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Authors: Gwen Bristow

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Sagas, #Romance, #General

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BOOK: Deep Summer
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“And they say,” said Dolores, “I would be very bad nun.”

He agreed with her, though he knew very little about what was required of nuns beyond perpetual virginity. But that would be catastrophe enough for Dolores, who seemed no less enticing even after he noticed that she had had the misfortune to lose a tooth from one side of her upper row. So that was why she had that little puckery smile, to hide the gap, and very successful it was too. She saw him looking at it, and put up her hand to the side of her face.

“I fell off a horse once, in Havana,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter a bit,” Caleb told her.

“It’s a goddamn nuisance,” said Dolores.

“What?” Caleb exclaimed.

She started. “What did I make say?”

“You said—” he laughed. Her English was so faulty anyway that he was sorry he had been startled; now he had to explain. “Nice girls who speak English don’t say goddamn,” he said.

“Oh. I am sorry. The gentlemen who came to my papa’s house said it.”

“I daresay they did. Don’t bother about it.”

“It’s a bad word?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I am so sorry. I don’t make say it any more.”

He was about to tell her again that it didn’t matter when he saw Concepcion crossing the alley between the cathedral and the Cabildo. Dolores went to meet her. Caleb waited through their Spanish dialogue, and Dolores turned back to him.

“She say time for evening prayer is over and I must go home. I am stay too long anyway.”

“Tomorrow you’ll run out from mass again?” he asked her eagerly.

She smiled over her shoulder. “Yes.”

Caleb saw her every day after that. He bought all the slaves he had intended to buy and arranged to have them shipped up to Silverwood. Alan Durham finished arranging his market for flatboats and was ready to go home. But Caleb lingered. He told Alan about Dolores, and one evening he took Alan to meet her, outside the gateway to a hidden courtyard on Toulouse Street. Neither Gervaise’s family nor the relatives of Alan’s wife knew anybody named Bondio, they said, but then they were French and had not as yet reached the place of accepting the Spanish sufficiently for much social intercourse. But Dolores was vividly real. Alan agreed with Caleb that she was charming.

“But you can’t stay here forever, meeting her in alleyways,” said Alan. “At least, I can’t stay here forever. And if I take the boat upriver how will you get home?”

Caleb had already made up his mind that he would not leave New Orleans without Dolores. He had never been so happy in his life. He was too happy to wonder what his father would think when he returned to Silverwood with this flashing Creole in her low-cut gowns and heathenish mantillas, or how Dolores would fit into plantation life. He was in love.

In the alley by the Cabildo he held her close to him and told her he loved her and wanted to take her back to the plantation. He felt her slim body stiffen in his arms and she dropped her head on his shoulder with a little sob.

“You will take me home with you? You mean it? Oh, you mean true?”

“Of course I mean it, darling. If you’ll come with me.”

“But—but you don’t even know me.”

“I know you’re lovely and sweet and a dear and that I want you and I’m going to stay here until you’ll promise to come.” He smiled in the dark. “You don’t know me either, Dolores.”

“Oh yes but I do!” Her hands reached up and felt his face. “You are good. I know all you’ve told me is right. I just know, Caleb.” She drew back from him. “You are going to make marry with me?”

“Of course, sweetheart. But—”

“Yes?”

“If your uncle is an officer of the Cabildo there’s not a priest in Spanish Louisiana who would marry us without his consent. Should I run the risk of asking him?”

“Asking him!” she echoed. “You—English Protestant—he would as soon have me marry a heathen. He would send me to the Ursulines tomorrow. Oh, Caleb, don’t ask him! Can’t we marry without asking?”

“Yes, dear, if you’ll trust me enough to come across the English line.”

“Trust you—I would make journey anywhere with you. Oh—” her voice broke. “I didn’t know you really loved me so much!”

He held her tight again. “Dolores, can you get out tomorrow morning at time for mass? I’ll meet you here by the cathedral and we’ll go to my boat. We can be married as soon as we cross the line.”

“Where will that be?”

“Manchac. We’ll tie up there. If the current isn’t too strong we should get there the next day.”

“Yes. I’ll come. Caleb—I can’t make to bring any clothes. Maybe I can get put on two of everything and be fat.”

“That’s all right. You’re about my sister’s size. She’ll lend you whatever you need till you can have some clothes made. You’ll meet me then, darling?”

“Yes. Yes.” She flung her arms around him. “Oh, I was never be so happy. Silverwood—it’s a big plantation?”

“It will be when it’s cleared. You’ll like it.”

“I’ll love it. Caleb, I will be such good wife to you. I will learn more English and do everything you want.”

