KRISTIAN KOPPIG was a rosy-faced, beardless young Dutchman. He was one of that army of gentlemen who, after the purchase of Louisiana, swarmed from all parts of the commercial world, over the mountains of Franco-Spanish exclusiveness, like the Goths over the Pyrenees, and settled down in New Orleans to pick up their fortunes, with the diligence of hungry pigeons. He may have been a German; the distinction was too fine for Creole haste and disrelish.
He made his home in a room with one dormer window looking out, and somewhat down, upon a building opposite, which still stands, flush with the street, a century old. Its big, round-arched windows in a long, second-story row, are walled up, and two or three from time to time have had smaller windows let into them again, with odd little latticed peep-holes in their batten shutters. This had already been done when Kristian Koppig first began to look at them from his solitary dormer window.
All the features of the building lead me to guess that it is a remnant of the old Spanish Barracks, whose extensive structure fell by government sale into private hands a long time ago. At the end toward the swamp a great, oriental-looking passage is left, with an arched entrance, and a pair of ponderous wooden doors. You look at it, and almost see Count O'Reilly's artillery come bumping and trundling out, and dash around into the ancient Plaza to bang away at King St. Charles's birthday.
I do not know who lives there now. You might stand about on the opposite banquette for weeks and never find out. I suppose it is a residence, for it does not look like one. That is the rule in that region.
In the good old times of duels, and bagatelle-clubs, and theatre-balls, and Cayetano's circus, Kristian Koppig rooming as described, there lived in the portion of this house, partly overhanging the archway, a palish handsome woman, by the name - or going by the name - of Madame John. You would hardly have thought of her being "colored." Though fading, she was still of very attractive countenance, fine, rather severe features, nearly straight hair carefully kept, and that vivid black eye so peculiar to her kind. Her smile, which came and went with her talk, was sweet and exceedingly intelligent; and something told you, as you looked at her, that she was one who had had to learn a great deal in this troublesome life.
"But!" - the Creole lads in the street would say - " - her daughter!" and there would be lifting of arms, wringing of fingers, rolling of eyes, rounding of mouths, gaspings and clasping of hands. "So beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! White? - white like a water lily! White - like a magnolia!"
Applause would follow, and invocation of all the saints to witness.
And she could sing.
"Sing?" (disdainfully) - "if a mocking-bird can sing! Ha!"
They could not tell just how old she was; they "would give her about seventeen."
Mother and daughter were very fond. The neighbors could hear them call each other pet names, and see them sitting together, sewing, talking happily to each other in the unceasing French way, and see them go out and come in together on their little tasks and errands. " 'Tite Poulette," the daughter was called; she never went out alone.
And who was this Madame John?
"Why, you know! - she was" - said the wigmaker at the corner to Kristian Koppig - "I'll tell you. You know? - she was" - and the rest atomized off in a rasping whisper. She was the best yellow-fever nurse in a thousand yards round; but that is not what the wig-maker said.
A block nearer the river stands a house altogether different from the remnant of old barracks. It is of frame, with a deep front gallery over which the roof extends. It has become a den of Italians, who sell fuel by daylight, and by night are up to no telling what extent of deviltry. This was once the home of a gay gentleman, whose first name happened to be John. He was a member of the Good Children Social Club. As his parents lived with him, his wife would, according to custom, have been called Madame John; but he had no wife. His father died, then his mother; last of all, himself. As he is about to be off, in comes Madame John, with 'Tite Poulette, then an infant, on her arm.
"Zalli," said he, "I am going."
She bowed her head, and wept.
"You have been very faithful to me, Zalli."
She wept on.
"Nobody to take care of you now, Zalli."
Zalli only went on weeping.
"I want to give you this house, Zalli; it is for you and the little one."
An hour after, amid the sobs of Madame John, she and the "little one" inherited the house, such as it was. With the fatal caution which characterizes ignorance, she sold the property and placed the proceeds in a bank, which made haste to fail. She put on widow's weeds, and wore them still when 'Tite Poulette "had seventeen," as the frantic lads would say.
How they did chatter over her. Quiet Kristian Koppig had never seen the like. He wrote to his mother, and told her so. A pretty fellow at the corner would suddenly double himself up with beckoning to a knot of chums; these would hasten up; recruits would come in from two or three other directions; as they reached the corner their countenances would quickly assume a genteel severity, and presently, with her mother, �Tite Poulette would pass - tall, straight, lithe, her great black eyes made tender by their sweeping lashes, the faintest tint of color in her Southern cheek, her form all grace, her carriage a wonder of simple dignity.
