big, brown, good-natured
Bobinôt, had no intention of going to the
ball, even though he knew Calixta would
be there. For what came of those balls
but heartache, and a sickening disinclination
for work the whole week through, till
Saturday night came again and his tortures
began afresh? Why could he not love
Ozéina, who would marry him to-morrow;
or Fronie, or any one of a dozen others,
rather than that little Spanish vixen?
Calixta's slender foot had never touched Cuban
soil; but her mother's had, and the Spanish
was in her blood all the same. For that
reason the prairie people forgave her much
that they would not have overlooked in
their own daughters or sisters.
Her eyes, — Bobinôt thought of her eyes,
and weakened, — the bluest, the drowsiest,
most tantalizing that ever looked into a
man's, he thought of her flaxen hair that
kinked worse than a mulatto's close to her
head; that broad, smiling mouth and tip-tilted
nose, that full figure; that voice like
a rich contralto song, with cadences in it
that must have been taught by Satan, for
there was no one else to teach her tricks on
that 'Cadian prairie. Bobinôt thought of
them all as he plowed his rows of cane.
There had even been a breath of scandal
whispered about her a year ago, when
she went to Assumption,— but why talk of
it? No one did now. "C'est Espagnol,
ça," most of them said with lenient
shoulder-shrugs. "Bon chien tient de race,"
the old men mumbled over their pipes,
stirred by recollections. Nothing was made
of it, except that Fronie threw it up to
Calixta when the two quarreled and fought
on the church steps after mass one Sunday,
about a lover. Calixta swore roundly in
fine 'Cadian French and with true Spanish
spirit, and slapped Fronie's face. Fronie
had slapped her back; "Tiens, bocotte, va!"
"Espèce de lionèse; prends ça, et ça!"
till the curé himself was obliged to hasten
and make peace between them. Bobinôt
thought of it all, and would not go to the
But in the afternoon, over at Friedheimer's
store, where he was buying a trace-chain,
he heard some one say that Alcée
Laballière would be there. Then wild
horses could not have kept him away. He
knew how it would be—or rather he did
not know how it would be—if the handsome
young planter came over to the ball
as he sometimes did. If Alcée happened to
be in a serious mood, he might only go to
the card-room and play a round or two;
or he might stand out on the galleries talking
crops and politics with the old people.
But there was no telling. A drink or two
could put the devil in his head,—that was
what Bobinôt said to himself, as he wiped
the sweat from his brow with his red bandanna;
a gleam from Calixta's eyes, a flash
of her ankle, a twirl of her skirts could do
the same. Yes, Bobinôt would go to the
|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|
That was the year Alcée Laballière put
nine hundred acres in rice. It was putting
a good deal of money into the ground, but
the returns promised to be glorious. Old
Madame Laballière, sailing about the
spacious galleries in her white volante, figured
it all out in her head. Clarisse, her goddaughter
helped her a little, and together
they built more air-castles than enough.
Alcée worked like a mule that time; and if he
did not kill himself, it was because his
constitution was an iron one. It was an
every-day affair for him to come in from
the field well-nigh exhausted, and wet to the
waist. He did not mind if there were visitors;
he left them to his mother and Clarisse.
There were often guests: young men
and women who came up from the city,
which was but a few hours away, to visit
his beautiful kinswoman. She was worth
going a good deal farther than that to see.
Dainty as a lily; hardy as a sunflower;
slim, tall, graceful, like one of the reeds
that grew in the marsh. Cold and kind
and cruel by turn, and everything that was
aggravating to Alcée.
He would have liked to sweep the place
of those visitors, often. Of the men, above
all, with their ways and their manners;
their swaying of fans like women, and dandling
about hammocks. He could have pitched
them over the levee into the river, if it
hadn't meant murder. That was Alcée.
But he must have been crazy the day he
came in from the rice-field, and, toil-stained
as he was, clasped Clarisse by the arms and
panted a volley of hot, blistering love-words
into her face. No man had ever spoken love
to her like that.
"Monsieur!" she exclaimed, looking him
full in the eyes, without a quiver. Alcée's
hands dropped and his glance wavered
before the chill of her calm, clear eyes.
"Par exemple!" she muttered disdainfully,
as she turned from him, deftly adjusting
the careful toilet that he had so brutally
That happened a day or two before the
cyclone came that cut into the rice like fine
steel. It was an awful thing, coming so
swiftly, without a moment's warning in
which to light a holy candle or set a piece of
blessed palm burning. Old madame wept
openly and said her beads, just as her son
Didier, the New Orleans one, would have
done. If such a thing had happened to
Alphonse, the Laballière planting cotton up
in Natchitoches, he would have raved and
stormed like a second cyclone, and made his
surroundings unbearable for a day or two.
But Alcée took the misfortune differently.
He looked ill and gray after it, and said
nothing. His speechlessness was frightful.
