A ROMANCE OF THE REPUBLIC
L. MARIA CHILD
THE FATHER AND MOTHER OF
COL. R.G. SHAW,
THE EARLY AND EVER-FAITHFUL FRIENDS OF FREEDOM AND EQUAL RIGHTS,
IS MOST RESPECTFULLY AND AFFECTIONATELY
"What are you going to do with yourself this evening, Alfred?" said Mr. Royal to his companion, as they issued from his counting-house in New Orleans. "Perhaps I ought to apologize for not calling you Mr. King, considering the shortness of our acquaintance; but your father and I were like brothers in our youth, and you resemble him so much, I can hardly realize that you are not he himself, and I still a young man. It used to be a joke with us that we must be cousins, since he was a King and I was of the Royal family. So excuse me if I say to you, as I used to say to him. What are you going to do with yourself, Cousin Alfred?"
"I thank you for the friendly familiarity," rejoined the young man. "It is pleasant to know that I remind you so strongly of my good father. My most earnest wish is to resemble him in character as much as I am said to resemble him in person. I have formed no plans for the evening. I was just about to ask you what there was best worth seeing or hearing in the Crescent City."
"If I should tell you I thought there was nothing better worth seeing than my daughters, you would perhaps excuse a father's partiality," rejoined Mr. Royal.
"Your daughters!" exclaimed his companion, in a tone of surprise. "I never heard that you were married."
A shadow of embarrassment passed over the merchant's face, as he replied, "Their mother was a Spanish lady,—a stranger here,—and she formed no acquaintance. She was a woman of a great heart and of rare beauty. Nothing can ever make up her loss to me; but all the joy that remains in life is centred in the daughters she has left me. I should like to introduce them to you; and that is a compliment I never before paid to any young man. My home is in the outskirts of the city; and when we have dined at the hotel, according to my daily habit, I will send off a few letters, and then, if you like to go there with me, I will call a carriage."
"Thank you," replied the young man; "unless it is your own custom to ride, I should prefer to walk. I like the exercise, and it will give a better opportunity to observe the city, which is so different from our Northern towns that it has for me the attractions of a foreign land."
In compliance with this wish, Mr. Royal took him through the principal streets, pointing out the public buildings, and now and then stopping to smile at some placard or sign which presented an odd jumble of French and English. When they came to the suburbs of the city, the aspect of things became charmingly rural. Houses were scattered here and there among trees and gardens. Mr. Royal pointed out one of them, nestled in flowers and half encircled by an orange-grove, and said, "That is my home. When I first came here, the place where it stands was a field of sugar-canes; but the city is fast stretching itself into the suburbs."
They approached the dwelling; and in answer to the bell, the door was opened by a comely young negress, with a turban of bright colors on her head and golden hoops in her ears. Before the gentlemen had disposed of their hats and canes, a light little figure bounded from one of the rooms, clapping her hands, and exclaiming, "Ah, Papasito!" Then, seeing a stranger with him, she suddenly stood still, with a pretty look of blushing surprise.
"Never mind, Mignonne," said her father, fondly patting her head. "This is Alfred Royal King, from Boston; my namesake, and the son of a dear old friend of mine. I have invited him to see you dance. Mr. King, this is my Floracita."
The fairy dotted a courtesy, quickly and gracefully as a butterfly touching a flower, and then darted back into the room she had left. There they were met by a taller young lady, who was introduced as "My daughter Rosabella." Her beauty was superlative and peculiar. Her complexion was like a glowing reflection upon ivory from gold in the sunshine. Her large brown eyes were deeply fringed, and lambent with interior light. Lustrous dark brown hair shaded her forehead in little waves, slight as the rippling of water touched by an insect's wing. It was arranged at the back of her head in circling braids, over which fell clusters of ringlets, with moss-rose-buds nestling among them. Her full, red lips were beautifully shaped, and wore a mingled expression of dignity and sweetness. The line from ear to chin was that perfect oval which artists love, and the carriage of her head was like one born to a kingdom.
Floracita, though strikingly handsome, was of a model less superb than her elder sister. She was a charming little brunette, with laughter always lurking in ambush within her sparkling black eyes, a mouth like "Cupid's bow carved in coral," and dimples in her cheeks, that well deserved their French name, berceaux d'amour.
These radiant visions of beauty took Alfred King so much by surprise, that he was for a moment confused. But he soon recovered self-possession, and, after the usual salutations, took a seat offered him near a window overlooking the garden. While the commonplaces of conversation were interchanged, he could not but notice the floral appearance of the room. The ample white lace curtains were surmounted by festoons of artificial roses, caught up by a bird of paradise. On the ceiling was an exquisitely painted garland, from the centre of which hung a tasteful basket of natural flowers, with delicate vine-tresses drooping over its edge. The walls were papered with bright arabesques of flowers, interspersed with birds and butterflies. In one corner a statuette of Flora looked down upon a geranium covered with a profusion of rich blossoms. In the opposite corner, ivy was trained to form a dark background for Canova's "Dancer in Repose," over whose arm was thrown a wreath of interwoven vines and orange-blossoms. On brackets and tables were a variety of natural flowers in vases of Sevres china, whereon the best artists of France had painted flowers in all manner of graceful combinations. The ottomans were embroidered with flowers. Rosabella's white muslin dress was trailed all over with delicately tinted roses, and the lace around the corsage was fastened in front with a mosaic basket of flowers. Floracita's black curls fell over her shoulders mixed with crimson fuchsias, and on each of her little slippers was embroidered a bouquet.
"This is the Temple of Flora," said Alfred, turning to his host. "Flowers everywhere! Natural flowers, artificial flowers, painted flowers, embroidered flowers, and human flowers excelling them all,"—glancing at the young ladies as he spoke.
Mr. Royal sighed, and in an absent sort of way answered, "Yes, yes." Then, starting up, he said abruptly, "Excuse me a moment; I wish to give the servants some directions."
Floracita, who was cutting leaves from the geranium, observed his quick movement, and, as he left the room, she turned toward their visitor and said, in a childlike, confidential sort of way: "Our dear Mamita used to call this room the Temple of Flora. She had a great passion for flowers. She chose the paper, she made the garlands for the curtains, she embroidered the ottomans, and painted that table so prettily. Papasito likes to have things remain as she arranged them, but sometimes they make him sad; for the angels took Mamita away from us two years ago."
"Even the names she gave you are flowery," said Alfred, with an expression of mingled sympathy and admiration.
"Yes; and we had a great many flowery pet-names beside," replied she. "My name is Flora, but when she was very loving with me she called me her Floracita, her little flower; and Papasito always calls me so now. Sometimes Mamita called me Pensee Vivace."
"In English we call that bright little flower Jump-up-and-kiss-me," rejoined Alfred, smiling as he looked down upon the lively little fairy.
She returned the smile with an arch glance, that seemed to say, "I sha'n't do it, though." And away she skipped to meet her father, whose returning steps were heard.
"You see I spoil her," said he, as she led him into the room with a half-dancing step. "But how can I help it?"
Before there was time to respond to this question, the negress with the bright turban announced that tea was ready.
"Yes, Tulipa? we will come," said Floracita.
"Is she a flower too?" asked Alfred.
"Yes, she's a flower, too," answered Floracita, with a merry little laugh. "We named her so because she always wears a red and yellow turban; but we call her Tulee, for short."
While they were partaking of refreshments, she and her father were perpetually exchanging badinage, which, childish as it was, served to enliven the repast. But when she began to throw oranges for him to catch, a reproving glance from her dignified sister reminded her of the presence of company.
"Let her do as she likes, Rosa dear," said her father. "She is used to being my little plaything, and I can't spare her to be a woman yet."
"I consider it a compliment to forget that I am a stranger," said Mr. King. "For my own part, I forgot it entirely before I had been in the house ten minutes."
Rosabella thanked him with a quiet smile and a slight inclination of her head. Floracita, notwithstanding this encouragement, paused in her merriment; and Mr. Royal began to talk over reminiscences connected with Alfred's father. When they rose from table, he said, "Come here, Mignonne! We won't be afraid of the Boston gentleman, will we?" Floracita sprang to his side. He passed his arm fondly round her, and, waiting for his guest and his elder daughter to precede them, they returned to the room they had left. They had scarcely entered it, when Floracita darted to the window, and, peering forth into the twilight, she looked back roguishly at her sister, and began to sing:—
"Un petit blanc, que j'aime, En ces lieux est venu. Oui! oui! c'est lui meme! C'est lui! je l'ai vue! Petit blanc! mon bon frere! Ha! ha! petit blanc si doux!"
The progress of her song was checked by the entrance of a gentleman, who was introduced to Alfred as Mr. Fitzgerald from Savannah. His handsome person reminded one of an Italian tenor singer, and his manner was a graceful mixture of hauteur and insinuating courtesy. After a brief interchange of salutations, he said to Floracita, "I heard some notes of a lively little French tune, that went so trippingly I should be delighted to hear more of it."
Floracita had accidentally overheard some half-whispered words which Mr. Fitzgerald had addressed to her sister, during his last visit, and, thinking she had discovered an important secret, she was disposed to use her power mischievously. Without waiting for a repetition of his request, she sang:—
"Petit blanc, mon bon frere! Ha! ha! petit blanc si doux! Il n'y a rien sur la terre De si joli que vous."
