A. C. ARMSTRONG AND SON
BY A. C. ARMSTRONG AND SON.
JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE
Mr. Charles Dudley Warner,
WHOSE KINDLY RECOGNITION OF THE POSSIBILITIES
OF SOUTHERN LITERATURE HAS BEEN AN
ENCOURAGEMENT TO SOUTHERN
- MONSIEUR MOTTE . . .
- ON THE PLANTATION . . .
- THE DRAMA OF AN EVENING . . .
- MARRIAGE OF MARIE MODESTE . . .
IT was near mid-day in June. A dazzling
stream of vertical sun-rays fell into the
quadrangular courtyard of the Institute St.
Denis, and filled it to suffocation with light and
heat. The flowers which grew in little beds,
dotting the gray-flagged surface, bowed their
heads under their leaves for shelter.
A thin strip of shadow, stretching from the side
of the schoolhouse, began to creep over the
garden, slowly following the sun in its progress
past the obtruding walls of neighboring buildings,
until he should disappear behind a certain square
steeple far off in the distance; then the shade
would entirely cover the yard; then the stars
would be coming out, languid and pale; and then
the fragrance of oleander
and jasmine, travelling from yard to yard, would
burden the air, soothing the senses in order to
seduce the imagination.
Along the narrow shaded strip, quite filling it up,
moved a class of girls in Indian file, their elbows
scraping against the rugged bricks of the wall as
they held their books up to the openings of their
sun-bonnets. A murmur of rapidly articulated
words, like the murmur of boiling water in a
closed kettle, came from the leaves of their books,
while from their hidden lips dropped disjointed
fragments of "l'Histoire
The foundation, as well as key-stone, of St.
Denisian education, it was but natural that the
examination in "l'Histoire
de France, par D. Lévi
Alvares, père," should fill the last days of the
scholastic term; and as a prize in that exercise
set the brightest crown upon the head of the
victor, it was not strange that it should be
conducted with such rigidity and impartiality as to
demoralize panic-stricken contestants whose sex
usually warranted justice in leaving one eye at
Under the circumstances, a trust in luck is
the most reliable source of comfort. If experience
proved anything, if the study of the history of
France itself made one point clear, it was the
dependence of great events on trifles, the unfailing
interposition of the
the utter futility of preparation. The graduating
class of 1874 turned their pages with clammy
fingers, and repeated mechanically, with
unwearied tongues, any passage upon which Fate
should direct their eyes; none dared be slighted
with impunity, the most insignificant being perhaps
the very one to trip them up; the most familiar, the
traitor to play them false. A laggard church clock
in the neighborhood gave them each eleven
separate, distinct shocks. It warned them that two
minutes and a half had already been consumed on
the road from one class-room to the other, and
reminded them of Monsieur Mignot's diabolical
A little girl, also in a large sun-bonnet, with a
placard marked "Passe-Partout
" around her
neck, turned an angle of the building suddenly
and threw the nervous ranks into dire confusion;
the books went down, the bonnets up.
qu'est-ce que c'est?"
chère! how you frightened me!"
Dieu! I thought it was Monsieur
"I am trembling all over!"
"I can hardly stand up!"
"Just feel how my heart beats!"
"You had better hurry up,
replied the little one, in the patronizing tone of
personal disinterestedness; "it is past eleven."
"But we don't know one word," they groaned
in unison, - "not one single word."
"Ah, bah! you are frightened, that's all; you
always say that." She gave one of them a good
natured push in the direction of the door about
which they were standing in distressful hesitation.
"I tell you, old Mignot is in a horrible temper.
Il a fait les quatre
cents coups in our class;
threw his inkstand at Stéphanie Morel's head."
The door, with startling coincidence, was
violently pulled open at these words; and a
gray-haired, spectacled old gentleman thrust out
an irate face in quest of his dilatory class.
Thrown by the catastrophe into a state of
of all things historical, from Clovis to
Napoleon, the young ladies jerked off their
sunbonnets and entered the room, while the little
girl escaped at full speed. A drowsy, quiet,
peaceful half-hour followed in the yard, - a
surprising silence for the centre of a busy city,
considering the close proximity of two hundred
school-girls. It was a mocking contrast to the
scene of doubt, hesitation, and excitement on the
other side of the closed door, - a contrast
advantageous to the uneducated happiness of the
insects and flowers.
A door-bell rang; not the bell of the pretty little
gate which admitted visitors to the rose-hedged,
violet-bordered walk leading to Madame's
but the bell of the capacious
which was reserved for the exits and
entrances of scholars and domestics. After a
carefully measured pause, the ring was repeated,
then again, and again. The rusty organ of
intercommunication squeaked and creaked
plaintively after each disturbance as if forced
from a sick-bed to do painful and useless service.
A gaunt, red-haired woman finally came out in
obedience to the summons, with an elaboration
Of slowness which the shuffling sabots clearly betrayed to
the outsider, as evidenced by a last superfluous,
unnecessarily energetic pull of the bell-knob.
She carefully unrolled her sleeves as she sauntered along,
and stood until she loosened the cord which reefed her dress
to an unconventional height. Then she opened the
"Ah, je le savais
bien," she muttered, with strong
There was a diminutive door cut into the large gate. It
looked, with its coat of fresh paint, like a barnacle on the
weather-beaten exterior. Opening with the facility of greased
hinges, it was an unavoidable compromise between the
heavy cypress timber and iron fastenings, prescribed by the
worldly, or heavenly, experience of St. Denis as the proper
protection of a young ladies' boarding-school, and the almost
incessant going and coming which secluded femininity and
excluded shops made necessary.
"But I can't get in there!" said a woman outside.
pis." And the little door was closed.
"But I must come in with my basket."
A shrug of the shoulders was the only reply through the
"It is Mamzelle Marie's toilet for the exhibition."
The little gate was again held open.
"Don't you see I can't get in there?"
A snort of exasperation was heard on the outside, and
a suppressed "C'est un peu fort!"
"Will you open the big gate for me so that I can bring in
Mamzelle Marie's dress?"
"Well, then, I shall ring at Madame's bell."
The white woman did not lack judgment. She was
maintaining her own in a quarrel begun years ago; a quarrel
involving complex questions of the privileges of order and
the distinctions of race; a quarrel in which hostilities were
continued, year by year, with no interruptions of courtesy
or mitigation by truce. This occasion was one of the
perquisites of Jeanne's position of femme de ménage, -
slight compensation enough when compared to the indignities
put upon her as a white woman, and the humiliations
as a sensitive one by "cette négresse Marcélite."
But the duration of triumph must be carefully
measured. Marcélite's ultimatum, if carried out,
would quickly reverse their relative positions by
a bonus to Marcélite in the shape of a reprimand
to Jeanne. She allowed her foe, however, to carry
her basket in the hot sun as far as the next bell
and even waited until she put her hand on it
before the iron bar fell and the massive structure
was allowed to swing open.
"Ristocrate!" she muttered, without looking
at either woman or basket.
"Canaille!" whispered the other, with her
head thrown back and her nose in the air.
Glancing at the line of shade in the yard to see
how near it was to twelve o'clock, for want of
other accommodation Marcélite went into an
open arbor, put her basket on the floor, and
wiped her face with a colored foulard
handkerchief. "Fait chaud mo dit toi," she said
aloud in creole, her language for self-communion.
She pulled her skirts out on each side, and sat
down with a force that threatened the stability of
the bench; then, careless of creeping and crawling
possibilities, leaned her head back against
the vine-covered wall. The green leaves
formed harmonious frame for the dark-brown
face, red and yellow tignon and the large gold
ear-rings hanging beneath two glossy coques of
black wool. Her features were regular and
handsome according to the African type, with a
strong, sensuous expression, subdued but not
obliterated. Her soft black eyes showed in their
voluptuous depths intelligence and strength and
protecting tenderness. Her stiff purple calico
dress settled in defining folds about her portly
limbs. A white kerchief was pinned over her
untrammelled bosom; her large, full, supple
waist was encircled by the strings of her apron,
which were tied in a careful bow at her side.
Besides the large basket, she carried on her
arm a small covered one, which, if opened, would
reveal her calling to be that of hairdressing. She
was the hairdresser of the school, and as such,
general chargée d'affaires, confidente,
messenger and adviser of teachers and scholars.
Her discretion was proven beyond suspicion. Her
judgement or rather her intuition, was bold, quick
and effective. In truth, Marcélite was as indispensable
as a lightning-rod to the boarding-school, conducted
as it was under the austere discipline of the
old régime. Her smooth, round hands and taper fingers
had been polished by constant friction with silken
locks; her familiar, polite, gentle, servile manners were
those contacted during a courtly life of dependent
intimacy with superiors. It was said that her basket
carried other articles besides combs, brushes, and
cosmetics, and that her fingers had been found
preferable to the post-office for the delivery of certain
implicative missives written in the prose or verse of
irresistible emotion. Even without her basket, any one,
from her hands, gait, and language, would recognize a
hairdresser of he élite, while in New Orleans, in the
Quartier Creole, there was hardly a man, woman, or
child who did not call her by name: Marcélite Gaulois.
She lifted a palmetto fan, bound and tied to her
waist with black ribbon, and holding it up between her
and observation, betook herself in quiet and privacy to
slumber, - a nap of delicious relaxation, so gentle that
the bite of a mosquito, the crawling of an ant, an incipient
snore, startled it; but so tenacious that the uplifted
hand and dropping head resettled themselves
without breaking its delicate filament A little, thin,
rusty-voiced bell had now one of its three important
daily announcements to make, - Recreation Time.
From all over the city came corroborative evidence of
the fact, by chronometers, some a little ahead and
some little behind meridian. This want of unanimity
proclaimed the notorious and distressing difference
of two minutes and a half between Church and
State, - a difference in which the smallest watch in the
school could not avoid participation.
It was the same little girl with the "Passe-Partout" who published the truce to study. The rope
of the bell and she were both too short, so she had to
stand on tiptoe and jerk it in little quick jumps. The
operation involved a terrible disproportion between
labor invested and net profit, for which nothing but
the gladsome nature of her mission, and the honorary
distinction implied in it, could have compensated her.
A moment of stillness, during which both the rope
and the little girl quieted themselves,
and then, a shower of little girls fell into the yard,
- all of them little girls, but not all of
them children, and as much alike as drops
of different colored water.
They were all dressed in calico dresses made
in the same way, with very full; short skirts, and
very full, short waists, fastened, matron fashion,
in front. They all wore very tight, glossy,
fresh, black French kid boots, with tassels or
bows hanging from the top. With big
sunbonnets, or heavily veiled hats on their heads,
thick gloves on their hands, and handkerchiefs
around their necks, they were walking buttresses
against the ardent sun. They held their lunch
baskets like bouquets, and their heads as if they
wore crowns. They carried on conversations
in sweet, low voices, with interrupting
embraces and apostrophic tendernesses: -
They had a grace of ease, the gift of generations;
a self-composure and polish, dating from
the cradle. Of course they did not romp, but
promenaded arm in arm, measuring their steps
with dainty particularity; moving the whole body
with rhythmic regularity, displaying and acquiring
at the same time a sinuosity of motion. Their hair
hung in plaits so far below their waists that it
threatened to grow into a measuring-tape for
their whole length.
The angular Jeanne appeared, holding a waiter
at arm's-length over her head. She had no
need to cluck or chirp; the sound of her sabots was
enough to call around her in an instant an eager
brood of hungry boarders, jumping and snatching for
their portion of lunch. There was the usual moment
of obstruction over the point of etiquette whether
they should take their own piece of bread and
butter or receive it from Jeanne. The same
useless sacrifice of a test slice was made, and the
obstinate servant had to give in with the same
consolatory satisfaction of having been again true to
her fixed principle to make herself as disagreeable
as possible under any circumstances that the day
might bring forth. There is great field for choice,
even in slices of bread and butter. The
ends, or knots of the loaves, split
longitudinally, offer much more appetizing
combinations of crust and crumb than the round
inside slices. Knots, however, were the
prerogative of the big girls; inside slices the
grievance of the little ones. To-day, "comme
toujours," as they said, with a shrug, the primary
classes had to take what was left them. But their
appetite was so good, they ate their homely
fare with so much gusto, that the day scholars
looked on enviously and despised their own
epicurean baskets, which failed to elicit such
expectations and never afforded them similar
Á la fin des fins! The door which
concealed the terrible struggle going on with the
history of France was opened. All rushed
forward for news, with eager sympathy. It
was a dejected little army that filed out after
so protracted a combat, with traces of tears
in their eyes and all over their flushed cheeks.
Tired and nervous, not one would confess to a
ray of hope. Certainty of defeat had succeeded
to certainty of failure. The history of France, with
its disastrous appliances of chronology, dynasties,
conquests, and revolutions, had gained, according
to them, a complete and unquestioned
"Marie Modeste, look at Marcélite," said one
of the girls, hailing the diversion.
The bonne was coming out of the garden house
with her basket. One of the graduating class
rushed forward to meet her, and both together
disappeared in the direction of the
dormitory stairway. "It is her toilette for the
exhibition," was whispered, and curious eyes
followed the basket invested with such
preternatural importance. "They say le vieux is
going to give her a superb one."
The Grand Concert Musicale et Distribution
de Prix was to take place the next evening. All
parents and friends had, for two weeks,
been invited to "assist" by their presence. This
annual fête was pre-eminently the fête of St.
Denis. It was the goal of the scholastic course,
the beginning of vacation, and the set term to the
young ladies' aspirations if not ambition. A fair
share of books, laurel crowns, in green and gold
paper, and a possible real gold medal was with
them the end if not the aim of study from the
opening of the school
in September. Personally they could not imagine
any state or condition in life when knowledge of
French history would be a comfort or
cosmography an assistance; but prizes were so
many concrete virtues which lasted fresh into
grandmotherhood. Noblesse oblige, that the
glory of maternal achievements be not dimmed
in these very walls where their mothers, little
creoles like themselves, strove for laurel
crowns culled from the same imperishable tree
in Rue Royale.
Marcélite followed Marie through the
dormitory, down the little aisle, between the rows
of beds with their veils of mosquito netting, until
they came to the. farthest corner; which, when
one turned one's back to the rest of the
chamber, had all the seclusion and "sociability"
of a private apartment. The furniture, however,
did not include chairs, so Marie seated herself on
the side of the bed, and, taking off her bonnet,
awaited Marcélite's pleasure to initiate her into
the delightful mysteries of the basket.
She wondered where Marcélite had picked
up the artistic expedient of heightening the
effect by playing on the feelings of the
spectator; and she wondered if carrying that
basket up the stairs had really tired those strong
shoulders and make her so dreadfully hot; and if it
were really necessary that each one of those
thousand pins should be quilted into the front of
that white kerchief; and if Marcélite had made a
vow not to open her mouth until she got out the
last pin; and if -
She was naturally nervous and impatient, and
twisted and turned ceaselessly on the bed
during the ordeal of assumed procrastination. Her
black eyes were oversized for her face, oversized
and overweighted with expression; and most of
the time, as to-day, they were accompanied by
half-moon shadows which stretched half-way
down her cheek. Over her forehead and temples
the hieroglyphic tracery of blue veins might be
seen, until it became obscured under the
masses of black hair whose heavy plaits
burdened the delicate head and strained the
slender neck. The exterior of a girl of seventeen!
That frail mortal encasement which precocious
inner life threatens to rend and destroy. The
appealing languor, the
uncomplaining lassitude, the pathetic apathy, the
transparent covering through which is seen the
growth of the woman in the body of the child.
Marcélite saw upon the bed the impatient figure of
a petulant girl, wild for the sight of her first toilette
de bal. There lay on the bed, in reality, a proud,
reserved, eager, passionate spirit, looking
past toilettes, past graduating, past studies
and examinations; looking from the prow of an
insignificant vessel into the broad prospect, so near,
so touching near, reserved for her, and all girls of
seventeen, - that unique realm called "Woman's
Romances and poetry had been kept from her like
wine and spices. But the flowers bloomed, and music
had chords, and moonlight rays, and were the bars of
the school never so strong, and the rules never so
rigid, they could not prevent her heart from going out
toward the rays, nor from listening to the music, nor
from inhaling the breath of the flowers. And what they
said is what they always say to the girl of seventeen.
It is the love-time of life, when the heart first puts
forth its flowers; and what boarding-school can
frustrate spring? Her mouth, like her eyes, was
encircled with a shadow, faint, almost imperceptible, as
was the timid suggestion of nascent passion which it
gave to the thin, sad lips.
She was four years old when she came to this
school; so Marcélite told her, for she could not
remember. Now she was seventeen. She looked at the
strong, full maturity of Marcélite. Would she, Marie,
ever be like that? Had Marcélite ever been like her?
At seventeen, did she ever feel this way? This - oh,
this longing! Could Marcélite put her finger on the
day, as Marie could, when this emotion broke into her
heart, that thought into her brain? Did Marcélite
know the origin of blushes, the cause of tremors? Did
Marcélite ever pray to die to be relieved from vague
apprehensions, and then pray to live in the faith of
some great unknown but instinctive prophecy?
She forbore to ask. If Marcélite had had a
mother! - But did girls even ask their mothers these
these things? But she had no mother! Good,
devoted, loyal as she was, Marcélite was not
a mother - not her mother. She had stopped at
the boundary where the mother ceases to be a
physical and becomes a psychical necessity. The
child still clung to Marcéite, but the young
woman was motherless. She had an uncle,
however, who might become a father.
"Là!" Marcélite had exhausted her last
devisable subterfuge, and made known her
readiness to begin the show.
"Là! mon bébé! là, ma mignonne! what do
you think of that?" She turned it around by the
belt; it seemed all covered over with bubbles of
muslin and frostings of lace.
"Just look at that! Ah ha! I thought you would
be astonished! You see that lace? Ça c'est du
vrai, no doubt about that, - real Valenciennes.
You think I don't know real lace, hein? and
mousseline des Indes? You ask Madame Treize
you know what she said? 'Well, Marcélite
that is the prettiest pattern of lace and
the finest piece of muslin I almost ever saw.'
Madame Treize told me that herself; and it's true,
for I know it myself."
"Madame Treize, Marcélite?"
Madame Treize was the ou ne peut plus of
New Orleans for fashion and extravagance.
"Yes, Madame Treize. Who do you think was
going to make your dress, hein? Madame
N'importe - qui?"
"Marcélite, it must have cost so much!"
"Eh bien, it's all paid for. What have you
got to do with that? All you have got to do is
to put it on and wear it. Oh, mon bébé! ma petite
chérie!" - what tones of love her rich voice
could carry, - "if it had cost thousands and
thousands of dollars it would not be too fine for
you, nor too pretty."
"But, Marcélite, I will be ashamed to wear it;
it is too beautiful."
But the eyes sparkled joyfully, and the lips
trembled with delightful anticipations.
"Here's the body! You see those bows? That
was my taste. I said to myself, 'She must have
blue ribbon bows on the shoulder,' and I went
back and made Madame Treize put them on. Oh,
I know Madame Treize; and Madame Treize, she
"And the shoes, Marcélite?"
Hands and voice fell with utter disgust.
"Now you see, Mamzelle, you always do that.
Question, question, question, all the time. Why did n't
you wait? Now you have spoiled it all, - all the surprise!"
"Pardon, Marcélite, I did not mean; but I was afraid
you had forgotten - "
"Oh, mon bébé! when did Marcélite ever forget
anything you wanted?"
Marie blushed with shame at a self-accusation of
"Ma bonne Marcélite! I am so impatient, I
cannot help it."
A bundle of shoes was silently placed in her lap.
"White satin boots! Mar-cé-lite! White satin boots
for me? Oh, I can't believe it! And I expected black
leather! - how shall I ever thank my uncle for them;
and all this? How can I ever do it?"
The radiant expression faded away from the
nurse's face at these words.
"Oh, but I know it was your idea, Marcélite! My
good, kind, dear Marcélite! I know it was all your idea.
He never could have thought of all these beautiful
things, - a man!"
She put her arms around the bonne's neck and laid her
head on the broad, soft shoulder, as she used to do
when she was a little, little girl.
"Ah, Marcélite, my uncle can never be as kind to
me as you are. He gives me the money, but you -"
She felt the hands patting her back and the lips
pressed against her hair; but she could not see the
desperate, passionate, caressing eyes, "savoring" her
like the lips of an eager dog.
"Let us try them on," said Marcélite.
She knelt on the floor and stripped off one shoe and
stocking. When the white foot on its fragile ankle lay
in her dark palm, her passion broke out afresh. She
kissed it over and over again; she nestled it in her
bosom; she talked baby-talk to it in creole; she pulled
on the fine stocking as if every wrinkle were an
offense, and slackness an unpardonable crime. How
they both labored over the boot, - straining, pulling,
smoothing the satin, coaxing, urging, drawing the foot!
What patience on both sides! What precaution that
the glossy white should meet with no defilement!
Finally the button-holes
were caught over the buttons, and to all intents
and purposes a beautiful, symmetrical, solidified
satin foot lay before them.
It might have been a question, but it sounded
more like the laying of a doubt.
"Too tight! just look!"
The little toes made a vigorous demonstration
of contempt and denial.
"I can change them if they are."
"Do you want me to wear sabots like Jeanne?"
"They will stretch, anyhow."
Marcélite preferred yielding to her own rather
than to another's conviction, even when they both
The boots were taken off, rolled in tissue-paper
and put away in the armoire, which was
now opened to its fullest extent to receive the
Marie leaned against the pillow of the bed and
clasped her hands over her head. She listened
dreamily and contentedly to her praises thrown
off by Marcélite's fluent tongue. What would the
reality be, if the foretaste were so sweet?
"I wonder what he will say, Marcélite?"
"My uncle. Do you think he will be pleased?"
"What makes you so foolish, bébé?"
"But that's not foolish, Marcélite."
"Say, Marcélite, do you think he will be
"Satisfied with what?"
"Oh, you know, Marcélite, - satisfied with
The head was thrust too far into the armoire for
an immediate answer.
"How can I tell, Mamzelle?"
"Mamzelle! Mamzelle! Madame Marcélite!"
"Well then, bébé"
"Anyway, he will come to the concert - Hein,
"What is it, Zozo?"
"My uncle; he is coming to the concert, is n't
Marcélite shrugged her shoulders; her mouth
was filled with pins.
"Ma bonne! do not be so mean; tell me if he
is coming, and what he said."
"Poor gentleman! he is so old."
"Did he tell you that?"
Marie laughed; this was a standing joke
"But, my child, what do you want him to say?
You bother me so with your questions, I don't
know what I am doing."
"But, Marcélite, it is only natural for me to
want him to come to the concert and see me in
my pretty dress that he gave me."
"Well, when one is old and sick -"
"Sick! ah, you did not tell me that"
"But I tell it to you all the time!"
There is no better subject on which to exercise
crude eloquence than the delinquencies of
laundresses. A heinous infraction had been
committed against the integrity of one of Marie's
garments, and Marcélite threatened to consume
the rest of the day in expressions of disgust and
"So he is not coming to the concert?" the
girl demanded, excitedly.
"Ah! there's the bell; you had better run
quick before they send for you."
"No, I am excused until time to practice my
duet. Marcélite," - the voice lost its excited
tone and became pleading, humble, and timid, -
"Marcélite, do you think my uncle will like
"Mon Dieu! yes, yes, yes."
"Mais ne t'impatiente pas, ma bonne, I can't
help thinking about it. He has never seen me -
since I was a baby, I mean - and I don't
recollect him at all, at all. Oh, Marcélite! I have
tried so often, so often to recall him, and my
maman" - she spoke it as shyly as an infant
does the name of God in its first prayer. "If I
could only go just one little point farther back,
just that little bit" - she measured off a
demi-centimetre on her finger - "but impossible.
Maybe it will all come back to me when I see
him, and the house, and the furniture. Perhaps
if I had been allowed to see it only once
twice, I might be able to remember something,
It is hard, Marcélite, it is very hard not even
be able to recollect a mother. To-morrow evening!"
- she gave a long, long sigh, - "only
to-morrow evening more!"
The depravity of the washerwoman must
have got beyond even Marcélite's powers of
description, for she had stopped talking, but
held her head inside the shelf.
"One reason I want him to come to the
concert is to take me home with him. In the
first place, Madame wouldn't let me go unless
he came for me; and - and I want the girls to
see him; they have teased me so much about
him. I believe, Marcélite, that if my graduating
were put off one day longer, or if my uncle did
not come for me to-morrow evening, I would
die. How foolish! Just think of all these years
I have been here, summer after summer, the
only boarder left during vacation! I did n't
seem to mind it then, but now it's all different;
everything has become so different this
The tears had been gathering in her eyes for
some time, and she had been smearing them
with her finger off the side of her face to escape
Marcélite's notice; but now they came too fast
for that, so she was forced to turn over and hide
her face flat in the pillow.
"Crying, mon bébé? What is the matter with
you - oh, oh! - you do not feel well! something
you do not like about your toilette, hein?
Tell Marcélite, chérie; tell your bonne. There!
Sobs were added to tears, until she seemed in
conflict with a tornado of grief. She pressed
her head tighter and tighter against the pillow
to stifle the noise, but her narrow high shoulders
shook convulsively, and her feet twisted
and turned, one over the other, in uncontrollable
agitation. Marcélite stood by her side,
a look of keen torture on her emotional face.
If the child had only been larger, or stronger!
she did not writhe so helplessly before her! If
she had fought less bravely against the reading
sobs! Ah! and if the shrouded form of a dead
mother had not intervened with outstretch
arms and reproachful eyes fixed upon
Marcélite. She could hold out no longer, but fell
on her knees by the bed, and clasped her arms
around the little one to hold her quiet. With
her face on the pillow, and her lips close to the
red, burning ear, she whispered the soothing
tendernesses of a maternal heart. There was
a balsam which never failed: a story she had
often told, but which repetition had only made
more difficult, more hesitating; to-day the
words fell like lead, - about the father Marie
had never seen, the mother she had never
known, the home-shelter of her baby years,
beyond even her imagination, and the guardian
uncle, the question of whose coming to the
concert had so excited her.
"Is Marie Modeste here?" asked a little
voice through a far-off door.
Marie started. "Yes" Her voice was rough,
weak, and trembling.
"They want you for the 'Cheval de Bronze.' "
She sat up and let the nurse smooth her hair
and bathe her face, keeping her lips tightly
shut over the ebbing sobs.
"Thank you, Marcélite. Thank you for
everything - for my beautiful dress, and my
shoes; and thank my uncle too, and try and
persuade him to come to-morrow evening,
won't you, Marcélite? Do not tell him about
my crying, though. Oh, I want to go home so
much, and to see him! You know if you want
you can get him to come. Won't you promise
me, ma bonne?"
" You know I would kill myself for you, mon
The good little Paula was waiting outside the
door. Uncontrollable tears are too common in
a girls' school to attract attention. They were
crises which, though not to be explained, even
the smallest girl understood intuitively, and for
which were tacitly employed convenient
"The concours was very difficult, chère?"
"Yes, very difficult."
"And Monsieur Mignot is so trying. I think
he gets more exigeant every day."
And they kissed each other sympathetically
on the stairway.
"Grand Dieu Seigneur!" groaned Marcélite,
when Marie had left the room, holding her
head with both hands. "What am I going to
do now! I believe I am turning fool!"
Life was changing from a brilliant path in
white muslin dresses to a hideous dilemma;
and for once she did not know what to do. A
travail seemed going on in her brain; her natural
strength and audacity had completely oozed
away from her. She began a vehement monologue
in creole, reiterating assertions and explanations,
stopping short always at one point.
"My God! I never thought of that."
She looked towards the ceiling with violent
reproaches to the bon Dieu, doux Jésus, and
Sainte-Vierge. Why had they left her alone to
manage this? They knew she was a "nigger,
nigger, nigger" trying to humiliate and insult
herself. Why had n't they done something?
Why could n't they do something now? And
all she had done for them, and that ungrateful
patron saint, the recipient of so much attention,
so many favors! She never had asked them
anything for herself, thank God! Marcélite
could always manage her own affairs without
the assistance of any one. But her bébé, for
whom she had distinctly prayed and burned
candles, and confessed and communed, and
worked, and toiled, and kept straight! She
clasped her flesh in her sharp, long nails, and
the pain did her good. She could have dashed
her head against the wall. She would gladly
have stripped her shoulders to the lash, if - if it
would do any good. She would kill herself, for
the matter of that, but what would that prevent
or remedy? The church was not far off,
perhaps a miracle! But what miracle can avert the
inevitable? She shoved her empty basket under
the bed and went out upon the covered gallery
that spanned the garden and led to Madame
The quadrangle lay half overspread now by
shadow. The gay insouciante flowers moved
gently in an incipient breeze, the umbrella top
of the little summer-house warded the rays from
the benches beneath, and kept them cool and
pleasant. Her own face was not more familiar,
more matter-of-fact to Marcélite, and yet she
saw in the yard things she had never remarked
before. There was a different expression to it
all. Flowers, summer-house, even the gray
flags, depressed her and made her sad; as if
they, or she, were going to die soon. She caught
the balustrade in her hand, but it was not vertigo.
What was it, then, that made her feel so unnatural
and everything so portentous? This morning
life was so comfortable and small, everything
just under her hand. She was mistress of every
day, and night was the truce, if not the end of all
trouble. But to-day had united itself to past
and future in such a way that night was but a
transparent veil that separated but could not
isolate them one from the other. Time was in
revolt against her; her own powers betrayed
her; flight was impossible, resistance useless,
death, even, futile.
What was the matter with her head, anyhow?
She must be voudoued. If she could
feel as she did this morning! The slatternly
Jeanne shuffled underneath on her way to
the bell, an augur of ill-omen. She would go
and see Madame Lareveillère.
Madame as she was commonly called sat at
her secrétaire writing. Her pen, fine pointed as
a cambric needle, scratched under her fingers as
if it worked on steel instead of paper. She was
very busy, transferring the names from a list
before her into the gilt-edged prize-books piled
up in glowing heaps all around her. A strict
observer would have noticed many inaccuracies
which would have invalidated any claim to
correctness on the part of her copy. There were
not only liberties taken with the prize itself, but
entire names were involved in transactions which
the original list by no means warranted. These
inaccuracies always occurred after consultation
of another list kept in Madame's little drawer,
- a list whose columns carried decimals
instead of good and bad marks for lessons. A
single ray of light, filtered through various
intermedial shades and curtains, had been
manoeuvred so as to fall on the small desk at a safe
distance from Madame's sensitive complexion.
At difficult calculations, she would screw up her
eyes and peer at both lists brought into the
focus of illumination, then would sink back into
obscurity for advisory reflection.
There are so many calculations to be made,
so many fine distinctions drawn, in a distribution
of prizes! No one but a schoolmistress knows
the mental effort requisite for the working out
of an equation which sets good and bad scholars
against good and bad pay. Why could not the
rich girls study more, or the poor less? Oh,
the simple beauty of strict, injudicious
impartiality! Cursed be the inventor or originator
of these annual rehearsals, where every one was
rewarded except the rewarder!
On occasions like these any interruption is a
deliverance; Madame heard with glad alacrity a
knock at the door.
"Ah! c'est toi, Marcélite!"
Marcélite represented another matter of yearly
consideration, another question of paramount
importance, a suspensive judgment, involving,
however, Madame alone. With the assistance of
the hairdresser, many years ago (the date is not
essential, and women are sensitive about such
things), the principal of the Institut St. Denis
had engaged in one of those struggles against
Time to which pretty unmarried women seem
pledged during a certain period, the fighting age,
of their lives: It was purely a defensive struggle
on her part, and consisted in a protest against
that uglifying process by which women are
coaxed into resignation to old age and death.
So far, she had maintained her own perfectly;
and Time, for all the progress he had made in
the sweet, delicate face of Eugénie Lareveillère,
might just as well have been tied for ten years
past to one of the four posts of the bedstead.
The musical concert and distribution of prizes
and its consequent indispensable new toilette
furnished an excellent date for an annual review
and consultation, when old measures were
discussed, new ones adopted, and the next
campaign planned. Madame, however, did not feel
this year the same buoyant courage, the same
irrepressible audacity as heretofore. In fact,
there was a vague suspicion in her breast,
hitherto unacknowledged, that in spite of facial
evidence she herself, dans son intérieur, was
beginning to grow the least, little, tiny bit old.
She felt like capitulating with the enemy, and
had almost made up her mind to surrender -
her hair. "L'incertitude est le pire des maux,
jusqu'au moment où la réalité nous fait regretter
l'incertitude." Should the conditions be proven
too hard for mortal beauty, she could at least
revolt again. Thank heaven! over there in Paris
worked devoted emissaries for women, and the
last word had not yet been said by the artists of
hair-dyes and cosmetics.
"Eh, bien, qu'en dis-tu, Marcélite?"
The artistically arranged head, with its curls
and puffs and frisettes clustered like brown
silken flowers above the fair skin, was directly
in the line of Marcélite's vision. Who would
have suspected that these were but transplanted
exotics from the hot head of foreign youth? that
under their adorning luxuriance lay, fastened by
inflexible hairpins, the legitimate but deposed
possessors of this crown? But they were old,
gray, almost white, and Madame was suggesting
for them a temporary and empirical resurrection.
That head which daily for years she
had moulded according to her comprehension
of fashion; that inert little ball for which Marcélite,
in her superb physical strength, had almost
felt a contempt, - she looked at it now, and,
like the flowers in the garden, it was changed
to her, was pregnant with subtle, portentous
meaning. She was beginning faintly to suspect
the truth. All this buzzing, whirling, thought,
fear, calculation, retrospection, and prevision,
which had come into her great, big, strong head
only an hour ago, had been going on in this
little, fragile, delicate handful of skull for years,
ever since it was born. She saw it now, she
knew it, - the difference between Madame's head
and hers, between a consciousness limited by
eternity and one limited by a nightly sleep, between
an intelligence looking into immortality
and one looking into the eyes of a confessor.
The room would have been quite dark but
for that one useful ray which, after enlightening
the path of distributive justice for Madame, fell
on and was absorbed by a picture opposite.
Out of the obscurity arose one by one the features
of the bedchamber, - he supreme model of
bedchambers in the opinion of the impressionable
loyalists of St. Denis; a bedchamber, the
luxury of which could never be surpassed, the
mysterious solemnity never equalled; a
bedchamber, in fact, created to satisfy the majestic
coquettishness of the autocratic superior of an
aristocratic school for girls.
Indistinct, undefined, vague fragments of color
struggled up through the floor of sombre carpet.
