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´╗┐Title: Chita: a Memory of Last Island
Author: Hearn, Lafcadio, 1850-1904
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CHITA: A Memory of Last Island


by

Lafcadio Hearn



  "But Nature whistled with all her winds,
  Did as she pleased, and went her way."
  --Emerson



  To my friend
  Dr. Rodolfo Matas of New Orleans



Contents

  The Legend of L'Ile Derniere
  Out of the Sea's Strength
  The Shadow of the Tide



The Legend of L'Ile Derniere

I.

Travelling south from New Orleans to the Islands, you pass through a
strange land into a strange sea, by various winding waterways.  You can
journey to the Gulf by lugger if you please; but the trip may be made
much more rapidly and agreeably on some one of those light, narrow
steamers, built especially for bayou-travel, which usually receive
passengers at a point not far from the foot of old Saint-Louis Street,
hard by the sugar-landing, where there is ever a pushing and flocking
of steam craft--all striving for place to rest their white breasts
against the levee, side by side,--like great weary swans.  But the
miniature steamboat on which you engage passage to the Gulf never
lingers long in the Mississippi:  she crosses the river, slips into
some canal-mouth, labors along the artificial channel awhile, and then
leaves it with a scream of joy, to puff her free way down many a league
of heavily shadowed bayou.  Perhaps thereafter she may bear you through
the immense silence of drenched rice-fields, where the yellow-green
level is broken at long intervals by the black silhouette of some
irrigating machine;--but, whichever of the five different routes be
pursued, you will find yourself more than once floating through sombre
mazes of swamp-forest,--past assemblages of cypresses all hoary with
the parasitic tillandsia, and grotesque as gatherings of fetich-gods.
Ever from river or from lakelet the steamer glides again into canal or
bayou,--from bayou or canal once more into lake or bay; and sometimes
the swamp-forest visibly thins away from these shores into wastes of
reedy morass where, even of breathless nights, the quaggy soil trembles
to a sound like thunder of breakers on a coast:  the storm-roar of
billions of reptile voices chanting in cadence,--rhythmically surging
in stupendous crescendo and diminuendo,--a monstrous and appalling
chorus of frogs! ....

Panting, screaming, scraping her bottom over the sand-bars,--all day
the little steamer strives to reach the grand blaze of blue open water
below the marsh-lands; and perhaps she may be fortunate enough to enter
the Gulf about the time of sunset.  For the sake of passengers, she
travels by day only; but there are other vessels which make the journey
also by night--threading the bayou-labyrinths winter and summer:
sometimes steering by the North Star,--sometimes feeling the way with
poles in the white season of fogs,--sometimes, again, steering by that
Star of Evening which in our sky glows like another moon, and drops
over the silent lakes as she passes a quivering trail of silver fire.

Shadows lengthen; and at last the woods dwindle away behind you into
thin bluish lines;--land and water alike take more luminous
color;--bayous open into broad passes;--lakes link themselves with
sea-bays;--and the ocean-wind bursts upon you,--keen, cool, and full of
light.  For the first time the vessel begins to swing,--rocking to the
great living pulse of the tides.  And gazing from the deck around you,
with no forest walls to break the view, it will seem to you that the
low land must have once been rent asunder by the sea, and strewn about
the Gulf in fantastic tatters....

Sometimes above a waste of wind-blown prairie-cane you see an oasis
emerging,--a ridge or hillock heavily umbraged with the rounded foliage
of evergreen oaks:--a cheniere.  And from the shining flood also
kindred green knolls arise,--pretty islets, each with its beach-girdle
of dazzling sand and shells, yellow-white,--and all radiant with
semi-tropical foliage, myrtle and palmetto, orange and magnolia.  Under
their emerald shadows curious little villages of palmetto huts are
drowsing, where dwell a swarthy population of Orientals,--Malay
fishermen, who speak the Spanish-Creole of the Philippines as well as
their own Tagal, and perpetuate in Louisiana the Catholic traditions of
the Indies.  There are girls in those unfamiliar villages worthy to
inspire any statuary,--beautiful with the beauty of ruddy
bronze,--gracile as the palmettoes that sway above them.... Further
seaward you may also pass a Chinese settlement:  some queer camp of
wooden dwellings clustering around a vast platform that stands above
the water upon a thousand piles;--over the miniature wharf you can
scarcely fail to observe a white sign-board painted with crimson
ideographs.  The great platform is used for drying fish in the sun; and
the fantastic characters of the sign, literally translated, mean:
"Heap--Shrimp--Plenty." ... And finally all the land melts down into
desolations of sea-marsh, whose stillness is seldom broken, except by
the melancholy cry of long-legged birds, and in wild seasons by that
sound which shakes all shores when the weird Musician of the Sea
touches the bass keys of his mighty organ....


II.

Beyond the sea-marshes a curious archipelago lies.  If you travel by
steamer to the sea-islands to-day, you are tolerably certain to enter
the Gulf by Grande Pass--skirting Grande Terre, the most familiar
island of all, not so much because of its proximity as because of its
great crumbling fort and its graceful pharos:  the stationary
White-Light of Barataria.  Otherwise the place is bleakly
uninteresting:  a wilderness of wind-swept grasses and sinewy weeds
waving away from a thin beach ever speckled with drift and decaying
things,--worm-riddled timbers, dead porpoises.

Eastward the russet level is broken by the columnar silhouette of the
light house, and again, beyond it, by some puny scrub timber, above
which rises the angular ruddy mass of the old brick fort, whose ditches
swarm with crabs, and whose sluiceways are half choked by obsolete
cannon-shot, now thickly covered with incrustation of oyster shells....
Around all the gray circling of a shark-haunted sea...

Sometimes of autumn evenings there, when the hollow of heaven flames
like the interior of a chalice, and waves and clouds are flying in one
wild rout of broken gold,--you may see the tawny grasses all covered
with something like husks,--wheat-colored husks,--large, flat, and
disposed evenly along the lee-side of each swaying stalk, so as to
present only their edges to the wind.  But, if you approach, those pale
husks all break open to display strange splendors of scarlet and
seal-brown, with arabesque mottlings in white and black:  they change
into wondrous living blossoms, which detach themselves before your eyes
and rise in air, and flutter away by thousands to settle down farther
off, and turn into wheat-colored husks once more ... a whirling
flower-drift of sleepy butterflies!

Southwest, across the pass, gleams beautiful Grande Isle: primitively a
wilderness of palmetto (latanier);--then drained, diked, and cultivated
by Spanish sugar-planters; and now familiar chiefly as a
bathing-resort.  Since the war the ocean reclaimed its own;--the
cane-fields have degenerated into sandy plains, over which tramways
wind to the smooth beach;--the plantation-residences have been
converted into rustic hotels, and the negro-quarters remodelled into
villages of cozy cottages for the reception of guests.  But with its
imposing groves of oak, its golden wealth of orange-trees, its odorous
lanes of oleander.

its broad grazing-meadows yellow-starred with wild camomile, Grande
Isle remains the prettiest island of the Gulf; and its loveliness is
exceptional.  For the bleakness of Grand Terre is reiterated by most of
the other islands,--Caillou, Cassetete, Calumet, Wine Island, the twin
Timbaliers, Gull Island, and the many islets haunted by the gray
pelican,--all of which are little more than sand-bars covered with wiry
grasses, prairie-cane, and scrub-timber.  Last Island (L'Ile
Derniere),--well worthy a long visit in other years, in spite of its
remoteness, is now a ghastly desolation twenty-five miles long.  Lying
nearly forty miles west of Grande Isle, it was nevertheless far more
populated a generation ago:  it was not only the most celebrated island
of the group, but also the most fashionable watering-place of the
aristocratic South;--to-day it is visited by fishermen only, at long
intervals.  Its admirable beach in many respects resembled that of
Grande Isle to-day; the accommodations also were much similar, although
finer:  a charming village of cottages facing the Gulf near the western
end.  The hotel itself was a massive two-story construction of timber,
containing many apartments, together with a large dining-room and
dancing-hall.  In rear of the hotel was a bayou, where passengers
landed--"Village Bayou" it is still called by seamen;--but the deep
channel which now cuts the island in two a little eastwardly did not
exist while the village remained.  The sea tore it out in one
night--the same night when trees, fields, dwellings, all vanished into
the Gulf, leaving no vestige of former human habitation except a few of
those strong brick props and foundations upon which the frame houses
and cisterns had been raised.  One living creature was found there
after the cataclysm--a cow!  But how that solitary cow survived the
fury of a storm-flood that actually rent the island in twain has ever
remained a mystery ...


III.

On the Gulf side of these islands you may observe that the trees--when
there are any trees--all bend away from the sea; and, even of bright,
hot days when the wind sleeps, there is something grotesquely pathetic
in their look of agonized terror.  A group of oaks at Grande Isle I
remember as especially suggestive:  five stooping silhouettes in line
against the horizon, like fleeing women with streaming garments and
wind-blown hair,--bowing grievously and thrusting out arms desperately
northward as to save themselves from falling.  And they are being
pursued indeed;--for the sea is devouring the land.  Many and many a
mile of ground has yielded to the tireless charging of Ocean's cavalry:
far out you can see, through a good glass, the porpoises at play where
of old the sugar-cane shook out its million bannerets; and shark-fins
now seam deep water above a site where pigeons used to coo.  Men build
dikes; but the besieging tides bring up their battering-rams--whole
forests of drift--huge trunks of water-oak and weighty cypress.
Forever the yellow Mississippi strives to build; forever the sea
struggles to destroy;--and amid their eternal strife the islands and
the promontories change shape, more slowly, but not less fantastically,
than the clouds of heaven.

And worthy of study are those wan battle-grounds where the woods made
their last brave stand against the irresistible invasion,--usually at
some long point of sea-marsh, widely fringed with billowing sand.  Just
where the waves curl beyond such a point you may discern a multitude of
blackened, snaggy shapes protruding above the water,--some high enough
to resemble ruined chimneys, others bearing a startling likeness to
enormous skeleton-feet and skeleton-hands,--with crustaceous white
growths clinging to them here and there like remnants of integument.
These are bodies and limbs of drowned oaks,--so long drowned that the
shell-scurf is inch-thick upon parts of them.  Farther in upon the
beach immense trunks lie overthrown.  Some look like vast broken
columns; some suggest colossal torsos imbedded, and seem to reach out
mutilated stumps in despair from their deepening graves;--and beside
these are others which have kept their feet with astounding obstinacy,
although the barbarian tides have been charging them for twenty years,
and gradually torn away the soil above and beneath their roots.  The
sand around,--soft beneath and thinly crusted upon the surface,--is
everywhere pierced with holes made by a beautifully mottled and
semi-diaphanous crab, with hairy legs, big staring eyes, and milk-white
claws;--while in the green sedges beyond there is a perpetual rustling,
as of some strong wind beating among reeds: a marvellous creeping of
"fiddlers," which the inexperienced visitor might at first mistake for
so many peculiar beetles, as they run about sideways, each with his
huge single claw folded upon his body like a wing-case.  Year by year
that rustling strip of green land grows narrower; the sand spreads and
sinks, shuddering and wrinkling like a living brown skin; and the last
standing corpses of the oaks, ever clinging with naked, dead feet to
the sliding beach, lean more and more out of the perpendicular.  As the
sands subside, the stumps appear to creep; their intertwisted masses of
snakish roots seem to crawl, to writhe,--like the reaching arms of
cephalopods....

... Grande Terre is going:  the sea mines her fort, and will before
many years carry the ramparts by storm.  Grande Isle is going,--slowly
but surely:  the Gulf has eaten three miles into her meadowed land.
Last Island has gone!  How it went I first heard from the lips of a
veteran pilot, while we sat one evening together on the trunk of a
drifted cypress which some high tide had pressed deeply into the Grande
Isle beach.  The day had been tropically warm; we had sought the shore
for a breath of living air.  Sunset came, and with it the ponderous
heat lifted,--a sudden breeze blew,--lightnings flickered in the
darkening horizon,--wind and water began to strive together,--and soon
all the low coast boomed.  Then my companion began his story; perhaps
the coming of the storm inspired him to speak!  And as I listened to
him, listening also to the clamoring of the coast, there flashed back
to me recollection of a singular Breton fancy:  that the Voice of the
Sea is never one voice, but a tumult of many voices--voices of drowned
men,--the muttering of multitudinous dead,--the moaning of innumerable
ghosts, all rising, to rage against the living, at the great Witch call
of storms....


IV.

The charm of a single summer day on these island shores is something
impossible to express, never to be forgotten.  Rarely, in the paler
zones, do earth and heaven take such luminosity: those will best
understand me who have seen the splendor of a West Indian sky.  And yet
there is a tenderness of tint, a caress of color, in these Gulf-days
which is not of the Antilles,--a spirituality, as of eternal tropical
spring.  It must have been to even such a sky that Xenophanes lifted up
his eyes of old when he vowed the Infinite Blue was God;--it was indeed
under such a sky that De Soto named the vastest and grandest of
Southern havens Espiritu Santo,--the Bay of the Holy Ghost.  There is a
something unutterable in this bright Gulf-air that compels
awe,--something vital, something holy, something pantheistic: and
reverentially the mind asks itself if what the eye beholds is not the
Pneuma indeed, the Infinite Breath, the Divine Ghost, the great Blue
Soul of the Unknown.  All, all is blue in the calm,--save the low land
under your feet, which you almost forget, since it seems only as a tiny
green flake afloat in the liquid eternity of day.  Then slowly,
caressingly, irresistibly, the witchery of the Infinite grows upon you:
out of Time and Space you begin to dream with open eyes,--to drift into
delicious oblivion of facts,--to forget the past, the present, the
substantial,--to comprehend nothing but the existence of that infinite
Blue Ghost as something into which you would wish to melt utterly away
forever....

And this day-magic of azure endures sometimes for months together.
Cloudlessly the dawn reddens up through a violet east:

there is no speck upon the blossoming of its Mystical Rose,--unless it
be the silhouette of some passing gull, whirling his sickle-wings
against the crimsoning.  Ever, as the sun floats higher, the flood
shifts its color.  Sometimes smooth and gray, yet flickering with the
morning gold, it is the vision of John,--the apocalyptic Sea of Glass
mixed with fire;--again, with the growing breeze, it takes that
incredible purple tint familiar mostly to painters of West Indian
scenery;--once more, under the blaze of noon, it changes to a waste of
broken emerald.  With evening, the horizon assumes tints of
inexpressible sweetness,--pearl-lights, opaline colors of milk and
fire; and in the west are topaz-glowings and wondrous flushings as of
nacre. Then, if the sea sleeps, it dreams of all these,--faintly,
weirdly,--shadowing them even to the verge of heaven.

Beautiful, too, are those white phantasmagoria which, at the approach
of equinoctial days, mark the coming of the winds.  Over the rim of the
sea a bright cloud gently pushes up its head.  It rises; and others
rise with it, to right and left--slowly at first; then more swiftly.
All are brilliantly white and flocculent, like loose new cotton.
Gradually they mount in enormous line high above the Gulf, rolling and
wreathing into an arch that expands and advances,--bending from horizon
to horizon.

A clear, cold breath accompanies its coming.  Reaching the zenith, it
seems there to hang poised awhile,--a ghostly bridge arching the
empyrean,--upreaching its measureless span from either underside of the
world.  Then the colossal phantom begins to turn, as on a pivot of
air,--always preserving its curvilinear symmetry, but moving its unseen
ends beyond and below the sky-circle.  And at last it floats away
unbroken beyond the blue sweep of the world, with a wind following
after.  Day after day, almost at the same hour, the white arc rises,
wheels, and passes...

... Never a glimpse of rock on these low shores;--only long sloping
beaches and bars of smooth tawny sand.  Sand and sea teem with
vitality;--over all the dunes there is a constant susurration, a
blattering and swarming of crustacea;--through all the sea there is a
ceaseless play of silver lightning,--flashing of myriad fish.
Sometimes the shallows are thickened with minute, transparent,
crab-like organisms,--all colorless as gelatine.  There are days also
when countless medusae drift in--beautiful veined creatures that throb
like hearts, with perpetual systole and diastole of their diaphanous
envelops: some, of translucent azure or rose, seem in the flood the
shadows or ghosts of huge campanulate flowers;--others have the
semblance of strange living vegetables,--great milky tubers, just
beginning to sprout.  But woe to the human skin grazed by those shadowy
sproutings and spectral stamens!--the touch of glowing iron is not more
painful... Within an hour or two after their appearance all these
tremulous jellies vanish mysteriously as they came.

Perhaps, if a bold swimmer, you may venture out alone a long way--once!
Not twice!--even in company.  As the water deepens beneath you, and you
feel those ascending wave-currents of coldness arising which bespeak
profundity, you will also begin to feel innumerable touches, as of
groping fingers--touches of the bodies of fish, innumerable fish,
fleeing towards shore.  The farther you advance, the more thickly you
will feel them come; and above you and around you, to right and left,
others will leap and fall so swiftly as to daze the sight, like
intercrossing fountain-jets of fluid silver.  The gulls fly lower about
you, circling with sinister squeaking cries;--perhaps for an instant
your feet touch in the deep something heavy, swift, lithe, that rushes
past with a swirling shock.  Then the fear of the Abyss, the vast and
voiceless Nightmare of the Sea, will come upon you; the silent panic of
all those opaline millions that flee glimmering by will enter into you
also...

