THE original grantee was
assume the name to be De Charleu;
the old Creoles never forgive a public
mention. He was the French king's
commissary. One day, called to France to explain
the lucky accident of the commissariat having
burned down with the account-books inside,
he left his wife, a Choctaw Comtesse, behind.
Arrived at court, his
excuses were accepted, and
that tract granted him where afterwards stood
Belles Demoiselles Plantation. A man cannot remember
every thing! In a fit of forgetfulness he
married a French gentlewoman, rich and beautiful,
and "brought her out." However, "All's
well that ends well;" a famine had been in the
colony, and the Choctaw Comtesse had starved,
leaving nought but a half-caste orphan family lurking
on the edge of the settlement, bearing our
French gentlewoman's own new name, and being
mentioned in Monsieur's will.
And the new Comtesse—she tarried but a
twelvemonth, left Monsieur a lovely son, and departed,
led out of this vain world by the swampfever.
From this son sprang the proud Creole family of
De Charleu. It rose straight up, up, up, generation
after generation, tall, branchless, slender, palm-like;
and finally, in the time of which I am to tell, flowered
with all the rare beauty of a century-plant, in Artémise,
Innocente, Felicité, the twins Marie and Martha,
Leontine and little Septima; the seven beautiful daughters for
whom their home had been fitly named Belles
The Count's grant had once been a long Pointe,
round which the Mississippi used to whirl, and seethe,
and foam, that it was horrid to behold. Big whirlpools
would open and wheel about in the savage eddies under
the low bank, and close up again, and others open, and
spin, and disappear. Great circles of muddy surface
would boil up from hundreds of feet below, and gloss over,
and seem to float away,—sink, come back again under
water, and with only a soft hiss surge up again, and
again drift off, and vanish. Every few minutes the loamy
bank would tip down a great load of earth upon its besieger,
and fall back a foot,—sometimes a yard,—and the
writhing river would press after, until at last the Pointe
was quite swallowed up, and the great river glided by
in a majestic curve, and asked no more; the bank
stood fast, the "caving" became a forgotten
misfortune, and the diminished grant was a long,
sweeping, willowy bend, rustling with miles of sugar-cane.
Coming up the Mississippi in the sailing craft of
those early days, about the time one first could
descry the white spires of the old St. Louis Cathedral,
you would be pretty sure to spy, just over to your right under the levee, Belles Demoiselles Mansion, with its
broad veranda and red painted cypress roof, peering
over the embankment, like a bird in the nest, half hid
by the avenue of willows which one of the departed
De Charleus,—he that married a Marot,—had
planted on the levee's crown.
The house stood unusually near the river, facing
eastward, and standing four-square, with an immense
veranda about its sides, and a flight of steps in front
spreading broadly downward, as we open arms to a
child. From the veranda nine miles of river were
seen; and in their compass, near at hand, the shady
garden full of rare and beautiful flowers; farther away
broad fields of cane and rice, and the distant quarters
of the slaves, and on the horizon everywhere a dark
belt of cypress forest.
The master was old Colonel De Charleu, —Jean Albert
Henri Joseph De Charleu-Marot, and "Colonel"
by the grace of the first American governor. Monsieur,—he would not speak to any one who called
him "Colonel,"—was a hoary-headed patriarch.
His step was firm, his form erect, his intellect strong
and clear, his countenance classic, serene, dignified,
commanding, his manners courtly, his voice musical,—fascinating. He had had his vices,—all his life;
but had borne them, as his race do, with a serenity of
conscience and a cleanness of mouth that left no outward
blemish on the surface of the gentleman. He
had gambled in Royal Street, drank hard in Orleans
Street, run his adversary through in the duelling-ground
at Slaughter-house Point, and danced and quarrelled at the St. Philippe-street-theatre quadroon
balls. Even now, with all his courtesy and bounty,
and a hospitality which seemed to be entertaining
angels, he was bitter-proud and penurious, and deep
down in his hard-finished heart loved nothing but
himself, his name, and his motherless children. But
these!—their ravishing beauty was all but excuse
enough for the unbounded idolatry of their father.
Against these seven goddesses he never rebelled.
Had they even required him to defraud old De
I can hardly say.