Clarisse's heart melted with tenderness; but
when she offered her soft, purring words
of condolence, he accepted them with mute
indifference. Then she and her nénaine
wept afresh in each other's arms.
A night or two later, when Clarisse went
to her window to kneel there in the
moonlight and say her prayers before retiring,
she saw that Bruce, Alcée's negro servant,
had led his master's saddle-horse noiselessly
along the edge of the sward that bordered
the gravel-path, and stood holding him near
by. Presently, she heard Alcée quit his
room, which was beneath her own, and
traverse the lower portico. As he emerged
from the shadow and crossed the strip of
moonlight, she perceived that he carried a
pair of well-filled saddle-bags which he at
once flung across the animal's back. He
then lost no time in mounting, and after a
brief exchange of words with Bruce, went
cantering away, taking no precaution to
avoid the noisy gravel as the negro had
Clarisse had never suspected that it might
be Alcée's custom to sally forth from the
plantation secretly, and at such an hour;
for it was nearly midnight. And had it not
been for the telltale saddle-bags, she would
only have crept to bed, to wonder, to fret
and dream unpleasant dreams. But her
impatience and anxiety would not be held
in check. Hastily unbolting the shutters of
her door that opened upon the gallery, she
stepped outside and called softly to the old
"Gre't Peter! Miss Clarisse. I was n'
sho it was a ghos' o' w'at, stan'in' up dah,
plumb in de night, dataway."
He mounted halfway up the long, broad
flight of stairs. She was standing at the top.
"Bruce, w'ere has Monsieur Alcée gone?"
"W'y, he gone 'bout he business, I
reckin," replied Bruce, striving to be
noncommittal at the outset.
"W'ere has Monsieur Alcée gone?" she
reiterated, stamping her bare foot. "I
won't stan' any nonsense or any lies; mine,
"I don' ric'lic ez I eva tole you lie yit,
Miss Clarisse. Mista Alcée, he all broke
"W'ere - has - he gone? Ah, Sainte
Vierge! faut de la patience! butor, va!"
"W'en I was in he room, a-breshin' off he
clo'es to-day," the darkey began, settling
himself against the stair-rail, "he look dat
speechless an' down, I say, 'You 'pear tu
me like some pussun w'at gwine have a spell
o' sickness, Mista Alcée.' He say, 'You
reckin?' 'I dat he git up, go look hisse'f
stiddy in de glass. Den he go to de chimbly
an' jerk up de quinine bottle an po' a gre't
hoss-dose on to he han'. An' he swalla dat
mess in a wink, an' wash hit down wid a big
dram o' w'iskey w'at he keep in he room,
aginst he come all soppin' wet outen de fiel'.
"He 'lows, 'No, I ain' gwine be sick,
Bruce.' Den he square off. He say, 'I kin
mak out to stan' up an' gi' an' take wid any
man I knows, lessen hit 's John L. Sulvun.
But w'en God A'mighty an' a 'omen jines
fo'ces agin me, dat 's one too many fur me.'
I tell 'im, 'Jis so,' while' I 'se makin' out to
bresh a spot off w'at ain' dah, on he coat
colla. I tell 'im, 'You wants li'le res', suh.'
He say, 'No, I wants li'le fling; dat w'at I
wants; an I gwine git it. Pitch me a fis'ful
o' clo'es in dem 'ar saddle-bags.' Dat w'at
he say. Don't you bodda, missy. He jis'
gone a-caperin' yonda to de Cajun ball. Uh
- uh - de skeeters is fair' a-swarmin' like
bees roun' yo' foots!"
The mosquitoes were indeed attacking
Clarisse's white feet savagely. She had
unconsciously been alternately rubbing one foot
over the other during the darkey's recital.
"The 'Cadian ball," she repeated
contemptously. "Humph! Par exemple!
Nice conduc' for a Laballière. An' he
needs a saddle-bag, fill' with clothes, to go
to the 'Cadian ball!"
"Oh, Miss Clarisse; you go on to bed,
chile; git yo' soun' sleep. He 'low he come
back in couple weeks o' so. I kiarn be
repeatin' lot o' truck w'at young mans say,
out heah face o' a young gal."
Clarisse said no more, but turned and
abruptly reentered the house.
"You done talk too much wid yo' mouf
already, you ole fool nigga, you," muttered
Bruce to himself as he walked away.
|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|
Alcée reached the ball very late, of course—too late for the chicken gumbo which had
been served at midnight.
The big, low-ceiled room—they called it
a hall—was packed with men and women
dancing to the music of three fiddles. There
were broad galleries all around it. There
was a room at one side where sober-faced
men were playing cards. Another, in which
babies were sleeping, was called le parc aux
petits. Any one who is white may go to a
'Cadian ball, but he must pay for his lemonade,
his coffee and chicken gumbo. And he
must behave himself like a 'Cadian. Grosboeuf
was giving this ball. He had been giving
them since he was a young man, and he
was a middle-aged one, now. In that time
he could recall but one disturbance, and that
was caused by American railroaders, who
were not in touch with their surroundings
and had no business there. "Ces maudits
gens du raiderode," Grosboeuf called them.
