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(title page) Clarimonde: A Tale of New Orleans Life, and of the Present War. By a Member of the N. O. Washington Artillery.
Napier Bartlett, 1836-1877
M. A. Malsby, Corner of 14th and Main Streets
Call number Conf. Pam. # 424 (Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections Library, Duke University Libraries)
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With some hesitation, the author submits a work composed amid the vicissitudes of camp life, and which, in the number of accidents by flood and field, which it has met with from its commencement until its formal delivery into the publisher's hands, has exceeded those of the heroine whose name it bears. It was written to amuse a few friends, and to while away the dull hours not employed in fighting, forced marching, eating and drinking. At the instance of these partial critics he has placed his MS. in the hands of a publisher; and trusting that the good nature which has hitherto been shown to soldiers will be extended to him whose only fault, after all, will be that he has attempted to please, he submits the following work to the reader's indulgence.
Army of the Potomac, Feb. 14th, 1863.
I had been put on guard, along with two or three of my comrades, over the provision or commissary tent of our brigade--a post much sighed for and coveted by sentinels who prefer spending their midnight vigils around a blazing fire to promenading on a lonely post during a stormy night.
With a pot of coffee, a canteen of liquor, cigars, and perhaps a deck of cards, the night passes more like a pleasant dissipation than ordinary guard duty. Thus whiling away the dull hours, comrades who have been little intimate grow social, old friends more friendly, and secrets are told, and confidence reposed which would never be communicated in any other situation. At any rate such was the case with us.
It so happened that towards midnight our game of euchre grew wearisome, the last fight had been discussed, and the prospect of another debated; it began to be evident that we must turn to some more exciting theme for our night's amusement.
Another hour was spent in recounting tales and adventures we had read or heard of, by which time we had grown personal and confidential, and the various trials with which fortune had favored us each, were in turn related.
Depend upon it, reader, that each of your numerous friends and acquaintances has a story worth the hearing, if he only knows how to tell it. The romance of life is not all confined to works of fiction, and the materials are around you to compose a book as humorous, sentimental and satirical, as the adventures of Gil Blas himself.
There happened to be on guard with us a sentinel who associated but little with any one in the regiment, and of whom almost nothing was known except that his name was Oscar St. Arment. In his appearance and character, so far as we could understand it, there was absolutely nothing that would attract your attention. His face was neither handsome nor repellant, his figure neither gracefu nor ungainly. In gait, bearing, and general expression of countenance, you could discover nothing in the man which would have distinguished
him from twenty others whom you might have seen in the same day. Nobody that met him ever asked, "Who is that man?" And if the question had been asked, none of his companions would have been able to answer it. His face was, indeed, a practical repetition of the knife-grinder's answer, "No story to tell, sir." At least in this light we viewed him for some months after we were thrown together; and long after the mutual foibles and failings of the rest of us had become too familiar to talk of and laugh over, Oscar remained as unknown, as unthought of, and as little seen, as on the day he first became a soldier.
This, which was in itself a peculiarity, at length provoked comment, and close observers began to discover in his face lines and features that were by no means common-place, and to suspect that he must have seen more of life and had more of a history than his listless indifference as to everything around him would have seemed to indicate; so that it had thus happened that there was a common desire to know more of him who at first had least attracted our notice.
Thus, as each of us recounted the incidents and buffetings of fortune we had thus far met in life, there was a general disposition manifested to drag St. Arment in the conversation, which he could not well resist. Besides, the liquor, singular as it may seem to any one who has tested the whiskey we obtained in the army, was excellent. We were in constant expectation of a great battle, and for once, the first and last time, our taciturn comrade brightened into animation, and gave us one true glimpse of his inner self. His manner, half humorous, half satirical, and always melancholy, I can hardly hope to imitate or describe, but I give below, in his own language, to the best of my recollection, the substance of his narrative.
My first impressions are of a black nurse, with a turban wrapped around her head, like the tiara of Cybele, who dandled me in her arms when I was fretful, who soothed me to sleep in negro French, and who dropped me down the steps or over the banister when she was herself asleep, which latter was more than half the time her normal condition.
My existence was otherwise embittered by being plunged daily into a tub of cold water, and I began to regard her as my worst enemy, when she carried me to school, (where only English, of which language I knew nothing, was spoken,) dressed as a girl. Here I was forced to sit between two bouncing country girls, who, between constant pinching and kissing, well nigh filled my cup of misery to the brim.
I remember myself as I grew older, a little white-headed, round-bottomed shaver, early harnessed to the car of learning, and who drew it, balked and floundered with it, from a-b ab, and b-a ba, to baker, and shady, for what seemed to him a cycle of ages. Noah Webster's spelling book was a dreadful load; I would commence and re-commence it with every new teacher, without making any sensible progress that I can now recall; nor, indeed, can I recall much else, excepting that I was systematically flogged by each and all of them.
In course of time I had learned that six small boys could sit on one long bench, a fact which, had I not seen it so distinctly stated in print, I should have been inclined to doubt, for the reason that I was continually tumbling off the longest bench in school, whereon sat five other scholars. I would sit dreamily making triangles and parallelograms on the sanded floor, with my bare feet, endeavoring to account for this contradiction between printed statement and daily experience. I finally concluded that we were an exception to the rule, because, as I found in examining the matter, there were really only five boys, the sixth being a girl, whom I now remember as little Clara, and who, with myself, constituted the right and left file closers of this over-crowded bench. I could only conjecture how the
small boys behaved in the spelling book, but practically I found that they were always pushing and pressing towards one end or the other, and that either Clara or I was crowded off, and suffered punishment as the guilty parties.
As the summer days passed by we read together the stories of the speculative castle-building milk-maid; of the dog, (nobody's enemy but his own,) whose character was damned by an unfortunate selection of friends; and of the industry of the little busy bee.
Whatever other changes were going on in my education, I found that the floggings and trouncings which I received from my kind preceptors remained ever the same.
To the last Clara and I were always blundering, always unfortunate, and ever being made victims when luckier culprits made their escape; so that similarity of trials and punishment, as much as of character, made us in the end the best of friends.
When one of us was in trouble the other would testify his or her sympathy with what mute signs and telegraphic signals were in our power. For instance, on one occasion, some mischievous neighbor had poured a bottle of syrup on a dress which Clara wore for the first time; the sight of my little ally tearfully defending herself from the flies, had disturbed the order of the school; and as a happy way of ending the confusion, she had been sentenced to stand in a conspicuous part of the room, before her mocking playmates. I saw that she looked at me for some signs of condolence, and hoping that I was concealed by the door from the observation of our teacher, I ventured to write on the wall, bending on my seat with my knees, in characters large enough for her to read--I love you, Clara.
But from this absorbing occupation I was rudely aroused. A shower of blows was fast descending on my quivering shoulders; I was jerked up by the collar, and made to dance first on one leg and then on the other; and in the end I found that I had need of as much sympathy as I had given.
Well do I remember the last day we played together as children. The term had closed, and it had been announced that we were to have a little party. The auspicious occasion arrived; ink spots had
been scoured away, spider webs had given place to evergreen festoons, clean shirts and pants had superseded ragged trowsers and unwashed linen, while our faces glowed with expectation and an extraordinary rubbing with soap.
With the appointed hour the guests made their appearance; but as I have since found to be the case in more fashionable assemblies, after all our trouble, there still seemed to be, even when the last guest had arrived, something wanting; a painful ignorance as to what to do, now that we had come together. None of us were old enough to be very strong in a conversational point of view, and for a long time dancing was forbidden. The boys and girls being both extremely diffident about forming acquaintances, confined themselves principally to the opposite sides of the room, and hallooed forth their observations, as if it were important that no one should be excluded from their beneficial effect. Occasionally some modest youth, with a plentiful allowance of shirt collar, would be forced into receiving an introduction by way of encouraging the rest, and as if fate had marked me out for a martyr, I was among the early sufferers. Two youths, who were large enough to wear coats with tails, caught me each by an arm, and informed me that they would do me the honor of introducing me to the finest lady in the room.
I would have fallen on my knees and begged for mercy, had they not held my arms so tightly as to render it impossible. On they dragged me, vainly struggling and resisting, pursued by a shout from the crowd I was leaving, and welcomed with suppressed laughter by the one towards which I was advancing. Reaching the belle of the evening, some words were muttered, the import of which I did not understand, my legs were tripped from under me, I was thrust in a seat by the side of this lady, and with a farewell glance and a threatening jesture, which hinted that I had better stay where I was if I knew what was good for me, my tormentors left me to my fate.
I had at first a wild idea of jumping out of a two story window, which was just behind me; but my newly made acquaintance showed so much composure in her manner, that I began to feel reassured; besides, she struck me as being the most beautiful young lady in
the world, and her dress, though simple enough, I thought, might have been that of a princess. There were some flowers in her bosom; I wondered if these grew there but did not feel bold enough to ask. She contrived to draw me into conversation, and listened with great good nature to what little account I had to give of myself, but I still continued to regard her with a superstitious feeling of awe. To complete my happiness, when one of my introducers returned, and alluded to my presentation as a capital joke, she thanked him coldly for having brought her such good company, and continued her conversation with me.
Finding at length that the boys were becoming more and more noisy, as that the party, about which we had so long dreamed, was a drag, Old Slapper, for thus was our teacher called, at length allowed us to wind up the day's festivities, with a reel, and presently we heard him tuning the harsh strings of his old violin. With my new protectress for my partner, my happiness was at its climax. It is true I felt a slight tinge of remorse that I was not with Clara, but I was somewhat consoled to observe that she was dancing very gaily without me.
I should perhaps have mentioned before that the boys of our academy were to appear at the party in white pants, but that, owing to somedelay, mine had not been finished at the required time. Indeed, not much more had been done towards making them than putting in what I believe is known as basting stitches. This did not, however, deter me from going and wearing them, and, indeed, I had forgotten all about their frail texture half an hour after putting them on.
Meanwhile the dance was progressing, and Clara, wild and imprudent as ever, who had taken the prize at the dancing school, and who I fear must have taken a glass of champagne that evening, was dancing as if mad. Be that as it may, when her turn came, as she started at the upper end of the reel, cried out that she would show us how she could imitate an engine, put on steam, sachezed right and left through the smaller dancers, upsetting them at every turn.
All of the evening her elderly chaperone had been eyeing her movements with an impatience which increased every moment, and
now this lady indignantly ordered Clara to follow her to the carriage. Upon this, Clara, putting on still more steam, executed that rapid backward pas, which terminated the danseuse' performance in a theatre just as the curtain is about to fall, and with a magnificent bow, bade adieu to the festivities of the evening.
"Poor Clara, won't she get it, though," I murmured to myself; but undeterred by her fate, and anxious to take a sort of Terpsichorean revenge on the crowd who had witnessed her disgrace, I started down the reel with my partner; and I fear had soon forgotten her to execute some pas seuls of my own. It was not long before I had, in accomplishing these, turned around so often, and had drifted and danced so far away from her, that it was only by the most herculean efforts and extravagant figures, that I was subsequently enabled to regain my place, in doing which, I had inadvertently trod upon the miniature feet of the Cinderillas, and ground my boot heel upon the "light fantastic toes" of the whole line of dancers.
What I might not have further done I am unable to say, as I now began to be conscious that all was not right, and that my appearance had become the subject of general mirth. Vainly did I endeavor to divine the cause, faster and faster did I dance, when suddenly hearing the snapping of a thread, I glanced downwards.
With the feelings of a sailor who finds that his vessel is rapidly going to pieces, I discovered that my pants were fluttering wildly in the breeze, and dangled about my legs, as if merely attached by a spell. I had no time to finish my dance, or stand upon the order of my going, but sideling and shuffling, in double-quick time towards the door, I seized the first cap I could lay my hands upon, and ran home as fast as my feet would carry me.
All of this time I had been living in an old plantation house for the benefit, as my mother said, to be derived from the pure country air; but much more, as I have since learned, from her indifference, not to say dislike of children. But as I was now to return to New Orleans, in which was my family abode, it becomes necessary that I should give you some account of my parents before I proceed farther with my own immediate history.
When Louisiana was under the French government, my father held a title, and boasted a polysyllabic name. His rank, upon its cession to the United States, he renounced to become an American citizen, and his name, perhaps as another evidence of his republican principles, he eliminated of most of its long sounding syllables. A courtly old gentleman, with large black eyebrows and grey hair, was my father. His business in life was to do nothing, gracefully, and to spend the income of an immense estate, and finally the estate itself, in prodigal profusion. He would, for instance, give away a magnificent residence to some passing prima donna, in cases where, as my mother thought, a bouquet would have sufficiently evinced his admiration; and the loss of a mile of street lots was sometimes the result of a single night's amusements. The same magnificent profusion was preserved throughout the establishment, or I should rather use the plural form, as his residence in the country only gave a larger field for the exercise of his princely extravagance.
He was not of a nature to grow old, and had his years numbered the patriarchal time, he would have received the burden under protest, and still have made some youthful show against wrinkles and old age.
But thus long, or indeed the ordinary span, he was not destined to live. The tastes that I have mentioned, cost him his fortune. There was another, which resulted in his death.
While dancing gaily through life, shrugging his aristocratic shoulders at its many ills, and distilling pleasure from every source, without much troubling his digestion as to its effect upon those who might come after him, the pitiless fates who apportion to each of us the number of our days and hours, had summoned him to the realm of shades.
For, at the time of which I write, dueling was much in vogue, and nothing was thought more proper than to shoot your man before breakfast. In this, among other accomplishments, my father greatly excelled--was familiar with the temper of swords, expert in
the use of hair triggers; and, in short, understood his business so well, that for him to engage in an affair of honor and kill his antagonist was thought to be a matter of course.
