*Three American Tales*
BY GEO. ALFRED TOWNSEND "GATH"
"And David arose and fled to Gath. And he changed his behavior. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented gathered themselves unto him. And the time that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a full year and four months."
H. CAMPBELL & CO., Publishers, NO. 21 PARK ROW, NEW YORK
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, By GEO. ALFRED TOWNSEND, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D. C.
THE BURR PRINTING HOUSE AND STEAM TYPE-SETTING OFFICE, Cor. Frankfort and Jacob Sts., NEW YORK.
TO TEN FRIENDS AT DINNER,
GILSEY HOUSE, NEW YORK,
APRIL 21, 1879;
WHO MADE THIS PUBLICATION
A PROMISE AND AN OBLIGATION.
So far from the first tale in this book being of political motive, it was written among the subjects of it, and read to several of them in 1864. Perhaps the only souvenir of refugee and "skedaddler" life abroad during the war ever published, its preservation may one day be useful in the socialistic archives of the South, to whose posterity slavery will seem almost a mythical thing. With as little bias in the second tale, I have etched the young Northern truant abroad during the secession. The closing tale, more recently written, in the midst of constant toil and travel, is an attempt to recall an old suburb, now nearly erased and illegible by the extension of a great city, and may be considered a home American picture about contemporary with the European tales.
THE REBEL COLONY IN PARIS 13
MARRIED ABROAD 99
THE DEAF MAN OF KENSINGTON 155
LITTLE GRISETTE 93
THE PIGEON GIRL 149
THE DEAD BOHEMIAN 279
The farther I do grow from La Boheme, The more I do regret that foolish shame Which made me hold it something to conceal, And so I did myself expatriate; For in my pulses and my feet I feel That wayward realm was still my own estate; Wise wagged our tongues when the dear nights grew late, And quainter, clearer, rose our quick conceits, And pure and mutual were our social sweets. Oh! ever thus convivial round the gate Of Letters have the masters and the young Loitered away their enterprises great, Since Spenser revelled in the halls of state, And at his tavern rarest Jonson sung.
THE REBEL COLONY IN PARIS.
* * * * *
In the latter part of October, 1863, seven very anxious and dilapidated personages were assembled under the roof of an old, eight-storied tenement, near the church of St. Sulpice, in the city of Paris.
The seven under consideration had reached the catastrophe of their decline—and rise. They had met in solemn deliberation to pass resolutions to that effect, and take the only congenial means for replenishment and reform. This means lay in miniature before a caged window, revealed by a superfluity of light—a roulette-table, whereon the ball was spinning industriously from the practised fingers of Mr. Auburn Risque, of Mississippi.
Mr. Auburn Risque had a spotted eye and a bluishly cold face; his fingers were the only movable part of him, for he performed respiration and articulation with the same organ—his nose; and the sole words vouchsafed by this at present were: "Black—black—black—white—black—white—white—black"—etc.
The five surrounding parties were carefully noting upon fragments of paper the results of the experiment, and likewise Master Lees, the lessee of the chamber—a pale, emaciated youth, sitting up in bed, and ciphering tremulously, with bony fingers; even he, upon whom disease had made auguries of death, looked forward to gold, as the remedy which science had not brought, for a wasted youth of dissipation and incontinence.
They were all representatives of the recently instituted Confederacy. Most of them had dwelt in Paris anterior to the war, and, habituated to its luxuries, scarcely recognized themselves, now that they were forlorn and needy. Note Mr. Pisgah, for example—a Georgian, tall, shapely and handsome, with the gray hairs of his thirtieth year shading his working temples; he had been the most envied man in Paris; no woman could resist the magnetism of his eye; he was almost a match for the great Berger at billiards; he rode like a centaur on the Boulevards, and counterfeited Apollo at the opera and the masque. His credit was good for fifty thousand francs any day in the year. He had travelled in far and contiguous regions, conducted intrigues at Athens and Damascus, and smoked his pipe upon the Nile and among the ruins of Sebastopol. Without principle, he was yet amiable, and with his dashing style and address, one forgot his worthlessness.
How keenly he is reminded of it now! He cannot work, he has no craft nor profession; he knew enough to pass for an educated gentleman; not enough to earn a franc a day. He is the protege at present of his washerwoman, and can say, with some governments, that his debts are impartially distributed. He has only two fears—those of starvation in France, and a soldier's death in America.
The prospect of a debtor's prison at Clichy has long since ceased to be a terror. There, he would be secure of sustenance and shelter, and of these, at liberty, he is doubtful every day.
Still, with his threadbare coat, he haunts the Casino and the Valentino of evenings; for some mistresses of a former day send him billets.
He lies in bed till long after noon, that he may not have pangs of hunger; and has yet credit for a dinner at an obscure cremery. When this last confidence shall have been forfeited, what must result to Pisgah?
He is striving to anticipate the answer with this experiment at roulette; for he has a "system" whereby it is possible to break any gambling bank—Spa, Baden, Wisbaden or Homburg. The others have systems also, from Auburn Risque to Simp, the only son of the richest widow in Louisiana, who disbursed of old in Paris ten thousand dollars annually.
His house at Passy was a palace in miniature, and his favorite a tragedy queen. She played at the Folies Dramatiques, and drove three horses of afternoons upon the Champs Elysees. She had other engagements, of course, when Mr. Lincoln's "paper blockade" stopped Master Simp's remittances, and he passed her yesterday upon the Rue Rivoli, with the Russian ambassador's footman at her back, but she only touched him with her silks.
Simp studied a profession, and was a volunteer counsel in the memorable case of Jeems Pinckney against Jeems Rutledge. His speech, on that occasion, occupied in delivery just three minutes, and set the court-room in a roar. He paid the village editor ten dollars to compose it, and the same sum to publish it.
"If you could learn it for me," said Simp, anxiously, "I would give you twenty dollars."
This, his first and last public appearance, was conditional to the receipt from his mother, of six thousand acres of land and eighty negroes. It might have been a close calculation for a mathematician to know how many black sweat-drops, how many strokes of the rawhide, went into the celebrated dinner at the Maison Doree, wherein Master Simp and only his lady had thirty-four courses, and eleven qualities of wine, and a bill of eight hundred francs.
In that prosperous era, his inalienable comrade had been Mr. Andy Plade, who now stood beside him, intensely absorbed.
Of late Mr. Plade's affection had been transferred to Hugenot, the only possessor of an entire franc in the chamber. Hugenot was a short-set individual, in pumps and an eye-glass, who had been but a few days in the city. He was decidedly a man of sentiment. He called the Confederacy "ow-ah cause," and claimed to have signed the call for the first secession meeting in the South.
He asserted frankly that he was of French extraction, but only hinted that he was of noble blood. He had been a hatter, but carefully ignored the fact; and, having run the blockade with profitable cargoes fourteen times, had settled down to be a respectable trader between Havre and Nassau. Mr. Plade shared much of the sentiment and some of the money of this illustrious personage.
There were rumors abroad that Plade himself had great, but embarrassed, fortunes.
He was one of the hundred thousand chevaliers who hail the advent of war as something which will hide their nothingness.
"I knew it," said Auburn Risque, at length, pinching the ball between his hard palms as if it were the creature of his will. "My system is good; yours do not validate themselves. You are novices at gambling; I am an old blackleg." It was as he had said; the method of betting which he proposed had seemed to be successful. He staked upon colors; never upon numbers; and alternated from white to black after a fixed, undeviating routine.
Less by experiment than by faith, the others gave up their own theories to adopt his own. They resolved to collect every available sou, and, confiding it to the keeping of Mr. Risque, send him to Germany, that he might beggar the bankers, and so restore the Southern Colony to its wonted prosperity.
Hugenot delivered a short address, wishing "the cause" good luck, but declining to subscribe anything. He did not doubt the safety of "the system" of course, but had an hereditary antipathy to gaming. The precepts of all his ancestry were against it.
Poor Lees followed in a broken way, indicating sundry books, a guitar, two pairs of old boots, and a canary bird, as the relics of his fortune. These, Andy Plade, who possessed nothing, but thought he might borrow a trifle, volunteered to dispose of, and Freckle, a Missourian, who was tolerated in the colony only because he could be plucked, asserted enthusiastically, and amid great sensation, that he yet had three hundred francs at the banker's, his entire capital, all of which he meant to devote to the most reliable project in the world.
At this episode, Pisgah, whose misfortunes had quite shattered his nerves, proposed to drink at Freckle's expense to the success of the system, and Hugenot was prevailed upon to advance twenty-one sous, while Simp took the order to the adjacent marchand du vin.
When they had all filled, Hugenot, looking upon himself in the light of a benefactor, considered it necessary to do something.
"Boys," he said, wiping his eves with the lining of a kid glove, "will you esteem it unnatural, that a Suth Kurlinian, who sat—at an early age, it is true—at the feet of the great Kulhoon, should lift up his voice and weep in this day of ou-ah calamity?"
(Sensation, aggrieved by the sobs of Freckle, who, unused to spirits and greatly affected—chokes.)
"When I cast my eye about this lofty chambah" (here Lees, who hasn't been out of it for a year, hides himself beneath the bed-clothes); "when I see these noble spih-its dwelling obscu' and penniless; when I remembah that two short years ago, they waih of independent fohtunes—one with his sugah, anotha with his cotton, a third with his tobacco, in short, all the blessings of heaven bestowed upon a free people—niggars, plantations, pleasures!—I can but lay my pooah hand upon the manes of my ancestry, and ask in the name of ou-ah cause, is there justice above or retribution upon the earth!"
