Part 2 out of 2
The last representation of the season is over. She, tired beyond
judgment--haply, beyond feeling--by her tireless role, sinks upon her
chair to rest in her dressing-room; sinks, further, to sleep. She has
no maid. The troupe, hurrying away to France on the special train
waiting not half a dozen blocks away, forget her--the insignificant
are so easily forgotten! The porter, more tired, perhaps, than any
one of the beautiful ideal world about him, and savoring already in
advance the good onion-flavored _grillade_ awaiting him at home, locks
up everything fast and tight; the tighter and faster for the good
fortnight's vacation he has promised himself.
No doubt if the old opera-house were ever cleaned out, just such a
heap of stiff, wire-strung bones would be found, in some such hole
as the _dugazon's_ dressing-room, desiccating away in its last
costume--perhaps in that very costume of _Inez_; and if one were
venturesome enough to pass Allhallowe'en there, the spirit of those
bones might be seen availing itself of the privilege of unasperged
corpses to roam. Not singing, not talking--it is an anachronism to say
that ghosts talk: their medium of communication must be pure thought;
and one should be able to see their thoughts working, just as one sees
the working of the digestive organs in the clear viscera of
transparent animalcule. The hard thing of it is that ghosts are
chained to the same scenes that chained their bodies, and when they
sleep-walk, so to speak, it must be through phases of former
existence. What a nightmare for them to go over once again the lived
and done, the suffered and finished! What a comfort to wake up and
find one's self dead, well dead!
I could have continued and put the whole opera troupe in "costume de
ghost," but I think it was the woman's eyes that drew me back to her
face and her story. She had a sensible face, now that I observed her
naturally, as it were; and her hands,--how I have agonized over those
hands on the stage!--all knuckles and exaggerated veins, clutching her
dress as she sang, or, petrified, outstretched to _Leonore's_ "Pourquoi
ces larmes?"--her hands were the hands of an honest, hard-working
woman who buckrams her own skirts, and at need could scrub her own
floor. Her face (my description following my wandering glance)--her
face was careworn, almost to desuetude; not dissipation-worn, as,
alas! the faces of the more gifted ladies of opera troupes too often
are. There was no fattening in it of pastry, truffles, and bonbons;
upon it none of the tracery left by nightly champagne tides and
ripples; and consequently her figure, under her plain dress, had not
that for display which the world has conventioned to call charms.
Where a window-cord would hardly have sufficed to girdle _Leonore_, a
necklace would have served her. She had not beauty enough to fear the
flattering dangers of masculine snares and temptations,--or there may
have been other reasons,--but as a wife--there was something about her
that guaranteed it--she would have blossomed love and children as a
fig-tree does figs.
In truth, she was just talking about children. The first part of her
story had passed: her birthplace, education, situation; and now she
"I have always had the temptation, but I have always resisted it.
Now,"--with a blush at her excuse,--"it may be your spring weather,
your birds, your flowers, your sky--and your children in the streets.
The longing came over me yesterday: I thought of it on the stage,
I thought of it afterward--it was better than sleeping; and this
morning"--her eyes moistened, she breathed excitedly--"I was
determined. I gave up, I made inquiry, I was sent to you. Would it be
possible? Would there be any place" ("any role," she said first) "in
any of your asylums, in any of your charitable institutions, for me?
I would ask nothing but my clothes and food, and very little of that;
the recompense would be the children--the little girl children," with
a smile--can you imagine the smile of a woman dreaming of children
that might be? "Think! Never to have held a child in my arms more than
a moment, never to have felt a child's arms about my neck! Never to
have known a child! Born on a stage, my mother born on a stage!" Ah,
there were tragic possibilities in that voice and movement! "Pardon,
madam. You see how I repeat. And you must be very wearied hearing
about me. But I could be their nurse and their servant. I would bathe
and dress them, play with them, teach them their prayers; and when
they are sick they would see no difference. They would not know but
what their mother was there!"
Oh, she had her program all prepared; one could see that.
"And I would sing to them--no! no!" with a quick gesture, "nothing
from the stage; little songs and lullabys I have picked up
traveling around, and," hesitating, "little things I have composed
myself--little things that I thought children would like to hear some
day." What did she not unconsciously throw into those last words? "I
dream of it," she pursued, talking with as little regard to me as
on the stage she sang to the prima donna. "Their little arms, their
little faces, their little lips! And in an asylum there would be so
many of them! When they cried and were in trouble I would take them in
my lap, and I would say to them, with all sorts of tenderness--" She
had arranged that in her program, too--all the minutiae of what she
would say to them in their distress. But women are that way. When once
they begin to love, their hearts are magnifying-lenses for them to
feel through. "And my heart hungers to commence right here, now, at
once! It seems to me I cannot wait. Ah, madam, no more stage, no more
opera!" speaking quickly, feverishly. "As I said, it may be your
beautiful spring, your flowers, your birds, and your numbers of
children. I have always loved that place most where there are most
children; and you have more children here than I ever saw anywhere.
Children are so beautiful! It is strange, is it not, when you consider
my life and my rearing?"
Her life, her rearing, how interesting they must have been! What a
pity I had not listened more attentively!
"They say you have much to do with asylums here."
Evidently, when roles do not exist in life for certain characters, God
has to create them. And thus He had to create a role in an asylum for
my friend, for so she became from the instant she spoke of children
as she did. It was the poorest and neediest of asylums; and the poor
little orphaned wretches--but it is better not to speak of them. How
can God ever expect to rear children without their mothers!
But the role I craved to create for my friend was far different--some
good, honest bourgeois interior, where lips are coarse and cheeks are
ruddy, and where life is composed of real scenes, set to the real
music of life, the homely successes and failures, and loves and hates,
and embraces and tears, that fill out the orchestra of the heart;
where romance and poetry abound _au naturel_; and where--yes, where
children grow as thick as nature permits: the domestic interior of the
opera porter, for instance, or the clockmaker over the way. But what
a loss the orphan-asylum would have suffered, and the dreary lacking
there would have been in the lives of the children! For there must
have been moments in the lives of the children in that asylum when
they felt, awake, as they felt in their sleep when they dreamed their
mothers were about them.
THE LITTLE CONVENT GIRL
She was coming down on the boat from Cincinnati, the little convent
girl. Two sisters had brought her aboard. They gave her in charge of
the captain, got her a state-room, saw that the new little trunk was
put into it, hung the new little satchel up on the wall, showed her
how to bolt the door at night, shook hands with her for good-by
(good-bys have really no significance for sisters), and left her
there. After a while the bells all rang, and the boat, in the awkward
elephantine fashion of boats, got into midstream. The chambermaid
found her sitting on the chair in the state-room where the sisters
had left her, and showed her how to sit on a chair in the saloon. And
there she sat until the captain came and hunted her up for supper.
She could not do anything of herself; she had to be initiated into
everything by some one else.
She was known on the boat only as "the little convent girl." Her name,
of course, was registered in the clerk's office, but on a steamboat no
one thinks of consulting the clerk's ledger. It is always the little
widow, the fat madam, the tall colonel, the parson, etc. The captain,
who pronounced by the letter, always called her the little _convent_
girl. She was the beau-ideal of the little convent girl. She never
raised her eyes except when spoken to. Of course she never spoke
first, even to the chambermaid, and when she did speak it was in the
wee, shy, furtive voice one might imagine a just-budding violet to
have; and she walked with such soft, easy, carefully calculated steps
that one naturally felt the penalties that must have secured
them--penalties dictated by a black code of deportment.
[Illustration: THE SISTERS BID HER GOOD-BY.]
She was dressed in deep mourning. Her black straw hat was trimmed with
stiff new crape, and her stiff new bombazine dress had crape collar
and cuffs. She wore her hair in two long plaits fastened around her
head tight and fast. Her hair had a strong inclination to curl, but
that had been taken out of it as austerely as the noise out of her
footfalls. Her hair was as black as her dress; her eyes, when one saw
them, seemed blacker than either, on account of the bluishness of the
white surrounding the pupil. Her eyelashes were almost as thick as the
black veil which the sisters had fastened around her hat with an extra
pin the very last thing before leaving. She had a round little face,
and a tiny pointed chin; her mouth was slightly protuberant from the
teeth, over which she tried to keep her lips well shut, the effort
giving them a pathetic little forced expression. Her complexion was
sallow, a pale sallow, the complexion of a brunette bleached in
darkened rooms. The only color about her was a blue taffeta ribbon
from which a large silver medal of the Virgin hung over the place
where a breast pin should have been. She was so little, so little,
although she was eighteen, as the sisters told the captain; otherwise
they would not have permitted her to travel all the way to New Orleans
Unless the captain or the clerk remembered to fetch her out in front,
she would sit all day in the cabin, in the same place, crocheting
lace, her spool of thread and box of patterns in her lap, on the
handkerchief spread to save her new dress. Never leaning back--oh, no!
always straight and stiff, as if the conventual back board were there
within call. She would eat only convent fare at first, notwithstanding
the importunities of the waiters, and the jocularities of the captain,
and particularly of the clerk. Every one knows the fund of humor
possessed by a steamboat clerk, and what a field for display the table
at meal-times affords. On Friday she fasted rigidly, and she never
began to eat, or finished, without a little Latin movement of the lips
and a sign of the cross. And always at six o'clock of the evening she
remembered the angelus, although there was no church bell to remind
her of it.
She was in mourning for her father, the sisters told the captain,
and she was going to New Orleans to her mother. She had not seen
her mother since she was an infant, on account of some disagreement
between the parents, in consequence of which the father had brought
her to Cincinnati, and placed her in the convent. There she had been
for twelve years, only going to her father for vacations and holidays.
So long as the father lived he would never let the child have any
communication with her mother. Now that he was dead all that was
changed, and the first thing that the girl herself wanted to do was to
go to her mother.
