At Fault by Kate Chopin
I. The Mistress
II. At the Mill.
III. In the
IV. A Small
V. In the Pine
VIII. Treats of
IX. Face to
II. “Neva to See
III. A Talk
Under the Cedar
VI. One Night.
VIII. With Loose
IX. The Reason
XI. A Social
Hears the News.
XIV. A Step Too
XV. A Fateful
XVI. To Him Who
I. The Mistress of Place-du-Bois.
When Jérôme Lafirme died, his neighbors awaited the results of his
sudden taking off with indolent watchfulness. It was a matter of
unusual interest to them that a plantation of four thousand acres had
been left unincumbered to the disposal of a handsome, inconsolable,
childless Creole widow of thirty. A bêtise of some sort might
safely be looked for. But time passing, the anticipated folly failed to
reveal itself; and the only wonder was that Thérèse Lafirme so
successfully followed the methods of her departed husband.
Of course Thérèse had wanted to die with her Jérôme, feeling that
life without him held nothing that could reconcile her to its further
endurance. For days she lived alone with her grief; shutting out the
appeals that came to her from the demoralized hands, and unmindful of
the disorder that gathered about her. Till Uncle Hiram came one day
with a respectful tender of sympathy, offered in the guise of a
reckless misquoting of Scriptureand with a grievance.
Mistuss, he said, I 'lowed 'twar best to come to de house an'
tell you; fur Massa he alluz did say 'Hi'urm, I counts on you to keep a
eye open endurin' my appersunce;' you ricollic, marm? addressing an
expanse of black bordered cambric that veiled the features of his
mistress. Things is a goin' wrong; dat dey is. I don't wants to name
no names 'doubt I'se 'bleeged to; but dey done start a kiarrin' de
cotton seed off de place, and dats how.
If Hiram's information had confined itself to the bare statement of
things goin' wrong, such intimation, of its nature vague and
susceptible of uncertain interpretation, might have failed to rouse
Thérèse from her lethargy of grief. But that wrong doing presented as a
tangible abuse and defiance of authority, served to move her to action.
She felt at once the weight and sacredness of a trust, whose acceptance
brought consolation and awakened unsuspected powers of doing.
In spite of Uncle Hiram's parting prediction de cotton 'll be a
goin' naxt no more seed was hauled under cover of darkness from
The short length of this Louisiana plantation stretched along Cane
River, meeting the water when that stream was at its highest, with a
thick growth of cotton-wood trees; save where a narrow convenient
opening had been cut into their midst, and where further down the pine
hills started in abrupt prominence from the water and the dead level of
land on either side of them. These hills extended in a long line of
gradual descent far back to the wooded borders of Lac du Bois; and
within the circuit which they formed on the one side, and the irregular
half circle of a sluggish bayou on the other, lay the cultivated open
ground of the plantationrich in its exhaustless powers of
Among changes which the railroad brought soon after Jérôme Lafirme's
death, and which were viewed by many as of questionable benefit, was
one which drove Thérèse to seek another domicile. The old homestead
that nestled to the hill side and close to the water's edge, had been
abandoned to the inroads of progressive civilization; and Mrs. Lafirme
had rebuilt many rods away from the river and beyond sight of the
mutilated dwelling, converted now into a section house. In building,
she avoided the temptations offered by modern architectural
innovations, and clung to the simplicity of large rooms and broad
verandas: a style whose merits had stood the test of easy-going and
The negro quarters were scattered at wide intervals over the land,
breaking with picturesque irregularity into the systematic division of
field from field; and in the early spring-time gleaming in their new
coat of whitewash against the tender green of the sprouting cotton and
Thérèse loved to walk the length of the wide verandas, armed with
her field-glass, and to view her surrounding possessions with
comfortable satisfaction. Then her gaze swept from cabin to cabin; from
patch to patch; up to the pine-capped hills, and down to the station
which squatted a brown and ugly intruder within her fair domain.
She had made pouting resistance to this change at first, opposing it
step by step with a conservatism that yielded only to the resistless.
She pictured a visionary troop of evils coming in the wake of the
railroad, which, in her eyes no conceivable benefits could mitigate.
The occasional tramp, she foresaw as an army; and the travelers whom
chance deposited at the store that adjoined the station, she dreaded as
an endless procession of intruders forcing themselves upon her privacy.
Grégoire, the young nephew of Mrs. Lafirme, whose duty on the
plantation was comprehended in doing as he was bid, qualified by a
propensity for doing as he liked, rode up from the store one day in the
reckless fashion peculiar to Southern youth, breathless with the
information that a stranger was there wishing audience with her.
Thérèse at once bristled with objections. Here was a confirmation of
her worst dread. But encouraged by Grégoire's reiteration he 'pear to
me like a nice sort o' person, she yielded a grudging assent to the
She sat within the wide hall-way beyond the glare and heat that were
beating mercilessly down upon the world out of doors, engaged in a
light work not so exacting as to keep her thoughts and glance from
wandering. Looking through the wide open back doors, the picture which
she saw was a section of the perfect lawn that encircled the house for
an acre around, and from which Hiram was slowly raking the leaves cast
from a clump of tall magnolias. Beneath the spreading shade of an
umbrella-China tree, lay the burly Hector, but half awake to the
possible nearness of tramps; and Betsy, a piece of youthful ebony in
blue cottonade, was crossing leisurely on her way to the poultry yard;
unheeding the scorching sun-rays that she thought were sufficiently
parried by the pan of chick feed that she balanced adroitly on her
bushy black head.
At the front, the view at certain seasons would have been clear and
unbroken: to the station, the store, and out-lying hills. But now she
could see beyond the lawn only a quivering curtain of rich green which
the growing corn spread before the level landscape, and above whose
swaying heads appeared occasionally the top of an advancing white
Thérèse was of a roundness of figure suggesting a future of
excessive fullness if not judiciously guarded; and she was fair, with a
warm whiteness that a passing thought could deepen into color. The
waving blonde hair, gathered in an abundant coil on top of her head,
grew away with a pretty sweep from the temples, the low forehead and
nape of the white neck that showed above a frill of soft lace. Her eyes
were blue, as certain gems are; that deep blue that lights, and glows,
and tells things of the soul. When David Hosmer presented himself, they
were intense only with expectancy and the color was in her cheek like
the blush in a shell.
He was a tall individual of perhaps forty; thin and sallow. His
black hair was streaked abundantly with grey, and his face marked with
premature lines; left there by care, no doubt, and, by a too close
attention to what men are pleased to call the main chances of life.
A serious one, was Thérèse's first thought in looking at him. A
man who has never learned to laugh or who has forgotten how. Though
plainly feeling the effects of the heat, he did not seem to appreciate
the relief offered by the grateful change into this shadowy, sweet
smelling, cool retreat; used as he was to ignore the comforting things
of life when presented to him as irrelevant to that dominant main
chance. He accepted under protest a glass of ice water from the
wide-eyed Betsy, and suffered a fan to be thrust into his hand,
seemingly to save his time or his timidity by its possibly unheeded
Lor'-zee folks, exclaimed the observant Betsy on re-entering the
kitchen, dey'se a man in yonda, look like he gwine eat somebody up. I
was fur gittin' 'way quick me.
It can be readily imagined that Hosmer lost little time in
preliminary small talk. He introduced himself vaguely as from the West;
then perceiving the need of being more specific as from Saint Louis.
She had guessed he was no Southerner. He had come to Mrs. Lafirme on
the part of himself and others with a moneyed offer for the privilege
of cutting timber from her land for a given number of years. The amount
named was alluring, but here was proposed another change and she felt
plainly called on for resistance.
The company which he represented had in view the erection of a
sawmill some two miles back in the woods, close beside the bayou and at
a convenient distance from the lake. He was not wordy, nor was he eager
in urging his plans; only in a quiet way insistent in showing points to
be considered in her own favor which she would be likely herself to
Mrs. Lafirme, a clever enough business woman, was moved by no undue
haste to give her answer. She begged for time to think the matter over,
which Hosmer readily agreed to; expressing a hope that a favorable
answer be sent to him at Natchitoches, where he would await her
convenience. Then resisting rather than declining all further
hospitality, he again took his way through the scorching fields.
Thérèse wanted but time to become familiar with this further change.
Alone she went out to her beloved woods, and at the hush of mid-day,
bade a tearful farewell to the silence.
II. At the Mill.
David Hosmer sat alone in his little office of roughly fashioned
pine board. So small a place, that with his desk and his clerk's desk,
a narrow bed in one corner, and two chairs, there was scant room for a
man to more than turn himself comfortably about. He had just dispatched
his clerk with the daily bundle of letters to the post-office, two
miles away in the Lafirme store, and he now turned with the air of a
man who had well earned his moment of leisure, to the questionable
relaxation of adding columns and columns of figures.
The mill's unceasing buzz made pleasant music to his ears and
stirred reflections of a most agreeable nature. A year had gone by
since Mrs. Lafirme had consented to Hosmer's proposal; and already the
business more than gave promise of justifying the venture. Orders came
in from the North and West more rapidly than they could be filled. That
Cypresse Funerall which stands in grim majesty through the dense
forests of Louisiana had already won its just recognition; and Hosmer's
appreciation of a successful business venture was showing itself in a
little more pronounced stoop of shoulder, a deepening of pre-occupation
and a few additional lines about mouth and forehead.
Hardly had the clerk gone with his letters than a light footstep
sounded on the narrow porch; the quick tap of a parasol was heard on
the door-sill; a pleasant voice asking, Any admission except on
business? and Thérèse crossed the small room and seated herself beside
Hosmer's desk before giving him time to arise.
She laid her hand and arm,bare to the elbowacross his work, and
said, looking at him reproachfully:
Is this the way you keep a promise?
A promise? he questioned, smiling awkwardly and looking furtively
at the white arm, then very earnestly at the ink-stand beyond.
Yes. Didn't you promise to do no work after five o'clock?
But this is merely pastime, he said, touching the paper, yet
leaving it undisturbed beneath the fair weight that was pressing it
down. My work is finished: you must have met Henry with the letters.
No, I suppose he went through the woods; we came on the hand-car.
Oh, dear! It's an ungrateful task, this one of reform, and she leaned
back, fanning leisurely, whilst he proceeded to throw the contents of
his desk into hopeless disorder by pretended efforts at arrangement.
My husband used sometimes to say, and no doubt with reason, she
continued, that in my eagerness for the rest of mankind to do right, I
was often in danger of losing sight of such necessity for myself.
Oh, there could be no fear of that, said Hosmer with a short
laugh. There was no further pretext for continued occupation with his
pens and pencils and rulers, so he turned towards Thérèse, rested an
arm on the desk, pulled absently at his black moustache, and crossing
his knee, gazed with deep concern at the toe of his boot, and set of
his trouser about the ankle.
You are not what my friend Homeyer would call an individualist, he
ventured, since you don't grant a man the right to follow the
promptings of his character.
No, I'm no individualist, if to be one is to permit men to fall
into hurtful habits without offering protest against it. I'm losing
faith in that friend Homeyer, who I strongly suspect is a mythical
apology for your own short-comings.
Indeed he's no myth; but a friend who is fond of going into such
things and allows me the benefit of his deeper perceptions.
You having no time, well understood. But if his influence has had
the merit of drawing your thoughts from business once in a while we
won't quarrel with it.
Mrs. Lafirme, said Hosmer, seeming moved to pursue the subject,
and addressing the spray of white blossoms that adorned Thérèse's black
hat, you admit, I suppose, that in urging your views upon me, you have
in mind the advancement of my happiness?
Then why wish to substitute some other form of enjoyment for the
one which I find in following my inclinations?
Because there is an unsuspected selfishness in your inclinations
that works harm to yourself and to those around you. I want you to
know, she continued warmly, the good things of life that cheer and
warm, that are always at hand.
Do you think the happiness of Melicent oror others could be
materially lessened by my fondness for money getting? he asked dryly,
with a faint elevation of eyebrow.
Yes, in proportion as it deprives them of a charm which any man's
society loses, when pursuing one object in life, he grows insensible to
every other. But I'll not scold any more. I've made myself troublesome
enough for one day. You haven't asked about Melicent. It's true, she
laughed, I haven't given you much chance. She's out on the lake with
Yes, in the pirogue. A dangerous little craft, I'm afraid; but she
tells me she can swim. I suppose it's all right.
Oh, Melicent will look after herself.
Hosmer had great faith in his sister Melicent's ability to look
after herself; and it must be granted that the young lady fully
justified his belief in her.
She enjoys her visit more than I thought she would, he said.
Melicent's a dear girl, replied Thérèse cordially, and a wise one
too in guarding herself against a somber influence that I know, with a
meaning glance at Hosmer, who was preparing to close his desk.
She suddenly perceived the picture of a handsome boy, far back in
one of the pigeon-holes, and with the familiarity born of country
intercourse, she looked intently at it, remarking upon the boy's
A child whom I loved very much, said Hosmer. He's dead, and he
closed the desk, turning the key in the lock with a sharp click which
seemed to addand buried.
Thérèse then approached the open door, leaned her back against its
casing, and turned her pretty profile towards Hosmer, who, it need not
be supposed, was averse to looking at itonly to being caught in the
I want to look in at the mill before work closes, she said; and
not waiting for an answer she went on to askmoved by some association
How is Joçint doing?
Always unruly, the foreman tells me. I don't believe we shall be
able to keep him.
Hosmer then spoke a few words through the telephone which connected
with the agent's desk at the station, put on his great slouch hat, and
thrusting keys and hands into his pocket, joined Thérèse in the
Quitting the office and making a sharp turn to the left, they came
in direct sight of the great mill. She quickly made her way past the
huge piles of sawed timber, not waiting for her companion, who loitered
at each step of the way, with observant watchfulness. Then mounting the
steep stairs that led to the upper portions of the mill, she went at
once to her favorite spot, quite on the edge of the open platform that
overhung the dam. Here she watched with fascinated delight the great
logs hauled dripping from the water, following each till it had changed
to the clean symmetry of sawed planks. The unending work made her
giddy. For no one was there a moment of rest, and she could well
understand the open revolt of the surly Joçint; for he rode the day
long on that narrow car, back and forth, back and forth, with his heart
in the pine hills and knowing that his little Creole pony was roaming
the woods in vicious idleness and his rifle gathering an unsightly rust
on the cabin wall at home.
The boy gave but ugly acknowledgment to Thérèse's amiable nod; for
he thought she was one upon whom partly rested the fault of this
intrusive Industry which had come to fire the souls of indolent fathers
with a greedy ambition for gain, at the sore expense of revolting
III. In the Pirogue.
You got to set mighty still in this pirogue, said Grégoire, as
with a long oar-stroke he pulled out into mid stream.
Yes, I know, answered Melicent complacently, arranging herself
opposite him in the long narrow boat: all sense of danger which the
situation might arouse being dulled by the attractiveness of a new
Her resemblance to Hosmer ended with height and slenderness of
figure, olive tinted skin, and eyes and hair which were of that dark
brown often miscalled black; but unlike his, her face was awake with an
eagerness to know and test the novelty and depth of unaccustomed
sensation. She had thus far lived an unstable existence, free from the
weight of responsibilities, with a notion lying somewhere deep in her
consciousness that the world must one day be taken seriously; but that
contingency was yet too far away to disturb the harmony of her days.
She had eagerly responded to her brother's suggestion of spending a
summer with him in Louisiana. Hitherto, having passed her summers
North, West, or East as alternating caprice prompted, she was ready at
a word to fit her humor to the novelty of a season at the South. She
enjoyed in advance the startling effect which her announced intention
produced upon her intimate circle at home; thinking that her whim
deserved the distinction of eccentricity with which they chose to
invest it. But Melicent was chiefly moved by the prospect of an
uninterrupted sojourn with her brother, whom she loved blindly, and to
whom she attributed qualities of mind and heart which she thought the
world had discovered to use against him.
You got to set mighty still in this pirogue.
Yes, I know; you told me so before, and she laughed.
W'at are you laughin' at? asked Grégoire with amused but uncertain
Laughing at you, Grégoire; how can I help it? laughing again.
Betta wait tell I do somethin' funny, I reckon. Ain't this a putty
sight? he added, referring to the dense canopy of an overarching tree,
beneath which they were gliding, and whose extreme branches dipped
quite into the slow moving water.
The scene had not attracted Melicent. For she had been engaged in
observing her companion rather closely; his personality holding her
with a certain imaginative interest.
The young man whom she so closely scrutinized was slightly
undersized, but of close and brawny build. His hands were not so
refinedly white as those of certain office bred young men of her
acquaintance, yet they were not coarsened by undue toil: it being
somewhat an axiom with him to do nothing that an available nigger
might do for him.
Close fitting, high-heeled boots of fine quality incased his feet,
in whose shapeliness he felt a pardonable pride; for a young man's
excellence was often measured in the circle which he had frequented, by
the possession of such a foot. A peculiar grace in the dance and a
talent for bold repartee were further characteristics which had made
Grégoire's departure keenly felt among certain belles of upper Red
River. His features were handsome, of sharp and refined cut; and his
eyes black and brilliant as eyes of an alert and intelligent animal
sometimes are. Melicent could not reconcile his voice to her liking; it
was too softly low and feminine, and carried a note of pleading or
pathos, unless he argued with his horse, his dog, or a nigger, at
which times, though not unduly raised, it acquired a biting quality
that served the purpose of relieving him from further form of
He pulled rapidly and in silence down the bayou, that was now so
entirely sheltered from the open light of the sky by the meeting
branches above, as to seem a dim leafy tunnel fashioned by man's
ingenuity. There were no perceptible banks, for the water spread out on
either side of them, further than they could follow its flashings
through the rank underbrush. The dull plash of some object falling into
the water, or the wild call of a lonely bird were the only sounds that
broke upon the stillness, beside the monotonous dipping of the oars and
the occasional low undertones of their own voices. When Grégoire called
the girl's attention to an object near by, she fancied it was the
protruding stump of a decaying tree; but reaching for his revolver and
taking quiet aim, he drove a ball into the black upturned nozzle that
sent it below the surface with an angry splash.
Will he follow us? she asked, mildly agitated.
Oh no; he's glad 'nough to git out o' the way. You betta put down
yo' veil, he added a moment later.
Before she could ask a reasonfor it was not her fashion to obey at
word of commandthe air was filled with the doleful hum of a gray
swarm of mosquitoes, which attacked them fiercely.
You didn't tell me the bayou was the refuge of such savage
creatures, she said, fastening her veil closely about face and neck,
but not before she had felt the sharpness of their angry sting.
I reckoned you'd 'a knowed all about it: seems like you know
everything. After a short interval he added, you betta take yo' veil
She was amused at Grégoire's authoritative tone and she said to him
laughing, yet obeying his suggestion, which carried a note of command:
you shall tell me always, why I should do things.
All right, he replied; because they ain't any mo' mosquitoes;
because I want you to see somethin' worth seein' afta while; and
because I like to look at you, which he was doing, with the innocent
boldness of a forward child. Ain't that 'nough reasons?
More than enough, she replied shortly.
The rank and clustering vegetation had become denser as they went
on, forming an impenetrable tangle on either side, and pressing so
closely above that they often needed to lower their heads to avoid the
blow of some drooping branch. Then a sudden and unlooked for turn in
the bayou carried them out upon the far-spreading waters of the lake,
with the broad canopy of the open sky above them.
Oh, cried Melicent, in surprise. Her exclamation was like a sigh
of relief which comes at the removal of some pressure from body or
The wildness of the scene caught upon her erratic fancy, speeding it
for a quick moment into the realms of romance. She was an Indian maiden
of the far past, fleeing and seeking with her dusky lover some wild and
solitary retreat on the borders of this lake, which offered them no
seeming foot-hold save such as they would hew themselves with axe or
tomahawk. Here and there, a grim cypress lifted its head above the
water, and spread wide its moss covered arms inviting refuge to the
great black-winged buzzards that circled over and about it in mid-air.
Nameless voicesweird sounds that awake in a Southern forest at
twilight's approach,were crying a sinister welcome to the settling
This is a place thet can make a man sad, I tell you, said
Grégoire, resting his oars, and wiping the moisture from his forehead.
I wouldn't want to be yere alone, not fur any money.
It is an awful place, replied Melicent with a little appreciative
shudder; adding do you consider me a bodily protection? and feebly
smiling into his face.
Oh; I ain't 'fraid o' any thing I can see an on'erstan'. I can
han'le mos' any thing thet's got a body. But they do tell some mighty
queer tales 'bout this lake an' the pine hills yonda.
W'y, ole McFarlane's buried up there on the hill; an' they's folks
'round yere says he walks about o' nights; can't res' in his grave fur
the niggas he's killed.
Gracious! and who was old McFarlane?
The meanest w'ite man thet ever lived, seems like. Used to own this
place long befo' the Lafirmes got it. They say he's the person that
Mrs. W'at's her name wrote about in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Legree? I wonder if it could be true? Melicent asked with
Thet's w'at they all say: ask any body.
You'll take me to his grave, won't you Grégoire, she entreated.
Well, not this evenin'I reckon not. It'll have to be broad day,
an' the sun shinin' mighty bright w'en I take you to ole McFarlane's
They had retraced their course and again entered the bayou, from
which the light had now nearly vanished, making it needful that they
watch carefully to escape the hewn logs that floated in numbers upon
I didn't suppose you were ever sad, Grégoire, Melicent said
Oh my! yes; with frank acknowledgment. You ain't ever seen me
w'en I was real lonesome. 'Tain't so bad sence you come. But times w'en
I git to thinkin' 'bout home, I'm boun' to cryseems like I can't he'p
Why did you ever leave home? she asked sympathetically.
You see w'en father died, fo' year ago, mother she went back to
France, t'her folks there; she never could stan' this countryan' lef'
us boys to manage the place. Hec, he took charge the firs' year an' run
it in debt. Placide an' me did'n' have no betta luck the naxt year.
Then the creditors come up from New Orleans an' took holt. That's the
time I packed my duds an' lef'.
And you came here?
No, not at firs'. You see the Santien boys had a putty hard name in
the country. Aunt Thérèse, she'd fallen out with father years ago 'bout
the way, she said, he was bringin' us up. Father, he wasn't the man to
take nothin' from nobody. Never 'lowed any of us to come down yere. I
was in Texas, goin' to the devil I reckon, w'en she sent for me, an'
yere I am.
And here you ought to stay, Grégoire.
Oh, they ain't no betta woman in the worl' then Aunt Thérèse, w'en
you do like she wants. See 'em yonda waitin' fur us? Reckon they
thought we was drowned.
IV. A Small Interruption.
When Melicent came to visit her brother, Mrs. Lafirme persuaded him
to abandon his uncomfortable quarters at the mill and take up his
residence in the cottage, which stood just beyond the lawn of the big
house. This cottage had been furnished de pied en cap many years
before, in readiness against an excess of visitors, which in days gone
by was not of infrequent occurrence at Place-du-Bois. It was Melicent's
delighted intention to keep house here. And she foresaw no obstacle in
the way of procuring the needed domestic aid in a place which was
clearly swarming with idle women and children.
Got a cook yet, Mel? was Hosmer's daily enquiry on returning home,
to which Melicent was as often forced to admit that she had no cook,
but was not without abundant hope of procuring one.
Betsy's Aunt Cynthy had promised with a sincerity which admitted not
of doubt, that de Lord willin' she would be on han' Monday, time to
make de mornin' coffee. Which assurance had afforded Melicent a Sunday
free of disturbing doubts concerning the future of her undertaking. But
who may know what the morrow will bring forth? Cynthy had been tuck
sick in de night. So ran the statement of the wee pickaninny who
appeared at Melicent's gate many hours later than morning coffee time:
delivering his message in a high voice of complaint, and disappearing
like a vision without further word.
Uncle Hiram, then called to the breach, had staked his patriarchal
honor on the appearance of his niece Suze on Tuesday. Melicent and
Thérèse meeting Suze some days later in a field path, asked the cause
of her bad faith. The girl showed them all the white teeth which nature
had lavished on her, saying with the best natured laugh in the world:
I don' know how come I didn' git dere Chewsday like I promise.
If the ladies were not disposed to consider that an all-sufficient
reason, so much the worse, for Suze had no other to offer.
From Mose's wife, Minervy, better things might have been expected.
But after a solemn engagement to take charge of Melicent's kitchen on
Wednesday, the dusky matron suddenly awoke to the need of holpin' Mose
hoe out dat co'n in the stiff lan.
Thérèse, seeing that the girl was really eager to play in the brief
role of housekeeper had used her powers, persuasive and authoritative,
to procure servants for her, but without avail. She herself was not
without an abundance of them, from the white-haired Hiram, whose
position on the place had long been a sinecure, down to the little
brown legged tot Mandy, much given to falling asleep in the sun, when
not chasing venturesome poultry off forbidden ground, or stirring
gentle breezes with an enormous palm leaf fan about her mistress during
that lady's after dinner nap.
When pressed to give a reason for this apparent disinclination of
the negroes to work for the Hosmers, Nathan, who was at the moment
being interviewed on the front veranda by Thérèse and Melicent, spoke
Dey 'low 'roun' yere, dat you's mean to de black folks, ma'am: dat
what dey saysI don' know me.
Mean, cried Melicent, amazed, in what way, pray?
Oh, all sort o' ways, he admitted, with a certain shy brazenness;
determined to go through with the ordeal.
Dey 'low you wants to cut de little gals' plaits off, an' sichI
don' know me.
Do you suppose, Nathan, said Thérèse attempting but poorly to hide
her amusement at Melicent's look of dismay, that Miss Hosmer would
bother herself with darkies' plaits?
Dat's w'at I tink m'sef. Anyways, I'll sen' Ar'minty 'roun'
Melicent was not without the guilty remembrance of having one day
playfully seized one of the small Mandy's bristling plaits, daintily
between finger and thumb, threatening to cut them all away with the
scissors which she carried. Yet she could not but believe that there
was some deeper motive underlying this systematic reluctance of the
negroes to give their work in exchange for the very good pay which she
offered. Thérèse soon enlightened her with the information that the
negroes were very averse to working for Northern people whose speech,
manners, and attitude towards themselves were unfamiliar. She was given
the consoling assurance of not being the only victim of this boycott,
as Thérèse recalled many examples of strangers whom she knew to have
met with a like cavalier treatment at the darkies' hands.
Needless to say, Araminty never appeared.
Hosmer and Melicent were induced to accept Mrs. Lafirme's generous
hospitality; and one of that lady's many supernumeraries was detailed
each morning to do up Miss Melicent's rooms, but not without the
previous understanding that the work formed part of Miss T'rèse's
Nothing which had happened during the year of his residence at
Place-du-Bois had furnished Hosmer such amusement as these
misadventures of his sister Melicent, he having had no like experience
with his mill hands.
It is not unlikely that his good humor was partly due to the
acceptable arrangement which assured him the daily society of Thérèse,
whose presence was growing into a need with him.
V. In the Pine Woods.
When Grégoire said to Melicent that there was no better woman in the
world than his Aunt Thérèse, W'en you do like she wants, the
statement was so incomplete as to leave one in uncomfortable doubt of
the expediency of venturing within the influence of so exacting a
nature. True, Thérèse required certain conduct from others, but she was
willing to further its accomplishment by personal efforts, even
sacrificesthat could leave no doubt of the pure unselfishness of her
motive. There was hardly a soul at Place-du-Bois who had not felt the
force of her will and yielded to its gentle influence.
The picture of Joçint as she had last seen him, stayed with her,
till it gave form to a troubled desire moving her to see him again and
speak with him. He had always been an unruly subject, inclined to a
surreptitious defiance of authority. Repeatedly had he been given work
on the plantation and as many times dismissed for various causes.
Thérèse would have long since removed him had it not been for his old
father Morico, whose long life spent on the place had established a
claim upon her tolerance.
In the late afternoon, when the shadows of the magnolias were
stretching in grotesque lengths across the lawn, Thérèse stood waiting
for Uncle Hiram to bring her sleek bay Beauregard around to the front.
The dark close fitting habit which she wore lent brilliancy to her soft
blonde coloring; and there was no mark of years about her face or
figure, save the settling of a thoughtful shadow upon the eyes, which
joys and sorrows that were past and gone had left there.
As she rode by the cottage, Melicent came out on the porch to wave a
laughing good-bye. The girl was engaged in effacing the simplicity of
her rooms with certain bizarre decorations that seemed the promptings
of a disordered imagination. Yards of fantastic calico had been brought
up from the store, which Grégoire with hammer and tacks was amiably
forming into impossible designs at the prompting of the girl. The
little darkies had been enlisted to bring their contributions of palm
branches, pine cones, ferns, and bright hued bird wingsand a row of
those small recruits stood on the porch, gaping in wide-mouthed
admiration at a sight that stirred within their breasts such remnant of
savage instinct as past generations had left there in dormant survival.
One of the small audience permitted her attention to be drawn for a
moment from the gorgeous in-door spectacle, to follow the movements of
Jis' look Miss T'rèse how she go a lopin' down de lane. Dere she
godere she gonow she gone, and she again became contemplative.
Thérèse, after crossing the railroad, for a space kept to the brow
of the hill where stretched a well defined road, which by almost
imperceptible degrees led deeper and always higher into the woods.
Presently, leaving this road and turning into a bridle path where an
unpracticed eye would have discovered no sign of travel, she rode on
until reaching a small clearing among the pines, in the center of which
stood a very old and weather beaten cabin.
Here she dismounted, before Morico knew of her presence, for he sat
with his back partly turned to the open door. As she entered and
greeted him, he arose from his chair, all trembling with excitement at
her visit; the long white locks, straggling and unkept, falling about
his brown visage that had grown old and weather beaten with his cabin.
Sinking down into his seatthe hide covered chair that had been worn
smooth by years of usefulnesshe gazed well pleased at Thérèse, who
seated herself beside him.
Ah, this is quite the handsomest you have made yet, Morico, she
said addressing him in French, and taking up the fan that he was
curiously fashioning of turkey feathers.
I am taking extra pains with it, he answered, looking complacently
at his handiwork and smoothing down the glossy feathers with the ends
of his withered old fingers. I thought the American lady down at the
house might want to buy it.
Thérèse could safely assure him of Melicent's willingness to seize
on the trophy.
Then she asked why Joçint had not been to the house with news of
him. I have had chickens and eggs for you, and no way of sending
At mention of his son's name, the old man's face clouded with
displeasure and his hand trembled so that he was at some pains to place
the feather which he was at the moment adding to the widening fan.
Joçint is a bad son, madame, when even you have been able to do
nothing with him. The trouble that boy has given me no one knows; but
let him not think I am too old to give him a sound drubbing.
Joçint meanwhile had returned from the mill and seeing Thérèse's
horse fastened before his door, was at first inclined to skulk back
into the woods; but an impulse of defiance moved him to enter, and gave
to his ugly countenance a look that was far from agreeable as he
mumbled a greeting to Thérèse. His father he did not address. The old
man looked from son to visitor with feeble expectancy of some good to
come from her presence there.
Joçint's straight and coarse black hair hung in a heavy mop over his
low retreating forehead, almost meeting the ill-defined line of eyebrow
that straggled above small dusky black eyes, that with the rest of his
physique was an inheritance from his Indian mother.
Approaching the safe or garde manger, which was the most
prominent piece of furniture in the room, he cut a wedge from the round
loaf of heavy soggy corn bread that he found there, added a layer of
fat pork, and proceeded to devour the unpalatable morsel with hungry
That is but poor fare for your old father, Joçint, said Thérèse,
looking steadily at the youth.
Well, I got no chance me, fu' go fine nuttin in de 'ood (woods),
he answered purposely in English, to annoy his father who did not
understand the language.
But you are earning enough to buy him something better; and you
know there is always plenty at the house that I am willing to spare
I got no chance me fu' go to de 'ouse neider, he replied
deliberately, after washing down the scant repast with a long draught
from the tin bucket which he had replenished at the cistern before
entering. He swallowed the water regardless of the wiggles whose
presence was plainly visible.
What does he say? asked Morico scanning Thérèse's face
He only says that work at the mill keeps him a good deal occupied,
she said with attempted carelessness.
As she finished speaking, Joçint put on his battered felt hat, and
strode out the back door; his gun on his shoulder and a yellow cur
following close at his heels.
Thérèse remained a while longer with the old man, hearing
sympathetically the long drawn story of his troubles, and cheering him
as no one else in the world was able to do, then she went away.
Joçint was not the only one who had seen Beauregard fastened at
Morico's door. Hosmer was making a tour of inspection that afternoon
through the woods, and when he came suddenly upon Thérèse some moments
after she had quitted the cabin, the meeting was not so wholly
accidental as that lady fancied it was.
If there could be a situation in which Hosmer felt more than in
another at ease in Thérèse's company, it was the one in which he found
himself. There was no need to seek occupation for his hands, those
members being sufficiently engaged with the management of his horse.
His eyes found legitimate direction in following the various details
which a rider is presumed to observe; and his manner freed from the
necessity of self direction took upon itself an ease which was
occasional enough to mark it as noteworthy.
She told him of her visit. At mention of Joçint's name he reddened:
then followed the acknowledgment that the youth in question had caused
him to lose his temper and forget his dignity during the afternoon.
In what way? asked Thérèse. It would be better to dismiss him
than to rail at him. He takes reproof badly and is extremely
Mill hands are not plentiful, or I should send him off at once. Oh,
he is an unbearable fellow. The men told me of a habit he has of
letting the logs roll off the carriage, causing a good deal of
annoyance and delay in replacing them. I was willing enough to believe
it might be accidental, until I caught him today in the very act. I am
thankful not to have knocked him down.
Hosmer felt exhilarated. The excitement of his encounter with Joçint
had not yet died away; this softly delicious atmosphere; the subtle
aroma of the pines; his unlooked for meeting with Thérèseall combined
to stir him with unusual emotions.