A profound silence ensued, broken only by Mr. Plade, who called Hugenot a man of sentiment, and slapped his back; while Freckle fell upon Pisgah's bosom, and wished that his stomach was as full as his heart.
Mr. Simp, who had been endeavoring to recollect some passages of his address, in the case of the Jeemses, for that address had an universal application, and might mean as much now as on the original occasion, brought down one of those decayed boots which the marchand des habits had thrice refused to buy, and said, stoutly:
"'By Gad! think of it, hyuh am I, a beggah, by Gad, without shoes to my feet, suh! The wuth of one nigga would keep me now for a yeah. At home, by Gad, I could afford to spend the wuth of a staving field hand every twenty-fouah houahs. I'll sweah!" cried Simp in conclusion, "I call this hard."
"I suppose the Yankees have confiscated my stocks in the Havre steamers," muttered Andy Plade. "I consider they have done me out of twenty thousand dollars."
"Brotha writes to me, last lettah," continued Freckle, who had recovered, "every tree cut off the plantation—every nigga run off, down to old Sim, a hundred years old—every panel of fence toted away—no bacon in smoke-house—not an old rip in stable—no corn, coon, possum, rabbit, fox, dog or hog within ten miles of the place—house stands in a mire—mire stands in desert—Yankee general going to conscrip brotha. I save myself, sp'ose, for stahvation."
"Wait till you come down to my condition," faltered the proprietor, making emphasis with his meagre finger—"I have been my own enemy; the Yankees will but finish what is almost consummated now. I tell you, boys, I expect to die in this room; I shall never quit this bed. I am offensive, wasted, withered, and would look gladly upon Pere la Chaise,[A] if with my bodily maladies my mind was not also diseased. I have no fortitude; I am afraid of death!"
[Footnote A: The great Cemetery of Paris.]
The room seemed to grow suddenly cold, and the faces of all the inmates became pale; they looked more squalid than ever—the threadbare curtains, the rheumatic chairs, the soiled floor, sashes and wallpaper.
Mr. Hugenot fumbled his shirt-bosom nervously, and his diamond pin, glaring like a lamp upon the worn garbs and faces of his compatriots, showed them still wanner and meaner by contrast.
"Put the blues under your feet!" cried Auburn Risque, in his hard, practical way; "my system will resurrect the dead. You shall have clothes upon your backs, shoes upon your feet, specie in your pockets, blood in your veins. Let us sell, borrow and pawn; we can raise a thousand francs together. I will return in a fortnight with fifty thousand!"
RAISING THE WIND.
The million five hundred thousand folks in Paris, who went about their pleasures that October night, knew little of the sorrows of the Southern Colony.
Pisgah dropped in at the Chateau des Fleurs to beg a paltry loan from some ancient favorite. The time had been, when, after a nightly debauch, he had placed two hundred francs in her morning's coffee-cup. It was mournful now to mark his premature gray hairs, as, resting his soiled, faded coat-sleeve upon her manteau de velour, he saw the scorn of his poverty in the bright eyes which had smiled upon him, and made his request so humbly and so feverishly.
"Give me back, Feefine," he faltered, "only that fifty francs I once tied in a gold band about your spaniel's neck. I am poor, my dear—that will not move you, I know, but I am going to Germany to play at the banks; if I win, I swear to pay you back ten francs for one!"
There was never a lorette who did not love to gamble. She stopped a passing gentleman and borrowed the money; the other saw it transferred to Pisgah, with an expression of contempt, and, turning to a friend, called him aloud a withering name.
Poor Pisgah! he would have drawn his bowie-knife once, and defied even the emperor to stand between the man and himself after such an appellation. He would have esteemed it a favor now to be what he was named, and only lifted his creased beaver gratefully, and hobbled nervously away, and stopping near by at a cafe drank a great glass of absinthe, with almost a prayerful heart.
At Mr. Simp's hotel in the Rue Monsieur Le Prince much business was transacted after dark. Monsieurs Freckle and Plade were engaged in smuggling away certain relics of furniture and wearing apparel.
Mr. Simp already owed his landlord fifteen months' rent, for which the only security was his diminishing effects.
If the mole-eyed concierge should suspect foul play with these, Simp would be turned out of doors immediately and the property confiscated.
Singly and in packages the collateral made its exit. A half-dozen regal chemises made to order at fifty francs apiece; a musical clock picked up at Genoa for twelve louis; a patent boot-jack and an ebony billiard cue; a Paduan violin; two statuettes of more fidelity than modesty, to be sold pound for pound at the current value of bronze; divers pipes—articles of which Mr. Simp had earned the title of connoisseur, by investing several hundred dollars annually—a gutta-percha self-adjusting dog-muzzle, the dog attached to which had been seized by H. M. Napoleon III. in lieu of taxes, etc., etc.
Everything passed out successfully except one pair of pantaloons which protruded from Freckle's vest, and that unfortunate person at once fell under suspicion of theft. All went in the manner stated to Mr. Lees' chamber, he being the only colonist who did not hazard the loss of his room, chiefly because nobody else would rent it, and in part because his landlady, having swindled him for six or eight years, had compunctions as to ejecting him.
Thence in the morning, true to his aristocratic instincts, Mr. Simp departed in a voiture for the central bureau of the Mont de Piete,[B] in the Rue Blanc Manteau. His face had become familiar there of late. He carried his articles up from the curb, while the cocher grinned and winked behind, and taking his turn in the throng of widows, orphans, ouvriers, and profligates and unfortunates of all loose conditions, Simp was a subject of much unenviable remark. He came away with quite an armful of large yellow certificates, and the articles were registered to Monsieur Simp, a French subject; for with such passports went all his compatriots.
[Footnote B: The government pawnbroking shop.]
Andy Plade spent twenty-four hours, meanwhile, at the Grand Hotel, enacting the time-honored part of all things to all men.
He differed from the other colonists, in that they were weak—he was bad. He spoke several languages intelligibly, and knew much of many things—art, finances, geography—just those matters on which newly arrived Americans desire information. His address was even fascinating. One suspected him to be a leech, but pardoned the motive for the manner. He called himself a broken man. The war had blighted his fair fortunes. For a time he had held on hopefully, but now meant to breast the current no longer. His time was at the service of anybody. Would monsieur like to see the city? He knew its every cleft and den. So he had lived in Paris five years—in the same manner, elsewhere, all his life.
A few men heard his story and helped him—one Northern man had given him employment; his gratitude was defalcation.
To day he has sounded Hugenot; but that man of sentiment alluded to the business habits of his ancestry, and intimated that he did not lend.
"Ou-ah cause, Andy," he says, with a flourish, "is now negotiating a loan. When ou-ah beloved country is reduced to such straits, that she must borow from strangers, I cannot think of relieving private indigence."
Later in the day, however, Mr. Plade made the acquaintance of an ingenuous youth from Pennsylvania, and obtaining a hundred francs, for one day only, sent it straightway to Mr. Auburn Risque.
A second meeting was held at Lees' the third day noon, when the originator of the "system" sat icily grim behind a table whereon eleven hundred francs reposed; and the whole colony, crowding breathlessly around, was amazed to note how little the space taken up by so great a sum.
They opened a crevice that Lees might be gladdened with the sight of the gold; for to-day that invalid was unusually dispirited, and could not quit his bed.
"We are down very low, old Simp," said Pisgah, smilingly, "when either the possession or the loss of that amount can be an event in our lives."
"You will laugh that it was so, a week hence," answered Auburn Risque—"when you lunch at Peters' while awaiting my third check for a thousand dollars apiece."
"I don't believe in the system," growled Lees, opening a cold draft from his melancholy eyes: "I don't feel that I shall ever spend a sou of the winnings. No more will any of you. There will be no winnings to spend. Auburn Risque will lose. He always does."
"If you were standing by at the play I should," cried Risque, while the pock-marks in his face were like the thawings of ice. "You would croak like an old raven, and I should forget my reckoning."
"Come now, Lees," cried all the others; "you must not see bad omen for the Colony;" and they said, in undertone, that Lees had come to be quite a bore.
They were all doubtful, nevertheless. Their crisis could not be exaggerated. Their interest was almost devout. Three thousand miles from relief; two seas between, one of water and one of fire; at home, conscription, captivity, death: the calamity of Southerners abroad would merit all sympathy, if it had not been induced by waste, and unredeemed by either fortitude or regret.
The unhappy Freckle, whose luckless admiration of the rest had been his ruin, felt that a sonorous prayer, such as his old father used to make in the Methodist meeting-house, would be a good thing wherewith to freight Auburn Risque for his voyage. When men stake everything on a chance, it is natural to look up to somebody who governs chances; but Andy Plade, in his loud, bad way, proposed a huge toast, which they took with a cheer, and quite confused Hugenot, who had a sentiment apropos.
Then they escorted Auburn Risque to the Chemin de fer du Nord,[C] and packed him away in a third-class carriage, wringing his hand as if he were their only hope and friend in the world.
[Footnote C: Northern Railway Station.]
DEATH IN EXPATRIATION.
It was a weary day for the Southern Colony. They strolled about town—to the Masque, the Jardin des Plantes, the Champ des Mars, the Marche aux Chevaux, and finally to Freckle's place, and essayed a lugubrious hour at whist.
