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C. G.; Or, Lilly's Earrings by Sherwood Bonner

I

Not since the day on which we heard of Lee's surrender had there been such a commotion in the house. We who had grown up since that date had ceased to expect anything in the way of pleasure, for "the war" was a ghost that wouldn't be laid. Did we want fine dresses, we were asked where the money was coming from, now that Uncle David had lost all his property by the war; did we vainly long for a trip to a Northern city, we were consoled by the announcement that if it had not been for the war Uncle David would have taken us to Europe; if we complained that we had to keep our own rooms in order and sweep the parlors besides, a dignified reference was made to the former number of servants in the establishment; and when we roundly declared that life wasn't worth living without a dessert for dinner every day, somebody would say that it could hardly be expected we should set such a table as we did before the war. Positively, we didn't know how old we were, for Aunt Nanny declared that her memory wasn't a yard long on account of the trouble she had had during the war, and the family Bible had been "confiscated" by a pious private of taking propensities. Lilly was the older, however: we knew that. She was half a head taller than I, and had a dignified figure, though she looked like a child in the face and had a good many child's ways. She never knew what to do with her hands, for one thing, and when a little embarrassed she had a sweet cunning habit of putting one hand up to her mouth and laughing behind it. Her mouth was her prettiest feature. It had a bewitching way of dimpling at the corners, and the twenty-four pearls behind it had never been touched by the dentist. This, Aunt Nanny said, was the one good result of the war; for we had to eat boiled rice and drink cold water instead of plum-cake and coffee; so we kept our teeth sound.

We were orphans. Our names were Lilly and Stella Tresvant. Our father had been killed during the war, and our mother had died of grief. We were little children then, and had been sent to the Island City, Galveston, to live with Aunt Nanny and Uncle David. We thought ourselves quite grown-up now. Since we came to our island home we had never been away from it. It was forlorn enough, though it was a pretty place, all overgrown with oleanders and cape-jessamines. We used to get so tired watching the sea, hearing the restless beat, beat of the waves against the shore, and seeing the far-off birds dip their wings into the water! There was an old book in Uncle David's library that I suppose we had read a dozen times. It was called Rasselas, and was about a young prince and his sister who lived in a Happy Valley, and yet could never be happy until they got away. "I can sympathize with them," Lilly used to say with such a mournful look in her big gray eyes; "and yet what was their case compared to ours? They didn't have to wear their grandmother's clothes made over, I'm very sure."

But the turning came in our long lane. One year Uncle David's crop was uncommonly good. He made a bale to the acre, got it all picked in good time, and the hands paid off without any grumbling. His plantation was in the interior, and just before the cotton was sent off we all went up to have a look at it. There were about fifty bales—a very good crop for these times, though Aunt Nanny declared it wouldn't have been a drop in the bucket "before the war." But it looked like immense wealth to Lilly and myself.

"Only think, Stella!" said Lilly to me: "if we had just a single bale apiece, what a good time we might have!"

Now, it happened that Uncle David overheard this. He was walking about the yard, as silent as usual, but he was holding his spectacles in his hand, and that was with him a sign of great good-humor. We could always tell the state of the cotton-market by the position of Uncle David's spectacles; and, as Mrs. Gargery tied on her apron when upon a "rampage," so uncle jammed his spectacles close to his eyes when things were very much out of joint.

"Well, girls," he said, "you've been pretty good lately, and I'll present you each with a bale of cotton."

We couldn't speak for surprise. But I flew at Uncle David and gave him such a kissing as he had never had from anybody, I suppose, for he blushed quite red.

Then we ran off to the cotton-press to see the last bales pressed. As often as we had watched that revolving screw and the two mules going slowly round squeezing the huge bale—it was rather a primitive press this, made by the carpenter on the place—we had never looked with an interest to compare with that which we now felt. It was our own property being squeezed into shape; and we actually stood there until the bale in press was rolled out, corded and tied. It was a great five-hundred-pounder at least; and "That's mine," said Lil.

When we had been at home a few days a lady called to see us who had been an old friend of our mother's: Mrs. Long was her name. She was sparkling with jewels, and Lil and I were quite dazzled by them and her pretty clothes and her careless way of saying that she thought of "running over to New Orleans for a couple of months," just as we should have proposed to run down to the beach to pick up shells.

"I wish I could take these two girls with me," she said, waving her hand toward Lilly and me. "Would it not be possible, dear Miss Nanny?"

Aunt Nanny shook her head, and began the usual doleful story about the war and its consequences; but Lilly gave me a quick look, and her face absolutely flashed. Then she slyly raised those long slim fingers of hers and spelled out, "The cotton."

Well, pretty soon we heard from the cotton. Uncle David had sent it to England, and it had brought a good price. In he came one day and tossed a little packet into my lap and into Lil's. We opened them, and out tumbled five twenty-dollar gold-pieces.

"Well, young ladies," said he, "what shall you do with your wealth?"

"Go to New Orleans," said Lilly as coolly as ever she spoke in her life.