From what do they flee thus perpetually?  Is it from the giant sawfish
or the ravening shark?--from the herds of the porpoises, or from the
grande-ecaille,--that splendid monster whom no net may hold,--all
helmed and armored in argent plate-mail?--or from the hideous devilfish
of the Gulf,--gigantic, flat-bodied, black, with immense side-fins ever
outspread like the pinions of a bat,--the terror of luggermen, the
uprooter of anchors?  From all these, perhaps, and from other monsters
likewise--goblin shapes evolved by Nature as destroyers, as
equilibrists, as counterchecks to that prodigious fecundity, which,
unhindered, would thicken the deep into one measureless and waveless
ferment of being... But when there are many bathers these perils are
forgotten,--numbers give courage,--one can abandon one's self, without
fear of the invisible, to the long, quivering, electrical caresses of
the sea ...


V.

Thirty years ago, Last Island lay steeped in the enormous light of even
such magical days.  July was dying;--for weeks no fleck of cloud had
broken the heaven's blue dream of eternity; winds held their breath;
slow waveless caressed the bland brown beach with a sound as of kisses
and whispers.  To one who found himself alone, beyond the limits of the
village and beyond the hearing of its voices,--the vast silence, the
vast light, seemed full of weirdness.  And these hushes, these
transparencies, do not always inspire a causeless apprehension:  they
are omens sometimes--omens of coming tempest.
Nature,--incomprehensible Sphinx!--before her mightiest bursts of rage,
ever puts forth her divinest witchery, makes more manifest her awful
beauty ...

But in that forgotten summer the witchery lasted many long days,--days
born in rose-light, buried in gold.  It was the height of the season.
The long myrtle-shadowed village was thronged with its summer
population;--the big hotel could hardly accommodate all its
guests;--the bathing-houses were too few for the crowds who flocked to
the water morning and evening.  There were diversions for all,--hunting
and fishing parties, yachting excursions, rides, music, games,
promenades.  Carriage wheels whirled flickering along the beach,
seaming its smoothness noiselessly, as if muffled.  Love wrote its
dreams upon the sand...

... Then one great noon, when the blue abyss of day seemed to yawn over
the world more deeply than ever before, a sudden change touched the
quicksilver smoothness of the waters--the swaying shadow of a vast
motion.  First the whole sea-circle appeared to rise up bodily at the
sky; the horizon-curve lifted to a straight line; the line darkened and
approached,--a monstrous wrinkle, an immeasurable fold of green water,
moving swift as a cloud-shadow pursued by sunlight.  But it had looked
formidable only by startling contrast with the previous placidity of
the open:  it was scarcely two feet high;--it curled slowly as it
neared the beach, and combed itself out in sheets of woolly foam with a
low, rich roll of whispered thunder.  Swift in pursuit another
followed--a third--a feebler fourth; then the sea only swayed a little,
and stilled again.  Minutes passed, and the immeasurable heaving
recommenced--one, two, three, four ... seven long swells this
time;--and the Gulf smoothed itself once more.  Irregularly the
phenomenon continued to repeat itself, each time with heavier billowing
and briefer intervals of quiet--until at last the whole sea grew
restless and shifted color and flickered green;--the swells became
shorter and changed form.  Then from horizon to shore ran one
uninterrupted heaving--one vast green swarming of snaky shapes, rolling
in to hiss and flatten upon the sand.  Yet no single cirrus-speck
revealed itself through all the violet heights:  there was no
wind!--you might have fancied the sea had been upheaved from beneath ...

And indeed the fancy of a seismic origin for a windless surge would not
appear in these latitudes to be utterly without foundation.  On the
fairest days a southeast breeze may bear you an odor singular enough to
startle you from sleep,--a strong, sharp smell as of fish-oil; and
gazing at the sea you might be still more startled at the sudden
apparition of great oleaginous patches spreading over the water,
sheeting over the swells.  That is, if you had never heard of the
mysterious submarine oil-wells, the volcanic fountains, unexplored,
that well up with the eternal pulsing of the Gulf-Stream ...

But the pleasure-seekers of Last Island knew there must have been a
"great blow" somewhere that day.  Still the sea swelled; and a splendid
surf made the evening bath delightful.  Then, just at sundown, a
beautiful cloud-bridge grew up and arched the sky with a single span of
cottony pink vapor, that changed and deepened color with the dying of
the iridescent day.  And the cloud-bridge approached, stretched,
strained, and swung round at last to make way for the coming of the
gale,--even as the light bridges that traverse the dreamy Teche swing
open when luggermen sound through their conch-shells the long,
bellowing signal of approach.

Then the wind began to blow, with the passing of July.  It blew from
the northeast, clear, cool.  It blew in enormous sighs, dying away at
regular intervals, as if pausing to draw breath. All night it blew; and
in each pause could be heard the answering moan of the rising surf,--as
if the rhythm of the sea moulded itself after the rhythm of the
air,--as if the waving of the water responded precisely to the waving
of the wind,--a billow for every puff, a surge for every sigh.

The August morning broke in a bright sky;--the breeze still came cool
and clear from the northeast.  The waves were running now at a sharp
angle to the shore:  they began to carry fleeces, an innumerable flock
of vague green shapes, wind-driven to be despoiled of their ghostly
wool.  Far as the eye could follow the line of the beach, all the slope
was white with the great shearing of them.  Clouds came, flew as in a
panic against the face of the sun, and passed.  All that day and
through the night and into the morning again the breeze continued from
the north. east, blowing like an equinoctial gale ...

Then day by day the vast breath freshened steadily, and the waters
heightened.  A week later sea-bathing had become perilous:
colossal breakers were herding in, like moving leviathan-backs, twice
the height of a man.  Still the gale grew, and the billowing waxed
mightier, and faster and faster overhead flew the tatters of torn
cloud.  The gray morning of the 9th wanly lighted a surf that appalled
the best swimmers:  the sea was one wild agony of foam, the gale was
rending off the heads of the waves and veiling the horizon with a fog
of salt spray.  Shadowless and gray the day remained; there were mad
bursts of lashing rain. Evening brought with it a sinister apparition,
looming through a cloud-rent in the west--a scarlet sun in a green sky.
His sanguine disk, enormously magnified, seemed barred like the body of
a belted planet.  A moment, and the crimson spectre vanished; and the
moonless night came.

Then the Wind grew weird.  It ceased being a breath; it became a Voice
moaning across the world,--hooting,--uttering nightmare
sounds,--Whoo!--whoo!--whoo!--and with each stupendous owl-cry the
mooing of the waters seemed to deepen, more and more abysmally, through
all the hours of darkness.  From the northwest the breakers of the bay
began to roll high over the sandy slope, into the salines;--the village
bayou broadened to a bellowing flood ... So the tumult swelled and the
turmoil heightened until morning,--a morning of gray gloom and
whistling rain.  Rain of bursting clouds and rain of wind-blown brine
from the great spuming agony of the sea.

The steamer Star was due from St. Mary's that fearful morning. Could
she come?  No one really believed it,--no one.  And nevertheless men
struggled to the roaring beach to look for her, because hope is
stronger than reason ...

Even today, in these Creole islands, the advent of the steamer is the
great event of the week.  There are no telegraph lines, no telephones:
the mail-packet is the only trustworthy medium of communication with
the outer world, bringing friends, news, letters.  The magic of steam
has placed New Orleans nearer to New York than to the Timbaliers,
nearer to Washington than to Wine Island, nearer to Chicago than to
Barataria Bay.  And even during the deepest sleep of waves and winds
there will come betimes to sojourners in this unfamiliar archipelago a
feeling of lonesomeness that is a fear, a feeling of isolation from the
world of men,--totally unlike that sense of solitude which haunts one
in the silence of mountain-heights, or amid the eternal tumult of lofty
granitic coasts:  a sense of helpless insecurity.

The land seems but an undulation of the sea-bed:  its highest ridges do
not rise more than the height of a man above the salines on either
side;--the salines themselves lie almost level with the level of the
flood-tides;--the tides are variable, treacherous, mysterious.  But
when all around and above these ever-changing shores the twin
vastnesses of heaven and sea begin to utter the tremendous revelation
of themselves as infinite forces in contention, then indeed this sense
of separation from humanity appalls ... Perhaps it was such a feeling
which forced men, on the tenth day of August, eighteen hundred and
fifty-six, to hope against hope for the coming of the Star, and to
strain their eyes towards far-off Terrebonne.  "It was a wind you could
lie down on," said my friend the pilot.

... "Great God!" shrieked a voice above the shouting of the
storm,--"she is coming!" ... It was true.  Down the Atchafalaya, and
thence through strange mazes of bayou, lakelet, and pass, by a rear
route familiar only to the best of pilots, the frail river-craft had
toiled into Caillou Bay, running close to the main shore;--and now she
was heading right for the island, with the wind aft, over the monstrous
sea.  On she came, swaying, rocking, plunging,--with a great whiteness
wrapping her about like a cloud, and moving with her moving,--a
tempest-whirl of spray;--ghost-white and like a ghost she came, for her
smoke-stacks exhaled no visible smoke--the wind devoured it!  The
excitement on shore became wild;--men shouted themselves hoarse; women
laughed and cried.  Every telescope and opera-glass was directed upon
the coming apparition; all wondered how the pilot kept his feet; all
marvelled at the madness of the captain.

But Captain Abraham Smith was not mad.  A veteran American sailor, he
had learned to know the great Gulf as scholars know deep books by
heart:  he knew the birthplace of its tempests, the mystery of its
tides, the omens of its hurricanes.  While lying at Brashear City he
felt the storm had not yet reached its highest, vaguely foresaw a
mighty peril, and resolved to wait no longer for a lull.  "Boys," he
said, "we've got to take her out in spite of Hell!"  And they "took her
out."  Through all the peril, his men stayed by him and obeyed him.  By
midmorning the wind had deepened to a roar,--lowering sometimes to a
rumble, sometimes bursting upon the ears like a measureless and
deafening crash.  Then the captain knew the Star was running a race
with Death.  "She'll win it," he muttered;--"she'll stand it ...
Perhaps they'll have need of me to-night."

She won!  With a sonorous steam-chant of triumph the brave little
vessel rode at last into the bayou, and anchored hard by her accustomed
resting-place, in full view of the hotel, though not near enough to
shore to lower her gang-plank.... But she had sung her swan-song.
Gathering in from the northeast, the waters of the bay were already
marbling over the salines and half across the island; and still the
wind increased its paroxysmal power.

Cottages began to rock.  Some slid away from the solid props upon which
they rested.  A chimney fumbled.  Shutters were wrenched off; verandas
demolished.  Light roofs lifted, dropped again, and flapped into ruin.
Trees bent their heads to the earth.  And still the storm grew louder
and blacker with every passing hour.

The Star rose with the rising of the waters, dragging her anchor.

Two more anchors were put out, and still she dragged--dragged in with
the flood,--twisting, shuddering, careening in her agony. Evening fell;
the sand began to move with the wind, stinging faces like a continuous
fire of fine shot; and frenzied blasts came to buffet the steamer
forward, sideward.  Then one of her hog-chains parted with a clang like
the boom of a big bell.  Then another! ... Then the captain bade his
men to cut away all her upper works, clean to the deck.  Overboard into
the seething went her stacks, her pilot-house, her cabins,--and whirled
away.  And the naked hull of the Star, still dragging her three
anchors, labored on through the darkness, nearer and nearer to the
immense silhouette of the hotel, whose hundred windows were now all
aflame.  The vast timber building seemed to defy the storm.  The wind,
roaring round its broad verandas,--hissing through every crevice with
the sound and force of steam,--appeared to waste its rage.  And in the
half-lull between two terrible gusts there came to the captain's ears a
sound that seemed strange in that night of multitudinous terrors ... a
sound of music!


VI.

... Almost every evening throughout the season there had been dancing
in the great hall;--there was dancing that night also. The population
of the hotel had been augmented by the advent of families from other
parts of the island, who found their summer cottages insecure places of
shelter:  there were nearly four hundred guests assembled.  Perhaps it
was for this reason that the entertainment had been prepared upon a
grander plan than usual, that it assumed the form of a fashionable
ball.  And all those pleasure seekers,--representing the wealth and
beauty of the Creole parishes,--whether from Ascension or Assumption,
St. Mary's or St. Landry's, Iberville or Terrebonne, whether
inhabitants of the multi-colored and many-balconied Creole quarter of
the quaint metropolis, or dwellers in the dreamy paradises of the
Teche,--mingled joyously, knowing each other, feeling in some sort
akin--whether affiliated by blood, connaturalized by caste, or simply
interassociated by traditional sympathies of class sentiment and class
interest.  Perhaps in the more than ordinary merriment of that evening
something of nervous exaltation might have been discerned,--something
like a feverish resolve to oppose apprehension with gayety, to combat
uneasiness by diversion.  But the hours passed in mirthfulness; the
first general feeling of depression began to weigh less and less upon
the guests; they had found reason to confide in the solidity of the
massive building; there were no positive terrors, no outspoken fears;
and the new conviction of all had found expression in the words of the
host himself,--"Il n'y a rien de mieux a faire que de s'amuser!"  Of
what avail to lament the prospective devastation of cane-fields,--to
discuss the possible ruin of crops?  Better to seek solace in
choregraphic harmonies, in the rhythm of gracious motion and of perfect
melody, than hearken to the discords of the wild orchestra of
storms;--wiser to admire the grace of Parisian toilets, the eddy of
trailing robes with its fairy-foam of lace, the ivorine loveliness of
glossy shoulders and jewelled throats, the glimmering of
satin-slippered feet,--than to watch the raging of the flood without,
or the flying of the wrack ...

So the music and the mirth went on:  they made joy for
themselves--those elegant guests;--they jested and sipped rich
wines;--they pledged, and hoped, and loved, and promised, with never a
thought of the morrow, on the night of the tenth of August, eighteen
hundred and fifty-six.  Observant parents were there, planning for the
future bliss of their nearest and dearest;--mothers and fathers of
handsome lads, lithe and elegant as young pines, and fresh from the
polish of foreign university training;--mothers and fathers of splendid
girls whose simplest attitudes were witcheries.  Young cheeks flushed,
young hearts fluttered with an emotion more puissant than the
excitement of the dance;--young eyes betrayed the happy secret
discreeter lips would have preserved.  Slave-servants circled through
the aristocratic press, bearing dainties and wines, praying permission
to pass in terms at once humble and officious,--always in the excellent
French which well-trained house-servants were taught to use on such
occasions.

... Night wore on:  still the shining floor palpitated to the feet of
the dancers; still the piano-forte pealed, and still the violins
sang,--and the sound of their singing shrilled through the darkness, in
gasps of the gale, to the ears of Captain Smith, as he strove to keep
his footing on the spray-drenched deck of the Star.

--"Christ!" he muttered,--"a dance!  If that wind whips round south,
there'll be another dance! ... But I guess the Star will stay." ...

Half an hour might have passed; still the lights flamed calmly, and the
violins trilled, and the perfumed whirl went on ... And suddenly the
wind veered!

Again the Star reeled, and shuddered, and turned, and began to drag all
her anchors.  But she now dragged away from the great building and its
lights,--away from the voluptuous thunder of the grand piano, even at
that moment outpouring the great joy of Weber's melody orchestrated by
Berlioz:  l'Invitation a la Valse,--with its marvellous musical swing!

--"Waltzing!" cried the captain.  "God help them!--God help us all now!
... The Wind waltzes to-night, with the Sea for his partner!" ...

O the stupendous Valse-Tourbillon! O the mighty Dancer!
One--two--three! From northeast to east, from east to southeast, from
southeast to south:  then from the south he came, whirling the Sea in
his arms ...

... Some one shrieked in the midst of the revels;--some girl who found
her pretty slippers wet.  What could it be?  Thin streams of water were
spreading over the level planking,--curling about the feet of the
dancers ... What could it be?  All the land had begun to quake, even
as, but a moment before, the polished floor was trembling to the
pressure of circling steps;--all the building shook now; every beam
uttered its groan.  What could it be?  ...

There was a clamor, a panic, a rush to the windy night.  Infinite
darkness above and beyond; but the lantern-beams danced far out over an
unbroken circle of heaving and swirling black water. Stealthily,
swiftly, the measureless sea-flood was rising.

--"Messieurs--mesdames, ce n'est rien.  Nothing serious, ladies, I
assure you ... Mais nous en avons vu bien souvent, les inondations
comme celle-ci; ca passe vite! The water will go down in a few hours,
ladies;--it never rises higher than this; il n'y a pas le moindre
danger, je vous dis!  Allons! il n'y a--My God! what is that?" ...

For a moment there was a ghastly hush of voices.  And through that hush
there burst upon the ears of all a fearful and unfamiliar sound, as of
a colossal cannonade rolling up from the south, with volleying
lightnings.  Vastly and swiftly, nearer and nearer it came,--a
ponderous and unbroken thunder-roll, terrible as the long muttering of
an earthquake.

The nearest mainland,--across mad Caillou Bay to the sea-marshes,--lay
twelve miles north; west, by the Gulf, the nearest solid ground was
twenty miles distant.  There were boats, yes!--but the stoutest swimmer
might never reach them now!