Old De Carlos was his extremely distant relative on
the Choctaw side. With this single exception, the
narrow thread-like line of descent from the Indian
wife, diminished to a mere strand by injudicious
alliances, and deaths in the gutters of old New Orleans,
was extinct. The name, by Spanish contact, had
become De Carlos; but this one surviving bearer of it
was known to all, and known only, as Injin Charlie.
One thing I never knew a Creole to do. He will
not utterly go back on the ties of blood, no matter
what sort of knots those ties may be. For one reason,
he is never ashamed of his or his father's sins;
and for another,—he will tell you—he is "all
So the different heirs of the De Charleu estate had
always strictly regarded the rights and interests of the
De Carloses, especially their ownership of a block of
dilapidated buildings in a part of the city, which had
once been very poor property, but was beginning to be valuable. This block had much more than maintained
the last De Carlos through a long and lazy lifetime,
and, as his household consisted only of himself, and
an aged and crippled negress, the inference was irresistible
that he "had money." Old Charlie, though
by alias an "Injin," was plainly a dark white man,
about as old as Colonel De Charleu, sunk in the bliss
of deep ignorance, shrewd, deaf, and, by repute at
The Colonel and he always conversed in English.
This rare accomplishment, which the former had
learned from his Scotch wife,—the latter from
upriver traders,—they found an admirable medium of
communication, answering, better than French could, a
similar purpose to that of the stick which we fasten to
the bit of one horse and breast-gear of another,
whereby each keeps his distance. Once in a while, too, by
way of jest, English found its way among the ladies
of Belles Demoiselles, always signifying that their
sire was about to have business with old Charlie.
Now a long-standing wish to buy out Charlie troubled
the Colonel. He had no desire to oust him unfairly;
he was proud of being always fair; yet he did long to
engross the whole estate under one title. Out of his
luxurious idleness he had conceived this desire, and
thought little of so slight an obstacle as being already
somewhat in debt to old Charlie for money borrowed,
and for which Belles Demoiselles was, of course, good,
ten times over. Lots, buildings, rents, all, might as well
be his, he thought, to give, keep, or destroy. "Had
he but the old man's heritage. Ah! he might bring that into existence which his belles demoiselles had
been begging for, 'since many years;' a home,—and
such a home,—in the gay city. Here he should tear
down this row of cottages, and make his garden wall;
there that long rope-walk should give place to
vine-covered arbors; the bakery yonder should make way
for a costly conservatory; that wine warehouse should
come down, and the mansion go up. It should be the
finest in the State. Men should never pass it, but they
should say—'the palace of the De Charleus; a family
of grand descent, a people of elegance and bounty, a
line as old as France, a fine old man, and seven daughters
as beautiful as happy; whoever dare attempt to
marry there must leave his own name behind him!'
"The house should be of stones fitly set, brought
down in ships from the land of 'les Yankees,' and it
should have an airy belvedere, with a gilded image
tip-toeing and shining on its peak, and from it you should
see, far across the gleaming folds of the river, the red
roof of Belles Demoiselles, the country-seat. At the
big stone gate there should be a porter's lodge, and it
should be a privilege even to see the ground."
Truly they were a family fine enough, and fancy-free
enough to have fine wishes, yet happy enough
where they were, to have had no wish but to live there
To those, who, by whatever fortune, wandered into
the garden of Belles Demoiselles some summer afternoon
as the sky was reddening towards evening, it was
lovely to see the family gathered out upon the tiled
pavement at the foot of the broad front steps, gayly chatting and jesting, with that ripple of laughter that
comes so pleasingly from a bevy of girls. The father
would be found seated in their midst, the centre of
attention and compliment, witness, arbiter, umpire,
critic, by his beautiful children's unanimous appointment,
but the single vassal, too, of seven absolute
Now they would draw their chairs near together in
eager discussion of some new step in the dance, or the
adjustment of some rich adornment. Now they would
start about him with excited comments to see the
eldest fix a bunch of violets in his button-hole. Now
the twins would move down a walk after some unusual
flower, and be greeted on their return with the high
pitched notes of delighted feminine surprise.
As evening came on they would draw more quietly
about their paternal centre. Often their chairs were
forsaken, and they grouped themselves on the lower
steps, one above another, and surrendered themselves
to the tender influences of the approaching night. At
such an hour the passer on the river, already attracted
by the dark figures of the broad-roofed mansion, and
its woody garden standing against the glowing sunset,
would hear the voices of the hidden group rise from
the spot in the soft harmonies of an evening song;
swelling clearer and clearer as the thrill of music
warmed them into feeling, and presently joined by the
deeper tones of the father's voice; then, as the daylight
passed quite away, all would be still, and he
would know that the beautiful home had gathered its
nestlings under its wings.
