BY GEORGE W. CABLE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALBERT HERTER
I. Masked Batteries. II. The Fate of the Immigrant. III. "And who is my Neighbor?" IV. Family Trees. V. A Maiden who will not Marry. VI. Lost Opportunities. VII. Was it Honore Grandissime? VIII. Signed—Honore Grandissime. IX. Illustrating the Tractive Power of Basil. X. "Oo dad is, 'Sieur Frowenfel'?" XI. Sudden Flashes of Light. XII. The Philosophe. XIII. A Call from the Rent-Spectre. XIV. Before Sunset. XV. Rolled in the Dust. XVI. Starlight in the rue Chartres. XVII. That Night. XVIII. New Light upon Dark Places. XIX. Art and Commerce. XX. A very Natural Mistake. XXI. Doctor Keene Recovers his Bullet. XXII. Wars within the Breast. XXIII. Frowenfeld Keeps his Appointment. XXIV. Frowenfeld Makes an Argument. XXV. Aurora as a Historian. XXVI. A Ride and a Rescue. XXVII. The Fete de Grandpere. XXVIII. The Story of Bras-Coupe. XXIX. The Story of Bras-Coupe, Continued. XXX. Paralysis. XXXI. Another Wound in a New Place. XXXII. Interrupted Preliminaries. XXXIII. Unkindest Cut of All. XXXIV. Clotilde as a Surgeon. XXXV. "Fo' wad you Cryne?" XXXVI. Aurora's Last Picayune. XXXVII. Honore Makes some Confessions. XXXVIII. Tests of Friendship. XXXIX. Louisiana States her Wants. XL. Frowenfeld Finds Sylvestre. XLI. To Come to the Point. XLII. An Inheritance of Wrong. XLIII. The Eagle Visits the Doves in their Nest. XLIV. Bad for Charlie Keene. XLV. More Reparation. XLVI. The Pique-en-terre Loses One of her Crew. XLVII. The News. XLVIII. An Indignant Family and a Smashed Shop. XLIX. Over the New Store. L. A Proposal of Marriage. LI. Business Changes. LII. Love Lies-a-Bleeding. LIII. Frowenfeld at the Grandissime Mansion. LIV. "Cauldron Bubble". LV. Caught. LVI. Blood for a Blow. LVII. Voudou Cured. LVIII. Dying Words. LIX. Where some Creole Money Goes. LX. "All Right". LXI. "No!".
"They paused a little within the obscurity of the corridor, and just to reassure themselves that everything was 'all right'" Frontispiece.
"She looked upon an unmasked, noble countenance, lifted her own mask a little, and then a little more; and then shut it quickly".
"The daughter of the Natchez sitting in majesty, clothed in many-colored robes of shining feathers crossed and recrossed with girdles of serpent-skins and of wampum".
"Aurora,—alas! alas!—went down upon her knees with her gaze fixed upon the candle's flame".
"The young man with auburn curls rested the edge of his burden upon the counter, tore away its wrappings and disclosed a painting".
"Silently regarding the intruder with a pair of eyes that sent an icy chill through him and fastened him where he stood, lay Palmyre Philosophe".
"On their part, they would sit in deep attention, shielding their faces from the fire, and responding to enunciations directly contrary to their convictions with an occasional 'yes-seh,' or 'ceddenly,' or 'of coze,' or,—prettier affirmation still,—a solemn drooping of the eyelids".
"Bras-Coupe was practically declaring his independence on a slight rise of ground hardly sixty feet in circumference and lifted scarce above the water in the inmost depths of the swamp".
"'Ma lill dotter, wad dad meggin you cry? Iv you will tell me wad dad mague you cry, I will tell you—on ma second word of honor'—she rolled up her fist—'juz wad I thing about dad 'Sieur Frowenfel!'".
"His head was bowed, a heavy grizzled lock fell down upon his dark, frowning brow, one hand clenched the top of his staff, the other his knee, and both trembled violently".
"The tall figure of Palmyre rose slowly and silently from her chair, her eyes lifted up and her lips moving noiselessly. She seemed to have lost all knowledge of place or of human presence".
"They turned in a direction opposite to the entrance and took chairs in a cool nook of the paved court, at a small table where the hospitality of Clemence had placed glasses of lemonade".
In addition to the foregoing, the stories are illustrated with eight smaller photogravures from drawings by Mr. Herter.
It was in the Theatre St. Philippe (they had laid a temporary floor over the parquette seats) in the city we now call New Orleans, in the month of September, and in the year 1803. Under the twinkle of numberless candles, and in a perfumed air thrilled with the wailing ecstasy of violins, the little Creole capital's proudest and best were offering up the first cool night of the languidly departing summer to the divine Terpsichore. For summer there, bear in mind, is a loitering gossip, that only begins to talk of leaving when September rises to go. It was like hustling her out, it is true, to give a select bal masque at such a very early—such an amusingly early date; but it was fitting that something should be done for the sick and the destitute; and why not this? Everybody knows the Lord loveth a cheerful giver.
And so, to repeat, it was in the Theatre St. Philippe (the oldest, the first one), and, as may have been noticed, in the year in which the First Consul of France gave away Louisiana. Some might call it "sold." Old Agricola Fusilier in the rumbling pomp of his natural voice—for he had an hour ago forgotten that he was in mask and domino—called it "gave away." Not that he believed it had been done; for, look you, how could it be? The pretended treaty contained, for instance, no provision relative to the great family of Brahmin Mandarin Fusilier de Grandissime. It was evidently spurious.
Being bumped against, he moved a step or two aside, and was going on to denounce further the detestable rumor, when a masker—one of four who had just finished the contra-dance and were moving away in the column of promenaders—brought him smartly around with the salutation:
"Comment to ye, Citoyen Agricola!"
"H-you young kitten!" said the old man in a growling voice, and with the teased, half laugh of aged vanity as he bent a baffled scrutiny at the back-turned face of an ideal Indian Queen. It was not merely the tutoiement that struck him as saucy, but the further familiarity of using the slave dialect. His French was unprovincial.
"H-the cool rascal!" he added laughingly, and, only half to himself; "get into the garb of your true sex, sir, h-and I will guess who you are!"
But the Queen, in the same feigned voice as before, retorted:
"Ah! mo piti fils, to pas connais to zancestres? Don't you know your ancestors, my little son!"
"H-the g-hods preserve us!" said Agricola, with a pompous laugh muffled under his mask, "the queen of the Tchoupitoulas I proudly acknowledge, and my great-grandfather, Epaminondas Fusilier, lieutenant of dragoons under Bienville; but,"—he laid his hand upon his heart, and bowed to the other two figures, whose smaller stature betrayed the gentler sex—"pardon me, ladies, neither Monks nor Filles a la Cassette grow on our family tree."
The four maskers at once turned their glance upon the old man in the domino; but if any retort was intended it gave way as the violins burst into an agony of laughter. The floor was immediately filled with waltzers and the four figures disappeared.
"I wonder," murmured Agricola to himself, "if that Dragoon can possibly be Honore Grandissime."
Wherever those four maskers went there were cries of delight: "Ho, ho, ho! see there! here! there! a group of first colonists! One of Iberville's Dragoons! don't you remember great-great grandfather Fusilier's portrait—the gilded casque and heron plumes? And that one behind in the fawn-skin leggings and shirt of birds' skins is an Indian Queen. As sure as sure can be, they are intended for Epaminondas and his wife, Lufki-Humma!" All, of course, in Louisiana French.
"But why, then, does he not walk with her?"
"Why, because, Simplicity, both of them are men, while the little Monk on his arm is a lady, as you can see, and so is the masque that has the arm of the Indian Queen; look at their little hands."
In another part of the room the four were greeted with, "Ha, ha, ha! well, that is magnificent! But see that Huguenotte Girl on the Indian Queen's arm! Isn't that fine! Ha, ha! she carries a little trunk. She is a Fille a la Cassette!"
Two partners in a cotillion were speaking in an undertone, behind a fan.
"And you think you know who it is?" asked one.
"Know?" replied the other. "Do I know I have a head on my shoulders? If that Dragoon is not our cousin Honore Grandissime—well—"
"Honore in mask? he is too sober-sided to do such a thing."
"I tell you it is he! Listen. Yesterday I heard Doctor Charlie Keene begging him to go, and telling him there were two ladies, strangers, newly arrived in the city, who would be there, and whom he wished him to meet. Depend upon it the Dragoon is Honore, Lufki-Humma is Charlie Keene, and the Monk and the Huguenotte are those two ladies."
But all this is an outside view; let us draw nearer and see what chance may discover to us behind those four masks.
An hour has passed by. The dance goes on; hearts are beating, wit is flashing, eyes encounter eyes with the leveled lances of their beams, merriment and joy and sudden bright surprises thrill the breast, voices are throwing off disguise, and beauty's coy ear is bending with a venturesome docility; here love is baffled, there deceived, yonder takes prisoners and here surrenders. The very air seems to breathe, to sigh, to laugh, while the musicians, with disheveled locks, streaming brows and furious bows, strike, draw, drive, scatter from the anguished violins a never-ending rout of screaming harmonies. But the Monk and the Huguenotte are not on the floor. They are sitting where they have been left by their two companions, in one of the boxes of the theater, looking out upon the unwearied whirl and flash of gauze and light and color.
