Grandemont Charles was a little Creole gentleman, aged thirty-four,
with a bald spot on the top of his head and the manners of a prince.
By day he was a clerk in a cotton broker's office in one of those
cold, rancid mountains of oozy brick, down near the levee in New
Orleans. By night, in his three-story-high /chambre garnier/ in the
old French Quarter he was again the last male descendant of the
Charles family, that noble house that had lorded it in France, and had
pushed its way smiling, rapiered, and courtly into Louisiana's early
and brilliant days. Of late years the Charleses had subsided into the
more republican but scarcely less royally carried magnificence and
ease of plantation life along the Mississippi. Perhaps Grandemont was
even Marquis de Brasse. There was that title in the family. But a
Marquis on seventy-five dollars per month! /Vraiment/! Still, it has
been done on less.
Grandemont had saved out of his salary the sum of six hundred dollars.
Enough, you would say, for any man to marry on. So, after a silence of
two years on that subject, he reopened that most hazardous question to
Mlle. Adele Fauquier, riding down to Meade d'Or, her father's
plantation. Her answer was the same that it had been any time during
the last ten years: "First find my brother, Monsieur Charles."
This time he had stood before her, perhaps discouraged by a love so
long and hopeless, being dependent upon a contingency so unreasonable,
and demanded to be told in simple words whether she loved him or no.
Adele looked at him steadily out of her gray eyes that betrayed no
secrets and answered, a little more softly:
"Grandemont, you have no right to ask that question unless you can do
what I ask of you. Either bring back brother Victor to us or the proof
that he died."
Somehow, though five times thus rejected, his heart was not so heavy
when he left. She had not denied that she loved. Upon what shallow
waters can the bark of passion remain afloat! Or, shall we play the
doctrinaire, and hint that at thirty-four the tides of life are calmer
and cognizant of many sources instead of but one--as at four-and-
Victor Fauquier would never be found. In those early days of his
disappearance there was money to the Charles name, and Grandemont had
spent the dollars as if they were picayunes in trying to find the lost
youth. Even then he had had small hope of success, for the Mississippi
gives up a victim from its oily tangles only at the whim of its malign
A thousand times had Grandemont conned in his mind the scene of
Victor's disappearance. And, at each time that Adele had set her
stubborn but pitiful alternative against his suit, still clearer it
repeated itself in his brain.
The boy had been the family favourite; daring, winning, reckless. His
unwise fancy had been captured by a girl on the plantation--the
daughter of an overseer. Victor's family was in ignorance of the
intrigue, as far as it had gone. To save them the inevitable pain that
his course promised, Grandemont strove to prevent it. Omnipotent money
smoothed the way. The overseer and his daughter left, between a sunset
and dawn, for an undesignated bourne. Grandemont was confident that
this stroke would bring the boy to reason. He rode over to Meade d'Or
to talk with him. The two strolled out of the house and grounds,
crossed the road, and, mounting the levee, walked its broad path while
they conversed. A thunder-cloud was hanging, imminent, above, but, as
yet, no rain fell. At Grandemont's disclosure of his interference in
the clandestine romance, Victor attacked him, in a wild and sudden
fury. Grandemont, though of slight frame, possessed muscles of iron.
He caught the wrists amid a shower of blows descending upon him, bent
the lad backward and stretched him upon the levee path. In a little
while the gust of passion was spent, and he was allowed to rise. Calm
now, but a powder mine where he had been but a whiff of the tantrums,
Victor extended his hand toward the dwelling house of Meade d'Or.
"You and they," he cried, "have conspired to destroy my happiness.
None of you shall ever look upon my face again."
Turning, he ran swiftly down the levee, disappearing in the darkness.
Grandemont followed as well as he could, calling to him, but in vain.
For longer than an hour he pursued the search. Descending the side of
the levee, he penetrated the rank density of weeds and willows that
undergrew the trees until the river's edge, shouting Victor's name.
There was never an answer, though once he thought he heard a bubbling
scream from the dun waters sliding past. Then the storm broke, and he
returned to the house drenched and dejected.
