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from Old Creole Days, Part I. (1883),
Charles Scribner's Sons
THAT which in 1835 I think he said thirty-five was a reality in the Rue Burgundy I think he said Burgundy is now but a reminiscence. Yet so vividly was its story told me, that at this moment the old Café des Exilés appears before my eye, floating in the clouds of revery, and I doubt not I see it just as it was in the old times.
An antiquated story-and-a-half Creole cottage sitting right down on the banquette, as do the Choctaw squaws who sell bay and sassafras and life-everlasting, with a high, close board-fence shutting out of view the diminutive garden on the southern side. An ancient willow droops over the roof of round tiles, and partly hides the discolored stucco, which keeps dropping off into the garden as though the old café was stripping for the plunge into oblivion disrobing for its execution. I see, well up in the angle of the broad side gable, shaded by its rude awning of clapboards, as the eyes of an old dame are shaded by her wrinkled hand, the window of Pauline. Oh for the image of the maiden, were it but for one moment, leaning out of the casement to hang her mocking-bird and looking down into the garden, where, above the barrier of old boards, I see the top of the fig-tree, the pale green clump of bananas, the tall palmetto with its jagged crown, Pauline's own two orange-trees holding up their hands toward the window, heavy with the promises of autumn; the broad, crimson mass of the many-stemmed oleander, and the crisp boughs of the pomegranate loaded with freckled apples, and with here and there a lingering scarlet blossom.
The Café des Exilés, to use a figure, flowered, bore fruit, and dropped it long ago or rather Time and Fate, like some uncursed Adam and Eve, came side by side and cut away its clusters, as we sever the golden burden of the banana from its stem; then, like a banana which has borne its fruit, it was razed to the ground and made way for a newer, brighter growth. I believe it would set every tooth on edge should I go by there now, now that I have heard the story, and see the old site covered by the "Shoo-fly Coffee-house." Pleasanter far to close my eyes and call to view the unpretentious portals of the old café, with her children for such those exiles seem to me dragging their rocking-chairs out, and sitting in their wonted group under the long, out-reaching eaves which shaded the banquette of the Rue Burgundy.
It was in 1835 that the Café des Exilés was, as one might say, in full blossom. Old M. D'Hemecourt, father of Pauline and host of the café, himself a refugee from San Domingo, was the cause at least the human cause of its opening. As its white-curtained glazed doors expanded, emitting a little puff of his own cigarette smoke, it was like the bursting of catalpa blossoms, and the exiles came like bees, pushing into the tiny room to sip its rich variety of tropical sirups, its lemonades, its orangeades, its orgeats, its barley-waters, and its outlandish wines, while they talked of dear home that is to say, of Barbadoes, of Martinique, of San Domingo, and of Cuba.
There were Pedro and Benigno, and Fernandez and Francisco, and Benito. Benito was a tall, swarthy man, with immense gray moustachios, and hair as harsh as tropical grass and gray as ashes. When he could spare his cigarette from his lips, he would tell you in a cavernous voice, and with a wrinkled smile, that he was "a-t-thorty-seveng."
There was Martinez of San Domingo, yellow as a canary, always sitting with one leg curled under him, and holding the back of his head in his knitted fingers against the back of his rocking-chair. Father, mother, brother, sisters, all, had been massacred in the struggle of '21 and '22; he alone was left to tell the tale, and told it often, with that strange, infantile insensibility to the solemnity of his bereavement so peculiar to Latin people.
But, besides these, and many who need no mention, there were two in particular, around whom all the story of the Café des Exilés, of old M. D'Hemecourt and of Pauline, turns as on a double centre. First, Manuel Mazaro, whose small, restless eyes were as black and bright as those of a mouse, whose light talk became his dark girlish face, and whose redundant locks curled so prettily and so wonderfully black under the fine white brim of his jaunty Panama. He had the hands of a woman, save that the nails were stained with the smoke of cigarettes. He could play the guitar delightfully, and wore his knife down behind his coat-collar.
The second was "Major" Galahad Shaughnessy. I imagine I can see him, in his white duck, brass-buttoned roundabout, with his sabreless belt peeping out beneath, all his boyishness in his sea-blue eyes, leaning lightly against the door-post of the Café des Exilés as a child leans against his mother, running his fingers over a basketful of fragrant limes, and watching his chance to strike some solemn Creole under the fifth rib with a good old Irish joke.
Old D'Hemecourt drew him close to his bosom. The Spanish Creoles were, as the old man termed it, both cold and hot, but never warm. Major Shaughnessy was warm, and it was no uncommon thing to find those two apart from the others, talking in an undertone, and playing at confidantes like two school-girls. The kind old man was at this time drifting close up to his sixtieth year. There was much he could tell of San Domingo, whither he had been carried from Martinique in his childhood, whence he had become a refugee to Cuba, and thence to New Orleans in the flight of 1809.
