Bonaventure by George Washington Cable
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER V. THE
CURÉ OF CARANCRO.
CHAPTER VII. A
NEEDLE IN A
THE QUEST ENDED.
CHAPTER IX. THE
CHAPTER X. AFTER
CHAPTER I. A
CHAPTER II. IN A
CHAPTER III. THE
CHAPTER IV. HOW
RANG THE BELL.
CHAPTER VI. WAR
OF DARKNESS AND
LOVE AND DUTY.
CHAPTER VIII. AT
LIGHT, LOVE, AND
CHAPTER I. THE
CHAPTER III. THE
FATHER AND SON.
CHAPTER VII. 'THANASE'S
CHAPTER IX. NOT
BLUE EYES, NOR
CHAPTER X. A
CHAPTER XI. HE
ASKS HER AGAIN.
CHAPTER XII. THE
CHAPTER XIV. WHO
CHAPTER XV. CAN
THEY CLOSE THE
CHAPTER XVI. THE
OUTLAW AND THE
“TEARS AND SUCH
LOVE, ANGER, AND
LOVE AND LUCK BY
CHAPTER XXII. A
CHAPTER I. SOSTHÈNE.
Bayou Teche is the dividing line. On its left is the land of bayous,
lakes, and swamps; on its right, the beautiful short-turfed prairies of
Western Louisiana. The Vermilion River divides the vast prairie into
the countries of Attakapas on the east and Opelousas on the west. On
its west bank, at its head of navigation, lies the sorry little town of
Vermilionville, near about which on the north and east the prairie
rises and falls with a gentle swell, from whose crests one may, as from
the top of a wave, somewhat overlook the surrounding regions.
Until a few years ago, stand on whichever one you might, the
prospect stretched away, fair and distant, in broad level or gently
undulating expanses of crisp, compact turf, dotted at remote intervals
by farms, each with its low-roofed house nestled in a planted grove of
oaks, or, oftener, Pride of China trees. Far and near herds of horses
and cattle roamed at will over the plain. If for a moment, as you
passed from one point of view to another, the eye was shut in, it was
only where in some lane you were walled in by fields of dense tall
sugar-cane or cotton, or by huge green Chickasaw hedges, studded with
their white-petalled, golden-centred roses. Eastward the plain broke
into slight ridges, which, by comparison with the general level, were
called hills; while toward the north it spread away in quieter swells,
with more frequent fields and larger houses.
North, south, east, and west, far beyond the circle of these
horizons, not this parish of Lafayette only, but St. Landry, St.
Martin, Iberia, St. Mary's, Vermilion,all are the land of the
Acadians. This quarter off here to northward was named by the
Nova-Scotian exiles, in memory of the land from which they were driven,
the Beau Bassin. These small homestead groves that dot the plain far
and wide are the homes of their children. Here is this one on a smooth
green billow of the land, just without the town. It is not like the
rest,a large brick house, its Greek porch half hid in a grove of
oaks. On that dreadful day, more than a century ago, when the British
in far-off Acadie shut into the chapel the villagers of Grand Pré, a
certain widow fled with her children to the woods, and there subsisted
for ten days on roots and berries, until finally, the standing crops as
well as the houses being destroyed, she was compelled to accept exile,
and in time found her way, with others, to these prairies. Her son
founded Vermilionville. Her grandson rose to power,sat in the Senate
of the United States. From early manhood to hale gray age, the people
of his State were pleased to hold him, now in one capacity, now in
another, in their honored service; they made him Senator, Governor,
President of Convention, what you will. I have seen the portrait for
which he sat in early manhood to a noted English court painter: dark
waving locks; strong, well-chiselled features; fine clear eyes; an air
of warm, steady-glowing intellectual energy. It hangs still in the home
of which I speak. And I have seen an old ambrotype of him, taken in the
days of this story: hair short-cropped, gray; eyes thoughtful,
courageous; mouth firm, kind, and ready to smile.
It must have been some years before this picture was taken, that, as
he issued from his stately porch,which the oaks, young then, did not
hide from view as they do now,coming forth to mount for his regular
morning ride, a weary-faced woman stood before him, holding by the hand
a little toddling boy. She was sick; the child was hungry. He listened
to her tale. Their conversation was in French.
Widow, are you? And your husband was a Frenchman: yes, I see. Are
you an Acadian? You haven't the accent.
I am a Creole, she said, with a perceptible flush of resentment.
So that he responded amiably:
Yes, and, like all Creoles, proud of it, as you are right to be.
But I am an Acadian of the Acadians, and never wished I was any thing
He found her a haven a good half-day's ride out across the prairies
north-westward, in the home of his long-time acquaintance, Sosthène
Gradnego, who had no more heart than his wife had to say No to either
their eminent friend or a houseless widow; and, as to children, had so
many already, that one more was nothing. They did not feel the burden
of her, she died so soon; but they soon found she had left with them a
positive quantity in her little prattling, restless, high-tempered
Bonaventure. Bonaventure Deschamps: he was just two years younger than
their own little Zoséphine.
Sosthène was already a man of some note in this region,a region
named after a bird. Why would it not often be well so to name
places,for the bird that most frequents the surrounding woods or
fields? How pleasant to have one's hamlet called Nightingale, or
Whippoorwill, or Goldfinch, or Oriole! The home of Zoséphine and
Bonaventure's childhood was in the district known as Carancro; in bluff
English, Carrion Crow.
CHAPTER II. BONAVENTURE AND
They did not live à la chapelle; that is, in the village of
six or eight houses clustered about the small wooden spire and cross of
the mission chapel. Sosthène's small ground-story cottage, with garret
stairs outside in front on the veranda and its five-acre farm behind,
was not even on a highway nor on the edge of any rich bas fond,creek-bottom. It was au large,far out across the smooth,
unscarred turf of the immense prairie, conveniently near one of the
clear circular pondsmaraiseswhich one sees of every size and
in every direction on the seemingly level land. Here it sat, as still
as a picture, within its hollow square of China-trees, which every
third year yielded their limbs for fuel; as easy to overlook the first
timeas easy to see the next timeas a bird sitting on her eggs. Only
the practised eye could read aright the infrequent obscure signs of
previous travel that showed the way to it,sometimes no more than the
occasional soilure of the short turf by a few wheels or hoofs where the
route led into or across the cooléesrivuletsthat from
marais to marais slipped southward toward the great marshes
of the distant, unseen Gulf.
When I say the parent of one of these two children and guardian of
the other was a man of note, I mean, for one thing, his house was
painted. That he was the owner of thousands of cattle, one need not
mention, for so were others who were quite inconspicuous, living in
unpainted houses, rarely seeing milk, never tasting butter; men who at
call of their baptismal names would come forth from these houses
barefooted and bareheaded in any weather, and, while their numerous
progeny grouped themselves in the doorway one behind another in inverse
order of age and stature, would either point out your lost way, or,
quite as readily as Sosthène, ask you in beneath a roof where the
coffee-pot never went dry or grew cold by day. Nor would it distinguish
him from them to say he had many horses or was always well mounted. It
was a land of horsemen. One met them incessantly; men in broad hats and
dull homespun, with thin, soft, untrimmed brown beards, astride of
small but handsome animals, in Mexican saddles, the girths and bridles
of plaited hair, sometimes a pialle or arriattelasso,
lariatof plaited rawhide coiled at the saddle-bow. Adieu,
Onesimealways adieu at meeting, the same as at parting. Adieu,
François; adieu, Christophe; adieu, Lazare; and they with their
gentle, brown-eyed, wild-animal gaze, Adjieu.
What did make Sosthène notable was the quiet thing we call thrift,
made graceful by certain rudiments of taste. To say Sosthène, means
Madame Sosthène as well; and this is how it was that Zoséphine Gradnego
and Bonaventure Deschamps, though they went not to school, nevertheless
had advantages. For instance, the clean, hard-scrubbed cypress floors
beneath their pattering feet; the neat round parti-colored mats at the
doors that served them for towns and villages; the strips of home-woven
carpet that stood for roadsthis one to Mermentau, that one to Côte
Gelée, a third à la chapelle; the walls of unpainted pine; the
beaded joists under the ceiling; the home-made furniture, bedsteads and
wardrobes of stained woods, and hickory chairs with rawhide seats, hair
uppermost; the white fringed counterpanes on the high featherbeds;
especially, in the principal room, the house's one mantelpiece, of wood
showily stained in three colors and surmounted by a pair of gorgeous
vases, beneath which the two children used to stand and feast their
eyes, worth fifty cents if they were worth one,these were as books to
them indoors; and out in the tiny garden, where they played wild horse
and wild cow, and lay in ambush for butterflies, they came under the
spell of marigolds, prince's-feathers, lady-slippers, immortelles,
portulaca, jonquil, lavender, althæa, love-apples, sage, violets,
amaryllis, and that grass ribbon they call jarretière de la vierge,the virgin's garter.
Time passed; the children grew. The children older than they in the
same house became less and less like children, and began to disappear
from the family board and roof by a mysterious process called marrying,
which greatly mystified Zoséphine, but equally pleased her by the
festive and jocund character of the occasions, times when there was a
ravishing abundance of fried rice-cakes and boulettes
To Bonaventure these affairs brought less mystery and less unalloyed
pleasure. He understood them better. Some boys are born lovers. From
the time they can reach out from the nurse's arms, they must be billing
and cooing and choosing a mate. Such was ardent little Bonaventure; and
none of the Gradnego weddings ever got quite through its ceremony
without his big blue eyes being found full of tearstears of mingled
anger and desolationbecause by some unpardonable oversight he and
Zoséphine were still left unmarried. So that the pretty damsel would
have to take him aside, and kiss him as they clasped, and promise him,
Next timenext time, without fail!
Nevertheless, he always reaped two proud delights from these events.
For one, Sosthène always took him upon his lap and introduced him as
his little Creole. And the other, the ex-governor came to these
demonstrationsthe great governor! who lifted him to his knee and told
him of those wonderful things called cities, full of people that could
read and write; and about steamboats and steam-cars.
At length one day, when weddings had now pretty well thinned out the
ranks of Sosthène's family, the ex-governor made his appearance though
no marriage was impending. Bonaventure, sitting on his knee, asked why
he had come, and the ex-governor told him there was war.
Do you not want to make haste and grow up and be a dragoon?
The child was silent, and Sosthène laughed a little as he said
privately in English, which tongue his exceptional thrift had put him
in possession of:
Aw, naw!he shook his head amusedlyhe dawn't like hoss. Go to
put him on hoss, he kick like a frog. Yass; squeal wuss'n a pig. But
still, sem time, you know, he ain't no coward; git mad in minute; fight
like little ole ram. Dawn't ondstand dat little fellah; he love flower'
like he was a gal.
He ought to go to school, said the ex-governor. And Sosthène, half
to himself, responded in a hopeless tone:
Yass. Neither Sosthène nor any of his children had ever done that.
CHAPTER III. ATHANASIUS.
War it was. The horsemen grew scarce on the wide prairies of
Opelousas. Far away in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, on bloody fields,
many an Acadian volunteer and many a poor conscript fought and fell for
a cause that was really none of theirs, simple, non-slaveholding
peasants; and many died in camp and hospitaloften of wounds, often of
fevers, often of mere longing for home. Bonaventure and Zoséphine
learned this much of war: that it was a state of affairs in which dear
faces went away, and strange ones came back with tidings that brought
bitter wailings from mothers and wives, and made les vieuxthe
old fatherssit very silent. Three times over that was the way of it
in Sosthène's house.
It was also a condition of things that somehow changed boys into men
very young. A great distance away, but still in sight south-westward
across the prairie, a dot of dark green showed where dwelt a sister and
brother-in-law of Sosthène's vieille,wife. There was not the
same domestic excellence there as at Sosthène's; yet the dooryard was
very populous with fowls; within the house was always heard the hard
thump, thump, of the loom, or the loud moan of the spinning-wheel; and
the children were many. The eldest was Athanase. Though but fifteen he
was already stalwart, and showed that intelligent sympathy in the
family cares that makes such offspring the mother's comfort and the
father's hope. At that age he had done but one thing to diminish that
comfort or that hope. One would have supposed an ambitious chap like
him would have spent his first earnings, as other ambitious ones did,
for a saddle; but 'Thanase Beausoleil had bought a fiddle.
He had hardly got it before he knew how to play it. Yet, to the
father's most welcome surprise, he remained just as bold a rider and as
skilful a thrower of the arriatte as ever. He came into great
demand for the Saturday-night balls. When the courier with a red
kerchief on a wand came galloping round, the day before, from île
to île,for these descendants of a maritime race call their
homestead groves islands,to tell where the ball was to be, he would
assert, if there was even a hope of it, that 'Thanase was to be the
In this way 'Thanase and his pretty little jarmainefirst
cousinZoséphine, now in her fourteenth year, grew to be well
acquainted. For at thirteen, of course, she began to move in society,
which meant to join in the contra-dance. 'Thanase did not dance with
her, or with any one. She wondered why he did not; but many other girls
had similar thoughts about themselves. He only played, his playing
growing better and better, finer and finer, every time he was heard
anew. As to the few other cavaliers, very willing were they to have it
so. The music could not be too good, and if 'Thanase was already
perceptibly a rival when hoisted up in a chair on top of a table,
fiddle and bow in hand, twisting, to borrow their own
phrasetwisting the ears of that little red beast and rubbing his
abdomen with a stick, it was just as well not to urge him to come down
into the lists upon the dancing-floor. But they found one night, at
length, that the music could be too goodwhen 'Thanase struck up
something that was not a dance, and lads and damsels crowded around
standing and listening and asking ever for more, and the ball turned
out a failure because the concert was such a success.
The memory of that night was of course still vivid next day, Sunday,
and Zoséphine's memory was as good as any one's. I wish you might have
seen her in those days of the early bud. The time had returned when
Sosthène could once more get all his householdso had marriages
decimated itinto one vehicle, a thing he had not been able to do for
almost these twenty years. Zoséphine and Bonaventure sat on a back seat
contrived for them in the family calèche. In front were the
broad-brimmed Campeachy hat of Sosthène and the meek, limp sunbonnet of
la vieille. About the small figure of the daughter there was always
something distinguishing, even if you rode up from behind, that told of
youth, of mettle, of self-regard; a neatness of fit in the dress, a
firm erectness in the little slim back, a faint proudness of neck, a
glimpse of ribbon at the throat, another at the waist; a something of
assertion in the slight crispness of her homespun sunbonnet, and a
ravishing glint of two sparks inside it as you got one glance
withinno more. And as you rode on, if you were a young blade, you
would beas the soldier lads used to sayall curled up; but if you
were an old mustache, you would smile inwardly and say to yourself,
She will have her way; she will make all winds blow in her chosen
direction; she will please herself; she will be her own good luck and
her own commander-in-chief, and, withal, nobody's misery or
humiliation, unless you count the swain after swain that will sigh in
vain. As for Bonaventure, sitting beside her, you could just see his
bare feet limply pendulous under his wide palm-leaf hat. And yet he was
a very real personage.
Bonaventure, said Zoséphine,this was as they were returning from
church, the wide rawhide straps of their huge wooden two-wheeled
vehicle creaking as a new saddle would if a new saddle were as big as a
house,Bonaventure, I wish you could learn how to dance. I am tired
trying to teach you. (This and most of the unbroken English of this
story stands for Acadian French.)
Bonaventure looked meek for a moment, and then resentful as he said:
'Thanase does not dance.
'Thanase! Bah! What has 'Thanase to do with it? Who was even
thinking of 'Thanase? Was he there last night? Ah yes! I just remember
now he was. But even he could dance if he chose; while youyou can't
learn! You vex me. 'Thanase! What do you always bring him up for? I
wish you would have the kindness just not to remind me of him! Why does
not some one tell him how he looks, hoisted up with his feet in our
faces, scratching his fiddle? Now, the fiddle, Bonaventurethe fiddle
would just suit you. Ah, if you could play! But the boy's quick anger
so flashed from his blue eyes that she checked herself and with
contemplative serenity added:
Pity nobody else can play so well as that tiresome fellow. It was
positively silly, the way some girls stood listening to him last night.
I'd be ashamed, or, rather, too proud, to flatter such a high-headed
care-for-nobody. I wish he wasn't my cousin!
Bonaventure, still incensed, remarked with quiet intensity that he
knew why she wished 'Thanase was not a cousin.
It's no such a thing! exclaimed Zoséphine so forcibly that Madame
Sosthène's sunbonnet turned around, and a murmur of admonition came
from it. But the maiden was smiling and saying blithely to Bonaventure:
Oh, youyou can't even guess well. She was about to say more, but
suddenly hushed. Behind them a galloping horse drew near, softly
pattering along the turfy road. As he came abreast, he dropped into a
The rider was a boyish yet manly figure in a new suit of gray
home-made linsey, the pantaloons thrust into the tops of his sturdy
russet boots, and the jacket ending underneath a broad leather belt
that carried a heavy revolver in its holster at one hip. A Campeachy
hat shaded his face and shoulders, and a pair of Mexican spurs tinkled
their little steel bells against their huge five-spiked rowels on his
heels. He scarcely sat in the saddle-treefrom hat to spurs you might
have drawn a perpendicular line. It would have taken in shoulders,
thighs, and all.
Adjieu, said the young centaur; and Sosthène replied from the
creaking calèche, Adjieu, 'Thanase, while the rider bestowed his
rustic smile upon the group. Madame Sosthène's eyes met his, and her
lips moved in an inaudible greeting; but the eyes of her little
daughter were in her lap. Bonaventure's gaze was hostile. A word or two
passed between uncle and nephew, including a remark and admission that
the cattle-thieves were getting worse than ever; and with a touch of
the spur, the young horseman galloped on.
It seems enough to admit that Zoséphine's further remarks were silly
without reporting them in full.
Look at his back! What airs! If I had looked up I should have
laughed in his face! etc. Well, she concluded, after much such
chirruping, there's one comforthe doesn't care a cent for me. If I
should die to-morrow, he would forget to come to the funeral. And you
think I wouldn't be glad? Well, you're mistaken, as usual. I hate him,
and I just know he hates me! Everybody hates me!
The eyes of her worshipper turned upon her. But she only turned her
own away across the great plain to the vast arching sky, and patted the
calèche with a little foot that ached for deliverance from its Sunday
shoe. Then her glance returned, and all the rest of the way home she
was as sweet as the last dip of cane-juice from the boiling battery.
CHAPTER IV. THE CONSCRIPT OFFICER.
By and by 'Thanase was sixteen. Eighteen was the lowest age for
conscription, yet he was in the Confederate uniform. But then so was
his uncle Sosthène; so was his father. It signified merely that he had
been received into the home guard. The times were sadly unsettled.
Every horseman, and how much more every group of horsemen, that one saw
coming across the prairie, was watched by anxious eyes, from the moment
they were visible specks, to see whether the uniform would turn out to
be the blue or the gray. Which was the more unwelcome I shall not say,
but this I can, that the blue meant invasion and the gray meant
conscription. Sosthène was just beyond the limit of age, and 'Thanase
two years below it; but 'Thanase's father kept a horse saddled all the
time, and slept indoors only on stormy nights.
Do not be misled: he was neither deserter nor coward; else the
nickname which had quite blotted out his real name would not have been
Chaouachesavage, Indian. He was needed at home, andit was not his
war. His war was against cattle-thieves and like marauders, and there
was no other man in all Carancro whom these would not have had on their
track rather than him. But one gray dawn they found there was another
not unlike him. They had made an attempt upon Sosthène's cattle one
night; had found themselves watched and discovered; had turned and fled
westward half the night, and had then camped in the damp woods of a
bas fond; when, just as day was breaking and they were looking to
their saddles about to mountthere were seven of themjust
thenlisten!a sound of hoofs!
Instantly every left foot is in stirrup; but before they can swing
into the saddle a joyous cry is in their ears, and pop! pop! pop! pop!
ring the revolvers as, with the glad, fierce cry still resounding,
three horsemen launch in upon themonly three, but those three a
whirlwind. See that riderless horse, and this one, and that one! And
now for itthree honest men against four remaining thieves! Pop! pop!
dodge, and fire as you dodge! Pop! pop! pop! down he goes; well done,
gray-bearded Sosthène! Shoot there! Wheel here! Wounded? Never mind
ora! Another rogue reels! Collar him, Chaouache! drag him from the
saddledown he goes! What, again? Shoot there! Look out, that fellow's
getting away! Ah! down goes Sosthène's horse, breaking his strong neck
in the tumble. Up, bleeding old manbang! bang! Ha, ha, ora!
that finishesora! 'Twas the boy saved your life with that last
shot, Sosthène, and the boythe youth is 'Thanase.
He has not stopped to talk; he and his father are catching the
horses of the dead and dying jayhawkers. Now bind up Sosthène's head,
and now 'Thanase's hip. Now strip the dead beasts, and take the dead
men's weapons, boots, and spurs. Lift this one moaning villain into his
saddle and take him along, though he is going to die before ten miles
are gone over. So they turn homeward, leaving high revel for the
Think of Bonaventure, the slender, the intense, the reticentwith
'Thanase limping on rude but glorious crutches for four consecutive
Saturdays and Sundays up and down in full sight of Zoséphine, savior of
her mother from widowhood, owner of two fine captured horses, and
rewarded by Sosthène with five acres of virgin prairie. If the young
fiddler's music was an attraction before, fancy its power now, when the
musician had to be lifted to his chair on top of the table!
Bonaventure sought comfort of Zoséphine, and she gave it, tittering
at 'Thanase behind his back, giving Bonaventure knowing looks, and
sticking her sunbonnet in her mouth.
Oh, if the bullet had only gone into the dandy's fiddle-bow arm!
she whispered gleefully.
I wish he might never get well! said the boy.
The girl's smile vanished; her eyes flashed lightning for an
instant; the blood flew to her cheeks, and she bit her lip.
Why don't you, now while he cannot help himselfwhy don't you go
to him and hit him square in the face, likeher arm flew up, and she
smote him with her sunbonnet full between the eyeslike that! She
ran away, laughing joyously, while Bonaventure sat down and wept with
rage and shame.
Day by day he went about his trivial tasks and efforts at pastime
with the one great longing that Zoséphine would more kindly let him be
her slave, and somethingany thingtake 'Thanase beyond reach.
Instead of this 'Thanase got well, and began to have a perceptible
down on his cheek and upper lip, to the great amusement of Zoséphine.
He had better take care, she said one day to Bonaventure, her eyes
leaving their mirth and expanding with sudden seriousness, or the
conscript officer will be after him, though he is but sixteen.
Unlucky word! Bonaventure's bruised spirit seized upon the thought.
They were on their way even then à la chapelle; and when they
got there he knelt before Mary's shrine and offered the longest and
most earnest prayer, thus far, of his life, and rose to his feet under
a burden of guilt he had never known before.
It was November. The next day the wind came hurtling over the plains
out of the north-west, bitter cold. The sky was all one dark gray. At
evening it was raining. Sosthène said, as he sat down to supper, that
it was going to pour and blow all night. Chaouache said much the same
thing to his wife as they lay down to rest. Farther away from Carancro
than many of Carancro's people had ever wandered, in the fire-lighted
public room of a village tavern, twelve or fifteen men were tramping
busily about, in muddy boots and big clanking spurs, looking to pistols
and carbines of miscellaneous patterns, and securing them against
weather under their as yet only damp and slightly bespattered
great-coats, no two of which were alike. They spoke to each other
sometimes in French, sometimes in English that betrayed a Creole rather
than an Acadian accent. A young man with a neat kepi tipped on
one side of his handsome head stood with his back to the fire, a sabre
dangling to the floor from beneath a captured Federal overcoat. A
larger man was telling him a good story. He listened smilingly, dropped
the remnant of an exhausted cigarette to the floor, put his small,
neatly booted foot upon it, drew from his bosom one of those silken
tobacco-bags that our sisters in war-time used to make for all the
soldier boys, made a new cigarette, lighted it with the flint and
tinder for which the Creole smokers have such a predilection, and put
away his appliances, still hearkening to the story. He nodded his head
in hearty approval as the tale was finished. It was the story of
Sosthène, Chaouache, 'Thanase, and the jayhawkers. He gathered up his
sabre and walked out, followed by the rest. A rattle of saddles, a
splashing of hoofs, and then no sound was heard but the wind and the
pouring rain. The short column went out of the village at full gallop.
Day was fully come when Chaouache rose and stepped out upon his
galérie. He had thought he could venture to sleep in bed such a night;
and, sure enough, here morning came, and there had been no intrusion.
'Thanase, too, was up. It was raining and blowing still. Across the
prairie, as far as the eye could reach, not a movement of human life
could be seen. They went in again, made a fire of a few fagots and an
armful of cotton-seed, hung the kettle, and emptied the old coffee from
The mother and children rose and dressed. The whole family huddled
around the good, hot, cotton-seed fire. No one looked out of window or
door; in such wind and rain, where was the need? In the little log
stable hard by, the two favorite saddle-horses remained unsaddled and
unbridled. The father's and son's pistol-belts, with revolvers buttoned
in their holsters, hung on the bedposts by the headboards of their
beds. A long sporting rifle leaned in a corner near the chimney.
Chaouache and 'Thanase got very busy plaiting a horse-hair halter,
and let time go by faster than they knew. Madame Chaouache, so to call
her, prepared breakfast. The children played with the dog and cat. Thus
it happened that still nobody looked out into the swirling rain. Why
should they? Only to see the wide deluged plain, the round drenched
groves, the maraises and sinuous coolées shining with
their floods, and long lines of benumbed, wet cattle seeking in
patient, silent Indian file for warmer pastures. They knew it all by
Yonder farthest île is Sosthène's. The falling flood makes it
almost undiscernible. Even if one looked, he would not see that a
number of horsemen have come softly plashing up to Sosthène's front
fence, for Sosthène's house and grove are themselves in the way. They
spy Bonaventure. He is just going in upon the galérie with an armful of
China-tree fagots. Through their guide and spokesman they utter, not
the usual halloo, but a quieter hail, with a friendly beckon.
Adjieu. The men were bedraggled, and so wet one could not make out
the color of the dress. One could hardly call it a uniform, and pretty
certainly it was not blue.
Adjieu, responded Bonaventure, with some alarm; but the spokesman
smiled re-assuringly. He pointed far away south-westward, and asked if
a certain green spot glimmering faintly through the rain was not
Chaouache's île; and Bonaventure, dumb in the sight of his
prayer's answer, nodded.
And how do you get there? the man asks, still in Acadian French;
for he is well enough acquainted with prairies to be aware that one
needs to know the road even to a place in full view across the plain.
Bonaventure, with riot in his heart, and feeling himself drifting over
the cataract of the sinfullest thing that ever in his young life he has
had the chance to do, softly lays down his wood, and comes to the
corner of the galérie.
It is awful to him, even while he is doing it, the ease with which
he does it. If, he says, they find it troublesome crossing the marshy
place by Numa's farm,le platin à coté d' l'habitation à Numa,then it will be well to virer de bordgo about, et
naviguer au largesail across the open prairie. Adjieu. He takes
up his fagots again, and watches the spattering squad trot away in the
storm, wondering why there is no storm in his own heart.
They are gone. Sosthène, inside the house, has heard nothing. The
tempest suffocates all sounds not its own, and the wind is the wrong
way anyhow. Now they are far out in the open. Chaouache's île
still glimmers to them far ahead in the distance, but if some one
should only look from the front window of its dwelling, he could see
them coming. And that would spoil the fun. So they get it into line
with another man's grove nearer by, and under that cover quicken to a
gallop. Away, away; splash, splash, through the coolées, around
the maraises, clouds of wild fowl that there is no time to shoot
into rising now on this side, now on that; snipe without number, gray
as the sky, with flashes of white, trilling petulantly as they flee;
giant snowy cranes lifting and floating away on waving pinions, and
myriads of ducks in great eruptions of hurtling, whistling wings. On
they gallop; on they splash; heads down; water pouring from soaked hats
and caps; cold hands beating upon wet breasts; horses throwing steaming
muzzles down to their muddy knees, and shaking the rain from their
worried ears; so on and on and on.
The horse-hair halter was nearly done. The breakfast was smoking on
the board. The eyes of the family group were just turning toward it
with glances of placid content, when a knock sounded on the door, and
almost before father or son could rise or astonishment dart from eye to
eye, the door swung open, and a man stood on the threshold, all mud and
water and weapons, touching the side of his cap with the edge of his
palm and asking in French, with an amused smile forcing its way about
Can fifteen of us get something to eat, and feed our horses?
Chaouache gave a vacant stare, and silently started toward the
holsters that hung from the bedpost; but the stranger's right hand
flashed around to his own belt, and, with a repeater half drawn, he
Halt! And then, more quietly, Look out of the door, look out the
Father and son looked. The house was surrounded.
Chaouache turned upon his wife one look of silent despair. Wife and
children threw themselves upon his neck, weeping and wailing. 'Thanase
bore the sight a moment, maybe a full minute; then drew near, pressed
the children with kind firmness aside, pushed between his father and
mother, took her tenderly by the shoulders, and said in their antique
dialect, with his own eyes brimming:
Hush! hush! he will not have to go.
* * * * *
At a gentle trot the short column of horsemen moves again, but with
its head the other way. The wind and rain buffet and pelt horse and
rider from behind. Chaouache's door is still open. He stands in it with
his red-eyed wife beside him and the children around them, all gazing
mutely, with drooping heads and many a slow tear, after the departing
None of the horsemen look back. Why should they? To see a barefoot
man beside a woman in dingy volante and casaquin, with
two or three lads of ten or twelve in front, whose feet have known
sunburn and frost but never a shoe, and a damsel or two in cotton
homespun dress made of one piece from collar to hem, and pantalettes of
the same reaching to the anklesall standing and looking the picture
of witless incapacity, and making no plea against tyranny! Is that a
thing worth while to turn and look back upon? If the blow fell upon
ourselves or our set, that would be different; but these illiterate and
lowly onesthey areyou don't knowso dull and insensible. Yes, it
may be true that it is only some of them who feel less acutely
than some of uswe admit that generously; but when you
insinuate that when we overlook parental and fraternal anguish tearing
at such hearts the dulness and insensibility are ours, you make those
people extremely offensive to us, whereas you should not estrange them
from our tolerance.
Ah, poor unpitied mother! go back to your toils; they are lightened
nowa little; the cooking, the washing, the scrubbing. Spread, day by
day, the smoking board, and call your spared husband and your little
ones to partake; but youyour tears shall be your meat day and night,
while underneath your breath you moan, 'Thanase! 'Thanase!
CHAPTER V. THE CURÉ OF CARANCRO.
It was an unexpected and capital exchange. They had gone for a
conscript; they came away with a volunteer.
Bonaventure sat by the fire in Sosthène's cottage, silent and heavy,
holding his small knees in his knit hands and gazing into the flames.
Zoséphine was washing the household's few breakfast dishes. La
vieillethe motherwas spinning cotton. Le vieux
Sosthènesat sewing up a rent in a rawhide chair-bottom. He paused by
and by, stretched, and went to the window. His wife caught the same
spirit of relaxation, stopped her wheel, looked at the boy moping in
the chimney-corner, and, passing over to his side, laid a hand upon his
temple to see if he might have fever.
The lad's eyes did not respond to her; they were following Sosthène.
The husband stood gazing out through the glass for a moment, and then,
without moving, swore a long, slow execration. The wife and daughter
pressed quickly to his either side and looked forth.
There they came, the number increased to eighteen now, trotting
leisurely through the subsiding storm. The wife asked what they were,
but Sosthène made no reply; he was counting them: twelve, thirteen,
fourteenfourteen with short guns, another one who seemed to wear a
sword, and three, that must be
Cawnscreep, growled Sosthène, without turning his eyes. But the
next moment an unusual sound at his elbow drew his glance upon
Zoséphine. Diable! He glared at her weeping eyes, his manner
demanding of her instant explanation. She retreated a step, moved her
hand toward the approaching troop, and cried distressfully:
Tu va oère!You will see!
His glance was drawn to Bonaventure. The lad had turned toward them,
and was sitting upright, his blue eyes widened, his face pale, and his
lips apart; but ere Sosthène could speak his wife claimed his
Sosthène! she exclaimed, pressing against the window-pane, ah,
Sosthène! Ah, ah! they have got 'Thanase!
Father, mother, and daughter crowded against the window and one
another, watching the body of horse as it drew nigh. Bonaventure went
slowly and lay face downward on the bed.
Now the dripping procession is at hand. They pass along the dooryard
fence. At the little garden gate they halt. Only 'Thanase dismounts.
The commander exchanges a smiling word or two with him, and the youth
passes through the gate, and, while his companions throw each a tired
leg over the pommel and sit watching him, comes up the short, flowery
walk and in at the opening door.
There is nothing to explain, the family have guessed it; he goes in
his father's stead. There is but a moment for farewells.
The prostrate boy does not move. 'Thanase strides up to the bed and
looks at one burning cheek, then turns to his aunt.
Li malade?Is he ill?
Sa l'air a ca, said the aunt. (Il a l'airhe seems
Bien, n'onc' Sosthène, adjieu. Uncle and nephew shake hands
stoutly. Adjieu, says the young soldier again to his aunt. She gives
her hand and turns to hide a tear. The youth takes one step toward
Zoséphine. She stands dry-eyed, smiling on her father. As the youth
comes her eyes, without turning to him, fill. He puts out his hand. She
lays her own on it. He gazes at her for a moment, with beseeching
eyeAdjieu. Her eyes meet his one instantshe leaps upon his
neckhis strong arms press her to his bosomher lifted face lights
uphis kiss is on her lipsit was there just now, and now'Thanase
is gone, and she has fled to an inner room.
Bonaventure stood in the middle of the floor. Why should the boy
look so strange? Was it anger, or fever, or joy? He started out.
A ou-ce-tu va Bonaventure?Whereabouts are you going?
Va crier les vaches.Going to call the cows.
At this time of day? demanded la vieille, still in the same
tongue. Are you crazy?
Oh!no! the boy replied, looking dazed. No, he said; I was
going for some more wood. He went out, passed the woodpile by, got
round behind a corn-crib, and stood in the cold, wet gale watching the
distant company lessening on the view. It was but a short, dim, dark
streak, creeping across the field of vision like some slow insect on a
window-glass. A spot just beyond it was a grove that would presently
shut the creeping line finally from sight. They reached it, passed
beyond, and disappeared; and then Bonaventure took off the small,
soft-brimmed hat that hung about his eyes, and, safe from the sight and
hearing of all his tiny world, lifted his voice, and with face kindling
with delight swung the sorry covering about his head and cried three
Ora! Or-r-ra! Ora-a-a-a!
But away in the night Madame Sosthène, hearing an unwonted noise,
went to Bonaventure's bedside and found him sobbing as if his heart had
He has had a bad dream, she said; for he would not say a word.
The curé of Vermilionville and Carancro was a Creole gentleman who
looked burly and hard when in meditation; but all that vanished when he
spoke and smiled. In the pocket of his cassock there was always a deck
of cards, but that was only for the game of solitaire. You have your
pipe or cigar, your flute or violoncello; he had his little table under
the orange-tree and his game of solitaire.
He was much loved. To see him beyond earshot talking to other men
you would say he was by nature a man of affairs, whereas, when you came
to hear him speak you find him quite another sort: one of the Elisha
kind, as against the Elijahs; a man of the domestic sympathies, whose
influence on man was personal and familiar; one of the sort that heal
bitter waters with a handful of salt, make poisonous pottage wholesome
with a little meal, and find easy, quiet ways to deliver poor widows
from their creditors with no loss to either; a man whom men reverenced,
while women loved and children trusted him.
The ex-governor was fond of his company, although the curé only
smiled at politics and turned the conversation back to family matters.
He had a natural gift for divining men's, women's, children's personal
wants, and every one's distinctively from every other one's. So that to
everybody he was an actual personal friend. He had been a long time in
this region. It was he who buried Bonaventure's mother. He was the
connecting link between Bonaventure and the ex-governor. Whenever the
curé met this man of worldly power, there were questions asked and
answered about the lad.
A little after 'Thanase's enlistment the priest and the ex-governor,
who, if I remember right, was home only transiently from camp, met on
the court-house square of Vermilionville, and stood to chat a bit,
while others contemplated from across the deep mud of the street these
two interesting representatives of sword and gown. Two such men
standing at that time must naturally, one would say, have been talking
of the strength of the defences around Richmond, or the Emperor
Maximilian's operations in Mexico, or Kirby Smith's movements, hardly
far enough away to make it seem comfortable. But in reality they were
talking about 'Thanase.
He cannot write, said the curé; and if he could, no one at home
could read his letters.
The ex-governor promised to look after him.
And how, he asked, does Sosthène's little orphan get on?
The curé smiled. He is wellphysically. A queer, high-strung
child; so old, yet so young. In some things he will be an infant as
long as he lives; in others, he has been old from the cradle. He takes
every thing in as much earnest as a man of fifty. What is to become of
Oh! he will come out all right, said the ex-governor.
That depends. Some children are born with fixed characters: you can
tell almost from the start what they are going to be. Be they much or
little, they are complete in themselves, and it makes comparatively
little difference into what sort of a world you drop them.
'Thanase, for instance, said the ex-governor.
Yes, you might say 'Thanase; but never Bonaventure. He is the other
type; just as marked and positive traits, but those traits not yet
builded into character: a loose mass of building-material, and the
beauty or ugliness to which such a nature may arrive depends on who and
what has the building of it into form. What he may turn out to be at
last will be no mere product of circumstances; he is too original for
that. Oh, he's a study! Another boy under the same circumstances might
turn out entirely different; and yet it will make an immense difference
how his experiences are allowed to combine with his nature. The
speaker paused a moment, while Bonaventure's other friend stood smiling
with interest; then the priest added, He is just now struggling with
his first great experience.
What is that?
It belongs, replied the curé, smiling in his turn, to the
confidences of the confessional. But, he added, with a little anxious
look, I can tell you what it will do; it will either sweeten his whole
nature more and more, or else make it more and more bitter, from this
time forth. And that is no trifle to you or me; for whether for good or
bad, in a large way or in a small way, he is going to make himself
The ex-governor mused. I'm glad the little fellow has you for a
friend, father.I'll tell you; if Sosthène and his wife will part with
him, and you will take him to live with you, and, mark you, not try too
hard to make a priest of him, I will bear his expenses.
I will do it, said the curé.
It required much ingenuity of argument to make the Gradnego pair see
the matter in the desired light; but when the curé promised Sosthène
that he would teach the lad to read and write, and then promised la
vieille that Zoséphine should share this educational privilege with
him, they let him go.
Zoséphine was not merely willing, but eager, to see the arrangements
made. She beckoned the boy aside and spoke to him alone.
You must go, Bonaventure. You will go, will you notwhen I ask
you? Think how fine that will beto be educated! For me, I cannot
endure an uneducated person. Butah! ca sré vaillant, pour savoir
lire. [It will be bully to know how to read.] Aie ya yaie!
she stretched her eyes and bit her lip with delightC'est t'y
gai, pour savoir écrire! [That's fine to know how to write.] I will
tell you a secret, dear Bonaventure. Any girl of sense is bound
to think it much greater and finer for a man to read books than to ride
horses. She may not want to, but she has to do it; she can't help
Still Bonaventure looked at her mournfully. She tried again.
When I say any girl of sense I include myselfof course! I think
more of a boyor man, eitherwho can write letters than of one who
can play the fiddle. There, now, I have told you! And when you have
learned those things, I will be proud of you! And besides, you know, if
you don't go, you make me lose my chance of learning the same things;
but if you go, we will learn them together.
He consented. She could not understand the expression of his face.
She had expected gleams of delight. There were none. He went with
silent docility, and without a tear; but also without a smile. When in
his new home the curé from time to time stole glances at his face fixed
in unconscious revery, it was full of a grim, unhappy satisfaction.
Self is winning, or dying hard. I wish no ill to 'Thanase; but if
there is to be any bad news of him, I hope, for the sake of this boy's
soul, it will come quickly. So spoke the curé alone, to his cards.
CHAPTER VI. MISSING.
The war was in its last throes even when 'Thanase enlisted. Weeks
and months passed. Then a soldier coming home to Carancrohome-comers
were growing plentifulbrought the first news of him. An officer
making up a force of picked men for an expedition to carry important
despatches eastward across the Mississippi and far away into Virginia
had chosen 'Thanase. The evening the speaker left for home on his leave
of absence 'Thanase was still in camp, but was to start the next
morning. It was just after Sunday morning mass that Sosthène and
Chaouache, with their families and friends, crowded around this bearer
Had 'Thanase been in any battles?
Yes, two or three.
And had not been wounded?
No, although he was the bravest fellow in his company.
Sosthène and Chaouache looked at each other triumphantly, smiled,
and swore two simultaneous oaths of admiration. Zoséphine softly
pinched her mother, and whispered something. Madame Sosthène addressed
the home-comer aloud:
Did 'Thanase send no other message except that mere 'How-d'ye all
Zoséphine leaned upon her mother's shoulder, and softly breathed:
He is lying.
The mother looked around upon her daughter in astonishment. The
flash of scorn was just disappearing from the girl's eyes. She gave a
little smile and chuckle, and murmured, with her glance upon the man:
He has no leave of absence. He is a deserter.
Then Madame Sosthène saw two things at once: that the guess was a
good one, and that Zoséphine had bidden childhood a final adjieu.
The daughter felt Bonaventure's eyes upon her. He was standing only
a step or two away. She gave him a quick, tender look that thrilled him
from head to foot, then lifted her brows and made a grimace of
pretended weariness. She was growing prettier almost from day to day.
And Bonaventure, he had no playmatesno comradesno amusements.
This one thing, which no one knew but the curé, had taken possession of
him. The priest sometimes seemed to himself cruel, so well did it
please him to observe the magnitude Bonaventure plainly attributed to
the matter. The boy seemed almost physically to bow under the burden of
his sense of guilt.
It is quickening all his faculties, said the curé to himself.
Zoséphine had hardly yet learned to read without stammering, when
Bonaventure was already devouring the few French works of the curé's
small bookshelf. Silent on other subjects, on one he would talk till a
pink spot glowed on either cheek-bone and his blue eyes shone like a
hot noon sky;casuistry. He would debate the right and wrong of any
thing, every thing, and the rights and wrongs of men in every relation
Blessed was it for him then that the tactful curé was his father and
mother in one, and the surgeon and physician of his mind. Thus the
struggle brought him light. To the boy's own eyes it seemed to be
bringing him only darkness, but the priest saw better.
That is but his shadow; he is standing in it; it is deepening; that
shows the light is increasing. Thus spake the curé to himself as he
sat at solitaire under his orange-tree one afternoon.
The boy passed out of sight, and the curé's eyes returned to his
game of solitaire; but as he slowly laid one card upon another, now
here, now there, he still thought of Bonaventure.
There will be no peace for him, no sweetness of nature, no green
pastures and still waters, within or without, while he seeks life's
adjustments through definitions of mere right and rights. No, boy; you
will ever be a restless captive, pacing round and round those limits of
your enclosure. Worse still if you seek those definitions only to
justify your overriding another's happiness in pursuit of your own.
The boy was not in hearing; this was apostrophe.
Bonaventure, he said, as the lad came by again; and Bonaventure
stopped. The player pushed the cards from him, pile by pile, leaned
back, ran his fingers slowly through his thin gray hair, and smiled.
Bonaventure, I have a riddle for you. It came to me as I was
playing here just now. If everybody could do just as he pleased; if he
had, as the governor would say, all his rights,life, liberty, pursuit
of happiness,if everybody had this, I say, why should we still be
The boy was silent.
Well, I did not suppose you would know. Would you like me to tell
you? It is because happiness pursued is never overtaken. And can you
guess why that is? Well, never mind, my son. Butwould you like to do
something for me?
Bonaventure nodded. The curé rose, taking from his bosom as he left
his chair a red silk handkerchief and a pocket-worn note-book. He laid
the note-book on the table, and drawing back with a smile said:
Here, sit down in my place, and write what I tell you, while I
stretch my legs. So; never mind whether you understand or not. I am
saying it for myself: it helps me to understand it better. Now,
as I walk, you write. 'Happiness pursued is never overtaken,
because'have you written that?'because, little as we are, God's
image makes us so large that we cannot live within ourselves, nor even
for ourselves, and be satisfied.' Have you got that down? Very
wellyesthe spelling could be improved, but that is no matter. Now
wait a moment; let me walk some more. Now write: 'It is not good for
man to be alone, because'becauselet me see; whereah,
yes!'because rightly self is the'Ah! no, no, my boy; not a capital
S for 'self'ah! that's the very point,small s,'because
rightly self is the smallest part of us. Even God found it good not to
be alone, but to create'got that?'to create objects for His love
and benevolence.' Yes'And because in my poor, small way I am made
like Him, the whole world becomes a part of me'small m, yes,
that is right! From bending a moment over the writer, the priest
straightened up and took a step backward. The boy lifted his glance to
where the sunlight and leaf-shadows were playing on his guardian's
face. The curé answered with a warm smile, saying:
My boy, God is a very practical Godno, you need not write it;
just listen a moment. Yes; and so when He gave us natures like His, He
gave men not wives only, but brethren and sisters and companions and
strangers, in order that benevolence, yes, and even
self-sacrifice,mistakenly so called,might have no lack of direction
and occupation; and then bound the whole human family together by
putting every one's happiness into some other one's hands. I see you do
not understand: never mind; it will come to you little by little. It
was a long time coming to me. Let us go in to supper.
The good man had little hope of such words taking hold. At school
next day there was Zoséphine with her soft electric glances to make the
boy forget all; and at the Saturday-night balls there she was again.
Bonaventure, her manner plainly said, did you ever see any thing
else in this wide world so tiresome as these boys about here? Stay with
me; it keeps them away. She never put such thoughts into words. With
an Acadian girl such a thing was impossible But girls do not need
words. She drew as potently, and to all appearances as impassively, as
a loadstone. All others than Bonaventure she repelled. If now and then
she toyed with a heart, it was but to see her image in it once or twice
and toss it aside. All got one treatment in the main. Any one of them
might gallop by her father's veranda seven times a day, but not once in
all the seven would she be seen at the window glancing up at the
weather or down at her flowers; nor on the veranda hanging up fresh
hanks of yarn; nor at the well with the drinking-pail, getting fresh
water, as she might so easily have been, had she so chosen. Yonder was
Sosthène hoeing leisurely in the little garden, and possibly the
sunbonnet of la vieille half seen and half hidden among her
lima-beans; but for the rest there was only the house, silent at best,
or, worse, sending out through its half-open door the long, scornful
No-o-o! of the maiden's unseen spinning-wheel. No matter the fame or
grace of the rider. All in vain, my lad: pirouette as you will; sit
your gallantest; let your hat blow off, and turn back, and at full
speed lean down from the saddle, and snatch it airily from the ground,
and turn again and gallop away; all is in vain. For by her estimate
either you are living in fear of the conscript officer; or, if you are
in the service, and here only transiently on leave of absence, your
stay seems long, and it is rumored your leave has expired; or, worse,
you cannot read; or, worst, your age, for all your manly airs, is so
near Zoséphine's as to give your attentions strong savor of
presumption. But let any fortune bring Bonaventure in any
guisesorriest horseman of all, youngest, slenderest, and stranger to
all the ways that youth lovesand at once she is visible; nay, more,
accessible; and he, welcome. So accessible she, so welcome he, that
more than once she has to waft aside her mother's criticisms by
pleading Bonaventure's foster-brotherhood and her one or two superior
Poor 'Thanase! said the youths and maidens.
* * * * *
And now the war came to an end. Bonaventure was glad. 'Thanase was
expected home, butlet him come. If the absent soldier knew what the
young folks at the balls knew, he would not make haste in his return.
