Part 8 out of 12
Xavier had the tiller now, and the men were straining at the oars to send
the boat across the current towards the nearer western shore. And as my
glance took in the scale of things, the miles of bluff frowning above the
bottom, the river that seemed now like a lake of lava gently boiling, and
the wilderness of the western shore that reached beyond the ken of man, I
could not but shudder to think of the conflict of nature's forces in such
a place. A grim stillness reigned over all, broken only now and again by
a sharp command from Xavier. The men were rowing for their lives, the
sweat glistening on their red faces.
"She come," said Xavier.
I looked, not to the northeast whence the banks of cloud had risen, but
to the southwest, and it seemed as though a little speck was there
against the hurrying film of cloud. We were drawing near the forest
line, where a little creek made an indentation. I listened, and from
afar came a sound like the strumming of low notes on a guitar, and sad.
The terrified scream of a panther broke the silence of the forest, and
then the other distant note grew stronger, and stronger yet, and rose to
a high hum like unto no sound on this earth, and mingled with it now was
a lashing like water falling from a great height. We grounded, and
Xavier, seizing a great tow-rope, leaped into the shallow water and
passed the bight around a trunk. I cried out to Nick, but my voice was
drowned. He seized me and flung me under the cabin's lee, and then above
the fearful note of the storm came cracklings like gunshots of great
trees snapping at their trunk. We saw the forest wall burst out--how far
away I know not--and the air was filled as with a flock of giant birds,
and boughs crashed on the roof of the cabin and tore the water in the
darkness. How long we lay clutching each other in terror on the rocking
boat I may not say, but when the veil first lifted there was the river
like an angry sea, and limitless, the wind in its fury whipping the foam
from the crests and bearing it off into space. And presently, as we
stared, the note lowered and the wind was gone again, and there was the
water tossing foolishly, and we lay safe amidst the green wreckage of the
forest as by a miracle.
It was Nick who moved first. With white face he climbed to the roof of
the cabin and idly seizing the great limb that lay there tried to move
it. Xavier, who lay on his face on the bank, rose to a sitting posture
and crossed himself. Beyond me crowded the four members of the crew,
unhurt. Then we heard Xavier's voice, in French, thanking the Blessed
Virgin for our escape.
Further speech was gone from us, for men do not talk after such a matter.
We laid hold of the tree across the cabin and, straining, flung it over
into the water. A great drop of rain hit me on the forehead, and there
came a silver-gray downpour that blotted out the scene and drove us down
below. And then, from somewhere in the depths of the dark cabin, came a
sound to make a man's blood run cold.
"What's that?" I said, clutching Nick.
"Benjy," said he; "thank God he did not die of fright." We lighted a
candle, and poking around, found the negro where he had crept into the
farthest corner of a bunk with his face to the wall. And when we touched
him he gave vent to a yell that was blood-curdling.
"I'se a bad nigger, Lo'd, yes, I is," he moaned. "I ain't fit fo'
Nick shook him and laughed.
"Come out of that, Benjy," he said; "you've got another chance."
Benjy turned, perforce, the whites of his eyes gleaming in the
candle-light, and stared at us.
"You ain't gone yit, Marse," he said.
"Gone where?" said Nick.
"I'se done been tole de quality 'll be jedged fust, Marse,"
Nick hauled him out on the floor. Climbing to the deck, we found that
the boat was already under way, running southward in the current through
the misty rain. And gazing shoreward, a sight met my eyes which I shall
never forget. A wide vista, carpeted with wreckage, was cut through the
forest to the river's edge, and the yellow water was strewn for miles
with green boughs. We stared down it, overwhelmed, until we had passed
beyond its line.
"It is as straight," said Nick, "as straight as one of her Majesty's
alleys I saw cut through the forest at Saint-Cloud."
* * * * * * *
Had I space and time to give a faithful account of this journey it would
be chiefly a tribute to Xavier's skill, for they who have not put
themselves at the mercy of the Mississippi in a small craft can have no
idea of the dangers of such a voyage. Infinite experience, a keen eye, a
steady hand, and a nerve of iron are required. Now, when the current
swirled almost to a rapid, we grazed a rock by the width of a ripple; and
again, despite the effort of Xavier and the crew, we would tear the limbs
from a huge tree, which, had we hit it fair, would have ripped us from
bow to stern. Once, indeed, we were fast on a sand-bar, whence (as Nick
said) Xavier fairly cursed us off. We took care to moor at night, where
we could be seen as little as possible from the river, and divided the
watches lest we should be surprised by Indians. And, as we went
southward, our hands and faces became blotched all over by the bites of
mosquitoes and flies, and we smothered ourselves under blankets to get
rid of them. At times we fished, and one evening, after we had passed
the expanse of water at the mouth of the Ohio, Nick pulled a hideous
thing from the inscrutable yellow depths,--a slimy, scaleless catfish.
He came up like a log, and must have weighed seventy pounds. Xavier and
his men and myself made two good meals of him, but Nick would not touch
The great river teemed with life. There were flocks of herons and cranes
and water pelicans, and I know not what other birds, and as we slipped
under the banks we often heard the paroquets chattering in the forests.
And once, as we drifted into an inlet at sunset, we caught sight of the
shaggy head of a bear above the brown water, and leaping down into the
cabin I primed the rifle that stood there and shot him. It took the
seven of us to drag him on board, and then I cleaned and skinned him as
Tom had taught me, and showed Jean how to put the caul fat and liver in
rows on a skewer and wrap it in the bear's handkerchief and roast it
before the fire. Nick found no difficulty in eating this--it was a dish
fit for any gourmand.
We passed the great, red Chickasaw Bluff, which sits facing westward
looking over the limitless Louisiana forests, where new and wondrous
vines and flowers grew, and came to the beautiful Walnut Hills crowned by
a Spanish fort. We did not stop there to exchange courtesies, but
pressed on to the Grand Gulf, the grave of many a keel boat before and
since. This was by far the most dangerous place on the Mississippi, and
Xavier was never weary of recounting many perilous escapes there, or
telling how such and such a priceless cargo had sunk in the mud by reason
of the lack of skill of particular boatmen he knew of. And indeed, the
Canadian's face assumed a graver mien after the Walnut Hills were behind
"You laugh, Michie," he said to Nick, a little resentfully. "I who speak
to you say that there is four foot on each side of ze bateau. Too much
tafia, a little too much excite--" and he made a gesture with his hand
expressive of total destruction; "ze tornado, I would sooner have him--"
Bah!" said Nick, stroking Xavier's black beard, "give me the tiller. I
will see you through safely, and we will not spare the tafia either."
And he began to sing a song of Xavier's own:--
"'Marianson, dame jolie,
Ou est alle votre mari?'"
"Ah, toujours les dames!" said Xavier. "But I tell you, Michie, le
diable,--he is at ze bottom of ze Grand Gulf and his mouth open--so."
And he suited the action to the word.
At night we tied up under the shore within earshot of the mutter of the
place, and twice that night I awoke with clinched hands from a dream of
being spun fiercely against the rock of which Xavier had told, and sucked
into the devil's mouth under the water. Dawn came as I was fighting the
mosquitoes,--a still, sultry dawn with thunder muttering in the distance.
We breakfasted in silence, and with the crew standing ready at the oars
and Xavier scanning the wide expanse of waters ahead, seeking for that
unmarked point whence to embark on this perilous journey, we floated down
the stream. The prospect was sufficiently disquieting on that murky day.
Below us, on the one hand, a rocky bluff reached out into the river, and
on the far side was a timber-clad point round which the Mississippi
doubled and flowed back on itself. It needed no trained eye to guess at
the perils of the place. On the one side the mighty current charged
against the bluff and, furious at the obstacle, lashed itself into a
hundred sucks and whirls, their course marked by the flotsam plundered
from the forests above. Woe betide the boat that got into this devil's
caldron! And on the other side, near the timbered point, ran a counter
current marked by forest wreckage flowing up-stream. To venture too far
on this side was to be grounded or at least to be sent back to embark
once more on the trial.
But where was the channel? We watched Xavier with bated breath. Not
once did he take his eyes from the swirling water ahead, but gave the
tiller a touch from time to time, now right, now left, and called in a
monotone for the port or starboard oars. Nearer and nearer we sped,
dodging the snags, until the water boiled around us, and suddenly the
boat shot forward as in a mill-race, and we clutched the cabin's roof. A
triumphant gleam was in Xavier's eyes, for he had hit the channel
squarely. And then, like a monster out of the deep, the scaly, black
back of a great northern pine was flung up beside us and sheered us
across the channel until we were at the very edge of the foam-specked,
spinning water. But Xavier saw it, and quick as lightning brought his
helm over and laughed as he heard it crunching along our keel. And so we
came swiftly around the bend and into safety once more. The next day
there was the Petite Gulf, which bothered Xavier very little, and the day
after that we came in sight of Natchez on her heights and guided our boat
in amongst the others that lined the shore, scowled at by lounging
Indians there, and eyed suspiciously by a hatchet-faced Spaniard in a
tawdry uniform who represented his Majesty's customs. Here we stopped
for a day and a night that Xavier and his crew might get properly drunk
on tafia, while Nick and I walked about the town and waited until his
Excellency, the commandant, had finished dinner that we might present our
letters and obtain his passport. Natchez at that date was a sufficiently
unkempt and evil place of dirty, ramshackle houses and gambling dens,
where men of the four nations gamed and quarrelled and fought. We were
glad enough to get away the following morning, Xavier somewhat saddened
by the loss of thirty livres of which he had no memory, and Nick and
myself relieved at having the passports in our pockets. I have mine yet
among my papers.
"Natchez, 29 de Junio, de 1789.
"Concedo libre y seguro paeaporte a Don David Ritchie para que pase a la
Nueva Orleans por Agna. Pido y encargo no se le ponga embarazo."