The windows, made to exclude the light, were
draped with mantles of lace and silk hanging from
gigantic, massive, convoluted gilt cornices. The
grand four-posted mahogany bedstead, with its
rigging of mosquito-netting and cords and tassels,
looked like some huge vessel that by accident
had lodged in this small harbor. So stupendous,
so immeasurable, so gloomily, grandly,
majestically imposing, this dark, crimson-housed
bedstead looked in the small, dimly-lighted
room, that little girls sent on occasional
messages to Madame felt a tremor of awe at the
sight of it, and understood instinctively, without
need of explanation or elucidation, that here,
indeed, was one of those lits de justice which
caused such dismay in the pages of their French
history. The bureau with its laces and ribbons,
its cushions, essence-bottles, jewel-cases, vide-poches,
and little galleried étagères full of gay
reflections for the mirror underneath, was as
coquettish, as volatile, as petulant an article of
furniture as was ever condemned to bedchamber
companionship with a lit de justice.
The prie-dieu in front of the altar granted the
occupant an encouraging view into all the visible
appliances for stimulating faith in the things
not seen. The willing heart, as by an ascending
scale, rose insensibly from the humanity to the
divinity of sacrifice and suffering: reliquaries,
triply consecrated beads, palms, and crucifixes,
pictures of sainted martyrs and martyresses
who contradicted the fallacious coincidence of
homeliness and virtue, statuettes, prayer-books,
pendent flasks of holy water, and an ecclesiastical
flask of still holier liquid, impregnated with
miraculous promises. A taper, in a red globe,
burned with subdued effulgence below it all.
Ghastly white and black bead wreaths, hanging
under faded miniatures, set the bounds of mural
consecration, and kept Madame mournfully
reminded of her deceased husband and mother.
Marcélite stood, like a threatening idol, in the
centre of the room, her eyes glaring through
the gloom with fierce doggedness. Her feet
were planted firmly apart, her hands doubled
up on her high round, massive hips. The cords
of her short, thick neck stood out, and her
broad, flexible nostrils rose and fell with passion.
Her untamed African blood was in rebellion
against the religion and civilization whose
symbols were all about her in that dim and
stately chamber, - a civilization which had tampered
pored with her brain, had enervated her will,
and had duped her with false assurances of her
She felt a crushing desire to tear down, split
destroy, to surround herself with ruins, to annihilate
the miserable little weak devices of intelligence
and reassert the proud supremacy of
brute force. She longed to humiliate that meek
Virgin Mother; and if the form on the crucifix
had been alive she would have gloated over his
blood and agony. She thirsted to get her thin,
taper, steel-like fingers but once more on that
pretty, shapely, glossy head.
"Pauvre petite chatte! I shall miss her very
much; you know, Marcélite, it seems only a
year or two since you brought her here a little
baby, and now she is a young lady of seventeen.
Thirteen years ago! What a chétive little
thing she was! You were as much of a scholar
here then as she; you had to stay with her so
much. You have been a faithful nurse to her,
ma bonne femme. A mother could not have
been more devoted, and very few would have
done all you have for that child. Ah! that's
a thing money can never pay for, - love. I
hope Marie will always remember what you
have been to her, and repay it with affection.
But she will; she is a good girl, - a good,
good girl, pauvre petite! It is Monsieur Motte,
though, who should give you a handsome
present, something really valuable. I would like to
know what he would have done for a bonne
for his niece without you. You remember that
summer when she had the fever? Oh, well, she
would have died but for you; I shall never
forget her sad little face and her big black
eyes. You know, her mother must see all that;
I can never believe, Marcélite, that a mother
cannot come back, sometimes, to see her
children, particularly a little girl -"
Marcélite listened with head averted. Her
hands had fallen from her hips, her mouth
slowly relaxed, and the lips opened moist and
red. As if drawn by strains of music, she came
nearer and nearer Madame's chair.
"She was always such a quiet little thing, ma
foi!" Madame's reminiscence was an endless
chain. "I used to forget her entirely; but now
she is going away, I know I shall miss her, yes
very much. I hope the world will be kind to
her. She will be handsome, too, some day,
when she does not have to study so hard, and
can enjoy the diversions of society a little. By
the time she is twenty you will see she will be
une belle femme. Ah, Monsieur Motte, you will
be satisfied, allez!"
The little pen commenced scratching away
again, and this time registered the deed of prize
of French history to l'élève, Marie Modeste
Marcélite, with wistful eyes, listened for some
more of the soft, sweet tones. She made the
movement of swallowing two or three times to
get the swelling and stiffness out of her throat.
"Mamzelle Marie, too, she will be sorry to
leave Madame." Her voice was thick and
"Oh no, girls are always glad to quit school.
Very naturally, too. When one is young, one
does not like to stay indoors and study, when
there is so much outside, - dancing, music,
beaux." A sigh interrupted Madame. "It is
all past for me now, but I can recollect how
I felt when I was seventeen. Apropos, Marcélite,
did you give my invitation to Monsieur
The answer came after an interval of
hesitation. At one moment Marcélite's eyes flashed
as if she would brave all results and refuse to
"And what did he say?"
"He - he sent his compliments to Madame."
Madame looked around to see what the
good-natured coiffeuse meant by such sullen tones.
"Yes; but did he say he would come to
the concert? I wanted particularly to know
"He is so old, Madame."
"Là, là, the same old excuse! I am so
tired of it."
"But when one is old, Madame."
"Ah, bah! I do not believe he is too old for
his own pleasure. I know men; old age is
very convenient excuse at times."
Marcélite appeared to have no reply at the
end of her ready tongue.
"But this time he must come, par exemple!
even if he is so old. I think he might subject
himself to some little inconvenience and trouble
to see his niece graduate. He has not put him
self out much about her for twelve or thirteen
"God knows! Madame."
"God knows? Mais, Marcélite, how silly you
talk! Don't you see that Monsieur Motte must
come to-morrow night, at least to take Marie
home? God does know, and so should he."
Marcélite spoke as if galvanized by an inspiration.
"Perhaps he wants Miss Marie to stay
another year, Madame, you see, she is so
young, and - and - there is so much to learn,
"He wants that, does he? he wants that! Ah,
l'égoïste! That is like a man; oh, I know them,
like a b c. No, if Marie is not too young to
graduate, she is not too young to leave school;
and besides, if she had not learned everything,
how could she graduate? There is an end to
learning, enfin. You tell Monsieur Motte that.
But no, tiens, it is better I shall write it."
She seized some note-paper and put her message
in writing with the customary epistolary
embellishment of phrase at the expense of sincerity
"I hope he will be kind to her, and look out
for a good parti for her. Of course she will
have a dot, - his only relative. Did you not tell
me she was his only relative, Marcélite? He
has absolutely no one else besides her?"
"Well, then, she will get it all when he dies,
unless" - with a shrug - "I do not know; one
is never sure about men."
Madame bethought herself of the time, and
looked at her watch just as Marcélite, by a sudden
resolution, made a desperate movement
"Nearly three o'clock! I must go and make
my tour. Au revoir, ma bonne. Be sure and
give Monsieur Motte my note, and come early
to-morrow morning; and do not forget to think
about what I told you, you know." She tapped
her head significantly and left the room. On
the short passage to the Salle des Classes she
put off her natural manner, and assumed the
conventional disguise supposed to be more fitting
her high position. When the door opened
and the little girls started up to drop their courtesies,
and their "Je vous salue, Madame," her
stately tread and severe mien could hardly have
been distinguished from those of her predecessor,
the aristocratic old refugée from the Island
of St. Domingo.
After dinner, when the shadow had entirely
enveloped the yard, and the fragrance of the
oleander and jasmine had fastened itself on
the air, the girls were allowed their evening
recreation. Relieved from the more or less
restraining presence of the day scholars, the
boarders promenaded in the cordial intimacy of
home life. The laughter of the children in the
street, the music of the organs there seemed
to be one at each corner, the gay jingle of the
ice-cream cart came over talc wall to them.
Tomorrow there would be no wall between them
and the world, - the great, gay, big world of New
Orleans. The thought was too exhilarating for
their fresh blood; they danced to the music and
laughed to the laughter outside, they kissed their
hands to invisible friends, and made réverénces
and complimentary speeches to the crescent
moon up in the blue sky. The future would
soon be here now! only to-morrow evening, -
the future, which held for them a début in society,
a box at the opera, beautiful toilettes, balls,
dancing, music. No more study, routine,
examinations, scoldings, punishments, and
bread-and-butter lunches. The very idea of it was
intoxicating, and each girl felt guilty of a maudlin
effusion of sentiment and nonsense to her
best friend. A "best friend" is an institution
in every girls' school. Every class-book when
opened would direct you to a certain page on
which was to be found the name of "celle que
j'aime," or "celle que j'adore," or "mon amie
chérie," or "ma toute devouée." The only
source of scandal that flourished in their
secluded circle was the formation or disrupting
of these ties through the intermeddling
officiousness of "rapporteuses" and "mauvaises
langues." But the approaching dissolution of
all ties drew them together, each one to each
one's best friend, and, as usual, the vows
exchanged became more fervent and passionate
just before breaking. Marcélite was outside,
leaning against the wall. Close over her head
hung the pink oleanders through their green
leaves, and on their strong perfume was wafted
the merry voices of the boarders. How glad,
how happy they were! She could hear her
bébé above the others, and, strange to say, her
laughter made her sadder even than her tears
to-day. She lifted up her black, passionate face.
If she could only see them! if she could look
over the wall and catch one more glimpse of the
girl whom as a baby she had held to her bosom,
and whom she had carried in her arms through
that gate when. . . "Ah, mon Dieu, ayez pitié
de moi, pauvre négresse!"
"Dansez, chantez,", they were singing and
making a ronde. She heard some one at the gate,
- Jeanne, probably, coming out. She turned
her back quickly and walked away around the
corner, making the tour of the square. When
she turned the corner coming the other way,
she was quite out of breath with walking so
fast; as there was no one in the street, she
increased her pace to a run, and reached the
oleanders panting; but all was now still inside;
the boarders had been summoned to supper.
She stretched her arms out and leaned her head
against the rough bricks. She turned and looked
at the sky; her eyes gleamed through her tears
like the hot stars through the blue air. She
moved away a few steps, hesitated, returned;
then went again, only to be drawn back under
the oleanders. She sat down close to the wall,
threw her apron over her head, and drew her
feet up out of the way of the passers-by.
Daylight found her still there. When the
early carts began to pass, laden for the
neighboring market, she rose stiff and sore and
walked in the direction of the river, where the
morning breeze was just beginning to ripple
the waters and drive away the fog.
The great day of the concert began very
early. Fête days always get up before the
sun. The boarders in the dormitory raised
their heads from their pillows and listened to
the pushing and dragging going on underneath
them: the men arranging the chairs for that
night. Their heads, done up in white paper
papillotes, looked like so many blanched
porcupines. This was one of the first of those
innumerable degrees of preparation by which
they expected to transform themselves into
houris of loveliness by concert-time. As there
can be no beauty without curls, in a schoolgirl's
opinion, and as a woman's first duty is
to be beautiful, they felt called upon to roll
lock after lock of their hair around white paper,
which was then twisted to the utmost limit of
endurance; and on occasions when tightness
of curl is regulated by tightness of twist,
endurance may safely be said to have no limits.
Fear of the unavoidable ensuing disappointment
forced Marie to renounce, reluctantly, beauty in
favor of discretion. When her companions saw
the omission, they screamed in dismay.
"Ah! Why did n't you put your hair up?"
"What a pity!"
"And you won't have curls for this evening?"
"Do it now!"
"Mais je t'assure, it will curl almost as tight."
"Let me do it for you, chère."
"But it is better to have it a little frisé, than
Marie, from practice accomplished in excuses,
persisted that she had a migraine.
"Oh, la migraine, poor thing!"
"I implore you, don't be ill to-night."
"Try my eau de Cologne."
"No, my eau sédative is better."
"Put this on your head."
"Tie this around your neck."
"Carry this in your pocket."
"Some water from Notre Dame de Lourdes."
Madame Lareveillère opened her eyes that
morning as from an unsuccessful experiment.
She cared little about sleep as a restorative,
but it was invaluable to her in this emergency
as a cosmetic.
Jeanne brought in her morning cup of coffee,
with the news that the men had almost finished
in the Salle de Concert.
"C'est bon; tell Marcélite to come as soon
as she is ready."
The eyes closed again on the pillow in
expectation of speedy interruption. But sleep,
the coquette, courted and coaxed in vain all
night, came now with blandishment, lullaby,
and soft caress, and fastened the already heavy
lids down over the brown eyes, and carried
the occupant of the big bed away out on pretty
dreams of youth and pleasure; away, beyond
all distractions, noises, interruptions; beyond
the reach of matutinal habits, duties, engagements,
rehearsals, prizes; beyond even the
practicing of the "Cheval de Bronze" on four
pianos just underneath her. She slept as people
sleep only on the field of battle or amid
the ruins of broken promises; and thanks to
her exalted position, she slept undisturbed.
"Mais, come in donc, Marcélite!" she
exclaimed, as a perseverant knocking at the door
for the past five minutes had the effect of
balancing her in a state of uncertain wakefulness.
"You are a little early this morning,
She rubbed her hands very softly over her
still-closed eyes; that last dream was so sweet,
so clinging, what a pity to open them!
"It is not Marcélite; it is I, - Madame
"You! Madame Joubert!"
The excellent, punctilious, cold, austere,
inflexible French teacher by her bedside!
"I thought it was Marcélite."
She still was hardly awake.
"No, it is I."
"But what is the matter, Madame Joubert?"
"It is twelve o'clock, Madame."
"Twelve o'clock! Impossible!"
"You hear it ringing, Madame."
"But where is Marcélite?"
"Marcélite did not come this morning."
"Marcélite did not come this morning!"
She was again going to say "Impossible!" but
she perceived Madame Joubert's head, and was
Instead of her characteristic, formal, but
conventionally fashionable coiffure, Madame
Joubert had returned to, or assumed, that most
primitive and innocent way of combing her
hair, called la sauvagesse. Unrelieved by the
soft perspective of Marcélite's handiwork,
her plain, prominent features stood out with
the savage boldness of rocks on a shrubless
beach. "How frightfully ugly!" thought
"Marcélite did not come this morning?
"How should I know, Madame?"
"She must be ill; send Jeanne to see."
"I did that, Madame, five hours ago; she was
not in her room."
"But what can have become of her?"
Madame Joubert had early in life eliminated
the consideration of supposititious cases from
the catalogue of her salaried duties; but she
answered gratuitously, -
"I cannot imagine, Madame."
"But I must have some one to comb my
"The music-teacher is waiting for you. The
French professor says he will be here again in
a half-hour; he has been here twice already.
Madame Criard says that it is indispensable for
her to consult you about the choruses."
"Mais, mon Dieu! Madame Joubert, I must
have a hairdresser!"
Madame Joubert waived all participation in
this responsibility by continuing her
"The girls are all very tired; they say they
will be worn out by to-night if they are kept
much longer. They have been up ever since
"I know, I know, Madame Joubert; it was an
accident. I also was awake at six o'clock. J'ai
fait la nuit blanche. Then I fell asleep again.
Ah! that miserable Marcélite! I beg of you,
tell Jeanne to go for some one, no matter
whom - Henriette, Julie, Artémise. I shall be
ready in a moment."
In a surprisingly short while she was quite
ready, all but her hair, and stood in her white
muslin peignoir, tied with blue ribbons, before
her toilette, waiting impatiently for some one
to come to her assistance.
How terrible it is not to be able to comb one's
own hair! Her hands had grown completely
unaccustomed to the exercise of the comb and
"Madame," said Jeanne at the door, "I have
been everywhere. I cannot find a hairdresser at
home; I have left word at several places, and
Madame Joubert says they are waiting for
What could she do? She looked in the glass
at her gray, spare locks; she looked on her
toilette at her beautiful brown curls and plaits.
"How in the world did Marcélite manage to
secure all that on this?"
There was a knock at the door.
"Perhaps that was a hairdresser!" She
hastened to unfasten it.
"Madame," said a little girl, trying to speak
distinctly, despite a nervous shortness of breath,
"Madame Joubert sent me to tell you they
"Very well, mon enfant, very well. I am
"I shall be a greater fright than Madame
Joubert," she murmured to herself.
The drops of perspiration disfiguring the clear
tissue of the muslin peignoir were the only visible
results of her conscientious efforts.
"I will never be able to fix my hair."
There was another knock at the door, another
"Madame Joubert, vous fait dire," etc.
"Tell Madame Joubert I am coming in a
How impatient Madame Joubert was this
morning. Oh for Marcélite!
She knew nothing about hair, that was evident;
but she remembered that she knew something
about lace. Under the pressure of accelerating
summonses from Madame Joubert, she fashioned
a fichu, left on a chair from last night, into a
very presentable substitute for curls and puffs.
"Mais ce n'est pas mal, en effet," she
muttered. Hearing the sound of footsteps again
in the corridor, she rushed from the mirror and
met the messenger just as her hand was poised
to give a knock at the door. The "Sa. . .
lu. . . t! mois de va. . . can. . . ces!" and
the "Vi. . . er. . . ge, Ma. . . ri. . . e" had
been chorused and re-chorused; the "Cheval
de Bronze" had been hammered into durable
perfection; the solos and duos, dialogues and
scenes, the salutatory and valedictory had been
rehearsed ad nauseam.
Madame finally dismissed the tired actors,
with the recommendation to collect all their
petites affaires, so that their trunks could be
sent away very early the next morning.
"I suppose Marcélite will be sure to come
this evening?" she asked Madame Joubert.
"Oh, that is sure, Madame," Madame Joubert,
replied, as if this were one of the few rules of life
without exceptions; and Madame Lareveillère
believed her as confidently as if Noël and
Chapsal had passed upon her answer, and the
Dictionnaire de l'Académie had indorsed it.
The girls scattered themselves all over the
school, effacing with cheerful industry every
trace of their passage through the desert of
education. "Dieu merci! that was all past" Marie
had emptied her desk of everything belonging
to her except her name, dug out of the black
lid with a dull knife. That had to remain, with
a good many other Marie Modeste Mottes on
the different desks that had harbored her books
during her sojourn in the various classes. This
was all that would be left of her in the rooms
where she had passed thirteen years of her life.
The vacant teacher's desk, the throne of so
many tyrants (the English teachers were all
hateful!); the white walls with their ugly
protecting dado of black; the rows of pegs, where
the hats and cloaks hung; the white marble
mantel, with its carving of naked cherubs, which
the stove had discreetly clothed in soot, - she
could never forget them. Sitting in her future
home, the house of her uncle, she knew that
these homely objects would come to her
memory, as through sunset clouds of rose and
"What will you do when you quit school,
Marie?" her companions would ask, after
detailing with ostentatious prolixity their own
"Ah, you know that depends entirely upon
my uncle," she would reply, shrugging her thin
shoulders under her calico waist.
This rich old uncle, an obstinate recluse, was
the traditional le vieux of the school.
"How is le vieux to-day?" they would call
"Give my love to le vieux."
"Dis donc, why does n't le vieux take Marie
away in the summer?"
"Did you see the beautiful étrennes le vieux
has sent Marie?"
"They say he has sent her a superb toilette
for the exhibition, made at Madame Treize's,
and white satin boots."
Her trunk had been brought down with
the others, and placed at her bedside. What
more credible witness than a coffin or a trunk?
It stood there as it might have stood thirteen
years ago, when her baby wardrobe was
unpacked. Her dear, ugly, little, old trunk! It
had belonged to her mother, and bore three
faded M's on its leather skin. She leaned her
head against the top as she knelt on the floor
before it to pack her books. How much that
trunk could tell her if it could only speak! If
she were as old as that trunk, she would have
known a father, a mother, and a home! She
wrinkled her forehead in a concentrated effort
to think a little farther back; to push her
memory just a little, - a little beyond that mist out
of which it arose. In vain! The big bell at the
gate, with its clanging orders, remained the
boundary of consciousness.
And Marcélite did not come, not even when
the lamps were lighted, to comb their hair,
fasten their dresses, and tie their sashes; did
not even come at the very end to see how their
toilettes became them. The young ladies had
waited until the last moment, dressed to the last
pin, taken their hair out of the last papillote,
and then looked at one another in despair,
indignation, and grief.
"Just look at my head, I ask you!"
"But mine is worse than yours."
"I shall never be able to do anything with
"The more I brush, the more like a nègre I
"Ah, Marie, how wise you were not to put
your hair in papillotes!"
"And all that trouble for nothing, hein!"
"And the pain."
"I did n't sleep a wink last night."
"See how nice Marie looks with her hair
"I will never forgive Marcélite."
Marie's heart sank when she thought how
difficult it would be for Marcélite to efface this
disappointment from the remembrance of her
clients; and she felt guilty, as being in a
measure responsible for it all. Marcélite was
evidently detained, or prevented from
coming, by preparations for Marie's return. Who
knows? - perhaps the eccentric old uncle had
something to do with it! Madame Joubert
positively refused to mitigate the injury or condone
the offense by the employment of another
hairdresser. As she had commenced, so she closed
the day à la sauvagesse; and so she determined
to wear her hair to the end of her life, maintaining,
logically, that what one hairdresser had
done, all were liable to do; life should never
serve this disappointment to her a second time:
she would employ no more of them.
The being deserted in a critical moment by
a trusted servitor, dropped without warning by
a confidante, left with an indifference, which
amounted to heartlessness, to the prying eyes
and gossiping tongue of a stranger, - this, not
the mere trivial combing, was what isolated and
distinguished Madame Lareveillère in her
affliction. The question had been lifted beyond
material consequences. Morally, it approached
tragic seriousness. Marcélite would naturally
have suggested, whether she thought so or not,
that the color of the new gray moire-antique
was a trifle ingrate, and Madame at least might
have had the merit of declining propitiatory
compromises between it and her complexion.
. . . Julie was an idiot, there was no doubt
about that; and the length of her tongue was
notorious. By to-morrow evening the delicate
mysteries of the youthful-looking Madame
Lareveillère's toilette would be unveiled to
satisfy the sensational cravings of her malicious
The young ladies were placed on a high
platform of steps, and rose tier above tier like
flowers in a horticultural show, - the upper
classes at the top and the best-looking girls
well in the centre, as if the product of their
beauty as well as their study went to the credit
of the institute. When anything particular
arrested their attention they whispered behind
their fans, and it was as if a hive of bees had
been let loose; when they laughed it was like
a cascade rippling from step to step; when
they opened their white, blue, and rose-colored
fans school-girls always do the same thing at
the same time and fluttered them, then it was
like a cloud of butterflies hovering and coquetting
about their own lips.
The Externes were radiant in toilettes
unmarred by accident or omission; the flattering
compliments of their mirrors at home had
turned their heads in the direction of perfect
self-content. Resignation was the only equivalent
the unfortunate Internes could offer in
extenuation of the unfinished appearance of
"Mais, dis donc, chère, what is the matter
with your hair?"
"Marcélite did not come."
"Why, doudouce, how could you allow your
hair to be combed that way?"
"Marcélite did not come."
"Chérie, I think your hair is curled a little
tight this evening."
"I should think so; that diable Marcélite did
"Mon Dieu, look at Madame Joubert à la
"And Madame à la grand maman!"
"Marcélite did not come, you see."
Not only was the room filled, but an eager
audience crowded the yard and peeped in
through the windows. The stairways, of
course, wore filled with the colored servants,
an enthusiastic, irrepressible claque. When it
was all over, and the last bis and encore had
subsided, row after row of girls was gleaned by
the parents, proud possessors of such shawlfuls
of beauty, talent, and prizes. Marie's class, the
last to leave, were picked off one by one. She
helped the others to put on their wraps, gather
up their prizes, and kissed one after another
Each man that came up was, by a glance,
measured and compared with her imaginary
standard. "He is too young." "He is too
fat." "I hope he is not that cross-looking
one." "Maybe it is he." "What a funny
little one that is!" "Ah, he is very nice-looking!"
"Is it he?" "No, he is Corinne's
father." "I feel sure he is that ugly, disagreeable
one." "Ah, here he is at last! at last!"
"No; he only came to say good-night to
Madame." "He is afraid of the crowd." "He
is waiting outside." "He is at the gate in a
carriage." "After all, he has only sent
Marcélite." "I saw her here on the steps a while
ago." She looked at the steps, they were deserted.
There was but one person left in the
room besides herself; Madame and her suite had
gone to partake of their yearly exhibitional
refreshments, - lemonade and masse-pain, served
in the little parlor. Her uncle must be that
man. The person walked out after finding a
fan he had returned to seek.
She remained standing so by the piano a long
while, her gold crown on her head, her prizes
in her arms, and a light shawl she had thoughtfully
provided to wear home. Home! She
looked all around very slowly once more. She
heard Jeanne crossing the yard, but before the
servant could enter the door, the white muslin
dress, blue sash, and satin boots had bounded
into the darkness of the stairway. The white-veiled
beds which the night before had nestled
the gay papillotted heads were deserted and
silent in the darkness. What a shelter the darkness
was! She caught hold of the bedpost,
not thinking, but feeling. Then Madame Joubert
came tripping across the gallery with a
candle, on her way to bed. The prizes and
shawl dropped to the floor, and Marie crouched
down close behind the bar. "Oh, God," she
prayed, "keep her from seeing me!" The
teacher after a pause of reflection passed on to
her room; the child on the floor gave herself
up to the full grief of a disappointment which
was not childish in its bitterness. The events
of the evening kept slipping away from her
while the contents of her previous life were
poured out with never-ending detail, and as they
lay there, before and all around her, she saw
for the first time how bare, how denuded, of
pleasure and comfort it had been. What had
her weak little body not endured in patient
ignorance? But the others were not ignorant, -
the teachers, Marcélite, her uncle! How had
they imposed upon the orphan in their hands!
She saw it now, and she felt a woman's indignation
and pity over it. The maternal instinct in
her bosom was roused by the contemplation of
her own infancy. "Marcélite! Marcélite!" she
called out, "how could you? for you knew, you
knew it all!" The thought of a mother compelled
to leave her baby on such an earth, the
betrayal of the confidence of her own mother by
her uncle, drew the first tears from her eyes.
She leaned her head against the side of her bed
and wept, not for herself, but for all women and
all orphans. Her hand fell on the lace of her
dress, and she could not recall at first what it
was. She bounded up, and with eager, trembling
fingers tearing open the fastenings, she
threw the grotesque masquerade, boots and all,
far from her on the floor, and stood clasping her
naked arms over her panting breast; she had
forgotten the gilt wreath on her head. "If she
could die then and there! that would hurt her
uncle who cared so little for her, Marcélite who
had deserted her!" Living she had no one,
but dead, she felt she had a mother. Before
getting into bed, she mechanically fell on her
knees, and her lips repeated the formula of a
prayer, an uncorrected, rude tradition of her
baby days, belonging to the other side of her
memory. It consisted of one simple petition
for her own welfare, but the blessings of peace,
prosperity, and eternal salvation of her uncle
and Marcélite were insisted upon with pious
"I know I shall not sleep, I cannot sleep."
Even with the words she sank into the oblivion
of tired nature at seventeen years; an oblivion
which blotted out everything, - toilette, prizes
scattered on the floor, graduation, disappointment,
and discomfort from the gilt-paper crown
still encircling her black plaits.
"Has Marcélite come?" demanded Madame,
before she tasted her coffee.
"Not yet, Madame."
"I wonder what has become of her?"
Jeanne sniffed a volume of unspeakable
"Well, then, I will not have that sotte Julie;
tell her so when she comes. I would rather
"Will Madame take her breakfast alone, or
with Madame Joubert?"
The pleasure of vacation was tempered by
the companionship of Madame Joubert at her
daily meals, - a presence imposed by that stern
tyrant, common courtesy.
"Not to-day, Jeanne; tell Madame Joubert I
have la migraine. I shall eat breakfast alone."
"And Mamzelle Marie Modeste?"
"Yes, Madame; where must she take her
The Gasconne's eyes flamed suddenly from
under her red lashes and her voice ventured on
its normal loud tones in these sacred precincts.
"It's a shame of that negress! She ought to
be punished well for it, too, ha! Not to come
for that poor young lady last night; to leave
her in that big dormitory all by herself; and all
the other young ladies to go home and have
their pleasure, and she all by herself, just
because she is an orphan. You think she does n't
feel that, hein? If I had known it I would have
helped her undress, and stayed with her, too;
I would have slept on the floor, - delicate
little nervous thing like that; and a great big,
fat, lazy, good-for-nothing quadroon like Marcélite.
Mais c'est infâme! It is enough to give
her des crises. Oh, I would not have done that!
tenez, not to go back to France would I have
done that. And when I got up this morning,
and saw her sitting in the arbor, so pale, I was
frightened myself - I -"
"What is all this you are telling me? Jeanne,
Jeanne, go immediately; run, I tell you - run
and fetch that poor child here. Ah, mon Dieu!
egoist that I am to forget her! Pauvre petite
chatte! What must she think of me?"
She jumped out of bed, threw on a wrapper,
and waited at the door, peeping out.
"Ma fille; I did not know - Jeanne has just
The pale little figure made an effort to answer
with the old pride and indifference.
"It seems my uncle -"
"Mais qu'est-ce que c'est donc, mon enfant?
Do not cry so! What is one night more in your
old school? It is all my fault; the idea that I
should forget you, - leave you all alone while
we were enjoying our lemonade and masse-pain!
But why did you not come to me? Oh! oh! if
you cry so, I shall think you are sorry not to
leave me; besides, it will spoil your pretty
"If Marcélite had only come -"
"Ah, my dear! do not speak of her! do not
mention her name to me. We are quittes from
this day; you hear me? We are quittes. But
Marie, my child, you will make yourself ill if
you cry so. Really, you must try and compose
yourself. What is it that troubles you so?
Come here, come sit by me; let me confess you.
I shall play that I am your maman. There,
there, put your head here, my bébé, so. Oh, I
know how you feel. I have known what
disappointment was; but enfin, my child, that will all
pass; and one day, when you are old and
gray-headed like me, you will laugh well over it."
The tender words, the caresses, the enfolding
arms, the tears that she saw standing in the
august schoolmistress's eyes, the sympathetic
movement of the soft, warm bosom, - her idea
of a mother was not a vain imagining. This
was it; this was what she had longed for all
her life. And she did confess to her, - confessed
it all, from the first childish trouble to the last
disappointment. Oh, the delicious relief of
complete, entire confession to a sympathetic
The noble heart of Madame, which had frittered
itself away over puny distributions of prizes
and deceiving cosmetics, beat young, fresh, and
impulsive as in the days when the gray hairs
were chatains clair, and the cheeks bloomed
natural roses. Tears fell from her eyes on the
little black head lying so truthful, so confiding
on her bosom. Grand Dieu! and they had been
living thirteen years under the same roof, - the
poor, insignificant, abandoned, suffering little
Marie, and the gay, beautiful, rich, envied
Madame Lareveillère! This was their first
moment of confidence. Would God ever forgive
her? Could she ever forgive herself? How good
it feels to have a child in your arms! so. She
went to the stand by her bed and filled a small
gilded glass with eau des carmes and water.
"There, drink that, my child; it will compose
you. I must make my toilette; it is breakfast-time.
You see, ma fille, this is a lesson. You
must not expect too much of the men; they are
not like us. Oh, I know them well. They are
all égoïstes. They take a great deal of trouble
for you when you do not want it, if it suits them;
and then they refuse to raise their little finger for
you, though you get down on your knees to them.
Now, there's your uncle. You see he has sent
you to the best and most expensive school in the
city, and he has dressed you well, - oh, yes, very
well; look at your toilette last night! real lace;
I remarked it. Yet he would not come for you
and take you home, and spare you this
disappointment. I wrote him a note myself and sent
it by Marcélite."
"He is old, Madame," said Marie, loyally.
"Ah, bah! Plus les hommes sont vieux plus
ils sont méchants. Oh, I have done that so
often; I said, 'If you do not do this, I will not
do that.' And what was the result? They did
not do this, and I had tout simplement et bonnement
to do that. I write to Monsieur Motte,
'Your niece shall not leave the Pension until
you come for her;' he does not come, and I take
her to him. Voilà la politique féminine."
After breakfast, when they had dressed,
bonneted, and gloved themselves, Madame
"Ma foi! I do not even know where the
old Diogène lives. Do you remember the name
of the street, Marie?"
"No, Madame; somewhere in the Faubourg
"Ah, well! I must look for it here."
She went to the table and quickly turned
over the leaves of a ledger.
"Marie Modeste Motte, niece of Monsieur
Motte. Mais, tiens, there is no address!"
Marie looked with interest at her name
written in red ink.
"No; it is not there."
"Ah, que je suis bête. It is in the other one.
This one is only for the last ten years. There,
ma fille, get on a chair; can you reach that
one? No, not that, the other one. How warm
it is! You look it out for me!"
"I do not see any address here either,
"Impossible! There must be an address
there. True, nothing but Marie Modeste Motte,
niece of Monsieur Motte, just like the other
one. Now, you see, that's Marcélite again;
that's all her fault. It was her duty to give
that address thirteen years ago. In thirteen
years she has not had the time to do
They both sat down warm and vexed.
"I shall send Jeanne for her again!"
But Jeanne's zeal had anticipated orders.
"I have already been there, Madame; I beat
on her door, I beat on it as hard as I could, and
the neighbors opened their windows and said
they did n't think she had been there all
"Well, then, there is nothing for me to do but
send for Monsieur le Notaire! Here, Jeanne;
take this note to Monsieur Goupilleau."
All unmarried women, widows or maids,
if put to the torture, would reveal some secret,
unsuspected sources of advisory assistance, -
a subterranean passage for friendship which
sometimes offers a retreat into matrimony, -
and the last possible wrinkle, the last
resisting gray hair is added to other female burdens
at the death of this secret counsellor or
the closing up of the hidden passage. Therefore,
how dreadful it is for women to be condemned
to a life of such logical exactions where
a reason is demanded for everything even for
a statu quo affection of fifteen years or more.
Madame Lareveillère did not possess courage
enough to defy logic, but her imagination and
wit could seriously embarrass its conclusions.
The raison d'être of a Goupilleau in her life had
exercised both into athletic proportions.
"An old friend, ma mignonne; I look upon
him as a father, and he treats me just as if I
were his daughter. I go to him as to a confessor.
And a great institute like this requires
so much advice, - oh, so much! He is very
old, - as old as Monsieur Motte himself. We
might just as well take off our things; he will
not come before evening. You see, he is so
discreet, he would not come in the morning for
anything in the world. He is just exactly like
a father, I assure you, and very, very old."
