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   Chapter 5 No.5

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 30656

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Such sudden reverses, such overwhelming sorrows, mature characters with wonderful rapidity. Rosa, though formed by nature and habit to cling to others, soon began to form plans for future support. Her inexperienced mind foresaw few of the difficulties involved in the career her friends had suggested. She merely expected to study and work hard; but that seemed a trifle, if she could avoid for herself and her sister the publicity which their father had so much dreaded.

Floracita, too, seemed like a tamed bird. She was sprightly as ever in her motions, and quick in her gestures; but she would sit patiently at her task of embroidery, hour after hour, without even looking up to answer the noisy challenges of the parrot. Sometimes the sisters, while they worked, sang together the hymns they had been accustomed to sing with their father on Sundays; and memory of the missing voice imparted to their tones a pathos that no mere skill could imitate.

One day, when they were thus occupied, the door-bell rang, and they heard a voice, which they thought they recognized, talking with Madame. It was Franz Blumenthal. "I have come to bring some small articles for the young ladies," said he. "A week before my best friend died, a Frenchwoman came to the store, and wished to sell some fancy-baskets. She said she was a poor widow; and Mr. Royal, who was always kind and generous, commissioned her to make two of her handsomest baskets, and embroider the names of his daughters on them. She has placed them in my hands to-day, and I have brought them myself in order to explain the circumstances."

"Are they paid for?" inquired Madame.

"I have paid for them," replied the young man, blushing deeply; "but please not to inform the young ladies of that circumstance. And, Madame, I have a favor to ask of you. Here are fifty dollars. I want you to use them for the young ladies without their knowledge; and I should like to remit to you half my wages every month for the same purpose. When Mr. Royal was closing business, he wrote several letters of recommendation for me, and addressed them to well-established merchants. I feel quite sure of getting a situation where I can earn more than I need for myself."

"Bon gar?on!" exclaimed Madame, patting him on the shoulder. "I will borrow the fifty dollars; but I trust we shall be able to pay you before many months."

"It will wound my feelings if you ever offer to repay me," replied the young man. "My only regret is, that I cannot just now do any more for the daughters of my best friend and benefactor, who did so much for me when I was a poor, destitute boy. But would it be asking too great a favor, Madame, to be allowed to see the young ladies, and place in their hands these presents from their father?"

Madame Guirlande smiled as she thought to herself, "What is he but a boy now? He grows tall though."

When she told her protégées that Franz Blumenthal had a message he wished to deliver to them personally, Rosa said, "Please go and receive it, Sistita. I had rather not leave my work."

Floracita glanced at the mirror, smoothed her hair a little, arranged her collar, and went out. The young clerk was awaiting her appearance with a good deal of trepidation. He had planned a very nice little speech to make; but before he had stammered out all the story about the baskets, he saw an expression in Flora's face which made him feel that it was indelicate to intrude upon her emotion; and he hurried away, scarcely hearing her choked voice as she said, "I thank you."

Very reverently the orphans opened the box which contained the posthumous gifts of their beloved father. The baskets were manufactured with exquisite taste. They were lined with quilled apple-green satin. Around the outside of one was the name of Rosabella embroidered in flowers, and an embroidered garland of roses formed the handle. The other bore the name of Floracita in minute flowers, and the handle was formed of Pensées vivaces. They turned them round slowly, unable to distinguish the colors through their swimming tears.

"How like Papasito, to be so kind to the poor woman, and so thoughtful to please us," said Rosabella. "But he was always so."

"And he must have told her what flowers to put on the baskets," said Floracita. "You know Mamita often called me Pensée vivace. O, there never was such a Papasito!"

Notwithstanding the sadness that invested tokens coming as it were from the dead, they inspired a consoling consciousness of his presence; and their work seemed pleasanter all the day for having their little baskets by them.

The next morning witnessed a private conference between Madame and the Signor. If any one had seen them without hearing their conversation, he would certainly have thought they were rehearsing some very passionate scene in a tragedy.

The fiery Italian rushed up and down the room, plucking his hair; while the Frenchwoman ever and anon threw up her hands, exclaiming, "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!"

When the violence of their emotions had somewhat abated, Madame said,

"Signor, there must be some mistake about this. It cannot be true. Mr.

