Imágenes de páginas
[merged small][ocr errors]

"Naw, naw! 't is not so; Marguerite is in New Orleans since Christmas."

Very late in the evening of that day Mr. Tarbox entered the principal inn of St. Martinville, on the Teche. He wore an air of blitheness which, though silent, was overdone. As he pushed his silk hat back on his head and registered his name with a more than usual largeness of hand, he remarked:

"Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long.'

"Give me a short piece of candle and a stumpy candlestick — and

"Take me up, and bear me hence
Into some other chamber -'”

"Glad to see you back, Mr. Tarbox," responded the host; and as his guest received the candle and heard the number of his room,"Books must 'a' went well this fine day."

Mr. Tarbox fixed him with his eye, drew a soft step closer, said in a low tone: "My only books

Were woman's looks,

And folly 's all they 've taught me.'" The landlord raised his eyebrows, rounded his mouth, and darted out his tongue. The guest shifted the candle to his left hand, laid his right softly upon the host's arm, and murmured:

"List! Are we alone? If I tell thee something, wilt thou tell it never?"

The landlord smiled eagerly, shook his head, and bent toward his speaker.

"Friend Perkins," said Mr. Tarbox, in muffled voice

"So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan which moves To that mysterious realm where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams "Don't let the newspapers get hold of itgood-night."

[ocr errors]

But it was only at daybreak that Mr. Tarbox disordered the drapery of his couch to make believe he had slept there, and at sunrise he was gone to find Claude.



HAD Marguerite gone to New Orleans the better to crush Claude out of her heart? No,

no! Her mother gave an explanation interesting and reasonable enough, and at the same time less uncomfortably romantic. Marguerite had gone to the city to pursue studies taught better there than in Opelousas; especially music. Back of this was a reason which she had her mother's promise not to mention: the physician's recommendation- a change of scene. He spoke of slight malarial influences and how many odd forms they took; of dyspepsia and its queer freaks; of the confining nature of house cares, and of how often they " ran down the whole system." His phrases were French, but they had all the weary triteness of these; while Marguerite rejoiced that he did not suspect the real ailment, and Zoséphine saw that he divined it perfectly.

A change of scene. Marguerite had treated the suggestion lightly, as something amusingly out of proportion to her trivial disorder, but took pains not to reject it. Zoséphine had received it with troubled assent, and mentioned the small sugar farm and orangery of the kinsman Robichaux, down on Bayou Terrebonne. But the physician said, "If that would not be too dull"; mentioned, casually, the city, and saw Marguerite lighten up eagerly. The city was chosen; the physician's sister, living there, would see Marguerite comfortably established. All was presently arranged. "And you can take your violin with and study music," he said. Marguerite had one, and played it with a taste and skill that knew no competitor in all the surrounding region.


It had belonged to her father. Before she was born, all Lafayette parish had known it tenderly. Before she could talk she had danced — courtesied and turned, tiptoed and fallen and risen again, latter end first, to the gay strains he had loved to ring from it. Before it seemed safe, for the instrument, to trust it in her hands, she had learned to draw its bow; and for years, now, there had been no resident within the parish who could not have been her scholar better than to be her teacher.

When Claude came she had shut the violin in its case, and left the poor thing hidden away, despising its powers to charm, lost in self-contempt, and helpless under the spell of a chaste passion's first enchantment. When he went she still forgot the instrument for many days. She returned with more than dutiful energy to her full part in the household cares, and gave every waking hour not so filled to fierce study. If she could not follow him, if a true maiden must wait upon faith, at least she would be ready if fate should ever bring him back.

But one night, when she had conned her simple books until the words ran all together on the page, some good angel whispered,

"The violin!" She took it and played. The noble house, with which, in fact, they had no music was but a song, but from some master of song. She played it, it may be, not after the best rules, yet as one may play who, after life's first great billow has gone over him, smites again his forgotten instrument. With tears, of all emotions mingled, starting from her eyes, and the bow trembling on the strings, she told the violin her love. And it answered her:

"Be strong! be strong! you shall not love for naught. He shall he shall come back he shall come back and lead us into joy." From that time the violin had more employment than ever before in all its days.

