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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 7. Was It Honore Grandissime?
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 7. Was It Honore Grandissime? Post by :ksloan Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2389

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 7. Was It Honore Grandissime?

CHAPTER VII. WAS IT HONORE GRANDISSIME?

A Creole gentleman, on horseback one morning with some practical object in view,--drainage, possibly,--had got what he sought,--the evidence of his own eyes on certain points,--and now moved quietly across some old fields toward the town, where more absorbing interests awaited him in the Rue Toulouse; for this Creole gentleman was a merchant, and because he would presently find himself among the appointments and restraints of the counting-room, he heartily gave himself up, for the moment, to the surrounding influences of nature.

It was late in November; but the air was mild and the grass and foliage green and dewy. Wild flowers bloomed plentifully and in all directions; the bushes were hung, and often covered, with vines of sprightly green, sprinkled thickly with smart-looking little worthless berries, whose sparkling complacency the combined contempt of man, beast and bird could not dim. The call of the field-lark came continually out of the grass, where now and then could be seen his yellow breast; the orchard oriole was executing his fantasias in every tree; a covey of partridges ran across the path close under the horse's feet, and stopped to look back almost within reach of the riding-whip; clouds of starlings, in their odd, irresolute way, rose from the high bulrushes and settled again, without discernible cause; little wandering companies of sparrows undulated from hedge to hedge; a great rabbit-hawk sat alone in the top of a lofty pecan-tree; that petted rowdy, the mocking-bird, dropped down into the path to offer fight to the horse, and, failing in that, flew up again and drove a crow into ignominious retirement beyond the plain; from a place of flags and reeds a white crane shot upward, turned, and then, with the slow and stately beat peculiar to her wing, sped away until, against the tallest cypress of the distant forest, she became a tiny white speck on its black, and suddenly disappeared, like one flake of snow.

The scene was altogether such as to fill any hearty soul with impulses of genial friendliness and gentle candor; such a scene as will sometimes prepare a man of the world, upon the least direct incentive, to throw open the windows of his private thought with a freedom which the atmosphere of no counting-room or drawing-room tends to induce.

The young merchant--he was young--felt this. Moreover, the matter of business which had brought him out had responded to his inquiring eye with a somewhat golden radiance; and your true man of business--he who has reached that elevated pitch of serene, good-natured reserve which is of the high art of his calling--is never so generous with his pennyworths of thought as when newly in possession of some little secret worth many pounds.

By and by the behavior of the horse indicated the near presence of a stranger; and the next moment the rider drew rein under an immense live-oak where there was a bit of paling about some graves, and raised his hat.

"Good-morning, sir." But for the silent r's, his pronunciation was exact, yet evidently an acquired one. While he spoke his salutation in English, he was thinking in French: "Without doubt, this rather oversized, bareheaded, interrupted-looking convalescent who stands before me, wondering how I should know in what language to address him, is Joseph Frowenfeld, of whom Doctor Keene has had so much to say to me. A good face--unsophisticated, but intelligent, mettlesome and honest. He will make his mark; it will probably be a white one; I will subscribe to the adventure.

"You will excuse me, sir?" he asked after a pause, dismounting, and noticing, as he did so, that Frowenfeld's knees showed recent contact with the turf; "I have, myself, some interest in two of these graves, sir, as I suppose--you will pardon my freedom--you have in the other four."

He approached the old but newly whitened paling, which encircled the tree's trunk as well as the six graves about it. There was in his face and manner a sort of impersonal human kindness, well calculated to engage a diffident and sensitive stranger, standing in dread of gratuitous benevolence or pity.

"Yes, sir," said the convalescent, and ceased; but the other leaned against the palings in an attitude of attention, and he felt induced to add: "I have buried here my father, mother, and two sisters,"--he had expected to continue in an unemotional tone; but a deep respiration usurped the place of speech. He stooped quickly to pick up his hat, and, as he rose again and looked into his listener's face, the respectful, unobtrusive sympathy there expressed went directly to his heart.

"Victims of the fever," said the Creole with great gravity. "How did that happen?"

As Frowenfeld, after a moment's hesitation, began to speak, the stranger let go the bridle of his horse and sat down upon the turf. Joseph appreciated the courtesy and sat down, too; and thus the ice was broken.

The immigrant told his story; he was young--often younger than his years--and his listener several years his senior; but the Creole, true to his blood, was able at any time to make himself as young as need be, and possessed the rare magic of drawing one's confidence without seeming to do more than merely pay attention. It followed that the story was told in full detail, including grateful acknowledgment of the goodness of an unknown friend, who had granted this burial-place on condition that he should not be sought out for the purpose of thanking him.

So a considerable time passed by, in which acquaintance grew with delightful rapidity.

"What will you do now?" asked the stranger, when a short silence had followed the conclusion of the story.

"I hardly know. I am taken somewhat by surprise. I have not chosen a definite course in life--as yet. I have been a general student, but have not prepared myself for any profession; I am not sure what I shall be."

A certain energy in the immigrant's face half redeemed this childlike speech. Yet the Creole's lips, as he opened them to reply, betrayed amusement; so he hastened to say:

"I appreciate your position, Mr. Frowenfeld,--excuse me, I believe you said that was your father's name. And yet,"--the shadow of an amused smile lurked another instant about a corner of his mouth,--"if you would understand me kindly I would say, take care--"

What little blood the convalescent had rushed violently to his face, and the Creole added:

"I do not insinuate you would willingly be idle. I think I know what you want. You want to make up your mind _now what you will _do_, and at your leisure what you will _be_; eh? To be, it seems to me," he said in summing up,--"that to be is not so necessary as to do, eh? or am I wrong?"

