Old Kaskaskia: In Four Parts. Part Second
A FIELD DAY.
THE gallery pillars of the Sauciers’ house hung full of fragrant vines. The double doors stood hospitably wide, but no one was visible through the extent of hall, though the sound of harp music filled it, coming from a large darkened room. Angelique was playing for her great-grandaunt Angelique, the despot of the Saucier family.
This survivor of a past century had her treasures displayed and her throne set up in the state apartment of the house. The Sauciers contented themselves with a smaller drawing-room across the hall. Her throne was a vast valanced, canopied, gilded bed decorated with down sacks in chintz covers to keep her warm, high pillows set up as a background for her, and a little pillow for every bone which might make a dint in the feather bed. Another such piece of furniture was not to be found in the Territory. It and her ebony chairs, her claw-footed tables, her harp and dower chest, had come with her from France. The harp alone she had already given to Angelique, who was to inherit all she owned.
From childhood the girl had been this aged woman’s constant attendant. Some days, the black servants took their orders at the door, and nobody but Angelique was allowed to enter that room. Then the tyrant would unbend, and reecive family and neighborhood visits. Though she had lived a spinster’s life, she herself taught Angelique to call her “ tante-gra’mère,” and this absurd mixture of names had been taken up by the entire family. So tight a grip did she hold on the growing child that Angelique was educated by half-days at the convent; she never had an entire day free from tante - gra’inere. Madame Saucier often rose against such absorption, and craved the privilege of taking the girl’s place.
“ There is a fête of the children on the bluffs to-day,” madame would plead ; or, “ There is a religious procession, and the mother superior has particularly sent for Angelique.”
But tante-gra’mere lifted her thin shout against every plea, and, if pushed, would throw the little pillows at her grandnephew’s wife. What were fêtes and processions to her claims ?
“ I am the godmother of this child.” she declared; “ it is for me to say what she shall do.”
The patriarch of a French family was held in such veneration that it was little less than a crime to cross her. The thralldom did not ruin Angelique’s health, though it grew heavier with her years ; but it made her old in patient endurance and sympathetic insight while she was a child. She sat pitying and excusing her elder’s whims when she should have been playing. The oldest story in humanity is the story of the house tyrant, — that usurper often so physically weak that we can carry him in our arms, yet so strong that he can tumble down the pillars of family peace many times a day.
There was something monkey-like in the tempers of tante-gra’mere. To see her grasp her whip and beat her slaves with a good will, but poor execution, was to smile self-reproaclifully as at the antics of a sick child. Though it is true, for a woman who had no use of her legs, she displayed astonishing reach in her arms. Her face was a mass of puckers burnt through by coal-black eyes. Her mouth was so tucked and folded Inward that she appeared to have swallowed her lips. In the daytime she wore a black silk cap tied under the chin, and a dimity short gown over a quilted petticoat. Tante-gra’mhre was rich in stored finery. She had inherited brocades, and dozen dozens of linen, including sheets and napkins. Her things were washed by themselves and bleached on their own green, where the family washing never dared intrude.
Fortunately for Angelique, tante-gra’mère’s hours were early, and she slept as aged people seldom do. At sunset, summer or winter, she had herself promptly done up in linen, the whip placed near her hand, and her black woman’s bed made within reach on the floor. She then went into a shell of sleep which dancing-parties in the house had not broken, and required no further attention until the birds stirred in the morning. Angelique rushed out to evening freedom with a zest which became rapture when she danced. Perhaps this fresh delight made her the best dancer in Kaskaskia.
The autocrat loved to compound her own dinners. She had a salver which Angelique placed before her on the bed ; and the old child played in pastry or salads, or cut. vegetable dice for her soup. The baking or boiling or roasting was done with rigor at her own fireplace by her blacks, the whiplash in her hand hovering over their bare spots. Silence was the law of the presence-chamber when she labored with her recipes, of which she had many, looking like spider tracks on very yellow paper. These she kept locked up with many of the ingredients for creating them. She pored over them with unspectaeled eyes whenever she mixed a cunning dish; and even Angelique dared not meddle with them, though they v’ere to be part of the girl’s inheritance.
Angelique now played on the harp to soothe tante-gra’mère’s digestion after her midday dinner, while outdoors all Kaskaskia buzzed with excitement. It was a field day in territorial politics. All the girls were at Peggy Morrison’s house, watching the processions marchby, and making bouquets to send up to the speakers, of whom Rice Jones was chief. Tante-gra’mère had her heavy green shutters closed, to keep out disturbing sights and the noise of fife and drum. Her eyes snapped in the gloom. It was a warm day, and the large apartment looked like a linen bazaar, so many garments had tante-gra’mère discarded on account of the heat, and luing about her. The display made Angelique’s face burn when Colonel Menard was announced ; but it was one of tante-gra’mère’s unshakable beliefs that her linen was so superior to other people’s, its exposure was a favor to the public. Any attempt to fold it away would put her into a fury.
