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[Transcriber's Note: unusual spellings have been retained as in the
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A Few
Short Sketches
By Douglass Sherley


Printed by
John P. Morton & Co.
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A.


MDCCCXCIII




COPYRIGHTED BY DOUGLASS SHERLEY,
1892





THOSE RUSSIAN VIOLETS

TO
LADY VIOLET





I

THOSE RUSSIAN VIOLETS


There had been a brilliant reception at the house of Mrs. Adrian Colburn
in honor of her guest - a most attractive young woman - from the East. The
hours were brief, from five to seven. I had gone late and left early, but
while there had made an engagement with Miss Caddington for the large ball
to be given that night by the Boltons.

Miss Caddington was a _debutante_. She had been educated abroad, but had
not lost either love of country or naturalness of manner. During the short
but fiercely gay season from October to Christmas she had made many
friends, and found that two or three lovers were hard to handle with much
credit to herself or any real happiness to them.

She was not painfully conscientious, nor was she an intentional trifler;
therefore she was good at that social game of lead on and hold off.

"Call at nine," she said, "and I will be ready."

But she was not ready at nine. The room where I waited was most inviting.
There were several low couches laden with slumber-robes and soft, downy
pillows, all at sweet enmity with insomnia. The ornaments were few but
pleasing to the eye. Art and her hand-maiden, Good Taste, had decorated
the walls. But there was a table, best of all, covered with good books,
and before it, drawn in place, an easy-chair. An exquisite china lamp,
with yellow shade, shed all the light that was needed. Everywhere there
were feminine signs - touches that were delightful and unmistakable.

From somewhere there came a rich oriental odor. It intoxicated me with its
subtle perfume. I picked up "After-Dinner Stories" (Balzac), then a
translation from Alfred de Musset, an old novel by Wilkie Collins, "The
Guilty River;" but still that mysterious perfume pervaded my senses and
unfitted me for the otherwise tempting feast spread before me. I looked at
the clock; it was nine thirty. I turned again to the table, and carelessly
reached out for a pair of dainty, pale tan-colored gloves. Then I seized
them eagerly and brushed them against my face; I had found the odor. The
gloves were perfumed. They had been worn for the first time to the
reception, and had been thrown there into a plate of costly percelain, to
await her ladyship's pleasure and do further and final service at the
ball. They bore the imprint of her dainty fingers, and they were hardly
cold from the touch and the warmth of her pretty white hands. They
seemed, as they rested there, like something human; and if they had
reached out toward me, or even spoken a word of explanation regarding
their highly perfumed selves, I should indeed have been delighted, but
neither surprised nor dismayed.

But while the gloves did not speak, did not move, something else made mute
appeal. Tossed into that same beautiful plate, hidden at first by the
gloves, was a bunch, a very small bunch of Russian violets. Evidently they
had been worn to the reception, and while I was wondering if she would
wear them to the ball I heard a light step, the rustle of silken skirts,
and I knew that my wait was ended.

She looked resplendent in evening dress, and swept toward me with the
grace, the charm, the ease of a woman of many seasons instead of one
hardly half finished.

"Here are your gloves," I said. She quickly drew them on and made them
fast with almost a single movement.

"And your Russian violets," I added. She looked at them hesitatingly, but
slightly shrugged her shoulders, that were bare and gleamed in the half
glow of lamp and fire like moonlight on silvered meadow, and, turning,
looked up at me and said:

"I am ready at last; pray pardon my long delay."

While we were driving to the ball I asked her about the perfumed gloves
with an odor like sandal-wood or like ottar of roses. She said they had
been sent her from Paris, but they were in all the shops, were pleasant,
but not rare. She said nothing about the violets, nor did I mention them
again. Yielding to an impulse, I had before we left the house thrust them
into my waistcoat pocket when she had turned to take up the flowing silk
of her train.

All the evening I could catch the odor of those Russian violets that had
been lightly worn, indifferently cast aside, and smothered by those
artificial creatures, the perfumed gloves, for they were jealous of the
natural fragrance and would have killed it if they could.

All the evening I found myself nervously looking about for Russian
violets, but there were none to be seen. Miss Bolton wore violets, but not
the deep, dark, wide and sad-eyed violet known as the Russian.

We had a curious talk, driving home, about the responsibility of human
action - hardly the kind of conversation for "after the ball." Miss
Caddington astonished me by saying that she considered it useless to
strive against the current of that which is called "Destiny;" that it was
better to yield gracefully than to awkwardly, unsuccessfully struggle
against the tide. I was deeply interested, and asked her what she meant,
what association of ideas had produced the speech.

