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The Goodness of St. Rocque
Alice Dunbar-Nelson

£6.00

The Goodness of St. Rocque & Other Stories was published in 1899, the year after her marriage to the poet Paul Dunbar. She was born in New Orleans in 1875 and was part of its multiracial, vibrant Creole community, although her mixed race parentage placed her awkwardly on its peripheral. She had three husbands but was also lesbian. Her chief concerns involved either civil rights or feminism. She was associated with many of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance.

AMERICAN RETRO : AR03
C format paperback (216mm x 135mm)
gatefold cover. 128pp
cover design by Alexandra Andries

Biography

ALICE DUNBAR-NELSON (1875 – 1935) was born and raised in New Orleans, part of its multiracial, vibrant Creole community. Her family was middle-class. Her mother was the daughter of an African American seamstress and former slave; her white father was a merchant seaman. She was born with reddish blonde curls, and these had darkened with age to auburn. As a schoolchild she was referred to as a “half white nigger;” Robert Terrell, the African American judge, referred to her as “that pretty yaller girl;” and as a younger woman, when the need had suited her, she was able to pass herself off as white. The feelings of alienation aroused by such mixed-race descent appear to have stayed with her throughout her life. In an autobiographical essay written six years before her death, Brass Ankles Speaks, she wrote of the “neglected light-skinned colored people, who have not ‘passed’ to rise and speak a word in self defense.” ‘Brass Ankles’ was a term used commonly at this time for those of mixed-descent, too subtle a nomenclature for the tide of racial classification at that time with its ‘one-drop rule’ of hypodescent (the classification of a child of mixed-race ancestry into the less socially dominant of the parents’ races), the codification of only binary ‘black’ or ‘white’ was statute in most American states in the early 1900s. The essay expands on this theme: it reveals a life that had struggled to be accepted wholeheartedly within the African American community, “white enough to pass for white, but with a darker family background, a real love for the mother race, and no desire to be numbered among the white race.” There is a palpable unease throughout her various careers, problems alluded to with her employers and co-workers. If they were white, they considered her too black, and if they were black, they considered her too white. “The ‘yaller niggers’, the ‘Brass Ankles’ must bear the hatred of their own,” she wrote, “and the prejudice of the white race.”

For two years Alice attended Straight University (later Dillard University), a historic African American college in New Orleans. From 1892 she worked as a teacher, first in New Orleans, then New York and Washington, then in Wilmington, Delaware at the Howard High School (where E. C. Williams, author of When Washington Was in Vogue, was the librarian). For over three years from 1928 she was Executive Secretary for A. I. P. C., the American Inter-Racial Peace Committee sponsored by the Quaker movement. A lack of income had always been an issue for her, and only in the last three years of her life, when her third husband received significant advancement, did this financial pressure disappear. At all times she forged an alternative career, out of financial need, for sure, but also a projection of the ambition in her life. She was a also writer of poetry and fiction, a journalist, a public speaker, and a social activist, active especially with the burgeoning African American women’s social clubs.

Today Alice Dunbar-Nelson is referred to most often as a poet. It affords her a retrospective marketing credibility, even a mythology given that poetry became a fundamental of the Harlem Renaissance, and that her intersectionality scorecard – she was coloured, female and bisexual – is high; she is remembered too in tandem with Paul Laurence Dunbar, her first husband, the stellar African American poet at the turn of the twentieth century. But how important poetry actually was to her is a moot point for it was at best an inconsistent feature of her life, and although she sought to place poetry in magazines until her death, her youthful enthusiasm for the form was replaced by only sporadic indulgence. Her poetry was mostly personal; it rarely embraced any of the social concerns that shaped her beliefs. It remained unadventurous in form and romantic in content; also rather immature, even at times facile. She wrote quickly, and there is little evidence that she redrafted or revised her work ever; her writing was seemingly a hit and run activity, always impulsive. Her usual practice was, in her own words, that she “produced literature.” This inability to work at her craft together with a natural diffidence (she rarely referred to her work other than with disregard) were not the best foils to any ambition she may have harboured as a writer. Moreover as a coloured woman, even though she had married into a literary infrastructure, including an agent, she would have been daunted by many career obstacles, none to be overcome easily. In March 1901 she wrote to her agent, perturbed by the small fees he had negotiated on her behalf; she concluded that “I suppose I must wait for reputation before I can command prices.” Her reputation never did move much beyond being Paul Dunbar’s wife. After she separated from Dunbar and then became widowed by him, she was never too shy to exploit this status. Even so she never truly made her mark in the broad American literary scene.

