


May 24th. I renewed my suit to Georgiana.


May 27th. I besought Georgiana to hear me.


May 28th. For the last time I offered my hand in marriage to the elder Miss Cobb. Now I am done with her forever. I am no fool.


May 29th. Oh, damn Mrs. Walters!