"For instance," she said, "if a man who fancies himself in love with me
deliberately dictates a certain course of action which I do not care to
follow, and grows angry with me, and finally breaks with me altogether, I
certainly do not in any way feel responsible for any of his subsequent
movements. Am I right?"

In parting with her, and in answer to her question, I made, as we so often
make in reply to real questions, a foolish answer:

"I will tell you on New Year's night."

* * * * *

I drove to the club. I was aglow with my enjoyment of the evening, and
wanted to talk it over with some congenial fellow. I found John Hardisty,
a man that I had known for many years, and who always seemed to enjoy my
rambling accounts - even of a ball.

Hardisty was a quiet man, keenly observant of people, but himself free
almost entirely from observation. In the financial world he held a
clerical but valuable position; in the social world, being a gentleman and
a club man, he was invited everywhere; and, being very punctilious about
his calls and social obligations, he was always invited again. People in
recounting those who had been at balls, dinners, and the like, always
named the guests, then added, "And Hardisty, I believe." No one was ever
very sure. He had no intimate friends and no enemies - he was not noticed
enough to inspire dislike. But he was a man of positive opinion, which he
generally kept to himself. He had settled convictions, which he never used
to unsettle others. I had known him in his old home, Virginia; so perhaps
he felt more friendly toward me and talked more freely with me.

He was a man of a fine sentiment and a sensitive nature. He ought to have
been a poet instead of a clerical expert. He was intensely fond of
flowers, but never wore them. He used to say that it was heresy for a man
to wear a flower, and sacrilege for a woman to let them die on her breast.

When I told him about those Russian violets he seemed interested, but,
when I finished, astonished and grieved me by yawning in my face and
calmly stating that he considered the story trivial, far-fetched, and, in
short, stupid.

"There is," he said, "only one thing for us to do - have a drink and go to
bed - for the club closes in ten minutes." He ordered a small bottle of
wine, something I had never seen him drink, and talked in a light,
nonsensical strain, for him a most unusual thing. In telling the story I
had drawn out the little bunch of Russian violets and placed them on the
table. They were very much wilted, but the odor seemed stronger and
sweeter than ever. When we parted for the night I forgot the violets. The
next day, the twenty-ninth of December, I did not see John Hardisty,
although he was at his office and in the club that night, and insisted on
paying his account for December and his dues to April first. December
thirtieth he was at his office, where he remained until nearly midnight.
He went to his room, which was near the club, and was found by his
servant, early the next morning, the last of the old year, dead. He was
lying on the bed, dressed and at full length. His right hand clenched a
pistol with one empty barrel; gently closed in his left hand they found a
little bunch of faded violets - that was all.

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.




FIVE RED POPPIES

TO LADY VIOLET AGAIN




II

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.

As I placed those poppies in a box, on a bed of green moss, I heard them
chuckle together, with some surprise and much glee. "What a kind fool he
is," said the first poppy, "to buy me, and take me away from those
disagreeable roses, and other hateful blossoms in that damp, musty
window."

"I heard," said the second poppy, "one sweet lily of the valley whisper to
the others of its simple kind that we would die where we were unnoticed,
undesired by any one - how little it knew!"

"How cool and green this bed of moss," cried the third poppy; "it is a
most excellent place to die upon. I am willing, I am happy."

"Nay," said the fourth poppy, "you may die on her breast if you will. She
may take you up and put you into a jar of clear water. She may watch you
slowly open your sleepy dark eye. She may lean over you; then let your
passionate breath but touch her on the white brow, and she may tenderly
thrust you into her whiter bosom, and quickly yield herself, and you, to
an all-powerful forgetfulness. She may twine me into her dark hair, and I
will calm the throb of her blue-veined temples, and bring upon her a sleep
and a forgetting."

The fifth poppy trembled with joyful expectation, but said not a word.

* * * * *

Toward the close of the next day I went to her, the woman that I knew, to
whom I had sent the poppies.

I trod the stairway softly, oh, so softly, that led to her door. Shadows
from out of the unlighted hall danced about me, and the sounds of
music - harp music - pleased me with a strain of remembered chords.

She rose to greet me with provoking but delecious languor. She gave me the
tips of her rosy fingers. Her lips moved as if in speech, but no words
reached me; she barely smiled. In a priceless vase near the open window
they held their heads in high disdain - those four red poppies who had
gleefully chuckled and chatted together on the yesterday; but the fifth
and silent poppy drooped upon her breast. I turned to go; she did not stay
me; I stole to the door. "Take us away with you," cried those four
garrulous poppies; "we are willing to die, and at once if need be, but not
here in her hateful presence. Take us away." But the poppy on her breast
only drooped and drooped the more and said not a word.