Royal would never have left things in such a way."

"At your request," replied the Signor, "I went to one of the creditors, to ask whether Mr. Royal's family could not be allowed to keep their mother's watch and jewels. He replied that Mr. Royal left no family; that his daughters were slaves, and, being property themselves, they could legally hold no property. I was so sure my friend Royal would not have left things in such a state, that I told him he lied, and threatened to knock him down. He out with his pistol; but when I told him I had left mine at home, he said I must settle with him some other time, unless I chose to make an apology. I told him I would do so whenever I was convinced that his statement was true. I was never more surprised than when he told me that Madame Royal was a slave. I knew she was a quadroon, and I supposed she was a placés, as so many of the quadroons are. But now it seems that Mr. Royal bought her of her father; and he, good, easy man, neglected to manumit her. He of course knew that by law 'the child follows the condition of the mother,' but I suppose it did not occur to him that the daughters of so rich a man as he was could ever be slaves. At all events, he neglected to have manumission papers drawn till it was too late; for his property had become so much involved that he no longer had a legal right to convey any of it away from creditors."

Madame swung back and forth in the vehemence of her agitation, exclaiming, "What is to be done? What is to be done?"

The Italian strode up and down the room, clenching his fist, and talking rapidly. "To think of that Rosabella!" exclaimed he,-"a girl that would grace any throne in Europe! To think of her on the auction-stand, with a crowd of low-bred rascals staring at her, and rich libertines, like that Mr. Bruteman-Pah! I can't endure to think of it. How like a satyr he looked while he was talking to me about their being slaves. It seems he got sight of them when they took an inventory of the furniture. And that handsome little witch, Floracita, whom her father loved so tenderly, to think of her being bid off to some such filthy wretch! But they sha'n't have 'em! They sha'n't have 'em! I swear I'll shoot any man that comes to take 'em." He wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and rushed round like a tiger in a cage.

"My friend," replied Madame, "they have the law on their side; and if you try to resist, you will get yourself into trouble without doing the girls any good. I'll tell you what we must do. We must disguise them, and send them to the North."

"Send them to the North!" exclaimed the Italian. "Why, they'd no more know how to get there than a couple of kittens."

"Then I must go with them," replied Madame; "and they must be got out of this house before another day; for now that we know of it, we shall be watched."

The impetuous Italian shook her hand cordially. "You have a brave heart, Madame," said he. "I should rather march up to the cannon's mouth than tell them such news as this."

The bewildered Frenchwoman felt the same dread of the task before her; but she bravely said, "What must be done, can be done."

After some further talk with the Signor concerning ways and means, she bade him good morning, and sat still for a moment to collect her thoughts. She then proceeded to the apartment assigned to the orphans. They were occupied with a piece of embroidery she had promised to sell for them. She looked at the work, praised the exactness of the stitches and the tasteful shading of the flowers; but while she pointed out the beauties of the pattern, her hand and voice trembled.

Rosabella noticed it, and, looking up, said, "What troubles you, dear friend?"

"O, this is a world of trouble," replied Madame, "and you have had such a storm beating on your young heads, that I wonder you keep your senses."

"I don't know as we could," said Rosa, "if the good God had not given us such a friend as you."

"If any new trouble should come, I trust you will try to keep up brave hearts, my children," rejoined Madame.

"I don't know of any new trouble that can come to us now," said Rosa, "unless you should be taken from us, as our father was. It seems as if everything else had happened that could happen."

"O, there are worse things than having me die," replied Madame.

Floracita had paused with her thread half drawn through her work, and was looking earnestly at the troubled countenance of their friend. "Madame," exclaimed she, "something has happened. What is it?"

"I will tell you," said Madame, "if you will promise not to scream or faint, and will try to keep your wits collected, so as to help me think what is best to be done."

They promised; and, watching her countenance with an expression of wonder and anxiety, they waited to hear what she had to communicate. "My dear children," said she, "I have heard something that will distress you very much. Something neither you nor I ever suspected. Your mother was a slave."

"Our mother a slave!" exclaimed Rosa, coloring vehemently. "Whose slave could she be, when she was Papasito's wife, and he loved her so? It is impossible, Madame."

