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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBonaventure: A Prose Pastoral Of Acadian Louisiana - Carancro - Chapter 10. After All
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Bonaventure: A Prose Pastoral Of Acadian Louisiana - Carancro - Chapter 10. After All Post by :cd0410 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1319

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Bonaventure: A Prose Pastoral Of Acadian Louisiana - Carancro - Chapter 10. After All

CARANCRO CHAPTER X. AFTER ALL

Adieu; but only till the fall of night shall bring the wedding ball.

One little tune--and every Acadian fiddler in Louisiana knows it--always brings back to Zosephine the opening scene of that festive and jocund convocation. She sees again the great clean-swept seed-cotton room of a cotton-gin house belonging to a cousin of the ex-governor, lighted with many candles stuck into a perfect wealth of black bottles ranged along the beams of the walls. The fiddler's seat is mounted on a table in the corner, the fiddler is in it, each beau has led a maiden into the floor, the sets are made for the contra-dance, the young men stand expectant, their partners wait with downcast eyes and mute lips as Acadian damsels should, the music strikes up, and away they go.

Yes, Zosephine sees the whole bright scene over again whenever that strain sounds.

(Music)

It was fine from first to last! The ball closed with the bride's dance. Many a daughter Madame Sosthene had waltzed that farewell measure with, and now Zosephine was the last. So they danced it, they two, all the crowd looking on: the one so young and lost in self, the other so full of years and lost to self; eddying round and round each other in this last bright embrace before they part, the mother to swing back into still water, the child to enter the current of a new life.

And then came the wedding supper! At one end of the long table the bride and groom sat side by side, and at their left and right the wedding singers stood and sang. In each corner of the room there was a barrel of roasted sweet potatoes. How everybody ate, that night! Rice! beef-balls! pass them here! pass them there! help yourself! reach them with a fork! _des riz! des boulettes! more down this way! pass them over heads! _des riz! des boulettes! And the anisette!--bad whiskey and oil of anise--never mind that; pour, fill, empty, fill again! Don't take too much--and make sure not to take too little! How merrily all went on! How gay was Zosephine!

"Does she know that Bonaventure, too, has come back?" the young maidens whisper, one to another; for the news was afloat.

"Oh, yes, of course; some one had to let it slip. But if it makes any difference, she is only brighter and prettier than before. I tell you--it seems strange, but I believe, now, she never cared for anybody but 'Thanase. When she heard Bonaventure had come back, she only let one little flash out of her eyes at the fool who told her, then said it was the best news that could be, and has been as serene as the picture of a saint ever since."

The serenity of the bride might have been less perfect, and the one flash of her eyes might have been two, had she known what the cure was that minute saying to the returned wanderer, with the youth's head pressed upon his bosom, in the seclusion of his own chamber:

"It is all for the best, Bonaventure. It is not possible that thou shouldst see it so now, but thou shalt hereafter. It is best this way." And the tears rolled silently down his cheek as the weary head in his bosom murmured back:

"It is best. It is best."

The cure could only press him closer then. It was much more than a year afterward when he for the first time ventured to add:

"I never wanted you to get her, my dear boy; she is not your kind at all--nay, now, let me say it, since I have kept it unsaid so long and patiently. Do you imagine she could ever understand an unselfish life, or even one that tried to be unselfish? She makes an excellent Madame 'Thanase. 'Thanase is a good, vigorous, faithful, gentle animal, that knows how to graze and lie in the shade and get up and graze again. But you--it is not in you to know how poor a Madame Bonaventure she would have been; not now merely, but poorer and poorer as the years go by.

"And so I say, do not go away. I know why you want to go; you want to run away from a haunting thought that some unlikely accident or other may leave Madame 'Thanase a widow, and you step into his big shoes. They would not fit. Do not go. That thing is not going to happen; and the way to get rid of the troublesome notion is to stay and see yourself outgrow it--and her."

Bonaventure shook his head mournfully, but staid. From time to time Madame 'Thanase passed before his view in pursuit of her outdoor and indoor cares. But even when he came under her galerie roof he could see that she never doubted she had made the very best choice in all Carancro.

And yet people knew--she knew--that Bonaventure not only enjoyed the acquaintance, but sometimes actually went from one place to another on the business, of the great ex-governor. Small matters they may have been, but, anyhow, just think!

