Thérèse judged it best to leave Fanny a good deal to herself during her first days on the plantation, without relinquishing a certain watchful supervision of her comfort, and looking in on her for a few moments each day. The rain which had come with them continued fitfully and Fanny remained in doors, clad in a warm handsome gown, her small slippered feet cushioned before the fire, and reading the latest novel of one of those prolific female writers who turn out their unwholesome intellectual sweets so tirelessly, to be devoured by the girls and women of the age.
Melicent, who always did the unexpected, crossed over early on the morning after Fanny’s arrival; penetrated to her sleeping room and embraced her effusively, even as she lay in bed, calling her “poor dear Fanny” and cautioning her against getting up on such a morning.
The tears which had come to Fanny on arriving, and which had dried on her cheek when she turned to gaze into the cheer of the great wood fire, did not return. Everybody seemed to be making much of her, which was a new experience in her life; she having always felt herself as of little consequence, and in a manner, overlooked. The negroes were overawed at the splendor of her toilettes and showed a respect for her in proportion to the money value which these toilettes reflected. Each morning Grégoire left at her door his compliments with a huge bouquet of brilliant and many colored crysanthemums, and enquiry if he could serve her in any way. And Hosmer’s time, that was not given to work, was passed at her side; not in brooding or pre-occupied silence, but in talk that invited her to friendly response.
With Thérèse, she was at first shy and diffident, and over watchful of herself. She did not forget that Hosmer had told her “The lady knows why I have come” and she resented that knowledge which Thérèse possessed of her past intimate married life.
Melicent’s attentions did not last in their ultra-effusiveness, but she found Fanny less objectionable since removed from her St. Louis surroundings; and the evident consideration with which she had been accepted at Place-du-Bois seemed to throw about her a halo of sufficient distinction to impel the girl to view her from a new and different stand-point.
But the charm of plantation life was letting go its hold upon Melicent. Grégoire’s adoration alone, and her feeble response to it were all that kept her.
“I neva felt anything like this befo’,” he said, as they stood together and their hands touched in reaching for a splendid rose that hung invitingly from its tall latticed support out in mid lawn. The sun had come again and dried the last drop of lingering moisture on grass and shrubbery.
“W’en I’m away f’om you, even fur five minutes, ’t seems like I mus’ hurry quick, quick, to git back again; an’ w’en I’m with you, everything ’pears all right, even if you don’t talk to me or look at me. Th’ otha day, down at the gin,” he continued, “I was figurin’ on some weights an’ wasn’t thinkin’ about you at all, an’ all at once I remember’d the one time I’d kissed you. Goodness! I couldn’t see the figures any mo’, my head swum and the pencil mos’ fell out o’ my han’. I neva felt anything like it: hones’, Miss Melicent, I thought I was goin’ to faint fur a minute.”
“That’s very unwise, Grégoire,” she said, taking the roses that he handed her to add to the already large bunch. “You must learn to think of me calmly: our love must be something like a sacred memory—a sweet recollection to help us through life when we are apart.”
“I don’t know how I’m goin’ to stan’ it. Neva to see you! neva—my God!” he gasped, paling and crushing between his nervous fingers the flower she would have taken from him.
“There is nothing in this world that one cannot grow accustomed to, dear,” spoke the pretty philosopher, picking up her skirts daintily with one hand and passing the other through his arm—the hand which held the flowers, whose peculiar perfume ever afterwards made Grégoire shiver through a moment of pain that touched very close upon rapture.
He was more occupied than he liked during those busy days of harvesting and ginning, that left him only brief and snatched intervals of Melicent’s society. If he could have rested in the comfort of being sure of her, such moments of separation would have had their compensation in reflective anticipation. But with his undisciplined desires and hot-blooded eagerness, her half-hearted acknowledgments and inadequate concessions, closed her about with a chilling barrier that staggered him with its problematic nature. Feeling himself her equal in the aristocracy of blood, and her master in the knowledge and strength of loving, he resented those half understood reasons which removed him from the possibility of being anything to her. And more, he was angry with himself for acquiescing in that self understood agreement. But it was only in her absence that these thoughts disturbed him. When he was with her, his whole being rejoiced in her existence and there was no room for doubt or dread.
He felt himself regenerated through love, and as having no part in that other Grégoire whom he only thought of to dismiss with unrecognition.
The time came when he could ill conceal his passion from others. Thérèse became conscious of it, through an unguarded glance. The unhappiness of the situation was plain to her; but to what degree she could not guess. It was certainly so deplorable that it would have been worth while to have averted it. Yet, she felt great faith in the power of time and absence to heal such wounds even to the extent of leaving no tell-tale scar.
“Grégoire, my boy,” she said to him, speaking in French, and laying her hand on his, when they were alone together. “I hope that your heart is not too deep in this folly.”
He reddened and asked, “What do you mean, aunt?”
“I mean, that unfortunately, you are in love with Melicent. I do not know how much longer she will remain here, but taking any possibility for granted, let me advise you to leave the place for a while; go back to your home, or take a little trip to the city.”
“No, I could not.”
“Force yourself to it.”
“And lose days, perhaps weeks, of being near her? No, no, I could not do that, aunt. There will be plenty time for that in the rest of my life,” he said, trying to speak calmly and forcing his voice to a harshness which the nearness of tears made needful.
“Does she know? Have you told her?”
“Oh yes, she knows how much I love her.”
“And she does not love you,” said Thérèse, seeming rather to assert than to question.
“No, she does not. No matter what she says—she does not. I can feel that here,” he answered, striking his breast. “Oh aunt, it is terrible to think of her going away; forever, perhaps; of never seeing her. I could not stand it.” And he stood the strain no longer, but sobbed and wept with his aunt’s consoling arms around him.
Thérèse, knowing that Melicent would not tarry much longer with them, thought it not needful to approach her on the subject. Had it been otherwise, she would not have hesitated to beg the girl to desist from this unprofitable amusement of tormenting a human heart.