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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 15. Rolled In The Dust
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 15. Rolled In The Dust Post by :ksloan Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :3088

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 15. Rolled In The Dust


"No, Frowenfeld," said little Doctor Keene, speaking for the after-dinner loungers, "you must take a little human advice. Go, get the air on the Plaza. We will keep shop for you. Stay as long as you like and come home in any condition you think best." And Joseph, tormented into this course, put on his hat and went out.

"Hard to move as a cow in the moonlight," continued Doctor Keene, "and knows just about as much of the world. He wasn't aware, until I told him to-day, that there are two Honore Grandissimes." (Laughter.)

"Why did you tell him?"

"I didn't give him anything but the bare fact. I want to see how long it will take him to find out the rest."

The Place d'Armes offered amusement to every one else rather than to the immigrant. The family relation, the most noticeable feature of its' well-pleased groups, was to him too painful a reminder of his late losses, and, after an honest endeavor to flutter out of the inner twilight of himself into the outer glare of a moving world, he had given up the effort and had passed beyond the square and seated himself upon a rude bench which encircled the trunk of a willow on the levee.

The negress, who, resting near by with a tray of cakes before her, has been for some time contemplating the three-quarter face of her unconscious neighbor, drops her head at last with a small, Ethiopian, feminine laugh. It is a self-confession that, pleasant as the study of his countenance is, to resolve that study into knowledge is beyond her powers; and very pardonably so it is, she being but a _marchande des gateaux (an itinerant cake-vender), and he, she concludes, a man of parts. There is a purpose, too, as well as an admission, in the laugh. She would like to engage him in conversation. But he does not notice. Little supposing he is the object of even a cake-merchant's attention, he is lost in idle meditation.

One would guess his age to be as much as twenty-six. His face is beardless, of course, like almost everybody's around him, and of a German kind of seriousness. A certain diffidence in his look may tend to render him unattractive to careless eyes, the more so since he has a slight appearance of self-neglect. On a second glance, his refinement shows out more distinctly, and one also sees that he is not shabby. The little that seems lacking is woman's care, the brush of attentive fingers here and there, the turning of a fold in the high-collared coat, and a mere touch on the neckerchief and shirt-frill. He has a decidedly good forehead. His blue eyes, while they are both strong and modest, are noticeable, too, as betraying fatigue, and the shade of gravity in them is deepened by a certain worn look of excess--in books; a most unusual look in New Orleans in those days, and pointedly out of keeping with the scene which was absorbing his attention.

You might mistake the time for mid-May. Before the view lies the Place d'Armes in its green-breasted uniform of new spring grass crossed diagonally with white shell walks for facings, and dotted with the _elite of the city for decorations. Over the line of shade-trees which marks its farther boundary, the white-topped twin turrets of St. Louis Cathedral look across it and beyond the bared site of the removed battery (built by the busy Carondelet to protect Louisiana from herself and Kentucky, and razed by his immediate successors) and out upon the Mississippi, the color of whose surface is beginning to change with the changing sky of this beautiful and now departing day. A breeze, which is almost early June, and which has been hovering over the bosom of the great river and above the turf-covered levee, ceases, as if it sank exhausted under its burden of spring odors, and in the profound calm the cathedral bell strikes the sunset hour. From its neighboring garden, the convent of the Ursulines responds in a tone of devoutness, while from the parapet of the less pious little Fort St. Charles, the evening gun sends a solemn ejaculation rumbling down the "coast;" a drum rolls, the air rises again from the water like a flock of birds, and many in the square and on the levee's crown turn and accept its gentle blowing. Rising over the levee willows, and sinking into the streets,--which are lower than the water,--it flutters among the balconies and in and out of dim Spanish arcades, and finally drifts away toward that part of the sky where the sun is sinking behind the low, unbroken line of forest. There is such seduction in the evening air, such sweetness of flowers on its every motion, such lack of cold, or heat, or dust, or wet, that the people have no heart to stay in-doors; nor is there any reason why they should. The levee road is dotted with horsemen, and the willow avenue on the levee's crown, the whole short mile between Terre aux Boeufs gate on the right and Tchoupitoulas gate on the left, is bright with promenaders, although the hour is brief and there will be no twilight; for, so far from being May, it is merely that same nineteenth of which we have already spoken,--the nineteenth of Louisiana's delicious February.

