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   Chapter 4 No.4

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 17639

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Floracita was still in the full career of fun, when footsteps were heard approaching; and, as usual, she bounded forth to welcome her father. Several men, bearing a palanquin on their shoulders, were slowly ascending the piazza. She gave one glance at their burden, and uttered a shrill scream. Rosabella hastened to her in great alarm. Tulipa followed, and quickly comprehending that something terrible had happened, she hurried away to summon Madame Guirlande. Rosabella, pale and trembling, gasped out, "What has happened to my father?"

Franz Blumenthal, a favorite clerk of Mr. Royal's, replied, in a low, sympathizing tone, "He was writing letters in the counting-room this afternoon, and when I went in to speak to him, I found him on the floor senseless. We called a doctor immediately, but he failed to restore him."

"O, call another doctor!" said Rosa, imploringly; and Floracita almost shrieked, "Tell me where to go for a doctor."

"We have already summoned one on the way," said young Blumenthal, "but I will go to hasten him";-and, half blinded by his tears, he hurried into the street.

The doctor came in two minutes, and yet it seemed an age. Meanwhile the wretched girls were chafing their father's cold hands, and holding sal-volatile to his nose, while Madame Guirlande and Tulipa were preparing hot water and hot cloths. When the physician arrived, they watched his countenance anxiously, while he felt the pulse and laid his hand upon the heart. After a while he shook his head and said, "Nothing can be done. He is dead."

Rosabella fell forward, fainting, on the body. Floracita uttered shriek upon shriek, while Madame Guirlande and Tulipa vainly tried to pacify her. The doctor at last persuaded her to swallow some valerian, and Tulipa carried her in her arms and laid her on the bed. Madame Guirlande led Rosa away, and the two sisters lay beside each other, on the same pillows where they had dreamed such happy dreams the night before. Floracita, stunned by the blow that had fallen on her so suddenly, and rendered drowsy by the anodyne she had taken, soon fell into an uneasy slumber, broken by occasional starts and stifled sobs. Rosabella wept silently, but now and then a shudder passed over her, that showed how hard she was struggling with grief. After a short time, Flora woke up bewildered. A lamp was burning in the farther part of the room, and Madame Guirlande, who sat there in spectacles and ruffled cap, made a grotesque black shadow on the wall. Floracita started up, screaming, "What is that?" Madame Guirlande went to her, and she and Rosa spoke soothingly, and soon she remembered all.

"O, let me go home with you" she said to Madame "I am afraid to stay here."

"Yes, my children," replied the good Frenchwoman. "You had better both go home and stay with me to-night."

"I cannot go away and leave him alone," murmured Rosa, in tones almost inaudible.

"Franz Blumenthal is going to remain here," replied Madame Guirlande," and Tulipa has offered to sit up all night. It is much better for you to go with me than to stay here, my children."

Thus exhorted, they rose and began to make preparations for departure. But all at once the tender good-night of the preceding evening rushed on Rosa's memory, and she sank down in a paroxysm of grief. After weeping bitterly for some minutes, she sobbed out, "O, this is worse than it was when Mamita died. Papasito was so tender with us then; and now we are all alone."

"Not all alone," responded Madame. "Jesus and the Blessed Virgin are with you."

"O, I don't know where they are!" exclaimed Flora, in tones of wild agony. "I want my Papasito! I want to die and go to my Papasito."

Rosabella folded her in her arms, and they mingled their tears together, as she whispered: "Let us try to be tranquil, Sistita. We must not be troublesome to our kind friend. I did wrong to say we were all alone. We have always a Father in heaven, and he still spares us to love each other. Perhaps, too, our dear Papasito is watching over us. You know he used to tell us Mamita had become our guardian angel."

Floracita kissed her, and pressed her hand in silence. Then they made preparations to go with their friendly neighbor; all stepping very softly, as if afraid of waking the beloved sleeper.

The sisters had lived in such extreme seclusion, that when sorrow came upon them, like the sudden swoop and swift destruction of a tropical storm, they had no earthly friend to rely upon but Madame Guirlande. Only the day before, they had been so rich in love, that, had she passed away from the earth, it would have made no distressing change in their existence. They would have said, "Poor Madame Guirlande! She was a good soul. How patient she used to be with us!" and after a day or two, they would have danced and sung the same as ever. But one day had so beggared them in affection, that they leaned upon her as their only earthly support.

After an almost untasted breakfast, they all went back to the desolated home. The flowery parlor seemed awfully lonesome. The piano was closed, the curtains drawn, and their father's chair was placed against the wall. The murmur of the fountain sounded as solemn as a dirge, and memories filled the room like a troop of ghosts. Hand in hand, the bereaved ones went to kiss the lips that would speak to them no more in this world. They knelt long beside the bed, and poured forth their breaking hearts in prayer. They rose up soothed and strengthened, with the feeling that their dear father and mother were still near them. They found a sad consolation in weaving garlands and flowery crosses, which they laid on the coffin with tender reverence.