While she was singing, she darted roguish glances at her sister, whose cheeks glowed like the sun-ripened side of a golden apricot. Her father touched her shoulder, and said in a tone of annoyance, "Don't sing that foolish song, Mignonne!" She turned to him quickly with a look of surprise; for she was accustomed only to endearments from him. In answer to her look, he added, in a gentler tone, "You know I told you I wanted my friend to see you dance. Select one of your prettiest, ma petite, and Rosabella will play it for you."
Mr. Fitzgerald assiduously placed the music-stool, and bent over the portfolio while Miss Royal searched for the music. A servant lighted the candelabra and drew the curtains. Alfred, glancing at Mr. Royal, saw he was watching the pair who were busy at the portfolio, and that the expression of his countenance was troubled. His eyes, however, soon had pleasanter occupation; for as soon as Rosa touched the piano, Floracita began to float round the room in a succession of graceful whirls, as if the music had taken her up and was waltzing her along. As she passed the marble Dancing Girl, she seized the wreath that was thrown over its arm, and as she went circling round, it seemed as if the tune had become a visible spirit, and that the garland was a floating accompaniment to its graceful motions. Sometimes it was held aloft by the right hand, sometimes by the left; sometimes it was a whirling semicircle behind her; and sometimes it rested on her shoulders, mingling its white orange buds and blossoms with her shower of black curls and crimson fuchsias. Now it was twined round her head in a flowery crown, and then it gracefully unwound itself, as if it were a thing alive. Ever and anon the little dancer poised herself for an instant on the point of one fairy foot, her cheeks glowing with exercise and dimpling with smiles, as she met her father's delighted gaze. Every attitude seemed spontaneous in its prettiness, as if the music had made it without her choice. At last she danced toward her father, and sank, with a wave-like motion, on the ottoman at his feet. He patted the glossy head that nestled lovingly on his knee, and drawing a long breath, as if oppressed with happiness, he murmured, "Ah, Mignonne!"
The floating fairy vision had given such exquisite pleasure, that all had been absorbed in watching its variations. Now they looked at each other and smiled. "You would make Taglioni jealous," said Mr. Fitzgerald, addressing the little dancer; and Mr. King silently thanked her with a very expressive glance.
As Rosabella retired from the piano, she busied herself with rearranging a bouquet she had taken from one of the vases. When Mr. Fitzgerald stationed himself at her side, she lowered her eyes with a perceptibly deepening color. On her peculiar complexion a blush showed like a roseate cloud in a golden atmosphere. As Alfred gazed on the long, dark, silky fringes resting on those warmly tinted cheeks, he thought he had never seen any human creature so superbly handsome.
"Nothing but music can satisfy us after such dancing," said Mr. Fitzgerald. She looked up to him with a smile; and Alfred thought the rising of those dark eyelashes surpassed their downcast expression, as the glory of morning sunshine excels the veiled beauty of starlight.
"Shall I accompany you while you sing, 'How brightly breaks the morning'?" asked she.
"That always sings itself into my heart, whenever you raise your eyes to mine," replied he, in a low tone, as he handed her to the piano.
Together they sang that popular melody, bright and joyful as sunrise on a world of blossoms. Then came a Tyrolese song, with a double voice, sounding like echoes from the mountains. This was followed by some tender, complaining Russian melodies, novelties which Mr. Fitzgerald had brought on a preceding visit. Feeling they were too much engrossed with each other, she said politely, "Mr. King has not yet chosen any music."
"The moon becomes visible through the curtains," replied he. "Perhaps you will salute her with 'Casta Diva.'"
"That is a favorite with us," she replied. "Either Flora or I sing it almost every moonlight night."
She sang it in very pure Italian. Then turning round on the music-stool she looked at her father, and said, "Now, Papasito querido, what shall I sing for you?"
"You know, dear, what I always love to hear," answered he.
With gentle touch, she drew from the keys a plaintive prelude, which soon modulated itself into "The Light of other Days." She played and sang it with so much feeling, that it seemed the voice of memory floating with softened sadness over the far-off waters of the past. The tune was familiar to Alfred, but it had never sung itself into his heart, as now. "I felt as I did in Italy, listening to a vesper-bell sounding from a distance in the stillness of twilight," said he, turning toward his host.
"All who hear Rosabella sing notice a bell in her voice," rejoined her father.
"Undoubtedly it is the voice of a belle," said Mr. Fitzgerald.
Her father, without appearing to notice the commonplace pun, went on to say, "You don't know, Mr. King, what tricks she can play with her voice. I call her a musical ventriloquist. If you want to hear the bell to perfection, ask her to sing 'Toll the bell for lovely Nell.'"
"Do give me that pleasure," said Alfred, persuasively.
She sang the pathetic melody, and with voice and piano imitated to perfection the slow tolling of a silver-toned bell. After a short pause, during which she trifled with the keys, while some general remarks were passing, she turned to Mr. Fitzgerald, who was leaning on the piano, and said, "What shall I sing for you?" It was a simple question, but it pierced the heart of Alfred King with a strange new pain. What would he not have given for such a soft expression in those glorious eyes when she looked at him!
"Since you are in a ventriloqual mood," answered Mr. Fitzgerald, "I should like to hear again what you played the last time I was here,—Agatha's Moonlight Prayer, from Der Freyschuetz."
She smiled, and with voice and instrument produced the indescribably dreamy effect of the two flutes. It was the very moonlight of sound.
"This is perfectly magical," murmured Alfred. He spoke in a low, almost reverential tone; for the spell of moonlight was on him, and the clear, soft voice of the singer, the novelty of her peculiar beauty, and the surpassing gracefulness of her motions, as she swayed gently to the music of the tones she produced, inspired him with a feeling of poetic deference. Through the partially open window came the lulling sound of a little trickling fountain in the garden, and the air was redolent of jasmine and orange-blossoms. On the pier-table was a little sleeping Cupid, from whose torch rose the fragrant incense of a nearly extinguished pastille. The pervasive spirit of beauty in the room, manifested in forms, colors, tones, and motions, affected the soul as perfume did the senses. The visitors felt they had stayed too long, and yet they lingered. Alfred examined the reclining Cupid, and praised the gracefulness of its outline.
"Cupid could never sleep here, nor would the flame of his torch ever go out," said Mr. Fitzgerald; "but it is time we were going out."
The young gentlemen exchanged parting salutations with their host and his daughters, and moved toward the door. But Mr. Fitzgerald paused on the threshold to say, "Please play us out with Mozart's 'Good Night.'"
"As organists play worshippers out of the church," added Mr. King.
Rosabella bowed compliance, and, as they crossed the outer threshold, they heard the most musical of voices singing Mozart's beautiful little melody, "Buona Notte, amato bene." The young men lingered near the piazza till the last sounds floated away, and then they walked forth in the moonlight,—Fitzgerald repeating the air in a subdued whistle.
His first exclamation was, "Isn't that girl a Rose Royal?"
"She is, indeed," replied Mr. King; "and the younger sister is also extremely fascinating."
"Yes, I thought you seemed to think so," rejoined his companion. "Which do you prefer?"
Shy of revealing his thoughts to a stranger, Mr. King replied that each of the sisters was so perfect in her way, the other would be wronged by preference.
"Yes, they are both rare gems of beauty," rejoined Fitzgerald. "If I were the Grand Bashaw, I would have them both in my harem."
The levity of the remark jarred on the feelings of his companion, who answered, in a grave, and somewhat cold tone, "I saw nothing in the manners of the young ladies to suggest such a disposition of them."
"Excuse me," said Fitzgerald, laughing. "I forgot you were from the land of Puritans. I meant no indignity to the young ladies, I assure you. But when one amuses himself with imagining the impossible, it is not worth while to be scrupulous about details. I am not the Grand Bashaw; and when I pronounced them fit for his harem, I merely meant a compliment to their superlative beauty. That Floracita is a mischievous little sprite. Did you ever see anything more roguish than her expression while she was singing 'Petit blanc, mon bon frere'?"
"That mercurial little song excited my curiosity," replied Alfred. "Pray what is its origin?"
"I think it likely it came from the French West Indies," said Fitzgerald. "It seems to be the love-song of a young negress, addressed to a white lover. Floracita may have learned it from her mother, who was half French, half Spanish. You doubtless observed the foreign sprinkling in their talk. They told me they never spoke English with their mother. Those who have seen her describe her as a wonderful creature, who danced like Taglioni and sang like Malibran, and was more beautiful than her daughter Rosabella. But the last part of the story is incredible. If she were half as handsome, no wonder Mr. Royal idolized her, as they say he did."
"Did he marry her in the French Islands?" inquired Alfred.
"They were not married," answered Fitzgerald. "Of course not, for she was a quadroon. But here are my lodgings, and I must bid you good night."
