- CHAPTER II. THE HEROINE.
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VICTOR BURTHE sprang up from his low seat at Natika's feet, and bowed instinctively as the young girl entered the door. Panola paused for an instant, struck aback at the unexpected sight of strangers in Mark's private sitting-room; for, though she was aware that Mark's cousins were guests of Docteur Canonge at this time, the servant had awkwardly conducted her, without notification, into their presence.| | 50
It was only an instant that Panola hesitated; but that was long enough for Natika and Victor, with their practised eyes of society, to take an inventory of her charms. The quick dilation of Victor's eyes, and the sudden compressure of Natika's full, red lips, showed surprise, and, in one of them, vexation, at the vision suddenly presented to their well-bred but rather insolent gaze. "resplendence of beauty," thought Victor. "Where's the little Albino?"
"What a complexion!" thought Natika.
The first impression Panola induced was a perception of perfect bodily healthfulness. No young Spartan maiden, dancing before Parthenope, was ever more symmetrical in form, more graceful in her poses, than was Panola. In the picturesque words of her mother's people, "Panola was straight as a young ash tree; flexible as the reed by the river's side; her skin was white as a cotton-flake; her lips were red as the berries of the fire-tree; her eyes were blue as the waters of the great lakes; her hair was golden as the silk of the maize; her cheeks were pink as the sunset clouds; she walked with the lightness of the panther and the swiftness of the red deer; her form had the graceful swaying motion of the wind-waved, gray moss upon the trees of the forest, and when she laughed, it was like the silver sounds of falling waters." This was the description of Panola that "Cherokee Joe" gave once to his chief, her mother's cousin, the great Satana. Victor | | 51 thought it was a very pretty tableau, as Panola stood motionless, with the intense quiescence of an Indian, for a moment in the doorway.
Panola was dressed very simply. A gown, cut à la Gabrielle, fitted close to her perfect figure. She wore a scarf of brilliant blue stuff, pinned squarely around her shoulders, more in the fashion of as Indian blanket than in the usual style of a Scotch plaid. The gold brooch, which field the square blue mantle in position, was made into the totem of her mother's family. It was a capital imitation, in enamel of black and gold, of a coiled rattlesnake; with head thrust out to strike. The snake's eyes were of large diamonds; its tongue encrusted with small rubies; they glittered fiercely in the sun rays. Panola wore a jaunty little hat, trimmed with blue ribands, surmounted by the plumes from the wings of the white crane, and these delicate feathers were fastened in place by an aigrette, similar to her snake brooch, of gold and diamonds. The two snakes seemed almost alive, they were so admirable in workmanship. She had on gloves of pearl-gray kid, and her little, highly-arched feet, set straight on her path as she walked, were fitted with tiny bronzed boots, without heels, of Tournelle's finest make. She walked swiftly, straight and noiselessly, as her ancestors did when they slipped lightly through the pathless forests, ages and ages before her coming.
Panola held a small basket in one hand, and she | | 52 carried a gold-mounted driving-whip in the other. She caught Victor's eye and his glance of admiration. She smiled and nodded her small head in sudden recognition, saying frankly, "Mr. Burthe, how do you do? I have not forgotten you, though I suspect you have forgotten me; I was such a little child when we last met. I am glad to see you again."
Victor sprang forward with outstretched hand, eager to claim the friendly recognition. But Panola only smiled and nodded gayly as she passed by him towards Mark.
"Panola, my cousin, Miss Jacquimin," said Mark, in his chair, waving his hand towards Natika.
Panola walked forward without pausing, deposited her whip and basket on the table by Mark's side; then, turning quite deliberately to Natika, putting her hands together before her, made a profound and deep courtesy, à l'Espagnolle. It took quite a minute to perform the reverence. The Spanish queen herself never made it more slowly and more gracefully.
"She has had a dancing-master, at any rate," thought Natika, as she half rose and bowed with careless Parisian grace to this strange girl.
"She wouldn't shake hands," thought Victor Burthe.
Mark knew that Panola never did offer her hand to any one whom she did not specially love; | | 53 she was very chary of any personal demonstration towards any one. A clasp of the hand meant a great deal from Panola.
She positively rejected the small insincerities of society. She was always singularly true, but coldly polite to strangers. She rarely ever showed surprise or astonishment at anything--very different in that from her present companions, who were full of French vivacity, and were continually "taking fire," old Docteur Canonge said, "at things and people."