[ocr errors]

connection. They took great pains to call themselves Creoles, though they knew well enough they were Acadians. The Acadian caterpillar often turns into a Creole butterfly. Their great-grandfather, one of the children of the Nova Scotian deportation, had been a tobacco farmer on the old Côte Acadian in St. John the Baptist parish. Lake des Allemands lay, there, just behind him. In 1815, his son, their grandfather, in an excursion through the lake and bayou beyond, discovered, far south-eastward in the midst of the Grande Prairie des Allemands, a “pointe" of several hundred acres extent. Here, with one or two others, he founded the Acadian settlement of "La Vacherie," and began to build a modest fortune. The blood was good, even though it was not the blood of ancient robbers; and the son in the next generation found his way, by natural and easy stages, through Barataria and into the city, and became the "merchant" of his many sugar and rice planting kinsmen and neighbors.

It was a great favor to Marguerite to be taken into such a household as this. She felt it so. The household felt it so. Yet almost from the start they began to play her, in their social world, as their best card-when they could. She had her hours of school and of home study; also her music, both lessons and practice; was in earnest both as to books and violin, and had teachers who also were in earnest; and so she found little time for social revels. Almost all sociability is revel in New Orleans society, and especially in the society she met.

So it and Marguerite were gone away to the great strange city together. The loneliness they left behind was a sad burden to Zoséphine. No other one thing had had so much influence to make so nearly vulnerable the defenses of her heart when Mr. Tarbox essayed to storm them. On the night following that event, the same that he had spent so sleeplessly in St. Martinville, she wrote a letter to Marguerite, which, though intended to have just the opposite effect, made the daughter feel that this being in New Orleans, and all the matter connected with it, were one unmixed mass of utter selfishness. The very written words that charged her to stay on seemed to say, "Come home!"- Her strong little mother! always quiet and grave, it is true, and sometimes sad; yet so well poised, so concentrated, so equal to every passing day and hour!- she to seem — - in this letter - far out of her course, adrift, and mutely and dimly signaling for aid! The daughter read the pages again and again. What could they mean? But when she did appear, somehow she Here, for instance, this line about the mother's shone. A native instinct in dress - even more coming herself to the city, if, and if, and if! of it than her mother had at the same age. The letter found Marguerite in the bosom of a family that dwelt in the old rue Bourbon, only a short way below Canal street, the city's center. The house stands on the street, its drawing-room windows opening upon the sidewalk, and a narrow balcony on the story above shading them scantily at noon. A garden on the side is visible from the street through a lofty, black, wrought-iron fence. Of the details within the inclosure, I remember best the vines climbing the walls of the tall buildings that shut it in, and the urns and vases, and the evergreen foliage of the Japan plum-trees. A little way off, and across the street, was the pleasant restaurant and salesroom of the Christian Women's Exchange.

The family spoke English. Indeed, they spoke it a great deal; and French- also a great deal. The younger generation, two daughters and a son, went much into society. Their name was that of an ancient French

and in manners and speech left only so little rusticity as became itself a charm rather than a blemish, suggested the sugar-cane fields; the orange grove; the plantation house with pillared porch, half-hidden in tall magnolias and laurestines and bushes of red and white camellias, higher and wider than arms can reach, and covered with their regal flowers from the ground to their tops; and the bayou front lined with moss-draped live-oaks, their noon-day shadows a hundred feet across. About her there was not the faintest hint of the country tavern. She was but in her seventeenth year; but on her native prairies, where girls are women at fourteen, seventeen was almost an advanced stage of decay. She seemed full nineteen, and a very well-equipped nineteen as social equipments went in the circle she had entered. Being a school-girl was no drawback; there are few New Orleans circles where it is; and especially not in her case, for

she needed neither to titter nor chatter,- she could talk. And then, her violin made victory always easy and certain.

