back room, in the fluxes and refluxes of buying
and selling; not valueless, however -
rely upon a negro-trader for discovering
values as substitutes, as panaceas. She earned
her nourishment, and Providence did not let
it kill the little animal before the emancipation
of weaning arrived.
How much circumstances evoked, how
much instinct responded, belongs to the
secrets which nature seems to intend keeping.
As a baby she had eyes, attention, solely for
other babies. One cannot say while she was
still crawling, for she could only crawl years
after she should have been walking, but,
before even precocious walking-time, tradition
or the old gray-haired negro janitor relates,
she would creep from baby to baby to play
with it, put it to sleep, pat it, rub its stomach
(a negro baby, you know, is all stomach, and
generally aching stomach at that). And before
she had a lap, she managed to force one
for some ailing nursling. It was then that
they began to call her "little Mammy." In
the transitory population of the "pen" no one
stayed long enough to give her another name;
and no one ever stayed short enough to give
her another one.
Her first recollection of herself was that
she could not walk - she was past crawling;
she cradled herself along, as she called
sitting down flat, and working herself about
with her hands and her one strong leg.
Babbling babies walked all around her, -
many walking before they babbled, - and
still she did not walk, imitate them as she
might and did. She would sit and "study"
about it, make another trial, fall; sit and
study some more, make another trial, fall
again. Negroes, who believe that they must
give a reason for everything even if they
have to invent one, were convinced that it
was all this studying upon her lameness that
gave her such a large head.
And now she began secretly turning up
the clothes of every negro child that came
into that pen, and examining its legs, and
still more secretly examining her own,
stretched out before her on the ground.
How long it took she does not remember;
in fact, she could not have known, for she
had no way of measuring time except by her
thoughts and feelings. But in her own way
and time the due process of deliberation was
fulfilled, and the quotient made clear that,
bowed or not, all children's legs were of
equal length except her own, and all were
alike, not one full, strong, hard, the other
soft, flabby, wrinkled, growing out of a knot
at the hip. A whole psychological period
apparently lay between that conclusion and
- a broom-handle walking-stick; but the
broomstick came, as it was bound to come, -
thank heaven! - from that premise, and what
with stretching one limb to malice it longer,
and doubling up the other to make it shorter,
she invented that form of locomotion which
is still carrying her through life, and with
no more exaggerated leg-crookedness than
many careless negroes born with straight
limbs display. This must have been when
she was about eight or nine. Hobbling on
a broomstick, with, no doubt, the same weird,
wizened face as now, an innate sense of the
fitness of things must have suggested the
kerchief tied around her big head, and the
burlaps rag of an apron in front of her
linsey-woolsey rag of a gown, and the bit of broken
pipe-stem in the corner of her mouth, where
the pipe should have been, and where it was
in after years. That is the way she recollected
herself, and that is the way one recalls
her now; with a few modifications.
The others came and went, but she was
always there. It wasn't long before she
became "little Mammy" to the grown folks
too; and the newest inmates soon learned to
cry: "Where's little Mammy?" "Oh, little
Mammy! little Mammy! Such a misery in
my head [or my back, or my stomach]!
Can't you help me, little Mammy?" It was
curious what a quick eye she had for symptoms
and ailments, and what a quick ear for
suffering, and how apt she was at picking up,
remembering, and inventing remedies. It
never occurred to her not to crouch at the
head or the foot of a sick pallet, day and
night through. As for the nights, she said
she dared not close her eyes of nights. The
room they were in was so vast, and sometimes
the negroes lay so thick on the floor,
rolled in their blankets (you know, even in
the summer they sleep under blankets), all
snoring so loudly, she would never have
heard a groan or a whimper any more than
they did, if she had slept, too. And negro
mothers are so careless and such heavy
sleepers. All night she would creep at
regular intervals to the different pallets, and
draw the little babies from under, or away
from, the heavy, inert impending mother
forms. There is no telling how many she thus
saved from being overlaid and smothered, or,
what was worse, maimed and crippled.
