“There is a fete of the children on the bluffs to-day,” madame would plead; or, “There is a religious procession, and the mother superior has particularly sent for Angelique.”
But tante-gra’mere lifted her thin shout against every plea, and, if pushed, would throw the little pillows at her grand-nephew’s wife. What were fetes and processions to her claims?
“I am the godmother of this child,” she declared; “it is for me to say what she shall do.”
The patriarch of a French family was held in such veneration that it was little less than a crime to cross her. The thralldom did not ruin Angelique’s health, though it grew heavier with her years; but it made her old in patient endurance and sympathetic insight while she was a child. She sat pitying and excusing her elder’s whims when she should have been playing. The oldest story in humanity is the story of the house tyrant,—that usurper often so physically weak that we can carry him in our arms, yet so strong that he can tumble down the pillars of family peace many times a day.
There was something monkey-like in the tempers of tante-gra’mere. To see her grasp her whip and beat her slaves with a good will, but poor execution, was to smile self-reproachfully as at the antics of a sick child. Though it is true, for a woman who had no use of her legs, she displayed astonishing reach in her arms. Her face was a mass of puckers burnt through by coal-black eyes. Her mouth was so tucked and folded inward that she appeared to have swallowed her lips. In the daytime she wore a black silk cap tied under the chin, and a dimity short gown over a quilted petticoat. Tante-gra’mere was rich in stored finery. She had inherited brocades, and dozen dozens of linen, including sheets and napkins. Her things were washed by themselves and bleached on their own green, where the family washing never dared intrude.
Fortunately for Angelique, tante-gra’mere’s hours were early, and she slept as aged people seldom do. At sunset, summer or winter, she had herself promptly done up in linen, the whip placed near her hand, and her black woman’s bed made within reach on the floor. She then went into a shell of sleep which dancing-parties in the house had not broken, and required no further attention until the birds stirred in the morning. Angelique rushed out to evening freedom with a zest which became rapture when she danced. Perhaps this fresh delight made her the best dancer in Kaskaskia.
The autocrat loved to compound her own dinners. She had a salver which Angelique placed before her on the bed; and the old child played in pastry or salads, or cut vegetable dice for her soup. The baking or boiling or roasting was done with rigor at her own fireplace by her blacks, the whiplash in her hand hovering over their bare spots. Silence was the law of the presence-chamber when she labored with her recipes, of which she had many, looking like spider tracks on very yellow paper. These she kept locked up with many of the ingredients for creating them. She pored over them with unspectacled eyes whenever she mixed a cunning dish; and even Angelique dared not meddle with them, though they were to be part of the girl’s inheritance.