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   Chapter 8 No.8

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 25226

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


A week later, when Gerald had gone to Savannah and Rosa was taking her daily siesta, Floracita filled Thistle's panniers with several little pasteboard boxes, and, without saying anything to Tulee, mounted and rode off in a direction she had never taken, except in the barouche. She was in search of the Welby plantation.

Mrs. Delano, who was busy with her crochet-needle near the open window, was surprised to see a light little figure seated on a donkey riding up the avenue. As soon as Floracita dismounted, she recognized her, and descended the steps of the piazza to welcome her.

"So you have found the Welby plantation," said she. "I thought you wouldn't have much difficulty, for there are only two plantations on the island, this and Mr. Fitzgerald's. I don't know that there are any other dwellings except the huts of the negroes." She spoke the last rather in a tone of inquiry; but Flora merely answered that she had once passed the Welby plantation in a barouche.

As the lady led the way into the parlor, she said, "What is that you have in your hand, my dear?"

"You used to admire Madame Conquilla's shell-work," replied Flora," and I have brought you some of mine, to see whether you think I succeed tolerably in my imitations." As she spoke, she took out a small basket and poised it on her finger.

"Why, that is perfectly beautiful!" said Mrs. Delano. "I don't know how you could contrive to give it such an air of lightness and grace. I used to think shell-work heavy, and rather vulgar, till I saw those beautiful productions at Nassau. But you excel your teacher, my dear Miss Gonsalez. I should think the sea-fairies made this."

Four or five other articles were brought forth from the boxes and examined with similar commendation. Then they fell into a pleasant chat about their reminiscences of Nassau; and diverged from that to speak of the loveliness of their lonely little island, and the increasing beauty of the season. After a while, Flora looked at her watch, and said, "I must not stay long, for I didn't tell anybody I was going away."

Mrs. Delano, who caught a glimpse of the medallion inserted in the back, said: "That is a peculiar little watch. Have you the hair of some friend set in it?"

"No," replied Flora. "It is the likeness of my father." She slipped the slight chain from her neck, and placed the watch in the lady's hand. Her face flushed as she looked at it, but the habitual paleness soon returned.

"You were introduced to me as a Spanish young lady," said she, "but this face is not Spanish. What was your father's name?"

"Mr. Alfred Royal of New Orleans," answered Flora.

"But your name is Gonsalez," said she.

Flora blushed crimson with the consciousness of having betrayed the incognito assumed at Nassau. "Gonsalez was my mother's name," she replied, gazing on the floor while she spoke.

Mrs. Delano looked at her for an instant, then, drawing her gently toward her, she pressed her to her side, and said with a sigh, "Ah, Flora, I wish you were my daughter."

"O, how I wish I was!" exclaimed the young girl, looking up with a sudden glow; but a shadow immediately clouded her expressive face, as she added, "But you wouldn't want me for a daughter, if you knew everything about me."

The lady was obviously troubled. "You seem to be surrounded by mysteries, my little friend," responded she. "I will not ask you for any confidence you are unwilling to bestow. But I am a good deal older than you, and I know the world better than you do. If anything troubles you, or if you are doing anything wrong, perhaps if you were to tell me, I could help you out of it."

"O, no, I'm not doing anything wrong," replied Floracita, eagerly. "I never did anything wrong in my life." Seeing a slight smile hovering about the lady's lips, she made haste to add: "I didn't mean exactly that. I mean I never did anything very wrong. I'm cross sometimes, and I have told some fibititas; but then I couldn't seem to help it, things were in such a tangle. It comes more natural to me to tell the truth."

"That I can readily believe," rejoined Mrs. Delano. "But I am not trying to entrap your ingenuousness into a betrayal of your secrets. Only remember one thing; if you ever do want to open your heart to any one, remember that I am your true friend, and that you can trust me."

"O, thank you! thank you!" exclaimed Flora, seizing her hand and kissing it fervently.

"But tell me one thing, my little friend," continued Mrs. Delano. "Is there anything I can do for you now?"

"I came to ask you to do something for me," replied Flora; "but you have been so kind to me, that it has made me almost forget my errand. I have very particular reasons for wanting to earn some money. You used to admire the shell-work in Nassau so much, that I thought, if you liked mine, you might be willing to buy it, and that perhaps you might have friends who would buy some. I have tried every way to think how I could manage, to sell my work."