The colonel had his hat and ridingwhip in his hand. He stood smiling at both the aged woman and the girl, with his comprehensive grasp of all individualities. The slave woman placed a chair for him between the bed and the harp. Angelique loved the harp ; but she was glad to let her hands fall in her lap, and leave Colonel Menard to work good nature in her tante-gra’mère. The autocrat tolerated him with as much liking as she could give to any suitor of Angelique’s. The intentions of the others were discovered only through slaves used as spies ; but he came into her state apartment and showed her consideration. She sat up on her broad throne, against the background of pillows, and received his salute upon her hand. Afterwards he bowed over Angelique’s fingers.
“ I hope the seven children of monsieur the colonel are well,” said tantegra’mbre in her tiny scream.
“ Four, madame,” corrected the visitor. “Thanks, they are very well.”
They spoke in French, for although she understood English she never condescended to use it. Their conference begun each time by her inquiry after his seven children.
“ And madame, I hope she is comfortable to-day ? ”
“ I neither sleep nor eat,” declared tante-gra’mère. “ And with the streets full of a shouting rabble, there is no comfort to be had in Kaskaskia.”
“ We are rather noisy to-day. But we are very earnest in this matter. We want to be separated from the Indiana Territory and be made an independent State.”
Tante-gra’mkre caught up her whip, and cracked it so suddenly on the back of her little page, who was prying into a wall closet, that he leaped like a frog, and fell on all fours at the opposite corner of the hearth. His grandmother, the black woman, put him behind her, and looked steadily at their tyrant. She sat on the floor like an Indian ; and she was by no means a soft, full-blooded African. High cheek-bones and lank coarse hair betrayed the half-breed. Untamed and reticent, without the drollery of the black race, she had even a Pottawatomie name, Watch-e-kee, which French usage shortened to Wachique.
Tante-gra’mere put this sullen slave in motion and made her bring a glass of wine for Colonel Menard. The colonel was too politic to talk to Angelique before her elder, though she had not yet answered his proposal. He had offered himself through her father, and granted her all the time she could require for making up her mind. The colonel knew of her sudden decisions against so many Kaskaskians that he particularly asked her to take time. Two dimpling grooves were cut in his cheeks by the smile which hovered there, as he rose to drink the godmother’s health, and she said, —•
“ Angelique, you may leave the room.”
Angelique left the room, and he drew his chair toward the autocrat for the conference she expected.
“It is very kind of you, madarne,” said Colonel Menard, “ to give me this chance of speaking to you alone.”
“ I do so, monsieur the colonel, because I myself have something to say.” The little elfin voice disregarded Wachique and the page. They were part of the furniture of the room, and did not count as listeners.
“ You understand that I wish to propose for mademoiselle ? ”
Tante-gra’mère nodded. “ I understand that you are a man who will make a contract and conduct his marriage properly; while these Welsh and English, they lean over a gallery rail and whisper, and I am told they even come fiddling under the windows after decent people are asleep.”
“ I am glad to have you on my side, madame.”
“ I am not on your side, monsieur. I am on nobody’s side. And Angelique is on nobody’s side. Angelique favors no suitor. She is like me : she would live a single life to the end of her days, as holy as a nun, with never a thought of courtship and weddings, but I have set my face against such a life for her. I have seen the folly of it. Here am I, a poor old helpless woman, living without respect or consideration, when I ought to be looked up to in the Territory.”
“ You are mistaken, madme. Your name is always mentioned with veneration.”
“ Ah, if I had sons crowding your peltry traffic and taking their share of these rich lands, then you would truly see me venerated. I have thought of these things many a day; and I am not going to let Angelique escape a husband, however such creatures may try a woman’s religious nature.”
“ I will make myself as light a trial as possible,” suggested Colonel Menard.
“You have had one wife.”
“ Yes, madame.”
“ But she died.” The tiny high voice had the thrust of an insect’s stinger.
“ If she were alive, madame, I could not now have the honor of asking for Mademoiselle Angelique’s hand.”
The dimpling grooves in his cheeks did not escape tante - gra’mère’s black eyes.
“ I do not like widowers,” she mused.
“ Nor do I,” responded the colonel.
“ PoorTherese might have been alive to-day. if she had not married you.”
“ Possibly, madame.”
“ And you have seven children ? ”
“ Four, madame.”
“On the whole, I like young men.”
“ Then you reject my suit ? ” observed the unmoved wooer.
“ I do not reject it, and I do not accept it, monsieur the colonel. I consider it.”
This gracious promise of neutrality Colonel Menard carried away with him without again seeing Angelique; and he made his way through the streets of Kaskaskia, unconscious that his little son was following Rice Jones about with the invincible persistence of a Menard.
Young Pierre had been allowed to ride into the capital this thronging day under charge of his father’s body-servant and Jean Lozier. The body-servant he sent out of his way with the ponies. Jean Lozier tramped at his young seignior’s heels, glad of some duty which would excuse him to his conscience.
