African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

T. Thomas Fortune, "Sadie Fontaine" (1905)


Argument.—S├ębastien Fontaine, who was of French and Spanish ancestry, and John Lefair, who came of British parentage, grew up from childhood together. They were sons of rich Southern planters. When the young men came of age it was their misfortune to be rival suitors. This led to a duel, in which Fontaine was severely wounded. When he recovered from the effects of his wound Fontaine married the lady of his choice and immediately left the country for an extended stay in Europe.

A short time after Fontaine left the country Lefair married a lady of good family, and some seventeen months thereafter an heir was born to him, the same who figures in the narrative as Maurice Lefair. Among the possessions that Fontaine's wife brought to him was a slave girl, whose faultless figure, finely chiselled features, clear complexion and black straight hair, would have stamped her as an unmixed Anglo Saxon woman anywhere outside the Southern States of the United States. Fontaine early discovered a passion for this girl.

When the party reached France, Fontaine, against the wishes of his wife, placed the young girl in one of the convent schools of Paris. Possessing, naturally, a fine intellect, she made very rapid progress in the various branches of a liberal education. At the expiration of four years the party returned to the United States. A few days after their arrival in the South a child was born to the slave girl, and Mrs.Fontaine, who had developed a case of quick consumption, died at about the same time. It was given out on the Fontaine estate that the child was Mrs. Fontaine's. This was stoutly discredited by many, and by none more so than John Lefair.


Poets may sing in raptured verse
The glory of Italian skies,
Or praise in language sweet and terse
The Spanish ladies' dazzling eyes;
But be it mine to languish in
The smiles of maids as rich and fair
As any that the world has seen,
And sing of balmy skies and air
And fields as peaceful and as green.
Marian, thou village of my joy!
I love thee as a babe its toy,
For thou art all that's dear to me—
Since 'neath thy oaks I first did see
My wealth of boyish hopes expand
And built those hopes in clay and sand.
O boyhood's dream! It is so fair!
A dream where joy is found in care.
Now, in my manhood, let me turn
To scenes for which I often yearn,
To forms departed that I knew—
The aged, young, the fickle, true—
Let me recount one simple tale
Of all the many on the scale
Where memory weighs her garnered store,
And lingers long its value o'er.


Some fifty years ago, I ween,
In Flora's vales, all rich and green,
There dwelt a man of sober mood
Who was not bad—who was not good;
And though his lands were rich and broad,
And he of many slaves was lord,
He yet did feel the common tie
That swells the heart and thrills the eye
Of all mankind, whate'er the state
Ordained them by all-ruling Fate.
And thus his rule was just and kind,
And did those closer to him bind
Who knew that though he was their chief
He sought to spare them needless grief.


Fontaine's young heiress took the name
Of Sadie, one he deemed
Was not too common, or too tame;
But it to me has seemed,
A name with more romance allied
Could just as well have been supplied.
To charming women name is much,
Since men delight to lisp all such
In accents mild and low and sweet
When empty nothings they repeat;
For love, although 'tis but a trance,
Must have all things in consonance.
The name, the form, the face, the voice,
With mental gifts, determine choice,
And make the man the willing tool
Of her who deems him god or fool.
Young Sadie was a gem, 'tis true,
The like of which we find but few
Existing to the sight of men
Or dancing on the poet's pen.
Her lips were such as gods would kiss
And deem it cream of earthly bliss;
Her eyes were such as through us thrill
The magic of a ruling will,
To which we yield with one accord
Our "right divine" as woman's lord.
Yet, we but make a beauty plain
When we attempt to it explain,
But all, and more than I have said,
Had pierced the heart and turned the head
Of one at least—Maurice Lefair—
For he it was who loved this rare
Young charmer of our Southern clime,
This meteor beauty of the time.
His love was of the furious kind
That robs a man of lucid mind:
For he was born wild passion's child,
And had from baby days been spoiled—
Untaught to curb his fretful ire,
Allowed each whim of his desire;
Manhood to him was childhood o'er,
His will less subject than before.
For him to love was to be mad,
Until possession made him glad.


The son, fit counterpart, was taught,
As soon as he could master thought,
All that his father's selfish mold
Contained, and his had room to hold.
In truth, he was a man whose mind
Was of that overbearing kind
He needed not to have been reared
To lord it o'er poor slaves—who feared
His smile or frown—to deem that he
Was more than mortal man can be.
The license of his will was known
No curb to brook. He would not own
His father's right to designate
When he should go, when he should wait.
As he was bent, just so he grew—
His wish the only law he knew.
The ancient honor of the South
Was in his lands, and in his mouth!
The Southern grandee scorns the claim
That would eclipse his knightly name,
Or law more binding than his own,
Unless by force such law be shown!
Fontaine regarded Maurice as
A venomed reptile, whom to pass
Was exercise of clemency
That scarcely could more humane be.
His boundless fund of insolence,
Which served him on most slight pretense,
Was felt by friends and met by foes
As oft with words as angry blows.
Yet some his many faults forgave,
For wealth the vilest wretch can save
From condemnation of the crowd,
When Virtue's claims are disallowed!
And many beauties—fair, select,
Of Southern soil the blest elect—
Would not have spurned his guilty hand,
But placed their love at his command.


As oft the case is found to be
With men who never can agree
With men, Lefair was not the same
When ladies on him had a claim.
Indeed, he held the gentle fair
As creatures of another air,
Whom men are bound by every tie
To show each mark of gallantry.
Thus, while the men with one accord
Denounced Lefair in every word,
The ladies vowed he was "too nice,
With wealth and looks and not a vice!"
And thus the ladies ever act,
A demonstration of their tact,
And likewise of their tender heart,
Which of their natures is a part—
The part that makes the soldier brave
And noodles primp and poets rave.
Earth's proudest, most historic names,
Were won in war's destructive games.
The rarest virtues are unsung,
Such as to deathless fame belong,
Great women who have given birth
To heroes who have moved the earth,
Who trained the sons to garner fame—
Who ever speaks their sainted name!


