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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 26825

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Rosa came out of her swoon in a slow fever accompanied with delirium. Tulee was afraid to leave her long enough to go to the plantation in search of Tom; and having no medicines at hand, she did the best thing that could have been done. She continually moistened the parched tongue with water, and wiped the hot skin with wet cloths. While she was doing this, tears fell on her dear young mistress, lying there so broken and helpless, talking incoherently about her father and Floracita, about being a slave and being sold. This continued eight or ten days, during which she never seemed to recognize Tulee's presence, or to be conscious where she was. She was never wild or troublesome, but there were frequent restless motions, and signs of being afraid of something. Then such a heavy drowsiness came over her, that it was difficult to arouse her sufficiently to swallow a spoonful of nourishment. She slept, and slept, till it seemed as if she would sleep forever. "Nature, dear goddess," was doing the best she could for the poor weak body, that had been so racked by the torture of the soul.

Three weeks passed before Mr. Fitzgerald again made his appearance at the lonely cottage. He had often thought of Rosa meanwhile, not without uneasiness and some twinges of self-reproach. But considering the unlucky beginning of his honeymoon at Magnolia Lawn, he deemed it prudent to be very assiduous in his attentions to his bride. He took no walks or drives without her, and she seemed satisfied with his entire devotion; but a veiled singing shadow haunted the chambers of her soul. When she and her husband were occupied with music, she half expected the pauses would be interrupted by another voice; nor was he free from fears that those wandering sounds would come again. But annoyed as he would have been by the rich tones of that voice once so dear to him, his self-love was piqued that Rosa took no steps to recall him. He had such faith in his power over her, that he had been daily hoping for a conciliatory note. Tom had been as attentive to the invalid as his enslaved condition would admit; but as Tulee said very decidedly that she didn't want Massa Fitzgerald to show his face there, he did not volunteer any information. At last, his master said to him one day, "You've been to the cottage, I suppose, Tom?"

"Yes, Massa."

"How are they getting on there?"

"Missy Rosy hab bin bery sick, but she done better now."

"Why didn't you tell me, you black rascal?"

"Massa hab neber ax me," replied Tom.

Mr. Fitzgerald found some food for vanity in this news. He presumed the illness was caused by love for him, which Rosa found herself unable to conquer. This idea was very pleasant to him; for it was not easy to relinquish the beautiful young creature who had loved him so exclusively. Making a pretext of business, he mounted his horse and rode off; throwing a farewell kiss to his bride as he went. For greater security, he travelled a few moments in another direction, and then sought the sequestered cottage by a circuitous route. Tulee was vexed at heart when she heard him, as he came through the woods, humming, "C'est l'amour, l'amour"; and when he entered the cottage, she wished she was a white man, that she could strike him. But when he said, "Tulee, how is your mistress?" she civilly answered, "Better, Massa."

He passed softly into Rosa's room. She was lying on the bed, in a loose white robe, over which fell the long braids of her dark hair. The warm coloring had entirely faded from her cheeks, leaving only that faintest reflection of gold which she inherited from her mother; and the thinness and pallor of her face made her large eyes seem larger and darker. They were open, but strangely veiled; as if shadows were resting on the soul, like fogs upon a landscape. When Gerald bent over her, she did not see him, though she seemed to be looking at him. He called her by the tenderest names; he cried out in agony, "O Rosa, speak to me, darling!" She did not hear him. He had never before been so deeply moved. He groaned aloud, and, covering his face with his hands, he wept.

When Tulee, hearing the sound, crept in to see whether all was well with her mistress, she found him in that posture. She went out silently, but when she was beyond hearing she muttered to herself, "Ise glad he's got any human feelin'."

After the lapse of a few moments, he came to her, saying, "O Tulee, do you think she's going to die? Couldn't a doctor save her?"

"No, Massa, I don't believe she's going to die," replied Tulee; "but she'll be very weak for a great while. I don't think all the doctors in the world could do poor Missy Rosy any good. It's her soul that's sick, Massa; and nobody but the Great Doctor above can cure that."

Her words cut him like a knife; but, without any attempt to excuse the wrong he had done, he said: "I am going to Savannah for the winter. I will leave Tom and Chloe at the plantation, with instructions to do whatever you want done. If I am needed, you can send Tom for me."

The melancholy wreck he had seen saddened him for a day or two; those eyes, with their mysterious expression of somnambulism, haunted him, and led him to drown uncomfortable feelings in copious draughts of wine. But, volatile as he was impressible, the next week saw him the gayest of the gay in parties at Savannah, where his pretty little bride was quite the fashion.

