The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories
by Alice Dunbar
OF SAINT ROCQUE
THE FISHERMAN OF
BY THE BAYOU ST.
WHEN THE BAYOU
My best Comrade
THE GOODNESS OF SAINT ROCQUE
Manuela was tall and slender and graceful, and once you knew her
the lithe form could never be mistaken. She walked with the easy
spring that comes from a perfectly arched foot. To-day she swept
swiftly down Marais Street, casting a quick glance here and there
from under her heavy veil as if she feared she was being followed.
If you had peered under the veil, you would have seen that Manuela's
dark eyes were swollen and discoloured about the lids, as though they
had known a sleepless, tearful night. There had been a picnic the day
before, and as merry a crowd of giddy, chattering Creole girls and
boys as ever you could see boarded the ramshackle dummy-train that
puffed its way wheezily out wide Elysian Fields Street, around the
lily-covered bayous, to Milneburg-on-the-Lake. Now, a picnic at
Milneburg is a thing to be remembered for ever. One charters a
rickety-looking, weather-beaten dancing-pavilion, built over the
water, and after storing the children--for your true Creole never
leaves the small folks at home--and the baskets and mothers
downstairs, the young folks go up-stairs and dance to the tune of the
best band you ever heard. For what can equal the music of a violin, a
guitar, a cornet, and a bass viol to trip the quadrille to at a
Then one can fish in the lake and go bathing under the prim
bath-houses, so severely separated sexually, and go rowing on the
lake in a trim boat, followed by the shrill warnings of anxious
mamans. And in the evening one comes home, hat crowned with cool
gray Spanish moss, hands burdened with fantastic latanier baskets
woven by the brown bayou boys, hand in hand with your dearest one,
tired but happy.
At this particular picnic, however, there had been bitterness of
spirit. Theophile was Manuela's own especial property, and Theophile
had proven false. He had not danced a single waltz or quadrille with
Manuela, but had deserted her for Claralie, blonde and petite. It was
Claralie whom Theophile had rowed out on the lake; it was Claralie
whom Theophile had gallantly led to dinner; it was Claralie's hat that
he wreathed with Spanish moss, and Claralie whom he escorted home
after the jolly singing ride in town on the little dummy-train.
Not that Manuela lacked partners or admirers. Dear no! she was
too graceful and beautiful for that. There had been more than enough
for her. But Manuela loved Theophile, you see, and no one could take
his place. Still, she had tossed her head and let her silvery
laughter ring out in the dance, as though she were the happiest of
mortals, and had tripped home with Henri, leaning on his arm, and
looking up into his eyes as though she adored him.
This morning she showed the traces of a sleepless night and an
aching heart as she walked down Marais Street. Across wide St.
Rocque Avenue she hastened. "Two blocks to the river and one
below--" she repeated to herself breathlessly. Then she stood on the
corner gazing about her, until with a final summoning of a desperate
courage she dived through a small wicket gate into a garden of
There was a hoarse, rusty little bell on the gate that gave
querulous tongue as she pushed it open. The house that sat back in
the yard was little and old and weather-beaten. Its one-story frame
had once been painted, but that was a memory remote and traditional.
A straggling morning-glory strove to conceal its time-ravaged face.
The little walk of broken bits of brick was reddened carefully, and
the one little step was scrupulously yellow-washed, which denoted that
the occupants were cleanly as well as religious.
Manuela's timid knock was answered by a harsh "Entrez."
It was a small sombre room within, with a bare yellow-washed floor
and ragged curtains at the little window. In a corner was a
diminutive altar draped with threadbare lace. The red glow of the
taper lighted a cheap print of St. Joseph and a brazen crucifix. The
human element in the room was furnished by a little, wizened yellow
woman, who, black-robed, turbaned, and stern, sat before an uncertain
table whereon were greasy cards.
Manuela paused, her eyes blinking at the semi-obscurity within.
The Wizened One called in croaking tones:
"An' fo' w'y you come here? Assiez-la, ma'amzelle."
Timidly Manuela sat at the table facing the owner of the voice.
"I want," she began faintly; but the Mistress of the Cards
understood: she had had much experience. The cards were shuffled in
her long grimy talons and stacked before Manuela.
"Now you cut dem in t'ree part, so--un, deux, trois, bien! You
mek' you' weesh wid all you' heart, bien! Yaas, I see, I see!"
Breathlessly did Manuela learn that her lover was true, but "dat
light gal, yaas, she mek' nouvena in St. Rocque fo' hees love."
"I give you one lil' charm, yaas," said the Wizened One when the
seance was over, and Manuela, all white and nervous, leaned back in
the rickety chair. "I give you one lil' charm fo' to ween him back,
yaas. You wear h'it 'roun' you' wais', an' he come back. Den you mek
prayer at St. Rocque an' burn can'le. Den you come back an' tell me,
yaas. Cinquante sous, ma'amzelle. Merci. Good luck go wid you."
Readjusting her veil, Manuela passed out the little wicket gate,
treading on air. Again the sun shone, and the breath of the swamps
came as healthful sea-breeze unto her nostrils. She fairly flew in
the direction of St. Rocque.
There were quite a number of persons entering the white gates of
the cemetery, for this was Friday, when all those who wish good luck
pray to the saint, and wash their steps promptly at twelve o'clock
with a wondrous mixture to guard the house. Manuela bought a candle
from the keeper of the little lodge at the entrance, and pausing one
instant by the great sun-dial to see if the heavens and the hour were
propitious, glided into the tiny chapel, dim and stifling with heavy
air from myriad wish-candles blazing on the wide table before the
altar-rail. She said her prayer and lighting her candle placed it
with the others.
Mon Dieu! how brightly the sun seemed to shine now, she thought,
pausing at the door on her way out. Her small finger-tips, still
bedewed with holy water, rested caressingly on a gamin's head. The
ivy which enfolds the quaint chapel never seemed so green; the shrines
which serve as the Way of the Cross never seemed so artistic; the baby
graves, even, seemed cheerful.
Theophile called Sunday. Manuela's heart leaped. He had been
spending his Sundays with Claralie. His stay was short and he was
plainly bored. But Manuela knelt to thank the good St. Rocque that
night, and fondled the charm about her slim waist. There came a box of
bonbons during the week, with a decorative card all roses and fringe,
from Theophile; but being a Creole, and therefore superstitiously
careful, and having been reared by a wise and experienced maman to
mistrust the gifts of a recreant lover, Manuela quietly thrust
bonbons, box, and card into the kitchen fire, and the Friday following
placed the second candle of her nouvena in St. Rocque.
Those of Manuela's friends who had watched with indignation
Theophile gallantly leading Claralie home from High Mass on Sundays,
gasped with astonishment when the next Sunday, with his usual bow, the
young man offered Manuela his arm as the worshippers filed out in step
to the organ's march. Claralie tossed her head as she crossed herself
with holy water, and the pink in her cheeks was brighter than usual.
Manuela smiled a bright good-morning when she met Claralie in St.
Rocque the next Friday. The little blonde blushed furiously, and
Manuela rushed post-haste to the Wizened One to confer upon this new
"H'it ees good," said the dame, shaking her turbaned head. "She
ees 'fraid, she will work, mais you' charm, h'it weel beat her."
And Manuela departed with radiant eyes.
Theophile was not at Mass Sunday morning, and murderous glances
flashed from Claralie to Manuela before the tinkling of the
Host-Bell. Nor did Theophile call at either house. Two hearts beat
furiously at the sound of every passing footstep, and two minds
wondered if the other were enjoying the beloved one's smiles. Two
pair of eyes, however, blue and black, smiled on others, and their
owners laughed and seemed none the less happy. For your Creole girls
are proud, and would die rather than let the world see their sorrows.
Monday evening Theophile, the missing, showed his rather sheepish
countenance in Manuela's parlour, and explained that he, with some
chosen spirits, had gone for a trip--"over the Lake."
"I did not ask you where you were yesterday," replied the girl,
Theophile shrugged his shoulders and changed the conversation.
The next week there was a birthday fete in honour of Louise,
Theophile's young sister. Everyone was bidden, and no one thought of
refusing, for Louise was young, and this would be her first party.
So, though the night was hot, the dancing went on as merrily as light
young feet could make it go. Claralie fluffed her dainty white
skirts, and cast mischievous sparkles in the direction of Theophile,
who with the maman and Louise was bravely trying not to look
self-conscious. Manuela, tall and calm and proud-looking, in a cool,
pale yellow gown was apparently enjoying herself without paying the
slightest attention to her young host.
"Have I the pleasure of this dance?" he asked her finally, in a
lull of the music.
She bowed assent, and as if moved by a common impulse they
strolled out of the dancing-room into the cool, quaint garden, where
jessamines gave out an overpowering perfume, and a caged mocking-bird
complained melodiously to the full moon in the sky.
It must have been an engrossing tete-a-tete, for the call to
supper had sounded twice before they heard and hurried into the
house. The march had formed with Louise radiantly leading on the arm
of papa. Claralie tripped by with Leon. Of course, nothing remained
for Theophile and Manuela to do but to bring up the rear, for which
they received much good-natured chaffing.
But when the party reached the dining-room, Theophile proudly led
his partner to the head of the table, at the right hand of maman, and
smiled benignly about at the delighted assemblage. Now you know, when
a Creole young man places a girl at his mother's right hand at his own
table, there is but one conclusion to be deduced therefrom.
If you had asked Manuela, after the wedding was over, how it
happened, she would have said nothing, but looked wise.
If you had asked Claralie, she would have laughed and said she
always preferred Leon.
If you had asked Theophile, he would have wondered that you
thought he had ever meant more than to tease Manuela.
If you had asked the Wizened One, she would have offered you a
But St. Rocque knows, for he is a good saint, and if you believe
in him and are true and good, and make your nouvenas with a clean
heart, he will grant your wish.
"Gimme fi' cents worth o' candy, please." It was the little Jew
girl who spoke, and Tony's wife roused herself from her knitting to
rise and count out the multi-hued candy which should go in exchange
for the dingy nickel grasped in warm, damp fingers. Three long sticks,
carefully wrapped in crispest brown paper, and a half dozen or more of
pink candy fish for lagniappe, and the little Jew girl sped away in
blissful contentment. Tony's wife resumed her knitting with a stifled
sigh until the next customer should come.
A low growl caused her to look up apprehensively. Tony himself
stood beetle-browed and huge in the small doorway.
"Get up from there," he muttered, "and open two dozen oysters
right away; the Eliots want 'em." His English was unaccented. It was
long since he had seen Italy.
She moved meekly behind the counter, and began work on the thick
shells. Tony stretched his long neck up the street.
"Mr. Tony, mama wants some charcoal." The very small voice at his
feet must have pleased him, for his black brows relaxed into a smile,
and he poked the little one's chin with a hard, dirty finger, as he
emptied the ridiculously small bucket of charcoal into the child's
bucket, and gave a banana for lagniappe.
The crackling of shells went on behind, and a stifled sob arose as
a bit of sharp edge cut into the thin, worn fingers that clasped the
"Hurry up there, will you?" growled the black brows; "the Eliots
are sending for the oysters."
She deftly strained and counted them, and, after wiping her
fingers, resumed her seat, and took up the endless crochet work, with
her usual stifled sigh.
Tony and his wife had always been in this same little queer old
shop on Prytania Street, at least to the memory of the oldest
inhabitant in the neighbourhood. When or how they came, or how they
stayed, no one knew; it was enough that they were there, like a sort
of ancestral fixture to the street. The neighbourhood was fine enough
to look down upon these two tumble-down shops at the corner, kept by
Tony and Mrs. Murphy, the grocer. It was a semi-fashionable locality,
far up-town, away from the old-time French quarter. It was the sort
of neighbourhood where millionaires live before their fortunes are
made and fashionable, high-priced private schools flourish, where the
small cottages are occupied by aspiring school-teachers and
choir-singers. Such was this locality, and you must admit that it
was indeed a condescension to tolerate Tony and Mrs. Murphy.
He was a great, black-bearded, hoarse-voiced, six-foot specimen of
Italian humanity, who looked in his little shop and on the prosaic
pavement of Prytania Street somewhat as Hercules might seem in a
modern drawing-room. You instinctively thought of wild
mountain-passes, and the gleaming dirks of bandit contadini in
looking at him. What his last name was, no one knew. Someone had
maintained once that he had been christened Antonio Malatesta, but
that was unauthentic, and as little to be believed as that other wild
theory that her name was Mary.
She was meek, pale, little, ugly, and German. Altogether part of
his arms and legs would have very decently made another larger than
she. Her hair was pale and drawn in sleek, thin tightness away from a
pinched, pitiful face, whose dull cold eyes hurt you, because you knew
they were trying to mirror sorrow, and could not because of their
expressionless quality. No matter what the weather or what her other
toilet, she always wore a thin little shawl of dingy brick-dust hue
about her shoulders. No matter what the occasion or what the day, she
always carried her knitting with her, and seldom ceased the incessant
twist, twist of the shining steel among the white cotton meshes. She
might put down the needles and lace into the spool-box long enough to
open oysters, or wrap up fruit and candy, or count out wood and coal
into infinitesimal portions, or do her housework; but the knitting was
snatched with avidity at the first spare moment, and the worn, white,
blue-marked fingers, half enclosed in kid-glove stalls for protection,
would writhe and twist in and out again. Little girls just learning to
crochet borrowed their patterns from Tony's wife, and it was
considered quite a mark of advancement to have her inspect a bit of
lace done by eager, chubby fingers. The ladies in larger houses,
whose husbands would be millionaires some day, bought her lace, and
gave it to their servants for Christmas presents.
As for Tony, when she was slow in opening his oysters or in
cooking his red beans and spaghetti, he roared at her, and prefixed
picturesque adjectives to her lace, which made her hide it under her
apron with a fearsome look in her dull eyes.
He hated her in a lusty, roaring fashion, as a healthy beefy boy
hates a sick cat and torments it to madness. When she displeased
him, he beat her, and knocked her frail form on the floor. The
children could tell when this had happened. Her eyes would be red,
and there would be blue marks on her face and neck. "Poor Mrs. Tony,"
they would say, and nestle close to her. Tony did not roar at her for
petting them, perhaps, because they spent money on the multi-hued
candy in glass jars on the shelves.
Her mother appeared upon the scene once, and stayed a short time;
but Tony got drunk one day and beat her because she ate too much, and
she disappeared soon after. Whence she came and where she departed,
no one could tell, not even Mrs. Murphy, the Pauline Pry and Gazette
of the block.
Tony had gout, and suffered for many days in roaring helplessness,
the while his foot, bound and swathed in many folds of red flannel,
lay on the chair before him. In proportion as his gout increased and
he bawled from pure physical discomfort, she became light-hearted, and
moved about the shop with real, brisk cheeriness. He could not hit
her then without such pain that after one or two trials he gave up in
So the dull years had passed, and life had gone on pretty much the
same for Tony and the German wife and the shop. The children came on
Sunday evenings to buy the stick candy, and on week-days for coal and
wood. The servants came to buy oysters for the larger houses, and to
gossip over the counter about their employers. The little dry woman
knitted, and the big man moved lazily in and out in his red flannel
shirt, exchanged politics with the tailor next door through the
window, or lounged into Mrs. Murphy's bar and drank fiercely. Some of
the children grew up and moved away, and other little girls came to
buy candy and eat pink lagniappe fishes, and the shop still thrived.
One day Tony was ill, more than the mummied foot of gout, or the
wheeze of asthma; he must keep his bed and send for the doctor.
She clutched his arm when he came, and pulled him into the tiny
"Is it--is it anything much, doctor?" she gasped.
AEsculapius shook his head as wisely as the occasion would permit.
She followed him out of the room into the shop.
"Do you--will he get well, doctor?"
AEsculapius buttoned up his frock coat, smoothed his shining hat,
cleared his throat, then replied oracularly,
"Madam, he is completely burned out inside. Empty as a shell,
madam, empty as a shell. He cannot live, for he has nothing to live
As the cobblestones rattled under the doctor's equipage rolling
leisurely up Prytania Street, Tony's wife sat in her chair and
laughed,--laughed with a hearty joyousness that lifted the film from
the dull eyes and disclosed a sparkle beneath.