He kissed her again. “You darling. Oh, I hope you’re going to be happy.”

“Now I must go,” she said. “Concepcion is in the church.”

“Do you want to bring Concepcion with you? Maybe you could smuggle her out.”

“No, no. I want to bring nothing. I want to have all your people my people. Tomorrow morning I will see you. Wait by the church.”

She ran off to the cathedral and he saw her go down the alley with Concepcion after her.

Then at last it was morning, and Dolores was on the flatboat going upriver with him, Dolores in two pairs of stockings and with a bedgown rolled up under her panniers. She sat with him on deck, watching the plantation country pass as the boatmen strained against the current. After awhile she began to sing.

O Zeneral La Florio!

C’est vrai yé pas capab’ pran moin!

“What does it mean?” he asked her. “It’s not Spanish, is it?”

“No, my darling, it’s Creole French. About a runaway slave. He sing to M. Fleuriau, who was for be high sheriff of the Cabildo. He say ‘They cannot make for catch me, Zénéral!’” She laughed and squeezed his hand. “It is how I feel. They cannot make for catch me, I have run away. C’est vrai yé pas capab’ pran moin!”

He had been afraid she would be homesick, maybe frightened, as the flatboat pushed out of sight of New Orleans up toward the English country she had never seen. But Dolores seemed twinkly with triumphant delight. “I am so glad for go with you!” she whispered.

The next day they were married at Manchac.

Chapter Seven

J
udith was playing with her babies in the Ardeith garden when her father rode up with the news that Caleb had come back from New Orleans with a Creole wife.

“From Cuba,” he said, “and very odd in her ways. Her talk is so strange sometimes I can’t make out what she’s saying. Anyway, she’s got hardly a stitch of clothes to her name, and Caleb said you’d let her have some.”

Judith was glad Caleb had married, but she was astonished that his stern young heart had been conquered by the sultry charms of a Creole. Mark told her briefly that Dolores was the daughter of some kind of Spanish grandee and had run away from home.

“What is she like?” Judith asked.

Her father hesitated. “It’s hard to say, Judith. She’s not like any women of the sort we’ve known. But Caleb takes such delight in her as I never saw, and she’d be rather pretty except that when she laughs too much you can see she’s got a tooth out. But it’s not often she laughs so hearty you notice it.”

Judith was dubious. She did not know much about Spanish Creoles, but she had heard reports of the vagaries of their temperaments that made her wonder about the wisdom of putting one of them under the roof with Caleb and his father. Tolerance of what they did not comprehend was not one of the Sheramy virtues. But she said nothing of this to Mark, who by the look of him was doubtful enough already. She said she was glad Caleb had found a wife, and rode back to Silverwood to welcome her, followed by Angelique with a collection of essential garments.

Dolores came timidly down the steps of the Silverwood house in a rather bedraggled pink dress with a flowered overskirt, but her hair was piled up splendidly against a Spanish comb. She wore two roses over her left ear.

“And you are Judith?” she said. “You make me so happy by coming!”

She spoke eagerly, as if she had feared that Caleb’s family would not receive her at all. Judith gave her a kiss of welcome. Dolores glanced enviously at Judith’s riding habit with its bright fringed sash and cutaway coat, and then down at herself. “You will forgive me?” she murmured hesitantly. “But it is only this gown I have.”

“Of course,” Judith said. “Father told me how it was you couldn’t bring any clothes with you. I’ve brought you a few.”

Dolores squeezed her hand. “Thank you. Such pretty gowns. You can spare these?”

“Oh yes. Which is your room, Dolores?”

“In here.”

“Take them in, Angelique. Miss Dolores can look them over and see if I’ve brought everything she needs.” Judith smiled as Caleb approached her and Dolores went into the bedroom with Angelique. “She’s very sweet, Caleb.”

“Isn’t she?” He looked after her adoringly, and Judith’s trepidation about his marriage began to thin. If he was as much in love as this he wouldn’t be affected by his father’s mistrust of foreigners. “Let me help her get used to us, Caleb,” she whispered.

“Will you? I think she’s badly frightened of all of you up here.”

“Poor child,” said Judith. She went into the bedroom. Angelique was laying out the clothes, which Dolores was admiring in a flood of rapid French. She stopped talking as she saw Judith, and waited for her to speak, almost respectfully. Judith put an arm around Dolores’ little waist. Good heavens, she thought, the girl was laced to a wisp.

“Dolores, if there’s anything I can help you with—you know, American housekeeping and all that, you’ll ask me?”

“Oh—will you let me?” Dolores exclaimed. “I did not know how much they make to learn.”

“Certainly. I’ll show you how everything is done.”

