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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter VII. The Ball in the State of Georgia

Chapter VII. The Ball in the State of Georgia.

       "and bright
The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men;
A thousand hearts beat happily, and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell."

Like a slave for eighteen months that gallant little piebald pony spanked his ten miles every day till windgalls, splints and spavins made him hors de combat by crippling his legs. One of them swelled to the size of a watermelon. Carrie would not take the risk of Madame's displeasure by page 37walking to her duties, and the forty lodge cases which Whitworth was expected to visit every day were in sore need of his frequent attendance daily.

In a neighbouring Indian village was bred and reared the handsomest dark chestnut mare that ever stepped in Augusta. Whitworth bought her. Her arched neck, her fiery eye, her soft satin skin and her playful carriage and action, reflected the love and care which he bestowed upon her; and as he rode her out in the afternoons she was the pride of his life and the picture of every street. She was everywhere known as "Rose." She was as sportive as a kitten, docile as a dog, and her step as light as the foot of the roe.

The system of medical attendance upon lodge patients involved a vast amount of thankless labour, with a disproportionate monetary return; and when the town and district hospital had lost its medical officer, who had resigned and gone to England, out of a goodly number of applicants Whitworth was duly elected resident surgeon to the hospital and its affiliated asylums, as well as government medical officer for the State of Georgia. The position was a decided improvement upon his former appointment, and the office was one of the most coveted in the southern States of America.

The hospital building itself comprised four blue-stone blocks — two main buildings and two wings — and its fifteen wards could accommodate three hundred patients. It was stuccoed down on every face, and from its battlements a view of the whole town could be obtained—standing as it did upon the beetling brow of a lofty hill, and looming out imposing and picturesque in the moonlight. A handsome and spacious new blue-stone residence had been erected for the resident surgeon at a total cost of eight thousand five hundred dollars, so that in this magnificent abode Whitworth was to live. The departed surgeon had a very large family, and occupied the whole of the building, bat it was a puzzle to Whitworth to know what to do with the residential mansion.

The duties of the new appointment consisted in his attendance chiefly in the mornings; for an hour or so in the afternoons he was free. These leisure hours he regularly spent riding upon the back of Rose, as he had called her, after a little child a daughter of Mrs. Downward, of which little girl he had been very fond, and often carried upon his mustang's back—the Rose of Downward upon the Rose of Whitworth.

Cantering past Madame's mansion one autumn afternoon, he met Madame Pompadour walking along the road.

"Are you going to the ball, Dr. Whitworth?" she began; "not as I am aware that it is any breach of etiquette to make any fulsome enquiries but thinking that now you are so lonely all alone in that commodious house and don't have much company beyond that darling little horse"—"She's a mare," said Eugene, as Madame raised the parasol to stroke her neck, and Rosie pirouetted over to the other footpath—"I often see you pass by going home alone before the shades of eventide have begun to page 38close upon us it occurred to me to think that you would perhaps be one of the ball committee and needless to say how disappointed I was when I looked for your name on the cards and could not find it there which nevertheless need not prevent you from going as I have been in hopes of all the same."

"I didn't know there was to be a ball," returned Eugene; "but I must take a few lessons in dancing before going to balls."

"Come to my place in the afternoons" she quickly rejoined, "and I'll teach you in a week all about dancing if you promise me you will go to the ball when I have done with you."

"It's a bargain," said Eugene, as the mare grew restless and fretful to canter away. "I'll be there to-morrow."

Good as his word, every afternoon repaired the improving Eugene to the calisthenic halls of Madame, where down in the cellar the indispensable accomplishment was to be imparted. Carrie had of course to be brought down into the cellar, together with a large bundle of rags made into the form of an effigy with a wooden head, which the juvenile bone-millers had been using as an Aunt Sally2 for cockshies at her head with a billet of wood.

Madame and Carrie stood, side by side, at the top end of the cellar, all sniggers and smiles, while the doctor stood on the stone floor, and Aunt Sally sat up on a beer barrel, vis-à-vis, at the bottom. He had to curtsey to Aunt Sally, swing Aunt Sally, when Madame elaborately curtseyed to, or airily swung Caroline, put her down on the barrel when Madame and Caroline stood to attention, chassez-croissez3 with Aunt Sally and promenade with Aunt Sally, till his arms ached and she fell on her head upon his toes.

