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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 26. A Ride And A Rescue
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 26. A Ride And A Rescue Post by :aeyates Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :750

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 26. A Ride And A Rescue

CHAPTER XXVI. A RIDE AND A RESCUE

"Douane or Bienville?"

Such was the choice presented by Honore Grandissime to Joseph Frowenfeld, as the former on a lively brown colt and the apothecary on a nervy chestnut fell into a gentle, preliminary trot while yet in the rue Royale, looked after by that great admirer of both, Raoul Innerarity.

"Douane?" said Frowenfeld. (It was the street we call Custom-house.)

"It has mud-holes," objected Honore.

"Well, then, the rue du Canal?"

"The canal--I can smell it from here. Why not rue Bienville?"

Frowenfeld said he did not know. (We give the statement for what it is worth.)

Notice their route. A spirit of perversity seems to have entered into the very topography of this quarter. They turned up the rue Bienville (up is toward the river); reaching the levee, they took their course up the shore of the Mississippi (almost due south), and broke into a lively gallop on the Tchoupitoulas road, which in those days skirted that margin of the river nearest the sunsetting, namely, the _eastern bank.

Conversation moved sluggishly for a time, halting upon trite topics or swinging easily from polite inquiry to mild affirmation, and back again. They were men of thought, these two, and one of them did not fully understand why he was in his present position; hence some reticence. It was one of those afternoons in early March that make one wonder how the rest of the world avoids emigrating to Louisiana in a body.

"Is not the season early?" asked Frowenfeld.

M. Grandissime believed it was; but then the Creole spring always seemed so, he said.

The land was an inverted firmament of flowers. The birds were an innumerable, busy, joy-compelling multitude, darting and fluttering hither and thither, as one might imagine the babes do in heaven. The orange-groves were in blossom; their dark-green boughs seemed snowed upon from a cloud of incense, and a listening ear might catch an incessant, whispered trickle of falling petals, dropping "as the honey-comb." The magnolia was beginning to add to its dark and shining evergreen foliage frequent sprays of pale new leaves and long, slender, buff buds of others yet to come. The oaks, both the bare-armed and the "green-robed senators," the willows, and the plaqueminiers, were putting out their subdued florescence as if they smiled in grave participation with the laughing gardens. The homes that gave perfection to this beauty were those old, large, belvidered colonial villas, of which you may still here and there see one standing, battered into half ruin, high and broad, among foundries, cotton-and tobacco-sheds, junk-yards, and longshoremen's hovels, like one unconquered elephant in a wreck of artillery. In Frowenfeld's day the "smell of their garments was like Lebanon." They were seen by glimpses through chance openings in lofty hedges of Cherokee-rose or bois-d'arc, under boughs of cedar or pride-of-China, above their groves of orange or down their long, overarched avenues of oleander; and the lemon and the pomegranate, the banana, the fig, the shaddock, and at times even the mango and the guava, joined "hands around" and tossed their fragrant locks above the lilies and roses. Frowenfeld forgot to ask himself further concerning the probable intent of M. Grandissime's invitation to ride; these beauties seemed rich enough in good reasons. He felt glad and grateful.

At a certain point the two horses turned of their own impulse, as by force of habit, and with a few clambering strides mounted to the top of the levee and stood still, facing the broad, dancing, hurrying, brimming river.

The Creole stole an amused glance at the elated, self-forgetful look of his immigrant friend.

"Mr. Frowenfeld," he said, as the delighted apothecary turned with unwonted suddenness and saw his smile, "I believe you like this better than discussion. You find it easier to be in harmony with Louisiana than with Louisianians, eh?"

Frowenfeld colored with surprise. Something unpleasant had lately occurred in his shop. Was this to signify that M. Grandissime had heard of it?

"I am a Louisianian," replied he, as if this were a point assailed.

"I would not insinuate otherwise," said M. Grandissime, with a kindly gesture. "I would like you to feel so. We are citizens now of a different government from that under which we lived the morning we first met. Yet"--the Creole paused and smiled--"you are not, and I am glad you are not, what we call a Louisianian."

Frowenfeld's color increased. He turned quickly in his saddle as if to say something very positive, but hesitated, restrained himself and asked:

"Mr. Grandissime, is not your Creole 'we' a word that does much damage?"

The Creole's response was at first only a smile, followed by a thoughtful countenance; but he presently said, with some suddenness:

"My-de'-seh, yes. Yet you see I am, even this moment, forgetting we are not a separate people. Yes, our Creole 'we' does damage, and our Creole 'you' does more. I assure you, sir, I try hard to get my people to understand that it is time to stop calling those who come and add themselves to the community, aliens, interlopers, invaders. That is what I hear my cousins, 'Polyte and Sylvestre, in the heat of discussion, called you the other evening; is it so?"

"I brought it upon myself," said Frowenfeld. "I brought it upon myself."

