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The Grandissimes by George Washington Cable

Part 8 out of 8

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handed her--or rather placed upon the seat near which she stood, what
she would not receive--a folded and sealed document, seized her hand,
kissed it and hurried away. She sank down upon the seat, weak and pale,
and rose to go, leaving the document behind. The mariner picked it up;
it was directed to _M. Honore Grandissime, Nouvelle Orleans, Etats Unis,
Amerique_. She turned suddenly, as if remembering, or possibly
reconsidering, and received it from him.

"It looked like a last will and testament," the seaman used to say, in
telling the story.

The next morning, being at the water's edge and seeing a number of
persons gathering about something not far away, he sauntered down toward
it to see how small a thing was required to draw a crowd of these
Frenchmen. It was the drowned body of the f.m.c.

Did the brig-master never see the woman again? He always waited for this
question to be asked him, in order to state the more impressively that
he did. His brig became a regular Bordeaux packet, and he saw the Madame
twice or thrice, apparently living at great ease, but solitary, in the
rue--. He was free to relate that he tried to scrape acquaintance with
her, but failed ignominiously.

The rents of Number 19 rue Bienville and of numerous other places,
including the new drug-store in the rue Royale, were collected regularly
by H. Grandissime, successor to Grandissime Freres. Rumor said, and
tradition repeats, that neither for the advancement of a friendless
people, nor even for the repair of the properties' wear and tear, did
one dollar of it ever remain in New Orleans; but that once a year
Honore, "as instructed," remitted to Madame--say Madame Inconnue--of
Bordeaux, the equivalent, in francs, of fifty thousand dollars. It is
averred he did this without interruption for twenty years. "Let us see:
fifty times twenty--one million dollars. That is only a _part_ of the
_pecuniary_ loss which this sort of thing costs Louisiana."

But we have wandered.



The sun is once more setting upon the Place d'Armes. Once more the
shadows of cathedral and town-hall lie athwart the pleasant grounds
where again the city's fashion and beauty sit about in the sedate
Spanish way, or stand or slowly move in and out among the old willows
and along the white walks. Children are again playing on the sward;
some, you may observe, are in black, for Agricola. You see, too, a more
peaceful river, a nearer-seeming and greener opposite shore, and many
other evidences of the drowsy summer's unwillingness to leave the
embrace of this seductive land; the dreamy quietude of birds; the
spreading, folding, re-expanding and slow pulsating of the
all-prevailing fan (how like the unfolding of an angel's wing is
ofttimes the broadening of that little instrument!); the oft-drawn
handkerchief; the pale, cool colors of summer costume; the swallow,
circling and twittering overhead or darting across the sight; the
languid movement of foot and hand; the reeking flanks and foaming bits
of horses; the ear-piercing note of the cicada; the dancing butterfly;
the dog, dropping upon the grass and looking up to his master with
roping jaw and lolling tongue; the air sweetened with the merchandise of
the flower _marchandes_.

On the levee road, bridles and saddles, whips, gigs, and
carriages,--what a merry coming and going! We look, perforce, toward the
old bench where, six months ago, sat Joseph Frowenfeld. There is
somebody there--a small, thin, weary-looking man, who leans his bared
head slightly back against the tree, his thin fingers knit together in
his lap, and his chapeau-bras pressed under his arm. You note his
extreme neatness of dress, the bright, unhealthy restlessness of his
eye, and--as a beam from the sun strikes them--the fineness of his short
red curls. It is Doctor Keene.

He lifts his head and looks forward. Honore and Frowenfeld are walking
arm-in-arm under the furthermost row of willows. Honore is speaking. How
gracefully, in correspondence with his words, his free arm or
hand--sometimes his head or even his lithe form--moves in quiet gesture,
while the grave, receptive apothecary takes into his meditative mind, as
into a large, cool cistern, the valued rain-fall of his friend's
communications. They are near enough for the little doctor easily to
call them; but he is silent. The unhappy feel so far away from the
happy. Yet--"Take care!" comes suddenly to his lips, and is almost
spoken; for the two, about to cross toward the Place d'Armes at the very
spot where Aurora had once made her narrow escape, draw suddenly back,
while the black driver of a volante reins up the horse he bestrides, and
the animal himself swerves and stops.

The two friends, though startled apart, hasten with lifted hats to the
side of the volante, profoundly convinced that one, at least, of its two
occupants is heartily sorry that they were not rolled in the dust. Ah,
ah! with what a wicked, ill-stifled merriment those two ethereal women
bend forward in the faintly perfumed clouds of their ravishing
summer-evening garb, to express their equivocal mortification
and regret.

"Oh! I'm so sawry, oh! Almoze runned o'--ah, ha, ha, ha!"