I opened the door. The shadows had fled - the hall was a blaze of light.
The music had ceased - only the noise of street below broke the silence.
"If thus you let me go, I will not return again," I said.

The woman did not speak, neither did she stir. But the poppy on her breast
with drooping head uplifted softly cried, "Go, quickly go, and - forget!"

* * * * *

I went down the broad stairway between a row of bright lights - a dazzling
mockery - I went out into the night. I passed by a certain garden where red
poppies grew. I leaned over the low wall. I buried my hot face among them.
I crushed them in my hands and stained my temples with their quivering
blooms. But all to no purpose; they did not, could not bring
forgetfulness. I am thinking always of that woman, of those four red
poppies, and of that one red poppy which drooped on her breast that night
and said to me, "Go, quickly go, and - forget."




THE NEW CURE FOR HEART-BREAK

TO LITTLE MISS PREVIOUS




III

THE NEW CURE FOR HEART-BREAK

A CHRISTMAS GIFT STORY


Hat Mark.
Shaving Papers.
Embroidered Slippers.
Onyx Cuff Buttons.
Inkstand from Italy.
Her Picture - in Silver Frame.
Scarf-pin with Pearl and Diamonds.

It was Christmas eve, several years ago. We had dined together at the Cafe
de la Paix, near the Grand Opera-house, Paris. The dinner was good, the
wine excellent; but George Addison was best of all.

I have never known why he should have told me that night of his "Cure for
Heart-break."

Was it the grouse?

Was it the Burgundy?

Was it some strange influence?

George Addison is the man who first came to the front in the literary
world as the careful and successful editor of that now valuable book, "The
Poets and Poetry of the South." A fresh edition - about the eleventh - is
promised for the New Year.

But he fairly leaped into fame, and its unusual companion, large wealth,
when he gave ungrudgingly to his anxious and generous public that curious
little hand-book, "The Perfected Letter Writer."

Young ladies who live in the country buy it clandestinely, and eagerly
read it privately, secretly, in their own quiet bed-chambers during the
silent watches of the night. When occasion demands they boldly make
extracts therefrom, which they awkwardly project into their labored notes
and epistles of much length and less grace.

Even women of fashion have been known to buy it - and use it, not wisely,
but freely.

There are men, too, who consult its pages reverently, frequently, and
oftentimes, I must add, with most disastrous results. It is, as is well
known, a valuable but dangerous manual.

Therefore the name of George Addison is a household word, although he is
mentioned as the editor of "Poets and Poetry of the South," and never as
the author of "The Perfected Letter Writer" - a book which is seldom
discussed. But nothing, until now, has been known of his "New Cure for
Heart-break." If he had lived a few years longer, and could have found
time from the more heavy duties of his busy life, he doubtless would have
turned to some use the practical workings of his wonderful cure. But
Death, with that old fondness for a shining mark, has seen fit to remove
him from this, the scene of his earthly labors (See rural sheet obituary
notice).

In the early career of George Addison, when he was obscure and desperately
poor, he met her - that inevitable she - Florence Barlowe.

She had three irresistible charms. She was very young; she was very
pretty - and, most charming of all, she was very silly. Time could steal
away - and doubtless did - the youth. Time could ravage - and surely must
have - her beauty. But nothing could - and nothing did - mar the
uninterrupted splendor of her foolishness. She was born a fool, lived a
fool, and undoubtedly must have died - if dead - the death of a glorious and
triumphant fool.

George Addison was from the first attentive. But he was shy in those days,
and knew not how, in words, to frame the love that filled his heart and
rose like a lump in his throat whenever he saw her pretty face and heard
her soft voice. She was a fool, it is true, but she was like so many fools
of her kind, full of a subtle craft which acts like the tempting bait on
the hook that catches the unwary fish.

So she made him a present - it was of her own handiwork. Each Christmas
tide she repeated the process; each year enriching the hook with a more
tempting offer. It took her seven years to graduate in presents from a hat
mark to a scarf-pin of little diamonds and a big rare pearl; but somehow
there was a hitch and a halt within the heart of George Addison.