Her interest in producing short fiction was a more fruitful pursuit, fitful perhaps but far less so than her poetry. The stories included in this volume are colourful portraits that intone the quixotic manner, the rhythm and mode of speech of the Creole experience. Each of these tales are thumbnail tableaux of people and place. She published many more stories in magazines (she used three aliases at least); some remain in manuscript, others have been lost. Bliss Perry, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, had warned against “padding” out these stories, the various attempts made by Dunbar-Nelson in her apprenticeship as a writer to turn them into novellas. Yet she persevered with long form writing despite never meeting any success, as though to suggest that her literary hopes rested here. Seven manuscript novels are archived in the University of Delaware Library. Some fragmentary, several are inordinately short, The Confessions Of A Lazy Woman, for instance, or A Modern Undine, both from 1902. Her last attempt was her most ambitious: This Lofty Oak is 595 pages of typewritten script, a roman-à-clef detailing a lesbian affair she had with the imposing Edwina B. Kruse, Howard High School’s energetic head, early in her time at the school. The affair was passionate and heartfelt, at least according to their exchange of letters; the novel was, she wrote, a “biography, thrown in novel-shape.” She tried hard to place it with a publisher (her niece was trying still 16 years after Dunbar-Nelson’s death), but the rejections she received echo the response her creative writing met the most throughout her life – that it had scant plot and lacked development, climax or denouement. Inappropriately, for she lacked all the skills required, she turned her hand to both drama and film, a medium that fascinated her. A one-act play, Mine Eyes Have Seen, agitprop to galvanize African American support for America’s involvement in the First World War, was published in Crisis, the NAACP magazine edited by Du Bois. She embarked upon a film script, for which she audaciously approached Oscar Micheaux, the leading African American filmmaker of the age, for collaboration.

The short story form was undoubtedly her natural milieu and comprised her best writing. The Goodness of St. Rocque was published in 1899 when she was twenty-four. Its publisher, Dodd, Mead & Co., published it as a companion volume to Paul Dunbar’s Poems of Cabin and Field. She published no other book after this other than twice as an editor: of an anthology of African American speeches, Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence, and The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer, a collection of African American prose and poetry. It might be argued that without her husband’s coat-tail to hang on to she had little commercial leverage. Her writing career stalled on other levels as well. Little development in her writing skills can be traced after this book, and rarely does its content deviate from what we see in The Goodness of St. Rocque. This volume, then, is her high tide of achievement. Its mundane manageability and restraint is what she admired in writing. In an essay written in 1904 for a summer school she had attended at Cornell University, ‘Why I Like Jane Austen’, she had written: “And so, to those who prefer caviare, let us of the plain dinner table, where the family even perchance uses napkin rings, say humbly that because of Jane Austen’s simple style, quiet humor, keen irony, sprightly narrative, mischievous poking into our homely, everyday souls, and gentle ending of her stories, we like her and them, though they be the Apotheosis of the Commonplace.”

Each of the stories included here are set in New Orleans. Dunbar-Nelson falls very much within the local color or regional literary tradition blossoming during his decade in America. Romanticism and realism held hands as tales of the ordinary were framed by the exotic or the imaginative, and even if they were in some way grounded, or held back, by attention to local detail – its geographic or landscape filigree, or by local social concerns – sentimentality and nostalgia tended to rise to the surface. Often these stories were headlined by characters that were stereotypical; their storylines were flat, often built on the symbolic tensions resulting from the change from old rural ways to modern urbanity, or community and its rituals rather than hard action; their narrators tended to be distant, all-seeing or ironic. Significant local color writers included Sarah Orne Jewett, whose sequence of related short stories The Country of the Pointed Firs is set in Maine, Bret Harte who wrote of the Californian gold rush, Kate Chopin who wrote more widely of Louisiana, or Grace King, a lawyer’s daughter with aristocratic lineage, who wrote of New Orleans from her privileged white perspective. Hamlin Garland made a case for the novel of local color, but its most frequent form was the sketch or short story.