The instant she was gone every tongue was let slip on the marvel of her beauty; but, though theirs were only the loose New Orleans morals of over fifty years age, their unleashed tongues never had attempted any greater liberty than to take up the pet name, 'Tite Poulette. And yet the mother was soon to be, as we shall discover, a paid dancer at the Salle de Condé.
To Zalli, of course, as to all "quadroon ladies," the festivities of the Conde-street ball-room were familiar of old. There, in the happy days when dear Monsieur John was young, and the eighteenth century old, she had often repaired under guard of her mother - dead now, alas! - and Monsieur John would slip away from the dull play and dry society of Théâtre d'Orléans, and come around with his crowd of elegant friends; and through the long sweet hours of the ball she had danced, and laughed, and coquetted under her satin mask, even to the baffling and tormenting of that prince of gentlemen, dear Monsieur John himself. No man of questionable blood dare set his foot within the door. Many noble gentlemen were pleased to dance with her. Colonel De -- and General La -- : city councilmen and officers from the Government House. There were no paid dancers then. Every thing was decorously conducted indeed! Every girl's mother was there, and the more discreet always left before there was too much drinking. Yes, it was gay, gay! - but sometimes dangerous. Ha! more times than a few had Monsieur John knocked down some long-haired and long-knifed rowdy, and kicked the breath out of him for looking saucily at her; but that was like him, he was so brave and kind; - and he is gone!
There was no room for widow's weeds there. So when she put these on, her glittering eyes never again looked through her pink and white mask, and she was glad of it; for never, never in her life had they so looked for anybody but her dear Monsieur John, and now he was in heaven - so the priest said - and she was a sick-nurse.
Living was hard work; and, as Madame John had been brought up tenderly, and had done what she could to rear her daughter in the same mistaken way, with, of course, no more education than the ladies in society got, they knew nothing beyond a little music and embroidery. They struggled as they could, faintly; now giving a few private dancing lessons, now dressing hair, but ever beat back by the steady detestation of their imperious patronesses; and, by and by, for want of that priceless worldly grace known among the flippant as "money-sense," these two poor children, born of misfortune and the complacent badness of the times, began to be in want.
Kristian Koppig noticed from his dormer window one day a man standing at the big archway opposite, and clanking the brass knocker on the wicket that was in one of the doors. He was a smooth man, with his hair parted in the middle, and his cigarette poised on a tiny gold holder. He waited a moment, politely cursed the dust, knocked again, threw his slender sword-cane under his arm, and wiped the inside of his hat with his handkerchief.
Madame John held a parley with him at the wicket. 'Tite Poulette was nowhere seen. He stood at the gate while Madame John went up-stairs. Kristian Koppig knew him. He knew him as one knows a snake. He was the manager of the Salle de Condé. Presently Madame John returned with a little bundle, and they hurried off together.
And now what did this mean? Why, by any one of ordinary acuteness the matter was easily understood, but, to tell the truth, Kristian Koppig was a trifle dull, and got the idea at once that some damage was being planned against 'Tite Poulette. It made the gentle Dutchman miserable not to be minding his own business, and yet -
"But the woman certainly will not attempt" - said he to himself - "no, no ! she cannot." Not being able to guess what he meant, I cannot say whether she could or not. I know that next day Kristian Koppig, glancing eagerly over the "Ami des Lois," read an advertisement which he had always before skipped with a frown. It was headed, "Salle de Condé," and, being interpreted, signified that a new dance was to be introduced, the Danse de Chinois, and that a young lady would follow it with the famous "Danse du Shawl."
It was the Sabbath. The young man watched the opposite window steadily and painfully from early in the afternoon until the moon shone bright; and from the time the moon shone bright until Madame John! - joy! - Madame John! and not 'Tite Poulette, stepped through the wicket, much dressed and well muffled, and hurried off toward the Rue Condé. Madame John was the "young lady;" and the young man's mind, glad to return to its own unimpassioned affairs, relapsed into quietude.
Madame John danced beautifully. It had to be done. It brought some pay, and pay was bread; and every Sunday evening, with a touch here and there of paint and powder, the mother danced the dance of the shawl, the daughter remaining at home alone.
Kristian Koppig, simple, slow-thinking young Dutchman, never noticing that he staid at home with his window darkened for the very purpose, would see her come to her window and look out with a little wild, alarmed look in her magnificent eyes, and go and come again, and again, until the mother, like a storm-driven bird, came panting home.
Two or three months went by.
One night, on the mother's return, Kristian Koppig coming to his room nearly at the same moment, there was much earnest conversation, which he could see, but not hear.
" 'Tite Poulette," said Madame John, "you are seventeen."
"Ah! my child, I see not how you are to meet the future." The voice trembled plaintively.