"Ah!" interrupted M. Grandissime, with a broad smile, "excuse me--I am fully prepared to believe it. But the charge is a false one. I told them so. My-de'-seh--I know that a citizen of the United States in the United States has a right to become, and to be called, under the laws governing the case, a Louisianian, a Vermonter, or a Virginian, as it may suit his whim; and even if he should be found dishonest or dangerous, he has a right to be treated just exactly as we treat the knaves and ruffians who are native born! Every discreet man must admit that."

"But if they do not enforce it, Mr. Grandissime," quickly responded the sore apothecary, "if they continually forget it--if one must surrender himself to the errors and crimes of the community as he finds it--"

The Creole uttered a low laugh.

"Party differences, Mr. Frowenfeld; they have them in all countries."

"So your cousins said," said Frowenfeld.

"And how did you answer them?"

"Offensively," said the apothecary, with sincere mortification.

"Oh! that was easy," replied the other, amusedly; "but how?"

"I said that, having here only such party differences as are common elsewhere, we do not behave as they elsewhere do; that in most civilized countries the immigrant is welcome, but here he is not. I am afraid I have not learned the art of courteous debate," said Frowenfeld, with a smile of apology.

"'Tis a great art," said the Creole, quietly, stroking his horse's neck. "I suppose my cousins denied your statement with indignation, eh?"

"Yes; they said the honest immigrant is always welcome."

"Well, do you not find that true?"

"But, Mr. Grandissime, that is requiring the immigrant to prove his innocence!" Frowenfeld spoke from the heart. "And even the honest immigrant is welcome only when he leaves his peculiar opinions behind him. Is that right, sir?"

The Creole smiled at Frowenfeld's heat.

"My-de'-seh, my cousins complain that you advocate measures fatal to the prevailing order of society."

"But," replied the unyielding Frowenfeld, turning redder than ever, "that is the very thing that American liberty gives me the right--peaceably--to do! Here is a structure of society defective, dangerous, erected on views of human relations which the world is abandoning as false; yet the immigrant's welcome is modified with the warning not to touch these false foundations with one of his fingers."

"Did you tell my cousins the foundations of society here are false?"

"I regret to say I did, very abruptly. I told them they were privately aware of the fact."

"You may say," said the ever-amiable Creole, "that you allowed debate to run into controversy, eh?"

Frowenfeld was silent; he compared the gentleness of this Creole's rebukes with the asperity of his advocacy of right, and felt humiliated. But M. Grandissime spoke with a rallying smile.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, you never make pills with eight corners eh?"

"No, sir." The apothecary smiled.

"No, you make them round; cannot you make your doctrines the same way? My-de'-seh, you will think me impertinent; but the reason I speak is because I wish very much that you and my cousins would not be offended with each other. To tell you the truth, my-de'-seh, I hoped to use you with them--pardon my frankness."

"If Louisiana had more men like you, M. Grandissime," cried the untrained Frowenfeld, "society would be less sore to the touch."

"My-de'-seh," said the Creole, laying his hand out toward his companion and turning his horse in such a way as to turn the other also, "do me one favor; remember that it _is sore to the touch."

The animals picked their steps down the inner face of the levee and resumed their course up the road at a walk.

"Did you see that man just turn the bend of the road, away yonder?" the Creole asked.

"Yes."

"Did you recognize him?"

"It was--my landlord, wasn't it?"

"Yes. Did he not have a conversation with you lately, too?"

"Yes, sir; why do you ask?"

"It has had a bad effect on him. I wonder why he is out here on foot?"

The horses quickened their paces. The two friends rode along in silence. Frowenfeld noticed his companion frequently cast an eye up along the distant sunset shadows of the road with a new anxiety. Yet, when M. Grandissime broke the silence it was only to say:

"I suppose you find the blemishes in our state of society can all be attributed to one main defect, Mr. Frowenfeld?"

Frowenfeld was glad of the chance to answer:

"I have not overlooked that this society has disadvantages as well as blemishes; it is distant from enlightened centres; it has a language and religion different from that of the great people of which it is now called to be a part. That it has also positive blemishes of organism--"

"Yes," interrupted the Creole, smiling at the immigrant's sudden magnanimity, "its positive blemishes; do they all spring from one main defect?"

"I think not. The climate has its influence, the soil has its influence--dwellers in swamps cannot be mountaineers."

"But after all," persisted the Creole, "the greater part of our troubles comes from--"

"Slavery," said Frowenfeld, "or rather caste."

"Exactly," said M. Grandissime.

"You surprise me, sir," said the simple apothecary. "I supposed you were--"

"My-de'-seh," exclaimed M. Grandissime, suddenly becoming very earnest, "I am nothing, nothing! There is where you have the advantage of me. I am but a _dilettante_, whether in politics, in philosophy, morals, or religion. I am afraid to go deeply into anything, lest it should make ruin in my name, my family, my property."

