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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 24. Frowenfeld Makes An Argument
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 24. Frowenfeld Makes An Argument Post by :bjbauer Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1348

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 24. Frowenfeld Makes An Argument


On the afternoon of the same day on which Frowenfeld visited the house of the philosophe, the weather, which had been so unfavorable to his late plans, changed; the rain ceased, the wind drew around to the south, and the barometer promised a clear sky. Wherefore he decided to leave his business, when he should have made his evening weather notes, to the care of M. Raoul Innerarity, and venture to test both Mademoiselle Clotilde's repellent attitude and Aurora's seeming cordiality at Number 19 rue Bienville.

Why he should go was a question which the apothecary felt himself but partially prepared to answer. What necessity called him, what good was to be effected, what was to happen next, were points he would have liked to be clear upon. That he should be going merely because he was invited to come--merely for the pleasure of breathing their atmosphere--that he should be supinely gravitating toward them--this conclusion he positively could not allow; no, no; the love of books and the fear of women alike protested.

True, they were a part of that book which is pronounced "the proper study of mankind,"--indeed, that was probably the reason which he sought: he was going to contemplate them as a frontispiece to that unwriteable volume which he had undertaken to con. Also, there was a charitable motive. Doctor Keene, months before, had expressed a deep concern regarding their lack of protection and even of daily provision; he must quietly look into that. Would some unforeseen circumstance shut him off this evening again from this very proper use of time and opportunity?

As he was sitting at the table in his back room, registering his sunset observations, and wondering what would become of him if Aurora should be out and that other in, he was startled by a loud, deep voice exclaiming, close behind him:

"_Eh, bien! Monsieur le Professeur!_"

Frowenfeld knew by the tone, before he looked behind him, that he would find M. Agricola Fusilier very red in the face; and when he looked, the only qualification he could make was that the citizen's countenance was not so ruddy as the red handkerchief in which his arm was hanging.

"What have you there?" slowly continued the patriarch, taking his free hand off his fettered arm and laying it upon the page as Frowenfeld hurriedly rose, and endeavored to shut the book.

"Some private memoranda," answered the meteorologist, managing to get one page turned backward, reddening with confusion and indignation, and noticing that Agricola's spectacles were upside down.

"Private! Eh? No such thing, sir! Professor Frowenfeld, allow me" (a classic oath) "to say to your face, sir, that you are the most brilliant and the most valuable man--of your years--in afflicted Louisiana! Ha!" (reading:) "'Morning observation; Cathedral clock, 7 A.M. Thermometer 70 degrees.' Ha! 'Hygrometer l5'--but this is not to-day's weather? Ah! no. Ha! 'Barometer 30.380.' Ha! 'Sky cloudy, dark; wind, south, light.' Ha! 'River rising.' Ha! Professor Frowenfeld, when will you give your splendid services to your section? You must tell me, my son, for I ask you, my son, not from curiosity, but out of impatient interest."

"I cannot say that I shall ever publish my tables," replied the "son," pulling at the book.

"Then, sir, in the name of Louisiana," thundered the old man, clinging to the book, "I can! They shall be published! Ah! yes, dear Frowenfeld. The book, of course, will be in French, eh? You would not so affront the most sacred prejudices of the noble people to whom you owe everything as to publish it in English? You--ah! have we torn it?"

"I do not write French," said the apothecary, laying the torn edges together.

"Professor Frowenfeld, men are born for each other. What do I behold before me? I behold before me, in the person of my gifted young friend, a supplement to myself! Why has Nature strengthened the soul of Agricola to hold the crumbling fortress of this body until these eyes--which were once, my dear boy, as proud and piercing as the battle-steed's--have become dim?"

Joseph's insurmountable respect for gray hairs kept him standing, but he did not respond with any conjecture as to Nature's intentions, and there was a stern silence.

The crumbling fortress resumed, his voice pitched low like the beginning of the long roll. He knew Nature's design.

"It was in order that you, Professor Frowenfeld, might become my vicar! Your book shall be in French! We must give it a wide scope! It shall contain valuable geographical, topographical, biographical, and historical notes. It shall contain complete lists of all the officials in the province (I don't say territory, I say province) with their salaries and perquisites; ah! we will expose that! And--ha! I will write some political essays for it. Raoul shall illustrate it. Honore shall give you money to publish it. Ah! Professor Frowenfeld, the star of your fame is rising out of the waves of oblivion! Come--I dropped in purposely to ask you--come across the street and take a glass of _taffia with Agricola Fusilier."

This crowning honor the apothecary was insane enough to decline, and Agricola went away with many professions of endearment, but secretly offended because Joseph had not asked about his wound.

All the same the apothecary, without loss of time, departed for the yellow-washed cottage, Number 19 rue Bienville.

"To-morrow, at four P.M.," he said to himself, "if the weather is favorable, I ride with M. Grandissime."

