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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 24680

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"What are you going to do with yourself this evening, Alfred?" said Mr. Royal to his companion, as they issued from his counting-house in New Orleans. "Perhaps I ought to apologize for not calling you Mr. King, considering the shortness of our acquaintance; but your father and I were like brothers in our youth, and you resemble him so much, I can hardly realize that you are not he himself, and I still a young man. It used to be a joke with us that we must be cousins, since he was a King and I was of the Royal family. So excuse me if I say to you, as I used to say to him. What are you going to do with yourself, Cousin Alfred?"

"I thank you for the friendly familiarity," rejoined the young man. "It is pleasant to know that I remind you so strongly of my good father. My most earnest wish is to resemble him in character as much as I am said to resemble him in person. I have formed no plans for the evening. I was just about to ask you what there was best worth seeing or hearing in the Crescent City."

"If I should tell you I thought there was nothing better worth seeing than my daughters, you would perhaps excuse a father's partiality," rejoined Mr. Royal.

"Your daughters!" exclaimed his companion, in a tone of surprise. "I never heard that you were married."

A shadow of embarrassment passed over the merchant's face, as he replied, "Their mother was a Spanish lady,-a stranger here,-and she formed no acquaintance. She was a woman of a great heart and of rare beauty. Nothing can ever make up her loss to me; but all the joy that remains in life is centred in the daughters she has left me. I should like to introduce them to you; and that is a compliment I never before paid to any young man. My home is in the outskirts of the city; and when we have dined at the hotel, according to my daily habit, I will send off a few letters, and then, if you like to go there with me, I will call a carriage."

"Thank you," replied the young man; "unless it is your own custom to ride, I should prefer to walk. I like the exercise, and it will give a better opportunity to observe the city, which is so different from our Northern towns that it has for me the attractions of a foreign land."

In compliance with this wish, Mr. Royal took him through the principal streets, pointing out the public buildings, and now and then stopping to smile at some placard or sign which presented an odd jumble of French and English. When they came to the suburbs of the city, the aspect of things became charmingly rural. Houses were scattered here and there among trees and gardens. Mr. Royal pointed out one of them, nestled in flowers and half encircled by an orange-grove, and said, "That is my home. When I first came here, the place where it stands was a field of sugar-canes; but the city is fast stretching itself into the suburbs."

They approached the dwelling; and in answer to the bell, the door was opened by a comely young negress, with a turban of bright colors on her head and golden hoops in her ears. Before the gentlemen had disposed of their hats and canes, a light little figure bounded from one of the rooms, clapping her hands, and exclaiming, "Ah, Papasito!" Then, seeing a stranger with him, she suddenly stood still, with a pretty look of blushing surprise.

"Never mind, Mignonne," said her father, fondly patting her head.

"This is Alfred Royal King, from Boston; my namesake, and the son of

a dear old friend of mine. I have invited him to see you dance. Mr.

King, this is my Floracita."

The fairy dotted a courtesy, quickly and gracefully as a butterfly touching a flower, and then darted back into the room she had left. There they were met by a taller young lady, who was introduced as "My daughter Rosabella." Her beauty was superlative and peculiar. Her complexion was like a glowing reflection upon ivory from gold in the sunshine. Her large brown eyes were deeply fringed, and lambent with interior light. Lustrous dark brown hair shaded her forehead in little waves, slight as the rippling of water touched by an insect's wing. It was arranged at the back of her head in circling braids, over which fell clusters of ringlets, with moss-rose-buds nestling among them. Her full, red lips were beautifully shaped, and wore a mingled expression of dignity and sweetness. The line from ear to chin was that perfect oval which artists love, and the carriage of her head was like one born to a kingdom.

Floracita, though strikingly handsome, was of a model less superb than her elder sister. She was a charming little brunette, with laughter always lurking in ambush within her sparkling black eyes, a mouth like "Cupid's bow carved in coral," and dimples in her cheeks, that well deserved their French name, berceaux d'amour.