He never said the word. He just loved her, and waited. She grew desperate.
She startled him by instituting a quarrel, which was not very much of a
quarrel, for it takes two, I have always understood, to make one - in all
senses of the word. He did not quite understand, and told her so. She wept
in his presence, and forbade him the house. She made her father threaten
his life, which was now almost a burden. He still did not understand; so
he did - from her standpoint the worst thing possible - nothing. While she
was impatiently waiting at home for a reconciliation and a proposal - which
never came - he was dumbfounded with grief, and employed his time,
tearfully of course, selecting all of her favorite poems - for she was fond
of a certain kind of poetry. Then it was that the idea of "Poets and
Poetry of the South" came upon him. The popularity of the book was assured
in advance, because he selected only those poems that he thought would
please Florence Barlowe - and her taste was average - so is the taste, I am
told, of the general public.

About a year after their rupture his compilation volume appeared, and was
an instantaneous success. The approach of Christmas made him painfully
realize their estrangement. Finally he awakened to a full knowledge of the
situation. A slow anger started up within him and gradually swept over him
like a tidal wave.

It was Christmas eve.

He lighted his lamp - his quarters were still poor and very cheerless. He
unlocked a drawer which contained his few treasures, and there they
were - the seven gifts entire from the fair hand of pretty Florence
Barlowe. There was also a little packet of letters, notes, and invitations
from the same hand.

"She never really cared for me," he said, as he tenderly drew them out
from their place one by one. "I want a love-cure," he added, "I must have
one, for I must be done with this, and forever."

Now, gentle reader, do not censure him, this George Addison, lover, for he
straightway sent them back to her? No, not that - but this: He
deliberately - although it gave him a pang - arranged to dispose of them all
as Christmas gifts to his friends and relatives. It was after this
fashion: The hat-mark, G.A., done in violent yellow, on a glaring bit of
blue satin, was hard to dispose of; but he finally thought of a little
nephew - the incarnation of a small devil - so he wrote a note to the
mother, inclosing the hat-mark, with this explanation: "G.A., you must
readily see, stands for 'Good Always.' What could be more appropriate for
your darling child?"

The shaving papers, like Joseph's coat of many colors, he sent to Uncle
Hezekiah, an old family servant, who delighted in them, even until the
hour of his happy death, unused, for who ever heard of using beautiful
shaving papers!

The embroidered slippers, which had made up a trifle small, were mailed
with much glee to a distant relative in Texas on a cattle ranch, where
slippers were unnecessary - but Addison did not consider himself
responsible for that - for he had discovered from personal experience that
the less sensible the gift the more often it is given.

The onyx cuff buttons were well worn, and had rendered excellent service,
although they were not good to look upon. Yet, Jennings, the chiropodist,
had taken a fancy to them long ago, so he concluded to let him have them
on the one condition that they must not be worn to the house of the Hon.
Junius Barlowe, where it was his custom to go on the third Sunday of every
month, and never to the Addison house, which he visited on the second
Thursday of each month.

The inkstand from Italy was large in promise, but poor in fulfillment - the
place for ink was infinitesimally small. George tried to use it once when
he had three important thoughts to transmit. He wrote out two of them, but
the third thought had to go dry. There was a much decayed gentleman of the
old school who lived across the street from the Addisons. It had been the
custom of George Addison's grandfather, and father also, to always send
this individual some useful gift on Christmas Day; therefore the inkstand
from Italy was sent over the next morning. It failed to give what might be
termed complete satisfaction, but the old neighbor had not been satisfied
for a small matter of fifty years. Therefore George held himself, and he
was perfectly right, blameless.

It was easy enough to slip the picture of a pretty Dancer, who, in that
long ago day, was all the rage among the young men about town - into the
silver frame, heart-shape, but what could he do with her picture? It was
much prior to the time of the cigarette craze and cigarette pictures - so
he could not send it to one of those at that time uncreated
establishments, to be copied and sent broadcast. He was something of an
artist. He cleverly tinted the thing another color - made her eyes blue
instead of brown, and changed her golden sunlit wealth of hair into a
darker, if not richer shade. It was a full-length picture. Her trim figure
was shown to advantage. Her slender white hands were clasped above her
bosom, and there was a look of heavenly resignation on her serenely
beautiful brow. He cruelly sent it to the editor of "Godey's Ladies'
Magazine," and it was blazoned forth as a fashion plate, much enlarged and
with many frills, in the following February number of that then valuable
and highly fashionable periodical. In return he received their check for
five dollars, drawn upon a National Bank of Philadelphia, and with a note
stating that while the customary price was two dollars and fifty cents
they felt constrained to send him a sum commensurate with the merits of
the fancy picture which he had kindly forwarded them, and that they would
be pleased to hear from him again, which they never did - nor their check
either; for, while he was too poor to have kept it, yet he was too proud
to cash it. I am told that it hangs in a Boston museum, framed with a rare


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