Madame Delicieuse, by George
Just adjoining the old Café de Poésie on the corner, stood the little
one-story, yellow-washed tenement of Dr. Mossy, with its two glass doors
protected by batten shutters, and its low, weed-grown tile roof sloping
out over the sidewalk. You were very likely to find the Doctor in, for
he was a great student and rather negligent of his business—as
business. He was a small, sedate, Creole gentleman of thirty or more,
with a young-old face and manner that provoked instant admiration. He
would receive you—be you who you may—in a mild, candid manner, looking
into your face with his deep blue eyes, and re-assuring you with a
modest, amiable smile, very sweet and rare on a man's mouth.
To be frank, the Doctor's little establishment was dusty and
disorderly—very. It was curious to see the jars, and jars, and jars. In
them were serpents and hideous fishes and precious specimens of many
sorts. There were stuffed birds on broken perches; and dried lizards,
and eels, and little alligators, and old skulls with their crowns sawed
off, and ten thousand odd scraps of writing-paper strewn with crumbs of
lonely lunches, and interspersed with long-lost spatulas and rust-eaten
All New Orleans, at least all Creole New Orleans, knew, and yet did not
know, the dear little Doctor. So gentle, so kind, so skilful, so
patient, so lenient; so careless of the rich and so attentive to the
poor; a man, all in all, such as, should you once love him, you would
love him forever. So very learned, too, but with apparently no idea of
how to show himself to his social profit,—two features much more
smiled at than respected, not to say admired, by a people remote from
the seats of learning, and spending most of their esteem upon animal
heroisms and exterior display.
"Alas!" said his wealthy acquaintances, "what a pity; when he might as
well be rich."
"Yes, his father has plenty."
"Certainly, and gives it freely. But intends his son shall see none of
"His son? You dare not so much as mention him."
"Well, well, how strange! But they can never agree—not even upon their
name. Is not that droll?—a man named General Villivicencio, and his
son, Dr. Mossy!"
"Oh, that is nothing; it is only that the Doctor drops the de
"Drops the de Villivicencio? but I think the de Villivicencio drops
him, ho, ho, ho,—diable!"
Next to the residence of good Dr. Mossy towered the narrow,
red-brick-front mansion of young Madame Délicieuse, firm friend at once
and always of those two antipodes, General Villivicencio and Dr. Mossy.
Its dark, covered carriage-way was ever rumbling, and, with nightfall,
its drawing-rooms always sent forth a luxurious light from the
lace-curtained windows of the second-story balconies.
It was one of the sights of the Rue Royale to see by night its tall,
narrow outline reaching high up toward the stars, with all its windows
The Madame had had some tastes of human experience; had been betrothed
at sixteen (to a man she did not love, "being at that time a fool," as
she said); one summer day at noon had been a bride, and at sundown—a
widow. Accidental discharge of the tipsy bridegroom's own pistol. Pass
it by! It left but one lasting effect on her, a special detestation of
quarrels and weapons.
The little maidens whom poor parentage has doomed to sit upon street
door-sills and nurse their infant brothers have a game of "choosing" the
beautiful ladies who sweep by along the pavement; but in Rue Royale
there was no choosing; every little damsel must own Madame Délicieuse or
nobody, and as that richly adorned and regal favorite of old General
Villivicencio came along they would lift their big, bold eyes away up to
her face and pour forth their admiration in a universal—"Ah-h-h-h!"
But, mark you, she was good Madame Délicieuse as well as fair Madame
Délicieuse: her principles, however, not constructed in the austere
Anglo-Saxon style, exactly (what need, with the lattice of the
Confessional not a stone's throw off?). Her kind offices and beneficent
schemes were almost as famous as General Villivicencio's splendid alms;
if she could at times do what the infantile Washington said he could
not, why, no doubt she and her friends generally looked upon it as a
mere question of enterprise.
She had charms, too, of intellect—albeit not such a sinner against time
and place as to be an "educated woman"—charms that, even in a plainer
person, would have brought down the half of New Orleans upon one knee,
with both hands on the left side. She had the whole city at her
feet, and, with the fine tact which was the perfection of her character,
kept it there contented. Madame was, in short, one of the kind that
gracefully wrest from society the prerogative of doing as they please,
and had gone even to such extravagant lengths as driving out in the
Américain faubourg, learning the English tongue, talking national
politics, and similar freaks whereby she provoked the unbounded worship
of her less audacious lady friends. In the centre of the cluster of
Creole beauties which everywhere gathered about her, and, most of all,
in those incomparable companies which assembled in her own splendid
drawing-rooms, she was always queen lily. Her house, her drawing-rooms,
etc.; for the little brown aunt who lived with her was a mere piece of
There was this notable charm about Madame Délicieuse, she improved by
comparison. She never looked so grand as when, hanging on General
Villivicencio's arm at some gorgeous ball, these two bore down on you
like a royal barge lashed to a ship-of-the-line. She never looked so
like her sweet name, as when she seated her prettiest lady adorers close
around her, and got them all a-laughing.