What a splendid creature Beauregard is, he said, smoothing the
animal's glossy mane with the end of his riding whip. The horses were
walking slowly in step, and close together.
Of course he is, said Thérèse proudly, patting the arched neck of
her favorite. Beauregard is a blooded animal, remember. He quite
throws poor Nelson in the shade, looking pityingly at Hosmer's heavily
Don't cast any slurs on Nelson, Mrs. Lafirme. He's done me service
that's worthy of praiseworthy of better treatment than he gets.
I know. He deserves the best, poor fellow. When you go away you
should turn him out to pasture, and forbid any one to use him.
It would be a good idea; butI'm not so certain about going away.
Oh I beg your pardon. I fancied your movements were directed by
some unchangeable laws.
Like the planets in their orbits? No, there is no absolute need of
my going; the business which would have called me away can be done as
readily by letter. If I heed my inclination it certainly holds me
I don't understand that. It's natural enough that I should be fond
of the country; but youI don't believe you've been away for three
months, have you? and city life certainly has its attractions.
It's beastly, he answered decidedly. I greatly prefer the
countrythis country; though I can imagine a condition under which it
would be less agreeable; insupportable, in fact.
He was looking fixedly at Thérèse, who let her eyes rest for an
instant in the unaccustomed light of his, while she asked and the
If you were to go away. Oh! it would take the soul out of my life.
It was now her turn to look in all directions save the one in which
his glance invited her. At a slight and imperceptible motion of the
bridle, well understood by Beauregard, the horse sprang forward into a
quick canter, leaving Nelson and his rider to follow as they could.
Hosmer overtook her when she stopped to let her horse drink at the
side of the hill where the sparkling spring water came trickling from
the moist rocks, and emptied into the long out-scooped trunk of a
cypress, that served as trough. The two horses plunged their heads deep
in the clear water; the proud Beauregard quivering with satisfaction,
as arching his neck and shaking off the clinging moisture, he waited
for his more deliberate companion.
Doesn't it give one a sympathetic pleasure, said Thérèse, to see
the relish with which they drink?
I never thought of it, replied Hosmer, cynically. His face was
unusually flushed, and diffidence was plainly seizing him again.
Thérèse was now completely mistress of herself, and during the
remainder of the ride she talked incessantly, giving him no chance for
more than the briefest answers.
VI. Melicent Talks.
David Hosmer, you are the most supremely unsatisfactory man
Hosmer had come in from his ride, and seating himself in the large
wicker chair that stood in the center of the room, became at once
absorbed in reflections. Being addressed, he looked up at his sister,
who sat sidewards on the edge of a table slightly removed, swaying a
dainty slippered foot to and fro in evident impatience.
What crime have I committed now, Melicent, against your code? he
asked, not fully aroused from his reverie.
You've committed nothing; your sin is one of omission. I absolutely
believe you go through the world with your eyes, to all practical
purposes, closed. Don't you notice anything; any change?
To be sure I do, said Hosmer, relying on a knowledge lent him by
previous similar experiences, and taking in the clinging artistic
drapery that enfolded her tall spare figure, you've a new gown on. I
didn't think to mention it, but I noticed it all the same.
This admission of a discernment that he had failed to make evident,
aroused Melicent's uncontrolled mirth.
A new gown! and she laughed heartily. A threadbare remnant! A
thing that holds by shreds and tatters.
She went behind her brother's chair, taking his face between her
hands, and turning it upward, kissed him on the forehead. With his head
in such position, he could not fail to observe the brilliant folds of
muslin that were arranged across the ceiling to simulate the canopy of
a tent. Still holding his face, she moved it sidewards, so that his
eyes, knowing now what oflice was expected of them, followed the line
of decorations about the room.
It's immense, Mel; perfectly immense. When did you do it all?
This afternoon, with Grégoire's help, she answered, looking
proudly at her work. And my poor hands are in such condition! But
really, Dave, she continued, seating herself on the side of his chair,
with an arm about his neck, and he leaning his head back on the
improvised cushion, I wonder that you ever got on in business,
observing things as little as you do.
Oh, that's different.
Well, I don't believe you see half that you ought to, adding
naively, How did you and Mrs. Lafirme happen to come home together
The bright lamp-light made the flush quite evident that arose to his
face under her near gaze.
We met in the woods; she was coming from Morico's.
David, do you know that woman is an angel. She's simply the most
perfect creature I ever knew.
Melicent's emphasis of speech was a thing so recurrent, so
singularly her own, as to startle an unaccustomed hearer.
That opinion might carry some weight, Mel, if I hadn't heard it
scores of times from you, and of as many different women.
Indeed you have not. Mrs. Lafirme is exceptional. Really, when she
stands at the end of the veranda, giving orders to those darkies, her
face a little flushed, she's positively a queen.
As far as queenliness may be compatible with the angelic state,
replied Hosmer, but not ill pleased with Melicent's exaggerated praise
Neither had heard a noiseless step approaching, and they only became
aware of an added human presence, when Mandy's small voice was heard to
issue from Mandy's small body which stood in the mingled light and
shadow of the door-way.
Aunt B'lindy 'low supper on de table gittin' cole.
Come here, Mandy, cried Melicent, springing after the child. But
Mandy was flying back through the darkness. She was afraid of Melicent.
Laughing heartily, the girl disappeared into her bedroom, to make
some needed additions to her toilet; and Hosmer, waiting for her,
returned to his interrupted reflections. The words which he had spoken
during a moment of emotion to Thérèse, out in the piny woods, had
served a double purpose with him. They had shown him more plainly than
he had quite been certain of, the depth of his feeling for her; and
also had they settled his determination. He was not versed in the
reading of a woman's nature, and he found himself at a loss to
interpret Thérèse's actions. He recalled how she had looked away from
him when he had spoken the few tender words that were yet whirling in
his memory; how she had impetuously ridden ahead,leaving him to
follow alone; and her incessant speech that had forced him into
silence. All of which might or might not be symptoms in his favor. He
remembered her kind solicitude for his comfort and happiness during the
past year; but he as readily recalled that he had not been the only
recipient of such favors. His reflections led to no certainty, except
that he loved her and meant to tell her so.
Thérèse's door being closed, and moreover locked, Aunt Belindy, the
stout negress who had superintended the laying of supper, felt free to
give low speech to her wrath as she went back and forth between
dining-room and kitchen.
Suppa gittin' dat cole 'tain' gwine be fittin' fu' de dogs te'
tech. Believe half de time w'ite folks ain't got no feelin's, no how.
If dey speck I'se gwine stan' up heah on my two feet all night, dey's
foolin' dey sef. I ain't gwine do it. Git out dat doo' you Mandy! you
want me dash dis heah coffee pot at youblockin' up de doo's dat away?
W'ar dat good fu' nuttin Betsy? Look yonda, how she done flung dem dere
knife an forks on de table. Jis let Miss T'rèse kotch'er. Good God
A'mighty, Miss T'rèse mus' done gone asleep. G'long dar an' see.
There was no one on the plantation who would have felt at liberty to
enter Thérèse's bedroom without permission, the door being closed; yet
she had taken the needless precaution of bringing lock and bolt to the
double security of her moment of solitude. The first announcement of
supper had found her still in her riding habit, with head thrown back
upon the cushion of her lounging chair, and her mind steeped in a
semi-stupor that it would be injustice to her brighter moments to call
Thérèse was a warm-hearted woman, and a woman of clear mental
vision; a combination not found so often together as to make it
ordinary. Being a woman of warm heart, she had loved her husband with
the devotion which good husbands deserve; but being a clear-headed
woman, she was not disposed to rebel against the changes which Time
brings, when so disposed, to the human sensibilities. She was not
steeped in that agony of remorse which many might consider becoming in
a widow of five years' standing at the discovery that her heart which
had fitted well the holding of a treasure, was not narrowed to the
holding of a memory,the treasure being gone.
Mandy's feeble knock at the door was answered by her mistress in
person who had now banished all traces of her ride and its resultant
The two women, with Hosmer and Grégoire, sat out on the veranda
after supper as their custom was during these warm summer evenings.
There was no attempt at sustained conversation; they talked by snatches
to and at one another, of the day's small events; Melicent and Grégoire
having by far the most to say. The girl was half reclining in the
hammock which she kept in a slow, unceasing motion by the impetus of
her slender foot; he sitting some distance removed on the steps. Hosmer
was noticeably silent; even Joçint as a theme failing to rouse him to
more than a few words of dismissal. His will and tenacity were
controlling him to one bent. He had made up his mind that he had
something to say to Mrs. Lafirme, and he was impatient at any enforced
delay in the telling.
Grégoire slept now in the office of the mill, as a measure of
precaution. To-night, Hosmer had received certain late telegrams that
necessitated a return to the mill, and his iron-grey was standing
outside in the lane with Grégoire's horse, awaiting the pleasure of his
rider. When Grégoire quitted the group to go and throw the saddles
across the patient animals, Melicent, who contemplated an additional
hour's chat with Thérèse, crossed over to the cottage to procure a
light wrap for her sensitive shoulders against the chill night air.
Hosmer, who had started to the assistance of Grégoire, seeing that
Thérèse had remained alone, standing at the top of the stairs,
approached her. Remaining a few steps below her, and looking up into
her face, he held out his hand to say good-night, which was an unusual
proceeding, for they had not shaken hands since his return to
Place-du-Bois three months before. She gave him her soft hand to hold
and as the warm, moist palm met his, it acted like a charged electric
battery turning its subtle force upon his sensitive nerves.
Will you let me talk to you to-morrow? he asked.
Yes, perhaps; if I have time.
Oh, you will make the time. I can't let the day go by without
telling you many things that you ought to have known long ago. The
battery was still doing its work. And I can't let the night go by
without telling you that I love you.
Grégoire called out that the horses were ready. Melicent was
approaching in her diaphanous envelope, and Hosmer reluctantly let drop
Thérèse's hand and left her.
As the men rode away, the two women stood silently following their
diminishing outlines into the darkness and listening to the creaking of
the saddles and the dull regular thud of the horses' feet upon the soft
earth, until the sounds grew inaudible, when they turned to the inner
shelter of the veranda. Melicent once more possessed herself of the
hammock in which she now reclined fully, and Thérèse sat near enough
beside her to intertwine her fingers between the tense cords.
What a great difference in age there must be between you and your
brother, she said, breaking the silence.
Yesthough he is younger and I older than you perhaps think. He
was fifteen and the only child when I was born. I am twenty-four, so he
of course is thirty-nine.
I certainly thought him older.
Just imagine, Mrs. Lafirme, I was only ten when both my parents
died. We had no kindred living in the West, and I positively rebelled
against being separated from David; so you see he's had the care of me
for a good many years.
He appears very fond of you.
Oh, not only that, but you've no idea how splendidly he's done for
me in every way. Looked after my interest and all that, so that I'm
perfectly independent. Poor Dave, she continued, heaving a profound
sigh, he's had more than his share of trouble, if ever a man had. I
wonder when his day of compensation will come.
Don't you think, ventured Thérèse, that we make too much of our
individual trials. We are all so prone to believe our own burden
heavier than our neighbor's.
Perhapsbut there can be no question about the weight of David's.
I'm not a bit selfish about him though; poor fellow, I only wish he'd
Melicent's last words stung Thérèse like an insult. Her native pride
rebelled against the reticence of this man who had shared her
confidence while keeping her in ignorance of so important a feature of
his own life. But her dignity would not permit a show of disturbance;
she only asked:
How long has his wife been dead?
Oh, cried Melicent, in dismay. I thought you knew of course;
whyshe isn't dead at allthey were divorced two years ago.
The girl felt intuitively that she had yielded to an indiscretion of
speech. She could not know David's will in the matter, but since he had
all along left Mrs. Lafirme in ignorance of his domestic trials, she
concluded it was not for her to enlighten that lady further. Her next
remark was to call Thérèse's attention to the unusual number of
glow-worms that were flashing through the darkness, and to ask the sign
of it, adding every thing seems to be the sign of something down
Aunt Belindy might tell you, replied Thérèse, I only know that I
feel the signs of being very sleepy after that ride through the woods
to-day. Don't mind if I say good night?
Certainly not. Good night, dear Mrs. Lafirme. Let me stay here till
David comes back; I should die of fright, to go to the cottage alone.
VII. Painful Disclosures.
Thérèse possessed an independence of thought exceptional enough when
considered in relation to her life and its surrounding conditions. But
as a woman who lived in close contact with her fellow-beings she was
little given to the consideration of abstract ideas, except in so far
as they touched the individual man. If ever asked to give her opinion
of divorce, she might have replied that the question being one which
did not immediately concern her, its remoteness had removed it from the
range of her inquiry. She felt vaguely that in many cases it might be a
blessing; conceding that it must not infrequently be a necessity, to be
appealed to however only in an extremity beyond which endurance could
scarcely hold. With the prejudices of her Catholic education coloring
her sentiment, she instinctively shrank when the theme confronted her
as one having even a remote reference to her own clean existence. There
was no question with her of dwelling upon the matter; it was simply a
thing to be summarily dismissed and as far as possible effaced from her
Thérèse had not reached the age of thirty-five without learning that
life presents many insurmountable obstacles which must be accepted,
whether with the callousness of philosophy, the revolt of weakness or
the dignity of self-respect. The following morning, the only sign which
she gave of her mental disturbance, was an appearance that might have
succeeded a night of unrefreshing sleep.
Hosmer had decided that his interview with Mrs. Lafirme should not
be left further to the caprice of accident. An hour or more before noon
he rode up from the mill knowing it to be a time when he would likely
find her alone. Not seeing her he proceeded to make inquiry of the
servants; first appealing to Betsy.
I don' know whar Miss T'rèse, with a rising inflection on the
whar. I yain't seed her sence mornin', time she sont Unc' Hi'um
yonda to old Morico wid de light bread an' truck, replied the verbose
Betsy. Aunt B'lindy, you know whar Miss T'rèse?
How you want me know? standin' up everlastin' in de kitchen a
bakin' light-bread fu' lazy trash det betta be in de fiel' wurkin' a
crap like people, stid o' 'pendin' on yeda folks.
Mandy, who had been a silent listener, divining that she had perhaps
better make known certain information that was exclusively her own
Miss T'rèse shet up in de parla; 'low she want we all lef 'er
Having as it were forced an entrance into the stronghold where
Thérèse had supposed herself secure from intrusion, Hosmer at once
seated himself beside her.
This was a room kept for the most part closed during the summer days
when the family lived chiefly on the verandas or in the wide open hall
There lingered about it the foreign scent of cool clean matting,
mingled with a faint odor of rose which came from a curious Japanese
jar that stood on the ample hearth. Through the green half-closed
shutters the air came in gentle ripples, sweeping the filmy curtains
back and forth in irregular undulations. A few tasteful pictures hung
upon the walls, alternating with family portraits, for the most part
stiff and unhandsome, except in the case of such as were of so remote
date that age gave them a claim upon the interest and admiration of a
far removed generation.
It was not entirely clear to the darkies whether this room were not
a sort of holy sanctuary, where one should scarce be permitted to
breathe, except under compulsion of a driving necessity.
Mrs. Lafirme, began Hosmer, Melicent tells me that she made you
acquainted last night with the matter which I wished to talk to you
Yes, Thérèse replied, closing the book which she had made a
pretense of reading, and laying it down upon the window-sill near which
she sat; adding very simply, Why did you not tell me long ago, Mr.
God knows, he replied; the sharp conviction breaking upon him,
that this disclosure had some how changed the aspect of life for him.
Natural reluctance to speak of a thing so painfulnative reticenceI
don't know what. I hope you forgive me; that you will let it make no
difference in whatever regard you may have for me.
I had better tell you at once that there must be no repetition
ofof what you told me last night.
Hosmer had feared it. He made no protest in words; his revolt was
inward and showed itself only in an added pallor and increased rigidity
of face lines. He arose and went to a near window, peering for a while
aimlessly out between the partly open slats.
I hadn't thought of your being a Catholic, he said, finally
turning towards her with folded arms.
Because you have never seen any outward signs of it. But I can't
leave you under a false impression: religion doesn't influence my
reason in this.
Do you think then that a man who has had such misfortune, should be
debarred the happiness which a second marriage could give him?
No, nor a woman either, if it suit her moral principle, which I
hold to be something peculiarly one's own.
That seems to me to be a prejudice, he replied. Prejudices may be
set aside by an effort of the will, catching at a glimmer of hope.
There are some prejudices which a woman can't afford to part with,
Mr. Hosmer, she said a little haughtily, even at the price of
happiness. Please say no more about it, think no more of it.
He seated himself again, facing her; and looking at him all her
sympathetic nature was moved at sight of his evident trouble.
Tell me about it. I would like to know every thing in your life,
she said, feelingly.
It's very good of you, he said, holding a hand for a moment over
his closed eyes. Then looking up abruptly, It was a painful enough
experience, but I never dreamed that it could have had this last blow
in reserve for me.
When did you marry? she asked, wishing to start him with the story
which she fancied he would feel better for the telling.
Ten years ago. I am a poor hand to analyze character: my own or
another's. My reasons for doing certain things have never been quite
clear to me; or I have never schooled myself to inquiry into my own
motives for action. I have been always thoroughly the business man. I
don't make a boast of it, but I have no reason to be ashamed of the
admission. Socially, I have mingled little with my fellow-beings,
especially with women, whose society has had little attraction for me;
perhaps, because I have never been thrown much into it, and I was
nearly thirty when I first met my wife.
Was it in St. Louis? Thérèse asked.
Yes. I had been inveigled into going on a river excursion, he
said, plunging into the story, Heaven knows how. Perhaps I was feeling
unwellI really can't remember. But at all events I met a friend who
introduced me early in the day to a young girlFanny Larimore. She was
a pretty little thing, not more than twenty, all pink and white and
merry blue eyes and stylish clothes. Whatever it was, there was
something about her that kept me at her side all day. Every word and
movement of hers had an exaggerated importance for me. I fancied such
things had never been said or done quite in the same way before.
You were in love, sighed Thérèse. Why the sigh she could not have
I presume so. Well, after that, I found myself thinking of her at
the most inopportune moments. I went to see her again and againmy
first impression deepened, and in two weeks I had asked her to marry
me. I can safely say, we knew nothing of each other's character. After
marriage, matters went well enough for a while. Hosmer here arose, and
walked the length of the room.
Mrs. Lafirme, he said, can't you understand that it must be a
painful thing for a man to disparage one woman to another: the woman
who has been his wife to the woman he loves? Spare me the rest.
Please have no reservations with me; I shall not misjudge you in
any case, an inexplicable something was moving her to know what
remained to be told.
It wasn't long before she attempted to draw me into what she called
society, Hosmer continued. I am little versed in defining shades of
distinction between classes, but I had seen from the beginning that
Fanny's associates were not of the best social rank by any means. I had
vaguely expected her to turn from them, I suppose, when she married.
Naturally, I resisted anything so distasteful as being dragged through
rounds of amusement that had no sort of attraction whatever for me.
Besides, my business connections were extending, and they claimed the
greater part of my time and thoughts.
A year after our marriage our boy was born. Here Hosmer ceased
speaking for a while, seemingly under pressure of a crowding of painful
The child whose picture you have at the office? asked Thérèse.
Yes, and he resumed with plain effort: It seemed for a while that
the baby would give its mother what distraction she sought so
persistently away from home; but its influence did not last and she
soon grew as restless as before. Finally there was nothing that united
us except the child. I can't really say that we were united through
him, but our love for the boy was the one feeling that we had in
common. When he was three years old, he died. Melicent had come to live
with us after leaving school. She was a high-spirited girl full of
conceits as she is now, and in her exaggerated way became filled with
horror of what she called the mésalliance I had made. After a month she
went away to live with friends. I didn't oppose her. I saw little of my
wife, being often away from home; but as feebly observant as I was, I
had now and again marked a peculiarity of manner about her that vaguely
troubled me. She seemed to avoid me and we grew more and more divided.
One day I returned home rather early. Melicent was with me. We
found Fanny in the dining-room lying on the sofa. As we entered, she
looked at us wildly and in striving to get up grasped aimlessly at the
back of a chair. I felt on a sudden as if there were some awful
calamity threatening my existence. I suppose, I looked helplessly at
Melicent, managing to ask her what was the matter with my wife.
Melicent's black eyes were flashing indignation. 'Can't you see she's
been drinking. God help you,' she said. Mrs. Lafirme, you know now the
reason which drove me away from home and kept me away. I never
permitted my wife to want for the comforts of life during my absence;
but she sued for divorce some years ago and it was granted, with
alimony which I doubled. You know the miserable story now. Pardon me
for dragging it to such a length. I don't see why I should have told it
Thérèse had remained perfectly silent; rigid at times, listening to
Hosmer often with closed eyes.
He waited for her to speak, but she said nothing for a while till
finally: Youryour wife is still quite youngdo her parents live
Oh no, she has none. I suppose she lives alone.
And those habits; you don't know if she continues them?
I dare say she does. I know nothing of her, except that she
receipts for the amount paid her each month.
The look of painful thought deepened on Thérèse's face but her
questions having been answered, she again became silent.
Hosmer's eyes were imploring her for a look, but she would not
Haven't you a word to say to me? he entreated.
No, I have nothing to say, except what would give you pain.
I can bear anything from you, he replied, at a loss to guess her
The kindest thing I can say, Mr. Hosmer, is, that I hope you have
acted blindly. I hate to believe that the man I care for, would
deliberately act the part of a cruel egotist.
I don't understand you.
I have learned one thing through your story, which appears very
plain to me, she replied. You married a woman of weak character. You
furnished her with every means to increase that weakness, and shut her
out absolutely from your life and yourself from hers. You left her then
as practically without moral support as you have certainly done now, in
deserting her. It was the act of a coward. Thérèse spoke the last
words with intensity.
Do you think that a man owes nothing to himself? Hosmer asked, in
resistance to her accusation.
Yes. A man owes to his manhood, to face the consequences of his own
Hosmer had remained seated. He did not even with glance follow
Thérèse who had arisen and was moving restlessly about the room. He had
so long seen himself as a martyr; his mind had become so habituated to
the picture, that he could not of a sudden look at a different one,
believing that it could be the true one. Nor was he eager to accept a
view of the situation that would place him in his own eyes in a
contemptible light. He tried to think that Thérèse must be wrong; but
even admitting a doubt of her being right, her words carried an element
of truth that he was not able to shut out from his conscience. He felt
her to be a woman with moral perceptions keener than his own and his
love, which in the past twenty-four hours had grown to overwhelm him,
moved him now to a blind submission.
What would you have me do, Mrs. Lafirme?
I would have you do what is right, she said eagerly, approaching
O, don't present me any questions of right and wrong; can't you see
that I'm blind? he said, self accusingly. What ever I do, must be
because you want it; because I love you.
She was standing beside him and he took her hand.
To do a thing out of love for you, would be the only comfort and
strength left me.
Don't say that, she entreated. Love isn't everything in life;
there is something higher.
God in heaven, there shouldn't be! he exclaimed, passionately
pressing her hand to his forehead, his cheek, his lips.
Oh, don't make it harder for me, Thérèse said softly, attempting
to withdraw her hand.
It was her first sign of weakness, and he seized on it for his
advantage. He arose quicklyunhesitatinglyand took her in his arms.
For a moment that was very brief, there was danger that the task of
renunciation would not only be made harder, but impossible, for both;
for it was in utter blindness to everything but love for each other,
that their lips met.
The great plantation bell was clanging out the hour of noon; the
hour for sweet and restful enjoyment; but to Hosmer, the sound was like
the voice of a derisive demon, mocking his anguish of spirit, as he
mounted his horse, and rode back to the mill.
VIII. Treats of Melicent.
Melicent knew that there were exchanges of confidence going on
between her brother and Mrs. Lafirme, from which she was excluded. She
had noted certain lengthy conferences held in remote corners of the
verandas. The two had deliberately withdrawn one moonlight evening to
pace to and fro the length of gravel walk that stretched from door
front to lane; and Melicent had fancied that they rather lingered when
under the deep shadow of the two great live-oaks that overarched the
gate. But that of course was fancy; a young girl's weakness to think
the world must go as she would want it to.
She was quite sure of having heard Mrs. Lafirme say I will help
you. Could it be that David had fallen into financial straights and
wanted assistance from Thérèse? No, that was improbable and
furthermore, distasteful, so Melicent would not burden herself with the
suspicion. It was far more agreeable to believe that affairs were
shaping themselves according to her wishes regarding her brother and
her friend. Yet her mystification was in no wise made clearer, when
David left them to go to St. Louis.
Melicent was not ready or willing to leave with him. She had not had
her visit out as she informed him, when he proposed it to her. To
remain in the cottage during his absence was out of the question, so
she removed herself and all her pretty belongings over to the house,
taking possession of one of the many spare rooms. The act of removal
furnished her much entertainment of a mild sort, into which, however,
she successfully infused something of her own intensity by making the
occasion one to bring a large detachment of the plantation force into
her capricious service.
Melicent was going out, and she stood before her mirror to make sure
that she looked properly. She was black from head to foot. From the
great ostrich plume that nodded over her wide-brimmed hat, to the
pointed toe of the patent leather boot that peeped from under her
gowna filmy gauzy thing setting loosely to her slender shapely
figure. She laughed at the somberness of her reflection, which she at
once set about relieving with a great bunch of geraniumsbig and
scarlet and long-stemmed, that she thrust slantwise through her belt.
Melicent, always charming, was very pretty when she laughed. She
thought so herself and laughed a second time into the depths of her
dark handsome eyes. One corner of the large mouth turned saucily
upward, and the lips holding their own crimson and all that the cheeks
were lacking, parted only a little over the gleaming whiteness of her
teeth. As she looked at herself critically, she thought that a few more
pounds of flesh would have well become her. It had been only the other
day that her slimness was altogether to her liking; but at present she
was in love with plumpness as typified in Mrs. Lafirme. However, on the
whole, she was not ill pleased with her appearance, and gathering up
her gloves and parasol, she quitted the room.
It was broad day, one of the requirements which Grégoire had named
as essential for taking Melicent to visit old McFarlane's grave. But
the sun was not shining mighty bright, the second condition, and
whose absence they were willing enough to overlook, seeing that the
month was September.
They had climbed quite to the top of the hill, and stood on the very
brink of the deep toilsome railroad cut all fringed with matted grass
and young pines, that had but lately sprung there. Up and down the
track, as far as they could see on either side the steel rails
glittered on into gradual dimness. There were patches of the field
before them, white with bursting cotton which scores of negroes, men,
women and children were dexterously picking and thrusting into great
bags that hung from their shoulders and dragged beside them on the
ground; no machine having yet been found to surpass the sufficiency of
five human fingers for wrenching the cotton from its tenacious hold.
Elsewhere, there were squads pulling fodder from the dry corn stalks;
hot and distasteful work enough. In the nearest field, where the cotton
was young and green, with no show of ripening, the overseer rode slowly
between the rows, sprinkling plentifully the dry powder of paris green
from two muslin bags attached to the ends of a short pole that lay
before him across the saddle.
Grégoire's presence would be needed later in the day, when the
cotton was hauled to gin to be weighed; when the mules were brought to
stable, to see them properly fed and cared for, and the gearing all put
in place. In the meanwhile he was deliciously idle with Melicent.
They retreated into the woods, soon losing sight of everything but
the trees that surrounded them and the underbrush, that was scant and
scattered over the turf which the height of the trees permitted to grow
green and luxuriant.
There, on the far slope of the hill they found McFarlane's grave,
which they knew to be such only by the battered and weather-worn cross
of wood, that lurched disreputably to one sidethere being no hand in
all the world that cared enough to make it straightand from which all
lettering had long since been washed away. This cross was all that
marked the abiding place of that mist-like form, so often seen at dark
to stalk down the hill with threatening stride, or of moonlight nights
to cross the lake in a pirogue, whose substance though visible was
nought; with sound of dipping oars that made no ripple on the lake's
smooth surface. On stormy nights, some more gifted with spiritual
insight than their neighbors, and with hearing better sharpened to
delicate intonations of the supernatural, had not only seen the mist
figure mounted and flying across the hills, but had heard the panting
of the blood-hounds, as the invisible pack swept by in hot pursuit of
the slave so long ago at rest.
But it was broad day, and here was nothing sinister to cause
Melicent the least little thrill of awe. No owl, no bat, no ill-omened
creature hovering near; only a mocking bird high up in the branches of
a tall pine tree, gushing forth his shrill staccatoes as blithely as
though he sang paeans to a translated soul in paradise.
Poor old McFarlane, said Melicent, I'll pay a little tribute to
his memory; I dare say his spirit has listened to nothing but abuse of
himself there in the other world, since it left his body here on the
hill; and she took one of the long-stemmed blood-red flowers and laid
it beside the toppling cross.
I reckon he's in a place w'ere flowers don't git much waterin', if
they got any there.
Shame to talk so cruelly; I don't believe in such places.
You don't believe in hell? he asked in blank surprise.
Certainly not. I'm a Unitarian.
Well, that's new to me, was his only comment.
Do you believe in spirits, Grégoire? I don'tin day time.
Neva mine 'bout spirits, he answered, taking her arm and leading
her off, let's git away f'om yere.
They soon found a smooth and gentle slope where Melicent sat herself
comfortably down, her back against the broad support of a tree trunk,
and Grégoire lay prone upon the ground withhis head in Melicent's
When Melicent first met Grégoire, his peculiarities of speech, so
unfamiliar to her, seemed to remove him at once from the possibility of
her consideration. She was not then awake to certain fine psychological
differences distinguishing man from man; precluding the possibility of
naming and classifying him in the moral as one might in the animal
kingdom. But short-comings of language, which finally seemed not to
detract from a definite inheritance of good breeding, touched his
personality as a physical deformation might, adding to it certainly no
charm, yet from its pathological aspect not without a species of
fascination, for a certain order of misregulated mind.
She bore with him, and then she liked him. Finally, whilst indulging
in a little introspection; making a diagnosis of various symptoms,
indicative by no means of a deep-seated malady, she decided that she
was in love with Grégoire. But the admission embraced the understanding
with herself, that nothing could come of it. She accepted it as a phase
of that relentless fate which in pessimistic moments she was inclined
to believe pursued her.
It could not be thought of, that she should marry a man whose
eccentricity of speech would certainly not adapt itself to the
requirements of polite society.
He had kissed her one day. Whatever there was about the
kisspossibly an over exuberanceit was not to her liking, and she
forbade that he ever repeat it, under pain of losing her affection.
Indeed, on the few occasions when Melicent had been engaged, kissing
had been excluded as superfluous to the relationship, except in the
case of the young lieutenant out at Fort Leavenworth who read Tennyson
to her, as an angel might be supposed to read, and who in moments of
rapturous self-forgetfulness, was permitted to kiss her under the ear:
a proceeding not positively distasteful to Melicent, except in so much
as it tickled her.
Grégoire's hair was soft, not so dark as her own, and possessed an
inclination to curl about her slender fingers.
Grégoire, she said, you told me once that the Santien boys were a
hard lot; what did you mean by that?
Oh no, he answered, laughing good-humoredly up into her eyes, you
did'n year me right. W'at I said was that we had a hard name in the
country. I don' see w'y eitha, excep' we all'ays done putty much like
we wanted. But my! a man can live like a saint yere at Place-du-Bois,
they ain't no temptations o' no kine.
There's little merit in your right doing, if you have no
temptations to withstand, delivering the time worn aphorism with the
air and tone of a pretty sage, giving utterance to an inspired truth.
Melicent felt that she did not fully know Grégoire; that he had
always been more or less under restraint with her, and she was troubled
by something other than curiosity to get at the truth concerning him.
One day when she was arranging a vase of flowers at a table on the back
porch, Aunt Belindy, who was scouring knives at the same table, had
followed Grégoire with her glance, when he walked away after exchanging
a few words with Melicent.
God! but dats a diffunt man sence you come heah.
Different? questioned the girl eagerly, and casting a quick
sideward look at Aunt Belindy.
Lord yas honey, 'f you warn't heah dat same Mista Grégor 'd be in
Centaville ev'y Sunday, a raisin' Cain. HumphI knows 'im.
Melicent would not permit herself to ask more, but picked up her
vase of flowers and walked with it into the house; her comprehension of
Grégoire in no wise advanced by the newly acquired knowledge that he
was liable to raise Cain during her absencea proceeding which she
could not too hastily condemn, considering her imperfect apprehension
of what it might imply.
Meanwhile she would not allow her doubts to interfere with the
kindness which she lavished on him, seeing that he loved her to
desperation. Was he not at this very moment looking up into her eyes,
and talking of his misery and her cruelty? turning his face downward in
her lapas she knew to cryfor had she not already seen him lie on
the ground in an agony of tears, when she had told him he should never
kiss her again?
And so they lingered in the woods, these two curious lovers, till
the shadows grew so deep about old McFarlane's grave that they passed
it by with hurried step and averted glance.
IX. Face to Face.
After a day of close and intense September heat, it had rained
during the night. And now the morning had followed chill and crisp, yet
with possibilities of a genial sunshine breaking through the mist that
had risen at dawn from the great sluggish river and spread itself
through the mazes of the city.
The change was one to send invigorating thrills through the blood,
and to quicken the step; to make one like the push and jostle of the
multitude that thronged the streets; to make one in love with
intoxicating life, and impatient with the grudging dispensation that
had given to mankind no wings wherewith to fly.
But with no reacting warmth in his heart, the change had only made
Hosmer shiver and draw his coat closer about his chest, as he pushed
his way through the hurrying crowd.
