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Narcissa, or the Road to Rome; In Verona, Page 2

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards

don't buy such things. I wish"--she sighed, and lookedlongingly at the black satchel. "I suppose you've got roses, have you,and all kinds of flowers?"

  "I should think so!" replied the youth, proudly. "Our house is thegreatest one in the State for roses. Let me show you some pictures."He opened the satchel and took out a black order-book filled withbrilliant pictures.

  "Oh!" cried Narcissa, "I--I guess I'd better not look at 'em. I don'tbelieve he'd like it. Not but what I'm just as much obliged to you,"she added, hastily.

  But the stranger had already opened the book.

  "Just look here, lady," he said. "Why, it can't do no manner of hurtfor you to look at them. Just see here! Here's the Jacqueminot rose,the finest in the world, some folks think. Why, we've got beds andbeds of it. Splendid grower, and sweet--well there! I can't give youany idea of it. Cornelia Cook! that's a great rose nowadays. Andhere's a white blush, that looks for all the world like--"

  Here he stopped suddenly; for it was Narcissa's cheek that the rosewas like, he thought, and it came to him suddenly that he did not wantto say such things to this girl.

  The girl at the house below, when he had paid her compliments, hadlaughed in his face, well pleased, and seemed to ask for more; but shewas an ordinary girl, like other folks. This soft, shadowy maidenmight shrink away, and vanish in the dusky porch, if he should touchher rudely.

  He need have had no fear, for Narcissa would hardly have heard orunderstood his compliment. She was gazing with hungry eyes at thebright pictures, drinking in every shade of crimson and scarlet andgold.

  "Oh, stop!" she cried eagerly. "Oh, may I read about that one? Ain'tit beautiful! May I?"

  "Well, I should think you might!" replied the gallant agent, holdingthe book toward her. "Here, lean right over me; I'd like to read ittoo."

  "'This grand rose,'" Narcissa read aloud,"'has created an epoch inrose-growing. Of free habit and luxurious growth, the plants form themost splendid ornament of garden or hot-house. The beautiful,perfectly-shaped flowers show a marvellous blending of colors, inwhich a rich apricot predominates, shading into light pink, brightcanary, and pale yellow. The outer petals are grandly recurved,forming a fine contrast to the Camellia-like inner petals. With itsrare and exquisite fragrance, its bold and beautiful foliage, and theunparalleled profusion with which its splendid blossoms are borne, weclaim that this rose is absolutely _without a rival_.'"

  Narcissa drew a long breath and looked up, her eyes full of awe andadmiration. "Ain't that elegant?" she said simply. "They have greatwriters there, don't they?"

  The youth smiled, as he thought of little Mr. Bimsey, who "got up" thecatalogues and kept the accounts; then, reminded by this and by thefading light that he had still a good way to go before nightfall, headded, rising reluctantly from his seat,--

  "I must be going, I guess. You haven't any notion how far it might beto Rome, have you, lady?"

  Narcissa shook her head.

  "It's a long way," she said. "When Uncle Pinker goes there with theturkeys in the fall, it takes him the whole day to go and come."

  "You haven't got a map of the county?" persisted the youth. "I'd oughtto have one myself, and I guess I shall have to get me one. I'm astranger in these parts."

  Narcissa shook her head again. "We haven't got any kind of a map, as Iknow of," she said; but next moment her face brightened. "We've got apicture of Rome," she said,--"a real handsome picture. Would you liketo see it?"

  "Well, if it ain't too much trouble."

  Narcissa led the way into the house, cautioning the stranger to treadsoftly. "Uncle Pinker is asleep," she said. "He's real old, and hesleeps in the afternoon, most times. He's so deef, he wouldn't hearyou most likely, but you never can count on deef folks. Not but whathe'd be pleased to see you," she added, with a doubtful look at aclosed door as she passed it.

  "I'd ought to make you acquainted with my name, seem's though," saidthe agent, following her into a dim, dreary room. "My name'sPatten,--Romulus Patten." He paused, and then went on: "Folks alwaysask how I got my name, so I get into the way of firing right aheadbefore they ask. My mother got it out of the history book. She was agreat hand for history, my mother was. It seems queer, my going toRome, don't it? They made consid'able fun about it, down to our place,but I'm used to that, and don't mind it."