There he explained the boy's absence sufficiently, he thought, not
speaking of the tangle that had led to it, for he hoped that Victor
would return as soon as his anger had cooled. Afterward, when the
threat was made good and they saw his face no more, he found it
difficult to alter his explanations of that night, and there clung a
certain mystery to the boy's reasons for vanishing as well as to the
manner of it.
It was on that night that Grandemont first perceived a new and
singular expression in Adele's eyes whenever she looked at him. And
through the years following that expression was always there. He could
not read it, for it was born of a thought she would never otherwise
Perhaps, if he had known that Adele had stood at the gate on that
unlucky night, where she had followed, lingering, to await the return
of her brother and lover, wondering why they had chosen so tempestuous
an hour and so black a spot to hold converse--if he had known that a
sudden flash of lightning had revealed to her sight that short, sharp
struggle as Victor was sinking under his hands, he might have
explained everything, and she--
I know what she would have done. But one thing is clear--there was
something besides her brother's disappearance between Grandemont's
pleadings for her hand and Adele's "yes." Ten years had passed, and
what she had seen during the space of that lightning flash remained an
indelible picture. She had loved her brother, but was she holding out
for the solution of that mystery or for the "Truth"? Women have been
known to reverence it, even as an abstract principle. It is said there
have been a few who, in the matter of their affections, have
considered a life to be a small thing as compared with a lie. That I
do not know. But, I wonder, had Grandemont cast himself at her feet
crying that his hand had sent Victor to the bottom of that inscrutable
river, and that he could no longer sully his love with a lie, I wonder
if--I wonder what she would have done!
But, Grandemont Charles, Arcadian little gentleman, never guessed the
meaning of that look in Adele's eyes; and from this last bootless
payment of his devoirs he rode away as rich as ever in honour and
love, but poor in hope.
That was in September. It was during the first winter month that
Grandemont conceived his idea of the /renaissance/. Since Adele would
never be his, and wealth without her were useless trumpery, why need
he add to that hoard of slowly harvested dollars? Why should he even
retain that hoard?
Hundreds were the cigarettes he consumed over his claret, sitting at
the little polished tables in the Royal street cafes while thinking
over his plan. By and by he had it perfect. It would cost, beyond
doubt, all the money he had, but--/le jeu vaut la chandelle/--for some
hours he would be once more a Charles of Charleroi. Once again should
the nineteenth of January, that most significant day in the fortunes
of the house of Charles, be fittingly observed. On that date the
French king had seated a Charles by his side at table; on that date
Armand Charles, Marquis de Brasse, landed, like a brilliant meteor, in
New Orleans; it was the date of his mother's wedding; of Grandemont's
birth. Since Grandemont could remember until the breaking up of the
family that anniversary had been the synonym for feasting,
hospitality, and proud commemoration.
Charleroi was the old family plantation, lying some twenty miles down
the river. Years ago the estate had been sold to discharge the debts
of its too-bountiful owners. Once again it had changed hands, and now
the must and mildew of litigation had settled upon it. A question of
heirship was in the courts, and the dwelling house of Charleroi,
unless the tales told of ghostly powdered and laced Charleses haunting
its unechoing chambers were true, stood uninhabited.
Grandemont found the solicitor in chancery who held the keys pending
the decision. He proved to be an old friend of the family. Grandemont
explained briefly that he desired to rent the house for two or three
days. He wanted to give a dinner at his old home to a few friends.
That was all.
"Take it for a week--a month, if you will," said the solicitor; "but
do not speak to me of rental." With a sigh he concluded: "The dinners
I have eaten under that roof, /mon fils/!"
There came to many of the old, established dealers in furniture,
china, silverware, decorations and household fittings at their stores
on Canal, Chartres, St. Charles, and Royal Streets, a quiet young man
with a little bald spot on the top of his head, distinguished manners,
and the eye of a /connoisseur/, who explained what he wanted. To hire
the complete and elegant equipment of a dining-room, hall, reception-
room, and cloak-rooms. The goods were to be packed and sent, by boat,
to the Charleroi landing, and would be returned within three or four
days. All damage or loss to be promptly paid for.
Many of those old merchants knew Grandemont by sight, and the
Charleses of old by association. Some of them were of Creole stock and
felt a thrill of responsive sympathy with the magnificently indiscreet
design of this impoverished clerk who would revive but for a moment
the ancient flame of glory with the fuel of his savings.
