The Soul of Rose Dédé
by M.E.M. Davis
THE child pushed his way though the tall weeds, which
were dripping with the midsummer-eve midnight dew-melt. He was
so little that the rough leaves met above his head. He wore
a trailing white gown whose loose folds tripped him, so that
he stumbled and fell over a sunken mound. But he laughed as
he scrambled to his feet a cooing baby laugh, taken up by
the inward-blowing Gulf-wind, and carried away to the
soughing pines that made a black line against the dim sky.
His progress was slow, for he stopped his
forehead gravely puckered, his finger in his mouth to
listen to the clear whistle of a mocking-bird in the live-oak
above his head; he watched the heavy flight of a white
night-moth from one jimsonweed trumpet to another; he
strayed aside to pick a bit of shining punk from the
sloughing bark of a rotten log; he held this in his closed
palm as he came at last into the open space where the others
"Holà, 'Tit-Pierre!" said
André, who was half reclining on a mildewed marble
slab, with his long black cloak floating loosely from his
shoulders, and his hands clasped about his knees.
"Holà! Must thou needs be ever a-searching! Have I not
told thee, little Hard-Head, that she hath long forgotten
His voice was mocking, but his dark eyes were
The child's under lip quivered, and he turned
slowly about. But Père Lebas, sitting just across the
narrow footway, laid a caressing hand on his curly head.
"Nay, go thy way, 'Tit Pierre," he said, gently;
"André does but tease. A mother hath never yet
forgot her child."
"Do you indeed think he will find
her?" asked André, arching his black brows
"He will not find her," returned
the priest. "Margot Caillion was in a far country when
I saw her last, and even then her grandchildren were playing
about her knees. But it harms not the child to seek
They spoke a soft provincial French, and the
familiar thou betokened an unwonted intimacy
between the hollow-cheeked old priest and his companion,
whose forehead wore the frankness of early youth.
"I would the child could talk!"
cried the young man, gayly. "Then might he tell us
somewhat of the women that ever come and go in yonder great
The priest shuddered, crossing himself, and
drew his cowl over his face.
'Tit-Pierre, his gown gathered in his arm,
had gone on his way. Nathan Pilger, hunched up on a low,
irregular hummock against the picket-fence, made a
speaking-trumpet of his two horny hands, and pretended to
hail him as he passed. 'Tit-Pierre nodded brightly at the
old man, and waved his own chubby fist.
The gate sagged a little on its hinges, so
that he had some difficulty in moving it. But he squeezed
through a narrow opening, and passed between the prim
flower beds to the house.
It was a lofty mansion, with vast wings on
either side, and wide galleries, which were upheld by fluted
columns. It faced the bay, and a covered arcade ran from the
entrance across the lawn to a gay little wooden kiosk, which
hung on the bluff over the water's edge. A flight of stone
steps led up to the house. 'Tit-Pierre
laboriously. The great carved doors were closed, but a blind
of one of the long French windows in the west wing stood
slightly ajar. 'Tit-Pierre pushed this open. The bedchamber
into which he peered was large and luxuriously furnished. A
lamp with a crimson shade
burned on its claw-footed gilt
pedestal in a corner; the low light diffused a rosy radiance
about the room. The filmy curtains at the windows waved to
and fro softly in the June night wind. The huge
old-fashioned, four-posted bed, overhung by a baldachin of
carved wood with satin linings, occupied a deep alcove. A
woman was sleeping there beneath, the lace netting. The
snow-white bedlinen followed the contours of her rounded
limbs, giving her the look of a recumbent marble statue. Her
black hair, loosed from its heavy coil, spread over the
pillow. One exquisite bare arm lay across her forehead,
partly concealing her face. Her measured breathing rose and
fell rhythmically on the air. A robe of pale silk that hung
across a chair, dainty lace-edged garments tossed carelessly
on an antique lounge these seemed instinct still with the
nameless, subtle grace of her who had but now put them off.