The St. Louis Exposition was in progress with all its many
allurements that had been heralded for months through the journals of
Hence, the unusual press of people on the streets this bright
September morning. Home people, whose air of ownership to the
surroundings classified them at once, moving unobservantly about their
affairs. Women and children from the near and rich country towns, in
for the Exposition and their fall shopping; wearing gowns of ultra
fashionable tendencies; leaving in their toilets nothing to expediency;
taking no chances of so much as a ribbon or a loop set in disaccordance
with the book.
There were whole families from across the bridge, hurrying towards
the Exposition. Fathers and mothers, babies and grandmothers, with
baskets of lunch and bundles of provisional necessities, in for the
Nothing would escape their observation nor elude their criticism,
from the creations in color lining the walls of the art gallery, to the
most intricate mechanism of inventive genius in the basement. All would
pass inspection, with drawing of comparison between the present, the
past year and the year before, likely in a nasal drawl with the R's
brought sharply out, leaving no doubt as to their utterance.
The newly married couple walking serenely through the crowd, young,
smiling, up-country, hand-in-hand; well pleased with themselves, with
their new attire and newer jewelry, would likely have answered Hosmer's
beg pardon with amiability if he had knocked them down. But he had
only thrust them rather violently to one side in his eagerness to board
the cable car that was dashing by, with no seeming willingness to stay
its mad flight. He still possessed the agility in his unpracticed limbs
to swing himself on the grip, where he took a front seat, well buttoned
up as to top-coat, and glad of the bodily rest that his half hour's
ride would bring him.
The locality in which he descended presented some noticeable changes
since he had last been there. Formerly, it had been rather a quiet
street, with a leisurely horse car depositing its passengers two blocks
away to the north from it; awaking somewhat of afternoons when hordes
of children held possession. But now the cable had come to disturb its
long repose, adding in the office, nothing to its attractiveness.
There was the drug store still at the corner, with the same
proprietor, tilted back in his chair as of old, and as of old reading
his newspaper with only the change which a newly acquired pair of
spectacles gave to his appearance. The drug store boy had unfolded
into manhood, plainly indicated by the mustache that in adding
adornment and dignity to his person, had lifted him above the menial
office of window washing. A task relegated to a mustacheless urchin
with a leaning towards the surreptitious abstraction of caramels and
chewing gum in the intervals of such manual engagements as did not
require the co-operation of a strategic mind.
Where formerly had been the vacant lot across the street, the
Sunday afternoon elysium of the youthful base ball fiend from Biddle
Street, now stood a row of brand new pressed-brick flats. Marvelous
must have been the architectural ingenuity which had contrived to unite
so many dwellings into so small a space. Before each spread a length of
closely clipped grass plot, and every miniature front door wore its
fantastic window furnishing; each set of decorations having seemingly
fired the next with efforts of surpassing elaboration.
The house at which Hosmer ranga plain two-storied red brick,
standing close to the streetwas very old-fashioned in face of its
modern opposite neighbors, and the recently metamorphosed dwelling next
door, that with added porches and appendages to tax man's faculty of
conjecture, was no longer recognizable for what it had been. Even the
bell which he pulled was old-fashioned and its tingle might be heard
throughout the house long after the servant had opened the door, if she
were only reasonably alert to the summons. Its reverberations were but
dying away when Hosmer asked if Mrs. Larimore were in. Mrs. Larimore
was in; an admission which seemed to hold in reserve a defiant And
what if she is, sir.
Hosmer was relieved to find the little parlor into which he was
ushered, with its adjoining dining-room, much changed. The carpets
which he and Fanny had gone out together to buy during the early days
of their housekeeping, were replaced by rugs that lay upon the bare,
well polished floors. The wall paper was different; so were the
hangings. The furniture had been newly re-covered. Only the small
household gods were as of old: thingstriflesthat had never much
occupied or impressed him, and that now, amid their altered
surroundings stirred no sentiment in him of either pleased or sad
It had not been his wish to take his wife unawares, and he had
previously written her of his intended coming, yet without giving her a
clue for the reason of it.
There was an element of the bull-dog in Hosmer. Having made up his
mind, he indulged in no regrets, in no nursing of if's and and's, but
stood like a brave soldier to his post, not a post of danger, truebut
one well supplied with discomfiting possibilities.
And what had Homeyer said of it? He had railed of course as usual,
at the submission of a human destiny to the exacting and ignorant rule
of what he termed moral conventionalities. He had startled and angered
Hosmer with his denunciation of Thérèse's sophistical guidance.
Ratherhe proposedlet Hosmer and Thérèse marry, and if Fanny were to
be redeemedthough he pooh-poohed the notion as untenable with certain
views of what he called the rights to existence: the existence of
wrongssorrowsdiseasesdeathlet them all go to make up the
conglomerate wholeand let the individual man hold on to his
personality. But if she must be redeemedgranting this point to their
littleness, let the redemption come by different ways than those of
sacrifice: let it be an outcome from the capability of their united
Hosmer did not listen to his friend Homeyer. Love was his god now,
and Thérèse was Love's prophet.
So he was sitting in this little parlor waiting for Fanny to come.
She came after an interval that had been given over to the
indulgence of a little feminine nervousness. Through the open doors
Hosmer could hear her coming down the back stairs; could hear that she
halted mid-way. Then she passed through the dining-room, and he arose
and went to meet her, holding out his hand, which she was not at once
ready to accept, being flustered and unprepared for his manner in
whichever way it might direct itself.
They sat opposite each other and remained for a while silent; he
with astonishment at sight of the merry blue eyes faded and sunken
into deep, dark round sockets; at the net-work of little lines all
traced about the mouth and eyes, and spreading over the once rounded
cheeks that were now hollow and evidently pale or sallow, beneath a
layer of rouge that had been laid on with an unsparing hand. Yet was
she still pretty, or pleasing, especially to a strong nature that would
find an appeal in the pathetic weakness of her face. There was no
guessing at what her figure might be, it was disguised under a very
fashionable dress, and a worsted shawl covered her shoulders, which
occasionally quivered as with an inward chill. She spoke first,
twisting the end of this shawl.
What did you come for, David? why did you come now? with peevish
resistance to the disturbance of his coming.
I know I have come without warrant, he said, answering her
implication. I have been led to seeno matter howthat I made
mistakes in the past, and what I want to do now is to right them, if
you will let me.
This was very unexpected to her, and it startled her, but neither
with pleasure nor pain; only with an uneasiness which showed itself in
Have you been ill? he asked suddenly as the details of change in
her appearance commenced to unfold themselves to him.
Oh no, not since last winter, when I had pneumonia so bad. They
thought I was going to die. Dr. Franklin said I would 'a died if Belle
Worthington hadn't 'a took such good care of me. But I don't see what
you mean coming now. It'll be the same thing over again: I don't see
what's the use, David.
We won't talk about the use, Fanny. I want to take care of you for
the rest of your lifeor mineas I promised to do ten years ago; and
I want you to let me do it.
It would be the same thing over again, she reiterated, helplessly.
It will not be the same, he answered positively. I will not be
the same, and that will make all the difference needful.
I don't see what you want to do it for, David. Why we'd haf to get
married over again and all that, wouldn't we?
Certainly, he answered with a faint smile. I'm living in the
South now, in Louisiana, managing a sawmill down there.
Oh, I don't like the South. I went down to Memphis, let's see, it
was last spring, with Belle and Lou Dawson, after I'd been sick; and I
don't see how a person can live down there.
You would like the place where I'm living. It's a fine large
plantation, and the lady who owns it would be the best of friends to
you. She knew why I was coming, and told me to say she would help to
make your life a happy one if she could.
It's her told you to come, she replied in quick resentment. I
don't see what business it is of hers.
Fanny Larimore's strength of determination was not one to hold
against Hosmer's will set to a purpose, during the hour or more that
they talked, he proposing, she finally acquiescing. And when he left
her, it was with a gathering peace in her heart to feel that his
nearness was something that would belong to her again; but differently
as he assured her. And she believed him, knowing that he would stand to
Her life was sometimes very blank in the intervals of street
perambulations and matinées and reading of morbid literature. That
elation which she had felt over her marriage with Hosmer ten years
before, had soon died away, together with her weak love for him, when
she began to dread him and defy him. But now that he said he was ready
to take care of her and be good to her, she felt great comfort in her
knowledge of his honesty.
X. Fanny's Friends.
It was on the day following Hosmer's visit, that Mrs. Lorenzo
Worthington, familiarly known to her friends as Belle Worthington, was
occupied in constructing a careful and extremely elaborate street
toilet before her dressing bureau which stood near the front window of
one of the flats opposite Mrs. Larimore's. The Nottingham curtain
screened her effectually from the view of passers-by without hindering
her frequent observance of what transpired in the street.
The lower portion of this lady's figure was draped, or better,
seemingly supported, by an abundance of stiffly starched white
petticoats that rustled audibly at her slightest movement. Her neck was
bare, as were the well shaped arms that for the past five minutes had
been poised in mid-air, in the arrangement of a front of exquisitely
soft blonde curls, which she had taken from her top drawer and was
adjusting, with the aid of a multitude of tiny invisible hair-pins, to
her own very smoothly brushed hair. Yellow hair it was, with a
suspicious darkness about the roots, and a streakiness about the back,
that to an observant eye would have more than hinted that art had
assisted nature in coloring Mrs. Worthington's locks.
Dressed, and evidently waiting with forced patience for the
termination of these overhead maneuvers of her friend, sat Lou,Mrs.
Jack Dawson,a woman whom most people called handsome. If she were
handsome, no one could have told why, for her beauty was a thing which
could not be defined. She was tall and thin, with hair, eyes, and
complexion of a brownish neutral tint, and bore in face and figure, a
stamp of defiance which probably accounted for a certain eccentricity
in eschewing hair dyes and cosmetics. Her face was full of little
irregularities; a hardly perceptible cast in one eye; the nose drawn a
bit to one side, and the mouth twitched decidedly to the other when she
talked or laughed. It was this misproportion which gave a piquancy to
her expression and which in charming people, no doubt made them believe
Mrs. Worthington's coiffure being completed, she regaled herself
with a deliberate and comprehensive glance into the street, and the
outcome of her observation was the sudden exclamation.
Well I'll be switched! come here quick Lou. If there ain't Fanny
Larimore getting on the car with Dave Hosmer!
Mrs. Dawson approached the window, but without haste; and in no wise
sharing her friend's excitement, gave utterance to her calm opinion.
They've made it up, I'll bet you what you want.
Surprise seemed for the moment to have deprived Mrs. Worthington of
further ability to proceed with her toilet, for she had fallen into a
chair as limply as her starched condition would permit, her face full
See here, Belle Worthington, if we've got to be at the 'Lympic at
two o'clock, you'd better be getting a move on yourself.
Yes, I know; but I declare, you might knock me down with a
A highly overwrought figure of speech on the part of Mrs.
Worthington, seeing that the feather which would have prostrated her
must have met a resistance of some one hundred and seventy-five pounds
of solid avoirdupois.
After all she said about him, too! seeking to draw her friend into
some participation in her own dumbfoundedness.
Well, you ought to know Fanny Larimore's a fool, don't you?
Well, but I just can't get over it; that's all there is about it.
And Mrs. Worthington went about completing the adornment of her person
in a state of voiceless stupefaction.
In full garb, she presented the figure of a splendid woman; trim and
tight in a black silk gown of expensive quality, heavy with jets which
hung and shone, and jangled from every available point of her person.
Not a thread of her yellow hair was misplaced. She shone with
cleanliness, and her broad expressionless face and meaningless blue
eyes were set to a good-humored readiness for laughter, which would be
wholesome if not musical. She exhaled a fragrance of patchouly or
jockey-club, or something odorous and strong that clung to every
article of her apparel, even to the yellow kid gloves which she would
now be forced to put on during her ride in the car. Mrs. Dawson,
attired with equal richness and style, showed more of individuality in
As they quitted the house she observed to her friend:
I wish you'd let up on that smell; it's enough to sicken a body.
I know you don't like it, Lou, was Mrs. Worthington's apologetic
and half disconcerted reply, and I was careful as could be. Give you
my word, I didn't think you could notice it.
Notice it? Gee! responded Mrs. Dawson.
These were two ladies of elegant leisure, the conditions of whose
lives, and the amiability of whose husbands, had enabled them to
develop into finished and professional time-killers.
Their intimacy with each other, as also their close acquaintance
with Fanny Larimore, dated from a couple of years after that lady's
marriage, when they had met as occupants of the same big up-town
boarding house. The intercourse had never since been permitted to die
out. Once, when the two former ladies were on a visit to Mrs. Larimore,
seeing the flats in course of construction, they were at once assailed
with the desire to abandon their hitherto nomadic life, and settle to
the responsibilities of housekeeping; a scheme which they carried into
effect as soon as the houses became habitable.
There was a Mr. Lorenzo Worthington; a gentleman employed for many
years past in the custom house. Whether he had been overlooked, which
his small unobtrusive, narrow-chested person made possibleor whether
his many-sided usefulness had rendered him in a manner indispensable to
his employers, does not appear; but he had remained at his post during
the various changes of administration that had gone by since his first
During intervals of his workintervals often occurring of afternoon
hours, when he had been given night workhe was fond of sitting at the
sunny kitchen window, with his long thin nose, and shortsighted eyes
plunged between the pages of one of his precious books: a small hoard
of which he had collected at some cost and more self-denial.
One of the grievances of his life was the necessity under which he
found himself of protecting his treasure from the Philistine abuse and
contempt of his wife. When they moved into the flat, Mrs. Worthington,
during her husband's absence, had ranged them all, systematically
enough, on the top shelf of the kitchen closet to get them out of the
way. But at this he had protested, and taken a positive stand, to
which his wife had so far yielded as to permit that they be placed on
the top shelf of the bedroom closet; averring that to have them laying
around was a thing that she would not do, for they spoilt the looks of
He had not foreseen the possibility of their usefulness being a
temptation to his wife in so handy a receptacle.
Seeking once a volume of Ruskin's Miscellanies, he discovered that
it had been employed to support the dismantled leg of a dressing
bureau. On another occasion, a volume of Schopenhauer, which he had
been at much difficulty and expense to procure, Emerson's Essays, and
two other volumes much prized, he found had served that lady as weights
to hold down a piece of dry goods which she had sponged and spread to
dry on an available section of roof top.
He was glad enough to transport them all back to the safer refuge of
the kitchen closet, and pay the hired girl a secret stipend to guard
Mr. Worthington regarded women as being of peculiar and unsuitable
conformation to the various conditions of life amid which they are
placed; with strong moral proclivities, for the most part subservient
to a weak and inadequate mentality.
It was not his office to remodel them; his rôle was simply to endure
with patience the vagaries of an order of human beings, who after all,
offered an interesting study to a man of speculative habit, apart from
their usefulness as propagators of the species.
As regards this last qualification, Mrs. Worthington had done less
than her fair share, having but one child, a daughter of twelve, whose
training and education had been assumed by an aunt of her father's, a
nun of some standing in the Sacred Heart Convent.
Quite a different type of man was Jack Dawson, Lou's husband. Short,
round, young, blonde, good looking and baldas what St. Louis man past
thirty is not? he rejoiced in the agreeable calling of a traveling
On the occasions when he was at home; once in two weekssometimes
seldomernever oftenerthe small flat was turned inside out and
upside down. He filled it with noise and merriment. If a theater party
were not on hand, it was a spin out to Forest park behind a fast team,
closing with a wine supper at a road-side restaurant. Or a card party
would be hastily gathered to which such neighbors as were congenial
were bid in hot haste; deficiencies being supplied from his large
circle of acquaintances who happened not to be on the road, and who at
the eleventh hour were rung up by telephone. On such occasions Jack's
voice would be heard loud in anecdote, introduced in some such wise as
When I was in Houston, Texas, the other day, or Tell you what it is,
sir, those fellers over in Albuquerque are up to a thing or two.
One of his standing witticisms was to inquire in a stage whisper of
Belle or Louwhether the little gal over the way had taken the pledge
This gentleman and his wife were on the most amiable of terms
together, barring the small grievance that he sometimes lost money at
poker. But as losing was exceptional with him, and as he did not make
it a matter of conscience to keep her at all times posted as to the
fluctuations of his luck, this grievance had small occasion to show
What he thought of his wife, might best be told in his own language:
that Lou was up to the mark and game every time; feminine
characteristics which he apparently held in high esteem.
The two ladies in question had almost reached the terminus of their
ride, when Mrs. Worthington remarked incidentally to her friend, It
was nothing in the God's world but pure sass brought those two fellers
to see you last night, Lou.
Mrs. Dawson bit her lip and the cast in her eye became more
accentuated, as it was apt to do when she was ruffled.
I notice you didn't treat 'em any too cool yourself, she retorted.
Oh, they weren't my company, or I'd a give 'em a piece of my mind
pretty quick. You know they're married, and they know you're married,
and they hadn't a bit o' business there.
They're perfect gentlemen, and I don't see what business 'tis of
Oh that's a horse of another color, replied Mrs. Worthington,
bridling and relapsing into injured silence for the period of ten
seconds, when she resumed, I hope they ain't going to poke themselves
at the matinée.
Likely they will 's long as they gave us the tickets.
One of the gentlemen was at the matinée: Mr. Bert Rodney, but he
certainly had not poked himself there. He never did any thing vulgar
or in bad taste. He had only dropped in! Exquisite in dress and
manner, a swell of the upper circles, versed as was no one better in
the code of gentlemanly etiquettehe was for the moment awaiting
disconsolately the return of his wife and daughter from Narragansett.
He took a vacant seat behind the two ladies, and bending forward
began to talk to them in his low and fascinating drawl.
Mrs. Worthington, who often failed to accomplish her fierce designs,
was as gracious towards him as if she had harbored no desire to give
him a piece of her mind; but she was resolute in her refusal to make
one of a proposed supper party.
A quiet sideward look from Mrs. Dawson, told Mr. Rodney as plainly
as words, that in the event of his partie-carrée failing him, he
might count upon her for a tête-à-tête.
XI. The Self-Assumed Burden.
The wedding was over. Hosmer and Fanny had been married in the small
library of their Unitarian minister whom they had found intent upon the
shaping of his Sunday sermon.
Out of deference, he had been briefly told the outward circumstances
of the case, which he knew already; for these two had been formerly
members of his congregation, and gossip had not been reluctant in
telling their story. Hosmer, of course, had drifted away from his
knowledge, and in late years, he had seen little of Fanny, who when
moved to attend church at all usually went to the Redemptorist's Rock
Church with her friend Belle Worthington. This lady was a good Catholic
to the necessary extent of hearing a mass on Sundays, abstaining from
meat on Fridays and Ember days, and making her Easters. Which
concessions were not without their attendant discomforts,
counterbalanced, however, by the soothing assurance which they gave her
of keeping on the safe side.
The minister had been much impressed with the significance of this
re-marriage which he was called upon to perform, and had offered some
few and well chosen expressions of salutary advice as to its future
guidance. The sexton and housekeeper had been called in as witnesses.
Then Hosmer had taken Fanny back home in a cab as she requested,
because of her eyes that were red and swollen.
Inside the little hall-way he took her in his arms and kissed her,
calling her my child. He could not have told why, except that it
expressed the responsibility he accepted of bearing all things that a
father must bear from the child to whom he has given life.
I should like to go out for an hour, Fanny; but if you would rather
not, I shall stay.
No, David, I want to be alone, she said, turning into the little
parlor, with eyes big and heavy from weariness and inward clashing
Along the length of Lindell avenue from Grand avenue west to Forest
park, reaches for two miles on either side of the wide and well kept
gravel drive a smooth stone walk, bordered its full extent with a
double row of trees which were young and still uncertain, when Hosmer
walked between them.
Had it been Sunday, he would have found himself making one of a
fashionable throng of promenaders; it being at that time a fad with
society people to walk to Forest park and back of a Sunday afternoon.
Driving was then considered a respectable diversion only on the six
work days of the week.
But it was not Sunday and this inviting promenade was almost
deserted. An occasional laborer would walk clumsily by; apathetic;
swinging his tin bucket and bearing some implement of toil with the
yellow clay yet clinging to it. Or it might be a brace of strong-minded
girls walking with long and springing stride, which was then
fashionable; looking not to the right nor left; indulging in no
exchange of friendly and girlish chatter, but grimly intent upon the
purpose of their walk.
A steady line of vehicles was pushing on towards the park at the
moderate speed which the law required. On both sides the wide boulevard
tasteful dwellings, many completed, but most of them in course of
construction, were in constant view. Hosmer noted every thing, but
absently; and yet he was not pre-occupied with thought. He felt himself
to be hurrying away from something that was fast overtaking him, and
his faculties for the moment were centered in the mere act of motion.
It is said that motion is pleasurable to man. No doubt, in connection
with a healthy body and free mind, movement brings to the normal human
being a certain degree of enjoyment. But where the healthful conditions
are only physical, rapid motion changes from a source of pleasure to
one of mere expediency.
So long as Hosmer could walk he kept a certain pressing
consciousness at bay. He would have liked to run if he had dared. Since
he had entered the park there were constant trains of cars speeding
somewhere overhead; he could hear them at near intervals clashing over
the stone bridge. And there was not a train which passed that he did
not long to be at the front of it to measure and let out its speed.
What a mad flight he would have given it, to make men hold their breath
with terror! How he would have driven it till its end was death and
chaos!so much the better.
There suddenly formed in Hosmer's mind a sentencesharp and
distinct. We are all conscious of such quick mental visions whether of
words or pictures, coming sometimes from a hidden and untraceable
source, making us quiver with awe at this mysterious power of mind
manifesting itself with the vividness of visible matter.
It was the act of a coward.
Those were the words which checked him, and forbade him to go
farther: which compelled him to turn about and face the reality of his
It is no unusual sight, that of a man lying full length in the soft
tender grass of some retired spot of Forest parkwith his face hidden
in his folded arms. To the few who may see him, if they speculate at
all about him he sleeps or he rests his body after a day's fatigue. Am
I never to be the brave man? thought Hosmer, always the coward,
flying even from my own thoughts?
How hard to him was this unaccustomed task of dealing with moral
difficulties, which all through his life before, however lightly they
had come, he had shirked and avoided! He realized now, that there was
to be no more of that. If he did not wish his life to end in
disgraceful shipwreck, he must take command and direction of it upon
He had felt himself capable of stolid endurance since love had
declared itself his guide and helper. But nowonly to-daysomething
beside had crept into his heart. Not something to be endured, but a
thing to be strangled and thrust away. It was the demon of hate; so
new, so awful, so loathsome, he doubted that he could look it in the
face and live.
Here was the problem of his new existence.
The woman who had formerly made his life colorless and empty he had
quietly turned his back upon, carrying with him a pity that was not
untender. But the woman who had unwittingly robbed him of all
possibility of earthly happinesshe hated her. The woman who for the
remainder of a life-time was to be in all the world the nearest thing
to him, he hated her. He hated this woman of whom he must be careful,
to whom he must be tender, and loyal and generous. And to give no sign
or word but of kindness; to do no action that was not considerate, was
the task which destiny had thrust upon his honor.
He did not ask himself if it were possible of accomplishment. He had
flung hesitancy away, to make room for the all-powerful Must be.
He walked slowly back to his home. There was no need to run now;
nothing pursued him. Should he quicken his pace or drag himself ever so
slowly, it could henceforth make no difference. The burden from which
he had fled was now banded upon him and not to be loosed, unless he
fling himself with it into forgetfulness.
XII. Severing Old Ties.
Returning from the matinée, Belle and her friend Lou Dawson, before
entering their house, crossed over to Fanny's. Mrs. Worthington tried
the door and finding it fastened, rang the bell, then commenced to beat
a tattoo upon the pane with her knuckles; an ingenuous manner which she
had of announcing her identity. Fanny opened to them herself, and the
three walked into the parlor.
I haven't seen you for a coon's age, Fanny, commenced Belle,
where on earth have you been keeping yourself?
You saw me yesterday breakfast time, when you came to borrow the
wrapper pattern, returned Fanny, in serious resentment to her friend's
And much good the old wrapper pattern did me: a mile too small
every way, no matter how much I let out the seams. But see here
Belle's the biggest idiot about her size: there's no convincing her
she's not a sylph.
Thank you, Mrs. Dawson.
Well, it's a fact. Didn't you think Furgeson's scales were all
wrong the other day because you weighed a hundred and eighty pounds?
O that's the day I had that heavy rep on.
Heavy nothing. We were coming over last night, Fanny, but we had
company, continued Mrs. Dawson.
Who d'you have? asked Fanny mechanically and glad of the respite.
Bert Rodney and Mr. Grant. They're so anxious to meet you. I'd 'a
sent over for you, but Belle
See here, Fanny, what the mischief was Dave Hosmer doing here
to-day, and going down town with you and all that sort o' thing?
Fanny flushed uneasily. Have you seen the evening paper? she
How d'you want us to see the paper? we just come from the matinée.
David came yesterday, Fanny said working nervously at the window
shade. He'd wrote me a note the postman brought right after you left
with the pattern. When you saw us getting on the car, we were going
down to Dr. Martin's, and we've got married again.
Mrs. Dawson uttered a long, low whistle by way of comment. Mrs.
Worthington gave vent to her usual Well I'll be switched, which she
was capable of making expressive of every shade of astonishment, from
the lightest to the most pronounced; at the same time unfastening the
bridle of her bonnet which plainly hindered her free respiration after
such a shock.
Say that Fanny isn't sly, after that, Belle.
Sly? My God, she's a fool! If ever a woman had a snap! and to go to
work and let a man get around her like that.
Mrs. Worthington seemed powerless to express herself in anything but
What are you going to do, Fanny? asked Lou, who having aired all
the astonishment which she cared to show, in her whistle, was collected
enough to want her natural curiosity satisfied.
David's living down South. I guess we'll go down there pretty soon.
Soon's he can get things fixed up here.
Oh, I don't know. Somewheres in Louisiana.
It's to be hoped in New Orleans, spoke Belle didactically, that's
the only decent place in Louisiana where a person could live.
No, 'tain't in New Orleans. He's got a saw mill somewheres down
Heavens and earth! a saw mill? shrieked Belle. Lou was looking
calmly resigned to the startling news.
Oh, I ain't going to live in a saw mill. I wisht you'd all let me
alone, any way, she returned pettishly. There's a lady keeps a
plantation, and that's where he lives.
Well of all the rigmaroles! a lady, and a saw mill and a
plantation. It's my opinion that man could make you believe black's
white, Fanny Larimore.
As Hosmer approached his house, he felt mechanically in his pocket
for his latch key; so small a trick having come back to him with the
old habit of misery. Of course he found no key. His ring startled
Fanny, who at once sprang from her scat to open the door for him; but
having taken a few steps, she hesitated and irresolutely re-seated
herself. It was only his second ring that the servant unamiably
condescended to answer.
So you're going to take Fanny away from us, Mr. Hosmer, said
Belle, when he had greeted them and seated himself beside Mrs. Dawson
on the small sofa that stood between the door and window. Fanny sat at
the adjoining window, and Mrs. Worthington in the center of the room;
which was indeed so small a room that any one of them might have
reached out and almost touched the hand of the others.
Yes, Fanny has agreed to go South with me, he answered briefly.
You're looking well, Mrs. Worthington.
Oh, Law yes, I'm never sick. As I tell Mr. Worthington, he'll never
get rid of me, unless he hires somebody to murder me. But I tell you
what, you came pretty near not having any Fanny to take away with you.
She was the sickest woman! Did you tell him about it, Fanny? Come to
think of it, I guess the climate down there'll be the very thing to
bring her round.
Mrs. Dawson without offering apology interrupted her friend to
inquire of Hosmer if his life in the South were not of the most
interesting, and begging that he detail them something of it; with a
look to indicate that she felt the deepest concern in anything that
A masculine presence had always the effect of rousing Mrs. Dawson
into an animation which was like the glow of a slumbering ember, when a
strong pressure of air is brought to bear upon it.
Hosmer had always considered her an amiable woman, with rather
delicate perceptions; frivolous, but without the vulgarisms of Mrs.
Worthington, and consequently a less objectionable friend for Fanny. He
answered, looking down into her eyes, which were full of attentiveness.
My life in the South is not one that you would think interesting. I
live in the country where there are no distractions such as you ladies
call amusementsand I work pretty hard. But it's the sort of life that
one grows attached to and finds himself longing for again if he have
occasion to change it.
Yes, it must be very satisfying, she answered; for the moment
Oh very! exclaimed Mrs. Worthington, with a loud and aggressive
laugh. It would just suit you to a T, Lou, but how it's going to
satisfy Fanny! Well, I've got nothing to say about it, thanks be; it
don't concern me.
If Fanny finds that she doesn't like it after a fair trial, she has
the privilege of saying so, and we shall come back again, he said
looking at his wife whose elevation of eyebrow, and droop of mouth gave
her the expression of martyred resignation, which St. Lawrence might
have worn, when invited to make himself comfortable on the gridironso
had Mrs. Worthington's words impressed her with the force of their
Mrs. Dawson politely hoped that Hosmer would not leave before Jack
came home; it would distress Jack beyond everything to return and find
that he had missed an old friend whom he thought so much of.
Hosmer could not say precisely when they would leave. He was in
present negotiation with a person who wanted to rent the house,
furnished; and just as soon as he could arrange a few business details,
and Fanny could gather such belongings as she wished to take with her
they would go.
You seem mighty struck on Dave Hosmer, all of a sudden, remarked
Mrs. Worthington to her friend, as the two crossed over the street. A
feller without any more feelings than a stick; it's what I always said
Oh, I always did like Hosmer, replied Mrs. Dawson. But I thought
he had more sense than to tie himself to that little gump again, after
he'd had the luck to get rid of her.
A few days later Jack came home. His return was made palpable to the
entire neighborhood; for no cab ever announced itself with quite the
dash and clatter and bang of door that Jack's cabs did.
The driver had staggered behind him under the weight of the huge
yellow valise, and had been liberally paid for the service.
Immediately the windows were thrown wide open, and the lace curtains
drawn aside until no smallest vestige of them remained visible from the
street. A condition of things which Mrs. Worthington upstairs bitterly
resented, and naturally, spoiling as it necessarily did, the general
coup d'oeil of the flat to passers-by. But Mrs. Dawson had won her
husband's esteem by just such acts as this one of amiable permission to
ventilate the house according to methods of his own and essentially
masculine; regardless of dust that might be flying, or sun that might
be shining with disastrous results to the parlor carpet.
Clouds of tobacco smoke were seen to issue from the open windows.
Those neighbors whose openings commanded a view of the Dawson's
alley-gate might have noted the hired girl starting for the grocery
with unusual animation of step, and returning with her basket well
stocked with beer and soda bottlesa provision made against a need for
dutch-cocktails, likely to assail Jack during his hours of
In the evening the same hired girl, breathless from the multiplicity
of errands which she had accomplished during the day, appeared at the
Hosmers with a message that Mrs. Dawson wanted them to come over.
They were preparing to leave on the morrow, but concluded that they
could spare a few moments in which to bid adieu to their friends.
Jack met them at the very threshold, with warm and hearty
hand-shaking, and loud protest when he learned that they had not come
to spend the evening and that they were going away next day.
Great Scott! you're not leaving to-morrow? And I ain't going to
have a chance to get even with Mrs. Hosmer on that last deal? By Jove,
she knows how to do it, he said, addressing Hosmer and holding Fanny
familiarly by the elbow. Drew to the middle, sir, and hang me, if she
didn't fill. Takes a woman to do that sort o' thing; and me a laying
for her with three aces. Hello there, girls! here's Hosmer and Fanny,
in response to which summons his wife and Mrs. Worthington issued from
the depths of the dining-room, where they had been engaged in preparing
certain refreshments for the expected guests.
See here, Lou, we'll have to fix it up some way to go and see them
off to-morrow. If you'd manage to lay over till Thursday I could join
you as far as Little Rock. But no, that's a fact, he added
reflectively, I've got to be in Cincinnati on Thursday.
They had all entered the parlor, and Mrs. Worthington suggested that
Hosmer go up and make a visit to her husband, whom he would find up
there poring over those everlasting books.
I don't know what's got into Mr. Worthington lately, she said,
he's getting that religious. If it ain't the Bible he's poring over,
well it's something or other just as bad.
The brightly burning light guided Hosmer to the kitchen, where he
found Lorenzo Worthington seated beside his student lamp at the table,
which was covered with a neat red cloth. On the gas-stove was spread a
similar cloth and the floor was covered with a shining oil-cloth.
Mr. Worthington was startled, having already forgotten that his wife
had told him of Hosmer's return to St. Louis.
Why, Mr. Hosmer, is this you? come, come into the parlor, this is
no place, shaking Hosmer's hand and motioning towards the parlor.
No, it's very nice and cozy here, and I have only a moment to
stay, said Hosmer, seating himself beside the table on which the other
had laid his book, with his spectacles between the pages to mark his
place. Mr. Worthington then did a little hemming and hawing preparatory
to saying something fitting the occasion; not wishing to be hasty in
offering the old established form of congratulation, in a case whose
peculiarity afforded him no precedential guide. Hosmer came to his
relief by observing quite naturally that he and his wife had come over
to say good-bye, before leaving for the South, adding no doubt Mrs.
Worthington has told you.
Yes, yes, and I'm sure we're very sorry to lose you; that is, Mrs.
LarimoreI should say Mrs. Hosmer. Isabella will certainly regret her
departure, I see them always together, you know.
You cling to your old habit, I see, Mr. Worthington, said Hosmer,
indicating his meaning by a motion of the hand towards the book on the
Yes, to a certain extent. Always within the forced limits, you
understand. At this moment I am much interested in tracing the history
of various religions which are known to us; those which have died out,
as well as existing religions. It is curious, indeed, to note the
circumstances of their birth, their progress and inevitable death;
seeming to follow the course of nations in such respect. And the
similitude which stamps them all, is also a feature worthy of study.