"But how, Maman?"
"Ah! you are not like others; no fortune, no pleasure, no friend."
"No, no; - I thank God for it; I am glad you are not; but you will be lonely, lonely, all your poor life long. There is not place in this world for us poor women. I wish that we were either white or black!" - and the tears, two "shining ones," stood in the poor quadroon's eyes.
The daughter stood up, her eyes flashing.
"God made us, Maman," she said with a gentle, but stately smile.
"Ha!" said the mother, her keen glance darting through her tears, "Sin made me, yes."
"No," said 'Tite Poulette, "God made us. He made us just as we are; not more white, not more black."
"He made you, truly!" said Zalli. "You are so beautiful; I believe it well." She reached and drew the fair form to a kneeling posture. "My sweet, white daughter!"
Now the tears were in the girl's eyes. "And could I be whiter than I am?" she asked.
"Oh, no, no! 'Tite Poulette," cried the other; "but if we were only real white! - both of us; so that some gentleman might come to see me and say 'Madame John, I want your pretty little chick. She is so beautiful. I want to take her home. She is so good - I want her to be my wife.' Oh, my child, my child, to see that I would give my life - I would give my soul! Only you should take me along to be your servant. I walked behind two young men to-night; they were coming home from their office; presently they began to talk about you."
'Tite Poulette's eyes flashed fire.
"No, my child, they spoke only the best things. One laughed a little at times and kept saying 'Beware!' but the other - I prayed the Virgin to bless him, he spoke such kind and noble words. Such gentle pity; such a holy heart! 'May God defend her,' he said, cherie; he said, 'May God defend her, for I see no help for her.' The other one laughed and left him. He stopped in the door right across the street. Ah, my child, do you blush? Is that something to bring the rose to your cheek? Many fine gentlemen at the ball ask me often, 'How is your daughter, Madame John?' "
The daughter's face was thrown into the mother's lap, not so well satisfied, now, with God's handiwork. Ah, how she wept! Sob, sob, sob; gasps and sighs and stifled ejaculations, her small right hand clinched and beating on her mother's knee; and the mother weeping over her.
Kristian Koppig shut his window. Nothing but a generous heart and a Dutchman's phlegm could have done so at that moment. And even thou, Kristian Koppig! - for the window closed very slowly.
He wrote to his mother, thus:
"In this wicked city, I see none so fair as the poor girl who lives opposite me, and who, alas! though so fair, is one of those whom the taint of caste has cursed. She lives a lonely, innocent life in the midst of corruption, like the lilies I find here in the marshes, and I have great pity for her. 'God defend her,' I said to-night to a fellow clerk, 'I see no help for her.' I know there is a natural, and I think proper, horror of mixed blood (excuse the mention, sweet mother), and I feel it, too; and yet if she were in Holland today, not one of a hundred suitors would detect the hidden blemish."
In such strain this young man wrote on trying to demonstrate the utter impossibility of his ever loving the lovable unfortunate, until the midnight tolling of the cathedral clock sent him to bed.
About the same hour Zalli and 'Tite Poulette were kissing good-night.
" 'Tite Poulette, I want you to promise me one thing."
"If any gentleman should ever love you and ask you to marry, - not knowing, you know, - promise me you will not tell him you are not white."
"It can never be," said 'Tite Poulette.
"But if it should," said Madame John pleadingly.
"And break the law?" asked 'Tite Poulette, impatiently.
"But the law is unjust," said the mother.
"But it is the law!"
"But you will not, dearie, will you?"
"I would surely tell him!" said the daughter.
When Zalli, for some cause, went next morning to the window, she started.
" 'Tite Poulette!" - she called softly without moving. The daughter came. The young man, whose idea of propriety had actuated him to this display, was sitting in the dormer window, reading. Mother and daughter bent a steady gaze at each other. It meant in French, "If he saw us last night!" -
"Ah! dear," said the mother, her face beaming with fun -
"What can it be, Maman?"
"He speaks - oh! ha, ha! - he speaks - such miserable French!"
It came to pass one morning at early dawn that Zalli and 'Tite Poulette, going to mass, passed a café, just as - who should be coming out but Monsieur, the manager of the Salle de Condé. He had not yet gone to bed. Monsieur was astonished. He had a Frenchman's eye for the beautiful, and certainly there the beautiful was. He had heard of Madame John's daughter, and had hoped once to see her, but did not; but could this be she?
They disappeared within the cathedral. A sudden pang of piety moved him; he followed. 'Tite Poulette was already kneeling in the aisle. Zalli, still in the vestibule, was just taking her hand from the font of holy-water.
"Madame John?" whispered the manager.
