Chita A Memory of Last Island
Part 2 out of 2
She felt such an exquisite and fearful pleasure in the
gratification of that naughty curiosity! Then, quite
unexpectedly--oh! what a start it gave her!--the solitary white
object burst upon her view, leprous and ghastly as the yawn of a
cotton-mouth. Tombs ruin soon in Louisiana;--the one Chita
looked upon seemed ready to topple down. There was a great
ragged hole at one end, where wind and rain, and perhaps also the
burrowing of crawfish and of worms, had loosened the bricks, and
caused them to slide out of place. It seemed very black inside;
but Chita wanted to know what was there. She pushed her way
through a gap in the thin and rotten line of pickets, and through
some tall weeds with big coarse pink flowers;--then she crouched
down on hands and knees before the black hole, and peered in. It
was not so black inside as she had thought; for a sunbeam slanted
down through a chink in the roof; and she could see!
A brown head--without hair, without eyes, but with teeth, ever so
many teeth!--seemed to laugh at her; and close to it sat a Toad,
the hugest she had ever seen; and the white skin of his throat
kept puffing out and going in. And Chita screamed and screamed,
and fled in wild terror,--screaming all the way, till Carmen ran
out to meet her and carry her home. Even when safe in her
adopted mother's arms, she sobbed with fright. To the vivid
fancy of the child there seemed to be some hideous relation
between the staring reptile and the brown death's-head, with its
empty eyes, and its nightmare-smile.
The shock brought on a fever,--a fever that lasted several days,
and left her very weak. But the experience taught her to obey,
taught her that Carmen knew best what was for her good. It also
caused her to think a great deal. Carmen had told her that the
dead people never frightened good little girls who stayed at
--"Madrecita Carmen," she asked, "is my mamma dead?"
--"Pobrecita! .... Yes, my angel. God called her to Him,--your
--"Madrecita," she asked again,--her young eyes growing vast
with horror,--"is my own mamma now like That?" ... She pointed
toward the place of the white gleam, behind the great trees.
--"No, no, no! my darling!" cried Carmen, appalled herself by
the ghastly question,--"your mamma is with the dear, good,
loving God, who lives in the beautiful sky, above the clouds, my
darling, beyond the sun!"
But Carmen's kind eyes were full of tears; and the child read
their meaning. He who teareth off the Mask of the Flesh had
looked into her face one unutterable moment:--she had seen the
brutal Truth, naked to the bone!
Yet there came to her a little thrill of consolation, caused by
the words of the tender falsehood; for that which she had
discerned by day could not explain to her that which she saw
almost nightly in her slumber. The face, the voice, the form
of her loving mother still lived somewhere,--could not have
utterly passed away; since the sweet presence came to her in
dreams, bending and smiling over her, caressing her, speaking to
her,--sometimes gently chiding, but always chiding with a kiss.
And then the child would laugh in her sleep, and prattle in
Creole,--talking to the luminous shadow, telling the dead mother
all the little deeds and thoughts of the day.... Why would God
only let her come at night?
... Her idea of God had been first defined by the sight of a
quaint French picture of the Creation,--an engraving which
represented a shoreless sea under a black sky, and out of the
blackness a solemn and bearded gray head emerging, and a cloudy
hand through which stars glimmered. God was like old Doctor de
Coulanges, who used to visit the house, and talk in a voice like
a low roll of thunder.... At a later day, when Chita had been
told that God was "everywhere at the same time "--without and
within, beneath and above all things,--this idea became somewhat
changed. The awful bearded face, the huge shadowy hand, did not
fade from her thought; but they became fantastically blended with
the larger and vaguer notion of something that filled the world
and reached to the stars,--something diaphanous and
incomprehensible like the invisible air, omnipresent and
everlasting like the high blue of heaven ....
... She began to learn the life of the coast.
With her acquisition of another tongue, there came to her also
the understanding of many things relating to the world of the sea
She memorized with novel delight much that was told her day by
day concerning the nature surrounding her,--many secrets of the
air, many of those signs of heaven which the dwellers in cities
cannot comprehend because the atmosphere is thickened and made
stagnant above them--cannot even watch because the horizon is
hidden from their eyes by walls, and by weary avenues of trees
with whitewashed trunks. She learned, by listening, by asking,
by observing also, how to know the signs that foretell wild
weather:--tremendous sunsets, scuddings and bridgings of
cloud,--sharpening and darkening of the sea-line,--and the shriek
of gulls flashing to land in level flight, out of a still
transparent sky,--and halos about the moon.
She learned where the sea-birds, with white bosoms and brown
wings, made their hidden nests of sand,--and where the cranes
waded for their prey,--and where the beautiful wild-ducks,
plumaged in satiny lilac and silken green, found their food,--and
where the best reeds grew to furnish stems for Feliu's red-clay
pipe,--and where the ruddy sea-beans were most often tossed upon
the shore,--and how the gray pelicans fished all together, like
men--moving in far-extending semicircles, beating the flood with
their wings to drive the fish before them.
And from Carmen she learned the fables and the sayings of the
sea,--the proverbs about its deafness, its avarice, its
treachery, its terrific power,--especially one that haunted her
for all time thereafter: Si quieres aprender a orar, entra en el
mar (If thou wouldst learn to pray, go to the sea). She learned
why the sea is salt,--how "the tears of women made the waves of
the sea,"--and how the sea has ii no friends,"--and how the
cat's eyes change with the tides.
What had she lost of life by her swift translation from the dusty
existence of cities to the open immensity of nature's freedom?
What did she gain?