"Choose what you want," they said to him. "Handle everything
carefully. See that the damage bill is kept low, and the charges for
the loan will not oppress you."
To the wine merchants next; and here a doleful slice was lopped from
the six hundred. It was an exquisite pleasure to Grandemont once more
to pick among the precious vintages. The champagne bins lured him like
the abodes of sirens, but these he was forced to pass. With his six
hundred he stood before them as a child with a penny stands before a
French doll. But he bought with taste and discretion of other wines--
Chablis, Moselle, Chateau d'Or, Hochheimer, and port of right age and
The matter of the cuisine gave him some studious hours until he
suddenly recollected Andre--Andre, their old /chef/--the most sublime
master of French Creole cookery in the Mississippi Valley. Perhaps he
was yet somewhere about the plantation. The solicitor had told him
that the place was still being cultivated, in accordance with a
compromise agreement between the litigants.
On the next Sunday after the thought Grandemont rode, horseback, down
to Charleroi. The big, square house with its two long ells looked
blank and cheerless with its closed shutters and doors.
The shrubbery in the yard was ragged and riotous. Fallen leaves from
the grove littered the walks and porches. Turning down the lane at the
side of the house, Grandemont rode on to the quarters of the
plantation hands. He found the workers just streaming back from
church, careless, happy, and bedecked in gay yellows, reds, and blues.
Yes, Andre was still there; his wool a little grayer; his mouth as
wide; his laughter as ready as ever. Grandemont told him of his plan,
and the old /chef/ swayed with pride and delight. With a sigh of
relief, knowing that he need have no further concern until the serving
of that dinner was announced, he placed in Andre's hands a liberal sum
for the cost of it, giving /carte blanche/ for its creation.
Among the blacks were also a number of the old house servants.
Absalom, the former major domo, and a half-dozen of the younger men,
once waiters and attaches of the kitchen, pantry, and other domestic
departments crowded around to greet "M'shi Grande." Absalom guaranteed
to marshal, of these, a corps of assistants that would perform with
credit the serving of the dinner.
After distributing a liberal largesse among the faithful, Grandemont
rode back to town well pleased. There were many other smaller details
to think of and provide for, but eventually the scheme was complete,
and now there remained only the issuance of the invitations to his
Along the river within the scope of a score of miles dwelt some half-
dozen families with whose princely hospitality that of the Charleses
had been contemporaneous. They were the proudest and most august of
the old regime. Their small circle had been a brilliant one; their
social relations close and warm; their houses full of rare welcome and
discriminating bounty. Those friends, said Grandemont, should once
more, if never again, sit at Charleroi on a nineteenth of January to
celebrate the festal day of his house.
Grandemont had his cards of invitation engraved. They were expensive,
but beautiful. In one particular their good taste might have been
disputed; but the Creole allowed himself that one feather in the cap
of his fugacious splendour. Might he not be allowed, for the one day
of the /renaissance/, to be "Grandemont du Puy Charles, of Charleroi"?
He sent the invitations out early in January so that the guests might
not fail to receive due notice.
At eight o'clock on the morning of the nineteenth, the lower coast
steamboat /River Belle/ gingerly approached the long unused landing at
Charleroi. The bridge was lowered, and a swarm of the plantation hands
streamed along the rotting pier, bearing ashore a strange assortment
of freight. Great shapeless bundles and bales and packets swathed in
cloth and bound with ropes; tubs and urns of palms, evergreens, and
tropical flowers; tables, mirrors, chairs, couches, carpets, and
pictures--all carefully bound and padded against the dangers of
Grandemont was among them, the busiest there. To the safe conveyance
of certain large hampers eloquent with printed cautions to delicate
handling he gave his superintendence, for they contained the fragile
china and glassware. The dropping of one of those hampers would have
cost him more than he could have saved in a year.
