An excerpt from the beginning of the first chapter:
MY father would have named me Ruth, after a spinster cousin of his who had been kind to him in his boyhood and who, besides, was supposed to have a lot of money. But when Norbert Lapierre, my uncle, arrived and exclaimed, "Ruth? Impossible! You cannot be serious, James," my father replied, "Of course not!" My Uncle Lapierre was one of the last of that companionable modest group of gentlemen of French birth or French descent, who bore so large a part in the discovery and development notably of our South, and whose names are unrecorded unless in annals known only to their kind. He was a lifetime older than my handsome papa. He had known all the literati of the earlier day, and scientists as well; more than all, he was as tenacious as he was patient. My father had stood firmly for Ruth before his young wife, but he fell before my uncle. I was christened Sarah for the sake of Sarah d'Ossoli, then long dead, whom my uncle loved and honored.
Perhaps it was because of my name that my uncle became my most indulgent friend. He let me do anything. I sat upon his knee and plaited his huge bushy whiskers, which were as limitless and fiery as Scotland a-burning, into innumerable tight braids, and I finished each braid with a bowknot of a different colored worsted. When he rushed from my presence, suddenly remembering a meeting at which he was to speak, when he tore into our hallway with his blazing spikes shooting out in front of him bedecked with yellow, green, variegated purple, he was an object before whom the housemaid stood transfixed.
Each of a child's fingers was a tongue that spoke to my uncle's heart. He loved all nature, but he loved a little child with a love poignant, compassionate, protective, passing human bounds. I am ashamed to acknowledge it, but I did not like to kiss him and never kissed him willingly; and when he clasped me in his arms, and pressed kiss after kiss upon my eyes, or more often upon the top of my hair, inasmuch as I drew down squarely, like a ram, to meet the combat head on, I wiggled myself free as soon as I could, and ended by looking him calmly in the eye and wiping my face dry of his kiss with the back of my hand. I did not like his whiskers; I did not like to be kissed so much; I did not like the smell of his hair.
He must have been a trial to my aunt, too. She was birdlike—she was so neat and pretty, and she came and went like a bird into a bird-house, bringing flowers instead of straws. The sunshine was always weaving its pleasant interchanges of light and shade across the floors, and the wind wandering through the rooms laden with the breath of pine and sea and garden. Ours was the comfort of a silk-lined nest hung in happy leafage. It was a wonderful house, their wide-spread Southern plantation home, bowered in oleanders and with every walk outlined in flowers. Whether a hearth fire was necessary in the winter or not, a fire glowed on the hearth. Everything was spotless and sweet and waiting to be used. Once a day, twice a day, my aunt took out fresh clothes for my uncle—it was necessary. If she could get him into them, she did, and if she could not, she waited till she could. After she had got him arrayed like a lily of the field, in so far as fresh linen and water and soap could make him like a lily, and had him safely seated as host among his guests, he invariably took out his jackknife and blissfully pared his nails, or if there was nothing to pare, he scraped them. His nails were fluted in consequence of years of this particular abuse. He had a way, too, when talking, of reaching for his quill pen, dipping it into his inkpot and running it through his hair as through a pen-wiper. She tried to launder his hair, but while it bid fair to wash whiter than snow, it dried blue and green in spots and nothing could change the spots. They were more everlasting than the leopard's. In her solicitude and distress she took to "Jones's Hair Restorer," which sounded promising. The "restorer" restored harmony of tint, but altered the original hue, which, unlike the hue of his beard, was golden streaked with gray, and the more she restored his hair, the less resemblance its hue bore to the hue that heaven bestowed upon him by inheritance. With his mild hair rapidly becoming a swarthy black, and his beard still flaming defiantly at Time, he took on a piratical look as he aged, which, in conjunction with his benign and lamblike countenance, arrested the attention of strangers quite as violently as his spikes had arrested the attention of our housemaid.
It was this "Restorer" that gave forth the scent which my unwitting nostrils could not away with. But my uncle paid for the privilege of daubing his hair with his pen by submitting to soap and "Restorer," and since he paid, my aunt did not badger him in the pursuit of his manly rights....
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