Doubtless she was saved from many of those little bitternesses
and restraints and disappointments which all well-bred city
children must suffer in the course of their training for the more
or less factitious life of society:--obligations to remain very
still with every nimble nerve quivering in dumb revolt;--the
injustice of being found troublesome and being sent to bed early
for the comfort of her elders;--the cruel necessity of straining
her pretty eyes, for many long hours at a time, over grimy desks
in gloomy school-rooms, though birds might twitter and bright
winds flutter in the trees without;--the austere constrains
and heavy drowsiness of warm churches, filled with the droning
echoes of a voice preaching incomprehensible things;--the
progressively augmenting weariness of lessons in deportment, in
dancing, in music, in the impossible art of keeping her dresses
unruffled and unsoiled. Perhaps she never had any reason to
regret all these.
She went to sleep and awakened with the wild birds;--her life
remained as unfettered by formalities as her fine feet by shoes.
Excepting Carmen's old prayer-book,--in which she learned to read
a little,--her childhood passed without books,--also without
pictures, without dainties, without music, without theatrical
amusements. But she saw and heard and felt much of that which,
though old as the heavens and the earth, is yet eternally new and
eternally young with the holiness of beauty,--eternally mystical
and divine,---eternally weird: the unveiled magnificence of
Nature's moods,--the perpetual poem hymned by wind and
surge,--the everlasting splendor of the sky.
She saw the quivering pinkness of waters curled by the breath of
the morning--under the deepening of the dawn--like a far
fluttering and scattering of rose-leaves of fire;--
Saw the shoreless, cloudless, marvellous double-circling azure of
perfect summer days--twin glories of infinite deeps inter.
reflected, while the Soul of the World lay still, suffused with a
jewel-light, as of vaporized sapphire;--
Saw the Sea shift color,--"change sheets,"--when the viewless
Wizard of the Wind breathed upon its face, and made it green;--
Saw the immeasurable panics,--noiseless, scintillant,--which
silver, summer after summer, curved leagues of beach with bodies
of little fish--the yearly massacre of migrating populations,
nations of sea-trout, driven from their element by terror;--and
the winnowing of shark-fins,--and the rushing of porpoises,--and
the rising of the grande-ecaille, like a pillar of flame,--and
the diving and pitching and fighting of the frigates and the
gulls,--and the armored hordes of crabs swarming out to clear the
slope after the carnage and the gorging had been done;--
Saw the Dreams of the Sky,--scudding mockeries of ridged
foam,--and shadowy stratification of capes and coasts and
promontories long-drawn out,--and imageries, multicolored, of
mountain frondage, and sierras whitening above sierras,--and
phantom islands ringed around with lagoons of glory;---
Saw the toppling and smouldering of cloud-worlds after the
enormous conflagration of sunsets,--incandescence ruining into
darkness; and after it a moving and climbing of stars among the
blacknesses,--like searching lamps;--
Saw the deep kindle countless ghostly candles as for mysterious
night-festival,--and a luminous billowing under a black sky, and
effervescences of fire, and the twirling and crawling of
Saw the mesmerism of the Moon;--saw the enchanted tides
self-heaped in muttering obeisance before her.
Often she heard the Music of the Marsh through the night: an
infinity of flutings and tinklings made by tiny amphibia,--like
the low blowing of numberless little tin horns, the clanking of
billions of little bells;--and, at intervals, profound tones,
vibrant and heavy, as of a bass viol--the orchestra of the great
frogs! And interweaving with it all, one continuous
shrilling,--keen as the steel speech of a saw,--the stridulous
telegraphy of crickets.
But always,--always, dreaming or awake, she heard the huge blind
Sea chanting that mystic and eternal hymn, which none may hear
without awe, which no musician can learn,--
Heard the hoary Preacher,--El Pregonador,--preaching the ancient
Word, the word "as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the
rock in pieces,"--the Elohim--Word of the Sea! ...
Unknowingly she came to know the immemorial sympathy of the mind
with the Soul of the World,--the melancholy wrought by its moods
of gray, the reverie responsive to its vagaries of mist, the
exhilaration of its vast exultings--days of windy joy, hours of
She felt,--even without knowing it,--the weight of the Silences,
the solemnities of sky and sea in these low regions where all
things seem to dream--waters and grasses with their momentary
wavings,--woods gray-webbed with mosses that drip and
drool,--horizons with their delusions of vapor,--cranes
meditating in their marshes,--kites floating in the high blue....
Even the children were singularly quiet; and their play less
noisy--though she could not have learned the difference--than the
play of city children. Hour after hour, the women sewed or wove
in silence. And the brown men,--always barefooted, always
wearing rough blue shirts,--seemed, when they lounged about the
wharf on idle days, as if they had told each other long ago all
they knew or could ever know, and had nothing more to say. They
would stare at the flickering of the current, at the drifting of
clouds and buzzard:--seldom looking at each other, and always
turning their black eyes again, in a weary way, to sky or sea.
Even thus one sees the horses and the cattle of the coast,
seeking the beach to escape the whizzing flies;--all watch the
long waves rolling in, and sometimes turn their heads a moment to
look at one another, but always look back to the waves again, as
if wondering at a mystery....
How often she herself had wondered--wondered at the multiform
changes of each swell as it came in--transformations of tint, of
shape, of motion, that seemed to betoken a life infinitely more
subtle than the strange cold life of lizards and of fishes,--and
sinister, and spectral. Then they all appeared to move in
order,--according to one law or impulse;--each had its own voice,
yet all sang one and the same everlasting song. Vaguely, as she
watched them and listened to them, there came to her the idea of
a unity of will in their motion, a unity of menace in their
utterance--the idea of one monstrous and complex life! The sea
lived: it could crawl backward and forward; it could speak!--it
only feigned deafness and sightlessness for some malevolent end.
Thenceforward she feared to find herself alone with it. Was it
not at her that it strove to rush, muttering, and showing its
white teeth, ... just because it knew that she was all by
herself? ... Si quieres aprender a orar, entra en el mar! And
Concha had well learned to pray. But the sea seemed to her the
one Power which God could not make to obey Him as He pleased.
