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   Chapter 9 No.9

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 13496

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Rosa was surprised at the long absence of her sister; and when the sun showed only a narrow golden edge above the horizon, she began to feel anxious. She went to the kitchen and said, "Tulee, have you seen anything of Floracita lately? She went away while I was sleeping."

"No, missy," she replied. "The last I see of her was in her room, with the embroidery-frame before her. She was looking out of the window, as she did sometimes, as if she was looking nowhere. She jumped up and hugged and kissed me, and called me 'Dear Tulee, good Tulee.' The little darling was always mighty loving. When I went there again, her needle was sticking in her work, and her thimble was on the frame, but she was gone. I don't know when she went away. Thistle's come back alone; but he does that sometimes when little missy goes rambling round."

There was no uneasiness expressed in her tones, but, being more disquieted than she wished to acknowledge, she went forth to search the neighboring wood-paths and the sea-shore. When she returned, Rosa ran out with the eager inquiry, "Is she anywhere in sight?" In reply to the negative answer, she said: "I don't know what to make of it. Have you ever seen anybody with Floracita since we came here?"

"Nobody but Massa Gerald," replied Tulee.

"I wonder whether she was discontented here," said Rosa. "I don't see why she should be, for we all loved her dearly; and Gerald was as kind to her as if she had been his own sister. But she hasn't seemed like herself lately; and this forenoon she hugged and kissed me ever so many times, and cried. When I asked her what was the matter, she said she was thinking of the pleasant times when Papasito querido was alive. Do you think she was unhappy?"

"She told me once she was homesick for Madame Guirlande," replied

Tulee.

"Did she? Perhaps she was making so many things for Madame because she meant to go there. But she couldn't find her way alone, and she knew it would be very dangerous for either of us to go to New Orleans."

Tulee made no reply. She seated herself on a wooden bench by the open door, swinging her body back and forth in an agitated way, ever and anon jumping up and looking round in all directions. The veil of twilight descended upon the earth, and darkness followed. The two inmates of the cottage felt very miserable and helpless, as they sat there listening to every sound. For a while nothing was heard but the dash of the waves, and the occasional hooting of an owl. The moon rose up above the pines, and flooded earth and sea with silvery splendor.

"I want to go to the plantation and call Tom," said Rosa; "and there is such bright moonshine we might go, but I am afraid Gerald would be displeased."

Tulee at once volunteered to bring out Thistle, and to walk beside her mistress.

Both started at the sound of footsteps. They were not light enough for Floracita, but they thought it might be some one bringing news. It proved to be the master of the house.

"Why, Gerald, how glad I am! I thought you were in Savannah," exclaimed Rosa. "Have you seen anything of Floracita?"

"No. Isn't she here?" inquired he, in such a tone of surprise, that

Tulee's suspicions were shaken.

Rosa repeated the story of her disappearance, and concluded by saying,

"She told Tulee she was homesick to go to Madame."

"She surely wouldn't dare to do that," he replied.

"Massa Gerald," said Tulee, and she watched him closely while she spoke, "there's something I didn't tell Missy Rosy, 'cause I was feared it would worry her. I found this little glove of Missy Flory's, with a bunch of sea-weed, down on the beach; and there was marks of her feet all round."

Rosa uttered a cry. "O heavens!" she exclaimed, "I saw an alligator a few days ago."

An expression of horror passed over his face. "I've cautioned her not to fish so much for shells and sea-mosses," said he; "but she was always so self-willed."

"Don't say anything against the little darling!" implored Rosa. "Perhaps we shall never see her again."

He spoke a few soothing words, and then took his hat, saying, "I am going to the sea-shore."

"Take good care of yourself, dear Gerald!" cried Rosa.

"No danger 'bout that," muttered Tulee, as she walked out of hearing. "There's things with handsomer mouths than alligators that may be more dangerous. Poor little bird! I wonder where he has put her."

His feelings as he roamed on the beach were not to be envied. His mind was divided between the thoughts that she had committed suicide, or had been drowned accidentally. That she had escaped from his persecutions by flight he could not believe; for he knew she was entirely unused to taking care of herself, and felt sure she had no one to help her. He returned to say that the tide had washed away the footprints, and that he found no vestige of the lost one.

At dawn he started for the plantation, whence, after fruitless inquiries, he rode to the Welby estate. Mrs. Delano had requested the household servants not to mention having seen a small young lady there, and they had nothing to communicate.

He resolved to start for New Orleans as soon as possible. After a fortnight's absence he returned, bringing grieved and sympathizing letters from the Signor and Madame; and on the minds of all, except Tulee, the conviction settled that Floracita was drowned. Hope lingered long in her mind. "Wherever the little pet may be, she'll surely contrive to let us know," thought she. "She ain't like the poor slaves when they're carried off. She can write." Her mistress talked with her every day about the lost darling; but of course such suspicions were not to be mentioned to her. Gerald, who disliked everything mournful, avoided the subject entirely; and Rosabella, looking upon him only with the eyes of love, considered it a sign of deep feeling, and respected it accordingly.

But, blinded as she was, she gradually became aware that he did not seem exactly like the same man who first won her girlish love. Her efforts to please him were not always successful. He was sometimes moody and fretful. He swore at the slightest annoyance, and often flew into paroxysms of anger with Tom and Tulee. He was more and more absent from the cottage, and made few professions of regret for such frequent separations. Some weeks after Flora's disappearance, he announced his intention to travel in the North during the summer months. Rosabella looked up in his face with a pleading expression, but pride prevented her from asking whether she might accompany him. She waited in hopes he would propose it; but as he did not even think of it, he failed to interpret the look of disappointment in her expressive eyes, as she turned fro

m him with a sigh.

