- CHAPTER IV. ACTED CHARADES.
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FATE was propitious to Docteur Canonge--the evening was clear and bright, and all his guests accepted avec plaisir. They came before dark. The salons were thrown open and were well lighted with lamps and candle. The long, one-storied house, with the wide verandahs in front and back, made quite a brilliant display, as the guests drove up in their various equipages. Madame Bolling, Antony and Panola came in a handsome close coach, with outriders, one of whom was Cherokee Joe, mounted upon a little black Indian pony. The Smith and Clark families had already arrived, and Docteur Canonge was trying to amuse them with some stereoscopic views, that Mark had collected during his travels in search of health. The Smiths and the Clarks were Americans, recently moved into the neighborhood. They were good, commonplace, rather stiff and awkward, people, fearful to entertain, for, as Docteur Canonge whispered to Panola, they were not at all responsive in character."
Natika had begun to look as patiently resigned as St. Catherine, a martyr on her wheel; Victor was good-naturedly trying to talk to the eldest Miss Clark, who professed to be musical, and promised | | 77 "to execute the Glenmary waltzes in the course of the evening." Mr. Clark was a tall, slab-sided man, with a hooked nose, who talked so rapidly, and cut off his words in such a manner, that Docteur Canonge, with his imperfect knowledge of English, found him, as he told Panola, "enormously difficult to comprehend." Madame Clark (as she was much pleased to be called--it sounded grander than plain Mrs.) was "enormously" fat, and rather jolly; she laughed and was in a good humor with everything and everybody. The Smiths were languishing, drawling, and fashionably indifferent about everything; there were three young ladies of them; their mamma, who wore caps trimmed with red ribbons and yellow flowers; and also there was a brother, who was an exquisite, sporting yellow gloves, who carried an eye-glass, and wished to devote himself to Natika, whom he decided immediately "to be stunning."
Docteur Canonge darted forward to meet Madame Bolling and her party. he was immensely relieved at their arrival. The Smiths and Clarks were almost too much for him. Madame Bolling entered leaning upon her son's arm; Panola followed, and a servant came after her, carrying a small violin-box, which Panola carefully deposited herself in a very safe corner of an étagère. It contained her Straduarius, a Violin, precious as gold or diamonds to a true artiste. Madame Bulling was handsome; her eyes were | | 78 lame and bright, but so black that there did not seem to be any gradation of tinting between the iris and pupil, which gave a singular expression to them; her lashes were so long they curled upwards like deep fringes, her nose was decidedly retroussé; some persons, evil-minded, might have called it a positive snub; it was rather spread out at the nostrils, showing the strain of African blood; the mouth was large and sensuous, with full, rich, red lips, and when she smiled she showed two rows of strong, white teeth; her forehead was low; the black hair, wavy and abundant, grew down nearly to her eyebrows, which were black and strongly marked; she had a well-formed, shapely figure, rather inclined to embonpoint; her hands were large, and thick in the fingers. She was elaborately dressed in a crimson-satin gown, with lace flounces, her neck and arms bare--they were fat and handsome; altogether she was an attractive woman.
Antony Coolidge did not resemble his mother. he was very homely, and, as Natika said, "he looked like a white negro." he had good manners, and was quiet, but rather heavy in conversation.
Panola was dressed in white tarlatan (the usual dress of young Louisiana girls); she had a blue ribbon around her waist, and she wore her rattlesnakes, one in her breast, and one in her hair made the clasp of a wreath of forest leaves, and small, white, well-opened cotton bolls which she wore | | 79 around her head; a fantastic but pretty crown, trying to any complexion but one so fair as Panola's. Her long, straight hair, which looked like the spun, yellow threads made by glass-blowers, was knotted up and tied with a blue ribbon, low on the neck, rather in Indian style than that of Monsieur Algée. But it suited Panola. Natika looked at her with curiosity; she considered her style decidedly "outrée" and "sauvage." All the families of the Duplessis now poured into the room, and there began to be a clatter of tongues and such an interchanging of compliments that the whole roof commenced to echo and re-echo, and Docteur Canonge's soirée was fairly started on a prosperous and successful tide. A man, who had been employed for the purpose, opened the piano and began to play gay waltzes and dances. The merry Duplessis were soon whirling around the room, and everybody was very quickly drawn into the vortex. Docteur Canonge led off the cotillon with Madame Duplessis, mère, who was seventy years old, and wore a turban of black lace, with a bird of paradise fastened on the top of her gray hair. She was a small, active old Frenchwoman, light as a bird, and she danced down the cotillon with twinkling feet and sparkling eyes. Her great-grandchildren were dancing too, and her granddaughter and her granddaughter's husband. Her daughter was playing cards with Mark "at present."| | 80
Madame Boiling as led out by Mr. Clark, and Panola danced with Victor. Natika full to the share of Antony Coolidge; she did not exert herself to be specially agreeable until she caught a glance of unequivocal admiration in his stupid, watery, blue eyes, and Natika was coquette enough to be pleased at anybody's admiration, so she began to rouse herself and to talk a little more.
