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MADAME DELPHINE sold one of the corner lots of her property. She had almost no revenue, and now and then a piece had to go. As a consequence of the sale, she had a few large bank-notes sewed up in her petticoat, and one day-may be a fortnight after her tearful interview with Père Jerome she found it necessary to get one of these changed into small money. She was in the Rue Toulouse, looking from one side to the other for a bank which was not in that street at all, when she noticed a small sign hanging above a door, bearing the name "Vignevielle." She looked in. Père Jerome had told her (when she had gone to him to ask where she should apply for change) that if she could only wait a few days, there would be a new concern opened in Toulouse street,-it really seemed as if Vignevielle was the name, if she could judge; it looked to be, and it was, a private banker's,-"U. L. Vignevielle's," according to a larger inscription which met her eyes as she ventured in. Behind the counter, exchanging some last words with a busy-mannered man outside, who, in withdrawing, seemed bent on running over Madame Delphine, stood the man in blue cottonade, whom she had met in Père Jerome's door-way. Now, for the first time, she saw his face, its strong, grave, human kindness shining softly on each and every bronzed feature. The recognition was mutual. He took pains to speak first, saying, in a re-assuring tone, and in the language he had last heard her use:
"'Ow I kin serve you, Madame ?" "Iv you pliz, to mague dad bill change, Miché."
She pulled from her pocket a wad of dark cotton handkerchief, from which she began to untie the imprisoned note. Madame Delphine had an uncommonly sweet voice, and it seemed so to strike Monsieur Vignevielle. He spoke to her once or twice more, as he waited on her, each time in English, as though he enjoyed the humble
melody of its tone, and presently, as she turned to go, he said:
She started a little, but bethought herself instantly that he had heard her name in Père Jerome's parlor. The good father might even have said a few words about her after her first departure; he had such an overflowing heart.
"Madame Carraze," said Monsieur Vignevielle, "doze kine of note wad you 'an' me juz now is bein' contrefit. You muz tek kyah from doze kine of note. You see He drew from his cash-drawer a note resembling the one he had just changed for her, and proceeded to point out certain tests of genuineness. The counterfeit, he said, was so and so.
"Bud," she exclaimed, with much dismay, "dad was de manner of my bill! Id muz be-led me see dad bill wad I give you,— if you pliz, Miché.”
Monsieur Vignevielle turned to engage in conversation with an employé and a new visitor, and gave no sign of hearing Madame Delphine's voice. She asked a second time, with like result, lingered timidly, and as he turned to give his attention to a third visitor, reiterated:
"Miché Vignevielle, I wizh you pliz led
"Madame Carraze," he said, turning so suddenly as to make the frightened little woman start, but extending his palm with a show of frankness, and assuming a look of benignant patience, "'ow I kin fine doze note now, mongs' all de rez? Iv you pliz nod to mague me doze troub'."
The dimmest shadow of a smile seemed only to give his words a more kindly authoritative import, and as he turned away again with a manner suggestive of finality, Madame Delphine found no choice but to depart. But she went away loving the ground beneath the feet of Monsieur U. L. Vignevielle.
"Oh, Père Jerome!" she exclaimed in the corrupt French of her caste, meeting the little father on the street a few days later, "you told the truth that day in your parlor. Mo conné li à ç't heure. I know him now; he is just what you called him."
Why do you not make him your banker, also, Madame Delphine ?"
"I have done so this very day!" she replied, with more happiness in her eyes than Père Jerome had ever before seen there.
"Madame Delphine," he said, his own. eyes sparkling, "make him your daughter's guardian; for myself, being a priest, it would not be best; but ask him; I believe he will not refuse you."
Madame Delphine's face grew still brighter as he spoke.
"It was in my mind," she said.
Yet to the timorous Madame Delphine many trifles became, one after another, an impediment to the making of this proposal, and many weeks elapsed before further delay was positively without excuse. But at length, one day in May (1822), in a small private office behind Monsieur Vignevielle's banking-room,-he sitting beside a table, and she, more timid and demure than ever, having just taken a chair by the door, she said, trying, with a little bashful laugh, to make the matter seem unimportant, and yet with some tremor of voice:
"Miché Vignevielle, I bin maguing my will." (Having commenced their acquaintance in English, they spoke nothing else.) ""Tis a good idy," responded the banker. 'I kin mague you de troub' to kib dad will fo' me, Miché Vignevielle ?"
