Authors: V. C. Andrews
Copyright (c) 1995
In the early evening just after the sun has
slipped below the tops of the cypress trees in the western bayou, I sit in Grandmere Catherine's old oak rocker with Pearl in my arms and hum an old Cajun melody, one that Grandmere Catherine used to hum to me when she put me to sleep, even when I was already a little girl with pigtails bouncing over my shoulders as I ran across the fields from the banks of the swamp to our toothpick-legged shack. I can close my eyes and still hear her calling.
But her voice fades from my memory, like smoke from someone's potbelly stove drifting into the wind.
I am nearly nineteen now and it has been almost three months since Pearl was born during one of the most vicious hurricanes to hit the bayou. Trees that were blown over the roads have been pulled aside, but still lay along the macadam like wounded soldiers waiting to be healed and restored.
I suppose I am waiting to be healed and restored as well. In a real sense, this was the true reason for my return to the bayou from New Orleans. After my father, who had suffered great guilt for what he had done to his brother, my uncle Jean, died of a tragic heart attack, my stepmother, Daphne, took over our lives with a vengeance. Daphne resented me from the day I had arrived on their doorstep, the hitherto unknown twin daughter, the one Grandmere Catherine had kept secret so I wouldn't be sold away from her by Grandpere Jack like he had sold Gisselle.
Until I arrived, Daphne and my father, Pierre Dumas, had managed to keep the truth buried under a pile of lies, but after I had appeared, they had to create a new deception: claiming I had been stolen from my crib the day Gisselle and I had been born.
The truth was, my father had fallen in love with my mother, Gabrielle, during one of the hunting trips he and his father frequently made to the swamps. Grandpere Jack was their guide, and once my father set eyes on my beautiful mother, a woman Grandmere Catherine described as a free and innocent spirit, he fell head over heels in love. She fell in love with him, too. Daphne was unable to have children, so when my mother became pregnant with Gisselle and me, Grandpere Jack agreed to a deal proposed by my Grandfather Dumas. He sold Gisselle, and Daphne pretended Gisselle was her daughter.
Grandmere Catherine never forgave him and chased him from our house. He lived in the swamp like a swamp rat and made his living trapping muskrats and harvesting oysters, as well as guiding tourists when he was sober enough to do so. Before Grandmere Catherine, who was a
a spiritual healer, died, she made me promise I would go to New Orleans and seek out my father and sister.
But life proved even more unbearable for me there. Gisselle resented me from the beginning and made my life miserable in New Orleans as well as at Greenwood, the private school we were made to attend in Baton Rouge. She was particularly peeved at how quickly her former boyfriend, Beau Andreas, fell in love with me, and I with him. Later, when I became pregnant with Beau's child, Daphne sent me to have an abortion in the back room of some horrible clinic, but instead, I ran off and returned to the only other home I had ever known: the bayou.
Grandpere Jack drowned in the swamp during one of his drunken rampages, and I would have been left alone from the start if it weren't for my secret half brother, Paul. Before we knew our real relationship, Paul and I had been young lovers. It broke his heart to learn that his father had seduced my mother when she was very young, and to this day, he has refused to accept the reality.
Since I have returned to the bayou, he has been at my side daily, and daily has proposed that we marry. His father owns one of the biggest shrimp canneries in the bayou, but from an inheritance of land, Paul has become one of the richest men in our parish, for oil has been discovered on that land.
Now Paul is building a grand home in which he hopes Pearl, he, and I will someday live. He knows our relationship would Mire to be limited, that we couldn't be lovers, but he is willing to sacrifice so he can spend his life with me. I am tempted by his offer, for I have lost Beau, my one great passionate love, and I am left alone with our child, scrounging out the same sort of living Grandmere Catherine and I scrounged out when she was alive: weaving blankets and baskets, cooking gumbos, and selling it all to the tourists at our roadside stand. It's not much of a life and holds no promise for my beautiful baby.
Every night I sit in the rocker as I am now doing and rock Pearl to sleep while I ponder what I should do. I stare hopefully at the picture of Grandmere Catherine I had painted before she died. In it she is sitting in this very rocker on our front gallery. Behind her in the window, I painted my mother's angelic face. The two of them stare back at me as if they expect me to come up with the right decision.
Oh, how I wish they were alive and here and could tell me what to do. In less than a year and a half, I will have money because my inheritance as a Dumas will come due; but I have such a distaste for that world back in New Orleans now, despite the beautiful house in the Garden District and all the riches it promises. Just the thought of facing Daphne again, a woman who once tried to have me incarcerated in a mental institution, a woman whose beauty belied her true cold nature, makes me shudder. Besides, if there was anything I learned while I lived in the Dumas house surrounded by servants and valuable
possessions, it was that money and riches won't buy you happiness if you don't have love.