The Goodness of St. Rocque sparkles with Creole life. Of bananas fried for Mr. Baptiste, who then pays his clients with baskets of fresh fruit; of M’sieu Fortier, the first violinist at the French Opera House, who is a cigar-maker when the opera season finishes in February; of the fishermen casting their nets at the end of the pier in Pass Christian; of Annette, lolling in a hammock under a big catalpa-tree; of hay-rides and fish-fries on the shores of the Mississippi Sound; of the woman selling praline as she sits by the side of the Archbishop’s quaint little old chapel on Royal Street, “ces pralines, dey be fine, ver’ fresh;” and, of course, shades of Alice’s mother and her belief in Creole superstition and black magic. The stories’ characters use the part-English, part-French derivative Creole patois and accented speech. These scenes capture the dizzy world of the mythical Buddy Bolden, whose trumpet in the marching bands sounded the loudest, who was not just the wellspring of jazz, but a part-time barber and part-time newspaper man (Dunbar-Nelson’s early work experience was with a local newspaper, writing a weekly column; and when nineteen she was praised as “being the only colored female stenographer and type-writer in this city”). New Orleans was a city very much in decline. Once it was a major port feeding the heartland of America, but its prosperity had been curtailed by the Civil War and the onset of the railways. An embroiled social and racial web had been spun, and from its melee of conflicting class and altered custom came its vibrant communities, and from its differing musical traditions came the early strains of jazz. “Jazz and I grew up side by side,” wrote Louis Armstong. “We were poor and everything like that, but music was all around you.” Armstrong was born in 1901, and was raised among the brothels and dance halls of New Orleans. He sold coal in its streets, learnt the rudiments of harmony as he sang in a barbershop street choir, and, as an eleven-year-old delinquent, fired blanks from his stepfather’s pistol into the street. The raucous street sound of Armstrong’s persona is heard in his music; so too the fragrance and tinctures of this street life are streaked in both vivid and delicate flashes across the stories of Dunbar-Nelson.

Her first collection, Violets and Other Tales, had been published in 1895 when Dunbar-Nelson was barely twenty years old; intertwined with the stories are poems. It is a literary collage with little coherence, serendipitous juvenilia even if occasionally skilled or gently challenging. There is little originality and her writing is prolix, although three of these stories were good enough to be included in her second volume. She was “honestly ashamed” of the book in later life (and “not so ashamed” of The Goodness of St. Rocque, “though it is bad”). That it was published signifies a teenage enthusiasm and ambition to become a lady of letters. This ambition was met figuratively at least when in 1898 she married Paul Dunbar, the celebrated poet and novelist. Conducted largely through correspondence, their three-year courtship had been instigated by Dunbar who had seen a photograph of her with one of her poems alongside in a newspaper. They became engaged when they first met in February 1895, the night before he embarked on a literary tour of England.

The marriage between Alice (nee Moore) and Paul Dunbar had taken place in secret – a habit of Alice’s, her second marriage was conducted in secret also. Alice’s family had disapproved of him: his mother was a washerwoman and he could offer no stable income. Their prenuptial correspondence displays hectoring tones from Alice, anxious to control his affairs and perhaps overly condescending. At one point she urges him to stay in a “first-class white hostelry,” where he would “be away from the – well Niggers;” this was her Creole pedigree coming to the fore, Creoles assumed superiority over the pure Negroes, especially those who had been slaves.

Paul Dunbar had been discovered by William Dean Howells in 1896 and was to be published widely thereafter. Dean Howells was an arbiter if not crucible of American literary taste at the time. Today Dunbar appears mostly in anthologies as the prince elect of his era; indeed his literary intent and expression have proved to be more long-lasting than his actual work. But the crest of his wave was such that he and Alice referred to themselves privately as the Barrett Brownings of the age. It is easy to see why, as their romance became public, it became almost the talk of literary America: it held fairy tale status that was fit for media consumption and commentary. Alice was intellectual and was held to be beautiful (“the sweetest, smartest little girl I ever saw,” wrote Dunbar), known to be a writer even by those who didn’t read. Conveniently, to feed the sway their relationship held for the public, Dunbar was well connected. Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington had befriended him; he had forged an unlikely and enduring friendship with the Wright brothers; he was the only African American present at William McKinley’s inauguration in 1901, and he was on friendly terms with his successor, Theodore Roosevelt. Symbolically, too, his stock was high for he was the first African American poet who had sought to earn his livelihood through writing (although it is doubtful that he could have sustained his high profile literary career had he not died so young; his income hitherto had been meagre even by the standards of the time, even though he also had employment at the Library of Congress in Washington).

