A GLANCE AT NEW ORLEANS SOCIETY
The house which Dr. Lacey occupied was situated on one of the pleasantest streets of New Orleans. It was a large, airy structure, which had formerly been owned by a wealthy French gentleman who had spared neither money nor pains to adorn it with every elegance which could minister to the luxurious habits common to a Southern clime. When it passed into the hands of Dr. Lacey's father, he gratified his Northern taste, and fitted it up with every possible convenience, molding its somewhat ancient aspect into a more modern style.
When Dr. Lacey reached the age of twenty-one, his father made him the owner of the house, he himself removing to another part of the city. At the time of which we are speaking, nothing could exceed the beauty of the house and grounds.
The yard which surrounded the building was large, and laid out with all the taste of a perfect connoisseur. In its center was a fountain, whose limpid waters fell into a large marble basin, while the spray which constantly arose from the falling stream seemed to render the heat of that sultry climate less oppressive. Scattered throughout the yard were the numerous trees and flowering shrubs which grow in profusion at the "sunny South." Here the beautiful magnolia shook its white blossoms in the evening breeze, and there the dark green foliage of the orange trees formed an effectual screen from the mid-day sun.
The building was surrounded on all sides by a double piazza, the slender pillars of which were entwined by the flowering honeysuckle and luxuriant passion-flower, which gave the house the appearance of a closely wreathed arbor. Within the piazza was filled with rare tropical plants. The beautiful oleander, magnificent rose and sweet-scented geranium, here united their fragrance, while the scarlet verbenum and brilliant heliotrope added beauty to the scene.
The interior of the building corresponded with the exterior. The rooms, large and airy, were carpeted with velvet, and adorned with costly marble and rosewood furniture. The windows, which were constructed in the French style, that is, reaching to the floor, were curtained with richly-embroidered lace. Let us ascend the winding staircase, and enter the dressing room of the owner of all this splendor.
Half reclining on a crimson lounge sits Dr. Lacey, dressed in a fashionable brocade morning gown. On first glancing at him we think there is no change in his countenance since we last saw him on Mrs. Crane's steps in Frankfort, but as we note the expression of his face we can perceive a shade of anxiety resting there. At last he rises and rather impatiently pulls the bell rope.
His summons is immediately answered by an exquisite dandy, who is neither African, European, French, nor Spanish, but an odd mixture of the four. He is dressed in the extreme of fashion, and on entering the room bows most gracefully, at the same time casting an admiring glance at himself in the large mirror, and passing his hand carelessly through his perfumed locks. With the utmost deference, he awaits the commands of his master.
"Well, Rondeau," said Dr. Lacey, "haven't you finished breakfast yet?"
"Yes, marster," answered Rondeau, with a very low bow. "I've got through a moment since. What can I do for you. Will you ride this morning?"
"No," answered Dr. Lacey, "I do not wish to ride, but I want you to go to the post office and back immediately; remember now, and not stop to gossip."
"Certainly not," said the negro. "When marster's in a hurry, Rondeau is never foolin' away time."
"And don't stop more than an hour in the kitchen to talk to Leffie. Do you understand?" continued the doctor.
"Oh, yes, I won't," said Rondeau, extending his mouth into a broad grin at his master's allusion to Leffie, a bright-looking, handsome, mulatto girl, whom next to himself, Rondeau thought was the prettiest creature in the world.
At last he bowed himself out of the room, and proceeded to execute his master's commands. On passing the kitchen, he "just looked in a little," and the sight of Leffie's bright eyes and rosy lips made him forgetful of his promise. Going up to her, he announced his intention of kissing her. A violent squabble ensued, in which the large china dish which Leffie held in her hand was broken, two pickle jars thrown down, chairs upset, the baby scalded, and the dog Tasso's tail nearly crushed! At last Aunt Dilsey, the head cook and mother of Leffie, interposed, and seizing the soup ladle as the first thing near her, she laid about her right and left, dealing no very gentle blows at the well-oiled hair of Rondeau, who was glad to beat a retreat from the kitchen, amid the loud laughter of the blacks who had witnessed the scene.