And he did not, as it seemed. Day after day, in group after group,
without shouting and without banners, with wounds and scars and
tattered garments, some on horses, but many more on foot, the loved
onesthe spared ones, remnants of this command and that command and
'Thanase's commandcame home. But day by day brought no 'Thanase.
Bonaventure began to wish for him anxiously. He wanted him back so
that this load might be lifted. Thus the bitter would pass out of the
sweet; the haunting fear of evil tidings from the absent rival would
haunt no more. Life would be what it was to other lads, and Zoséphine
one day fall to his share by a better title than he could ever make
with 'Thanase in exile. Come, 'Thanase, come, come!
More weeks passed. The youth's returned comrades were all back at
their ploughs again and among their herds. 'Thanase would be along by
and by, they said; he could not come with them, for he had not been
paroled with them; he had been missingtaken prisoner, no doubtin
the very last fight. But presently they who had been prisoners were
home also, and still 'Thanase had not come. And then, instead of
'Thanase coming, Chaouache died.
A terror took up its home in the heart of Bonaventure. Every thing
he looked upon, every creature that looked upon him, seemed to offer an
unuttered accusation. Least of all could he bear the glance of
Zoséphine. He did not have to bear it. She kept at home now closely.
She had learned to read, and Sosthène and his vieille had
pronounced her education completed.
In one direction only could the eyes of Bonaventure go, and meet
nothing that accused him: that was into the face of the curé. And lest
accusation should spring up there, he had omitted his confession for
weeks. He was still child enough not to see that the priest was
watching him narrowly and tenderly.
One night, away in the small hours, the curé was aroused by the
presence of some one in his room.
Who is that? He rose from his pillow.
It is I, father, said a low voice, and against the darkness of an
inner door he saw dimly the small, long nightdress of the boy he loved.
What gets you up, Bonaventure? Come here. What troubles you?
I cannot sleep, murmured the lad, noiselessly moving near. The
priest stroked the lad's brow.
Have you not been asleep at all?
But you have had bad dreams that woke you?
And what was that?
There was a silence.
Did you dream about'Thanase, for example?
The priest reached out and took the boy's small, slender hands in
his. They were moist and cold.
And did you dream
I dreamed he was dead. I dream it every night.
But, my child, that does not make it so. Would you like to get into
bed here with me? No?or to go back now to your own bed? No? What,
I do not want to go back to bed any more. I want to go and find
Why, my child, you are not thoroughly awake, are you?
Yes, I want to go and find 'Thanase. I have been thinking to-night
of all you have told meof all you said that day in the
garden,andI want to go and find 'Thanase.
My boy, said the priest, drawing the lad with gentle force to his
bosom, my little old man, does this mean that you have come to the end
of all self-service?that self is never going to be spelt with a
capital S any more? Will it be that way if I let you go?
Well, then, my sonGod only knows whether I am wise or foolish,
butyou may go.
The boy smiled for the first time in weeks, then climbed half upon
the bed, buried his face in the priest's bosom, and sobbed as though
his heart had broken.
It has broken, said the curé to himself as he clasped him tightly.
It has brokenthank God!
CHAPTER VII. A NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK.
In such and such a battle, in the last charge across a certain
cornfield, or in the hurried falling back through a certain wood, with
the murderous lead singing and hitting from yonder dark mass descending
on the flank, and the air full of imperious calls,
Halt!Surrender! a man disappeared. He was not with those who
escaped, nor with the dead when they were buried, nor among the wounded
anywhere, nor in any group of prisoners. But long after the war was
over, another man, swinging a bush scythe among the overgrown corners
of a worm fence, found the poor remnant of him, put it scarcely
underground, and that was the end. How many times that happened!
Was it so with 'Thanase? No. For Sosthène's sake the ex-governor had
taken much pains to correspond with officials concerning the missing
youth, and had secured some slender re-assurances. 'Thanase, though
captured, had not been taken to prison. Tidings of general surrender
had overhauled him on the way to it, near, I think, the city of
Baltimoresomewhere in that region, at any rate; and he had been
paroled and liberated, and had started penniless and on foot,
south-westward along the railway-tracks.
To find him, Bonaventure must set out, like him on foot,
south-eastward over some fifty miles of wagon-road to the nearest
railway; eastward again over its cross-ties eighty miles to la ville, the great New Orleans, there to cross the Mississippi. Then away
northward, through the deep, trestled swamps, leagues and leagues,
across Bayou La Branche and Bayou Desair, and Pass Manchac and North
Manchac, and Pontchatoula River two or three times; and out of the
swamps and pine barrens into the sweet pine hills, with their great
resinous boles rising one hundredtwo hundred feet overhead; over
meadows and fields and many and many a beautiful clear creek, and ten
or more times over the winding Tangipahoa, by narrow clearings, and the
old tracks of forgotten hurricanes, and many a wide plantation; until
more than two hundred miles from the great city, still northward across
the sinking and swelling fields, the low, dark dome of another State's
Capitol must rise amid spires and trees into the blue, and the green
ruins of fortifications be passed, and the iron roads be found
branching west, north, and east.
Thence all was one wide sea of improbability. Even before a quarter
of that distance should have been covered, how many chances of every
sort there were against the success of such a search!
It is impossible that he should find him, said the ex-governor.
Well,the curé shrugged,if he finds no one, yet he may succeed
in losing himself. But in order that Bonaventure in losing himself
should not be lost, the priest gave him pens and paper, and took his
promise to write back as he went step by step out into the world.
And learn English, my boy; learn it with all speed; you will find
it vastly, no telling how vastly, to your interestI should say your
usefulness. I am sorry I could not teach it to you myself. Here is a
little spelling-book and reader for you to commence with. Make haste to
know English; in America we should be Americans; would that I could say
it to all our Acadian people! but I say it to you, learn English. It
may be that by not knowing it you may fail, or by knowing it succeed,
in this errand. And every step of your way let your first business be
the welfare of others. Hundreds will laugh at you for it: never mind;
it will bring you through. Yes, I will tell Sosthène and the others
good-by for you. I will tell them you had a dream that compelled you to
go at once. Adieu. And just as the rising sun's first beam smote the
curé's brimming eyes, his little old man turned his face toward a new
life, and set forward to enter it.
Have you seen anywhere, coming back from the war, a young man named
'Thanase Beausoleil?This question to every one met, day in, day out,
in early morning lights, in noonday heats, under sunset glows, by a
light figure in thin, clean clothing, dusty shoes, and with limp straw
hat lowered from the head. By and by, as first the land of the Acadians
and then the land of the Creoles was left behind, a man every now and
then would smile and shake his head to mean he did not understandfor
the question was in French. But then very soon it began to be in
English too, and by and by not in French at all.
Sir, have you seen anywhere, coming back from the war, a young man
named 'Thanase Beausoleil?
But no one had seen him.
Travel was very slow. Not only because it was done afoot. Many a day
he had to tarry to earn bread, for he asked no alms. But after a while
he passed eastward into a third State, and at length into the mountains
of a fourth.
Meantime the weeks were lengthening into months; the year was in its
decline. Might not 'Thanase be even then at home? No. Every week
Bonaventure wrote back, Has he come? and the answer came back, He is
But one evening, as he paced the cross-ties of a railway that hugged
a huge forest-clad mountain-side, with the valley a thousand feet
below, its stony river shining like a silken fabric in the sunset
lights, the great hillsides clad in crimson, green, and gold, and the
long, trailing smoke of the last traina rare, motionless blue
gauzegone to rest in the chill mid-air, he met a man who suddenly
descended upon the track in front of him from higher up the
mountain,a great, lank mountaineer. And when Bonaventure asked the
apparition the untiring question to which so many hundreds had answered
No, the tall man looked down upon the questioner, a bright smile
suddenly lighting up the unlovely chin-whiskered face, and asked:
Makes a fiddle thess talk an' cry?
Well, he hain't been gone from hyer two weeks.
It was true. Only a few weeks before, gaunt, footsore, and ragged,
tramping the cross-ties yonder where the railway comes from the
eastward, curving into view out of that deep green and gray defile,
'Thanase had come into this valley. So short a time before, because
almost on his start homeward illness had halted him by the way and held
him long in arrest. But at length he had reached the valley, and had
lingered here for days; for it happened that a man in bought clothing
was there just then, roaming around and hammering pieces off the rocks,
who gave 'Thanase the chance to earn a little something from him, with
which the hard-marched wanderer might take the train instead of the
cross-ties for as far as the pittance would carry him.
CHAPTER VIII. THE QUEST ENDED.
The next sunrise saw Bonaventure, with a new energy in his step,
journeying back the way he had come. And so anew the weeks wore by.
Once more the streams ran southward, and the landscapes opened wide and
Sir,pardon your stopping,in what State should I find myself at
The person inquired of looked blank, examined the questioner from
head to foot, and replied:
In whatoh! I understand; yes. What StateAlabama, yes, Alabama.
You must excuse me, I didn't understand you at first. Yes, this is
Thank you, sir. Have you seen anywhere, coming back from the war, a
young man named 'Thanase Beausoleil?
Back from the war! Why, everybody done got back from the war long
ago. Lawng ago-o-o, the speaker pronounced it, but the pronunciation
could not be as untrue as the careless assertion.
A second time, and again a third, Bonaventure fell upon the trail.
But each time it was colder than before. And yet he was pushing on as
fast as he dared. Many a kind man's invitation to tarry and rest was
gratefully declined. Once, where two railways parted, one leading
south, the other west, he followed the southern for days, and then came
back to the point of separation, and by and by found the lost thread
again on the more westward road. But the time since 'Thanase had passed
was the longest yet. Was it certainly 'Thanase? Yes; the fiddle always
settled that question. And had he not got home? He had not come.
Somewhere in the long stretch between Bonaventure and Carancro there
must be strange tidings.
On the first New Year's eve after the war, as the sun was sinking
upon the year's end, Bonaventure turned that last long curve of the New
Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad, through the rushes,
flags, willows, and cypress-stumps of the cleared swamp behind the city
of the Creoles, and, passing around the poor shed called the depot,
paused at the intersection of Calliope and Magnolia Streets, waiting
the turn of chance.
Trace of the lost 'Thanase had brought him at length to this point.
The word of a fellow-tramp, pledged on the honor of his guild, gave
assurance that thus far the wanted man had come in strength and
hopebut more than a month before.
The necessity of moving on presently carried Bonaventure aimlessly
into the city along the banks of the New Canal. The lad had shot up in
these few months into the full stature, without the breadth, of
manhood. The first soft, uneven curls of a light-brown beard were on
his thin cheek and chin. Patient weariness and humble perseverance were
in his eyes. His coarse, ill-matched attire was whole and, but for the
soilure of foot-travel, clean. Companioning with nature had browned his
skin, and dried his straight fine hair. Any reader of faces would have
seen the lines of unselfish purpose about his lips, and, when they
parted nervously for speech, the earnest glow of that purpose in a
countenance that neither smiled nor frowned, and, though it was shaded,
cast no shadow.
The police very soon knew him. They smiled at one another and tapped
the forehead with one finger, as he turned away with his question
answered by a shake of the head. It became their habit. They would jerk
a thumb over a shoulder after him facetiously.
Goes to see every unknown white man found dead or drowned. And yet,
you know, he's happy. He's a heap sightsometimes they used other
adjectivesa heap sight happier than us, with his trampin' around all
day and his French and English books at night, as old Tony says. He
bunks with old Tony, you know, what keeps that little grocery in
Solidelle Street. Tony says his candles comes to more than his bread
and meat, or, rather, his rice and crawfish. He's the funniest crazy
I ever see. All the crazies I ever see is got some grind for
pleasing number one; but this chap is everlastin'ly a-lookin' out for
everybody but number one. Oh, yes, the candles and books,I
reckon they are for number one,that's so; but anyhow, that's what I
hear Madame Tony allow.
The short, wet winter passed. The search stretched on into the
spring. It did not, by far, take up the seeker's whole daily life. Only
it was a thread that ran all through it, a dye that colored it. Many
other factorsobservations, occupations, experienceswere helping to
make up that life, and to make it, with all its pathetic slenderness,
far more than it was likely ever to have been made at Carancro. Through
hundreds of miles of tramping the lad had seen, in a singularly
complete yet inhostile disentanglement from it, the world of men;
glimpses of the rich man's world with its strivings, steadier views of
the poor man's world with its struggles. The times were strong and
rude. Every step of his way had been through a land whose whole civil
order had been condemned, shattered, and cast into the mill of
revolution for a total remoulding. Every day came like the discharge of
a great double-shotted gun. It could not but be that, humble as his
walk was, and his years so few, his fevered mind should leap into the
questions of the hour like a naked boy into the surf. He made mistakes,
sometimes in a childish, sometimes in an older way, some against most
worthy things. But withal he managed to keep the main direction of
truth, after his own young way of thinking and telling it. He had no
such power to formulate his large conclusions as you or even I have;
but whatever wrought to enlighten the unlettered, whatever cherished
manhood's rights alike in lofty and lowly, whatever worked the
betterment of the poor, whatever made man not too much and not too
little his brother's keeper,his keeper not by mastery, but by
fraternal service,whatever did these things was to him good religion,
good politics. So, at least, the curé told the ex-governor, as from
time to time they talked of the absent Bonaventure and of his letters.
However, they had to admit one thing: all this did not find 'Thanase.
And why, now, should 'Thanase longer be sought? Was there any thing
to gain by finding him dead? Not for Bonaventure; he felt, as plainly
as though he had seen an angel write the decree, that to Bonaventure
Deschamps no kind of profit or advantage under the sun must come by
such a way. But was there any thing to be gained in finding that
'Thanase still lived? The police will tell you, as they told
Bonaventure, that in these days of steam and steel and yoked lightning
a man may get lost and be found again; but that when he stays lost, and
is neither dead nor mad, it is because he wants to be lost. So where
was to be the gain in finding 'Thanase alive? Oh, much, indeed, to
Bonaventure! The star of a new hope shot up into his starless sky when
that thought came, and in that star trembled that which he had not all
these weary months of search dared see even with fancy's eye,the
image of Zoséphine! Thisthis! that he had never set out to
achievethis! if he could but stand face to face with evidence that
'Thanase could have reached home and would not.
This thought was making new lines in the young care-struck face,
See here, said a voice one day. Bonaventure's sleeve was caught by
the thumb and forefinger of a man to whom, in passing, he had touched
his hat. The speaker was a police captain.
Come with me. They turned and walked, Bonaventure saying not a
word. They passed a corner, turned to the right, passed two more,
turned to the left,high brick walls on either side, damp,
ill-smelling pavements under foot,and still strode on in silence. As
they turned once more to the right in a dim, narrow way, the captain
patted the youth softly on the back, and said:
Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies.
So Bonaventure asked none. But presently, in one of those dens
called sailors' boarding-houses, somewhere down on the water-front near
the Mint, he was brought face to face with a stranger whose manner
seemed to offer the reverse proposition. Of him the youth asked
questions and got answers.
'Thanase Beausoleil still lived, far beyond seas. How? why? If this
man spake truly, because here in New Orleans, at the last turn in the
long, weary journey that was to have brought the young volunteer home,
he had asked and got the aid of this informant to shipbefore the
mastfor foreign parts. But why? Because his ambition and pride,
explained the informant, had outgrown Carancro, and his heart had tired
of the diminished memory of the little Zoséphine.
Bonaventure hurried away. What storms buffeted one another in his
Night had fallen upon the great city. Long stretches of street lay
now between high walls, and now between low-hanging eaves, empty of
human feet and rife with solitude. Through long distances he could run
and leap, and make soft, mild pretence of shouting and smiting hands.
The quest was ended! rivalry gone of its own choice, guilt washed from
the hands, love returned to her nest. Zoséphine! Zoséphine! Away now,
away to the reward of penance, patience, and loyalty! Unsought,
unhoped-for reward! As he ran, the crescent moon ran before him in the
sky, and one glowing star, dipping low, beckoned him into the west.
And yet that night a great riot broke out in his heart; and in the
morning there was a look on his face as though in that tumult
conscience had been drugged, beaten, stoned, and left for dead outside
the gate of his soul.
There was something of defiance in his eye, not good to see, as he
started down the track of the old Opelousas Railroad, with the city and
the Mississippi at his back. When he had sent a letter ahead of him, he
had no money left to pay for railway passage. Should he delay for that
or aught else, he might never start; for already the ghost of
conscience was whispering in at the barred windows of his heart:
It is not true. The man has told you falsely. It is not true.
And so he was tramping once moretoward Carancro. And never before
with such determined eagerness. Nothing could turn him about now. Once
a train came in sight in front of him just as he had started across a
trestle-work; but he ran forward across the open ties, and leaped clear
of the track on the farther side, just when another instant would have
been too late. He stood a moment, only half-pausing among the palmettos
and rushes as the hurtling mass thundered by; then pushed quickly into
the whirling dust of the track and hurried on between the clicking
rails, not knowing that yonder dark, dwindling speck behind was bearing
away from him strange tidings from the curé.
The summer was coming on; the suns were hot. There were leagues on
leagues of unbroken shaking prairie with never a hand-breadth of shade,
but only the glowing upper blue, with huge dazzling clouds moving, like
herds of white elephants pasturing across heavenly fields, too slowly
for the eye to note their motion; and below, the far-reaching,
tremulous sheen of reed and bulrush, the wet lair of serpent, wild-cat,
and alligator. Now and then there was the cool blue of sunny,
wind-swept waters winding hither and thither toward the sea, and
sometimes miles of deep forest swamp through which the railroad went by
broad, frowzy, treeless clearings flanked with impassable oozy ditches;
but shade there was none.
Nor was there peace. Always as he strode along, something he could
not outgo was at his side, gaunt, wounded, soiled, whispering: Turn
back; turn back, and settle with me, and ever put off with
promisesafter that fashion as old as the worldto do no end of good
things if only the one right thing might be left undone.
And so because there were no shade, no peace, and no turning back,
no one day's march made him stronger for the next; and at length, when
he came to the low thatch of a negro-cabin, under the shadow of its
bananas he sank down in its doorway, red with fever.
There he had to stay many days; but in the end he was up and on his
way again. He left the Atchafalaya behind him. It was easier going now.
There was shade. Under his trudging feet was the wagon-road along the
farther levee of the Teche. Above him great live-oaks stretched their
arms clad in green vestments and gray drapings, the bright sugar-cane
fields were on his left, and on his right the beautiful winding bayou.
In his face, not joy, only pallid eagerness, desire fixed upon
fulfilment, and knowledge that happiness was something else; a young,
worn face, with hard lines about the mouth and neck; the face of one
who had thought self to be dead and buried, and had seen it rise to
life again, and fallen captive to it. So he was drawing near to
Carancro. Make haste, Bonaventure!
CHAPTER IX. THE WEDDING.
A horse and buggy have this moment been stopped and are standing on
a faint rise of ground seven miles out beyond the south-western
outskirt of Carancro. The two male occupants of the vehicle are lifting
their heads, and looking with well-pleased faces at something out over
the plain. You know the curé?and the ex-governor.
In the far distance, across the vast level, something that looks
hardly so large on the plain as an ant on the floor, is moving this way
across it. This is what the curé and his friend are watching. Open in
the curé's hand, as if he had just read it aloud again, is that last
letter of Bonaventure's, sent ahead of him from New Orleans and
received some days ago. The governor holds the reins.
What do they see? Some traveller afoot? Can it be that Bonaventure
is in sight? That is not even the direction from which Bonaventure,
when he comes, will appear. No, speck though it is, the object they are
looking at is far larger than a man afoot, or any horse, or horse and
calèche. It is a house. It is on wheels, and is drawn by many yoke of
oxen. From what the curé is saying we gather that Sosthène has bought
this very small dwelling from a neighbor, and is moving it to land of
his own. Two great beams have been drawn under the sills at each end,
the running gear of two heavy ox-wagons is made to bear up the four
ends of these beams, all is lashed firmly into place, the oxen are
slowly pulling, the long whips are cracking, the house is answering the
gentle traction, and, already several miles away from its first site,
it will to-morrow settle down upon new foundations, a homely type of
one whose wreath will soon be a-making, and who will soon after come to
be the little house's mistress.
But what have we donelet time slip backward? A little; not much;
for just then, as the ex-governor said, And where is Bonaventure by
this time? Bonaventure had been only an hour or two in the negro-cabin
where fever had dragged him down.
Since then the house had not only settled safely upon its new
foundations, but Sosthène, in the good, thorough way that was his own,
had carried renovation to a point that made the cottage to all intents
and purposes a new house. And the curé had looked upon it again, much
nearer by; for before a bride dared enter a house so nearly new, it had
been deemed necessary for him to come and, before a temporary altar
within the dwelling, to say mass in the time of full moon. But not yet
was the house really a dwelling; it, and all Carancro, were waiting for
the wedding. Make haste, Bonaventure!
He had left the Teche behind him on the east. And now a day breaks
whose sunset finds him beyond the Vermilion River. He cannot go aside
to the ex-governor's, over yonder on the right. He is making haste.
This day his journey will end. His heart is light; he has thought out
the whole matter now; he makes no doubt any longer that the story told
him is true. And he knows now just what to do: this very sunset he will
reach his goal; he goes to fill 'Thanase's voided place; to lay his own
filial service at the feet of the widowed mother; to be a brother in
the lost brother's place; and Zoséphine?why, she shall be her
daughter, the same as though 'Thanase, not he, had won her. And thus,
too, Zoséphine shall have her own sweet preferencethat preference
which she had so often whispered to himfor a scholar rather than a
soldier. Such is the plan, and Conscience has given her consent.
The sun soars far overhead. It, too, makes haste. But the wasted,
flushed, hungry-eyed traveller is putting the miles behind him. He
questions none to-day that pass him or whom he overtakes; only bows,
wipes his warm brow, and presses on across the prairie. Straight before
him, though still far away, a small, white, wooden steeple rises from
out a tuft of trees. It is la chapelle!
The distance gets less and less. See! the afternoon sunlight strikes
the roofs of a few unpainted cottages that have begun to show
themselves at right and left of the chapel. And now he sees the green
window-shutters of such as are not without them, and their copperas or
indigo-dyed curtains blowing in and out. Nearer; nearer; here is a
house, and yonder another, newly built. Carancro is reached.
He enters a turfy, cattle-haunted lane between rose-hedges. In a
garden on one side, and presently in another over the way, children
whom he remembersbut grown like weeds since he saw them lastare at
play; but when they stop and gaze at him, it is without a sign of
recognition. Now he walks down the village street. How empty it seems!
was it really always so? Still, yonder is a man he knowsand yonder a
womanbut they disappear without seeing him.
How familiar every thing is! There are the two shops abreast of the
chapel, Marx's on this side, Lichtenstein's on that, their dingy false
fronts covered with their same old huge rain-faded words of promise.
Yonder, too, behind the blacksmith's shop, is the little schoolhouse,
dirty, half-ruined, and closedthat is, wide-open and emptyit may be
for lack of a teacher, or funds, or even of scholars.
It shall not be so, said the traveller to himself, when she
His steps grow slow. Yet here, not twenty paces before him, is the
home of the curé. Ah! that is just the trouble. Shall he go here first?
May he not push on and out once more upon the prairie and make himself
known first of all to her? Stopping here first, will not the
curé say tarry till to-morrow? His steps grow slower still.
And see, now. One of the Jews in the shop across the street has
observed him. Now two stand together and scrutinize him; and now there
are three, looking and smiling. Plainly, they recognize him. One starts
to come across, but on that instant the quiet of the hamlet is broken
by a sound of galloping hoofs.
Bonaventure stands still. How sudden is this change! He is not
noticed now; every thing is in the highest animation. There are loud
calls and outcries; children are shouting and running, and women's
heads are thrust out of doors and windows. Horsemen come dashing into
the village around through the lanes and up the street. Look! they
wheel, they rein up, they throw themselves from the rattling saddles;
they leave the big wooden stirrups swinging and the little unkempt
ponies shaking themselves, and rush into the boutique de
Monsieur Lichtenstein, and are talking like mad and decking themselves
out on hats and shoulders with ribbons in all colors of the rainbow!
Suddenly they shout, all together, in answer to a shout outside.
More horsemen appear. Lichtenstein's store belches all its population.
La calége! La calége! The calèche is coming!
Something, he knows not what, makes Bonaventure tremble.
Madame, he says in French to a chattering woman who has just run
out of her door, and is standing near him tying a red Madras kerchief
on her head as she prattles to a girl,madame, what wedding is this?
C'est la noce à Zoséphine, she replies, without looking at
him, and goes straight on telling her companion how fifty dollars has
been paid for the Pope's dispensation, because the bridal pair are
Bonaventure moves back and leans against a paling fence, pallid and
faint. But there is no time to notice himlook, look!
Some women on horseback come trotting into the street. Cheers!
cheers! and in a moment louder cheers yetthe calèche with the bride
and groom and another with the parents have come.
Throw open the church door!
Horsemen alight, horsewomen descend; down, also, come they that were
in the calèche. Look, Bonaventure! They form by twosforwardin they
go. Hats off, gentlemen! Don't forget the rule!Nowsilence! softly,
softly; speak lowor speak not at all; sh-sh! Silence! The pair are
kneeling. Hush-sh! Frown down that little buzz about the door! Sh-sh!
Bonaventure has rushed in with the crowd. He cannot see the kneeling
pair; but there is the curé standing over them and performing the holy
rite. The priest stopshe has seen Bonaventure! He stammers, and then
he goes on. Here beside Bonaventure is a girl so absorbed in the scene
that she thinks she is speaking to her brother, when presently she says
to the haggard young stranger, letting herself down from her tiptoes
and drawing a long breath:
La sarimonie est fait.
It is true; the ceremony is ended. She rises on tiptoe again to see
the new couple sign the papers.
Slowly! The bridegroom first, his mark. Step back. Now the little
bridesteady! Zoséphine, sa marque. She turns; see her,
everybody; see her! brown and pretty as a doe! They are kissing her.
Hail, Madame 'Thanase!
Make way, make way! The man and wife come forth.Ah! 'Thanase
Beausoleil, so tall and strong, so happy and hale, you do not look
to-day like the poor decoyed, drugged victim that woke up one morning
out in the Gulf of Mexico to find yourself, without fore-intent or
knowledge, one of a ship's crew bound for Brazil and thence to the
Mediterranean!Make way, make way! They mount the calèches, Sosthène
after Madame Sosthène; 'Thanase after Madame 'Thanase. To horse,
ladies and gentlemen! Never mind now about the youth who has been
taken ill in the chapel, and whom the curé has borne almost bodily in
his arms to his own house. Mount! Mount! Move aside for the wedding
singers!The wedding singers take their places, one on this side the
bridal calèche, the other on that, and away it starts, creaking and
Mais, arretez!Stop, stop! Before going, passez le
'nisette!pass the anisette! May the New-Orleans compounder be
forgiven the iniquitous mixture! Boir les dames avant!Let the
ladies drink first! Aham! straight from the bottle.
Now, go. The calèche moves. Other calèches bearing parental and
grandparental couples follow. And now the young men and maidens gallop
after; the cavalcade stretches out like the afternoon shadows, and with
shout and song and waving of hats and kerchiefs, away they go! while
from window and door and village street follows the wedding cry:
Adjieu, la calége! Adjieu, la calége!God speed the wedding
Coming at first from the villagers, it is continued at length, faint
and far, by the attending cavaliers. As mile by mile they drop aside,
singly or in pairs, toward their homes, they rise in their stirrups,
and lifting high their ribbon-decked hats, they shout and curvette and
curvette and shout until the eye loses them, and the ear can barely
catch the faint farewell:
Adjieu, la calége! Adjieu, les mariées!
CHAPTER X. AFTER ALL.
Adieu; but only till the fall of night shall bring the wedding ball.
One little tuneand every Acadian fiddler in Louisiana knows
italways brings back to Zoséphine the opening scene of that festive
and jocund convocation. She sees again the great clean-swept
seed-cotton room of a cotton-gin house belonging to a cousin of the
ex-governor, lighted with many candles stuck into a perfect wealth of
black bottles ranged along the beams of the walls. The fiddler's seat
is mounted on a table in the corner, the fiddler is in it, each beau
has led a maiden into the floor, the sets are made for the
contra-dance, the young men stand expectant, their partners wait with
downcast eyes and mute lips as Acadian damsels should, the music
strikes up, and away they go.
Yes, Zoséphine sees the whole bright scene over again whenever that
It was fine from first to last! The ball closed with the bride's
dance. Many a daughter Madame Sosthène had waltzed that farewell
measure with, and now Zoséphine was the last. So they danced it, they
two, all the crowd looking on: the one so young and lost in self, the
other so full of years and lost to self; eddying round and round each
other in this last bright embrace before they part, the mother to swing
back into still water, the child to enter the current of a new life.
And then came the wedding supper! At one end of the long table the
bride and groom sat side by side, and at their left and right the
wedding singers stood and sang. In each corner of the room there was a
barrel of roasted sweet potatoes. How everybody ate, that night! Rice!
beef-balls! pass them here! pass them there! help yourself! reach them
with a fork! des riz! des boulettes! more down this way! pass
them over heads! des riz! des boulettes! And the anisette!bad
whiskey and oil of anisenever mind that; pour, fill, empty, fill
again! Don't take too muchand make sure not to take too little! How
merrily all went on! How gay was Zoséphine!
Does she know that Bonaventure, too, has come back? the young
maidens whisper, one to another; for the news was afloat.
Oh, yes, of course; some one had to let it slip. But if it makes
any difference, she is only brighter and prettier than before. I tell
youit seems strange, but I believe, now, she never cared for anybody
but 'Thanase. When she heard Bonaventure had come back, she only let
one little flash out of her eyes at the fool who told her, then said it
was the best news that could be, and has been as serene as the picture
of a saint ever since.
The serenity of the bride might have been less perfect, and the one
flash of her eyes might have been two, had she known what the curé was
that minute saying to the returned wanderer, with the youth's head
pressed upon his bosom, in the seclusion of his own chamber:
It is all for the best, Bonaventure. It is not possible that thou
shouldst see it so now, but thou shalt hereafter. It is best this way.
And the tears rolled silently down his cheek as the weary head in his
bosom murmured back:
It is best. It is best.
The curé could only press him closer then. It was much more than a
year afterward when he for the first time ventured to add:
I never wanted you to get her, my dear boy; she is not your kind at
allnay, now, let me say it, since I have kept it unsaid so long and
patiently. Do you imagine she could ever understand an unselfish life,
or even one that tried to be unselfish? She makes an excellent Madame
'Thanase. 'Thanase is a good, vigorous, faithful, gentle animal, that
knows how to graze and lie in the shade and get up and graze again. But
youit is not in you to know how poor a Madame Bonaventure she would
have been; not now merely, but poorer and poorer as the years go by.
And so I say, do not go away. I know why you want to go; you want
to run away from a haunting thought that some unlikely accident or
other may leave Madame 'Thanase a widow, and you step into his big
shoes. They would not fit. Do not go. That thing is not going to
happen; and the way to get rid of the troublesome notion is to stay and
see yourself outgrow itand her.
Bonaventure shook his head mournfully, but staid. From time to time
Madame 'Thanase passed before his view in pursuit of her outdoor and
indoor cares. But even when he came under her galérie roof he could see
that she never doubted she had made the very best choice in all
And yet people knewshe knewthat Bonaventure not only enjoyed the
acquaintance, but sometimes actually went from one place to another on
the business, of the great ex-governor. Small matters they may have
been, but, anyhow, just think!
Sometimes as he so went or came he saw her squatting on a board at
the edge of a coolée, her petticoat wrapped snugly around her
limbs, and a limp sunbonnet hiding her nut-brown face, pounding her
washing with a wooden paddle. She was her own housekeeper, chambermaid,
cook, washerwoman, gooseherd, seamstress, nurse, and all the rest. Her
floors, they said, were always bien fourbis (well scrubbed); her
beds were high, soft, snug, and covered with the white mesh of her own
He saw her the oftener because she worked much out on her low
veranda. From that place she had a broad outlook upon the world, with
'Thanase in the foreground, at his toil, sometimes at his sport. His
cares as a herder, vacheur,vaché, he called it,were
wherever his slender-horned herds might roam or his stallions lead
their mares in search of the sweetest herbage; and when rains filled
the maraises, and the cold nor'westers blew from Texas and the
sod was spongy with much water, and he went out for feathered game, the
numberless mallards, black ducks, gray ducks, tealwith sometimes the
canvas-backand the poules-d'eauthe water-hens and the rails,
and the cache-cachethe snipewere as likely to settle or rise
just before his own house as elsewhere, and the most devastating shot
that hurtled through those feathered multitudes was that sent by her
husbandhersher ownpossessive casebelonging to her. She was
proud of her property.
Sometimes la vieillefor she was la vieille from the
very day that she counted her wedding presents, mostly chickens, and
turned them loose in the dooryardsometimes she enjoyed the fine
excitement of seeing her vieux catching and branding his
yearling colts. Small but not uncomely they were: tougher, stronger,
better when broken, than the mustang, though, like the mustang,
begotten and foaled on the open prairie. Often she saw him catch two
for the plough in the morning, turn them loose at noon to find their
own food and drink, and catch and work another pair through the
afternoon. So what did not give her pride gave her quiet comfort.
Sometimes she looked forth with an anxious eye, when a colt was to be
broken for the saddle; for as its legs were untied, and it sprang to
its feet with 'Thanase in the saddle, and the blindfold was removed
from its eyes, the strain on the young wife's nerves was as much as was
good, to see the creature's tremendous leaps in air and not tremble for
its superb, unmovable rider.
Could scholarship be finer thanor as fine assuch horsemanship?
And yet, somehow, as time ran on, Zoséphine, like all the rest of
Carancro, began to look up with a certain deference, half-conscious,
half-unconscious, to the needy young man who was nobody's love or
lover, and yet, in a gentle, unimpassioned way, everybody's; landless,
penniless, artless Bonaventure, who honestly thought there was no girl
in Carancro who was not much too good for him, and of whom there was
not one who did not think him much too good for her. He was quite
outside of all their gossip. How could they know that with all his
learningfor he could read and write in two languages and took the
Vermilionville newspaperand with all his books, almost an entire
mantel-shelf fullhe was feeling heart-hunger the same as any ordinary
lad or lass unmated? Zoséphine found her eyes, so to speak, lifting,
lifting, more and more as from time to time she looked upon the
inoffensive Bonaventure. But so her satisfaction in her own husband was
all the more emphatic. If she had ever caught a real impulse toward any
thing that even Carancro would have called culture, she had cast it
aside nowas to herself; her childrenoh! yes; but that would be by
Even of pastimes and sports she saw almost none. For 'Thanase there
was, first of all, his fiddle; then la chasse, the chase; the
papegaie, or, as he called it, pad-gothe shooting-match;
la galloche, pitch-farthing; the cock-fight; the five-arpent
pony-race; and too often, also, chin-chin, twenty-five-cent
poker, and the gossip and glass of the roadside store. But for Madame
'Thanase there was only a seat against the wall at the Saturday-night
dance, and mass à la chapelle once in two or three weeks; these,
and infant baptisms. These showed how fast time and life were hurrying
along. The wedding seemed but yesterday, and yet here was little
Sosthène, and tiny Marguerite, and cooing Zoséphine the youngerhow
fast history repeats itself!
But one day, one Sunday, it repeated itself in a different way.
'Thanase was in gay humor that morning. He kissed his wife, tossed his
children, played on his fiddle that tune they all liked best, and,
while Zoséphine looked after him with young zest in her eye, sprang
into the saddle and galloped across the prairie à la chapelle to
pass a jolly forenoon at chin-chin in the village grocery.
Since the war almost every one went armednot for attack, of
course; for defence. 'Thanase was an exception.
My fists, he said, in the good old drawling Acadian dialect and
with his accustomed smile,my fists will take care of me.
One of the party that made up the game with 'Thanase was the fellow
whom you may remember as having brought that first news of 'Thanase
from camp to Carancro, and whom Zoséphine had discredited. The young
husband had never liked him since.
But, as I say, 'Thanase was in high spirits. His jests came thick
and fast, and some were hard and personal, and some were barbed with
truth, and one, at length, ended in the word deserter. The victim
grew instantly fierce and red, leaped up crying Liar, and was knocked
backward to the ground by the long-reaching fist of 'Thanase. He rose
again and dashed at his assailant. The rest of the company hastily made
way to right and left, chairs were overturned, over went the table, the
cards were underfoot. Men ran in from outside and from over the way.
The two foes clash together, 'Thanase smites again with his fist, and
the other grapples. They tug and strain
Separate them! cry two or three of the packed crowd in suppressed
earnestness. Separate them! Bonaventure is coming! And here from the
other side the curé too! Oh, get them apart! But the half-hearted
interference is shaken off. 'Thanase sees Bonaventure and the curé
enter; mortification smites him; a smothered cry of rage bursts from
his lips; he tries to hurl his antagonist from him; and just as the two
friends reach out to lay hands upon the wrestling mass, it goes with a
great thud to the ground. The crowd recoils and springs back again;
then a cry of amazement and horror from all around, the arm of the
under man lifted out over the back of the other, a downward flash of
steelanotherand another! the long, subsiding wail of a strong man's
sudden despair, the voice of one crying,
Zoséphine! Ah! Zoséphine! ma vieille! ma vieille!one long
moan and sigh, and the finest horseman, the sweetest musician, the
bravest soldier, yes, and the best husband, in all Carancro, was dead.
Poor old Sosthène and his wife! How hard they tried, for days, for
weeks, to comfort their widowed child! But in vain. Day and night she
put them away in fierce grief and silence, or if she spoke wailed
always the one implacable answer,
I want my husband! And to the curé the same words,
Go tell God I want my husband!
But when at last came one who, having come to speak, could only hold
her hand in his and silently weep with her, she clung to his with both
her own, and looking up into his young, thin face, cried,not with
grace of words, and yet with some grace in all her words' Acadian
Bonaventure! Ah! Bonaventure! thou who knowest the wayteach me,
my brother, how to be patient.
And sothough the ex-governor had just offered him a mission in
another part of the Acadians' land, a mission, as he thought, far
beyond his deserving, though, in fact, so humble that to tell you what
it was would force your smilehe staid.
A year went by, and then another. Zoséphine no longer lifted to
heaven a mutinous and aggrieved countenance. Bonaventure was often
nigh, and his words were a deep comfort. Yet often, too, her spirit
flashed impatience through her eyes when in the childish philosophizing
of which he was so fond he put forwardthough ever so impersonally and
counting himself least of all to have attainedthe precepts of
self-conquest and abnegation. And then as the flash passed away, with a
moisture of the eye repudiated by the pride of the lip, she would
slowly shake her head and say:
It is of no use; I can't do it! I may be too youngI may be too
bad, butI can't learn it!
At last, one September evening, Bonaventure stood at the edge of
Sosthène's galérie, whither Zoséphine had followed out, leaving le
vieux and la vieille in the house. On the morrow Bonaventure
was to leave Carancro. And now he said,
Zoséphine, I must go.
Ah, Bonaventure! she replied, my childrenwhat will my children
do? It is not only that you have taught them to spell and read, though
God will be good to you for that! But these two years you have been
every thing to themevery thing. They will be orphaned over again,
Bonaventure. Tears shone in her eyes, and she turned away her face
with her dropped hands clasped together.
The young man laid his hand upon her drooping brow. She turned again
and lifted her eyes to his. His lips moved silently, but she read upon
them the unheard utterance: it was a word of blessing and farewell.
Slowly and tenderly she drew down his hand, laid a kiss upon it, and
Adjieuadjieu, and they parted.
As Zoséphine, with erect form and firm, clear tread, went by her
parents and into the inner room where her children lay in their
trundle-bed, the old mother said to le vieux,
You can go ahead and repair the schoolhouse now. Our daughter will
want to begin, even to-morrow, to teach the children of the village
les zonfants à la chapelle.
You think so? said Sosthène, but not as if he doubted.
Yes; it is certain now that Zoséphine will always remain the Widow
CHAPTER I. A STRANGER.
From College Point to Bell's Point, sixty miles above New Orleans,
the Mississippi runs nearly from west to east. Both banks, or coasts,
are lined with large and famous sugar-plantations. Midway on the
northern side, lie the beautiful estates of Belmont and Belle
Alliance. Early one morning in the middle of October, 1878, a young
man, whose age you would have guessed fifteen years too much, stood in
scrupulously clean, ill-fitting, flimsy garments, on the strong, high
levee overlooking these two plantations. He was asking the way to a
place called Grande Pointe. Grand Point, he called it, and so may we:
many names in Louisiana that retain the French spelling are habitually
given an English pronunciation.
A tattered negro mounted on a sunburnt, unshod, bare-backed mule,
down in the dusty gray road on the land-side of the embankment, was his
only hearer. Fifteen years earlier these two men, with French accents,
strangers to each other, would hardly have conversed in English; but
the date made the difference. We need not inexorably render the dialect
of the white man; pretty enough to hear, it would often be hideous to
print. The letter r, for instance, that plague of all
nationsbefore consonants it disappeared; before vowels the tongue
failed of that upward curve that makes the good strong r's of
Italy and Great Britain.
The negro pointed over his mule's ears.
You see Belle Alliance sugah-house yondeh? Well, behine dah you
fine one road go stret thoo the plantation till de wood. Dass 'bout
mile, you know. Den she keep stret on thoo de wood 'bout two mile' mo',
an' dat fetch you at Gran' Point'. Hole on; I show you.
The two men started down the road, the negro on his mule, the
stranger along the levee's crown.
Dat Gran' Point', resumed the black; 'tain't no point on de
riveh, you know, like dat Bell' Point, w'at you see yondeh 'twixt dem
ah batture willows whah de sun all spread out on the wateh; no, seh.
'Tis jis lil place back in de swamp, raise' 'bout five, six feet
'bove de wateh. Yes, seh; 'bout t'ree mile' long, 'alf mile wide. Don't
nobody but Cajun' live back dah. Seem droll you goin' yondeh.
'Tis the reason I go, said the other, without looking up.
Yes, seh.A short silence.Dass nigh fifty year', now, dat
place done been settle'. Ole 'Mian Roussel he was gret hunter. He know
dat place. He see 'tis rich groun'. One day he come dare, cut some
tree', buil' house, plant lil tobahcah. Nex' year come ole man Le
Blanc; den Poché, den St. Pierre, den Martin,all Cajun'. Oh! dass
mo'n fifty year' 'go. Dey all comes from dis yeh riveh coast; 'caze de
rich Creole', dey buy 'em out. Yes, seh, dat use' be de Côte
Acadien', right yeh whar yo' feet stan'in' on. C'est la côte
Acadien', just ici, oui. The trudging stranger waived away the
right of translation. He had some reason for preferring English. But
his manner was very gentle, and in a moment the negro began again.
Gret place, dat Gran' Point'. Yes, seh; fo' tobahcah. Dey make de
bes' Périque tobahcah in de worl'. Yes, seh, right yond' at Gran'
Point'; an' de bes' Périque w'at come from Gran' Point', dass de
Périque of Octave Roussel, w'at dey use call 'im Chat-oué; but he
git tired dat name, and now he got lil boy 'bout twenny-five year' ole,
an' dey call de ole man Catou, an' call his lil boy Chat-oué.
Dey fine dat wuck mo' betteh. Yes, seh. An' he got bruddeh name' 'Mian
Roussel. But dat not de ole, ole 'Mianlike dey say de ole he one.
'Caze, you know, he done peg out. Oh, yes, he peg out in de du'in' o'
de waugh. But he lef' heap-sight chillen; you know, he got a year'
staht o' all de res', you know. Yes, seh. Dey got 'bout hund'ed fifty
peop' yond' by Gran' Point', and sim like dey mos' all name Roussel.
Sim dat way to me. An' ev'y las' one got a lil fahm so lil
you can't plow her; got dig her up wid a spade. Yes, seh, same like you
diggin' grave; yes, seh.
 During the war.
The gentle stranger interrupted, still without lifting his eyes from
the path. 'Tis better narrowness of land than of virtue. The negro
Oh, dey good sawt o' peop', yes. Dey deals fair an' dey deals
square. Dey keeps de peace. Dass 'caze dey mos'ly don't let whisky git
on deir blin' side, you know. Dey does love to dance, and dey
marries mawnstus young; but dey not like some niggehs: dey stays
married. An' modess? Dey dess so modess dey shy! Yes, seh, dey de
shyes', easy-goin'es', modesses', most p'esumin' peop' in de whole
worl'! I don't see fo' why folks talk 'gin dem Cajun'; on'y dey a lil
The traveller on the levee's top suddenly stood still, a soft glow
on his cheek, a distension in his blue eyes. My friend, what was it,
the first American industry? Was it not the Newfoundland fisheries? Who
inaugu'ate them, if not the fishermen of Normandy and Bretagne? And
since how long? Nearly fo' hundred years!
Dass so, boss, exclaimed the negro with the promptitude of an
eye-witness; but the stranger continued:
The ancestors of the Acadian'they are the fathers of the
codfish! He resumed his walk.
Dass so, seh; dass true. Yes, seh, you' talkin' mighty true; dey a
pow'ful ancestrified peop', dem Cajun'; dass w'at make dey so shy, you
know. An' dey mighty good han' in de sugah-house. Dey des watchin',
now, w'en dat sugah-cane git ready fo' biggin to grind; so soon dey see
dat, dey des come a-lopin' in here to Mistoo Wallis' sugah-house here
at Belle Alliance, an' likewise to Marse Louis Le Bourgeois yond' at
Belmont. You see! de fust t'ing dey gwine ass you when you come at
Gran' Point''Is Mistoo Wallis biggin to grind?' Well, seh, like I
tell you, yeh de sugah-house, an' dah de road. Dat road fetch you at
CHAPTER II. IN A STRANGE LAND.
An hour later the stranger, quite alone, had left behind him the
broad smooth road, between rustling walls of sugar-cane, that had
brought him through Belle Alliance plantation. The way before him was
little more than a bridle-path along the earth thrown up beside a
draining-ditch in a dense swamp. The eye could run but a little way ere
it was confused by the tangle of vegetation. The trees of the
all-surrounding forestsweet-gums, water-oaks, magnoliascast their
shade obliquely along and across his way, and wherever it fell the
undried dew still sparkled on the long grass.
A pervading whisper seemed to say good-by to the great human world.
Scarce the note of an insect joined with his footsteps in the coarse
herbage to break the stillness. He made no haste. Ferns were often
about his feet, and vines were both there and everywhere. The soft blue
tufts of the ageratum were on each side continually. Here and there in
wet places clumps of Indian-shot spread their pale scroll leaves and
sent up their green and scarlet spikes. Of stature greater than his own
the golden-rod stood, crested with yellow plumes, unswayed by the still
air. Often he had to push apart the brake-canes and press through with
bowed head. Nothing met him in the path. Now and then there were faint
signs underfoot as if wheels might have crushed the ragged turf long
weeks before. Now and then the print of a hoof was seen in the black
soil, but a spider had made it her home and spread across it her silken
snares. If he halted and hearkened, he heard far away the hawk
screaming to his mate, and maybe, looking up, caught a glimpse of him
sailing in the upper air with the sunlight glowing in his pinions; or
in some bush near by heard the soft rustle of the wren, or the ruffling
whiff and nervous chip of the cardinal, or saw for an instant the
flirt of his crimson robes as he rattled the stiff, jagged fans of the
At length the path grew easier and lighter, the woods on the right
gave place to a field half claimed for cotton and half given up to
persimmon saplings, blackberry-bushes, and rampant weeds. A furry pony
with mane and tail so loaded with cockleburs that he could not shake
them, lifted his head and stared. A moment afterward the view opened to
right and left, and the path struck a grassy road at right angles and
ended. Just there stood an aged sow.
