“Do not be afraid, poor Achille. I will show you how myself. We cannot wait for any one to help us. What would my father and Colonel Menard say, if they found Monsieur Reece Zhone killed in our house?”
In her panic Angelique tore the vest wide, and found the great stain over the place where the heart should be. She was kneeling, and she turned back to Peggy, who stood behind her.
Death is great or it is a piteous change, like the slaughter of brutes, according as we bear ourselves in its presence. How mighty an experience it is to wait where world overlaps the edge of world, and feel the vastness of eternity around us! A moment ago—or was it many ages?—he spoke. Now he is gone, leaving a strange visible image lying there to awe us. The dead take sudden majesty. They become as gods. We think they hear us when we speak of them, and their good becomes sacred. A dead face has all human faults wiped from it; and that Shape, that Presence, whose passiveness seems infinite, how it fills the house, the town, the whole world, while it stays!
The hardest problem we have to face here is the waste of our best things,—of hopes, of patience, of love, of days, of agonizing labor, of lives which promise most. Rice’s astonishment at the brutal waste of himself had already passed off his countenance. The open eyes saw nothing, but the lips were closed in sublime peace.
“And his sister,” wept Angelique. “Look at Mademoiselle Zhone, also.”
The dozen negroes, old and young, led by Achille, began to sob in music one of those sweet undertone chants for the dead which no race but theirs can master. They sung the power of the man and the tenderness of the young sister whose soul followed her brother’s, and they called from that ark on the waters for saints and angels to come down and bless the beds of the two. The bells intoned with them, and a sinking wind carried a lighter ripple against the house.
“Send them out,” spoke Peggy Morrison, with an imperious sweep of the arm; and the half-breed authoritatively hurried the other slaves back to their doorway. The submissive race understood and obeyed, anxiously watching Peggy as she wavered in her erectness and groped with the fingers of both hands.
“Put camphor under Ma’amselle Peggy’s nose, Wachique,” whispered Achille.
Peggy found Rice’s chair, and sat down; but as soon as she returned to a consciousness of the bottle under her nose and an arm around her, she said,—
“Go away. A Morrison never faints.”
Angelique was kneeling like a nun. She felt the push of a foot.
“Stop that crying,” said Peggy fiercely. “I hate to hear it. What right have you to cry?”
“No right at all. But the whole Territory will weep over this.”
“What right has the Territory in him now? The Territory will soon find another brilliant man.”
“And this poor tiny girl, Peggy, so near her death, what had she done to deserve that it should come in this form? Are men gone mad in this flood, that Dr. Dunlap, for a mere political feud, should seek out Monsieur Reece Zhone in my father’s house, and shoot him down before our eyes? I am dazed. It is like a nightmare.”