"Pooh! pooh!" said Aunt Nanny: "just put it in the bank for a nest-egg."

"Now, Aunt Nanny," said Lilly, who had a perfect genius for argument, "what under heaven do we want with a nest-egg? Uncle David gave us this without any conditions: we were to do just as we pleased with it. And I am tired of staying on this old sand-bar: it just makes me sick to smell the oleanders. I want to go somewhere—to see something of life. Mrs. Long would be delighted to have us go over to New Orleans with her: this money will buy us some new dresses; so why can't we do it?"

"I think they might go, Nanny," said that blessed Uncle David; and then Maum' Hepsey came in. She had been our black mammy, and was a privileged character.

"Lor', yes, Miss Nanny!" said she: "let de chillen go, for massy's sake. Dey gits tired joggin' along here in de same ole ruts. 'Tain't gwine ter cost so very much; an' I'm willin' ter 'conomize six months ter help 'long."

The end of it all was that Aunt Nanny had to give her consent—that is, she said, if Mrs. Long really wanted us. So she dressed in her best—a long velvet cloak and a brocaded silk that looked very arkaic—and went the same day to find out that lady's mind. She came back, of course, with a warm repetition of Mrs. Long's invitation, and an urgent entreaty to be ready in a week's time. Hence the commotion in our family, for much had to be done in that week of preparation.

I did not suspect Lilly was not quite happy until one morning when we were walking on the beach before breakfast. It was a morning to make one in love with life. I danced along the hard shining white beach, and was more interested in watching the water, that broke into as many ripples as if the fishes were doing the diagonal waltz under the waves, than in looking at Lilly's face; but finally I noticed that she had an ugly little frown on her forehead.

"After all, Stell," she said, "one hundred dollars won't go a great way."

"Well, of course, Lil, we don't expect to launch out, like Dinah, in 'gorgeous array.'"

"No, but we don't want to look like Southern paupers."

"As we are," said I, laughing.

"No matter: we must put the best foot foremost," said Lil, looking very pretty and pale and earnest as the salt wind blew back her hair: "our new silks, with some of Aunt Nanny's old lace, will do very well, but how I wish we had some jewelry!"

"Oh, I don't care for that," said I.

"Good enough reason: you are younger than I am, and don't need it." (One would have thought Lilly thirty years old.) "But I should look like a different being with earrings. I must have a pair."

"The only question is how to get them," said I prosaically, for I'm always acting as a drag on Lilly's wheels.

"True," she said with a tragic air. "Dear me! I'm tempted to duck my head under the water, and let it stay there, when I think of all the troubles of life."

"'You would be a mermaid fair,
Sitting alone, sitting alone,'

and all strung round with corals and pearls. But I'd rather be Stella Tresvant on her way to New Orleans—and breakfast."

"Breakfast, indeed!" said Lilly with an accent of scorn.

Still, she ate this meal with a becoming appetite, and after it was ended proposed that we should go and have a chat with Maum' Hepsey.

We found Maum' Hepsey in her cabin, sitting in a rickety old rocking-chair, a short black pipe in her mouth from which she was drawing vigorous whiffs of comfort. A slow fire was burning in the fireplace, and on it was a huge black kettle half filled with white Southern corn. This was "lye hominy" in course of preparation—the succulent lye hominy dear to every Southern heart.

"Lor', chillen!" said Maum' Hepsey, "it's too hot for you to be in here. Massy knows if I wazn't seasoned to it I'd drap in my tracks, dis fire is so pow'ful drawin'."

"Oh, never mind, maum'; we can sit in the door. We just came to talk to you about our troubles."

"Sakes alive! I thought your troubles waz about over, now dat you're gwine ter have a trip to Orleans."

"That's it," sighed Lil: "we're going off to that grand city, where I suppose the ladies wear silks and satins every day, and we've nothing to wear."

"Whar's de money for de cotton?" Maum' Hepsey demanded, her lower jaw dropping in such a surprised way that the black pipe fell out and barely escaped the lye hominy.

"A hundred dollars doesn't go very far," said Lil contemptuously.

"Well, chillen, in my young days dat waz pretty much of a sum—sho's yo' born it waz."

"Things are different now; and besides, Maum' Hepsey, you don't know how a dressed-up lady ought to look."

"Highty-tighty!" said maum', while her eyes sparkled alarmingly. "As if I ain't seen mo' finery in a month dan you has in every blessed year of your life! Lor'! when my young mars' brung his bride over from Orleans dat chile didn't have a gownd in her trunk dat warn't made of Injy silk; an' she did look han'some a-trailin' round in 'em. An' you tell me I donno what fine dressin' is! Go 'long, chile! you've lost your manners."

Maum' Hepsey was really offended, and I hastened to soothe her: "Lil only meant that you didn't know how the ladies dressed now. We are to have two new dresses, maum', but Lilly's trouble is that she hasn't any jewelry."