Dunbar’s life journey had been backstreet and rags to centre stage and social riches. Born to former slaves, he nonetheless adapted comfortably to touring America’s cultured elite; he read with panache and personal flair wherever he went. His name was all but franchised to businesses and institutions, and there is every indication that he took to heart his own press cuttings. The accolades his poetry had induced allowed him to write that “my …verse has afforded me the right to go down in history as one of America’s greatest writers.” He coined the term ‘Dunbareans’ to describe his followers who recited his works in public. He was known especially for his poems in dialect, although in time he came to tire of, if not despise, this writing style. Local color and folk culture was ascendant at this point, and Dunbar was the champion of southern plantation literature that reminisced and retold stories of good and safe times. He offered an authenticity that outshone, say, the hapless short stories of Thomas Nelson Page, whose postbellum strains of Lost Cause ideology rose to a fortissimo with D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of the Nation, the most commercially popular film ever produced (if inflation related). Dunbar was read widely in America by both all ethnicities but his reputation had become international. In 1897 he had toured England where he met the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Coleridge-Taylor set some of Dunbar’s poems to music, and was inspired to use African and African American songs and tunes in his work thereafter.

The Dunbars life together lasted only four years. Alice wrote early in the marriage that they offered each other mutual support and that “we worked together, read together.” There was no significant jarring of literary ego on either side, but it was a bumpy ride. She proved unable to cope with his depression, reckless spending, accidental alcoholism (a doctor had recommended him alcohol to counter tuberculosis) and dependence on heroin tablets, nor his eventual aggression towards her. The editor of the New York Age, T. Thomas Fortune, wrote to Booker T. Washington of how “Dunbar went home and tried to kill his wife. He is a high class brute…” She claimed that his act of violence was forgivable, though the slanderous story he had told of her in public was not. There is no disclosure in their correspondence as to what exactly this damaging gossip was. Speculation might be that he was unable to cope with Alice’s possible lesbian indulgence; such episodic supposition may have been the marriage’s final, catastrophic breakdown. Alice fled to Delaware (where she was to live for thirty years), determined never to speak to Dunbar again; despite entreaties she never did, as if to prove the depth of their calamity. He died in early 1906,; Alice learnt of this from a newspaper report.

The corollary of her separation from her husband and move away from New Orleans was a personal literary readjustment for Dunbar-Nelson. She had been frustrated always by her lack of critical reception, and at this point she seems to have consciously widened her literary orbit and her journalism became more important to her (though not necessarily more profitable) than her creative writing. Such a change would, of course, involve far more public engagement than hitherto, and literary success was still out of reach. A proposed book of twelve stories had been refused by Walter Page in December 1900. By 1902 she had started to write what she called “tenement stories,” reflections of her short time teaching in New York City’s East Side, set midst the firescapes and alleyways of East 86th Street, near Third Avenue, with a stereotypical cast of characters including aspirational but unaware charity workers. Whilst living in Brooklyn, Alice had worked with the White Rose Mission, and these stories incorporated the “substratum for which the mission was designed.” Her attempts to publish these under the title of Women and Men proved to be redundant.

Dunbar-Nelson’s autobiographic accounts can be regarded as one-dimensional and out of context after such a passage of time. But at every twist and turn in her life, Nelson’s psychology is interesting. In particular her apparent need for secrecy regarding her marriages, also her sudden, irretrievable disavowal of her husband; then the cloistered world that she came to inhabit. In Delaware she had settled into a closed, familial world. She moved in with her sister, Leila, who had separated from her partner, and her four children, three of whom were girls; the household was completed by Alice and Leila’s mother, Patricia. Husbands and further children may have been bolted on periodically, but for over a decade this household functioned as a matrifocal unit, emotionally and economically.

During her tryst with Edwina B. Kruse, Alice had a sublimated relationship with a retired Army sergeant. As with her first marriage, courtship was by extensive correspondence, although this love affair was never consummated. The self-titled ‘Major’ Fleetwood was much older, lived in Washington, and offered Alice advice, loans, emotional support, and, of course, gave gifts. A second, peculiar marriage failed. Arthur Callis was twelve years younger than Alice, and he had begun to teach at the Howard High School a year before they married in June 1910. They had met originally at Cornell University where Alice had studied literature during a year’s leave of absence in 1907 and 1908. The ceremony was private and the marriage unannounced; the only public notice ever of the marriage was in Callis’ fraternity-sponsored obituary (he went on to be in private medical practice), where it states simply that he and Alice “became friends and the friendship continued until they were married.” Dunbar-Nelson’s affair with the school principal may have shaped this narrative, of course, and it appears to have ended with little grace as this marriage begins, but there is enough similar behavior in her timeline to suggest that Dunbar-Nelson’s psychology was interesting.

