“Their name is De Grapion—oh, De Grapion, says I! their name is Nancanou. They are, without exception, the finest women—the brightest, the best, and the bravest—that I know in New Orleans.” The doctor resumed a cigar which lay against the edge of the chess-board, found it extinguished, and proceeded to relight it. “Best blood of the province; good as the Grandissimes. Blood is a great thing here, in certain odd ways,” he went on. “Very curious sometimes.” He stooped to the floor where his coat had fallen, and took his handkerchief from a breast-pocket. “At a grand mask ball about two months ago, where I had a bewilderingly fine time with those ladies, the proudest old turkey in the theater was an old fellow whose Indian blood shows in his very behavior, and yet—ha, ha! I saw that same old man, at a quadroon ball a few years ago, walk up to the handsomest, best dressed man in the house, a man with a skin whiter than his own,—a perfect gentleman as to looks and manners,—and without a word slap him in the face.”
“You laugh?” asked Frowenfeld.
“Laugh? Why shouldn’t I? The fellow had no business there. Those balls are not given to quadroon males, my friend. He was lucky to get out alive, and that was about all he did.
“They are right!” the doctor persisted, in response to Frowenfeld’s puzzled look. “The people here have got to be particular. However, that is not what we were talking about. Quadroon balls are not to be mentioned in connection. Those ladies—” He addressed himself to the resuscitation of his cigar. “Singular people in this country,” he resumed; but his cigar would not revive. He was a poor story-teller. To Frowenfeld—as it would have been to any one, except a Creole or the most thoroughly Creoleized Americain—his narrative, when it was done, was little more than a thick mist of strange names, places and events; yet there shone a light of romance upon it that filled it with color and populated it with phantoms. Frowenfeld’s interest rose—was allured into this mist—and there was left befogged. As a physician, Doctor Keene thus accomplished his end,—the mental diversion of his late patient,—for in the midst of the mist Frowenfeld encountered and grappled a problem of human life in Creole type, the possible correlations of whose quantities we shall presently find him revolving in a studious and sympathetic mind, as the poet of to-day ponders the
“Flower in the crannied wall.”
The quantities in that problem were the ancestral—the maternal—roots of those two rival and hostile families whose descendants—some brave, others fair—we find unwittingly thrown together at the ball, and with whom we are shortly to have the honor of an unmasked acquaintance.