"It is poor fun, Pisgah," said Mr. Simp, at last, "if we remember that afternoon at poker when you won eight thousand francs and I lost six thousand."
The conversation forever returned to Spa and Baden-Baden, and many wagers were made upon the amount of money which Risque would gain—first day—second day—first week, and so forth.
At last they resolved to send to Lees' chamber for the roulette-board, and pass the evening in experiment. They drew Jacks for the party who should fetch it, and Freckle, always unfortunate, was pronounced the man. He went cheerfully, thinking it quite an honor to serve the Colony in any capacity—for Freckle, representing a disaffected State, had fallen under suspicion of lukewarm loyalty, and was most anxious to clear up any such imputation.
His head was full of odd remembrances as he crossed the Place St. Sulpice: his plain old father at the old border home, close and hard-handed, who went afield with his own negroes, and made his sons take the plough-handles, and marched them all before him every Sunday to the plank church, and led the singing himself with an ancient tuning-fork, and took up the collection in a black velvet bag fastened to a pole.
He had foreseen the war, and sent his son abroad to avoid it. He had given Freckle sufficient money to travel for five years, and told him in the same sentence to guard his farthings and say his prayers. Freckle could see the old man now, with a tear poised on his tangled eyelashes, asking a farewell benediction from the front portico, upon himself departing, while every woolly-head was uncovered, and the whole assembled "property" had groaned "Amen" together.
That was patriarchal life; what was this? Freckle thought this much finer and higher. He had not asked himself if it was better. He was rather ashamed of his father now, and anxious to be a dashing gentleman, like Plade or Pisgah.
Why did he play whist so badly? How chanced it that, having dwelt eighteen months in Paris, he could speak no French? His only grisette had both robbed him and been false to him. He knew that the Colony tolerated him, merely. Was he indeed verdant, as they had said—obtuse, stupid, lacking wit?
After all, he repeated to himself, what had the Colony done for him? He had not now twenty francs to his name, and was a thousand francs in debt; he had essayed to study medicine, but balked at the first lesson. Yet, though these suggestions, rather than convictions, occurred to him, they stirred no latent ambition. If he had ever known one high resolution, the Southern Colony had pulled it up, and sown the place with salt.
So he reached Master Lees' tenement; it was a long ascent, and toward the last stages perilous; the stairs had a fashion of curving round unexpectedly and bending against jambs and blank walls. He was quite out of breath when he staggered against Lees' door and burst it open.
The light fell almost glaringly upon the bare, contracted chamber; for this was next to the sky and close up to the clouds, and the window looked toward the west, where the sun, sinking majestically, was throwing its brightest smiles upon Paris, as it bade adieu.
And there, upon his tossed, neglected bed, in the full blaze of the sunset, his sharp, sallow jaws dropped upon his neck, his cheeks colorless and concave, his great eyes open wide and his hair unsmoothed, Master Lees lay dead, with the roulette table upon his breast!
* * * * *
When Freckle had raised himself from the platform at the base of the first flight of stairs, down which he had fallen in his fright, he hastened to his own chamber and gave the Colony notice of the depletion of its number.
A deep gloom, as may be surmised, fell upon all. Lees had been no great favorite of late, and it had been the trite remark for a year that he was looking like death; but at this juncture the tidings came ominously enough. One member, at least, of the Southern Colony would never share the winnings of Auburn Risque, and now that they referred to his forebodings of the morning, it was recalled that with his own demise, he had prophesied the failure of "the system."
His end seemed to each young exile a personal admonition; they had known him strong and spirited, and with them he had grown poor and unhappy. Poverty is a warning that talks like the wind, and we do not heed it; but death raps at our door with bony knuckles, so that we grow pale and think.
They shuddered, though they were hardened young men, so unfeeling, even after this reprimand, that they would have left the corpse of their companion to go unhonored to its grave; separately they wished to do so—in community they were ashamed; and Pisgah had half a hope that somebody would demur when he said, awkwardly:
"The Colony must attend the funeral, I suppose. God knows which of us will take the next turn."
Freckle cried out, however, that he should go, if he were to be buried alive in the same tomb, and on this occasion only he appeared in the light of an influential spirit.
THE DESPERATE CHANCE.
During all this time Mr. Auburn Risque, packed away in the omnibus train, with a cheap cigar between his lips, and a face like a refrigerator, was scudding over the rolling provinces of France, thinking as little of the sunshine, and the harvesters of flax, and the turning leaves of the woods, and the chateaux overawing the thatched little villages, as if the train were his mail-coach, and France were Arkansas, and he were lashing the rump of the "off" horse, as he had done for the better part of his life.
Risque's uncle had been a great Mississippi jobber; he took U. S. postal contracts for all the unknown world; route of the first class, six horses and daily; route of the second class, semi-weekly and four horses; third class, two horses and weekly; fourth class, one horse, one saddle, and one small boy.
The young Auburn had been born in the stable, and had taken at once to the road. His uncle found it convenient to put him to work. He can never be faithfully said to have learned to walk; and recalls, as the first incident of his life, a man who carried a baby and two bowie knives, teaching him to play old sledge on the cushions of a Washita stage.
Thenceforward he was a man of one idea. He held it to be one of the decrees, that he was to grow rich by gaming. As he went, by day or night, in rain or fog or burning sun, by the margins of turgid south-western rivers, where his "leaders" shied at the alligators asleep in the stage-road; through dreary pine woods, where the owls hooted at silence; over red, reedy, slimy causeways; in cane-breaks and bayous; past villages where civilization looked westward with a dirk between its teeth, and cracked its horsewhip; past rich plantations where the negroes sang afield, and the planter in the house-porch took off his hat to bow—here, there, always, everywhere, with his cold, hard, pock-marked face, thin lips and spotted eye, Auburn Risque sat brooding behind the reins, computing, calculating, overreaching, waiting for his destiny to wrestle with Chance and bind it down while its pockets were picked.
His whole life might have been called a game of cards. He carried a deck forever next his heart. Sometimes he gambled with other vehicles—stocks, shares, currency—but the cards were still his mainstay, and he was well acquainted with every known or obsolete game. There was no trick, nor fraud, nor waggery which he had not at his fingers-ends.
It was his favorite theory that there was method in what seemed chance; principles underlying luck; measures for infinity; clues to all combinations.
Given one pack of cards, one man to shuffle, one to cut, one to deal, and fair play, and it was yet possible to know just how many times in a given number of games each card would fall to each man.
Given a roulette circle of one hundred numbered spaces and a blindfolded man to spin the ball; it could be counted just how many times in one thousand said ball would come to rest upon any one number.
No searcher for perpetual motion, no blind believer in alchemy, clung to his one idea closer than Auburn Risque. He had shut all themes, affections, interests, from his mind. He neither loved nor hated any living being. He was penurious in his expenditures—never in his wagers. He would stake upon anything in nature—a trot, an election, a battle, a murder.
"Will you play picquet for one sou the game, one hundred and fifty points?" says a soldier near by.
He accepts at once; the afternoon passes to night, and the lamps in the roof are lighted. The cards flicker upon the seat; the boors gather round to watch; they pass the French frontier, and see from their windows the forges of Belgium, throwing fire upon the river Meuse. Still, hour after hour, though their eyes are weary, and all the folks are gone or sleeping, the cards fall, fall, fall, till there comes a jar and a stop, and the guard cries, "Cologne!"
"You have won," says the soldier, laying down his money. "Good-night."
The Rhine is a fine stream, though our German friends will build mock-castles upon it, and insist that it is the only real river in the world.
Auburn Risque pays no more regard to it than though he were treading the cedars and sands of New Jersey or North Carolina. He speaks with a Franco-Russian, who has lost in play ten thousand francs a month for three successive years, and while they discuss chances, expedients and experiences, the Siebern-gebierge drifts by, they pass St. Goar and Bingen, and the wonderful Rhine has been only a time, nothing of a scene, as they stop abreast Biberich, and, rowed ashore in a flagboat, make at once for the railway.
At noon, on the third day, Mr. Risque having engaged a frugal bed at a little distance from Wisbaden, enters the grand saloon of the Kursaal, and turning to the right, sees before him a perspective, to which not all the marvels of art or nature afford comparison: a snug little room, with a table of green baize in the centre of the floor, and about the table sundry folks of various ages and degrees, before each a heap of glittering coins, and in the midst of all a something which moves forever, with a hurtle and a hum—the roulette.
Mark them! the weak, the profligate, the daring. There is old age, watching the play, with its voice like a baby's cry; and the paper whereon it keeps tremulous tally swimming upon eyes of perpetual twilight.
The boy ventures his first gold piece with the resolve that, win or lose, he will stake no more. He wins, and lies. At his side stands beautiful Sin, forgetting its guilt and coquetry for its avarice. The pale defaulter from over the sea hazards like one whose treasure is a burden upon his neck, and the roue—blank, emotionless, remorseless—doubling at every loss, walks penniless away to dinner with a better appetite than he who saves a nation or dies for a truth.
The daintily dressed coupeurs are in their chairs, eyeless, but omniscient; the ball goes heedlessly, slaying or anointing where it stays, and the gold as it is raked up clinks and glistens, as if it struck men's hearts and found them as hard and sounding.
