The Rose of Love


‘ROSE of Love, rubbish!’ Gloria snapped the words at me. For the first time I saw her impatient, humorless, annoyed.

I picked up the sensational dodger advertising the charms of the witch doctor, the dodger which had caused her sudden flare of annoyance.

‘Rubbish! ’ she repeated. ‘That man is a faker. Ignorant servants may pay attention to his foolishness, but you ought to know better. He’s a rank fraud. He is n’t even allowed to use the mails. Anyway, he is n’t a Porto Rican — he came here from Cuba.’

‘Of course it’s nonsense,’ I agreed humbly, ‘but I thought it was rather funny.’

‘It isn’t funny.’ Her lips closed sharply, her tone was curt, and her eyes, which I had always found quick to light, with amusement at even the twist of a word, were hard and humorless. ‘And you have just as superstitious things in the States as anything we have here.’ She turned to the filing cabinet at her elbow, jerked out a drawer, ran her fingers over the neatly labeled folders, and thrust into my hands a dozen clippings from American papers concerning weird and primitive occurrences.

‘I know we have. Of course,’ I murmured, blundering apologetic words as I tried to comprehend her surprising sensitiveness about this absurd advertisement of voodoo. It was so unlike all that I had seen of her. For months we had worked together on a study of the social problems of Porto Rico; she had directed my attention to the shortcomings and handicaps of her people; we had worked up comparative figures of poverty, illiteracy, and disease, often not flattering to the island, but never had she flared at an unfavorable comparison. Her English, spoken from childhood, was instinctive, her sense of humor was Northern, and she laughed as readily as the latestarrived Yankee at what was incongruous to the Northern eye. And now, at this cheap and ignorant announcement of the voodoo doctor, she had sprung, raw-nerved, to the defense of the islanders with a sharp-cut ‘we’ and ‘you.’

‘ Let me look over these clippings while you finish your interviews,’ I mumbled, taking them over to a vacant chair at the other side of the room.

On a bench by the door sat the ‘cases’ waiting for Gloria’s attention, and as I pretended to read I watched her finely chiseled features relax from the impatient annoyance she had shown me into sympathy, forgetting herself in the problems of her people. Her people. A motley of mixed blood were these dregs of the city, broken bits of humanity who brought their miseries to her, whimpering. A bent old negro, sitting uneasily on the bench, as though his forefathers had not long known chairs. An old woman, huddled in a shawl, with one long yellow tooth gleaming against the mahogany of her wrinkled face. A mother, middleaged at twenty, with three babies of different colors, unpleasantly suggesting a mongrel breed. Her people. And Gloria, of Spanish blood, keenly proud of her own untainted white stock.

Behind the clippings I opened the dodger whose extravagant offerings had so annoyed Gloria, and again I translated: —

The Philtre of Lana Lani. To awaken affection and desire in the breast of the one you crave. Price, $2.50

The Eye of Ko Ko. Will bring back to its rightful owner any missing article, whether lost or maliciously stolen. Has proved itself by restoring jewels of untold value. Price, $3.00

The Phial of Nga Nga. For love which has grown cold and desire which has withered, this magic powder will rekindle fire and passion. Price, $8.00

The Rose of Love. When administered in accordance with the ancient, sacred customs this philtre will create burning, blinding desire, making its object oblivious of age, ugliness, poverty, and all other obstacles to love and marriage. Price, $12.50

The Lily of Vengeance. The flowers of wrath of the ancient protectors. A charm which will cause the strength to wither and the blood to run slow. With all rites, price, $25.00

As I finished pegging out my translation I glanced up at Gloria. Sympathetic, but with rapier keenness, she now listened, now asked questions, adjusting to her native Latin background all that she had learned in the North of the technique of social work. Her fine eyes lighted as she talked to the old man beside her and his withered face shone as he fervently pressed her hands in farewell.

I stepped over to her desk before the next case moved into the vacant chair. On a stand behind her was a paper parcel, tied but slightly split, disclosing a streak of orange. I was n’t thirsty, but I thought that by this time her courteous Latin soul would be glad of a chance to make a gesture of hospitality as a means of passing over the impatience she had shown me. ‘Don’t you want to offer me one of those oranges while I wait?’ I stretched out my hand toward the bag.

‘Don’t!’ Gloria’s face went deathly white. ‘Don’t touch those oranges!’

I stood rooted, speechless. At last I slipped into the chair beside hers. ‘What on earth is wrong with those oranges?’

Indefinable fear was in her eyes, and when she spoke her voice was a dry, harsh whisper. ‘A black woman gave me those oranges, an ugly black woman who has married a white man from Virginia, a lad fifteen years younger than herself.’

The fear in her eyes relaxed slowly into baffled weariness. ‘I have lived long enough in the States,’ she added slowly, ‘to know that white men from Virginia don’t marry old black women without some very strange reason.’

‘Tell me later.’

I went back to my chair and pretended to read a magazine while I was waiting for her to finish her interviews, but before the printed page ran a blurred image of a white lad and an old black woman, and in my ears sounded a jumble of words — the Rose of Love, the Lily of Vengeance, the Philtre of Lana Lani.