Sometimes the company was largely of downtown Creoles; sometimes of uptown people,"Americans"; and often equally of the two sorts, talking French and English in most amusing and pleasing confusion. For the father of the family had lately been made president of a small bank, and was fairly boxing the social compass in search of depositors. Marguerite had not yet discovered that-if we may drag the metaphor ashore — to enter society is not to emerge upon an unbroken tableland, or that she was not on its highest plateau. She noticed the frequency with which she encountered unaccomplished fathers, stupid mothers, rude sons and daughters, and illdistributed personal regard; but she had the common sense not to expect more of society than its nature warrants, guessed rightly that she would find the same thing anywhere else, and could not know that these elements were less mixed with better here than in any other of the city's circles, of whose existence she had not even heard. However:

Society, at its very best, always needs, and at its best or worst always contains, a few superior members who make themselves a blessing by working a constant, tactful redistribution of individuals by their true values, across the unworthy lines upon which society ever tends to stratify. Such a person, a matron, sat with Marguerite one April evening under a Chinese lantern in the wide, curtained veranda of an Esplanade street house whose drawing-room and Spanish garden were filled with company. Marguerite was secretly cast down. This lady had brought her here, having met her but a fortnight before and chosen her at once, in her own private counsels, for social promotion. And Marguerite had played the violin. In her four months' advanced training she had accomplished wonders. Her German professor made the statement, while he warned her against enthusiastic drawing-room flattery. This evening she had gotten much praise and thanks. Yet these had a certain discriminative moderation that was new to her ear, and confirmed to her, not in the pleasantest way, the realization that this company was of higher average intelligence and refinement than any she had met before. She little guessed that the best impression she had ever made she made here to-night.

Of course it was not merely on account of the violin. She had beauty, not only of face and head, but of form and carriage. So that, when she stood with her instrument, turning, as it were, every breath of air into music, and the growing volume of the strains called forth VOL. XXXV.—32.

all her good Acadian strength of arms and hand, she charmed not merely the listening ear, but the eye, the reason, and the imagination in its freest range.

But, indeed, it was not the limitations of her social triumphs themselves that troubled her. Every experience of the evening had helped to show her how much wider the world was than she had dreamed, and had opened new distances on the right, on the left, and far ahead; and nowhere in them all could eye see, or ear hear, aught of that one without whom to go back to old things was misery, and to go on to new was mere weariness. And the dear little mother at home! — worth nine out of any ten of all this crowd-still at home in that old tavern-keeping life, now intolerable to think of, and still writing those yearning letters that bade the daughter not return! No wonder Marguerite's friend had divined her feelings, and drawn her out to the cool retreat under the shadow of the veranda lanterns.

A gentleman joined them, who had "just come," he said. Marguerite's companion and he were old friends. Neither he nor Marguerite heard each other's name, nor could see each other's face more than dimly. He was old enough to be twitted for bachelorhood, and to lay the blame upon an outdoor and out-oftown profession. Such words drew Marguerite's silent but close attention.

The talk turned easily from this to the ease with which the fair sex, as compared with the other, takes on the graces of the drawingroom. "Especially," the two older ones agreed, "if the previous lack is due merely to outward circumstances." But Marguerite was still. Here was a new thought. One who attained all those graces and love's prize also might at last, for love's sake, have to count them but dross, or carry them into retirement, the only trophies of abandoned triumphs. While she thought, the conversation went on.

"Yes," said her friend, replying to the bachelor, "we acquire them more easily; but why? Because most of us think we must. A man may find success in one direction or another, but a woman has got to be a social success or she 's a complete failure. She can't snap her fingers at the drawing-room."

"Ah!" exclaimed Marguerite, "she can if she want!" She felt the strength to rise that moment and go back to Opelousas, if only - and did not see, until her companions laughed straight at her, that the lady had spoken in jest.

"Still," said the bachelor, "the drawingroom is woman's element-realm-rather than man's, whatever the reasons may be. I had a young man with me last winter-"

"I knew it!" thought Marguerite. "—until lately, in fact; he 's here in town now,- whom I have tried once or twice to decoy into company in a small experimental way. It's harder than putting a horse into a ship. He seems not to know what social interchange is for."