"Madame John, that young lady - is she your daughter?"
"She - she - is my daughter," said Zalli, with somewhat of alarm in her face, which the manager misinterpreted.
"I think not, Madame John." He shook his head, smiling as one too wise to be fooled.
"Yes, Monsieur, she is my daughter."
"O no, Madame John, it is only make-believe, I think."
"I swear she is, Monsieur de la Rue."
"Is that possible?" pretending to waver, but convinced in his heart of hearts, by Zalli's alarm, that she was lying. "But how? Why does she not come to our ball-room with you?"
Zalli, trying to get away from him, shrugged and smiled. "Each to his taste, Monsieur; it pleases her not."
She was escaping, but he followed one step more. "I shall come to see you, Madame John."
She whirled and attacked him with her eyes. "Monsieur must not give himself the trouble!" she said, the eyes at the same time adding, "Dare to come!" She turned again, and knelt to her devotions. The manager dipped in the font, crossed himself, and departed.
Several weeks went by, and M. de la Rue had not accepted the fierce challenge of Madame John's eyes. One or two Sunday nights she had succeeded in avoiding him, though fulfilling her engagement in the Salle; but by and by pay-day, - a Saturday, - came round, and though the pay was ready, she was loath to go up to Monsieur's little office.
It was an afternoon in May. Madame John came to her own room, and, with a sigh, sank into a chair. Her eyes were wet.
"Did you go to his office, dear mother?" asked 'Tite Poulette.
"I could not," she answered, dropping her face in her hands.
"Maman, he has seen me at the window!"
"While I was gone? " cried the mother.
"He passed on the other side of the street. He looked up purposely, and saw me." The speaker's cheeks were burning red.
Zalli wrung her hands.
"It is nothing, mother; do not go near him."
"But the pay, my child."
"The pay matters not."
"But he will bring it here; he wants the chance."
That was the trouble, sure enough.
About this time Kristian Koppig lost his position in the German importing house where, he had fondly told his mother, he was indispensable.
"Summer was coming on," the senior said, "and you see our young men are almost idle. Yes, our engagement was for a year, but ah - we could not foresee" - etc., etc., "besides" (attempting a parting flattery), "your father is a rich gentleman, and you can afford to take the summer easy. If we can ever be of any service to you," etc., etc.
So the young Dutchman spent the afternoons at his dormer window reading and glancing down at the little casement opposite, where a small, rude shelf had lately been put out, holding a row of cigar-boxes with wretched little botanical specimens in them trying to die. 'Tite Poulette was their gardener; and it was odd to see, - dry weather or wet, - how many waterings per day those plants could take. She never looked up from her task; but I know she performed it with that unacknowledged pleasure which all girls love and deny, that of being looked upon by noble eyes.
On this peculiar Saturday afternoon in May, Kristian Koppig had been witness of the distressful scene over the way. It occurred to 'Tite Poulette that such might be the case, and she stepped to the casement to shut it. As she did so, the marvellous delicacy of Kristian Koppig moved him to draw in one of his shutters. Both young heads came out at one moment, while at the same instant -
"Rap, rap, rap, rap, rap!"clanked the knocker on the wicket. The black eyes of the maiden and the blue over the way, from looking into each other for the first time in life, glanced down to the arched doorway upon Monsieur the manager. Then the black eyes disappeared within, and Kristian Koppig thought again, and re-opening his shutter, stood up at the window prepared to become a bold spectator of what might follow.
But for a moment nothing followed.
"Trouble over there," thought the rosy Dutchman, and waited. The manager waited too, rubbing his hat and brushing his clothes with the tips of his kidded fingers.
"They do not wish to see him," slowly concluded the spectator.
"Rap, rap, rap, rap, rap!" quoth the knocker, and M. de la Rue looked up around at the windows opposite and noticed the handsome young Dutchman looking at him.
"Dutch!" said the manager softly, between his teeth.
"He is staring at me," said Kristian Koppig to himself; - "but then I am staring at him, which accounts for it."
A long pause, and then another long rapping.
"They want him to go away," thought Koppig.
"Knock hard!" suggested a street youngster, standing by.
"Rap, rap" - The manager had no sooner recommenced than several neighbors looked out of doors and windows.
"Very bad," thought our Dutchman; "somebody should make him go off. I wonder what they will do."
The manager stepped into the street, looked up at the closed window, returned to the knocker, and stood with it in his hand.
"They are all gone out, Monsieur," said the street-youngster.
"You lie!" said the cynosure of neighboring eyes.