"I will gladly buy all you have," rejoined the lady, "and I should like to have you make me some more; especially of these garlands of rice-shells, trembling so lightly on almost invisible silver wire."

"I will make some immediately," replied Flora. "But I must go, dear

Mrs. Delano. I wish I could stay longer, but I cannot."

"When will you come again?" asked the lady.

"I can't tell," responded Flora, "for I have to manage to come here."

"That seems strange," said Mrs. Delano.

"I know it seems strange," answered the young girl, with a kind of despairing impatience in her tone. "But please don't ask me, for everything seems to come right out to you; and I don't know what I ought to say, indeed I don't."

"I want you to come again as soon as you can," said Mrs. Delano, slipping a gold eagle into her hand. "And now go, my dear, before you tell me more than you wish to."

"Not more than I wish," rejoined Floracita; "but more than I ought. I wish to tell you everything."

In a childish way she put up her lips for a kiss, and the lady drew her to her heart and caressed her tenderly.

When Flora had descended the steps of the piazza, she turned and looked up. Mrs. Delano was leaning against one of the pillars, watching her departure. Vines of gossamer lightness were waving round her, and her pearly complexion and violet-tinted dress looked lovely among those aerial arabesques of delicate green. The picture impressed Flora all the more because it was such a contrast to the warm and gorgeous styles of beauty to which she had been accustomed. She smiled and kissed her hand in token of farewell; the lady returned the salutation, but she thought the expression of her face was sad, and the fear that this new friend distrusted her on account of unexplained mysteries haunted her on her way homeward.

Mrs. Delano looked after her till she and her donkey disappeared among the trees in the distance. "What a strange mystery is this!" murmured she. "Alfred Royal's child, and yet she bears her mother's name. And why does she conceal from me where she lives? Surely, she cannot be consciously doing anything wrong, for I never saw such perfect artlessness of look and manner." The problem occupied her thoughts for days after, without her arriving at any satisfactory conjecture.

Flora, on her part, was troubled concerning the distrust which she felt must be excited by her mysterious position, and she was continually revolving plans to clear herself from suspicion in the eyes of her new friend. It would have been an inexpressible consolation if she could have told her troubles to her elder sister, from whom she had never concealed anything till within the last few weeks. But, alas! by the fault of another, a barrier had arisen between them, which proved an obstruction at every turn of their daily intercourse; for while she had been compelled to despise and dislike Gerald, Rosa was always eulogizing his noble and loving nature, and was extremely particular to have his slightest wishes obeyed. Apart from any secret reasons for wishing to obtain money, Floracita was well aware that it would not do to confess her visit to Mrs. Delano; for Gerald had not only forbidden their making any acquaintances, but he had also charged them not to ride or walk in the direction of either of the plantations unless he was with them.

Day after day, as Flora sat at work upon the garlands she had promised, she was on the watch to elude his vigilance; but more than a week passed without her finding any safe opportunity. At last Gerald proposed to gratify Rosa's often-expressed wish, by taking a sail to one of the neighboring islands. They intended to make a picnic of it, and return by moonlight. Rosa was full of pleasant anticipations, which, however, were greatly damped when her sister expressed a decided preference for staying at home. Rosa entreated, and Gerald became angry, but she persisted in her refusal. She said she wanted to use up all her shells, and all her flosses and chenilles. Gerald swore that he hated the sight of them, and that he would throw them all into the sea if she went on wearing her beautiful eyes out over them. Without looking up from her work, she coolly answered, "Why need you concern yourself about my eyes, when you have a wife with such beautiful eyes?"'

Black Tom and Chloe and the boat were in waiting, and after a flurried scene they departed reluctantly without her.

"I never saw any one so changed as she is," said Rosa. "She used to be so fond of excursions, and now she wants to work from morning till night."

"She's a perverse, self-willed, capricious little puss. She's been too much indulged. She needs to be brought under discipline," said Gerald, angrily whipping off a blossom with his rattan as they walked toward the boat.

As soon as they were fairly off, Flora started on a second visit to the Welby plantation. Tulee noticed all this in silence, and shook her head, as if thoughts were brooding there unsafe for utterance.