Then rose a frightful cry,--the hoarse, hideous, indescribable cry of
hopeless fear,--the despairing animal-cry man utters when suddenly
brought face to face with Nothingness, without preparation, without
consolation, without possibility of respite ... Sauve qui peut!  Some
wrenched down the doors; some clung to the heavy banquet-tables, to the
sofas, to the billiard-tables:--during one terrible instant,--against
fruitless heroisms, against futile generosities,--raged all the frenzy
of selfishness, all the brutalities of panic.  And then--then came,
thundering through the blackness, the giant swells, boom on boom! ...
One crash!--the huge frame building rocks like a cradle, seesaws,
crackles.  What are human shrieks now?--the tornado is shrieking!
Another!--chandeliers splinter; lights are dashed out; a sweeping
cataract hurls in:  the immense hall rises,--oscillates,--twirls as
upon a pivot,--crepitates,--crumbles into ruin.  Crash again!--the
swirling wreck dissolves into the wallowing of another monster billow;
and a hundred cottages overturn, spin in sudden eddies, quiver,
disjoint, and melt into the seething.

... So the hurricane passed,--tearing off the heads of the prodigious
waves, to hurl them a hundred feet in air,--heaping up the ocean
against the land,--upturning the woods.  Bays and passes were swollen
to abysses; rivers regorged; the sea-marshes were changed to raging
wastes of water.  Before New Orleans the flood of the mile-broad
Mississippi rose six feet above highest water-mark.  One hundred and
ten miles away, Donaldsonville trembled at the towering tide of the
Lafourche.  Lakes strove to burst their boundaries.  Far-off river
steamers tugged wildly at their cables,--shivering like tethered
creatures that hear by night the approaching howl of destroyers.
Smoke-stacks were hurled overboard, pilot-houses torn away, cabins
blown to fragments.

And over roaring Kaimbuck Pass,--over the agony of Caillou Bay,--the
billowing tide rushed unresisted from the Gulf,--tearing and swallowing
the land in its course,--ploughing out deep-sea channels where sleek
herds had been grazing but a few hours before,--rending islands in
twain,--and ever bearing with it, through the night, enormous vortex of
wreck and vast wan drift of corpses ...

But the Star remained.  And Captain Abraham Smith, with a long, good
rope about his waist, dashed again and again into that awful surging to
snatch victims from death,--clutching at passing hands, heads,
garments, in the cataract-sweep of the seas,--saving, aiding, cheering,
though blinded by spray and battered by drifting wreck, until his
strength failed in the unequal struggle at last, and his men drew him
aboard senseless, with some beautiful half-drowned girl safe in his
arms.  But well-nigh twoscore souls had been rescued by him; and the
Star stayed on through it all.

Long years after, the weed-grown ribs of her graceful skeleton could
still be seen, curving up from the sand-dunes of Last Island, in
valiant witness of how well she stayed.


VII.

Day breaks through the flying wrack, over the infinite heaving of the
sea, over the low land made vast with desolation.  It is a spectral
dawn:  a wan light, like the light of a dying sun.

The wind has waned and veered; the flood sinks slowly back to its
abysses--abandoning its plunder,--scattering its piteous waifs over bar
and dune, over shoal and marsh, among the silences of the mango-swamps,
over the long low reaches of sand-grasses and drowned weeds, for more
than a hundred miles.  From the shell-reefs of Pointe-au-Fer to the
shallows of Pelto Bay the dead lie mingled with the high-heaped
drift;--from their cypress groves the vultures rise to dispute a share
of the feast with the shrieking frigate-birds and squeaking gulls.  And
as the tremendous tide withdraws its plunging waters, all the pirates
of air follow the great white-gleaming retreat:  a storm of billowing
wings and screaming throats.

And swift in the wake of gull and frigate-bird the Wreckers come, the
Spoilers of the dead,--savage skimmers of the sea,--hurricane-riders
wont to spread their canvas-pinions in the face of storms; Sicilian and
Corsican outlaws, Manila-men from the marshes, deserters from many
navies, Lascars, marooners, refugees of a hundred
nationalities,--fishers and shrimpers by name, smugglers by
opportunity,--wild channel-finders from obscure bayous and unfamiliar
chenieres, all skilled in the mysteries of these mysterious waters
beyond the comprehension of the oldest licensed pilot ...

There is plunder for all--birds and men.  There are drowned sheep in
multitude, heaped carcasses of kine.  There are casks of claret and
kegs of brandy and legions of bottles bobbing in the surf.  There are
billiard-tables overturned upon the sand;--there are sofas, pianos,
footstools and music-stools, luxurious chairs, lounges of bamboo.
There are chests of cedar, and toilet-tables of rosewood, and trunks of
fine stamped leather stored with precious apparel.  There are objets de
luxe innumerable.  There are children's playthings:  French dolls in
marvellous toilets, and toy carts, and wooden horses, and wooden
spades, and brave little wooden ships that rode out the gale in which
the great Nautilus went down.  There is money in notes and in coin--in
purses, in pocketbooks, and in pockets:  plenty of it! There are silks,
satins, laces, and fine linen to be stripped from the bodies of the
drowned,--and necklaces, bracelets, watches, finger-rings and fine
chains, brooches and trinkets ... "Chi bidizza!--Oh! chi bedda
mughieri!  Eccu, la bidizza!"  That ball-dress was made in Paris
by--But you never heard of him, Sicilian Vicenzu ... "Che bella
sposina!"  Her betrothal ring will not come off, Giuseppe; but the
delicate bone snaps easily: your oyster-knife can sever the tendon ...
"Guardate! chi bedda picciota!"  Over her heart you will find it,
Valentino--the locket held by that fine Swiss chain of woven
hair--"Caya manan!"

And it is not your quadroon bondsmaid, sweet lady, who now disrobes you
so roughly; those Malay hands are less deft than hers,--but she
slumbers very far away from you, and may not be aroused from her sleep.
"Na quita mo! dalaga!--na quita maganda!" ... Juan, the fastenings of
those diamond ear-drops are much too complicated for your peon fingers:
tear them out!--"Dispense, chulita!" ...

... Suddenly a long, mighty silver trilling fills the ears of all:
there is a wild hurrying and scurrying; swiftly, one after another, the
overburdened luggers spread wings and flutter away.

Thrice the great cry rings rippling through the gray air, and over the
green sea, and over the far-flooded shell-reefs, where the huge white
flashes are,--sheet-lightning of breakers,--and over the weird wash of
corpses coming in.

It is the steam-call of the relief-boat, hastening to rescue the
living, to gather in the dead.

The tremendous tragedy is over!



Out of the Sea's Strength

I.

There are regions of Louisiana coast whose aspect seems not of the
present, but of the immemorial past--of that epoch when low flat
reaches of primordial continent first rose into form above a Silurian
Sea.  To indulge this geologic dream, any fervid and breezeless day
there, it is only necessary to ignore the evolutional protests of a few
blue asters or a few composite flowers of the coryopsis sort, which
contrive to display their rare flashes of color through the general
waving of cat-heads, blood-weeds, wild cane, and marsh grasses.  For,
at a hasty glance, the general appearance of this marsh verdure is
vague enough, as it ranges away towards the sand, to convey the idea of
amphibious vegetation,--a primitive flora as yet undecided whether to
retain marine habits and forms, or to assume terrestrial ones;--and the
occasional inspection of surprising shapes might strengthen this fancy.
Queer flat-lying and many-branching things, which resemble sea-weeds in
juiciness and color and consistency, crackle under your feet from time
to time; the moist and weighty air seems heated rather from below than
from above,--less by the sun than by the radiation of a cooling world;
and the mists of morning or evening appear to simulate the vapory
exhalation of volcanic forces,--latent, but only dozing, and
uncomfortably close to the surface.  And indeed geologists have
actually averred that those rare elevations of the soil,--which, with
their heavy coronets of evergreen foliage, not only look like islands,
but are so called in the French nomenclature of the coast,--have been
prominences created by ancient mud volcanoes.

The family of a Spanish fisherman, Feliu Viosca, once occupied and gave
its name to such an islet, quite close to the Gulf-shore,--the loftiest
bit of land along fourteen miles of just such marshy coast as I have
spoken of.  Landward, it dominated a desolation that wearied the eye to
look at, a wilderness of reedy sloughs, patched at intervals with
ranges of bitter-weed, tufts of elbow-bushes, and broad reaches of
saw-grass, stretching away to a bluish-green line of woods that closed
the horizon, and imperfectly drained in the driest season by a slimy
little bayou that continually vomited foul water into the sea.  The
point had been much discussed by geologists; it proved a godsend to
United States surveyors weary of attempting to take observations among
quagmires, moccasins, and arborescent weeds from fifteen to twenty feet
high.  Savage fishermen, at some unrecorded time, had heaped upon the
eminence a hill of clam-shells,--refuse of a million feasts; earth
again had been formed over these, perhaps by the blind agency of worms
working through centuries unnumbered; and the new soil had given birth
to a luxuriant vegetation.  Millennial oaks interknotted their roots
below its surface, and vouchsafed protection to many a frailer growth
of shrub or tree,--wild orange, water-willow, palmetto, locust,
pomegranate, and many trailing tendrilled things, both green and gray.
Then,--perhaps about half a century ago,--a few white fishermen cleared
a place for themselves in this grove, and built a few palmetto
cottages, with boat-houses and a wharf, facing the bayou.  Later on
this temporary fishing station became a permanent settlement:  homes
constructed of heavy timber and plaster mixed with the trailing moss of
the oaks and cypresses took the places of the frail and fragrant huts
of palmetto. Still the population itself retained a floating character:
it ebbed and came, according to season and circumstances, according to
luck or loss in the tilling of the sea.  Viosca, the founder of the
settlement, always remained; he always managed to do well.

He owned several luggers and sloops, which were hired out upon
excellent terms; he could make large and profitable contracts with New
Orleans fish-dealers; and he was vaguely suspected of possessing more
occult resources.  There were some confused stories current about his
having once been a daring smuggler, and having only been reformed by
the pleadings of his wife Carmen,--a little brown woman who had
followed him from Barcelona to share his fortunes in the western world.

On hot days, when the shade was full of thin sweet scents, the place
had a tropical charm, a drowsy peace.  Nothing except the peculiar
appearance of the line of oaks facing the Gulf could have conveyed to
the visitor any suggestion of days in which the trilling of crickets
and the fluting of birds had ceased, of nights when the voices of the
marsh had been hushed for fear.  In one enormous rank the veteran trees
stood shoulder to shoulder, but in the attitude of giants over
mastered,--forced backward towards the marsh,--made to recoil by the
might of the ghostly enemy with whom they had striven a thousand
years,--the Shrieker, the Sky-Sweeper, the awful Sea-Wind!

Never had he given them so terrible a wrestle as on the night of the
tenth of August, eighteen hundred and fifty-six.  All the waves of the
excited Gulf thronged in as if to see, and lifted up their voices, and
pushed, and roared, until the cheniere was islanded by such a billowing
as no white man's eyes had ever looked upon before.  Grandly the oaks
bore themselves, but every fibre of their knotted thews was strained in
the unequal contest, and two of the giants were overthrown, upturning,
as they fell, roots coiled and huge as the serpent-limbs of Titans.
Moved to its entrails, all the islet trembled, while the sea magnified
its menace, and reached out whitely to the prostrate trees; but the
rest of the oaks stood on, and strove in line, and saved the
habitations defended by them ...


II.

Before a little waxen image of the Mother and Child,--an odd little
Virgin with an Indian face, brought home by Feliu as a gift after one
of his Mexican voyages,--Carmen Viosca had burned candles and prayed;
sometimes telling her beads; sometimes murmuring the litanies she knew
by heart; sometimes also reading from a prayer-book worn and greasy as
a long-used pack of cards. It was particularly stained at one page, a
page on which her tears had fallen many a lonely night--a page with a
clumsy wood cut representing a celestial lamp, a symbolic radiance,
shining through darkness, and on either side a kneeling angel with
folded wings.  And beneath this rudely wrought symbol of the Perpetual
Calm appeared in big, coarse type the title of a prayer that has been
offered up through many a century, doubtless, by wives of Spanish
mariners,--Contra las Tempestades.

Once she became very much frightened.  After a partial lull the storm
had suddenly redoubled its force:  the ground shook; the house quivered
and creaked; the wind brayed and screamed and pushed and scuffled at
the door; and the water, which had been whipping in through every
crevice, all at once rose over the threshold and flooded the dwelling.
Carmen dipped her finger in the water and tasted it.  It was salt!

And none of Feliu's boats had yet come in;--doubtless they had been
driven into some far-away bayous by the storm.  The only boat at the
settlement, the Carmencita, had been almost wrecked by running upon a
snag three days before;--there was at least a fortnight's work for the
ship-carpenter of Dead Cypress Point. And Feliu was sleeping as if
nothing unusual had happened--the heavy sleep of a sailor, heedless of
commotions and voices.  And his men, Miguel and Mateo, were at the
other end of the cheniere.

With a scream Carmen aroused Feliu.  He raised himself upon his elbow,
rubbed his eyes, and asked her, with exasperating calmness, "Que
tienes?  que tienes?" (What ails thee?)

--"Oh, Feliu! the sea is coming upon us!" she answered, in the same
tongue.  But she screamed out a word inspired by her fear: she did not
cry, "Se nos viene el mar encima!" but "Se nos viene LA ALTURA!"--the
name that conveys the terrible thought of depth swallowed up in
height,--the height of the high sea.

"No lo creo!" muttered Feliu, looking at the floor; then in a quiet,
deep voice he said, pointing to an oar in the corner of the room,
"Echame ese remo."

She gave it to him.  Still reclining upon one elbow, Feliu measured the
depth of the water with his thumb nail upon the blade of the oar, and
then bade Carmen light his pipe for him. His calmness reassured her.
For half an hour more, undismayed by the clamoring of the wind or the
calling of the sea, Feliu silently smoked his pipe and watched his oar.
The water rose a little higher, and he made another mark;--then it
climbed a little more, but not so rapidly; and he smiled at Carmen as
he made a third mark.  "Como creia!" he exclaimed, "no hay porque
asustarse:  el agua baja!"  And as Carmen would have continued to pray,
he rebuked her fears, and bade her try to obtain some rest:

"Basta ya de plegarios, querida!--vete y duerme."  His tone, though
kindly, was imperative; and Carmen, accustomed to obey him, laid
herself down by his side, and soon, for very weariness, slept.

It was a feverish sleep, nevertheless, shattered at brief intervals by
terrible sounds, sounds magnified by her nervous condition--a sleep
visited by dreams that mingled in a strange way with the impressions of
the storm, and more than once made her heart stop, and start again at
its own stopping.  One of these fancies she never could forget--a dream
about little Concha,--Conchita, her firstborn, who now slept far away
in the old churchyard at Barcelona.  She had tried to become
resigned,--not to think.  But the child would come back night after
night, though the earth lay heavy upon her--night after night, through
long distances of Time and Space.  Oh! the fancied clinging of
infant-lips!--the thrilling touch of little ghostly hands!--those
phantom-caresses that torture mothers' hearts! ... Night after night,
through many a month of pain.  Then for a time the gentle presence
ceased to haunt her,--seemed to have lain down to sleep forever under
the high bright grass and yellow flowers.  Why did it return, that
night of all nights, to kiss her, to cling to her, to nestle in her
arms?

For in her dream she thought herself still kneeling before the waxen
Image, while the terrors of the tempest were ever deepening about
her,--raving of winds and booming of waters and a shaking of the land.
And before her, even as she prayed her dream-prayer, the waxen Virgin
became tall as a woman, and taller,--rising to the roof and smiling as
she grew.  Then Carmen would have cried out for fear, but that
something smothered her voice,--paralyzed her tongue.  And the Virgin
silently stooped above her, and placed in her arms the Child,--the
brown Child with the Indian face.  And the Child whitened in her hands
and changed,--seeming as it changed to send a sharp pain through her
heart:  an old pain linked somehow with memories of bright windy
Spanish hills, and summer scent of olive groves, and all the luminous
Past;--it looked into her face with the soft dark gaze, with the
unforgotten smile of ... dead Conchita!

And Carmen wished to thank; the smiling Virgin for that priceless
bliss, and lifted up her eyes, but the sickness of ghostly fear
returned upon her when she looked; for now the Mother seemed as a woman
long dead, and the smile was the smile of fleshlessness, and the places
of the eyes were voids and darknesses ... And the sea sent up so vast a
roar that the dwelling rocked.

Carmen started from sleep to find her heart throbbing so that the couch
shook with it.  Night was growing gray; the door had just been opened
and slammed again.  Through the rain-whipped panes she discerned the
passing shape of Feliu, making for the beach--a broad and bearded
silhouette, bending against the wind.  Still the waxen Virgin smiled
her Mexican smile,--but now she was only seven inches high; and her
bead-glass eyes seemed to twinkle with kindliness while the flame of
the last expiring taper struggled for life in the earthen socket at her
feet.


III.