Mr. Risque advanced to the end of the table, and stood motionless a little while, drinking it all into his passionless eyes, which, like sponges, absorbed whatever they saw, but nothing revealed. At last his right hand dropped softly to his vest pocket, as though it had some interest in deceiving his left hand.
Apparently unconscious of the act, the right hand next slid over the table edge, and silently deposited a five-franc piece upon the black compartment.
"Whiz-z-z-z" started the ball from the fingers of the coupeurs—"click" dropped the ball into a black department of the board; "clink! tingle!" cried the money, changing hands; but not a word said Auburn Risque, standing like a stalagmite with his eyes upon ten francs.
"Whiz-z-z!"—"click!" "click!" "tingle!"
Did he see the fifteen francs at all, half trance-like, half corpse-like, as he stood, waiting for the third revolution, and waiting again, and again, and again?
His five francs have grown to be a hundred; his cold hand falls freezingly upon them; five francs replace the hundred he took away—"Whizz!" goes the ball; "click!" stops the ball; the coupeur seizes Mr. Risque's five francs, and Mr. Risque walks away like a somnambulist.
BURIED IN THE COMMON DITCH.
It would have been a strange scene for an American public, the street corridor of the lofty house near the church of Saint Sulpice, on the funeral afternoon.
The coffin lay upon a draped table, and festoons of crape threw phantom shadows upon the soiled velvet covering. Each passing pedestrian and cabman took off his hat a moment. The Southern Colony were in the landlady's bureau enjoying a lunch and liquor, and precisely at three o'clock they came down stairs, not more dilapidated than usual, while at the same moment the municipal hearse drove up, attended by one cocher and two croquemorts.[D]
[Footnote D: Literally, "parasites of death."]
The hearse was a cheap charity affair, furnished by the Maire of the arrondissement, though it was sprucely painted and decked with funeral cloth. The driver wore a huge black chapeau, a white cotton cravat, and thigh-boots, which, standing up stiffly as he sat, seemed to engulf him to the ears.
When the croquemorts, in a business way, lifted the velvet from the coffin, it was seen to be constructed of strips of deal merely, unpainted, and not thicker than a Malaga raisin box.
There was some fear that it would fall apart of its own fragility, but the chief croquemort explained politely that such accidents never happened.
"We have entombed four of them to-day," he said; "see how nicely we shall lift the fifth one."
There was, indeed, a certain sleight whereby he slung it across his shoulder, but no reason in the world for tossing it upon the hearse with a slam. They covered its nakedness with velvet, and the cocher, having taken a cigar from his pocket, and looking much as if he would like to smoke, put it back again sadly, cracked his whip, and the cortege went on. The croquemorts kept a little way ahead, sauntering upon the sidewalk, and their cloaks and oil-cloth hats protected them from a drizzling rain, which now came down, to the grief of the mourners, walking in the middle of the street behind the body. They were seven in number, Messrs. Plade, Pisgah and Simp, going together, and apparently a trifle the worse for the lunch; Freckle followed singly, having been told to keep at a distance to render the display more imposing; the landlady and her niece went arm in arm after, and behind them trode a little old hunchback gentleman, neatly clothed, and bearing in his hand a black, wooden cross, considerably higher than himself, on which was painted, in white letters, this inscription:
CHRISTOPHER LEES, CAROLINA DU NORD, ETATS CONFEDERE AMERIQUE. AGE VINGT-QUATRE.
A wreath of yellow immortelles, tied to the crosspiece, was interwoven with these spangled letters:
and the solemn air of the old man seemed to evidence that they were not meaningless.
The hunchback was Lees' principal creditor. He kept a small restaurant, where the deceased had been supplied for two years, and his books showed indebtedness of twenty-eight hundred francs, not a sou of which he should ever receive. He could ill afford to lose the money, and had known, indeed, that he should never be paid, a year previous to the demise. But the friendlessness of the stranger had touched his heart. Twice every day he sent up a basket of food, which was always returned empty, and every Sunday climbed the long stairway with a bottle of the best wine—but never once said, "Pay my bill."
Here he was at the last chapter of exile, still bearing his creditor's cross.
"Give the young man's friends a lunch," he had said to the landlady: "I will make it right;"—and in the cortege he was probably the only honest mourner.
Not we, who know Frenchmen by caricature merely, as volatile, fickle, deceitful, full of artifice, should sit in judgment upon them. He has the least heart of all who thinks that there is not some heart everywhere! The charity which tarrieth long and suffereth much wrong, has been that of the Parisians of the Latin Quarter, during the American war.
Along all the route the folks lifted their hats as the hearse passed by, and so, through slush and mist and rain, the little company kept straight toward the barriers, and turned at last into the great gate of the cemetery of Mt. Parnasse.
They do not deck the cities of the dead abroad as our great sepulchres are adorned.
Pere la Chaise is famed rather for its inmates than its tombs, and Mont Parnasse and Monte Martre, the remaining places of interment, are even forbidding to the mind and the eye.
A gate-keeper, in semi-military dress, sounded a loud bell as the hearse rolled over the curb, and when they had taken an aisle to the left, with maple trees on either side, and vistas of mean-looking vaults, a corpulent priest, wearing a cape and a white apron, and attended by a civil assistant of most villainous physiognomy, met the cortege and escorted it to its destination.
This was the fosse commune—in plain English, the common trench—an open lot adjacent to the cemetery, appropriated to bodies interred at public expense, and presenting to the eye a spectacle which, considered either with regard to its quaintness or its dreariness, stood alone and unrivalled.
Nearest the street the ground had long been occupied, trench parallel with trench, filled to the surface level, sodded green, and each grave marked by a wooden cross. There was a double layer of bodies beneath, lying side by side; no margin could of course be given at the surface; the thickly planted crosses, therefore, looked, at a little distance, like a great waste of heath or bramble, broken now and then by a dwarf cedar, and hung to the full with flowers and tokens. The width of the trenches was that of the added height of two full-grown men, and the length a half mile perhaps; a narrow passage-way separated them, so that, however undistinguishable they appeared, each grave could be indentified and visited.
Close observation might have found much to cheer this waste of flesh, this economy of space; but to this little approaching company the scene was of a kind to make death more terrible by association.
A rough wall enclosed the flat expanse of charnel, over which the scattered houses of the barriers looked widowed through their mournful windows; and now and then a crippled crone, or a bereaved old pauper, hobbled to the roadway and shook her white hairs to the rain.
It seemed a long way over the boggy soil to the newly opened trench, where the hearse stopped with its wheels half-sunken, and the chief croquemort, without any ado, threw the coffin over his shoulder and walked to the place of sepulture. Five fossoyeurs, at the remote end of the trench, were digging and covering, as if their number rather than their work needed increase, and a soldier in blue overcoat, whose hands were full of papers, came up at a commercial pace, and cried:
Which corresponded to the figures on the box, and to the number of interments for the day.
The delvers made no pause while the priest read the service, and the clods fell faster than the rain. The box was nicely mortised against another previously deposited, and as there remained an interstice between it and that at its feet, an infant's coffin made the space complete.
The Latin service was of all recitations the most slovenly and contemptuous; the priest might have been either smiling or sleeping; for his very red face appeared to have nothing in common with his scarcely moving lips; and the assistant looked straight at the trench, half covetously, half vindictively, as if he meant to turn the body out of the box directly, and run away with the grave-clothes. It took but two minutes to run through the text; the holy water was dashed from the hyssop; and the priest, with a small shovel, threw a quantity of clods after it. "Requiescat in pace!" he cried, like one just awakened, and now for the first time the grave-diggers ceased; they wanted the customary fee, pour boire.
The exiles never felt so destitute before; not a sou could be found in the Colony. But the little hunchback stepped up with the cross, and gave it to the chief fossoyeur, dropping a franc into his hand; each of the women added some sous, and the younger one quietly tied a small round token of brass to the wood, which she kissed thrice; it bore these words:
"A mon ami."
"A little more than kin and less than kind!" whispered Andy Plade, who knew what such souvenirs meant, in Paris.
The Colony went away disconsolate; but the little hunchback stopped on the margin, and looked once more into the pit where the box was fast disappearing.
"Pardon our debts, bon Dieu!" he said, "as we pardon our debtors."
Shall we who have followed this funeral be kind to the stranger that is within our gates? The quiet old gentleman standing so gravely over the fosse commune might have attracted more regard from the angels than that Iron Duke who once looked down upon the sarcophagus of his enemy in the Hotel des Invalides.
And so Lees was at rest—the master's only son, the heir to lands and houses, and servants, and hopes. He had escaped the bullet, but also that honor which a soldier's death conferred—and thus, abroad and neglected, had existed awhile upon the charity of strangers, to expire of his own wickedness, and accept, as a boon, this place among the bones of the wretched.
How beat the hearts which wait for the strife to be done and for him to return! The field-hands sleep more honored in their separate mounds beneath the pine trees. The landlady's daughter may come sometimes to fasten a flower upon his cross; but, like that cross, her sorrow will decay, and Master Lees will mingle with common dust, passing out of the memory of Europe—ay! even of the Southern Colony.
How bowed and wounded they threaded the way homeward, those young men, whom the world, in its bated breath, had called rich and fortunate! Now that they thought it over, how absurd had been this gambling venture! They should lose every sou. They had, for a blind chance, exhausted the patience of their creditors, and made away with their last collateral—their last crust, and bed, and drink.