Among the throng were many whose names were going to be written large in history. There was Casa Calvo,--Sebastian de Casa Calvo de la Puerta y O'Farril, Marquis of Casa Calvo,--a man then at the fine age of fifty-three, elegant, fascinating, perfect in Spanish courtesy and Spanish diplomacy, rolling by in a showy equipage surrounded by a clanking body-guard of the Catholic king's cavalry. There was young Daniel Clark, already beginning to amass those riches which an age of litigation has not to this day consumed; it was he whom the French colonial prefect, Laussat, in a late letter to France, had extolled as a man whose "talents for intrigue were carried to a rare degree of excellence." There was Laussat himself, in the flower of his years, sour with pride, conscious of great official insignificance and full of petty spites--he yet tarried in a land where his beautiful wife was the "model of taste." There was that convivial old fox, Wilkinson, who had plotted for years with Miro and did not sell himself and his country to Spain because--as we now say--"he found he could do better;" who modestly confessed himself in a traitor's letter to the Spanish king as a man "whose head may err, but whose heart cannot deceive!" and who brought Governor Gayoso to an early death-bed by simply out-drinking him. There also was Edward Livingston, attorney-at-law, inseparably joined to the mention of the famous Batture cases--though that was later. There also was that terror of colonial peculators, the old ex-Intendant Morales, who, having quarrelled with every governor of Louisiana he ever saw, was now snarling at Casa Calvo from force of habit.

And the Creoles--the Knickerbockers of Louisiana--but time would fail us. The Villeres and Destrehans--patriots and patriots' sons; the De La Chaise family in mourning for young Auguste La Chaise of Kentuckian-Louisianian-San Domingan history; the Livaudaises, _pere et fils_, of Haunted House fame, descendants of the first pilot of the Belize; the pirate brothers Lafitte, moving among the best; Marigny de Mandeville, afterwards the marquis member of Congress; the Davezacs, the Mossys, the Boulignys, the Labatuts, the Bringiers, the De Trudeaus, the De Macartys, the De la Houssayes, the De Lavilleboeuvres, the Grandpres, the Forstalls; and the proselyted Creoles: Etienne de Bore (he was the father of all such as handle the sugar-kettle); old man Pitot, who became mayor; Madame Pontalba and her unsuccessful suitor, John McDonough; the three Girods, the two Graviers, or the lone Julian Poydras, godfather of orphan girls. Besides these, and among them as shining fractions of the community, the numerous representatives of the not only noble, but noticeable and ubiquitous, family of Grandissime: Grandissimes simple and Grandissimes compound; Brahmins, Mandarins and Fusiliers. One, 'Polyte by name, a light, gay fellow, with classic features, hair turning gray, is standing and conversing with this group here by the mock-cannon inclosure of the grounds. Another, his cousin, Charlie Mandarin, a tall, very slender, bronzed gentleman in a flannel hunting-shirt and buckskin leggings, is walking, in moccasins, with a sweet lady in whose tasteful attire feminine scrutiny, but such only, might detect economy, but whose marked beauty of yesterday is retreating and reappearing in the flock of children who are noisily running round and round them, nominally in the care of three fat and venerable black nurses. Another, yonder, Theophile Grandissime, is whipping his stockings with his cane, a lithe youngster in the height of the fashion (be it understood the fashion in New Orleans was five years or so behind Paris), with a joyous, noble face, a merry tongue and giddy laugh, and a confession of experiences which these pages, fortunately for their moral tone, need not recount. All these were there and many others.

This throng, shifting like the fragments of colored glass in the kaleidoscope, had its far-away interest to the contemplative Joseph. To them he was of little interest, or none. Of the many passers, scarcely an occasional one greeted him, and such only with an extremely polite and silent dignity which seemed to him like saying something of this sort: "Most noble alien, give you good-day--stay where you are. Profoundly yours--"

Two men came through the Place d'Armes on conspicuously fine horses. One it is not necessary to describe. The other, a man of perhaps thirty-three or thirty-four years of age, was extremely handsome and well dressed, the martial fashion of the day showing his tall and finely knit figure to much advantage. He sat his horse with an uncommon grace, and, as he rode beside his companion, spoke and gave ear by turns with an easy dignity sufficient of itself to have attracted popular observation. It was the apothecary's unknown friend. Frowenfeld noticed them while they were yet in the middle of the grounds. He could hardly have failed to do so, for some one close beside his bench in undoubted allusion to one of the approaching figures exclaimed:

"Here comes Honore Grandissime."

Moreover, at that moment there was a slight unwonted stir on the Place d'Armes. It began at the farther corner of the square, hard by the Principal, and spread so quickly through the groups near about, that in a minute the entire company were quietly made aware of something going notably wrong in their immediate presence. There was no running to see it. There seemed to be not so much as any verbal communication of the matter from mouth to mouth. Rather a consciousness appeared to catch noiselessly from one to another as the knowledge of human intrusion comes to groups of deer in a park. There was the same elevating of the head here and there, the same rounding of beautiful eyes. Some stared, others slowly approached, while others turned and moved away; but a common indignation was in the breast of that thing dreadful everywhere, but terrible in Louisiana, the Majority. For there, in the presence of those good citizens, before the eyes of the proudest and fairest mothers and daughters of New Orleans, glaringly, on the open Plaza, the Creole whom Joseph had met by the graves in the field, Honore Grandissime, the uttermost flower on the topmost branch of the tallest family tree ever transplanted from France to Louisiana, Honore,--the worshiped, the magnificent,--in the broad light of the sun's going down, rode side by side with the Yankee governor and was not ashamed!

Joseph, on his bench, sat contemplating the two parties to this scandal as they came toward him. Their horses' flanks were damp from some pleasant gallop, but their present gait was the soft, mettlesome movement of animals who will even submit to walk if their masters insist. As they wheeled out of the broad diagonal path that crossed the square, and turned toward him in the highway, he fancied that the Creole observed him. He was not mistaken. As they seemed about to pass the spot where he sat, M. Grandissime interrupted the governor with a word and, turning his horse's head, rode up to the bench, lifting his hat as he came.

"Good-evening, Mr. Frowenfeld."

Joseph, looking brighter than when he sat unaccosted, rose and blushed.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, you know my uncle very well, I believe--Agricole Fusilier--long beard?"

"Oh! yes, sir, certainly."

"Well, Mr. Frowenfeld, I shall be much obliged if you will tell him--that is, should you meet him this evening--that I wish to see him. If you will be so kind?"

"Oh! yes, sir, certainly."

Frowenfeld's diffidence made itself evident in this reiterated phrase.

"I do not know that you will see him, but if you should, you know--"

"Oh, certainly, sir!"

The two paused a single instant, exchanging a smile of amiable reminder from the horseman and of bashful but pleased acknowledgment from the one who saw his precepts being reduced to practice.

"Well, good-evening, Mr. Frowenfeld."

M. Grandissime lifted his hat and turned. Frowenfeld sat down.

"_Bou zou, Miche Honore!_" called the _marchande_.

"_Comment to ye, Clemence?_"

The merchant waved his hand as he rode away with his companion.

"_Beau Miche, la_," said the _marchande_, catching Joseph's eye.

He smiled his ignorance and shook his head.

"Dass one fine gen'leman," she repeated. "_Mo pa'le Angle_," she added with a chuckle.

"You know him?"

"Oh! yass, sah; Mawse Honore knows me, yass. All de gen'lemens knows me. I sell de _calas; mawnin's sell _calas_, evenin's sell zinzer-cake. _You know me" (a fact which Joseph had all along been aware of). "Dat me w'at pass in rue Royale ev'y mawnin' holl'in' '_Be calas touts chauds_,' an' singin'; don't you know?"

The enthusiasm of an artist overcame any timidity she might have been supposed to possess, and, waiving the formality of an invitation, she began, to Frowenfeld's consternation, to sing, in a loud, nasal voice.

But the performance, long familiar, attracted no public attention, and he for whose special delight it was intended had taken an attitude of disclaimer and was again contemplating the quiet groups of the Place d'Armes and the pleasant hurry of the levee road.

"Don't you know?" persisted the woman. "Yass, sah, dass me; I's Clemence."

But Frowenfeld was looking another way.

"You know my boy," suddenly said she.

Frowenfeld looked at her.

"Yass, sah. Dat boy w'at bring you de box of _basilic lass Chrismus; dass my boy."

She straightened her cakes on the tray and made some changes in their arrangement that possibly were important.

"I learned to speak English in Fijinny. Bawn dah."

She looked steadily into the apothecary's absorbed countenance for a full minute, then let her eyes wander down the highway. The human tide was turning cityward. Presently she spoke again.

"Folks comin' home a'ready, yass."

Her hearer looked down the road.

Suddenly a voice that, once heard, was always known,--deep and pompous, as if a lion roared,--sounded so close behind him as to startle him half from his seat.

"Is this a corporeal man, or must I doubt my eyes? Hah! Professor Frowenfeld!" it said.

"Mr. Fusilier!" exclaimed Frowenfeld in a subdued voice, while he blushed again and looked at the new-comer with that sort of awe which children experience in a menagerie.

"_Citizen Fusilier," said the lion.

Agricola indulged to excess the grim hypocrisy of brandishing the catchwords of new-fangled reforms; they served to spice a breath that was strong with the praise of the "superior liberties of Europe,"--those old, cast-iron tyrannies to get rid of which America was settled.

Frowenfeld smiled amusedly and apologetically at the same moment.

"I am glad to meet you. I--"

He was going on to give Honore Grandissime's message, but was interrupted.

"My young friend," rumbled the old man in his deepest key, smiling emotionally and holding and solemning continuing to shake Joseph's hand, "I am sure you are. You ought to thank God that you have my acquaintance."

Frowenfeld colored to the temples.

"I must acknowledge--" he began.

"Ah!" growled the lion, "your beautiful modesty leads you to misconstrue me, sir. You pay my judgment no compliment. I know your worth, sir; I merely meant, sir, that in me--poor, humble me--you have secured a sympathizer in your tastes and plans. Agricola Fusilier, sir, is not a cock on a dunghill, to find a jewel and then scratch it aside."

The smile of diffidence, but not the flush, passed from the young man's face, and he sat down forcibly.

"You jest," he said.

The reply was a majestic growl.

"I _never jest!" The speaker half sat down, then straightened up again. "Ah, the Marquis of Caso Calvo!--I must bow to him, though an honest man's bow is more than he deserves."

"More than he deserves?" was Frowenfeld's query.

"More than he deserves!" was the response.

"What has he done? I have never heard--"

The denunciator turned upon Frowenfeld his most royal frown, and retorted with a question which still grows wild in Louisiana:

"What"--he seemed to shake his mane--"what has he _not done, sir?" and then he withdrew his frown slowly, as if to add, "You'll be careful next time how you cast doubt upon a public official's guilt."

