« AnkstesnisTęsti »
Author of "Old Creole Days," and "The Grandissimes."
THE MOTHER BIRD.
BY GEORGE W. CABLE.
ONE afternoon, some three weeks after Captain Lemaitre had called on Madame Delphine, the priest started to make a pastoral call and had hardly left the gate of his cottage, when a person, overtaking him, plucked his gown:
"Père Jerome He turned.
The face that met his was so changed with excitement and distress that for an instant he did not recognize it.
"Why, Madame Delphine —
"Oh, Père Jerome! I wan' see you so bad, so bad! Mo oulé dit quiç'ose,-I godd some' to tell you."
The two languages might be more successful than one, she seemed to think.
"We had better go back to my parlor," said the priest, in their native tongue.
"Oh, Père Jerome, de law is brogue! de law is brogue! I brogue it! 'Twas me! 'Twas me!"
The tears gushed out again, but she shut her lips very tight, and dumbly turned away her face. Père Jerome waited a little before replying; then he said, very gently:
"I suppose dad muss 'ave been by accyden', Madame Delphine ?"
The little father felt a wish-one which he often had when weeping women were before him that he were an angel instead of a man, long enough to press the tearful cheek upon his breast, and assure the weeper God would not let the lawyers and judges hurt her. He allowed a few moments more to pass, and then asked:
"N'est-ce-pas, Madame Delphine? Daz ze way, aint it ? "
No, Père Jerome, no. My daughter -oh, Père Jerome, I bethroath my lill' girl -to a w'ite man!" And immediately Madame Delphine commenced savagely drawing a thread in the fabric of her skirt with one trembling hand, while she drove the fan with the other. "Dey goin' git marry."
On the priest's face came a look of pained surprise. He slowly said:
"Is dad possib', Madame Delphine ? " "Yass," she replied, at first without lifting her eyes; and then again, "Yass," looking full upon him through her tears, “yass, 'tis tru'."
He rose and walked once across the room, returned, and said, in the Creole dialect:
"Is he a good man-without doubt?" "De bez in God's world!" replied Madame Delphine, with a rapturous smile.
"My poor, dear friend," said the priest, "I am afraid you are being deceived by somebody."
There was the pride of an unswerving faith in the triumphant tone and smile with which she replied, raising and slowly shaking her head:
"Ah-h, no-o-o, Miché! Ah-h, no, no! Not by Ursin Lemaitre-Vignevielle !"
Père Jerome was confounded. He turned again, and, with his hands at his back and his eyes cast down, slowly paced the floor.
"He is a good man," he said, by and by, as if he thought aloud. At length he halted before the woman. "Madame Delphine The distressed glance with which she had been following his steps was lifted to his eyes.
A priest of less heart-wisdom might have replied that the law is the law; but Père Jerome saw that Madame Delphine was expecting this very response. Wherefore he said, with gentleness: "Madame Delphine, a priest is not a bailiff, but a physician. How can I help you?" A grateful light shone a moment in her eyes, yet there remained a piteous hostility. in the tone in which she demanded:
"Mais, pou'quoi yé fé cette méchanique là ? What business had they to make that contraption?
His answer was a shrug with his palms extended and a short, disclamatory "Ah." He started to resume his walk, but turned to her again and said :
Suppose dad should be true w'at doze peop' say 'bout Ursin."
No," she began again-and here she
"Qui ci ça? What is that?" asked the broke into English-" fo' me I don' kyare; quadroone, stopping her fan. but, Père Jerome,-'tis fo' dat I come to tell you,-dey shall not punizh my daughter!" She was on her feet again, smiting her heaving bosom with the fan. "She shall marrie oo she want!"
"Some peop' say Ursin is crezzie." "Ah, Père Jerome !" She leaped to her feet as if he had smitten her, and putting his words away with an outstretched arm and wide-open palm, suddenly lifted hands. and eyes to heaven, and cried : "I wizh to God-I wish to God-de whole worl' was crezzie dad same way!" She sank, trembling, into her chair. "Oh, no, no," she continued, shaking her head, "'tis not Miché Vignevielle w'at's crezzie." Her eyes lighted with sudden fierceness. dad law! Dad law is crezzie! Dad law is a fool!"