The drear days went by, and Tony lay like a veritable Samson shorn
of his strength, for his voice was sunken to a hoarse, sibilant
whisper, and his black eyes gazed fiercely from the shock of hair and
beard about a white face. Life went on pretty much as before in the
shop; the children paused to ask how Mr. Tony was, and even hushed the
jingles on their bell hoops as they passed the door. Red-headed
Jimmie, Mrs. Murphy's nephew, did the hard jobs, such as splitting
wood and lifting coal from the bin; and in the intervals between
tending the fallen giant and waiting on the customers, Tony's wife sat
in her accustomed chair, knitting fiercely, with an inscrutable smile
about her purple compressed mouth.
Then John came, introducing himself, serpent-wise, into the Eden
of her bosom.
John was Tony's brother, huge and bluff too, but fair and blond,
with the beauty of Northern Italy. With the same lack of race pride
which Tony had displayed in selecting his German spouse, John had
taken unto himself Betty, a daughter of Erin, aggressive, powerful,
and cross-eyed. He turned up now, having heard of this illness, and
assumed an air of remarkable authority at once.
A hunted look stole into the dull eyes, and after John had
departed with blustering directions as to Tony's welfare, she crept
to his bedside timidly.
"Tony," she said,--"Tony, you are very sick."
An inarticulate growl was the only response.
"Tony, you ought to see the priest; you mustn't go any longer
without taking the sacrament."
The growl deepened into words.
"Don't want any priest; you 're always after some snivelling old
woman's fuss. You and Mrs. Murphy go on with your church; it won't
make YOU any better."
She shivered under this parting shot, and crept back into the
shop. Still the priest came next day.
She followed him in to the bedside and knelt timidly.
"Tony," she whispered, "here's Father Leblanc."
Tony was too languid to curse out loud; he only expressed his hate
in a toss of the black beard and shaggy mane.
"Tony," she said nervously, "won't you do it now? It won't take
long, and it will be better for you when you go--Oh, Tony,
don't--don't laugh. Please, Tony, here's the priest."
But the Titan roared aloud: "No; get out. Think I'm a-going to
give you a chance to grab my money now? Let me die and go to hell in
Father Leblanc knelt meekly and prayed, and the woman's weak
"Tony, I've been true and good and faithful to you. Don't die and
leave me no better than before. Tony, I do want to be a good woman
once, a real-for-true married woman. Tony, here's the priest; say
yes." And she wrung her ringless hands.
"You want my money," said Tony, slowly, "and you sha'n't have it,
not a cent; John shall have it."
Father Leblanc shrank away like a fading spectre. He came next
day and next day, only to see re-enacted the same piteous scene,--the
woman pleading to be made a wife ere death hushed Tony's blasphemies,
the man chuckling in pain-racked glee at the prospect of her bereaved
misery. Not all the prayers of Father Leblanc nor the wailings of
Mrs. Murphy could alter the determination of the will beneath the
shock of hair; he gloated in his physical weakness at the tenacious
grasp on his mentality.
"Tony," she wailed on the last day, her voice rising to a shriek
in its eagerness, "tell them I'm your wife; it'll be the same. Only
say it, Tony, before you die!"
He raised his head, and turned stiff eyes and gibbering mouth on
her; then, with one chill finger pointing at John, fell back dully
They buried him with many honours by the Society of Italia's Sons.
John took possession of the shop when they returned home, and found
the money hidden in the chimney corner.
As for Tony's wife, since she was not his wife after all, they
sent her forth in the world penniless, her worn fingers clutching her
bundle of clothes in nervous agitation, as though they regretted the
time lost from knitting.
THE FISHERMAN OF PASS CHRISTIAN
The swift breezes on the beach at Pass Christian meet and conflict
as though each strove for the mastery of the air. The land-breeze
blows down through the pines, resinous, fragrant, cold, bringing
breath-like memories of dim, dark woods shaded by myriad pine-needles.
The breeze from the Gulf is warm and soft and languorous, blowing up
from the south with its suggestion of tropical warmth and passion. It
is strong and masterful, and tossed Annette's hair and whipped her
skirts about her in bold disregard for the proprieties.
Arm in arm with Philip, she was strolling slowly down the great
pier which extends from the Mexican Gulf Hotel into the waters of the
Sound. There was no moon to-night, but the sky glittered and
scintillated with myriad stars, brighter than you can ever see
farther North, and the great waves that the Gulf breeze tossed up in
restless profusion gleamed with the white fire of phosphorescent
flame. The wet sands on the beach glowed white fire; the posts of the
pier where the waves had leapt and left a laughing kiss, the sides of
the little boats and fish-cars tugging at their ropes, alike showed
white and flaming, as though the sea and all it touched were afire.
Annette and Philip paused midway the pier to watch two fishermen
casting their nets. With heads bared to the breeze, they stood in
clear silhouette against the white background of sea.
"See how he uses his teeth," almost whispered Annette.
Drawing himself up to his full height, with one end of the huge
seine between his teeth, and the cord in his left hand, the taller
fisherman of the two paused a half instant, his right arm extended,
grasping the folds of the net. There was a swishing rush through the
air, and it settled with a sort of sob as it cut the waters and struck
a million sparkles of fire from the waves. Then, with backs bending
under the strain, the two men swung on the cord, drawing in the net,
laden with glittering restless fish, which were unceremoniously dumped
on the boards to be put into the fish-car awaiting them.
Philip laughingly picked up a soft, gleaming jelly-fish, and
threatened to put it on Annette's neck. She screamed, ran, slipped
on the wet boards, and in another instant would have fallen over into
the water below. The tall fisherman caught her in his arms and set
her on her feet.
"Mademoiselle must be very careful," he said in the softest and
most correct French. "The tide is in and the water very rough. It
would be very difficult to swim out there to-night."
Annette murmured confused thanks, which were supplemented by
Philip's hearty tones. She was silent until they reached the
pavilion at the end of the pier. The semi-darkness was unrelieved by
lantern or light. The strong wind wafted the strains from a couple of
mandolins, a guitar, and a tenor voice stationed in one corner to
sundry engrossed couples in sundry other corners. Philip found an
untenanted nook and they ensconced themselves therein.
"Do you know there's something mysterious about that fisherman?"
said Annette, during a lull in the wind.
"Because he did not let you go over?" inquired Philip.
"No; he spoke correctly, and with the accent that goes only with
an excellent education."
Philip shrugged his shoulders. "That's nothing remarkable. If
you stay about Pass Christian for any length of time, you'll find
more things than perfect French and courtly grace among fishermen to
surprise you. These are a wonderful people who live across the Lake."
Annette was lolling in the hammock under the big catalpa-tree some
days later, when the gate opened, and Natalie's big sun-bonnet
appeared. Natalie herself was discovered blushing in its dainty
depths. She was only a little Creole seaside girl, you must know, and
very shy of the city demoiselles. Natalie's patois was quite as
different from Annette's French as it was from the postmaster's
"Mees Annette," she began, peony-hued all over at her own
boldness, "we will have one lil' hay-ride this night, and a fish-fry
at the end. Will you come?"
Annette sprang to her feet in delight. "Will I come? Certainly.
How delightful! You are so good to ask me. What shall--what time--"
But Natalie's pink bonnet had fled precipitately down the shaded
walk. Annette laughed joyously as Philip lounged down the gallery.
"I frightened the child away," she told him.
You've never been for a hay-ride and fish-fry on the shores of the
Mississippi Sound, have you? When the summer boarders and the
Northern visitors undertake to give one, it is a comparatively staid
affair, where due regard is had for one's wearing apparel, and where
there are servants to do the hardest work. Then it isn't enjoyable at
all. But when the natives, the boys and girls who live there, make up
their minds to have fun, you may depend upon its being just the best
This time there were twenty boys and girls, a mamma or so, several
papas, and a grizzled fisherman to restrain the ardor of the amateurs.
The cart was vast and solid, and two comfortable, sleepy-looking
mules constituted the drawing power. There were also tin horns, some
guitars, an accordion, and a quartet of much praised voices. The hay
in the bottom of the wagon was freely mixed with pine needles, whose
prickiness through your hose was amply compensated for by its
After a triumphantly noisy passage down the beach one comes to the
stretch of heavy sand that lies between Pass Christian proper and
Henderson's Point. This is a hard pull for the mules, and the more
ambitious riders get out and walk. Then, after a final strain through
the shifting sands, bravo! the shell road is reached, and one goes
cheering through the pine-trees to Henderson's Point.
If ever you go to Pass Christian, you must have a fish-fry at
Henderson's Point. It is the pine-thicketed, white-beached peninsula
jutting out from the land, with one side caressed by the waters of the
Sound and the other purred over by the blue waves of the Bay of St.
Louis. Here is the beginning of the great three-mile trestle bridge
to the town of Bay St. Louis, and to-night from the beach could be
seen the lights of the villas glittering across the Bay like myriads
of unsleeping eyes.
Here upon a firm stretch of white sand camped the merry-makers.
Soon a great fire of driftwood and pine cones tossed its flames
defiantly at a radiant moon in the sky, and the fishers were casting
their nets in the sea. The more daring of the girls waded bare-legged
in the water, holding pine-torches, spearing flounders and peering for
Annette had wandered farther in the shallow water than the rest.
Suddenly she stumbled against a stone, the torch dropped and
spluttered at her feet. With a little helpless cry she looked at the
stretch of unfamiliar beach and water to find herself all alone.
"Pardon me, mademoiselle," said a voice at her elbow; "you are in
It was her fisherman, and with a scarce conscious sigh of relief,
Annette put her hand into the outstretched one at her side.
"I was looking for soft shells," she explained, "and lost the
crowd, and now my torch is out."
"Where is the crowd?" There was some amusement in the tone, and
Annette glanced up quickly, prepared to be thoroughly indignant at
this fisherman who dared make fun at her; but there was such a kindly
look about his mouth that she was reassured and said meekly,--
"At Henderson's Point."
"You have wandered a half-mile away," he mused, "and have nothing
to show for your pains but very wet skirts. If mademoiselle will
permit me, I will take her to her friends, but allow me to suggest
that mademoiselle will leave the water and walk on the sands."
"But I am barefoot," wailed Annette, "and I am afraid of the
Fiddler crabs, you know, aren't pleasant things to be dangling
around one's bare feet, and they are more numerous than sand fleas
down at Henderson's Point.
"True," assented the fisherman; "then we shall have to wade back."
The fishing was over when they rounded the point and came in sight
of the cheery bonfire with its Rembrandt-like group, and the air was
savoury with the smell of frying fish and crabs. The fisherman was
not to be tempted by appeals to stay, but smilingly disappeared down
the sands, the red glare of his torch making a glowing track in the
"Ah, Mees Annette," whispered Natalie, between mouthfuls of a rich
croaker, "you have found a beau in the water."
"And the fisherman of the Pass, too," laughed her cousin Ida.
Annette tossed her head, for Philip had growled audibly.
"Do you know, Philip," cried Annette a few days after, rudely
shaking him from his siesta on the gallery,-- "do you know that I
have found my fisherman's hut?"
"Hum," was the only response.
"Yes, and it's the quaintest, most delightful spot imaginable.
Philip, do come with me and see it."
"Oh, Philip, you are so lazy; do come with me."
"Yes, but, my dear Annette," protested Philip, "this is a warm
day, and I am tired."
Still, his curiosity being aroused, he went grumbling. It was not
a very long drive, back from the beach across the railroad and through
the pine forest to the bank of a dark, slow-flowing bayou. The
fisherman's hut was small, two-roomed, whitewashed, pine-boarded, with
the traditional mud chimney acting as a sort of support to one of its
uneven sides. Within was a weird assortment of curios from every
uncivilized part of the globe. Also were there fishing-tackle and guns
in reckless profusion. The fisherman, in the kitchen of the
mud-chimney, was sardonically waging war with a basket of little bayou
"Entrez, mademoiselle et monsieur," he said pleasantly, grabbing a
vicious crab by its flippers, and smiling at its wild attempts to
bite. "You see I am busy, but make yourself at home."
"Well, how on earth--" began Philip.
"Sh--sh--" whispered Annette. "I was driving out in the woods
this morning, and stumbled on the hut. He asked me in, but I came
right over after you."
The fisherman, having succeeded in getting the last crab in the
kettle of boiling water, came forward smiling and began to explain
"Then you have not always lived at Pass Christian," said Philip.
"Mais non, monsieur, I am spending a summer here."
"And he spends his winters, doubtless, selling fish in the French
market," spitefully soliloquised Philip.
The fisherman was looking unutterable things into Annette's eyes,
and, it seemed to Philip, taking an unconscionably long time
explaining the use of an East Indian stiletto.
"Oh, wouldn't it be delightful!" came from Annette at last.
"What?" asked Philip.
"Why, Monsieur LeConte says he'll take six of us out in his
catboat tomorrow for a fishing-trip on the Gulf."
"And I'll get Natalie and her cousins."
"Yes," still more drily.
Annette chattered on, entirely oblivious of the strainedness of
the men's adieux, and still chattered as they drove through the
"I did not know that you were going to take fishermen and
marchands into the bosom of your social set when you came here,"
growled Philip, at last.
"But, Cousin Phil, can't you see he is a gentleman? The fact that
he makes no excuses or protestations is a proof."
"You are a fool," was the polite response.
Still, at six o'clock next morning, there was a little crowd of
seven upon the pier, laughing and chatting at the little "Virginie"
dipping her bows in the water and flapping her sails in the brisk
wind. Natalie's pink bonnet blushed in the early sunshine, and
Natalie's mamma, comely and portly, did chaperonage duty. It was not
long before the sails gave swell into the breeze and the little boat
scurried to the Sound. Past the lighthouse on its gawky iron stalls,
she flew, and now rounded the white sands of Cat Island.
"Bravo, the Gulf!" sang a voice on the lookout. The little boat
dipped, halted an instant, then rushed fast into the blue Gulf
"We will anchor here," said the host, "have luncheon, and fish."
Philip could not exactly understand why the fisherman should sit
so close to Annette and whisper so much into her ears. He chafed at
her acting the part of hostess, and was possessed of a murderous
desire to throw the pink sun-bonnet and its owner into the sea, when
Natalie whispered audibly to one of her cousins that "Mees Annette act
nice wit' her lovare."
The sun was banking up flaming pillars of rose and gold in the
west when the little "Virginie" rounded Cat Island on her way home,
and the quick Southern twilight was fast dying into darkness when she
was tied up to the pier and the merry-makers sprang off with baskets
of fish. Annette had distinguished herself by catching one small
shark, and had immediately ceased to fish and devoted her attention to
her fisherman and his line. Philip had angled fiercely, landing trout,
croakers, sheepshead, snappers in bewildering luck. He had broken
each hopeless captive's neck savagely, as though they were personal
enemies. He did not look happy as they landed, though paeans of praise
were being sung in his honour.
As the days passed on, "the fisherman of the Pass" began to dance
attendance on Annette. What had seemed a joke became serious. Aunt
Nina, urged by Philip, remonstrated, and even the mamma of the pink
sunbonnet began to look grave. It was all very well for a city
demoiselle to talk with a fisherman and accept favours at his hands,
provided that the city demoiselle understood that a vast and
bridgeless gulf stretched between her and the fisherman.
But when the demoiselle forgot the gulf and the fisherman refused
to recognise it, why, it was time to take matters in hand.
To all of Aunt Nina's remonstrances, Philip's growlings, and the
averted glances of her companions, Annette was deaf. "You are
narrow-minded," she said laughingly. "I am interested in Monsieur
LeConte simply as a study. He is entertaining; he talks well of his
travels, and as for refusing to recognise the difference between us,
why, he never dreamed of such a thing."
Suddenly a peremptory summons home from Annette's father put an
end to the fears of Philip. Annette pouted, but papa must be obeyed.
She blamed Philip and Aunt Nina for telling tales, but Aunt Nina was
uncommunicative, and Philip too obviously cheerful to derive much
That night she walked with the fisherman hand in hand on the
sands. The wind from the pines bore the scarcely recognisable, subtle
freshness of early autumn, and the waters had a hint of dying summer
in their sob on the beach.