These careless parting words produced great disturbance in the spirit of Alfred King. He had heard of those quadroon connections, as one hears of foreign customs, without any realizing sense of their consequences. That his father's friend should be a partner in such an alliance, and that these two graceful and accomplished girls should by that circumstance be excluded from the society they would so greatly ornament, surprised and bewildered him. He recalled that tinge in Rosa's complexion, not golden, but like a faint, luminous reflection of gold, and that slight waviness in the glossy hair, which seemed to him so becoming. He could not make these peculiarities seem less beautiful to his imagination, now that he knew them as signs of her connection with a proscribed race. And that bewitching little Floracita, emerging into womanhood, with the auroral light of childhood still floating round her, she seemed like a beautiful Italian child, whose proper place was among fountains and statues and pictured forms of art. The skill of no Parisian coiffeur could produce a result so pleasing as the profusion of raven hair, that would roll itself into ringlets. Octoroons! He repeated the word to himself, but it did not disenchant him. It was merely something foreign and new to his experience, like Spanish or Italian beauty. Yet he felt painfully the false position in which they were placed by the unreasoning prejudice of society.
Though he had had a fatiguing day, when he entered his chamber he felt no inclination to sleep. As he slowly paced up and down the room, he thought to himself, "My good mother shares the prejudice. How could I introduce them to her?" Then, as if impatient with himself, he murmured, in a vexed tone, "Why should I think of introducing them to my mother? A few hours ago I didn't know of their existence."
He threw himself on the bed and tried to sleep; but memory was too busy with the scene of enchantment he had recently left. A catalpa-tree threw its shadow on the moon-lighted curtain. He began to count the wavering leaves, in hopes the monotonous occupation would induce slumber. After a while he forgot to count; and as his spirit hovered between the inner and the outer world, Floracita seemed to be dancing on the leaf shadows in manifold graceful evolutions. Then he was watching a little trickling fountain, and the falling drops were tones of "The Light of other Days." Anon he was wandering among flowers in the moonlight, and from afar some one was heard singing "Casta Diva." The memory of that voice,
"While slept the limbs and senses all, Made everything seem musical."
Again and again the panorama of the preceding evening revolved through the halls of memory with every variety of fantastic change. A light laugh broke in upon the scenes of enchantment, with the words, "Of course not, for she was a quadroon." Then the plaintive melody of "Toll the bell" resounded in his ears; not afar off, but loud and clear, as if the singer were in the room. He woke with a start, and heard the vibrations of a cathedral bell subsiding into silence. It had struck but twice, but in his spiritual ear the sounds had been modulated through many tones. "Even thus strangely," thought he, "has that rich, sonorous voice struck into the dream of my life,"
Again he saw those large, lustrous eyes lowering their long-fringed veils under the ardent gaze of Gerald Fitzgerald. Again he thought of his mother, and sighed. At last a dreamless sleep stole over him, and both pleasure and pain were buried in deep oblivion.
The sun was up before he woke. He rose hastily and ordered breakfast and a horse; for he had resolved the day before upon an early ride. A restless, undefined feeling led him in the same direction he had taken the preceding evening. He passed the house that would forevermore be a prominent feature in the landscape of his life. Vines were gently waving in the morning air between the pillars of the piazza, where he had lingered entranced to hear the tones of "Buena Notte." The bright turban of Tulipa was glancing about, as she dusted the blinds. A peacock on the balustrade, in the sunshine, spread out his tail into a great Oriental fan, and slowly lowered it, making a prismatic shower of topaz, sapphires, and emeralds as it fell. It was the first of March; but as he rode on, thinking of the dreary landscape and boisterous winds of New England at that season, the air was filled with the fragrance of flowers, and mocking-birds and thrushes saluted him with their songs. In many places the ground was thickly strewn with oranges, and the orange-groves were beautiful with golden fruit and silver flowers gleaming among the dark glossy green foliage. Here and there was the mansion of a wealthy planter, surrounded by whitewashed slave-cabins. The negroes at their work, and their black picaninnies rolling about on the ground, seemed an appropriate part of the landscape, so tropical in its beauty of dark colors and luxuriant growth.
He rode several miles, persuading himself that he was enticed solely by the healthy exercise and the novelty of the scene. But more alluring than the pleasant landscape and the fragrant air was the hope that, if he returned late, the young ladies might be on the piazza, or visible at the windows. He was destined to be disappointed. As he passed, a curtain was slowly withdrawn from one of the windows and revealed a vase of flowers. He rode slowly, in hopes of seeing a face bend over the flowers; but the person who drew the curtain remained invisible. On the piazza nothing was in motion, except the peacock strutting along, stately as a court beauty, and drawing after him his long train of jewelled plumage. A voice, joyous as a bobolink's, sounded apparently from the garden. He could not hear the words, but the lively tones at once suggested, "Petit blanc, mon bon frere." He recalled the words so carelessly uttered, "Of course not, for she was a quadroon," and they seemed to make harsh discord with the refrain of the song. He remembered the vivid flush that passed over Rosa's face while her playful sister teased her with that tuneful badinage. It seemed to him that Mr. Fitzgerald was well aware of his power, for he had not attempted to conceal his consciousness of the singer's mischievous intent. This train of thought was arrested by the inward question, "What is it to me whether he marries her or not?" Impatiently he touched his horse with the whip, as if he wanted to rush from the answer to his own query.
He had engaged to meet Mr. Royal at his counting-house, and he was careful to keep the appointment. He was received with parental kindness slightly tinged with embarrassment. After some conversation about business, Mr. Royal said: "From your silence concerning your visit to my house last evening, I infer that Mr. Fitzgerald has given you some information relating to my daughters' history. I trust, my young friend, that you have not suspected me of any intention to deceive or entrap you. I intended to have told you myself; but I had a desire to know first how my daughters would impress you, if judged by their own merits. Having been forestalled in my purpose, I am afraid frankness on your part will now be difficult."
"A feeling of embarrassment did indeed prevent me from alluding to my visit as soon as I met you this morning," replied Alfred; "but no circumstances could alter my estimate of your daughters. Their beauty and gracefulness exceed anything I have seen."
"And they are as innocent and good as they are beautiful," rejoined the father. "But you can easily imagine that my pride and delight in them is much disturbed by anxiety concerning their future. Latterly, I have thought a good deal about closing business and taking them to France to reside. But when men get to be so old as I am, the process of being transplanted to a foreign soil seems onerous. If it were as well for them, I should greatly prefer returning to my native New England."
"They are tropical flowers," observed Alfred. "There is nothing Northern in their natures."
"Yes, they are tropical flowers," rejoined the father, "and my wish is to place them in perpetual sunshine. I doubt whether they could ever feel quite at home far away from jasmines and orange-groves. But climate is the least of the impediments in the way of taking them to New England. Their connection with the enslaved race is so very slight, that it might easily be concealed; but the consciousness of practising concealment is always unpleasant. Your father was more free from prejudices of all sorts than any man I ever knew. If he were living, I would confide all to him, and be guided implicitly by his advice. You resemble him so strongly, that I have been involuntarily drawn to open my heart to you, as I never thought to do to so young a man. Yet I find the fulness of my confidence checked by the fear of lowering myself in the estimation of the son of my dearest friend. But perhaps, if you knew all the circumstances, and had had my experience, you would find some extenuation of my fault. I was very unhappy when I first came to New Orleans. I was devotedly attached to a young lady, and I was rudely repelled by her proud and worldly family. I was seized with a vehement desire to prove to them that I could become richer than they were. I rushed madly into the pursuit of wealth, and I was successful; but meanwhile they had married her to another, and I found that wealth alone could not bring happiness. In vain the profits of my business doubled and quadrupled. I was unsatisfied, lonely, and sad. Commercial transactions brought me into intimate relations with Senor Gonsalez, a Spanish gentleman in St. Augustine. He had formed an alliance with a beautiful slave, whom he had bought in the French West Indies. I never saw her, for she died before my acquaintance with him; but their daughter, then a girl of sixteen, was the most charming creature I ever beheld. The irresistible attraction I felt toward her the first moment I saw her was doubtless the mere fascination of the senses; but when I came to know her more, I found her so gentle, so tender, so modest, and so true, that I loved her with a strong and deep affection. I admired her, too, for other reasons than her beauty; for she had many elegant accomplishments, procured by her father's fond indulgence during two years' residence in Paris. He was wealthy at that time; but he afterward became entangled in pecuniary difficulties, and his health declined. He took a liking to me, and proposed that I should purchase Eulalia, and thus enable him to cancel a debt due to a troublesome creditor whom he suspected of having an eye upon his daughter. I gave him a large sum for her, and brought her with me to New Orleans. Do not despise me for it, my young friend. If it had been told to me a few years before, in my New England home, that I could ever become a party in such a transaction, I should have rejected the idea with indignation. But my disappointed and lonely condition rendered me an easy prey to temptation, and I was where public opinion sanctioned such connections. Besides, there were kindly motives mixed up with selfish ones. I pitied the unfortunate father, and I feared his handsome daughter might fall into hands that would not protect her so carefully as I resolved to do. I knew the freedom of her choice was not interfered with, for she confessed she loved me.