These radiant visions of beauty took Alfred King so much by surprise, that he was for a moment confused. But he soon recovered self-possession, and, after the usual salutations, took a seat offered him near a window overlooking the garden. While the commonplaces of conversation were interchanged, he could not but notice the floral appearance of the room. The ample white lace curtains were surmounted by festoons of artificial roses, caught up by a bird of paradise. On the ceiling was an exquisitely painted garland, from the centre of which hung a tasteful basket of natural flowers, with delicate vine-tresses drooping over its edge. The walls were papered with bright arabesques of flowers, interspersed with birds and butterflies. In one corner a statuette of Flora looked down upon a geranium covered with a profusion of rich blossoms. In the opposite corner, ivy was trained to form a dark background for Canova's "Dancer in Repose," over whose arm was thrown a wreath of interwoven vines and orange-blossoms. On brackets and tables were a variety of natural flowers in vases of Sevres china, whereon the best artists of France had painted flowers in all manner of graceful combinations. The ottomans were embroidered with flowers. Rosabella's white muslin dress was trailed all over with delicately tinted roses, and the lace around the corsage was fastened in front with a mosaic basket of flowers. Floracita's black curls fell over her shoulders mixed with crimson fuchsias, and on each of her little slippers was embroidered a bouquet.

"This is the Temple of Flora," said Alfred, turning to his host. "Flowers everywhere! Natural flowers, artificial flowers, painted flowers, embroidered flowers, and human flowers excelling them all,"-glancing at the young ladies as he spoke.

Mr. Royal sighed, and in an absent sort of way answered, "Yes, yes." Then, starting up, he said abruptly, "Excuse me a moment; I wish to give the servants some directions."

Floracita, who was cutting leaves from the geranium, observed his quick movement, and, as he left the room, she turned toward their visitor and said, in a childlike, confidential sort of way: "Our dear Mamita used to call this room the Temple of Flora. She had a great passion for flowers. She chose the paper, she made the garlands for the curtains, she embroidered the ottomans, and painted that table so prettily. Papasito likes to have things remain as she arranged them, but sometimes they make him sad; for the angels took Mamita away from us two years ago."

"Even the names she gave you are flowery," said Alfred, with an expression of mingled sympathy and admiration.

"Yes; and we had a great many flowery pet-names beside," replied she.

"My name is Flora, but when she was very loving with me she called me

her Floracita, her little flower; and Papasito always calls me so now.

Sometimes Mamita called me Pensée Vivace."

"In English we call that bright little flower Jump-up-and-kiss-me," rejoined Alfred, smiling as he looked down upon the lively little fairy.

She returned the smile with an arch glance, that seemed to say, "I sha'n't do it, though." And away she skipped to meet her father, whose returning steps were heard.

"You see I spoil her," said he, as she led him into the room with a half-dancing step. "But how can I help it?"

Before there was time to respond to this question, the negress with the bright turban announced that tea was ready.

"Yes, Tulipa? we will come," said Floracita.

"Is she a flower too?" asked Alfred.

"Yes, she's a flower, too," answered Floracita, with a merry little laugh. "We named her so because she always wears a red and yellow turban; but we call her Tulee, for short."

While they were partaking of refreshments, she and her father were perpetually exchanging badinage, which, childish as it was, served to enliven the repast. But when she began to throw oranges for him to catch, a reproving glance from her dignified sister reminded her of the presence of company.

"Let her do as she likes, Rosa dear," said her father. "She is used to being my little plaything, and I can't spare her to be a woman yet."

"I consider it a compliment to forget that I am a stranger," said Mr. King. "For my own part, I forgot it entirely before I had been in the house ten minutes."

Rosabella thanked him with a quiet smile and a slight inclination of her head. Floracita, notwithstanding this encouragement, paused in her merriment; and Mr. Royal began to talk over reminiscences connected with Alfred's father. When they rose from table, he said, "Come here, Mignonne! We won't be afraid of the Boston gentleman, will we?" Floracita sprang to his side. He passed his arm fondly round her, and, waiting for his guest and his elder daughter to precede them, they returned to the room they had left. They had scarcely entered it, when Floracita darted to the window, and, peering forth into the twilight, she looked back roguishly at her sister, and began to sing:-

"Un petit blanc, que j'aime,

En ces lieux est venu.

Oui! oui! c'est lui m?me!

C'est lui! je l'ai vue!

Petit blanc! mon bon fr?re!

Ha! ha! petit blanc si doux!"

