Transcriber's Notes: SO_3HO = 3 is subscripted ū = macron above "u"
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GEORGE W. CABLE'S WRITINGS
BONAVENTURE. A Prose Pastoral of Arcadian Louisiana. 12mo, $1.25. DR. SEVIER. 12mo, $1.25. THE GRANDISSIMES. A Story of Creole Life. 12mo, $1.25. OLD CREOLE DAYS. 12mo, $1.25. STRANGE TRUE STORIES OF LOUISIANA. Illustrated. 12mo, $2.00. *** New Uniform Edition of the above five volumes, cloth, in a box, $6.00.
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JOHN MARCH, SOUTHERNER, 12mo, $1.50. OLD CREOLE DAYS. Cameo Edition with Etching, $1.25. OLD CREOLE DAYS. 2 vols. 16mo, paper, each 30 cts. MADAME DELPHINE. 75 cts. THE CREOLES OF LOUISIANA. Illus. Small 4to, $2.50. THE SILENT SOUTH. 12mo, $1.00.
BY GEORGE W. CABLE
AUTHOR OF "OLD CREOLE DAYS," "THE GRANDISSIMES," "MADAME DELPHINE," ETC.
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1897
Copyright, 1883 and 1884 BY GEORGE W. CABLE
All rights reserved
TROW'S PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY, NEW YORK.
TO MY FRIEND MARION A. BAKER
Chapter Page I.—The Doctor 5 II.—A Young Stranger 10 III.—His Wife 17 IV.—Convalescence and Acquaintance 22 V.—Hard Questions 29 VI.—Nesting 34 VII.—Disappearance 45 VIII.—A Question of Book-keeping 52 IX.—When the Wind Blows 61 X.—Gentles and Commons 66 XI.—A Pantomime 73 XII.—"She's all the World" 81 XIII.—The Bough Breaks 87 XIV.—Hard Speeches and High Temper 94 XV.—The Cradle Falls 99 XVI.—Many Waters 107 XVII.—Raphael Ristofalo 118 XVIII.—How He Did It 127 XIX.—Another Patient 134 XX.—Alice 138 XXI.—The Sun at Midnight 142 XXII.—Borrower Turned Lender 160 XXIII.—Wear and Tear 169 XXIV.—Brought to Bay 177 XXV.—The Doctor Dines Out 184 XXVI.—The Trough of the Sea 194 XXVII.—Out of the Frying-Pan 207 XXVIII.—"Oh, where is my Love?" 215 XXIX.—Release.—Narcisse 224 XXX.—Lighting Ship 233 XXXI.—At Last 243 XXXII.—A Rising Star 248 XXXIII.—Bees, Wasps, and Butterflies 258 XXXIV.—Toward the Zenith 262 XXXV.—To Sigh, yet Feel no Pain 268 XXXVI.—What Name? 275 XXXVII.—Pestilence 280 XXXVIII.—"I must be Cruel only to be Kind" 286 XXXIX.—"Pettent Prate" 294 XL.—Sweet Bells Jangled 300 XLI.—Mirage 310 XLII.—Ristofalo and the Rector 317 XLIII.—Shall she Come or Stay? 324 XLIV.—What would you Do? 329 XLV.—Narcisse with News 335 XLVI.—A Prison Memento 340 XLVII.—Now I Lay Me— 345 XLVIII.—Rise up, my Love, my Fair One! 351 XLIX.—A Bundle of Hopes 357 L.—Fall In! 366 LI.—Blue Bonnets over the Border 372 LII.—A Pass through the Lines 378 LIII.—Try Again 384 LIV.—"Who Goes There?" 394 LV.—Dixie 412 LVI.—Fire and Sword 425 LVII.—Almost in Sight 435 LVIII.—A Golden Sunset 445 LIX.—Afterglow 454 LX.—"Yet shall he live" 465 LXI.—Peace 470
The main road to wealth in New Orleans has long been Carondelet street. There you see the most alert faces; noses—it seems to one—with more and sharper edge, and eyes smaller and brighter and with less distance between them than one notices in other streets. It is there that the stock and bond brokers hurry to and fro and run together promiscuously—the cunning and the simple, the headlong and the wary—at the four clanging strokes of the Stock Exchange gong. There rises the tall facade of the Cotton Exchange. Looking in from the sidewalk as you pass, you see its main hall, thronged but decorous, the quiet engine-room of the surrounding city's most far-reaching occupation, and at the hall's farther end you descry the "Future Room," and hear the unearthly ramping and bellowing of the bulls and bears. Up and down the street, on either hand, are the ship-brokers and insurers, and in the upper stories foreign consuls among a multitude of lawyers and notaries.
In 1856 this street was just assuming its present character. The cotton merchants were making it their favorite place of commercial domicile. The open thoroughfare served in lieu of the present exchanges; men made fortunes standing on the curb-stone, and during bank hours the sidewalks were perpetually crowded with cotton factors, buyers, brokers, weighers, reweighers, classers, pickers, pressers, and samplers, and the air was laden with cotton quotations and prognostications.
Number 3-1/2, second floor, front, was the office of Dr. Sevier. This office was convenient to everything. Immediately under its windows lay the sidewalks where congregated the men who, of all in New Orleans, could best afford to pay for being sick, and least desired to die. Canal street, the city's leading artery, was just below, at the near left-hand corner. Beyond it lay the older town, not yet impoverished in those days,—the French quarter. A single square and a half off at the right, and in plain view from the front windows, shone the dazzling white walls of the St. Charles Hotel, where the nabobs of the river plantations came and dwelt with their fair-handed wives in seasons of peculiar anticipation, when it is well to be near the highest medical skill. In the opposite direction a three minutes' quick drive around the upper corner and down Common street carried the Doctor to his ward in the great Charity Hospital, and to the school of medicine, where he filled the chair set apart to the holy ailments of maternity. Thus, as it were, he laid his left hand on the rich and his right on the poor; and he was not left-handed.
Not that his usual attitude was one of benediction. He stood straight up in his austere pure-mindedness, tall, slender, pale, sharp of voice, keen of glance, stern in judgment, aggressive in debate, and fixedly untender everywhere, except—but always except—in the sick chamber. His inner heart was all of flesh; but his demands for the rectitude of mankind pointed out like the muzzles of cannon through the embrasures of his virtues. To demolish evil!—that seemed the finest of aims; and even as a physician, that was, most likely, his motive until later years and a better self-knowledge had taught him that to do good was still finer and better. He waged war—against malady. To fight; to stifle; to cut down; to uproot; to overwhelm;—these were his springs of action. That their results were good proved that his sentiment of benevolence was strong and high; but it was well-nigh shut out of sight by that impatience of evil which is very fine and knightly in youngest manhood, but which we like to see give way to kindlier moods as the earlier heat of the blood begins to pass.
He changed in later years; this was in 1856. To "resist not evil" seemed to him then only a rather feeble sort of knavery. To face it in its nakedness, and to inveigh against it in high places and low, seemed the consummation of all manliness; and manliness was the key-note of his creed. There was no other necessity in this life.
"But a man must live," said one of his kindred, to whom, truth to tell, he had refused assistance.
"No, sir; that is just what he can't do. A man must die! So, while he lives, let him be a man!"
How inharmonious a setting, then, for Dr. Sevier, was 3-1/2 Carondelet street! As he drove, each morning, down to that point, he had to pass through long, irregular files of fellow-beings thronging either sidewalk,—a sadly unchivalric grouping of men whose daily and yearly life was subordinated only and entirely to the getting of wealth, and whose every eager motion was a repetition of the sinister old maxim that "Time is money."
"It's a great deal more, sir; it's life!" the Doctor always retorted.
Among these groups, moreover, were many who were all too well famed for illegitimate fortune. Many occupations connected with the handling of cotton yielded big harvests in perquisites. At every jog of the Doctor's horse, men came to view whose riches were the outcome of semi-respectable larceny. It was a day of reckless operation; much of the commerce that came to New Orleans was simply, as one might say, beached in Carondelet street. The sight used to keep the long, thin, keen-eyed doctor in perpetual indignation.
"Look at the wreckers!" he would say.
It was breakfast at eight, indignation at nine, dyspepsia at ten.
So his setting was not merely inharmonious; it was damaging. He grew sore on the whole matter of money-getting.
"Yes, I have money. But I don't go after it. It comes to me, because I seek and render service for the service's sake. It will come to anybody else the same way; and why should it come any other way?"
He not only had a low regard for the motives of most seekers of wealth; he went further, and fell into much disbelief of poor men's needs. For instance, he looked upon a man's inability to find employment, or upon a poor fellow's run of bad luck, as upon the placarded woes of a hurdy-gurdy beggar.
"If he wants work he will find it. As for begging, it ought to be easier for any true man to starve than to beg."
The sentiment was ungentle, but it came from the bottom of his belief concerning himself, and a longing for moral greatness in all men.
"However," he would add, thrusting his hand into his pocket and bringing out his purse, "I'll help any man to make himself useful. And the sick—well, the sick, as a matter of course. Only I must know what I'm doing."
Have some of us known Want? To have known her—though to love her was impossible—is "a liberal education." The Doctor was learned; but this acquaintanceship, this education, he had never got. Hence his untenderness. Shall we condemn the fault? Yes. And the man? We have not the face. To be just, which he never knowingly failed to be, and at the same time to feel tenderly for the unworthy, to deal kindly with the erring,—it is a double grace that hangs not always in easy reach even of the tallest. The Doctor attained to it—but in later years; meantime, this story—which, I believe, had he ever been poor would never have been written.
A YOUNG STRANGER.