In April 1916 she married the civil rights activist and casual poet Robert J. Nelson. This was never a secretive union, though it seems to have been founded upon mutual interest and good sense. The cement of the relationship seems to have been journalism. Dunbar-Nelson’s life hereafter takes on a more stable aspect, although her now focused social activism bestowed upon her a lifestyle more peripatetic than before. Her sexual needs were often met elsewhere, often with lesbian encounters. Her lovers included the journalist Fay Jackson Robinson, who worked for the Associated Negro Press, and an artist, Helene Ricks London. Dunbar-Nelson’s diary entries of the time are throwaway and casual, if cryptic, often playful and suggesting flirtation rather than full blow hedonism, but she inhabited her cultured and clandestine world of African American lesbianism with comfort. It was, however, a cached world and certainly not for public view; reports that she destroyed her lesbian poems before she died might underline her caution. (The of these poems that remain are the remnant annotated in her diary.)

Nelson was a widower with two children, both of whom died tragically young. The partners worked together on Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence, she as its editor, he as its publisher. The marriage also gave her freedom to participate in many social campaigns. The campaign for women’s suffrage in 1915; the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense in the First World War; she was a member of the Republican Committee of Delaware, directing political activities among African American women after the war, work which caused her to lose her post at Howard High School; in 1924 she campaigned for the passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. She was very active as a public speaker, and marketed herself enthusiastically. She was familiar with many of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance — W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Walter White, Booker T. Washington; she tended to associate only with its more elderly members but commented on their inclination to selfishness. She was conscious always of her mixed-descent status, and often felt an outsider.

Between 1920 and 1922 Nelson and his wife published the Wilmington Advocate, a progressive African American newspaper. Sadly and incredibly no copies of this newspaper exist today. Her writing here would have furthered her understanding of racial conflict and would have added nuance to her understanding of 1920s America. Her chief concerns involved either civil rights or feminism, particularly on issues related to education and employment rights. The newspaper was not afraid to take controversial viewpoints. Indeed its tone may have caused her to distance herself from more her creative writing. Even in 1900s she had been chided by the editor of the Atlantic Monthly that the public had a “dislike” for fictional tales of the “color-line.”

Dunbar-Nelson was part of a rich network of African American women journalists making their mark in various parts of America in the 1920s. All roads led to Ida B. Wells, pioneer and muckraker extraordinaire, born in 1862, whose investigative journalism knew no fear and made her possibly the most famous black woman in America at the turn of the century. Fay Jackson Robinson founded the first African American newspaper in Los Angeles; Georgia Douglas Johnson ran a syndicated, weekly column from 1926 to 1932, ‘Homely Philosophy’, with folksy homily and poetic hue; Marvel Jackson Cooke, first an assistant to Du Bois at Crisis, became later the first African American female reporter for a mainstream white-owned newspaper; the crusading Gertrude E. H. Bustill Mossell, eager to encourage fellow women journalists, had started her journalism in Philadelphia in the 1870s, active still.

Dunbar-Nelson’s skills as a writer are undoubtedly to be found in her journalism. The distilled essence of her print voice is sonorous and Ciceronian; it cascades to the all-embracing rhythms and gaiety of Creole street life. Her topics were wide-ranging – politics and social commentary, race discussion, women’s issues, literary criticism, film and theatre review – their manner discursive and culturally widely referenced. Her style was elegant and sophisticated; her stance could be world-wise yet strongly opiniated, energized occasionally by fulmination and passion, flavoured often with humour. Dunbar-Nelson wrote for, edited and even started several newspapers over several decades, nearly all of them were very short-lived. Her attempt to establish her own syndicated news column in May 1931 failed, and only rarely did she secure a regular column and never for very long. But this is a reflection not on her skill as a writer, rather of her tenor, which could be definitive but, in the context of the racial maelstrom surrounding her, injudicious. This is a contrast to, say, Bessye J. Bearden, who had a regular column as New York correspondent of the Chicago Defender; Bearden was diplomatic and skilled at networking, her house a social hub of diverse intellectual and cultural personality. These qualities of accommodation and liaison eluded Dunbar-Nelson. Habitually she was too blatant in her expression, debating openly and unguardedly matters concerning the color line. Brass Ankles Speaks was published only posthumously; she had been unwilling to be named as its author, and publishers were averse to her using a pseudonym or publishing anonymously. So much else remained in draft form. Even when submitting proposals for textbooks, for instance to Doubleday, Page & Co. in 1918, advocating a “supplementary reader for the seventh and eighth grades of colored schools,” she overplayed her hand rather than played safe. Her rejection comment was as a corrective: “the book should contain a great deal more material of the character of that selection you have given from Booker T. Washington to the exclusion of quite a number of selections you have made.” Again this could be part of her distinct psychological make-up, but it was certainly derived from her mixed-race background that made her at once committed to the cause of social justice and yet ostracized in its articulation.