A few days more and we were running between low shores which seemed to
hold a dark enchantment. The rivers now flowed out of, and not into the
Mississippi, and Xavier called them bayous, and often it took much skill
and foresight on his part not to be shot into the lane they made in the
dark forest of an evening. And the forest,--it seemed an impenetrable
mystery, a strange tangle of fantastic growths: the live-oak (chene
vert), its wide-spreading limbs hung funereally with Spanish moss and
twined in the mistletoe's death embrace; the dark cypress swamp with the
conelike knees above the yellow back-waters; and here and there grew the
bridelike magnolia which we had known in Kentucky, wafting its perfume
over the waters, and wondrous flowers and vines and trees with French
names that bring back the scene to me even now with a whiff of romance,
bois d'arc, lilac, grande volaille (water-lily). Birds flew hither and
thither (the names of every one of which Xavier knew),--the whistling
papabot, the mournful bittern (garde-soleil), and the night-heron
(grosbeck), who stood like a sentinel on the points.
One night I awoke with the sweat starting from my brow, trying to collect
my senses, and I lay on my blanket listening to such plaintive and
heart-rending cries as I had never known. Human cries they were, cries
as of children in distress, and I rose to a sitting posture on the deck
with my hair standing up straight, to discover Nick beside me in the same
"God have mercy on us," I heard him mutter, "what's that? It sounds like
the wail of all the babies since the world began."
We listened together, and I can give no notion of the hideous
mournfulness of the sound. We lay in a swampy little inlet, and the
forest wall made a dark blur against the star-studded sky. There was a
splash near the boat that made me clutch my legs, the wails ceased and
began again with redoubled intensity. Nick and I leaped to our feet and
stood staring, horrified, over the gunwale into the black water.
Presently there was a laugh behind us, and we saw Xavier resting on his
"What devil-haunted place is this?" demanded Nick.
"Ha, ha," said Xavier, shaking with unseemly mirth, "you have never heard
ze alligator sing, Michie?"
"Alligator!" cried Nick; "there are babies in the water, I tell you."
"Ha, ha," laughed Xavier, flinging off his blanket and searching for his
flint and tinder. He lighted a pine knot, and in the red pulsing flare
we saw what seemed to be a dozen black logs floating on the surface. And
then Xavier flung the cresset at them, fire and all. There was a
lashing, a frightful howl from one of the logs, and the night's silence
Often after that our slumbers were disturbed, and we would rise with
maledictions in our mouths to fling the handiest thing at the serenaders.
When we arose in the morning we would often see them by the dozens,
basking in the shallows, with their wide mouths flapped open waiting for
their prey. Sometimes we ran upon them in the water, where they looked
like the rough-bark pine logs from the North, and Nick would have a shot
at them. When he hit one fairly there would be a leviathan-like roar and
a churning of the river into suds.
At length there were signs that we were drifting out of the wilderness,
and one morning we came in sight of a rich plantation with its dark
orange trees and fields of indigo, with its wide-galleried manor-house in
a grove. And as we drifted we heard the negroes chanting at their work,
the plaintive cadence of the strange song adding to the mystery of the
scene. Here in truth was a new world, a land of peaceful customs, green
and moist. The soft-toned bells of it seemed an expression of its
life,--so far removed from our own striving and fighting existence in
Kentucky. Here and there, between plantations, a belfry could be seen
above the cluster of the little white village planted in the green; and
when we went ashore amongst these simple French people they treated us
with such gentle civility and kindness that we would fain have lingered
there. The river had become a vast yellow lake, and often as we drifted
of an evening the wail of a slave dance and monotonous beating of a
tom-tom would float to us over the water.
At last, late one afternoon, we came in sight of that strange city which
had filled our thoughts for many days.
THE STRANGE CITY
Nick and I stood by the mast on the forward part of the cabin, staring at
the distant, low-lying city, while Xavier sought for the entrance to the
eddy which here runs along the shore. If you did not gain this entrance,
--so he explained,--you were carried by a swift current below New Orleans
and might by no means get back save by the hiring of a crew. Xavier,
however, was not to be caught thus, and presently we were gliding quietly
along the eastern bank, or levee, which held back the river from the
lowlands. Then, as we looked, the levee became an esplanade shaded by
rows of willows, and through them we caught sight of the upper galleries
and low, curving roofs of the city itself. There, cried Xavier, was the
Governor's house on the corner, where the great Miro lived, and beyond it
the house of the Intendant; and then, gliding into an open space between
the keel boats along the bank, stared at by a score of boatmen and idlers
from above, we came to the end of our long journey. No sooner had we
made fast than we were boarded by a shabby customs officer who, when he
had seen our passports, bowed politely and invited us to land. We leaped
ashore, gained the gravelled walk on the levee, and looked about us.
Squalidity first met our eyes. Below us, crowded between the levee and
the row of houses, were dozens of squalid market-stalls tended by
cotton-clad negroes. Beyond, across the bare Place d'Armes, a blackened
gap in the line of houses bore witness to the devastation of the year
gone by, while here and there a roof, struck by the setting sun, gleamed
fiery red with its new tiles. The levee was deserted save for the
negroes and the river men.
"Time for siesta, Michie," said Xavier, joining us; "I will show you ze
inn of which I spik. She is kep' by my fren', Madame Bouvet."
"Xavier," said Nick, looking at the rolling flood of the river, "suppose
this levee should break?"
"Ah," said Xavier, "then some Spaniard who never have a bath--he feel
what water is lak."
Followed by Benjy with the saddle-bags, we went down the steps set in the
levee into this strange, foreign city. It was like unto nothing we had
ever seen, nor can I give an adequate notion of how it affected us,--such
a mixture it seemed of dirt and poverty and wealth and romance. The
narrow, muddy streets ran with filth, and on each side along the houses
was a sun-baked walk held up by the curved sides of broken flatboats,
where two men might scarcely pass. The houses, too, had an odd and
foreign look, some of wood, some of upright logs and plaster, and newer
ones, Spanish in style, of adobe, with curving roofs of red tiles and
strong eaves spreading over the banquette (as the sidewalk was called),
casting shadows on lemon-colored walls. Since New Orleans was in a
swamp, the older houses for the most part were lifted some seven feet
above the ground, and many of these houses had wide galleries on the
street side. Here and there a shop was set in the wall; a watchmaker was
to be seen poring over his work at a tiny window, a shoemaker
cross-legged on the floor. Again, at an open wicket, we caught a glimpse
through a cool archway into a flowering court-yard. Stalwart negresses
with bright kerchiefs made way for us on the banquette. Hands on hips,
they swung along erect, with baskets of cakes and sweetmeats on their
heads, musically crying their wares.
At length, turning a corner, we came to a white wooden house on the Rue
Royale, with a flight of steps leading up to the entrance. In place of a
door a flimsy curtain hung in the doorway, and, pushing this aside, we
followed Xavier through a darkened hall to a wide gallery that overlooked
a court-yard. This court-yard was shaded by several great trees which
grew there, the house and gallery ran down one other side of it; and the
two remaining sides were made up of a series of low cabins, these forming
the various outhouses and the kitchen. At the far end of this gallery a
sallow, buxom lady sat sewing at a table, and Xavier saluted her very
"Madame," he said, "I have brought you from St. Louis with Michie
Gratiot's compliments two young American gentlemen, who are travelling to
The lady rose and beamed upon us.
"From Monsieur Gratiot," she said; "you are very welcome, gentlemen, to
such poor accommodations as I have. It is not unusual to have American
gentlemen in New Orleans, for many come here first and last. And I am
happy to say that two of my best rooms are vacant. Zoey!"
There was a shrill answer from the court below, and a negro girl in a
yellow turban came running up, while Madame Bouvet bustled along the
gallery and opened the doors of two darkened rooms. Within I could dimly
see a walnut dresser, a chair, and a walnut bed on which was spread a
"Voila! Messieurs," cried Madame Bouvet, "there is still a little time
for a siesta. No siesta!" cried Madame, eying us aghast; "ah, the
Americans they never rest--never."
We bade farewell to the good Xavier, promising to see him soon; and Nick,
shouting to Benjy to open the saddle-bags, proceeded to array himself in
the clothes which had made so much havoc at St. Louis. I boded no good
from this proceeding, but I reflected, as I watched him dress, that I
might as well try to turn the Mississippi from its course as to attempt
to keep my cousin from the search for gallant adventure. And I reflected
that his indulgence in pleasure-seeking would serve the more to divert
any suspicions which might fall upon my own head. At last, when the
setting sun was flooding the court-yard, he stood arrayed upon the
gallery, ready to venture forth to conquest.
Madame Bouvet's tavern, or hotel, or whatever she was pleased to call it,
was not immaculately clean. Before passing into the street we stood for
a moment looking into the public room on the left of the hallway, a long
saloon, evidently used in the early afternoon for a dining room, and at
the back of it a wide, many-paned window, capped by a Spanish arch,
looked out on the gallery. Near this window was a gay party of young men
engaged at cards, waited on by the yellow-turbaned Zoey, and drinking
what evidently was claret punch. The sounds of their jests and laughter
pursued us out of the house.
The town was waking from its siesta, the streets filling, and people
stopped to stare at Nick as we passed. But Nick, who was plainly in
search of something he did not find, hurried on. We soon came to the
quarter which had suffered most from the fire, where new houses had gone
up or were in the building beside the blackened logs of many of
Bienville's time. Then we came to a high white wall that surrounded a
large garden, and within it was a long, massive building of some beauty
and pretension, with a high, latticed belfry and heavy walls and with
arched dormers in the sloping roof. As we stood staring at it through
the iron grille set in the archway of the lodge, Nick declared that it
put him in mind of some of the chateaux he had seen in France, and he
crossed the street to get a better view of the premises. An old man in
coarse blue linen came out of the lodge and spoke to me.
"It is the convent of the good nuns, the Ursulines, Monsieur," he said in
French, "and it was built long ago in the Sieur de Bienville's time, when
the colony was young. For forty-five years, Monsieur, the young ladies
of the city have come here to be educated."
"What does he say?" demanded Nick, pricking up his ears as he came across
"That young men have been sent to the mines of Brazil for climbing the
walls," I answered.
"Who wants to climb the walls?" said Nick, disgusted.
"The young ladies of the town go to school here," I answered; "it is a
"It might serve to pass the time," said Nick, gazing with a new interest
at the latticed windows. "How much would you take, my friend, to let us
in at the back way this evening?" he demanded of the porter in French.