"You will remember," said the fisherman, "that I have told you
nothing about myself."
"Yes," murmured Annette.
"And you will keep your promises to me?"
"Let me hear you repeat them again."
"I promise you that I will not forget you. I promise you that I
will never speak of you to anyone until I see you again. I promise
that I will then clasp your hand wherever you may be."
"And mademoiselle will not be discouraged, but will continue her
It was all very romantic, by the waves of the Sound, under a
harvest moon, that seemed all sympathy for these two, despite the
fact that it was probably looking down upon hundreds of other equally
romantic couples. Annette went to bed with glowing cheeks, and a
heart whose pulsations would have caused a physician to prescribe
It was still hot in New Orleans when she returned home, and it
seemed hard to go immediately to work. But if one is going to be an
opera-singer some day and capture the world with one's voice, there is
nothing to do but to study, study, sing, practise, even though one's
throat be parched, one's head a great ache, and one's heart a nest of
discouragement and sadness at what seems the uselessness of it all.
Annette had now a new incentive to work; the fisherman had once
praised her voice when she hummed a barcarole on the sands, and he had
insisted that there was power in its rich notes. Though the fisherman
had showed no cause why he should be accepted as a musical critic,
Annette had somehow respected his judgment and been accordingly
It was the night of the opening of the opera. There was the usual
crush, the glitter and confusing radiance of the brilliant audience.
Annette, with papa, Aunt Nina, and Philip, was late reaching her box.
The curtain was up, and "La Juive" was pouring forth defiance at her
angry persecutors. Annette listened breathlessly. In fancy, she too
was ringing her voice out to an applauding house. Her head
unconsciously beat time to the music, and one hand half held her cloak
from her bare shoulders.
Then Eleazar appeared, and the house rose at the end of his song.
Encores it gave, and bravos and cheers. He bowed calmly, swept his
eyes over the tiers until they found Annette, where they rested in a
half-smile of recognition.
"Philip," gasped Annette, nervously raising her glasses, "my
"Yes, an opera-singer is better than a marchand," drawled Philip.
The curtain fell on the first act. The house was won by the new
tenor; it called and recalled him before the curtain. Clearly he had
sung his way into the hearts of his audience at once.
"Papa, Aunt Nina," said Annette, "you must come behind the scenes
with me. I want you to meet him. He is delightful. You must come."
Philip was bending ostentatiously over the girl in the next box.
Papa and Aunt Nina consented to be dragged behind the scenes. Annette
was well known, for, in hopes of some day being an occupant of one of
the dressing-rooms, she had made friends with everyone connected with
Eleazar received them, still wearing his brown garb and
"How you deceived me!" she laughed, when the greetings and
introductions were over.
"I came to America early," he smiled back at her, "and thought I'd
try a little incognito at the Pass. I was not well, you see. It has
been of great benefit to me."
"I kept my promise," she said in a lower tone.
"Thank you; that also has helped me."
Annette's teacher began to note a wonderful improvement in his
pupil's voice. Never did a girl study so hard or practise so
faithfully. It was truly wonderful. Now and then Annette would say
to papa as if to reassure herself,--
"And when Monsieur Cherbart says I am ready to go to Paris, I may
And papa would say a "Certainly" that would send her back to the
piano with renewed ardour.
As for Monsieur LeConte, he was the idol of New Orleans. Seldom
had there been a tenor who had sung himself so completely into the
very hearts of a populace. When he was billed, the opera displayed
"Standing Room" signs, no matter what the other attractions in the
city might be. Sometimes Monsieur LeConte delighted small audiences
in Annette's parlour, when the hostess was in a perfect flutter of
happiness. Not often, you know, for the leading tenor was in great
demand at the homes of society queens.
"Do you know," said Annette, petulantly, one evening, "I wish for
the old days at Pass Christian."
"So do I," he answered tenderly; "will you repeat them with me
"If I only could!" she gasped.
Still she might have been happy, had it not been for Madame
Dubeau,--Madame Dubeau, the flute-voiced leading soprano, who wore
the single dainty curl on her forehead, and thrilled her audiences
oftentimes more completely than the fisherman. Madame Dubeau was La
Juive to his Eleazar, Leonore to his Manfred, Elsa to his Lohengrin,
Aida to his Rhadames, Marguerite to his Faust; in brief, Madame Dubeau
was his opposite. She caressed him as Mignon, pleaded with him as
Michaela, died for him in "Les Huguenots," broke her heart for love of
him in "La Favorite." How could he help but love her, Annette asked
herself, how could he? Madame Dubeau was beautiful and gifted and
Once she whispered her fears to him when there was the meagrest
bit of an opportunity. He laughed. "You don't understand, little
one," he said tenderly; "the relations of professional people to each
other are peculiar. After you go to Paris, you will know."
Still, New Orleans had built up its romance, and gossiped
"Have you heard the news?" whispered Lola to Annette, leaning from
her box at the opera one night. The curtain had just gone up on
"Herodias," and for some reason or other, the audience applauded with
more warmth than usual. There was a noticeable number of
good-humoured, benignant smiles on the faces of the applauders.
"No," answered Annette, breathlessly,--"no, indeed, Lola; I am
going to Paris next week. I am so delighted I can't stop to think."
"Yes, that is excellent," said Lola, "but all New Orleans is
smiling at the romance. Monsieur LeConte and Madame Dubeau were
quietly married last night, but it leaked out this afternoon. See all
the applause she's receiving!"
Annette leaned back in her chair, very white and still. Her box
was empty after the first act, and a quiet little tired voice that
was almost too faint to be heard in the carriage on the way home,
"Papa, I don't think I care to go to Paris, after all."
M'SIEU FORTIER'S VIOLIN
Slowly, one by one, the lights in the French Opera go out, until
there is but a single glimmer of pale yellow flickering in the great
dark space, a few moments ago all a-glitter with jewels and the
radiance of womanhood and a-clash with music. Darkness now, and
silence, and a great haunted hush over all, save for the distant
cheery voice of a stage hand humming a bar of the opera.
The glimmer of gas makes a halo about the bowed white head of a
little old man putting his violin carefully away in its case with
aged, trembling, nervous fingers. Old M'sieu Fortier was the last
one out every night.
Outside the air was murky, foggy. Gas and electricity were but
faint splotches of light on the thick curtain of fog and mist. Around
the opera was a mighty bustle of carriages and drivers and footmen,
with a car gaining headway in the street now and then, a howling of
names and numbers, the laughter and small talk of cloaked society
stepping slowly to its carriages, and the more bourgeoisie
vocalisation of the foot passengers who streamed along and hummed
little bits of music. The fog's denseness was confusing, too, and at
one moment it seemed that the little narrow street would become
inextricably choked and remain so until some mighty engine would blow
the crowd into atoms. It had been a crowded night. From around
Toulouse Street, where led the entrance to the troisiemes, from the
grand stairway, from the entrance to the quatriemes, the human stream
poured into the street, nearly all with a song on their lips.
M'sieu Fortier stood at the corner, blinking at the beautiful
ladies in their carriages. He exchanged a hearty salutation with the
saloon-keeper at the corner, then, tenderly carrying his violin case,
he trudged down Bourbon Street, a little old, bent, withered figure,
with shoulders shrugged up to keep warm, as though the faded brown
overcoat were not thick enough.
Down on Bayou Road, not so far from Claiborne Street, was a house,
little and old and queer, but quite large enough to hold M'sieu
Fortier, a wrinkled dame, and a white cat. He was home but little,
for on nearly every day there were rehearsals; then on Tuesday,
Thursday, and Saturday nights, and twice Sundays there were
performances, so Ma'am Jeanne and the white cat kept house almost
always alone. Then, when M'sieu Fortier was at home, why, it was
practice, practice all the day, and smoke, snore, sleep at night.
Altogether it was not very exhilarating.
M'sieu Fortier had played first violin in the orchestra ever
since--well, no one remembered his not playing there. Sometimes
there would come breaks in the seasons, and for a year the great
building would be dark and silent. Then M'sieu Fortier would do jobs
of playing here and there, one night for this ball, another night for
that soiree dansante, and in the day, work at his trade,--that of a
cigar-maker. But now for seven years there had been no break in the
season, and the little old violinist was happy. There is nothing
sweeter than a regular job and good music to play, music into which
one can put some soul, some expression, and which one must study to
understand. Dance music, of the frivolous, frothy kind deemed
essential to soirees, is trivial, easy, uninteresting.
So M'sieu Fortier, Ma'am Jeanne, and the white cat lived a
peaceful, uneventful existence out on Bayou Road. When the opera
season was over in February, M'sieu went back to cigar-making, and
the white cat purred none the less contentedly.
It had been a benefit to-night for the leading tenor, and he had
chosen "Roland a Ronceveaux," a favourite this season, for his
farewell. And, mon Dieu, mused the little M'sieu, but how his voice
had rung out bell-like, piercing above the chorus of the first act!
Encore after encore was given, and the bravos of the troisiemes were
enough to stir the most sluggish of pulses.
"Superbes Pyrenees Qui dressez dans le ciel, Vos cimes couronnees
D'un hiver eternelle, Pour nous livrer passage Ouvrez vos larges
flancs, Faites faire l'orage, Voici, venir les Francs!"
M'sieu quickened his pace down Bourbon Street as he sang the
chorus to himself in a thin old voice, and then, before he could see
in the thick fog, he had run into two young men.
"I--I--beg your pardon,--messieurs," he stammered.
"Most certainly," was the careless response; then the speaker,
taking a second glance at the object of the rencontre, cried
"Oh, M'sieu Fortier, is it you? Why, you are so happy, singing
your love sonnet to your lady's eyebrow, that you didn't see a thing
but the moon, did you? And who is the fair one who should clog your
There was a deprecating shrug from the little man.
"Ma foi, but monsieur must know fo' sho', dat I am too old for
"I know nothing save that I want that violin of yours. When is it
to be mine, M'sieu Fortier?"
"Nevare, nevare!" exclaimed M'sieu, gripping on as tightly to the
case as if he feared it might be wrenched from him. "Me a lovere,
and to sell mon violon! Ah, so ver' foolish!"
"Martel," said the first speaker to his companion as they moved on
up town, "I wish you knew that little Frenchman. He's a unique
specimen. He has the most exquisite violin I've seen in years;
beautiful and mellow as a genuine Cremona, and he can make the music
leap, sing, laugh, sob, skip, wail, anything you like from under his
bow when he wishes. It's something wonderful. We are good friends.
Picked him up in my French-town rambles. I've been trying to buy that
"To throw it aside a week later?" lazily inquired Martel. "You
are like the rest of these nineteenth-century vandals, you can see
nothing picturesque that you do not wish to deface for a souvenir; you
cannot even let simple happiness alone, but must needs destroy it in a
vain attempt to make it your own or parade it as an advertisement."
As for M'sieu Fortier, he went right on with his song and turned
into Bayou Road, his shoulders still shrugged high as though he were
cold, and into the quaint little house, where Ma'am Jeanne and the
white cat, who always waited up for him at nights, were both nodding
over the fire.
It was not long after this that the opera closed, and M'sieu went
back to his old out-of-season job. But somehow he did not do as well
this spring and summer as always. There is a certain amount of
cunning and finesse required to roll a cigar just so, that M'sieu
seemed to be losing, whether from age or deterioration it was hard to
tell. Nevertheless, there was just about half as much money coming in
as formerly, and the quaint little pucker between M'sieu's eyebrows
which served for a frown came oftener and stayed longer than ever
"Minesse," he said one day to the white cat,--he told all his
troubles to her; it was of no use to talk to Ma'am Jeanne, she was
too deaf to understand,--"Minesse, we are gettin' po'. You' pere git
h'old, an' hees han's dey go no mo' rapidement, an' dere be no mo'
soirees dese day. Minesse, eef la saison don' hurry up, we shall eat
ver' lil' meat."
And Minesse curled her tail and purred.
Before the summer had fairly begun, strange rumours began to float
about in musical circles. M. Mauge would no longer manage the opera,
but it would be turned into the hands of Americans, a syndicate. Bah!
These English-speaking people could do nothing unless there was a
trust, a syndicate, a company immense and dishonest. It was going to
be a guarantee business, with a strictly financial basis. But worse
than all this, the new manager, who was now in France, would not only
procure the artists, but a new orchestra, a new leader. M'sieu
Fortier grew apprehensive at this, for he knew what the loss of his
place would mean to him.
September and October came, and the papers were filled with
accounts of the new artists from France and of the new orchestra
leader too. He was described as a most talented, progressive,
energetic young man. M'sieu Fortier's heart sank at the word
"progressive." He was anything but that. The New Orleans Creole
blood flowed too sluggishly in his old veins.
November came; the opera reopened. M'sieu Fortier was not
"Minesse," he said with a catch in his voice that strongly
resembled a sob, "Minesse, we mus' go hongry sometime. Ah, mon
pauvre violon! Ah, mon Dieu, dey put us h'out, an' dey will not have
us. Nev' min', we will sing anyhow." And drawing his bow across the
strings, he sang in his thin, quavering voice, "Salut demeure, chaste
It is strange what a peculiar power of fascination former haunts
have for the human mind. The criminal, after he has fled from
justice, steals back and skulks about the scene of his crime; the
employee thrown from work hangs about the place of his former
industry; the schoolboy, truant or expelled, peeps in at the
school-gate and taunts the good boys within. M'sieu Fortier was no
exception. Night after night of the performances he climbed the
stairs of the opera and sat, an attentive listener to the orchestra,
with one ear inclined to the stage, and a quizzical expression on his
wrinkled face. Then he would go home, and pat Minesse, and fondle the
"Ah, Minesse, dose new player! Not one bit can dey play. Such
tones, Minesse, such tones! All the time portemento, oh, so ver'
bad! Ah, mon chere violon, we can play." And he would play and sing
a romance, and smile tenderly to himself.
At first it used to be into the deuxiemes that M'sieu Fortier
went, into the front seats. But soon they were too expensive, and
after all, one could hear just as well in the fourth row as in the
first. After a while even the rear row of the deuxiemes was too
costly, and the little musician wended his way with the plebeians
around on Toulouse Street, and climbed the long, tedious flight of
stairs into the troisiemes. It makes no difference to be one row
higher. It was more to the liking, after all. One felt more at home
up here among the people. If one was thirsty, one could drink a glass
of wine or beer being passed about by the libretto boys, and the music
sounded just as well.
But it happened one night that M'sieu could not even afford to
climb the Toulouse Street stairs. To be sure, there was yet another
gallery, the quatriemes, where the peanut boys went for a dime, but
M'sieu could not get down to that yet. So he stayed outside until all
the beautiful women in their warm wraps, a bright-hued chattering
throng, came down the grand staircase to their carriages.
It was on one of these nights that Courcey and Martel found him
shivering at the corner.
"Hello, M'sieu Fortier," cried Courcey, "are you ready to let me
have that violin yet?"
"For shame!" interrupted Martel.
"Fifty dollars, you know," continued Courcey, taking no heed of
his friend's interpolation.
M'sieu Fortier made a courtly bow. "Eef Monsieur will call at my
'ouse on de morrow, he may have mon violon," he said huskily; then
turned abruptly on his heel, and went down Bourbon Street, his
shoulders drawn high as though he were cold.
When Courcey and Martel entered the gate of the little house on
Bayou Road the next day, there floated out to their ears a wordless
song thrilling from the violin, a song that told more than speech or
tears or gestures could have done of the utter sorrow and desolation
of the little old man. They walked softly up the short red brick walk
and tapped at the door. Within, M'sieu Fortier was caressing the
violin, with silent tears streaming down his wrinkled gray face.
There was not much said on either side. Courcey came away with
the instrument, leaving the money behind, while Martel grumbled at
the essentially sordid, mercenary spirit of the world. M'sieu Fortier
turned back into the room, after bowing his visitors out with old-time
French courtliness, and turning to the sleepy white cat, said with a
"Minesse, dere's only me an' you now."
About six days later, Courcey's morning dreams were disturbed by
the announcement of a visitor. Hastily doing a toilet, he descended
the stairs to find M'sieu Fortier nervously pacing the hall floor.