And yet, for mere vagary, it pleased them not to be
"Arti!" called one sister to another in the broad
hall, one morning,—mock amazement in her distended
eyes,—"something is goin' to took place!"
"Papa is goin' to town!"
The news passed up stairs.
"Inno!"—one to another meeting in a doorway,—"something is goin' to took place!"
"Qu'est-ce-que c'est!"—vain attempt at gruffness.
"Papa is goin' to town!"
The unusual tidings were true. It was afternoon of
the same day that the Colonel tossed his horse's bridle
to his groom, and stepped up to old Charlie, who was
sitting on his bench under a China-tree, his head,
as was his fashion, bound in a Madras handkerchief.
The "old man" was plainly under the effect of spirits,
and smiled a deferential salutation without trusting
himself to his feet.
"Eh, well Charlie!"—the Colonel raised his voice
to suit his kinsman's deafness,—"how is those times
with my friend Charlie?"
"Eh?" said Charlie, distractedly.
"Is that goin' well with my friend Charlie?"
"In de house,—call her,"—making a pretence of
"Non, non! I don't want,"—the speaker paused
to breathe—"ow is collection?"
"Oh!" said Charlie, "every day he make me more
"What do you hask for it?" asked the planter
indifferently, designating the house by a wave of his
"Ask for w'at?" said Injin Charlie.
"De house! What you ask for it?"
"I don't believe," said Charlie.
"What you would take for it!" cried the planter.
"Wait for w'at?"
"What you would take for the whole block?"
"I don't want to sell him!"
"I'll give you ten thousand dollah for it."
"Ten t'ousand dollah for dis house? Oh, no, dat is
no price. He is blame good old house,—dat old
house." (Old Charlie and the Colonel never swore in
presence of each other.) "Forty years dat old house
didn't had to be paint! I easy can get fifty t'ousand
dollah for dat old house."
"Fifty thousand picayunes; yes," said the Colonel.
"She's a good house. Can make plenty money,"
pursued the deaf man.
"That's what make you so rich, eh, Charlie?"
"Non, I don't make nothing. Too blame clever,
me, dat's de troub'. She's a good house,—make
money fast like a steamboat,—make a barrel full in a
week! Me, I lose money all de days. Too blame
"Tell me what you'll take."
"Make? I don't make nothing. Too blame
"What will you take?"
"Oh! I got enough already,—half drunk now."
"What will you take for the 'ouse?"
"You want to buy her?"
"I don't know,"—(shrug),—"maybe,—if you
sell it cheap."
"She's a bully old house."
There was a long silence. By and by old Charlie
"Old Injin Charlie is a low-down dog."
"C'est vrai, oui!" retorted the Colonel in an
"He's got Injin blood in him."
The Colonel nodded assent.
"But he's got some blame good blood, too, ain't
The Colonel nodded impatiently.
"Bien! Old Charlie's Injin blood says, 'sell de
house, Charlie, you blame old fool!' Mais, old
Charlie's good blood says, 'Charlie! if you sell dat old
house, Charlie, you low-down old dog, Charlie, what
de Compte De Charleu make for you grace-gran'-muzzer,
de dev' can eat you, Charlie, I don't care.' "
"But you'll sell it anyhow, won't you, old man?"
"No!" And the no rumbled off in muttered oaths
like thunder out on the Gulf. The incensed old
Colonel wheeled and started off.
"Curl!" (Colonel) said Charlie, standing up
The planter turned with an inquiring frown.
"I'll trade with you!" said Charlie.
The Colonel was tempted. " 'Ow'l you trade?"
"My house for yours!"
The old Colonel turned pale with anger. He walked
very quickly back, and came close up to his kinsman.
"Charlie!" he said.
"Injin Charlie,"—with a tipsy nod.
But by this time self-control was returning. "Sell
Belles Demoiselles to you?" he said in a high key,
and then laughed "Ho, ho, ho!" and rode away.