He wanted to bring his mare down the cellar, or adjourn to the hay-loft, but Madame was inexorable and would insist on his sticking to his aunt and the barrel, or else forego the instructions.

He felt very much relieved when the week, as stipulated, had expired, and began to suspect that the ladies were making fun of him. Madame presented him with a book on dancing and a book whose title was "The etiquette of the ball-room," both of which he read through in five minutes and put into his waistcoat pocket, Carrie declaring that they were of no use at all, as it took five years to learn even a schottische. Eugene said he would be able to dance on his head by that time, mounted his horse and galloped away.

The hospital wardsman, a portly and portentous man, and his bony little feather-weight wife then took the young elephantine dancer in hand, and put the finishing touches upon him in the hospital kitchen, the washer-up or assistant cook being assigned to the resident surgeon as a partner. He might as well have had the butcher's block they danced around in the kitchen for a partner, for if Eugene knew nothing about dancing, Susan Jane knew less, and only served as an encumbrance and a nuisance to Terpsichore4. She endeavoured to throw a cloak over her own awkwardness by tittering and giggling at Eugene.

page 39

The ball at the orderly room was to be a fancy-dress ball, but some of the party attended in their evening dress with desert wastes of shirt fronts and swallow-tail doe-skin coats. Not so Lilliecrap, the hospital wardsman. He borrowed Whitworth's university cap and gown, and strung four hoods around his neck, displaying the white, blue, pink and crimson lining to great advantage by turning the hoods inside out. His hoary hair he dyed black, with a mixture of nitrate of silver and sulphur, and greasing it all over with castor oil be plastered the forelock well down flat on his forehead.

It was really a blessing—that ball that was to be—to some of the bedridden patients; for they showed a great desire and aptitude to take up their beds and walk to the ball, to see Lilliecrap and Lilliecrap alone, though some of them, from apoplectic strokes, broken backs and paralysed legs, were unable to move for years. One blind old woman, who had been the heroine of a coal-mining rack-a-rock explosion, actually did go to have a look on among the stately matrons, and sneered at the wardsman about the smell of the castor oil.

The large hall of the garrison buildings of the third battalion of the American States militia never saw a greater profusion of floral wealth than that of the countless garlands that decorated its walls on the night of Friday, the twenty-ninth of December, 1844.

For two days previous the carpenters had been at work building a stage for the musicians, partitioning off a spacious supper room, and fixing laths along the walls and ceilings for hanging festoons, flags, and Chinese lanterns. Apple and other fruit blossom was gummed all over the walls and ceiling, together with what seemed to be all the flowers of the country, prominent among which were mauve orchids, caladium leaves and frenium; while gigantic cocos palms, almost touching the ceiling, and artistically-arranged sprays of crimson roses turned the garrison hall into a positive floral fairy-land. A huge basket, decorated with rainbow inflorescence and gauze silks and chiffon, from a deep rich old gold to a pale cool cream, was made to hide the orchestra on the platform, as if the appearance of the performers did not agree with the sweetness of the strains they produced.

The Nonpareil5 band of Mobile, a sea-side town near the metropolis, was liberally paid to play the dance music to the Terpsichorean movements of the youth and beauty of the States of Louisiana and Georgia. Standing around the door for hours was a vast concourse of spectators, elbowing each other and stretching their necks for a good position to view the pageantry of the celebrities as they entered the floral fairy-land.

Before nine o'clock, carriages upon carriages poured their flowing cargoes into that great mouth of the garrison hall, and drew aside to make room for more; drivers with cockades6 and drivers without cockades, and prancing horses, cannoning against each other amidst a Babel of shouting voices in the street, under the control of an increased posse of police. Madame came, covering herself with glory, in a superb landau7, with page 40Caroline inside, and the old bone-miller bear on the box, escorted, as no other carriage was, by two outriders.

"I wonder if he will keep his promise Carrie," she said; "I do believe notwithstanding all my week's pains and not taking into account the two volumes I gave him that it might so eventuate that in spite of loved memories and cherished hopes we may yet find ourselves disappointed as it may happen that some accident may unfortunately occur that will prevent him appearing to-night and even if no accident occurred my dream not that I attach much consequence to such stuff as dreams howsomever true they may turn out to be but what I was going to say was that my dream may be true and that he won't come at all for in his heart of hearts—Oh! Carrie dear,—I believe he is in every respect and particular very bashful and rather inclusive when one comes to find him out."

