- CHAPTER XI. CHICORA'S DEATH.
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TIME passed. The Confederacy was ended; Lee had surrendered; the army was paroled, and yet Victor had not returned to his family--to his bride of an hour. His letters had been frequent | | 196 and all that was tender for months. Suddenly they ceased to arrive. Chicora fretted over this sudden silence more than Panola. Docteur Canonge was open in his wonder and his denunciation of the cruel circumstances which were keeping Victor away so long. Mark feared in silence. Panola said nothing. "He will come when he is ready," she would say to her impatient mother.
A friend on business called to see Mark. He had just come from New Orleans. He mentioned seeing Victor, and also Natika, who was summoned there by her agents about her affairs. Mark turned pale. "Natika in America! Natika in New Orleans!" Alas! for Victor! What humiliation lay in store for Panola! Mark trembled.
The visitor had scarcely quitted Mark. before the door of his room opened and Panola stood before him. Her face was flushed and her eyes were dilated, whether with grief or joy it was impossible to say. She held a letter in her outstretched hand to Mark.
"Mark!" she said, breathlessly, "Mark! I have come to you! See!--read! Victor has deserted me! Oh! Mark!"
The tension of feeling was too great. She sunk in a dead faint at Mark's feet. he cried aloud for aid. He dragged himself from his chair and lifted her head from the floor. Lizbette came running in; she brought water and soon restored Panola to consciousness. Panola pushed the hair back which had | | 197 fallen from the confining ribbons, rubbed her eyes and looked around in a confused state of mind. But her eyes grew intelligent as she saw Mark sitting by her on the floor, and the letter lying where it had dropped from her hand as she fell. Lizbette had trodden it under foot. Panola stretched out her hand to reach it.
"I remember now," she said. "It is Victor's letter! Read it! He is gone to Natika! He will never come back again! He is gone forever! Read it!
Mark snatched the letter from her, read it, and every vein on his forehead swelled with indignation as he did read it. Victor wrote desperately. He threw himself upon Panola's generosity for forgiveness of all the wrong and humiliation he was doing her. He said that he could make no reparation but to leave her. He had again met the only woman he had ever really loved, and he was now separated from her as well as from Panola by his own mad act; his future must be miserable, he said, but he would spend it alone, far from both. At last he had found that Natika loved him; he did not think Panola would suffer as much as she had, or as he did; if she could find any redress at the law, he thought she had better seek it. Then he begged her to forgive him, and to pity his utter misery in being compelled to write such words to her; he would never look on her face again.| | 198
Mark angrily flung the letter from him.
"Dastardly villain!" he said, "with no purpose nor strength--unstable as water; a curse to himself and to all connected with him."
Panola laid her hand lightly on Mark's arm.
"Mark," she said, "don't blame poor Victor so much. It is better so! better so! I did not love Victor as I should have done! The thing now is to give him freedom and to tell mamma. Oh! Mark, how shall I tell this to mamma? She is so devoted to Victor," and Panola began to weep for the first time in all her troubles; the tears streamed forth freely; she leaned her head on the arm of Mark's chair and sobbed aloud.
Mark moved his hand as if to lay it soothingly upon the bowed, light head, but checked himself and leaned back with a fixed look in his face. He clasped his hands tightly together so they should not be tempted to stray lovingly over her head, and he sat trembling like a leaf. Panola wept on--oh! the blessed relief of those tears.
"Who was to tell Docteur Canonge?" Mark thought, and shrank from the task.
The dear, fond old man! Every feeling would be outraged by Victor's base conduct. His keen sense of Honor, his pride, his affection, all wounded to the very quick. Mark groaned aloud.
He agreed with Panola that great caution would be requisite in breaking this news to Mrs. Flanoy. | | 199 he was willing to undertake the painful duty as soon as he had explained all to his grandfather. So Panola rose up, dried her eyes and went home, in order to send Cherokee Joe with some vehicle in which Mark might be conveyed to Mrs. Flanoy's. Mark was in the habit of riding out in a carriage when they had been able to keep up an equipage. Poor Confederates now had neither horses nor carriages.
Mark had a sorrowful scene with his grandfather. The old man tore his hair when he had read Victor's letter; he raved; he wept; his affliction was dreadful to see. His pity for Panola was infinite, and yet he said "it was better she should be freed from such a base, dishonorable man as Victor." Mark soothed the fiery, high-spirited old man as well as he could, and at last got off so as to go to Mrs. Flanoy's in the chair which Cherokee Joe had by this time brought to the door.
Mark felt himself quail for a few moments before his painful task. He rolled himself along the level galleries, and into the room where Chicora was lying, unsuspicious of the heart-rending; information he was conveying to her. Chicora greeted Mark very affectionately. Molly, the wife of Joe, was sitting by Chicora.