Whenever a physician came in, as he was
sometimes called, to look at a valuable investment
or to furbish up some piece of damaged
goods, she always managed to get near to
hear the directions; and she generally was
the one to apply them also, for negroes
always would steal medicines most scurvily
one from the other. And when death at
times would slip into the pen, despite the
trader's utmost alertness and precautions, - as
death often "had to do," little Mammy said,
- when the time of some of them came to
die, and when the rest of the negroes, with
African greed of eye for the horrible, would
press around the lowly couch where the
agonizing form of a slave lay writhing out
of life, she would always to the last give
medicines, and wipe the cold forehead, and
soothe the clutching, fearsome hands, hoping
to the end, and trying to inspire the
hope that his or her "time" had not come
yet; for, as she said, "Our time does not come
just as often as it does come."
And in those sad last offices, which somehow
have always been under reproach as a
kind of shame, no matter how young she
was, she was always too old to have the
childish avoidance of them. On the contrary,
to her a corpse was only a kind of
baby, and she always strove, she said, to
make one, like the other, easy and comfortable.
And in other emergencies she divined the
mysteries of the flesh, as other precocities
divine the mysteries of painting and music,
and so become child wonders.
Others came and went. She alone remained
there. Babies of her babyhood -
the toddlers she, a toddler, had nursed -
were having babies themselves now; the
middle-aged had had time to grow old and die.
Every week new families were coming into
the great back chamber; every week they
passed out: babies, boys, girls, buxom
wenches, stalwart youths, and the middle-aged
- the grave, serious ones whom misfortune
had driven from their old masters, and the
ill-reputed ones, the trickish, thievish, lazy,
whom the cunning of the negro-trader alone
could keep in circulation. All were marketable,
all were bought and sold, all passed in
one door and out the other - all except her,
little Mammy. As with her lameness, it took
time for her to recognize, to understand, the
fact. She could study over her lameness, she
could in the dull course of time think out the
broomstick way of palliation. It would have
been almost better, under the circumstances,
for God to have kept the truth from her; only
- God keeps so little of the truth from us
women. It is his system.
Poor little thing! It was not now that her
could not sell her,
but he would not! Out of
her own intelligence she had forged
her chains; the lameness was a hobble merely
in comparison. She had become too valuable
to the negro-trader by her services among his
crew, and offers only solidified his determination
not to sell her. Visiting physicians, after
short acquaintance with her capacities, would
offer what were called fancy prices for her.
Planters who heard of her through their
purchases would come to the city purposely to
secure, at any cost, so inestimable an adjunct
to their plantations. Even ladies - refined,
delicate ladies - sometimes came to the pen
personally to back money with influence. In
vain. Little Mammy was worth more to the
negro-trader, simply as a kind of insurance
against accidents, than any sum, however
glittering the figure, and he was no ignorant
expert in human wares. She can tell it; no
one else can for her. Remember that at
times she had seen the streets outside.
Remember that she could hear of the outside
world daily from the passing chattels - of the
plantations, farms, families; the green fields,
Sunday woods, running streams; the camp-meetings,
corn-shuckings, cotton-pickings, sugar-grindings;
the baptisms, marriages, funerals,
prayer-meetings; the holidays and holy
days. Remember that, whether for liberty or
whether for love, passion effloresces in the
human being - no matter when, where, or
how - with every spring's return. Remember
that she was, even in middle age, young
and vigorous. But no; do not remember
anything. There is no need to heighten the
It would be tedious to relate, although it
was not tedious to hear her relate it, the
desperations and hopes of her life then. Hardly
a day passed that she did not see, looking for
purchases (rummaging among goods on a
counter for bargains), some master whom she
could have loved, some mistress whom she
could have adored. Always her favorite
mistresses were there - tall, delicate matrons,
who came themselves, with great fatigue, to
select kindly-faced women for nurses;
languid-looking ladies with smooth hair
standing out in wide
from their heads, and lace shawls dropping
from their sloping
shoulders, silk dresses carelessly held up in
thumb and finger from embroidered petticoats
that were spread out like tents over huge
hoops which covered whole groups of swarming
piccaninnies on the dirty floor; ladies, pale
from illnesses that she might have nursed,
and over-burdened with children whom she
might have reared! And not a lady of that
kind saw her face but wanted her, yearned
for her, pleaded for her, coming back secretly
to slip silver, and sometimes gold, pieces into
her hand, patting her turbaned head, calling
her "little Mammy" too, instantly, by inspiration,
and making the negro-trader give them,
with all sorts of assurances, the refusal of her.