"Oh, cherie, cherie!" murmured the little lady in the Monk's disguise to her quieter companion, and speaking in the soft dialect of old Louisiana, "now you get a good idea of heaven!"
The Fille a la Cassette replied with a sudden turn of her masked face and a murmur of surprise and protest against this impiety. A low, merry laugh came out of the Monk's cowl, and the Huguenotte let her form sink a little in her chair with a gentle sigh.
"Ah, for shame, tired!" softly laughed the other; then suddenly, with her eyes fixed across the room, she seized her companion's hand and pressed it tightly. "Do you not see it?" she whispered eagerly, "just by the door—the casque with the heron feathers. Ah, Clotilde, I cannot believe he is one of those Grandissimes!"
"Well," replied the Huguenotte, "Doctor Keene says he is not."
Doctor Charlie Keene, speaking from under the disguise of the Indian Queen, had indeed so said; but the Recording Angel, whom we understand to be particular about those things, had immediately made a memorandum of it to the debit of Doctor Keene's account.
"If I had believed that it was he," continued the whisperer, "I would have turned about and left him in the midst of the contra-dance!"
Behind them sat unmasked a well-aged pair, "bredouille," as they used to say of the wall-flowers, with that look of blissful repose which marks the married and established Creole. The lady in monk's attire turned about in her chair and leaned back to laugh with these. The passing maskers looked that way, with a certain instinct that there was beauty under those two costumes. As they did so, they saw the Fille a la Cassette join in this over-shoulder conversation. A moment later, they saw the old gentleman protector and the Fille a la Cassette rising to the dance. And when presently the distant passers took a final backward glance, that same Lieutenant of Dragoons had returned and he and the little Monk were once more upon the floor, waiting for the music.
"But your late companion?" said the voice in the cowl.
"My Indian Queen?" asked the Creole Epaminondas.
"Say, rather, your Medicine-Man," archly replied the Monk.
"In these times," responded the Cavalier, "a medicine-man cannot dance long without professional interruption, even when he dances for a charitable object. He has been called to two relapsed patients." The music struck up; the speaker addressed himself to the dance; but the lady did not respond.
"Do dragoons ever moralize?" she asked.
"They do more," replied her partner; "sometimes, when beauty's enjoyment of the ball is drawing toward its twilight, they catch its pleasant melancholy, and confess; will the good father sit in the confessional?"
The pair turned slowly about and moved toward the box from which they had come, the lady remaining silent; but just as they were entering she half withdrew her arm from his, and, confronting him with a rich sparkle of the eyes within the immobile mask of the monk, said:
"Why should the conscience of one poor little monk carry all the frivolity of this ball? I have a right to dance, if I wish. I give you my word, Monsieur Dragoon, I dance only for the benefit of the sick and the destitute. It is you men—you dragoons and others—who will not help them without a compensation in this sort of nonsense. Why should we shrive you when you ought to burn?"
"Then lead us to the altar," said the Dragoon.
"Pardon, sir," she retorted, her words entangled with a musical, open-hearted laugh, "I am not going in that direction." She cast her glance around the ball-room. "As you say, it is the twilight of the ball; I am looking for the evening star,—that is, my little Huguenotte."
"Then you are well mated."
"For you are Aurora."
The lady gave a displeased start.
"Pardon," said the Cavalier, "if by accident I have hit upon your real name—"
She laughed again—a laugh which was as exultantly joyous as it was high-bred.
"Ah, my name? Oh no, indeed!" (More work for the Recording Angel.)
She turned to her protectress.
"Madame, I know you think we should be going home."
The senior lady replied in amiable speech, but with sleepy eyes, and the Monk began to lift and unfold a wrapping. As the Cavalier' drew it into his own possession, and, agreeably to his gesture, the Monk and he sat down side by side, he said, in a low tone:
"One more laugh before we part."
"A monk cannot laugh for nothing."
"I will pay for it."
"But with nothing to laugh at?" The thought of laughing at nothing made her laugh a little on the spot.
"We will make something to laugh at," said the Cavalier; "we will unmask to each other, and when we find each other first cousins, the laugh will come of itself."
"Ah! we will unmask?—no! I have no cousins. I am certain we are strangers."
"Then we will laugh to think that I paid for the disappointment."
Much more of this childlike badinage followed, and by and by they came around again to the same last statement. Another little laugh escaped from the cowl.
"You will pay? Let us see; how much will you give to the sick and destitute?"
"To see who it is I am laughing with, I will give whatever you ask."
"Two hundred and fifty dollars, cash, into the hands of the managers!"
The Monk laughed, and her chaperon opened her eyes and smiled apologetically. The Cavalier laughed, too, and said:
"Good! That was the laugh; now the unmasking."
"And you positively will give the money to the managers not later than to-morrow evening?"
"Not later. It shall be done without fail."
"Well, wait till I put on my wrappings; I must be ready to run."
This delightful nonsense was interrupted by the return of the Fille a la Cassette and her aged, but sprightly, escort, from a circuit of the floor. Madame again opened her eyes, and the four prepared to depart. The Dragoon helped the Monk to fortify herself against the outer air. She was ready before the others. There was a pause, a low laugh, a whispered "Now!" She looked upon an unmasked, noble countenance, lifted her own mask a little, and then a little more; and then shut it quickly down again upon a face whose beauty was more than even those fascinating graces had promised which Honore Grandissime had fitly named the Morning; but it was a face he had never seen before.
"Hush!" she said, "the enemies of religion are watching us; the Huguenotte saw me. Adieu"—and they were gone.
M. Honore Grandissime turned on his heel and very soon left the ball.
"Now, sir," thought he to himself, "we'll return to our senses."
"Now I'll put my feathers on again," says the plucked bird.
THE FATE OF THE IMMIGRANT
It was just a fortnight after the ball, that one Joseph Frowenfeld opened his eyes upon Louisiana. He was an American by birth, rearing and sentiment, yet German enough through his parents, and the only son in a family consisting of father, mother, self, and two sisters, new-blown flowers of womanhood. It was an October dawn, when, long wearied of the ocean, and with bright anticipations of verdure, and fragrance, and tropical gorgeousness, this simple-hearted family awoke to find the bark that had borne them from their far northern home already entering upon the ascent of the Mississippi.
We may easily imagine the grave group, as they came up one by one from below, that morning of first disappointment, and stood (with a whirligig of jubilant mosquitoes spinning about each head) looking out across the waste, seeing the sky and the marsh meet in the east, the north, and the west, and receiving with patient silence the father's suggestion that the hills would, no doubt, rise into view after a while.
"My children, we may turn this disappointment into a lesson; if the good people of this country could speak to us now, they might well ask us not to judge them or their land upon one or two hasty glances, or by the experiences of a few short days or weeks."
But no hills rose. However, by and by they found solace in the appearance of distant forest, and in the afternoon they entered a land—but such a land! A land hung in mourning, darkened by gigantic cypresses, submerged; a land of reptiles, silence, shadow, decay.
"The captain told father, when we went to engage passage, that New Orleans was on high land," said the younger daughter, with a tremor in the voice, and ignoring the remonstrative touch of her sister.
"On high land?" said the captain, turning from the pilot; "well, so it is—higher than the swamp, but not higher than the river," and he checked a broadening smile.
But the Frowenfelds were not a family to complain. It was characteristic of them to recognize the bright as well as the solemn virtues, and to keep each other reminded of the duty of cheerfulness. A smile, starting from the quiet elder sister, went around the group, directed against the abstracted and somewhat rueful countenance of Joseph, whereat he turned with a better face and said that what the Creator had pronounced very good they could hardly feel free to condemn. The old father was still more stout of heart.
"These mosquitoes, children, are thought by some to keep the air pure," he said.
"Better keep out of it after sunset," put in the captain.
After that day and night, the prospect grew less repellent. A gradually matured conviction that New Orleans would not be found standing on stilts in the quagmire enabled the eye to become educated to a better appreciation of the solemn landscape. Nor was the landscape always solemn. There were long openings, now and then, to right and left, of emerald-green savannah, with the dazzling blue of the Gulf far beyond, waving a thousand white-handed good-byes as the funereal swamps slowly shut out again the horizon. How sweet the soft breezes off the moist prairies! How weird, how very near, the crimson and green and black and yellow sunsets! How dream-like the land and the great, whispering river! The profound stillness and breath reminded the old German, so he said, of that early time when the evenings and mornings were the first days of the half-built world. The barking of a dog in Fort Plaquemines seemed to come before its turn in the panorama of creation—before the earth was ready for the dog's master.
But he was assured that to live in those swamps was not entirely impossible to man—"if one may call a negro a man." Runaway slaves were not so rare in them as one—a lost hunter, for example—might wish. His informant was a new passenger, taken aboard at the fort. He spoke English.
"Yes, sir! Didn' I had to run from Bras-Coupe in de haidge of de swamp be'ine de 'abitation of my cousin Honore, one time? You can hask 'oo you like!" (A Creole always provides against incredulity.) At this point he digressed a moment: "You know my cousin, Honore Grandissime, w'at give two hund' fifty dolla' to de 'ospill laz mont'? An' juz because my cousin Honore give it, somebody helse give de semm. Fo' w'y don't he give his nemm?"
