Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

A Miracle by Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis

 

IT was the Fourteenth of July. Dolly Lammitt came out on the gallery and looked at the bit of tricolor which floated from a tall staff on the lawn. The glories wreathed about the pillars, and, running along under the wide eaves, made a sort of frame for her slender young figure in its white gown.

Such glories! You would never dream of insulting them by placing before them such limiting adjectives as “morning” and “evening.” For they bloom—the glories at San Antonio—all day and all night; great blue disks that sway in the wind and laugh in the sun's face, and call the honey-bees to their hearts with an almost audible murmur.

The green lawn sloped imperceptibly from the one-storied yellow adobe house to the river—the opalescent river San Antonio—which here made one of its unexpected curves, and then rippled away in the direction of the old Mission of San Jose, half a mile below.

The yuccas which hedged the lawn were in bloom, their tall white-belled spikes glistening in the sunlight; a double thread of scarlet poppies marked the path to the river; the jalousied porch which jutted from one end of the house was covered by a cataract of yellowish-pink roses, whose elusive “tea” scent filled the morning air.

But Dolly's eyes came back from all this blossoming to dwell once more on the glories. She loved them; she was even proud of them, as, indeed, she had a right to be. Did not her own grandfather—or was it her grandmother—But wait a bit; the story is worth telling.

It was away back in the early fifties. The Eclipse swung her way clear of the overhanging mustang grape-vines on Buffalo Bayou, and shoved her nose against the muddy landing at the foot of Main Street. The little town of Houston lay as if asleep in the gray fog of early morning. But at the shrill, prolonged sound of the Eclipse's whistle everybody, it would seem, came hurrying down the black, slippery bluff to watch the landing of Count Considérant and his colonists.

The chattering sallow-faced strangers thronged the guards and the upper deck, gazing down with curious eyes until the gang-plank—amid the lusty whoops of the negro deck-hands—was pushed out; then they disappeared within.

The crowd on the bluff and along the single straggling street had increased, and there was a faint, questioning cheer when the French émigrés came marching up the slope, keeping step, two and two, men and women.

At the head of the column walked Monsieur le Comte himself—a commanding figure in his velvet coat and cocked hat, with his long hair floating over his shoulders. He carried a naked sword in his hand. The tricolor of France, borne by one of his lieutenants, waved above his head, mingling its folds with the stars and stripes. Madame la Comtesse stepped daintily along beside him. As he set foot on the soil of Texas he lifted his sword, and the self-exiled band burst with one voice into the “Marseillaise.” The echoes of the unknown tongue arose, piercing, powerful, resonant, on the strange air, and sped away to die in the silences of the wide prairies.

“Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!” said Monsieur le Comte, bowing right and left to the curious, silent, unresponsive American citizens and citizenesses.

Near the tail end of the procession walked, arm in arm, Achille Lemaître and Étienne Santerre. They fell a little silent when the song ceased. It was very deep, that sticky black mud, and their faces expressed a profound if momentary disgust for the free and untrammelled soil of the New Paradise. Both were young—mere lads, in fact. But both “came from somebody.” Achille's grandmother, old Margot Lemaître, had spat in the Queen Marie Antoinette's face as she ascended the guillotine with her hands tied behind her; and Étienne was the grandson of the famous “tall, sonorous Brewer of the Faubourg St.-Antoine”—the formidable Santerre of the French Revolution.

“One has the head quite dizzy after all those days on shipboard,” remarked Achille presently. “But behold us at last in the Promised Land!” He repeated between his teeth a snatch of the “Marseillaise.” “How that was glorious,” he exclaimed—“that time of our grandfathers, when the blood spouted from the mouth of Mother Guillotine!”

Étienne shivered a little, and Achille laughed. “You were ever a chicken-heart, Étienne,” he said, with good-natured contempt, “and afraid of the very smell of blood. For myself—”

Étienne was not listening. They had come up the bluff, and halted on its brow while Monsieur le Comte made his little speech to the Maire. There was a brown, weather-beaten cottage on their right; the magnolias shading it were full of blooms—white, mysterious cups, like those whose petals had dropped all night long on the deck of the Eclipse, where the lads lay a-sleeping. A girl leaned over the low gate, staring with blue, wide-open eyes at the émigrés. Étienne gazed at her like one in a dream; when they moved on he blushed and sighed, pressing the arm of his companion.

And when, a week later, the Fourierists started on their long, crawling journey to found their phalanstère at Réunion, Jenny Lusk, the blue-eyed girl, who had in the meantime become Citoyenne Santerre, accompanied her husband.

Monsieur le Comte, ever restless, ever dreaming lofty Utopian dreams which never came true, left the phalanstère at Réunion before it was fairly established. Achille Lemaître, taking a dramatic leave of Citizen Santerre and his wife, followed the Fondateur to San Antonio.