Dunbar-Nelson’s writing is studded with examples of this sense of alienation, and complex feelings of a lack of a recognized identity. Her most anthologized story, Sister Josepha (which appears in The Goodness of St. Rocque also), has no obvious reference to mixed race (it is hinted), yet the story’s obvious theme is a struggle for identity. The hero of The Pearl in the Oyster, a story published in The Southern Workman magazine in 1900, is classified as a white man, Auguste Picou, although he had an African American grandfather. He tries to exploit both sides of his racial ancestry but falls catastrophically between the two. “My son wid what day call Negrel,” his mother cries, “non, non!” And in The Stones of the Village, a ‘white nigger’ becomes a respected lawyer, yet his grandmother leads him away from children playing in the street, shouting “What you mean playin’ in de strit wid dose niggers?”

Her diary — only segments written between 1921 and 1931 have survived — is one of only two known journals by African-American women born in the nineteenth-century. It is a chronicle of the casual – her love affair with hats, preparing breakfast for Du Bois, health concerns, travel – but also of the issues that mattered to her the most, in particular her failure to ascend as a writer as successfully as she felt she deserved. She mused in 1921: “It is a pretty sure guess if you haven’t gotten anywhere by the time you’re forty-six you’re not going to get very far.”

 

Extract

M’sieu Fortier’s Violin

SLOWLY, ONE BY one, the lights in the French Opera go out, until there is but a single glimmer of pale yellow flickering in the great dark space, a few moments ago all a-glitter with jewels and the radiance of womanhood and a-clash with music. Darkness now, and silence, and a great haunted hush over all, save for the distant cheery voice of a stage hand humming a bar of the opera.

The glimmer of gas makes a halo about the bowed white head of a little old man putting his violin carefully away in its case with aged, trembling, nervous fingers. Old M’sieu Fortier was the last one out every night.

Outside the air was murky, foggy. Gas and electricity were but faint splotches of light on the thick curtain of fog and mist. Around the opera was a mighty bustle of carriages and drivers and footmen, with a car gaining headway in the street now and then, a howling of names and numbers, the laughter and small talk of cloaked society stepping slowly to its carriages, and the more bourgeoisie vocalisation of the foot passengers who streamed along and hummed little bits of music. The fog’s denseness was confusing, too, and at one moment it seemed that the little narrow street would become inextricably choked and remain so until some mighty engine would blow the crowd into atoms. It had been a crowded night. From around Toulouse Street, where led the entrance to the troisiemes, from the grand stairway, from the entrance to the quatriemes, the human stream poured into the street, nearly all with a song on their lips.

M’sieu Fortier stood at the corner, blinking at the beautiful ladies in their carriages. He exchanged a hearty salutation with the saloon-keeper at the corner, then, tenderly carrying his violin case, he trudged down Bourbon Street, a little old, bent, withered figure, with shoulders shrugged up to keep warm, as though the faded brown overcoat were not thick enough.

Down on Bayou Road, not so far from Claiborne Street, was a house, little and old and queer, but quite large enough to hold M’sieu Fortier, a wrinkled dame, and a white cat. He was home but little, for on nearly every day there were rehearsals; then on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights, and twice Sundays there were performances, so Ma’am Jeanne and the white cat kept house almost always alone. Then, when M’sieu Fortier was at home, why, it was practice, practice all the day, and smoke, snore, sleep at night. Altogether it was not very exhilarating.

M’sieu Fortier had played first violin in the orchestra ever since—well, no one remembered his not playing there. Sometimes there would come breaks in the seasons, and for a year the great building would be dark and silent. Then M’sieu Fortier would do jobs of playing here and there, one night for this ball, another night for that soiree dansante, and in the day, work at his trade,—that of a cigar-maker. But now for seven years there had been no break in the season, and the little old violinist was happy. There is nothing sweeter than a regular job and good music to play, music into which one can put some soul, some expression, and which one must study to understand. Dance music, of the frivolous, frothy kind deemed essential to soirees, is trivial, easy, uninteresting.