He almost saw his books and instruments look up at him reproachfully.

The ladies were at home. Aurora herself opened the door, and Clotilde came forward from the bright fireplace with a cordiality never before so unqualified. There was something about these ladies--in their simple, but noble grace, in their half-Gallic, half-classic beauty, in a jocund buoyancy mated to an amiable dignity--that made them appear to the scholar as though they had just bounded into life from the garlanded procession of some old fresco. The resemblance was not a little helped on by the costume of the late Revolution (most acceptably chastened and belated by the distance from Paris). Their black hair, somewhat heavier on Clotilde's head, where it rippled once or twice, was knotted _en Grecque_, and adorned only with the spoils of a nosegay given to Clotilde by a chivalric small boy in the home of her music scholar.

"We was expectin' you since several days," said Clotilde, as the three sat down before the fire, Frowenfeld in a cushioned chair whose moth-holes had been carefully darned.

Frowenfeld intimated, with tolerable composure, that matters beyond his control had delayed his coming, beyond his intention.

"You gedd'n' ridge," said Aurora, dropping her wrists across each other.

Frowenfeld, for once, laughed outright, and it seemed so odd in him to do so that both the ladies followed his example. The ambition to be rich had never entered his thought, although in an unemotional, German way, he was prospering in a little city where wealth was daily pouring in, and a man had only to keep step, so to say, to march into possessions.

"You hought to 'ave a mo' larger sto' an' some clerque," pursued Aurora.

The apothecary answered that he was contemplating the enlargement of his present place or removal to a roomier, and that he had already employed an assistant.

"Oo it is, 'Sieur Frowenfel'?"

Clotilde turned toward the questioner a remonstrative glance.

"His name," replied Frowenfeld, betraying a slight embarrassment, "is--Innerarity; Mr. Raoul Innerarity; he is--"

"Ee pain' dad pigtu' w'at 'angin' in yo' window?"

Clotilde's remonstrance rose to a slight movement and a murmur.

Frowenfeld answered in the affirmative, and possibly betrayed the faint shadow of a smile. The response was a peal of laughter from both ladies.

"He is an excellent drug clerk," said Frowenfeld defensively.

Whereat Aurora laughed again, leaning over and touching Clotilde's knee with one finger.

"An' excellen' drug cl'--ha, ha, ha! oh!"

"You muz podden uz, M'sieu' Frowenfel'," said Clotilde, with forced gravity.

Aurora sighed her participation in the apology; and, a few moments later, the apothecary and both ladies (the one as fond of the abstract as the other two were ignorant of the concrete) were engaged in an animated, running discussion on art, society, climate, education,--all those large, secondary _desiderata which seem of first importance to young ambition and secluded beauty, flying to and fro among these subjects with all the liveliness and uncertainty of a game of pussy-wants-a-corner.

Frowenfeld had never before spent such an hour. At its expiration, he had so well held his own against both the others, that the three had settled down to this sort of entertainment: Aurora would make an assertion, or Clotilde would ask a question; and Frowenfeld, moved by that frankness and ardent zeal for truth which had enlisted the early friendship of Dr. Keene, amused and attracted Honore Grandissime, won the confidence of the f.m.c., and tamed the fiery distrust and enmity of Palmyre, would present his opinions without the thought of a reservation either in himself or his hearers. On their part, they would sit in deep attention, shielding their faces from the fire, and responding to enunciations directly contrary to their convictions with an occasional "yes-seh," or "ceddenly," or "of coze," or,--prettier affirmation still,--a solemn drooping of the eyelids, a slight compression of the lips, and a low, slow declination of the head.

"The bane of all Creole art-effort"--(we take up the apothecary's words at a point where Clotilde was leaning forward and slightly frowning in an honest attempt to comprehend his condensed English)--"the bane of all Creole art-effort, so far as I have seen it, is amateurism."

"Amateu--" murmured Clotilde, a little beclouded on the main word and distracted by a French difference of meaning, but planting an elbow on one knee in the genuineness of her attention, and responding with a bow.

"That is to say," said Frowenfeld, apologizing for the homeliness of his further explanation by a smile, "a kind of ambitious indolence that lays very large eggs, but can neither see the necessity for building a nest beforehand, nor command the patience to hatch the eggs afterward."

"Of coze," said Aurora.

"It is a great pity," said the sermonizer, looking at the face of Clotilde, elongated in the brass andiron; and, after a pause: "Nothing on earth can take the place of hard and patient labor. But that, in this community, is not esteemed; most sorts of it are contemned; the humbler sorts are despised, and the higher are regarded with mingled patronage and commiseration. Most of those who come to my shop with their efforts at art hasten to explain, either that they are merely seeking pastime, or else that they are driven to their course by want; and if I advise them to take their work back and finish it, they take it back and never return. Industry is not only despised, but has been degraded and disgraced, handed over into the hands of African savages."

