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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 25204

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


If Flora could have known all this, the sisters would have soon been locked in each other's arms; but while she supposed that Rosa still regarded Mr. Fitzgerald with perfect love and confidence, no explanation of her flight could be given. She did indeed need to be often reminded by Mrs. Delano that it would be the most unkind thing toward her sister, as well as hazardous to herself, to attempt any communication. Notwithstanding the tenderest care for her comfort and happiness, she could not help being sometimes oppressed with homesickness. Her Boston home was tasteful and elegant, but everything seemed foreign and strange. She longed for Rosa and Tulee, and Madame and the Signor. She missed what she called the olla-podrida phrases to which she had always been accustomed; and in her desire to behave with propriety, there was an unwonted sense of constraint. When callers came, she felt like a colt making its first acquaintance with harness. She endeavored to conceal such feelings from her kind benefactress; but sometimes, if she was surprised in tears, she would say apologetically, "I love you dearly, Mamita Lila; but it is dreadful to be so far away from anybody that ever knew anything about the old times."

"But you forget that I do know something about them, darling," replied Mrs. Delano. "I am never so happy as when you are telling me about your father. Perhaps by and by, when you have become enough used to your new home to feel as mischievous as you are prone to be, you will take a fancy to sing to me, 'O, there's nothing half so sweet in life as love's old dream.'"

It was beautiful to see how girlish the sensible and serious lady became in her efforts to be companionable to her young protégée. Day after day, her intimate friends found her playing battledoor or the Graces, or practising pretty French romanzas, flowery rondeaux, or lively dances. She was surprised at herself; for she had not supposed it possible for her ever to take an interest in such things after her daughter died. But, like all going out of self, these efforts brought their recompense.

She always introduced the little stranger as "Miss Flora Delano, my adopted daughter." To those who were curious to inquire further, she said: "She is an orphan, in whom I became much interested in the West Indies. As we were both very much alone in the world, I thought the wisest thing we could do would be to cheer each other's loneliness." No allusion was ever made to her former name, for that might have led to inconvenient questions concerning her father's marriage; and, moreover, the lady had no wish to resuscitate the little piece of romance in her own private history, now remembered by few.

It was contrary to Mrs. Delano's usual caution and deliberation to adopt a stranger so hastily; and had she been questioned beforehand, she would have pronounced it impossible for her to enter into such a relation with one allied to the colored race, and herself a slave. But a strange combination of circumstances had all at once placed her in this most unexpected position. She never for one moment regretted the step she had taken; but the consciousness of having a secret to conceal, especially a secret at war with the conventional rules of society, was distasteful to her, and felt as some diminution of dignity. She did not believe in the genuineness of Rosa's marriage, though she deemed it best not to impart such doubts to Flora. If Mr. Fitzgerald should marry another, she foresaw that it would be her duty to assist in the reunion of the sisters, both of whom were slaves. She often thought to herself, "In what a singular complication I have become involved! So strange for me, who have such an aversion to all sorts of intrigues and mysteries." With these reflections were mingled anxieties concerning Flora's future. Of course, it would not be well for her to be deprived of youthful companionship; and if she mixed with society, her handsome person, her musical talent, and her graceful dancing would be sure to attract admirers. And then, would it be right to conceal her antecedents? And if they should be explained or accidentally discovered, after her young affections were engaged, what disappointment and sadness might follow!

But Flora's future was in a fair way to take care of itself. One day

she came flying into the parlor with her face all aglow. "O Mamita

Lila," exclaimed she, "I have had such a pleasant surprise! I went to

Mr. Goldwin's store to do your errand, and who should I find there but

Florimond Blumenthal!"

"And, pray, who is Florimond Blumenthal?" inquired Mrs. Delano.

