Aftermath - James Lane Allen - ebook
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The novel 1894 novel A Kentucky Cardinal was an immediate hit and helped to establish not only the literary reputation of its author, James Lane Allen, but also the "local color" movement in American literature, which sought to document and delve into the peculiarities and unique attributes of regional cultures. Aftermath is the sequel to A Kentucky Cardinal and picks up where the previous tale left off. James Lane Allen (December 21, 1849 – February 18, 1925) was an American novelist and short story writer whose work, including the novel A Kentucky Cardinal, often depicted the culture and dialects of his native Kentucky. His work is characteristic of the late-19th century local color era, when writers sought to capture the vernacular in their fiction. Allen has been described as "Kentucky's first important novelist." In 1893 Allen moved to New York City, where he lived until his death. He was a contributor to Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and other popular magazines of the time. His novels include The Choir Invisible, which was a very popular best seller in 1897.

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AFTERMATH

BY

JAMES LANE ALLEN

Copyright © 2018 by James Lane Allen.

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Book and Cover design by Sheba Blake Publishing

First Edition: May 2018

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

This to her from one who in

childhood used to stand at the

windows of her room and watch

for the Cardinal among the snow-buried cedars.

I

I was happily at work this morning among my butterbeans--a vegetable of solid merit and of a far greater suitableness to my palate than such bovine watery growths as the squash and the beet. Georgiana came to her garden window and stood watching me.

"You work those butterbeans as though you loved them," she said, scornfully.

"I do love them. I love all vines."

"Are you cultivating them as vines or as vegetables?"

"It makes no difference to nature."

"Do you expect me to be a vine when we are married?"

"I hope you'll not turn out a mere vegetable. How should you like to be my Virginia-creeper?"

"And what would you be?"

"Well, what would you like? A sort of honeysuckle frame?"

"Oh, anything! Only support me and give me plenty of room to bloom."

I do not always reply to Georgiana, though I always could if I chose. Whenever I remain silent about anything she changes the subject.

"Did you know that Sylvia once wrote a poem on a vegetable?"

"I did not."

"You don't speak as though you cared."

"You must know how deeply interested I am."

"Then why don't you ask to see the poem?"

"Was it on butterbeans?"

"The idea! Sylvia has better taste."

"I suppose I'd better look into this poem."

"You are not to laugh at it!"

"I shall weep."

"No; you are not to weep. Promise."

"What am I to promise?"

"That you will read it unmoved."

"I do promise--solemnly, cheerfully."

"Then come and get it."

I went over and stood under the window. Georgiana soon returned and dropped down to me a piece of writing-paper.

"Sylvia wrote it before she began to think about the boys."

"It must be a very early poem."

"It is; and this is the only copy; please don't lose it."

"Then I think you ought to take it back at once. Let me beg of you not to risk it--" But she was gone; and I turned to my arbor and sat down to read Sylvia's poem, which I found to be inscribed to "The Potato," and to run as follows:

"What on this wide earth That is made or does by nature grow Is more homely yet more beautiful Than the useful Potato?

"What would this world full of people do, Rich and poor, high and low, Were it not for this little-thought-of But very necessary Potato?

"True, 'tis homely to look on, Nothing pretty even in its blow, But it will bear acquaintance, This useful Potato.

"For when it is cooked and opened It's so white and mellow, You forget it ever was homely, This useful Potato.

"On the whole it is a very plain plant, Makes no conspicuous show, But the internal appearance is lovely Of the unostentatious Potato.

"On the land or on the sea, Wherever we may go, We are always glad to welcome The sound Potato."[*]

[*]The elder Miss Cobb was wrong in thinking this poem Sylvia's. It was extant at the time over the signature of another writer, whose authorship is not known to have been questioned. Miss Sylvia perhaps copied it out of admiration, or as a model for her own use.

J.L.A.

In the afternoon I was cutting stakes at the wood-pile for my butterbeans, and a bright idea struck me. During my engagement to Georgiana I cannot always be darting in and out of Mrs. Cobb's front door like a swallow through a barn. Neither can I talk freely to Georgiana--with her up at the window and me down on the ground--when I wish to breathe into her ear the things that I must utter or die. Besides, the sewing-girl whom Georgiana has engaged is nearly always there. So that as I was in the act of trimming a long slender stick, it occurred to me that I might make use of this to elevate any little notes that I might wish to write over the garden fence up to Georgiana's window.

I was greatly taken with the thought, and, dropping my hand-axe, hurried into the house and wrote a note to her at once, which I thereupon tied to the end of the pole by a short string. But as I started for the garden this arrangement looked too much like catching Georgiana with a bait. Therefore, happening to remember, I stopped at my tool-house, where I keep a little of everything, and took from a peg a fine old specimen of a goldfinch's nest. This I fastened to the end of the pole, and hiding my note in it, now felt better satisfied. No one but Georgiana herself would ever be able to tell what it was that I might wish to lift up to her at any time; and in case of its being not a note, but a plum--a berry--a peach--it would be as safe as it was unseen. This old house of a pair of goldfinches would thus become the home of our fledgling hopes: every day a new brood of vows would take flight across its rim into our bosoms.

Watching my chance during the afternoon, when the sewing-girl was not there, I rushed over and pushed the stick up to the window.

"Georgiana," I called out, "feel in the nest!"