The graduate and young lady of a day sat in
the rocking-chair, quiet, almost happy. She was
not in the home she had looked forward to;
but Madame's tenderness, the beautiful room
in its soothing twilight, and the patronizing
majesty of the lit de justice made this a very
pleasant abiding place in her journey, - the
journey so long and so difficult from school
to her real home, from girlhood to real young
ladyhood. It was nearly two days now since
she had seen Marcélite. How she longed for
her, and what a scolding she intended to give
her when she arrived at her uncle's, where, of
course, Marcélite was waiting for her. How
silly she had acted about the address! But,
after all, procrastination is so natural. As for
Madame, Marie smiled as she thought how
easily a reconciliation could be effected
between them, quittes though they were.
It is hard to wean young hearts from
hoping and planning; they will do it in the very
presence of the angel of death, and with their
shrouds in full view.
Monsieur Goupilleau came: a Frenchman of
small stature but large head. He had the eyes
of a poet and the smile of a woman.
The prelude of compliments, the tentative
flourish to determine in which key the ensuing
variation on their little romance should be
played, was omitted. Madame came brusquely
to the motif, not personal to either of them.
"Monsieur Goupilleau, I take pleasure in
presenting you to Mademoiselle Marie Motte,
one of our young lady graduates. Mon ami,
we are in the greatest trouble imaginable. Just
imagine, Monsieur Motte, the uncle of
mademoiselle could not come for her last night to
take her home. He is so old and infirm,"
added Madame, considerately; "so you see
mademoiselle could not leave last night: I want
to take her home myself - a great pleasure it
is, and not a trouble, I assure you, Marie - but
we do not know where he lives."
"Ah! you have not his address."
"No, it should be in the ledger; but an
accident, - in fact, the laziness of her bonne,
who never brought it, not once in thirteen
"Yes, her bonne Marcélite; you know Marcélite;
la coiffeuse; what, you do not know Marcélite,
that great, fat -"
"Does Marcélite know where he lives?"
"But of course, my friend, Marcélite knows,
she goes there every day."
"Well, send for Marcélite."
"Send for Marcélite! but I have sent for
Marcélite at least a dozen times! she is never
at her room. Marcélite! ha! my friend, I am
done with Marcélite. What do you think?
After combing my hair for fifteen years! -
fifteen years, I tell you - she did not come
yesterday at all, not once; and the concert at
night! You should have seen our heads last
night! we were frights - frights, I assure you!"
It was a poetical license, but the eyes of
Monsieur Goupilleau disclaimed any such
possibility for the head before him.
"Does not mademoiselle know the address
of her uncle?"
"Ah, that, no. Mademoiselle has been a
pensionnaire at the Institut St. Denis for thirteen
years, and she has never been anywhere
except to church; she has seen no one without
a chaperon; she has received no letter that has
not passed through Madame Joubert's hands.
Ah! for that I am particular, and it was
Monsieur Motte himself who requested it."
"Then you need a directory."
"But what is that, - a directory?"
"It's a volume, Madame, a book containing
the addresses of all the residents of the
"Quelle bonne idée! If I had only known
that! I shall buy one. Jeanne! Jeanne! run
quick, ma bonne, to Morel's and buy me a
"Pardon, Madame, I think it would be
quicker to send to Bâle's, the pharmacien at the
corner, and borrow one. Here, Jeanne, take
"A la bonne heure! now we shall find our
But the M's, which started so many names in
the directory, were perfectly innocent of any
combination applicable to an old uncle by the
name of Motte.
"You see, your directory is no better than
Monsieur Goupilleau looked mortified, and
shrugged his shoulders.
"He must live outside the city limits,
"Marcélite always said, 'in the Faubourg
d'en bas.' "
Jeanne interrupted stolidly: "Monsieur Bâle
told me to bring the book right back; it is
against his rules to lend it out of his store."
"Here, take it! take it! Tell him I am
infinitely obliged. It was of no use, any way.
Ah, les hommes!"
"Madame," began Monsieur Goupilleau in
A sudden noise outside, - apparently an
assault at the front door; a violent struggle in
"Grand Dieu! what can that be!"
Madame's lips opened for a shrill Au secours!
Voleurs! but seeing the notary rush to the
door, she held him fast with her two little white
hands on his arm.
"Mon ami, I implore you!"
The first recognition; the first expression of
a fifteen years' secret affection! The first thrill
(old as he was) of his first passion! But danger
called him outside; he unloosed the hands
and opened the door.
A heavy body propelled by Jeanne's strong
hands fell on the floor of the room, accompanied
by a shower of leaves from Monsieur
"Misérable! Infâme! Effrontée! Ah, I have
caught you! Scélérate!"
"Sneaking outside the gate! Like an animal!
like a thief! like a dog! Ha! I caught you
The powerful arms seemed ready again to
crush the unresisting form rising from the floor.
"Jeanne! hush! How dare you speak to
Marcélite like that? Oh, ma bonne, what is the
matter with you?"
Shaking, trembling, she cowered before them
"Ah! she did n't expect me, la fière négresse!
Just look at her!"
They did, in painful, questioning surprise.
Was this their own clean, neat, brave, honest,
handsome Marcélite, - this panting, tottering,
bedraggled wretch before them, threatening to
fall on the floor again, not daring to raise even
"Marcélite! Marcélite! who has done this to
you! Tell me, tell your bébé, Marcélite."
"Is she drunk?" whispered Madame to the
Her tignon had been dragged from her head.
Her calico dress, torn and defaced, showed her
skin in naked streaks. Her black woolly hair,
always so carefully packed away under her
head-kerchief, stood in grotesque masses around
her face, scratched and bleeding like her exposed
bosom. She jerked herself violently
away from Marie's clasp.
"Send them away! Send them away!" she
at last said to Monsieur Goupilleau, in a low,
unnatural voice. "I will talk to you, but send
them all away."
Madame and Marie immediately obeyed his
look; but outside the door Marie stopped firmly.
"Madame, Marcélite can have nothing to say
which I should not hear -"
"Hush -" Madame put her finger to her
lips; the door was still a little open and the
voices came to them.
Marcélite, from the corner of her bleared
eyes, watched them retire, and then with a great
heave of her naked chest she threw herself on
the floor at the notary's feet.
"Master! Oh master! Help me!"
All the suffering and pathos of a woman's
bears revere in the tones, all the weakness,
dependence, and abandonment in the words.
The notary started at the unexpected appeal.
His humanity, his manhood, his chivalry,
"Ma fille, speak; what can I do for you?"
He bent over her as she lay before him, and
put his thin, white, wrinkled hand on her shoulder,
where it had burst through her dress. His
low voice promised the willing devotion of a
"But don't tell my bébé, don't let her know.
My God! it will kill her! She's got no uncle -
no Monsieur Motte! It was all a lie. It was me,
- me a nigger, that sent her to school and
paid for her -"
"You! Marcélite! You!"
Marcélite jumped up and tried to escape from
the room. Monsieur Goupilleau quickly
advanced before her to the door.
"You fooled me! It was you fooled me!"
she screamed to Madame. "God will never
forgive you for that! My bébé has heard it all!"
Marie clung to her; Monsieur Goupilleau
caught her by the arm.
"Marcélite! It was you, - you who sent me
to school, who paid for me! And I have no
Marcélite looked at the notary, - a prayer for
help. The girl fell in a chair and hid her face
in her hands.
"Oh, my God! I knew it would kill her! I
knew it would! To be supported by a nigger!"
She knelt by the chair. "Speak to me,
Mamzelle Marie. Speak to me just once! Pardon
me, my little mistress! Pardon me! I did not
know what I was doing; I am only a fool
nigger, anyhow! I wanted you to go to the
finest school with ladies, and - and - oh! my
bébé won't speak to me; she won't even look
Marie raised her head, put both hands on
the nurse's shoulders, and looked her straight
in the eyes.
"And that also was all a lie about" - she sank
her trembling voice - "about my mother?"
"That a lie! That a lie! 'Fore God in
heaven, that was the truth; I swear it. I will
kiss the crucifix. What do you take me for,
Mamzelle Marie? Tell a lie about -"
Marie fell back in the chair with a despairing
"I cannot believe any of it."
"Monsieur! Madame! I swear to you it's
the truth! God in heaven knows it is. I wouldn't
lie about that, - about my poor dead young
mistress. Monsieur! Madame! tell Miss Marie
for me; can't you believe me?" She shrieked
in desperation to Monsieur Goupilleau.
He came to her unhesitatingly. "I believe
you, Marcélite." He put his hand again on her
shoulder; his voice faltered, "Poor Marcélite!"
"God bless you, master! God bless you for
that. Let me tell you; you believe me when
my bébé won't. My young mistress she died;
my young master, he had been killed in the war.
My young mistress was all alone by herself
with nobody but me, and I did n't take her
poor little baby out of her arms till she was
dead, as she told me. Mon bébé, mon bébé!
don't you know that's the truth? Can't you
feel that's the truth? You see that; she will
never speak to me again. I knew it; I told you
so. I heard her last night, in that big room,
all by herself, crying for Marcélite. Marcélite!
my God! I was afraid to go to her, and I was
just under a bed; you think that did n't 'most
kill me?" She hid her face in her arms, and
swayed her body back and forth.
"Marcélite," said Monsieur Goupilleau. The
voice of the champion trembled, and his eyes
glistened with tears at the distress he had pledged
himself to relieve. "Marcélite I believe you,
my poor woman; I believe you. Tell me the
name of the lady, the mother of Mademoiselle."
"Ha! her name! I am not ashamed to tell
her name before anybody. Her name! I will
tell you her name." She sprang to her feet.
"You ask anybody from the Paroisse St. Jacques
if they ever heard the name of Mamzelle Marie
Modeste Viel and Monsieur Alphonse Motte.
That was the name of her mother and her father,
and I am not ashamed of it that I should n't tell,
ha! Yes, and I am Marcélite Gaulois, and when
my the parish, who took me
and brought me up, and and made me sleep on the
foot of her bed, and fed me like her own baby,
hein? Mamzelle Marie Viel's mother, and
Mamzelle was the other baby; and she nursed us like
twins hein? You ask anybody from the Paroisse
St. Jacques. They know; they can tell you."
Marie stood up.
"Come, Marcélite, let us go. Madame, Monsieur
-" She evidently struggled to say something
else, but she only reiterated, "I must go;
we must go; come, Marcélite, let us go."
No one would have remarked now that her
eyes were too old for her face.
"Go? My Lord! Where have you got to
"I want to go home to Marcélite; I want to
go away with her; come, Marcélite, let us go.
Oh! don't you all see I can't stay here any
longer? Let me go! Let me go!"
"Go with me! Go to my home! A white
young lady-like you go live with a nigger like
"Come, Marcélite; please come; go with
me; I don't want to stay here."
"You stand there! You hear that! Monsieur!
Madame! You hear that!"
"Marcélite, I want to go with you; I want to
I live with you; I am not too good for that."
"What! You don't think you ain't white!
Oh, God! Strike me dead!"
She raised her naked arms over her head,
"Marcélite, ma fille, do not forget, I have
promised to help you. Marcélite, only listen
to me a moment. Mademoiselle, do not fear;
Mademoiselle shall not leave us. I shall protect
her; I shall be a father to her -"
"And I," said Madame, drawing Marie still
closer to her, - "I shall be her mother."
"Now, try, Marcélite," continued Monsieur
Goupilleau, - "try to remember somebody, anybody
who knows you, who knew your mistress;
I want their names. Anybody, anybody will
do, my poor Marcélite! Indeed, I believe you;
we all believe you; we know you are telling the
truth; but is there not a person, even a book, a
piece of paper, anything, you can remember?"
He stood close to her; his head did not reach
above her shoulders, but his eyes plead into her
face as if petitioning for his own honor; and
then they followed the hands of the woman
fumbling, feeling, passing, repassing inside her
torn dress-waist. He held his hands out, - the
kind tender little hands that had rested so gently
on her bruised black skin.
"If I have not lost it, if I have not dropped
it out of my gown since last night - I never
have dropped it, and I have carried it round
inside my body now for seventeen years; but
I was 'most crazy last night -"
She put a small package all wrapped up in an
old bandanna handkerchief in his hands.
"I was keeping that for my bébé; I was going
to give it to her when she graduated, just to
remind her of her own mother. She gave it to
me when she died."
It was only a little worn-out prayer-book, but
all filled with written papers and locks of hair
and dates and certificates, - frail fluttering scraps
that dropped all over the table, but unanswerable
champions for the honor of dead men and the
purity of dead women.
"Par la grâce de Dieu!" exclaimed the notary,
while the tears fell from his eyes on the precious
relics, discolored and worn from bodily contact.
Marie sank on her knees by the table, holding
Marcélite tight by the hand.
"Par la grâce de Dieu! Nothing is wanting
here, - nothing, nothing except the forgiveness
of this good woman, and the assurances of our
love and gratitude. And they say," turning to
Madame, he hazarded the bold step of taking
both her hands in his, - "they say," recollecting
the tender pressure on his arm, he ventured
still further, "they say, Eugénie, that the
days of heroism are past, and they laugh at
And then the vacation again, the midsummer
pause in life. The sun increasing its
measure and degree of heat day by day,
over-assessing the cooling powers of the night; and
quietness settling itself more and more fixedly
in the schoolrooms and yard, which seemed to
grow larger and larger, increasing their space
with their emptiness. The hard-worked pianos
stood mute in their little cells. The great gate
remained locked and bolted, only the little door
swinging open at irregular intervals to admit
some extra industrious or extra ignorant little
mind coming to "make a class," as she called
it, with Madame Joubert, always ready to lead
a forlorn hope against participles or fractions.
Marie Modesto knew the summer vacation
better than any lesson she had learned in the
St. Denis. There were no new pages in it for
her. It had always contained the same old
days sent over and over again, as if there were
no need to vary a routine which, bringing rest
and silence, brought a never-palling treat to the
Institute. The naked beds in the dormitory,
the white peignoirs of Madame Joubert's
ungraceful déshabille, the muslins and novels of
Madame Lareveillère, her own relaxed efforts
for comfort and coolness, - it all might have
been any one of the lived-out summers behind
her. There was no missing detail of the past in the
the present. But for the future, - looking for
it there was no future. Where it had been, the
girl saw only a blank space, or a world thick
with strangers, aliens. Was there then no living
person among them all to hold her, to connect
her, with humanity? Was she only a waif, a
vestige? Was there then no house for her feet
to enter seeking a home, no home holding a
welcoming host for her, - not even a cold,
misanthropic, selfish, ungracious old uncle; only
tombs, and the incommunicable dead?
The mornings and evenings, the whole life
she had filled out in imagination, - was it all
a mirage? And her studies, had they been
learned only for herself? Ah! she had had hard
feelings against her uncle at times; she had
secretly cried at nights about him; she had been
ashamed of him; she had abused him to
Marcélite; she had even written, in passionate
moments, wild letters of expostulation to him;
but she had loved him through it all, - le
vieux. However illy he had treated her, he
had nevertheless represented her family to her
All her efforts had been made to please him
some day, all her hopes cherished subject to
his approval. Were he a thousand times worse
than her loyalty had ever permitted the
accusation, he were a benefaction to her now;
for he had not gone out of existence alone, -
he had taken her world, her home, her family,
her nurse, her friend, her almost mother, with
him. Where was the Marcélite of months and
years gone by? Who was this wretched substitute
crouching, cringing, trembling before her,
The quadroon, unmasked, stripped of disguise,
had indeed lost her nerve and audacity.
Her brave personation was over. As Marcélite,
there was nothing to accomplish except the part
of a faithful servant. As Monsieur Motte, what
could she not do? If she could only have created
him out of her own death! If she could only have
made what she had so happily invented! If she
could only have prolonged indefinitely the
undisturbed confidence and trust which had
existed between Marie Modeste and
herself! Her old volubility was gone. Whatever
she said, lay under one vast suspicion. She could
not meet the eyes of Marie Modeste; she could
not even hold up her head before Jeanne. She
began to reproach God, and vaguely to rebel
against the shadow on her skin as casting the
shadow on her life.
"Oh, my bébé! my little mistress! it's your
nurse, it's your own negro who loves you, who
would die for you!" - words which took the
place of her prayers, her thoughts; her lips were
always moving under them. She would undo her
kerchief and put her hand where once the
little face lay like a white magnolia against the
dark skin, and go to sleep so. The place
craved and ached so at times that she put
plasters on it, and wore consecrated amulets over
it. Her love, which had always been
unscrupulous, became in her distress ferocious,
insatiable; and she would rush to Madame
Lareveillère, and like some wild animal that
cannot tell its pain would shed mute tears and
utter inarticulate moans.
"Frankly," said Madame to Monsieur
Goupilleau, who came now in vacation regularly
with the evening shades, as if to meet them on
her gallery by appointment, "he will kill us all, -
that old man! I can never forgive him for not
having lived; but it is in accordance with his
character," shrugging her shoulders. "What a
monster of selfishness! I have been
thinking, - ah, you do not know what my life
is here with those two, Marie and Marcélite! - I
have been thinking that perhaps I would accept
Aurore Angely's invitation. She writes me every year to
come on a visit to her plantation for a month or
two. What do you say, eh? There is only one
objection, - it is in the country. If it were only in
the city; but the country, - dame! I have always
held the country in horror. It
is years since I have seen Aurore and Félix. Ah! he is a
torpedo for you! exploding at a touch. Poor little
thing! She has never been to the country, never even
seen it!" continuing, after a pause unbroken by her
friend. The consultations with Monsieur Goupilleau
generally took the form of a monologue on her part. "I
thought of course her old uncle would take her
somewhere this summer, and introduce her to society
next winter, and marry her to some good parti. It is
barbarous, - the disappointment; it is positively a
If the notary did not speak, it was not because he
had nothing to suggest or propose; on the contrary,
he was far advanced into the next winter, with his
plans, which defined themselves as if by enchantment
under the low flexible voice of the lady.
"You see, my friend, a disappointment cracks us
all, us women, - as if we were fine vases. Ma foi!
we ought all to be sold as bargains, damaged
goods. I am sure we are all cracked somewhere; the
fracture may be hidden, but never mind, it is there, and
every woman knows just where it is, and feels it too.
Marie has received
hers; she will never be sound again. It is very
hard, all the same, for us older women to see young
girls come into life so fresh, so fair, and so
unconscious, and tap! there they are, hit right in the
heart, and no one can save or prevent it. I wonder if
there is a sound woman the world!"
"I should hope not, Madame!" exclaimed
Monsieur Goupilleau, involuntarily. "What an
unbearable creature she would be! No." Of summer
evenings, in gallery conversations, one hazards any
thought. Perhaps it came from some of his early
poetry. "God knows best; when he wishes to put the
finishing, the perfecting touch to a woman, he
simply sends her in youth some misfortune. It is his
way; and for one," shrugging his shoulders, "have
nothing to criticise, seeing the results;" looking - but
she was not aware of it - at the woman before him.
"The invitation comes this year like a Godsend."
Apropos of the Deity, Madame drifted back to the
important item in her mind. "I can see now, it is
positively the best thing we can
do. To-day is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday," she counted on her fingers. "Yes, I
think we can take the Saturday boat; you know
the boats leave every Saturday evening. And
now," - rising, - "I must go immediately and
inform Madame Joubert. To tell you the truth,
my friend," - in the merest whisper, - "I do not
think I could endure Madame Joubert all the
summer. She is of a rigidity, - a rigidity!" raising
her eyes and hands to express it. "But do not go;
I shall return in a moment. I have something
else to consult you about, you are so kind!"
ON THE PLANTATION.
THE autumn was struggling for recognition,
and was making an impression upon all but the
mid-day hours. In the mornings, the air came cool
and crisp, full of incentives to work. In the
evenings, the soft languor and dreamy inertness
of summer had been driven away by a wide-awake
activity, with good resolutions and plans of
future energy to be discussed inside closed doors
and windows into late hours of the night The
roses in the garden bloomed pale and less
after their exhausting summer season, shivering
perfumelessly in the practical October breezes.
The trees were in the full glory of their rich green
foliage. The cane in the fields stood in thick, solid
maturity, with long, green, pendent leaves
curling over and over in bewildering
luxuriance. The sunset clouds, bursting with
light and color, gilded the tops of the boundary
woods and illumined like a halo the familiar
features of plantation life. The Mississippi
River, reflecting and rivalling the sky above
rolled, an iridescent current, between its yellow
mud banks cut into grotesque silhouettes by
crevasses and steamboat landings as it
dimpled in eddies over shallows, boiled and
swirled in hollow whirlpools over depths, or
rushed with inflexible, relentless rapidity, following
the channel in its angular course from point to
The day's work had come to an end.
plantation bell rang out its dismissal and
benediction. The blacksmith laid down the
half-sharpened cane-knife and began covering up
the fire. From mysterious openings on all
sides of the sugar-house workmen issued with
tools in their hands. The stable doors were
thrown open, and the hostlers, old crooked-legged
negroes hurried about with food for the
mules. The cows tinkled their impatient bells
outside the milking-lot, while the frantic calves
bounded and bleated inside. From the two long
rows of whitewashed cabins in the quarters the
smoke began to rise. The drowsy young women,
sitting with their babies on the cabin steps, shifted
their positions, and raised their apathetic eyes
from the eager faces pressing against their bosoms
to the heavens above for ocular confirmation
of the bell, and turned their ears toward the
road from the fields. The exempt old women,
the house dragons, wrinkled, withered decrepit,
deformed, with all but life used out of them,
hobbled around in a fictitious bustle, picking up
chips, filling buckets of water at the cistern, or
stood with their hands pressed against their
bent backs to send blood-curdling threats and
promises after the children.
Along the smooth yellow road through the
field came the "gang," with their mules and
wagons, ploughs and hoes. In advance walked
the women, swaying themselves from side to
side with characteristic abandon, lighting their
rude pipes, hailing the truce to toil with loud
volubility. Against the luminous evening sky
their black profiles came out with startling
distinctness, showing features just sharpening into
regularity from cartilaginous formlessness, the
glean of white teeth, and the gaudy colors of
the cotton kerchiefs knotted across their brows.
Their bodies, as though vaguely recalling ancestral
nudity amid tropical forests, seemed to defy
concealment, throwing out bold curves and showing
lines of savage grace through the scant folds
of their loose-fitting garments. Sylvan secrets
seemed still to hang around them. In their soft
sad eyes, not yet cleared and brightened by
sophistication, spoke the untamed desires of
wild, free Nature; while fitfully in the opaque
depths shone bright gleams of a struggling
intelligence, pathetic appeals as from an
imprisoned spirit protesting against foul Circean
enchantment. The men followed, aggressively
masculine, heavy-limbed, slow of movement on
their hampered, shod feet; wearing their clothes
like harness; with unhandsome, chaotic faces,
small eyes, and concealed natures. They watched
the women with jealous interest, excluding them
from their hilarity, and responding grudgingly
and depreciatingly to their frank overtures. The
water-carriers, half-grown boys and girls, idled
at a distance, balancing their empty pails on
their bare heads, - quick and light on their feet,
graceful, alert, intuitive, exuberant with life and
animal spirits, they were happy in the thoughtless,
unconscious enjoyment of the short moment
that yet separated them from their hot,
dull, heavy, dangerous maturity.
The anticipations of cheer and rest, the subtile
satisfaction of honestly tired bodies; the flattering
commendations of their own skill from
the finely cultivated stand of cane on each side
of them; the past expiations of ploughing, ditch-
ing, weeding, hoeing; the freezing rains; the
scorching suns; but, above all, the approach of
the grinding season, the "roulaison," with its
frolics, excitements, and good pay, - all tended
to elate their spirits; and their voices, in joke,
song, laugh, and retort, sped down the road
before them to the quarters, and evoked responsive
barks and shouts from the dogs and children there.
It was the busy time of the year, and the
anxious time too, - the roulaison. It was the
period to which the rest of the year led up,
the chronological terminus of calculation
cultivation, when the fields with their accumulated
interest of labor and capital were delivered
over for judgment to the sugar-house. Always
dominating the place, the material importance
of the sugar-house became tyrannical, oppressive,
as cane-cutting approached. It reared itself
- an ugly, square, red-brick structure -
menacingly before the fields; it dwarfed the
"big house" into insignificance, and, with its vast
shed, divided by the cane-carrier, its chimneys,
furnaces, boiler, bagasse-heaps, its mountainous
wood-pile and barricade of new hogsheads, it
shut out the view of the river from the quarters
and consigned the latter to a species of seclusion.
What its verdict would be, was now the one
item of interest to all, from the oldest graybeard
to the youngest thinker on "Bel Angely"
plantation. What the sugar-house decided,
fixed the good or bad character of the past
year, and approved or disproved the executive
ability of the plantation manager. It is a close
contest between man and Nature, and the always
increasing science of the one is more than
counterbalanced by the capricious obstinacy of the
other. The old men and women, heirlooms of
departed experiences, found themselves growing
in importance with autumn, and their rusty
memories became oracles to furnish data for
prognostication. There were the "big freeze"
and the "early freeze" and the "late freeze"
years. There were years when the cane
sprouted in the mats, when the second-year
stubble could not be told from first-year, and
the first-year stubble filled up like plant cane.
Then there were all the years marked by a
water-line of rises, overflows, and crevasses.
There was one memory that contained a year in
which the Mississippi froze all over, and several
that perpetuated the falling of the stars; but
however persistently such a recurrence was
periodically suggested, Nature had been pleased
to withhold a repetition. The autocratic sugar-house
itself was not beyond damaging recollections:
it might have been a natural product or
a season, for the number of hitches and breaks
with which it managed to vary its runs, and the
success with which it eluded its yearly examiners
and tinkers. Then, there was the sacharometer
to disparage the splendid growth of the
cane, the polariscope to contradict the sacharometer,
and, finally, the commission merchant
to give the lie to Nature and man; with high
charges and low prices to enjoin all hopes,
reverse all calculations, and not only damn the past
but confound the future. No roulaison ever
came exactly like a preceding one, and no season
ever duplicated its calamities; but never had roulaison
come with such guarantee of success, to be
met with so unforeseen a mishap as the illness of
Monsieur Félix, - ill in bed of sciatica!
In the great ledger commenced by the first
sugar-making Angely, down to day before
yesterday, never had such an item been recorded
It was like the illness of a commander just
fore battle. And such a commander as Monsieur
Félix was! - not trusting the sun to shine
or the cane to grow in his absence; his ever-watchful
eye and unwearied sagacity, pervading
the plantation from limit to limit; so omniscient
and self-reliant that if there were one place
on the perverse globe that could dispense with
supernal jurisdiction, one place that could be
safely trusted to earthly viceregency, that place
was Bel Angely plantation, Parish of St. Charles.
He had had his bed pulled close to the window,
and any hour of the day, from dawn to dark, his
bright red face, with its fierce gray mustache,
could be seen looking out, and his excited voice
heard screaming, scolding, expostulating, and
threatening, until even the pet chickens and
ducks deserted their favorite feeding-place,
and the little, crawling black children, with their
skirts tied up under their arms, learned to imitate
their elders, and crept nimbly under the
gallery or dodged behind the out-houses to
avoid him. If the door of his bedchamber were
inadvertently left open but a second, little gusts
of passion would escape down the hall, blasting
like tiny siroccos the healthful calm and good-humor
outside. Mademoiselle Aurore herself, with all
her natural and cultivated conscientiousness
had to feign deafness in order to secure
necessary leisure for housekeeping directions.
"Ah, mon Dieu! les hommes! les hommes!"
was all she could exclaim to her own and the
interrogatories of others. She knew by experience
that weather contingencies and constitutional
irregularities were always to be visited on
the females of the house. She did not repine at
things she was inured to, or rebel against a manifest
design of Providence; but that wretched
Gabi! The abbreviation named an important
division in the cares and responsibilities of her
life, - a half-Indian, half negro waif whom she
had hopefully taken in charge, a rightful of
the combined laziness of two races, and trustee
of the mischief of all.
No wonder she was nearly distracted
completely unable, as heretofore, to extract
good omens from patent misfortunes. Her life
had been counted by roulaisons, as some women's
are by Springs, and she felt as if this one
were going to put her, with the cane in the
fields, between the great revolving grinders
the mill. There was always enough to be done,
- enough impatience and vexation to contend
with naturally. If Gabi could only have acquitted
quitted himself properly! If Félix could only
have gotten ill at some other time! If she
could only be allowed to take the sciatica as a
physical instead of a mental burden! She had
done everything, as a sister and a Christian, to
relieve the tension of affairs. She had placed
herself at the disposition of every functionary
on the place, - sugar-maker, cooper, engineer,
blacksmith, - and was at the beck and call
of every hand coming for food, medicine,
advice, or instruction. She had entered into
negotiations with every saint in the calendar
amenable to representations on the subject of
sugar or sciatica. Her room fairly blazed with
temporary shrines, and candles which her own
little personal requisitions had kept for years
in a state of perpetual incandescence; by a
coup-d'état she had transferred them all from
her own account to that of the plantation and
her brother. She was in constant communication
with the parish priest, although he was
a rough, vulgar Gascon whom she detested.
In fact, she had expended vows and promises
so recklessly, that were but half her prayers
granted, she could look forward to none but a
future of religious insolvency if not bankruptcy.
But Gabi! that was an entirely superfluous
As usual she had been too zealous. To save
the labor of a man, at so critical a time, and
to extort tardy appreciation of her protégé,
she had taken it upon herself to send him for
the mail. She had often wished to send him
before, his trustworthiness being a matter of
dispute between her and her brother; but
Félix had always peremptorily refused. He
was prejudiced against Gabi, and there was
no arguing away his prejudices; but his illness
afforded a timely opportunity of destroying
She stood by the door of the chamber, in
which not one but a dozen sciaticas appeared to
be unleashed, holding in her hands the mail-bag:
not the one she had given Gabi with so many:
careful instructions in the gray light of the morning
- that one had been dropped and dropped in
the dust and mud of the road and ditches; and
finally, when Gabi had concluded to take his
rest unbroken in the shade of a tree instead of in
fractional naps on the mule's back, the swine had
come along, and with ruthless tusks had reduced
the contents to a shapeless mass. She had
extracted one crumpled, soiled, foul letter from
the débris, and put it in the new, clean, alternate
bag, - one letter! when at this season Félix was
corresponding with every other man in New
Orleans! And Gabi had made such a good first
communion last spring, and never missed
church! The mule, too, had wandered away,
Saint Anthony alone knew where; Gabi was
in her cabinet now, hiding from Edmond, who
was searching for him with a whip. She could
keep it from Félix until he got well; but then,
of course, she must tell him.
When she came out of the room a half-hour
later she was enveloped in a bitter condemnation
of postmistresses and neglectful correspondents,
and pursued by a last rush of important
"Send Edmond to me. Tell Joe to get ready
to take the next boat to the city. I thought
you were going to hunt up that roll of wire in
the store-room. Has n't old Sîmon sent yet?
Don't forget to copy Smith's estimate. Go to
the sugar-house - no; I shall tell Duval myself
to go to the devil with his charges. Don't
forget about the lamp-wicks and the towels for
the sugar-house, and - oh, yes, tell Stasie to
fetch me some ink; it is very strange that the
inkstand is never filled unless I see about it
myself - and Aurore!"
"The key of the medicine chest!"
"Misère! Misère!" She held her hands to
her head, trying to sort them out. She made
a motion toward the sugar-house, but changed
it to the direction of the store-room. She
remembered the medicine-chest key, and felt for
the key-basket on her arm. It was not there.
She wondered where it could be, and started
toward her chamber in search of it, when she
caught a glimpse of Madame Lareveillère on the
gallery. Then the reproach came to her that
she had not yet wished her friend good-evening.
"Ma chère, I feel like a pagan, leaving you so
much alone; but Féfé, - you cannot imagine
what he is! What makes men such devils when
they are sick? If Féfé would only be sensible
and have a physician and get well; but no, he
and Stasie think they can cure anything. Physician!
he would as soon see a priest, and priests
are his bête-noires. How can an intelligent
man be so prejudiced? But it is the way he
was educated; that comes of sending boys to
France to be educated; that is the teaching
of Messieurs Voltaire and Rousseau. Oh, I
Her irony was mordant. She came out of the
doorway and seated herself upon the top step
of the staircase that wound its way to the basement
underneath. "And Gabi! ah, that is too
much! Fancy, Eugénie, after all the trouble I
took to explain to him this morning, he brings
the mail-bag devoured by hogs, - all the letters
a disgusting mass. Only one could I extricate
entire for Féfé. I don't speak of your
"Oh, you know very well I never get letters
from any one but Madame Joubert; always the
same school news. The swine are welcome."
"I wish Féfé were so reasonable. He will be
furious, both about the letters and the mule.
And he will say - you know what reason he will
give for it all - religion; too much Mass. He
will say he expected it before, and I shall never
hear the end of it. Now, we, - because Gabi was
pious, and really, Eugénie, at times in church I
have watched him, he had moments of genuine
fervor, - we would say that his religion was a
reason why he should bring the mail well and
be a good servant; but not Féfé, he is so prejudiced.
It prevents everything."
Mademoiselle Aurore sighed and looked down
the avenue to the river, her thoughts sadly
enumerating the calculations and hopes blighted by
Gabi's recalcitrance. Her thin, regular features
and sallow complexion showed the exhaustive
harassment of the past two days.
She and Madame Lareveillère had been to
school together, were amies de coeur and toute
dévouées on every class-book, from the abécédaire
up to the "Histoire de France," and their confidences
had followed the uninterrupted growth
of their hearts from dolls to sentiments. There
was a period when their hearts had been as bare
to each other as their faces; but that was long,
long ago. Time, age, or self-consciousness had
since draped and obscured them one from the
other. The abundant stream of their confessions
was being reduced to a clear, cool surface-rill
of generalities. One could only guess at the
changes that must have taken place in the other,
or try to compute them by covert observation,
furtive soundings, and silent criticism. Habit
now continued the links that bound them, and
prolonged the intimacy inaugurated by impulse.
They were together this summer after a longer
period of separation than usual.
Madame sighed with Mademoiselle Aurore,
but her sympathetic look was accompanied with
the private reflection: "Heavens! what a
difference a man makes in a woman's looks, - that
is, of course, a man who is not a brother, -
poor Aurore!" At school, Aurore's relations
with her sex had been as close as possible; she
was la plus femme des femmes. Now, economical
Nature seemed stealthily recalling one by one
charms which had proved a useless, unprofitable
investment; flattening her chest, straightening
her curves, prosaicising her eyes, diluting her
voice; in short, despoiling the handmaiden of
Saint Catherine almost beyond the recognition
of her dearest friend. The little heart that once
bounded so frankly forward toward orange
blossoms was being led by religion now away from
mirrors, adornments, fripperies, and follies of
the flesh, away from Madame Lareveillère, away
from herself, down an austere path rugged with
artificial vicissitudes, where a crucifix and
Golgotha replaced the rose-winged visions of youth,
and hope offered the extinction in place of the
gratification of desire.
