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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 19618

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The sun was up before he woke. He rose hastily and ordered breakfast and a horse; for he had resolved the day before upon an early ride. A restless, undefined feeling led him in the same direction he had taken the preceding evening. He passed the house that would forevermore be a prominent feature in the landscape of his life. Vines were gently waving in the morning air between the pillars of the piazza, where he had lingered entranced to hear the tones of "Buena Notte." The bright turban of Tulipa was glancing about, as she dusted the blinds. A peacock on the balustrade, in the sunshine, spread out his tail into a great Oriental fan, and slowly lowered it, making a prismatic shower of topaz, sapphires, and emeralds as it fell. It was the first of March; but as he rode on, thinking of the dreary landscape and boisterous winds of New England at that season, the air was filled with the fragrance of flowers, and mocking-birds and thrushes saluted him with their songs. In many places the ground was thickly strewn with oranges, and the orange-groves were beautiful with golden fruit and silver flowers gleaming among the dark glossy green foliage. Here and there was the mansion of a wealthy planter, surrounded by whitewashed slave-cabins. The negroes at their work, and their black picaninnies rolling about on the ground, seemed an appropriate part of the landscape, so tropical in its beauty of dark colors and luxuriant growth.

He rode several miles, persuading himself that he was enticed solely by the healthy exercise and the novelty of the scene. But more alluring than the pleasant landscape and the fragrant air was the hope that, if he returned late, the young ladies might be on the piazza, or visible at the windows. He was destined to be disappointed. As he passed, a curtain was slowly withdrawn from one of the windows and revealed a vase of flowers. He rode slowly, in hopes of seeing a face bend over the flowers; but the person who drew the curtain remained invisible. On the piazza nothing was in motion, except the peacock strutting along, stately as a court beauty, and drawing after him his long train of jewelled plumage. A voice, joyous as a bobolink's, sounded apparently from the garden. He could not hear the words, but the lively tones at once suggested, "Petit blanc, mon bon fr?re." He recalled the words so carelessly uttered, "Of course not, for she was a quadroon," and they seemed to make harsh discord with the refrain of the song. He remembered the vivid flush that passed over Rosa's face while her playful sister teased her with that tuneful badinage. It seemed to him that Mr. Fitzgerald was well aware of his power, for he had not attempted to conceal his consciousness of the singer's mischievous intent. This train of thought was arrested by the inward question, "What is it to me whether he marries her or not?" Impatiently he touched his horse with the whip, as if he wanted to rush from the answer to his own query.

He had engaged to meet Mr. Royal at his counting-house, and he was careful to keep the appointment. He was received with parental kindness slightly tinged with embarrassment. After some conversation about business, Mr. Royal said: "From your silence concerning your visit to my house last evening, I infer that Mr. Fitzgerald has given you some information relating to my daughters' history. I trust, my young friend, that you have not suspected me of any intention to deceive or entrap you. I intended to have told you myself; but I had a desire to know first how my daughters would impress you, if judged by their own merits. Having been forestalled in my purpose, I am afraid frankness on your part will now be difficult."

"A feeling of embarrassment did indeed prevent me from alluding to my visit as soon as I met you this morning," replied Alfred; "but no circumstances could alter my estimate of your daughters. Their beauty and gracefulness exceed anything I have seen."

"And they are as innocent and good as they are beautiful," rejoined the father. "But you can easily imagine that my pride and delight in them is much disturbed by anxiety concerning their future. Latterly, I have thought a good deal about closing business and taking them to France to reside. But when men get to be so old as I am, the process of being transplanted to a foreign soil seems onerous. If it were as well for them, I should greatly prefer returning to my native New England."

"They are tropical flowers," observed Alfred. "There is nothing

Northern in their natures."

