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   Chapter 7 No.7

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 28738

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The scenery of the South was in the full glory of June, when Mr. Fitzgerald, Rosa, and Floracita were floating up the Savannah River in a boat manned by negroes, who ever and anon waked the stillness of the woods with snatches of wild melody. They landed on a sequestered island which ocean and river held in their arms. Leaving the servants to take care of the luggage, they strolled along over a carpet of wild-flowers, through winding bridle-paths, where glances of bright water here and there gleamed through the dark pines that were singing their sleepy chorus, with its lulling sound of the sea, and filling the air with their aromatic breath. Before long, they saw a gay-colored turban moving among the green foliage, and the sisters at once exclaimed, "Tulipa!"

"Dear Gerald, you didn't tell us Tulee was here," said Rosa.

"I wanted to give you a pleasant surprise," he replied.

She thanked him with a glance more expressive than words. Tulipa, meanwhile, was waving a white towel with joyful energy, and when she came up to them, she half smothered them with hugs and kisses, exclaiming: "The Lord bless ye, Missy Rosy! The Lord bless ye, Missy Flory! It does Tulee's eyes good to see ye agin." She eagerly led the way through flowering thickets to a small lawn, in the midst of which was a pretty white cottage.

It was evident at a glance that she, as well as the master of the establishment, had done her utmost to make the interior of the dwelling resemble their old home as much as possible. Rosa's piano was there, and on it were a number of books which their father had given them. As Floracita pointed to the ottomans their mother had embroidered, and the boxes and table she had painted, she said: "Our good friend the Signor sent those. He promised to buy them."

"He could not buy them, poor man!" answered Fitzgerald, "for he was in prison at the time of the auction; but he did not forget to enjoin it upon me to buy them."

A pleasant hour was spent in joyful surprises over pretty novelties and cherished souvenirs. Rosa was full of quiet happiness, and Floracita expressed her satisfaction in lively little gambols. The sun was going down when they refreshed themselves with the repast Tulipa had provided. Unwilling to invite the merciless mosquitoes, they sat, while the gloaming settled into darkness, playing and singing melodies associated with other times.

Floracita felt sorry when the hour of separation for the night came. Everything seemed so fearfully still, except the monotonous wash of the waves on the sea-shore! And as far as she could see the landscape by the light of a bright little moon-sickle, there was nothing but a thick screen of trees and shrubbery. She groped her way to her sleeping-apartment, expecting to find Tulee there. She had been there, and had left a little glimmering taper behind a screen, which threw a fantastic shadow on the ceiling, like a face with a monstrous nose. It affected the excitable child like some kind of supernatural presence. She crept to the window, and through the veil of the mosquito-bar she dimly saw the same thick wall of greenery. Presently she espied a strange-looking long face peering out from its recesses. On their voyage home from Nassau, Gerald had sometimes read aloud to them from "The Midsummer Night's Dream." Could it be that there were such creatures in the woods as Shakespeare described? A closet adjoining her room had been assigned to Tulee. She opened the door and said, "Tulee, are you there? Why don't you come?" There was no answer. Again she gave a timid look at the window. The long face moved, and a most unearthly sound was heard. Thoroughly frightened, she ran out, calling, "Tulee! Tulee! In the darkness, she ran against her faithful attendant, and the sudden contact terrified her still more.

"It's only Tulee. What is the matter with my little one?" said the negress. As she spoke, the fearful sound was heard again.

"O Tulee, what is that?" she exclaimed, all of a tremble.

"That is only Jack," she replied.

"Who's Jack?" quickly asked the nervous little maiden.

"Why, the jackass, my puppet," answered Tulee. "Massa Gerald bought him for you and Missy Rosy to ride. In hot weather there's so many snakes about in the woods, he don't want ye to walk."

"What does he make that horrid noise for?" asked Flora, somewhat pacified.

"Because he was born with music in him, like the rest of ye," answered

Tulee, laughing.

She assisted her darling to undress, arranged her pillows, and kissed her cheek just as she had kissed it ever since the rosy little mouth had learned to speak her name. Then she sat by the bedside talking over things that had happened since they parted.