But it is time I should speak of my respected mother. If my father had to have his little pleasures, it was none the less necessary that she should have hers. She had been a reigning beauty in her day, and as numerous a train of admirers she still possessed, (she regarded them in the light of property,) as many rivals, with half her age and twice her remaining attractions. But the preservation of this power, which every day became more difficult, required her consummate skill and address, particularly in the art of the toilet; and, then, too, as innocence will be traduced, in spite of the utmost finesse in silencing envious tongues, she had, as a last resort, the correct sword and pistol practice of my father.
Thus strongly fortified, my poor mother found the world at her feet, and save an occasional timid whisper, no sign of mutiny among her overawed subjects. Not to know her, argued yourself unknown, and in spite of many ugly rumors, and suspected breaches on her part, of the conventional code, she could go where she pleased, and receive the flattery of her admirers in the most fashionable saloons. No debutante could hope for a success without her encouraging smile. Reputations crumbled beneath the weight of her sarcasm, and her delicate railery could banish as effectually as an imperial ukase. She was, indeed, recognized and regarded as a power.
But of her, as of other despotic rulers, the world at length grew weary, and her power first questioned, was, in the end, resisted. Only an opportunity was wanting for her influence to pass away forever.
Matters were in this state when the visit of some live prince became the event of the season. Of course there was to be a ball in his honor, and of course everybody wished to go. To obtain a ticket was a question of fashionable standing, and to fail in receiving one was regarded by many as a blow little less than the loss of fortune. So thought, at least, my mother, who began to see the difficulties of her position, and accordingly all of her seductive arts which had
never hitherto failed, were brought to bear upon the ticket-dispensing committee.
The important night at length arrived, the costly tournure which the over-confident lady was to wear had long since been brought in, and still no card of invitation. But no one ever dispairs of an event upon which our happiness depends; and hour by hour glided by without her resigning, in anywise, her intention of dancing with the Prince. It was not until the notes of the band, borne faintly to her ear above the noise and confusion of the city, announced that the assembly was about to be opened, did my mother admit to herself that she had failed.
Yes, the festivities of the ball, which she had fondly hoped the Prince would open with herself and for the dance, were now commencing, and she not even present! Oh, horror! oh, misery! She saw before her the inevitable loss of her power, and it was not until my father gave orders for his dueling pistols to be cleaned; that she could be kept from fainting in his arms.
A name was now selected by lot from the number of those who composed the committee, a challenge sent, and at daylight the next morning there was a hostile meeting between the party whose name was drawn and my father. But this time, as if the gods had refused all succor to my mother's sinking cause, it was my father, and not as everybody had expected, his antagonist, who was brought home on the fatal litter. He had only time to declare the manner in which his body should be laid out, and intimate a preference for a rosewood coffin, before he breathed his last.
Though this blow was all that was wanting to affect the complete loss of her position in society, my poor mother did not cease to struggle. But I shall only stop here to mention her last appearance in public, and hasten on to what concerns my own life.
It was a night during the season that the yellow fever was daily numbering its victims by hundreds. Death was abroad everywhere, but the evening was so soft as to tempt her and a party of congenial spirits to a ride over the shell road--that famous avenue, bordered with groves, and which terminated a few miles from New Orleans, at Lake Ponchartrain. Only the midnight vigil lamps shone through
the streets, and along the road, and nought disturbed the silence of the hour, save the slow rumbling of the hearse's wheels, an occasional shriek from some departing soul in the last agonies of death, or the forced merriment of the revellers themselves.
One might have supposed that they were bent on some such mission as that of the Memphians, who, carried at midnight the bodies of their dead across the lake that bordered their city. On the contrary, it was only the ordinary search after pleasure, and an attempt to leave behind the gloomy atmosphere of death.
Arrived at the lake, a supper of wines and costly dishes was ordered, which it was thought would add to the hilarity of the party; but it did not. Then followed bachinal songs and others in which an attempt was made to set death at defiance, but which were more inexpressibly melancholy than any funeral dirge. But the gaiety of the party was too obviously assumed; and at length, wearied with what produced only sickening disgust, my mother, who was the ruling spirit, and who now realized, for the first time, that she was growing old, reluctantly gave her consent to return home.
It was none too soon--the seeds of disease began to betray themselves before the party separated; and ere the close of the succeeding day, my poor mother was borne a corpse, yellow and spotted, by the black horses, to her final resting place.
Thus sadly terminated the lives of my parents; and I, who was of so tender and thoughtless an age, that I was playing "hide and seek" the very day of the funeral, was left orphaned and friendless, and for aught that I or any one around me knew, without any near relation. Indeed, the city was so deserted by its inhabitants, that for many days there could be found no curator or administrator, to take charge of the household or myself; and each domestic or dependant did what seemed right in his own eyes.
From this melancholy situation I was at length rescued by the kindness of Pére Grivot, my mother's confessor; for the good lady, in spite of her worldliness, never altogether lost sight of what she was pleased to term her religion; and unburthened herself of her sins, with the utmost regularity. To the house, then, of Father Grivot, I was now taken, and installed as enfant de choir, or chorister of his church, until some one should step forth as my proper guardian. My duties were to ring the bell at early dawn for matins, to light the wax tapers on the altar, to attend at mass, and assist at funerals. Indeed, this last duty was the most important of my services, occupied most of my time, and brought in sufficient revenue to maintain me--it being the custom for the church to charge for funerals, according to the number of priests and choristers present--and the fund thus raised, after deducting the expenses of the vicarage, to divide among those officiating.
There were, I need not say, other choristers of my own age, and these, with myself, were left to our own resources, after the performance of the before specified duties. We lived well and were clothed well, and had an opportunity of making some progress in learning--those of us, at least; who showed sufficient inclination for study to invite encouragement. But the time of my youthful associates I soon found to be otherwise employed. Whether through a natural tendency to vice, or because we were so constantly going through the forms of religion, that it came at length to be forgotten that they had any meaning; yet, so it was, that the solemnities which
inspired me only with a sentiment of awe, seemed to be regarded by them as a monotonous and wearisome business. They practiced their jokes while preceding the dead to the cemetary. They would cause the tapers to expire on the altar during the performance of services, or would place the principal singer, whose snuff-box had been previously filled with red pepper, in the embarrassing situation of being compelled to chaunt a requiem, while tormented with a constant desire to sneeze. But not satisfied with thus disregarding religion themselves, they had learned to profit by the devotion of others, and the money obtained from devout elderly ladies, they lost or won from each other in games of chance.
I was sufficiently old and thoughtful to understand that in the life I was commencing there was no future before me, and that my prospects had undergone a disastrous eclipse. With a natural temperament inclining to melancholy, and saddened by the tragic scenes to which I have briefly alluded, I could take but little interest in the livelier amusement of my companions. My time passed as in a sad dream, in listening to the heavy tones of the organ, in gazing at the frescoes and paintings on the walls, or in wondering at the ever varying crowds who were constantly entering and departing. Sometimes I would brood in a childish sort of way over the solemn scene that were transpiring around me--at the happiness of the bridal party, quickly to be succeeded by the desolations of the funeral cortege--the indifference of the young to religion, and the tardy devotion of those who had grown too old to sin. But the soulless mirth of my companions jarred harshly on such reveries, and doubtless created somewhat the same feeling in me. And if you sometimes find that I am callous to what should be held most sacred, remember the associations of my early youth, and thank your kinder stars that you were reared under better auspices.
One day, while pursuing some study under the direction of one of the younger priests, who resided at the house of Pére Grivot, there was ushered into the room in which we were sitting, a stranger, who inquired for the Pére. I had before remarked his presence at the church on gala days and at high mass, and had heard from the conversation of those around me, that he belonged to that
pleasure-seeking class, who came with some less pious motive than to contribute to the support of the ministers of the church.
His dress, figure and general features, were unmistakably those of a Creole; and I knew before I heard him speak that he would commence the conversation in French. (Indeed, the latter language was then, and to a considerable extent still is, the ordinary language of the city and State, and the only one with which I was then, in spite of my experience at the country school, much familiar.) Otherwise, he appeared to be a man of the world, past the maturity of life, selfish, sensual and cynical.
He had just returned from Paris, I soon heard him say, in the course of a conversation with Father Grivot; and what brought him to pay the present visit, was the purchase of a lot in the cemetery, connected with the church. This business required little time to adjust.
"But whom have you here--some novice that you have picked up out of the gutter?" said he, alluding to me. "Come here, ma bonne ange. Too handsome by half, Father, unless you wish him to prove the ruin instead of the salvation of the feebler sex."
"You might well think him an angel, did you hear him sing. Heaven forbid that he should ever become a snare to any of the weak daughters of the earth. But Oscar is a good boy, and comes of a good family, too. Poor souls, his father and mother, are not only dead, but died bankrupt in position, wealth, and all that makes life dear. There was but little left them in this world when they quitted it."
"Possible? No friends, connection, or means of support left Ma foi, a very proper time to die. Yes, a fortune is very seldom sufficient for our own wants, much less for those who come after."
"And so," continued the good Pére, "as there was none left to care for him, and as his mother, in spite of her many transgressions, died in the bosom of the church, he naturally fell under our care. May Heaven and the pious instructions he will here receive, enable him to avoid the errors of those who have gone before him."
"Your account interests me much," said the stranger, with a slight yawn, as he prepared to go. "But you have not yet told me the name of your protegé. I had almost fancied, from a similarity of feature, (were it not for the absurdity of the thing,) that he was in some way related to my family."
"His name," replied the priest, is St. Arment. Oscar St. Arment. May it prove more fortunate for him than for its last possessors."
His questioner, who had hitherto glanced casually at me with an air of languid hauteur, now regarded me with unfeigned interest.
"O, impossible! That was the name of the husband of my only sister. Poor Alceste! and yet he bears her features! It must be so. If what you say is true, this boy must be my nephew. Ha, Oscar, you may fling away your prayer book, now. You will go to live with me, and have something better to do than count beads. Would you take me for your uncle, boy?"
"You do not look like an uncle," said I, naively; for his cynical look had not impressed me in his favor.
"You will change your mind," said he, frowning, "as you grow older, and find that you have no other than me to depend upon."
He then went into further details with the Pére in reference to my history and that of my family, and then departed, with the understanding that I would be sent for the next day.
He was as good as his word. At the appointed time a sedate quadroon servant announced that a carriage was waiting. Then I bade adieu to the few friends I had formed; the door of the carriage was slammed with a great noise, which filled me with infinite terror; and with the feeling of a prisoner who is hurried off to his doom, I found myself on my way to my uncle's residence.
Arriving at my future home, the carriage passed through an arched vaulted entrance that ran under the building, and stopped in the court-yard or square. My attendant having ascertained that my uncle had not yet finished dressing, gave me permission to wander through the rooms and gardens until I should be summoned.
Who ever forgets the early impression of childhood? Though many years have passed over me since the morning I entered my uncle's, residence, the recollection of it is as vivid as ever. The grounds had apparently at one time been carefully laid out--being cultivated in squares and parterres, and planted with rare exotics. Otherwise, it was adorned with statues of the mythological goddesses. But the statues had now grown mouldly, the traces of cultivation were obliterated, and the utter negligence with which the vines and tropical plants had been allowed to grow, gave it the appearance of an Indian jungle.
The interior of the house through which I was permitted to pass, evinced but little more care in its preservation. The furniture was rich, little used, and neglected, evidently of a date and pattern long since become obsolete.
In short, about the whole establishment everything indicated the absence of woman's presence, and the little estimation in which the house was held by the owner.
At length I was carried into my uncle's presence. He was carefully dressed, and held in his hand a handkerchief scented with patchouly. After examining me attentively for a moment, it appeared that my costume did not please him. He flew into a tremendous
passion with François, my attendant, for having brought me to his house without first carrying me to a tailor's, and swore it would be as much as his life was worth should he catch me in such guise again. He then charged François to be in permanent attendance upon me, and to see that I gave him (my uncle) no trouble.
Whether this meant that I was to obey François, or he me, did not exactly appear, but from the latter's manner, I should have inferred the former. Henceforth, from his interference and dictation, I was to have no peace. He prescribed, I soon found the manner in which I should eat; as well as the dishes themselves, and in this he was governed by considerations of fashion, rather than health. I was not even allowed to go to bed at night, or get up in the morning, until at such an hour as had received the sanction of the monde. However, I anticipate.
My uncle, after having roughly ordered me out of his presence, and at length concluded to let me stay, led the way to the breakfast room. But no sign of breakfast did I see, except, a cup of coffee. This he drank, allowing me to do the same, and then having qualified his with a petite verre of cogniac, led the way to his restaurant. I subsequently discovered that no kitchen was tolerated about the house, owing to the odor it diffused. My uncle's aristocratic nose could not bear that.
"The infernal smell," he complained, "kept your thoughts occupied with eating, when they should soar higher." However, I was never able to see that his ascended any more above eating, or the dull earth, by the banishment of his cook. Indeed, my uncle (I may as well speak of him at once as I afterwards found him) occupied himself with the subject of "Eating considered as one of the fine arts," to the exclusion of almost everything else. No bigot or blind enthusiast ever followed his creed with less regard to the consequences; and no friendship by him was for a moment thought of with one who differed from him in a matter of so much importance.
His hour of breakfast was 11 o'clock, but he would appear in his accustomed place at the restaurant at 10¼. The intervening time was spent in questioning the cook as to the purchases that had that
day been made in the market. Sometimes he would even go himself into the kitchen with handkerchief to his nose, to inspect some rare delicacy. While thus engaged he would seem to gain a new dignity, and would give his orders with the air of a ruler dictating dispatches. The restaurateurs and waiters, high and low, held him in great awe, and would no more question his decisions in regard to food and wines, than would an eastern slave have disobeyed his despot's commands. He knew his power, and exercised it, too, and woe to the unhappy garçon who was unfortunate enough to offer him a dish which he considered low. His scowl was withering, and nothing would save the poor fellow from instant dismissal, but abject submission and an humble avowal that he did not know to whom he spoke.