"I come fo' bring back you' money, yaas. I cannot sleep, I cannot
eat, I only cry, and t'ink, and weesh fo' mon violon; and Minesse, an'
de ol' woman too, dey mope an' look bad too, all for mon violon. I
try fo' to use dat money, but eet burn an' sting lak blood money. I
feel lak' I done sol' my child. I cannot go at l'opera no mo', I
t'ink of mon violon. I starve befo' I live widout. My heart, he is
broke, I die for mon violon."
Courcey left the room and returned with the instrument.
"M'sieu Fortier," he said, bowing low, as he handed the case to
the little man, "take your violin; it was a whim with me, a passion
with you. And as for the money, why, keep that too; it was worth a
hundred dollars to have possessed such an instrument even for six
BY THE BAYOU ST. JOHN
The Bayou St. John slowly makes its dark-hued way through reeds
and rushes, high banks and flat slopes, until it casts itself into
the turbulent bosom of Lake Pontchartrain. It is dark, like the
passionate women of Egypt; placid, like their broad brows; deep,
silent, like their souls. Within its bosom are hidden romances and
stories, such as were sung by minstrels of old. From the source to the
mouth is not far distant, visibly speaking, but in the life of the
bayou a hundred heart-miles could scarce measure it. Just where it
winds about the northwest of the city are some of its most beautiful
bits, orange groves on one side, and quaint old Spanish gardens on the
other. Who cares that the bridges are modern, and that here and there
pert boat-houses rear their prim heads? It is the bayou, even though
it be invaded with the ruthless vandalism of the improving idea, and
can a boat-house kill the beauty of a moss-grown centurion of an oak
with a history as old as the city? Can an iron bridge with tarantula
piers detract from the song of a mocking-bird in a fragrant orange
grove? We know that farther out, past the Confederate Soldiers'
Home,--that rose-embowered, rambling place of gray-coated,
white-haired old men with broken hearts for a lost cause,--it flows,
unimpeded by the faintest conception of man, and we love it all the
more that, like the Priestess of Isis, it is calm-browed, even in
To its banks at the end of Moss Street, one day there came a man
and a maiden. They were both tall and lithe and slender, with the
agility of youth and fire. He was the final concentration of the
essence of Spanish passion filtered into an American frame; she, a
repressed Southern exotic, trying to fit itself into the niches of a
modern civilisation. Truly, a fitting couple to seek the bayou banks.
They climbed the levee that stretched a feeble check to waters
that seldom rise, and on the other side of the embankment, at the
brink of the river, she sat on a log, and impatiently pulled off the
little cap she wore. The skies were gray, heavy, overcast, with an
occasional wind-rift in the clouds that only revealed new depths of
grayness behind; the tideless waters murmured a faint ripple against
the logs and jutting beams of the breakwater, and were answered by the
crescendo wail of the dried reeds on the other bank,--reeds that
rustled and moaned among themselves for the golden days of summer
He stood up, his dark form a slender silhouette against the sky;
she looked upward from her log, and their eyes met with an exquisite
shock of recognising understanding; dark eyes into dark eyes, Iberian
fire into Iberian fire, soul unto soul: it was enough. He sat down
and took her into his arms, and in the eerie murmur of the storm
coming they talked of the future.
"And then I hope to go to Italy or France. It is only there,
beneath those far Southern skies, that I could ever hope to attain to
anything that the soul within me says I can. I have wasted so much
time in the mere struggle for bread, while the powers of a higher
calling have clamoured for recognition and expression. I will go some
day and redeem myself."
She was silent a moment, watching with half-closed lids a
dejected-looking hunter on the other bank, and a lean dog who trailed
through the reeds behind him with drooping tail. Then she asked:
"And I--what will become of me?"
"You, Athanasia? There is a great future before you, little
woman, and I and my love can only mar it. Try to forget me and go
your way. I am only the epitome of unhappiness and ill-success."
But she laughed and would have none of it.
Will you ever forget that day, Athanasia? How the little gamins,
Creole throughout, came half shyly near the log, fishing, and
exchanging furtive whispers and half-concealed glances at the silent
couple. Their angling was rewarded only by a little black
water-moccasin that wriggled and forked its venomous red tongue in an
attempt to exercise its death-dealing prerogative. This Athanasia
insisted must go back into its native black waters, and paid the price
the boys asked that it might enjoy its freedom. The gamins laughed and
chattered in their soft patois; the Don smiled tenderly upon
Athanasia, and she durst not look at the reeds as she talked, lest
their crescendo sadness yield a foreboding. Just then a wee girl
appeared, clad in a multi-hued garment, evidently a sister to the
small fishermen. Her keen black eyes set in a dusky face glanced
sharply and suspiciously at the group as she clambered over the wet
embankment, and it seemed the drizzling mist grew colder, the sobbing
wind more pronounced in its prophetic wail. Athanasia rose suddenly.
"Let us go," she said; "the eternal feminine has spoiled it all."
The bayou flows as calmly, as darkly, as full of hidden passions
as ever. On a night years after, the moon was shining upon it with a
silvery tenderness that seemed brighter, more caressingly lingering
than anywhere within the old city. Behind, there rose the spires and
towers; before, only the reeds, green now, and soft in their rustlings
and whisperings for the future. False reeds! They tell themselves of
their happiness to be, and it all ends in dry stalks and drizzling
skies. The mocking-bird in the fragrant orange grove sends out his
night song, and blends it with the cricket's chirp, as the blossoms of
orange and magnolia mingle their perfume with the earthy smell of a
summer rain just blown over. Perfect in its stillness, absolute in
its beauty, tenderly healing in its suggestion of peace, the night in
its clear-lighted, cloudless sweetness enfolds Athanasia, as she
stands on the levee and gazes down at the old log, now almost hidden
in the luxuriant grass.
"It was the eternal feminine that spoiled our dream that day as it
spoiled the after life, was it not?"
But the Bayou St. John did not answer. It merely gathered into
its silent bosom another broken-hearted romance, and flowed
dispassionately on its way.
WHEN THE BAYOU OVERFLOWS
When the sun goes down behind the great oaks along the Bayou Teche
near Franklin, it throws red needles of light into the dark woods, and
leaves a great glow on the still bayou. Ma'am Mouton paused at her
gate and cast a contemplative look at the red sky.
"Hit will rain to-morrow, sho'. I mus' git in my t'ings."
Ma'am Mouton's remark must have been addressed to herself or to
the lean dog, for no one else was visible. She moved briskly about
the yard, taking things from the line, when Louisette's voice called
"Ah, Ma'am Mouton, can I help?"
Louisette was petite and plump and black-haired. Louisette's eyes
danced, and her lips were red and tempting. Ma'am Mouton's face
relaxed as the small brown hands relieved hers of their burden.
"Sylves', has he come yet?" asked the red mouth.
"Mais non, ma chere," said Ma'am Mouton, sadly, "I can' tell fo'
w'y he no come home soon dese day. Ah me, I feel lak' somet'ing
goin' happen. He so strange."
Even as she spoke a quick nervous step was heard crunching up the
brick walk. Sylves' paused an instant without the kitchen door, his
face turned to the setting sun. He was tall and slim and agile; a
"Bon jour, Louisette," he laughed. "Eh, maman!"
"Ah, my son, you are ver' late."
Sylves' frowned, but said nothing. It was a silent supper that
followed. Louisette was sad, Ma'am Mouton sighed now and then,
Sylves' was constrained.
"Maman," he said at length, "I am goin' away."
Ma'am Mouton dropped her fork and stared at him with unseeing
eyes; then, as she comprehended his remark, she put her hand out to
him with a pitiful gesture.
"Sylves'!" cried Louisette, springing to her feet.
"Maman, don't, don't!" he said weakly; then gathering strength
from the silence, he burst forth:
"Yaas, I 'm goin' away to work. I 'm tired of dis, jus' dig, dig,
work in de fiel', nothin' to see but de cloud, de tree, de bayou. I
don't lak' New Orleans; it too near here, dere no mo' money dere. I
go up fo' Mardi Gras, an' de same people, de same strit'. I'm goin' to
"Sylves'!" screamed both women at once.
Chicago! That vast, far-off city that seemed in another world.
Chicago! A name to conjure with for wickedness.
"W'y, yaas," continued Sylves', "lots of boys I know dere. Henri
an' Joseph Lascaud an' Arthur, dey write me what money dey mek' in
cigar. I can mek' a livin' too. I can mek' fine cigar. See how I do
in New Orleans in de winter."
"Oh, Sylves'," wailed Louisette, "den you'll forget me!"
"Non, non, ma chere," he answered tenderly. "I will come back
when the bayou overflows again, an' maman an' Louisette will have
Ma'am Mouton had bowed her head on her hands, and was rocking to
and fro in an agony of dry-eyed misery.
Sylves' went to her side and knelt. "Maman," he said softly,
"maman, you mus' not cry. All de boys go 'way, an' I will come back
reech, an' you won't have fo' to work no mo'."
But Ma'am Mouton was inconsolable.
It was even as Sylves' had said. In the summer-time the boys of
the Bayou Teche would work in the field or in the town of Franklin,
hack-driving and doing odd jobs. When winter came, there was a
general exodus to New Orleans, a hundred miles away, where work was to
be had as cigar-makers. There is money, plenty of it, in
cigar-making, if one can get in the right place. Of late, however,
there had been a general slackness of the trade. Last winter
oftentimes Sylves' had walked the streets out of work. Many were the
Creole boys who had gone to Chicago to earn a living, for the
cigar-making trade flourishes there wonderfully. Friends of Sylves'
had gone, and written home glowing accounts of the money to be had
almost for the asking. When one's blood leaps for new scenes, new
adventures, and one needs money, what is the use of frittering away
time alternately between the Bayou Teche and New Orleans? Sylves' had
brooded all summer, and now that September had come, he was determined
Louisette, the orphan, the girl-lover, whom everyone in Franklin
knew would some day be Ma'am Mouton's daughter-in-law, wept and
pleaded in vain. Sylves' kissed her quivering lips.
"Ma chere," he would say, "t'ink, I will bring you one fine
diamon' ring, nex' spring, when de bayou overflows again."
Louisette would fain be content with this promise. As for Ma'am
Mouton, she seemed to have grown ages older. Her Sylves' was going
from her; Sylves', whose trips to New Orleans had been a yearly source
of heart-break, was going far away for months to that mistily wicked
city, a thousand miles away.
October came, and Sylves' had gone. Ma'am Mouton had kept up
bravely until the last, when with one final cry she extended her arms
to the pitiless train bearing him northward. Then she and Louisette
went home drearily, the one leaning upon the other.
Ah, that was a great day when the first letter came from Chicago!
Louisette came running in breathlessly from the post-office, and
together they read it again and again. Chicago was such a wonderful
city, said Sylves'. Why, it was always like New Orleans at Mardi Gras
with the people. He had seen Joseph Lascaud, and he had a place to
work promised him. He was well, but he wanted, oh, so much, to see
maman and Louisette. But then, he could wait.
Was ever such a wonderful letter? Louisette sat for an hour
afterwards building gorgeous air-castles, while Ma'am Mouton fingered
the paper and murmured prayers to the Virgin for Sylves'. When the
bayou overflowed again? That would be in April. Then Louisette
caught herself looking critically at her slender brown fingers, and
blushed furiously, though Ma'am Mouton could not see her in the
Next week there was another letter, even more wonderful than the
first. Sylves' had found work. He was making cigars, and was
earning two dollars a day. Such wages! Ma'am Mouton and Louisette
began to plan pretty things for the brown cottage on the Teche.
That was a pleasant winter, after all. True, there was no
Sylves', but then he was always in New Orleans for a few months any
way. There were his letters, full of wondrous tales of the great
queer city, where cars went by ropes underground, and where there was
no Mardi Gras and the people did not mind Lent. Now and then there
would be a present, a keepsake for Louisette, and some money for
maman. They would plan improvements for the cottage, and Louisette
began to do sewing and dainty crochet, which she would hide with a
blush if anyone hinted at a trousseau.
It was March now, and Spring-time. The bayou began to sweep down
between its banks less sluggishly than before; it was rising, and
soon would spread over its tiny levees. The doors could be left open
now, though the trees were not yet green; but then down here the trees
do not swell and bud slowly and tease you for weeks with promises of
greenness. Dear no, they simply look mysterious, and their twigs
shake against each other and tell secrets of the leaves that will soon
be born. Then one morning you awake, and lo, it is a green world!
The boughs have suddenly clothed themselves all in a wondrous
garment, and you feel the blood run riot in your veins out of pure
One day in March, it was warm and sweet. Underfoot were violets,
and wee white star flowers peering through the baby-grass. The sky
was blue, with flecks of white clouds reflecting themselves in the
brown bayou. Louisette tripped up the red brick walk with the Chicago
letter in her hand, and paused a minute at the door to look upon the
leaping waters, her eyes dancing.
"I know the bayou must be ready to overflow," went the letter in
the carefully phrased French that the brothers taught at the
parochial school, "and I am glad, for I want to see the dear maman
and my Louisette. I am not so well, and Monsieur le docteur says it
is well for me to go to the South again."
Monsieur le docteur! Sylves' not well! The thought struck a
chill to the hearts of Ma'am Mouton and Louisette, but not for long.
Of course, Sylves' was not well, he needed some of maman's tisanes.
Then he was homesick; it was to be expected.
At last the great day came, Sylves' would be home. The brown
waters of the bayou had spread until they were seemingly trying to
rival the Mississippi in width. The little house was scrubbed and
cleaned until it shone again. Louisette had looked her dainty little
dress over and over to be sure that there was not a flaw to be found
wherein Sylves' could compare her unfavourably to the stylish Chicago
The train rumbled in on the platform, and two pair of eyes opened
wide for the first glimpse of Sylves'. The porter, all officiousness
and brass buttons, bustled up to Ma'am Mouton.
"This is Mrs. Mouton?" he inquired deferentially.
Ma'am Mouton nodded, her heart sinking. "Where is Sylves'?"
"He is here, madam."
There appeared Joseph Lascaud, then some men bearing Something.
Louisette put her hands up to her eyes to hide the sight, but Ma'am
Mouton was rigid.
"It was too cold for him," Joseph was saying to almost deaf ears,
"and he took the consumption. He thought he could get well when he
come home. He talk all the way down about the bayou, and about you
and Louisette. Just three hours ago he had a bad hemorrhage, and he
died from weakness. Just three hours ago. He said he wanted to get
home and give Louisette her diamond ring, when the bayou overflowed."
He might have had another name; we never knew. Some one had
christened him Mr. Baptiste long ago in the dim past, and it
sufficed. No one had ever been known who had the temerity to ask him
for another cognomen, for though he was a mild-mannered little man, he
had an uncomfortable way of shutting up oyster-wise and looking
disagreeable when approached concerning his personal history.
He was small: most Creole men are small when they are old. It is
strange, but a fact. It must be that age withers them sooner and
more effectually than those of un-Latinised extraction. Mr. Baptiste
was, furthermore, very much wrinkled and lame. Like the Son of Man,
he had nowhere to lay his head, save when some kindly family made room
for him in a garret or a barn. He subsisted by doing odd jobs,
white-washing, cleaning yards, doing errands, and the like.
The little old man was a frequenter of the levee. Never a day
passed that his quaint little figure was not seen moving up and down
about the ships. Chiefly did he haunt the Texas and Pacific
warehouses and the landing-place of the Morgan-line steamships. This
seemed like madness, for these spots are almost the busiest on the
levee, and the rough seamen and 'longshoremen have least time to be
bothered with small weak folks. Still there was method in the madness
of Mr. Baptiste. The Morgan steamships, as every one knows, ply
between New Orleans and Central and South American ports, doing the
major part of the fruit trade; and many were the baskets of forgotten
fruit that Mr. Baptiste took away with him unmolested. Sometimes, you
know, bananas and mangoes and oranges and citrons will half spoil,
particularly if it has been a bad voyage over the stormy Gulf, and the
officers of the ships will give away stacks of fruit, too good to go
into the river, too bad to sell to the fruit-dealers.
You could see Mr. Baptiste trudging up the street with his quaint
one-sided walk, bearing his dilapidated basket on one shoulder, a
nondescript head-cover pulled over his eyes, whistling cheerily. Then
he would slip in at the back door of one of his clients with a
"Ah, bonjour, madame. Now here ees jus' a lil' bit fruit, some
bananas. Perhaps madame would cook some for Mr. Baptiste?"
