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- The Little Immigrant - 5/5 -
found that he was easily tired in these days and welcomed nightfall when he could sit on the porch in the twilight of summer and feel the peace of evening creep on apace. Often Mr. D'Archais would join him and chat about travel and the fall and rise of political parties in France.
"I left France after the fall of Louis Philippe," he said, "and came to America. My property was confiscated and I arrived here penniless. A friend of mine had gone to Mobile, Alabama, some years before, and I resolved to follow him. I began life over again and took a position in a young ladies' academy there to teach piano. I had taken lessons from renowned musicians in Paris, the same as taught Napoleon's sister, Pauline, and this was my only means now of making a living.
"I did very well, lived comfortably and saved a little besides, so that when the war broke out I had invested in cotton which was in a warehouse waiting to be sold. A large fire destroyed the warehouse with its contents, leaving me penniless once more, as there was not a dollar of insurance on it.
"In the meantime my friend had died leaving his family--wife and daughter--in my care. I decided to carry out his wish on his deathbed and married his wife soon after. His daughter became my joy and happiness. She was docile, ma foi, so perfect, that in a few years, when she married, I was irreconcilable." Here the music master would stop, let his face drop into his big, white, soft hands for a moment and then go on with his story. "She died three years after her marriage, leaving two children, a boy and a girl. These children were adopted by people here in this state and I followed. Jefferson was recommended to me as a good place to begin a class in music. I am not sorry I came as I have made friends and in my old age I can look forward to peace and a few devoted pupils to brighten the days." Many times during his recital he would exclaim: "Mon Dieu, mon dieu, I have seen many trials and tribulations."
Jaffray was always sorry to see Mr. D'Archais leave; his personality and story were romantic and picturesque. Long into the shadows of the night he would sit watching the stars come out one by one, thinking of the troublous life of the nobleman and simple music teacher.
In the Autumn Jaffray took to his bed utterly worn out and grew very ill, so ill that the family doctor felt a great deal of concern about his symptoms. He instructed that Jaffray be kept very quiet on a low diet and stimulants, to be given every few hours. This treatment benefited Jaffray so that he was able to sit up in a favorite arm chair now and then and listen to Charles Dickens' story, "Our Mutual Friend," then running as a serial in Harper's Magazine, read to him by his little gray-eyed daughter now ten years old.
At the close of the reading one morning he said: "What a great man! I'd rather die to-day and leave behind me the fame of Charles Dickens than live to be a hundred years old."
Much encouraged by Jaffray's condition, Renestine took fresh hope and went about her daily occupation with more energy. She knew Jaffray's tender affection for his children and when on his good days he had been made comfortable in his big arm chair the two young daughters, Lola and Ena, and their little brothers, Lester, Andrew and Frank, were allowed to come into his room and be near him, the infant son Frank resting in his arms, Lola standing by like a little mother watching over them all.
Other days he would look out of the window and watch the big oak tree standing near, with its leaves turning brown, shaking in the wind. Winter was turning the vines on the summer house into lifeless twists of runners and bending the rose hushes until the petals were strewn about the ground.
It was not until the first week in November that Renestine noticed that Jaffray was not as strong as usual. He kept to his bed now altogether, and his great heart seemed to speak to her of what was uppermost there--the parting; after only thirteen years of wedded life the end had come. His little Queen Esther with the rosebuds on her gown!
In his last moments he said to a friend: "What does it matter whether a man lives a little longer or not? It is only the loved ones he leaves that matter."
At his death the city closed the places of business by proclamation of the Mayor, and the long line of followers at his bier to the little cemetery he had given testified to the love his fellow men bore him.
Renestine was crushed. Her five children were to be lived for, of course, but how could she face the long years before her? She was young, inexperienced, unused to the world and its ways. She was overwhelmed by her fate. The assets of a generous man at his death are debts and some friends. Had it not been for the advice and devotion of a few friends, Renestine would have gone down in the black waters that were now surging around her. The Post Office was looked after until she could find strength in body and mind to assume the duties of Post Mistress to which she was appointed. When she entered the door that first morning it was as a broken spirit without any idea of what she was about to undertake. The task was serious and exacting, she realized, but how to grasp its thousand details? Her master would be the U. S. Government, an uncompromising, stern and bloodless one.
Not many years before, this little woman was an immigrant child, landing with timid step on strange soil. To-day she was ushered into the important office of Government Mail and Money matters, one of the most responsible positions in the country.
With her usual courage and determination to learn, Renestine set about the long figures of quarterly returns and register reports, money order and stamp reports, making up and distributing mail, prompt deliveries and sending out of mail. Her pride in her new life responded to the demands made upon her and she went forward. Unafraid now, for she had a grasp of the difficulties, she bent her work. She pored over her monthly and quarterly returns in the quiet of night, and over and over again she wrote and figured until she understood and could make them out correctly. She was encouraged by her friends, and complimented by the bankers and merchants in the city for her successful efforts.
The first year was a long trial to Renestine. Her children were young and needed her care and guidance as well as the new occupation. But the little mother was all the busier when she returned home in the evening. With a divine strength to perform and serve, she labored.
The education of each child was followed patiently, eagerly, unceasingly, by her. Music and languages, besides the fundamentals, were to be given to each.
The bodies were clothed by her flying fingers at night. What a boon ready-to-wear would have been to this little mother. Not a boy's garment could be had unless it was the handiwork of the household.
One evening, many years afterward, Renestine returned to her home with her sixteenth commission in her hand. She had served the public of Jefferson faithfully and efficiently and the people had honored her. During these years her elder daughter had married but only lived a year after her marriage. This was another searing sorrow and for many days seemed to consume her. Now her second daughter was about to become the wife of a noble man who had long wished to wed her and take her back with him to make their home in New York City.
This evening she sat in the midst of her little family and recalled many scenes of her life. She was still a young woman, forty-eight, and she intended sending her resignation to Washington. She was about to leave Jefferson and follow her daughter to New York where there were better opportunities for the advancement of her three sons.
The following day she went with her prospective son-in-law and her daughter to pay a farewell visit to Mr. D'Archais at his little two-roomed house. The old man rose with his arms outstretched to meet them and his "little girl" was soon enclosed in them. On parting he turned to her soon-to-be husband and said:
"Make her happy. Make my little girl happy," and held his hand affectionately in his own.
So it was that Renestine, the little immigrant girl, became a superb woman of deeds, a wonderful American mother whose grandchildren have fought in this last war to win democracy for the world!
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