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apologize is not the one whose horse struck you!"

"I din know. But oo dad odder one? I saw h-only 'is back, bud I thing it
is de sem - "

She identified it with the back that was turned to her during her last
visit to Frowenfeld's shop; but finding herself about to mention a
matter so nearly connected with the purse of gold, she checked herself;
but Frowenfeld, eager to say a good word for his acquaintance, ventured
to extol his character while he concealed his name.

"While I have never been introduced to him, I have some acquaintance
with him, and esteem him a noble gentleman."

"W'ere you meet him?"

"I met him first," he said, "at the graves of my parents and sisters."

There was a kind of hush after the mention, and the lady made no reply.

"It was some weeks after my loss," resumed Frowenfeld.

"In wad _cimetière_ dad was?"

"In no cemetery - being Protestants, you know - "

"Ah, yes, sir?" with a gentle sigh.

"The physician who attended me procured permission to bury them on some
private land below the city."

"Not in de groun'[2]?"

[Footnote 2: Only Jews and paupers are buried in the ground in New
Orleans.]

"Yes; that was my father's expressed wish when he died."

"You 'ad de fivver? Oo nurse you w'en you was sick?"

"An old hired negress."

"Dad was all?"

"Yes."

"Hm-m-m!" she said piteously, and laughed in her sleeve.

Who could hope to catch and reproduce the continuous lively thrill which
traversed the frame of the escaped book-worm as every moment there was
repeated to his consciousness the knowledge that he was walking across
the vault of heaven with the evening star on his arm - at least, that he
was, at her instigation, killing time along the dim, ill-lighted
_trottoirs_ of the rue Chartres, with Aurora listening sympathetically
at his side. But let it go; also the sweet broken English with which she
now and then interrupted him; also the inward, hidden sparkle of her
dancing Gallic blood; her low, merry laugh; the roguish mental
reservation that lurked behind her graver speeches; the droll bravados
she uttered against the powers that be, as with timid fingers he brushed
from her shoulder a little remaining dust of the late encounter - these
things, we say, we let go, - as we let butterflies go rather than pin
them to paper.

They had turned into the rue Bienville, and were walking toward the
river, Frowenfeld in the midst of a long sentence, when a low cry of
tearful delight sounded in front of them, some one in long robes glided
forward, and he found his arm relieved of its burden and that burden
transferred to the bosom and passionate embrace of another - we had
almost said a fairer - Creole, amid a bewildering interchange of kisses
and a pelting shower of Creole French.

A moment after, Frowenfeld found himself introduced to "my dotter,
Clotilde," who all at once ceased her demonstrations of affection and
bowed to him with a majestic sweetness, that seemed one instant grateful
and the next, distant.

"I can hardly understand that you are not sisters," said Frowenfeld, a
little awkwardly.

"Ah! _ecoutez!_" exclaimed the younger.

"Ah! _par exemple!_" cried the elder, and they laughed down each other's
throats, while the immigrant blushed.

This encounter was presently followed by a silent surprise when they
stopped and turned before the door of Number 19, and Frowenfeld
contrasted the women with their painfully humble dwelling. But therein
is where your true Creole was, and still continues to be, properly, yea,
delightfully un-American; the outside of his house may be as rough as
the outside of a bird's nest; it is the inside that is for the birds;
and the front room of this house, when the daughter presently threw open
the batten shutters of its single street door, looked as bright and
happy, with its candelabra glittering on the mantel, and its curtains of
snowy lace, as its bright-eyed tenants.

"'Sieur Frowenfel', if you pliz to come in," said Aurora, and the timid
apothecary would have bravely accepted the invitation, but for a quick
look which he saw the daughter give the mother; whereupon he asked,
instead, permission to call at some future day, and received the cordial
leave of Aurora and another bow from Clotilde.




CHAPTER XVII

THAT NIGHT


Do we not fail to accord to our nights their true value? We are ever
giving to our days the credit and blame of all we do and mis-do,
forgetting those silent, glimmering hours when plans - and sometimes
plots - are laid; when resolutions are formed or changed; when heaven,
and sometimes heaven's enemies, are invoked; when anger and evil
thoughts are recalled, and sometimes hate made to inflame and fester;
when problems are solved, riddles guessed, and things made apparent in
the dark, which day refused to reveal. Our nights are the keys to our
days. They explain them. They are also the day's correctors. Night's
leisure untangles the mistakes of day's haste. We should not attempt to
comprise our pasts in the phrase, "in those days;" we should rather say
"in those days and nights."