The marquis's cavalcade came briskly jingling by. Frowenfeld saw within the carriage two men, one in citizen's dress, the other in a brilliant uniform. The latter leaned forward, and, with a cordiality which struck the young spectator as delightful, bowed. The immigrant glanced at Citizen Fusilier, expecting to see the greeting returned with great haughtiness; instead of which that person uncovered his leonine head, and, with a solemn sweep of his cocked hat, bowed half his length. Nay, he more than bowed, he bowed down--so that the action hurt Frowenfeld from head to foot.

"What large gentlemen was that sitting on the other side?" asked the young man, as his companion sat down with the air of having finished an oration.

"No gentleman at all!" thundered the citizen. "That fellow" (beetling frown), "that _fellow is Edward Livingston."

"The great lawyer?"

"The great villain!"

Frowenfeld himself frowned.

The old man laid a hand upon his junior's shoulder and growled benignantly:

"My young friend, your displeasure delights me!"

The patience with which Frowenfeld was bearing all this forced a chuckle and shake of the head from the _marchande_.

Citizen Fusilier went on speaking in a manner that might be construed either as address or soliloquy, gesticulating much and occasionally letting out a fervent word that made passers look around and Joseph inwardly wince. With eyes closed and hands folded on the top of the knotted staff which he carried but never used, he delivered an apostrophe to the "spotless soul of youth," enticed by the "spirit of adventure" to "launch away upon the unploughed sea of the future!" He lifted one hand and smote the back of the other solemnly, once, twice, and again, nodding his head faintly several times without opening his eyes, as who should say, "Very impressive; go on," and so resumed; spoke of this spotless soul of youth searching under unknown latitudes for the "sunken treasures of experience"; indulged, as the reporters of our day would say, in "many beautiful nights of rhetoric," and finally depicted the loathing with which the spotless soul of youth "recoils!"--suiting the action to the word so emphatically as to make a pretty little boy who stood gaping at him start back--"on encountering in the holy chambers of public office the vultures hatched in the nests of ambition and avarice!"

Three or four persons lingered carelessly near by with ears wide open. Frowenfeld felt that he must bring this to an end, and, like any young person who has learned neither deceit nor disrespect to seniors, he attempted to reason it down.

"You do not think many of our public men are dishonest!"

"Sir!" replied the rhetorician, with a patronizing smile, "h-you must be thinking of France!"

"No, sir; of Louisiana."

"Louisiana! Dishonest? All, sir, all. They are all as corrupt as Olympus, sir!"

"Well," said Frowenfeld, with more feeling than was called for, "there is one who, I feel sure, is pure. I know it by his face!"

The old man gave a look of stern interrogation.

"Governor Claiborne."

"Ye-e-e g-hods! Claiborne! _Claiborne! Why, he is a Yankee!"

The lion glowered over the lamb like a thundercloud.

"He is a Virginian," said Frowenfeld.

"He is an American, and no American can be honest."

"You are prejudiced," exclaimed the young man.

Citizen Fusilier made himself larger.

"What is prejudice? I do not know."

"I am an American myself," said Frowenfeld, rising up with his face burning.

The citizen rose up also, but unruffled.

"My beloved young friend," laying his hand heavily upon the other's shoulder, "you are not. You were merely born in America."

But Frowenfeld was not appeased.

"Hear me through," persisted the flatterer. "You were merely born in America. I, too, was born in America--but will any man responsible for his opinion mistake me--Agricola Fusilier--for an American?"

He clutched his cane in the middle and glared around, but no person seemed to be making the mistake to which he so scornfully alluded, and he was about to speak again when an outcry of alarm coming simultaneously from Joseph and the _marchande directed his attention to a lady in danger.

The scene, as afterward recalled to the mind of the un-American citizen, included the figures of his nephew and the new governor returning up the road at a canter; but, at the time, he knew only that a lady of unmistakable gentility, her back toward him, had just gathered her robes and started to cross the road, when there was a general cry of warning, and the _marchande cried, "_Garde choual!_" while the lady leaped directly into the danger and his nephew's horse knocked her to the earth!