The good man gasped, lifted his hands in horror, and straightway let
loose upon Nick a torrent of French invectives that had not the least
effect except to cause a blacksmith's apprentice and two negroes to stop
and stare at us.
"Pooh!" exclaimed Nick, when the man had paused for want of breath, "it
is no trick to get over that wall."
"Bon Dieu!" cried the porter, "you are Kentuckians, yes? I might have
known that you were Kentuckians, and I shall advise the good sisters to
put glass on the wall and keep a watch."
"The young ladies are beautiful, you say?" said Nick.
At this juncture, with the negroes grinning and the porter near bursting
with rage, there came out of the lodge the fattest woman I have ever seen
for her size. She seized her husband by the back of his loose frock and
pulled him away, crying out that he was losing time by talking to
vagabonds, besides disturbing the good sisters. Then we went away, Nick
following the convent wall down to the river. Turning southward under
the bank past the huddle of market-stalls, we came suddenly upon a sight
that made us pause and wonder.
New Orleans was awake. A gay and laughing throng paced the esplanade on
the levee under the willows, with here and there a cavalier on horseback
on the Royal Road below. Across the Place d'Armes the spire of the
parish church stood against the fading sky, and to the westward the
mighty river stretched away like a gilded floor. It was a strange
throng. There were grave Spaniards in long cloaks and feathered beavers;
jolly merchants and artisans in short linen jackets, each with his
tabatiere, the wives with bits of finery, the children laughing and
shouting and dodging in and out between fathers and mothers beaming with
quiet pride and contentment; swarthy boat-men with their worsted belts,
gaudy negresses chanting in the soft patois, and here and there a
blanketed Indian. Nor was this all. Some occasion (so Madame Bouvet had
told us) had brought a sprinkling of fashion to town that day, and it was
a fashion to astonish me. There were fine gentlemen with swords and silk
waistcoats and silver shoe-buckles, and ladies in filmy summer gowns.
Greuze ruled the mode in France then, but New Orleans had not got beyond
Watteau. As for Nick and me, we knew nothing of Greuze and Watteau then,
and we could only stare in astonishment. And for once we saw an officer
of the Louisiana Regiment resplendent in a uniform that might have served
Ay, and there was yet another sort. Every flatboatman who returned to
Kentucky was full of tales of the marvellous beauty of the quadroons and
octoroons, stories which I had taken with a grain of salt; but they had
not indeed been greatly overdrawn. For here were these ladies in the
flesh, their great, opaque, almond eyes consuming us with a swift glance,
and each walking with a languid grace beside her duenna. Their faces
were like old ivory, their dress the stern Miro himself could scarce
repress. In former times they had been lavish in their finery, and even
now earrings still gleamed and color broke out irrepressibly.
Nick was delighted, but he had not dragged me twice the length of the
esplanade ere his eye was caught by a young lady in pink who sauntered
between an elderly gentleman in black silk and a young man more gayly
"Egad," said Nick, "there is my divinity, and I need not look a step
"You have but to choose, I suppose, and all falls your way," I answered.
"But look!" he cried, halting me to stare after the girl, "what a face,
and what a form! And what a carriage, by Jove! There is breeding for
you! And Davy, did you mark the gentle, rounded arm? Thank heaven these
short sleeves are the fashion."
"You are mad, Nick," I answered, pulling him on, "these people are not to
be stared at so. And once I present our letters to Monsieur de
Saint-Gre, it will not be difficult to know any of them."
"Look!" said he, "that young man, lover or husband, is a brute. On my
soul, they are quarrelling."
The three had stopped by a bench under a tree. The young man, who wore
claret silk and a sword, had one of those thin faces of dirty complexion
which show the ravages of dissipation, and he was talking with a rapidity
and vehemence of which only a Latin tongue will admit. We could see,
likewise, that the girl was answering with spirit,--indeed, I should
write a stronger word than spirit,--while the elderly gentleman, who had
a good-humored, fleshy face and figure, was plainly doing his best to
calm them both. People who were passing stared curiously at the three.
"Your divinity evidently has a temper," I remarked.
"For that scoundel--certainly," said Nick; "but come, they are moving
"You mean to follow them?" I exclaimed.
"Why not?" said he. "We will find out where they live and who they are,
"And you have taken a fancy to this girl?"
"I have looked them all over, and she's by far the best I've seen. I can
say so much honestly."
"But she may be married," I said weakly.
"Tut, Davy," he answered, "it's more than likely, from the violence of
their quarrel. But if so, we will try again."
"We!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, come on!" he cried, dragging me by the sleeve, "or we shall lose
I resisted no longer, but followed him down the levee, in my heart
thanking heaven that he had not taken a fancy to an octoroon. Twilight
had set in strongly, the gay crowd was beginning to disperse, and in the
distance the three figures could be seen making their way across the
Place d'Armes, the girl hanging on the elderly gentleman's arm, and the
young man following with seeming sullenness behind. They turned into one
of the narrower streets, and we quickened our steps. Lights gleamed in
the houses; voices and laughter, and once the tinkle of a guitar came to
us from court-yard and gallery. But Nick, hurrying on, came near to
bowling more than one respectable citizen we met on the banquette, into
the ditch. We reached a corner, and the three were nowhere to be seen.
"Curse the luck!" cried Nick, "we have lost them. The next time I'll
stop for no explanations."
There was no particular reason why I should have been penitent, but I
ventured to say that the house they had entered could not be far off.
"And how the devil are we to know it?" demanded Nick.
This puzzled me for a moment, but presently I began to think that the two
might begin quarrelling again, and said so. Nick laughed and put his arm
around my neck.
"You have no mean ability for intrigue when you put your mind to it,
Davy," he said; "I vow I believe you are in love with the girl yourself."
I disclaimed this with some vehemence. Indeed, I had scarcely seen her.
"They can't be far off," said Nick; "we'll pitch on a likely house and
camp in front of it until bedtime."
"And be flung into a filthy calaboose by a constable," said I. "No,
We walked on, and halfway down the block we came upon a new house with
more pretensions than its neighbors. It was set back a little from the
street, and there was a high adobe wall into which a pair of gates were
set, and a wicket opening in one of them. Over the wall hung a dark
fringe of magnolia and orange boughs. On each of the gate-posts a
crouching lion was outlined dimly against the fainting light, and, by
crossing the street, we could see the upper line of a latticed gallery
under the low roof. We took our stand within the empty doorway of a
blackened house, nearly opposite, and there we waited, Nick murmuring all
sorts of ridiculous things in my ear. But presently I began to reflect
upon the consequences of being taken in such a situation by a constable
and dragged into the light of a public examination. I put this to Nick
as plainly as I could, and was declaring my intention of going back to
Madame Bouvet's, when the sound of voices arrested me. The voices came
from the latticed gallery, and they were low at first, but soon rose to
such an angry pitch that I made no doubt we had hit on the right house
after all. What they said was lost to us, but I could distinguish the
woman's voice, low-pitched and vibrant as though insisting upon a
refusal, and the man's scarce adult tones, now high as though with balked
passion, now shaken and imploring. I was for leaving the place at once,
but Nick clutched my arm tightly; and suddenly, as I stood undecided, the
voices ceased entirely, there were the sounds of a scuffle, and the
lattice of the gallery was flung open. In the all but darkness we saw a
figure climb over the railing, hang suspended for an instant, and drop
lightly to the ground. Then came the light relief of a woman's gown in
the opening of the lattice, the cry "Auguste, Auguste!" the wicket in the
gate opened and slammed, and a man ran at top speed along the banquette
towards the levee.
Instinctively I seized Nick by the arm as he started out of the doorway.
"Let me go," he cried angrily, "let me go, Davy."
But I held on.
"Are you mad?" I said.
He did not answer, but twisted and struggled, and before I knew what he
was doing he had pushed me off the stone step into a tangle of blackened
beams behind. I dropped his arm to save myself, and it was mere good
fortune that I did not break an ankle in the fall. When I had gained the
step again he was gone after the man, and a portly citizen stood in front
of me, looking into the doorway.
"Qu'est-ce-qu'il-y-a la dedans?" he demanded sharply.
It was a sufficiently embarrassing situation. I put on a bold front,
however, and not deigning to answer, pushed past him and walked with as
much leisure as possible along the banquette in the direction which Nick
had taken. As I turned the corner I glanced over my shoulder, and in the
darkness I could just make out the man standing where I had left him. In
great uneasiness I pursued my way, my imagination summing up for Nick all
kinds of adventures with disagreeable consequences. I walked for some
time--it may have been half an hour--aimlessly, and finally decided it
would be best to go back to Madame Bouvet's and await the issue with as
much calmness as possible. He might not, after all, have caught the
There were few people in the dark streets, but at length I met a man who
gave me directions, and presently found my way back to my lodging place.
Talk and laughter floated through the latticed windows into the street,
and when I had pushed back the curtain and looked into the saloon I found
the same gaming party at the end of it, sitting in their shirt-sleeves
amidst the moths and insects that hovered around the candles.
"Ah, Monsieur," said Madame Bouvet's voice behind me, "you must excuse
them. They will come here and play, the young gentlemen, and I cannot
find it in my heart to drive them away, though sometimes I lose a
respectable lodger by their noise. But, after all, what would you?" she
added with a shrug; "I love them, the young men. But, Monsieur," she
cried, "you have had no supper! And where is Monsieur your companion?
Comme il est beau garcon!"
"He will be in presently," I answered with unwarranted assumption.
Madame shot at me the swiftest of glances and laughed, and I suspected
that she divined Nick's propensity for adventure. However, she said
nothing more than to bid me sit down at the table, and presently Zoey
came in with lights and strange, highly seasoned dishes, which I ate with
avidity, notwithstanding my uneasiness of mind, watching the while the
party at the far end of the room. There were five young gentlemen
playing a game I knew not, with intervals of intense silence, and
boisterous laughter and execrations while the cards were being shuffled
and the money rang on the board and glasses were being filled from a
stand at one side. Presently Madame Bouvet returned, and placing before
me a cup of wondrous coffee, advanced down the room towards them.
"Ah, Messieurs," she cried, "you will ruin my poor house."