She looked up with grateful re-assurance; but her eyes dropped again as she said: "Miché Vignevielle Here she choked, and began her peculiar motion of laying folds in the skirt of her dress, with trembling fingers. She lifted her eyes, and as they met the look of deep and placid kindness that was in his face, some courage returned, and she said:
"Wad you wand?" asked he, gently.
Her words were scarcely audible:
She nodded with her face down.
For a few moments neither spoke, and then Monsieur Vignevielle said: "I will do dad."
"Lag she been you' h-own?" asked the mother, suffering from her own boldness. "She's a good lill' chile, eh?" "Miché, she's a lil' hangel!" exclaimed Madame Delphine, with a look of distress. "Yez; I teg kyah 'v 'er, lag my h-own. I mague you dad promise.'
There was something still in the way, Madame Delphine seemed to think.
The banker waited in silence.
"I suppose you will want to see my lill' girl ? ”
He smiled; for she looked at him as if she would implore him to decline.
"Oh, I tek you' word fo' hall dad, Madame Carraze. It mague no differend wad she loog lag; I don' wan' see 'er."
Madame Delphine's parting smile-she went very shortly-was gratitude beyond speech.
Monsieur Vignevielle returned to the seat he had left, and resumed a newspaper,— the "Louisiana Gazette" in all probability,which he had laid down upon Madame Delphine's entrance. His eyes fell upon a paragraph which had previously escaped his notice. There they rested. Either he read it over and over unwearyingly, or he was lost in thought. Jean Thompson entered.
"Now," said Mr. Thompson, in a suppressed tone, bending a little across the table, and laying one palm upon a package of papers which lay in the other, "it is completed. You could retire from your business any day inside of six hours without loss to anybody." (Both here and elsewhere, let it be understood that where good English is given the words were spoken in good French.)
Monsieur Vignevielle raised his eyes and extended the paper to the attorney, who received it and read the paragraph. Its substance was that a certain vessel of the navy had returned from a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico and Straits of Florida, where she had done valuable service against the pirates-having, for instance, destroyed in one fortnight in January last twelve pirate vessels afloat, two on the stocks, and three
"I nevva know dad, Madame Carraze. establishments ashore. She's a lill' small gal ?"
"United States brig Porpoise," repeated
Mothers forget their daughters' stature. Jean Thompson. "Do you know her?"
Madame Delphine said:
"We are acquainted," said Monsieur Vignevielle.
A QUIET footstep, a grave new presence on financial sidewalks, a neat garb slightly out of date, a gently strong and kindly pensive face, a silent bow, a new sign in the Rue Toulouse, a lone figure with a cane, walking in meditation in the evening light under the willows of Canal Marigny, a long-darkened window relighted in the Rue Conti-these were all; a fall of dew would scarce have been more quiet than was the return of Ursin Lemaitre-Vignevielle to the precincts of his birth and early life. But we hardly give the event its right
It was Capitaine Lemaitre who had disappeared; it was Monsieur Vignevielle who had come back. The pleasures, the haunts, the companions, that had once held out their charms to the impetuous youth, offered no enticements to Madame Delphine's banker. There is this to be said even for the pride his grandfather had taught him, that it had always held him. above low indulgences; and though he had dallied with kings, queens, and knaves through all the mazes of Faro, Rondeau, and Craps, he had done it loftily; but now he maintained a peaceful estrangement from all. Evariste and Jean, themselves, found him only by seeking.
"It is the right way," he said to Père Jerome, the day we saw him there. "Ursin Lemaitre is dead. I have buried him. He left a will. I am his executor." "He is crazy," said his lawyer brotherin-law, impatiently.
"On the contr-y," replied the little priest, "'e 'as come ad hisse'f."
"Look at his face, Jean. Men with that kind of face are the last to go crazy."
"You have not proved that," replied Jean, with an attorney's obstinacy. "You should have heard him talk the other day about that newspaper paragraph. I have taken Ursin Lemaitre's head; I have it with me; I claim the reward, but I desire to commute it to citizenship.' He is crazy."
Of course Jean Thompson did not believe what he said; but he said it, and, in his vexation, repeated it, on the banquettes and at the clubs; and presently it took the shape of a sly rumor, that the returned rover was a trifle snarled in his top-hamper. This whisper was helped into circulation
by many trivial eccentricities of manner and by the unaccountable oddness of some of his transactions in business.
"My dear sir!" cried his astounded lawyer, one day, "you are not running a charitable institution!
"How do you know?" said Monsieur Vignevielle. There the conversation ceased. "Why do you not found hospitals and asylums at once," asked the attorney, at another time, with a vexed laugh," and get the credit of it?"
