- CHAPTER XXVII. PANOLA IN PARIS.
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PANOLA IN PARIS.
PANOLA had made a very successful tour through the United States; so much so that her agent considered it advisable that she should go to Europe and try for the laurels that are freely bestowed there upon all real original talent. Panola had | | 236 signed the articles of agreement before she learned of the death of Madame Bolling, though, being the next of kin, she now inherited all that ill-fated woman's property. She wrote to Mark, asking him to take charge of her affairs in Louisiana, as site did not feel justified in breaking her engagement on an instant's notice.
The truth was that Panola was pleased and interested in the life she was leading. She cared more for the music of it than the fame; and she looked forward eagerly to the chance of progress and improvement in her art, which such a tour as that she had undertaken promised to her. She would hear all the great musicians of the world, and she would learn so much. The prospect was very tempting to her, and fame is pleasant, very pleasant. She enjoyed being the favorite of the hour. She was entirely en rapport with her public--had a perfect entente cordiale towards it en masse--that is, when it was seated in serried rows on the benches before her. Then she delighted in the power she had of bringing smiles or tears to human eyes and lips. Individually, people did not interest Panola. They fatigued her and occupied the time she preferred to give to her music--that is, unless they were real musicians, and could teach her something; then Panola would listen to them with eager eyes and parted lips. She had said once to Victor: "Music is my life, I think," and it seemed to be | | 237 really true. So, in the midst of her brilliant career as an artiste, Panola lived the simplest and quietest life possible. She saw no one, except on business or music. Her faithful maid was always with her, accompanying her to and fro wherever she went. Of course Panola was often subjected to the attentions which every attractive "diva" receives. She was wondrously beautiful, and beauty attracts as honey does flies and wasps; but it was almost impossible to approach Panola. Gifts she positively rejected even from sovereigns, except a flower, and those she preferred to receive in public. Letters and notes were opened by her secretary, except her private letters from "home." The secretary read them aloud to her as she sat at her breakfast, and jotted down the notes of reply on the outside; so that lovers' billet dour fared badly under these prosaic arrangements. If a billet was extremely original and funny, Panola would sometimes send it to grandpapa Canonge and Mark to read and laugh over.
Panola awoke enthusiasm wherever she went. The wildest and most extravagant tales were circulated about her. She was an "Indian Princess;" she was the heroine of the most romantic histories; there certainly was some mystery about this wonderfully beautiful Louisianaise, who played better on the violin than Gottschalk did on the piano. People took out their atlasses and looked to see in what | | 238 corner of the earth "Louisiana" was located; and would spread their fingers over that portion of the United States. "Jest to think of all this being inhabited by civilized people! It is really wonderful! Such a new country, too!" and then they patronized Panola more than ever.
She did not know that they were patronizing her! She thought she was doing them a great favor in playing for them. Her happiest hours were when she stood, violin in hand, before the public. There was no stay in the furore that she inspired, and her agent gathered in gold with both hands. He gave her a fair portion of it, and she sent it all home to "grandpapa and Mark." Her pure, loving heart was anchored there, in that nook of the Louisiana prairie country.
From Paris, where she now was, she wrote thus to Mark:
"I have been here a month-well received. I think the Parisians are kinder to me because I come from a French colony, and they think I am a Creole. They feel a sort of esprit de famille in me. The papers are very complimentary; but better than all is the kindly manner in which the great musicians here receive me. They are truly good to me. At my first concert I recognized, in one of the side loges, Victor. It did not agitate me to see him there. I don't believe I should mind meeting him | | 239 at all. I only disliked Victor during the brief period that I was his nominal wife. I suppose you will think it very strange, but I really believe I should rather like being on friendly terms with him; but under the circumstances, that, I suppose, is not permissible. Natika might not like it. Victor is looking wretchedly--the ghost of his former self--and has a bad cough; I often hear it as he attempts to stifle it. Sometimes he has to go out into the foyer and cough; then he comes back. You know he is devoted to music, and he always did like mine. Poor Victor! he is ill! I wonder where Natika is? but probably she would not come to hear me play!
"I have heard something of Victor. He is here alone. Natika is spending the winter in Egypt for her health, they say. Victor is said to be dying of consumption--a rapid development of the disease. Poor fellow!
"To-night, in playing, I saw poor Victor rise and go out to cough; then he came back. He looked so feeble and so sad. I don't know whether it was right or wrong in me, but my heart ached for the poor suffering fellow. His eves are more like yours than ever, Mark; they look larger and deeper in expression than they used to do.