She had no need for the whispered "Buy me,
master!" "Buy me, mistress!" "You'll see
how I can work, master!" "You'll never be
sorry, mistress!" of the others. The negro-trader
- like hangmen, negro-traders are fitted
by nature for their profession - it came
into his head - he had no heart, not even
bandeaux Page 119
a negro-trader's heart - that it would be more
judicious to seclude her during these shopping
visits, so to speak. She could not have
had any hopes then at all; it must have been
That auction-block, that executioner's block,
about which so much has been written - Jacob's
ladder, in his dream, was nothing to
what that block appeared nightly in her
dreams to her; and the climbers up and down
- well, perhaps Jacob's angels were his
At times she determined to depreciate her
usefulness, mar her value, by renouncing her
heart, denying her purpose. For days she
would tie her kerchief over her ears and eyes,
and crouch in a corner, strangling her
impulses. She even malingered, refused food,
became dumb. And she might have succeeded
in making herself salable through incipient
lunacy, if through no other way, had she been
able to maintain her role long enough. But
some woman or baby always was falling into
some emergency of pain and illness.
How it might have ended one does not like
to think. Fortunately, one does not need to
There came a night. She sat alone in the
vast, dark caravansary - alone for the first
time in her life. Empty rags and blankets lay
strewn over the floor, no snoring, no tossing
in them more. A sacrificial sale that day had
cleared the counters. Alarm-bells rang in the
streets, but she did not know them for
alarm-bells; alarm brooded in the dim space around
her, but she did not even recognize that. Her
protracted tension of heart had made her fear-blind
to all but one peradventure.
Once or twice she forgot herself, and
limped over to some heap to relieve an
imaginary struggling babe or moaning sleeper.
Morning came. She had dozed. She looked
to see the rag-heaps stir; they lay as still as
corpses. The alarm-bells had ceased. She
looked to see a new gang enter the far door.
She listened for the gathering buzzing of
voices in the next room, around the
auction-block. She waited for the trader. She
waited for the janitor. At nightfall a file of
soldiers entered. They drove her forth,
ordering her in the voice, in the tone, of the
negro-trader. That was the only familiar
thing in the chaos of incomprehensibility
about her. She hobbled through the auction-room.
Posters, advertisements, papers, lay
on the floor, and in the torch-light glared
from the wall. Her Jacob's ladder, her
stepping-stone to her hopes, lay overturned in
You divine it. The negro-trader's trade
was abolished, and he had vanished in the din
and smoke of a war which he had not been
entirely guiltless of producing, leaving little
Mammy locked up behind him. Had he
forgotten her? One cannot even hope so. She
hobbled out into the street, leaning on her
nine-year-old broomstick (she had grown
only slightly beyond it; could still use it by
bending over it), her head tied in a rag
kerchief, a rag for a gown, a rag for an apron.
Free, she was free! But she had not hoped
for freedom. The plantation, the household,
the delicate ladies, the teeming children, -
broomsticks they were in comparison to
freedom, but, - that was what she had asked,
what she had prayed for. God, she said, had
let her drop, just as her mother had done.
More than ever she grieved, as she crept
down the street, that she had never mounted
the auctioneer's block. An ownerless free
negro! She knew no one whose duty it was
to help her; no one knew her to help her.
In the whole world (it was all she had asked)
there was no white child to call her mammy,
no white lady or gentleman (it was the extent
of her dreams) beholden to her as to a
nurse. And all her innumerable black
beneficiaries! Even the janitor, whom she had
tended as the others, had deserted her like
his white prototype.
She tried to find a place for herself, but she
had no indorsers, no recommenders. She
dared not mention the name of the negro-trader;
it banished her not only from the
households of the whites, but from those of
the genteel of her own color. And everywhere
soldiers sentineled the streets - soldiers
whose tone and accent reminded her
of the negro-trader.
Her sufferings, whether imaginary or real,
were sufficiently acute to drive her into the
only form of escape which once had been possible
to friendless negroes. She became a
runaway. With a bundle tied to the end of a
stick over her shoulder, just as the old prints
represent it, she fled from her homelessness
and loneliness, from her ignoble past, and the
heart-disappointing termination of it. Following
a railroad track, journeying afoot, sleeping
by the roadside, she lived on until she
came to the one familiar landmark in life to
her - a sick woman, but a white one. And
so, progressing from patient to patient (it was
a time when sick white women studded the
country like mile-posts), she arrived at a little
town, a kind of a refuge for soldiers' wives and
widows. She never traveled further. She
could not. Always, as in the pen, some
emergency of pain and illness held her.