Unclean one, said the grave wayfarer, where dwells your
master?Ignore you the English tongue? But I shall speak not in
another; 'tis that same that I am arriving to bring you.
The brute, with her small bestial eye fixed on him distrustfully and
askance, moved enough to the right to let him pass on the other hand,
and with his coat on his armso strong was the October sunhe turned
into the road westward, followed one or two of its slight curves, and
presently saw neat fields on either hand, walled in on each farther
side by the moss-hung swamp; and now a small, gray, unpainted house,
then two or three more, the roofs of others peering out over the dense
verdure, and down at the end of the vista a small white spire and
cross. Then, at another angle, two men seated on the roadside. Their
diffident gaze bore that look of wild innocence that belongs to those
who see more of dumb nature than of men. Their dress was homespun. The
older was about fifty years old, the other much younger.
Sirs, have I already reach Gran' Point'?
The older replied in an affirmative that could but just be heard,
laid back a long lock of his straight brown hair after the manner of a
short-haired girl, and rose to his feet.
I hunt, said the traveller slowly, Mr. Maximian Roussel.
A silent bow.
The same motion again.
The traveller produced a slip of paper folded once and containing a
line or two of writing hastily pencilled that morning at Belle
Alliance. Maximian received it timidly and held it helplessly before
his downcast eyes with the lines turned perpendicularly, while the
pause grew stifling, and until the traveller said:
'Tis Mr. Wallis make that introduction.
At the name of the owner of the beautiful plantation the man who had
not yet spoken rose, covered with whittlings. It was like a steer
getting up out of the straw. He spoke.
M'sieu' Walleece, a commencé à mouliner? Is big-in to
He shall commence in the centre of the next week.
Maximian's eyes rose slowly from the undeciphered paper. The
traveller's met them. He pointed to the missive.
The schoolmaster therein alluded'tis me.
Oh! cried the villager joyously, maître d'école!
But, said the stranger, not worthy the title. He accepted
gratefully the hand of one and then of the other.
Walk een! said Maximian, all hand', walk een house. They went,
Indian file, across the road, down a sinuous footpath, over a stile,
and up to his little single-story unpainted house, and tramped in upon
the railed galérie.
Et M'sieu' Le Bourgeois, said the host, as the schoolmaster
accepted a split-bottomed chair, he's big-in to gryne?
Within this ground-floor verandachief appointment of all Acadian
homesthe traveller accepted a drink of water in a blue tumbler,
brought by the meek wife. The galérie just now was scattered with the
husband's appliances for making Périque tobacco into caratsthe
carat-press. Its small, iron-ratcheted, wooden windlass extended along
the top rail of the balustrade across one of the galérie's ends. Lines
of half-inch grass rope, for wrapping the carats into diminished bulk
and solid shape, lay along under foot. Beside one of the doors, in deep
hickory baskets, were the parcels of cured tobacco swaddled in cotton
cloths and ready for the torture of ropes and windlass. From the joists
overhead hung the pods of tobacco-seed for next year's planting.
CHAPTER III. THE HANDSHAKING.
There was news in Grande Pointe. The fair noon sky above, with its
peaceful flocks of clouds; the solemn, wet forest round about; the
harvested fields; the dishevelled, fragrant fallows; the reclining,
ruminating cattle; the little chapel of St. Vincent de Paul in the
midst, open for mass once a fortnight, for a sermon in French four
times a year,these were not more tranquil in the face of the fact
that a schoolmaster had come to Grande Pointe to stay than
outwardly appeared the peaceful-minded villagers. Yet as the tidings
floated among the people, touching and drifting on like thistle-down,
they were stirred within, and came by ones, by twos, slow-stepping,
diffidently smiling, to shake hands with the young great man. They
wiped their own before offering themthe men on their strong thighs,
the women on their aprons. Children came, whose courage would carry
them no nearer than the galérie's end or front edge, where they lurked
and hovered, or gazed through the balustrade, or leaned against a
galérie post and rubbed one brown bare foot upon another and crowded
each other's shoulders without assignable cause, or lopped down upon
the grass and gazed from a distance.
Little conversation was offered. The curiosity was as unobtrusive as
the diffidence was without fear; and when a villager's soft, low speech
was heard, it was generally in answer to inquiries necessary for one to
make who was about to assume the high office of educator. Moreover, the
schoolmaster revealed, with all gentleness, his preference for the
English tongue, and to this many could only give ear. Only two or three
times did the conversation rise to a pitch that kindled even the ready
ardor of the young man of letters. Once, after a prolonged silence, the
host, having gazed long upon his guest, said, without preface:
Tough jawb you got, and waved a hand toward the hovering children.
Sir, replied the young scholar, is it not the better to do whilse
it is the mo' tough? The mo' toughness, the mo' honor. He rose
suddenly, brushed back the dry, brown locks of his fine hair, and
extending both hands, with his limp straw hat dangling in one, said:
Sir, I will ask you; is not the schoolmaster the true patriot? Shall
his honor be less than that of the soldier? Yet I ask not honor; for
me, I am not fit; yet, after my poor capacitiesHe resumed his seat.
An awesome quiet followed. Then some one spoke to him, too low to be
heard. He bent forward to hear the words repeated, and 'Mian said for
the timorous speaker:
Aw, dass nut'n; he jis only say, 'Is M'sieu' Walleece big-in to
Few tarried long, though one manhe whom the schoolmaster had found
sitting on the roadside with Maximianstaid all day; and even among
the villagers themselves there was almost no loquacity. Maximian, it is
true, as the afternoon wore along, and it seemed plain that the
reception was a great and spontaneous success, spoke with growing
frequency and heartiness; and, when the guest sat down alone at a table
within, where la vieillethe wifewas placing half-a-dozen
still sputtering fried eggs, a great wheaten loaf, a yellow gallon bowl
of boiled milk, a pewter ladle, a bowie-knife, the blue tumbler, and a
towel; and out on the galérie the callers were still coming: his simple
neighbors pardoned the elation that led him to take a chair himself a
little way off, sit on it sidewise, cross his legs gayly, and with a
smile and wave of his good brown hand say:
Servez-vous! He'p you'se'f! Eat much you like; till you
Even he asked no questions. Only near the end of the day, when the
barefoot children by gradual ventures had at length gathered close
about and were softly pushing for place on his knees, and huddling
under his arms, and he was talking French,the only language most of
them knew,he answered the first personal inquiry put to him since
arriving. His name, he replied to the tiny, dark, big-eyed boy who
spoke for his whispering fellows, his name was
As the great October sun began to dip his crimson wheel behind the
low black line of swamp, and the chapel cross stood out against a band
of yellow light that spanned the west, he walked out to see the
village, a little girl on either hand and little boys round about. The
children talked apace. Only the girl whose hand he held in his right
was mute. She was taller than the rest; yet it was she to whom the
little big-eyed boy pointed when he said, vain of his ability to tell
it in English:
I don't got but eight year' old, me. I'm gran' for my age; but she,
she not gran' for her ageSidonie; no; she not gran' at all for her
They told the story of the chapel: how some years before, in the
Convent of the Sacred Heart, at the parish seat a few miles away on the
Mississippi, a nun had by the Pope's leave cast off the veil; how she
had come to Grande Pointe and taken charge of her widowed brother's
children; and how he had died, and she had found means, the children
knew not how, to build this chapel. And now she was buried under it,
they said. It seemed, from what they left unsaid as well as what they
said, that the simple influence of her presence had kindled a desire
for education in Grande Pointe not known before.
Dass my tantemy hant. She was my hant befo' she
die', said the little man of eight years, hopping along the turf in
front of the rest. He dropped into a walk that looked rapid, facing
round and moving backward. She learn me English, my tante. And
she try to learn Sidonie; but Sidonie, Sidonie fine that too strong to
learn, that English, Sidonie. He hopped again, talking as he hopped,
and holding the lifted foot in his hand. He could do that and speak
English at the same time, so talented was Toutou.
Thus the sun went down. And at Maximian's stile again Bonaventure
Deschamps took the children's cheeks into his slender fingers and
kissed them, one by one, beginning at the least, and so up, slowly,
toward Sidonie Le Blanc. With very earnest tenderness it was done, some
grave word of inspiration going before each caress; but when at last he
said, To-morrow, dear chil'run, the school-bell shall ring in Gran'
Point'! and turned to finish with Sidonieshe was gone.
CHAPTER IV. HOW THE CHILDREN RANG THE
Where the fields go wild and grow into brakes, and the soil becomes
fenny, on the north-western edge of Grande Pointe, a dark, slender
thread of a bayou moves loiteringly north-eastward into a swamp of huge
cypresses. In there it presently meets another like itself, the Bayou
Tchackchou, slipping around from the little farm village's eastern end
as silently as a little mother comes out of a bower where she has just
put her babe to sleep. A little farther on they are joined as
noiselessly by Blind River, and the united waters slip on northward
through the dim, colonnaded, watery-floored, green-roofed,
blue-vapored, moss-draped wilderness, till in the adjoining parish of
Ascension they curve around to the east and issue into the sunny
breadth of Lake Maurepas. Thus they make the Bayou des Acadiens. From
Lake Maurepas one can go up Amite or Tickfaw River, or to Pass Manchac
or Pontchatoula, anywhere in the world, in fact,where a canoe can go.
On a bank of this bayou, no great way from Grande Pointe, but with
the shadow of the swamp at its back and a small, bright prairie of
rushes and giant reeds stretching away from the opposite shore, stood,
more in the water than on the land, the palmetto-thatched fishing and
hunting lodge and only home of a man who on the other side of the
Atlantic you would have known for a peasant of Normandy, albeit he was
born in this swamp,the man who had tarried all day at the
What a day that had been! Once before he had witnessed a positive
event. That was when, one day, he journeyed purposely to the levee of
Belle Alliance, waited from morning till evening, and at last saw the
steamer Robert E. Lee come by, and, as fortune would have it, land!
loaded with cotton from the water to the hurricane deck. He had gone
home resolved from that moment to save his money, and be something more
than he was.
But that event had flashed before his eyes, and in a quarter-hour
was gone, save in his memory. The coming of the schoolmaster, all
unforeseen, had lasted a day, and he had seen it from beginning to end.
All day long on 'Mian's galérie, standing now here, now there, he had
got others to interpret for him, where he could not guess, the meanings
of the wise and noble utterances that fell every now and then from the
lips of the young soldier of learning, and stored them away in his now
One saying in particular, whose originality he did not dream of
questioning, took profound hold of his conviction and admiration; and
two or three times that evening, as his canoe glided homeward in the
twilight, its one long, smooth ripple gleaming on this side and that as
it widened away toward the bayou's dark banks, he rested for a moment
on his tireless paddle, and softly broke the silence of the wilderness
with its three simple words, so trite to our ears, so strange to his:
Knowledge is power.
In years he was but thirty-five; but he was a widower, and the one
son who was his only child and companion would presently be fourteen.
Claude, he said, as they rose that evening from their hard supper
in the light and fumes of their small kerosene-lamp, I' faut
z-ahler coucher. (We must go to bed.)
Quofoir? asked the sturdy lad. (Pourquoi? Why?)
Because, replied the father in the same strange French in which he
had begun, at daybreak to-morrow, and every day thereafter, you must
be in your dug-out on your way to Grande Pointe, to school. My son, you
are going to learn how to read!
So came it that, until their alphabetical re-arrangement, the first
of all the thirty-five names on the roll was Claude St. Pierre, and
that every evening thenceforward when that small kerosene-lamp
glimmered in the deep darkness of Bayou des Acadiens, the abecedarian
Claude was a teacher.
But even before the first rough roll was made he was present, under
the little chapel-tower, when for the first time its bell rang for
school. The young master was there, and all the children; so that
really there was nothing to ring the bell for. They could, all
together, have walked quietly across the village green to the forlorn
tobacco-shed that 'Mian had given them for a schoolhouse, and begun the
session. Ah! say not so! It was good to ring the bell. A few of the
stronger lads would even have sent the glad clang abroad before the
time, but Bonaventure restrained them. For one thing, there must be
room for every one to bear a hand. So he tied above their best reach
three strands of carat cord to the main rope. Even then he was not
No, dear chil'run; but grasp hold, every one, the ropes, the
cawds,the shawt chil'run reaching up shawtly, the long chil'run the
Few understood his words, but they quietly caught the idea, and
yielded themselves eagerly to his arranging hand. The highest grasp was
Claude's. There was a little empty space under it, and then one only of
Sidonie's hands, timid, smooth, and brown. And still the master held
back the word.
Not yet! not yet! The pear is not ripe! He stood apart from them,
near the chapel-door, where the light was strong, his silver watch open
in his left hand, his form erect, his right hand lifted to the brim of
his hat, his eyes upon the dial.
Not yet, dear chil'run. Not yet. Two minute mo'.Be ready.Not
yet!One minute mo'!Have the patience. Hold every one in his aw her
place. Be ready! Have the patience. But at length when the little ones
were frowning and softly sighing with the pain of upheld arms, their
waiting eyes saw his dilate. Be ready! he said, with low intensity:
Be ready! He soared to his tiptoes, the hat flounced from his head
and smote his thigh, his eyes turned upon them blazing, and he cried,
Ring, chil'run, ring!
The elfin crew leaped up the ropes and came crouching down. The bell
pealed; the master's hat swung round his head. His wide eyes were wet,
and he cried again, Ring! ring! for God, light, libbutty, education!
He sprang toward the leaping, sinking mass; but the right feeling kept
his own hands off. And up and down the children went, the bell
answering from above, peal upon peal; when just as they had caught the
rhythm of Claude's sturdy pull, and the bell could sound no louder, the
small cords gave way from their fastenings, the little ones rolled upon
their backs, the bell gave one ecstatic double clang and turned clear
over, the swift rope straightened upward from its coil, and Claude and
Sidonie, her hands clasped upon each other about the rope and his hands
upon hers, shot up three times as high as their finest leap could have
carried them. For an instant they hung; then with another peal the bell
turned back and they came blushing to the floor. A swarm of hands
darted to the rope, but Bonaventure's was on it first.
'Tis sufficient! he said, his face all triumph. The bell gave a
lingering clang or two and ceased, and presently the happy company
walked across the green. Sufficient, the master had said; but it was
more than sufficient. In that moment of suspension, with Sidonie's
great brown frightened eyes in his, and their four hands clasped
together, Claude had learned, for his first lesson, that knowledge is
not the only or the greatest power.
CHAPTER V. INVITED TO LEAVE.
After that, every school-day morning Claude rang the bell. Always
full early his pirogue came gliding out of the woods and up through the
bushy fen to the head of canoe navigation and was hauled ashore.
Bonaventure had fixed his home near the chapel and not far from
Claude's landing-place. Thus the lad could easily come to his door each
morning at the right momentreading it by hunter's signs in nature's
bookto get the word to ring. There were none of the usual reasons
that the schoolmaster should live close to the schoolhouse. There was
no demand for its key.
Not of that schoolhouse! A hundred feet length by twenty-five
breadth, of earth-floored, clapboard-roofed, tumbling shed, rudely
walled with cypress split boards,pieux,planted endwise in
the earth, like palisades, a hand-breadth space between every two, and
sunlight and fresh air and the gleams of green fields coming in; the
scores of little tobacco-presses that had stood in ranks on the hard
earth floor, the great sapling levers, and the festoons of curing
tobacco that had hung from the joists overhead, all removed, only the
odor left; bold gaps here and there in the pieux, made by that
mild influence which the restless call decay, and serving for windows
and doors; the eastern end swept clean and occupied by a few benches
and five or six desks, strong, home-made, sixty-four pounders.
Life had broadened with Claude in two directions. On one side
opened, fair and noble, the acquaintanceship of Bonaventure Deschamps,
a man who had seen the outside world, a man of books, of learning, a
man who could have taught even geography, had there been any one to
learn it; and on the other side, like a garden of roses and spices, the
schoolmateship of Sidonie Le Blanc. To you and me she would have seemed
the merest little brown sprout of a thing, almost nothing but two big
eyeslike a little owl. To Claude it seemed as though nothing older or
larger could be so exactly in the prime of beauty; the path to learning
was the widest, floweriest, fragrantest path he had ever trod.
Sidonie did not often speak with him. At recess she usually staid at
her desk, studying, quite alone but for Bonaventure silently busy at
his, and Claude himself, sitting farther away, whenever the teacher did
not see him and drive him to the playground. If he would only drive
Sidonie out! But he never did.
One day, after quite a contest of learning, and as the hour of
dismission was scattering the various groups across the green, Toutou,
the little brother who was grand for his age, said to Claude, hanging
timidly near Sidonie:
Alle est plus smart' que vous. (She is smarter than
Whereupon Sidonie made haste to say in their Acadian French, Ah!
Master Toutou, you forget we went to school to our dear aunt. And
besides, I am small and look young, but I am nearly a year older than
Claude. She had wanted to be kind, but that was the first thorn. Older
And not only that; nearly fifteen! Why, at fifteenat fifteen girls
get married! The odds were heavy. He wished he had thought of that at
first. He was sadly confused. Sometimes when Bonaventure spoke words of
enthusiasm and regard to him after urging him fiercely up some hill of
difficulty among the bristling heights of English pronunciation, he
yearned to seek him alone and tell him this difficulty of the heart.
There was no fear that Bonaventure would laugh; he seemed scarce to
know how; and his smiles were all of tenderness and zeal. Claude did
not believe the ten years between them would matter; had not
Bonaventure said to him but yesterday that to him all loveliness was
the lovelier for being very young? Yet when the confession seemed
almost on Claude's lips it was driven back by an alien mood in the
master's face. There were troubles in Bonaventure's heart that Claude
wot not of.
One day who should drop in just as school was about to begin but the
priest from College Point! Such order as he found! Bonaventure stood at
his desk like a general on a high hill, his large hand-bell in his
grasp, passed his eyes over the seventeen demure girls, with their
large, brown-black, liquid eyes, their delicately pencilled brows,
their dark, waveless hair, and sounded one tap! The sport outside
ceased, the gaps at the shed's farther end were darkened by small forms
that came darting like rabbits into their burrows, eighteen small hats
came off, and the eighteen boys came softly forward and took their
seats. Such discipline!
Sir, said Bonaventure, think you 'tis arising, f'om the
strickness of the teacher? 'Tis f'om the goodness of the chil'run! How
I long the State Sup'inten'ent Public Education to see them!
The priest commended the sight and the wish with smiling
affirmations that somehow seemed to lack sympathy. He asked the names
of two or three pupils. That little fellow with soft, tanned, chubby
cheeks and great black eyes, tiny mouth, smooth feet so shapely and
small, still wet to their ankles with dew, and arms that he could but
just get folded, was Toutou. That lad with the strong shoulders, good
wide brows, steady eye, and general air of manliness,that was Claude
St. Pierre. And this girl over on the left here,You observe, said
Bonaventure, I situate the lambs on the left and the kids on the
right,this little, slender crescent of human moonlight, with her
hair in two heavy, black, down-falling plaits, meek, drooping eyes,
long lashes, soft childish cheeks and full throat, was Sidonie Le
Blanc. Bonaventure murmured:
Best scholah in the school, yet the onlythat loves not her
teacher. But I give always my interest, not according to the
interestingness, but rather to the necessitude, of each.
The visit was not long. Standing, about to depart, the visitor
seemed still, as at the first, a man of many reservations under his
polite smiles. But just then he dropped a phrase that the teacher
recognized as an indirect quotation, and Bonaventure cried, with greedy
You have read Victor Hugo?
Oh, sir, that grea-a-at man! That father of libbutty! Other
patriots are the sons, but he the father! Is it not thus?
The priest shrugged and made a mouth. The young schoolmaster's face
Sir, I must ask youis he not the frien' of the poor and
The visitor's smile quite disappeared. He said:
Oh!and waved a hand impatiently; Victor Hugoanother
mouthVictor Hugoreplying in French to the schoolmaster's
Englishis not of my party. And then he laughed unpleasantly and
The State Superintendent did not come, but every dayIt is perhaps
he shall come to-mo'w, chil'run; have yo' lessons well!
The whole tiny army of long, blue, ankle-hiding cottonade
pantalettes and pantaloons tried to fulfil the injunction. Not one but
had a warm place in the teacher's heart. But Toutou, Claude, Sidonie,
anybody who glanced into that heart could see sitting there enthroned.
And some did that kind of reconnoitring. Catou, 'Mian's older brother,
was much concerned. He saw no harm in a little education, but took no
satisfaction in the introduction of English speech; and speaking to
'Mian of that reminded him to say he believed the schoolmaster himself
was aware of the three children's pre-eminence in his heart. But 'Mian
Ah bien, c'est all right, alors! (Well, then, it's
all right.) Whether all right or not, Bonaventure was aware of it, and
tried to hide it under special kindnesses to others, and particularly
to the dullard of the school, grandson of Catou and nicknamed
Crébiche. The child loved him; and when Claude rang the chapel
bell, and before its last tap had thrilled dreamily on the morning air,
when the urchins playing about the schoolhouse espied another group
coming slowly across the common with Bonaventure in the midst of them,
his coat on his arm and the children's hands in his, there among them
came Crébiche, now on one side, now running round to the other, hoping
so to get a little nearer to the master.
 Écrevisse, crawfish.
None shall have such kindness to-day as thou, Bonaventure would
silently resolve as he went in through a gap in the pieux. And
the children could not see but he treated them all alike. They saw no
unjust inequality even when, Crébiche having three times spelt earth
with an u, the master paced to and fro on the bare ground among
the unmatched desks and break-back benches, running his hands through
his hair and crying:
Well! well aht thou name' the crawfish; with such rapiditive
celeritude dost thou progress backwardly!
It must have been to this utterance that he alluded when at the
close of that day he walked, as he supposed, with only birds and
grasshoppers for companions, and they grew still, and the turtle-doves
began to moan, and he smote his breast and cried:
Ah! rules, rules! how easy to make, likewise break! Oh! the shame,
the shame! If Victor Hugo had seen that! And if George
Washington! But thou,some one else, not mentioned,thou sawedst
The last word was still on the speaker's lips, whenthere beside
the path, with heavy eye and drunken frown, stood the father of
Crébiche, the son of Catou, the little boy of twenty-five known as
Chat-oué. He spoke:
To who is dat you speak? Talk wid de dev'?
Bonaventure murmured a salutation, touched his hat, and passed.
Chat-oué moved a little, and delivered a broadside:
Afteh dat, you betteh leave! Yes, you betteh leave Gran' Point'!
Sir, said Bonaventure, turning with flushed face, I stay.
Yes, said the other, dass righ'; you betteh go way and stay.
Magicien, he added as the schoolmaster moved on, sorcier!
What did all this mean?
CHAPTER VI. WAR OF DARKNESS AND
Catou, it seems, had gone one day to College Point with a pair of
wild ducks that he had shot,first of the season,and offered them to
the priest who preached for Grande Pointe once a quarter.
Catou, said the recipient, in good French but with a cruel
hardness of tone, why does that man out there teach his school in
English? The questioner's intentions were not unkind. He felt a
protector's care for his Acadian sheep, whose wants he fancied he, if
not he only, understood. He believed a sudden overdose of enlightenment
would be to them a real disaster, and he proposed to save them from it
by the kind of management they had been accustomed tothey and their
fathersfor a thousand years.
Catou answered the question only by a timid smile and shrug. The
questioner spoke again:
Why do you Grande Pointe folk allow it? Do you want your children
stuffed full of American ideas? What is in those books they are
studying? You don't know? Neither do I. I would not look into one of
them. But you ought to know that to learn English is to learn
free-thinking. Do you know who print those books that your children are
rubbing their noses in? Yankees! Oh, I doubt not they have been sharp
enough to sprinkle a little of the stuff they call religion here
and there in them; 'tis but the bait on the hook! But you silly
'Cadians think your children are getting education, and that makes up
for every thing else. Do you know what comes of it? Discontent. Vanity.
Contempt of honest labor. Your children are going to be discontented
with their lot. It will soon be good-by to sunbonnets; good-by to
homespun; good-by to Grande Pointe,yes, and good-by to the faith of
your fathers. Catou, what do you know about that man, anyhow? You ask
him no questions, you 'Cadians, and heoh, he is too modest to tell
you who or what he is. Who pays him?
He say pay is way behine. He say he don't get not'in' since he come
yondeh, said Catou, the distress that had gathered on his face
disappearing for a moment.
The questioner laughed contemptuously.
Do you suppose he works that way for nothing? How do you know, at
all, that his real errand is to teach school? A letter from Mr. Wallis!
who simply told your simple-minded brother what the fellow told him!
See here, Catou; you owe a tax as a raiser of tobacco, eh? And besides
that, hasn't every one of you an absurd little sign stuck up on the
side of his house, as required by the Government, to show that you owe
another tax as a tobacco manufacturer? But still you have a little
arrangement to neutralize that, eh? How do you know this man is not
among you to look into that? Do you know that he can teach? No
wonder he prefers to teach in English! I had a conversation with him
the other day; I want no more; he preferred to talk to me in
English. That is the good manners he is teaching; light-headed,
hero-worshipping, free-thinker that he is.
Catou was sore dismayed. He had never heard of hero-worship or
free-thinking before, but did not doubt their atrocity. It had never
occurred to him that a man with a few spelling-books and elementary
readers could be so dangerous to society.
I wish he clear out from yondeh, said Catou. He really made his
short responses in French, but in a French best indicated in bad
Not for my sake, replied the priest, coldly smiling. I shall just
preach somewhere else on the thirteenth Sunday of each quarter, and let
Grande Pointe go to the devil; for there is where your new friend is
sure to land you. Good-day, I am very busy this morning.
These harsh wordsharsh barking of the shepherd dogspread an
unseen consternation in Grande Pointe. Maximian was not greatly
concerned. When he heard of the threat to cut off the spiritual
table-crumbs with which the villagers had so scantily been fed, he only
responded that in his opinion the dominie was no such a fool as that.
But others could not so easily dismiss their fears. They began to say
privately, leaning on fences and lingering at stiles, that they had
felt from the very day of that first mad bell-ringing that the whole
movement was too headlong; that this opening the sluices of English
education would make trouble. Children shouldn't be taught what their
parents do not understand. Not that there was special harm in a little
spelling, adding, or subtracting, butthe notions they and the teacher
produced! Here was the school's influence going through all the place
like the waters of a rising tide. All Grande Pointe was lifting from
the sands, and in danger of getting afloat and drifting toward the
current of the great world's life. Personally, too, the schoolmaster
seemed harmless enough. From the children and he loving each other, the
hearts of the seniors had become entangled. The children had come home
from the atmosphere of that old tobacco-shed, and persuaded the very
grandmothers to understand vaguelyvery vaguely and dimlythat the
day of liberty which had come to the world at large a hundred years
before had come at last to them; that in France their race had been
peasants; in Acadia, forsaken colonists; in Massachusetts,
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, exiles alien to the land, the
language, and the times; in St. Domingo, penniless, sick, unwelcome
refugees; and for just one century in Louisiana the jest of the proud
Creole, held down by the triple fetter of illiteracy, poverty, and the
competition of unpaid, half-clad, swarming slaves. But that now the
slave was free, the school was free, and a new, wide, golden future
waited only on their education in the greatest language of the world.
All this was pleasant enough to accept even in a dim way, though too
good to be more than remotely grasped. But just when, as music in a
sleeper's ear, it is taking hold of their impulses somewhat, comes the
word of their hereditary dictator that this man is among them only for
their destruction. What could they reply? They were a people around
whom the entire world's thought had swirled and tumbled for four
hundred years without once touching them. Their ancestors had left
France before Descartes or Newton had begun to teach the modern world
to think. They knew no method of reasoning save by precedent, and had
never caught the faintest reflection from the mind of that great, sweet
thinker who said, A stubborn retention of customs is a turbulent
thing, no less than the introduction of new. To such strangers in the
world of to-day now came the contemptuous challenge of authority,
defying them to prove that one who proposed to launch them forth upon a
sea of changes out of sight of all precedent and tradition was not the
hireling of some enemy's gold secretly paid to sap the foundations of
all their spiritual and temporal interests and plunge them into chaos.
They blamed Bonaventure; he had got himself hated and them rebuked;
it was enough. They said little to each other and nothing to him; but
they felt the sleepy sense of injury we all know so well against one
who was disturbing their slumber; and some began to suspect and
distrust him, others to think hard of him for being suspected and
distrusted. Yet all this reached not his ears, and the first betrayal
of it was from the lips of Chat-oué, when, in his cups, he unexpectedly
invited the schoolmaster to leave Grande Pointe.
After that, even the unconscious schoolmaster could feel the faint
chill of estrangement. But he laid it not to his work, but to his
personal unloveliness, and said to 'Mian he did not doubt if he were
more engaging there would not be so many maidens kept at the wheel and
loom in the priceless hours of school, or so many strapping youths
sent, all unlettered, to the sugar-kettles of the coast plantations
what time M'sieu' Walleece big-in to gryne.
'Tain't dat, said 'Mian. He had intended to tell the true reason,
but his heart failed him; and when Bonaventure asked what, then, it
was, he replied:
Aw, dey don't got no time. Time run so fas',run like a scared
dog. I dunno fo' w'at dey make dat time run so fas' dat way.
O my friend, cried the young schoolmaster, leaping from his chair,
say not that! If God did not make time to p'oceed with rapidness, who
would ever do his best?
It was such lessons as this that made the childrenCrébiche among
themstill gather round the humble master and love to grasp his hand.
CHAPTER VII. LOVE AND DUTY.
Time ran fast. The seasons were as inexorable at Grande Pointe as
elsewhere. But there was no fierceness in them. The very frosts were
gentle. Slowly and kindly they stripped the green robes from many a
tree, from many a thicket ejected like defaulting tenants the blue
linnet, the orchard oriole, the nonpareil, took down all its leafy
hangings and left it open to the winds and rain of December. The wet
ponies and kine turned away from the north and stood in the slanting
storm with bowed heads. The great wall of cypress swamp grew spectral.
But its depths, the marshes far beyond sight behind them, and the
little, hidden, rushy lakes, were alive with game. No snake crossed the
path. Under the roof, on the galérie, the wheel hummed, the loom
pounded; inside, the logs crackled and blazed on the hearth; on the
board were venison, mallard, teal, rice-birds, sirop de baterie,
and quitte; round the fireside were pipes, pecans, old stories,
and the Saturday-night contra-dance; and every now and then came
sounding on the outer air the long, hoarse bellow of some Mississippi
steamer, telling of the great world beyond the tree-tops, a little
farther than the clouds and nearer than the stars.
Christmas passed, and New Yeartime runs so fast! Presently yonder
was 'Mian himself, spading a piece of ground to sow his tobacco-seed
in; then Catou and his little boy of twenty-five doing likewise; and
then others all about the scattered village. Then there was a general
spreading of dry brush over the spaded ground, then the sweet, clean
smell of its burning, and, hanging everywhere throughout the clearing,
its thin blue smoke. The little frogs began to pipe to each other again
in every wet place, the grass began to freshen, and almost in the
calendar's midwinter the smiles of spring were wreathing everywhere.
What of the schoolmaster and the children? Much, much! The good work
went on. Intense days for Bonaventure. The clouds of disfavor darkling
in some places, but brightening in others, and, on the whole, he hoped
and believed, breaking. A few days of vacation, and then a bright
re-union and resumption, the children all his faithful adherents save
oneSidonie. She, a close student, too, but growingly distant and
reticent. The State Superintendent still believed to be
Impending, impending, chil'run! he is impending! Any day he may
precipitate upon us!
Intense days, too, for Claude. Sidonie openly, and oh, so sweetly,
his friend. Loving him? He could neither say nor know; enough, for the
present, to be allowed to love her. His love knew no spirit of conquest
yet; it was star-worship; it was angel adoration; seraphically pure;
something so celestially refined that had it been a tangible object you
could have held it up and seen the stars right through it. The thought
of acquisition would have seemed like coveting the gold of a temple.
And yet already the faintest hint of loss was intolerable. Oh! this
happy, happy school-going,this faring sumptuously on one smile a day!
Ah, if it might but continue! But alas! how Sidonie was growing!
Growing, growing daily! up, up, up! While hethere was a tree in the
swamp where he measured his stature every day; but in vain, in vain! It
never budged! And thenall at oncelike the rose-vine on her galérie,
Sidonie burst into bloom.
Her smiles were kinder and more frequent now than ever before; but
the boy's heart was wrung. What chance now? In four long years to come
he would not yet be quite nineteen, and she was fifteen now. Four
years! He was in no hurry himselfcould wait forever and be happy
every day of it; but she? Such prize as she, somebody would certainly
bear away before three years could run by, run they ever so fast.
Sitting and pondering one evening in the little bayou cabin, Claude
caught the father's eye upon him, leaned his forehead upon the parent's
knee, and silently wept. The rough woodman said a kind word, and the
boy, without lifting his burning face, told his love. The father made
no reply for a long time, and then he said in their quaint old French:
Claude, tell the young schoolmaster. Of all men, he is the one to
help you. And then in English, as you would quote Latin, Knowledge is
The next day he missedfailed miserablyin every lesson. At its
close he sat at his desk, crushed. Bonaventure seemed scarce less
tempest-tossed than he; and all about the school the distress spread as
wintry gray overcasts a sky. Only Sidonie moved calmly her accustomed
round, like some fair, silent, wide-winged bird circling about a wreck.
At length the lad and his teacher were left alone. Claude sat very
still, looking at his toil-worn hands lying crossed on the desk.
Presently there sank an arm across his shoulders. It was the master's.
Dropdroptwo big tears fell upon the rude desk's sleeve-polished
wood. The small, hard, right hand slowly left its fellow, and rubbed
off the wet spots.
Claude, you have something to disclose me?
The drooping head nodded.
And 'tis not something done wrongly?
The lad shook his head.
Then, my poor Claude,the teacher's own voice faltered for a
moment,then'tis'tis she! He stroked the weeping head that sank
into its hands. Ah! yes, Claude, yes; 'tis she; 'tis she! And you want
me to help you. Alas! in vain you want me! I cannot even try-y-y to
help you; you have mentioned it too lately! 'Tis right you come to me,
despiting discrepancy of years; but alas! the dif_fic_ulty lies in the
con_tra_ry; for alas! Claude, our two heart' are of the one, same age!
They went out; and walking side by side toward the failing sun, with
the humble flowers of the field and path newly opened and craving leave
to live about their feet and knees, Bonaventure Deschamps revealed his
own childlike heart to the simple boy whose hand clasped his.
Yes, yes; I conceal not from you, Claude, that 'tis not alone 'thou
lovest,' but 'I love'! If with cause to hope, Claude, I know not. And I
must not search to know whilst yet the schoolmaster. And the same to
you, Claude, whilst yet a scholah. We mus' let the dissimulation like a
worm in the bud to h-eat our cheek. 'Tis the voice of honor
cry'Silence.' And during the meanwhilst, you? Perchance at the last,
the years passing and you enlarging in size daily and arriving to
budding manhood, may be the successful; for suspect not I consider
lightly the youngness of yo' passion. Attend what I shall reveal you.
Claude, there once was a boy, yo' size, yo' age, but fierce, selfish,
distemperate; still more selfish than yo' schoolmaster of to-day. And
there that master went on to tell of an earlylike Claude's, an all
too earlyrash, and boyish passion, whose ragged wound, that he had
thought never could heal, was now only a tender scar.
And you, too, Claude, though now it seem not possibleyou shall
recuperate from this. But why say I thus? Think you I would inoculate
the idea that you must despair? Nay, perchance you shall achieve her.
They stood near the lad's pirogue about to say adieu; the schoolmaster
waved his hand backward toward the farther end of the village. She is
there; in a short time she will cease to continue scholah; thentry.
And again, with still more courageous kindness, he repeated, Try! 'Tis
a lesson that thou shouldest heedtry, try again. If at the
first thou doest not succeed, try, try again.
Claude gazed gratefully into the master's face. Boy that he was, he
did not read aright the anguish gathering there. From his own face the
clouds melted into a glad sunshine of courage, resolve, and
anticipation. Bonaventure saw the spark of hope that he had dropped
into the boy's heart blaze up into his face. And what did Claude see?
The hot blood mounting to the master's brow an instant ere he wheeled
and hurried away.
'Sieur Bonaventure! exclaimed Claude; 'Sieur Bonaventure!
But deaf to all tones alike, Bonaventure moved straight away along
the bushy path, and was presently gone from sight. There is a
repentance of good deeds. Bonaventure Deschamps felt it gnawing and
tearing hard and harder within his bosom as he strode on through the
wild vernal growth that closed in the view on every side. Soon he
halted; then turned, and began to retrace his steps.
Claude! The tone was angry and imperative. No answer came. He
quickened his gait. Claude! The voice was petulant and imperious. A
turn of the path brought again to view the spot where the two had so
lately parted. No one was there. He moaned and then cried aloud, O
thou fool, fool, fool!Claude! He ran; fasterfasterdown the path,
away from all paths, down the little bayou's margin, into the bushes,
into the mud and water. Claude! Claude! I told you wrongly! Stop!
Arretez-la! I must add somewhat!Claude! The bushes snatched away
his hat; tore his garments; bled him in hands and face; yet on he went
into the edge of the forest. Claude! Ah! Claude, thou hast ruin' me!
Stop, you young rascal!thief!robber!brigand! A vine caught and
held him fast. Claude! Claude!The echoes multiplied the sound, and
scared from their dead-tree roost a flock of vultures. The dense wood
was wrapping the little bayou in its premature twilight. The retreating
sun, that for a while had shot its flaming arrows through the black
boles and branches, had sunk now and was gone. Only a parting ruby glow
shone through the tangle where far and wide the echoes were calling for
Claude! I mistook the facts in the case. There is no hope for you!
'Tis futile you trythe poem is not for you! I take every thing
back!all back! You shall not once try! You have grasp' the advantage!
You got no business, you little rascal! You dare venture to
attempt making love in my school! Claude St. Pierre, you are dismiss'
the school! Mutiny! mutiny! Claude St. Pierre, for mutinizing, excluded
the Gran' Point' school.
He tore himself from his fastenings and hastened back toward the
village. The tempest within him was as fierce as ever; but already it,
too, had turned and was coming out of the opposite quarter. The better
Bonaventurethe Bonaventure purified by fires that Grande Pointe had
no knowledge ofwas coming back into his gentle self-mastery. And
because that other, that old-time Bonaventure, bound in chains deep
down within, felt already the triumph of a moment slipping from his
grasp, he silently now to the outer air, but loudly within, railed and
gnashed and tore himself the more.
He regained the path and hurried along it, hatless, dishevelled,
bespattered, and oblivious to every thing save the war within.
Presently there came upon him the knowledge, the certain knowledge,
that Claude would come the next morning and ring the chapel bell, take
his seat in school, stand in all his classes, know every lesson, and go
home in the evening happy and all unchallenged of him. He groaned
Ah! Claude! To dismiss or not to dismiss, it shall not be mine! But
it shall be thine, Sidonie! And whether she is for thee, Claudeso
juvenile!or for me, so unfit, unfit, unfit!Ah! Sidonie, choose not
yet!He stood rooted to the spot; while within easy earshot of his
lightest word tripped brightly and swiftly across the path from the
direction of the chapel a fawn, Claude's gift, and its mistress,
Sidonieas though she neither saw nor heard.
CHAPTER VIII. AT CLAUDE'S MERCY.
Time flagged not. The school shone on, within its walls making glad
the teacher and the pupils with ever new achievements in knowledge and
excellence. Some of the vanguardClaude, Sidonie, Étienne, Madelaine,
Henri, Marcellineactually going into the Third Reader. Such
perfection in lessons as they told about at homesuch mastery of
English, such satisfactory results in pronunciation and emphasis!
Reading just as they talked? Oh, no, a thousand times no! The school's
remoter light, its secondary influences, slowly spreading, but so
slowly that only the eyes of enmity could see its increase. There were
murmurs and head-shakings; but the thirteenth Sunday of the year's
first quarter came, and the sermon whose withholding had been
threatened was preached. And on the thirteenth Monday there was
Bonaventure, still moving quietly across the green toward the
schoolhouse with the children all about him. But a few days later the
By this time Claude's father, whose teacher, you remember, was
Claude, had learned to read. One day a surveyor, who had employed him
as a guide, seeing the Acadian laboring over a fragment of rural
newspaper, fell into conversation with him as they sat smoking by their
camp-fire, and presently caught some hint of St. Pierre's aspirations
for himself and his son.
So there's a public school at Grande Pointe, is there?
Oh, yass; fine school; hondred feet long! and fine titcher;
splendid titcher; titch English.
Well, well! laughed the surveyor. Well, the next thing will be a
St. Pierre's eyes lighted up.
Why, yes; you can't keep railroads away from a place long, once you
let in the public school and teach English.
You t'ink dass good?
What, a railroad? Most certainly. It brings immigration.
The surveyor explained.
The next time St. Pierre came to Grande Pointeto sell some
fishhe came armed with two great words for the final overthrow of all
opponents of enlightenment: Rellroad!'Migrash'n!
They had a profound and immediate effectexactly the opposite of
what he had expected.
The school had just been dismissed; the children were still in
sight, dispersing this way and that. Sidonie lingered a moment at her
desk, putting it in order; Claude, taking all the time he could, was
getting his canoe-paddle from a corner; Crébiche was waiting, by the
master's command, to repair some default of the day; and Toutou,
outside on his knees in the grass catching grasshoppers, was tarrying
for his sister; when four or five of the village's best men came slowly
and hesitatingly in. It required no power of divination for even the
pre-occupied schoolmaster to guess the nature of their errand. 'Mian
was not among them. Catou was at their head. They silently bowed. The
schoolmaster as silently responded. The visitors huddled together. They
came a step nearer.
Well, said Catou, we come to see you.
Sirs, welcome to Gran' Point' school.Sidonie, Crébiche, Claude,
rest in yo' seats.
Mo' betteh you tu'n 'em loose, I t'ink, said Catou amiably; ain't
I rather they stay, replied Bonaventure. All sat down. There was a
sustained silence, and then Catou said with quiet abruptness:
We dawn't want no mo' school!
From what cause?
'Tain't no use.
Sirsirs, no use? 'Tis every use! The schoolhouse? 'tis mo' worth
than the gole mine. Ah! sirs, tell me: what is gole without education?
They confronted the riddle for a moment.
Ed'cation want to change every thin'rellroad'migrash'n.
Change every thing? Yes!making every thing better! Sirs, where is
that country that the people are sorry that the railroad and the
schoolhouse have come? Again the riddle went unanswered; but Catou sat
as if in meditation, looking to one side, and presently said:
I t'ink dass all humbug, dat titchin' English. What want titch
Sir, cried Bonaventure, in America you mus' be American! Three
Acadians have been governor of Louisiana! What made them thus to
become? He leaned forward and smote his hands together. What was it?
'Twas English education!
The men were silent again. Catou pushed his feet out, and looked at
his shoes, put on for the occasion. Presently
Yass, he said, in an unconvinced tone; yass, dass all right: but
how we know you titch English? Nobody can't tell you titchin' him right
And yetI do! And the time approach when you shall know! Sirs, I
make to you a p'oposition. Time is passing. It must be soon the State
Sup'inten'ent Public Education visit this school. The school is any
time ready. Since long time are we waiting. He shall comehe shall
examine! The chil'run shall be ignorant this arrangement! Only these
shall knowClaude, Sidonie, Crébiche; they will not disclose! And the
total chil'run shall exhibit all their previous learning! And welcome
the day, when the ad_ver_saries of education shall see those dear
chil'run stan' up befo' the assem'led Gran' Point' spelling co'ectly
words of one to eight syllable' and reading from their readers!
And if one missif oneone! miss, then let the school
be shut and the schoolmaster banish-ed!
It was so agreed. The debate did not cease at once, but it
languished. Catou thought he had made one strong point when he objected
to education as conducive to idle habits; but when the schoolmaster
hurled back the fact that communities the world over are industrious
just in proportion as they are educated, he was done. He did not know,
but when he confronted the assertion it looked so true that he could
not doubt it. He only said:
Well, anyhow, I t'ink 'tain't no use Crébiche go school no mo'.
But when Bonaventure pleaded for the lad's continuance, that too was
agreed upon. The men departed.
Crébiche, said the master, holding the boy's hand at parting, ah!
Crébiche, if thou become not a good scholarand read a promise in the
boy's swimming eyes.
Claude, Claude, I am at yo' mercy now. But the honest gaze of
Claude and the pressure of his small strong hand were a pledge. The
grateful master turned to Sidonie, and again, as of old, no Sidonie was
CHAPTER IX. READY.
Summer came. The song-birds were all back again, waking at dawn, and
making the hoary cypress wood merry with their carollings to the wives
and younglings in the nests. Busy times. Foraging on the helpless
enemyearth-worm, gnat, grub, grasshopper, weevil, sawyer,
dragon-flyfrom morning till night: watching for him; scratching for
him; picking, pecking, boring for him; poising, swooping, darting for
him; standing upside down and peering into chinks for him; and all for
the luxurynot of knowledge, but of love and marriage. The
mocking-bird had no rest whatever. Back and forth from dawn to dark,
back and forth across and across Grande Pointe clearing, always one way
empty and the other way with his beak full of marketing; and then
sitting up on an average half the nightsometimes the whole of itat
his own concert. And with military duties too; patrolling the earth
below, a large part of it, and all the upper air; driving off the
weasel, the black snake, the hawk, the jay, the buzzard, the crow, and
all that brigand crewbusy times! All nature in glad, gay earnest.
Corn in blossom and rustling in the warm breeze; blackberries ripe;
morning-glories under foot; the trumpet-flower flaring from its dense
green vine high above on the naked, girdled tree; the cotton-plant
blooming white, yellow, and red in the field beneath; honey a-making in
the hives and hollow trees; butterflies and bees lingering in the
fields at sunset; the moth venturing forth at the first sign of dew;
and Sidoniea wild-rose tree.
Mark you, this was in Grande Pointe. I have seen the wild flower
taken from its cool haunt in the forest, and planted in the glare of a
city garden. Alas! the plight of it, poor outshone, wilting, odorless
thing! And then I have seen it again in the forest; and pleasanter than
to fill the lap with roses and tulips of the conservatory's blood-royal
it was to find it there, once more the simple queen of that green
So Sidonie. Acadian maidens are shy as herons. They always see you
first. They see you first, silently rise, and are gonefrom the
galérie. They are more shy than violets. You would think they lived
whole days with those dark, black-fringed eyes cast down; butthey see
you first. The work about the house is well done where they are; there
are apt to be flowers outside round about; while they themselves are as
Paul desired to see the women in bishop Timothy's church, adorned in
modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.
Flowers sprang plentifully where Sidonie dwelt. Her best homespun
gown was her own weaving; the old dog lying on the galérie always
thumped the floor with his tail and sank his obsequious head as that
robe passed; the fawnthat Claude had broughtwould come trotting and
press its head against it; all the small living things of the dooryard
would follow it about; and if she stood by the calf-pen the calves
would push each other for the nearest place, lay their cheeks upon the
fence's top, and roll their eyesas many a youth of Grande Pointe
would have done if he might. Chat-oué,I fear I have omitted to
mention that the father of Crébiche, like the father of Claude, had
lost his wife before he was of age,Chat-oué looked often over that
When matters take that shape a girl must quit school. And yet
Sidonie, when after a short vacation the school resumed its sessions,
resumed with it. Toutou, who had to admit now that his sister was even
more grand for her age than he, was always available for protection.
