Ma'ame Pelagie, when she saw that her sister slept, arose noiselessly an_tepped outside upon the low-roofed narrow gallery. She did not linger there,
but with a step that was hurried and agitated, she crossed the distance tha_ivided her cabin from the ruin.
The night was not a dark one, for the sky was clear and the moon resplendent.
But light or dark would have made no difference to Ma'ame Pelagie. It was no_he first time she had stolen away to the ruin at night-time, when the whol_lantation slept; but she never before had been there with a heart so nearl_roken. She was going there for the last time to dream her dreams; to see th_isions that hitherto had crowded her days and nights, and to bid the_arewell.
There was the first of them, awaiting her upon the very portal; a robust ol_hite-haired man, chiding her for returning home so late. There are guests t_e entertained. Does she not know it? Guests from the city and from the nea_lantations. Yes, she knows it is late. She had been abroad with Felix, an_hey did not notice how the time was speeding. Felix is there; he will explai_t all. He is there beside her, but she does not want to hear what he wil_ell her father.
Ma'ame Pelagie had sunk upon the bench where she and her sister so often cam_o sit. Turning, she gazed in through the gaping chasm of the window at he_ide. The interior of the ruin is ablaze. Not with the moonlight, for that i_aint beside the other one—the sparkle from the crystal candelabra, whic_egroes, moving noiselessly and respectfully about, are lighting, one afte_he other. How the gleam of them reflects and glances from the polished marbl_illars!
The room holds a number of guests. There is old Monsieur Lucien Santien,
leaning against one of the pillars, and laughing at something which Monsieu_afirme is telling him, till his fat shoulders shake. His son Jules is wit_im—Jules, who wants to marry her. She laughs. She wonders if Felix has tol_er father yet. There is young Jerome Lafirme playing at checkers upon th_ofa with Leandre. Little Pauline stands annoying them and disturbing th_ame. Leandre reproves her. She begins to cry, and old black Clementine, he_urse, who is not far off, limps across the room to pick her up and carry he_way. How sensitive the little one is! But she trots about and takes care o_erself better than she did a year or two ago, when she fell upon the ston_all floor and raised a great "bo-bo" on her forehead. Pelagie was hurt an_ngry enough about it; and she ordered rugs and buffalo robes to be brough_nd laid thick upon the tiles, till the little one's steps were surer.
"Il ne faut pas faire mal a Pauline." She was saying it aloud —"faire mal _auline."
But she gazes beyond the salon, back into the big dining hall, where the whit_repe myrtle grows. Ha! how low that bat has circled. It has struck Ma'am_elagie full on the breast. She does not know it. She is beyond there in th_ining hall, where her father sits with a group of friends over their wine. A_sual they are talking politics. How tiresome! She has heard them say "l_uerre" oftener than once. La guerre. Bah! She and Felix have somethin_leasanter to talk about, out under the oaks, or back in the shadow of th_leanders.
But they were right! The sound of a cannon, shot at Sumter, has rolled acros_he Southern States, and its echo is heard along the whole stretch of Cot_oyeuse.
Yet Pelagie does not believe it. Not till La Ricaneuse stands before her wit_are, black arms akimbo, uttering a volley of vile abuse and of braze_mpudence. Pelagie wants to kill her. But yet she will not believe. Not til_elix comes to her in the chamber above the dining hall—there where tha_rumpet vine hangs—comes to say good-by to her. The hurt which the big bras_uttons of his new gray uniform pressed into the tender flesh of her bosom ha_ever left it. She sits upon the sofa, and he beside her, both speechless wit_ain. That room would not have been altered. Even the sofa would have bee_here in the same spot, and Ma'ame Pelagie had meant all along, for thirt_ears, all along, to lie there upon it some day when the time came to die.
But there is no time to weep, with the enemy at the door. The door has been n_arrier. They are clattering through the halls now, drinking the wines,
shattering the crystal and glass, slashing the portraits.
One of them stands before her and tells her to leave the house. She slaps hi_ace. How the stigma stands out red as blood upon his blanched cheek!
Now there is a roar of fire and the flames are bearing down upon he_otionless figure. She wants to show them how a daughter of Louisiana ca_erish before her conquerors. But little Pauline clings to her knees in a_gony of terror. Little Pauline must be saved.
"Il ne faut pas faire mal a Pauline." Again she is saying it aloud—"faire ma_ Pauline."
The night was nearly spent; Ma'ame Pelagie had glided from the bench upo_hich she had rested, and for hours lay prone upon the stone flagging,
motionless. When she dragged herself to her feet it was to walk like one in _ream. About the great, solemn pillars, one after the other, she reached he_rms, and pressed her cheek and her lips upon the senseless brick.
"Adieu, adieu!" whispered Ma'ame Pelagie.
There was no longer the moon to guide her steps across the familiar pathway t_he cabin. The brightest light in the sky was Venus, that swung low in th_ast. The bats had ceased to beat their wings about the ruin. Even th_ocking-bird that had warbled for hours in the old mulberry-tree had sun_imself asleep. That darkest hour before the day was mantling the earth.
Ma'ame Pelagie hurried through the wet, clinging grass, beating aside th_eavy moss that swept across her face, walking on toward the cabin-towar_auline. Not once did she look back upon the ruin that brooded like a hug_onster—a black spot in the darkness that enveloped it.