Natika looked amused as she caught Victor's eye.
Victor could not repress a smile, in spite of his French courtesy; but Panola paid no further attention to the cousins. She turned to Mark, handing him the small basket wreathed with fresh passionflowers.
"Mark, here are some fine pomegranates that I kept in the greenhouse to ripen for you. See the pretty red seeds bursting through the rinds; and here's a bunch of monockanock lilies. Aren't they sweet? I went out on the lake in my dug-out, this morning, to gather them myself."
"They are lovely, Panola," said Mark, extending his hand for the basket. He took out its treasures one by one.
"Passion-flowers, ripe pomegranates, at this season too; and monocka blooms, sweet as the giver, Panola."| | 54
Panola laughed like a pleased child. "I like to please you, Mark," she said, frankly, without affectation.
Panola had the low silvery laugh as well as the flute voice of the Indian woman. Mr. Ruskin says that it. requires "generations of culture and refinement to render a voice sweet in speech;" where, then, do Indian women get their proverbially soft, lovely voices and laughter from?
"Victor, Natika, have a pomegranate!" exclaimed Mark. "Panola, won't you hand the basket to my cousins, as I can't?"
Panola took up the basket instantly, and carried it silently and swiftly--her motions were all swift and quiet--offering the fruit first to Natika, then to Victor. Natika took a pomegranate. Victor took the basket from Panola to replace it on the table.
"No," said Panola, "no; take the fruit. Mark wished me to serve you. I serve my friends with pleasure."
Mark laughed. "And what would you do to your enemies, Panola?"
"I have none," she replied; "but if I had--" she paused.
"Well, if you had?" asked Mark.
"I do not know; I am part Cherokee."
Victor thought Natika made a very pretty picture, as she sat eating her red pomegranate seeds, teasing Fanfan by offering the fruit to her occasion- | | 55 ally. Fanfan sniffed at the seed, shaking her curly ears in disgust. Natika had all the grace of a Cypriote and all the ease of a Parisienne.
"Take care, Natika! you will stain your fingers with that rind!" exclaimed Victor. "What an absurdity it is to talk of the romance of the pomegranate groves in Moorish Spain! They planted the groves so as to make tannin for their leather from the rinds-Cordovan leather. Your fingertips will be tanned, Natika."
"I know very well how to eat a pomegranate, Victor. I sha'n't stain my fingers. I have not forgotten everything I ever knew before going to Paris!"
"I thought you had," said Victor.
"Mark," said Panola, as she replaced the basket of fruit by his side, "aunt Bolling bade me say she was prevented from calling to-day upon Miss Jacquimin, on account of the arrival of Antony. But she will hope to have that pleasure to-morrow."
"Has Antony come?" inquired Mark.
"Yes; he arrived to-day from St. Louis. We did not expect him," said Panola, indifferently. "I should have been over to see you before, Mark, but mamma has been so unwell and so suffering this week that I could not leave her until this afternoon, When she is sleeping, with Isobel to watch by her. She was so ill that she sent a letter to the Nation by Cherokee Joe to her cousin, the chief Satana. Joe | | 56 returned to-day and brought back the reply to mamma's letter. She seemed so restless until it came; but then she got quiet and satisfied, and went to sleep."
"Is the chief coming here?" asked Mark, with interest; "I should like to see him."
"I did not understand; I did not see the letters. Joe wrote mamma's in Cherokee, at her dictation. I was not present. The reply was in the same tongue. I speak it, of course, it being my mother's tongue; but I don't write it very well, it is so difficult. I can spell out a simple sentence. It has no literature except translations from. English and other tongues, you know."
"Yes, I know," said Mark ; "but it was a remarkable people that could invent an alphabet and a written tongue of their own."
"Yes; Sequoyah was a great man," replied Panola, a bright flush of pleasure gliding over her face and neck as she spoke. Victor thought she was prettier now than Natika; but just then Natika moved into a still more graceful attitude, and Victor remained as undecided in opinion as Paris was once.
"Natika's father was Greek," said Mark. "She writes and speaks Romaic as well as English. Victor is all French Creole, and I am half French and half English, with a strain of Indian blood in me."
"And I am part Cherokee, and my father's father | | 57 was a pure Netherlander," said Panola. "What a mixture of races there is in America!"