If he was particular as to what he ate, he was none the less so as to the manner in which it was put upon the table. The table must be in a room large, airy and richly furnished. The crockery and glass must be varied with each dish or brand of wine, and before each plate there was always to be a beautiful bouquet of flowers. One servant only was allowed to attend in white gloves and pumps. When a friend dined with him--and this was an honor granted to few--he was expected for the time to resign all will of his own--all preferences for viands or wines. Criticism of a dish would have endangered his life. It was sufficient that the article appeared before him. He always served his friends, as well as ordered the meals, and for one of them to have presumed to do such a thing, would have been looked upon in the light of a revolt, and punished accordingly.
I have been thus particular in describing my uncle's table peculiarities, as therein lay his glory--his philosophy, and whatever beliefs he had formed through life. Otherwise, his time, and as I went with him, I may say my time, was consumed, dully, and unprofitably enough, in following the crowd and visiting the various public places of the city. He had for instance a box at the Opera; but the music was evidently a bore to him; and what he meant by going to the Opera, was to talk with his friends, or engage in a game of dominoes in the cafe. He would generally content himself with
glancing through his glass at the other pleasure seekers, and if tempted to stay longer, would sleep through the rest of the performance. So that, between him and François, it was only when long after midnight, that I was permitted, at length, thoroughly exhausted, to retire to rest.
For some weeks after his finding me, my presence seemed to be an unfailing source of satisfaction; more, I have since been led to believe, from discovering an heir to his estate after his death, to the exclusion of certain distant relatives whom he detested, than from any genuine natural affection. After that period, his interest lessened, and as it was but too evident that I was in his way, I joyfully took advantage of his apparent desire to be relieved of my presence.
In my rambles over the house I had early found the way to the library; a large room well stocked with books, which seemed covered with the dust of ages. Here I soon learned to while away many dull hours--first, in looking at the pictures, and subsequently in reading the contents of those dust-covered tomes. With what delight did I at that age read the works with which the shelves were laden; which even at that day had almost become obsolete! I began to imagine myself a Scottish Chief--that I was surrounded by the New Forrest--that I inhabited Udolpho's mysterious chateau; and I am quite certain that I was as melancholy and unfortunate as the noble Thaddeus of Warsaw himself.
At one time I fell in love with the "Bleeding Nun," but soon abandoned her to pursue my amours as a gay, blue-cloaked cavalier in the streets of Madrid. I adopted the career of a bandit, with an occasional relaxation to make a piratical excursion over the blue waves; I jumped unharmed from precipices many hundreds of feet high, and eloped with a female Vampyre--was buried alive in damp vaults, and cut my way through rock-ribbed prisons.
I was at length resurrected from this life in a summary manner. Unfortunately, or perhaps I should say, fortunately, for me, my digestive organs were not made after the same pattern as my uncle's, I was impolitic enough one day to say, on being asked why I did not eat of a certain dish to which he had helped me, that it made me
sick. He instantly flew into a violent rage, and almost so far forgot himself as to strike me before the friend who chanced to be dining with us, when that friend averted the storm which was about to burst over my head, by inquiring if it were not time that I was sent to school. I can see the expression of my uncle's altered countenance even now, as this bright idea entered his mind.
The columns of a newspaper were immediately referred to, and the advertisement of M. and Mme. Baudoin appearing to be the most promising, François received immediate orders to have me transferred to his care. It did not take me long to make my few preparations; and secretly pleased to escape from a life which had no charms for me, I entered the Pensionaire de Baudoin the next day.
M. Baudoin, I soon found, was a little, bald-headed gentleman, with protruding eyes, who had come to this country as a gardener. Matters not prospering with him in this capacity, he had contracted a marriage with a certain milliner, and tradition represented that the institution which he now had under his control, had been given him as a bonus, upon the completion of a marriage with some one who had previously been the cher ami of the lady in question. The world had looked coldly upon the institution of Baudoin for some time after its commencement; but in process of time it came to be discovered that his grounds--for he was a good gardener--looked as blooming as the garden of the Hesperides; and that the female pupils of Madame dressed with more taste and fashion than the young Misses of any similar institution in the city.
Neither of the heads of the school interfered actively in our studies; these being confided to subordinate teachers, who deserved the credit of what progress we made, if we made any, in our studies. Madame we never saw excepting on the streets, riding or promenading, and very gaily dressed; while Monsieur, her husband, jogged through life contentedly enough, snipping and clipping away at his shrubbery, and making bouquets for his patrons and favorite female pupils. Engaged in this occupation, we were allowed to admire him at a distance, but in no wise to approach or disturb; and any attempt to trouble his intellect with questions connected with our studies, would be visited heavily, not only upon our own heads, but those of our unfortunate teachers.
This was the institution in which I grew up, and in which my tastes, habits and thinking, and in short, my whole character, was formed for all after life. Our studies, as at that time was general in the city, and still is, in many parts of it, were conducted one half of the day in French, and during the remainder in English; and as is not the case in any other city, the two languages are so equally used, they were spoken by us with as much ease as if they had been
both, which they really were, our mother tongues; but beyond this our education was sadly deficient. So that, at the end of my four years' course, I could quote the first five lines of the Greek poem devoted to Achilles' wrath; I knew that Æneas had carried on a classical flirtation, and terminated it with something like modern rascality; and that the sum of the angles A. B. C. plus D. E. F. were, for some forgotten reason, equal to another description of angles. But beyond this my education was a failure. The rest of my ideas were mostly derived from Dumas, Sue, Balzac, and other of the yellow colored novels, French and English, still less fitted to give us practical ideas of life.
Thus having to go through the forms and drudgery of school life, without ever making any progress, I chafed incessantly, and sighed for the moment of freedom. I often attempted to pursuade my uncle to relieve me from a life which was worse than useless. But, perhaps from imagining my education to be in good hands, because the tuition was extremely high, or from some more selfish motive, upon this point he remained inexorable. The pleasure of my company for a few days was a severe trial to a man of his tastes and habits, and the mere mention of my coming home for good would be sufficient to fill him with fury.
"Do anything you please except coming home to bore me; I won't hear of it, I tell you."
And these choleric exclamations of the moment betrayed his whole line of conduct regarding me. I was never denied money in profusion; my accounts were paid without examination; and, in general, I was allowed to do as I chose; but as to troubling his ease for a single moment with giving me sympathy, counsel, or example, for my improvement, the meanest scholar, that had any relations at all, was more fortunate than I. Not that my uncle was a very bad man, or well knew for how much subsequent unhappiness in my life he might be accountable. He was merely a doubting, distrustful cynic, who believed little in earthly good, and was not quite sure whether the success or failure of a young man's life was a matter of much consequence. But to return. Having nothing to do at school, and living in a large city, with plenty of pocket money, we
at length--that is, myself and companions--begin to acquire dissolute habits, almost from necessity. I ceased sleeping at the college altogether; became a frequent visitor at the kino rooms, and religiously visited the Dutch beer gardens every Sunday afternoon. Luckily for me, this kind of life could not always continue. The time at length arrived at which even M. Baudoin felt a delicacy in charging me for lessons which I never attended, and having received a diploma in Latin, which I could not read, I now had the courage to present myself, with my trunks, before my uncle.
"He can't have the heart to drive me into any more establishments of learning, with such a pretty piece of sheepskin as this," I uneasily soliloquized, and the result showed that I was right.
Arriving in his presence, I found him engaged with a notary in some business; so earnestly, indeed, that he merely raised his eyes momentarily as I entered. I had leisure to observe him. His eye was less bright, his cheek thinner than when I had formerly parted with him, but his suspicious, sceptical look, remained the same.
For some moments after the man of business had departed, he still seemed absorbed in reflection; but at length raising his head, he glanced at me an enquiry which seemed to demand why I had come.
"My education at M. Badouin's college has been completed, uncle. There is nothing further for me to accomplish there. I have, therefore, returned to await your further pleasure."
"Have you learned anything?"
"A difficult question for me to answer. However, in the classics we have read"--
"Never mind the classics. You know nothing about them, of course--none of your name ever did. Not that I think it necessary; but have you acquired the usual accomplishments of young men who have, or suppose they will have, more money than need for the exercise of their brains?"
"I hope you will find that I have not altogether lost my time. In riding, music and dancing, I flatter myself I am somewhat au fait. My fencing master tells me I have a tolerable wrist; otherwise
I can ring the bell an average number of times in the pistol gallery."
"Umph!" Dancing and fighting--to shine in a lady's bower, and kill your rival--I believe this is all we ever learn. You have to commence life with the advantages of those who have gone before. You certainly cannot complain of your education. So accomplished a paragon deserves to shine. To show you I am interested in your success, you may have my ticket to the -- ball, of which I am a subscriber. Stay; to-day is Mardi-gras--it will take place to-night. There is nothing else to be said, I presume."
"If you would," I ventured to say, although I clearly saw that he wished to finish the interview, "give me a little sympathy uncle, and a little affection, it would make me much happier. Will you not allow me to be to you a son, and interest myself in ministering to your comforts?"
"Par dieu, I am not so old as you would have me believe; and supposing I was, François can do that better than you. Be satisfied, I will die in good time, and you will be master then. Now go; it is time for me to dress for dinner."
And so, having nothing else to do, I sallied into the streets, and with the happy temperament of youth, had soon forgotten that I had not one single friend to advise me as to the temptations by which I was surrounded.
The day known in New Orleans as Mardi gras, to which my uncle had alluded, whatever may be its religious use or meaning, was at that time well calculated to dispel any momentary depression of spirits. Singular figures of both sexes, in every variety of costume, on horseback and on foot, were passing to and fro, and perpetrating harmless jokes on the many passengers. But even in this city, with its substratum of French and Spanish population and traditions, masquerading, in broad daylight, accords ill with the genius of our people, and is mostly confined to the wilder and ruder spirits of both sexes.
It is only when the garish light of day has fled from the heavens, that the true spirit of the carnival begins to be felt and seen. Long processions, representing knights of the olden time, troubadours, gipsies mingled with characters of more modern origin, once more revisit the earth. The denisens of Olympus, and the mythic characters of the golden age are slowly bourne along in their antique cars, and pleasingly intermingle the past with the present. Later in the evening they disappear at the entrance of the theatres, opera houses, and saloons, which have been fitted up for dancing; and would you enter fully into the spirit of the hour, it is thither you must follow them.
In spite of all that is said about the commonplace and trivial character of balls, and, indeed, of what you yourself know them in after life to be, what youth, of either sex, in the full possession of health and happiness, can enter within their limits for the first time, without a sensation of delirium and intoxication similar to that he imagines of the blest in Heaven. The numerous lights, the reflecting mirrors, the voluptuous sensations produced by the music, and lastly the gay and animated throng which are everywhere in motion--all excite that exhilaration and lightness of heart which is born in the soul, but once or twice in a life time.
This I now found to be my first sensation on entering; my second was that of infinite sadness, produced by feeling myself a stranger in a
self-occupied crowd of seeing amazons, peasants, princesses, vivandiers, and beauties in every variety of costly dress, all hurrying and pressing in the mad delirium of the dance, without for one moment being affected by my happiness or misery. I had retired in this mood to one of the boxes, too bashful and little accustomed to scenes of this sort to be ready in securing partners, and was looking with an envious eye upon those who were more fortunate. A light touch upon the shoulder at this moment caused me to turn, and in doing this, I now became aware of the presence of a zephyr-like figure standing hitherto unheeded at my side. It was that of a beautiful fairy, in half mask, clad in a gossamer dress, which shaded rather than concealed her form and rounded limbs. Upon her shoulders she bore golden butterfly wings. So irresistibly did her attitude and air impress me as she stood softly leaning forward to whisper in my ear, that for a moment I thought her some supernatural exhalation.
"Shall I call you my good Genius, or are you only a very pretty mortal?" I said to her.
"I am Psyche, or the Soul, unlettered swain; do you not see my wings? I am weary with the world below, and have flown to the heaven of this dress circle. But why do you not dance?"
"It was a presentiment that you were coming soon to be my partner; for you are going to dance with me, are you not?"
"Hum! Goddesses do not dance with every rash youth presumptuous enough to seek their hand. Are you quite sure you dance well?"
"You shall see--it will not be very difficult with a goddess for a partner."
"And are your gloves quite clean? I do not choose to have imprinted upon the back of my dress the cognizance of a hand in addition to my other ornaments."
"See--I put on a fresh pair in honor of your divinity."
"Let us commence, then; but be careful of my wings."
Here she placed her cheek against my shoulder, the band struck up a lively waltz, and we were soon jostling and forcing four way
through the immense crowd, in sweet unison with the music, and as happy as though I really held a goddess in my arms.
"You do not dance so bad! Only you must not hold me too close."
"I was fearful that the crowd would tear you from me; and you dance so light I was apprehensive that my Psyche might fly away."
"There! your compliment has caused you to lose the step. You shall not talk until the music has ceased. And you must always let me go forward, or I shall tread upon the skirt of my dress and fall."
"As you will; I shall improve under your instruction; but are you not Terpsichore, and not Psyche, or, indeed, some maitresse de danse?"
"Naughty boy! You shall not dance with me any more! However, the music has ceased already. Give me your arm, and carry me where there is purer air. Now tell me who you are."
"A marvelously proper question! Must I tell my name to every one who chooses to challenge it? If you are really a goddess you know already."
