by Kate Chopin
Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |
If Offdean had stopped in Natchitoches on his way to the plantation, he would have heard something there to astonish him, to say the very least; for the whole town was talking of Euphrasie's wedding, which was to take place in a few days. But he did not linger. After securing a horse at the stable, he pushed on with all the speed of which the animal was capable, and only in such company as his eager thoughts afforded him.
The plantation was very quiet, with that stillness which broods over broad, clean acres that furnish no refuge for so much as a bird that sings. The negroes were scattered about the fields at work, with hoe and plow, under the sun, and old Pierre, on his horse, was far off in the midst of them.
Placide had arrived in the morning, after traveling all night, and had gone to his room for an hour or two of rest. He had drawn the lounge close up to the window to get what air he might through the closed shutters. He was just beginning to doze when he heard Euphrasie's light footsteps approaching. She stopped and seated herself so near that he could have touched her if he had but reached out his hand. Her nearness banished all desire to sleep, and he lay there content to rest his limbs and think of her.
The portion of the gallery on which Euphrasie sat was facing the river, and away from the road by which Offdean had reached the house. After fastening his horse, he mounted the steps, and traversed the broad hall that intersected the house from end to end, and that was open wide. He found Euphrasie engaged upon a piece of sewing. She was hardly aware of his presence before he had seated himself beside her.
She could not speak. She only looked at him with frightened eyes, as if his presence were that of some disembodied spirit.
"Are you not glad that I have come?"
he asked her. "Have I made a mistake in coming?" He was gazing into her eyes, seeking to read the meaning of their new and strange expression.
"Am I glad?" she faltered. "I don' know. W'at has that to do? You 've come to see the work, of co'se. It 's - it 's only half done, Mr. Offdean. They would n' listen to me or to papa, an' you didn' seem to care."
"I have n't come to see the work," he said, with a smile of love and confidence. "I am here only to see you, - to say how much I want you, and need you - to tell you how I love you."
She rose, half choking with words she could not utter. But he seized her hands and held her there.
"The plantation is mine, Euphrasie, - or it will be when you say that you will be my wife," he went on excitedly. "I know that you love me" -
"I do not!" she exclaimed wildly. "W'at do you mean? How do you dare," she gasped, "to say such things w'en you know that in two days I shall be married to Placide?" The last was said in a whisper; it was like a wail.
"Married to Placide!" he echoed, as if striving to understand, - to grasp some part of his own stupendous folly and blindness. "I knew nothing of it," he said hoarsely. "Married to Placide! I would never have spoken to you as I did, if I had known. You believe me, I hope? Please say that you forgive me."
He spoke with long silences between his utterances.
"Oh, there is n' anything to forgive. You 've only made a mistake. Please leave me, Mr. Offdean. Papa is out in the fiel', I think, if you would like to speak with him. Placide is somew'ere on the place."
"I shall mount my horse and go see what work has been done," said Offdean, rising. An unusual pallor had overspread his face, and his mouth was drawn with suppressed pain. "I must turn my fool's errand to some practical good," he added, with a sad attempt at playfulness; and with no further word he walked quickly away.
She listened to his going. Then all the wretchedness of the past months, together with the sharp distress of the moment, voiced itself in a sob: "O God - O my God, he'p me!"
But she could not stay out there in the broad day for any chance comer to look upon her uncovered sorrow.
Placide heard her rise and go to her room. When he had heard the key turn in the lock, he got up, and with quiet deliberation prepared to go out. He drew on his boots, then his coat. He took his pistol from the dressing-bureau, where he had placed it a while before, and after examining its chambers carefully, thrust it into his pocket. He had certain work to do with the weapon before night. But for Euphrasie's presence he might have accomplished it very surely a moment ago, when the hound - as he called him - stood outside his window. He did not wish her to know anything of his movements, and he left his room as quietly as possible, and mounted his horse, as Offdean had done.
"La Chatte," called Placide to the old woman, who stood in her yard at the washtub, "w'ich way did that man go?"
"W'at man dat? I is n' studyin' 'bout no mans; I got 'nough to do wid dis heah washin'. 'Fo' God, I don' know w'at man you 's talkin' 'bout " -
"La Chatte, w'ich way did that man go?
Quick, now!" with the deliberate tone and glance that had always quelled her.
"Ef you 's talkin' 'bout dat Noo Orleans man, I could 'a' tole you dat. He done tuck de road to de cocoa-patch," plunging her black arms into the tub with unnecessary energy and disturbance.
"That 's enough. I know now he 's gone into the woods. You always was a liar, La Chatte."
"Dat his own lookout, de smoove-tongue' raskil," soliloquized the woman a moment later. "I done said he didn' have no call to come heah, caperin' roun' Miss 'Phrasie."
Placide was possessed by only one thought, which was a want as well, - to put an end to this man who had come between him and his love. It was the same brute passion that drives the beast to slay when he sees the object of his own desire laid hold of by another.
He had heard Euphrasie tell the man she did not love him, but what of that? Had he not heard her sobs, and guessed what her distress was? It needed no very flexible mind to guess as much, when a hundred signs besides, unheeded before, came surging to his memory. Jealousy held him, and rage and despair.
Offdean, as he rode along under the trees in apathetic despondency, heard some one approaching him on horseback, and turned aside to make room in the narrow pathway.
It was not a moment for punctilious scruples, and Placide had not been hindered by such from sending a bullet into the back of his rival. The only thing that stayed him was that Offdean must know why he had to die.
"Mr. Offdean," Placide said, reining his horse with one hand, while he held his pistol openly in the other, "I was in my room 'w'ile ago, and yeared w'at you said to Euphrasie. I would 'a' killed you then if she had n' been 'longside o' you. I could 'a' killed you jus' now w'en I come up behine you."
"Well, why did n't you?" asked Offdean, meanwhile gathering his faculties to think how he had best deal with this madman.
"Because I wanted you to know who done it, an' w'at he done it for."
"Mr. Santien, I suppose to a person in your frame of mind it will make no difference to know that I 'm unarmed. But if you make any attempt upon my life, I shall certainly defend myself as best I can."
"Defen' yo'se'f, then."
"You must be mad," said Offdean, quickly, and looking straight into Placide's eyes, "to want to soil your happiness with murder. I thought a creole knew better than that how to love a woman."
"By - ! are you goin' to learn me how to love a woman?"
"No, Placide," said Offdean eagerly, as they rode slowly along; "your own honor is going to tell you that. The way to love a woman is to think first of her happiness. If you love Euphrasie, you must go to her clean. I love her myself enough to want you to do that. I shall leave this place tomorrow; you will never see me again if I can help it. Is n't that enough for you? I 'm going to turn here and leave you. Shoot me in the back if you like; but I know you won't." And Offdean held out his hand.
"I don' want to shake han's with you," said Placide sulkily. "Go 'way f'om me."
He stayed motionless watching Offdean ride away. He looked at the pistol in his hand, and replaced it slowly in his pocket; then he removed the broad felt hat which he wore, and wiped away the moisture that had gathered upon his forehead.
Offdean's words had touched some chord within him and made it vibrant; but they made him hate the man no less.
"The way to love a woman is to think firs' of her happiness," he muttered reflectively. "He thought a creole knew how to love. Does he reckon he 's goin' to learn a creole how to love?"
His face was white and set with despair now. The rage had all left it as he rode deeper on into the wood.
Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |
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