"So you were put up at auction and sold!" exclaimed Flora. "Poor Tulee! how dreadfully I should have felt to see you there! But Gerald bought you; and I suppose you like to belong to him."

"Ise nothin' to complain of Massa Gerald," she answered; "but I'd like better to belong to myself."

"So you'd like to be free, would you?" asked Flora.

"To be sure I would," said Tulee. "Yo like it yerself, don't ye, little missy?"

Then, suddenly recollecting what a narrow escape her young lady had had from the auction-stand, she hastened with intuitive delicacy to change the subject. But the same thought had occurred to Flora; and she fell asleep, thinking how Tulee's wishes could be gratified.

When morning floated upward out of the arms of night, in robe of brightest saffron, the aspect of everything was changed. Floracita sprang out of bed early, eager to explore the surroundings of their new abode. The little lawn looked very beautiful, sprinkled all over with a variety of wild-flowers, in whose small cups dewdrops glistened, prismatic as opals. The shrubbery was no longer a dismal mass of darkness, but showed all manner of shadings of glossy green leaves, which the moisture of the night had ornamented with shimmering edges of crystal beads. She found the phantom of the night before browsing among flowers behind the cottage, and very kindly disposed to make her acquaintance. As he had a thistle blossom sticking out of his mouth, she forthwith named him Thistle. She soon returned to the house with her apron full of vines, and blossoms, and prettily tinted leaves. "See, Tulee," said she, "what a many flowers! I'm going to make haste and dress the table, before Gerald and Rosa come to breakfast." They took graceful shape under her nimble fingers, and, feeling happy in her work, she began to hum,

"How brightly breaks the morning!"

"Whisper low!" sang Gerald, stealing up behind her, and making her start by singing into her very ear; while Rosa exclaimed, "What a fairy-land you have made here, with all these flowers,pichoncita mia"

The day passed pleasantly enough, with some ambling along the bridle-paths on Thistle's back, some reading and sleeping, and a good deal of music. The next day, black Tom came with a barouche, and they took a drive round the lovely island. The cotton-fields were all abloom on Gerald's plantation, and his stuccoed villa, with spacious veranda and high porch, gleamed out in whiteness among a magnificent growth of trees, and a garden gorgeous with efflorescence. The only drawback to the pleasure was, that Gerald charged them to wear thick veils, and never to raise them when any person was in sight. They made no complaint, because he told them that he should be deeply involved in trouble if his participation in their escape should be discovered; but, happy as Rosa was in reciprocated love, this necessity of concealment was a skeleton ever sitting at her feast; and Floracita, who had no romantic compensation for it, chafed under the restraint. It was dusk when they returned to the cottage, and the thickets were alive with fire-flies, as if Queen Mab and all her train were out dancing in spangles.

A few days after was Rosa's birthday, and Floracita busied herself in adorning the rooms with flowery festoons. After breakfast, Gerald placed a small parcel in the hand of each of the sisters. Rosa's contained her mother's diamond ring, and Flora's was her mother's gold watch, in the back of which was set a small locket-miniature of her father. Their gratitude took the form of tears, and the pleasure-loving young man, who had more taste for gayety than sentiment, sought to dispel it by lively music. When he saw the smiles coming again, he bowed playfully, and said: "This day is yours, dear Rosa. Whatsoever you wish for, you shall have, if it is attainable."

"I do wish for one thing," she replied promptly. "Floracita has found out that Tulee would like to be free. I want you to gratify her wish."

"Tulee is yours," rejoined he. "I bought her to attend upon you."

"She will attend upon me all the same after she is free," responded

Rosa; "and we should all be happier."

"I will do it," he replied. "But I hope you won't propose to make me free, for I am happier to be your slave."

The papers were brought a few days after, and Tulee felt a great deal richer, though there was no outward change in her condition.