This was the peasant lad’s first taste of Kaskaskia. He could hardly believe he was there. The rapture of it at first shook him like a palsy. He had risen while the whole peninsula was yet a network of dew, and the Mississippi’s sheet, reflecting the dawn, threw silver in his eyes. All thoughts of his grandfather he put resolutely out of his mind; and such thoughts troubled him little, indeed, while that sea of humanity dashed around him. The crash of martial music stirred the man in him. And when he saw the governor’s carriage and the magnates of the Territory, heading the long procession ; the festooned galleries, on which sat girls dressed in white, like angels, sending their slaves out with baskets of flowers to strew in the way ; when he saw floating tableaux of men and scenes in the early history of the Territory, — heroes whose exploits he knew by heart; and when he heard the shouting which seemed to fill the rivers from bluff to bluff, he was willing to wade through purgatory to pay for such a day.
Traffic moved with unusual force. It was the custom for outdwelling men who had something to sell or to trade to reserve it until they came to a convention in Kasky, when they were certain to meet the best buyers. All the up-river towns sent lines of vehicles and fleets of boats to the capital. Kickapoo, Pottawatomie, and Kaskaskia Indians were there to see the white-man council, scattered immovably along the streets, their copper faces glistening in the sun, the buckskin fringes on their leggings scarcely stirring as the hours crept by. Squaws stood in the full heat, erect and silent, in yellow or dark red garments woven of silky buffalo wool, and seamed with roebuck sinews. Few of them had taken to civilized finery. Their barbaric and simple splendor was a rebuke to poor white women.
Many ease-loving old Frenchmen denied themselves the pleasure of following the day’s pageant from point to point, and chose the best of the vacant seats fronting the empty platform in the common meadow. There they waited for speech - making to begin, smoking New Orleans tobacco, and stretching their wooden-shod feet in front of them. No kind of covering intervened betwixt their gray heads and the sky ’s fierce light, which made the rivers seem to wrinkle with fire. An old F rencliman loved to feel heaven’s hand laid on his hair. Sometimes they spoke to one another ; but the most of each man ’s soul was given to basking. Their attitudes said : “ This is as far as I have lived. I am not living to-morrow or next day. The past has reached this instant as highwater mark, and here I rest. Move me if you can. I have arrived.
Booths were set up along the route to the common meadow, where the thirsty and hungry might find food and drink; and as the crowd surged toward its destination, a babel of cries rose from the venders of these wares. Father Baby was as great a huckster as any flatboatman of them all. He outscreamed and outsweated Spaniards from Ste. Genevieve ; and a sorry spectacle was he to Father Olivier when a Protestant circuit-rider pointed him out. The itinerant had come to preach at early candlelighting to the crowd of sinners which this occasion drew to Kaskaskia. There was a flourishing chapel where this good preacher was esteemed, and his infrequent messages were gladly accepted. He hated Romish practices, especially the Sunday dancing after mass, which Father Olivier allowed his humbler parishioners to indulge in. They were such children. When their week’s work was over and their prayers were said, they could scarcely refrain from kicking up their heels to the sound of a fiddle.
But when the preacher saw a friar peddling spirits, he determined to denounce Kaskaskia as Sodom and Gomorrah around his whole circuit in the American bottom lands. While the fire burned in him he encountered Father Olivier, who despised him as a heretic, and respected him as a man. Each revered the honest faith that was in the other, though they thought it their duty to quarrel.
“ My friend,” exclaimed the preacher, “ do you believe you are going in and out before this people in a God-fearing manner, when your colleague is yonder selling liquor ? ”
“ Oh, that’s only poor half-crazy Father Baby, He has no right even to the capote he wears. Nobody minds him here.”
“ He ought to be brought to his knees and soundly converted,” declared the evangelist.
“ He is on his knees half the time now,” said Father Olivier mischievously.
He’s religious enough, but, like you heretics, he perverts the truth to suit himself.”
The preacher laughed. He was an unlearned man, but he had the great heart of an apostle, and was open to jokes.
“ Do you think I am riding the wilderness for the pleasure of perverting the truth ? ”
“ My friend,” returned Father Olivier, “ you have been in pur sacristy, and seen our parish records kept here by the hands of priests for a hundred years. You want to make what you call revivals ; I am content with survivals, with keeping alive the faith. Yet you think I am the devil. As for me, I do not say all heretics ought to be burned.”
The preacher laughed again with Father Olivier, but did not fail to add, —
“ You say what I think better than I could say it myself.”
The priest left his Protestant brother with a wave of the hand and a smiling shrug, and passed on his way along the array of booths. His presence was a check on many a rustic drinker. His glance, dropped here and there, saved more than one sheep from the shearer. But his own face fell, and he stopped in astonishment, when an awkward figure was pushed against him, and he recognized his upland lamb.
“Jean Lozier, what are you doing here ? ” said Father Olivier.
Jean had dodged him many times. The lad stood still, cap in hand, looking down. Nothing could make him sorry he had come to Kaskaskia; but he expected to do penance for it.
“ Where is your grandfather? ”
“ He is at home, father.”
“ Did you leave that blind old man alone, to wander out and fall over the bluff ? ”
“ I left him, father, but I tied him to a joist inr the ceiling with a long rope.”
“ To hang himself ? ”
“ No, father ; it is a very long rope.”
“ And what will the old man do when he grows hungry ? ”
“ His food for the day is on the table.”
