The Bird of Paradise
Chapter XXIV. The Sabine River, Louisiana
Chapter XXIV. The Sabine River, Louisiana.
"The castled crag of Drachenfels
Frowns o'er the wide and winding Rhine,
Whose breast of waters broadly swells
Between the banks which bear the vine.
And peasant girls with deep blue eyes,
And hands which offer early flowers,
Walk smiling o'er this paradise;
Above, the frequent feudal towers
Look o'er this vale of vintage bowers:
But one thing want these banks of Rhine—
Thy gentle hand to clasp in mine!"
The distress of Guinevere was now at flood tide. The dear little Cyril, nursed in vicissitudes at home and beaten with the rough storms of disease, though convalescent, was still weak, and suffering from the after-effects of the broncho-pneumonia; her husband had returned after a prolonged absence only to increase the miseries of her little home. Without a cent in his pocket he had returned on foot from his cotton-blight exploits and his tour of the prairie grog-shops, the rim of his hat hanging loose at the page 168back, an old coat given him in charity, its sleeves terminating mid way between his elbows and his wrists, buttoned and dragging on its buttons to hide the waistcoat that was not there, the bottoms of his pants ragged and torn, and the selvages of his boots showing his naked feet. Starved and haggard, wretched and desperate he looked as he called upon the doctor for the few dollars his wife had earned by making pinnies and little dresses for the children.
"Why, in the name of Heaven," said Eugene, "don't you make some effort to reform, Marmaduke?"
"Upon my soul Whitworth," he returned: "I haven't tasted a drink for six months!" but the smell of rum, the bleary, red eyes and the inarticulate, blurred speech told a very different tale, as he looked down at his boots.
"Here's the money," said the doctor; "I'm going down this afternoon to see Cyril. If you can take that money home without spending it, I think I can get you a situation. For goodness sake put on a suit of mine—you look like a lunatic at large in that rig," and bringing him a suit he began to roll it up in a piece of brown paper, but on second thoughts said—"No this won't do; I know where the parcel will go—into the golden balls establishment. Come inside here and take those rags off; have a bath, and you can put on these things. There's nobody inside, and I'll burn the old rags in the paddock."
The barrister and sometime honourable member of the House of Representatives followed him inside, with the abject obeisance of an alcoholic scapegrace, and did everything he was ordered to do like a child.
Drink had knocked the fibre and the spirit, out of him, and, when the doctor was engaged with a patient, he stole silently, like a sneak-thief, out of the house and away. On his rounds in the afternoon the doctor called to see Cyril, when to his gladsome surprise he learnt from the lips of Guinevere that he had brought every dollar back; but as he refused to eat anything which she offered to make for him, the soft-hearted girl spared him five cents to get two glasses of beer, and he was only gone a few minutes. He soon returned somewhat livened up by the beer, when Eugene called him to one side and said "Look here, Marmaduke, when a man can take the money home as you did, I think there are some hopes of his recovery from the cursed thing; will you take a situation as groom?"
"Take it," he said: "I should think I would take it; where is it?"
"I want a groom," said the doctor: "my present one is going away steeplechase riding next week: you may take the place if you like—it will be quite as good as blight-killing. It will be six dollars a week in your wife's pocket, and will be, I daresay, the means of doing you a great deal of good. I don't think you are so irreclaimable as I did yesterday. If you come with me it must be on strict conditions that as soon as you neglect to give your wife the money every Saturday night, I will stop it from you and give it to her myself. Any drink you really require before giving it up altogether I will pay for; but you must ask me first for the money for it: will that do?"page 169
"It will," he replied looking down on the ground. "I'll give it up this time for good—I'll never touch another drop in my life."
"Very well," said the doctor, and he drove away.
Upon her bended knees that pattern girl-wife beseeched her husband to keep his word if only for a month, trying to persuade him that every new day would make him forget the curse, and at the end of a month Marmaduke would be himself again.
"Swear, dear Marmaduke," she implored him in flowing tears, "for my sake and Cyril's: swear by our little darling that you will do this for your own sake and ours, and no matter how poor we are all our misery will be at an end." It was no trouble to Marmaduke to promise or swear to anything. No man—none but a fiend—could resist the appeals of that pitiable woman, whose tears burst from a well-spring of love, ever devoted to her husband and her child, ever forgetful of herself.