She shook her turbaned head: "Jewelry costs a sight of money, honey. My young mis', she had a ring on her finger wid a stun in it like a star. 'Twarn't no bigger 'n a baby hazelnut, but, sho's yo' born, chillen, dat ring cost ten hundred dollars!"

"That was a diamond," said Lilly in an awed voice. "I never expect to have one if I live to be a thousand years old."

"Chillen," said Maum' Hepsey, lowering her voice, "why don't you git Miss Nanny to let you open dat trunk in de attic?"

"Whose is it, Maum' Hepsey?"

"Lor', honey! didn't you never hear 'bout dat trunk? It was lef' wid your Uncle David for sto'age durin' de war. A slim, dark-complected young man brought it one evenin' about sundown, an' from dat day to dis none of us has ever set eyes on him."

"What do you suppose became of him?"

"De good Lord knows, honey. Mos' likely he waz killed: men dropped down like oleander-blossoms in de high winds in dem dreadful days. Now, I shouldn't wonder, chillen, if dar waz money in dat trunk."

"So there might be," said Lilly with a start.

"It must ha' held somethin' valerble," said Maum' Hepsey, looking like a solemn old owl, "else why should he ha' been so mighty pertickeler 'bout havin' it stored safe? Den, ag'in, he must ha' been killed, else why shouldn't he ha' come back for it? An' why should we let de things—whatever is in it—moulder away, instead o' gettin' de good of 'em like sensible folks?"

"We shouldn't have any right," said I doubtfully.

"Oh shoo, chile, shoo! You'd have just as much right as de rats an' mice."

Lilly jumped up. "I think Maum' Hepsey's idea a good one," said she. "Who knows? That trunk may turn out a gold-mine."

Back we went to the house, and made an appeal to Aunt Nanny to be allowed to open the trunk.

"Dear me, girls! what will you think of next?" said she. "I had almost forgotten that old trunk."

"Tell us about the man who left it, aunty. What was his name?"

"That's what none of us know. He came here about dusk one evening—a wild, distracted looking man he was—and said he wanted to leave a trunk until called for. You know your uncle David was a commission-merchant, and very often had packages left with him for safe-keeping. He had a book in which he registered the names of the owners, descriptions of the parcels, etc. He turned to his desk to get out this ledger, and when he looked round again the man was gone. Your uncle ran to the door, but no trace of him was to be seen. He says that he would have thought the whole thing a dream, but for the little trunk on the floor."

"What a romance!" cried Lil.

"The poor fellow must have been killed," said Aunt Nanny. "We advertised the trunk after the war, but no claimant ever came for it."

"And you've kept it all this time without looking into it? How could you? It would have been a perfect Blue Beard's chamber to me."

"Dear me, child! With all the trouble that's come to this house I've had other things to do than to go prying into strangers' trunks."

"Well, you've got to pry now," said Lilly with her little air of decision. "Who knows what treasures we may unearth? Can't we open it, aunty?"

"Yes, if Uncle David says so."

We could hardly wait for Uncle David to come home. We dragged the trunk down from the attic to the sitting-room: finally, we went to the gate to watch for Uncle David, and before he was well in the house had won his consent to open the trunk. In fact, I think he was not without a mild curiosity himself, though he said, "I feel uncommonly like a burglar," as he knelt down by the trunk and tried to force the lock.

"How do you know how a burglar feels?" said Lil saucily.

It was rather an exciting moment. A sea-breeze sprang up, and the blinds rattled loudly, as though some angry hand were trying to break them away. I started nervously and looked over my shoulder, half expecting to see the wrathful face of a slim, dark man. A cold air blew through the room. It almost seemed that viewless influences were interposing to save the stranger's treasures from profanation.

It was a spring lock, and it flew open with a snap. We peered eagerly into the trunk. Commonplace enough! Uncle David handed out one shirt after another.

"Bah!" said Lilly, "only a man's shirts!"

"But only look!" said Aunt Nanny, "what exquisite linen! and how neatly made! Some woman's hand is in this."

Lil picked one up and looked at it curiously: "Well, they are nicely done: no sewing-machine work here. And see, aunty, here are initials."

The initials "C. G." were marked in delicate embroidery on all the garments. Next came a lot of gentleman's handkerchiefs marked in the same way, and with them half a dozen thread cambric, lace-bordered handkerchiefs, evidently intended for a lady's use, and without mark. The next thing was a dress-suit, in which we took very little interest: then a yellow sheet of paper that we seized eagerly. We hoped it was a letter, but it was a poem without date or signature, written in French:

Qu'elle est belle la marquise!
Que sa toilette est exquise!
Gants glacées à dix boutons,
Et bottines hauts talons!
Qu'elle est belle la marquise!
Quelles délices, quel délire,
Dans sa bouche et son sourire!
Et sa voix—qui ne dirait
Que le rossignol chantait?
Qu'elle est belle la marquise!
La marquise! ma marquise!
Bel amour est sa devise,
Et sa profession de foi
Est: je vous aime—aimez moi!
Qu'elle est belle la marquise!

"Oh, how interesting!" cried Lilly. "I shall die if I don't find out something more about him."