  There was no answering gleam in Narcissa's lovely eyes. "Romulus? washe in the Revolution?" she asked. "I had to leave school before we gotthrough history. I'd only got as far as the Battle of Lexington, whenAunt Pinker died, and I had to come and keep house for Uncle Pinker.It was real interestin'," she added, with a little sigh of regret, "Iwish't I could have finished history."

  Romulus Patten flushed with shame and anger,--not at the girl, but atthe sordid people who had kept her in ignorance. He had gone throughGeneral History himself, and having a good memory, considered himselfvery well up in such matters. When he came back, he thought, perhapshe might manage to stop a spell, and tell her a little about things.Romulus in the Revolution! it was a scandalous shame, and she so sweetand pretty!

  But here was the picture of Rome, and Narcissa turning with gentlepride to introduce him to it.

  "Ain't it handsome?" she cried with enthusiasm. "I do like to look atit the most of anything, seem's though. I think you're real fortunateto be going there, Mr.--Mr. Patten."

  She was silent, gazing with delight that was fresh every time her eyesrested on the beloved picture; and Romulus Patten was silent too.

  What was it he saw?

  A steel engraving, dim and gray, like the house, like the walls onwhich it hung; framed in dingy gold, spotted and streaked. Within, asin a dull mirror, appeared towers and temples, columned porticos andtriumphal arches: the whole seemed to be steeped in pale sunshine; inthe background rose a monstrous shape which Romulus' practised eye,familiar with the illustrations in the General History, recognized asthe Coliseum. "That's Rome!" said Narcissa, softly. "Ain't itelegant?"

  The young man glanced at her, with a light of sympathetic amusement inhis eyes. This was her little joke; he had hardly thought she wouldmake jokes, she was so quiet. But the smile faded into a look ofbewilderment, which quickly strove to efface itself; for Narcissa wasnot in jest. She was gazing at the picture with a rapt look, withalmost passionate enjoyment. She had forgotten him for the moment, andhad entered the city of her dreams as she so often entered it, robedin velvet and satin (it was the tansy-colored velvet this time, andthe buttons were very splendid indeed, and she had a bunch of roses inher hand), riding in a chariot. She was passing under those wonderfularches; that soft, mysterious sunshine wrapped her in a cloud ofglory. Presently she would meet other beings, splendidly dressed likeherself, who would greet her with smiles, and tell her of otherstrange and beautiful things that she was going to see. Ah, to be inRome! to be really going there!

  "Ain't it handsome?" she repeated, turning her soft eyes on hercompanion. "You're real fortunate to be going there."

  Romulus Patten stammered. "You--you're sure that is Rome?" he said."This same Rome, down east here? It don't hardly seem just like adown-east place, does it?"

  The soft eyes grew wide, and the lips smiled a little. "Why, it saysso!" said Narcissa. "See here, right under the picture, 'ROME.' So itcouldn't be any place else, could it?"

  "I--I suppose not," murmured Romulus, hanging his head, like onefound in an unpardonable ignorance.

  "I hope to go there some day," the girl went on. "It's never been so Icould, yet; and folks don't go much from about here. Ain't it queer?They'll go the other way, to Tupham, and Cyrus, and other placesthat's just like--like to home here,--" and she gave a littledisparaging glance along the bleak road, with its straggling willowsand birches,--"and there's scarcely anybody goes to Rome. And it likethat!" she added, with another look of loving reverence at the oldpicture.

  "You said something about your uncle going," suggested Romulus."Hasn't he ever told you about the place,--whether it's like thepicture?"

  Narcissa shook her head. "
I asked him last time he come back," shesaid. "I've asked him two or three times; but all he does is nod hishead and laugh, the way he has. He ain't one to talk, Uncle Pinkerain't. He goes to Rome once every fall, when he kills the turkeys. Thebiggest part of 'em goes the other way, to Tupham and on beyond, buthe allers takes some portion to Rome.