“ My son, my son ! ”
“ Father,” exclaimed the boy with passion, “ I was never in Kaskaskia before. And Colonel Menard lent me a pony to ride after my young master. I have no pleasure but watching the lights of the town at night.” The great fellow began to sob. “ If my grandfather would but come here, I could keep him well. I have been watching how they do things in Kaskaskia. But no, he will stay on the hills. And when I could stand it no more I tied him and came.”
Father Olivier had looked into the eyes of soldiers and seen the sick longing for some particular place which neither courage nor resolution seems able to control. He saw even more than this in Jean Lozier’s eyes. He saw the anguish of a creature about to be driven back from its element to another in which it cannot develop. The priest had hitherto used Jean’s fondness for the capital as means of moral discipline. But the sympathy which gave so many simple natures into his literal keeping enlightened him now.
“My son,” said Father Olivier, “I see how it is with you better than I ever did before. You shall come and live in Kaskaskia. I will myself forbid your grandfather to keep you longer on the hills.”
“ But, father, he says he will die in a great town.”
“ Then, my son, the crown of a little martyrdom is yours. Will you wear it until this old man ends his days, and then come to Kaskaskia as your reward ? Or will you come trampling down your duty, and perhaps shortening the life of your father’s father ? I will not lay any penance on you for following this strong desire.”
Jean’s spirit moved through his rough features, and responded to the priest’s touch.
“ I will wait, father,” he said.
“ You do right, my son. Now enjoy the remainder of this day, but do not make it too long a trial to the old man dependent on you.”
Jean Lozier knew very little about the fierce partisan war raging in the Territory over separation and non-separation, and all the consequences which lay beyond either. But he took his place in a sea of listeners, having a man’s object in life to struggle for. He was going to live in Kaskaskia, and have a little house of his own, a cart and two oxen; and when he had made enough by hauling bales from the wharf, he could set up in trade. His breast lifted and fell freely as he looked into this large and possible future. The patience and frugality and self-confidence of the successful man of affairs were born in him.
Rice Jones was on the speaker’s platform, moulding the politics of the Territory. His voice reached over the great outdoor audience, compelling and convincing ; now sinking to penetrating undertones, and now rising in thrilling music. His irony was so cutting, his humor so irrepressible. Laughter ran in waves across the sea of heads as wind runs across the grass. On many a homeward road and in many a cabin would these issues be fought over before election day, and Rice Jones’s arguments quoted and propagated to the territorial limits. The serious long-jawed Virginia settler and the easy light-minded French boatman listened side by side. One had a homestead at stake, and the other had his possessions in the common fields where he labored as little as possible; but both were with Rice Jones in that political sympathy which bands unlike men together. He could say in bright words what they nebulously thought. He was the high development of themselves. They were proud of him, with that touching hero worship which is the tribute of unlettered men to those who represent their best.
Dr. Dunlap stopped an instant at the edge of the crowd, carrying his saddlebags on his arm. He was so well known to be Rice Jones’s political and personal enemy that his momentary lingering there drew a joke or two from his observers. He was exhorted to notice how the speaker could wipe up Kasky with such as lie, and he replied in kind. Bnt his face was wearing thin in his deeper and silent struggle with Rice Jones.
He knew that that judicial mind was fathoming and understanding his past relations with Maria upon the evidence he had himself furnished. Every day since their encounter in the college the doctor had armed himself. If he saw Rice Jones appear suddenly on t he street, his hand sought his pocket. Sometimes he thought of leaving the Territory; which would be giving up the world and branding himself a coward. The sick girl was forgotten in this nightmare of a personal encounter. As a physician, he knew the danger of mania, and prescribed hard labor to counteract it. Dismounting under the bluff and tying his horse, he had many times toiled and sweated up the ascent, and let himself down again, bruised and scratched by stones and briers.
Very trivial in Dr. Dunlap’s eyes were the anxieties of some poor fellows whom lie saw later in the day appealing to Colonel Menard. The doctor was returning to a patient. The speeches were over, and the common meadow had become a wide picnic ground under the slant of a low afternoon sun. Those outdwelling settlers, who had other business to transact besides storing political opinions, now began to stir themselves ; and a dozen needy men drew together and encouraged one another to ask Colonel Menard for salt. They were obliged to have salt at once, and he was the only great trader who brought it in by the flatboat load and kept it stored. He had a covered box in his cellar as large as one of their cabins, and it was always kept filled with cured meats.
They stood with hands in their pockets and coonskin caps slouching over their brows, stating the case to Colonel Menard. But poverty has many grades. The quizzical Frenchman detected in some of his clients a moneyed ability which raised them above their fellows.
“ I have salt,” admitted the colonel, speaking English to men who did not understand French, “ but I have not enough to make brine of de Okaw River. I bet you ten dollaire you have not money in your pockets to pay for it.”
More than half the pockets owned this fact. One man promised to pay when he killed his hogs. Another was sure he could settle by election day. But the colonel cut these promises short.
“ I will settle this matter. De goats that have no money will stand on this side, and de sheep that have money will stand on that.”