"You'll never hear of him again," said I, "so make up your mind to die."

"Perhaps he had left one he loved," said Uncle David, "and she waited for him day after day, and he never came back to her."

Uncle David's voice was as sad as the echo in a tomb. I thought I saw tears in the misty blue eyes behind the spectacles; and I believe at that moment, for the first time in my life, I realized that Uncle David, old and gray and wrinkled though he was, had a heart that had suffered.

"Well," said Lilly, shaking back her hair impatiently, "is there anything more?"

"Only this little box."

We opened the box, and there, on a bed of pink cotton, were a pair of cuff-buttons, the most elegant we had ever seen. They were onyx, with diamond stars for a centre. The diamonds were all small except the central ones, that were like the dewdrops at the tips of narrow leaves.

"How beautiful!" cried Lilly.

"These diamonds are of great value," said Uncle David, examining them critically.

"But this man must have had friends," said I: "there must be some one in the world to whom these things ought to belong."

"Until those friends are found," said Lilly, "I propose that we act as Mr. Unknown's heir and executors. You can have the handkerchiefs, Stell, and I will take these buttons: they could be made into lovely earrings."

"Oh, Lilly! should you like to wear them?"

"Certainly: why not?" and Lilly ran to the glass and held one of the darkly-shining stones against her pale, pretty cheek.—"Don't oppose it, aunty dear. Only think! fifteen years and the man not heard from!"

"Here are his initials again," said I, picking up the other button, on whose gold side the initials were engraved. "'C. G.'—Constant Gower? Colton Goran?"

"What nonsense, Stell!" interrupted Lilly.—"Tell me, Aunt Nanny—may I have the buttons?"

"Oh, I suppose so, child. You always manage to have your own way; and if your uncle David is willing, I've no objections."

Uncle David was equally willing, so Lilly took triumphant possession of the buttons.

Another week saw us on our way to New Orleans. We were neither of us seasick, and we enjoyed every moment of the voyage across the Gulf. Mrs. Long seemed glad to have us, and was interested in our incessant talk. Lilly of course gave her the whole story of the Frenchman's buttons, and brought them out for her inspection. She said they would make lovely earrings, and that she must attend to that the first thing on reaching New Orleans.

She took us to the St. Charles Hotel, and with beating hearts we made our toilettes for the table d'hote. What a grand occasion that was to us! I was rather frightened, but Lilly actually seemed to grow taller as she put on her new dress. She had chosen the suit herself, and while the skirt was black silk, the bodice was deep crimson laced in the back. Her face rose from it like a lily, pure and pale. I looked at her with admiration and despair, for in my nervousness I felt that my face was the color of an Indian peach. Once seated in the dining-room, however, we soon began to feel a comfortable sense of our own insignificance, and to look about at our neighbors as Mrs. Long was doing.

A season of delight now set in for us. We went to museums and picture-galleries; we drove on the Shell Road that wound in shining distance like a silver chain; and walked on Canal and Carondelet streets, equally interested in the fine shop-windows and the fine languid ladies who strolled past them.

To be in New Orleans at any time would have been joy enough, but it was "gilding refined gold" to be there in the gay week preceding the Carnival, and to look forward to Mardi-Gras itself to round off our visit. Already immense "proclamations," printed in every color of the rainbow, were thrown about the city like handbills, running somewhat in this style:

"We command that Tuesday, Mardi-Gras, March 5, be set apart as a day of Fun, Folly and Frolic, when the innocent license of the mask shall have no let, when the places of festivity shall offer a night of pleasure to all our people, and when the pageant of the Mystick Krewe of Comus shall dazzle the eye and captivate the reason by the wonders of art and beauty.

"Signed, Rex.

"Attest: Typhoon, Puck."

Who composed this Mystic Krewe no one knew. Year after year, like a splendid dream, a glittering procession moved through the streets at dusk of Shrove-Tuesday, representing the fairest myths of fable and the most gorgeous pageants of history. Mrs. Long, who had seen a Roman Carnival, declared it far surpassed in magnificence by that of our own Southern city. And we—lucky, lucky girls that we were!—were to see it all! We were even to go to the grand ball at the opera-house; for, though Aunt Nanny did not approve of balls, and we had never been to one, Mrs. Long declared it would do no harm for "once in a way," and that it would be a memory for a lifetime.

It is no part of my story to tell of the delights of the great day, nor of its magnificent displays; nor of our fluttering hearts as we dressed for the ball; nor of how pretty Lilly looked all in white, with white flowers in her dark hair, and the onyx earrings shining against her fair cheeks; nor even of the beautiful ball itself. A memory for a life Mrs. Long declared it would be; and this, I doubt not, it will prove, but for a reason she will never guess. Something happened so romantic, so wonderful, so extraordinary, that I am sure when we are old, old ladies—"sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything"—it will give us a thrill of the blood to think of that Mardi-Gras ball.