He laughed unpleasantly.

The question darted into Frowenfeld's mind, whether this might not be a hint of the matter that M. Grandissime had been trying to see him about.

"Mr. Grandissime," he said, "I can hardly believe you would neglect a duty either for family, property, or society."

"Well, you mistake," said the Creole, so coldly that Frowenfeld colored.

They galloped on. M. Grandissime brightened again, almost to the degree of vivacity. By and by they slackened to a slow trot and were silent. The gardens had been long left behind, and they were passing between continuous Cherokee-rose hedges on the right and on the left, along that bend of the Mississippi where its waters, glancing off three miles above from the old De Macarty levee (now Carrollton), at the slightest opposition in the breeze go whirling and leaping like a herd of dervishes across to the ever-crumbling shore, now marked by the little yellow depot-house of Westwego. Miles up the broad flood the sun was disappearing gorgeously. From their saddles, the two horsemen feasted on the scene without comment.

But presently, M. Grandissime uttered a low ejaculation and spurred his horse toward a tree hard by, preparing, as he went, to fasten his rein to an overhanging branch. Frowenfeld, agreeable to his beckon, imitated the movement.

"I fear he intends to drown himself," whispered M. Grandissime, as they hurriedly dismounted.

"Who? Not--"

"Yes, your landlord, as you call him. He is on the flatboat; I saw his hat over the levee. When we get on top the levee, we must get right into it. But do not follow him into the water in front of the flat; it is certain death; no power of man could keep you from going under it."

The words were quickly spoken; they scrambled to the levee's crown. Just abreast of them lay a flatboat, emptied of its cargo and moored to the levee. They leaped into it. A human figure swerved from the onset of the Creole and ran toward the bow of the boat, and in an instant more would have been in the river.

"Stop!" said Frowenfeld, seizing the unresisting f.m.c. firmly by the collar.

Honore Grandissime smiled, partly at the apothecary's brief speech, but much more at his success.

"Let him go, Mr. Frowenfeld," he said, as he came near.

The silent man turned away his face with a gesture of shame.

M. Grandissime, in a gentle voice, exchanged a few words with him, and he turned and walked away, gained the shore, descended the levee, and took a foot-path which soon hid him behind a hedge.

"He gives his pledge not to try again," said the Creole, as the two companions proceeded to resume the saddle. "Do not look after him." (Joseph had cast a searching look over the hedge.)

They turned homeward.

"Ah! Mr. Frowenfeld," said the Creole, suddenly, "if the _immygrant has cause of complaint, how much more has _that man! True, it is only love for which he would have just now drowned himself; yet what an accusation, my-de'-seh, is his whole life against that 'caste' which shuts him up within its narrow and almost solitary limits! And yet, Mr. Frowenfeld, this people esteem this very same crime of caste the holiest and most precious of their virtues. My-de'-seh, it never occurs to us that in this matter we are interested, and therefore disqualified, witnesses. We say we are not understood; that the jury (the civilized world) renders its decision without viewing the body; that we are judged from a distance. We forget that we ourselves are too _close to see distinctly, and so continue, a spectacle to civilization, sitting in a horrible darkness, my-de'-seh!" He frowned.

"The shadow of the Ethiopian," said the grave apothecary.

M. Grandissime's quick gesture implied that Frowenfeld had said the very word.

"Ah! my-de'-seh, when I try sometimes to stand outside and look at it, I am _ama-aze at the length, the blackness of that shadow!" (He was so deeply in earnest that he took no care of his English.) "It is the _Nemesis w'ich, instead of coming afteh, glides along by the side of this morhal, political, commercial, social mistake! It blanches, my-de'-seh, ow whole civilization! It drhags us a centurhy behind the rhes' of the world! It rhetahds and poisons everhy industrhy we got!--mos' of all our-h immense agrhicultu'e! It brheeds a thousan' cusses that nevva leave home but jus' flutter-h up an' rhoost, my-de'-seh, on ow _heads_; an' we nevva know it!--yes, sometimes some of us know it."

He changed the subject.

They had repassed the ruins of Fort St. Louis, and were well within the precincts of the little city, when, as they pulled up from a final gallop, mention was made of Doctor Keene. He was improving; Honore had seen him that morning; so, at another hour, had Frowenfeld. Doctor Keene had told Honore about Palmyre's wound.

"You was at her house again this morning?" asked the Creole.

"Yes," said Frowenfeld.

M. Grandissime shook his head warningly.

"'Tis a dangerous business. You are almost sure to become the object of slander. You ought to tell Doctor Keene to make some other arrangement, or presently you, too, will be under the--" he lowered his voice, for Frowenfeld was dismounting at the shop door, and three or four acquaintances stood around--"under the 'shadow of the Ethiopian.'"

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