"Senor Gonsalez, who was more attached to her than to anything else in the world, soon afterward gathered up the fragments of his broken fortune, and came to reside near us. I know it was a great satisfaction to his dying hours that he left Eulalia in my care, and the dear girl was entirely happy with me. If I had manumitted her, carried her abroad, and legally married her, I should have no remorse mingled with my sorrow for her loss. Loving her faithfully, as I did to the latest moment of her life, I now find it difficult to explain to myself how I came to neglect such an obvious duty. I was always thinking that I would do it at some future time. But marriage with a quadroon would have been void, according to the laws of Louisiana; and, being immersed in business, I never seemed to find time to take her abroad. When one has taken the first wrong step, it becomes dangerously easy to go on in the same path. A man's standing here is not injured by such irregular connections; and my faithful, loving Eulalia meekly accepted her situation as a portion of her inherited destiny. Mine was the fault, not hers; for I was free to do as I pleased, and she never had been. I acted in opposition to moral principles, which the education of false circumstances had given her no opportunity to form. I had remorseful thoughts at times, but I am quite sure she was never troubled in that way. She loved and trusted me entirely. She knew that the marriage of a white man with one of her race was illegal; and she quietly accepted the fact, as human beings do accept what they are powerless to overcome. Her daughters attributed her olive complexion to a Spanish origin; and their only idea was, and is, that she was my honored wife, as indeed she was in the inmost recesses of my heart. I gradually withdrew from the few acquaintances I had formed in New Orleans; partly because I was satisfied with the company of Eulalia and our children, and partly because I could not take her with me into society. She had no acquaintances here, and we acquired the habit of living in a little world by ourselves,—a world which, as you have seen, was transformed into a sort of fairy-land by her love of beautiful things. After I lost her, it was my intention to send the children immediately to France to be educated. But procrastination is my besetting sin; and the idea of parting with them was so painful, that I have deferred and deferred it. The suffering I experience on their account is a just punishment for the wrong I did their mother. When I think how beautiful, how talented, how affectionate, and how pure they are, and in what a cruel position I have placed them, I have terrible writhings of the heart. I do not think I am destined to long life; and who will protect them when I am gone?"
A consciousness of last night's wishes and dreams made Alfred blush as he said, "It occurred to me that your eldest daughter might be betrothed to Mr. Fitzgerald."
"I hope not," quickly rejoined Mr. Royal. "He is not the sort of man with whom I would like to intrust her happiness. I think, if it were so, Rosabella would have told me, for my children always confide in me."
"I took it for granted that you liked him," replied Alfred; "for you said an introduction to your home was a favor you rarely bestowed."
"I never conferred it on any young man but yourself," answered Mr. Royal, "and you owed it partly to my memory of your honest father, and partly to the expression of your face, which so much resembles his." The young man smiled and bowed, and his friend continued: "When I invited you, I was not aware Mr. Fitzgerald was in the city. I am but slightly acquainted with him, but I conjecture him to be what is called a high-blood. His manners, though elegant, seem to me flippant and audacious. He introduced himself into my domestic sanctum; and, as I partook of his father's hospitality years ago, I find it difficult to eject him. He came here a few months since, to transact some business connected with the settlement of his father's estate, and, unfortunately, he heard Rosabella singing as he rode past my house. He made inquiries concerning the occupants; and, from what I have heard, I conjecture that he has learned more of my private history than I wished to have him know. He called without asking my permission, and told my girls that his father was my friend, and that he had consequently taken the liberty to call with some new music, which he was very desirous of hearing them sing. When I was informed of this, on my return home, I was exceedingly annoyed; and I have ever since been thinking of closing business as soon as possible, and taking my daughters to France. He called twice again during his stay in the city, but my daughters made it a point to see him only when I was at home. Now he has come again, to increase the difficulties of my position by his unwelcome assiduities."
"Unwelcome to you" rejoined Alfred; "but, handsome and fascinating as he is, they are not likely to be unwelcome to your daughters. Your purpose of conveying them to France is a wise one."
"Would I had done it sooner!" exclaimed Mr. Royal. "How weak I have been in allowing circumstances to drift me along!" He walked up and down the room with agitated steps; then, pausing before Alfred, he laid his hand affectionately on his shoulder, as he said, with solemn earnestness, "My young friend, I am glad your father did not accept my proposal to receive you into partnership. Let me advise you to live in New England. The institutions around us have an effect on character which it is difficult to escape entirely. Bad customs often lead well-meaning men into wrong paths."
"That was my father's reason for being unwilling I should reside in New Orleans," replied Alfred. "He said it was impossible to exaggerate the importance of social institutions. He often used to speak of having met a number of Turkish women when he was in the environs of Constantinople. They were wrapped up like bales of cloth, with two small openings for their eyes, mounted on camels, and escorted by the overseer of the harem. The animal sound of their chatter and giggling, as they passed him, affected him painfully; for it forced upon him the idea what different beings those women would have been if they had been brought up amid the free churches and free schools of New England. He always expounded history to me in the light of that conviction; and he mourned that temporary difficulties should prevent lawgivers from checking the growth of evils that must have a blighting influence on the souls of many generations. He considered slavery a cumulative poison in the veins of this Republic, and predicted that it would some day act all at once with deadly power."
"Your father was a wise man," replied Mr. Royal, "and I agree with him. But it would be unsafe to announce it here; for slavery is a tabooed subject, except to talk in favor of it."
"I am well aware of that," rejoined Alfred. "And now I must bid you good morning. You know my mother is an invalid, and I may find letters at the post-office that will render immediate return necessary. But I will see you again; and hereafter our acquaintance may perhaps be renewed in France."
"That is a delightful hope," rejoined the merchant, cordially returning the friendly pressure of his hand. As he looked after the young man, he thought how pleasant it would be to have such a son; and he sighed deeply over the vision of a union that might have been, under other circumstances, between his family and that of his old friend. Alfred, as he walked away, was conscious of that latent, unspoken wish. Again the query began to revolve through his mind whether the impediments were really insurmountable. There floated before him a vision of that enchanting room, where the whole of life seemed to be composed of beauty and gracefulness, music and flowers. But a shadow of Fitzgerald fell across it, and the recollection of Boston relatives rose up like an iceberg between him and fairy-land.
A letter informing him of his mother's increasing illness excited a feeling of remorse that new acquaintances had temporarily nearly driven her from his thoughts. He resolved to depart that evening; but the desire to see Rosabella again could not be suppressed. Failing to find Mr. Royal at his counting-room or his hotel, he proceeded to his suburban residence. When Tulipa informed him that "massa" had not returned from the city, he inquired for the young ladies, and was again shown into that parlor every feature of which was so indelibly impressed upon his memory. Portions of the music of Cenerentola lay open on the piano, and the leaves fluttered softly in a gentle breeze laden with perfumes from the garden. Near by was swinging the beaded tassel of a book-mark between the pages of a half-opened volume. He looked at the title and saw that it was Lalla Rookh. He smiled, as he glanced round the room on the flowery festoons, the graceful tangle of bright arabesques on the walls, the Dancing Girl, and the Sleeping Cupid. "All is in harmony with Canova, and Moore, and Rossini," thought he. "The Lady in Milton's Comus has been the ideal of my imagination; and now here I am so strangely taken captive by—"
Rosabella entered at that moment, and almost startled him with the contrast to his ideal. Her glowing Oriental beauty and stately grace impressed him more than ever. Floracita's fairy form and airy motions were scarcely less fascinating. Their talk was very girlish. Floracita had just been reading in a French paper about the performance of La Bayadere, and she longed to see the ballet brought out in Paris. Rosabella thought nothing could be quite so romantic as to float on the canals of Venice by moonlight and listen to the nightingales; and she should so like to cross the Bridge of Sighs! Then they went into raptures over the gracefulness of Rossini's music, and the brilliancy of Auber's. Very few and very slender thoughts were conveyed in their words, but to the young man's ear they had the charm of music; for Floracita's talk went as trippingly as a lively dance, and the sweet modulations of Rosabella's voice so softened English to Italian sound, that her words seemed floating on a liquid element, like goldfish in the water. Indeed, her whole nature seemed to partake the fluid character of music. Beauty born of harmonious sound "had passed into her face," and her motions reminded one of a water-lily undulating on its native element.
The necessity of returning immediately to Boston was Alfred's apology for a brief call. Repressed feeling imparted great earnestness to the message he left for his father's friend. While he was uttering it, the conversation he had recently had with Mr. Royal came back to him with painful distinctness. After parting compliments were exchanged, he turned to say, "Excuse me, young ladies, if, in memory of our fathers' friendship, I beg of you to command my services, as if I were a brother, should it ever be in my power to serve you."
Rosabella thanked him with a slight inclination of her graceful head; and Floracita, dimpling a quick little courtesy, said sportively, "If some cruel Blue-Beard should shut us up in his castle, we will send for you."
"How funny!" exclaimed the volatile child, as the door closed after him. "He spoke as solemn as a minister; but I suppose that's the way with Yankees. I think cher papa likes to preach sometimes."
Rosabella, happening to glance at the window, saw that Alfred King paused in the street and looked back. How their emotions would have deepened could they have foreseen the future!
A year passed away, and the early Southern spring had again returned with flowers and fragrance. After a day in music and embroidery, with sundry games at Battledoor and The Graces with her sister, Floracita heard the approaching footsteps of her father, and, as usual, bounded forth to meet him. Any one who had not seen him since he parted from the son of his early New England friend would have observed that he looked older and more careworn; but his daughters, accustomed to see him daily, had not noticed the gradual change.
"You have kept us waiting a little, Papasito," said Rosabella, turning round on the music-stool, and greeting him with a smile.
"Yes, my darling," rejoined he, placing his hand fondly on her head. "Getting ready to go to Europe makes a deal of work."