There was no wonder that Sidonie wished to continue; Bonaventure
So in_ter_esting is that McGuffey's Third Reader!
Those at home hesitated, and presently it was the first of October.
Now it was too late to withdraw; the examination was to take place. The
school's opponents had expressed little impatience at the State
Superintendent's weary delay, but at length Catou asked, Why dat man
don't nevva come!
The wherefore of his non-coming I ignore, said Bonaventure, with a
look of old pain in his young face; but I am ready, let him come or
let him come not.
'Tain't no use wait no longer, said Catou; jis well have yo' lil
show widout him.
Sir, it shall be had! Revolution never go backwood!
Much was the toil, many the anxieties, of the preparation. For
Bonaventure at once determined to make the affair more than an
examination. He set its date on the anniversary of the day when he had
come to Grande Pointe. From such a day Sidonie could not be spared. She
was to say a piece, a poem, an apostrophe to a star. A child, beholding
the little star in the heavens, and wondering what it can be, sparkling
diamond-like so high up above the world, exhorts it not to stop
twinkling on his account. But to its tender regret the school knew that
no more thereafter was Sidonie to twinkle in its firmament.
Learn yo' lessons hard, chil'run; if the State Sup'inten'ent, even
at the last, you knowBonaventure could not believe that this
important outpost had been forgotten.
CHAPTER X. CONSPIRACY.
About this time a certain Mr. TarboxG. W. Tarboxwas travelling
on horseback and touching from house to house of the great
sugar-estates of the river coast, seeing the country and people, and
allowing the élite to subscribe to the Album of Universal
One Sunday, resting at College Point, he was led by curiosity to
cultivate the acquaintance of three men who had come in from Grande
Pointe. One of them was Chat-oué. He could understand them, and make
them understand him, well enough to play vingt et un with them
the whole forenoon. He won all their money, drank with them, and took
their five subscriptions, Chat-oué taking threeone for himself, one
for Catou, and one for Crébiche. There was no delivery of goods there
and then; they could not write; but they made their marks, and it was
agreed that when Mr. Tarbox should come along a few days later to
deliver the volumes, they were not to be received or paid for until
with his scholarly aid the impostor who pretended to teach English
education at Grande Pointe had been put to confusion and to flight.
All right, said Tarbox; all right. I'm the kind of State
Superintendent you want. I like an adventure; and if there's any thing
I just love, it's exposing a fraud! What day shall I come? Yes, I
understandmiddle of the day. I'll be on hand.
The fateful day came. In every house and on every galérie the
morning tasks were early done. Then the best of every wardrobe was put
on, the sun soared high, and by noon every chair in Grande Pointe was
in the tobacco-shed where knowledge poured forth her beams, and was
occupied by one or two persons. And then, at last, the chapel bell
above Claude's head pealed out the final signal, and the schoolmaster
moved across the green. Bonaventure Deschamps was weary. Had aught gone
wrong? Far from it. But the work had been great, and it was now done.
Every thing was at stake: the cause of enlightenment and the fortunes
of his heart hung on the issue of the next few hours. Three pupils, one
the oftenest rebuked of all the school, one his rival in love, one the
queen of his heart, held his fate in their hands and knew it. With
these thoughts mingled the pangs of an unconfessed passion and the
loneliness of a benevolent nature famishing for a word of thanks. Yea,
and to-day he must be his own judge.
His coat was on his arm, and the children round about him in their
usual way as they came across the common; but his words, always so
kind, were, on this day of all days, so dejected and so few that the
little ones stole glances into his face and grew silent. Then, all at
once, he saw,yea, verily, he saw,standing near the school
entrance, a man from the great outer world!
He knew it by a hundred signsthe free attitude, the brilliant silk
hat, the shaven face, and every inch of the attire. As plainly as one
knows a green tree from a dead one, the Crusoe of Grande Pointe
recognized one who came from the haunts of men; from some great
nerve-centre of human knowledge and power where the human mind, trained
and equipped, had piled up the spoils of its innumerable conquests. His
whole form lighted up with a new life. His voice trembled with pent
feeling as he said in deep undertone:
Be callm, chil'run; be callm. Refrain excitement. Who you behole
befo' you, yondeh, I ignore. But who shall we expect to see if not the
State Sup'inten'ent Public Education? And if yea, then welcome, thrice
welcome, the surprise! We shall not inquire him; but as a stranger we
shall show him with how small reso'ce how large result. He put on his
Mr. Tarbox had just reached the school-ground. His horse was
fastened by the bridle to a picket in a fence behind him. A few boys
had been out before the schoolhouse, and it was the sudden cessation of
their clamor that had drawn Bonaventure's attention. Some of them were
still visible, silently slipping through the gaps in the pieux
and disappearing within. Bonaventure across the distance marked him
beckon persuasively to one of them. The lad stopped, came forward, and
gave his hand; and thereupon a second, a third, fourth, fifth, tenth,
without waiting for invitation, emerged again and advanced to the same
grave and silent ceremony. Two or three men who stood near did the
same. The handshaking was just ending when Bonaventure and the stranger
raised their hats to each other.
Trust I don't intrude?
Sir, we are honored, not intruded, as you shall witness. Will you
give yourself the pain to enter the school-place? I say not
schoolhouse; 'tis, as its humble teacher, not fitly so nominated. But
you shall therein find a school which, the more taken by surprise, not
the less prepared.
The State ought to build you a good schoolhouse, said the
stranger, with a slight frown that seemed official.
Ah! sir, cried the young schoolmaster, beaming gratitude from his
whole surface, IIhe smote his breast,I would reimburst her in
good citizen' and mother' of good citizen'! And both reading, writing,
and also ciphering,arithmeticulating, in the English tongue, and
grammatically! But enter and investigate.
A hush fell upon the school and the audience beyond it as the two
men came in. Every scholar was in placethe little ones with bare,
dangling feet, their shapely sun-tanned ankles just peeping from
pantaloons and pantalettes of equal length; the older lads beyond them;
and off at the left the larger girls, and Sidonie. The visitor, as his
eye fell last upon her, silently and all to himself drew a long whistle
of admiration. The master stood and eyed him with unspoken but
confessed pride. A little maiden of six slipped from the bench to the
earth floor, came forward, gave her hand, and noiselessly returned. One
by one, with eyes dropped, the remaining sixteen girls followed. It
seemed for a moment as if the contagion might break out in the
audience, but the symptom passed.
There was just room on the teacher's little platform for Bonaventure
to seat his visitor a little at one side and stand behind his desk. The
fateful moment had come. The master stood nervously drawn up, bell in
hand. With a quick, short motion he gave it one tap, and set it down.
That, sir, is to designate attention! He waved a triumphant hand
toward the spectacle before them.
Perfect! murmured the stranger. A look of earnest ecstasy broke
out upon the master's face. He turned at first upon the audience and
then upon the school.
Chil'run, chil'run, he p'onounce you perfect! He turned
again upon the visitor, threw high his right hand, flirted it
violently, and cried:
At random! exclusively at random; state what class! at random!
II doubt if I under
Name any class, exclusively at random, and you shall see with what
promptness and quietude the chil'run shall take each one their exactly
Oh, I understand. You want me to designate
Any class! at yo' caprice.
Well, if you havethird class in geography.
Or spelling? cried Bonaventure, a momentary look of dismay giving
place to fresh enthusiasm.
YesspellI meant spelling.
Third spelling! The tongue of the bell fell with the emphasis, and
as silently as sleep the tiniest seven in the school, four pairs of
pantaloons, three of pantalettes, with seven of little bare feet at
their borders and seven of hands pointed down stiffly at their sides,
came out and stood a-row. The master turned to the visitor.
Now, commencing wherever, even at the foot if desired! ask, sir, if
you please, any English word of one syllable, of however difficult!
No matter how difficult?
Well, they are timid, as you see; advance by degrees.
Very well, then, said the visitor with much kindness of tone; I
will ask the little boy at this end
At the footbutstill, 'tis well. Onlyah, Crébiche! every thing
depend! Be prepared, Crébiche!
Yes, said the stranger; I will ask him to spell hoss.
The child drew himself up rigidly, pointed his stiffened fingers
down his thighs, rounded his pretty red mouth, and said slowly, in a
low, melodious, distinct voice:
'O-double eth, awth.
Bonaventure leapt from the platform and ran to the child.
Ah! mon p'tit garçonah! my lil boy! 'O-double eth,
listten, my chile. O, sir, he did not hear the word precisely. Listten,
my chile, to yo' teacher! remember that his honor and the school's
honor is in yo' spelling! He drew back a step, poised himself, and
gave the word. It came like an anchor-chain crashing through a
Or-r-r-r-rus-seh! And the child, winking at vacancy in the
intensity of his attention, spelled:
The breathless audience, leaning forward, read the visitor's
commendation in his face. Bonaventure, beaming upon him, extended one
arm, the other turned toward the child, and cried, shaking both hands
Another! another word! another to the same!
Mouse, said the stranger, and Bonaventure turned and cried:
Mah-ooseh! my nob'e lil boy! Mah-ooseh! and Crébiche, a speaking
Co'ect, my chile! And yet, sir, and yet, 'tis he that they call
Crébiche, because like the crawfish advancing backwardly. But to the
next! another word! another word!
The spelling, its excitements, its moments of agonizing suspense,
and its triumphs, went on. The second class is up. It spells in two,
even in three, syllables. Toutou is in it. He gets tremendously wrought
up; cannot keep two feet on the ground at once; spells fast when the
word is his; smiles in response to the visitor's smile, the only one
who dares; leans out and looks down the line with a knuckle in his
mouth as the spelling passes down; wrings one hand as his turn
approaches again; catches his word in mid-air and tosses it off, and
marks with ecstasy the triumph and pride written on the face of his
But, sir, cries Bonaventure, why consume the spelling-book? Give,
yourself, if you please, to Toutou, a word not therein comprise'. He
glanced around condescendingly upon the people of Grande Pointe.
Chat-oué is in a front seat. Toutou gathers himself for the spring, and
the stranger ponders a moment and then givesFlorida!
F-l-o, flo, warr-de-warr-da,Florida!
A smile broke from the visitor's face unbidden, but
Right! my chile! co'ect, Toutou! cried Bonaventure, running and
patting the little hero on the back and head by turns. Sir, let
usHe stopped short. The eyes of the house were on Chat-oué. He had
risen to his feet and made a gesture for the visitor's attention. As
the stranger looked at him he asked:
He spell dat las word r-i-i-ight? But the visitor with quiet
gravity said, Yes, that was all right; and a companion pulled the
Raccoon down into his seat again. Bonaventure resumed.
Sir, let us not exhoss the time with spelling! You shall now hear
The bell taps, the class retires; again, and the reading class is
up. They are the larger girls and boys. But before they begin the
master has a word for their fathers and mothers.
Friends and fellow-citizens of Gran' Point', think not at the
suppi-zing goodness of yo' chil'run' reading. 'Tis to this branch has
been given the largest attention and most as_sid_u'ty, so thus to
comprise puffection in the English tongue, whether speaking aw
otherwise. He turned to the stranger beside him. I am not satisfied
whilst the slightest accent of French is remaining. But you shall judge
if they read not as if in their own vernaculary. And you shall choose
The visitor waived the privilege, but Bonaventure gently insisted,
and he selected Jane Taylor's little poem, The Violet, glancing
across at Sidonie as he himself read out the first two lines:
Down in a green and shady bed
A modest violet grew.
Bonaventure proclaimed the title and page and said:
Claude, p'oceed! And Claude read:
'Dthee vyee-lit. Dah-oon-a hin hay grin and-a shad-y badeA
mo-dest-a vy-ee-lit gr[)o]oHits-a stallk whoz baint hit hawngg-a hits
hadeHas hif-a too hah-ed-a frawm ve-[)o]o. Hand h-yet it whoz a
lo-vly flow'rHits-a co-lors-a brah-eet and fair-aHeet maheet-a
h[=a]ve grass-ed a rozzy bow'rHeenstade-a hof hah-ee-dingg there
Stop! cried Bonaventure; stop! You pronounciate' a word
faultily! He turned to the visitor. I call not that a miss; but we
must inoculate the idea of puffection. So soon the sly-y-test
misp'onounciating I pass to the next. He turned again: Next! And a
black-haired girl began in a higher key, and very slowly:
Yate there eet whoz cawntaint-a too bulloomHeen mo-dest-a teent
z-arrayedAnd there-a heet sprade-a heets swit pre-fume-aWhit-hin
thee sy-y-lent-a shade
Stop! Not that you mistook, but'tis enough. Sir, will you give
yourself the pain to tellnot for my sake or reputation, but to the
encouragement of the chil'run, and devoid flatterywhat is yo' opinion
of that specimen of reading? Not t'oubling you, but, in two or three
word' onlyif you will give yo'self the pain
Why, certainly; I think it isI can hardly find wordsit's
remarkable. Bonaventure started with joy.
Chil'run, do you hear? Remawkable! But do you not detect no
slightno small faultiness of p'onounciating?
No, not the slightest; I smile, but I was thinking of something
else. The visitor's eye, wandering a trifle, caught Chat-oué giving
him one black look that removed his disposition to smile, yet he
insisted, No, sir; I can truthfully say I never heard such a
pronunciation. The audience drank his words.
Sir, cried the glad preceptor, 'tis toil have p'oduce it! Toil of
the teacher, in_dust_ry of the chil'run! But it has p'oduce' beside! Sir, lookthat school! Since one year commencing the A B Cand now
spelling word' of eight syllabl'!
Not this school?
Sir, you shall seeor, more p'operly, hear. First spelling!
Yes, said the stranger, seeing Sidonie rise, I'd like to hear
that class; and felt Chat-oué looking at him again.
CHAPTER XI. LIGHT, LOVE, AND
The bell tapped, and they came forth to battle. There was the line,
there was the leader. The great juncture of the day was on him. Was not
here the State's official eye? Did not victory hover overhead? His
reserve, the darling regiment, the flower of his army, was dressing for
the final charge. There was Claude. Next him, Sidonie!and Étienne,
and Madelaine, Henri and Marcelline,all waiting for the wordthe
wordsof eight syllables! Supreme moment! Would any betray? Banish the
thought! Would any fail?
He waited an instant while two or three mothers bore out great
armfuls of slumbering or fretting infancy and a number of young men
sank down into the vacated chairs. Then he stepped down from the
platform, drew back four or five yards from the class, opened the
spelling-book, scanned the first word, closed the book with his finger
at the place, lifted it high above his head, and cried:
Claude! Claude, my brave scholar, always perfect, ah you ready? He
gave the little book a half whirl round, and dashed forward toward the
chosen scholar, crying as he came:
Claude's face suddenly set in a stony vacancy, and with his eyes
staring straight before him he responded:
I-n, in-, e, inerad-, r-a-d, rad-, inerad-, ineraddy-, ineradica-,
c-a, ca, ineradica-, ineradicabili-, b-i-elly-billy, ineradicabili-,
ineradicabili-, t-y, ty, ineradicability.
Right! Claude, my boy! my always good scholar, right! The master
drew back to his starting-place as he spoke, re-opened the book, shut
it again, lifted it high in air, cried, Madelaine, my dear chile,
prepare! whirled the book and rushed upon her with
Madelaine turned to stone and began:
I-n, een, d-e, de-, inde-, indefat-, indefatfatf-a-t, fat,
indefat, indefatty, i, ty, indefati-, indefatiga-, g-a, ga,
indefatiga-, indefatigabilly, b-i-elly, billy, indefatigabili-, t-y,
O, Madelaine, my chile, you make yo' teacher proud! prah-ood, my
chile! Bonaventure's hand rested a moment tenderly on her head as he
looked first toward the audience and then toward the stranger. Then he
drew off for the third word. He looked at it twice before he called it.
Sidonie! ah! Sidonie, be ready! be prepared! fail not yo' humble
school-teacher! In-comHe looked at the word a third time, and then
swept down upon her:
Sidonie flinched not nor looked upon him, as he hung over her with
the spelling-book at arm's-reach above them; yet the pause that
followed seemed to speak dismay, and throughout the class there was a
silent recoil from something undiscovered by the master. But an instant
later Sidonie had chosen between the two horns of her agonizing
dilemma, and began:
I-n, een, c-o-m, cawm, eencawm, eencawmpre, p-r-e, pre, eencawmpre,
eencawmprehen, prehen, haich-e-n, hen, hen, eencawmprehensi, s-i, si,
Ah! Sidonie! Stop! Arretez! Si-do-nie-e-e-e! Oh! listen
écoutez Sidonie, my dear! The master threw his arms up and down
in distraction, then suddenly faced his visitor, Sir, it was my blame!
I spoke the word without adequate distinction! Sidoniemaintenant
now! But a voice in the audience interrupted with
Assoiez-vous la, Chat-oué! Seet down yondeh! And at the
potent voice of Maximian Roussel the offender was pushed silently into
the seat he had risen from, and Bonaventure gave the word again.
In-com-pre-hen-si-ca-bil-i-ty! And Sidonie, blushing like fire,
returned to the task:
I-n, eenShe bit her lip and trembled.
Right! Right! Tremble not, my Sidonie! fear naught! yo'
loving school-teacher is at thy side! But she trembled like a red leaf
as she spelled onHaich-e-n, hen, eencawmprehen, eencawmprehensi,
s-i, si, eencawmprehensi-, eencawmprehensi-billy-t-y, ty,
The master dropped his hands and lifted his eyes in speechless
despair. As they fell again upon Sidonie, her own met them. She moaned,
covered her face in her hands, burst into tears, ran to her desk and
threw her hands and face upon it, shaking with noiseless sobs and
burning red to the nape of her perfect neck. All Grande Pointe rose to
Lost! cried Bonaventure in a heart-broken voice. Every thing
lost! Farewell, chil'run! He opened his arms toward them and with one
dash all the lesser ones filled them. They wept. Tears welled from
Bonaventure's eyes; and the mothers of Grande Pointe dropped again into
their seats and silently added theirs.
The next moment all eyes were on Maximian. His strong figure was
mounted on a chair, and he was making a gentle, commanding gesture with
one hand as he called:
Seet down! Seet down, all han'! And all sank down, Bonaventure in
a mass of weeping and clinging children. 'Mian too resumed his seat, at
the same time waving to the stranger to speak.
My friends, said the visitor, rising with alacrity, I say when a
man makes a bargain, he ought to stick to it! He paused for themas
many as couldto take in the meaning of his English speech, and, it
may be, expecting some demonstration of approval; but dead silence
reigned, all eyes on him save Bonaventure's and Sidonie's. He began
A bargain's a bargain! And Chat-oué nodded approvingly and began
to say audibly, Yass; but 'Mian thundered out:
Taise toi, Chat-oué! Shot op! And the silence was again
complete, while the stranger resumed.
There was a plain bargain made. He moved a step forward and laid
the matter off on the palm of his hand. There was to be an
examination; the school was not to know; but if one scholar should make
one mistake the schoolhouse was to be closed and the schoolmaster sent
away. Well, there's been a mistake made, and I say a bargain's a
bargain. Dead silence still. The speaker looked at 'Mian. Do you
think they understand me?
Dey meck out, said 'Mian, and shut his firm jaws.
My friends, said the stranger once more, some people think
education's a big thing, and some think it ain't. Well, sometimes it is
and sometimes it ain't. Now, here's this manhe pointed down to where
Bonaventure's dishevelled crown was drooping to his kneesclaims to
have taught over thirty of your children to read. Well, what of it? A
man can know how to read, and be just as no account as he was before.
He brags that he's taught them to talk English. Well, what does that
prove? A man might speak English and starve to death. He claims,
I am told, to have taught some of them to write. But I know a man in
the penitentiary that can write; he wrote too much.
Bonaventure had lifted his head and was sitting with his eyes upon
the speaker in close attention. At this last word he said:
Ah! sir! too true, too true ah yo' words; nevertheless, their
cooelty! 'Tis not what is print' in the books, but what you
learn through the books!
Yes; and so you hadn't never ought to have made the bargain you
made; but, my friends, a bargain's a bargain, and the teacher'sHe
paused invitingly, and an answer came from the audience. It was Catou
who rose and said:
Naw, sah. Naw; he don't got to go! But again 'Mian thundered:
Taise toi, Catou. Shot op!
I say, continued the stranger, the mistake's been made. Three
mistakes have been made!
Yass! roared Chat-oué, leaping to his feet and turning upon the
assemblage a face fierce with triumph. Suspense and suspicions were
past now; he was to see his desire on his enemy. But instantly a dozen
men were on their feetSt. Pierre, Catou, Bonaventure himself, with a
countenance full of pleading deprecation, and even Claude, flushed with
Naw, sah! Naw, sah! Waun meesteck?
Seet down, all han'! yelled 'Mian; all han' seet dah-oon! Only
Chat-oué took his seat, glancing upon the rest with the exultant look
of one who can afford to yield ground.
The first mistake, resumed the stranger, addressing himself
especially to the risen men still standing, and pointedly to Catou,
the first mistake was in the kind of bargain you made. He ceased, and
passed his eyes around from one to another until they rested an instant
on the bewildered countenance of Chat-oué. Then he turned again upon
the people, who had sat down, and began to speak with the exultation of
a man that feels his subject lifting him above himself.
I came out here to show up that man as a fraud. But what do I find?
A poor, unpaid, half-starved man that loves his thankless work better
than his life, teaching what not one schoolmaster in a thousand can
teach; teaching his whole school four better things than were ever
printed in any school-book,how to study, how to think, how to value
knowledge, and to love one another and mankind. What you'd ought to
have done was to agree that such a school should keep open, and such a
teacher should stay, if jest one, one lone child should answer one
single book-question right! But as I said before, a bargain's a
bargainHold on there! Sit down! You sha'n't interrupt me again! Men
were standing up on every side. There was confusion and a loud buzz of
voices. The second mistake, the stranger made haste to cry, was
thinking the teacher gave out that last word right. He gave it wrong!
And the third mistake, he shouted against the rising commotion, was
thinking it was spelt wrong. She spelt it right! And a bargain's
a bargain! The schoolmaster stays!
He could say no more; the rumble of voices suddenly burst into a
cheer. The women and children laughed and clapped their hands,Toutou
his feet also,and Bonaventure, flirting the leaves of a spelling book
till he found the place, looked, criedIn-com-pre-hen-sibility! wheeled and dashed upon Sidonie, seized her hands in his as she
turned to fly, and gazed speechlessly upon her, with the tears running
down his face. Feeling a large hand upon his shoulder, he glanced
around and saw 'Mian pointing him to his platform and desk. Thither he
went. The stranger had partly restored order. Every one was in his
place. But what a change! What a gay flutter throughout the old shed!
Bonaventure seemed to have bathed in the fountain of youth. Sidonie,
once more the school's queen-flower, sat calm, with just a trace of
tears adding a subtle something to her beauty.
Chil'run, beloved chil'run, said Bonaventure, standing once more
by his desk, yo' school-teacher has the blame of the sole mistake;
and, sir, gladly, oh, gladly, sir, would he always have the blame
rather than any of his beloved school-chil'run! Sir, I will boldly ask
youah you not the State Sup'inten'ent Public Education?
But surely, sir, than a greater?Yes, I discover it, though you
smile. Chil'runfriendsnot the State Sup'inten'ent, but
greater!Pardon; have yo' chair, sir.
Why, the examination's over, isn't it? Guess you'd better call it
finished, hadn't you? He made the suggestion softly, but Bonaventure
Figu'atively speaking, 'tis conclude'; butpardonyou mention'
writing. Shall you paht f'om us not knownnot leaving yo' namein a
copy-book, for examp'?
With pleasure. You do teach writing?
If I teach writing? To such with desks, yes. 'Twould be to all but
for the privation of desks. You perceive how we have here nothing less
than a desk famine. Madelaine! Claude! Sidonie!present copy-book'!
Sir, do you not think every chile should be provided a desk?Ah! I
knew 'twould be yo' verdic'. But how great trouble I have with that
subjec'! Me, I think yes; but the parents,he looked tenderly over
among them,they contend no. Now, sir, here are three copy-books.
Inspect; criticise. No, commence rather, if you please, with the
copy-book of Madelaine; then p'oceed to the copy-book of Claude,
and finally conclude at the copy-book of Sidonie; thus rising by
degrees: good, more good, most good.
How about, asked the stranger, with a smile, as he turned the
leaves, about Toutou and Crébiche; don't they write?
Ah! sir, said Bonaventure, half to the stranger and half to the
assemblage, they write, yes; butthey ah yet in the pot-hook and
chicken-track stage. And now, chil'run, in honor of our eminent
friend's visitation, and of the excellence with which you have been
examine', I p'onounce the exhibition finish'dispensing with
'Twink', twink' lil stah.' And now, in the book of the best writing
scholar in the schoolyou, sir, deciding that intricacyshall now be
written the name of the eminent frien' of learning hereinbefo'
confronting.Claude! a new pen!
The stranger made his choice among the books.
Chil'run, he has select' the book of Sidonie! Bonaventure reached
and swung a chair into place at his desk. The visitor sat down.
Bonaventure stood over him, gazing down at the hand that poised the
pen. The silence was profound.
Chil'runsh-sh-sh! said the master, lifting his left arm but not
his eyes. The stranger wrote a single initial.
G! chil'run; G!Sir, does it not signify George?
Yes, murmured the writer; it stands for George. He wrote
W! my chil'run; George W!Sir, does it not sigMy
chil'run! George Washington! George Washington, my chil'run! George
Washington, the father of his country! My chil'run and fellow-citizen'
of Gran' Point', he is nominated for George Washington, the father of
his country! Sir, ah you not a relation?
I really can't tell you, said the writer, with a calm smile. I've
always been too busy to look it up. He finished his signature as he
talked. Bonaventure bent over it.
Tar-box. Chil'run and friends and fellow-citizen', I have the
p'oudness to int'oduce you the hono'able George Washington Tarbox! And
now the exhibition is dismiss'; but stop! Sir, if someaw alldesire
gratefully to shake hand'?
I should feel honored.
Attention, everybody! Make rank! Everybody by two by two, the
school-chil'run coming last,Claude and Sidonie resting till the
end,pass 'roundshake hand'walk outsimilah a fu-nial.
So came, shook hands, and passed out and to their simple homes, the
manhood, motherhood, maidenhood, childhood of Grande Pointe, not
knowing that before many days every household in the village was to be
a subscriber to the Album of Universal Information.
One of the last of the householders was Chat-oué. But when he
grasped the honored hand, he also held it, fixing upon its owner a
generous and somewhat bacchanalian smile.
I'm a fool, but I know. You been put op a jawb on me. Dass
four, five days now I been try to meck out what dat niggah at Belle
Alliance holla to me when I gallop down de road. (Chat-oué's English
had been acquired from negroes in the sugar-house, and was like
theirs.) He been braggin' dat day befo'turning to Bonaventurehow
'twas him show you de road to Gran' Point' las' year; and so I git mad
and tell him, me, addressing the stranger again, how we goin' git
school shot op. Well, dat night I mit him comin' fum Gran' Point' and
he hol' at me. I been try evva since meck out what he say. Yass. An' I
jis meck it out! He say, 'Watch out, watch out, 'Mian Roussel and
dat book-fellah dawn't put op jawb on you.' Well, I'm a fool,
but I know. You put op jawb on me; I know. But dass all rightI
don't take no book. He laughed with the rest, scratched his tipsy
head, and backed out through the pieux.
Only a fairy number remained, grouped around the honorable Tarbox.
They were St. Pierre, Bonaventure,Maximian detaining a middle-aged
pair, Sidonie's timorous guardians,and two others, who held back,
still waiting to shake hands.
Claude, cried Bonaventure; Sidonie.
They came. Claude shook hands and stepped inside. Sidonie, with eyes
on the ground, put forth her hand. The honored guest held it
lingeringly, and the ceremonies were at an end.
Come, said 'Mian, beckoning away the great G. W.'s probable
relative. They passed out together. Come! he repeated, looking back
and beckoning again; walk een! all han'! walk een house!
The guardian pair followed, hand in hand.
Claude, said Bonaventure tenderly; but
Claude, more firmly said St. Pierre.
The boy looked for one instant from the master's face to Sidonie's;
then turned, grasped his father's hand, and followed the others.
A blaze of light filled Bonaventure's heart. He turned to Sidonie to
give his handboth her hands were clasped upon each other, and they
only tightened. But their eyes metah! those Acadian maidens, they do
it all with their eyes!and lover and maiden passed out and walked
forth side by side. They are going that way still, onlywith hands
CHAPTER I. THE POT-HUNTER.
The sun was just rising, as a man stepped from his slender dug-out
and drew half its length out upon the oozy bank of a pretty bayou.
Before him, as he turned away from the water, a small gray
railway-platform and frame station-house, drowsing on long legs in the
mud and water, were still veiled in the translucent shade of the deep
cypress swamp, whose long moss drapings almost overhung them on the
side next the brightening dawn. The solemn gray festoons did overhang
the farthest two or three of a few flimsy wooden houses and a saw-mill
with its lumber, logs, and sawdust, its cold furnace and idle engine.
As with gun and game this man mounted by a short, rude ladder to
firmer footing on the platform, a negro, who sat fishing for his
breakfast on the bank a few yards up the stream, where it bent from the
north and west, slowly lifted his eyes, noted that the other was a
white man, an Acadian, and brought his gaze back again to hook and
He had made out these facts by the man's shape and dress, for the
face was in shade. The day, I say, was still in its genesis. The waters
that slid so languidly between the two silent men as not to crook one
line of the station-house's image inverted in their clear dark depths,
had not yet caught a beam upon their whitest water-lily, nor yet upon
their tallest bulrush; but the tops of the giant cypresses were green
and luminous, and as the Acadian glanced abroad westward, in the open
sky far out over the vast marshy breadths of the shaking prairie,
two still clouds, whose under surfaces were yet dusky and pink,
sparkled on their sunward edges like a frosted fleece. You could not
have told whether the Acadian saw the black man or not. His dog, soiled
and wet, stood beside his knee, pricked his ears for a moment at sight
of the negro, and then dropped them.
 The shaking prairie, trembling prairie, or
prairie tremblante, is low, level, treeless delta
land, having a top soil of vegetable mould overlying
immense beds of quicksand.
It was September. The comfortable air could only near by be seen to
stir the tops of the high reeds whose crowding myriads stretched away
south, west, and north, an open sea of green, its immense distances
relieved here and there by strips of swamp forest tinged with their
peculiar purple haze. Eastward the railroad's long causeway and
telegraph-poles narrowed on the view through its wide axe-hewn lane in
the overtowering swamp. New Orleans, sixty miles or more away, was in
that direction. Westward, rails, causeway, and telegraph, tapered away
again across the illimitable hidden quicksands of the trembling
prairie till the green disguise of reeds and rushes closed in upon the
attenuated line, and only a small notch in a far strip of woods showed
where it still led on toward Texas. Behind the Acadian the smoke of
woman's early industry began to curl from two or three low chimneys.
But his eye lingered in the north. He stood with his dog curled at
his feet beside a bunch of egrets,killed for their plumage,the butt
of his long fowling-piece resting on the platform, and the arm half
outstretched whose hand grasped the barrels near the muzzle. The hand,
toil-hardened and weather-browned, showed, withal, antiquity of race.
His feet were in rough muddy brogans, but even so they were smallish
and shapely. His garments were coarse, but there were no tatters
anywhere. He wore a wide Campeachy hat. His brown hair was too long,
but it was fine. His eyes, too, were brown, and, between brief moments
of alertness, sedate. Sun and wind had darkened his face, and his pale
brown beard curled meagre and untrimmed on a cheek and chin that in
forty years had never felt a razor.
Some miles away in the direction in which he was looking, the
broadening sunlight had struck and brightened the single red lug-sail
of a boat whose unseen hull, for all the eye could see, was coming
across the green land on a dry keel. But the bayou, hidden in the tall
rushes, was its highway; for suddenly the canvas was black as it turned
its shady side, and soon was red again as another change of direction
caught the sunbeams upon its tense width and showed that, with much
more wind out there than it would find by and by in here under the lee
of the swamp, it was following the unseen meanderings of the stream.
Presently it reached a more open space where a stretch of the water lay
shining in the distant view. Here the boat itself came into sight,
showed its bunch of some half-dozen passengers for a minute or two, and
vanished again, leaving only its slanting red sail skimming
nautilus-like over the vast breezy expanse.
Yet more than two hours later the boat's one blue-shirted, barefoot
Sicilian sailor in red worsted cap had with one oar at the stern just
turned her drifting form into the glassy calm by the railway-station,
tossed her anchor ashore, and was still busy with small matters of
boat-keeping, while his five passengers clambered to the platform.
The place showed somewhat more movement now. The negro had long ago
wound his line upon its crooked pole, gathered up his stiffened fishes
from the bank, thrust them into the pockets of his shamelessly ragged
trousers, and was gone to his hut in the underbrush. But the few
amphibious households round about were passing out and in at the
half-idle tasks of their slow daily life, and a young white man was
bustling around, now into the station and now out again upon the
platform, with authority in his frown and a pencil and two matches
behind his ear. It was Monday. Two or three shabby negroes with broad,
collapsed, glazed leather travelling-bags of the old carpet-sack
pattern dragged their formless feet about, waiting to take the train
for the next station to hire out there as rice harvesters, and one,
with his back turned, leaned motionless against an open window gazing
in upon the ticking telegraph instruments. A black woman in blue cotton
gown, red-and-yellow Madras turban, and some sportsman's cast-off
hunting-shoes minus the shoe-strings, crouched against the wall. Beside
her stood her shapely mulatto daughter, with head-covering of white
cotton cloth, in which female instinct had discovered the lines of
grace and disposed them after the folds of the Egyptian fellah
headdress. A portly white man, with decided polish in his commanding
air, evidently a sugar-planter from the Mississippi coast ten miles
northward, moved about in spurred boots, and put personal questions to
the negroes, calling them boys, and the mulattress, girl.
The pot-hunter was still among them; or rather, he had drawn apart
from the rest, and stood at the platform's far end, leaning on his gun,
an innocent, wild-animal look in his restless eyes, and a slumberous
agility revealed in his strong, supple loins. The station-agent went to
him, and with abrupt questions and assertions, to which the man replied
in low, grave monosyllables, bought his game,as he might have done
two hours before, butan Acadian can wait. There was some trouble to
make exact change, and the agent, saying Hold on, I'll fix it, went
into the station just as the group from the Sicilian's boat reached the
platform. The agent came bustling out again with his eyes on his palm,
counting small silver.
Here! But he spoke to the empty air. He glanced about with an
Achille! There was no reply. He turned to one of the negroes:
Where's that 'Cajun? Nobody knew. Down where his canoe had lain, tiny
rillets of muddy water were still running into its imprint left in the
mire; but canoe, dog, and man had vanished into the rank undergrowth of
CHAPTER II. CLAUDE.
Of the party that had come in the Sicilian's boat four were men and
one a young woman. She was pretty; so pretty, and of such restful
sweetness of countenance, that the homespun garb, the brand-new
creaking gaiters, and a hat that I dare not describe were nothing
against her. Her large, soft, dark eyes, more sweetly but not less
plainly than the attire, confessed her a denizen of the woods.
Not so the man who seemed to be her husband. His dress was rustic
enough; and yet you would have seen at once that it was not the outward
circumstance, but an inward singularity, that had made him and must
always keep him a stranger to the ordinary ways of men. There was an
emotional exaltation in his face as he hastily led his companions with
military directness to the ticket window. Two others of the men were
evidently father and son, the son barely twenty years of age, the
parent certainly not twice as old; and the last of the group was a
strong, sluggish man of years somewhat near, but under, fifty.
They bought but one ticket; but, as one may say, they all bought it,
the youngest extricating its price with difficulty from the knotted
corner of his red handkerchief, and the long, thin hand of the leader
making the purchase, while the eyes of the others followed every
movement with unconscious absorption.
The same unemotional attentiveness was in their forms as their slow
feet drifted here and there always after the one leader, their eyes on
his demonstrative hands, and their ears drinking in his discourse. He
showed them the rails of the track, how smooth they were, how they
rested on their cross-ties, and how they were spiked in place always
the same width apart. They crowded close about him at the
telegraph-window while he interpreted with unconscious originality the
wonders of electricity. Their eyes rose slowly from the window up and
out along the ascending wires to where they mounted the poles and
eastward and westward leaped away sinking and rising from insulator to
insulator. One of the party pointed at these green dots of glass and
murmured a question, and the leader's wife laid her small hand softly
upon his arm to check the energy of his utterance as he said, audibly
to all on the platform, and with a strong French accent:
They?are there lest the heat of the telegraph fluid inflame the
post-es! He laid his own hand tenderly upon his wife's in response to
its warning pressure, yet turned to the sugar-planter and asked:
Sir, pardon; do I not explain truly?
The planter, with restrained smile, was about to reply, when some
one called, There she comes! and every eye was turned to the east.
Truly! exclaimed the inquirer, in a voice made rich with emotion.
Truly, she comes! She comes! The iron horse, though they call him
'she'! He turned to the planterAh! sir, why say they thus many or
thus many horse-power, when trulyhis finger-tip pattered upon his
templetruly it is mind-power!
The planter, smiling decorously, turned away, and the speaker looked
again down the long vacant track to where the small dark focus of every
one's attention was growing on the sight. He spoke again, in lower
voice but with larger emotion.
Mind-power! thought-power! knowledge-power! learning and thinking
power! He caught his wife's arm. See! see, Sidonie, my dear! See her
enhancing in magnitude so fastly approaching! As he spoke a puff of
white vapor lifted from the object and spread out against the blue, the
sunbeams turned it to silver and pearl, and a moment later came the
far-away, long, wild scream of the locomotive.
Retire! exclaimed the husband, drawing back all his gazing
companions at once. Retire! retire! the whisttel is to signify warning
to retire from too close the edge of the galérie! There! rest at this
point. 'Tis far enough. Now, each and all resolve to stand and shrink
not whilst that iron mare, eating coal, drinking hot water, and
spitting fire, shall seem, but falsely, threatening to come on the
platform. Ah! Claude! he cried to the youngest of the group, now
shall you behold what I have told youthat vast am-azement of
civilize-ation anni-high-lating space and also time at the tune
of twenty miles the hour! He wheeled upon the planterSir, do I
Forty miles, replied the planter; sometimes fifty.
Friends,confirmated! more than twicefold confirmated. Forty,
sometimes fifty! Thou heardest it, Maximian Roussel! Not from me, but
from the gentleman himself! Forty, sometimes fifty! Such the march, the
forward march of civilize-ation!
His words were cut short by the unearthly neigh of the engine.
Sidonie smote herself backward against her husband.
Nay, Sidonie, fear thou nothing! Remember, dear Sidonie, thy
promise of self-control! Stand boldly still, St. Pierre; both father
and son, stand. The speaker was unheard. Hissing, clanging,
thundering, and shaking the earth, the engine and train loomed up to
the platform and stopped.
Come! cried Bonaventure Deschamps; lose no moment, dear friends.
Tide and timeeven less the railroadwait for nobody. Claude,
remember; give your ticket of passage to none save the conductor only.
'Tis print' in letter' of gold on front his cap'Conductor'Stop! he
is here.Sir, this young man, inexperienced, is taking passage for
Shoot him aboard, replied a uniformed man, and walked on without a
pause. Claude moved toward the train. Bonaventure seized him by both
arms and gazed on him.
Claude St. Pierre! Claude, my boy, pride of Grande Pointe, second
only with Sidonie, farewell!
Tears leaped into the eyes of both. Bonaventure snatched Claude to
his arms and kissed him. It was less than nothing to him that every eye
on and off the train was on them. He relaxed his grasp. Sidonie! tell
him farewell!ah! nay! shake not hands only! Kiss her, Claude! Kiss
him, my own Sidonie, kiss him farewell!
It was done. Claude blushed red, and Sidonie stepped back, wiping
her eyes. Maximian moved into the void, and smiling gave his hand to
the young adventurer.
Adjieu, Claude. He waved a hand awkwardly. Teck care you'seff,
and dropped the hand audibly against his thigh.
Claude's eye sought his father. St. Pierre pressed forward, laid his
right hand upon his son's shoulder, and gazed into his face. His voice
was low and husky. He smiled.
Claude,tears rose in his eyes, but he swallowed them
down,Claude,my baby,and the flood came. The engine-bell rang.
The conductor gave the warning word, the youth leaped upon his father's
neck. St. Pierre thrust him off, caught his two cheeks between
fluttering palms and kissed him violently; the train moved, the young
man leaped aboard, the blue uniforms disappeared, save one on the rear
platform, the bell ceased, the gliding mass shrunk and dwindled away,
the rails clicked more and more softly, the tearful group drew closer
together as they gazed after the now-unheard train. It melted to a
point and disappeared, the stillness of forest and prairie fell again
upon the place, the soaring sun shone down, and Claude St. Pierre was
gone to seek his fortune.
CHAPTER III. THE TAVERN FIRESIDE.
I call to mind a certain wild, dark night in November. St. Pierre
lay under his palmetto thatch in the forest behind Grande Pointe, and
could not sleep for listening to the wind, and wondering where his son
was, in that wild Texas norther. On the Mississippi a steamer, upward
bound, that had whistled to land at Belmont or Belle Alliance
plantation, seemed to be staying there afraid to venture away. Miles
southward beyond the river and the lands on that side, Lake des
Allemands was combing with the tempest and hissing with the rain. Still
farther away, on the little bayou and at the railway-station in the
edge of the swamp that we already know, and westward over the prairie
where Claude had vanished into the world, all life was hidden and mute.
And farther still, leagues and leagues away, the mad tempest was riding
the white-caps in Berwick's Bay and Grande Lake; and yet beyond, beyond
New Iberia, and up by Carancro, and around again by St. Martinville,
Breaux Bridge, Grand Coteau, and Opelousas, and down once more across
the prairies of Vermilion, the marshes about Côte Blanche Bay, and the
islands in the Gulf, it came bounding, screaming, and buffeting. And
all the way across that open sweep from Mermentau to Côte Gelée it was
tearing the rain to mist and freezing it wherever it fell, only lulling
and warming a little about Joseph Jefferson's Island, as if that prank
were too mean a trick to play upon his orange-groves.
In Vermilionville the wind came around every corner piercing and
pinching to the bone. The walking was slippery; and though it was still
early bedtime and the ruddy lamp-light filled the wet panes of some
window every here and there, scarce a soul was stirring without, on
horse or afoot, to be guided by its kindly glow.
At the corner of two streets quite away from the court-house square,
a white frame tavern, with a wooden Greek porch filling its whole
two-story front and a balcony built within the porch at the
second-story windows in oddest fashion, was glowing with hospitable
firelight. It was not nearly the largest inn of the place, nor the
oldest, nor the newest, nor the most accessible. There was no clink of
glass there. Yet in this, only third year of its present management, it
was the place where those who knew best always put up.
Around the waiting-room fire this evening sat a goodly semicircle of
men,commercial travellers. Some of them were quite dry and
comfortable, and wore an air of superior fortune over others whose
shoes and lower garments sent out more or less steam and odor toward
the open fireplace. Several were smoking. One who neither smoked nor
steamed stood with his back to the fire and the skirts of his coat
lifted forward on his wrists. He was a rather short, slight, nervy man,
about thirty years of age, with a wide pink baldness running so far
back from his prominent temples and forehead that when he tipped his
face toward the blue joists overhead, enjoying the fatigue of a
well-filled day, his polished skull sent back the firelight
brilliantly. There was a light skirmish of conversation going on, in
which he took no part. No one seemed really acquainted with another.
Presently a man sitting next on the left of him put away a quill
toothpick in his watch-pocket, looked up into the face of the standing
man, and said, with a faint smile:
That job's done!
With friendly gravity the other looked down and replied, I never
use a quill toothpick.
Yes, said the one who sat, it's bad. Still I do it.
Nothing, continued the other,nothing harder than a sharpened
white-pine match should ever go between the teeth. Brush thoroughly but
not violently once or twice daily with a moderately stiff brush dipped
in soft water into which has been dropped a few drops of the tincture
of myrrh. A brush of badger's hair is best. If tartar accumulates, have
it removed by a dentist. Do not bite thread or crack nuts with the
teeth, or use the teeth for other purposes than those for which nature
designed them. He bent toward his hearer with a smile of irresistible
sweetness, drew his lips away from his gums, snapped his teeth together
loudly twice or thrice, and smiled again, modestly. The other man
sought defence in buoyancy of manner.
Right you are! he chirruped. He reached up to his adviser's blue
and crimson neck-scarf, and laid his finger and thumb upon a large,
solitary pear-shaped pearl. You're like me; you believe in the real
I do, said the pearl's owner; and I like people that like the
real thing. A pearl of the first water is real. There's no sham
there; no deceptionexcept the iridescence, which is, as you doubtless
know, an optical illusion attributable to the intervention of rays of
light reflected from microscopic corrugations of the nacreous surface.
But for that our eye is to blame, not the pearl. See?
The seated man did not reply; but another man on the speaker's
right, a large man, widest at the waist, leaned across the arm of his
chair to scrutinize the jewel. Its owner turned his throat for the
inspection, despite a certain grumness and crocodilian aggressiveness
in the man's interest.
I like a diamond, myself, said the new on-looker, dropped back in
his chair, and met the eyes of the pearl's owner with a heavy glance.
Tastes differ, kindly responded the wearer of the pearl. Are you
acquainted with the language of gems?
The big-waisted man gave a negative grunt, and spat bravely into the
fire. Didn't know gems could talk, he said.
They do not talk, they speak, responded their serene interpreter.
The company in general noticed that, with all his amiability of tone
and manner, his mild eyes held the big-waisted man with an
uncomfortable steadiness. They speak not to the ear, but to the eye
and to the thought:
'Thought is deeper than all speech;
Feeling deeper than all thought;
Souls to souls can never teach
What unto themselves was taught.'
The speaker's victim writhed, but the riveted gaze and an uplifted
finger pinioned him. You should knowevery one should knowthe
language of gems. There is a language of flowers:
'To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.'
But the language of gems is as much more important than that of
flowers as the imperishable gem is itself more enduring than the
withering, the evanescent blossom. A gentleman may not with safety
present to a lady a gem of whose accompanying sentiment he is ignorant.
But with the language of gems understood between them, how could a
sentiment be more exquisitely or more acceptably expressed than by the
gift of a costly gem uttering that sentiment with an unspoken
eloquence! Did you but know the language of gems, your choice would not
be the diamond. 'Diamond me no diamonds,' emblems of pride
'Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
I see the lords of humankind pass by.'
Your choice would have been the pearl, symbol of modest loveliness.
'Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;'
'Orient pearls at random strung;'
'Fold, little trembler, thy fluttering wing,
Freely partake of love's fathomless spring;
So hallowed thy presence, the spirit within
Hath whispered, The angels protect thee from sin.'
The speaker ceased, with his glance hovering caressingly over the
little trembler with fluttering wing, that is, the big-waisted man. The
company sat in listening expectancy; and the big-waisted man, whose
eyes had long ago sought refuge in the fire, lifted them and said,
satirically, Go on, at the same time trying to buy his way out with a
It's your turn, quickly responded the jewel's owner, with
something droll in his manner that made the company laugh at the
other's expense. The big-waisted man kindled, then smiled again, and
Was that emblem of modest loveliness give' to you symbolically, or
did you present it to yourself?
I took it for a debt, replied the wearer, bowing joyously.
Ah! said the other. Well, I s'pose it was either that or her
Thanks, yes. There was a pause, and then the pearl's owner spoke
on. Strange fact. That was years ago. And yethe fondled his gem
with thumb and finger and tender glanceyou're the first man I've met
to whom I could sincerely and symbolically present it, and you don't
want it. I'm sorry.