We were dancing in a cotillon. It was the basket figure, where the ladies are all grouped in the centre. I was on one side of Lilly: on the other was a pretty, foreign-looking little creature dressed in black with gleams of scarlet breaking through. Imagine what we felt when this lovely apparition seized Lilly by the wrist and said in a low, agitated voice, "In the name of Heaven, young lady, tell me where you got the earrings that you wear in your ears!"

II.

The next moment the dance had separated us. Lilly and I had only time to exchange one glance of wonder. After the dance, when we were taken back to our seats and our partners had left us, the stranger came over to us and said rapidly, in a low voice and with a strong French accent, "Pardon my impertinence, je vous en prie. But is it that you will answer my question?"

I did not know what to say, but Lilly, who is never at a loss, replied, "The story would be rather long to give in a ballroom, and I don't know what right you have to ask it."

"Verra true," said she gently; "but I did once see a pair of buttons ze twins of your earrings. Ze letters 'C. G.' were engraved on ze gold backs."

She was watching Lilly closely as she spoke. My sister blushed crimson, and said, "If that be so, you have more right to them than I have."

"Ah, mon Dieu!" cried the stranger: "it is as I hoped! When can I see you? Where? how?"

"Come and see me: I am at the St. Charles Hotel. My name is Lilly Tresvant."

"You are with your mother?"

"No: with a friend—Mrs. Long."

"Ah, your chaperone! And she will wish to know who is your visitor. I cannot have it arranged that way." She seemed in deep thought: then said, "Listen, chères demoiselles. There are reasons why I wish it not known that we have met: I will explain all when I see you. Do you go sometimes to ze French market?"

"Oh yes—often."

"Come, then, to-morrow morning: I will meet you. I will tell my story, and you will tell yours. Mon Dieu! after all these years, how strange! I must leave you now. Au revoir. Remember, to-morrow, early, at ze French market; and not one word to your chaperone, Madame Long: you promise?"

We promised of course—what foolish girls wouldn't have promised?—and the graceful little Frenchwoman moved away, leaving two girls more interested and excited than they had ever been in all their lives. We cared no more for the ball: we went home like people in a dream. We scarcely slept that night, fearing to be late for the French market in the morning. Before it was fairly light we had dressed ourselves and hurried off.

"Oh, Stell!" cried my tall sister, "let us never say we haven't had an adventure! No novel I ever read was half so exciting. I feel quite like a heroine, don't you?"

"I think the little Frenchwoman is more the heroine of the piece."

"Yes, so she is; and she ought to be. Isn't she a charming, graceful, pretty creature?"

"She is pretty," said I, hurrying along to keep pace with Lilly's long steps, "but there was something about her I did not quite like. It seemed to me she had a sort of common look, in spite of her fine dress."

"Common! Well, Stell, you had better not say anything more!" said Lilly with crushing emphasis.

"It was so queer," persisted I, "that she made us promise not to say anything to Mrs. Long!"

"Oh, that will all be explained."

"I felt like a conspirator stealing out of the house this morning."

"As if we don't go to the French market whenever we like! And there's certainly no harm in going to meet a lady. If it had been a young man now!" and Lilly's laugh rang out gayly.

The French market was as pretty and bright as usual, though it was the dull Ash Wednesday morning. The long line of stalls was bright with fruits and flowers, and walking about, buying, staring, chatting, drinking coffee, eating oranges, were people of almost every nationality under heaven. However, the unique interest of the scene, this morning at least, was thrown away upon us. In the crowd we soon distinguished the figure of the little Frenchwoman, and joined her at once. She had on a close black bonnet and a veil, and did not look nearly so pretty as she had looked the night before. Her skin lacked delicacy, and there was a haggard look about her eyes.

"Mes chères demoiselles," she exclaimed, "I have thought of nothing all night but of seeing you here this morning."

We very truthfully assured her that such had been the case with ourselves.

"You did not wear them?" exclaimed she, looking at Lilly's ears.

"I meant to," said Lilly with a start, "but getting off in such a hurry, and never wearing them in the morning, I forgot to put them in."

"Ah, yes: they are too handsome for morning. You have ze good taste, mademoiselle. Come, now, let us take some coffee together, then we can go over where it is quiet and talk."

She took us to an old Frenchwoman's stand, and we each drank a cup of the strong black coffee, which she insisted on paying for. Then we crossed the market to a deserted stall, whose owner had probably sold out her small stock at an early hour and gone home. We sat down, and she began: "You have told me your name. Mine is Gardiné—Véra Gardiné. I have a brother named Clément Gardiné."

"C. G.!" cried Lilly.

"C. G.," said she with a sigh. "You have perhaps heard of the Gardiné family? The old name is well known in ze city."

We confessed with some shame that it was unknown to us.