"Ah!" thought Kristian Koppig; "I will go down and ask him" - Here his thoughts lost outline; he was only convinced that he had somewhat to say to him, and turned to go down stairs. In going he became a little vexed with himself because he could not help hurrying. He noticed, too, that his arm holding the stair-rail trembled in a silly way, whereas he was perfectly calm. Precisely as he reached the streetdoor the manager raised the knocker; but the latch clicked and the wicket was drawn slightly ajar.
Inside could just be descried Madame John. The manager bowed, smiled, talked, talked on, held money in his hand, bowed, smiled, talked on, flourished the money, smiled, bowed, talked on and plainly persisted in some intention to which Madame John was steadfastly opposed.
The window above, too, - it was Kristian Koppig who noticed that, - opened a wee bit, like the shell of a terrapin. Presently the manager lifted his foot and put forward an arm, as though he would enter the gate by pushing, but as quick as gunpowder it clapped - in his face!
You could hear the fleeing feet of Zalli pounding up the staircase.
As the panting mother re-entered her room, "See, Maman," said 'Tite Poulette, peeping at the window, "the young gentleman from over the way has crossed!"
"Holy Mary bless him!" said the mother.
"I will go over," thought Kristian Koppig, "and ask him kindly if he is not making a mistake."
"What are they doing, dear?" asked the mother, with clasped hands.
"They are talking; the young man is tranquil, but 'Sieur de la Rue is very angry," whispered the daughter; and just then - pang! came a sharp, keen sound rattling up the walls on either side of the narrow way, and "Aha!" and laughter and clapping of female hands from two or three windows.
"Oh! what a slap!" cried the girl, half in fright, half in glee, jerking herself back from the casement simultaneously with the report. But the "ahas" and laughter, and clapping of feminine hands, which still continued, came from another cause. 'Tite Poulette�s rapid action had struck the slender cord that held up an end of her hanging garden, and the whole rank of cigar-boxes slid from their place, turned gracefully over as they shot through the air, and emptied themselves plump upon the head of the slapped manager. Breathless, dirty, pale as whitewash, he gasped a threat to be heard from again, and, getting round the corner as quick as he could walk, left Kristian Koppig, standing motionless, the most astonished man in that street.
"Kristian Koppig, Kristian Koppig," said Greatheart to himself, slowly dragging up-stairs, "what a mischief you have done. One poor woman certainly to be robbed of her bitter wages, and another - so lovely! - put to the burning shame of being the subject of a street brawl! What will this silly neighborhood say? 'Has the gentleman a heart as well as a hand?' 'Is it jealousy?' " There he paused, afraid himself to answer the supposed query; and then - "Oh! Kristian Koppig, you have been such a dunce!" "And I cannot apologize to them. Who in this street would carry my note, and not wink and grin over it with low surmises? I cannot even make restitution. Money? They would not dare receive it. Oh! Kristian Koppig, why did you not mind your own business? Is she any thing to you? Do you love her? Of course not! Oh! - such a dunce!"
The reader will eagerly admit that however faulty this young man's course of reasoning, his conclusion was correct. For mark what he did.
He went to his room, which was already growing dark, shut his window, lighted his big Dutch lamp, and sat down to write. "Something must be done," said he aloud, taking up his pen; "I will be calm and cool; I will be distant and brief; but - I shall have to be kind or I may offend. Ah! I shall have to write in French; I forgot that; I write it so poorly, dunce that I am, when all my brothers and sisters speak it so well." He got out his French dictionary. Two hours slipped by. He made a new pen, washed and refilled his inkstand, mended his "abominable!" chair, and after two hours more made another attempt, and another failure. "My head aches," said he, and lay down on his couch, the better to frame his phrases.
He was awakened by the Sabbath sunlight. The bells of the Cathedral and the Ursulines' chapel were ringing for high mass, and a mocking-bird, perching on a chimney-top above Madame John's rooms, was carolling, whistling, mewing, chirping, screaming, and trilling with the ecstasy of a whole May in his throat. "Oh! sleepy Kristian Koppig," was the young man's first thought, " - such a dunce!"
Madame John and daughter did not go to mass. The morning wore away, and their casement remained closed. "They are offended," said Kristian Koppig, leaving the house, and wandering up to the little Protestant affair known as Christ Church.
"No, possibly they are not," he said, returning and finding the shutters thrown back.
By a sad accident, which mortified him extremely, he happened to see, late in the afternoon, - hardly conscious that he was looking across the street, - that Madame John was - dressing. Could it be that she was going to the Salle de Condé? He rushed to his table, and began to write.