"And so, perhaps, I do; and you would not now have the honor of having me leaning upon your arm, did not I, as well as my duenna, who you see yonder watching us, know full well who you are."
"You have not yet shown any remarkable knowledge of my history. Give me some proofs of your power."
"Well, Mr. Oscar, you were not so gay a cavalier when first I knew you. Then you were only a little melancholy priest; but even before this, when you ran off from a party and deserted your partner, I knew you."
"Well, is that all?"
"Then you used to wait for your little lady-love at the door of her school, and dance together wherever you happened to find an itinerant hand organ. One time you were dancing to the dead-march of some funeral procession; but that, you know, was bad for lovers, and so you have never seen her since."
"True, only in part; for I see her now. In telling mine, you have also recounted your own history. You are the little Clara that
brought me some bon-bons; and it was you who, coming on the eve of some holy day to the church with a basket of flowers, fell from a step into Oscar's arms. But what was your last name? Did you ever have any other besides Clara?"
"None--at least, you must know me by none other."
"But you certainly will give me some clue? You will allow me to come to see you, will you not?"
"Impossible. We must say good bye when we part to night; besides, I am just escaped from a convent's walls, and am now on my way home, and so we could not meet any more if we would. But yonder my friends are beckoning to me. I must leave you now. When you see me again it will be in a different disguise--plain white domino and black mask. Do you think you will know me?"
"Impossible to be mistaken--that is, if you are bent on leaving."
"Then au revoir." And she disappeared among the crowd.
The rooms now had but little charms for me. I could only promenade from one part to the other, and curse the delay that separated us. At length, after having vainly sought for twenty times the form I missed in every quarter, I saw a mask issue from the dressing room, which answered to the given description.
"I have grown dreadfully impatient at not seeing you."
"But you do not know me," was the reply from a disguised voice.
"Do not torment me, thus; I have suffered enough already from waiting. You cannot expect me to be deceived in so short a time as to your figure, gait, color of your eyes; and lastly--disguise it as you will--your voice."
"Well, then, since you have penetrated my disguise so easily, be it as you say. But you have separated me from my party, who have gone into the supper room without me. What shall I do?"
"Do! why you will go in with me, of course. We will quietly sup together, and you will soon forget your loss in a glass of rose champagne. (Here waiter, your best supper.) Now you will have to remove your mask," I said, as we entered the room and sat down to the table.
"No, it has springs, I can eat very well as I am."
I felt so disappointed that I did not have the heart to say any more until the supper was ended.
As I paid the waiter, and rose with my inconnue to leave, she suddenly discovered her party.
"Mad'moiselle, one word more; I fear I shall not have another opportunity to speak."
"That is very possible, as my friends are only waiting me to depart."
"This fact emboldens me. Will you not give me your name and address?"
"No! decidedly no!"
"Then, for pity! one glance at the lovely face which lies hidden under your mask. If you knew what happiness it would give me, you would not deny me so slight a boon."
"True, it costs little, and you have invited me to a fine supper; would it make you very happy," she said, with something of a malicious air.
"Undoubtedly," I replied, with ill-suppressed eagerness.
"Be happy, then." Here she removed her mask.
If the sight that met Imogene's eyes had now confronted mine, it would not have been seen with more horror. Instead of gratified pleasure, I startled back with an exclamation of bitter rage and disappointment. However, the face I now saw before me was merely that of an elderly lady, whose visage was puckered with wrinkles, and of the color of scorched parchment. To complete my chagrin, I now saw the lady whom I had so eagerly sought, still costumed as Psyche, descending the stairs, and evidently greatly enjoying my discomfiture. But the stairs were blocked up with ladies getting ready to depart, and before I could extricate myself, I had the additional mortification of seeing her enter a carriage, wave me a coquettish salute, and drive rapidly away.
My pursuits for some months succeeding this adventure, though nominally that of reading law, were as frivolous as one could well imagine. The state of mind to which I had arrived, viz: that of a young man who is struck with a pretty face, for some unaccountable reason to every one except himself, is of all others the most absurdly miserable, if for no other reason than that it unfits him for any serious occupation. Had I been an employee, I should have quarreled with my employer, and lost my situation. Had I known how, I would have sought relief in writing poetry. As it was, I became a constant attendant at soireés and assemblies, in the hopes of again meeting my inconnue. My manner of conducting myself there was to lounge around the doors, scowl at every one who passed, and to fancy myself generally miserable. I frequented churches, rode constantly in every city omnibus, visited the various places of amusement, and promenaded Canal at the hour when the crowd was the greatest. These resources failing, I took to wearing startling colors and dressing in the ruffianly style, to the intense horror of my uncle, who would fly into a tremendous passion as often as he saw me, and indignantly order me to take the obnoxious garments off. In short, my many gaucheries wearied and disgusted him, and he sighed for an opportunity of getting rid of me.
One day I was dining with him and his friends,--an august coterie, of whom I stood not a little in dread and from whom I was wont to escape as quickly as possible.
Soup being brought on the table, I had well nigh finished eating mine before the rest of the party had peppered, salted and seasoned theirs to the conventional pitch.
"Do you find the soup to your taste?" inquired one of the party, as he emptied the contents of a cruet into his basin.
"Very good--very good, indeed," I replied, well pleased to have an opportunity of accounting in some manner for my haste.
"Ah! delighted to hear you say so; our cook is not generally so fortunate in his soups."
My uncle having now, with much preparation, arranged the seasoning of his dish according to his rules, conveyed a spoonful of the liquid in question to his lips. Uttering a fierce oath, the spoon fell from his nerveless hand, and this movement was followed by similar gestures of condemnation on the part of his friends. The waiter was summoned and abused as proxy for the cook, and the conversation passed to another theme.
"This business of eating, at best, is a disgusting affair," said one of the party sententiously.
"Low, doubtless, but also dangerous," said my uncle; "that which constitutes its only noble quality. There are other risks to run in life besides those incurred by charging batteries. If Damocles had a sword suspended over his table, it was placed there by his cook. Do you remember L'Harp? His wife would never have left him if his friends could have persuaded him to abandon his diet of hard boiled eggs. And Duvall! No wonder a man that eats fried steaks and bacon should die on the gallows."
How many more instances my uncle might not have quoted upon the subject of his favorite theme there is no telling, had I not at this moment upset the sauce-boat in his lap. He sprang up from his seat with a wrathful shout.
"Grand Dieu! You will yet be the death of me! I have ate at a thousand dinner tables without such an accident ever before happening. The world is wide enough for both of us--decidedly we must part. Never again put your legs under the same mahogany with mine!"
I made an angry protest against thus being spoken to as a child, and left the table. That day I formed my resolution. I would call upon my uncle once more upon business, and then renounce city dissipations, of which I was now heartily weary.
"I have arrived at some resolutions," said I, as I called upon him the following morning, "with which it would, perhaps, be best that I should acquaint you at once. I have now attained my majority,
and been admitted to the bar. I wish to go in person and administer the estate left by my father. My time otherwise I will occupy with my profession."
"Be it as you wish, young man. You have only to communicate with my lawyer." And so our last interview terminated.
It did not take me many days to make these arrangements, and with no regrets, except for the precious time I had wasted, I shook off the dust of my feet against my native city, and braced myself for another début into life.
My road led through interminable pine forests, through which the winds were dismally sighing, or through long lanes, which ran between zig-zag fences. This dreary prospect did not fill me with any flattering anticipations, but I was utterly unprepared for the dreariness and desolation of the miserable collection of houses, which I had determined was henceforth to be my home. As I drove through its streets, up to its principal, and indeed only hotel, I found, that I might have as soon expected to see, any of the ordinary signs of animation, or of life in the Haunted House, as described by Hood, as in this dreadful place.
By amusement was understood drinking in a bar-room, whose "properties" were, a decanter, a half dozen broken tumblers, and as many spoons. The more serious business of the inhabitants was fighting, and playing at the game of Brag, while reclining upon the grass in the public square; and so fascinating was it, that its participants never thought to look up from their occupation, excepting to inquire "who was killed?" in the various fights which were meanwhile transpiring. At night they would sit in one of the few stores of the village, around a fire of inflammable pine, and recite and listen to old stories of blood and murder, which had occurred in the place, and as the knots, with which the flames were fed, would burn with every degree of heat, in the space of a few minutes, our circle would widen and contract, from immediately around the fire place, to the remotest parts of the room. One might have thought to have seen us constantly moving our chairs as we listened to these recitals of all thehorrid events which had occurred in the neighborhood for the past twenty years, that we were going through some kind of incantation, or performing with our seats some complicated crescent dance.
I was standing in a knot of villagers, a few days after my arrival, when I was beckoned apart from the crowd, by a man who had been pointed out to me as the ruling spirit of the place. My first idea was, that my professional services were needed; my second, that
I would be expected to fight. His pants were adorned with a sort of military stripe, his blue neckerchief was tied in a loose sailor's knot, and a jockey cap covered a bushy head of hair. Large rings, a flashy breastpin and chain, and a devil-may-care air generally, made up what was otherwise lacking.
"Have you brought your faro-bank tools along," he commenced, regarding at the same time a plush velvet vest, in which I was then arrayed, very attentively. "You hav'nt?" (in answer to a negative nod,) "then it does'nt signify; I want you about something else just now. You have your fiddle with you, at any rate."
I explained to him what my profession was, and was about to interpose some plea in reference to my musical attainments, when he interrupted me.
"Oh, d--n it, you need'nt tell me, you know; I've seen your fiddle case myself, and old Sprawles, your tavern-keeper, says he has heard you play. But squire, the point is this; we are trying to get up some fun and devilment out in the country, and I want to take you along. I think you'll do. So if you say so, I'll harness up my team, and we'll take an early start. And by the way," he added, without waiting for my assent--"if you happen to have another vest in that style, I would like to run it myself."
I found both propositions reasonable, and we were soon on our way, behind what Hawkins, my new friend, called a "slappin' team of cattle."
On our arrival at the place for which we had started, we found most of the guests outside of the house, or lounging around the doors. The building itself was of rude construction, the ground floor being of logs; it having been used in earlier times as a place of protection against the Indians. Within was a quilting frame, around which were seated, and busily plying their needles, the girls of the surrounding country. There had been as yet, little or no conversation, or any sign that this was a festive gathering; and the parties might have been engaged upon the cerements of the dead, for aught that appeared in their manner.
A few of the bolder spirits displayed their gallantry by snuffing the candles, and as often by oversetting them, or putting them out,
and altogether it was evident that the time for the expected fun had not yet arrived.
But the appearance of Hawkins seemed to be regarded as the looked for signal. The men took immense drinks behind the house, while the quilt was raised to the ceiling by the fairer portion of the guests. Sam and myself entered arm in arm; the crowd followed at our heels, and the festivities were now fairly begun. First there were the well-known country games, which have held their place from time immemorial, and which were pleasantly enlivened by the squeezing of hands, and the kissing of pretty partners; then others of a musical character, in which gentlemen and ladies would form in double file, and march from one end of the house to the other--Sam leading the way, in an immense shirt collar, and roaring out songs, in which the rest joined--such as Barbara Allen, the Blacksmith's daughter, etc., etc. One of them was descriptive of the farmer's cares, and run in this wise:
"'Tis thus the farmer sows his ground,
He folds his arms and looks around;
He wheels around and views the sight,
And stamps the ground with much delight."
The folding of the farmer's arms, stamping of the ground, and other gestures described in the song were gone through in pantomine by the party with great spirit.
When all of these resources were exhausted, there having been many drinks taken in the meanwhile, Hawkins delighted the assembled guests by informing them that the young squire, meaning myself, was no bad hand with the fiddle, and that if such was their wish, they could now have plenty of dancing.
The suggestion was readily responded to by a quick scuffle for partners. I was to kiss the prettiest girl present for my share of the amusement; and my scruples and embarrassment having been in this way overruled, a commanding position was assigned me, on the top of a table. And so matters having been arranged to every body's satisfaction, the old house resounded for the rest of the evening
with the heavy tramp of the dancers, and the unrestrained mirth of every one.
I said the satisfaction of every one, but there was one exception. A sallow, black-haired youth, had seen fit to conceive an unjust jealousy of me from the preference I had given to his sweet-heart, and occupied himself with haughtily regarding me from conspicuous places in the apartment. I did not pay any attention to the circumstance at the time, but I afterwards had cause to remember it.
The time at length arrived, when those who were sober enough, thought it prudent to break up, and the ladies had retired for bonnets and shawls. At this point Hawkins whispered to me, "we had better be gittin', too, squire;" but the advice came a moment too late. A cry was raised for a parting stag-dance; the door was fastened, and I was soon playing, nolens volens, "Natchez under the Hill," as fast as my fingers and bow would let me.
But my friend's presentiment, that the crowd, always quarrelsome and ready for a fight, had imbibed too freely to be left alone without some restraining influence, now proved true. Faster and faster moved the dancers as the excitement of the hour grew upon them; each one jostled rudely against his neighbor; and catch-words and compliments began to be bandied about, of anything but a complimentary nature, or pacifying tendency. At this moment the lights were accidently or designedly put out; my table, upon which I had been sitting as a throne, knocked over, and with such cries from many voices as "I'm the bull of the woods," the fray commenced in good earnest. Pistols were drawn, knives freely used, and articles of furniture in general circulation.
From this scene, in which I began to regard myself de trop, I was anxious to escape, and after some effort, succeeded in gaining an open window. But I was not to be let off so easily. Just as I was in the act of making my exit, a hand was laid upon my throat, and I could hear the quick cocking of a pistol. There was a fierce struggle for a moment, and out we both went, my unknown assailant and myself, through the window. As we fell heavily to the ground, I heard the discharge of the pistol, which my adversary must have
held in his hand; but for some moments I was so stunned with my fall I could not tell which of us was wounded.