"Your father bought her when she was very young, my dear; but I know very well that no wife was ever loved better than she was."

"But she always lived with her own father till she married papa," said

Floracita. "How then could she be his slave?"

"Her father got into trouble about money, my dear; and he sold her."

"Our Grandpapa Gonsalez sold his daughter!" exclaimed Rosa. "How incredible! Dear friend, I wonder you can believe such things."

"The world is full of strange things, my child,-stranger than anything you ever read in story-books."

"If she was only Papasito's slave," said Flora, "I don't think Mamita found that any great hardship."

"She did not, my dear. I don't suppose she ever thought of it; but a great misfortune has grown out of it."

"What is it?" they both asked at once.

Their friend hesitated. "Remember, you have promised to be calm," said she. "I presume you don't know that, by the laws of Louisiana, 'the child follows the condition of the mother.' The consequence is, that you are slaves, and your father's creditors claim a right to sell you."

Rosabella turned very pale, and the hand with which she clutched a chair trembled violently. But she held her head erect, and her look and tone were very proud, as she exclaimed, "We become slaves! I will die rather."

Floracita, unable to comprehend this new misfortune, looked from one to the other in a bewildered way. Nature had written mirthfulness in the shape of her beautiful eyes, which now contrasted strangely with their startled and sad expression.

The kind-hearted Frenchwoman bustled about the room, moving chairs, and passing her handkerchief over boxes, while she tried hard to swallow the emotions that choked her utterance. Having conquered in the struggle, she turned toward them, and said, almost cheerfully: "There's no need of dying, my children. Perhaps your old friend can help you out of this trouble. We must disguise ourselves as gentlemen, and start for the North this very evening."

Floracita looked at her sister, and said, hesitatingly: "Couldn't you write to Mr. Fitzgerald, and ask him to come here? Perhaps he could help us."

Rosa's cheeks glowed, as she answered proudly: "Do you think I would ask him to come? I wouldn't do such a thing if we were as rich and happy as we were a little while ago; and certainly I wouldn't do it now."

"There spoke Grandpa Gonsalez!" said Madame. "How grand the old gentleman used to look, walking about so erect, with his gold-headed cane! But we must go to work in a hurry, my children. Signor Papanti has promised to send the disguises, and we must select and pack such things as it is absolutely necessary we should carry. I am sorry now that Tulee is let out in the city, for we need her help.

"She must go with us," said Flora. "I can't leave Tulee."

"We must do as we can," replied Madame. "In this emergency we can't do as we would. We are all white, and if we can get a few miles from here, we shall have no further trouble. But if we had a negro with us, it would lead to questions, perhaps. Besides, we haven't time to disguise her and instruct her how to perform her part. The Signor will be a good friend to her; and as soon as we can earn some money, we will send and buy her."

"But where can we go when we get to the North?" asked Rosa.

"I will tell you," said Floracita. "Don't you remember that Mr. King from Boston, who came to see us a year ago? His father was papa's best friend, you know; and when he went away, he told us if ever we were in trouble, to apply to him, as if he were our brother."

"Did he?" said Madame. "That lets in a gleam of light. I heard your father say he was a very good young man, and rich."

"But Papasito said, some months ago, that Mr. King had gone to Europe with his mother, on account of her health," replied Rosa. "Besides, if he were at home, it would be very disagreeable to go to a young gentleman as beggars and runaways, when he was introduced to us as ladies."

"You must put your pride in your pocket for the present, Seńorita Gonsalez," said Madame, playfully touching her under the chin. "If this Mr. King is absent, I will write to him. They say there is a man in Boston, named William Lloyd Garrison, who takes great interest in slaves. We will tell him our story, and ask him about Mr. King. I did think of stopping awhile with relatives in New York. But it would be inconvenient for them, and they might not like it. This plan pleases me better. To Boston we will go. The Signor has gone to ask my cousin, Mr. Duroy, to come here and see to the house. When I have placed you safely, I will come back slyly to my cousin's house, a few miles from here, and with his help I will settle up my affairs. Then I will return to you, and we will all go to some secure place and live together. I never starved yet, and I don't believe I ever shall."

The orphans clung to her, and kissed her hands, as they said:

"How kind you are to us, dear friend! What shall we ever do to repay you?"