"I wish," said Simp, bitterly, "that I had been born one of my mother's niggers. Bigad! a cabin, a wood fire, corn meal and a pound of pork per diem, would keep me like a duke next winter."
Here they stopped at Simp's hotel, and, as he was afraid to enter alone, the loss of his baggage being detected, the Colony consented to ascend to his chamber.
"Monsieur Simp," said the fierce concierge, "here is a letter, the last which I shall ever receive for you! You will please pay my bill to-night, or I shall go to the office of the prud'homme; you are of the canaille, sir! Where are your effects?"
"Whoop!" yelled Mr. Simp, in the landlady's face. "Yah-ah-ah! hoora ah-ah! three cheers! we have news of our venture! This is a telegram!"
"WISBADEN, Oct. 30.
"The system wins! To-day and yesterday I took seven thousand one hundred francs. I have selected the 4th of November to break the bank.
THE OLD REVELRY REVIVED.
The Colony would have shouted over Master Lees' coffin at the receipt of such intelligence. They gave a genuine American cheer, nine times repeated, with the celebrated "tiger" of the Texan Rangers, as it had been reported to them. Mr. Simp read the dispatch to the concierge, who brightened up, begged his pardon, and hoped that he would forget words said in anger.
"Madam," said Mr. Simp, with some dignity, "I have suffered and forgotten much in this establishment; we have an aphorism, relative to the last feather, in the English tongue. But lend me one hundred francs till my instalment arrives from Germany, and I will forgive even the present insult."
"Boys!" cried Andy Plade, "let us have a supper! We—that is, you—can take the telegram to our several creditors, and raise enough upon it to pass a regal night at the Trois Freres."
This proposition was received with great favor; the concierge gave Simp a hundred francs; he ordered cigars and a gallon of punch, and they repaired to his room to arrange the details of the celebration.
Freckle gave great offence by wishing that "Poor Lees" were alive to enjoy himself; and Simp said, "Bigad, sir! Freckle, living, is more of a bore than Lees, dead."
They resolved to attend supper in their dilapidated clothes, so that what they had been might be pleasantly rebuked by what they were. "And but for this feature," said Andy Plade, "it would have been well to invite Ambassador Slidell." But Pisgah and Simp, who had applied to Slidell several times by letter for temporary loans, were averse, just now, to the presence of one who had forgotten "the first requisite of a Southern Gentleman—generosity."
So it was settled that only the Colony and Hugenot were to come, each man to bring one lady. Simp, Pisgah, and Freckle thought Hugenot a villain. He had not even attended the obsequies of the lamented Lees. But Andy Plade forcibly urged that Hugenot was a good speaker, and would be needed for a sentiment.
In the evening a lunch was served by Mr. Simp, of which some young ladies of the Paris demi-monde partook; the "Bonnie Blue Flag" was sung with great spirit, and Freckle became so intoxicated at two in the morning that one of the young ladies was prevailed upon to see him to his hotel.
There was great joy in the Latin Quarter when it was known that the Southern Colony had won at Wisbaden, and meant to pay its debts. The tailors, shoemakers, tobacconists, publicans, grocers and hosiers met in squads upon corners to talk it over; all the gentlemen obtained loans, and, as evidence of how liberal they meant to be, commenced by giving away whatever old effects they had.
A cabinet or small saloon of the most expensive restaurant in Paris was pleasantly adorned for the first reunion of the Confederate exiles.
The ancient seven-starred flag, entwined with the new battle-flag, hung in festoons at the head of the room, and directly beneath was the portrait of President Davis. A crayon drawing of the C. S. N. V. Florida, from the portfolio of the amateur Mr. Simp, was arched by two crossed cutlasses, hired for the occasion; and upon an enormous iced cake, in the centre of the table, stood a barefooted soldier, with his back against a pine tree, defying both a Yankee and a negro.
At eleven o'clock P.M. the scrupulously dressed attendants heard a buzz and a hurried tramp upon the stairs. They repaired at once to their respective places, and after a pause the Southern Colony and convoy made their appearance upon the threshold. With the exception of Pisgah and Hugenot, all were clothed in the relics of their poverty, but their hairs were curled, and they wore some recovered articles of jewelry. They had thus the guise of a colony of barbers coming up from the gold diggings, full of nuggets and old clothes.
By previous arrangement, the chair was taken by Andy Plade, supported by two young ladies, and, after saying a welcome to the guests in elegant French, he made a significant gesture to the chief waiter. The most luscious Ostend oysters were at once introduced; they lifted them with bright silver fourchettes from plates of Sevres porcelain, and each guest touched his lips afterward with a glass of refined vermeuth. Three descriptions of soup came successively, an amber Julien, in which the microscope would have been baffled to detect one vegetable fibre, yet it bore all the flavors of the garden; a tureen of potage a la Bisque, in which the rarest and tiniest shell-fish had dissolved themselves; and at the last a tortue, small in quantity, but so delicious that murmurs of "encore" were made.
Morsels of viande, so alternated that the appetite was prolonged—each dish seeming a better variation of the preceding—were helped toward digestion by the finest vintages of Burgundy; and the luscious pates de foie gras—for which the plumpest geese in Bretagne had been invalids all their days, and, if gossip be true, submitted in the end to a slow roasting alive—introduced the fish, which, by the then reformed Parisian mode, must appear after, not before, the entree.
A sole au vin blanc gave way to a regal mackerel au sauce champignon, and after this dish came confections and fruits ad libitum, ending with the removal of the cloth, the introduction of cigars, and a marquise or punch of pure champagne.
It was a pleasant evening within and without; the windows were raised, and they could see the people in the gardens strolling beneath the lime trees; the starlight falling on the plashing fountain and the gray, motionless statues; the pearly light of the lines of lamps, shining down the long arcades; the glitter of jewelry and precious merchandise in the marvellous boutiques; the groups which sat around the cafe beneath with sorbets and glaces, and sparkling wines; the old women in Normandie caps and green aprons, who flitted here and there to take the hire of chairs, and break the hum of couples, talking profane and sacred love; around and above all, the Cardinal's grand palace lifting its multitudinous pilasters, and seeming to prop up the sky.
It was Mr. Simp and his lady who saw these more particularly, as they had withdrawn from the table, to exchange a memory and a sentiment, and Hugenot had joined them with his most recent mistress; for the latter was particularly unfortunate in love, being cozened out of much money, and yet libelled for his closeness.
All the rest sat at the table, talking over the splendor of the supper, and proposing to hold a second one at the famous Philippe's, in the Rue Montorgueil. But Mr. Freckle, being again emboldened by wine, and affronted at the subordinate position assigned him, repeatedly cried that, for his part, he preferred the "old Latin Quarter," and challenged the chairman to produce a finer repast than Magny's in the Rue Counterscarp.
Pisgah, newly clothed cap-a-pie, was drinking absinthe, and with his absent eyes, worn face and changing hairs, looked like the spectre of his former self. Now and then he raised his head to give unconscious assent to something, but immediately relapsed to the worship of his nepenthe; and, as the long potations sent strong fumes to his temples, he chuckled audibly, and gathered his jaws to his eyes in a vacant grin. The gross, coarse woman at his side, from whom the other females shrank with frequent demonstrations of contempt, was Pisgah's blanchisseuse.
He was in her debt, and paid her with compliments; she is old and uninviting, and he owes her eight hundred francs. Hers are the new garments which he wears to-night. Few knew how many weary hours she labored for them in the floating houses upon the Seine. But she is in love with Pisgah, and is quite oblivious of the general regard; for, strange to such grand occasions, she has both eaten and imbibed enormously, and it may be even doubted at present whether she sees anything at all.
She strokes his cloth coat with her red, swollen hands, and proposes now and then that he shall visit the wardrobe to look after his new hat; but Pisgah only passes his arm about her, and drains his absinthe, and sometimes, as if to reassure the company, shouts wildly at the wrong places: "'At's so, boys!" "Hoorah for you!" "Ay! capital, gen'l'men, capital!" And his partner, conscious that something has happened, laughs to her waist, and leans forward, quite overcome, as if she beheld something mirthful over her washboard.
The place was now quite dreamy with tobacco-smoke; Freckle was riotously sick at the window, and Andy Plade, who had been borrowing small sums from everybody who would lend, struck the table with a corkscrew, and called for order.
"Drire rup!" cried Mr. Freckle, looking very attentively, but seeing nothing.
"I have the honor to state, gentlemen of the Colony, that we have with us to-night an eloquent representative of our country—one whose business energy and enterprise have been useful both to his own fortunes and to the South—one who is a friend of yours, and more than a dear friend to me. We came from the same old Palmetto State, the first and the last ditch of our revolution. I give you a toast, gentlemen, to which Mr. Hugenot will respond:
"'The Mother Country and the Colony—good luck to both!'"
"Hoorah for you!" cried Pisgah, looking the wrong way.
The glasses rattled an instant, amid iterations of "Hear! hear!" and Mr. Hugenot, rising, as it appeared from a bandbox, carefully surveyed himself in a mirror opposite, and touched his nose with a small nosegay.
"I feel, my friends, rather as your host than your guest to-night—"
("It isn't yesternight"—from Freckle—"it's to-morroer night.")
"For I, gentlemen, stand upon my hereditary, if not my native heath; and you are, at most, Frenchmen by adoption. That ancestry whose deeds will live when the present poor representative of its name is departed drew from this martial land its blood and genius."