"No time to lose, partner," I at length heard Hawkins whispering above me, who, it seemed, had followed pretty closely on our heels. "You have killed your man, and you will soon have all of his friends and relations upon you."
"He was not killed by my act--it was his own fault, if any body's."
"Yours or his own, you excited his rage about his sweet-heart, and he's as dead as a mackerel now. But come, you must git up, and git from this section until the thing blows over."
I thought my companion's advice too good to hesitate about accepting it. I bethought me that I had engaged with the legal gentleman, with whom I had read law, to obtain in writing, in the requisite form, the depositions of a certain aged witness, who was then living in a portion of Louisiana, known as "Up the Coast." I therefore concluded that the most favorable time I would have of attending to this business would be the present.
The next morning found me jolting along my way, in an old travel-stained coach, walking by its side when the roads were rough, and for which I did not much care; but not unfrequently having to carry a rail on my shoulders, to pry it out when bogged in the mud. Besides these little drawbacks, it was pouring down rain during the whole journey; the wind would sigh dismally through the forests, and everything seemed to impress me with a conviction that my journey boded me no good. When we stopped for refreshments, we encountered nothing but the most God-forsaken wayside taverns, where I was uniformly addressed as "stranger," by the landlords, and where, when forced to remain at night, the shutters would keep beating against my window-panes, dismal accompaniments to the raging storm, or vague warnings not to go farther.
The ennui of traveling was at length relieved, by the presence of a companion, though not much at least, for a day or so. His chief occupation for that period of time, was to project his head out of the coach window, and examine the sky; and as if, too much for his spirits to bear up under without some support, he would follow up these examinations, by taking a pull at a black flask, and inviting me to do likewise. But finding that this course did not affect any change, he gradually became more communicative, and freely imparted to me his circumstances.
First, his name was D'Armas, or De Armas, as he would sometimes pronounce it, to make sure of the prefix. He was of Spanish and French descent, (his ancestors having come over with Ponce de Leon, or De Soto, at least so he told me,) and from his accent, I imagined that he spoke the latter language much better than English. He had at one time held a commission in the United States service, but had resigned, and was now but recently returned from Paris. Indeed, I soon found that he affected the Parisian or cosmopolitan style, and never alluded to that city without a sigh.
"We can't get things here as we ought to have them. There is
every variety of flesh, fish and fruit in the country, and no one that knows how to cook. But a good cook requires a very rare order of genius. I have a growing presentiment that I shall die of starvation."
"But it seemed to me when we stopped last to change horses, and fried rashers of bacon upon skewers, that you eat your share with as good a stomach as the rest of us."
"What would you have, mon ami? I know the living you have here will be the death of me, but one never knows how to die with resignation. We struggle on to the last. And then, too, your liquor!" Here he offered me the flask.
"Bad enough, certainly, but still it somehow disappears."
"No, it is not bad; there I disagree with you. All liquors are good, comparatively. But those of France are a little better than this. Pah!" The last exclamation was made after he had swallowed a draft.
"How much farther does your road lead you, said I, by way of changing the subject." "My journey is nearly completed."
"I get out at the old plantation chateau, you see just on ahead."
"Indeed! then we will still remain together. That, I make out from the description of the driver, is the object of my destination." "Tonnerre! Then I congratulate myself upon the accession of your company, and wish you much happiness in your visit. I have been an inmate of the house before, and though the ladies are agreeable enough, to tell the truth, a bon compagnion is what you cannot here always command."
It was near nightfall, when we at length alighted; and in spite of my companion's welcome, it was with a vague presentiment of coming evil, that I drew near the door. I glanced nervously at the mansion itself, and endeavored to discern in its general appearance the character of its inmates. Its age appeared to be great, and from the material with which it was built and plastered, as well as from the general architecture, it must have been constructed during the early occupation of the country by the Spaniards. Otherwise, it was covered with the tendrils of some parasitical plant, and almost concealed in a dense grove of orange, and other evergreen trees.
Entering the house with D'Armas, I was ushered into the presence
of Madame Gonzales, the mistress of the mansion, and after the usual salutations were interchanged between her and my companion, I was presented in due form.
Madame appeared to be rather past the middle period of life, and to have moved much in good society. Her face still retained traces of great beauty, and what defects time had wrought in her charms, were gracefully concealed by the arts of the toilette. Like most Creoles, she was evidently but little accustomed to English; but this was quickly forgot in her agreeable manners, and warm reception.
"The letter which preceeded your arrival, Monsieur," were her first words, "tells me you come on business. May I hope you will also make your visit one also of pleasure? We are here so little troubled with guests, that in welcoming them, we feel only that we are receiving a favor."
"Madame you show me too much kindness, and during the short time my business detains me, I will gladly remain with you."
"We cannot afford to lose you soon, Monsieur. That is too painful to think of, so soon after some one to keep us company. You, at your age, certainly will not put in as a plea, the pressure of time? Leave that to us, who have grown older," she said with a gay laugh. "But you are tired, doubtless, now--your rooms are ready, which I hope you will find to your taste."
"And Mons. Gonzales, the husband of our hostess, do we not find him at home?" I said to D'Armas, when we had withdrawn.
"Yes, but he is seldom visible; you meet him much oftener in the back portico, than in the parlor; his influence is rather of a negative kind, and is felt in the success of the crop, and the yearly settlement of accounts."
I descended no more into the parlor that evening, though my companion did, but remained in my room, nursing my low spirits and secretly envious of the enjoyments below, the sounds of which I could occasionally hear.
At breakfast, D'Armas occupied the head of the table, carved and criticized the dishes, and found fault with the servants. "I don't believe I more than half like this D'Armas," I mentally
thought. "He seems most infernally at home. What business has he here any way?"
These questions, which there was no one to answer, were just then forgotten in the sudden appearance of a young lady, who entered the room at full speed, crying in French, several times, "Philopene, philopene--Henri, you owe me the forfeit." It was only when she was completely out of breath, and had overset the coffee urn, which a servant was carrying, over my shirt bosom, that she became aware of my presence.
An awkward introduction from Madame, followed, in which the young lady was presented as her daughter, which was succeeded by a still more embarrassing silence, during which time, I sat bolt up right, in my chair, and gazed moodily out of the window. Still I could not help stealing an occasional glance at her who had caused my discomfiture. She was very pretty--nay dazzlingly beautiful, and as I made these observations, my ill-nature began to disappear. But she was talking in French, with that vivacity which does not leave a line of feature in repose, and which all of the race who speak that language seem to possess, talking too to cousin Henri.
My chagrin began to return.
She had all of the features, and the black hair, which distinguish the Southern races of Europe. But her complexion was fair, probably from some intermixture of Northern blood. And then too, her teeth! No Goddess of youth and health, ever had more dazzling ivory.
After the meal was finished, I found myself with some trepidation, alone with the young lady who had been introduced to me as M'lle. Clarimonde, and no words as yet exchanged towards forming an acquaintance. I sighed to think I had not picked up more drawing room ideas, and as the superstitious sailor of the Mediterranean vows so many candles to the Virgin in return for help from threatened danger, so did I promise to the altar of fashion an oblation of new suits, patent leather boots, and other accessories of dress could I but extricate myself from my present embarrassment. But the silence could not last always.
"You speak French, doubtless, monsieur?" said she, in that language, seeing I was somewhat slow in commencing the conversation. But I gave her to understand I could trust myself only in English.
"But I speak but little English, myself," continued she, in the same tongue, "and unless you should happen to speak a little French, I am afraid we will not be able to interchange our ideas."
She paused for a reply; I answered her by a look of respectful inquiry; for I well knew that any avowal of an acquaintance with the language would impose on me the necessity of speaking it altogether.
She appeared to have some lingering doubts still, and suddenly overwhelmed me with inquiries in French, so pleasing, so softly insinuating, that I found it difficult to express my ignorance of her meaning in my countenance or by word.
"But why do you so much object to English, Mademoiselle? you seem to comprehend it perfectly, and from the few words that you have used, I can perceive that your accent is by no means bad."
She made no reply, but bending her head so that her face, with the exception of a pouting lip, was almost concealed by a mass of black curls, she sat at the piano, where she had taken her seat when we entered the parlor, idly running her fingers over the keys in the most charmingly pettish manner.
"Since you will not talk, perhaps it will please you to play for me, Mademoiselle. You are not very angry with me for being unable to speak your language?"
Still no reply, unless a ringing, mirthful laugh, and the continued thumping of the piano, might be considered as such.
"It is a very dull life we lead here in the country," she at length said; "so when I heard Mama read the letter of introduction which preceded you, and which flattered you more than you deserve, I began to form all manner of grand ideas of you, and to dream of you as a prince in disguise. You cannot imagine how disappointed I am in you, Monsieur. Ah, I am afraid you are not a prince."
"But, my dear Mademoiselle," I commenced indignantly to protest; but she disdained my apology, and was already dashing off in a rapid and brilliant morocau of music, with an air of perfect indifference as to its reception. I cared little enough for rapid overtures; but I could not help watching, with eager interest, her various attitudes and expression; the fluttering of her curls, and the quick movements of her taper fingers over the keys. Her manner was so instinct with life and vivacity, that to see her in the midst of a grand opera, suggested the idea of some wild colt suddenly put for the first time under the restraint of bit and spur. I think some such ludicrous expression, she must have seen written on my countenance, as she suddenly ceased playing, and looked me steadily in the face.
"Oh! what is the use in playing for you! will you tell me that that fantasia was not executed well?"
"You play divinely; you misinterpret my looks altogether."
"But then you play yourself--nay, no denial."
"Only a few simple old songs, which are not worth the hearing of so fine a performer as yourself?"
"They will be new to me; and then, too, we admire everything that is old. No excuse, sir critic; I must hear you."
"And so you shall, if it will give you pleasure," and I took the seat."
"Ah! Monsieur St. Arment--what is your first name--Oscar? You are not so bad as I thought. We shall become famous friends.
How useful you will be; I shall like you better than Henri, that is, M. D'Armas. You shall be my cavalier when we have any pic-nic excursion; and can you dance? Oh! we love dearly to dance here."
"Now you flatter me; however, the trouble of making a suitable return outweighs the pleasure. But you suspected me just now of not being a prince; you owe me some apology."
And so I found all embarrassment and difficulty vanish in her presence, and that at the end of an hour's conversation we had become fast friends. Then she showed me the family library, and consigned it to my care during my stay.
"But you will not go away, soon, will you, Prince Oscar? You will stay here and amuse me, and play with me, will you not, like a good Prince? But I must leave you now, to make some visits with Mama."
The remainder of the morning I stayed where she had left me, wondering at what was to me the strange being, who, a moment before, had made the dark room light with her presence--building air-castles, in which she was ever the bright inmate, and weaving golden fancies, out of the few words that had passed between us. I was continually recalling what had been said--studying new meanings to unimportant words, wondering what would be said when next we should meet, and vainly trying to remember whom I had ever seen with just such a bewitching toss of her black curls.
No one can ever assign any reason why his fancy should or should not become inflamed with a woman's image; why a black eye should contain so much more of the poison in one case than another, or why the tone of one voice should act like a Circean spell, when others more melodious fall powerless. And so, without having any reason, I henceforth became subject to her will, and was a happy or miserable slave, as her caprice might dictate. Not that I yet dreamed of my state; I did not see my gossamer fetters, and thought I was still free.
I was absorbed in my reveries, when a domestic entered to inquire at what hour dinner should be served.
"Madame and Mademoiselle have not yet returned?" I demanded.
"Monsieur is all alone to-day."
I told him to serve it when he would, and then resigned myself to my first pangs of anguish. The loss of her company for a few hours seemed an almost unendurable evil.
I was still despondent and gloomy, when the carriage, late in the evening, drove to the door. Mademoiselle gave her hand, in descending, to D'Armas, who did not care for it, and seemed oblivious of me, to whom it would have been a priceless boon.
Our conversation, during the evening, was by no means so flattering to my vanity as I had been fancying all day it would be, and I soon retired, almost sullenly, to my room, ready to resign her to the Pandemonium, where I doubted little she and the rest of her sex would ultimately arrive.
The subsequent evening the house was thrown open to the reception of visitors. Our principal resource was dancing; but there were not wanting those among the elder guests, who found a charm in keno bezigue, and other French games. Madame Gonzales was kind enough to furnish us with the music, at the piano. M'lle. Clarimonde, for I had by this time learned her name, led the dance, and though I obtained her hand for the various waltzes as many times as was my due, it was with ill-suppressed jealousy that I saw that others were as eager for the favor as myself, and that it was just as readily granted to them as to me. While thus absorbed and careless of all about me, lounging through the hall, I was suddenly aroused by her now well-known voice.
"Let me take your arm. Now tell me whether you have been asleep or dreaming. Can none of our belles of the country charm you? So short a time from home and yet love-sick for the absent one?"
"You do not deserve a compliment for your penetration, this time. I have never been in love, yet; that is, if you will except the present moment," I tried to stammer out. "I am very innocent of Cupid's wiles, and know but little of the tender sentiment."
"Ah! I shall soon make you admit to the contrary by your own language. Do you know that I am something of a gypsy?"
"Without knowing, I should think it highly probable."
"Well, I can at least recall the past, if not foretell the future. I shall prove to you that you are not as ignorant of the tender passion as you pretend."
"You will, at least, suffer me to remain a sceptic till I see some evidence of your power."
"Undoubtedly; but you will not remain so long." With this she took her pencil and wrote upon a card the words which I had long since written upon the school house wall, and which had been flogged indelibly into my memory.
I looked at my companion for the first moment, half believing in
her pretended supernatural powers; but the next I saw standing before me and laughing at my astonishment, the face of my quondam schoolmate.