"And make the end worse than the beginning," said the banker, with a gentle smile, turning away to a desk of books.
"Bah!" muttered Jean Thompson.
Monsieur Vignevielle betrayed one very bad symptom. Wherever he went he seemed looking for somebody. It may have been perceptible only to those who were sufficiently interested in him to study his movements; but those who saw it once saw it always. He never passed an open door or gate but he glanced in; and often, where it stood but slightly ajar, you might see him give it a gentle push with his hand or cane. It was very singular.
He walked much alone after dark. The guichinangoes (garroters, we might say), at those times the city's particular terror by night, never crossed his path. He was one of those men for whom danger appears to stand aside.
One beautiful summer night, when all nature seemed hushed in ecstasy, the last blush gone that told of the sun's parting, Monsieur Vignevielle, in the course of one of those contemplative, uncompanioned walks which it was his habit to take, came slowly along the more open portion of the Rue Royale, with a step which was soft without intention, occasionally touching the end of his stout cane gently to the ground and looking upward among his old acquaintances, the stars.
It was one of those southern nights under whose spell all the sterner energies of the mind cloak themselves and lie down in bivouac, and the fancy and the imagination, that cannot sleep, slip their fetters and escape, beckoned away from behind every flowering bush and sweet-smelling tree, and every stretch of lonely, half-lighted walk, by the genius of poetry. The air stirred softly now and then, and was still again, as if the breezes lifted their expectant pinions and lowered them once more, awaiting the rising of the moon in a silence which fell upon the fields, the roads, the gardens, the walls, and
the suburban and half-suburban streets, like a pause in worship. And anon she rose. Monsieur Vignevielle's steps were bent toward the more central part of the town, and he was presently passing along a high, close, board-fence, on the right-hand side of the way, when, just within this inclosure, and almost overhead, in the dark boughs of a large orange-tree, a mocking-bird began the first low flute-notes of his all-night song. It may have been only the nearness of the songster that attracted the passer's attention, but he paused and looked up.
And then he remarked something more,that the air where he had stopped was filled with the overpowering sweetness of the night-jasmine. He looked around; it could only be inside the fence. There was a gate just there. Would he push it, as his wont was? The grass was growing about it in a thick turf, as though the entrance had not been used for years. An iron staple clasped the cross-bar, and was driven deep into the gate-post. But now an eye that had been in the blacksmithing business an eye which had later received high training as an eye for fastenings-fell upon that staple, and saw at a glance that the wood had shrunk from it, and it had sprung from its hold, though without falling out. The strange habit asserted itself; he laid his large hand upon the cross-bar; the turf at the base yielded, and the tall gate was drawn partly open.
At that moment, as at the moment whenever he drew or pushed a door or gate, or looked in at a window, he was thinking of one, the image of whose face and form had never left his inner vision since the day it had met him in his life's path and turned him face about from the way of destruction. The bird ceased. The cause of the interruption, standing within the opening, saw before him, much obscured by its own numerous shadows, a broad, ill-kept, manyflowered garden, among whose untrimmed rose-trees and tangled vines, and often, also, in its old walks of pounded shell, the cocograss, and crab-grass had spread riotously, and sturdy weeds stood up in bloom. He stepped in and drew the gate to after him. There, very near by, was the clump of jasmine, whose ravishing odor had tempted him. It stood just beyond a brightly moonlit path, which turned from him in a curve toward the residence, a little distance to the right, and escaped the view at a point where it seemed more than likely a door of the house might open upon it. While he still
looked, there fell upon his ear, from around that curve, a light footstep on the broken shells,—one only, and then all was for a moment still again. Had he mistaken? No. The same soft click was repeated nearer by, a pale glimpse of robes came through the tangle, and then, plainly to view, appeared an outline a presence-a form-a spirita girl!
From throat to instep she was as white as Cynthia. Something above the medium height, slender, lithe, her abundant hair rolling in dark, rich waves back from her brows and down from her crown, and falling in two heavy plaits beyond her round, broadly girt waist and full to her knees, a few escaping locks eddying lightly on her graceful neck and her temples,-her arms, half hid in a snowy mist of sleeve, let down to guide her spotless skirts free from the dewy touch of the grass,-straight down the path she came !