On a table by the window, upon whose
threshold the child stood atiptoe, was set a large crystal
bowl filled with water-lilies. Their white petals were
folded; the round, red-lined green leaves glistened in the
lamp light. One long bud, rolled tightly in its green and
brown sheath, hung over the fluted edge of the bowl, swaying
gently on its flexible stem. 'Tit-Pierre gazed at it
intently, frowning a little, then put out a small forefinger
and touched it. A quick thrill ran along the stem; the bud
moved lightly from side to side and burst suddenly into
bloom; the slim white petals quivered; a tremulous, sighing,
whispering sound issued from the heart of gold. The child
listened, holding the fragrant disk to his pink ear, and
He moved about the room, examining with
infantile curiosity the costly objects scattered upon small
tables and ranged upon the low, many-shelved mantel.
Presently he pushed a chair against the foot
of the bed, climbed upon it, lifted the netting, and crept
cautiously to the sleeper's side. He sat for a moment
regarding her. Her lips were parted in a half-smile; the
long lashes which swept
her cheeks were wet, as if a happy
tear had just trembled there. 'Tit-Pierre laid his hand on
her smooth wrist, and touched timidly the snowy globes that
gleamed beneath the openwork of her night-dress. She threw up
her arm, turning her face full upon him, unclosed her large,
luminous eyes, smiled, and slept again.
With a sigh, which seemed rather of
resignation than of disappointment, the child crept away and
clambered again to the floor.
. . . . Outside the fog was thickening. The dark
waters of the bay lapped the foot of the low bluff; their
soft, monotonous moan was rising by imperceptible degrees to
a higher key. The scrubby cedars, leaning at all angles over
the water, were shaken at intervals by heavy puffs of wind,
which drove the mist in white, ragged masses across the
shelled road, over the weedy neutral ground, and out into
the tops of the sombre pines. The red lights in a row of
sloops at anchor over against Cat Island had dwindled to
faintly glimmering sparks. The watery flash of the revolving
light in the light-house off the point of the island showed
a black wedge-shaped cloud stretching up the seaward sky.
Nathan Pilger screwed up his eye and watched
the cloud critically. André followed the direction of
his gaze with idle interest, then turned to look again at
the woman who sat on a grassy barrow a few paces beyond
"She has never been here before,"
he said to himself, his heart stirring curiously. "I
would I could see her face!"
Her back was towards the little group; her
elbow was on her knee, her chin in her hand. Her figure was
slight and girlish; her white gown gleamed ghost-like
in the wan light.
"Naw, I bain't complainin', nor
nothin'," said the old sailor, dropping the cloud, as
it were, and taking up a broken thread of talk;
"hows'ever, it's tarnation wearyin' a-settin' here so
studdy year in an' year out. Leas'ways," he added,
shifting his seat to another part of the low mound,
"fer an old sailor sech as I be."
"If one could but quit his place and
move about, like 'Tit-Pierre yonder," said
André, musingly, "it would not be so bad. For
myself, I would not want "
"The child is free to come and go
because his soul is white. There is no
'Tit-Pierre. The child hath not sinned." It was the
priest who spoke. His voice was harsh and forbidding. His
deep-set eyes were fixed upon the tall spire of Our Lady of
the Gulf, dimly outlined against the sky beyond an
intervening reach of clustering roofs and shaded gardens.
André stared at him wonderingly, and
glanced half furtively at the stranger, as if in her
presence, perchance, might be found an explanation of the
speaker's unwonted bitterness of tone. She had not moved.
"I would I could see her face!" he muttered, under
his breath. "For myself," he went on, lifting his
voice, "I am sure I would not want to wander far. I
fain would walk once more on the road along the curve of the
bay; or under the pines, where little white patches of
moonlight fall between the straight, tall tree trunks. And I
would go sometimes, if I might, and kneel before the altar
of Our Lady of the Gulf."
Nathan Pilger grunted contemptuously.