The progress of her song was checked by the entrance of a gentleman, who was introduced to Alfred as Mr. Fitzgerald from Savannah. His handsome person reminded one of an Italian tenor singer, and his manner was a graceful mixture of hauteur and insinuating courtesy. After a brief interchange of salutations, he said to Floracita, "I heard some notes of a lively little French tune, that went so trippingly I should be delighted to hear more of it."

Floracita had accidentally overheard some half-whispered words which Mr. Fitzgerald had addressed to her sister, during his last visit, and, thinking she had discovered an important secret, she was disposed to use her power mischievously. Without waiting for a repetition of his request, she sang:-

"Petit blanc, mon bon fr?re!

Ha! ha! petit blanc si doux!

Il n'y a rien sur la terre

De si joli que vous."

While she was singing, she darted roguish glances at her sister, whose cheeks glowed like the sun-ripened side of a golden apricot. Her father touched her shoulder, and said in a tone of annoyance, "Don't sing that foolish song, Mignonne!" She turned to him quickly with a look of surprise; for she was accustomed only to endearments from him. In answer to her look, he added, in a gentler tone, "You know I told you I wanted my friend to see you dance. Select one of your prettiest, ma petite, and Rosabella will play it for you."

Mr. Fitzgerald assiduously placed the music-stool, and bent over the portfolio while Miss Royal searched for the music. A servant lighted the candelabra and drew the curtains. Alfred, glancing at Mr. Royal, saw he was watching the pair who were busy at the portfolio, and that the expression of his countenance was troubled. His eyes, however, soon had pleasanter occupation; for as soon as Rosa touched the piano, Floracita began to float round the room in a succession of graceful whirls, as if the music had taken her up and was waltzing her along. As she passed the marble Dancing Girl, she seized the wreath that was thrown over its arm, and as she went circling round, it seemed as if the tune had become a visible spirit, and that the garland was a floating accompaniment to its graceful motions. Sometimes it was held aloft by the right hand, sometimes by the left; sometimes it was a whirling semicircle behind her; and sometimes

it rested on her shoulders, mingling its white orange buds and blossoms with her shower of black curls and crimson fuchsias. Now it was twined round her head in a flowery crown, and then it gracefully unwound itself, as if it were a thing alive. Ever and anon the little dancer poised herself for an instant on the point of one fairy foot, her cheeks glowing with exercise and dimpling with smiles, as she met her father's delighted gaze. Every attitude seemed spontaneous in its prettiness, as if the music had made it without her choice. At last she danced toward her father, and sank, with a wave-like motion, on the ottoman at his feet. He patted the glossy head that nestled lovingly on his knee, and drawing a long breath, as if oppressed with happiness, he murmured, "Ah, Mignonne!"

The floating fairy vision had given such exquisite pleasure, that all had been absorbed in watching its variations. Now they looked at each other and smiled. "You would make Taglioni jealous," said Mr. Fitzgerald, addressing the little dancer; and Mr. King silently thanked her with a very expressive glance.

As Rosabella retired from the piano, she busied herself with rearranging a bouquet she had taken from one of the vases. When Mr. Fitzgerald stationed himself at her side, she lowered her eyes with a perceptibly deepening color. On her peculiar complexion a blush showed like a roseate cloud in a golden atmosphere. As Alfred gazed on the long, dark, silky fringes resting on those warmly tinted cheeks, he thought he had never seen any human creature so superbly handsome.

"Nothing but music can satisfy us after such dancing," said Mr. Fitzgerald. She looked up to him with a smile; and Alfred thought the rising of those dark eyelashes surpassed their downcast expression, as the glory of morning sunshine excels the veiled beauty of starlight.

"Shall I accompany you while you sing, 'How brightly breaks the morning'?" asked she.

"That always sings itself into my heart, whenever you raise your eyes to mine," replied he, in a low tone, as he handed her to the piano.

Together they sang that popular melody, bright and joyful as sunrise on a world of blossoms. Then came a Tyrolese song, with a double voice, sounding like echoes from the mountains. This was followed by some tender, complaining Russian melodies, novelties which Mr. Fitzgerald had brought on a preceding visit. Feeling they were too much engrossed with each other, she said politely, "Mr. King has not yet chosen any music."