She sighed again: "Ah! it is a sad story: I will tell it to you in ze way ze most quickest. We are French, but born in zis country—creoles, you know. I was but a leetle girl when ze war began, and my brother had scarcely twenty years. But he was so brave, so reckless: go to ze war he would, almost breaking ze heart of his—his—fiancée—what you call it in English: his engaged girl—ze gentle, lovely Florine. When ze Northern army came to New Orleans, Florine's father and mother ran away with her to Texas—made of themselves refugees. Soon after both parents died, and Florine was left so all alone that my brother determined to marry her at once. He got a furlough from his general, and came home in disguise. It was joy all mixed with fear to see him. Blockade-steamers were running all ze time from New Orleans to Galveston, and he took passage in one of them. He had no baggages, but one small trunk that I packed for him—his dress-suit, some shirts that I had made, some lace handkerchiefs that I was sending to Florine. In this trunk too were ze star buttons, heirlooms in ze famille Gardiné. He was to spend his honeymoon in Texas until his furlough had expired: then he was to bring Florine to me, and he was to go back to his regiment. He left me, brave, strong, full of hope, and from zat time till one long year afterward I neither saw nor heard from mon frère.

"I was distracted. I wrote letters here, there, everywhere. It was no use. The city was besieged: I could not get out of it. Oh, what suffering to remember!

"One day, in my heart-sickness, longing to do something with my life, I went with one of ze good Sisters of our Church into ze city hospital. And there I found my brother, his head shaved, raving with fever! He had been fighting, they told me, with one of ze guerilla-bands around ze city—had been captured and brought there wounded dangerously. I took him home, nursed him night and day, and at last had my reward. He knew me—ze consciousness had come back to him. You can guess ze questions I poured out, but oh, mes chères demoiselles, you cannot guess ze sister's agony when I found zat mon pauvre frère had forgotten every circumstance of ze past year!"

"Oh, how dreadful!" cried Lilly, her eyes filling with tears. "What did you do?"

"What could I do? Ze doctair said it was not an uncommon case. There had been some injury to ze brain. Clément remembered coming to New Orleans, and making his preparations to go to Florine; but from zat time all was a dreadful blank. I drove him almost wild with my tears and questions, for what had become of Florine? As soon as he was well, and we could get away from the city, we went to Texas to try and find her, but our search was all in vain.

"And now you can judge what I felt when I saw ze star buttons in zis young lady's ears."—She turned to Lilly, and spoke in a voice all broken with emotion: "It seemed that at last I had a key to unlock ze door of that sad year. Tell me quickly, mademoiselle, where did you get them? Did Florine give them to you? Is she dead? Tell me all."

"You are deceived, Miss Gardiné," said Lilly, almost ready to burst into tears. "All I can tell is very little. A trunk was brought to my uncle's in Galveston by a young man, who rushed off before uncle could even ask his name. From that day we have never heard from him, and out of curiosity my sister and I persuaded Uncle David to let us open the trunk."

Miss Gardiné clasped her hands tragically: "Hélâs! after so much hope to find only disappointment! Ze saddest part of it all is this," she went on. "Since it all happened mon pauvre frère has been so miserable zat sometimes he loses his mind: he is mad. No one knows this but myself—no one shall know. In society he is ze elegant young man: yes, people who admire him little dream when he is away, and they think him on his plantation up ze Bayou Têche, zat he is in a private madhouse in ze city, watched over by poor Véra."

She raised her handkerchief to her eyes, and Lilly and I looked at each other with deep, silent sympathy.

"This is why I have begged your secrecy," she said. "Your chaperone, Madame Long, possibly knows many people: she would talk. Ze misfortunes of Clément Gardiné must not be talked over by ze vulgaire herd."

"I am sure," said I diffidently, "that Mrs. Long would be prudent."

"My dear child," said mademoiselle, smiling sadly, "it is better not to put her to ze test. Besides, what good would it do?"

"That is so, Stell," said Lilly impatiently. "Why are you always so anxious to tell things?"

"I have one last hope," said Miss Gardiné. "Ze doctair has said if my brother could once remember zat last year he might be cured entièrement. It is brooding on zat subject that brought on his insanity: he needs a shock. Now, if you will go with me when I visit him, and show him suddenly ze star buttons—who knows?—all may come back to him. I have told ze doctair all ze story, and he thinks it a plan of wisdom."

"I am sure it is," said Lilly, "and I will go with you with pleasure."

"To a madhouse?" cried I.

"You would never know it was zat," said the French lady: "it is like one fine private house, ze patients are all so gentle."

The end of it was that we promised to meet her at the Catholic cathedral the next day, and go with her to see her brother. "Dress very simply," said she at parting, "and do not fear anysing. If any one speaks to you in ze house, all you must do is to make one courtesy very respectful, and humor them in their leetle fancies."

Mrs. Long noticed the next day our preoccupation and aversion to our usual interests, but, thinking it the natural reaction after the excitement of the past weeks, she forbore to question us.

We were promptly at the place of appointment next day, and so was Miss Véra. A carriage was called, and we were driven rapidly to a house just on the edge of the city—a fine, rambling old house, set far back in beautiful grounds and surrounded by an iron fence. Heavy iron gates swung open harshly, and closed after us with a clanging, dismal sound. I clung to Lilly's arm, feeling very nervous, but her courage seemed to rise with the occasion. "You had better take the earrings out," said Miss Gardiné before we went in: "here is a box I have brought on purpose."