There was no love in that house once my father died, and while he was alive he suffered so under the dark shadows of his own past sins. I tried to bring sunshine and happiness into his world, but Daphne and Gisselle were too determined and too selfish to let me succeed. Now they are both satisfied that I have gone, that I got caught up in my passion and became pregnant and proved to be what they always claimed I was . . . a worthless Cajun. Beau's family sent him to Europe, and Gisselle can't wait to write me about his girlfriends and rich, happy life there.
Perhaps I should marry Paul. Only his parents know the truth about us, and they have kept it a deep, dark secret. All of my grandmere Catherine's old friends believe Pearl is Paul's child anyway. She has his
hair, a mixture of blond and brown, and she has both our eyes: cerulean blue. She has such delicate fair skin, pale yet rich and glowing that brought pearls to mind the moment I set eyes on her.
Paul pleads with me to marry him every chance he can get, and I haven't the heart to make him stop, for he has always stood by me. He was there when Pearl was born, protecting us during the hurricane. He brings us food and gifts every day and spends his every free hour fixing things around my shack.
Would it be a sinful alliance if we don't consummate our relationship? Marriage is more than simply something that moralizes and legalizes sex. People marry to love and to cherish in greater ways. They marry to have someone who will stand by them through sickness and hard times, to have
companionship and to protect each other until death. And Paul would be a wonderful father for Pearl. He loves her as if she were really his own. Sometimes I think he believes she is, really believes it.
On the other hand, would it be fair to Paul to deny him what every man expects and needs from a woman? He claims he is willing to make that sacrifice because he loves me so, and he points out that our Catholic clergy-men make such a sacrifice for a higher love. Why can't he? He has even threatened to become a monk if I reject him.
Oh, Grandmere, can't you give me a sign? You had such wonderful spiritual powers when you were alive. You drove away evil spirits, you healed people who were so sick, you gave people hope and lifted their souls. Where should I look for the answers?
As if she understands my turmoil, Pearl stirs and begins to cry. I kiss her soft cheeks, and as I often do when I gaze into her precious little face, I think about Beau and his handsome smile, his warm eyes, his tempting lips. He has yet to set his eyes on his own daughter. I wonder if he ever will.
Pearl is all my responsibility now. I have chosen to have her and to keep her and to love and cherish her. The decisions I have made from her birth on are decisions that will affect us both. I can no longer think about only what is good for me, only what is right for me. I have to think about her welfare, too. The choices I am about to make might be painful ones for me, but they might be better ones for Pearl.
She quiets down again. Her eyes close and she falls back into her restful sleep, trusting, comfortable, oblivious to the storm of troubles that rage around us. What does fate have in store for us?
If only all this had happened years later, I think. Beau and I would have married and had a wonderful home in the Garden District. Pearl would have grown up in a house of love in a world as precious as the make-believe -worlds of our dreams. If only we had been more careful and . . .
If's, I realize, have no meaning in a world of reality, a world in which dreams often turn into shadows anyway. No more if's, Ruby, I tell myself.
I rock on and hum. Outside, the sun disappears completely and darkness falls thick and deep with only the eyes of the owl reflecting the starlight. I get up and put Pearl in her crib, a crib Paul bought her, and then I return to the window and gaze out at the night. Alligators slither along the banks of the canal. I can hear their tails slap the water. Bats weave through the Spanish moss and dive to scoop up insects for supper, and the raccoons begin to cry.
How lonely my world has become, and yet I have never been afraid to be alone until now, for now there is someone else to worry about and protect: my precious Pearl, asleep, dreaming baby dreams, waiting for her life to start.
It is up to me to make sure it starts with sunlight and not with shadows, with hope and not with fear. How will I do it? The answers linger in the darkness, waiting to be discovered. Were they left there by the spirits of good or the spirits of evil?
The growl of Paul's approaching motorboat
annoyed a pair of grosbeak herons that had been strutting arrogantly on the thick branch of a cypress tree, and they both spread their wings and dove into the Gulf breeze to glide deeper into the swamps. Rice birds flicked their wings as well and soared over the water to disappear into the marsh.
It was a very warm and humid Thursday afternoon in late March, but Pearl was very alert and active, twisting and struggling to break free of my embrace and crawl toward the dry domes of grass that were homes to the muskrats and nutrias. Her hair had grown faster this past month and was already below her ears and at the base of her neck. It was leaning more toward blond than brown now. I had dressed her in an ivory dress with pink fringes on the collar and sleeves. She wore the little cotton booties I had woven out of cotton jaune last week.