Of the two balconies which overhung the banquette on the front of the
Délicieuse house, one was a small affair, and the other a deeper and
broader one, from which Madame and her ladies were wont upon gala days
to wave handkerchiefs and cast flowers to the friends in the
processions. There they gathered one Eighth of January morning to see
the military display. It was a bright blue day, and the group that quite
filled the balcony had laid wrappings aside, as all flower-buds are apt
to do on such Creole January days, and shone resplendent in spring
The sight-seers passing below looked up by hundreds and smiled at the
ladies' eager twitter, as, flirting in humming-bird fashion from one
subject to another, they laughed away the half-hours waiting for the
pageant. By and by they fell a-listening, for Madame Délicieuse had
begun a narrative concerning Dr. Mossy. She sat somewhat above her
listeners, her elbow on the arm of her chair, and her plump white hand
waving now and then in graceful gesture, they silently attending with
eyes full of laughter and lips starting apart.
"Vous savez," she said (they conversed in French of course), "you know
it is now long that Dr. Mossy and his father have been in disaccord.
Indeed, when have they not differed? For, when Mossy was but a little
boy, his father thought it hard that he was not a rowdy. He switched him
once because he would not play with his toy gun and drum. He was not so
high when his father wished to send him to Paris to enter the French
army; but he would not go. We used to play often together on the
banquette—for I am not so very many years younger than he, no
indeed—and, if I wanted some fun, I had only to pull his hair and run
into the house; he would cry, and monsieur papa would come out with his
hand spread open and"—
Madame gave her hand a malicious little sweep, and Joined heartily in
the laugh which followed.
"That was when they lived over the way. But wait! you shall see: I have
something. This evening the General"—
The houses of Rue Royale gave a start and rattled their windows. In the
long, irregular line of balconies the beauty of the city rose up. Then
the houses jumped again and the windows rattled; Madame steps inside the
window and gives a message which the housemaid smiles at in receiving.
As she turns the houses shake again, and now again; and now there comes
a distant strain of trumpets, and by and by the drums and bayonets and
clattering hoofs, and plumes and dancing banners; far down the long
street stretch out the shining ranks of gallant men, and the fluttering,
over-leaning swarms of ladies shower down their sweet favors and wave
their countless welcomes.
In the front, towering above his captains, rides General Villivicencio,
veteran of 1814-15, and, with the gracious pomp of the old-time
gentleman, lifts his cocked hat, and bows, and bows.
Madame Délicieuse's balcony was a perfect maze of waving kerchiefs. The
General looked up for the woman of all women; she was not there. But he
remembered the other balcony, the smaller one, and cast his glance
onward to it. There he saw Madame and one other person only. A small
blue-eyed, broad-browed, scholarly-looking man whom the arch lady had
lured from his pen by means of a mock professional summons, and who now
stood beside her, a smile of pleasure playing on his lips and about his
"Vite!" said Madame, as the father's eyes met the son's. Dr. Mossy
lifted his arm and cast a bouquet of roses. A girl in the crowd bounded
forward, caught it in the air, and, blushing, handed it to the plumed
giant. He bowed low, first to the girl, then to the balcony above; and
then, with a responsive smile, tossed up two splendid kisses, one to
Madame, and one, it seemed—
"For what was that cheer?"
"Why, did you not see? General Villivicencio cast a kiss to his son."
The staff of General Villivicencio were a faithful few who had not bowed
the knee to any abomination of the Américains, nor sworn deceitfully to
any species of compromise; their beloved city was presently to pass into
the throes of an election, and this band, heroically unconscious of
their feebleness, putting their trust in "re-actions" and like
delusions, resolved to make one more stand for the traditions of their
fathers. It was concerning this that Madame Délicieuse was incidentally
about to speak when interrupted by the boom of cannon; they had promised
to meet at her house that evening.
They met. With very little discussion or delay (for their minds were
made up beforehand), it was decided to announce in the French-English
newspaper that, at a meeting of leading citizens, it had been thought
consonant with the public interest to place before the people the name
of General Hercule Mossy de Villivicencio. No explanation was considered
necessary. All had been done in strict accordance with time-honored
customs, and if any one did not know it it was his own fault. No
eulogium was to follow, no editorial indorsement. The two announcements
were destined to stand next morning, one on the English side and one on
the French, in severe simplicity, to be greeted with profound
gratification by a few old gentlemen in blue cottonade, and by roars of
laughter from a rampant majority.
As the junto were departing, sparkling Madame Délicieuse detained the
General at the head of the stairs that descended into the tiled
carriage-way, to wish she was a man, that she might vote for him.
"But, General," she said, "had I not a beautiful bouquet of ladies on my
balcony this morning?"
The General replied, with majestic gallantry, that "it was as
magnificent as could be expected with the central rose wanting." And so
Madame was disappointed, for she was trying to force the General to
mention his son. "I will bear this no longer; he shall not rest," she
had said to her little aunt, "until he has either kissed his son or
quarrelled with him."