"O, haven't I told you? I thought I had told you all about everybody and everything. He was a poor orphan, that papa took for an errand-boy. He sent him to school, and afterward he was his clerk. He came to our house often when I was a little girl; but after he grew tall, papa used to send an old negro man to do our errands. So I didn't see him any more till cher papa died. He was very kind to us then. He was the one that brought those beautiful baskets I told you of. Isn't it funny? They drove him away from New Orleans because they said he was an Abolitionist, and that he helped us to escape, when he didn't know anything at all about it. He said he heard we had gone to the North. And he went looking all round in New York, and then he came to Boston, hoping to see us or hear from us some day; but he had about done expecting it when I walked into the store. You never saw anybody so red as he was, when he held out his hand and said, in such a surprised way, 'Miss Royal, is it you?' Just out of mischief, I told him very demurely that my name was Delano. Then he became very formal all at once, and said, 'Does this silk suit you, Mrs. Delano?' That made me laugh, and blush too. I told him I wasn't married, but a kind lady in Summer Street had adopted me and given me her name. Some other customers came up to the counter, and so I had to come away."

"Did you ask him not to mention your former name?" inquired Mrs.

Delano.

"No, I hadn't time to think of that," replied Flora; "but I will ask him."

"Don't go to the store on purpose to see him, dear. Young ladies should be careful about such things," suggested her maternal friend.

Two hours afterward, as they returned from a carriage-drive, Flora had just drawn off her gloves, when she began to rap on the window, and instantly darted into the street. Mrs. Delano, looking out, saw her on the opposite sidewalk, in earnest conversation with a young gentleman. When she returned, she said to her: "You shouldn't rap on the windows to young gentlemen, my child. It hasn't a good appearance."

"I didn't rap to young gentlemen," replied Flora. "It was only Florimond. I wanted to tell him not to mention my name. He asked me about my sister, and I told him she was alive and well, and I couldn't tell him any more at present. Florimond won't mention anything I request him not to,-I know he won't."

Mrs. Delano smiled to herself at Flora's quick, off-hand way of doing things. "But after all," thought she, "it is perhaps better settled so, than it would have been with more ceremony." Then speaking aloud, she said, "Your friend has a very blooming name."

"His name was Franz," rejoined Flora; "but Mamita called him Florimond, because he had such pink cheeks; and he liked Mamita so much, that he always writes his name Franz Florimond. We always had so many flowery names mixed up with our olla-podrida talk. Your name is flowery too. I used to say Mamita would have called you Lady Viola; but violet colors and lilac colors are cousins, and they both suit your complexion and your name, Mamita Lila."

After dinner, she began to play and sing with more gayety than she had manifested for many a day. While her friend played, she practised several new dances with great spirit; and after she had kissed good-night, she went twirling through the door, as if music were handing her out.

Mrs. Delano sat awhile in revery. She was thinking what a splendid marriage her adopted daughter might make, if it were not for that stain upon her birth. She was checked by the thought: "How I have fallen into the world's ways, which seemed to me so mean and heartless when I was young! Was I happy in the splendid marriage they made for me? From what Flora lets out occasionally, I judge her father felt painfully the anomalous position of his handsome daughters. Alas! if I had not been so weak as to give him up, all this miserable entanglement might have been prevented. So one wrong produces another wrong; and thus frightfully may we affect the destiny of others, while blindly following the lead of selfishness. But the past, with all its weaknesses and sins, has gone beyond recall; and I must try to write a better record on the present."

As she passed to her sleeping-room, she softly entered the adjoining chamber, and, shading the lamp with her hand, she stood for a moment looking at Flora. Though it was but a few minutes since she was darting round like a humming-bird, she was now sleeping as sweetly as a babe. She made an extremely pretty picture in her slumber, with the long dark eyelashes resting on her youthful cheek, and a shower of dark curls falling over her arm. "No wonder Alfred loved her so dearly," thought she. "If his spirit can see us, he must bless me for saving his innocent child." Filled with this solemn and tender thought, she knelt by the bedside, and prayed for blessing and guidance in the task she had undertaken.

The unexpected finding of a link connected with old times had a salutary effect on Flora's spirits. In the morning, she said that she had had pleasant dreams about Rosabella and Tulee, and that she didn't mean to be homesick any more. "It's very ungrateful," added she, "when my dear, good Mamita Lila does so much to make me happy."