When the day of the funeral came, Madame Guirlande kept them very near her, holding a hand of each. She had provided them with long veils, which she requested them not to remove; for she remembered how anxiously their father had screened their beauty from the public gaze. A number of merchants, who had known and respected Mr. Royal, followed his remains to the grave. Most of them had heard of his quadroon connection, and some supposed that the veiled mourners might be his daughters; but such things were too common to excite remark, or to awaken much interest. The girls passed almost unnoticed; having, out of respect to the wishes of their friend, stifled their sobs till they were alone in the carriage with her and their old music-teacher.

The conviction that he was not destined to long life, which Mr. Royal had expressed to Alfred King, was founded on the opinion of physicians that his heart was diseased. This furnished an additional motive for closing his business as soon as possible, and taking his children to France. But the failure of several houses with which he was connected brought unexpected entanglements. Month by month, these became more complicated, and necessarily delayed the intended emigration. His anxiety concerning his daughters increased to an oppressive degree, and aggravated the symptoms of his disease. With his habitual desire to screen them from everything unpleasant, he unwisely concealed from them both his illness and his pecuniary difficulties. He knew he could no longer be a rich man; but he still had hope of saving enough of his fortune to live in a moderate way in some cheap district of France. But on the day when he bade his daughters good morning so cheerfully, he received a letter informing him of another extensive failure, which involved him deeply. He was alone in his counting-room when he read it; and there Franz Blumenthal found him dead, with the letter in his hand. His sudden exit of course aroused the vigilance of creditors, and their examination into the state of his affairs proved anything but satisfactory.

The sisters, unconscious of all this, were undisturbed by any anxiety concerning future support. The necessity of living without their father's love and counsel weighed heavily on their spirits; but concerning his money they took no thought. Hitherto they had lived as the birds do, and it did not occur to them that it could ever be otherwise. The garden and the flowery parlor, which their mother had created and their father had so dearly loved, seemed almost as much a portion of themselves as their own persons. It had been hard to think of leaving them, even for the attractions of Paris; and now that dream was over, it seemed a necessity of their existence to live on in the atmosphere of beauty to which they had always been accustomed. But now that the sunshine of love had vanished from it, they felt lonely and unprotected there. They invited Madame Guirlande to come and live with them on what terms she chose; and when she said there ought to be some elderly man in the house, they at once suggested inviti

ng their music-teacher. Madame, aware of the confidence Mr. Royal had always placed in him, thought it was the best arrangement that could be made, at least for the present. While preparations were being made to effect this change, her proceedings were suddenly arrested by tidings that the house and furniture were to be sold at auction, to satisfy the demands of creditors. She kept back the unwelcome news from the girls, while she held long consultations with Signor Papanti. He declared his opinion that Rosabella could make a fortune by her voice, and Floracita by dancing.

"But then they are so young," urged Madame,-"one only sixteen, the other only fourteen."

"Youth is a disadvantage one soon outgrows," replied the Signor. "They can't make fortunes immediately, of course; but they can earn a living by giving lessons. I will try to open a way for them, and the sooner you prepare them for it the better."

Madame dreaded the task of disclosing their poverty, but she found it less painful than she had feared. They had no realizing sense of what it meant, and rather thought that giving lessons would be a pleasant mode of making time pass less heavily. Madame, who fully understood the condition of things, kept a watchful lookout for their interests. Before an inventory was taken, she gathered up and hid away many trifling articles which would be useful to them, though of little or no value to the creditors. Portfolios of music, patterns for drawings, boxes of paint and crayons, baskets of chenille for embroidery, and a variety of other things, were safely packed away out of sight, without the girls' taking any notice of her proceedings.

During her father's lifetime, Floracita was so continually whirling round in fragmentary dances, that he often told her she rested on her feet less than a humming-bird. But after he was gone, she remained very still from morning till night. When Madame spoke to her of the necessity of giving dancing-lessons, it suggested the idea of practising. But she felt that she could not dance where she had been accustomed to dance before him; and she had not the heart to ask Rosa to play for her. She thought she would try, in the solitude of her chamber, how it would seem to give dancing-lessons. But without music, and without a spectator, it seemed so like the ghost of dancing that after a few steps the poor child threw herself on the bed and sobbed.

Rosa did not open the piano for several days after the funeral; but one morning, feeling as if it would be a relief to pour forth the sadness that oppressed her, she began to play languidly. Only requiems and prayers came. Half afraid of summoning an invisible spirit, she softly touched the keys to "The Light of other Days." But remembering it was the very last tune she ever played to her father, she leaned her head forward on the instrument, and wept bitterly.