(Loud cries of "Gammon" from Freckle, and disapprobation from Simp.)
"From the past to the present, my friends, is a short transition. I found you in Paris a month ago, poor and dejected. You are here to-night, with that luxury which was your heritage. And how has it been restored?"
("'At's so!" earnestly, from Pisgah.)
"By hard, grovelling work? Never! No contact with vulgar clay has soiled these aristocratic hands. The cavalier cannot be a mudsill! You are not like the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin. You have not toiled, gentlemen, but you have spun!"
(Great awakening, doubt, and bewilderment.)
"You have spun the roulette ball, and you have won!"
(Ferocious and unparalleled cheering.)
"And it has occurred to me, my friends, that ou-ah cause, in the present tremendous struggle, has been well symbolized by these, its foreign representatives. Calamity came upon the South, as upon you. It had indebtedness, as you have had. Shall I say that you, like the South, repudiated? No! that is a slander of our adversaries. But the parallel holds good in that we found ourselves abandoned by the world. Nations abroad gave us no sympathy; our neighbors at home laughed at our affliction. They would wrest from us that bulwark of our liberties, the African."
"Capital, gentlemen, capital!" from Pisgah.
"They demanded that we should toil for ourselves. Did we do so? Never! We appealed to the chances, as you have done; we would fight the Yankee, but we would not work. You would fight the bank, but you would not slave; and as you have won at Wisbaden, so have we, in a thousand glorious contests. Fill, then, gentlemen, to the toast which your chairman has announced:
"'The Mother Country and the Colony—good luck to both!'"
The applause which ensued was of such a nature that the proprietors below endeavored to hasten the conclusion of the dinner by sending up the bill. Pisgah and the blanchisseuse were embracing in a spirited way, and Simp was holding back Freckle, who—persuaded that Hugenot's remarks were in some way derogatory to himself—wished to toss down his gauntlet.
"The next toast, gentlemen of the Colony," said Andy Plade, "is to be dispatched immediately by the waiter, whom you see upon my right hand, to the office of the telegraph; thence to Mr. Risque at Wisbaden:
"'The Southern exiles; doubtless the most immethodical men alive; but the results prove they have the best system: no Risque, no winnings.'
"You will see, gentlemen," continued Mr. Plade, when the enthusiasm had subsided, "that I place the toast in this envelope. It will go in two minutes to Mr. Auburn Risque!"
The waiter started for the door; it was dashed open in his face, and splattered, dirty, and travel-worn, Auburn Risque himself stood like an apparition on the threshold.
"Perdition!" thundered Plade, staggered and pale-faced; "you were not to break the bank till to-morrow."
The Colony, sober or inebriate, clustered about the door, and held to each other that they might hear the explanation aright.
Auburn Risque straightened himself and glared upon all the besiegers, till his pock-marked face grew white as leprosy, and every spot in his secretive eye faded out in the glitter of his defiance.
"To-morrow?" he said, in a voice hard, passionless, inflectionless; "how could one break the bank to-morrow, when all his money was gone yesterday?"
"Gone!" repeated the Colony, in a breath rather than a voice, and reeling as if a galvanic current had passed through the circle—"Gone!"
"Every sou," said Risque, sinking into a chair. "The bank gave me one hundred francs to return to Paris; I risked twenty-five of it, hopeful of better luck, and lost again. Then I had not enough money to get home, and for forty kilometres of the way I have driven a charette. See!" he cried, throwing open his coat; "I sold my vest at Compiegne last night, for a morsel of supper."
"But you had won seven thousand one hundred francs!"
"I won more—more than eighteen thousand francs; but, enlarging my stakes with my capital, one hour brought me down to a sou."
"The 'system' was a swindle," hissed Mr. Simp, looking up through red eyes which throbbed like pulses. "What right had you to plunder us upon your speculation?"
"The 'system' could not fail," answered the gamester, at bay; "it must have been my manner of play. I think that, upon one run of luck, I gave up my method."
"We do not know," cried Simp, tossing his hands wildly; "we may not accuse, we may not be enraged—we are nothing now but profligates without means, and beggars without hope!"
They sobbed together, bitterly and brokenly, till Freckle, not entirely sober, shouted, "Good God, is it that gammon-head, Hugenot, who has ruined us? Fetch him out from his ancestry; let me see him, I say! Where is the man who took my three hundred francs!"
"I wish," said Simp, in a suicidal way, "that I were lying by Lees in the fosse commune. But I will not slave; the world owes every man a living!"
"Ay!" echoed the rest, as desperately, but less resolutely.
"This noise," said one of the waiters politely, "cannot be continued. It is at any rate time for the salon to be closed. We will thank you to pay your bill, and settle your quarrels in the garden."
"Here is the account," interpolated Andy Plade, "dinner for thirteen persons, nineteen hundred and fifty francs.
"Manes of my ancestry!" shrieked Hugenot, overturning the blanchisseuse in his way, and rushing from the house.
"We have not the money!" cried the whole Colony in chorus; and, as if by concert, the company in mass, male and female, cleared the threshold and disappeared, headed by Andy Plade, who kept all the subscriptions in his pockets, and terminated by Freckle, who was caught at the base of the stairs and held for security.
THE COLONY DISBANDED.
The Colony, as a body, will appear no more in this transcript. The greatness of their misfortune kept them asunder. They closed their chamber-doors, and waited in hunger and sorrow for the moment when the sky should be their shelter and beggary their craft.
It was in this hour of ruin that the genius of Mr. Auburn Risque was manifest. The horse is always sure of a proprietor, and with horses Mr. Risque was more at home than with men.
"Man is ungrateful," soliloquized Risque, keeping along the Rue Mouffetard in the Chiffoniers' Quarter; "a horse is invariably faithful, unless he happens to be a mule. Confound men! the only excellence they have is not a virtue—they can play cards!"
Here he turned to the left, followed some narrow thoroughfares, and stopped at the great horse market, a scene familiarized to Americans, in its general features, by Rosa Bonheur's "La Foire du Chevaux."
Double rows of stalls enclosed a trotting course, roughly paved, and there was an artificial hill on one side, where draught-horses were tested. The animals were gayly caparisoned, whisks of straw affixed to the tails indicating those for sale; their manes and forelocks were plaited, ribbons streamed over their frontlets, they were muzzled and wore wooden bits.
We have no kindred exhibition in the States, so picturesque and so animated. Boors in blouses were galloping the great-hoofed beasts down the course by fours and sixes; the ribbons and manes fluttered; the whips cracked, and the owners hallooed in patois.
Four fifths of French horses are gray; here, there was scarcely one exception; and the rule extended to the asses which moved amid hundreds of braying mulets, while at the farther end of the ground the teams were parked, and, near by, seller and buyer, book in hand, were chaffering and smoking in shrewd good-humor.
One man was collecting animals for a celebrated stage-route, and the gamester saw that he was a novice.
"Do you choose that for a good horse?" spoke up Risque, in his practical way, when the man had set aside a fine, sinewy draught stallion.
"I do!" said the man, shortly.
"Then you have no eye. He has a bad strain. I can lift all his feet but this one. See! he kicks if I touch it. Walk him now, and you will remark that it tells on his pace."
The man was convinced and pleased. "You are a judge," he said, glancing down Risque's dilapidated dress; "I will make it worth something to you to remain here during the day and assist me."
The imperturbable gamester became a feature of the sale. He was the best rider on the ground. He put his hard, freckled hand into the jaws of stallions, and cowed the wickedest mule with his spotted eye. He knew prices as well as values, and had, withal, a dashing way of bargaining, which baffled the traders and amused his patron.
"You have saved me much money and many mistakes," said the latter, at nightfall. "Who are you?"
"I am the man," answered Risque, straightforwardly, "to work on your stage-line, and I am dead broke."
The man invited Risque to dinner; they rode together on the Champs Elysees; and next morning at daylight the gamester left Paris without a thought or a farewell for the Colony.
It was in the Grand Hotel that Messrs. Hugenot and Plade met by chance the evening succeeding the dinner.
"I shall leave Paris, Andy," said Hugenot, regarding his pumps through his eye-glass. "My ancestry would blush in their coffins if they knew ou-ah cause to be represented by such individuals as those of last evening."
"Let us go together," replied Plade, in his plausible way; "you cannot speak a word of any continental language. Take me along as courier and companion; pay my travelling expenses, and I will pay my own board."
"Can I trust you, Suth Kurlinian?" said Hugenot, irresolutely; "you had no money yesterday."
"But I have a plan of raising a thousand francs to-day. What say you?"
"My family have been wont to see the evidence prior to committing themselves. First show me the specie."
"Voila!" cried Plade, counting out forty louis; "the day after to-morrow I guarantee to own eighteen hundred francs."
It did not occur to Mr. Hugenot to inquire how his friend came to possess so much money; for Hugenot was not a clever man, and somewhat in dread of Andy Plade, who, as his school-mate, had thrashed him repeatedly, and even now that one had grown rich and the other was a vagabond, the latter's strong will and keen, bad intelligence made him the master man.
Hugenot's good fortune was accidental; his cargoes had passed the blockade and given handsome returns; but he shared none of the dangers, and the traffic required no particular skill. Hugenot was, briefly, a favorite of circumstances. The war-wind, which had toppled down many a long, thoughtful head, carried this inflated person to greatness.