"I was called back three times after every piece, | | 240 and at the last encore I signed to have my violin handed back to me. It was brought. When I took it again in my hands, smiling, the house rose. You never heard such a noise as they did make; but at the first scrape of the bow all was still. I played, for the first time in Europe, an improvisation. I played it for Victor I played some things he used to sing for us--some things mamma liked--as tenderly as I could; then I played some modulations, and got into 'Dixie' and the 'Bonnie Blue Flag;' and wound up with an allegro on the corn song of the negroes, and the extravaganza of the 'Arkansas Traveller.' Victor knew then that I had recognized him. He waved his hand sadly, and put it up over his eyes--I think he wept. I quitted the stage, and the curtain dropped. As I was leaving the dressing-room to return to my lodgings, accompanied, as usual, by my good Ellen, a note was handed me from Victor--here it is; I send it to you to read:
I think, from your music to-night, that you have forgiven me. You can recall the past without pain or anger. I know that means that you never did love me much. If you loved me you would not have forgiven or forgotten so readily. So that emboldens me--as mortifying as the facts may be to any man's vanity--yet it emboldens me to approach you. They tell me I am | | 241 dying. I suppose I am. I suffer enough, God knows! and I feel so utterly forlorn and so lonely. I can't tell you what I felt in hearing the sound again of your Straduarius, and of the intense longing fir home and childhood's friends that came over me when I saw you. I have heard nothing from Louisiana for so long--grandpapa and Mark Lave thrown us off, you know--Natika and me. Some old Roman, I don't remember who--Coriolanus, I think--said, "It is only in old age that one feels how bitter it is to be an exile from one's country." Oh, Panola! illness and pain act like old age for me! I can't tell you how I long and yearn for home, and for the old familiar faces. It would be a charity in you to receive me for an hour. May I come? If so, send a note to Numero 11, Rue St. Honore."'VICTOR.'
"I wrote him to come the next morning at eleven o'clock.
"Punctually at eleven o'clock Victor entered my little salon. Ellen was sewing in the adjoining apartment, with the door opened between us. Victor was very much agitated--more than I was. He kissed my hand in silence as I extended it to him; then he began to cough. I pushed an easy-chair towards him, and stirred up the fire to make it blaze. Victor threw himself in the chair.| | 242
"'You see me a poor wreck, Panola,' he said. his face is very gaunt and emaciated. His eyes are like deep caverns in his face.
"I said, 'Does your cough hurt you much, Victor?'
"'At times,' he replied. Then we both sat silent for a while. I did not feel embarrassed, but I felt so sorry, and very earnest. There was no place for coquetry or trifling between us two.
"Victor did not speak; he sat looking into the fire. I let him alone. I took up some embroidery I was doing--a sofa-cushion for you, Mark--and there we sat as composedly as we used to do: he lying, back in the chair, and I sewing. I got up and pushed a stool under his feet. 'It will be more comfortable,' I said.
"'Thanks. What are you making, Panola?' "'A sofa-cushion for Mark.'
"'It is very pretty.' Then he glanced around the room and spied the large photographs of you and grandpapa that I carry about, and call my Lares.
"'Those are good likenesses,' he said. 'When did you hear last from home?'
"I told him. Then I got out the last package of letters and read him all that I thought would interest him from them.
"He asked me to let him see the last from grandpapa. I gave it to him. He read it over again, and kissed it, as he folded it up to return to me.| | 243
"'The dear, good old man!' he cried. Then we started in a stream of talk. He had so many questions to ask, and I so much to tell. He was surprised to hear of poor aunt Bolling's strange death. I wonder what mysterious enemy she could have had? You never gave me a clear account of it all, somehow.
"Victor cheered up wonderfully, and at times would show glimpses of his old self, in light mocking speeches. Indeed, I found myself laughing and scolding at him, just as we used to do before all that terrible folly came between us. He stretched himself out with his feet to the fire, and seemed really comfortable. I made him a nice milk punch, with real country cream in it, and gave him some lunch before he left. He ate with appetite--he said more than he had had for a long time. I had a musical engagement after that. So I told him he must go; I had work to do. He got up instantly.
"'I may come again, Panola?'
"'You y may come when you like, Victor, in reasonable hours,' I said. 'I am often busy. When I can see you, I will; but of course I must do my work. But you will understand that.'
"'Of course,' he replied; 'it is very good of you to let me come at all.'
"He has been coming nearly every day. I see him whenever I can, and try to do all I can for him. I have told him to write to you and | | 244 to grandpapa. Answer him kindly, clear Mark--dearest grandpapa: the poor fellow is so ill.
"Natika is in Egypt, with her relatives. Victor does not speak of her much to me, of course; though he might do so if he liked; it wouldn't hurt me at all."