Alcée Laballière's presence at the ball
caused a flutter even among the men, who
could not but admire his "nerve" after such
misfortune befalling him. To be sure, they
knew the Laballières were rich—that there
were resources East, and more again in the
city. But they felt it took a brave homme
to stand a blow like that philosophically.
One old gentleman, who was in the habit of
reading a Paris newspaper and knew things,
chuckled gleefully to everybody that Alcée's
conduct was altogether chic, mais chic.
That he had more panache than Boulanger.
Well, perhaps he had.
But what he did not show outwardly
was that he was in a mood for ugly things
to-night. Poor Bobinôt alone felt it vaguely.
He discerned a gleam of it in Alcée's handsome
eyes, as the young planter stood in
the doorway, looking with rather feverish
glance upon the assembly, while he laughed
and talked with a 'Cadian farmer who was
Bobinôt himself was dull-looking and
clumsy. Most of the men were. But the
young women were very beautiful. The
eyes that glanced into Alcée's as they
passed him were big, dark, soft as those of
the young heifers standing out in the cool
But the belle was Calixta. Her white
dress was not nearly so handsome or well
made as Fronie's (she and Fronie had quite
forgotten the battle on the church steps,
and were friends again), nor were her slippers
so stylish as those of Ozéina; and she
fanned herself with a handkerchief, since
she had broken her red fan at the last ball,
and her aunts and uncles were not willing
to give her another. But all the men agreed
she was at her best to-night. Such animation!
and abandon! such flashes of wit!
"Hé, Bobinôt! Mais w'at's the matta?
W'at you standin' planté là like ole Ma'ame
Tina's cow in the bog, you?"
That was good. That was an excellent
thrust at Bobinôt, who had forgotten the
figure of the dance with his mind bent on
other things, and it started a clamor of
laughter at his expense. He joined
good-naturedly. It was better to receive even
such notice as that from Calixta than none
at all. But Madame Suzonne, sitting in
a corner, whispered to her neighbor that if
Ozéina were to conduct herself in a like
manner, she should immediately be taken out to
the mule-cart and driven home. The women
did not always approve of Calixta.
Now and then were short lulls in the
dance, when couples flocked out upon the
galleries for a brief respite and fresh air.
The moon had gone down pale in the west,
and in the east was yet no promise of day.
After such an interval, when the dancers
again assembled to resume the interrupted
quadrille, Calixta was not among them.
She was sitting upon a bench out in the
shadow, with Alcée beside her. They were
acting like fools. He had attempted to take
a little gold ring from her finger; just for
the fun of it, for there was nothing he could
have done with the ring but replace it again.
But she clinched her hand tight. He pretended
that it was a very difficult matter to
open it. Then he kept the hand in his.
They seemed to forget about it. He played
with her ear-ring, a thin crescent of gold
hanging from her small brown ear. He
caught a wisp of the kinky hair that had
escaped its fastening, and rubbed the ends
of it against his shaven cheek.
"You know, last year in Assumption,
Calixta?" They belonged to the younger
generation, so preferred to speak English.
"Don't come say Assumption to me,
M'sieur Alcée. I done yeard Assumption
till I 'm plumb sick."
"Yes, I know. The idiots! Because you
were in Assumption, and I happened to go
to Assumption, they must have it that we
went together. But it was nice— hein,
They saw Bobinôt emerge from the hall
and stand a moment outside the lighted
doorway, peering uneasily and searchingly
into the darkness. He did not see them,
and went slowly back.
"There is Bobinôt looking for you. You are going to set poor Bobinôt crazy. You 'll marry him some day; hein, Calixta?"
"I don't say no, me," she replied, striving
to withdraw her hand, which he held more
firmly for the attempt.
"But come, Calixta; you know you said
you would go back to Assumption, just to
"No, I neva said that, me. You mus'
"Oh, I thought you did. You know I 'm
going down to the city."
"Betta make has'e, then; it 's mos' day."
"Well, to-morrow 'll do."
"W'at you goin' do, yonda?"
"I don't know. Drown myself in the
lake, maybe; unless you go down there to
visit your uncle."
Calixta's senses were reeling; and they
well-nigh left her when she felt Alcée's lips
brush her ear like the touch of a rose.
"Mista Alcée! Is dat Mista Alcée?"
the thick voice of a negro was asking; he
stood on the ground, holding to the
banister-rails near which the couple sat.
"W'at do you want now?" cried Alcée impatiently. "Can't I have a moment of
"I ben huntin' you high an' low, suh,"
answered the man. "Dey - dey some one
in de road, onda de mulbare-tree, want see
you a minute."
