Alexandre's Wonderful Experience
Alexandre’s Wonderful Experience
As Alexandre’s was vigorously polishing one of G. Catalan’s “Antiques” he was greatly startled by the sudden appearance of a tall, slender lady standing beside him. She had entered the store as noiselessly as a ghost. She was dressed in black, however, and Alexandre, remembering the well predilection of ghostly visitants for white, was at once reassured and politely asked the lady what he might do for her. Never in his life of fourteen years had he beheld such a smile as softly illumined her eyes and whole visage as she spoke to him. “I have not come to buy anything”, she said, “I was passing by and thought I would stop and ask Mr Catalan if he would like to purchase a very old chest of drawers that I have at home that I can say truthfully is in my way”. She passed her gloved hand in a lingering fashion over the rosewood chiffonnier that Alexandre was polishing and praised his skill and energy in producing so fine a luster on its delicate surface. “I’ll call Mr Catalan”, said the boy making a bow and feeling as if he were plunged in an atmosphere of kindness and gentleness as in a bath. G Catalan brought his short bulk slowly from some mysterious depths. He was in shirt sleeves with vest unbuttoned and seemed indifferent and somewhat bored at being interrupted, a manner rather effective in a business wherein there is little competition. A chest of drawers of all things! No one wanted them any longer. He had not had a call for a chest of drawers in two years! Alexandre groaned inwardly and though of the doctor out in on St Charles Avenue who was turning heaven and earth. “I am sorry to have troubled you, sir”, and the lady bowed loftily, seeming to Alexandre’s eyes to have changed from Madonna most amiable to the personification of pride and condescension. G Catalan took a card and the stub of a pencil from his pocket. He was unwilling to jot down her address. He might stop and look at the chest of drawers some time where in her neighborhood. She gave the number of her residence, but not her name. Alexandre detected that she was not rich and he felt sorry for her. How much more deserving of wealth she seemed than some he could name not a thousand miles away! For that matter he was not rich himself, but he meant to be some day. His present employment was infinitely better than selling cloth-poles on the street – he thought of that time with a shudder—but it was nothing more than a stepping stone, the very beginnings of those steps that were to lead him to Canal Street. His secret and consuming passion was an ambition to rise in the world, and if a lively imagination was to count for anything he would reach the heights in no time. While Alexandre rubbed and polished in G Catalan’s shop day after day, his fancy ran riot. One of his favorite dreams was that of a gentleman driving up in a handsome equipage—a rich gentleman, at once struck by Alexandre’s air of refinement and intelligence, engaging him in conversation. Upon this foundation of moonbeams and cobweb how many dreams had Alexandre not woven! He was assisting on his magnificent wedding to the rich gentleman’s beautiful daughter before the altar at the Catherdral when the lady in black appearing at his side shattered that pleasing vision. Now, the lady was gone, and yet she was not gone so far as Alexandre was concerned. He could not get kindly manner, her smile, her beauty, out of his mind. And the thought that she was not rich continued to distress him. While poverty rendered her ineligible as an actress in any of his dramas it drew all his sympathy. He knew perfectly well what would happen, What G Catalan would do. He could see him gazing upon that article of furniture with pity, and regret that he had wasted his time. He could hear his offer – the paltriest sum! Alexandre wondered how poor she really was, if she were poor enough to accept the paltry sum? Without any ultimate intention to be disloyal to G Catalan he had a keen desire to be loyal to the lady. It was nearly dusk when Alexandre quitted the shop. The electric lights shone like a row of stars down the long, narrow street. It was warm and murky an the banquettes were slimy with a thick ooze. The air was not refreshing nor invigorating , but Alexandre walked nimbly and sometimes skipped along. He was thin and undeveloped. His hair was black and a little too long and his eyes were almost round, they stared and glowed so. Often after hours he errands for G Catalan, but tonight there was nothing for him to do but stop for his roll and cup of coffee at lunch-stand and get back to his bed rags at the cloth-pole-man’s. But he had an intention which took him quite in an opposite direction. He had not forgotten the address which the lady had reluctantly mentioned in the shop. It was fully half a mile away and in an unfashionable though respectable neighborhood. The tall brick house stood directly on the banquette, and was placarded with a large for rent sign. Nevertheless, there was a light glimmering between the half closed shutters and the lower room and Alexandre heard the tinkle of an old piano. Some one was playing a slow tune like a minute. His was filled with inward reluctance but his action was decided enough when he went and gave three raps with the knocker. The piano ceased and presently there was a turning of keys and drawing of bolts within, and when the door opened, there stood the amiable lady holding up a candle in a quaint old brass candle-stick and peering out at Alexandre. “I am the boy from G Catalan’s” he said with surprising presence of mind. “Oh!”, uttered the lady motioning him to enter. The hall was large, gloomy and bare and it ranged with the sinister echo of her relocking and rebolting. When she opened the door at hand and Alexandre stood at the threshold he was amazed at the aspect of the room. The first object that caught his attention was a delicate little child half reclining in a long chair. There was no covering on the white boards of the floor. The only light in the room was from a cheap coal oil lamp shine upon anything more rich, more rare than the almost priceless antique furnishings that crowded the apartment. The piano – it was a spinet with yellow keys – must have been a hundred years old. There stood the chest of drawers in almost a perfect condition, its glass knobs would have made G Catalan’s mouth water. There were chairs, sofas, tables, screens, chiffonniers, heaven only knows what, crowding each other for a place, and not a stick of it all bore the imprint of distinguished old age. Alexandre was offered a chair in which Napoleon might have sat unless looks were deceiving. “Did Mr Catalan send you to look at the chest of drawers?” asked the lady who, but for her simple and poor cotton gown could have reminded of one of a lady of the First Empire, seated in her sofa corner. “This is the boy I told you about, Cherie,” she said in French, turning to the little invalid on the chair.