"Your father and mother were generous friends to me," replied Madame; "and now their children are in trouble, I will not forsake them."

As the good lady was to leave her apartments for an indefinite time, there was much to be done and thought of, beside the necessary packing for the journey. The girls tried their best to help her, but they were continually proposing to carry something because it was a keepsake from Mamita or Papasito.

"This is no time for sentiment, my children," said Madame. "We must not take anything we can possibly do without. Bless my soul, there goes the bell! What if it should be one of those dreadful creditors come here to peep and pry? Run to your room, my children, and bolt the door."

A moment afterward, she appeared before them smiling, and said: "There was no occasion for being so frightened, but I am getting nervous with all this flurry. Come back again, dears. It is only Franz Blumenthal."

"What, come again?" asked Rosa. "Please go, Floracita, and I will come directly, as soon as I have gathered up these things that we must carry."

The young German blushed like a girl as he offered two bouquets, one of heaths and orange-buds, the other of orange-blossoms and fragrant geraniums; saying as he did so, "I have taken the liberty to bring some flowers, Miss Floracita."

"My name is Miss Royal, sir," she replied, trying to increase her stature to the utmost. It was an unusual caprice in one whose nature was so childlike and playful; but the recent knowledge that she was a slave had made her, for the first time, jealous of her dignity. She took it into her head that he knew the humiliating fact, and presumed upon it.

But the good lad was as yet unconscious of this new trouble, and the unexpected rebuke greatly surprised him. Though her slight figure and juvenile face made her attempt at majesty somewhat comic, it was quite sufficient to intimidate the bashful youth; and he answered, very meekly: "Pardon me, Miss Royal. Floracita is such a very pretty name, and I have always liked it so much, that I spoke it before I thought."

The compliment disarmed her at once; and with one of her winning smiles, and a quick little courtesy, she said: "Do you think it's a pretty name? You may call me Floracita, if you like it so much."

"I think it is the prettiest name in the world," replied he. "I used to like to hear your mother say it. She said everything so sweetly! Do you remember she used to call me Florimond when I was a little boy, because, she said, my face was so florid? Now I always write my name Franz Florimond Blumenthal, in memory of her."

"I will always call you Florimond, just as Mamita did," said she.

Their very juvenile t?te-?-t?te was interrupted by the entrance of Madame with Rosa, who thanked him graciously for her portion of the flowers, and told him her father was so much attached to him that she should always think of him as a brother.

He blushed crimson as he thanked her, and went away with a very warm feeling at his heart, thinking Floracita a prettier name than ever, and happily unconscious that he was parting from her.

He had not been gone long when the bell rang again, and the girls again hastened to hide themselves. Half an hour elapsed without their seeing or hearing anything of Madame; and they began to be extremely anxious lest something unpleasant was detaining her. But she came at last, and said, "My children, the Signor wants to speak to you."

They immediately descended to the sitting-room, where they found the Signor looking down and slowly striking the ivory head of his cane against his chin, as he was wont to do when buried in profound thought. He rose as they entered, and Rosa said, with one of her sweetest smiles, "What is it you wish, dear friend?" He dropped a thin cloak from his shoulders and removed his hat, which brought away a grizzled wig with it, and Mr. Fitzgerald stood smiling before them.

The glad surprise excited by this sudden realization of a latent hope put maidenly reserve to flight, and Rosa dropped on her knees before him, exclaiming, "O Gerald, save us!"

He raised her tenderly, and, imprinting a kiss on her forehead, said: "Save you, my precious Rose? To be sure I will. That's what I came for."

"And me too," said Flora, clinging to him, and hiding her face under his arm.