Leaving the house he was soon on his way to the post office, and having procured his master's mail he started for home. At length, slackening his pace, he took from his pocket the letters and carefully scrutinized the inscription of each. He was in the habit of going to the post office, and after his master's return from Kentucky, he had noticed two or three letters written in what he called "a mighty fineified hand," and he had whispered to Leffie as a great secret that "'twere his private opinion marster was going to marry some Kentucky girl." Recently he had noticed the absence of those letters, and also the absence of his master's accustomed cheerfulness. Rondeau was pretty keen, and putting the two circumstances together, he again had a whispered conference with Leffie, whom he told that "most probably the Kentucky girl had flunked, for marster hadn't had a letter in ever so long, and every time he didn't get one he looked as blue as a whetstone!"
"Glad on't," said Leffie. "Hope he won't have any your foreigners. Allus did wish he'd have Miss Mortimer. Next to old marster and young marster Lacey, her father's the toppinest man in New Orleans. And it's a pity for young marster to stoop."
After examining all the letters closely, Rondeau came to the conclusion that the right one wasn't there, and he thought, "Well, Leffie'll be glad, and marster'll be sorry, and hang me if I ain't sorry too, for marster's a plaguey fine chap, and desarves anybody there is in Kentucky."
Meanwhile Dr. Lacey was anxiously awaiting Rondeau's return, and when he caught sight of him, coming at an unusually rapid pace toward the house, he thought, "Surely Rondeau would never hurry so if he had not good news for me," but the next thought was, "How should he know what it is I am so anxious to get?" Still he waited rather impatiently for Rondeau to make his appearance. In a moment he entered the room, and commenced pulling the letters from his pocket, saying, "I've got a heap this time, marster."
He then laid them one by one on the marble dressing table, counting them as he did so; "Thar's one, thar's two, thar's three, thar's four."
"Stop counting them, can't you, and give me all you have directly," said Dr. Lacey, as his eye ran hurriedly over the superscription of each, and found not the one he sought.
"That's jist what I've done, marster," said Rondeau, bowing. "The one you want wasn't thar."
Dr. Lacey glanced hastily at his servant, and felt assured that the quick-witted negro was in possession of his secret. "You may go," said he, "and mind, never let me hear of your commenting about my letters."
"No, marster, never; 'strue's I live," said Rondeau, who left the room and went in quest of Leffie. But he did not dare to repeat the scene of the morning, for Aunt Dilsey was present, bending over a large tub of boiling suds, and he felt sure that any misdemeanor on his part would call forth a more affectionate shower bath than he cared about receiving. So he concluded to bring about his purpose by complimenting Aunt Dilsey on her fine figure (she weighed just two hundred!).
"Aunt Dilsey," said he, "'pears to me you have an uncommon good form, for one as plump and healthy-like as you are."
Aunt Dilsey was quite sensitive whenever her size was alluded to, and she replied rather sharply: "You git along, you bar's ile skullcap. 'Twon't be healthy for you to poke fun at me."
"'Pon my word," said the mischievous Rondeau, "I ain't poking fun at you. I do really think so. I thought of it last Sunday, when you had on that new gown, that becomes you so well."
"Which one?" said Aunt Dilsey, a little mollified, "the blue and yaller one?"
"The same," answered Rondeau. "It fits you good. Your arm looks real small in it."
Leffie was nearly convulsed with laughter, for she had tried the experiment, and found that the distance round her mother's arm was just the distance round her own slender waist.
"Do tell!" said Aunt Dilsey, stopping from her work and wiping the drops of perspiration from her shining forehead. "Do tell! It feels drefful sleek on me, but my old man Claib says it's too tight."
"Not an atom too tight," answered Rondeau, at the same time getting nearer and nearer to Leffie, and laying his hand on her shoulder.
Before she was aware of his intention, he stole the kiss he was seeking for. Leffie rewarded him by spitting in his face, while Aunt Dilsey called out, "Ain't you 'shamed to act so, Leffie? Don't make a fool of yourself!"
Assured by this speech, Rondeau turned, and kissing Aunt Dilsey herself, was off just in time to escape a basin of hot suds which that highly-scandalized lady hurled after him.