You would perhaps be surprised, sir, to discover the points of
resemblance which indicate in them a common origin. To observe the
slight differences, indeed technical differences, distinguishing the
Islam from the Hebrew, or both from the Christian religion. The creeds
are obviously ramifications from the one deep-rooted trunk which we
call religion. Have you ever thought of this, Mr. Hosmer?
No, I admit that I've not gone into it. Homeyer would have me think
that all religions are but mythological creations invented to satisfy a
species of sentimentalitya morbid craving in man for the unknown and
That is where he is wrong; where I must be permitted to differ from
him. As you would find, my dear sir, by following carefully the history
of mankind, that the religious sentiment is implanted, a true and
legitimate attribute of the human soulwith peremptory right to its
existence. Whatever may be faulty in the creedsthat makes no
difference, the foundation is there and not to be dislodged. Homeyer,
as I understand him from your former not infrequent references, is an
Iconoclast, who would tear down and leave devastation behind him;
building up nothing. He would deprive a clinging humanity of the
supports about which she twines herself, and leave her helpless and
sprawling upon the earth.
No, no, he believes in a natural adjustment, interrupted Hosmer.
In an innate reserve force of accommodation. What we commonly call
laws in nature, he styles accidentsin society, only arbitrary methods
of expediency, which, when they outlive their usefulness to an
advancing and exacting civilization, should be set aside. He is a
little impatient to always wait for the inevitable natural adjustment.
Ah, my dear Mr. Hosmer, the world is certainly to-day not prepared
to stand the lopping off and wrenching away of old traditions. She must
take her stand against such enemies of the conventional. Take religion
away from the life of man
Well, I knew itI was just as sure as preaching, burst out Mrs.
Worthington, as she threw open the door and confronted the two
menresplendent in baby blue and much steel ornamentation. As I
tell Mr. Worthington, he ought to turn Christian Brother or something
and be done with it.
No, no, my dear; Mr. Hosmer and I have merely been interchanging a
few disjointed ideas.
I'll be bound they were disjointed. I guess Fanny wants you, Mr.
Hosmer. If you listen to Mr. Worthington he'll keep you here till
daylight with his ideas.
Hosmer followed Mrs. Worthington down-stairs and into Mrs. Dawson's.
As he entered the parlor he heard Fanny laughing gaily, and saw that
she stood near the sideboard in the dining-room, just clicking her
glass of punch to Jack Dawson's, who was making a gay speech on the
occasion of her new marriage.
They did not leave when they had intended. Need the misery of that
one day be told?
But on the evening of the following day, Fanny peered with pale,
haggard face from the closed window of the Pullman car as it moved
slowly out of Union depôt, to see Lou and Jack Dawson smiling and
waving good-bye, Belle wiping her eyes and Mr. Worthington looking
blankly along the line of windows, unable to see them without his
spectacles, which he had left between the pages of his Schopenhauer on
the kitchen table at home.
PART II. h3 ALIGN="CENTER">I
Fanny's First Night at Place-du-Bois.
The journey South had not been without attractions for Fanny. She
had that consciousness so pleasing to the feminine mind of being well
dressed; for her husband had been exceedingly liberal in furnishing her
the means to satisfy her fancy in that regard. Moreover the change
holding out a promise of novelty, irritated her to a feeble expectancy.
The air, that came to her in puffs through the car window, was
deliciously soft and mild; steeped with the rich languor of the Indian
summer, that had already touched the tree tops, the sloping hill-side,
and the very air, with russet and gold.
Hosmer sat beside her, curiously inattentive to his newspaper;
observant of her small needs, and anticipating her timid half expressed
wishes. Was there some mysterious power that had so soon taught the man
such methods to a woman's heart, or was he not rather on guard and
schooling himself for the rôle which was to be acted out to the end?
But as the day was approaching its close, Fanny became tired and
languid; a certain mistrust was creeping into her heart with the
nearing darkness. It had grown sultry and close, and the view from the
car window was no longer cheerful, as they whirled through forests,
gloomy with trailing moss, or sped over an unfamiliar country whose
features were strange and held no promise of a welcome for her.
They were nearing Place-du-Bois, and Hosmer's spirits had risen
almost to the point of gaiety as he began to recognize the faces of
those who loitered about the stations at which they stopped. At the
Centerville station, five miles before reaching their own, he had even
gone out on the platform to shake hands with the rather mystified agent
who had not known of his absence. And he had waved a salute to the
little French priest of Centerville who stood out in the open beside
his horse, booted, spurred and all equipped for bad weather, waiting
for certain consignments which were to come with the train, and who
answered Hosmer's greeting with a sober and uncompromising sweep of the
hand. When the whistle sounded for Place-du-Bois, it was nearly dark.
Hosmer hurried Fanny on to the platform, where stood Henry, his clerk.
There were a great many negroes loitering about, some of whom offered
him a cordial how'dy Mr. Hosma, and pushing through was Grégoire,
meeting them with the ease of a courtier, and acknowledging Hosmer's
introduction of his wife, with a friendly hand shake.
Aunt Thérèse sent the buggy down fur you, he said, we had rain
this mornin' and the road's putty heavy. Come this way. Mine out fur
that ba'el, Mrs. Hosma, it's got molasses in. Hiurm bring that buggy
What's the news, Grégoire? asked Hosmer, as they waited for Hiram
to turn the horses about.
Jus' about the same's ev'a. Miss Melicent wasn't ver' well a few
days back; but she's some betta. I reckon you're all plum wore out, he
added, taking in Fanny's listless attitude, and thinking her very
pretty as far as he could discover in the dim light.
They drove directly to the cottage, and on the porch Thérèse was
waiting for them. She took Fanny's two hands and pressed them warmly
between her own; then led her into the house with an arm passed about
her waist. She shook hands with Hosmer, and stood for a while in
cheerful conversation, before leaving them.
The cottage was fully equipped for their reception, with Minervy in
possession of the kitchen and the formerly reluctant Suze as housemaid:
though Thérèse had been silent as to the methods which she had employed
to prevail with these unwilling damsels.
Hosmer then went out to look after their baggage, and when he
returned, Fanny sat with her head pillowed on the sofa, sobbing
bitterly. He knelt beside her, putting his arm around her, and asked
the cause of her distress.
Oh it's so lonesome, and dreadful, I don't believe I can stand it,
she answered haltingly through her tears.
And here was he thinking it was so home-like and comforting, and
tasting the first joy that he had known since he had gone away.
It's all strange and new to you, Fanny; try to bear up for a day or
two. Come now, don't be a babytake courage. It will all seem quite
different by and by, when the sun shines.
A knock at the door was followed by the entrance of a young colored
boy carrying an armful of wood.
Miss T'rèse sont me kin'le fiar fu' Miss Hosma; 'low he tu'nin'
cole, he said depositing his load on the hearth; and Fanny, drying her
eyes, turned to watch him at his work.
He went very deliberately about it, tearing off thin slathers from
the fat pine, and arranging them into a light frame-work, beneath a
topping of kindling and logs that he placed on the massive brass
andirons. He crawled about on hands and knees, picking up the stray
bits of chips and moss that had fallen from his arms when he came in.
Then sitting back on his heels he looked meditatively into the blaze
which he had kindled and scratched his nose with a splinter of pine
wood. When Hosmer presently left the room, he rolled his big black eyes
towards Fanny, without turning his head, and remarked in a tone plainly
inviting conversation yo' all come f'om way yonda?
He was intensely black, and if Fanny had been a woman with the
slightest sense of humor, she could not but have been amused at the
picture which he presented in the revealing fire-light with his elfish
and ape like body much too small to fill out the tattered and
ill-fitting garments that hung about it. But she only wondered at him
and his rags, and at his motive for addressing her.
We're come from St. Louis, she replied, taking him with a
seriousness which in no wise daunted him.
Yo' all brung de rain, he went on sociably, leaving off the
scratching of his nose, to pass his black yellow-palmed hand slowly
through the now raging fire, a feat which filled her with
consternation. After prevailing upon him to desist from this salamander
like exhibition, she was moved to ask if he were not very poor to be
thus shabbily clad.
No 'um, he laughed, I got some sto' close yonda home. Dis yere
coat w'at Mista Grégor gi'me, looking critically down at its length,
which swept the floor as he remained on his knees. He done all to'e tu
pieces time he gi' him tu me, whar he scuffle wid Joçint yonda tu de
mill. Mammy 'low she gwine mek him de same like new w'en she kin kotch
The entrance of Minervy bearing a tray temptingly arranged with a
dainty supper, served to silence the boy, who at seeing her, threw
himself upon all fours and appeared to be busy with the fire. The
woman, a big raw-boned field hand, set her burden awkwardly down on a
table, and after staring comprehensively around, addressed the boy in a
low rich voice, Dar ain't no mo' call to bodda wid dat fiar, you
Sampson; how come Miss T'rèse sont you lazy piece in yere tu buil'
Don' know how come, he replied, vanishing with an air of the
Hosmer and Fanny took tea together before the cheerful fire and he
told her something of methods on the plantation, and made her further
acquainted with the various people whom she had thus far encountered.
She listened apathetically; taking little interest in what he said, and
asking few questions. She did express a little bewilderment at the
servant problem. Mrs. Lafirme, during their short conversation, had
deplored her inability to procure more than two servants for her; and
Fanny could not understand why it should require so many to do the work
which at home was accomplished by one. But she was tiredvery tired,
and early sought her bed, and Hosmer went in quest of his sister whom
he had not yet seen.
Melicent had been told of his marriage some days previously, and had
been thrown into such a state of nerves by the intelligence, as to
seriously alarm those who surrounded her and whose experience with
hysterical girls had been inadequate.
Poor Grégoire had betaken himself with the speed of the wind to the
store to procure bromide, valerian, and whatever else should be thought
available in prevailing with a malady of this distressing nature. But
she was some betta, as he told Hosmer, who found her walking in the
darkness of one of the long verandas, all enveloped in filmy white
wool. He was a little prepared for a cool reception from her, and ten
minutes before she might have received him with a studied indifference.
But her mood had veered about and touched the point which moved her to
fall upon his neck, and in a manner, condole with him; seasoning her
sympathy with a few tears.
Whatever possessed you, David? I have been thinking, and thinking,
and I can see no reason which should have driven you to do this thing.
Of course I can't meet her; you surely don't expect it?
He took her arm and joined her in her slow walk.
Yes, I do expect it, Melicent, and if you have the least regard for
me, I expect more. I want you to be good to her, and patient, and show
yourself her friend. No one can do such things more amiably than you,
when you try.
But David, I had hoped for something so different.
You couldn't have expected me to marry Mrs. Lafirme, a Catholic,
he said, making no pretense of misunderstanding her.
I think that woman would have given up religionanything for you.
Then you don't know her, little sister.
It must have been far in the night when Fanny awoke suddenly. She
could not have told whether she had been awakened by the long, wailing
cry of a traveler across the narrow river, vainly trying to rouse the
ferryman; or the creaking of a heavy wagon that labored slowly by in
the road and moved Hector to noisy enquiry. Was it not rather the
pattering rain that the wind was driving against the window panes? The
lamp burned dimly upon the high old-fashioned mantel-piece and her
husband had thoughtfully placed an improvised screen before it, to
protect her against its disturbance. He himself was not beside her, nor
was he in the room. She slid from her bed and moved softly on her bare
feet over to the open sitting-room door.
The fire had all burned away. Only the embers lay in a glowing heap,
and while she looked, the last stick that lay across the andirons,
broke through its tapering center and fell amongst them, stirring a
fitful light by which she discovered her husband seated and bowed like
a man who has been stricken. Uncomprehending, she stood a moment
speechless, then crept back noiselessly to bed.
II. Neva to See You!
Thérèse judged it best to leave Fanny a good deal to herself during
her first days on the plantation, without relinquishing a certain
watchful supervision of her comfort, and looking in on her for a few
moments each day. The rain which had come with them continued fitfully
and Fanny remained in doors, clad in a warm handsome gown, her small
slippered feet cushioned before the fire, and reading the latest novel
of one of those prolific female writers who turn out their unwholesome
intellectual sweets so tirelessly, to be devoured by the girls and
women of the age.
Melicent, who always did the unexpected, crossed over early on the
morning after Fanny's arrival; penetrated to her sleeping room and
embraced her effusively, even as she lay in bed, calling her poor dear
Fanny and cautioning her against getting up on such a morning.
The tears which had come to Fanny on arriving, and which had dried
on her cheek when she turned to gaze into the cheer of the great wood
fire, did not return. Everybody seemed to be making much of her, which
was a new experience in her life; she having always felt herself as of
little consequence, and in a manner, overlooked. The negroes were
overawed at the splendor of her toilettes and showed a respect for her
in proportion to the money value which these toilettes reflected. Each
morning Grégoire left at her door his compliments with a huge bouquet
of brilliant and many colored crysanthemums, and enquiry if he could
serve her in any way. And Hosmer's time, that was not given to work,
was passed at her side; not in brooding or pre-occupied silence, but in
talk that invited her to friendly response.
With Thérèse, she was at first shy and diffident, and over watchful
of herself. She did not forget that Hosmer had told her The lady knows
why I have come and she resented that knowledge which Thérèse
possessed of her past intimate married life.
Melicent's attentions did not last in their ultra-effusiveness, but
she found Fanny less objectionable since removed from her St. Louis
surroundings; and the evident consideration with which she had been
accepted at Place-du-Bois seemed to throw about her a halo of
sufficient distinction to impel the girl to view her from a new and
But the charm of plantation life was letting go its hold upon
Melicent. Grégoire's adoration alone, and her feeble response to it
were all that kept her.
I neva felt anything like this befo', he said, as they stood
together and their hands touched in reaching for a splendid rose that
hung invitingly from its tall latticed support out in mid lawn. The sun
had come again and dried the last drop of lingering moisture on grass
W'en I'm away f'om you, even fur five minutes, 't seems like I mus'
hurry quick, quick, to git back again; an' w'en I'm with you,
everything 'pears all right, even if you don't talk to me or look at
me. Th' otha day, down at the gin, he continued, I was figurin' on
some weights an' wasn't thinkin' about you at all, an' all at once I
remember'd the one time I'd kissed you. Goodness! I couldn't see the
figures any mo', my head swum and the pencil mos' fell out o' my han'.
I neva felt anything like it: hones', Miss Melicent, I thought I was
goin' to faint fur a minute.
That's very unwise, Grégoire, she said, taking the roses that he
handed her to add to the already large bunch. You must learn to think
of me calmly: our love must be something like a sacred memorya sweet
recollection to help us through life when we are apart.
I don't know how I'm goin' to stan' it. Neva to see you! nevamy
God! he gasped, paling and crushing between his nervous fingers the
flower she would have taken from him.
There is nothing in this world that one cannot grow accustomed to,
dear, spoke the pretty philosopher, picking up her skirts daintily
with one hand and passing the other through his armthe hand which
held the flowers, whose peculiar perfume ever afterwards made Grégoire
shiver through a moment of pain that touched very close upon rapture.
He was more occupied than he liked during those busy days of
harvesting and ginning, that left him only brief and snatched intervals
of Melicent's society. If he could have rested in the comfort of being
sure of her, such moments of separation would have had their
compensation in reflective anticipation. But with his undisciplined
desires and hot-blooded eagerness, her half-hearted acknowledgments and
inadequate concessions, closed her about with a chilling barrier that
staggered him with its problematic nature. Feeling himself her equal in
the aristocracy of blood, and her master in the knowledge and strength
of loving, he resented those half understood reasons which removed him
from the possibility of being anything to her. And more, he was angry
with himself for acquiescing in that self understood agreement. But it
was only in her absence that these thoughts disturbed him. When he was
with her, his whole being rejoiced in her existence and there was no
room for doubt or dread.
He felt himself regenerated through love, and as having no part in
that other Grégoire whom he only thought of to dismiss with
The time came when he could ill conceal his passion from others.
Thérèse became conscious of it, through an unguarded glance. The
unhappiness of the situation was plain to her; but to what degree she
could not guess. It was certainly so deplorable that it would have been
worth while to have averted it. Yet, she felt great faith in the power
of time and absence to heal such wounds even to the extent of leaving
no tell-tale scar.
Grégoire, my boy, she said to him, speaking in French, and laying
her hand on his, when they were alone together. I hope that your heart
is not too deep in this folly.
He reddened and asked, What do you mean, aunt?
I mean, that unfortunately, you are in love with Melicent. I do not
know how much longer she will remain here, but taking any possibility
for granted, let me advise you to leave the place for a while; go back
to your home, or take a little trip to the city.
No, I could not.
Force yourself to it.
And lose days, perhaps weeks, of being near her? No, no, I could
not do that, aunt. There will be plenty time for that in the rest of my
life, he said, trying to speak calmly and forcing his voice to a
harshness which the nearness of tears made needful.
Does she know? Have you told her?
Oh yes, she knows how much I love her.
And she does not love you, said Thérèse, seeming rather to assert
than to question.
No, she does not. No matter what she saysshe does not. I can feel
that here, he answered, striking his breast. Oh aunt, it is terrible
to think of her going away; forever, perhaps; of never seeing her. I
could not stand it. And he stood the strain no longer, but sobbed and
wept with his aunt's consoling arms around him.
Thérèse, knowing that Melicent would not tarry much longer with
them, thought it not needful to approach her on the subject. Had it
been otherwise, she would not have hesitated to beg the girl to desist
from this unprofitable amusement of tormenting a human heart.
III. A Talk Under the Cedar Tree.
Day by day, Fanny threw off somewhat of the homesickness which had
weighted her at coming. Not by any determined effort of the will, nor
by any resolve to make the best of things. Outside influences meeting
half-way the workings of unconscious inward forces, were the agents
that by degrees were gently ridding her of the acute pressure of
dissatisfaction, which up to the present, she had stolidly borne
without any personal effort to cast it off.
Thérèse affected her forcibly. This woman so wholesome, so fair and
strong; so un-American as to be not ashamed to show tenderness and
sympathy with eye and lip, moved Fanny like a new and pleasing
experience. When Thérèse touched her caressingly, or gently stroked her
limp hand, she started guiltily, and looked furtively around to make
sure that none had witnessed an exhibition of tenderness that made her
flush, and the first time found her unresponsive. A second time, she
awkwardly returned the hand pressure, and later, these mildly sensuous
exchanges prefaced the outpouring of all Fanny's woes, great and small.
I don't say that I always done what was right, Mrs. Laferm, but I
guess David's told you just what suited him about me. You got to
remember there's always two sides to a story.
She had been to the poultry yard with Thérèse, who had introduced
her to its feathery tenants, making her acquainted with stately Brahmas
and sleek Plymouth-Rocks and hardy little Creole chickensnot much
to look at, but very palatable when converted into fricassée.
Returning, they seated themselves on the bench that encircled a
massive cedarspreading and conical. Hector, who had trotted
attendance upon them during their visit of inspection, cast himself
heavily down at his mistress' feet and after glancing knowingly up into
her face, looked placidly forth at Sampson, gathering garden greens on
the other side of a low dividing fence.
You see if David'd always been like he is now, I don't know but
things'd been different. Do you suppose he ever went any wheres with
me, or even so much as talked to me when he came home? There was always
that everlasting newspaper in his pocket, and he'd haul it out the
first thing. Then I used to read the paper too sometimes, and when I'd
go to talk to him about what I read, he'd never even looked at the same
things. Goodness knows what he read in the paper, I never could find
out; but here'd be the edges all covered over with figuring. I believe
it's the only thing he ever thought or dreamt about; that eternal
figuring on every bit of paper he could lay hold of, till I was tired
picking them up all over the house. Belle Worthington used to say it'd
of took an angel to stand him. I mean his throwing papers around that
way. For as far as his never talking went, she couldn't find any fault
with that; Mr. Worthington was just as bad, if he wasn't worse. But
Belle's not like me; I don't believe she'd let poor Mr. Worthington
talk in the house if he wanted to.
She gradually drifted away from her starting point, and like most
people who have usually little to say, became very voluble, when once
she passed into the humor of talking. Thérèse let her talk unchecked.
It seemed to do her good to chatter about Belle and Lou, and Jack
Dawson, and about her home life, of which she unknowingly made such a
pitiable picture to her listener.
I guess David never let on to you about himself, she said moodily,
having come back to the sore that rankled: the dread that Thérèse had
laid all the blame of the rupture on her shoulders.
You're mistaken, Mrs. Hosmer. It was a knowledge of his own
short-comings that prompted your husband to go back and ask your
forgiveness. You must grant, there's nothing in his conduct now that
you could reproach him with. And, she added, laying her hand gently on
Fanny's arm, I know you'll be strong, and do your share in this
reconciliationdo what you can to please him.
Fanny flushed uneasily under Thérèse's appealing glance.
I'm willing to do anything that David wants, she replied, I made
up my mind to that from the start. He's a mighty good husband now, Mrs.
Laferm. Don't mind what I said about him. I was afraid you thought
Never mind, returned Thérèse kindly, I know all about it. Don't
worry any farther over what I may think. I believe in you and in him,
and I know you'll both be brave and do what's right.
There isn't anything so very hard for David to do, she said,
depressed with a sense of her inadequate strength to do the task which
she had set herself. He's got no faults to give up. David never did
have any faults. He's a true, honest man; and I was a coward to say
those things about him.
Melicent and Grégoire were coming across the lawn to join the two,
and Fanny, seeing them approach, suddenly chilled and wrapt herself
about in her mantle of reserve.
I guess I better go, she said, offering to rise, but Thérèse held
out a detaining hand.
You don't want to go and sit alone in the cottage; stay here with
me till Mr. Hosmer comes back from the mill.
Grégoire's face was a study. Melicent, who did what she wanted with
him, had chosen this afternoon, for some inscrutable reason, to make
him happy. He carried her shawl and parasol; she herself bearing a
veritable armful of flowers, leaves, red berried sprigs, a tangle of
richest color. They had been in the woods and she had bedecked him with
garlands and festoons of autumn leaves, till he looked a very Satyr; a
character which his flushed, swarthy cheeks, and glittering animal eyes
did not belie.
They were laughing immoderately, and their whole bearing still
reflected their exuberant gaiety as they joined Thérèse and Fanny.
What a 'Mater Dolorosa' Fanny looks! exclaimed Melicent, throwing
herself into a picturesque attitude on the bench beside Thérèse, and
resting her feet on Hector's broad back.
Fanny offered no reply, but to look helplessly resigned; an
expression which Melicent knew of old, and which had always the effect
of irritating her. Not now, however, for the curve of the bench around
the great cedar tree removed her from the possibility of contemplating
Fanny's doleful visage, unless she made an effort to that end, which
she was certainly not inclined to do.
No, Grégoire, she said, flinging a rose into his face when he
would have seated himself beside her, go sit by Fanny and do something
to make her laugh; only don't tickle her; David mightn't like it. And
here's Mrs. Lafirme looking almost as glum. Now, if David would only
join us with that 'pale cast of thought' that he bears about usually,
what a merry go round we'd have.
When Melicent looks at the world laughing, she wants it to laugh
back at her, said Thérèse, reflecting something of the girl's gaiety.
As in a looking-glass, well isn't that square? she returned,
falling into slang, in her recklessness of spirit.
Endeavoring to guard her treasure of flowers from Thérèse, who was
without ceremony making a critical selection among them of what pleased
her, Melicent slid around the bench, bringing herself close to Grégoire
and begging his protection against the Vandalism of his aunt. She
looked into his eyes for an instant as though asking him for love
instead of so slight a favor and he grasped her arm, pressing it till
she cried out from the pain: which act, on his side, served to drive
her again around to Thérèse.
Guess what we are going to do to-morrow: you and I and all of us;
Grégoire and David and Fanny and everybody?
Going to Bedlam along with you? Thérèse asked.
Mrs. Lafirme is in need of a rebuke, which I shall proceed to
administer, thrusting a crumpled handful of rose leaves down the neck
of Thérèse's dress, and laughing joyously in her scuffle to accomplish
No, madam; I don't go to Bedlam; I drive others there. Ask Grégoire
what we're going to do. Tell them, Grégoire.
They ain't much to tell. We'a goin' hoss back ridin'.
Not me; I can't ride, wailed Fanny.
You can get up Torpedo for Mrs. Hosmer, can't you, Grégoire? asked
Certainly. W'y you could ride ole Torpedo, Mrs. Hosma, if you nova
saw a hoss in yo' life. A li'l chile could manage him.
Fanny turned to Thérèse for further assurance and found all that she
We'll go up on the hill and see that dear old Morico, and I shall
take along a comb, and comb out that exquisite white hair of his and
then I shall focus him, seated in his low chair and making one of those
cute turkey fans.
Ole Morico ain't goin' to let you try no monkeyshines on him; I
tell you that befo' han', said Grégoire, rising and coming to Melicent
to rid him of his sylvan ornamentations, for it was time for him to
leave them. When he turned away, Melicent rose and flung all her
flowery wealth into Thérèse's lap, and following took his arm.
Where are you going? asked Thérèse.
Going to help Grégoire feed the mules, she called back looking
over her shoulder; the sinking sun lighting her handsome mischievous
Thérèse proceeded to arrange the flowers with some regard to
graceful symmetry; and Fanny did not regain her talkative spirit that
Melicent's coming had put to flight, but sat looking silent and
listlessly into the distance.
As Thérèse glanced casually up into her face she saw it warmed by a
sudden faint glowan unusual animation, and following her gaze, she
saw that Hosmer had returned and was entering the cottage.
I guess I better be going, said Fanny rising, and this time
Thérèse no longer detained her.
IV. Thérèse Crosses the River.
To shirk any serious duties of life would have been entirely foreign
to Thérèse's methods or even instincts. But there did come to her
moments of rebellionor repulsion, against the small demands that
presented themselves with an unfailing recurrence; and from such, she
at times indulged herself with the privilege of running away. When
Fanny left her alonea pathetic little droop took possession of the
corners of her mouth that might not have come there if she had not been
alone. She laid the flowers, only half arranged, on the bench beside
her, as a child would put aside a toy that no longer interested it. She
looked towards the house and could see the servants going back and
forth. She knew if she entered, she would be met by appeals from one
and the other. The overseer would soon be along, with his crib keys,
and stable keys; his account of the day's doings and consultations for
to-morrow's work, and for the moment, she would have none of it.
Come, Hectorcome, old boy, she said rising abruptly; and
crossing the lawn she soon gained the gravel path that led to the outer
road. This road brought her by a mild descent to the river bank. The
water, seldom stationary for any long period, was at present running
low and sluggishly between its red banks.
Tied to the landing was a huge flat-boat, that was managed by the
aid of a stout cable reaching quite across the river; and beside it
nestled a small light skiff. In this Thérèse seated herself, and
proceeded to row across the stream, Hector plunging into the water and
swimming in advance of her.
The banks on the opposite shore were almost perpendicular; and their
summit to be reached only by the artificial road that had been cut into
them: broad and of easy ascent. This river front was a standing worry
to Thérèse, for when the water was high and rapid, the banks caved
constantly, carrying away great sections from the land. Almost every
year, the fences in places had to be moved back, not only for security,
but to allow a margin for the road that on this side followed the
course of the small river.
High up and perilously near the edge, stood a small cabin. It had
once been far removed from the river, which had now, however, eaten its
way close up to itleaving no space for the road-way. The house was
somewhat more pretentious than others of its class, being fashioned of
planed painted boards, and having a brick chimney that stood fully
exposed at one end. A great rose tree climbed and spread generously
over one side, and the big red roses grew by hundreds amid the dark
green setting of their leaves.
At the gate of this cabin Thérèse stopped, calling out, Grosse
tante!oh, Grosse tante!
The sound of her voice brought to the door a negresscoal black and
so enormously fat that she moved about with evident difficulty. She was
dressed in a loosely hanging purple calico garment of the mother
Hubbard typeknown as a volante amongst Louisiana Creoles; and
on her head was knotted and fantastically twisted a bright tignon. Her glistening good-natured countenance illumined at the sight of
Quo faire to pas woulez rentrer, Tite maîtresse? and
Thérèse answered in the same Creole dialect: Not now, Grosse tante
I shall be back in half an hour to drink a cup of coffee with you. No
English words can convey the soft music of that speech, seemingly made
for tenderness and endearment.
As Thérèse turned away from the gate, the black woman re-entered the
house, and as briskly as her cumbersome size would permit, began
preparations for her mistress' visit. Milk and butter were taken from
the safe; eggs, from the India rush basket that hung against the wall;
and flour, from the half barrel that stood in convenient readiness in
the corner: for Tite maîtresse was to be treated to a dish of
croquignoles. Coffee was always an accomplished fact at hand in the
Grosse tante, or more properly, Marie Louise, was a
CreoleThérèse's nurse and attendant from infancy, and the only one of
the family servants who had come with her mistress from New Orleans to
Place-du-Bois at that lady's marriage with Jérôme Lafirme. But her ever
increasing weight had long since removed her from the possibility of
usefulness, otherwise than in supervising her small farm yard. She had
little use for ces néges Américains, as she called the
plantation handsa restless lot forever shifting about and changing
It was seldom now that she crossed the river; only two occasions
being considered of sufficient importance to induce her to such effort.
One was in the event of her mistress' illness, when she would install
herself at her bedside as a fixture, not to be dislodged by any less
inducement than Thérèse's full recovery. The other was when a dinner of
importance was to be given: then Marie Louise consented to act as
chef de cuisine, for there was no more famous cook than she in the
State; her instructor having been no less a personage than old Lucien
Santiena gourmet famed for his ultra Parisian tastes.
Seated at the base of a great China-berry on whose gnarled
protruding roots she rested an arm languidly, Thérèse looked out over
the river and gave herself up to doubts and misgivings. She first took
exception with herself for that constant interference in the concerns
of other people. Might not this propensity be carried too far at times?
Did the good accruing counterbalance the personal discomfort into which
she was often driven by her own agency? What reason had she to know
that a policy of non-interference in the affairs of others might not
after all be the judicious one? As much as she tried to vaguely
generalize, she found her reasoning applying itself to her relation
The look which she had surprised in Fanny's face had been a painful
revelation to her. Yet could she have expected other, and should she
have hoped for less, than that Fanny should love her husband and he in
turn should come to love his wife?
Had she married Hosmer herself! Here she smiled to think of the
storm of indignation that such a marriage would have roused in the
parish. Yet, even facing the impossibility of such contingency, it
pleased her to indulge in a short dream of what might have been.
If it were her right instead of another's to watch for his coming
and rejoice at it! Hers to call him husband and lavish on him the love
that awoke so strongly when she permitted herself, as she was doing
now, to invoke it! She felt what capability lay within her of rousing
the man to new interests in life. She pictured the dawn of an
unsuspected happiness coming to him: broadening; illuminating; growing
in him to answer to her own big-heartedness.
Were Fanny, and her own prejudices, worth the sacrifice which she
and Hosmer had made? This was the doubt that bade fair to unsettle her;
that called for a sharp, strong out-putting of the will before she
could bring herself to face the situation without its accessions of
personalities. Such communing with herself could not be condemned as a
weakness with Thérèse, for the effect which it left upon her strong
nature was one of added courage and determination.
When she reached Marie Louise's cabin again, twilight, which is so
brief in the South, was giving place to the night.
Within the cabin, the lamp had already been lighted, and Marie
Louise was growing restless at Thérèse's long delay.
Ah Grosse tante, I'm so tired, she said, falling into a
chair near the door; not relishing the warmth of the room after her
quick walk, and wishing to delay as long as possible the necessity of
sitting at table. At another time she might have found the dish of
golden brown croquignoles very tempting with its accessory of
fragrant coffee; but not to-day.
Why do you run about so much, Tite maîtresse? You are always
going this way and that way; on horseback, on footthrough the house.
Make those lazy niggers work more. You spoil them. I tell you if it was
old mistress that had to deal with them, they would see something
She had taken all the pins from Thérèse's hair which fell in a
gleaming, heavy mass; and with her big soft hands she was stroking her
head as gently as if those hands had been of the whitest and most
I know that look in your eyes, it means headache. It's time for me
to make you some more eau sédativeI am sure you haven't any
more; you've given it away as you give away every thing.
Grosse tante, said Thérèse seated at table and sipping her
coffee; Grosse tante also drinking her cupbut seated apart, I
am going to insist on having your cabin moved back; it is silly to be
so stubborn about such a small matter. Some day you will find yourself
out in the middle of the riverand what am I going to do then?no one
to nurse me when I am sickno one to scold menobody to love me.
Don't say that, Tite maîtresse, all the world loves youit
isn't only Marie Louise. But no. You must remember the last time poor
Monsieur Jérôme moved me, and said with a laugh that I can never
forget, 'well, Grosse tante, I know we have got you far enough
this time out of danger,' away back in Dumont's field you recollect? I
said then, Marie Louise will move no more; she's too old. If the good
God does not want to take care of me, then it's time for me to go.
Ah but, Grosse tante, rememberGod does not want all the
trouble on his own shoulders, Thérèse answered humoring the woman, in
her conception of the Deity. He wants us to do our share, too.
Well, I have done my share. Nothing is going to harm Marie Louise.
I thought about all that, do not fret. So the last time Père Antoine
passed in the roadgoing down to see that poor Pierre Pardou at the
MouthI called him in, and he blessed the whole house inside and out,
with holy waternotice how the roses have bloomed since thenand gave
me medals of the holy Virgin to hang about. Look over the door, Tite
maîtresse, how it shines, like a silver star.
If you will not have your cabin removed, Grosse tante, then
come live with me. Old Hatton has wanted work at Place-du-Bois, the
longest time. We will have him build you a room wherever you choose, a
pretty little house like those in the city.