"Yes, and you too, mischievous fairy," replied he, giving her a less ceremonious kiss than he had bestowed on her sister. "But we must talk fast, for there is a great deal to be done in a short time. I was unfortunately absent from home, and did not receive the letter informing me of your good father's death so soon as I should otherwise have done. I arrived in the city this morning, but have been too busy making arrangements for your escape to come here any earlier. The Signor and I have done the work of six during the last few hours. The creditors are not aware of my acquaintance with you, and I have assumed this disguise to prevent them from discovering it. The Signor has had a talk with Tulee, and told her to keep very quiet, and not tell any mortal that she ever saw me at your father's house. A passage for you and Madame is engaged on board a vessel bound to Nassau, which will sail at midnight. Soon, after I leave this house, Madame's cousin, Mr. Duroy, will come with two boys. You and Madame will assume their dresses, and they will put on some clothes the Signor has already sent, in such boxes as Madame is accustomed to receive, full of materials for her flowers. All, excepting ourselves, will suppose you have gone North, according to the original plan, in order that they may swear to that effect if they are brought to trial. When I go by the front of the house whistling ?a ira, you will pass through the garden to the street in the rear, where you will find my servant with a carriage, which will convey you three miles, to the house of one of my friends. I will come there in season to accompany you on board the ship."

"O, how thoughtful and how kind you are!" exclaimed Rosa. "But can't we contrive some way to take poor Tulee with us?"

"It would be imprudent," he replied. "The creditors must be allowed to sell her. She knows it, but she has my assurance that I will take good care of her. No harm shall come to Tulee, I promise you. I cannot go with you to Nassau; because, if I do, the creditors may suspect my participation in the plot. I shall stay in New Orleans a week or ten days, then return to Savannah, and take an early opportunity to sail for Nassau, by the way of New York. Meanwhile, I will try to manage matters so that Madame can safely return to her house. Then we will decide where to make a happy home for ourselves."

The color forsook Rosa's cheeks, and her whole frame quivered, as she said, "I thank you, Gerald, for all this thoughtful care; but I cannot go to Nassau,-indeed I cannot!"

"Cannot go!" exclaimed he. "Where will you go, then?"

"Before you came, Madame had made ready to take us to Boston, you know. We will go there with her."

"Rosa, do you distrust me?" said he reproachfully. "Do you doubt my love?"

"I do not distrust you," she replied; "but"-she looked down, and blushed deeply as she added-"but I promised my father that I would never leave home with any gentleman unless I was married to him."

"But, Rosa dear, your father did not foresee such a state of things as this. Everything is arranged, and there is no time to lose. If you knew all that I know, you would see the necessity of leaving this city before to-morrow."

"I cannot go with you," she repeated in tones of the deepest distress,-"I cannot go with you, for I promised my dear father the night before he died."

He looked at her for an instant, and then, drawing her close to him, he said: "It shall be just as you wish, darling. I will bring a clergyman to the house of my friend, and we will be married before you sail."

Rosa, without venturing to look up, said, in a faltering tone: "I cannot bear to bring degradation upon you, Gerald. It seems wrong to take advantage of your generous forgetfulness of yourself. When you first told me you loved me, you did not know I was an octoroon, and a-slave."

"I knew your mother was a quadroon," he replied; "and as for the rest, no circumstance can degrade you, my Rose Royal."

"But if your plan should not succeed, how ashamed you would feel to have us seized!" said she.

"It will succeed, dearest. But even if it should not, you shall never be the property of any man but myself."

"Property!"! she exclaimed in the proud Gonsalez tone, striving to withdraw herself from his embrace.

He hastened to say: "Forgive me, Rosabella. I am so intoxicated with happiness that I cannot be careful of my words. I merely meant to express the joyful feeling that you would be surely mine, wholly mine."

While they were talking thus, Floracita had glided out of the room to carry the tidings to Madame. The pressure of misfortune had been so heavy upon her, that, now it was lifted a little, her elastic spirit rebounded with a sudden spring, and she felt happier than she had ever thought of being since her father died. In the lightness of her heart she began to sing, "Petit blanc, mon bon fr?re!" but she stopped at the first line, for she recollected how her father had checked her in the midst of that frisky little song; and now that she knew they were octoroons, she partly comprehended why it had been disagreeable to him. But the gayety that died out of her voice passed into her steps. She went hopping and jumping up to Madame, exclaiming: "What do you think is going to happen now? Rosabella is going to be married right off. What a pity she can't be dressed like a bride! She would look so handsome in white satin and pearls, and a great lace veil! But here are the flowers Florimond brought so opportunely. I will put the orange-buds in her hair, and she shall have a bouquet in her hand."

"She will look handsome in anything," rejoined Madame. "But tell me about it, little one."