"Mamzelle, Monsieur Félix asks if you have
forgotten the key of the medicine chest?"
"Ah! la, la!" The suspended avalanche of
neglected commissions fell upon her.
"Mamzelle, Monsieur Félix asks -"
"I hear, Stasie, I hear."
She put her hand mechanically to her arm
for the key-basket. "Ah, yes, my key-basket, -
I have left it somewhere; but where can I have
"It is impossible, Mamzelle, to hear one
word you are saying."
"I was only talking to myself, Stasie."
"Nothing, Stasie, nothing."
She screamed this beyond doubt of misunderstanding,
and went into the hall audibly wondering
as to the whereabouts of her key-basket.
It was perhaps from accommodating her voice
to Stasie's increasing deafness, and her patience
to the increasing obstinacy of this crab-bed
peevish heritage, that both had become
so attenuated in Mademoiselle Aurore.
The master's house - the big house, as it was
metaphorically called - stood aloof in fastidious
isolation from, but in watchful proximity withal
of! the money-making sugar-house and plebeian
quarters. It was not, - to the people on the
plantation at least, and few others ever came
nearer to it than the road in front, - it was not,
nor ever had been, simply a massive brick cottage
with tall round pillars, a tiled basement, a
pointed, projecting roof, and deep, shady galleries.
It was not this nor any other technically
defined edifice, any more than the altar
is a carpenter's contrivance to believers, or
Louis XIV. was a man of small stature to his
courtiers. It was never intended to be an ordinary
common dwelling-place for ordinary, common
people, and time had respected the original
Changes had come into the world, and even
crept into the parish of St. Charles; but a rigid
quarantine had kept all but the inevitable revolutions
of Nature and reform from the house
and its inmates, and had preserved in unbroken
transmission the atmosphere and spirit of an
age which supplied adventurous noblemen with
principalities in a new world, and equipped
them with a princely largesse of power from
an old one. As far as bricks and mortar and
hand-sawed cypress boards and hand-made
nails could do it, they expressed here caste,
wealth, power, pride, government, religion.
Whatever the record of other similar houses
may be, this one had maintained its responsibilities
and sustained its traditions with a spirit
that Versailles might not have blushed to own
and imitate. The garden, with its carefully
planned star and crescent shaped beds, had
paths which a century ago connected them into
a milky way of loveliness and sweetness, -
encouraging and inspiring walks for lovers; but
now a riotous growth of roses had tangled them
into such a wilderness that the original gardener
would have needed divine guidance through
his own work, and lovers - had there been any
now - would have been restricted to the broad
avenue leading from house to river without
deviations or obscurities for either feet or hearts.
It was hedged all around with wild orange,
except in front, where the river was allowed a
glance at the gallery. What once had been a
grateful shade had increased to a damp gloom.
The magnolias and oaks had so abused their
privilege of growing, that they leaned their
branches against the very roof itself, and veiled
with their moss the little Gothic windows and
the observatory into complete inutility, frightening
away even the vivacious tendencies of
October from the front of the somnolent,
superannuated homestead. Here it was always
seventeenth century and retrospection and
regrets; but on the other side of the house, where
the trees had been cut and the sun shone, the
breeze was welcome to frolic and sing; there
it was always nineteenth century with the latest
change of date, for there were Monsieur Félix's
bedchamber and office.
There was a beautiful vista through the
orange-trees to the river, and there were
ever-varying heights of rose and gold and lilac
overhead, - a mocking-bird sang in the shadows
of the neglected garden. Eugénie Lareveillère
balancing herself backward and forward
in the rocking-chair by the rosetted tip of her
slipper, saw nothing, heard nothing but herself.
Her muslin dress rose and fell light as the
clouds above her; she held her chin in her hand
and pursued the thoughts interrupted by Aurore,
- thoughts which, since Monsieur Félix's illness,
had been allowed to gain more and more complete
possession of her, until it seemed that all
Nature had become a cheval-glass to reflect her;
and not to reflect merely the dainty piquante
outward figure with vexing reminders of the
mutations of time and the mutability of woman,
but her intérieur also, - the disordered interior
of one of the undecided sex in the throes of a
decision. It is true she had come to the country
for reflection, but she had managed to elude
it successfully until within the last two days.
In a week she would return to the city, - if
the summer could only have been prolonged
indefinitely! The old allée at the school came
entrancingly before her, where she and Aurore -
the pretty, poor little blonde and the pretty,
rich little brunette - used to promenade arm in
arm in the twilight, interchanging the deep
mysteries and experiences of their sixteen-year-old
hearts. The confidences ceased as soon
as there was really something to confide.
Madame longed for just one such twilight moment;
but the only allée was the broad one to the
river, and - they were not sixteen, and Aurore
could think of nothing but her religion, Gabi,
"If I only had a friend, an adviser; ah! a
woman ought never to be without one, - two
The evening was getting cool; she tied her
handkerchief around her throat, and moved her
chair closer to the wall.
"If it were only a question of duty; There
was nothing a woman could not do for duty, or
religion; that made marriage so much more
reasonable, so much less ridiculous, enfin; but
love!" A rosy reflection from the clouds
fell all over her face, and she undid the
She could see her friends smile delicately,
and raise their shoulders ever so slightly, and
hear the "ho! ho! ho!" of some irrepressible
"Love! what! she believes in it still? Elle
en veut, encore! what innocence, hein?"
"But is a woman's heart a thermometer to be
regulated according to outside appearances?"
she asked herself, indignantly. "Ah! if pauvre
maman were here!"
The tears came in her eyes, as they always
did at the remembrance of the pale, abraded
face and shrinking, poor, genteel figure of her
mother. Many an "All Saints" had passed
since she had placed her first chrysanthemum
bouquet and black bead souvenir before
poor maman's tomb in the old St. Louis
"If she were here, she would decide for
Eugénie had not been required to say even
a word to her fiancé Lareveillère. He had
seen her at the exhibition of her school. She
played the harp and wore sleeves to fall back
off her arms, and her golden curls were all that
hid her neck. She had the dress still; poor
maman made it, and trimmed it with the lace
from her own wedding dress. Poor maman
was only afraid that the fiancé might change
his mind; pas de chance!
And he whose companionship had been so
thorough an education in men and matrimony, -
he had his bouquet and souvenir also on "All
Saints," and a Mass besides, just the same as
"Whatever marriage is, it is least of all what
a school girl thinks."
There was something else buried in the same
tomb, too, - seventeen years old, fresh and
innocent, shrouded in a bridal veil. "Ah! if the
young only knew more, or the old less." These
thoughts always came to her with such peculiar
emphasis that the tears which usually rose over
"poor maman" fell over herself.
"The first time you go into it blind; the
second, ha! with microscopes over the eyes!"
The old deaf Stasie came from under the
gallery and walked out in front with her conch
shell to blow the summons to supper. She was
stiff with rheumatism, and the wavering
melancholy notes fell on the air like a Memento mori.
With characteristic obstinacy she held to the
office intrusted to her when she was elastic and
graceful; when her wrinkled skin was bright
smooth gold; when her lips were full and red,
and her teeth white and firm as the shell they
clasped. That was before the trees were
allowed to overshadow the garden, and the moss
to hang in such mournful folds; when the roses
were kept in subjection; when the occupants of
the tombs under the clump of cypresses out
there, her masters and mistresses, hurried in
from fields, levee, and garden at her clear
resonant calls, - calls which easily vaulted the
broad stream and fell in musical cadence on the
Marie Modeste caught the sound on the
levee, and started as if she were still at school
and still punishable.
"Aïe, Marcélite! the horn! I shall be late
again for supper."
Oh la nature! la belle nature! Marie had
written compositions on it, and learned poetry
about it; but that was before she and Racine
and Corneille had seen it. This was all different,
- these sunsets and moon-risings, these
clouds and stars and fields, the river, the trees,
the flowers, the animals, the poultry, the men
and women in the quarters, with their primeval
domesticity, the slow movements, the sudden
developments, the mysteries, the revelations,
the veils withdrawn, one after another, like the
mists from the river, until the great stream of
life lay bare before her awed gaze. How much
of the world lay outside the walls of St. Denis,
unmentioned in geography or history! How
much of God outside the Catechism! What
was a school life of fourteen years in comparison
with a plantation life of three months!
Her imagination had not prepared her for it;
there was no end to thinking about it; every
moment a new thought shone out in a blank
space like the stars in the sky, and still her
mind was not full.
She hurried through the quarters, nodding
to the women, speaking to the children, looking
for glimpses of the procession from the fields,
pursued by the persistent, vivid, recurring feeling
of having been there and done it all before,
- the feeling which had thrilled her again
and again on the plantation, but never at school.
From the first day it had been natural for
her to talk to the negroes, go into their little
cabins, seek and respond to their confidences.
They accepted her too, spontaneously, as if
she had been their own Mamzelle by fact and
Not so with Marcélite. Between her and her
people there was no good feeling; instead, the
distrust of a class toward a superior member of
it, and the disdain of an ascending member toward
an inferior class. The men ignored her;
the women followed her with resentful eyes, and
whetted their tongues when she passed, taking
good care that their remarks should fall short
of retort, but not of hearing.
The brick-dust on the bare floor crackled
under Marie's feet as she hastily entered the
dining-room in the basement, almost expecting
to hear the customary, "Twenty-five lines by
Madame and Mademoiselle Aurore were at
the table; Stasie was bringing in the large
glasses of cold boiled milk, with the heavy
cream wrinkling on top. A candelabra of two
candles illuminated the table, while its fellow
dispelled the gloom of the tall mantel-piece,
and enabled Mademoiselle Aurore's guests and
the portrait of her father to see each other
dimly. There were very few living operations
in the old house that did not go on in the
presence of some pictured Angely. They hung
in every room against, the pale-green walls
variegated by damp and mould, - a diminishing
line, nourished by constant intermarriage,
until Mademoiselle Aurore and Monsieur Félix
looked like their first Louisiana progenitors
seen through the small end of an opera-glass.
Mademoiselle Aurore was talking excitedly.
"Ma chère! you will scarcely believe it; I can
hardly recover from the surprise myself. Talk
of changes; that's a change. Féfé will actually
have to send to the city this roulaison for Italians
Italians!" - she pronounced the name with
every facial expression of disgust, - "Italians
to take off the crops; if poor papa could see
that!" She looked with filial reverence at the
beardless youth in the gilt frame. Her papa
had been painted when at school in France, and
died too soon to leave a more parental representation
of himself. "But, Stasie, give Mademoiselle
Marie some fricassée, fricassée! fricassée! That
is what competition does, - negroes running from
place to place to get five cents more pay; and
it all comes from that old Sîmon and Mr.
Smith What more can you expect? They do
not care; they have no sentiment. A plantation
is a sugar factory to them, that is all. The
idea that such canaille should be allowed to
profit by the ruin of our old families, and buy
up the finest places in Louisiana! Oh, they
can afford to offer more to negroes than others,
and force us to hire Italians! Old Sîmon:
Stasie can tell you who old Sîmon is; you
ought to hear Stasie talk about him. She
remembers the day well when he used to go up
and down the coast with a pack on his back,
crying Rabais, and selling things to the negroes;
it is only right that he should pay them
well now, - he made them pay enough, vas!
and now he owns La Trinité. And Mr. Smith,
tiens! Eugénie, you remember Nathalie Cortez
at school; you know when she graduated!
Well, her daughter has just been married to
this Mr. Smith. Don't repeat it as coming from
me, you know, but," she lowered her voice,
"his father was a negro trader, - a negro trader,
my dear! absolutely a man Nathalie would not
have permitted to sit at the table with her.
Stasie knows; you ask Stasie. That's what
poverty does." Her face was red and her eyes
gleamed with excitement.
"I cannot hear a word you say, Mamzelle,"
said Stasie, in despair. "If you would only
speak a little more distinctly, instead of getting
"The pain-perdu! pain-perdu!" screamed
Mademoiselle Aurore, eagerly profiting by the
opportunity. "And Féfé, he exasperates me so!
Whatever old Sîmon or Mr. Smith gets, Féfé
thinks he must buy too, - vacuum-pans, condensers,
steam-trains, bagasse-burners, a perfect
'galimatias' of machinery. As if gentlemen
needed all that; and as if they had not been
making sugar long enough in Louisiana without
it! For my part, I like the old open kettles,
and I prefer the sugar, too, though it was not so
white, - and Stasie, she prefers it too. In poor
papa's time it was all so different; but Félix has
his own ideas. He loves everything modern
and new; he is all for the practical. The house
and garden might just as well be in Texas, for
all he cares about them; and then, after all, if old
Sîmon or Mr. Smith makes sugar a little whiter
than ours, or sells it a little bit higher, oh, then
it is Good Friday the rest of the winter! But,
'Mon cher,' I tell him, 'think who they are.' "
"Monsieur Félix asks Mamzelle to come
there just one moment," said Edmond, Stasie's
brother, putting his head inside the door.
"Oh, I know what it is, - it is that estimate
I forgot to copy. Sans excuses, chÉrie; you see
how it is."
Before Monsieur Félix's illness it was very
gay after supper, sitting on the gallery watching
the shooting-stars above the river, talking
about old times avant la guerre or playing
dominos in the hall for bon-bons; but now
it was sadness itself. Madame and Marie went
up the winding steps to the gallery to await
Mademoiselle Aurore and her never-ceasing
theme of plantation crises. The moon had
risen, and changed the landscape from the showy
splendor of sunset to a weird etherealization.
The rose-vines, which had crept over from the
garden to garland and wreathe the brick pillars,
threw fantastic, flitting shadows on the gallery
floor, and checkered their faces. The broad
path to the river was silver, the tall gate-posts
were whitened into marble monuments, the river
was a boundless sea of golden ripples. The
faint sounds of animated life in the quarters
made the loneliness and silence inside the
wild-orange hedge more intense. Madame sank
in her rocking-chair for another séance with
"Marie was young, Marie could have ideals,
Marie could yet, dream in the moonlight,
unchidden by life and experience."
She looked at the slight, childish figure, seated
on the balustrade, leaning her head far back in
her arms, looking up, beyond the moss, the
trees, and the clouds, to follow the moon making
and unmaking phantasmagorial cities, lakes, and
mountains in the world above her, - lost in an
ecstasy of self-forgetfulness, drifting away from
earth and mortality, soaring higher and higher
on the wings of a pure, fresh imagination, until
the glorious orb itself is reached, and the silver
rays make her one of themselves.
She envied morbidly the pure spirituality
which yet enveloped the young girl, her
unspotted cleanliness of simplicity, her virgin
ignorance of the quantities in the problem of life, her
incapacity for calculation. There were surprises
yet in store for her, there was still an unknown
before her. Whatever misfortune had done to
her, could do to her, her seventeen years had been
protected and were flawless in their innocence.
"I was once like Marie, and she will one day be
like me. Why must women be always looking
for the unattainable, - why cannot we be
contented? Enfin, - one cannot always be seventeen
and wear white dresses; but if it is the will
of God, why must we have these feelings, these
moments, for example? She will know it all,
she will crave to know it, and then, like me, she
will crave acquittance of the knowledge and the
refreshment of ignorance again. It is always
with us women the fight between the heart and
the soul. The happy ones are born without the
one or the other."
As through the intervening shadows of the
trees she could see the dazzling river, so
beyond her present doubts and hesitations a
transcendental prospect offered itself; but sarcastic
society and frigid friends came between to be
propitiated by sophistical reasonings and prosaic
excuses. Aurore particularly, - if Aurore
were only sympathetic as she used to be! But
to a woman who scorned one honeymoon, what
reasons would justify two?
"I shall not tell her, - that I am determined;
she shall not find it out, until - I would
confide in Marcélite."
The hairdresser, in her silk apron and white
kerchief, passed on tiptoe, not to disturb her,
holding her stiff calico dress to keep it from
rattling; she went to Marie.
"Bébé!" she whispered.
The girl took no notice of her.
"Paix, Marcélite, paix." She barely moved
her lips; it was so delicate, so exquisite, a breath
would destroy it, - her moon-dream.
"You will catch cold."
"Ah, Marcélite!" she said entreatingly, "why
could you not have left me one moment more?
Now -" She sighed, and turned her eyes
upward once again.
Marcélite advanced to the edge of the balustrade
and looked up too, to see what attraction
the commonplace moon was offering. She knew
that when the moon was on the increase it was
a good time to cut the ends of the hair, and
some persons could read the bon aventure in the
moonlight, and the Voudous - she made the
sign of the cross whenever she thought of them,
although her experience had proved it a very
insufficient protection against their charms. She
asked herself, eying Marie from under her heavy
lids, why her bébé looked so thin and pale.
She was smaller and lighter even than when at
school; after three months in the country, too!
and her eyes with the same hollow black shadows,
- why did not those shadows go, now that
studying was all done and life was so pleasant?
A fierce impatience and rebellion surged in her
as usual when confronted by what she could
not understand or prevent. Other girls were
women in appearance at Marie's age; why did
she not shed her childhood also? Why did not
her arms round and her shoulders soften? Why
could not some of her own exuberant flesh and
blood be given to her bébé? She did not want
it; she would like to tear it off and fling it away,
if her bébé were to be always so chétive, so triste.
One sickness -
"Bébé," she whispered, her voice trembling at
the thought; "you will catch cold, or fever, the
air is so bad at this season."
"There, I hope you are satisfied now!" Marie
said irritably, jumping down, and grumbling to
herself, "If Marcélite would only let her alone!
The moonlight was so beautiful, and at school
they never enjoyed the moonlight except in
contraband. In a week she would be back at
school Why could not Marcélite let her forget
that; it was so seldom she could forget it!
Marcélite never thought about it, nor Madame
either, but she -" she had rehearsed it so often,
the whole scene came before her in a flash.
"Tiens, voilà Marie Modeste, back again at
school! mais, chère, is le vieux going to make you
stay another year? Quelle injustice!" She would
shrug her shoulders, and say in an indifferent way, just
as if it were a matter of course, "Ah! you know, it is a
romance, - all a romance of Marcélite's. My
papa, he was killed during the war, my mamma,
she died when I was a baby, and Marcélite -
chère, that good Marcélite - worked for me
night and day, to send me to school; she it was
who gave me everything."
She shrugged her shoulders, straightened her
head, and her lips moved rapidly, just as if she were
at school, only the tightness came right across her
chest, always just at this point, and she had to
swallow very rapidly to keep the tears from coming
to her eyes; for the important thing was not to cry,
not to let them suspect. Oh, she had learned at
school not to cry: even Madame Joubert, when
she used to stand her in the corner with the
foolscap on, for making faults in her dictation, could
not make her cry when she was a little girl, - and
she was a woman now. "Did Marcélite think she was
afraid of the fever? If it would only come and kill
her before next week, it would be better, far
better. What had she to -"
"I shall go to bed; come, Marcélite." It was
better, anyway, to be in the bed, in the dark, all by
herself. She stopped to kiss Madame
goodnight, - Madame in her pretty toilette, with
her rings and laces and ribbons. Ah! God was
good to Madame; she did not have such things
to think about. "Why, after all, did He select
precisely her to orphan, and make her credulous
simply to be deceived? Who was to be furthered
or bettered by the experiment upon her?
Could the same Providence create a Marie
Modeste and a Madame Lareveillère?"
"Bonne-nuit, ma mignonne; going to Mass
again to-morrow morning?"
For Mademoiselle Aurore had drawn Marie
into the active routine of her religious exercises.
Masses, confessions, communions, retreats,
penances, novenas, fastings; they had discouraged
the kindly efforts of Nature in behalf of her
physical improvement, but her mind reflected
the benefit of the discipline by a satisfactory
state of quiescence. There were moments of
transcendental serenity accorded to her when
suffering appeared the only proper joy, and
martyrdom the only proper vocation of women;
but after a long walk, or a visit to the quarters,
and talking to the women there, or the moonlight,
as at present, they vanished, - these moments;
and the lives of the saints she yearned
to imitate, - her heart rejected them; and their
being exposed to the jeering multitude, or
thrown to beasts, - what was that to going back
to St. Denis? She was at the pitiable age when
sensitiveness is a disease, before moral courage
has had time to develop. "You are happy, ma
fille?" Madame drew the face again to her
lips; she loved to hear it confirmed.
"I, Madame? Happy!"
"But, of course, Marie is going to Mass with
Mademoiselle Aurore answered the question
she had heard in the hall. The moon poured
its effulgence on her pious, enthusiastic face as,
an hour afterward, from her seat on the staircase,
she was still eloquently extolling to her
friend the celestial peace vouchsafed to those
women and only to those women, who, renouncing
with fortitude the pleasures of sex and youth,
forsake the world and consecrate themselves to
the perfect vocation of perpetual virginity and
prayer, thus preparing their souls for those
beatitudes in a future life reserved solely for
the pure and undefiled.
"Madame is as bad as Marcélite," thought
Marie in her chamber; "but what can they
suppose I am thinking of all the time?" She had
only monosyllables for the kindly services and
inquiries of the nurse.
"Is anything the matter with you, bébé?"
"You are sure you feel well?"
"Oh yes, I feel well."
"Let me get you a glass of sirup and water."
"No, thank you, Marcélite."
"Did you hear about that little rascal Gabi?"
"Edmond should give him a good whipping;
the idea of Mademoiselle Aurore hiding him in
her room! She spoils him until he is perfectly
good for nothing." But, as usual, it seemed
impossible to awake an interest in Marie.
Was it to be always that way? Would she
never open her heart to Marcélite? What could
she be thinking of all the time, - was it hatred
and contempt of her nurse? Then let her say it.
Better the loud-mouthed fury and passion of her
own people down there in the quarters, than this
apathetic white silence. Oh for one moment
Of equality and confidence!
"You like it here on the plantation, bébé?"
"You think perhaps I prefer boarding-school?"
"Ah, but wait till you see the grinding! That
is the grand time of the year on a plantation!
Some night, soon, a frost will come; in the gray
daylight it will look like flour sprinkled all over
the cane; then, when it gets lighter, it looks
like silver; when the sun gets on it, it is
diamonds, diamonds scattered everywhere. Then
you hear the cane-knives, cling! clang! cling!
clang! and the cane falling, fron! fron! fron!
fron! One cut at the top, one cut at the roots,
over it goes! Each hand takes a row; I tell
you the women are not behind the men then!
I have seen them keep up, step by step, twenty
rows at a time! A field soon gets flat and bare
at that rate; then the carts coming and going,
dumping their loads in the shed, the sugar-mill
with all steam up; and the cane-carrier,
- you will hear them sing at the cane-carrier!
You never heard singing like that, all day, all
Did Marie hear or not?
"That will be fine, eh, bébé?"
She only shook her head.
"The river ran in front of the old plantation,
just as it does here," Marcélite continued courageously.
"And the orange-trees went in long
rows to the levee. The flower-garden was here,
the fields over there, and the quarters on this
side," indicating the localities by gesture. "But
it was finer, grander. Ah, the Motte plantation
was celebrated all up-and down the
coast. The quarters were like a street in the
city, the sugar-house looked as big as the
custom-house. The largest boats on the river would
stop at our levee for the sugar and molasses.
The dwelling-house was twice the size of this,
and the furniture, four, five, ten times handsomer.
The armoires were filled with laces and
silks and feathers left by the mamans, grand-mamans,
the aunts and cousins who were dead
and gone. There were pictures all over the
walls, like here, only Mottes and Viels; and this,"
pointing to a framed escutcheon, "was on
everything, - silver, china, glass -" A thousand
daily contacts had revivified what had sunk into
indistinctness in her memory. She could have
talked all night and not have exhausted her
enumeration. "And the books! tiens! There
was one book I will never forget; it was full
of pictures about -"
"Good-night, ma bonne; I am afraid Madame
may need you."
"Bébé, it was your home! Why don't you
Iisten? Why don't you believe me? Do you
think I would lie to you about that?" She had
not the courage say the words, though they
sprang not only to her mouth but to her eyes;
her very hands tried to gesticulate the appeal.
No! As if she were a dog, or a lying negro
caught stealing, she crept away.
Why should it be different with Madame? She
had only been her paid servant, yet she was not
ashamed before her, she could talk to her. And
why should Madame believe her unquestioningly;
yes, and give her confidences too?
"Madame, she will die! It will kill her! I
knew it! I knew it that night! It will choke
her heart to death. Ah, the Mottes are proud!
You never saw people like them! She loves
me no more! I see that, - she hates me! She
believes not a word I say! My God! My God!"
Never a word of her sacrifices, her generosities,
only the remorse of an impotent servant
over disgrace and failure in a committed trust.
"She does not eat, she does not sleep, she
lies there at night, thinking, thinking, thinking.
I know; I sit outside her door and listen to her.
She sighs and sometimes she cries; she calls on
the Virgin. The Virgin!" with sudden jealousy.
"As if the Virgin would do more for her than I!!
As if the Virgin could love her more, - as if God
could love her more than I! She never calls
for Marcélite, not once! Not once! It is better
for me to kill myself, to throw myself in the
river! Going to Mass! going to confession!
going to communion! Mademoiselle Aurore
will persuade her into a convent, will make
a nun of her, - a nun!" her strong physical
nature shuddering at the thought of asceticism.
"There is to be, then, no future, no home, no
husband, no children for her, - no pleasure?"
And so it was Marie Modeste, not Eugénie
Lareveillère, who occupied Madame's mind the
rest of the night.
"And I promised to be a mother to her!"
She would not have been a woman if self-accusation
had not come to salt the wounds caused
by the sufferings of others.
The slight excitement of breakfast had worn
away, the next day, which so far was bringing
forth ameliorating modifications of the conditions
of its predecessor. Monsieur Félix's sciatica
was on the wane, - both his confidence in
himself and Mademoiselle Aurore's trust in the
saints being justified. A slight frost in the
morning, the first of the season, encouraged her
and cheered her brother; it sweetened the cane
and acknowledged her prayers. Slight frosts
now on the magnificent stand in the field, and
Bel Angely would surpass any former record.
The normal, monotonous uniformity was settling
over the house, hiding the traces of the late
disruption of its harmony. There was still the
sound of footfalls passing up and down the back
steps to and from Monsieur Félix's room; but if
the door chanced to be left open now, only the
calmest voice in the most business-like tones
could be distinguished, giving needful commands
and directions. Mademoiselle Aurore's time was
no longer fractured by importunate calls.
The friends sat in their rocking-chairs in the
broad hall, dimmed to a comfortable compromise
between the contesting claims of their eyes
and complexions. A round mosaic table, with
brass claw feet, held their work-baskets.
Mademoiselle Aurore was adding highly ornamental
golden leaves to red paper roses, to be twisted,
according to ecclesiastical convention, into flat
pyramidal displays for the parish church, - a
commencement in the liquidation of her indebtedness.
Notwithstanding her confidence in her
own rectitude of purpose, and her intimate
negotiations with the Church, she would have felt
more serenity this morning had she not sent
Gabi for the mail yesterday, or had she frankly
told Monsieur Félix all about it. He was
improving so fast, she would have to tell him
today; by to-morrow he would find it all out by
himself. Thank Heaven! the mule at least had
come home during the night.
"Oh, chère amie!" she was saying, "I get
very much discouraged with life, I assure you;
it takes a great deal of religion to enable us
women to support it. It is so full of contradictions,
- useless contradictions. I sometimes wish
that there were no more hopes given us. They
are no better than toy balloons; they dance
before us very beautifully for a time, then crac!
they burst, and we are left plantées there until
we get another one. I do not complain, it is
against my religion; but if you knew how many
hopes I have seen go to pieces that way! Mon
Dieu! I am tired of getting new ones. Ah, you
are fortunate, your life is so simple, so clear, so
smooth. Now, there's Gabi, I should not have
sent him; ah! I see that clearly this morning.
But I have raised that child ever since he was
a baby. He was picked up in the sugar-house
and brought to me. I have no idea even who
his mother is. Well, I thought I would take
him and make a reasonable human being of him.
Féfé and Stasie were against it, of course;
they have never liked him. I wanted to push
him; I thought I would give him the opportunity.
Well, perhaps Féfé is right, after all.
And he learned his Catechism so well, and made
such a good first communion! Last spring, you
know what I did? I got all the children of the
proper age in the quarters, I taught them the
Catechism myself, and I made them all make
their first communion; there was a cane-cart
full. Féfé and Stasie were against that too, but
I was firm. Ah, it is so elevating to work like
that! Féfé, he said they were rascals already,
and that I would only make hypocrites of them.
Hypocrites! I ask you Eugénie, if religion
makes hypocrites? But that is Monsieur
Voltaire again. I will never hear the last of this
from Stasie, and next spring Féfé will only be
more determined; I know Féfé."
Madame shook her head responsively. Marie's
surprised, pained interrogation, Mademoiselle
Aurore's discourse, Marcélite's voluble despair,
had procured for her a sleepless, penitential night.
She was disposed this morning for any pessimistic
generalities on women, but answered not so
much Mademoiselle Aurore as her own self: -
"Yes, our lives are surprise-boxes to us
women; we never know what is going to come
out of them: our own plans, our own ideas
count for nothing. Look at our schoolmates:
not one turned out as she expected. Those who
had a vocation to religious lives, who would be
nothing but nuns, they were the first ones married
and having children christened. Those who
were ready to fall in love with every new tenor
at the opera, they became dévotes. Those who
cared only for money fell in love with poor men;
and those who made their lives a poem, with love
for the hero, they, - they married for money.
When we are old and passées, we get what would
have made our youth divine. Men are the serious
occupation, women are the playthings, of fate."
"Ah, yes, men are more fortunate." Mademoiselle
Aurore eagerly availed herself of the
fissure in which to insert her peculiar complaint.
"There is something sure, something stable in
a man's life. Look at Féfé, I do not say he
has not had griefs, disappointments, misfortunes
even, in his life, but they did not change it, only
interrupted it a minute; with me, those things
take away my life itself." Her voice quivered,
and the emotion in her face made her look something
thing as she did at sixteen. She took a long
breath and resumed: "It is like this: either Féfé
would not have sent Gabi for the mail, or Gabi
would have brought it properly, or he would
have informed the whole world about it, me first
of all, coûte que coûte. He would not have managed
the truth on account of my prejudices, he
would have had no hopes attached to it; now
with me -" She was going to open her heart
a little lower down to Madame, and reveal those
hopes paltry as to be involved in Gabi's good
conduct, so grand as to influence a terrestrial and
celestial future. Mondaine as, to her disappointment,
she had found Eugénie to be, she could
well remember the angelic devotion of the little
wife to that old roué Lareveillère. How patiently
she had labored with him after the stroke
of paralysis confined him night and day to his
house; teaching him the graces of repentance,
leading him to the altar he had deserted, persuading
him to the sacraments he had mocked,
forcing him - actually forcing him - to give
to charity a goodly portion of that inheritance
she had so hardly earned. Whatever small
prospect of heaven the old French merchant
now enjoyed, he owed it to Eugénie, and no
one else. Aurore was determined to drive
Messieurs Voltaire and Rousseau from the heart of
Monsieur Félix. Eugénie could not but sympathize
and encourage her.
And Madame, - at the quiver of her friend's
voice, the softening of her face, the old allée and
the twilight came before her, and she felt that
she might perhaps venture -
"Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!" A tiny staccato rap,
light as the pecking of a bird. The ladies raised
their heads simultaneously with a nervous start.
It had a preternatural sound, so sudden, just at
that moment. There it was again!
"But, Eugénie, what can that be?" Aurore
looked accusingly at the row of kinsmen and
kinswomen gleaming on the wall in their heavy
Eugénie held her hand against her heart.
"How it frightened me! It must be some one
"Some one knocking at the front door?
"Some one, perhaps, to see Monsieur Félix."
"Félix? But his visitors all know they have to
go around to the other gallery. There it is again!"
"Maybe it is some one who does not know."
"I will call Stasie."
"But let us see who it is."
"Not for the world! It might be something
horrible out there."
She dropped her flowers and commenced a
shrill, "Stasie! Stasie!" from the very table,
continuing it to the back gallery and out into
the yard to some inaudible distance. Madame
had disappeared when they returned together.
"Go, ma bonne Stasie. It must be some one
to see Monsieur Félix; conduct him around to
the other side of the house."
The door was carefully unbolted, and Stasie,
with all imaginable precautions against sudden
assault, put her head out.
"But what are you doing, Stasie?" screamed
Mademoiselle Aurore, as she saw the door
steadily open. She had not time for the
accustomed iteration, but was forced to escape
unceremoniously into Madame Lareveillère's
room to escape the view of the intruder.
Madame was unbuttoning her peignoir.
"What do you think?" Aurore was excited,
or she would not have been guilty of the filial
impiety. "That sotte Stasie has actually opened
the front door, and there is a stranger, at this
moment, in the hall. But no; impossible!" - as
he heard a stiff door being pushed open - "in
the parlor! She has invited him into the parlor!"
"Mamzelle," said Stasie, coming into the
"Well, Stasie, I compliment you! Letting
a stranger into the house this way!" Mademoiselle
Aurore's voice was strident; the tone
rather than the words penetrated to the ears
so tightly bandaged by the faded bandanna.
"What do you mean by opening the house
this way? Are you crazy?"
"He is a gentleman - visitor." Then, as
the full meaning of Mademoiselle Aurore's
attack came to her, she raised her voice, querulously:
"Comment donc? Would you have me
shut the door in his face? Would you have
me drive him away - a gentleman - when he
comes on a visit?"
"What nonsense! A visitor!" She turned
to her friend for a dispassionate opinion.
"What! You are undressing, Eugénie?"
"Only changing my peignoir, Aurore. The
air seems a little cool to me."
"You must understand, Stasie, there is some
mistake. If he does not come to see Monsieur
Félix on business, he must be going to
old Sîmon's or Mr. Smith's. Go and explain
to him - although you should have told him on
the gallery, not brought him into the house."
She uttered the words emphatically, close to
Stasie's ear, and pushed her gently out of the
door. "If Stasie would only allow me to get
a younger servant!" she exclaimed, when the
"There, Mamzelle, there; see for yourself!"
the old woman returned, thrusting a visiting-card
before her mistress's eyes as if she were as
blind as she, Stasie, was deaf. "Ah, I told you
so! Shut the door in his face! Put him out by
the shoulders! Ah, that was not the etiquette
of your grandmother, par exemple!"
