Not a line, not a scrap of paper to tell the story. His private letters had been burned—their ashes were heaped upon the hearth. There were no written instructions of any kind. There were no mementoes, no keepsakes. Yes, there was a little Bible on the candle-stand at the head of his bed, but it was closed. On the fly-leaf, written in the trembling hand of an old woman, was his name, the word “mother,” and the date of a New Year time in old Virginia when he was a boy.
There was money, more than enough to cause quarrel and heart-burnings among a few distant relatives in another State, but there was absolutely no record of why he had with his own hand torn aside the veil which hangs between life and death.
When the others were not there I slipped into his room and reverently unclosed his fingers and read the story written there—written over and above those Russian violets which she had worn—for they were the same. There they remained.
On the lid of his casket we placed a single wreath of Russian violets. But all the strength and all the sweetness came from those dim violets faded, but not dead, shut within the icy cold of his lifeless palm.
* * * * *
Miss Caddington and many of those who had known him went to the New Year reception the next night and chattered and danced and danced and chattered. They spoke lightly of the dead man; how much he was worth; the cut of his dress suit; the quiet simplicity of his funeral; the refusal of one minister to read the office for the dead, and the charity of another—the one who did.
And then—they forgot him.
That New Year’s night I sat in my study and thought of the woman who had worn those Russian violets, and asked me if she were right in her ideas about responsibility for human action.
Nowadays I frequently see her—she is always charming; sometimes brilliant. Once I said to her:
“I have an answer for your question about responsibility.”
“About responsibility?” she said, inquiringly; then quickly added: “Oh, yes; that nonsense we talked coming home from the Bolton ball. Never mind your answer, I am sure it is a good one, and perhaps clever, but it is hardly worth while going back so far and for so little. Do you think so? Are you going to the Athletic Club german next week? No? I am sorry, for, as you are one of the few men who do not dance, I always miss a chat with you.”
Miss Caddington goes everywhere. Her gowns are exquisite and her flowers are always beautiful and rare, because out of season. But neither in season nor out of season does she ever wear a bunch—no matter how small—of those Russian violets.
TO LADY VIOLET AGAIN
FIVE RED POPPIES
They hung their heads in a florist’s window. The people of the town did not buy them, for they wanted roses—yellow, white or crimson. But I, a lover, passing that way, did covet them for a woman that I knew, and straightway bought them.