"I'll tell marster this minute," said she, "and see if he hain't got nothin' to set the lazy lout a-doin'." So saying, the old lady waddled into the house, and going upstairs, knocked at Dr. Lacey's door.
"Come in," said the doctor, and Aunt Dilsey entered. In a very sad tone, she commenced telling how "that 'tarnal Rondeau was raising Cain in the kitchen. He's kissed Leffie, and me too!"
"Kissed you, has he?" said Dr. Lacey.
"Yes, sar, he done that ar very thing, spang on the mouth," said Dilsey.
"Well, Dilsey," said the doctor with a roguish twinkle of the eye, "don't you think he ought to be paid?"
Aunt Dilsey began to cry, and said, "I never thought that marster would laugh at old Aunt Dilsey."
"Neither will I," said the doctor. Then tossing her a picayune, he said, "take that, Aunt Dilsey. I reckon it will pay for the kiss. I'll see that Rondeau does not repeat his offense, on you at least."
Aunt Dilsey went back to the kitchen, thinking that "Marster George was the funniest and best marster on earth."
While Rondeau was carrying on his flirtation in the kitchen, Dr. Lacey was differently employed. Hope deferred had well nigh made his heart sick. "What can be the reason," thought he, "that Fanny does not write? I have written repeatedly for the last two months and have had no answer." Then as a new idea struck him, he added, "Yes, I'll write to Mr. Miller, and ask him what has happened." Suiting the action to the word, he drew up his writing desk, and in a short time a letter was written and directed to Mr. Miller.
He arose to summon Rondeau to take it to the office; but ere he had touched the bell rope, pride whispered, "Don't send that letter; don't let Mr. Miller into your private affairs. If Fanny were sick, some one would write to you."
So the bell was not rung, and during the next half-hour Dr. Lacey amused himself by mechanically tearing it into small fragments. Ah, Dr. Lacey, 'twas a sorry moment when you listened to the whispering of that pride! Had that letter been sent, it would have saved you many sleepless nights of sorrow. But it was not to be.
That night there was to be a large party at the house of Mr. Mortimer, whom Leffie had mentioned as second to the Laceys in wealth. Mr. Mortimer was the uncle at whose house Florence Woodburn was visiting, and the party was given in honor of her arrival, and partly to celebrate Mabel Mortimer's birthday. Mabel was an intelligent, accomplished girl, and besides being something of a beauty, was the heiress expectant of several hundred thousand. This constituted her quite a belle, and for three or four years past she and Dr. Lacey had been given to each other by the clever gossips of New Orleans. Mr. Lacey senior was also rather anxious that his son should marry Mabel; so Julia was not far out of the way when she wrote to Fanny that Dr. Lacey's parents wished to secure a match between him and a New Orleans belle. Had Dr. Lacey never seen Fanny, he possibly might have wedded Mabel. But his was a heart which could love but once, and although the object of his love should prove untrue, his affections could not easily be transferred to another; so that it was all in vain that Mabel Mortimer, on the evening of the party, stood before her mirror arranging and rearranging the long curls of her dark hair and the folds of her rich white satin, wondering all the while if Dr. Lacey would approve her style of dress.
Turning to Florence, she said, "Cousin, did you see Dr. Lacey while he was in Frankfort?"
"No; I did not," answered Florence; "but I do hope he will be here tonight, for I am all impatient to see this lion who has turned all your heads."
A slight shade of displeasure passed over Mabel's fine features, but quickly casting it off she said, "Why are you so anxious, Florence? Have you any designs on him? If you have, they will do you no good, for I have a prior claim, and you must not interfere."
"Dear me, how charmingly you look!" said Florence. "But, fair coz, do not be too sanguine. Suppose I should tell you that far off in old Kentuck, as the negroes say, there is a golden-haired little girl, who has--"
"Stop, stop," said Mabel. "You shall not tell me. I will not hear it."
At that instant the doorbell rang, and in a moment several young girls entered the dressing room, and in the chattering and laughing and fixing which followed, Mabel forgot what her cousin had been saying. After a time the young ladies descended to the spacious drawing rooms, which were rapidly filling with the elite of the city.