"Why did they make that law? Well, they made it to keep the two races separate."
Madame Delphine startled the speaker with a loud, harsh, angry laugh. Fire came from her eyes and her lip curled with scorn.
"Then they made a lie, Père Jerome! Separate! No-o-o! They do not want to keep us separated; no, no! But they do want to keep us despised!". She laid her hand on her heart, and frowned upward with physical pain. "But, very well! from which race do they want to keep my daughter separate ? She is seven parts white! The law did not stop her from being that; and now, when she wants to be a white man's good and honest wife, shall
that law stop her? Oh, no!" She rose up. No; I will tell you what that law is made for. It is made to-punish-mychild-for-not-choosing-her-father! Père Jerome my God, what a law!" She dropped back into her seat. The tears came in a flood, which she made no attempt to restrain.
Père Jerome had heard her out, not interrupting by so much as a motion of the hand. Now his decision was made, and he touched her softly with the ends of his fingers. "Madame Delphine, I want you to go at 'ome. Go at 'ome."
"Wad you goin' mague?” she asked. "Nottin'. But go at 'ome. Kip quite; don' put you'se'f sig. I goin' see Ursin. We trah to figs dat law fo' you."
"You kin figs dad!" she cried, with a gleam of joy.
"We goin' to try, Madame Delphine. Adieu!"
He offered his hand. She seized and kissed it thrice, covering it with tears, at the same time lifting up her eyes to his and murmuring:
"De bez man God evva maque! At the door she turned to offer a more conventional good-bye; but he was following her out, bareheaded. At the gate they paused an instant, and then parted with a simple adieu, she going home and he returning for his hat, and starting again upon his interrupted business.
States brig Porpoise. But "-a still softer whisper-" have no fear; they will never find him: Jean Thompson and Evariste Varrillat have hid him away too well for that."
THE Saturday following was a very beautiful day. In the morning a light fall of rain had passed across the town, and all the afternoon you could see signs, here and there upon the horizon, of other showers. The ground was dry again, while the breeze was cool and sweet, smelling of wet foliage and bringing sunshine and shade in frequent and very pleasing alternation.
There was a walk in Père Jerome's little garden, of which we have not spoken, off on the right side of the cottage, with his chamber window at one end, a few old and twisted, but blossom-laden, crape-myrtles on either hand, now and then a rose of some unpretending variety and some bunches of rue, and at the other end a shrine, in whose blue niche stood a small figure of Mary, with folded hands and uplifted eyes. No other window looked down upon the spot, and its seclusion was often a great comfort to Père Jerome.
Up and down this walk, but a few steps in its entire length, the priest was walking, taking the air for a few moments after a prolonged sitting in the confessional. Penitents had been numerous this afternoon. He was thinking of Ursin.
The officers of the Government had not found him, nor had Père Jerome seen him; yet he believed they had, in a certain indirect way, devised a simple project by which they could at any time "figs dad law," providing only that these Government officials would give over their search; for, though he had not seen the fugitive, Madame Delphine had seen him, and had been the vehicle of communication between them. There was an orange-tree, where a mockingbird was wont to sing and a girl in white to walk, that the detectives wot not of. The law was to be "figs" by the departure of the three frequenters of the jasmine-scented garden in one ship to France, where the law offered no obstacles.
It seemed moderately certain to those in search of Monsieur Vignevielle (and it was true) that Jean and Evariste were his harborers; but for all that the hunt, even for
clues, was vain. The little banking establishment had not been disturbed. Jean Thompson had told the searchers certain facts about it, and about its gentle proprietor as well, that persuaded them to make no move against the concern, if the same revelations did not even induce a relaxation of their efforts for his personal discovery.
Père Jerome was walking to and fro, with his hands behind him, pondering these matters. He had paused a moment at the end of the walk furthest from his window, and was looking around upon the sky, when, turning, he beheld a closely veiled female figure standing at the other end, and knew instantly that it was Olive.
She came forward quickly and with evident eagerness.
"I came to confession," she said, breathing hurriedly, the excitement in her eyes shining through her veil, "but I find I am too late."