"My race is not mixed," said Natika, haughtily; "nor Victor's either. You can't call Greek and French a mixture of races. They are both Aryan in origin."
"Not so certain," said Mark, seeing the flash in Panola's eye, and hastening to forestall any strife between his guests. "M. Quatrefages declares that the French are not Aryan in origin."
"I don't believe in M. Quatrefages," said Natika, pettishly. "Victor, it is lovely in the garden. Let us go out for a walk, if Miss Flanoy and Mark will be so good as to excuse us for a little while."
Panola and Mark eagerly assured Natika of their entire willingness to excuse them; so Natika called to Fanfan to follow her, threw a white scarf around her shoulders, and, nodding "au revoir" to Panola and Mark, she stepped out of the open French window on to the verandah, and thence into the well-kept flower-garden. Victor followed her, not altogether pleased, but true to his old allegiance. Natika had ruled him since he was twelve years of age: indeed, Natika had moulded Victor's character. She was two years older than he, and much more intelligent, and had a stronger will. When Victor was with her she controlled him most despotically; when separated from her he was sometimes rather rebellious; but a line or a word would bring the truant | | 58 back to her feet at any moment. Natika's power was a fascination that Victor could never resist, any more than a trained falcon can resist the call of the whistle and the waving of the jessies. He belonged to the animum revertend; the domesticated game which must return to its owner. He had asked Natika to marry him about twice in every week since he was grown up to years of majority, and had been as often rejected by her. But her rejections were so softened by her natural coquetry, that Victor had never been able to reduce his hopes to absolute despair. Sometimes he would get angry and go away from Natika for months; once he stayed away for nearly a year; then one day he reappeared unexpectedly before her when she was "having a very good time" in Paris under the chaperonage of some French friends--family connections of the Canonges. Natika was not at all afraid of ever losing her power over Victor: she whistled him back whenever she wanted him. She loved power; she did not love Victor; but she did not wish to lose his devotion and homage; it was convenient for her, and the close relationship gave her an unlimited opportunity to treat him exactly as she chose--sometimes with tender affection, sometimes with cold indifference. Natika was that sort of a woman who is always attractive to ordinary men, and she had usually a small crowd of adorers, chiefly very young men, who were dazzled by her vivacity, her wit, her | | 59 intelligence, and her money--for Natika was rich she had thirty thousand dollars per annum in her own right, and now she was to receive this addition from uncle Jacob's will. Truly Natika was scarcely to blame if she felt as if she had the world in a sling, to cast her throw where she pleased.
Natika was twenty-seven years old now, and time will tell even on the fairest face; so she did feel a pang of jealousy as she confronted the fresh youth and beauty of the seventeen-year-old Panola. Still she had great advantages over Panola. She was an accomplished woman of the world, with all her variety of fascinations; and Panola was utterly simple and unformed in manner; indeed Panola was less wise about social usages than young girls generally are, because her nature was partly that of the Indian. She was straightforward, plain and unpretending, with much of the impassive quiet which she inherited from her mother. When she was in society she rarely spoke, unless some one spoke to her. She never volunteered an opinion, or a graceful jest or witticism, as her French friends continually did; she did not understand how to make a conversation. What she had to say she said modestly, but earnestly and firmly. She sat usually in a state of utter immobility, except for the quick restless glancing of her blue eyes, Which allowed nothing to escape their rapid gaze. She talked more freely to Mark Bolling than to any | | 60 other human being; even her mother, a quiet Indian in manner, never had received the confidences Panola gave to Mark, who understood her perfectly. He could almost read her thoughts at times; and he loved her intensely, with a love of utter self-abnegation and of despair. He had watched the gradual transformation of the pale, snow-white child into this exquisitely lovely maiden. He had helped to develop her slowly-maturing mind, until it seemed to him as if the very wine and the sunshine of life had grown to be incarnated in the body of Panola. She brought fresh vitality, and the actual presence of health and joy to him whenever she approached hint. A Swedenborgian would have said the emanations of Panola's sphere were all life-giving, they were so pure and so wholesome. If Panola had any "nerves," she did not know it. Natika was full of nerves, and sentimental fancies. Panola had a quiet contempt for Natika and for all such weak fine ladies. Mark knew this instinctively, and he was glad to be left alone with Panola, while Natika and Victor walked in the garden.
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