And madame, who understood and knew his ways, would fry him some
of the bananas, and set it before him, a tempting dish, with a bit of
madame's bread and meat and coffee thrown in for lagniappe; and Mr.
Baptiste would depart, filled and contented, leaving the load of fruit
behind as madame's pay. Thus did he eat, and his clients were many,
and never too tired or too cross to cook his meals and get their pay
in baskets of fruit.
One day he slipped in at Madame Garcia's kitchen door with such a
woe-begone air, and slid a small sack of nearly ripe plantains on the
table with such a misery-laden sigh, that madame, who was fat and
excitable, threw up both hands and cried out:
"Mon Dieu, Mistare Baptiste, fo' w'y you look lak dat? What ees
For answer, Mr. Baptiste shook his head gloomily and sighed again.
Madame Garcia moved heavily about the kitchen, putting the plantains
in a cool spot and punctuating her foot-steps with sundry "Mon Dieux"
"Dose cotton!" ejaculated Mr. Baptiste, at last.
"Ah, mon Dieu!" groaned Madame Garcia, rolling her eyes
"Hit will drive de fruit away!" he continued.
"Misere!" said Madame Garcia
"Oui, out," said Madame Garcia. She had carefully inspected the
plantains, and seeing that they were good and wholesome, was inclined
to agree with anything Mr. Baptiste said.
He grew excited. "Yaas, dose cotton-yardmans, dose 'longsho'mans,
dey go out on one strik'. Dey t'row down dey tool an' say dey work no
mo' wid niggers. Les veseaux, dey lay in de river, no work, no cargo,
yaas. Den de fruit ship, dey can' mak' lan', de mans, dey t'reaten
an' say t'ings. Dey mak' big fight, yaas. Dere no mo' work on de
levee, lak dat. Ever'body jus' walk roun' an' say cuss word, yaas!"
"Oh, mon Dieu, mon Dieu!" groaned Madame Garcia, rocking her
guinea-blue-clad self to and fro.
Mr. Baptiste picked up his nondescript head-cover and walked out
through the brick-reddened alley, talking excitedly to himself.
Madame Garcia called after him to know if he did not want his
luncheon, but he shook his head and passed on.
Down on the levee it was even as Mr. Baptiste had said. The
'long-shoremen, the cotton-yardmen, and the stevedores had gone out
on a strike. The levee lay hot and unsheltered under the glare of a
noonday sun. The turgid Mississippi scarce seemed to flow, but gave
forth a brazen gleam from its yellow bosom. Great vessels lay against
the wharf, silent and unpopulated. Excited groups of men clustered
here and there among bales of uncompressed cotton, lying about in
disorderly profusion. Cargoes of molasses and sugar gave out a sticky
sweet smell, and now and then the fierce rays of the sun would kindle
tiny blazes in the cotton and splinter-mixed dust underfoot.
Mr. Baptiste wandered in and out among the groups of men,
exchanging a friendly salutation here and there. He looked the
picture of woe-begone misery.
"Hello, Mr. Baptiste," cried a big, brawny Irishman, "sure an' you
look, as if you was about to be hanged."
"Ah, mon Dieu," said Mr. Baptiste, "dose fruit ship be ruined fo'
"Damn the fruit!" cheerily replied the Irishman, artistically
disposing of a mouthful of tobacco juice. "It ain't the fruit we
care about, it's the cotton."
"Hear! hear!" cried a dozen lusty comrades.
Mr. Baptiste shook his head and moved sorrowfully away.
"Hey, by howly St. Patrick, here's that little fruit-eater!"
called the centre of another group of strikers perched on
"Hello! Where--" began a second; but the leader suddenly held up
his hand for silence, and the men listened eagerly.
It might not have been a sound, for the levee lay quiet and the
mules on the cotton-drays dozed languidly, their ears pitched at
varying acute angles. But the practiced ears of the men heard a
familiar sound stealing up over the heated stillness.
Then the faint rattle of chains, and the steady thump of a machine
If ever you go on the levee you'll know that sound, the rhythmic
song of the stevedores heaving cotton-bales, and the steady thump,
thump, of the machine compressing them within the hold of the ship.
Finnegan, the leader, who had held up his hand for silence,
uttered an oath.
"Scabs! Men, come on!"
There was no need for a further invitation. The men rose in
sullen wrath and went down the levee, the crowd gathering in numbers
as it passed along. Mr. Baptiste followed in its wake, now and then
sighing a mournful protest which was lost in the roar of the men.
"Scabs!" Finnegan had said; and the word was passed along, until
it seemed that the half of the second District knew and had risen to
The rhythmic chorus sounded nearer, and the cause manifested
itself when the curve of the levee above the French Market was
passed. There rose a White Star steamer, insolently settling itself
to the water as each consignment of cotton bales was compressed into
"Niggers!" roared Finnegan wrathily.
"Niggers! niggers! Kill 'em, scabs!" chorused the crowd.
With muscles standing out like cables through their blue cotton
shirts, and sweat rolling from glossy black skins, the Negro
stevedores were at work steadily labouring at the cotton, with the
rhythmic song swinging its cadence in the hot air. The roar of the
crowd caused the men to look up with momentary apprehension, but at
the over-seer's reassuring word they bent back to work.
Finnegan was a Titan. With livid face and bursting veins he ran
into the street facing the French Market, and uprooted a huge block
of paving stone. Staggering under its weight, he rushed back to the
ship, and with one mighty effort hurled it into the hold.
The delicate poles of the costly machine tottered in the air, then
fell forward with a crash as the whole iron framework in the hold
"Damn ye," shouted Finnegan, "now yez can pack yer cotton!"
The crowd's cheers at this changed to howls, as the Negroes,
infuriated at their loss, for those costly machines belong to the
labourers and not to the ship-owners, turned upon the mob and began
to throw brickbats, pieces of iron, chunks of wood, anything that came
to hand. It was pandemonium turned loose over a turgid stream, with a
malarial sun to heat the passions to fever point.
Mr. Baptiste had taken refuge behind a bread-stall on the outside
of the market. He had taken off his cap, and was weakly cheering the
"Bravo!" cheered Mr. Baptiste.
"Will yez look at that damned fruit-eatin' Frinchman!" howled
McMahon. "Cheerin' the niggers, are you?" and he let fly a brickbat
in the direction of the bread-stall.
"Oh, mon Dieu, mon Dieu!" wailed the bread-woman.
Mr. Baptiste lay very still, with a great ugly gash in his
wrinkled brown temple. Fishmen and vegetable marchands gathered
around him in a quick, sympathetic mass. The individual, the
concrete bit of helpless humanity, had more interest for them than
the vast, vague fighting mob beyond.
The noon-hour pealed from the brazen throats of many bells, and
the numerous hoarse whistles of the steam-boats called the unheeded
luncheon-time to the levee workers. The war waged furiously, and
groans of the wounded mingled with curses and roars from the
"Killed instantly," said the surgeon, carefully lifting Mr.
Baptiste into the ambulance.
Tramp, tramp, tramp, sounded the militia steadily marching down
"Whist! do yez hear!" shouted Finnegan; and the conflict had
ceased ere the yellow river could reflect the sun from the polished
You remember, of course, how long the strike lasted, and how many
battles were fought and lives lost before the final adjustment of
affairs. It was a fearsome war, and many forgot afterwards whose was
the first life lost in the struggle,--poor little Mr. Baptiste's,
whose body lay at the Morgue unclaimed for days before it was finally
dropped unnamed into Potter's Field.
A CARNIVAL JANGLE
There is a merry jangle of bells in the air, an all-pervading
sense of jester's noise, and the flaunting vividness of royal
colours. The streets swarm with humanity,--humanity in all shapes,
manners, forms, laughing, pushing, jostling, crowding, a mass of men
and women and children, as varied and assorted in their several
individual peculiarities as ever a crowd that gathered in one locality
since the days of Babel.
It is Carnival in New Orleans; a brilliant Tuesday in February,
when the very air gives forth an ozone intensely exhilarating, making
one long to cut capers. The buildings are a blazing mass of royal
purple and golden yellow, national flags, bunting, and decorations
that laugh in the glint of the Midas sun. The streets are a crush of
jesters and maskers, Jim Crows and clowns, ballet girls and Mephistos,
Indians and monkeys; of wild and sudden flashes of music, of
glittering pageants and comic ones, of befeathered and belled horses;
a dream of colour and melody and fantasy gone wild in an effervescent
bubble of beauty that shifts and changes and passes kaleidoscope-like
before the bewildered eye.
A bevy of bright-eyed girls and boys of that uncertain age that
hovers between childhood and maturity, were moving down Canal Street
when there was a sudden jostle with another crowd meeting them. For a
minute there was a deafening clamour of shouts and laughter, cracking
of the whips, which all maskers carry, a jingle and clatter of
carnival bells, and the masked and unmasked extricated themselves and
moved from each other's paths. But in the confusion a tall Prince of
Darkness had whispered to one of the girls in the unmasked crowd:
"You'd better come with us, Flo; you're wasting time in that tame
gang. Slip off, they'll never miss you; we'll get you a rig, and show
you what life is."
And so it happened, when a half-hour passed, and the bright-eyed
bevy missed Flo and couldn't find her, wisely giving up the search at
last, she, the quietest and most bashful of the lot, was being
initiated into the mysteries of "what life is."
Down Bourbon Street and on Toulouse and St. Peter Streets there
are quaint little old-world places where one may be disguised
effectually for a tiny consideration. Thither, guided by the shapely
Mephisto and guarded by the team of jockeys and ballet girls, tripped
Flo. Into one of the lowest-ceiled, dingiest, and most
ancient-looking of these shops they stepped.
"A disguise for the demoiselle," announced Mephisto to the woman
who met them. She was small and wizened and old, with yellow, flabby
jaws, a neck like the throat of an alligator, and straight, white hair
that stood from her head uncannily stiff.
"But the demoiselle wishes to appear a boy, un petit garcon?" she
inquired, gazing eagerly at Flo's long, slender frame. Her voice was
old and thin, like the high quavering of an imperfect tuning-fork, and
her eyes were sharp as talons in their grasping glance.
"Mademoiselle does not wish such a costume," gruffly responded
"Ma foi, there is no other," said the ancient, shrugging her
shoulders. "But one is left now; mademoiselle would make a fine
"Flo," said Mephisto, "it's a dare-devil scheme, try it; no one
will ever know it but us, and we'll die before we tell. Besides, we
must; it's late, and you couldn't find your crowd."
And that was why you might have seen a Mephisto and a slender
troubadour of lovely form, with mandolin flung across his shoulder,
followed by a bevy of jockeys and ballet girls, laughing and singing
as they swept down Rampart Street.
When the flash and glare and brilliancy of Canal Street have
palled upon the tired eye, when it is yet too soon to go home to such
a prosaic thing as dinner, and one still wishes for novelty, then it
is wise to go into the lower districts. There is fantasy and fancy
and grotesqueness run wild in the costuming and the behaviour of the
maskers. Such dances and whoops and leaps as these hideous Indians
and devils do indulge in; such wild curvetings and long walks! In the
open squares, where whole groups do congregate, it is wonderfully
amusing. Then, too, there is a ball in every available hall, a
delirious ball, where one may dance all day for ten cents; dance and
grow mad for joy, and never know who were your companions, and be
yourself unknown. And in the exhilaration of the day, one walks miles
and miles, and dances and skips, and the fatigue is never felt.
In Washington Square, away down where Royal Street empties its
stream of children great and small into the broad channel of Elysian
Fields Avenue, there was a perfect Indian pow-wow. With a little
imagination one might have willed away the vision of the surrounding
houses, and fancied one's self again in the forest, where the natives
were holding a sacred riot. The square was filled with spectators,
masked and un-masked. It was amusing to watch these mimic Red-men,
they seemed so fierce and earnest.
Suddenly one chief touched another on the elbow. "See that
Mephisto and troubadour over there?" he whispered huskily.
"Yes; who are they?"
"I don't know the devil," responded the other, quietly, "but I'd
know that other form anywhere. It's Leon, see? I know those white
hands like a woman's and that restless head. Ha!"
"But there may be a mistake."
"No. I'd know that one anywhere; I feel it is he. I'll pay him
now. Ah, sweetheart, you've waited long, but you shall feast now!"
He was caressing something long and lithe and glittering beneath his
In a masked dance it is easy to give a death-blow between the
shoulders. Two crowds meet and laugh and shout and mingle almost
inextricably, and if a shriek of pain should arise, it is not noticed
in the din, and when they part, if one should stagger and fall
bleeding to the ground, can any one tell who has given the blow?
There is nothing but an unknown stiletto on the ground, the crowd has
dispersed, and masks tell no tales anyway. There is murder, but by
whom? for what? Quien sabe?
And that is how it happened on Carnival night, in the last mad
moments of Rex's reign, a broken-hearted mother sat gazing wide-eyed
and mute at a horrible something that lay across the bed. Outside the
long sweet march music of many bands floated in as if in mockery, and
the flash of rockets and Bengal lights illumined the dead, white face
of the girl troubadour.
LITTLE MISS SOPHIE
When Miss Sophie knew consciousness again, the long, faint,
swelling notes of the organ were dying away in distant echoes through
the great arches of the silent church, and she was alone, crouching in
a little, forsaken black heap at the altar of the Virgin. The
twinkling tapers shone pityingly upon her, the beneficent smile of the
white-robed Madonna seemed to whisper comfort. A long gust of chill
air swept up the aisles, and Miss Sophie shivered not from cold, but
But darkness was falling, and soon the lights would be lowered,
and the great massive doors would be closed; so, gathering her thin
little cape about her frail shoulders, Miss Sophie hurried out, and
along the brilliant noisy streets home.
It was a wretched, lonely little room, where the cracks let the
boisterous wind whistle through, and the smoky, grimy walls looked
cheerless and unhomelike. A miserable little room in a miserable
little cottage in one of the squalid streets of the Third District
that nature and the city fathers seemed to have forgotten.
As bare and comfortless as the room was Miss Sophie's life. She
rented these four walls from an unkempt little Creole woman, whose
progeny seemed like the promised offspring of Abraham. She scarcely
kept the flickering life in her pale little body by the unceasing toil
of a pair of bony hands, stitching, stitching, ceaselessly, wearingly,
on the bands and pockets of trousers. It was her bread, this
monotonous, unending work; and though whole days and nights constant
labour brought but the most meagre recompense, it was her only hope of
She sat before the little charcoal brazier and warmed her
transparent, needle-pricked fingers, thinking meanwhile of the
strange events of the day. She had been up town to carry the great,
black bundle of coarse pants and vests to the factory and to receive
her small pittance, and on the way home stopped in at the Jesuit
Church to say her little prayer at the altar of the calm white Virgin.
There had been a wondrous burst of music from the great organ as she
knelt there, an overpowering perfume of many flowers, the glittering
dazzle of many lights, and the dainty frou-frou made by the silken
skirts of wedding guests. So Miss Sophie stayed to the wedding; for
what feminine heart, be it ever so old and seared, does not delight in
one? And why should not a poor little Creole old maid be interested
Then the wedding party had filed in solemnly, to the rolling,
swelling tones of the organ. Important-looking groomsmen; dainty,
fluffy, white-robed maids; stately, satin-robed, illusion-veiled
bride, and happy groom. She leaned forward to catch a better glimpse
of their faces. "Ah!"--
Those near the Virgin's altar who heard a faint sigh and rustle on
the steps glanced curiously as they saw a slight black-robed figure
clutch the railing and lean her head against it. Miss Sophie had
"I must have been hungry," she mused over the charcoal fire in her
little room, "I must have been hungry;" and she smiled a wan smile,
and busied herself getting her evening meal of coffee and bread and
If one were given to pity, the first thought that would rush to
one's lips at sight of Miss Sophie would have been, "Poor little
woman!" She had come among the bareness and sordidness of this
neighbourhood five years ago, robed in crape, and crying with great
sobs that seemed to shake the vitality out of her. Perfectly silent,
too, she was about her former life; but for all that, Michel, the
quartee grocer at the corner, and Madame Laurent, who kept the rabbe
shop opposite, had fixed it all up between them, of her sad history
and past glories. Not that they knew; but then Michel must invent
something when the neighbours came to him as their fountain-head of
One morning little Miss Sophie opened wide her dingy windows to
catch the early freshness of the autumn wind as it whistled through
the yellow-leafed trees. It was one of those calm, blue-misted,
balmy, November days that New Orleans can have when all the rest of
the country is fur-wrapped. Miss Sophie pulled her machine to the
window, where the sweet, damp wind could whisk among her black locks.