Nonnon, Tite maîtresse, Marie Louise 'prè créver icite avé
tous son butin, si faut (no, no, Tite maîtresse, Marie
Louise will die here with all her belongings if it must be).
The servants were instructed that when their mistress was not at
home at a given hour, her absence should cause no delay in the
household arrangements. She did not choose that her humor or her
movements be hampered by a necessity of regularity which she owed to no
one. When she reached home supper had long been over.
Nearing the house she heard the scraping of Nathan's violin, the
noise of shuffling feet and unconstrained laughter. These festive
sounds came from the back veranda. She entered the dining-room, and
from its obscurity looked out on a curious scene. The veranda was
lighted by a lamp suspended from one of its pillars. In a corner sat
Nathan; serious, dignified, scraping out a monotonous but rhythmic
minor strain to which two young negroes from the lower quartersfamous
dancerswere keeping time in marvelous shuffling and pigeon-wings;
twisting their supple joints into astonishing contortions and the sweat
rolling from their black visages. A crowd of darkies stood at a
respectful distance an appreciative and encouraging audience. And
seated on the broad rail of the veranda were Melicent and Grégoire,
patting Juba and singing a loud accompaniment to the breakdown.
Was this the Grégoire who had only yesterday wept such bitter tears
on his aunt's bosom?
Thérèse turning away from the scene, the doubt assailed her whether
it were after all worth while to strive against the sorrows of life
that can be so readily put aside.
V. One Afternoon.
Whatever may have been Torpedo's characteristics in days gone by, at
this advanced period in his history he possessed none so striking as a
stoical inaptitude for being moved. Another of his distinguishing
traits was a propensity for grazing which he was prone to indulge at
inopportune moments. Such points taken in conjunction with a gait
closely resembling that of the camel in the desert, might give much
cause to wonder at Thérèse's motive in recommending him as a suitable
mount for the unfortunate Fanny, were it not for his wide-spread
reputation of angelic inoffensiveness.
The ride which Melicent had arranged and in which she held out such
promises of a lark proved after all but a desultory affair. For with
Fanny making but a sorry equestrian debut and Hosmer creeping along at
her side; Thérèse unable to hold Beauregard within conventional limits,
and Melicent and Grégoire vanishing utterly from the scene, sociability
was a feature entirely lacking to the excursion.
David, I can't go another step: I just can't, so that settles it.
The look of unhappiness in Fanny's face and attitude, would have
moved the proverbial stone.
I think if you change horses with me, Fanny, you'll find it more
comfortable, and we'll turn about and go home.
I wouldn't get on that horse's back, David Hosmer, if I had to die
right here in the woods, I wouldn't.
Do you think you could manage to walk back that distance then? I
can lead the horses, he suggested as a pis aller.
I guess I'll haf to; but goodness knows if I'll ever get there
They were far up on the hill, which spot they had reached by
painfully slow and labored stages, each refraining from mention of a
discomfort that might interfere with the supposed enjoyment of the
other, till Fanny's note of protest.
Hosmer cast about him for some expedient that might lighten the
unpleasantness of the situation, when a happy thought occurred to him.
If you'll try to bear up, a few yards further, you can dismount at
old Morico's cabin and I'll hurry back and get the buggy. It can be
driven this far anyway: and it's only a short walk from here through
So Hosmer set her down before Morico's door: her long riding skirt,
borrowed for the occasion, twisting awkwardly around her legs, and
every joint in her body aching.
Partly by pantomimic signs interwoven with a few French words which
he had picked up within the last year, Hosmer succeeded in making
himself understood to the old man, and rode away leaving Fanny in his
Morico fussily preceded her into the house and placed a great clumsy
home-made rocker at her disposal, into which she cast herself with
every appearance of bodily distress. He then busied himself in tidying
up the room out of deference to his guest; gathering up the scissors,
waxen thread and turkey feathers which had fallen from his lap in his
disturbance, and laying them on the table. He knocked the ashes from
his corn-cob pipe which he now rested on a projection of the brick
chimney that extended into the room and that served as mantel-piece.
All the while he cast snatched glances at Fanny, who sat pale and
tired. Her appearance seemed to move him to make an effort towards
relieving it. He took a key from his pocket and unlocking a side of the
garde manger, drew forth a small flask of whisky. Fanny had closed
her eyes and was not aware of his action, till she heard him at her
elbow saying in his feeble quavering voice:
Tenez madame; goutez un peu: ça va vous faire du bien, and
opening her eyes she saw that he held a glass half filled with strong
toddy for her acceptance.
She thrust out her hand to ward it away as though it had been a
reptile that menaced her with its sting.
Morico looked nonplussed and a little abashed: but he had much faith
in the healing qualities of his remedy and urged it on her anew. She
trembled a little, and looked away with rather excited eyes.
Je vous assure madame, ça ne peut pas vous faire du mal.
Fanny took the glass from his hand, and rising went and placed it on
the table, then walked to the open door and looked eagerly out, as
though hoping for the impossibility of her husband's return.
She did not seat herself again, but walked restlessly about the
room, intently examining its meager details. The circuit of inspection
bringing her again to the table, she picked up Morico's turkey fan,
looking at it long and critically. When she laid it down, it was to
seize the glass of toddy which she unhesitatingly put to her lips and
drained at a draught. All uneasiness and fatigue seemed to leave her on
the instant as though by magic. She went back to her chair and reseated
herself composedly. Her eyes now rested on her old host with a certain
quizzical curiosity strange to them.
He was plainly demoralized by her presence, and still made pretense
of occupying himself with the arrangement of the room.
Presently she said to him: Your remedy did me more good than I'd
expected, but not understanding her, he only smiled and looked at her
She laughed good-humoredly back at him, then went to the table and
poured from the flask which he had left standing there, liquor to the
depth of two fingers, this time drinking it more deliberately. After
that she tried to talk to Morico and thought it very amusing that he
could not understand her.
Presently Joçint came home and accepted her presence there very
indifferently. He went to the garde manger to stay his hunger,
much as he had done on the occasion of Thérèse's visit; talked in grum
abrupt utterances to his father, and disappeared into the adjoining
room where Fanny could hear him and occasionally see him polishing and
oiling his cherished rifle.
Morico, more accustomed to foreign sounds in the woods than she, was
the first to detect the approach of Grégoire, whom he went out
hurriedly to meet, glad of the relief from the supposed necessity of
entertaining his puzzling visitor. When he was fairly out of the room,
she arose quickly, approached the table and reaching for the flask of
liquor, thrust it hastily into her pocket, then went to join him. At
the moment that Grégoire came up, Joçint issued from a side door and
stood looking at the group.
Well, Mrs. Hosma, yere I am. I reckon you was tired waitin'. The
buggy's yonda in the road.
He shook hands cordially with Morico saying something to him in
French which made the old man laugh heartily.
Why didn't David come? I thought he said he was coming; that's the
way he does, said Fanny complainingly.
That's a po' compliment to me, Mrs. Hosrma. Can't you stan' my
company for that li'le distance? returned Grégoire gallantly. Mr.
Hosma had a good deal to do w'en he got back, that's w'y he sent me.
An' we betta hurry up if we expec' to git any suppa' to-night. Like as
not you'll fine your kitchen cleaned out.
Fanny looked her inquiry for his meaning.
Why, don't you know this is 'Tous-saint' evew'en the dead git out
o' their graves an' walk about? You wouldn't ketch a nigga out o' his
cabin to-night afta dark to save his soul. They all gittin' ready now
to hustle back to the quartas.
That's nonsense, said Fanny, drawing on her gloves, you ought to
have more sense than to repeat such things.
Grégoire laughed, looking surprised at her unusual energy of speech
and manner. Then he turned to Joçint, whose presence he had thus far
ignored, and asked in a peremptory tone:
W'at did Woodson say 'bout watchin' at the mill to-night? Did you
ask him like I tole you?
Yaas, me ax um: ee' low ee an' goin'. Say how Sylveste d'wan' watch
lak alluz. Say ee an' goin'. Me don' blem 'im neida, don' ketch me out
de 'ouse night lak dat fu no man.
Sacré imbécile, muttered Grégoire, between his teeth, and
vouchsafed him no other answer, but nodded to Morico and turned away.
Fanny followed with a freedom of movement quite unlike that of her
Morico went into the house and coming back hastily to the door
called to Joçint:
Bring back that flask of whisky that you took off the table.
You're a liar: you know I have no use for whisky. That's one of
your damned tricks to make me buy you more. And he seated himself on
an over-turned tub and with his small black eyes half closed, looked
moodily out into the solemn darkening woods. The old man showed no
resentment at the harshness and disrespect of his son's speech, being
evidently used to such. He passed his hand slowly over his white long
hair and turned bewildered into the house.
Is it just this same old thing year in and year out, Grégoire?
Don't any one ever get up a dance, or a card party or anything?
Jus' as you say; the same old thing f'om one yea's en' to the otha.
I used to think it was putty lonesome myse'f w'en I firs' come yere.
Then you see they's no neighbo's right roun' yere. In Natchitoches now;
that's the place to have a right down good time. But see yere; I didn'
know you was fon' o' dancin' an' such things.
Why, of course, I just dearly love to dance. But it's as much as my
life's worth to say that before David; he's such a stick; but I guess
you know that by this time, with a laugh, as he had never heard from
her beforeso unconstrained; at the same time drawing nearer to him
and looking merrily into his face.
The little lady's been having a 'toddy' at Morico's, that makes her
lively, thought Grégoire. But the knowledge did not abash him in the
least. He accommodated himself at once to the situation with that
adaptability common to the American youth, whether of the South, North,
East or West.
Where abouts did you leave David when you come away? she asked
with a studied indifference.
Hol' on there, Buckskinw'ere you takin' us? W'y, I lef' him at
the sto' mailin' lettas.
Had the others all got back? Mrs. Laferm? Melicent? did they all
stop at the store, too?
Who? Aunt Thrérèse? no, she was up at the house w'en I lef'I
reckon Miss Melicent was there too. Talkin' 'bout fun,it's to git
into one o' them big spring wagons on a moonlight night, like they do
in Centaville sometimes; jus' packed down with young folksand start
out fur a dance up the coast. They ain't nothin' to beat it as fah as
It must be just jolly. I guess you're a pretty good dancer,
Well'taint fur me to say. But they ain't many can out dance me:
not in Natchitoches pa'ish, anyway. I can say that much.
If such a thing could have been, Fanny would have startled Grégoire
more than once during the drive home. Before its close she had obtained
a promise from him to take her up to Natchitoches for the very next
entertainment,averring that she didn't care what David said. If he
wanted to bury himself that was his own look out. And if Mrs. Laferm
took people to be angels that they could live in a place like that, and
give up everything and not have any kind of enjoyment out of life, why,
she was mistaken and that's all there was to it. To all of which freely
expressed views Grégoire emphatically assented.
Hosmer had very soon disembarrassed himself of Torpedo, knowing that
the animal would unerringly find his way to the corn crib by supper
time. He continued his own way now untrammelled, and at an agreeable
speed which soon brought him to the spring at the road side. Here he
found Thérèse, half seated against a projection of rock, in her hand a
bunch of ferns which she had evidently dismounted to gather, and
holding Beauregard's bridle while he munched at the cool wet tufts of
grass that grew everywhere.
As Hosmer rode up at a rapid pace, he swung himself from his horse
almost before the animal came to a full stop. He removed his hat,
mopped his forehead, stamped about a little to relax his limbs and
turned to answer the enquiry with which Thérèse met him.
Left her at Morico's. I'll have to send the buggy back for her.
I can't forgive myself for such a blunder, said Thérèse
regretfully, indeed I had no idea of that miserable beast's character.
I never was on him you knowonly the little darkies, and they never
complained: they'd as well ride cows as not.
Oh, it's mainly from her being unaccustomed to riding, I believe.
This was the first time that Hosmer and Thérèse had met alone since
his return from St. Louis. They looked at each other with full
consciousness of what lay in the other's mind. Thérèse felt that
however adroitly another woman might have managed the situation, for
herself, it would have been a piece of affectation to completely ignore
it at this moment.
Mr. Hosmer, perhaps I ought to have said something before this, to
youabout what you've done.
Oh, yes, congratulated mecomplimented me, he replied with a
pretense at a laugh.
Well, the latter, perhaps. I think we all like to have our good and
right actions recognized for their worth.
He flushed, looked at her with a smile, then laughed out-rightthis
time it was no pretense.
So I've been a good boy; have done as my mistress bade me and now
I'm to receive a condescending little pat on the headand of course
must say thank you. Do you know, Mrs. Lafirmeand I don't see why a
woman like you oughtn't to know itit's one of those things to drive a
man mad, the sweet complaisance with which women accept situations, or
inflict situations that it takes the utmost of a man's strength to
Well, Mr. Hosmer, said Thérèse plainly discomposed, you must
concede you decided it was the right thing to do.
I didn't do it because I thought it was right, but because you
thought it was right. But that makes no difference.
Then remember your wife is going to do the right thing herselfshe
admitted as much to me.
Don't you fool yourself, as Melicent says, about what Mrs. Hosmer
means to do. I take no account of it. But you take it so easily; so as
a matter of course. That's what exasperates me. That you, you, you,
shouldn't have a suspicion of the torture of it; the loathsomeness of
it. But how could youhow could any woman understand it? Oh forgive
me, ThérèseI wouldn't want you to. There's no brute so brutal as a
man, he cried, seeing the pain in her face and knowing he had caused
it. But you know you promised to help meoh I'm talking like an
And I do, returned Thérèse, that is, I want to, I mean to.
Then don't tell me again that I have done right. Only look at me
sometimes a little differently than you do at Hiram or the gate post.
Let me once in a while see a look in your face that tells me that you
understandif it's only a little bit.
Thérèse thought it best to interrupt the situation; so, pale and
silently she prepared to mount her horse. He came to her assistance of
course, and when she was seated she drew off her loose riding glove and
held out her hand to him. He pressed it gratefully, then touched it
with his lips; then turned it and kissed the half open palm.
She did not leave him this time, but rode at his side in silence
with a frown and little line of thought between her blue eyes.
As they were nearing the store she said diffidently: Mr. Hosmer, I
wonder if it wouldn't be best for you to put the mill in some one
else's chargeand go away from Place-du-Bois.
I believe you always speak with a purpose, Mrs. Lafirme: you have
somebody's ultimate good in view, when you say that. Is it your own, or
mine or whose is it?
Oh! not mine.
I will leave Place-du-Bois, certainly, if you wish it.
As she looked at him she was forced to admit that she had never seen
him look as he did now. His face, usually serious, had a whole
unwritten tragedy in it. And she felt altogether sore and puzzled and
exasperated over man's problematic nature.
I don't think it should be left entirely to me to say. Doesn't your
own reason suggest a proper course in the matter?
My reason is utterly unable to determine anything in which you are
concerned. Mrs. Lafirme, he said checking his horse and laying a
restraining hand on her bridle, let me speak to you one moment. I know
you are a woman to whom one may speak the truth. Of course, you
remember that you prevailed upon me to go back to my wife. To you it
seemed the right thingto me it seemed certainly hardbut no more nor
less than taking up the old unhappy routine of life, where I had left
it when I quitted her. I reasoned much like a stupid child who thinks
the colors in his kaleidoscope may fall twice into the same design. In
place of the old, I found an entirely new situationhorrid, sickening,
requiring such a strain upon my energies to live through it, that I
believe it's an absurdity to waste so much moral force for so poor an
aimthere would be more dignity in putting an end to my life. It
doesn't make it any the more bearable to feel that the cause of this
unlooked for change lies within myselfmy altered feelings. But it
seems to me that I have the right to ask you not to take yourself out
of my life; your moral support; your bodily atmosphere. I hope not to
give way to the weakness of speaking of these things again: but before
you leave me, tell me, do you understand a little better why I need
Yes, I understand now; and I thank you for talking so openly to me.
Don't go away from Place-du-Bois: it would make me very wretched.
She said no more and he was glad of it, for her last words held
almost the force of action for him; as though she had let him feel for
an instant her heart beat against his own with an echoing pain.
Their ways now diverged. She went in the direction of the house and
he to the store where he found Grégoire, whom he sent for his wife.
VI. One Night.
Grégoire was right: do you know those nasty creatures have gone and
left every speck of the supper dishes unwashed? I've got half a mind to
give them both warning to-morrow morning.
Fanny had come in from the kitchen to the sitting-room, and the
above homily was addressed to her husband who stood lighting his cigar.
He had lately taken to smoking.
You'd better do nothing of the kind; you wouldn't find it easy to
replace them. Put up a little with their vagaries: this sort of thing
only happens once a year.
How do you know it won't be something else just as ridiculous
to-morrow? And that idiot of a Minervy; what do you suppose she told me
when I insisted on her staying to wash up things? She says, last
whatever you call it, her husband wanted to act hard-headed and staid
out after dark, and when he was crossing the bayou, the spirits jerked
him off his horse and dragged him up and down in the water, till he was
nearly drowned. I don't see what you're laughing at; I guess you'd like
to make out that they're in the right.
Hosmer was perfectly aware that Fanny had had a drink, and he
rightly guessed that Morico had given it to her. But he was at a loss
to account for the increasing symptoms of intoxication that she showed.
He tried to persuade her to go to bed; but his efforts to that end
remained unheeded, till she had eased her mind of an accumulation of
grievances, mostly fancied. He had much difficulty in preventing her
from going over to give Melicent a piece of her mind about her lofty
airs and arrogance in thinking herself better than other people. And
she was very eager to tell Thérèse that she meant to do as she liked,
and would stand no poking of noses in her business. It was a good while
before she fell into a heavy sleep, after shedding a few maudlin tears
over the conviction that he intended to leave her again, and clinging
to his neck with beseeching enquiry whether he loved her.
He went out on the veranda feeling much as if he had been wrestling
with a strong adversary who had mastered him, and whom he was glad to
be freed of, even at the cost of coming inglorious from the conflict.
The night was so dark, so hushed, that if ever the dead had wished to
step from their graves and take a stroll above ground, they could not
have found a more fitting hour. Hosmer walked very long in the soothing
quiet. He would have liked to walk the night through. The last three
hours had been like an acute physical pain, that was over for the
moment, and that being over, left his mind free to return to the
delicious consciousness, that he had needed to be reminded of, that
Thérèse loved him after all. When his measured tread upon the veranda
finally ceased to mark the passing hours, a quiet that was almost
pulseless fell upon the plantation. Place-du-Bois slept. Perhaps the
only night in the year that some or other of the negroes did not lurk
in fence corners, or make exchange of nocturnal visits.
But out in the hills there was no such unearthly stillness reigning.
Those restless wood-dwellers, that never sleep, were sending startling
gruesome calls to each other. Bats were flapping and whirling and
darting hither and thither; the gliding serpent making quick rustle
amid the dry, crisp leaves, and over all sounded the murmur of the
great pine trees, telling their mystic secrets to the night.
A human creature was there too, feeling a close fellowship with
these spirits of night and darkness; with no more fear in his heart
than the unheeded serpent crossing his path. Every inch of the ground
he knew. He wanted no daylight to guide him. Had his eyes been blinded
he would no doubt have bent his body close to earth and scented his way
along like the human hound that he was. Over his shoulder hung the
polished rifle that sent dull and sudden gleamings into the dark. A
large tin pail swung from his hand. He was very careful of this
pailor its contents, for he feared to lose a drop. And when he
accidentally struck an intervening tree and spilled some upon the
ground, he muttered a curse against his own awkwardness.
Twice since leaving his cabin up in the clearing, he had turned to
drive back his yellow skulking dog that followed him. Each time the
brute had fled in abject terror, only to come creeping again into his
master's footsteps, when he thought himself forgotten. Here was a
companion whom neither Joçint nor his mission required. Exasperated, he
seated himself on a fallen tree and whistled softly. The dog, who had
been holding back, dashed to his side, trembling with eagerness, and
striving to twist his head around to lick the hand that patted him.
Joçint's other hand glided quickly into his pocket, from which he drew
forth a coil of thin rope that he flung deftly over the animal's head,
drawing it close and tight about the homely, shaggy throat. So quickly
was the action done, that no sound was uttered, and Joçint continued
his way untroubled by his old and faithful friend, whom he left hanging
to the limb of a tree.
He was following the same path that he traversed daily to and from
the mill, and which soon brought him out into the level with its soft
tufted grass and clumps of squat thorn trees. There was no longer the
protecting wood to screen him; but of such there was no need, for the
darkness hung about him like the magic mantle of story. Nearing the
mill he grew cautious, creeping along with the tread of a stealthy
beast, and halting at intervals to listen for sounds that he wished not
to hear. He knew there was no one on guard tonight. A movement in the
bushes near by, made him fall quick and sprawling to earth. It was only
Grégoire's horse munching the soft grass. Joçint drew near and laid his
hand on the horse's back. It was hot and reeking with sweat. Here was a
fact to make him more wary. Horses were not found in such condition
from quietly grazing of a cool autumn night. He seated himself upon the
ground, with his hands clasped about his knees, all doubled up in a
little heap, and waited there with the patience of the savage, letting
an hour go by, whilst he made no movement.
The hour past, he stole towards the mill, and began his work of
sprinkling the contents of his pail here and there along the dry
timbers at well calculated distances, with care that no drop should be
lost. Then, he drew together a great heap of crisp shavings and
slathers, plentifully besprinkling it with what remained in the can.
When he had struck a match against his rough trousers and placed it
carefully in the midst of this small pyramid, he found that he had done
his work but too surely. The quick flame sprang into life, seizing at
once all it could reach. Leaping over intervals; effacing the darkness
that had shrouded him; seeming to mock him as a fool and point him out
as a target for heaven and earth to hurl destruction at if they would.
Where should he hide himself? He only thought now of how he might have
done the deed differently, and with safety to himself. He stood with
great beams and loose planks surrounding him; quaking with a
premonition of evil. He wanted to fly in one direction; then thought it
best to follow the opposite; but a force outside of himself seemed to
hold him fast to one spot. When turning suddenly about, he knew it was
too late, he felt that all was lost, for there was Grégoire, not twenty
paces awaycovering him with the muzzle of a pistol andcursed
luckhis own rifle along with the empty pail in the raging fire.
Thérèse was passing a restless night. She had lain long awake,
dwelling on the insistent thoughts that the day's happenings had given
rise to. The sleep which finally came to her was troubled by
dreamsdemoniacgrotesque. Hosmer was in a danger from which she was
striving with physical effort to rescue him, and when she dragged him
painfully from the peril that menaced him, she turned to see that it
was Fanny whom she had savedlaughing at her derisively, and Hosmer
had been left to perish. The dream was agonizing; like an appalling
nightmare. She awoke in a fever of distress, and raised herself in bed
to shake off the unnatural impression which such a dream can leave. The
curtains were drawn aside from the window that faced her bed, and
looking out she saw a long tongue of flame, reaching far up into the
skyaway over the tree tops and the whole Southern horizon a glow. She
knew at once that the mill was burning, and it was the affair of a
moment with her to spring from her bed and don slippers and wrapper.
She knocked on Melicent's door to acquaint her with the startling news;
then hurried out into the back yard and rang the plantation bell.
Next she was at the cottage rousing Hosmer. But the alarm of the
bell had already awakened him, and he was dressed and out on the porch
almost as soon as Thérèse had called. Melicent joined them, highly
agitated, and prepared to contribute her share towards any scene that
might be going forward. But she found little encouragement for heroics
with Hosmer. In saddling his horse rather hastily he was as unmoved as
though preparing for an uneventful morning canter. He stood at the foot
of the stairs preparing to mount when Grégoire rode up as if pursued by
furies; checking his horse with a quick, violent wrench that set it
quivering in its taut limbs.
Well, said Hosmer, I guess it's done for. How did it happen? who
Joçint's work, answered Grégoire bitingly.
The damned scoundrel, muttered Hosmer, where is he?
Don' botha 'bout Joçint; he ain't goin' to set no mo' mill afire,
saying which, he turned his horse and the two rode furiously away.
Melicent grasped Thérèse's arm convulsively.
What does he mean? she asked in a frightened whisper.
II don't know, Thérèse faltered. She had clasped her hands
spasmodically together, at Grégoire's words, trembling with horror of
what must be their meaning.
May be he arrested him, suggested the girl.
I hope so. Come; let's go to bed: there's no use staying out here
in the cold and dark.
Hosmer had left the sitting-room door open, and Thérèse entered. She
approached Fanny's door and knocked twice: not brusquely, but
sufficiently loud to be heard from within, by any one who was awake. No
answer came, and she went away, knowing that Fanny slept.
The unusual sound of the bell, ringing two hours past midnightthat
very deadest hour of the nighthad roused the whole plantation. On all
sides squads of men and a few venturesome women were hurrying towards
the fire; the dread of supernatural encounters overcome for the moment
by such strong reality and by the confidence lent them in each other's
There were many already gathered around the mill, when Grégoire and
Hosmer reached it. All effort to save anything had been abandoned as
useless. The books and valuables had been removed from the office. The
few householdersmill-handswhose homes were close by, had carried
their scant belongings to places of safety, but everything else was
given over to the devouring flames.
The heat from this big raging fire was intense, and had driven most
of the gaping spectators gradually backalmost into the woods. But
there, to one side, where the fire was rapidly gaining, and making
itself already uncomfortably felt, stood a small awe-stricken group
talking in whispers; their ignorance and superstition making them
irresolute to lay a hand upon the dead Joçint. His body lay amongst the
heavy timbers, across a huge beam, with arms outstretched and head
hanging down upon the ground. The glazed eyes were staring up into the
red sky, and on his swarthy visage was yet the horror which had come
there, when he looked in the face of death.
In God's name, what are you doing? cried Hosmer. Can't some of
you carry that boy's body to a place of safety?
Grégoire had followed, and was looking down indifferently at the
dead. Come, len' a han' there; this is gittin' too durn hot, he said,
stooping to raise the lifeless form. Hosmer was preparing to help him.
But there was some one staggering through the crowd; pushing men to
right and left. With now a hand upon the breast of both Hosmer and
Grégoire, and thrusting them with such force and violence, as to lay
them prone amongst the timbers. It was the father. It was old Morico.
He had awakened in the night and missed his boy. He had seen the fire;
indeed close enough that he could hear its roaring; and he knew
everything. The whole story was plain to him as if it had been told by
a revealing angel. The strength of his youth had come back to speed him
over the ground.
Murderers! he cried looking about him with hate in his face. He
did not know who had done it; no one knew yet, and he saw in every man
he looked upon the possible slayer of his child.
So here he stood over the prostrate figure; his old gray jeans
hanging loosely about him; wild eyedwith bare head clasped between
his claw-like hands, which the white disheveled hair swept over. Hosmer
approached again, offering gently to help him carry his son away.
Stand back, he hurled at him. But he had understood the offer. His
boy must not be left to burn like a log of wood. He bent down and
strove to lift the heavy body, but the effort was beyond his strength.
Seeing this he stooped again and this time grasped it beneath the arms;
then slowly, draggingly, with halting step, began to move backward.
The fire claimed no more attention. All eyes were fastened upon this
weird picture; a sight which moved the most callous to offer again and
again assistance, that was each time spurned with an added defiance.
Hosmer stood looking on, with folded arms; moved by the grandeur and
majesty of the scene. The devouring element, loosed in its awful
recklessness there in the heart of this lonely forest. The motley group
of black and white standing out in the great red light, powerless to do
more than wait and watch. But more was he stirred to the depths of his
being, by the sight of this human tragedy enacted before his eyes.
Once, the old man stops in his backward journey. Will he give over?
has his strength deserted him? is the thought that seizes every
on-looker. But nowith renewed effort he begins again his slow
retreat, till at last a sigh of relief comes from the whole watching
multitude. Morico with his burden has reached a spot of safety. What
will he do next? They watch in breathless suspense. But Morico does
nothing. He only stands immovable as a carved image. Suddenly there is
a cry that reaches far above the roar of fire and crash of falling
timbers: Mon fils! mon garçon! and the old man totters and
falls backward to earth, still clinging to the lifeless body of his
son. All hasten towards him. Hosmer reaches him first. And when he
gently lifts the dead Joçint, the father this time makes no hinderance,
for he too has gone beyond the knowledge of all earthly happenings.
VII. Melicent Leaves Place-du-Bois.
There had been no witness to the killing of Joçint; but there were
few who did not recognize Grégoire's hand in the affair. When met with
the accusation, he denied it, or acknowledged it, or evaded the charge
with a jest, as he felt for the moment inclined. It was a deed
characteristic of any one of the Santien boys, and if not altogether
laudableJoçint having been at the time of the shooting unarmedyet
was it thought in a measure justified by the heinousness of his
offense, and beyond dispute, a benefit to the community.
Hosmer reserved the expression of his opinion. The occurrence once
over, with the emotions which it had awakened, he was inclined to look
at it from one of those philosophic stand-points of his friend Homeyer.
Heredity and pathology had to be considered in relation with the
slayer's character. He saw in it one of those interesting problems of
human existence that are ever turning up for man's contemplation, but
hardly for the exercise of man's individual judgment. He was conscious
of an inward repulsion which this action of Grégoire's awakened in
him,much the same as a feeling of disgust for an animal whose
instinct drives it to the doing of violent deeds,yet he made no
difference in his manner towards him.
Thérèse was deeply distressed over this double tragedy: feeling
keenly the unhappy ending of old Morico. But her chief sorrow came from
the callousness of Grégoire, whom she could not move even to an avowal
of regret. He could not understand that he should receive any thing but
praise for having rid the community of so offensive and dangerous a
personage as Joçint; and seemed utterly blind to the moral aspect of
An event at once so exciting and dramatic as this conflagration,
with the attendant deaths of Morico and his son, was much discussed
amongst the negroes. They were a good deal of one opinion in regard to
Joçint having been only properly served in getting w'at he done ben
lookin' fu' dis long time. Grégoire was rather looked upon as a clever
instrument in the Lord's service; and the occurrence pointed a moral
which they were not likely to forget.
The burning of the mill entailed much work upon Hosmer, to which he
turned with a zestan absorption that for the time excluded everything
Melicent had shunned Grégoire since the shooting. She had avoided
speaking with himeven looking at him. During the turmoil which
closely followed upon the tragic event, this change in the girl had
escaped his notice. On the next day he suspected it only. But the third
day brought him the terrible conviction. He did not know that she was
making preparations to leave for St. Louis, and quite accidentally
overheard Hosmer giving an order to one of the unemployed mill hands to
call for her baggage on the following morning before train time.
As much as he had expected her departure, and looked painfully
forward to it, this certaintythat she was leaving on the morrow and
without a word to himbewildered him. He abandoned at once the work
that was occupying him.
I didn' know Miss Melicent was goin' away to-morrow, he said in a
strange pleading voice to Hosmer.
Why, yes, Hosmer answered, I thought you knew. She's been talking
about it for a couple of days.
No, I didn' know nothin' 'tall 'bout it, he said, turning away and
reaching for his hat, but with such nerveless hand that he almost
dropped it before placing it on his head.
If you're going to the house, Hosmer called after him, tell
Melicent that Woodson won't go for her trunks before morning. She
thought she'd need to have them ready to-night.
Yes, if I go to the house. I don' know if I'm goin' to the house or
not, he replied, walking listlessly away.
Hosmer looked after the young man, and thought of him for a moment:
of his soft voice and gentle mannerperplexed that he should be the
same who had expressed in confidence the single regret that he had not
been able to kill Joçint more than once.
Grégoire went directly to the house, and approached that end of the
veranda on which Melicent's room opened. A trunk had already been
packed and fastened and stood outside, just beneath the low-silled
window that was open. Within the room, and also beneath the window, was
another trunk, before which Melicent kneeled, filling it more or less
systematically from an abundance of woman's toggery that lay in a
cumbrous heap on the floor beside her. Grégoire stopped at the window
to tell her, with a sad attempt at indifference:
Yo' brotha says don't hurry packin'; Woodson ain't goin' to come
fur your trunks tell mornin'.
All right, thank you, glancing towards him for an instant
carelessly and going on with her work.
I didn' know you was goin' away.
That's absurd: you knew all along I was going away, she returned,
with countenance as expressionless as feminine subtlety could make it.
W'y don't you let somebody else do that? Can't you come out yere a
No, I prefer doing it myself; and I don't care to go out.
What could he do? what could he say? There were no convenient depths
in his mind from which he might draw at will, apt and telling speeches
to taunt her with. His heart was swelling and choking him, at sight of
the eyes that looked anywhere, but in his own; at sight of the lips
that he had one time kissed, pressed into an icy silence. She went on
with her task of packing, unmoved. He stood a while longer, silently
watching her, his hat in his hands that were clasped behind him, and a
stupor of grief holding him vise-like. Then he walked away. He felt
somewhat as he remembered to have felt oftentimes as a boy, when ill
and suffering, his mother would put him to bed and send him a cup of
bouillon perhaps, and a little negro to sit beside him. It seemed very
cruel to him now that some one should not do something for himthat he
should be left to suffer this way. He walked across the lawn over to
the cottage, where he saw Fanny pacing slowly up and down the porch.
She saw him approach and stood in a patch of sunlight to wait for
him. He really had nothing to say to her as he stood grasping two of
the balustrades and looking up at her. He wanted somebody to talk to
him about Melicent.
Did you know Miss Melicent was goin' away?
Had it been Hosmer or Thérèse asking her the question she would have
replied simply yes, but to Grégoire she said yes; thank Goodness,
as frankly as though she had been speaking to Belle Worthington. I
don't see what's kept her down here all this time, anyway.
You don't like her? he asked, stupefied at the strange possibility
of any one not loving Melicent to distraction.