“Thank you. Your father—” Dolores cocked her black eyes toward the door. “He does not like me. But he will. I will make him.” Her eyes flashed up with bright assurance. It was not hard to understand how Caleb had fallen in love with her. She had a sparkle that made her like a torch in this somber house. Judith kissed her impulsively.

“Dolores, you’re a darling!”

Dolores returned her embrace with an ardor surprising even for a lonesome girl in a strange country. “You will really make like me, Judith?”

“Of course. I already do.”

“You are good,” said Dolores softly. She drew Judith over to sit on the bed. It was covered with a quilt Judith and Catherine had pieced from scraps left from their sewing the last summer they had lived in Connecticut. “Judith, I do so want to make me a good wife to Caleb, so he will not be sorry he make a marriage with me. You will tell me—

“What?” Judith asked when she hesitated.

Dolores chuckled. “How to make those things he and the old gentleman like to eat.”

“Come to Ardeith any day you like,” said Judith laughing, “and I’ll tell you. My husband doesn’t like New England eating but I think I remember how it’s done.”

“Tomorrow maybe?”

“All right. I’ll write the directions.”

Dolores shook her head. “I cannot read them.”

“Can’t you read?”

“Only Spanish. French and English I learned from hearing them spoke.”

“Then I’ll say it and you can say it back to me. Don’t worry about my father, Dolores. He never did talk much, and he’s been more silent than ever since my mother died. But he’s very good.”

“Too good.” Dolores gave a little shiver. Then she smiled. “The old gentleman he will like me,” said Dolores, “when I make a baby. I hope I make a baby soon. You got two, Caleb said.”

“Yes, two little boys. David is two years old and Christopher will be a year old in June. You must see them. David is tow-headed and very bad, and Christopher is black-headed and very good. He’s good even now, though he’s cutting his teeth.”

Dolores’ hand went instinctively to her mouth.

“I wouldn’t bother about that,” said Judith gently. “It’s not very obvious.”

“Two gentlemen fought a duel in our courtyard in Havana. I heard noise of rapiers and ran out and I was so scared I fell down, against the courtyard wall—”

“Dear child, don’t trouble yourself about it! It’s much less noticeable than you think. With a complexion like yours you can stand a lot of defects.”

“You think so honest?” Dolores asked wistfully.

Judith liked her. She was so pathetically eager for approval that it came almost as though in response to a demand.

Before many weeks had gone by it was evident that Dolores was winning her way even into Mark Sheramy’s grudging affection. For Mark had to admit that she was less objectionable than he had thought a foreign woman would be. The men of his family were not used to marrying girls who came to the table with gardenias in their hair and gowns that exposed their bosoms to such a shameless degree; but it seemed less scandalous when he was engrossed with the meat-pies and sawdust puddings she served him. Caleb and Judith praised her for having gone so far toward gaining Mark’s good opinion, but Dolores only lifted her black eyes demurely and puckered her mouth and replied, “My dears, where I lived we had a saying that a man always likes better a woman who gives him what he wants to eat.”

Her English improved that first summer as to grammar, though her accent remained as heavy as ever. But it was a piquant English, and she was somewhat of a darling when she talked, with that pout hiding the gap in her teeth. She had acquired the habit of pouting all the time, which made her look as if she were always about to kiss somebody. Men liked it without often guessing its cause, and Judith could not help admiring Dolores for turning into an asset what would have spoilt the looks of a less resourceful girl.

Dolores was amusing too, after she got over her shyness. She told them about the heel-clicking statesmen who used to dine at her father’s house in Havana, and the dignitaries who escorted her on horseback rides through the parks. Dolores could ride superbly; there wasn’t a horse on the plantation she couldn’t manage. “Odd, when she can ride so well, she should have fallen and knocked her tooth out,” Caleb said.

“I didn’t know she was on a horse when she fell,” said Judith. “She told me two men got into a fight in the courtyard and frightened her. Strange she should have been riding a horse in the courtyard.”

“Maybe the patios in Havana are bigger than they are in New Orleans,” Caleb suggested.

Judith still thought it surprising and said so to Philip one day in August when they were riding over the plantation. Dolores had been four months at Silverwood. Philip, who liked virtually everybody, had accepted her with easy grace, but he tilted his eyebrows when Judith asked him if the courtyards in Havana were so big one could ride horses around them. “I suspect,” said Philip, “that she’s a shameless little liar.”

“Philip!”

“My dear Judith, I don’t know how she lost her tooth and I don’t care. It’s not important.”

“I can’t understand,” said Judith, “why she should be so uncertain about the etiquette of entertaining. But it may just be ignorance of all our customs.”