The hopeless majority budged to his right hand, and the confident ones to his left. He knew well what comfort or misery hung on his answer, and said with decision which no one could turn : —
“ Now, messieurs, I am going to lend all my salt to these poor men who cannot get it any other way. You fellows who have money in your pockets, you may go to Sa’ Loui’, by gar, and buy yourselves some.”
The peninsula of Kaskaskia was glorified by sunset, and even having its emerald stretches purpled by the evening shadows of the hills, before Rice Jones could go home to his sister. The hundreds thronging him all day and hurrahing at his merciless wit saw none of his trouble in his facs.
He had sat by Maria day after day, wiping the cold dampness from her forehead and watching her self-restraining pride. They did not talk much, and when they spoke it was to make amusement for each other. This young sister growing up over the sea had been a precious image to his early manhood. But it was easier to see her die now that the cause of Dr. Dunlap’s enmity was growing distinct to him.
“ No wonder he wanted me shot,” thought Rice. “ No wonder he took all her family as his natural foes at sight.”
Sometimes the lawyer dropped his papers and walked his office, determining to go out and shoot Dr. Dunlap. The most judicial mind has its revolts against concise statement. In these boiling moods Rice did not want evidence; he knew enough. But cooler counsel checked him. There were plenty of grounds and plenty of days yet to come for a political duel, in which no names and no family honor need be mixed.
Rice turned back from the gallery steps with a start at hearing a voice behind him. It was only young Pierre Menard at his father’s gate. The veins on the child’s temples were distended by their embarrassed throbbing, and his cheeks shone darkly red.
“ I want, in fact, to speak to you. Monsieur Zhone,” stammered Pierre, looking anxiously down the street lest the slave or Jean Lozier should appear before he had his say.
“ What is it, colonel junior ? ” said Rice, returning to the gate.
“ I want, in fact, to have some talk about our family.”
“ I hope you have n’t any disagreement in your family that the law will have to settle ? ”
“ Oh, no, monsieur, we do not quarrel much. And we never should quarrel at all if we had a mother to teach us better,” said young Pierre adroitly.
Rice studied him with a sidelong glance of amusement, and let him struggle unhelped to his object.
“ Monsieur Zhone, do you intend to get married ? ”
“ Certainly,” replied the prompt lawyer.
“ But why should you want to get married? You have no children.”
“ I might have some, if I were married,” argued Rice.
“ But unless you get some you don’t need any mother for them. On the contrary, we have great need of a mother in our family.”
“ I see. You came to take my advice about a stepmother. I have a stepmother myself, and I am the very man to advise you. But suppose you and I agree on the person for the place, and the colonel refuses her ? ”
The boy looked at him sharply, but there was no trace of raillery on Rice’s face.
“You never can tell what the colonel intends to do until he does it, monsieur, but I think he will be glad to get her. The girls — all of us, in fact, think he ought to be satisfied with her.”
“You are quite right. I don’t know of a finer young woman in Kaskaskia than Miss Peggy Morrison.”
“ But she is n’t the one, Monsieur Zhone. Oh, she wouldn’t do at all.”
“She wouldn’t? I have made a mistake. It’s Mademoiselle Vigo.”
“ Oh, no, she would n’t do, either. There is only one that would do.” The boy tried to swallow his tumult of palpitation. “ It is Mademoiselle Angelique Saucier, monsieur.”
Rice looked reproachfully at him over folded arms.
“That’s why I came to you about it, monsieur. In the first place, Odile picked her out because she is handsome ; Berenice and Alzira want her because she is good-natured; and I want her because I like to sit in the room where she is.”
“ Young man, this cannot be, said Rice Jones.
“ Have you engaged her yourself, monsieur ? If you have n’t, please don’t. Nobody else will suit us; and you can take Mademoiselle Peggy Morrison that you think is such a fine young woman.”
“You and I are not the only men in Ivaskaskia who admire Mademoiselle Saucier, my lad.”
“ But you are the worst one,” said Pierre eagerly. “ Odile thinks if you let her alone we may get her.”
“ But I can’t let her alone. I see the force of your claims, but human nature is so perverse, Pierre, that I want her worse than ever.”
Pierre dug with his heel in the grass. His determined countenance delighted the rival.
“ Monsieur, if you do get her, you have our whole family to beat.”
“Yes, I see what odds there are against me,” owned Rice.
“ We are going to marry her if we can — and my father is willing. He is nearly always willing to please us.”
“ This is fair and open,” pronounced Rice, “ and the way for gentlemen to treat each other. You have done the right thing in coming to talk this matter over with me.”
“ I ’m not sure of that, m’sieur.”
“ I am, for there is nothing better than fair and open rivalry. And after all, nobody can settle this but Mademoiselle Saucier herself. She may not be willing to take any of us. But, whatever the result, shake hands, Pierre.”
The boy transferred his riding-whip, and met the lawyer’s palm with a hearty grasp. They shook hands, laughing, and Pierre felt surprised to find how well he liked Rice Jones.