The Monday morning came and the new groom entered upon his new duties. He performed them after a slip-shod fashion, and all he ever knew about grooming a horse he picked up that week from the horse-loving doctor. He seemed, however, to realise the meaning of the change, and confessed that the old pains and ailments which he suffered before were disappearing. Every morning and evening he had large doses of strychnine thrown into his veins with a hypodermic syringe, and he took prescribed quantities of the chloride of gold2. The doctor, pleased at the efforts of his old friend to reform, on his rounds reported them to Guinevere, whose delight assumed the form of a girlish playfulness, exultation and buoyancy. Joy is merely a comparative term, and the news that the abandoned Marmaduke was retracing his steps on the road to ruin filled the down-trodden spirit of Guinevere with the quintessence of jubilation and bliss. For the sake of encouragement on the Saturday evenings, the doctor complimented him on the week's work, and especially on the fact that he had showed them he could keep sober if he liked.
"Here's the money, Marmaduke—don't forget what you promised to do with it, like a good fellow," he said, and handing him the money the groom went away.
He did forget. From the Saturday night till the Monday morning his wife searched high and low, but could not find him, because the police had locked him up in the watch-house. Instead of resuming his duty he stood at the bar of the police court, to answer to the charge of drunkenness for the twentieth time. He never went near the stable again, and discarded his broken-hearted wife for months. Still she pitied and loved him, and yearned for his redemption, though her heart was crushed and rent in twain—the very emblem of Hope walking through the valley of the shadow!
About the deserted abode of The Elms for two months—during which period one letter came from his wife—Whitworth lived the forlorn life of a shipwrecked sailor. In the letter she stated that she didn't like Galveston at all; she wished he would give up the house, coolly recommending page 170him not to keep it open on her account by any means, inasmuch as she and the children were quite comfortable where they were. The letter trembled in his hand as he read it, and he decided upon seeing her father in the city about the promise which he had made to send his daughter home. The next week he met him in company with Brick Bare, Toynbee and Catchpole. Drawing him aside, he questioned him on the subject. The great man had forgotten all about it, and harped upon the fact that the bird of Paradise did not like Galveston.
"What about that great practice you were spoutin' about?" he said aside to the adventurer.
"Practice!" returned at once the adventurer—"Practice is no name for it—by the lord Harry I know a better name for it than that! It's a little silver-mine for a good doctor. Nature has put the dollars there, and all the doctor has to do is to drive about the countrv picking them up—yes, drive about the country picking them up; the gold is there, and all he has got to do is to dissect it out, by the holy poker yes—dissect it out. You come out with me to-night. I'll show you—you'll see a silver-mine for a doctor. By the lord Harry we'll spike their guns!"
The doctor, after the above lucubration, proceeded to ask his father-in-law if he thought it would make any difference to Marvel, supposing that he left the sea-side and came nearer the city.
"You please yourself, dochther," said the mighty genius: "but my idea is it would. Marvel has never been much in the big towns, and she likes the country best or she wouldn't stay in Edenhall. I'll see her and tell her when I go home. See me when you come back ter-morrer," and the suburban train whisked him away.
Thirty-five miles from the city by train the adventurer and the doctor journeyed that night to Sabinnia. It being late when they arrived there, they both went straight to the adventurer's house, where the doctor was introduced to Mrs. Brick Bore—a splendid specimen of feminine size and strength, with an affable manner and a fine commanding presence. A sumptuous rich man's dinner was spread before them, the adventurer swallowing four bottles of "La Rose" and two of Tennent's bitter beer himself, eating and talking away all the while.
The housemaid and waitress consisted of a black male Salomon islander, just about out of his teens, dubbed with the Christian name of Julia. Peculiar Julia laid the table, waited upon the guests, nursed the baby and minded the children—mostly little girls—chopped the wood, polished the boots, scrubbed the floor, groomed the ponies, cleaned out the stable, milked six cows, drew the wine, ran all the messages, and rode a skewbald pony for the tri-daily mail. The oaths and curses, kicks and cuffs, scoldings and buffetings bestowed upon the lowly savage were quite enough to lay him out for evermore; but, on the other hand, he seemed to thrive upon the curses and buffetings, and as his master carefully explained to the doctor, he could not be got to do a hand's turn properly unless he were properly cursed and kicked. The customary ejaculations and epithets of Brick page 171Bore were like water thrown on the back of a duck, and altogether inadequate to meet his case. The oaths appropriate to the black heathen were a sort of decoction of all the worst oaths in all the worst languages of all the worst hells in the world. It was apparently the only poetry to produce motion in peculiar Julia. A lump of wood, furthermore, was also a gentle reminder that the lazy Julia was wanted to light the fire; a prod with the butt-end of a gun, a suggestion that it wanted cleaning; a kick behind, a quiet hint that the boots were to be taken off and polished; while a crack over the head with the holy poker indicated that it was time to go for the letters. No dog ever had such grand times as that Salomon Islander, emancipated from the thraldom of his native chief and the ennui of the beauties of the tropical forests, as after a big dinner on guava fruit and yams, he lay in siestas under the cool cocoa-nut palms and the mangroves. With all the rough usage, none could handle a baby with greater tenderness and care, or watch the gambolling little girls with more consistent solicitude and vigilance. One word in particular was always used in addressing Julia, and whether it was part and parcel of a vernacular oath or not, it seemed to have as many significations as the cawing cry of old Hemlock.