No. You wouldn't either, if you knew her as well as I do. If she
likes a person she goes on like a lunatic over them as long as it
lasts; then good-bye John! she'll throw them aside as she would an old
Oh, I believe she thinks a heap of Aunt Thérèse.
All right; you'll see how much she thinks of Aunt Thérèse. And the
people she's been engaged to! There ain't a worse flirt in the city of
St. Louis; and always some excuse or other to break it off at the last
minute. I haven't got any use for her, Lord knows. There ain't much
love lost between us.
Well, I reckon she knows they ain't anybody born, good enough fur
her? he said, thinking of those engagements that she had shattered.
What was David doing? Fanny asked abruptly.
Writin' lettas at the sto'.
Did he say when he was coming?
Do you guess he'll come pretty soon?
No, I reckon not fur a good w'ile.
Is Melicent with Mrs. Laferm?
No; she's packin' her things.
I guess I'll go sit with Mrs. Laferm, d'you think she'll mind?
No, she'll be glad to have you.
Fanny crossed over to go join Thérèse. She liked to be with her when
there was no danger of interruption from Melicent, and Grégoire went
wandering aimlessly about the plantation.
He staked great hopes on what the night might bring for him. She
would melt, perhaps, to the extent of a smile or one of her old
glances. He was almost cheerful when he seated himself at table; only
he and his aunt and Melicent. He had never seen her look so handsome as
now, in a woolen gown that she had not worn before, of warm rich tint,
that brought out a certain regal splendor that he had not suspected in
her. A something that she seemed to have held in reserve till this
final moment. But she had nothing for himnothing. All her
conversation was addressed to Thérèse; and she hurried away from table
at the close of the meal, under pretext of completing her arrangements
Doesn't she mean to speak to me? he asked fiercely of Thérèse.
Oh, Grégoire, I see so much trouble around me; so many sad
mistakes, and I feel so powerless to right them; as if my hands were
tied. I can't help you in this; not now. But let me help you in other
ways. Will you listen to me?
If you want to help me, Aunt, he said stabbing his fork into a
piece of bread before him, go and ask her if she doesn't mean to talk
to me: if she won't come out on the gallery a minute.
Grégoire wants to know if you won't go out and speak to him a
moment, Melicent, said Thérèse entering the girl's room. Do as you
wish, of course. But remember you are going away to-morrow; you'll
likely never see him again. A friendly word from you now, may do more
good than you imagine. I believe he's as unhappy at this moment as a
creature can be!
Melicent looked at her horrified. I don't understand you at all,
Mrs. Lafirme. Think what he's done; murdered a defenseless man! How can
you have him near youseated at your table? I don't know what nerves
you have in your bodies, you and David. There's David, hobnobbing with
him. Even that Fanny talking to him as if he were blameless. Never! If
he were dying I wouldn't go near him.
Haven't you a spark of humanity in you? asked Thérèse, flushing
Oh, this is something physical, she replied, shivering, let me
Thérèse went out to Grégoire, who stood waiting on the veranda. She
only took his hand and pressed it telling him good-night, and he knew
that it was a dismissal.
There may be lovers, who, under the circumstances, would have felt
sufficient pride to refrain from going to the depôt on the following
morning, but Grégoire was not one of them. He was there. He who only a
week before had thought that nothing but her constant presence could
reconcile him with life, had narrowed down the conditions for his
life's happiness now to a glance or a kind word. He stood close to the
steps of the Pullman car that she was about to enter, and as she passed
him he held out his hand, saying Good-bye. But he held his hand to no
purpose. She was much occupied in taking her valise from the conductor
who had hoisted her up, and who was now shouting in stentorian tones
All aboard, though there was not a soul with the slightest intention
of boarding the train but herself.
She leaned forward to wave good-bye to Hosmer, and Fanny, and
Thérèse, who were on the platform; then she was gone.
Grégoire stood looking stupidly at the vanishing train.
Are you going back with us? Hosmer asked him. Fanny and Thérèse
had walked ahead.
No, he replied, looking at Hosmer with ashen face, I got to go
fine my hoss.
VIII. With Loose Rein.
De Lord be praised fu' de blessin's dat he showers down 'pon us,
was Uncle Hiram's graceful conclusion of his supper, after which he
pushed his empty plate aside regretfully, and addressed Aunt Belindy.
'Pears to me, Belindy, as you reached a pint wid dem bacon an' greens
to-night, dat you never tetched befo'. De pint o' de flavorin' is w'at
I alludes to.
All de same, dat ain't gwine to fetch no mo', was the rather
uncivil reply to this neat compliment to her culinary powers.
Dah! cried the youthful Betsy, who formed one of the trio gathered
together in the kitchen at Place-du-Bois. Jis listen (to) Unc' Hiurm!
Aunt B'lindy neva tetched a han' to dem bacon an' greens. She tole me
out o' her own mouf to put'em on de fiar; she warn't gwine pesta wid
Warn't gwine pesta wid 'em? administering a cuff on the ear of the
too communicative Betsy, that sent her sprawling across the table.
T'inks I'se gwine pesta wid youdoes you? Messin' roun' heah in de
kitchin' an' ain't tu'ned down a bed or drawed a bah, or done a lick o'
yo' night wurk yit.
I is done my night wurk, too, returned Betsy whimpering but
defiantly, as she retreated beyond reach of further blows from Aunt
Belindy's powerful right hand.
Dat harshness o' yourn, Belindy, is wat's a sourin' yo' tempa, an'
a turnin' of it intur gall an' wormwood. Does you know wat de Scripture
tells us of de wrathful woman?
Whar I got time to go a foolin' wid Scripture? W'at I wants to
know; whar dat Pierson boy, he don't come. He ben gone time 'nough to
walk to Natch'toches an' back.
Ain't dat him I years yonda tu de crib? suggestod Betsy, coming to
join Aunt Belindy in the open doorway.
You heahs mos' too much fu' yo' own good, you does, gal.
But Betsy was right. For soon a tall, slim negro, young and coal
black, mounted the stairs and came into the kitchen, where he deposited
a meal bag filled with various necessities that he had brought from
Centerville. He was one of the dancers who had displayed their skill
before Melicent and Grégoire. Uncle Hiram at once accosted him.
Well, Pierson, we jest a ben a wonderin' consarnin' you. W'at was
de 'casion o' dat long delay?
De 'casion? W'y man alive, I couldn't git a dog gone soul in de
town to wait on me.
Dat boy kin lie, yas, said Aunt Belindy, God A'mighty knows ever
time I ben to Centaville dem sto' keepas ain't done a blessed t'ing but
Settin' downLord! dey warn't settin' down to-day; you heah me.
W'at dey doin' ef dey ain't settin' down, Unc' Pierson? asked
Betsy with amiable curiosity.
You jis drap dat 'uncle,' you, turning wrathfully upon the girl,
sence w'en you start dat new trick?
Lef de chile 'lone, Pierson, lef 'er alone. Come heah, Betsy, an'
set by yo' Uncle Hiurm.
From the encouraging nearness of Uncle Hiram, she ventured to ask
w'at you 'low dey doin' ef dey ain't settin' down? this time without
adding the offensive title.
Dey flyin' 'roun', Lord! dey hidin' dey sef! dey gittin' out o' de
way, I tell you. Grégor jis ben a raisin' ole Cain in Centaville.
I know'd it; could a' tole you dat mese'f. My Lan'! but dats a
piece, dat Grégor, Aunt Belindy enunciated between paroxysms of
laughter, seating herself with her fat arms resting on her knees, and
her whole bearing announcing pleased anticipation.
Dat boy neva did have no car' fur de salvation o' his soul,
groaned Uncle Hiram.
W'at he ben a doin' yonda? demanded Aunt Belindy impatiently.
Well, said Pierson, assuming a declamatory air and position in the
middle of the large kitchen, he lef' heahw'at time he lef heah, Aunt
He done lef' fo' dinna, 'caze I seed 'im a lopin' to'ads de riva,
time I flung dat Sampson boy out o' de doo', bringin' dem greens in
heah 'dout washin' of 'em.
Dat's so; it war good dinna time w'en he come a lopin' in town. Dat
hoss look like he ben swimmin' in Cane Riva, he done ride him so hard.
He fling he se'f down front o' Grammont's sto' an' he come a stompin'
in, look like gwine hu't somebody. Ole Grammont tell him, 'How you come
on, Grégor? Come ova tu de house an' eat dinna wid us: de ladies be
pleas tu see you.'
Humph, muttered Aunt Belindy, dem Grammont gals be glad to see
any t'ing dat got breeches on; lef 'lone good lookin' piece like dat
Grégor, he neva sey, 'Tank you dog,' jis' fling he big dolla down
on de counta an' 'low 'don't want no dinna: gimme some w'iskey.'
Yas, yas, Lord, from Aunt Belindy.
Ole Grammont, he push de bottle to'ads 'im, an' I 'clar to Goodness
ef he didn' mos fill dat tumbla to de brim, an' drink it down, neva
blink a eye. Den he tu'n an treat ev'y las' w'ite man stan'in' roun';
dat ole kiarpenta man; de blacksmif; Marse Verdon. He keep on a
treatin'; Grammont, he keep a handin' out de w'iskey; Grégor he keep on
a drinkin' an a treatin'Grammont, he keep a handin' out; don't make
no odds tu him s'long uz dat bring de money in de draw. I ben a
stan'in' out on de gallery, me, a peekin' in. An' Grégor, he cuss and
swar an' he kiarry on, an 'low he want play game poka. Den dey all goes
a trompin' in de back room an' sets down roun' de table, an' I comes a
creepin' in, me, whar I kin look frough de doo', an dar dey sets an'
plays an Grégor, he drinks w'iskey an' he wins de money. An' arta w'ile
Marse Verdon, he little eyes blinkin', he 'low', 'y' all had a shootin'
down tu Place-du-Bois, hein Grégor?' Grégor, he neva say
nuttin': he jis' draw he pistol slow out o' he pocket an' lay it down
on de table; an' he look squar in Marse Verdon eyes. Man! ef you eva
seed some pussun tu'n' w'ite!
Reckon dat heifa 'Milky' look black side li'le Verdon dat time,
chuckled Aunt Belindy.
Jis' uz w'ite uz Unc' Hiurm's shurt an' a trimblin', an' neva say
no mo' 'bout shootin'. Den ole Grammont, he kine o' hang back an' say,
'You git de jestice de peace, 'hine you, kiarrin' conceal' weepons dat
Dat ole Grammont, he got to git he gab in ef he gwine die fu' it,
interrupted Aunt Belindy.
Grégor say'I don't 'lows to kiarr no conceal' weepons,' an he
draw nudda pistol slow out o' he udda pocket an' lay et on de table. By
dat time he gittin' all de money, he crammin' de money in he pocket;
an' dem fellas dey gits up one arta d'udda kine o' shy-like, an' sneaks
out. Den Grégor, he git up an come out o' de room, he coat 'crost he
arm, an' de pistols a stickin' out an him lookin' sassy tell ev'y body
make way, same ef he ben Jay Goul'. Ef he look one o' 'em in de eye dey
outs wid, 'Howdy, Grégorhow you come on, Grégor?' jis' uz pelite uz a
peacock, an' him neva take no trouble to yansa 'em. He jis' holla out
fu' somebody bring dat hoss tu de steps, an' him stan'in' 's big uz
life, waitin'. I gits tu de hoss fus', me, an' leads 'im up, an' he
gits top dat hoss stidy like he ain't tetch a drap, an' he fling me big
Whar de dolla, Mista Pierson? enquired Betsy.
De dolla in my pocket, an' et gwine stay dah. Didn' ax you fu' no
'Mista Pierson.' Whar yu' all tink he went on dat hoss?
How you reckon we knows whar he wint; we wasn't dah, replied Aunt
He jis' went a lopin' twenty yards down to Chartrand's sto'. I goes
on 'hine 'im see w'at he gwine do. Dah he git down f'um de hoss an' go
a stompin' in de sto'eve'ybody stan'in' back jis' same like fu' Jay
Goul', an' he fling bill down on de counta an' 'low, 'Fill me up a
bottle, Chartrand, I'se gwine travelin'.' Den he 'lows, 'You treats
eve'y las' man roun' heah at my 'spence, black an' w'itenuttin' fu'
me,' an' he fole he arms an' lean back on de counta, jis' so.
Chartrand, he look skeerd, he say 'François gwine wait on you.' But
Grégor, he 'low he don't wants no rusty skileton a waitin' on him w'en
he treat, 'Wait on de gemmen yo'se'fstep up gemmen.' Chartrand 'low,
'Damn ef nigga gwine drink wid w'ite man in dat sto',' all same he kine
git 'hine box tu say dat.
Lord, Lord, de ways o' de transgressor! groaned Uncle Hiram.
You want to see dem niggas sneaking 'way, resumed Pierson, dey
knows Grégor gwine fo'ce 'em drink; dey knows Chartrand gwine make it
hot fu' 'em art'ards ef dey does. Grégor he spie me jis' I'se tryin'
glide frough de doo' an he call out, 'Yonda a gemmen f'um
Place-du-Bois; Pierson, come heah; you'se good 'nough tu drink wid any
w'ite man, 'cept me; you come heah, take drink wid Mr. Louis
I 'lows don't wants no drink, much 'bleege, Marse Grégor'. 'Yis,
you wants drink,' an' 'id dat he draws he pistol. 'Mista Chartrand want
drink, too. I done owe Mista Chartrand somethin' dis long time; I'se
gwine pay 'im wid a treat,' he say. Chartrand look like he on fiar, he
so red, he so mad, he swell up same like ole bull frog.
Dat make no odd, chuckled Aunt Belindy, he gwine drink wid nigga
ef Grégor say so.
Yes, he drink, Lord, only he cuss me slow, an' 'low he gwine break
Lordy! I knows you was jis' a trimblin', Mista Pierson.
Warn't trimblin' no mo' 'en I'se trimblin' dis minute, an' you drap
dat 'Mista.' Den w'at you reckon? Yonda come Père Antoine; he come an'
stan' in de doo' an' he hole up he han'; look like he ain't 'feard no
body an' he 'low: 'Grégor Sanchun, how is you dar' come in dis heah
peaceful town frowin' of it into disorda an' confusion? Ef you isn't
'feard o' man; hasn't you got no fear o' God A'mighty wat punishes?'
Grégor, he look at 'im an' he say cool like, 'Howdy, Père Antoine;
how you come on?' He got he pistol w'at he draw fu' make Chartrand
drink wid dis heah nigga,he foolin' wid it an' a rubbin' it up and
down he pants, an' he 'low 'Dis a gemmen w'at fit to drink wid a
Sanchunw'at'll you have?' But Père Antoine, he go on makin' a su'mon
same like he make in chu'ch, an' Grégor, he lean he two arm back on de
countakine o' smilin' like, an' he say, 'Chartrand, whar dat bottle I
orda you put up?' Chartrand bring de bottle; Grégor, he put de bottle
in he coat pocket wat hang on he armcar'ful.
Père Antoine, he go on preachin', he say, 'I tell you dis young
man, you 'se on de big road w'at leads tu hell.'
Den Grégor straight he se'f up an' walk close to Père Antoine an'
he say, 'Hell an' damnation dar ain't no sich a place. I reckon she
know; w'at you know side o' her. She say dar ain't no hell, an' ef you
an' de Archbishop an' de Angel Gabriel come along an' 'low dey a hell,
you all liars,' an' he say, 'Make way dah, I'se a gittin' out o' heah;
dis ain't no town fittin' to hol' a Sanchun. Make way ef you don' wants
to go to Kingdom come fo' yo' time.'
Well, I 'lows dey did make way. Only Père Antoine, he look mighty
sorry an' down cas'.
Grégor go out dat sto' taking plenty room, an' walkin' car'ful
like, an' he swing he se'f on de hoss; den he lean down mos' flat an'
stick he spurs in dat hoss an' he go tar'in' like de win' down street,
out o' de town, a firin' he pistol up in de a'r.
Uncle Hiram had listened to the foregoing recital with troubled
countenance, and with many a protesting groan. He now shook his old
white head, and heaved a deep sigh. All dat gwine come hard an' heavy
on de madam. She don't desarve itGod knows, she don't desarve it.
How you, ole like you is, kin look fu' somethin' diffunt, Unc'
Hiurm? observed Aunt Belindy philosophically. Don't you know Grégor
gwine be Grégor tell he die? Dat's all dar is 'bout it.
Betsy arose with the sudden recollection that she had let the time
pass for bringing in Miss Thérèse's hot water, and Pierson went to the
stove to see what Aunt Belindy had reserved for him in the shape of
IX. The Reason Why.
Sampson, the young colored boy who had lighted Fanny's fire on the
first day of her arrival at Place-du-Bois, and who had made such
insinuating advances of friendliness towards her, had continued to
attract her notice and good will. He it was who lighted her fires on
such mornings as they were needed. For there had been no winter. In
mid-January, the grass was fresh and green; trees and plants were
putting forth tender shoots, as if in welcome to spring; roses were
blossoming, and it was a veritable atmosphere of Havana rather than of
central Louisiana that the dwellers at Place-du-Bois were enjoying. But
finally winter made tardy assertion of its rights. One morning broke
raw and black with an icy rain falling, and young Sampson arriving in
the early bleakness to attend to his duties at the cottage, presented a
picture of human distress to move the most hardened to pity. Though
dressed comfortably in the clothing with which Fanny had apparelled
himhe was ashen. Save for the chattering of his teeth, his body
seemed possessed of a paralytic inability to move. He knelt before the
empty fire-place as he had done on that first day, and with deep sighs
and groans went about his work. Then he remained long before the warmth
that he had kindled; even lying full length upon the soft rug, to bask
in the generous heat that permeated and seemed to thaw his stiffened
Next, he went quietly into the bedroom to attend to the fire there.
Hosmer and Fanny were still sleeping. He approached a decorated basket
that hung against the wall; a receptacle for old newspapers and odds
and ends. He drew something from his rather capacious coat pocket, and,
satisfying himself that Hosmer slept, thrust it in the bottom of the
basket, well covered by the nondescript accumulation that was there.
The house was very warm and cheerful when they arose, and after
breakfasting Hosmer felt unusually reluctant to quit his fire-side and
face the inclement day; for an unaccustomed fatigue hung upon his limbs
and his body was sore, as from the effect of bruises. But he went,
nevertheless, well encased in protective rubber; and as he turned away
from the house, Fanny hastened to the hanging basket, and fumbling
nervously in its depths, found what the complaisant Sampson had left
The cold rain had gradually changed into a fine mist, that in
descending, spread an icy coat upon every object that it touched. When
Hosmer returned at noon, he did not leave the house again.
During the afternoon Thérèse knocked at Fanny's door. She was
enveloped in a long hooded cloak, her face glowing from contact with
the sharp moist air, and myriad crystal drops clinging to her fluffy
blonde hair that looked very golden under the dark hood that covered
it. She wanted to learn how Fanny accepted this unpleasant change of
atmospheric conditions, intending to bear her company for the remainder
of the day if she found her depressed, as was often the case.
Why, I didn't know you were home, she said, a little startled, to
Hosmer who opened the door to her. I came over to show Mrs. Hosmer
something pretty that I don't suppose she ever saw before. It was a
branch from a rose-tree, bearing two open blossoms and a multitude of
buds, creamy pink, all encased in an icy transparency that gleamed like
diamonds. Isn't it exquisite? she said, holding the spray up for
Fanny's admiration. But she saw at a glance that the spirit of Disorder
had descended and settled upon the Hosmer household.
The usually neat room was in a sad state of confusion. Some of the
pictures had been taken from the walls, and were leaning here and there
against chairs and tables. The mantel ornaments had been removed and
deposited at random and in groups about the room. On the hearth was a
pail of water in which swam a huge sponge; and Fanny sat beside the
center-table that was piled with her husband's wearing apparel, holding
in her lap a coat which she had evidently been passing under
inspection. Her hair had escaped from its fastenings; her collar was
hooked awry; her face was flushed and her whole bearing indicated her
Hosmer took the frozen spray from Thérèse's hand, and spoke a little
about the beauty of the trees, especially the young cedars that he had
passed out in the hills on his way home.
It's all well and good to talk about flowers and things, Mrs.
Lafermsit down pleasebut when a person's got the job that I've got
on my hands, she's something else to think about. And David here
smoking one cigar after another. He knows all I've got to do, and goes
and sends those darkies home right after dinner.
Thérèse was so shocked that for a while she could say nothing; till
for Hosmer's sake she made a quick effort to appear at ease.
What have you to do, Mrs. Hosmer? Let me help you, I can give you
the whole afternoon, she said with an appearance of being ready for
any thing that was at hand to be done.
Fanny turned the coat over in her lap, and looked down helplessly at
a stain on the collar, that she had been endeavoring to remove; at the
same time pushing aside with patient repetition the wisp of hair that
kept falling over her cheek.
Belle Worthington'll be here before we know it; her and her husband
and that Lucilla of hers. David knows how Belle Worthington is, just as
well as I do; there's no use saying he don't. If she was to see a speck
of dirt in this house or on David's clothes, or anything, why we'd
never hear the last of it. I got a letter from her, she continued,
letting the coat fall to the floor, whilst she endeavored to find her
Is she coming to visit you? asked Thérèse who had taken up a
feather brush, and was dusting and replacing the various ornaments that
were scattered through the room.
She's going down to Muddy Graw (Mardi-Gras) her and her husband and
Lucilla and she's going to stop here a while. I had that letterI
guess I must of left it in the other room.
Never mind, Thérèse hastened to say, seeing that her whole
energies were centered on finding the letter.
Let me look, said Hosmer, making a movement towards the bedroom
door, but Fanny had arisen and holding out a hand to detain him she
went into the room herself, saying she knew where she'd left it.
Is this the reason you've kept yourself shut up here in the house
so often? Thérèse asked of Hosmer, drawing near him. Never telling me
a word of it, she went on, it wasn't right; it wasn't kind.
Why should I have put any extra burden on you? he answered,
looking down at her, and feeling a joy in her presence there, that
seemed like a guilty indulgence in face of his domestic shame.
Don't stay, Thérèse said. Leave me here. Go to your office or
over to the houseleave me alone with her.
Fanny returned, having found the letter, and spoke with increased
vehemence of the necessity of having the house in perfect trim against
the arrival of Belle Worthington, from whom they would never hear the
last, and so forth.
Well, your husband is going out, and that will give us a chance to
get things righted, said Thérèse encouragingly. You know men are
always in the way at such times.
It's what he ought to done before; and left Suze and Minervy here,
she replied with grudging acquiescence.
After repeated visits to the bedroom, under various pretexts, Fanny
grew utterly incapable to do more than sit and gaze stupidly at
Thérèse, who busied herself in bringing the confusion of the
sitting-room into some order.
She continued to talk disjointedly of Belle Worthington and her well
known tyrannical characteristics in regard to cleanliness; finishing by
weeping mildly at the prospect of her own inability to ever reach the
high standard required by her exacting friend.
It was far in the afternoonverging upon night, when Thérèse
succeeded in persuading her that she was ill and should go to bed. She
gladly seized upon the suggestion of illness; assuring Thérèse that she
alone had guessed her affliction: that whatever was thought singular in
her behavior must be explained by that sickness which was past being
guessed atthen she went to bed.
It was late when Hosmer left his office; a rough temporary shanty,
put together near the ruined mill.
He started out slowly on his long cold ride. His physical malaise of
the morning had augmented as the day went on, and he was beginning to
admit to himself that he was in for it.
But the cheerless ride was lightened by a picture that had been with
him through the afternoon, and that moved him in his whole being, as
the moment approached when it might be changed to reality. He knew
Fanny's habits; knew that she would be sleeping now. Thérèse would not
leave her there alone in the houseof that he was sure. And he
pictured Thérèse at this moment seated at his fire-side. He would find
her there when he entered. His heart beat tumultuously at the thought.
It was a very weak moment with him, possibly, one in which his unnerved
condition stood for some account. But he felt that when he saw her
there, waiting for him, he would cast himself at her feet and kiss
them. He would crush her white hands against his bosom. He would bury
his face in her silken hair. She should know how strong his love was,
and he would hold her in his arms till she yield back tenderness to his
own. ButThérèse met him on the steps. As he was mounting them, she
was descending; wrapped in her long cloak, her pretty head covered by
the dark hood.
Oh, are you going? he asked.
She heard the note of entreaty in his voice.
Yes, she answered, I shouldn't have left her before you came; but
I knew you were here; I heard your horse's tread a moment ago. She's
asleep. Good night. Take courage and have a brave heart, she said,
pressing his hand a moment in both hers, and was gone.
The room was as he had pictured it; order restored and the fire
blazing brightly. On the table was a pot of hot tea and a tempting
little supper laid. But he pushed it all aside and buried his face down
upon the table into his folded arms, groaning aloud. Physical
suffering; thwarted love, and at the same time a feeling of
self-condemnation, made him wish that life were ended for him.
Fanny awoke close upon morning, not knowing what had aroused her.
She was for a little while all bewildered and unable to collect
herself. She soon learned the cause of her disturbance. Hosmer was
tossing about and his outstretched arm lay across her face, where it
had evidently been flung with some violence. She took his hand to move
it away, and it burned her like a coal of fire. As she touched him he
started and began to talk incoherently. He evidently fancied himself
dictating a letter to some insurance company, in no pleased termsof
which Fanny caught but snatches. Then:
That's too much, Mrs. Lafirme; too muchtoo muchDon't let
Grégoire burntake him from the fire, some one. Thirty day's
creditshipment made on tenth, he rambled on at intervals in his
Fanny trembled with apprehension as she heard him. Surely he has
brain fever she thought, and she laid her hand gently on his burning
forehead. He covered it with his own, muttering Thérèse, Thérèseso
goodlet me love you.
X. Perplexing Things.
The pale, drooping girl started guiltily at her mother's sharp
exclamation, and made an effort to throw back her shoulders. Then she
bit her nails nervously, but soon desisted, remembering that that also,
as well as yielding to a relaxed tendency of the spinal column, was a
Put on your hat and go on out and get a breath of fresh air; you're
as white as milk-man's cream.
Lucilla rose and obeyed her mother's order with the precision of a
soldier, following the directions of his commander.
How submissive and gentle your daughter is, remarked Thérèse.
Well, she's got to be, and she knows it. Why, I haven't got to do
more than look at that girl most times for her to understand what I
want. You didn't notice, did you, how she straightened up when I called
'Lucilla' to her? She knows by the tone of my voice what she's got to
Most mothers can't boast of having such power over their
Well, I'm not the woman to stand any shenanigans from a child of
mine. I could name you dead loads of women that are just completely
walked over by their children. It's a blessing that boy of Fanny's
died, between you and I; its what I've always said. Why, Mrs. Laferm,
she couldn't any more look after a youngster than she could after a
baby elephant. By the by, what do you guess is the matter with her, any
How, the matter? Thérèse asked; the too ready blood flushing her
face and neck as she laid down her work and looked up at Mrs.
Why, she's acting mighty queer, that's all I can say for her.
I haven't been able to see her for some time, Thérèse returned,
going back to her sewing, but I suppose she got a little upset and
nervous over her husband; he had a few days of very serious illness
before you came.
Oh, I've seen her in all sorts of states and conditions, and I've
never seen her like that before. Why, she does nothing in the God's
world but whine and sniffle, and wish she was dead; it's enough to give
a person the horrors. She can't make out she's sick; I never saw her
look better in my life. She must of gained ten pounds since she come
Yes, said Thérèse, she was looking so well, andand I thought
everything was going well with her too, but and she hesitated to go
Oh, I know what you want to say. You can't help that. No use
bothering your brains about thatnow you just take my advice,
exclaimed Mrs. Worthington brusquely.
Then she laughed so loud and suddenly that Thérèse, being already
nervous, pricked her finger with her needle till the blood came; a
mishap which decided her to lay aside her work.
If you never saw a fish out of water, Mrs. Laferm, do take a peep
at Mr. Worthington astride that horse; it's enough to make a cat
Mrs. Worthington was on the whole rather inclined to take her
husband seriously. As often as he might excite her disapproval, it was
seldom that he aroused her mirth. So it may be gathered that his
appearance in this unfamiliar rôle of horseman was of the most
He and Hosmer were dismounting at the cottage, which decided Mrs.
Worthington to go and look after them; Fanny for the time beingin her
opinionnot having the gumption to look after a sick kitten.
This is what I call solid comfort, she said looking around the
well appointed sitting-room, before quitting it.
You ought to be a mighty happy woman, Mrs. Laferm; only I'd think
you'd die of lonesomeness, sometimes.
Thérèse laughed, and told her not to forget that she expected them
all over in the evening.
You can depend on me; and I'll do my best to drag Fanny over;
When left alone, Thérèse at once relapsed into the gloomy train of
reflections that had occupied her since the day she had seen with her
bodily eyes something of the wretched life that she had brought upon
the man she loved. And yet that wretchedness in its refinement of
cruelty and immorality she could not guess and was never to know.
Still, she had seen enough to cause her to ask herself with a shudder
was I rightwas I right?
She had always thought this lesson of right and wrong a very plain
one. So easy of interpretation that the simplest minded might solve it
if they would. And here had come for the first time in her life a
staggering doubt as to its nature. She did not suspect that she was
submitting one of those knotty problems to her unpracticed judgment
that philosophers and theologians delight in disagreeing upon, and her
inability to unravel it staggered her. She tried to convince herself
that a very insistent sting of remorse which she felt, came from
selfishnessfrom the pain that her own heart suffered in the knowledge
of Hosmer's unhappiness. She was not callous enough to quiet her soul
with the balm of having intended the best. She continued to ask herself
only was I right? and it was by the answer to that question that she
would abide, whether in the stony content of accomplished
righteousness, or in an enduring remorse that pointed to a goal in
whose labyrinthine possibilities her soul lost itself and fainted away.
Lucilla went out to get a breath of fresh air as her mother had
commanded, but she did not go far to seek it. Not further than the end
of the back veranda, where she stood for some time motionless, before
beginning to occupy herself in a way which Aunt Belindy, who was
watching her from the kitchen window, considered highly problematical.
The negress was wiping a dish and giving it a fine polish in her
absence of mind. When her curiosity could no longer contain itself she
W'ats dat you'se doin' dah, you li'le gal? Come heah an' le' me
see. Lucilla turned with the startled look which seemed to be usual
with her when addressed.
Le' me see, repeated Aunt Belindy pleasantly.
Lucilla approached the window and handed the woman a small square of
stiff writing paper which was stuck with myriad tiny pin-holes; some of
which she had been making when interrupted by Aunt Belindy.
W'at in God A'Mighty's name you call dat 'ar? the darkey asked
examining the paper critically, as though expecting the riddle would
solve itself before her eyes.
Those are my acts I've been counting, the girl replied a little
Yo' ax? I don' see nuttin' 'cep' a piece o' papah plum fill up wid
holes. W'at you call ax?
Actsacts. Don't you know what acts are?
How you want me know? I neva ben to no school whar you larn all
Why, an act is something you do that you don't want to door
something you don't want to do, that you doI mean that you don't do.
Or if you want to eat something and don't. Or an aspiration; that's an
Go long! W'ats dataspiration?
Why, to say any kind of little prayer; or if you invoke our Lord,
or our Blessed Lady, or one of the saints, that's an aspiration. You
can make them just as quick as you can thinkyou can make hundreds and
hundreds in a day.
My Lan'! Dat's w'at you'se studyin' 'bout w'en you'se steppin'
'roun' heah like a droopy pullet? An' I t'ought you was studyin' 'bout
dat beau you lef' yonda to Sent Lous.
You mustn't say such things to me; I'm going to be a religious.
How dat gwine henda you have a beau ef you'se religious?
The religious never get married, turning very red, and don't live
in the world like others.
Look heah, chile, you t'inks I'se fool? Religionno religion, whar
you gwine live ef you don' live in de word? Gwine live up in de moon?
You're a very ignorant person, replied Lucilla, highly offended.
A religious devotes her life to God, and lives in the convent.
Den w'y you neva said 'convent'? I knows all 'bout convent. W'at
you gwine do wid dem ax w'en de papah done all fill up? handing the
singular tablet back to her.
Oh, replied Lucilla, when I have thousands and thousands I gain
twenty-five years' indulgence.
Is dat so?
Yes, said the girl; and divining that Aunt Belindy had not
understood, twenty-five years that I don't have to go to purgatory.
You see most people have to spend years and years in purgatory, before
they can get to Heaven.
How you know dat?
If Aunt Belindy had asked Lucilla how she knew that the sun shone,
she could not have answered with more assurance because I know as she
turned and walked rather scornfully away.
W'at dat kine o' fool talk dey larns gals up yonda tu Sent Lous?
An' huh ma a putty woman; yas, bless me; all dress up fittin' to kill.
Don' 'pear like she studyin' 'bout ax.
XI. A Social Evening.
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Duplan with their little daughter Ninette, who
had been invited to Place-du-Bois for supper, as well as for the
evening, were seated with Thérèse in the parlor, awaiting the arrival
of the cottage guests. They had left their rather distant plantation,
Les Chênières, early in the afternoon, wishing as usual to make the
most of these visits, which, though infrequent, were always so much
The room was somewhat altered since that summer day when Thérèse had
sat in its cool shadows, hearing the story of David Hosmer's life. Only
with such difference, however, as the change of season called for;
imparting to it a rich warmth that invited to sociability and friendly
confidences. In the depths of the great chimney glowed with a steady
and dignified heat, the huge back-log, whose disposal Uncle Hiram had
superintended in person; and the leaping flames from the dry hickories
that surrounded it, lent a very genial light to the grim-visaged
Lafirmes who looked down from their elevation on the interesting group
gathered about the hearth.