"The moon becomes visible through the curtains," replied he. "Perhaps you will salute her with 'Casta Diva.'"

"That is a favorite with us," she replied. "Either Flora or I sing it almost every moonlight night."

She sang it in very pure Italian. Then turning round on the music-stool she looked at her father, and said, "Now, Papasito querido, what shall I sing for you?"

"You know, dear, what I always love to hear," answered he.

With gentle touch, she drew from the keys a plaintive prelude, which soon modulated itself into "The Light of other Days." She played and sang it with so much feeling, that it seemed the voice of memory floating with softened sadness over the far-off waters of the past. The tune was familiar to Alfred, but it had never sung itself into his heart, as now. "I felt as I did in Italy, listening to a vesper-bell sounding from a distance in the stillness of twilight," said he, turning toward his host.

"All who hear Rosabella sing notice a bell in her voice," rejoined her father.

"Undoubtedly it is the voice of a belle," said Mr. Fitzgerald.

Her father, without appearing to notice the commonplace pun, went on to say, "You don't know, Mr. King, what tricks she can play with her voice. I call her a musical ventriloquist. If you want to hear the bell to perfection, ask her to sing 'Toll the bell for lovely Nell.'"

"Do give me that pleasure," said Alfred, persuasively.

She sang the pathetic melody, and with voice and piano imitated to perfection the slow tolling of a silver-toned bell. After a short pause, during which she trifled with the keys, while some general remarks were passing, she turned to Mr. Fitzgerald, who was leaning on the piano, and said, "What shall I sing for you?" It was a simple question, but it pierced the heart of Alfred King with a strange new pain. What would he not have given for such a soft expression in those glorious eyes when she looked at him!

"Since you are in a ventriloqual mood," answered Mr. Fitzgerald, "I should like to hear again what you played the last time I was here,-Agatha's Moonlight Prayer, from Der Freyschütz."

She smiled, and with voice and instrument produced the indescribably dreamy effect of the two flutes. It was the very moonlight of sound.

"This is perfectly magical," murmured Alfred. He spoke in a low, almost reverential tone; for the spell of moonlight was on him, and the clear, soft voice of the singer, the novelty of her peculiar beauty, and the surpassing gracefulness of her motions, as she swayed gently to the music of the tones she produced, inspired him with a feeling of poetic deference. Through the partially open window came the lulling sound of a little trickling fountain in the garden, and the air was redolent of jasmine and orange-blossoms. On the pier-table was a little sleeping Cupid, from whose torch rose the fragrant incense of a nearly extinguished pastille. The pervasive spirit of beauty in the room, manifested in forms, colors, tones, and motions, affected the soul as perfume did the senses. The visitors felt they had stayed too long, and yet they lingered. Alfred examined the reclining Cupid, and praised the gracefulness of its outline.

"Cupid could never sleep here, nor would the flame of his torch ever go out," said Mr. Fitzgerald; "but it is time we were going out."

The young gentlemen exchanged parting salutations with their host and his daughters, and moved toward the door. But Mr. Fitzgerald paused on the threshold to say, "Please play us out with Mozart's 'Good Night.'"

"As organists play worshippers out of the church," added Mr. King.

Rosabella bowed compliance, and, as they crossed the outer threshold, they heard the most musical of voices singing Mozart's beautiful little melody, "Buona Notte, amato bene." The young men lingered near the piazza till the last sounds floated away, and then they walked forth in the moonlight,-Fitzgerald repeating the air in a subdued whistle.

His first exclamation was, "Isn't that girl a Rose Royal?"

"She is, indeed," replied Mr. King; "and the younger sister is also extremely fascinating."

"Yes, I thought you seemed to think so," rejoined his companion.

"Which do you prefer?"

Shy of revealing his thoughts to a stranger, Mr. King replied that each of the sisters was so perfect in her way, the other would be wronged by preference.

"Yes, they are both rare gems of beauty," rejoined Fitzgerald. "If I were the Grand Bashaw, I would have them both in my harem."

The levity of the remark jarred on the feelings of his companion, who answered, in a grave, and somewhat cold tone, "I saw nothing in the manners of the young ladies to suggest such a disposition of them."