Lilly handed her the earrings, together with the package of lace handkerchiefs that I had appropriated.

By this time we had reached the door. Miss Gardiné unlocked it with a key she had in her pocket, and we entered a beautiful picture-hung hall with a silver lamp swinging from its ceiling. On either side were rooms exquisitely furnished, it seemed to us in a hasty glance. Certainly, Miss Véra had been right when she had said there was nothing to frighten any one about this madhouse. In a boudoir that we passed a young lady sat at a piano singing—a beautiful girl dressed in blue, with bare arms. I glanced inquiringly at Véra. "Yes," said she, nodding her head, "zat is one of ze saddest cases here. Her lover was killed in a duel on ze bridal-eve, and she became insane. She is quite incurable."

We went up a flight of broad stairs, and in the hall encountered an old lady with white hair elaborately dressed. "Why! why! why!" said she, stopping short: "who are these girls, Marie? You must be having a party."

"Only some friends from the country, madame, come to spend an hour with me," said Véra in French and with a low courtesy.

"Very decent-looking girls," said madame, looking at us coolly through a gold-mounted glass. "Here, Marie! When you did my hair you made the pins stick in me. Just see if you can't relieve me."

She sat down, and Véra—or "Marie," as this poor old mad lady called her—gave some deft touches to the gray head. "That is better," said madame graciously. "Now, where's your cap, child?"

"In my pocket, madame."

"Put it on, put it on: I don't want you to be aping lady-airs."

Véra pulled out a little cap and put it on her silky black locks, smiling sweetly, and greatly impressing us by her amiability and tact. Then the old lady went down the stairs, and the French girl said with a shrug, "Sometimes she fancies me her maid, sometimes her daughter—la pauvre femme!"

Up another flight, and we stopped before a closed door.

"He is here," said Véra in a low, intense voice.

Lilly put her hand on her heart as if to stop its beating. As for me, I was only conscious of a feeling of burning curiosity.

Véra threw open the door. A young man was seated in the centre of the room, leaning on a table. His face was buried in his hands. "He will sit that way for hours," whispered his sister.—Then she said aloud, "Clément!"

He looked up; an angry flush rose to his face; with one bound he was at Véra's side, snatched the little cap from her head and tore it into shreds.

I was fearfully alarmed at this exhibition, and Véra looked deeply mortified. "He has never been so violent," she exclaimed; "and this was my fault: I had forgotten that I had on ze miserable little thing."—She fixed her eyes on him steadily and said, "Clément, I have brought some visitors to see you."

A gleam of something like reason crossed his face: he made a graceful bow. Lilly looked fascinated. He was a singularly handsome man, very dark, with glittering black eyes, and hair falling on his shoulders. On his head was a red velvet smoking-cap.

"They have brought something to show you, Clément," she went on, as slowly as if counting her words—"something that you have missed for many years."

She opened the box and flashed the earrings before his eyes. He started up, and in a voice of anguish he cried, "The star buttons!"

"He recognizes! he remembers!" cried Véra.

"Remember?" he exclaimed—"remember what? A ship ploughing the Gulf—" He stopped, pressed his hands madly to his forehead. "Down, down, demon pain!" Then the words came pouring out like a torrent: "Light breaks through the night. A ship crosses the Gulf: a woman begs me, for the sake of her I love, to go with her—to save her father. He is in prison, he has murdered a man, but he is old: she loves him—she kneels to me. I promised to help him escape: I did my best. I said Florine could wait. I left my trunk in an old man's counting-room. We laid our plans, but we failed in all. The father was shot like a dog; I was captured; I was sent up the country for trial. Months in prison: free at last to fly to Florine, to find my bride. Now, now, now, it comes to me. I was too late: Florine had been murdered by the Indians!"

He flung his arms above his head and fell to the floor. We were in a state of the wildest excitement.

"Oh, he is saved! I am sure of it!" cried Véra. "Go now, dear young ladies: he must not see you when he comes to himself. Ze carriage is waiting. I will see you again."

"But we leave New Orleans to-morrow," said Lilly.

"I will write to you. You are my friends for life."

Lilly hastily scribbled an address on a card. "Here is my address," she said: "you will surely write?"

"Yes, yes! Heaven bless you!" She seized Lilly's hand and kissed it. "You shall hear from me: you shall find that Véra Gardiné is not ungrateful."

She hurried us out, closing the door behind us. The way was clear: we ran lightly through the halls, hardly daring to breathe until we were safely out of the house and in the carriage.

"Drive to the Catholic cathedral," said Lilly. The carriage-door was shut, and then we could give vent to our emotions. Lilly was half wild: she laughed and cried together. "Do you think he will get well?" she said: "do you think so?"

"How can I tell, Lilly? The buttons seemed to give him enough of a shock."

"Wasn't it wonderful? Oh, Stella, what a romance! It is all perfectly clear to me now."

"It's far from being clear to me."