The five rose and bowed with marked profundity. One of them, with a
puffy, weak, good-natured face, answered her briskly, and after a little
raillery she came back to me. I had a question not over discreet on my
"There are some fine residences going up here, Madame," I said.
"Since the fire, Monsieur, the dreadful fire of Good Friday a year ago.
You admire them?"
"I saw one," I answered with indifference, "with a wall and lions on the
"Mon Dieu, that is a house," exclaimed Madame; "it belongs to Monsieur de
"To Monsieur de Saint-Gre!" I repeated.
She shot a look at me. She had bright little eyes like a bird's, that
shone in the candlelight.
"You know him, Monsieur?"
"I heard of him in St. Louis," I answered.
"You will meet him, no doubt," she continued. "He is a very fine
gentleman. His grandfather was Commissary-general of the colony, and he
himself is a cousin of the Marquis de Saint-Gre, who has two chateaux, a
house in Paris, and is a favorite of the King." She paused, as if to let
this impress itself upon me, and added archly, "Tenez, Monsieur, there is
She stopped abruptly.
I followed her glance, and my first impression--of claret-color--gave me
a shock. My second confirmed it, for in the semi-darkness beyond the
rays of the candle was a thin, eager face, prematurely lined, with
coal-black, lustrous eyes that spoke eloquently of indulgence. In an
instant I knew it to be that of the young man whom I had seen on the
"Monsieur Auguste?" stammered Madame.
"Bon soir, Madame," he cried gayly, with a bow; "diable, they are already
at it, I see, and the punch in the bowl. I will win back to-night what I
have lost by a week of accursed luck."
"Monsieur your father has relented, perhaps," said Madame, deferentially.
"Relented!" cried the young man, "not a sou. C'est egal! I have the
means here," and he tapped his pocket, "I have the means here to set me
on my feet again, Madame."
He spoke with a note of triumph, and Madame took a curious step towards
"Qu'est-ce-que c'est, Monsieur Auguste?" she inquired.
He drew something that glittered from his pocket and beckoned to her to
follow him down the room, which she did with alacrity.
"Ha, Adolphe," he cried to the young man of the puffy face, "I will have
my revenge to-night. Voila!!" and he held up the shining thing, "this
goes to the highest bidder, and you will agree that it is worth a pretty
They rose from their chairs and clustered around him at the table, Madame
in their midst, staring with bent heads at the trinket which he held to
the light. It was Madame's voice I heard first, in a kind of frightened
"Mon Dieu, Monsieur Auguste, you will not part with that!" she exclaimed.
"Why not?" demanded the young man, indifferently. "It was painted by
Boze, the back is solid gold, and the Jew in the Rue Toulouse will give
me four hundred livres for it to-morrow morning."
There followed immediately such a chorus of questions, exclamations, and
shrill protests from Madame Bouvet, that I (being such a laborious French
scholar) could distinguish but little of what they said. I looked in
wonderment at the gesticulating figures grouped against the light, Madame
imploring, the youthful profile of the newcomer marked with a cynical and
scornful refusal. More than once I was for rising out of my chair to go
over and see for myself what the object was, and then, suddenly, I
perceived Madame Bouvet coming towards me in evident agitation. She sank
into the chair beside me.
"If I had four hundred livres," she said, "if I had four hundred livres!"
"And what then?" I asked.
"Monsieur," she said, "a terrible thing has happened. Auguste de
"Auguste de Saint-Gre!" I exclaimed.
"He is the son of that Monsieur de Saint-Gre of whom we spoke," she
answered, "a wild lad, a spendthrift, a gambler, if you like. And yet he
is a Saint-Gre, Monsieur, and I cannot refuse him. It is the miniature
of Mademoiselle Helene de Saint-Gre, the daughter of the Marquis, sent to
Mamselle 'Toinette, his sister, from France. How he has obtained it I
"Ah!" I exclaimed sharply, the explanation of the scene of which I had
been a witness coming to me swiftly. The rascal had wrenched it from her
in the gallery and fled.
"Monsieur," continued Madame, too excited to notice my interruption, "if
I had four hundred livres I would buy it of him, and Monsieur de
Saint-Gre pere would willingly pay it back in the morning."
I reflected. I had a letter in my pocket to Monsieur de Saint-Gre, the
sum was not large, and the act of Monsieur Auguste de Saint-Gre in every
light was detestable. A rising anger decided me, and I took a wallet
from my pocket.
"I will buy the miniature, Madame," I said.
She looked at me in astonishment.
"God bless you, Monsieur," she cried; "if you could see Mamselle
'Toinette you would pay twice the sum. The whole town loves her.
Monsieur Auguste, Monsieur Auguste!" she shouted, "here is a gentleman
who will buy your miniature."
The six young men stopped talking and stared at me With one accord.
Madame arose, and I followed her down the room towards them, and, had it
not been for my indignation, I should have felt sufficiently ridiculous.
Young Monsieur de Saint-Gre came forward with the good-natured, easy
insolence to which he had been born, and looked me over.
"Monsieur is an American," he said.
"I understand that you have offered this miniature for four hundred
livres," I said.
"It is the Jew's price," he answered; "mais pardieu, what will you?" he
added with a shrug, "I must have the money. Regardez, Monsieur, you have
a bargain. Here is Mademoiselle Helene de Saint-Gre, daughter of my lord
the Marquis of whom I have the honor to be a cousin," and he made a bow.
"It is by the famous court painter, Joseph Boze, and Mademoiselle de
Saint-Gre herself is a favorite of her Majesty." He held the portrait
close to the candle and regarded it critically. "Mademoiselle Helene
Victoire Marie de Saint-Gre, painted in a costume of Henry the Second's
time, with a ruff, you notice, which she wore at a ball given by his
Highness the Prince of Conde at Chantilly. A trifle haughty, if you
like, Monsieur, but I venture to say you will be hopelessly in love with
her within the hour."
At this there was a general titter from the young gentlemen at the table.
"All of which is neither here nor there, Monsieur," I answered sharply.
"The question is purely a commercial one, and has nothing to do with the
lady's character or position."
"It is well said, Monsieur," Madame Bouvet put in.
Monsieur Auguste de Saint-Gre shrugged his slim shoulders and laid down
the portrait on the walnut table.
"Four hundred livres, Monsieur," he said.
I counted out the money, scrutinized by the curious eyes of his
companions, and pushed it over to him. He bowed carelessly, sat him
down, and began to shuffle the cards, while I picked up the miniature and
walked out of the room. Before I had gone twenty paces I heard them
laughing at their game and shouting out the stakes. Suddenly I bethought
myself of Nick. What if he should come in and discover the party at the
table? I stopped short in the hallway, and there Madame Bouvet overtook
"How can I thank you, Monsieur?" she said. And then, "You will return
the portrait to Monsieur de Saint-Gre?"
"I have a letter from Monsieur Gratiot to that gentleman, which I shall
deliver in the morning," I answered. "And now, Madame, I have a favor to
ask of you."
"I am at Monsieur's service," she answered simply.
"When Mr. Temple comes in, he is not to go into that room," I said,
pointing to the door of the saloon; "I have my reasons for requesting
For answer Madame went to the door, closed it, and turned the key. Then
she sat down beside a little table with a candlestick and took up her
"It will be as Monsieur says," she answered.
"And when Mr. Temple comes in will you kindly say that I am waiting for
him in his room?" I asked.
"As Monsieur says," she answered. "I wish Monsieur a good-night and
She took a candlestick from the table, lighted the candle, and handed it
me with a courtesy. I bowed, and made my way along the gallery above the
deserted court-yard. Entering my room and closing the door after me, I
drew the miniature from my pocket and stood gazing at it for I know not
I stood staring at the portrait, I say, with a kind of fascination that
astonished me, seeing that it had come to me in such a way. It was no
French face of my imagination, and as I looked it seemed to me that I
knew Mademoiselle Helene de Saint-Gre. And yet I smile as I write this,
realizing full well that my strange and foreign surroundings and my
unforeseen adventure had much to do with my state of mind. The lady in
the miniature might have been eighteen, or thirty-five. Her features
were of the clearest cut, the nose the least trifle aquiline, and by a
blurred outline the painter had given to the black hair piled high upon
the head a suggestion of waviness. The eyebrows were straight, the brown
eyes looked at the world with an almost scornful sense of humor, and I
marked that there was determination in the chin. Here was a face that
could be infinitely haughty or infinitely tender, a mouth of witty--nay,
perhaps cutting--repartee of brevity and force. A lady who spoke
quickly, moved quickly, or reposed absolutely. A person who commanded by
nature and yet (dare I venture the thought?) was capable of a supreme
surrender. I was aroused from this odd revery by footsteps on the
gallery, and Nick burst into the room. Without pausing to look about
him, he flung himself lengthwise on the bed on top of the mosquito bar.
"A thousand curses on such a place," he cried; "it is full of rat holes
and rabbit warrens."
"Did you catch your man?" I asked innocently.
"Catch him!" said Nick, with a little excusable profanity; "he went in at
one end of such a warren and came out at another. I waited for him in
two streets until an officious person chanced along and threatened to
take me before the Alcalde. What the devil is that you have got in your
hand, Davy?" he demanded, raising his head.
"A miniature that took my fancy, and which I bought."
He rose from the bed, yawned, and taking it in his hand, held it to the
light. I watched him curiously.
"Lord," he said, "it is such a passion as I might have suspected of you,
"There was nothing said about passion," I answered
"Then why the deuce did you buy it?" he said with some pertinence.
This staggered me.
"A man may fancy a thing, without indulging in a passion, I suppose," I
Nick held the picture at arm's length in the palm of his hand and
regarded it critically.
"Faith," said he, "you may thank heaven it is only a picture. If such a
one ever got hold of you, Davy, she would general you even as you general
me. Egad," he added with a laugh, "there would be no more walking the
streets at night in search of adventure for you. Consider carefully the
masterful features of that lady and thank God you haven't got her."
I was inclined to be angry, but ended by laughing.
"There will be no rivalry between us, at least," I said.
"Rivalry!" exclaimed Nick. "Heaven forbid that I should aspire to such
abject slavery. When I marry, it will be to command."
"All the more honor in such a conquest," I suggested.
"Davy," said he, "I have long been looking for some such flaw in your
insuperable wisdom. But I vow I can keep my eyes open no longer. Benjy!"
