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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 36. Aurora's Last Picayune
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 36. Aurora's Last Picayune Post by :dr3tz Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1572

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 36. Aurora's Last Picayune

CHAPTER XXXVI. AURORA'S LAST PICAYUNE

Not often in Aurora's life had joy and trembling so been mingled in one cup as on this day. Clotilde wept; and certainly the mother's heart could but respond; yet Clotilde's tears filled her with a secret pleasure which fought its way up into the beams of her eyes and asserted itself in the frequency and heartiness of her laugh despite her sincere participation in her companion's distresses and a fearful looking forward to to-morrow.

Why these flashes of gladness? If we do not know, it is because we have overlooked one of her sources of trouble. From the night of the _bal masque she had--we dare say no more than that she had been haunted; she certainly would not at first have admitted even so much to herself. Yet the fact was not thereby altered, and first the fact and later the feeling had given her much distress of mind. Who he was whose image would not down, for a long time she did not know. This, alone, was torture; not merely because it was mystery, but because it helped to force upon her consciousness that her affections, spite of her, were ready and waiting for him and he did not come after them. That he loved her, she knew; she had achieved at the ball an overwhelming victory, to her certain knowledge, or, depend upon it, she never would have unmasked--never.

But with this torture was mingled not only the ecstasy of loving, but the fear of her daughter. This is a world that allows nothing without its obverse and reverse. Strange differences are often seen between the two sides; and one of the strangest and most inharmonious in this world of human relations is that coinage which a mother sometimes finds herself offering to a daughter, and which reads on one side, Bridegroom, and on the other, Stepfather.

Then, all this torture to be hidden under smiles! Worse still, when by and by Messieurs Agoussou, Assonquer, Danny and others had been appealed to and a Providence boundless in tender compassion had answered in their stead, she and her lover had simultaneously discovered each other's identity only to find that he was a Montague to her Capulet. And the source of her agony must be hidden, and falsely attributed to the rent deficiency and their unprotected lives. Its true nature must be concealed even from Clotilde. What a secret--for what a spirit--to keep from what a companion!--a secret yielding honey to her, but, it might be, gall to Clotilde. She felt like one locked in the Garden of Eden all alone--alone with all the ravishing flowers, alone with all the lions and tigers. She wished she had told the secret when it was small and had let it increase by gradual accretions in Clotilde's knowledge day by day. At first it had been but a garland, then it had become a chain, now it was a ball and chain; and it was oh! and oh! if Clotilde would only fall in love herself! How that would simplify matters! More than twice or thrice she had tried to reveal her overstrained heart in broken sections; but on her approach to the very outer confines of the matter, Clotilde had always behaved so strangely, so nervously, in short, so beyond Aurora's comprehension, that she invariably failed to make any revelation.

And now, here in the very central darkness of this cloud of troubles, comes in Clotilde, throws herself upon the defiant little bosom so full of hidden suffering, and weeps tears of innocent confession that in a moment lay the dust of half of Aurora's perplexities. Strange world! The tears of the orphan making the widow weep for joy, if she only dared.

The pair sat down opposite each other at their little dinner-table. They had a fixed hour for dinner. It is well to have a fixed hour; it is in the direction of system. Even if you have not the dinner, there is the hour. Alphonsina was not in perfect harmony with this fixed-hour idea. It was Aurora's belief, often expressed in hungry moments with the laugh of a vexed Creole lady (a laugh worthy of study), that on the day when dinner should really be served at the appointed hour, the cook would drop dead of apoplexy and she of fright. She said it to-day, shutting her arms down to her side, closing her eyes with her eyebrows raised, and dropping into her chair at the table like a dead bird from its perch. Not that she felt particularly hungry; but there is a certain desultoriness allowable at table more than elsewhere, and which suited the hither-thither movement of her conflicting feelings. This is why she had wished for dinner.