"Wad-a-wee, you blood-thirsty hound," and Julia straightway would sweep the floor, light the fire, and nurse the baby: "wad-a-wee, you rotten son of a bitch," and peculiar Julia would put down the baby and clean out the stable; "wad-a-wee, you scabby, scurvy skunk," and Julia would bring in more champagne; "wad-a-wee, you lousy, mangy hound from hell," and Julia would milk the cows and cheerfully set sail for the mail on the bare-back pony. Give him a good feed, he wouldn't do anything at all—one meal a day like any other dog was quite enough for the savage. During one of his curio-hunting exploits in the islands, the adventurer had come upon a tribe of the natives. They took fright thinking Brick Bore was the devil, when he came suddenly upon them, and shot a bird of Paradise with a blunderbuss. They fled; no wonder! He made after them as they were fording the river, and pulled out one in the rear by the wool of his head. It was a young prince, but Brick Bore called him Julia. He followed his master like a well-trained spaniel, and would give utterance to sounds that expressed his unqualified approval of his situation and the tame, gentle, tender and considerate Brick Bore before everything else in Christendom.
The castle of the adventurous savage island hunter was situated on the beetling crag of a lofty hill clothed with ferns and generally known as Chocolate-hill. Shaped like an old Swiss chateau, it was a tower of wassail and welcome. From the look-out on the tower grand panoramic views could be obtained for scores of miles, including the city, the Mississippi delta, and a vast expanse of sea coast; while in the far West the glamour of the Rocky Mountains added a sombre and solemn aspect to the landscape. Majestic mail-boats, stately wool ships in full sail, or wavering the shadows of their flapping drying shrouds on the water, heavy barges, colliers and white-winged page 172yachts could be seen scattered over the blue waters of the bay or scudding through the heads. On the morning of Eugene's look-out they enjoyed a coup d'œil3 of the British Royal squadron, its yard-arms manned with rows of white jackets in lightning changes—now bare, now lined with rows of sailor with the regularity of clock-work. The vicinity of Augusta and the hills over which he had roamed with Marvel in his halcyon prenuptial days squeezed themselves into the panorama, while for miles around the castle lay, six feet deep in maize and luxuriating hay-grass, the best fattening land in the country's side. The banks of the Sabine River stretched themselves out into fertile plains of rich meadow-land and pasturage, broken by occasional clumps of ilex, wild gentian, and golden rods. It was, further, the home of American viticulture, and like an unending green carpet, the rich loamy soil for a radius of twenty miles in its slopes, its rises and valleys among the hills, lay buried in tobacco-herbs of every known variety. After surfeiting their eyes with the unspeakably glorious view, arrangements were made for the reconnoitring of the country by the doctor, and the invasion by the adventurer of the vigneron homes and planters' homesteads. The work was, without further delay, begun with a pair of skewbald roadster ponies yoked abreast in a pony phaeton, on the back seat of which sat the Salomon islander, tiger-like, his arms and white gloved black hands folded akimbo diagonally across his chest, and his dreamy eyes in the one attitude of star-gazing, as if every moment he were expecting a thunderbolt from Brick Bore behind him.
Every living soul in that herb-clad district knew Brick Bore: farmers of grain and farmers of sheep and cattle; tobacco-planters, who formed the bulk of the population, vignerons, tradespeople, navvies, milk-boys and publicans—all came within the ken and the courtesy of the irresistible company—floater. His plan of attack was directed chiefly against the innocent, the unsuspecting, the simple and unlettered farmers and vignerons with a modicum of monetary capital. Upon these, after wearisome harangues on the untold treasures of the Great Leviathan Antediluvian4 Diamantino Tin Mine, he would audaciously foist shares in the gigantic company, standing at their front doors as if he were distributing largesse out of a bag, until there was not one of his allotted portion left to sell, and it was expected that the full complement of five hundred and fifty thousand shares had all been palmed off on the people of the Southern States. All the time he was there shares were selling like hot cakes to the sons of the soil, with the glittering lure of $ x —in nubibus5—held temptingly before them. Then would the unblushing Brick Bore begin his premeditated introduction in such terms as made the doctor blush and his cheeks tingle with shame.