A smothered response came from the other side of the wall, and Benjy duly
appeared in the doorway, blinking at the candlelight, to put his master
We slept that night with no bed covering save the mosquito bar, as was
the custom in New Orleans. Indeed, the heat was most oppressive, but we
had become to some extent inured to it on the boat, and we were both in
such sound health that our slumbers were not disturbed. Early in the
morning, however, I was awakened by a negro song from the court-yard, and
I lay pleasantly for some minutes listening to the early sounds,
breathing in the aroma of coffee which mingled with the odor of the
flowers of the court, until Zoey herself appeared in the doorway, holding
a cup in her hand. I arose, and taking the miniature from the table,
gazed at it in the yellow morning light; and then, having dressed myself,
I put it carefully in my pocket and sat down at my portfolio to compose a
letter to Polly Ann, knowing that a description of what I had seen in New
Orleans would amuse her. This done, I went out into the gallery, where
Madame was already seated at her knitting, in the shade of the great tree
that stood in the corner of the court and spread its branches over the
eaves. She arose and courtesied, with a questioning smile.
"Madame," I asked, "is it too early to present myself to Monsieur de
"Pardieu, no, Monsieur, we are early risers in the South for we have our
siesta. You are going to return the portrait, Monsieur?"
"God bless you for the deed," said she. "Tenez, Monsieur," she added,
stepping closer to me, "you will tell his father that you bought it from
I saw that she had a soft spot in her heart for the rogue.
"I will make no promises, Madame," I answered.
She looked at me timidly, appealingly, but I bowed and departed. The sun
was riding up into the sky, the walls already glowing with his heat, and
a midsummer languor seemed to pervade the streets as I walked along. The
shadows now were sharply defined, the checkered foliage of the trees was
flung in black against the yellow-white wall of the house with the
lions, and the green-latticed gallery which we had watched the night
before seemed silent and deserted. I knocked at the gate, and presently
a bright-turbaned gardienne opened it.
Was Monsieur de Saint-Gre at home. The gardienne looked me over, and
evidently finding me respectable, replied with many protestations of
sorrow that he was not, that he had gone with Mamselle very early that
morning to his country place at Les Iles. This information I extracted
with difficulty, for I was not by any means versed in the negro patois.
As I walked back to Madame Bouvet's I made up my mind that there was but
the one thing to do, to go at once to Monsieur de Saint-Gre's plantation.
Finding Madame still waiting in the gallery, I asked her to direct me
"You have but to follow the road that runs southward along the levee, and
some three leagues will bring you to it, Monsieur. You will inquire for
Monsieur de Saint-Gre."
"Can you direct me to Mr. Daniel Clark's?" I asked.
"The American merchant and banker, the friend and associate of the great
General Wilkinson whom you sent down to us last year? Certainly,
Monsieur. He will no doubt give you better advice than I on this
I found Mr. Clark in his counting-room, and I had not talked with him
five minutes before I began to suspect that, if a treasonable
understanding existed between Wilkinson and the Spanish government, Mr.
Clark was innocent of it. He being the only prominent American in the
place, it was natural that Wilkinson should have formed with him a
business arrangement to care for the cargoes he sent down. Indeed, after
we had sat for some time chatting together, Mr. Clark began himself to
make guarded inquiries on this very subject. Did I know Wilkinson? How
was his enterprise of selling Kentucky products regarded at home? But I
do not intend to burden this story with accounts of a matter which,
though it has never been wholly clear, has been long since fairly settled
in the public mind. Mr. Clark was most amiable, accepted my statement
that I was travelling for pleasure, and honored Monsieur Chouteau's bon
(for my purchase of the miniature had deprived me of nearly all my ready
money), and said that Mr. Temple and I would need horses to get to Les
"And unless you purpose going back to Kentucky by keel boat, or round by
sea to Philadelphia or New York, and cross the mountains," he said, "you
will need good horses for your journey through Natchez and the Cumberland
country. There is a consignment of Spanish horses from the westward just
arrived in town," he added, "and I shall be pleased to go with you to the
place where they are sold. I shall not presume to advise a Kentuckian on
such a purchase."
The horses were crowded together under a dirty shed near the levee, and
the vessel from which they had been landed rode at anchor in the river.
They were the scrawny, tough ponies of the plains, reasonably cheap, and
it took no great discernment on my part to choose three of the strongest
and most intelligent looking. We went next to a saddler's, where I
selected three saddles and bridles of Spanish workmanship, and Mr. Clark
agreed to have two of his servants meet us with the horses before Madame
Bouvet's within the hour. He begged that we would dine with him when we
returned from Les Iles.
"You will not find an island, Mr. Ritchie," he said; "Saint-Gre's
plantation is a huge block of land between the river and a cypress swamp
behind. Saint-Gre is a man with a wonderful quality of mind, who might,
like his ancestors, have made his mark if necessity had probed him or
opportunity offered. He never forgave the Spanish government for the
murder of his father, nor do I blame him. He has his troubles. His son
is an incurable rake and degenerate, as you may have heard."
I went back to Madame Bouvet's, to find Nick emerging from his toilet.
"What deviltry have you been up to, Davy?" he demanded.
"I have been to the House of the Lions to see your divinity," I answered,
"and in a very little while horses will be here to carry us to her."
"What do you mean?" he asked, grasping me by both shoulders.
"I mean that we are going to her father's plantation, some way down the
"On my honor, Davy, I did not suspect you of so much enterprise," he
cried. "And her husband--?"
"Does not exist," I replied. "Perhaps, after all, I might be able to
give you instruction in the conduct of an adventure. The man you chased
with such futility was her brother, and he stole from her the miniature
of which I am now the fortunate possessor."
He stared at me for a moment in rueful amazement.
"And her name?" he demanded.
"Antoinette de Saint-Gre," I answered; "our letter is to her father."
He made me a rueful bow.
"I fear that I have undervalued you, Mr. Ritchie," he said. "You have no
peer. I am unworthy to accompany you, and furthermore, it would be
"And why useless!" I inquired, laughing.
"You have doubtless seen the lady, and she is yours, said he.
"You forget that I am in love with a miniature," I said.
In half an hour we were packed and ready, the horses had arrived, we bade
good-by to Madame Bouvet and rode down the miry street until we reached
the road behind the levee. Turning southward, we soon left behind the
shaded esplanade and the city's roofs below us, and came to the first of
the plantation houses set back amidst the dark foliage. No tremor shook
the fringe of moss that hung from the heavy boughs, so still was the day,
and an indefinable, milky haze stretched between us and the cloudless sky
above. The sun's rays pierced it and gathered fire; the mighty river
beside us rolled listless and sullen, flinging back the heat defiantly.
And on our left was a tropical forest in all its bewildering luxuriance,
the live-oak, the hackberry, the myrtle, the Spanish bayonet in bristling
groups, and the shaded places gave out a scented moisture like an
orangery; anon we passed fields of corn and cotton, swamps of rice,
stretches of poverty-stricken indigo plants, gnawed to the stem by the
pest. Our ponies ambled on, unmindful; but Nick vowed that no woman
under heaven would induce him to undertake such a journey again.
Some three miles out of the city we descried two figures on horseback
coming towards us, and quickly perceived that one was a gentleman, the
other his black servant. They were riding at a more rapid pace than the
day warranted, but the gentleman reined in his sweating horse as he drew
near to us, eyed us with a curiosity tempered by courtesy, bowed gravely,
and put his horse to a canter again.
"Phew!" said Nick, twisting in his saddle, "I thought that all Creoles
"We have met the exception, perhaps," I answered. "Did you take in that
"His looks were a little remarkable, come to think of it," answered Nick,
settling down into his saddle again.
Indeed, the man's face had struck me so forcibly that I was surprised out
of an inquiry which I had meant to make of him, namely, how far we were
from the Saint-Gre plantation. We pursued our way slowly, from time to
time catching a glimpse of a dwelling almost hid in the distant foliage,
until at length we came to a place a little more pretentious than those
which we had seen. From the road a graceful flight of wooden steps
climbed the levee and descended on the far side to a boat landing, and a
straight vista cut through the grove, lined by wild orange trees,
disclosed the white pillars and galleries of a far-away plantation house.
The grassy path leading through the vista was trimly kept, and on either
side of it in the moist, green shade of the great trees flowers bloomed
in a profusion of startling colors,--in splotches of scarlet and white
and royal purple.
Nick slipped from his horse.
"Behold the mansion of Mademoiselle de Saint-Gre," said he, waving his
hand up the vista.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"I am told by a part of me that never lies, Davy," he answered, laying
his hand upon his heart; "and besides," he added, "I should dislike
devilishly to go too far on such a day and have to come back again."
"We will rest here," I said, laughing, "and send in Benjy to find out."
"Davy," he answered, with withering contempt, "you have no more romance
in you than a turnip. We will go ourselves and see what befalls."
"Very well, then," I answered, falling in with his humor, "we will go
He brushed his face with his handkerchief, gave himself a pull here and a
pat there, and led the way down the alley. But we had not gone far
before he turned into a path that entered the grove on the right, and to
this likewise I made no protest. We soon found ourselves in a heavenly
spot,--sheltered from the sun's rays by a dense verdure,--and no one who
has not visited these Southern country places can know the teeming
fragrance there. One shrub (how well I recall it!) was like unto the
perfume of all the flowers and all the fruits, the very essence of the
delicious languor of the place that made our steps to falter. A bird
shot a bright flame of color through the checkered light ahead of us.
Suddenly a sound brought us to a halt, and we stood in a tense and
wondering silence. The words of a song, sung carelessly in a clear,
girlish voice, came to us from beyond.
"Je voudrais bien me marier,
Je voudrais bien me marier,
Mais j'ai qrand' peur de me tromper:
Mais j'ai grand' peur de me tromper:
Ils sont si malhonnetes!
Ma luron, ma lurette,
Ils sont si malhonnetes!
Ma luron, ma lure."
"We have come at the very zenith of opportunity," I whispered.
"Hush!" he said.
