THOSE RUSSIAN VIOLETS
by Douglass Sherley
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
Nowadays I frequently see her—she is always
charming; sometimes brilliant. Once I said to
"I have an answer for your question about
"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