They are well contrasted, now that they speak. The merchant, elaborately dressed, varnished pumps upon his effeminate feet, every hair taught its curve and direction, the lunette perched upon no nose to speak of, and the wavering, vacillating eye, which has no higher regard than his own miniature figure. Above rises the vagabond, straight, athletic and courageous, though a knave.
He is so much of a man physically and intellectually, that we do not see his faded coat-collar, frayed cuffs, worn buttons, and untidy boots. He is so little of a man morally, that, to any observer who looks twice, the plausibility of the face will fail to deceive. The eye is deep and direct, but the high, jutting forehead above is like a table of stone, bearing the ten broken commandments. He keeps the lips ajar in a smile, or shut in a resolve, to hide their sensuality, and the fine black beard conceals the massive contour of jaws which are cruel as hunger.
It was strange that Plade, with his clear conception, should do less than despise his acquaintance. On the contrary, he was partial to Hugenot's society. The world asked, wonderingly, what capacities had the latter? Was he not obtuse, sounding, shallow? Mr. Plade alone, of all the Americans in Paris, asserted from the first that Hugenot was far-sighted, close, capable. Indeed, he was so earnest in this enunciation that few thought him disinterested.
* * * * *
It was Master Simp who heard a bold step on the stairs that night, and a resolute knock upon his own door.
"Arrest for debt!" cried Mr. Simp, falling tearfully upon his bed; "I have expected the summons all day."
"The next man may come upon that errand," answered the ringing voice of Andy Plade. "Freckle sleeps in Clichy to-night; Risque cannot be found; the rest are as badly off; I have news for you."
"I am the man to be mocked," pleaded Simp; "but you must laugh at your own joke; I am too wretched to help you."
"The Yankees have opened the Mississippi River; Louisiana is subjugated, and communication re-established with your neighborhood; you can go home."
"What fraction of the way will this carry me?" said the other, holding up a five-franc piece. "My home is farther than the stars from me."
"It is a little sum," urged Mr. Plade; "one hundred dollars should pay the whole passage."
Mr. Simp, in response, mimicked a man shovelling gold pieces, but was too weak to prolong the pleasantry, and sat down on his empty trunk and wept, as Plade thought, like a calf.
"Your case seems indeed hopeless," said the elder. "Suppose I should borrow five hundred dollars on your credit, would you give me two hundred for my trouble?"
Mr. Simp said, bitterly, that he would give four hundred and ninety-five dollars for five; but Plade pressed for a direct answer to his original proffer, and Simp cried "Yes," with an oath.
"Then listen to me! there is no reason to doubt that your neighbors have made full crops for two years—cotton, sugar, tobacco. All this remains at home unsold and unshipped—yours with the rest. Take the oath of allegiance to the Yankee Government before its charge des affaires in Paris. That will save your crops from confiscation, and be your passport to return. Then write to your former banker here, promising to consign your cotton to him, if he will advance five hundred dollars to take you to Louisiana. He knows you received of old ten thousand dollars per annum. He will risk so small a sum for a thing so plausible and profitable."
"I don't know what you have been saying," muttered Simp. "I cannot comprehend a scheme so intricate; you bewilder me! What is a consignment? How am I, bigad! to make that clear in a letter? Perhaps my speech in the case of Rutledge vs. Pinckney might come in well at this juncture."
"Write!" cried Plade, contemptuously; "write at my dictation."
That night the letter was mailed; Mr. Simp was summoned to his banker's the following noon, and at dusk he met Andy Plade in the Place Vendome, and paid over a thousand francs with a sigh.
On the third night succeeding, Messrs. Plade and Hugenot were smoking their cigars at Nice, and Mr. Simp, without the least idea of what he meant to do, was drinking cocktails on the Atlantic Ocean.
* * * * *
"Francine," said Pisgah, with a woful glance at the dregs of absinthe in the tumbler, "give me a half franc, my dear; I am poorly to-day."
"Monsieur Pisgah," answered Madame Francine, "give me nine hundred and sixty-five francs, seventy-five centimes—that is your bill with me—and I am poorly also."
"My love," said Pisgah, rubbing his grizzled beard against the madame's fat cheek, "you are not hard-hearted. You will pity the poor old exile. I love you very much, Francine."
"Stand off!" cried the madame; "vous m'embate! You say you love me; then marry me!"
"Nonsense, my angel!"
"I say marry me!" repeated the madame, stamping her foot. "You are rich in America. You have slaves and land and houses and fine relatives. You will get all these when the war closes; but if you die of starvation in Paris, they amount to nothing. Marry me! I will keep you alive here; you will give me half of your possessions there! I shall be a grand lady, ride in my carriage, and have a nasty black woman to wash my fine clothes."
"That is impossible, Francine," answered Pisgah, not so utterly degraded but he felt the stigma of such a proposition from his blanchisseuse—and as he leaned his faded hairs upon his unnerved and quivering hands, the old pride fluttered in his heart a moment and painted rage upon his neck and temples.
"You are insulted, my lord count!" cried Madame Francine; "an alliance with a poor washerwoman would shame your great kin. Pay me my money, you beggar! or I shall put the fine gentleman in prison for debt."
"That would be a kindness to me, madame," said Pisgah, very humbly and piteously.
"You are right," she made answer, with a mocking laugh; "I will not save your life: you shall starve, sir! you shall starve!"
In truth, this consummation seemed very close, for as Pisgah entered his creamery soon afterward, the proprietor met him at the threshold.
"Monsieur Pisgah," he said, "you can have nothing to eat here, until you pay a part of your bill with me; I am a poor man, sir, and have children."
Pisgah kept up the street with heavy forebodings, and turned into the place of a clothes-merchant, to whom his face had long been familiar. When he emerged, his handsome habits, the gift of Madame Francine, hung in the clothes-dealer's window, and Mr. Pisgah, wearing a common blouse, a cap, and coarse hide shoes, repaired to the nearest wine-shop, and drank a dead man's portion of absinthe at the zinc counter. Then he returned to his own hotel, but as he reached to the rack for his key, the landlady laid her hand upon it and shook her head.
"You are properly dressed, Monsieur Pisgah," she said; "those who have no money should work; you cannot sleep in twenty-six to night, sir; I have shut up the chamber, and seized the little rubbish which you left."
Pisgah was homeless—a vagabond, an outcast. He walked unsteadily along the street in the pleasant evening, and the film of tears that shut the world from his eyes was peopled with far-off and familiar scenes.
He saw his father's wide acres, with the sunset gilding the fleeces of his sheep and crowning with fire the stacks of grain and the vanes upon his granges. Then the twilight fell, and the slaves went homeward singing, while the logs on the brass andirons lit up the windows of the mansion, and every negro cabin was luminous, so that in the night the homestead looked like a village. Then the moon rose above the woods, making the lawn frosty, and shining upon the long porch, where his mother came out to welcome him, attended by the two house-dogs, which barked so loudly in their glee that all the hen-coops were alarmed, and the peacocks in the trees held their tails to the stars and trilled.
"Come in, my son," said the mother, looking proudly upon the tall, straight shape and glossy locks; "the supper is smoking upon the table; here is your familiar julep, without which you have no appetite; the Maryland biscuit are unusually good this evening, and there is the yellow pone in the corner, with Sukey, your old nurse, behind it. Do you like much cream in your coffee, as you used to? Bless me! the partridge is plump as a duck; but here is your napkin, embroidered with your name; let us ask a blessing before we eat!"
While all this is going on, the cat, which has been purring by the fire, takes a wicked notion to frighten the canary bird, but the high old clock in the corner, imported from England before the celebrated Revolutionary war, impresses the cat as a very formidable object with its stately stride-stride-stride—so that the cat regarding it a moment, forgets the canary bird, and mews for a small portion of cream in a saucer.
"Halloo! halloo!" says the parrot, awakened by a leap of the fire; for, the back-log has broken in half, and Pisgah sees, by the increased light, the very hair-powder gleam on the portrait of General Washington. But now the cloth is removed, and the old-fashioned table folds up its leaves; they sip some remarkable sherry, which grandfather regards with a wheezy sort of laugh, and after they have played one game of draughts, Mr. Pisgah looks at his gold chronometer, and asks if he has still the great room above the porch and plenty of bedclothes.
This is what Mr. Pisgah sees upon the film of his tears—wealth, happiness, manliness! When he dashes the tears themselves to the pavement with an oath, what rises upon his eye and his heart? Paris—grand, luxurious, pitiless, and he, at twilight, flung upon the world, with neither kindred nor country—a thing unwilling to live, unfit to die!
He strolled along the quay to the Morgue; the beautiful water of St. Michel fell sibilantly cold from the fountain, and Apollyon above, at the feet of the avenging angel, seemed a sermon and an allegory of his own prostration. How all the folks upon the bridge were stony faced! It had never before occurred to him that men were cold-blooded creatures. He wondered if the Seine, dashing against the quays and piers beneath, were not their proper element? Ay! for here were three drowned people on the icy slabs of the Morgue, with half a hundred gazing wistfully at them, and their fixed eyes glaring fishily at the skylight, as if it were the surface of the river and they were at rest below.
So seemed all the landscape as he kept down the quay—the lines of high houses were ridges only in the sea, and Notre Dame, lifting its towers and sculptured facade before, was merely a high-decked ship, with sailors crowding astern. The holy apostles above the portal were more like human men than ever, with their silicious eyes and pulseless bosoms; while the hideous gargoyles at the base of each crocheted pinnacle, seemed swimming in the dusky evening.