Rain and a blind sky and a bursting sea Feliu and his men, Miguel and
Mateo, looked out upon the thundering and flashing of the monstrous
tide.  The wind had fallen, and the gray air was full of gulls.  Behind
the cheniere, back to the cloudy line of low woods many miles away,
stretched a wash of lead-colored water, with a green point piercing it
here and there--elbow-bushes or wild cane tall enough to keep their
heads above the flood.  But the inundation was visibly
decreasing;--with the passing of each hour more and more green patches
and points had been showing themselves:  by degrees the course of the
bayou had become defined--two parallel winding lines of dwarf-timber
and bushy shrubs traversing the water toward the distant
cypress-swamps. Before the cheniere all the shell-beach slope was piled
with wreck--uptorn trees with the foliage still fresh upon them,
splintered timbers of mysterious origin, and logs in multitude, scarred
with gashes of the axe.  Feliu and his comrades had saved wood enough
to build a little town,--working up to their waists in the surf, with
ropes, poles, and boat-hooks.  The whole sea was full of flotsam.  Voto
a  Cristo!--what a wrecking there must have been!  And to think the
Carmencita could not be taken out!

They had seen other luggers making eastward during the morning--could
recognize some by their sails, others by their gait,--exaggerated in
their struggle with the pitching of the sea:  the San Pablo, the
Gasparina, the Enriqueta, the Agueda, the Constanza.  Ugly water,
yes!--but what a chance for wreckers! ... Some great ship must have
gone to pieces;--scores of casks were rolling in the trough,--casks of
wine.  Perhaps it was the Manila,--perhaps the Nautilus!

A dead cow floated near enough for Mateo to throw his rope over one
horn; and they all helped to get it out.  It was a milch cow of some
expensive breed; and the owner's brand had been burned upon the
horns:--a monographic combination of the letters A and P.  Feliu said
he knew that brand:  Old-man Preaulx, of Belle-Isle, who kept a sort of
dairy at Last Island during the summer season, used to mark all his
cows that way.  Strange!

But, as they worked on, they began to see stranger things,--white dead
faces and dead hands, which did not look like the hands or the faces of
drowned sailors:  the ebb was beginning to run strongly, and these were
passing out with it on the other side of the mouth of the
bayou;--perhaps they had been washed into the marsh during the night,
when the great rush of the sea came. Then the three men left the water,
and retired to higher ground to scan the furrowed Gulf;--their
practiced eyes began to search the courses of the sea-currents,--keen
as the gaze of birds that watch the wake of the plough.  And soon the
casks and the drift were forgotten; for it seemed to them that the tide
was heavy with human dead--passing out, processionally, to the great
open. Very far, where the huge pitching of the swells was diminished by
distance into a mere fluttering of ripples, the water appeared as if
sprinkled with them;--they vanished and became visible again at
irregular intervals, here and there--floating most thickly
eastward!--tossing, swaying patches of white or pink or blue or black
each with its tiny speck of flesh-color showing as the sea lifted or
lowered the body.  Nearer to shore there were few; but of these two
were close enough to be almost recognizable:  Miguel first discerned
them.  They were rising and falling where the water was deepest--well
out in front of the mouth of the bayou, beyond the flooded sand-bars,
and moving toward the shell-reef westward.  They were drifting almost
side by side.  One was that of a negro, apparently well attired, and
wearing a white apron;--the other seemed to be a young colored girl,
clad in a blue dress; she was floating upon her face; they could
observe that she had nearly straight hair, braided and tied with a red
ribbon.  These were evidently house-servants,--slaves.  But from
whence?  Nothing could be learned until the luggers should return; and
none of them was yet in sight.  Still Feliu was not anxious as to the
fate of his boats, manned by the best sailors of the coast.  Rarely are
these Louisiana fishermen lost in sudden storms; even when to other
eyes the appearances are most pacific and the skies most splendidly
blue, they divine some far-off danger, like the gulls; and like the
gulls also, you see their light vessels fleeing landward.  These men
seem living barometers, exquisitely sensitive to all the invisible
changes of atmospheric expansion and compression; they are not easily
caught in those awful dead calms which suddenly paralyze the wings of a
bark, and hold her helpless in their charmed circle, as in a nightmare,
until the blackness overtakes her, and the long-sleeping sea leaps up
foaming to devour her.

--"Carajo!"

The word all at once bursts from Feliu's mouth, with that peculiar
guttural snarl of the "r" betokening strong excitement,--while he
points to something rocking in the ebb, beyond the foaming of the
shell-reef, under a circling of gulls. More dead?  Yes--but something
too that lives and moves, like a quivering speck of gold; and Mateo
also perceives it, a gleam of bright hair,--and Miguel likewise, after
a moment's gazing.  A living child;--a lifeless mother.  Pobrecita!  No
boat within reach, and only a mighty surf-wrestler could hope to swim
thither and return!

But already, without a word, brown Feliu has stripped for the
struggle;--another second, and he is shooting through the surf, head
and hands tunnelling the foam hills.... One--two--three lines
passed!--four!--that is where they first begin to crumble white from
the summit,--five!--that he can ride fearlessly! ... Then swiftly,
easily, he advances, with a long, powerful breast-stroke,--keeping his
bearded head well up to watch for drift,--seeming to slide with a swing
from swell to swell,--ascending, sinking,--alternately presenting
breast or shoulder to the wave; always diminishing more and more to the
eyes of Mateo and Miguel,--till he becomes a moving speck, occasionally
hard to follow through the confusion of heaping waters ... You are not
afraid of the sharks, Feliu!--no:  they are afraid of you; right and
left they slunk away from your coming that morning you swam for life in
West-Indian waters, with your knife in your teeth, while the balls of
the Cuban coast-guard were purring all around you.  That day the
swarming sea was warm,--warm like soup--and clear, with an emerald
flash in every ripple,--not opaque and clamorous like the Gulf today
... Miguel and his comrade are anxious.  Ropes are unrolled and
inter-knotted into a line.  Miguel remains on the beach; but Mateo,
bearing the end of the line, fights his way out,--swimming and wading
by turns, to the further sandbar, where the water is shallow enough to
stand in,--if you know how to jump when the breaker comes.

But Feliu, nearing the flooded shell-bank, watches the white
flashings,--knows when the time comes to keep flat and take a long,
long breath.  One heavy volleying of foam,--darkness and hissing as of
a steam-burst; a vibrant lifting up; a rush into light,--and again the
volleying and the seething darkness.  Once more,--and the fight is won!
He feels the upcoming chill of deeper water,--sees before him the green
quaking of unbroken swells,--and far beyond him Mateo leaping on the
bar,--and beside him, almost within arm's reach, a great billiard-table
swaying, and a dead woman clinging there, and ... the child.

A moment more, and Feliu has lifted himself beside the waifs ... How
fast the dead woman clings, as if with the one power which is strong as
death,--the desperate force of love!  Not in vain; for the frail
creature bound to the mother's corpse with a silken scarf has still the
strength to cry out:--"Maman! maman!"  But time is life now; and the
tiny hands must be pulled away from the fair dead neck, and the scarf
taken to bind the infant firmly to Feliu's broad shoulders,--quickly,
roughly; for the ebb will not wait ...

And now Feliu has a burden; but his style of swimming has totally
changed;--he rises from the water like a Triton, and his powerful arms
seem to spin in circles, like the spokes of a flying wheel. For now is
the wrestle indeed!--after each passing swell comes a prodigious
pulling from beneath,--the sea clutching for its prey.

But the reef is gained, is passed;--the wild horses of the deep seem to
know the swimmer who has learned to ride them so well. And still the
brown arms spin in an ever-nearing mist of spray; and the outer
sand-bar is not far off,--and there is shouting Mateo, leaping in the
surf, swinging something about his head, as a vaquero swings his noose!
... Sough! splash!--it struggles in the trough beside Feliu, and the
sinewy hand descends upon it. Tiene!--tira, Miguel! And their feet
touch land again! ...

She is very cold, the child, and very still, with eyes closed.

--"Esta muerta, Feliu?" asks Mateo.

--"No!" the panting swimmer makes answer, emerging, while the waves
reach whitely up the sand as in pursuit,--"no; vive! respira todavia!"

Behind him the deep lifts up its million hands, and thunders as in
acclaim.


IV.

--"Madre de Dios!--mi sueno!" screamed Carmen, abandoning her
preparations for the morning meal, as Feliu, nude, like a marine god,
rushed in and held out to her a dripping and gasping
baby-girl,--"Mother of God! my dream!"  But there was no time then to
tell of dreams; the child might die.  In one instant Carmen's quick,
deft hands had stripped the slender little body; and while Mateo and
Feliu were finding dry clothing and stimulants, and Miguel telling how
it all happened--quickly, passionately, with furious gesture,--the kind
and vigorous woman exerted all her skill to revive the flickering life.
Soon Feliu came to aid her, while his men set to work completing the
interrupted preparation of the breakfast.  Flannels were heated for the
friction of the frail limbs; and brandy-and-water warmed, which Carmen
administered by the spoonful, skilfully as any physician,--until, at
last, the little creature opened her eyes and began to sob.  Sobbing
still, she was laid in Carmen's warm feather-bed, well swathed in
woollen wrappings.  The immediate danger, at least, was over; and Feliu
smiled with pride and pleasure.

Then Carmen first ventured to relate her dream; and his face became
grave again.  Husband and wife gazed a moment into each other's eyes,
feeling together the same strange thrill--that mysterious faint
creeping, as of a wind passing, which is the awe of the Unknowable.
Then they looked at the child, lying there, pink checked with the flush
of the blood returning; and such a sudden tenderness touched them as
they had known long years before, while together bending above the
slumbering loveliness of lost Conchita.

--"Que ojos!" murmured Feliu, as he turned away,--feigning hunger ...
(He was not hungry; but his sight had grown a little dim, as with a
mist.) Que ojos! They were singular eyes, large, dark, and wonderfully
fringed.  The child's hair was yellow--it was the flash of it that had
saved her; yet her eyes and brows were beautifully black.  She was
comely, but with such a curious, delicate comeliness--totally unlike
the robust beauty of Concha ... At intervals she would moan a little
between her sobs; and at last cried out, with a thin, shrill cry:
"Maman!--oh! maman!" Then Carmen lifted her from the bed to her lap,
and caressed her, and rocked her gently to and fro, as she had done
many a night for Concha,--murmuring,--"Yo sere tu madre, angel mio,
dulzura mia;--sere tu madrecita, palomita mia!" (I will be thy mother,
my angel, my sweet;--I will be thy little mother, my doveling.) And the
long silk fringes of the child's eyes overlapped, shadowed her little
cheeks; and she slept--just as Conchita had slept long ago,--with her
head on Carmen's bosom.

Feliu re-appeared at the inner door:  at a sign, he approached
cautiously, without noise, and looked.

--"She can talk," whispered Carmen in Spanish:  "she called her
mother"--ha llamado a su madre.

--"Y Dios tambien la ha llamado," responded Feliu, with rude
pathos;--"And God also called her."

--"But the Virgin sent us the child, Feliu,--sent us the child for
Concha's sake."

He did not answer at once; he seemed to be thinking very
deeply;--Carmen anxiously scanned his impassive face.

--"Who knows?" he answered, at last;--"who knows?  Perhaps she has
ceased to belong to any one else."

One after another, Feliu's luggers fluttered in,--bearing with them
news of the immense calamity.  And all the fishermen, in turn, looked
at the child.  Not one had ever seen her before.


V.

Ten days later, a lugger full of armed men entered the bayou, and
moored at Viosca's wharf.  The visitors were, for the most part,
country gentlemen,--residents of Franklin and neighboring towns, or
planters from the Teche country,--forming one of the numerous
expeditions organized for the purpose of finding the bodies of
relatives or friends lost in the great hurricane, and of punishing the
robbers of the dead.  They had searched numberless nooks of the coast,
had given sepulture to many corpses, had recovered a large amount of
jewelry, and--as Feliu afterward learned,--had summarily tried and
executed several of the most abandoned class of wreckers found with
ill-gotten valuables in their possession, and convicted of having
mutilated the drowned. But they came to Viosca's landing only to obtain
information;--he was too well known and liked to be a subject for
suspicion; and, moreover, he had one good friend in the crowd,--Captain
Harris of New Orleans, a veteran steamboat man and a market contractor,
to whom he had disposed of many a cargo of fresh pompano, sheep's-head,
and Spanish-mackerel ... Harris was the first to step to land;--some
ten of the party followed him.  Nearly all had lost some relative or
friend in the great catastrophe;--the gathering was serious,
silent,--almost grim,--which formed about Feliu.

Mateo, who had come to the country while a boy, spoke English better
than the rest of the cheniere people;--he acted as interpreter whenever
Feliu found any difficulty in comprehending or answering questions; and
he told them of the child rescued that wild morning, and of Feliu's
swim.  His recital evoked a murmur of interest and excitement, followed
by a confusion of questions.  Well, they could see for themselves,
Feliu said; but he hoped they would have a little patience;--the child
was still weak;--it might be dangerous to startle her.  "We'll arrange
it just as you like," responded the captain;--"go ahead, Feliu!" ...

All proceeded to the house, under the great trees; Feliu and Captain
Harris leading the way.  It was sultry and bright;--even the sea-breeze
was warm; there were pleasant odors in the shade, and a soporific
murmur made of leaf-speech and the hum of gnats. Only the captain
entered the house with Feliu; the rest remained without--some taking
seats on a rude plank bench under the oaks--others flinging themselves
down upon the weeds--a few stood still, leaning upon their rifles.
Then Carmen came out to them with gourds and a bucket of fresh water,
which all were glad to drink.

They waited many minutes.  Perhaps it was the cool peace of the place
that made them all feel how hot and tired they were: conversation
flagged; and the general languor finally betrayed itself in a silence
so absolute that every leaf-whisper seemed to become separately audible.

It was broken at last by the guttural voice of the old captain emerging
from the cottage, leading the child by the hand, and followed by Carmen
and Feliu.  All who had been resting rose up and looked at the child.

Standing in a lighted space, with one tiny hand enveloped by the
captain's great brown fist, she looked so lovely that a general
exclamation of surprise went up.  Her bright hair, loose and steeped in
the sun-flame, illuminated her like a halo; and her large dark eyes,
gentle and melancholy as a deer's, watched the strange faces before her
with shy curiosity.  She wore the same dress in which Feliu had found
her--a soft white fabric of muslin, with trimmings of ribbon that had
once been blue; and the now discolored silken scarf, which had twice
done her such brave service, was thrown over her shoulders.  Carmen had
washed and repaired the dress very creditably; but the tiny slim feet
were bare,--the brine-soaked shoes she wore that fearful night had
fallen into shreds at the first attempt to remove them.

--"Gentlemen," said Captain Harris,--"we can find no clew to the
identity of this child.  There is no mark upon her clothing; and she
wore nothing in the shape of jewelry--except this string of coral
beads.  We are nearly all Americans here; and she does not speak any
English ... Does any one here know anything about her?"

Carmen felt a great sinking at her heart:  was her new-found darling to
be taken so soon from her?  But no answer came to the captain's query.
No one of the expedition had ever seen that child before.  The coral
beads were passed from hand to hand; the scarf was minutely scrutinized
without avail.  Somebody asked if the child could not talk German or
Italian.

--"Italiano?  No!" said Feliu, shaking his head.... One of his
luggermen, Gioachino Sparicio, who, though a Sicilian, could speak
several Italian idioms besides his own, had already essayed.

--"She speaks something or other," answered the captain--"but no
English.  I couldn't make her understand me; and Feliu, who talks
nearly all the infernal languages spoken down this way, says he can't
make her understand him.  Suppose some of you who know French talk to
her a bit ... Laroussel, why don't you try?"

The young man addressed did not at first seem to notice the captain's
suggestion.  He was a tall, lithe fellow, with a dark, positive face:
he had never removed his black gaze from the child since the moment of
her appearance.  Her eyes, too, seemed to be all for him--to return his
scrutiny with a sort of vague pleasure, a half savage confidence ...
Was it the first embryonic feeling of race-affinity quickening in the
little brain?--some intuitive, inexplicable sense of kindred?  She
shrank from Doctor Hecker, who addressed her in German, shook her head
at Lawyer Solari, who tried to make her answer in Italian; and her look
always went back plaintively to the dark, sinister face of
Laroussel,--Laroussel who had calmly taken a human life, a wicked human
life, only the evening before.

--"Laroussel, you're the only Creole in this crowd," said the captain;
"talk to her! Talk gumbo to her! ... I've no doubt this child knows
German very well, and Italian too,"--he added, maliciously--"but not in
the way you gentlemen pronounce it!"

Laroussel handed his rifle to a friend, crouched down before the little
girl, and looked into her face, and smiled.  Her great sweet orbs shone
into his one moment, seriously, as if searching; and then ... she
returned his smile.  It seemed to touch something latent within the
man, something rare; for his whole expression changed; and there was a
caress in his look and voice none of the men could have believed
possible--as he exclaimed:--

--"Fais moin bo, piti."

She pouted up her pretty lips and kissed his black moustache.

He spoke to her again:--

--"Dis moin to nom, piti;--dis moin to nom, chere."

Then, for the first time, she spoke, answering in her argent treble:

--"Zouzoune."

All held their breath.  Captain Harris lifted his finger to his lips to
command silence.

--"Zouzoune?  Zouzoune qui, chere?"

--"Zouzoune, a c'est moin, Lili!"

--"C'est pas tout to nom, Lili;--dis moin, chere, to laut nom."