Marcélite had come in by another door. She
slipped behind Madame and whispered
something in her ear.
"Mais qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?" Mademoiselle
Aurore looked perfectly nonplussed. "I
cannot understand it. Monsieur -"
"My négligé from Paris," whispered Madame
to Marcélite, so that Mademoiselle Aurore
could not notice it.
"Monsieur Armand Goupilleau. Goupilleau?
Goupilleau? But I never heard of a Goupilleau.
And you, Eugénie?"
"Monsieur Armand Goupilleau? Surely I
know Monsieur Armand Goupilleau. He is a
notary public in New Orleans - oh, but one
of the most celebrated notaries there! He is
a good, good friend of mine, an old friend. He
advises me about all my affairs; and an institute
like the St. Denis requires a great deal of
advice, I can tell you. Do I know him? I should
think so. He is like a father to me, in fact."
Marcélite dropped the négligé over her head.
"Just tie this ribbon for me, ma bonne." Her
thin, white fingers, with the long, pointed nails,
could only wander aimlessly amid the bows and
laces. But the hairdresser needed neither directions
nor explanations. Her dark face glowed
with intelligence; she seemed transformed by
a sudden illumination; her deft, light fingers
never worked so felicitously, pulling out lace,
tying ribbon, putting in ear-rings, lifting up a
puff here and pinning a curl there until the
whole expression of the coiffure was reanimated,
passing a powder-puff over the pale face, brushing
out the eyebrows, rummaging through a
sachet for the appropriate handkerchief.
"Is he married, Eugénie?"
"But no, Aurore. - What brutality!" she
"Ah!" Aurore opened the door for them
to go out.
"One moment, Madame," whispered Marcélite
She was kneeling on the floor with
a pair of high-heeled bronze slippers in her
"Ah, I knew it! Marcélite is more of a
woman than Aurore."
The négligé hung in long, beautiful, diaphanous
folds, and exhaled a delicate fragrance of
vétyver, as Marcélite shut the door on both
Madame took the initiative, with effusion.
"Ah, mon ami! what a delightful surprise!
Never could you come at a better time." She
held both hands to him. "Let me present you
to my friend, my best friend, my old schoolmate,
my sister in fact, Mademoiselle Angely.
Chère Aurore, this is my good friend Monsieur
Goupilleau, of whom you have heard me speak
so often. Now you will tell us what good fairy
sent you to the parish of St. Charles."
"As I said in the note which yesterday Monsieur
your brother received -" began the
notary in courteous explanation.
"Ah, mon Dieu! That is the beginning -"
exclaimed Mademoiselle Aurore. "Gabi! I
must tell Félix immediately." She abruptly
left the room, Monsieur Goupilleau bowing
before her. Madame's vivacity fled with her; the
social graces, which hung like a silken domino
around her, seemed to vanish, leaving her as
undisguised and embarrassed in her natural
emotion as a peasant before the questioning,
expectant eyes of the notary.
"And you also did not receive my letter
"No; as you hear, an accident -"
He took her indiscreet hand and guided her
through the twilight of the large parlors to a
sofa. It was a letter that had cost him an effort
to write, - the wording of inexhaustible sentiment.
He could never speak what he had transcribed
alone in his quiet office, her image before
him, musty official records around him, and a
companionless life behind him. His heart, his
eager, long-suppressed heart, drove the clean,
sharp, steel notarial pen, and what had it not
said? So, it was all lost by an accident! but
it had contained one affair of business.
"Madame Joubert has made a proposition to
purchase your interest in the St. Denis."
"Madame Joubert!" Madame Lareveillère
repeated in supreme astonishment. Madame
Joubert at the head of her brilliant aristocratic
pension! Why, she had not a single qualification,
nothing, except an education. The item of
business brought reprieve, but also disappointment
Had she, then, been wrong in her intuitions,
premature in her expectations?
"And Mademoiselle Motte?"
"Ah, Marie Modeste!" The sweet, novel,
motherly look came into her eyes, - the one
beautiful expression of which life had hitherto
"Mon ami, how can I tell you! When I
think of Marcélite I am ashamed of myself, -
I who am white and have an education. Ah,
I detest myself; but you see I was thinking so
much of my own affairs."
A blush that must have been caused by her
thoughts sprang from her heart and spread up
to her face, and warmed even the tips of her
"Aurore knew it, Aurore felt it to be a truth.
And I promised to be a mother to her -"
"And I," said the notary. "a father."
"Would a mother forget her child, a young
girl, for her own affairs?" It was a chaplet of
self-reproach, the penitential accumulation of a
wakeful, feverish night, exaggerated, incoherent.
"But I thought she was happy; she is so
young, you know."
She raised her eyes to his. The swine, not
she, had received his letter, but his eyes contained
it all, and were repeating it over and over
again to the hair, the head, the face, the figure
beside him, - those wonderful, eloquent eyes of
a recluse poet; and she read it all, and could
not feign misunderstanding. His timid, hesitating
words were entirely superfluous so long as
she looked at him; but her own eyes - it was
safer to turn them on the piano. The diamonds
gleamed on her excited fingers. Last night,
when she could not sleep, she had composed it
all - she always prepared her pretty speeches
and notes beforehand for possible emergencies.
It was to be a consent, - oh, yes, there had never
been any doubt about that, - but a consent based
on the exalted motives of duty and self-sacrifice,
and a common obligation toward Marie Modeste;
a consent expressive of all that she did
not feel; one worthy of Mademoiselle Aurore,
and unobjectionable to the most fastidious wit
of a sarcastic society Her fluent tongue recited
the chef-d'oeuvre as if her friends had all been
there to listen, were stationed behind the heavy
curtains to hear. Only the notary himself had
been forgotten; he alone should not have been
present. The light died away from his face,
and a grave misapprehension clouded his eyes.
"I shall go now and announce it to Aurore
myself, and Monsieur Félix. Oh, yes, there is
no need to conceal it a moment from the world;
and you can explain it to Marie Modeste. I
shall send her to you immediately."
It was as if she were speaking to her professor
of mathematics. His letter might have
made it all different! He had offered the love
of his lifetime, he had asked for love. Was
she to give him duty, self-sacrifice? - And the
tête-à-tête was coming to an end!
She stood a moment to steady herself on her
high heels; the room was as private as a grave,
as secret as her own heart at midnight; it was
mysterious and still. She looked all around at
the portraits on the wall, - portraits, not
mirrors, - and, as it were a dream, she forgot all that
she had been remembering for three months; forgot
it all completely, deliciously. She turned to
the sofa, but the notary had risen too; he had
been standing at her side pleading, reproachful.
"Mon ami." The lace sleeves fell back from
the arms she held to him, all her heart trembled
in her voice and looked through the tears in
her eyes. "Mon ami, it is not so; do not
believe it: it is not duty, Armand."
There was no one to see them or hear them.
The birds outside were singing and the sun shining,
the fresh new breezes rustling the trees, the
cane sweetening, the roses resting in the shade;
the negroes were working in the field, the women
nursing and tending in the quarters; Marie
Modeste was listening to curious prophecies
from Marcélite; Mademoiselle Aurore was
explaining to Monsieur Félix; Stasie was grumbling;
Gabi was submitting to his delayed
punishment from Edmond. The world had
forgotten them; it was rolling on without them, or
rather it had rolled back for them. She was
seventeen, dreaming in the allée, under the oleanders,
of love and a first lover. He was twenty-five,
rhyming sonnets in the moonlight, à
l'inconnue. And the rapture that came to them
then in a vision enfolded them now as they
exchanged their first embrace.
"Of course, Eugénie, you know your own
affairs best," said Mademoiselle Aurore. They
were again on the gallery, the sunset again on
the river. "As for me -" she shrugged her
shoulders, leaving the rest of the sentence (in
truth abortive in her own mind) to the imagination
of Madame Lareveillère. A prolonged
pause threatened the extinction of the subject
of conversation. Mademoiselle Aurore resumed
in a cool tone of voice and polite reserve of manner
better calculated to extract embarrassing
answers than information from the friend who sat
helpless at her mercy. The tone and manner
were a personal accomplishment, apparently
not incompatible with her advanced degree of
"Has he money, - your Monsieur, your
One never gets past blushing, it seems, at
such terms, however perfectly the tongue can
"He is not a beggar,
has a certain income from his profession."
"And you are independent, Lareveillère left
you so well provided for! He is a notary public,
"Yes, a notary public."
Their rocking-chairs rocked farther and farther
apart, making intercommunication an effort.
But there was no one on the gallery or
about, and at a certain age mystery is presumed
absurd, at least by Mademoiselle Aurore, as
Madame Lareveillère acutely felt.
"And he lives on Royal Street?"
"Near St. Louis."
"Will you go there when - after the
"Yes, we will live in Royal Street."
"I beg your pardon! I am indiscreet."
"Not at all; it is no secret."
"I suppose your arrangements have been
made some time."
"I assure you only since to-day."
"And when - the wedding? I implore you,
do not answer unless you wish!"
"November! So soon! But that is true, why
"We only thought of that poor child Marie
Modeste. You see, her home will be with us,
naturally. There is so much to do, so many
affairs to regulate, Madame Joubert taking the
Institute -" Madame strove to make it ordinary,
commonplace, quite a business arrangement;
but whatever she said sounded apologetic
to humiliation, and her eyes felt the obscurity of
tears when they saw a thin smile on Mademoiselle
"It is hard for me to understand, - one like me,
who never has been married at all;" the maiden
lady raised her hands, the fingers extended as if
from the touch of something unpleasant. "But
I should think the presence of a young girl,
enfin! - But you are never embarrassed, you!
Only during the first few days of the - what is
called (there is no other name for it, it is so
ridiculous!) the honeymoon, she might be a
little surprised, shocked even, not having seen
anything of the conjugal state. I must confess
for myself, there is a crudity -"
"No wonder, - no wonder," thought Madame,
"she never got married." In truth, her thoughts
were very busy about her friend all the time, and
may be credited with a gallant assault against
an attachment which had so far proved impregnable
"It is not that, Aurore, but," forcing herself
resolutely to speak, "if you would let me
leave her with you for a few days. If you would
take care of her until we are arranged in the city.
Monsieur Goupilleau advises it, and I - I know
nothing better to propose. It is a favor I ask for
her, for myself. I shall never forget it; indeed,
it will lay me under the greatest obligations.
Poor young girl! You understand it will be
painful for her to go back to the school again."
"Eugénie How can you doubt it? How can
you ask?" When it came to a question of hospitality
or friendship, Mademoiselle Aurore yielded
to no one. "I was going to propose it myself!
Did you think I would ever allow, ever consent
to any other arrangement? The idea! It is the
only thing natural, the only thing proper! I
shall keep her here, and take her myself to the
city when you are ready for her. As if I could
not love a young girl as well as you or Marcélite!
Poor child, that is one of our war-claims! As
for Marcélite, I can't tell you what I think of her
conduct. It is heroic; it is sublime! Oh, she
will never want a friend as long as I live, or
Félix either! And Ninie," calling her by her old,
school, pet name, abruptly changing the subject,
leaving her chair, too, to get nearer her friend,
"there is something you must not deny me, -
indeed I have a right to insist upon it; I am sure
you will not wound me by a refusal. I thought
of it instantly; I have planned it all out; I have
even announced it to Félix and Stasie." The
thin little woman had gone back, back, in her
life, far away from the present; where was she
going to stop, in the sweet loveliness of her
caressing manner and words? She was so delicate,
you must remain here too, you must
be married from Bel Angely, - from the home of
your oldest, best friends, with your old sister
Aurore to wait on you, to love you to the last -"
"Aurore! my angel! my treasure! Titite," -
that was her little name. "It was my secret
wish, my supreme desire! Ah, what a heart!
What a friend!"
It was worth so much difference, so many
differences, - the reconciliation; the crossing over
from such a separation in their natures to meet
again as they had started in life, heart open to
heart, tongue garrulous to tongue, all revealed,
understood, nothing concealed, - absolutely
nothing. For there was a generous rivalry in
loyal self-surrender and confession until Stasie
again blew the horn for supper; and the feeble
echoes returning quickly to the gallery, like
aged birds after a short flight, put an end to
THE DRAMA OF AN EVENING.
IT was carnival time of the year in New
Orleans. The annual machinery of
gayety had been set in motion: heavy,
cumbersome antiquated machinery, with
etiquette, ceremony, precautions, and
safeguards innumerable for the inflammable
hearts transplanted from a tropical court to a
tropical clime. It was the meeting-time of the
year for the young people, the season for
opportunity, the mating time to come later in the
spring, when the flowers twisted themselves
naturally into bridal-wreaths, or in the early
summer, when the mocking-birds sang all
through the moonlight nights. In the wise little
self-sufficient creole world there was no
opportunity like that offered by a soirée. From
time immemorial a soirée had been the official
gate of entrance into the great world of society,
and this year Madame Fleurissant was to open
the season, - Madame Edmond Fleurissant; for
the last name had been so stretched that it
embraced not individuals, but classes. The soirée
was given to her grand-daughter, Stephanie
Morel, who was to make her début into the great
world out of the little world of school. Stephanie
had not graduated; indeed, she was only in the
second class; but Nature would not wait for the
diploma of St. Denis. Nature is that way in New
Orleans, - so impatient. A young girl must be very
industrious there to get an education before her
From the time the invitations were sent out
there had been nothing else talked about by
the débutantes. The giddy little heads, still full of
Mass, and still wet with the touch of holy water,
would loiter, on their way from the cathedral, by
the seductive shops, or come together outside the
artificial-flower windows (rivalling the show
within) to consult on the proper parure for the
occasion. Field flowers, lilies of the valley, daisies,
myosotis, and rosebuds, "rose tendre," the
sweetest of all flowers for a débutante, - bloomed, a
miraculous spring, in
the confined laborariums, and but for the glass
would have poured out over the damp stone
banquette. The day of the intellect was felt to be
over, it was the body which had to be furnished
now. It was not only a question of artificial
flowers, tulles and tarlatans, gloves, and slippers,
but of pointed or round bodices clinging or
spread skirts. With Paris so far away, and
American fashions so encroaching and so
prosaic, what problem had their arithmetic ever
furnished to compare with it?
The interest, which had been diffused to the
extreme limits of the square of the city, as the
original French settlement is called, began in
reflex to return as the 27th of December
approached, until with the day itself it hovered
over a once fashionable neighborhood,
now a quartier perdu given over to coffee-houses,
oyster-stands, mattress-makers, and chambres
garnies suspects, and finally concentrated on
the old gray stucco building, - a by no means
insignificant theatre of social festivities in that
celebrated time long past, to which even a reference
now is monotonous. As night fell, the
venerable mansion arose through the darkness,
glittering with light, shedding a stately radiance
over the humble roofs opposite, and shaming the
social degradation of its whilom intimates and
neighbors on each side. Both portals were opened
for the reception of guests, - the great wide
porte-cochère in front, and the back gate on the street in
the rear. This gate had been thoughtfully propped
open, that the hinges might not be injured or the
mistress disturbed by the continual opening and
shutting of another procession of guests, - the
expected if uninvited, a not inconsiderable gathering
from an old ostentatious superfluous retinue.
Having come within the radius of the news
that Madame Edmond was going to give a soirée,
they, naturally considering their former intimate
relations with the family, came to the soirée itself.
Those who had ante-emancipation costumes
of flowered mousseline-de-laine gowns,
black-silk aprons, and real bandanna head-kerchiefs,
put them on for volunteer service in the
dressing-room. Those who had shawls put them
on to hide toilet deficiencies, and also a
prudently provided basket. Those victims
of constitutional improvidence who improvidence
who had neither baskets nor shawls
came in untempered shiftlessness to gloat their
eyes and glut their bodies on whatever chance
might throw in their way. All entered alike boldly
and assuredly, in the consciousness of their
unabrogated funeral and festal privileges,
inspected, with their heaven-given leisurely
manner the provisions for refreshment,
commented on the adornments, reconnoitred the
rooms, and finally selected advantageous positions
for observation behind the shutters of the ladies'
dressing-rooms, or posted themselves in
obscure corners of the hall. What sights to take
home to their crowded shanties! And the sounds!
Where could so many voices, so many emotions,
be assembled as in a ladies' dressing-room
before a soirée, - a début soirée?
"Have I too much powder?"
"Is my hair right so?"
"Does my dress show my feet too much?"
"Perhaps my comb would be better this
"Shall I put a mouche just here?"
It is so important to look well on a début
night. Everything depends upon that. Why
a wrinkle in a bodice, a flaw in a glove, a curl
this way or that, is enough to settle a destiny. No
wonder they were nervous and excited. Self-confidence
vanished as it had never done before, even in an
"Histoire de France" contest at school.
And in matters of toilet there is no such thing as
luck. There seemed to be an idea that Fate could be
propitiated by self abnegation. The looking-glass
extorted the most humble confessions.
"I am a fright!"
"As for me, I am perfectly hideous!"
"I told maman how it would be!"
"Now, it's no use!"
"It is that Madame Treize! ah, what a demon!"
"I can hardly stand in my slippers, they are so
"And mine are so loose, - perfect ships."
"Ah, that Renaudière! the rascal!" came in
chorus from all, for they all knew the
"Just see what wretched gloves!"
"Look at my bodice! My dear, it was laced
three times over, - the last time more crooked
than the first."
In fact, there was not an article of dress,
glove, shoe, or parure that answered
expectations; not a modiste or fabricant of any
kind that had not betrayed trust. And so restricted
as they were to expression, - hardly daring to
breathe under their laces or lift an eyebrow under
their hairpins! Each one yielded unreservedly to
her own panic, but strove to infuse courage into
"Chère, you look lovely!" imprinting prudent
little kisses in undamageable spots.
"You are so good, you only say that to console
"But I assure you, Doucette!"
"Ah, if I only looked as well as you!"
"What an exquisite toilet!"
"No, chérie! You can't conceal it, it is
"But, on my word of honor!"
"My dear, it is not to flatter, but you look like
"No, it is all over with me, I told maman!
I did not wish to come."
"My hair is getting limp already."
The weather was really turning warm and
moist, as if purposely to relax their curls.
The music commenced downstairs.
"Ah, that's Benoit!"
And they fell into still greater trepidation over this
exhibition of expenditure on their behalf.
"There's going to be a crowd!"
"Ah, mon Dieu!" came from a despairing heart.
"Marcélite, my good Marcélite, put a pin here!"
"Marcélite, for the love of heaven tie this bow!"
"Marcélite, this string is broken!"
"See that big, fat quadroon! That is Marcélite Gaulois,
the coiffeuse. She is the hairdresser for all the haut ton,"
whispered one of the knowing ones in the crowd outside the
"That must be her mamzelle, hein, - the tall one
with the black hair?"
"Marcélite, I am so afraid," whispered Marie Modeste
all the time.
"Zozo, you are the prettiest of all," or, "Zozo, your
dress is the prettiest of all," was the invariable refrain.
"Must we go down now?"
"Bonne chance, chère!"
"Pray for me, hein, Marcélite?"
"And don't forget me, Marcélite!"
"Here, this is for good luck!" And with signs of the
cross and exhortation they went downstairs into - not the
parlors, that was not what frightened them, but the future,
the illimitable future, that for which all their previous life
had been a preface. One step more, it would be the present,
and their childhood would be over.
From the time her carriage left her door,
Madame Montyon had talked incessantly to her son, a
handsome young man with a listless face, who was carefully
seated in an opposite corner, out of the way of the
never-an-instant-to-be-forgotten new velvet gown. What she intended
to do, what she intended to say, what her listeners intended to
do and say, - nay, what they intended to think! Always
speaking and thinking consonant to her disposition, she
evidently intended to carry her business to the ball, and had
laid out her plans in consequence of some recent interview
with her agent.
"I told Goupilleau, 'Goupilleau, nonsense! You don't
know whom you are talking to! Can't get money out of this
people! bah! Giving
balls, going to balls, and not pay house-rent, not
pay office-rent, not even pay interest on their
debts! debts reduced to ten cents on the dollar!
But what are you singing to me, mon ami' 'But
Madame must not judge by the present.' 'And
why not? Why not judge by the present?' 'The
crises, the revolution, the reconstruction -' 'La, la,
la, you are too sympathetic. Goupilleau, my
friend, let me tell you, you are no longer a notary,
you are no longer an agent. You are a
philanthropist, - a poetic philanthropist. Go coo
with the doves, but don't talk business like that!'
And Goupilleau knew I was right. I can read
thought! One is n't a Duperre for nothing."
This was a well-known allusion to the fact that
her father, General Duperre, a child of the
Revolution in default of more illustrious ancestry,
had distinguished himself once in a certain
provincial trouble in France by his boundless
sagacity and impregnable firmness.
The young man made a movement, but only
with his foot.
"Take care! My dress! You will crush
it! Black-velvet dresses cost money, and money is
not picked up under the foot of every galloping
horse!" - whatever she meant by this favorite
expression. "No, my son." She pronounced
these words with a slight insistence on the "my,"
an assumption of motherhood that betrayed the
pretender. "One must give a hand to one's own
affairs. The eye of the master is very good,
particularly when one employs lawyers.
" 'Goupilleau,' I said, 'what of those stores on
" 'Taxes, Madame.'
" 'And the houses on Dumaine Street?'
" 'Repairs, Madame.'
" 'The Ste. Helena plantation?'
" 'The freeze last year, Madame.'
" 'The old Dubois - the old rascal! -
" 'Overflow, Madame.'
" 'The brick-kiln over the river?'
" 'Destroyed by fire, Madame.'
" 'Goupilleau, you wrote me that that
miserable wretch, that abominable hypocrite, old
Gréaud, is broken-hearted, wants to commit suicide,
bankrupt, and I don't know what all; and
yet his daughter gets married, and orders her
trousseau from Paris (oh! don't take the trouble to deny it; I
know it, I got it from my own dressmaker); and has
such a wedding as the world has never seen!' 'Ah,
Madame!' shrugging his shoulders," - shrugging hers
too; she had been imitating his voice and manner all
along in the dark, - " 'it came from his wife, the
mother of the young lady.' 'But, just heavens!
Goupilleau.' I said, 'do you mean to tell me that what
little God and the Government leave to me of my debts
is to be hidden under the women's petticoats?' Well!
I shall see for myself this evening. I am very glad the
Grandmère Fleurissant gives this ball. Ah! I shall let
"I hope," said the young man, in a voice that
expressed a very faint hope indeed, "you will be
discreet; the creoles -"
"Bah! the creoles," contemptuously; "don't you
think I know the creoles? They are creoles
remember, not Parisians."
It was hardly possible for him to forget a fact of
which he had been reminded at almost every
stroke of the clock since their departure from
"You forget that I, too, am a creole."
"Charles," - the voice came back suddenly,
cold with offended dignity, - "you forget
yourself; you must not speak so, I do not like it;
in fact, you know it displeases me extremely;"
and silence lasted now until the carriage stopped
before the house, where, really, a policeman was
very much needed, to keep not only the forward
bodies of the banquette children, but also their
impudent tongues, in order.
She had been going on to tell him much
more, - about the "Succession d'Arvil," which,
after all, had been the important reason of her
coming to America; how the half-million she
hoped from it was still buried in a mass of old
paper, a regular rag-picker collection. "That
Goupilleau - oh, Goupilleau! he is not the man he
was; marriage has quenched him. He was still
looking, looking, looking," - screwing up her eyes
and handling bits of paper in her gloved hands, -
"examining, comparing, as if in fact he held a
contract from heaven to supply him with all the
time he needed. Not one half of the papers gone
through, and fully a month since he died, - old
Arvil! It ought to
be at least a half-million!" She had suffered that
amount of shame from him during his lifetime, it
was worth half a million to appear as his niece
"But Goupilleau is so slow! I shall give him a
talk to-morrow! I shall say 'so and so,' and he
will say 'so and so.' "
Her irascibility once excited, eloquence
flowed without bounds; her verbal castigation of
the notary was satisfactory and complete, and the
succession of her uncle hastened to a
conclusion, - her own conclusion, a half-million. It
would be a neat addition to Charles's heritage.
"Charles!" her robust, strong nature melted
over the name. Late in life her fortune had
bought her the temporary possession of a husband
but the permanent ownership of a child, - a
beautiful little child, who had unlocked the
passion of maternity in her. She was of the
kind who are born to be mothers, not wives; who
can do better without a husband than without
children. As her old Uncle Arvil had hoarded
money, so she hoarded this affection. As he had
descended to base usages to obtain his desire, so
had she descended to unworthy
measures for the monopoly of this one heart The
little boy had responded well to her efforts, had
given her much, had forgotten much. But he had
not given her all, and he had not forgotten the one
whom to eradicate from his memory she would
have bartered all her possessions, much as she
loved them, - his own mother.
"I am your maman, Charles."
"You are my maman, but not my own
maman." The childish verbal distinction became
the menace of her life, the sentiment of his. And
the dead mother, as dead mothers do, became a
religion, while the living one remained a devotion.
She walked like a Duperre through the volleys
of commentaries on the sidewalk. "Maman," said
the young man in a low voice, as they mounted
the steps, "be discreet, I implore you."
"Bah!" was the answer; and then he began to
regret that he had not sought an excuse to stay
away. He was as sensitive as she was obtuse,
and there seemed to be no escape from impending
ridicule. He placed himself out of
the way of the dancers, against the wall; condemned
by his forebodings to be an observer of, rather than a
participant in, the pleasures of the evening.
The antique gilt chandeliers festooned with crystal
drops lighted up the faded, as they had once lighted
up the fresh, glories of the spacious rooms. Gilt
candelabra with fresh pink-paper bobèches branched
out everywhere to assist in the illumination, - from the
door, the windows, the arches, and under the colossal
mirrors, which were sized to reflect giants. Old
magnificences, luxuries, and extravagances hovered
about the furniture, or seemed to creep in, like the old
slaves at the back gate, to lend themselves for the
occasion; even in a dilapidated, enfranchised
condition, good, if for nothing else, to propitiate
present criticism with suggestive extenuations from the
past. As the parlors with their furniture, so were many
of the chaperons with their toilets. There were no
reproaches of antiquity to be passed between them.
But the good material had remained intact with both, and
the fine manners which antedated both furniture and
clothes, and to an observer obliterated
them, establishing a charming and refreshing
supremacy of principals over accessories.
"Ninety years old!"
"Ninety!" exclaimed Tante Pauline. "Ninety-two, if
you believe me; I know well!"
Every one naturally said the same thing, coming
away from the venerable hostess. Tante Pauline, who
was aunt only by courtesy to every one in the room,
had constituted herself a kind of breakwater to turn
the tide of compliment into truth. She was in an
admirable position, near the door.
"How can she be so malicious!" thought the
young married woman standing by her side, adjusting
her eye-glasses for another look about the room.
It was well she did, for she was so nearsighted she
would never have seen the candle grease dripping
down over a bobèche upon a young man's coat.
She made a motion to speak, then hesitated, then,
with some mental admonition to courage, -
"Monsieur, you are standing under the drip of a
"Ma foin!" she thought, "he is distingué,
good-looking, and young. Why does n't he
dance? If I knew his name I could introduce
him. In fact, if I knew him I could talk to him
"Ah! I can tell you, my maman went to
school with her youngest daughter, and then she
was a woman; a women of a very certain age in
The tall, angular, Tante Pauline talked all the
time, shrugging her shoulders under her thin
glacé-silk waist, tapping her sandal-wood fan,
and gesticulating with her bony hands, in their
loose black silk mittens.
"Ninety! Who would it?"
"It is a miracle!"
"And so charming, so spirituelle!"
"A beautiful ball! Really like old times."
"Eh, Odile!" Tante Pauline spread her
fan (rusting spangles on a ground of faded red
silk) to shield what she was going to say to her
"She ought to know how to give balls! She
has given enough of them. That is the way she
married off six daughters."
"Of course, and evaded paying the dot with
every single one of them," emphasizing each
syllable. "What do you think of that, hein? Oh,
she has a head for business. She has plenty of
money to give balls."
"Who can he be, Tante Pauline?" asked
Odile, looking towards the young man whose
coat she had rescued.
"Eh!" The sharp eyes screwed under their
brows. "But what specimen is that? I can't
place him. Ma chère, how foolish, but don't
you see whom he is looking at? But look over
there! there!" and she pointed with a long
knotted finger. "Black velvet, diamonds, mar-
about feathers. Ah, what a masquerade! a
whole Mardi-gras. But, Odile, how stupid of
you! Madame Montyon, enfin; that is her son,
- her step-son, I should say."
"Ah" said Odile, with a vivid show of interest;
"just from France!"
"Of course, thy dear. Have you not heard?
But where have you been all this week? Come
over on business, to buy out or sell out, Heaven
knows what! - all of us poor creoles who owe her
a picayune. And then there is the Arvil succession,
too. Who knows what a hole that will
make in our poor city? Poor old New Orleans!
But just look at her, my dear; did you ever see
such airs? Ah, well! I don't wonder Laflor
Montyon died. I remember him well, as if he
were of yesterday. I must confess it served him
right; he married her for money," she laughed
maliciously, "but he only got her: the money
was kept well out of his embraces; and very
wisely, for Laflor was a fool about money. Poor
Mélanie! She would turn in her grave to know
who had had the raising of her baby. And
what does he look like, after all?" with a
disparaging glance at the young man. "A Parisianized
creole! An Americanized creole is bad
enough, but a Parisianized - good-day! Why
does he not dance? Why can he not play the
polite to the young girls? Does he think
perhaps that he is too good for us, - that we are
savages, barbarians! That old paper-shaving Arvil!
buying, buying, buying, - always secretly; and
hiding, hiding it all away in his rat-hole, a perfect
miserable caboose, under the mattress. No wonder
he lived so long. Death hated to go there for
him! And the clothes he wore! We will not even
allude to them. Well, he did die and was buried,
and then, grand coup de théâtre, Madame turns
out to be his niece and heiress. The rich, the
elegant, the aristocratic Madame Montyon, with
her chateau in France, the niece of old
'rag-picker' Arvil, as we used to call him. And he,
our disdainful young man, will get it all. Ha!
ha! ha! Ah, the poor creoles! She wiped
the tears of merriment from her eyes with a
thin saffron-colored handkerchief, a sharer of
the sandal-wood perfume of the fan. But
surely, Odile, you have heard all this?"
"I don't say no, Tante Pauline." Odile spoke
with indifference; she was in truth a little
disconsolate. Her husband had brought her into
the room and planted her there at the beginning
of the soirée, she had not seen him since.
As for beaux, they had bidden her farewell the
night of her marriage, as the beaux of discreet
brides always do. But her discretion did not
preserve her from ennui now.
"Excuse me, Madame, but it is broken!"
and she warned for the fourth or fifth time some
fatigued dowager off an incapacitated chair,
which stood in a conspicuous place by warrant
of its great age and beauty, - an ornamental
"Ninety - Bonté divine!"
"Odile," Tante Pauline interrupted her asseveration,
"just look at Goupilleau and his wife, -
the newly-married ones! Goupilleau! Heavens,
what a name! Poor old Lareveillère! he
was an aristocrat, at least. They say - ah, I
don't know," and her shoulders began to rise
again with serpentine motions from her
far-distant waist, - "they say he adopted that
young girl. Well, it is n't my affair; but what
can you expect, since the war?"
"Well, well, my dear, are you amusing yourself?"
Odile's husband came through the door
at her back. He always carefully spoke English
in public, being what Tante Pauline called
"an Americanized creole;" his wife, as
carefully, spoke French.
"As you see," shrugging her frail shoulders
out of her low-necked waist.
"Ah, one soon gets past all this!" He spoke
like an old, old married man; this was another
of his affectations. She turned her head and
gave a quick side-glance at him with her languid
oval eyes. It was not so very long ago
since she, too, was dancing out on the floor
there, a young girl, he a young man, - dancing,
with the honeymoon in their distant horizon,
gayly and thoughtlessly as any. They had
reached and passed it. What is one moon to
a year of matrimony? She wore her wedding-gown
gown this evening, fresh still, with only the
seams taken up. He was stouter, bluffer, wore
his coat carelessly, left a button out of his vest.
"Who is the young coxcomb?" So he designated
the young man who was still in fixed
contemplation of the
and marabout feathers.
"Young Charles Montyon. I find him quite
comme il faut,
on the contrary."
"He has a confounded supercilious air."
"I admire it; I would like to know him."
"Benoit is playing well this evening." Her
husband nodded toward the piano, behind which
the dark bold head of the colored pianist could
be seen in passionate movement.
"Ah, he ought to play well," chimed in Tante
Pauline, "he asks enough; but really, his prices
are enormous. And I am not the only one who
is wondering how the Fleurissants can afford it;
when you think of poor Caro Fleurissant making
her living embroidering for a few miserable
picayunes. But then they say Benoit gives half
to his old mistress. In fact, she would starve
without it. Well, some women are fortunate to
have people work for them! Eh, Henri?"
But Henri Maziel had left; indeed, he had
not waited beyond the last word of his own
"I do not think we can compliment Henri
Maziel on his manners," whispered Tante Pauline,
under the perfumed shelter of her fan, to
her left-hand neighbor. "Poor Odile! but she
would marry him; she was warned enough! I
heard she threatened to kill herself or go in a
convent. The threats of a girl of seventeen -
bah! And that is what is called having a
The young girls danced as only young girls
can dance, to Benoit's music, - with no past
behind them to weigh down their light feet, and
no future before them but of their own
manufacture; danced round and round in the circle
bounded by the rows of darkly-clad chaperons,
as if they did not see them, their anxious,
calculating faces, their sombre-hued bodies, or
their sombre-hued lives; danced in the frank,
joyous exuberance of youth on its first entrance
into the "great world." Their tulle and tarlatane
skirts spread wider and wider in the breeze
from their own motions, until they stood out like
full-blown roses, showing the little high-heeled
slippers underneath playing as lightly on the
floor as Benoit's fingers on the piano. Bunches
and crowns of artificial flowers were pinned on
their quick-moving, restless heads. Their fresh,
young, bending, curving bodies swelled under
the tightly-laced satin bodices. Eighteen,
seven-teen, sixteen, - they were not out a moment too
soon. Over their books, over their dolls even,
their majority had come to them, - their fragile
dower of beauty, the ancestral heritage of the
women, held in mortmain from generation to
generation. Type came out strongly under the
excitement. In their languid, dormant creole lives
it had held feature and character tenaciously;
to southern, to northern France, to Spain, to
Italy, with faint tinges from Semitic or Anglo-Saxon
influences. The newly-bloomed faces
were varied, unconventional, changing, with
nothing regular, nothing perfect, nothing
monotonous in them, presenting constant surprising,
piquant variations on the usual coloring and
features, with exotic exaggerations and freaks in
both, which permitted little audacities of toilet,
risks in coiffure, originality in bows; they walked,
spoke, were graceful, fascinating, and charming,
grandes dames, by inspiration or tradition,
as the grammatical but ill-spelling court of
Louis XIV talked.