At the cottage there was little change, except that Chloe, by her master's permission, became a frequent visitor. She was an affectionate, useful creature, with good voice and ear, and a little wild gleam of poetry in her fervid eyes. When she saw Rosa lying there so still, helpless and unconscious as a new-born babe, she said, solemnly, "De sperit hab done gone somewhar." She told many stories of wonderful cures she had performed by prayer; and she would kneel by the bedside, hour after hour, holding the invalid's hand, praying, "O Lord, fotch back de sperit! Fotch back de sperit! Fotch back de sperit!" she would continue to repeat in ascending tones, till they rose to wild imploring. Tulee, looking on one day, said, "Poor Missy Rosy don't hear nothin' ye say, though ye call so loud."

"De good Lord up dar, He hars," replied Chloe, reverently pointing upward; and she went on with the vehement repetition. These supplications were often varied with Methodist hymns and negro melodies, of which the most common refrain was, "O glory! glory! glory!" But whether singing or praying, she made it a point to hold the invalid's hand and look into her eyes. For a long while, the spirit that had gone somewhere showed no signs of returning, in obedience to the persevering summons. But after several weeks had elapsed, there was a blind groping for Chloe's hand; and when it was found, Tulee thought she perceived something like a little flickering gleam flit over the pale face. Still, neither of the nurses was recognized; and no one ever knew what the absent soul was seeing and hearing in that mysterious somewhere whither it had flown. At last, Chloe's patient faith was rewarded by a feeble pressure of her hand. Their watchfulness grew more excited; and never did mother welcome the first gleam of intelligence in her babe with more thrilling joy, than the first faint, quivering smile on Rosa's lips was welcomed by those anxious, faithful friends. The eyes began to resume their natural expression. The fog was evidently clearing away from the soul, and the sunshine was gleaming through. The process of resuscitation was thenceforth constant, though very slow. It was three months after those cruel blows fell upon her loving heart before she spoke and feebly called them by their names. And not until a month later was she able to write a few lines to quiet the anxiety of Madame and the Signor.

A few days before her last ghostly visit to Magnolia Lawn, she had written them a very joyful letter, telling them of Gerald's preparations to acknowledge her as his wife, and make her the mistress of his beautiful home. They received the tidings with great joy, and answered with hearty congratulations. The Signor was impatient to write to Mr. King; but Madame, who had learned precaution and management by the trials and disappointments of a changing life, thought it best to wait till they could inform him of the actual fact. As Rosa had never been in the habit of writing oftener than once in four or five weeks, they felt no uneasiness until after that time had elapsed; and even then they said to each other, "She delays writing, as we do, until everything is arranged." But when seven or eight weeks had passed, Madame wrote again, requesting an immediate answer. Owing to the peculiar position of the sisters, letters to them had always been sent under cover to Mr. Fitzgerald; and when this letter arrived, he was naturally curious to ascertain whether Madame was aware of his marriage. It so happened that it had not been announced in the only paper taken by the Signor; and as they lived in a little foreign world of their own, they remained in ignorance of it. Having read the letter, Mr. Fitzgerald thought, as Rosa was not in a condition to read it, it had better be committed to the flames. But fearing that Madame or the Signor might come to Savannah in search of tidings, and that some unlucky accident might bring them to speech of his bride, he concluded it was best to ward off such a contingency. He accordingly wrote a very studied letter to Madame, telling her that, with her knowledge of the world, he supposed she must be well aware that the daughter of a quadroon slave could not be legally recognized as the wife of a Southern gentleman; that he still loved Rosa better than any other woman, but wishing for legal heirs to his hereditary estate, it was necessary for him to marry. He stated that Rosa was recovering from a slow fever, and had requested him to say that they must not feel anxious about her; that she had everything for her comfort, had been carefully attended by two good nurses, was daily getting better, and would write in a few weeks; meanwhile, if anything retarded her complete recovery, he would again write.

This letter he thought would meet the present emergency. His plans for the future were unsettled. He still hoped that Rosa, alone and unprotected as she was, without the legal ownership of herself, and subdued by sickness and trouble, would finally accede to his terms.