Young Maurice was by passion swayed,
And opposition now but made
Him more resolved and bent to gain
The maid's consent, whate'er the pain;
For, in the fatal moment that
He fell a victim to his fate,
All men appeared to him as foes,
And women, too, against him rose,
Reviling and reviled, because
He brooked no reason, spurned all laws.
There was but one for whom he felt
His wayward, stubborn, nature melt
Into a feeling just to feel—
From whom, indeed, was no appeal.


I will not tarry to relate
How Maurice met and won Sadie;
There are so many ways that wait
Upon those hearts that would agree.
Indeed, their parents' stern behest
But urged the lovers to the test—
But hastened on the tragic end
'Gainst which 'tis futile to contend.
They schooled themselves their friends were foes,
And, therefore, authors of their woes;
For love is loudest in complaint
When forced to feel the least restraint.
It will not list to reason's voice,
If reason bid it not rejoice.
So Sadie and her lover found
That earth is not all peaceful ground—
For sweetest joy can make us weep,
Can steal from us the boon of sleep.
Loudly the present they bewailed,
Nor with delight the future hailed,
But feared their troubles still would last
When those they suffered all had passed.


Our Southern fields were rich with light,
And green was nature's Summer dress;
The cotton fields were snowy white;
The corn crop tasseled in excess.
Far o'er the hillsides hastened all
The Negroes to their daily call,
And, with delight, their merry song
Echoed the hills and dales along.
What if the sun in glory rise,
Flooding the earth with his emprise?
He cannot rob the sightless night
Of its ill-omened, stealthy might
Maurice Lefair has won his bride—
Sadie Fontaine is at his side!
All Marian stands in mute amaze;
The country, too, is all ablaze.
Old John Lefair is in despair
And curses heaps upon his heir;
He'll cut him off with not a cent!
He'll show him that he can resent
A son who dares to take a bride
Who ne'er could be her father's pride.
Thus vowed Lefair, and stoutly swore
His son he'd never speak to more.


Yet was Fontaine enraged no less
Than John Lefair, and his distress
Aroused that slumbering Southern hate
Lefair had sought to aggravate;
But, had not Maurice now abused
His patience, he had still refused
To deal the crushing, vengeful blow,
Upon his long inveterate foe.
Then, though it cost him life and wealth,
He'd strike the man who won by stealth.
Thus moved by hate he sought the foe
Who robbed his home of its content,
Resolved to strike so hard a blow
That young Lefair could not resent—
If so his pride was of the type
His haughty tongue so loved to pipe;
For he would strike that Southern pride
Through her who was his peerless bride!
Then, if he still to her was true,
Time would disclose what he should do;
For had not Maurice dared to spurn
The name that his glib tongue must burn
In the rapt moment that he pressed
The charming Sadie to his breast,
And poured those words into her ear
Which none but lovers ought to hear—
Since none can speak who has not felt
And to that heaven-born rapture knelt.


Thus Fontaine spoke: "I, sir, must pray
"Your patience, while, in short, I say,
"That which, in justice, you should know,
"And fitter place and time than now
"May never come again, I vow.
"Sadie—my daughter, and your wife—
"Will end, I trust, the bitter strife
"That now has stood for many a year
"Between myself and John Lefair.
"An only cherished child is she,
"And nothing less can be to me.
"My plenteous wealth and this my arm
"Will shield her from whatever harm
"The present or the future brings—
"If you'll accept of such small things!
"Their wealth with you and her, your bride,
"Your common parents will divide;—
"For though her mother was a slave,
"Her father rated as a knave,
"Her husband now will soon forget
"His wife has Afric blood in veins
"He deemed as pure as old Fontaine's!
"I leave you, hoping you much health,
"And, when you please, come share our wealth!"


Wrath pinned Lefair fast to the spot!
His vengeance was e'en half forgot!
So sudden was the crushing blow
That fell upon his haughty brow;
For he were happier in the grave
Than know the offspring of a slave
Was wife to him! And she so dear
That e'en her charmed name to hear
Was dearer than all else is dear!


Fontaine took Sadie to his breast,
Where she so oft had found sweet rest,
And soothed her sorrow and her pain,
And strove to make her smile again;
For all the world to her was he,
And all the world to him was she.


Sadie ne'er learned why Maurice died
The coward's death of suicide!
She never knew he cursed her name
And deemed it linked with blackest shame:
Her hero still was he in death;
His last fond words love's parting breath.


How many hearts would bleed and die—
Grow lustreless the flashing eye,
Shrink matchless forms of queenly make—
Melt hearts as pure as new snow-flake—
If from the face the mask were torn,
The brow of fraud of fraud was shorn,
And lying hearts were turned to view,
That trusting ones might read them through!


Fontaine no longer cared to live
'Midst scenes which could no pleasure give;
And Sadie's listless step and eye
Urged him to seek a friendlier sky;
And hence he sold his old domain,
And left the scenes of so much pain,
And, too, of joy and hope and pride,
And wandered over th' ocean wide;
In France his future home he made,
Where from his mind the past might fade.
New faces, objects rare and strange,
Brought to young Sadie, with the change,
A heart to her lost love resigned
And hope renewed and peace of mind;
And, in her riper womanhood,
When by a noble Frenchman wooed,
She gave again her heart and hand
And lived, the merriest in the land.

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