Their timidity had left them, self-confidence
had returned. Naively proud of their new trousseaux,
of looks and clothes, they dispensed their
favors with prodigal generosity, unconscious of
their own wastefulness; experimenting with looks
and smiles and winsome address; using their
dangerous woman-eyes with childish hardihood;
charging their transparent little phrases with
expressions of which life had not yet taught them
They were without doubt, now delighted with
themselves. They could not keep from looking
up at the mirrors, as they passed in promenade,
twirling with Cuban agility their scintillating
plumed fans. And the old mirrors, at times,
could hardly contain between their gilded frames
the upturned, flower-crowned, questioning faces.
They did not indorse each other now, or ask
indorsement; they had already journeyed too far
in their feminine tactics.
The breath-laden air, mounting warmer and
warmer, seemed to brighten the Cupids and
the flowers painted on the ceiling. The white
lint from the drugget floated around like pollen
in autumn in search of flower-hearts to fructify.
One could not look across the room without
traversing the dazzling electricity shooting from
eye to eye.
"Ah, they are very happy, Madame
Edmond!" said her old beau, with a sigh.
"Or they think they are, which is sufficient,"
answered the old lady.
"Oh, no, they do not think. The more
one thinks the less one laughs. Hear them
Out in the hall was the punch-bowl, and out
in the hall were the fathers and uncles, and all
the old, old gentlemen who are neither fathers
nor uncles, but who come to balls simply because
they cannot stay away. They complimented
one another's families, talked Alphonse
Karr and Lamartine, repeated sharp truths from
Thiers or blunt ones from Guizot between their
sips of punch, and in the neutral garb of their
dress-coats discussed moderately, republicans,
royalists, and imperialists, the politics of France.
They made periodical excursions into the parlors,
where their old hearts (grown torpid in the
monotonous decorum of married life), warming
at the sight of so much beauty and the taste of
punch, grew lusty, and were eager to fall in love
again - with one another's grand-daughters.
"How gentille she is, - that little Stephanie
"A perfect bonbon!"
"It's a family trait. 'La gentille Fleurissant,'
as we used to say, eh, Auguste?"
"Aïe! It hurts me still!" and the old victim
laid his wrinkled hand over the sepulchre
of his defunct heart.
"Ah, coquette! coquette!" A warning finger
was shaken at a passing belle.
"You do not tell me that is the daughter
"The daughter! Come! You are posing for
youth; the grand-daughter, it is, of your old
"They grow with a rapidity, - a rapidity, these
"Ah, they do not wish to wait until their
grand-mamans have wrinkles!"
"Bah! women are such coquettes, they do
not wrinkle any more."
"That is true. Mon Dieu! just fool at them!"
"They have not changed in the least, - only
the fashion of their dresses."
"As for that, the fashions are no longer what
they eased to be. The grace, the charm of the
old ball dresses!"
"And the coiffures!"
"The coiffures of the present! look at them, -
"When it comes to coiffures, what will not
pretty woman put on her head!"
"Or an ugly one!"
"Ugly! no, mon cher, there are none."
"Do you remember Madame de Pontalba,
"Apropos of coiffures, that anecdote Alphonse
Karr relates, ha! ha! ha!" The anecdotes
"It was Monsieur de Pontalba."
"No, it was Madame de Pontalba."
"The hairdresser of Madame Récamier, ha!
"Briant was there at the time, - Auguste
Briant, and he told me -"
"The hairdresser looked around and saw,
imagine - ha! ha!"
"Madame de Pontalba said, 'Monsieur!' "
"A white object on a chair -"
"She was never the same again."
"And that was the coiffure she wore, ha!
ha! ha! ha!"
"Goupilleau! Goupilleau!" Madame Montyon
walked up like a brigadier and ordered the
notary out like a soldier from the ranks. One
could easily imagine a brigadier uniform under
the new black-velvet gown, - sword, epaulettes,
spurs, and all; and the marabout feathers in
her hair waved over a face that would have
suited a képi.
"Goupilleau, I cannot believe it! That
Madame Flotte maintains -"
"To-morrow morning, my dear lady, in my
office, I shall be entirely at your service."
"No, no! Now! Come to her; tell her
"In my office, to-morrow -"
"No! now!" And they walked away
together, she victorious, as usual.
"Ha! ha! ha! ha! Ho! ho! ho! ho!"
"Hear that old 'Jean qui rit' still laughing
over his Madame Récamier story."
"No! no! Ho! ho!" The old gentleman's
extended mouth cut a semicircle in his soft,
round, beardless face. "Ho! ho! ho! ho!
That Providence! What a farceur, my friends!
For a jeu d'esprit there is no one like him.
To the sans-culotte father he sends a pantalooned
daughter, - ha! ha! ha!"
When the arrivals entirely ceased, the lookers-on
upstairs, the back-door guests, had to advance
their positions to be at all repaid for
the trouble of peeping. Like shadows they
crept out on tiptoe from their hiding-places to
hang over the banisters and look down on the
exalted, God-favored world below, their eager
eyes catching the light and shining strangely
out of the darkness of their faces. The hairdressers
and maids, in virtue of their superior
appearance, had the privilege of the steps all
the way down to the floor beneath. They
sat, their bright bandanna heads looking like
huge posies, exchanging their bold, frank, and
characteristically shrewd comments on their
whilom masters and mistresses. What did they
not know of the world in which destiny had
placed them in the best of all possible positions
for observation? What had been two low, dim,
or secret for them as slaves to crawl into?
From their memory or experience, as they sat
there, what private archives of their city might
not have been gathered, - the snarls and tangles,
the crossings and counter-crossings of
intrigue, the romances dipped in guilt, the guilt
gilded with romance, the tragedies from the
aspiring passions of some, the degrading
passions of others, and all the impurities from
common self-indulgence, with indestructible
consequences to stalk like ghosts through the
pleasant present! Their school had well taught
them the strength and weakness of Nature, the
baseness and nobility of humanity. Understanding
the problems of the heart better than
those of the head, they translated them into
the unveiled terms of their intimate language,
giving free vent to their versions and theories,
but aggressively in their loyal partisanship and
their obstinate servility to family and name. It
was a pleasure to look up and see them, to
catch a furtive greeting or a demonstration of
admiration. Their unselfish delight in the
enjoyment of others gave a consecration to it.
"I warrant you, Madame Morel has courage, -
a little baby at home, and introducing a young
lady in society."
"Look at Madame Edmond's old beau, Monsieur
Brouy! He looks like a Papa Noël."
"Hé! that grand seigneur Benoit drinking off
"Brought him on a silver waiter!"
"C'est ça des manières!"
"Benoit has luck!"
"No, Benoit has what they call genius!"
"He is not the worst-dressed person in the
"Why not? He was educated in Paris! He
should dress well and play well too!"
"It is his old Madame who is proud now,
"Look, look my children, look! Madame
Montyon!" They all craned their necks to see.
"Eh, but what finery!"
"Madame is Parisian now! she is not a common
creole! Oh, no! she had to bring white
servants with her from Paris. She cannot stand
"Well! She has not grown younger nor
"Poor Monsieur Laflor! No wonder he shot
"Shot himself? He took poison."
"But my old master was there."
"So was mine - in Paris."
"But he did not 'suicide' at all! He died of
apoplexy. I was there myself. I went to the
funeral," protested a third.
"Of course they said that to deceive the priest,
but he 'suicided' all the same."
"Ah, ça! But you must n't abuse politeness!
You can't come on the stairs! Look over as
much as you please, but not to be seen, hein?"
One of the women of the house spoke sharply
to the crowd above.
"It's not me! It's not me!" came a score
of whispers; "it's Nourrice!"
"Nourrice! For the love of -"
"Eh, poor devil! But let her come, Olympia,"
came in antistrophe from the crowd on
the steps. "She'll soon go away; she never
"Here, Nourrice! here!"
"By me, Nourrice!"
"Here's a nice place for you, Nourrice!"
The kind-hearted women moved this way and
that to find a place for her on the steps.
Two long, thin, naked, yellow feet, caked with
mud, came down the steps, feeling their way
over the carpet, and an old woman stiffly sat
in the corner offered, tucking her ragged, soiled
skirt about her, and drawing her piece of shawl
over her breast. Her arms were bare, and the
elbow-joints projected sharply. Her kerchief
seemed to have worn in holes on her head; the
gray wool stuck out everywhere, like moss from
an old mattress. She had drifted in from the
street through the back gate, in her rags, her dirt,
and her mendicancy, like some belated bug
attracted from the distant swamps to the gaslight.
They began to joke her in a rough,
"Hé! but, Nourrice, you love balls still?"
"Like old times, hein, Nourrice?"
"You could show them how to dance,
"Who used to run off to the balls at night,
Nourrice?" for they all knew her, - a character
famous for escapades in the old times.
But the old woman paid as little attention to
them as if she had not heard them. The lips
of her sunken mouth, into which all the wrinkles
of her face converged, were glued together;
and so the comments resumed their way without
regard to her.
"Whom is she dancing with there, - that
little Mamzelle of the Goupilleaus?"
"Eh! but she's not pretty!"
"Not pretty? Mamzelle Motte not pretty?
Ah, par exemple!" Marcélite's voice took
another tone from that in which she had criticised
"Chut! it is her Mamzelle!"
"Here is Madame la Grande-Duchesse again."
They had all been attendants on the opera-bouffe,
and could fix a title on Madame Montyon as
well as any one.
"She has not got any prettier, that's the
"Nourrice! Nourrice!" shaking her by the
shoulder, "look, look - your old mistress!"
"A nice old mistress, vas!"
"A mistress who was too good to own slaves;
she had to sell them."
"Madame had susceptibilities; Madame was a
Parisian, not a creole."
"Hé! Nourrice, that's the God's truth, is n't
it? She sold you?"
"Sold the nurse of her baby, - Seigneur!"
"It was not her baby; it was the first one's
"That's the reason she was jealous, - jealous
of Nourrice;" and they all laughed except Nourrice
herself, who pressed her thin fingers over
her mouth and looked on the crowd below.
"And the little boy, the young man, where is
"Oh, but I would like to see him, - Monsieur
"Florval? Charles, you mean."
"It is you who do not know what you are
talking about; his name is Charles Florval."
"Ask Nourrice; she knows."
"She used to nurse him; he was the apple of
her eye, poor wretch!" one whispered, pointing
"I remember him well. Such a temper! a
perfect little devil! but Nourrice could always
A late comer, a very late comer, ascended the
stairs, and they all stood up to let him pass.
He walked as if hurrying from a danger, his
large blond face exhibiting the nervous panic
of a bashful man, - a panic not assuaged by
the coolly critical eyes that scanned him up the
long way, - eyes that were pitiless to anything
like a social infirmity.
"But who is he?"
"Pas connais li."
"Not one of us, sure," meaning creoles.
"An American from up-town."
"Some rich American," corrected another.
He soon descended; the nervousness driven
from his face to his hands, - great, stout hands,
which worked incessantly, smoothing his white
gloves, the sleeve of his coat, and travelling up to
his cravat. He avoided the gaze of the women,
betraying a fatal cowardice, and made his way,
through the old gentlemen around the punchbowl,
to the parlors. He was, in fact, a débutant.
No young girl could have been more
overcome on entering the room than he; no one
could have felt more helpless and bashful; no
one could have more excusably yielded to the
strong temptation to flight. He felt awkward in
his new clothes, not one article of which was an
acquaintance of more than an hour's standing.
he was vexed that their delay in coming had
postponed his arrival at the ball until such an
ostentatiously late hour; and the people all
around him were as new as his clothes. His
long quiet evenings at the plantation, after the
hard day's work, came up before him. There
he was at ease; there he was master; there, on
the finest plantation in St. James's Parish, he was
in a position to inspire, not feel, a panic. He
remained at the door stock-still under the charm
of retrospection, until some deputy of the
Fleurissant family, all apologies and fine speeches,
put an end to the uncomplimentary position.
According to etiquette he was taken around the
circle and introduced to every individual, chaperon
and relative, composing it.
"Monsieur Morris Frank."
"Monsieur Maurice Frank."
"Monsieur Maurice Frank."
"Of the Parish of St. James."
"Of the Ste. Marie plantation of the Parish
of St. James."
The repetition, reinforcing name with title
title with name, accumulated such a deposit of
self-esteem, that at the end of it he could really
assume the air of a young proprietor with a large
bank-account, - the air which distinguished the
plantationless, bank-accountless young scions
"From St. James, you say, - from St. James,
Monsieur Fleurissant? What a chance! He
may know something of an old friend of mine,
a particular friend, Monsieur Deron, - Philippe
Deron, of Ste. Helena plantation."
The dance was still going on, - the soft, light
dresses crushing up against him, the bare arms
grazing him, and the white necks everywhere,
like the dropping petals of the Malmaison roses
from the vine on his gallery at home. He had
to move this way and that, to keep out of the
"Monsieur Deron, - Philippe Deron?"
At first he could only bow low and reverentially,
with blushes of pleasure. His language
could not come on the instant, before such a
volume of black velvet and a diamond neck-
lace, that was so beautiful it charmed the
beholders into admiration of the neck it encircled,
and puffy marabout feathers, like his own tender
ducklings at home, in her hair.
"Monsieur Philippe Deron?"
His face lighted with pleasure at the ease of
the reply: "Philippe Deron? Intimately; his
plantation is next to mine."
"And his crop, - his crop last year?"
"Superb? Ah, you see that! The fox!
Where is Goupilleau? Goupilleau must hear
that! Come with me; we will find Goupilleau.
You just tell Goupilleau that. A superb crop!
Ah, I have caught you this time, my friend
"Mademoiselle Pauline Ruche -"
The introducer had reached the end of the
circle, when Madame Montyon prevented the
pleasure about to be expressed on both sides by
carrying one of the participants bodily away.
"Goupilleau! listen! Ah, that Deron! what
The patience as well as the politeness of even
a notary, however, can come to an end.
"To-morrow morning, at ten o'clock, in my
office." Monsieur Goupilleau was firm and
silent after these words.
"Montyon manners! The manners of a policeman,
my dear, absolutely," explained Tante
Pauline to her companion, whom fate had
only released by intervals from her depressing
"That is the way with those révolutionnaires.
They come from the depths; not from the
bourgeoisie, my dear, but from the people, - the
people." And she pronounced these words
with the unique expression of contempt which
she conscientiously reserved for them.
"That young man! He is a new beau, evidently.
Just come in, you say? Well, better
late than never. What stature! The other men
look like dwarfs. Ah! our creole blood is de-
generating; we have no more men, only manikins.
He is a stranger; he must be a German,
he is so fair. He is a nobody, too; a blind person
could see that! What can the old Montyon
want with him? She has no daughter to marry,
- 'only a son.' But look, Odile! Our Parisian
is at last caught. You see that little creature,
that little Motte! Don't tell me that Eugénie
Lareveillère is not an intriguante! Oh, she
knows how to manage. He is a parti, my dear,
- a parti; no one can deny that. The only
parti in the room. Goupilleau? Mon Dieu!
when a woman has been Lareveillère for fifty
years, who can 'Goupilleau' her all of a sudden?
Ah, see there! She goes rapidly; our
young creole girls are learning from the Americans
the art to flirt. [Flurrter, she pronounced
it.] You know it means for the young lady
to pretend to be in love, in order to induce the
young man to be so in reality. What! Odile's
husband? Henri Maziel? Not a cent, my dear."
She turned to her interlocutor on the left.
"He is drawing the devil by the tail, I hear."
(Il tire le diable par la queue.)
"Not a cent!" She had said it of almost every
one in the room, not from default of imagination
but from the monotonously truthful,
"The on dit," - Tante Pauline suddenly
remembered that she had let a precious subject
pass without relating all she knew about it, -
"the on dit about this young girl, - you must
have heard it. Odile, you have heard it, have
you not? Quite romantic; of course, they tried
to hush it. Very naturally; but it is the truth,
nevertheless. I see nothing in it to be ashamed
of, or, of course, I would not repeat it
Madame Hirtemont told me she got it from Artémise,
the coiffeuse, - Artémise Angely, you
remember; she belonged to Amènaïde Angely.
"Tante Pauline!" - the fan was tapping
away: the young married woman extended
her hand and arrested it, - "for the love of
Heaven do not repeat that silly story! It is
so absurd - and justice to the poor young lady.
Besides, remember how kind Eugénie Goupilleau
has always been to you."
"If it is a story, there is no harm in repeating
it. I don't say positively it is the truth.
Silly! It is not silly, even if it were true."
She resented bitterly any imputation of
maliciousness. Her kind heart repudiated any
desire to do evil. She talked simply with the
vague idea of affording gratification. She was
also proud of her reputation of knowing everybody
and everything, and desired to sustain it.
So, to prove her perfect disinterestedness, and
to leave it to the impartiality of her hearers,
she related all the circumstances from the
beginning, from the very beginning, where Artémise,
the coiffeuse, had been called in to comb
Madame Lareveillère for a grand concert and
distribution of prizes. "And such an
éclaircissement, my dear, about Eugénie's toilet
mysteries," etc., carrying her story successfully
and fluently to the end. "Although the Mottes
are of good family, best creole blood. Marie
Modeste Viel was at the convent the same
time as I, - the old Ursulines' Convent. Your
mother was there too, Odile. She was pretty
enough, but delicate, and so gnian, gnian,"
uttering the criticism with appropriate grimace
"Alphonse Motto was a very nice young man,
quite comme il faut. Not over-burdened with
intelligence, however, or he would have seen
how delicate she was; every one else knew that
she could not live long. Oh, the daughter has
lost nothing by being at the Goupilleaus'! It
was very kind of old Armand Goupilleau to
take her in. He's no relation, - at least, not
that I know of;" which effectually decided
the matter for her hearers, human certainty of
knowledge not going in New Orleans beyond
that possessed by Mademoiselle Pauline Ruche.
The story, as water by capillary attraction,
soaked farther and farther away from the
fountain-head, making the tour of the room
as exactly as Mr. Morris Frank had done;
going from one to another until all had become
permeated with it to such an extent that each
one felt authorized to issue a private version
from such facts as her own eyes could see,
her own ears hear, and her own intelligence
logically suggest, with the young girl in question
dancing before them in a fluttering white
dress, with a crown of blue myosotis on her
black hair, her face beautiful in her
complete self-surrender to the joy of the passing
moment, her partner making no attempt to
conceal his admiration.
"He is really the only parti in the room."
"Yes, he has money; he can marry."
"He's welcome to it at that price, the
father running away from his country during a
war. It is not a Villars who could do that."
"This was it! This was happiness!" Since
she had worn long dresses Marie had caught
it every now and then. In the fragment of a
dream or in one of those fleeting day-moments
that shoot like meteors at times across the
serenity of a young girl's mind, diffusing a
strange, supernatural sensation of causeless
bliss, passing away with a sigh, - the
absent-minded, causeless sigh of young girls, who,
when asked about it, answer truthfully, "I do
not know, it came just so;" a sensation of
bliss which their age does not permit them to
understand, but which they recognize distinctly
afterwards, when it comes at the proper time;
and then they feel that they have lived and
known this moment ages before.
All around Marie Modeste were dancing her
school companions, young ladies now, - and
she was a young lady too! - almost disguised
one from another in their beauty and mature
manner. Could that be Elmina, who had passed
hours in the corner with a foolscap on; and
Loulou, who had almost wept her eyes away
over faults of orthography; and Ernestine,
who had monopolized the leathern medal; and
Gabrielle, who had waged a persistent war, a
perfect siege of Troy in duration, against her
music-teacher; and all those who had passed
out of the gates of St. Denis before her, year
after year, graduated into the then far-distant
great world? These did not dance, but walked
around with the languid movements and
preoccupied eyes of young matrons. "What a
bright, what a beautiful world! Was there
ever a dark day in it? Was it ever so bright or
so beautiful to any one before?" So they all
thought, each one dancing in a fresh, new,
original creation, - a special paradise, full for
each one to name and classify. Her first illusion
goes when the young girl finds her own
Eden neither the brightest nor the best, nor an
individual creation; the last goes when she finds
that she is not the only woman in it, but that
Eves are under every tree.
When they looked at anything, they looked at
themselves in the mirrors, or at their partners,
not at the crow's-feet and wrinkles which had
travelled from the hearts to the faces of the
débutantes of twenty-five years ago, the
possessors, then, of a paradise too.
The young girls had of course consulted the
bonne aventure about him, - the future one
whom they hoped to meet this or some other
near evening. Was he to be fair or brown, tall
or short, widower or bachelor? Candles were
even now burning before distant altars to hasten
his coming, placed by the zealous hands of some
of those very nurses out on the stairs; the saints
were being arraigned, perhaps, by some of the
impatient mother-spectators about him; all to
be forgotten in the supreme moment by the
most interested ones! Quadrilles, deux-temps,
and waltzes succeeded one another; but the
heedless young girls thought only of the pleasure
of the dance, forgetting the profit. How
could they do otherwise, with that new blood
beating in their veins, and new life bursting in
their hearts under the forceful music of Benoit,
- that warm, free, full, subtilely sensualized
African music? The buds themselves would
have burst into blossom under the strains, and
the little birds anticipated spring.
"Ah, what a beautiful world it is! How
good it is to live! How good God is!"
And it came about as Marie Modesto danced
with the young "Parisianized creole;" it is so
inexplicable, so indescribable; to state it destroys
the delicacy of it; to confess it almost vulgarizes
it; but an impression was made on their
fresh, impressionable hearts, slight and faint,
easy to efface or subdue, but more easily
kept alive and fixed. Neither knew - how
could they? it was the first time - what it was.
A change came over the charm upon her; a
dissatisfaction crept into the young girl's heart;
her pleasure all departed. When she spoke, it
was to perceive that she was silly; she became
conscious of marked inferiority in her appearance;
she was wearied; and when she looked in
the mirror now, it reflected not her face but her
mood. And he, seeing the light pass from her
face, became self-accusing, self-depreciative, and
taciturn; his life became a hateful barren to
look back upon, his stepmother an intolerable
irritant whom he wished to deny before Marie.
When the time came for them to part, they
both started, as if being together were a sudden
impropriety. She had not a glance to encourage
him in her embarrassment. He followed
her upstairs to the dressing-room without a
word to retrieve himself with, so absorbed in
the new sensation that he stumbled over an old
negro woman who had apparently forgotten, in
her enjoyment of the scene, to take herself
away with the rest.
Her companions it was that had forgotten to
drive her away into the back-yard for supper, or
into the back-street for shelter. The music crept
through her brain like soft fingers through her
matted, knotted, massed hair, loosening the
tangles in her half-crazy mind. "How would she
know him, they were all so much alike, the young
men, and all dressed the same?"
"My little heart. My little love. My little
kiss. My little soul." A long-buried litany of
diminutive tenderness, the irrepressible cajoleries
of colored creole nurses; she kept her fingers
pressed tight against her lips; not a word of
the myriads that teemed in her heart disturbed
the scented, warm atmosphere. She nodded
at times, and dreamed she was at the bedside
of a patient. The lace-lined trains of tired
ladies on their way to the dressing-room swept
over her. At the sound of every man's step
she would raise her head alertly, and the gleam
in her eye would transfuse the white film that
A little boy with black hair which she used
to curl, black eyes which she used to kiss, and
lace petticoats! If he would only come up the
stair that way! Oh, he will know me! He
will do me justice! He will give me satisfaction
for all, - all! His poor old Nourrice! His
nigger! His dog! His Patate!
Her menial heart, which had cast tendernesses
on her nursling, cast humiliations on herself.
Her thoughts flew like martins back to old times,
and there dallied and rested. She fleas no longer
the eccentric old beggar Nourrice, the bedfellow
of street curs, the ravager of garbage-barrels, but
a pampered, spoiled nurse, the unmanageable,
the wild, the reckless quadroon, of a wild, reckless
period. Some one stumbled over her; she
caught hold of the baluster and pulled herself
up, instinct with old servile apology. Bidden
by the same impulse that had brought her there,
she followed after, close to the footsteps of the
young man, stretching out her arms to catch
him, to detain him.
"I know you! I know you! It's God did
it, - God!"
She had caught him somehow; half pulling,
half pushing, had got him through the open
door to the dark gallery behind.
"Your Nourrice! Your poor old Nourrice!"
He had not pronounced the word in twenty
years. "Nourrice." It meant then a world of
solicitude, - protection from danger, covering
from cold, food when hungry, drink when
thirsty, a cooling, a soothing, a lullaby, a great
strong, dark bulwark to fly to, a willing Providence
in reach of baby arms. He stretched out
his arms again at the word; they reached far
over the limp, mal-odorous object at his feet.
"It's God sent you, - God!"
He felt her lips, a soft, humid, toothless mass,
pressing again and again on his hands. Beyond
her, over the irregular roofs and chimneys and
balconies, the skies stretched full of hot, gleaming,
Southern stars; the music from the piano,
the chattering voices in the dressing-room, filled
the gallery. She kept raising her voice louder
and louder, for her own dull ears to hear the
epitome of her sufferings; he could hear plainly
"Little master! I've no home, no bed, no
food, no nothing. I'm 'most naked! I'm 'most
The heart-rending sob of human desperation
broke her voice.
"Nourrice! Poor old Nourrice! Patate!"
It was an inspiration, - his recollection of the
old nickname. God must have ordered it with
"Patate! You have n't forgotten 'Patate'?
Her tears began to fall; they should have
been soiled, wrinkled, bleared, and distorted.
from such eyes. "I am not lazy, little Master!
I have worked and worked! but God knows I
am too old. I was an old woman when I nursed
you. I can hardly see, I can hardly hear, I can
hardly stand; and I am sick, I am diseased."
"I've no home, no bed, no food, no nothing!"
she repeated. "The little children run
after me in the street, they throw dirt at me;
'Hé! la folle! la folle!' " raising her voice in
piercing imitation of their cruelty. "The little
nigger children, - the rottenness of the earth!
I fall in the gutters! The policemen drag me
off. They club me; they beat me all over; they
tear my clothes! - nigger policemen, little master!"
Passion exhausted her breath at every
item; her voice came hoarse and gusty out of
her exposed, bony chest. "Clubbed by nigger
policemen! Ah, God! They lock me up in
the calaboose. Poor me!"
Her breath and recital ended in a wail of misery.
The wail and the misery reached him, not
here, but in that bright, gay, selfish world of
Paris, where he had passed a happy youth, a
useless manhood. "France? What was he, an
American, a creole, doing in France when such
things were passing in America?"
"It was not right to sell me! It was not
right to sell the nurse of a child!"
"Sell?" he repeated. "Sell?"
"I begged on my knees, I begged and begged!"
"Sell," he thought, "my nurse, - the nurse of
my mother, - sell her, and spend the money in
France"! He felt a hot wave in his heart, as if
it were blushing.
"What did God free me for, hein? To be
beaten by niggers? To be run after by little
nigger dogs? Why did n't He kill me?
"Philo! Odette! Tom!" They were her
children. She began to curse them, horribly,
"They stole my money! They drove me
out! They put the police on me! They set
the children to insult me! I curse them! I
Her shawl had fallen from her shoulders. She
pulled and tore in the darkness at her shrivelled
bare breasts, as if to tear away the ungrateful lips
they had once nourished. He picked up the
wretched rag and folded it around her. It felt
good to touch her ill-treated limbs, to soothe
the violence away from her trembling head.
"Hush! Hush!" She might be overheard.
He tried to conform his Parisian accent to her
creole ears; he even recollected some fragmentary
creolisms. "Hush! hush! Philo, Odette,
Tom; forget them! It is Charlot you must
remember, - your little Charlot; eh, Nourrice?"
The Goupilleaus were going downstairs now,
- the husband and wife arm in arm. He should
have been there for the young lady.
"Give me satisfaction! Give me justice,
He remembered now distinctly hearing her
call his father so, - "Monsieur Charles." A
faint, shadowy form came out of his memory;
it never came more distinctly than that, but he
knew it for his own mother, and as he thought
of her, his eyes again sought the stairway; the
blue myosotis wreath was just disappearing.
His own mother was a creole girl too, like
Marie Modeste Motte.
"A little cabin somewhere, and a few
picayunes to keep me from starving until I die!
You are rich! rich!" What an accusation here,
at this time, in this city, from such a source.
Rich! great God! at what expense!
"To-morrow, Nourrice! To-morrow, the
cabin; now, the picayunes!"
His white gloves received the soil of the
gutter-mud as he took her horny, wrinkled
hands in his.
"And those mulattresses! those impudent
mulattresses in their fine clothes! As if they
had not been freed too!"
She was a mulattress herself, but she could
not forbear the insult, the curiously galling
insult invented by the pure blacks.
"To-morrow! To-morrow morning, Nourrice!
See, it is almost here!" It was not far off
- the dawn. The stars were beginning to look
pale and weary as if the ball had lasted too long
for them also. On the gallery, the darkness
was becoming gray.
The old woman felt her way along by the
balustrade to the back-stairs. After waiting so
many years, it was not too much to wait a few
hours more, - out on the banquette in front of
his house. She would follow him home; she
could not trust even him; when he went out in
the morning it would be better to be there to
The repetition of quadrilles, waltzes, deux-temps continued, but the gayety was no longer
in the parlors; from the supper-room the guests
went to the dressing-room; the procession was
turning to the street again.
As Tante Pauline had said, it was a kind of
judgment-day for the poor creoles. It is not
pleasant to be in debt, but it is a comfortable
mitigation of it to have an ocean between one
and one's creditor. They could not help feeling
towards Madame Montyon as on the real
judgment-day the poor sinners may feel towards the
archangel who wakes them from the sweet
security of death to receive long-delayed punishment.
If she had not said a word, her presence
would have proved too suggestive for their
consciences; but the good lady belonged to a school
which did not economize powder and shot when
occasion required, nor did she breath; she
carried out her plans only too well. At the end of
her prepared speeches, finding that the respondent
did not assume the role of either thinking
or speaking attributed to him or to her, she was
enabled to elaborate her own manner and argument
à indiscrétion. The initiative of politeness
had been tried, the propitiation of a cordial
welcome, the head held high to avoid her, or at
least the eyes, so that only the marabout feathers
came in the plane of vision, - the attitude that
expresses an effort to keep on a level with
elevated principles, the attitude generally of the poor
in pocket. Some quietly avoided her; others
fled before her, but nothing diverted her. She
lent not only one hand but two hands to her
affairs. Her conversation rolled on uninterruptedly,
exhaling rent-bills, due-bills, promissory
notes, mortgages, and every other variety
of debt which had been used to procure money
from her or old Arvil. Her voice took the
suavity out of the truffles, the bouquet from the
champagne. The creole gentlemen (and who
says creole says gastronome) had never eaten
their patés, woodcock, and galantine with such
obtuse palates. Law, conscience, honor! She
arrayed herself and her obligations under the
protection of each and all. "Extravagant as
creoles, no wonder they cannot pay their debts!
millionnaires and richissimes alone
give such suppers," she screamed, holding her
black-velvet train high up, out of the way of
the waiters. "And Goupilleau says the
community is bankrupt."
"My dear lady, we must make an effort
for our young people; we must marry our
Marriage was the last necessity for her to
"But on what basis, - on what basis, in the
name of Heaven, do you intend to found your
"On love, pure and simple; it is the best
we have, having no money."
"Love! Love! And what of honesty, eh?
Can you buy bread for love in New Orleans?
meat? rent houses? pay debts with love?"
"Would to Heaven we could, Madame!"
"Ah, Monsieur Frank," she said, - she had
taken a fancy to the young German, and kept
him near her, - "it is a community of Philippe
Derons! Apropos, you will not forget to come
to Goupilleau's office to-morrow at ten? We
will show Mr. Philippe Deron whom he has to
deal with. You see that old lady over there, -
the one with the black lace cap, - well, to this
day she owes me for a servant, a valuable
nurse. And she can come to balls, to introduce
a grand-daughter into society, I believe. I
reminded her of it this evening. And Goupilleau
says that the law does not compel the payment
of such debts; the law! yes, the law! but honor,
the famous old creole honor! For gentlemen
and ladies, all debts are debts of honor!"
It was unfortunately said in the hearing of
one who, though the least solvent pecuniarily,
was good for any amount payable by the
code, - Monsieur Henri Maziel.
"That, that is a little strong," he muttered, -
"ça, c'est un peu fort."
He sought out some undertakers of duelling
pomps and ceremonies, who promptly requested
Monsieur Charles Montyon, then descending
the staircase, to furnish at his earliest convenience
reparation to creole honor impugned by
his step-mother.) The waiters carried it to
the back-yard, the guests whispered it in the
dressing-room; Madame Montyon herself was
the only one to ignore it.
The last carriages rolled away in the breaking
of a new day. The 28th of December
succeeded to the inheritance of consequence
left by the 27th. Old Madame Fleurissant
slept, under the weight of her ninety,
ninety-two, or ninety-five years, the hermetically
sealed sleep of the aged, with no crack or
crevice for gnawing thought to intrude and
torture the brain; while her guests carried to
their homes and into their future lives the
germs of variations in both which she through
her soirée had sown.
Morris Frank, never more secure in the
possession of his magnificent plantation, went over
his nightly résumé of the details composing
it, - the acres under cultivation, the uncleared
forest, the sweep of the river-front, the
sugar-house, the hands, even to the names of the
mules; his settlement with his merchant that
day: his bank-book heavy with amounts of
deposit. His elation for the first time was
untempered by regret for his father, whose toilsome
life and recent death had made him heir
to it all. In his superb physical strength and
accumulated fortune he had but to put his
hands out to grasp the pleasures of life, - his
great, strong hands made to grasp, and his
great, strong heart made to enjoy. The magnificent,
complimentary Madame Montyon had
also her share in his self-satisfaction. Through
his dreams ran the appointment to meet her the
next day in the notary's office, and he sought
in his mind all possibly useful information with
which to confuse the plausible Philippe Deron.
Madame Montyon, whose fatigues blurred the
enjoyable retrospect of her evening's business,
felt only a sleepy triumph. The imported white
maid missed her usual scolding, as she removed
the panache of feathers and velvet train, - with
professional tenderness and solicitude for them,
professional indifference to their wearer.