"I am really glad you happened to come to see me, Mark," said Chicora. "I was thinking of sending after Docteur Canonge. My heart seems | | 200 to be very queer to-day. It beats so irregularly, and sometimes seems to pause for a whole second in its pulsation. I fear the stiffness is spreading internally. Have you heard anything yet from Victor? I do wish he was here! Why don't he come?"
Mark drew a long breath and nerved himself, then as gently and tenderly as he could he told the sad tale of his cousin's unpardonable abandonment of Panola to the amazed and even incredulous woman. As his full meaning burst upon her mind, a cry escaped her lips; a shrill, fierce cry, like the scream of an angry eagle. It harrowed Mark's very soul. After that one cry Chicora lay silent for a moment, then, turning her eyes towards the Indian Molly, she uttered a few words in the Cherokee tongue. Molly threw up her hands over her head in a passionate, savage gesture, and quitted the room.
In a few moments the door opened noiselessly and Cherokee Joe stood motionless before Chicora's couch. She looked at him, her eyes pouring out red, fiery light; her voice was low and monotonous as she spoke in her native tongue. She hissed the sentences out slowly and emphatically. Joe started at Chicora's first word, and cast an angry look at Mark, then his face grew stolid and fixed as he listened to Chicora. His wife had stolen back, and at Chicora's last words she held out to Joe one of | | 201 the diamond snakes, the totem which Panola usually wore. Joe lifted the snake high above his head and said some words in the Cherokee, which his wife solemnly repeated after him. Mark only distinguished the words "Satana" and "Panola." He saw from the pantomime an oath was being registered on the totem. Joe thrust the snake into his bosons and glided out of the room. Chicora smiled, a fearful smile of anticipated vengeance, as she looked after Joe's retreating figure, then she closed her eyes with a long, shuddering sigh. A faint, weary look came over her face. "Mark," she whispered, "my heart flutters."
Mark put his fingers upon her temple to count the throbbings. His face turned white: the pulsation was nearly gone.
"I must have grandfather here," he said quickly to Molly. "Send for him instantly."
Chicora smiled; she revived; she said, "It is all over; my hour is come; call Panola; you will be good to my child, Mark, if possible; you will do whatever you can; you are good and true--send for Panola."
She came running swiftly. She hastened to her mother; bent over her in, anguish: "Mamma! my mother! my darling!"
Chicora fixed her eyes on her child: "My child," she said, gently, "my poor, lonely daughter! the Great Spirit calls for me; even now the angel of | | 202 death pauses upon my threshold. He is welcome! Let the messenger of the All-father enter in peace! Chicora is very weary; her heart has been bleeding long, and she longs for rest. You will be strong to bear all that comes to you; you will not weep for Victor. A Cherokee does not weep. Joe will go to Satana. The chief will look after you. The white man is not good to be trusted; and now, my child, good-bye; Chicora goes to the Great Father." Panola kissed her mother in silent anguish.
Chicora had closed her eyes calmly after speaking to her daughter. She whispered now: "Let me pass in peace; there should be no tears nor outcry at the deathbed of Chicora; she is the daughter of chiefs. I forbid you to weep."
Panola uttered a great sob, then with an immense effort of will she controlled her natural grief, and kneeling down by her mother laid her arm over her, fixed her eyes steadily upon her face and was quiet and moveless as stone. Chicora lay calm and smiling. Her breathing grew slower and slower; slight convulsions passed over her face. The great struggles of her heart could be counted in the intense silence. From time to time Chicora would open her eyes and look steadily into the eyes of her child. There seemed to be an interchange of nerve-aura between the two: at that supreme moment they were conscious of the oneness of their spirits. Mark sat perfectly immovable, looking in awe at | | 203 the two women whose souls were so strong in the bitterest sorrows of humanity.
Suddenly Chicora spoke a few words to Molly in the native tongue. The woman rose to her feet, and standing erect at the foot of Chicora's couch, she began to sing a low, solemn chant, the death-song of Chicora. The woman's voice was very sweet and clear, and Mark could follow the changes of meaning from the cadences, now plaintive and soft, now triumphant and joyous, as she chanted the youth, the beauty, the happiness of Chicora, and then the sorrows of her checquered life.
Chicora's expressive countenance changed according to the words of the song. Molly's voice sunk to a soft wail as she uttered the prayers for peace and rest that the dying woman craved. A beautiful serenity spread over her features, and as the song died away consciousness faded out of her eyes. Chicora never spoke again. Docteur Canonge came, but could do nothing for her. That night she died.
"It is the strangest malady I ever saw," said Docteur Canonge; "I have seen nothing like it in all my practice."
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