It fell one day to Manuel Mazaro's lot to discover, by sauntering within earshot, that to Galahad Shaughnessy only, of all the children of the Café des Exilés, the good host spoke long and confidentially concerning his daughter. The words, half heard and magnified like objects seem in a fog, meaning Manuel Mazaro knew not what, but made portentous by his suspicious nature, were but the old man's recital of the grinding he had got between the millstones of his poverty and his pride, in trying so long to sustain, for little Pauline's sake, that attitude before society which earns respect from a surface-viewing world. It was while he was telling this that Manuel Mazaro drew near; the old man paused in an embarrassed way; the Major, sitting sidewise in his chair, lifted his cheek from its resting-place on his elbow; and Mazaro, after standing an awkward moment, turned away with such an inward feeling as one may guess would arise in a heart full of Cuban blood, not unmixed with Indian.
As he moved off, M. D'Hemecourt resumed: that in a last extremity he had opened, partly from dire want, partly for very love to homeless souls, the Café des Exilés. He had hoped that, as strong drink and high words were to be alike unknown to it, it might not prejudice sensible people; but it had. He had no doubt they said among themselves, "She is an excellent and beautiful girl and deserving all respect;" and respect they accorded, but their respects they never came to pay.
"A café is a café," said the old gentleman. "It is nod possib' to ezcape him, aldough de Café des Exilés is differen' from de rez."
"It's different from the Café des Réfugiés," suggested the Irishman.
"Differen' as possib'," replied M. D'Hemecourt. He looked about upon the walls. The shelves were luscious with ranks of cooling sirups which he alone knew how to make. The expression of his face changed from sadness to a gentle pride, which spoke without words, saying and let our story pause a moment to hear it say:
"If any poor exile, from any island where guavas or mangoes or plantains grow, wants a draught which will make him see his home among the cocoa-palms, behold the Café des Exilés ready to take the poor child up and give him the breast! And if gold or silver he has them not, why Heaven and Santa Maria, and Saint Christopher bless him! It makes no difference. Here is a rocking-chair, here a cigarette, and here a light from the host's own tinder. He will pay when he can."
As this easily pardoned pride said, so it often occurred; and if the newly come exile said his father was a Spaniard Come!" old M. D'Hemecourt would cry; "another glass; it is an innocent drink; my mother was a Castilian." But, if the exile said his mother was a Frenchwoman, the glasses would be forthcoming all the same, for "My father," the old man would say, "was a Frenchman of Martinique, with blood as pure as that wine and a heart as sweet as this honey; come, a glass of orgeat;" and he would bring it himself in a quart tumbler.
Now, there are jealousies and jealousies. There are people who rise up quickly and kill, and there are others who turn their hot thoughts over silently in their minds as a brooding bird turns her eggs in the nest. Thus did Manuel Mazaro, and took it ill that Galahad should see a vision in the temple while he and all the brethren tarried without. Pauline had been to the Café des Exilés in some degree what the image of the Virgin was to their churches at home; and for her father to whisper her name to one and not to another was, it seemed to Mazaro, as if the old man, were he a sacristan, should say to some single worshiper, "Here, you may have this madonna; I make it a present to you." Or, if such was not the handsome young Cuban's feeling, such, at least, was the disguise his jealousy put on. If Pauline was to be handed clown from her niche, why, then, farewell Café des Exilés. She was its preserving influence, she made the place holy; she was the burning candles on the altar. Surely the reader will pardon the pen that lingers in the mention of her.
And yet I know not how to describe the forbearing, unspoken tenderness with which all these exiles regarded the maiden. In the balmy afternoons, as I have said, they gathered about their mother's knee, that is to say, upon the banquette outside the door. There, lolling back in their rocking-chairs, they would pass the evening hours with oft-repeated tales of home; and the moon would come out and glide among the clouds like a silver barge among islands wrapped in mist, and they loved the silently gliding orb with a sort of worship, because from her soaring height she looked down at the same moment upon them and upon their homes in the far Antilles. It was somewhat thus that they looked upon Pauline as she seemed to them held up half way to heaven, they knew not how. Ah! those who have been pilgrims; who have wandered out beyond harbor and light; whom fate hath led in lonely paths strewn with thorns and briers not of their own sowing; who, homeless in a land of homes, see windows gleaming and doors ajar, but not for them, it is they who well understand what the worship is that cries to any daughter of our dear mother Eve whose footsteps chance may draw across the path, the silent, beseeching cry, "Stay a little instant that I may look upon you. Oh, woman, beautifier of the earth! Stay till I recall the face of my sister; stay yet a moment while I look from afar, with helpless-hanging hands, upon the softness of thy cheek, upon the folded coils of thy shining hair; and my spirit shall fall down and say those prayers which I may never again God knoweth say at home."
She was seldom seen; but sometimes, when the lounging exiles would be sitting in their afternoon circle under the eaves, and some old man would tell his tale of fire and blood and capture and escape, and the heads would lean forward from the chair-backs and a great stillness would follow the ending of the story, old M. D'Hemecourt would all at once speak up and say, laying his hands upon the narrator's knee, "Comrade, your throat is dry, here are fresh limes; let my dear child herself come and mix you a lemonade." Then the neighbors over the way, sitting about their doors, would by and by softly say, "See, see! there is Pauline!" and all the exiles would rise from their rocking-chairs, take off their hats and stand as men stand in church, while Pauline came out like the moon from a cloud, descended the three steps of the café door, and stood with waiter and glass, a new Rebecca with her pitcher, before the swarthy wanderer.