As the heat increased, mosquitoes in the woods and sand-flies on the beach rendered the shelter of the house desirable most of the time. But though Fitzgerald had usually spent the summer months in travelling, he seemed perfectly contented to sing and doze and trifle away his time by Rosa's side, week after week. Floracita did not find it entertaining to be a third person with a couple of lovers. She had been used to being a person of consequence in her little world; and though they were very kind to her, they often forgot that she was present, and never seemed to miss her when she was away. She had led a very secluded life from her earliest childhood, but she had never before been so entirely out of sight of houses and people. During the few weeks she had passed in Nassau, she had learned to do shell-work with a class of young girls; and it being the first time she had enjoyed such companionship, she found it peculiarly agreeable. She longed to hear their small talk again; she longed to have Rosa to herself, as in the old times; she longed for her father's caresses, for Madame Guirlande's brave cheerfulness, for the Signor's peppery outbursts, which she found very amusing; and sometimes she thought how pleasant it would be to hear Florimond say that her name was the prettiest in the world. She often took out a pressed geranium blossom, under which was written "Souvenir de Florimond "; and she thought his name was very pretty too. She sang Moore's Melodies a great deal; and when she warbled,

"Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest

In thy bosom of shade, with the friend I love best!"

she sighed, and thought to herself, "Ah! if I only had a friend to love best!" She almost learned "Lalla Rookh" by heart; and she pictured herself as the Persian princess listening to a minstrel in Oriental costume, but with a very German face. It was not that the child was in love, but her heart was untenanted; and as memories walked through it, it sounded empty.

Tulee, who was very observing where her affections were concerned, suspected that she was comparing her own situation with that of Rosa. One day, when she found her in dreamy revery, she patted her silky curls, and said: "Does she feel as if she was laid by, like a fifth wheel to a coach? Never mind! My little one will have a husband herself one of these days."

Without looking up, she answered, very pensively: "Do you think I ever shall, Tulee? I don't see how I can, for I never see anybody."

Tulipa took the little head between her black hands, and, raising the pretty face toward her, replied: "Yes, sure, little missy. Do ye s'pose ye had them handsome eyes for nothin' but to look at the moon? But come, now, with me, and feed Thistle. I'm going to give him a pailful of water. Thistle knows us as well as if he was a Christian."

Jack Thistle was a great resource for Tulee in her isolation, and scarcely less so for Flora. She often fed him from her hand, decorated him with garlands, talked to him, and ambled about with him in the woods and on the sea-shore. The visits of black Tom also introduced a little variety into their life. He went back and forth from Savannah to procure such articles as were needed at the cottage, and he always had a budget of gossip for Tulee. Tom's Chloe was an expert ironer; and as Mr. Fitzgerald was not so well pleased with Tulee's performances of that kind, baskets of clothes were often sent to Chloe, who was ingenious in finding excuses for bringing them back herself. She was a great singer of Methodist hymns and negro songs, and had wonderful religious experiences to tell. To listen to her and Tom was the greatest treat Tulee had; but as she particularly prided herself on speaking like white people, she often remarked that she couldn't understand half their "lingo." Floracita soon learned it to perfection, and excited many a laugh by her imitations.

Tulee once obtained Rosa's permission to ride back with Tom, and spend a couple of hours at his cabin near "the Grat Hus," as he called his master's villa. But when Mr. Fitzgerald heard of it, he interdicted such visits in the future. He wished to have as little communication as possible between the plantation and the lonely cottage; and if he had overheard some of the confidences between Chloe and Tulee, he probably would have been confirmed in the wisdom of such a prohibition. But Tom was a factotum that could not be dispensed with. They relied upon him for provisions, letters, and newspapers.

Three or four weeks after their arrival he brought a box containing a long letter from Madame Guirlande, and the various articles she had saved for the orphans from the wreck of their early home. Not long afterward another letter came, announcing the marriage of Madame and the Signor. Answering these letters and preparing bridal presents for their old friends gave them busy days. Gerald sometimes ordered new music and new novels from New York, and their arrival caused great excitement. Floracita's natural taste for drawing had been cultivated by private lessons from a French lady, and she now used the pretty accomplishment to make likenesses of Thistle with and without

garlands, of Tulee in her bright turban, and of Madame Guirlande's parrot, inscribed, "Bon jour, jolie Manon!"