"To help you keep your good resolution, I propose that we go to the Athenaeum," said Mrs. Delano, smiling. Flora had never been in a gallery of paintings, and she was as much pleased as a little child with a new picture-book. Her enthusiasm attracted attention, and visitors smiled to see her clap her hands, and to hear her little shouts of pleasure or of fun. Ladies said to each other, "It's plain that this lively little adoptée of Mrs. Delano's has never been much in good society." And gentlemen answered, "It is equally obvious that she has never kept vulgar company."

Mrs. Delano's nice ideas of conventional propriety were a little disturbed, and she was slightly annoyed by the attention they attracted. But she said to herself, "If I am always checking the child, I shall spoil the naturalness which makes her so charming." So she quietly went on explaining the pictures, and giving an account of the artists.

The next day it rained; and Mrs. Delano read aloud "The Lady of the Lake," stopping now and then to explain its connection with Scottish history, or to tell what scenes Rossini had introduced in La Donna del Lago, which she had heard performed in Paris. The scenes of the opera were eagerly imbibed, but the historical lessons rolled off her memory, like water from a duck's back. It continued to rain and drizzle for three days; and Flora, who was very atmospheric, began to yield to the dismal influence of the weather. Her watchful friend noticed the shadow of homesickness coming over the sunlight of her eyes, and proposed that they should go to a concert. Flora objected, saying that music would make her think so much of Rosabella, she was afraid she should cry in public. But when the programme was produced, she saw nothing associated with her sister, and said, "I will go if you wish it, Mamita Lila, because I like to do everything you wish." She felt very indifferent about going; but when Mr. Wood came forward, singing, "The sea, the sea, the open sea!" in tones so strong and full that they seemed the voice of the sea itself, she was half beside herself with delight. She kept time with her head and hands, with a degree of animation that made the people round her smile. She, quite unconscious of observation, swayed to the music, and ever and anon nodded her approbation to a fair-faced young gentleman, who seemed to be enjoying the concert very highly, though not to such a degree as to be oblivious of the audience.

Mrs. Delano was partly amused and partly annoyed. She took Flora's hand, and by a gentle pressure, now and then, sought to remind her that they were in public; but she understood it as an indication of musica

l sympathy, and went on all the same.

When they entered the carriage to return home, she drew a long breath, and exclaimed, O Mamita, how I have enjoyed the concert!"

"I am very glad of it," replied her friend. "I suppose that was Mr. Blumenthal to whom you nodded several times, and who followed you to the carriage. But, my dear, it isn't the custom for young ladies to keep nodding to young gentlemen in public places."

"Isn't it? I didn't think anything about it," rejoined Flora. "But

Florimond isn't a gentleman. He's an old acquaintance. Don't you find

it very tiresome, Mamita, to be always remembering what is the custom?

I'm sure I shall never learn."

When she went singing up stairs that night, Mrs. Delano smiled to herself as she said, "What am I to do with this mercurial young creature? What an overturn she makes in all my serious pursuits and quiet ways! But there is something singularly refreshing about the artless little darling."

Warm weather was coming, and Mrs. Delano began to make arrangements for passing the summer at Newport; but her plans were suddenly changed. One morning Flora wished to purchase some colored crayons to finish a drawing she had begun. As she was going out, her friend said to her, "The sun shines so brightly, you had better wear your veil."

"O, I've been muffled up so much, I do detest veils," replied Flora, half laughingly and half impatiently. "I like to have a whole world full of air to breathe in. But if you wish it, Mamita Lila, I will wear it."

It seemed scarcely ten minutes after, when the door-bell was rung with energy, and Flora came in nervously agitated.

"O Mamita!" exclaimed she, "I am so glad you advised me to wear a veil. I met Mr. Fitzgerald in this very street. I don't think he saw me, for my veil was close, and as soon as I saw him coming I held my head down. He can't take me here in Boston, and carry me off, can he?"

"He shall not carry you off, darling; but you must not go in the street, except in the carriage with me. We will sit up stairs, a little away from the windows; and if I read aloud, you won't forget yourself and sing at your embroidery or drawing, as you are apt to do. It's not likely he will remain in the city many days, and I will try to ascertain his movements."