What tales that would have been tear-compelling, nay, heart-rending, had they not been palpable inventions, the pretty, womanish Mazaro from time to time poured forth, in the ever ungratified hope that the goddess might come clown with a draught of nectar for him, it profiteth not to recount; but I should fail to show a family feature of the Café des Exilés did I omit to say that these make-believe adventures were heard with every mark of respect and credence; while, on the other hand, they were never attempted in the presence of the Irishman. He would have moved an eyebrow, or made some barely audible sound, or dropped some seemingly innocent word, and the whole company, spite of themselves, would have smiled. Wherefore, it may be doubted whether at any time the curly-haired young Cuban had that playful affection for his Celtic comrade, which a habit of giving little velvet taps to Galahad's cheek made a show of.
Such was the Café des Exilés, such its inmates, such its guests, when certain apparently trivial events began to fall around it as germs of blight fall upon corn, and to bring about that end which cometh to all things.
The little seed of jealousy, dropped into the heart of Manuel Mazaro, we have already taken into account.
Galahad Shaughnessy began to be specially active in organizing a society of Spanish Americans, the design of which, as, set forth in its manuscript constitution, was to provide proper funeral honors to such of their membership as might be overtaken by death; and, whenever it was practicable, to send their ashes to their native land. Next to Galahad in this movement was an elegant old Mexican physician, Dr. , his name escapes me whom the Café des Exilés sometimes took upon her lap that is to say door-step but whose favorite resort was the old Café des Réfugiés in the Rue Royale (Royal Street, as it was beginning to be called). Manuel Mazaro was made secretary.
It was for some reason thought judicious for the society to hold its meetings in various places, now here, now there; but the most frequent rendezvous was the Café des Exilés; it was quiet; those Spanish Creoles, however they may afterward cackle, like to lay their plans noiselessly, like a hen in a barn. There was a very general confidence in this old institution, a kind of inward assurance that "mother wouldn't tell;" though, after all, what great secrets could there be connected with a mere burial society?
Before the hour of meeting, the Café des Exilés always sent away her children and closed her door. Presently they would commence returning, one by one, as a flock of wild fowl will do, that has been startled up from its accustomed haunt. Frequenters of the Café des Réfugiés also would appear. A small gate in the close garden-fence let them into a room behind the café proper, and by and by the apartment would be full of dark-visaged men conversing in the low, courteous tone common to their race. The shutters of doors and windows were closed and the chinks stopped with cotton; some people are so jealous of observation.
On a certain night after one of these meetings had dispersed in its peculiar way, the members retiring two by two at intervals, Manuel Mazaro and M. D'Hemecourt were left alone, sitting close together in the dimly lighted room, the former speaking, the other, with no pleasant countenance, attending. It seemed to the young Cuban a proper precaution he was made of precautions to speak in English. His voice was barely audible.
" sayce to me, 'Manuel, she t-theeng I want-n to marry hore.' Señor, you shouth 'ave see' him laugh!"
M. D'Hemecourt lifted up his head, and laid his hand upon the young man's arm.
"Manuel Mazaro," he began, "iv dad w'ad you say is nod"
The Cuban interrupted.
"If is no' t-thrue you will keel Manuel Mazaro? a' r-r-right-a!"
"No," said the tender old man, "no, bud h-I am positeef dad de Madjor will shood you."
Mazaro nodded, and lifted one finger for attention.
" sayce to me, 'Manuel, you goin' tell-a Señor D'Hemecourt, I fin'-a you some nigh' an' cut-a you' heart ou'. An' I sayce to heem-a, 'Boat-a if Señor D'Hemecourt he fin'-in' ou' frone Pauline'"
"Silence!" fiercely cried the old man. "My God! 'Sieur Mazaro, neider you, neider somebody helse s'all h'use de nem of me daughter. It is nod possib' dad you s'all spick him! I cannot pearmid thad."
While the old man was speaking these vehement words, the Cuban was emphatically nodding approval.
"Co-rect-a, co-rect-a, Señor," he replied. "Señor, you' r-r-right-a; escuse-a me, Señor, escuse-a me. Señor D'Hemecourt, Mayor Shaughness', when he talkin' wi' me he usin' hore-a name o the t-thime-a!"
"My fren'," said M. D'Hemecourt, rising and speaking with labored control, "I muz tell you good nighd. You 'ave sooprise me a verry gred deal. I s'all investigade doze ting; an', Manuel Mazaro, h-I am a hole man; bud I will requez you, iv dad wad you say is nod de true, my God! not to h-ever ritturn again ad de Café des Exilés."
Mazaro smiled and nodded. His host opened the door into the garden, and, as the young man stepped out, noticed even then how handsome was his face and figure, and how the odor of the night jasmine was filling the air with an almost insupportable sweetness. The Cuban paused a moment, as if to speak, but checked himself, lifted his girlish face, and looked up to where the daggers of the palmetto-tree were crossed upon the face of the moon, dropped his glance, touched his Panama, and silently followed by the bare-headed old man, drew open the little garden-gate, looked cautiously out, said good-night, and stepped into the street.