"And have you known me ever since my arrival, and did not tell me? How could you remain a hypocrite so many hours? And to think that I cried for you so often when I first left school! You were the only friend I had, then, Mademoiselle."
"And we shall still be as good friends as ever, Oscar, if you wish it."
"Yes, but I am afraid we will not be so closely united as when we had no other friends to divide our friendship. Now you have over so many followers to offer you homage, and your smile will be as ready for them as for me." I could not repress a dolorous sigh.
"What! you have just discovered me, and jealous so soon? But you know we all love to be admired--my heart is large enough for a great many friends."
"I would much rather you would reduce the number somewhat; or, indeed, limit it to one, provided you happily selected me. But tell me how it is, that you come to be living here.
"When you first knew me, I was staying with a relative, the same, you remember, who carried me from the party. She resides in New Orleans, now, and this coming winter I am to come out--with her for my chaperone. But I have promised to waltz with this gentleman who is approaching. Get your partner and join us."
But as I could not dance with Mademoiselle herself, I thought it pleasanter to smoke a cigar on the balcony, and wonder whether this was the pleasantest or most miserable time of my life. "We will be as friendly and familiar as when we were children; but what lover ever was satisfied with that? My presentiment in coming was correct; it will do me no good, and I do not yet see the end. Tomorrow and henceforth I will shut myself in the library and busy myself with law."
Arrived at this wise resolve, I threw away my cigar and went to bed. Sleep, however, did not visit my eyelids, in spite of my good resolutions.
The next morning my legs were extended across the library table,
and I was making frantic efforts to understand a knotty case in some old law book that I had discovered. At the end of an hour my heart was beating rapidly, and I did not remember a word. Just then a servant entered, who said that Miss Clarimonde had sent her compliments, and begged me to come and amuse her. I was dying to go, but remembering my resolution, I sent her word I was too busy to come.
Then a second messenger appeared--Mademoiselle wished to practice a duet, and would require my assistance. I must come.
I had just enough strength left to make a faint refusal, and then threw the book across the room.
I was sullenly clutching my hair, and stalking about the room with a miserable scowl, when I heard a mirthful laugh behind me.
"So this is the business that so much engages you!"
Another long peal of laughter from Clarimonde, for of course it was she.
"I am afflicted with the blue devils to-day," I moodily said. "Why don't you leave me to be dull and miserable by myself? Do you wish to share them with me?"
"Ah, you are angry with me about something, and have been forming some foolish resolutions; I know it--I know it," she exclaimed.
And so I was dragged off to the piano stool; and so I continued to make excursions on foot and on horseback whenever she wished; and these amusements we would sometimes vary by floating together in a rustic bark over the river, through the long shadows formed by the trees.
But, in spite of these many advantages, her conversation and manner were such as never led me to imagine that my foolish love was returned; and, although the word was ever on my lips, I could no more have breathed it to her than to a friend who is sceptical of the existence of the passion.
The time at length arrived which I had to spend in taking my depositions. This task accomplished, my departure could not well be delayed; but it came sooner than I expected.
We had been spending the evening much as usual; that is, Henri
and I had danced with Clarimonde, to the music of the "Black Domino," and other favorite airs, which Madame had played for us. Then we had eaten fruit and candies till bed time, and having nothing else to do, were about to retire.
"Clarimonde," said I, during a momentary tête-a-tête, "I have never yet asked you who is this Henri D'Armas, who honors your family with so much attention. A distant relative is he not?"
"Do you not then really know?" said she, regarding me with a curious look.
"To tell the truth, I don't know that I exactly fancy M. D'Armas. I have never conceived sufficient admiration or interest in him, although he is undoubtedly a man of talent, and is sometimes good company, to make any inquiries."
"I am sorry that you do not like him; he is my fiancé." She said this with as much simplicity as though she did not know I would be staggered by the blow. But to do her justice, she did not fully estimate its effect.
"Mama has been already troubling me to appoint the day; but I am just from the Convent, now, and I wish to see the world; I do not choose to get married yet. Am I not right?"
"Undoubtedly, you do well," I replied, struggling to conceal my emotion. "But the business which brought me to your house is accomplished. I have tarried too long with you already, and I must leave you to-morrow."
"Oh! no--not so soon?"
But my resolution remained firm, notwithstanding her entreaties, and the polite regrets of the family. I bade them adieu, made my preparations for departure by the stage, which would pass early in the morning, and the rest of the night I spent in going wearily over, in my own mind, what had occurred to me during my stay. The daylight was just beginning to drift through my windows, when I summoned sufficient resolution to look, for the last time, on objects which would forever remain dear. The porter had already preceded me with my trunk, when I turned my eyes once again towards the door.
What they had been so despairingly seeking for in the faint light--
the loved form of Clarimonde--I now saw before me. With disheveled tresses floating loosely about her shoulders, and only a light shawl thrown over her white wrapper, I at first had taken her for a phantom of my morbid fancy; but her words soon undeceived me.
"I am very, very sorry you are going thus away. What need is there for so much haste? We will see you again, will we not?"
"Yes, I shall see you again, perhaps at your wedding. Good bye, Clarimonde."
"Good bye, Oscar; you will not forget me, and we shall always be very good friends, that is, if you will allow me. Ah! I shall miss you sadly when you are gone!"
She bent her head as she stood upon the steps; I kissed the tear from her eye, clasped her slender waist for one moment in my arms, and then hastily departed. Then I heard the heavy door close behind me with an ominous sound, which seemed to tell me we must forever go our different ways.
I returned to the village of Dogwood, but ambition had died within me. Moody and desponding, I saw but a reflection of my spirits in the decayed aspect of the place, and its grass grown sheets; in the gallows, with its rotting hemp, and in its desolate burying-ground.
There was a long, vacant store-room in the building, of which my office formed a part, that was filled with old masonic trumpery, processional banners, and worthless equipments of some by-gone military company. It had at one time, too, been used for holding fairs, or festive meetings of some sort, and the faded wreaths and garlands, which still hung around, rendered it to me inexpressibly dreary.
In this unfrequented lumber room, I now oftentimes withdrew, and passed my time in playing upon a violin airs and accompaniments in unison with the life I was leading. With no business, and no employment, with all sources of energy dried up within me, I began to feel that I could not endure the atmosphere of the place much longer.
One day I received a letter from my uncle's man of business, begging me to hasten as soon as possible to the city. The health of my only relative, it was added, was rapidly failing, and unless I should return soon, there was but little probability of my ever again seeing him in life. A summons so imperative admitted of no delay, and I need not add I lost no time in once more regaining my native city.
Dismounting from the cumbrous vehicle in which my journey had thus far been performed, I accepted a seat in the buggy of an acquaintance, who was driving in the direction of my uncle's residence, and we were soon tearing along over the paved streets as fast as a couple of spirited horses could carry us.
My companion, whom I now found was half intoxicated, was still urging on our course, as we drew near the house, when suddenly
our wheels came in rude contact with those of a hearse, which stood before the door. It was a bad omen, I thought, and I was by no means reassured when I learned that it was my uncle who was dead, and that the mournful carriage was now in waiting to convey him, who was my last relative, to his final resting place. There had been but little unity of sentiment between us during his life, and after his spirit had flown for ever, it seemed that we could not avoid coming in collision. I entered the house, as a notary was reading his will, though it sounded much more like a malediction. I was the appointed legatee, both of his imprecations and his wealth, and the latter he seemed to hurl at me, as if he well foresaw that it would be the greatest misfortune that could be bequeathed to me.
And now that I can look back upon the past, I can see what a dreadful load I had to stagger under. What youth, in the most favourable circumstances, could put forth his best energies, could struggle for a paltry remuneration, when do what he would, he could not spend his bank notes as fast as they accumulated? And when I add, that I was without any settled purpose, and that I was embittered and dispirited by the remembrance of my unrequited love; the wonder rather is that I did not become more reckless and prodigal than I did. But I anticipate.
So I followed my uncle's remains to their final resting place, accompanied thither, by the way, by my dissolute friend, who insisted upon singing, while supporting himself against a tree, in a dismal bass voice.
Then I reflected that I was the sole possessor of a colossal fortune, with nothing to do--so I had now begun to reason--but spend and enjoy. To show my respect for his memory I determined to dress henceforth in irreproachable black--some of my friends thought it became me. My time I occupied in emptying, with much solemnity, the bottles of wines he had collected in his establishment. Meanwhile--for it was evident that a young man having a princely revenue at his disposal could not afford such a life long--I would endeavor to see what was to be done. But was it not a pity that Prince Fortunatus, with all of his resources, (and I
cursed my unhappy lot,) should be condemned to sigh for a woman in vain?
Musing thus as I sat late at night in my room, my reveries were disturbed by a ringing of the door bell. "A party of gentlemen, and among them M. D'Armas, at the door, who desire you to descend," says François. I do so--find an omnibus full of convivial friends, (it is not difficult to find them now,) who force me to join them. Having purchased a collection of musical toy instruments, we proceed to amuse ourselves by serenading the houses of well known friends. The butt of the party is a certain judge, more known for his legal knowledge than his appreciation of a joke. However, it is understood that our night's travels are to terminate with a supper, and his love of good eating has induced him to put up with the extravagant spirits of the party. At each house one of the number is required to furnish a song, or play upon his instrument some air, while the rest of the party joins in a chorus. This arrangement is readily submitted to by all until it came the turn of the before-mentioned dignitary.
"Come, Judge," says one, "take your trumpet and blow us a pensive air."
"But, my dear sir, I have no idea of music--I never tried to sing a song or play upon an instrument in my life."
"That matters not--so much the more need for your learning now."
"And upon such an absurd instrument, too?"
"Strike up, Judge, your audience is getting impatient."
"A man of my time of life and position," interposed the Judge piteously.
"Dignity is at a discount here. Once for all, no excuse. Not another drink until you have displayed your talents."
Thus adjured, the Judge, with the air of a spoilt child, took the toy trumpet, dejectedly placed it to his lips, and produced upon it a faint sound.
"Louder! Louder!" shouted the party.
The wretched martyr to pleasure did as he was told, and inflated his cheeks to their fullest capacity.
"Now sound us a charge."
Here his eyes seemed fairly starting from their sockets. At length, after a fearful blast, he sank back in his seat exhausted, and inquired, in a faint voice--
"For God sake, gentlemen, are you satisfied?"
These amusements, thus happily commenced and prolonged through the night, were continued at a well known restaurant during the whole of the following day. The different meals were combined into one grand whole, and our time was spent in ordering and consuming the various dishes that lay within the power of the chef. Occasionally between the courses the party would adjourn to the open air to test a question of boxing, wrestling or running, between the fastest men of the party. At one time attention was directed to the baldness of the Judge, whereupon some one declared that it had been occasioned by his standing too often on his head when a boy.
"Ah, Judge, that is a trick that you never as yet have shown us. We must have that."
"I do assure you," cried the victim, "I have never attempted any such experiments as man or boy."
"Let us see what you can do before we accept of any excuses. You shall have a cushion to put under your head. Come, your friends will help you with a leg until you get started. Here we go."
And in spite of all prayers and entreaties, the performance had to be gone through with upon the table. At the critical moment, those of the party who had hold of his legs, released their hold, and the unwieldly body of the performer fell at full length, and with a loud crash, among the bottles and glasses.
But at length even these resources failed us, and something else had to be thought of.
"Why not a game of cards? I happen, by the merest chance, to have a pack with me," said M. D'Armas.
No one dissented.
"I believe we all play?" he further inquired.
I was obliged, with many blushes, to confess my ignorance.
"But the game is so simple--the mere work of a moment."
I offered no further objection, and the remainder of the day was thus passed. In spite of the simplicity of the game, I discovered that I invariably lost while D'Armas won.
"Courage, mon ami," he said, as he replaced the pack in his pocket, "it requires some little practice to thoroughly understand it. It cost me something, now that I remember, the first time I ever played."
And so, as we returned home, I forgot that I had played my first game of chance, and the consequences to which it might lead--forgot that within the same house, and upon a somewhat similar occasion my poor mother had contracted the seeds of death--and when I retired, was happy that in doing this I had also forgotten my unrequited love.
It may perhaps appear strange that I should now appear as the intimate associate of D'Armas, whose position in relation to Clarimonde would naturally have inspired in me aversion. But I soon found it difficult to resist an intimacy which he sought with every art to force upon me, and I was, besides, in that greatest of all wildernesses, a large city. Besides, without feeling any disposition to make him a friend, his agreeable manners, many accomplishments, and the pleasant bitter things he could say about every friend, soon made him almost an indispensable companion.
I accompanied him to pistol galleries, was initiated by him behind the scenes, and introduced to the most fashionable gourmets and viveurs. When I wished to spend my money at gaming, no friend could have been kinder in showing me where it could agreeably and fashionably be done; or to win a mistress, none knew readier means by which my purpose could be effected. "If you really are bent," said he to me one day, "upon going to the deuce, I can show you the pleasantest and most agreeable path." And he was good enough to keep his word.
I chanced at the opera, one well-remembered benefit night, in company with Henri when the world of fashion glittered in the well filled boxes, and indeed in every avenue and pathway leading thereto. The curtain rose anon, and I sat silently wondering at the shower of bouquets, which fell almost knee-deep around the prima donna, whose benefit night it was, and which even for this city of flowers, seemed rather a Sybarite's dream than anything more terrestial.
"Ah! you seem interested," said Henri. "I share your admiration."
"You could not welcome a goddess with more joyful ovations."
"You refer to the battery of opera glasses that is directed towards her, I suppose," said he, seeming to find some difficulty in
understanding what there could be poetic in encountering the stare of a whole audience.
"But now let us hasten to pay our devoirs--it will be a pleasure for me to present you."
