- CHAPTER XVIII. IN THE DARK HOURS.
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IN THE DARK HOURS.
VICTOR managed to occupy his days in shooting, fishing, driving and riding. The evenings he generally spent at Airs. Flanoy's. He asked permission of her to cone there freely, appealing to her charity for relief from loneliness, or the society of old Lizbette. Mrs. Flanoy liked Victor. She was pleased to have him conic to see her. She liked
176 PANOLA.his singing and his graceful, pleasant ways. Panola liked him, too, and was grateful to him fir his evident admiration of her mother, and for the care he took to please Mrs. Flanoy.
Music was a great bond between Panola and Victor; and then Victor was Mark's cousin, and he resembled Mark a good deal. It was pleasant to look at eyes so like to Mark's in color and shape, though they differed in expression. And it was something novel to the young Panola to receive from a young man all the graceful little courtesies which their constant intercourse enabled Victor to proffer to her when they were so much together, and very often alone together. It was impossible for a man of sentiment not to be sometimes rather more tender in voice and manner than occasion seemed to necessitate. It was natural impulse between the sexes.
Victor had no intention of making love to Panola, but he did it, and sometimes he cursed himself for doing it. For, however he might amuse himself with other women, he knew that his inner heart never failed in its deep habit of allegiance to Natika. With all her faults, she was the one and only woman he really desired on the earth. Her indifference and coquetry only rivetted his chains the closer, because it made any consummation of his hopes so very uncertain. He was angry with Natika. He said to himself a thousand times that he would not follow
177 IN THE DARK HOURS.her back to Paris. He repeated it the oftener that he distrusted his own resolution. If Natika should write him one single tender or flattering line, he knew he should certainly be a passenger on the next steamer for Havre. Yet he tried to make himself in love with Panola. There were hours in which he fancied he had partially succeeded.
The magnetic power of her mother over him he fully recognized. If Chicora had been well and in any condition to justify such a feeling, Victor suspected it just possible that she might inspire hint with a passion almost as powerful as that which he felt for Natika. But Panola, in all the splendor of her beauty, never would! Yet he had a sort of jealous dislike at the thought of any other man's ever possessing Panola. He did not want her himself, but he did not want anybody else to have her. So his conduct became fitful and capricious towards Panola. The young girl's manner never varied much. She was always calm, cold, and loftily courteous to Victor. She liked him best when he was simply a bon camarade in his manner towards herself. For, when he paid her lover-like attentions, Panola felt as if a sort of ice-crust slowly formed itself over her heart. The touch of his hand, if it pressed hers, did not warm her, but produced a sensation of torpidity and an impulse of repulsion.
178 PANOLA.after they had been home a week, Victor suddenly departed for New Orleans, and they did not hear from him for several months.
About this time the Confederate war broke out, and when next they heard from Victor, he was enlisted in the southern army and had got a commission on a general's staff In his letter he mentioned casually that he had a letter from Natika; that she was engaged to be married to an "Italian marchese." "But," wrote Victor, "Natika's being engaged is no positive certainty that she will ever marry this man! She has been engaged before this. Antony Coolidge is gone to the dogs. The foolish fellow followed Natika abroad, was scornfully dismissed by her, and he has just given himself up to the wildest sort of a life. He is as often in the gutters as anywhere else. He has no power of resistance or of recuperation in him. Once the rein given to the neck of his ungovernable appetites, which were the poor fellow's inheritance with his mixed blood, he is gone. He is here. I have tried to do what I could for him, but it has ended in nothing. The quicker the misery and the degradation is over for him, the better. The man was not devoid of good qualities if Natika had let him alone. He is good-natured and docile, and rather affectionate; but his passion for Natika has unloosed the hyena in his nature, and now his appetites for wickedness and debauchery and the lowest sensual indulgences are insatiable!
179 IN THE DARK HOURS.His mother had better come to look after him. She can stay him in his mad career of wicked folly. I have written frankly to her, for as much as I dislike her I suppose she has some maternal instincts left."
Victor's letter must have produced its effect, for Madame Bolling quitted the Pavilion and went off to her son. She did not return for several months. When she came back she was robed in mourning; her son had died by his own hand in a fit of mania potu. Madame seemed to be very much distressed. It was doubtless a grief to her. She had schemed and plotted, perhaps had committed crimes to advance the interests of her son, and he had despised her counsels and mocked at her wishes. He had forsaken Panola and gone madly after Natika, who laughed at him.
Madame was very pale when she returned to the Pavilion. It was well, perhaps, that the ocean rolled between Natika and this sorely-afflicted mother, for Madame Bolling was not a woman to sit down patiently or resignedly under a real or a fancied injury. She always had found some means of vengeance on her foes, but she knew the great virtue of patience. Madame used to say, "the one needful quality in this world was patience to wait for opportunity." "The world is round, and it turns, and people meet," she used to quote from the Italian. So she returned to cultivate her little gar-
180 PANOLA.Glen and to be sweetly amiable to her niece and to her disagreeable sister-in-law, who never permitted her to enter into her apartment. Mrs. Flanoy was very positive in her prejudices, and her daughter and servants had long before learned the inflexibility of her will.
The war surged around the quiet neighborhood. All the young men had gone into the army. Mark chafed more and more against his helplessness. Half the Cherokees, with Satana at their head, had joined the Confederate army under General Albert Pike, of Arkansas.
Year after year rolled on until the last eventful one, when the contest was being ended so far as open fighting went.
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