One day Rosa said: "As soon as the heat abates, so that we can use our needles without rusting, we will do a good deal of embroidery, and give it to Madame. She sells such articles, you know; and we can make beautiful things of those flosses and chenilles the good soul saved for us."

"I like that idea," replied Flora. "I've been wanting to do something to show our gratitude."

There was wisdom as well as kindness in the plan, though they never thought of the wisdom. Hours were whiled away by the occupation, which not only kept their needles from rusting, but also their affections and artistic faculties.

As the tide of time flowed on, varied only by these little eddies and ripples, Gerald, though always very loving with Rosa, became somewhat less exclusive. His attentions were more equally divided between the sisters. He often occupied himself with Floracita's work, and would pick out the shades of silk for her, as well as for Rosa. He more frequently called upon her to sing a solo, as well as to join in duets and trios. When the weather became cooler, it was a favorite recreation with him to lounge at his ease, while Rosa played, and Floracita's fairy figure floated through the evolutions of some graceful dance. Sometimes he would laugh, and say: "Am I not a lucky dog? I don't envy the Grand Bashaw his Circassian beauties. He'd give his biggest diamond for such a dancer as Floracita; and what is his Flower of the World compared to my Rosamunda?"

Floracita, whose warm heart always met affection as swiftly as one drop of quicksilver runs to another, became almost as much attached to him as she was to Rosa. "How kind Gerald is to me!" she would say to Tulee. "Papa used to wish we had a brother; but I didn't care for one then, because he was just as good for a playmate. But now it is pleasant to have a brother."

To Rosa, also, it was gratifying to have his love for her overflow upon what was dearest to her; and she would give him one of her sweetest smiles when he called her sister "Mignonne" or "Querida." To both of them the lonely island came to seem like a happy home. Floracita was not so wildly frolicsome as she was before those stunning blows fell upon her young life; but the natural buoyancy of her spirits began to return. She was always amusing them with "quips and cranks." If she was out of doors, her return to the house would be signalized by imitations of all sorts of birds or musical instruments; and often, when Gerald invited her to "trip it on the light, fantastic toe," she would entertain him with one of the negroes' clumsy, shuffling dances. Her sentimental songs fell into disuse, and were replaced by livelier tunes. Instead of longing to rest in the "sweet vale of Avoca," she was heard musically chasing "Figaro here! Figaro there! Figaro everywhere!"

Seven months passed without other material changes than the changing seasons. When the flowers faded, and the leafless cypress-trees were hung with their pretty pendulous seed-vessels, Gerald began to make longer visits to Savannah. He was, however, rarely gone more than a week; and, though Rosa's songs grew plaintive in his absence, her spirits rose at once when he came to tell how homesick he had been. As for Floracita, she felt compensated for the increased stillness by the privilege of having Rosa all to herself.

One day in January, when he had been gone from home several days, she invited Rosa to a walk, and, finding her desirous to finish a letter to Madame Guirlande, she threw on her straw hat, and went out half dancing, as she was wont to do. The fresh air was exhilarating, the birds were singing, and the woods were already beautified with every shade of glossy green, enlivened by vivid buds and leaflets of reddish brown. She gathered here and there a pretty sprig, sometimes placing them in her hair, sometimes in her little black silk apron, coquettishly decorated with cherry-colored ribbons. She stopped before a luxuriant wild myrtle, pulling at the branches, while she sang,

"When the little hollow drum beats to bed,

When the little fifer hangs his head,

When is mute the Moorish flute-"

Her song was suddenly interrupted by a clasp round the waist, and a warm kiss on the lips.

"O Gerald, you've come back!" she exclaimed. "How glad Rosa will be!"

"And nobody else will be glad, I suppose?" rejoined he. "Won't you give me back my kiss, when I've been gone a whole week?"

"Certainly, mon bon fr?re," she replied; and as he inclined his face toward her, she imprinted a slight kiss on his cheek.