He had guessed aright. The wages were too precious to be lost. The manager had written her a note. He begged to assure her that he was a gentleman of the clearest cut. If he had made a mistake the previous afternoon, he was glad no unfortunate result had followed except his having been assaulted by a ruffian; that the Danse du Shawl was promised in his advertisement, and he hoped Madame John (whose wages were in hand waiting for her) would not fail to assist as usual. Lastly, and delicately put, he expressed his conviction that Mademoiselle was wise and discreet in declining to entertain gentlemen at her home.
So, against much beseeching on the part of 'Tite Poulette, Madame John was going to the ball-room. "Maybe I can discover what 'Sieur de la Rue is planning against Monsieur over the way," she said, knowing certainly the slap would not be forgiven; and the daughter, though tremblingly, at once withdrew her objections.
The heavy young Dutchman, now thoroughly electrified, was writing like mad. He wrote and tore up, wrote and tore up, lighted his lamp, started again, and at last signed his name. A letter by a Dutchman in French! - what can be made of it in English? We will see:
"MADAME AND MADEMOISELLE:
"A stranger, seeking not to be acquainted, but seeing and admiring all days the goodness and high honor, begs to be pardoned of them for the mistakes, alas! of yesterday, and to make reparation and satisfaction in destroying the ornaments of the window, as well as the loss of compensation from Monsieur the manager, with the enclosed bill of the Banque de la Louisiane for fifty dollars ($50). And, hoping they will seeing what he is meaning, remains, respectfully,
"P.S. - Madame must not go to the ball."
He must bear the missive himself. He must speak in French. What should the words be? A moment of study - he has it, and is off down the long three-story stairway. At the same moment Madame John stepped from the wicket, and glided off to the Salle de Condé, a trifle late.
"I shall see Madame John, of course," thought the young man, crushing a hope, and rattled the knocker. 'Tite Poulette sprang up from praying for her mother's safety. "What has she forgotten?" she asked herself, and hastened down. The wicket opened. The two innocents were stunned.
"Aw - aw" - said the pretty Dutchmen, "aw," - blurted out something in virgin Dutch, . . . handed her the letter, and hurried down street.
"Alas! what have I done?" said the poor girl, bending over her candle, and bursting into tears that fell on the unopened letter. "and what shall I do? It may be wrong to open it - and worse not to." Like her sex, she took the benefit of the doubt, and intensified her perplexity and misery by reading and misconstruing the all but unintelligible contents. What then? Not only sobs and sighs, but moaning and beating of little fists together, and outcries of soul-felt agony stifled against the bedside, and temples pressed into knitted palms, because of one who "sought not to be acquainted," but offered money - money! - in pity to a poor - shame on her for saying that! - a poor nigresse.
And now our self-confessed dolt turned back from a half-hour's walk, concluding there might be an answer to his note. "Surely Madame John will appear this time." He knocked. The shutter stirred above, and something white came fluttering wildly down like a shot dove. It was his own letter containing the fifty-dollar bill. He bounded to the wicket, and softly but eagerly knocked again.
"Go away," said a trembling voice from above.
"Madame John?" said he; but the window closed, and he heard a step, the same step on the stair. Step, step, every step one step deeper into his heart. 'Tite Poulette came to the closed door.
"What will you?" said the voice within.
"I - I - don't wish to see you. I wish to see Madame John."
"I must pray Monsieur to go away. My mother is at the Salle de Condé."
"At the ball!" Kristian Koppig strayed off, repeating the words for want of definite thought. All at once it occurred to him that at the ball he could make Madame John's acquaintance with impunity. "Was it courting sin to go?" By no means; he should, most likely, save a woman from trouble, and help the poor in their distress.
Behold Kristian Koppig standing on the floor of the Salle de Condé. A large hall, a blaze of lamps, a bewildering flutter of fans and floating robes, strains of music, columns of gay promenaders, a long row of turbaned mothers lining either wall, gentlemen of the portlier sort filling the recesses of the windows, whirling waltzers gliding here and there - smiles and grace, smiles and grace; all fair, orderly, elegant, bewitching. A young Creole's laugh mayhap a little loud, and - truly there were many sword-canes. But neither grace nor foulness satisfied the eye of the zealous young Dutchman.
Suddenly a muffled woman passed him, leaning on a gentleman's arm. It looked like - it must be, Madame John. Speak quick, Kristian Koppig; do not stop to notice the man!
"Madame John" - bowing - "I am your neighbor, Kristian Koppig."
Madame John bows low, and smiles - a ball-room smile, but is frightened, and her escort, - the manager, - drops her hand and slips away.
"Ah! Monsieur," she whispers excitedly, "you will be killed if you stay here a moment. Are you armed? No. Take this." She tried to slip a dirk into his hands, but he would not have it.
"Oh, my dear young man, go! Go quickly!" she plead, glancing furtively down the hall.