--"Mo pas connin laut nom."

--"Comment ye te pele to maman, piti?"

--"Maman,--Maman 'Dele."

--"Et comment ye te pele to papa, chere?"

--"Papa Zulien."

--"Bon! Et comment to maman te pele to papa?--dis ca a moin, chere?"

The child looked down, put a finger in her mouth, thought a moment, and
replied:--

--"Li pele li, 'Cheri'; li pele li, 'Papoute.'"

--"Aie, aie!--c'est tout, ca?--to maman te jamain pele li daut' chose?"

--"Mo pas connin, moin."

She began to play with some trinkets attached to his watch chain;--a
very small gold compass especially impressed her fancy by the trembling
and flashing of its tiny needle, and she murmured, coaxingly:--

--"Mo oule ca! Donnin ca a moin."

He took all possible advantage of the situation, and replied at once:--

--"Oui! mo va donnin toi ca si to di moin to laut nom."

The splendid bribe evidently impressed her greatly; for tears rose to
the brown eyes as she answered:

--"Mo pas capab di' ca;--mo pas capab di' laut nom ... Mo oule; mo pas
capab!"

Laroussel explained.  The child's name was Lili,--perhaps a contraction
of Eulalie; and her pet Creole name Zouzoune.  He thought she must be
the daughter of wealthy people; but she could not, for some reason or
other, tell her family name.  Perhaps she could not pronounce it well,
and was afraid of being laughed at: some of the old French names were
very hard for Creole children to pronounce, so long as the little ones
were indulged in the habit of talking the patois; and after a certain
age their mispronunciations would be made fun of in order to accustom
them to abandon the idiom of the slave-nurses, and to speak only
French.  Perhaps, again, she was really unable to recall the name:
certain memories might have been blurred in the delicate brain by the
shock of that terrible night.  She said her mother's name was Adele,
and her father's Julien; but these were very common names in
Louisiana,--and could afford scarcely any better clew than the innocent
statement that her mother used to address her father as "dear"
(Cheri),--or with the Creole diminutive "little papa" (Papoute).  Then
Laroussel tried to reach a clew in other ways, without success.  He
asked her about where she lived,--what the place was like; and she told
him about fig-trees in a court, and galleries, and banquettes, and
spoke of a faubou',--without being able to name any street.  He asked
her what her father used to do, and was assured that he did
everything--that there was nothing he could not do.  Divine absurdity
of childish faith!--infinite artlessness of childish love! ... Probably
the little girl's parents had been residents of New Orleans--dwellers
of the old colonial quarter,--the faubourg, the faubou'.

--"Well, gentlemen," said Captain Harris, as Laroussel abandoned his
cross-examination in despair,--"all we can do now is to make inquiries.
I suppose we'd better leave the child here.  She is very weak yet, and
in no condition to be taken to the city, right in the middle of the hot
season; and nobody could care for her any better than she's being cared
for here.  Then, again, seems to me that as Feliu saved her life,--and
that at the risk of his own,--he's got the prior claim, anyhow; and his
wife is just crazy about the child--wants to adopt her.  If we can find
her relatives so much the better; but I say, gentlemen, let them come
right here to Feliu, themselves, and thank him as he ought to be
thanked, by God! That's just what I think about it."

Carmen understood the little speech;--all the Spanish charm of her
youth had faded out years before; but in the one swift look of
gratitude she turned upon the captain, it seemed to blossom again;--for
that quick moment, she was beautiful.

"The captain is quite right," observed Dr. Hecker:  "it would be very
dangerous to take the child away just now."  There was no dissent.

--"All correct, boys?" asked the captain ... "Well, we've got to be
going.  By-by, Zouzoune!"

But Zouzoune burst into tears.  Laroussel was going too!

--"Give her the thing, Laroussel! she gave you a kiss, anyhow--more
than she'd do for me," cried the captain.

Laroussel turned, detached the little compass from his watch chain, and
gave it to her.  She held up her pretty face for his farewell kiss ...


VI.

But it seemed fated that Feliu's waif should never be
identified;--diligent inquiry and printed announcements alike proved
fruitless.  Sea and sand had either hidden or effaced all the records
of the little world they had engulfed:  the annihilation of whole
families, the extinction of races, had, in more than one instance,
rendered vain all efforts to recognize the dead.  It required the
subtle perception of long intimacy to name remains tumefied and
discolored by corruption and exposure, mangled and gnawed by fishes, by
reptiles, and by birds;--it demanded the great courage of love to look
upon the eyeless faces found sweltering in the blackness of
cypress-shadows, under the low palmettoes of the swamps,--where gorged
buzzards started from sleep, or cottonmouths uncoiled, hissing, at the
coming of the searchers.  And sometimes all who had loved the lost were
themselves among the missing.  The full roll call of names could never
be made out; extraordinary mistakes were committed.  Men whom the world
deemed dead and buried came back, like ghosts,--to read their own
epitaphs.

... Almost at the same hour that Laroussel was questioning the child in
Creole patois, another expedition, searching for bodies along the
coast, discovered on the beach of a low islet famed as a haunt of
pelicans, the corpse of a child.  Some locks of bright hair still
adhering to the skull, a string of red beads, a white muslin dress, a
handkerchief broidered with the initials "A.L.B.,"--were secured as
clews; and the little body was interred where it had been found.

And, several days before, Captain Hotard, of the relief-boat Estelle
Brousseaux, had found, drifting in the open Gulf (latitude 26 degrees
43 minutes; longitude 88 degrees 17 minutes),--the corpse of a
fair-haired woman, clinging to a table.  The body was disfigured beyond
recognition:  even the slender bones of the hands had been stripped by
the nibs of the sea-birds-except one finger, the third of the left,
which seemed to have been protected by a ring of gold, as by a charm.
Graven within the plain yellow circlet was a date,--"JUILLET--1851";
and the names,--"ADELE + JULIEN,"--separated by a cross.  The Estelle
carried coffins that day:  most of them were already full; but there
was one for Adele.

Who was she?--who was her Julien? ... When the Estelle and many other
vessels had discharged their ghastly cargoes;--when the bereaved of the
land had assembled as hastily as they might for the du y of
identification;--when memories were strained almost to madness in
research of names, dates, incidents--for the evocation of dead words,
resurrection of vanished days, recollection of dear promises,--then, in
the confusion, it was believed and declared that the little corpse
found on the pelican island was the daughter of the wearer of the
wedding ring:  Adele La Brierre, nee Florane, wife of Dr. Julien La
Brierre, of New Orleans, who was numbered among the missing.

And they brought dead Adele back,--up shadowy river windings, over
linked brightnesses of lake and lakelet, through many a green
glimmering bayou,--to the Creole city, and laid her to rest somewhere
in the old Saint-Louis Cemetery.  And upon the tablet recording her
name were also graven the words--

  .....................

  Aussi a la memoire de
  son mari;

  JULIEN RAYMOND LA BRIERRE,
  ne a la paroisse St. Landry,
  le 29 Mai; MDCCCXXVIII;
  et de leur fille,
  EULALIE,
  agee de 4 as et 5 mois,--
  Qui tous perirent
  dans la grande tempete qui
  balaya L'Ile Derniere, le
  10 Aout, MDCCCLVI
  ..... + .....
  Priez pour eux!


VII.

Yet six months afterward the face of Julien La Brierre was seen again
upon the streets of New Orleans.  Men started at the sight of him, as
at a spectre standing in the sun.  And nevertheless the apparition cast
a shadow.  People paused, approached, half extended a hand through old
habit, suddenly checked themselves and passed on,--wondering they
should have forgotten, asking themselves why they had so nearly made an
absurd mistake.

It was a February day,--one of those crystalline days of our snowless
Southern winter, when the air is clear and cool, and outlines sharpen
in the light as if viewed through the focus of a diamond glass;--and in
that brightness Julien La Brierre perused his own brief epitaph, and
gazed upon the sculptured name of drowned Adele.  Only half a year had
passed since she was laid away in the high wall of tombs,--in that
strange colonial columbarium where the dead slept in rows, behind
squared marbles lettered in black or bronze.  Yet her
resting-place,--in the highest range,--already seemed old.  Under our
Southern sun, the vegetation of cemeteries seems to spring into being
spontaneously--to leap all suddenly into luxuriant life! Microscopic
mossy growths had begun to mottle the slab that closed her in;--over
its face some singular creeper was crawling, planting tiny reptile-feet
into the chiselled letters of the inscription; and from the moist soil
below speckled euphorbias were growing up to her,--and morning
glories,--and beautiful green tangled things of which he did not know
the name.

And the sight of the pretty lizards, puffing their crimson pouches in
the sun, or undulating athwart epitaphs, and shifting their color when
approached, from emerald to ashen-gray;--the caravans of the ants,
journeying to and from tiny chinks in the masonry;--the bees gathering
honey from the crimson blossoms of the crete-de-coq, whose radicles
sought sustenance, perhaps from human dust, in the decay of
generations:--all that rich life of graves summoned up fancies of
Resurrection, Nature's resurrection-work--wondrous transformations of
flesh, marvellous bans migration of souls! ... From some forgotten
crevice of that tomb roof, which alone intervened between her and the
vast light, a sturdy weed was growing.  He knew that plant, as it
quivered against the blue,--the chou-gras, as Creole children call it:
its dark berries form the mockingbird's favorite food ... Might not its
roots, exploring darkness, have found some unfamiliar nutriment
within?--might it not be that something of the dead heart had risen to
purple and emerald life--in the sap of translucent leaves, in the wine
of the savage berries,--to blend with the blood of the Wizard
Singer,--to lend a strange sweetness to the melody of his wooing?  ...

... Seldom, indeed, does it happen that a man in the prime of youth, in
the possession of wealth, habituated to comforts and the elegances of
life, discovers in one brief week how minute his true relation to the
human aggregate,--how insignificant his part as one living atom of the
social organism.  Seldom, at the age of twenty-eight, has one been made
able to comprehend, through experience alone, that in the vast and
complex Stream of Being he counts for less than a drop; and that, even
as the blood loses and replaces its corpuscles, without a variance in
the volume and vigor of its current, so are individual existences
eliminated and replaced in the pulsing of a people's life, with never a
pause in its mighty murmur.  But all this, and much more, Julien had
learned in seven merciless days--seven successive and terrible shocks
of experience.  The enormous world had not missed him; and his place
therein was not void--society had simply forgotten him.  So long as he
had moved among them, all he knew for friends had performed their petty
altruistic roles,--had discharged their small human obligations,--had
kept turned toward him the least selfish side of their natures,--had
made with him a tolerably equitable exchange of ideas and of favors;
and after his disappearance from their midst, they had duly mourned for
his loss--to themselves!  They had played out the final act in the
unimportant drama of his life:  it was really asking too much to demand
a repetition ... Impossible to deceive himself as to the feeling his
unanticipated return had aroused:--feigned pity where he had looked for
sympathetic welcome; dismay where he had expected surprised delight;
and, oftener, airs of resignation, or disappointment ill
disguised,--always insincerity, politely masked or coldly bare.  He had
come back to find strangers in his home, relatives at law concerning
his estate, and himself regarded as an intruder among the living,--an
unlucky guest, a revenant ... How hollow and selfish a world it seemed!
And yet there was love in it; he had been loved in it, unselfishly,
passionately, with the love of father and of mother, of wife and child
... All buried!--all lost forever! ... Oh! would to God the story of
that stone were not a lie!--would to kind God he also were dead! ...

Evening shadowed:  the violet deepened and prickled itself with
stars;--the sun passed below the west, leaving in his wake a momentary
splendor of vermilion ... our Southern day is not prolonged by
gloaming.  And Julien's thoughts darkened with the darkening, and as
swiftly.  For while there was yet light to see, he read another name
that he used to know--the name of RAMIREZ ... Nacio en Cienfuegos, isla
de Cuba ... Wherefore born?--for what eternal purpose, Ramirez,--in the
City of a Hundred Fires? He had blown out his brains before the
sepulchre of his young wife ... It was a detached double vault, shaped
like a huge chest, and much dilapidated already:--under the continuous
burrowing of the crawfish it had sunk greatly on one side, tilting as
if about to fall.  Out from its zigzag fissurings of brick and plaster,
a sinister voice seemed to come:--"Go thou and do likewise! ... Earth
groans with her burthen even now,--the burthen of Man:  she holds no
place for thee!"


VIII.

... That voice pursued him into the darkness of his chilly
room,--haunted him in the silence of his lodging.  And then began
within the man that ghostly struggle between courage and despair,
between patient reason and mad revolt, between weakness and force,
between darkness and light, which all sensitive and generous natures
must wage in their own souls at least once--perhaps many times--in
their lives.  Memory, in such moments, plays like an electric
storm;--all involuntarily he found himself reviewing his life.

Incidents long forgotten came back with singular vividness:  he saw the
Past as he had not seen it while it was the Present;--remembrances of
home, recollections of infancy, recurred to him with terrible
intensity,--the artless pleasures and the trifling griefs, the little
hurts and the tender pettings, the hopes and the anxieties of those who
loved him, the smiles and tears of slaves ... And his first Creole
pony, a present from his father the day after he had proved himself
able to recite his prayers correctly in French, without one
mispronunciation--without saying crasse for grace,--and yellow Michel,
who taught him to swim and to fish and to paddle a pirogue;--and the
bayou, with its wonder-world of turtles and birds and creeping
things;--and his German tutor, who could not pronounce the j;--and the
songs of the cane-fields,--strangely pleasing, full of quaverings and
long plaintive notes, like the call of the cranes ... Tou', tou' pays
blanc! ... Afterward Camaniere had leased the place;--everything must
have been changed; even the songs could not be the same.  Tou', tou'
pays blare!--Danie qui commande ...

And then Paris; and the university, with its wild under-life,--some
debts, some follies; and the frequent fond letters from home to which
he might have replied so much oftener;--Paris, where talent is
mediocrity; Paris, with its thunders and its splendors and its seething
of passion;--Paris, supreme focus of human endeavor, with its madnesses
of art, its frenzied striving to express the Inexpressible, its
spasmodic strainings to clutch the Unattainable, its soarings of
soul-fire to the heaven of the Impossible ...

What a rejoicing there was at his return!--how radiant and level the
long Road of the Future seemed to open before him!--everywhere
friends, prospects, felicitations.  Then his first serious love;--and
the night of the ball at St. Martinsville,--the vision of light!
Gracile as a palm, and robed at once so simply, so exquisitely in
white, she had seemed to him the supreme realization of all possible
dreams of beauty ... And his passionate jealousy; and the slap from
Laroussel; and the humiliating two-minute duel with rapiers in which he
learned that he had found his master.  The scar was deep.  Why had not
Laroussel killed him then? ... Not evil-hearted, Laroussel,--they
used to salute each other afterward when they met; and Laroussel's
smile was kindly.  Why had he refrained from returning it?  Where was
Laroussel now?

For the death of his generous father, who had sacrificed so much to
reform him; for the death, only a short while after, of his
all-forgiving mother, he had found one sweet woman to console him with
her tender words, her loving lips, her delicious caress. She had given
him Zouzoune, the darling link between their lives,--Zouzoune, who
waited each evening with black Eglantine at the gate to watch for his
coming, and to cry through all the house like a bird, "Papa, lape
vini!--papa Zulien ape vini!" ... And once that she had made him very
angry by upsetting the ink over a mass of business papers, and he had
slapped her (could he ever forgive himself?)--she had cried, through
her sobs of astonishment and pain:--"To laimin moin?--to batte moin!"
(Thou lovest me?--thou beatest me!) Next month she would have been five
years old.  To laimin moin?--to batte moin! ...

A furious paroxysm of grief convulsed him, suffocated him; it seemed to
him that something within must burst, must break.  He flung himself
down upon his bed, biting the coverings in order to stifle his outcry,
to smother the sounds of his despair.  What crime had he ever done, oh
God! that he should be made to suffer thus?--was it for this he had
been permitted to live?  had been rescued from the sea and carried
round all the world unscathed? Why should he live to remember, to
suffer, to agonize?  Was not Ramirez wiser?

How long the contest within him lasted, he never knew; but ere it was
done, he had become, in more ways than one, a changed man. For the
first,--though not indeed for the last time,--something of the deeper
and nobler comprehension of human weakness and of human suffering had
been revealed to him,--something of that larger knowledge without which
the sense of duty can never be fully acquired, nor the understanding of
unselfish goodness, nor the spirit of tenderness.  The suicide is not a
coward; he is an egotist.

A ray of sunlight touched his wet pillow,--awoke him.  He rushed to the
window, flung the latticed shutters apart, and looked out.

Something beautiful and ghostly filled all the vistas,--frost-haze; and
in some queer way the mist had momentarily caught and held the very
color of the sky.  An azure fog! Through it the quaint and checkered
street--as yet but half illumined by the sun,--took tones of impossible
color; the view paled away through faint bluish tints into transparent
purples;--all the shadows were indigo.  How sweet the morning!--how
well life seemed worth living! Because the sun had shown his face
through a fairy veil of frost! ...

Who was the ancient thinker?--was it Hermes?--who said:--

"The Sun is Laughter; for 'tis He who maketh joyous the thoughts of
men, and gladdeneth the infinite world." ...



The Shadow of the Tide.

I.