The mother superior had arranged it all with the mother of the girl,
who was to come personally to the boat in New Orleans, and receive her
child from the captain, presenting a letter from the mother superior,
a facsimile of which the sisters gave the captain.
It is a long voyage from Cincinnati to New Orleans, the rivers doing
their best to make it interminable, embroidering themselves _ad
libitum_ all over the country. Every five miles, and sometimes
oftener, the boat would stop to put off or take on freight, if not
both. The little convent girl, sitting in the cabin, had her
terrible frights at first from the hideous noises attendant on these
landings--the whistles, the ringings of the bells, the running to and
fro, the shouting. Every time she thought it was shipwreck, death,
judgment, purgatory; and her sins! her sins! She would drop her
crochet, and clutch her prayer-beads from her pocket, and relax the
constraint over her lips, which would go to rattling off prayers with
the velocity of a relaxed windlass. That was at first, before the
captain took to fetching her out in front to see the boat make a
landing. Then she got to liking it so much that she would stay all day
just where the captain put her, going inside only for her meals. She
forgot herself at times so much that she would draw her chair a little
closer to the railing, and put up her veil, actually, to see better.
No one ever usurped her place, quite in front, or intruded upon her
either with word or look; for every one learned to know her shyness,
and began to feel a personal interest in her, and all wanted the
little convent girl to see everything that she possibly could.
[Illustration: WATCHING A LANDING.]
And it was worth seeing--the balancing and _chasseeing_ and waltzing
of the cumbersome old boat to make a landing. It seemed to be
always attended with the difficulty and the improbability of a new
enterprise; and the relief when it did sidle up anywhere within
rope's-throw of the spot aimed at! And the roustabout throwing the
rope from the perilous end of the dangling gang-plank! And the
dangling roustabouts hanging like drops of water from it--dropping
sometimes twenty feet to the land, and not infrequently into the river
itself. And then what a rolling of barrels, and shouldering of sacks,
and singing of Jim Crow songs, and pacing of Jim Crow steps; and black
skins glistening through torn shirts, and white teeth gleaming through
red lips, and laughing, and talking and--bewildering! entrancing!
Surely the little convent girl in her convent walls never dreamed of
so much unpunished noise and movement in the world!
The first time she heard the mate--it must have been like the first
time woman ever heard man--curse and swear, she turned pale, and ran
quickly, quickly into the saloon, and--came out again? No, indeed!
not with all the soul she had to save, and all the other sins on her
conscience. She shook her head resolutely, and was not seen in her
chair on deck again until the captain not only reassured her, but
guaranteed his reassurance. And after that, whenever the boat was
about to make a landing, the mate would first glance up to the guards,
and if the little convent girl was sitting there he would change his
invective to sarcasm, and politely request the colored gentlemen not
to hurry themselves--on no account whatever; to take their time about
shoving out the plank; to send the rope ashore by post-office--write
him when it got there; begging them not to strain their backs; calling
them mister, colonel, major, general, prince, and your royal highness,
which was vastly amusing. At night, however, or when the little
convent girl was not there, language flowed in its natural curve, the
mate swearing like a pagan to make up for lost time.
The captain forgot himself one day: it was when the boat ran aground
in the most unexpected manner and place, and he went to work to
express his opinion, as only steamboat captains can, of the pilot,
mate, engineer, crew, boat, river, country, and the world in general,
ringing the bell, first to back, then to head, shouting himself
hoarser than his own whistle--when he chanced to see the little black
figure hurrying through the chaos on the deck; and the captain stuck
as fast aground in midstream as the boat had done.
In the evening the little convent girl would be taken on the upper
deck, and going up the steep stairs there was such confusion, to keep
the black skirts well over the stiff white petticoats; and, coming
down, such blushing when suspicion would cross the unprepared face
that a rim of white stocking might be visible; and the thin feet,
laced so tightly in the glossy new leather boots, would cling to each
successive step as if they could never, never make another venture;
and then one boot would (there is but that word) hesitate out, and
feel and feel around, and have such a pause of helpless agony as if
indeed the next step must have been wilfully removed, or was nowhere
to be found on the wide, wide earth.
It was a miracle that the pilot ever got her up into the pilot-house;
but pilots have a lonely time, and do not hesitate even at miracles
when there is a chance for company. He would place a box for her to
climb to the tall bench behind the wheel, and he would arrange the
cushions, and open a window here to let in air, and shut one there to
cut off a draft, as if there could be no tenderer consideration in
life for him than her comfort. And he would talk of the river to her,
explain the chart, pointing out eddies, whirlpools, shoals, depths,
new beds, old beds, cut-offs, caving banks, and making banks, as
exquisitely and respectfully as if she had been the River Commission.
It was his opinion that there was as great a river as the Mississippi
flowing directly under it--an underself of a river, as much a
counterpart of the other as the second story of a house is of the
first; in fact, he said they were navigating through the upper story.
Whirlpools were holes in the floor of the upper river, so to speak;
eddies were rifts and cracks. And deep under the earth, hurrying
toward the subterranean stream, were other streams, small and
great, but all deep, hurrying to and from that great mother-stream
underneath, just as the small and great overground streams hurry to
and from their mother Mississippi. It was almost more than the little
convent girl could take in: at least such was the expression of her
eyes; for they opened as all eyes have to open at pilot stories. And
he knew as much of astronomy as he did of hydrology, could call the
stars by name, and define the shapes of the constellations; and she,
who had studied astronomy at the convent, was charmed to find that
what she had learned was all true. It was in the pilot-house, one
night, that she forgot herself for the first time in her life, and
stayed up until after nine o'clock. Although she appeared almost
intoxicated at the wild pleasure, she was immediately overwhelmed
at the wickedness of it, and observed much more rigidity of conduct
thereafter. The engineer, the boiler-men, the firemen, the stokers,
they all knew when the little convent girl was up in the pilot-house:
the speaking-tube became so mild and gentle.
With all the delays of river and boat, however, there is an end to the
journey from Cincinnati to New Orleans. The latter city, which at one
time to the impatient seemed at the terminus of the never, began,
all of a sudden, one day to make its nearingness felt; and from that
period every other interest paled before the interest in the immanence
of arrival into port, and the whole boat was seized with a panic of
preparation, the little convent girl with the others. Although so
immaculate was she in person and effects that she might have been
struck with a landing, as some good people might be struck with death,
at any moment without fear of results, her trunk was packed and
repacked, her satchel arranged and rearranged, and, the last day, her
hair was brushed and plaited and smoothed over and over again until
the very last glimmer of a curl disappeared. Her dress was whisked,
as if for microscopic inspection; her face was washed; and her
finger-nails were scrubbed with the hard convent nail-brush, until
the disciplined little tips ached with a pristine soreness. And still
there were hours to wait, and still the boat added up delays. But she
arrived at last, after all, with not more than the usual and expected
difference between the actual and the advertised time of arrival.
There was extra blowing and extra ringing, shouting, commanding,
rushing up the gangway and rushing down the gangway. The clerks,
sitting behind tables on the first deck, were plied, in the twinkling
of an eye, with estimates, receipts, charges, countercharges, claims,
reclaims, demands, questions, accusations, threats, all at topmost
voices. None but steamboat clerks could have stood it. And there were
throngs composed of individuals every one of whom wanted to see the
captain first and at once: and those who could not get to him shouted
over the heads of the others; and as usual he lost his temper and
politeness, and began to do what he termed "hustle."
"Captain! Captain!" a voice called him to where a hand plucked his
sleeve, and a letter was thrust toward him. "The cross, and the name
of the convent." He recognized the envelop of the mother superior. He
read the duplicate of the letter given by the sisters. He looked at
the woman--the mother--casually, then again and again.
The little convent girl saw him coming, leading some one toward her.
She rose. The captain took her hand first, before the other greeting,
"Good-by, my dear," he said. He tried to add something else, but
seemed undetermined what. "Be a good little girl--" It was evidently
all he could think of. Nodding to the woman behind him, he turned on
his heel, and left.
One of the deck-hands was sent to fetch her trunk. He walked out
behind them, through the cabin, and the crowd on deck, down the
stairs, and out over the gangway. The little convent girl and her
mother went with hands tightly clasped. She did not turn her eyes to
the right or left, or once (what all passengers do) look backward at
the boat which, however slowly, had carried her surely over dangers
that she wot not of. All looked at her as she passed. All wanted to
say good-by to the little convent girl, to see the mother who had been
deprived of her so long. Some expressed surprise in a whistle; some
in other ways. All exclaimed audibly, or to themselves, "Colored!"
It takes about a month to make the round trip from New Orleans to
Cincinnati and back, counting five days' stoppage in New Orleans. It
was a month to a day when the steamboat came puffing and blowing up to
the wharf again, like a stout dowager after too long a walk; and the
same scene of confusion was enacted, as it had been enacted twelve
times a year, at almost the same wharf for twenty years; and the
same calm, a death calmness by contrast, followed as usual the next
The decks were quiet and clean; one cargo had just been delivered,
part of another stood ready on the levee to be shipped. The captain
was there waiting for his business to begin, the clerk was in his
office getting his books ready, the voice of the mate could be heard
below, mustering the old crew out and a new crew in; for if steamboat
crews have a single principle,--and there are those who deny them
any,--it is never to ship twice in succession on the same boat. It was
too early yet for any but roustabouts, marketers, and church-goers;
so early that even the river was still partly mist-covered; only in
places could the swift, dark current be seen rolling swiftly along.
"Captain!" A hand plucked at his elbow, as if not confident that the
mere calling would secure attention. The captain turned. The mother of
the little convent girl stood there, and she held the little convent
girl by the hand. "I have brought her to see you," the woman said.
"You were so kind--and she is so quiet, so still, all the time, I
thought it would do her a pleasure."
She spoke with an accent, and with embarrassment; otherwise one would
have said that she was bold and assured enough.