"There is no too late or too early for that; I am always ready," said the priest. "But how is your mother ? "
Her voice failed.
Ah, sir, I have made trouble. Oh, Père Jerome, I am bringing so much trouble upon my poor mother!"
Père Jerome moved slowly toward the house, with his eyes cast down, the veiled girl at his side.
"It is not your fault," he presently said. And after another pause: "I thought it was all arranged."
He looked up and could see, even through the veil, her crimson blush.
"Oh, no," she replied, in a low, despairing voice, dropping her face.
"What is the difficulty?" asked the priest, stopping in the angle of the path, where it turned toward the front of the house.
She averted her face, and began picking the thin scales of bark from a crape-myrtle.
"Madame Thompson and her husband were at our house this morning. He had told Monsieur Thompson all about it. They were very kind to me at first, but they tried She was weeping. "What did they try to do?" asked the priest.
"They tried to make me believe he is insane."
She succeeded in passing her handkerchief up under her veil.
"And I suppose then your poor mother grew angry, eh ?” .
"Yes; and they became much more so, and said if we did not write, or send a writing, to him, within twenty-four hours, breaking the
"Engagement," said Père Jerome.
"They would give him up to the Government. Oh, Père Jerome, what shall I do? It is killing my mother!"
She bowed her head and sobbed. "Where is your mother now?"
"She has gone to see Monsieur Jean Thompson. She says she has a plan that will match them all. I do not know what it is. I begged her not to go; but oh, sir, she is crazy,-and-I am no better."
"My poor child," said Père Jerome, "what you seem to want is not absolution, but relief from persecution."
"Oh, father, I have committed mortal sin, I am guilty of pride and anger." "Nevertheless," said the priest, starting toward his front gate, we will put off your confession. Let it go until to-morrow morning; you will find me in my box just before mass; I will hear you then. My child, I know that in your heart, now, you begrudge the time it would take; and that is right. There are moments when we are not in place even on penitential knees. It is so with you now. We must find your mother. Go you at once to your house; if she is there, comfort her as best you can, and keep her in, if possible, until I come. If she is not there, stay; leave me to find her; one of you, at least, must be where I can get word to you promptly. God comfort and uphold you. I hope you may find her at home; tell her, for me, not to fear,"-he lifted the gate-latch,-" that she and her daughter are of more value than many sparrows; that God's priest sends her that word from Him. Tell her to fix her trust in the great Husband of the Church, and she shall yet see her child receiving the grace-giving sacrament of matrimony. Go; I shall, in a few minutes, be on my way to Jean Thompson's, and shall find her, either there or wherever she is. Go; they shall not oppress you. Adieu!"
A moment or two later he was in the street himself.
BY AN OATH.
PÈRE JEROME, pausing on a street-corner in the last hour of sunlight, had wiped his brow and taken his cane down from under
his arm to start again, when somebody, coming noiselessly from he knew not where, asked, so suddenly as to startle him:
"Miché, commin yé 'pellé la rie ici ?—how do they call this street here?"
It was by the bonnet and dress, disordered though they were, rather than by the haggard face which looked distractedly around, that he recognized the woman to whom he replied in her own patois:
"It is the Rue Burgundy. Where are you going, Madame Delphine?"
She almost leaped from the ground. "Oh, Père Jerome! mo pas conné,-I dunno. You know w'ere's dad 'ouse of Miché Jean Tomkin? Miché Jean Tomkin? Mo courri 'ci, mo courri là,—mo pas capabe li trouvé. I go (run) here-there-I cannot find it." She gesticulated.
"I am going there myself," said he; "but why do you want to see Jean Thompson, Madame Delphine ? "
"Oh, Père Jerome,"—in the Creole patois again,-"I am going to put an end to all this trouble-only I pray you do not ask me about it now; every minute is precious!" He could not withstand her look of entreaty.
Come," he said, and they went.
