It was my grandaunt, Euphemia D'Esterre's gown; and when my mother said that I must wear it to the fancy-dress party, superstitious terror thrilled through me. It lay in an old chest, under a heterogeneous collection of D'Esterre relics, and was a peculiarly soft, sheeny lilac silk, made in a quaint fashion, with a slender, pointed bodice, puffed shoulders, and a full, straight skirt. Frills of fine yellow old lace finished off the low neck and short sleeves, and a faint, exquisite perfume lingered in its delicate, shimmering folds. A portrait of my grandaunt—painted in that very lilac gown by some long-forgotten New Orleans artist—hung over our sitting-room mantel, and many a time I stood before it, brooding over the mystery enshrouding the final fate of the original.
It was a beautiful picture of a beautiful young woman, with radiant blue-gray eyes, golden hair rolled high on her proudly poised head, and lips ready to curve in happy laughter. A cluster of cream-white roses drooped against her bosom, and a string of pearls encircled her full, white throat, A curious sympathy seemed to exist between me and this fair kinswoman, who had lived, loved, and passed from the earth long before my birth. She had been a belle and beauty in the days when the D'Esterres were rich, with plantations on Red River and a winter home in New Orleans. She was the flower of the family, her father's favorite, and he had promised her in marriage to one of the wealthiest planters in Louisiana, when he discovered that she had fallen deeply in love with a young man he had employed as overseer—a handsome, cultivated, but poor young German. There were scenes and violent words, but Euphemia firmly refused to give up her lover until he was proven guilty of the theft of a large sum of money from her father. It was a terrible blow to her, but more terrible still was an account of his death a few weeks after he sailed away to the West Indies. He had died of yellow fever.
She fell into a state of the deepest melancholy; and, being a devout Catholic, entreated to be allowed to enter a convent and spend the remainder of her life in pious works; but her family refused. They permitted her to convert the dressing-room attached to her bedroom into an oratory, and, wisely or unwisely, left her alone for a season to indulge her grief, to pray for the soul of her departed lover, and to find healing for her own wounded heart. Then they sought to draw her back into the world again; the wealthy suitor reappeared, and, wearied by arguments and entreaties, she promised to marry him.