In 1856 New Orleans was in the midst of the darkest ten years of her history. Yet she was full of new-comers from all parts of the commercial world,—strangers seeking livelihood. The ravages of cholera and yellow-fever, far from keeping them away, seemed actually to draw them. In the three years 1853, '54, and '55, the cemeteries had received over thirty-five thousand dead; yet here, in 1856, besides shiploads of European immigrants, came hundreds of unacclimated youths, from all parts of the United States, to fill the wide gaps which they imagined had been made in the ranks of the great exporting city's clerking force.
Upon these pilgrims Dr. Sevier cast an eye full of interest, and often of compassion hidden under outward impatience. "Who wants to see," he would demand, "men—and women—increasing the risks of this uncertain life?" But he was also full of respect for them. There was a certain nobility rightly attributable to emigration itself in the abstract. It was the cutting loose from friends and aid,—those sweet-named temptations,—and the going forth into self-appointed exile and into dangers known and unknown, trusting to the help of one's own right hand to exchange honest toil for honest bread and raiment. His eyes kindled to see the goodly, broad, red-cheeked fellows. Sometimes, though, he saw women, and sometimes tender women, by their side; and that sight touched the pathetic chord of his heart with a rude twangle that vexed him.
It was on a certain bright, cool morning early in October that, as he drove down Carondelet street toward his office, and one of those little white omnibuses of the old Apollo-street line, crowding in before his carriage, had compelled his driver to draw close in by the curb-stone and slacken speed to a walk, his attention chanced to fall upon a young man of attractive appearance, glancing stranger-wise and eagerly at signs and entrances while he moved down the street. Twice, in the moment of the Doctor's enforced delay, he noticed the young stranger make inquiry of the street's more accustomed frequenters, and that in each case he was directed farther on. But, the way opened, the Doctor's horse switched his tail and was off, the stranger was left behind, and the next moment the Doctor stepped across the sidewalk and went up the stairs of Number 3-1/2 to his office. Something told him—we are apt to fall into thought on a stair-way—that the stranger was looking for a physician.
He had barely disposed of the three or four waiting messengers that arose from their chairs against the corridor wall, and was still reading the anxious lines left in various handwritings on his slate, when the young man entered. He was of fair height, slenderly built, with soft auburn hair, a little untrimmed, neat dress, and a diffident, yet expectant and courageous, face.
"Doctor, my wife is very ill; can I get you to come at once and see her?"
"Who is her physician?"
"I have not called any; but we must have one now."
"I don't know about going at once. This is my hour for being in the office. How far is it, and what's the trouble?"
"We are only three squares away, just here in Custom-house street." The speaker began to add a faltering enumeration of some very grave symptoms. The Doctor noticed that he was slightly deaf; he uttered his words as though he did not hear them.
"Yes," interrupted Dr. Sevier, speaking half to himself as he turned around to a standing case of cruel-looking silver-plated things on shelves; "that's a small part of the penalty women pay for the doubtful honor of being our mothers. I'll go. What is your number? But you had better drive back with me if you can." He drew back from the glass case, shut the door, and took his hat.
On the side of the office nearest the corridor a door let into a hall-room that afforded merely good space for the furniture needed by a single accountant. The Doctor had other interests besides those of his profession, and, taking them altogether, found it necessary, or at least convenient, to employ continuously the services of a person to keep his accounts and collect his bills. Through the open door the book-keeper could be seen sitting on a high stool at a still higher desk,—a young man of handsome profile and well-knit form. At the call of his name he unwound his legs from the rounds of the stool and leaped into the Doctor's presence with a superlatively high-bred bow.
"I shall be back in fifteen minutes," said the Doctor. "Come, Mr. ——," and went out with the stranger.
Narcisse had intended to speak. He stood a moment, then lifted the last half inch of a cigarette to his lips, took a long, meditative inhalation, turned half round on his heel, dashed the remnant with fierce emphasis into a spittoon, ejected two long streams of smoke from his nostrils, and extending his fist toward the door by which the Doctor had gone out, said:—
"All right, ole hoss!" No, not that way. It is hard to give his pronunciation by letter. In the word "right" he substituted an a for the r, sounding it almost in the same instant with the i, yet distinct from it: "All a-ight, ole hoss!"
Then he walked slowly back to his desk, with that feeling of relief which some men find in the renewal of a promissory note, twined his legs again among those of the stool, and, adding not a word, resumed his pen.
The Doctor's carriage was hurrying across Canal street.
"Dr. Sevier," said the physician's companion, "I don't know what your charges are"—
"The highest," said the Doctor, whose dyspepsia was gnawing him just then with fine energy. The curt reply struck fire upon the young man.
"I don't propose to drive a bargain, Dr. Sevier!" He flushed angrily after he had spoken, breathed with compressed lips, and winked savagely, with the sort of indignation that school-boys show to a harsh master.
The physician answered with better self-control.
"What do you propose?"
"I was going to propose—being a stranger to you, sir—to pay in advance." The announcement was made with a tremulous, but triumphant, hauteur, as though it must cover the physician with mortification. The speaker stretched out a rather long leg, and, drawing a pocket-book, produced a twenty-dollar piece.
The Doctor looked full in his face with impatient surprise, then turned his eyes away again as if he restrained himself, and said, in a subdued tone:—
"I would rather you had haggled about the price."
"I don't hear"—said the other, turning his ear.
The Doctor waved his hand:—
"Put that up, if you please."
The young stranger was disconcerted. He remained silent for a moment, wearing a look of impatient embarrassment. He still extended the piece, turning it over and over with his thumb-nail as it lay on his fingers.
"You don't know me, Doctor," he said. He got another cruel answer.
"We're getting acquainted," replied the physician.
The victim of the sarcasm bit his lip, and protested, by an unconscious, sidewise jerk of the chin:—
"I wish you'd"—and he turned the coin again.
The physician dropped an eagle's stare on the gold.
"I don't practise medicine on those principles."
"But, Doctor," insisted the other, appeasingly, "you can make an exception if you will. Reasons are better than rules, my old professor used to say. I am here without friends, or letters, or credentials of any sort; this is the only recommendation I can offer."
"Don't recommend you at all; anybody can do that."
The stranger breathed a sigh of overtasked patience, smiled with a baffled air, seemed once or twice about to speak, but doubtful what to say, and let his hand sink.
"Well, Doctor,"—he rested his elbow on his knee, gave the piece one more turn over, and tried to draw the physician's eye by a look of boyish pleasantness,—"I'll not ask you to take pay in advance, but I will ask you to take care of this money for me. Suppose I should lose it, or have it stolen from me, or—Doctor, it would be a real comfort to me if you would."
"I can't help that. I shall treat your wife, and then send in my bill." The Doctor folded arms and appeared to give attention to his driver. But at the same time he asked:—
"Not subject to epilepsy, eh?"
"No, sir!" The indignant shortness of the retort drew no sign of attention from the Doctor; he was silently asking himself what this nonsense meant. Was it drink, or gambling, or a confidence game? Or was it only vanity, or a mistake of inexperience? He turned his head unexpectedly, and gave the stranger's facial lines a quick, thorough examination. It startled them from a look of troubled meditation. The physician as quickly turned away again.
"Doctor," began the other, but added no more.
The physician was silent. He turned the matter over once more in his mind. The proposal was absurdly unbusiness-like. That his part in it might look ungenerous was nothing; so his actions were right, he rather liked them to bear a hideous aspect: that was his war-paint. There was that in the stranger's attitude that agreed fairly with his own theories of living. A fear of debt, for instance, if that was genuine it was good; and, beyond and better than that, a fear of money. He began to be more favorably impressed.
"Give it to me," he said, frowning; "mark you, this is your way,"—he dropped the gold into his vest-pocket,—"it isn't mine."
The young man laughed with visible relief, and rubbed his knee with his somewhat too delicate hand. The Doctor examined him again with a milder glance.
"I suppose you think you've got the principles of life all right, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," replied the other, taking his turn at folding arms.
"H-m-m! I dare say you do. What you lack is the practice." The Doctor sealed his utterance with a nod.
The young man showed amusement; more, it may be, than he felt, and presently pointed out his lodging-place.
"Here, on this side; Number 40;" and they alighted.
In former times the presence in New Orleans, during the cooler half of the year, of large numbers of mercantile men from all parts of the world, who did not accept the fever-plagued city as their permanent residence, made much business for the renters of furnished apartments. At the same time there was a class of persons whose residence was permanent, and to whom this letting of rooms fell by an easy and natural gravitation; and the most respectable and comfortable rented rooms of which the city could boast were those chambres garnies in Custom-house and Bienville streets, kept by worthy free or freed mulatto or quadroon women.
In 1856 the gala days of this half-caste people were quite over. Difference was made between virtue and vice, and the famous quadroon balls were shunned by those who aspired to respectability, whether their whiteness was nature or only toilet powder. Generations of domestic service under ladies of Gallic blood had brought many of them to a supreme pitch of excellence as housekeepers. In many cases money had been inherited; in other cases it had been saved up. That Latin feminine ability to hold an awkward position with impregnable serenity, and, like the yellow Mississippi, to give back no reflection from the overhanging sky, emphasized this superior fitness. That bright, womanly business ability that comes of the same blood added again to their excellence. Not to be home itself, nothing could be more like it than were the apartments let by Madame Cecile, or Madame Sophie, or Madame Athalie, or Madame Polyxene, or whatever the name might be.
It was in one of these houses, that presented its dull brick front directly upon the sidewalk of Custom-house street, with the unfailing little square sign of Chambres a louer (Rooms to let), dangling by a string from the overhanging balcony and twirling in the breeze, that the sick wife lay. A waiting slave-girl opened the door as the two men approached it, and both of them went directly upstairs and into a large, airy room. On a high, finely carved, and heavily hung mahogany bed, to which the remaining furniture corresponded in ancient style and massiveness, was stretched the form of a pale, sweet-faced little woman.
