- CHAPTER VII. MUCH-MARRIED LIZBETTE.
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DOCTEUR CANONGE stood in the library, stirring slowly with his spoon the cup of smoking-hot coffee which Lizbette had sent to him. he had been up nearly all the night previous with a poor sick neighbor, and he looked rather paler and thinner and more cadaverous than usual, though | | 117 his smile was as sweet as the sunshine itself, which was pouring in a flood of golden light through the open window near which the gentle old man was standing, talking to Mark and Victor. Natika came in. "Grandpapa," she exclaimed, "I want you to drive with me to see Mrs. Flanoy this morning; can't you?"
Docteur Canonge smiled. "I haf leetle doubt zat I will, Natika, if you so desire. I did tink of finishing my article on comparative mythologie zis morning for zie Academic Française; but zat can wait. I shall also be ver' glad to consulte Chicora about zie Cherokee version of zie myth zat I now am attempting to explain."
"And what is that, grandpapa?" said Natika.
"It is zie pretty leetle story of Bo-peep and her sheep zat she did lose."
"And how do you explain that, grandpapa?"
"I have traced zis leetle myth through many of zie derivative languages from zie Aryan, among all zie people of zat blood and race; and I have conclude zat zis leetle myth represent zie dawn as usual wiz her clouds, which were often called 'sheep.'"
"Yes," interrupted Victor, "Shelley speaks of them--the clouds 'shepherded by the wind.'"
"Yes. I am much obliged, Victor, for zie suggestion of zose lines of Shelley."
"But what about the 'tails' of Bo-peep's sheep?" asked Natika, gayly. "Clouds have none."| | 118
"Yes, they have," interposed Mark. "Sailors call those sweeping, streaky clouds, 'mares' tails.'"
"Yes," said Docteur Canonge, nodding his head approvingly.
"But," remonstrated Natika, "those are rain clouds, not dawn clouds; or at any rate they are foretellers of rain."
Docteur Canonge's face fell.
"But," suggested Mark, "it is all one. It may be meant that Bo-peep's dawn was not a clear one."
Docteur Canonge looked brighter.
"I think," said Victor, "the myth meant the sun and stars, especially comets, which have tails."
"But they don't lose them," said Natika.
"No, but they may be obscured," observed Mark, "for a time; that would accord with the story as it is told. They are seemingly dissipated for a time."
"Zie Ingins say zat it was not sheep, but a herd of buffaloes, zat zie leetle Bo-peep was guarding, an' zat zie buffaloes or bisons did make zie stampede an' shake zie earth till it was great earthquake, and zey did lose zeir tails."
"Shook 'em off, I suppose," said Victor, laughingly.
"About zat I am not certain," replied Docteur Canonge, gravely. "I will ask Chicora."
Mark smiled and shook his head at Victor, who was laughing. Mark was very tender of his grandfather's crotchets.| | 119
"But, as regards zose comets' tails--ah, yes," said the old Docteur, pursing his lips thoughtfully as he spoke, "and also M. Guillemin says, in his work upon comets, zat zese wandering stars are perpetually robbed of zeir gaseous particles, zeir nebulous tails, as zey do pass amongst zie constellations. Yet I do prefer zie myth of zie dawn clouds for leetle Bo-peep. Still I shall consider zie tails of zie comets, Victor. It is a good suggestion and worthy of remark, my dear."
Victor looked ashamed.
"Grandpapa, you are so good," he said, and he rose and put his arm about the old man's neck.
Docteur Canonge embraced him tenderly.
During the conversation Docteur Canonge's coffee had got to be cool enough for quaffing. So he drained it to the bottom of the cup; cafê noir it really was, strong as any Arab of the sacred tribe of the Wahabtees ever distilled for his own holy lips.
Lizbette excelled in coffee and in all the real Southern dishes. She made both the gumbos, as well as the famous bisque, to perfection. It takes exactly one hundred and fifty crawfish to make a good dish of bisque. Lizbette understood how to divide them--so many for stuffed heads, so many for stuffing, so many for beating up into powder, so many for the basis of the soup. There are some things in this world that only a Creole cook can do. | | 120 One is to make bisque. Then Lizbette knew all about terrapin, all about corn-bread, and rice waffles, and hominy, and capons, and "pain perdu." She knew how to make fig conserves, and watermelon citron, and cocoanut cakes, and banana fritters, the very coolest of ices and sherbets, and drinks of fruit juices--that made from the yellow fruit of the passion vine up to the syrup of orange blossoms, whose "bouquet" was as exquisite as its "gout."
In short, Lizbette was perfection itself, in the kitchen, over the pots and pans. But, out of it, she would occasionally get on a "rampage," especially when she got "na that fou, but just a drappie in her e'e;" which sometimes happens in a better regulated household than Docteur Canonge's. In truth, this household was somewhat irregular and even Bohemian in its arrangements. There were no especial hours for anything, except dinner. Docteur Canonge could never be counted on for any meal, for sleep, or for any regularity of living, because he was subject to constant calls in his profession, and ate and slept and came home when he could. But Lizbette had always something hot and good ready for him, at any hour of the day or night; especially did the coffee dripper simmer and moan away all the time beside the kitchen fire, on its own particular little charcoal furnace.