To which the aunt had answered that, "coûte que coûte, she need not
cry about it;" nor did she. Though the General's compliment had foiled
her thrust, she answered gayly to the effect that enough was enough;
"but, ah! General," dropping her voice to an undertone, "if you had
heard what some of those rosebuds said of you!"
The old General pricked up like a country beau. Madame laughed to
herself, "Monsieur Peacock, I have thee;" but aloud she said gravely:
"Come into the drawing-room, if you please, and seat yourself. You must
be greatly fatigued."
The friends who waited below overheard the invitation.
"Au revoir, Général," said they.
"Au revoir, Messieurs," he answered, and followed the lady.
"General," said she, as if her heart were overflowing, "you have been
spoken against. Please sit down."
"Is that true, Madame?"
She sank into a luxurious chair.
"A lady said to-day—but you will be angry with me, General."
"With you, Madame? That is not possible."
"I do not love to make revelations, General; but when a noble friend is
evil spoken of"—she leaned her brow upon her thumb and forefinger, and
looked pensively at her slipper's toe peeping out at the edge of her
skirt on the rich carpet—"one's heart gets very big."
"Madame, you are an angel! But what said she, Madame?"
"Well, General, I have to tell you the whole truth, if you will not be
angry. We were all speaking at once of handsome men. She said to me:
'Well, Madame Délicieuse, you may say what you will of General
Villivicencio, and I suppose it is true; but everybody knows'—pardon
me, General, but just so she said—'all the world knows he treats his
son very badly.'"
"It is not true," said the General.
"If I wasn't angry!" said Madame, making a pretty fist. 'How can that
be?' I said. 'Well,' she said, 'mamma says he has been angry with his
son for fifteen years.' 'But what did his son do?' I said. 'Nothing,'
said she. 'Ma foi,' I said, 'me, I too would be angry if my son had
done nothing for fifteen years'—ho, ho, ho!"
"It is not true," said the General.
The old General cleared his throat, and smiled as by compulsion.
"You know, General," said Madame, looking distressed, "it was nothing to
joke about, but I had to say so, because I did not know what your son
had done, nor did I wish to hear any thing against one who has the honor
to call you his father."
She paused a moment to let the flattery take effect, and then proceeded:
"But then another lady said to me; she said, 'For shame, Clarisse, to
laugh at good Dr. Mossy; nobody—neither General Villivicencio, neither
any other, has a right to be angry against that noble, gentle, kind,
"Brave!" said the General, with a touch of irony. "So she said,"
answered Madame Délicieuse, "and I asked her, 'how brave?' 'Brave?' she
said, 'why, braver than any soldier, in tending the small-pox, the
cholera, the fevers, and all those horrible things. Me, I saw his father
once run from a snake; I think he wouldn't fight the small-pox—my
faith!' she said, 'they say that Dr. Mossy does all that and never wears
a scapula!—and does it nine hundred and ninety-nine times in a thousand
for nothing! Is that brave, Madame Délicieuse, or is it not?'—And,
General,—what could I say?"
Madame dropped her palms on either side of her spreading robes and
waited pleadingly for an answer. There was no sound but the drumming of
the General's fingers on his sword-hilt. Madame resumed:
"I said, 'I do not deny that Mossy is a noble gentleman;'—I had to say
that, had I not, General?"
"Certainly, Madame," said the General, "my son is a gentleman, yes."
"'But,' I said, 'he should not make Monsieur, his father, angry.'"
"True," said the General, eagerly.
"But that lady said: 'Monsieur, his father, makes himself angry,' she
said. 'Do you know, Madame, why his father is angry so long?' Another
lady says, 'I know!' 'For what?' said I. 'Because he refused to become a
soldier; mamma told me that.' 'It cannot be!' I said."
The General flushed. Madame saw it, but relentlessly continued:
"'Mais oui,' said that lady. 'What!' I said, 'think you General
Villivicencio will not rather be the very man most certain to respect a
son who has the courage to be his own master? Oh, what does he want with
a poor fool of a son who will do only as he says? You think he will love
him less for healing instead of killing? Mesdemoiselles, you do not know
that noble soldier!'"
The noble soldier glowed, and bowed his acknowledgments in a dubious,
half remonstrative way, as if Madame might be producing material for her
next confession, as, indeed, she diligently was doing; but she went
straight on once more, as a surgeon would.
"But that other lady said: 'No, Madame, no, ladies, but I am going to
tell you why Monsieur, the General, is angry with his son.' 'Very well,
why?'—'Why? It is just—because—he is—a little man!'"
General Villivicencio stood straight up.
"Ah! mon ami," cried the lady, rising excitedly, "I have wounded you and
made you angry, with my silly revelations. Pardon me, my friend. Those
were foolish girls, and, anyhow, they admired you. They said you looked
glorious—grand—at the head of the procession."
Now, all at once, the General felt the tremendous fatigues of the day;
there was a wild, swimming, whirling sensation in his head that forced
him to let his eyelids sink down; yet, just there, in the midst of his
painful bewilderment, he realized with ecstatic complacency that the
most martial-looking man in Louisiana was standing in his spurs with the
hand of Louisiana's queenliest woman laid tenderly on his arm.