Mabel's eye took in at a glance all the gentlemen, and she felt chagrined to find Dr. Lacey absent. "What if he should not come?" thought she. "The party would be a dreadfully dull affair to me." Some time after, she missed Florence and two or three other girls, and thinking they were in the parlor above, she went in search of them. She found them on the balcony not far from the gentlemen's dressing room, the windows of which were open. As she approached them, they called out, "Oh, here you are, Mabel! Florence is just going to tell us about Dr. Lacey's sweetheart."
"Dr. Lacey's sweetheart!" repeated Mabel. "Who is Dr. Lacey's sweetheart, pray?"
"Do not blush so, Mabel; we do not mean you," said Lida Gibson, a bright-eyed, witty girl, with a sprinkling of malice in her nature.
"Of course you do not mean me," said Mabel, laughingly. "But come, cousin; what of her?" And the young girls drew nearer to each other, and waited anxiously for Florence's story.
Little did they suspect that another individual, with flushed brow, compressed lip and beating heart was listening to hear tidings of her whom Florence had designated as his sweetheart. Dr. Lacey had entered the gentlemen's dressing room unobserved. He heard the sound of merry voices on the balcony, and was about to step out and surprise the girls when he caught the sound of his own name coupled with that of Fanny Middleton. His curiosity was aroused and he became a listener to the following conversation:
"Come, Florence," said Lida, "do not keep us in suspense any longer. Tell us whether she is black or white, fat or lean, rich or poor."
"But first," said Mabel, "tell us how you know she is anything to Dr. Lacey."
"That is what I don't know," said Florence. "I am only speaking of what has been."
"Well, then," said Mabel, more gayly, "go on,"
"This Fanny Middleton," said Florence, "looks just as you would imagine a bright angel to look."
How Dr. Lacey blessed her for these words.
"But," continued Florence, "there is a singularly sad expression on her marble face."
"I never observed it," thought Dr. Lacey.
"What makes her sad?" asked Lida.
"That is a mystery to me," answered Florence. "Report says that she loved a Mr. Wilmot, who was engaged to her sister."
"Engaged to her sister!" repeated Mabel. "How strange! But won't it make trouble?"
"It cannot," said Florence. "Mr. Wilmot is dead, and it is whispered that Fanny's heart was buried with him. I should not be surprised if it were so, for Fanny has the saddest face I ever saw. It made me want to cry when I looked at her. I should have pitied her more, however, had she not been so well cared for by a Mr. Stanton, of New York."
Large drops of perspiration stood thickly on Dr. Lacey's forehead, and his hands, convulsively clasped, were pressed against his heart; still he did not lose a syllable as Florence continued, "I did not blame her for liking Stanton, for he would break half your hearts and turn the rest of you crazy."
"But the sister," asked all the young ladies, "how was she affected to think Fanny loved her betrothed?"
"Oh, that sister!" said Florence. "You ought to see her! She is beautiful beyond anything I can describe. She eclipsed everything and everybody."
"And she is as agreeable as handsome?" asked Mabel, whose fears were aroused that Julia might be the rival, instead of Fanny.
Florence replied, "I was told that she was formerly very passionate, so much so that her father nicknamed her Tempest. Within a few months she has entirely changed, and is now very amiable; but I like Fanny's looks the best."
"But Dr. Lacey--what had he to do with Fanny?" asked Lida.
"It was said they were engaged; but I do not think they are. In fact, I know they are not, from what Fanny said herself; for she assured me that Dr. Lacey was nothing to her more than a common acquaintance; and the sad but sweet smile which broke over her face whenever she raised, her soft blue eyes to Stanton's animated countenance confirmed what she said."
"So, Mabel, you can have the doctor after all," said Lida. "You know you used to say that it was all settled, for your parents and his had arranged it."
Dr. Lacey waited for no more. He knew of a back stairway down which he could escape into the open air unobserved. In a moment he stood alone in Mr. Mortimer's garden, but the evening breeze, although it cooled his brow, failed to calm his excited feelings. Suddenly it occurred to him that his absence from Mr. Mortimer's would excite attention in those who saw him enter, so he made a desperate effort to be calm, and retracing his steps, was soon in the drawing room with Mabel Mortimer on his arm, much to that young lady's satisfaction.