Aurora could keep the laugh back no longer.

"An' righd yeh befo' haivry _boddie_! Ah, ha, ha! 'Sieur Grandissime,
'tis _me-e-e_ w'ad know 'ow dad is bad, ha, ha, ha! Oh! I assu' you,
gen'lemen, id is hawful!"

And so on.

By and by Honore seemed urging them to do something, the thought of
which made them laugh, yet was entertained as not entirely absurd. It
may have been that to which they presently seemed to consent; they
alighted from the volante, dismissed it, and walked each at a partner's
side down the grassy avenue of the levee. It was as Clotilde with one
hand swept her light robes into perfect adjustment for the walk, and
turned to take the first step with Frowenfeld, that she raised her eyes
for the merest instant to his, and there passed between them an exchange
of glance which made the heart of the little doctor suddenly burn like a
ball of fire.

"Now we're all right," he murmured bitterly to himself, as, without
having seen him, she took the arm of the apothecary, and they
moved away.

Yes, if his irony was meant for this pair, he divined correctly. Their
hearts had found utterance across the lips, and the future stood waiting
for them on the threshold of a new existence, to usher them into a
perpetual copartnership in all its joys and sorrows, its
disappointments, its imperishable hopes, its aims, its conflicts, its
rewards; and the true--the great--the everlasting God of love was with
them. Yes, it had been "all right," now, for nearly twenty-four
hours--an age of bliss. And now, as they walked beneath the willows
where so many lovers had walked before them, they had whole histories to
tell of the tremors, the dismays, the misconstructions and longings
through which their hearts had come to this bliss; how at such a time,
thus and so; and after such and such a meeting, so and so; no part of
which was heard by alien ears, except a fragment of Clotilde's speech
caught by a small boy in unintentioned ambush.

"--Evva sinze de firze nighd w'en I big-in to nurze you wid de fivver."

She was telling him, with that new, sweet boldness so wonderful to a
lately accepted lover, how long she had loved him.

Later on they parted at the _porte-cochere_. Honore and Aurora had got
there before them, and were passing on up the stairs. Clotilde,
catching, a moment before, a glimpse of her face, had seen that there
was something wrong; weather-wise as to its indications she perceived an
impending shower of tears. A faint shade of anxiety rested an instant on
her own face. Frowenfeld could not go in. They paused a little within
the obscurity of the corridor, and just to reassure themselves that
everything _was_ "all right," they--

God be praised for love's young dream!

The slippered feet of the happy girl, as she slowly mounted the stair
alone, overburdened with the weight of her blissful reverie, made no
sound. As she turned its mid-angle she remembered Aurora. She could
guess pretty well the source of her trouble; Honore was trying to treat
that hand-clasping at the bedside of Agricola as a binding compact;
"which, of course, was not fair." She supposed they would have gone into
the front drawing-room; she would go into the back. But she
miscalculated; as she silently entered the door she saw Aurora standing
a little way beyond her, close before Honore, her eyes cast down, and
the trembling fan hanging from her two hands like a broken pinion. He
seemed to be reiterating, in a tender undertone, some question intended
to bring her to a decision. She lifted up her eyes toward his with a
mute, frightened glance.

The intruder, with an involuntary murmur of apology, drew back; but, as
she turned, she was suddenly and unspeakably saddened to see Aurora drop
her glance, and, with a solemn slowness whose momentous significance
was not to be mistaken, silently shake her head.

"Alas!" cried the tender heart of Clotilde. "Alas! M. Grandissime!"



If M. Grandissime had believed that he was prepared for the supreme
bitterness of that moment, he had sadly erred. He could not speak. He
extended his hand in a dumb farewell, when, all unsanctioned by his
will, the voice of despair escaped him in a low groan. At the same
moment, a tinkling sound drew near, and the room, which had grown dark
with the fall of night, began to brighten with the softly widening light
of an evening lamp, as a servant approached to place it in the front

Aurora gave her hand and withdrew it. In the act the two somewhat
changed position, and the rays of the lamp, as the maid passed the door,
falling upon Aurora's face, betrayed the again upturned eyes.

"'Sieur Grandissime--"

They fell.

The lover paused.

"You thing I'm crool."

She was the statue of meekness.

"Hope has been cruel to me," replied M. Grandissime, "not you; that I
cannot say. Adieu."

He was turning.

"'Sieur Grandissime--"

She seemed to tremble.

He stood still.

"'Sieur Grandissime,"--her voice was very tender,--"wad you' horry?"

There was a great silence.

"'Sieur Grandissime, you know--teg a chair."

He hesitated a moment and then both sat down. The servant repassed the
door; yet when Aurora broke the silence, she spoke in English--having
such hazardous things to say. It would conceal possible stammerings.