"I am a wretched tattler!" said she.
"Ah! no, Madame, you are my dearest friend, yes.'
"Well, anyhow, I called them fools. 'Ah! innocent creatures,' I said,
'think you a man of his sense and goodness, giving his thousands to the
sick and afflicted, will cease to love his only son because he is not
big like a horse or quarrelsome like a dog? No, ladies, there is a great
reason which none of you know.' 'Well, well,' they cried, 'tell it; he
has need of a very good reason; tell it now.' 'My ladies,' I said, 'I
must not'—for, General, for all the world I knew not a reason why you
should be angry against your son; you know, General, you have never told
The beauty again laid her hand on his arm and gazed, with round-eyed
simplicity, into his sombre countenance. For an instant her witchery had
"Nay, Madame, some day I shall tell you; I have more than one burden
here. But let me ask you to be seated, for I have a question, also,
for you, which I have longed to ask. It lies heavily upon my heart; I
must ask it now. A matter of so great importance"—
Madame's little brown aunt gave a faint cough from a dim corner of the
"'Tis a beautiful night," she remarked, and stepped out on the balcony.
Then the General asked his question. It was a very long question, or,
maybe, repeated twice or thrice; for it was fully ten minutes before he
moved out of the room, saying good-evening.
Ah! old General Villivicencio. The most martial-looking man in
Louisiana! But what would the people, the people who cheered in the
morning, have said, to see the fair Queen Délicieuse at the top of the
stair, sweetly bowing you down into the starlight,—humbled,
The campaign opened. The Villivicencio ticket was read in French and
English with the very different sentiments already noted. In the
Exchange, about the courts, among the "banks," there was lively talking
concerning its intrinsic excellence and extrinsic chances. The young
gentlemen who stood about the doors of the so-called "coffee-houses"
talked with a frantic energy alarming to any stranger, and just when you
would have expected to see them jump and bite large mouthfuls out of
each other's face, they would turn and enter the door, talking on in the
same furious manner, and, walking up to the bar, click their glasses to
the success of the Villivicencio ticket. Sundry swarthy and wrinkled
remnants of an earlier generation were still more enthusiastic. There
was to be a happy renaissance; a purging out of Yankee ideas; a blessed
home-coming of those good old Bourbon morals and manners which Yankee
notions had expatriated. In the cheerfulness of their anticipations they
even went the length of throwing their feet high in air, thus indicating
how the Villivicencio ticket was going to give "doze Américains" the
kick under the nose.
In the three or four weeks which followed, the General gathered a
surfeit of adulation, notwithstanding which he was constantly and with
pain imagining a confused chatter of ladies, and when he shut his eyes
with annoyance, there was Madame Délicieuse standing, and saying, "I
knew not a reason why you should be angry against your son," gazing in
his face with hardened simplicity, and then—that last scene on the
stairs wherein he seemed still to be descending, down, down.
Madame herself was keeping good her resolution.
"Now or never," she said, "a reconciliation or a quarrel."
When the General, to keep up appearances, called again, she so moved him
with an account of certain kindly speeches of her own invention, which
she imputed to Dr. Mossy, that he promised to call and see his son;
"perhaps;" "pretty soon;" "probably."
Dr. Mossy, sitting one February morning among his specimens and books of
reference, finishing a thrilling chapter on the cuticle, too absorbed to
hear a door open, suddenly realized that something was in his light,
and, looking up, beheld General Villivicencio standing over him.
Breathing a pleased sigh, he put down his pen, and, rising on tiptoe,
laid his hand upon his father's shoulder, and lifting his lips like a
little wife, kissed him.
"Be seated, papa," he said, offering his own chair, and perching on the
The General took it, and, clearing his throat, gazed around upon the
jars and jars with their little Adams and Eves in zoölogical gardens.
"Is all going well, papa?" finally asked Dr. Mossy.
Then there was a long pause.
"'Tis a beautiful day," said the son.
"Very beautiful," rejoined the father.
"I thought there would have been a rain, but it has cleared off," said
"Yes," responded the father, and drummed on the desk.
"Does it appear to be turning cool?" asked the son.
"No; it does not appear to be turning cool at all," was the answer.
"H'm 'm!" said Dr. Mossy.
"Hem!" said General Villivicencio.
Dr. Mossy, not realizing his own action, stole a glance at his
"I am interrupting you," said the General, quickly, and rose.
"No, no! pardon me; be seated; it gives me great pleasure to—I did not
know what I was doing. It is the work with which I fill my leisure
So the General settled down again, and father and son sat very close to
each other—in a bodily sense; spiritually they were many miles apart.
The General's finger-ends, softly tapping the desk, had the sound of
"The city—it is healthy?" asked the General.
"Did you ask me if"—said the little Doctor, starting and looking up.
"The city—it has not much sickness at present?" repeated the father.