Sometimes as he so went or came he saw her squatting on a board at the edge of a _coolee_, her petticoat wrapped snugly around her limbs, and a limp sunbonnet hiding her nut-brown face, pounding her washing with a wooden paddle. She was her own housekeeper, chambermaid, cook, washerwoman, gooseherd, seamstress, nurse, and all the rest. Her floors, they said, were always _bien fourbis (well scrubbed); her beds were high, soft, snug, and covered with the white mesh of her own crochet-needle.

He saw her the oftener because she worked much out on her low veranda. From that place she had a broad outlook upon the world, with 'Thanase in the foreground, at his toil, sometimes at his sport. His cares as a herder, _vacheur_,--_vache_, he called it,--were wherever his slender-horned herds might roam or his stallions lead their mares in search of the sweetest herbage; and when rains filled the _maraises_, and the cold nor'westers blew from Texas and the sod was spongy with much water, and he went out for feathered game, the numberless mallards, black ducks, gray ducks, teal--with sometimes the canvas-back--and the _poules-d'eau_--the water-hens and the rails, and the _cache-cache_--the snipe--were as likely to settle or rise just before his own house as elsewhere, and the most devastating shot that hurtled through those feathered multitudes was that sent by her husband--hers--her own--possessive case--belonging to her. She was proud of her property.

Sometimes _la vieille_--for she was _la vieille from the very day that she counted her wedding presents, mostly chickens, and turned them loose in the dooryard--sometimes she enjoyed the fine excitement of seeing her _vieux catching and branding his yearling colts. Small but not uncomely they were: tougher, stronger, better when broken, than the mustang, though, like the mustang, begotten and foaled on the open prairie. Often she saw him catch two for the plough in the morning, turn them loose at noon to find their own food and drink, and catch and work another pair through the afternoon. So what did not give her pride gave her quiet comfort. Sometimes she looked forth with an anxious eye, when a colt was to be broken for the saddle; for as its legs were untied, and it sprang to its feet with 'Thanase in the saddle, and the blindfold was removed from its eyes, the strain on the young wife's nerves was as much as was good, to see the creature's tremendous leaps in air and not tremble for its superb, unmovable rider.

Could scholarship be finer than--or as fine as--such horsemanship? And yet, somehow, as time ran on, Zosephine, like all the rest of Carancro, began to look up with a certain deference, half-conscious, half-unconscious, to the needy young man who was nobody's love or lover, and yet, in a gentle, unimpassioned way, everybody's; landless, penniless, artless Bonaventure, who honestly thought there was no girl in Carancro who was not much too good for him, and of whom there was not one who did not think him much too good for her. He was quite outside of all their gossip. How could they know that with all his learning--for he could read and write in two languages and took the Vermilionville newspaper--and with all his books, almost an entire mantel-shelf full--he was feeling heart-hunger the same as any ordinary lad or lass unmated? Zosephine found her eyes, so to speak, lifting, lifting, more and more as from time to time she looked upon the inoffensive Bonaventure. But so her satisfaction in her own husband was all the more emphatic. If she had ever caught a real impulse toward any thing that even Carancro would have called culture, she had cast it aside now--as to herself; her children--oh! yes; but that would be by and by.

Even of pastimes and sports she saw almost none. For 'Thanase there was, first of all, his fiddle; then _la chasse_, the chase; the _papegaie_, or, as he called it, _pad-go_--the shooting-match; _la galloche_, pitch-farthing; the cock-fight; the five-arpent pony-race; and too often, also, _chin-chin_, twenty-five-cent poker, and the gossip and glass of the roadside "store." But for Madame 'Thanase there was only a seat against the wall at the Saturday-night dance, and mass _a la chapelle once in two or three weeks; these, and infant baptisms. These showed how fast time and life were hurrying along. The wedding seemed but yesterday, and yet here was little Sosthene, and tiny Marguerite, and cooing Zosephine the younger--how fast history repeats itself!

But one day, one Sunday, it repeated itself in a different way. 'Thanase was in gay humor that morning. He kissed his wife, tossed his children, played on his fiddle that tune they all liked best, and, while Zosephine looked after him with young zest in her eye, sprang into the saddle and galloped across the prairie _a la chapelle to pass a jolly forenoon at _chin-chin in the village grocery.

Since the war almost every one went armed--not for attack, of course; for defence. 'Thanase was an exception.

"My fists," he said, in the good old drawling Acadian dialect and with his accustomed smile,--"my fists will take care of me."