She, in her unconscious state, was of course ignorant of this correspondence. For some time after she recognized her nurses, she continued to be very drowsy, and manifested no curiosity concerning her condition. She was as passive in their hands as an infant, and they treated her as such. Chloe sung to her, and told her stories, which were generally concerning her own remarkable experiences; for she was a great seer of visions. Perhaps she owed them to gifts of imagination, of which culture would have made her a poet; but to her they seemed to be an objective reality. She often told of seeing Jesus, as she walked to and from the plantation. Once she had met him riding upon Thistle, with a golden crown upon his head. One evening he had run before her all the way, as a very little child, whose shining garments lighted up all the woods.

Four months after the swift destruction of her hopes, Rosa, after taking some drink from Tulee's hand, looked up in her face, and said, "How long have I been sick, dear Tulee?"

"No matter about that, darling," she replied, patting her head fondly.

"Ye mustn't disturb your mind 'bout that."

After a little pause, the invalid said, "But tell me how long."

"Well then, darling, I didn't keep no 'count of the time; but Tom says it's February now."

"Yer see, Missy Rosy," interposed Chloe, "yer sperit hab done gone somewhar, an' yer didn't know nottin'. But a booful angel, all in white, tuk yer by de han' an' toted yer back to Tulee an' Chloe. Dat ar angel hab grat hansum eyes, an' she tole me she war yer mudder; an' dat she war gwine to be wid yer allers, cause twar de will ob de Lord."

Rosa listened with a serious, pleased expression in her face; for the words of her simple comforter inspired a vague consciousness of some supernatural presence surrounding her with invisible protection.

A few hours after, she asked, with head averted from her attendant,

"Has any one been here since I have been ill?"

Anxious to soothe the wounded heart as much as possible, Tulee answered: "Massa Gerald come to ask how ye did; and when he went to Savannah, he left Tom and Chloe at the plantation to help me take care of ye."

She manifested no emotion; and after a brief silence she inquired for letters from Madame. Being informed that there were none, she expressed a wish to be bolstered up, that she might try to write a few lines to her old friend. Chloe, in reply, whispered something in her ear, which seemed to surprise her. Her cheeks flushed, the first time for many a day; but she immediately closed her eyes, and tears glistened on the long, dark lashes. In obedience to the caution of her nurses, she deferred any attempt to write till the next week. She remained very silent during the day, but they knew that her thoughts were occupied; for they often saw tears oozing through the closed eyelids.

Meanwhile, her friends in New Orlea

ns were in a state of great anxiety. Mr. Fitzgerald had again written in a strain very similar to his first letter, but from Rosa herself nothing had been received.

"I don't know what to make of this," said Madame. "Rosa is not a girl that would consent to a secondary position where her heart was concerned."

"You know how common it is for quadroons to accede to such double arrangements," rejoined the Signor.

"Of course I am well aware of that," she replied; "but they are educated, from childhood, to accommodate themselves to their subordinate position, as a necessity that cannot be avoided. It was far otherwise with Rosa. Moreover, I believe there is too much of Grandpa Gonsalez in her to submit to anything she deemed dishonorable. I think, my friend, somebody ought to go to Savannah to inquire into this business. If you should go, I fear you would get into a duel. You know dear Floracita used to call you Signor Pimentero. But Mr. Fitzgerald won't fight me, let me say what I will. So I think I had better go."

"Yes, you had better go. You're a born diplomate, which I am not," replied the Signor.

Arrangements were accordingly made for going in a day or two; but they were arrested by three or four lines from Rosa, stating that she was getting well, that she had everything for her comfort, and would write more fully soon. But what surprised them was that she requested them to address her as Madame Gonsalez, under cover to her mantuamaker in Savannah, whose address was given.

"That shows plainly enough that she and Fitzgerald have dissolved partnership," said Madame; "but as she does not ask me to come, I will wait for her letter of explanation." Meanwhile, however, she wrote very affectionately in reply to the brief missive, urging Rosa to come to New Orleans, and enclosing fifty dollars, with the statement that an old friend of her father's had died and left a legacy for his daughters. Madame had, as Floracita observed, a talent for arranging the truth with variations.

The March of the Southern spring returned, wreathed with garlands, and its pathway strewn with flowers. She gave warm kisses to the firs and pines as she passed, and they returned her love with fragrant sighs. The garden at Magnolia Lawn had dressed itself with jonquils, hyacinths, and roses, and its bower was a nest of glossy greenery, where mocking-birds were singing their varied tunes, moving their white tail-feathers in time to their music. Mrs. Fitzgerald, who was not strong in health, was bent upon returning thither early in the season, and the servants were busy preparing for her reception. Chloe was rarely spared to go to the hidden cottage, where her attendance upon Rosa was no longer necessary; but Tom came once a week, as he always had done, to do whatever jobs or errands the inmates required. One day Tulee was surprised to hear her mistress ask him whether Mr. Fitzgerald was at the plantation; and being answered in the affirmative, she said, "Have the goodness to tell him that Missy Rosy would like to see him soon."