"No, yes—not much," said Mossy, and, with utter unconsciousness, leaned
down upon his elbow and supplied an omitted word to the manuscript.
The General was on his feet as if by the touch of a spring.
"I must go!"
"Ah! no, papa," said the son.
"But, yes, I must."
"But wait, papa, I had just now something to speak of"—
"Well?" said the General, standing with his hand on the door, and with
rather a dark countenance.
Dr. Mossy touched his fingers to his forehead, trying to remember.
"I fear I have—ah! I rejoice to see your name before the public, dear
papa, and at the head of the ticket."
The General's displeasure sank down like an eagle's feathers. He smiled
thankfully, and bowed.
"My friends compelled me," he said.
"They think you will be elected?"
"They will not doubt it. But what think you, my son?"
Now the son had a conviction which it would have been madness to
express, so he only said:
"They could not elect one more faithful."
The General bowed solemnly.
"Perhaps the people will think so; my friends believe they will."
"Your friends who have used your name should help you as much as they
can, papa," said the Doctor. "Myself, I should like to assist you, papa,
if I could."
"A-bah!" said the pleased father, incredulously.
"But, yes," said the son.
A thrill of delight filled the General's frame. This was like a son.
"Thank you, my son! I thank you much. Ah, Mossy, my dear boy, you make
"But," added Mossy, realizing with a tremor how far he had gone, "I see
not how it is possible."
The General's chin dropped.
"Not being a public man," continued the Doctor; "unless, indeed, my
pen—you might enlist my pen."
He paused with a smile of bashful inquiry. The General stood aghast for
a moment, and then caught the idea.
"Certainly! cer-tain-ly! ha, ha, ha!"—backing out of the
door—"certainly! Ah! Mossy, you are right, to be sure; to make a
complete world we must have swords and pens. Well, my son, 'au
revoir;' no, I cannot stay—I will return. I hasten to tell my friends
that the pen of Dr. Mossy is on our side! Adieu, dear son."
Standing outside on the banquette he bowed—not to Dr. Mossy, but to
the balcony of the big red-brick front—a most sunshiny smile, and
The very next morning, as if fate had ordered it, the Villivicencio
ticket was attacked—ambushed, as it were, from behind the Américain
newspaper. The onslaught was—at least General Villivicencio said it
was—absolutely ruffianly. Never had all the lofty courtesies and
formalities of chivalric contest been so completely ignored. Poisoned
balls—at least personal epithets—were used. The General himself was
called "antiquated!" The friends who had nominated him, they were
positively sneered at; dubbed "fossils," "old ladies," and their caucus
termed "irresponsible"—thunder and lightning! gentlemen of honor to be
termed "not responsible!" It was asserted that the nomination was made
secretly, in a private house, by two or three unauthorized harum-scarums
(that touched the very bone) who had with more caution than propriety
withheld their names. The article was headed, "The Crayfish-eaters'
Ticket." It continued further to say that, had not the publication of
this ticket been regarded as a dull hoax, it would not have been
suffered to pass for two weeks unchallenged, and that it was now high
time the universal wish should be realized in its withdrawal.
Among the earliest readers of this production was the young Madame. She
first enjoyed a quiet gleeful smile over it, and then called:
"Ninide, here, take this down to Dr. Mossy—stop." She marked the
communication heavily with her gold pencil. "No answer; he need not
About the same hour, and in a neighboring street, one of the "not
responsibles" knocked on the Villivicencio castle gate. The General
invited him into his bedroom. With a short and strictly profane harangue
the visitor produced the offensive newspaper, and was about to begin
reading, when one of those loud nasal blasts, so peculiar to the Gaul,
resounded at the gate, and another "not responsible" entered, more
excited, if possible, than the first. Several minutes were spent in
exchanging fierce sentiments and slapping the palm of the left hand
rapidly with the back of the right. Presently there was a pause for
"Alphonse, proceed to read," said the General, sitting up in bed.
"De Crayfish-eaters' Ticket"—began Alphonse; but a third rapping at the
gate interrupted him, and a third "irresponsible" re-enforced their
number, talking loudly and wildly to the waiting-man as he came up the
Finally, Alphonse read the article. Little by little the incensed
gentlemen gave it a hearing, now two words and now three, interrupting
it to rip out long, rasping maledictions, and wag their forefingers at
each other as they strode ferociously about the apartment.
As Alphonse reached the close, and dashed the paper to the floor, the
whole quartet, in terrific unison, cried for the blood of the editor.
But hereupon the General spoke with authority.
"No, Messieurs," he said, buttoning his dressing-gown, savagely, "you
shall not fight him. I forbid it—you shall not!"
"But," cried the three at once, "one of us must fight, and you—you
cannot; if you fight our cause is lost! The candidate must not fight."
"Hah-h! Messieurs," cried the hero, beating his breast and lifting his
eyes, "grace au ciel. I have a son. Yes, my beloved friends, a son who
shall call the villain out and make him pay for his impudence with
blood, or eat his words in to-morrow morning's paper. Heaven be thanked
that gave me a son for this occasion! I shall see him at once—as soon
as I can dress."