Philip gave her a level look. “She’s all right,” he said. “Mind your own business.”

“She didn’t even know about cups with two saucers,” Judith persisted. “I thought they were in every good china service. But I had to explain to her that when the coffee was poured into the deep saucer to cool the cup was set in the shallow saucer so it wouldn’t make a ring on the tablecloth. Maybe they don’t have double saucer services in Cuba.”

“Maybe,” said Philip coolly, “you knew all about double saucer services when you came down from Connecticut.”

“Oh Philip, we never made any pretenses to elegance! We were just ordinary farmers.”

Philip did not answer directly. He made some remark about his indigo and rode ahead to tell the overseer to put some Congo Negroes in among the Iboes, because the Congoes were amenable and the Iboes were likely to make trouble if there were too many of them in one place.

“David will have an easy time when he grows up and takes over the plantation,” he said to Judith when he rejoined her. “By that time he can have all American-born Negroes. Africans are hard to control. You never can tell when you’re buying one who used to be a king.”

She saw that he was not inclined to discuss Dolores further, so she said nothing more about her for some time. But she noticed that Angelique, though she made no comment, had small regard for Caleb’s Creole wife, and one day in the fall when she was getting dressed to go to dinner at Silverwood Judith asked Angelique what she thought of Miss Dolores.

“She has always been very kind to me,” said Angelique. She was on her knees putting on Judith’s stockings.

“That’s not an answer.”

Angelique smoothed the stocking over Judith’s leg. “Well—she talks pretty big. Miss Judith, you should have let me polish these shoe-buckles.”

“If they’re tarnished it’s too late now. You’ve barely time to do my hair. I want it very high with those silk birds on top. What do you mean by saying she talks big?”

“I don’t like to be making remarks about white people,” said Angelique, getting up from the floor.

“You’ve got more sense than most white people and you know it. Comb it over the frame and use lots of pomade so I won’t have to take it down in a hurry. You mean you think she sometimes just tells yarns?”

Angelique laughed over Judith’s head into the mirror. “Miss Judith, I reckon she talks big because Mr. Caleb likes to hear it. He thinks she’s wonderful.”

“Yes,” said Judith moodily, “he certainly does.”

She watched in the mirror as Angelique combed her hair up. Dolores still wore Spanish combs instead of silk figures in her hair. The combs were very becoming to her, particularly when she found a real silk mantilla at the market and draped it over the comb. “You want the birds, Miss Judith?” said Angelique. “Not the battleships?”

“No, everybody’s wearing battleships these days on account of the American war. I want two birds and a nest between with eggs in it. You know the set.”

“Yes ma’am.”

When it was finished Judith picked up the hand mirror and turned around. “Nice. Eleven inches?”

“About,” said Angelique.

“They say that in Paris the ladies are wearing their coiffures so high they have to kneel down in their carriages so the decorations won’t be knocked off.”

Angelique laughed as she put away the combs. “I reckon eleven inches is pretty good for the colonies, Miss Judith.”

Judith still had an uncomfortable feeling about Dolores. But when their carriage arrived at Silverwood and Dolores came scampering across the gallery with more exuberance than dignity she found her apprehensions stilled again. The girl was really attractive—attractive enough to mollify Caleb’s homespun ideas about the need for strict honesty. And to be sure, her fibs were harmless. If she wanted to put on a few extra plumes to impress her husband’s family it wasn’t a major fault.

Judith watched Gervaise, cool and remote across the table, and wondered if she too thought Dolores did not ring true. When they were leaving for home she got into the Purcell carriage with Gervaise, as Walter and Philip had some business to talk over and were riding together until their roads divided. When the carriage had started Judith asked abruptly,

“Gervaise, what do you think of my sister-in-law?”

Gervaise tilted a shoulder under her cloak. “She is very lovely as long as she keeps her mouth shut.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Yes it is.” Gervaise gave an ironic little smile. “I wish she would speak to me in English. Her French is shocking.”

Judith owned she had a hard time understanding it. But then her own French was not very good.

“She speaks nigger-French,” said Gervaise briefly. “And such language! I don’t know where she picked up some of the words she uses.”

Judith reminded her that Caleb sometimes had to stop Dolores from using swear-words in English. “She doesn’t know what they are, Gervaise.”

Gervaise repeated her little shrug. “I am afraid she thinks we are simple folk up here and makes herself too grand.” She put her hand over Judith’s. “But she is very sweet and don’t you tell my husband I made unkind remarks about her. He thinks she is excessively charming.”

Judith had observed before now that men liked Dolores more than women did. She decided to make Philip tell her definitely what he thought.

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