When Mr. Fitzgerald received the message, he adjusted his necktie at the mirror, and smiled over his self-complacent thoughts. He had hopes that the proud beauty was beginning to relent. Having left his wife in Savannah, there was no obstacle in the way of his obeying the summons. As he passed over the cottage lawn, he saw that Rosa was sewing at the window. He slackened his pace a little, with the idea that she might come out to meet him; but when he entered the parlor, she was still occupied with her work. She rose on his entrance, and moved a chair toward him; and when he said, half timidly, "How do you do now, dear Rosa?" she quietly replied, "Much better, I thank you. I have sent for you, Mr. Fitzgerald, to ask a favor."

"If it is anything in my power, it shall be granted," he replied.

"It is a very easy thing for you to do," rejoined she, "and very important to me. I want you to give me papers of manumission."

"Are you so afraid of me?" he asked, coloring as he remembered a certain threat he had uttered.

"I did not intend the request as any reproach to you," answered she, mildly; "but simply as a very urgent necessity to myself. As soon as my health will permit, I wish to be doing something for my own support, and, if possible, to repay you what you expended for me and my sister."

"Do you take me for a mean Yankee," exclaimed he indignantly, "that you propose such an account of dollars and cents?"

"I expressed my own wishes, not what I supposed you would require," replied she. "But aside from that, you can surely imagine it must be painful to have my life haunted by this dreadful spectre of slavery."

"Rosa," said he earnestly, "do me the justice to remember that I did not purchase you as a slave, or consider you a slave. I expended money with all my heart to save my best-beloved from misfortune."

"I believe those were your feelings then," she replied. "But let the past be buried. I simply ask you now, as a gentleman who has it in his power to confer a great favor on an unprotected woman, whether you will manumit me."

"Certainly I will," answered he, much discomposed by her cool business tone.

She rose at once, and placed the writing-desk before him. It was the pretty little desk he had given her for a birthday present.

He put his finger on it, and, looking up in her face, with one of his old insinuating glances, he said, "Rosa, do you remember what we said when I gave you this?"

Without answering the question, she said, "Will you have the goodness to write it now?"

"Why in such haste?" inquired he. "I have given you my promise, and do you suppose I have no sense of honor?"

A retort rose to her lips, but she suppressed it. "None of us can be sure of the future," she replied. "You know what happened when my dear father died." Overcome by that tender memory, she covered her eyes with her hand, and the tears stole through her fingers.

He attempted to kiss away the tears, but she drew back, and went on to say: "At that time I learned the bitter significance of the law, 'The child shall follow the condition of the mother.' It was not mainly on my own account that I sent for you, Mr. Fitzgerald. I wish to secure my child from such a dreadful contingency as well-nigh ruined me and my sister." She blushed, and lowered her eyes as she spoke.

"O Rosa!" he exclaimed. The impulse was strong to fold her to his heart; but he could not pass the barrier of her modest dignity.

After an embarrassed pause, she looked up bashfully, and said,

"Knowing this, you surely will not refuse to write it now."

"I must see a lawyer and obtain witnesses," he replied.

She sighed heavily. "I don't know what forms are necessary," said she. "But I beg of you to take such steps as will make me perfectly secure against any accidents. And don't delay it, Mr. Fitzgerald. Will you send the papers next week?"

"I see you have no confidence in me," replied he, sadly. Then, suddenly dropping on his knees beside her, he exclaimed, "O Rosa, don't call me Mr. again. Do call me Gerald once more! Do say you forgive me!"

She drew back a little, but answered very gently: "I do forgive you, and I hope your innocent little wife will never regret having loved you; for that is a very bitter trial. I sincerely wish you may be happy; and you may rest assured I shall not attempt to interfere with your happiness. But I am not strong enough to talk much. Please promise to send those papers next week."

He made the promise, with averted head and a voice that was slightly tremulous.