"I suppose he has only himself to please," said Carrie, although she didn't mean exactly what she said, and the great mouth of the orderly room swallowed the ladies like two feminine Jonahs into its bewildering interior,—Madame, wearing a pale blue pompadour silk gown and a diamond tiara, with her hair a la mode, while Caroline appeared in a fraise-coloured satin, with broad shoulder straps of petunia velvet, relieved with white, and a lovely rope of pearls. Anon, among the three hundred flaneurs8, they fantastically sailed to the strains of 'Tausend und einer nacht' and the Blue Danube waltzes, Madame's eyes rolling all over the divans in search of Eugene.

It soon reached eleven o'clock, and the tyro dancer was nowhere to be seen. One of the outriders bad been thrown from his horse in a collision and had been taken to the hospital. He was only Madame's cook, an old sailor not used to horses, prevailed upon to do extra duty as an outrider; he was the man with the powdered wig who had announced the Church at the party. His collar-bone was broken and his shoulder dislocated, the reduction and bandaging of which occupied a considerable time, as Eugene had to find the necessary splints and other apparatus himself, Lilliecrap having left for the ball just after sundown, saying he wanted to get a good start of the others in case the old blind woman might follow him to the garrison hall.

At eleven o'clock, in his ordinary evening dress, Eugene, smoking a cigar, strolled leisurely down to the dance-room, where he waited for some little time, peering through the little window of the dressing room at the airily floating forms within.

There was Carrie's mother, in an old costume, in the circling grand chain of the lancers9, posing in the character of Cleopatra. The wardsman's wife had adopted the becoming costume of "Frost," in a white lace dress that had the appearance of having been dipped in a bucket of glue size and had little pellets of the hospital cotton-wool sticking all over it. She certainly looked very snowy and frigid. The Bar from New Orleans he could make out when once the Bar shifted his masque. He page 41was dressed red-hot, like the devil in Faust. The portly wardsman he knew by his own university attire; fussing about here and there and excitedly busying himself with meddlesome attention to the ladies. Weighed down with the heavy gown and hoods, and looking like an enormous variegated and bright-hued tropical butterfly, he dropped melted castor oil and fatness wherever he flew around among the flowers. Eugene could see him clambering up to the window sills to open or close the little casements; very like a large baboon in a cage trying to tear down the iron bars of the windows.

What was it that suddenly made every nerve in the frame of Eugene to quiver; every chord of his heart to quicken; spread the ivory pallor of amazement over his eager face and fix his deep blue eyes on one spot in that hall; as he stood gazing and gazing, as if at a vision of the opening heavens?

Suddenly sending the janitor for Lilliecrap, the wardsman quickly hurried into the dressing-room, breathing as if he had just danced fifty miles, and sweating like a bull, while the track he left behind was thickly spotted and slippery.

"Here!" said Eugene, "here, look here; straight before us, near that third window, sitting in the rose-bower under the gas-jet," as he kept pointing through the dressing-room window.

"Yes?" said Lilliecrap.

"Find out who they are," said Eugene, and the wardsman re-entered the ball-room.

Through the window Eugene watched him approach Madame, who had been engaged in a long conversation with a military officer, and saw him look in the direction of the rose-bower, and Madame's head turn, to slily peep over the fan there too. A word and Lilliecrap was back.

"Mrs. Payne, from the city, in the white silk dress," he said, "chaperoning Miss Gould, in the peacock."

Spell-bound stood Eugene, while the lights of other days flashed before his mind again; his monotonous life at the universities; the phantasmagorial delirium at the affiliated college; the loss and marriage of his fair friend and companion; the verse he had written in the outcast tragedian; the fauns and dryads in the pomegranate and orange trees, and the angels at the library door: all appeared fitted together into a kinetoscope10, and he was drawn towards them once again.

Straightway he walked through the wondering crowd of floating forms, and looking into the rosebower he said: "My old friend, once Guinevere Hood!"