Two months later I went to court with Gloria when she applied for an order of guardianship over Edward Ross, the white lad from Virginia, and his black wife, Mathilde.

Smiling, chattering, jabbering, the pair shambled into the empty courtroom, a blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon and a primitive African, both pathetically, foolishly insane. The attendant seated them at one side, against the old masonry wall. In silence we watched them as we waited for court to open.

The facts in the case were brief. A veteran of the war, Ross had gone to Porto Rico to recover from the early stages of tuberculosis, and in the inland village of Acouji his allotment had provided a royally idle existence. Just why he had gone to that village of black people Gloria had not been able to find out. Acouji was pretty and picturesque, — that much I had noted once when driving by, — but it was off the main highway and I had not gone back, in spite of the fact that my curiosity had been aroused by an old-timer named Macpherson who had told me that the settlement bore a sinister reputation and that no white people had gone there for years.

‘I stayed there one summer,’ Macpherson told me as I was examining a curious image carved from green stone which he had acquired in the Acouji district—under what circumstances he refused to say. ‘Some of the blacks are from Haiti, a different people from the negroes of Porto Rico. I used to hear their drums at night, and once I saw one of their dances.’

What it was like he would not say, but his quiet refusal to explain left me with a sense of things creepy and unaccountable.

‘I think I’ll go to Acouji,’ I told him one day, more to try to make him talk than because I had any immediate intention of going there. ‘It would be worth some trouble to find an image like yours.’

‘You will see nothing and you will find no images,’ responded Macpherson curtly.

The little which he had said and the indefinable amount which his manner had conveyed came back to me as we waited in the old courtroom. At last the judge and his clerk entered and the case was called. No one but ourselves appeared. Ross, according to his papers, had no relatives, and Mathilde had only a mother, living in Acouji, who had signified her willingness that Gloria be appointed guardian of her daughter.

The clerk read the medical report. Ross . . . tuberculosis . . . both demented, but quite harmless . . . recommendations that they be settled in some quiet suburb where they could be visited occasionally by the charity office.

The judge’s eyes lingered on the jabbering, incongruous pair. ‘Tuberculosis.’ He took up the medical report. ‘Demented. Harmless.’ He laid down the report and turned to Gloria.

‘The allotment is sufficient for their needs?’ Gloria nodded. ‘You can collect it and supervise their living?’ Again she nodded. ‘You wish to assume this responsibility?’ Again she nodded, slowly.

The judge started to speak again, hesitated, and sat back in his chair with a curious suggestion of helplessness before primitive forces. Ross and Mathilde had become quiet, and in the sudden silence the crude walls of the old building asserted their domination. Built in the first ruthless impact of Spaniard on Indian, their very bricks cemented together with fierce race tragedy, the crude walls made a background against which the tragic figures of African and Anglo-Saxon shrank to mere miniatures on a long canvas of race conflict and misunderstanding.

Silently the judge reached for his pen and signed the order.


‘I don’t like this business at all,’I remarked to Gloria as we left Ross and his black wife at their little house in the suburbs. Beds, a table, a couple of strong chairs, a stove, and a few pots and dishes made up their household furnishings. Anything more than that they would break, Gloria had said as we noted its bareness. We looked back. Mathilde was standing in the doorway, singing, and Ross was idly scraping a heavy wire across a dried gourd, smiling as he produced monotonous sounds without rhythm or melody. We spoke to their nextdoor neighbors, a simple couple who saw in the demented pair only two persons in need of sympathy, and who volunteered to keep an eye on them and to let Gloria know if any Special need arose.

As we left the neighbors’ house Ross and Mathilde came down to their gate to wish us another friendly, childish farewell.

‘Bring me some dulces the next time you come,’ coaxed Ross.

‘And bring me some dulces and a new pipe,’ added Mathilde.

Back in my rooms I settled Gloria on the couch to rest. ‘Of course I don’t like it, either,’ she confessed, ‘but what shall I do? If Ross had any relatives I should feel so much more distressed.’ She never mentioned the element of color in the tragedy, for the reason, I surmised, that she felt it too keenly; for I had watched her face as the two bade us farewell, the white lad hand in hand with the black woman. ‘But it’s a harmless form of insanity and apparently he is happy.’

‘Suppose he recovers?’ I asked.

Gloria shook her head. ‘They never do recover.’

‘Ross went daft a month ago and Mathilde a week later?’

Gloria nodded.

‘See here,’ I said, ‘you scouted the Rose of Love and the Lily of Vengeance and said that man was a faker, but tell me, what was wrong with those oranges that day, and what made Ross marry Mathilde, and what made them both go daft?’

‘Drugs, I think,’ she replied wearily, no longer trying to evade the questions which, until now, she had obstinately turned aside. ‘Of course I don’t believe in witchcraft any more than you do, and most of the stories about voodoo are the worst sort of old women’s tales, but there are some happenings that have to be explained. What is n’t psychology must be drugs, I think. I can’t see any other explanation. I know there are herbs and plants in our hills which Northern doctors don’t know about. The old jibaros use them, although the young people now are so anxious to be progressive that the old knowledge is dying out. It stands to reason that there are plants in Africa which Northern scientists don’t know about. Once I met an Italian explorer who had spent years in Africa and he told me about a number of plants which had strange and powerful properties. Our negroes don’t seem to know much about those plants—it’s the blacks from Haiti and St. Thomas who do the queer things. They must have brought plants from Africa.’