"I wish you not to dance," said the young man.
"I have danced already; I am going home. Come; be quick! we will go together." She thrust her arm through his, and they hastened into the street. When a square had been passed there came a sound of men running behind them.
"Run, Monsieur, run!" she cried, trying to drag him; but Monsieur Dutchman would not.
"Run, Monsieur! Oh, my God! it is 'Sieur" -
"That for yesterday!" cried the manager, striking fiercely with his cane. Kristian Koppig's fist rolled him in the dirt.
"That for 'Tite Poulette!" cried another man dealing the Dutchman a terrible blow from behind.
"And that for me!" hissed a third, thrusting at him with something bright.
"That for yesterday!" screamed the manager, bounding like a tiger; "That!" "THAT!" "Ha!"
Then Kristian Koppig knew that he was stabbed.
"That!" and "That!" and "That!" and the poor Dutchman struck wildly here and there, grasped the air, shut his eyes, staggered, reeled, fell, rose half up, fell again for good, and they were kicking him and jumping on him. All at once they scampered. Zalli had found the night-watch.
"Buz-z-z-z!" went a rattle. "Buz-z-z-z!" went another.
"Pick him up."
"Is he alive?"
"Can't tell; hold him steady; lead the way, misses."
"He's bleeding all over my breeches."
"This way - here - around this corner."
"This way now - only two squares more."
"Here we are."
"Rap-rap-rap!" on the old brass knocker. Curses on the narrow wicket, more on the dark archway, more still on the twisting stairs.
Up at last and into the room.
"Easy, easy, push this under his head! never mind his boots!"
So he lies - on 'Tite Poulette's own bed.
The watch are gone. They pause under the corner lamp to count profits; - a single bill - Banque de la Louisiane, fifty dollars. Providence is kind - tolerably so. Break it at the "Guillaume Tell." "But did you ever hear any one scream like that girl did?"
And there lies the young Dutch neighbor. His money will not flutter back to him this time; nor will any voice behind a gate "beg Monsieur to go away." O, Woman! - that knows no enemy so terrible as man! Come nigh, poor Woman, you have nothing to fear. Lay your strange, electric touch upon the chilly flesh; it strikes no eager mischief along the fainting veins. Look your sweet looks upon the grimy face, and tenderly lay back the locks from the congested brows; no wicked misinterpretation lurks to bite your kindness. Be motherly, be sisterly, fear nought. Go, watch him by night; you may sleep at his feet and he will not stir. Yet he lives, and shall live - may live to forget you, who knows? But for all that, be gentle and watchful; be womanlike, we ask no more; and God reward you!
Even while it was taking all the two women's strength to hold the door against Death, the sick man himself laid a grief upon them.
"Mother," he said to Madame John, quite a master of French in his delirium, "dear mother, fear not; trust your boy; fear nothing. I will not marry 'Tite Poulette; I cannot. She is fair, dear mother, but ah! she is not - don't you know, mother? don't you know? The race! the race! Don't you know that she is jet black. Isn't it?"
The poor nurse nodded "Yes," and gave a sleeping draught; but before the patient quite slept he started once and stared.
"Take her away," - waving his hand - "take your beauty away. She is jet white. Who could take a jet white wife? O, no, no, no, no!"
Next morning his brain was right.
"Madame," he weakly whispered, "I was delirious last night?"
Zalli shrugged. "Only a very, very, wee, wee trifle of a bit."
"And did I say something wrong or - foolish?"
"O, no, no," she replied; "you only clasped your hands, so, and prayed, prayed all the time to the dear Virgin."
"To the virgin?" asked the Dutchman, smiling incredulously.
"And St. Joseph - yes, indeed," she insisted; "you may strike me dead."
And so, for politeness' sake, he tried to credit the invention, but grew suspicious instead.
Hard was the battle against death. Nurses are sometimes amazons, and such were these. Through the long, enervating summer, the contest lasted; but when at last the cool airs of October came stealing in at the bedside like long-banished little children, Kristian Koppig rose upon his elbow and smiled them a welcome.
The physician, blessed man, was kind beyond measure; but said some inexplicable things, which Zalli tried in vain to make him speak in an undertone. "If I knew Monsieur John?" he said, "certainly! Why, we were chums at school. And he left you so much as that, Madame John? Ah! my old friend John, always noble! And you had it all in that naughty bank? Ah, well, Madame John, it matters little. No, I shall not tell 'Tite Poulette. Adieu."