He was very lonesome—Achille—the morning after his arrival in the old Mexic-American town. He wandered about the quaint, river-thridded streets, with the sound of strange speech in his ears, ready to cry, between wishing himself back at Réunion with Étienne and thinking of his old mother in France.

Suddenly, at a turn of the street—it was that Flores Street where the acequia rushes limpid and musical by the low adobe houses, and lithe, beautiful women swing in their hammocks on latticed balconies—he met Dolores Concha and her weazened, leather-colored old nurse.

“But you are much too young,” said Monsieur le Comte, frowning, when, cap in hand, and blushing all over his round young face, Achille presented himself, a few weeks later, to ask the Fondateur's permission to marry. “You are nothing but a boy.”

“Pardon, M'sieu le Comte,” stammered Achille, “I am nearly twenty. I am the youngest of the six sons of my father. The others all married before they were nineteen; and my father himself, Jean Lemaîitre—”

“Never mind Jean Lemaître.” The Count cut him short, and he promised the necessary papers. “Since the Señorita is an orphan, and has a dot,” he added. “But I am sorry you do not marry an American. A brown-skinned Mexican—pah!”

“Ah! but when you see Dolores, M'sieu le Comte!” cried Achille.

And M'sieu le Comte, when he saw Dolores, admitted that it truly made a difference.

It was to the yellow adobe house—bought with her dot— whose yucca-hedged garden sloped down to the river's edge, that Achille took his wife the day after their marriage—at which Monsieur le Comte “assisted” in the old Cathedral on the Plaza.

A propriétaire in his own right! A land-owner! Monsieur Achille Lemaitre's socialistic theories vanished into the soft air perfumed by his own roses. He continued to sing the “Marseillaise,” and to talk fiercely about the charms of La Mère Guillotine; and he planted a flag-staff on his lawn, whence floated on each successive anniversary of the taking of the Bastille ce brave étendard, the tricolor of the republic. But he no longer dreamed of sharing his worldly possessions with a Fourierist phalanstère. No more, however, did Monsieur le Comte in his fine mansion Just across the river.

One morning, some months after Achille became husband and propriétaire in one day, he came into the room where his young wife was sitting. His face wore a pleased expression; his lips parted in a smile beneath his budding mustache.

“Soul of my Soul!” cried Dolores, in the mixed Spanish and French which they employed in their intercourse with each other, “why, then, do you smile?”

“It is, Angel of my Life,” replied Achille, “that I have planted a seed by my front doorstep.”

“In the soft little spot on the right, by the pillar?” demanded his wife, with lively interest.

Achille nodded.

“Ah,” cried Dolores, triumphantly, “I have myself planted a seed in that very spot this morning.”

Achille looked a little vexed. “But, my Soul's Love—” he began.

“It came from Monterey,” she continued, “from a vine which grew over my mother's doorway. I remember it quite well. It has white flowers, like little silver trumpets, and the smell of them is heavenly.”

“The seed I have planted,” said her husband, “came from a vine on my grandmother's balcony at Auteuil. It has big red flowers—oh, red as the blood of Marat in his bath-tub.”

“My mother's vine,” murmured Madame Lemaître, dreamily, with her large dark eyes fixed on the ceiling, “has a long slim leaf that glistens in the sun.”

“The vine of Margo Lemaîitre,” remarked the propriétaire, looking out of the window, “has a leaf round as a saucer.”

A coolness which lasted several minutes followed these reminiscences; but it melted in a couple of kisses.

Both planters, however, during the next week, inspected frequently— and surreptitiously—the flower bed under the edge of the veranda. They surprised each other there one morning before the sun was up. Both drew back, blushing guiltily; but both sprang forward again with a cry, for there, in very truth, was a little vinelet, with trembling, pale green twin leaves.

The leaves were heart-shaped.

“It is the vine of my mother,” Dolores said, thoughtfully. “I now remember that the leaves were like hearts.”

“It is Margot Lemaître's vine!” roared Achille. “I can see the leaves with my eyes shut. They were precisely of this fashion.”

Upon this they quarrelled. Monsieur stamped his foot and swore, and madame fled to her own bedchamber, where she remained weeping, and refusing to come out even to dinner. Then they made up. But only for a little while.

The vine crept up and up, catching hold of the pillar and spreading out its heart-shaped leaves and shaking them in the wind. And Achille and Dolores watched it, and disputed over it, and berated each other in French and Spanish, and even in very imperfect “American.”

“The flowers will be white, like little silver trumpets,” cried the wife.

“The flowers will be red as the blood of Marat in his bath-tub,” blustered the husband, “and if I have a son he shall receive under those red flowers his name of Maximilien Robespierre!”