The reason (which this person did not know) was that the second donor was the first one over again, resolved that the little unknown Monk should not know whom she had baffled.
"Who was Bras-Coupe?" the good German asked in French.
The stranger sat upon the capstan, and, in the shadow of the cypress forest, where the vessel lay moored for a change of wind, told in a patois difficult, but not impossible, to understand, the story of a man who chose rather to be hunted like a wild beast among those awful labyrinths, than to be yoked and beaten like a tame one. Joseph, drawing near as the story was coming to a close, overheard the following English:
"Friend, if you dislike heated discussion, do not tell that to my son."
The nights were strangely beautiful. The immigrants almost consumed them on deck, the mother and daughters attending in silent delight while the father and son, facing south, rejoiced in learned recognition of stars and constellations hitherto known to them only on globes and charts.
"Yes, my dear son," said the father, in a moment of ecstatic admiration, "wherever man may go, around this globe—however uninviting his lateral surroundings may be, the heavens are ever over his head, and I am glad to find the stars your favorite objects of study."
So passed the time as the vessel, hour by hour, now slowly pushed by the wind against the turbid current, now warping along the fragrant precincts of orange or magnolia groves or fields of sugar-cane, or moored by night in the deep shade of mighty willow-jungles, patiently crept toward the end of their pilgrimage; and in the length of time which would at present be consumed in making the whole journey from their Northern home to their Southern goal, accomplished the distance of ninety-eight miles, and found themselves before the little, hybrid city of "Nouvelle Orleans." There was the cathedral, and standing beside it, like Sancho beside Don Quixote, the squat hall of the Cabildo with the calabozo in the rear. There were the forts, the military bakery, the hospitals, the plaza, the Almonaster stores, and the busy rue Toulouse; and, for the rest of the town, a pleasant confusion of green tree-tops, red and gray roofs, and glimpses of white or yellow wall, spreading back a few hundred yards behind the cathedral, and tapering into a single rank of gardened and belvedered villas, that studded either horn of the river's crescent with a style of home than which there is probably nothing in the world more maternally homelike.
"And now," said the "captain," bidding the immigrants good-by, "keep out of the sun and stay in after dark; you're not 'acclimated,' as they call it, you know, and the city is full of the fever."
Such were the Frowenfelds. Out of such a mold and into such a place came the young Americain, whom even Agricola Fusilier, as we shall see, by and by thought worthy to be made an exception of, and honored with his recognition.
The family rented a two-story brick house in the rue Bienville, No. 17, it seems. The third day after, at daybreak, Joseph called his father to his bedside to say that he had had a chill, and was suffering such pains in his head and back that he would like to lie quiet until they passed off. The gentle father replied that it was undoubtedly best to do so, and preserved an outward calm. He looked at his son's eyes; their pupils were contracted to tiny beads. He felt his pulse and his brow; there was no room for doubt; it was the dreaded scourge—the fever. We say, sometimes, of hearts that they sink like lead; it does not express the agony.
On the second day, while the unsated fever was running through every vein and artery, like soldiery through the streets of a burning city, and far down in the caverns of the body the poison was ransacking every palpitating corner, the poor immigrant fell into a moment's sleep. But what of that? The enemy that moment had mounted to the brain. And then there happened to Joseph an experience rare to the sufferer by this disease, but not entirely unknown,—a delirium of mingled pleasures and distresses. He seemed to awake somewhere between heaven and earth, reclining in a gorgeous barge, which was draped in curtains of interwoven silver and silk, cushioned with rich stuffs of every beautiful dye, and perfumed ad nauseam with orange-leaf tea. The crew was a single old negress, whose head was wound about with a blue Madras handkerchief, and who stood at the prow, and by a singular rotary motion, rowed the barge with a teaspoon. He could not get his head out of the hot sun; and the barge went continually round and round with a heavy, throbbing motion, in the regular beat of which certain spirits of the air—one of whom appeared to be a beautiful girl and another a small, red-haired man,—confronted each other with the continual call and response:
"Keep the bedclothes on him and the room shut tight, keep the bedclothes on him and the room shut tight,"—"An' don' give 'im some watta, an' don' give 'im some watta."
During what lapse of time—whether moments or days—this lasted, Joseph could not then know; but at last these things faded away, and there came to him a positive knowledge that he was on a sick-bed, where unless something could be done for him he should be dead in an hour. Then a spoon touched his lips, and a taste of brandy and water went all through him; and when he fell into sweet slumber and awoke, and found the teaspoon ready at his lips again, he had to lift a little the two hands lying before him on the coverlet to know that they were his—they were so wasted and yellow. He turned his eyes, and through the white gauze of the mosquito-bar saw, for an instant, a strange and beautiful young face; but the lids fell over his eyes, and when he raised them again the blue-turbaned black nurse was tucking the covering about his feet.
"Where is my mother?"
The negress shook her head.
He was too weak to speak again, but asked with his eyes so persistently, and so pleadingly, that by and by she gave him an audible answer. He tried hard to understand it, but could not, it being in these words:
"Li pa' oule vini 'ci—li pas capabe."
Thrice a day, for three days more, came a little man with a large head surrounded by short, red curls and with small freckles in a fine skin, and sat down by the bed with a word of good cheer and the air of a commander. At length they had something like an extended conversation.
"So you concluded not to die, eh? Yes, I'm the doctor—Doctor Keene. A young lady? What young lady? No, sir, there has been no young lady here. You're mistaken. Vagary of your fever. There has been no one here but this black girl and me. No, my dear fellow, your father and mother can't see you yet; you don't want them to catch the fever, do you? Good-bye. Do as your nurse tells you, and next week you may raise your head and shoulders a little; but if you don't mind her you'll have a backset, and the devil himself wouldn't engage to cure you."
The patient had been sitting up a little at a time for several days, when at length the doctor came to pay a final call, "as a matter of form;" but, after a few pleasantries, he drew his chair up gravely, and, in a tender tone—need we say it? He had come to tell Joseph that his father, mother, sisters, all, were gone on a second—a longer—voyage, to shores where there could be no disappointments and no fevers, forever.
"And, Frowenfeld," he said, at the end of their long and painful talk, "if there is any blame attached to not letting you go with them, I think I can take part of it; but if you ever want a friend,—one who is courteous to strangers and ill-mannered only to those he likes,—you can call for Charlie Keene. I'll drop in to see you, anyhow, from time to time, till you get stronger. I have taken a heap of trouble to keep you alive, and if you should relapse now and give us the slip, it would be a deal of good physic wasted; so keep in the house."
The polite neighbors who lifted their cocked hats to Joseph, as he spent a slow convalescence just within his open door, were not bound to know how or when he might have suffered. There were no "Howards" or "Y.M.C.A.'s" in those days; no "Peabody Reliefs." Even had the neighbors chosen to take cognizance of those bereavements, they were not so unusual as to fix upon him any extraordinary interests an object of sight; and he was beginning most distressfully to realize that "great solitude" which the philosopher attributes to towns, when matters took a decided turn.
"AND WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?"
We say matters took a turn; or, better, that Frowenfeld's interest in affairs received a new life. This had its beginning in Doctor Keene's making himself specially entertaining in an old-family-history way, with a view to keeping his patient within doors for a safe period. He had conceived a great liking for Frowenfeld, and often, of an afternoon, would drift in to challenge him to a game of chess—a game, by the way, for which neither of them cared a farthing. The immigrant had learned its moves to gratify his father, and the doctor—the truth is, the doctor had never quite learned them; but he was one of those men who cannot easily consent to acknowledge a mere affection for one, least of all one of their own sex. It may safely be supposed, then, that the board often displayed an arrangement of pieces that would have bewildered Morphy himself.
"By the by, Frowenfeld," he said one evening, after the one preliminary move with which he invariably opened his game, "you haven't made the acquaintance of your pretty neighbors next door."
Frowenfeld knew of no specially pretty neighbors next door on either side—had noticed no ladies.
"Well, I will take you in to see them some time." The doctor laughed a little, rubbing his face and his thin, red curls with one hand, as he laughed.
The convalescent wondered what there could be to laugh at.
"Who are they?" he inquired.
"Their name is De Grapion—oh, De Grapion, says I! their name is Nancanou. They are, without exception, the finest women—the brightest, the best, and the bravest—that I know in New Orleans." The doctor resumed a cigar which lay against the edge of the chess-board, found it extinguished, and proceeded to relight it. "Best blood of the province; good as the Grandissimes. Blood is a great thing here, in certain odd ways," he went on. "Very curious sometimes." He stooped to the floor where his coat had fallen, and took his handkerchief from a breast-pocket. "At a grand mask ball about two months ago, where I had a bewilderingly fine time with those ladies, the proudest old turkey in the theater was an old fellow whose Indian blood shows in his very behavior, and yet—ha, ha! I saw that same old man, at a quadroon ball a few years ago, walk up to the handsomest, best dressed man in the house, a man with a skin whiter than his own,—a perfect gentleman as to looks and manners,—and without a word slap him in the face."