A cloud, but not a dark one, overshadowed the
spirits of Belles Demoiselles' plantation. The old
master, whose beaming presence had always made him
a shining Saturn, spinning and sparkling within the
bright circle of his daughters, fell into musing fits,
started out of frowning reveries, walked often by
himself, and heard business from his overseer fretfully.
No wonder. The daughters knew his closeness in
trade, and attributed to it his failure to negotiate for
the Old Charlie buildings,—so to call them. They
began to depreciate Belles Demoiselles. If a north
wind blew, it was too cold to ride. If a shower had
fallen, it was too muddy to drive. In the morning the
garden was wet. In the evening the grasshopper was
a burden. Ennui was turned into capital; every
headache was interpreted a premonition of ague; and
when the native exuberance of a flock of ladies without
a want or a care burst out in laughter in the
father's face, they spread their French eyes, rolled up
their little hands, and with rigid wrists and mock
vehemence vowed and vowed again that they only laughed
at their misery, and should pine to death unless they
could move to the sweet city. "Oh! the theatre!
Oh! Orleans Street! Oh! the masquerade! the
Place d'Armes! the ball!" and they would call upon
Heaven with French irreverence, and fall into each
other's arms, and whirl down the hall singing a waltz,
end with a grand collision and fall, and, their eyes
streaming merriment, lay the blame on the slippery
floor, that would some day be the death of the whole
Three times more the fond father, thus goaded,
managed, by accident,—business accident,—to see
old Charlie and increase his offer; but in vain. He
finally went to him formally.
"Eh?" said the deaf and distant relative. "For
what you want him, eh? Why you don't stay where
you halways be 'appy? Dis is a blame old rat-hole,—good for old Injin Charlie,—da's all. Why you
don't stay where you be halways 'appy? Why you don't
buy somewheres else?"
"That's none of your business," snapped the
planter. Truth was, his reasons were unsatisfactory
even to himself.
A sullen silence followed. Then Charlie spoke:
"Well, now, look here; I sell you old Charlie's
"Bien! and the whole block," said the Colonel.
"Hold on," said Charlie. "I sell you de 'ouse
and de block. Den I go and git drunk, and go to
sleep; de dev' comes along and says, 'Charlie! old Charlie, you blame low-down old dog, wake up! What
you doin' here? Where's de 'ouse what Monsieur le
Compte give your grace-gran-muzzer? Don't you see
dat fine gentyman, De Charleu, done gone and tore
him down and make him over new, you blame old fool,
Charlie, you low-down old Injin dog!' "
"I'll give you forty thousand dollars," said the
"For de 'ouse?"
The deaf man shook his head.
"Forty-five!" said the Colonel.
"What a lie? For what you tell me 'What a lie?'
I don't tell you no lie."
"Non, non! I give you forty-five!" shouted the
Charlie shook his head again.
He shook it again.
The figures rose and rose to—
The answer was an invitation to go away and let the
owner alone, as he was, in certain specified respects,
the vilest of living creatures, and no company for a
The "fine gentyman" longed to blaspheme,—but
before old Charlie!—in the name of pride, how could
he? He mounted and started away.
"Tell you what I'll make wid you," said Charlie.
The other, guessing aright, turned back without
"How much Belles Demoiselles hoes me now?"
asked the deaf one.
"One hundred and eighty thousand dollars," said
the Colonel, firmly.
"Yass," said Charlie. "I don't want Belles
The old Colonel's quiet laugh intimated it made no
difference either way.
"But me," continued Charlie, "me,—I'm got le
Compte De Charleu's blood in me, any'ow,—a litt'
bit, any'ow, ain't it?"
The Colonel nodded that it was.
"Bien! If I go out of dis place and don't go to
Belles Demoiselles, de peoples will say,—dey will
say, 'Old Charlie he been all doze time tell a blame
lie! He ain't no kin to his old grace-gran-muzzer,
not a blame bit! He don't got nary drop of De
Charleu blood to save his blame low-down old Injin
soul!' No, sare! What I want wid money, den?
No, sare! My place for yours!"
He turned to go into the house, just too soon to see
the Colonel make an ugly whisk at him with his
riding-whip. Then the Colonel, too, moved off.
Two or three times over, as he ambled homeward,
laughter broke through his annoyance, as he recalled
old Charlie's family pride and the presumption of his
offer. Yet each time he could but think better of—not the offer to swap, but the preposterous ancestral
loyalty. It was so much better than he could have
expected from his "low-down" relative, and not unlike
his own whim withal—the proposition which went
with it was forgiven.