"Je ne veux pas d'un avocat,
Je ne veux pas d'un avocat,
Car ils aiment trop les ducats,
Car ils aiment trop les ducats,
Ils trompent les fillettes,
Ma luron, ma lurette,
Ils trompent les fillettes,
Ma luron, ma lure."
"Eliminating Mr. Ritchie, I believe," said Nick, turning on me with a
grimace. "But hark again!"
"Je voudrais bien d'un officier:
Je voudrais bien d'un officier:
Je marcherais a pas carres,
Je marcherais a pas carres,
Dans ma joli' chambrette,
Ma luron, ma lurette
Dans ma joli' chambrette,
Ma luron, ma lure."
The song ceased with a sound that was half laughter, half sigh. Before I
realized what he was doing, Nick, instead of retracing his steps towards
the house, started forward. The path led through a dense thicket which
became a casino hedge, and suddenly I found myself peering over his
shoulder into a little garden bewildering in color. In the centre of the
garden a great live-oak spread its sheltering branches. Around the
gnarled trunk was a seat. And on the seat,--her sewing fallen into her
lap, her lips parted, her eyes staring wide, sat the young lady whom we
had seen on the levee the evening before. And Nick was making a bow in
his grandest manner.
"Helas, Mademoiselle," he said, "je ne suis pas officier, mais on peut
arranger tout cela, sans doute."
My breath was taken away by this unheard-of audacity, and I braced myself
against screams, flight, and other feminine demonstrations of terror.
The young lady did nothing of the kind. She turned her back to us,
leaned against the tree, and to my astonishment I saw her slim shoulders
shaken with laughter. At length, very slowly, she looked around, and in
her face struggled curiosity and fear and merriment. Nick made another
bow, worthy of Versailles, and she gave a frightened little laugh.
"You are English, Messieurs--yes?" she ventured.
"We were once!" cried Nick, "but we have changed, Mademoiselle."
"Et quoi donc?" relapsing into her own language.
"Americans," said he. "Allow me to introduce to you the Honorable David
Ritchie, whom you rejected a few moments ago."
"Whom I rejected?" she exclaimed.
"Alas," said Nick, with a commiserating glance at me, "he has the
misfortune to be a lawyer."
Mademoiselle shot at me the swiftest and shyest of glances, and turned to
us once more her quivering shoulders. There was a brief silence.
"Mademoiselle?" said Nick, taking a step on the garden path.
"Monsieur?" she answered, without so much as looking around.
"What, now, would you take this gentleman to be?" he asked with an
insistence not to be denied.
Again she was shaken with laughter, and suddenly to my surprise she
turned and looked full at me.
"In English, Monsieur, you call it--a gallant?"
My face fairly tingled, and I heard Nick laughing with unseemly
"Ah, Mademoiselle," he cried, "you are a judge of character, and you have
read him perfectly."
"Then I must leave you, Messieurs," she answered, with her eyes in her
lap. But she made no move to go.
"You need have no fear of Mr. Ritchie, Mademoiselle," answered Nick,
instantly. "I am here to protect you against his gallantry."
This time Nick received the glance, and quailed before it.
"And who--par exemple--is to protect me against--you, Monsieur?" she
asked in the lowest of voices.
"You forget that I, too, am unprotected--and vulnerable, Mademoiselle,"
Her face was hidden again, but not for long.
"How did you come?" she demanded presently.
"On air," he answered, "for we saw you in New Orleans yesterday."
"Need you ask, Mademoiselle?" said the rogue, and then, with more
effrontery than ever, he began to sing:--
"'Je voudrais bien me marier,
Je voudrais bien me marier,
Mais j'ai grand' peur de me tromper.'"
She rose, her sewing falling to the ground, and took a few startled steps
"Monsieur! you will be heard," she cried.
"And put out of the Garden of Eden," said Nick.
"I must leave you," she said, with the quaintest of English
Yet she stood irresolute in the garden path, a picture against the dark
green leaves and the flowers. Her age might have been seventeen. Her
gown was of some soft and light material printed in buds of delicate
color, her slim arms bare above the elbow. She had the ivory complexion
of the province, more delicate than I had yet seen, and beyond that I
shall not attempt to describe her, save to add that she was such a
strange mixture of innocence and ingenuousness and coquetry as I had not
imagined. Presently her gaze was fixed seriously on me.
"Do you think it very wrong, Monsieur?" she asked.
I was more than taken aback by this tribute.
"Oh," cried Nick, "the arbiter of etiquette!"
"Since I am here, Mademoiselle," I answered, with anything but readiness,
"I am not a proper judge."
Her next question staggered me.
"You are well-born?" she asked.
"Mr. Ritchie's grandfather was a Scottish earl," said Nick, immediately,
a piece of news that startled me into protest. "It is true, Davy, though
you may not know it," he added.
"And you, Monsieur?" she said to Nick.
"I am his cousin,--is it not honor enough?" said he.
"Yet you do not resemble one another."
"Mr. Ritchie has all the good looks in the family," said Nick.
"Oh!" cried the young lady, and this time she gave us her profile.
"Come, Mademoiselle," said Nick, "since the fates have cast the die, let
us all sit down in the shade. The place was made for us."
"Monsieur!" she cried, giving back, "I have never in my life been alone
"But Mr. Ritchie is a duenna to satisfy the most exacting," said Nick;
"when you know him better you will believe me."
She laughed softly and glanced at me. By this time we were all three
under the branches.
"Monsieur, you do not understand the French customs. Mon Dieu, if the
good Sister Lorette could see me now--"
"But she is safe in the convent," said Nick. "Are they going to put
glass on the walls?"
"And why?" asked Mademoiselle, innocently.
"Because," said Nick, "because a very bad man has come to New
Orleans,--one who is given to climbing walls."
"Yes. But when I found that a certain demoiselle had left the convent, I
was no longer anxious to climb them."
"And how did you know that I had left it?"
I was at a loss to know whether this were coquetry or innocence.
"Because I saw you on the levee," said Nick.
"You saw me on the levee?" she repeated, giving back.
"And I had a great fear," the rogue persisted.
"A fear of what?"
"A fear that you were married," he said, with a boldness that made me
blush. As for Mademoiselle, a color that vied with the June roses
charged through her cheeks. She stooped to pick up her sewing, but Nick
was before her.
"And why did you think me married?" she asked in a voice so low that we
"Faith," said Nick, "because you seemed to be quarrelling with a man."
She turned to him with an irresistible seriousness.
"And is that your idea of marriage, Monsieur?"
This time it was I who laughed, for he had been hit very fairly.
"Mademoiselle," said he, "I did not for a moment think it could have been
a love match."
Mademoiselle turned away and laughed.
"You are the very strangest man I have ever seen," she said.
"Shall I give you my notion of a love match, Mademoiselle?" said Nick.
"I should think you might be well versed in the subject, Monsieur," she
answered, speaking to the tree, "but here is scarcely the time and
place." She wound up her sewing, and faced him. "I must really leave
you," she said.
He took a step towards her and stood looking down into her face. Her
"And am I never to see you again?" he asked.
"Monsieur!" she cried softly, "I do not know who you are." She made him a
courtesy, took a few steps in the opposite path, and turned. "That
depends upon your ingenuity," she added; "you seem to have no lack of it,
Nick was transported.
"You must not go," he cried.
"Must not? How dare you speak to me thus, Monsieur?" Then she tempered
it. "There is a lady here whom I love, and who is ill. I must not be
long from her bedside."
"She is very ill?" said Nick, probably for want of something better.
"She is not really ill, Monsieur, but depressed--is not that the word?
She is a very dear friend, and she has had trouble--so much,
Monsieur,--and my mother brought her here. We love her as one of the
This was certainly ingenuous, and it was plain that the girl gave us this
story through a certain nervousness, for she twisted her sewing in her
fingers as she spoke.
"Mademoiselle," said Nick, "I would not keep you from such an errand of
She gave him a grateful look, more dangerous than any which had gone
"And besides," he went on, "we have come to stay awhile with you, Mr.
Ritchie and myself."
"You have come to stay awhile?" she said.
I thought it time that the farce were ended.
"We have come with letters to your father, Monsieur de Saint-Gre,
Mademoiselle," I said, "and I should like very much to see him, if he is
Mademoiselle stared at me in unfeigned astonishment.
"But did you not meet him, Monsieur?" she demanded.
"He left an hour ago for New Orleans. You must have met a gentleman
riding very fast."
It was my turn to be astonished.
"But that was not your father!" I exclaimed.
"Et pourquoi non?" she said.
"Is not your father the stout gentleman whom I saw with you on the levee
last evening?" I asked.
"You have been observing, Monsieur," she said.
"That was my uncle, Monsieur de Beausejour. You saw me quarrelling with
my brother, Auguste," she went on a little excitedly. "Oh, I am very
much ashamed of it. I was so angry. My cousin, Mademoiselle Helene de
Saint-Gre, has just sent me from France such a beautiful miniature, and
Auguste fell in love with it."
"Fell in love with it!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"You should see it, Monsieur, and I think you also would fall in love
"I have not a doubt of it," said Nick.
Mademoiselle made the faintest of moues.
"Auguste is very wild, as you say," she continued, addressing me, "he is
a great care to my father. He intrigues, you know, he wishes Louisiane
to become French once more,--as we all do. But I should not say this,
Monsieur," she added in a startled tone. "You will not tell? No, I know
you will not. We do not like the Spaniards. They killed my grandfather
when they came to take the province. And once, the Governor-general
Miro sent for my father and declared he would put Auguste in prison if he
did not behave himself. But I have forgotten the miniature. When
Auguste saw that he fell in love with it, and now he wishes to go to
France and obtain a commission through our cousin, the Marquis of
Saint-Gre, and marry Mademoiselle Helene."
"A comprehensive programme, indeed," said Nick.
"My father has gone back to New Orleans," she said, "to get the miniature
from Auguste. He took it from me, Monsieur." She raised her head a
little proudly. "If my brother had asked it, I might have given it to
him, though I treasured it. But Auguste is so--impulsive. My uncle
told my father, who is very angry. He will punish Auguste severely,
and--I do not like to have him punished. Oh, I wish I had the
"Your wish is granted, Mademoiselle," I answered, drawing the case from
my pocket and handing it to her.