Conversation had never once flagged with these good friends; for,
aside from much neighborhood gossip to be told and listened to, there
was the always fertile topic of crops to be discussed in all its
bearings, that touched, in its local and restricted sense, the labor
question, cultivation, freight rates, and the city merchant.
With Mrs. Duplan there was a good deal to be said about the unusual
mortality among Plymouth-Rocks owing to an alarming prevalence of
pip, which malady, however, that lady found to be gradually yielding
to a heroic treatment introduced into her basse-cour by one
Coulon, a piney wood sage of some repute as a mystic healer.
This was a delicate refined little woman, somewhat old-fashioned and
stranded in her incapability to keep pace with the modern conduct of
life; but giving her views with a pretty self-confidence, that showed
her a ruler in her peculiar realm.
The young Ninette had extended herself in an easy chair, in an
attitude of graceful abandonment, the earnest brown eyes looking
eagerly out from under a tangle of auburn hair, and resting with
absorbed admiration upon her father, whose words and movements she
followed with unflagging attentiveness. The fastidious little miss was
clad in a dainty gown that reached scarcely below the knees; revealing
the shapely limbs that were crossed and extended to let the well shod
feet rest upon the polished brass fender.
Thérèse had given what information lay within her range, concerning
the company which was expected. But her confidences had plainly been
insufficient to prepare Mrs. Duplan for the startling effect produced
by Mrs. Worthington on that little woman in her black silk of a by-gone
fashion; so splendid was Mrs. Worthington's erect and imposing figure,
so blonde her blonde hair, so bright her striking color and so
comprehensive the sweep of her blue and scintillating gown. Yet was
Mrs. Worthington not at ease, as might be noticed in the unnatural
quaver of her high-pitched voice and the restless motion of her hands,
as she seated herself with an arm studiedly resting upon the table near
Hosmer had met the Duplans before; on the occasion of a former visit
to Place-du-Bois and again at Les Chênières when he had gone to see the
planter on business connected with the lumber trade.
Fanny was a stranger to them and promised to remain such; for she
acknowledged her presentation with a silent bow and retreated as far
from the group as a decent concession to sociability would permit.
Thérèse with her pretty Creole tact was not long in bringing these
seemingly incongruent elements into some degree of harmony. Mr. Duplan
in his courteous and rather lordly way was presently imparting to Mrs.
Worthington certain reminiscences of a visit to St. Louis twenty-five
years before, when he and Mrs. Duplan had rather hastily traversed that
interesting town during their wedding journey. Mr. Duplan's manner had
a singular effect upon Mrs. Worthington, who became dignified, subdued,
and altogether unnatural in her endeavor to adjust herself to it.
Mr. Worthington seated himself beside Mrs. Duplan and was soon
trying to glean information, in his eager short-sighted way, of
psychological interest concerning the negro race; such effort rather
bewildering that good lady, who could not bring herself to view the
negro as an interesting or suitable theme to be introduced into polite
Hosmer sat and talked good-naturedly to the little girls,
endeavoring to dispel the shyness with which they seemed inclined to
view each otherand Thérèse crossed the room to join Fanny.
I hope you're feeling better, she ventured, you should have let
me help you while Mr. Hosmer was ill.
Fanny looked away, biting her lip, the sudden tears coming to her
eyes. She answered with unsteady voice, Oh, I was able to look after
my husband myself, Mrs. Laferm.
Thérèse reddened at finding herself so misunderstood. I meant in
your housekeeping, Mrs. Hosmer; I could have relieved you of some of
that worry, whilst you were occupied with your husband.
Fanny continued to look unhappy; her features taking on that
peculiar downward droop which Thérèse had come to know and mistrust.
Are you going to New Orleans with Mrs. Worthington? she asked,
she told me she meant to try and persuade you.
No; I'm not going. Why? looking suspiciously in Thérèse's face.
Well, laughed Thérèse, only for the sake of asking, I suppose. I
thought you'd enjoy Mardi-Gras, never having seen it.
I'm not going anywheres unless David goes along, she said, with an
impertinent ring in her voice, and with a conviction that she was
administering a stab and a rebuke. She had come prepared to watch her
husband and Mrs. Lafirme, her heart swelling with jealous suspicion as
she looked constantly from one to the other, endeavoring to detect
signs of an understanding between them. Failing to discover such, and
loth to be robbed of her morbid feast of misery, she set her failure
down to their pre-determined subtlety. Thérèse was conscious of a
change in Fanny's attitude, and felt herself unable to account for it
otherwise than by whim, which she knew played a not unimportant rôle in
directing the manner of a large majority of women. Moreover, it was not
a moment to lose herself in speculation concerning this woman's
capricious behavior. Her guests held the first claim upon her
attentions. Indeed, here was Mrs. Worthington even now loudly demanding
a pack of cards. Here's a gentleman never heard of six-handed euchre.
If you've got a pack of cards, Mrs. Laferm, I guess I can show him
quick enough that it can be done.
Oh, I don't doubt Mrs. Worthington's ability to make any startling
and pleasing revelations, rejoined the planter good humoredly, and
gallantly following Mrs. Worthington who had risen with the view of
putting into immediate effect her scheme of initiating these slow
people into the unsuspected possibilities of euchre; a game which,
however adaptable in other ways, could certainly not be indulged in by
seven persons. After each one proffering, as is usual on such
occasions, his readiness to assume the character of on-looker, Mr.
Worthington's claim to entire indifference, if not inabilityconfirmed
by his wifewas accepted as the most sincere, and that gentleman was
excluded and excused.
He watched them as they seated themselves at table, even lending
assistance, in his own awkward way, to range the chairs in place. Then
he followed the game for a while, standing behind Fanny to note the
outcome of her reckless offer of five on hearts, with only three
trumps in hand, and every indication of little assistance from her
partners, Mr. Duplan and Belle Worthington.
At one end of the room was a long, low, well-filled book-case. Here
had been the direction of Mr. Worthington's secret and stolen glances
the entire evening. And now towards this point he finally transported
himself by gradual movements which he believed appeared unstudied and
indifferent. He was confronted by a good deal of Frenchto him an
unfamiliar language. Here a long row of Balzac; then, the Waverley
Novels in faded red cloth of very old date. Racine, Moliere, Bulwer
following in more modern garb; Shakespeare in a compass that promised
very small type. His quick trained glance sweeping along the shelves,
contracted into a little frown of resentment while he sent his hand
impetuously through his scant locks, standing them quite on end.
On the very lowest shelf were five imposing volumes in dignified
black and gold, bearing the simple inscription Lives of the
SaintsRev. A. Butler. Upon one of them, Mr. Worthington seized,
opening it at hazard. He had fallen upon the history of St. Monica,
mother of the great St. Austina woman whose habits it appears had
been so closely guarded in her childhood by a pious nurse, that even
the quenching of her natural thirst was permitted only within certain
well defined bounds. This mentor used to say you are now for drinking
water, but when you come to be mistress of the cellar, water will be
despised, but the habit of drinking will stick by you. Highly
interesting, Mr. Worthington thought, as he brushed his hair all down
again the right way and seated himself the better to learn the fortunes
of the good St. Monica who, curiously enough, notwithstanding those
early incentives to temperance, insensibly contracted an inclination
to wine, drinking whole cups of it with pleasure as it came in her
way. A dangerous intemperance which it finally pleased Heaven to
cure through the instrumentality of a maid servant taunting her
mistress with being a wine bibber.
Mr. Worthington did not stop with the story of Saint Monica. He lost
himself in those details of asceticism, martyrdom, superhuman
possibilities which man is capable of attaining under peculiar
conditions of lifesomething he had not yet gone into.
The voices at the card table would certainly have disturbed a man
with less power of mind concentration. For Mrs. Worthington in this
familiar employment was herself againcon fuoco. Here was Mr.
Duplan in high spirits; his wife putting forth little gushes of
bird-like exaltation as the fascinations of the game revealed
themselves to her. Even Hosmer and Thérèse were drawn for the moment
from their usual preoccupation. Fanny alone was the ghost of the feast.
Her features never relaxed from their settled gloom. She played at
hap-hazard, listlessly throwing down the cards or letting them fall
from her hands, vaguely asking what were trumps at inopportune moments;
showing that inattentiveness so exasperating to an eager player and
which oftener than once drew a sharp rebuke from Belle Worthington.
Don't you wish we could play, said Ninette to her companion from
her comfortable perch beside the fire, and looking longingly towards
the card table.
Oh, no, replied Lucilla briefly, gazing into the fire, with hands
folded in her lap. Thin hands, showing up very white against the dull
colored convent uniform that hung in plain, severe folds about her
and reached to her very ankles.
Oh, don't you? I play often at home when company comes. And I play
cribbage and vingt-et-un with papa and win lots of money from
No, it isn't; papa wouldn't do it if it was wrong, she answered
decidedly. Do you go to the convent? she asked, looking critically at
Lucilla and drawing a little nearer, so as to be confidential. Tell me
about it, she continued, when the other had replied affirmatively. Is
it very dreadful? you know they're going to send me soon.
Oh, it's the best place in the world, corrected Lucilla as eagerly
as she could.
Well, mamma says she was just as happy as could be there, but you
see that's so awfully long ago. It must have changed since then.
The convent never changes: it's always the same. You first go to
chapel to mass early in the morning.
Ugh! shuddered Ninette.
Then you have studies, continued Lucilla. Then breakfast, then
recreation, then classes, and there's meditation.
Oh, well, interrupted Ninette, I believe anything most would suit
you, and mamma when she was little; but if I don't like itsee here,
if I tell you something will you promise never, never, to tell?
Is it any thing wrong?
Oh, no, not very; it isn't a real mortal sin. Will you promise?
Yes, agreed Lucilla; curiosity getting something the better of her
Cross your heart?
Lucilla crossed her heart carefully, though a little reluctantly.
Hope you may die?
Oh! exclaimed the little convent girl aghast.
Oh, pshaw, laughed Ninette, never mind. But that's what Polly
always says when she wants me to believe her: 'hope I may die, Miss
Ninette.' Well, this is it: I've been saving up money for the longest
time, oh ever so long. I've got eighteen dollars and sixty cents, and
when they send me to the convent, if I don't like it, I'm going to run
away. This last and startling revelation was told in a tragic whisper
in Lucilla's ear, for Betsy was standing before them with a tray of
chocolate and coffee that she was passing around.
I yeard you, proclaimed Betsy with mischievous inscrutable
You didn't, said Ninette defiantly, and taking a cup of coffee.
Yas, I did, I yeard you, walking away.
See here, Betsy, cried Ninette recalling the girl, you're not
going to tell, are you?
Dun know ef I isn't gwine tell. Dun know ef I isn't gwine tell Miss
Duplan dis yere ver' minute.
Oh Betsy, entreated Ninette, I'll give you this dress if you
don't. I don't want it any more.
Betsy's eyes glowed, but she looked down unconcernedly at the pretty
Don't spec it fit me. An' you know Miss T'rèse ain't gwine let me
go flyin' roun' wid my laigs stickin' out dat away.
I'll let the ruffle down, Betsy, eagerly proposed Ninette.
Betsy! called Thérèse a little impatiently.
Yas, 'umI ben waitin' fu' de cups.
Lucilla had made many an aspirationmany an act the while. This
whole evening of revelry, and now this last act of wicked conspiracy
seemed to have tainted her soul with a breath of sin which she would
not feel wholly freed from, till she had cleansed her spirit in the
waters of absolution.
The party broke up at a late hour, though the Duplans had a long
distance to go, and, moreover, had to cross the high and turbid river
to reach their carriage which had been left on the opposite bank, owing
to the difficulty of the crossing.
Mr. Duplan took occasion of a moment aside to whisper to Hosmer with
the air of a connoisseur, fine woman that Mrs. Worthington of yours.
Hosmer laughed at the jesting implication, whilst disclaiming it,
and Fanny looked moodily at them both, jealously wondering at the cause
of their good humor.
Mrs. Duplan, under the influence of a charming evening passed in
such agreeable and distinguished company, was full of amiable bustle in
leaving and had many pleasant parting words to say to each, in her
pretty broken English.
Oh, yes, ma'am, said Mrs. Worthington to that lady, who had taken
admiring notice of the beautiful silver Holy Angels medal that hung
from Lucilla's neck and rested against the dark gown. Lucilla takes
after Mr. Worthington as far as religion goeskind of different
though, for I must say it ain't often he darkens the doors of a
Mrs. Worthington always spoke of her husband present as of a husband
absent. A peculiarity which he patiently endured, having no talent for
repartee, that he had at one time thought of cultivating. But that time
was long past.
The Duplans were the first to leave. Then Thérèse stood for a while
on the veranda in the chill night air watching the others disappear
across the lawn. Mr. and Mrs. Worthington and Lucilla had all shaken
hands with her in saying good night. Fanny followed suit limply and
grudgingly. Hosmer buttoned his coat impatiently and only lifted his
hat to Thérèse as he helped his wife down the stairs.
Poor Fanny! she had already taken exception at that hand pressure
which was to come and for which she watched, and now her whole small
being was in a jealous turmoilbecause there had been none.
XII. Tidings That Sting.
Thérèse felt that the room was growing oppressive. She had been
sitting all morning alone before the fire, passing in review a great
heap of household linen that lay piled beside her on the floor,
alternating this occupation with occasional careful and tender offices
bestowed upon a wee lamb that had been brought to her some hours
before, and that now lay wounded and half lifeless upon a pile of
coffee sacks before the blaze.
A fire was hardly needed, except to dispel the dampness that had
even made its insistent way indoors, covering walls and furniture with
a clammy film. Outside, the moisture was dripping from the glistening
magnolia leaves and from the pointed polished leaves of the live-oaks,
and the sun that had come out with intense suddenness was drawing it
steaming from the shingled roof-tops.
When Thérèse, finally aware of the closeness of the room, opened the
door and went out on the veranda, she saw a man, a stranger, riding
towards the house and she stood to await his approach. He belonged to
what is rather indiscriminately known in that section of the State as
the piney-woods genus. A rawboned fellow, lank and long of leg; as
ungroomed with his scraggy yellow hair and beard as the scrubby little
Texas pony which he rode. His big soft felt hat had done unreasonable
service as a head-piece; and the store clothes that hung upon his
lean person could never in their remotest freshness have masqueraded
under the character of all wool. He was in transit, as the bulging
saddle-bags that hung across his horse indicated, as well as the rough
brown blanket strapped behind him to the animal's back. He rode up
close to the rail of the veranda near which Thérèse stood, and nodded
to her without offering to raise or touch his hat. She was prepared for
the drawl with which he addressed her, and even guessed at what his
first words would be.
You're Mrs. Laferm I 'low?
Thérèse acknowledged her identity with a bow.
My name's Jimson; Rufe Jimson, he went on, settling himself on the
pony and folding his long knotty hands over the hickory switch that he
carried in guise of whip.
Do you wish to speak to me? won't you dismount? Thérèse asked.
I hed my dinner down to the store, he said taking her proposal as
an invitation to dine, and turning to expectorate a mouth full of
tobacco juice before continuing. Capital sardines them air, passing
his hand over his mouth and beard in unctuous remembrance of the oily
I'm just from Cornstalk, Texas, on mu way to Grant. An' them roads
as I've traversed isn't what I'd call the best in a fair and square
His manner bore not the slightest mark of deference. He spoke to
Thérèse as he might have spoken to one of her black servants, or as he
would have addressed a princess of royal blood if fate had ever brought
him into such unlikely contact, so clearly was the sense of human
equality native to him.
Thérèse knew her animal, and waited patiently for his business to
I reckon thar hain't no ford hereabouts? he asked, looking at her
with a certain challenge.
Oh, no; its even difficult crossing in the flat, she answered.
Wall, I hed calc'lated continooing on this near side. Reckon I
could make it? challenging her again to an answer.
There's no road on this side, she said, turning away to fasten
more securely the escaped branches of a rose-bush that twined about a
column near which she stood.
Whether there were a road on this side or on the other side, or no
road at all, appeared to be matter of equal indifference to Mr. Jimson,
so far as his manner showed. He continued imperturbably I 'lowed to
stop here on a little matter o' business. 'Tis some out o' mu way;
more'n I'd calc'lated. You couldn't tell the ixact distance from here
to Colfax, could you?
Thérèse rather impatiently gave him the desired information, and
begged that he would disclose his business with her.
Wall, he said, onpleasant news 'll keep most times tell you're
ready fur it. Thet's my way o' lookin' at it.
Unpleasant news for me? she inquired, startled from her
indifference and listlessness.
Rather onpleasant ez I take it. I hain't a makin' no misstatement
to persume thet Grégor Sanchun was your nephew?
Yes, yes, responded Thérèse, now thoroughly alarmed, and
approaching as close to Mr. Rufe Jimson as the dividing rail would
permit, What of him, please?
He turned again to discharge an accumulation of tobacco juice into a
thick border of violets, and resumed.
You see a hot-blooded young feller, ez wouldn't take no more 'an
give no odds, stranger or no stranger in the town, he couldn't ixpect
civil treatment; leastways not from Colonel Bill Klayton. Ez I said to
Please tell me as quickly as possible what has happened, demanded
Thérèse with trembling eagerness; steadying herself with both hands on
the railing before her.
You see it all riz out o' a little altercation 'twixt him and
Colonel Klayton in the colonel's store. Some says he'd ben drinkin';
others denies it. Howsomever they did hev words risin' out o' the
colonel addressing your nephew under the title o' 'Frenchy'; which most
takes ez a insufficient cause for rilin'.
He's dead? gasped Thérèse, looking at the dispassionate Texan with
Wall, yes, an admission which he seemed not yet willing to leave
unqualified; for he went on It don't do to alluz speak out open an'
above boards, leastways not thar in Cornstalk. But I'll 'low to you,
it's my opinion the colonel acted hasty. It's true 'nough, the young
feller hed drawed, but ez I said to Tozier, thet's no reason to persume
it was his intention to use his gun.
So Grégoire was dead. She understood it all now. The manner of his
death was plain to her as if she had seen it, out there in some
disorderly settlement. Killed by the hand of a stranger with whom
perhaps the taking of a man's life counted as little as it had once
counted with his victim. This flood of sudden and painful intelligence
staggered her, and leaning against the column she covered her eyes with
both hands, for a while forgetting the presence of the man who had
brought the sad tidings.
But he had never ceased his monotonous unwinding. Thar hain't no
manner o' doubt, marm, he was saying, thet he did hev the sympathy o'
the intire communityez far ez they was free to express itbarrin' a
few. Fur he was a likely young chap, that warn't no two opinions o'
that. Free with his moneyalluz ready to set up fur a friend. Here's a
bit o' writin' thet'll larn you more o' the pertic'lars, drawing a
letter from his pocket, writ by the Catholic priest, by name of
O'Dowd. He 'lowed you mought want proyer meetin's and sich.
Masses, corrected Thérèse, holding out her hand for the letter.
With the other hand she was wiping away the tears that had gathered
thick in her eyes.
Thar's a couple more little tricks thet he sont, continued Rufe
Jimson, apparently dislocating his joints to reach the depths of his
trouser pocket, from which he drew a battered pocket book wrapped
around with an infinity of string. From the grimy folds of this
receptacle he took a small paper parcel which he placed in her hand. It
was partly unfastened, and as she opened it fully, the pent-up tears
came blindinglyfor before her lay a few curling rings of soft brown
hair, and a pair of scapulars, one of which was pierced by a tell-tale
Won't you dismount? she presently asked again, this time a little
No, marm, said the Texan, jerking his hitherto patient pony by the
bridle till it performed feats of which an impartial observer could
scarcely have suspected it.
Don't reckon I could make Colfax before dark, do you?
Hardly, she said, turning away, I'm much obliged to you, Mr.
Jimson, for having taken this troubleif the flat is on the other
side, you need only call for it.
Wall, good day, marmI wish you luck, he added, with a touch of
gallantry which her tears and sweet feminine presence had inspired.
Then turning, he loped his horse rapidly forward, leaning well back in
the saddle and his elbows sawing the air.
XIII. Melicent Hears the News.
It was talked about and wept about at Place-du-Bois, that Grégoire
should be dead. It seemed to them all so unbelievable. Yet, whatever
hesitancy they had in accepting the fact of his death, was perforce
removed by the convincing proof of Father O'Dowd's letter.
None could remember but sweetness and kindness of him. Even Nathan,
who had been one day felled to earth by a crowbar in Grégoire's hand,
had come himself to look at that deed as not altogether blamable in
light of the provocation that had called it forth.
Fanny remembered those bouquets which had been daily offered to her
forlornness at her arrival; and the conversations in which they had
understood each other so well. The conviction that he was gone away
beyond the possibility of knowing him further, moved her to tears.
Hosmer, too, was grieved and shocked, without being able to view the
event in the light of a calamity.
No one was left unmoved by the tidings which brought a lowering
cloud even upon the brow of Aunt Belindy, to rest there the whole day.
Deep were the mutterings she hurled at a fate that could have been so
short-sighted as to remove from earth so bright an ornament as
Grégoire. Her grief further spent much of itself upon the inoffensive
Betsy, who, for some inscrutable reason was for twenty-four hours
debarred entrance to the kitchen.
Thérèse seated at her desk, devoted a morning to the writing of
letters, acquainting various members of the family with the unhappy
intelligence. She wrote first to Madame Santien, living now her lazy
life in Paris, with eyes closed to the duties that lay before her and
heart choked up with an egoism that withered even the mother instincts.
It was very difficult to withhold the reproach which she felt inclined
to deal her; hard to refrain from upbraiding a selfishness which for a
life-time had appeared to Thérèse as criminal.
It was a matter less nice, less difficult, to write to the
brothersone up on the Red River plantation living as best he could;
the other idling on the New Orleans streets. But it was after all a
short and simple story to tell. There was no lingering illness to
describe; no moment even of consciousness in which harrowing last words
were to be gathered and recorded. Only a hot senseless quarrel to be
told about; the speeding of a bullet with very sure aim, andquick
Of course, masses must be said. Father O'Dowd was properly
instructed. Père Antoine in Centerville was addressed on the subject.
The Bishop of Natchitoches, respectfully asked to perform this last sad
office for the departed soul. And the good old priest and friend at the
New Orleans Cathedral, was informed of her desires. Not that Thérèse
held very strongly to this saying of masses for the dead; but it had
been a custom holding for generations in the family and which she was
not disposed to abandon now, even if she had thought of it.
The last letter was sent to Melicent. Thérèse made it purposely
short and pointed, with a bare statement of factsa dry, unemotional
telling, that sounded heartless when she read it over; but she let it
* * * * *
Melicent was standing in her small, quaint sitting-room, her back to
the fire, and her hands clasped behind her. How handsome was this
Melicent! Pouting now, and with eyes half covered by the dark shaded
lids, as they gazed moodily out at the wild snowflakes that were
hurrying like crazy things against the warm window pane and meeting
their end there. A loose tea-gown clung in long folds about her. A dull
colored thing, save for the two broad bands of sapphire plush hanging
straight before, from throat to toe. Melicent was plainly dejected; not
troubled, nor sad, only dejected, and very much bored; a condition that
had made her yawn several times while she looked at the falling snow.
She was philosophizing a little. Wondering if the world this morning
were really the unpleasant place that it appeared, or if these
conditions of unpleasantness lay not rather within her own mental
vision; a train of thought that might be supposed to have furnished her
some degree of entertainment had she continued in its pursuit. But she
chose rather to dwell on her causes of unhappiness, and thus convince
herself that that unhappiness was indeed outside of her and around her
and not by any possibility to be avoided or circumvented. There lay now
a letter in her desk from David, filled with admonitions if not reproof
which she felt to be not entirely unjust, on the disagreeable subject
of Expenses. Looking around the pretty room she conceded to herself
that here had been temptations which she could not reasonably have been
expected to withstand. The temptation to lodge herself in this charming
little flat; furnish it after her own liking; and install that
delightful little old poverty-stricken English woman as keeper of
Proprieties, with her irresistible white starched caps and her
altogether delightful way of inquiring daily after that poor, dear,
kind Mr. Hosmer. It had all cost a little more than she had foreseen.
But the worst of it, the very worst of it was, that she had already
begun to ask herself if, for instance, it were not very irritating to
see every day, that same branching palm, posing by the window, in that
same yellow jardinière. If those draperies that confronted her were not
becoming positively offensive in the monotony of their solemn folds. If
the cuteness and quaintness of the poverty-stricken little English
woman were not after all a source of entertainment that she would
willingly forego on occasion. The answer to these questions was a sigh
that ended in another yawn.
Then Melicent threw herself into a low easy chair by the table, took
up her visiting book, and bending lazily with her arms resting on her
knees, began to turn over its pages. The names which she saw there
recalled to her mind an entertainment at which she had assisted on the
previous afternoon. A progressive euchre party; and the remembrance of
what she had there endured now filled her soul with horror.
She thought of those hundred cackling womenof course women are
never cackling, it was Melicent's exaggerated way of expressing
herselfpacked into those small overheated rooms, around those
twenty-five little tables; and how by no chance had she once found
herself with a congenial set. And how that Mrs. Van Wycke had cheated!
It was plain to Melicent that she had taken advantage of having fat
Miss Bloomdale for a partner, who went to euchre parties only to show
her hands and rings. And little Mrs. Brinke playing against her. Little
Mrs. Brinke! A woman who only the other day had read an original paper
entitled: An Hour with Hegel before her philosophy class; who had
published that dry mystical affair Light on the Inscrutable in Dante.
How could such a one by any possibility be supposed to observe the
disgusting action of Mrs. Van Wycke in throwing off on her partner's
trump and swooping down on the last trick with her right bower?
Melicent would have thought it beneath her to more than look her
contempt as Mrs. Van Wycke rose with a triumphant laugh to take her
place at a higher table, dragging the plastic Bloomdale with her. But
she did mutter to herself now, nasty thief.
Johannah, Melicent called to her maid who sat sewing in the next
You know Mrs. Van Wycke?
Mrs. Van Wycke, Miss? the lady with the pinted nose that I caught
a-feeling of the curtains?
Yes, when she calls again I'm not at home. Do you understand? not
It was gratifying enough to have thus summarily disposed of Mrs. Van
Wycke; but it was a source of entertainment which was soon ended.
Melicent continued to turn over the pages of her visiting book during
which employment she came to the conclusion that these people whom she
frequented were all very tiresome. All, all of them, except Miss Drake
who had been absent in Europe for the past six months. Perhaps Mrs.
Manning too, who was so seldom at home when Melicent called. Who when
at home, usually rushed down with her bonnet on, breathless with I can
only spare you a moment, dear. It's very sweet of you to come. She was
always just going to the Home where things had got into such a muddle
whilst she was away for a week. Or it was that Hospital meeting where
she thought certain members were secretly conniving at her removal from
the presidency which she had held for so many years. She was always
reading minutes at assemblages which Melicent knew nothing about; or
introducing distinguished guests to Guild room meetings. Altogether
Melicent saw very little of Mrs. Manning.
Johannah, don't you hear the bell?
Yes, Miss, said Johannah, coming into the room and depositing a
gown on which she had been working, on the back of a chair. It's that
postman, she said, as she fastened her needle to the bosom of her
dress. And such a one as he is, thinking that people must fly when he
so much as touches the bell, and going off a writing of 'no answer to
bell,' and me with my hand on the very door-knob.
I notice that always happens when I'm out, Johannah; he's ringing
It was Thérèse's letter, and as Melicent turned it about and looked
critically at the neatly written address, it was not without a hope
that the reading of it might furnish her a moment's diversion. She did
not faint. The letter did not fall from her nerveless clasp. She
rather held it very steadily. But she grew a shade paler and looked
long into the fire. When she had read it three times she folded it
slowly and carefully and locked it away in her desk.
Put that gown away; I shan't need it.
Yes, Miss; and all the beautiful passmantry that you bought?
It makes no difference, I shan't use it. What's become of that
black camel's-hair that Mrs. Gauche spoiled so last winter?
It's laid away, Miss, the same in the cedar chest as the day it
came home from her hands and no more fit, that I'd be a shame meself
and no claims to a dress-maker. And there's many a lady that she never
would have seen a cent, let alone making herself pay for the spiling of
Well, well, Johannah, never mind. Get it out, we'll see what can be
done with it. I've had some painful news, and I shall wear mourning for
a long, long time.
Oh, Miss, it's not Mr. David! nor yet one of those sweet relations
in Utica? leastways not I hope that beautiful Miss Gertrude, with such
hair as I never see for the goldness of it and not dyed, except me
cousin that's a nun, that her mother actually cried when it was cut
No, Johannah; only a very dear friend.
There were a few social engagements to be cancelled; and regrets to
be sent out, which she attended to immediately. Then she turned again
to look long into the fire. That crime for which she had scorned him,
was wiped out now by expiation. For a long timehow long she could not
yet determineshe would wrap herself in garb of mourning and move
about in sorrowinggiving evasive answer to the curious who questioned
her. Now might she live again through those summer months with
Grégoirethose golden afternoons in the pine woodswhose aroma even
now came back to her. She might look again into his loving brown eyes;
feel beneath her touch the softness of his curls. She recalled a day
when he had said, Neva to see youmy God! and how he had trembled.
She recalledstrangely enough and for the first timethat one kiss,
and a little tremor brought the hot color to her cheek.
Was she in love with Grégoire now that he was dead? Perhaps. At all
events, for the next month, Melicent would not be bored.
XIV. A Step Too Far.
Who of us has not known the presence of Misery? Perhaps as those
fortunate ones whom he has but touched as he passed them by. It may be
that we see but a promise of him as we look into the prophetic faces of
children; into the eyes of those we love, and the awfulness of life's
possibilities presses into our souls. Do we fly him? hearing him gain
upon us panting close at our heels, till we turn from the desperation
of uncertainty to grapple with him? In close scuffle we may vanquish
him. Fleeing, we may elude him. But what if he creep into the sanctuary
of our lives, with his subtle omnipresence, that we do not see in all
its horror till we are disarmed; thrusting the burden of his
companionship upon us to the end! However we turn he is there. However
we shrink he is there. However we come or go, or sleep or wake he is
before us. Till the keen sense grows dull with apathy at looking on
him, and he becomes like the familiar presence of sin.
Into such callousness had Hosmer fallen. He had ceased to bruise his
soul in restless endeavor of resistance. When the awful presence bore
too closely upon him, he would close his eyes and brave himself to
endurance. Yet Fate might have dealt him worse things.
But a man's misery is after all his own, to make of it what he will
or what he can. And shall we be fools, wanting to lighten it with our
My friend, your trouble I know weighs. That you should be driven by
earthly needs to drag the pinioned spirit of your days through rut and
mire. But think of the millions who are doing the like. Or is it your
boy, that part of your own self and that other dearer self, who is
walking in evil ways? Why, I know a man whose son was hanged the other
day; hanged on the gibbet; think of it. If you be quivering while the
surgeon cuts away that right arm, remember the poor devil in the
hospital yesterday who had both his sawed off.
Oh, have done, with your mutilated men and your sons on gibbets!
What are they to me? My hurt is greater than all, because it is my own.
If it be only that day after day I must look with warm entreaty into
eyes that are cold. Let it be but that peculiar trick of feature which
I have come to hate, seen each morning across the breakfast table. That
recurrent pin-prick: it hurts. The blow that lays the heart in twain:
it kills. Let be mine which will; it is the one that counts.
If Misery kill a man, that ends it. But Misery seldom deals so
summarily with his victims. And while they are spared to earth, we find
them usually sustaining life after the accepted fashion.
Hosmer was seated at table, having finished his breakfast. He had
also finished glancing over the contents of a small memorandum book,
which he replaced in his pocket. He then looked at his wife sitting
opposite him, but turned rather hastily to gaze with a certain entreaty
into the big kind eyes of the great shaggy dog who stoodthe shameless
beggarat his side.
I knew there was something wrong, he said abruptly, with his eyes
still fixed on the dog, and his fingers thrust into the animal's matted
wool, Where's the mail this morning?
I don't know if that stupid boy's gone for it or not. I told him.
You can't depend on any one in a place like this.
Fanny had scarcely touched the breakfast before her, and now pushed
aside her cup still half filled with coffee.
Why, how's that? Sampson seems to do the right thing.
Yes, Sampson; but he ain't here. That boy of Minervy's been doing
his work all morning.
Minervy's boy was even now making his appearance, carrying a good
sized bundle of papers and letters, with which he walked boldly up to
Hosmer, plainly impressed with the importance of this new rôle.
Well, colonel; so you've taken Sampson's place? Hosmer observed,
receiving the mail from the boy's little black paws.
My name's Major, suh. Maje; dats my name. I ain't tuck Sampson's
place: no, suh.
Oh, he's having a day off Hosmer went on, smiling quizzingly at
the dapper little darkey, and handing him a red apple from the dish of
fruit standing in the center of the table. Maje received it with a very
unmilitary bob of acknowledgment.
He yonda home 'cross de riva, suh. He ben too late fu' kotch de
flat's mornin' An' he holla an' holla. He know dey warn't gwine cross
dat flat 'gin jis' fu' Sampson.
Hosmer had commenced to open his letters. Fanny with her elbows on
the table, asked the boywith a certain uneasiness in her
voiceAin't he coming at all to-day? Don't he know all the work he's
got to do? His mother ought to make him.
Don't reckon. Dat away Sampson: he git mad he stay mad, with which
assurance Maje vanished through the rear door, towards the region of
the kitchen, to seek more substantial condiments than the apple which
he still clutched firmly.
One of the letters was for Fanny, which her husband handed her. When
he had finished reading his own, he seemed disposed to linger, for he
took from the fruit dish the mate to the red apple he had given Maje,
and commenced to peel it with his clasp knife.