This last defeat bore so harshly on the master of
Belles Demoiselles, that the daughters, reading chagrin
in his face, began to repent. They loved their father
as daughters can, and when they saw their pretended
dejection harassing him seriously they restrained their
complaints, displayed more than ordinary tenderness,
and heroically and ostentatiously concluded there was
no place like Belles Demoiselles. But the new mood
touched him more than the old, and only refined his
discontent. Here was a man, rich without the care of
riches, free from any real trouble, happiness as native
to his house as perfume to his garden, deliberately, as
it were with premeditated malice, taking joy by the
shoulder and bidding her be gone to town, whither he
might easily have followed, only that the very same
ancestral nonsense that kept Injin Charlie from selling
the old place for twice its value prevented him from
choosing any other spot for a city home.
But by and by the charm of nature and the merry
hearts around him prevailed; the fit of exalted sulks
passed off, and after a while the year flared up at
Christmas, flickered, and went out.
New Year came and passed; the beautiful garden of
Belles Demoiselles put on its spring attire; the seven
fair sisters moved from rose to rose; the cloud of
discontent had warmed into invisible vapor in the rich
sunlight of family affection, and on the common memory
the only scar of last year's wound was old Charlie's
sheer impertinence in crossing the caprice of the De
Charleus. The cup of gladness seemed to fill with the
filling of the river.
How high that river was! Its tremendous current
rolled and tumbled and spun along, hustling the long
funeral flotillas of drift,—and how near shore it
came! Men were out day and night, watching the
levee. On windy nights even the old Colonel took
part, and grew light-hearted with occupation and
excitement, as every minute the river threw a white arm
over the levee's top, as though it would vault over.
But all held fast, and, as the summer drifted in, the
water sunk down into its banks and looked quite
incapable of harm.
On a summer afternoon of uncommon mildness, old
Colonel Jean Albert Henri Joseph De Charleu-Marot,
being in a mood for revery, slipped the custody of his
feminine rulers and sought the crown of the levee,
where it was his wont to promenade. Presently he
sat upon a stone bench,—a favorite seat. Before
him lay his broad-spread fields; near by, his lordly
mansion; and being still,—perhaps by female contact,—somewhat sentimental, he fell to musing on his
past. It was hardly worthy to be proud of. All its
morning was reddened with mad frolic, and far toward
the meridian it was marred with elegant rioting. Pride
had kept him well-nigh useless, and despised the
honors won by valor; gaming had dimmed prosperity;
death had taken his heavenly wife; voluptuous ease
had mortgaged his lands; and yet his house still stood,
his sweet-smelling fields were still fruitful, his name
was fame enough; and yonder and yonder, among the
trees and flowers, like angels walking in Eden, were
the seven goddesses of his only worship.
Just then a slight sound behind him brought him to
his feet. He cast his eyes anxiously to the outer edge
of the little strip of bank between the levee's base and
the river. There was nothing visible. He paused,
with his ear toward the water, his face full of frightened
expectation. Ha! There came a single plashing
sound, like some great beast slipping into the river,
and little waves in a wide semi-circle came out from
under the bank and spread over the water!
He plunged down the levee and bounded through
the low weeds to the edge of the bank. It was sheer,
and the water about four feet below. He did not
stand quite on the edge, but fell upon his knees a
couple of yards away, wringing his hands, moaning
and weeping, and staring through his watery eyes at a
fine, long crevice just discernible under the matted
grass, and curving outward on either hand toward the
"My God!" he sobbed aloud; "my God!" and
even while he called, his God answered: the tough
Bermuda grass stretched and snapped, the crevice
slowly became a gape, and softly, gradually, with no
sound but the closing of the water at last, a ton or
more of earth settled into the boiling eddy and
At the same instant a pulse of the breeze brought
from the garden behind, the joyous, thoughtless
laughter of the fair mistresses of Belles Demoiselles.
The old Colonel sprang up and clambered over the
levee. Then forcing himself to a more composed movement, he hastened into the house and ordered his
Tell my children to make merry while I am gone,"
he left word. "I shall be back to-night," and the
horse's hoofs clattered down a by-road leading to the
"Charlie," said the planter, riding up to a window,
from which the old man's nightcap was thrust out,
"what you say, Charlie,—my house for yours, eh,
Charlie—what you say?"