"Thinks it's for intellectual profit and pleasure!" interrupted the ironical lady.

"No, he just does n't see the use or fun of it. And yet, really, that 's his only deficiency. True, he listens better than he talks-overdoes it; but when a chap has youth, intelligence, native refinement, integrity, and good looks, as far above the mean level as many of our society fellows are below it, it seems to me he ought to be”

"Utilized," suggested the lady, casting her eyes toward Marguerite and withdrawing them as quickly, amused at the earnestness of her attention.

"Yes," said the bachelor, and mused a moment. "He's a talented fellow. It's only a few months ago that he really began life. Now he 's outgrown my service." "Left the nest," said the lady. "Yes, indeed. He has invented "Oh! dear!"

The bachelor was teased. "Ah! come, now; show your usual kindness; he has, really, made a simple, modest agricultural machine that meets a want long felt. Oh! you may laugh; but he laughs last. He has not only a patent for it, but a good sale also, and is looking around for other worlds to conquer."

"And yet spurns society? Ours!" "No, simply develops no affinity for it; would like to, if only to please me; but can't. Doesn't even make intimate companions among men; simply clings to his fond, lone father, and the lone father to him, closer than any pair of twin orphan girls that ever you saw. I don't believe anything in life could divide them." "Ah, don't you trust him! Man proposes, Cupid disposes. A girl will stick to her mother; but a man? Why, the least thing- a pair of blue eyes, a yellow curl-"

The bachelor gayly shook his head, and, leaning over with an air of secrecy, said: "A pair of blue eyes have shot him through and through, and a yellow curl is wound all round him from head to heel, and yet he sticks to his father."

"He can't live," said the lady. Marguerite's hand pressed her arm, and they rose. As the bachelor drew the light curtain of a long window aside, that they might pass in, the light fell upon Marguerite's face. It was entirely new to him. It seemed calm. Yet instantly the question smote him, "What have I done?— what have I said?" She passed, and turned

to give a parting bow. The light fell upon him. She was right; it was Claude's friend, the engineer. When he came looking for them a few minutes later, he only caught, by chance, a glimpse of them, clouded in light wraps and passing to their carriage. It was not yet twelve.

Between Marguerite's chamber and that of one of the daughters of the family there was a door that neither one ever fastened. Somewhere downstairs a clock was striking three in the morning, when this door softly opened and the daughter stole into Marguerite's room in her night-robe. With her hair falling about her, her hands unconsciously clasped, her eyes starting, and an outcry of amazement checked just within her open, rounded mouth, she stopped and stood an instant in the brightly lighted chamber.

Marguerite sat on the bedside exactly as she had come from the carriage, save that a white gossamer web had dropped from her head and shoulders and lay coiled about her waist. Her tearless eyes were wide and filled with painful meditation, even when she turned to the alarmed and astonished girl before her. With suppressed exclamations of wonder and pity the girl glided forward, cast her arms about the sitting figure, and pleaded for explanation.

"It is a headache," said Marguerite, kindly but firmly lifting away the entwining arms."No, no, you can do nothing. It is a headache. Yes, I will go to bed presently; you go to yours.- No, no-"

The night-robed girl looked for a moment more into Marguerite's eyes, then sank to her knees, buried her face in her hands, and wept. Marguerite laid her hands upon the bowed head and looked down with dry eyes. "No," she presently said again, "'t is a headache. Go back to your bed.- No, there is nothing to tell; only I have been very, very foolish and very, very selfish, and I am going home tomorrow. Good-night."

The door closed softly between the two. Then Marguerite sank slowly back upon the bed, closed her eyes, and, rocking her head from side to side, said again and again, in moans that scarcely left the lips:


My mother! my mother! Take me back! Oh! take me back, my mother! my mother!"

At length she arose, put off her attire, lay down to rest, and, even while she was charging sleep with being a thousand leagues away,- slept.