"If we were sons, we could help you," said Rosabella.
"I wish you were sons!" answered he, with serious emphasis and a deep sigh.
Floracita nestled close to him, and, looking up archly in his face, said, "And pray what would you do, papa, without your nightingale and your fairy, as you call us?"
"Sure enough, what should I do, my little flower?" said he, as with a loving smile he stooped to kiss her.
They led him to the tea-table; and when the repast was ended, they began to talk over their preparations for leaving home.
"Cher papa, how long before we shall go to Paris?" inquired Floracita.
"In two or three weeks, I hope," was the reply.
"Won't it be delightful!" exclaimed she. "You will take us to see ballets and everything."
"When I am playing and singing fragments of operas," said Rosabella, "I often think to myself how wonderfully beautiful they would sound, if all the parts were brought out by such musicians as they have in Europe. I should greatly enjoy hearing operas in Paris; but I often think, Papasito, that we can never be so happy anywhere as we have been in this dear home. It makes me feel sad to leave all these pretty things,—so many of them—"
She hesitated, and glanced at her father.
"So intimately associated with your dear mother, you were about to say," replied he. "That thought is often present with me, and the idea of parting with them pains me to the heart. But I do not intend they shall ever be handled by strangers. We will pack them carefully and leave them with Madame Guirlande; and when we get settled abroad, in some nice little cottage, we will send for them. But when you have been in Paris, when you have seen the world and the world has seen you, perhaps you won't be contented to live in a cottage with your old Papasito. Perhaps your heads will become so turned with flattery, that you will want to be at balls and operas all the time."
"No flattery will be so sweet as yours, cher papa," said Floracita.
"No indeed!" exclaimed Rosa. But, looking up, she met his eye, and blushed crimson. She was conscious of having already listened to flattery that was at least more intoxicating than his. Her father noticed the rosy confusion, and felt a renewal of pain that unexpected entanglements had prevented his going to Europe months ago. He tenderly pressed her hand, that lay upon his knee, and looked at her with troubled earnestness, as he said, "Now that you are going to make acquaintance with the world, my daughters, and without a mother to guide you, I want you to promise me that you will never believe any gentleman sincere in professions of love, unless he proposes marriage, and asks my consent."
Rosabella was obviously agitated, but she readily replied, "Do you suppose, Papasito, that we would accept a lover without asking you about it? When Mamita querida died, she charged us to tell you everything; and we always do."
"I do not doubt you, my children," he replied; "but the world is full of snares; and sometimes they are so covered with flowers, that the inexperienced slip into them unawares. I shall try to shield you from harm, as I always have done; but when I am gone—"
"O, don't say that!" exclaimed Floracita, with a quick, nervous movement.
And Rosabella looked at him with swimming eyes, as she repeated, "Don't say that, Papasito querido!"
He laid a hand on the head of each. His heart was very full. With solemn tenderness he tried to warn them of the perils of life. But there was much that he was obliged to refrain from saying, from reverence for their inexperienced purity. And had he attempted to describe the manners of a corrupt world, they could have had no realizing sense of his meaning; for it is impossible for youth to comprehend the dangers of the road it is to travel.
The long talk at last subsided into serious silence. After remaining very still a few moments, Rosabella said softy, "Wouldn't you like to hear some music before you go to bed, Papasito mio?"
He nodded assent, and she moved to the piano. Their conversation had produced an unusually tender and subdued state of feeling, and she sang quietly many plaintive melodies that her mother loved. The fountain trickling in the garden kept up a low liquid accompaniment, and the perfume of the orange-groves seemed like the fragrant breath of the tones.
It was late when they parted for the night. "Bon soir, cher papa" said Floracita, kissing her father's hand.
"Buenas noches, Papasito querido" said Rosabella, as she touched his cheek with her beautiful lips.
There was moisture in his eyes as he folded them to his heart and said, "God bless you! God protect you, my dear ones!" Those melodies of past times had brought their mother before him in all her loving trustfulness, and his soul was full of sorrow for the irreparable wrong he had done her children.
The pensive mood, that had enveloped them all in a little cloud the preceding evening, was gone in the morning. There was the usual bantering during breakfast, and after they rose from table they discussed in a lively manner various plans concerning their residence in France. Rosabella evidently felt much less pleasure in the prospect than did her younger sister; and her father, conjecturing the reason, was the more anxious to expedite their departure. "I must not linger here talking," said he. "I must go and attend to business; for there are many things to be arranged before we can set out on our travels,"
"Hasta luego, Papasito mio" said Rosabella, with an affectionate smile.
"Au revoir, cher papa" said Floracita, as she handed him his hat.
He patted her head playfully as he said, "What a polyglot family we are! Your grandfather's Spanish, your grandmother's French, and your father's English, all mixed up in an olla podrida. Good morning, my darlings."
Floracita skipped out on the piazza, calling after him, "Papa, what is polyglot?"
He turned and shook his finger laughingly at her, as he exclaimed, "O, you little ignoramus!"
The sisters lingered on the piazza, watching him till he was out of sight. When they re-entered the house, Floracita occupied herself with various articles of her wardrobe; consulting with Rosa whether any alterations would be necessary before they were packed for France. It evidently cost Rosa some effort to attend to her innumerable questions, for the incessant chattering disturbed her revery. At every interval she glanced round the room with a sort of farewell tenderness. It was more to her than the home of a happy childhood; for nearly all the familiar objects had become associated with glances and tones, the memory of which excited restless longings in her heart. As she stood gazing on the blooming garden and the little fountain, whose sparkling rills crossed each other in the sunshine like a silvery network strung with diamonds, she exclaimed, "O Floracita, we shall never be so happy anywhere else as we have been here."
"How do you know that, sistita mia?" rejoined the lively little chatterer. "Only think, we have never been to a ball! And when we get to France, Papasito will go everywhere with us. He says he will."
"I should like to hear operas and see ballets in Paris," said Rosabella; "but I wish we could come back here before long."
Floracita's laughing eyes assumed the arch expression which rendered them peculiarly bewitching, and she began to sing,—
"Petit blanc, mon bon frere! Ha! ha! petit blanc si doux! Il n'y a rien sur la terre De si joli que vous.
"Un petit blanc que j'aime—"
A quick flush mantled her sister's face, and she put her hand over the mischievous mouth, exclaiming, "Don't, Flora! don't!"
The roguish little creature went laughing and capering out of the room, and her voice was still heard singing,—
"Un petit blanc que j'aime."
The arrival of Signor Papanti soon summoned her to rehearse a music lesson. She glanced roguishly at her sister when she began; and as she went on, Rosa could not help smiling at her musical antics. The old teacher bore it patiently for a while, then he stopped trying to accompany her, and, shaking his finger at her, said, "Diavolessa!"
"Did I make a false note?" asked she, demurely.
"No, you little witch, you can't make a false note. But how do you suppose I can keep hold of the tail of the Air, if you send me chasing after it through so many capricious variations? Now begin again, da capo"
The lesson was recommenced, but soon ran riot again. The Signor became red in the face, shut the music-book with a slam, and poured forth a volley of wrath in Italian, When she saw that he was really angry, she apologized, and promised to do better. The third time of trying, she acquitted herself so well that her teacher praised her; and when she bade him good morning, with a comic little courtesy, he smiled good-naturedly, as he said, "Ah, Malizietta!"
"I knew I should make Signor Pimentero sprinkle some pepper," exclaimed she, laughing, as she saw him walk away.
"You are too fond of sobriquets," said Rosa. "If you are not careful, you will call him Signor Pimentero to his face, some day."
"What did you tell me that for?" asked the little rogue. "It will just make me do it. Now I am going to pester Madame's parrot."
She caught up her large straw hat, with flying ribbons, and ran to the house of their next neighbor, Madame Guirlande. She was a French lady, who had given the girls lessons in embroidery, the manufacture of artificial flowers, and other fancy-work. Before long, Floracita returned through the garden, skipping over a jumping-rope. "This is a day of compliments," said she, as she entered the parlor, "Signor Pimentero called me Diavolessa; Madame Guirlande called me Joli petit diable; and the parrot took it up, and screamed it after me, as I came away."
"I don't wonder at it," replied Rosa. "I think I never saw even you so full of mischief."
Her frolicsome mood remained through the day. One moment she assumed the dignified manner of Rosabella, and, stretching herself to the utmost, she stood very erect, giving sage advice. The next, she was impersonating a negro preacher, one of Tulipa's friends. Hearing a mocking-bird in the garden, she went to the window and taxed his powers to the utmost, by running up and down difficult roulades, interspersed with the talk of parrots, the shrill fanfare of trumpets, and the deep growl of a contra-fagotto. The bird produced a grotesque fantasia in his efforts to imitate her. The peacock, as he strutted up and down the piazza, trailing his gorgeous plumage in the sunshine, ever and anon turned his glossy neck, and held up his ear to listen, occasionally performing his part in the charivari by uttering a harsh scream. The mirthfulness of the little madcap was contagious, and not unfrequently the giggle of Tulipa and the low musical laugh of Rosabella mingled with the concert.
Thus the day passed merrily away, till the gilded Flora that leaned against the timepiece pointed her wand toward the hour when their father was accustomed to return.