One of the party that made up the game with 'Thanase was the fellow whom you may remember as having brought that first news of 'Thanase from camp to Carancro, and whom Zosephine had discredited. The young husband had never liked him since.

But, as I say, 'Thanase was in high spirits. His jests came thick and fast, and some were hard and personal, and some were barbed with truth, and one, at length, ended in the word "deserter." The victim grew instantly fierce and red, leaped up crying "Liar," and was knocked backward to the ground by the long-reaching fist of 'Thanase. He rose again and dashed at his assailant. The rest of the company hastily made way to right and left, chairs were overturned, over went the table, the cards were underfoot. Men ran in from outside and from over the way. The two foes clash together, 'Thanase smites again with his fist, and the other grapples. They tug and strain--

"Separate them!" cry two or three of the packed crowd in suppressed earnestness. "Separate them! Bonaventure is coming! And here from the other side the cure too! Oh, get them apart!" But the half-hearted interference is shaken off. 'Thanase sees Bonaventure and the cure enter; mortification smites him; a smothered cry of rage bursts from his lips; he tries to hurl his antagonist from him; and just as the two friends reach out to lay hands upon the wrestling mass, it goes with a great thud to the ground. The crowd recoils and springs back again; then a cry of amazement and horror from all around, the arm of the under man lifted out over the back of the other, a downward flash of steel--another--and another! the long, subsiding wail of a strong man's sudden despair, the voice of one crying,--

"Zosephine! Ah! Zosephine! _ma vieille! ma vieille!_"--one long moan and sigh, and the finest horseman, the sweetest musician, the bravest soldier, yes, and the best husband, in all Carancro, was dead.

Poor old Sosthene and his wife! How hard they tried, for days, for weeks, to comfort their widowed child! But in vain. Day and night she put them away in fierce grief and silence, or if she spoke wailed always the one implacable answer,--

"I want my husband!" And to the cure the same words,--

"Go tell God I want my husband!"

But when at last came one who, having come to speak, could only hold her hand in his and silently weep with her, she clung to his with both her own, and looking up into his young, thin face, cried,--not with grace of words, and yet with some grace in all her words' Acadian ruggedness,--

"Bonaventure! Ah! Bonaventure! thou who knowest the way--teach me, my brother, how to be patient."

And so--though the ex-governor had just offered him a mission in another part of the Acadians' land, a mission, as he thought, far beyond his deserving, though, in fact, so humble that to tell you what it was would force your smile--he staid.

A year went by, and then another. Zosephine no longer lifted to heaven a mutinous and aggrieved countenance. Bonaventure was often nigh, and his words were a deep comfort. Yet often, too, her spirit flashed impatience through her eyes when in the childish philosophizing of which he was so fond he put forward--though ever so impersonally and counting himself least of all to have attained--the precepts of self-conquest and abnegation. And then as the flash passed away, with a moisture of the eye repudiated by the pride of the lip, she would slowly shake her head and say:

"It is of no use; I can't do it! I may be too young--I may be too bad, but--I can't learn it!"

At last, one September evening, Bonaventure stood at the edge of Sosthene's galerie, whither Zosephine had followed out, leaving _le vieux and _la vieille in the house. On the morrow Bonaventure was to leave Carancro. And now he said,--

"Zosephine, I must go."

"Ah, Bonaventure!" she replied, "my children--what will my children do? It is not only that you have taught them to spell and read, though God will be good to you for that! But these two years you have been every thing to them--every thing. They will be orphaned over again, Bonaventure." Tears shone in her eyes, and she turned away her face with her dropped hands clasped together.

The young man laid his hand upon her drooping brow. She turned again and lifted her eyes to his. His lips moved silently, but she read upon them the unheard utterance: it was a word of blessing and farewell. Slowly and tenderly she drew down his hand, laid a kiss upon it, and said,--

"_Adjieu--adjieu_," and they parted.

As Zosephine, with erect form and firm, clear tread, went by her parents and into the inner room where her children lay in their trundle-bed, the old mother said to _le vieux_,--

"You can go ahead and repair the schoolhouse now. Our daughter will want to begin, even to-morrow, to teach the children of the village--_les zonfants a la chapelle_."

"You think so?" said Sosthene, but not as if he doubted.

"Yes; it is certain now that Zosephine will always remain the Widow 'Thanase."

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