"You laugh?" asked Frowenfeld.
"Laugh? Why shouldn't I? The fellow had no business there. Those balls are not given to quadroon males, my friend. He was lucky to get out alive, and that was about all he did.
"They are right!" the doctor persisted, in response to Frowenfeld's puzzled look. "The people here have got to be particular. However, that is not what we were talking about. Quadroon balls are not to be mentioned in connection. Those ladies—" He addressed himself to the resuscitation of his cigar. "Singular people in this country," he resumed; but his cigar would not revive. He was a poor story-teller. To Frowenfeld—as it would have been to any one, except a Creole or the most thoroughly Creoleized Americain—his narrative, when it was done, was little more than a thick mist of strange names, places and events; yet there shone a light of romance upon it that filled it with color and populated it with phantoms. Frowenfeld's interest rose—was allured into this mist—and there was left befogged. As a physician, Doctor Keene thus accomplished his end,—the mental diversion of his late patient,—for in the midst of the mist Frowenfeld encountered and grappled a problem of human life in Creole type, the possible correlations of whose quantities we shall presently find him revolving in a studious and sympathetic mind, as the poet of to-day ponders the
"Flower in the crannied wall."
The quantities in that problem were the ancestral—the maternal—roots of those two rival and hostile families whose descendants—some brave, others fair—we find unwittingly thrown together at the ball, and with whom we are shortly to have the honor of an unmasked acquaintance.
In the year 1673, and in the royal hovel of a Tchoupitoulas village not far removed from that "Buffalo's Grazing-ground," now better known as New Orleans, was born Lufki-Humma, otherwise Red Clay. The mother of Red Clay was a princess by birth as well as by marriage. For the father, with that devotion to his people's interests presumably common to rulers, had ten moons before ventured northward into the territory of the proud and exclusive Natchez nation, and had so prevailed with—so outsmoked—their "Great Sun," as to find himself, as he finally knocked the ashes from his successful calumet, possessor of a wife whose pedigree included a long line of royal mothers—fathers being of little account in Natchez heraldry—extending back beyond the Mexican origin of her nation, and disappearing only in the effulgence of her great original, the orb of day himself. As to Red Clay's paternal ancestry, we must content ourselves with the fact that the father was not only the diplomate we have already found him, but a chief of considerable eminence; that is to say, of seven feet stature.
It scarce need be said that when Lufki-Humma was born, the mother arose at once from her couch of skins, herself bore the infant to the neighboring bayou and bathed it—not for singularity, nor for independence, nor for vainglory, but only as one of the heart-curdling conventionalities which made up the experience of that most pitiful of holy things, an Indian mother.
Outside the lodge door sat and continued to sit, as she passed out, her master or husband. His interest in the trivialities of the moment may be summed up in this, that he was as fully prepared as some men are in more civilized times and places to hold his queen to strict account for the sex of her offspring. Girls for the Natchez, if they preferred them, but the chief of the Tchoupitoulas wanted a son. She returned from the water, came near, sank upon her knees, laid the infant at his feet, and lo! a daughter.
Then she fell forward heavily upon her face. It may have been muscular exhaustion, it may have been the mere wind of her hasty-tempered matrimonial master's stone hatchet as it whiffed by her skull; an inquest now would be too great an irony; but something blew out her "vile candle."
Among the squaws who came to offer the accustomed funeral howlings, and seize mementoes from the deceased lady's scant leavings, was one who had in her own palmetto hut an empty cradle scarcely cold, and therefore a necessity at her breast, if not a place in her heart, for the unfortunate Lufki-Humma; and thus it was that this little waif came to be tossed, a droll hypothesis of flesh, blood, nerve and brain, into the hands of wild nature with carte blanche as to the disposal of it. And now, since this was Agricola's most boasted ancestor—since it appears the darkness of her cheek had no effect to make him less white, or qualify his right to smite the fairest and most distant descendant of an African on the face, and since this proud station and right could not have sprung from the squalid surroundings of her birth, let us for a moment contemplate these crude materials.
As for the flesh, it was indeed only some of that "one flesh" of which we all are made; but the blood—to go into finer distinctions—the blood, as distinguished from the milk of her Alibamon foster-mother, was the blood of the royal caste of the great Toltec mother-race, which, before it yielded its Mexican splendors to the conquering Aztec, throned the jeweled and gold-laden Inca in the South, and sent the sacred fire of its temples into the North by the hand of the Natchez. For it is a short way of expressing the truth concerning Red Clay's tissues to say she had the blood of her mother and the nerve of her father, the nerve of the true North American Indian, and had it in its finest strength.
As to her infantine bones, they were such as needed not to fail of straightness in the limbs, compactness in the body, smallness in hands and feet, and exceeding symmetry and comeliness throughout. Possibly between the two sides of the occipital profile there may have been an Incaean tendency to inequality; but if by any good fortune her impressible little cranium should escape the cradle-straps, the shapeliness that nature loves would soon appear. And this very fortune befell her. Her father's detestation of an infant that had not consulted his wishes as to sex prompted a verbal decree which, among other prohibitions, forbade her skull the distortions that ambitious and fashionable Indian mothers delighted to produce upon their offspring.
And as to her brain: what can we say? The casket in which Nature sealed that brain, and in which Nature's great step-sister, Death, finally laid it away, has never fallen into the delighted fingers—and the remarkable fineness of its texture will never kindle admiration in the triumphant eyes—of those whose scientific hunger drives them to dig for crania Americana; nor yet will all their learned excavatings ever draw forth one of those pale souvenirs of mortality with walls of shapelier contour or more delicate fineness, or an interior of more admirable spaciousness, than the fair council-chamber under whose dome the mind of Lufki-Humma used, about two centuries ago, to sit in frequent conclave with high thoughts.
"I have these facts," it was Agricola Fusilier's habit to say, "by family tradition; but you know, sir, h-tradition is much more authentic than history!"
Listening Crane, the tribal medicine-man, one day stepped softly into the lodge of the giant chief, sat down opposite him on a mat of plaited rushes, accepted a lighted calumet, and, after the silence of a decent hour, broken at length by the warrior's intimation that "the ear of Raging Buffalo listened for the voice of his brother," said, in effect, that if that ear would turn toward the village play-ground, it would catch a murmur like the pleasing sound of bees among the blossoms of the catalpa, albeit the catalpa was now dropping her leaves, for it was the moon of turkeys. No, it was the repressed laughter of squaws, wallowing with their young ones about the village pole, wondering at the Natchez-Tchoupitoulas child, whose eye was the eye of the panther, and whose words were the words of an aged chief in council.
There was more added; we record only enough to indicate the direction of Listening Crane's aim. The eye of Raging Buffalo was opened to see a vision: the daughter of the Natchez sitting in majesty, clothed in many-colored robes of shining feathers crossed and recrossed with girdles of serpent-skins and of wampum, her feet in quilled and painted moccasins, her head under a glory of plumes, the carpet of buffalo-robes about her throne covered with the trophies of conquest, and the atmosphere of her lodge blue with the smoke of embassadors' calumets; and this extravagant dream the capricious chief at once resolved should eventually become reality. "Let her be taken to the village temple," he said to his prime-minister, "and be fed by warriors on the flesh of wolves."
The Listening Crane was a patient man; he was the "man that waits" of the old French proverb; all things came to him. He had waited for an opportunity to change his brother's mind, and it had come. Again, he waited for him to die; and, like Methuselah and others, he died. He had heard of a race more powerful than the Natchez—a white race; he waited for them; and when the year 1682 saw a humble "black gown" dragging and splashing his way, with La Salle and Tonti, through the swamps of Louisiana, holding forth the crucifix and backed by French carbines and Mohican tomahawks, among the marvels of that wilderness was found this: a child of nine sitting, and—with some unostentatious aid from her medicine-man—ruling; queen of her tribe and high-priestess of their temple. Fortified by the acumen and self-collected ambition of Listening Crane, confirmed in her regal title by the white man's Manitou through the medium of the "black gown," and inheriting her father's fear-compelling frown, she ruled with majesty and wisdom, sometimes a decreer of bloody justice, sometimes an Amazonian counselor of warriors, and at all times—year after year, until she had reached the perfect womanhood of twenty-six—a virgin queen.
On the 11th of March, 1699, two overbold young Frenchmen of M. D'Iberville's little exploring party tossed guns on shoulder, and ventured away from their canoes on the bank of the Mississippi into the wilderness. Two men they were whom an explorer would have been justified in hoarding up, rather than in letting out at such risks; a pair to lean on, noble and strong. They hunted, killed nothing, were overtaken by rain, then by night, hunger, alarm, despair.
And when they had lain down to die, and had only succeeded in falling asleep, the Diana of the Tchoupitoulas, ranging the magnolia groves with bow and quiver, came upon them in all the poetry of their hope-forsaken strength and beauty, and fell sick of love. We say not whether with Zephyr Grandissime or Epaminondas Fusilier; that, for the time being, was her secret.