"Oh! by the lord Harry, Mr. Vigneron Planter, just you look here: let me introduce you to a very old friend of mine, Dr. Whitworth, son-in-law of the paragon coal-king. There never set his foot on a tobacco plantation such an eminent surgeon before—no, by Jehosaphat, there has not been such a saw-bones here before. He has had offers of some of the page 173biggest prizes in the whole world in the way of hospitals, but I daresay if a petition were prepared and a deputation formed to present it to him, with an offer of about fifty thousand dollars a year, he might be induced to stay here for the benefit of his wife's health. There is not a man in the city who can hold a candle for him while he operates, and an offer of fifty thousand a year—guaranteed mind—I fancy might fetch him to practise upon us: yes, by the holy poker to practise upon us—practise upon us, by the holy poker: that's all."
One and all, the credulous and the unbelieving seemed to absorb the words of the wondrous adventurer and confirm his opinion, saying that they thought that a strong deputation could be formed, and that there was no doubt in the world but that the money could be raised in time, if the wondrous man would only prevail upon his friend to wait a week. Whithersoever they wandered, the nicotinal and viticultural labourers received them with profuse hospitality, and vehemently urged upon the doctor the notion of his starting practice upon them without delay. So kind, homely, and gratuitous did all the strange people seem that it occurred to Eugene that the bird of Paradise would have no reason to complain of the dearth of visitors, and in every other respect the prospect seemed to be attractive and lucrative. So enamoured had the adventurer made him of the new project that Eugene followed him in his explorations of a house to let, and after an infinitesimally short delay compared to the troublesome time which he had experienced in the same work at Galveston, they found one eminently suited to the purposes of Marvel. It was a very choice and commodious brick villa, with a large and beautiful garden and five acres of land under vines, and to crown all, it was in shape the very facsimile of the villa of her own, Edenhall, which had been the cause of so much of her desertion; furthermore, it was admirably suitable for medical purposes. Large and lofty stables it contained, and a short distance behind lay a training track for race-horses. There and then, whether the doctor liked it or not, the irrepressible Brick Bore paid down to toe owner of the villa a month's rent in advance out of his own pocket, or other people's pockets, and they finally, after a day's enjoyment, left the flourishing district of Sabinnia, taking the evening train back to the city of New Orleans.
There again they encountered the mighty coal-king, the great father-in-law, to whom the signal success of the wholesale sale of promoters' certificates among the good people of Sabinnia was, in the usual manner, propounded. It was considered that the floating of the colossal company was un fait accompli, owing principally to the vigorous attack made by the knowing manœuvering Brick Bore upon the unarmed and unwary hosts on the fields of tobacco and maize and wine.
The notion of the doctor attacking the aforesaid unwary hosts and charging their broken phalanx with knives and pill-boxes was duly discussed at length, and submitted for the approval of the king, who, albeit, did not express an opinion one way or another. Probably because he felt certain page 174his son-in-law was enamoured of the proposal, and pretty sure to carry it out, he seemed a bit afraid to pass an opinion in case the undertaking proved to be a failure, and he might, if he had as it were a finger in the pie, afterwards be expected to shell out something towards its success. He was as usual much more liberal with promises not to see the doctor "stuck" than he was in the matter of performances. The king commanded the doctor to please himself, and undertook to send the bird of Edenhall, "with a flea in her ear," again home to her husband as soon as ever he reached home.
After a few carousals with his father-in-law and the indefatigable adventurer, Whitworth separated from the other two, while the heroic, ubiquitous company-floater stuck to the uncompromising king like two hundredweight of glue. Arriving at Galveston, he wrote to his wife, informing her of his intention to leave The Elms, pay the balance of the unexpired lease, and begin practice again in a district which he trusted would be more congenial to her tastes. The practice at the seaside he had very little trouble in selling to a medical man from New York, and all his belongings, furniture, buggy, brass-plate, red lamp, and the old favorite mare were removed to the new residence among the tobacco and grape-covered slopes of the Sabine River.
Marmaduke was away out of the city at the time; nobody knew where he was, while the struggling Guinevere lingered in penury and sorrow and became more and more attached to Miriam. The doctor called to wish her good-bye and, through her, he made again the offer of the position of groom to her husband should he shortly come back. He encouraged her with the hopes that they might all be in Sabinnia before very long, where Cyril could play with Pearly and Valentine among the wild flowers of the vine-growing fields.