As M. D'Hemecourt returned to the door through which he had come, he uttered an ejaculation of astonishment. Pauline stood before him. She spoke hurriedly in French.
"Papa, papa, it is not true."
"No, my child," he responded, "I am sure it is not true; I am sure it is all false; but why do I find you out of bed so late, little bird? The night is nearly gone."
He laid his hand upon her cheek.
"Ah, papa. I cannot deceive you. I thought Manuel would tell you something of this kind, and I listened."
The father's face immediately betrayed a new and deeper distress.
"Pauline, my child," he said with tremulous voice, "if Manuel's story is all false, in the name of Heaven how could you think he was going to tell it?"
He unconsciously clasped his hands. The good child had one trait which she could not have inherited from her father; she was quick-witted and discerning; yet now she stood confounded.
"Speak, my child," cried the alarmed old man; "speak! let me live, and not die."
"Oh, papa," she cried, "I do not know!"
The old man groaned.
"Papa, papa," she cried again, "I felt it; I know not how; something told me."
"Alas!" exclaimed the old man, "if it was your conscience!"
"No, no, no, papa," cried Pauline, "but I was afraid of Manuel Mazaro, and I think he hates him and I think he will hurt him in any way he can and I know he will even try to kill him. Oh! my God!"
She struck her hands together above her head, and burst into a flood of tears. Her father looked upon her with such sad sternness as his tender nature was capable of. He laid hold of one of her arms to draw a hand from the face whither both hands had gone.
"You know something else," he said; "you know that the Major loves you, or you think so: is it not true?"
She dropped both hands, and, lifting her streaming eyes that had nothing to hide straight to his, suddenly said:
"I would give worlds to think so!" and sunk upon the floor.
He was melted and convinced in one instant.
"Oh, my child, my child," he cried, trying to lift her. "Oh, my poor little Pauline, your papa is not angry. Rise, my little one; so; kiss me; Heaven bless thee! Pauline, treasure, what shall I do with thee? Where shall I hide thee?"
"You have my counsel already, papa."
"Yes, my child, and you were right. The Café des Exilés never should have been opened. It is no place for you; no place at all."
"Let us leave it," said Pauline.
"Ah! Pauline, I would close it to-morrow if I could, but now it is too late; I cannot."
"Why?" asked Pauline pleadingly.
She had cast an arm about his neck. Her tears sparkled with a smile.
"My daughter, I cannot tell you; you must go now to bed; good-night or good-morning; God keep you!"
"Well, then, papa," she said, "have no fear; you need not hide me; I have my prayer-book, and my altar, and my garden, and my window; my garden is my fenced city, and my window my watch-tower; do you see?"
"Ah! Pauline," responded the father, "but I have been letting the enemy in and out at pleasure."
"Good-night," she answered, and kissed him three times on either cheek; "the blessed Virgin will take care of us; good-night; he never said those things; not he; good-night."
The next evening Galahad Shaughnessy and Manuel Mazaro met at that "very different" place, the Café des Réfugiés. There was much free talk going on about Texan annexation, about chances of war with Mexico, about San Domingan affairs, about Cuba and many et-ceteras. Galahad was in his usual gay mood. He strode about among a mixed company of Louisianais, Cubans, and Americains, keeping them in a great laugh with his account of one of Ole Bull's concerts, and how he had there extorted an invitation from M. and Mme. Devoti to attend one of their famous children's fancy dress balls.
"Halloo!" said he as Mazaro approached, "heer's the etheerial Angelica herself. Look-ut heer, sissy, why ar'n't ye in the maternal arms of the Café des Exilés?"
Mazaro smiled amiably and sat down. A moment after, the Irishman, stepping away from his companions, stood before the young Cuban, and asked, with a quiet business air:
"D'ye want to see me, Mazaro?"
The Cuban nodded, and they went aside. Mazaro, in a few quick words, looking at his pretty foot the while, told the other on no account to go near the Café des Exilés, as there were two men hanging about there, evidently watching for him, and
"Wut's the use o' that?" asked Galahad; "I say, wut's the use o' that?"
Major Shaughnessy's habit of repeating part of his words arose from another, of interrupting any person who might be speaking.
"They must know I say they must know that whenever I'm nowhurs else I'm heer. What do they want?"
Mazaro made a gesture, signifying caution and secrecy, and smiled, as if to say, "You ought to know."
"Aha!" said the Irishman softly. "Why don't they come here?"
"Z-afrai'," said Mazaro; "d'they frai' to do an'teen een d-these-a crowth."
"That's so," said the Irishman; "I say, that's so. If I don't feel very much like go-un, I'll not go; I say, I'll not go. We've no business to-night, eh, Mazaro?"