That night was a long-remembered one to the apothecary of the rue
Royale. But it was after he had closed his shop, and in his back room
sat pondering the unusual experiences of the evening, that it began to
be, in a higher degree, a night of events to most of those persons who
had a part in its earlier incidents.

That Honoré Grandissime whom Frowenfeld had only this day learned to
know as _the_ Honoré Grandissime and the young governor-general were
closeted together.

"What can you expect, my-de'-seh?" the Creole was asking, as they
confronted each other in the smoke of their choice tobacco. "Remember,
they are citizens by compulsion. You say your best and wisest law is
that one prohibiting the slave-trade; my-de'-seh, I assure you,
privately, I agree with you; but they abhor your law!

"Your principal danger - at least, I mean difficulty - is this: that the
Louisianais themselves, some in pure lawlessness, some through loss of
office, some in a vague hope of preserving the old condition of things,
will not only hold off from all participation in your government, but
will make all sympathy with it, all advocacy of its principles, and
especially all office-holding under it, odious - disreputable - infamous.
You may find yourself constrained to fill your offices with men who can
face down the contumely of a whole people. You know what such men
generally are. One out of a hundred may be a moral hero - the ninety-nine
will be scamps; and the moral hero will most likely get his brains blown
out early in the day.

"Count O'Reilly, when he established the Spanish power here thirty-five
years ago, cut a similar knot with the executioner's sword; but,
my-de'-seh, you are here to establish a _free_ government; and how can
you make it freer than the people wish it? There is your riddle! They
hold off and say, 'Make your government as free as you can, but do not
ask us to help you;' and before you know it you have no retainers but a
gang of shameless mercenaries, who will desert you whenever the
indignation of this people overbalances their indolence; and you will
fall the victim of what you may call our mutinous patriotism."

The governor made a very quiet, unappreciative remark about a
"patriotism that lets its government get choked up with corruption and
then blows it out with gunpowder!"

The Creole shrugged.

"And repeats the operation indefinitely," he said.

The governor said something often heard, before and since, to the effect
that communities will not sacrifice themselves for mere ideas.

"My-de'-seh," replied the Creole, "you speak like a true Anglo-Saxon;
but, sir! how many communities have _committed_ suicide. And this
one? - why, it is _just_ the kind to do it!"

"Well," said the governor, smilingly, "you have pointed out what you
consider to be the breakers, now can you point out the channel?"

"Channel? There is none! And you, nor I, cannot dig one. Two great
forces _may_ ultimately do it, Religion and Education - as I was telling
you I said to my young friend, the apothecary, - but still I am free to
say what would be my first and principal step, if I was in your
place - as I thank God I am not."

The listener asked him what that was.

"Wherever I could find a Creole that I could venture to trust,
my-de'-seh, I would put him in office. Never mind a little political
heterodoxy, you know; almost any man can be trusted to shoot away from
the uniform he has on. And then - "

"But," said the other, "I have offered you - "

"Oh!" replied the Creole, like a true merchant, "me, I am too busy; it
is impossible! But, I say, I would _compel_, my-de'-seh, this people to
govern themselves!"

"And pray, how would you give a people a free government and then compel
them to administer it?"

"My-de'-seh, you should not give one poor Creole the puzzle which
belongs to your whole Congress; but you may depend on this, that the
worst thing for all parties - and I say it only because it is worst for
all - would be a feeble and dilatory punishment of bad faith."

When this interview finally drew to a close the governor had made a
memorandum of some fifteen or twenty Grandissimes, scattered through
different cantons of Louisiana, who, their kinsman Honoré thought, would
not decline appointments.

* * * * *

Certain of the Muses were abroad that night. Faintly audible to the
apothecary of the rue Royale through that deserted stillness which is
yet the marked peculiarity of New Orleans streets by night, came from a
neighboring slave-yard the monotonous chant and machine-like tune-beat
of an African dance. There our lately met _marchande_ (albeit she was
but a guest, fortified against the street-watch with her master's
written "pass") led the ancient Calinda dance with that well-known song
of derision, in whose ever multiplying stanzas the helpless satire of a
feeble race still continues to celebrate the personal failings of each
newly prominent figure among the dominant caste. There was a new distich
to the song to-night, signifying that the pride of the Grandissimes must
find his friends now among the Yankees:

"Miché Hon'ré, allé! h-allé!
Trouvé to zamis parmi les Yankis.
Dancé calinda, bou-joum! bou-joum!
Dancé calinda, bou-joum! bou-joum!

