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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 41. To Come To The Point
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 41. To Come To The Point Post by :dr3tz Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1334

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 41. To Come To The Point


It was equally a part of Honore Grandissime's nature and of his art as a merchant to wear a look of serene leisure. With this look on his face he reentered his counting-room after his morning visit to Frowenfeld's shop. He paused a moment outside the rail, gave the weak-eyed gentleman who presided there a quiet glance equivalent to a beckon, and, as that person came near, communicated two or three items of intelligence or instruction concerning office details, by which that invaluable diviner of business meanings understood that he wished to be let alone for an hour. Then M. Grandissime passed on into his private office, and, shutting the door behind him, walked briskly to his desk and sat down.

He dropped his elbows upon a broad paper containing some recently written, unfinished memoranda that included figures in column, cast his eyes quite around the apartment, and then covered his face with his palms--a gesture common enough for a tired man of business in a moment of seclusion; but just as the face disappeared in the hands, the look of serene leisure gave place to one of great mental distress. The paper under his elbows, to the consideration of which he seemed about to return, was in the handwriting of his manager, with additions by his own pen. Earlier in the day he had come to a pause in the making of these additions, and, after one or two vain efforts to proceed, had laid down his pen, taken his hat, and gone to see the unlucky apothecary. Now he took up the broken thread. To come to a decision; that was the task which forced from him his look of distress. He drew his face slowly through his palms, set his lips, cast up his eyes, knit his knuckles, and then opened and struck his palms together, as if to say: "Now, come; let me make up my mind."

There may be men who take every moral height at a dash; but to the most of us there must come moments when our wills can but just rise and walk in their sleep. Those who in such moments wait for clear views find, when the issue is past, that they were only yielding to the devil's chloroform.

Honore Grandissme bent his eyes upon the paper. But he saw neither its figures nor its words. The interrogation, "Surrender Fausse Riviere?" appeared to hang between his eyes and the paper, and when his resolution tried to answer "Yes," he saw red flags; he heard the auctioneer's drum; he saw his kinsmen handing house-keys to strangers; he saw the old servants of the great family standing in the marketplace; he saw kinswomen pawning their plate; he saw his clerks (Brahmins, Mandarins, Grandissimes) standing idle and shabby in the arcade of the Cabildo and on the banquettes of Maspero's and the Veau-qui-tete; he saw red-eyed young men in the Exchange denouncing a man who, they said, had, ostensibly for conscience's sake, but really for love, forced upon the woman he had hoped to marry a fortune filched from his own kindred. He saw the junto of doctors in Frowenfeld's door charitably deciding him insane; he saw the more vengeful of his family seeking him with half-concealed weapons; he saw himself shot at in the rue Royale, in the rue Toulouse, and in the Place d'Armes: and, worst of all, missed.

But he wiped his forehead, and the writing on the paper became, in a measure, visible. He read:

Total mortgages on the lands of all the Grandissimes $--
Total present value of same, titles at buyers' risk --
Cash, goods, and accounts --
Fausse Riviere Plantation account --


There were other items, but he took up the edge of the paper mechanically, pushed it slowly away from him, leaned back in his chair and again laid his hands upon his face.

"Suppose I retain Fausse Riviere," he said to himself, as if he had not said it many times before.

Then he saw memoranda that were not on any paper before him--such a mortgage to be met on such a date; so much from Fausse Riviere Plantation account retained to protect that mortgage from foreclosure; such another to be met on such a date--so much more of same account to protect it. He saw Aurora and Clotilde Nancanou, with anguished faces, offering woman's pleadings to deaf constables. He saw the remainder of Aurora's plantation account thrown to the lawyers to keep the question of the Grandissime titles languishing in the courts. He saw the fortunes of his clan rallied meanwhile and coming to the rescue, himself and kindred growing independent of questionable titles, and even Fausse Riviere Plantation account restored, but Aurora and Clotilde nowhere to be found. And then he saw the grave, pale face of Joseph Frowenfeld.

He threw himself forward, drew the paper nervously toward him, and stared at the figures. He began at the first item and went over the whole paper, line by line, testing every extension, proving every addition, noting if possibly any transposition of figures had been made and overlooked, if something was added that should have been subtracted, or subtracted that should have been added. It was like a prisoner trying the bars of his cell.

Was there no way to make things happen differently? Had he not overlooked some expedient? Was not some financial manoeuvre possible which might compass both desired ends? He left his chair and walked up and down, as Joseph at that very moment was doing in the room where he had left him, came back, looked at the paper, and again walked up and down. He murmured now and then to himself: "_Self_-denial--that is not the hard work. Penniless myself--_that is play," and so on. He turned by and by and stood looking up at that picture of the man in the cuirass which Aurora had once noticed. He looked at it, but he did not see it. He was thinking--"Her rent is due to-morrow. She will never believe I am not her landlord. She will never go to my half-brother." He turned once more and mentally beat his breast as he muttered: "Why do I not decide?"

Somebody touched the doorknob. Honore stepped forward and opened it. It was a mortgager.

"_Ah! entrez, Monsieur_."

He retained the visitor's hand, leading him in and talking pleasantly in French until both had found chairs. The conversation continued in that tongue through such pointless commercial gossip as this:

"So the brig _Equinox is aground at the head of the Passes," said M. Grandissime.

"I have just heard she is off again."