Saying the creed one day, she repeated very slowly the opening
words,--"Creo en un Dios, padre todopoderoso, Criador de cielo y
de la tierra,"--and paused and thought. Creator of Heaven and
Earth? "Madrecita Carmen," she asked,--"quien entonces hizo el
mar?" (who then made the sea?).
--"Dios, mi querida," answered Carmen.--"God, my darling....
All things were made by Him" ( todas las cosas fueron hechas por
Even the wicked Sea! And He had said unto it: "Thus far, and no
farther." ... Was that why it had not overtaken and devoured
her when she ran back in fear from the sudden reaching out of its
waves? Thus far....? But there were times when it
disobeyed--when it rushed further, shaking the world! Was it
because God was then asleep--could not hear, did not see, until
And the tumultuous ocean terrified her more and more: it filled
her sleep with enormous nightmare;--it came upon her in dreams,
mountain-shadowing,--holding her with its spell, smothering her
power of outcry, heaping itself to the stars.
Carmen became alarmed;--she feared that the nervous and delicate
child might die in one of those moaning dreams out of which she
had to arouse her, night after night. But Feliu, answering her
anxiety with one of his favorite proverbs, suggested a heroic
--"The world is like the sea: those who do not know how to swim
in it are drowned;--and the sea is like the world," he added....
"Chita must learn to swim!"
And he found the time to teach her. Each morning, at sunrise, he
took her into the water. She was less terrified the first time
than Carmen thought she would be;--she seemed to feel confidence
in Feliu; although she screamed piteously before her first
ducking at his hands. His teaching was not gentle. He would
carry her out, perched upon his shoulder, until the water rose to
his own neck; and there he would throw her from him, and let her
struggle to reach him again as best she could. The first few
mornings she had to be pulled out almost at once; but after that
Feliu showed her less mercy, and helped her only when he saw she
was really in danger. He attempted no other instruction until
she had learned that in order to save herself from being half
choked by the salt water, she must not scream; and by the time
she became habituated to these austere experiences, she had
already learned by instinct alone how to keep herself afloat for
a while, how to paddle a little with her hands. Then he
commenced to train her to use them,--to lift them well out and
throw them forward as if reaching, to dip them as the blade of an
oar is dipped at an angle, without loud splashing;--and he showed
her also how to use her feet. She learned rapidly and
astonishingly well. In less than two months Feliu felt really
proud at the progress made by his tiny pupil: it was a delight
to watch her lifting her slender arms above the water in swift,
easy curves, with the same fine grace that marked all her other
natural motions. Later on he taught her not to fear the sea even
when it growled a little,--how to ride a swell, how to face a
breaker, how to dive. She only needed practice thereafter; and
Carmen, who could also swim, finding the child's health improving
marvellously under this new discipline, took good care that Chita
should practice whenever the mornings were not too cold, or the
water too rough.
With the first thrill of delight at finding herself able to glide
over the water unassisted, the child's superstitious terror of
the sea passed away. Even for the adult there are few physical
joys keener than the exultation of the swimmer;--how much greater
the same glee as newly felt by an imaginative child,--a child,
whose vivid fancy can lend unutterable value to the most
insignificant trifles, can transform a weed-patch to an Eden! ...
Of her own accord she would ask for her morning bath, as soon as
she opened her eyes;--it even required some severity to prevent
her from remaining in the water too long. The sea appeared to
her as something that had become tame for her sake, something
that loved her in a huge rough way; a tremendous playmate, whom
she no longer feared to see come bounding and barking to lick her
feet. And, little by little, she also learned the wonderful
healing and caressing power of the monster, whose cool embrace at
once dispelled all drowsiness, feverishness, weariness,--even
after the sultriest nights when the air had seemed to burn, and
the mosquitoes had filled the chamber with a sound as of water
boiling in many kettles. And on mornings when the sea was in too
wicked a humor to be played with, how she felt the loss of her
loved sport, and prayed for calm! Her delicate constitution
changed;--the soft, pale flesh became firm and brown, the meagre
limbs rounded into robust symmetry, the thin cheeks grew peachy
with richer life; for the strength of the sea had entered into
her; the sharp breath of the sea had renewed and brightened her
... Thou primordial Sea, the awfulness of whose antiquity hath
stricken all mythology dumb;--thou most wrinkled diving Sea, the
millions of whose years outnumber even the multitude of thy hoary
motions;--thou omniform and most mysterious Sea, mother of the
monsters and the gods,--whence shine eternal youth? Still do thy
waters hold the infinite thrill of that Spirit which brooded
above their face in the Beginning!--still is thy quickening
breath an elixir unto them that flee to thee for life,--like the
breath of young girls, like the breath of children, prescribed
for the senescent by magicians of old,--prescribed unto weazened
elders in the books of the Wizards.
... Eighteen hundred and sixty-seven;--midsummer in the
pest-smitten city of New Orleans.
Heat motionless and ponderous. The steel-blue of the sky
bleached from the furnace-circle of the horizon;--the lukewarm
river ran yellow and noiseless as a torrent of fluid wax. Even
sounds seemed blunted by the heaviness of the air;--the rumbling
of wheels, the reverberation of footsteps, fell half-toned upon
the ear, like sounds that visit a dozing brain.
Daily, almost at the same hour, the continuous sense of
atmospheric oppression became thickened;--a packed herd of
low-bellying clouds lumbered up from the Gulf; crowded blackly
against the sun; flickered, thundered, and burst in torrential
rain--tepid, perpendicular--and vanished utterly away. Then,
more furiously than before, the sun flamed down;--roofs and
pavements steamed; the streets seemed to smoke; the air grew
suffocating with vapor; and the luminous city filled with a
faint, sickly odor,--a stale smell, as of dead leaves suddenly
disinterred from wet mould,--as of grasses decomposing after a
flood. Something saffron speckled the slimy water of the
gutters; sulphur some called it; others feared even to give it a
name! Was it only the wind-blown pollen of some innocuous plant?