A second evening was much the same, Mazaro repeating his warning. But when, on the third evening, the Irishman again repeated his willingness to stay away from the Café des Exilés unless he should feel strongly impelled to go, it was with the mental reservation that he did feel very much in that humor, and, unknown to Mazaro, should thither repair, if only to see whether some of those deep old fellows were not contriving a practical joke.
"Mazaro," said he, "I'm go-un around the caurnur a bit; I want ye to wait heer till I come back. I say I want ye to wait heer till I come back; I'll be gone about three-quarters of an hour."
Mazaro assented. He saw with satisfaction the Irishman start in a direction opposite that in which lay the Café des Exilés, tarried fifteen or twenty minutes, and then, thinking he could step around to the Café des Exilés and return before the expiration of the allotted time, hurried out.
Meanwhile that peaceful habitation sat in the moonlight with her children about her feet. The company outside the door was somewhat thinner than common. M. D'Hemecourt was not among them, but was sitting in the room behind the café. The long table which the burial society used at their meetings extended across the apartment, and a lamp had been placed upon it. M. D'Hemecourt sat by the lamp. Opposite him was a chair, which seemed awaiting an expected occupant. Beside the old man sat Pauline. They were talking in cautious undertones, and in French.
"No," she seemed to insist; "we do not know that he refuses to come. We only know that Manuel says so."
The father shook his head sadly. "When has he ever staid away three nights together before?" he asked. "No, my child; it is intentional. Manuel urges him to come, but he only sends poor excuses."
"But," said the girl, shading her face from the lamp and speaking with some suddenness, "why have you not sent word to him by some other person?"
M. D'Hemecourt looked up at his daughter a moment, and then smiled at his own simplicity.
"Ah!" he said. "Certainly; and that is what I will run away, Pauline. There is Manuel, now, ahead of time!"
A step was heard inside the café. The maiden, though she knew the step was not Mazaro's, rose hastily, opened the nearest door, and disappeared. She had barely closed it behind her when Galahad Shaughnessy entered the apartment.
D'Hemecourt rose up, both surprised and confused.
"Good-evening, Munsher D'Himecourt," said the Irishman. "Munsher D'Himecourt, l know it's against rules I say, I know it's against rules to come in here, but" smiling, "I want to have a private wurd with ye. I say, I want to have a private wurd with ye."
In the closet of bottles the maiden smiled triumphantly. She also wiped the dew from her forehead, for the place was very close and warm.
With her father was no triumph. In him sadness and doubt were so mingled with anger that he dared not lift his eyes, but gazed at the knot in the wood of the table, which looked like a caterpillar curled up. Mazaro, he concluded, had really asked the Major to come.
"Mazaro tol' you?" he asked.
"Yes," answered the Irishman. "Mazaro told me I was watched, and asked"
"Madjor," unluckily interrupted the old man, suddenly looking up and speaking with subdued fervor, "for w'y iv Mazaro tol' you for w'y you din come more sooner? Dad is one 'eavy charge again' you."
"Didn't Mazaro tell ye why I didn't come?" asked the other, beginning to be puzzled at his host's meaning.
"Yez," replied M. D'Hemecourt, "bud one brev zhenteman should not be afraid of"
The young man stopped him with a quiet laugh. "Munsher D'Himecourt," said he, "I'm nor afraid of any two men living I say I'm nor afraid of any two men living, and certainly not of the two that's bean a-watchin' me lately, if they're the two I think they are."
M. D'Hemecourt flushed in a way quite incomprehensible to the speaker, who nevertheless continued:
"It was the charges," he said, with some slyness in his smile. "They are heavy, as ye say, and that's the very reason I say that's the very reason why I staid away, ye see, eh? I say that's the very reason I staid away."
Then, indeed, there was a dew for the maiden to wipe from her brow, unconscious that every word that was being said bore a different significance in the mind of each of the three. The old man was agitated.
"Bud, sir," he began, shaking his head and lifting his hand.
"Bless yer soul, Munsher D'Himecourt," interrupted the Irishman. "Wut's the use o' grapplin' two cut-throats, when"
"Madjor Shaughnessy!" cried M. D'Hemecourt, losing all self-control. "H-I am nod a cud-troad, Madjor Shaughnessy, h-an I 'ave a r-r-righd to wadge you.
The Major rose from his chair.
"What d'ye mean?" he asked vacantly, and then: "Look-ut here, Munsher D'Himecourt, one of uz is crazy. I say one"
"No, sar-r-r!" cried the other, rising and clenching his trembling fist. "H-I am nod crezzy. I 'ave de righd to wadge dad man wad mague rimark aboud me dotter."
"I never did no such a thing."
"I never did no such a thing."
"Bud you 'ave jus hacknowledge' "
"I never did no such a thing, I tell ye, and the man that's told ye so is a liur."
"Ah-h-h-h!" said the old man, wagging his finger. "Ah-h-h-h! You call Manuel Mazaro one liar?"
The Irishman laughed out.
"Well, I should say so!"
He motioned the old man into his chair, and both sat down again.
"Why, Munsher D'Himecourt, Mazaro's been keepin' me away from heer with a yarn about two Spaniards watchin' for me. That's what I came in to ask ye about. My dear sur, do ye s'pose I wud talk about the goddess I mean, yer daughter to the likes o' Mazaro I say to the likes o' Mazaro?"