Whirr, whirr, went the machine, ticking fast and lightly over the
belts of the rough jeans pants. Whirr, whirr, yes, and Miss Sophie
was actually humming a tune! She felt strangely light to-day.
"Ma foi," muttered Michel, strolling across the street to where
Madame Laurent sat sewing behind the counter on blue and
brown-checked aprons, "but the little ma'amselle sings. Perhaps she
"Perhaps," muttered the rabbe woman.
But little Miss Sophie felt restless. A strange impulse seemed
drawing her up town, and the machine seemed to run slow, slow, before
it would stitch all of the endless number of jeans belts. Her fingers
trembled with nervous haste as she pinned up the unwieldy black bundle
of finished work, and her feet fairly tripped over each other in their
eagerness to get to Claiborne Street, where she could board the
up-town car. There was a feverish desire to go somewhere, a sense of
elation, a foolish happiness that brought a faint echo of colour into
her pinched cheeks. She wondered why.
No one noticed her in the car. Passengers on the Claiborne line
are too much accustomed to frail little black-robed women with big,
black bundles; it is one of the city's most pitiful sights. She leaned
her head out of the window to catch a glimpse of the oleanders on
Bayou Road, when her attention was caught by a conversation in the
"Yes, it's too bad for Neale, and lately married too," said the
elder man. "I can't see what he is to do."
Neale! She pricked up her ears. That was the name of the groom in
the Jesuit Church.
"How did it happen?" languidly inquired the younger. He was a
stranger, evidently; a stranger with a high regard for the
faultlessness of male attire.
"Well, the firm failed first; he didn't mind that much, he was so
sure of his uncle's inheritance repairing his lost fortunes; but
suddenly this difficulty of identification springs up, and he is
literally on the verge of ruin."
"Won't some of you fellows who've known him all your lives do to
"Gracious man, we've tried; but the absurd old will expressly
stipulates that he shall be known only by a certain quaint Roman
ring, and unless he has it, no identification, no fortune. He has
given the ring away, and that settles it."
"Well, you 're all chumps. Why doesn't he get the ring from the
"Easily said; but--it seems that Neale had some little Creole
love-affair some years ago, and gave this ring to his dusky-eyed
fiancee. You know how Neale is with his love-affairs, went off and
forgot the girl in a month. It seems, however, she took it to
heart,--so much so that he's ashamed to try to find her or the ring."
Miss Sophie heard no more as she gazed out into the dusty grass.
There were tears in her eyes, hot blinding ones that wouldn't drop
for pride, but stayed and scalded. She knew the story, with all its
embellishment of heartaches. She knew the ring, too. She remembered
the day she had kissed and wept and fondled it, until it seemed her
heart must burst under its load of grief before she took it to the
pawn-broker's that another might be eased before the end came,--that
other her father. The little "Creole love affair" of Neale's had not
always been poor and old and jaded-looking; but reverses must come,
even Neale knew that, so the ring was at the Mont de Piete. Still he
must have it, it was his; it would save him from disgrace and
suffering and from bringing the white-gowned bride into sorrow. He
must have it; but how?
There it was still at the pawn-broker's; no one would have such an
odd jewel, and the ticket was home in the bureau drawer. Well, he must
have it; she might starve in the attempt. Such a thing as going to
him and telling him that he might redeem it was an impossibility.
That good, straight-backed, stiff-necked Creole blood would have
risen in all its strength and choked her. No; as a present had the
quaint Roman circlet been placed upon her finger, as a present should
it be returned.
The bumping car rode slowly, and the hot thoughts beat heavily in
her poor little head. He must have the ring; but how--the ring--the
Roman ring--the white-robed bride starving--she was going mad--ah
There it was, right in the busiest, most bustling part of the
town, its fresco and bronze and iron quaintly suggestive of mediaeval
times. Within, all was cool and dim and restful, with the faintest
whiff of lingering incense rising and pervading the gray arches. Yes,
the Virgin would know and have pity; the sweet, white-robed Virgin at
the pretty flower-decked altar, or the one away up in the niche, far
above the golden dome where the Host was. Titiche, the busybody of
the house, noticed that Miss Sophie's bundle was larger than usual
that afternoon. "Ah, poor woman!" sighed Titiche's mother, "she would
be rich for Christmas."
The bundle grew larger each day, and Miss Sophie grew smaller. The
damp, cold rain and mist closed the white-curtained window, but always
there behind the sewing-machine drooped and bobbed the little
black-robed figure. Whirr, whirr went the wheels, and the coarse
jeans pants piled in great heaps at her side. The Claiborne Street
car saw her oftener than before, and the sweet white Virgin in the
flowered niche above the gold-domed altar smiled at the little
supplicant almost every day.
"Ma foi," said the slatternly landlady to Madame Laurent and
Michel one day, "I no see how she live! Eat? Nothin', nothin',
almos', and las' night when it was so cold and foggy, eh? I hav' to
mek him build fire. She mos' freeze."
Whereupon the rumour spread that Miss Sophie was starving herself
to death to get some luckless relative out of jail for Christmas; a
rumour which enveloped her scraggy little figure with a kind of halo
to the neighbours when she appeared on the streets.
November had merged into December, and the little pile of coins
was yet far from the sum needed. Dear God! how the money did have to
go! The rent and the groceries and the coal, though, to be sure, she
used a precious bit of that. Would all the work and saving and
skimping do good? Maybe, yes, maybe by Christmas.
Christmas Eve on Royal Street is no place for a weakling, for the
shouts and carousels of the roisterers will strike fear into the
bravest ones. Yet amid the cries and yells, the deafening blow of
horns and tin whistles, and the really dangerous fusillade of
fireworks, a little figure hurried along, one hand clutching tightly
the battered hat that the rude merry-makers had torn off, the other
grasping under the thin black cape a worn little pocketbook.
Into the Mont de Piete she ran breathless, eager. The ticket?
Here, worn, crumpled. The ring? It was not gone? No, thank Heaven!
It was a joy well worth her toil, she thought, to have it again.
Had Titiche not been shooting crackers on the banquette instead of
peering into the crack, as was his wont, his big, round black eyes
would have grown saucer-wide to see little Miss Sophie kiss and fondle
a ring, an ugly clumsy band of gold.
"Ah, dear ring," she murmured, "once you were his, and you shall
be his again. You shall be on his finger, and perhaps touch his
heart. Dear ring, ma chere petite de ma coeur, cherie de ma coeur.
Je t'aime, je t'aime, oui, oui. You are his; you were mine once too.
To-night, just one night, I'll keep you--then--to-morrow, you shall
go where you can save him."
The loud whistles and horns of the little ones rose on the balmy
air next morning. No one would doubt it was Christmas Day, even if
doors and windows were open wide to let in cool air. Why, there was
Christmas even in the very look of the mules on the poky cars; there
was Christmas noise in the streets, and Christmas toys and Christmas
odours, savoury ones that made the nose wrinkle approvingly, issuing
from the kitchen. Michel and Madame Laurent smiled greetings across
the street at each other, and the salutation from a passer-by recalled
the many-progenied landlady to herself.
"Miss Sophie, well, po' soul, not ver' much Chris'mas for her.
Mais, I'll jus' call him in fo' to spen' the day with me. Eet'll
cheer her a bit."
It was so clean and orderly within the poor little room. Not a
speck of dust or a litter of any kind on the quaint little old-time
high bureau, unless you might except a sheet of paper lying loose with
something written on it. Titiche had evidently inherited his prying
propensities, for the landlady turned it over and read,--
LOUIS,--Here is the ring. I return it to you. I heard you needed
it. I hope it comes not too late. SOPHIE.
"The ring, where?" muttered the landlady. There it was, clasped
between her fingers on her bosom,--a bosom white and cold, under a
cold happy face. Christmas had indeed dawned for Miss Sophie.
Sister Josepha told her beads mechanically, her fingers numb with
the accustomed exercise. The little organ creaked a dismal "O
Salutaris," and she still knelt on the floor, her white-bonneted head
nodding suspiciously. The Mother Superior gave a sharp glance at the
tired figure; then, as a sudden lurch forward brought the little
sister back to consciousness, Mother's eyes relaxed into a genuine
The bell tolled the end of vespers, and the sombre-robed nuns
filed out of the chapel to go about their evening duties. Little
Sister Josepha's work was to attend to the household lamps, but there
must have been as much oil spilled upon the table to-night as was put
in the vessels. The small brown hands trembled so that most of the
wicks were trimmed with points at one corner which caused them to
smoke that night.
"Oh, cher Seigneur," she sighed, giving an impatient polish to a
refractory chimney, "it is wicked and sinful, I know, but I am so
tired. I can't be happy and sing any more. It doesn't seem right
for le bon Dieu to have me all cooped up here with nothing to see but
stray visitors, and always the same old work, teaching those mean
little girls to sew, and washing and filling the same old lamps.
Pah!" And she polished the chimney with a sudden vigorous jerk which
They were rebellious prayers that the red mouth murmured that
night, and a restless figure that tossed on the hard dormitory bed.
Sister Dominica called from her couch to know if Sister Josepha were
"No," was the somewhat short response; then a muttered, "Why can't
they let me alone for a minute? That pale-eyed Sister Dominica never
sleeps; that's why she is so ugly."
About fifteen years before this night some one had brought to the
orphan asylum connected with this convent, du Sacre Coeur, a round,
dimpled bit of three-year-old humanity, who regarded the world from a
pair of gravely twinkling black eyes, and only took a chubby thumb out
of a rosy mouth long enough to answer in monosyllabic French. It was
a child without an identity; there was but one name that any one
seemed to know, and that, too, was vague,--Camille.
She grew up with the rest of the waifs; scraps of French and
American civilization thrown together to develop a seemingly
inconsistent miniature world. Mademoiselle Camille was a queen among
them, a pretty little tyrant who ruled the children and dominated the
more timid sisters in charge.
One day an awakening came. When she was fifteen, and almost fully
ripened into a glorious tropical beauty of the type that matures
early, some visitors to the convent were fascinated by her and asked
the Mother Superior to give the girl into their keeping.
Camille fled like a frightened fawn into the yard, and was only
unearthed with some difficulty from behind a group of palms. Sulky
and pouting, she was led into the parlour, picking at her blue
pinafore like a spoiled infant.
"The lady and gentleman wish you to go home with them, Camille,"
said the Mother Superior, in the language of the convent. Her voice
was kind and gentle apparently; but the child, accustomed to its
various inflections, detected a steely ring behind its softness, like
the proverbial iron hand in the velvet glove.
"You must understand, madame," continued Mother, in stilted
English, "that we never force children from us. We are ever glad to
place them in comfortable--how you say that?--quarters
--maisons--homes--bien! But we will not make them go if they do not
Camille stole a glance at her would-be guardians, and decided
instantly, impulsively, finally. The woman suited her; but the man!
It was doubtless intuition of the quick, vivacious sort which
belonged to her blood that served her. Untutored in worldly
knowledge, she could not divine the meaning of the pronounced leers
and admiration of her physical charms which gleamed in the man's face,
but she knew it made her feel creepy, and stoutly refused to go. Next
day Camille was summoned from a task to the Mother Superior's parlour.
The other girls gazed with envy upon her as she dashed down the
courtyard with impetuous movement. Camille, they decided crossly,
received too much notice. It was Camille this, Camille that; she was
pretty, it was to be expected. Even Father Ray lingered longer in his
blessing when his hands pressed her silky black hair.
As she entered the parlour, a strange chill swept over the girl.
The room was not an unaccustomed one, for she had swept it many
times, but to-day the stiff black chairs, the dismal crucifixes, the
gleaming whiteness of the walls, even the cheap lithograph of the
Madonna which Camille had always regarded as a perfect specimen of
art, seemed cold and mean.
"Camille, ma chere," said Mother, "I am extremely displeased with
you. Why did you not wish to go with Monsieur and Madame Lafaye
The girl uncrossed her hands from her bosom, and spread them out
in a deprecating gesture.
"Mais, ma mere, I was afraid."
Mother's face grew stern. "No foolishness now," she exclaimed.
"It is not foolishness, ma mere; I could not help it, but that man
looked at me so funny, I felt all cold chills down my back. Oh, dear
Mother, I love the convent and the sisters so, I just want to stay and
be a sister too, may I?"
And thus it was that Camille took the white veil at sixteen years.
Now that the period of novitiate was over, it was just beginning to
dawn upon her that she had made a mistake.
"Maybe it would have been better had I gone with the funny-looking
lady and gentleman," she mused bitterly one night. "Oh, Seigneur, I 'm
so tired and impatient; it's so dull here, and, dear God, I'm so
There was no help for it. One must arise in the morning, and help
in the refectory with the stupid Sister Francesca, and go about one's
duties with a prayerful mien, and not even let a sigh escape when
one's head ached with the eternal telling of beads.
A great fete day was coming, and an atmosphere of preparation and
mild excitement pervaded the brown walls of the convent like a
delicate aroma. The old Cathedral around the corner had stood a
hundred years, and all the city was rising to do honour to its age
and time-softened beauty. There would be a service, oh, but such a
one! with two Cardinals, and Archbishops and Bishops, and all the
accompanying glitter of soldiers and orchestras. The little sisters
of the Convent du Sacre Coeur clasped their hands in anticipation of
the holy joy. Sister Josepha curled her lip, she was so tired of
The day came, a gold and blue spring day, when the air hung heavy
with the scent of roses and magnolias, and the sunbeams fairly
laughed as they kissed the houses. The old Cathedral stood gray and
solemn, and the flowers in Jackson Square smiled cheery birthday
greetings across the way. The crowd around the door surged and
pressed and pushed in its eagerness to get within. Ribbons stretched
across the banquette were of no avail to repress it, and important
ushers with cardinal colours could do little more.
The Sacred Heart sisters filed slowly in at the side door,
creating a momentary flutter as they paced reverently to their seats,
guarding the blue-bonneted orphans. Sister Josepha, determined to see
as much of the world as she could, kept her big black eyes opened
wide, as the church rapidly filled with the fashionably dressed,
perfumed, rustling, and self-conscious throng.
Her heart beat quickly. The rebellious thoughts that will arise
in the most philosophical of us surged in her small heavily gowned
bosom. For her were the gray things, the neutral tinted skies, the
ugly garb, the coarse meats; for them the rainbow, the ethereal
airiness of earthly joys, the bonbons and glaces of the world. Sister
Josepha did not know that the rainbow is elusive, and its colours but
the illumination of tears; she had never been told that earthly
ethereality is necessarily ephemeral, nor that bonbons and glaces,
whether of the palate or of the soul, nauseate and pall upon the
taste. Dear God, forgive her, for she bent with contrite tears over
her worn rosary, and glanced no more at the worldly glitter of
The sunbeams streamed through the high windows in purple and
crimson lights upon a veritable fugue of colour. Within the seats,
crush upon crush of spring millinery; within the aisles erect lines of
gold-braided, gold-buttoned military. Upon the altar, broad sweeps of
golden robes, great dashes of crimson skirts, mitres and gleaming
crosses, the soft neutral hue of rich lace vestments; the tender heads
of childhood in picturesque attire; the proud, golden magnificence of
the domed altar with its weighting mass of lilies and wide-eyed roses,
and the long candles that sparkled their yellow star points above the
reverent throng within the altar rails.
The soft baritone of the Cardinal intoned a single phrase in the
suspended silence. The censer took up the note in its delicate clink
clink, as it swung to and fro in the hands of a fair-haired child.