"Yes, they are tropical flowers," rejoined the father, "and my wish is to place them in perpetual sunshine. I doubt whether they could ever feel quite at home far away from jasmines and orange-groves. But climate is the least of the impediments in the way of taking them to New England. Their connection with the enslaved race is so very slight, that it might easily be concealed; but the consciousness of practising concealment is always unpleasant. Your father was more free from prejudices of all sorts than any man I ever knew. If he were living, I would confide all to him, and be guided implicitly by his advice. You resemble him so strongly, that I have been involuntarily drawn to open my heart to you, as I never thought to do to so young a man. Yet I find the fulness of my confidence checked by the fear of lowering myself in the estimation of the son of my dearest friend. But perhaps, if you knew all the circumstances, and had had my experience, you would find some extenuation of my fault. I was very unhappy when I first came to New Orleans. I was devotedly attached to a young lady, and I was rudely repelled by her proud and worldly family. I was seized with a vehement desire to prove to them that I could become richer than they were. I rushed madly into the pursuit of wealth, and I was successful; but meanwhile they had married her to another, and I found that wealth alone could not bring happiness. In vain the profits of my business doubled and quadrupled. I was unsatisfied, lonely, and sad. Commercial transactions brought me into intimate relations with Seńor Gonsalez, a Spanish gentleman in St. Augustine. He had formed an alliance with a beautiful slave, whom he had bought in the French West Indies. I never saw her, for she died before my acquaintance with him; but their daughter, then a girl of sixteen, was the most charming creature I ever beheld. The irresistible attraction I felt toward her the first moment I saw her was doubtless the mere fascination of the senses; but when I came to know her more, I found her so gentle, so tender, so modest, and so true, that I loved her with a strong and deep affection. I admired her, too, for other reasons than her beauty; for she had many elegant accomplishments, procured by her father's fond indulgence during two years' residence in Paris. He was wealthy at that time; but he afterward became entangled in pecuniary difficulties, and his health declined. He took a liking to me, and proposed that I should purchase Eulalia, and thus enable him to cancel a debt due to a troublesome creditor whom he suspected of having an eye upon his daughter. I gave him a large sum for her, and brought her with me to New Orleans. Do not despise me for it, my young friend. If it had been told to me a few years before, in my New England home, that I could ever become a party in such a transaction, I should have rejected the idea with indignation. But my disappointed and lonely condition rendered me an easy prey to temptation, and I was where public opinion sanctioned such connections. Besides, there were kindly motives mixed up with selfish ones. I pitied the unfortunate father, and I feared his handsome daughter might fall into hands that would not protect her so carefully as I resolved to do. I knew the freedom of her choice was not interfered with, for she confessed she loved me.

"Seńor Gonsalez, who was more attached to her than to anything else in the world, soon afterward gathered up the fragments of his broken fortune, and came to reside near us. I know it was a great satisfaction to his dying hours that he left Eulalia in my care, and the dear girl was entirely happy with me. If I had manumitted her, carried her abroad, and legally married her, I should have no remorse mingled with my sorrow for her loss. Loving her faithfully, as I did to the latest moment of her life, I now find it difficult to explain to myself how I came to neglect such an obvious duty. I was always thinking that I would do it at some future time. But marriage with a quadroon would have been void, according to the laws of Louisiana; and, being immersed in business, I never seemed to find time to take her abroad. When one has taken the first wrong step, it becomes dangerously easy to go on in the same path. A man's standing here is not injured by such irregular connections; and my faithful, loving Eulalia meekly accepted her situation as a portion of her inherited destiny. Mine was the fault, not hers; for I was free to do as I pleased, and she never had been. I acted in opposition to moral principles, which the education of false circumstances had given her no opportunity to form. I had remorseful thoughts at times, but I am quite sure she was never troubled in that way. She loved and trusted me entirely. She knew that the marriage of a white man with one of her race was illegal; and she quietly accepted the fact, as human beings do accept what they are powerless to overcome. Her daughters attributed her olive complexion to a Spanish origin; and their only idea was, and is, that she was my honored wife, as indeed she was in the inmost recesses of my heart. I gradually withdrew from the few acquaintances I had formed in New Orleans; partly because I w