As they passed near a group of girls, in the center of which stood Florence Woodburn, Mabel suddenly said, "Oh, Dr. Lacey, let me introduce you to cousin Florence. She has just come from Frankfort and knows some of your acquaintances there."
So saying, she drew him toward Florence, who had all the evening been waiting for an introduction to him. Dr. Lacey rather wished to avoid making Florence's acquaintance, fearing that she might say something to him of Fanny. But there was no escape, and he greeted Florence with a smile and a bow, which, to use her own words, "nearly drove every idea from her head."
Once during the evening he found himself standing with Florence, alone, near an open window. Florence improved her opportunity, and raising her bewitching hazel eyes to the doctor's face, said, "Why do you not ask me about your Kentucky friends, Dr. Lacey?"
Had Florence observed her companion closely, she would have noticed the pallor which for an instant overspread his face. It passed away, and he replied with an assumed gayety, "How should I know that we have any acquaintances in common in Frankfort?"
Before Florence had time to reply, Mabel joined them. She was unwilling to risk a tete-a-tete between the doctor and her fascinating cousin, and as soon as she found them standing alone she went up to them. Her example was followed by several other young ladies, among whom was Lida Gibson, who began by saying, "Doctor, do you know that Miss Florence has told us all about your love affairs, and also described the Golden Fairy? Now, why didn't you fall in love with her sister? Florence says she is far more beautiful."
Dr. Lacey answered calmly, "What reason has Miss Woodburn to think I am in love with either."
"No reason," said Mabel, quickly; "neither does she think you are in love with her either."
"Dear me," said Lida. "Of course you do not wish me to think so, and we all know why; but never mind frowning so dreadfully, Mabel; I won't tell!" and the mischievous girl glided away, laughing to think that she had succeeded so well in teasing Mabel Mortimer.
After a moment, Dr. Lacey turned to Florence and said "It seems you saw Julia Middleton. Do you not think her very handsome?"
"Yes, very," answered Florence; "but I liked Fanny's looks the best."
A pang shot through Dr. Lacey's heart at the mention of Fanny's name, but he continued to inquire concerning his friends in Kentucky. Before the party closed, Florence, Mabel and Lida had each managed to repeat to him all the conversation which he had overheard in the first part of the evening, never once thinking how desolate was the heart which beat beneath the calm manner and gay laugh of him who listened to their thoughtless raillery.
At length the party drew to a close. Dr. Lacey was among the first that left. He longed to be alone with his troubled thoughts. Mechanically bidding Mabel "Good night," he ran down the marble steps, and stepping into his carriage, ordered Claib, the coachman, to drive home as soon as possible. There was no particular necessity for this command, for Claib had been fretting for the last hour about "White folks settin' up all night and keepin' niggers awake. Darned if he didn't run the horses home like Satan, and sleep over next day, too."
With such a driver the horses sped swiftly over the smooth road and in a very few minutes Dr. Lacey was at home, alone in his room. Then the full tide of his sorrow burst forth. He did not weep. He would scorn to do that. But could one have seen him as he hurriedly paced the apartment, he would have said, his was a sorrow which could not vent itself in tears. Occasionally he would whisper to himself, "My Fanny false!--she whom I believed so truthful, so loving, so innocent! And she loves another--one, too, whom it were almost a sin to love. Fool, that I did not see it before, for what but love could have drawn such devotion to him on his deathbed? And yet she assured me that I was the first, the only one, she had ever loved; and I believed it, and gave her the entire affection of my heart."
Then came a reaction. Resentment toward Fanny for thus deceiving him mingling with his grief. But he had loved her too deeply, too truly, to cherish an unkind feeling toward her long. Throwing himself upon the sofa, and burying his face in his hands, he went back in fancy through all the many happy hours he had spent in her society. While doing this sleep descended upon him and in his dreams he saw again his darling Fanny, not false and faithless as he had feared, but arrayed in a spotless bridal robe. She stood by his side as his own wedded wife. Was that dream ever realized? We shall see.