The proprietress of the house was sitting beside the bed,—a quadroon of good, kind face, forty-five years old or so, tall and broad. She rose and responded to the Doctor's silent bow with that pretty dignity of greeting which goes with all French blood, and remained standing. The invalid stirred.
The physician came forward to the bedside. The patient could not have been much over nineteen years of age. Her face was very pleasing; a trifle slender in outline; the brows somewhat square, not wide; the mouth small. She would not have been called beautiful, even in health, by those who lay stress on correctness of outlines. But she had one thing that to some is better. Whether it was in the dark blue eyes that were lifted to the Doctor's with a look which changed rapidly from inquiry to confidence, or in the fine, scarcely perceptible strands of pale-brown hair that played about her temples, he did not make out; but, for one cause or another, her face was of that kind which almost any one has seen once or twice, and no one has seen often,—that seems to give out a soft, but veritable, light.
She was very weak. Her eyes quickly dropped away from his, and turned wearily, but peacefully, to those of her husband.
The Doctor spoke to her. His greeting and gentle inquiry were full of a soothing quality that was new to the young man. His long fingers moved twice or thrice softly across her brow, pushing back the thin, waving strands, and then he sat down in a chair, continuing his kind, direct questions. The answers were all bad.
He turned his glance to the quadroon; she understood it; the patient was seriously ill. The nurse responded with a quiet look of comprehension. At the same time the Doctor disguised from the young strangers this interchange of meanings by an audible question to the quadroon.
"Have I ever met you before?"
"What is your name?"
"Madame Zenobie," softly whispered the invalid, turning her eyes, with a glimmer of feeble pleasantry, first to the quadroon and then to her husband.
The physician smiled at her an instant, and then gave a few concise directions to the quadroon. "Get me"—thus and so.
The woman went and came. She was a superior nurse, like so many of her race. So obvious, indeed, was this, that when she gently pressed the young husband an inch or two aside, and murmured that "de doctah" wanted him to "go h-out," he left the room, although he knew the physician had not so indicated.
By-and-by he returned, but only at her beckon, and remained at the bedside while Madame Zenobie led the Doctor into another room to write his prescription.
"Who are these people?" asked the physician, in an undertone, looking up at the quadroon, and pausing with the prescription half torn off.
She shrugged her large shoulders and smiled perplexedly.
"Mizzez—Reechin?" The tone was one of query rather than assertion. "Dey sesso," she added.
She might nurse the lady like a mother, but she was not going to be responsible for the genuineness of a stranger's name.
"Where are they from?"
"I dunno?—Some pless?—I nevva yeh dat nem biffo?"
She made a timid attempt at some word ending in "walk," and smiled, ready to accept possible ridicule.
"Milwaukee?" asked the Doctor.
She lifted her palm, smiled brightly, pushed him gently with the tip of one finger, and nodded. He had hit the nail on the head.
"What business is he in?"
The questioner arose.
She cast a sidelong glance at him with a slight enlargement of her eyes, and, compressing her lips, gave her head a little, decided shake. The young man was not employed.
"And has no money either, I suppose," said the physician, as they started again toward the sick-room.
She shrugged again and smiled; but it came to her mind that the Doctor might be considering his own interests, and she added, in a whisper:—
"Dey pay me."
She changed places with the husband, and the physician and he passed down the stairs together in silence.
"Well, Doctor?" said the young man, as he stood, prescription in hand, before the carriage-door.
"Well," responded the physician, "you should have called me sooner."
The look of agony that came into the stranger's face caused the Doctor instantly to repent his hard speech.
"You don't mean"—exclaimed the husband.
"No, no; I don't think it's too late. Get that prescription filled and give it to Mrs. ——"
"Richling," said the young man.
"Let her have perfect quiet," continued the Doctor. "I shall be back this evening."
And when he returned she had improved.
She was better again the next day, and the next; but on the fourth she was in a very critical state. She lay quite silent during the Doctor's visit, until he, thinking he read in her eyes a wish to say something to him alone, sent her husband and the quadroon out of the room on separate errands at the same moment. And immediately she exclaimed:—
"Doctor, save my life! You mustn't let me die! Save me, for my husband's sake! To lose all he's lost for me, and then to lose me too—save me, Doctor! save me!"
"I'm going to do it!" said he. "You shall get well!"
And what with his skill and her endurance it turned out so.
CONVALESCENCE AND ACQUAINTANCE.
A man's clothing is his defence; but with a woman all dress is adornment. Nature decrees it; adornment is her instinctive delight. And, above all, the adorning of a bride; it brings out so charmingly the meaning of the thing. Therein centres the gay consent of all mankind and womankind to an innocent, sweet apostasy from the ranks of both. The value of living—which is loving; the sacredest wonders of life; all that is fairest and of best delight in thought, in feeling, yea, in substance,—all are apprehended under the floral crown and hymeneal veil. So, when at length one day Mrs. Richling said, "Madame Zenobie, don't you think I might sit up?" it would have been absurd to doubt the quadroon's willingness to assist her in dressing. True, here was neither wreath nor veil, but here was very young wifehood, and its re-attiring would be like a proclamation of victory over the malady that had striven to put two hearts asunder. Her willingness could hardly be doubted, though she smiled irresponsibly, and said:—
"If you thing"— She spread her eyes and elbows suddenly in the manner of a crab, with palms turned upward and thumbs outstretched—"Well!"—and so dropped them.
"You don't want wait till de doctah comin'?" she asked.
"I don't think he's coming; it's after his time."
The woman was silent a moment, and then threw up one hand again, with the forefinger lifted alertly forward.
"I make a lill fi' biffo."
She made a fire. Then she helped the convalescent to put on a few loose drapings. She made no concealment of the enjoyment it gave her, though her words were few, and generally were answers to questions; and when at length she brought from the wardrobe, pretending not to notice her mistake, a loose and much too ample robe of woollen and silken stuffs to go over all, she moved as though she trod on holy ground, and distinctly felt, herself, the thrill with which the convalescent, her young eyes beaming their assent, let her arms into the big sleeves, and drew about her small form the soft folds of her husband's morning-gown.
"He goin' to fine that droll," said the quadroon.
The wife's face confessed her pleasure.
"It's as much mine as his," she said.
"Is you mek dat?" asked the nurse, as she drew its silken cord about the convalescent's waist.
"Yes. Don't draw it tight; leave it loose—so; but you can tie the knot tight. That will do; there!" She smiled broadly. "Don't tie me in as if you were tying me in forever."
Madame Zenobie understood perfectly, and, smiling in response, did tie it as if she were tying her in forever.
Half an hour or so later the quadroon, being—it may have been by chance—at the street door, ushered in a person who simply bowed in silence.
But as he put one foot on the stair he paused, and, bending a severe gaze upon her, asked:—
"Why do you smile?"
She folded her hands limply on her bosom, and drawing a cheek and shoulder toward each other, replied:—
The questioner's severity darkened.
"Why do you smile at nothing?"
She laid the tips of her fingers upon her lips to compose them.
"You din come in you' carridge. She goin' to thing 'tis Miche Reechin." The smile forced its way through her fingers. The visitor turned in quiet disdain and went upstairs, she following.
At the top he let her pass. She led the way and, softly pushing open the chamber-door, entered noiselessly, turned, and, as the other stepped across the threshold, nestled her hands one on the other at her waist, shrank inward with a sweet smile, and waved one palm toward the huge, blue-hung mahogany four-poster,—empty.
The visitor gave a slight double nod and moved on across the carpet. Before a small coal fire, in a grate too wide for it, stood a broad, cushioned rocking-chair, with the corner of a pillow showing over its top. The visitor went on around it. The girlish form lay in it, with eyes closed, very still; but his professional glance quickly detected the false pretence of slumber. A slippered foot was still slightly reached out beyond the bright colors of the long gown, and toward the brazen edge of the hearth-pan, as though the owner had been touching her tiptoe against it to keep the chair in gentle motion. One cheek was on the pillow; down the other curled a few light strands of hair that had escaped from her brow.
Thus for an instant. Then a smile began to wreath about the corner of her lips; she faintly stirred, opened her eyes—and lo! Dr. Sevier, motionless, tranquil, and grave.
"O Doctor!" The blood surged into her face and down upon her neck. She put her hands over her eyes, and her face into the pillow. "O Doctor!"—rising to a sitting posture,—"I thought, of course, it was my husband."
The Doctor replied while she was speaking:—
"My carriage broke down." He drew a chair toward the fireplace, and asked, with his face toward the dying fire:—
"How are you feeling to-day, madam,—stronger?"
"Yes; I can almost say I'm well." The blush was still on her face as he turned to receive her answer, but she smiled with a bright courageousness that secretly amused and pleased him. "I thank you, Doctor, for my recovery; I certainly should thank you." Her face lighted up with that soft radiance which was its best quality, and her smile became half introspective as her eyes dropped from his, and followed her outstretched hand as it rearranged the farther edges of the dressing-gown one upon another.
"If you will take better care of yourself hereafter, madam," responded the Doctor, thumping and brushing from his knee some specks of mud that he may have got when his carriage broke down, "I will thank you. But"—brush—brush—"I—doubt it."
"Do you think you should?" she asked, leaning forward from the back of the great chair and letting her wrists drop over the front of its broad arms.
"I do," said the Doctor, kindly. "Why shouldn't I? This present attack was by your own fault." While he spoke he was looking into her eyes, contracted at their corners by her slight smile. The face was one of those that show not merely that the world is all unknown to them, but that it always will be so. It beamed with inquisitive intelligence, and yet had the innocence almost of infancy. The Doctor made a discovery; that it was this that made her beautiful. "She is beautiful," he insisted to himself when his critical faculty dissented.