While she sat thus the door-bell rang, and she soon became conscious of steps approaching the parlor. Her heart gave a sudden leap; for her first thought was of Gerald Fitzgerald. She raised her head, wiped away her tears, and rose to receive the visitor. Three strangers entered. She bowed to them, and they, with a little look of surprise, bowed to her. "What do you wish for, gentlemen?" she asked.

"We are here concerning the settlement of Mr. Royal's estate," replied one of them. "We have been appointed to take an inventory of the furniture."

While he spoke, one of his companions was inspecting the piano, to see who was the maker, and another was examining the timepiece.

It was too painful; and Rosa, without trusting herself to speak another word, walked quietly out of the room, the gathering moisture in her eyes making it difficult for her to guide her steps.

"Is that one of the daughters we have heard spoken of?" inquired one of the gentlemen.

"I judge so," rejoined his companion. "What a royal beauty she is!

Good for three thousand, I should say."

"More likely five thousand," added the third. "Such a fancy article as that don't appear in the market once in fifty years."

"Look here!" said the first speaker. "Do you see that pretty little creature crossing the garden? I reckon that's the other daughter."

"They'll bring high prices," continued the third speaker. "They're the best property Royal has left. We may count them eight or ten thousand, at least. Some of our rich fanciers would jump at the chance of obtaining one of them for that price." As he spoke, he looked significantly at the first speaker, who refrained from expressing any opinion concerning their pecuniary value.

All unconscious of the remarks she had elicited, Rosa retired to her chamber, where she sat at the window plunged in mournful revery. She was thinking of various articles her mother had painted and embroidered, and how her father had said he could not bear the thought of their being handled by strangers. Presently Floracita came running in, saying, in a flurried way, "Who are those men down stairs, Rosa?"

"I don't know who they are," replied her sister. "They said they came to take an inventory of the furniture. I don't know what right they have to do it. I wish Madame would come."

"I will run and call her," said Floracita.

"No, you had better stay with me," replied Rosa. "I was just going to look for you when you came in."

"I ran into the parlor first, thinking you were there," rejoined Floracita. "I saw one of those men turning over Mamita's embroidered ottoman, and chalking something on it. How dear papa would have felt if he had seen it! One of them looked at me in such a strange way! I don't know what he meant; but it made me want to run away in a minute. Hark! I do believe they have come up stairs, and are in papa's room. They won't come here, will they?"

"Bolt the door!" exclaimed Rosa; and it was quickly done. They sat folded in each other's arms, very much afraid, though they knew not wherefore.

"Ah!" said Rosa, with a sigh of relief, "there is Madame coming." She leaned out of the window, and beckoned to her impatiently.

Her friend hastened her steps; and when she heard of the strangers who were in the house, she said, "You had better go home with me, and stay there till they are gone."

"What are they going to do?" inquired Floracita.

"I will tell you presently," replied Madame, as she led them noiselessly out of the house by a back way.

When they entered her own little parlor, the parrot called out, "Joli petit diable!" and after waiting for the old familiar response, "Bon jour, jolie Manon!" she began to call herself "Jolie Manon!" and to sing, "Ha! ha! petit blanc, mon bon fr?re!" The poor girls had no heart for play; and Madame considerately silenced the noisy bird by hanging a cloth over the cage.

"My dear children," said she, "I would gladly avoid telling you anything calculated to make you more unhappy. But you must know the state of things sooner or later, and it is better that a friend should tell you. Your father owed money to those men, and they are seeing what they can find to sell in order to get their pay."

"Will they sell the table and boxes Mamita painted, and the ottomans she embroidered?" inquired Rosa, anxiously.

"Will they sell the piano that papa gave to Rosa for a birthday present?" asked Flora.

"I am afraid they will," rejoined Madame.

The girls covered their faces and groaned.

"Don't be so distressed, my poor children," said their sympathizing friend. "I have been trying to save a little something for you. See here!" And she brought forth some of the hidden portfolios and boxes, saying, "These will be of great use to you, my darlings, in helping you to earn your living, and they would bring almost nothing at auction."

They thanked their careful friend for her foresight. But when she brought forward their mother's gold watch and diamond ring, Rosa said, "I would rather not keep such expensive things, dear friend. You know our dear father was the soul of honor. It would have troubled him greatly not to pay what he owed. I would rather have the ring and the watch sold to pay his debts."

"I will tell the creditors what you say," answered Madame, "and they will be brutes if they don't let you keep your mother's things. Your father owed Signor Papanti a little bill, and he says he will try to get the table and boxes, and some other things, in payment, and then you shall have them all. You will earn enough to buy another piano by and by, and you can use mine, you know; so don't be discouraged, my poor children."

"God has been very good to us to raise us up such friends as you and the Signor," replied Rosa. "You don't know how it comforts me to have you call us your children, for without you we should be all alone in the world."

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