"What a lan'lubber ye be, Andry!" he said, his
strong nasal English contrasting oddly with the smooth
foreign speech of the others. "What a lan'lubber ye be!
Ye bain't no sailor, like your father afore ye. Tony
Dewdonny hed as good a pair o' sealegs as ever I see. Lord!
if there wa'n't no diffickulties in the way, Nathan Pilger
'd ship fer some port a leetle more furrin than the shadder of
Our Lady yunder! Many's the deck I've walked," he
continued, his husky voice growing more and more animated,
"an' many's the vige I've made to outlandish places.
Why, you'd oughter see Arkangel, Andry. Here's the north
coast o' Rooshy" he leaned over and traced with his
forefinger the rude outlines of a map on the ground; the
wind lifted his long, gray locks and tossed them over his
wrinkled forehead; "here's the White Sea; and here, off
the mouth of the Dewiny River, is Arkangel. The Rooshan men
in that there town, Andry, wears petticoats like women;
whilse down here, in the South Pacific, at Taheety, the
folks don't wear no clo'es at all to speak of! You'd oughter
see Taheety, Andry. An' here, off Guinea "
"All those places are fine, no
doubt," interrupted his listener, "Arkangel and
Taheetee and Guinee" his tongue tripped a little over
the unfamiliar names "but,
for myself, I do not care
to see them. I find it well on the bay shore here, where I
can see the sloops come sailing in through the pass, with
the sun on their white sails. And the little boats that rock
on the water! Do you remember, Silvain," he cried,
turning to the priest, "how we used to steal away
before sunrise in my father's little fishing-boat, when we
were boys, and come back at night with our backs blistered
by the sun and our arms aching, hein? That was before you
went away to France to study for the priesthood. Ah, but
those were good times!" He threw back his head and
laughed joyously. His dark hair, wet with the mist, lay in
loose rings on his forehead; his fine young face, beardless
but manly, seemed almost lustrous in the pale darkness.
"Do you remember, Silvain? Right where the big house
stands, there was Jacques Caillion's steep-roofed cottage,
with the garden in front full of pinks and mignonette and
sweet herbs; and the vine-hung porch where 'Tit-Pierre used
to play, and where Margot Caillion used to stand shading her
eyes with her arm, and looking out for her man to come home
"Jack Caillion," said Nathan
Pilger, "was washed overboard from the Suzanne in a
storm off Hatteras in 'll him and Dunc Cook and Ba'tist'
"The old church of Our Lady of the
Gulf," the young man continued, "was just a
stone's-throw this side of where the new one was built; back
a little is our cottage, and your father's, Silvain; and in
the hollow beyond Justin Roux has his blacksmith's
He paused, his voice dying away almost to a
whisper. The waves were beating more noisily against the
bluff, filling the silence with a sort of hoarse plaint; the
fog gray, soft, impenetrable rested on them like a cloud.
The moisture fell in an audible drip-drop from the leaves
and the long, pendent moss of the live-oaks. A mare, with
her colt beside her, came trotting around the bend of the
road. She approached within a few feet of the girl, reared
violently, snorting, and dashed away, followed by the
whinnying colt. The clatter of their feet echoed on the
muffled air. The girl, in her white dress, sat rigidly
motionless, with her face turned seaward.
André lifted his head and went on,
dreamily: "I mind me, most of all, of
one day when all
the girls and boys of the village walked over to Bayou
Galère to gather water-lilies. Margot Caillion, with
'Tit-Pierre in her hand, came along to mind the girls. You
had but just come back from France in your priest's frock,
Silvain. You were in the church door when we passed, with
your book in your hand." A smothered groan escaped the
priest, and he threw up his arm as if to ward off a blow.