"She don't go nowhere, she don't do nothing but make her crochet and
her prayers, so I thought I would bring her for a little visit of 'How
d' ye do' to you."
There was, perhaps, some inflection in the woman's voice that might
have made known, or at least awakened, the suspicion of some latent
hope or intention, had the captain's ear been fine enough to detect
it. There might have been something in the little convent girl's face,
had his eye been more sensitive--trifle paler, maybe, the lips a
little tighter drawn, the blue ribbon a shade faded. He may have
noticed that, but-- And the visit of "How d' ye do" came to an end.
They walked down the stairway, the woman in front, the little convent
girl--her hand released to shake hands with the captain--following,
across the bared deck, out to the gangway, over to the middle of
it. No one was looking, no one saw more than a flutter of white
petticoats, a show of white stockings, as the little convent girl went
under the water.
The roustabout dived, as the roustabouts always do, after the
drowning, even at the risk of their good-for-nothing lives. The mate
himself jumped overboard; but she had gone down in a whirlpool.
Perhaps, as the pilot had told her whirlpools always did, it may have
carried her through to the underground river, to that vast, hidden,
dark Mississippi that flows beneath the one we see; for her body was
As the grandmother related it fresh from the primeval sources that
feed a grandmother's memory, it happened thus:
In the early days of the settlement of Georgia--ah, how green and
rustic appears to us now the world in the early days of the settlement
of Georgia! Sometimes to women, listening to the stories of their
grandmothers, it seems better to have lived then than now--her
grandmother was at that time a young wife. It was the day of arduous,
if not of long, courtship before marriage, when every wedding
celebrated the close of an original romance; and when young couples,
for bridal trips, went out to settle new States, riding on a pillion
generally, with their trousseaux following as best they could on
sumpter mules; to hear the grandmother describe it made one long to be
a bride of those days.
The young husband had the enumeration of qualities that went to the
making of a man of that period, and if the qualities were in the
proportion of ten physical to one intellectual, it does not follow
that the grandmother's grandfather was not a man of parts. For, to
obtain the hand of his bride, an only child and an heiress, he had to
give test of his mettle by ignoring his fortune, studying law, and
getting his license before marriage, and binding himself to live the
first year afterward on the proceeds of his practice; a device of the
time thought to be a wholesome corrective of the corrupting influence
of over-wealth in young domesticities.
Although he had already chosen the sea for his profession, and was a
midshipman at the time, with more of a reputation for living than for
learning, such was he, and such, it may be said, was the incentive
genius of his choice, that almost before his resignation as midshipman
was accepted, his license as a lawyer was signed. As for practice, it
was currently remarked at his wedding, at the sight of him flying down
the room in the reel with his bride for partner, that his tongue was
as nimble as his heels, and that if he only turned his attention to
criminal practice, there was no man in the country who would make
a better prosecuting attorney for the State. And with him for
prosecuting attorney, it was warranted that sirrahs the highwaymen
would not continue to hold Georgia judge-and-jury justice in quite
such contemptible estimation, and that the gallows would not be left
so long bereft of their legitimate swingings. As for fees, it was
predicted that the young fellow as he stood, or rather "chasse'd,"
could snap his fingers at both his and his bride's trustees.
He did turn his attention to criminal law, was made prosecuting
attorney for the State in his county, and, before his six months
had passed, was convincing the hitherto high and mighty, lordly,
independent knights of the road that other counties in Georgia
furnished more secure pasturage for them.
It was a beautiful spring morning. The young wife bade him a hearty
good-by, and stood in the doorway watching him, gay and _debonair_,
riding off, on his stout black charger Beetle, in the direction of the
town in which court was to be held that week.
She herself feeling as full of ambition and work as if she also were
prosecuting attorney, with a perennial spring of eloquence bubbling in
her brain, turned to her domestic duties, and, without going into
the detail of them, it suffices to say that, according to the
grandmother's estimation, one morning's list of duties for a healthy
young bride of that period would shame the week's work of a syndicate
of them to-day. Finding herself nearing the limit of diminution of
several household necessities, and the spring suggesting the beginning
of new ones, she made up her mind to profit by her husband's absence
and the fair weather to make a trading visit to the neighboring town
[Illustration: "TURNED TO HER DOMESTIC DUTIES."]
So, early in a morning as beautiful as the preceding one, mounted on
her own stanch mare Maid Marion, she ambled down the green over-hung
forest-road, in the vista of which she had watched her husband
disappear the day before; thinking about what she had to buy, and
thinking, no doubt, much more, as brides will, of the absent lord and
master--as brides of those days loved to consider and denominate their
Coming into the little town, the freshly painted, swinging sign-board
of the new tavern, "The Honest Georgian," as usual was the thing to
catch her eye; but the instant after what should she see but Black
Beetle hitched to the rack under the tree that shadowed the hostelry!
It was not decorous; but she was young, and the day of her first
separation from her husband had been so long; and was he not also,
against the firmest of resolutions and plans, hastening back to her,
the separation being too long for him also?
Slipping her foot from the stirrup, she jumped to the ground, and ran
into the tavern. There he stood calling hastily for a drink; and
her heart more than her eyes took in his, to her, consecrated
signalment--the riding-boots, short clothes, blue coat, cocked hat,
ruffles. She crept up behind to surprise him, her face, with its
delight and smiles, beyond her control. She crept, until she saw his
watch-fob dangling against the counter, and then her heart made a
call. He turned. He was not her husband! Another man was in her
husband's clothes, a man with a villainous countenance! With a scream
she gave the alarm. The stranger turned, dropped his drink, bounded to
the door and out, leaped to the back of Beetle, gave rein and spur,
and the black horse made good his reputation. In a second all was
hue-and-cry and pursuit. While men and horses made, for all they were
worth, down the road after Beetle, she on Maid Marion galloped for
her life in the opposite direction, the direction of the court town
whither her husband had journeyed. The mare's hide made acquaintance
with the whip that day if never before, for not even the willing Maid
Marion could keep pace with the apprehensions on her back.
Scouring with her eyes the highway ahead of her, shooting hawk's
glances into the forest on each side of her, the wife rode through
the distance all, all day, praying that the day might be long enough,
might equal the distance. The sun set, and night began to fall; but
she and Maid Marion were none the less fresh, except in the heart.
The moon rose straight before them down the road, lighting it and them
through the threatened obscurity. And so they came to trampled earth
and torn grass, and so she uncovered concealed footsteps, and so,
creeping on her hands and knees, she followed traces of blood, through
thicket and glade, into the deep forest, to a hastily piled hillock of
earth, gravel, and leaves. Burrowing with her hands, she came to it,
the naked body of her young husband, cold and stiff, foully murdered.
Maid Marion approached at her call. She wrapped him in her cloak,
and--a young wife of those times alone would do it--put him in the
saddle before her: the good mare Maid Marion alone knows the rest. In
the early gray dawn, from one highway there rode into the town the
baffled pursuers, from the other the grandmother's grandmother,
clasping the corpse of her husband with arms as stiff as his own;
loving him, so the grandmother used to say, with a love which, if ever
love could do so, would have effected a resurrection.
THE OLD LADY'S RESTORATION
The news came out in the papers that the old lady had been restored
to her fortune. She had been deprived of it so long ago that the real
manner of her dispossession had become lost, or at least hidden under
the many versions that had been invented to replace lapses of memory,
or to remedy the unpicturesqueness of the original truth. The face of
truth, like the face of many a good woman, is liable to the accident
of ugliness, and the desire to embellish one as well as the other
need not necessarily proceed from anything more harmful than an
overweighted love of the beautiful.
If the old lady had not been restored to her fortune, her _personalia_
would have remained in the oblivion which, as one might say, had
accumulated upon everything belonging to her. But after that newspaper
paragraph, there was such a flowering of memory around her name as
would have done credit to a whole cemetery on All Saints. It took
three generations to do justice to the old lady, for so long and so
slow had been her descent into poverty that a grandmother was needed
to remember her setting out upon the road to it.
She set out as most people do, well provided with money, diamonds,
pretty clothing, handsome residence, equipage, opera-box, beaus (for
she was a widow), and so many, many friends that she could never
indulge in a small party--she always had to give a grand ball
to accommodate them. She made quite an occasion of her first
reverse,--some litigation decided against her,--and said it came from
the court's' having only one ear, and that preempted by the other
She always said whatever she thought, regardless of the consequences,
because she averred truth was so much more interesting than falsehood.
Nothing annoyed her more in society than to have to listen to the
compositions women make as a substitute for the original truth. It was
as if, when she went to the theater to hear Shakspere and Moliere,
the actors should try to impose upon the audience by reciting lines
of their own. Truth was the wit of life and the wit of books. She
traveled her road from affluence so leisurely that nothing escaped her
eyes or her feelings, and she signaled unhesitatingly every stage in
"My dear, do you know there is really such a thing as existence
without a carriage and horses?"--"I assure you it is perfectly new to
me to find that an opera-box is not a necessity. It is a luxury. In
theory one can really never tell the distinction between luxuries and
necessities."--"How absurd! At one time I thought hair was given
us only to furnish a profession to hair-dressers; just as we wear
artificial flowers to support the flower-makers."--"Upon my word,
it is not uninteresting. There is always some _haute nouveaute_ in
economy. The ways of depriving one's self are infinite. There is wine,
now."--"Not own your residence! As soon not own your tomb as your
residence! My mama used to scream that in my ears. According to her,
it was not _comme il faut_ to board or live in a rented house.
How little she knew!"
When her friends, learning her increasing difficulties, which they did
from the best authority (herself), complimented her, as they were
forced to do, upon her still handsome appearance, pretty laces,
feathers, jewelry, silks, "Fat," she would answer--"fat. I am living
off my fat, as bears do in winter. In truth, I remind myself of an
animal in more ways than one."