“Ay de mi! Santa Maria Purissima!” wailed Dolores. “I will not bear a son to be called after a bloody monster! My son shall have the name of the good St. Joseph!”

It was a terrible time!

But one morning Achille came out of his house, where in the early dawn a night-light was still burning. His face was swollen with weeping, and he staggered as he walked, like a man in liquor.

He crossed the garden to the little gate which opened upon the river steps, and stopped, putting his hands out blindly to grasp the railing. “She will die!” he whispered hoarsely, looking around with blurred eyes which saw nothing. “Mother of God, she will die, never knowing how much I love her! And I, who have made her weep, brute that I am! Oh, if she will only live! But she will die, she will die!” And he shook the railing with such fury that a loose piece at the end fell into the river and swirled around on the dimpling eddy.

“Señor!” It was the shrill voice of the old nurse calling him from the veranda.

But he durst not turn his head.

He heard her come pattering down the path, and his knees became as water.

“Señor,” said Marta, “come and see your son.”

His son! He shook from head to foot, staring at her with dazed eyes. “Dolores?” he stammered.

“Santa Maria!” said Marta, impatiently. “Do you think your wife is such a fool that she cannot bring a man-child into the world without dying?”

“I will tear down that monster of a vine before the red flowers bud upon it,” he said within himself, following her, and wiping the glad, foolish tears from his eyes. He glanced up, from habit, at the subject of all their childish quarrels.

He stopped, open-mouthed.

The vine, in one unheeded night, had burst into bloom. The blossoms of it were not white, like little silver trumpets, nor red, like the blood of Marat in his bath-tub. A row of great heavenly blue disks starred the lintel like a crown.

He reached up and plucked one of these miracles, and tiptoed into the hushed and darkened room.

“Heart of my Body!” he sobbed, falling on his knees by the bedside, “our vine has blossomed!” and he laid the glory on her white bosom.

Dolores smiled—an adorable, weak, young-mother smile. “Life of my Soul!” she said, uncovering the little bundle which lay on her arm, “behold your son! He shall be called Maximilien Robespierre.”

“But no!” said Achille, solemnly; “we will name our son Jesus-Mary.

Such was the mysterious origin of the blue glories which to-day riot over every house in San Antonio. They may wish to tell you a different story down there, but it would be foolish to listen even, since this is the true one.

Achille Lemaître was killed in a charge at the battle of Shiloh, and his wife, dying shortly after of grief at his loss, left her young son in the care of Monsieur le Comte, his godfather.

And by the time Jesus-Mary had reached the age convenable for a Lemaitre to enter the holy estate of matrimony, and had fetched his American wife to the yellow adobe house by the river, he had become, through persistent mispronunciation and the American fashion in initial letters, Mr. J. M. Lammitt.

Dolly, baptized Dolores in memory of her beautiful grandmother, continued to look with unnatural intentness at the glories, blushing, but pretending not to see Mr. Steven Santer, who had fastened his little skiff at the landing and was coming up the poppy-bordered walk.

He took off his straw hat as he approached.

“Good-morning, Miss Lammitt,” he said, boldly, though inwardly quaking at his own audacity.

They sat down on the steps together.

Mr. Steven Santer was a good-looking blond young man from somewhere near the East Fork of the Trinity. He had come to San Antonio some weeks earlier on account of business, and stayed on account of Dolly Lammitt.

“What is that?” he asked, suddenly starting up from his seat, for a puff of wind had caught the pennant fastened to the staff on the lawn and unfurled it.

“That,” replied Dolly, “is a French flag. My father always puts it out on the Fourteenth of July. The Fourteenth of July,” she explained, with condescension, “is the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille.”

“I know,” said Santer. “My father,” he added, as if apologizing for his own acquaintance with the subject—“my father always runs up a French flag on the Fourteenth of July.”

“My grandfather,” said Dolly, “came over from France with Count Considérant to the phalanstère at Réunion.”

“So did my father! Why, they must have sailed together in the Nuremberg!

“What an unheard-of coincidence!”

And so Dolly presently related the history of the glories, or as much of it as Jesus-Mary himself knew. She twirled one of the heavenly blue blossoms in her fingers while she talked; and when she had finished she stretched out her hand to pluck another, but got a splinter instead, which tore the delicate white flesh of her thumb.

She turned pale and bit her lip, drawing in her breath, while Steven Santer wiped away the blood with his handkerchief.

“The sight of blood always makes me ill,” she murmured, closing her dark eyes.

Shade of great-great-grandmother Margot Lemaître!

And the great-grandson of Santerre the Sonorous, having thus strategically possessed himself of her hand, kept it in his own.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page