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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 43. The Eagle Visits The Doves In Their Nest
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 43. The Eagle Visits The Doves In Their Nest Post by :dr3tz Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1697

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 43. The Eagle Visits The Doves In Their Nest


Alphonsina--only living property of Aurora and Clotilde--was called upon to light a fire in the little parlor. Elsewhere, although the day was declining, few persons felt such a need; but in No. 19 rue Bienville there were two chilling influences combined requiring an artificial offset. One was the ground under the floor, which was only three inches distant, and permanently saturated with water; the other was despair.

Before this fire the two ladies sat down together like watchers, in that silence and vacuity of mind which come after an exhaustive struggle ending in the recognition of the inevitable; a torpor of thought, a stupefaction of feeling, a purely negative state of joylessness sequent to the positive state of anguish. They were now both hungry, but in want of some present friend acquainted with the motions of mental distress who could guess this fact and press them to eat. By their eyes it was plain they had been weeping much; by the subdued tone, too, of their short and infrequent speeches.

Alphonsina, having made the fire, went out with a bundle. It was Aurora's last good dress. She was going to try to sell it.

"It ought not to be so hard," began Clotilde, in a quiet manner of contemplating some one else's difficulty, but paused with the saying uncompleted, and sighed under her breath.

"But it _is so hard," responded Aurora.

"No, it ought not to be so hard--"

"How, not so hard?"

"It is not so hard to live," said Clotilde; "but it is hard to be ladies. You understand--" she knit her fingers, dropped them into her lap and turned her eyes toward Aurora, who responded with the same motions, adding the crossing of her silk-stockinged ankles before the fire.

"No," said Aurora, with a scintillation of irrepressible mischief in her eyes.

"After all," pursued Clotilde, "what troubles us is not how to make a living, but how to get a living without making it."

"Ah! that would be magnificent!" said Aurora, and then added, more soberly; "but we are compelled to make a living."


"No-o? Ah! what do you mean with your 'no'?"

"I mean it is just the contrary; we are compelled not to make a living. Look at me: I can cook, but I must not cook; I am skillful with the needle, but I must not take in sewing; I could keep accounts; I could nurse the sick; but I must not. I could be a confectioner, a milliner, a dressmaker, a vest-maker, a cleaner of gloves and laces, a dyer, a bird-seller, a mattress-maker, an upholsterer, a dancing-teacher, a florist--"

"Oh!" softly exclaimed Aurora, in English, "you could be--you know w'ad?--an egcellen' drug-cl'--ah, ha, ha!"


But the threatened irruption was averted by a look of tender apology from Aurora, in reply to one of martyrdom from Clotilde.

"My angel daughter," said Aurora, "if society has decreed that ladies must be ladies, then that is our first duty; our second is to live. Do you not see why it is that this practical world does not permit ladies to make a living? Because if they could, none of them would ever consent to be married. Ha! women talk about marrying for love; but society is too sharp to trust them, yet! It makes it _necessary to marry. I will tell you the honest truth; some days when I get very, very hungry, and we have nothing but rice--all because we are ladies without male protectors--I think society could drive even me to marriage!--for your sake, though, darling; of course, only for your sake!"

"Never!" replied Clotilde; "for my sake, never; for your own sake if you choose. I should not care. I should be glad to see you do so if it would make you happy; but never for my sake and never for hunger's sake; but for love's sake, yes; and God bless thee, pretty maman."

"Clotilde, dear," said the unconscionable widow, "let me assure you, once for all,--starvation is preferable. I mean for me, you understand, simply for me; that is my feeling on the subject."

Clotilde turned her saddened eyes with a steady scrutiny upon her deceiver, who gazed upward in apparently unconscious reverie, and sighed softly as she laid her head upon the high chair-back and stretched out her feet.

"I wish Alphonsina would come back," she said. "Ah!" she added, hearing a footfall on the step outside the street door, "there she is."

She arose and drew the bolt. Unseen to her, the person whose footsteps she had heard stood upon the doorstep with a hand lifted to knock, but pausing to "makeup his mind." He heard the bolt shoot back, recognized the nature of the mistake, and, feeling that here again he was robbed of volition, rapped.

"That is not Alphonsina!"

The two ladies looked at each other and turned pale.

"But you must open it," whispered Clotilde, half rising.

Aurora opened the door, and changed from white to crimson. Clotilde rose up quickly. The gentleman lifted his hat.

"Madame Nancanou."

"M. Grandissime?"

"Oui, Madame."

For once, Aurora was in an uncontrollable flutter. She stammered, lost her breath, and even spoke worse French than she needed to have done.

"Be pl--pleased, sir--to enter. Clotilde, my daughter--Monsieur Grandissime. P-please be seated, sir. Monsieur Grandissime,"--she dropped into a chair with an air of vivacity pitiful to behold,--"I suppose you have come for the rent." She blushed even more violently than before, and her hand stole upward upon her heart to stay its violent beating. "Clotilde, dear, I should be glad if you would put the fire before the screen; it is so much too warm." She pushed her chair back and shaded her face with her hand. "I think the warmer is growing weather outside, is it--is it not?"