"You needn't doubt me, Doctor. I'll try my best to take care. Why, of course I will,—for John's sake." She looked up into his face from the tassel she was twisting around her finger, touching the floor with her slippers' toe and faintly rocking.
"Yes, there's a chance there," replied the grave man, seemingly not overmuch pleased; "I dare say everything you do or leave undone is for his sake."
The little wife betrayed for a moment a pained perplexity, and then exclaimed:—
"Well, of course!" and waited his answer with bright eyes.
"I have known women to think of their own sakes," was the response.
She laughed, and with unprecedented sparkle replied:—
"Why, whatever's his sake is my sake. I don't see the difference. Yes, I see, of course, how there might be a difference; but I don't see how a woman"— She ceased, still smiling, and, dropping her eyes to her hands, slowly stroked one wrist and palm with the tassel of her husband's robe.
The Doctor rose, turned his back to the mantel-piece, and looked down upon her. He thought of the great, wide world: its thorny ways, its deserts, its bitter waters, its unrighteousness, its self-seeking greeds, its weaknesses, its under and over reaching, its unfaithfulness; and then again of this—child, thrust all at once a thousand miles into it, with never—so far as he could see—an implement, a weapon, a sense of danger, or a refuge; well pleased with herself, as it seemed, lifted up into the bliss of self-obliterating wifehood, and resting in her husband with such an assurance of safety and happiness as a saint might pray for grace to show to Heaven itself. He stood silent, feeling too grim to speak, and presently Mrs. Richling looked up with a sudden liveliness of eye and a smile that was half apology and half persistence.
"Yes, Doctor, I'm going to take care of myself."
"Mrs. Richling, is your father a man of fortune?"
"My father is not living," said she, gravely. "He died two years ago. He was the pastor of a small church. No, sir; he had nothing but his small salary, except that for some years he taught a few scholars. He taught me." She brightened up again. "I never had any other teacher."
The Doctor folded his hands behind him and gazed abstractedly through the upper sash of the large French windows. The street-door was heard to open.
"There's John," said the convalescent, quickly, and the next moment her husband entered. A tired look vanished from his face as he saw the Doctor. He hurried to grasp his hand, then turned and kissed his wife. The physician took up his hat.
"Doctor," said the wife, holding the hand he gave her, and looking up playfully, with her cheek against the chair-back, "you surely didn't suspect me of being a rich girl, did you?"
"Not at all, madam." His emphasis was so pronounced that the husband laughed.
"There's one comfort in the opposite condition, Doctor," said the young man.
"Why, yes; you see, it requires no explanation."
"Yes, it does," said the physician; "it is just as binding on people to show good cause why they are poor as it is to show good cause why they're rich. Good-day, madam." The two men went out together. His word would have been good-by, but for the fear of fresh acknowledgments.
Dr. Sevier had a simple abhorrence of the expression of personal sentiment in words. Nothing else seemed to him so utterly hollow as the attempt to indicate by speech a regard or affection which was not already demonstrated in behavior. So far did he keep himself aloof from insincerity that he had barely room enough left to be candid.
"I need not see your wife any more," he said, as he went down the stairs with the young husband at his elbow; and the young man had learned him well enough not to oppress him with formal thanks, whatever might have been said or omitted upstairs.
Madame Zenobie contrived to be near enough, as they reached the lower floor, to come in for a share of the meagre adieu. She gave her hand with a dainty grace and a bow that might have been imported from Paris.
Dr. Sevier paused on the front step, half turned toward the open door where the husband still tarried. That was not speech; it was scarcely action; but the young man understood it and was silent. In truth, the Doctor himself felt a pang in this sort of farewell. A physician's way through the world is paved, I have heard one say, with these broken bits of other's lives, of all colors and all degrees of beauty. In his reminiscences, when he can do no better, he gathers them up, and, turning them over and over in the darkened chamber of his retrospection, sees patterns of delight lit up by the softened rays of bygone time. But even this renews the pain of separation, and Dr. Sevier felt, right here at this door-step, that, if this was to be the last of the Richlings, he would feel the twinge of parting every time they came up again in his memory.
He looked at the house opposite,—where there was really nothing to look at,—and at a woman who happened to be passing, and who was only like a thousand others with whom he had nothing to do.
"Richling," he said, "what brings you to New Orleans, any way?"
Richling leaned his cheek against the door-post.
"Simply seeking my fortune, Doctor."
"Do you think it is here?"
"I'm pretty sure it is; the world owes me a living."
The Doctor looked up.
"When did you get the world in your debt?"
Richling lifted his head pleasantly, and let one foot down a step.
"It owes me a chance to earn a living, doesn't it?"
"I dare say," replied the other; "that's what it generally owes."
"That's all I ask of it," said Richling; "if it will let us alone we'll let it alone."
"You've no right to allow either," said the physician. "No, sir; no," he insisted, as the young man looked incredulous. There was a pause. "Have you any capital?" asked the Doctor.
"Capital! No,"—with a low laugh.
"But surely you have something to"—
"Oh, yes,—a little!"
The Doctor marked the southern "Oh." There is no "O" in Milwaukee.
"You don't find as many vacancies as you expected to see, I suppose—h-m-m?"
There was an under-glow of feeling in the young man's tone as he replied:—
"I was misinformed."
"Well," said the Doctor, staring down-street, "you'll find something. What can you do?"
"Do? Oh, I'm willing to do anything!"
Dr. Sevier turned his gaze slowly, with a shade of disappointment in it. Richling rallied to his defences.
"I think I could make a good book-keeper, or correspondent, or cashier, or any such"—
The Doctor interrupted, with the back of his head toward his listener, looking this time up the street, riverward:—
"Yes;—or a shoe,—or a barrel,—h-m-m?"
Richling bent forward with the frown of defective hearing, and the physician raised his voice:—
"Or a cart-wheel—or a coat?"
"I can make a living," rejoined the other, with a needlessly resentful-heroic manner, that was lost, or seemed to be, on the physician.
"Richling,"—the Doctor suddenly faced around and fixed a kindly severe glance on him,—"why didn't you bring letters?"
"Why,"—the young man stopped, looked at his feet, and distinctly blushed. "I think," he stammered—"it seems to me"—he looked up with a faltering eye—"don't you think—I think a man ought to be able to recommend himself."
The Doctor's gaze remained so fixed that the self-recommended man could not endure it silently.
"I think so," he said, looking down again and swinging his foot. Suddenly he brightened. "Doctor, isn't this your carriage coming?"
"Yes; I told the boy to drive by here when it was mended, and he might find me." The vehicle drew up and stopped. "Still, Richling," the physician continued, as he stepped toward it, "you had better get a letter or two, yet; you might need them."
The door of the carriage clapped to. There seemed a touch of vexation in the sound. Richling, too, closed his door, but in the soft way of one in troubled meditation. Was this a proper farewell? The thought came to both men.
"Stop a minute!" said Dr. Sevier to his driver. He leaned out a little at the side of the carriage and looked back. "Never mind; he has gone in."
The young husband went upstairs slowly and heavily, more slowly and heavily than might be explained by his all-day unsuccessful tramp after employment. His wife still rested in the rocking-chair. He stood against it, and she took his hand and stroked it.
"Tired?" she asked, looking up at him. He gazed into the languishing fire.
"You're not discouraged, are you?"
"Discouraged? N-no. And yet," he said, slowly shaking his head, "I can't see why I don't find something to do."
"It's because you don't hunt for it," said the wife.
He turned upon her with flashing countenance only to meet her laugh, and to have his head pulled down to her lips. He dropped into the seat left by the physician, laid his head back in his knit hands, and crossed his feet under the chair.
"John, I do like Dr. Sevier."
"Why?" The questioner looked at the ceiling.
"Why, don't you like him?" asked the wife, and, as John smiled, she added, "You know you like him."
The husband grasped the poker in both hands, dropped his elbows upon his knees, and began touching the fire, saying slowly:—
"I believe the Doctor thinks I'm a fool."
"That's nothing," said the little wife; "that's only because you married me."
The poker stopped rattling between the grate-bars; the husband looked at the wife. Her eyes, though turned partly away, betrayed their mischief. There was a deadly pause; then a rush to the assault, a shower of Cupid's arrows, a quick surrender.
But we refrain. Since ever the world began it is Love's real, not his sham, battles that are worth the telling.
A fortnight passed. What with calls on his private skill, and appeals to his public zeal, Dr. Sevier was always loaded like a dromedary. Just now he was much occupied with the affairs of the great American people. For all he was the furthest remove from a mere party contestant or spoilsman, neither his righteous pugnacity nor his human sympathy would allow him to "let politics alone." Often across this preoccupation there flitted a thought of the Richlings.
At length one day he saw them. He had been called by a patient, lodging near Madame Zenobie's house. The proximity of the young couple occurred to him at once, but he instantly realized the extreme poverty of the chance that he should see them. To increase the improbability, the short afternoon was near its close,—an hour when people generally were sitting at dinner.
But what a coquette is that same chance! As he was driving up at the sidewalk's edge before his patient's door, the Richlings came out of theirs, the husband talking with animation, and the wife, all sunshine, skipping up to his side, and taking his arm with both hands, and attending eagerly to his words.
"Heels!" muttered the Doctor to himself, for the sound of Mrs. Richling's gaiters betrayed that fact. Heels were an innovation still new enough to rouse the resentment of masculine conservatism. But for them she would have pleased his sight entirely. Bonnets, for years microscopic, had again become visible, and her girlish face was prettily set in one whose flowers and ribbon, just joyous and no more, were reflected again in the double-skirted silk barege; while the dark mantilla that drooped away from the broad lace collar, shading, without hiding, her "Parodi" waist, seemed made for that very street of heavy-grated archways, iron-railed balconies, and high lattices. The Doctor even accepted patiently the free northern step, which is commonly so repugnant to the southern eye.