"I thank you," she replied; "but I am much fatigued, and will bid you good morning." She rose to leave the room, but turned back and added, with solemn earnestness, "I think it will be a consolation on your death-bed if you do not neglect to fulfil Rosa's last request." She passed into the adjoining room, fastened the door, and threw herself on the couch, utterly exhausted. How strange and spectral this meeting seemed! She heard his retreating footsteps without the slightest desire to obtain a last glimpse of his figure. How entirely he had passed out of her life, he who so lately was all her life!

The next day Rosa wrote as follows to Madame and the Signor:-

"Dearest and best friends,-It would take days to explain to you all that has happened since I wrote you that long, happy letter; and at present I have not strength to write much. When we meet we will talk about it more fully, though I wish to avoid the miserable particulars as far as possible. The preparations I so foolishly supposed were being made for me were for a rich Northern bride,-a pretty, innocent-looking little creature. The marriage with me, it seems, was counterfeit. When I discovered it, my first impulse was to fly to you. But a strange illness came over me, and I was oblivious of everything for four months. My good Tulee and a black woman named Chloe brought me back to life by their patient nursing. I suppose it was wrong, but when I remembered who and what I was, I felt sorry they didn't let me go. I was again seized with a longing to fly to you, who were as father and mother to me and my darling little sister in the days of our first misfortune. But I was too weak to move, and I am still far from being able to bear the fatigue of such a journey. Moreover, I am fastened here for the present by another consideration. Mr. Fitzgerald says he bought us of papa's creditors, and that I am his slave. I have entreated him, for the sake of our unborn child, to manumit me, and he has promised to do it. If I could only be safe in New Orleans, it is my wish to come and live with you, and find some way to support myself and my child. But I could have no peace, so long as there was the remotest possibility of being claimed as slaves. Mr. Fitzgerald may not mean that I shall ever come to harm; but he may die without providing against it, as poor papa did. I don't know what forms are necessary for my safety. I don't understand how it is that there is no law to protect a defenceless woman, who has done no wrong. I will wait here a little longer to recruit my strength and have this matter settled. I wish it were possible for you, my dear, good mother, to come to me for two or three weeks in June; then perhaps you could take back with you your poor Rosa and her baby, if their lives should be spared. But if you cannot come, there is an experienced old negress here, called Granny Nan, who, Tulee says, will take good care of me. I thank you for your sympathizing, loving letter. Who could papa's friend be that left me a legacy? I was thankful for the fifty dollars, for it is very unpleasant to me to use any of Mr. Fitzgerald's money, though he tells Tom to supply everything I want. If it were not for you, dear friends, I don't think I should have courage to try to live. But something sustains me wonderfully through these dreadful trials. Sometimes I think poor Chloe's prayers bring me help from above; for the good soul is always praying for me.

"Adieu. May the good God bless you both.

"Your loving and grateful

"ROSABELLA."

* * * * *

Week passed after week, and the promised papers did not come. The weary days dragged their slow length along, unsoothed by anything except Tulee's loving care and Madame's cheering letters. The piano was never opened; for all tones of music were draped in mourning, and its harmonies were a funeral march over buried love. But she enjoyed the open air and the fragrance of the flowers. Sometimes she walked slowly about the lawn, and sometimes Tulee set her upon Thistle's back, and led him round and round through the bridle-paths. But out of the woods that concealed their nest they never ventured, lest they should meet Mrs. Fitzgerald. Tulee, who was somewhat proud on her mistress's account, was vexed by this limitation. "I don't see why ye should hide yerself from her," said she. "Yese as good as she is; and ye've nothin' to be shamed of."

"It isn't on my own account that I wish to avoid her seeing me," replied Rosa. "But I pity the innocent young creature. She didn't know of disturbing my happiness, and I should be sorry to disturb hers."

As the weeks glided away without bringing any fulfilment of Fitzgerald's promise, anxiety changed to distrust. She twice requested Tom to ask his master for the papers he had spoken of, and received a verbal answer that they would be sent as soon as they were ready. There were greater obstacles in the way than she, in her inexperience, was aware of. The laws of Georgia restrained humane impulses by forbidding the manumission of a slave. Consequently, he must either incur very undesirable publicity by applying to the legislature for a special exception in this case, or she must be manumitted in another State. He would gladly have managed a journey without the company of his wife, if he could thereby have regained his former influence with Rosa; but he was disinclined to take so much trouble to free her entirely from him. When he promised to send the papers, he intended to satisfy her with a sham certificate, as he had done with a counterfeit marriage; but he deferred doing it, because he had a vague sense of satisfaction in being able to tantalize the superior woman over whom he felt that he no longer had any other power.

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