“Go to Kings Port. You need a holiday, at any rate. And I,” my Aunt handsomely finished, “will make the journey a present to you.”
This generosity made me at once, and sincerely, repentant for my flippancy concerning Charles the Second and Elizabeth. And so, partly from being tempted by this apple of Eve, and partly because recent overwork had tired me, but chiefly for her sake, and not to thwart at the outset her kindly-meant ambitions for me, I kissed the hand of my Aunt Carola and set forth to Kings Port.
“Come back one of us,” was her parting benediction.
Thus it was that I came to sojourn in the most appealing, the most lovely, the most wistful town in America; whose visible sadness and distinction seem also to speak audibly, speak in the sound of the quiet waves that ripple round her Southern front, speak in the church-bells on Sunday morning, and breathe not only in the soft salt air, but in the perfume of every gentle, old-fashioned rose that blooms behind the high garden walls of falling mellow-tinted plaster: Kings Port the retrospective, Kings Port the belated, who from her pensive porticoes looks over her two rivers to the marshes and the trees beyond, the live-oaks, veiled in gray moss, brooding with memories! Were she my city, how I should love her!
But though my city she cannot be, the enchanting image of her is mine to keep, to carry with me wheresoever I may go; for who, having seen her, could forget her? Therefore I thank Aunt Carola for this gift, and for what must always go with it in my mind, the quiet and strange romance which I saw happen, and came finally to share in. Why it is that my Aunt no longer wishes to know either the boy or the girl, or even to hear their names mentioned, you shall learn at the end, when I have finished with the wedding; for this happy story of love ends with a wedding, and begins in the Woman’s Exchange, which the ladies of Kings Port have established, and (I trust) lucratively conduct, in Royal Street.
Royal Street! There’s a relevance in this name, a fitness to my errand; but that is pure accident.
The Woman’s Exchange happened to be there, a decorous resort for those who became hungry, as I did, at the hour of noon each day. In my very pleasant boarding-house, where, to be sure, there was one dreadful boarder, a tall lady, whom I soon secretly called Juno—but let unpleasant things wait—in the very pleasant house where I boarded (I had left my hotel after one night) our breakfast was at eight, and our dinner not until three: sacred meal hours in Kings Port, as inviolable, I fancy, as the Declaration of Independence, but a gap quite beyond the stretch of my Northern vitals. Therefore, at twelve, it was my habit to leave my Fanning researches for a while, and lunch at the Exchange upon chocolate and sandwiches most delicate in savor. As, one