I do not know; but to many it seemed as if the Invisible
Destruction were scattering visible seed! ... Such were the
days; and each day the terror-stricken city offered up its
hecatomb to death; and the faces of all the dead were yellow as
"DECEDE--; "DECEDEE--; "FALLECIO;"--"DIED." ... On the
door-posts, the telegraph-poles, the pillars of verandas, the
lamps,--over the government letter-boxes,--everywhere glimmered
the white annunciations of death. All the city was spotted with
them. And lime was poured into the gutters; and huge purifying
fires were kindled after sunset.
The nights began with a black heat;--there were hours when the
acrid air seemed to ferment for stagnation, and to burn the
bronchial tubing;--then, toward morning, it would grow chill with
venomous vapors, with morbific dews,--till the sun came up to
lift the torpid moisture, and to fill the buildings with
oven-glow. And the interminable procession of mourners and
hearses and carriages again began to circulate between the
centres of life and of death;--and long trains and steamships
rushed from the port, with heavy burden of fugitives.
Wealth might flee; yet even in flight there was peril. Men, who
might have been saved by the craft of experienced nurses at home,
hurriedly departed in apparent health, unconsciously carrying in
their blood the toxic principle of a malady unfamiliar to
physicians of the West and North;--and they died upon their way,
by the road-side, by the river-banks, in woods, in deserted
stations, on the cots of quarantine hospitals. Wiser those who
sought refuge in the purity of the pine forests, or in those near
Gulf Islands, whence the bright sea-breath kept ever sweeping
back the expanding poison into the funereal swamps, into the
misty lowlands. The watering-resorts became overcrowded;--then
the fishing villages were thronged,--at least all which were easy
to reach by steamboat or by lugger. And at last, even Viosca's
Point,--remote and unfamiliar as it was,--had a stranger to
shelter: a good old gentleman named Edwards, rather broken down
in health--who came as much for quiet as for sea-air, and who had
been warmly recommended to Feliu by Captain Harris. For some
years he had been troubled by a disease of the heart.
Certainly the old invalid could not have found a more suitable
place so far as rest and quiet were concerned. The season had
early given such little promise that several men of the Point
betook themselves elsewhere; and the aged visitor had two or
three vacant cabins from among which to select a dwelling-place.
He chose to occupy the most remote of all, which Carmen furnished
for him with a cool moss bed and some necessary
furniture,--including a big wooden rocking-chair. It seemed to
him very comfortable thus. He took his meals with the family,
spent most of the day in his own quarters, spoke very little, and
lived so unobtrusively and inconspicuously that his presence in
the settlement was felt scarcely more than that of some dumb
creature,--some domestic animal,--some humble pet whose relation
to the family is only fully comprehended after it has failed to
appear for several days in its accustomed place of patient
waiting,--and we know that it is dead.
Persistently and furiously, at half-past two o'clock of an August
morning, Sparicio rang Dr. La Brierre's night-bell. He had
fifty dollars in his pocket, and a letter to deliver. He was to
earn another fifty dollars--deposited in Feliu's hands,--by
bringing the Doctor to Viosca's Point. He had risked his life
for that money,--and was terribly in earnest.
Julien descended in his under-clothing, and opened the letter by
the light of the hall lamp. It enclosed a check for a larger fee
than he had ever before received, and contained an urgent request
that he would at once accompany Sparicio to Viosca's Point,--as
the sender was in hourly danger of death. The letter, penned in
a long, quavering hand, was signed,--"Henry Edwards."
His father's dear old friend! Julien could not refuse to
go,--though he feared it was a hopeless case. Angina
pectoris,--and a third attack at seventy years of age! Would it
even be possible to reach the sufferer's bedside in time? "Due
giorno,--con vento,"--said Sparicio. Still, he must go; and at
once. It was Friday morning;--might reach the Point Saturday
night, with a good wind ... He roused his housekeeper, gave all
needful instructions, prepared his little medicine-chest;--and
long before the first rose-gold fire of day had flashed to the
city spires, he was sleeping the sleep of exhaustion in the tiny
cabin of a fishing-sloop.
... For eleven years Julien had devoted himself, heart and soul,
to the exercise of that profession he had first studied rather as
a polite accomplishment than as a future calling. In the
unselfish pursuit of duty he had found the only possible
consolation for his irreparable loss; and when the war came to
sweep away his wealth, he entered the struggle valorously, not to
strive against men, but to use his science against death. After
the passing of that huge shock, which left all the imposing and
splendid fabric of Southern feudalism wrecked forever, his
profession stood him in good stead;--he found himself not only
able to supply those personal wants he cared to satisfy, but also
to alleviate the misery of many whom he had known in days of
opulence;--the princely misery that never doffed its smiling
mask, though living in secret, from week to week, on bread and
orange-leaf tea;--the misery that affected condescension in
accepting an invitation to dine,--staring at the face of a watch
(refused by the Mont-de-Piete) with eyes half blinded by
starvation;--the misery which could afford but one robe for three
marriageable daughters,--one plain dress to be worn in turn by
each of them, on visiting days;--the pretty misery--young, brave,
sweet,--asking for a "treat" of cakes too jocosely to have its
asking answered,--laughing and coquetting with its well-fed
wooers, and crying for hunger after they were gone. Often and
often, his heart had pleaded against his purse for such as these,
and won its case in the silent courts of Self. But ever
mysteriously the gift came,--sometimes as if from the hand of a
former slave; sometimes as from a remorseful creditor, ashamed to
write his name. Only yellow Victorine knew; but the Doctor's
housekeeper never opened those sphinx-lips of hers, until years
after the Doctor's name had disappeared from the City Directory
He had grown quite thin,--a little gray. The epidemic had
burthened him with responsibilities too multifarious and
ponderous for his slender strength to bear. The continual
nervous strain of abnormally protracted duty, the perpetual
interruption of sleep, had almost prostrated even his will. Now
he only hoped that, during this brief absence from the city, he
might find renewed strength to do his terrible task.