Mrs. Delano was bending over her writing-desk finishing a letter, when she perceived a wave of fragrance, and, looking up, she saw Flora on the threshold of the open door, with her arms full of flowers.

"Excuse me for interrupting you," said she, dropping one of her little quick courtesies, which seemed half frolic, half politeness. "The woods are charming to-day. The trees are hung with curtains of jasmine, embroidered all over with golden flowers. You love perfumes so well, I couldn't help stopping by the way to load Thistle with an armful of them."

"Thank you, dear," replied Mrs. Delano. "I rode out yesterday afternoon, and I thought I had never seen anything so beautiful as the flowery woods and the gorgeous sunset. After being accustomed to the splendor of these Southern skies, the Northern atmosphere will seem cold and dull."

"Shall you go to the North soon?" inquired Flora, anxiously.

"I shall leave here in ten or twelve days," she replied; "but I may wait a short time in Savannah, till March has gone; for that is a blustering, disagreeable month in New England, though it brings you roses and perfume. I came to Savannah to spend the winter with my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Welby; but I have always taken a great fancy to this island, and when they were suddenly called away to Arkansas by the illness of a son, I asked their permission to come here for a few weeks and watch the beautiful opening of the spring. I find myself much inclined to solitude since I lost a darling daughter, who died two years ago. If she had lived, she would have been about your age."

"I am so sorry you are going away," said Flora. "It seems as if I had always known you. I don't know what I shall do without you. But when you go back among your friends, I suppose you will forget all about poor little me."

"No, my dear little friend, I shall never forget you," she replied; "and when I come again, I hope I shall find you here."

"I felt troubled when I went away the other day," said Flora. "I thought you seemed to look sadly after me, and I was afraid you thought I had done something wicked, because I said you wouldn't wish I were your daughter if you knew everything about me. So I have come to tell you my secrets, as far as I can without betraying other people's. I am afraid you won't care anything more about me after I have told you; but I can't help it if you don't. Even that would be better than to have you suspect me of being bad."

Mrs. Delano drew an ottoman toward her, and said, "Come and sit here, dea

r, and tell me all about it, the same as if I were your mother."

Floracita complied; and resting one elbow on her knee, and leaning her cheek upon the hand, she looked up timidly and wistfully into the friendly face that was smiling serenely over her. After a moment's pause, she said abruptly: "I don't know how to begin, so I won't begin at all, but tell it right out. You see, dear Mrs. Delano, I am a colored girl."

The lady's smile came nearer to a laugh than was usual with her. She touched the pretty dimpled cheek with her jewelled finger, as she replied: "O, you mischievous little kitten! I thought you were really going to tell me something about your troubles. But I see you are hoaxing me. I remember when you were at Madame Conquilla's you always seemed to be full of fun, and the young ladies there said you were a great rogue."

"But this is not fun; indeed it is not," rejoined Flora. "I am a colored girl."

She spoke so earnestly that the lady began to doubt the evidence of her own eyes. "But you told me that Mr. Alfred Royal was your father," said she.

"So he was my father," replied Flora; "and the kindest father that ever was. Rosa and I were brought up like little princesses, and we never knew that we were colored. My mother was the daughter of a rich Spanish gentleman named Gonsalez. She was educated in Paris, and was elegant and accomplished. She was handsomer than Rosa; and if you were to see Rosa, you would say nobody could be handsomer than she is. She was good, too. My father was always saying she was the dearest and best wife in the world. You don't know how he mourned when she died. He couldn't bear to have anything moved that she had touched. But cher papa died very suddenly; and first they told us that we were very poor, and must earn our living; and then they told us that our mother was a slave, and so, according to law, we were slaves too. They would have sold us at auction, if a gentleman who knew us when papa was alive hadn't smuggled us away privately to Nassau. He had been very much in love with Rosa for a good while; and he married her, and I live with them. But he keeps us very much hidden; because, he says, he should get into lawsuits and duels and all sorts of troubles with papa's creditors if they should find out that he helped us off. And that was the reason I was called Seńorita Gonsalez in Nassau, though my real name is Flora Royal."