"Yes; the Fort Plaquemine canoe is just up from below. I understand John McDonough has bought the entire cargo of the schooner _Freedom_."

"No, not all; Blanque et Fils bought some twenty boys and women out of the lot. Where is she lying?"

"Right at the head of the Basin."

And much more like this; but by and by the mortgager came to the point with the casual remark:

"The excitement concerning land titles seems to increase rather than subside."

"They must have _something to be excited about, I suppose," said M. Grandissime, crossing his legs and smiling. It was tradesman's talk.

"Yes," replied the other; "there seems to be an idea current to-day that all holders under Spanish titles are to be immediately dispossessed, without even process of court. I believe a very slight indiscretion on the part of the Governor-General would precipitate a riot."

"He will not commit any," said M. Grandissime with a quiet gravity, changing his manner to that of one who draws upon a reserve of private information. "There will be no outbreak."

"I suppose not. We do not know, really, that the American Congress will throw any question upon titles; but still--"

"What are some of the shrewdest Americans among us doing?" asked M. Grandissime.

"Yes," replied the mortgager, "it is true they are buying these very titles; but they may be making a mistake?"

Unfortunately for the speaker, he allowed his face an expression of argumentative shrewdness as he completed this sentence, and M. Grandissime, the merchant, caught an instantaneous full view of his motive; he wanted to buy. He was a man whose known speculative policy was to "go in" in moments of panic.

M. Grandissime was again face to face with the question of the morning. To commence selling must be to go on selling. This, as a plan, included restitution to Aurora; but it meant also dissolution to the Grandissimes, for should their _sold titles be pronounced bad, then the titles of other lands would be bad; many an asset among M. Grandissime's memoranda would shrink into nothing, and the meagre proceeds of the Grandissime estates, left to meet the strain without the aid of Aurora's accumulated fortune, would founder in a sea of liabilities; while should these titles, after being parted with, turn out good, his incensed kindred, shutting their eyes to his memoranda and despising his exhibits, would see in him only the family traitor, and he would go about the streets of his town the subject of their implacable denunciation, the community's obloquy, and Aurora's cold evasion. So much, should he sell. On the other hand, to decline to sell was to enter upon that disingenuous scheme of delays which would enable him to avail himself and his people of that favorable wind and tide of fortune which the Cession had brought. Thus the estates would be lost, if lost at all, only when the family could afford to lose them, and Honore Grandissime would continue to be Honore the Magnificent, the admiration of the city and the idol of his clan. But Aurora--and Clotilde--would have to eat the crust of poverty, while their fortunes, even in his hands, must bear all the jeopardy of the scheme. That was all. Retain Fausse Riviere and its wealth, and save the Grandissimes; surrender Fausse Riviere, let the Grandissime estates go, and save the Nancanous. That was the whole dilemma.

"Let me see," said M. Grandissime. "You have a mortgage on one of our Golden Coast plantations. Well, to be frank with you, I was thinking of that when you came in. You know I am partial to prompt transactions--I thought of offering you either to take up that mortgage or to sell you the plantation, as you may prefer. I have ventured to guess that it would suit you to own it."

And the speaker felt within him a secret exultation in the idea that he had succeeded in throwing the issue off upon a Providence that could control this mortgager's choice.

"I would prefer to leave that choice with you," said the coy would-be purchaser; and then the two went coquetting again for another moment.

"I understand that Nicholas Girod is proposing to erect a four-story brick building on the corner of Royale and St. Pierre. Do you think it practicable? Do you think our soil will support such a structure?"

"Pitot thinks it will. Bore says it is perfectly feasible."

So they dallied.

"Well," said the mortgager, presently rising, "you will make up your mind and let me know, will you?"

The chance repetition of those words "make up your mind" touched Honore Grandissime like a hot iron. He rose with the visitor.

"Well, sir, what would you give us for our title in case we should decide to part with it?"

The two men moved slowly, side by side, toward the door, and in the half-open doorway, after a little further trifling, the title was sold.

"Well, good-day," said M. Grandissime. "M. de Brahmin will arrange the papers for us to-morrow."

He turned back toward his private desk.

"And now," thought he, "I am acting without resolving. No merit; no strength of will; no clearness of purpose; no emphatic decision; nothing but a yielding to temptation."

And M. Grandissime spoke truly; but it is only whole men who so yield--yielding to the temptation to do right.

He passed into the counting-room, to M. De Brahmin, and standing there talked in an inaudible tone, leaning over the upturned spectacles of his manager, for nearly an hour. Then, saying he would go to dinner, he went out. He did not dine at home nor at the Veau-qui-tete, nor at any of the clubs; so much is known; he merely disappeared for two or three hours and was not seen again until late in the afternoon, when two or three Brahmins and Grandissimes, wandering about in search of him, met him on the levee near the head of the rue Bienville, and with an exclamation of wonder and a look of surprise at his dusty shoes, demanded to know where he had hid himself while they had been ransacking the town in search of him.

"We want you to tell us what you will do about our titles."

He smiled pleasantly, the picture of serenity, and replied:

"I have not fully made up my mind yet; as soon as I do so I will let you know."

There was a word or two more exchanged, and then, after a moment of silence, with a gentle "Eh, bien," and a gesture to which they were accustomed, he stepped away backward, they resumed their hurried walk and talk, and he turned into the rue Bienville.

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