Coffee was the one necessity of life for Docteur Canonge and his household. Tea he disdained, and | | 121 they all thought themselves very ill when they were condemned "to tea and toast." The contortions of visage with which the beverage would be swallowed would be inconceivable to any Englishman. But the fact was, Lizbette did not make good tea. Either she steeped it in middling cool water, or she boiled it, or stewed it, or did something to it which drew out all its bitterness and evaporated all its aroma. Then, too, these ignorant people had never drunk a cup of really good tea, made as it is in England. So they only knew it through Lizbette's preparations. (I should advise am, Englishman Who travels in Louisiana, to bring with him leis own portable little tea equipage, or learn to drink coffee or claret for his breakfast. The tea is generally abominable stuff.)
Tisans can be got to perfection. Tisane of balm, or orange leaves, or violets, or of the thousand plants that are used by experienced French nurses for the simple cure or prevention of native diseases. On the opposite side of the fireplace to the coffee furnace Lizbette usually had a caraffe of "Tisan" stewing for some body or other.
Lizbette was part of the family. She ruled over the other servants despotically, and whenever she got a little too much "old Bourbon" or "Jamaiky," she used to sit down and weep bitterly, and tear her hair, in memory of her "dear dead old mistus," Mrs. Canonge, who had been buried for forty years. | | 122 Then the old docteur would shrug his shoulders, give Lizbette a few drops of ammonia, and have her put in her bed, whence, after a few hours' sleep, she would emerge meek and subdued, and altogether amiable and obliging for some time.
While Natika and Victor were with their grandpapa, Mark made an effort to have a little more regularity about the household, and did succeed with lunch and dinner; but breakfast remained woefully protracted and long drawn out. Victor would come sometimes to join Mark at nine o'clock. Natika tried it once, and then ordered her chocolate at eleven. Victor fell off too in attendance. Docteur Canonge came sometimes, but not often. So Mark returned to his old habits of his simple, solitary breakfast at eight o'clock, leaving the others to arrange their own hours with Lizbette.
Docteur Canonge's house was really a very delightful restaurant, where each and all did exactly as they pleased. Nobody was in a hurry about anything in particular, and the servants rather liked the disjointed style of living.
Negroes have naturally no instinct of order. They sleep anywhere and at all hours, and rise often to cook and eat at the most untimely hours of the night. Victor called his grandfather's house "Liberty Hall." He said it was a good name for an American house. He liked it better than "Independence Hall." It was more characteristic. Yet, | | 123 over all this freedom there prevailed an atmosphere of gracious courtesy and refinement which took its rise in the heart of the old French docteur.
Lizbette had recently buried her eighth husband; not that she had been a widow eight times. Only two of her husbands had been taken away by a "decree of Providence," as Lizbette and the coroners express it. The other six had been divorced or abandoned by her, as she became weary of their conjugal society, though she had been lawfully married to each of them (Lizbette was a strict Methodist and particular about the conventionalities of religion). But when she was weary of a husband, she used to have a grand quarrel and separated à mensâ et thorâ.
Lizbette's ideas of law being rather confused, she considered that equal to a divorce anywhere; so, when she was attracted by another man, slice duly married him according to her ideas of law and order. She was faithful while she lived with her husbands, and cut them off entirely when she was fatigued with their society. However, she bore no malice, and was quite friendly after the lapse of a few months intercourse; and the "divorced ones" used to visit her occasionally, and she was always ready to give them a friendly meal, or any little help in life. She also visited their wives on quite an intimate footing. The principles of the free-lovers were practically exemplified every day by Lizbette | | 124 and her people, and they never lost caste among themselves, or in their church, by these small domestic difficulties. Indeed, three of Lizbette's husbands were preachers, and stood high in the opinion of the sable brethren and sisters.
There is no doubt that the higher sentiments of constant love to one and monogamy is the last result of European civilization and of man's development in the last twenty centuries. It began first in the West among the Romans, as a matter of state policy; was incorporated into Christianity not only by the teachings of its Divine Founder but also as a matter of social civilization and statesmanship. The highest problems of civilization have been worked out through it. But it is not natural to the African. They have not yet attained to the highest sentiment of a constant love. They are a child-people, with the virtues and the vices belonging to a child-people. They have no idea of vengeance, except for the moment; neither of gratitude, except for the time. Unless the blood is mixed: then the mulatto inherits the strong passions and appetencies of one race and the astuteness and viciousness of the whites. While he is ordinarily more intellectual, he is not so good, nor so docile, nor so affectionate as a pure black; and he has more the sentiment of revenge, but no more gratitude. A child is rarely grateful. It takes all favors joyfully, but without sense of obligation, and it forgets in a moment; and so does the African. | | 125 They are a kind, impulsive people, governed by à priori superstitions. They may be developed out of this, but they will then be developed into another race of beings. Lizbette, with all her deficiencies, was a very important and greatly beloved member of Docteur Canonge's family, but she was African au fond.
Page 125 - 1. NOTE.--Among the Hindoos we find the most delicate and beautiful pictures of purest conjugal love. For instance, in the loves of Rama and Sita, in Sakuntala, and other earliest books, which portray the Hindoo ideal. Even the Suttee sprang front this elevated ideal of the oneness of conjugal lives. Perhaps it is from the Aryan that the European sentiment of constancy may be inherited; and its pure conception of conjugal unity comes from the people who imagined Sita and Sakuntala.
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