"Ello!" said Charlie; "from where you come from
dis time of to-night?"
"I come from the Exchange in St. Louis Street."
(A small fraction of the truth.)
"What you want?" said matter-of-fact Charlie.
"I come to trade."
The low-down relative drew the worsted off his ears.
"Oh! yass," he said with an uncertain air.
"Well, old man Charlie, what you say: my house
for yours,—like you said,—eh, Charlie?"
"I dunno," said Charlie; "it's nearly mine now.
Why you don't stay dare youse'f?"
"Because I don't want!" said the Colonel savagely.
"Is dat reason enough for you? You better take me
in de notion, old man, I tell you,—yes!"
Charlie never winced; but how his answer delighted
the Colonel! Quoth Charlie:
"I don't care —I take him—mais, possession
give right off."
"Not the whole plantation, Charlie; only"—
"I don't care," said Charlie; "we easy can fix dat. Mais, what for you don't want to keep him? I don't
want him. You better keep him."
"Don't you try to make no fool of me, old man,"
cried the planter.
"Oh, no!" said the other. "Oh, no! but you
make a fool of yourself, ain't it?"
The dumbfounded Colonel stared; Charlie went on:
"Yass! Belles Demoiselles is more wort' dan tree
block like dis one. I pass by dare since two weeks.
Oh, pritty Belles Demoiselles! De cane was wave in
de wind, de garden smell like a bouquet, de white-cap
was jump up and down on de river; seven belles
demoiselles was ridin' on horses. 'Pritty, pritty,
pritty!' says old Charlie. Ah! Monsieur le père, 'ow
'appy, 'appy, 'appy!"
"Yass!" he continued—the Colonel still staring—"le Compte De Charleu have two familie. One
was low-down Choctaw, one was high up noblesse.
He gave the low-down Choctaw dis old rat-hole; he
give Belles Demoiselles to you gran-fozzer; and now
you don't be satisfait. What I'll do wid Belles
Demoiselles? She'll break me in two years, yass. And
what you'll do wid old Charlie's house, eh? You'll
tear her down and make you'se'f a blame old fool. I
rather wouldn't trade!"
The planter caught a big breathful of anger, but
Charlie went straight on:
"I rather wouldn't, mais I will do it for you;—just the same, like Monsieur le Compte would say,
'Charlie, you old fool, I want to shange houses wid
So long as the Colonel suspected irony he was angry,
but as Charlie seemed, after all, to be certainly in
earnest, he began to feel conscience-stricken. He was
by no means a tender man, but his lately-discovered
misfortune had unhinged him, and this strange,
undeserved, disinterested family fealty on the part of
Charlie touched his heart. And should he still try to
lead him into the pitfall he had dug? He hesitated;—no, he would show him the place by broad daylight,
and if he chose to overlook the "caving bank," it
would be his own fault;—a trade's a trade.
"Come," said the planter, "come at my house tonight;
to-morrow we look at the place before breakfast,
and finish the trade."
"For what?" said Charlie.
"Oh, because I got to come in town in the
"I don't want," said Charlie. "How I'm goin' to
"I git you a horse at the liberty stable."
"Well—anyhow—I don't care—I'll go." And
When they had ridden a long time, and were on the
road darkened by hedges of Cherokee rose, the Colonel
called behind him to the "low-down" scion:
"Keep the road, old man."
"Keep the road."
"Oh, yes; all right; I keep my word; we don't goin'
to play no tricks, eh?"
But the Colonel seemed not to hear. His ungenerous design was beginning to be hateful to him. Not
only old Charlie's unprovoked goodness was prevailing;
the eulogy on Belles Demoiselles had stirred the
depths of an intense love for his beautiful home. True,
if he held to it, the caving of the bank, at its present
fearful speed, would let the house into the river within
three months; but were it not better to lose it so, than
sell his birthright? Again,—coming back to the first
thought,—to betray his own blood! It was only Injin
Charlie; but had not the De Charleu blood just spoken
out in him? Unconsciously he groaned.
After a time they struck a path approaching the
plantation in the rear, and a little after, passing from
behind a clump of live-oaks, they came in sight of the
villa. It looked so like a gem, shining through its
dark grove, so like a great glow-worm in the dense
foliage, so significant of luxury and gayety, that the
poor master, from an overflowing heart, groaned again.