Frowenfeld, as we have already said, had closed his shop, and was
sitting in the room behind it with one arm on his table and the other on
his celestial globe, watching the flicker of his small fire and musing
upon the unusual experiences of the evening. Upon every side there
seemed to start away from his turning glance the multiplied shadows of
something wrong. The melancholy face of that Honoré Grandissime, his
landlord, at whose mention Dr. Keene had thought it fair to laugh
without explaining; the tall, bright-eyed _milatraisse_; old Agricola;
the lady of the basil; the newly identified merchant friend, now the
more satisfactory Honoré, - they all came before him in his meditation,
provoking among themselves a certain discord, faint but persistent, to
which he strove to close his ear. For he was brain-weary. Even in the
bright recollection of the lady and her talk he became involved among
shadows, and going from bad to worse, seemed at length almost to gasp in
an atmosphere of hints, allusions, faint unspoken admissions,
ill-concealed antipathies, unfinished speeches, mistaken identities and
whisperings of hidden strife. The cathedral clock struck twelve and was
answered again from the convent belfry; and as the notes died away he
suddenly became aware that the weird, drowsy throb of the African song
and dance had been swinging drowsily in his brain for an unknown
lapse of time.

The apothecary nodded once or twice, and thereupon rose up and prepared
for bed, thinking to sleep till morning.

* * * * *

Aurora and her daughter had long ago put out their chamber light. Early
in the evening the younger had made favorable mention of retiring, to
which the elder replied by asking to be left awhile to her own thoughts.
Clotilde, after some tender protestations, consented, and passed through
the open door that showed, beyond it, their couch. The air had grown
just cool and humid enough to make the warmth of one small brand on the
hearth acceptable, and before this the fair widow settled herself to
gaze beyond her tiny, slippered feet into its wavering flame, and think.
Her thoughts were such as to bestow upon her face that enhancement of
beauty that comes of pleasant reverie, and to make it certain that that
little city afforded no fairer sight, - unless, indeed, it was the figure
of Clotilde just beyond the open door, as in her white nightdress,
enriched with the work of a diligent needle, she knelt upon the low
_prie-Dieu_ before the little family altar, and committed her pure soul
to the Divine keeping.

Clotilde could not have been many minutes asleep when Aurora changed her
mind and decided to follow. The shade upon her face had deepened for a
moment into a look of trouble; but a bright philosophy, which was part
of her paternal birthright, quickly chased it away, and she passed to
her room, disrobed, lay softly down beside the beauty already there and
smiled herself to sleep, -

"Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again."

But she also wakened again, and lay beside her unconscious bedmate,
occupied with the company of her own thoughts. "Why should these little
concealments ruffle my bosom? Does not even Nature herself practise
wiles? Look at the innocent birds; do they build where everybody can
count their eggs? And shall a poor human creature try to be better than
a bird? Didn't I say my prayers under the blanket just now?"

Her companion stirred in her sleep, and she rose upon one elbow to bend
upon the sleeper a gaze of ardent admiration. "Ah, beautiful little
chick! how guileless! indeed, how deficient in that respect!" She sat
up in the bed and hearkened; the bell struck for midnight. Was that the
hour? The fates were smiling! Surely M. Assonquer himself must have
wakened her to so choice an opportunity. She ought not to despise it.
Now, by the application of another and easily wrought charm, that
darkened hour lately spent with Palmyre would have, as it were, its
colors set.

The night had grown much cooler. Stealthily, by degrees, she rose and
left the couch. The openings of the room were a window and two doors,
and these, with much caution, she contrived to open without noise. None
of them exposed her to the possibility of public view. One door looked
into the dim front room; the window let in only a flood of moonlight
over the top of a high house which was without openings on that side;
the other door revealed a weed-grown back yard, and that invaluable
protector, the cook's hound, lying fast asleep.