I see, said the big-waisted man, glaring at him.
So do I, responded the pearl's owner. A smile went round, and the
company sat looking into the fire. Outside the wind growled and
scolded, shook and slapped the house, and thrashed it with the rain. A
man sitting against the chimney said:
If this storm keeps on six hours longer I reduce my estimate of the
cotton-crop sixty-five thousand bales. But no one responded; and as
the importance died out of his face he dropped his gaze into the fire
with a pretence of deep meditation. Presently another, a good-looking
young fellow, said:
Well, gents, I never cared much for jewelry. But I like a nice
scarf-pin; it's nobby. And I like a handsome seal-ring. He drew one
from a rather chubby finger, and passed it to his next neighbor,
following it with his eyes, and adding: That's said to be a real
intaglio. Butnow, one thing I don't like, that's to see a lady wear a
quantity of diamond rings outside of her glove, and heavy gold chains,
andHe was interrupted. A long man, with legs stiffened out to the
fire, lifted a cigar between two fingers, sent a soft jet of smoke into
the air, and began monotonously:
'Chains on a Southern woman? Chains?'
I know the lady that wrote that piece. He suddenly gathered himself
up for some large effort. I can't recite it as she used to, butAnd
to the joy of all he was interrupted.
Gentlemen, said one, throwing a cigarette stump into the fire,
that brings up the subject of the war. By the by, do you know what
that war cost the Government of the United States? He glanced from one
to another until his eye reached the wearer of the pearl, who had faced
about, and stood now, with the jewel glistening in the firelight, and
who promptly said:
Yes; how much?
Well, said the first questioner with sudden caution, I may be
mistaken, but I've heard that it cost sixI think they say
sixbillion dollars. Didn't it?
It did, replied the other, with a smile of friendly commendation;
it cost six billion, one hundred and eighty-nine million, nine hundred
and twenty-nine thousand, nine hundred and eight dollars. The largest
item is interest; one billion, seven hundred and one million, two
hundred and fifty-six thousand, one hundred and ninety-eight dollars,
forty-two cents. The next largest, the pay of troops; the next,
clothing the army. If there's any item of the war's expenses you would
like to know, ask me. Capturing president Confederate
Statesninety-seven thousand and thirty-one dollars, three cents. The
speaker's manner grew almost gay. The other smiled defensively, and
You've got a good memory for sta-stistics. I haven't; and yet I
always did like sta-stistics. I'm no sta-stitian, and yet if I had the
time sta-stistics would be my favorite study; I s'pose it's yours.
The wearer of the pearl shook his head. No. But I like it. I like
the style of mind that likes it. The two bowed with playful
graciousness to each other. Yes, I do. And I've studied it, some
little. I can tell you the best time of every celebrated trotter in
this country; the quickest trip a steamer ever made between Queenstown
and New York, New York and Queenstown, New Orleans and New York; the
greatest speed ever made on a railroad or by a yacht, pedestrian,
carrier-pigeon, or defaulting cashier; the rate of postage to every
foreign country; the excess of women over men in every State of the
Union so afflictedor blessed, according to how you look at it; the
number of volumes in each of the world's ten largest libraries; the
salary of every officer of the United-States Government; the average
duration of life in a man, elephant, lion, horse, anaconda, tortoise,
camel, rabbit, ass, etcetera-etcetera; the age of every crowned head in
Europe; each State's legal and commercial rate of interest; and how
long it takes a healthy boy to digest apples, baked beans, cabbage,
dates, eggs, fish, green corn, h, i, j, k, l-m-n-o-p, quinces, rice,
shrimps, tripe, veal, yams, and any thing you can cook commencing with
z. It's a fascinating study. But it's not my favorite.
'The proper study of mankind is man.
* * * * *
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled,
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!'
I love to study human nature. That's my favorite study! The art of
reading the inner human nature by the outer aspect is of immeasurable
interest and boundless practical value, and the man who can practise it
skilfully and apply it sagaciously is on the high road to fortune, and
why? Because to know it thoroughly is to know whom to trust and how
far; to select wisely a friend, a confidant, a partner in any
enterprise; to shun the untrustworthy, to anticipate and turn to our
personal advantage the merits, faults, and deficiencies of all, and to
evolve from their character such practical results as we may choose for
our own ends; but a thorough knowledge is attained only by incessant
observation and long practice; like music, it demands a special talent
possessed by different individuals in variable quantity or not at all.
You, gentlemen, all are, what I am not, commercial tourists. Before you
I must be modest. You, each of you, have been chosen from surrounding
hundreds or thousands for your superior ability, natural or acquired,
to scan the human face and form and know whereof you see. I look you in
the eyeyou look me in the eyefor the eye, though it does not tell
all, tells muchit is the key of characterit has been called the
mirror of the soul
'And looks commercing with the skies,
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes.'
And so looking you read me. You say to yourself, 'There's a man with
no concealments, yet who speaks not till he's spoken to; knows when to
stop, and stops.' You note my pale eyebrows, my slightly prominent and
pointed chin, somewhat over-sized mouth; small, well-spread ears,
faintly aquiline nose; fine, thin, blonde hair, a depression in the
skull where the bump of self-conceit ought to be, and you say, 'A man
that knows his talents without being vain of them; who not only minds
his own business, but loves it, and who in that business, be it
buggy-whips or be it washine, or be it something far nobler,'which,
let me say modestly, it is,'simply goes to the head of the class and
stays there.' Yes, sirs, if I say that reading the human countenance is
one of my accomplishments, I am diffidently mindful that in this
company, I, myself, am read, perused; no other probably so well readI
mean so exhaustively perused. For there is one thing about me,
gentlemen, if you'll allow me to say it, I'm short metre, large print,
and open to the public seven days in the week. And yet you probably all
make one mistake about me: you take me for the alumni of some
university. Not so. I'm a self-made man. I made myself; and considering
that I'm the first man I ever made, I thinkpardon the seeming
egotismI think I've done well. A few years ago there dwelt in humble
obscurity among the granite hills of New England, earning his bread by
the sweat of his brow upon his father's farm, a youth to fortune and to
fame unknown. But one day a voice within him said, 'Tarbox'George
W.,namesake of the man who never told a lie,'do you want to succeed
in life? Then leave the production of tobacco and cider to unambitious
age, and find that business wherein you can always give a man ten times
as much for his dollar as his dollar is worth.' The meaning was plain,
and from that time forth young Tarbox aspired to become a book-agent.
'Twas not long ere he, like
'Young Harry Bluff, left his friends and his home,
And his dear native land, o'er the wide world to roam.'
Books became his line, and full soon he was the head of the line.
And why? Was it because in the first short twelve months of his career
he sold, delivered, and got the money for, 5107 copies of
'Mend-me-at-Home'? No. Was it, then, because three years later he sold
in one year, with no other assistance than a man to drive the horse and
wagon, hold the blackboard, and hand out the books, 10,003 copies of
'Rapid 'Rithmetic'? It was not. Was it, then, because in 1878, reading
aright the public mind, he said to his publishers, whose confidence in
him was unbounded, 'It ain't Mend-me-at-Home the people want most,
nor Rapid 'Rithmetic, nor Heal Thyself, nor I meet the Emergency,
nor the Bouquet of Poetry and Song. What they want is all these in
one.''Abridged?' said the publishers. 'Enlarged!' said young
Tarbox,'enlarged and copiously illustrated, complete in one volume,
price, cloth, three dollars, sheep four, half morocco, gilt edges,
five; real value to the subscriber, two hundred and fifty; title, The
Album of Universal Information; author, G. W. Tarbox; editor, G. W. T.;
agent for the United States, the Canadas, and Mexico, G. W. Tarbox,
that is to say, myself.' That, gentlemen, is the reason I stand at the
head of my line; not merely because on every copy sold I make an
author's as well as a solicitor's margin; but because, being the
author, I know whereof I sell. A man that's got my book has got a
college education; and when a man taps me,for, gentlemen, I never
spout until I'm tapped,and information bursts from me like water from
a street hydrant, and he comes to find out that every thing I tell is
in that wonderful book, and that every thing that is in that wonderful
book I can tell, he wants to own a copy; and when I tell him I can't
spare my sample copy, but I'll take his subscription, he smiles
A cold, wet blast, rushing into the room from the hall, betrayed the
opening of the front door. The door was shut again, and a well-formed,
muscular young man who had entered stood in the parlor doorway lifting
his hat from his head, shaking the rain from it, and looking at it with
amused diffidence. Mr. Tarbox turned about once more with his back to
the fire, gave the figure a quick glance of scrutiny, then a second and
longer one, and then dropped his eyes to the floor. The big-waisted man
shifted his chair, tipped it back, and said:
He smiles gratefully, you say?
If he's got any sense, Mr. Tarbox replied in a pre-occupied tone.
His eyes were on the young man who still stood in the door. This person
must have reached the house in some covered conveyance. Even his
boot-tops were dry or nearly so. He was rather pleasing to see; of good
stature, his clothing cheap. A dark-blue flannel sack of the ready-made
sort hung on him not too well. Light as the garment was, he showed no
sign that he felt the penetrating cold out of which he had just come.
His throat and beardless face had the good brown of outdoor life, his
broad chest strained the two buttons of his sack, his head was
well-poised, his feet were shapely, and but for somewhat too much
roundness about the shoulder-blades, noticeable in the side view as he
carefully stood a long, queer package that was not buggy-whips against
the hat-rack, it would have been fair to pronounce him an athlete.
The eyes of the fireside group were turned toward him; but not upon
him. They rested on a girl of sixteen who had come down the hall, and
was standing before the new-comer just beyond the door. The
registry-book was just there on a desk in the hall. She stood with a
freshly dipped pen in her hand, ignoring the gaze from the fireside
with a faintly overdone calmness of face. The new guest came forward,
and, in a manner that showed slender acquaintance with the operation,
slowly registered his name and address.
He did it with such pains-taking, that, upside down as the writing
was, she read it as he wrote. As the Christian name appeared, her
perfunctory glance became attention. As the surname followed, the
attention became interest and recognition. And as the address was
added, Mr. Tarbox detected pleasure dancing behind the long fringe of
her discreet eyes, and marked their stolen glance of quick inspection
upon the short, dark locks and strong young form still bent over the
last strokes of the writing. But when he straightened up, carefully
shut the book, and fixed his brown eyes upon hers in guileless
expectation of instructions, he saw nothing to indicate that he was not
the entire stranger that she was to him.
You done had sopper? she asked. The uncommon kindness of such a
question at such an hour of a tavern's evening was lost on the young
man's obvious inexperience, and as one schooled to the hap-hazard of
forest and field he merely replied:
Naw, I didn' had any.
The girl turnedwhat a wealth of black hair she had!and
disappeared as she moved away along the hall. Her voice was heard:
Mamma? Then there was the silence of an unheard consultation. The
young man moved a step or two into the parlor and returned toward the
door as a light double foot-fall approached again down the hall and the
girl appeared once more, somewhat preceded by a small, tired-looking,
pretty woman some thirty-five years of age, of slow, self-contained
movement and clear, meditative eyes.
But the guest, too, had been re-enforced. A man had come silently
from the fireside, taken his hand, and now, near the doorway, was
softly shaking it and smiling. Surprise, pleasure, and reverential
regard were mingled in the young man's face, and his open mouth was
Claude St. Pierre, after six years, I'm glad to see you.Madame,
take good care of Claude.No fear but she will, my boy; if anybody in
Louisiana knows how to take care of a traveller, it's Madame
Beausoleil. He smiled for all. The daughter's large black eyes danced,
but the mother asked Claude, with unmoved countenance and soft tone:
You are Claude St. Pierre?from Gran' Point'?
Dass lately since you left yondah?
About two month'.
Bonaventure Deschampshe was well?
Yass. Claude's eyes were full of a glad surprise, and asked a
question that his lips did not dare to venture upon. Madame Beausoleil
read it, and she said:
We was raise' together, Bonaventure and me. She waved her hand
toward her daughter. He teach her to read. Seet down to the fire; we
make you some sopper.
CHAPTER IV. MARGUERITE.
Out in the kitchen, while the coffee was dripping and the ham and
eggs frying, the mother was very silent, and the daughter said little,
but followed her now and then with furtive liftings of her young black
eyes. Marguerite remembered Bonaventure Deschamps well and lovingly.
For years she had seen the letters that at long intervals came from him
at Grande Pointe to her mother here. In almost every one of them she
had read high praises of Claude. He had grown, thus, to be the hero of
her imagination. She had wondered if it could ever happen that he would
come within her sight, and if so, when, where, how. And now, here at a
time of all times when it would have seemed least possible, he had, as
it were, rained down.
She wondered to-night, with more definiteness of thought than ever
before, what were the deep feelings which her reticent little
motherMarguerite was an inch the tallerkept hid in that dear
breast. Rarely had emotion moved it. She remembered its terrible
heavings at the time of her father's death, and the later silent
downpour of tears when her only sister and brother were taken in one
day. Since then, those eyes had rarely been wet; yet more than once or
twice she had seen tears in them when they were reading a letter from
Grande Pointe. Had her mother ever had something more than a sister's
love for Bonaventure? Had Bonaventure loved her? And when? Before her
marriage, or after her widowhood?
The only answer that came to her as she now stood, knife in hand, by
the griddle, was a roar of laughter that found its way through the
hall, the dining-room, and two closed doors, from the men about the
waiting-room fireside. That was the third time she had heard it. What
could have put them so soon into such gay mood? Could it be Claude?
Somehow she hoped it was not. Her mother reminded her that the
batter-cakes would burn. She quickly turned them. The laugh came again.
When by and by she went to bid Claude to his repast, the laughter,
as she reached the door of the waiting-room, burst upon her as the
storm would have done had she opened the front door. It came from all
but Claude and Mr. Tarbox. Claude sat with a knee in his hands,
smiling. The semicircle had widened out from the fire, and in the midst
Mr. Tarbox stood telling a story, of which Grande Pointe was the scene,
Bonaventure Deschamps the hero, a school-examination the circumstance,
and he, G. W., the accidental arbiter of destinies that hung upon its
results. The big-waisted man had retired for the night, and half an eye
could see that the story-teller had captivated the whole remaining
audience. He was just at the end as Marguerite re-appeared at the door.
The laugh suddenly ceased, and then all rose; it was high bedtime.
And did they get married? asked one. Three or four gathered close
to hear the answer.
Who? Sidonie and Bonnyventure? Yes. I didn't stay to see. I went
away into Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama, and just only a few
weeks ago took a notion to try this Attakapas and Opelousas region. But
that's what Claude tells me to-nightmarried more than five years
ago.Claude, your supper wants you. Want me to go out and sit with
you? Oh, no trouble! not the slightest! It will make me feel as if I
was nearer to Bonnyventure.
And so the group about Claude's late supper numbered four. And
because each had known Bonaventure, though each in a very different way
from any other, they were four friends when Claude had demolished the
ham and eggs, the strong black coffee, and the griddle-cakes and
At the top of the hall stairway, as Mr. Tarbox was on his way to
bed, one of the dispersed fireside circle stopped him, saying:
That's an awful good story!
I wouldn't try a poor one on you.
Oh!but really, now, in good earnest, it is good. It's good in
more ways than one. Now, you know, that man, hid away there in the
swamp at Grande Pointe, he little thinks that six or eight men away off
here in Vermilionville are going to bed to-night better menthat's it,
siryes, sir, that's ityes, sir!better menjust for having heard
Mr. Tarbox smiled with affectionate approval, and began to move
away; but the other put out a hand
Say, look here; I'm going away on that two o'clock train to-night.
I want that book of yours. And I don't want to subscribe and wait. I
want the book now. That's my way. I'm just that kind of a man; I'm the
nowest man you ever met up with. That book's just the kind of thing for
a man like me who ain't got no time to go exhaustively delving and
investigating and researching into things, and yet has got to keep as
sharp as a brier.
Mr. Tarbox, on looking into his baggage, found he could oblige this
person. Before night fell again he had done virtually the same thing,
one by one, for all the rest. By that time they were all gone; but Mr.
Tarbox made Vermilionville his base of operations for several days.
Claude also tarried. For reasons presently to appear, the ladies
parlor, a small room behind the waiting-room, with just one door,
which let into the hall at the hall's inner end, was given up to his
use; and of evenings not only Mr. Tarbox, but Marguerite and her mother
as well, met with him, gathering familiarly about a lamp that other
male lodgers were not invited to hover around.
The group was not idle. Mr. Tarbox held big hanks of blue and yellow
yarn, which Zoséphine wound off into balls. A square table quite filled
the centre of the room. There was a confusion of objects on it, and now
on one side and now on another Claude leaned over it and slowly toiled,
from morning until evening alone, and in the evening with these three
about him; Marguerite, with her sewing dropped upon the floor, watching
his work with an interest almost wholly silent, only making now and
then a murmured comment, her eyes passing at intervals from his
pre-occupied eyes to his hands, and her hand now and then guessing and
supplying his want as he looked for one thing or another that had got
out of sight. What was he doing?
As to Marguerite, more than he was aware of, Zoséphine Beausoleil
saw, and was already casting about somewhat anxiously in her mind to
think what, if any thing, ought to be done about it. She saw her
child's sewing lie forgotten on the floor, and the eyes that should
have been following the needle, fixed often on the absorbed,
unconscious, boyish-manly face so near by. She saw them scanning the
bent brows, the smooth bronzed cheek, the purposeful mouth, and the
unusual length of dark eyelashes that gave its charm to the whole face;
and she saw them quickly withdrawn whenever the face with those lashes
was lifted and an unsuspecting smile of young companionship broke
slowly about the relaxing lips and the soft, deep-curtained eyes. No;
Claude little knew what he was doing. Neither did Marguerite. But,
aside from her, what was his occupation? I will explain.
About five weeks earlier than this, a passenger on an eastward-bound
train of Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railway stood at the rear door of
the last coach, eying critically the track as it glided swiftly from
under the train and shrank perpetually into the west. The coach was
nearly empty. No one was near him save the brakeman, and by and by he
took his attention from the track and let it rest on this person. There
he found a singular attraction. Had he seen that face before, or why
did it provoke vague reminiscences of great cypresses overhead, and
deep-shaded leafy distances with bayous winding out of sight through
them, and cane-brakes impenetrable to the eye, and axe-strokesheard
but unseenslashing through them only a few feet away? Suddenly he
Wasn't it your father, he said, who was my guide up Bayou des
Acadiens and Blind River the time I made the survey in that big swamp
north of Grande Pointe? Isn't your name Claude St. Pierre? And
presently they were acquainted.
You know I took a great fancy to your father. And you've been clear
through the arithmetic twice? Why, see here; you're just the sort of
man ILook here; don't you want to learn to be a surveyor? The
questioner saw that same ambition which had pleased him so in the
father, leap for joy in the son's eyes.
An agreement was quickly reached. Then the surveyor wandered into
another coach, and nothing more passed between them that day save one
matter, which, though trivial, has its place. When the surveyor
returned to the rear train, Claude was in a corner seat gazing
pensively through the window and out across the wide, backward-flying,
purpling green cane-fields of St. Mary, to where on the far left the
live-oaks of Bayou Teche seemed hoveringly to follow on the flank of
their whooping and swaggering railway-train. Claude turned and met the
stranger's regard with a faint smile. His new friend spoke first.
Matters may turn out so that we can have your father
Claude's eyes answered with a glad flash. Dass what I was
t'inkin'! he said, with a soft glow that staid even when he fell again
But when the engineerfor it seems that he was an engineer, chief
of a party engaged in redeeming some extensive waste swamp and marsh
landswhen the chief engineer, on the third day afterward, drew near
the place where he suddenly recollected Claude would be waiting to
enter his service, and recalled this part of their previous interview,
he said to himself, No, it would be good for the father, but not best
for the son, and fell to thinking how often parents are called upon to
wrench their affections down into cruel bounds to make the foundations
of their children's prosperity.
Claude widened to his new experience with the rapidity of something
hatched out of a shell. Moreover, accident was in his favor; the party
was short-handed in its upper ranks, and Claude found himself by this
stress taken into larger and larger tasks as fast as he could, though
ever so crudely, qualify for them.
'Tisn't at all the best thing for you, said one of the surveyors,
but I'll lend you some books that will teach you the why as well as
In the use of these books by lantern-light certain skill with the
pen showed itself; and when at length one day a despatch reached camp
from the absent chief stating that in two or three days certain
matters would take him to Vermilionville, and ordering that some one be
sent at once with all necessary field notes and appliances, and give
his undivided time to the making of certain urgently needed maps, and
the only real draughtsman of the party was ill with swamp-fever, Claude
On his last half-day's journey toward the place, he had fallen in
with an old gentleman whom others called Governor, a tall, trim
figure, bent but little under fourscore years, with cheerful voice and
ready speech, and eyes hidden behind dark glasses and flickering in
their deep sockets.
Go to Madame Beausoleil's, he advised Claude. That is the place
for you. Excellent person; I've known her from childhood; a woman
worthy a higher station. And so, all by accident, chance upon chance,
here was Claude making maps; and this delightful work, he thought, was
really all he was doing, in Zoséphine's little inner parlor.
By and by it was done. The engineer had not yet arrived. The storm
had delayed work in one place and undone work in another, and he was
detained beyond expectation. But a letter said he would come in a day
or two more, and some maps of earlier surveys, drawn by skilled workmen
in great New Orleans, arrived; seeing which, Claude blushed for his own
and fell to work to make them over.
If at first you not succeed, said Claude,
Trytry aga-a-ain, responded Marguerite; Bonaventure learn me
that poetry; and you?
Yass, said Claude. He stood looking down at his work and not
seeing it. What he saw was Grande Pointe in the sunset hour of a spring
day six years gone, the wet, spongy margin of a tiny bayou under his
feet, the great swamp at his back, the leafy undergrowth all around;
his canoe and paddle waiting for him, and Bonaventure repeating to
himswamp urchin of fourteenthe costliest words of kindnessto both
of them the costliestthat he had ever heard, ending with these two
that Marguerite had spoken. As he resumed his work, he said, without
lifting his eyes:
Seem' to me 'f I could make myself like any man in dat whole worl',
I radder make myself like Bonaventure. And you?
She was so slow to answer that he looked at her. Even then she
merely kept on sweeping her fingers slowly and idly back and forth on
the table, and, glancing down upon them, said without enthusiasm:
Yet they both loved Bonaventure, each according to knowledge of him.
Nor did their common likings stop with him. The things he had taught
Claude to love and seek suddenly became the admiration of Marguerite.
Aspirationsaspirations!began to stir and hum in her young heart,
and to pour forth like waking bees in the warm presence of spring.
Claude was a new interpretation of life to her; as one caught abed by
the first sunrise at sea, her whole spirit leaped, with unmeasured
self-reproach, into fresh garments and to a new and beautiful stature,
and looked out upon a wider heaven and earth than ever it had seen or
desired to see before. All at once the life was more than meat and the
body than raiment. Presently she sprang to action. In the convent
school, whose white belfry you could see from the end of Madame
Beausoleil's balcony, whither Zoséphine had sent her after teaching her
all she herself knew, it had been the mind for knowledge; now it was
knowledge for the mind. Mental training and enrichment had a value
now, never before dreamed of. The old school-books were got down,
recalled from banishment. Nothing ever had been hard to learn, and now
she found that all she seemed to have forgotten merely required, like
the books, a little beating clear of dust.
And Claude was there to help. If CC!having a start of one
hundred miles, travelsso and so, and so and so,how fast must I
travel in order toetc. She cannot work the problem for thinking of
what it symbolizes. As C himself takes the slate, her dark eyes, lifted
an instant to his, are large with painful meaning, for she sees at a
glance she must travelif the arithmetical is the true answermore
than the whole distance now between them. But Claude says there is an
easy way. She draws her chair nearer and nearer to his; he bows over
the problem, and she cannot follow his pencil without bending her head
very close to hisclosercloseruntil fluffy bits of her black hair
touch the thick locks on his temples. Look to your child, Zoséphine
Beausoleil, look to her! Ah! she can look; but what can she do?
She saw the whole matter; saw more than merely an unripe girl
smitten with the bright smile, goodly frame, and bewitching eyes of a
promising young rustic; saw her heart ennobled, her nature enlarged,
and all the best motives of life suddenly illuminated by the presence
of one to be mated with whom promised the key-note of all harmonies;
promised heart-fellowship in the ever-hoping effort to lift poor daily
existence higher and higher out of the dust and into the light. What
could she say? If great spirits in men or maidens went always or only
with high fortune, a mere Acadian lass, a tavern maiden, were safe
enough, come one fate or another. If Marguerite were like many a girl
in high ranks and low, to whom any husband were a husband, any snug
roof a home, and any living lifeBut what may a maiden do, or a mother
bid her do, when she looks upon the youth so shaped without and within
to her young soul's belief in its wants, that all other men are but
beasts of the field and creeping things, and he alone Adam? To whom
could the widow turn? Father, mother?Gone to their rest. The curé who
had stood over her in baptism, marriage, and bereavement?Called long
ago to higher dignities and wider usefulness in distant fields. Oh for
the presence and counsel of Bonaventure! It is true, here was Mr.
Tarbox, so kind, and so replete with information; so shrewd and so
ready to advise. She spurned the thought of leaning on him; and yet the
oft-spurned thought as often returned. Already his generous interest
had explored her pecuniary affairs, and his suggestions, too good to be
ignored, had moulded them into better shape, and enlarged their net
results. And he could tell how many eight-ounce tacks make a pound, and
what electricity is, and could cure a wart in ten minutes, and recite
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud? And this evening, the
seventh since the storm, when for one weak moment she had allowed the
conversation to drift toward wedlock, he had stated a woman's chances
of marrying between the ages of fifteen and twenty, to wit, 14½ per
cent; and between thirty and thirty-five, 15½.
Hah! exclaimed Zoséphine, her eyes flashing as they had not done
in many a day, 'tis not dat way!not in Opelousas!
Arithmetically speaking! the statistician quickly explained. He
ventured to lay a forefinger on the back of her hand, but one glance of
her eye removed it. You see, that's merely arithmetically considered.
Now, of course, looking at it geographicallywhy, of course! Andwhy,
as to that, there are ladies
Madame Beausoleil rose, left Mr. Tarbox holding the yarn, and went
down the hall, whose outer door had opened and shut. A moment later she
entered the room again.
Marguerite's heart sank. Her guess was right: the chief engineer had
come. And early in the morning Claude was gone.
CHAPTER V. FATHER AND SON.
Such strange things storms do,here purifying the air, yonder
treading down rich harvests, now replenishing the streams, and now
strewing shores with wrecks; here a blessing, there a calamity. See
what this one had done for Marguerite! Well, what? She could not
lament; she dared not rejoice. Oh! if she were Claude and Claude were
she, how quickly
She wondered how many miles a day she could learn to walk if she
should start out into the world on foot to find somebody, as she had
heard that Bonaventure had once done to find her mother's lover. There
are no Bonaventures now, she thinks, in these decayed times.
Mamma,her speech was French,why do we never see Bonaventure?
How far is it to Grande Pointe?
Ah! my child, a hundred miles; even more.
And to my uncle Rosamond's,Rosamond Robichaux, on Bayou
Fully as far, and almost the same journey.
There was but one thing to be done,crush Claude out of her heart.
The storm had left no wounds on Grande Pointe. Every roof was safe,
even the old tobacco-shed where Bonaventure had kept school before the
schoolhouse was built. The sheltering curtains of deep forest had
broken the onset of the wind, and the little cotton, corn, and tobacco
fields, already harvested, were merely made a little more tattered and
brown. The November air was pure, sunny, and mild, and thrilled every
now and then with the note of some lingering bird. A green and bosky
confusion still hid house from house and masked from itself the all but
motionless human life of the sleepy woods village. Only an adventitious
China-tree here and there had been stripped of its golden foliage, and
kept but its ripened berries with the red birds darting and fluttering
around them like so many hiccoughing Comanches about a dramseller's
tent. And here, if one must tell a thing so painful, our old friend the
mocking-bird, neglecting his faithful wife and letting his home go to
decay, kept dropping in, all hours of the day, tasting the berries'
rank pulp, stimulating, stimulating, drowning care, you know,Lost so
many children, and the rest gone off in ungrateful forgetfulness of
their old hard-working father; yes; and ready to sing or fight, just
as any other creature happened not to wish; and going home in the
evening scolding and swaggering, and getting to bed barely able to hang
on to the roost. It would have been bad enough, even for a man; but for
a birdand a mocking-bird!
But the storm wrought a great change in one small house not in
Grande Pointe, yet of it. Until the storm, ever since the day St.
Pierre had returned from the little railway-station where Claude had
taken the cars, he had seemed as patiently resigned to the new
loneliness of Bayou des Acadiens as his thatched hut, which day by day
sat so silent between the edges of the dark forest and the darker
stream, looking out beyond the farther bank, and far over the green
waste of rushes with its swarms of blackbirds sweeping capriciously now
this way and now that, and the phantom cloud-shadows passing slowly
across from one far line of cypress wood to another. But since that
night when the hut's solitary occupant could not sleep for the winds
and for thought of Claude, there was a great difference inside. And
this did not diminish; it grew. It is hard for a man to be both father
and mother, and at the same time be childless. The bonds of this
condition began slowly to tighten around St. Pierre's heart and then to
cut into it. And so, the same day on which Claude in Vermilionville
left the Beausoleils' tavern, the cabin on Bayou des Acadiens, ever in
his mind's eye, was empty, and in Grande Pointe his father stood on the
one low step at the closed door of Bonaventure's little frame
He had been there a full minute and had not knocked. Every movement,
to-day, came only after an inward struggle. Many associations crowded
his mind on this doorstep. Six years before, almost on this spot, a
mere brier-patch then, he and Maximian Roussel had risen from the
grassy earth and given the first two welcoming hand-grasps to the
schoolmaster. And now, as one result, Claude, who did not know his
letters then, was risingnay, had risento greatness! Claude, whom
once he would have been glad to make a good fisherman and swamper, or
at the utmost a sugar-boiler, was now a greater, in rank at least, than
the very schoolmaster. Truly knowledge is poweralas! yes; for it
had stolen away that same Claude. The College Point priest's warning
had come true: it was good-by to Grande Pointe!Nay, nay, it must
not be! Is that the kind of power education is? Power to tear children
from their parents? Power to expose their young heads to midnight
storms? Power to make them eager to go, and willing to stay away, from
their paternal homes? Then indeed the priest had said only too truly,
that these public schools teach every thing except morals and religion!
From the depth of St. Pierre's heart there quickly came a denial of the
charge; and on the moment, like a chanted response, there fell upon his
listening ear a monotonous intonation from within the door. A
reading-class had begun its exercise. He knew the words by heart, so
often had Claude and he read them together. He followed the last stanza
silently with his own lips.
Remember, child, remember
That you love, with all your might,
The God who watches o'er us
And gives us each delight,
Who guards us ever in the day,
And saves as in the night.
Tears filled the swamper's eyes. He moved as if to leave the place.
But again he paused, with one foot half lowered to the ground. His jaws
set, a frown came between his eyes; he drew back the foot, turned again
to the door, and gave a loud, peremptory knock.
Bonaventure came to the door. Anxiety quickly overspread his face as
he saw the gloom on St. Pierre's. He stood on the outer edge of the
sill, and drew the door after him.
I got good news, said St. Pierre, with no softening of
Yass.I goin' make Claude come home.
Bonaventure could only look at him in amazement. St. Pierre looked
away and continued:
'S no use. Can't stand it no longer. He turned suddenly upon the
schoolmaster. Why you di'n' tell me ed'cation goin' teck my boy 'way
from me? In Bonaventure a look of distressful self-justification
quickly changed to one of anxious compassion.
Wait! he said. He went back into the schoolroom, leaving St.
Pierre in the open door, and said:
Dear chil'run, I perceive generally the aspects of fatigue. You
have been good scholars. I pronounce a half-hollyday till to-morrow
morning. Come, each and every one, with lessons complete.
The children dispersed peaceably, jostling one another to shake the
schoolmaster's hand as they passed him. When they were gone he put on
his coarse straw hat, and the two men walked slowly, conversing as they
went, down the green road that years before had first brought the
educator to Grande Pointe.
Dear friend, said the schoolmaster, shall education be to blame
for this separation? Is not also non-education responsible? Is it not
by the non-education of Grande Pointe that there is nothing fit here
for Claude's staying?
I? I stay? Ah! sir, I stay, yes! Because like Claude, leaving my
home and seeking by wandering to find the true place of my utility, a
voice spake that I come at Grande Pointe. Behole me! as far from my
childhood home as Claude from his. Friend,ah! friend, what shall
I,shall Claude,shall any man do with education! Keep it? Like a
miser his gol'? What shall the ship do when she is load'? Dear
friend,they halted where another road started away through the
underbrush at an abrupt angle on their right,where leads this narrow
road? To Belle Alliance plantation only, or not also to the whole
worl'? So is education! That road here once fetch me at Grande Pointe;
the same road fetch Claude away. Education came whispering, 'Claude St.
Pierre, come! I have constitute' you citizen of the worl'. Come, come,
forgetting self!' Oh, dear friend, education is not for self alone!
Nay, even self is not for self!
Well, den,the deep-voiced woodman stood with one boot on a low
stump, fiercely trimming a branch that he had struck from the parent
stem with one blow of his big, keen clasp-knife,self not for
self,for what he gone off and lef' me in de swamp?
Ah, sir! replied Bonaventure, what do I unceasingly tell those
dear school-chil'run? 'May we not make the most of self, yet not for
self?' He laid his hand upon St. Pierre's shoulder. And who sent
Claude hence if not his unselfish father?
I was big fool, said St. Pierre, whittling on.
Nay, wise! Discovering the great rule of civilize-ation. Every man
not for self, but for every other!
The swamper disclaimed the generous imputation with a shake of the
Naw, I dunno nut'n' 'bout dat. I look out for me and my boy,
me.And beside,he abruptly threw away the staff he had trimmed,
shut his knife with a snap, and thrust it into his pocket,I dawn't
see ed'cation make no diff'ence. You say ed'cationpriest say
religionme, I dawn't see neider one make no diff'ence. I see every
man look out for hisself and his li'l' crowd. Not you, butHe waved
his hand bitterly toward the world at large.
Ah, sir! cried Bonaventure, 'tis not something what you can see
all the time, like the horns on a cow! And yet, sir,and yet!he
lifted himself upon tiptoe and ran his fingers through his thin
hairthe education that make' no difference is but a dead body! and
the religion that make' no difference is a ghost! Behole! behole two
thing' in the worl', where all is giving and getting, two thing',
con_tra_ry, yet resem'ling! 'Tis the left han'alas, alas!giving
only to get; and the right, blessed of God, getting only to give! How
much resem'ling, yet how con_tra_ry! The onehan' of all strife; the
otherof all peace. And oh! dear friend, there are those who call the
one civilize-ation, and the other religion. Civilize-ation? Religion?
They are one! They are body and soul! I care not what religion the
priest teach you; in God's religion is comprise' the total mécanique
of civilize-ation. We are all in it; you, me, Claude, Sidonie; all in
it! Each and every at his task, however high, however low, working not
to get, but to give, and not to give only to his own li'l' crowd, but
to all, to all! The speaker ceased, for his hearer was nodding his
head with sceptical impatience.
Yass, said the woodman, yass; but look, Bonaventure. Di'n' you
said one time, 'Knowledge is power'?
Yes, truly; and it is.
But what use knowledge be power if goin' give ev't'in' away?
Bonaventure drew back a step or two, suddenly jerked his hat from
his head, and came forward again with arms stretched wide and the hat
dangling from his hand. Becausebecause God will not let it sta-a-ay
given away! 'Giveit shall be give' to you.' Every thing given out
into God's worl' come back to us roun' God's worl'! Resem'ling the
stirring of water in a bucket.
But St. Pierre frowned. Yass,wat' in bucket,yass. Den no man
dawn't keep nut'n'. Dawn't own nut'n' he got.
Ah! sir, there is a better owning than to own. 'Tis giving,
dear friend; 'tis giving. To get? To have? That is not to own. The
giver, not the getter; the giver! he is the true owner. Live thou not
to get, but to give. Bonaventure's voice trembled; his eyes were full
The swamper stood up with his own eyes full, but his voice was firm.
Bonaventure, I don't got much. I got dat li'l' shanty on Bayou des
Acadiens, and li'l' plunder insidefew kittle', and pan',cast-net,
fish-line', two, t'ree gun', andmy wife' grave, yond' in graveyard.
But I got Claude,my boy, my son. You t'ink God want me give my son to
The schoolmaster took the woodsman's brown wrist tenderly into both
his hands, and said, scarce above a whisper, He gave His, first. He
started it. Who can refuse, He starting it? And thou wilt not refuse.
The voice roseI see, I see the victory! Well art thou nominated 'St.
Pierre!' for on that rock of giving
Naw, sir! Stop! The swamper dashed the moisture from his eyes and
summoned a look of stubborn resolve. Mo' better you call me St. Pierre
because I'm a fisherman what cuss when I git mad. Look! You dawn't want
me git Claude back in Gran' Point'. You want me to give, give. Well,
all right! I goin' quit Gran' Point' and give myself, me, to
Claude. I kin read, I kin write, I t'ink kin do better 'long wid Claude
dan livin' all 'lone wid snake' and alligator. I t'ink dass mo' better
for everybody; and anyhow, I dawn't care; I dawn't give my son to
nobody; I give myself to Claude.
Bonaventure and his friend gazed into each other's wet eyes for a
moment. Then the schoolmaster turned, lifted his eyes and one arm
toward the west, and exclaimed:
Ah, Claude! thou receivest the noblest gift in Gran' Point'!
CHAPTER VI. CONVERGING LINES.
On the prairies of Vermilion and Lafayette, winter is virtually over
by the first week in February. From sky to sky, each tree and field,
each plain and plantation grove, are putting on the greenery of a
Northern May. Even on Côte Gelée the housewife has persuaded le
vieux to lay aside his gun, and the early potatoes are already
planted. If the moon be at the full, much ground is ready for the
sower; and those ploughmen and pony teams and men working along behind
them with big, clumsy hoes, over in yonder field, are planting corn.
Those silent, tremulous strands of black that in the morning sky come
gliding, high overhead, from the direction of the great sea-marshes and
fade into the northern blue, are flocks that have escaped the murderous
gun of the pot-hunter. Spring and Summer are driving these before them
as the younger and older sister, almost abreast, come laughing, and
striving to outrun each other across the Mexican Gulf.
Those two travellers on horseback, so dwarfed by distance, whom you
see approaching out of the north-west, you shall presently find have
made, in their dress, no provision against cold. At Carancro, some
miles away to the north-east, there is a thermometer; and somewhere in
Vermilionville, a like distance to the south-east, there might possibly
be found a barometer; but there is no need of either to tell that the
air to-day is threescore and ten and will be more before it is less.
Before the riders draw near you have noticed that only one is a man and
the other a woman. And now you may see that he is sleek and alert,
blonde and bland, and the savage within us wants to knock off his silk
hat. All the more so for that she is singularly pretty to be met in his
sole care. The years count on her brows, it is true, but the way in
which they tell of matronhoodand somehow of widowhood toois a very
fair and gentle way. Her dress is plain, but its lines have a grace
that is also dignity; and the lines of her facelines is too hard a
word for themare not those of time, but of will and of care, that
have chastened and refined one another. She speaks only now and then.
Her companion's speech fills the wide intervals.
Yesterday morning, he says, as I came along here a little after
sunrise, there was a thin fog lying only two or three feet deep, close
to the level ground as far as you could see, hiding the whole prairie,
and making it look for all the world like a beautiful lake, with every
here and there a green grove standing out of it like a real little
She replies that she used to see it so in her younger days. The
Acadian accent is in her words. She lifts her black eyes, looks toward
Carancro, and is silent.
You're thinking of the changes, says her escort.
Yass; 'tis so. Dey got twenty time' many field' like had befo'.
Peop' don't raise cattl' no more; raise crop'. Dey say even dat land
I dunno. I dunno if 'tis so. Dey say prairie risin' mo' higher
every year. I dunno if 'tis so. I t'ink dat land don't change much; but
de peop', yass.
Still, the changes are mostly good changes, responds the male
rider. 'Tisn't the prairie, but the people that are rising. They've
got the schoolhouse, and the English language, and a free paid labor
system, and the railroads, and painted wagons, and Cincinnati
furniture, and sewing-machines, and melodeons, and Horsford's Acid
Phosphate; and they've caught the spirit of progress!
Yass, 'tis so. Dawn't see nobody seem satisfiedsince de
armysince de railroad.
Well, that's right enough; they oughtn't to be satisfied. You're
not satisfied, are you? And yet you've never done so well before as you
have this season. I wish I could say the same for the 'Album of
Universal Information;' but I can't. I tell you that, Madame
Beausoleil; I wouldn't tell anybody else.
Zoséphine responds with a dignified bow. She has years ago noticed
in herself, that, though she has strength of will, she lacks clearness
and promptness of decision. She is at a loss, now, to know what to do
with Mr. Tarbox. Here he is for the seventh time. But there is always a
plausible explanation of his presence, and a person of more tactful
propriety, it seems to her, never put his name upon her tavern register
or himself into her company. She sees nothing shallow or specious in
his dazzling attainments; they rekindle the old ambitions in her that
Bonaventure lighted; and although Mr. Tarbox's modest loveliness is not
visible, yet a certain fundamental rectitude, discernible behind all
his nebulous gaudiness, confirms her liking. Then, too, he has earned
her gratitude. She has inherited not only her father's small fortune,
but his thrift as well. She can see the sagacity of Mr. Tarbox's advice
in pecuniary matters, and once and once again, when he has told her
quietly of some little operation into which he and the ex-governorwho
thinks the world of me, he sayswere going to dip, and she has
accepted his invitation to venture in also, to the extent of a single
thousand dollars, the money has come back handsomely increased. Even
now, the sale of all her prairie lands to her former kinsmen-in-law,
which brought her out here yesterday and lets her return this morning,
is made upon his suggestion, and is so advantageous that somehow, she
doesn't know why, she almost fears it isn't fair to the other side. The
fact is, the country is passing from the pastoral to the agricultural
life, the prairies are being turned into countless farms, and the
people are getting wealth. So explains Mr. Tarbox, whose happening to
come along this morning bound in her direction is pure accidentpure
No, the 'A. of U. I.' hasn't done its best, he says again. For
one thing, I've had other fish to fry. You know that. He ventures a
glance at her eyes, but they ignore it, and he adds, I mean other
'Tis so, says Zoséphine; and Mr. Tarbox hopes the reason for this
faint repulse is only the nearness of this farmhouse peeping at them
through its pink veil of blossoming peach-trees, as they leisurely trot
Yes, he says; and, besides, 'Universal Information' isn't what
this people want. The book's too catholic for them.
Too Cat'oleek! Zoséphine raises her pretty eyebrows in grave
astonishment'Cadian' is all Cat'oleek.
Yes, yes, ecclesiastically speaking, I know. That wasn't my
meaning. Your smaller meaning puts my larger one out of sight; yes,
just as this Cherokee hedge puts out of sight the miles of prairie
fields, and even that house we just passed. No, the 'A. of U. I.,'I
love to call it that; can you guess why? There is a venturesome
twinkle in his smile, and even a playful permission in her own as she
shakes her head.
Well, I'll tell you; it's because it brings U and I so near
Hah! exclaims Madame Beausoleil, warningly, yet with sunshine and
cloud on her brow at once. She likes her companion's wit, always so
deep, and yet always so delicately pointed! His hearty laugh just now
disturbs her somewhat, but they are out on the wide plain again,
without a spot in all the sweep of her glance where an eye or an ear
may ambush them or their walking horses.
No, insists her fellow-traveller; I say again, as I said before,
the 'A. of U. I.'he pauses at the initials, and Zoséphine's faint
smile gives him ecstasyhasn't done its best. And yet it has done
beautifully! Why, when did you ever see such a list as this? He
dexterously draws from an extensive inner breast-pocket, such as no
coat but a book-agent's or a shoplifter's would be guilty of, a wide,
limp, morocco-bound subscription-book. Here! He throws it open upon
the broad Texas pommel. Now, just for curiosity, look at itoh! you
can't see it from away off there, looking at it sideways! He gives her
a half-reproachful, half-beseeching smile and glance, and gathers up
his dropped bridle. They come closer. Their two near shoulders approach
each other, the two elbows touch, and two dissimilar hands hold down
the leaves. The two horses playfully bite at each other; it is their
way of winking one eye.
Now, first, here's the governor's name; and then his son's, and his
nephew's, and his other son's, and his cousin's. And here's Pierre
Cormeaux, and Baptiste Clément, you know, at Carancro; and here's
Basilide Sexnailder, and Joseph Cantrelle, and Jacques Hébert; see? And
Gaudin, and Laprade, Blouin, and Roussel,old Christofle Roussel of
Beau Bassin,Duhon, Roman and Simonette Le Blanc, and Judge Landry,
and Thériot,Colonel Thériot,Martin, Hébert again, Robichaux,
Mouton, Mouton again, Robichaux again, Moutonoh, I've got 'em
all!Castille, Beausoleilcousin of yours? Yes, he said so; good
fellow, thinks you're the greatest woman alive. The two dissimilar
hands, in turning a leaf, touch, and the smaller one leaves the book.
And here's Guilbeau, and Latiolais, and Thibodeaux, and Soudrie, and
Arcenauxflowers of the community'I gather them in,'and here's a
page of Côte Gelée people, andJoe Jefferson hadn't got back to the
Island yet, but I've got his son; see? And here'scan you make out
this signature? It's written so small
Both heads,with only the heavens and the dear old earth-mother to
see them,both heads bend over the book; the hand that had retreated
returns, but bethinks itself and withdraws again; the eyes of Mr.
Tarbox look across their corners at the sedate brow so much nearer his
than ever it has been before, until that brow feels the look, and
slowly draws away. Look to your mother, Marguerite; look to her! But
Marguerite is not there, not even in Vermilionville; nor yet in
Lafayette parish; nor anywhere throughout the wide prairies of
Opelousas or Attakapas. Triumph fills Mr. Tarbox's breast.
Well, he says, restoring the book to its hiding-place, seems like
I ought to be satisfied with that; doesn't it to you?
It does; Zoséphine says so. She sees the double meaning, and Mr.
Tarbox sees that she sees it, but must still move cautiously. So he
Well, I'm not satisfied. It's perfect as far as it goes, but don't
expect me to be satisfied with it. If I've seemed satisfied, shall I
tell you why it was, my dearfriend?
Zoséphine makes no reply; but her dark eyes meeting his for a
moment, and then falling to her horse's feet, seem to beg for mercy.
It's because, says Mr. Tarbox, while her heart stands still, it's
because I've madethere is an awful pausemore money without the
'A. of U. I.' this season than I've made with it.
Madame Beausoleil catches her breath, shows relief in every feature,
lifts her eyes with sudden brightness, and exclaims:
Dass good! Dass mighty good, yass! 'Tis so.
Yes, it is; and I tell you, and you only, because I'm proud to
believe you're my sincere friend. Am I right?
Zoséphine busies herself with her riding-skirt, shifts her seat a
little, and with studied carelessness assents.
Yes, her companion repeats; and so I tell you. The true business
man is candid to all, communicative to none. And yet I open my heart to
you. I can't help it; it won't stay shut. And you must see, I'm sure
you must, that there's something more in there besides money; don't
you? His tone grows tender.