The two captives were made guests. Listening Crane rejoiced in them as representatives of the great gift-making race, and indulged himself in a dream of pipe-smoking, orations, treaties, presents and alliances, finding its climax in the marriage of his virgin queen to the king of France, and unvaryingly tending to the swiftly increasing aggrandizement of Listening Crane. They sat down to bear's meat, sagamite and beans. The queen sat down with them, clothed in her entire wardrobe: vest of swan's skin, with facings of purple and green from the neck of the mallard; petticoat of plaited hair, with embroideries of quills; leggings of fawn-skin; garters of wampum; black and green serpent-skin moccasins, that rested on pelts of tiger-cat and buffalo; armlets of gars' scales, necklaces of bears' claws and alligators' teeth, plaited tresses, plumes of raven and flamingo, wing of the pink curlew, and odors of bay and sassafras. Young men danced before them, blowing upon reeds, hooting, yelling, rattling beans in gourds and touching hands and feet. One day was like another, and the nights were made brilliant with flambeau dances and processions.
Some days later M. D'Iberville's canoe fleet, returning down the river, found and took from the shore the two men, whom they had given up for dead, and with them, by her own request, the abdicating queen, who left behind her a crowd of weeping and howling squaws and warriors. Three canoes that put off in their wake, at a word from her, turned back; but one old man leaped into the water, swam after them a little way, and then unexpectedly sank. It was that cautious wader but inexperienced swimmer, the Listening Crane.
When the expedition reached Biloxi, there were two suitors for the hand of Agricola's great ancestress. Neither of them was Zephyr Grandissime. (Ah! the strong heads of those Grandissimes.)
They threw dice for her. Demosthenes De Grapion—he who, tradition says, first hoisted the flag of France over the little fort—seemed to think he ought to have a chance, and being accorded it, cast an astonishingly high number; but Epaminondas cast a number higher by one (which Demosthenes never could quite understand), and got a wife who had loved him from first sight.
Thus, while the pilgrim fathers of the Mississippi Delta with Gallic recklessness were taking wives and moot-wives from the ill specimens of three races, arose, with the church's benediction, the royal house of the Fusiliers in Louisiana. But the true, main Grandissime stock, on which the Fusiliers did early, ever, and yet do, love to marry, has kept itself lily-white ever since France has loved lilies—as to marriage, that is; as to less responsible entanglements, why, of course—
After a little, the disappointed Demosthenes, with due ecclesiastical sanction, also took a most excellent wife, from the first cargo of House of Correction girls. Her biography, too, is as short as Methuselah's, or shorter; she died. Zephyr Grandissime married, still later, a lady of rank, a widow without children, sent from France to Biloxi under a lettre de cachet. Demosthenes De Grapion, himself an only son, left but one son, who also left but one. Yet they were prone to early marriages.
So also were the Grandissimes, or, as the name is signed in all the old notarial papers, the Brahmin Mandarin de Grandissimes. That was one thing that kept their many-stranded family line so free from knots and kinks. Once the leisurely Zephyr gave them a start, generation followed generation with a rapidity that kept the competing De Grapions incessantly exasperated, and new-made Grandissime fathers continually throwing themselves into the fond arms and upon the proud necks of congratulatory grandsires. Verily it seemed as though their family tree was a fig-tree; you could not look for blossoms on it, but there, instead, was the fruit full of seed. And with all their speed they were for the most part fine of stature, strong of limb and fair of face. The old nobility of their stock, including particularly the unnamed blood of her of the lettre de cachet, showed forth in a gracefulness of carriage, that almost identified a De Grandissime wherever you saw him, and in a transparency of flesh and classic beauty of feature, that made their daughters extra-marriageable in a land and day which was bearing a wide reproach for a male celibacy not of the pious sort.
In a flock of Grandissimes might always be seen a Fusilier or two; fierce-eyed, strong-beaked, dark, heavy-taloned birds, who, if they could not sing, were of rich plumage, and could talk, and bite, and strike, and keep up a ruffled crest and a self-exalting bad humor. They early learned one favorite cry, with which they greeted all strangers, crying the louder the more the endeavor was made to appease them: "Invaders! Invaders!"
There was a real pathos in the contrast offered to this family line by that other which sprang up, as slenderly as a stalk of wild oats, from the loins of Demosthenes De Grapion. A lone son following a lone son, and he another—it was sad to contemplate, in that colonial beginning of days, three generations of good, Gallic blood tripping jocundly along in attenuated Indian file. It made it no less pathetic to see that they were brilliant, gallant, much-loved, early epauletted fellows, who did not let twenty-one catch them without wives sealed with the authentic wedding kiss, nor allow twenty-two to find them without an heir. But they had a sad aptness for dying young. It was altogether supposable that they would have spread out broadly in the land; but they were such inveterate duelists, such brave Indian-fighters, such adventurous swamp-rangers, and such lively free-livers, that, however numerously their half-kin may have been scattered about in an unacknowledged way, the avowed name of De Grapion had become less and less frequent in lists where leading citizens subscribed their signatures, and was not to be seen in the list of managers of the late ball.
It is not at all certain that so hot a blood would not have boiled away entirely before the night of the bal masque, but for an event which led to the union of that blood with a stream equally clear and ruddy, but of a milder vintage. This event fell out some fifty-two years after that cast of the dice which made the princess Lufki-Humma the mother of all the Fusiliers and of none of the De Grapions. Clotilde, the Casket-Girl, the little maid who would not marry, was one of an heroic sort, worth—the De Grapions maintained—whole swampfuls of Indian queens. And yet the portrait of this great ancestress, which served as a pattern to one who, at the ball, personated the long-deceased heroine en masque, is hopelessly lost in some garret. Those Creoles have such a shocking way of filing their family relics and records in rat-holes.
One fact alone remains to be stated: that the De Grapions, try to spurn it as they would, never could quite suppress a hard feeling in the face of the record, that from the two young men, who, when lost in the horrors of Louisiana's swamps, had been esteemed as good as dead, and particularly from him who married at his leisure,—from Zephyr de Grandissime,—sprang there so many as the sands of the Mississippi innumerable.
A MAIDEN WHO WILL NOT MARRY
Midway between the times of Lufki-Humma and those of her proud descendant, Agricola Fusilier, fifty-two years lying on either side, were the days of Pierre Rigaut, the magnificent, the "Grand Marquis," the Governor, De Vaudreuil. He was the Solomon of Louisiana. For splendor, however, not for wisdom. Those were the gala days of license, extravagance and pomp. He made paper money to be as the leaves of the forest for multitude; it was nothing accounted of in the days of the Grand Marquis. For Louis Quinze was king.
Clotilde, orphan of a murdered Huguenot, was one of sixty, the last royal allotment to Louisiana, of imported wives. The king's agents had inveigled her away from France with fair stories: "They will give you a quiet home with some lady of the colony. Have to marry?—not unless it pleases you. The king himself pays your passage and gives you a casket of clothes. Think of that these times, fillette; and passage free, withal, to—the garden of Eden, as you may call it—what more, say you, can a poor girl want? Without doubt, too, like a model colonist, you will accept a good husband and have a great many beautiful children, who will say with pride, 'Me, I am no House-of-Correction-girl stock; my mother'—or 'grandmother,' as the case may be—'was a fille a la cassette!'"
The sixty were landed in New Orleans and given into the care of the Ursuline nuns; and, before many days had elapsed, fifty-nine soldiers of the king were well wived and ready to settle upon their riparian land-grants. The residuum in the nuns' hands was one stiff-necked little heretic, named, in part, Clotilde. They bore with her for sixty days, and then complained to the Grand Marquis. But the Grand Marquis, with all his pomp, was gracious and kind-hearted, and loved his ease almost as much as his marchioness loved money. He bade them try her another month. They did so, and then returned with her; she would neither marry nor pray to Mary.
Here is the way they talked in New Orleans in those days. If you care to understand why Louisiana has grown up so out of joint, note the tone of those who governed her in the middle of the last century:
"What, my child," the Grand Marquis said, "you a fille a la cassette? France, for shame! Come here by my side. Will you take a little advice from an old soldier? It is in one word—submit. Whatever is inevitable, submit to it. If you want to live easy and sleep easy, do as other people do—submit. Consider submission in the present case; how easy, how comfortable, and how little it amounts to! A little hearing of mass, a little telling of beads, a little crossing of one's self—what is that? One need not believe in them. Don't shake your head. Take my example; look at me; all these things go in at this ear and out at this. Do king or clergy trouble me? Not at all. For how does the king in these matters of religion? I shall not even tell you, he is such a bad boy. Do you not know that all the noblesse, and all the savants, and especially all the archbishops and cardinals,—all, in a word, but such silly little chicks as yourself,—have found out that this religious business is a joke? Actually a joke, every whit; except, to be sure, this heresy phase; that is a joke they cannot take. Now, I wish you well, pretty child; so if you—eh?—truly, my pet, I fear we shall have to call you unreasonable. Stop; they can spare me here a moment; I will take you to the Marquise: she is in the next room.... Behold," said he, as he entered the presence of his marchioness, "the little maid who will not marry!"