Alexandre’s heart thumbed in his bosom to think she had remembered and spoken of him.
“Did Mr. Catalan sed you?” she asked again. “Yes,” he answered, and then “no: that is I didn’t know how soon he might get around and I thought so long so I was passing by I’d tell you about a doctor out on St. Charles Avenue that wants an old chest of drawers the worst kind”. She was looking at him intently with her hands pressed down in her lap; and comprehending his action and being extremely sensitive the tears came into her eyes. “I thought I’d give you the doctor’s address,” he went on, feeling in his pocket. But with a sudden caution worthy of G Catalan himselfhe changed his mind. “No – I reckon I better not. He might think you were too anxious. I’ll give him your address and you can sell it to him or not, like you want. Are these things for sale?”everything in here?” “No, no! jamais de la vie! heaven forbid!” she cried with a look of distress. Arising she walked over to the chest of drawers and leaned her cheek against the somber wood as though it were alive with human sympathy. Alexandre felt greatly embarrassed and stood up to say good night. He was permitted to shake hands with the little girl and the lady accompanied him out in the hall, out upon the steps beyond hearing of the little one. He told her his name was Alexandre when she asked him. “You are a kind boy, Alexandre; you have a good heart, I knew that when I first looked at you this morning.” He must have seemed to the lady much older and wiser than he was, or it may be she had had no one to talk to for a long time. He could not understand that almost passionate idolatry for inanimate things which the lady revealed—just because they were heirlooms! She was making this heartbreaking sacrifice for her sick child and yet she dreaded that it was only the beginning—she could see no brighter future. As for herself she would have washed, scrubbed, worked her fingers to the bone if she had been alone in the world rather than part with a stick of it. Dear! dear! what a puzzling proposition to Alexandre, who could look upon old furniture only as marketable commodity. But since it was going to be so hard for her to part with the chest of drawers he was more than anxious for her to get all she could for it. He started straight for the doctor’s regardless of the hour and the miles ahead of him. He forgot, as he walked, his own personal romance which had been interrupted at so engaging a chapter that morning. But he made quite a pretty story for the lady. It had to do with a secret drawer in the old escritoire; the accidental discovery of a long lost will; a title to millions ! She was descending the marble steps of her Chateau in France, in a trailing purple velvet gown, when Alexandre rang the doctor’s bell. It was late by that time. It was later still in his return, when he seated himself exhausted on the stone step at the base of an imposing statue that commanded the avenue. The street cars rattled by, an occasional cab swung around the circle, its lights reflected on the glistening asphalt. There were few people abroad. Overhead the stars were dim through the mist. It was a long way off to the clothes-pole-man’s. Too far. Alexandre heaved a sigh and stretched himself in the shadow along the step. No one molested him. A careless negro shuffled by singing : “ Jordan am a hard road to trabble.” He kept it t up until his voice died away in the distance. That was the last thing Alexandre remembered.