A heightened gladness flashed into the faces of the two young people as they descried the physician.
"Good-afternoon," they said, advancing.
"Good-evening," responded the Doctor, and shook hands with each. The meeting was an emphatic pleasure to him. He quite forgot the young man's lack of credentials.
"Out taking the air?" he asked.
"Looking about," said the husband.
"Looking up new quarters," said the wife, knitting her fingers about her husband's elbow and drawing closer to it.
"Were you not comfortable?"
"Yes; but the rooms are larger than we need."
"Ah!" said the Doctor; and there the conversation sank. There was no topic suited to so fleeting a moment, and when they had smiled all round again Dr. Sevier lifted his hat. Ah, yes, there was one thing.
"Have you found work?" asked the Doctor of Richling.
The wife glanced up for an instant into her husband's face, and then down again.
"No," said Richling, "not yet. If you should hear of anything, Doctor"—He remembered the Doctor's word about letters, stopped suddenly, and seemed as if he might even withdraw the request; but the Doctor said:—
"I will; I will let you know." He gave his hand to Richling. It was on his lips to add: "And should you need," etc.; but there was the wife at the husband's side. So he said no more. The pair bowed their cheerful thanks; but beside the cheer, or behind it, in the husband's face, was there not the look of one who feels the odds against him? And yet, while the two men's hands still held each other, the look vanished, and the young man's light grasp had such firmness in it that, for this cause also, the Doctor withheld his patronizing utterance. He believed he would himself have resented it had he been in Richling's place.
The young pair passed on, and that night, as Dr. Sevier sat at his fireside, an uncompanioned widower, he saw again the young wife look quickly up into her husband's face, and across that face flit and disappear its look of weary dismay, followed by the air of fresh courage with which the young couple had said good-by.
"I wish I had spoken," he thought to himself; "I wish I had made the offer."
"I hope he didn't tell her what I said about the letters. Not but I was right, but it'll only wound her."
But Richling had told her; he always "told her everything;" she could not possibly have magnified wifehood more, in her way, than he did in his. May be both ways were faulty; but they were extravagantly, youthfully confident that they were not.
* * *
Unknown to Dr. Sevier, the Richlings had returned from their search unsuccessful. Finding prices too much alike in Custom-house street they turned into Burgundy. From Burgundy they passed into Du Maine. As they went, notwithstanding disappointments, their mood grew gay and gayer. Everything that met the eye was quaint and droll to them: men, women, things, places,—all were more or less outlandish. The grotesqueness of the African, and especially the French-tongued African, was to Mrs. Richling particularly irresistible. Multiplying upon each and all of these things was the ludicrousness of the pecuniary strait that brought themselves and these things into contact. Everything turned to fun.
Mrs. Richling's mirthful mood prompted her by and by to begin letting into her inquiries and comments covert double meanings, intended for her husband's private understanding. Thus they crossed Bourbon street.
About there their mirth reached a climax; it was in a small house, a sad, single-story thing, cowering between two high buildings, its eaves, four or five feet deep, overshadowing its one street door and window.
"Looks like a shade for weak eyes," said the wife.
They had debated whether they should enter it or not. He thought no, she thought yes; but he would not insist and she would not insist; she wished him to do as he thought best, and he wished her to do as she thought best, and they had made two or three false starts and retreats before they got inside. But they were in there at length, and busily engaged inquiring into the availability of a small, lace-curtained, front room, when Richling took his wife so completely off her guard by addressing her as "Madam," in the tone and manner of Dr. Sevier, that she laughed in the face of the householder, who had been trying to talk English with a French accent and a hare-lip, and they fled with haste to the sidewalk and around the corner, where they could smile and smile without being villains.
"We must stop this," said the wife, blushing. "We must stop it. We're attracting attention."
And this was true at least as to one ragamuffin, who stood on a neighboring corner staring at them. Yet there is no telling to what higher pitch their humor might have carried them if Mrs. Richling had not been weighted down by the constant necessity of correcting her husband's statement of their wants. This she could do, because his exactions were all in the direction of her comfort.
"But, John," she would say each time as they returned to the street and resumed their quest, "those things cost; you can't afford them, can you?"
"Why, you can't be comfortable without them," he would answer.
"But that's not the question, John. We must take cheaper lodgings, mustn't we?"
Then John would be silent, and by littles their gayety would rise again.
One landlady was so good-looking, so manifestly and entirely Caucasian, so melodious of voice, and so modest in her account of the rooms she showed, that Mrs. Richling was captivated. The back room on the second floor, overlooking the inner court and numerous low roofs beyond, was suitable and cheap.
"Yes," said the sweet proprietress, turning to Richling, who hung in doubt whether it was quite good enough, "yesseh, I think you be pretty well in that room yeh. Yesseh, I'm shoe you be verrie well; yesseh."
 "Yeh"—ye, as in yearn.
"Can we get them at once?"
"Yes? At once? Yes? Oh, yes?"
No downward inflections from her.
"Well,"—the wife looked at the husband; he nodded,—"well, we'll take it."
"Yes?" responded the landlady; "well?" leaning against a bedpost and smiling with infantile diffidence, "you dunt want no ref'ence?"
"No," said John, generously, "oh, no; we can trust each other that far, eh?"
"Oh, yes?" replied the sweet creature; then suddenly changing countenance, as though she remembered something. "But daz de troub'—de room not goin' be vacate for t'ree mont'."
She stretched forth her open palms and smiled, with one arm still around the bedpost.
"Why," exclaimed Mrs. Richling, the very statue of astonishment, "you said just now we could have it at once!"
"Dis room? Oh, no; nod dis room."
"I don't see how I could have misunderstood you."
The landlady lifted her shoulders, smiled, and clasped her hands across each other under her throat. Then throwing them apart she said brightly:—
"No, I say at Madame La Rose. Me, my room is all fill'. At Madame La Rose, I say, I think you be pritty well. I'm shoe you be verrie well at Madame La Rose. I'm sorry. But you kin paz yondeh—'tiz juz ad the cawneh? And I am shoe I think you be pritty well at Madame La Rose."
She kept up the repetition, though Mrs. Richling, incensed, had turned her back, and Richling was saying good-day.
"She did say the room was vacant!" exclaimed the little wife, as they reached the sidewalk. But the next moment there came a quick twinkle from her eye, and, waving her husband to go on without her, she said, "You kin paz yondeh; at Madame La Rose I am shoe you be pritty sick." Thereupon she took his arm,—making everybody stare and smile to see a lady and gentleman arm in arm by daylight,—and they went merrily on their way.
The last place they stopped at was in Royal street. The entrance was bad. It was narrow even for those two. The walls were stained by dampness, and the smell of a totally undrained soil came up through the floor. The stairs ascended a few steps, came too near a low ceiling, and shot forward into cavernous gloom to find a second rising place farther on. But the rooms, when reached, were a tolerably pleasant disappointment, and the proprietress a person of reassuring amiability.
She bestirred herself in an obliging way that was the most charming thing yet encountered. She gratified the young people every moment afresh with her readiness to understand or guess their English queries and remarks, hung her head archly when she had to explain away little objections, delivered her No sirs with gravity and her Yes sirs with bright eagerness, shook her head slowly with each negative announcement, and accompanied her affirmations with a gracious bow and a smile full of rice powder.
She rendered everything so agreeable, indeed, that it almost seemed impolite to inquire narrowly into matters, and when the question of price had to come up it was really difficult to bring it forward, and Richling quite lost sight of the economic rules to which he had silently acceded in the Rue Du Maine.
"And you will carpet the floor?" he asked, hovering off of the main issue.
"Put coppit? Ah! cettainlee!" she replied, with a lovely bow and a wave of the hand toward Mrs. Richling, whom she had already given the same assurance.
"Yes," responded the little wife, with a captivated smile, and nodded to her husband.
"We want to get the decentest thing that is cheap," he said, as the three stood close together in the middle of the room.
The landlady flushed.
"No, no, John," said the wife, quickly, "don't you know what we said?" Then, turning to the proprietress, she hurried to add, "We want the cheapest thing that is decent."
But the landlady had not waited for the correction.
"Dissent! You want somesin dissent!" She moved a step backward on the floor, scoured and smeared with brick-dust, her ire rising visibly at every heart-throb, and pointing her outward-turned open hand energetically downward, added:—
"'Tis yeh!" She breathed hard. "Mais, no; you don't want somesin dissent. No!" She leaned forward interrogatively: "You want somesin tchip?" She threw both elbows to the one side, cast her spread hands off in the same direction, drew the cheek on that side down into the collar-bone, raised her eyebrows, and pushed her upper lip with her lower, scornfully.
At that moment her ear caught the words of the wife's apologetic amendment. They gave her fresh wrath and new opportunity. For her new foe was a woman, and a woman trying to speak in defence of the husband against whose arm she clung.
"Ah-h-h!" Her chin went up; her eyes shot lightning; she folded her arms fiercely, and drew herself to her best height; and, as Richling's eyes shot back in rising indignation, cried:—
"Ziss pless? 'Tis not ze pless! Zis pless—is diss'nt pless! I am diss'nt woman, me! Fo w'at you come in yeh?"
"My dear madam! My husband"—
"Dass you' uzban'?" pointing at him.
"Yes!" cried the two Richlings at once.
The woman folded her arms again, turned half-aside, and, lifting her eyes to the ceiling, simply remarked, with an ecstatic smile:—
"Humph!" and left the pair, red with exasperation, to find the street again through the darkening cave of the stair-way.
* * *
It was still early the next morning, when Richling entered his wife's apartment with an air of brisk occupation. She was pinning her brooch at the bureau glass.