When she awoke, the wide, bright morning filled all the room. Had some sound wakened her? Yes, a soft tapping came again upon her door. She lay still. It sounded once more. For all its softness it seemed nervous and eager. A low voice came with it:

[blocks in formation]


MANIFESTLY it was a generous overstatement for Claude's professional friend to say that Claude had outgrown his service. It was true only that by and by there had come a juncture in his affairs where he could not, without injustice to others, make a place for Claude which he could advise Claude to accept, and they had parted, with the mutual hope that the separation would be transient. But the surveyor could not but say to himself that such incidents, happening while we are still young, are apt to be turning-points in our lives, if our lives are going to have direction and movement of their own at all. St. Pierre had belted his earnings about him under the woolen sack that always bound his waist, shouldered his rifle, taken one last, silent look at the cabin on Bayou des Acadiens, stood for a few moments with his hand in Bonaventure's above one green mound in the church-yard at Grande Pointe, given it into the schoolmaster's care, and had gone to join his son. Of course, not as an idler; such a perfect woodsman easily made himself necessary to the engineer's party. The company were sorry enough to lose him when Claude went away; but no temptation that they could invent could stay him from following Claude. Father and son went one way, and the camp another.

I must confess to being somewhat vague as to just where they were. I should have to speak from memory, and I must not make another slip in topography. The changes men have made in southern Louisiana these last few years are great. I say nothing again of the vast widths of prairie stripped of their herds and turned into corn and cane fields: when I came, a few months ago, to that station on Morgan's Louisiana and Texas railroad where Claude first went aboard a railway train, somebody had actually moved the bayou, the swamp, and the prairie apart!

However, the exact whereabouts of the St. Pierres is not important to us. Mr. Tarbox, when, in search of the camp, he crossed the Teche at St. Martinville, expected to find it somewhere north-eastward, between the stream

and Atchafalaya. But at the Atchafalaya he found that the work in that region had been finished three days before and that the party had been that long gone to take part in a new work down in the prairies tremblantes of Terrebonne parish. The Louisiana Land Reclamation Company - I think that was the name of the concern projecting the scheme. This was back in early February, you note.

Thither Mr. Tarbox followed. The "Album of Universal Information" went along and "did well." It made his progress rather slow, of course; but one of Mr. Tarbox's many maxims was, never to make one day pay for another when it could be made to pay for itself, and during this season - this Louisiana Campaign, as he called it he had developed a new art,making each day pay for itself several times over. "Many of these people," he said, but said it solely and silently to himself,-" are ignorant, shiftless, and set in their ways; and even when they 're not, they 're out of the current, as it were; they have n't headway; and so they never-or seldom ever-see any way to make money except somehow in connection with the plantations. There's no end of chances here to a man that 's got money, sense, and nerve to use it." He wrote that to Zoséphine; but she wrote no answer. A day rarely passed that he did not find some man making needless loss through ignorance or inactivity; whereupon he would simply put in the sickle of his sharper wit and garner the neglected harvest. Or seeing some unesteemed commodity that had got out of, or had never been brought into, its best form, time, or place, he knew at sight just how, and at what expense, to bring it there, and brought it.

[ocr errors]

"Give me the gains other men pass by," he said, " and I'll be satisfied. The saying is, Buy wisdom'; but I sell mine. I like to sell. I enjoy making money. It suits my spirit of adventure. I like an adventure. And if there's anything I love, it 's an adventure with money in it! But even that is n't my chief pleasure; my chief pleasure 's the study of human nature.

"The proper study of mankind is man. Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled, The glory, jest, and riddle of the world."" This spoiling of Assyrian camps, so to speak, often detained Mr. Tarbox within limited precincts for days at a time; but "is n't that what time is for?" he would say to those he had been dealing with, as he finally snapped the band around his pocket-book; and they would respond, "Yes, that's so."

And then he would wish them a hearty farewell, while they were thinking that at least he might know it was his treat.

« AnteriorContinuar »