Madame Beausoleil steals a glance toward him,a grave, timid
glance. She knows there is safety in the present moment. Three
horsemen, strangers, far across the field in their front, are coming
toward them, and she feels an almost proprietary complacence in a
suitor whom she can safely trust to be saying just the right nothings
when those shall meet them and ride by. She does not speak; but he
You know there is, dear Josfriend! He smiles with modest
sweetness. G. W. Tarbox doesn't run after money, and consequently he
never runs past much without picking it up. They both laugh in
decorous moderation. The horsemen are drawing near; they are Acadians.
I admit I love to make money. But that's not my chief pleasure. My
chief pleasure is the study of human nature.
'The proper study of mankind is man.
* * * * *
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled,
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world.'
This season I've been studying these Acadian people. And I like
them! They don't like to be reminded that they're Acadians. Well,
that's natural; the Creoles used to lord it over them so when the
Creoles were slave-holding planters and they were small farmers. That's
about past now. The Acadians are descended from peasants, that's true,
while some Creoles are from the French nobility. But, hooh! wouldn't
any fair-minded personthe horsemen are within earshot; they are
staring at the silk hatAdjieu.
Adjieu. They pass.
Wouldn't any fair-minded person that knows what France was two or
three hundred years agoshow you some day in the 'Album'about as
lief be descended from a good deal of that peasantry as from a good
deal of that nobility? I should smile! Why, my dearfriend, the day's
coming when the Acadians will be counted as good French blood as there
is in Louisiana! They're the only white people that ever trod this
continentisland or mainlandwho never on their own account oppressed
anybody. Some little depredation on their British neighbors, out of
dogged faithfulness to their king and church,that's the worst charge
you can make. Look at their history! all poetry and pathos! Look at
their character! brave, peaceable, loyal, industrious, home-loving
But Zoséphine was looking at the speaker. Her face is kindled with
the inspiration of his praise. His own eyes grow ardent.
Look at their women! Ah, Josephine, I'm looking at one! Don't turn
'One made up
Of loveliness alone;
A woman, of her gentle sex
The seeming paragon.'
'The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect woman nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command.'
You can't stop me, Josephine; it's got to come, and come right now.
I'm a homeless man, Josephine, tired of wandering, with a heart bigger
and weaker than I ever thought I had. I want you! I love you! I've
never loved anybody before in my life except myself, and I don't find
myself as lovely as I used. Oh, take me, Josephine! I don't ask you to
love as if you'd never loved another. I'll take what's left, and be
perfectly satisfied! I know you're ambitious, and I love you for that!
But I do think I can give you a larger life. With you for a wife, I
believe I could be a man you needn't be ashamed of. I'm already at the
head of my line. Best record in the United States, Josephine, whether
by the day, week, month, year, or locality. But if you don't like the
line, I'll throw up the 'A. of U. I.' and go into any thing you say;
for I want to lift you higher, Josephine. You're above me already, by
nature and by rights, but I can lift you, I know I can. You've got no
business keeping tavern; you're one of Nature's aristocrats. Yes, you
are! and you're too young and lovely to stay a widowin a State where
there's more men than there's women. There's a good deal of the hill
yet to climb before you start down. Oh, let's climb it together,
Josephine! I'll make you happier than you are, Josephine; I haven't got
a bad habit left; such as I had, I've quit; it don't pay. I don't
drink, chew, smoke, tell lies, swear, quarrel, play cards, make debts,
nor belong to a clubbe my wife! Your daughter 'll soon be leaving
you. You can't be happy alone. Take me! take me! He urges his horse
closeher face is avertedand lays his hand softly but firmly on her
two, resting folded on the saddle-horn. They struggle faintly and are
still; but she slowly shakes her hanging head.
O Josephine! you don't mean no, do you? Look this way! you don't
mean no? He presses his hand passionately down upon hers. Her eyes do
not turn to his; but they are lifted tearfully to the vast, unanswering
sky, and as she mournfully shakes her head again, she cries,
I dunno! I dunno! I can't tell! I got to see Marguerite.
Well, you'll see her in an hour, and if she
Naw, naw! 'tis not so; Marguerite is in New Orleans since
Very late in the evening of that day Mr. Tarbox entered the
principal inn of St. Martinville, on the Teche. He wore an air of
blitheness which, though silent, was overdone. As he pushed his silk
hat back on his head, and registered his name with a more than usual
largeness of hand, he remarked:
'Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long.'
Give me a short piece of candle and a stumpy candlestickand
'Take me up, and bear me hence
Into some other chamber'
Glad to see you back, Mr. Tarbox, responded the host; and as his
guest received the candle and heard the number of his room,books
must 'a' went well this fine day.
Mr. Tarbox fixed him with his eye, drew a soft step closer, said in
a low tone:
'My only books
Were woman's looks,
And folly's all they've taught me.'
The landlord raised his eyebrows, rounded his mouth, and darted out
his tongue. The guest shifted the candle to his left hand, laid his
right softly upon the host's arm, and murmured:
List! Are we alone? If I tell thee something, wilt thou tell it
The landlord smiled eagerly, shook his head, and bent toward his
Friend Perkins, said Mr. Tarbox, in muffled voice
'So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave, at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.'
Don't let the newspapers get hold of itgood-night.
But it was only at daybreak that Mr. Tarbox disordered the drapery
of his couch to make believe he had slept there, and at sunrise he was
gone to find Claude.
CHAPTER VII. 'THANASE'S VIOLIN.
Had Marguerite gone to New Orleans the better to crush Claude out of
her heart? No, no! Her mother gave an explanation interesting and
reasonable enough, and at the same time less uncomfortably romantic.
Marguerite had gone to the city to pursue studies taught better there
than in Opelousas; especially music.
Back of this was a reason which she had her mother's promise not to
mention,the physician's recommendationa change of scene. He spoke
of slight malarial influences, and how many odd forms they took; of
dyspepsia and its queer freaks; of the confining nature of house cares,
and of how often they ran down the whole system. His phrases were
French, but they had all the weary triteness of these; while Marguerite
rejoiced that he did not suspect the real ailment, and Zoséphine saw
that he divined it perfectly.
A change of scene. Marguerite had treated the suggestion lightly, as
something amusingly out of proportion to her trivial disorder, but took
pains not to reject it. Zoséphine had received it with troubled assent,
and mentioned the small sugar-farm and orangery of the kinsman
Robichaux, down on Bayou Terrebonne. But the physician said, If that
would not be too dull; mentioned, casually, the city, and saw
Marguerite lighten up eagerly. The city was chosen; the physician's
sister, living there, would see Marguerite comfortably established. All
was presently arranged.
And you can take your violin with you, and study music, he said.
Marguerite had one, and played it with a taste and skill that knew no
competitor in all the surrounding region.
It had belonged to her father. Before she was born, all Lafayette
parish had known it tenderly. Before she could talk she had
dancedcourtesied and turned, tiptoed and fallen and risen again,
latter end first, to the gay strains he had loved to wring from it.
Before it seemed safe, for the instrument, to trust it in her hands,
she had learned to draw its bow; and for years, now, there had been no
resident within the parish who could not have been her scholar better
than to be her teacher.
When Claude came, she had shut the violin in its case, and left the
poor thing hidden away, despising its powers to charm, lost in
self-contempt, and helpless under the spell of a chaste passion's first
enchantment. When he went, she still forgot the instrument for many
days. She returned with more than dutiful energy to her full part in
the household cares, and gave every waking hour not so filled to fierce
study. If she could not follow himif a true maiden must wait upon
faithat least she would be ready if fate should ever bring him back.
But one night, when she had conned her simple books until the words
ran all together on the page, some good angel whispered, The violin!
She took it and played. The music was but a song, but from some master
of song. She played it, it may be, not after the best rules, yet as one
may play who, after life's first great billow has gone over him, smites
again his forgotten instrument. With tears, of all emotions mingled,
starting from her eyes, and the bow trembling on the strings, she told
the violin her love. And it answered her:
Be strong! be strong! you shall not love for naught. He shallhe
shall come backhe shall come back and lead us into joy. From that
time the violin had more employment than ever before in all its days.
So it and Marguerite were gone away to the great strange city
together. The loneliness they left behind was a sad burden to
Zoséphine. No other one thing had had so much influence to make so
nearly vulnerable the defences of her heart when Mr. Tarbox essayed to
storm them. On the night following that event, the same that he had
spent so sleeplessly in St. Martinville, she wrote a letter to
Marguerite, which, though intended to have just the opposite effect,
made the daughter feel that this being in New Orleans, and all the
matter connected with it, were one unmixed mass of utter selfishness.
The very written words that charged her to stay on seemed to say, Come
home! Her strong little mother! always quiet and grave, it is true,
and sometimes sad; yet so well poised, so concentrated, so equal to
every passing day and hour!she to seemin this letterfar out of
her course, adrift, and mutely and dimly signalling for aid! The
daughter read the pages again and again. What could they mean? Here,
for instance, this line about the mother's coming herself to the city,
if, and if, and if!
The letter found Marguerite in the bosom of a family that dwelt in
the old Rue Bourbon, only a short way below Canal Street, the city's
centre. The house stands on the street, its drawing-room windows
opening upon the sidewalk, and a narrow balcony on the story above
shading them scantily at noon. A garden on the side is visible from the
street through a lofty, black, wrought-iron fence. Of the details
within the enclosure, I remember best the vines climbing the walls of
the tall buildings that shut it in, and the urns and vases, and the
evergreen foliage of the Japan plum-trees. A little way off, and across
the street, was the pleasant restaurant and salesroom of the Christian
The family spoke English. Indeed, they spoke it a great deal; and
Frenchalso a great deal. The younger generation, two daughters and a
son, went much into society. Their name was that of an ancient French
noble house, with which, in fact, they had no connection. They took
great pains to call themselves Creoles, though they knew well enough
they were Acadians. The Acadian caterpillar often turns into a Creole
butterfly. Their great-grandfather, one of the children of the
Nova-Scotian deportation, had been a tobacco-farmer on the old Côte
Acadien in St. John the Baptist parish. Lake des Allemands lay there,
just behind him. In 1815, his son, their grandfather, in an excursion
through the lake and bayou beyond, discovered, far south-eastward in
the midst of the Grande Prairie des Allemands, a pointe of several
hundred acres extent. Here, with one or two others, he founded the
Acadian settlement of La Vacherie, and began to build a modest
fortune. The blood was good, even though it was not the blood of
ancient robbers; and the son in the next generation found his way, by
natural and easy stages, through Barataria and into the city, and
became the merchant of his many sugar and rice planting kinsmen and
It was a great favor to Marguerite to be taken into such a household
as this. She felt it so. The household felt it so. Yet almost from the
start they began to play her, in their social world, as their best
cardwhen they could. She had her hours of school and of home study;
also her music, both lessons and practice; was in earnest both as to
books and violin, and had teachers who also were in earnest; and so she
found little time for social revels. Almost all sociality is revel in
New-Orleans society, and especially in the society she met.
But when she did appear, somehow she shone. A native instinct in
dress,even more of it than her mother had at the same age,and in
manners and speech, left only so little rusticity as became itself a
charm rather than a blemish, suggested the sugar-cane fields; the
orange-grove; the plantation-house, with pillared porch, half-hidden in
tall magnolias and laurestines and bushes of red and white camellias
higher and wider than arms can reach, and covered with their regal
flowers from the ground to their tops; and the bayou front lined with
moss-draped live-oaks, their noonday shadows a hundred feet across.
About her there was not the faintest hint of the country tavern. She
was but in her seventeenth year; but on her native prairies, where
girls are women at fourteen, seventeen was almost an advanced stage of
decay. She seemed full nineteen, and a very well-equipped nineteen as
social equipments went in the circle she had entered. Being a
schoolgirl was no drawback; there are few New-Orleans circles where it
is; and especially not in her case, for she needed neither to titter
nor chatter,she could talk. And then, her violin made victory always
easy and certain.
Sometimes the company was largely of down-town Creoles; sometimes of
up-town people,Americans; and often equally of the two sorts,
talking French and English in most amusing and pleasing confusion. For
the father of the family had lately been made president of a small
bank, and was fairly boxing the social compass in search of depositors.
Marguerite had not yet discovered thatif we may drag the metaphor
ashoreto enter society is not to emerge upon an unbroken table-land,
or that she was not on its highest plateau. She noticed the frequency
with which she encountered unaccomplished fathers, stupid mothers, rude
sons and daughters, and ill-distributed personal regard; but she had
the common-sense not to expect more of society than its nature
warrants, guessed rightly that she would find the same thing anywhere
else, and could not know that these elements were less mixed with
better here than in many other of the city's circles, of whose
existence she had not even heard. However:
Society, at its very best, always needs, and at its best or worst
always contains, a few superior members, who make themselves a blessing
by working a constant, tactful redistribution of individuals by their
true values, across the unworthy lines upon which society ever tends to
stratify. Such a person, a matron, sat with Marguerite one April
evening under a Chinese lantern in the wide, curtained veranda of an
Esplanade-street house whose drawing-room and Spanish garden were
filled with company.
Marguerite was secretly cast down. This lady had brought her here,
having met her but a fortnight before and chosen her at once, in her
own private counsels, for social promotion. And Marguerite had played
the violin. In her four months' advanced training she had accomplished
wonders. Her German professor made the statement, while he warned her
against enthusiastic drawing-room flattery. This evening she had gotten
much praise and thanks. Yet these had a certain discriminative
moderation that was new to her ear, and confirmed to her, not in the
pleasantest way, the realization that this company was of higher
average intelligence and refinement than any she had met before. She
little guessed that the best impression she had ever made she made here
Of course it was not merely on account of the violin. She had
beauty, not only of face and head, but of form and carriage. So that
when she stood with her instrument, turning, as it were, every breath
of air into music, and the growing volume of the strains called forth
all her good Acadian strength of arms and hand, she charmed not merely
the listening ear, but the eye, the reason, and the imagination in its
But, indeed, it was not the limitations of her social triumphs
themselves that troubled her. Every experience of the evening had
helped to show her how much wider the world was than she had dreamed,
and had opened new distances on the right, on the left, and far ahead;
and nowhere in them all could eye see, or ear hear, aught of that one
without whom to go back to old things was misery, and to go on to new
was mere weariness. And the dear little mother at home!worth nine out
of any ten of all this crowdstill at home in that old tavern-keeping
life, now intolerable to think of, and still writing those yearning
letters that bade the daughter not return! No wonder Marguerite's
friend had divined her feelings, and drawn her out to the cool retreat
under the shadow of the veranda lanterns.
A gentleman joined them, who had just come, he said. Marguerite's
companion and he were old friends. Neither he nor Marguerite heard each
other's name, nor could see each other's face more than dimly. He was
old enough to be twitted for bachelorhood, and to lay the blame upon an
outdoor and out-of-town profession. Such words drew Marguerite's silent
but close attention.
The talk turned easily from this to the ease with which the fair
sex, as compared with the other, takes on the graces of the
drawing-room. Especially, the two older ones agreed, if the previous
lack is due merely to outward circumstances. But Marguerite was still.
Here was a new thought. One who attained all those graces and love's
prize also might at last, for love's sake, have to count them but
dross, or carry them into retirement, the only trophies of abandoned
triumphs. While she thought, the conversation went on.
Yes, said her friend, replying to the bachelor, we acquire
drawing-room graces more easily; but why? Because most of us think we
must. A man may find success in one direction or another; but a woman
has got to be a social success, or she's a complete failure. She can't
snap her fingers at the drawing-room.
Ah! exclaimed Marguerite, she can if she want! She felt the
strength to rise that moment and go back to Opelousas, if onlyand did
not see, until her companions laughed straight at her, that the lady
had spoken in jest.
Still, said the bachelor, the drawing-room is woman's
elementrealmrather than man's, whatever the reasons may be. I had a
young man with me last winter
I knew it! thought Marguerite.
until lately, in fact; he's here in town now,whom I have tried
once or twice to decoy into company in a small experimental way. It's
harder than putting a horse into a ship. He seems not to know what
social interchange is for.
Thinks it's for intellectual profit and pleasure, interrupted the
No, he just doesn't see the use or fun of it. And yet, really,
that's his only deficiency. True, he listens better than he
talksoverdoes it; but when a chap has youth, intelligence, native
refinement, integrity, and good looks, as far above the mean level as
many of our society fellows are below it, it seems to me he ought to
Utilized, suggested the lady, casting her eyes toward Marguerite
and withdrawing them as quickly, amused at the earnestness of her
Yes, said the bachelor, and mused a moment. He's a talented
fellow. It's only a few months ago that he really began life. Now he's
outgrown my service.
Left the nest, said the lady.
Yes, indeed. He has invented
The bachelor was teased. Ah! come, now; show your usual kindness;
he has, really, made a simple, modest agricultural machine thatmeets
a want long felt. Oh! you may laugh; but he laughs last. He has not
only a patent for it, but a good sale also, and is looking around for
other worlds to conquer.
And yet spurns society? Ours!
No, simply develops no affinity for it; would like to, if only to
please me; but can't. Doesn't even make intimate companions among men;
simply clings to his fond, lone father, and the lone father to him,
closer than any pair of twin orphan girls that ever you saw. I don't
believe any thing in life could divide them.
Ah, don't you trust him! Man proposes, Cupid disposes. A girl will
stick to her mother; but a man? Why, the least thinga pair of blue
eyes, a yellow curl
The bachelor gayly shook his head, and, leaning over with an air of
secrecy, said: A pair of blue eyes have shot him through and through,
and a yellow curl is wound all round him from head to heel, and yet he
sticks to his father.
He can't live, said the lady. Marguerite's hand pressed her arm,
and they rose. As the bachelor drew the light curtain of a long window
aside, that they might pass in, the light fell upon Marguerite's face.
It was entirely new to him. It seemed calm. Yet instantly the question
smote him, What have I done? what have I said? She passed, and turned
to give a parting bow. The light fell upon him. She was right; it was
Claude's friend, the engineer.
When he came looking for them a few minutes later, he only caught,
by chance, a glimpse of them, clouded in light wraps and passing to
their carriage. It was not yet twelve.
Between Marguerite's chamber and that of one of the daughters of the
family there was a door that neither one ever fastened. Somewhere
down-stairs a clock was striking three in the morning, when this door
softly opened and the daughter stole into Marguerite's room in her
night-robe. With her hair falling about her, her hands unconsciously
clasped, her eyes starting, and an outcry of amazement checked just
within her open, rounded mouth, she stopped and stood an instant in the
brightly lighted chamber.
Marguerite sat on the bedside exactly as she had come from the
carriage, save that a white gossamer web had dropped from her head and
shoulders, and lay coiled about her waist. Her tearless eyes were wide
and filled with painful meditation, even when she turned to the alarmed
and astonished girl before her. With suppressed exclamations of wonder
and pity the girl glided forward, cast her arms about the sitting
figure, and pleaded for explanation.
It is a headache, said Marguerite, kindly but firmly lifting away
the intwining arms.No, no, you can do nothing.It is a
headache.Yes, I will go to bed presently; you go to yours.No, no
The night-robed girl looked for a moment more into Marguerite's
eyes, then sank to her knees, buried her face in her hands, and wept.
Marguerite laid her hands upon the bowed head and looked down with dry
eyes. No, she presently said again, it is a headache. Go back to
your bed.No, there is nothing to tell; only I have been very, very
foolish and very, very selfish, and I am going home to-morrow.
The door closed softly between the two. Then Marguerite sank slowly
back upon the bed, closed her eyes, and rocking her head from side to
side, said again and again, in moans that scarcely left the lips:
My mother! my mother! Take me back! Oh! take me back, my mother! my
At length she arose, put off her attire, lay down to rest, and, even
while she was charging sleep with being a thousand leagues awayslept.
When she awoke, the wide, bright morning filled all the room. Had
some sound wakened her? Yes, a soft tapping came again upon her door.
She lay still. It sounded once more. For all its softness, it seemed
nervous and eager. A low voice came with it:
She sprang from her pillow.Yes!
While she answered, it came again,
With a low cry, she cast away the bed-coverings, threw back the
white mosquito-curtain and the dark masses of her hair, and started up,
lifted and opened her arms, cried again, but with joy, My mother! my
mother! and clasped Zoséphine to her bosom.
CHAPTER VIII. THE SHAKING PRAIRIE.
Manifestly it was a generous overstatement for Claude's professional
friend to say that Claude had outgrown his service. It was true only
that by and by there had come a juncture in his affairs where he could
not, without injustice to others, make a place for Claude which he
could advise Claude to accept, and they had parted with the mutual hope
that the separation would be transient. But the surveyor could not but
say to himself that such incidents, happening while we are still young,
are apt to be turning-points in our lives, if our lives are going to
have direction and movement of their own at all.
St. Pierre had belted his earnings about him under the woollen sash
that always bound his waist, shouldered his rifle, taken one last,
silent look at the cabin on Bayou des Acadiens, stood for a few moments
with his hand in Bonaventure's above one green mound in the churchyard
at Grande Pointe, given it into the schoolmaster's care, and had gone
to join his son. Of course, not as an idler; such a perfect woodsman
easily made himself necessary to the engineer's party. The company were
sorry enough to lose him when Claude went away; but no temptation that
they could invent could stay him from following Claude. Father and son
went in one direction, and the camp in another.
I must confess to being somewhat vague as to just where they were. I
should have to speak from memory, and I must not make another slip in
topography. The changes men have made in Southern Louisiana these last
few years are great. I say nothing, again, of the vast widths of
prairie stripped of the herds and turned into corn and cane fields:
when I came, a few months ago, to that station on Morgan's Louisiana
and Texas Railroad where Claude first went aboard a railway-train,
somebody had actually moved the bayou, the swamp, and the prairie
However, the exact whereabouts of the St. Pierres is not important
to us. Mr. Tarbox, when in search of the camp he crossed the Teche at
St. Martinville, expected to find it somewhere north-eastward, between
that stream and the Atchafalaya. But at the Atchafalaya he found that
the work in that region had been finished three days before, and that
the party had been that long gone to take part in a new work down in
the prairies tremblantes of Terrebonne Parish. The Louisiana
Land Reclamation Company,I think that was the name of the concern
projecting the scheme. This was back in early February, you note.
Thither Mr. Tarbox followed. The Album of Universal Information
went along, and did well. It made his progress rather slow, of
course; but one of Mr. Tarbox's many maxims was, never to make one day
pay for another when it could be made to pay for itself, and during
this seasonthis Louisiana campaign, as he called ithe had developed
a new art,making each day pay for itself several times over.
Many of these people, he said,but said it solely and silently to
himself,are ignorant, shiftless, and set in their ways; and even
when they're not they're out of the current, as it were; they haven't
headway; and so they neveror seldom eversee any way to make money
except somehow in connection with the plantations. There's no end of
chances here to a man that's got money-sense, and nerve to use it. He
wrote that to Zoséphine, but she wrote no answer. A day rarely passed
that he did not find some man making needless loss through ignorance or
inactivity; whereupon he would simply put in the sickle of his sharper
wit, and garner the neglected harvest. Or, seeing some unesteemed
commodity that had got out of, or had never been brought into, its best
form, time, or place, he knew at sight just how, and at what expense,
to bring it there, and brought it.
Give me the gains other men pass by, he said, and I'll be
satisfied. The saying is, 'Buy wisdom;' but I sell mine. I like to
sell. I enjoy making money. It suits my spirit of adventure. I like an
adventure. And if there's any thing I love, it's an adventure with
money in it! But even that isn't my chief pleasure: my chief pleasure's
the study of human nature.
'The proper study of mankind is man.
* * * * *
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled,
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world.'
This spoiling of Assyrian camps, so to speak, often detained Mr.
Tarbox within limited precincts for days at a time; but Isn't that
what time is for? he would say to those he had been dealing with, as
he finally snapped the band around his pocket-book; and they would
respond, Yes, that's so.
And then he would wish them a hearty farewell, while they were
thinking that at least he might know it was his treat.
Thus it was the middle of February when at Houma, the parish seat of
Terrebonne, he passed the last rootlet of railway, and, standing
finally under the blossoming orange-trees of Terrebonne Bayou far down
toward the Gulf, heard from the chief of the engineering party that
Claude was not with him.
He didn't leave us; we left him; and up to the time when we left he
hadn't decided where he would go or what he would do. His father and he
are together, you know, and of course that makes it harder for them to
know just how to move.
The speaker was puzzled. What could this silk-hatted,
cut-away-coated, empearled, free lance of a fellow want with Claude? He
would like to find out. So he added, I may get a letter from him
to-morrow; suppose you stay with me until then. And, to his
astonishment, Mr. Tarbox quickly jumped at the proposition.
No letter came. But when the twenty-four hours had passed, the
surveyor had taken that same generousnot to say credulousliking for
Mr. Tarbox that we have seen him show for St. Pierre and for Claude. He
was about to start on a tour of observation eastward through a series
of short canals that span the shaking prairies from bayou to bayou,
from Terrebonne to Lafourche, Lafourche to Des Allemands, so through
Lake Ouacha into and up Barataria, again across prairie, and at length,
leaving Lake Cataouaché on the left, through cypress-swamp to the
Mississippi River, opposite New Orleans. He would have pressed Mr.
Tarbox to bear him company; but before he could ask twice, Mr. Tarbox
had consented. They went in a cat-rigged skiff, with a stalwart negro
rowing or towing whenever the sail was not the best.
It's all of sixty miles, said the engineer; but if the wind
doesn't change or drop we can sleep to-night in Achille's hut, send
this man and skiff back, and make Achille, with his skiff, put us on
board the Louisiana-avenue ferry-launch to-morrow afternoon.
Who is Achille?
Achille? Oh! he's merely a 'Cajun pot-hunter living on a shell bank
at the edge of Lake Cataouaché, with an Indian wife. Used to live
somewhere on Bayou des Allemands, but last year something or other
scared him away from there. He's oddseems to be a sort of self-made
outcast. I don't suppose he's ever done anybody any harm; but he just
seems to be one of that kind that can't bear to even try to keep up
with the rest of humanity; the sort of man swamps and shaking prairies
were specially made for, you know. He's living right on top of a bank
of fossil shells now,thousands of barrels of them,that he knows
would bring him a little fortune if only he could command the
intelligence and the courage to market them in New Orleans. There's a
chance for some bright man who isn't already too busy. Why didn't I
think to mention it to Claude? But then neither he nor his father have
got the commercial knowledge they would need. NowThe speaker
suddenly paused, and, as the two men sat close beside each other under
an umbrella in the stern of the skiff, looked into Mr. Tarbox's
pale-blue eyes, and smiled, and smiled.
I'm here, said Mr. Tarbox.
Yes, responded the other, and I've just made out why! And you're
right, Tarbox; you and Claude, with or without his father, will make a
strong team. You've got no business to be canvassing books, you
It's my line, said the canvasser, smiling fondly and pushing his
hat back,it was wonderful how he kept that hat smooth,and I'm the
head of the line:
'A voice replied far up the height,
I was acquainted with Mr. Longfellow.
Tarbox, persisted the engineer, driving away his own smile, you
know what you are; you are a born contractor! You've found it out,
andsmiling againthat's why you're looking for Claude.
Where is he? asked Mr. Tarbox.
Well, I told you the truth when I said I didn't know; but I haven't
a doubt he's in Vermilionville.
Neither have I, said the book-agent; and if I had, I wouldn't
give it room. If I knew he was in New Jersey, still I'd think he was in
Vermilionville, and go there looking for him. And wherefore? For occult
reasons. The two men looked at each other smilingly in the eye, and
the boat glided on.
The wind favored them. With only now and then the cordelle, and
still more rarely the oars, they moved all day across the lands and
waters that were once the fastnesses of the Baratarian pirates. The
engineer made his desired observations without appreciable delays, and
at night they slept under Achille's thatch of rushes.
As the two travellers stood alone for a moment next morning, the
You seem to be making a study of my pot-hunter.
It's my natural instinct, replied Mr. Tarbox. The study of human
nature comes just as natural to me as it does to a new-born duck to
scratch the back of its head with its hind foot; just as naturaland
easier. The pot-hunter is a study; you're right.
But he reciprocates, said the engineer; he studies you.
The student of man held his smiling companion's gaze with his own,
thrust one hand into his bosom, and lifted the digit of the other: The
eyes are called the windows of the soul,
'And looks commercing with the skies,
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes.'
Have you tried to look into his eyes? You can't do it. He won't let
you. He's got something in there that he doesn't want you to see.
In the middle of the afternoon, when Achille's skiff was already
re-entering the shades of the swamp on his way homeward, and his two
landed passengers stood on the levee at the head of Harvey's Canal with
the Mississippi rolling by their feet and on its farther side the masts
and spires of the city, lighted by the western sun, swinging round the
long bend of her yellow harbor, Mr. Tarbox offered his hand to say
good-by. The surveyor playfully held it.
I mean no disparagement to your present calling, he said, but the
next time we meet I hope you'll be a contractor.
Ah! responded Tarbox, it's not my nature. I cannot contract; I
must always expand. And yetI thank you.
'Pure thoughts are angel visitors. Be such
The frequent inmates of thy guileless breast.'
Good luck! Good-by!
One took the ferry; the other, the west bound train at Gretna.
CHAPTER IX. NOT BLUE EYES, NOR YELLOW
When the St. Pierres found themselves really left with only each
other's faces to look into, and the unbounded world around them, it was
the father who first spoke:
Well, Claude, where you t'ink 'better go?
There had been a long, silent struggle in both men's minds. And now
Claude heard with joy this question asked in English. To ask it in
their old Acadian tongue would have meant retreat; this meant advance.
And yet he knew his father yearned for Bayou des Acadiens. Nay, not his
father; only one large part of his father's nature; the old, French,
What should Claude answer? Grande Pointe? Even for St. Pierre alone
that was impossible. Can a man enter a second time into his mother's
womb? No; the thatched cabin stood there,stands there now; but, be
he happy or unhappy, no power can ever make St. Pierre small enough
again to go back into that shell. Let it stand, the lair of one of whom
you may have heard, who has retreated straight backward from Grande
Pointe and from advancing enlightenment and order,the village
Claude's trouble, then, was not that his father's happiness beckoned
in one direction and his in another; but that his father's was linked
on behind his. Could the father endure the atmosphere demanded by the
son's widening power? Could the second nature of lifetime habits bear
the change? Of his higher spirit there was no doubt. Neither father nor
son had any conception of happiness separate from noble aggrandizement.
Nay, that is scant justice; far more than they knew, or than St.
Pierre, at least, would have acknowledged, they had caught the spirit
of Bonaventure, to call it by no higher name, and saw that the best
life for self is to live the best possible for others. For all
others, Bonaventure would have insisted; but for Claude, St. Pierre
would have amended. They could not return to Grande Pointe.
Where, then, should they go? Claude stood with his arms akimbo,
looked into his father's face, tried to hide his perplexity under a
smile, and then glanced at their little pile of effects. There lay
their fire-arms, the same as ever; but the bundles in Madras
handkerchiefs had given place to travelling-bags, and instead of pots
and pans here were books and instruments. What reply did these things
make? New Orleans? The great city? Even Claude shrank from that
No, it was the name of quite a different place they spoke; a name
that Claude's lips dared not speak, because, for lo! these months and
months his heart had spoken it,spoken it at first in so soft a
whisper that for a long time he had not known it was his heart he
heard. When something within uttered and re-uttered the place's name,
he would silently explain to himself: It is because I am from home. It
is this unfixed camp-life, this life without my father, without
Bonaventure, that does it. This is not love, of course; I know that:
for, in the first place, I was in love once, when I was fourteen, and
it was not at all like this; and in the second place, it would be
hopeless presumption in me, muddy-booted vagabond that I am; and in the
third place, a burnt child dreads fire. And so it cannot be love. When
papa and I are once more together, this unaccountable longing will
But, instead of ceasing, it had grown. The name of the place was
still the only word the heart would venture; but it meant always one
pair of eyes, one young face, one form, one voice. Still it was not
loveoh, no! Now and then the hospitality of some plantation-house
near the camp was offered to the engineers; and sometimes, just to
prove that this thing was not love, he would accept such an invitation,
and even meet a pretty maiden or two, and ask them for music and
songfor which he had well-nigh a passionand talk enough to answer
their questions and conjectures about a surveyor's life, etc.; but when
he got back to camp, matters within his breast were rather worse than
He had then tried staying in camp, but without benefit,nothing
cured, every thing aggravated. And yet he knew so perfectly well that
he was not in love, that just to realize the knowledge, one evening,
when his father was a day's march ahead, and he was having a pleasant
chat with the chief, no one else nigh, and they were dawdling away
its closing hour with pipes, metaphysics, psychology, and like trifles,
which Claude, of course, knew all about,Claude told him of this
singular and amusing case of haunting fantasy in his own experience.
His hearer had shown even more amusement than he, and had gone on
smiling every now and then afterward, with a significance that at
length drove Claude to bed disgusted with him and still more with
himself. There had been one offsetting comfort; an unintentional
implication had somehow slipped in between his words, that the haunting
fantasy had blue eyes and yellow hair.
All right, the angry youth had muttered, tossing on his iron
couch, let him think so! And then he had tossed again, and said below
his breath, It is not love: it is not. But I must never answer its
call; if I do, love is what it will be. My father, my father! would
that I could give my whole heart to thee as thou givest all to me!
God has written on every side of our nature,on the mind, on the
soul, yes, and in our very flesh,the interdict forbidding love to
have any one direction only, under penalty of being forever dwarfed.
This Claude vaguely felt; but lacking the clear thought, he could only
cry, Oh, is it, is it, selfishness for one's heart just to be
hungry and thirsty?
And now here sat his father, on all their worldly goods, his rifle
between his knees, waiting for his son's choice, and ready to make it
his own. And here stood the son, free of foot to follow that voice
which was calling to-day louder than ever before, but feeling assured
that to follow it meant love without hope for him, and for this dear
father the pain of yielding up the larger share of his son's heart,as
if love were subject to arithmetic!yielding it to one who, thought
Claude, cared less for both of them than for one tress of her black
hair, one lash of her dark eyes. While he still pondered, the father
Claude, I tell you! his face lighted up with courage and ambition.
We better goMervilionville!
Claude's heart leaped, but he kept his countenance. Vermilionville?
No, papa; you will not like Vermilionville.
Yaas! I will like him. 'Tis good place! Bonaventure come from
yondah. When I was leav' Gran' Point', Bonaventure, he cry, you know,
like I tole you. He tell Sidonie he bringin' ed'cation at Gran' Point'
to make Gran' Point' more better, but now ed'cation drive bes' men 'way
from Gran' Point'. And den he say, 'St. Pierre, may bee you go
Mervilionville; dat make me glad,' he say: 'dat way,' he say, 'what I
rob Peter I pay John.' Where we go if dawn't go Mervilionville? St.
Martinville, Opelousas, New Iberia? Too many Creole yondah for me.
Can't go to city; city too big to live in. Why you dawn't like
Mervilionville? You write me letter, when you was yondah, you like him
Claude let silence speak consent. He stooped, and began to load
himself with their joint property. He had had, in his life, several
sorts of trouble of mind; but only just now at twenty was he making the
acquaintance of his conscience. Vermilionville was the call that had
been sounding within him all these months, and Marguerite was the
CHAPTER X. A STRONG TEAM.
I would not wish to offend the self-regard of Vermilionville.
Butwhat a place in which to seek enlargement of life! I know worth
and greatness have sometimes, not to say ofttimes, emerged from much
worse spots; from little lazy villages, noisy only on Sunday, with
grimier court-houses, deeper dust and mud, their trade more entirely in
the hands of rat-faced Isaacs and Jacobs, with more frequent huge and
solitary swine slowly scavenging about in abysmal self-occupation,
fewer vine-clad cottages, raggeder negroes, and more decay.
Vermilionville is not the worst, at all. I have seen large, and
enlarging, lives there.
Hither came the two St. Pierres. No, Claude said; they would not
go to the Beausoleil house. Privately he would make himself believe he
had not returned to any thing named Beausoleil, but only and simply to
Vermilionville. On a corner opposite the public square there was
another hotel; and it was no great matter to them if it was mostly
pine-boards, pale wall-paper, and transferable whitewash. But, not to
be outdone by its rival round the corner, it had, besides, a piano, of
a quality you may guess, and a landlady's daughter who seven times a
day played and sang I want to be somebody's darling, and had no want
beyond. The travellers turned thence, found a third house full,
conjectured the same of the only remaining one, and took their way,
after all, towards Zoséphine's. It was quite right, now, to go there,
thought Claude, since destiny led; and so he let it lead both his own
steps and the thrumping boots of this dear figure in Campeachy hat and
soft untrimmed beard, that followed ever at his side.
And then, after all!looking into those quiet black eyes of
Zoséphine's,to hear that Marguerite was not there! Gone! Gone to the
great city, the place too big to live in. Gone there for knowledge,
training, cultivation, larger life, and finer uses! Gone to study an
art,an art! Risen beyond him like a diamond in the sky. And he fool
enough to come rambling back, blue-shirted and brown-handed, expecting
to find her still a tavern maid! So, farewell fantasy! 'Twas better so;
much better. Now life was simplified. Oh, yes; and St. Pierre made
matters better still by saying to Zoséphine:
I dinn' know you got one lill gal. Claude never tell me 'bout dat.
I spec' dat why he dawn't want 'come yeh. He dawn't like gal; he run
f'om 'em like dog from yalla-jacket. He dawn't like none of 'm. What he
like, dass his daddy. He jus' married to his daddy. The father dropped
his hand, smilingly, upon his son's shoulder with a weight that would
have crushed it in had it been ordinary cast-iron.
Claude took the hand and held it, while Zoséphine smiled and
secretly thanked God her child was away. In her letters to Marguerite
she made no haste to mention the young man's re-appearance, and
presently a small thing occurred that made it well that she had left it
With Claude and his father some days passed unemployed. Yet both
felt them to be heavy with significance. The weight and pressure of new
and, to them, large conditions, were putting their inmost quality to
proof. Claude saw, now, what he could not see before; why his friend
the engineer had cast him loose without a word of advice as to where he
should go or what he should do. It was because by asking no advice he
had really proposed to be his own master. And now, could he do it? Dare
he try it?
The first step he took was taken, I suppose, instinctively rather
than intelligently; certainly it was perilous: he retreated into
himself. St. Pierre found work afield, for of this sort there was
plenty; the husbandmen's year, and the herders' too, were just
gathering good momentum. But Claude now stood looking on empty-handed
where other men were busy with agricultural utensils or machines; or
now kept his room, whittling out a toy miniature of some apparatus,
which when made was not like the one he had seen, at last. A great
distress began to fill the father's mind. There had been a time when he
could be idle and whittle, but that time was gone by; that was at
Grande Pointe; and now for his sonfor Claudeto become a lounger in
tavern quartersClaude had not announced himself to Vermilionville as
a surveyor, or as any thingClaude to be a hater of honest laborwas
this what Bonaventure called civilize-ation? Better, surely better, go
back to the old pastoral life. How yearningly it was calling them to
its fragrant bosom! And almost every thing was answering the call. The
town was tricking out its neglected decay with great trailing robes of
roses. The spade and hoe were busy in front flower-beds and rear
kitchen-gardens. Lanes were green, skies blue, roads good. In the
bas fonds the oaks of many kinds and the tupelo-gums were hiding
all their gray in shimmering green; in these coverts and in the reedy
marshes, all the feathered flocks not gone away north were broken into
nesting pairs; in the fields, crops were springing almost at the
sower's heels; on the prairie pastures, once so vast, now being
narrowed so rapidly by the people's thrift, the flocks and herds ate
eagerly of the bright new grass, and foals, calves, and lambs stood and
staggered on their first legs, while in the door-yards housewives,
hens, and mother-geese warned away the puppies and children from downy
broods under the shade of the China-trees. But Claude? Even his books
lay unstudied, and his instruments gathered dust, while he pottered
over two or three little wooden things that a boy could not play with
without breaking. At last St. Pierre could bear it no longer.
Well, Claude, dass ten days han'-runnin' now, we ain't do not'in'
Claude slowly pushed his model from him, looked, as one in a dream,
into his father's face, and suddenly and for the first time saw what
that father had suffered for a fortnight. But into his own face there
came no distress; only, for a moment, a look of tender protestation,
and then strong hope and confidence.
Yass, he said, rising, dass true. But we dawn't got whittle no
mo'. He pointed to the model, then threw his strong arms akimbo and
asked, You know what is dat?
Naw, replied the father, I dunno. I t'ink 'taint no real mash-in'
[machine] 'cause I dawn't never see nuttin' like dat at Belle Alliance
plant-ation, neider at Belmont; and I know, me, if anybody got one
mash-in', any place, for do any t'in' mo' betteh or mo' quicker, Mistoo
Walleece an' M'sieu Le Bourgeois dey boun' to 'ave 'im. Can't hitch
nuttin' to dat t'ing you got dare; she too small for a rat. What she
A yet stronger hope and courage lighted Claude's face. He laid one
hand upon the table before him and the other upon the shoulder of his
Papa, if you want to go wid me to de city, we make one big enough
for two mule'. Dass a mash-in'a new mash-in'my mash-in'my
Invench? What dat isinvench?
Some one knocked on the door. Claude lifted the model, moved on
tiptoe, and placed it softly under the bed. As he rose and turned again
with reddened face, a card was slipped under the door. He took it and
read, in a pencil scrawl,
State Superintendent of Public Education,
looked at his father with a broad grin, and opened the door.
Mr. Tarbox had come at the right moment. There was a good hour and a
half of the afternoon still left, and he and Claude took a walk
together. Beyond a stile and a frail bridge that spanned a gully at one
end of the town, a noble avenue of oaks leads toward Vermilion River.
On one side of this avenue the town has since begun to spread, but at
that time there were only wide fields on the right hand and on the
left. At the farther end a turn almost at right angles to the left
takes you through a great gate and across the railway, then along a
ruined hedge of roses, and presently into the oak-grove of the old
ex-governor's homestead. This was their walk.
By the time they reached the stile, Claude had learned that his
friend was at the head of his line, and yet had determined to abandon
that line for another
Far up the height
Also that his friend had liked him, had watched him, would need him,
and was willing then and there to assure him a modest salary, whose
amount he specified, simply to do whatever he might call upon him to do
in his (Claude's) line.
They were walking slowly, and now and then slower still. As they
entered the avenue of oaks, Claude declined the offer. Then they went
very slowly indeed. Claude learned that Mr. Tarbox, by some chance not
explained, had been in company with his friend the engineer; that the
engineer had said, Tarbox, you're a born contractor, and that Claude
and he would make a strong team; that Mr. Tarbox's favorite study was
human nature; that he knew talent when he saw it; had studied Claude;
had fully expected him to decline to be his employee, and liked him the
better for so doing.
That was just a kind of test vote; see?
Then Mr. Tarbox offered Claude a partnership; not an equal one, but
withal a fair interest.
We've got to commence small and branch out gradually; see? And
Now, you wonder why I don't go in alone. Well, I'll tell you; and
when I tell you, I'll astonish you. I lack education! Now, Claude, I'm
taking you into my confidence. You've done nothing but go to school and
study for about six years. I had a different kind of father from yours;
I never got one solid year's schooling, all told, in my life. I've
picked up cords of information, but an ounce of education's worth a ton
of information. Don't you believe that? eh? it is so! I say it, and I'm
the author of the A. of U. I. I like to call it that, because it brings
you and I so near together; see? The speaker smiled, was still, and
That's why I need you. And I'm just as sure you need me. I need not
only the education you have now, but what you're getting every day.
When you see me you see a man who is always looking awa-a-ay ahead. I
see what you're going to be, and I'm making this offer to the Claude
St. Pierre of the future.
Mr. Tarbox waited for a reply. The avenue had been passed, the
railway crossed, and the hedge skirted. They loitered slowly into the
governor's grove, under whose canopy the beams of the late afternoon
sun were striking and glancing. But all their light seemed hardly as
much as that which danced in the blue eyes of Mr. Tarbox while Claude
I dunno if we can fix dat. I was glad to see you comin'. I reckon
you jus' right kind of man I want. I jus' make a new invention. I t'ink
'f you find dat's good, dat be cawntrac' enough for right smart while.
And beside', I t'ink I invent some mo' b'fo' long.
But Mr. Tarbox was not rash. He only asked quiet and careful
questions for some time. The long sunset was sending its last rays
across the grove-dotted land, and the birds in every tree were filling
the air with their sunset song-burst, when the two friends re-entered
the avenue of oaks. They had agreed to join their fortunes. Now their
talk drifted upon other subjects.
I came back to Vermilionville purposely to see you, said Mr.
Tarbox. But I'll tell you privately, you wasn't the only cause of my
Claude looked at him suddenly. Was this another haunted man? Were
there two men haunted, and only one fantasy? He felt ill at ease. Mr.
Tarbox saw, but seemed not to understand. He thought it best to speak
I'm courting her, Claude; and I think I'm going to get her.
Claude stopped short, with jaws set and a bad look in his eye.
But Mr. Tarbox was calmeven complacent. He pushed his silk hat
from his forehead, and said:
... 'One made up
Of loveliness alone;
A woman, of her gentle sex
The seeming paragon.'
I refer to the Rose of Vermilionville, the Pearl of the Parish, the
loveliest love and fairest fair that ever wore the shining name of
Beausoleil. She's got to change it to Tarbox, Claude. Before yon sun
has run its course again, I'm going to ask her for the second time.
I've just begun asking, Claude; I'm going to keep it up till she says
She's not yondah! snarled Claude, with the frown and growl of a
mastiff. She's gone to de city.
Mr. Tarbox gazed a moment in blank amazement. Then he slowly lifted
his hat from his head, expanded his eyes, drew a long slow groan,
turned slowly half around, let the inhalation go in a long keen
whistle, and cried:
Oh! taste! taste! Who's got the taste? What do you take me for? Who
are you talking about? That little monkey? Why, man alive, it's the
mother I'm after. Ha, ha, ha!
If Claude said any thing in reply, I cannot imagine what it was. Mr.
Tarbox had a right to his opinion and taste, if taste it could be
called, and Claude was helpless to resent it, even in words; but for
hours afterward he execrated his offender's stupidity, little guessing
that Mr. Tarbox, in a neighboring chamber, alone and in his night-robe,
was bending, smiting his thigh in silent merriment, and whispering to
He thinks I'm an ass! He thinks I'm an ass! He can't see that I was
simply investigating him!
CHAPTER XI. HE ASKS HER AGAIN.
Claude and his father left the next day,Saturday. Only the author
of the A. of U. I. knew whither they were gone. As they were going he
said very privately to Claude:
I'll be with you day after to-morrow. You can't be ready for me
before then, and you and your father can take Sunday to look around,
and kind o' see the city. But don't go into the down-town part; you'll
not like it; nothing but narrow streets and old buildings with
histories to 'em, and gardens hid away inside of 'em, and damp
archways, and pagan-looking females who can't talk English, peeping out
over balconies that offer to drop down on you, and then don't keep
their word; every thing old-timey, and Frenchy, and Spanishy;
unprogressiveyou wouldn't like it. Go up-town. That's American. It's
new and fresh. There you'll find beautiful mansions, mostly frame, it's
true, but made to look like stone, you know. There you'll see wealth!
There you'll get the broad daylight
'The merry, merry sunshine, that makes the heart so gay.'
See? Yes, and Monday we'll meet at Jones's, 17 Tchoupitoulas Street;
all right; I'll be on hand. But to-day and to-morrow'Alabama''here
I rest.' I feel constrainedhe laid his hand upon his heart, closed
one eye, and whisperedto stay. I would fain spend the sabbath in
sweet Vermilionville. You get my idea?
The sabbath afternoon, beyond the town, where Mr. Tarbox strolled,
was lovelier than can be told. Yet he was troubled. Zoséphine had not
thus far given him a moment alone. I suppose, when a hundred
generations more have succeeded us on the earth, lovers will still be
blind to the fact that women do not do things our way. How can they?