As the wide and capacious Kaskaskia houses were but a single story high, Maria’s bedroom was almost in the garden. Sweetbrier stretched above the foundation and climbed her window ; and there were rank flowers, such as marigolds and peppery bouncing-betties, which sent her pungent odors. Sometimes she could see her stepmother walking the graveled paths between the vegetable beds, or her father and Rice strolling back and forth together of an evening. Each one was certain to bring her something, — a longstemmed pink, or phlox in a bunch, like a handful of honeycomb. The gardener pulled out dead vines and stalks and burned them behind a screen of bushes, the thin blue smoke trailing low.
Her father would leave his office to sit beside her, holding the hand which grew thinner every day. He had looked forward to his daughter’s coming as a blossoming-time in his life. Maria had not left her bed since the night of her hemorrhage. A mere fortnight in the Territory seemed feo have wasted half her little body.
When you have strained to bear your burden and keep up with the world’s march, lightly commiserated by the strong, there is great peace in finally giving up and lying down by the roadside. The hour often fiercely wished for, and as often repelled with awe, is here. The visible is about to become invisible. It is your turn to pass into the unknown. You have seen other faces stiffen, and other people carried out and forgotten. Your face is now going to chill the touch. You are going to be carried out. But, most wonderful of all, you who have been so keenly alive are glad to creep close to Death and lay your head in his lap.
There are natures to whom suffering is degradation. Sympathy would burn them like caustic. They are dumb on the side which seeks promiscuous fellowship. They love one person, and live or die by that love.
“ I have borne it by myself so far,” Maria would think; “I can bear it by myself the rest of the way.
Yet the sleepy nurse was often roused at dead of night by her sobbing: " Oh, James, that you should be in the same town with me, and never come near to see me die ! And I love you,— I love you so in spite of everything.”
Sometimes she resolved to tell her brother the whole story. He would perhaps think better of Dr. Dunlap than he now did. Yet, on the contrary, his implacable pride and sense of justice might drive him directly out to kill the man she loved. And again she would burn with rage and shame at Dr. Dunlap’s condescension to a legal marriage. He was willing.
“ You are not willing,” she would whisper fiercely at the night candle. “You do not love me any more.”
The old glamour again covering her, she would lie in a waking dream for hours, living over their stolen life together. And she puzzled herself trying to fit the jagged pieces of her experience, and to understand why all these things should happen. The mystery to come is not greater than the mystery which has been, when one lies on a dying bed and counts the many diverse individuals that have lived in his skin and been called by his name.
At other times, all she had lost of common good flashed through Maria in a spark: the deeds to other souls; the enjoyment of nature, which is a continual discovery of new worlds; the calm joy of daily life, that best prayer of thanks to Almighty God.
Maria always thought of these wholesome things when Angelique came in at twilight, a little exhilarated by her escape from the tyrant at home. The nurse would give place, and go out to talk with the other negroes, while Angelique sat down and held Maria’s hand. Perhaps invisible streams of health flowed from her, quieting the sick girl. She smiled with pure happiness, on account of general good and comfort; her oval face and dark hair and eyes having a certain freshness of creation. Maria looked at her and wondered what love and sorrow would do to her.
Angelique had one exquisite characteristic which Maria did not at first notice, hut it grew upon her during these quiet half-hours when she was spared the effort of talking or listening. It was a fixed look of penetrating sweetness, projecting the girl herself into your nature, and making her one with you. No intrusive quality of a stare spoiled it. She merely became you for the time being; and this unconscious pretty trick had brought down many a long Kaskaskian, for it drove directly through the hearts of men.
The provincial girl sometimes puzzled herself about the method of education abroad which had produced such a repressed yet such an appealing creature as Maria Jones. When she talked to the triangular little face on the pillow, she talked about the outdoor world rather than its people ; so that after Angelique went away Maria often fell asleep, fancying herself on the grass, or lying beside the rivers or under the cool shadows of rocks.
As Rice Jones entered the house, after his talk about Angelique with young Pierre Menard, he met her coming out. It was the first time that her twilight visits to his sister had brought them face to face, and Rice directly turned off through the garden with her, inquiring how Maria had borne the noise of the day.
“ She is very quiet,” said Angelique. “ She was indeed falling asleep when I came out.”
“ I sent my man at noon and at three o’clock to bring me word of her.”
There was still a great trampling of horses in the streets. Shouts of departing happy voters sounded from the Okaw bridge, mixing with the songs of river men. The primrose lights of many candles began to bloom all over Kaskaskia. Rice parted the double hedge of currant bushes which divided his father’s garden from Saucier’s, and followed Angelique upon her own gravel walk, holding her by his sauntering. They could smell the secluded mould in the shadow of the currant roots, which dew was just reaching. She went to a corner where a thicket of roses grew. She had taken a handful of them to Maria, and now gathered a fresh handful for herself, reaching in deftly with mitted arms, holding her gown between her knees to keep it back from the briers. Some of them were wild roses, with a thin layer of petals and effulgent yellow centres. There was a bouquet of garden-breaths from gray - green sage and rosemary leaves and the countless herbs and vegetables which every slaveholding Kaskaskian cultivated for his large household. Pink and red hollyhocks stood sentinel along the paths. The slave cabins, the loom-house, the kitchen, and a row of straw beehives were ranged at the back of the lawn, edging the garden.