Then the organ, pausing an instant in a deep, mellow, long-drawn
note, burst suddenly into a magnificent strain, and the choir sang
forth, "Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison." One voice, flute-like,
piercing, sweet, rang high over the rest. Sister Josepha heard and
trembled, as she buried her face in her hands, and let her tears fall,
like other beads, through her rosary.
It was when the final word of the service had been intoned, the
last peal of the exit march had died away, that she looked up meekly,
to encounter a pair of youthful brown eyes gazing pityingly upon her.
That was all she remembered for a moment, that the eyes were youthful
and handsome and tender. Later, she saw that they were placed in a
rather beautiful boyish face, surmounted by waves of brown hair,
curling and soft, and that the head was set on a pair of shoulders
decked in military uniform. Then the brown eyes marched away with the
rest of the rear guard, and the white-bonneted sisters filed out the
side door, through the narrow court, back into the brown convent.
That night Sister Josepha tossed more than usual on her hard bed,
and clasped her fingers often in prayer to quell the wickedness in
her heart. Turn where she would, pray as she might, there was ever a
pair of tender, pitying brown eyes, haunting her persistently. The
squeaky organ at vespers intoned the clank of military accoutrements
to her ears, the white bonnets of the sisters about her faded into
mists of curling brown hair. Briefly, Sister Josepha was in love.
The days went on pretty much as before, save for the one little
heart that beat rebelliously now and then, though it tried so hard to
be submissive. There was the morning work in the refectory, the
stupid little girls to teach sewing, and the insatiable lamps that
were so greedy for oil. And always the tender, boyish brown eyes,
that looked so sorrowfully at the fragile, beautiful little sister,
haunting, following, pleading.
Perchance, had Sister Josepha been in the world, the eyes would
have been an incident. But in this home of self-repression and
retrospection, it was a life-story. The eyes had gone their way,
doubtless forgetting the little sister they pitied; but the little
The days glided into weeks, the weeks into months. Thoughts of
escape had come to Sister Josepha, to flee into the world, to merge
in the great city where recognition was impossible, and, working her
way like the rest of humanity, perchance encounter the eyes again.
It was all planned and ready. She would wait until some morning
when the little band of black-robed sisters wended their way to mass
at the Cathedral. When it was time to file out the side-door into the
courtway, she would linger at prayers, then slip out another door, and
unseen glide up Chartres Street to Canal, and once there, mingle in
the throng that filled the wide thoroughfare. Beyond this first plan
she could think no further.
Penniless, garbed, and shaven though she would be, other
difficulties never presented themselves to her. She would rely on
the mercies of the world to help her escape from this torturing life
of inertia. It seemed easy now that the first step of decision had
The Saturday night before the final day had come, and she lay
feverishly nervous in her narrow little bed, wondering with wide-eyed
fear at the morrow. Pale-eyed Sister Dominica and Sister Francesca
were whispering together in the dark silence, and Sister Josepha's
ears pricked up as she heard her name.
"She is not well, poor child," said Francesca. "I fear the life
is too confining."
"It is best for her," was the reply. "You know, sister, how hard
it would be for her in the world, with no name but Camille, no
friends, and her beauty; and then--"
Sister Josepha heard no more, for her heart beating tumultuously
in her bosom drowned the rest. Like the rush of the bitter salt tide
over a drowning man clinging to a spar, came the complete submerging
of her hopes of another life. No name but Camille, that was true; no
nationality, for she could never tell from whom or whence she came; no
friends, and a beauty that not even an ungainly bonnet and shaven head
could hide. In a flash she realised the deception of the life she
would lead, and the cruel self-torture of wonder at her own identity.
Already, as if in anticipation of the world's questionings, she was
asking herself, "Who am I? What am I?"
The next morning the sisters du Sacre Coeur filed into the
Cathedral at High Mass, and bent devout knees at the general
confession. "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti," murmured the priest; and
tremblingly one little sister followed the words, "Je confesse a Dieu,
tout puissant--que j'ai beaucoup peche par pensees--c'est ma
faute--c'est ma faute--c'est ma tres grande faute."
The organ pealed forth as mass ended, the throng slowly filed out,
and the sisters paced through the courtway back into the brown convent
walls. One paused at the entrance, and gazed with swift longing eyes
in the direction of narrow, squalid Chartres Street, then, with a
gulping sob, followed the rest, and vanished behind the heavy door.
THE PRALINE WOMAN
The praline woman sits by the side of the Archbishop's quaint
little old chapel on Royal Street, and slowly waves her latanier fan
over the pink and brown wares.
"Pralines, pralines. Ah, ma'amzelle, you buy? S'il vous plait,
ma'amzelle, ces pralines, dey be fine, ver' fresh.
"Mais non, maman, you are not sure?
"Sho', chile, ma bebe, ma petite, she put dese up hissef. He's
hans' so small, ma'amzelle, lak you's, mais brune. She put dese up
dis morn'. You tak' none? No husban' fo' you den!
"Ah, ma petite, you tak'? Cinq sous, bebe, may le bon Dieu keep
"Mais oui, madame, I know you etranger. You don' look lak dese
New Orleans peop'. You lak' dose Yankee dat come down 'fo' de war."
Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, chimes the Cathedral bell across
Jack- son Square, and the praline woman crosses herself.
"Hail, Mary, full of grace--
"Pralines, madame? You buy lak' dat? Dix sous, madame, an' one
lil' piece fo' lagniappe fo' madame's lil' bebe. Ah, c'est bon!
"Pralines, pralines, so fresh, so fine! M'sieu would lak' some
fo' he's lil' gal' at home? Mais non, what's dat you say? She's
daid! Ah, m'sieu, 'tis my lil' gal what died long year ago. Misere,
"Here come dat lazy Indien squaw. What she good fo', anyhow? She
jes' sit lak dat in de French Market an' sell her file, an' sleep,
sleep, sleep, lak' so in he's blanket. Hey, dere, you, Tonita, how
goes you' beezness?
"Pralines, pralines! Holy Father, you give me dat blessin' sho'?
Tak' one, I know you lak dat w'ite one. It tas' good, I know, bien.
"Pralines, madame? I lak' you' face. What fo' you wear black?
You' lil' boy daid? You tak' one, jes' see how it tas'. I had one
lil' boy once, he jes' grow 'twell he's big lak' dis, den one day he
tak' sick an' die. Oh, madame, it mos' brek my po' heart. I burn
candle in St. Rocque, I say my beads, I sprinkle holy water roun' he's
bed; he jes' lay so, he's eyes turn up, he say 'Maman, maman,' den he
die! Madame, you tak' one. Non, non, no l'argent, you tak' one fo'
my lil' boy's sake.
"Pralines, pralines, m'sieu? Who mak' dese? My lil' gal, Didele,
of co'se. Non, non, I don't mak' no mo'. Po' Tante Marie get too
ol'. Didele? She's one lil' gal I 'dopt. I see her one day in de
strit. He walk so; hit col' she shiver, an' I say, 'Where you gone,
lil' gal?' and he can' tell. He jes' crip close to me, an' cry so!
Den I tak' her home wid me, and she say he's name Didele. You see
dey wa'nt nobody dere. My lil' gal, she's daid of de yellow fever; my
lil' boy, he's daid, po' Tante Marie all alone. Didele, she grow
fine, she keep house an' mek' pralines. Den, when night come, she sit
wid he's guitar an' sing,
"'Tu l'aime ces trois jours, Tu l'aime ces trois jours, Ma coeur
a toi, Ma coeur a toi, Tu l'aime ces trois jours!'
"Ah, he's fine gal, is Didele!
"Pralines, pralines! Dat lil' cloud, h'it look lak' rain, I hope
"Here come dat lazy I'ishman down de strit. I don't lak'
I'ishman, me, non, dey so funny. One day one I'ishman, he say to me,
'Auntie, what fo' you talk so?' and I jes' say back, 'What fo' you say
"Faith an' be jabers"?' Non, I don' lak I'ishman, me!
"Here come de rain! Now I got fo' to go. Didele, she be wait fo'
me. Down h'it come! H'it fall in de Meesseesip, an' fill up--up--so,
clean to de levee, den we have big crivasse, an' po' Tante Marie float
away. Bon jour, madame, you come again? Pralines! Pralines!"
Now and then Carnival time comes at the time of the good Saint
Valentine, and then sometimes it comes as late as the warm days in
March, when spring is indeed upon us, and the greenness of the grass
outvies the green in the royal standards.
Days and days before the Carnival proper, New Orleans begins to
take on a festive appearance. Here and there the royal flags with
their glowing greens and violets and yellows appear, and then, as if
by magic, the streets and buildings flame and burst like poppies out
of bud, into a glorious refulgence of colour that steeps the senses
into a languorous acceptance of warmth and beauty.
On Mardi Gras day, as you know, it is a town gone mad with folly.
A huge masked ball emptied into the streets at daylight; a meeting of
all nations on common ground, a pot-pourri of every conceivable human
ingredient, but faintly describes it all. There are music and flowers,
cries and laughter and song and joyousness, and never an aching heart
to show its sorrow or dim the happiness of the streets. A wondrous
thing, this Carnival!
But the old cronies down in Frenchtown, who know everything, and
can recite you many a story, tell of one sad heart on Mardi Gras
years ago. It was a woman's, of course; for "Il est toujours les
femmes qui sont malheureuses," says an old proverb, and perhaps it is
right. This woman--a child, she would be called elsewhere, save in
this land of tropical growth and precocity--lost her heart to one who
never knew, a very common story, by the way, but one which would have
been quite distasteful to the haughty judge, her father, had he known.
Odalie was beautiful. Odalie was haughty too, but gracious enough
to those who pleased her dainty fancy. In the old French house on
Royal Street, with its quaint windows and Spanish courtyard green and
cool, and made musical by the plashing of the fountain and the trill
of caged birds, lived Odalie in convent-like seclusion. Monsieur le
Juge was determined no hawk should break through the cage and steal
his dove; and so, though there was no mother, a stern duenna aunt kept
Alas for the precautions of la Tante! Bright eyes that search for
other bright eyes in which lurks the spirit of youth and mischief are
ever on the look-out, even in church. Dutifully was Odalie marched to
the Cathedral every Sunday to mass, and Tante Louise, nodding devoutly
over her beads, could not see the blushes and glances full of meaning,
a whole code of signals as it were, that passed between Odalie and
Pierre, the impecunious young clerk in the courtroom.
Odalie loved, perhaps, because there was not much else to do. When
one is shut up in a great French house with a grim sleepy tante and no
companions of one's own age, life becomes a dull thing, and one is
ready for any new sensation, particularly if in the veins there bounds
the tempestuous Spanish-French blood that Monsieur le Juge boasted of.
So Odalie hugged the image of her Pierre during the week days, and
played tremulous little love-songs to it in the twilight when la Tante
dozed over her devotion book, and on Sundays at mass there were
glances and blushes, and mayhap, at some especially remembered time,
the touch of finger-tips at the holy-water font, while la Tante
dropped her last genuflexion.
Then came the Carnival time, and one little heart beat faster, as
the gray house on Royal Street hung out its many-hued flags, and
draped its grim front with glowing colours. It was to be a time of
joy and relaxation, when every one could go abroad, and in the crowds
one could speak to whom one chose. Unconscious plans formulated, and
the petite Odalie was quite happy as the time drew near.
"Only think, Tante Louise," she would cry, "what a happy time it
is to be!"
But Tante Louise only grumbled, as was her wont.
It was Mardi Gras day at last, and early through her window Odalie
could hear the jingle of folly bells on the maskers' costumes, the
tinkle of music, and the echoing strains of songs. Up to her ears
there floated the laughter of the older maskers, and the screams of
the little children frightened at their own images under the mask and
domino. What a hurry to be out and in the motley merry throng, to be
pacing Royal Street to Canal Street, where was life and the world!
They were tired eyes with which Odalie looked at the gay pageant
at last, tired with watching throng after throng of maskers, of the
unmasked, of peering into the cartsful of singing minstrels, into
carriages of revellers, hoping for a glimpse of Pierre the devout.
The allegorical carts rumbling by with their important red-clothed
horses were beginning to lose charm, the disguises showed tawdry, even
the gay-hued flags fluttered sadly to Odalie.
Mardi Gras was a tiresome day, after all, she sighed, and Tante
Louise agreed with her for once.
Six o'clock had come, the hour when all masks must be removed. The
long red rays of the setting sun glinted athwart the many-hued
costumes of the revellers trooping unmasked homeward to rest for the
night's last mad frolic.
Down Toulouse Street there came the merriest throng of all. Young
men and women in dainty, fairy-like garb, dancers, and dresses of the
picturesque Empire, a butterfly or two and a dame here and there with
powdered hair and graces of olden time. Singing with unmasked faces,
they danced toward Tante Louise and Odalie. She stood with eyes
lustrous and tear-heavy, for there in the front was Pierre, Pierre the
faithless, his arms about the slender waist of a butterfly, whose
tinselled powdered hair floated across the lace ruffles of his Empire
"Pierre!" cried Odalie, softly. No one heard, for it was a mere
faint breath and fell unheeded. Instead the laughing throng pelted
her with flowers and candy and went their way, and even Pierre did not
You see, when one is shut up in the grim walls of a Royal Street
house, with no one but a Tante Louise and a grim judge, how is one to
learn that in this world there are faithless ones who may glance
tenderly into one's eyes at mass and pass the holy water on caressing
fingers without being madly in love? There was no one to tell Odalie,
so she sat at home in the dull first days of Lent, and nursed her dear
dead love, and mourned as women have done from time immemorial over
the faithlessness of man. And when one day she asked that she might
go back to the Ursulines' convent where her childish days were spent,
only to go this time as a nun, Monsieur le Juge and Tante Louise
thought it quite the proper and convenient thing to do; for how were
they to know the secret of that Mardi Gras day?
If you never lived in Mandeville, you cannot appreciate the thrill
of wholesome, satisfied joy which sweeps over its inhabitants every
evening at five o'clock. It is the hour for the arrival of the "New
Camelia," the happening of the day. As early as four o'clock the
trailing smoke across the horizon of the treacherous Lake
Pontchartrain appears, and Mandeville knows then that the hour for its
siesta has passed, and that it must array itself in its coolest and
fluffiest garments, and go down to the pier to meet this sole
connection between itself and the outside world; the little, puffy,
side-wheel steamer that comes daily from New Orleans and brings the
mail and the news.
On this particular day there was an air of suppressed excitement
about the little knot of people which gathered on the pier. To be
sure, there were no outward signs to show that anything unusual had
occurred. The small folks danced with the same glee over the worn
boards, and peered down with daring excitement into the perilous
depths of the water below. The sun, fast sinking in a gorgeous glow
behind the pines of the Tchefuncta region far away, danced his
mischievous rays in much the same manner that he did every other day.
But there was a something in the air, a something not tangible, but
mysterious, subtle. You could catch an indescribable whiff of it in
your inner senses, by the half-eager, furtive glances that the small
crowd cast at La Juanita.
"Gar, gar, le bateau!" said one dark-tressed mother to the
wide-eyed baby. "Et, oui," she added, in an undertone to her
companion. "Voila, La Juanita!"
La Juanita, you must know, was the pride of Mandeville, the
adored, the admired of all, with her petite, half-Spanish,
half-French beauty. Whether rocking in the shade of the
Cherokee-rose-covered gallery of Grandpere Colomes' big house, her
fair face bonnet-shaded, her dainty hands gloved to keep the sun from
too close an acquaintance, or splashing the spray from the bow of her
little pirogue, or fluffing her skirts about her tiny feet on the
pier, she was the pet and ward of Mandeville, as it were, La Juanita
Alvarez, since Madame Alvarez was a widow, and Grandpere Colomes was
strict and stern.
And now La Juanita had set her small foot down with a passionate
stamp before Grandpere Colomes' very face, and tossed her black curls
about her wilful head, and said she would go to the pier this evening
to meet her Mercer. All Mandeville knew this, and cast its furtive
glances alternately at La Juanita with two big pink spots in her
cheeks, and at the entrance to the pier, expecting Grandpere Colomes
and a scene.