"Tom will come with the carriage once a week," said he; "and either he or Joe will be here every night."

"Thank you," she replied.

But the tone was so sad that he took her hand with the tenderness of former times, and said, "You are sorry to part with me, Bella Rosa?"

"How can I be otherwise than sorry," she asked, "when I am all alone in the world without you? Dear Gerald, are we always to live thus? Will you never acknowledge me as your wife?"

"How can I do it," rejoined he, "without putting myself in the power of those cursed creditors? It is no fault of mine that your mother was a slave."

"We should be secure from them in Europe," she replied. "Why couldn't we live abroad?"

"Do you suppose my rich uncle would leave me a cent if he found out I had married the daughter of a quadroon?" rejoined he. "I have met with losses lately, and I can't afford to offend my uncle. I am sorry, dear, that you are dissatisfied with the home I have provided for you."

"I am not dissatisfied with my home," said she. "I have no desire to mix with the world, but it is necessary for you, and these separations are dreadful."

His answer was: "I will write often, dearest, and I will send you quantities of new music. I shall always be looking forward to the delight of hearing it when I return. You must take good care of your health, for my sake. You must go ambling about with Thistle every day."

The suggestion brought up associations that overcame her at once. "O how Floracita loved Thistle!" she exclaimed. "And it really seems as if the poor beast misses her. I am afraid we neglected her too much, Gerald. We were so taken up with our own happiness, that we didn't think of her so much as we ought to have done."

"I am sure I tried to gratify all her wishes," responded he. "I have nothing to reproach myself with, and certainly you were always a devoted sister. This is a morbid state of feeling, and you must try to drive it off. You said a little while ago that you wanted to see how the plantation was looking, and what flowers had come out in the garden. Shall I take you there in the barouche to-morrow?"

She gladly assented, and a few affectionate words soon restored her confidence in his love.

When the carriage was brought to the entrance of the wood the next day, she went to meet it with a smiling face and a springing step. As he was about to hand her in, he said abruptly, "You have forgotten your veil."

Tulee was summoned to bring it. As Rosa arranged it round her head, she remarked, "One would think you were ashamed of me, Gerald."

The words were almost whispered, but the tone sounded more like a reproach than anything she had ever uttered. With ready gallantry he responded aloud, "I think so much of my treasure that I want to keep it all to myself."

He was very affectionate during their drive; and this, combined with the genial air, the lovely scenery, and the exhilaration of swift motion, restored her to a greater sense of happiness than she had felt since her darling sister vanished so suddenly.

The plantation was in gala dress. The veranda was almost covered with the large, white, golden-eyed stars of the Cherokee rose, gleaming out from its dark, lustrous foliage. The lawn was a sheet of green velvet embroidered with flowers. Magnolias and oaks of magnificent growth ornamented the extensive grounds. In the rear was a cluster of negro huts. Black picaninnies were rolling about in the grass, mingling their laughter with the songs of the birds. The winding paths of the garden were lined with flowering shrubs, and the sea sparkled in the distance. Wherever the eye glanced, all was sunshine, bloom, and verdure.

For the first time, he invited her to enter the mansion. Her first movement was toward the piano. As she opened it, and swept her hand across the keys, he said: "It is sadly out of tune. It has been neglected because its owner had pleasanter music elsewhere."

"But the tones are very fine," rejoined she. "What a pity it shouldn't be used!" As she glanced out of the window on the blooming garden and spacious lawn, she said: "How pleasant it would be if we could live here! It is so delightful to look out on such an extensive open space."

"Perhaps we will some time or other, my love," responded he.

She smiled, and touched the keys, while she sang snatches of familiar songs. The servants who brought in refreshments wondered at her beauty, and clear, ringing voice. Many dark faces clustered round the crack of the door to obtain a peep; and as they went away they exchanged nudges and winks with each other. Tom and Chloe had confidentially whispered to some of them the existence of such a lady, and that Tulee said Massa married her in the West Indies; and they predicted that she would be the future mistress of Magnolia Lawn. Others gave it as their opinion, that Massa would never hide her as he did if she was to be the Missis. But all agreed that she was a beautiful, grand lady, and they paid her homage accordingly. Her cheeks would have burned to scarlet flame if she had heard all their comments and conjectures; but unconscious of blame or shame, she gave herself up to the enjoyment of those bright hours.

A new access of tenderness seemed to have come over Fitzgerald; partly because happiness rendered her beauty more radiant, and partly because secret thoughts that were revolving in his mind brought some twinges of remorse. He had never seemed more enamored, not even during the first week in Nassau, when he came to claim her as his bride. Far down in the garden was an umbrageous walk, terminating in a vine-covered bower. They remained there a long time, intertwined in each other's arms, talking over the memories of their dawning consciousness of love, and singing together the melodies in which their voices had first mingled.

Their road home was through woods and groves festooned with vines, some hanging in massive coils, others light and aerial enough for fairy swings; then over the smooth beach, where wave after wave leaped up and tossed its white foam-garland on the shore. The sun was sinking in a golden sea, and higher toward the zenith little gossamer clouds blushingly dissolved in the brilliant azure, and united again, as if the fragrance of roses had floated into form.

When they reached the cottage, Rosa passed through the silent little parlor with swimming eyes, murmuring to herself: "Poor little Floracita! how the sea made me think of her. I ought not to have been so happy."

But memory wrote the record of that halcyon day in illuminated manuscript, all glowing with purple and gold, with angel faces peeping through a graceful network of flowers.

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