And so every one had something to contribute to the conversation about
her--bits which, they said, affection and admiration had kept alive in
Each city has its own roads to certain ends, its ways of Calvary, so
to speak. In New Orleans the victim seems ever to walk down Royal
street and up Chartres, or _vice versa_. One would infer so, at least,
from the display in the shops and windows of those thorough-fares.
Old furniture, cut glass, pictures, books, jewelry, lace, china--the
fleece (sometimes the flesh still sticking to it) left on the
brambles by the driven herd. If there should some day be a trump of
resurrection for defunct fortunes, those shops would be emptied in
the same twinkling of the eye allowed to tombs for their rendition of
The old lady must have made that promenade many, many times, to judge
by the samples of her "fat or fleece" displayed in the windows. She
took to hobbling, as if from tired or sore feet.
"It is nothing," in answer to an inquiry. "Made-to-order feet learning
to walk in ready-made shoes: that is all. One's feet, after all, are
the most unintelligent part of one's body." Tea was her abomination,
coffee her adoration; but she explained: "Tea, you know, is so
detestable that the very worst is hardly worse than the very best;
while coffee is so perfect that the smallest shade of impurity is not
to be tolerated. The truly economical, I observe, always drink tea."
"At one time I thought if all the luxuries of the world were exposed
to me, and but one choice allowed, I should select gloves. Believe me,
there is no superfluity in the world so easily dispensed with."
As may be supposed, her path led her farther and farther away from her
old friends. Even her intimates became scarce; so much so, that these
observations, which, of course, could be made only to intimates,
became fewer and fewer, unfortunately, for her circumstances were
becoming such that the remarks became increasingly valuable. The last
thing related of her was apropos of friends.
"My friends! My dear, I cannot tell you just so, on the spur of the
moment, but with a little reflection and calculation I could tell you,
to a picayune, the rent of every friend in the market. You can lease,
rent, or hire them, like horses, carriages, opera-boxes, servants, by
year, month, day, or hour; and the tariff is just as fixed.
"Christians! Christians are the most discreet people in the world. If
you should ask me what Christianity has most promoted in the world, I
should answer without hesitation, discretion. Of course, when I say
the world I mean society, and when I say Christianity I mean our
interpretation of it. If only duns could be pastors, and pastors duns!
But of course you do not know what duns are; they are the guardian
angels of the creditor, the pursuing fiends of the debtor."
After that, the old lady made her disappearance under the waves of
that sea into the depths of which it is very improbable that a single
friend ever attempted to pursue her. And there she remained until the
news came that she was restored to fortune.
A week passed, two weeks; no sight or sound of her. It was during this
period that her old friends were so occupied resuscitating their old
friendships for her--when all her antique sayings and doings became
current ball-room and dinner-table gossip--that she arose from her
obscurity like Cinderella from her ashes, to be decked with every gift
that fairy minds could suggest. Those who had known her intimately
made no effort to conceal their importance. Those who did not know her
personally put forward claims of inherited friendship, and those who
did not know her traditionally or otherwise--the _nouveaux riches_
and _parvenus_, who alone feel the moneyed value of such social
connections--began making their resolutions to capture her as soon as
she came in sight of society.
The old residence was to be re-bought, and refurnished from France;
the _avant scene_ at the opera had been engaged; the old cook was to
be hired back from the club at a fabulous price; the old balls and the
old dinners were to gladden the city--so said they who seemed to know.
Nothing was to be spared, nothing stinted--at her age, with no child
or relative, and life running short for pleasure. Diamonds, laces,
velvets, champagne, Chateau Yquem--"Grand Dieu Seigneur!" the old
Creole servants exclaimed, raising their hands at the enumeration of
Where the news came from nobody knew, but everything was certified
and accepted as facts, although, as between women, the grain of salt
should have been used. Impatience waxed, until nearly every day some
one would ring the bell of the old residence, to ask when the mistress
was going to move in. And such affectionate messages! And people would
not, simply could not, be satisfied with the incomprehensible answers.
And then it leaked out. The old lady was simply waiting for everything
to arrive--furniture, toilets, carriage, etc.--to make a grand
_entree_ into her old sphere; to come riding on a throne, as it were.
And still the time passed, and she did not come. Finally two of the
clever-heads penetrated the enigma: _mauvaise honte_, shyness--so long
out of the world, so old; perhaps not sure of her welcome. So they
determined to seek her out.
[Illustration: THE ROOM IN THE OLD GALLERY.]
"We will go to her, like children to a grandmother, etc. The others
have no delicacy of sentiment, etc. And she will thus learn who really
remember, really love her, etc."
Provided with congratulatory bouquets, they set forth. It is very hard
to find a dweller on the very sea-bottom of poverty. Perhaps that is
why the effort is so seldom made. One has to ask at grocers' shops,
groggeries, market-stalls, Chinese restaurants; interview corner
cobblers, ragpickers, gutter children. But nothing is impossible to
the determined. The two ladies overcame all obstacles, and needled
their way along, where under other circumstances they would not have
glanced, would have thought it improper to glance.
They were directed through an old, old house, out on an old, old
gallery, to a room at the very extreme end.
"Poor thing! Evidently she has not heard the good news yet. We will
be the first to communicate it," they whispered, standing before the
dilapidated, withered-looking door.
Before knocking, they listened, as it is the very wisdom of discretion
to do. There was life inside, a little kind of voice, like some one
trying to hum a song with a very cracked old throat.
The ladies opened the door. "Ah, my friend!"
"Ah, my friend!"
"Just the same!"
"Exactly the same!"
It was which one would get to her first with bouquet and kiss,
competition almost crowding friendship.
"The good news!"
"The good news!"
"We could not stay!"
"We had to come!"
"It has arrived at last!"
"At last it has arrived!"
The old lady was very much older, but still the same.
"You will again have a chance!"
"Restored to your friends!"
"Comforts! Luxuries!" At last the old lady had an opportunity to slip
in a word. "And friends! You say right."
There was a pause--a pause which held not a small measure of
embarrassment. But the two visitors, although they were women of the
world, and so dreaded an embarrassment more than they did sin, had
prepared themselves even to stand this.
The old lady standing there--she was very much thinner, very much
bent, but still the same--appeared to be looking not at them, but at
"Comfort!" She opened a pot bubbling on the fire. "Bouillon! A good
five-cent bouillon. Luxury!" She picked up something from a chair,
a handful of new cotton chemises. "Luxury!" She turned back her
bedspread: new cotton sheets. "Did you ever lie in your bed at night
and dream of sheets? Comfort! Luxury! I should say so! And friends! My
dear, look!" Opening her door, pointing to an opposite gallery, to
the yard, her own gallery; to the washing, ironing, sewing women, the
cobbling, chair-making, carpentering men; to the screaming, laughing,
crying, quarreling, swarming children. "Friends! All friends--friends
for fifteen years. Ah, yes, indeed! We are all glad--elated in fact.
As you say. I am restored."
The visitors simply reported that they had found the old lady, and
that she was imbecile; mind completely gone under stress of poverty
and old age. Their opinion was that she should be interdicted.
A DELICATE AFFAIR
"But what does this extraordinary display of light mean?" ejaculated
my aunt, the moment she entered the parlor from the dining-room. "It
looks like the kingdom of heaven in here! Jules! Jules!" she called,
"come and put out some of the light!"
Jules was at the front door letting in the usual Wednesday-evening
visitor, but now he came running in immediately with his own invention
in the way of a gas-stick,--a piece of broom-handle notched at the
end,--and began turning one tap after the other, until the room was
reduced to complete darkness.
"But what do you mean now, Jules?" screamed the old lady again.
"Pardon, madame," answered Jules, with dignity; "it is an accident. I
thought there was one still lighted."
"An accident! An accident! Do you think I hire you to perform
accidents for me? You are just through telling me that it was accident
made you give me both soup and gumbo for dinner today."
"But accidents can always happen, madame," persisted Jules, adhering
to his position.
The chandelier, a design of originality in its day, gave light by what
purported to be wax candles standing each in a circlet of pendent
crystals. The usual smile of ecstatic admiration spread over Jules's
features as he touched the match to the simulated wicks, and lighted
into life the rainbows in the prisms underneath. It was a smile that
did not heighten the intelligence of his features, revealing as it did
the toothless condition of his gums.
"What will madame have for her dinner tomorrow," looking benignantly
at his mistress, and still standing under his aureole.
"Do I ever give orders for one dinner, with the other one still on my
"I only asked madame; there is no harm in asking." He walked away, his
long stiff white apron rattling like a petticoat about him. Catching
sight of the visitor still standing at the threshold: "Oh, madame,
here is Mr. Horace. Shall I let him in?"
"Idiot! Every Wednesday you ask me that question, and every Wednesday
I answer the same way. Don't you think I could tell you when not to let
him in without your asking?"
"Oh, well, madame, one never knows; it is always safe to ask."
The appearance of the gentleman started a fresh subject of excitement.
"Jules! Jules! You have left that front door unlocked again!"
"Excuse me," said Mr. Horace; "Jules did not leave the front door
unlocked. It was locked when I rang, and he locked it again most
carefully after letting me in. I have been standing outside all the
while the gas was being extinguished and relighted."
"Ah, very well, then. And what is the news?" She sank into her
arm-chair, pulled her little card-table closer, and began shuffling
the cards upon it for her game of solitaire. "I never hear any news,
you know. She [nodding toward me] goes out, but she never learns
anything. She is as stupid tonight as an empty bottle."
After a few passes her hands, which were slightly tremulous, regained
some of their wonted steadiness and brilliancy of movement, and the
cards dropped rapidly on the table. Mr. Horace, as he had got into
the habit of doing, watched her mechanically, rather absent-mindedly
retailing what he imagined would interest her, from his week's
observation and hearsay. And madame's little world revolved, complete
for her, in time, place, and personality.