Floracita was still in the full career of fun, when footsteps were heard approaching; and, as usual, she bounded forth to welcome her father. Several men, bearing a palanquin on their shoulders, were slowly ascending the piazza. She gave one glance at their burden, and uttered a shrill scream. Rosabella hastened to her in great alarm. Tulipa followed, and quickly comprehending that something terrible had happened, she hurried away to summon Madame Guirlande. Rosabella, pale and trembling, gasped out, "What has happened to my father?"
Franz Blumenthal, a favorite clerk of Mr. Royal's, replied, in a low, sympathizing tone, "He was writing letters in the counting-room this afternoon, and when I went in to speak to him, I found him on the floor senseless. We called a doctor immediately, but he failed to restore him."
"O, call another doctor!" said Rosa, imploringly; and Floracita almost shrieked, "Tell me where to go for a doctor."
"We have already summoned one on the way," said young Blumenthal, "but I will go to hasten him";—and, half blinded by his tears, he hurried into the street.
The doctor came in two minutes, and yet it seemed an age. Meanwhile the wretched girls were chafing their father's cold hands, and holding sal-volatile to his nose, while Madame Guirlande and Tulipa were preparing hot water and hot cloths. When the physician arrived, they watched his countenance anxiously, while he felt the pulse and laid his hand upon the heart. After a while he shook his head and said, "Nothing can be done. He is dead."
Rosabella fell forward, fainting, on the body. Floracita uttered shriek upon shriek, while Madame Guirlande and Tulipa vainly tried to pacify her. The doctor at last persuaded her to swallow some valerian, and Tulipa carried her in her arms and laid her on the bed. Madame Guirlande led Rosa away, and the two sisters lay beside each other, on the same pillows where they had dreamed such happy dreams the night before. Floracita, stunned by the blow that had fallen on her so suddenly, and rendered drowsy by the anodyne she had taken, soon fell into an uneasy slumber, broken by occasional starts and stifled sobs. Rosabella wept silently, but now and then a shudder passed over her, that showed how hard she was struggling with grief. After a short time, Flora woke up bewildered. A lamp was burning in the farther part of the room, and Madame Guirlande, who sat there in spectacles and ruffled cap, made a grotesque black shadow on the wall. Floracita started up, screaming, "What is that?" Madame Guirlande went to her, and she and Rosa spoke soothingly, and soon she remembered all.
"O, let me go home with you" she said to Madame "I am afraid to stay here."
"Yes, my children," replied the good Frenchwoman. "You had better both go home and stay with me to-night."
"I cannot go away and leave him alone," murmured Rosa, in tones almost inaudible.
"Franz Blumenthal is going to remain here," replied Madame Guirlande," and Tulipa has offered to sit up all night. It is much better for you to go with me than to stay here, my children."
Thus exhorted, they rose and began to make preparations for departure. But all at once the tender good-night of the preceding evening rushed on Rosa's memory, and she sank down in a paroxysm of grief. After weeping bitterly for some minutes, she sobbed out, "O, this is worse than it was when Mamita died. Papasito was so tender with us then; and now we are all alone."
"Not all alone," responded Madame. "Jesus and the Blessed Virgin are with you."
"O, I don't know where they are!" exclaimed Flora, in tones of wild agony. "I want my Papasito! I want to die and go to my Papasito."
Rosabella folded her in her arms, and they mingled their tears together, as she whispered: "Let us try to be tranquil, Sistita. We must not be troublesome to our kind friend. I did wrong to say we were all alone. We have always a Father in heaven, and he still spares us to love each other. Perhaps, too, our dear Papasito is watching over us. You know he used to tell us Mamita had become our guardian angel."
Floracita kissed her, and pressed her hand in silence. Then they made preparations to go with their friendly neighbor; all stepping very softly, as if afraid of waking the beloved sleeper.
The sisters had lived in such extreme seclusion, that when sorrow came upon them, like the sudden swoop and swift destruction of a tropical storm, they had no earthly friend to rely upon but Madame Guirlande. Only the day before, they had been so rich in love, that, had she passed away from the earth, it would have made no distressing change in their existence. They would have said, "Poor Madame Guirlande! She was a good soul. How patient she used to be with us!" and after a day or two, they would have danced and sung the same as ever. But one day had so beggared them in affection, that they leaned upon her as their only earthly support.
After an almost untasted breakfast, they all went back to the desolated home. The flowery parlor seemed awfully lonesome. The piano was closed, the curtains drawn, and their father's chair was placed against the wall. The murmur of the fountain sounded as solemn as a dirge, and memories filled the room like a troop of ghosts. Hand in hand, the bereaved ones went to kiss the lips that would speak to them no more in this world. They knelt long beside the bed, and poured forth their breaking hearts in prayer. They rose up soothed and strengthened, with the feeling that their dear father and mother were still near them. They found a sad consolation in weaving garlands and flowery crosses, which they laid on the coffin with tender reverence.
When the day of the funeral came, Madame Guirlande kept them very near her, holding a hand of each. She had provided them with long veils, which she requested them not to remove; for she remembered how anxiously their father had screened their beauty from the public gaze. A number of merchants, who had known and respected Mr. Royal, followed his remains to the grave. Most of them had heard of his quadroon connection, and some supposed that the veiled mourners might be his daughters; but such things were too common to excite remark, or to awaken much interest. The girls passed almost unnoticed; having, out of respect to the wishes of their friend, stifled their sobs till they were alone in the carriage with her and their old music-teacher.
The conviction that he was not destined to long life, which Mr. Royal had expressed to Alfred King, was founded on the opinion of physicians that his heart was diseased. This furnished an additional motive for closing his business as soon as possible, and taking his children to France. But the failure of several houses with which he was connected brought unexpected entanglements. Month by month, these became more complicated, and necessarily delayed the intended emigration. His anxiety concerning his daughters increased to an oppressive degree, and aggravated the symptoms of his disease. With his habitual desire to screen them from everything unpleasant, he unwisely concealed from them both his illness and his pecuniary difficulties. He knew he could no longer be a rich man; but he still had hope of saving enough of his fortune to live in a moderate way in some cheap district of France. But on the day when he bade his daughters good morning so cheerfully, he received a letter informing him of another extensive failure, which involved him deeply. He was alone in his counting-room when he read it; and there Franz Blumenthal found him dead, with the letter in his hand. His sudden exit of course aroused the vigilance of creditors, and their examination into the state of his affairs proved anything but satisfactory.
The sisters, unconscious of all this, were undisturbed by any anxiety concerning future support. The necessity of living without their father's love and counsel weighed heavily on their spirits; but concerning his money they took no thought. Hitherto they had lived as the birds do, and it did not occur to them that it could ever be otherwise. The garden and the flowery parlor, which their mother had created and their father had so dearly loved, seemed almost as much a portion of themselves as their own persons. It had been hard to think of leaving them, even for the attractions of Paris; and now that dream was over, it seemed a necessity of their existence to live on in the atmosphere of beauty to which they had always been accustomed. But now that the sunshine of love had vanished from it, they felt lonely and unprotected there. They invited Madame Guirlande to come and live with them on what terms she chose; and when she said there ought to be some elderly man in the house, they at once suggested inviting their music-teacher. Madame, aware of the confidence Mr. Royal had always placed in him, thought it was the best arrangement that could be made, at least for the present. While preparations were being made to effect this change, her proceedings were suddenly arrested by tidings that the house and furniture were to be sold at auction, to satisfy the demands of creditors. She kept back the unwelcome news from the girls, while she held long consultations with Signor Papanti. He declared his opinion that Rosabella could make a fortune by her voice, and Floracita by dancing.
"But then they are so young," urged Madame,—"one only sixteen, the other only fourteen."
"Youth is a disadvantage one soon outgrows," replied the Signor. "They can't make fortunes immediately, of course; but they can earn a living by giving lessons. I will try to open a way for them, and the sooner you prepare them for it the better."
Madame dreaded the task of disclosing their poverty, but she found it less painful than she had feared. They had no realizing sense of what it meant, and rather thought that giving lessons would be a pleasant mode of making time pass less heavily. Madame, who fully understood the condition of things, kept a watchful lookout for their interests. Before an inventory was taken, she gathered up and hid away many trifling articles which would be useful to them, though of little or no value to the creditors. Portfolios of music, patterns for drawings, boxes of paint and crayons, baskets of chenille for embroidery, and a variety of other things, were safely packed away out of sight, without the girls' taking any notice of her proceedings.
During her father's lifetime, Floracita was so continually whirling round in fragmentary dances, that he often told her she rested on her feet less than a humming-bird. But after he was gone, she remained very still from morning till night. When Madame spoke to her of the necessity of giving dancing-lessons, it suggested the idea of practising. But she felt that she could not dance where she had been accustomed to dance before him; and she had not the heart to ask Rosa to play for her. She thought she would try, in the solitude of her chamber, how it would seem to give dancing-lessons. But without music, and without a spectator, it seemed so like the ghost of dancing that after a few steps the poor child threw herself on the bed and sobbed.
Rosa did not open the piano for several days after the funeral; but one morning, feeling as if it would be a relief to pour forth the sadness that oppressed her, she began to play languidly. Only requiems and prayers came. Half afraid of summoning an invisible spirit, she softly touched the keys to "The Light of other Days." But remembering it was the very last tune she ever played to her father, she leaned her head forward on the instrument, and wept bitterly.