"I would n't go out to the road to see the
Angel Gabriel. And if you come back here
with any more talk, I 'll have to break your
neck." The negro turned mumbling away.
Alcée and Calixta laughed softly about it.
Her boisterousness was all gone. They
talked low, and laughed softly, as lovers do.
"Alcée! Alcée Laballière!"
It was not the negro's voice this time; but
one that went through Alcée's body like an
electric shock, bringing him to his feet.
Clarisse was standing there in her riding-habit,
where the negro had stood. For an instant
confusion reigned in Alcée's thoughts,
as with one who awakes suddenly from a
dream. But he felt that something of
serious import had brought his cousin to the
ball in the dead of night.
"W'at does this mean, Clarisse?" he
"It means something has happen' at
home. You mus' come."
"Happened to maman?" he questioned,
"No; nénaine is well, and asleep. It is
something else. Not to frighten you. But
you mus' come. Come with me, Alcée."
There was no need for the imploring note.
He would have followed the voice anywhere.
She had now recognized the girl sitting
back on the bench.
"Ah, c'est vous, Calixta? Comment ça
va, mon enfant?"
"Tcha va b'en; et vous, mam'zélle?"
Alcée swung himself over the low rail and
started to follow Clarisse, without a word,
without a glance back at the girl. He had
forgotten he was leaving her there. But
Clarisse whispered something to him, and
he turned back to say "Good-night, Calixta,"
and offer his hand to press through the
railing. She pretended not to see it.
|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|
"How come that? You settin' yere by
yo'se'f, Calixta?" It was Bobinôt who had
found her there alone. The dancers had not
yet come out. She looked ghastly in the
faint, gray light struggling out of the east.
"Yes, that 's me. Go yonda in the parc
aux petits an' ask Aunt Olisse fu' my hat.
She knows w'ere 't is. I want to go home,
"How you came?"
"I come afoot, with the Cateaus. But
I 'm goin' now. I ent goin' wait fu' 'em.
I 'm plumb wo' out, me."
"Kin I go with you, Calixta?"
"I don' care."
They went together across the open prairie
and along the edge of the fields, stumbling
in the uncertain light. He told her to lift
her dress that was getting wet and bedraggled;
for she was pulling at the weeds and
grasses with her hands.
"I don' care; it 's got to go in the tub,
anyway. You been sayin' all along you
want to marry me, Bobinôt. Well, if you
want, yet, I don' care, me."
The glow of a sudden and overwhelming
happiness shone out in the brown, rugged
face of the young Acadian. He could not
speak, for very joy. It choked him.
"Oh well, if you don' want," snapped
Calixta, flippantly, pretending to be piqued
at his silence.
"Bon Dieu! You know that makes me
crazy, w'at you sayin'. You mean that,
Calixta? You ent goin' turn roun' agin?"
"I neva tole you that much yet, Bobinôt.
I mean that. Tiens," and she held out her
hand in the business-like manner of a man
who clinches a bargain with a hand-clasp.
Bobinôt grew bold with happiness and asked
Calixta to kiss him. She turned her face,
that was almost ugly after the night's
dissipation, and looked steadily into his.
"I don' want to kiss you, Bobinôt," she
said, turning away again, "not to-day. Some
other time. Bonté divine! ent you satisfy,
"Oh, I 'm satisfy, Calixta," he said.
|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|
Riding through a patch of wood, Clarisse's
saddle became ungirted, and she and Alcée
dismounted to readjust it.
For the twentieth time he asked her what
had happened at home.
"But, Clarisse, w'at is it? Is it a
"Ah Dieu sait!" It 's only something
that happen' to me."
"I saw you go away las night, Alcée,
with those saddle-bags," she said, haltingly,
striving to arrange something about the
saddle, "an' I made Bruce tell me. He said you had gone to the ball, an' wouldn' be
home for weeks an' weeks. I thought,
Alcée—maybe you were going to—to
Assumption. I got wild. An' then I knew
if you didn't come back, now, to-night, I
could n't stan' it,—again."
She had her face hidden in her arm that
she was resting against the saddle when she
He began to wonder if this meant love.
But she had to tell him so, before he
believed it. And when she told him, he
thought the face of the Universe was changed—just like Bobinôt. Was it last week the
cyclone had well-nigh ruined him? The
cyclone seemed a huge joke, now. It was
he, then, who, an hour ago was kissing little
Calixta's ear and whispering nonsense into
it. Calixta was like a myth, now. The
one, only, great reality in the world was
Clarisse standing before him, telling him
that she loved him.
In the distance they heard the rapid
discharge of pistol-shots; but it did not
disturb them. They knew it was only the
negro musicians who had gone into the yard
to fire their pistols into the air, as the custom is,
and to announce "le bal est fini."