Panola encourages me to write to you, and to dear grandpapa. She has doubtless told you the condition of health in which she has found me. She is so compassionate and good. There is no use in referring to the past; that is dead and gone. Your prophecy was true, Mark, and has been so painfully fulfilled! I am dying with consumption; but that is not the worst of it, Mark: I am dying alone, except for the attendance of hirelings--services that money will always command, you know. It is a sorrowful fact which forced itself upon my most unwilling mind: but I am become a source of horror and disgust to my poor wife. I suppose she can't help natural idiosyncrasy, but Natika hates sickness, and calamity, and physical disease. She can't help it. Even when she would try to conceal it and to repress the shrinking from me after my health commenced to fail, I saw it plainly--she shuddered at my touch. She turned pale when she would inhale my | | 245 breath. It seemed poisonous and noxious to her. There was an innate repulsion towards illness and sick people. I feel sorry for her. All the horrid paraphernalia of confirmed chronic invalidism, the fevers and the coughing, and the weakness--all are hateful to her. She could not hide her repugnance from me. I tried to incommode her as little as possible; but, finding her so intensely bored, I persuaded her to go to Egypt for the winter. She is not very strong, and the air of the desert is said to be good for delicate lungs. She was very glad to go. It is an immense relief to her. I promised to go to the south of France, or to Madeira. But I have not gone. I have such a longing for home. I wish I might come. Panola thinks you would let me. "Of course you know what a world-famous diva Panola is. The people go mad over her. She deserves it. She is, if anything, more beautiful than ever, and she improves every day in her playing; she studies so hard.
"Oh, Mark! what a fool I was! But I dare not speak of the past, 'when, like the base Judæan, I threw away a pearl richer than all my tribe.' By the way, does that mean Judas Iscariot, or Herod the king, when he killed Mariamne?
"Talking of killing reminds me of Madame Bolling. I have no doubt there was retributive justice in her end, though Panola don't seem to | | 246 understand about it exactly. I must tell you that 'zose Injuns'--as grandpapa calls them--the Cherokees, Panola's respectable relatives, have not forgotten me. Every year I have received through the post a peculiar letter, which, when opened, contains nothing but a very correctly drawn rattlesnake coiled to spring Whoever drew it has caught the reptilish characteristics admirably.
"I have quite a little package of these epistles, which I have carefully filed away, but which certainly will not deter me from returning to America. Indeed, as matters are now, I believe I had rather make a finis at once, through the instrumentality of an Indian arrow or tomahawk, than to shake thyself to pieces, gradually, with coughing. Day and night, I have no rest. I wonder if grandpapa could prescribe something to alleviate my wretchedness. Panola cooks me up messes that seem to help me a little, temporarily. Do write soon to me. I am famished for news from you and grandpapa.Your loving and miserable "VICTOR."
Victor to Mark, later.
Your kind letter, containing the few precious words from grandpapa, reached me only a few minutes ago. Thanks, a thousand thanks, that you will receive back your prodigal, alas! not | | 247 like the younger son Odin, in grandpapa's story--bringing precious gifts in his hands--but sick and worn and weary: coming home only to die.
"Dear Mark, I am growing weaker day by day. Panola, who has been as good to me as an angel, says she will cancel her engagements here to accompany me home. She insists upon it, and I--dear Mark, don't despise me too much--I am so weak I cannot but accept this sacrifice from the woman I have wronged so much. I know I have no right to do it, but Panola is a part of home--that home I yearn for so much--and it is such a consolation to have her near me. I suffer a good deal, and she seems to know how to help me, in a thousand little ways of womanly ministration.
"I never told you, Mark, about my greatest sorrow here in the birth and death of my little child. It was a terrible grief and disappointment to me at the time, but I think of it now with calmness, stein, I shall so soon be with my little daughter in the better life.
Natika never liked children, and she was not pleased when our little girl came. She was very ill at the time of its birth. She had over-exerted herself at a fête at Compeigne, where she had been invited by the empress, and where she insisted upon going, in spite of my earnest entreaties not to. She danced a great deal, until she was overcome by fatigue and heat, and she fainted on her way home | | 248 from the imperial ball. Her dress was made too tight and too elaborate, in order to conceal her form. The consequence was, the premature birth of my child. It lived three days. It was very beautiful; and my whole soul went out towards it. My poor little daughter! It was baptized Victorine. Its mother never noticed it much. I carried it to her bedside when it was a day old, to show it to her, but she merely glanced at it and said it was 'a nice little thing,' and hoped the nurse was a good one.
"I assured her it was the best nurse I could procure in all Paris.
"She smiled languidly, 'That's good.'
"I said timidly to her, 'Wouldn't you like to have the babe lie by you a while, dear?'
"She said, 'No; she was not used to babies. She might hurt it.'
"I took my child away. Natika never loved me, Mark. I know that now. She did not love our child either. Oh, my God! I am fearfully punished!
"My little child became ill, and after watching by it for two days and nights, I saw it lie dead before me. I suppose it inherited no strength to live from us two miserable parents.
"I told Natika our babe was dead. I thought she might like to look at it once more before the grave closed over its sweet face. But she said, "No, it made her shudder to think of anything born of her being | | 249 dead. It seemed as if part of herself was being buried.' She turned so pale and seemed to suffer so much that I vowed mentally never to speak of the child again to her; and I never have. I have ordered Victorine's remains to be sent home to you, dearest Mark. I had it deposited in a vault in Pure la Chaise, with that intention. You will bury my child among her ancestors for my sake. I shall leave here next week; pray God for me that I may live to see your face once more, and dear grandpapa's."YOUR VICTOR."
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