It was an old-fashioned square room with long ceiling, and broad, low
windows heavily curtained with stiff silk brocade, faded by time into
mellowness. The tall white-painted mantel carried its obligation of
ornaments well: a gilt clock which under a glass case related some
brilliant poetical idyl, and told the hours only in an insignificant
aside, according to the delicate politeness of bygone French taste;
flanked by duplicate continuations of the same idyl in companion
candelabra, also under glass; Sevres, or imitation Sevres vases, and
a crowd of smaller objects to which age and rarity were slowly
contributing an artistic value. An oval mirror behind threw replicas
of them into another mirror, receiving in exchange the reflected
portrait of madame in her youth, and in the partial nudity in which
innocence was limned in madame's youth. There were besides mirrors on
the other three walls of the room, all hung with such careful intent
for the exercise of their vocation that the apartment, in spots,
extended indefinitely; the brilliant chandelier was thereby
quadrupled, and the furniture and ornaments multiplied everywhere
and most unexpectedly into twins and triplets, producing such
sociabilities among them, and forcing such correspondences between
inanimate objects with such hospitable insistence, that the effect was
full of gaiety and life, although the interchange in reality was the
mere repetition of one original, a kind of phonographic echo.
The portrait of monsieur, madame's handsome young husband, hung out
of the circle of radiance, in the isolation that, wherever they hang,
always seems to surround the portraits of the dead.
Old as the parlors appeared, madame antedated them by the sixteen
years she had lived before her marriage, which had been the occasion
of their furnishment. She had traveled a considerable distance over
the sands of time since the epoch commemorated by the portrait.
Indeed, it would require almost documentary evidence to prove that
she, who now was arriving at eighty, was the same Atalanta that had
started out so buoyantly at sixteen.
Instead of a cap, she wore black lace over her head, pinned with gold
brooches. Her white hair curled naturally over a low forehead. Her
complexion showed care--and powder. Her eyes were still bright, not
with the effete intelligence of old age, but with actual potency. She
wore a loose black sack flowered in purple, and over that a black lace
mantle, fastened with more gold brooches.
She played her game of solitaire rapidly, impatiently, and always won;
for she never hesitated to cheat to get out of a tight place, or
into a favorable one, cheating with the quickness of a flash, and
forgetting it the moment afterward.
Mr. Horace was as old as she, but he looked much younger, although
his dress and appearance betrayed no evidence of an effort in that
direction. Whenever his friend cheated, he would invariably call her
attention to it; and as usual she would shrug her shoulders, and say,
"Bah! lose a game for a card!" and pursue the conversation.
He happened to mention mushrooms--fresh mushrooms. She threw down
her cards before the words were out of his mouth, and began to call,
"Jules! Jules!" Mr. Horace pulled the bell-cord, but madame was
too excitable for that means of communication. She ran into the
antechamber, and put her head over the banisters, calling, "Jules!
Jules!" louder and louder. She might have heard Jules's slippered feet
running from the street into the corridor and up-stairs, had she not
been so deaf. He appeared at the door.
"But where have you been? Here I have been raising the house a
half-hour, calling you. You have been in the street. I am sure you
have been in the street."
"Madame is very much mistaken," answered Jules, with resentful
dignity. He had taken off his white apron of waiter, and was
disreputable in all the shabbiness of his attire as cook. "When madame
forbids me to go into the street, I do not go into the street. I was
in the kitchen; I had fallen asleep. What does madame desire?" smiling
"What is this I hear? Fresh mushrooms in the market!"
"Fresh mushrooms in the market, and you have not brought me any!"
"Madame, there are fresh mushrooms everywhere in the market," waving
his hand to show their universality.
"Everybody is eating them--"
"Old Pomponnette," Jules continued, "only this morning offered me a
plate, piled up high, for ten cents."
"Idiot! Why did you not buy them?"
"If madame had said so; but madame did not say so. Madame said, 'Soup,
Jules; carrots, rice,'" counting on his fingers.
"And the gumbo?"
"I have explained that that was an accident. Madame said 'Soup,'"
enumerating his menu again; "madame never once said mushrooms."
"But how could I know there were mushrooms in the market? Do I go to
"That is it!" and Jules smiled at the question thus settled.
"If you had told me there were mushrooms in the market--" pursued
madame, persisting in treating Jules as a reasonable being.
"Why did not madame ask me? If madame had asked me, surely I would
have told madame. Yesterday Caesar brought them to the door--a whole
bucketful for twenty-five cents. I had to shut the door in his face to
get rid of him," triumphantly.
"And you brought me yesterday those detestable peas!"
"Ah," shrugging his shoulders, "madame told me to buy what I saw. I
saw peas. I bought them."
"Well, understand now, once for all: whenever you see mushrooms, no
matter what I ordered, you buy them. Do you hear?"
"No, madame. Surely I cannot buy mushrooms unless madame orders them.
Madame's disposition is too quick."
"But I do order them. Stupid! I do order them. I tell you to buy them
"And if there are none in the market every day?"
"Go away! Get out of my sight! I do not want to see you. Ah, it is
unendurable! I must--I must get rid of him!" This last was not
a threat, as Jules knew only too well. It was merely a habitual
During the colloquy Mr. Horace, leaning back in his arm-chair, raised
his eyes, and caught the reflected portrait of madame in the mirror
before him--the reflection so much softer and prettier, so much more
ethereal, than the original painting. Indeed, seen in the mirror, that
way, the portrait was as refreshing as the most charming memory. He
pointed to it when madame, with considerable loss of temper, regained
"It is as beautiful as the past," he explained most unnaturally, for
he and his friend had a horror of looking at the long, long past,
which could not fail to remind them of--what no one cares to
contemplate out of church. Making an effort toward some determination
which a subtle observer might have noticed weighing upon him all the
evening, he added: "And, apropos of the past--"
"_Hein_?" interrogated the old lady, impatiently, still under the
influence of her irascibility about the mushrooms.
He moved his chair closer, and bent forward, as if his communication
were to be confidential.
"Ah, bah! Speak louder!" she cried. "One would suppose you had some
secret to tell. What secrets can there be at our age?" She took up her
cards and began to play. There could be no one who bothered herself
less about the forms of politeness.
"Yes, yes," answered Mr. Horace, throwing himself back into his chair;
"what secrets can there be at our age?"
The remark seemed a pregnant one to him; he gave himself up to it. One
must evidently be the age of one's thoughts. Mr. Horace's thoughts
revealed him the old man he was. The lines in his face deepened into
wrinkles; his white mustache could not pretend to conceal his mouth,
worsened by the loss of a tooth or two; and the long, thin hand that
propped his head was crossed with blue, distended veins. "At the last
judgment"--it was a favorite quotation with him--"the book of our
conscience will be read aloud before the whole company."
But the old lady, deep in her game, paid no more heed to his quotation
than to him. He made a gesture toward her portrait.
"When that was painted, Josephine--"
Madame threw a glance after the gesture. The time was so long ago, the
mythology of Greece hardly more distant! At eighty the golden age of
youth must indeed appear an evanescent myth. Madame's ideas seemed to
take that direction.
"Ah, at that time we were all nymphs, and you all demigods."
"Demigods and nymphs, yes; but there was one among us who was a god
with you all."
The allusion--a frequent one with Mr. Horace--was to madame's husband,
who in his day, it is said, had indeed played the god in the little
Arcadia of society. She shrugged her shoulders. The truth is so little
of a compliment The old gentleman sighed in an abstracted way, and
madame, although apparently absorbed in her game, lent her ear. It is
safe to say that a woman is never too old to hear a sigh wafted in her
"Josephine, do you remember--in your memory--"
She pretended not to hear. Remember? Who ever heard of her forgetting?
But she was not the woman to say, at a moment's notice, what she
remembered or what she forgot.
"A woman's memory! When I think of a woman's memory--in fact, I do not
like to think of a woman's memory. One can intrude in imagination into
many places; but a woman's memory--"
Mr. Horace seemed to lose his thread. It had been said of him in
his youth that he wrote poetry--and it was said against him. It was
evidently such lapses as these that had given rise to the accusation.
And as there was no one less impatient under sentiment or poetry
than madame, her feet began to agitate themselves as if Jules were
perorating some of his culinary inanities before her.
"And a man's memory!" totally misunderstanding him. "It is not there
that I either would penetrate, my friend. A man--"
When madame began to talk about men she was prompted by imagination
just as much as was Mr. Horace when he talked about women. But what a
difference in their sentiments! And yet he had received so little, and
she so much, from the subjects of their inspiration. But that seems to
be the way in life--or in imagination.
"That you should"--he paused with the curious shyness of the old
before the word "love"--"that you two should--marry--seemed natural,
inevitable, at the time."
Tradition records exactly the same comment by society at the time on
the marriage in question. Society is ever fatalistic in its comments.
"But the natural--the inevitable--do we not sometimes, I wonder,
perform them as Jules does his accidents?"
"Ah, do not talk about that idiot! An idiot born and bred! I won't
have him about me! He is a monstrosity! I tell his grandmother that
every day when she comes to comb me. What a farce--what a ridiculous
farce comfortable existence has become with us! Fresh mushrooms in
market, and bring me carrots!"
The old gentleman, partly from long knowledge of her habit, or from an
equally persistent bend of his own, quietly held on to his idea.
"One cannot tell. It seems so at the time. We like to think it so; it
makes it easier. And yet, looking back on our future as we once looked
forward to it--"
"Eh! but who wants to look back on it, my friend? Who in the world
wants to look back on it?" One could not doubt madame's energy of
opinion on that question to hear her voice. "We have done our future,
we have performed it, if you will. Our future! It is like the dinners
we have eaten; of course we cannot remember the good without becoming
exasperated over the bad: but"--shrugging her shoulders--"since we
cannot beat the cooks, we must submit to fate," forcing a queen that
she needed at the critical point of her game.
"At sixteen and twenty-one it is hard to realize that one is arranging
one's life to last until sixty, seventy, forever," correcting himself
as he thought of his friend, the dead husband. If madame had ever
possessed the art of self-control, it was many a long day since she
had exercised it; now she frankly began to show ennui.
"When I look back to that time,"--Mr. Horace leaned back in his chair
and half closed his eyes, perhaps to avoid the expression of her
face,--"I see nothing but lights and flowers, I hear nothing but music
and laughter; and all--lights and flowers and music and laughter--seem
to meet in this room, where we met so often to arrange
our--inevitabilities." The word appeared to attract him.
"Josephine,"--with a sudden change of voice and manner,--"Josephine,
how beautiful you were!"
The old lady nodded her head without looking from her cards.
"They used to say," with sad conviction of the truth of his
testimony--"the men used to say that your beauty was irresistible.
None ever withstood you. None ever could."
That, after all, was Mr. Horace's great charm with madame; he was so
faithful to the illusions of his youth. As he looked now at her, one
could almost feel the irresistibility of which he spoke.
"It was only their excuse, perhaps; we could not tell at the time; we
cannot tell even now when we think about it. They said then, talking
as men talk over such things, that you were the only one who could
remain yourself under the circumstances; you were the only one who
could know, who could will, under the circumstances. It was their
theory; men can have only theories about such things." His voice
dropped, and he seemed to drop too, into some abysm of thought.
Madame looked into the mirror, where she could see the face of the one
who alone could retain her presence of mind under the circumstances
suggested by Mr. Horace. She could also have seen, had she wished it,
among the reflected bric-a-brac of the mantel, the corner of the frame
that held the picture of her husband, but peradventure, classing it
with the past which held so many unavenged bad dinners, she never
thought to link it even by a look with her emotions of the present.
Indeed, it had been said of her that in past, present, and future
there had ever been but the one picture to interest her eyes--the
one she was looking at now. This, however, was the remark of the
uninitiated, for the true passion of a beautiful woman is never so
much for her beauty as for its booty; as the passion of a gamester is
for his game, not for his luck.
"How beautiful _she_ was!"
It was apparently down in the depths of his abysm that he found the
connection between this phrase and his last, and it was evidently to
himself he said it. Madame, however, heard and understood too; in
fact, traced back to a certain period, her thoughts and Mr. Horace's
must have been fed by pretty much the same subjects. But she had
so carefully barricaded certain issues in her memory as almost to
obstruct their flow into her life; if she were a cook, one would
say that it was her bad dinners which she was trying to keep out of
"You there, he there, she there, I there." He pointed to the places on
the carpet, under the chandelier; he could have touched them with a
walking-stick, and the recollection seemed just as close.
"She was, in truth, what we men called her then; it was her eyes
that first suggested it--Myosotis, the little blue flower, the
for-get-me-not. It suited her better than her own name. We always
called her that among ourselves. How beautiful she was!" He leaned his
head on his hand and looked where he had seen her last--so long, such
an eternity, ago.
It must be explained for the benefit of those who do not live in the
little world where an allusion is all that is necessary to put one in
full possession of any drama, domestic or social, that Mr. Horace was
speaking of the wedding-night of madame, when the bridal party stood
as he described under the chandelier; the bride and groom, with each
one's best friend. It may be said that it was the last night or time
that madame had a best friend of her own sex. Social gossip, with
characteristic kindness, had furnished reasons to suit all tastes, why
madame had ceased that night to have a best friend of her own sex. If
gossip had not done so, society would still be left to its imagination
for information, for madame never tolerated the smallest appeal to her
for enlightenment. What the general taste seemed most to relish as a
version was that madame in her marriage had triumphed, not conquered;
and that the night of her wedding she had realized the fact, and, to
be frank, had realized it ever since. In short, madame had played then
to gain at love, as she played now to gain at solitaire; and hearts
were no more than cards to her--and, "Bah! Lose a game for a card!"
must have been always her motto. It is hard to explain it delicately
enough, for these are the most delicate affairs in life; but the image
of Myosotis had passed through monsieur's heart, and Myosotis does
mean "forget me not." And madame well knew that to love monsieur once
was to love him always, in spite of jealousy, doubt, distrust, nay,
unhappiness (for to love him meant all this and more). He was that
kind of man, they said, whom women could love even against conscience.
Madame never forgave that moment. Her friend, at least, she could put
aside out of her intercourse; unfortunately, we cannot put people out
of our lives. God alone can do that, and so far he had interfered in
the matter only by removing monsieur. It was known to notoriety that
since her wedding madame had abandoned, destroyed, all knowledge of
her friend. And the friend? She had disappeared as much as is possible
for one in her position and with her duties.
"What there is in blue eyes, light hair, and a fragile form to impress
one, I cannot tell; but for us men it seems to me it is blue-eyed,
light-haired, and fragile-formed women that are the hardest to
"The less easy to forget," corrected madam. He paid no attention
to the remark.
"They are the women that attach themselves in one's memory. If
necessary to keep from being forgotten, they come back into one's
dreams. And as life rolls on, one wonders about them,--'Is she happy?
Is she miserable? Goes life well or ill with her?'"
Madame played her cards slowly, one would say, for her, prosaically.
"And there is always a pang when, as one is so wondering, the response
comes,--that is, the certainty in one's heart responds,--'She is
miserable, and life goes ill with her.' Then, if ever, men envy the
power of God."
Madame threw over the game she was in, and began a new one.
"Such women should not be unhappy; they are too fragile, too
sensitive, too trusting. I could never understand the infliction
of misery upon them. I could send death to them, but not--not
Madame, forgetting again to cheat in time, and losing her game, began
impatiently to shuffle her cards for a new deal.
"And yet, do you know, Josephine, those women are the unhappy ones of
life. They seem predestined to it, as others"--looking at madame's
full-charmed portrait--"are predestined to triumph and victory.
They"--unconscious, in his abstraction, of the personal nature of his
simile--"never know how to handle their cards, and they always play a
"Ha!" came from madame, startled into an irate ejaculation.
"It is their love always that is sacrificed, their hearts always that
are bruised. One might say that God himself favors the black-haired
As his voice sank lower and lower, the room seemed to become stiller
and stiller. A passing vehicle in the street, however, now and then
drew a shiver of sound from the pendent prisms of the chandelier.
"She was so slight, so fragile, and always in white, with blue in her
hair to match her eyes--and--God knows what in her heart, all the
time. And yet they stand it, they bear it, they do not die, they live
along with the strongest, the happiest, the most fortunate of us,"
bitterly; "and"--raising his eyes to his old friend, who thereupon
immediately began to fumble her cards--"whenever in the street I see
a poor, bent, broken woman's figure, I know, without verifying it
any more by a glance, that it is the wreck of a fair woman's figure;
whenever I hear of a bent, broken existence, I know, without asking
any more, that it is the wreck of a fair woman's life."
Poor Mr. Horace spoke with the unreason of a superstitious bigot.
"I have often thought, since, in large assemblies, particularly in
weddings, Josephine, of what was going on in the women's hearts there,
and I have felt sorry for them; and when I think of God's knowing what
is in their hearts, I have felt sorry for the men. And I often think
now, Josephine,--think oftener and oftener of it,--that if the
resurrection trumpet of our childhood should sound some day, no matter
when, out there, over the old St. Louis cemetery, and we should all
have to rise from our long rest of oblivion, what would be the first
thing we should do? And though there were a God and a heaven awaiting
us,--by that same God, Josephine, I believe that our first thought in
awakening would be the last in dying,--confession,--and that our first
rush would be to the feet of one another for forgiveness. For there
are some offenses that must outlast the longest oblivion, and a
forgiveness that will be more necessary than God's own. Then our
hearts will be bared to one another; for if, as you say, there are
no secrets at our age, there can still be less cause for them after
His voice ended in the faintest whisper. The table crashed over, and
the cards flew wide-spread on the floor. Before we could recover,
madame was in the antechamber, screaming for Jules.
One would have said that, from her face, the old lady had witnessed
the resurrection described by Mr. Horace, the rush of the spirits with
their burdens of remorse, the one to the feet of the other; and she
must have seen herself and her husband, with a unanimity of purpose
never apparent in their short married life, rising from their common
tomb and hastening to that other tomb at the end of the alley, and
falling at the feet of the one to whom in life he had been recreant in
love, she in friendship.
Of course Jules answered through the wrong door, rushing in with his
gas-stick, and turning off the gas. In a moment we were involved in
darkness and dispute.
"But what does he mean? What does the idiot mean? He--" It was
impossible for her to find a word to do justice to him and to her
exasperation at the same time.
"Pardon, madame; it is not I. It is the cathedral bell; it is ringing
"Madame can hear it herself. Listen!" We could not see it, but we were
conscious of the benign, toothless smile spreading over his face as
the bell-tones fell in the room.
"But it is not the gas. I--"
"Pardon, madame; but it is the gas. Madame said, 'Jules, put out the
gas every night when the bell rings.' Madame told me that only last
night. The bell rings: I put out the gas."
"Will you be silent? Will you listen?"
"If madame wishes; just as madame says."
But the old lady had turned to Mr. Horace. "Horace, you have seen--you
know--" and it was a question now of overcoming emotion. "I--I--I--a
carriage, my friend, a carriage."
"Madame--" Jules interrupted his smile to interrupt her.
She was walking around the room, picking up a shawl here, a lace
there; for she was always prepared against draughts.
"Madame--" continued Jules, pursuing her.
"If madame would only listen, I was going to say--but madame is too
quick in her disposition--the carriage has been waiting since a long
hour ago. Mr. Horace said to have it there in a half hour."
It was then she saw for the first time that it had all been prepared
by Mr. Horace. The rest was easy enough: getting into the carriage,
and finding the place of which Mr. Horace had heard, as he said, only
that afternoon. In it, on her bed of illness, poverty, and suffering,
lay the patient, wasted form of the beautiful fair one whom men had
called in her youth Myosotis.