Mosquitoes bit savagely; and the heat became thicker;--and there
was yet no wind. Sparicio and his hired boy Carmelo had been
walking backward and forward for hours overhead,--urging the
vessel yard by yard, with long poles, through the slime of canals
and bayous. With every heavy push, the weary boy would sigh
out,--"Santo Antonio!--Santo Antonio!" Sullen Sparicio himself
at last burst into vociferations of ill-humor:--"Santo
Antonio?--Ah! santissimu e santu diavulu! ... Sacramentu paescite
vegnu un asidente!--malidittu lu Signuri!" All through the
morning they walked and pushed, trudged and sighed and swore; and
the minutes dragged by more wearily than the shuffling of their
feet. "Managgia Cristo co tutta a croce!" ... "Santissimu e
santu diavulu!" ...
But as they reached at last the first of the broad bright lakes,
the heat lifted, the breeze leaped up, the loose sail flapped and
filled; and, bending graciously as a skater, the old San Marco
began to shoot in a straight line over the blue flood. Then,
while the boy sat at the tiller, Sparicio lighted his tiny
charcoal furnace below, and prepared a simple meal,--delicious
yellow macaroni, flavored with goats' cheese; some fried fish,
that smelled appetizingly; and rich black coffee, of Oriental
fragrance and thickness. Julien ate a little, and lay down to
sleep again. This time his rest was undisturbed by the
mosquitoes; and when he woke, in the cooling evening, he felt
almost refreshed. The San Marco was flying into Barataria Bay.
Already the lantern in the lighthouse tower had begun to glow
like a little moon; and right on the rim of the sea, a vast and
vermilion sun seemed to rest his chin. Gray pelicans came
flapping around the mast;--sea-birds sped hurtling by, their
white bosoms rose-flushed by the western glow ... Again
Sparicio's little furnace was at work,--more fish, more macaroni,
more black coffee; also a square-shouldered bottle of gin made
its appearance. Julien ate less sparingly at this second meal;
and smoked a long time on deck with Sparicio, who suddenly became
very good-humored, and chatted volubly in bad Spanish, and in
much worse English. Then while the boy took a few hours' sleep,
the Doctor helped delightedly in maneuvering the little vessel.
He had been a good yachtsman in other years; and Sparicio
declared he would make a good fisherman. By midnight the San
Marco began to run with a long, swinging gait;--she had reached
deep water. Julien slept soundly; the steady rocking of the
sloop seemed to soothe his nerves.
--"After all, " he thought to himself, as he rose from his
little bunk next morning,--"something like this is just what I
needed." ... The pleasant scent of hot coffee greeted
him;--Carmelo was handing him the tin cup containing it, down
through the hatchway. After drinking it he felt really
hungry;--he ate more macaroni than he had ever eaten before.
Then, while Sparicio slept, he aided Carmelo; and during the
middle of the day he rested again. He had not had so much
uninterrupted repose for many a week. He fancied he could feel
himself getting strong. At supper-time it seemed to him he could
not get enough to eat,--although there was plenty for everybody.
All day long there had been exactly the same wave-crease
distorting the white shadow of the San Marco's sail upon the blue
water;--all day long they had been skimming over the liquid level
of a world so jewel-blue that the low green ribbon-strips of
marsh land, the far-off fleeing lines of pine-yellow sand beach,
seemed flaws or breaks in the perfected color of the
universe;--all day long had the cloudless sky revealed through
all its exquisite transparency that inexpressible tenderness
which no painter and no poet can ever reimage,--that unutterable
sweetness which no art of man may ever shadow forth, and which
none may ever comprehend,--though we feel it to be in some
strange way akin to the luminous and unspeakable charm that makes
us wonder at the eyes of a woman when she loves.
Evening came; and the great dominant celestial tone
deepened;--the circling horizon filled with ghostly
tints,--spectral greens and grays, and pearl-lights and
fish-colors ... Carmelo, as he crouched at the tiller, was
singing, in a low, clear alto, some tristful little melody. Over
the sea, behind them, lay, black-stretching, a long low arm of
island-shore;--before them flamed the splendor of sun-death; they
were sailing into a mighty glory,--into a vast and awful light of
Shading his vision with his fingers, Sparicio pointed to the long
lean limb of land from which they were fleeing, and said to La
--"Look-a, Doct-a! Last-a Islan'!"
Julien knew it;--he only nodded his head in reply, and looked the
other way,--into the glory of God. Then, wishing to divert the
fisherman's attention to another theme, he asked what was Carmelo
singing. Sparicio at once shouted to the lad:--
--"Ha! ... ho! Carmelo!--Santu diavulu! ... Sing-a loud-a!
Doct-a lik-a! Sing-a! sing!" .... "He sing-a nicee,"--added
the boatman, with his peculiar dark smile. And then Carmelo
sang, loud and clearly, the song he had been singing before,--one
of those artless Mediterranean ballads, full of caressing
vowel-sounds, and young passion, and melancholy beauty:--
"M'ama ancor, belta fulgente,
Come tu m'amasti allor;--
Ascoltar non dei gente,
Solo interroga il tuo cor." ...
--"He sing-a nicee,--mucha bueno!" murmured the fisherman. And
then, suddenly,--with a rich and splendid basso that seemed to
thrill every fibre of the planking,--Sparicio joined in the
"M'ama pur d'amore eterno,
Ne deilitto sembri a te;
T'assicuro che l'inferno
Una favola sol e." ...