In her night-clothes as she was, she stood a moment in the centre of the
chamber, then sank upon one knee, rapped the floor gently but audibly
thrice, rose, drew a step backward, sank upon the other knee, rapped
thrice, rose again, stepped backward, knelt the third time, the third
time rapped, and then, rising, murmured a vow to pour upon the ground
next day an oblation of champagne - then closed the doors and window and
crept back to bed. Then she knew how cold she had become. It seemed as
though her very marrow was frozen. She was seized with such an
uncontrollable shivering that Clotilde presently opened her eyes, threw
her arm about her mother's neck, and said:

"Ah! my sweet mother, are you so cold?"

"The blanket was all off of me," said the mother, returning the embrace,
and the two sank into unconsciousness together.

* * * * *

Into slumber sank almost at the same moment Joseph Frowenfeld. He awoke,
not a great while later, to find himself standing in the middle of the
floor. Three or four men had shouted at once, and three pistol-shots,
almost in one instant, had resounded just outside his shop. He had
barely time to throw himself into half his garments when the knocker
sounded on his street door, and when he opened it Agricola Fusilier
entered, supported by his nephew Honoré on one side and Doctor Keene on
the other. The latter's right hand was pressed hard against a bloody
place in Agricola's side.

"Give us plenty of light, Frowenfeld," said the doctor, "and a chair and
some lint, and some Castile soap, and some towels and sticking-plaster,
and anything else you can think of. Agricola's about scared to death - "

"Professor Frowenfeld," groaned the aged citizen, "I am basely and
mortally stabbed!"

"Right on, Frowenfeld," continued the doctor, "right on into the back
room. Fasten that front door. Here, Agricola, sit down here. That's
right, Frow., stir up a little fire. Give me - never mind, I'll just cut
the cloth open."

There was a moment of silent suspense while the wound was being
reached, and then the doctor spoke again.

"Just as I thought; only a safe and comfortable gash that will keep you
in-doors a while with your arm in a sling. You are more scared than
hurt, I think, old gentleman."

"You think an infernal falsehood, sir!"

"See here, sir," said the doctor, without ceasing to ply his dexterous
hands in his art, "I'll jab these scissors into your back if you say
that again."

"I suppose," growled the "citizen," "it is just the thing your
professional researches have qualified you for, sir!"

"Just stand here, Mr. Frowenfeld," said the little doctor, settling down
to a professional tone, "and hand me things as I ask for them. Honoré,
please hold this arm; so." And so, after a moderate lapse of time, the
treatment that medical science of those days dictated was
applied - whatever that was. Let those who do not know give thanks.

M. Grandissime explained to Frowenfeld what had occurred.

"You see, I succeeded in meeting my uncle, and we went together to my
office. My uncle keeps his accounts with me. Sometimes we look them
over. We stayed until midnight; I dismissed my carriage. As we walked
homeward we met some friends coming out of the rooms of the Bagatelle
Club; five or six of my uncles and cousins, and also Doctor Keene. We
all fell a-talking of my grandfather's _fête de grandpère_ of next
month, and went to have some coffee. When we separated, and my uncle and
my cousin Achille Grandissime and Doctor Keene and myself came down
Royal street, out from that dark alley behind your shop jumped a little
man and stuck my uncle with a knife. If I had not caught his arm he
would have killed my uncle."

"And he escaped," said the apothecary.

"No, sir!" said Agricola, with his back turned.

"I think he did. I do not think he was struck."

"And Mr. - - , your cousin?"

"Achille? I have sent him for a carriage."

"Why, Agricola," said the doctor, snipping the loose ravellings from his
patient's bandages, "an old man like you should not have enemies."

"I am _not_ an old man, sir!"

"I said _young_ man."

"I am not a _young_ man, sir!"

"I wonder who the fellow was," continued Doctor Keene, as he readjusted
the ripped sleeve.

"That is _my_ affair, sir; I know who it was."

* * * * *

"And yet she insists," M. Grandissime was asking Frowenfeld, standing
with his leg thrown across the celestial globe, "that I knocked her down
intentionally?"

Frowenfeld, about to answer, was interrupted by a rap on the door.

"That is my cousin, with the carriage," said M. Grandissime, following
the apothecary into the shop.

Frowenfeld opened to a young man, - a rather poor specimen of the
Grandissime type, deficient in stature but not in stage manner.

"_Est il mort_?" he cried at the threshold.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, let me make you acquainted with my cousin, Achille
Grandissime."

