A Gibson Girl Romance


He had come over on the steamer with a dear friend who also cared for an American girl, Katherine Elkins. (Nothing came of their attachment. I never met her and I know she never heard of me, but I used to read with much interest anything about her that appeared in the newspapers. She married William Hitts, and died only recently.)

The week Mike was at Cedar Spring was a week in a million. The weather was absolutely perfect and the foliage at its most gorgeous. We used to ride up to McSparran Hill and look down at Narrow River, a blue ribbon amid the brilliant oranges and reds of the trees. In the distance we could see the little white South Ferry church, and beyond it the open Atlantic. Mike couldn’t get over the colors.

He was much changed now; when I could catch a glimpse of his face in repose, which was seldom, he looked very sad. The little Czarevitch was sick, and it had been discovered that he was a hemophiliac. There was no chance for Mike to relinquish his right of succession. I knew he had come to say good-bye.

We spent that week picking apples and carrying the baskets swinging between us to the root cellar for storage. We laughed and talked and he told me many stories of himself and the Russians. To this day they keep coming back to me.

One was a folk tale about “Why the Devil Never Became Omnipotent”:

Ages and ages ago when the earth was ruled by a wise and holy man, the devil became impatient and wanted more power. He came to the holy one and said, “You know, I am more powerful than you are. All the people on earth are wicked and want to be so. Why not give in and proclaim me supreme ruler of all?” The holy one said, “What you say is true—but wait a little. Perhaps someone will repent and be good.” Off went the devil. In a few months he came back and repeated his proposal. “I know how bad everyone is, and I really am discouraged,” said the holy one. “When the leaves are off the trees, you shall be ruler.” The next time, the devil came in the middle of the winter. “Now stop all this foolishness,” he said. “Everything is dead—all the leaves are off the trees. You have no power—and I demand my rights.” “Look at the oak tree,” said the holy one. “Oak leaves remain on the tree until they are pushed off by the little new leaves in the spring. If the oak leaves ever all fall off, then the devil will be supreme.”

Mike loved to learn the foolish toasts we all said in those days, such as:

A Frenchman loves his native wine, A German loves his beer, The Englishman loves his half-and-half Because it gives good cheer. The Irishman loves his whisky straight Because it gives him dizziness. The American has no choice at all He drinks the whole damn business .

Between the Englishman and the Irishman, Mike inserted a Russian, like this:

And vodka is to all good Russians A comfort each day in the year.

He also liked another one:

Man is somewhat like a sausage, Very smooth upon the skin; But you can never tell exactly How much hog there is within.

But there was one that he criticized:

You’re not my first love— I loved before we met, And the memory of that ardent love Is lingering with me yet. You are my last love The dearest, sweetest, best: My heart has shed its outer leaves I give you all the rest .

“That is foolish,” Mike said. “One can really love but once.”

The night before he left, Mother had tactfully gone to bed early, and he and I sat in front of the smoking-room fire.

“Little Nini,” he said, “marry the good Frank—and soon. And have lots of babies to play with. It is best so … I have had my week of heaven. One should not ask for more.”

He stood up and took my head between his hands. I closed my eyes. I could not look at him. He recited the sweet poem of Heine that I have always loved: