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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 17. That Night
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 17. That Night Post by :bjbauer Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2584

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 17. That Night


Do we not fail to accord to our nights their true value? We are ever giving to our days the credit and blame of all we do and mis-do, forgetting those silent, glimmering hours when plans--and sometimes plots--are laid; when resolutions are formed or changed; when heaven, and sometimes heaven's enemies, are invoked; when anger and evil thoughts are recalled, and sometimes hate made to inflame and fester; when problems are solved, riddles guessed, and things made apparent in the dark, which day refused to reveal. Our nights are the keys to our days. They explain them. They are also the day's correctors. Night's leisure untangles the mistakes of day's haste. We should not attempt to comprise our pasts in the phrase, "in those days;" we should rather say "in those days and nights."

That night was a long-remembered one to the apothecary of the rue Royale. But it was after he had closed his shop, and in his back room sat pondering the unusual experiences of the evening, that it began to be, in a higher degree, a night of events to most of those persons who had a part in its earlier incidents.

That Honore Grandissime whom Frowenfeld had only this day learned to know as _the Honore Grandissime and the young governor-general were closeted together.

"What can you expect, my-de'-seh?" the Creole was asking, as they confronted each other in the smoke of their choice tobacco. "Remember, they are citizens by compulsion. You say your best and wisest law is that one prohibiting the slave-trade; my-de'-seh, I assure you, privately, I agree with you; but they abhor your law!

"Your principal danger--at least, I mean difficulty--is this: that the Louisianais themselves, some in pure lawlessness, some through loss of office, some in a vague hope of preserving the old condition of things, will not only hold off from all participation in your government, but will make all sympathy with it, all advocacy of its principles, and especially all office-holding under it, odious--disreputable--infamous. You may find yourself constrained to fill your offices with men who can face down the contumely of a whole people. You know what such men generally are. One out of a hundred may be a moral hero--the ninety-nine will be scamps; and the moral hero will most likely get his brains blown out early in the day.

"Count O'Reilly, when he established the Spanish power here thirty-five years ago, cut a similar knot with the executioner's sword; but, my-de'-seh, you are here to establish a _free government; and how can you make it freer than the people wish it? There is your riddle! They hold off and say, 'Make your government as free as you can, but do not ask us to help you;' and before you know it you have no retainers but a gang of shameless mercenaries, who will desert you whenever the indignation of this people overbalances their indolence; and you will fall the victim of what you may call our mutinous patriotism."

The governor made a very quiet, unappreciative remark about a "patriotism that lets its government get choked up with corruption and then blows it out with gunpowder!"

The Creole shrugged.

"And repeats the operation indefinitely," he said.

The governor said something often heard, before and since, to the effect that communities will not sacrifice themselves for mere ideas.

"My-de'-seh," replied the Creole, "you speak like a true Anglo-Saxon; but, sir! how many communities have _committed suicide. And this one?--why, it is _just the kind to do it!"

"Well," said the governor, smilingly, "you have pointed out what you consider to be the breakers, now can you point out the channel?"

"Channel? There is none! And you, nor I, cannot dig one. Two great forces _may ultimately do it, Religion and Education--as I was telling you I said to my young friend, the apothecary,--but still I am free to say what would be my first and principal step, if I was in your place--as I thank God I am not."

The listener asked him what that was.

"Wherever I could find a Creole that I could venture to trust, my-de'-seh, I would put him in office. Never mind a little political heterodoxy, you know; almost any man can be trusted to shoot away from the uniform he has on. And then--"

"But," said the other, "I have offered you--"

"Oh!" replied the Creole, like a true merchant, "me, I am too busy; it is impossible! But, I say, I would _compel_, my-de'-seh, this people to govern themselves!"

"And pray, how would you give a people a free government and then compel them to administer it?"

"My-de'-seh, you should not give one poor Creole the puzzle which belongs to your whole Congress; but you may depend on this, that the worst thing for all parties--and I say it only because it is worst for all--would be a feeble and dilatory punishment of bad faith."

When this interview finally drew to a close the governor had made a memorandum of some fifteen or twenty Grandissimes, scattered through different cantons of Louisiana, who, their kinsman Honore thought, would not decline appointments.

* * * * *

Certain of the Muses were abroad that night. Faintly audible to the apothecary of the rue Royale through that deserted stillness which is yet the marked peculiarity of New Orleans streets by night, came from a neighboring slave-yard the monotonous chant and machine-like tune-beat of an African dance. There our lately met _marchande (albeit she was but a guest, fortified against the street-watch with her master's written "pass") led the ancient Calinda dance with that well-known song of derision, in whose ever multiplying stanzas the helpless satire of a feeble race still continues to celebrate the personal failings of each newly prominent figure among the dominant caste. There was a new distich to the song to-night, signifying that the pride of the Grandissimes must find his friends now among the Yankees:

"Miche Hon're, alle! h-alle!
Trouve to zamis parmi les Yankis.
Dance calinda, bou-joum! bou-joum!
Dance calinda, bou-joum! bou-joum!

Frowenfeld, as we have already said, had closed his shop, and was sitting in the room behind it with one arm on his table and the other on his celestial globe, watching the flicker of his small fire and musing upon the unusual experiences of the evening. Upon every side there seemed to start away from his turning glance the multiplied shadows of something wrong. The melancholy face of that Honore Grandissime, his landlord, at whose mention Dr. Keene had thought it fair to laugh without explaining; the tall, bright-eyed _milatraisse_; old Agricola; the lady of the basil; the newly identified merchant friend, now the more satisfactory Honore,--they all came before him in his meditation, provoking among themselves a certain discord, faint but persistent, to which he strove to close his ear. For he was brain-weary. Even in the bright recollection of the lady and her talk he became involved among shadows, and going from bad to worse, seemed at length almost to gasp in an atmosphere of hints, allusions, faint unspoken admissions, ill-concealed antipathies, unfinished speeches, mistaken identities and whisperings of hidden strife. The cathedral clock struck twelve and was answered again from the convent belfry; and as the notes died away he suddenly became aware that the weird, drowsy throb of the African song and dance had been swinging drowsily in his brain for an unknown lapse of time.

The apothecary nodded once or twice, and thereupon rose up and prepared for bed, thinking to sleep till morning.

* * * * *

Aurora and her daughter had long ago put out their chamber light. Early in the evening the younger had made favorable mention of retiring, to which the elder replied by asking to be left awhile to her own thoughts. Clotilde, after some tender protestations, consented, and passed through the open door that showed, beyond it, their couch. The air had grown just cool and humid enough to make the warmth of one small brand on the hearth acceptable, and before this the fair widow settled herself to gaze beyond her tiny, slippered feet into its wavering flame, and think. Her thoughts were such as to bestow upon her face that enhancement of beauty that comes of pleasant reverie, and to make it certain that that little city afforded no fairer sight,--unless, indeed, it was the figure of Clotilde just beyond the open door, as in her white nightdress, enriched with the work of a diligent needle, she knelt upon the low _prie-Dieu before the little family altar, and committed her pure soul to the Divine keeping.

Clotilde could not have been many minutes asleep when Aurora changed her mind and decided to follow. The shade upon her face had deepened for a moment into a look of trouble; but a bright philosophy, which was part of her paternal birthright, quickly chased it away, and she passed to her room, disrobed, lay softly down beside the beauty already there and smiled herself to sleep,--

"Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again."

But she also wakened again, and lay beside her unconscious bedmate, occupied with the company of her own thoughts. "Why should these little concealments ruffle my bosom? Does not even Nature herself practise wiles? Look at the innocent birds; do they build where everybody can count their eggs? And shall a poor human creature try to be better than a bird? Didn't I say my prayers under the blanket just now?"

Her companion stirred in her sleep, and she rose upon one elbow to bend upon the sleeper a gaze of ardent admiration. "Ah, beautiful little chick! how guileless! indeed, how deficient in that respect!" She sat up in the bed and hearkened; the bell struck for midnight. Was that the hour? The fates were smiling! Surely M. Assonquer himself must have wakened her to so choice an opportunity. She ought not to despise it. Now, by the application of another and easily wrought charm, that darkened hour lately spent with Palmyre would have, as it were, its colors set.

The night had grown much cooler. Stealthily, by degrees, she rose and left the couch. The openings of the room were a window and two doors, and these, with much caution, she contrived to open without noise. None of them exposed her to the possibility of public view. One door looked into the dim front room; the window let in only a flood of moonlight over the top of a high house which was without openings on that side; the other door revealed a weed-grown back yard, and that invaluable protector, the cook's hound, lying fast asleep.

In her night-clothes as she was, she stood a moment in the centre of the chamber, then sank upon one knee, rapped the floor gently but audibly thrice, rose, drew a step backward, sank upon the other knee, rapped thrice, rose again, stepped backward, knelt the third time, the third time rapped, and then, rising, murmured a vow to pour upon the ground next day an oblation of champagne--then closed the doors and window and crept back to bed. Then she knew how cold she had become. It seemed as though her very marrow was frozen. She was seized with such an uncontrollable shivering that Clotilde presently opened her eyes, threw her arm about her mother's neck, and said:

"Ah! my sweet mother, are you so cold?"

"The blanket was all off of me," said the mother, returning the embrace, and the two sank into unconsciousness together.

* * * * *

Into slumber sank almost at the same moment Joseph Frowenfeld. He awoke, not a great while later, to find himself standing in the middle of the floor. Three or four men had shouted at once, and three pistol-shots, almost in one instant, had resounded just outside his shop. He had barely time to throw himself into half his garments when the knocker sounded on his street door, and when he opened it Agricola Fusilier entered, supported by his nephew Honore on one side and Doctor Keene on the other. The latter's right hand was pressed hard against a bloody place in Agricola's side.

"Give us plenty of light, Frowenfeld," said the doctor, "and a chair and some lint, and some Castile soap, and some towels and sticking-plaster, and anything else you can think of. Agricola's about scared to death--"

"Professor Frowenfeld," groaned the aged citizen, "I am basely and mortally stabbed!"

"Right on, Frowenfeld," continued the doctor, "right on into the back room. Fasten that front door. Here, Agricola, sit down here. That's right, Frow., stir up a little fire. Give me--never mind, I'll just cut the cloth open."

There was a moment of silent suspense while the wound was being reached, and then the doctor spoke again.

"Just as I thought; only a safe and comfortable gash that will keep you in-doors a while with your arm in a sling. You are more scared than hurt, I think, old gentleman."

"You think an infernal falsehood, sir!"

"See here, sir," said the doctor, without ceasing to ply his dexterous hands in his art, "I'll jab these scissors into your back if you say that again."

"I suppose," growled the "citizen," "it is just the thing your professional researches have qualified you for, sir!"

"Just stand here, Mr. Frowenfeld," said the little doctor, settling down to a professional tone, "and hand me things as I ask for them. Honore, please hold this arm; so." And so, after a moderate lapse of time, the treatment that medical science of those days dictated was applied--whatever that was. Let those who do not know give thanks.

M. Grandissime explained to Frowenfeld what had occurred.

"You see, I succeeded in meeting my uncle, and we went together to my office. My uncle keeps his accounts with me. Sometimes we look them over. We stayed until midnight; I dismissed my carriage. As we walked homeward we met some friends coming out of the rooms of the Bagatelle Club; five or six of my uncles and cousins, and also Doctor Keene. We all fell a-talking of my grandfather's _fete de grandpere of next month, and went to have some coffee. When we separated, and my uncle and my cousin Achille Grandissime and Doctor Keene and myself came down Royal street, out from that dark alley behind your shop jumped a little man and stuck my uncle with a knife. If I had not caught his arm he would have killed my uncle."