The Duplessis flew about over the floor like so many sparrows. After the first cotillon they had some charades. Natika soon found that unpromising as had been the exterieur she was surrounded by first-rate native talent. All the Duplessis acted well. Docteur Canonge was really inimitable in his way. It was as good as a French vaudeville. Antony Coolidge lead decent abilities as an actor. Madame Bolling was fine; so was Victor, and Natika found out she would have to exert all her talent to hold her own among them. Panola did not act well; she had not the gift of personation, but she was lovely in tableaux. So they made her into an Iphigenia at Aulis.
Docteur Canonge was the sacrificing priest; Victor was Achilles; Madame Bolling Clytemnestra; and a Judge Morgan, from Kentucky, who was a guest of the Smiths, and whom they had requested permission to bring to the soirée, was metamorphosed into a fine Agamemnon, with his head buried deep in Madame Bolling's black velvet circular, which | | 81 answered very well for a classic mantle under the exigencies of the occasion. This tableau was encored repeatedly, and each time Docteur Canonge, the laurel-crowned priest, assumed a more ferocious aspect as he clasped the sacrificial knife, one of his largest surgical instruments, in his hand. Victor Burthe sang his very best after this. He watched Panola's face to see what she thought of his singing. he was flattered by her breathless attention. he glided to her side. "You are fond of music, Mademoiselle Panola!"
"Fond of music!" said Panola, opening her blue eyes widely. "I think sometimes my life is in music."
"That's a strong expression," said Victor, smiling.
"I suppose it is," replied Panola.
Just then Docteur Canonge came to speak to Panola, and she went off with him. In a few moments a low strain of music filled the salon.
It was a slow, solemn movement, and it seemed to Victor that there were at least four violins playing in perfect harmony. It had almost the effect of full orchestra. He looked at Mark for explanation. Mark smiled at his surprised glance.
"It is Panola," he whispered.
"Panola! does she play the violin like that?" Mark nodded his head, but a stop was put to further conversation by the drawing back of the | | 82 curtains in front of the portion of the parlor improvised into a stage.
Natika, in the classic drapery of Camille, with young Duplessis as Horace, came forward. They began to act scenes from Les Horaces of Corneille. They were both good actors, and they warmed up as they proceeded in their parts. At last they got to the grand scene, where Horace brings in the swords of the three Curiaces. Horace begins:
It was admirably rendered by Duplessis, but at the close, where Camille makes the apostrophe to "Rome," and ends with her fearful malediction, Natika seemed literally inspired. Her small audience were electrified; her voice rang and thrilled through every heart (she had studied from Rachel). At the conclusion there was the greatest excitement; the Duplessis clapped and stamped and cried "encore," and "bravo," until they were all hoarse. Even the Smiths and Clarks caught the enthusiasm. It was a moment of triumph for Natika; but at last the curtain closed positively before her, and people were beginning to subside into a little more dint, when Panola bounded out front behind the curtain, dressed "as a young Bacchante," Docteur Canonge said.
She had simply tied a tanned wolf's skin around her shoulders, over her white frock, and put on a | | 83 pair of beaded Indian moccasins on her little feet, and tucked up her skirts rather short, and let her long, bold hair stream over her like a veil from under her crown of leaves. She looked "wild" enough, if rather an anachronism, as she sprang forth with her violin and bow in her hands and began to play the wildest, merriest tunes, flinging out the funniest and most grotesque combinations of notes. Everybody was suddenly seized with a fury of dancing; like the effect of the flute-player of the Tännenhauser, Panola's wild music seemed to set everybody crazy with fun.
