These three simple souls were bound to Attalie by the strong yet tender bonds of debit and credit. She was not distressingly but only interestingly “behind” on their well-greased books, where Camille’s account, too, was longer on the left-hand side. When they alluded inquiringly to her bill, he mentioned the Englishman vaguely and assured them it was “good paper to hold,” once or twice growing so extravagant as to add that his (Camille’s) own was hardly better!
The tradesmen replied that they hadn’t a shadow of doubt. In fact, they said, their mention, of the matter was mere jest, etc.
There were a few points in this case upon which Camille wished he could bring to bear those purely intellectual—not magical—powers of divination which he modestly told his clients were the secret of all his sagacious advice. He wished he could determine conclusively and exactly what was the mutual relation of Attalie and her lodger. Out of the minutest corner of one eye he had watched her for years.
A quadroon woman’s lot was a hard one; any true woman would say that, even while approving the laws and popular notions of necessity that made that lot what it was. The law, popular sentiment, public policy, always looked at Attalie’s sort with their right eye shut. And according to all the demands of the other eye Camille knew that Attalie was honest, faithful. But was that all; or did she stand above and beyond the demands of law and popular sentiment? In a word, to whom was she honest, faithful; to the Englishman merely, or actually to herself? If to herself actually, then in case of his early death, for Camille had got a notion of that, and had got it from Attalie, who had got it from the Englishman,—what then? Would she get his money, or any of it? No, not if Camille knew men—especially white men. For a quadroon woman to be true to herself and to her God was not the kind of thing that white men—if he knew them—rewarded. But if the case was not of that sort, and the relation was what he hoped it was, and according to his ideas of higher law it had a right to be, why, then, she might reasonably hope for a good fat slice—if there should turn out, after all, to be any fat to slice.
Thence arose the other question—had the Englishman any money? And if so, was it much, or was it so little as to make it hardly worth while for the Englishman to die early at all? You can’t tell just by looking at a man or his clothes. In fact, is it not astonishing how quietly a man—of the quiet kind—can either save great shining stacks of money, or get rid of all he makes as fast as he makes it? Isn’t it astonishing? Being a cotton buyer did not answer the question. He might be getting very large pay or very small; or even none. Some men had got rich without ever charging anything for their services. The cotton business those days was a perfectly lovely business—so many shady by-paths and circuitous labyrinths. Even in the law—why, sometimes even he, Camille Ducour, did not charge anything. But that was not often.