Before they had settled to their occupations, a ring at the door made Flora start, and quickened the pulses of her less excitable friend. It proved to be only a box of flowers from the country. But Mrs. Delano, uneasy in the presence of an undefined danger, the nature and extent of which she did not understand, opened her writing-desk and wrote the following note:-

"MR. WILLARD PERCIVAL.

"Dear Sir,-If you can spare an hour this evening to talk with me on a subject of importance, you will greatly oblige yours,

"Very respectfully,

"LILA DELANO"

A servant was sent with the note, and directed to admit no gentleman during the day or evening, without first bringing up his name.

While they were lingering at the tea-table, the door-bell rang, and Flora, with a look of alarm, started to run up stairs. "Wait a moment, till the name is brought in," said her friend. "If I admit the visitor, I should like to have you follow me to the parlor, and remain there ten or fifteen minutes. You can then go to your room, and when you are there, dear, be careful not to sing loud. Mr. Fitzgerald shall not take you from me; but if he were to find out you were here, it might give rise to talk that would be unpleasant."

The servant announced Mr. Willard Percival; and a few moments afterward Mrs. Delano introduced her protégée. Mr. Percival was too well bred to stare, but the handsome, foreign-looking little damsel evidently surprised him. He congratulated them both upon the relation between them, and said he need not wish the young lady happiness in her new home, for he believed Mrs. Delano always created an atmosphere of happiness around her. After a few moments of desultory conversation, Flora left the room. When she had gone, Mr. Percival remarked, "That is a very fascinating young person."

"I thought she would strike you agreeably," replied Mrs. Delano. "Her beauty and gracefulness attracted me the first time I saw her; and afterward I was still more taken by her extremely na?ve manner. She has been brought up in seclusion as complete as Miranda's on the enchanted island; and there is no resisting the charm of her impulsive naturalness. But, if you please, I will now explain the note I sent to you this morning. I heard some months ago that you had joined the Anti-Slavery Society."

"And did you send for me hoping to convert me from the error of my ways?" inquired he, smiling.

"On the contrary, I sent for you to consult concerning a slave in whom

I am interested."

"You, Mrs. Delano!" he exclaimed, in a tone of great surprise.

"You may well think it strange," she replied, "knowing, as you do, how bitterly both my father and my husband were opposed to the anti-slavery agitation, and how entirely apart my own life has been from anything of that sort. But while I was at the South this winter, I heard of a case which greatly interested my feelings. A wealthy American merchant in New Orleans became strongly attached to a beautiful quadroon, who was both the daughter and the slave of a Spanish planter. Her father became involved in some pecuniary trouble, and sold his daughter to the American merchant, knowing that they were mutually attached. Her bondage was merely nominal, for the tie of affection remained constant between them as long as she lived; and he would have married her if such marriages had been legal in Louisiana. By some unaccountable carelessness, he neglected to manumit her. She left two handsome and accomplished daughters, who always supposed their mother to be a Spanish lady, and the wedded wife of their father. But he died insolvent, and, to their great dismay, they found themselves claimed as slaves under the Southern law, that 'the child follows the condition of the mother.' A Southern gentleman, who was in love with the eldest, married her privately, and smuggled them both away to Nassau. After a while he went there to meet them, having previously succeeded in buying them of the creditors. But his conduct toward the younger was so base, that she absconded. The question I wish to ask of you is, whether, if he should find her in the Free States, he could claim her as his slave, and have his claim allowed by law."

"Not if he sent them to Nassau," replied Mr. Percival. "British soil has the enviable distinction of making free whosoever touches it."

"But he afterward brought them back to an island between Georgia and South Carolina," said Mrs. Delano. "The eldest proved a most loving and faithful wife, and to this day has no suspicion of his designs with regard to her sister."

"If he married her before he went to Nassau, the ceremony is not binding," rejoined Mr. Percival; "for no marriage with a slave is legal in the Southern States."

"I was ignorant of that law," said Mrs. Delano, "being very little informed on the subject of slavery. But I suspected trickery of some sort in the transaction, because he proved himself so unprincipled with regard to the sister."

"And where is the sister?" inquired Mr. Percival.

"I trust to your honor as a gentleman to keep the secret from every mortal," answered Mrs. Delano. "You have seen her this evening."