All the roughness of the man was gone! To Julien's startled
fancy, the fishers had ceased to be;--lo! Carmelo was a princely
page; Sparicio, a king! How perfectly their voices married
together!--they sang with passion, with power, with truth, with
that wondrous natural art which is the birthright of the rudest
Italian soul. And the stars throbbed out in the heaven; and the
glory died in the west; and the night opened its heart; and the
splendor of the eternities fell all about them. Still they sang;
and the San Marco sped on through the soft gloom, ever slightly
swerved by the steady blowing of the southeast wind in her
sail;--always wearing the same crimpling-frill of wave-spray
about her prow,--always accompanied by the same smooth-backed
swells,--always spinning out behind her the same long trail of
interwoven foam. And Julien looked up. Ever the night thrilled
more and more with silent twinklings;--more and more
multitudinously lights pointed in the eternities;--the Evening
Star quivered like a great drop of liquid white fire ready to
fall;--Vega flamed as a pharos lighting the courses ethereal,--to
guide the sailing of the suns, and the swarming of fleets of
worlds. Then the vast sweetness of that violet night entered
into his blood,--filled him with that awful joy, so near akin to
sadness, which the sense of the Infinite brings,--when one feels
the poetry of the Most Ancient and Most Excellent of Poets, and
then is smitten at once with the contrast-thought of the
sickliness and selfishness of Man,--of the blindness and
brutality of cities, whereinto the divine blue light never purely
comes, and the sanctification of the Silences never descends ...
furious cities, walled away from heaven ... Oh! if one could only
sail on thus always, always through such a night--through such a
star-sprinkled violet light, and hear Sparicio and Carmelo sing,
even though it were the same melody always, always the same song!
... "Scuza, Doct-a!--look-a out!" Julien bent down, as the big
boom, loosened, swung over his head. The San Marco was rounding
into shore,--heading for her home. Sparicio lifted a huge
conch-shell from the deck, put it to his lips, filled his deep
lungs, and flung out into the night--thrice--a profound,
mellifluent, booming horn-tone. A minute passed. Then, ghostly
faint, as an echo from very far away, a triple blowing responded
And a long purple mass loomed and swelled into sight, heightened,
approached--land and trees black-shadowing, and lights that swung
... The San Marco glided into a bayou,--under a high wharfing of
timbers, where a bearded fisherman waited, and a woman. Sparicio
flung up a rope.
The bearded man caught it by the lantern-light, and tethered the
San Marco to her p]ace. Then he asked, in a deep voice:
-"Has traido al Doctor?"
-"Si, si!" answered Sparicio... "Y el viejo?"
-"Aye! pobre!" responded Feliu,--"hace tres dias que esta
Henry Edwards was dead!
He had died very suddenly, without a cry or a word, while resting
in his rocking-chair,--the very day after Sparicio had sailed.
They had made him a grave in the marsh,--among the high weeds,
not far from the ruined tomb of the Spanish fisherman. But
Sparicio had fairly earned his hundred dollars.
So there was nothing to do at Viosca's Point except to rest.
Feliu and all his men were going to Barataria in the morning on
business;--the Doctor could accompany them there, and take the
Grand Island steamer Monday for New Orleans. With this intention
Julien retired,--not sorry for being able to stretch himself at
full length on the good bed prepared for him, in one of the
unoccupied cabins. But he woke before day with a feeling of
intense prostration, a violent headache, and such an aversion for
the mere idea of food that Feliu's invitation to breakfast at
five o'clock gave him an internal qualm. Perhaps a touch of
malaria. In any case he felt it would be both dangerous and
useless to return to town unwell; and Feliu, observing his
condition, himself advised against the journey. Wednesday he
would have another opportunity to leave; and in the meanwhile
Carmen would take good care of him ... The boats departed, and
Julien slept again.
The sun was high when he rose up and dressed himself, feeling no
better. He would have liked to walk about the place, but felt
nervously afraid of the sun. He did not remember having ever
felt so broken down before. He pulled a rocking-chair to the
window, tried to smoke a cigar. It commenced to make him feel
still sicker, and he flung it away. It seemed to him the cabin
was swaying, as the San Marco swayed when she first reached the
A light rustling sound approached,--a sound of quick feet
treading the grass: then a shadow slanted over the threshold.
In the glow of the open doorway stood a young girl,--gracile,
tall,--with singularly splendid eyes,--brown eyes peeping at him
from beneath a golden riot of loose hair.
--"M'sieu-le-Docteur, maman d'mande si vous n'avez besoin
d'que'que chose?" ... She spoke the rude French of the fishing
villages, where the language lives chiefly as a baragouin,
mingled often with words and forms belonging to many other
tongues. She wore a loose-falling dress of some light stuff,
steel-gray in color;--boys' shoes were on her feet.
He did not reply;--and her large eyes grew larger for wonder at
the strange fixed gaze of the physician, whose face had visibly
bleached,--blanched to corpse-pallor. Silent seconds passed; and
still the eyes stared--flamed as if the life of the man had
centralized and focussed within them.
His voice had risen to a cry in his throat, quivered and swelled
one passionate instant, and failed--as in a dream when one
strives to call, and yet can only moan ... She! Her unforgotten
eyes, her brows, her lips!--the oval of her face!--the dawn-light
of her hair! ... Adele's own poise,--her own grace!--even the
very turn of her neck, even the bird-tone of her speech! ... Had
the grave sent forth a Shadow to haunt him?--could the perfidious
Sea have yielded up its dead? For one terrible fraction of a
minute, memories, doubts, fears, mad fancies, went pulsing
through his brain with a rush like the rhythmic throbbing of an
electric stream;--then the shock passed, the Reason
spoke:--"Fool!--count the long years since you first saw her
thus!--countthe years that have gone since you looked upon her
last! And Time has never halted, silly heart!--neither has Death
... "Plait-il?"--the clear voice of the young girl asked. She
thought he had made some response she could not distinctly hear.