The last article unloaded, the /River Belle/ backed off and continued
her course down stream. In less than an hour everything had been
conveyed to the house. And came then Absalom's task, directing the
placing of the furniture and wares. There was plenty of help, for that
day was always a holiday at Charleroi, and the Negroes did not suffer
the old traditions to lapse. Almost the entire population of the
quarters volunteered their aid. A score of piccaninnies were sweeping
at the leaves in the yard. In the big kitchen at the rear Andre was
lording it with his old-time magnificence over his numerous sub-cooks
and scullions. Shutters were flung wide; dust spun in clouds; the
house echoed to voices and the tread of busy feet. The prince had come
again, and Charleroi woke from its long sleep.
The full moon, as she rose across the river that night and peeped
above the levee saw a sight that had long been missing from her orbit.
The old plantation house shed a soft and alluring radiance from every
window. Of its two-score rooms only four had been refurnished--the
larger reception chamber, the dining hall, and two smaller rooms for
the convenience of the expected guests. But lighted wax candles were
set in the windows of every room.
The dining-hall was the /chef d'oeuvre/. The long table, set with
twenty-five covers, sparkled like a winter landscape with its snowy
napery and china and the icy gleam of crystal. The chaste beauty of
the room had required small adornment. The polished floor burned to a
glowing ruby with the reflection of candle light. The rich wainscoting
reached half way to the ceiling. Along and above this had been set the
relieving lightness of a few water-colour sketches of fruit and
The reception chamber was fitted in a simple but elegant style. Its
arrangement suggested nothing of the fact that on the morrow the room
would again be cleared and abandoned to the dust and the spider. The
entrance hall was imposing with palms and ferns and the light of an
At seven o'clock Grandemont, in evening dress, with pearls--a family
passion--in his spotless linen, emerged from somewhere. The
invitations had specified eight as the dining hour. He drew an
armchair upon the porch, and sat there, smoking cigarettes and half
The moon was an hour high. Fifty years back from the gate stood the
house, under its noble grove. The road ran in front, and then came the
grass-grown levee and the insatiate river beyond. Just above the levee
top a tiny red light was creeping down and a tiny green one was
creeping up. Then the passing steamers saluted, and the hoarse din
startled the drowsy silence of the melancholy lowlands. The stillness
returned, save for the little voices of the night--the owl's
recitative, the capriccio of the crickets, the concerto of the frogs
in the grass. The piccaninnies and the dawdlers from the quarters had
been dismissed to their confines, and the melee of the day was reduced
to an orderly and intelligent silence. The six coloured waiters, in
their white jackets, paced, cat-footed, about the table, pretending to
arrange where all was beyond betterment. Absalom, in black and shining
pumps posed, superior, here and there where the lights set off his
grandeur. And Grandemont rested in his chair, waiting for his guests.
He must have drifted into a dream--and an extravagant one--for he was
master of Charleroi and Adele was his wife. She was coming out to him
now; he could hear her steps; he could feel her hand upon his
"/Pardon moi, M'shi Grande/"--it was Absalom's hand touching him, it
was Absalom's voice, speaking the /patois/ of the blacks--"but it is
Eight o'clock. Grandemont sprang up. In the moonlight he could see the
row of hitching-posts outside the gate. Long ago the horses of the
guests should have stood there. They were vacant.
A chanted roar of indignation, a just, waxing bellow of affront and
dishonoured genius came from Andre's kitchen, filling the house with
rhythmic protest. The beautiful dinner, the pearl of a dinner, the
little excellent superb jewel of a dinner! But one moment more of
waiting and not even the thousand thunders of black pigs of the
quarter would touch it!
"They are a little late," said Grandemont, calmly. "They will come
soon. Tell Andre to hold back dinner. And ask him if, by some chance,
a bull from the pastures has broken, roaring, into the house."
He seated himself again to his cigarettes. Though he had said it, he
scarcely believed Charleroi would entertain company that night. For
the first time in history the invitation of a Charles had been
ignored. So simple in courtesy and honour was Grandemont, and,
perhaps, so serenely confident in the prestige of his name, that the
most likely reasons for the vacant board did not occur to him.
Charleroi stood by a road travelled daily by people from those
plantations whither his invitations had gone. No doubt even on the day
before the sudden reanimation of the old house they had driven past
and observed the evidences of long desertion and decay. They had
looked at the corpse of Charleroi and then at Grandemont's
invitations, and, though the puzzle or tasteless hoax or whatever the
thing meant left them perplexed, they would not seek its solution by
the folly of a visit to that deserted house.