The struggles of a wounded bird could not have been more piteous. Monsieur Grandissime sought to speak. Clotilde, too, nerved by the sight of her mother's embarrassment, came to her support, and she and the visitor spoke in one breath.

"Maman, if Monsieur--pardon--"

"Madame Nancanou, the--pardon, Mademoiselle--"

"I have presumed to call upon you," resumed M. Grandissime, addressing himself now to both ladies at once, "to see if I may enlist you in a purely benevolent undertaking in the interest of one who has been unfortunate--a common acquaintance--"

"Common acquaint--" interrupted Aurora, with a hostile lighting of her eyes.

"I believe so--Professor Frowenfeld." M. Grandissme saw Clotilde start, and in her turn falsely accuse the fire by shading her face: but it was no time to stop. "Ladies," he continued, "please allow me, for the sake of the good it may effect, to speak plainly and to the point."

The ladies expressed acquiescence by settling themselves to hear.

"Professor Frowenfeld had the extraordinary misfortune this morning to incur the suspicion of having entered a house for the purpose of--at least, for a bad design--"

"He is innocent!" came from Clotilde, against her intention; Aurora covertly put out a hand, and Clotilde clutched it nervously.

"As, for example, robbery," said the self-recovered Aurora, ignoring Clotilde's look of protestation.

"Call it so," responded M. Grandissime. "Have you heard at whose house this was?"

"No, sir."

"It was at the house of Palmyre Philosophe."

"Palmyre Philosophe!" exclaimed Aurora, in low astonishment. Clotilde let slip, in a tone of indignant incredulity, a soft "Ah!" Aurora turned, and with some hope that M. Grandissime would not understand, ventured to say in Spanish, quietly:

"Come, come, this will never do."

And Clotilde replied in the same tongue:

"I know it, but he is innocent."

"Let us understand each other," said their visitor. "There is not the faintest idea in the mind of one of us that Professor Frowenfeld is guilty of even an intention of wrong; otherwise I should not be here. He is a man simply incapable of anything ignoble."

Clotilde was silent. Aurora answered promptly, with the air of one not to be excelled in generosity:

"Certainly, he is very incapabl'."

"Still," resumed the visitor, turning especially to Clotilde, "the known facts are these, according to his own statement: he was in the house of Palmyre on some legitimate business which, unhappily, he considers himself on some account bound not to disclose, and by some mistake of Palmyre's old Congo woman, was set upon by her and wounded, barely escaping with a whole skull into the street, an object of public scandal. Laying aside the consideration of his feelings, his reputation is at stake and likely to be ruined unless the affair can be explained clearly and satisfactorily, and at once, by his friends."

"And you undertake--" began Aurora.

"Madame Nancanou," said Honore Grandissime, leaning toward her earnestly, "you know--I must beg leave to appeal to your candor and confidence--you know everything concerning Palmyre that I know. You know me, and who I am; you know it is not for me to undertake to confer with Palmyre. I know, too, her old affection for you; she lives but a little way down this street upon which you live; there is still daylight enough at your disposal; if you will, you can go to see her, and get from her a full and complete exoneration of this young man. She cannot come to you; she is not fit to leave her room."

"Cannot leave her room?"

"I am, possibly, violating confidence in this disclosure, but it is unavoidable--you have to know: she is not fully recovered from a pistol-shot wound received between two and three weeks ago."

"Pistol-shot wound!"

Both ladies started forward with open lips and exclamations of amazement.

"Received from a third person--not myself and not Professor Frowenfeld--in a desperate attempt made by her to avenge the wrongs which she has suffered, as you, Madam, as well as I, are aware, at the hands of--"

Aurora rose up with a majestic motion for the speaker to desist.

"If it is to mention the person of whom your allusion reminds me, that you have honored us with a call this evening, Monsieur--"

Her eyes were flashing as he had seen them flash in front of the Place d'Armes.

"I beg you not to suspect me of meanness," he answered, gently, and with a remonstrative smile. "I have been trying all day, in a way unnecessary to explain, to be generous."

"I suppose you are incapabl'," said Aurora, following her double meaning with that combination of mischievous eyes and unsmiling face of which she was master. She resumed her seat, adding: "It is generous for you to admit that Palmyre has suffered wrongs."

"It _would be," he replied, "to attempt to repair them, seeing that I am not responsible for them, but this I cannot claim yet to have done. I have asked of you, Madam, a generous act. I might ask another of you both jointly. It is to permit me to say without offence, that there is one man, at least, of the name of Grandissime who views with regret and mortification the yet deeper wrongs which you are even now suffering."

"Oh!" exclaimed Aurora, inwardly ready for fierce tears, but with no outward betrayal save a trifle too much grace and an over-bright smile, "Monsieur is much mistaken; we are quite comfortable and happy, wanting nothing, eh, Clotilde?--not even our rights, ha, ha!"