"No, sir," replied Joseph, still red, "I was feeling that just now. I will do the first thing that offers; I can dig."

The Creole shrugged and pouted.

"And be called a _dos brile_--a 'burnt-back.'"

"But"--began the immigrant, with overmuch warmth.

The other interrupted him, shaking his head slowly and smiling as he spoke.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, it is of no use to talk; you may hold in contempt the Creole scorn of toil--just as I do, myself, but in theory, my-de'-seh, not too much in practice. You cannot afford to be _entirely different from the community in which you live; is that not so?"

"A friend of mine," said Frowenfeld, "has told me I must 'compromise.'"

"You must get acclimated," responded the Creole; "not in body only, that you have done; but in mind--in taste--in conversation--and in convictions too, yes, ha, ha! They all do it--all who come. They hold out a little while--a very little; then they open their stores on Sunday, they import cargoes of Africans, they bribe the officials, they smuggle goods, they have colored housekeepers. My-de'-seh, the water must expect to take the shape of the bucket; eh?"

"One need not be water!" said the immigrant.

"Ah!" said the Creole, with another amiable shrug, and a wave of his hand; "certainly you do not suppose that is my advice--that those things have my approval."

Must we repeat already that Frowenfeld was abnormally young? "Why have they not your condemnation?" cried he with an earnestness that made the Creole's horse drop the grass from his teeth and wheel half around.

The answer came slowly and gently.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, my habit is to buy cheap and sell at a profit. My condemnation? My-de'-seh, there is no sa-a-ale for it! it spoils the sale of other goods my-de'-seh. It is not to condemn that you want; you want to suc-_ceed_. Ha, ha, ha! you see I am a merchant, eh? My-de'-seh, can _you afford not to succeed?"

The speaker had grown very much in earnest in the course of these few words, and as he asked the closing question, arose, arranged his horse's bridle and, with his elbow in the saddle, leaned his handsome head on his equally beautiful hand. His whole appearance was a dazzling contradiction of the notion that a Creole is a person of mixed blood.

"I think I can!" replied the convalescent, with much spirit, rising with more haste than was good, and staggering a moment.

The horseman laughed outright.

"Your principle is the best, I cannot dispute that; but whether you can act it out--reformers do not make money, you know." He examined his saddle-girth and began to tighten it. "One can condemn--too cautiously--by a kind of--elevated cowardice (I have that fault); but one can also condemn too rashly; I remember when I did so. One of the occupants of those two graves you see yonder side by side--I think might have lived longer if I had not spoken so rashly for his rights. Did you ever hear of Bras-Coupe, Mr. Frowenfeld?"

"I have heard only the name."

"Ah! Mr. Frowenfeld, _there was a bold man's chance to denounce wrong and oppression! Why, that negro's death changed the whole channel of my convictions."

The speaker had turned and thrown up his arm with frowning earnestness; he dropped it and smiled at himself.

"Do not mistake me for one of your new-fashioned Philadelphia '_negrophiles_'; I am a merchant, my-de'-seh, a good subject of His Catholic Majesty, a Creole of the Creoles, and so forth, and so forth. Come!"

He slapped the saddle.

To have seen and heard them a little later as they moved toward the city, the Creole walking before the horse, and Frowenfeld sitting in the saddle, you might have supposed them old acquaintances. Yet the immigrant was wondering who his companion might be. He had not introduced himself--seemed to think that even an immigrant might know his name without asking. Was it Honore Grandissime? Joseph was tempted to guess so; but the initials inscribed on the silver-mounted pommel of the fine old Spanish saddle did not bear out that conjecture.

The stranger talked freely. The sun's rays seemed to set all the sweetness in him a-working, and his pleasant worldly wisdom foamed up and out like fermenting honey.

By and by the way led through a broad, grassy lane where the path turned alternately to right and left among some wild acacias. The Creole waved his hand toward one of them and said:

"Now, Mr. Frowenfeld, you see? one man walks where he sees another's track; that is what makes a path; but you want a man, instead of passing around this prickly bush, to lay hold of it with his naked hands and pull it up by the roots."

"But a man armed with the truth is far from being barehanded," replied the convalescent, and they went on, more and more interested at every step,--one in this very raw imported material for an excellent man, the other in so striking an exponent of a unique land and people.

They came at length to the crossing of two streets, and the Creole, pausing in his speech, laid his hand upon the bridle.

Frowenfeld dismounted.

"Do we part here?" asked the Creole. "Well, Mr. Frowenfeld, I hope to meet you soon again."

"Indeed, I thank you, sir," said Joseph, "and I hope we shall, although--"

The Creole paused with a foot in the stirrup and interrupted him with a playful gesture; then as the horse stirred, he mounted and drew in the rein.

"I know; you want to say you cannot accept my philosophy and I cannot appreciate yours; but I appreciate it more than you think, my-de'-seh."

The convalescent's smile showed much fatigue.

The Creole extended his hand; the immigrant seized it, wished to ask his name, but did not; and the next moment he was gone.

The convalescent walked meditatively toward his quarters, with a faint feeling of having been found asleep on duty and awakened by a passing stranger. It was an unpleasant feeling, and he caught himself more than once shaking his head. He stopped, at length, and looked back; but the Creole was long since out of sight. The mortified self-accuser little knew how very similar a feeling that vanished person was carrying away with him. He turned and resumed his walk, wondering who Monsieur might be, and a little impatient with himself that he had not asked.

"It is Honore Grandissime; it must be he!" he said.

Yet see how soon he felt obliged to change his mind.

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