"Is it possible," he exclaimed, "that you mean to say she is your adopted daughter?"

"I did mean to say that," she replied. "I have placed great confidence in you; for you can easily imagine it would be extremely disagreeable to me, as well as to her, to become objects of public notoriety."

"Your confidence is a sacred deposit," answered he. "I have long been aware that the most romantic stories in the country have grown out of the institution of slavery; but this seems stranger than fiction. With all my knowledge of the subject, I find it hard to realize that such a young lady as that has been in danger of being sold on the auction-block in this republic. It makes one desirous to conceal that he is an American."

"My principal reason for wishing to consult you," said Mrs. Delano, "is, that Mr. Fitzgerald, the purchaser of these girls, is now in the city, and Flora met him this morning. Luckily, she was closely veiled, and he did not recognize her. I think it is impossible he can have obtained any clew to my connivance at her escape, and yet I feel a little uneasy. I am so ignorant of the laws on this subject, that I don't know what he has the power to do if he discovers her. Can he claim her here in Boston?"

"He could claim her and bring her before the United States Court," replied Mr. Percival; "but I doubt whether he would do it. To claim such a girl as that for a slave, would excite general sympathy and indignation, and put too much ammunition into the hands of us Abolitionists. Besides, no court in the Free States could help deciding that, if he sent her to Nassau, she became free. If he should discover her whereabouts, I shouldn't wonder if attempts were made to kidnap her; for men of his character are very unscrupulous, and there are plenty of caitiffs in Boston ready to do any bidding of their Southern masters. If she were conveyed to the South, though the courts ought to decide she was free, it is doubtful whether they would do it; for, like Achilles, they scorn the idea that laws were made for such as they."

"If I were certain that Mr. Fitzgerald knew of her being here, or that he even suspected it," said Mrs. Delano, "I would at once take measures to settle the question by private purchase; but the presumption is that he and the sister suppose Flora to be dead, and her escape cannot be made known without betraying the cause of it. Flora has a great dread of disturbing her sister's happiness, and she thinks that, now she is away, all will go well. Another difficulty is, that, while the unfortunate lady believes herself to be his lawful wife, she is really his slave, and if she should offend him in any way he could sell her. It troubles me that I cannot discover any mode of ascertaining whether he deserts her or not. He keeps her hidden in the woods in that lonely island, where her existence is unknown, except to a few of his negro slaves. The only white friends she seems to have in the world are her music teacher and French teacher in New Orleans. Mr. Fitzgerald has impressed it upon their minds that the creditors of her father will prosecute him, and challenge him, if they discover that he first conveyed the girls away and then bought them at reduced prices. Therefore, if I should send an agent to New Orleans at any time to obtain tidings of the sister, those cautious friends would doubtless consider it a trap of the creditors, and would be very secretive."

"It is a tangled skein to unravel," rejoined Mr. Percival. "I do not see how anything can be done for the sister, under present circumstances."

"I feel undecided what course to pursue with regard to my adopted daughter," said Mrs. Delano. "Entire seclusion is neither cheerful nor salutary at her age. But her person and manners attract attention and excite curiosity. I am extremely desirous to keep her history secret, but I already find it difficult to answer questions without resorting to falsehood, which is a practice exceedingly abhorrent to me, and a very bad education for her. After this meeting with Mr. Fitzgerald, I cannot take her to any public place without a constant feeling of uneasiness. The fact is, I am so unused to intrigues and mysteries, and I find it so hard to realize that a young girl like her can be in such a position, that I am bewildered, and need time to settle my thoughts upon a rational basis."

"Such a responsibility is so new to you, so entirely foreign to your habits, that it must necessarily be perplexing," replied her visitor. "I would advise you to go abroad for a while. Mrs. Percival and I intend to sail for Europe soon, and if you will join us we shall consider ourselves fortunate."

"I accept the offer thankfully," said the lady. "It will help me out of a present difficulty in the very way I was wishing for."

When the arrangement was explained to Flora, with a caution not to go in the streets, or show herself at the windows meanwhile, she made no objection. But she showed her dimples with a broad smile, as she said, "It is written in the book of fate, Mamita Lila, 'Always hiding or running away.'"

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