While she sat thus the door-bell rang, and she soon became conscious of steps approaching the parlor. Her heart gave a sudden leap; for her first thought was of Gerald Fitzgerald. She raised her head, wiped away her tears, and rose to receive the visitor. Three strangers entered. She bowed to them, and they, with a little look of surprise, bowed to her. "What do you wish for, gentlemen?" she asked.
"We are here concerning the settlement of Mr. Royal's estate," replied one of them. "We have been appointed to take an inventory of the furniture."
While he spoke, one of his companions was inspecting the piano, to see who was the maker, and another was examining the timepiece.
It was too painful; and Rosa, without trusting herself to speak another word, walked quietly out of the room, the gathering moisture in her eyes making it difficult for her to guide her steps.
"Is that one of the daughters we have heard spoken of?" inquired one of the gentlemen.
"I judge so," rejoined his companion. "What a royal beauty she is! Good for three thousand, I should say."
"More likely five thousand," added the third. "Such a fancy article as that don't appear in the market once in fifty years."
"Look here!" said the first speaker. "Do you see that pretty little creature crossing the garden? I reckon that's the other daughter."
"They'll bring high prices," continued the third speaker. "They're the best property Royal has left. We may count them eight or ten thousand, at least. Some of our rich fanciers would jump at the chance of obtaining one of them for that price." As he spoke, he looked significantly at the first speaker, who refrained from expressing any opinion concerning their pecuniary value.
All unconscious of the remarks she had elicited, Rosa retired to her chamber, where she sat at the window plunged in mournful revery. She was thinking of various articles her mother had painted and embroidered, and how her father had said he could not bear the thought of their being handled by strangers. Presently Floracita came running in, saying, in a flurried way, "Who are those men down stairs, Rosa?"
"I don't know who they are," replied her sister. "They said they came to take an inventory of the furniture. I don't know what right they have to do it. I wish Madame would come."
"I will run and call her," said Floracita.
"No, you had better stay with me," replied Rosa. "I was just going to look for you when you came in."
"I ran into the parlor first, thinking you were there," rejoined Floracita. "I saw one of those men turning over Mamita's embroidered ottoman, and chalking something on it. How dear papa would have felt if he had seen it! One of them looked at me in such a strange way! I don't know what he meant; but it made me want to run away in a minute. Hark! I do believe they have come up stairs, and are in papa's room. They won't come here, will they?"
"Bolt the door!" exclaimed Rosa; and it was quickly done. They sat folded in each other's arms, very much afraid, though they knew not wherefore.
"Ah!" said Rosa, with a sigh of relief, "there is Madame coming." She leaned out of the window, and beckoned to her impatiently.
Her friend hastened her steps; and when she heard of the strangers who were in the house, she said, "You had better go home with me, and stay there till they are gone."
"What are they going to do?" inquired Floracita.
"I will tell you presently," replied Madame, as she led them noiselessly out of the house by a back way.
When they entered her own little parlor, the parrot called out, "Joli petit diable!" and after waiting for the old familiar response, "Bon jour, jolie Manon!" she began to call herself "Jolie Manon!" and to sing, "Ha! ha! petit blanc, mon bon frere!" The poor girls had no heart for play; and Madame considerately silenced the noisy bird by hanging a cloth over the cage.
"My dear children," said she, "I would gladly avoid telling you anything calculated to make you more unhappy. But you must know the state of things sooner or later, and it is better that a friend should tell you. Your father owed money to those men, and they are seeing what they can find to sell in order to get their pay."
"Will they sell the table and boxes Mamita painted, and the ottomans she embroidered?" inquired Rosa, anxiously.
"Will they sell the piano that papa gave to Rosa for a birthday present?" asked Flora.
"I am afraid they will," rejoined Madame.
The girls covered their faces and groaned.
"Don't be so distressed, my poor children," said their sympathizing friend. "I have been trying to save a little something for you. See here!" And she brought forth some of the hidden portfolios and boxes, saying, "These will be of great use to you, my darlings, in helping you to earn your living, and they would bring almost nothing at auction."
They thanked their careful friend for her foresight. But when she brought forward their mother's gold watch and diamond ring, Rosa said, "I would rather not keep such expensive things, dear friend. You know our dear father was the soul of honor. It would have troubled him greatly not to pay what he owed. I would rather have the ring and the watch sold to pay his debts."
"I will tell the creditors what you say," answered Madame, "and they will be brutes if they don't let you keep your mother's things. Your father owed Signor Papanti a little bill, and he says he will try to get the table and boxes, and some other things, in payment, and then you shall have them all. You will earn enough to buy another piano by and by, and you can use mine, you know; so don't be discouraged, my poor children."
"God has been very good to us to raise us up such friends as you and the Signor," replied Rosa. "You don't know how it comforts me to have you call us your children, for without you we should be all alone in the world."
Such sudden reverses, such overwhelming sorrows, mature characters with wonderful rapidity. Rosa, though formed by nature and habit to cling to others, soon began to form plans for future support. Her inexperienced mind foresaw few of the difficulties involved in the career her friends had suggested. She merely expected to study and work hard; but that seemed a trifle, if she could avoid for herself and her sister the publicity which their father had so much dreaded.
Floracita, too, seemed like a tamed bird. She was sprightly as ever in her motions, and quick in her gestures; but she would sit patiently at her task of embroidery, hour after hour, without even looking up to answer the noisy challenges of the parrot. Sometimes the sisters, while they worked, sang together the hymns they had been accustomed to sing with their father on Sundays; and memory of the missing voice imparted to their tones a pathos that no mere skill could imitate.
One day, when they were thus occupied, the door-bell rang, and they heard a voice, which they thought they recognized, talking with Madame. It was Franz Blumenthal. "I have come to bring some small articles for the young ladies," said he. "A week before my best friend died, a Frenchwoman came to the store, and wished to sell some fancy-baskets. She said she was a poor widow; and Mr. Royal, who was always kind and generous, commissioned her to make two of her handsomest baskets, and embroider the names of his daughters on them. She has placed them in my hands to-day, and I have brought them myself in order to explain the circumstances."
"Are they paid for?" inquired Madame.
"I have paid for them," replied the young man, blushing deeply; "but please not to inform the young ladies of that circumstance. And, Madame, I have a favor to ask of you. Here are fifty dollars. I want you to use them for the young ladies without their knowledge; and I should like to remit to you half my wages every month for the same purpose. When Mr. Royal was closing business, he wrote several letters of recommendation for me, and addressed them to well-established merchants. I feel quite sure of getting a situation where I can earn more than I need for myself."
"Bon garcon!" exclaimed Madame, patting him on the shoulder. "I will borrow the fifty dollars; but I trust we shall be able to pay you before many months."
"It will wound my feelings if you ever offer to repay me," replied the young man. "My only regret is, that I cannot just now do any more for the daughters of my best friend and benefactor, who did so much for me when I was a poor, destitute boy. But would it be asking too great a favor, Madame, to be allowed to see the young ladies, and place in their hands these presents from their father?"
Madame Guirlande smiled as she thought to herself, "What is he but a boy now? He grows tall though."
When she told her protegees that Franz Blumenthal had a message he wished to deliver to them personally, Rosa said, "Please go and receive it, Sistita. I had rather not leave my work."
Floracita glanced at the mirror, smoothed her hair a little, arranged her collar, and went out. The young clerk was awaiting her appearance with a good deal of trepidation. He had planned a very nice little speech to make; but before he had stammered out all the story about the baskets, he saw an expression in Flora's face which made him feel that it was indelicate to intrude upon her emotion; and he hurried away, scarcely hearing her choked voice as she said, "I thank you."
Very reverently the orphans opened the box which contained the posthumous gifts of their beloved father. The baskets were manufactured with exquisite taste. They were lined with quilled apple-green satin. Around the outside of one was the name of Rosabella embroidered in flowers, and an embroidered garland of roses formed the handle. The other bore the name of Floracita in minute flowers, and the handle was formed of Pensees vivaces. They turned them round slowly, unable to distinguish the colors through their swimming tears.
"How like Papasito, to be so kind to the poor woman, and so thoughtful to please us," said Rosabella. "But he was always so."
"And he must have told her what flowers to put on the baskets," said Floracita. "You know Mamita often called me Pensee vivace. O, there never was such a Papasito!"
Notwithstanding the sadness that invested tokens coming as it were from the dead, they inspired a consoling consciousness of his presence; and their work seemed pleasanter all the day for having their little baskets by them.
The next morning witnessed a private conference between Madame and the Signor. If any one had seen them without hearing their conversation, he would certainly have thought they were rehearsing some very passionate scene in a tragedy.
The fiery Italian rushed up and down the room, plucking his hair; while the Frenchwoman ever and anon threw up her hands, exclaiming, "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!"
When the violence of their emotions had somewhat abated, Madame said, "Signor, there must be some mistake about this. It cannot be true. Mr. Royal would never have left things in such a way."