"Oh! good gracious, Dr. Whitworth!" she replied, holding out her gloved hand. "This is Miss Gould, you remember the young lady at the library once," as Miss Marvel Gould resumed her seat after the lancers. "You know I told you then I would introduce you some day, and here she is. How you have changed! Marmaduke is coming up by the last train tonight. He will be glad to see you again. I have been staying with Mrs. page 42Gould for a week. Marmaduke and I have often talked about you since you have been away; but perhaps you have forgotten us now."

Assuring her that he had far from forgotten her, he asked for her programme.

"Oh! there's plenty of room in mine, you can fill it up all over the vacancies if you like," said Guinevere.

Turning to Miss Marvel Gould, her keen, black eyes pierced him through and through, and with an exquisite pout upon her carmine lips, "Mine is full," she said, "it was full before I was here ten minutes," as an epauletted young naval officer asserted his claim to a waltz, and walked away with her on his arm. Vanitas vanitatum!11

A year or so older she looked, but the gleaming black eyes were as lustrous as the tiara of sapphires and diamonds which she wore around her neck and the scintillating jewels on her bangled arms. With the same magnetic gestures as he had seen her show in the museum, her hair and the massive semicircular brows had the sheen of ebony, while a costly glittering diamond butterfly sparkled at the side of her fringe, and two large diamonds twinkled like stars set in the lobes of her ears. She was the picture of a girl treading the primrose path of life.

His eyes followed her through the mazy and serpentine movements of the dance, and as he sat talking of byegone days to Guinevere, he fancied she now and then glanced towards the rose-bower. The music ceased. Marvel soon came back to Guinevere, and with the love-light flashing in her eyes at Eugene, she recalled with an air of outraged dignity the day when he had neglected them in the library; but without replying he listened and stared like a man bewitched and enthralled – the charm of the bird by the glistening serpent.

When the spirit-stirring music of the Anglo-Hungarian band, which so few could resist, heralded in the lancers, the old college friends were, ominously for one of the two, arranged at the top. She had guided him through a struggle on a former occasion, and he prayed she would guide him through another that night. As, statuesque, she rose for the dance she seemed to waft the waves of the rose-bower perfume over Eugene, and queen-like she walked, dressed in an ivory Duchesse12 skirt, with box-pleated bodice, trimmed with lace and lilies of the valley; one corner of the train turned back, with a white lace fan and a trail of lilies and ribbon bows, while around her neck was a necklet of diamonds and pearls.

The voluminous books of Madame, the Aunt Sally, the beer barrel and the butcher's block in the hospital kitchen had left no traces on his memory, and all he could do was to trust to Providence and Guinevere, or act the elephantine donkey before them all. These proved unerring guides, and as in the middle of the grand chain he clasped the hand of Guinevere his memories filled with transcendent and supernal joy. They promenaded around the room together, arm in arm, before the criticising stares of the matrons and the wall-flower dames, all wondering how he had come to page 43know Guinevere: when, as soon as he had conducted her to her former seat, Madame intruded upon them.

"Oh! do come quick Carrie is dying," she said. Following her quickly into the ladies dressing room, the air of which was crowded to suffocation, on the floor lay Carrie, while the ladies drenched her with jug-fuls of water. With a little hypodermic syringe he injected sulphuric ether into her veins. She quickly rallied from the fainting, and was taken away by her mother in Madame's landau.

"She seemed despondent and fretful all the evening several asked her to dance but she made excuses and notwithstanding not to put too fine a point on it as Sir Thomas Shakespeare says who can tell as it seemed to me myself that if some one she had known better it not being polite to mention names had only asked her to dance she might who can say otherwise not have been so downcast as to faint and so fretful. I do hope you will come up and see her to-morrow poor girl as she may be very ill for months and perhaps another lesson or so will be no harm," said Madame, in another little "olla podrida"13 volume; but he replied that he did not intend to stay much longer, and was going to meet a friend of his coming by the last train.

Returning to the rose-bower, he prevailed upon Miss Marvel for an impromptu waltz. It was the Myosotis. Conducting her back to Guinevere, additional charms infringed upon his affections; as in her resplendent peacock-blue duchesse dress with a garniture14 of jewelled lemon-coloured embroidery and jewelled tulle15 in the pouches of the bodice, and an apricot berthe16 of magnificent point de gaze17 she played ostentatiously her gorgeous colours, and full upon Eugene the flashing love-light of her large black eyes impinged.