Though there was a rush to the rescue from every direction, she was on her feet before any one could reach her, her lips compressed, nostrils dilated, cheek burning, and eyes flashing a lady's wrath upon a dismounted horseman. It was the governor. As the crowd had rushed in, the startled horses, from whom the two riders had instantly leaped, drew violently back, jerking their masters with them and leaving only the governor in range of the lady's angry eye.

"Mademoiselle!" he cried, striving to reach her.

She pointed him in gasping indignation to his empty saddle, and, as the crowd farther separated them, waved away all permission to apologize and turned her back.

"Hah!" cried the crowd, echoing her humor.

"Lady," interposed the governor, "do not drive us to the rudeness of leaving--"

"_Animal, vous!_" cried half a dozen, and the lady gave him such a look of scorn that he did not finish his sentence.

"Open the way, there," called a voice in French.

It was Honore Grandissime. But just then he saw that the lady had found the best of protectors, and the two horsemen, having no choice, remounted and rode away. As they did so, M. Grandissime called something hurriedly to Frowenfeld, on whose arm the lady hung, concerning the care of her; but his words were lost in the short yell of derision sent after himself and his companion by the crowd.

Old Agricola, meanwhile, was having a trouble of his own. He had followed Joseph's wake as he pushed through the throng; but as the lady turned her face he wheeled abruptly away. This brought again into view the bench he had just left, whereupon he, in turn, cried out, and, dashing through all obstructions, rushed back to it, lifting his ugly staff as he went and flourishing it in the face of Palmyre Philosophe.

She stood beside the seat with the smile of one foiled and intensely conscious of peril, but neither frightened nor suppliant, holding back with her eyes the execution of Agricola's threat against her life.

Presently she drew a short step backward, then another, then a third, and then turned and moved away down the avenue of willows, followed for a few steps by the lion and by the laughing comment of the _marchande_, who stood looking after them with her tray balanced on her head.

"_Ya, ya! ye connais voudou bien!_(1)"

(Footnote 1: "They're up in the voudou arts.")

The old man turned to rejoin his companion. The day was rapidly giving place to night and the people were withdrawing to their homes. He crossed the levee, passed through the Place d'Armes and on into the city without meeting the object of his search. For Joseph and the lady had hurried off together.

As the populace floated away in knots of three, four and five, those who had witnessed mademoiselle's (?) mishap told it to those who had not; explaining that it was the accursed Yankee governor who had designedly driven his horse at his utmost speed against the fair victim (some of them butted against their hearers by way of illustration); that the fiend had then maliciously laughed; that this was all the Yankees came to New Orleans for, and that there was an understanding among them--"Understanding, indeed!" exclaimed one, "They have instructions from the President!"--that unprotected ladies should be run down wherever overtaken. If you didn't believe it you could ask the tyrant, Claiborne, himself; he made no secret of it. One or two--but they were considered by others extravagant--testified that, as the lady fell, they had seen his face distorted with a horrid delight, and had heard him cry: "Daz de way to knog them!"

"But how came a lady to be out on the levee, at sunset, on foot and alone?" asked a citizen, and another replied--both using the French of the late province:

"As for being on foot"--a shrug. "But she was not alone; she had a _milatraisse behind her."

"Ah! so; that was well."

"But--ha, ha!--the _milatraisse_, seeing her mistress out of danger, takes the opportunity to try to bring the curse upon Agricola Fusilier by sitting down where he had just risen up, and had to get away from him as quickly as possible to save her own skull."

"And left the lady?"

"Yes; and who took her to her home at last, but Frowenfeld, the apothecary!"

"Ho, ho! the astrologer! We ought to hang that fellow."

"With his books tied to his feet," suggested a third citizen. "It is no more than we owe to the community to go and smash his show-window. He had better behave himself. Come, gentlemen, a little _taffia will do us good. When shall we ever get through these exciting times?"

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