"Doze Creole' is _lezzy_," said Aurora.

"That is a hard word to apply to those who do not _consciously deserve it," said Frowenfeld; "but if they could only wake up to the fact,--find it out themselves--"

"Ceddenly," said Clotilde.

"'Sieur Frowenfel'," said Aurora, leaning her head on one side, "some pipple thing it is doze climade; 'ow you lag doze climade?"

"I do not suppose," replied the visitor, "there is a more delightful climate in the world."

"Ah-h-h!"--both ladies at once, in a low, gracious tone of acknowledgment.

"I thing Louisiana is a paradize-me!" said Aurora. "W'ere you goin' fin' sudge a h-air?" She respired a sample of it. "W'ere you goin' fin' sudge a so ridge groun'? De weed' in my bag yard is twenny-five feet 'igh!"

"Ah! maman!"

"Twenty-six!" said Aurora, correcting herself. "W'ere you fin' sudge a reever lag dad Mississippi? _On dit_," she said, turning to Clotilde, "_que ses eaux ont la propriete de contribuer meme a multiplier l'espece humaine_--ha, ha, ha!"

Clotilde turned away an unmoved countenance to hear Frowenfeld.

Frowenfeld had contracted a habit of falling into meditation whenever the French language left him out of the conversation.

"Yes," he said, breaking a contemplative pause, "the climate is _too comfortable and the soil too rich,--though I do not think it is entirely on their account that the people who enjoy them are so sadly in arrears to the civilized world." He blushed with the fear that his talk was bookish, and felt grateful to Clotilde for seeming to understand his speech.

"W'ad you fin' de rizzon is, 'Sieur Frowenfel'?" she asked.

"I do not wish to philosophize," he answered.

"_Mais_, go hon." "_Mais_, go ahade," said both ladies, settling themselves.

"It is largely owing," exclaimed Frowenfeld, with sudden fervor, "to a defective organization of society, which keeps this community, and will continue to keep it for an indefinite time to come, entirely unprepared and disinclined to follow the course of modern thought."

"Of coze," murmured Aurora, who had lost her bearings almost at the first word.

"One great general subject of thought now is human rights,--universal human rights. The entire literature of the world is becoming tinctured with contradictions of the dogmas upon which society in this section is built. Human rights is, of all subjects, the one upon which this community is most violently determined to hear no discussion. It has pronounced that slavery and caste are right, and sealed up the whole subject. What, then, will they do with the world's literature? They will coldly decline to look at it, and will become, more and more as the world moves on, a comparatively illiterate people."

"Bud, 'Sieur Frowenfel'," said Clotilde, as Frowenfeld paused--Aurora was stunned to silence,--"de Unitee State' goin' pud doze nigga' free, aind it?"

Frowenfeld pushed his hair hard back. He was in the stream now, and might as well go through.

"I have heard that charge made, even by some Americans. I do not know. But there is a slavery that no legislation can abolish,--the slavery of caste. That, like all the slaveries on earth, is a double bondage. And what a bondage it is which compels a community, in order to preserve its established tyrannies, to walk behind the rest of the intelligent world! What a bondage is that which incites a people to adopt a system of social and civil distinctions, possessing all the enormities and none of the advantages of those systems which Europe is learning to despise! This system, moreover, is only kept up by a flourish of weapons. We have here what you may call an armed aristocracy. The class over which these instruments of main force are held is chosen for its servility, ignorance, and cowardice; hence, indolence in the ruling class. When a man's social or civil standing is not dependent on his knowing how to read, he is not likely to become a scholar."

"Of coze," said Aurora, with a pensive respiration, "I thing id is doze climade," and the apothecary stopped, as a man should who finds himself unloading large philosophy in a little parlor.

"I thing, me, dey hought to pud doze quadroon' free?" It was Clotilde who spoke, ending with the rising inflection to indicate the tentative character of this daringly premature declaration.

Frowenfeld did not answer hastily.

"The quadroons," said he, "want a great deal more than mere free papers can secure them. Emancipation before the law, though it may be a right which man has no right to withhold, is to them little more than a mockery until they achieve emancipation in the minds and good will of the people--'the people,' did I say? I mean the ruling class." He stopped again. One must inevitably feel a little silly, setting up tenpins for ladies who are too polite, even if able, to bowl them down.

Aurora and the visitor began to speak simultaneously; both apologized, and Aurora said:

"'Sieur Frowenfel', w'en I was a lill girl,"--and Frowenfeld knew that he was going to hear the story of Palmyre. Clotilde moved, with the obvious intention to mend the fire. Aurora asked, in French, why she did not call the cook to do it, and Frowenfeld said, "Let me,"--threw on some wood, and took a seat nearer Clotilde. Aurora had the floor.

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