Panola played jigs, reels, Highland flings, Italian tarantelles. Her bow seemed to fly like a gleam of light across the strings; at last she fell into the tune of the "Arkansas Traveller;" she played it in every key and with every modulation; she made it laugh, and cry, and whine, and jerk, and trill, and quiver; she played it single, and double, and triple, and quadruple. Everybody was dancing, and laughing like mad people, until Panola saw that they were absolutely exhausted, when gradually she toned her music down till it quietly died away. She disappeared suddenly behind the curtains again, and the weary dancers sunk upon their chairs breathless and gasping.
Mark had laughed till he cried, and sat now in his chair wiping off the traces of tears from his cheeks. his grandfather was very happy to see Mark laugh.| | 84
Lizbette announced the serving of the supper, and Panola reappeared, grave and demure, dressed again as she was in the early part of the evening. Lizbette's gumbo and oysters were perfect. "The mayonaise of red-fish and the salad" Docteur Canonge had prepared himself, he said; so they were beyond praise. Some cold roast turkey and a ham, with pâtés, little calves, and confitures, and some delicious aspic jelly of white grapes, and oranges, bananas and pineapples, with plenty of excellent claret, a good cup of black coffee, and a pousse café of a thimbleful of curaçoa or strong Marischino, concluded the ménu. It was done full justice to, and after supper everybody made their obeisance to Natika, and thanked Docteur Canonge for their "delightful evening," and they all went home.
As Judge Morgan rode home with young Smith in his cabriolet he asked him about the different people they had met, especially Madame Bolling, about whom he seemed to have some curiosity. He had been introduced to her, and had danced with her, but by some accident had not been introduced to her son. He spoke of her now carelessly, but with evident interest. Smith knew very little about her, as it was the first time he had met any of the neighbors; his family had only recently moved here. He told Judge Morgan that "she was a half-sister of Major Flanoy, and the aunt of Panola."| | 85
The judge sat meditating. "She can't be the same person, I suppose," he said, at length, "else she would certainly have recognized me as I did her. She did not seem to know me at all; but the woman I speak of could not have forgotten me. Oh, no! that would be an impossibility. I never saw such a likeness in my life, though!"
"Where did you know anybody like Madame Bolling?" inquired Smith, roused at last into a faint curiosity.
"The woman I knew lived in--," replied Morgan. "She was brought before me on a charge of lunacy, a charge preferred by her own husband; but she came into court in her riding-habit, and stood up coolly in the box, tapping her little boot with her whip while the indictment was being read against her, and then, refusing the aid of any lawyer, she defended herself most eloquently. It was impossible to send her to an asylum. The jury gave the verdict in her favor without quitting their seats. Shortly after, the husband died, and she removed from the State. After her departure I heard a good many queer things about her, which rather puzzled me. She certainly was strange, and extremely cruel, I heard, to those in her power; one of her slaves hung herself to escape from the tyranny and, some said, the torturing of her mistress. I don't know how true the facts were, but they were dreadful; and if the woman was not insane, she was so wicked | | 86 she should have been killed as one would destroy a noxious beast or reptile. They said she poisoned her husband, as well as other people. However, it was long ago, and Mrs. Coolidge is probably dead before this--"
"Mrs. Coolidge! Why, there was a young man there to-night named Coolidge. Did you not see him?" exclaimed Smith, wide awake now.
"No, I did not see him," said Judge Morgan, "but I am sorry I have to go off so early in the morning, else I should really like to meet that Madame Bolling again. She is a very handsome and interesting woman, very handsome, indeed! very handsome!
"It was quite a success, Natika," exclaimed Victor, as the last of the guests departed. "Confess you have been often more bored in Madame Ronher's salons in Paris than at grandpapa's soirée tonight."
"Well, it wasn't so bad," replied Natika, with a yawn, "but I am very sleepy."
"The little cotton blossom is a wonder," said Victor. "Her music was like the bold
Music of Acharnæ;
Choleric, fiery, quick
As the sparkle
From the charcoal
| | 87 Of the native evergreen,
In the smoke
Shows his active, fiery spleen,
Stands the dish
Full of fish, heady to be fried."
Natika laughed. "Quote Aristophanes to a Greek in her own tongue, Victor, if you can!"
"Frere is very respectable," said Victor.
Docteur Canonge had caught the word "fish." So he said: "Oui, I sink de mayonaise was ver' good. I am glad you like him so much, Victor. I made him myself!"
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