Will she stop? Will she turn aside? Will she espy the dark form in the deep shade of the orange, and, with one piercing scream, wheel and vanish? She draws near. She approaches the jasmine; she raises her arms, the sleeves falling like a vapor down to the shoulder; rises upon tiptoe, and plucks a spray. O Memory! Can it be? Can it be? Is this his quest, or is it lunacy? The ground seems to M. Vignevielle the unsteady sea and he to stand once more on a deck. And shę? As she stands now, if she but turn toward the orange, the whole glory of the moon will shine upon her face. His heart stands still; he is waiting for her to do that. She reaches up again; this time a bunch for her mother. That neck and throat! Now she fastens a spray in her hair. The mocking-bird cannot withhold; he breaks into song-she turns-she turns her face—it is she, it is she! Madame Delphine's daughter is the girl he met on the ship.
SHE was just passing seventeen—that beautiful year when the heart of the maiden still beats quickly with the surprise of her new dominion, while with gentle dignity her brow accepts the holy coronation of womanhood. The forehead and temples beneath her loosely bound hair were fair without paleness, and meek without languor. She had the soft, lack-luster beauty of the
South; no ruddiness of coral, no waxen white, no pink of shell; no heavenly blue. in the glance; but a face that seemed, in all its other beauties, only a tender accompaniment for the large, brown, melting eyes, where the openness of child-nature mingled dreamily with the sweet mysteries of maiden thought. We say no color of shell on face or throat; but this was no deficiency, that which took its place being the warm, transparent tint of sculptured ivory.
This side door-way which led from Madame Delphine's house into her garden was overarched partly by an old remnant of vinecovered lattice, and partly by a crape-myrtle, against whose small, polished trunk leaned a rustic seat. Here Madame Delphine and Olive loved to sit when the twilights were balmy or the moon was bright.
"Chérie," said Madame Delphine on one of these evenings, "why do you dream so much?"
She spoke in the patois most natural to her, and which her daughter had easily learned.
The girl turned her face to her mother, and smiled, then dropped her glance to the hands in her own lap, which were listlessly handling the end of a ribbon. The mother looked at her with fond solicitude. Her dress was white again; this was but one night since that in which Monsieur Vignevielle had seen her at the bush of night-jasmine. He had not been discovered, but had gone away, shutting the gate, and leaving it as he had found it.
Her head was uncovered. Its plaited masses, quite black in the moonlight, hung down and coiled upon the bench, by her side. Her chaste drapery was of that revived classic order which the world of fashion was again laying aside to re-assume the mediæval bondage of the stay-lace; for New Orleans was behind the fashionable world, and Madame Delphine and her daughter were behind New Orleans. A delicate scarf, pale blue, of lightly netted worsted, fell from either shoulder down beside her hands. The look that was bent upon her changed perforce to one of gentle admiration. She seemed the goddess of the garden.
Olive glanced up. Madame Delphine was not prepared for the movement, and on that account repeated her question :
"What are you thinking about?"
The dreamer took the hand that was laid upon hers between her own palms, bowed her head and gave them a soft kiss.
The mother submitted. Wherefore, in
the silence which followed, a daughter's conscience felt the burden of having withheld an answer, and Olive presently said, as the pair sat looking up into the sky:
"I was thinking of Père Jerome's sermon."
Madame Delphine had feared so. Olive had lived on it ever since the day it was preached. The poor mother was almost ready to repent having ever afforded her the opportunity of hearing it. Meat and drink had become of secondary value to her daughter; she fed upon the sermon.
Olive felt her mother's thought and knew that her mother knew her own; but now that she had confessed, she would ask a question:
"Do you think, maman, that Père Jerome knows it was I who gave that missal ? " "No," said Madame Delphine, "I am sure he does not."
Another question came more timidly:
Both remained for a long time very still, watching the moon gliding in and through among the small dark-and-white clouds. At last the daughter spoke again.
"I wish I was Père-I wish I was as good as Père Jerome."
"My child," said Madame Delphine, her tone betraying a painful summoning of strength to say what she had lacked the courage to utter,-" my child, I pray the good God you will not let your heart go after one whom you may never see in this world!"
The maiden turned her glance, and their eyes met. She cast her arms about her mother's neck, laid her cheek upon it for a moment, and then, feeling the maternal tear, lifted her lips, and, kissing her, said:
"I will not! I will not!"
But the voice was one, not of glad consent, but of desperate resolution.
"It would be useless, anyhow," said the mother, laying her arm around her daughter's waist.
Olive repeated the kiss, prolonging it passionately.
"I have nobody but you," murmured the girl; "I am a poor quadroone!"
She threw back her plaited hair for a third embrace, when a sound in the shrubbery startled them.
"Qui ci ça?" called Madame Delphine, in a frightened voice, as the two stood up, holding to each other.