To Madame Odile Maziel, instead of slumber
came a vigil filled with the recollection of
an evening of mortification and ennui, dominated
by the prophecies she had defied at her
marriage, which came now to brood over her
future like sluggish crows.
Young Montyon, in his feelings an old Montyon,
looked through a veil of cigar-smoke at the
old raving Nourrice and the adjacent childish
remembrances her presence evoked; at his native
city, and the people whom his step-mother and
father had abandoned in time of crisis; at the
irrepressible step-mother herself, at the imminent
choice of swords or pistols her indiscretion
had brought upon him, and the probable
eventualities of the morrow; but last, and longest,
he looked at a crown of blue myosotis over
eyes that seemed the eyes of a thousand women
in one, and at a face made from the core of his
own heart, and at the history of it which he
had overheard from his station near the parlor
And Marie Modeste; the music, the inexorable
music, carried her around and around, on
and on, until, horribly awake, yet expiring with
fatigue, the early church-bells dissolved the
infernal charm. She sank like a feather into
a sleep of eider-down, where dreams came to
tease her with sudden fallings, or with hints and
suggestions touched her sensibilities to the coloring
of a blush, the starting of a tear; her feet
twitching and moving still in the waltz, - the
one waltz with the young Parisian.
Even a soirée, however unusual the occurrence,
could not disturb the equilibrium of
Monsieur Goupilleau's notarial existence. He
descended at his habitual hour the next morning
to his office, situated on the ground-floor
of his dwelling, and resumed the interrupted
business of yesterday; leaving stoically on the
threshold all thoughts of the seducing comforts
and luxuries so recently installed in his chambers
He was soon immersed in the "Succession
d'Arvil," extracting the papers from a tin box,
smoothing, cataloguing, annotating them, and
arranging them in distinct little piles on his
The private door of his office was pushed open
"Monsieur!" she said, "Monsieur!" her
voice boding ill news.
The whole upper stories of his house, with
their treasures of domestic love and happiness,
tottered under the notary's sudden fear.
"Monsieur," - she gave vent to a long-repressed
excitement, her words coming rapidly,
incoherently, - "that, that was Morris Frank
"Ah!" Monsieur Goupilleau gave a sigh of
"Morris Frank! But who is Morris Frank?
Do you know who Morris Frank is?" she
asked, raising her voice.
"Morris Frank?" repeated Monsieur
She looked at him, still in the doubt which
had confused her all night. Would it have
been better to say nothing about it? Was it
really better to tell? A year ago she would
have kept it to herself; now -
"A little white-headed boy," she bent over
and stretched her hand out, at the height of
a young child, above the floor, "playing around
the plantation quarters with the little negro
children, - the son of the overseer, a German
overseer, a man who hired himself out to whip
slaves he was too poor to own!" Her scathing,
fierce tongue brought the fire into her eyes.
"My God! The son of an overseer at the
ball of the aristocrats! On my old plantation?"
She read the confused inquiry in the
notary's face. "The plantation of Monsieur
Alphonse Motte, the father of my Mamzelle? He
lives there still?" Monsieur Goupilleau's face
brightened with a discovery. He commenced
a question: "The son of the overseer on
Monsieur Motte's plantation?"
"That night! That night! It makes me
crazy to think of it! The ringing of alarm-bells,
the shooting of cannon, the gun-boats coming
down the river, the negroes running away,
setting fire, stealing; and the soldiers, soldiers
everywhere, none of our white gentlemen about.
My God! we were so frightened we could not
think; we left everything in the house and ran.
We got in a cart; it broke down; we walked
miles. When we got to the town, what did we
see? The young white boy the soldiers were
hanging! No wonder she died, Mamzelle
Marie!" She tried to steady her hand on the
back of a chair, but it shook and trembled to
The front door of the office flew wide.
Madame Montyon had jerked the knob out of the
hand of the bowing clerk.
"Hé! Goupilleau, my friend!" she exclaimed
brusquely; "on time, you see! To work; to
work! What have we here, eh?"
She had divested herself of so much the
night before, and invested herself in so little
this morning, that really her manner (which was
always the same) alone remained to identify
She threw back the ends of her India shawl,
which she had put over her purple cashmere
morning peignoir, and tossed up her black lace
veil, under which the gray hair stood out
crinkled and crisp from the crimping and
manipulation of the evening before.
"Just out of bed, you see! Only a cup of
She seated herself at the table and began
recklessly to open, examine, mingle, and scatter
the papers arranged by the notary.
Monsieur Goupilleau had made a sign to
Marcélite to place herself in a corner.
"Pardon me, Madame," he said to the lady,
rescuing some of the documents, "but these
papers are now in my possession. I am
responsible for them."
"Pooh! pooh!" She was about to express
further contempt of the admonition, when her
words were cut short by the surprising appearance
of her son. He was as much astounded as
she at the meeting, and more confused.
"My son! Up at this hour!" She extended
her cheek for his morning salute. "What in the
world do you want here, with Goupilleau? But
what is that - filth?" She got it from her father
to select the strongest and coarsest word, but it
was not entirely inapplicable to Nourrice, who
had followed him in like a spaniel.
The poor old woman started at the voice; her
ears were younger than her eyes. "Ah,
mistress! You do not know me. He has better eyes
than you; he knew me at once! Ah, Madame,
it was not right to sell me, an old woman, a
nurse! I begged you! I begged you on my
Madame Montyon, taken by surprise, wavered
under the assault. "Nourrice! Elvire!"
"I was old, I was past the age, I was
"Will you be silent?" She shook her hand
before the face of the negro. What revelations,
the terror of her motherhood, might not be
"To sell a nurse! God never intended that!"
The young man stood in close conversation
with the notary.
"Eh? What is that, - what is that?" Madame
Montyon unceremoniously thrust herself in
"Only a little cabin somewhere, little master,
to keep me out of the gutters!" Nourrice,
afraid still of her old mistress, raised her voice
"What is this nonsense? what is this craziness?"
Madame screamed to her son. To the
old woman: "Will you cease that whining? A
little cabin? A little policeman!"
"My baby! My baby! It's your poor old
"But, my son, what have you got in your
head? I never received one cent for her, - not
one cent! Those dishonest Montamats! They
were only too glad of the emancipation!"
The gentlemen had continued their conversation
without attention to her. She overheard
some of their words.
"Money! money!" - the clerks in the next
room must have heard her excited voice, - "to
a wretch like that! Never! never! I forbid
it!" She snatched from the notary the paper
he had prepared.
"Do you understand, Charles? I forbid it!
I command you to desist!" She launched full
speed into one of her ungovernable tempers.
"A check, tudieu! a check! without my advice!
without my consent! One must have a private
fortune, tudieu! to pension, to squander, to
throw away, - a private fortune! My money,
tudieu! my money!"
To her son's face arose an expression that
only an intolerable insult could provoke; and
the temper that seized him, - she knew only
too well what that was, if she had not been too
blind to see it. He closed his lips and turned
"Enough! Come, Nourrice!" The old
woman followed him again; her back - the
strong back he had once ridden for a horse -
bent over nearly double; this time not in play,
but in decrepitude.
He paused at the door and pointed to Nourrice.
He had also thought of a supreme retort,
an irreparable one: "She was my nurse, given
me by my own mother. You sold her!"
The door had not closed on their exit before
it was opened again.
"Mr. Morris Frank, to see Monsieur Goupilleau
by appointment," announced the clerk.
The young German, fresh, fair, and rosy, had
to struggle almost as hard to enter an office as a
parlor. "Monsieur," said he, bowing to Monsieur
Goupilleau; then, remembering the lady,
"Madame," to Madame Montyon; then he
paused, not knowing whether to offer his hand
or not, until the opportunity passed, and he had
to compose something appropriate to say.
The notary came to the rescue: "Ah, Mr.
Frank! You are a little early, we are not quite
prepared - in fact -"
"But, Goupilleau! what do you mean? You
are going to let
Monseiur Frank go without
giving the information? He is a witness, don't
you see, against Deron." Madame Montyon got
this also from her father, - her versatility in
passing from one passion to another.
"As you please, Madame; interrogate Mr.
Monsieur Goupilleau was plainly preoccupied
about some other matter now, but she did not
see it. She put her young friend through a
cross-examination to prove her point of view of
the creole character as presented by the distant
"There, you see, Goupilleau, I am right!
Monsieur Frank proves everything. All you
have to do now is to make Deron pay."
"One moment, Mr. Frank," said Monsieur
Goupilleau, as the young man was preparing
to leave, "have you any objections to telling
me if your plantation, the Ste. Marie plantation
in the Parish of St. James, was once the property
of Monsieur Alphonse Motte?"
The old lady's eyes brightened. She saw a
new claim, a new debt. She looked greedily
at the spread papers, and suspiciously at her
young friend, ready to detect and expose any
"Motte? Motte? Is there something there,
Goupilleau? Something new? Motte? But who
are they? Motte! Motte!" She kept repeating
the name to start her ear into recognition. "One of
our high-minded, borrow-in-haste-and-repay-at-leisure
Marcélite came from the corner where she
had been waiting.
"Pardon, Madame, pardon," she said, in
eager defence. "Those words should not be
used to designate the deceased Monsieur
"Eh! eh!" Madame Montyon responded
sharply to the assault. "What is this? Whom
have we here? One of the family?"
The quadroon's eyes burned at the insult.
The blood rushed to her head, deepening the
color of her dark skin, reddening her lips, swelling
her throat, inflating her nostrils, maddening
her beyond all discretion. She raised her voice
in the impudent way quadroons know so well,
and looked at the white lady with an expression
which, brave as she was, once she would not
"Madame is, perhaps, not satisfied; the
insults of last night were, perhaps, not enough;
Madame apparently does not mind duels; she
would have one every day. Madame, perhaps,
loves blood, or perhaps Madame thinks
Monsieur Henri Maziel cannot fight, or perhaps she
thinks her son has more lives than one; or -"
Even Morris Frank was prompt in the emergency.
He caught Marcélite by the arm.
"Marcélite!" the notary raised his voice in
"Speak! I command you, wretch! Goupilleau,
make her talk, I say! A duel! My
Physical and verbal violence struggled for
the mastery. Her face changed rapidly from
crimson to white, then to crimson again; her
lips trembled and became blue. She fell into
her chair. Was it apoplexy, or a swoon?
She responded to the quick touch of the
"Goupilleau! Goupilleau!" her voice was
all anguish, all submission, now. "She says
- she says," pointing in the direction of
Marcélite - "My son! - a duel!" She tried to
rise, to pull herself up by the help of the table.
"Wait!" said Monsieur Goupilleau, forcing
her back into her chair. "Do not stir! Not a
word until I return!"
The little man had a manner which in
emergencies could rise above occasions and impose
commands on the most exalted.
In the very next room, sitting at one of his
desks, plodding over some notarial copying,
Monsieur Goupilleau possessed the very Supreme
Court of the Duel, the very infallibility
of the code of honor, - a tall, thin, sallow young
man, behind whose fierce black moustaches
were no front teeth whatever.
"Ah," thought the notary, after the first
glance, "Théodule is silent; Théodule is
mysterious; Théodule has on his black coat and
white cravat, - a duel, sure!"
The old lady had laid her head on the table.
Her vigor had snapped. "My money! my
money!" and the retort, "My own mother," -
that was all she could hear from the buzzing in
her ears. What she saw? All she could see;
what, as a soldier's daughter, she should have
better borne. When she raised her face, on the
notary's return, her eyes - her little, strong, bold,
brigadier eyes - were weeping.
"Madame!" It was the sympathy in Monsieur
Goupilleau's voice that prepared her for
the worst. "Madame, words spoken last night,
no doubt in an unguarded moment, insults
passed, taxing with dishonor honorable
personages, - under the circumstances, Madame,
nothing is to be done." He shrugged his shoulders
hopelessly, just as Théodule had done.
"Gentlemen, even if they have no money, I
might say particularly if they have no money,
pay their debts of honor.'
"Words spoken last night! but I only said
the truth!" She began to reiterate them
angrily, then changed to an attack on the notary.
"Nothing to be done, tudieu! Nothing to be
done! You dare tell me that, Goupilleau, -
me, a mother!" She had strength enough to
rise now, and shake her head at him until
her bonnet dropped to the floor. "You dare
tell any mother that, when her son is going to
fight a duel?"
The "Succession d'Arvil" lay scattered
everywhere, - documents folded, unfolded, face up,
face down. She seized one and grasped a pen.
Her fingers had not recovered, nor could her
eyes see clearly; but despite wavering, blots,
and irregularities, the words yet stood out with
I apologize to Monsieur - for offensive words
spoken at Madame Fleurissant's ball last night. I
beg him to believe that a moneyed debt is not a debt
LOUISE DUPERRE MONTYON.
"Tudieu! nothing to be done! Goupilleau,
you are a fool! You will see that something is
to be done. Here, supply the name and send it
to that -" and she called Monsieur Henri
Maziel, in French, the name of a man who prepares
ambushes for assassination. "What's that?"
She jerked her head aside from a touch. It
was Marcélite gently replacing her bonnet, and
examining her face and head with professional
"Blessed Virgin!" she thought; "what a
genius her hairdresser must be!"
"Here, my good woman," said the old lady,
when the bonnet was fastened and the lace veil
dropped, "give me your arm; conduct me
The notary read first one side of the paper,
then the other, scratched over with the hard
terms of some of old Arvil's extortions.
"Ah!" said he, looking around his office,
deserted now of all except the young German,
who was still trying to think of something to say,
something to do.
Bred in a classical school, Monsieur Goupilleau
was addicted to phrases that came
epigrammatically. Shrugging his shoulders, his
eyes beamed with the intelligence that only legal
experience can give, and with the satirical
intelligence which only such experience with women
grattez la femme, et vous trouverez
MARRIAGE OF MARIE MODESTE.
"MARCÉLITE! but where is Marcélite?
Send Marcélite to the parlor,"
called Madame Goupilleau to a
passing servant. "Continue, Sister, continue; I
And the low voice of the Sister of Charity
poured forth such a tale of asylum necessities
mingled with asylum gossip, that Madame
Goupilleau was carried away again into forgetfulness
of both Marcélite and the parlor.
"Is it possible! I can hardly believe it!"
The Sister had asked but for one moment in
the corridor, but she had underestimated the
length, and Madame Goupilleau the interest of
her budget. It sounded almost like a scandal in
the church, a deplorable thing of infinite interest
to all good Christians. Not until the volubly
grateful itinerant disappeared with replenishment
of her asylum's particular lack and exhaustion
of its particular grievance, did duty recall
with painful jerk the chaperon to her charge.
"Ah! simpleton that I am! and I have vowed
and vowed never to see those tiresome Sisters
She ran along the corridor to save what time
she could, her long skirts rustling after her,
holding her head with both hands and scolding
it well. Without stopping she entered
the parlor. Too late! At the first glance she
"Tante Eugénie!" exclaimed Marie Modeste
with quavering breath, as if waking from a
"Madame!" apostrophized Charles Montyon,
hurrying forward to meet her.
"Not a word! I know it all! It is my fault!"
but she looked at them both reproachfully.
She had planned it otherwise, and far better, -
this scene, - with a minute particularity for
detail which only an outsider and a schemer in
futurity can command. The young man would come
to her first, of course, with his avowal, as
etiquette prescribes. She would go to Marie
herself, and delicately, as only a woman can, she
would draw aside the veil from the unconscious
heart and show the young girl the dormant
figure of her love there, - love whose existence
she did not dream of.
"My daughter," she would say. Ah! she
had rehearsed the discourse too often to have
halted for a word. At any moment of the night
or day her tongue could have delivered it.
"My daughter!" All that as a daughter she had
once craved to hear and been disappointed of,
and all that her exempt mother heart yearned
to utter, she would tell. For she had a mother's
heart, if by an error of Nature she had never
been a mother.
But the event always fools the prepared.
Now, she knew not what to say or do. She was
in fact embarrassed. It would have been better
to depend upon the inspiration of the moment.
She sank into an arm-chair and fanned herself
with a handkerchief which scented the air with
"I beg a thousand pardons. I did not intend;
I had no idea -" protested the young man.
That was so; when she was called away they
were conversing about the climate of Paris.
"Tante Eugénie!" was all that Marie could
murmur; for the dream held her still, - a dream
out of which she could not awake. Her eyes
shone, touched with a new, bright light, and her
white face swam behind blushes, appearing and
disappearing like the moon behind thin clouds.
"She looks adorable, the little one," thought
Madame. "If I could only have got hold of
Marcélite, I would have sent her to chaperon
It was not pleasant to think that the vigilance
which had guaranteed a whole institute of girls
should damage its record in these simple
circumstances. A pest on Sisters and asylums!
"Eh, Mignonne!" She drew the girl to her
to look into those wonderfully brilliant eyes.
It was impossible; the lids closed so quickly,
and the long black lashes fell so thick on the
cheeks, curling up at the ends as if singeing
from the hot blushes, that even burned Madame's
lips pressed against them. The troublesome
face finally hid itself among the laces on
"Thou art sure? Very sure? No mistake?
là! là!" kissing her again. "After all, it is
what I expected. And you, Monsieur," to
Charles, who was standing close on the other
side of her chair, "you have been indiscreet,
as indiscreet as possible. You should have
come to me first. You know that. Oh, no! I
cannot pardon you, at least not immediately.
Have you spoken to Monsieur Goupilleau?"
"Madame, I intended -"
"What! Not even spoken to my husband?
But go downstairs this moment, this instant!
He is in his office."
"I assure you it was unpremeditated - leaving
us alone -"
"Ah! that is what I have always said; those
Sisters do no good, going around from house
to house -"
She was fixed and inexorable; would not
listen to him, would not even look at him, resting
her head against the tall back of her chair,
directing her eyes into vacancy.
Behind her, discretion was again violated
and outraged. The hands of Marie and Charles
met of themselves, first accidentally and then
purposely, and would not part. The eyes
which had so much to conceal from Madame
had for him abundant revelations, which the
lashes did not hide, from eyes that caused her
lids to rise merely by glances. Her face came
out of the blushes, - a thin, white face in
an oval frame of plaited black hair, the lips
parted as if again in the tremor of caress; -
Madame Goupilleau, with that big back to her
chair, might just as well have been in the
corridor again with the Sister.
"Tante Eugénie, I shall go with him. I,
I -" She had to go, for the hands absolutely
would not unclasp.
"My little girl is no more," thought Madame
Goupilleau as they left her alone. "Well!
Ma bonne!" to Marcélite, who came at last into
the room. "Your young lady is going to make
a fine marriage, - a fine marriage! Tiens!"
interrupting herself suddenly. "I wanted you;
where were you? I called you to go into the
parlor to chaperon. Ah! - I see now. You
were in connivance! What innocence I have,
for my age!"
"Madame!" the quadroon's voice was apologetic,
but her eyes were triumphant. "Such a
good opportunity -"
"At least, - at least, you did not send that
stupid Sister to me?"
"That! No, Madame! On my word of
"In truth, I believe you capable of anything.
What a rigmarole! the Archbishop and some
Madame Houbi, or Hibou, and a priest of
heaven knows where! All the while ce beau
monsieur was on his knees to Mademoiselle.
It is old Madame Montyon, however, who will
have something to say," concluded Madame
Goupilleau in thought. "She will beat a tocsin
about our ears."
Madame Montyon, as expected, from the
very first word of announcement resolutely
vetoed any proposition of marriage between her
step-son, her prospective heir, and a dowerless
bride. When the young man came to her, the
old lady was sitting in her room in the twilight,
going over her accounts, which for convenience
and secrecy she carried in her head, - a
pleasant, wakeful occupation, adding dollar to
dollar; watching the pile of gold, the concrete
presentment of her numerous investments, grow
in endless, ceaseless procreation. Her boudoir
was as bare and simple as a soldier's quarters.
There were no more effeminacies of culture or
religion about it than about herself. She had
asked no other assistance from Providence than
a neutral position as to her affairs, which she
managed as her father had his army, without
intermediation of saints or intermeddling of
priests. And no one could deny that her affairs
had paid her the compliment of prospering
under the régime.
"No, my son, no!" she reiterated, varying the
formula not in the slightest degree. "Believe
me, I know better than you. The young lady
will not suit at all. In the first place, she has
"But, my mother -"
"In marriage there must be something;
money is tangible, money remains; money is
something, in fact -"
"Love?" he said, in a low voice, for it was
novel to him, and he had yet to learn not to
be shy of it.
"Love! Love! That for love!" snapping
her fingers, which she could do with masculine
And love was his theme, his inspiration, his
reason; and love was her only dower! It
was like talking of God to an unbeliever.
"Be reasonable; listen to me! On my word
of honor, as a woman who was not born yesterday,
and who has not lived with her eyes shut,
this crisis is temporary, momentary. She is not
the only young woman in the world! enfin, I
guarantee," raising her voice and her finger
impressively, - "I guarantee that you will meet
at least, at least, one woman a year during the
next ten years of your life whom you will love
enough to make your wife. Ten women! Ten
wives! Mon Dieu! and I am putting it low.
No! I can never consent."
The rebellious retorts, the marplot of their
domestic intercourse, which always rose in his
heart at the sound of her voice, crowded to his
tongue now, but he had no temper to utter them.
"Love, my dear, it passes like everything, -
only a little quicker." He was standing. She
did not raise her head to him. She was speaking
not to him alone, but all men. "Mon Dieu!
This one will go like 'Good-morning'!" She
kissed the tips of her fingers. "In point of
fact, if you should marry Mademoiselle Motte
now, and she should die, you would marry
again in two years. Ah! don't jump so; don't
exclaim at me that way. It is not my fault. I
did not create men," - shrugging her shoulders.
"After all, it is only Nature; and Nature is
another name for a strong, ugly animal."
How could she feel so! How could she talk
so! He looked at her sitting below him, and
for the first time tried to divest her of age,
ugliness, and cynicism. She had been young
once like Marie Modeste. Had she ever lifted
her eyes to a man as Marie did, praying, yet
dreading, his love? Had her warm hands ever
got cold and trembled in the hand of another,
as Marie's did? Had her slim form for one
instant been in the arm of another - could first
love ever be forgotten? Or was there one
human being in the world whom this great ocean
had not once enfolded, engulfed, drawn down,
drowned beyond recollection, beyond comprehension
of past, present, future, self, interest,
"And you think, you think - And women,"
changing the question, "can they not love?
This young girl, Marie, she loves me, she has
told me so." He laid his hand on her shoulder
to accentuate his whisper.
The old lady's husband had married her for
money, and had widowed her contemptuously
during his life. She answered truthfully.
"If she loves you, all I have to say is that
she will not be more disappointed now if you
do not marry her, than some day if you do."
His hand fell from her shoulder; he turned
away. So old! So gray-haired, - and the widow
of his own father! He had not a word to
say. His dreams and fantasies were frightened
away. How the young are tied and hobbled!,
their most innocent plans twisted, turned,
thwarted by the skeleton hand of a dead father,
or mother, or grandparent, holding a careful
entail of unhappiness and disgrace. And there
is no relief from the heritage! Flash after
flash, illumination came in his brain along the
dark spots of his ignorances, - spots in his
father's and mother's life which thought had
glided over before, which his manhood had
respected; and the moment divulged connubial
secrets, preserved so far by the miracle which
preserves the simplicity of the young in a
secretless, mystery-less world!
"I assure you, my son," his step-mother
changed her voice briskly at the super-importance
of her own business, "I am exceedingly
pleased at the results of the Arvil succession.
It is very good I came to attend to it myself.
When we return to France -"
"Return to France?"
"I said, when we return to France. Then
you will see the difference. You shall be
installed en prince. Your separate establishment,
your -" she checked off finger by finger
her intentions for his pleasure and comfort.
"Then you can talk of marriage, then you can
select, then you will be a parti, and you can
marry a partie."
"And Mademoiselle Motte?"
"Eh! Will you never be convinced?'
angrily. "Is Mademoiselle Motte a
Has she a dot?
Has she even a family? The
foundling of a negro woman!"
"No! No!" Her own voice could not have
been louder nor more authoritative. He came
around and stood close in front of her chair.
Without thinking, - for his heart gave him no
time, - he spoke, soon changing his tone and his
words, for his audience changed, - the old
woman and the chair fading away, and the
young girl appearing, standing before him as
she did this morning, transforming his defence
into a tribute. It was dark in the room, or his
face would have betrayed the vision. In the
early, powerful moments of first love the real
presence is carried around everywhere, and the
sacrament of communion is celebrated by the
heart, in any place, at any moment.
"Listen! Let me tell you, once for all. A
war had broken over her country. Her father
was killed in the first engagement. Her mother
died as soon as the news reached her, - shot in
fact and in truth by the same bullet. But one
life was spared, a weak, wretched, frail infant,
as if by a curse, - a girl to live and grow and
develop in a detached condition. Her nurse,
one of the very slaves about whom the war was
being fought, aided the flight of the
panic-stricken wife from her home on the approach
of a noisy, victorious enemy, and received into
her arms the child which was born an orphan.
Orphanage, my mother, is what a child never
outgrows; it is what God himself cannot remedy."
His voice took intonations unknown before
to him. "The nurse, a slave no longer,
since she had flown with the infant to this city
in the possession of the emancipationists, took
the child to herself and nursed it, - nursed it
as the Virgin Mary must have nursed her
Heaven-sent babe; nursed it on her knees, in
abnegation, in adoration; lodging it in her room,
which became, not a room, but a sanctuary;
couching it in her own bed, which became an
altar; feeding it, tending it, as imagination can
conceive a passionate heart in a black skin
tending a white child under the ghostly
supervision of dead parents. When the child grew
to intelligence of its surroundings, when memory
began, day by day, to weave together frail bits
of history, then a fiction arose as if by incantation
out of the rude, ignorant, determined mind
of the nurse. She placed the child at a school,
that the child's memory could not antedate.
She gave the child a responsible white guardian,
which the child's knowledge could not contradict.
She took her forever out of the homely
surroundings which love had made sumptuous
and self-sacrifice holy, but which would eventually
prove social ostracism. To maintain this
fiction, patience, money, time were needed.
Patience? Did a woman ever need patience
for a child? Was money ever lacking, from
an inferior to a superior? Time, - the good
God gives the same time to the slave as the
free, the black as the white, the ignorant as
the wise, the weak as the strong. Patience fed
the fiction, anticipated doubts, allayed suspicions.
Money came in quantities sufficient to
form not a shield, but a pedestal; and time
took the little girl and led her onward and
onward through an education, and through the
experience which brings the necessary
ingredients to the formation of a woman's heart.
Time protected the fiction to the last moment;
but - the last moment came. The basis of the
young girl's life was suddenly withdrawn, and
truth came, in the fall to the earth. With the
truth came, however, the substance of what
fiction had supposed. To the nurse came two
willing associates. To the young girl, bereaved
by the fiction almost as cruelly as she had
been by the war, came parents, - volunteer
parents. Ah! who could see her and refrain
from loving her?" He stopped breathless.
"He raves," thought the old lady, "like De
Musset!" But she did not answer, - perhaps some
hitherto unperceived merits in God's creation of
men coming before her mental vision. She was
only what experience had made her; her theories,
like most women's theories, came from the
heart, not the brain, and she had no imagination
to beautify or make them palatable.
Love is a noxious grass for growth. One
rootlet planted in the heart, and two beings are
soon so tied, tangled, and knotted together by
the miraculous reduplication of perhaps a single
look, sigh, form of face, glance of the eye,
that there is nothing for it but marriage, with
the shortest possible engagement, to get the
trousseau ready in; the creoles, wisely or not,
prefering to apply the test of fidelity to
husband rather than lover.
This was in winter. The spring approached,
each day an incendiary to the heart, and all
hymeneal. No one grows reasonable with the
spring. The old lady felt the occult influences
against her, and resented them, - the birds
aggressively lusty, the sky bringing the roses
out until the bushes threatened premature
exhaustion from wanton prodigality in blooming,
the moon acting like a venal Voudou charm. In
a community where none but dowerless brides
are born, love easily discounts money; and
money was her only capital. She was left more
and more in a helpless minority, fighting hard
to maintain the solidarity of her resolution and
fortune; daily reaffirming the one and intrenching
the other by testament and codicil behind
a bulwark of papers proof against the assaults
of present generations, and unborn ones to the
third and fourth degree.
The contract of marriage, her consolation
now, was to be her substitute when she was
gone, an unanswerable rebuke, a certificate of
consent but not approval, a notarial monument
to the wealth and generosity of the step-mother,
the foolishness of the groom, and to all
perpetuity a confession of poverty by the bride. It
is hard to be rich, and a mother at the same time;
but the old lady undertook the task. And while
the young people were learning the necessary
indispensable vocabulary of endearment for
future intimacy, she applied herself to drawing
with equal security the strings about her heart
and the strings about her purse.
June brought the wedding day; for June
brings more wedding days in New Orleans than
any other month of the year. June by the
calendar, and accredited for the forward month
with hot suns and light showers, had peeped in
upon every moon since December, confusing all
meteorological rules, befooling the silly weeds
as usual, and by unseasonable enticement into
blossoming, losing the fruit-trees their crops.
In the forenoon hours, with their compliments
and presents, came the bridesmaids, - all in one
body, contagious with emotion; exclamatory,
effusive, vibrating from the verge of tears to the
verge of laughter.
"Your wedding day!"
"You are well, chérie?"
"You are not frightened?"
"You do not tremble the least, - the least in
"Let me feel your heart!"
"It would paralyze me!"
"Such a beautiful day!"
"A little warm!"
An unconfessed but patent awe of her held
them aloof. They stood together in a group,
from which their sentences issued spasmodically
in bunches. They had been schoolmates from
their a, b, c class, - most of them; so had the
mothers and grandmothers of some of them.
Since short dresses and socks, mindful of their
destiny, they had promised to be bridesmaids
one to another. Or, death supervening, porteuses:
to walk in white toilettes and white
veils at the head of the burial procession, as
this evening they intended to do at the bridal.
An office so conspicuously desirable, this last,
that it was made the subject of barter and
bond; a matter of written and sealed documents,
hidden in secret corners of their desks,
- the most precious archives of their school
life, though fluctuating annals of its friendships.
Bride or corpse, how remote Marie Modeste
was already on that road which they could
travel as yet only in imagination. She was
changing already. Taking the cue from their
relative positions, they spoke disparagingly of
themselves, meanly of their offerings, in
despondent voices: -
"Nothing but a souvenir from your old
"You won't forget the dunce of your class
when you look at this, chère?"
"This has no value, Marie, but sentiment."
"Promise not to open this until I leave; it's
"You won't mind wearing this for my sake,
Marie, you are so amiable."
"Chérie, hang this somewhere out of sight,
but keep your faithful Louise in mind."
"I made this myself, for you; that's the
reason it's so ugly."
"A little porte-bonheur for your new life."
"A little vide-poche for your toilette."
"A cushion for your prie-Dieu; I implore you
do not look at the stitches!"
"You will not forget us, Marie?"
"You will always be the same to us, Marie?"
"We did n't learn our a, b, c together for
nothing, did we, Marie?"
"And we did n't miss our cosmography
together for nothing, did we, Marie?"
"Do you remember, Marie, when -"
"Or that day -"
They were actually beginning to have a past
to talk about, like their mamans!
"Mon Dieu! how long ago that is; it seems
like another life."
"Just about a year!"
"And Marie the first one married!"
"But you are engaged, Fifine!" they all
cried. Fifine as usual persisted in a denial,
absurd in the face of evidence.
"Well, Marie, I give it to you with all
my heart." (Meaning the honor.) And they
all kissed her again to affirm the sentiment
unanimously. "Ah, you are very fortunate!"
"And he is so handsome, chère."
"And such good family."
"Oh, he has everything, - everything."
"Was it a Novena, Marie?"
"Or our Lady of Lourdes?"
"Saint Roch! bah! He is old."
"Ma chère, they tell me there is a place
down town, way down town, where you can
obtain anything, - absolutely anything."
"If it had not been for that pretty toilette at
Madame Fleurissant's ball!"
"That was the first time you saw him, hein,
"Mon Dieu!" in chorus at her assent.
"I told maman my dress was hideous there."
"Three months ago! You kept your secret
"As for me, I would announce the first
"Like old Maman Birotteau; one hour
afterwards, - one hour, that's positive, - she was in
the street announcing Adelaïde's engagement."
"To cut off retreat from the gentleman."
"I will never get married, I'm sure."
"Nor I either; I never had any luck."
"If I do not get married, I do not want to
"Nor I, chérie, candidly."
"Not to get married, is to confess one's self
simply a - a Gorgon."
"But it's a woman's vocation! What must
she do else?"
"There is always the convent."
"The convent! bah! The convent does n't
fool any one."
"Non, merci! No convent for me!"
"I would rather comb Saint Catharine."
"Like Tante Pauline?"
"And tangle the whole town with your
"My maman was married at sixteen."
"And my grandmaman at fourteen."
"Ah, but times were different then!"
"Women had more chance."
"And men less egotism."
"Frankly, I find men insipid."
This was too obvious an insincerity to be
taken seriously; even the bride laughed.
"But we must not stay all day!"
"Yes, chérie, we must leave you."
"We will pray for you!"
They closed the door and went down the
stairs to the corridor.
"But, you know, she is a brunette, and he is
"He should have been blond."
"Brown and brown, that is bad."
"Every one ought to marry her opposite."
"I adore blondes; they look so cold."
"No, according to me; dark eyes and light
"Blue eyes and black hair, - that is my type."
"And tall, tall, tall."
"Oh, I hope the good God will send me a
"Dis-donc, Loulou, you are not engaged, -
"No, unfortunately! No such good luck."
"No matter; the whole town says so."
"Ouf! how dark the parlors look!"
"They sign the contract of marriage at three
"I hear the old Madame Montyon gives
"On the contrary, I heard, not a cent."
"But what will Charles do for a living?"
"Work, like other men."
"A Parisian work?" Loulou mimicked his
"He is not a Parisian, he only affects it; he
is a Creole like all of us."
"And she has nothing."
"Not a cent. If old Monsieur Motte had
lived, it would have been different." Referring
to their school traditions of his wealth.
Vestiges of winter were still lurking in the
damp, stone-paved corridor, chilling them a
little before they got into the bright street,
where a summer sun shone all the year round.
The chill remained slightly in their hearts as
they walked away, for beauty and youth were
the only dower of most of them, and both
were fragile; one year already had passed over
their maturity, and patience is not a Creole
virtue. Their aspirations being neither high
nor many, disappointment need only come in
one form, to be effectual.