Mastering himself an instant, as the heart faltered back to its
duty, and the color remounted to his lips, he answered her in
"Pardon me!--I did not hear ... you gave me such a start!" ...
But even then another extraordinary fancy flashed through his
thought;--and with the tutoiement of a parent to a child, with an
irresistible outburst of such tenderness as almost frightened
her, he cried: "Oh! merciful God!--how like her! ... Tell me,
darling, your name; ... tell me who you are?" (Dis-moi qui tu es,
mignonne;--dis-moi ton nom.)
... Who was it had asked her the same question, in another idiom
ever so long ago? The man with the black eyes and nose like an
eagle's beak,--the one who gave her the compass. Not this
She answered, with the timid gravity of surprise:--
He still watched her face, and repeated the name
slowly,--reiterated it in a tone of wonderment:--"Chita
--"C'est a dire ..." she said, looking down at her
feet,--"Concha--Conchita. " His strange solemnity made her
smile,--the smile of shyness that knows not what else to do. But
it was the smile of dead Adele.
--"Thanks, my child, " he exclaimed of a sudden,--in a quick,
hoarse, changed tone. (He felt that his emotion would break
loose in some wild way, if he looked upon her longer.) "I would
like to see your mother this evening; but I now feel too ill to
go out. I am going to try to rest a little."
--"Nothing I can bring you?" she asked,--"some fresh milk?"
--"Nothing now, dear: if I need anything later, I will tell
your mother when she comes. "
--"Mamma does not understand French very well."
--"No importa, Conchita;--le hablare en Espanol."
--"Bien, entonces!" she responded, with the same exquisite
smile. "Adios, senor!" ...
But as she turned in going, his piercing eye discerned a little
brown speck below the pretty lobe of her right ear,--just in the
peachy curve between neck and cheek. ... His own little Zouzoune
had a birthmark like that!---he remembered the faint pink trace
left by his fingers above and below it the day he had slapped her
for overturning his ink bottle ... "To laimin moin?---to batte
She did not hear ... After all, what a mistake he might have
made! Were not Nature's coincidences more wonderful than
fiction? Better to wait,--to question the mother first, and thus
Still--there were so many coincidences! The face, the smile, the
eyes, the voice, the whole charm;---then that mark,---and the
fair hair. Zouzoune had always resembled Adele so strangely!
That golden hair was a Scandinavian bequest to the Florane
family;---the tall daughter of a Norwegian sea captain had once
become the wife of a Florane. Viosca?---who ever knew a Viosca
with such hair? Yet again, these Spanish emigrants sometimes
married blonde German girls ... Might be a case of atavism, too.
Who was this Viosca? If that was his wife,---the little brown
Carmen,---whence Chita's sunny hair? ...
And this was part of that same desolate shore whither the Last
Island dead had been drifted by that tremendous surge! On a
clear day, with a good glass, one might discern from here the
long blue streak of that ghastly coast ... Somewhere--between
here and there ... Merciful God! ...
... But again! That bivouac-night before the fight at
Chancellorsville, Laroussel had begun to tell him such a singular
story ... Chance had brought them,--the old enemies,--together;
made them dear friends in the face of Death. How little he had
comprehended the man!---what a brave, true, simple soul went up
that day to the Lord of Battles! ... What was it--that story
about the little Creole girl saved from Last Island,--that story
which was never finished? ... Eh! what a pain!
Evidently he had worked too much, slept too little. A decided
case of nervous prostration. He must lie down, and try to sleep.
These pains in the head and back were becoming unbearable.
Nothing but rest could avail him now.
He stretched himself under the mosquito curtain. It was very
still, breath. less, hot! The venomous insects were
thick;---they filled the room with a continuous ebullient sound,
as if invisible kettles were boiling overhead. A sign of
storm.... Still, it was strange!---he could not perspire ...
Then it seemed to him that Laroussel was bending over
him---Laroussel in his cavalry uniform. "Bon jour,
camarade!---nous allons avoir un bien mauvais temps, mon pauvre
Julien." How! bad weather?---"Comment un mauvais temps?" ...
He looked in Laroussel's face. There was something so singular
in his smile. Ah! yes,---he remembered now: it was the wound!
... "Un vilain temps!" whispered Laroussel. Then he was gone
The whisper roused him with a fearful start ... Adele's whisper!
So she was wont to rouse him sometimes in the old sweet
nights,--to crave some little attention for ailing Eulalie,---to
make some little confidence she had forgotten to utter during the
happy evening ... No, no! It was only the trees. The sky was
clouding over. The wind was rising ... How his heart beat! how
his temples pulsed! Why, this was fever! Such pains in the back
Still his skin was dry,--dry as parchment,--burning. He rose up;
and a bursting weight of pain at the base of the skull made him
reel like a drunken man. He staggered to the little mirror
nailed upon the wall, and looked. How his eyes glowed;---and
there was blood in his mouth! He felt his pulse spasmodic,
terribly rapid. Could it possibly---? ... No: this must be
some pernicious malarial fever! The Creole does not easily fall
a prey to the great tropical malady,---unless after a long
absence in other climates. True! he had been four years in the
army! But this was 1867 ... He hesitated a moment;
then,--opening his medicine chest, he measured out and swallowed
thirty grains of quinine.
Then he lay down again. His head pained more and more;---it
seemed as if the cervical vertebrae were filled with fluid iron.
And still his skin remained dry as if tanned. Then the anguish
grew so intense as to force a groan with almost every aspiration
... Nausea,--and the stinging bitterness of quinine rising in his
throat;---dizziness, and a brutal wrenching within his stomach.