The moon was now above the grove, and the yard was pied with deep
shadows save where they lightened in the tender glow of outpouring
candle light. A crisp breeze from the river hinted at the possibility
of frost when the night should have become older. The grass at one
side of the steps was specked with the white stubs of Grandemont's
cigarettes. The cotton-broker's clerk sat in his chair with the smoke
spiralling above him. I doubt that he once thought of the little
fortune he had so impotently squandered. Perhaps it was compensation
enough for him to sit thus at Charleroi for a few retrieved hours.
Idly his mind wandered in and out many fanciful paths of memory. He
smiled to himself as a paraphrased line of Scripture strayed into his
mind: "A certain /poor/ man made a feast."
He heard the sound of Absalom coughing a note of summons. Grandemont
stirred. This time he had not been asleep--only drowsing.
"Nine o'clock, /M'shi Grande/," said Absalom in the uninflected voice
of a good servant who states a fact unqualified by personal opinion.
Grandemont rose to his feet. In their time all the Charleses had been
proven, and they were gallant losers.
"Serve dinner," he said calmly. And then he checked Absalom's movement
to obey, for something clicked the gate latch and was coming down the
walk toward the house. Something that shuffled its feet and muttered
to itself as it came. It stopped in the current of light at the foot
of the steps and spake, in the universal whine of the gadding
"Kind sir, could you spare a poor, hungry man, out of luck, a little
to eat? And to sleep in the corner of a shed? For"--the thing
concluded, irrelevantly--"I can sleep now. There are no mountains to
dance reels in the night; and the copper kettles are all scoured
bright. The iron band is still round my ankle, and a link, if it is
your desire I should be chained."
It set a foot upon the step and drew up the rags that hung upon the
limb. Above the distorted shoe, caked with the dust of a hundred
leagues, they saw the link and the iron band. The clothes of the tramp
were wreaked to piebald tatters by sun and rain and wear. A mat of
brown, tangled hair and beard covered his head and face, out of which
his eyes stared distractedly. Grandemont noticed that he carried in
one hand a white, square card.
"What is that?" he asked.
"I picked it up, sir, at the side of the road." The vagabond handed
the card to Grandemont. "Just a little to eat, sir. A little parched
corn, a /tortilla/, or a handful of beans. Goat's meat I cannot eat.
When I cut their throats they cry like children."
Grandemont held up the card. It was one of his own invitations to
dinner. No doubt some one had cast it away from a passing carriage
after comparing it with the tenantless house of Charleroi.
"From the hedges and highways bid them come," he said to himself,
softly smiling. And then to Absalom: "Send Louis to me."
Louis, once his own body-servant, came promptly, in his white jacket.
"This gentleman," said Grandemont, "will dine with me. Furnish him
with bath and clothes. In twenty minutes have him ready and dinner
Louis approached the disreputable guest with the suavity due to a
visitor to Charleroi, and spirited him away to inner regions.
Promptly, in twenty minutes, Absalom announced dinner, and, a moment
later, the guest was ushered into the dining hall where Grandemont
waited, standing, at the head of the table. The attentions of Louis
had transformed the stranger into something resembling the polite
animal. Clean linen and an old evening suit that had been sent down
from town to clothe a waiter had worked a miracle with his exterior.
Brush and comb had partially subdued the wild disorder of his hair.
Now he might have passed for no more extravagant a thing than one of
those /poseurs/ in art and music who affect such oddity of guise. The
man's countenance and demeanour, as he approached the table, exhibited
nothing of the awkwardness or confusion to be expected from his
Arabian Nights change. He allowed Absalom to seat him at Grandemont's
right hand with the manner of one thus accustomed to be waited upon.
"It grieves me," said Grandemont, "to be obliged to exchange names
with a guest. My own name is Charles."
"In the mountains," said the wayfarer, "they call me Gringo. Along the
roads they call me Jack."
"I prefer the latter," said Grandemont. "A glass of wine with you, Mr.
Course after course was served by the supernumerous waiters.
Grandemont, inspired by the results of Andre's exquisite skill in
cookery and his own in the selection of wines became the model host,
talkative, witty, and genial. The guest was fitful in conversation.