"And he escaped," said the apothecary.

"No, sir!" said Agricola, with his back turned.

"I think he did. I do not think he was struck."

"And Mr. ----, your cousin?"

"Achille? I have sent him for a carriage."

"Why, Agricola," said the doctor, snipping the loose ravellings from his patient's bandages, "an old man like you should not have enemies."

"I am _not an old man, sir!"

"I said _young man."

"I am not a _young man, sir!"

"I wonder who the fellow was," continued Doctor Keene, as he readjusted the ripped sleeve.

"That is _my affair, sir; I know who it was."

* * * * *

"And yet she insists," M. Grandissime was asking Frowenfeld, standing with his leg thrown across the celestial globe, "that I knocked her down intentionally?"

Frowenfeld, about to answer, was interrupted by a rap on the door.

"That is my cousin, with the carriage," said M. Grandissime, following the apothecary into the shop.

Frowenfeld opened to a young man,--a rather poor specimen of the Grandissime type, deficient in stature but not in stage manner.

"_Est il mort_?" he cried at the threshold.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, let me make you acquainted with my cousin, Achille Grandissime."

Mr. Achille Grandissime gave Frowenfeld such a bow as we see now only in pictures.

"Ve'y 'appe to meck, yo' acquaintenz!"

Agricola entered, followed by the doctor, and demanded in indignant thunder-tones, as he entered:


"I did," said Honore. "Will you please get into it at once."

"Ah! dear Honore!" exclaimed the old man, "always too kind! I go in it purely to please you."

Good-night was exchanged; Honore entered the vehicle and Agricola was helped in. Achille touched his hat, bowed and waved his hand to Joseph, and shook hands with the doctor, and saying, "Well, good-night. Doctor Keene," he shut himself out of the shop with another low bow. "Think I am going to shake hands with an apothecary?" thought M. Achille.

Doctor Keene had refused Honore's invitation to go with them.

"Frowenfeld," he said, as he stood in the middle of the shop wiping a ring with a towel and looking at his delicate, freckled hand, "I propose, before going to bed with you, to eat some of your bread and cheese. Aren't you glad?"

"I shall be, Doctor," replied the apothecary, "if you will tell me what all this means."

"Indeed I will not,--that is, not to-night. What? Why, it would take until breakfast to tell what 'all this means,'--the story of that pestiferous darky Bras Coupe, with the rest? Oh, no, sir. I would sooner not have any bread and cheese. What on earth has waked your curiosity so suddenly, anyhow?"

"Have you any idea who stabbed Citizen Fusilier?" was Joseph's response.

"Why, at first I thought it was the other Honore Grandissime; but when I saw how small the fellow was, I was at a loss, completely. But, whoever it is, he has my bullet in him, whatever Honore may think."

"Will Mr. Fusilier's wound give him much trouble?" asked Joseph, as they sat down to a luncheon at the fire.

"Hardly; he has too much of the blood of Lufki-Humma in him. But I need not say that; for the Grandissime blood is just as strong. A wonderful family, those Grandissimes! They are an old, illustrious line, and the strength that was once in the intellect and will is going down into the muscles. I have an idea that their greatness began, hundreds of years ago, in ponderosity of arm,--of frame, say,--and developed from generation to generation, in a rising scale, first into fineness of sinew, then, we will say, into force of will, then into power of mind, then into subtleties of genius. Now they are going back down the incline. Look at Honore; he is high up on the scale, intellectual and sagacious. But look at him physically, too. What an exquisite mold! What compact strength! I should not wonder if he gets that from the Indian Queen. What endurance he has! He will probably go to his business by and by and not see his bed for seventeen or eighteen hours. He is the flower of the family, and possibly the last one. Now, old Agricola shows the downward grade better. Seventy-five, if he is a day, with, maybe, one-fourth the attainments he pretends to have, and still less good sense; but strong--as an orang-outang. Shall we go to bed?"

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