As Paul's boat drew closer, Pearl raised her eyes. Although she was a little more than eight months old, she seemed to have the alertness and awareness of a one-year-old. She loved Paul and took such delight in his every visit, her eyes brightening, her little arms and hands waving, her legs kicking to break free of me so she could rush to him.
Paul's boat came around the bend and he waved as soon as he spotted us on the dock. I had finally agreed to let him take us to see his grand new home, which was close to completion. Until now, I had avoided doing so, for I feared that once I set foot in the mansion, I would be tempted to accept Paul's proposal.
Perhaps it was only in my eyes, but to me Paul had grown leaner, more mature, since I had returned to the bayou. There was still that boyish glint in his blue eyes from time to time, but most always now, he was pensive and serious. His new business duties as well as the supervising of the building of his home, combined with his worrying about Pearl and me, kept a dark shadow over his face, a shadow that troubled me, for I was afraid I was dragging him down along with me. Of course, he spared no effort to convince me I was wrong. Every time I suggested such a thing, he laughed and said, "Don't you know that when you returned to the bayou, you brought the sunshine back into my life?"
Right now his face was full of smiles as he brought the boat up to the dock.
"Hi. Guess what," he said excitedly. "The chandeliers were just hung and turned on. Wait until you see them. It's a spectacle. I had them imported from France, you know. And the pool is filled and running. Do you know the stained glass in the Palladian fan window comes from Spain? I paid a fortune for it," he added without taking a breath.
"Hello Paul," I said, laughing.
"What? Oh, I'm sorry." He leaned forward to kiss my cheek. "I guess I sound a little excited about our house, huh?"
I looked down. I couldn't keep my heart from fluttering every time he said
"Paul. . ."
"Don't say anything," he said quickly. "Don't come to any conclusions or decisions. Let the house and the grounds speak for themselves."
I shook my head at him. Would he ever take no for an answer? I imagined that even if I married someone else and lived to be a hundred, he would be coming to my door, waiting for me to change my mind.
We all got into his boat and Paul started the engine again. Pearl laughed as we spun around and into the breeze, some spray raining on our arms and faces. The early spring had brought the hibernating alligators out. They dozed on the mounds and in shallow water, their sleepy eyes barely showing any curiosity as we rushed past them. Here and there clumps of green snakes came apart and then entwined again like threads being woven together under the water. Bullfrogs hopped over lily pads, and nutrias scurried into the safety of shadows and small openings. The swamp, like some giant animal itself, seemed to stretch and yawn and take shape as spring arrived and marched its determined way toward the heat of summer.
"Number three well exploded this morning," Paul shouted over the roar of the engine. "It looks like it will produce four, maybe five times what was estimated."
"That's wonderful, Paul."
"The future couldn't look brighter, Ruby. We could have anything, do anything, go anywhere. . . Pearl would be a real princess."
"I don't want her to be a princess, Paul. I want her to be a fine young lady who appreciates the value of important things," I said curtly. "I've seen too many people fooled by their own wealth into believing they were happy."
"It won't be that way for us," Paul assured me.
Paul's rich acres of oil land and the homesite was southwest of my shack. We wove our way along, passing through canals that were so narrow at times, we could thrust out our arms and touch the shore on either side of the boat. We cut through some brackish ponds and into an entire new web of canals before turning dead south into his property. I hadn't been here since I had left for New Orleans, so when I saw the roof of the great house rising above the sycamores and cypress before us, I was overwhelmed. I felt like Alice being swept off to her own private Wonderland.
Paul had already had a dock built and there was a gravel path from the swamp that led up to the beginning of the house property. I saw the pickup trucks and vehicles that belonged to the workmen who were still hard at their labor, for Paul had put a rush on things and was willing to pay everyone time and a half to get the house completed ahead of schedule. To the east we could see the oil rigs at work.
"I bet you never dreamed the Cajun boy who motored about on his little scooter would own all this," Paul said proudly, his hands on his hips, his smile stretching from ear to ear. "Imagine what your grandmere Catherine would say."
"Grandmere probably would have expected it," I replied.
"Probably," he said, and laughed. "Whenever she looked at me, I felt she could not only see my thoughts, but my dreams."
He helped Pearl and me out of the boat.
"I'll carry her," he offered. Pearl was dazzled by the vastness of the house before us. "I'd like to call it Cypress Woods," he said. "What do you think?"
"Yes, it's a wonderful name. It is
overwhelming, Paul. The way it just pops up out of nowhere . . it's magical." He beamed a broad smile of pride.