To say the old man was at sea would be too feeble an expression he was in the trough of the sea, with a hurricane of doubts and fears whirling around him. Somebody had told a lie, and he, having struck upon its sunken surface, was dazed and stunned. He opened his lips to say he knew not what, when his ear caught the voice of Manuel Mazaro, replying to the greeting of some of his comrades outside the front door.
"He is comin'!" cried the old man. "Mague you'sev hide, Madjor; do not led 'im kedge you, Mon Dieu!"
The Irishman smiled.
"The little yellow wretch!" said he quietly, his blue eyes dancing. "I'm goin' to catch him."
A certain hidden hearer instantly made up her mind to rush out between the two young men and be a heroine.
"Non, non!" exclaimed M. D'Hemecourt excitedly. "Nod in de Café des Exilés nod now, Madjor. Go in dad door, hif you pliz, Madjor. You will heer 'im w'at he 'ave to say. Mague you'sev de troub'. Nod dad door diz one."
The Major laughed again and started toward the door indicated, but in an instant stopped.
"I can't go in theyre," he said. "That's yer daughter's room."
"Oui, oui, mais!" cried the other softly, but Mazaro's step was near.
"I'll just slip in heer," and the amused Shaughnessy tripped lightly to the closet door, drew it open in spite of a momentary resistance from within which he had no time to notice, stepped into a small recess full of shelves and bottles, shut the door, and stood face to face the broad moonlight shining upon her through a small, high-grated opening on one side with Pauline. At the same instant the voice of the young Cuban sounded in the room.
Pauline was in a great tremor. She made as if she would have opened the door and fled, but the Irishman gave a gesture of earnest protest and re-assurance. The re-opened door might make the back parlor of the Café des Exilés a scene of blood. Thinking of this, what could she do? She staid.
"You goth a heap-a thro-vle, Señor," said Manuel Mazaro, taking the seat so lately vacated. He had patted M. D'Hemecourt tenderly on the back and the old gentleman had flinched; hence the remark, to which there was no reply.
"Was a bee crowth a' the Café the Réfugiés," continued the young man.
"Bud, w'ere dad Madjor Shaughnessy?" demanded M. D'Hemecourt, with the little sternness he could command.
"Mayor Shaughness' yez-a; was there; boat-a," with a disparaging smile and shake of the head, "he woon-a come-a to you, Señor, oh! no."
The old man smiled bitterly.
"Non?" he asked.
"Oh, no, Señor!" Mazaro drew his chair closer. "Señor;" he paused, "eez a-vary bath-a fore-a you thaughter, eh?"
"W'at?" asked the host, snapping like a tormented dog.
"D-theze talkin' 'bou'," answered the young man; "d-theze coffee-howces noth a goo' plaze-a fore hore, eh?"
The Irishman and the maiden looked into each other's eyes an instant, as people will do when listening; but Pauline's immediately fell, and when Mazaro's words were understood, her blushes became visible even by moonlight.
"He's r-right!" emphatically whispered Galahad.
She attempted to draw back a step, but found herself against the shelves. M. D'Hemecourt had not answered. Mazaro spoke again.
"Boat-a you canno' help-a, eh? I know, 'out-a she gettin' marry, eh?"
Pauline trembled. Her father summoned all his force and rose as if to ask his questioner to leave him; but the handsome Cuban motioned him down with a gesture that seemed to beg for only a moment more.
"Señor, if a-was one man whath lo-va you' thaughter, all is possiblee to lo-va."
Pauline, nervously braiding some bits of wire which she had unconsciously taken from a shelf, glanced up against her will, into the eyes of Galahad. They were looking so steadily down upon her that with a great leap of the heart for joy she closed her own and half turned away. But Mazaro had not ceased.
"All is possiblee to lo-va, Señor, you shouth-a let marry hore an' tak'n 'way frone d'these plaze, Señor."
"Manuel Mazaro," said M. D'Hemecourt, again rising, "you 'ave say enough."
"No, no, Señor; no, no; I want tell-a you is a-one man whath lo-va you' thaughter; an' I knowee him!"
Was there no cause for quarrel, after all? Could it be that Mazaro was about to speak for Galahad? The old man asked in his simplicity:
Mazaro smiled mockingly.
"Mayor Shaughness'," he said; "oh, no; not Mayor Shaughness'!"
Pauline could stay no longer; escape she must, though it be in Manuel Mazaro's very face. Turning again and looking up into Galahad's face in a great fright, she opened her lips to speak, but
"Mayor Shaughness'," continued the Cuban; "he nev'r-a lo-va you' thaughter."
Galahad was putting the maiden back from the door with his hand.
"Pauline," he said, "it's a lie!"
"An', Señor," pursued the Cuban, "if a was possiblee you' thaughter to lo-va heem, a-wouth-a be worse-a kine in worlt; but, Señor, I"
M. D'Hemecourt made a majestic sign for silence. He had resumed his chair, but he rose up once more, took the Cuban's hat from the table and tendered it to him.