"We will go with you."
"No, gentlemen, let me see my son alone. I can meet you at Maspero's in
two hours. Adieu, my dear friends."
He was resolved.
"Au, revoir,," said the dear friends.
Shortly after, cane in hand, General Villivicencio moved with an ireful
stride up the banquette of Rue Royale. Just as he passed the red-brick
front one of the batten shutters opened the faintest bit, and a certain
pair of lovely eyes looked after him, without any of that round
simplicity which we have before discovered in them. As he half turned to
knock at his son's door he glanced at this very shutter, but it was as
tightly closed as though the house were an enchanted palace.
Dr. Mossy's door, on the contrary, swung ajar when he knocked, and the
"Well, my son, have you seen that newspaper? No, I think not. I see
you have not, since your cheeks are not red with shame and anger."
Dr. Mossy looked up with astonishment from the desk where he sat
"What is that, papa?"
"My faith! Mossy, is it possible you have not heard of the attack upon
me, which has surprised and exasperated the city this morning?"
"No," said Dr. Mossy, with still greater surprise, and laying his hand
on the arm of his chair.
His father put on a dying look. "My soul!" At that moment his glance
fell upon the paper which had been sent in by Madame Délicieuse. "But,
Mossy, my son," he screamed, "there it is!" striking it rapidly with
one finger—"there! there! there! read it! It calls me 'not
responsible!' 'not responsible' it calls me! Read! read!"
"But, papa," said the quiet little Doctor, rising, and accepting the
crumpled paper thrust at him, "I have read this. If this is it, well,
then, already I am preparing to respond to it."
The General seized him violently, and, spreading a suffocating kiss on
his face, sealed it with an affectionate oath.
"Ah, Mossy, my boy, you are glorious! You had begun already to write!
You are glorious! Read to me what you have written, my son."
The Doctor took up a bit of manuscript, and resuming his chair, began:
"MESSRS. EDITORS: On your journal of this morning"—
"Eh! how! you have not written it in English, is it, son?"
"But, yes, papa."
"'Tis a vile tongue," said the General; "but, if it is
"MESSRS. EDITORS: On your journal of this morning is published an
editorial article upon the Villivicencio ticket, which is plentiful and
abundant with mistakes. Who is the author or writer of the above said
editorial article your correspondent does at present ignore, but doubts
not he is one who, hasty to form an opinion, will yet, however, make his
assent to the correction of some errors and mistakes which"—
"Bah!" cried the General.
Dr. Mossy looked up, blushing crimson.
"Bah!" cried the General, still more forcibly. "Bêtise!"
"How?" asked the gentle son.
"'Tis all nonsent!" cried the General, bursting into English. "Hall you
'ave to say is: ''Sieur Editeurs! I want you s'all give de nem of de
indignan' scoundrel who meek some lies on you' paper about mon Père et
"Ah-h!" said Dr. Mossy, in a tone of derision and anger.
His father gazed at him in mute astonishment. He stood beside his
disorderly little desk, his small form drawn up, a hand thrust into his
breast, and that look of invincibility in his eyes such as blue eyes
sometimes surprise us with.
"You want me to fight," he said.
"My faith!" gasped the General, loosening in all his joints. "I
believe—you may cut me in pieces if I do not believe you were going to
reason it out in the newspaper! Fight? If I want you to fight? Upon my
soul, I believe you do not want to fight!"
"No," said Mossy.
"My God!" whispered the General. His heart seemed to break.
"Yes," said the steadily gazing Doctor, his lips trembling as he opened
them. "Yes, your God. I am afraid"—
"Afraid!" gasped the General.
"Yes," rang out the Doctor, "afraid; afraid! God forbid that I should
not be afraid. But I will tell you what I do not fear—I do not fear to
call your affairs of honor—murder!"
"My son!" cried the father.
"I retract," cried the son; "consider it unsaid. I will never reproach
"It is well," said the father. "I was wrong. It is my quarrel. I go to
settle it myself."
Dr. Mossy moved quickly between his father and the door. General
Villivicencio stood before him utterly bowed down.
"What will you?" sadly demanded the old man.
"Papa," said the son, with much tenderness, "I cannot permit you.
Fifteen years we were strangers, and yesterday were friends. You must
not leave me so. I will even settle this quarrel for you. You must let
me. I am pledged to your service."
The peace-loving little doctor did not mean "to settle," but "to
adjust." He felt in an instant that he was misunderstood; yet, as quiet
people are apt to do, though not wishing to deceive, he let the
misinterpretation stand. In his embarrassment he did not know with
absolute certainty what he should do himself.
The father's face—he thought of but one way to settle a quarrel—began
instantly to brighten. "I would myself do it," he said, apologetically,
"but my friends forbid it."
"And so do I," said the Doctor, "but I will go myself now, and will not
return until all is finished. Give me the paper."
"My son, I do not wish to compel you."
There was something acid in the Doctor's smile as he answered:
"No; but give me the paper, if you please."