‘That’s reasonable,’ and I waited for her to go on.

‘We’ve all known a few curious experiences which are hard to explain,’ she continued after a pause, ‘but we don’t like to talk about them.’ She lapsed into silence and I waited. ‘There was a girl whom my mother knew very well, one of the Fernandez de Sotos, whose fiancé had offended an old Haitian woman. When they were to be married the old negress asked the groom to forget their quarrel and to accept a bouquet of flowers for his bride. She gave it to him wrapped up very securely, and when the girl opened it and smelled the flowers she went daft. She never recovered.’

I poured out some more lemonade for Gloria and waited.

‘There was an American official named Marsden who had a cook from St. Thomas who everyone said practised voodoo, but she was a good cook and they would n’t send her way. She used to steal from Mrs. Marsden and one day the house boy told on her.’

‘And then —’ I prompted.

‘The boy disappeared, but they found him two days later, going from house to house, making scratches with charcoal on pieces of wrapping paper and trying to sell them for fifty dollars apiece. Quite off.’

Gloria was silent for a while. I almost thought she had gone to sleep. ‘Anyone ever try voodoo on you?' I asked at length.

‘Not exactly, but there was an old cook at the hostess house during the war who used to keep telling me that I ought to get married. Several times she offered to give things to different officers to make them marry me. She used to argue with me and I had hard work not to offend her by refusing, but at last I got her another job and got rid of her that way.’

‘You did n’t want to discharge her?’

‘Oh no,’ returned Gloria quickly. ‘It may have been all nonsense, but I did n’t care to offend her.’

We sat silent until the ticking of the clock became obtrusive. ‘What really happened to Ross?’ I ventured. ‘Do you really think that the woman gave him some drug to make him want to marry her?’

‘She — or her mother. Would he have married her otherwise?’ parried Gloria. ‘A white man, from Virginia?’

‘Most unlikely,’ I agreed. ‘And the drug made him crazy?’

She nodded. ‘Or they may have given him something else to make him incompetent so that they could get hold of the allotment.’

‘And what about those oranges you wouldn’t let me have?’ I came back to the question which she had evaded several times before when I had tried to fathom her fears.

‘Mathilde brought them to you?’ She nodded. ‘And what had happened before that?’

‘She had come the week before and asked for his allotment, and again the day before. It had n’t come down from the States as promptly as usual and I told her so, but she may have thought that I was keeping it back, may have thought I was angry at her for marrying that white boy.’

‘But what do you think she had done to those oranges?’

‘I don’t think.’ The barrier tone crept back into her voice. ‘I took them down to the incinerator and burned them up myself—without unwrapping the parcel.’

‘But what made Mathilde go daft? She would n’t take something intentionally, would she?’

‘Of course not. It may be coincidence — a good many people go daft. Or she may have taken something by mistake. Or perhaps her mother wanted to get her hands on that allotment.’

‘Has her mother come down here from Acouji?’

Gloria started uncomfortably and the look which came into her eyes made me realize that she was by no means at ease in her position as guardian of Ross and Mathilde. ‘I don’t know whether she has come down to the city, but I told those neighbors that I expected her to come to see her daughter. I said that I wanted to see her as soon as she came and asked them to tell her that I had a present for her.’

‘And what will you tell her when she comes?’

Gloria stood up and laughed uneasily as she picked up her hat and purse. ‘I’ll tell her that an inquisitive Americana wants to buy some oranges from Acouji.’


Two weeks later when I dropped in at the charities office Gloria silently pushed into my hands the papers which she was examining — the death certificate of Edward Ross, veteran, United States Army, and the findings of the autopsy, signed by three physicians. ‘Hemorrhage,’ I read, ‘unexpectedly rapid development of tuberculosis.’

Gloria’s eyes were abstracted, and when she spoke it was not to me but as though she were thinking aloud. ‘If I had found that old woman and told her that the allotment would stop if he died —'

‘Do you think —’

Her eyes turned to me sharply. ‘No, of course it was natural.’ She pointed to the physicians’ certificate. ‘But if she had known—’

Her voice dropped and again she hesitated.

The door opened. Gloria rose as a uniformed captain of police entered the room and came toward her desk. ‘Captain Rivera.’ I looked up into a pair of serious eyes and a squareset jaw.

Gloria drew herself up very tall and self-possessed. ‘Captain Rivera is driving me out to Acouji this afternoon to — to interpret for me to an old woman the provisions of the law concerning soldiers’ pensions. Her son-in-law was drawing an allotment from the Government. He has just died, so the allotment stops. Her daughter will be entitled to a pension as a soldier’s widow, but of course not nearly so much, as her son-in-law was receiving. I want to be sure she understands.’

‘She’s a sensitive old soul,’ added the Captain grimly. ‘I should n’t like to hurt her feelings, and I don’t want her to think that reducing the amount is due to any action of the señorita.’