"Manuel Mazaro, you 'ave"
"Señor, I goin' tell you"
"Manuel Mazaro, you"
"Bud, Manuel Maz"
"Señor, escuse-a me"
"Huzh!" cried the old man. "Manuel Mazaro, you 'ave desceive' me! You 'ave mocque me, Manu"
"Señor," cried Mazaro, "I swear-a to you that all-a what I sayin' ees-a"
He stopped aghast. Galahad and Pauline stood before him.
"Is what?" asked the blue-eyed man, with a look of quiet delight on his face, such as Mazaro instantly remembered to have seen on it one night when Galahad was being shot at in the Sucking Calf Restaurant in St. Peter Street.
The table was between them, but Mazaro's hand went upward toward the back of his coat-collar.
"Ah, ah!" cried the Irishman, shaking his head with a broader smile and thrusting his hand threateningly into his breast; "don't ye do that! just finish yer speech."
"Was-a notthin'," said the Cuban, trying to smile back.
"Yer a liur," said Galahad.
"No," said Mazaro, still endeavoring to smile through his agony; "z-was on'y tellin' Señor D'Hemecourt someteen z-was t-thrue."
"And I tell ye," said Galahad, "ye'r a liur, and to be so kind an' get yersel' to the front stoop, as I'm desiruz o' kickin' ye before the crowd."
"Madjor!" cried D'Hemecourt
"Go," said Galahad, advancing a step toward the Cuban.
Had Manuel Mazaro wished to personate the prince of darkness, his beautiful face had the correct expression for it. He slowly turned, opened the door into the café, sent one glowering look behind, and disappeared.
Pauline laid her hand upon her lover's arm
"Madjor," began her father.
"Oh, Madjor and Madjor," said the Irishman; "Munsher D'Hemecourt, just say 'Madjor, heer's a gude wife fur ye,' and I'll let the little serpent go."
Thereupon, sure enough, both M. D'Hemecourt and his daughter, rushing together, did what I have been hoping all along, for the reader's sake, they would have dispensed with; they burst into tears; whereupon the Major, with his Irish appreciation of the ludicrous, turned away to hide his smirk and began good-humoredly to scratch himself first on the temple and then on the thigh.
Mazaro passed silently through the group about the door-steps, and not many minutes afterward, Galahad Shaughnessy, having taken a place among the exiles, rose with the remark that the old gentleman would doubtless be willing to tell them good-night. Good-night was accordingly said, the Café des Exilés closed her windows, then her doors, winked a moment or two through the cracks in the shutters and then went fast asleep.
The Mexican physician, at Galahad's request, told Mazaro that at the next meeting of the burial society he might and must occupy his accustomed seat without fear of molestation; and he did so.
The meeting took place some seven days after the affair in the back parlor, and on the same ground. Business being finished, Galahad, who presided, stood up, looking, in his white duck suit among his darkly-clad companions, like a white sheep among black ones, and begged leave to order "dlasses" from the front room. I say among black sheep; yet, I suppose, than that double row of languid, effeminate faces, one would have been taxed to find a more harmless-looking company. The glasses were brought and filled.
"Gentlemen," said Galahad, "comrades, this may be the last time we ever meet together an unbroken body."
Martinez of San Domingo, he of the horrible experience, nodded with a lurking smile, curled a leg under him and clasped his fingers behind his head.
"Who knows," continued the speaker, "but Señor Benito, though strong and sound and har'ly thirty-seven" here all smiled "may be taken ill to-morrow?"
Martinez smiled across to the tall, gray Benito on Galahad's left, and he, in turn, smilingly showed to the company a thin, white line of teeth between his moustachios like distant reefs.
"Who knows," the young Irishman proceeded to inquire, "I say, who knows but Pedro, theyre, may be struck wid a fever?"
Pedro, a short, compact man of thoroughly mixed blood, and with an eyebrow cut away, whose surname no one knew, smiled his acknowledgments.
"Who knows?" resumed Galahad, when those who understood English had explained in Spanish to those who did not, "but they may soon need the services not only of our good doctor heer, but of our society; and that Fernandez and Benigno, and Gonzalez and Dominguez, may not be chosen to see, on that very schooner lying at the Picayune Tier just now, their beloved remains and so forth safely delivered into the hands and lands of their people. I say, who knows bur it may be so!"
The company bowed graciously as who should say, "Well-turned phrases, Señor well-turned."
"And amigos, if so be that such is their approoching fate, I will say:"
He lifted his glass, and the rest did the same.
"I say, I will say to them, Creoles, countrymen, and lovers, boun voyadge an' good luck to ye's."
For several moments there was much translating, bowing, and murmured acknowledgments; Mazaro said: "Bueno!" and all around among the long double rank of moustachioed lips amiable teeth were gleaming, some white, some brown, some yellow, like bones in the grass.