The General handed it.
"Papa," said the son, "you must wait here for my return."
"But I have an appointment at Maspero's at"—
"I will call and make excuse for you," said the son.
"Well," consented the almost happy father, "go, my son; I will stay. But
if some of your sick shall call?"
"Sit quiet," said the son. "They will think no one is here." And the
General noticed that the dust lay so thick on the panes that a person
outside would have to put his face close to the glass to see within.
In the course of half an hour the Doctor had reached the newspaper
office, thrice addressed himself to the wrong person, finally found the
courteous editor, and easily convinced him that his father had been
imposed upon; but when Dr. Mossy went farther, and asked which one of
the talented editorial staff had written the article:
"You see, Doctor," said the editor—"just step into my private office a
They went in together. The next minute saw Dr. Mossy departing hurriedly
from the place, while the editor complacently resumed his pen, assured
that he would not return.
General Villivicencio sat and waited among the serpents and innocents.
His spirits began to droop again. Revolving Mossy's words, he could not
escape the fear that possibly, after all, his son might compromise the
Villivicencio honor in the interests of peace. Not that he preferred to
put his son's life in jeopardy; he would not object to an adjustment,
provided the enemy should beg for it. But if not, whom would his son
select to perform those friendly offices indispensable in polite
quarrels? Some half-priest, half-woman? Some spectacled book-worm? He
The monotony of his passive task was relieved by one or two callers who
had the sagacity (or bad manners) to peer through the dirty glass, and
then open the door, to whom, half rising from his chair, he answered,
with a polite smile, that the Doctor was out, nor could he say how long
he might be absent. Still the time dragged painfully, and he began at
length to wonder why Mossy did not return.
There came a rap at the glass door different from all the raps that had
forerun it—a fearless, but gentle, dignified, graceful rap; and the
General, before he looked round, felt in all his veins that it came from
the young Madame. Yes, there was her glorious outline thrown side wise
upon the glass. He hastened and threw open the door, bending low at the
same instant, and extending his hand.
She extended hers also, but not to take his. With a calm dexterity that
took the General's breath, she reached between him and the door, and
"What is the matter?" anxiously asked the General—for her face, in
spite of its smile, was severe.
"General," she began, ignoring his inquiry—and, with all her Creole
bows, smiles, and insinuating phrases, the severity of her countenance
but partially waned—"I came to see my physician—your son. Ah! General,
when I find you reconciled to your son, it makes me think I am in
heaven. You will let me say so? You will not be offended with the old
playmate of your son?"
She gave him no time to answer.
"He is out, I think, is he not? But I am glad of it. It gives us
occasion to rejoice together over his many merits. For you know,
General, in all the years of your estrangement, Mossy had no friend like
myself. I am proud to tell you so now; is it not so?"
The General was so taken aback that, when he had thanked her in a
mechanical way, he could say nothing else. She seemed to fall for a
little while into a sad meditation that embarrassed him beyond measure.
But as he opened his mouth to speak, she resumed:
"Nobody knew him so well as I; though I, poor me, I could not altogether
understand him; for look you, General, he was—what do you think?—a
great man!—nothing less."
"How?" asked the General, not knowing what else to respond.
"You never dreamed of that, eh?" continued the lady. "But, of course
not; nobody did but me. Some of those Américains, I suppose, knew it;
but who would ever ask them? Here in Royal Street, in New Orleans, where
we people know nothing and care nothing but for meat, drink, and
pleasure, he was only Dr. Mossy, who gave pills. My faith! General, no
wonder you were disappointed in your son, for you thought the same. Ah!
yes, you did! But why did you not ask me, his old playmate? I knew
better. I could have told you how your little son stood head and
shoulders above the crowd. I could have told you some things too
wonderful to believe. I could have told you that his name was known and
honored in the scientific schools of Paris, of London, of Germany! Yes!
I could have shown you"—she warmed as she proceeded—"I could have
shown you letters (I begged them of him), written as between brother and
brother, from the foremost men of science and discovery!"
She stood up, her eyes flashing with excitement.
"But why did you never tell me?" cried the General.
"He never would allow me—but you—why did you not ask me? I will tell
you; you were too proud to mention your son. But he had pride to match
yours—ha!—achieving all—every thing—with an assumed name! 'Let me
tell your father,' I implored him; but—'let him find me out,' he said,
and you never found him out. Ah! there he was fine. He would not, he
said, though only for your sake, re-enter your affections as any thing
more or less than just—your son. Ha!"
And so she went on. Twenty times the old General was astonished anew,
twenty times was angry or alarmed enough to cry out, but twenty times
she would not be interrupted. Once he attempted to laugh, but again her
hand commanded silence.
"Behold, Monsieur, all these dusty specimens, these revolting fragments.
How have you blushed to know that our idle people laugh in their sleeves
at these things! How have you blushed—and you his father! But why did
you not ask me? I could have told you: 'Sir, your son is not an
apothecary; not one of these ugly things but has helped him on in the
glorious path of discovery; discovery, General—your son—known in
Europe as a scientific discoverer!' Ah-h! the blind people say, 'How is
that, that General Villivicencio should be dissatisfied with his son? He
is a good man, and a good doctor, only a little careless, that's all.'