That seemed the only thing that Alexandre remembered for many a day. “ Jordan am a hard road to trabble.” It was the reply he made to the police man who attempted to arouse him in the chill dawn. It was the theme upon which he wove a variety of fancies when he lay upon his clean cot in the hospital. How far was Jordan? was it as far as the doctor’s? The path was filled with stones and there was a procession of spindle legged furniture travelling the road with him’ getting in his, tripping him up, mincing ahead, topping along like drunken things. But when a good-humored white-capped young woman asked him one morning, leaning over his bed: “ Well, what about Jordan and his road?” Alexandre looked at her vaguely and shook his head. He was so comfortable, so hungry, so sleepy. Before very long he was up again on his feet, all dressed from head to toe and they told him he was well, that he might go home and good luck to him. He went around and thanked everybody, which made some of them snicker. But the good-humored young woman said anyone could see he had had good bringing up! Well there might have been good bringing up at some remote period of Alexandre’s family history. They told him he might go home: but he went out and sat on the warm stone coping in the sun. The flush of rushing spring tide was in the air and the people all seemed light-headed and glad. Alexandre, too, rejoiced to be alive and to feel himself again one of the multitude. By slow and broken stages he took his way to G Catalan’s, where he found another boy there polishing the furniture, a stout German lad. G Catalan came forward and turned Alexandre away, calling him hard names. He had never been called thief before, and Alexandre was too feeble to do more than protest with a shrill, uplifted quaver that made the passers-by, linger scenting trouble. But there was no further trouble. Alexandre could do nothing but walk away muttering and wiping his eyes on his coat sleeve. A small band of curious urchins followed him a bit, hoping for enlightenment. The doctor had bought the chest of drawers, of course. He had turned it over to G Catalan for touching up, and had thanked the dealer for sending his boy out with the information through which he had procured it. All of which has aroused G Catalan’s ire towards Alexandr, whose guilt seemed further established by his failure to re-appear at the shop. As the days went by and Alexandre was unable to obtain work it became moreand more apparent that he would have to take to the clothes-poles. His ambitious spirit rebelled at the descent. But however ambitious spirits may rebel, they are oftentimes broken. And a morning came after a night of weeping on his bed of rags when Alexandre started out with the clothes poles on his little skinny shoulder. They did not seem so very heavy at first; but the load was not lightened; nobody bought any though it was Monday morning. Soon they began to accumulate weight at tough the delicious spring atmosphere were charging them with lead. When he reached the French Market, Alexandre was well nigh staggering, and he stopped there on the sidewalk and leaned his bundle against an awning post.
They are very light-hearted people who sell wares at the French Market. They like to laugh and to talk to each other. All except the Choctaw women who sit before their pepper and sassafras bottles as solemnly as though guarding the tombs of their ancestors.
Alexandre’s appearance seemed to be mirth-provoking. “C-l-o-t-h-e-s p-o-l-e-s,” drawled a young banana vendor in a high nasal twang. It must have been excruciatingly funny, for everyone laughed. Even the thread and needle man laughed silently in his beard. “Dat boy look like he b’en dug up,” spoke up a big mulatto woman with a large market basket. “Look lak he b’en washed and hung up to bleach on his own clothes poles,” simpered a little mulatto woman with a small market basket. “Yo! ho!” screamed the greasy banana boy, and Alexandre looked around for something to throw at him. But the boy’s sister—swarth, with gold hoops in her ears – came forward and offered him an orange. Her brother dashed to the rescue and snatched it away from her, whence ensued a spirited battle that for the moment distracted attention from Alexandre. “Whar yo’ eyes? you, boy! you plumb deaf?” blustered the big mulatto woman in his face. “You don’ hea dat lady yonda calling you?” In fact Alexandre heard his name called and turning, bewildered, perceived the fair lady of his dreams leaning from a carriage door at no great distance. His first thought was: “She has sold all the furniture and bought herself a carriage!” “Where have you been, Alexandre?” she exclaimed at his approach. “Oh! How pale! how thin! Where have you been? We looked and looked for you. Mr Catalan directed us to a place—there was a cothes-pole-man, he aid you had run away.” “I was in the hospital,” he replied. Although not arrayed in the splendor in which Alexandre had once pictured her, there were no trace of that old poverty in the lady’s appearance which had once so distressed him. The little girl sat snugly beside her, smiling contentedly out of her innocent blue eyes. There were packages and market stuff piled up before them. “We are going to the train,” she said, and after a waver of reflection—“Get into the carriage, Alexandre. Move these packages aside; we have no time to lose.” “I – I have some poles—some clothes-poles. They are not mine; I can’t leave them.” “We will send the money to the owner. Come, hurry get in.” Alexandre tremebled with excitement as he sank on the comfortable seat of the carriage. His brain whirled and it was with great effort he kept himself from fainting away. “Lean back,” said the lady, and he obeyed her. “Do you know what happened, Alexandre?” she asked him with smiling eyes. “You sold it all—everything—and bought a carriage.” She laughed. “This is not my carriage, it is hired. I have sold nothing, nothing but the chest of drawers. You will see all the dear old furniture in a big beautiful house that is worthy of it, down on the Mississippi.” “You found a will in a secret drawer,” he whispered in all seriousness. Even the little girl laughed at that. “No, no. I will tell you. Here, take this orange—it will refresh you.” The doctor, you know, came the very next day and bought the very chest of drawers. Ah! How I wept when it went away. He looked at Cherie and said he would cure her with God’s help. He came every day, every day to see her. Oh! he was so good, so noble, so beautiful! One day he said that Cherie would have to go to the country. Imagine! the country—impossible! Not at all. He had an old plantation. He was—why, Alexandre, can’t you guess?” Alexandre shook his head hopelessly. “Why, we were married. I am his wife. Oh! you are a blessed boy. The doctor said only this morning he would find you if he had turn heaven and earth.” There was a spasm of disappointment. The doctor! after all. So the beautiful lady would never marry s marquis and live in a French Chateau! But the bang did not last. When he had left the grime and noise of the city behind him; when the scent of fields was wafted in to him and long vistas unrolled beneath the blue sky, he was overcome with happiness. To have a strange, delicious, beautiful dream come true! That was Alexandre’s wonderful experience.