When all was settled in the charming villa rejoicing in the name of "Bendemeer,"6 a passing fancy, a long-forgotten dream, an hallucination, a something—he could not tell what it was—came into his mind when the proprietor of the adjacent vineyard showed him through the wine-vaults, the wine-presses, the varied vines with their green festoons and clusters of grapes purpling under the smiles of the waning summer, and the home of what he called "The Paradise vineyard." After quaffing cups of Maronean7 and Falernian chasselas8 in the paradisal holy of holies, the uncommonly hospitable French vigneron beamed forth in all his benign radiance upon the new doctor and said, with a deep crystal scintillating flagon of ruby Burgundy at his lips—"Dogder, I vaz zo pleazed to velcome you come mid your vife to Paradize; ven Mrs. Dogder vill come you zay?"
Oh Paradise! Oh Paradise! what would we give to see thy rapturous delights, of which we think when we read that sweet story of old. Oh! to banish the battle and the roar of life and to enter by the ivory gates into the euthanasia of that unknown, unploughed, untrodden land whose saffron rivers flow through gardens of asphodel and cinnabar, and where the perfume of spices and flowers we have never seen floats on the page 175ambrosial breeze; where the almond spreads her white pink-veined blossom in leafy lace against the sapphire sky, "thick inlaid with patines of fine gold,"9 and the sighing cedar shades the idle swain from the rays of the deepening summer as he lies on the radiant, musk-scented fields, while enchanted birds sing their love-calls among the everlasting emerald leaves; where night is the brooding of calm and peace, and light the eternal wedding of the silver queen of night with the golden king of day. There to wander in perpetual youth through beatific groves and watch the houris10 and the wood-nymphs in endless measures, in ever-changing robes and ever-changing harmony, dancing to the soft, sweet tones of the reed, the lyre and the lute; to loll in the odoriferous glades where the flower-crowned fairy-queen entwines her chaplets of rosy chains, and never-dying climbers hang in garlands of green and gold. Oh! for an idyllic life among the dreamy, white oxen basking among the blue lotos in the limpid streams and the crystal pools or browsing among the blue-bells and the tussocks of ilex on the perennial clover and laying them down drowsily under the noon-day sun; to eat of the tree whose scent is the breath of eternity, while the tall corn waves its bright gold, reflecting like a sea the clouds that move slowly above; at eve to lie, like Adonis in the lap of Venus, among the lissom Nereids clothed in moonlight and harken to the murmuring cicada from amidst draperies of amethyst and pearls studded with golden stars. Oh! night beyond compare to listen to the undying song of the bulbul and the deathless phœnix, steeping the senses in the sleepy fragrance of the clove, the cinnamon and the olive, drinking from starry goblets deep draughts of purest oblivion in the juice of the imperishable vine in the land of Lethe, and awaking with Aurora, like Psyche, in the alabaster Halls of Love. Oh Paradise! Oh Paradise! Reached at last the verification of the dream under the boughs of the sighing canary-pine and the shining beams of the big, yellow moon!—the promised land! the goal after the struggle! the haven after the wave-battering storm! the supernal Paradise of the eternal skies after the hell upon the ribald earth!
The doctor replied that he did not feel very sure what day his wife might be expected, but that he was at that time waiting for a letter from her upon the subject. After receiving an offer on behalf of the children to ramble among the vines of Paradise and carry away all the grapes they could, like Joshua and Caleb from the land of Canaan—an offer which he accepted with reserve in the case of the unfettered Valentine—he felt at any rate he was, if not in a land of zymotic11 diseases, at least in a land flowing with milk and honey. He settled down in great heart for the work of practising upon the simple and the unwary, many of them already landed in the meshes of the Great Leviathan Antediluvian Diamantino Tin-Mining Company's net.
The change proved in every way a highly beneficial one to the doctor. The colour returned to his cheeks, and fat cheques for attendance quickly drafted into his account at the local bank. Five hundred dollars was quite an ordinary sum, and in one single case he received two thousand for an page 176operation. It was a celebrated case of tumour on the brain which he excised, and so eminent was the success that it was the subject of dissertations among the medical societies of the city, until the method adopted finally received the name of Whitworth's operation. The prowess acquired by it increased the fame of Eugene a hundredfold. Wherever he visited the sick, he was received with open arms, and he soon became a universal favorite in the tobacco and vine-growing district. If Eugene had come to the promised land, it was three months before the bird of Paradise herself was discovered in those habitudes. She reluctantly brooded over the idea of entering there and was probably waiting for the proper season to migrate. Her Paradise was the life of a young grass-widow in the music-halls of Edenhall, and it was embellished by the haunting reflection that Pharoah the king, her father, had said it might some day be her own.
2 Contemporary medicines for alcoholism; these are also highly poisonous.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
6 Bendemeer is a small town in New South Wales, on the Macdonald river; Dutton may also be referring to a location in Moore's Lalla Rookh.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]