She went on to recount the kindness of Madame Guirlande, and the exciting particulars of their escape; to all of which Mrs. Delano listened with absorbed attention. As they sat thus, they made a beautiful picture. The lady, mature in years, but scarcely showing the touch of time, was almost as fair as an Albiness, with serene lips, and a soft moonlight expression in her eyes. Every attitude and every motion indicated quietude and refinement. The young girl, on the contrary, even when reclining, seemed like impetuosity in repose for a moment, but just ready to spring. Her large dark eyes laughed and flashed and wept by turns, and her warmly tinted face glowed like the sunlight, in its setting of glossy black hair. The lady looked down upon her with undisguised admiration while she recounted their adventures in lively dramatic style, throwing in imitations of the whistling of ?a ira, and the tones of the coachman as he sang, "Who goes there?"

"But you have not told me," said Mrs. Delano, "who the gentleman was that married your sister. Ah, I see you hesitate. No matter. Only tell me one thing,-is he kind to you?"

Flora turned red and pale, and red again.

"Let that pass, too," said the lady. "I asked because I wished to know if I could help you in any way. I see you have brought some more boxes of shell-work, and by and by we will examine them. But first I want to tell you that I also have a secret, and I will confide it to you that you may feel assured I shall love you always. Flora, dear, when your father and I were young, we were in love with each other, and I promised to be his wife."

"So you might have been my Mamita!" exclaimed Floracita, impetuously.

"No, not your Mamita, dear," replied Mrs. Delano, smiling. "You call me the Java sparrow, and Java sparrows never hatch gay little humming-birds or tuneful mocking-birds. I might tell you a long story about myself, dear; but the sun is declining, and you ought not to be out after dusk. My father was angry about our love, because Alfred was then only a clerk with a small salary. They carried me off to Europe, and for two years I could hear nothing from Alfred. Then they told me he was married; and after a while they persuaded me to marry Mr. Delano. I ought not to have married him, because my heart was not in it. He died and left me with a large fortune and the little daughter I told you of. I have felt very much alone since my darling was taken from me. That void in my heart renders young girls very interesting to me. Your looks and ways attracted me when I first met you; and when you told me Alfred Royal was your father, I longed to clasp you to my heart. And now you know, my dear child, that you have a friend ever ready to listen to any troubles you may choose to confide, and desirous to remove them if she can."

She rose to open the boxes of shell-work; but Flora sprung up, and threw herself into her arms, saying, "My Papasito sent you to me,-I know he did."

After a few moments spent in silent emotion, Mrs. Delano again spoke of the approaching twilight, and with mutual caresses they bade each other adieu.

Four or five days later, Floracita made her appearance at the Welby plantation in a state of great excitement. She was in a nervous tremor, and her eyelids were swollen as if with much weeping. Mrs. Delano hastened to enfold her in her arms, saying: "What is it, my child? Tell your new Mamita what it is that troubles you so."

"O, may I call you Mamita?" asked Flora, looking up with an expression of grateful love that warmed all the fibres of her friend's heart. "O, I do so need a Mamita! I am very wretched; and if you don't help me, I don't know what I shall do!"

"Certainly, I will help you, if possible, when you have told me your trouble," replied Mrs. Delano.

"Yes, I will tell," said Flora, sighing. "Mr. Fitzgerald is the gentleman who married my sister; but we don't live at his plantation. We live in a small cottage hidden away in the woods. You never saw anybody so much in love as he was with Rosa. When we first came here, he was never willing to have her out of his sight a moment. And Rosa loves him so! But for these eight or ten weeks past he has been making love to me; though he is just as affectionate as ever with Rosa. When she is playing to him, and I am singing beside her, he keeps throwing kisses to me behind her back. It makes me feel so ashamed that I can't look my sister in the face. I have tried to-keep out of his way. When I am in the house I stick to Rosa like a burr; and I have given up riding or walking, except when he is away. But there's no telling when he is away. He went away yesterday, and said he was going to Savannah to be gone a week; but this morning, when I went into the woods behind the cottage to feed Thistle, he was lurking there. He seized me, and held his hand over my mouth, and said I should hear him. Then he told me that Rosa and I were his slaves; that he bought us of papa's creditors, and could sell us any day. And he says he will carry me off to Savannah and sell me if I don't treat him better. He would not let me go till I promised to meet him in Cypress Grove at dusk to-night. I have been trying to earn money to go to Madame Guirlande, and get her to send me somewhere where I could give dancing-lessons, or singing-lessons, without being in danger of being taken up for a slave. But I don't know how to get to New Orleans alone; and if I am his slave, I am afraid he will come there with officers to take me. So, dear new Mamita, I have come to you, to see if you can't help me to get some money and go somewhere."