Everything began to look pink;---the light was rose-colored. It
darkened more,---kindled with deepening tint. Something kept
sparkling and spinning before his sight, like a firework ... Then
a burst of blood mixed with chemical bitterness filled his mouth;
the light became scarlet as claret ... This--this was ... not
... Carmen knew what it was; but the brave little woman was not
afraid of it. Many a time before she had met it face to face, in
Havanese summers; she knew how to wrestle with it; she had torn
Feliu's life away from its yellow clutch, after one of those long
struggles that strain even the strength of love. Now she feared
mostly for Chita. She had ordered the girl under no
circumstances to approach the cabin.
Julien felt that blankets had been heaped upon him,---that some
gentle hand was bathing his scorching face with vinegar and
water. Vaguely also there came to him the idea that it was
night. He saw the shadow-shape of a woman moving against the red
light upon the wall;---he saw there was a lamp burning.
Then the delirium seized him: he moaned, sobbed, cried like a
child,---talked wildly at intervals in French, in English, in
---"Mentira!---you could not be her mother ... Still, if you
were---And she must not come in here,---jamais! ... Carmen, did
you know Adele,---Adele Florane? So like her,---so like,---God
only knows how like! ... Perhaps I think I know;---but I do
not---do not know justly, fully---how like! ... Si! si!---es el
vomito!---yo lo conozco, Carmen! ... She must not die twice ... I
died twice ... I am going to die again. She only once. Till the
heavens be no more she will not rise ... Moi, au contraire, il
faut que je me leve toujours! They need me so much;---the slate
is always full; the bell will never stop. They will ring that
bell for me when I am dead ... So will I rise again!---resurgam!
... How could I save him?---could not save myself. It was a bad
case,--at seventy years! ... There! Qui ca?" ...
He saw Laroussel again,--reaching out a hand to him through a
whirl of red smoke. He tried to grasp it, and could not ...
"N'importe, mon ami," said Laroussel,---"tu vas la voir bientot."
Who was he to see soon?---"qui done, Laroussel?" But Laroussel
did not answer. Through the red mist he seemed to smile;---then
For some hours Carmen had trusted she could save her
patient,---desperate as the case appeared to be. His was one of
those rapid and violent attacks, such as often despatch their
victims in a single day. In the Cuban hospitals she had seen
many and many terrible examples: strong young men,---soldiers
fresh from Spain,---carried panting to the fever wards at
sunrise; carried to the cemeteries at sunset. Even troopers
riddled with revolutionary bullets had lingered longer ... Still,
she had believed she might save Julien's life: the burning
forehead once began to bead, the burning hands grew moist.
But now the wind was moaning;--the air had become lighter,
thinner, cooler. A stone was gathering in the east; and to the
fever-stricken man the change meant death ... Impossible to bring
the priest of the Caminada now; and there was no other within a
day's sail. She could only pray; she had lost all hope in her
own power to save.
Still the sick man raved; but he talked to himself at longer
intervals, and with longer pauses between his words;---his voice
was growing more feeble, his speech more incoherent. His thought
vacillated and distorted, like flame in a wind.
Weirdly the past became confounded with the present; impressions
of sight and of sound interlinked in fastastic affinity,---the
face of Chita Viosca, the murmur of the rising storm. Then
flickers of spectral lightning passed through his eyes, through
his brain, with every throb of the burning arteries; then utter
darkness came,---a darkness that surged and moaned, as the
circumfluence of a shadowed sea. And through and over the
moaning pealed one multitudinous human cry, one hideous
interblending of shoutings and shriekings ... A woman's hand was
locked in his own ... "Tighter," he muttered, "tighter still,
darling! hold as long as you can!" It was the tenth night of
August, eighteen hundred and fifty-six ...
Again the mysterious whisper startled him to consciousness,---the
dim knowledge of a room filled with ruby colored light,---and the
sharp odor of vinegar. The house swung round slowly;---the
crimson flame of the lamp lengthened and broadened by
turns;---then everything turned dizzily fast,---whirled as if
spinning in a vortex ... Nausea unutterable; and a frightful
anguish as of teeth devouring him within,---tearing more and more
furiously at his breast. Then one atrocious wrenching, rending,
burning,---and the gush of blood burst from lips and nostrils in
a smothering deluge. Again the vision of lightnings, the
swaying, and the darkness of long ago. "Quick!---quick!---hold
fast to the table, Adele!---never let go!" ...
... Up,---up,---up!---what! higher yet? Up to the red sky!
Red---black-red ... heated iron when its vermilion dies. So,
too, the frightful flood! And noiseless. Noiseless because
heavy, clammy,---thick, warm, sickening---blood? Well might the
land quake for the weight of such a tide!---Why did Adele speak
Spanish? Who prayed for him? ...
---"Alma de Cristo santisima santificame!
"Sangre de Cristo, embriagame!
"O buen Jesus, oye me!" ...
Out of the darkness into--such a light! An azure haze!
Ah!---the delicious frost! ... All the streets were filled with
the sweet blue mist ... Voiceless the City and white;---crooked
and weed grown its narrow ways! ... Old streets of tombs, these
... Eh! How odd a custom!---a Night-bell at every door. Yes, of
course!---a night-bell!---the Dead are Physicians of Souls: they
may be summoned only by night,---called up from the darkness and
silence ... Yet she?---might he not dare to ring for her even by
day? ........ Strange he had deemed it day!---why, it was black,
starless ... And it was growing queerly cold ...... How should he
ever find her now? It was so black ... so cold! ...
All the dwelling quivered with the mighty whisper.
Outside, the great oaks were trembling to their roots;---all the
shore shook and blanched before the calling of the sea.
And Carmen, kneeling at the feet of the dead, cried out, alone in
---"O Jesus misericordioso!---tened compasion de el!"
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