Carmen found that her little pet had been taught how to pray; for each
night and morning when the devout woman began to make her orisons, the
child would kneel beside her, with little hands joined, and in a voice
sweet and clear murmur something she had learned by heart.  Much as
this pleased Carmen, it seemed to her that the child's prayers could
not be wholly valid unless uttered in Spanish;--for Spanish was
heaven's own tongue,--la lengua de Dios, el idioma de Dios; and she
resolved to teach her to say the Salve Maria and the Padre Nuestro in
Castilian--also, her own favorite prayer to the Virgin, beginning with
the words, "Madre santisima, toda dulce y hermosa." . . .

So Conchita--for a new name had been given to her with that terrible
sea christening--received her first lessons in Spanish; and she proved
a most intelligent pupil.  Before long she could prattle to Feliu;--she
would watch for his return of evenings, and announce his coming with
"Aqui viene mi papacito?"--she learned, too, from Carmen, many little
caresses of speech to greet him with.  Feliu's was not a joyous nature;
he had his dark hours, his sombre days; yet it was rarely that he felt
too sullen to yield to the little one's petting, when she would leap up
to reach his neck and to coax his kiss, with--"Dame un beso,
papa!--asi;--y otro! otro! otro!"  He grew to love her like his
own;--was she not indeed his own, since he had won her from death?  And
none had yet come to dispute his claim.  More and more, with the
passing of weeks, months, seasons, she became a portion of his life--a
part of all that he wrought for.  At the first, he had had a
half-formed hope that the little one might be reclaimed by relatives
generous and rich enough to insist upon his acceptance of a handsome
compensation; and that Carmen could find some solace in a pleasant
visit to Barceloneta.  But now he felt that no possible generosity
could requite him for her loss; and with the unconscious selfishness of
affection, he commenced to dread her identification as a great calamity.

It was evident that she had been brought up nicely.  She had pretty
prim ways of drinking and eating, queer little fashions of sitting in
company, and of addressing people.  She had peculiar notions about
colors in dress, about wearing her hair; and she seemed to have already
imbibed a small stock of social prejudices not altogether in harmony
with the republicanism of Viosca's Point.  Occasional swarthy
visitors,--men of the Manilla settlements,--she spoke of contemptuously
as negues-marrons; and once she shocked Carmen inexpressibly by
stopping in the middle of her evening prayer, declaring that she wanted
to say her prayers to a white Virgin; Carmen's Senora de Guadalupe was
only a negra!  Then, for the first time, Carmen spoke so crossly to the
child as to frighten her.  But the pious woman's heart smote her the
next moment for that first harsh word;--and she caressed the motherless
one, consoled her, cheered her, and at last explained to her--I know
not how--something very wonderful about the little figurine, something
that made Chita's eyes big with awe.  Thereafter she always regarded
the Virgin of Wax as an object mysterious and holy.

And, one by one, most of Chita's little eccentricities were gradually
eliminated from her developing life and thought.  More rapidly than
ordinary children, because singularly intelligent, she learned to adapt
herself to all the changes of her new environment,--retaining only that
indescribable something which to an experienced eye tells of hereditary
refinement of habit and of mind:--a natural grace, a thorough-bred ease
and elegance of movement, a quickness and delicacy of perception.

She became strong again and active--active enough to play a great deal
on the beach, when the sun was not too fierce; and Carmen made a canvas
bonnet to shield her head and face.  Never had she been allowed to play
so much in the sun before; and it seemed to do her good, though her
little bare feet and hands became brown as copper.  At first, it must
be confessed, she worried her foster-mother a great deal by various
queer misfortunes and extraordinary freaks;--getting bitten by crabs,
falling into the bayou while in pursuit of "fiddlers," or losing
herself at the conclusion of desperate efforts to run races at night
with the moon, or to walk to the "end of the world."  If she could only
once get to the edge of the sky, she said, she "could climb up." She
wanted to see the stars, which were the souls of good little children;
and she knew that God would let her climb up.  "Just what I am afraid
of!"--thought Carmen to herself;--"He might let her climb up,--a little
ghost!"  But one day naughty Chita received a terrible lesson,--a
lasting lesson,--which taught her the value of obedience.

She had been particularly cautioned not to venture into a certain part
of the swamp in the rear of the grove, where the weeds were very tall;
for Carmen was afraid some snake might bite the child.

But Chita's bird-bright eye had discerned a gleam of white in that
direction; and she wanted to know what it was.  The white could only be
seen from one point, behind the furthest house, where the ground was
high.  "Never go there," said Carmen; "there is a Dead Man there,--will
bite you!"  And yet, one day, while Carmen was unusually busy, Chita
went there.

In the early days of the settlement, a Spanish fisherman had died; and
his comrades had built him a little tomb with the surplus of the same
bricks and other material brought down the bayou for the construction
of Viosca's cottages.  But no one, except perhaps some wandering duck
hunter, had approached the sepulchre for years.  High weeds and grasses
wrestled together all about it, and rendered it totally invisible from
the surrounding level of the marsh.

Fiddlers swarmed away as Chita advanced over the moist soil, each
uplifting its single huge claw as it sidled off;--then frogs began to
leap before her as she reached the thicker grass;--and long-legged
brown insects sprang showering to right and left as she parted the
tufts of the thickening verdure.  As she went on, the bitter-weeds
disappeared;--jointed grasses and sinewy dark plants of a taller growth
rose above her head:  she was almost deafened by the storm of insect
shrilling, and the mosquitoes became very wicked.  All at once
something long and black and heavy wriggled almost from under her naked
feet,--squirming so horribly that for a minute or two she could not
move for fright. But it slunk away somewhere, and hid itself; the weeds
it had shaken ceased to tremble in its wake; and her courage returned.
She felt such an exquisite and fearful pleasure in the gratification of
that naughty curiosity!  Then, quite unexpectedly--oh! what a start it
gave her!--the solitary white object burst upon her view, leprous and
ghastly as the yawn of a cotton-mouth.  Tombs ruin soon in
Louisiana;--the one Chita looked upon seemed ready to topple down.
There was a great ragged hole at one end, where wind and rain, and
perhaps also the burrowing of crawfish and of worms, had loosened the
bricks, and caused them to slide out of place.  It seemed very black
inside; but Chita wanted to know what was there.  She pushed her way
through a gap in the thin and rotten line of pickets, and through some
tall weeds with big coarse pink flowers;--then she crouched down on
hands and knees before the black hole, and peered in.  It was not so
black inside as she had thought; for a sunbeam slanted down through a
chink in the roof; and she could see!

A brown head--without hair, without eyes, but with teeth, ever so many
teeth!--seemed to laugh at her; and close to it sat a Toad, the hugest
she had ever seen; and the white skin of his throat kept puffing out
and going in.  And Chita screamed and screamed, and fled in wild
terror,--screaming all the way, till Carmen ran out to meet her and
carry her home.  Even when safe in her adopted mother's arms, she
sobbed with fright.  To the vivid fancy of the child there seemed to be
some hideous relation between the staring reptile and the brown
death's-head, with its empty eyes, and its nightmare-smile.

The shock brought on a fever,--a fever that lasted several days, and
left her very weak.  But the experience taught her to obey, taught her
that Carmen knew best what was for her good.  It also caused her to
think a great deal.  Carmen had told her that the dead people never
frightened good little girls who stayed at home.

--"Madrecita Carmen," she asked, "is my mamma dead?"

--"Pobrecita! .... Yes, my angel.  God called her to Him,--your darling
mother."

--"Madrecita," she asked again,--her young eyes growing vast with
horror,--"is my own mamma now like That?" ... She pointed toward the
place of the white gleam, behind the great trees.

--"No, no, no! my darling!" cried Carmen, appalled herself by the
ghastly question,--"your mamma is with the dear, good, loving God, who
lives in the beautiful sky, above the clouds, my darling, beyond the
sun!"

But Carmen's kind eyes were full of tears; and the child read their
meaning.  He who teareth off the Mask of the Flesh had looked into her
face one unutterable moment:--she had seen the brutal Truth, naked to
the bone!

Yet there came to her a little thrill of consolation, caused by the
words of the tender falsehood; for that which she had discerned by day
could not explain to her that which she saw almost nightly in her
slumber.  The face, the voice, the form of her loving mother still
lived somewhere,--could not have utterly passed away; since the sweet
presence came to her in dreams, bending and smiling over her, caressing
her, speaking to her,--sometimes gently chiding, but always chiding
with a kiss. And then the child would laugh in her sleep, and prattle
in Creole,--talking to the luminous shadow, telling the dead mother all
the little deeds and thoughts of the day.... Why would God only let her
come at night?

... Her idea of God had been first defined by the sight of a quaint
French picture of the Creation,--an engraving which represented a
shoreless sea under a black sky, and out of the blackness a solemn and
bearded gray head emerging, and a cloudy hand through which stars
glimmered.  God was like old Doctor de Coulanges, who used to visit the
house, and talk in a voice like a low roll of thunder.... At a later
day, when Chita had been told that God was "everywhere at the same time
"--without and within, beneath and above all things,--this idea became
somewhat changed.  The awful bearded face, the huge shadowy hand, did
not fade from her thought; but they became fantastically blended with
the larger and vaguer notion of something that filled the world and
reached to the stars,--something diaphanous and incomprehensible like
the invisible air, omnipresent and everlasting like the high blue of
heaven ....


II.

... She began to learn the life of the coast.

With her acquisition of another tongue, there came to her also the
understanding of many things relating to the world of the sea She
memorized with novel delight much that was told her day by day
concerning the nature surrounding her,--many secrets of the air, many
of those signs of heaven which the dwellers in cities cannot comprehend
because the atmosphere is thickened and made stagnant above
them--cannot even watch because the horizon is hidden from their eyes
by walls, and by weary avenues of trees with whitewashed trunks.  She
learned, by listening, by asking, by observing also, how to know the
signs that foretell wild weather:--tremendous sunsets, scuddings and
bridgings of cloud,--sharpening and darkening of the sea-line,--and the
shriek of gulls flashing to land in level flight, out of a still
transparent sky,--and halos about the moon.

She learned where the sea-birds, with white bosoms and brown wings,
made their hidden nests of sand,--and where the cranes waded for their
prey,--and where the beautiful wild-ducks, plumaged in satiny lilac and
silken green, found their food,--and where the best reeds grew to
furnish stems for Feliu's red-clay pipe,--and where the ruddy sea-beans
were most often tossed upon the shore,--and how the gray pelicans
fished all together, like men--moving in far-extending semicircles,
beating the flood with their wings to drive the fish before them.

And from Carmen she learned the fables and the sayings of the sea,--the
proverbs about its deafness, its avarice, its treachery, its terrific
power,--especially one that haunted her for all time thereafter:  Si
quieres aprender a orar, entra en el mar (If thou wouldst learn to
pray, go to the sea).  She learned why the sea is salt,--how "the tears
of women made the waves of the sea,"--and how the sea has ii no
friends,--and how the cat's eyes change with the tides.

What had she lost of life by her swift translation from the dusty
existence of cities to the open immensity of nature's freedom? What did
she gain?

Doubtless she was saved from many of those little bitternesses and
restraints and disappointments which all well-bred city children must
suffer in the course of their training for the more or less factitious
life of society:--obligations to remain very still with every nimble
nerve quivering in dumb revolt;--the injustice of being found
troublesome and being sent to bed early for the comfort of her
elders;--the cruel necessity of straining her pretty eyes, for many
long hours at a time, over grimy desks in gloomy school-rooms, though
birds might twitter and bright winds flutter in the trees without;--the
austere constrains and heavy drowsiness of warm churches, filled with
the droning echoes of a voice preaching incomprehensible things;--the
progressively augmenting weariness of lessons in deportment, in
dancing, in music, in the impossible art of keeping her dresses
unruffled and unsoiled.  Perhaps she never had any reason to regret all
these.

She went to sleep and awakened with the wild birds;--her life remained
as unfettered by formalities as her fine feet by shoes. Excepting
Carmen's old prayer-book,--in which she learned to read a little,--her
childhood passed without books,--also without pictures, without
dainties, without music, without theatrical amusements.  But she saw
and heard and felt much of that which, though old as the heavens and
the earth, is yet eternally new and eternally young with the holiness
of beauty,--eternally mystical and divine,--eternally weird:  the
unveiled magnificence of Nature's moods,--the perpetual poem hymned by
wind and surge,--the everlasting splendor of the sky.

She saw the quivering pinkness of waters curled by the breath of the
morning--under the deepening of the dawn--like a far fluttering and
scattering of rose-leaves of fire;--

Saw the shoreless, cloudless, marvellous double-circling azure of
perfect summer days--twin glories of infinite deeps inter-reflected,
while the Soul of the World lay still, suffused with a jewel-light, as
of vaporized sapphire;--

Saw the Sea shift color,--"change sheets,"--when the viewless Wizard of
the Wind breathed upon its face, and made it green;--

Saw the immeasurable panics,--noiseless, scintillant,--which silver,
summer after summer, curved leagues of beach with bodies of little
fish--the yearly massacre of migrating populations, nations of
sea-trout, driven from their element by terror;--and the winnowing of
shark-fins,--and the rushing of porpoises,--and the rising of the
grande-ecaille, like a pillar of flame,--and the diving and pitching
and fighting of the frigates and the gulls,--and the armored hordes of
crabs swarming out to clear the slope after the carnage and the gorging
had been done;--

Saw the Dreams of the Sky,--scudding mockeries of ridged foam,--and
shadowy stratification of capes and coasts and promontories long-drawn
out,--and imageries, multicolored, of mountain frondage, and sierras
whitening above sierras,--and phantom islands ringed around with
lagoons of glory;--

Saw the toppling and smouldering of cloud-worlds after the enormous
conflagration of sunsets,--incandescence ruining into darkness; and
after it a moving and climbing of stars among the blacknesses,--like
searching lamps;--

Saw the deep kindle countless ghostly candles as for mysterious
night-festival,--and a luminous billowing under a black sky, and
effervescences of fire, and the twirling and crawling of phosphoric
foam;--

Saw the mesmerism of the Moon;--saw the enchanted tides self-heaped in
muttering obeisance before her.

Often she heard the Music of the Marsh through the night:  an infinity
of flutings and tinklings made by tiny amphibia,--like the low blowing
of numberless little tin horns, the clanking of billions of little
bells;--and, at intervals, profound tones, vibrant and heavy, as of a
bass viol--the orchestra of the great frogs!  And interweaving with it
all, one continuous shrilling,--keen as the steel speech of a saw,--the
stridulous telegraphy of crickets.

But always,--always, dreaming or awake, she heard the huge blind Sea
chanting that mystic and eternal hymn, which none may hear without awe,
which no musician can learn,--

Heard the hoary Preacher,--El Pregonador,--preaching the ancient Word,
the word "as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in
pieces,"--the Elohim--Word of the Sea! ...

Unknowingly she came to know the immemorial sympathy of the mind with
the Soul of the World,--the melancholy wrought by its moods of gray,
the reverie responsive to its vagaries of mist, the exhilaration of its
vast exultings--days of windy joy, hours of transfigured light.

She felt,--even without knowing it,--the weight of the Silences, the
solemnities of sky and sea in these low regions where all things seem
to dream--waters and grasses with their momentary wavings,--woods
gray-webbed with mosses that drip and drool,--horizons with their
delusions of vapor,--cranes meditating in their marshes,--kites
floating in the high blue.... Even the children were singularly quiet;
and their play less noisy--though she could not have learned the
difference--than the play of city children.  Hour after hour, the women
sewed or wove in silence.  And the brown men,--always barefooted,
always wearing rough blue shirts,--seemed, when they lounged about the
wharf on idle days, as if they had told each other long ago all they
knew or could ever know, and had nothing more to say.  They would stare
at the flickering of the current, at the drifting of clouds and
buzzard:--seldom looking at each other, and always turning their black
eyes again, in a weary way, to sky or sea. Even thus one sees the
horses and the cattle of the coast, seeking the beach to escape the
whizzing flies;--all watch the long waves rolling in, and sometimes
turn their heads a moment to look at one another, but always look back
to the waves again, as if wondering at a mystery....

How often she herself had wondered--wondered at the multiform changes
of each swell as it came in--transformations of tint, of shape, of
motion, that seemed to betoken a life infinitely more subtle than the
strange cold life of lizards and of fishes,--and sinister, and
spectral.  Then they all appeared to move in order,--according to one
law or impulse;--each had its own voice, yet all sang one and the same
everlasting song.  Vaguely, as she watched them and listened to them,
there came to her the idea of a unity of will in their motion, a unity
of menace in their utterance--the idea of one monstrous and complex
life! The sea lived:  it could crawl backward and forward; it could
speak!--it only feigned deafness and sightlessness for some malevolent
end. Thenceforward she feared to find herself alone with it.  Was it
not at her that it strove to rush, muttering, and showing its white
teeth, ... just because it knew that she was all by herself?  ... Si
quieres aprender a orar, entra en el mar!  And Concha had well learned
to pray.  But the sea seemed to her the one Power which God could not
make to obey Him as He pleased. Saying the creed one day, she repeated
very slowly the opening words,--"Creo en un Dios, padre todopoderoso,
Criador de cielo y de la tierra,"--and paused and thought.  Creator of
Heaven and Earth?  "Madrecita Carmen," she asked,--"quien entonces hizo
el mar?" (who then made the sea?).