"Mary," he exclaimed, "put something on and come see what I've found! The queerest, most romantic old thing in the city; the most comfortable—and the cheapest! Here, is this the wardrobe key? To save time I'll get your bonnet."
"No, no, no!" cried the laughing wife, confronting him with sparkling eyes, and throwing herself before the wardrobe; "I can't let you touch my bonnet!"
There is a limit, it seems, even to a wife's subserviency.
However, in a very short time afterward, by the feminine measure, they were out in the street, and people were again smiling at the pretty pair to see her arm in his, and she actually keeping step. 'Twas very funny.
As they went John described his discovery: A pair of huge, solid green gates immediately on the sidewalk, in the dull facade of a tall, red brick building with old carved vinework on its window and door frames. Hinges a yard long on the gates; over the gates a semi-circular grating of iron bars an inch in diameter; in one of these gates a wicket, and on the wicket a heavy, battered, highly burnished brass knocker. A short-legged, big-bodied, and very black slave to usher one through the wicket into a large, wide, paved corridor, where from the middle joist overhead hung a great iron lantern. Big double doors at the far end, standing open, flanked with diamond-paned side-lights of colored glass, and with an arch at the same, fan-shaped, above. Beyond these doors and showing through them, a flagged court, bordered all around by a narrow, raised parterre under pomegranate and fruit-laden orange, and over-towered by vine-covered and latticed walls, from whose ragged eaves vagabond weeds laughed down upon the flowers of the parterre below, robbed of late and early suns. Stairs old fashioned, broad; rooms, their choice of two; one looking down into the court, the other into the street; furniture faded, capacious; ceilings high; windows, each opening upon its own separate small balcony, where, instead of balustrades, was graceful iron scroll-work, centered by some long-dead owner's monogram two feet in length; and on the balcony next the division wall, close to another on the adjoining property, a quarter circle of iron-work set like a blind-bridle, and armed with hideous prongs for house-breakers to get impaled on.
"Why, in there," said Richling, softly, as they hurried in, "we'll be hid from the whole world, and the whole world from us."
The wife's answer was only the upward glance of her blue eyes into his, and a faint smile.
The place was all it had been described to be, and more,—except in one particular.
"And my husband tells me"—The owner of said husband stood beside him, one foot a little in advance of the other, her folded parasol hanging down the front of her skirt from her gloved hands, her eyes just returning to the landlady's from an excursion around the ceiling, and her whole appearance as fresh as the pink flowers that nestled between her brow and the rim of its precious covering. She smiled as she began her speech, but not enough to spoil what she honestly believed to be a very business-like air and manner. John had quietly dropped out of the negotiations, and she felt herself put upon her mettle as his agent. "And my husband tells me the price of this front room is ten dollars a month."
The respondent was a very white, corpulent woman, who constantly panted for breath, and was everywhere sinking down into chairs, with her limp, unfortified skirt dropping between her knees, and her hands pressed on them exhaustedly.
"Munse?" She turned from husband to wife, and back again, a glance of alarmed inquiry.
Mary tried her hand at French.
"Yes; oui, madame. Ten dollah the month—le mois."
Intelligence suddenly returned. Madame made a beautiful, silent O with her mouth and two others with her eyes.
"Ah non! By munse? No, madame. Ah-h! impossybl'! By wick, yes; ten dollah de wick! Ah!"
She touched her bosom with the wide-spread fingers of one hand and threw them toward her hearers.
The room-hunters got away, yet not so quickly but they heard behind and above them her scornful laugh, addressed to the walls of the empty room.
A day or two later they secured an apartment, cheap, and—morally—decent; but otherwise—ah!
It was the year of a presidential campaign. The party that afterward rose to overwhelming power was, for the first time, able to put its candidate fairly abreast of his competitors. The South was all afire. Rising up or sitting down, coming or going, week-day or Sabbath-day, eating or drinking, marrying or burying, the talk was all of slavery, abolition, and a disrupted country.
Dr. Sevier became totally absorbed in the issue. He was too unconventional a thinker ever to find himself in harmony with all the declarations of any party, and yet it was a necessity of his nature to be in the melee. He had his own array of facts, his own peculiar deductions; his own special charges of iniquity against this party and of criminal forbearance against that; his own startling political economy; his own theory of rights; his own interpretations of the Constitution; his own threats and warnings; his own exhortations, and his own prophecies, of which one cannot say all have come true. But he poured them forth from the mighty heart of one who loved his country, and sat down with a sense of duty fulfilled and wiped his pale forehead while the band played a polka.
It hardly need be added that he proposed to dispense with politicians, or that, when "the boys" presently counted him into their party team for campaign haranguing, he let them clap the harness upon him and splashed along in the mud with an intention as pure as snow.
Whom it is no matter now. It was not Fremont. Buchanan won the race. Out went the lights, down came the platforms, rockets ceased to burst; it was of no use longer to "Wait for the wagon"; "Old Dan Tucker" got "out of the way," small boys were no longer fellow-citizens, dissolution was postponed, and men began to have an eye single to the getting of money.
A mercantile friend of Dr. Sevier had a vacant clerkship which it was necessary to fill. A bright recollection flashed across the Doctor's memory.
"Go to Number 40 Custom-house street and inquire for Mr. Fledgeling; or, if he isn't in, for Mrs. Fledge—humph! Richling, I mean; I"—
Narcisse laughed aloud.
"Ha-ha-ha! daz de way, sometime'! My hant she got a honcl'—he says, once 'pon a time"—
"Never mind! Go at once!"
"All a-ight, seh!"
"Give him this card"—
"Well, wait till you get your errand, can't you? These"—
"These people want to see him."
"All a-ight, seh!"
Narcisse threw open and jerked off a worsted jacket, took his coat down from a peg, transferred a snowy handkerchief from the breast-pocket of the jacket to that of the coat, felt in his pantaloons to be sure that he had his match-case and cigarettes, changed his shoes, got his hat from a high nail by a little leap, and put it on a head as handsome as Apollo's.
"Doctah Seveeah," he said, "in fact, I fine that a ve'y gen'lemany young man, that Mistoo Itchlin, weely, Doctah."
The Doctor murmured to himself from the letter he was writing.
"Well, au 'evoi', Doctah; I'm goin'."
Out in the corridor he turned and jerked his chin up and curled his lip, brought a match and cigarette together in the lee of his hollowed hand, took one first, fond draw, and went down the stairs as if they were on fire.
At Canal street he fell in with two noble fellows of his own circle, and the three went around by way of Exchange alley to get a glass of soda at McCloskey's old down-town stand. His two friends were out of employment at the moment,—making him, consequently, the interesting figure in the trio as he inveighed against his master.
"Ah, phooh!" he said, indicating the end of his speech by dropping the stump of his cigarette into the sand on the floor and softly spitting upon it,—"le Shylock de la rue Carondelet!"—and then in English, not to lose the admiration of the Irish waiter:—
"He don't want to haugment me! I din hass 'im, because the 'lection. But you juz wait till dat firce of Jannawerry!"
The waiter swathed the zinc counter, and inquired why Narcisse did not make his demands at the present moment.
"W'y I don't hass 'im now? Because w'en I hass 'im he know' he's got to do it! You thing I'm goin' to kill myseff workin'?"
Nobody said yes, and by and by he found himself alive in the house of Madame Zenobie. The furniture was being sold at auction, and the house was crowded with all sorts and colors of men and women. A huge sideboard was up for sale as he entered, and the crier was crying:—
"Faw-ty-fi' dollah! faw-ty-fi' dollah, ladies an' gentymen! On'y faw-ty-fi' dollah fo' thad magniffyzan sidebode! Quarante-cinque piastres, seulement, messieurs! Les knobs vaut bien cette prix! Gentymen, de knobs is worse de money! Ladies, if you don' stop dat talkin', I will not sell one thing mo'! Et quarante cinque piastres—faw-ty-fi' dollah"—
"Fifty!" cried Narcisse, who had not owned that much at one time since his father was a constable; realizing which fact, he slipped away upstairs and found Madame Zenobie half crazed at the slaughter of her assets.
She sat in a chair against the wall of the room the Richlings had occupied, a spectacle of agitated dejection. Here and there about the apartment, either motionless in chairs, or moving noiselessly about, and pulling and pushing softly this piece of furniture and that, were numerous vulture-like persons of either sex, waiting the up-coming of the auctioneer. Narcisse approached her briskly.
"Well, Madame Zenobie!"—he spoke in French—"is it you who lives here? Don't you remember me? What! No? You don't remember how I used to steal figs from you?"
The vultures slowly turned their heads. Madame Zenobie looked at him in a dazed way.
No, she did not remember. So many had robbed her—all her life.
"But you don't look at me, Madame Zenobie. Don't you remember, for example, once pulling a little boy—as little as that—out of your fig-tree, and taking the half of a shingle, split lengthwise, in your hand, and his head under your arm,—swearing you would do it if you died for it,—and bending him across your knee,"—he began a vigorous but graceful movement of the right arm, which few members of our fallen race could fail to recognize,—"and you don't remember me, my old friend?"
She looked up into the handsome face with a faint smile of affirmation. He laughed with delight.
"The shingle was that wide. Ah! Madame Zenobie, you did it well!" He softly smote the memorable spot, first with one hand and then with the other, shrinking forward spasmodically with each contact, and throwing utter woe into his countenance. The general company smiled. He suddenly put on great seriousness.
"Madame Zenobie, I hope your furniture is selling well?" He still spoke in French.
She cast her eyes upward pleadingly, caught her breath, threw the back of her hand against her temple, and dashed it again to her lap, shaking her head.
Narcisse was sorry.
"I have been doing what I could for you, downstairs,—running up the prices of things. I wish I could stay to do more, for the sake of old times. I came to see Mr. Richling, Madame Zenobie; is he in? Dr. Sevier wants him."