What has our friend Belle Worthington to say for herself? he
inquired good humoredly. How does she get on with those Creoles down
You know as well as I do, Belle Worthington ain't going to mix with
Creoles. She can't talk French if she wanted to. She says Muddy-Graw
don't begin to compare with the Veiled Prophets. It's just what I
thoughtwith their 'Muddy-Graw,' Fanny added, contemptuously.
Coming from such high authority, we'll consider that verdict a
final clincher, Hosmer laughed a little provokingly.
Fanny was looking again through the several sheets of Belle
Worthington's letter. She says if I'll agree to go back with her,
she'll pass this way again.
Well, why don't you? A little change wouldn't hurt.
'Tain't because I want to stay here, Lord knows. A God-forsaken
place like this. I guess you'd be glad enough, she added, with voice
shaking a little at her own boldness.
He closed his knife, placed it in his pocket, and looked at his
wife, completely puzzled.
The power of speech had come to her, for she went on, in an
unnatural tone, however, and fumbling nervously with the dishes before
her. I'm fool enough about some things, but I ain't quite such a fool
What are you talking about, Fanny?
That woman wouldn't ask anything better than for me to go to St.
Hosmer was utterly amazed. He leaned his arms on the table, clasping
his hands together and looked at his wife.
That woman? Belle Worthington? What do you mean, any way?
I don't mean Belle Worthington, she said excitedly, with two deep
red spots in her cheeks. I'm talking about Mrs. Laferm.
He thrust his hand into his pockets and leaned back in his chair. No
amazement now, but very pale, and with terrible concentration of
Well, then, don't talk about Mrs. Lafirme, he said very slowly,
not taking his eyes from her face.
I will talk about her, too. She ain't worth talking about, she
blurted incoherently. It's time for somebody to talk about a woman
passing herself off for a saint, and trying to take other women's
Shut up! cried Hosmer maddened with sudden fury, and rising
violently from his chair.
I won't shut up, Fanny cried excitedly back at him; rising also.
And what's more I won't stay here and have you making love under my
very eyes to a woman that's no better than she ought to be.
She meant to say more, but Hosmer grasped her arm with such a grasp,
that had it been her throat she would never have spoken more. The other
hand went to his pocket, with fingers clutching the clasp knife there.
By heavenI'llkill you! every word weighted with murder, panted
close in her terrified face. What she would have uttered died upon her
pale lips, when her frightened eyes beheld the usually calm face of her
husband distorted by a passion of which she had not dreamed.
David, she faltered, let go my arm.
Her voice broke the spell that held him, and brought him again to
his senses. His fingers slowly relaxed their tense hold. A sigh that
was something between a moan and a gasp came with his deliverance and
shook him. All the horror now was in his own face as he seized his hat
and hurried speechless away.
Fanny remained for a little while dazed. Hers was not the fine
nature that would stay cruelly stunned after such a scene. Her
immediate terror being past, the strongest resultant emotion was one of
self-satisfaction at having spoken out her mind.
But there was a stronger feeling yet, moving and possessing her;
crowding out every other. A pressing want that only Sampson's coming
would relieve, and which bade fair to drive her to any extremity if it
were not appeased.
XV. A Fateful Solution.
Hosmer passed the day with a great pain at his heart. His hasty and
violent passion of the morning had added another weight for his spirit
to drag about, and which he could not cast off. No feeling of
resentment remained with him; only wonder at his wife's misshapen
knowledge and keen self-rebuke of his own momentary forgetfulness. Even
knowing Fanny as he did, he could not rid himself of the haunting dread
of having wounded her nature cruelly. He felt much as a man who in a
moment of anger inflicts an irreparable hurt upon some small, weak,
irresponsible creature, and must bear regret for his madness. The only
reparation that lay within his powertrue, one that seemed
inadequatewas an open and manly apology and confession of wrong. He
would feel better when it was made. He would perhaps find relief in
discovering that the wound he had inflicted was not so deepso
dangerous as he feared.
With such end in view he came home early in the afternoon. His wife
was not there. The house was deserted. Even the servants had
disappeared. It took but a moment for him to search the various rooms
and find them one after the other, unoccupied. He went out on the porch
and looked around. The raw air chilled him. The wind was blowing
violently, bringing dashes of rain along with it from massed clouds
that hung leaden between sky and earth. Could she have gone over to the
house? It was unlikely, for he knew her to have avoided Mrs. Lafirme of
late, with a persistence that had puzzled him to seek its cause, which
had only fully revealed itself in the morning Yet, where else could she
be? An undefined terror was laying hold of him. His sensitive nature,
in exaggerating its own heartlessness, was blindly overestimating the
delicacy of hers. To what may he not have driven her? What hitherto
untouched chord may he not have started into painful quivering? Was it
for him to gauge the endurance of a woman's spirit? Fanny was not now
the wife whom he hated; his own act of the morning had changed her into
the human being, the weak creature whom he had wronged.
In quitting the house she must have gone unprepared for the
inclement weather, for there hung her heavy wrap in its accustomed
place, with her umbrella beside it. He seized both and buttoning his
own great coat about him, hurried away and over to Mrs. Lafirme's. He
found that lady in the sitting-room.
Isn't Fanny here? he asked abruptly, with no word of greeting.
No, she answered looking up at him, and seeing the evident
uneasiness in his face. Isn't she at home? Is anything wrong?
Oh, everything is wrong, he returned desperately, But the
immediate wrong is that she has disappearedI must find her.
Thérèse arose at once and called to Betsy who was occupied on the
Yas, um, the girl answered to her mistress' enquiry. I seed ma'am
Hosma goin' to'ads de riva good hour 'go. She mus' crost w'en Nathan
tuck dat load ova. I yain't seed 'er comin' back yit.
Hosmer left the house hastily, hardly reassured by Betsy's
information. Thérèse's glancespeculating and uneasyfollowed his
hurrying figure till it disappeared from sight.
The crossing was an affair of extreme difficulty, and which Nathan
was reluctant to undertake until he should have gathered a load that
would justify him in making it. In his estimation, Hosmer did not meet
such requirement, even taken in company with the solitary individual
who had been sitting on his horse with Egyptian patience for long
unheeded moments, the rain beating down upon his back, while he waited
the ferryman's pleasure. But Nathan's determination was not proof
against the substantial inducements which Hosmer held out to him; and
soon they were launched, all hands assisting in the toilsome passage.
The water, in rising to an unaccustomed height, had taken on an
added and tremendous swiftness. The red turbid stream was eddying and
bulging and hurrying with terrific swiftness between its shallow banks,
striking with an immensity of power against the projection of land on
which stood Marie Louise's cabin, and rebounding in great circling
waves that spread and lost themselves in the seething turmoil. The
cable used in crossing the unwieldly flat had long been submerged and
the posts which held it wrenched from their fastenings. The three men,
each with his long heavy oar in hand began to pull up stream, using a
force that brought the swelling veins like iron tracings upon their
foreheads where the sweat had gathered as if the day were midsummer.
They made their toilsome way by slow inches, that finally landed them
breathless and exhausted on the opposite side.
What could have been the inducement to call Fanny out on such a day
and such a venture? The answer came only too readily from Hosmer's
reproaching conscience. And now, where to seek her? There was nothing
to guide him; to indicate the course she might have taken. The rain was
falling heavily and in gusts and through it he looked about at the
small cabins standing dreary in their dismantled fields. Marie Louise's
was the nearest at hand and towards it he directed his steps.
The big good-natured negress had seen his approach from the window,
for she opened the door to him before he had time to knock, and
entering he saw Fanny seated before the fire holding a pair of very wet
smoking feet to dry. His first sensation was one of relief at finding
her safe and housed. His next, one of uncertainty as to the kind and
degree of resentment which he felt confident must now show itself. But
this last was soon dispelled, for turning, she greeted him with a
laugh. He would have rather a blow. That laugh said so many thingstoo
many things. True, it removed the dread which had been haunting him all
day, but it shattered what seemed to have been now his last illusion
regarding this woman. That unsounded chord which he feared he had
touched was after all but one in harmony with the rest of her common
nature. He saw too at a glance that her dominant passion had been
leading and now controlled her. And by one of those rapid trains of
thought in which odd and detached fancies, facts, impressions and
observations form themselves into an orderly sequence leading to a
final convictionall was made plain to him that before had puzzled
him. She need not have told him her reason for crossing the river, he
knew it. He dismissed at once the attitude with which he had thought to
approach her. Here was no forgiveness to be asked of dulled senses. No
bending in expiation of faults committed. He was here as master.
Fanny, what does this mean? he asked in cold anger; with no heat
now, no passion.
Yaas, me tell madame, she goin' fur ketch cole si she don' mine
out. Dat not fur play dat kine wedder, no. Teck chair, M'sieur; dry
you'se'f leet beet. Me mek you one cup coffee.
Hosmer declined the good Marie Louise's kind proffer of coffee, but
he seated himself and waited for Fanny to speak.
You know if you want a thing done in this place, you've got to do
it yourself. I've heard you say it myself, time and time again about
those people at the mill, she said.
Could it have been so urgent as to call you out on a day like this,
and with such a perilous crossing? Couldn't you have found some one
else to come for you?
Who? I'd like to know. Just tell me who? It's nothing to you if
we're without servants, but I'm not going to stand it. I ain't going to
let Samp_son act like that without knowing what he means, said Fanny
Dat Samp_son, he one leet dev', proffered Marie Louise, with
laudable design of shifting blame upon the easy shoulders of Sampson,
in event of the domestic jar which she anticipated. No use try do
nuttin' 'id Sampson, M'sieur.
I had to know something, one way or the other, Fanny said in a
tone which carried apology, rather by courtesy than by what she
Hosmer walked to the window where he looked out upon the dreary,
desolate scene, little calculated to cheer him. The river was just
below; and from this window he could gaze down upon the rushing current
as it swept around the bend further up and came striking against this
projection with a force all its own. The rain was falling still;
steadily, blindingly, with wild clatter against the shingled roof so
close above their heads. It coursed in little swift rivulets down the
furrows of the almost perpendicular banks. It mingled in a demon dance
with the dull, red water. There was something inviting to Hosmer in the
scene. He wanted to be outside there making a part of it. He wanted to
feel that rain and wind beating upon him. Within, it was stifling,
maddening; with his wife's presence there, charging the room with an
atmosphere of hate that was possessing him and beginning to course
through his veins as it had never done before.
Do you want to go home? he asked bluntly, turning half around.
You must be crazy, she replied, with a slow, upward glance out the
window, then down at her feet that were still poised on the low stool
that Marie Louise had placed for her.
You'd better come. He could not have said what moved him, unless
it were recklessness and defiance.
I guess you're dreaming, or something, David. You go on home if you
want. Nobody asked you to come after me any way. I'm able to take care
of myself, I guess. Ain't you going to take the umbrella? she added,
seeing him start for the door empty handed.
Oh, it doesn't matter about the rain, he answered without a look
back as he went out and slammed the door after him.
M'sieur look lak he not please, said Marie Louise, with plain
regret at the turn of affairs. You see he no lak you go out in dat
kine wedder, me know dat.
Oh, bother, was Fanny's careless reply. This suits me well
enough; I don't care how long it lasts.
She was in Marie Louise's big rocker, balancing comfortably back and
forth with a swing that had become automatic. She felt good, as she
would have termed it herself; her visit to Sampson's hut having not
been without results tending to that condition. The warmth of the room
was very agreeable in contrast to the bleakness of out-doors. She felt
free and moved to exercise a looseness of tongue with the amiable old
negress which was not common with her. The occurrences of the morning
were gradually withdrawing themselves into a distant perspective that
left her in the attitude of a spectator rather than that of an actor.
And she laughed and talked with Marie Louise, and rocked, and rocked
herself on into drowsiness.
Hosmer had no intention of returning home without his wife. He only
wanted to be out under the sky; he wanted to breathe, to use his
muscles again. He would go and help cross the flat if need be; an
occupation that promised him relief in physical effort. He joined
Nathan, whom he found standing under a big live-oak, disputing with an
old colored woman who wanted to cross to get back to her family before
You didn' have no call to come ova in de fus' place, he was saying
to her, you womens is alluz runnin' back'ards and for'ards like skeard
rabbit in de co'n fiel'.
I don' stan' no sich talk is dat f'om you. Ef you kiant tin' to yo'
business o' totin' folks w'en dey wants, you betta quit. You done cheat
Mose out o' de job, anyways; we all knows dat.
Mine out, woman, you gwine git hu't. Jis' le'me see Mose han'le dat
'ar flat onct: Jis' le'me. He lan' you down to de Mouf 'fo' you knows
Let me tell you, Nathan, said Hosmer, looking at his watch, say
you wait a quarter of an hour and if no one else comes, we'll cross
Aunt Agnes anyway.
Dat 'nudda t'ing ef you wants to go back, suh.
Aunt Agnes was grumbling now at Hosmer's proposal that promised to
keep her another quarter of an hour from her expectant family, when a
big lumbering creaking wagon drove up, with its load of baled cotton
all covered with tarpaulins.
Dah! exclaimed Nathan at sight of the wagon, ef I'd 'a listened
to yo' jawin'what?
Ef you'd listen to me, you'd 'tin' to yo' business betta 'an you
does, replied Aunt Agnes, raising a very battered umbrella over her
grotesquely apparelled figure, as she stepped from under the shelter of
the tree to take her place in the flat.
But she still met with obstacles, for the wagon must needs go first.
When it had rolled heavily into place with much loud and needless
swearing on the part of the driver who, being a white man, considered
Hosmer's presence no hindrance, they let go the chain, and once again
pulled out. The crossing was even more difficult now, owing to the
extra weight of the wagon.
I guess you earn your money, Nathan, said Hosmer bending and
quivering with the efforts he put forth.
Yas, suh, I does; an' dis job's wuf mo' 'an I gits fu' it.
All de same you done lef' off wurking crap sence you start it,
mumbled Aunt Agnes.
You gwine git hu't, woman; I done tole you dat; don' wan' listen,
returned Nathan with halting breath.
Who gwine hu't me?
Whether from tardy gallantry or from pre-occupation with his arduous
work, Nathan offered no reply to this challenge, and his silence left
Aunt Agnes in possession of the field.
They were in full mid-stream. Hosmer and the teamster were in the
fore end of the boat; Nathan in the rear, and Aunt Agnes standing in
the center between the wagon and the protecting railing, against which
she leaned her clasped hands that still upheld the semblance of
The ill-mated horses stood motionless, letting fall their dejected
heads with apathetic droop. The rain was dripping from their glistening
coats, and making a great patter as it fell upon the tarpaulins
covering the cotton bales.
Suddenly came an exclamation: Gret God! from Aunt Agnes, so
genuine in its amazement and dismay, that the three men with one accord
looked quickly up at her, then at the point on which her terrified gaze
was fixed. Almost on the instant of the woman's cry, was heard a
shrill, piercing, feminine scream.
What they saw was the section of land on which stood Marie Louise's
cabin, underminedbroken away from the main body and gradually gliding
into the water. It must have sunk with a first abrupt wrench, for the
brick chimney was shaken from its foundation, the smoke issuing in
dense clouds from its shattered sides, the house toppling and the roof
caving. For a moment Hosmer lost his senses. He could but look, as if
at some awful apparition that must soon pass from sight and leave him
again in possession of his reason. The leaning house was half submerged
when Fanny appeared at the door, like a figure in a dream; seeming a
natural part of the awfulness of it. He only gazed on. The two negroes
uttered loud lamentations.
Pull with the current! cried the teamster, first to regain his
presence of mind. It had needed but this, to awaken Hosmer to the
Leave off, he cried at Nathan, who was wringing his hands. Take
hold that oar or I'll throw you overboard. The trembling ashen negro
obeyed on the instant.
Hold fastfor God's sakehold fast! he shouted to Fanny, who was
clinging with swaying figure to the door post. Of Marie Louise there
was no sign.
The caved bank now remained fixed; but Hosmer knew that at any
instant it was liable to disappear before his riveted gaze.
How heavy the flat was! And the horses had caught the contagion of
terror and were plunging madly.
Whip those horses and their load into the river, called Hosmer,
we've got to lighten at any price.
Them horses an' cotton's worth money, interposed the alarmed
Force them into the river, I say; I'll pay you twice their value.
You 'low to pay fur the cotton, too?
Into the river with them or I'll brain you! he cried, maddened at
the weight and delay that were holding them back.
The frightened animals seemed to ask nothing more than to plunge
into the troubled water; dragging their load with them.
They were speeding rapidly towards the scene of catastrophe; but to
Hosmer they crawledthe moments were hours. Hold on! hold fast! he
called again and again to his wife. But even as he cried out, the
detached section of earth swayed, lurched to one sideplunged to the
other, and the whole mass was submergedleaving the water above it in
A cry of horror went up from the spectatorsall but Hosmer. He cast
aside his oarthrew off his coat and hat; worked an instant without
avail at his wet clinging boots, and with a leap was in the water,
swimming towards the spot where the cabin had gone down. The current
bore him on without much effort of his own. The flat was close up with
him; but he could think of it no longer as a means of rescue. Detached
pieces of timber from the ruined house were beginning to rise to the
surface. Then something floating softly on the water: a woman's dress,
but too far for him to reach it.
When Fanny appeared again, Hosmer was close beside her. His left arm
was quickly thrown about her. She was insensible, and he remembered
that it was best so, for had she been in possession of her reason, she
might have struggled and impeded his movements. He held her fastclose
to him and turned to regain the shore. Another horrified shriek went up
from the occupants of the flat-boat not far away, and Hosmer knew no
morefor a great plunging beam struck him full upon the forehead.
When consciousness came back to him, he found that he lay extended
in the flat, which was fastened to the shore. The confused sound of
many voices mingled with a ringing din that filled his ears. A warm
stream was trickling down over his cheek. Another body lay beside him.
Now they were lifting him. Thérèse's face was somewherevery near, he
saw it dimly and that it was whiteand he fell again into
XVI. To Him Who Waits.
The air was filled with the spring and all its promises. Full with
the sound of it, the smell of it, the deliciousness of it. Such sweet
air; soft and strong, like the touch of a brave woman's hand. The air
of an early March day in New Orleans. It was folly to shut it out from
nook or cranny. Worse than folly the lady thought who was making futile
endeavors to open the car window near which she sat. Her face had grown
pink with the effort. She had bit firmly into her red nether lip,
making it all the redder; and then sat down from the unaccomplished
feat to look ruefully at the smirched finger tips of her Parisian
gloves. This flavor of Paris was well about her; in the folds of her
graceful wrap that set to her fine shoulders. It was plainly a part of
the little black velvet toque that rested on her blonde hair. Even the
umbrella and one small valise which she had just laid on the seat
opposite her, had Paris written plain upon them.
These were impressions which the little grey-garbed conventional
figure, some seats removed, had been noting since the striking lady had
entered the car. Points likely to have escaped a man, whounless a
minutely observant one,would only have seen that she was handsome and
worthy of an admiration that he might easily fancy rising to devotion.
Beside herself and the little grey-garbed figure was an interesting
family group at the far end of the car. A husband, but doubly a father,
surrounded and sat upon by a small band of offspring. A
wifepresumably a motherabsorbed with the view of the outside world
and the elaborate gold chain that hung around her neck.
The presence of a large valise, an overcoat, a cane and an umbrella
disposed on another seat, bespoke a further occupant, likely to be at
present in the smoking car.
The train pushed out from the depôt. The porter finally made tardy
haste to the assistance of the lady who had been attempting to open the
window, and when the fresh morning air came blowing in upon her Thérèse
leaned back in her seat with a sigh of content.
There was a full day's journey before her. She would not reach
Place-du-Bois before dark, but she did not shrink from those hours that
were to be passed alone. She rather welcomed the quiet of them after a
visit to New Orleans full of pleasant disturbances. She was eager to be
home again. She loved Place-du-Bois with a love that was real; that had
grown deep since it was the one place in the world which she could
connect with the presence of David Hosmer. She had often
wonderedindeed was wondering nowif the memory of those happenings
to which he belonged would ever grow strange and far away to her. It
was a trick of memory with which she indulged herself on occasion, this
one of retrospection. Beginning with that June day when she had sat in
the hall and watched the course of a white sunshade over the tops of
the bending corn.
Such idle thoughts they were with their mingling of bitter and
sweetleading nowhere. But she clung to them and held to them as if to
a refuge which she might again and again return to.
The picture of that one terrible day of Fanny's death, stood out in
sharp prominent lines; a touch of the old agony always coming back as
she remembered how she had believed Hosmer dead toolying so pale and
bleeding before her. Then the parting which had held not so much of
sorrow as of awe and bewilderment in it: when sick, wounded and broken
he had gone away at once with the dead body of his wife; when the two
had clasped hands without words that dared be uttered.
But that was a year ago. And Thérèse thought many things might come
about in a year. Anyhow, might not such length of time be hoped to rub
the edge off a pain that was not by its nature lasting?
That time of acute trouble seemed to have thrown Hosmer back upon
his old diffidence. The letter he wrote her after a painful illness
which prostrated him on his arrival in St. Louis, was stiff and formal,
as men's letters are apt to be, though it had breathed an untold story
of loyalty which she had felt at the time, and still cherished. Other
lettersa fewhad gone back and forth between them, till Hosmer had
gone away to the sea-shore with Melicent, to recuperate, and June
coming, Thérèse had sailed from New Orleans for Paris, whither she had
passed six months.
Things had not gone well at Place-du-Bois during her absence, the
impecunious old kinsman whom she had left in charge, having a decided
preference for hunting the Gros-Bec and catching trout in the
lake to supervising the methods of a troublesome body of blacks. So
Thérèse had had much to engage her thoughts from the morbid channel
into which those of a more idle woman might have drifted.
She went occasionally enough to the mill. There at least she was
always sure to hear Hosmer's nameand what a charm the sound of it had
for her. And what a delight it was to her eyes when she caught sight of
an envelope lying somewhere on desk or table of the office, addressed
in his handwriting. That was a weakness which she could not pardon
herself; but which staid with her, seeing that the same trifling cause
never failed to awaken the same unmeasured delight. She had even
trumped up an excuse one day for carrying off one of Hosmer's business
lettersindeed of the dryest in substance, and which, when half-way
home, she had torn into the smallest bits and scattered to the winds,
so overcome was she by a sense of her own absurdity.
Thérèse had undergone the ordeal of having her ticket scrutinized,
commented upon and properly punched by the suave conductor. The little
conventional figure had given over the contemplation of Parisian styles
and betaken herself to the absorbing pages of a novel which she read
through smoked glasses. The husband and father had peeled and
distributed his second outlay of bananas amongst his family. It was at
this moment that Thérèse, looking towards the door, saw Hosmer enter
She must have felt his presence somewhere near; his being there and
coming towards her was so much a part of her thoughts. She held out her
hand to him and made place beside her, as if he had left her but a half
hour before. All the astonishment was his. But he pressed her hand and
took the seat she offered him.
You knew I was on the train? he asked.
Oh, no, how should I?
Then naturally followed question and answer.
Yes, he was going to Place-du-Bois.
No, the mill did not require his presence; it had been very well
managed during his absence.
Yes, she had been to New Orleans. Had had a very agreeable visit.
Beautiful weather for city dwellers. But such dryness. So disastrous to
Yesquite likely there would be rain next month: there usually was
in April. But indeed there was need of more than April showers for that
stiff landthat strip along the bayou, if he remembered? Oh, he
remembered quite well, but for all that he did not know what she was
talking about. She did not know herself. Then they grew silent; not
from any feeling of the absurdity of such speech between them, for each
had but listened to the other's voice. They became silently absorbed by
the consciousness of each other's nearness. She was looking at his hand
that rested on his knee, and thinking it fuller than she remembered it
before. She was aware of some change in him which she had not the
opportunity to define; but this firmness and fullness of the hand was
part of it. She looked up into his face then, to find the same change
there, together with a new content. But what she noted beside was the
dull scar on his forehead, coming out like a red letter when his eyes
looked into her own. The sight of it was like a hurt. She had forgotten
it might be there, telling its story of pain through the rest of his
Thérèse, Hosmer said finally, won't you look at me?
She was looking from the window. She did not turn her head, but her
hand went out and met his that was on the seat close beside her. He
held it firmly; but soon with an impatient movement drew down the loose
wristlet of her glove and clasped his fingers around her warm wrist.
Thérèse, he said again; but more unsteadily, look at me.
Not here, she answered him, not now, I mean. And presently she
drew her hand away from him and held it for a moment pressed firmly
over her eyes. Then she looked at him with brave loving glance.
It's been so long, she said, with the suspicion of a sigh.
Too long, he returned, I couldn't have borne it but for youthe
thought of you always present with me; helping me to take myself out of
the past. That was why I waitedtill I could come to you free. Have
you an idea, I wonder, how you have been a promise, and can be the
fulfillment of every good that life may give to a man?
No, I don't know, she said a little hopelessly, taking his hand
again, I have seen myself at fault in following what seemed the only
right. I feel as if there were no way to turn for the truth. Old
supports appear to be giving way beneath me. They were so secure
before. It commenced, you rememberoh, you know when it must have
begun. But do you think, David, that it's right we should find our
happiness out of that past of pain and sin and trouble?
Thérèse, said Hosmer firmly, the truth in its entirety isn't
given to man to knowsuch knowledge, no doubt, would be beyond human
endurance. But we make a step towards it, when we learn that there is
rottenness and evil in the world, masquerading as right and
moralitywhen we learn to know the living spirit from the dead letter.
I have not cared to stop in this struggle of life to question. You,
perhaps, wouldn't dare to alone. Together, dear one, we will work it
out. Be sure there is a waywe may not find it in the end, but we will
at least have tried.
One month after their meeting on the train, Hosmer and Thérèse had
gone together to Centerville where they had been made one, as the
saying goes, by the good Père Antoine; and without more ado, had driven
back to Place-du-Bois: Mr. and Mrs. Hosmer. The event had caused more
than the proverbial nine days' talk. Indeed, now, two months after, it
was still the absorbing theme that occupied the dwellers of the parish:
and such it promised to remain till supplanted by something of
sufficient dignity and importance to usurp its place.
But of the opinions, favorable and other, that were being exchanged
regarding them and their marriage, Hosmer and Thérèse heard little and
would have cared less, so absorbed were they in the overmastering
happiness that was holding them in thralldom. They could not yet bring
themselves to look at it calmlythis happiness. Even the intoxication
of it seemed a thing that promised to hold. Through love they had
sought each other, and now the fulfillment of that love had brought
more than tenfold its promise to both. It was a royal love; a generous
love and a rich one in its revelation. It was a magician that had
touched life for them and changed it into a glory. In giving them to
each other, it was moving them to the fullness of their own
capabilities. Much to do in two little months; but what cannot love do?
Could it give a woman more than this? Thérèse was saying softly to
herself. Her hands were clasped as in prayer and pressed together
against her bosom. Her head bowed and her lips touching the intertwined
fingers. She spoke of her own emotion; of a certain sweet turmoil that
was stirring within her, as she stood out in the soft June twilight
waiting for her husband to come. Waiting to hear the new ring in his
voice that was like a song of joy. Waiting to see that new strength and
courage in his face, of whose significance she lost nothing. To see the
new light that had come in his eyes with happiness. All gifts which
love had given her.
Well, at last, she said, going to the top of the steps to meet him
when he came. Her welcome was in her eyes.
At last, he echoed, with a sigh of relief; pressing her hand which
she held out to him and raising it to his lips.
He did not let it go, but passed it through his arm, and together
they turned to walk up and down the veranda.
You didn't expect me at noon, did you? he asked, looking down at
No; you said you'd be likely not to come; but I hoped for you all
the same. I thought you'd manage it some way.
No, he answered her, laughing, my efforts failed. I used even
strategy. Held out the temptation of your delightful Creole dishes and
all that. Nothing was of any avail. They were all business and I had to
be all business too, the whole day long. It was horribly stupid.
She pressed his arm significantly.
And do you think they will put all that money into the mill, David?
Into the business?
No doubt of it, dear. But they're shrewd fellows: didn't commit
themselves in any way. Yet I could see they were impressed. We rode for
hours through the woods this morning and they didn't leave a stick of
timber unscrutinized. We were out on the lake, too, and they were like
ferrets into every cranny of the mill.
But won't that give you more to do?
No, it will give me less: division of labor, don't you see? It will
give me more time to be with you.
And to help with the plantation, his wife suggested.
No, no, Madame Thérèse, he laughed, I'll not rob you of your
occupation. I'll put no bungling hand into your concerns. I know a
sound piece of timber when I see it; but I should hardly be able to
tell a sample of Sea Island cotton from the veriest low middling.
Oh, that's absurd, David. Do you know you're getting to talk such
nonsense since we're married; you remind me sometimes of Melicent.
Of Melicent? Heaven forbid! Why, I have a letter from her, he
said, feeling in his breast pocket. The size and substance of it have
actually weighted my pocket the whole day.
Melicent talking weighty things? That's something new, said
Is Melicent ever anything else than new? he enquired.
They went and sat together on the bench at the corner of the
veranda, where the fading Western light came over their shoulders. A
quizzical smile came into his eyes as he unfolded his sister's
letterwith Thérèse still holding his arm and sitting very close to
Well, he said, glancing over the first few pageshis wife
followingshe's given up her charming little flat and her quaint
little English woman: concludes I was right about the expense, etc.,
etc. But here comes the gist of the matter, he said, reading from the
letter 'I know you won't object to the trip, David, I have my heart
so set on it. The expense will be trifling, seeing there are four of us
to divide carriage hire, restaurant and all that: and it counts.
'If you only knew Mrs. Griesmann I'd feel confident of your
consent. You'd be perfectly fascinated with her. She's one of those
highly gifted women who knows everything. She's very much interested in
me. Thinks to have found that I have a quick comprehensive
intellectualism (she calls it) that has been misdirected. I think there
is something in that, David; you know yourself I never did care really
for society. She says it's impossible to ever come to a true knowledge
of life as it iswhich should be every one's aimwithout studying
certain fundamental truths and things.'
Oh, breathed Thérèse, overawed.
But waitbut listen, said Hosmer, 'Natural History and all
thatand we're going to take that magnificent trip through the
Westthe Yosemite and so forth. It appears the flora of California is
especially interesting and we're to carry those delicious little tin
boxes strapped over our shoulders to hold specimens. Her son and
daughter are both, in their way, striking. He isn't handsome; rather
the contrary; but so serene and collectedso intensely bitterhis
mother tells me he's a pessimist. And the daughter really puts me to
shame, child as she is, with the amount of her knowledge. She labels
all her mother's specimens in Latin. Oh, I feel there's so much to be
learned. Mrs. Griesmann thinks I ought to wear glasses during the trip.
Says we often require them without knowing it ourselvesthat they are
so restful. She has some theory about it. I'm trying a pair, and see a
great deal better through them than I expected to. Only they don't hold
on very well, especially when I laugh.
'Who do you suppose seized on to me in Vandervoort's the other
day, but that impertinent Mrs. Belle Worthington! Positively took me by
the coat and commenced to gush about dear sister Thérèse. She said: I
tell you what, my dear called me my dear at the highest pitch, and
that odious Mrs. Van Wycke behind us listening and pretending to
examine a lace handkerchief. That Mrs. Lafirme's a trump, she
saidtoo good for most any man. Hope you won't take offense, but I
must say, your brother David's a perfect stickit's what I always
said. Can you conceive of such shocking impertinence?'
Well; Belle Worthington does possess the virtue of candor, said
Hosmer amused and folding the letter. That's about all there is,
except a piece of scandal concerning people you don't know; that
wouldn't interest you.
But it would interest me, Thérèse insisted, with a little wifely
resentment that her husband should have a knowledge of people that
Then you shall hear it, he said, turning to the letter again.
Let's see'conceiveshocking impertinence' oh, here it is.
'Don't know if you have learned the horrible scandal; too dreadful
to talk about. I shall send you the paper. I always knew that Lou
Dawson was a perfidious creatureand Bert Rodney! You never did like
him, David; but he was always so much the gentleman in his mannersyou
must admit that. Who could have dreamed it of him. Poor Mrs. Rodney is
after all the one to be pitied. She is utterly prostrated. Refuses to
see even her most intimate friends. It all came of those two vile
wretches thinking Jack Dawson out of town when he wasn't; for he was
right there following them around in their perambulations. And the
outcome is that Mr. Rodney has his beauty spoiled they say forever; the
shot came very near being fatal. But poor, poor Mrs. Rodney!
'Well, good-bye, you dearest David mine. How I wish you both knew
Mrs. Griesmann. Give that sweet sister Thérèse as many kisses as she
will stand for me.
This time Hosmer put the letter into his pocket, and Thérèse asked
with a little puzzled air: What do you suppose is going to become of
Melicent, anyway, David?
I don't know, love, unless she marries my friend Homeyer.
Now, David, you are trying to mystify me. I believe there's a
streak of perversity in you after all.
Of course there is; and here comes Mandy to say that 'suppa's
Aunt B'lindy 'low suppa on de table gittin' cole, said Mandy,
retreating at once from the fire of their merriment.
Thérèse arose and held her two hands out to her husband.
He took them but did not rise; only leaned further back on the scat
and looked up at her.
Oh, supper's a bore; don't you think so? he asked.
No, I don't, she replied. I'm hungry, and so are you. Come,
But look, Thérèse, just when the moon has climbed over the top of
that live-oak? We can't go now. And then Melicent's request; we must
think about that.
Oh, surely not, David, she said, drawing back.
Then let me tell you something, and he drew her head down and
whispered something in her pink ear that he just brushed with his lips.
It made Thérèse laugh and turn very rosy in the moonlight.
Can that be Hosmer? Is this Thérèse? Fie, fie. It is time we were