"What?" asked Charlie.
The Colonel only drew his rein, and, dismounting
mechanically, contemplated the sight before him. The
high, arched doors and windows were thrown wide to
the summer air; from every opening the bright light
of numerous candelabra darted out upon the sparkling
foliage of magnolia and bay, and here and there in
the spacious verandas a colored lantern swayed in the
gentle breeze. A sound of revel fell on the ear, the
music of harps; and across one window, brighter
than the rest, flitted, once or twice, the shadows of
dancers. But oh! the shadows flitting across the
heart of the fair mansion's master!
"Old Charlie," said he, gazing fondly at his house,
"You and me is both old, eh?"
"Yaas," said the stolid Charlie.
"And we has both been bad enough in our time,
Charlie, surprised at the tender tone, repeated
"And you and me is mighty close?"
"Blame close, yaas."
"But you never know me to cheat, old man!"
"And do you think I would cheat you now?"
"I dunno," said Charlie. "I don't believe."
"Well, old man, old man,"—his voice began to
quiver,—"I sha'n't cheat you now. My God!—old man, I tell you—you better not make the
"Because for what?" asked Charlie in plain anger;
but both looked quickly toward the house! The
Colonel tossed his hands wildly in the air, rushed
forward a step or two, and giving one fearful scream of
agony and fright, fell forward on his face in the
path. Old Charlie stood transfixed with horror. Belles
Demoiselles, the realm of maiden beauty, the home of
merriment, the house of dancing, all in the tremor
and glow of pleasure, suddenly sunk, with one short,
wild wail of terror—sunk, sunk, down, down, down,
into the merciless, unfathomable flood of the
Twelve long months were midnight to the mind of
the childless father; when they were only half gone, he took his bed; and every day, and every night, old
Charlie, the "low-down," the "fool," watched him
tenderly, tended him lovingly, for the sake of his
name, his misfortunes, and his broken heart. No
woman's step crossed the floor of the sick-chamber,
whose western dormer-windows overpeered the dingy
architecture of old Charlie's block; Charlie and a
skilled physician, the one all interest, the other all
gentleness, hope, and patience—these only entered
by the door; but by the window came in a sweet-scented
evergreen vine, transplanted from the caving
bank of Belles Demoiselles. It caught the rays of
sunset in its flowery net and let then softly in upon
the sick man's bed; gathered the glancing beams of
the moon at midnight, and often wakened the sleeper
to look, with his mindless eyes, upon their pretty silver
fragments strewn upon the floor.
By and by there seemed—there was—a twinkling
dawn of returning reason. Slowly, peacefully, with
an increase unseen from day to day, the light of
reason came into the eyes, and speech became
coherent; but withal there came a failing of the wrecked
body, and the doctor said that monsieur was both
better and worse.
One evening, as Charlie sat by the vine-clad window
with his fireless pipe in his hand, the old Colonel's
eyes fell full upon his own, and rested there.
"Charl— ," he said with an effort, and his delighted
nurse hastened to the bedside and bowed his best ear.
There was an unsuccessful effort or two, and then he
whispered, smiling with sweet sadness,—
"We didn't trade."
The truth, in this case, was a secondary matter
to Charlie; the main point was to give a pleasing
answer. So he nodded his head decidedly, as
who should say—"Oh yes, we did, it was a bonafide
swap!" but when he saw the smile vanish, he
tried the other expedient and shook his head with
still more vigor, to signify that they had not so
much as approached a bargain; and the smile
Charlie wanted to see the vine recognized. He
stepped backward to the window with a broad smile,
shook the foliage, nodded and looked smart.
"I know," said the Colonel, with beaming eyes,
The next day—
The best ear went down.
"Send for a priest."
The priest came, and was alone with him a whole
afternoon. When he left, the patient was very haggard
and exhausted, but smiled and would not suffer
the crucifix to be removed from his breast.
One more morning came. Just before dawn Charlie,
lying on a pallet in the room, thought he was
called, and came to the bedside.
"Old man," whispered the failing invalid, "is it
"It won't pay you out."
"Oh, dat makes not'ing," said Charlie. Two big
tears rolled down his brown face. "Dat makes
The Colonel whispered once more:
"Mes belles demoiselles! in paradise;—in the garden—I shall be with them at sunrise;" and so it