Mrs. Delano pressed her gently to her heart, and responded in tones of tenderest pity: "Get some money and go somewhere, you poor child! Do you think I shall let dear Alfred's little daughter go wandering alone about the world? No, darling, you shall live with me, and be my daughter."

"And don't you care about my being colored and a slave?" asked

Floracita, humbly.

"Let us never speak of that," replied her friend. "The whole transaction is so odious and wicked that I can't bear to think of it."

"I do feel so grateful to you, my dear new Mamita, that I don't know what to say. But it tears my heart in two to leave Rosa. We have never been separated for a day since I was born. And she is so good, and she loves me so! And Tulee, too. I didn't dare to try to speak to her. I knew I should break down. All the way coming here I was frightened for fear Gerald would overtake me and carry me off. And I cried so, thinking about Rosa and Tulee, not knowing when I should see them again, that I couldn't see; and if Thistle hadn't known the way himself, I shouldn't have got here. Poor Thistle! It seemed as if my heart would break when I threw the bridle on his neck and left him to go back alone; I didn't dare to hug, him but once, I was so afraid. O, I am so glad that you will let me stay here!"

"I have been thinking it will not be prudent for you to stay here, my child," replied Mrs. Delano. "Search will be made for you in the morning, and you had better be out of the way before that. There are some dresses belonging to Mrs. Welby's daughter in a closet up stairs. I will borrow one of them for you to wear. The boat from Beaufort to Savannah will stop here in an hour to take some freight. We will go to Savannah. My colored laundress there has a chamber above her wash-room where you will be better concealed than in more genteel lodgings. I will come back here to arrange things, and in a few days I will return to you and take you to my Northern home."

The necessary arrangements were soon made; and when Flora was transformed into Miss Welby, she smiled very faintly as she remarked, "How queer it seems to be always running away."

"This is the last time, my child," replied Mrs. Delano. "I will keep my little bird carefully under my wings."

When Flora was in the boat, hand in hand with her new friend, and no one visible whom she had ever seen before, her excitement began to subside, but sadness increased. In her terror the poor child had scarcely thought of anything except the necessity of escaping somewhere. But when she saw her island home receding from her, she began to realize the importance of the step she was taking. She fixed her gaze on that part where the lonely cottage was embowered, and she had a longing to see even a little whiff of smoke from Tulee's kitchen. But there was no sign of life save a large turkey-buzzard, like a black vulture, sailing gracefully over the tree-tops. The beloved sister, the faithful servant, the brother from whom she had once hoped so much, the patient animal that had borne her through so many pleasant paths, the flowery woods, and the resounding sea, had all vanished from her as suddenly as did her father and the bright home of her childhood.

The scenes through which they were passing were beautiful as Paradise, and all nature seemed alive and jubilant. The white blossoms of wild-plum-trees twinkled among dark evergreens, a vegetable imitation of starlight. Wide-spreading oaks and superb magnolias were lighted up with sudden flashes of color, as scarlet grosbeaks flitted from tree to tree. Sparrows were chirping, doves cooing, and mocking-birds whistling, now running up the scale, then down the scale, with an infinity of variations between. The outbursts of the birds were the same as in seasons that were gone, but the listener was changed. Rarely before had her quick musical ear failed to notice how they would repeat the same note with greater or less emphasis, then flat it, then sharp it, varying their performances with all manner of unexpected changes. But now she was merely vaguely conscious of familiar sounds, which brought before her that last merry day in her father's house, when Rosabella laughed so much to hear her puzzle the birds with her musical vagaries. Memory held up her magic mirror, in which she saw pictured processions of the vanished years. Thus the lonely child, with her loving, lingering looks upon the past, was floated toward an unknown future with the new friend a kind Providence had sent her.

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