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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grandissimes - Chapter 37. Honore Makes Some Confessions
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The Grandissimes - Chapter 37. Honore Makes Some Confessions Post by :dr3tz Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1348

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The Grandissimes - Chapter 37. Honore Makes Some Confessions

CHAPTER XXXVII. HONORE MAKES SOME CONFESSIONS

"Comment ca va, Raoul?" said Honore Grandissime; he had come to the shop according to the proposal contained in his note. "Where is Mr. Frowenfeld?"

He found the apothecary in the rear room, dressed, but just rising from the bed at sound of his voice. He closed the door after him; they shook hands and took chairs.

"You have fever," said the merchant. "I have been troubled that way myself, some, lately." He rubbed his face all over, hard, with one hand,' and looked at the ceiling. "Loss of sleep, I suppose, in both of us; in your case voluntary--in pursuit of study, most likely; in my case--effect of anxiety." He smiled a moment and then suddenly sobered as after a pause he said:

"But I hear you are in trouble; may I ask--"

Frowenfeld had interrupted him with almost the same words:

"May I venture to ask, Mr. Grandissime, what--"

And both were silent for a moment.

"Oh," said Honore, with a gesture. "My trouble--I did not mean to mention it; 't is an old matter--in part. You know, Mr. Frowenfeld, there is a kind of tree not dreamed of in botany, that lets fall its fruit every day in the year--you know? We call it--with reverence--'our dead father's mistakes.' I have had to eat much of that fruit; a man who has to do that must expect to have now and then a little fever."

"I have heard," replied Frowenfeld, "that some of the titles under which your relatives hold their lands are found to be of the kind which the State's authorities are pronouncing worthless. I hope this is not the case."

"I wish they had never been put into my custody," said M. Grandissime.

Some new thought moved him to draw his chair closer.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, those two ladies whom you went to see the other evening--"

His listener started a little:

"Yes."

"Did they ever tell you their history?"

"No, sir; but I have heard it."

"And you think they have been deeply wronged, eh? Come, Mr. Frowenfeld, take right hold of the acacia-bush." M. Grandissime did not smile.

Frowenfeld winced. "I think they have."

"And you think restitution should be made them, no doubt, eh?"

"I do."

"At any cost?"

The questioner showed a faint, unpleasant smile, that stirred something like opposition in the breast of the apothecary.

"Yes," he answered.

The next question had a tincture even of fierceness:

"You think it right to sink fifty or a hundred people into poverty to lift one or two out?"

"Mr. Grandissime," said Frowenfeld, slowly, "you bade me study this community."

"I adv--yes; what is it you find?"

"I find--it may be the same with other communities, I suppose it is, more or less--that just upon the culmination of the moral issue it turns and asks the question which is behind it, instead of the question which is before it."

"And what is the question before me?"

"I know it only in the abstract."

"Well?"

The apothecary looked distressed.

"You should not make me say it," he objected.

"Nevertheless," said the Creole, "I take that liberty."

"Well, then," said Frowenfeld, "the question behind is Expediency and the question in front, Divine Justice. You are asking yourself--"

He checked himself.

"Which I ought to regard," said M. Grandissime, quickly. "Expediency, of course, and be like the rest of mankind." He put on a look of bitter humor. "It is all easy enough for you, Mr. Frowenfeld, my-de'-seh; you have the easy part--the theorizing."

He saw the ungenerousness of his speech as soon as it was uttered, yet he did not modify it.

"True, Mr. Grandissime," said Frowenfeld; and after a pause--"but you have the noble part--the doing."

"Ah, my-de'-seh!" exclaimed Honore; "the noble part! There is the bitterness of the draught! The opportunity to act is pushed upon me, but the opportunity to act nobly has passed by."

He again drew his chair closer, glanced behind him and spoke low:

"Because for years I have had a kind of custody of all my kinsmen's property interests, Agricola's among them, it is supposed that he has always kept the plantation of Aurore Nancanou (or rather of Clotilde--who, you know, by our laws is the real heir). That is a mistake. Explain it as you please, call it remorse, pride, love--what you like--while I was in France and he was managing my mother's business, unknown to me he gave me that plantation. When I succeeded him I found it and all its revenues kept distinct--as was but proper--from all other accounts, and belonging to me. 'Twas a fine, extensive place, had a good overseer on it and--I kept it. Why? Because I was a coward. I did not want it or its revenues; but, like my father, I would not offend my people. Peace first and justice afterwards--that was the principle on which I quietly made myself the trustee of a plantation and income which you would have given back to their owners, eh?"

Frowenfeld was silent.

"My-de'-seh, recollect that to us the Grandissime name is a treasure. And what has preserved it so long? Cherishing the unity of our family; that has done it; that is how my father did it. Just or unjust, good or bad, needful or not, done elsewhere or not, I do not say; but it is a Creole trait. See, even now" (the speaker smiled on one side of his mouth) "in a certain section of the territory certain men, Creoles" (he whispered, gravely), "_some Grandissimes among them_, evading the United States revenue laws and even beating and killing some of the officials: well! Do the people at large repudiate those men? My-de'-seh, in no wise, seh! No; if they were _Americains_--but a Louisianian--is a Louisianian; touch him not; when you touch him you touch all Louisiana! So with us Grandissimes; we are legion, but we are one. Now, my-de'-seh, the thing you ask me to do is to cast overboard that old traditional principle which is the secret of our existence."