The Marquise was as cold and hard-hearted as the Marquis was loose and kind; but we need not recount the slow tortures of the fille a la cassette's second verbal temptation. The colony had to have soldiers, she was given to understand, and the soldiers must have wives. "Why, I am a soldier's wife, myself!" said the gorgeously attired lady, laying her hand upon the governor-general's epaulet. She explained, further, that he was rather softhearted, while she was a business woman; also that the royal commissary's rolls did not comprehend such a thing as a spinster, and—incidentally—that living by principle was rather out of fashion in the province just then.
After she had offered much torment of this sort, a definite notion seemed to take her; she turned her lord by a touch of the elbow, and exchanged two or three business-like whispers with him at a window overlooking the Levee.
"Fillette," she said, returning, "you are going to live on the sea-coast. I am sending an aged lady there to gather the wax of the wild myrtle. This good soldier of mine buys it for our king at twelve livres the pound. Do you not know that women can make money? The place is not safe; but there are no safe places in Louisiana. There are no nuns to trouble you there; only a few Indians and soldiers. You and Madame will live together, quite to yourselves, and can pray as you like."
"And not marry a soldier," said the Grand Marquis.
"No," said the lady, "not if you can gather enough myrtle-berries to afford me a profit and you a living."
It was some thirty leagues or more eastward to the country of the Biloxis, a beautiful land of low, evergreen hills looking out across the pine-covered sand-keys of Mississippi Sound to the Gulf of Mexico. The northern shore of Biloxi Bay was rich in candleberry-myrtle. In Clotilde's day, though Biloxi was no longer the capital of the Mississippi Valley, the fort which D'Iberville had built in 1699, and the first timber of which is said to have been lifted by Zephyr Grandissime at one end and Epaminondas Fusilier at the other, was still there, making brave against the possible advent of corsairs, with a few old culverines and one wooden mortar.
And did the orphan, in despite of Indians and soldiers and wilderness, settle down here and make a moderate fortune? Alas, she never gathered a berry! When she—with the aged lady, her appointed companion in exile, the young commandant of the fort, in whose pinnace they had come, and two or three French sailors and Canadians—stepped out upon the white sand of Biloxi beach, she was bound with invisible fetters hand and foot, by that Olympian rogue of a boy, who likes no better prey than a little maiden who thinks she will never marry.
The officer's name was De Grapion—Georges De Grapion. The Marquis gave him a choice grant of land on that part of the Mississippi river "coast" known as the Cannes Brulees.
"Of course you know where Cannes Brulees is, don't you?" asked Doctor Keene of Joseph Frowenfeld.
"Yes," said Joseph, with a twinge of reminiscence that recalled the study of Louisiana on paper with his father and sisters.
There Georges De Grapion settled, with the laudable determination to make a fresh start against the mortifyingly numerous Grandissimes.
"My father's policy was every way bad," he said to his spouse; "it is useless, and probably wrong, this trying to thin them out by duels; we will try another plan. Thank you," he added, as she handed his coat back to him, with the shoulder-straps cut off. In pursuance of the new plan, Madame De Grapion,—the precious little heroine!—before the myrtles offered another crop of berries, bore him a boy not much smaller (saith tradition) than herself.
Only one thing qualified the father's elation. On that very day Numa Grandissime (Brahmin-Mandarin de Grandissime), a mere child, received from Governor de Vaudreuil a cadetship.
"Never mind, Messieurs Grandissime, go on with your tricks; we shall see! Ha! we shall see!"
"We shall see what?" asked a remote relative of that family. "Will Monsieur be so good as to explain himself?"
* * * * *
Alas, Madame De Grapion!
It may be recorded that no affair of honor in Louisiana ever left a braver little widow. When Joseph and his doctor pretended to play chess together, but little more than a half-century had elapsed since the fille a la cassette stood before the Grand Marquis and refused to wed. Yet she had been long gone into the skies, leaving a worthy example behind her in twenty years of beautiful widowhood. Her son, the heir and resident of the plantation at Cannes Brulees, at the age of—they do say—eighteen, had married a blithe and pretty lady of Franco-Spanish extraction, and, after a fair length of life divided between campaigning under the brilliant young Galvez and raising unremunerative indigo crops, had lately lain down to sleep, leaving only two descendants—females—how shall we describe them?—a Monk and a Fille a la Cassette. It was very hard to have to go leaving his family name snuffed out and certain Grandissime-ward grievances burning.
* * * * *
"There are so many Grandissimes," said the weary-eyed Frowenfeld, "I cannot distinguish between—I can scarcely count them."
"Well, now," said the doctor, "let me tell you, don't try. They can't do it themselves. Take them in the mass—as you would shrimps."
The little doctor tipped his chair back against the wall, drew up his knees, and laughed whimperingly in his freckled hands.
"I had to do some prodigious lying at that ball. I didn't dare let the De Grapion ladies know they were in company with a Grandissime."
"I thought you said their name was Nancanou."
"Well, certainly—De Grapion-Nancanou. You see, that is one of their charms: one is a widow, the other is her daughter, and both as young and beautiful as Hebe. Ask Honore Grandissime; he has seen the little widow; but then he don't know who she is. He will not ask me, and I will not tell him. Oh, yes; it is about eighteen years now since old De Grapion—elegant, high-stepping old fellow—married her, then only sixteen years of age, to young Nancanou, an indigo-planter on the Fausse Riviere—the old bend, you know, behind Pointe Coupee. The young couple went there to live. I have been told they had one of the prettiest places in Louisiana. He was a man of cultivated tastes, educated in Paris, spoke English, was handsome (convivial, of course), and of perfectly pure blood. But there was one thing old De Grapion overlooked: he and his son-in-law were the last of their names. In Louisiana a man needs kinsfolk. He ought to have married his daughter into a strong house. They say that Numa Grandissime (Honore's father) and he had patched up a peace between the two families that included even old Agricola, and that he could have married her to a Grandissime. However, he is supposed to have known what he was about.
"A matter of business called young Nancanou to New Orleans. He had no friends here; he was a Creole, but what part of his life had not been spent on his plantation he had passed in Europe. He could not leave his young girl of a wife alone in that exiled sort of plantation life, so he brought her and the child (a girl) down with him as far as to her father's place, left them there, and came on to the city alone.
"Now, what does the old man do but give him a letter of introduction to old Agricole Fusilier! (His name is Agricola, but we shorten it to Agricole.) It seems that old De Grapion and Agricole had had the indiscretion to scrape up a mutually complimentary correspondence. And to Agricole the young man went.
"They became intimate at once, drank together, danced with the quadroons together, and got into as much mischief in three days as I ever did in a fortnight. So affairs went on until by and by they were gambling together. One night they were at the Piety Club, playing hard, and the planter lost his last quarti. He became desperate, and did a thing I have known more than one planter to do: wrote his pledge for every arpent of his land and every slave on it, and staked that. Agricole refused to play. 'You shall play,' said Nancanou, and when the game was ended he said: 'Monsieur Agricola Fusilier, you cheated.' You see? Just as I have frequently been tempted to remark to my friend, Mr. Frowenfeld.
"But, Frowenfeld, you must know, withal the Creoles are such gamblers, they never cheat; they play absolutely fair. So Agricole had to challenge the planter. He could not be blamed for that; there was no choice—oh, now, Frowenfeld, keep quiet! I tell you there was no choice. And the fellow was no coward. He sent Agricole a clear title to the real estate and slaves,—lacking only the wife's signature,—accepted the challenge and fell dead at the first fire.
"Stop, now, and let me finish. Agricole sat down and wrote to the widow that he did not wish to deprive her of her home, and that if she would state in writing her belief that the stakes had been won fairly, he would give back the whole estate, slaves and all; but that if she would not, he should feel compelled to retain it in vindication of his honor. Now wasn't that drawing a fine point?" The doctor laughed according to his habit, with his face down in his hands. "You see, he wanted to stand before all creation—the Creator did not make so much difference—in the most exquisitely proper light; so he puts the laws of humanity under his feet, and anoints himself from head to foot with Creole punctilio."
"Did she sign the paper?" asked Joseph.
"She? Wait till you know her! No, indeed; she had the true scorn. She and her father sent down another and a better title. Creole-like, they managed to bestir themselves to that extent and there they stopped.
"And the airs with which they did it! They kept all their rage to themselves, and sent the polite word, that they were not acquainted with the merits of the case, that they were not disposed to make the long and arduous trip to the city and back, and that if M. Fusilier de Grandissime thought he could find any pleasure or profit in owning the place, he was welcome; that the widow of his late friend was not disposed to live on it, but would remain with her father at the paternal home at Cannes Brulees.
"Did you ever hear of a more perfect specimen of Creole pride? That is the way with all of them. Show me any Creole, or any number of Creoles, in any sort of contest, and right down at the foundation of it all, I will find you this same preposterous, apathetic, fantastic, suicidal pride. It is as lethargic and ferocious as an alligator. That is why the Creole almost always is (or thinks he is) on the defensive. See these De Grapions' haughty good manners to old Agricole; yet there wasn't a Grandissime in Louisiana who could have set foot on the De Grapion lands but at the risk of his life.