But she did not call her Myosotis.
"_Mon Amour!_" The old pet name, although it had to be fetched across
more than half a century of disuse, flashed like lightning from
madame's heart into the dim chamber.
"_Ma Divine!_" came in counter-flash from the curtained bed.
In the old days women, or at least young girls, could hazard such pet
names one upon the other. These--think of it!--dated from the first
communion class, the dating period of so much of friendship.
"My poor Amour!"
"My poor, poor Divine!"
The voices were together, close beside the pillow.
"I--I--" began Divine.
"It could not have happened if God had not wished it," interrupted
poor Amour, with the resignation that comes, alas! only with the last
drop of the bitter cup.
And that was about all. If Mr. Horace had not slipped away, he might
have noticed the curious absence of monsieur's name, and of his own
name, in the murmuring that followed. It would have given him some
more ideas on the subject of woman.
At any rate, the good God must thank him for having one affair the
less to arrange when the trumpet sounds out there over the old St.
Louis cemetery. And he was none too premature; for the old St. Louis
cemetery, as was shortly enough proved, was a near reach for all three
of the old friends.
Every day, every day, it was the same overture in Madame Joubert's
room in the Institute St. Denis; the strident:
"Mesdemoiselles; a vos places! Notre Pere qui est dans le ciel--Qui a
fait ce bruit?"
"It's Pupasse, madame! It's Pupasse!" The answer invariably was
"But, Madame Joubert,--I assure you, Madame Joubert,--I could not help
it! They know I could not help it!"
By this time the fresh new fool's cap made from yesterday's "Bee"
would have been pinned on her head.
"Quelle injustice! Quelle injustice!"
This last apostrophe in a high, whining nasal voice, always procured
Pupasse's elevation on the tall three-legged stool in the corner.
It was a theory of the little girls in the primary class that Madame
Joubert would be much more lenient to their own little inevitabilities
of bad conduct and lessons if Pupasse did not invariably comb her
the wrong way every morning after prayers, by dropping something,
or sniffling, or sneezing. Therefore, while they distractedly got
together books, slates, and copy-books, their infantile eyes found
time to dart deadly reproaches toward the corner of penitence, and
their little lips, still shaped from their first nourishment, pouted
anything but sympathy for the occupant of it.
Indeed, it would have been a most startling unreality to have ever
entered Madame Joubert's room and not seen Pupasse in that corner, on
that stool, her tall figure shooting up like a post, until her tall,
pointed _bonnet d' ane_ came within an inch or two of the ceiling.
It was her hoop-skirt that best testified to her height. It was the
period of those funnel-shaped hoop-skirts that spread out with such
nice mathematical proportions, from the waist down, that it seemed
they must have emanated from the brains of astronomers, like the
orbits, and diameters, and other things belonging to the heavenly
bodies. Pupasse could not have come within three feet of the wall with
her hoop-skirt distended. To have forced matters was not to be thought
of an instant. So even in her greatest grief and indignation, she had
to pause before the three-legged black stool, and gather up steel
after steel of her circumference in her hands behind, until her calico
skirt careened and flattened; and so she could manage to accommodate
herself to the limited space of her punishment, the circles drooping
far over her feet as she stood there, looking like the costumed stick
of a baby's rattle.
Her thinness continued into her face, which, unfortunately, had
nothing in the way of toilet to assist it. Two little black eyes fixed
in the sides of a mere fence of a nose, and a mouth with the shape and
expression of all mouths made to go over sharp-pointed teeth planted
very far apart; the smallest amount possible of fine, dry, black
hair--a perfect rat-tail when it was plaited in one, as almost all
wore their hair. But sometimes Pupasse took it into her head to plait
it in two braids, as none but the thick-haired ventured to wear it.
As the little girls said, it was a petition to Heaven for "eau
Quinquina." When Marcelite, the hair-dresser, came at her regular
periods to visit the hair of the boarders, she would make an effort
with Pupasse, plaiting her hundred hairs in a ten-strand braid. The
effect was a half yard of black worsted galloon; nothing more, or
better. Had Pupasse possessed as many heads as the hydra, she could
have "coiffe'd" them all with fools' caps during one morning's
recitations. She entirely monopolized the "Daily Bee." Madame Joubert
was forced to borrow from "madame" the stale weekly "Courrier des
Etats-Unis" for the rest of the room. From grammar, through sacred
history, arithmetic, geography, mythology, down to dictation, Pupasse
could pile up an accumulation of penitences that would have tasked the
limits of the current day had not recreation been wisely set as a term
which disbarred, by proscription, previous offenses. But even after
recreation, with that day's lessons safely out, punished and expiated,
Pupasse's doom seemed scarcely lightened; there was still a whole
criminal code of conduct to infract. The only difference was that
instead of books, slates, or copy-books, leathern medals, bearing
various legends and mottos, were hung around her neck--a travestied
decoration worse than the books for humiliation.
The "abecedaires," their torment for the day over, thankful for any
distraction from the next day's lessons, and eager for any relief
from the intolerable ennui of goodness, were thankful enough now for
Pupasse. They naturally watched her in preference to Madame Joubert,
holding their books and slates quite cunningly to hide their faces.
Pupasse had not only the genius, but that which sometimes fails
genius, the means for grimacing: little eyes, long nose, foolish
mouth, and pointed tongue. And she was so amusing, when Madame
Joubert's head was turned, that the little girls, being young and
innocent, would forget themselves and all burst out laughing. It
sounded like a flight of singing birds through the hot, close, stupid
little room; but not so to Madame Joubert.
"Young ladies! But what does this mean?"
And, terror-stricken, the innocents would call out with one voice,
"It's Pupasse, madame! It's Pupasse who made us laugh!" There was
nothing but fools' caps to be gained by prevaricating, and there was
frequently nothing less gained by confession. And oh, the wails and
the sobs as the innocents would be stood up, one by one, in their
places! Even the pigtails at the backs of their little heads were
convulsed with grief. Oh, how they hated Pupasse then! When their
_bonnes_ came for them at three o'clock,--washing their tear-stained
faces at the cistern before daring to take them through the
streets,--how passionately they would cry out, the tears breaking
afresh into the wet handkerchiefs:
"It's that Pupasse! It's that _vilaine_ Pupasse!"
To Pupasse herself would be meted out that "peine forte et dure," that
acme of humiliation and disgrace, so intensely horrible that many a
little girl in that room solemnly averred and believed she would kill
herself before submitting to it. Pupasse's voluminous calico skirt
would be gathered up by the hem and tied up over her head! Oh, the
horrible monstrosity on the stool in the corner then! There were no
eyes in that room that had any desire to look upon it. And the cries
and the "Quelle injustice!" that fell on the ears then from the hidden
feelings had all the weirdness of the unseen, but heard. And all the
other girls in the room, in fear and trembling, would begin to move
their lips in a perfect whirlwind of study, or write violently
on their slates, or begin at that very instant to rule off their
copy-books for the next day's verb.
Pupasse--her name was Marie Pupasse but no one thought of calling
her anything but Pupasse, with emphasis on the first syllable and
sibilance on the last--had no parents only a grandmother, to describe
whom, all that is necessary to say is that she was as short as Pupasse
was tall, and that her face resembled nothing so much as a little
yellow apple shriveling from decay. The old lady came but once a week,
to fetch Pupasse fresh clothes, and a great brown paper bag of nice
things to eat. There was no boarder in the school who received
handsomer bags of cake and fruit than Pupasse. And although, not two
hours before, a girl might have been foremost in the shrill cry, "It
is Pupasse who made the noise! It is Pupasse who made me laugh!" there
was nothing in that paper bag reserved even from such a one. When the
girl herself with native delicacy would, under the circumstances,
judge it discreet to refuse, Pupasse would plead, "Oh, but take it to
give me pleasure!" And if still the refusal continued, Pupasse would
take her bag and go into the summer-house in the corner of the garden,
and cry until the unforgiving one would relent. But the first offering
of the bag was invariably to the stern dispenser of fools' caps and
the unnamed humiliation of the reversed skirt: Madame Joubert.
Pupasse was in the fifth class. The sixth--the abecedaires--was
the lowest in the school. Green was the color of the fifth;
white--innocence--of the abecedaires. Exhibition after exhibition, the
same green sash and green ribbons appeared on Pupasse's white muslin,
the white muslin getting longer and longer every year, trying to keep
up with her phenomenal growth; and always, from all over the room,
buzzed the audience's suppressed merriment at Pupasse's appearance
in the ranks of the little ones of nine and ten. It was that very
merriment that brought about the greatest change in the Institute
St. Denis. The sitting order of the classes was reversed. The first
class--the graduates--went up to the top step of the _estrade_; and
the little ones put on the lowest, behind the pianos. The graduates
grumbled that it was not _comme il faut_ to have young ladies of their
position stepping like camels up and down those great steps; and the
little girls said it was a shame to hide them behind the pianos after
their mamas had taken so much pains to make them look pretty. But
madame said--going also to natural history for her comparison--that
one must be a rhinoceros to continue the former routine.
Religion cannot be kept waiting forever on the intelligence. It was
always in the fourth class that the first communion was made; that is,
when the girls stayed one year in each class. But Pupasse had spent
three years in the sixth class, and had already been four in
the fifth, and Madame Joubert felt that longer delay would be
disrespectful to the good Lord. It was true that Pupasse could not
yet distinguish the ten commandments from the seven capital sins, and
still would answer that Jeanne d'Arc was the foundress of the "Little
Sisters of the Poor." But, as Madame Joubert always said in the little
address she made to the catechism class every year before handing it
over to Father Dolomier, God judged from the heart, and not from the
Father Dolomier--from his face he would have been an able contestant
of _bonnets d'ane_ with Pupasse, if subjected to Madame Joubert's
discipline--evidently had the same method of judging as God, although
the catechism class said they could dance a waltz on the end of his
long nose without his perceiving it.