That is all. She is still there. The poor,
poor women of that stricken region say that
little Mammy was the only alleviation God
left them after Sheridan passed through; and
the richer ones say very much the same
But one should hear her tell it herself, as
has been said, on a cold, gloomy winter day
in the country, the fire glimmering on the
hearth; the overworked husband in the fields;
the baby quiet at last; the mother uneasy,
restless, thought-driven; the soft black hand
rubbing backward and forward, rubbing out
aches and frets and nervousness.
The eyelids droop; the firelight plays
fantasies on the bed-curtains; the ear drops
words, sentences; one gets confused - one
sleeps - one dreams.
AT the first glance one might have been
inclined to doubt; but at the second
anybody would have recognized her - that
is, with a little mental rehabilitation: the
bright little rouge spots in the hollow of her
cheek, the eyebrows well accentuated with
paint, the thin lips rose-tinted, and the dull,
straight hair frizzed and curled and twisted
and turned by that consummate rascal and
artist, the official beautifier and rectifier of
stage humanity, Robert, the opera
Who in the world knows better than he
the gulf between the real and the ideal,
the limitations between the natural and the
Yes, one could see her, in that time-honored
thin silk dress of hers stiffened into
brocade by buckram underneath; the high,
low necked waist, hiding any evidences of
breast, if there were such evidences to hide,
and bringing the long neck into such faulty
prominence; and the sleeves, crisp puffs of
tulle divided by bands of red velvet, through
which the poor lean arm runs like a wire,
stringing them together like beater. Yes, it
was she, the whilom
of the opera
troupe. Not that she ever was a dugazon
, but that
was what her voice once aspired
to be: a dugazon would better describe her. dugazon
What a ghost! But they always appeared
like mere evaporations of real women. For
what woman of flesh and blood can seriously
maintain through life the rôle of sham
attendant on sham sensations, and play public
celebrant of other women's loves and lovers,
singing, or rather saying, nothing more
enlivening than: "Oh, madame!" and "Ah,
madame!" and "
or " Quelle ivresse! !" or, in recitative, detailing
whatever dreary platitudes and inanities the
librettist and Heaven connive to put upon
the tongues of confidantes and attendants? Quelle
Looking at her - how it came over one!
The music, the lights, the scene; the fat
soprano confiding to her the fact of the "amour
extrême" she bears for the tenor, to which
does not even try to listen;
her eyes wandering listlessly over the
audience. The calorous secret out, and in her
possession, how she stumbles over her train
to the back of the stage, there to pose in
abject patience and awkwardness, while the
gallant barytone, touching his sword, and
flinging his cape over his shoulder, defies the
world and the tenor, who is just recovering
from his " dugazon ut de
behind the scenes.
She was talking to me all the time,
apologizing for the intrusion, explaining her
mission, which involved a short story of her life,
as women's intrusions and missions usually
do. But my thoughts, also as usual, distracted
me from listening, as so often they
have distracted me from following what was
perhaps more profitable.
The composer, of course, wastes no music
upon her; flinging to her only an occasional
recitative in two notes, but always ending in
a reef of a scale, trill, or roulade, for her
to wreck her voice on before the audience.
, if he is charitable,
starts her off with a contribution from his
own lusty lungs, and then she - oh, her voice
is always thinner and more osseous than her
orchestre Page 132
arms, and her smile no more graceful than
As well think of the simulated trees,
waterfalls, and châteaux leaving the stage, as the
One always imagines them singing
on into dimness, dustiness, unsteadiness,
and uselessness, until, like any other piece
of stage property, they are at last put
aside and simply left there at the end of
some season - there seems to be a superstition
against selling or burning useless and
dilapidated stage property. As it came to
me, the idea was not an impossibility. The
last representation of the season is over.
She, tired beyond judgment - haply, beyond
feeling - by her tireless rôle, 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 dugazon
awaiting him at home, locks up everything
fast and tight; the tighter and faster for the
grillade Page 133
good fortnight's vacation he has promised
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
away in its last costume - perhaps in
that very costume of
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 animalculæ. 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,
?" - 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 Pourquoi ces
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 was saying:
"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
rôle," 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 minutiæ 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
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
Evidently, when rôles 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
But the rôle 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
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
au naturel Page 139
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
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 con
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 chamber maid,
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.
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 eye-lashes
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 breastpin 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 alone.
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
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
libitum Page 150
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.