--"Dios, mi querida," answered Carmen.--"God, my darling.... All things
were made by Him" (todas las cosas fueron hechas por El).

Even the wicked Sea!  And He had said unto it:  "Thus far, and no
farther." ... Was that why it had not overtaken and devoured her when
she ran back in fear from the sudden reaching out of its waves?  Thus
far....?  But there were times when it disobeyed--when it rushed
further, shaking the world!  Was it because God was then asleep--could
not hear, did not see, until too late?

And the tumultuous ocean terrified her more and more:  it filled her
sleep with enormous nightmare;--it came upon her in dreams,
mountain-shadowing,--holding her with its spell, smothering her power
of outcry, heaping itself to the stars.

Carmen became alarmed;--she feared that the nervous and delicate child
might die in one of those moaning dreams out of which she had to arouse
her, night after night.  But Feliu, answering her anxiety with one of
his favorite proverbs, suggested a heroic remedy:--

--"The world is like the sea:  those who do not know how to swim in it
are drowned;--and the sea is like the world," he added.... "Chita must
learn to swim!"

And he found the time to teach her.  Each morning, at sunrise, he took
her into the water.  She was less terrified the first time than Carmen
thought she would be;--she seemed to feel confidence in Feliu; although
she screamed piteously before her first ducking at his hands.  His
teaching was not gentle.  He would carry her out, perched upon his
shoulder, until the water rose to his own neck; and there he would
throw her from him, and let her struggle to reach him again as best she
could.  The first few mornings she had to be pulled out almost at once;
but after that Feliu showed her less mercy, and helped her only when he
saw she was really in danger.  He attempted no other instruction until
she had learned that in order to save herself from being half choked by
the salt water, she must not scream; and by the time she became
habituated to these austere experiences, she had already learned by
instinct alone how to keep herself afloat for a while, how to paddle a
little with her hands.  Then he commenced to train her to use them,--to
lift them well out and throw them forward as if reaching, to dip them
as the blade of an oar is dipped at an angle, without loud
splashing;--and he showed her also how to use her feet.  She learned
rapidly and astonishingly well.  In less than two months Feliu felt
really proud at the progress made by his tiny pupil:  it was a delight
to watch her lifting her slender arms above the water in swift, easy
curves, with the same fine grace that marked all her other natural
motions.  Later on he taught her not to fear the sea even when it
growled a little,--how to ride a swell, how to face a breaker, how to
dive.  She only needed practice thereafter; and Carmen, who could also
swim, finding the child's health improving marvellously under this new
discipline, took good care that Chita should practice whenever the
mornings were not too cold, or the water too rough.

With the first thrill of delight at finding herself able to glide over
the water unassisted, the child's superstitious terror of the sea
passed away.  Even for the adult there are few physical joys keener
than the exultation of the swimmer;--how much greater the same glee as
newly felt by an imaginative child,--a child, whose vivid fancy can
lend unutterable value to the most insignificant trifles, can transform
a weed-patch to an Eden! ... Of her own accord she would ask for her
morning bath, as soon as she opened her eyes;--it even required some
severity to prevent her from remaining in the water too long.  The sea
appeared to her as something that had become tame for her sake,
something that loved her in a huge rough way; a tremendous playmate,
whom she no longer feared to see come bounding and barking to lick her
feet.  And, little by little, she also learned the wonderful healing
and caressing power of the monster, whose cool embrace at once
dispelled all drowsiness, feverishness, weariness,--even after the
sultriest nights when the air had seemed to burn, and the mosquitoes
had filled the chamber with a sound as of water boiling in many
kettles.  And on mornings when the sea was in too wicked a humor to be
played with, how she felt the loss of her loved sport, and prayed for
calm!  Her delicate constitution changed;--the soft, pale flesh became
firm and brown, the meagre limbs rounded into robust symmetry, the thin
cheeks grew peachy with richer life; for the strength of the sea had
entered into her; the sharp breath of the sea had renewed and
brightened her young blood....

... Thou primordial Sea, the awfulness of whose antiquity hath stricken
all mythology dumb;--thou most wrinkled diving Sea, the millions of
whose years outnumber even the multitude of thy hoary motions;--thou
omniform and most mysterious Sea, mother of the monsters and the
gods,--whence shine eternal youth?  Still do thy waters hold the
infinite thrill of that Spirit which brooded above their face in the
Beginning!--still is thy quickening breath an elixir unto them that
flee to thee for life,--like the breath of young girls, like the breath
of children, prescribed for the senescent by magicians of
old,--prescribed unto weazened elders in the books of the Wizards.


III

... Eighteen hundred and sixty-seven;--midsummer in the pest-smitten
city of New Orleans.

Heat motionless and ponderous.  The steel-blue of the sky bleached from
the furnace-circle of the horizon;--the lukewarm river ran yellow and
noiseless as a torrent of fluid wax.  Even sounds seemed blunted by the
heaviness of the air;--the rumbling of wheels, the reverberation of
footsteps, fell half-toned upon the ear, like sounds that visit a
dozing brain.

Daily, almost at the same hour, the continuous sense of atmospheric
oppression became thickened;--a packed herd of low-bellying clouds
lumbered up from the Gulf; crowded blackly against the sun; flickered,
thundered, and burst in torrential rain--tepid, perpendicular--and
vanished utterly away.  Then, more furiously than before, the sun
flamed down;--roofs and pavements steamed; the streets seemed to smoke;
the air grew suffocating with vapor; and the luminous city filled with
a faint, sickly odor,--a stale smell, as of dead leaves suddenly
disinterred from wet mould,--as of grasses decomposing after a flood.
Something saffron speckled the slimy water of the gutters; sulphur some
called it; others feared even to give it a name!  Was it only the
wind-blown pollen of some innocuous plant?

I do not know; but to many it seemed as if the Invisible Destruction
were scattering visible seed! ...  Such were the days; and each day the
terror-stricken city offered up its hecatomb to death; and the faces of
all the dead were yellow as flame!

"DECEDE--"; "DECEDEE--"; "FALLECIO;"--"DIED." ... On the door-posts,
the telegraph-poles, the pillars of verandas, the lamps,--over the
government letter-boxes,--everywhere glimmered the white annunciations
of death.  All the city was spotted with them.  And lime was poured
into the gutters; and huge purifying fires were kindled after sunset.

The nights began with a black heat;--there were hours when the acrid
air seemed to ferment for stagnation, and to burn the bronchial
tubing;--then, toward morning, it would grow chill with venomous
vapors, with morbific dews,--till the sun came up to lift the torpid
moisture, and to fill the buildings with oven-glow.  And the
interminable procession of mourners and hearses and carriages again
began to circulate between the centres of life and of death;--and long
trains and steamships rushed from the port, with heavy burden of
fugitives.

Wealth might flee; yet even in flight there was peril.  Men, who might
have been saved by the craft of experienced nurses at home, hurriedly
departed in apparent health, unconsciously carrying in their blood the
toxic principle of a malady unfamiliar to physicians of the West and
North;--and they died upon their way, by the road-side, by the
river-banks, in woods, in deserted stations, on the cots of quarantine
hospitals.  Wiser those who sought refuge in the purity of the pine
forests, or in those near Gulf Islands, whence the bright sea-breath
kept ever sweeping back the expanding poison into the funereal swamps,
into the misty lowlands.  The watering-resorts became
overcrowded;--then the fishing villages were thronged,--at least all
which were easy to reach by steamboat or by lugger.  And at last, even
Viosca's Point,--remote and unfamiliar as it was,--had a stranger to
shelter:  a good old gentleman named Edwards, rather broken down in
health--who came as much for quiet as for sea-air, and who had been
warmly recommended to Feliu by Captain Harris.  For some years he had
been troubled by a disease of the heart.

Certainly the old invalid could not have found a more suitable place so
far as rest and quiet were concerned.  The season had early given such
little promise that several men of the Point betook themselves
elsewhere; and the aged visitor had two or three vacant cabins from
among which to select a dwelling-place. He chose to occupy the most
remote of all, which Carmen furnished for him with a cool moss bed and
some necessary furniture,--including a big wooden rocking-chair.  It
seemed to him very comfortable thus.  He took his meals with the
family, spent most of the day in his own quarters, spoke very little,
and lived so unobtrusively and inconspicuously that his presence in the
settlement was felt scarcely more than that of some dumb
creature,--some domestic animal,--some humble pet whose relation to the
family is only fully comprehended after it has failed to appear for
several days in its accustomed place of patient waiting,--and we know
that it is dead.


IV.

Persistently and furiously, at half-past two o'clock of an August
morning, Sparicio rang Dr. La Brierre's night-bell.  He had fifty
dollars in his pocket, and a letter to deliver.  He was to earn another
fifty dollars--deposited in Feliu's hands,--by bringing the Doctor to
Viosca's Point.  He had risked his life for that money,--and was
terribly in earnest.

Julien descended in his under-clothing, and opened the letter by the
light of the hall lamp.  It enclosed a check for a larger fee than he
had ever before received, and contained an urgent request that he would
at once accompany Sparicio to Viosca's Point,--as the sender was in
hourly danger of death.  The letter, penned in a long, quavering hand,
was signed,--"Henry Edwards."

His father's dear old friend!  Julien could not refuse to go,--though
he feared it was a hopeless case.  Angina pectoris,--and a third attack
at seventy years of age!  Would it even be possible to reach the
sufferer's bedside in time?  "Due giorno,--con vento,"--said Sparicio.
Still, he must go; and at once.  It was Friday morning;--might reach
the Point Saturday night, with a good wind ... He roused his
housekeeper, gave all needful instructions, prepared his little
medicine-chest;--and long before the first rose-gold fire of day had
flashed to the city spires, he was sleeping the sleep of exhaustion in
the tiny cabin of a fishing-sloop.

... For eleven years Julien had devoted himself, heart and soul, to the
exercise of that profession he had first studied rather as a polite
accomplishment than as a future calling.  In the unselfish pursuit of
duty he had found the only possible consolation for his irreparable
loss; and when the war came to sweep away his wealth, he entered the
struggle valorously, not to strive against men, but to use his science
against death.  After the passing of that huge shock, which left all
the imposing and splendid fabric of Southern feudalism wrecked forever,
his profession stood him in good stead;--he found himself not only able
to supply those personal wants he cared to satisfy, but also to
alleviate the misery of many whom he had known in days of
opulence;--the princely misery that never doffed its smiling mask,
though living in secret, from week to week, on bread and orange-leaf
tea;--the misery that affected condescension in accepting an invitation
to dine,--staring at the face of a watch (refused by the Mont-de-Piete)
with eyes half blinded by starvation;--the misery which could afford
but one robe for three marriageable daughters,--one plain dress to be
worn in turn by each of them, on visiting days;--the pretty
misery--young, brave, sweet,--asking for a "treat" of cakes too
jocosely to have its asking answered,--laughing and coquetting with its
well-fed wooers, and crying for hunger after they were gone.  Often and
often, his heart had pleaded against his purse for such as these, and
won its case in the silent courts of Self.  But ever mysteriously the
gift came,--sometimes as if from the hand of a former slave; sometimes
as from a remorseful creditor, ashamed to write his name.  Only yellow
Victorine knew; but the Doctor's housekeeper never opened those
sphinx-lips of hers, until years after the Doctor's name had
disappeared from the City Directory...

He had grown quite thin,--a little gray.  The epidemic had burthened
him with responsibilities too multifarious and ponderous for his
slender strength to bear.  The continual nervous strain of abnormally
protracted duty, the perpetual interruption of sleep, had almost
prostrated even his will.  Now he only hoped that, during this brief
absence from the city, he might find renewed strength to do his
terrible task.

Mosquitoes bit savagely; and the heat became thicker;--and there was
yet no wind.  Sparicio and his hired boy Carmelo had been walking
backward and forward for hours overhead,--urging the vessel yard by
yard, with long poles, through the slime of canals and bayous.  With
every heavy push, the weary boy would sigh out,--"Santo Antonio!--Santo
Antonio!"  Sullen Sparicio himself at last burst into vociferations of
ill-humor:--"Santo Antonio?--Ah! santissimu e santu diavulu! ...
Sacramentu paescite vegnu un asidente!--malidittu lu Signuri!"  All
through the morning they walked and pushed, trudged and sighed and
swore; and the minutes dragged by more wearily than the shuffling of
their feet.  "Managgia Cristo co tutta a croce!" ... "Santissimu e
santu diavulu!" ...

But as they reached at last the first of the broad bright lakes, the
heat lifted, the breeze leaped up, the loose sail flapped and filled;
and, bending graciously as a skater, the old San Marco began to shoot
in a straight line over the blue flood.  Then, while the boy sat at the
tiller, Sparicio lighted his tiny charcoal furnace below, and prepared
a simple meal,--delicious yellow macaroni, flavored with goats' cheese;
some fried fish, that smelled appetizingly; and rich black coffee, of
Oriental fragrance and thickness.  Julien ate a little, and lay down to
sleep again.  This time his rest was undisturbed by the mosquitoes; and
when he woke, in the cooling evening, he felt almost refreshed.  The
San Marco was flying into Barataria Bay. Already the lantern in the
lighthouse tower had begun to glow like a little moon; and right on the
rim of the sea, a vast and vermilion sun seemed to rest his chin.  Gray
pelicans came flapping around the mast;--sea-birds sped hurtling by,
their white bosoms rose-flushed by the western glow ... Again
Sparicio's little furnace was at work,--more fish, more macaroni, more
black coffee; also a square-shouldered bottle of gin made its
appearance.  Julien ate less sparingly at this second meal; and smoked
a long time on deck with Sparicio, who suddenly became very
good-humored, and chatted volubly in bad Spanish, and in much worse
English.  Then while the boy took a few hours' sleep, the Doctor helped
delightedly in maneuvering the little vessel. He had been a good
yachtsman in other years; and Sparicio declared he would make a good
fisherman.  By midnight the San Marco began to run with a long,
swinging gait;--she had reached deep water.  Julien slept soundly; the
steady rocking of the sloop seemed to soothe his nerves.

--"After all," he thought to himself, as he rose from his little bunk
next morning,--"something like this is just what I needed." ... The
pleasant scent of hot coffee greeted him;--Carmelo was handing him the
tin cup containing it, down through the hatchway.  After drinking it he
felt really hungry;--he ate more macaroni than he had ever eaten
before. Then, while Sparicio slept, he aided Carmelo; and during the
middle of the day he rested again.  He had not had so much
uninterrupted repose for many a week.  He fancied he could feel himself
getting strong.  At supper-time it seemed to him he could not get
enough to eat,--although there was plenty for everybody.

All day long there had been exactly the same wave-crease distorting the
white shadow of the San Marco's sail upon the blue water;--all day long
they had been skimming over the liquid level of a world so jewel-blue
that the low green ribbon-strips of marsh land, the far-off fleeing
lines of pine-yellow sand beach, seemed flaws or breaks in the
perfected color of the universe;--all day long had the cloudless sky
revealed through all its exquisite transparency that inexpressible
tenderness which no painter and no poet can ever reimage,--that
unutterable sweetness which no art of man may ever shadow forth, and
which none may ever comprehend,--though we feel it to be in some
strange way akin to the luminous and unspeakable charm that makes us
wonder at the eyes of a woman when she loves.

Evening came; and the great dominant celestial tone deepened;--the
circling horizon filled with ghostly tints,--spectral greens and grays,
and pearl-lights and fish-colors ... Carmelo, as he crouched at the
tiller, was singing, in a low, clear alto, some tristful little melody.
Over the sea, behind them, lay, black-stretching, a long low arm of
island-shore;--before them flamed the splendor of sun-death; they were
sailing into a mighty glory,--into a vast and awful light of gold.

Shading his vision with his fingers, Sparicio pointed to the long lean
limb of land from which they were fleeing, and said to La Brierre:--

--"Look-a, Doct-a! Last-a Islan'!"

Julien knew it;--he only nodded his head in reply, and looked the other
way,--into the glory of God.  Then, wishing to divert the fisherman's
attention to another theme, he asked what was Carmelo singing.
Sparicio at once shouted to the lad:--

--"Ha! ... ho! Carmelo!--Santu diavulu! ... Sing-a loud-a! Doct-a
lik-a! Sing-a! sing!" .... "He sing-a nicee,"--added the boatman, with
his peculiar dark smile.  And then Carmelo sang, loud and clearly, the
song he had been singing before,--one of those artless Mediterranean
ballads, full of caressing vowel-sounds, and young passion, and
melancholy beauty:--

  "M'ama ancor, belta fulgente,
  Come tu m'amasti allor;--
  Ascoltar non dei gente,
  Solo interroga il tuo cor." ...

--"He sing-a nicee,--mucha bueno!" murmured the fisherman.  And then,
suddenly,--with a rich and splendid basso that seemed to thrill every
fibre of the planking,--Sparicio joined in the song:--

  "M'ama pur d'amore eterno,
  Ne deilitto sembri a te;
  T'assicuro che l'inferno
  Una favola sol e." ...