Angelique came back to the main walk, picking her way with slipper toes, and offered part of her spoil to Rice. He took some roses, and held the hand which gave them. She had come in his way too soon after his mocking little talk with young Pierre Menard. He was occupied with other things, but that had made him feel a sudden need.
Angelique blushed in the dense twilight, her face taking childlike lines of apprehension. Her heart sank, and she suffered for him vicariously in advance. Her sensibility to other presences was so keen that she had once made it a subject of confession. “ Father, I cannot feel any separateness from the people around me. Is this a sin ? ” “ Believe that you have the saints and holy angels also in your company, and it will be no sin,” answered Father Olivier.
Though she was used to these queer demonstrations of men, her conscience always rebuked her for the number of offers she received. No sooner did she feel on terms of excellent friendliness with any man than he began to fondle her hand and announce himself her lover. It must be as her tante-gra’mère said, that girls had too much liberty in the Territory. Jules Vigo and Billy Edgar had both proposed in one day, and Angelique hid herself in the loom-house, feeling peculiarly humbled and ashamed to face the family, until her godmother had her almost forcibly brought back to the usual post.
“ I love you,” said Rice Jones.
“ But please, no, Monsieur Zhone, no.”
“ I love you,” he repeated, compressing his lips. “ Why ‘ no, Monsieur Zhone, no ‘ ? ”
“ I do not know.” Angelique drew her hand back and arranged her roses over and over, looking down at them in blind distress.
“ Is it Pierre Menard ? ”
She glanced up at him reproachfully.
“ Oh, monsieur, it is only that I do not want ” — She put silence in the place of words. “ Monsieur,” she then appealed, “ why do men ask girls who do not want them to ? If one appeared anxious, then it would be reasonable,”
“Not to men,” said Rice, smiling. “ We will have what is hard to be got. I shall have you, my Angelique. I will wait.”
“ Monsieur,” said Angelique, thinking of an obstacle which might block his way, “ I am a Catholic, and you are not.”
“ Priests don’t frighten me. And Father Olivier is too sensible an old fellow to object to setting you in the car of my ambition.”
They stood in silence.
“ Good-night, Monsieur Zhone,” said Angelique. “ Don’t wait.”
“ But I shall wait,” said Rice.
He had bowed and turned away to the currant hedge, and Angelique was entering her father’s lawn, when he came back impetuously. He framed her cheeks in his hands, and she could feel rather than see the power of possession in his eyes.
“ Angelique ! ” he said, and the word rushed through her like flame. She recoiled, but Rice Jones was again in his father’s garden, moving like a shadow toward the house, before she stirred. Whether it was the trick of the orator or the irrepressible outburst of passion, that appeal continued to ring in her ears and to thrill.
More disturbed than she had ever been before by the tactics of a lover, Angelique hurried up the back gallery steps, to find Peggy Morrison sitting in her chamber window, cross-legged, leaning over with one palm supporting a pointed chin. The swinging sashes were pushed outward, and Peggy’s white gown hung down from the broad sill.
“Is that you, Peggy?” said Angelique. “ I thought you were dancing at Vigo’s this evening.”
“ I thought you were, too.”
“ Mama felt obliged to send our excuses, on account of going to Sister’s baby.”
“ How beautiful these large French families are ! ” observed Peggy ; “ some of them are always dying or teething, and the girls are slaves to their elders.”
“We must be beautiful,”said Angelique, “ since two of the Morrisons have picked wives from us ; and I assure you the Morrison babies give us the most trouble.”
“You might expect that. I never saw any luck go with a red-headed Morrison.”
Angelique sat down on the sill, also, leaning against the side of the window. The garden was becoming a void of dimness, through which a few fireflies sowed themselves. Vapor blotted such stars as they might have seen from their perch, and the foliage of fruit trees stirred with a whisper of wind.
“ I am so glad you came to stay with me, Peggy. But you are dressed ; why did you not go ? ”
“ I am hiding.”
“ What are you hiding from ? ”
“Jules Vigo, of course.”
“ Poor Jules.”
“ Yes, you are always saying poor this and that, after you set them on by rejecting them. They run about like blind, mad oxen till they bump their stupid heads against somebody that will have them. 1 should n’t wonder if I got a second-hand husband one day, taking up with some cast-off of yours.”
“ Peggy, these things do not flatter me : they distress me,” said Angelique genuinely.
“ They would n’t distress me. If I had your face, and your hands and arms, and the way you carry yourself. I ‘d love to kill men. They have no sense at all,”
Angelique heard her grind her teeth, and exclaimed, —
“ Why, Peggy, what has poor Jules done? ”
“ Oh, Jules ! — he is nothing. I have just engaged myself to him to get rid of him, and now I have some right to be let alone. He s only the fourth one of your victims that I ‘ve accepted, and doctored up, and set on foot again. I take them in rotation, and let them easily down to marrying some girl of capacity suitable to them. And until you are married off, I have no prospect of ever being anything but second choice.”
“ Your clever tongue so fascinates men that this is all mockery, your being second choice. But indeed I like men, Peggy ; if they had not the foolishness of falling in love.”
“ Angelique Saucier, when do you intend to settle in life ? ”
“I do not know,” said the French girl slowly. “ It is pleasant to be as we are.”
