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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 53. Frowenfeld At The Grandissime Mansion
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 53. Frowenfeld At The Grandissime Mansion Post by :donnarob Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1312

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 53. Frowenfeld At The Grandissime Mansion

CHAPTER LIII. FROWENFELD AT THE GRANDISSIME MANSION

One afternoon--it seems to have been some time in June, and consequently earlier than Doctor Keene's return--the Grandissimes were set all a-tremble with vexation by the discovery that another of their number had, to use Agricola's expression, "gone over to the enemy,"--a phrase first applied by him to Honore.

"What do you intend to convey by that term?" Frowenfeld had asked on that earlier occasion.

"Gone over to the enemy means, my son, gone over to the enemy!" replied Agricola. "It implies affiliation with Americains in matters of business and of government! It implies the exchange of social amenities with a race of upstarts! It implies a craven consent to submit the sacredest prejudices of our fathers to the new-fangled measuring-rods of pert, imported theories upon moral and political progress! It implies a listening to, and reasoning with, the condemners of some of our most time-honored and respectable practices! Reasoning with? N-a-hay! but Honore has positively sat down and eaten with them! What?--and h-walked out into the stre-heet with them, arm in arm! It implies in his case an act--two separate and distinct acts--so base that--that--I simply do not understand them! _H-you know, Professor Frowenfeld, what he has done! You know how ignominiously he has surrendered the key of a moral position which for the honor of the Grandissime-Fusilier name we have felt it necessary to hold against our hereditary enemies! And--you--know--" here Agricola actually dropped all artificiality and spoke from the depths of his feelings, without figure--"h-h-he has joined himself in business h-with a man of negro blood! What can we do? What can we say? It is Honore Grandissime. We can only say, 'Farewell! He is gone over to the enemy.'"

The new cause of exasperation was the defection of Raoul Innerarity. Raoul had, somewhat from a distance, contemplated such part as he could understand of Joseph Frowenfeld's character with ever-broadening admiration. We know how devoted he became to the interests and fame of "Frowenfeld's." It was in April he had married. Not to divide his generous heart he took rooms opposite the drug-store, resolved that "Frowenfeld's" should be not only the latest closed but the earliest opened of all the pharmacies in New Orleans.

This, it is true, was allowable. Not many weeks afterward his bride fell suddenly and seriously ill. The overflowing souls of Aurora and Clotilde could not be so near to trouble and not know it, and before Raoul was nearly enough recovered from the shock of this peril to remember that he was a Grandissime, these last two of the De Grapions had hastened across the street to the small, white-walled sick-room and filled it as full of universal human love as the cup of a magnolia is full of perfume. Madame Innerarity recovered. A warm affection was all she and her husband could pay such ministration in, and this they paid bountifully; the four became friends. The little madame found herself drawn most toward Clotilde; to her she opened her heart--and her wardrobe, and showed her all her beautiful new underclothing. Raoul found Clotilde to be, for him, rather--what shall we say?--starry; starrily inaccessible; but Aurora was emphatically after his liking; he was delighted with Aurora. He told her in confidence that "Profess-or Frowenfel'" was the best man in the world; but she boldly said, taking pains to speak with a tear-and-a-half of genuine gratitude,--"Egcep' Monsieur Honore Grandissime," and he assented, at first with hesitation and then with ardor. The four formed a group of their own; and it is not certain that this was not the very first specimen ever produced in the Crescent City of that social variety of New Orleans life now distinguished as Uptown Creoles.

Almost the first thing acquired by Raoul in the camp of the enemy was a certain Aurorean audacity; and on the afternoon to which we allude, having told Frowenfeld a rousing fib to the effect that the multitudinous inmates of the maternal Grandissime mansion had insisted on his bringing his esteemed employer to see them, he and his bride had the hardihood to present him on the front veranda.