"At your request," replied the Signor, "I went to one of the creditors, to ask whether Mr. Royal's family could not be allowed to keep their mother's watch and jewels. He replied that Mr. Royal left no family; that his daughters were slaves, and, being property themselves, they could legally hold no property. I was so sure my friend Royal would not have left things in such a state, that I told him he lied, and threatened to knock him down. He out with his pistol; but when I told him I had left mine at home, he said I must settle with him some other time, unless I chose to make an apology. I told him I would do so whenever I was convinced that his statement was true. I was never more surprised than when he told me that Madame Royal was a slave. I knew she was a quadroon, and I supposed she was a places, as so many of the quadroons are. But now it seems that Mr. Royal bought her of her father; and he, good, easy man, neglected to manumit her. He of course knew that by law 'the child follows the condition of the mother,' but I suppose it did not occur to him that the daughters of so rich a man as he was could ever be slaves. At all events, he neglected to have manumission papers drawn till it was too late; for his property had become so much involved that he no longer had a legal right to convey any of it away from creditors."
Madame swung back and forth in the vehemence of her agitation, exclaiming, "What is to be done? What is to be done?"
The Italian strode up and down the room, clenching his fist, and talking rapidly. "To think of that Rosabella!" exclaimed he,—"a girl that would grace any throne in Europe! To think of her on the auction-stand, with a crowd of low-bred rascals staring at her, and rich libertines, like that Mr. Bruteman—Pah! I can't endure to think of it. How like a satyr he looked while he was talking to me about their being slaves. It seems he got sight of them when they took an inventory of the furniture. And that handsome little witch, Floracita, whom her father loved so tenderly, to think of her being bid off to some such filthy wretch! But they sha'n't have 'em! They sha'n't have 'em! I swear I'll shoot any man that comes to take 'em." He wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and rushed round like a tiger in a cage.
"My friend," replied Madame, "they have the law on their side; and if you try to resist, you will get yourself into trouble without doing the girls any good. I'll tell you what we must do. We must disguise them, and send them to the North."
"Send them to the North!" exclaimed the Italian. "Why, they'd no more know how to get there than a couple of kittens."
"Then I must go with them," replied Madame; "and they must be got out of this house before another day; for now that we know of it, we shall be watched."
The impetuous Italian shook her hand cordially. "You have a brave heart, Madame," said he. "I should rather march up to the cannon's mouth than tell them such news as this."
The bewildered Frenchwoman felt the same dread of the task before her; but she bravely said, "What must be done, can be done."
After some further talk with the Signor concerning ways and means, she bade him good morning, and sat still for a moment to collect her thoughts. She then proceeded to the apartment assigned to the orphans. They were occupied with a piece of embroidery she had promised to sell for them. She looked at the work, praised the exactness of the stitches and the tasteful shading of the flowers; but while she pointed out the beauties of the pattern, her hand and voice trembled.
Rosabella noticed it, and, looking up, said, "What troubles you, dear friend?"
"O, this is a world of trouble," replied Madame, "and you have had such a storm beating on your young heads, that I wonder you keep your senses."
"I don't know as we could," said Rosa, "if the good God had not given us such a friend as you."
"If any new trouble should come, I trust you will try to keep up brave hearts, my children," rejoined Madame.
"I don't know of any new trouble that can come to us now," said Rosa, "unless you should be taken from us, as our father was. It seems as if everything else had happened that could happen."
"O, there are worse things than having me die," replied Madame.
Floracita had paused with her thread half drawn through her work, and was looking earnestly at the troubled countenance of their friend. "Madame," exclaimed she, "something has happened. What is it?"
"I will tell you," said Madame, "if you will promise not to scream or faint, and will try to keep your wits collected, so as to help me think what is best to be done."
They promised; and, watching her countenance with an expression of wonder and anxiety, they waited to hear what she had to communicate. "My dear children," said she, "I have heard something that will distress you very much. Something neither you nor I ever suspected. Your mother was a slave."
"Our mother a slave!" exclaimed Rosa, coloring vehemently. "Whose slave could she be, when she was Papasito's wife, and he loved her so? It is impossible, Madame."
"Your father bought her when she was very young, my dear; but I know very well that no wife was ever loved better than she was."
"But she always lived with her own father till she married papa," said Floracita. "How then could she be his slave?"
"Her father got into trouble about money, my dear; and he sold her."
"Our Grandpapa Gonsalez sold his daughter!" exclaimed Rosa. "How incredible! Dear friend, I wonder you can believe such things."
"The world is full of strange things, my child,—stranger than anything you ever read in story-books."
"If she was only Papasito's slave," said Flora, "I don't think Mamita found that any great hardship."
"She did not, my dear. I don't suppose she ever thought of it; but a great misfortune has grown out of it."
"What is it?" they both asked at once.
Their friend hesitated. "Remember, you have promised to be calm," said she. "I presume you don't know that, by the laws of Louisiana, 'the child follows the condition of the mother.' The consequence is, that you are slaves, and your father's creditors claim a right to sell you."
Rosabella turned very pale, and the hand with which she clutched a chair trembled violently. But she held her head erect, and her look and tone were very proud, as she exclaimed, "We become slaves! I will die rather."
Floracita, unable to comprehend this new misfortune, looked from one to the other in a bewildered way. Nature had written mirthfulness in the shape of her beautiful eyes, which now contrasted strangely with their startled and sad expression.
The kind-hearted Frenchwoman bustled about the room, moving chairs, and passing her handkerchief over boxes, while she tried hard to swallow the emotions that choked her utterance. Having conquered in the struggle, she turned toward them, and said, almost cheerfully: "There's no need of dying, my children. Perhaps your old friend can help you out of this trouble. We must disguise ourselves as gentlemen, and start for the North this very evening."
Floracita looked at her sister, and said, hesitatingly: "Couldn't you write to Mr. Fitzgerald, and ask him to come here? Perhaps he could help us."
Rosa's cheeks glowed, as she answered proudly: "Do you think I would ask him to come? I wouldn't do such a thing if we were as rich and happy as we were a little while ago; and certainly I wouldn't do it now."
"There spoke Grandpa Gonsalez!" said Madame. "How grand the old gentleman used to look, walking about so erect, with his gold-headed cane! But we must go to work in a hurry, my children. Signor Papanti has promised to send the disguises, and we must select and pack such things as it is absolutely necessary we should carry. I am sorry now that Tulee is let out in the city, for we need her help.
"She must go with us," said Flora. "I can't leave Tulee."
"We must do as we can," replied Madame. "In this emergency we can't do as we would. We are all white, and if we can get a few miles from here, we shall have no further trouble. But if we had a negro with us, it would lead to questions, perhaps. Besides, we haven't time to disguise her and instruct her how to perform her part. The Signor will be a good friend to her; and as soon as we can earn some money, we will send and buy her."
"But where can we go when we get to the North?" asked Rosa.
"I will tell you," said Floracita. "Don't you remember that Mr. King from Boston, who came to see us a year ago? His father was papa's best friend, you know; and when he went away, he told us if ever we were in trouble, to apply to him, as if he were our brother."
"Did he?" said Madame. "That lets in a gleam of light. I heard your father say he was a very good young man, and rich."
"But Papasito said, some months ago, that Mr. King had gone to Europe with his mother, on account of her health," replied Rosa. "Besides, if he were at home, it would be very disagreeable to go to a young gentleman as beggars and runaways, when he was introduced to us as ladies."
"You must put your pride in your pocket for the present, Senorita Gonsalez," said Madame, playfully touching her under the chin. "If this Mr. King is absent, I will write to him. They say there is a man in Boston, named William Lloyd Garrison, who takes great interest in slaves. We will tell him our story, and ask him about Mr. King. I did think of stopping awhile with relatives in New York. But it would be inconvenient for them, and they might not like it. This plan pleases me better. To Boston we will go. The Signor has gone to ask my cousin, Mr. Duroy, to come here and see to the house. When I have placed you safely, I will come back slyly to my cousin's house, a few miles from here, and with his help I will settle up my affairs. Then I will return to you, and we will all go to some secure place and live together. I never starved yet, and I don't believe I ever shall."
The orphans clung to her, and kissed her hands, as they said: "How kind you are to us, dear friend! What shall we ever do to repay you?"
"Your father and mother were generous friends to me," replied Madame; "and now their children are in trouble, I will not forsake them."
As the good lady was to leave her apartments for an indefinite time, there was much to be done and thought of, beside the necessary packing for the journey. The girls tried their best to help her, but they were continually proposing to carry something because it was a keepsake from Mamita or Papasito.
"This is no time for sentiment, my children," said Madame. "We must not take anything we can possibly do without. Bless my soul, there goes the bell! What if it should be one of those dreadful creditors come here to peep and pry? Run to your room, my children, and bolt the door."
A moment afterward, she appeared before them smiling, and said: "There was no occasion for being so frightened, but I am getting nervous with all this flurry. Come back again, dears. It is only Franz Blumenthal."
"What, come again?" asked Rosa. "Please go, Floracita, and I will come directly, as soon as I have gathered up these things that we must carry."
The young German blushed like a girl as he offered two bouquets, one of heaths and orange-buds, the other of orange-blossoms and fragrant geraniums; saying as he did so, "I have taken the liberty to bring some flowers, Miss Floracita."
"My name is Miss Royal, sir," she replied, trying to increase her stature to the utmost. It was an unusual caprice in one whose nature was so childlike and playful; but the recent knowledge that she was a slave had made her, for the first time, jealous of her dignity. She took it into her head that he knew the humiliating fact, and presumed upon it.