Boiled shrimps, rice, claret-and-water, bread--they were dining well the day before execution. Dining is hardly correct, either, for Clotilde, at least, did not eat; they only sat. Clotilde had, too, if not her unknown, at least her unconfessed emotions. Aurora's were tossed by the waves, hers were sunken beneath them. Aurora had a faith that the rent would be paid--a faith which was only a vapor, but a vapor gilded by the sun--that is, by Apollo, or, to be still more explicit, by Honore Grandissime. Clotilde, deprived of this confidence, had tried to raise means wherewith to meet the dread obligation, or, rather, had tried to try and had failed. To-day was the ninth, to-morrow, the street. Joseph Frowenfeld was hurt; her dependence upon his good offices was gone. When she thought of him suffering under public contumely, it seemed to her as if she could feel the big drops of blood dropping from her heart; and when she recalled her own actions, speeches, and demonstrations in his presence, exaggerated by the groundless fear that he had guessed into the deepest springs of her feelings, then she felt those drops of blood congeal. Even if the apothecary had been duller of discernment than she supposed, here was Aurora on the opposite side of the table, reading every thought of her inmost soul. But worst of all was 'Sieur Frowenfel's indifference. It is true that, as he had directed upon her that gaze of recognition, there was a look of mighty gladness, if she dared believe her eyes. But no, she dared not; there was nothing there for her, she thought,--probably (when this anguish of public disgrace should by any means be lifted) a benevolent smile at her and her betrayal of interest. Clotilde felt as though she had been laid entire upon a slide of his microscope.

Aurora at length broke her reverie.

"Clotilde,"--she spoke in French--"the matter with you is that you have no heart. You never did have any. Really and truly, you do not care whether 'Sieur Frowenfel' lives or dies. You do not care how he is or where he is this minute. I wish you had some of my too large heart. I not only have the heart, as I tell you, to think kindly of our enemies, those Grandissime, for example"--she waved her hand with the air of selecting at random--"but I am burning up to know what is the condition of that poor, sick, noble 'Sieur Frowenfel', and I am going to do it!"

The heart which Clotilde was accused of not having gave a stir of deep gratitude. Dear, pretty little mother! Not only knowing full well the existence of this swelling heart and the significance, to-day, of its every warm pulsation, but kindly covering up the discovery with make-believe reproaches. The tears started in her eyes; that was her reply.

"Oh, now! it is the rent again, I suppose," cried Aurora, "always the rent. It is not the rent that worries _me_, it is 'Sieur Frowenfel', poor man. But very well, Mademoiselle Silence, I will match you for making me do all the talking." She was really beginning to sink under the labor of carrying all the sprightliness for both. "Come," she said, savagely, "propose something."

"Would you think well to go and inquire?"

"Ah, listen! Go and what? No, Mademoiselle, I think not."

"Well, send Alphonsina."

"What? And let him know that I am anxious about him? Let me tell you, my little girl, I shall not drag upon myself the responsibility of increasing the self-conceit of any of that sex."

"Well, then, send to buy a picayune's worth of something."

"Ah, ha, ha! An emetic, for instance. Tell him we are poisoned on mushrooms, ha, ha, ha!"

Clotilde laughed too.

"Ah, no," she said. "Send for something he does not sell."

Aurora was laughing while Clotilde spoke; but as she caught these words she stopped with open-mouthed astonishment, and, as Clotilde blushed, laughed again.

"Oh, Clotilde, Clotilde, Clotilde!"--she leaned forward over the table, her face beaming with love and laughter--"you rowdy! you rascal! You are just as bad as your mother, whom you think so wicked! I accept your advice. Alphonsina!"

"Momselle!"

The answer came from the kitchen.

"Come go--or, rather,--_vini 'ci courri dans boutique de l'apothecaire_. Clotilde," she continued, in better French, holding up the coin to view, "look!"

"What?"

"The last picayune we have in the world--ha, ha, ha!"

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