Richling? Why, the Richlings did not live there! The Doctor must know it. Why should she be made responsible for this mistake? It was his oversight. They had moved long ago. Dr. Sevier had seen them looking for apartments. Where did they live now? Ah, me! she could not tell. Did Mr. Richling owe the Doctor something?
"Owe? Certainly not. The Doctor—on the contrary"—
Ah! well, indeed, she didn't know where they lived, it is true; but the fact was, Mr. Richling happened to be there just then!—a-c't'eure! He had come to get a few trifles left by his madame.
Narcisse made instant search. Richling was not on the upper floor. He stepped to the landing and looked down. There he went!
Richling failed to hear. Sharper ears might have served him better. He passed out by the street door. Narcisse stopped the auction by the noise he made coming downstairs after him. He had some trouble with the front door,—lost time there, but got out.
Richling was turning a corner. Narcisse ran there and looked; looked up—looked down—looked into every store and shop on either side of the way clear back to Canal street; crossed it, went back to the Doctor's office, and reported. If he omitted such details as having seen and then lost sight of the man he sought, it may have been in part from the Doctor's indisposition to give him speaking license. The conclusion was simple: the Richlings could not be found.
* * *
The months of winter passed. No sign of them.
"They've gone back home," the Doctor often said to himself. How much better that was than to stay where they had made a mistake in venturing, and become the nurslings of patronizing strangers! He gave his admiration free play, now that they were quite gone. True courage that Richling had—courage to retreat when retreat is best! And his wife—ah! what a reminder of—hush, memory!
"Yes, they must have gone home!" The Doctor spoke very positively, because, after all, he was haunted by doubt.
One spring morning he uttered a soft exclamation as he glanced at his office-slate. The first notice on it read:—
Please call as soon as you can at number 292 St. Mary street, corner of Prytania. Lower corner—opposite the asylum. JOHN RICHLING.
The place was far up in the newer part of the American quarter. The signature had the appearance as if the writer had begun to write some other name, and had changed it to Richling.
A QUESTION OF BOOK-KEEPING.
A day or two after Narcisse had gone looking for Richling at the house of Madame Zenobie, he might have found him, had he known where to search, in Tchoupitoulas street.
Whoever remembers that thoroughfare as it was in those days, when the commodious "cotton-float" had not quite yet come into use, and Poydras and other streets did not so vie with Tchoupitoulas in importance as they do now, will recall a scene of commercial hurly-burly that inspired much pardonable vanity in the breast of the utilitarian citizen. Drays, drays, drays! Not the light New York things; but big, heavy, solid affairs, many of them drawn by two tall mules harnessed tandem. Drays by threes and by dozens, drays in opposing phalanxes, drays in long processions, drays with all imaginable kinds of burden; cotton in bales, piled as high as the omnibuses; leaf tobacco in huge hogsheads; cases of linens and silks; stacks of raw-hides; crates of cabbages; bales of prints and of hay; interlocked heaps of blue and red ploughs; bags of coffee, and spices, and corn; bales of bagging; barrels, casks, and tierces; whisky, pork, onions, oats, bacon, garlic, molasses, and other delicacies; rice, sugar,—what was there not? Wines of France and Spain in pipes, in baskets, in hampers, in octaves; queensware from England; cheeses, like cart-wheels, from Switzerland; almonds, lemons, raisins, olives, boxes of citron, casks of chains; specie from Vera Cruz; cries of drivers, cracking of whips, rumble of wheels, tremble of earth, frequent gorge and stoppage. It seemed an idle tale to say that any one could be lacking bread and raiment. "We are a great city," said the patient foot-passengers, waiting long on street corners for opportunity to cross the way.
On one of these corners paused Richling. He had not found employment, but you could not read that in his face; as well as he knew himself, he had come forward into the world prepared amiably and patiently to be, to do, to suffer anything, provided it was not wrong or ignominious. He did not see that even this is not enough in this rough world; nothing had yet taught him that one must often gently suffer rudeness and wrong. As to what constitutes ignominy he had a very young man's—and, shall we add? a very American—idea. He could not have believed, had he been told, how many establishments he had passed by, omitting to apply in them for employment. He little dreamed he had been too select. He had entered not into any house of the Samaritans, to use a figure; much less, to speak literally, had he gone to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Mary, hiding away in uncomfortable quarters a short stone's throw from Madame Zenobie's, little imagined that, in her broad irony about his not hunting for employment, there was really a tiny seed of truth. She felt sure that two or three persons who had seemed about to employ him had failed to do so because they detected the defect in his hearing, and in one or two cases she was right.
Other persons paused on the same corner where Richling stood, under the same momentary embarrassment. One man, especially busy-looking, drew very near him. And then and there occurred this simple accident,—that at last he came in contact with the man who had work to give him. This person good-humoredly offered an impatient comment on their enforced delay. Richling answered in sympathetic spirit, and the first speaker responded with a question:—
"Stranger in the city?"
"Buying goods for up-country?"
It was a pleasant feature of New Orleans life that sociability to strangers on the street was not the exclusive prerogative of gamblers' decoys.
"No; I'm looking for employment."
"Aha!" said the man, and moved away a little. But in a moment Richling, becoming aware that his questioner was glancing all over him with critical scrutiny, turned, and the man spoke.
"D'you keep books?"
Just then a way opened among the vehicles; and the man, young and muscular, darted into it, and Richling followed.
"I can keep books," he said, as they reached the farther curb-stone.
The man seized him by the arm.
"D'you see that pile of codfish and herring where that tall man is at work yonder with a marking-pot and brush? Well, just beyond there is a boarding-house, and then a hardware store; you can hear them throwing down sheets of iron. Here; you can see the sign. See? Well, the next is my store. Go in there—upstairs into the office—and wait till I come."
Richling bowed and went. In the office he sat down and waited what seemed a very long time. Could he have misunderstood? For the man did not come. There was a person sitting at a desk on the farther side of the office, writing, who had not lifted his head from first to last, Richling said:—
"Can you tell me when the proprietor will be in?"
The writer's eyes rose, and dropped again upon his writing.
"What do you want with him?"
"He asked me to wait here for him."
"Better wait, then."
Just then in came the merchant. Richling rose, and he uttered a rude exclamation:—
"I forgot you completely! Where did you say you kept books at, last?"
"I've not kept anybody's books yet, but I can do it."
The merchant's response was cold and prompt. He did not look at Richling, but took a sample vial of molasses from a dirty mantel-piece and lifted it between his eyes and the light, saying:—
"You can't do any such thing. I don't want you."
"Sir," said Richling, so sharply that the merchant looked round, "if you don't want me I don't want you; but you mustn't attempt to tell me that what I say is not true!" He had stepped forward as he began to speak, but he stopped before half his words were uttered, and saw his folly. Even while his voice still trembled with passion and his head was up, he colored with mortification. That feeling grew no less when his offender simply looked at him, and the man at the desk did not raise his eyes. It rather increased when he noticed that both of them were young—as young as he.
"I don't doubt your truthfulness," said the merchant, marking the effect of his forbearance; "but you ought to know you can't come in and take charge of a large set of books in the midst of a busy season, when you've never kept books before."
"I don't know it at all."
"Well, I do," said the merchant, still more coldly than before. "There are my books," he added, warming, and pointed to three great canvassed and black-initialled volumes standing in a low iron safe, "left only yesterday in such a snarl, by a fellow who had 'never kept books, but knew how,' that I shall have to open another set! After this I shall have a book-keeper who has kept books."
He turned away.
Some weeks afterward Richling recalled vividly a thought that had struck him only faintly at this time: that, beneath much superficial severity and energy, there was in this establishment a certain looseness of management. It may have been this half-recognized thought that gave him courage, now, to say, advancing another step:—
"One word, if you please."
"It's no use, my friend."
"It may be."
"Get an experienced book-keeper for your new set of books"—
"You can bet your bottom dollar!" said the merchant, turning again and running his hands down into his lower pockets. "And even he'll have as much as he can do"—
"That is just what I wanted you to say," interrupted Richling, trying hard to smile; "then you can let me straighten up the old set."
"Give a new hand the work of an expert!"
The merchant almost laughed out. He shook his head and was about to say more, when Richling persisted:—
"If I don't do the work to your satisfaction don't pay me a cent."
"I never make that sort of an arrangement; no, sir!"
Unfortunately it had not been Richling's habit to show this pertinacity, else life might have been easier to him as a problem; but these two young men, his equals in age, were casting amused doubts upon his ability to make good his professions. The case was peculiar. He reached a hand out toward the books.
"Let me look over them for one day; if I don't convince you the next morning in five minutes that I can straighten them I'll leave them without a word."
The merchant looked down an instant, and then turned to the man at the desk.
"What do you think of that, Sam?"
Sam set his elbows upon the desk, took the small end of his pen-holder in his hands and teeth, and, looking up, said:—
"I don't know; you might—try him."
"What did you say your name was?" asked the other, again facing Richling. "Ah, yes! Who are your references, Mr. Richmond?"
"Sir?" Richling leaned slightly forward and turned his ear.
"I say, who knows you?"
"Nobody! Where are you from?"
The merchant tossed out his arm impatiently.
"Oh, I can't do that kind o' business."
He turned abruptly, went to his desk, and, sitting down half-hidden by it, took up an open letter.
"I bought that coffee, Sam," he said, rising again and moving farther away.
"Um-hum," said Sam; and all was still.