It may have been that this aqueous phenomenon was natural to one "half-seas over;" but not till he stood on the place of the Hotel de la Ville, did Pisgah have any consciousness whatever that he walked upon the solid world.
At this moment he was reminded, also, that he held a letter in his hand, his landlady's gift at parting; it was dated, "Clichy dungeon," and signed by Mr. Freckle.
"Dear Pisgah," read the text, "I am here at claim of restaurateur; shall die to-morrow at or before twelve o'clock, if Andy Plade don't fork over my subscription of two hundred francs. Andy Plade damned knave—no mistake! No living soul been to see me, except letter from Hon. Mr. Slidell. He has got sixteen thousand dollars in specie for Simp. Where's Simp, dogorn him! Hon. S. sent to Simp's house; understood he'd sailed for America. Requested Hon. S. to give me small part of money as Simp's next friend. Hon. S. declined. Population of prison very great. Damned scrub stock! Don't object to imprisonment as much as the fleas. Fleas bent on aiding my escape. If they crawl with me to-morrow night as far again as last night I'll be clear—no mistake! Live on soup, chiefly. Abhor soup. Had forty francs here first day, but debtor with one boot and spectacles won it at picquet. Restaurateur says bound to keep me here a thousand years if I don't sock—shall die—no mistake! Come see me, toute suite. Fetch pocket-comb, soap, and English Bible.
"Yours, in deep waters, FRECKLE."
"The whole world is in deep waters," said Pisgah, dismally. "So much the better for them; here goes for something stronger!"
He repaired to the nearest drinking-saloon, and demanded a glass brimful of absinthe, at which all the garcons and patrons held up their hands while he drank it to the dregs.
"Sacristie!" cried a man with mouth wide open, "that gentleman can drink clear laudanum."
"I wish," thought Pisgah, with a pale face, "that it had been laudanum; I should have been dead by this time and all over. Why don't I get the delirium tremens? I should like to be crazy. Oh, ho, ho, ho!" he continued, laughing wildly, "to be in a hospital—nurses, soft bed, good food, pity—oh, ho! that would be a fate fit for an emperor."
Here his eye caught something across the way which riveted it, and he took half a step forward, exultingly. A great caserne, or barrack, adjoined the Hotel de Ville, and twice every day, after breakfast and dinner, the soldiers within distributed the surplus of their rations to mendicants without. The latter were already assembling—laborers in neat, common clothing, with idlers and profligates not more forbidding, while a soldier on guard directed them where to rest and in what order or number to enter the building. Pisgah halted a moment with his heart in his throat. But he was very hungry, and his silver was half gone already; if he purchased a dinner, he might not be left with sufficient to obtain a bed for the night.
"Great God!" he said aloud, lifting his clenched hands and swollen eyes to the stars, "am I, then, among the very dogs, that I should beg the crumbs of a common soldier?"
He took his place in the line, and when at length his turn was announced, followed the rabble shamefacedly. The chasseurs in the mess-room were making merry after dinner with pipes and cards, and one of these, giving Pisgah a piece of bread and a tin basin of strong soup, slapped him smartly upon the shoulder, and cried:
"My fine fellow! you have the stuff in you for a soldier."
"I am just getting a soldier's stuff into me," responded Pisgah, antithetically.
"Why do you go abroad, hungry, ill-dressed, and houseless, when you can wear the livery of France?"
Pisgah thought the soldier a very presuming person.
"I am a foreigner," he said, "a—a—a French Canadian (we speak patois there). My troubles are temporary merely. A day or two may make me rich."
"Yet for that day or two," continued the chasseur, "you will have the humiliation of begging your bread. What signifies seven years of honorable service to three days of mendicancy and distress? We are well cared for by the nation; we are respected over the world. It is a mean thing to be a soldier in other lands; here we are the gentlemen of France."
Pisgah had never looked upon it in that light, and said so.
"Your poverty may have unmanned you," repeated the other; "to recover your own esteem do a manly act! We have all feared death as citizens; but take cold steel in your hand, and you can look into your grave without a qualm. I say to you," spoke the chasseur, clearly and eloquently, "be one of us. Decide now, before a doubt mars your better resolve! You are a young man, though the soulless career of a citizen has anticipated the whitening of your hairs. Plant your foot; throw back your shoulders; say 'yes!'"
"I do!" cried Pisgah, with something of the other's enthusiasm; "I was born a gentleman, I will die a gentleman, or a soldier."
They put Mr. Pisgah among the conscripts recently levied, and he went about town with a fictitious number in his hat, joining in their bacchanal choruses. The next day he appeared in white duck jacket and pantaloons, looking like an overgrown baker's boy, with a chapeau like a flat, burnt loaf. He was then put through the manual, which seemed to indicate all possible motions save that of liquoring up, and when he was so fatigued that he had not the energy even to fall down, he was clasped in the arms of Madame Francine, who had traced him to the barracks, but was too late to avert his destiny.
"Oh! mon amant!" she cried, falling upon his neck. "Why did you go and do it? You knew that I did not mean to see you starve."
"You have consigned me to a soldier's grave, woman!" answered Pisgah, in the deepest tragedy tone.
"Do not say so, my bonbon!" pleaded the good lady, covering him with kisses. "I would have worn my hands to the bone to save you from this dreadful life. Suppose you should be sent to Algiers or Mexico, or some other heathen country, and die there."
It was Pisgah's turn to be touched.
"My blood is upon your head, Francine! Have you any money?"
"Yes, yes! a gentleman, a noir, a naigre, for whom I have washed, paid me fifty francs this evening. It is all here; take it, my love!"
"I do not know, creature! that your conduct permits me to do so," said Pisgah, drawing back.
"You will drive me mad if you refuse," shrieked the blanchisseuse. "Oh! oh! how wicked and wretched am I!"
"Enough, madame! step over the way for my habitual glass of absinthe. Be particular about the change. We military men must be careful of our incomes. Stay! you may embrace me if you like."
The poor woman came every day to the barracks, bringing some trifle of food or clothing. She washed his regimentals, burnished his buckles and boots, paid his losses at cards, and bought him books and tobacco. She could never persuade herself that Pisgah was not her victim, and he found it useful to humor the notion.
Down in the swift Seine, at her booth in the great lavatory, where the ice rushed by and the rain beat in, she thought of Pisgah as she toiled; and though her back ached and her hands were flayed, she never wondered if her lot were not the most pitiable, and his in part deserved.
How often should we hard, selfish men, thank God for the weaknesses of women!
THE MURDER ON THE ALPS.
And so, with Mr. Pisgah on the road to glory, Mr. Simp on the smooth sea, Mr. Freckle in the debtor's jail, Mr. Risque behind his four-in-hand, and Mr. Lees in the charity grave, let us sit with the two remaining colonists in the cabriolet at Bellinzona; for it is the month of April, and they are to cross the great St. Gothard en route for Paris. Here is the scene: a gloomy stone building for the diligence company; two great yellow diligences, empty and unharnessed in the area before; one other diligence, packed full, with the horses' heads turned northward, and the blue-nosed Swiss clerk calling out the names of passengers; a half-dozen cabriolets looking at each other irresolutely and facing all possible ways; two score of unwashed loungers, in red neck-kerchiefs and velvet jackets, smoking rank, rakish, black cigars; several streets of equal crookedness and filthiness abutting against a grimy church, whence beggars, old women, and priests emerge continually; and far above all, as if suspended in the air, a grim, battlemented castle, a defence, as it seems, against the snowy mountains which march upon Bellinzona from every side to crush its orchards and vineyards and drown it in the marshes of Lago Maggiore.
"Diligenza compito!" cries the clerk, moving toward the waiting cabriolet—"Signore Hugenoto."
"Here!" replies a small, consequential-looking person, reconnoitring the interior of the vehicle.
"Le Signore Plaedo!"
"Ci," responds a dark, erect gentleman, striding forward and saying, in clear Italian, "Are there no other passengers?"
"None," answered the clerk; "you will have a good time together; please remember the guard!"
The guard, however, was in advance, a tall person, wrapped to the eyes in fur, wearing a silver bugle in front of his cap, and covered with buff breeches.
He flourished his whip like a fencing-master, moved in a cloud of cigar-smoke, and, as he placed his bare hand upon the manes of his horses, they reined back, as if it burned or frosted them.
"My ancestry," says the small gentleman, "encourage no imposition. Shall we give the fellow a franc?"
The other had already given double the sum, and it was odd, now that one looked at him, how pale and hard had grown his features.
"God bless me, Andy!" cries the little person, stopping short; "you have not had your breakfast to-day; apply my smelling-bottle to your nose; you are sick, man!"
"Thank you," says the other, "I prefer brandy; I am only glad that we are quite alone."
The paleness faded out of his cheeks as he drank deeply of the spirits, but the jaws were set hard, and the eyes looked stony and pitiless. The man was ailing beyond all doubt.
The whip cracked in front; the great diligence started with a groan and a crackling of joints; the little postilion set the cabriolet going with a chirp and a whistle; the priests and idlers looked up excitedly; the women rushed to the windows to flutter their handkerchiefs, and all the beggars gave sturdy chase, dropping benedictions and damnations as they went.