So M’sieu Fortier, Ma’am Jeanne, and the white cat lived a peaceful, uneventful existence out on Bayou Road. When the opera season was over in February, M’sieu went back to cigar-making, and the white cat purred none the less contentedly.

It had been a benefit to-night for the leading tenor, and he had chosen “Roland à Ronceveaux,” a favourite this season, for his farewell. And, mon Dieu, mused the little M’sieu, but how his voice had rung out bell-like, piercing above the chorus of the first act! Encore after encore was given, and the bravos of the troisiemes were enough to stir the most sluggish of pulses.

“Superbes Pyrenées
Qui dressez dans le ciel,
Vos cimes couronnees
D’un hiver éternelle,
Pour nous livrer passage
Ouvrez vos larges flancs,
Faites faire l’orage,
Voici, venir les Francs!”

M’sieu quickened his pace down Bourbon Street as he sang the chorus to himself in a thin old voice, and then, before he could see in the thick fog, he had run into two young men.

“I—I—beg your pardon,—messieurs,” he stammered.

“Most certainly,” was the careless response; then the speaker, taking a second glance at the object of the rencontre, cried joyfully:

“Oh, M’sieu Fortier, is it you? Why, you are so happy, singing your love sonnet to your lady’s eyebrow, that you didn’t see a thing but the moon, did you? And who is the fair one who should clog your senses so?”

There was a deprecating shrug from the little man.

“Ma foi, but monsieur must know fo’ sho’, dat I am too old for love songs!”

“I know nothing save that I want that violin of yours. When is it to be mine, M’sieu Fortier?”

“Nevare, nevare!” exclaimed M’sieu, gripping on as tightly to the case as if he feared it might be wrenched from him. “Me a lovere, and to sell mon violon! Ah, so ver’ foolish!”

“Martel,” said the first speaker to his companion as they moved on up town, “I wish you knew that little Frenchman. He’s a unique specimen. He has the most exquisite violin I’ve seen in years; beautiful and mellow as a genuine Cremona, and he can make the music leap, sing, laugh, sob, skip, wail, anything you like from under his bow when he wishes. It’s something wonderful. We are good friends. Picked him up in my French-town rambles. I’ve been trying to buy that instrument since—”

“To throw it aside a week later?” lazily inquired Martel. “You are like the rest of these nineteenth-century vandals, you can see nothing picturesque that you do not wish to deface for a souvenir; you cannot even let simple happiness alone, but must needs destroy it in a vain attempt to make it your own or parade it as an advertisement.”

As for M’sieu Fortier, he went right on with his song and turned into Bayou Road, his shoulders still shrugged high as though he were cold, and into the quaint little house, where Ma’am Jeanne and the white cat, who always waited up for him at nights, were both nodding over the fire.

It was not long after this that the opera closed, and M’sieu went back to his old out-of-season job. But somehow he did not do as well this spring and summer as always. There is a certain amount of cunning and finesse required to roll a cigar just so, that M’sieu seemed to be losing, whether from age or deterioration it was hard to tell. Nevertheless, there was just about half as much money coming in as formerly, and the quaint little pucker between M’sieu’s eyebrows which served for a frown came oftener and stayed longer than ever before.

“Minesse,” he said one day to the white cat,—he told all his troubles to her; it was of no use to talk to Ma’am Jeanne, she was too deaf to understand,—”Minesse, we are gettin’ po’. You’ père git h’old, an’ hees han’s dey go no mo’ rapidement, an’ dere be no mo’ soirées dese day. Minesse, eef la saison don’ hurry up, we shall eat ver’ lil’ meat.”

And Minesse curled her tail and purred.

Before the summer had fairly begun, strange rumours began to float about in musical circles. M. Mauge would no longer manage the opera, but it would be turned into the hands of Americans, a syndicate. Bah! These English-speaking people could do nothing unless there was a trust, a syndicate, a company immense and dishonest. It was going to be a guarantee business, with a strictly financial basis. But worse than all this, the new manager, who was now in France, would not only procure the artists, but a new orchestra, a new leader. M’sieu Fortier grew apprehensive at this, for he knew what the loss of his place would mean to him.

September and October came, and the papers were filled with accounts of the new artists from France and of the new orchestra leader too. He was described as a most talented, progressive, energetic young man. M’sieu Fortier’s heart sank at the word “progressive.” He was anything but that. The New Orleans Creole blood flowed too sluggishly in his old veins.