Mr. Achille Grandissime gave Frowenfeld such a bow as we see now only in
pictures.

"Ve'y 'appe to meck, yo' acquaintenz!"

Agricola entered, followed by the doctor, and demanded in indignant
thunder-tones, as he entered:

"Who - ordered - that - carriage?"

"I did," said Honoré. "Will you please get into it at once."

"Ah! dear Honoré!" exclaimed the old man, "always too kind! I go in it
purely to please you."

Good-night was exchanged; Honoré entered the vehicle and Agricola was
helped in. Achille touched his hat, bowed and waved his hand to Joseph,
and shook hands with the doctor, and saying, "Well, good-night. Doctor
Keene," he shut himself out of the shop with another low bow. "Think I
am going to shake hands with an apothecary?" thought M. Achille.

Doctor Keene had refused Honoré's invitation to go with them.

"Frowenfeld," he said, as he stood in the middle of the shop wiping a
ring with a towel and looking at his delicate, freckled hand, "I
propose, before going to bed with you, to eat some of your bread and
cheese. Aren't you glad?"

"I shall be, Doctor," replied the apothecary, "if you will tell me what
all this means."

"Indeed I will not, - that is, not to-night. What? Why, it would take
until breakfast to tell what 'all this means,' - the story of that
pestiferous darky Bras Coupé, with the rest? Oh, no, sir. I would sooner
not have any bread and cheese. What on earth has waked your curiosity so
suddenly, anyhow?"

"Have you any idea who stabbed Citizen Fusilier?" was Joseph's response.

"Why, at first I thought it was the other Honoré Grandissime; but when I
saw how small the fellow was, I was at a loss, completely. But, whoever
it is, he has my bullet in him, whatever Honoré may think."

"Will Mr. Fusilier's wound give him much trouble?" asked Joseph, as they
sat down to a luncheon at the fire.

"Hardly; he has too much of the blood of Lufki-Humma in him. But I need
not say that; for the Grandissime blood is just as strong. A wonderful
family, those Grandissimes! They are an old, illustrious line, and the
strength that was once in the intellect and will is going down into the
muscles. I have an idea that their greatness began, hundreds of years
ago, in ponderosity of arm, - of frame, say, - and developed from
generation to generation, in a rising scale, first into fineness of
sinew, then, we will say, into force of will, then into power of mind,
then into subtleties of genius. Now they are going back down the
incline. Look at Honoré; he is high up on the scale, intellectual and
sagacious. But look at him physically, too. What an exquisite mold! What
compact strength! I should not wonder if he gets that from the Indian
Queen. What endurance he has! He will probably go to his business by and
by and not see his bed for seventeen or eighteen hours. He is the flower
of the family, and possibly the last one. Now, old Agricola shows the
downward grade better. Seventy-five, if he is a day, with, maybe,
one-fourth the attainments he pretends to have, and still less good
sense; but strong - as an orang-outang. Shall we go to bed?"




CHAPTER XVIII

NEW LIGHT UPON DARK PLACES


When the long, wakeful night was over, and the doctor gone, Frowenfeld
seated himself to record his usual observations of the weather; but his
mind was elsewhere - here, there, yonder. There are understandings that
expand, not imperceptibly hour by hour, but as certain flowers do, by
little explosive ruptures, with periods of quiescence between. After
this night of experiences it was natural that Frowenfeld should find the
circumference of his perceptions consciously enlarged. The daylight
shone, not into his shop alone, but into his heart as well. The face of
Aurora, which had been the dawn to him before, was now a perfect
sunrise, while in pleasant timeliness had come in this Apollo of a
Honoré Grandissime. The young immigrant was dazzled. He felt a longing
to rise up and run forward in this flood of beams. He was unconscious of
fatigue, or nearly so - would, have been wholly so but for the return by
and by of that same dim shadow, or shadows, still rising and darting
across every motion of the fancy that grouped again the actors in last
night's scenes; not such shadows as naturally go with sunlight to make
it seem brighter, but a something which qualified the light's perfection
and the air's freshness.

Wherefore, resolved: that he would compound his life, from this time
forward, by a new formula: books, so much; observation, so much; social
intercourse, so much; love - as to that, time enough for that in the
future (if he was in love with anybody, he certainly did not know it);



Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe Grandissimes → online text (page 8 of 27)