Peggy glanced at her through the dark.
“ Do you intend to be a nun ? ”
“ No, I have no vocation.”
“ Well, if you don’t marry, the time will come when you ‘ll be called an old maid.”
“ That is what mama says. It is a pity to make ugly names for good women.”
“ I ’ll be drawn and quartered before I ’ll be called an old maid,” said Peggy fiercely. What difference does it make, after all, which of these simpletons one takes for a husband? Were you ever in love with one of them, Angelique ? ”
Peggy had the kind of eyes which show a disk of light in the dark, and they revealed it as she asked this question.
“ No, I think not,” answered Angelique.
“ You think not. You believe, to the best of your knowledge and recollection, that such a thing lias never happened to you,” mocked Peggy. And then she made a sudden pounce at Angelique’s arm. " What was, the matter with you when you ran up the gallery steps, a minute ago ? ”
The startled girl drew in her breath with surprise, but laughed.
“ It was lighter then,” hinted Peggy.
“ Did you see him ? ”
“ Yes, I saw him. And I saw you coaxing him along with a bunch of roses, for all the world like catching a pony with a bunch of grass. And I saw him careering hack to neigli in your face.”
“ Oh, Peggy, I wish Monsieur Reece Zhone could but hear what you say. Do teach me some of your clever ridicule. It must be that I take suitors too seriously.‘’
“ Thank you,” said Peggy dryly, " I need it all for my second-hand lot. He is the worst fool of any of them.
“ Take care, Peggy, you rouse me. Why is a man a fool for loving me ? ”
“ He said he loved you, then? ”
The Saucier negroes were gathering on doorsteps, excited by the day and the bustle of crowds which still hummed in tlie streets. Now a lino of song was roared from the farthest cabin, and old and young voices all poured themselves into a chorus. A slender young moon showed itself under foliage, dipping almost as low as the horizon. Under all other sounds of life, but steadily and with sweet monotony, the world ol little living things in grass and thicket made itself heard. The dewy darkness was a pleasure to Angelique, but Peggy moved restlessly, and finally clasped her hands behind her neck and leaned against the window side, watching as well as she could the queen of hearts Opposite. She could herself feel Angelique’s charm of beautiful health and outreaehing sympathy. Peggy was a candid girl, and had no self-deceptions. But she did have that foreknowledge of herself which lives a germ in some unformed girls whose development surprises everybody. She knew she could become a woman of strength and influence, the best wife in the Territory for an ambitious man who had the wisdom to choose her. Her sharp fairness would round out, moreover, and her red head, melting the snows which fell in middle age on a Morrison, become a softly golden and glorious crown. At an age when Angelique would he faded, Peggy’s richest bloom would appear. She was like the wild grapes under the bluffs ; it required frost to ripen her. But women whom nature thus obliges to wait for beauty seldom do it graciously; transition is not repose.
“ Well, which is it to be. Rice Jones or Pierre Menard ? Be candid with me, Angelique, as I would be with you. You know you will have to decide sometime.”
“ I do not think Monsieur Reece Zhone is ior me, " said Angelique, with intuitive avoidance of Colonel Menard’s name ; Peggy cared nothing for the fate of Colonel Menard. “Indeed, I believe his mind dwells more on his sister now than on any one else.”
“ I hate people’s relations ! ” cried Peggy brutally ; “ especially their sick relations. I could n’t run every evening to pet Maria Jones and feed her pap.”
“ I do not pet her nor feed her pap,” declared Angelique, put on the defensive. “ Don’t be a little beast, Peggy,” she added in French.
“ I see how it is : you are going to take him. The man who needs a bug in his ear worse than any other man in the Territory will never be handed over to me to get it. But let me tell you, you will have your hands full with Rice Jones. This Welsh-English stock is not soft stuff to manage. When he makes that line with his lips that looks like a red-hot razor edge, his poor wife will wish to leave this earth and take to the bluffs.”
“You appear to think a great deal about Monsieur Reece Zhone and his future wife,” said Angelique mischievously.
“ I know what you mean,” said Peggy defiantly, “ and wre may as well have it out now as any time. If you throw him at me, I shall quarrel with you. I detest Rice Jones. He makes me crosser than any other person in the world.”
“ How can you detest a man like that ? I am almost afraid of him. He has a wonderful force. It is a great thing at his age to be elected to the National Assembly as the leader of his party in the Territory.”
“ I am not afraid of him,” said Peggy, with a note of pride.
“ No ; for I have sometimes thought, Peggy that Monsieur Reece Zhone and you were made for each other.”
Peggy Morrison sneered. Her nervous laughter, however, had a sound of jubilation.
The talk Stopped there. They could see fog rising like a smoke from the earth, gradually making distant indistinct objects an obliterated memory, and filling the place where the garden had been.
“ We must go in and call for candles,” said Angelique.
“ No,” said Peggy, turning on the broad sill and stretching herself along it, “ let me lay my head in your lap and watch that lovely mist come up like a dream. It makes me feel happy. You are a good girl, Angelique.”
Mary Hartwell Gatherwood.