After receiving Flora's answers to a few brief questions, she

stationed herself within sight of the outer door, that she might ask

Fitzgerald for more minute directions concerning what they were to do.

He very soon made his appearance, again disguised as the Signor.

After a hurried consultation, Madame said: "I do hope nothing will happen to prevent our getting off safely. Rosabella has so much Spanish pride, I verily believe she would stab herself rather than go on the auction-stand."

"Heavens and earth! don't speak of that!" exclaimed he, impetuously. "Do you suppose I would allow my beautiful rose to be trampled by swine. If we fail, I will buy them if it costs half my fortune. But we shall not fail. Don't let the girls go out of the door till you hear the signal."

"No danger of that," she replied. "Their father always kept them like wax flowers under a glass cover. They are as timid as hares." Before she finished the words, he was gone.

Rosabella remained where he had left her, with her head bowed on the table. Floracita was nestling by her side, pouring forth her girlish congratulations. Madame came in, saying, in her cheerly way: "So you are going to be married to night! Bless my soul, how the world whirls round!"

"Isn't God very good to us?" asked Rosa, looking up. "How noble and kind Mr. Fitzgerald is, to wish to marry me now that everything is so changed!"

"You are not changed, darling," she replied; "except that I think you are a little better, and that seemed unnecessary. But you must be thinking, my children, whether everything is in readiness."

"He told us we were not to go till evening, and it isn't dark yet," said Floracita. "Couldn't we go into Papasito's garden one little minute, and take one sip from the fountain, and just one little walk round the orange-grove?"

"It wouldn't be safe, my dear. There's no telling who may be lurking about. Mr. Fitzgerald charged me not to let you go out of doors. But you can go to my chamber, and take a last look of the house and garden."

They went up stairs, and stood, with their arms around each other, gazing at their once happy home. "How many times we have walked in that little grove, hand in hand with Mamita and Papasito! and now they are both gone," sighed Rosa.

"Ah, yes," said Flora; "and now we are afraid to go there for a minute. How strangely everything has changed! We don't hear Mamita's Spanish and papa's English any more. We have nobody to talk olla podrida to now. It's all French with Madame, and all Italian with the Signor."

"But what kind souls they are, to do so much for us!" responded Rosa. "If such good friends hadn't been raised up for us in these dreadful days, what should we have done?"

Here Madame came hurrying in to say, "Mr. Duroy and the boys have come. We must change dresses before the whistler goes by."

The disguises were quickly assumed; and the metamorphosis made Rosa both blush and smile, while her volatile sister laughed outright. But she checked herself immediately, saying: "I am a wicked little wretch to laugh, for you and your friends may get into trouble by doing all this for us. What shall you tell them about us when you get back from Nassau?"

"I don't intend to tell them much of anything," replied Madame. "I may, perhaps, give them a hint that one of your father's old friends invited you to come to the North, and that I did not consider it my business to hinder you."

"O fie, Madame!" said Floracita; "what a talent you have for arranging the truth with variations!"

Madame tried to return a small volley of French pleasantry; but the effort was obviously a forced one. The pulses of her heart were throbbing with anxiety and fear; and they all began to feel suspense increasing to agony, when at last the whistled tones of ?a ira were heard.

"Now don't act as if you were afraid," whispered Madame, as she put her hand on the latch of the door. "Go out naturally. Remember I am my cousin, and you are the boys."

They passed through the garden into the street, feeling as if some rough hand might at any instant seize them. But all was still, save the sound of voices in the distance. When they came in sight of the carriage, the driver began to bum carelessly to himself, "Who goes there? Stranger, quickly tell!"

"A friend. Good night,"-sang the disguised Madame, in the same well-known tune of challenge and reply. The carriage door was instantly opened, they entered, and the horses started at a brisk pace. At the house where the driver stopped, they were received as expected guests. Their disguises were quickly exchanged for dresses from their carpet-bags, which had been conveyed out in Madame's boxes, and smuggled into the carriage by their invisible protector. Flora, who was intent upon having things seem a little like a wedding, made a garland of orange-buds for her sister's hair, and threw over her braids a white gauze scarf. The marriage ceremony was performed at half past ten; and at midnight Madame was alone with her protégées in the cabin of the ship Victoria, dashing through the dark waves under a star-bright sky.

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