That would be capitulation at once, and even we should find the whole
business as stupid as shooting barnyard fowls.
Zoséphine had walked out earlier than Tarbox. He had seen her go,
but dared not follow. He read thou shalt not as plain as print on her
back as she walked quietly away; that same little peremptory back that
once in her father's calèche used to hold itself stiff when 'Thanase
rode up behind. The occasional townsman that lifted his slouch hat in
deep deference to her silent bow, did not read unusual care on her fair
brow; yet she, too, was troubled.
Marguerite! she was the trouble. Zoséphine knew her child could
never come back to these old surroundings and be content. The mother
was not willing she should. She looked at a photograph that her
daughter had lately sent her. What a change from the child that had
left her! It was like the change from a leaf to a flower. There was but
one thing to do: follow her. So Zoséphine had resolved to sell the inn.
She was gone, now, to talk with the old ex-governor about finding a
purchaser. Her route was not by the avenue of oaks, but around by a
northern and then eastern circuit. She knew Mr. Tarbox must have seen
her go; had a genuine fear that he would guess whither she was bound,
and yet, deeper down in her heart than woman ever lets soliloquy go,
was willing he should. For she had another trouble. We shall come to
Her suitor walked in the avenue of oaks.
She's gone, he reckoned to himself, to consult the governor about
something, and she'll come back this way. He loitered out across
fields, but not too far off or out of sight; and by and by there she
came, with just the slightest haste in her walk. She received him with
kindly reserve, and they went more slowly, together.
She told where she had been, and that the governor approved a
decision she had made.
Yass; I goin' sell my hotel.
He's right! exclaimed her companion, with joy; and you're right!
Well, 'tain't sold yet, she responded. She did not smile as she
looked at him. He read trouble; some trouble apart from the subject, in
her quiet, intense eyes.
You know sombodie want buy dat? she asked.
I'll find some one, he promptly replied. Then they talked a little
about the proper price for it, and then were very still until Mr.
I walked out here hoping to meet you.
Madame Beausoleil looked slightly startled, and then bowed gravely.
Yes; I want your advice. It's only business, but it's important,
and it's a point where a woman's instinct is better than a man's
There was some melancholy satire in her responding smile; but it
passed away, and Mr. Tarbox went on:
You never liked my line of business
Zoséphine interrupted with kind resentment:
No; I know you didn't. You're one of the few women whose
subscription I've sought in vain. Till then I loved my business. I've
never loved it since. I've decided to sell out and quit. I'm going into
another business, one that you'll admire. I don't say any thing about
the man going into it,
'Honor and shame from no condition rise:
Act well your part; there all the honor lies,'
but I want your advice about the party I think of going in with.
It's Claude St. Pierre.
Zoséphine turned upon the speaker a look of steady penetration. He
met it with a glance of perfect confiding. She sees me, he said, at
the same time, far within himself.
It was as natural to Mr. Tarbox to spin a web as it is for a spider.
To manoeuvre was the profoundest instinct of his unprofound nature.
Zoséphine felt the slender threads weaving around her. But in her heart
of hearts there was a certain pleasure in being snared. It could not,
to her, seem wholly bad for Tarbox to play spider, provided he should
play the harmless spider. Mr. Tarbox spoke again, and she listened
Claude is talented. He has what I haven't; I have what he hasn't,
and together we could make each other's fortunes, if he's only the
square, high-style fellow I think he is. I'm a student of human nature,
and I think I've made him out. I think he'll do to tie to. But will he?
You can tell me. You read people by instinct. I ask you just as a
matter of business advice and in business confidence. What do you
think? Will you trust me and tell meas my one only trusted
friendfreely and fullyas I would tell you?
Madame Beausoleil felt the odds against her, but she looked into her
companion's face with bright, frank eyes and said: Yass, I t'ink yass;
I t'ink 'tis so.
Thanks! said her friend, with unnecessary fervor and tenderness.
Then Claude will be my partner, unlessmy dear friend, shall you be
so kindI might almost say confidingto me, and me not tell you
something I think you'd ought to know? For I hope we are always to be
friends; don't you?
Yass, she said, very sadly and sweetly.
Thanks! And if Claude and I become partners that will naturally
bring him into our circle, as it were; see?
The little madame looked up with a sudden austere exaltation of
frame and intensity of face, but her companion rushed on withAnd I'm
going to tell you, let the risk to me be what it may, that it may
result in great unhappiness to Claude; for he loves your daughter, who,
I know, you must think too good for him!
Madame Beausoleil blushed as though she herself were Marguerite and
Tarbox were Claude.
Ah! love Marguerite! Naw, naw! He dawn't love noboddie but hees
papa! Hees papa tell me dat! Ah! naw, 'tis not so!
Mr. Tarbox stopped still; and when Zoséphine saw they were in the
shadow of the trees while all about them was brightened by the
momentary Southern twilight, she, too, stopped, and he spoke.
What brought Claude back here when by right he should have gone
straight to the city? You might have guessed it when you saw him. He
paused to let her revolve the thought, and added in his own mindIf
you had disliked the idea, you'd 'a' suspected him quick enoughand
was pleased. He spoke again. But I didn't stop with guessing.
Zoséphine looked up to his face from the little foot that edgewise
was writing nothings in the dust.
No, continued her companion: I walked with him two evenings ago
in this avenue, and right where we stand now, without his ever knowing
itthen or nowhe as good as told me. Yes, Josephine, he dares to
love your beautiful and accomplished daughter! The thought may offend
you, butwas I not right to tell you?
She nodded and began to move slowly on, he following.
I'm not betraying anyone's confidence, persisted he; and I can't
help but have a care for you. Not that you need it, or anybody's. You
can take care of yourself if any man or woman can. Every time your foot
touches the ground it says so as plain as words. That's what first
caught my fancy. You haven't got to have somebody to take care of you.
O Josephine! that's just why I want to take care of you so bad! I can
take care of myself, and I used to like to do it; I was just that
selfish and small; but love's widened me. I can take care of myself;
but, oh! what satisfaction is there in it? Is there any? Now, I ask
you! It may do for you, for you're worth taking care of; but I want to
take care of something I needn't be ashamed to love! He softly stole
her hand as they went. She let it stay, yet looked away from him, up
through the darkling branches, and distressfully shook her head.
Don't, Josephine!don't do that. I want you to take care of me.
You could do better, I know, if love wasn't the count; but when it
comes to loving you, I'm the edition deloox! I know you've an aspiring
nature, but so have I; and I believe with you to love and you loving
me, and counselling and guiding me, I could climb high. O Josephine! it
isn't this poor Tarbox I'm asking you to give yourself to; it's the
Tarbox that is to be; it's the coming Tarbox! Why, it's even a good
business move! If it wasn't I wouldn't say a word! You know I can, and
will take the very best care of every thing you've got; and I know
you'll take the same of mine. It's a good move, every way. Why, here's
every thing just fixed for it! Listen to the mocking-bird! See him
yonder, just at the right of the stile. See! O Josephine! don't you see
'Still singing where the weeping willow waves'?
he's on the myrtle; the myrtle, Josephine, and the crape-myrtle at
that!widowhood unwidowed!Now he's on the fencebut he'll not stay
there,and you mustn't either! The suitor smiled at his own
ludicrousness, yet for all that looked beseechingly in earnest. He
stood still again, continuing to hold her hand. She stole a furtive
glance here and there for possible spectators. He smiled again.
You don't see anybody; the world waives its claim. But there was
such distress in her face that his smile passed away, and he made a new
effort to accommodate his suit to her mood. Josephine, there's no eye
on us except it's overhead. Tell me this; if he that was yours until
ten years ago was looking down now and could speak to us, don't you
believe he'd say yes?
Oh! I dunno. Not to-day! Not dis day! The widow's eyes met
his gaze of tender inquiry and then sank to the ground. She shook her
head mournfully. Naw, naw; not dis day. 'Tis to-day 'Thanase was
Mr. Tarbox relaxed his grasp and Zoséphine's hand escaped. She never
had betrayed to him so much distress as filled her face now. De man
what kill' him git away! You t'ink I git marrie' while dat man alive?
Ho-o-o! You t'ink I let Marguerite see me do dat! Ah! naw! She waved
him away and turned to leave the spot, but he pressed after, and she
paused once more. A new possibility lighted his eyes. He said eagerly:
Describe the man to me. Describe him. How tall was he? How old
would he be now? Did they try to catch him? Did you hear me talking
yesterday about a man? Is there any picture of him? Have you got one?
Yes, you have; it's in your pocket now with your hand on it. Let me see
Ah! I di'n' want you to see dat!
No, I don't suppose, as far as you know yourself, you did. He
received it from her, and with his eyes still on her, continued: No,
but you knew that if I got a ghost of a chance, I'd see you alone. You
knew what I'd ask you;yes, you did, Josephine, and you put this thing
into your pocket to make it easier to say no.
Hah! easier! Hah! easier! I need somethin' to help me do
dat? Hah! 'Tis not so! But the weakness of the wordy denial was
itself almost a confession.
They moved on. A few steps brought them into better light. Mr.
Tarbox looked at the picture. Zoséphine saw a slight flash of
recognition. He handed it back in silence, and they walked on, saying
not a word until they reached the stile. But there, putting his foot
upon it to bar the way, he said:
Josephine, the devil never bid so high for me before in his life as
he's bidding for me now. And there's only one thing in the way; he's
bid too late.
Her eyes flashed with injured resentment. Ah, you! you dawn't know
not'n' But he interrupted:
Stop, I don't mean more than just what I say. Six years agosix
and a halfI met a man of a kind I'd never met, to know it, before.
You know who' I mean, don't you?
Yes. That meeting made a turning-point in my life. You've told me
that whatever is best in you, you owe to him. Well, knowing him as I
do, I can believe it; and if it's true, then it's the same with me; for
first he, and then you, have made another man out of me.
Ah, naw! Bonaventure, may_be; but not me; ah, naw!
But I tell you, yes! you, Josephine! I'm poor sort enough yet; but
I could have done things once that I can't do now. There was a time
when if some miserable outlaw stood, or even seemed, maybe, to stand
between me and my chances for happiness, I could have handed him over
to human justice, so called, as easy as wink; but now? No, never any
more! Josephine, I know that man whose picture I've just looked at. I
could see you avenged. I could lay my hands, and the hands of the law,
on him inside of twenty-four hours. You say you can't marry till the
law has laid its penalties on him, or at least while he lives and
escapes them. Is that right?
Zoséphine had set her face to oppose his words only with unyielding
silence, but the answer escaped her:
Yass, 'tis so. 'Tis ri-ght!
No, Josephine. I know you feel as if it were; but you don't
think so. No, you don't; I know you better in this matter than you
know yourself, and you don't think it's right. You know justice belongs
to the State, and that when you talk to yourself about what you
owe to justice, it means something else that you're too sweet and good
to give the right name to, and still want it. You don't want it; you
don't want revenge, and here's the proof; for, Josephine, you know, and
I know, that if Ieven without speakingwith no more than one look of
the eyeshould offer to buy your favor at that price, even ever so
lawfully, you'd thank me for one minute, and then loathe me to the end
of your days.
Zoséphine's face had lost its hardness. It was drawn with distress.
With a gesture of repulsion and pain she exclaimed:
I di'n' meanI di'n' meanAh!
What? private revenge? No, of course you didn't! But what else
would it be? O Josephine! don't I know you didn't mean it? Didn't I
tell you so? But I want you to go farther. I want you to put away
forever the feeling. I want to move and stand between you and
it, and saywhatever it costs me to say it'God forbid!' I do say it;
I say it now. I can't say more; I can't say less; and somehow,I don't
know howwherever you learned itI've learned it from you.
Zoséphine opened her lips to refuse; but they closed and tightened
upon each other, her narrowed eyes sent short flashes out upon his, and
her breath came and went long and deep without sound. But at his last
words she sawthe strangest thingto be where she saw ita tear
tearsstanding in his eyes; saw them a moment, and then could see
them no more for her own. Her lips relaxed, her form drooped, she
lifted her face to reply, but her mouth twitched; she could not speak.
I'm not so foolish as I look, he said, trying to smile away his
emotion. If the State chooses to hunt him out and put him to trial and
punishment, I don't say I'd stand in the way; that's the State's
business; that's for the public safety. But it's too lateyou and
Bonnyventure have made it too latefor me to help any one, least of
all the one I love, to be revenged. He saw his words were prevailing
and followed them up. Oh! you don't need it any more than you really
want it, Josephine. You mustn't ever look toward it again. I throw
myself and my love across the path. Don't walk over us. Take my hand;
give me yours; come another way; and if you'll let such a poor excuse
for a teacher and guide help you, I'll help you all I can, to learn to
say 'forgive us our trespasses.' You can begin, now, by forgiving me. I
may have thrown away my last chance with you, but I can't help it; it's
my love that spoke. And if I have spoiled all and if I've got to pay
for the tears you're shedding with the greatest disappointment of my
life, still I've had the glory and the sanctification of loving you. If
I must say, I can say,
''Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.'
Must I? Are you going to make me say that?
Zoséphine, still in tears, silently and with drooping head pushed
her way across the stile and left him standing on the other side. He
sent one pleading word after her:
Isn't it most too late to go the rest of the way alone?
She turned, lifted her eyes to his for an instant, and nodded. In a
twinkling he was at her side. She glanced at him again and said quite
Yass; 'tis so, and they went the short remnant of the way
CHAPTER XII. THE BEAUSOLEILS AND ST.
You think of going to New Orleans in the spring. Certainly, the
spring is the time to go. When you find yourself there go some day for
luncheonif they haven't moved it, there is talk of that,go to the
Christian Women's Exchange, already mentioned, in the Rue
Bourbon,French Quarter. You step immediately from the sidewalk into
the former drawing-room of a house built early in the century as a
fashionable residence. That at least is its aspect. Notice, for
instance, in the back parlor, crowded now, like the front one, with
eating-tables, a really interesting old wooden mantelpiece. Of course
this is not the way persons used to go in old times. They entered by
the porte-cochère and open carriage-way upon which these drawing-rooms
still open by several glass doors on your right. Step out there. You
find a veranda crowded with neat white-clothed tables. Before some late
alterations there was a great trellis full of green sunshine and broken
breezes entangled among vines of trumpet-creeper and the Scuppernong
grape. Here you will be waited on, by small, blue-calico-robed damsels
of Methodist unsophistication and Presbyterian propriety, to excellent
refreshment; only, if you know your soul's true interest, eschew their
fresh bread and insist on having yesterday's.
However, that is a matter of taste there, and no matter at all here.
All I need to add is that there are good apartments overhead to be
rented to women too good for this world, and that in the latter end of
April, 1884, Zoséphine and Marguerite Beausoleil here made their home.
The tavern was sold. The old life was left far behind. They had done
that dreadful thing that everybody deprecates and everybody likes to
doleft the country and come to live in the city. And Zoséphine was
well pleased. A man who had tried and failed to be a merchant in the
city, he and his wife, took the tavern; so Zoséphine had not reduced
the rural populationhad not sinned against stastistics.
Besides, she had the good conscience of having fled from Mr.
Tarboxput U. and I. apart, as it wereand yet without being so hid
but a suitor's proper persistency could find her. Just now he was far
away prosecuting the commercial interests of Claude's one or two
inventions; but he was having great success; he wrote once or
twicebut got no replyand hoped to be back within a month.
When Marguerite, after her mother's receipt of each of these
letters, thought she saw a cloud on her brow, Zoséphine explained, with
a revival of that old look of sweet self-command which the daughter so
loved to see, that they contained matters of business not at all to be
called troubles. But the little mother did not show the letters. She
could not; Marguerite did not even know their writer had changed his
business. As to Claude, his name was never mentioned. Each supposed the
other was ignorant that he was in the city, and because he was never
mentioned each one knew the other was thinking of him.
Ah, Claude! what are you thinking of? Has not your new partner in
business told you they are here? No, not a word of it. That'll keep
till I get back, Mr. Tarbox had said to himself; and such shrewdness
was probably not so ungenerous, after all. If you want a thing done
well, do it yourself, he said one evening to a man who could not make
out what he was driving at; and later Mr. Tarbox added to himself, The
man that flies the kite must hold the thread. And so he kept his
But that does not explain. For we remember that Claude already knew
that Marguerite was in the city, at least had her own mother's word for
it. Here, weeks had passed. New Orleans is not so large; its active
centre is very small. Even by accident, on the street, Canal Street
especially, he should have seen her time and again.
And he did not; at any rate not to know it. She really kept very
busy indoors; and in other doors so did he. More than that, there was
his father. When the two first came to the city St. Pierre endured the
town for a week. But it was martyrdom, doing it. Claude saw this. Mr.
Tarbox was with him the latter part of the week. He saw it. He gave his
suggestive mind to it for one night. The next day St. Pierre and he
wandered off in street-cars and on foot, and by the time the sun went
down again a new provision had been made. At about ninety minutes'
jaunt from the city's centre, up the river, and on its farther shore,
near where the old Company Canal runs from a lock in the river bank,
back through the swamps and into the Baratarian lakes, St. Pierre had
bought with his lifetime savings a neat house and fair-sized orangery.
No fields? None:
You see, bom-bye [by-and-by] Claude git doze new mash-in' all
right, he go to ingineerin' agin, and him and you [Tarbox] be takin'
some cawntrac' for buil' levee or break up old steamboat, or raise
somet'in' what been sunk, or somet'in' dat way. And den he certain'
want somboddie to boss gang o' fellows. And den he say, 'Papa, I want
you.' And den I say how I got fifty arpent' [42 acres] rice in field.
And den he say, 'How I goin' do widout you?' And den dare be fifty
arpent' rice gone! No, no fields.
Better: here with the vast wet forest at his back; the river at his
feet; the canal, the key to all Barataria, Lafourche, and Terrebonne,
full of Acadian fishermen, hunters, timber-cutters, moss-gatherers, and
the like; the great city in sight from yonder neighbor's balustraded
house-top; and Claude there to rally to his side or he to Claude's at a
moment's warning; he would be an operatorthink of that!not of the
telegraph; an operator in the wild products of the swamp, the
prairies tremblantes, the lakes, and in the small harvests of the
pointes and bayou margins: moss, saw-logs, venison, wild-duck,
fish, crabs, shrimp, melons, garlic, oranges, Périque tobacco.
Knowledge is power; he knew wood, water, and sky by heart, spoke two
languages, could read and write, and understood the ways and tastes of
two or three odd sorts of lowly human kind. Self-command is dominion; I
do not say the bottle went never to his lips, but it never was lifted
high. And now to the blessed maxim gotten from Bonaventure he added one
given him by Tarbox: In h-union ees strank! Not mere union of hands
alone; but of counsels! There were Claude and Tarbox and he!
For instance; at Mr. Tarbox's suggestion Claude brought to his
father from the city every evening, now the Picayune and now the
Times-Democrat. From European and national news he modestly turned
aside. Whether he read the book-notices I do not know; I hope not. But
when he had served supperhe was a capital camp cookand he and
Claude had eaten, and their pipes were lighted, you should have seen
him scanning the latest quotations and debating the fluctuations of the
moss market, the shrimp market, and the garlic market.
Thus Claude was rarely in the city save in the busy hours of the
day. Much oftener than otherwise, he saw the crimson sunsets, and the
cool purple sunrises as he and St. Pierre pulled in the father's skiff
diagonally to or fro across the Mississippi, between their cottage and
the sleepy outposts of city street-cars, just under the levee at the
edge of that green oak-dotted plain where a certain man, as gentle,
shy, and unworldly as our engineer friend thought Claude to be, was
raising the vast buildings of the next year's Universal Exposition.
But all this explains only why Claude did not, to his knowledge, see
Marguerite by accident. Yet by intention! Why not by intention? First,
there was his fear of sinning against his father's love. That alone
might have failed to hold him back; but, second, there was his
helplessness. Love made Tarbox, if any thing were needed to make him,
brave; it made Claude a coward. And third, there was that helpless
terror of society in general, of which we have heard his friend talk. I
have seen a strong horse sink trembling to the earth at the beating of
an empty drum. Claude looked with amazed despair at a man's ability to
overtake a pretty girl acquaintance in Canal Street, and walk and talk
with her. He often asked himself how he had ever been a moment at his
ease those November evenings in the tavern's back-parlor at
Vermilionville. It was because he had a task there; sociality was not
the business of the hour.
And now I have something else to confess about Claude; something
mortifying in the extreme. For you see the poverty of all these
explanations. Their very multitude makes them weak. Many fires cannot
quench love; what was the real matter? I will tell.
Claude's love was a deep sentiment. He had never allowed it to
assert itself as a passion. The most he would allow it to be was a
yearning. It was scarcely personal. While he was with Marguerite, in
the inn, his diffidence alone was enough to hide from him the
impression she was making on his heart. In all their intercourse he had
scarcely twice looked her full in the face. Afterward she had simply
become in memory the exponent of an ideal. He found himself often, now,
asking himself, why are my eyes always looking for her? Should I
actually know her, were I to see her on this sidewalk, or in this
street-car? And while still asking himself these silent questions, what
does he do one day but fallto all intents and purposes, at
leastfall in lovepell-mellup to the eyebrowswith another girl!
Do you remember Uncle Remus's story of Brer Rabbit with the bucket
of honey inverted on him? It was the same way with Claude. He wa'n't
des only bedobble wid it, he wuz des kiver'd. It happened thus: An
artist friend, whose studio was in Carondelet Street just off of Canal,
had rented to him for a workroom a little loft above the studio. It had
one window looking out over roofs and chimney-pots upon the western
sky, and another down into the studio itself. It is right to say
friend, although there was no acquaintanceship until it grew out of
this arrangement. The artist, a single man, was much Claude's senior;
but Claude's taste for design, and love of work, and the artist's grave
sincerity, simplicity, and cordiality of characterhe was a Spaniard,
with a Spaniard's perfect courtesymade a mutual regard, which only a
common diffidence prevented from running into comradeship.
One Saturday afternoon Claude, thirsting for outdoor air, left his
eyrie for a short turn in Canal Street. The matinée audiences were just
out, and the wide balcony-shaded sidewalks were crowded with young
faces and bright attires. Claude was crossing the neutral ground
toward Bourbon Street, when he saw coming out of Bourbon Street a young
man, who might be a Creole, and two young girls in light, and what
seemed to him extremely beautiful dresses; especially that of the
farther one, who, as the three turned with buoyant step into Canal
Street to their left, showed for an instant the profile of her face,
and then only her back. Claude's heart beat consciously, and he hurried
to lessen the distance between them. He had seen no more than the
profile, but for the moment in which he saw it, it seemed to be none
other than the face of Marguerite!
CHAPTER XIII. THE CHASE.
Claude came on close behind. No; now he could see his mistake, it
was not she. But he could not regret it. This was Marguerite repeated,
yet transcended. The stature was just perceptibly superior. The breadth
and grace of these shoulders were better than Marguerite's. The hair,
arranged differently and far more effectively than he had ever seen it
on Marguerite's head, seemed even more luxurious than hers. There was
altogether a finer dignity in this one's carriage than in that of the
little maid of the inn. And see, now,now!as she turns her head to
glance into this shop window! It is, and it isn't, it isn't, and it is,
andno, no, it is not Marguerite! It is like her in profile,
singularly like, yet far beyond her; the nose a little too fine, and a
certain sad firmness about the mouth and eyes, as well as he could see
in the profile, but profiles are so deceptivethat he had never seen
But how do I know? What do I know? he asked himself, still
following on. The Marguerite I know is but a thing of my dreams, and
this is not that Marguerite of my actual sight, to whom I never gave a
word or smile or glance that calls for redemption. This is the
Marguerite of my dreams.
Claude was still following, when without any cause that one could
see, the young man of the group looked back. He had an unpleasant face;
it showed a small offensive energy that seemed to assert simply him and
all his against you and all yours. His eyes were black, piercing, and
hostile. They darted their glances straight into Claude's. Guilty
Claude! dogging the steps of ladies on the street! He blushed for
shame, turned a corner into Exchange Alley, walked a little way down
it, came back, saw the great crowd coming and going, vehicles of all
sorts hurrying here and there; ranks of street-cars waiting their turns
to start to all points of the compass; sellers of peanuts and
walking-sticks, buyers of bouquets, acquaintances meeting or overtaking
one another, nodding bonnets, lifted hats, faces, faces, faces; but the
one face was gone.
Caught, Claude? And by a mere face? The charge is too unkind. Young
folly, yes, or old folly, may read goodness rashly into all beauty, or
not care to read it in any. But it need not be so. Upon the face of
youth the soul within writes its confessions and promises; and when the
warm pulses of young nature are sanctified by upward yearnings, and a
pure conscience, the soul that seeks its mate will seek that face
which, behind and through all excellencies of mere tint and feature,
mirrors back the seeker's own faiths and hopes; and when that is found,
that to such a one is beauty. Judge not; you never saw this face,
fairer than Marguerite's, to say whether its beauty was mere face, or
the transparent shrine of an equal nobility within.
Besides, Claude would have fired up and denied the first word of the
charge with unpleasant flatness. To be caught means to be in love, to
be in love implies a wish and hope to marry, and these were just what
Claude could not allow. May not a man, nevertheless, have an ideal of
truth and beauty and look worshipfully upon its embodiment? Humph!
His eyes sought her in vain not only on that afternoon, but on many
following. The sun was setting every day later and later through the
black lace-work of pecan-trees and behind low dark curtains of orange
groves, yet he began to be more and more tardy each succeeding day in
meeting his father under the riverside oaks of the Exposition grounds.
And then, on the seventh day, he saw her again.
Now he was more confident than ever that this vision and he, except
in dreams, had never spoken to each other. Yet the likeness was
wonderful. But so, too, was the unlikeness. True, this time, she only
flashed across his sightout of a bank, into a carriage where a very
American"-looking lady sat waiting for her and was gone. But the bank;
the carriage; that lady; those earlier companions,no, this could not
be Marguerite. Marguerite would have been with her mother. Now, if one
could see Madame Beausoleil's daughter with Madame Beausoleil at her
side to identify her and distinguish her from this flashing and
vanishing apparition it would clear away a trying perplexity. Why not
be bold and call upon them where they were dwelling? But where? Their
names were not in the directory. Now, inventive talent, do your best.
* * * * *
Well! said St. Pierre after a long silence. Claude and he were out
on the swollen Mississippi pulling with steady leisure for the
home-side shore, their skiff pointed half to and half from the boiling
current. The sun was gone; a purple dusk wrapped either low bank; a
steamboat that had passed up stream was now, at the turning of the
bend, only a cluster of soft red lights; Venus began to make a faint
silvery pathway across the waters. St. Pierre had the forward seat, at
Claude's back. The father looked with fond perplexity at the strong
young shoulders swinging silently with his own, forward and backward in
slow, monotonous strokes, and said again:
Well? Whass matter? Look like cat got yo' tongue. Makin' new
mash-in? Then in a low dissatisfied toneI reckon somet'in' mighty
curious. He repeated the last three words in the Acadian speech:
Tcheuque-chose bien tchurieux.
Yass, replied the son, mighty strange. I tell you when we come at
He told all. Recounted all his heart's longings, all his dreams,
every least pang of self-reproach, the idealization of Marguerite, and
the finding of that ideal incarnated in one who was and yet seemed not
to be, or rather seemed to be and yet was not, Marguerite. And then he
went on to re-assure his father that this could never mean marriage,
never mean the father's supplanting. A man could worship what he could
never hope to possess. He would rather worship this than win such kind
as he would dare woo.
He said all these things in a very quiet way, with now and then a
silent pause, and now and then a calm, self-contained tone in resuming;
yet his sentences were often disconnected, and often were half
soliloquy. Such were the only betrayals of emotion on either side until
Claude began to treatin the words just givenhis father's own heart
interests; then the father's eyes stood brimming full. But St. Pierre
did not speak. From the first he had listened in silence and he offered
no interruption until at length Claude came to that part about the
object of his regard being so far, so utterly, beyond his reach. Then
Stop! Dass all foolishness! You want her? You kin have her!
Ah, papa! you dawn't awnstand! What I am?
Ah, bah! What anybody is? What she is? She invanted bigger mash-in
dan you? a mo' better corn-stubbl' destroyer and plant-corner? He
meant corn-planter. She invant a more handier doubl'-action pea-vine
rake? What she done mak' her so gran'? Naw, sir! She look fine in de
face, yass; and dass all you know. Well, dass all right; dass de 'Cajun
waypick 'em out by face. You begin 'Cajun way, for why you dawn't
finish 'Cajun way? All you got do, you git good saddle-hoss and ride.
Bom-bye you see her, you ride behind her till you find where her daddy
livin' at. Den you ride pas' yondah every day till fo', five days, and
den you see de ole man come scrape friend wid you. Den he hass you drop
round, and fus' t'ing you knowadjieu la calége!
Claude did not dispute the point, though he hardly thought this case
could be worked that way. He returned in silent thought to the
question, how to find Madame Beausoleil. He tried the mail; no
response. He thought of advertising; but that would never do. Imagine,
If Madame Beausoleil, late of Vermilionville, will leave her address
at this office, she will hear of something not in the least to her
advantage. He couldn't advertise.
It was midday following the eve of his confession to his father. For
the last eleven or twelve days, ever since he had seen that blessed
apparition turn with the two young friends into Canal Street out of
Bourbonhe had been venturing daily, for luncheon, just down into
Bourbon Street, to the Christian Women's Exchange. Now, by all the laws
of fortune he should in that time have seen in there at least once or
twice a day already, the face he was ever looking for. But he had not;
nor did he to-day. He only saw, or thought he saw, the cashierI
should say the cashieressglance crosswise at him with eyes that
seemed to him to say:
Fool; sneak; whelp; 'Cajun; our private detectives are watching
Both rooms and the veranda were full of ladies and gentlemen whose
faces he dared not lift his eyes to look into. And yet even in that
frame there suddenly came to him one of those happy thoughts that are
supposed to be the inspirations of inventive genius. A pleasant little
female voice near him said:
And apartments up-stairs that they rent to ladies only! And
instantly the thought came that Marguerite and her mother might be
living there. One more lump of bread, a final gulp of coffee, a short
search for the waiter's check, and he stands at the cashieress's desk.
She makes change without looking at him or ceasing to tell a small
hunchbacked spinster standing by about somebody's wedding. But suddenly
Oh! wasn't that right? You gave me four bits, didn't you? And I
gave you back two bits and a picayune, andsir? Does Madame who? Oh!
yes. I didn't understand you; I'm a little deaf on this side; scarlet
fever when I was a little girl. I'm not the regular cashier, she's gone
to attend the wedding of a lady friend. Just wait a moment, please,
while I make change for these ladies. Oh, dear! ma'am, is that the
smallest you've got? I don't believe I can change that, ma'am.
Yesnostop! yes, I can! no, I can't! let's see! yes, yes, yes, I
can; I've got it; yes, there! I didn't think I had it. She turned
again to Claude with sisterly confidence. Excuse me for keeping you
waiting; haven't I met you at the Y. M. C. A. sociable? Well, you must
excuse me, but I was sure I had. Of course I didn't if you was never
there; but you know in a big city like this you're always meeting
somebody that's ne-e-early somebody else that you knowoh! didn't you
ask meoh, yes! Madame Beausoleil! Yes, she lives here, she and her
daughter. But she's not in. Oh! I'm sorry. Neither of them is here.
She's not in the city; hasn't been for two weeks. They're coming back;
we're expecting them every day. She heard of the death of a relative
down in Terrebonne somewhere. I wish they would come back; we
miss them here; I judge they're relatives of yours, if I don't mistake
the resemblance; you seem to take after the daughter; wait a minute.
Some one coming up to pay looked at Claude to see what the daughter
was like, and the young man slipped away, outblushing the night sky
when the marshes are afire.
The question was settled; settled the wrong way. He hurried on
across Canal Street. Marguerite had not been, as he had construed the
inaccurate statement, in the city for two weeks. Resemblances need
delude him no longer. He went on into Carondelet Street and was drawing
near the door and stairway leading to his friend's studio and his own
little workroom above it, when suddenly from that very stairway and
door issued she whom, alas! he might now no longer mistake for
Marguerite, yet who, none the less for lessening hope, held him
CHAPTER XIV. WHO SHE WAS.
For a moment somewhat more than her profile shone upon Claude's
I shall see her eye to eye at last! shouted his heart within: but
the next moment she turned away, and with two companions who came
across the same threshold, moved up the street, and, at the nearest
corner, vanished. Her companions were the American lady and the artist.
Claude wheeled, and hurried to pass around the square in the opposite
direction, and, as he reached the middle of its third side, saw the
artist hand them into the street-car, lift his hat, and return towards
the studio. The two men met at the foot of the stairs. The Spaniard's
countenance betrayed a restrained elation.
You goin' see a picture now, he said, in a modestly triumphant
tone. Come in, he added, as Claude would have passed the studio door.
They went in together. The Spaniard talked; Claude scarcely spoke. I
cannot repeat the conversation literally, but the facts are these: A
few evenings before, the artist had been one of the guests at a musical
party given by a lady whose name he did not mention. He happenedhe
modestly believed it accidentalto be seated beside the hostess, when
a young ladyjung Creole la-thy, he called herwho was spending a
few days with her, played the violin. The Spaniard's delicate propriety
left her also nameless; but he explained that, as he understood, she
was from the Teche. She played charminglyfor an amateur, he
qualified: but what had struck him more than the music was her beauty,
her figure, her picturesque grace. And when he confessed his delight in
these, his hostess, seemingly on the inspiration of the moment, said:
Paint her picture! Paint her just so! I'll give you the order. Not
a mere portraita picture. And he had agreed, and the jung lady had
consented. The two had but just now left the studio. To-morrow a
servant would bring violin, music-rack, etc.; the ladies would follow,
You hear music, anyhow, said the artist. That was his gentle way
of intimating that Claude was not invited to be a looker-on.
On the next day, Claude, in his nook above, with the studio below
shut from view by the curtain of his inner window, heard the ladies
come. He knows they are these two, for one voice, the elder, blooms out
at once in a gay abundance of words, and the other speaks in soft, low
tones that, before they reach his ear, run indistinguishably together.
Soon there comes the sound of tuning the violin, while the older
voice is still heard praising one thing and another, and asking
I suppose that cotton cloth covers something that is to have a
public unveiling some day, doesn't it?
Claude cannot hear the answer; the painter drops his voice even
below its usual quiet tone. But Claude knows what he must be saying;
that the cloth covers merely a portrait he is finishing of a young man
who has sat for it to please a wifeless, and, but for him, childless,
and fondly devoted father. And now he can tell by the masculine step,
and the lady's one or two lively words, that the artist has drawn away
the covering from his (Claude's) own portrait. But the lady's young
companion goes on tuning her instrumenttink, tink, tink; and now
the bow is drawn.
Why, how singular! exclaims the elder lady. Why, my dear, come
here and see! Somebody has got your eyes! Why, he's got your whole
state of mind, a reduplication of it. AndI declare, he looks almost
as good as you do! IfI
The voice stops short. There is a moment's silence in which the
unseen hearer doubts not the artist is making signs that yonder window
and curtain are all that hide the picture's original, and the voice
I wish you'd paint my picture, and the violin sounds once more its
But there are other things which Claude can neither hear, nor see,
nor guess. He cannot see that the elder lady is already wondering at,
and guardedly watching, an agitation betrayed by the younger in a
tremor of the hand that fumbles with her music-sheets and music-stand,
in the foot that trembles on the floor, in the reddened cheek, and in
the bitten lip. He may guess that the painter sits at his easel with
kindling eye; but he cannot guess that just as the elder lady is about
My dear, if you don't feelthe tremor vanishes, the lips gently
set, and only the color remains. But he hears the first soft moan of
the tense string under the bow, and a second, and another; and then, as
he rests his elbows upon the table before him, and covers his face in
his trembling hands, it seems to him as if his own lost heart had
entered into that vibrant medium, and is pouring thence to heaven and
her ear its prayer of love.
Paint, artist, paint! Let your brushes fly! None can promise you she
shall ever look quite like this again. Catch the lines,the waving
masses and dark coils of that loose-bound hair; the poise of head and
neck; the eloquent sway of the form; the folds of garments that no
longer hide, but are illumined by, the plenitude of an inner life and
grace; the elastic feet; the ethereal energy and discipline of arms and
shoulders; the supple wrists; the very fingers quivering on the
strings; the rapt face, and the love-inspired eyes.
Claude, Claude! when every bird in forest and field knows the call
of its mate, can you not guess the meaning of those strings? Must she
open those sealed lips and call your very nameshe who would rather
die than call it?
He does not understand. Yet, without understanding, he answers. He
rises from his seat; he moves to the window; he will not tiptoe or
peep; he will be bold and bad. Brazenly he lifts the curtain and looks
down; and one, one onlynot the artist and not the patroness of art,
but that one who would not lift her eyes to that window for all the
world's wealthknows he is standing there, listening and looking down.
He counts himself all unseen, yet presently shame drops the curtain. He
turns away, yet stands hearkening. The music is about to end. The last
note trembles on the air. There is silence. Then someone moves from a
chair, and then the single cry of admiration and delight from the
player's companion is the player's name,
Hours afterward there sat Claude in the seat where he had sunk down
when he heard that name. The artist's visitors had made a long stay,
but at length they were gone. And now Claude, too, rose to go out. His
steps were heard below, and presently the painter's voice called
St. Pierre! St. Pierre! Come, see.
They stood side by side before the new work. Claude gazed in
silence. At length he said, still gazing:
I'll buy it when 'tis finish'.
But the artist explained again that it was being painted for
For what she want it? demanded Claude. The Spaniard smiled and
intimated that the lady probably thought he could paint. But at any
rate, he went on to say, she seemed to have a hearty affection for
the girl herself, whom, he said, she had described as being as good
as she looked. Claude turned and went slowly out.
When at sunset he stood under the honey-locust tree on the levee
where he was wont to find his father waiting for him, he found himself
alone. But within speaking distance he saw St. Pierre's skiff just
being drawn ashore by a ragged negro, who presently turned and came to
him, half-lifting the wretched hat that slouched about his dark brows,
Sim like you done fo'got me, he said. Don't you 'member how I
use' live at Belle Alliance? Yes, seh. I's de one what show Bonaventure
de road to Gran' Point'. Yes, seh. But I done lef' dah since Mistoo
Wallis sole de place. Yes, seh. An' when I meet up wid you papa you
nevva see a nigger so glad like I was. No, seh. An' likewise you papa.
Yes, seh. An' he ass me is I want to wuck fo' him, an' I see he needin'
he'p, an' so I tu'n in an' he'p him. Oh, yes, seh! dass mo' 'n a week,
now, since I been wuckin' fo' you papa.
They got into the skiff and pushed off, the negro alone at the oars.
Pow'ful strong current on udder side, he said, pulling quietly
up-stream to offset the loss of way he must make presently in crossing
the rapid flood. Mistoo Claude, I see a gen'leman dis day noon what I
ain't see' befo' since 'bout six year' an' mo'. I disremember his name,
Tarbox? asked Claude with sudden interest.
Yes, seh. Dass it! Tah-bawx. Sim like any man ought to 'member dat
name. Him an' you papa done gone down de canal. Yes, seh; in a pirogue.
He come in a big hurry an' say how dey got a big crevasse up de river
on dat side, an' he want make you papa see one man what livin' on Lac
Cataouaché. Yes, seh. An you papa say you fine you supper in de pot.
An' Mistoo Tah-bawx he say he want you teck one hoss an' ride up till
de crevasse an' you fine one frien' of yose yondah, one ingineer; an'
he sayMistoo Tah-bawxhow he 'low to meet up wid you at you papa'
house to-morrow daylight. Yes, seh; Mistoo Tah-bawx; yes, seh.
CHAPTER XV. CAN THEY CLOSE THE
The towering cypresses of the far, southern swamps have a great
width of base, from which they narrow so rapidly in the first seven or
eight feet of their height, and thence upward taper so gradually, that
it is almost or quite impossible for an axe-man, standing at their
roots, to chop through the great flare that he finds abreast of him,
and bring the trees down. But when the swamps are deep in water, the
swamper may paddle up to these trees, whose narrowed waists are now
within the swing of his axe, and standing up in his canoe, by a marvel
of balancing skill, cut and cut, until at length his watchful,
up-glancing eye sees the forest giant bow his head. Then a shove, a few
backward sweeps of the paddle, and the canoe glides aside, and the
great trunk falls, smiting the smooth surface of the water with a roar
that, miles away, reaches the ear like the thunder of artillery. The
tree falls: but if the woodsman has not known how to judge and choose
wisely when the inner wood is laid bare under the first big chip that
flies, there are many chances that the fallen tree will instantly sink
to the bottom of the water, and cannot be rafted out. One must know his
craft, even in Louisiana swamps. Knowledge is power.
When Zoséphine and Mr. Tarbox finished out that Sunday twilight
walk, they talked, after leaving the stile behind, only on business. He
told her of having lately been, with a certain expert, in the swamps of
Barataria, where he had seen some noble cypress forests tantalizingly
near to navigation and market, but practically a great way off, because
the levees of the great sugar estates on the Mississippi River shut out
all deep overflows. Hence these forests could be bought for, seemingly,
a mere tithe of their value. Now, he proposed to buy such a stretch of
them along the edge of the shaking prairie north of Lake Cataouaché as
would show on his part, he said, caution, but not temerity.
He invited her to participate. And why? For the simple reason that
the expert, and engineer, had dropped the remark that, in his opinion,
a certain levee could not possibly hold out against the high water of
more than two or three more years, and that when it should break it
would spread, from three to nine feet of water, over hundreds of square
miles of swamp forests, prairies tremblantes, and rice and sugar
fields, and many leagues of railway. Zoséphine had consented; and
though Mr. Tarbox had soon after gone upon his commercial travels, he
had effected the purchase by correspondence, little thinking that the
first news he should hear on returning to New Orleans would be that the
remotely anticipated break had just occurred.
And now, could and would the breach be closed, or must all Barataria
soon be turned into, and remain for months, a navigable yellow sea?
This, Claude knew, was what he must hasten to the crevasse to discover,
and return as promptly to report upon, let his heart-strings draw as
they might towards the studio in Carondelet Street and the Christian
CHAPTER XVI. THE OUTLAW AND THE
What suffering it costs to be a coward! Some days before the
crevasse occurred, he whom we know as the pot-hunter stood again on the
platform of that same little railway station whence we once saw him
vanish at sight of Bonaventure Deschamps. He had never ventured there
since, until now. But there was a new station agent.
His Indian squaw was dead. A rattlesnake had given her its fatal
sting, and the outcast, dreading all men and the coroner not the least,
had, silently and alone, buried her on the prairie.
The train rolled up to the station again as before. Claude's friend,
the surveyor, stepped off with a cigar in his mouth, to enjoy in the
train's momentary stay the delightful air that came across the open
prairie. The pot-hunter, who had got rid of his game, ventured near his
former patron. It might be the engineer could give him work whereby to
earn a day's ready money. He was not disappointed. The engineer told
him to come in a day or two, by the waterways the pot-hunter knew so
well, across the swamps and prairies to Bayou Terrebonne and the little
court-house town of Houma. And then he added:
I heard this morning that somebody had been buying the swamp land
all around you out on Lake Cataouaché. Is it so?
The Acadian looked vacant and shook his head.
Yes, said the other, a Madame Beausoleil, or somebodWhat's the
All aboard! cried the train conductor.
The fellow turned pale, said the surveyor, as he resumed his seat
in the smoking-car and the landscape began again to whirl by.
The pot-hunter stood for a moment, and then slowly, as if he stole
away from some sleeping enemy, left the place. Alarm went with him like
an attendant ghost. A thousand times that day, in the dark swamp, on
the wide prairie, or under his rush-thatch on the lake-side, he
tortured himself with one question: Why had sheZoséphinereached
away out from Carancro to buy the uncultivable and primeval wilderness
round about his lonely hiding-place? Hour after hour the inexplicable
problem seemed to draw near and nearer to him, a widening, tightening,
dreamlike terror, that, as it came, silently pointed its finger of
death at him. He was glad enough to leave his cabin next day in his
small, swift pirogueshot-gun, axe, and rifle his only companionsfor
It chanced to be noon of the day following, when he glided up the
sunny Terrebonne towards the parish seat. The shores of the stream have
many beauties, but the Acadian's eyes were alert to any thing but them.
The deep green, waxen-leaved casino hedges; the hedges of Cherokee
rose, and sometimes of rose and casino mingled; the fields of corn and
sugar-cane; the quaint, railed, floating bridges lying across the lazy
bayou; the orange-groves of aged, giant trees, their dark green boughs
grown all to a tangle with well-nigh the density of a hedge, and their
venerable trunks hairy with green-gray lichens; the orange-trees again
in the door-yards, with neat pirogues set upon racks under their deep
shade; the indescribable floods of sunlight and caverns of shadow; the
clear, brown depths beneath his own canoe; or, at the bottom, the dark,
waving, green-brown tresses of water-weeds,these were naught to him.
But the human presence was much; and once, when just ahead of him he
espied a young, sunbonneted woman crouching in the pouring sunshine
beyond the sod of the bayou's bank, itself but a few inches above the
level of the stream, on a little pier of one plank pushed out among the
flags and reeds, pounding her washing with a wooden paddle, he stopped
the dip of his canoe-paddle, and gazed with growing trepidation and
slackening speed. At the outer end of the plank, the habitual dip of
the bucket had driven aside the water-lilies, and made a round, glassy
space that reflected all but perfectly to him her busy, young, downcast
How likeJust then she lifted her head. He started as though his
boat had struck a snag. How likehow terribly like to that young
Zoséphine whose ill-concealed scorn he had so often felt in daysin
yearslong gone, at Carancro! This was not, and could not be, the
samelacked half the necessary years; and yet, in the joy of his
relief, he answered her bow with a question, Whose was yonder house?
She replied in the same Acadian French in which she was questioned,
that there dwelt, or had dwelt, and about two weeks ago had died,
Monsieur Robichaux. The pot-hunter's paddle dipped again, his canoe
shot on, and two hours later he walked with dust-covered feet into
The principal tavern there stands on that corner of the court-house
square to which the swamper would naturally come first. Here he was to
find the engineer. But, as with slow, diffident step he set one foot
upon the corner of the threshold, there passed quickly by him and out
towards the court-house, two persons,one a man of a county court-room
look and with a handful of documents, and the other a woman whom he
knew at a glance. Her skirts swept his ankles as he shrank in sudden
and abject terror against the wall, yet she did not see him.
He turned and retreated the way he had come, nothing doubting that
only by the virtue of a voodoo charm which he carried in his pocket he
had escaped, for the time being, a plot laid for his capture. For the
small, neatly-robed form that you may still see disappearing within the
court-house door beside the limping figure of the probate clerk is
Zoséphine Beausoleil. She will finish the last pressing matter of the
Robichaux succession now in an hour or so, and be off on the little
branch railway, whose terminus is here, for New Orleans.
When the pot-hunter approached Lake Cataouaché again, he made on
foot, under cover of rushes and reeds taller than he, a wide circuit
and reconnoissance of his hut. While still a long way off, he saw,
lighted by the sunset rays, what he quickly recognized as a canoe drawn
half out of the water almost at his door. He warily drew nearer.
Presently he stopped, and stood slowly and softly shifting his footing
about on the oozy soil, at a little point of shore only some fifty
yards away from his cabin. His eyes, peering from the ambush, descried
a man standing by the pirogue and searching with his gaze the wide
distances that would soon be hidden in the abrupt fall of the southern
The pot-hunter knew him. Not by name, but by face. The day the
outlaw saw Bonaventure at the little railway station this man was with
him. The name the pot-hunter did not know was St. Pierre.