She hurried to the window with her sewing in her arms. The nest swayed to and fro on a level with her nose.

"What is it?" she cried, drawing back with extreme distaste.

"You feel in it!" I repeated.

"I don't wish to feel in it," she said. "Take it away!"

"There's a young dove in it," I persisted--"a young cooer."

"I don't wish any young cooers," she said, with a grimace.

Seeing that she was not of my mind, I added, pleadingly; "It's a note from me, Georgiana! This is going to be our little private post-office!" Georgiana sank back into her chair. She reappeared with the flush of apple-blossoms and her lashes wet with tears of laughter. But I do not think that she looked at me unkindly. "Our little private post-office," I persisted, confidingly.

"How many more little private things are we going to have?" she inquired, plaintively.

"I can't wait here forever," I said. "This is growing weather; I might sprout."

"A dry stick will not," said Georgiana, simply, and went back to her sewing.

I took the hint, and propped the pole against the house under the window. Later, when I took it down, my note was gone.

I have set the pole under Georgiana's window several times within the last two or three days, It looks like a little dip-net, high and dry in the air; but so far as I can see with my unaided eye, it has caught nothing so large as a gnat. It has attracted no end of attention from the birds of the neighborhood, however, who never saw a goldfinch's nest swung to the end of a leafless pole and placed where it could be so exactly reached by the human hand. In particular it has fallen under the notice of a pair of wrens, which are like women, in that they usually have some secret business behind their curiosity. The business in this case is the matter of their own nest, which they have located in a broken horse-collar in my saddle-house. At such seasons they are alert for appropriating building materials that may have been fetched to hand by other birds; and they have already abstracted a piece of candle-wick from the bottom of my post-office.

Georgiana has been chilly towards me for two days, and I think is doing her best not to freeze up altogether. I have racked my brain to know why; but I fear that my brain is not of the sort to discover what is the matter with a woman when nothing really is the matter. Moreover, as I am now engaged to Georgiana, I have thought it better that she should begin to bring her explanations to me--the steady sun that will melt all her uncertain icicles.

At last this morning she remarked, but very carelessly, "You didn't answer my note."

"What note, Georgiana?" I asked, thunderstruck.

She gave me such a look.

"Didn't you get the note I put into that--into that--" Her face grew pink with vexation and disgust.

"Did you put a note into the--into the--" I could not have spoken the word just then.

I retired to my arbor, where I sat for half an hour with my head in my hands. What could have become of Georgiana's note? A hand might have filched it; unlikely. A gust of wind have whisked it out; impossible. I debated and rejected every hypothesis to the last one. Acting upon this, I walked straight to the saddle-house, and in a dark corner peered at the nest of the wrens. A speck of white paper was visible among the sticks and shavings. I tore the nest out and shook it to pieces. How those wrens did rage! The note was so torn and mudded that I could not read it. But suppose a jay had carried it to the high crotch of some locust! I ran joyfully back to the window.

"I've found it, Georgiana!" I called out.

She appeared, looking relieved, but not exactly forgiving.

"Where!"

My tongue froze to the roof of my mouth.

"Where did you find it?" she repeated, imperiously.

"What do you want to know for?" I said, savagely.

"Let me see it!" she demanded.

My clasp on it suddenly tightened.

"Let me see it!" she repeated, with genuine fire.

"What do you want to see it for?" I said.

She turned away.

"Here it is," I said, and held it up.

She looked at it a long time, and her brows arched.

"Did the pigs get it?"

"The wrens. It was merely a change of post-office."

"I'd as well write the next one to them," she said, "since they get the letters."

Georgiana was well aware that she slipped the note into the nest when they were looking and I was not; but women--all women--now and then hold a man responsible for what they have done themselves. Sylvia, for instance. She grew peevish with me the other day because my garden failed to furnish the particular flowers that would have assuaged her whim. And yet for days Sylvia has been helping herself with such lack of stint that the poor clipped and mangled bushes look at me as I pass sympathetically by them, and say, "If you don't keep her away, we'd as well be weeds!"

The truth is that Sylvia's rampant session in school, involving the passage of the Greatest Common Divisor--far more dreadful than the passage of the Beresina--her blue rosettes at the recent Commencement, and the prospect of a long vacation, together with further miscellany appertaining to her age and sex, have strung the chords of her sentimental being up to the highest pitch. Feeling herself to be naturally a good instrument and now perfectly in tune, Sylvia requires that she shall be continually played upon--if not by one person, then by another. Nature overloads a tendency in order to make it carry straight along its course against the interference of other tendencies; and she will sometimes provide a girl with a great many young men at the start, in order that she may be sure of one husband in the end. The precautionary swarm in Sylvia's case seems multitudinous enough to supply her with successive husbands to the end of her days and in the teeth of all known estimates of mortality. How unlike Georgiana!

I think of Georgiana as the single peach on a tree in a season when they are rarest. Not a very large peach, and scarcely yet yielding a blush to the sun, although its long summer heat is on the wane; growing high in the air at the end of a bough and clustered about by its shining leaves. But what beauty, purity, freshness! You must hunt to find it and climb to reach it; but when you get it, you get it all--there is not a trace left for another. But Sylvia! I am afraid Sylvia is like a big bunch of grapes that hangs low above a public pathway: each passer-by reaches up and takes a grape.