And another time: - "If I will let you tell me something? With pleasure, Madame John. No, and not tell anybody, Madame John. No, Madame, not even 'Tite Poulette. What?" - a long whistle - "is that pos-si-ble ? - and Monsieur John knew it ? - encouraged it ? - oh, well, oh, well! - But - can I believe you, Madame John? Oh! you have Monsieur John's sworn statement. Ah! very good, truly, but - you say you have it; but where is it? Ah! to-morrow!" a sceptical shrug. "Pardon me, Madame John, I think perhaps, perhaps you are telling the truth.
"If I think you did right? Certainly! What nature keeps back, accident sometimes gives, Madame John; either is God's will. Don't cry. 'Stealing from the dead?' No! It was giving, yes! They are thanking you in heaven, Madame John."
Kristian Koppig, lying awake, but motionless and with closed eyes, hears in part, and, fancying he understands, rejoices with silent intensity. When the doctor is gone he calls Zalli.
"I give you a great deal of trouble, eh, Madame John?"
"No, no; you are no trouble at all. Had you the yellow fever - ah! then!"
She rolled her eyes to signify the superlative character of the tribulations attending yellow fever.
"I had a lady and gentleman once - a Spanish lady and gentleman, just off the ship; both sick at once with the fever - delirious - could not tell their names. Nobody to help me but sometimes Monsieur John! I never had such a time, - never before, never since, - as that time. Four days and nights this head touched not a pillow."
"And they died!" said Kristian Koppig.
"The third night the gentleman went. Poor Señor! 'Sieur John, - he did not know the harm, - gave him some coffee and toast! The fourth night it rained and turned cool, and just before day the poor lady" -
"Died!" said Koppig.
Zalli dropped her arms listlessly into her lap and her eyes ran brimful.
"And left an infant!" said the Dutchman, ready to shout with exultation.
"Ah! no, Monsieur," said Zalli.
The invalid's heart sank like a stone.
"Madame John," - his voice was all in a tremor, - "tell me the truth. Is 'Tite Poulette your own child?"
"Ah-h-h, ha! ha! what foolishness! Of course she is my child!" And Madame gave vent to a true Frenchwoman's laugh.
It was too much for the sick man. In the pitiful weakness of his shattered nerves he turned his face into his pillow and wept like a child. Zalli passed into the next room to hide her emotion.
"Maman, dear Maman," said 'Tite Poulette, who had overheard nothing, but only saw the tears.
"Ah! my child, my child, my task - my task is too great - too great for me. Let me go now - another time. Go and watch at his bedside."
"But, Maman," - for 'Tite Poulette was frightened, - "he needs no care now."
"Nay, but go, my child; I wish to be alone."
The maiden stole in with averted eyes and tiptoed to the window - that window. The patient, already a man again, gazed at her till she could feel the gaze. He turned his eyes from her a moment to gather resolution. And now, stout heart, farewell; a word or two of friendly parting - nothing more.
" 'Tite Poulette."
The slender figure at the window turned and came to the bedside.
"I believe I owe my life to you," he said.
She looked down meekly, the color rising in her cheek.
"I must arrange to be moved across the street, to-morrow, on a litter."
She did not stir or speak.
"And I must now thank you, sweet nurse, for your care. Sweet nurse! Sweet nurse!"
She shook her head in protestation.
"Heaven bless you, 'Tite Poulette!"
Her face sank lower.
"God has made you very beautiful, 'Tite Poulette!"
She stirred not. He reached, and gently took her little hand, and as he drew her one step nearer, a tear fell from her long lashes. From the next room, Zalli, with a face of agonized suspense, gazed upon the pair, undiscovered. The young man lifted the hand to lay it upon his lips, when, with a mild, firm force, it was drawn away, yet still rested in his own upon the bedside, like some weak thing snared, that could only not get free.
"Thou wilt not have my love, 'Tite Poulette?"
"Thou wilt not, beautiful?"
"Cannot!" was all that she could utter, and upon their clasped hands the tears ran down.
"Thou wrong'st me, 'Tite Poulette. Thou dost not trust me; thou fearest the kiss may loosen the hands. But I tell thee nay. I have struggled hard, even to this hour, against Love, but I yield me now; I yield; I am his unconditioned prisoner forever. God forbid that I ask aught but that you will be my wife."
Still the maiden moved not, looked not up, only rained down tears.
"Shall it not be, 'Tite Poulette?" He tried in vain to draw her.
" 'Tite Poulette?" So tenderly he called! And then she spoke.
"It is against the law."
"It is not!" cried Zalli, seizing her round the waist and dragging her forward. "Take her! she is thine. I have robbed God long enough. Here are the sworn papers - here! Take her; she is as white as snow - so! Take her, kiss her; Mary be praised! I never had a child - she is the Spaniard's daughter!"