"But I will finish the story: and here is the really sad part. Not many months ago old De Grapion—'old,' said I; they don't grow old; I call him old—a few months ago he died. He must have left everything smothered in debt; for, like his race, he had stuck to indigo because his father planted it, and it is a crop that has lost money steadily for years and years. His daughter and granddaughter were left like babes in the wood; and, to crown their disasters, have now made the grave mistake of coming to the city, where they find they haven't a friend—not one, sir! They called me in to prescribe for a trivial indisposition, shortly after their arrival; and I tell you, Frowenfeld, it made me shiver to see two such beautiful women in such a town as this without a male protector, and even"—the doctor lowered his voice—"without adequate support. The mother says they are perfectly comfortable; tells the old couple so who took them to the ball, and whose little girl is their embroidery scholar; but you cannot believe a Creole on that subject, and I don't believe her. Would you like to make their acquaintance?"
Frowenfeld hesitated, disliking to say no to his friend, and then shook his head.
"After a while—at least not now, sir, if you please."
The doctor made a gesture of disappointment.
"Um-hum," he said grumly—"the only man in New Orleans I would honor with an invitation!—but all right; I'll go alone."
He laughed a little at himself, and left Frowenfeld, if ever he should desire it, to make the acquaintance of his pretty neighbors as best he could.
WAS IT HONORE GRANDISSIME?
A Creole gentleman, on horseback one morning with some practical object in view,—drainage, possibly,—had got what he sought,—the evidence of his own eyes on certain points,—and now moved quietly across some old fields toward the town, where more absorbing interests awaited him in the Rue Toulouse; for this Creole gentleman was a merchant, and because he would presently find himself among the appointments and restraints of the counting-room, he heartily gave himself up, for the moment, to the surrounding influences of nature.
It was late in November; but the air was mild and the grass and foliage green and dewy. Wild flowers bloomed plentifully and in all directions; the bushes were hung, and often covered, with vines of sprightly green, sprinkled thickly with smart-looking little worthless berries, whose sparkling complacency the combined contempt of man, beast and bird could not dim. The call of the field-lark came continually out of the grass, where now and then could be seen his yellow breast; the orchard oriole was executing his fantasias in every tree; a covey of partridges ran across the path close under the horse's feet, and stopped to look back almost within reach of the riding-whip; clouds of starlings, in their odd, irresolute way, rose from the high bulrushes and settled again, without discernible cause; little wandering companies of sparrows undulated from hedge to hedge; a great rabbit-hawk sat alone in the top of a lofty pecan-tree; that petted rowdy, the mocking-bird, dropped down into the path to offer fight to the horse, and, failing in that, flew up again and drove a crow into ignominious retirement beyond the plain; from a place of flags and reeds a white crane shot upward, turned, and then, with the slow and stately beat peculiar to her wing, sped away until, against the tallest cypress of the distant forest, she became a tiny white speck on its black, and suddenly disappeared, like one flake of snow.
The scene was altogether such as to fill any hearty soul with impulses of genial friendliness and gentle candor; such a scene as will sometimes prepare a man of the world, upon the least direct incentive, to throw open the windows of his private thought with a freedom which the atmosphere of no counting-room or drawing-room tends to induce.
The young merchant—he was young—felt this. Moreover, the matter of business which had brought him out had responded to his inquiring eye with a somewhat golden radiance; and your true man of business—he who has reached that elevated pitch of serene, good-natured reserve which is of the high art of his calling—is never so generous with his pennyworths of thought as when newly in possession of some little secret worth many pounds.
By and by the behavior of the horse indicated the near presence of a stranger; and the next moment the rider drew rein under an immense live-oak where there was a bit of paling about some graves, and raised his hat.
"Good-morning, sir." But for the silent r's, his pronunciation was exact, yet evidently an acquired one. While he spoke his salutation in English, he was thinking in French: "Without doubt, this rather oversized, bareheaded, interrupted-looking convalescent who stands before me, wondering how I should know in what language to address him, is Joseph Frowenfeld, of whom Doctor Keene has had so much to say to me. A good face—unsophisticated, but intelligent, mettlesome and honest. He will make his mark; it will probably be a white one; I will subscribe to the adventure.
"You will excuse me, sir?" he asked after a pause, dismounting, and noticing, as he did so, that Frowenfeld's knees showed recent contact with the turf; "I have, myself, some interest in two of these graves, sir, as I suppose—you will pardon my freedom—you have in the other four."
He approached the old but newly whitened paling, which encircled the tree's trunk as well as the six graves about it. There was in his face and manner a sort of impersonal human kindness, well calculated to engage a diffident and sensitive stranger, standing in dread of gratuitous benevolence or pity.
"Yes, sir," said the convalescent, and ceased; but the other leaned against the palings in an attitude of attention, and he felt induced to add: "I have buried here my father, mother, and two sisters,"—he had expected to continue in an unemotional tone; but a deep respiration usurped the place of speech. He stooped quickly to pick up his hat, and, as he rose again and looked into his listener's face, the respectful, unobtrusive sympathy there expressed went directly to his heart.
"Victims of the fever," said the Creole with great gravity. "How did that happen?"
As Frowenfeld, after a moment's hesitation, began to speak, the stranger let go the bridle of his horse and sat down upon the turf. Joseph appreciated the courtesy and sat down, too; and thus the ice was broken.
The immigrant told his story; he was young—often younger than his years—and his listener several years his senior; but the Creole, true to his blood, was able at any time to make himself as young as need be, and possessed the rare magic of drawing one's confidence without seeming to do more than merely pay attention. It followed that the story was told in full detail, including grateful acknowledgment of the goodness of an unknown friend, who had granted this burial-place on condition that he should not be sought out for the purpose of thanking him.
So a considerable time passed by, in which acquaintance grew with delightful rapidity.
"What will you do now?" asked the stranger, when a short silence had followed the conclusion of the story.
"I hardly know. I am taken somewhat by surprise. I have not chosen a definite course in life—as yet. I have been a general student, but have not prepared myself for any profession; I am not sure what I shall be."
A certain energy in the immigrant's face half redeemed this childlike speech. Yet the Creole's lips, as he opened them to reply, betrayed amusement; so he hastened to say:
"I appreciate your position, Mr. Frowenfeld,—excuse me, I believe you said that was your father's name. And yet,"—the shadow of an amused smile lurked another instant about a corner of his mouth,—"if you would understand me kindly I would say, take care—"
What little blood the convalescent had rushed violently to his face, and the Creole added:
"I do not insinuate you would willingly be idle. I think I know what you want. You want to make up your mind now what you will do, and at your leisure what you will be; eh? To be, it seems to me," he said in summing up,—"that to be is not so necessary as to do, eh? or am I wrong?"
"No, sir," replied Joseph, still red, "I was feeling that just now. I will do the first thing that offers; I can dig."
The Creole shrugged and pouted.
"And be called a dos brile—a 'burnt-back.'"
"But"—began the immigrant, with overmuch warmth.
The other interrupted him, shaking his head slowly and smiling as he spoke.
"Mr. Frowenfeld, it is of no use to talk; you may hold in contempt the Creole scorn of toil—just as I do, myself, but in theory, my-de'-seh, not too much in practice. You cannot afford to be entirely different from the community in which you live; is that not so?"
"A friend of mine," said Frowenfeld, "has told me I must 'compromise.'"
"You must get acclimated," responded the Creole; "not in body only, that you have done; but in mind—in taste—in conversation—and in convictions too, yes, ha, ha! They all do it—all who come. They hold out a little while—a very little; then they open their stores on Sunday, they import cargoes of Africans, they bribe the officials, they smuggle goods, they have colored housekeepers. My-de'-seh, the water must expect to take the shape of the bucket; eh?"
"One need not be water!" said the immigrant.
"Ah!" said the Creole, with another amiable shrug, and a wave of his hand; "certainly you do not suppose that is my advice—that those things have my approval."
Must we repeat already that Frowenfeld was abnormally young? "Why have they not your condemnation?" cried he with an earnestness that made the Creole's horse drop the grass from his teeth and wheel half around.
The answer came slowly and gently.
"Mr. Frowenfeld, my habit is to buy cheap and sell at a profit. My condemnation? My-de'-seh, there is no sa-a-ale for it! it spoils the sale of other goods my-de'-seh. It is not to condemn that you want; you want to suc-ceed. Ha, ha, ha! you see I am a merchant, eh? My-de'-seh, can you afford not to succeed?"
The speaker had grown very much in earnest in the course of these few words, and as he asked the closing question, arose, arranged his horse's bridle and, with his elbow in the saddle, leaned his handsome head on his equally beautiful hand. His whole appearance was a dazzling contradiction of the notion that a Creole is a person of mixed blood.
"I think I can!" replied the convalescent, with much spirit, rising with more haste than was good, and staggering a moment.
The horseman laughed outright.
"Your principle is the best, I cannot dispute that; but whether you can act it out—reformers do not make money, you know." He examined his saddle-girth and began to tighten it. "One can condemn—too cautiously—by a kind of—elevated cowardice (I have that fault); but one can also condemn too rashly; I remember when I did so. One of the occupants of those two graves you see yonder side by side—I think might have lived longer if I had not spoken so rashly for his rights. Did you ever hear of Bras-Coupe, Mr. Frowenfeld?"
"I have heard only the name."
"Ah! Mr. Frowenfeld, there was a bold man's chance to denounce wrong and oppression! Why, that negro's death changed the whole channel of my convictions."