"'Sieur Grandissime--you know dad riz'n I--"

She slightly opened her fan, looking down upon it, and was still.

"I have no right to ask the reason," said M. Grandissime. "It is
yours--not mine."

Her head went lower.

"Well, you know,"--she drooped it meditatively to one side, with her
eyes on the floor,--"'tis bick-ause--'tis bick-ause I thing in a few
days I'm goin' to die."

M. Grandissime said never a word. He was not alarmed.

She looked up suddenly and took a quick breath, as if to resume, but her
eyes fell before his, and she said, in a tone of half-soliloquy:

"I 'ave so mudge troub' wit dad hawt."

She lifted one little hand feebly to the cardiac region, and sighed
softly, with a dying languor.

M. Grandissime gave no response. A vehicle rumbled by in the street
below, and passed away. At the bottom of the room, where a gilded Mars
was driving into battle, a soft note told the half-hour. The lady
spoke again.

"Id mague"--she sighed once more--"so strange,--sometime' I thing I'm
git'n' crezzy."

Still he to whom these fearful disclosures were being made remained as
silent and motionless as an Indian captive, and, after another pause,
with its painful accompaniment of small sounds, the fair speaker resumed
with more energy, as befitting the approach to an incredible climax:

"Some day', 'Sieur Grandissime,--id mague me fo'gid my hage! I thing I'm

She lifted her eyes with the evident determination to meet his own
squarely, but it was too much; they fell as before; yet she went
on speaking:

"An' w'en someboddie git'n' ti'ed livin' wid 'imsev an' big'n' to fill
ole, an' wan' someboddie to teg de care of 'im an' wan' me to gid
marri'd wid 'im--I thing 'e's in love to me." Her fingers kept up a
little shuffling with the fan. "I thing I'm crezzy. I thing I muz be
go'n' to die torecklie." She looked up to the ceiling with large eyes,
and then again at the fan in her lap, which continued its spreading and
shutting. "An' daz de riz'n, 'Sieur Grandissime." She waited until it
was certain he was about to answer, and then interrupted him nervously:
"You know, 'Sieur Grandissime, id woon be righd! Id woon be de juztiz to
_you!_ An' you de bez man I evva know in my life, 'Sieur Grandissime!"
Her hands shook. "A man w'at nevva wan' to gid marri'd wid noboddie in
'is life, and now trine to gid marri'd juz only to rip-ose de soul of
'is oncl'--"

M. Grandissime uttered an exclamation of protest, and she ceased.

"I asked you," continued he, with low-toned emphasis, "for the single
and only reason that I want you for my wife."

"Yez," she quickly replied; "daz all. Daz wad I thing. An' I thing daz
de rad weh to say, 'Sieur Grandissime. Bick-ause, you know, you an' me
is too hole to talg aboud dad _lovin'_, you know. An' you godd dad grade
_rizpeg_ fo' me, an' me I godd dad 'ighez rispeg fo' you; bud--" she
clutched the fan and her face sank lower still--"bud--" she
swallowed--shook her head--"bud--" She bit her lip; she could not go on.

"Aurora," said her lover, bending forward and taking one of her hands.
"I _do_ love you with all my soul."

She made a poor attempt to withdraw her hand, abandoned the effort, and
looked up savagely through a pair of overflowing eyes, demanding:

"_Mais_, fo' w'y you di' n' wan' to sesso?"

M. Grandissime smiled argumentatively.

"I have said so a hundred times, in every way but in words."

She lifted her head proudly, and bowed like a queen.

"_Mais_, you see 'Sieur Grandissime, you bin meg one mizteg."

"Bud 'tis corrected in time," exclaimed he, with suppressed but eager

"'Sieur Grandissime," she said, with a tremendous solemnity, "I'm verrie
sawrie; _mais_--you spogue too lade."

"No, no!" he cried, "the correction comes in time. Say that, lady; say

His ardent gaze beat hers once more down; but she shook her head. He
ignored the motion.

"And you will correct your answer; ah! say that, too!" he insisted,
covering the captive hand with both his own, and leaning forward
from his seat.

"_Mais_, 'Sieur Grandissime, you know, dad is so verrie unegspeg'."

"Oh! unexpected!"

"_Mais_, I was thing all dad time id was Clotilde wad you--"

She turned her face away and buried her mouth in her handkerchief.

"Ah!" he cried, "mock me no more, Aurore Nancanou!"

He rose erect and held the hand firmly which she strove to draw away:

"Say the word, sweet lady; say the word!"

She turned upon him suddenly, rose to her feet, was speechless an
instant while her eyes flashed into his, and crying out:

"No!" burst into tears, laughed through them, and let him clasp her to
his bosom.

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