The sun cast red glows and violet shadows over the pier, and the
pines murmured a soft little vesper hymn among themselves up on the
beach, as the "New Camelia" swung herself in, crabby, sidewise, like a
fat old gentleman going into a small door. There was the clang of an
important bell, the scream of a hoarse little whistle, and Mandeville
rushed to the gang-plank to welcome the outside world. Juanita put
her hand through a waiting arm, and tripped away with her Mercer, big
and blond and brawny. "Un Americain, pah!" said the little mother of
the black eyes. And Mandeville sighed sadly, and shook its head, and
was sorry for Grandpere Colomes.
This was Saturday, and the big regatta would be Monday. Ah, that
regatta, such a one as Mandeville had never seen! There were to be
boats from Madisonville and Amite, from Lewisburg and Covington, and
even far-away Nott's Point. There was to be a Class A and Class B and
Class C, and the little French girls of the town flaunted their
ribbons down the one oak-shaded, lake-kissed street, and dared anyone
to say theirs were not the favourite colours.
In Class A was entered, "La Juanita,' captain Mercer Grangeman,
colours pink and gold." Her name, her colours; what impudence!
Of course, not being a Mandevillian, you could not understand the
shame of Grandpere Colomes at this. Was it not bad enough for his
petite Juanita, his Spanish blossom, his hope of a family that had
held itself proudly aloof from "dose Americain" from time immemorial,
to have smiled upon this Mercer, this pale-eyed youth? Was it not bad
enough for her to demean herself by walking upon the pier with him?
But for a boat, his boat, "un bateau Americain," to be named La
Juanita! Oh, the shame of it! Grandpere Colomes prayed a devout
prayer to the Virgin that "La Juanita" should be capsized.
Monday came, clear and blue and stifling. The waves of hot air
danced on the sands and adown the one street merrily. Glassily calm
lay the Pontchartrain, heavily still hung the atmosphere. Madame
Alvarez cast an inquiring glance toward the sky. Grandpere Colomes
chuckled. He had not lived on the shores of the treacherous Lake
Pontchartrain for nothing. He knew its every mood, its petulances and
passions; he knew this glassy warmth and what it meant. Chuckling
again and again, he stepped to the gallery and looked out over the
lake, and at the pier, where lay the boats rocking and idly tugging at
their moorings. La Juanita in her rose-scented room tied the pink
ribbons on her dainty frock, and fastened cloth of gold roses at her
It was said that just before the crack of the pistol La Juanita's
tiny hand lay in Mercer's, and that he bent his head, and whispered
softly, so that the surrounding crowd could not hear,--
"Juanita mine, if I win, you will?"
"Oui, mon Mercere, eef you win."
In another instant the white wings were off scudding before the
rising breeze, dipping their glossy boat-sides into the clear water,
straining their cordage in their tense efforts to reach the stake
boats. Mandeville indiscriminately distributed itself on piers, large
and small, bath-house tops, trees, and craft of all kinds, from
pirogue, dory, and pine-raft to pretentious cat-boat and
shell-schooner. Mandeville cheered and strained its eyes after all
the boats, but chiefly was its attention directed to "La Juanita."
"Ah, voila, eet is ahead!"
"Mais non, c'est un autre!"
"La Juanita! La Juanita!"
"Regardez Grandpere Colomes!"
Old Colomes on the big pier with Madame Alvarez and his
granddaughter was intently straining his weather-beaten face in the
direction of Nott's Point, his back resolutely turned upon the
scudding white wings. A sudden chuckle of grim satisfaction caused La
Petite's head to toss petulantly.
But only for a minute, for Grandpere Colomes' chuckle was followed
by a shout of dismay from those whose glance had followed his. You
must know that it is around Nott's Point that the storm king shows his
wings first, for the little peninsula guards the entrance which leads
into the southeast waters of the stormy Rigolets and the blustering
Gulf. You would know, if you lived in Mandeville, that when the pines
on Nott's Point darken and when the water shows white beyond like the
teeth of a hungry wolf, it is time to steer your boat into the mouth
of some one of the many calm bayous which flow silently throughout St.
Tammany parish into the lake. Small wonder that the cry of dismay
went up now, for Nott's Point was black, with a lurid light overhead,
and the roar of the grim southeast wind came ominously over the
La Juanita clasped her hands and strained her eyes for her
namesake. The racers had rounded the second stake-boat, and the
course of the triangle headed them directly for the lurid cloud.
You should have seen Grandpere Colomes then. He danced up and
down the pier in a perfect frenzy. The thin pale lips of Madame
Alvarez moved in a silent prayer; La Juanita stood coldly silent.
And now you could see that the advance guard of the southeast
force had struck the little fleet. They dipped and scurried and
rocked, and you could see the sails being reefed hurriedly, and
almost hear the rigging creak and moan under the strain. Then the
wind came up the lake, and struck the town with a tumultuous force.
The waters rose and heaved in the long, sullen ground-swell, which
betokened serious trouble. There was a rush of lake-craft to shelter.
Heavy gray waves boomed against the breakwaters and piers, dashing
their brackish spray upon the strained watchers; then with a shriek
and a howl the storm burst full, with blinding sheets of rain, and a
great hurricane of Gulf wind that threatened to blow the little town
La Juanita was proud. When Grandpere and Madame led her away in
the storm, though her face was white, and the rose mouth pressed
close, not a word did she say, and her eyes were as bright as ever
before. It was foolish to hope that the frail boats could survive
such a storm. There was not even the merest excuse for shelter out in
the waters, and when Lake Pontchartrain grows angry, it devours
Your tropical storm is soon over, however, and in an hour the sun
struggled through a gray and misty sky, over which the wind was
sweeping great clouds. The rain-drops hung diamond-like on the thick
foliage, but the long ground-swell still boomed against the
breakwaters and showed white teeth, far to the south.
As chickens creep from under shelter after a rain, so the people
of Mandeville crept out again on the piers, on the bath-houses, on
the breakwater edge, and watched eagerly for the boats. Slowly upon
the horizon appeared white sails, and the little craft swung into
sight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, counted
Mandeville. Every one coming in! Bravo! And a great cheer that swept
the whole length of the town from the post-office to Black Bayou went
up. Bravo! Every boat was coming in. But--was every man?
This was a sobering thought, and in the hush which followed it you
could hear the Q. and C. train thundering over the great lake-bridge,
Well, they came into the pier at last, "La Juanita" in the lead;
and as Captain Mercer landed, he was surrounded by a voluble,
chattering, anxious throng that loaded him with questions in patois,
in broken English, and in French. He was no longer "un Americain"
now, he was a hero.
When the other eight boats came in, and Mandeville saw that no one
was lost, there was another ringing bravo, and more chattering of
We heard the truth finally. When the storm burst, Captain Mercer
suddenly promoted himself to an admiralship and assumed command of
his little fleet. He had led them through the teeth of the gale to a
small inlet on the coast between Bayou Lacombe and Nott's Point, and
there they had waited until the storm passed. Loud were the praises of
the other captains for Admiral Mercer, profuse were the thanks of the
sisters and sweethearts, as he was carried triumphantly on the
shoulders of the sailors adown the wharf to the Maison Colomes.
The crispness had gone from Juanita's pink frock, and the cloth of
gold roses were wellnigh petalless, but the hand that she slipped into
his was warm and soft, and the eyes that were upturned to Mercer's
blue ones were shining with admiring tears. And even Grandpere
Colomes, as he brewed on the Cherokee-rose-covered gallery, a fiery
punch for the heroes, was heard to admit that "some time dose
Americain can mos' be lak one Frenchman."
And we danced at the betrothal supper the next week.
It was cold that day. The great sharp north-wind swept out
Elysian Fields Street in blasts that made men shiver, and bent
everything in their track. The skies hung lowering and gloomy; the
usually quiet street was more than deserted, it was dismal.
Titee leaned against one of the brown freight cars for protection
against the shrill norther, and warmed his little chapped hands at a
blaze of chips and dry grass. "Maybe it'll snow," he muttered,
casting a glance at the sky that would have done credit to a practised
seaman. "Then won't I have fun! Ugh, but the wind blows!"
It was Saturday, or Titee would have been in school, the big
yellow school on Marigny Street, where he went every day when its
bell boomed nine o'clock, went with a run and a joyous whoop,
ostensibly to imbibe knowledge, really to make his teacher's life a
Idle, lazy, dirty, troublesome boy, she called him to herself, as
day by day wore on, and Titee improved not, but let his whole class
pass him on its way to a higher grade. A practical joke he relished
infinitely more than a practical problem, and a good game at
pin-sticking was far more entertaining than a language lesson.
Moreover, he was always hungry, and would eat in school before the
half-past ten recess, thereby losing much good playtime for his
But there was nothing in natural history that Titee did not know.
He could dissect a butterfly or a mosquito hawk, and describe
their parts as accurately as a spectacled student with a scalpel and
microscope could talk about a cadaver. The entire Third District,
with its swamps and canals and commons and railroad sections, and its
wondrous, crooked, tortuous streets, was an open book to Titee. There
was not a nook or corner that he did not know or could not tell of.
There was not a bit of gossip among the gamins, little Creole and
Spanish fellows, with dark skins and lovely eyes, like spaniels, that
Titee could not tell of. He knew just exactly when it was time for
crawfish to be plentiful down in the Claiborne and Marigny canals;
just when a poor, breadless fellow might get a job in the big
bone-yard and fertilising factory, out on the railroad track; and as
for the levee, with its ships and schooners and sailors, how he could
revel in them! The wondrous ships, the pretty little schooners,
where the foreign-looking sailors lay on long moonlight nights,
singing to their guitars and telling great stories,--all these things
and more could Titee tell of. He had been down to the Gulf, and out
on its treacherous waters through the Eads jetties on a fishing-smack
with some jolly brown sailors, and could interest the whole
school-room in the talk-lessons, if he chose.
Titee shivered as the wind swept round the freight-cars. There
isn't much warmth in a bit of a jersey coat.
"Wish 'twas summer," he murmured, casting another sailor's glance
at the sky. "Don't believe I like snow; it's too wet and cold." And
with a last parting caress at the little fire he had builded for a
minute's warmth, he plunged his hands in his pockets, shut his teeth,
and started manfully on his mission out the railroad track toward the
It was late when Titee came home, to such a home as it was, and he
had but illy performed his errand; so his mother beat him and sent him
to bed supperless. A sharp strap stings in cold weather, and a long
walk in the teeth of a biting wind creates a keen appetite. But if
Titee cried himself to sleep that night, he was up bright and early
next morning, had been to mass, devoutly kneeling on the cold floor,
blowing his fingers to keep them warm, and was home almost before the
rest of the family were awake.
There was evidently some great matter of business on the young
man's mind, for he scarcely ate his breakfast, and left the table
soon, eagerly cramming the remainder of his meal in his pockets.
"Ma foi, but what now?" mused his mother, as she watched his
little form sturdily trudging the track in the face of the wind; his
head, with the rimless cap thrust close on the shock of black hair,
bent low; his hands thrust deep in the bulging pockets.
"A new live play-toy h'it may be," ventured the father; "he is one
The next day Titee was late for school. It was something unusual,
for he was always the first on hand to fix some plan of mechanism to
make the teacher miserable. She looked reprovingly at him this
morning, when he came in during arithmetic class, his hair all
wind-blown, his cheeks rosy from a hard fight with the sharp blasts.
But he made up for his tardiness by his extreme goodness all day;
just think, Titee did not even eat once before noon, a something
unparalleled in the entire previous history of his school life.
When the lunch-hour came, and all the yard was a scene of feast
and fun, one of the boys found him standing by a post, disconsolately
watching a ham sandwich as it rapidly disappeared down the throat of a
sturdy, square-headed little fellow.
"Hello, Edgar," he said, "what you got fer lunch?"
"Nothin'," was the mournful reply.
"Ah, why don't you stop eatin' in school, fer a change? You don't
ever have nothin' to eat."
"I didn't eat to-day," said Titee, blazing up.
"I tell you I didn't!" and Titee's hard little fist planted a
punctuation mark on his comrade's eye.
A fight in the schoolyard! Poor Titee was in disgrace again.
Still, in spite of his battered appearance, a severe scolding from
the principal, lines to write, and a further punishment from his
mother, Titee scarcely remained for his dinner, but was off down the
railroad track with his pockets partly stuffed with the remnants of
the scanty meal.
And the next day Titee was tardy again, and lunchless too, and the
next, until the teacher, in despair, sent a nicely printed note to his
mother about him, which might have done some good, had not Titee taken
great pains to tear it up on the way home.
One day it rained, whole bucketsful of water, that poured in
torrents from a miserable, angry sky. Too wet a day for bits of boys
to be trudging to school, so Titee's mother thought; so she kept him
at home to watch the weather through the window, fretting and fuming
like a regular storm in miniature. As the day wore on, and the rain
did not abate, his mother kept a strong watch upon him, for he tried
many times to slip away.
Dinner came and went, and the gray soddenness of the skies
deepened into the blackness of coming night. Someone called Titee to
go to bed, and Titee was nowhere to be found.
Under the beds, in closets and corners, in such impossible places
as the soap-dish and water-pitcher even, they searched, but he had
gone as completely as if he had been spirited away. It was of no use
to call up the neighbors, he had never been near their houses, they
affirmed, so there was nothing to do but to go to the railroad track
where Titee had been seen so often trudging in the shrill north-wind.
With lanterns and sticks, and his little yellow dog, the rescuing
party started down the track. The rain had ceased falling, but the
wind blew a gale, scurrying great gray clouds over a fierce sky. It
was not exactly dark, though in this part of the city there is neither
gas nor electricity, and on such a night as this neither moon nor
stars dared show their faces in so gray a sky; but a sort of
all-diffused luminosity was in the air, as though the sea of
atmosphere was charged with an ethereal phosphorescence.
Search as they did, there were no signs of Titee. The soft earth
between the railroad ties crumbled between their feet without showing
any small tracks or footprints.
"Mais, we may as well return," said the big brother; "he is not
"Oh, mon Dieu," urged the mother, "he is, he is; I know it."
So on they went, slipping on the wet earth, stumbling over the
loose rocks, until a sudden wild yelp from Tiger brought them to a
standstill. He had rushed ahead of them, and his voice could be heard
in the distance, howling piteously.
With a fresh impetus the little muddy party hurried forward.
Tiger's yelps could be heard plainer and plainer, mingled now with a
muffled, plaintive little wail.
After a while they found a pitiful little heap of sodden rags,
lying at the foot of a mound of earth and stones thrown upon the side
of the track. It was Titee with a broken leg, all wet and miserable
They picked him up tenderly, and started to carry him home. But
he cried and clung to the mother, and begged not to go.
"Ah, mon pauvre enfant, he has the fever!" wailed the mother.
"No, no, it's my old man. He's hungry," sobbed Titee, holding out
a little package. It was the remnants of his dinner, all wet and
"What old man?" asked the big brother.
"My old man. Oh, please, please don't go home till I see him. I'm
not hurting much, I can go."
So, yielding to his whim, they carried him farther away, down the
sides of the track up to an embankment or levee by the sides of the
Marigny Canal. Then the big brother, suddenly stopping, exclaimed:
"Why, here's a cave. Is it Robinson Crusoe?"
"It's my old man's cave," cried Titee. "Oh, please go in; maybe
There cannot be much ceremony in entering a cave. There is but
one thing to do,--walk in. This they did, and holding up the
lantern, beheld a weird sight. On a bed of straw and paper in one
corner lay a withered, wizened, white-bearded old man with wide eyes
staring at the unaccustomed light. In the other corner was an equally
"It's my old man!" cried Titee, joyfully. "Oh, please, grandpa, I
couldn't get here to-day, it rained all mornin' an' when I ran away, I
fell down an' broke something, an', oh, grandpa, I'm all tired an'
hurty, an' I'm so 'fraid you're hungry."
So the secret of Titee's jaunts down the railroad was out. In one
of his trips around the swamp-land, he had discovered the old man
exhausted from cold and hunger in the fields. Together they had found
this cave, and Titee had gathered the straw and paper that made the
bed. Then a tramp cow, old and turned adrift, too, had crept in and
shared the damp dwelling. And thither Titee had trudged twice a day,
carrying his luncheon in the morning and his dinner in the afternoon.
"There's a crown in heaven for that child," said the officer of
charity to whom the case was referred.
But as for Titee, when the leg was well, he went his way as before.