His mind seemed to be sustaining a seccession of waves of dementia
followed by intervals of comparative lucidity. There was the glassy
brightness of recent fever in his eyes. A long course of it must have
been the cause of his emaciation and weakness, his distracted mind,
and the dull pallor that showed even through the tan of wind and sun.
"Charles," he said to Grandemont--for thus he seemed to interpret his
name--"you never saw the mountains dance, did you?"
"No, Mr. Jack," answered Grandemont, gravely, "the spectacle has been
denied me. But, I assure you, I can understand it must be a diverting
sight. The big ones, you know, white with snow on the tops, waltzing--
/decollete/, we may say."
"You first scour the kettles," said Mr. Jack, leaning toward him
excitedly, "to cook the beans in the morning, and you lie down on a
blanket and keep quite still. Then they come out and dance for you.
You would go out and dance with them but you are chained every night
to the centre pole of the hut. You believe the mountains dance, don't
"I contradict no traveller's tales," said Grandemont, with a smile.
Mr. Jack laughed loudly. He dropped his voice to a confidential
"You are a fool to believe it," he went on. "They don't really
advance. It's the fever in your head. It's the hard work and the bad
water that does it. You are sick for weeks, and there is no medicine.
The fever comes on every evening, and then you are as strong as two
men. One night the /compania/ are lying drunk with /mescal/. They have
brought back sacks of silver dollars from a ride, and they drink to
celebrate. In the night you file the chain in two and go down the
mountain. You walk for miles--hundreds of them. By and by the
mountains are all gone, and you come to the prairies. They do not
dance at night; they are merciful, and you sleep. Then you come to the
river, and it says things to you. You follow it down, down, but you
can't find what you are looking for."
Mr. Jack leaned back in his chair, and his eyes slowly closed. The
food and wine had steeped him in a deep calm. The tense strain had
been smoothed from his face. The languor of repletion was claiming
him. Drowsily he spoke again.
"It's bad manners--I know--to go to sleep--at table--but--that was--
such a good dinner--Grande, old fellow."
/Grande/! The owner of the name started and set down his glass. How
should this wretched tatterdemalion whom he had invited, Caliph-like,
to sit at his feet know his name?
Not at first, but soon, little by little, the suspicion, wild and
unreasonable as it was, stole into his brain. He drew out his watch
with hands that almost balked him by their trembling, and opened the
back case. There was a picture there--a photograph fixed to the inner
Rising, Grandemont shook Mr. Jack by the shoulder. The weary guest
opened his eyes. Grandemont held the watch.
"Look at this picture, Mr. Jack. Have you ever--"
"/My sister Adele/!"
The vagrant's voice rang loud and sudden through the room. He started
to his feet, but Grandemont's arms were about him, and Grandemont was
calling him "Victor!--Victor Fauquier! /Merci, merci, mon Dieu/!"
Too far overcome by sleep and fatigue was the lost one to talk that
night. Days afterward, when the tropic /calentura/ had cooled in his
veins, the disordered fragments he had spoken were completed in shape
and sequence. He told the story of his angry flight, of toils and
calamities on sea and shore, of his ebbing and flowing fortune in
southern lands, and of his latest peril when, held a captive, he
served menially in a stronghold of bandits in the Sonora Mountains of
Mexico. And of the fever that seized him there and his escape and
delirium, during which he strayed, perhaps led by some marvellous
instinct, back to the river on whose bank he had been born. And of the
proud and stubborn thing in his blood that had kept him silent through
all those years, clouding the honour of one, though he knew it not,
and keeping apart two loving hearts. "What a thing is love!" you may
say. And if I grant it, you shall say, with me: "What a thing is
On a couch in the reception chamber Victor lay, with a dawning
understanding in his heavy eyes and peace in his softened countenance.
Absalom was preparing a lounge for the transient master of Charleroi,
who, to-morrow, would be again the clerk of a cotton-broker, but
"To-morrow," Grandemont was saying, as he stood by the couch of his
guest, speaking the words with his face shining as must have shone the
face of Elijah's charioteer when he announced the glories of that
heavenly journey--"To-morrow I will take you to Her."