"But, my dear sir, I do not understand--that is, is it not an unseasonable hour," I replied, wondering what had put it into his head to go behind the scenes. But he did not seem to hear me, and beckoning to me to keep him in sight, moved off. Nor did my companion take the direction I anticipated, but crossed to the opposite side, and entered a loge. Its occupants I now for the first time discovered were Clarimonde and her aunt; and it was to the former I now saw that my companion had doubtless referred, as the cynosure of all eyes.
Whether it were long absence, the splendor of her evening costume, or whether time had added new lines of intellect and grace--her always radiant countenance seemed to me to have gained additional beauty, and to have bloomed into the perfection of human loveliness. I thought I detected another change after the usual salutations had been passed, which, however, did not occasion me so much pleasure. The impulsive, mirth-loving, spoiled child, whose mind had seemed so transparent, had vanished, so I thought, and given place to a being more beautiful perhaps, but at the same time more repellant, distant, and less susceptible of the warmer impulses of the heart.
I am willing to admit, that in her reception of me, there was such an absence of flattery, such an indifference to my own claims to admiration, that I may unintentionally have revenged myself, by supposing this to be her general character. It certainly was very painful to my wounded vanity, to be obliged to confess a woman most lovely, at the very moment when she appeared so disappointed in me.
Added to this, that though I had long known Clarimonde to be contracted in marriage with another, and that her manner towards me had never indicated any warmer sentiment than friendship, I had still entertained, in spite of myself, a hope that my passion might be reciprocated.
But in her reception of me this evening, without any appearance
of incivility or even coldness, there was that which would have dampened the ardor of the most sanguine lover. I consequently soon left the work of entertaining her to Henri, and subsided into obscurity by the side of her aunt.
I was supporting a conversation as well as I could, in reference to the operatic devils in red flannel tights, and the short-skirted danseuses, who were picturesquely developing and elaborating with their lower limbs those portions of the play, to which the higher notes of the voice were obviously unequal. But my attention was absorbed with Clarimonde, who was sitting in front of me; and I listened to the words which fell from her lips, with much more anxiety, than to the discourse of the talkative Madame by my side.
"I am afraid I am very much disappointed in your friend," it was said in a low voice, but not so low, as to fail in reaching my ear.
"Ah, what would you have? The young man is sufficiently comme il faut, or I need not tell you he would not be with me"--was Henri's reply.
"We estimate character very differently; his goodly company may perhaps explain my disappointment."
"It occurs to me, you should rather have spoken of him as your friend, than as mine."
"By no means. But your remember how much we were interested in his favor, when we last saw him, he was so amiable and handsome, and looked so much like a soft blushing girl, that no woman could help falling in love with him. And then his face had that delicate shade of melancholy, which our sex so much admire. Not the blasé look, which indicates the exhaustion of all sources of pleasure, but as of one just entering the threshold, who sees from afar, its emptiness and vanity."
"I am afraid my own face will indicate some of the mournful tinge, which you so poetically describe, if you continue. You do not tell me, that you find him changed in that respect? He certainly looked mournful enough, while conversing with you, a few moments since, to have satisfied any one in reason."
"I dare say; but the old expression and character of his face is gone; now his look is coarse and dissipated. Your protégé, for so
I incline to think him, ought to feel grateful for the society into which you have initiated him."
I could remain to hear no more. With a curse upon my lips, for her cold pity, and an amiable determination, never to venture into her presence again, I formally saluted the party and hurried away.
I was now cut loose from the only being who might have influenced my conduct for the better; and with no reproving eye amid the atmosphere of pleasure and dissipation by which I was surrounded, to hint at a better life, I abandoned myself to the current and floated down the stream of life, the unhappiest mortal upon whom the sun shone. It was the consciousness that I might still escape the whirlpools by which I was surrounded, that constituted my misery. For I had not yet gone so far as to banish reflection or be unmindful of the profitless life I was leading. But I could feel that the chords which bound me to the virtuous, were one after another snapping asunder, and that my good angel was about to fold forever her wings.
Henri's refined wickedness at length began to weary me, and a discovery that my polished adversary knew too much of cards, for one who confined himself to the rules of honor, destroyed what little friendship there had been between us. Our rupture had, however, no effect in restraining me, and if anything, I was in a worse condition than before; for though D'Armas cheated me out of my money, himself, he denied that privilege to every one else.
I had wandered, one night, through my accustomed haunts, and found them deserted by the gay revellers, by whom they were usually frequented. Farther inquiry informed me, that this was the appointed evening for what was intended to be the most brilliant soiree of the season.
To attend scenes of this sort, I had not only begun to find wearisome, but the sight of pleasure around me, in which I alone seemed an uninterested spectator, filled me with the profoundest melancholy. Nevertheless, I felt an eager craving for companionship; and although knowing that I could promise myself no enjoyment, and that, on the score of happiness, I had, perhaps, better remain away, I yet determined to go.
The night was already far advanced, but I hastily made what changes in my costume fashion rendered imperative, and was soon on my way, guided by the melting, voluptuous strains of music.
It was a rapid waltz, the band was playing as I entered, so lively and exciting that it might have invoked Terpsichore, herself, to the scene. Youth and beauty were seething, surging and undulating in a vortex of gaiety, and anon would subside into calmer revolutions around the central suns of grace and loveliness.
I was looking on, more interested and moved than I had reason to expect; something of youthful impulse rising within me, when a form flitted by, whose movements were, to the other dancers, what the walk of Æneas' goddess mother was to ordinary mortals. Vainly I tried to escape from the old memories which were awakened within, and which I had thought were long since consigned to oblivion. I wandered around from one room to another, and would ever return to gaze, unnoticed, as if fascinated by some Circean spell. At length, heated by the hot air, and preferring the soft light of the moon to the garish lights within, I passed into the illuminated gardens, and wandered through the groves of orange, citron and magnolia. Then I sat down by a fountain, which threw high in air a
slender stream of spray, and sought to shut out, in the murmur of its fall, the sounds of revelry which crept through the perfume-laden trees.
I had not been long in my retreat before, my mournful reveries were interrupted by approaching footsteps. Anxious only to escape, I hurried down a narrow, winding walk, and was moving hastily away. Suddenly, without premonition or warning, I came face to face upon one who seemed to have wandered, herself, a little apart from the rest of her party. I would have passed on, but happening to raise my eyes, I involuntarily exclaimed--
"Oscar! Do we really once more meet?"
Then there was an abrupt pause. I was the first to recover from my embarrassment, or perhaps I should say, to regain my pride.
"You seem to have lost your escort, Mademoiselle, will you allow me to be of any service?" I ventured to remark, with as much coldness as I could assume.
She made a slight gesture of refusal; but perceiving that I was in the act of moving on, she placed herself in my path.
"Stay--we were once friends. Will you resent my interference in your affairs? You cannot continue to live long as you do now! Your very existence is becoming only a question of time. Is it too late to warn you, Oscar?"
"It is not much to pardon your interest in my welfare. As to its doing me any good, frankly, I fear not. I have neither the inclination nor the resolution to effect any lasting change. But it is you, after all; unconsciously, doubtless, that has made my life so purposeless. Need I tell you of the power of a gifted and beautiful woman? It will do no good, but you must hear me now, Clarimonde. I was blessed with the gifts that men most prize, when I first met you, and not least among them, a disposition which would have found contentment in any lot. It is all sadly changed now. The last ingredient is poured into the chemist's retort, and what was clear as crystal before, becomes muddied and discolored. Ah, unrequited love was the subtle essence that has so changed the cup of happiness for me. Yes, I had learned to love you, Clarimonde;
though why should I say, had learned, when my passion was of a moment, and had no slow commencement?"
"And you blame me for all this?" said Clarimonde, with a sad smile. "You cannot complain that I ever led you on by word or act. You knew me to be the betrothed of another. The lover that sighed for an angel deserved to die for his folly. Be just--I gave you no cause. It was all your own fault--that is, if I have so desperately bewitched you as you would have appear."
"But, Clarimonde, can we reason thus coldly when the passions are enlisted? When we love, it is easy to deceive ourselves with the mirage of hope. To quote an old simile, the poor moth, whose wings have been singed, does none the less hover around the flame. You are the bright light around which my poor heart has been fluttering, and the warning comes too late."
She hesitated some moments before replying, and her arm now rested tenderly upon mine.
"Are you quite sure, Oscar, that others have not been exposed to trials besides yourself? Are not most of us at each other's mercy? But it depends upon ourselves whether we become better or worse--whether we nobly struggle with a wild impulse, or basely abandon the path of duty. You have suffered? so have I."
As she concluded, her voice died out in cadences so soft as to be almost undistinguishable from the murmur of the fountain.
In the trembling accents and yielding form, together with the words she had just spoken, I read what I had never dared previously to hope, and I gained courage to say--
"Tell me, Clarimonde, that you do not intend to marry this man to whom you were then affianced. The engagement was the act of others, not yours. I need not say you do not love him?"
"Nay, Oscar, you were unjust before; now your question is unfair. To answer you, however, my family thinks our marriage has been delayed too long already, and is anxious for its immediate fulfilment."
"And you consent to be thus disposed of?"
"There are obstacles and embarrassments which will render it difficult for me to do otherwise. And the mere continuance of our
engagement, for so long a period, naturally binds us together by a thousand unseen chords which are difficult to break. Indeed, I much fear it will be impossible."
"Then, good-bye, Clarimonde, we had better part. I wish you a great deal of happiness in your marriage."
"Do not leave me yet," said she, gently detaining me. "We must not part thus! O! Oscar, if"--. But there was no need for her to finish the sentence, I answered it before it was spoken, by folding her in my arms.
But even in that moment, when every line in her face was eloquent with her now revealed secret, she still forbore committing herself finally; but bidding me hope for the best, and come on the morrow to hear her decision, she released herself from my arm and hastened away.
I remained where she had left me, framing good resolutions, and indulging glorious dreams for the future; but from this revery I was aroused by a well known voice; it was in the conventional, impassive tone, in which you could feel that not a muscle of the speaker's face moved, and which, for its cold, sarcastic and sneering expression, might have been that of Mephistopholes himself.
"A beautiful night and enchanting scenery, but may I interrupt your reverie for a moment? I have a few words to address to you--nay, you need not look so proud. Others are looking at us, who, if they cannot hear, can at least see. Will it please you to smoke a cigar? You cannot help looking amiable under its influence."
"I find both of your proposals very reasonable, M. D'Armas," said I, knowing well enough in what direction the conversation tended.
"Then," continued my companion, "I have not found your conduct in all respects that of an honorable man. You have seen fit to force the lady whom I am shortly to marry into a very long interview. Need I explain my wishes farther, mon ami?"
He said this in a tone of voice as if he was really addressing a friend.
"Rest assured that your meaning is perfectly understood, M. D'Armas. Have you anything farther to propose?"
"Oh, nothing;" (with a slight shrug of his shoulders.) But it is now very near daybreak--do you not find that the most delightful portion of the day?"
"Undoubtedly; it certainly is very pleasant at times to brush away the early dew in the company of a friend."
"Do you see the friend whom you would like to have attend you?"
"None; there are not many witnesses needed, and any man of honor whom you may name, will be equally agreeable to me."
"So be it; I believe that we are about equal in the pistol gallery, and if anything that you ring the bell--"
"We will not quarrel as to the terms--arrange them as you will."
"Then, if everything is settled, we will both of us remain at the soirée. Sawbones, the surgeon, shall be our mutual friend, and we will keep our counsel while he goes after the pistols."
"Once, again I am quite at your service as to any dispositions you may make," was my reply, and we moved off in different directions.
In a little while afterwards we proceeded to the appointed ground together, and as the grey light of the dawn was still indistinct, and as neither of us were particular as to distance, we stood at considerably less interval than the conventional twelve paces. The word of fire was given, a simultaneous report followed, and my adversary dropped to the ground. Then followed a hasty examination by the Doctor over the body of my now prostrate foe, and the professional shake of the head, which obviated any further inquiry.
"I am afraid it is all over with me." M. D'Armas murmured in his usual calm tone of voice. "I leave you, Monsieur, in possession of the field; I am in good hands here with the Doctor; you have but little time--save yourself if you can."
I was obliged to admit to myself that the caution appeared well timed, as a party, attracted by the explosion of arms, was rapidly approaching. Bitterly cursing my folly, I hastily left the spot, and succeeded in reaching a distant city. Then I sat down to write an account of the affair to Clarimonde, and await what further events might transpire. That letter, I afterwards learned, never reached the place of its destination. Meanwhile I awaited with what patience I could, the slow passage of each succeeding day, until days had lengthened into weeks. After six weeks' absence, I could endure it no longer. My encounter with my late adversary I began to regard as some freak of my imagination, and I determined to return to the scene of my former haunts, at any and every hazard. On my way home I was detained by a steamboat explosion, and once, for a still longer period, was kept under arrest under the
charge of being a pick-pocket. But at length I stepped once more upon the well-known shore. I hurried along, fevered and agitated, like the felon for whom I had been mistaken, in the hopes of meeting some friend, who would relieve my worst fears. Then I stopped to read a paper which the newsboys were hawking. There was no paragraph which immediately concerned me, but in it I saw that Clarimonde had, the previous day, been bound in the holy bonds of wedlock to Henri. The paper fell from my hands--I staggered and remembered no more.
Every one must remember the scourge which a few years back, decimated our largest Southern city, in which no labor was then performed, except by the chain-gangs, who dug trenches for the dead, and in which no vehicle moved, but the dead cart. All of that dreadful time, when the angel of death stalked through the streets and visited every house, I languished under the shadow of the fell destroyer.