as satisfied with the company of Eulalia and our children, and partly because I could not take her with me into society. She had no acquaintances here, and we acquired the habit of living in a little world by ourselves,-a world which, as you have seen, was transformed into a sort of fairy-land by her love of beautiful things. After I lost her, it was my intention to send the children immediately to France to be educated. But procrastination is my besetting sin; and the idea of parting with them was so painful, that I have deferred and deferred it. The suffering I experience on their account is a just punishment for the wrong I did their mother. When I think how beautiful, how talented, how affectionate, and how pure they are, and in what a cruel position I have placed them, I have terrible writhings of the heart. I do not think I am destined to long life; and who will protect them when I am gone?"

A consciousness of last night's wishes and dreams made Alfred blush as he said, "It occurred to me that your eldest daughter might be betrothed to Mr. Fitzgerald."

"I hope not," quickly rejoined Mr. Royal. "He is not the sort of man with whom I would like to intrust her happiness. I think, if it were so, Rosabella would have told me, for my children always confide in me."

"I took it for granted that you liked him," replied Alfred; "for you said an introduction to your home was a favor you rarely bestowed."

"I never conferred it on any young man but yourself," answered Mr. Royal, "and you owed it partly to my memory of your honest father, and partly to the expression of your face, which so much resembles his." The young man smiled and bowed, and his friend continued: "When I invited you, I was not aware Mr. Fitzgerald was in the city. I am but slightly acquainted with him, but I conjecture him to be what is called a high-blood. His manners, though elegant, seem to me flippant and audacious. He introduced himself into my domestic sanctum; and, as I partook of his father's hospitality years ago, I find it difficult to eject him. He came here a few months since, to transact some business connected with the settlement of his father's estate, and, unfortunately, he heard Rosabella singing as he rode past my house. He made inquiries concerning the occupants; and, from what I have heard, I conjecture that he has learned more of my private history than I wished to have him know. He called without asking my permission, and told my girls that his father was my friend, and that he had consequently taken the liberty to call with some new music, which he was very desirous of hearing them sing. When I was informed of this, on my return home, I was exceedingly annoyed; and I have ever since been thinking of closing business as soon as possible, and taking my daughters to France. He called twice again during his stay in the city, but my daughters made it a point to see him only when I was at home. Now he has come again, to increase the difficulties of my position by his unwelcome assiduities."

"Unwelcome to you" rejoined Alfred; "but, handsome and fascinating as he is, they are not likely to be unwelcome to your daughters. Your purpose of conveying them to France is a wise one."

"Would I had done it sooner!" exclaimed Mr. Royal. "How weak I have been in allowing circumstances to drift me along!" He walked up and down the room with agitated steps; then, pausing before Alfred, he laid his hand affectionately on his shoulder, as he said, with solemn earnestness, "My young friend, I am glad your father did not accept my proposal to receive you into partnership. Let me advise you to live in New England. The institutions around us have an effect on character which it is difficult to escape entirely. Bad customs often lead well-meaning men into wrong paths."

"That was my father's reason for being unwilling I should reside in New Orleans," replied Alfred. "He said it was impossible to exaggerate the importance of social institutions. He often used to speak of having met a number of Turkish women when he was in the environs of Constantinople. They were wrapped up like bales of cloth, with two small openings for their eyes, mounted on camels, and escorted by the overseer of the harem. The animal sound of their chatter and giggling, as they passed him, affected him painfully; for it forced upon him the idea what different beings those women would have been if they had been brought up amid the free churches and free schools of New England. He always expounded history to me in the light of that conviction; and he mourned that temporary difficulties should prevent lawgivers from checking the growth of evils that must have a blighting influence on the souls of many generations. He considered slavery a cumulative poison in the veins of this Republic, and predicted that it would some day act all at once with deadly power."

"Your father was a wise man," replied Mr. Royal, "and I agree with him. But it would be unsafe to announce it here; for slavery is a tabooed subject, except to talk in favor of it."