November came; the opera reopened. M’sieu Fortier was not re-engaged.

“Minesse,” he said with a catch in his voice that strongly resembled a sob, “Minesse, we mus’ go hongry sometime. Ah, mon pauvre violon! Ah, mon Dieu, dey put us h’out, an’ dey will not have us. Nev’ min’, we will sing anyhow.” And drawing his bow across the strings, he sang in his thin, quavering voice, “Salut demeure, chaste et pure.”

It is strange what a peculiar power of fascination former haunts have for the human mind. The criminal, after he has fled from justice, steals back and skulks about the scene of his crime; the employee thrown from work hangs about the place of his former industry; the schoolboy, truant or expelled, peeps in at the school-gate and taunts the good boys within. M’sieu Fortier was no exception. Night after night of the performances he climbed the stairs of the opera and sat, an attentive listener to the orchestra, with one ear inclined to the stage, and a quizzical expression on his wrinkled face. Then he would go home, and pat Minesse, and fondle the violin.

“Ah, Minesse, dose new player! Not one bit can dey play. Such tones, Minesse, such tones! All the time portemento, oh, so ver’ bad! Ah, mon chere violon, we can play.” And he would play and sing a romance, and smile tenderly to himself.

At first it used to be into the deuxièmes that M’sieu Fortier went, into the front seats. But soon they were too expensive, and after all, one could hear just as well in the fourth row as in the first. After a while even the rear row of the deuxièmes was too costly, and the little musician wended his way with the plebeians around on Toulouse Street, and climbed the long, tedious flight of stairs into the troisiemes. It makes no difference to be one row higher. It was more to the liking, after all. One felt more at home up here among the people. If one was thirsty, one could drink a glass of wine or beer being passed about by the libretto boys, and the music sounded just as well.

But it happened one night that M’sieu could not even afford to climb the Toulouse Street stairs. To be sure, there was yet another gallery, the quatriemes, where the peanut boys went for a dime, but M’sieu could not get down to that yet. So he stayed outside until all the beautiful women in their warm wraps, a bright-hued chattering throng, came down the grand staircase to their carriages.

It was on one of these nights that Courcey and Martel found him shivering at the corner.

“Hello, M’sieu Fortier,” cried Courcey, “are you ready to let me have that violin yet?”

“For shame!” interrupted Martel.

“Fifty dollars, you know,” continued Courcey, taking no heed of his friend’s interpolation.

M’sieu Fortier made a courtly bow. “Eef Monsieur will call at my ‘ouse on de morrow, he may have mon violon,” he said huskily; then turned abruptly on his heel, and went down Bourbon Street, his shoulders drawn high as though he were cold.

When Courcey and Martel entered the gate of the little house on Bayou Road the next day, there floated out to their ears a wordless song thrilling from the violin, a song that told more than speech or tears or gestures could have done of the utter sorrow and desolation of the little old man. They walked softly up the short red brick walk and tapped at the door. Within, M’sieu Fortier was caressing the violin, with silent tears streaming down his wrinkled gray face.

There was not much said on either side. Courcey came away with the instrument, leaving the money behind, while Martel grumbled at the essentially sordid, mercenary spirit of the world. M’sieu Fortier turned back into the room, after bowing his visitors out with old-time French courtliness, and turning to the sleepy white cat, said with a dry sob:

“Minesse, dere’s only me an’ you now.”

About six days later, Courcey’s morning dreams were disturbed by the announcement of a visitor. Hastily doing a toilet, he descended the stairs to find M’sieu Fortier nervously pacing the hall floor.

“I come fo’ bring back you’ money, yaas. I cannot sleep, I cannot eat, I only cry, and t’ink, and weesh fo’ mon violon; and Minesse, an’ de ol’ woman too, dey mope an’ look bad too, all for mon violon. I try fo’ to use dat money, but eet burn an’ sting lak blood money. I feel lak’ I done sol’ my child. I cannot go at l’opera no mo’, I t’ink of mon violon. I starve befo’ I live widout. My heart, he is broke, I die for mon violon.”

Courcey left the room and returned with the instrument.

“M’sieu Fortier,” he said, bowing low, as he handed the case to the little man, “take your violin; it was a whim with me, a passion with you. And as for the money, why, keep that too; it was worth a hundred dollars to have possessed such an instrument even for six days.”