"That's not giving me back my kiss," said he. "I kissed your mouth, and you must kiss mine."

"I will if you wish it," she replied, suiting the action to the word. "But you needn't hold me so tight," she added, as she tried to extricate herself. Finding he did not release her, she looked up wonderingly in his face, then lowered her eyes, blushing crimson. No one had ever looked at her so before.

"Come, don't be coy, ma petite," said he.

She slipped from him with sudden agility, and said somewhat sharply: "Gerald, I don't want to be always called petite; and I don't want to be treated as if I were a child. I am no longer a child. I am fifteen. I am a young lady."

"So you are, and a very charming one," rejoined he, giving her a playful tap on the cheek as he spoke.

"I am going to tell Rosa you have come," said she; and she started on the run.

When they were all together in the cottage she tried not to seem constrained; but she succeeded so ill that Rosa would have noticed it if she had not been so absorbed in her own happiness. Gerald was all affection to her, and full of playful raillery with Flora,-which, however, failed to animate her as usual.

From that time a change came over the little maiden, and increased as the days passed on. She spent much of her time in her own room; and when Rosa inquired why she deserted them so, she excused herself by saying she wanted to do a great deal of shell-work for Madame Guirlande, and that she needed so many boxes they would be in the way in the sitting-room. Her passion for that work grew wonderfully, and might be accounted for by the fascination of perfect success; for her coronets and garlands and bouquets and baskets were arranged with so much lightness and elegance, and the different-colored shells were so tastefully combined, that they looked less like manufactured articles than like flowers that grew in the gardens of the Nereids.

Tulee wondered why her vivacious little pet had all of a sudden become so sedentary in her habits,-why she never took her customary rambles except when Mr. Fitzgerald was gone, and even then never without her sister. The conjecture she formed was not very far amiss, for Chloe's gossip had made her better acquainted with the character of her master than were the other inmates of the cottage; but the extraordinary industry was a mystery to her. One evening, when she found Floracita alone in her room at dusk, leaning her head on her hand and gazing out of the window dreamily, she put her hand on the silky head and said, "Is my little one homesick?"

"I have no home to be sick for," she replied, sadly.

"Is she lovesick then?"

"I have no lover," she replied, in the same desponding tone.

"What is it, then, my pet? Tell Tulee."

"I wish I could go to Madame Guirlande," responded Flora. "She was so kind to us in our first troubles."

"It would do you good to make her a visit," said Tulee, "and I should think you might manage to do it somehow."

"No. Gerald said, a good while ago, that it would be dangerous for us ever to go to New Orleans."

"Does he expect to keep you here always?" asked Tulee. "He might just as well keep you in a prison, little bird."

"O, what's the use of talking, Tulee!" exclaimed she, impatiently. "I have no friends to go to, and I must stay here." But, reproaching herself for rejecting the sympathy so tenderly offered, she rose and kissed the black cheek as she added, "Good Tulee! kind Tulee! I am a little homesick; but I shall feel better in the morning."

The next afternoon Gerald and Rosa invited her to join them in a drive round the island. She declined, saying the box that was soon to be sent to Madame was not quite full, and she wanted to finish some more articles to put in it. But she felt a longing for the fresh air, and the intense blue glory of the sky made the house seem prison-like. As soon as they were gone, she took down her straw hat and passed out, swinging it by the strings. She stopped on the lawn to gather some flame-colored buds from a Pyrus Japonica, and, fastening them in the ribbons as she went, she walked toward her old familiar haunts in the woods.

It was early in February, but the warm sunshine brought out a delicious aroma from the firs, and golden garlands of the wild jasmine, fragrant as heliotrope, were winding round the evergreen thickets, and swinging in flowery festoons from the trees. Melancholy as she felt when she started from the cottage, her elastic nature was incapable of resisting the glory of the sky, the beauty of the earth, the music of the birds, and the invigorating breath of the ocean, intensified as they all were by a joyful sense of security and freedom, growing out of the constraint that had lately been put upon her movements. She tripped along faster, carolling as she went an old-fashioned song that her father used to be often humming:-

"Begone, dull care!