The dancing abilities of the Paradisal bird and her perfervid enjoyment of the ball seemed never to reach their full climax. Among the créme de la créme at the grand ball she was the dazzling gem of them all. She was well known it seemed by all, as the gayest among the gay; the attraction demolishing and throwing into the shade all other attractions; the pet of her own family, and the idol of others; the sparkling girl at whose feet half the gentlemen in that military hall would kneel, and whose glance would allure even a philosopher. By these characteristics was Marvel well known. The beauty of her dark face showed a soupçon of the Gipsy; but, as her swelling bosom heaved in the waltz, the venom and gall within it were known to none, and Eugene little knew what changes that Myosotis-Myosotis to him would bring. Strange that she should still wear the same colour as she wore six years before; surely she did not always wear those colours, becoming as they seemed to be. Inexpressibly charming and beyond compare he thought her. Had he any charm to return? After waltzing with Guinevere to the strains of "Il n'y a que toi," he returned with her to the bower to gaze upon Marvel. A few more dances, in which be did not take any part, and as the grand flaneurs were threading their way to the supper room, he walked towards Guinevere and escorted her page 44into the room, where she took a few strawberries, and Eugene tasted the hock cup18. Marvel came in on the arm of a soldier and Guinevere returned with her to the bower. Telling them where he was going, he strolled to the station to await the incoming train.

Meeting the returning landau, he heard that Carrie had quite recovered, and was only prevented by her mother from returning to the garrison hall. He walked over to the hospital, as the train had been signalled half-an-hour late on the line, and returned to meet Marmaduke Payne. When the train drew up at the station, out stepped with a few others his old friend and fellow student, holding the hand of a little boy. He did not appear to know Whitworth and passed him by; when, going through the turnpike gate, Eugene touched him on the shoulder and called out "Marmaduke Payne."

He knew Eugene at once. They walked together to the Seven Stars Hotel, Marmaduke explaining that he had come to Augusta to practise as a barrister, not having been able to succeed in the overcrowded city, and that his wife always improved in the open country air.

"Deuced fine old fellow, old Gould," said Marmaduke: "do you know him?" but Eugene replied that he did not know many outside of Augusta.

They both walked back to the hall, where they met the ladies coming out, when the inattention of six years ago Eugene repaid by opening a way for Miss Gould to the carriage. He opened the door for her, and, as she held out her open hand through the window—"I hope you'll forgive my rudeness at the library now," he said, and she and the Paynes were whirled away in the carriage as the clock struck four in the morning, while the rhythmical measures of untiring dancers continued until the triumphant sun peered in through the windows and proclaimed the concomitant day.

1 The Eve of Waterloo. Lord Byron.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 A fairgound toy set up as a target, in the crude likeness of a woman's head. OED Online. See 'aunt', sense 4.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Correctly chassé-croisé. A dance figure in which one of two partners chassés (a gliding step) to the right then the left, while the other chassés to the left then the right. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 The Greek Muse who governed choral dance and song. Dictionary of Classical Mythology: 1995. See 'muse'.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 Without equal. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

6 Ribbon decorations worn on hats. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

7 A four-wheeled carriage, the top of which may be opened up.OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

8 Idle wanderers. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

9 Dancers engaged in type of quadrille called the 'lancer'. OED Online, sense 2.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

10 An early motion picture device, from Edison's studio, which debuted at the World Fair in 1893. Talbot 1970.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

11 Vanity of vanities.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

12 Probably 'duchesse satin': a very soft, heavy kind of satin. OED Online, sense 4.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

13 A Spanish or Portuguese stew (figurative?). OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

14 Ornament, trimmming. OED Online, sense 2

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

15 A fine silk net fabric. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

16 A deep falling collar, usually of lace, attached to the top of a low-necked dress, and running all round the shoulders. OED Online. See 'bertha'.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

17 Sometimes 'point de gauze'; needle lace produced in Brussels, principally from 1851 to around 1900, which has a delicate, needle-made mesh. Encyclopædia Britannica 2010

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

18 A sort of punch cup, originally deriving from a drink based on a German wine called Hockheimer. OED Online, n.4, sense b.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]