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Scared speechless

The girl in red

Scratching out an existence and an education on the Texas prairie, our TCU forefathers had no time for anything else. Well, almost.

The following essay was written by Addison Clark Jr., right, student, faculty member and son of the TCU cofounder. It originally appeared in the 1900 Add-Ran Collegian, a monthly magazine published by the Walton, Add-Ran and Shirley Literary Societies of Add-Ran University.

By and by, when Time shall have grown a dotard, and the purple flame that now burns and sings through all my veins is blown away to cold gray ashes, I shall write a book -- oh, a great book of many chapters full of beautiful tragedies which I have lived. It shall be bound in cloth of gold, embossed with red-winged cupids, and upon the title page, in fine old letters, shall be indited the legend, The Women I Have Loved. And therein upon pink, translucent pages, edged all with crimson roses shall be one flaming chapter to The Girl in Red.

It was in church I saw her. My spirit, loosed from its sordid cage of clay, had swept up on a stream of harmony to wander down the green meadows of the stars, dreaming god-like dreams, and living eternal eons in a single moment of time, when I felt a soft touch upon my cheek, a breath warm and fragrant, like the first caressing wind of summer. I think her soul must have kissed mine as she passed. I looked up, and there she sat. Her dress was a silken weft of thin transparent red, with the delirious suggestion of whiteness beyond -- fleeting hints of 'broidered mysteries, peeping shyly from their cool, voluptuous retreats. She wore one of these great clumsy flopping straw hats adorned with flaring red roses, and one side of it kept falling down over her face in the strangest, most awkward manner. I watched it for a long time wondering what made it droop so awkwardly; then, as I look more closely, I understood -- it was bending down to kiss the maiden's cheek. And I wondered no more; for I thought that, were I near enough, I should surely lean down, too. The big roses on her hat blushed redly, and I blushed a little too; but I could not help thinking how delightful it must be to lean down in the tender way and kiss her pink cheek while her head was bowed so demurely in prayer.

There was a single blood-red rose upon her breast. I knew it was red because it lay so near her heart; and it was sleeping -- oh, so peacefully! -- in its downy cradle, rocked by the gentle heaving of her bosom. I saw it flush and throb at each beat of her heart. And I wished that I might lay my tired, fevered head there upon that cool marble pillow, and be soothed to rest and forgetfulness by the tender lullaby her heart was singing. For the red rose had a thorn, and somehow the thorn got into my heart; and it must be sticking there yet, for my heart throbs wildly and bleeds. I knew that tomorrow the rose would fade, and the blush would be gone from the maiden's cheek; then would be left only pallid, scentless leaves, and a thorn. My heart melted till it was but a crimson tear throbbing restlessly within me, and as it throbbed it sang:

Sleep, sweet rose, upon my lady's breasts,
While her soft eyes their star-like vigil keep;
One wild warm hour is given thee to sleep --
Lie still and rest.
Sleep, sweet rose, upon my lady's breasts,
Nor wake while her heart sings its low refrain;
For waking brings remembering and pain --
Lie still and rest.

Her eyes were brown, like rich old wine, and I am sure they were far more intoxicating; for the first glance from them set my head whirling dizzily; the meeting-house was turned topsy-turvy, and reeled around me in a tipsy dance; and the preacher made such ludicrous, drunken motions, and said such foolishly sentimental things, that I thought he, too, must have looked into her eyes.

Once she opened them wide, and I looked straight down into her heart. It was all swept and garnished and the red walls of its four chambers were festooned with flowers and evergreens. And in the inner chamber, which is the place of secrets, a warm, red fire burned upon the hearth; and hundreds of tiny tapers shed a soft rose radiance above a couch of damask and purple, draped all with scarlet curtains; and before the threshold two ruddy cherubs stood and smiled a welcome to someone. I had no doubt that it was for me they were waiting; for I saw her start and smile, when she felt my eyes in her heart. But I did not go in; I dropt one warm tear upon the threshold and came away. And when she felt my tear burning in her heart, she trembled a little, and the red light died in her cheek, and she looked away out of the window with such a long, far glance and sigh that I am sure they must have reached clear to the end of time. And I fear she will never be quite happy again.

The organ played then, a slow, majestic measure that I knew was the Wedding March. But the people would not wait; they stood up impatiently, and the preacher said "Amen!"

And my heart burst then, for The Girl in Red, with the dying rose upon her breast, gave me one long look from her soft eyes -- her warm, wonderful eyes! -- then went her way, with the awkward loving big hat still tenderly kissing her soft pink cheek.