Imagine me escaping, after months of sickness, where better and stronger men had gone to their last resting place, and once more returning to a world with which I had no sympathy, no interest, and no pleasant memories. Disease sometimes produces a healthier condition of the whole man, mentally and physically--a more resolute devotion of the faculties to some object in life, but such was not its effect upon me.
Imagine me after a long interval spent in traveling, or rather in purposeless wandering, in which the sight of strange lands taught me no wisdom, as once more re-entering one of the old yellow coaches which at that time was the only means of public conveyance. Time and mental trouble has wrought many changes in me as in most of us, and but few would have recognized in me the one who a few years previous had traveled over the same road so full of life and hope. At least its two inmates, and there were two who already occupied it--did not.
They did not know me, but it required little effort of memory to discern in the forms before me my old rival, Henri, and Clarimonde, his wife. From the positions they respectively occupied towards each other, it were easy to see that their union had not been of the most tender kind. Henri, who occupied the whole of the back seat of the vehicle, was sleeping, or affected to be so, as I entered. My only resource was a seat by Clarimonde.
When Henri at length opened his eyes, he appeared to be examining my features attentively, though with furtive glances, as if endeavoring
to recall some long forgotten face. Then turning to Clarimonde he languidly observed in French.
"Do you know, Madame, of whom our companion reminds me?"
A gesture in the negative was her reply.
"Nevertheless, there is a certain expression about our new friend's face, which it seems to me, we ought both to remember. You, if I mistake not, entertained for the prototype, more than a passing fancy; I remember it, because he, whom this person resembles, came near inflicting on me a dangerous pistol-shot wound.
"Indeed! you have never seen fit to enlighten me with that portion of your history;" was her reply, in a tone of voice in which she did not altogether succeed, in disguising her interest.
"Why, yes," you remember the soirée of Madame Zambelli? It was towards the close of the evening, that we chanced to meet, and to tell the truth, the subject of our conversation and the cause of our disagreement and encounter was naught else than your fair self. You see then ma chere," he continued in his soft mocking laugh, "that underrate me as you will, I thought you a prize worth struggling for, for Heaven knows I bore the youth no malice, except that his claims appeared to be preferred to mine."
"And your subsequent meeting--two such reported shots, and fighting for so great a prize as you represent me, there might have been danger. People are sometimes killed in duels, are they not?"
"Undoubetly. And so it might have been so with us, had not the sole friend who attended us, obviated the difficulty, by loading our pistols only with powder. The affair took place in the gray of early morning. At the first discharge I fell, as the attending surgeon asserted, and my antagonist believed, mortally wounded. A crowd was gathering--the boat in which we had crossed the river was about to return, and everything indicated that unless my opponent wished to be arrested under a charge of murder, he had better be taking a temporary departure from the city. The rest you already know. Before he could return, or make any satisfactory explanation of his conduct, you had listened to reason, and made me the happiest of men."
The last remark, which was intended as a triumphant sneer,
brought the blood to Clarimonde's face, but she only complained of sickness and begged Henri to throw away his cigar.
"Will your sex never grow reconciled to tobacco? You certainly do not expect me to throw away such a Havana as this--better ride with the driver, and submit to the temporary loss of your company. I leave you in charge of our new friend, (speaking for the first time in English) with the hope that you may be more interested in his company, than you generally are in mine." Here he closed the door behind him, and mounted on the box by the side of the driver.
I never doubted for a moment that Clarimonde knew me, yet for several minutes after we were thus unexpectedly left alone, we sat trembling in silence, in the growing shadows of the evening.
"Do you not know me, Clarimonde--have you indeed forgotten me?" I ventured at length to murmur. But she gave no audible sign that she heard me.
"You have just heard the cause of what would otherwise seem inexplicable in my conduct. I left you suddenly, but I was driven away by circumstances which I could not control; fate, not my will, forced us apart."
"If so, why not accept her decrees, kindly and at once? You should not have forced this interview, Oscar. Our threads of life were woven in different woofs; they were not intended to unite and mingle. Better forget the past, and travel our separate ways in life. Better indeed we had never met."
"Chance has brought us together, Clarimonde, as unexpectedly to me as to you. Have you no kind word of greeting? Do not reason thus coldly, but remember you have now in your presence, perhaps for the last time, one whose history, every motive of action and greatest misfortune might be comprehended in the words, He loved you."
"Ah! Oscar, why speak of this now? What good will it do either of us, or to what can it lead? It will but make the dreadful return to a weary, every day life still more insupportable. Let us rather encourage each other in the path of duty by parting at once."
She tried to look the words she spoke, but from her moistened lids, and humbling voice, she was evidently struggling as much with herself, as answering me.
"Tell me, at least," said I, beginning to feel my power, and maddened by the remembrance of the cheat which Henri had himself exposed, tell me that the love which consumes me, is not altogether forgotten by you? I do not ask you to withdraw any love from him, whose name you bear. That you never gave him, and I need not your words for what I know already."
"No, no! I am unwell--leave me." And then in a softer tone--"had you still retained one loving remembrance of me, Oscar, you could not, situated as we now are, thus entreat me."
"I tempt you to no wrong; sympathy, companionship in trouble, is all I ask. Does it make you the worse to know, that I still love and admire your many charming qualities? Would it render me in life less useful, or my future more barren, to know that your eyes were sometimes moistened with pity for me? I will leave you, then."
"What you ask should not be spoken; nay, is impossible."
"The coach is approaching the end of the journey; no other answer?"
"All that I could tell you, you know already," she at length said with an effort.
"For pity, Clarimonde! One tender word, before we part."
"There's not an hour, Oscar, since last we met, in which you have been absent from my thoughts. I wept for you when awake, and sleeping my mind was none the less busy with your image. Once more to meet you, I prayed, and yet I trembled with apprehension at every shadow, lest my fondest wish should be realized. And now that we have met, Oscar"--
"You would have me leave you;" and I folded her in my arms. "Let us fly from the world and remember the past, only as a dream."
She released herself from my embrace, but did not reply. But in her face I read no resistance; only the admission of her weakness, and a piteous appeal for mercy.
The coach now drew up, at a wayside hotel, and I withdrew with
my fellow travellers, to pass the night in forming plans of action for the morrow. Long I mused over the unexpected encounter of the day--of the man who had embittered and rendered useless my life; and I smiled proudly at his coming humiliation. Then too the possession of the woman of whom it had been the business of half my life to dream--was it not a sufficient motive of itself, to urge me on to action.
But the other side of the picture! To think of her I had known from childhood, with whose name, the few good deeds, and motives of my life had been associated--the innocent days of her maidenhood--her brilliant advent into society and present position--could I really forget all this, and ask her to share the fortune of one who had nothing to look forward to in the future?
Between these two courses of action--honor and principle on one side, and present happiness on the other, did my good and evil genii wage a doubtful strife, and fiercely contend for the mastery. The soft light of morning, growing out of the darkness, found me still thus engaged--and then was heard the notes of the bugle, announcing the departure of the stage.
It was now too late to hesitate, and yet a dozen times did I hastily move towards the door, and then return. "Farewell," at length, I exclaimed, summoning all my more generous impulses to my aid. "With the fulfilment of your wishes, depart all hopes of happiness for me."
Here Henri and Clarimonde entered the coach, the door closed, and the vehicle moved slowly away. But ere they had disappeared from my view, for what I regarded as forever, I caught from my window Clarimonde's glance, and waved her a sad adieu. The movement was responded to, and I saw from her half mournful look that my motives were understood, and respected. Then the driver lashed his horses, the light glistened on the rapidly turning wheels, and Clarimonde in the cumbrous coach, disappeared in a long line of dust.
The abrupt ending of our friend's narrative was occasioned by the entrance of the relief guard. The story, we had begun to find, somewhat of the longest, and a frequent yawning and stretching of arms, by which the restless testified their impatience, may have had some influence in hastening its close.
"You don't talk often, Oscar, but by Judas, you do spin it out long when you get under way. D--n such a man; come, let's have a farewell pull at the canteen--I'm afraid that yarn of yours will sit a little cold--and then to bed."
We lost no time in putting both proposals into execution, and moved towards our quarters, just as Aurora, fair shepherdess, was driving before her, her flock of stars.
But a series of military movements were now transpiring, which soon banished all thoughts of sleep, or lesser cares, from our minds. Soon there sped up in mid air a rocket, which we rightly regarded as a portent of coming dangers and battles. This, in turn, was succeeded by the distant booming of cannon; and as the day advanced, a dense pillar of smoke, like a black stain, was seen in the eastern horizon.
The long roll was sounded throughout camp; baggage was hastily packed and sent to the rear, and the troops marched off to meet the foe.
As regiment after regiment hurried off to take the positions assigned to them, signs of the coming struggle become still more perceptible. The roads were covered with wagons, driving furiously to the rear, and with wounded soldiers, who had already been stricken down in the preliminary encounters, who were now being conveyed in ambulances to the hospitals. But occasionally, confounded in the ruder throng, were to be seen fugitive families, mothers with their children, and sometimes, too, those of the weaker sex, whose dress and appearance, in spite of the dust and wildness of their situation, indicated a more tender nurture.
For several days we stood in constant readiness for an attack by the enemy. The heat was almost unendurable, and the men were compelled to sit down in ranks, or stretch their exhausted forms in the shade of the neighboring trees. Rations were rarely distributed, and seldom consisted of more than hard bread. Our greatest sufferings were, however, occasioned by the scarcity or difficulty of obtaining water; and if one of us was so fortunate as to obtain a canteen of the precious fluid, it was a rare proof of friendship when its contents were divided with a suffering comrade.
At night we would lie down in the chilly dews, and would sink to sleep recalling the past and wondering what changes were reserved for us in the future. So that, in many cases, the last conversation we were to have with many old friends, was while cowering beneath the rain, and under one and the same blanket.
At length the morning of the great battle came, and we could see the light gleaming upon the pieces of a distant battery of the enemy, as it rapidly wheeled into position. Then a wreath of smoke curled slowly into the air, followed by a breathless silence of a few seconds, and then, as a large shot whizzed over our heads, we heard the sound produced by the firing of the first gun.
It is not necessary, at this late day, to enter into a general description of the battle, or of any of the movements of the two armies. Our regiment found itself, owing to the necessities of war, or, as we then thought, to some egregious error, placed far in advance of any support, and where our destruction, or capture, seemed inevitable. But every one engaged seemed to accept it as his destiny, and though doubtful and distrustful of the usefulness of the sacrifice, remained at his post until ordered off the field.
Division after division of the enemy had been brought against us, and the struggle had gone on, increasing in deadly intensity, until their whole force seemed converging on the wood we occupied, and broke upon us like an armed wave. So that amid the blinding smoke, the shower of iron hail to which we were exposed, the inequalities of the ground, and the dense growth of shrubbery, it became impossible to understand the commands. Companies were separated from each other, and friend undistinguishable from foe.
It was at this juncture that I saw St. Arment, who was fighting by my side, affected with apparent emotion, and gazing earnestly at some one in the opposing ranks.
"What is the matter, comrade? do you find the bullets inconveniently plentiful?"
"They have as little terror as life has charms for me. But do you see the officer who is advancing towards us, at the head of his men?"
"Not well. But who is he?"
"My old friend, Henri, with whom I have still an account to settle. I will point him out with my musket," at the same time taking deliberate aim.
But before I could hear the report of his gun, a volley from along the enemy's whole line was poured into us, and I saw my companion stagger and fall. There was little time, in that moment, to regard the dead or dying; nevertheless, I ventured to drag him under the shade of a neighboring tree. The blood was flowing freely from his wound, and unless soon staunched, I feared he would not long survive. But I heard the cry, "rally to your colors," from our brave leader, and I could remain no longer. I hastily placed him, in a sitting posture, against the trunk of the tree, with his revolver and my canteen at his side, in case of need, and bade him a sorrowful farewell.
* * * * The contest had ceased; victor and vanquished had passed on, and the dead and dying remained possessors of the field. I myself had, at a later hour, been wounded and left behind, and crawling into the thickest part of the shrubbery, I determined to lie concealed until I could gain some tidings of the battle, or could escape in the obscurity of night. When at length the time came, when I thought it would be safe to move, I concluded to pass the spot where I had last seen my wounded friend.
But the task of returning to the exact spot, was one of no easy accomplishment, and I soon found it almost impossible to move without treading upon the body of some mangled corpse, or of wretches whose hour was only postponed, hoarsely begging for water. And here it was easy to be seen, that amid the thousand faces of prostrate
foes, there was none with that resolute, unyielding expression, which Pyrrhus so much admired in his fallen Roman adversaries, but only one of intense horror.
Finally, beginning to despair of ever more seeing Oscar, I was mentally determining to abandon the search, when my attention was rivetted by the fluttering of a woman's dress. Well knowing that she must be one of the nurses, who came to tend the sick and wounded, and hoping that from her I might learn the information I sought, I hastily drew near.
One more corpse I had to pass, and that I recognized as the officer whom Oscar had pointed out to me in the morning as Henri; and near this, his lifetime rival, lay Oscar St. Arment--their blood refusing to mingle, although so close together--while bending over him, and supporting his drooping head upon her breast, knelt her whose dress had first attracted my attention.
No need to inquire who she was--no guilt in loving her now, Oscar; for without having any premonition of her presence, I knew that the kneeling figure, now before me, could be none other than his long-lost, but always loved, Clarimonde.
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A TREATISE ON FIELD FORTIFICATIONS, containing instructions on the methods of Laying Out, Constructing, Defending, and Attacking Entrenchments, with the general outlines; also, of the arrangement, the attack, and defence of permanent fortifications. By D. H. MAHAN, Professor of Military and Civil Engineering in the United States Military Academy, at West Point, New York. Fourth edition, revised and enlarged, containing all the plates. Price, $2 50.
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