There is always a little air of mystery about the first communion: not
that there is any in reality, but the little ones assume it to render
themselves important. The going to early mass, the holding their
dog-eared catechisms as if they were relics, the instruction from the
priest, even if he were only old Father Dolomier--it all put such a
little air of devotion into their faces that it imposed (as it did
every year) upon their companions, which was a vastly gratifying
effect. No matter how young and innocent she may be, a woman's
devotion always seems to have two aims--God and her own sex.
The week of retreat came. Oh, the week of retreat! That was the _bonne
bouche_ of it all, for themselves and for the others. It was the same
every year. By the time the week of retreat arrived, interest and
mystery had been frothed to the point of indiscretion; so that the
little girls would stand on tiptoe to peep through the shutters at the
postulants inside, and even the larger girls, to whom first communion
was a thing of an infantile past, would condescend to listen to their
reports with ill-feigned indifference.
As the day of the first communion neared, the day of the general
confession naturally neared too, leading it. And then the little
girls, peeping through the shutters, and holding their breath to see
better, saw what they beheld every year; but it was always new and
awesome--mysterious scribbling in corners with lead-pencils on scraps
of paper; consultations; rewritings; copyings; the list of their sins,
of all the sins of their lives.
"_Ma chere!_"--pigtails and sunbonnets hiving outside would shudder.
"Oh, _Mon Dieu!_ To have to confess all--but _all_ your sins! As for
me, it would kill me, sure!"
And the frightful recoils of their consciences would make all
instantly blanch and cross themselves.
"And look at Pupasse's sins! Oh, but they are long! _Ma chere_, but
look! But look, I ask you, at them!"
The longest record was of course the most complimentary and honorable
to the possessor, as each girl naturally worked not only for
absolution but for fame.
Between catechisms and instructions Madame Joubert would have "La Vie
des Saints" read aloud, to stimulate their piety and to engage their
thoughts; for the thoughts of first communicants are worse than flies
for buzzing around the forbidden. The lecture must have been a great
quickener of conscience; for they would dare punishment and cheat
Madame Joubert, under her own eyes, in order surreptitiously to add a
new sin to their list. Of course the one hour's recreation could not
afford time enough for observation now, and the little girls were
driven to all sorts of excuses to get out of the classroom for one
moment's peep through the shutters; at which whole swarms of them
would sometimes be caught and sent into punishment.
Only two days more. Madame Joubert put them through the rehearsal,
a most important part of the preparation, almost as important as
catechism--how to enter the church, how to hold the candle, how to
advance, how to kneel, retire--everything, in fact.
Only one day more, the quietest, most devotional day of all. Pupasse
lost her sins!
Of course every year the same accident happened to some one. But it
was a new accident to Pupasse. And such a long list!
The commotion inside that retreat! Pupasse's nasal whine, carrying her
lament without any mystery to the outside garden. Such searching of
pockets, rummaging of corners, microscopic examination of the floor!
Such crimination and recrimination, protestation, asseveration,
assurances, backed by divine and saintly invocations! Pupasse accused
companion after companion of filching her sins, which each after
each would violently deny, producing each her own list from her own
pocket,--proof to conviction of innocence, and, we may say, of guilt
Pupasse declared they had niched it to copy, because her list was the
longest and most complete. She could not go to confession without her
sins; she could not go to communion without confession. The tears
rolled down her long thin nose unchecked, for she never could remember
to use her handkerchief until reminded by Madame Joubert.
She had committed it to memory, as all the others had done theirs;
but how was she to know without the list if she had not forgotten
something? And to forget one thing in a general confession they knew
was a mortal sin.
"I shall tell Madame Joubert! I shall tell Madame Joubert!"
"_Ma chere_!'" whispered the little ones outside. "Oh, but look at
them! _Elles font les quatre cents coups_!" which is equivalent to
"cutting up like the mischief."
And with reason. As if such an influx of the world upon them at this
moment were not sufficient of itself to damn them. But to tell Madame
Joubert! With all their dresses made and ready, wreaths, veils,
candles, prayer-books, picture-cards, mother-of-pearl prayer-beads,
and festival breakfasts with admiring family and friends prepared.
Tell Madame Joubert! She would simply cancel it all. In a body they
"I assure you, Pupasse!"
"On the cross, Pupasse!"
"We implore you, Pupasse!"
The only response--tears, and "I shall tell Madame Joubert."
Consultations, caucuses, individual appeals, general outbursts.
Pupasse stood in the corner. Curiously, she always sought refuge in
the very sanctum of punishment, her face hidden in her bended arms,
her hoops standing out behind, vouchsafing nothing but tears, and the
promise to tell Madame Joubert. And three o'clock approaching! And
Madame Joubert imminent! But Pupasse really could not go to confession
without her sins. They all recognized that; they were reasonable, as
they assured her.
A crisis quickens the wits. They heard the cathedral clock strike the
quarter to three. They whispered, suggested, argued--bunched in the
farthest corner from Pupasse.
"Console yourself, Pupasse! We will help you, Pupasse! Say no more
about it! We will help you!"
A delegate was sent to say that. She was only four feet and a half
high, and had to stand on tiptoe to pluck the six-foot Pupasse's dress
to gain her attention.
And they did help her generously. A new sheet of fool's-cap was
procured, and torn in two, lengthwise, and pinned in a long strip. One
by one, each little girl took it, and, retiring as far as possible,
would put her hand into her pocket, and, extracting her list, would
copy it in full on the new paper. Then she would fold it down, and
give it to the next one, until all had written.
"Here, Pupasse; here are all our sins. We give them to you; you can
Pupasse was radiant; she was more than delighted, and the more she
read the better pleased she was. Such a handsome long list, and so
many sins she had never thought of--never dreamed of! She set herself
with zeal to commit them to memory. But a hand on the door--Madame
Joubert! You never could have told that those little girls had not
been sitting during the whole time, with their hands clasped and eyes
cast up to the ceiling, or moving their lips as the prayer-beads
glided through their fingers. Their versatility was really marvelous.
[Illustration: THE FIRST COMMUNION.]
Poor Pupasse! God solved the dilemma of her education, and madame's
increasing sensitiveness about her appearance in the fifth class, by
the death of the old grandmother. She went home to the funeral, and
never returned--or at least she returned, but only for madame. There
was a little scene in the parlor: Pupasse, all dressed in black, with
her bag of primary books in her hand, ready and eager to get back to
her classes and fools' caps; madame, hesitating between her interests
and her fear of ridicule; Madame Joubert, between her loyalty to
school and her conscience. Pupasse the only one free and untrammeled,
simple and direct.
That little school parlor had been the stage for so many scenes!
Madame Joubert detested acting--the comedy, as she called it. There
was nothing she punished with more pleasure up in her room. And
"Pupasse, _ma fille_, give me your grammar."
The old battered, primitive book was gotten out of the bag, the string
still tied between the leaves for convenience in hanging around the
"Your last punishment: the rule for irregular verbs. Commence!"
"I know it, Madame Joubert; I know it perfectly, I assure you."
"Irregular verbs--but I assure you I know it--I know it by heart--"
"Commence, _ma fille!_"
"Irregular verbs--irregular verbs--I know it, Madame Joubert--one
moment--" and she shook her right hand, as girls do to get
inspiration, they say. "Irregular verbs--give me one word, Madame
Joubert; only one word!"
"Irregular verbs, that--irregular verbs, that--"
"See here, Pupasse; you do not know that lesson any more than a cat
does"--Madame Joubert's favorite comparison.
"Yes, I do, Madame Joubert! Yes, I do!"
"But, Madame Joubert--"
"Will you be silent!"
"Yes, Madame Joubert; only--"
"Pupasse, one more word--and--" Madame Joubert was forgetting her
comedy--"Listen, Pupasse, and obey! You go home and learn that lesson.
When you know it, you can reenter your class. That is the punishment I
have thought of to correct your 'want of attention.'"
That was the way Madame Joubert put it--"want of attention."
Pupasse looked at her--at madame, a silent but potent spectator. To
be sent from home because she did not know the rule of the irregular
verbs! To be sent from home, family, friends!--for that was the
way Pupasse put it. She had been in that school--it may only be
whispered--fifteen years. Madame Joubert knew it; so did madame,
although they accounted for only four or five years in each class.
That school was her home; Madame Joubert--God help her!--her mother;
madame, her divinity; fools' caps and turned-up skirts, her life.
The old grandmother--she it was who had done everything for her (a
_ci-devant_ rag-picker, they say); she it was who was nothing to her.
Madame must have felt something of it besides the loss of the
handsome salary for years from the little old withered woman.
But conventionality is inexorable; and the St. Denis's great
recommendation was its conventionality. Madame Joubert must have felt
something of it,--she must have felt something of it,--for why should
she volunteer? Certainly madame could not have imposed _that_ upon
_her. It must_ have been an inspiration of the moment, or a movement,
a _tressaillement_, of the heart.
"Listen, Pupasse, my child. Go home, study your lesson well. I shall
come every evening myself and hear it; and as soon as you know it, I
shall fetch you back myself. You know I always keep my word."
Keep her word! That she did. Could the inanimate past testify, what a
fluttering of fools' caps in that parlor--"Daily Bees," and "Weekly
Couriers," by the year-full!
What could Pupasse say or do? It settled the question, as Madame
Joubert assured madame, when the tall, thin black figure with the bag
of books disappeared through the gate.
Madame Joubert was never known to break her word; that is all one
knows about her part of the bargain.
One day, not three years ago, ringing a bell to inquire for a servant,
a familiar murmuring fell upon the ear, and an old abecedaire's eyes
could not resist the temptation to look through the shutters. There
sat Pupasse; there was her old grammar; there were both fingers
stopping her ears--as all studious girls do, or used to do; and there
sounded the old words composing the rule for irregular verbs.
And you all remember how long it is since we wore funnel-shaped