Jean Thompson and Doctor Varrillat lived opposite each other on the Bayou road, a little way beyond the town limits as then prescribed. Each had his large, whitecolumned, four-sided house among the magnolias, his huge live-oak overshadowing either corner of the darkly shaded garden, his broad, brick walk leading down to the tall, brick-pillared gate, his square of bright, red pavement on the turf-covered sidewalk, and his railed platform spanning the draining-ditch, with a pair of green benches, one on each edge, facing each other crosswise of the gutter. There, any sunset hour, you were sure to find the householder sitting beside his cool-robed matron, two or three
slave-nurses in white turbans standing at hand, and an excited throng of fair children, nearly all of a size.
Sometimes, at a beckon or call, the parents on one side of the way would join those on the other, and the children and nurses of both families would be given the liberty of the opposite platform and an ice-cream. fund! Generally the parents chose the Thompson platform, its outlook being more toward the sunset.
Such happened to be the arrangement this afternoon. The two husbands sat on one bench and their wives on the other, both pairs very quiet, waiting respectfully for the day to die, and exchanging only occasional comments on matters of light moment as they passed through the memory. During one term of silence Madame Varrillat, a pale, thin-faced, but cheerfullooking lady, touched Madame Thompson, a person of two and a half times her weight, on her extensive and snowy, bare elbow, directing her attention obliquely up and across the road.
About a hundred yards distant, in the direction of the river, was a long, pleasantly shaded green strip of turf, destined in time for a sidewalk. It had a deep ditch on the nearer side, and a fence of rough cypress palisades on the farther, and these were overhung, on the one hand, by a row of bitter-orange trees inside the inclosure, and, on the other, by a line of slanting chinatrees along the outer edge of the ditch. Down this cool avenue two figures were approaching side by side. They had first attracted Madame Varrillat's notice by the bright play of sunbeams which, as they walked, fell upon them in soft, golden flashes through the chinks between the palisades.
Madame Thompson elevated a pair of glasses which were no detraction from her very good looks, and remarked, with the serenity of a reconnoitering general:
"Père Jerome et cette milatraise." All eyes were bent toward them.
"She walks like a man," said Madame Varrillat, in the language with which the conversation had opened.
"No," said the physician, "like a woman in a state of high nervous excitement."
Jean Thompson kept his eyes on the woman, and said:
"She must not forget to walk like a woman in the State of Louisiana,”—as near as the pun can be translated. The company laughed. Jean Thompson looked at
his wife, whose applause he prized, and she answered by an asseverative toss of the head, leaning back and contriving, with some effort, to get her arms folded. Her laugh was musical and low, but enough to make the folded arms shake gently up and down.
"Père Jerome is talking to her," said one. The priest was at that moment endeavoring, in the interest of peace, to say a good word for the four people who sat watching his approach. It was in the old strain:
"Blame them one part, Madame Delphine, and their fathers, mothers, brothers, and fellow-citizens the other ninety-nine."
But to everything she had the one amiable answer which Père Jerome ignored:
"I am going to arrange it to satisfy everybody, all together. Tout à fait.”
They are coming here," said Madame Varrillat, half articulately.
"Well, of course," murmured another, and the four rose up, smiling courteously, the doctor and attorney advancing and shaking hands with the priest.
No-Père Jerome thanked them-he could not sit down.
This, I believe you know, Jean, is Madame Delphine
The quadroone courtesied.
"A friend of mine," he added, smiling kindly upon her, and turning, with something imperative in his eye, to the group. "She says she has an important private matter to communicate."
"To me?" asked Jean Thompson. "To all of you; so I will Goodevening." He responded nothing to the expressions of regret, but turned to Madame Delphine. She murmured something. "Ah! yes, certainly." He addressed the company: 'She wishes me to speak for her veracity; it is unimpeachable. Well, goodevening." He shook hands and departed.
The four resumed their seats, and turned their eyes upon the standing figure.
"Have you something to say to us?" asked Jean Thompson, frowning at her lawdefying bonnet.
"Oui," replied the woman, shrinking to one side, and laying hold of one of the benches, "mo oulé di' tou' 'ose-I want to tell everything. Miché Vignevielle la plis bon homme di moune-the best man in the world; mo pas capabe li fé tracas-I cannot give him trouble. Mo pas capabe non; m'olé di' tous 'ose." She attempted to fan herself, her face turned away from the attorney, and her eyes rested on the ground.
"Take a seat," said Doctor Varrillat, with