"Why, don't you see: he met this woman on the boat and engaged with her in some desperate enterprise to save her father. He left the trunk at Uncle David's—"

"Yes, but why didn't he give a name or an address with the trunk?"

"I suppose he was so beside himself that he hardly knew what he was doing. You can see that he is of a very excitable temperament. Then the rest of it is easy to imagine. Poor, poor fellow! how he must have suffered! Didn't you think him very handsome, Stella?"

"Yes, very: he looked like the Corsair."

"Do you suppose he will ever get over it?"

"Get over what?"

"Poor Florine's death."

"Oh, never!" said I emphatically.

Lilly sighed a little, and said that she thought Véra ought never to marry, but to devote her life to consoling Clément for all he had suffered.

If Mrs. Long had thought us abstracted before, I don't know what she thought now. We scarcely spoke unless she addressed us, and then we made answers as wide of the mark as a boy's first shots. Only once Lilly roused to interest: Mrs. Long was speaking of the old French families of New Orleans, and Lilly said, "Oh, Mrs. Long, did you ever hear of the Gardinés?"

"Yes, indeed," said the lady: "they're one of the oldest and best families. Véra Gardiné is quite a belle in society, and Clément is a fine young man. He does not fritter away his time, as so many young men do, but works away like a good fellow at his plantation up on the Bayou Têche."

Lilly and I stole a look at each other. How we should have electrified good Mrs. Long had we told her all we knew about poor Clément Gardiné!

We went back to Galveston, feeling that a whole world of experience had opened to us since we left it. We were not the same girls, and never could be again. Lilly flew into a passion when she found Uncle David wearing one of "C. G.'s" sacred shirts, and insisted that they should be done up at once in a parcel ready to send to Miss Gardiné.

"I am determined to have them both come over and make us a visit," she said confidentially to me.

We had not been forbidden to tell the story at home, but while Aunt Nanny and Maum' Hepsey listened very sympathetically. Uncle David laughed a good deal, and said, "She's going to write to you, is she? Well, show me the letter when it comes."

We waited long for that letter, and at last it came; and when we had read it we knew exactly how a man might feel upon whom a rock fell out of a clear sky—that is, if he had time to feel anything. Here is the letter:

"Mes Chères Demoiselles: You will watch with your pretty eyes many days for the postman before that he bring you this lettre. And why? Because I am going to be very generous. You have gif me ze diamond: I will give you ze lesson. But it is not safe to gif it too soon; so I leave this lettre in charge of un ami, who is to mail it four weeks from zis day. My lesson is zis: 'Do not ever talk loud when you travel; do not keep secrets from your chaperone; and when you have a diamond hold on to it—gardez-le.' Do you understand, mes jolies et simples demoiselles? When you gave ze histoire of ze earrings to your Madame Long on ze steamer, 'Clément'—ha! ha!—heard it all. Clément—whose name is Jules—live very mooch by his wits; and he saw that these diamonds must be his—that you were two dear leetle geese—pardon!—ready to have ze feathers plucked. How to get at you he did not know: you were always with that chaperone with sharp eyes. It was I—Marie, Jules's little wife—who made up ze plan, so bold, so simple, so originale, ma foi! We had been in bad circumstance a long while: I was ze French maid chez Madame Gardiné. Comprenez-vous? On ze ball-night Mademoiselle Véra was sick, but I was well. I took her ticket—I wore her belle robe—I went to ze ball for one dance, to meet you. My pretty romance turned your little heads. I have been on ze stage: I have not forgot how to act. I took you to ze Gardiné house—ze madhouse, you know. Ze family were going out to dine, but we were too early. You saw Mademoiselle Véra at ze piano: you met madame in ze hall. It was for me an excited moment, but you suspected nothing. Jules did his part not ill: he won ze tears from your eyes. One of ze lace handkerchiefs I have kept, chères demoiselles, as a souvenir: the others, with ze diamond earrings, were changed into money tout de suite. They sold for much money: we have been able to take a little trip, perhaps to Cuba, where we eat ices and drive along beautiful roads; perhaps to one gay Northern city, where we go to the play every night. Wherever it is we are happy—we think much of you. Jules calls you our sweet benefactors. And I tell you all this that you may know I spoke not false when I said, 'Véra Gardiné will not be ungrateful'—a promise that you must own well kept by Marie Zanetti.

"P. S. And that pauvre 'C. G.!' we wonder mooch about him. Charmante mystère!"

Lilly fainted outright, and we had a time of it generally. In the midst of it all, Uncle David said dryly, "Well, Nanny, I suppose you may hand me over that bundle of shirts now."


It may be worth mentioning that years after we met the real Gardinés, and very charming people we found them. And it is I who am now Mrs. Clément Gardiné, and am living on my husband's Louisiana plantation. As for Lilly, she can laugh now as she thinks of the accomplished rogues who deceived us so nicely, but she has developed a pronounced hatred for the French language, and I don't believe any one could ever win her heart whose initials happened to be "C. G."

Sherwood Bonner.