The ambushed man shrank a step backward into his hiding-place. His
rifle was in his hand and he noiselessly cocked it. He had not resolved
to shoot; but a rifle is of no use until it is cocked. While he so
stood, another man came into view and to the first one's side. This
one, too, he knew, despite the soft hat that had taken the place of the
silk one; for this was Tarbox. The Acadian was confirmed in his
conviction that the surveyor's invitation for him to come to Houma was
part of a plot to entrap him.
While he still looked the two men got into the canoe and St. Pierre
paddled swiftly away. The pot-hunter let down the hammer of his gun,
shrank away again, turned and hurried through the tangle, regained his
canoe, and paddled off. The men's departure from the cabin was, in his
belief, a ruse. But he knew how by circuits and short cuts to follow
after them unseen, and this he did until he became convinced that they
were fairly in the Company Canal and gliding up its dark colonnade in
the direction whence they had evidently come. Then he returned to his
cabin and with rifle cocked and with slow, stealthy step entered it,
and in headlong haste began to prepare to leave it for a long
He knew every spot of land and water for leagues around, as a bear
or a fox would know the region about his den. He had in mind now a bit
of dry ground scarce fifty feet long or wide, deeply hidden in the
swamp to the north of this lake. How it had ever happened that this dry
spot, lifted two or three feet above the low level around it, had been
made, whether by some dumb force of nature or by the hand of men yet
more untamable than he, had never crossed his thought. It was beyond
measure of more value to him to know, by what he had seen growing on it
season after season, that for many a long year no waters had overflowed
it. In the lake, close to his hut, lay moored his small centerboard
lugger, and into this he presently threw his few appliances and
supplies, spread sail, and skimmed away, with his pirogue towing after.
His loaded rifle lay within instant reach. By choice he would not
have harmed any living creature that men call it wrong to injure; but
to save himself, not only from death, but from any risk of death,
rightful or wrongful, he would, not through courage, but in the
desperation of frantic cowardice, have killed a hundred men, one by
By this time it was night; and when first the lugger and, after it
was hidden away, the pirogue, had carried him up a slender bayou as
near as they could to the point he wished to reach, he had still to
drag the loaded pirogue no small distance through the dark, often wet
and almost impenetrable woods. He had taken little rest and less sleep
in his late journeyings, and when at length he cast himself down before
his fire of dead fagots on the raised spot he had chosen, he slept
heavily. He felt safe from man's world, at least for the night.
Only one thing gave him concern as he lay down. It was the fact that
when, with the old woods-habit strong on him, he had approached his
selected camping ground, with such wariness of movement as the dragging
pirogue would allow, he had got quite in sight of it before a number of
deer on it bounded away. He felt an unpleasant wonder to know what
their unwilling boldness might signify.
He did not awake to replenish his fire until there were only a few
live embers shining dimly at his feet. He rose to a sitting posture;
and in that same moment there came a confusion of sounda trampling
through bushesthat froze his blood, and robbed his open throat of
power to cry. The next instant he knew it was but those same deer. But
the first intelligent thought brought a new fear. These most timid of
creatures had made but a few leaps and stopped. He knew what that
meant! As he leaped to his feet the deer started again, and he heard,
to his horror,where the ground had been dry and caked when he lay
down,the plash of their feet in water.
Trembling, he drew his boots on, made and lighted a torch, and in a
moment was dragging his canoe after him in the direction of the lugger.
Presently his steps, too, were plashing. He stooped, waved the torch
low across the water's surface, and followed the gleam with his
scrutiny. But he did so not for any doubt that he would see, as he did,
the yellow flood of the Mississippi. He believed, as he believed his
existence, that his pursuers had let the river in upon the swamp, ruin
whom they might, to drive him from cover.
Presently he stepped into the canoe, cast his torch into the water,
took his paddle, and glided unerringly through a darkness and a wild
tangle of undergrowth, large and small, where you or I could not have
gone ten yards without being lost. He emerged successfully from the
forest into the open prairie, and, under a sky whose stars told him it
would soon be day, glided on down the little bayou lane, between walls
of lofty rushes, up which he had come in the evening, and presently
found the lugger as he had left her, with her light mast down, hidden
among the brake canes that masked a little cove.
The waters were already in the prairie. As he boarded the little
vessel at the stern, a raccoon waddled in noiseless haste over the bow,
and splashed into the wet covert of reeds beyond. If only to keep from
sharing his quarters with all the refuge-hunting vermin of the noisome
wilderness, the one human must move on. He turned the lugger's prow
towards the lake, and spread her sails to the faint, cool breeze. But
when day broke, the sail was gone.
Far and wide lay the pale green leagues of reeds and bulrushes, with
only here and there a low willow or two beside some unseen lagoon, or a
sinuous band of darker green, where round rushes and myrtle bushes
followed the shore of some hidden bayou. The waters of the lake were
gleaming and crinkling in tints of lilac and silver stolen from the
air; and away to the right, and yet farther to the left, stood the dark
phalanxes of cypress woods.
Thus had a thousand mornings risen on the scene in the sight of the
outlaw. Numberless birds fluttered from place to place, snatching their
prey, carolling, feeding their young, chattering, croaking, warbling,
and swinging on the bending rush. But if you looked again, strange
signs of nature's mute anguish began to show. On every log or bit of
smaller drift that rain-swollen bayous had ever brought from the forest
and thrown upon their banks some wild tenant of the jungle, hare or
weasel, cat, otter, or raccoon, had taken refuge, sometimes alone, but
oftener sharing it, in common misery and silent truce, with deadly
foes. For under all that expanse of green beauty, the water, always
abundant, was no longer here and there, but everywhere.
See yonder reed but a few yards away. What singular dark enlargement
of stem is that near its top, that curious spiral growth?growth! It
is a great serpent that has climbed and twined himself there, and is
holding on for the life he loves as we love ours. And see! On a reed
near by him, another; and a little farther off, another; and
anotherand another! Where were our eyes until now? The surface of the
vast brake, as far as one can see such small things, is dotted with
like horrid burdens. And somewhere in this wild desolation, in this
green prospect of a million deaths waiting in silence alike for harmful
and harmless creatures, one man is hiding from all mankind.
CHAPTER XVII. WELL HIDDEN.
Of all the teeming multitudes of the human world, the pot-hunter
knows not one soul who is on his side; not one whom he dare let see his
face or come between him and a hiding-place. The water is rising fast.
He dare not guess how high it will come; but rise as it may, linger at
its height as it may, he will not be driven out. In his belief a
hundred men are ready, at every possible point where his foot could
overstep the line of this vast inundation, to seize him and drag him to
the gallows. Ah, the gallows! Not being deadnot God's angernot
eternal burnings; but simply facing death! The gallows! The tree above
his headthe rope around his neckthe signal about to be spokenthe
one wild moment after it! These keep him here.
He has taken down sail and mast. The rushes are twelve feet high.
They hide him well. With oars, mast, and the like, he has contrived
something by which he can look out over their tops. He has powder and
shot, coffee, salt, and rice; he will not be driven out! At night he
spreads his sail and seeks the open waters of the lake, where he can
sleep, by littles, without being overrun by serpents; but when day
breaks, there is no visible sign of his presence. Yet he is where he
can see his cabin. It is now deep in the water, and the flood is still
rising. He is quite sure no one has entered it since he left it.
Butthe strain of perpetual watching!
When at dawn of the fifth day he again looked for cover in the
prairie, the water was too high to allow him concealment, and he sought
the screen of some willows that fringed the edge of the swamp forest,
anchoring in a few rods' width of open water between them and the
woods. He did not fear to make, on the small hearth of mud and ashes he
had improvised in his lugger, the meagre fire needed to prepare his
food. Its slender smoke quickly mingled with the hazy vapors and
shadows of the swamp. As he cast his eye abroad, he found nowhere any
sign of human approach. Here and there the tops of the round rushes
still stood three feet above the water, but their slender needles were
scarcely noticeable. Far and near, over prairie as over lake, lay the
unbroken yellow flood. There was no flutter of wings, no whistle of
feathered mate to mate, no call of nestlings from the ruined nests.
Except the hawk and vulture, the birds were gone. Untold thousands of
dumb creatures had clung to life for a time, but now were devoured by
birds of prey and by alligators, or were drowned. Thousands still lived
on. Behind him in the swamp the wood-birds remained, the gray squirrel
still barked and leaped from tree to tree, the raccoon came down to
fish, the plundering owl still hid himself through the bright hours,
and the chilled snake curled close in the warm folds of the hanging
moss. Nine feet of water below. In earlier days, to the northward
through the forest, many old timbers rejected in railway construction
or repair, with dead logs and limbs, had been drifted together by heavy
rains, and had gathered a covering of soil; canebrake, luxurious
willow-bushes, and tough grasses had sprung up on them and bound them
with their roots. These floating islands the flood, now covering the
dense underbrush of the swamp, lifted on its free surface, and, in its
slow creep southward, bore through the pillared arcades of the cypress
wood and out over the submerged prairies. Many a cowering deer in those
last few days that had made some one of these green fragments of the
drowned land a haven of despair, the human castaway left unharmed.
Of all sentient creatures in that deluge he was suffering most. He
was gaunt and haggard with watching. The thought of pursuit bursting
suddenly around him now fastened permanently upon his imagination. He
feared to sleep. From the direction of the open water surprise seemed
impossible; but from the forest! what instant might it not ring with
the whoop of discovery, the many-voiced halting challenge, and the
glint of loaded Winchester? And another fear had come. Many a man not a
coward, and as used to the sight of serpents as this man, has never
been able to be other than a coward concerning them. The pot-hunter
held them in terror. It was from fear of them that he had lighted his
torch the night of his bivouac in the swamp. Only a knowledge of their
ordinary haunts and habits and the art of avoiding them had made the
swamp and prairie life bearable. Now all was changed. They were driven
from their dens. In the forest one dared not stretch forth the hand to
lay it upon any tangible thing until a searching glance had failed to
find the glittering eye and forked tongue that meant Beware! In the
flooded prairie the willow-trees were loaded with the knotted folds of
the moccasin, the rattlesnake, and I know not how many other sorts of
deadly or only loathsome serpents. Some little creatures at the bottom
of the water, feeding on the soft white part of the round rush near its
root, every now and then cut a stem free from its base, and let it
spring to the surface and float away. Often a snake had wrapped himself
about the end above the water, and when this refuge gave way and
drifted abroad he would cling for a time, until some less forlorn hope
came in sight, and then swim for it. Thus scarce a minute of the day
passed, it seemed, but one, two, or three of these creatures, making
for their fellow-castaway's boat, were turned away by nervous waving of
arms. The nights had proved that they could not climb the lugger's
side, and when he was in her the canoe was laid athwart her gunwales;
but at night he had to drop the bit of old iron that served for an
anchor, and the very first night a large moccasinnot of the dusky
kind described in books, but of that yet deadlier black sort, an ell in
length, which the swampers call the Congocame up the anchor-rope. The
castaway killed it with an oar; but after that who would have slept?
About sunset of the fifth day, though it was bright and beautiful,
the hunter's cunning detected the first subtle signs of a coming storm.
He looked about him to see what provision was needed to meet and
weather its onset. On the swamp side the loftiest cypresses, should the
wind bring any of them down, would not more than cast the spray of
their fall as far as his anchorage. The mass of willows on the prairie
side was nearer, but its trees stood low,already here and there the
branches touched the water; the hurricane might tear away some boughs,
but could do no more. He shortened the anchor-rope, and tried the hold
of the anchor on the bottom to make sure the lugger might not swing
into the willows, for in every fork of every bough was a huge dark mass
of serpents plaited and piled one upon another, and ready at any moment
to glide apart towards any new shelter that might be reached.
While eye and hand were thus engaged, the hunter's ear was attentive
to sounds that he had been hearing for more than an hour. These were
the puff of 'scape-pipes and plash of a paddle-wheel, evidently from a
small steamer in the Company Canal. She was coming down it; that is,
from the direction of the river and the city.
Whither was she bound? To some one of the hundred or more
plantations and plantation homes that the far-reaching crevasse had
desolated? Likely enough. In such event she would not come into view,
although for some time now he had seen faint shreds of smoke in the sky
over a distant line of woods. But it filled him with inward tremors to
know that if she chose to leave the usual haunts of navigation on her
left, and steam out over the submerged prairies and the lake, and into
the very shadow of these cypresses, she could do it without fear of a
snag or a shallow. He watched anxiously as the faint smoke reached a
certain point. If the next thin curl should rise farther on, it would
mean safety. But when it came it seemed to be in the same place as the
last; and another the same, and yet another the same: she was making
almost a straight line for the spot where he stood. Only a small low
point of forest broke the line, and presently, far away, she slowly
came out from behind it.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE TORNADO.
The Acadian stooped at once and with a quick splash launched his
canoe. A minute later he was in it, gliding along and just within the
edge of the forest where it swept around nearly at right angles to the
direction in which the steamboat was coming. Thus he could watch the
approaching steamer unseen, while every moment putting distance between
himself and the lugger.
The strange visitor came on. How many men there were on her lower
deck! Were they really negroes, or had they blackened their faces, as
men sometimes do when they are going to hang a poor devil in the woods?
On the upper deck are two others whose faces do not seem to be
blackened. But a moment later they are the most fearful sight of all;
for only too plainly does the fugitive see that they are the same two
men who stood before the doorway of his hut six days before. And see
how many canoes on the lower deck!
While the steamer is yet half a mile away from the hidden lugger,
her lamps and fires and their attendant images in the water beneath
glow softly in the fast deepening twilight, and the night comes swiftly
down. The air is motionless. Across the silent waste an engine bell
jangles; the puff of steam ceases; the one plashing paddle-wheel at the
stern is still; the lights glide more and more slowly; with a great
crash and rumble, that is answered by the echoing woods, the
anchor-chain runs out its short measure, and the steamer stops.
Gently the pot-hunter's paddle dipped again, and the pirogue moved
back towards the lugger. It may be that the flood was at last numbing
his fear, as it had so soon done that of all the brute-life around him;
it was in his mind to do something calling for more courage than he had
ever before commanded in his life, save on that one day in Carancro,
when, stung to madness by the taunts of a brave man, and driven to the
wall, he had grappled and slain his tormentor. He had the thought now
to return, and under cover of the swamp's deep outer margin of shadow,
silently lift into the canoe the bit of iron that anchored the lugger,
and as noiselessly draw her miles away to another covert; or if the
storm still held back, even at length to step the mast, spread the
sail, and put the horizon between him and the steamer before daybreak.
This he had now started to do, and would do, if only courage would hold
on and the storm hold off.
For a time his canoe moved swiftly; but as he drew near the lugger
his speed grew less and less, and eye and ear watched and hearkened
with their intensest might. He could hear talking on the steamer. There
was a dead calm. He had come to a spot just inside the wood, abreast of
the lugger. His canoe slowly turned and pointed towards her, and then
stood still. He sat there with his paddle in the water, longing like a
dumb brute; longing, and, without a motion, struggling for courage
enough to move forward. It would not come. His heart jarred his frame
with its beating. He could not stir.
As he looked out upon the sky a soft, faint tremor of light
glimmered for a moment over it, without disturbing a shadow below. The
paddle stirred gently, and the canoe slowly drew back; the storm was
coming to betray him with its lightnings. In the black forest's edge
the pot-hunter lingered trembling. Oh for the nerve to take a brave
man's chances! A little courage would have saved his life. He wiped the
dew from his brow with his sleeve; every nerve had let go. Again there
came across the water the very words of those who talked together on
the steamer. They were saying that the felling of trees would begin in
the morning; but they spoke in a tongue which Acadians of late years
had learned to understand, though many hated it, but of which he had
never known twenty words, and what he had known were now forgottenthe
English tongue. Even without courage, to have known a little English
would have made the difference between life and death. Another glimmer
spread dimly across the sky, and a faint murmur of far-off thunder came
to the ear. He turned the pirogue and fled.
Soon the stars are hidden. A light breeze seems rather to tremble
and hang poised than to blow. The rolling clouds, the dark wilderness,
and the watery waste shine out every moment in the wide gleam of
lightnings still hidden by the wood, and are wrapped again in
ever-thickening darkness over which thunders roll and jar, and answer
one another across the sky. Then, like a charge of ten thousand
lancers, come the wind and the rain, their onset covered by all the
artillery of heaven. The lightnings leap, hiss, and blaze; the thunders
crack and roar; the rain lashes; the waters writhe; the wind smites and
howls. For five, for ten, for twenty minutes,for an hour, for two
hours,the sky and the flood are never for an instant wholly dark, or
the thunder for one moment silent; but while the universal roar sinks
and swells, and the wide, vibrant illumination shows all things in
ghostly half-concealment, fresh floods of lightning every moment rend
the dim curtain and leap forth; the glare of day falls upon the swaying
wood, the reeling, bowing, tossing willows, the seething waters, the
whirling rain, and in the midst the small form of the distressed
steamer, her revolving paddle-wheels toiling behind to lighten the
strain upon her anchor-chains; then all are dim ghosts again, while a
peal, as if the heavens were rent, rolls off around the sky, comes back
in shocks and throbs, and sinks in a long roar that before it can die
is swallowed up in the next flash and peal.
The deserted lugger is riding out the tornado. Whirled one moment
this way and another that, now and again taking in water, her
forest-shelter breaks the force of many a gust that would have
destroyed her out in the open. But in the height of the storm her poor
substitute for an anchor lets go its defective hold on the rushy bottom
and drags, and the little vessel backs, backs, into the willows. She
escapes such entanglement as would capsize her, and by and by, when the
wind lulls for a moment and then comes with all its wrath from the
opposite direction, she swings clear again and drags back nearly to her
first mooring and lies there, swinging, tossing, and surviving
still,a den of snakes.
The tempest was still fierce, though abating, and the lightning
still flashed, but less constantly, when at a point near the lugger the
pirogue came out of the forest, laboring against the wind and
half-filled with water. On the face of the storm-beaten man in it each
gleam of the lightning showed the pallid confession of mortal terror.
Where that frail shell had been, or how often it had cast its occupant
out, no one can ever know. He was bareheaded and barefooted. One cannot
swim in boots; without them, even one who has never dared learn how may
hope to swim a little.
In the darkness he drew alongside the lugger, rose, balanced
skilfully, seized his moment, and stepped safely across her gunwale. A
slight lurch caused him to throw his arms out to regain his poise; the
line by which he still held the canoe straightened out its length and
slipped from his grasp. In an instant the pirogue was gone. A glimmer
of lightning showed her driving off sidewise before the wind. But it
revealed another sight also. It was dark again, black; but the outcast
stood freezing with horror and fright, gazing just in advance of his
feet and waiting for the next gleam. It came, brighter than the last;
and scarcely a step before him he saw three great serpents moving
towards the spot that gave him already such slender footing. He
recoiled a stepanother; but instantly as he made the second a cold,
living form was under his foot, its folds flew round his ankle, and
once! twice! it struck! With a frantic effort he spurned it from him;
all in the same instant a blaze of lightning discovered the maimed form
and black and red markings of a bastard hornsnake, and with one
piercing wail of despair, that was drowned in the shriek of the wind
and roar of the thunder, he fell.
A few hours later the winds were still, the stars were out, a sweet
silence had fallen upon water and wood, and from her deck the watchmen
on the steamer could see in the north-eastern sky a broad, soft,
illumination, and knew it was the lights of slumbering New Orleans,
eighteen miles away.
By and by, farther to the east, another brightness began to grow and
gather this light into its outstretched wings. In the nearest wood a
soft twitter came from a single tiny bird. Another voice answered it. A
different note came from a third quarter; there were three or four
replies; the sky turned to blue, and began to flush; a mocking-bird
flew out of the woods on her earliest quest for family provision; a
thrush began to sing; and in a moment more the whole forest was one
What wonderful purity was in the fragrant air; what color was on the
calm waters and in the deep sky; how beautiful, how gentle was Nature
after her transport of passion! Shall we ever subdue her and make her
always submissive and compliant? Who knows? Who knows what man may do
with her when once he has got self, the universal self, under perfect
mastery? See yonder huge bull-alligator swimming hitherward out of the
swamp. Even as you point he turns again in alarm and is gone. Once he
was man's terror, Leviathan. The very lions of Africa and the grizzlies
of the Rockies, so they tell us, are no longer the bold enemies of man
they once were. Subdue the earthit is being done. Science and art,
commerce and exploration, are but parts of religion. Help us, brothers
all, with every possible discovery and invention to complete the
conquest begun in that lost garden whence man and woman first came
forth, not for vengeance but for love, to bruise the serpent's head.
But as yet, both within us and without us, what terrible revolts doth
Nature make! what awful victories doth she have over us, and then turn
and bless and serve us again!
As the sun was rising, one of the timber-cutters from the steamer
stood up in his canoe about half a mile away, near the wood and beside
some willows, and halloed and beckoned. And when those on the steamer
hearkened he called again, bidding them tell de boss that he had
found a canoe adrift, an anchored boat, and a white man in her, dead.
Tarbox and St. Pierre came in a skiff.
Is he drowned? asked Mr. Tarbox, while still some distance off.
Been struck by lightnin' sim like, replied the negro who had found
the body.Watch out, Mistoo Tah-bawx! he added, as the skiff drew
near; dat boat dess lousy wid snake'!
Tarbox stood up in the skiff and looked sadly upon the dead face.
It's our man, he said to St. Pierre.
Dass what I say! exclaimed the negro. Yes, seh, so soon I see him
I say, mos' sholy dass de same man what Mistoo Tah-bawx lookin' faw to
show him 'roun' 'bout de swamp! Yes, seh, not-instandin' I never see
him befo'! No, seh.Lawd! look yondeh! look dat big bahsta'd
hawn-snake! He kyant git away: he's hu't! Lawd! dass what kill dat man!
Dat man trawmp on him in de dark, and he strack him wid his hawny tail!
Look at dem fo' li'l' spot' on de man' foot! Now, Mistoo Tah-bawx! You
been talk' 'bout dem ah bahsta'd hawn-snake not pizen! Well, mos' sholy
dey bite ain't pizen; but if dat hawn on de een of his tail dess
on'y tetch you, you' gone! Look at dat man! Kill' him so quick dey
wa'n't time for de place to swell whah he was hit! But Tarbox quietly
pointed out to St. Pierre that the tiny wounds were made by the
The coroner's verdict will probably be 'privation and exposure,'
said he softly; but it ought to be, 'killed by fright and the bite of
a harmless snake.'
On his murmured suggestion, St. Pierre gave orders that, with one
exception, every woodsman go to his tree-felling, and that the lugger
and canoe, with the dead man lying untouched, be towed by skiff and a
single pair of oars to the head of the canal for inquest and burial.
I'll go with him, said Tarbox softly to St. Pierre. We owe him
all we're going to get out of these woods, and I owe him a great deal
more. When a little later he was left for a moment without a hearer,
he said to the prostrate form, Poor fellow! And to think I had her
message to you to come out of this swamp and begin to live the life of
a live man!
The rude funeral moved away, and soon the woods were ringing with
the blow of axes and the shout and song of black timber-men as gayly as
though there never had been or was to be a storm or a death.
CHAPTER XIX. TEARS AND SUCH
Marguerite and her friend had no sooner taken their seats to drive
home from the studio the day the sketch was made than Marguerite began
a perfect prattle. Her eyes still shone exaltedly, and leaped and fell
and darkened and brightened with more than the swift variety of a
fountain in the moonlight, while she kept trying in vain to meet her
companion's looks with a moment's steady regard.
Claude was found! and she trembled with delight. But, alas! he had
heard her passionate call and yet stood still; had looked down upon her
in silence, and drawn again the curtain between them. She had thought
until the last moment, He will come; he will confront us as we pass
out the doorwill overtake us at the foot of the stairson the
sidewalkat the carriage window. But it had not been so; and now they
were gone from the place; and here sat this friend, this gay, cynical
knower of men's and women's ways, answering her chatter in short,
smiling responses, with a steady eye fixed on her, and reading,
Marguerite believed, as plainly as if it were any of the sign-boards
along the rattling street, the writing on her fluttering heart. And so,
even while she trembled with strange delight, pain, shame, and alarm
pleaded through her dancing glances, now by turns and now in confusion
together, for mercy and concealment. But in fact, as this friend sat
glancing upon the young face beside her with secret sympathy and
admiration, it was only this wild fear of betrayal that at length
Reaching the house, the street door was hardly shut behind them when
Marguerite would have darted up to her chamber; but her friend caught
her hands across the balustrade, and said, with roguery in her own
Marguerite, you sweet rowdy
Yes, what. There's something up; what is it?
The girl tried to put on surprise; but her eyes failed her again.
She leaned on the rail and looked down, meanwhile trying softly to draw
away up-stairs; but her friend held on to one hand and murmured:
Just one question, dearie, just one. I'll not ask another: I'll die
first. You'll probably find me in articulo mortis when you come
down-stairs. Just one question, lovie.
W'at it is?
It's nothing but this; I ask for information. The voice dropped to
a whisper,Is he as handsome as his portrait?
The victim rallied all her poor powers of face, and turned feebly
upon the questioner:
Po'trait? Who? Her voice was low, and she glanced furtively at the
nearest door. I dawn't awnstan you. Her hand pulled softly for its
freedom, and she turned to go, repeating, with averted face, I dawn't
awnstan you 't all.
Well, never mind then, dear, if you don't understand, responded
the tease, with mock tenderness. But, ma belle Créole
Je suis Acadienne.
You're an angel, faintly disguised. Onlylook around hereonly,
Angelica, don't try to practise woman's humbug on a woman. At least,
not on this old one. It doesn't work. I'll tell you whom I mean. She
pulled, but Marguerite held off. I mean, she hoarsely whispered,I
mean the young inventor that engineer told us about. Remember?
Marguerite, with her head bowed low, slowly dragged her hand free,
and moved with growing speed up the stairs, saying:
I dawn't know what is dat. I dawn't awnstan you 't all. Her last
words trembled as if nigh to tears. At the top of the stairs the
searching murmur of her friend's voice came up, and she turned and
Forgive me! said the figure below. The girl stood a moment,
sending down a re-assuring smile.
You young rogue! murmured the lady, looking up with ravished eyes.
Then she lifted herself on tiptoe, made a trumpet of both little hands,
Don'tworry! We'll bring it outall right!
Whereat Marguerite blushed from temple to throat, and vanished.
The same day word came from her mother of her return from
Terrebonne, and she hastened to rejoin her in their snug rooms over the
Women's Exchange. When she snatched Zoséphine into her arms and shed
tears, the mother merely wiped and kissed them away, and asked no
The two were soon apart. For Marguerite hungered unceasingly for
solitude. Only in solitude could she, or dared she, give herself up to
the constant recapitulation of every minutest incident of the morning.
And that was ample employment. They seemed the happenings of a month
ago. She felt as if it were imperative to fix them in her memory now,
or lose them in confusion and oblivion forever. Over them all again and
again she went, sometimes quickening memory with half-spoken words,
sometimes halting in long reverie at some intense juncture: now with
tingling pleasure at the unveiling of the portrait, the painter's
cautionary revelation of the personal presence above, or Claude's
appearance at the window; now with burnings of self-abasement at the
passionate but ineffectual beseechings of her violin; and always ending
with her face in her hands, as though to hide her face even from
herself for shame that with all her callingher barefaced, as it
seemed to her, her abject callinghe had not come.
Marguerite, my child, it is time for bed.
She obeyed. It was all one, the bed or the window. Her mother, weary
with travel, fell asleep; but sheshe heard the clock down-stairs
strike, and a clock next door attest, twelveonetwothreefour,
and another day began to shine in at the window. As it brightened, her
spirits rose. She had been lying long in reverie; now she began once
more the oft-repeated rehearsal. But the new day shone into it also.
When the silent recital again reached its end, the old distress was no
longer there, but in its place was a new, sweet shame near of kin to
joy. The face, unhidden, looked straight into the growing light.
Whatever else had happened, this remained,that Claude was found. She
silently formed the name on her parted lipsClaude! Claude! Claude!
Claude! and could not stop though it gave her pain, the pain was so
sweet. She ceased only when there rose before her again the picture of
him drawing the curtain and disappearing; but even then she remembered
the words, Don't worry; we'll bring it out all right, and smiled.
When Zoséphine, as the first sunbeam struck the window-pane, turned
upon her elbow and looked into the fair face beside her, the eyes were
closed in sleep. She arose, darkened the room, and left it.
CHAPTER XX. LOVE, ANGER, AND
The city bells had sounded for noon when the sleeper opened her
eyes. While she slept, Claude had arrived again at his father's cottage
from the scene of the crevasse, and reported to Tarbox the decision of
himself and the engineer, that the gap would not be closed for months
to come. While he told it, they sat down with St. Pierre to breakfast.
Claude, who had had no chance even to seek sleep, ate like a starved
horse. Tarbox watched him closely, with hidden and growing amusement.
Presently their eyes fastened on each other steadily. Tarbox broke the
You don't care how the crevasse turns out. I've asked you a
question now twice, and you don't even hear.
Why you don't ass ag'in? responded the younger man, reaching over
to the meat-dish and rubbing his bread in the last of the gravy. Some
small care called St. Pierre away from the board. Tarbox leaned forward
on his elbows, and, not knowing he quoted, said softly,
There's something up. What is it?
Op? asked Claude, in his full voice, frowning. Op where?w'at,
Ah, yes! said Tarbox, with affected sadness. Yes, that's it; I
'Oh-hon for somebody, oh hey for somebody.'
Claude stopped with a morsel half-way to his mouth, glared at him
several seconds, and then resumed his eating; not like a horse now, but
like a bad dog gnawing an old bone. He glanced again angrily at the
embodiment of irreverence opposite. Mr. Tarbox smiled. Claude let slip,
not intending it, an audible growl, with his eyes in the plate. Mr.
Tarbox's smile increased to a noiseless laugh, and grew and grew until
it took hopeless possession of him. His nerves relaxed, he trembled,
the table trembled with him, his eyes filled with tears, his brows
lifted laboriously, he covered his lips with one hand, and his abdomen
shrank until it pained him. And Claude knew, and showed he knew it all;
that was what made it impossible to stop. At length, with tottering
knees, Mr. Tarbox rose and started silently for the door. He knew
Claude's eyes were following. He heard him rise to his feet. He felt as
though he would have given a thousand dollars if his legs would but
last him through the doorway. But to crown all, St. Pierre met him just
on the threshold, breaking, with unintelligent sympathy, into a broad,
simple smile. Tarbox laid one hand upon the door for support, and at
that moment there was a hurtling sound; something whizzed by Tarbox's
ear, and the meat-dish crashed against the door-post, and flew into a
The book-agent ran like a deer for a hundred yards and fell
grovelling upon the turf, the laugh still griping him with the energy
of a panther's jaws, while Claude, who, in blind pursuit, had come
threshing into his father's arms, pulled his hat over his eyes and
strode away towards the skiff ferry. As Mr. Tarbox returned towards the
cottage, St. Pierre met him, looking very grave, if not displeased. The
swamper spoke first.
Dass mighty good for you I was yondah to stop dat boy. He would 'a'
He'd have served me ex-actly right, said the other, and laughed
again. St. Pierre shook his head, as though this confession were poor
satisfaction, and said,
Dass not safemake a 'Cajun mad. He dawn't git mad easy, but when
he git mad it bre'k out all ove' him, yass. He goin' feel bad
all day now; I see tear' in his eye when he walk off.
I'm sorry, said Tarbox sincerely, and presently added, Now, while
you look up a picked gang of timber-men, I'll see if I can charter a
little stern-wheel steamer, get that written permission from Madame
Beausoleil to cut trees on her land, and so forth, and so forth. You'll
hardly see me before bedtime again.
It was the first hour of the afternoon when Claude left his little
workroom and walked slowly down to, and across, Canal Street and into
Bourbon. He had spent the intervening hours seated at his work-table
with his face in his hands. He was in great bitterness. His late
transport of anger gave him no burdensome concern. Indeed, there was
consolation in the thought that he should, by and by, stand erect
before one who was so largely to blame, and make that full confession
and apology which he believed his old-time Grande Pointe schoolmaster
would have offered could Bonaventure ever have so shamefully forgotten
himself. Yet the chagrin of having at once so violently and so
impotently belittled himself added one sting more to his fate. He was
in despair. An escaped balloon, a burst bubble, could hardly have
seemed more utterly beyond his reach than now did Marguerite. And he
could not blame her. She was right, he said sternly to himselfright
to treat his portrait as something that reminded her of nothing,
whether it did so or not; to play on with undisturbed inspiration; to
lift never a glance to his window; and to go away without a word, a
look, a sign, to any one, when the least breath or motion would have
brought him instantly into her sacred presence. She was right. She was
not for him. There is a fitness of things, and there was no fitnesshe
saidof him for her. And yet she must and would ever be more to him
than any one else. He would glory in going through life unloved, while
his soul lived in and on the phantom companionship of that vision of
delight which she was and should ever be. The midday bells sounded
softly here and there. He would walk.
As I say, he went slowly down the old rue Bourbon. He had no hunger;
he would pass by the Women's Exchange. There was nothing to stop there
for; was not Madame Beausoleil in Terrebonne, and Marguerite the guest
of that chattering woman in silk and laces? But when he reached the
Exchange doors he drifted in as silently and supinely as any drift-log
would float into the new crevasse.
The same cashier was still on duty. She lighted up joyously as he
entered, and, when he had hung his hat near the door, leaned forward to
address him; but with a faint pain in his face, and loathing in his
heart, he passed on and out into the veranda. The place was well
filled, and he had to look about to find a seat. The bare possibility
that she might be there was overpowering. There was a total
suspension of every sort of emotion. He felt, as he took his chair and
essayed to glance casually around, as light and unreal as any one who
ever walked the tight-rope in a dream. The blood leaped in torrents
through his veins, and yet his movements, as he fumbled aimlessly with
his knife, fork, and glass, were slow and languid.
A slender young waitress came, rested her knuckles on the table, and
leaned on them, let her opposite arm hang limply along the sidewise
curve of her form, and bending a smile of angelic affection upon the
young Acadian, said in a confidential undertone:
The cashier told me to tell you those ladies have come.
Claude rose quickly and stood looking upon the face before him,
speechless. It was to him exactly as if a man in uniform had laid a
hand upon his shoulder and said, You're my prisoner. Then, still
gazing, and aware of others looking at him, he slowly sank again into
She just told me to tell you, said the damsel. Yes, sir. Have you
Humph? He was still looking at her.
I say, have you given your order?
She paused awkwardly, for she knew he had not, and saw that he was
trying vainly to make her words mean something in his mind.
Sha'n't I get you some coffee and rollssame as day before
Yass. He did not know what she said. His heart had stopped
beating; now it began again at a gallop. He turned red. He could see
the handkerchief that was wadded into his outer breast-pocket jar in
time with the heavy thump, thump, thump beneath it. The waitress staid
an awful time. At last she came.
I waited, she sweetly said, to get hot ones. He drew the
refreshments towards him mechanically. The mere smell of food made him
sick. It seemed impossible that he should eat it. She leaned over him
lovingly and asked, as if referring to the attitude, Would you like
any thing more?something sweet? His flesh crawled. He bent over his
plate, shook his head, and stirred his coffee without having put any
thing into it.
She tripped away, and he drew a breath of momentary relief, leaned
back in his chair, and warily passed his eyes around to see if there
was anybody who was not looking at him and waiting for him to begin to
Ages afterwardto speak with Claude's feelingshe rose, took up
his check, and went to the desk. The cashier leaned forward and said
with soft blitheness:
They're here. They're up-stairs now.
Claude answered never a word. He paid his check. As he waited for
change, he cast another glance over the various groups at the tables.
All were strangers. Then he went out. On the single sidewalk step he
halted, and red and blind with mortification, turned again into the
place; he had left his hat. With one magnificent effort at dignity and
unconcern he went to the rack, took down the hat, and as he lowered it
towards his head cast a last look down the room, andthere stood
Marguerite. She had entered just in time, it seemed to him, but just
too late, in fact, to see and understand the blunder. Oh, agony! They
bowed to each other with majestic faintness, and then each from each
was gone. The girl at the desk saw it and was dumb.
CHAPTER XXI. LOVE AND LUCK BY
Mr. Tarbox was really a very brave man. For, had he not been, how
could he have ventured, something after the middle of that afternoon,
in his best attire, up into Claude's workroom? He came to apologize.
But Claude was not there.
He waited, but the young man did not return. The air was hot and
still. Mr. Tarbox looked at his watchit was a quarter of five. He
rose and descended to the street, looked up and down it, and then moved
briskly down to, and across, Canal Street and into Bourbon. He had an
Claude had not gone back to his loft at all. He was wandering up and
down the streets. About four he was in Bienville Street, where the
pleasure-trains run through it on their way out to Spanish Fort, a
beautiful pleasure-ground some six miles away from the city's centre,
on the margin of Lake Pontchartrain. He was listlessly crossing the way
as a train came along, and it was easy for the habit of the aforetime
brakeman to move him. As the last platform passed the crossing, he
reached out mechanically and swung aboard.
Spanish Fort is at the mouth of Bayou St. John. A draw-bridge spans
the bayou. On the farther, the eastern, side, Claude stood leaning
against a pile, looking off far beyond West End to where the sun was
setting in the swamps about Lake Maurepas. Theretherenot seen save
by memory's eye, yet there not the less, was Bayou des Acadiens. Ah me!
there was Grande Pointe.
O Bonaventure! Do I owe youClaude's thought was in the old
Acadian tongueDo I owe you malice for this? No, no, no! Better
this than less. And then he recalled a writing-book copy
that Bonaventure had set for him, of the schoolmaster's own devising:
Better Great Sorrow than Small Delight. His throat tightened and
his eyes swam.
A pretty schooner, with green hull and new sails, came down the
bayou. As he turned to gaze on her, the bridge, just beyond his feet,
began to swing open. He stepped upon it and moved towards its centre,
his eyes still on the beautiful silent advance of the vessel. With a
number of persons who had gathered from both ends of the bridge, he
paused and leaned over the rail as the schooner, with her crew looking
up into the faces of the throng, glided close by. A female form came
beside him, looking down with the rest and shedding upon the air the
soft sweetness of perfumed robes. A masculine voice, just beyond, said:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Claude started and looked up, and behold, Marguerite on the arm of
His movement drew their glance, and the next instant Mr. Tarbox,
beaming apology and pouring out glad greetings, had him by the hand.
Burning, choking, stammering, Claude heard and answered, he knew not
how, the voice of the queen of all her kind. Another pair pressed
forward to add their salutations. They were Zoséphine and the surveyor.
Because the facilities for entertaining a male visitor were slender
at the Women's Exchange, because there was hope of more and cooler air
at the lake-side, because Spanish Fort was a pretty and romantic spot
and not so apt to be thronged as West End, and because Marguerite, as
she described it, was tired of houses and streets, and also because he
had something to say to Zoséphine, Mr. Tarbox had brought the pretty
mother and daughter out here. The engineer had met the three by chance
only a few minutes before, and now as the bridge closed again he passed
Zoséphine over to Claude, walked only a little way with them down a
path among the shrubbery, and then lifted his hat and withdrew.
For once in his life Mr. G. W. Tarbox, as he walked with Marguerite
in advance of Claude and her mother, was at a loss what to say. The
drollness of the situation was in danger of overcoming him again.
Behind him was Claude, his mind tossed on a wild sea of doubts and
I told him, thought Tarbox, while the girl on his arm talked on in
pretty, broken English and sprightly haste about something he had lost
the drift ofI told him I was courting Josephine. But I never proved
it to him. And now just look at this! Look at the whole sweet mess!
Something has got to be done. He did not mean something direct and
openhanded; that would never have occurred to him. He stopped, and with
Marguerite faced the other pair. One glance into Claude's face,
darkened with perplexity, anger, and a distressful effort to look
amiable and comfortable, was one too many; Tarbox burst into a laugh.
Pardon! he exclaimed, checking himself until he was red; I just
happened to think of something very funny that happened last week in
ArkansasMadame Beausoleil, I know it must look odd,his voice still
trembled a little, but he kept a sober faceand yet I must take just
a moment for business. Claude, can I see you?
They went a step aside. Mr. Tarbox put on a business frown, and said
to Claude in a low voice,
Hi! diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the
moon the little dog laughed to see the sport and the dish ran away with
the spoon you understand I'm simply talking for talk's sake as we
resume our walk we'll inadvertently change partnersa kind of Women's
Exchange as it were old Mother Hubbard she went to the cupboard to get
her poor dog a bone but when she got there the cupboarddon't smile so
broadlywas bare and so the poor dog had none will that be
Claude nodded, and as they turned again to their companions the
exchange was made with the grace, silence, and calm unconsciousness of
pure oversight,or of general complicity. Very soon it suited
Zoséphine and Tarbox to sit down upon a little bench beside a bed of
heart's-ease and listen to the orchestra. But Marguerite preferred to
walk in and out among the leafy shadows of the electric lamps.
And so, side by side, as he had once seen Bonaventure and Sidonie
go, they went, Claude and Marguerite, away from all windings of
disappointment, all shadows of doubt, all shoals of misapprehension,
out upon the open sea of mutual love. Not that the great word of
wordsaffirmative or interrogativewas spoken then or there. They
came no nearer to it than this,
I wish, murmured Claude,they had gone over all the delicious
And-I-thought-that-you's and the sweetly reproachful Did-you-think-that-I's, and had covered the past down to the meeting on the
bridge,I wish, he murmured, dropping into the old Acadian French,
which he had never spoken to her before,I wish
What? she replied, softly and in the same tongue.
I wish, he responded, that this path might never end. He
wondered at his courage, and feared that now he had ruined all; for she
made no answer. But when he looked down upon her she looked up and
smiled. A little farther on she dropped her fan. He stooped and picked
it up, and, in restoring it, somehow their hands touched,touched and
lingered; and thenand thenthrough one brief unspeakable moment, a
maiden's hand, for the first time in his life, lay willingly in his.
Then, as glad as she was frightened, Marguerite said she must go back
to her mother, and they went.
CHAPTER XXII. A DOUBLE LOVE-KNOT.
Spanish FortWest Endthey are well enough; but if I might have
one small part of New Orleans to take with me wherever I may wander in
this earthly pilgrimage, I should ask for the old Carrollton Gardens.
They lie near the farthest upper limit of the expanded city. I
should want, of course, to include the levee, under which runs one side
of the gardens' fence; also the opposite shore of the Mississippi, with
its just discernible plantation houses behind their levee; and the
great bend of the river itself, with the sun setting in unutterable
gorgeousness behind the distant, low-lying pecan groves of Nine-mile
Point, and the bronzed and purpled waters kissing the very crown of the
great turfed levee, down under whose land side the gardens blossom and
give forth their hundred perfumes and bird songs to the children and
lovers that haunt their winding alleys of oleander, jasmine,
laurestine, orange, aloe, and rose, the grove of magnolias and oaks,
and come out upon the levee's top as the sun sinks, to catch the gentle
breeze and see the twilight change to moonlight on the water.
One evening as I sat on one of the levee benches here, with one
whose I am and who is mine beside me, we noticed on the water opposite
us, and near the farther shore, a large skiff propelled with two pairs
of oars and containing, besides the two rowers, half a dozen
Then I remembered that I had seen the same craft when it was farther
down the stream. The river is of a typical character about here. Coming
around the upper bend, the vast current sweeps across to this, the
Carrollton side, and strikes it just above the gardens with an
incalculable gnawing, tearing power. Hence the very high levee here;
the farther back the levee builders are driven by the corroding waters
the lower the ground is under them, and the higher they must build to
reach the height they reached before. From Carrollton the current
rebounds, and swinging over to the other shore strikes it, boiling like
a witch's caldron, just above and along the place where you may descry
the levee lock of the Company Canal.
I knew the waters all about there, and knew that this skiff full of
passengers, some of whom we could see were women, having toiled through
the seething current below, was now in a broad eddy, and, if it was
about to cross the stream, would do so only after it had gone some
hundred yards farther up the river. There it could cross almost with
And so it did. I had forgotten it again, when presently it showed
itself with all its freight, silhouetted against the crimson sky. I
I believe Bonaventure Deschamps is in that boat!
I was right. The skiff landed, and we saw its passengers step
ashore. They came along the levee's crown towards us, by two, by two.
Bonaventure was mated with a young Methodist preacher, who had been my
playmate in boyhood, and who lived here in Carrollton. Behind him came
St. Pierre and Sidonie. Then followed Claude and Marguerite; and,
behind all, Zoséphine and Tarbox.
They had come, they explained to us, from a funeral at the head of
the canal. They did not say the funeral of a friend, and yet I could
see that every one of them, even the preacher, had shed tears. The
others had thought it best and pleasantest to accompany the minister
thus far towards his home, then take a turn in the gardens, and then
take the horse-cars for the city's centre. Bonaventure and Sidonie were
to return next day by steamer to Belle Alliance and Grande Pointe. The
thoughtful Tarbox had procured Bonaventure's presence at the inquest of
the day before as the identifying witness, thus to save Zoséphine that
painful office. And yet it was of Zoséphine's own motion, and by her
sad insistence, that she and her daughter followed the outcast to his
Yes, she had said, laying one hand in Bonaventure's and the other
in Sidonie's and speaking in the old Acadian tongue, when I was young
and proud I taught 'Thanase to despise and tease him. I did not know
then that I was such a coward myself. If I had been a better scholar,
Bonaventure, when we used to go to school to the curé togethera
better learnernot in the books merely, but in those things that are
so much better than the things books teachhow different all might
have been! Thank God, Bonaventure, one of us was. She turned to
Sidonie to add,But that one was Bonaventure. We will all goto the
funeralwe will all go and bury vain regretswith the dead.
The influence of the sad office they had just performed was on the
group still, as they paused to give us the words of greeting we
coveted. Yet we could see that a certain sense of being very, very rich
in happiness was on them all, though differently on every one.
Zoséphine wore the pear-shaped pearl.
The preacher said good-day, and started down the steps that used to
lead from the levee down across a pretty fountained court and into the
town. But my friend Tarboxfor I must tell you I like to call him my
friend, and like it better every day; we can't all be one sort; you'd
like him if you knew him as I domy friend Tarbox beckoned me to
Christian! I calledthat is the preacher's real name. He turned
back and met Tarbox just where I stood. They laid their arms across
each other's shoulders in a very Methodist way, and I heard Tarbox say:
I want to thank you once more. We've put you to a good deal of
trouble. You gave us the best you had: I'll never forget what you said
about 'them who through fear of death are all their life-time subject
to bondage.' I wish you were a Catholic priest.
So we could pay you for your trouble. I don't think you ought to
take it hard if you get a check in to-morrow's mail.
Thy money survive with thee, said the preacher. Is that all you
want me to be a priest for? Isn't there another reason? His eyes
twinkled. Isn't there something else I could do for youyou or
Claudeif I should turn priest?
Yes, said Tarbox, with grave lips, but merry eyes; we've both got
to have one.
In fact they had two. Yet I have it from her husband himself, that
Madame Tarbox insists to this day, always with the same sweet dignity,
that she never did say yes.
On the other hand, when Claude and Marguerite were kneeling at the
altar the proud St. Pierre, senior, spoke an audible and joyously
impatient affirmative every time either of them was asked a question.
When the time came for kissing, Sidonie, turning from both brides,
kissed St. Pierre the more for that she kissed not Claude, then turned
again and gave a tear with the kiss she gave to Zoséphine. But the
deepest, gladdest tears at those nuptials were shed by Bonaventure