"And now, gentlemen," Galahad recommenced, "fellow-exiles, once more. Munsher D'Himecourt, it was yer practice, until lately, to reward a good talker with a glass from the hands o' yer daughter." (Si, si!) "I'm bur a poor speaker." (Si, si, Señor, z-a-fine-a kin'-a can be; si!) "However, I'll ask ye, not knowun bur it may be the last time we all meet together, if ye will not let the goddess of the Café des Exilés grace our company with her presence for just about one minute?" (Yez-a, Señor; si; yez-a; oui.)
Every head was turned toward the old man, nodding the echoed request.
"Ye see, friends," said Galahad in a true Irish whisper, as M. D'Hemecourt left the apartment, "her poseetion has been a-growin' more and more embarrassin' daily, and the operaytions of our society were likely to make it wurse in the future; wherefore I have lately taken steps I say I tuke steps this morn to relieve the old gentleman's distresses and his daughter's"
He paused. M. D'Hemecourt entered with Pauline, and the exiles all rose up. Ah! but why say again she was lovely?
Galahad stepped forward to meet her, took her hand, led her to the head of the board, and turning to the company, said:
"Friends and fellow-patriots, Misthress Shaughnessy."
There was no outburst of astonishment only the same old bowing, smiling, and murmuring of compliment. Galahad turned with a puzzled look to M. D'Hemecourt, and guessed the truth. In the joy of an old man's heart he had already that afternoon told the truth to each and every man separately, as a secret too deep for them to reveal, but too sweet for him to keep. The Major and Pauline were man and wife.
The last laugh that was ever heard in the Café des Exilés sounded softly through the room.
"Lads," said the Irishman. "Fill yer dlasses. Here's to the Café des Exilés, God bless her!"
And the meeting slowly adjourned.
Two days later, signs and rumors of sickness began to find place about the Café des Réfugiés, and the Mexican physician made three calls in one day. It was said by the people around that the tall Cuban gentleman named Benito was very sick in one of the back rooms. A similar frequency of the same physician's calls was noticed about the Café des Exilés.
"The man with one eyebrow," said the neighbors, "is sick. Pauline left the house yesterday to make room for him."
"Ah! is it possible?"
"Yes, it is really true; she and her husband. She took her mocking-bird with her; he carried it; he came back alone."
On the next afternoon the children about the Café des Réfugiés enjoyed the spectacle of the invalid Cuban moved on a trestle to the Café des Exilés, although he did not look so deathly sick as they could have liked to see him, and on the fourth morning the doors of the Café des Exilés remained closed. A black-bordered funeral notice, veiled with crape, announced that the great Caller-home of exiles had served his summons upon Don Pedro Hernandez (surname borrowed for the occasion), and Don Carlos Mendez y Benito.
The hour for the funeral was fixed at four P.M. It never took place. Down at the Picayune Tier on the river bank there was, about two o'clock that same day, a slight commotion, and those who stood aimlessly about a small, neat schooner, said she was "seized." At four there suddenly appeared before the Café des Exilés a squad of men with silver crescents on their breasts police officers. The old cottage sat silent with closed doors, the crape hanging heavily over the funeral notice like a widow's veil, the little unseen garden sending up odors from its hidden censers, and the old weeping-willow bending over all.
"Nobody here?" asks the leader.
The crowd which has gathered stares without answering.
As quietly and peaceably as possible the officers pry open the door. They enter, and the crowd pushes in after. There are the two coffins, looking very heavy and solid, lying in state but unguarded.
The crowd draws a breath of astonishment. "Are they going to wrench the tops off with hatchet and chisel?"
Rap, rap, rap; wrench, rap, wrench. Ah! the cases come open.
"Well kept?" asks the leader flippantly.
"Oh, yes," is the reply. And then all laugh.
One of the lookers-on pushes up and gets a glimpse within.
"What is it?" ask the other idlers.
He tells one quietly.
"What did he say?" ask the rest, one of another.
"He says they are not dead men, but new muskets"
"Here, clear out!" cries an officer, and the loiterers fall back and by and by straggle off.
The exiles? What became of them, do you ask? Why, nothing; they were not troubled, but they never all came together again. Said a chief-of-police to Major Shaughnessy years afterward:
"Major, there was only one thing that kept your expedition from succeeding you were too sly about it. Had you come out flat and said what you were doing, we'd never a-said a word to you. But that little fellow gave us the wink, and then we had to stop you."
And was no one punished? Alas! one was. Poor, pretty, curly-headed traitorous Mazaro! He was drawn out of Carondelet Canal cold, dead! And when his wounds were counted they were just the number of the Café des Exilés' children, less Galahad. But the mother that is, the old café did not see it; she had gone up the night before in a chariot of fire.
In the files of the old "Picayune" and "Price-Current" of 1837 may be seen the mention of Galahad Shaughnessy among the merchants "our enterprising and accomplished fellow-townsman," and all that. But old M. D'Hemecourt's name is cut in marble, and his citizenship is in "a city whose maker and builder is God."
Only yesterday I dined with the Shaughnessys fine old couple and handsome. Their children sat about them and entertained me most pleasantly. But there isn't one can tell a tale as their father can 'twas he told me this one, though here and there my enthusiasm may have taken liberties. He knows the history of every old house in the French Quarter; or, if he happens not to know a true one, he can make one up as he goes along.