The young girl who was so soon to be a bride
sat alone in her room, in the isolation of retreat
which custom recognizes as salutary if not
needful, - alone, yet not entirely alone, for she
had the spiritual companionship which comes
in the solemn moments of life to the pure in
heart, and permits them while on earth to feel
if not to see God. A week ago she had passed
her eighteenth birthday. Only eighteen anniversaries
since her birth! It was little to form
a separation from then and now. Looking
back, she saw them rising, her birthdays, an
ascending plane of mental and physical growth,
until they culminated three months ago. That
date had changed her: she was a woman now.
Over her face had fallen the dignity which over
faces of her type falls without crepuscular interlude,
severing them from childhood as from a
day that is past. Her dreaming eyes, wakened
to look on life itself, not illusions fed by the
imagination, were beginning to fill with women's
wares, all on top and exposed, as good women's
wares are, for the world to see. The inchoate
sentiments that had held the mouth in vacillation
were gone; the lips that had said "I love,"
had found their character and expression. But
the body was still in arrears, still hesitating
over the sure profit of a change, receiving yet
from the long, thin, white gown the curves and
mouldings it should have contributed.
She walked across the room to where the
usual pictures of devotion hung on the walls.
They had answered their purpose in her life,
and were beginning to be useless. Her religion
was no longer to be fed by symbols, but to
produce them. But as she looked at them,
holding in her hand the little worn prayer-book
that had once belonged to her mother, they
helped her to span the interval that separated
her from her dead parents, - those absent guests
represented only by proxies at all the feasts of
her life. Her mother had once stood this way
in bridal dress, waiting for him who was to
become her husband and Marie's father. The
virgins and sainted women from across the
centuries made the thought plain to her, of
the immensity of eternity and woman's
vocation in it. Her heart throbbed and expanded
under her novitiate's dress; she soared higher
and higher in spirit; she touched immortality
in vision. She felt the protecting hand of God,
- God, the Father, who had carried her, an
infant, through bloodshed, revolution, and disaster;
had given her a nurse - mother, friends;
had brought a heart for her heart from a
distance, from the unknown, across an ocean! He
had deprived her in youth, and saved the hoardings
for a dower of love on her wedding day!
She hid her face in her hands, to tell Him her
love and gratitude.
Young girls who come into a world already
prepared for them, from their layette to their
trousseau, on their marriage day sit and think
about the wedding banquet preparing for them,
the costly presents, the beautiful dress, the
new-fashioned wreath, - not of orange-flowers, but
of blossoms more appropriate to the virginity
of the rich, - what they will do after marriage,
and what after that, sending their thoughts
along blushing paths maybe too surely blazed
by secret gossip or contraband literature. They
do not feel their destiny like the young girls
who are led along by God Himself, - patiently
waiting in seclusion, poverty, and affliction the
appointed seasons for knowledge, hearing in
silences and darknesses divine notifications,
receiving understanding with the intimations of
futurity; the young girls whom He reserves
for the good of the human race, to mother a
Saviour, or transform the seed of a ploughman
into the soul of a hero.
Marcélite entered the room and stood silently
waiting, looking, thinking how best to carry out
her intentions. "Mamzelle Marie!" She did
not speak as the authoritative nurse to her
charge; she was the humble servant of a future
"Oh, Marcélite! the thoughts, - the thoughts
one has!" It was so good to lay her head once
more on the shoulder that had cradled her, a
baby! so good to feel that soft, dark hand
caressing her as it had caressed her all through
life! For a moment she had felt strange and
lonely in this glimpse of the new, foreign future.
"Marcélite, do you know what it is to love?
When I think of it, you know, ma bonne, I am
glad that my - that Monsieur Motte did not
live." How happy she must have been to
pronounce that name again! "I wanted to die at
first, I wanted it to kill me; but it is all gone, -
that feeling," laying her hand on her heart and
making gratuitous confession. "Think; if he had
lived, it might all have been different. I might
not have met Charles; and all this love I give
him, and all the love he gives me, - what is the
love of an uncle in comparison? God was right
to manage it that way, - to send you to manage
it for Him. And, Marcélite, all the time I was
studying, I thought it was for my uncle; but I
see now it was for Charles. Everything I did
was for him. I believe I was born just to
marry him. I am frightened now, when I think
I might have died without it. It is grand to
be a woman. Oh, I feel like a woman now; I
know what it is to be a woman. God has told
me everything." The low voice hardly carried
the words to the nurse's ear, but her breath fell
like the sweetest caresses on the dark skin.
"Bébé! Bébé!" was all the woman could
say. Her own marriage in the far-off days of
slavery, - what a thing it had been, not to be
mentioned, not to be thought of, before her
white child bride!
"Marcélite, do you think he loves me as
much as I love him?" A question of supreme
importance, requiring a long, rambling, but
"Because, Marcélite, what do you do in
life when the one you love does not love
Although no one in the city, - a city of
intrigue, - knew better than the hairdresser, she
had nothing to say.
"Marcélite, did my maman look like me as a
bride? And my papa, was he like Charles?"
"Bébé, Zozo!" Could human beings ever
unite the beauties and excellences she
described, or eloquence stray farther beyond the
boundaries of truth?
"Their pictures hang on the walls of the
house, there on the plantation; their books,
their furniture -"
Pictures of what had been a pictureless ideal
to her! Her orphan presentment of parents
was no better than the blind one's presentment
"One of these days, Marcélite, you and I,
we will slip away from home - oh, Charles
shall not prevent me!" she blushed and smiled;
she had never smiled that way before she met
him. "We will travel to that plantation; we
will walk through the fields, slowly, easily; we
will come to the gardens; we will go through
them slowly, easily; you will be my guide; we
will creep to the house, slowly, easily; we will
peep through the shutters, and quick! quick!
you will point out the place where those
pictures are. Heaven! if I do not die in that
moment, I will tear open the doors, I will rush
in! If there should be dogs about! I hope
there will be no dogs -"
She stopped suddenly. As if it were true, - all
this! As if the nurse would not destroy a world
to please her, or fabricate one to delude her
into security! She knew the woman, and the
extravagances of her heart. Almost, almost
she felt as if she could give up her bridegroom
that it might be true, Marcélite's story, - her
bridegroom, and all the love that dazzled
around her future like an aureole. She forced
herself away from the thought.
"But what a toilette! What elegance! I
never saw you so fine in my life before! No,
stand still! Let me look at you!" She walked
round and round the nurse. In truth, calico
skirts could not stand out more stiffly, nor a
bandanna be tied into more bows and knots.
Simply to look at the new silk apron made
"What is that you have in your hand? For
"Bébé, you will hide it in your drawer. You
will not look at it, - not yet. To-morrow, next
"Par exemple, I am not to look at anything
to-day, it seems! Well, you for one, - you
reckon without my curiosity."
She laughed as she snatched a package out
of the nurse's hands. She had never laughed
so easily, so merrily in her life. It was like
the laugh of her old school companions, and
sounded novel and charming in her own ears.
"Fifine, Loulou, Tetelle, all said the same
thing. It is too absurd!"
"Zozo! To-morrow or next day."
"Bah! I am going to do as I please. I am
going to open this. I am going to open them
all, right now. You need not think I do not
know what it is! It is my present, - my wedding
present from you. And I have been expecting
it all day, and I knew you were going to keep
it till the last minute! Là! Madame Marcélite
always takes her time! Madame Marcélite
must always produce her effect! Ah, I know
you, you ogre!" And she stopped again to
pass her hands affectionately over the nurse's
shoulders, which stood out like feather pillows.
"Now we will see what it is. A box, a work-box,
a beautiful nécessaire. Thimble, see! it
fits. Needles, scissors, thread, - evidently I
am to do my own sewing in future. No
more Marcélite to darn, no more Marcélite to
mend. And another compartment underneath!
The little compartment underneath was filled
with gold dollars. At first one would have
thought it jewelry. The nurse started more
violently at the discovery than the young lady.
"It is what I have saved for you, Bébé! - for
your wedding day, - ever since you were born,
ever since your maman gave you to me."
Looking at the face before her, Marcélite
tested another argument.
For a year she had not ventured to offer her
earnings. She had uncomplainingly borne that
the Goupilleaus should supplant her, the sole
provider heretofore, but now -
"It was your own time, Bébé; I belonged
to you: you have a right to it. Who made
me your slave? God. Who made me free,
The girl looked stolidly, mechanically, at the
box in her hand.
It seemed impossible for the quadroon's voice
to become more humble, more pleading; but
the words that followed proved that it could.
"Zozo! You don't mind taking it from me,
from your Marcélite, your nurse, your own
negro. No one will ever know it! I swear
before God, no one will ever know it! Bébé,
you must have a little money, just for yourself,
- when you get married you don't know. You
see, Bébé, they are strangers, they are not us,
they are not Marcélite, they are not you. I
could have bought you something; but I wanted
you to have some money, some picayunes of
It was hard to understand that the softness
of her breath, the strength of her arms, the
activity of her feet, the chained freedom of her
whole life, could be accepted without dishonor,
and not the money value in coin; hard for the
girl to understand it, too. Her past life of
unconscious dependence rose before her, humiliating,
degrading her. Tears of mortification
came into her eyes; the bright, beautiful day
"Only for the first few days, Bébé; after that,
you won't mind taking their money. Oh, it
will all be different after you are married, when
you are his wife. What use have I got for it?
I've got no parents; I've got no children, only
you! They must n't say you came to them
without a picayune; with only your clothes in
a bundle, like a poor unknown! Whom must
I give it to, if not to you? To negroes? You
think I am going to work for negroes, eh!"
There was something else in marriage than
love? There were distinctions. She had no
money; that made a difference! She was to
take this, acquiesce in what conscience, tradition
forbade, receive money from a negro woman
rather than her husband. For the first
few days - they, the Montyons, were rich; she
Gauging effect on the face of Marie, Marcélite
saw that she was misunderstood, felt that
she had blundered. She had come to the end
of her argument with her cause lost.
"You won't take it, You are going to refuse
it! You despise it! You would rather
go to the Montyons for money than take it
from me! I know, I know, it's because I
am black, it's because I am a negro!" She
closed her eyes over the tears, and her mouth
over the sobs that shook inside her huge frame.
It had escaped her, - the first confession of the
galling drop in her heart. Gay, insouciante,
impudent, she had worn her color like a
travesty. Who would have suspected her?
"Marcélite! Marcélite! You must not talk
that way! See, I take it, I take it thankfully!
Have I not taken everything from you? You
do me injustice. How can you reproach me?"
But it came too late to appease. The woman
shook her head, flinging the tears savagely from
"No! No! Throw it away! Pitch it out
of the window! They have money, - the
Montyons have plenty of money. Everything I do
goes wrong; no one helps me. Even God will
not help a negro!"
There was a rustling of skirts in the hall
outside, a tap at the door.
"Tante Eugénie!" exclaimed the girl, joyfully.
"I shall show it to her! She will see
it! She will thank you too!" She bounded
forward with the open box.
"Let her know you take money from me!
Non! Non!" The situation was reversed.
With an adroit movement of the hand the
quadroon possessed herself of the box and hid
it from Madame Goupilleau, effacing magically
all trace of emotion except in her eyes, in whose
depths feeling seemed to surge and roll like the
billows of the sea after the stone has passed.
"It is time, mignonne! Come! They are
going to sign the contract now. Oh, you will
understand all about it when you hear it! It is
long, and, ma foi! perfectly incomprehensible.
It is in my head in such confusion! Marcélite,
my good woman, go downstairs to the office,
and ask the young gentlemen who are to serve
as witnesses to have the kindness to ascend
to the parlor."
Monsieur Goupilleau, the notary, was closeted
in his private office with Mr. Morris Frank.
They had been together the entire morning in
an interview which was the résumé of a month's
correspondence and a week's personal intercourse.
The notary, glancing at his watch between
sentences, saw that economy of words
must be practiced to conclude within the
appointed time; his face was grave at the reflection
of his miscalculation; perhaps a day or
two more would have saved him the disappointment
of his scheme and still rendered feasible
his coup de théâtre, as he called it to himself.
The young German's face was grave also,
graver than the notary's. It was a summary
proceeding, - this thrusting not only a plantation
in the balance, but, gently as the notary
put it, a father's reputation also. If his father
had only lived one year longer to answer and
act in his own defence! In embarrassment of
manner and words the young man had repeated
over and over again: -
"Monsieur, I assure you, you do not know
my father. He never made a mistake in his
The notary whose profession was officially
to prevent the depredations of friends and
relations upon one another, replied less as a
notary than as a Frenchman, -
"Monsieur, a father never makes mistakes
to a son such as you are."
It was a cruel predicament. The notary held
a letter in his hand; continually referring to it
with his eyes, he continually forbore reading
"To acknowledge what you wish, criminates
"Restitution is all that could vindicate him."
"There must be some law, some -"
"She is a young girl, an orphan; you a
man, strong -"
A desperate last hope, and the swiftly-passing
time, impelled the notary to seek this adjunct
to his legal argument.
"A donation?" The young man asked
"No, sir," -
Monseiur Goupilleau drew himself
up haughtily, - "restitution."
Armed with decision, Monsieur Goupilleau
began to read the letter in his hand, fixing
his eyes resolutely on the paper and throwing
his voice into the official tone of indifference
to human interests, sentiments, and affections
which is the mode of conveyance of notarial
"You ask me -"
"You have already consulted a lawyer! I
thought it was understood between us -"
"I have sought legal advice in a supposititious
case, from an unquestioned authority," giving
the source. "As you will see, no names have
been mentioned." Proceeding with the letter,
" 'You ask me, Would it be possible, the
owners of a plantation dying, both husband
and wife, the first year of the war, and the nurse
running away with the only heir, an infant, that
the overseer of the plantation could obtain
possession of the property and retain it,
unmolested, unquestioned, for seventeen years? I
answer, he could, by chicanery and rascality -' "
"Sir! Sir!" The young man rose excitedly
from his seat.
" 'If he knew the child was alive. Suppose
at the commencement of the war the
owners of the plantation were in debt to the
overseer, say for wages, the salary of a year or
more. Overseers often preferred letting their
salaries accumulate before drawing them. The
husband enlists, leaving the plantation in charge
of the overseer, - a most natural arrangement.
You say he is killed, the wife dies, the nurse
disappears with the baby. New Orleans was
captured in 1862. A United States District
Court was established, having jurisdiction of the
captured territory below the mouth of the Red
River. Now the overseer, by going down to the
city, if the plantation was in this territory,' -
the Parish of St. James, as you are aware,
Monsieur Frank, is within it, - 'by going down to
the city and giving information that the owner
of the plantation was a rebel, an officer in
the army, concealing the fact that he was
dead -' "
"Monsieur! I cannot! I refuse to listen!"
Morris Frank's face was red with anger, his eyes
moist with feeling.
The notary continued, slightly hurrying his
words: " 'Could have the property seized,
condemned as the property of a rebel, purchase it
himself at the confiscation sale, paying a
nominal price, say five thousand dollars, for it,
which five thousand he would not pay in cash,
but claim as a privileged debt the amount
actually due, and make up the balance of the
price by charges for overseeing, up to the date
of proceedings. He could thus hold the plantation
under an apparently legal title. No one
but a child could contest.' "
"And the young lady?"
The notary's time was up. He was overdue
upstairs with the contract.
"That point, I thought, was settled yesterday,"
said he, curtly. "Now, I must bid you
good-day." He paused at the door; another
thought came into his brain. For an instant he
was embarrassed, undecided; then, dismissing
his official character, and simply as an old
gentleman with infinite worldly knowledge and
infinite human sympathy, he laid his hand on
the young man's shoulder: "My friend reflect
for an instant what the condition of the South
would be at this moment were such titles to
property as yours good; and," - his voice
sinking with feeling, - "thank God that by the
Constitution of the United States no attainder
of reason can work corruption of blood or
forfeiture, except during the life of the person
attainted." At a better recollection of his
own family history, he said: "Children here
are not punishable for the offense of an
ancestor." Then, with a pressure of his sensitive
fingers, he continued: "My boy, remember,
restitution involves no confession. Fathers
are but human beings like ourselves; when
they die, the best thing we can do is to
act for them as we wish they might have
Mr. Frank also left the private office, but he
halted in the next room, sat down at a desk,
"Sir, I assure you, you do not know my
father. He never made a mistake in his life.
He was a man of unquestioned integrity." He
repeated the words over and over again, as if
the notary still could hear them.
Reared in the strictest of ecclesiastical
colleges, where credulity had been assiduously
fostered and simplicity preserved, his youth
was passed in a calm world of perfect submission
and perfect trust. In his uncritical mind
the visible and invisible world rested on one
vast quiescent billow of faith. His father, his
mother, his plantation; as well question the
saints, miracles, heaven!
The clerks from their desks looked furtively
at him as he buried his face in his hands, - the
face of a man in helpless anxiety of mind. He
had come to the city only three months ago
in a vague search for some unknown pleasure
which his swelling manhood craved, - a pleasure
not to be found on the plantation, in the
green fields under the blue sky, not in the
morning réveille to duty, nor in the tired
languor of the welcome curfew. The luxury which
parsimony had banished from his parents' lives
had descended to him intact, principal and
interest, with the inheritance to buy it, - a
heritage to spend and a heritage to gratify. The
beautiful young girls at that Fleurissant ball!
His life had never held a ball nor a young girl
before. Oh, the plainest one there would have
been a queen in his home, a houri in his heart!
His home! Which home, - the little white-washed
cabin near the sugar-house, where the
sows littered under the gallery and the mules
galloped by on their way to the stables, - the
home of his birth, the despised overseer's house,
exhaling menace, inhaling hatred; or the other
home, the home to which he returned from
college, the master's residence, the beautiful
home which his father had bought for him, with
pictures and books, glass and silver, carved
furniture and silken hangings? "By chicanery
He had lived in the house, slept in the beds,
studied the books. And the pictures, - ah,
Nature had given him such sordid, homely
parents! He had idolized these pictured ladies
and gentlemen. In adoration, he had tried to
fit himself, not for heaven, but for them. He
had tilled the fields as their successor,
maintained the manor as their heir. "I assure you,
there must be some mistake; my father was
a man of integrity." If he had not integrity,
what had he? Could he, the son, have lived
in that house else? And his father and mother
both slept in the cemetery of these people, -
Ideals of marriage had come to him during
the long evenings in the quiet house. In fancy
he had often led a bride across the threshold of
it, - a black-eyed, black-haired bride, like the
black-eyed, black-haired women in the pictures;
and imagination had gone still farther
beyond, into those far-off dreams that lure the
lonely into domesticity. The tears wet his
fingers at the recollection of them.
Could his father have known of the existence
of the child? That was all the question
now; the plantation and the money in bank
were a cheap exchange for the redeeming
Searching weariedly among the commonplace
incidents of his child-life for some saving
memory which would give testimony in favor of the
dead, as one turns and overturns domestic articles
in search of a lost jewel, the figure of a
quadroon woman came suddenly to remembrance,
clear and distinct, - clearly and distinctly
as her voice now sounded in the doorway.
"Monsieur requests the presence of the
gentlemen who are to act as witnesses."
Two of the young clerks, in gala dress,
who had been scratching their pens sedulously
in feigned indifference to the honor, rose with
This was the woman who had run away with
the child! Morris Frank arrested her, seized
her by the wrist, and drew her in through the
door of the back office. With an old instinct
of fear she resisted and struggled. His father,
the overseer, had not handled her color too
"For God's sake let me go! What do you
want? I have n't done anything!" she cried.
"Tell me, tell me the truth about that child, -
about that baby!"
He questioned, he cross-questioned, he twisted
and turned her answers.
"As there is a God in heaven, it's the truth!
As the blessed Virgin hears me, it's the truth!
Ask Monsieur Goupilleau, ask the priest, ask
old Uncle Ursin on the plantation, - they all
know it! Mr. Frank, Mr. Morris, you are
not going to harm her! I kept it from you;
I would have died before you found it out
from me! She does n't know it! No one
The same old terror of causeless violence that
had made her a fugitive eighteen years ago
possessed her again, so coping away reason and
presence of mind, making her believe, with the
barbarous anticipations of ferocity which had
survived civilization in her, the tragic fate of
the parents as immanent to the child.
"You swear it is the truth?"
"On the cross, on the Blessed Virgin, on the
Saviour." All that was sacred in her religion,
all that was terrific in her superstition, she
invocated with unhesitating tongue to attest a
veracity impugned with her race by custom and
It is not pleasant reading, - a marriage contract:
stipulations in one clause, counter-stipulations
in another; so much money here, so
much money there; distrust of the contracting
parties, distrust of the relatives, distrust of the
unsophisticated goodness of God himself, who
had trammels of every notarial variety thrown
across any future development of trust and
confidence. There were provisions against fraud,
deception, indebtedness; provisions against
change, indifference, enmity, death, remarriage,
against improper alliances of unborn daughters,
against dissipation and extravagance of unborn
sons, - provisions for everything but the continuance
of the love which had waxed and grown
to the inevitable conclusion of marriage.
It was a triumph of astuteness on the part
of old Madame Montyon. She sat on the sofa
nodding her head and purple-flowered bonnet,
at each clause repeating the words after
Monsieur Goupilleau with great satisfaction.
"Ah, mon Dieu!" Mademoiselle Angely
sighed at the end of it, not knowing anything
more appropriate to do or to say.
"Those marriage contracts, - they are all
against the women, the poor women! That
is the way with Eugénie there. Old Lareveillère
made a marriage contract against her; she
had nothing of her own, and all her life there
he has held her." Tante Pauline pressed her
right thumb expressively against the palm of
her left hand.
"At the last moment I thought," said Madame
Montyon to herself, "that Goupilleau
would have given her something; but that was
not like a notary, nor a Goupilleau."
"If I had succeeded in my plans," thought
Monsieur Goupilleau, "the favor would have
been all the other way."
"Pauvre petite chatte!" thought his wife, as
a last resource of consolation, "at least her
children will be secure."
"We will now sign it," said the notary.
"But I must go for the bride," prompted
They seemed to have forgotten her completely
in their excitement over the settlement
of so much property and money, - both her
and the young man who stood unheeded,
unconsulted, in the corner of the room; his own
insignificant personal capital of youth, hope,
strength, love, honor, ambition, unmentioned
in the elaborate catalogue prepared by the
step-mother. It was all valueless as an
endowment. Like an automaton he had been
provided for and given over to his childish
foible for a wife.
The noise of the street invaded the parlors,
but genteelly and discreetly sifted of impurity
by the fine lace curtains at the end windows of
the long narrow room. The half-closed shutters
gave oblique views of the gallery, with its iron
balustrade and canopy, and rows of plants thriving
luxuriantly. They had only contracted pots
for root, but the whole blue heavens for foliage.
There reigned the gentle obscurity which the
people of the climate affect, - an obscurity that
flatters rather than conceals the physiognomy,
and tones the voices in soft Creole modulations.
The green-glazed marine monsters of a tall
Palissy vase collected the few entering rays of
light, and rose a beacon over an invisible
centre-table, which carried an indistinct collection
of velvet-cased miniatures, ivory carvings, Bohemian
glasses, and other small objects, which in
Monsieur Goupilleau's days of extravagance
gratified the taste for bric-à-brac.
There was a lull in the conversation. The
occupants of the chairs and sofas devoted
themselves to their fans and handkerchiefs, or put
on eye-glasses to solve the enigmatical pictures
hanging in oblivion, within gilt frames, on the
walls. The moments of Madame Goupilleau's
absence were slow, dry, and detached. What
was said was hurried, indifferent, in an undertone,
mere packing-paper to fill up space, each
volunteer fearing to be caught with a truncated
word or an unfinished smile on the lips, - the
women of course alone risking it.
"Eugénie's rooms are really beautiful!"
"Can you see what that is in the corner?"
"I never noticed that lamp before."
"Right here at your elbow, on the table."
"And ciselé brass!"
"How warm it is!"
"I believe I feel a draught!"
"Mon Dieu! where?"
"Change your seat."
"There in the corner is a fauteuil."
"Who is that old skeleton?"
"Armand Goupilleau's confidential clerk!"
"He will have to read the contract all over
"Of course; the bride did not hear it!"
"I give them six months after the old lady's
death to break it."
"H'sh! she'll hear you, Pauline!"
"Here they are!"
"Poor little thing!"
"How pale she is!"
"And so frail!"
"Just like her mother."
"H'sh! they are going to begin!"
"Heavens! What a glare!"
"It is barbarous!"
Monsieur Goupilleau's confidential clerk was
to repeat the deed, - an old man with sight
almost beyond recall of double glasses. He
stood as near as possible to the coveted
daylight of the outside world, against the window,
holding the paper as close to his eyes as his
long thin nose would permit; it was still too
far off for smooth reading. Profiting by the
confusion succeeding the entrance, he slyly laid
his hand on the shutters to widen the crack of
light by the merest trifle; at a touch they all
fell open from top to bottom, letting the sun
in like a flash of lightning, striking them all
with sudden distinctness, brightening the
written page into delicious legibility. Before a
countermanding order could be issued, before
the bride could be seated, he began the lecture,
overriding the protests of the ladies with his
unhuman mechanical voice, cracked by use, ignoring
the opened fans used as screens against his
end of the room.
The young girl stood where she was. The
sun falling across her head increased the fairness
of her face and the blackness of her hair.
She held her hands clasped before her, and
seemed with eyes as well as ears listening to
the terms on which she was to be admitted to
the profession of her love. In the last hours
of her innocent, unconscious girlhood she was
pathetic, pitiful, to the ladies, who shed furtive
tears. The gentlemen, at sight of her, felt a
stirring in their hearts and conscience, or
maybe the eyes of the married women present
resurrected a primitive, latent, effete distrust of
themselves, - a remorseful sense of unworthiness
as conceded possessors of the other sex.
After the reading had ended, Marie Modeste
still listened and thought, trying to make her
head speak as distinctly as her heart had done.
"You will have the kindness to sign your
name here, Mademoiselle," said the old clerk,
delighted with his window evolution and the
fluency of his rendition of the contract.
The young men from the office pressed forward
alertly, under fear of the awful possibility
of being overlooked. The ladies and gentlemen
rose from their seats, and all advanced
toward the centre-table, where a space was
being cleared for the signing.
The young girl took the pen, which had been
dipped in ink, and waited for the papers to be
straightened out and pressed flat.
"Here, on this line, Mademoiselle." She
placed her hand where he pointed, and bent
"No! no!" she cried, straightening herself,
holding the document in her hand. Her face
became red as she heard her weak, thin voice
trying to raise and steady itself to audibility in
the room full of strange faces.
"No! no! I cannot sign it! I will not sign
it! I do not wish it! I refuse! I give nothing,
I will take nothing, - nothing!"
She forced her lips, trembling convulsively,
to utter what was resolutely being proclaimed
in her breast.
"I give nothing but love! I want nothing
but love!" and the elaborate act, the notarial
work of a week, fell in long thin strips to the
There was a sudden decline in the value of
bonds and stocks and landed investments;
Madame Montyon's hillock of gold disappeared
for once from before her eyes, leaving them
staring at blank poverty.
"Tudieu! Tudieu!" she swore, in her
"The marriage broken! Ah, I knew it!"
exclaimed Tante Pauline.
"Eugénie! Eugénie!" Mademoiselle Aurore
Angely pulled Madame Goupilleau's gown.
"But look at them! Stop them! It is not
proper! It is not convenable!"
It was against etiquette which had held him
in strict quarantine for twenty-four hours; but
the young groom broke from his corner and his
passiveness, as unrestrained as if the wedding
were past and not to come, and his bride, turning,
received him as if she had all the money in
the world and he not a cent. Their embrace
made all hearts and lips envious.
Mademoiselle Angely would have had to
acknowledge at the confessional that it was not
so much because it was shocking as because it
was a sin, that forced her to turn her back on
The officious young witnesses sprang to the
floor to gather up the fragments of the contract.
The confidential clerk, as deaf as he was
blind, and equally conscientious, after showing
the place on the document and giving the pen,
was intent only upon closing the shutters as
he had found them, and as slyly. The room
passed again, without warning, into darkness,
granting, until the eyes accommodated themselves
to it, momentary shelter to the lovers and
relief to the spectators.
"Ah! she's a fool all the same!" Tante
Pauline found time to say.
"Come!" said Morris Frank, "take me up
there, - instantly!"
Grasping the quadroon by the wrist, he followed
up the stairs, through the hall, into a
dark room separated by a portière from the
parlor. Pushing aside the faded red and yellow
damask, he stood, hearing, seeing all. The
flesh and blood, the face, of his pictured hosts
in the old plantation home! The black-eyed,
black-haired girl! What did she need more
than love for a dower? And her lover? What
other capital did he need besides the strength
of the arms that clasped her? They would
despise him, insult him, condemn his father, vilify
his memory, - the usurper of a home!
"Speak! speak! for God's sake, speak!"
whispered Marcélite at his side. She was afraid
he would change his mind.
He had dreamed and basked under the eyes
of her kindred, while she had been the protégée of a negro woman! Oh, the years beyond
Would they dig up his father and mother, and
cast them out of the pilfered grave?
Her father and mother, - where were they
buried? What would he do with himself without
a home, without a plantation, without a profession,
without, - yes, without a reputation?
"Speak! speak!" muttered Marcélite.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" No, they had
nothing to do with it. "Mademoiselle!" He
crossed the room, pushing aside those in his
way; if they had been alone he would have
knelt to her.
"Mademoiselle! it is all there waiting for
you, ready for you, - your plantation, your
servants, your home, the pictures, the books, the
silver; there, just as your father left them to go
to the war, just as your mother left them to fly
to her death. Let me make restitution, let me
make atonement; but oh, let me implore for
the dead, - my father!" He looked so tall
in the midst of them; in his emotion, his stiff,
awkward language, so boyish! His ingenuous
eyes were fixed on her face in simple, earnest,
humble devotion, as many an evening he had
fixed them on the portraits at home.
With swift, sure impulse, the quadroon woman
put herself before him, took the words from his
mouth, crazy as she was at the moment.
"It was my fault, Monsieur!" to Monsieur
Goupilleau. "He did not know it! His father
did not know it! I swear that old Monsieur
Frank did not know it! I sent word myself
that the baby was dead. Old Uncle Ursin
knows it's the truth; ask him. Monsieur Frank
sent him to me. I made him lie. My God!
I did n't know any better. I thought the
Yankees would kill her too!"
Was it truth, or falsehood? There was no
one to certify or convict. Old Uncle Ursin?
He had been found dead in his bed before
Morris Frank left the plantation.
"It is all there, and in bank," the young man
continued. The bank-book was in his pocket;
he got it, handed it to Monsieur Goupilleau.
"You will find the amount -"
He mentioned it quite simply and naturally, -
the amount which year after year had been
growing in the bank, the result of many a day's
hard work, the savings from a life's self-denial
and parsimony. It was a fortune to astonish
the little room, to strike even the women dumb.
He thanked Heaven, as he mentioned it, that the
spendings had been trivial.
"I never suspected it, I grew up unconscious
of it. The woman, Marcélite, saw me at the
ball; she told Monsieur Goupilleau. Mademoiselle,
your marriage contract would have been
different if - if I -"
But Monsieur Goupilleau would not allow
any more explanation. It was a coup de théâtre
after his own heart, - a voluntary restitution, no
lawsuit, no revelations; he could not improve
it with any additions, any commendations of his
own, for his voice in the general hubbub
deserted him, his eyes blinded his spectacles.
Frenchman as he was, if he could have been
granted a son then and there, it would have
been the young German, the overseer's boy, he
would have chosen, as he told him over and
over again, or tried to tell him.
"It is she who is too good for him,
now," whispered Tante Pauline to Mademoiselle
"Hein! She is a partie, after all!" Madame
Montyon felt elated, for she flattered herself
that it was she who by her determination had
forced the hand of Providence. "I am going
to have an angel for a daughter-in-law."
"Félix! Félix!" cried Mademoiselle Aurore,
clasping her hands. "What can you say now
against the good God? That superb plantation
in St. James!" For the plantation was known
all up and down the coast, and the fame of
the Frank management was a State affair.
"Bébé! Zozo! Mamzelle Marie! To go
back! To see it all, - the pictures, the
books, the furniture! You did n't believe
me! You thought I was lying -"
"That quadroon will raise the roof off the
house," said Tante Pauline; "when they begin
their noise, there is no stopping them."
"Monsieur Morris," - Marcélite threw herself
before him, - "let me work for you, let me be
your slave -"
"Mignonne! Mignonne!" expostulated
Madame Goupilleau with Marie. "You must not
cry so, even for happiness! It is true, my
child, it is all true! Do you not hear Charles,
Armand, - all of them? Enfin, Marcélite!
control yourself; you are exciting the child
with your screaming. "Non, Monsieur," to
Charles, "to-day she is still mine; to-morrow I
will not dispute her with you. Armand, my
friend," to her husband, "send them all away,
get rid of them, we must have some repose
before the ceremony."
"Well, Goupilleau," said the Madame Montyon,
composing her face after a pinch of snuff,
"we are to have all our trouble over again!"
"Of course, Madame! of course, the young
lady's interests must now be protected." He
stumbled against Marcélite. "Eh! my good
woman!" My good woman! He raised her
from the floor and held both her hands. "It is
admirable, it is sublime. Why do you weep?
He could not have done it better himself, -
your Monsieur Motte!"
It was not Madame Goupilleau, but Marcélite,
who walked behind the bride that night to the
altar, for so Marie Modeste had commanded.
It was not to Madame Goupilleau, but to Marcélite,
that the bride turned for her first blessing
after the ceremony. It was not Madame Goupilleau,
but Marcélite, who folded away the marriage
garments that night. It was not from
Madame Goupilleau, but from Marcélite, that
Charles Montyon received his bride. It was not
Madame Goupilleau, nor any other woman, but
Marcélite, who in her distant, unlighted room
watched the night through, shedding on the
bridal wreath the tears that only mothers shed
on bridal wreaths of daughters, praying the
prayers that only mothers pray on the wedding
nights of daughters.
Time still carries on the story, life still
furnishes the incidents; there is no last chapter to
the record. The intercepted inheritance has
come to the rightful heir, but it has not
departed from the young German. Morris Frank
had claims which not he, but Monsieur Goupilleau,
asserted. He is part owner of the Ste.
Marie plantation, sole manager; his crops rival
the celebrated ones of his father; his yield of
cane leads the statistics of his State. The old
house he loved is still his home, - the home
too of Marie Modeste, her husband, her
children, and Marcélite.
They all live well, happily, prosperously
together; for in giving hearts, God assigned