I prithee begone from me!

Begone, dull care!

Thou and I shall never agree!"

The walk changed to hopping and dancing, as she warbled various snatches from ballets and operas, settling at last upon the quaint little melody, "Once on a time there was a king," and running it through successive variations.

A very gentle and refined voice, from behind a clump of evergreens, said, "Is this Cinderella coming from the ball?"

She looked up with quick surprise, and recognized a lady she had several times seen in Nassau.

"And it is really you, Seńorita Gonsalez!" said the lady. "I thought

I knew your voice. But I little dreamed of meeting you here. I

have thought of you many times since I parted from you at Madame

Conquilla's store of shell-work. I am delighted to see you again."

"And I am glad to see you again, Mrs. Delano," replied Flora; "and I am very much pleased that you remember me."

"How could I help remembering you?" asked the lady. "You were a favorite with me from the first time I saw you, and I should like very much to renew our acquaintance. Where do you live, my dear?"

Covered with crimson confusion, Flora stammered out: "I don't live anywhere, I'm only staying here. Perhaps I shall meet you again in the woods or on the beach. I hope I shall."

"Excuse me," said the lady. "I have no wish to intrude upon your privacy. But if you would like to call upon me at Mr. Welby's plantation, where I shall be for three or four weeks, I shall always be glad to receive you."

"Thank you," replied Flora, still struggling with embarrassment. "I should like to come very much, but I don't have a great deal of time for visiting."

"It's not common to have such a pressure of cares and duties at your age," responded the lady, smiling. "My carriage is waiting on the beach. Trusting you will find a few minutes to spare for me, I will not say adieu, but au revoir."

As she turned away, she thought to herself: "What a fascinating child! What a charmingly unsophisticated way she took to tell me she would rather not have me call on her! I observed there seemed to be some mystery about her when she was in Nassau. What can it be? Nothing wrong, I hope."

Floracita descended to the beach and gazed after the carriage as long as she could see it. Her thoughts were so occupied with this unexpected interview, that she took no notice of the golden drops which the declining sun was showering on an endless procession of pearl-crested waves; nor did she cast one of her customary loving glances at the western sky, where masses of violet clouds, with edges of resplendent gold, enclosed lakes of translucent beryl, in which little rose-colored islands were floating. She retraced her steps to the woods, almost crying. "How strange my answers must appear to her!" murmured she. "How I do wish I could go about openly, like other people! I am so tired of all this concealment!" She neither jumped, nor danced, nor sung, on her way homeward. She seemed to be revolving something in her mind very busily.

After tea, as she and Rosa were sitting alone in the twilight, her sister, observing that she was unusually silent, said, "What are you thinking of, Mignonne?"

"I am thinking of the time we passed in Nassau," replied she, "and of that Yankee lady who seemed to take such a fancy to me when she came to Madame Conquilla's to look at the shell-work.

"I remember your talking about her," rejoined Rosa. "You thought her beautiful."

"Yes," said Floracita, "and it was a peculiar sort of beauty. She wasn't the least like you or Mamita. Everything about her was violet. Her large gray eyes sometimes had a violet light in them. Her hair was not exactly flaxen, it looked like ashes of violets. She always wore fragrant violets. Her ribbons and dresses were of some shade of violet; and her breastpin was an amethyst set with pearls. Something in her ways, too, made me think of a violet. I think she knew it, and that was the reason she always wore that color. How delicate she was! She must have been very beautiful when she was young."

"You used to call her the Java sparrow," said Rosa.

"Yes, she made me think of my little Java sparrow, with pale fawn-colored feathers, and little gleams of violet on the neck," responded Flora.

"That lady seems to have made a great impression on your imagination," said Rosa; and Floracita explained that it was because she had never seen anything like her. She did not mention that she had seen that lady on the island. The open-hearted child was learning to be reticent.

A few minutes afterward, Rosa exclaimed, "There's Gerald coming!"

Her sister watched her as she ran out to meet him, and sighed, "Poor

Rosa!"

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