All the roughness of the man was gone!  To Julien's startled fancy, the
fishers had ceased to be;--lo! Carmelo was a princely page; Sparicio, a
king! How perfectly their voices married together!--they sang with
passion, with power, with truth, with that wondrous natural art which
is the birthright of the rudest Italian soul.  And the stars throbbed
out in the heaven; and the glory died in the west; and the night opened
its heart; and the splendor of the eternities fell all about them.
Still they sang; and the San Marco sped on through the soft gloom, ever
slightly swerved by the steady blowing of the southeast wind in her
sail;--always wearing the same crimpling-frill of wave-spray about her
prow,--always accompanied by the same smooth-backed swells,--always
spinning out behind her the same long trail of interwoven foam.  And
Julien looked up.  Ever the night thrilled more and more with silent
twinklings;--more and more multitudinously lights pointed in the
eternities;--the Evening Star quivered like a great drop of liquid
white fire ready to fall;--Vega flamed as a pharos lighting the courses
ethereal,--to guide the sailing of the suns, and the swarming of fleets
of worlds.  Then the vast sweetness of that violet night entered into
his blood,--filled him with that awful joy, so near akin to sadness,
which the sense of the Infinite brings,--when one feels the poetry of
the Most Ancient and Most Excellent of Poets, and then is smitten at
once with the contrast-thought of the sickliness and selfishness of
Man,--of the blindness and brutality of cities, whereinto the divine
blue light never purely comes, and the sanctification of the Silences
never descends ... furious cities, walled away from heaven ... Oh! if
one could only sail on thus always, always through such a
night--through such a star-sprinkled violet light, and hear Sparicio
and Carmelo sing, even though it were the same melody always, always
the same song!

... "Scuza, Doct-a!--look-a out!" Julien bent down, as the big boom,
loosened, swung over his head.  The San Marco was rounding into
shore,--heading for her home.  Sparicio lifted a huge conch-shell from
the deck, put it to his lips, filled his deep lungs, and flung out into
the night--thrice--a profound, mellifluent, booming horn-tone.  A
minute passed.  Then, ghostly faint, as an echo from very far away, a
triple blowing responded...

And a long purple mass loomed and swelled into sight, heightened,
approached--land and trees black-shadowing, and lights that swung ...
The San Marco glided into a bayou,--under a high wharfing of timbers,
where a bearded fisherman waited, and a woman.  Sparicio flung up a
rope.

The bearded man caught it by the lantern-light, and tethered the San
Marco to her place.  Then he asked, in a deep voice:

--"Has traido al Doctor?"

--"Si, si!" answered Sparicio... "Y el viejo?"

--"Aye! pobre!" responded Feliu,--"hace tres dias que esta muerto."

Henry Edwards was dead!

He had died very suddenly, without a cry or a word, while resting in
his rocking-chair,--the very day after Sparicio had sailed. They had
made him a grave in the marsh,--among the high weeds, not far from the
ruined tomb of the Spanish fisherman.  But Sparicio had fairly earned
his hundred dollars.


V.

So there was nothing to do at Viosca's Point except to rest. Feliu and
all his men were going to Barataria in the morning on business;--the
Doctor could accompany them there, and take the Grand Island steamer
Monday for New Orleans.  With this intention Julien retired,--not sorry
for being able to stretch himself at full length on the good bed
prepared for him, in one of the unoccupied cabins.  But he woke before
day with a feeling of intense prostration, a violent headache, and such
an aversion for the mere idea of food that Feliu's invitation to
breakfast at five o'clock gave him an internal qualm.  Perhaps a touch
of malaria.  In any case he felt it would be both dangerous and useless
to return to town unwell; and Feliu, observing his condition, himself
advised against the journey.  Wednesday he would have another
opportunity to leave; and in the meanwhile Carmen would take good care
of him ... The boats departed, and Julien slept again.

The sun was high when he rose up and dressed himself, feeling no
better.  He would have liked to walk about the place, but felt
nervously afraid of the sun.  He did not remember having ever felt so
broken down before.  He pulled a rocking-chair to the window, tried to
smoke a cigar.  It commenced to make him feel still sicker, and he
flung it away.  It seemed to him the cabin was swaying, as the San
Marco swayed when she first reached the deep water.

A light rustling sound approached,--a sound of quick feet treading the
grass:  then a shadow slanted over the threshold. In the glow of the
open doorway stood a young girl,--gracile, tall,--with singularly
splendid eyes,--brown eyes peeping at him from beneath a golden riot of
loose hair.

--"M'sieu-le-Docteur, maman d'mande si vous n'avez besoin d'que'que
chose?" ... She spoke the rude French of the fishing villages, where
the language lives chiefly as a baragouin, mingled often with words and
forms belonging to many other tongues.  She wore a loose-falling dress
of some light stuff, steel-gray in color;--boys' shoes were on her feet.

He did not reply;--and her large eyes grew larger for wonder at the
strange fixed gaze of the physician, whose face had visibly
bleached,--blanched to corpse-pallor.  Silent seconds passed; and still
the eyes stared--flamed as if the life of the man had centralized and
focussed within them.

His voice had risen to a cry in his throat, quivered and swelled one
passionate instant, and failed--as in a dream when one strives to call,
and yet can only moan ... She!  Her unforgotten eyes, her brows, her
lips!--the oval of her face!--the dawn-light of her hair! ... Adele's
own poise,--her own grace!--even the very turn of her neck, even the
bird-tone of her speech! ... Had the grave sent forth a Shadow to haunt
him?--could the perfidious Sea have yielded up its dead?  For one
terrible fraction of a minute, memories, doubts, fears, mad fancies,
went pulsing through his brain with a rush like the rhythmic throbbing
of an electric stream;--then the shock passed, the Reason
spoke:--"Fool!--count the long years since you first saw her
thus!--count the years that have gone since you looked upon her last!
And Time has never halted, silly heart!--neither has Death stood still!"

... "Plait-il?"--the clear voice of the young girl asked.  She thought
he had made some response she could not distinctly hear.

Mastering himself an instant, as the heart faltered back to its duty,
and the color remounted to his lips, he answered her in French:--

"Pardon me!--I did not hear ... you gave me such a start!" ... But even
then another extraordinary fancy flashed through his thought;--and with
the tutoiement of a parent to a child, with an irresistible outburst of
such tenderness as almost frightened her, he cried:  "Oh! merciful
God!--how like her! ... Tell me, darling, your name; ... tell me who
you are?" (Dis-moi qui tu es, mignonne;--dis-moi ton nom.)

... Who was it had asked her the same question, in another idiom ever
so long ago?  The man with the black eyes and nose like an eagle's
beak,--the one who gave her the compass.  Not this man--no!

She answered, with the timid gravity of surprise:--

--"Chita Viosca"

He still watched her face, and repeated the name slowly,--reiterated it
in a tone of wonderment:--"Chita Viosca?--Chita Viosca!"

--"C'est a dire ..." she said, looking down at her
feet,--"Concha--Conchita."  His strange solemnity made her smile,--the
smile of shyness that knows not what else to do.  But it was the smile
of dead Adele.

--"Thanks, my child," he exclaimed of a sudden,--in a quick, hoarse,
changed tone.  (He felt that his emotion would break loose in some wild
way, if he looked upon her longer.) "I would like to see your mother
this evening; but I now feel too ill to go out.  I am going to try to
rest a little."

--"Nothing I can bring you?" she asked,--"some fresh milk?"

--"Nothing now, dear:  if I need anything later, I will tell your
mother when she comes."

--"Mamma does not understand French very well."

--"No importa, Conchita;--le hablare en Espanol."

--"Bien, entonces!" she responded, with the same exquisite smile.
"Adios, senor!" ...

But as she turned in going, his piercing eye discerned a little brown
speck below the pretty lobe of her right ear,--just in the peachy curve
between neck and cheek.... His own little Zouzoune had a birthmark like
that!--he remembered the faint pink trace left by his fingers above and
below it the day he had slapped her for overturning his ink bottle ...
"To laimin moin?--to batte moin!"

"Chita!--Chita!"

She did not hear ... After all, what a mistake he might have made!
Were not Nature's coincidences more wonderful than fiction?  Better to
wait,--to question the mother first, and thus make sure.

Still--there were so many coincidences!  The face, the smile, the eyes,
the voice, the whole charm;--then that mark,--and the fair hair.
Zouzoune had always resembled Adele so strangely! That golden hair was
a Scandinavian bequest to the Florane family;--the tall daughter of a
Norwegian sea captain had once become the wife of a Florane.
Viosca?--who ever knew a Viosca with such hair?  Yet again, these
Spanish emigrants sometimes married blonde German girls ... Might be a
case of atavism, too. Who was this Viosca?  If that was his wife,--the
little brown Carmen,--whence Chita's sunny hair?  ...

And this was part of that same desolate shore whither the Last Island
dead had been drifted by that tremendous surge!  On a clear day, with a
good glass, one might discern from here the long blue streak of that
ghastly coast ... Somewhere--between here and there ... Merciful God!
...

... But again!  That bivouac-night before the fight at
Chancellorsville, Laroussel had begun to tell him such a singular story
... Chance had brought them,--the old enemies,--together; made them
dear friends in the face of Death.  How little he had comprehended the
man!--what a brave, true, simple soul went up that day to the Lord of
Battles! ... What was it--that story about the little Creole girl saved
from Last Island,--that story which was never finished?  ... Eh! what a
pain!

Evidently he had worked too much, slept too little.  A decided case of
nervous prostration.  He must lie down, and try to sleep.

These pains in the head and back were becoming unbearable. Nothing but
rest could avail him now.

He stretched himself under the mosquito curtain.  It was very still,
breathless, hot! The venomous insects were thick;--they filled the room
with a continuous ebullient sound, as if invisible kettles were boiling
overhead.  A sign of storm.... Still, it was strange!--he could not
perspire ...

Then it seemed to him that Laroussel was bending over him--Laroussel in
his cavalry uniform.  "Bon jour, camarade!--nous allons avoir un bien
mauvais temps, mon pauvre Julien."  How! bad weather?--"Comment un
mauvais temps?" ... He looked in Laroussel's face.  There was something
so singular in his smile.  Ah! yes,--he remembered now:  it was the
wound! ... "Un vilain temps!" whispered Laroussel.  Then he was gone
... Whither?

--"Cheri!" ...

The whisper roused him with a fearful start ... Adele's whisper! So she
was wont to rouse him sometimes in the old sweet nights,--to crave some
little attention for ailing Eulalie,--to make some little confidence
she had forgotten to utter during the happy evening ... No, no! It was
only the trees.  The sky was clouding over.  The wind was rising ...
How his heart beat! how his temples pulsed!  Why, this was fever! Such
pains in the back and head!

Still his skin was dry,--dry as parchment,--burning.  He rose up; and a
bursting weight of pain at the base of the skull made him reel like a
drunken man.  He staggered to the little mirror nailed upon the wall,
and looked.  How his eyes glowed;--and there was blood in his mouth!
He felt his pulse spasmodic, terribly rapid.  Could it possibly--?  ...
No:  this must be some pernicious malarial fever!  The Creole does not
easily fall a prey to the great tropical malady,--unless after a long
absence in other climates.  True! he had been four years in the army!
But this was 1867 ... He hesitated a moment; then,--opening his
medicine chest, he measured out and swallowed thirty grains of quinine.

Then he lay down again.  His head pained more and more;--it seemed as
if the cervical vertebrae were filled with fluid iron. And still his
skin remained dry as if tanned.  Then the anguish grew so intense as to
force a groan with almost every aspiration ... Nausea,--and the
stinging bitterness of quinine rising in his throat;--dizziness, and a
brutal wrenching within his stomach. Everything began to look
pink;--the light was rose-colored.  It darkened more,--kindled with
deepening tint.  Something kept sparkling and spinning before his
sight, like a firework ... Then a burst of blood mixed with chemical
bitterness filled his mouth; the light became scarlet as claret ...
This--this was ... not malaria ...


VI.

... Carmen knew what it was; but the brave little woman was not afraid
of it.  Many a time before she had met it face to face, in Havanese
summers; she knew how to wrestle with it; she had torn Feliu's life
away from its yellow clutch, after one of those long struggles that
strain even the strength of love.  Now she feared mostly for Chita.
She had ordered the girl under no circumstances to approach the cabin.

Julien felt that blankets had been heaped upon him,--that some gentle
hand was bathing his scorching face with vinegar and water.  Vaguely
also there came to him the idea that it was night.  He saw the
shadow-shape of a woman moving against the red light upon the wall;--he
saw there was a lamp burning.

Then the delirium seized him:  he moaned, sobbed, cried like a
child,--talked wildly at intervals in French, in English, in Spanish.

--"Mentira!--you could not be her mother ... Still, if you were--And
she must not come in here,--jamais! ... Carmen, did you know
Adele,--Adele Florane?  So like her,--so like,--God only knows how
like! ... Perhaps I think I know;--but I do not--do not know justly,
fully--how like! ... Si! si!--es el vomito!--yo lo conozco, Carmen! ...
She must not die twice ... I died twice ... I am going to die again.
She only once.  Till the heavens be no more she will not rise ... Moi,
au contraire, il faut que je me leve toujours! They need me so
much;--the slate is always full; the bell will never stop.  They will
ring that bell for me when I am dead ... So will I rise
again!--resurgam! ... How could I save him?--could not save myself.  It
was a bad case,--at seventy years! ... There! Qui ca?" ...

He saw Laroussel again,--reaching out a hand to him through a whirl of
red smoke.  He tried to grasp it, and could not ... "N'importe, mon
ami," said Laroussel,--"tu vas la voir bientot." Who was he to see
soon?--"qui done, Laroussel?"  But Laroussel did not answer.  Through
the red mist he seemed to smile;--then passed.

For some hours Carmen had trusted she could save her
patient,--desperate as the case appeared to be.  His was one of those
rapid and violent attacks, such as often despatch their victims in a
single day.  In the Cuban hospitals she had seen many and many terrible
examples:  strong young men,--soldiers fresh from Spain,--carried
panting to the fever wards at sunrise; carried to the cemeteries at
sunset.  Even troopers riddled with revolutionary bullets had lingered
longer ... Still, she had believed she might save Julien's life:  the
burning forehead once began to bead, the burning hands grew moist.

But now the wind was moaning;--the air had become lighter, thinner,
cooler.  A stone was gathering in the east; and to the fever-stricken
man the change meant death ... Impossible to bring the priest of the
Caminada now; and there was no other within a day's sail.  She could
only pray; she had lost all hope in her own power to save.

Still the sick man raved; but he talked to himself at longer intervals,
and with longer pauses between his words;--his voice was growing more
feeble, his speech more incoherent.  His thought vacillated and
distorted, like flame in a wind.

Weirdly the past became confounded with the present; impressions of
sight and of sound interlinked in fastastic affinity,--the face of
Chita Viosca, the murmur of the rising storm.  Then flickers of
spectral lightning passed through his eyes, through his brain, with
every throb of the burning arteries; then utter darkness came,--a
darkness that surged and moaned, as the circumfluence of a shadowed
sea.  And through and over the moaning pealed one multitudinous human
cry, one hideous interblending of shoutings and shriekings ... A
woman's hand was locked in his own ... "Tighter," he muttered, "tighter
still, darling! hold as long as you can!"  It was the tenth night of
August, eighteen hundred and fifty-six ...

--"Cheri!"

Again the mysterious whisper startled him to consciousness,--the dim
knowledge of a room filled with ruby colored light,--and the sharp odor
of vinegar.  The house swung round slowly;--the crimson flame of the
lamp lengthened and broadened by turns;--then everything turned dizzily
fast,--whirled as if spinning in a vortex ... Nausea unutterable; and a
frightful anguish as of teeth devouring him within,--tearing more and
more furiously at his breast.  Then one atrocious wrenching, rending,
burning,--and the gush of blood burst from lips and nostrils in a
smothering deluge.  Again the vision of lightnings, the swaying, and
the darkness of long ago.  "Quick!--quick!--hold fast to the table,
Adele!--never let go!" ...

... Up,--up,--up!--what! higher yet?  Up to the red sky! Red--black-red
... heated iron when its vermilion dies.  So, too, the frightful flood!
And noiseless.  Noiseless because heavy, clammy,--thick, warm,
sickening--blood?  Well might the land quake for the weight of such a
tide!--Why did Adele speak Spanish?  Who prayed for him?  ...

--"Alma de Cristo santisima santificame!

"Sangre de Cristo, embriagame!

"O buen Jesus, oye me!" ...

Out of the darkness into--such a light!  An azure haze! Ah!--the
delicious frost! ... All the streets were filled with the sweet blue
mist ... Voiceless the City and white;--crooked and weed grown its
narrow ways! ... Old streets of tombs, these ... Eh! How odd a
custom!--a Night-bell at every door.  Yes, of course!--a
night-bell!--the Dead are Physicians of Souls:  they may be summoned
only by night,--called up from the darkness and silence ... Yet
she?--might he not dare to ring for her even by day? ........ Strange
he had deemed it day!--why, it was black, starless ... And it was
growing queerly cold ...... How should he ever find her now?   It was
so black ... so cold! ...

--"Cheri!"

All the dwelling quivered with the mighty whisper.

Outside, the great oaks were trembling to their roots;--all the shore
shook and blanched before the calling of the sea.

And Carmen, kneeling at the feet of the dead, cried out, alone in the
night:--

--"O Jesus misericordioso!--tened compasion de el!"





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