The speaker had turned and thrown up his arm with frowning earnestness; he dropped it and smiled at himself.
"Do not mistake me for one of your new-fashioned Philadelphia 'negrophiles'; I am a merchant, my-de'-seh, a good subject of His Catholic Majesty, a Creole of the Creoles, and so forth, and so forth. Come!"
He slapped the saddle.
To have seen and heard them a little later as they moved toward the city, the Creole walking before the horse, and Frowenfeld sitting in the saddle, you might have supposed them old acquaintances. Yet the immigrant was wondering who his companion might be. He had not introduced himself—seemed to think that even an immigrant might know his name without asking. Was it Honore Grandissime? Joseph was tempted to guess so; but the initials inscribed on the silver-mounted pommel of the fine old Spanish saddle did not bear out that conjecture.
The stranger talked freely. The sun's rays seemed to set all the sweetness in him a-working, and his pleasant worldly wisdom foamed up and out like fermenting honey.
By and by the way led through a broad, grassy lane where the path turned alternately to right and left among some wild acacias. The Creole waved his hand toward one of them and said:
"Now, Mr. Frowenfeld, you see? one man walks where he sees another's track; that is what makes a path; but you want a man, instead of passing around this prickly bush, to lay hold of it with his naked hands and pull it up by the roots."
"But a man armed with the truth is far from being barehanded," replied the convalescent, and they went on, more and more interested at every step,—one in this very raw imported material for an excellent man, the other in so striking an exponent of a unique land and people.
They came at length to the crossing of two streets, and the Creole, pausing in his speech, laid his hand upon the bridle.
"Do we part here?" asked the Creole. "Well, Mr. Frowenfeld, I hope to meet you soon again."
"Indeed, I thank you, sir," said Joseph, "and I hope we shall, although—"
The Creole paused with a foot in the stirrup and interrupted him with a playful gesture; then as the horse stirred, he mounted and drew in the rein.
"I know; you want to say you cannot accept my philosophy and I cannot appreciate yours; but I appreciate it more than you think, my-de'-seh."
The convalescent's smile showed much fatigue.
The Creole extended his hand; the immigrant seized it, wished to ask his name, but did not; and the next moment he was gone.
The convalescent walked meditatively toward his quarters, with a faint feeling of having been found asleep on duty and awakened by a passing stranger. It was an unpleasant feeling, and he caught himself more than once shaking his head. He stopped, at length, and looked back; but the Creole was long since out of sight. The mortified self-accuser little knew how very similar a feeling that vanished person was carrying away with him. He turned and resumed his walk, wondering who Monsieur might be, and a little impatient with himself that he had not asked.
"It is Honore Grandissime; it must be he!" he said.
Yet see how soon he felt obliged to change his mind.
On the afternoon of the same day, having decided what he would "do," he started out in search of new quarters. He found nothing then, but next morning came upon a small, single-story building in the rue Royale,—corner of Conti,—which he thought would suit his plans. There were a door and show-window in the rue Royale, two doors in the intersecting street, and a small apartment in the rear which would answer for sleeping, eating, and studying purposes, and which connected with the front apartment by a door in the left-hand corner. This connection he would partially conceal by a prescription-desk. A counter would run lengthwise toward the rue Royale, along the wall opposite the side-doors. Such was the spot that soon became known as "Frowenfeld's Corner."
The notice "A Louer" directed him to inquire at numero—rue Conde. Here he was ushered through the wicket of a porte cochere into a broad, paved corridor, and up a stair into a large, cool room, and into the presence of a man who seemed, in some respects, the most remarkable figure he had yet seen in this little city of strange people. A strong, clear, olive complexion; features that were faultless (unless a woman-like delicacy, that was yet not effeminate, was a fault); hair en queue, the handsomer for its premature streakings of gray; a tall, well knit form, attired in cloth, linen and leather of the utmost fineness; manners Castilian, with a gravity almost oriental,—made him one of those rare masculine figures which, on the public promenade, men look back at and ladies inquire about.
Now, who might this be? The rent poster had given no name. Even the incurious Frowenfeld would fain guess a little. For a man to be just of this sort, it seemed plain that he must live in an isolated ease upon the unceasing droppings of coupons, rents, and like receivables. Such was the immigrant's first conjecture; and, as with slow, scant questions and answers they made their bargain, every new glance strengthened it; he was evidently a rentier. What, then, was his astonishment when Monsieur bent down and made himself Frowenfeld's landlord, by writing what the universal mind esteemed the synonym of enterprise and activity—the name of Honore Grandissime. The landlord did not see, or ignored, his tenant's glance of surprise, and the tenant asked no questions.
* * * * *
We may add here an incident which seemed, when it took place, as unimportant as a single fact well could be.
The little sum that Frowenfeld had inherited from his father had been sadly depleted by the expenses of four funerals; yet he was still able to pay a month's rent in advance, to supply his shop with a scant stock of drugs, to purchase a celestial globe and some scientific apparatus, and to buy a dinner or two of sausages and crackers; but after this there was no necessity of hiding his purse.
His landlord early contracted a fondness for dropping in upon him, and conversing with him, as best the few and labored English phrases at his command would allow. Frowenfeld soon noticed that he never entered the shop unless its proprietor was alone, never sat down, and always, with the same perfection of dignity that characterized all his movements, departed immediately upon the arrival of any third person. One day, when the landlord was making one of these standing calls,—he always stood' beside a high glass case, on the side of the shop opposite the counter,—he noticed in Joseph's hand a sprig of basil, and spoke of it.
The tenant did not understand. "You—find—dad—nize?"
Frowenfeld replied that it had been left by the oversight of a customer, and expressed a liking for its odor.
"I sand you," said the landlord,—a speech whose meaning Frowenfeld was not sure of until the next morning, when a small, nearly naked black boy, who could not speak a word of English, brought to the apothecary a luxuriant bunch of this basil, growing in a rough box.
ILLUSTRATING THE TRACTIVE POWER OF BASIL
On the twenty-fourth day of December, 1803, at two o'clock, P.M., the thermometer standing at 79, hygrometer 17, barometer 29.880, sky partly clouded, wind west, light, the apothecary of the rue Royale, now something more than a month established in his calling, might have been seen standing behind his counter and beginning to show embarrassment in the presence of a lady, who, since she had got her prescription filled and had paid for it, ought in the conventional course of things to have hurried out, followed by the pathetically ugly black woman who tarried at the door as her attendant; for to be in an apothecary's shop at all was unconventional. She was heavily veiled; but the sparkle of her eyes, which no multiplication of veils could quite extinguish, her symmetrical and well-fitted figure, just escaping smallness, her grace of movement, and a soft, joyous voice, had several days before led Frowenfeld to the confident conclusion that she was young and beautiful.
For this was now the third time she had come to buy; and, though the purchases were unaccountably trivial, the purchaser seemed not so. On the two previous occasions she had been accompanied by a slender girl, somewhat taller than she, veiled also, of graver movement, a bearing that seemed to Joseph almost too regal, and a discernible unwillingness to enter or tarry. There seemed a certain family resemblance between her voice and that of the other, which proclaimed them—he incautiously assumed—sisters. This time, as we see, the smaller, and probably elder, came alone.
She still held in her hand the small silver which Frowenfeld had given her in change, and sighed after the laugh they had just enjoyed together over a slip in her English. A very grateful sip of sweet the laugh was to the all but friendless apothecary, and the embarrassment that rushed in after it may have arisen in part from a conscious casting about in his mind for something—anything—that might prolong her stay an instant. He opened his lips to speak; but she was quicker than he, and said, in a stealthy way that seemed oddly unnecessary:
"You 'ave some basilic?"
She accompanied her words with a little peeping movement, directing his attention, through the open door, to his box of basil, on the floor in the rear room.
Frowenfeld stepped back to it, cut half the bunch and returned, with the bold intention of making her a present of it; but as he hastened back to the spot he had left, he was astonished to see the lady disappearing from his farthest front door, followed by her negress.
"Did she change her mind, or did she misunderstand me?" he asked himself; and, in the hope that she might return for the basil, he put it in water in his back room.
The day being, as the figures have already shown, an unusually mild one, even for a Louisiana December, and the finger of the clock drawing by and by toward the last hour of sunlight, some half dozen of Frowenfeld's townsmen had gathered, inside and out, some standing, some sitting, about his front door, and all discussing the popular topics of the day. For it might have been anticipated that, in a city where so very little English was spoken and no newspaper published except that beneficiary of eighty subscribers, the "Moniteur de la Louisiane," the apothecary's shop in the rue Royale would be the rendezvous for a select company of English-speaking gentlemen, with a smart majority of physicians.
The Cession had become an accomplished fact. With due drum-beatings and act-reading, flag-raising, cannonading and galloping of aides-de-camp, Nouvelle Orleans had become New Orleans, and Louisiane was Louisiana. This afternoon, the first week of American jurisdiction was only something over half gone, and the main topic of public debate was still the Cession. Was it genuine? and, if so, would it stand?
"Mark my words," said one, "the British flag will be floating over this town within ninety days!" and he went on whittling the back of his chair.