"I told the architect I wanted a house that resembled a Greek temple. It makes the Dumas residence in the Garden District look like a
"Is that what you wanted to do, Paul. . . overshadow my father's home? I told you . ."
"Don't take me to task just yet, Ruby. What good is anything I have if I can't use it to please and impress you?" he asked. His eyes hardened to rivet on me.
"Oh, Paul." I wagged my head and took a deep breath.
What could I say to counter his enthusiasm and his dreams?
As we approached the house, it seemed to grow even bigger and bigger before us. Across the upstairs gallery ran a diamond-design iron railing. On both sides of the house, Paul had wings constructed to echo the predominant elements of the main house.
"That's where the servants will live," he indicated. "I think it gives everyone more privacy. Most of the walls in this place are twenty-four inches thick. Wait until you see how cool it is in there, even without fans and air-conditioning."
A short slate stairway took us up to the portico and lower gallery. We walked between the great columns and into the Spanish-tile-floored entryway, a foyer designed to take away the breath of a visitor the moment he or she set foot in this mansion, for it wasn't only vast and long, but the ceiling was so high, our footsteps echoed.
"Think of all the wonderful art you could hang on these huge walls, Ruby," Paul said.
We passed one spacious and airy room after another, all opening onto the central hallway. Above us hung the chandeliers about which Paul had expressed so much pride. They were dazzling, the teardrop bulbs looking like diamonds raining down over us. The circular stairway was twice as wide and as elaborate as the one in the house of Dumas.
"The kitchen is at the rear of the house," Paul said. "I have equipped it with all the most modern appliances. Any cook would be in heaven working back there. Maybe you can find where your Nina Jackson went and convince her to come live here," he added as a bonus. He knew how fond of Nina, my father's cook, I had been. She practiced voodoo and had taken an affection to me from the first day I had arrived in New Orleans. After she was convinced I wasn't some sort of zombie made to look like Gisselle, that is.
"I don't think anything would tempt Nina from New Orleans," I said.
"Her loss," Paul replied quickly. He was so sensitive about the rich Creoles, interpreting any comparisons as a criticism of our Cajun world.
"I mean she is too attached to her voodoo world, Paul," I explained. He nodded.
"Let me show you the upstairs."
We went up the stairway to find four spacious bed-rooms, each with a dressing room and walk-in closets. There were two master bedrooms, something Paul had definitely designed with his proposal of marriage in mind. Each looked out over the swamps. However, there was an adjoining door.
"Well?" He waited anxiously, his eyes searching my face.
"It is a magnificent house, Paul."
"I have saved the best for last," he replied with that impish twinkle in his eyes. "Follow me," he said, taking us to a door that opened to an outside stairway. It was at the rear of the mansion, so I hadn't seen it when we first approached.
The stairway led us up to an enormous attic with hand-cut cypress structural beams. There were large windows looking out over the fields and canals, but none on the side that faced the oil rigs. The great skylights provided illumination and made it bright and airy.
"Do you know what this is?" he asked, and flashed me a brief, amused smile. "This," he said, holding out his arms, "will be your studio."
I widened my eyes, overwhelmed with the possibilities.
"As you can see, I've provided the best views. Look, Ruby," he said, going to the window, "look at what you could paint. Look at the world we love, our world, a world that could surely inspire you to return to your wonderful artistic talents and create masterpieces that your rich Creole friends would beat each other down to possess."
He stood by the window and held Pearl. She was intrigued and fascinated by the view. Below us, the construction workers had started their cleanup. Their voices and laughter were carried up to us in the wind. In the distance the canals that wove their way through the swamps toward Houma and my shack home looked unreal, toylike. I could see the birds flitting from tree to tree, and off to the right, an oyster fisherman poling his way home from a day's harvesting. There was a store of pictures and ideas for any artist to choose and embellish with his or her imagination.
"Can't you be happy here, Ruby?" Paul asked, pleading with his eyes.
"Who couldn't be happy here, Paul? It's beyond words. But you know what has made me hesitate," I said softly.
"And you know that I have thought it all out carefully and proposed a way for us to be together and not be sinners. Oh, Ruby, it's not our fault that our parents created us with this stain on our heads. All I want is to provide for you and Pearl and make you happy and safe forever."
"But what about . . . Paul, there is a side of life that you would be eliminating for yourself," I reminded him. "You're a man, a handsome, virile young man."
"I'm willing to do that," he said quickly.
I looked down. I had to confess my true feelings.
"I don't know if I am willing to do that, Paul. You know that I have been in love, passionately in love, and you know I have tasted the ecstasy that comes in touching someone you love and someone who loves you."
"I know," he said sadly. "But I don't ask you to give up that ecstasy."
I looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Let us make a pact that if either one of us finds someone with whom we can find that ecstasy, the other won't stand in his or her way, even if it means. . . parting.
"Meanwhile, Ruby, put your passion back into your art. I will put mine in my work and my ambition for all of us. Let me give you what would otherwise be the most perfect world, a world in which you know you will have love and in which Pearl will have security and comfort and not suffer the miseries we have seen so many suffer in so-called normal families," he begged.
Pearl looked at me as if she were joining his plea, her sapphire eyes soft and quiet.
"Paul, I just don't know."
"We can hold each other. We can be warm to each other. We can look after each other . . . forever. You've been through more tragedy and misery than someone your age should have experienced. You're far older than your years because of it. Let wisdom replace passion. Let faithfulness, devotion, and pure goodness be the foundation of our lives. Together, we'll create our own special monastery."
I gazed into his eyes and felt the sincerity. It was all so overpowering: his devotion, this wonderful house, the promise of a secure, happy life after having lived through the misery he mentioned.
"What about your parents, Paul?" I asked, feeling myself slipping toward a yes.
"What about them?" he said sharply. "They brought me up in deception. My father will accept what I decide, and if he doesn't . . . what of it? I have my own fortune now," he added, his eyes narrowing and darkening.
I shook my head with confusion. I remembered Grandmere Catherine's dour warning about separating a Cajun man from his family. Paul seemed to hear my thoughts and soften.
"Look, speak to my father and get him to see why this is a good decision for both of us. Once he sees that goodness in our choice, he will understand."
I bit down on my lower lip arid started to shake my head.
"Don't say yes, don't say no," he said quickly. "Say you will think more, think seriously about it. I'll haunt you forever, Ruby Dumas, until you become Ruby Tate," he said. Then he turned to show Pearl the view.
I stepped back and gazed at them. He would be a wonderful father, I told myself again. Maybe it was time to make a decision solely for Pearl's sake and not for my own
I gazed at what would be a magnificent studio, imagining where I would put my tables and shelves. When I turned back, both he and Pearl were looking at me.
"Could it be yes, finally?" he asked, seeing the expression on my face.
I nodded and he flooded Pearl's face with kisses so that she giggled.
Twilight had begun in the bayou by the time we started back to my house. The Spanish moss draped over and under the cypress trees and vines took on a soft, wavy look. We passed through the shadows cast by overhanging willow trees, and the soft, undulating motion of the boat rocked Pearl to sleep. It was beautiful here, I thought. We belonged here, and if it meant living with Paul under our special arrangement, then perhaps that was what destiny had in store for me and Pearl.
"I've got to get back to dinner at the house," Paul said after we pulled up to the dock and he helped us out of the boat. "Uncle John, my mother's brother, is here from Clearwater, Florida, and I promised," he said apologetically.
"It's all right. I'm tired and I want to go to sleep early tonight myself."
"I'll stop by as soon as I can tomorrow. Tonight, if I can get an hour alone with my father, I'll tell him about our decision," he added firmly. My heart began to pitter-patter. It was one thing to talk about all this, but another to actually start the series of events that would make us man and wife.
"I hope it's the right decision, Paul," I said.
"Of course it is. Stop worrying. We'll be very happy," he promised, and leaned over to kiss my cheek. "Besides, God owes us some happiness and success," he added with a smile.
I waved good-bye as he started away in his boat. After I fed Pearl and put her to sleep, I ate a little gumbo, read by the butane lantern, and went to sleep myself, praying for the wisdom to make the right decisions.
Mornings began for me now just the way they had when I had lived here with Grandmere Catherine. After I carried out the blankets, baskets, and palmetto hats I had woven in the loom room, I set Pearl out in her carriage in the shade beside the roadside stand and did some needlework to pass the time and wait for any tourist customers. It was a quiet morning, but I had nearly a half dozen cars stop and sold most of my blankets and baskets by lunch. I had only a few customers for my gumbo, and then the long, quiet, and hot afternoon settled over the bayou. When the insects began to bother Pearl, I decided it was time to take a break and brought her into the shack for her afternoon nap. I had expected Paul to drop by during lunch, but he didn't, and he had still not arrived by midafternoon.
I made myself some cold lemonade and sat on the front gallery just thinking about the past. In my pocket I had crumpled the most recent letter from my twin sister, Gisselle. She was attending a ritzy private college in New Orleans that sounded more like a place to dump spoiled rich young people than a real institute of higher learning. Her teachers, from what she wrote, let her get away with not doing her reading or homework or paying attention in class. She even bragged about how often she cut classes without being reprimanded for doing so.