"And you were there when we came back at sunset. The
smell of the pines that day was like balm. The lilies were
white on the dark breast of the winding bayou. Rose Dédé's
arms were heaped so full of lilies that you could only see
her laughing black eyes above them. But Lorance would only
take a few buds. She said it was a kind of sin to take them
away from the water where they grew. Lorance was ever "
The girl had dropped her hands in her lap,
and was listening. At the sound of her own name she turned
her face towards the speaker.
"Lorance!" gasped André.
"Is it truly you, Lorance?"
"Yes, it is I, André
Dieudonné," she replied, quietly. Her pale girlish
face, with its delicate outlines, was crowned with an
aureole of bright hair, which hung in two thick braids to
her waist; her soft brown eyes were a little sunken, as if
she had wept overmuch. But her voice was strangely cold and
"But . . . . when did you . . . . come,
Lorance?" André demanded, breathlessly.
"I came," she said, in the same
calm, measured tone, "but a little after you,
André Dieudonné. First 'Tit-Pierre, then you, and
"Why, then " he began. He rose
abruptly, gathering his mantle about him, and leaned over
the marble slab where he had been sitting. "'Sacred to
the memory of André Antoine Marie Dieudonné,'"
he read, slowly, slipping his finger along the mouldy French
lettering, "'who died at this place August 2Oth, 1809.
In the 22d year of his age.' Eighty years and more ago I
came!" he cried. "And you have been here all these
years, Lorance, and I have not known! Why, then, did you
never come up?"
She did not answer at once. "I was
tired," she said, presently, "and I rested well
down there in the cool, dark silence. And I was not lonely .
. . at first, for I
heard Margot Caillion passing about,
putting flowers above 'Tit-Pierre and you and me. My mother
and yours often came and wept with her for us all and my
father, and your little brothers. The sound of their weeping
comforted me. Then . . . . after a while . . . . no one seemed
to remember us any more."
"Margot Caillion," said Nathan
Pilger, "went back, when her man was drownded, to the
place in France where she was born. The others be all layin'
in the old church-yard yander on the hill . . . . all but
Silvann Leebaw an' me."
She looked at the old man and smiled gravely.
"A long time passed," she went on, slowly. "I
could sometimes hear you speak to 'Tit-Pierre, André
Dieudonné; . . . .
and at last some men came and dug quite
near me; and as they pushed their spades through the moist
turf they talked about the good Père Lebas; and then
I knew that Silvain was coming." The priest's head fell
upon his breast; he covered his face with his hands and
rocked to and fro on his low seat. "Not long after,
Nathan Pilger came. Down there in my narrow chamber I have
heard above me, year after year, the murmur of your voices
on St. John's eve, and ever the feet of 'Tit-Pierre, as he
goes back and forth seeking his mother. But I cared not to
leave my place. For why should I wish to look upon your
face, André Dieudonné, and mark there the memory of
your love for Rose Dédé?"
Her voice shook with a sudden passion as she
uttered the last words. The hands lying in her lap were
twisted together convulsively; a flush leaped into her pale
"Rose Dédé!" echoed André,
amazedly. "Nay, Lorance, but I never loved Rose Dédé!
If she perchance cared for me "
"Silence, fool!" cried the priest,
sternly. He had thrown back his cowl; his eyes glowed like
coals in his white face; he lifted his hand menacingly.
"Thou wert ever a vain puppet, André Dieudonné.
It was not for such as thou that Rose Dédé sinned away her
soul! Was it thou she came at midnight to meet in the lone
shadows of these very live-oaks? Hast thou ever worn the
garments of a priest? . . . . They shunned Rose Dédé in the
village . . . . but the priest said mass at the altar of Our
Lady of the Gulf, . . . . and the wail of the babe was sharp
in the hut under the pines, . . . .
and it ceased to
breathe, . . . . and the mother turned her face to the wall and died, .
. . . and my heart was cold in my breast as I looked on the
dead faces of the mother and the child. . . . . They lie under
the pine-trees by Bayou Galère. But the priest lived to old
age; . . . and when he died, he durst not sleep in
consecrated ground, but fain would lie in the shadows of the
live-oaks, where the dark eyes of Rose Dédé looked love into
His wild talk fell upon unheeding ears.