She took it, staring at me with eyes wide with wonder, and then she
opened it mechanically.
"Monsieur," she said with great dignity, "do you mind telling me where
you obtained this?"
"I found it, Mademoiselle," I answered; and as I spoke I felt Nick's
fingers on my arm.
"You found it? Where? How, Monsieur?"
"At Madame Bouvet's, the house where we stayed."
"Oh," she said with a sigh of relief, "he must have dropped it. It is
there where he meets his associates, where they talk of the French
Again I felt Nick pinching me, and I gave a sigh of relief. Mademoiselle
was about to continue, but I interrupted her.
"How long will your father be in New Orleans, Mademoiselle?" I asked.
"Until he finds Auguste," she answered. "It may be days, but he will
stay, for he is very angry. But will you not come into the house,
Messieurs, and be presented to my mother?" she asked. "I have been
very--inhospitable," she added with a glance at Nick.
We followed her through winding paths bordered by shrubs and flowers, and
presently came to a low house surrounded by a wide, cool gallery, and
shaded by spreading trees. Behind it were clustered the kitchens and
quarters of the house servants. Mademoiselle, picking up her dress, ran
up the steps ahead of us and turned to the left in the hall into a
darkened parlor. The floor was bare, save for a few mats, and in the
corner was a massive escritoire of mahogany with carved feet, and there
were tables and chairs of a like pattern. It was a room of more
distinction than I had seen since I had been in Charlestown, and
reflected the solidity of its owners.
"If you will be so kind as to wait here, Messieurs," said Mademoiselle,
"I will call my mother."
And she left us.
I sat down, rather uncomfortably, but Nick took a stand and stood staring
down at me with folded arms.
"How I have undervalued you, Davy," he said.
"I am not proud of it," I answered shortly.
"What the deuce is to do now!" he asked.
"I cannot linger here," I answered; "I have business with Monsieur de
Saint-Gre, and I must go back to New Orleans at once."
"Then I will wait for you," said Nick. "Davy, I have met my fate."
I laughed in spite of myself.
"It seems to me that I have heard that remark before," I answered.
He had not time to protest, for we heard footsteps in the hall, and
Mademoiselle entered, leading an older lady by the hand. In the light of
the doorway I saw that she was thin and small and yellow, but her
features had a regularity and her mien a dignity which made her
impressing, which would have convinced a stranger that she was a person
of birth and breeding. Her hair, tinged with gray, was crowned by a lace
"Madame," I said, bowing and coming forward, "I am David Ritchie, from
Kentucky, and this is my cousin, Mr. Temple, of Charlestown. Monsieur
Gratiot and Colonel Chouteau, of St. Louis, have been kind enough to give
us letters to Monsieur de Saint-Gre." And I handed her one of the
letters which I had ready.
"You are very welcome, Messieurs," she answered, with the same delightful
accent which her daughter had used, "and you are especially welcome from
such a source. The friends of Colonel Chouteau and of Monsieur Gratiot
are our friends. You will remain with us, I hope, Messieurs," she
continued. "Monsieur de Saint-Gre will return in a few days at best."
"By your leave, Madame, I will go to New Orleans at once and try to find
Monsieur," I said, "for I have business with him."
"You will return with him, I hope," said Madame.
"And Mr. Temple will remain?" she asked, with a questioning look at Nick.
"With the greatest pleasure in the world, Madame," he answered, and there
was no mistaking his sincerity. As he spoke, Mademoiselle turned her
back on him.
I would not wait for dinner, but pausing only for a sip of cool Madeira
and some other refreshment, I made my farewells to the ladies. As I
started out of the door to find Benjy, who had been waiting for more than
an hour, Mademoiselle gave me a neatly folded note.
"You will be so kind as to present that to my father, Monsieur," she
MONSIEUR AUGUSTE ENTRAPPED
It may be well to declare here and now that I do not intend to burden
this story with the business which had brought me to New Orleans. While
in the city during the next few days I met a young gentleman named Daniel
Clark, a nephew of that Mr. Clark of whom I have spoken. Many years
after the time of which I write this Mr. Daniel Clark the younger, who
became a rich merchant and an able man of affairs, published a book which
sets forth with great clearness proofs of General Wilkinson's duplicity
and treason, and these may be read by any who would satisfy himself
further on the subject. Mr. Wharton had not believed, nor had I
flattered myself that I should be able to bring such a fox as General
Wilkinson to earth. Abundant circumstantial evidence I obtained:
Wilkinson's intimacy with Miro was well known, and I likewise learned
that a cipher existed between them. The permit to trade given by Miro to
Wilkinson was made no secret of. In brief, I may say that I discovered
as much as could be discovered by any one without arousing suspicion, and
that the information with which I returned to Kentucky was of some
material value to my employers.
I have to thank Monsieur Philippe de St. Gre for a great deal. And I
take this opportunity to set down the fact that I have rarely met a more
As I rode back to town alone a whitish film was spread before the sun,
and ere I had come in sight of the fortifications the low forest on the
western bank was a dark green blur against the sky. The esplanade on the
levee was deserted, the willow trees had a mournful look, while the
bright tiles of yesterday seemed to have faded to a sombre tone. I spied
Xavier on a bench smoking with some friends of his.
"He make much rain soon, Michie," he cried. "You hev good time, I hope,
I waved my hand and rode on, past the Place d'Armes with its white
diagonal bands strapping its green like a soldiers front, and as I drew
up before the gate of the House of the Lions the warning taps of the
storm were drumming on the magnolia leaves. The same gardienne came to
my knock, and in answer to her shrill cry a negro lad appeared to hold my
horse. I was ushered into a brick-paved archway that ran under the
latticed gallery toward a flower-filled court-yard, but ere we reached
this the gardienne turned to the left up a flight of steps with a
delicate balustrade which led to an open gallery above. And there stood
the gentleman whom we had met hurrying to town in the morning. A
gentleman he was, every inch of him. He was dressed in black silk, his
hair in a cue, and drawn away from a face of remarkable features. He had
a high-bridged nose, a black eye that held an inquiring sternness, a chin
indented, and a receding forehead. His stature was indeterminable. In
brief, he might have stood for one of those persons of birth and ability
who become prime ministers of France.
"Monsieur de St. Gre?" I said.
He bowed gracefully, but with a tinge of condescension. I was awed, and
considering the relations which I had already had with his family, I must
admit that I was somewhat frightened.
"Monsieur," I said, "I bring letters to you from Monsieur Gratiot and
Colonel Chouteau of St. Louis. One of these I had the honor to deliver
to Madame de St. Gre, and here is the other."
"Ah," he said, with another keen glance, "I met you this morning, did I
"You did, Monsieur."
He broke the seal, and, going to the edge of the gallery, held the letter
to the light. As he read a peal of thunder broke distantly, the rain
came down in a flood. Then he folded the paper carefully and turned to
"You will make my house your home, Mr. Ritchie," he said; "recommended
from such a source, I will do all I can to serve you. But where is this
Mr. Temple of whom the letter speaks? His family in Charlestown is known
to me by repute."
"By Madame de St. Gre's invitation he remained at Les Iles," I answered,
speaking above the roar of the rain.
"I was just going to the table," said Monsieur de St. Gre; "we will talk
as we eat."
He led the way into the dining room, and as I stood on the threshold a
bolt of great brilliancy lighted its yellow-washed floor and walnut
furniture of a staid pattern. A deafening crash followed as we took our
seats, while Monsieur de St. Gre's man lighted four candles of green
"Monsieur Gratiot's letter speaks vaguely of politics, Mr. Ritchie,"
began Monsieur de St. Gre. He spoke English perfectly, save for an
occasional harsh aspiration which I cannot imitate.
Directing his man to fetch a certain kind of Madeira, he turned to me
with a look of polite inquiry which was scarcely reassuring. And I
reflected, the caution with which I had been endowed coming uppermost,
that the man might have changed since Monsieur Gratiot had seen him. He
had, moreover, the air of a man who gives a forced attention, which
seemed to me the natural consequences of the recent actions of his son.
"I fear that I am intruding upon your affairs, Monsieur," I answered.
"Not at all, sir," he said politely. "I have met that charming
gentleman, Mr. Wilkinson, who came here to brush away the causes of
dissension, and cement a friendship between Kentucky and Louisiana."
It was most fortunate that the note of irony did not escape me.
"Where governments failed, General Wilkinson succeeded," I answered
Monsieur de St. Gre glanced at me, and an enigmatical smile spread over
his face. I knew then that the ice was cracked between us. Yet he was
too much a man of the world not to make one more tentative remark.
"A union between Kentucky and Louisiana would be a resistless force in
the world, Mr. Ritchie," he said.
"It was Nebuchadnezzar who dreamed of a composite image, Monsieur," I
answered; "and Mr. Wilkinson forgets one thing,--that Kentucky is a part
of the United States."
At that Monsieur St. Gre laughed outright. He became a different man,
though he lost none of his dignity.
"I should have had more faith in my old friend Gratiot," he said; "but you
will pardon me if I did not recognize at once the statesman he had sent
me, Mr. Ritchie."
It was my turn to laugh.
"Monsieur," he went on, returning to that dignity of mien which marked
him, "my political opinions are too well known that I should make a
mystery of them to you. I was born a Frenchman, I shall die a Frenchman,
and I shall never be happy until Louisiana is French once more. My
great-grandfather, a brother of the Marquis de St. Gre of that time, and
a wild blade enough, came out with D'Iberville. His son, my grandfather,
was the Commissary-general of the colony under the Marquis de Vaudreuil.
He sent me to France for my education, where I was introduced at court by
my kinsman, the old Marquis, who took a fancy to me and begged me to
remain. It was my father's wish that I should return, and I did not
disobey him. I had scarcely come back, Monsieur, when that abominable
secret bargain of Louis the Fifteenth became known, ceding Louisiana to
Spain. You may have heard of the revolution which followed here. It was
a mild affair, and the remembrance of it makes me smile to this day,
though with bitterness. I was five and twenty, hot-headed, and French.
Que voulez-vous?" and Monsieur de St. Gre shrugged his shoulders.