"Excuse me," said Fitzgerald, laughing. "I forgot you were from the land of Puritans. I meant no indignity to the young ladies, I assure you. But when one amuses himself with imagining the impossible, it is not worth while to be scrupulous about details. I am not the Grand Bashaw; and when I pronounced them fit for his harem, I merely meant a compliment to their superlative beauty. That Floracita is a mischievous little sprite. Did you ever see anything more roguish than her expression while she was singing 'Petit blanc, mon bon fr?re'?"

"That mercurial little song excited my curiosity," replied Alfred.

"Pray what is its origin?"

"I think it likely it came from the French West Indies," said Fitzgerald. "It seems to be the love-song of a young negress, addressed to a white lover. Floracita may have learned it from her mother, who was half French, half Spanish. You doubtless observed the foreign sprinkling in their talk. They told me they never spoke English with their mother. Those who have seen her describe her as a wonderful creature, who danced like Taglioni and sang like Malibran, and was more beautiful than her daughter Rosabella. But the last part of the story is incredible. If she were half as handsome, no wonder Mr. Royal idolized her, as they say he did."

"Did he marry her in the French Islands?" inquired Alfred.

"They were not married," answered Fitzgerald. "Of course not, for she was a quadroon. But here are my lodgings, and I must bid you good night."

These careless parting words produced great disturbance in the spirit of Alfred King. He had heard of those quadroon connections, as one hears of foreign customs, without any realizing sense of their consequences. That his father's friend should be a partner in such an alliance, and that these two graceful and accomplished girls should by that circumstance be excluded from the society they would so greatly ornament, surprised and bewildered him. He recalled that tinge in Rosa's complexion, not golden, but like a faint, luminous reflection of gold, and that slight waviness in the glossy hair, which seemed to him so becoming. He could not make these peculiarities seem less beautiful to his imagination, now that he knew them as signs of her connection with a proscribed race. And that bewitching little Floracita, emerging into womanhood, with the auroral light of childhood still floating round her, she seemed like a beautiful Italian child, whose proper place was among fountains and statues and pictured forms of art. The skill of no Parisian coiffeur could produce a result so pleasing as the profusion of raven hair, that would roll itself into ringlets. Octoroons! He repeated the word to himself, but it did not disenchant him. It was merely something foreign and new to his experience, like Spanish or Italian beauty. Yet he felt painfully the false position in which they were placed by the unreasoning prejudice of society.

Though he had had a fatiguing day, when he entered his chamber he felt no inclination to sleep. As he slowly paced up and down the room, he thought to himself, "My good mother shares the prejudice. How could I introduce them to her?" Then, as if impatient with himself, he murmured, in a vexed tone, "Why should I think of introducing them to my mother? A few hours ago I didn't know of their existence."

He threw himself on the bed and tried to sleep; but memory was too busy with the scene of enchantment he had recently left. A catalpa-tree threw its shadow on the moon-lighted curtain. He began to count the wavering leaves, in hopes the monotonous occupation would induce slumber. After a while he forgot to count; and as his spirit hovered between the inner and the outer world, Floracita seemed to be dancing on the leaf shadows in manifold graceful evolutions. Then he was watching a little trickling fountain, and the falling drops were tones of "The Light of other Days." Anon he was wandering among flowers in the moonlight, and from afar some one was heard singing "Casta Diva." The memory of that voice,

"While slept the limbs and senses all,

Made everything seem musical."

Again and again the panorama of the preceding evening revolved through the halls of memory with every variety of fantastic change. A light laugh broke in upon the scenes of enchantment, with the words, "Of course not, for she was a quadroon." Then the plaintive melody of "Toll the bell" resounded in his ears; not afar off, but loud and clear, as if the singer were in the room. He woke with a start, and heard the vibrations of a cathedral bell subsiding into silence. It had struck but twice, but in his spiritual ear the sounds had been modulated through many tones. "Even thus strangely," thought he, "has that rich, sonorous voice struck into the dream of my life,"

Again he saw those large, lustrous eyes lowering their long-fringed veils under the ardent gaze of Gerald Fitzgerald. Again he thought of his mother, and sighed. At last a dreamless sleep stole over him, and both pleasure and pain were buried in deep oblivion.

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