She rose and let Alphonsina in. The bundle was still in the negress's arms. She passed through the room and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

"Oh! no, sir, not at all," repeated Aurora, as she once more sat down.

"You ought to want your rights," said M. Grandissime. "You ought to have them."

"You think so?"

Aurora was really finding it hard to conceal her growing excitement, and turned, with a faint hope of relief, toward Clotilde.

Clotilde, looking only at their visitor, but feeling her mother's glance, with a tremulous and half-choked voice, said eagerly:

"Then why do you not give them to us?"

"Ah!" interposed Aurora, "we shall get them to-morrow, when the sheriff comes."

And, thereupon what did Clotilde do but sit bolt upright, with her hands in her lap, and let the tears roll, tear after tear, down her cheeks.

"Yes, Monsieur," said Aurora, smiling still, "those that you see are really tears. Ha, ha, ha! excuse me, I really have to laugh; for I just happened to remember our meeting at the masked ball last September. We had such a pleasant evening and were so much indebted to you for our enjoyment,--particularly myself,--little thinking, you know, that you were one of that great family which believes we ought to have our rights, you know. There are many people who ought to have their rights. There was Bras-Coupe; indeed, he got them--found them in the swamp. Maybe Clotilde and I shall find ours in the street. When we unmasked in the theatre, you know, I did not know you were my landlord, and you did not know that I could not pay a few picayunes of rent. But you must excuse those tears; Clotilde is generally a brave little woman, and would not be so rude as to weep before a stranger; but she is weak to-day--we are both weak to-day, from the fact that we have eaten nothing since early morning, although we have abundance of food--for want of appetite, you understand. You must sometimes be affected the same way, having the care of so much wealth _of all sorts_."

Honore Grandissime had risen to his feet and was standing with one hand on the edge of the lofty mantel, his hat in the other dropped at his side and his eye fixed upon Aurora's beautiful face, whence her small nervous hand kept dashing aside the tears through which she defiantly talked and smiled. Clotilde sat with clenched hands buried in her lap, looking at Aurora and still weeping.

And M. Grandissime was saying to himself:

"If I do this thing now--if I do it here--I do it on an impulse; I do it under constraint of woman's tears; I do it because I love this woman; I do it to get out of a corner; I do it in weakness, not in strength; I do it without having made up my mind whether or not it is the best thing to do."

And then, without intention, with scarcely more consciousness of movement than belongs to the undermined tree which settles, roots and all, into the swollen stream, he turned and moved toward the door.

Clotilde rose.

"Monsieur Grandissime."

He stopped and looked back.

"We will see Palmyre at once, according to your request."

He turned his eyes toward Aurora.

"Yes," said she, and she buried her face in her handkerchief and sobbed aloud.

She heard his footstep again; it reached the door; the door opened--closed; she heard his footstep again; was he gone?

He was gone.

The two women threw themselves into each other's arms and wept. Presently Clotilde left the room. She came back in a moment from the rear apartment, with a bonnet and veil in her hands.

"No," said Aurora, rising quickly, "I must do it."

"There is no time to lose," said Clotilde. "It will soon be dark."

It was hardly a minute before Aurora was ready to start. A kiss, a sorrowful look of love exchanged, the veil dropped over the swollen eyes, and Aurora was gone.

A minute passed, hardly more, and--what was this?--the soft patter of Aurora's knuckles on the door.

"Just here at the corner I saw Palmyre leaving her house and walking down the rue Royale. We must wait until morn--"

Again a footfall on the doorstep, and the door, which was standing ajar, was pushed slightly by the force of the masculine knock which followed.

"Allow me," said the voice of Honore Grandissime, as Aurora bowed at the door. "I should have handed you this; good-day."

She received a missive. It was long, like an official document; it bore evidence of having been carried for some hours in a coat-pocket, and was folded in one of those old, troublesome ways in use before the days of envelopes. Aurora pulled it open.

"It is all figures; light a candle."

The candle was lighted by Clotilde and held over Aurora's shoulder; they saw a heading and footing more conspicuous than the rest of the writing.

The heading read:

"Aurora and Clotilde Nancanou, owners of Fausse Riviere
Plantation, in account with Honore Grandissime."

The footing read:

"Balance at credit, subject to order of Aurora and
Clotilde Nancanou, $105,000.00."

The date followed:

"March 9, 1804."

and the signature:

"H. Grandissime."

A small piece of torn white paper slipped from the account to the floor. Clotilde's eye followed it, but Aurora, without acknowledgement of having seen it, covered it with her foot.

In the morning Aurora awoke first. She drew from under her pillow this slip of paper. She had not dared look at it until now. The writing on it had been roughly scratched down with a pencil. It read:

"Not for love of woman, but in the name of justice
and the fear of God."

"And I was so cruel," she whispered.

Ah! Honore Grandissime, she was kind to that little writing! She did not put it back under her pillow; she _kept it warm_, Honore Grandissime, from that time forth.

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