The straightforward Frowenfeld was much pleased with his reception. It was not possible for such as he to guess the ire with which his presence was secretly regarded. New Orleans, let us say once more, was small, and the apothecary of the rue Royale locally famed; and what with curiosity and that innate politeness which it is the Creole's boast that he cannot mortify, the veranda, about the top of the great front stair, was well crowded with people of both sexes and all ages. It would be most pleasant to tarry once more in description of this gathering of nobility and beauty; to recount the points of Creole loveliness in midsummer dress; to tell in particular of one and another eye-kindling face, form, manner, wit; to define the subtle qualities of Creole air and sky and scene, or the yet more delicate graces that characterize the music of Creole voice and speech and the light of Creole eyes; to set forth the gracious, unaccentuated dignity of the matrons and the ravishing archness of their daughters. To Frowenfeld the experience seemed all unreal. Nor was this unreality removed by conversation on grave subjects; for few among either the maturer or the younger beauty could do aught but listen to his foreign tongue like unearthly strangers in the old fairy tales. They came, however, in the course of their talk to the subject of love and marriage. It is not certain that they entered deeper into the great question than a comparison of its attendant Anglo-American and Franco-American conventionalities; but sure it is that somehow--let those young souls divine the method who can--every unearthly stranger on that veranda contrived to understand Frowenfeld's English. Suddenly the conversation began to move over the ground of inter-marriage between hostile families. Then what eyes and ears! A certain suspicion had already found lodgement in the universal Grandissime breast, and every one knew in a moment that, to all intents and purposes, they were about to argue the case of Honore and Aurora.

The conversation became discussion, Frowenfeld, Raoul and Raoul's little seraph against the whole host, chariots, horse and archery. Ah! such strokes as the apothecary dealt! And if Raoul and "Madame Raoul" played parts most closely resembling the blowing of horns and breaking of pitchers, still they bore themselves gallantly. The engagement was short; we need not say that nobody surrendered; nobody ever gives up the ship in parlor or veranda debate: and yet--as is generally the case in such affairs--truth and justice made some unacknowledged headway. If anybody on either side came out wounded--this to the credit of the Creoles as a people--the sufferer had the heroic good manners not to say so. But the results were more marked than this; indeed, in more than one or two candid young hearts and impressible minds the wrongs and rights of sovereign true love began there on the spot to be more generously conceded and allowed. "My-de'-seh," Honore had once on a time said to Frowenfeld, meaning that to prevail in conversational debate one should never follow up a faltering opponent, "you mus' _crack the egg, not smash it!" And Joseph, on rising to take his leave, could the more amiably overlook the feebleness of the invitation to call again, since he rejoiced, for Honore's sake, in the conviction that the egg was cracked.

Agricola, the Grandissimes told the apothecary, was ill in his room, and Madame de Grandissime, his sister--Honore's mother--begged to be excused that she might keep him company. The Fusiliers were a very close order; or one might say they garrisoned the citadel.

But Joseph's rising to go was not immediately upon the close of the discussion; those courtly people would not let even an unwelcome guest go with the faintest feeling of disrelish for them. They were casting about in their minds for some momentary diversion with which to add a finishing touch to their guest's entertainment, when Clemence appeared in the front garden walk and was quickly surrounded by bounding children, alternately begging and demanding a song. Many of even the younger adults remembered well when she had been "one of the hands on the place," and a passionate lover of the African dance. In the same instant half a dozen voices proposed that for Joseph's amusement Clemence should put her cakes off her head, come up on the veranda and show a few of her best steps.

"But who will sing?"

"Raoul!"

"Very well; and what shall it be?"

"'Madame Gaba.'"

No, Clemence objected.

"Well, well, stand back--something better than 'Madame Gaba.'"

Raoul began to sing and Clemence instantly to pace and turn, posture, bow, respond to the song, start, swing, straighten, stamp, wheel, lift her hand, stoop, twist, walk, whirl, tiptoe with crossed ankles, smite her palms, march, circle, leap,--an endless improvisation of rhythmic motion to this modulated responsive chant:

Raoul. "_Mo pas l'aimein ca_."

Clemence. "_Miche Igenne, oap! oap! oap!_"

He. "_Ye donne vingt cinq sous pou' manze poule_."

She. "_Miche Igenne, dit--dit--dit--_"

He. "_Mo pas l'aimein ca!_"

She. "_Miche Igenne, oap! oap! oap!_"

He. "_Mo pas l'aimein ca!_"

She. "_Miche Igenne, oap! oap! oap!_"

Frowenfeld was not so greatly amused as the ladies thought he should have been, and was told that this was not a fair indication of what he would see if there were ten dancers instead of one.

How much less was it an indication of what he would have seen in that mansion early the next morning, when there was found just outside of Agricola's bedroom door a fresh egg, not cracked, according to Honore's maxim, but smashed, according to the lore of the voudous. Who could have got in in the night? And did the intruder get in by magic, by outside lock-picking, or by inside collusion? Later in the morning, the children playing in the basement found--it had evidently been accidentally dropped, since the true use of its contents required them to be scattered in some person's path--a small cloth bag, containing a quantity of dogs' and cats' hair, cut fine and mixed with salt and pepper.

"Clemence?"

"Pooh! Clemence. No! But as sure as the sun turns around the world--Palmyre Philosophe!"

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