And it was worth seeing -
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
chasséeing Page 152
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 rang 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
nailbrush, 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 own 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,
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 morning.
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 -
a trifle paler, may-be, 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 never found.
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
"chassé'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
riding off, on his stout black
charger Beetle, in the direction of the town
in which court was to be held that week. debonair
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 next day.
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 husbands.
Coming into the little town, the freshly
painted, swinging sign-board of the new
"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
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
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 preëmpted 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
Molière, 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 it.
"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
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
to board or live in a rented
house. How little she knew!"
comme il faut
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 their memory.
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
One would infer so, at least, from the display
in the shops and windows of those thoroughfares.
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 property.
vice versa Page 181
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
"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
and nouveaux riches
, 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
The old residence was to be rebought, and
refurnished from France; the
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
avant scène Page 184
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 it.
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
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: entrée
shyness - so long out of the world, so
old; perhaps not sure of her welcome. So
they determined to seek her out. mauvaise honte
"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
The ladies opened the door. "Ah, my
"Ah, my friend"
"Just the same!"
"Exactly the same!"
It was which one would get to her first
with bouquet and kiss, competition almost
"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
"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 their enumeration.
"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
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 to-day."
"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 pendant
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
to-morrow," 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 lips?"
"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
"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 to-night 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; Sèvres, or imitation
Sèvres 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 has 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
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
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 benevolently.
"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
"But how could I know there were mushrooms
in the market? Do I go to market?"
"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 Cæsar brought
them to the door - 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
"Ah," shrugging his shoulders, "madame
told me to buy what I saw. I saw peas. I
"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 every day."
"And if there are none in the market
"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 exclamation.
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 her seat.
"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 -"
?" interrogated the old lady, impatiently,
still under the influence of her irascibility
about the mushrooms. Hein
He moved his chair closer, and bent
forward, as if his communication were to be
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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.
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
she 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 remembrance.
"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
forget-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 forget."
"The less easy to forget," corrected
madame; but he paid no attention to the
"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
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
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 misfortune."
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 losing game."
"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
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
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, -
I 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 nine o'clock.
"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
"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
"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
"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.
!" 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. Mon
!"came in counter-flash from
the curtained bed. Ma
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
"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 Institut St. Denis; the strident:
Mesdemoiselles; à vos places!
qui est dans le ciel - Qui a fait ce bruit?"
"It's Pupasse, madame! It's Pupasse!"
The answer invariably was unanimous.
"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
This last apostrophe in a high, whining
nasal voice, always procured Pupasse's
elevation on the tall three-legged stool in the
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
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
bonnet d' âne Page 225
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 "
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; 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
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
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
"Young ladies! But what does this
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
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
"It's that Pupasse! It's that
To Pupasse herself would be meted out
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
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
was the lowest in the school. Green was the color of the fifth;
white - innocence - of the
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 one of nine and ten.
It was that very merriment that brought
about the greatest change in the Institut St.
Denis. The sitting order of the classes was
reversed. The first class - the graduates -
went up to the top step of the
; and the little
ones put on the lowest, behind the
pianos. The graduates grumbled that it was
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. comme il faut
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 mind.
Father Dolomier - from his face he would
have been an able contestant of
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. bonnets d' âne
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 Page 233
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.
!" - pigtails
hiving outside would shudder. "Oh,
To have to confess all - but Mon Dieu all
your sins! As for me, it would kill me, sure!"
And the frightful recoils of their
consciences would make all instantly blanch and
"And look at Pupasse's sins! Oh, but
they are long! Ma chère, 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 "
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
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
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 also.
Pupasse declared they had filched 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
whispered the little ones
outside. "Oh, but look at them! "Ma
!" which is equivalent
to "cutting up like the mischief." Elles font les quatre cents coups
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 chorused:
"I assure you, Pupasse!"
"On the cross, Pupasse!"
"We implore you, Pupasse!"
The only response - tears, and "I shall tell
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 have them."
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.
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 yet -
, give me your grammar." ma
The old battered, primitive book was gotten
out of the bag, the string still tied between
the leaves for convenience in hanging around
"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 -"
"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
"Irregular verbs, that - irregular verbs,
"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 reënter 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
they say); she it was who was nothing to
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
her. It must have been an
inspiration of the moment, or a movement,
a , 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
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
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
And you all remember how long it is since
we wore funnel-shaped hoop-skirts!