"_I ask you?"

"Ah, bah! you know you expect it. Ah! but you do not know the uproar such an action would make. And no 'noble part' in it, my-de'-seh, either. A few months ago--when we met by those graves--if I had acted then, my action would have been one of pure--even violent--_self_-sacrifice. Do you remember--on the levee, by the Place d'Armes--me asking you to send Agricola to me? I tried then to speak of it. He would not let me. Then, my people felt safe in their land-titles and public offices; this restitution would have hurt nothing but pride. Now, titles in doubt, government appointments uncertain, no ready capital in reach for any purpose, except that which would have to be handed over with the plantation (for to tell you the fact, my-de'-seh, no other account on my books has prospered), with matters changed in this way, I become the destroyer of my own flesh and blood! Yes, seh! and lest I might still find some room to boast, another change moves me into a position where it suits me, my-de'-seh, to make the restitution so fatal to those of my name. When you and I first met, those ladies were as much strangers to me as to you--as far as I _knew_. Then, if I had done this thing--but now--now, my-de'-seh, I find myself in love with one of them!"

M. Grandissime looked his friend straight in the eye with the frowning energy of one who asserts an ugly fact.

Frowenfeld, regarding the speaker with a gaze of respectful attention, did not falter; but his fevered blood, with an impulse that started him half from his seat, surged up into his head and face; and then--

M. Grandissime blushed.

In the few silent seconds that followed, the glances of the two friends continued to pass into each other's eyes, while about Honore's mouth hovered the smile of one who candidly surrenders his innermost secret, and the lips of the apothecary set themselves together as though he were whispering to himself behind them, "Steady."

"Mr. Frowenfeld," said the Creole, taking a sudden breath and waving a hand, "I came to ask about _your trouble; but if you think you have any reason to withhold your confidence--"

"No, sir; no! But can I be no help to you in this matter?"

The Creole leaned back smilingly in his chair and knit his fingers.

"No, I did not intend to say all this; I came to offer my help to you; but my mind is full--what do you expect? My-de'-seh, the foam must come first out of the bottle. You see"--he leaned forward again, laid two fingers in his palm and deepened his tone--"I will tell you: this tree--'our dead father's mistakes'--is about to drop another rotten apple. I spoke just now of the uproar this restitution would make; why, my-de'-seh, just the mention of the lady's name at my house, when we lately held the _fete de grandpere_, has given rise to a quarrel which is likely to end in a duel."

"Raoul was telling me," said the apothecary.

M. Grandissime made an affirmative gesture.

"Mr. Frowenfeld, if you--if any one--could teach my people--I mean my family--the value of peace (I do not say the duty, my-de'-seh; a merchant talks of values); if you could teach them the value of peace, I would give you, if that was your price"--he ran the edge of his left hand knife-wise around the wrist of his right--"that. And if you would teach it to the whole community--well--I think I would not give my head; maybe you would." He laughed.

"There is a peace which is bad," said the contemplative apothecary.

"Yes," said the Creole, promptly, "the very kind that I have been keeping all this time--and my father before me!"

He spoke with much warmth.

"Yes," he said again, after a pause which was not a rest, "I often see that we Grandissimes are a good example of the Creoles at large; we have one element that makes for peace; that--pardon the self-consciousness--is myself; and another element that makes for strife--led by my uncle Agricola; but, my-de'-seh, the peace element is that which ought to make the strife, and the strife element is that which ought to be made to keep the peace! Mr. Frowenfeld, I propose to become the strife-maker; how then, can I be a peacemaker at the same time? There is my diffycultie."

"Mr. Grandissime," exclaimed Frowenfeld, "if you have any design in view founded on the high principles which I know to be the foundations of all your feelings, and can make use of the aid of a disgraced man, use me."

"You are very generous," said the Creole, and both were silent. Honore dropped his eyes from Frowenfeld's to the floor, rubbed his knee with his palm, and suddenly looked up.

"You are innocent of wrong?"

"Before God."

"I feel sure of it. Tell me in a few words all about it. I ought to be able to extricate you. Let me hear it."

Frowenfeld again told as much as he thought he could, consistently with his pledges to Palmyre, touching with extreme lightness upon the part taken by Clotilde.

"Turn around," said M. Grandissime at the close; "let me see the back of your head. And it is that that is giving you this fever, eh?"

"Partly," replied Frowenfeld; "but how shall I vindicate my innocence? I think I ought to go back openly to this woman's house and get my hat. I was about to do that when I got your note; yet it seems a feeble--even if possible--expedient."

"My friend," said Honore, "leave it to me. I see your whole case, both what you tell and what you conceal. I guess it with ease. Knowing Palmyre so well, and knowing (what you do not) that all the voudous in town think you a sorcerer, I know just what she would drop down and beg you for--a _ouangan_, ha, ha! You see? Leave it all to me--and your hat with Palmyre, take a febrifuge and a nap, and await word from me."

"And may I offer you no help in your difficulty?" asked the apothecary, as the two rose and grasped hands.

"Oh!" said the Creole, with a little shrug, "you may do anything you can--which will be nothing."

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