"O'Reilly, the famous Spanish general, came with his men-of-war. Well I
remember the days we waited with leaden hearts for the men-of-war to come
up from the English turn; and I can see now the cannon frowning from the
ports, the grim spars, the high poops crowded with officers, the great
anchors splashing the yellow water. I can hear the chains running. The
ships were in line of battle before the town, their flying bridges swung
to the levee, and they loomed above us like towering fortresses. It was
dark, Monsieur, such as this afternoon, and we poor French colonists
stood huddled in the open space below, waiting for we knew not what."
He paused, and I started, for the picture he drew had carried me out of
"On the 18th of August, 1769,--well I remember the day," Monsieur de St.
Gre continued, "the Spanish troops landed late in the afternoon,
twenty-six hundred strong, the artillery rumbling over the bridges, the
horses wheeling and rearing. And they drew up as in line of battle in
the Place d'Armes,--dragoons, fusileros de montanas, light and heavy
infantry. Where were our white cockades then? Fifty guns shook the
town, the great O'Reilly limped ashore through the smoke, and Louisiana
was lost to France. We had a cowardly governor, Monsieur, whose name is
written in the annals of the province in letters of shame. He betrayed
Monsieur de St. Gre and others into O'Reilly's hands, and when my father
was cast into prison he was seized with such a fit of anger that he
Monsieur de St. Gre was silent. Without, under the eaves of the gallery,
a white rain fell, and a steaming moisture arose from the court-yard.
"What I have told you, Monsieur, is common knowledge. Louisiana has been
Spanish for twenty years. I no longer wear the white cockade, for I am
older now." He smiled. "Strange things are happening in France, and the
old order to which I belong" (he straightened perceptibly) "seems to be
tottering. I have ceased to intrigue, but thank God I have not ceased to
pray. Perhaps--who knows?--perhaps I may live to see again the lily of
France stirred by the river breeze."
He fell into a revery, his fine head bent a little, but presently aroused
himself and eyed me curiously. I need not say that I felt a strange
liking for Monsieur de St. Gre.
"And now, Mr. Ritchie," he said, "will you tell me who you are, and how I
can serve you?"
The servant had put the coffee on the table and left the room. Monsieur
de St. Gre himself poured me a cup from the dainty, quaintly wrought
Louis Quinze coffeepot, graven with the coat of arms of his family. As
we sat talking, my admiration for my host increased, for I found that he
was familiar not only with the situation in Kentucky, but that he also
knew far more than I of the principles and personnel of the new
government of which General Washington was President. That he had little
sympathy with government by the people was natural, for he was a Creole,
and behind that a member of an order which detested republics. When we
were got beyond these topics the rain had ceased, the night had fallen,
the green candles had burned low. And suddenly, as he spoke of Les
Isles, I remembered the note Mademoiselle had given me for him, and I
apologized for my forgetfulness. He read it, and dropped it with an
"My daughter tells me that you have returned to her a miniature which she
lost, Monsieur," he said.
"I had that pleasure," I answered.
"And that--you found this miniature at Madame Bouvet's. Was this the
case?" And he stared hard at me.
I nodded, but for the life of me I could not speak. It seemed an outrage
to lie to such a man. He did not answer, but sat lost in thought,
drumming with his fingers on the tables until the noise of the slamming
of a door aroused him to a listening posture. The sound of subdued
voices came from the archway below us, and one of these, from an
occasional excited and feminine note, I thought to be the gardienne's.
Monsieur de St. Gre thrust back his chair, and in three strides was at
the edge of the gallery.
"Auguste!" he cried.
"Auguste, come up to me at once," he said in French.
Another silence, then something that sounded like "Sapristi!" a groan
from the gardienne, and a step was heard on the stairway. My own
discomfort increased, and I would have given much to be in any other
place in the world. Auguste had arrived at the head of the steps but was
apparently unable to get any farther.
"Bon soir, mon pere," he said.
"Like a dutiful son," said Monsieur de St. Gre, "you heard I was in town,
and called to pay your respects, I am sure. I am delighted to find you.
In fact, I came to town for that purpose."
"Lisette--" began Auguste.
"Thought that I did not wish to be disturbed, no doubt," said his father.
"Walk in, Auguste."
Monsieur Auguste's slim figure appeared in the doorway. He caught sight
of me, halted, backed, and stood staring with widened eyes. The candles
threw their light across his shoulder on the face of the elder Monsieur
de St. Gre. Auguste was a replica of his father, with the features
minimized to regularity and the brow narrowed. The complexion of the one
was a clear saffron, while the boy's skin was mottled, and he was not
"What is the matter?" said Monsieur de St. Gre.
"You--you have a visitor!" stammered Auguste, with a tact that savored of
practice. Yet there was a sorry difference between this and the haughty
young patrician who had sold me the miniature.
"Who brings me good news," said Monsieur de St. Gre, in English. "Mr.
Ritchie, allow me to introduce my son, Auguste."
I felt Monsieur de St. Gre's eyes on me as I bowed, and I began to think
I was in near as great a predicament as Auguste. Monsieur de St. Gre was
managing the matter with infinite wisdom.
"Sit down, my son," he said; "you have no doubt been staying with your
uncle." Auguste sat down, still staring.
"Does your aunt's health mend?"
"She is better to-night, father," said the son, in English which might
have been improved.
"I am glad of it," said Monsieur de St. Gre, taking a chair. "Andre,
fill the glasses."
The silent, linen-clad mulatto poured out the Madeira, shot a look at
Auguste, and retired softly.
"There has been a heavy rain, Monsieur," said Monsieur de St. Gre to me,
"but I think the air is not yet cleared. I was about to say, Mr.
Ritchie, when my son called to pay his respects, that the miniature of
which we were speaking is one of the most remarkable paintings I have
ever seen." Auguste's thin fingers were clutching the chair. "I have
never beheld Mademoiselle Helene de St. Gre, for my cousin, the Marquis,
was not married when I left France. He was a captain in a regiment of
his Majesty's Mousquetaires, since abolished. But I am sure that the
likeness of Mademoiselle must be a true one, for it has the stamp of a
remarkable personality, though Helene can be only eighteen. Women, with
us, mature quickly, Monsieur. And this portrait tallies with what I have
heard of her character. You no doubt observed the face, Monsieur,--that
of a true aristocrat. But I was speaking of her character. When she was
twelve, she said something to a cardinal for which her mother made her
keep her room a whole day. For Mademoiselle would not retract, and,
pardieu, I believe his Eminence was wrong. The Marquise is afraid of
her. And when first Helene was presented formally she made such a witty
retort to the Queen's sally that her Majesty insisted upon her coming to
court. On every New Year's day I have always sent a present of coffee
and perique to my cousin the Marquis, and it is Mademoiselle who writes
to thank us. Parole d'honneur, her letters make me see again the people
amongst whom she moves,--the dukes and duchesses, the cardinals, bishops,
and generals. She draws them to the life, Monsieur, with a touch that
makes them all ridiculous. His Majesty does not escape. God forgive
him, he is indeed an amiable, weak person for calling a States General.
And the Queen, a frivolous lady, but true to those whom she loves, and
beginning now to realize the perils of the situation." He paused. "Is
it any wonder that Auguste has fallen in love with his cousin, Monsieur?
That he loses his head, forgets that he is a gentleman, and steals her
portrait from his sister!"
Had I not been so occupied with my own fate in the outcome of this
inquisition, I should have been sorry for Auguste. And yet this feeling
could not have lasted, for the young gentleman sprang to his feet, cast a
glance at me which was not without malignance, and faced his father, his
lips twitching with anger and fear. Monsieur de St. Gre sat undisturbed.
"He is so much in love with the portrait, Monsieur, that he loses it."
"Loses it!" cried Auguste.
"Precisely," said his father, dryly, "for Mr. Ritchie tells me he found
it--at Madame Bouvet's, was it not, Monsieur?"
Auguste looked at me.
"Mille diables!" he said, and sat down again heavily.
"Mr. Ritchie has returned it to your sister, a service which puts him
heavily in our debt," said Monsieur de St. Gre. "Now, sir," he added to
me, rising, "you have had a tiresome day. I will show you to your room,
and in the morning we will begin our--investigations."
He clapped his hands, the silent mulatto appeared with a new candle, and
I followed my host down the gallery to a room which he flung open at the
far end. A great four-poster bedstead was in one corner, and a polished
mahogany dresser in the other.
"We have saved some of our family furniture from the fire, Mr. Ritchie,"
said Monsieur de St. Gre; "that bed was brought from Paris by my father
forty years ago. I hope you will rest well."
He set the candle on the table, and as he bowed there was a trace of an
enigmatical smile about his mouth. How much he knew of Auguste's
transaction I could not fathom, but the matter and the scarcely
creditable part I had played in it kept me awake far into the night. I
was just falling into a troubled sleep when a footstep on the gallery
startled me back to consciousness. It was followed by a light tap on the
"Monsieur Reetchie," said a voice.
It was Monsieur Auguste. He was not an imposing figure in his nightrail,
and by the light of the carefully shaded candle he held in his hand I saw
that he had hitherto deceived me in the matter of his calves. He stood
peering at me as I lay under the mosquito bar.
"How is it I can thank you, Monsieur!" he exclaimed in a whisper.
"By saying nothing, Monsieur," I answered.
"You are noble, you are generous, and--and one day I will give you the
money back," he added with a burst of magniloquence. "You have behave
very well, Monsieur, and I mek you my friend. Behol' Auguste de St. Gre,
entirely at your service, Monsieur." He made a sweeping bow that might
have been impressive save for the nightrail, and sought my hand, which he
grasped in a fold of the mosquito bar.
"I am overcome, Monsieur," I said.
"Monsieur Reetchie, you are my friend, my intimate" (he put an aspirate
on the word). "I go to tell you one leetle secret. I find that I can
repose confidence in you. My father does not understan' me, you saw,
Monsieur, he does not appreciate--that is the Engleesh. Mon Dieu, you
saw it this night. I, who spik to you, am made for a courtier, a noble.
I have the gift. La Louisiane--she is not so big enough for me." He
lowered his voice still further, and bent nearer to me. "Monsieur, I run
away to France. My cousin the Marquis will help me. You will hear of
Auguste de St. Gre at Versailles, at Trianon, at Chantilly, and