'Tit-Pierre had come out of the house. He was nestling
against Nathan Pilger's knee. He held a lily-bud in one
hand, and with the other he caressed the sailor's
"'Tit-Pierre," whispered the old
man, "that is Lorance Baudrot. Do you remember her,
'Tit-Pierre?" The child smiled intelligently.
"Lorance was but a slip of a girl when I come down here
from Cape Cod cabin-boy aboard the Mary Ann. She
was the pretties' lass on all the bay shore. An' I I loved her,
'Tit-Pierre. But I wa'n't no match agin Andry Dewdonny; an'
I know'd it from the fust. Andry was the likelies' lad
hereabout, an' the harnsomes'. I see that Lorance loved him.
An' when the yaller fever took him, I see her a-droopin' an'
a-droopin' tell she died, an' she never even know'd I loved
her. Her an' Andry was laid here young, 'Tit-Pierre,
'longside o' you. I lived ter be pretty tol'able old; but
when I hed made my last vige, an' was about fetchin' my
las' breath, I give orders ter be laid in this here old
buryin'-groun' some'er's clost ter the grave o' Lorance
His voice was overborne by André's
exultant tones. "Lorance!" he cried, "did you
indeed love me? me!"
Her dark eyes met his frankly, and she
"Ah, if I had only known!" he sighed
"if had only known, Lorance, I would surely have
lived! We would have walked one morning to Our Lady of the
Gulf, with all the village-folk about us, and Silvain the
good Père Lebas would have joined our hands. . . .
. My father would have given us a little plot of ground; . . .
. you would have planted flowers about the door of our
cottage; . . . . our children would have played in the sand
under the bluff. . . ."
A sudden gust of wind blew the fog aside, and
a zigzag of flame tore the wedge-shaped cloud in two. A
greenish light played for an instant over the weed-grown
spot. The mocking-bird, long silent in the heart of the
live-oak, began to sing.
"All these years you have been near
me," he murmured, reproachfully, "and I did not
know." Then, as if struck by a breathless thought, he
stretched out his arms imploringly. "I love you,
Lorance," he said. "I have always loved you. Will
you not be my wife now? Silvain will say the words, and
'Tit-Pierre, who can go back and forth, will put this ring,
which was my mother's, upon your finger, and he will bring
me a curl of your soft hair to twist about mine. I cannot
come to you, Lorance; I cannot even touch your hand. But
when I go down into my dark place I can be content dreaming
of you. And on the blessed St. John's eves I will know you
are mine, as you sit there in your white gown."
As he ceased speaking, Père Lebas,
with his head upon his breast, began murmuring, as if
mechanically, the words which preface the holy sacrament of
marriage. His voice faltered, he raised his head, and a cry
of wonder burst from his lips. For André had moved
away from the mouldy gravestone and stood just in front of
him. Lorance, as if upborne on invisible wings, was floating
lightly across the intervening space. Her shroud enveloped
her like a cloud, her arms were extended, her lips were
parted in a rapt smile. Nathan Pilger, with 'Tit-Pierre in
his arms, had limped forward. He halted beside André,
and as the young man folded the girl to his breast, the
child reached over and laid an open lily on her down-drooped
The priest stared wildly at them, and
struggled to rise, but could not. As he sank panting back
upon the crumbling tomb, his anguish overcame him. "My
God!" he groaned hoarsely, "I, only I, cannot move
from my place. The soul of Rose Dédé
hangs like a millstone about my neck!"
Even as he spoke, the cloud broke with a
roar. The storm black, heavy, thunderous came rushing
across the bay. It blotted out, in a lightning's flash, the
mansion which stands on the site of Jacques Caillion's hut,
and the weed-grown, ancient, forgotten graveyard in its
. . . And a bell in the steeple of Our Lady
of the Gulf rang out the hour.