"I am well aware of that," rejoined Alfred. "And now I must bid you good morning. You know my mother is an invalid, and I may find letters at the post-office that will render immediate return necessary. But I will see you again; and hereafter our acquaintance may perhaps be renewed in France."

"That is a delightful hope," rejoined the merchant, cordially returning the friendly pressure of his hand. As he looked after the young man, he thought how pleasant it would be to have such a son; and he sighed deeply over the vision of a union that might have been, under other circumstances, between his family and that of his old friend. Alfred, as he walked away, was conscious of that latent, unspoken wish. Again the query began to revolve through his mind whether the impediments were really insurmountable. There floated before him a vision of that enchanting room, where the whole of life seemed to be composed of beauty and gracefulness, music and flowers. But a shadow of Fitzgerald fell across it, and the recollection of Boston relatives rose up like an iceberg between him and fairy-land.

A letter informing him of his mother's increasing illness excited a feeling of remorse that new acquaintances had temporarily nearly driven her from his thoughts. He resolved to depart that evening; but the desire to see Rosabella again could not be suppressed. Failing to find Mr. Royal at his counting-room or his hotel, he proceeded to his suburban residence. When Tulipa informed him that "massa" had not returned from the city, he inquired for the young ladies, and was again shown into that parlor every feature of which was so indelibly impressed upon his memory. Portions of the music of Cenerentola lay open on the piano, and the leaves fluttered softly in a gentle breeze laden with perfumes from the garden. Near by was swinging the beaded tassel of a book-mark between the pages of a half-opened volume. He looked at the title and saw that it was Lalla Rookh. He smiled, as he glanced round the room on the flowery festoons, the graceful tangle of bright arabesques on the walls, the Dancing Girl, and the Sleeping Cupid. "All is in harmony with Canova, and Moore, and Rossini," thought he. "The Lady in Milton's Comus has been the ideal of my imagination; and now here I am so strangely taken captive by-"

Rosabella entered at that moment, and almost startled him with the contrast to his ideal. Her glowing Oriental beauty and stately grace impressed him more than ever. Floracita's fairy form and airy motions were scarcely less fascinating. Their talk was very girlish. Floracita had just been reading in a French paper about the performance of La Bayadere, and she longed to see the ballet brought out in Paris. Rosabella thought nothing could be quite so romantic as to float on the canals of Venice by moonlight and listen to the nightingales; and she should so like to cross the Bridge of Sighs! Then they went into raptures over the gracefulness of Rossini's music, and the brilliancy of Auber's. Very few and very slender thoughts were conveyed in their words, but to the young man's ear they had the charm of music; for Floracita's talk went as trippingly as a lively dance, and the sweet modulations of Rosabella's voice so softened English to Italian sound, that her words seemed floating on a liquid element, like goldfish in the water. Indeed, her whole nature seemed to partake the fluid character of music. Beauty born of harmonious sound "had passed into her face," and her motions reminded one of a water-lily undulating on its native element.

The necessity of returning immediately to Boston was Alfred's apology for a brief call. Repressed feeling imparted great earnestness to the message he left for his father's friend. While he was uttering it, the conversation he had recently had with Mr. Royal came back to him with painful distinctness. After parting compliments were exchanged, he turned to say, "Excuse me, young ladies, if, in memory of our fathers' friendship, I beg of you to command my services, as if I were a brother, should it ever be in my power to serve you."

Rosabella thanked him with a slight inclination of her graceful head; and Floracita, dimpling a quick little courtesy, said sportively, "If some cruel Blue-Beard should shut us up in his castle, we will send for you."

"How funny!" exclaimed the volatile child, as the door closed after him. "He spoke as solemn as a minister; but I suppose that's the way with Yankees. I think cher papa likes to preach sometimes."

Rosabella, happening to glance at the window, saw that Alfred King paused in the street and looked back. How their emotions would have deepened could they have foreseen the future!

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