But you were more blind still, for you shut your eyes tight like this;
when, had you searched for his virtues as you did for his faults, you,
too, might have known before it was too late what nobility, what beauty,
what strength, were in the character of your poor, poor son!"
"Just Heaven! Madame, you shall not speak of my son as of one dead and
buried! But, if you have some bad news"—
"Your son took your quarrel on his hands, eh?"
"I believe so—I think"—
"Well; I saw him an hour ago in search of your slanderer!"
"He must find him!" said the General, plucking up.
"But if the search is already over," slowly responded Madame.
The father looked one instant in her face, then rose with an
"Where is my son? What has happened? Do you think I am a child, to be
trifled with—a horse to be teased? Tell me of my son!"
Madame was stricken with genuine anguish.
"Take your chair," she begged; "wait; listen; take your chair."
"Never!" cried the General; "I am going to find my son—my God! Madame,
you have locked this door! What are you, that you should treat me so?
Give me, this instant"—
"Oh! Monsieur, I beseech you to take your chair, and I will tell you
all. You can do nothing now. Listen! suppose you should rush out and
find that your son had played the coward at last! Sit down and"—
"Ah! Madame, this is play!" cried the distracted man.
"But no; it is not play. Sit down; I want to ask you something."
He sank down and she stood over him, anguish and triumph strangely
mingled in her beautiful face.
"General, tell me true; did you not force this quarrel into your son's
hand? I know he would not choose to have it. Did you not do it to test
his courage, because all these fifteen years you have made yourself a
fool with the fear that he became a student only to escape being a
soldier? Did you not?"
Her eyes looked him through and through.
"And if I did?" demanded he with faint defiance.
"Yes! and if he has made dreadful haste and proved his courage?" asked
"Well, then,"—the General straightened up triumphantly—"then he is my
He beat the desk.
"And heir to your wealth, for example?"
The lady bowed in solemn mockery.
"It will make him a magnificent funeral!"
The father bounded up and stood speechless, trembling from head to foot.
Madame looked straight in his eye.
"Your son has met the writer of that article."
"Where?" the old man's lips tried to ask.
"Suddenly, unexpectedly, in a passage-way."
"My God! and the villain"—
"Lives!" cried Madame.
He rushed to the door, forgetting that it was locked.
"Give me that key!" he cried, wrenched at the knob, turned away
bewildered, turned again toward it, and again away; and at every step
and turn he cried, "Oh! my son, my son! I have killed my son! Oh! Mossy,
my son, my little boy! Oh! my son, my son!"
Madame buried her face in her hands and sobbed aloud. Then the father
hushed his cries and stood for a moment before her.
"Give me the key, Clarisse, let me go."
She rose and laid her face on his shoulder.
"What is it, Clarisse?" asked he.
"Your son and I were ten years betrothed."
"Oh, my child!"
"Because, being disinherited, he would not be me husband."
"Alas! would to God I had known it! Oh! Mossy, my son."
"Oh! Monsieur," cried the lady, clasping her hands, "forgive me—mourn
no more—your son is unharmed! I wrote the article—I am your recanting
slanderer! Your son is hunting for me now. I told my aunt to misdirect
him. I slipped by him unseen in the carriage-way."
The wild old General, having already staggered back and rushed forward
again, would have seized her in his arms, had not the little Doctor
himself at that instant violently rattled the door and shook his finger
at them playfully as he peered through the glass.
"Behold!" said Madame, attempting a smile: "open to your son; here is
She sank into a chair.
Father and son leaped into each other's arms; then turned to Madame:
"Ah! thou lovely mischief-maker"—
She had fainted away.
"Ah! well, keep out of the way, if you please, papa," said Dr. Mossy, as
Madame presently reopened her eyes; "no wonder you fainted; you have
finished some hard work—see; here; no; Clarisse, dear, take this."
Father and son stood side by side, tenderly regarding her as she
"Now, papa, you may kiss her; she is quite herself again, already."
"My daughter!" said the stately General; "this—is my son's ransom; and,
with this,—I withdraw the Villivicencio ticket."
"You shall not," exclaimed the laughing lady, throwing her arms about
"But, yes!" he insisted; "my faith! you will at least allow me to remove
my dead from the field."
"But, certainly;" said the son; "see, Clarisse, here is Madame, your
aunt, asking us all into the house. Let us go."
The group passed out into the Rue Royale, Dr. Mossy shutting the door
behind them. The sky was blue, the air was soft and balmy, and on the
sweet south breeze, to which the old General bared his grateful brow,
floated a ravishing odor of—
"Ah! what is it?" the veteran asked of the younger pair, seeing the
little aunt glance at them with a playful smile.
Madame Délicieuse for almost the first time in her life, and Dr. Mossy
for the thousandth—blushed.
It was the odor of orange-blossoms.