“Grace,” I said—agitatedly, “Will you give me more of your evening after the next dance you promised?”
“Take from then to the end!—three dances that I have kept for you especially; I wish they were longer. But I am ashamed to sit here after what I have happened to say.”
A whirl of rapid thoughts made it some time till I could regain presence of mind, and I found my eyes following her feverishly into the weavings of another waltz, and was roused by the “Salut, Monsieur,” of a quiet man who did not know me, but turned out from his remarks, to be Picault, the owner of the mansion. His observations were general and of a kind of a conciliatory tone, and seemed to be each uttered after grave deliberation. There was a prudence and respectability and an air of inoffensiveness about his manner which indicated the quiet merchant of means. He spoke of Madame De Rheims with great respect, and drew my attention to quondam Mlle. Alvarez, the New Orleans beauty, as though her presence was a marked honor to his house; and hearing that I was not acquainted with her, he insisted on an introduction and I found myself leading her into the alcove Grace and I had left. She spoke first of New Orleans, where English, she said, was taking the place of our language, and I gathered that the latter was becoming gradually confined to a limited circle. There was a French quarter apart from the American city, though in its midst.
“The fate of your people should make you intensely French,” said I.
“Monsieur has an English descent, to judge by his name. Well then, I will say something I say at home. I do not admire Frenchmen.”
“But Mlle.—your patriotism!”
“I am not very French,” she said haughtily, “My father is the son of a Spanish Minister.”
“But why do you disapprove of the French? As to me, I find them excessively attractive.”
“It is because I know them well,” she said gaily. “My husband is the only Frenchman I would have married. Their quest is self-gratification, to which they sacrifice no matter what. I despise them.”—She laughed mock-heroically,—“Take now your Englishman! Let him love a Frenchwoman, for it is only a Frenchwoman who can return such love! Domestic, silent, energetic,—he adores, protects, provides, and yet accomplishes ambitions. This is because he sacrifices none of such things to the Myself, who is the god of Frenchmen!”
These words seemed of more importance to me than the beautiful speaker could have thought. I had almost committed my soul; was it to a cup of Comus, to a fatal household of Circe?
The lady smilingly glided away with her husband.
Then new characteristics seemed in face of race patriotism, to dawn as I looked at those passing around. I imagined each facial expression thoughtless, heartless, jaded or disgusted. I had taken the beautiful Creole’s cynical words seriously, and thought I saw the search for self-gratification everywhere.