Richling stood expecting every instant to turn on the next and go. Yet he went not. Under the dusty front windows of the counting-room the street was roaring below. Just beyond a glass partition at his back a great windlass far up under the roof was rumbling with the descent of goods from a hatchway at the end of its tense rope. Salesmen were calling, trucks were trundling, shipping clerks and porters were replying. One brawny fellow he saw, through the glass, take a herring from a broken box, and stop to feed it to a sleek, brindled mouser. Even the cat was valued; but he—he stood there absolutely zero. He saw it. He saw it as he never had seen it before in his life. This truth smote him like a javelin: that all this world wants is a man's permission to do without him. Right then it was that he thought he swallowed all his pride; whereas he only tasted its bitter brine as like a wave it took him up and lifted him forward bodily. He strode up to the desk beyond which stood the merchant, with the letter still in his hand, and said:—
"I've not gone yet! I may have to be turned off by you, but not in this manner!"
The merchant looked around at him with a smile of surprise, mixed with amusement and commendation, but said nothing. Richling held out his open hand.
"I don't ask you to trust me. Don't trust me. Try me!"
He looked distressed. He was not begging, but he seemed to feel as though he were.
The merchant dropped his eyes again upon the letter, and in that attitude asked:—
"What do you say, Sam?"
"He can't hurt anything," said Sam.
The merchant looked suddenly at Richling.
"You're not from Milwaukee. You're a Southern man."
Richling changed color.
"I said Milwaukee."
"Well," said the merchant, "I hardly know. Come and see me further about it to-morrow morning. I haven't time to talk now."
* * *
"Take a seat," he said, the next morning, and drew up a chair sociably before the returned applicant. "Now, suppose I was to give you those books, all in confusion as they are, what would you do first of all?"
Mary fortunately had asked the same question the night before, and her husband was entirely ready with an answer which they had studied out in bed.
"I should send your deposit-book to bank to be balanced, and, without waiting for it, I should begin to take a trial-balance off the books. If I didn't get one pretty soon, I'd drop that for the time being, and turn in and render the accounts of everybody on the books, asking them to examine and report."
"All right," said the merchant, carelessly; "we'll try you."
"Sir?" Richling bent his ear.
"All right; we'll try you! I don't care much about recommendations. I generally most always make up my opinion about a man from looking at him. I'm that sort of a man."
He smiled with inordinate complacency.
So, week by week, as has been said already, the winter passed,—Richling on one side of the town, hidden away in his work, and Dr. Sevier on the other, very positive that the "young pair" must have returned to Milwaukee.
At length the big books were readjusted in all their hundreds of pages, were balanced, and closed. Much satisfaction was expressed; but another man had meantime taken charge of the new books,—one who influenced business, and Richling had nothing to do but put on his hat.
However, the house cheerfully recommended him to a neighboring firm, which also had disordered books to be righted; and so more weeks passed. Happy weeks! Happy days! Ah, the joy of them! John bringing home money, and Mary saving it!
"But, John, it seems such a pity not to have stayed with A, B, & Co.; doesn't it?"
"I don't think so. I don't think they'll last much longer."
And when he brought word that A, B, & Co. had gone into a thousand pieces Mary was convinced that she had a very far-seeing husband.
By and by, at Richling's earnest and restless desire, they moved their lodgings again. And thus we return by a circuit to the morning when Dr. Sevier, taking up his slate, read the summons that bade him call at the corner of St. Mary and Prytania streets.
WHEN THE WIND BLOWS.
The house stands there to-day. A small, pinched, frame, ground-floor-and-attic, double tenement, with its roof sloping toward St. Mary street and overhanging its two door-steps that jut out on the sidewalk. There the Doctor's carriage stopped, and in its front room he found Mary in bed again, as ill as ever. A humble German woman, living in the adjoining half of the house, was attending to the invalid's wants, and had kept her daughter from the public school to send her to the apothecary with the Doctor's prescription.
"It is the poor who help the poor," thought the physician.
"Is this your home?" he asked the woman softly, as he sat down by the patient's pillow. He looked about upon the small, cheaply furnished room, full of the neat makeshifts of cramped housewifery.
"It's mine," whispered Mary. Even as she lay there in peril of her life, and flattened out as though Juggernaut had rolled over her, her eyes shone with happiness and scintillated as the Doctor exclaimed in undertone:—
"Yours!" He laid his hand upon her forehead. "Where is Mr. Richling?"
"At the office." Her eyes danced with delight. She would have begun, then and there, to tell him all that had happened,—"had taken care of herself all along," she said, "until they began to move. In moving, had been obliged to overwork—hardly fixed yet"—
But the Doctor gently checked her and bade her be quiet.
"I will," was the faint reply; "I will; but—just one thing, Doctor, please let me say."
"Yes, yes; I know; he'd be here, only you wouldn't let him stay away from his work."
She smiled assent, and he smiled in return.
"'Business is business,'" he said.
She turned a quick, sparkling glance of affirmation, as if she had lately had some trouble to maintain that ancient truism. She was going to speak again, but the Doctor waved his hand downward soothingly toward the restless form and uplifted eyes.
"All right," she whispered, and closed them.
The next day she was worse. The physician found himself, to use his words, "only the tardy attendant of offended nature." When he dropped his finger-ends gently upon her temple she tremblingly grasped his hand.
"You'll save me?" she whispered.
"Yes," he replied; "we'll do that—the Lord helping us."
A glad light shone from her face as he uttered the latter clause. Whereat he made haste to add:—
"I don't pray, but I'm sure you do."
She silently pressed the hand she still held.
On Sunday he found Richling at the bedside. Mary had improved considerably in two or three days. She lay quite still as they talked, only shifting her glance softly from one to the other as one and then the other spoke. The Doctor heard with interest Richling's full account of all that had occurred since he had met them last together. Mary's eyes filled with merriment when John told the droller part of their experiences in the hard quarters from which they had only lately removed. But the Doctor did not so much as smile. Richling finished, and the physician was silent.
"Oh, we're getting along," said Richling, stroking the small, weak hand that lay near him on the coverlet. But still the Doctor kept silence.
"Of course," said Richling, very quietly, looking at his wife, "we mustn't be surprised at a backset now and then. But we're getting on."
Mary turned her eyes toward the Doctor. Was he not going to assent at all? She seemed about to speak. He bent his ear, and she said, with a quiet smile:—
"'When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.'"
The physician gave only a heavy-eyed "Humph!" and a faint look of amusement.
"What did she say?" said Richling; the words had escaped his ear. The Doctor repeated it, and Richling, too, smiled.
Yet it was a good speech,—why not? But the patient also smiled, and turned her eyes toward the wall with a disconcerted look, as if the smile might end in tears. For herein lay the very difficulty that always brought the Doctor's carriage to the door,—the cradle would not rock.
For a few days more that carriage continued to appear, and then ceased. Richling dropped in one morning at Number 3-1/2 Carondelet, and settled his bill with Narcisse.
The young Creole was much pleased to be at length brought into actual contact with a man of his own years, who, without visible effort, had made an impression on Dr. Sevier.
Until the money had been paid and the bill receipted nothing more than a formal business phrase or two passed between them. But as Narcisse delivered the receipted bill, with an elaborate gesture of courtesy, and Richling began to fold it for his pocket, the Creole remarked:—
"I 'ope you will excuse the 'an'-a-'iting."
Richling reopened the paper; the penmanship was beautiful.
"Do you ever write better than this?" he asked. "Why, I wish I could write half as well!"
"No; I do not fine that well a-'itten. I cannot see 'ow that is,—I nevva 'ite to the satizfagtion of my abil'ty soon in the mawnin's. I am dest'oying my chi'og'aphy at that desk yeh."
"Indeed?" said Richling; "why, I should think"—
"Yesseh, 'tis the tooth. But consunning the chi'og'aphy, Mistoo Itchlin, I 'ave descovvud one thing to a maul cettainty, and that is, if I 'ave something to 'ite to a young lady, I always dizguise my chi'og'aphy. Ha-ah! I 'ave learn that! You will be aztonizh' to see in 'ow many diffe'n' fawm' I can make my 'an'-a-'iting to appeah. That paz thoo my fam'ly, in fact, Mistoo Itchlin. My hant, she's got a honcle w'at use' to be cluck in a bank, w'at could make the si'natu'e of the pwesiden', as well as of the cashieh, with that so absolute puffegtion, that they tu'n 'im out of the bank! Yesseh. In fact, I thing you ought to know 'ow to 'ite a ve'y fine 'an', Mistoo Itchlin."
"N-not very," said Richling; "my hand is large and legible, but not well adapted for—book-keeping; it's too heavy."
"You 'ave the 'ight physio'nomie, I am shu'. You will pe'haps believe me with difficulty, Mistoo Itchlin, but I assu' you I can tell if a man 'as a fine chi'og'aphy aw no, by juz lookin' upon his liniment. Do you know that Benjamin Fwanklin 'ote a v'ey fine chi'og'aphy, in fact? Also, Voltaire. Yesseh. An' Napoleon Bonaparte. Lawd By'on muz 'ave 'ad a beaucheouz chi'og'aphy. 'Tis impossible not to be, with that face. He is my favo'ite poet, that Lawd By'on. Moze people pwefeh 'im to Shakspere, in fact. Well, you muz go? I am ve'y 'appy to meck yo' acquaintanze, Mistoo Itchlin, seh. I am so'y Doctah Seveeah is not theh pwesently. The negs time you call, Mistoo Itchlin, you muz not be too much aztonizh to fine me gone from yeh. Yesseh. He's got to haugment me ad the en' of that month, an' we 'ave to-day the fifteenth Mawch. Do you smoke, Mistoo Itchlin?" He extended a package of cigarettes. Richling accepted one. "I smoke lawgely in that weatheh," striking a match on his thigh. "I feel ve'y sultwy to-day. Well,"—he seized the visitor's hand,—"au' evoi', Mistoo Itchlin." And Narcisse returned to his desk happy in the conviction that Richling had gone away dazzled.