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The Entomologist
by [?]


An odd feature of New Orleans is the way homes of all ranks, in so many sections of it, are mingled. The easy, bright democracy of the thing is what one might fancy of ancient Greeks; only, here there is a general wooden frailty.

A notable phase of this characteristic is the multitude of small, frame, ground-story double cottages fronting endwise to the street, on lots that give either side barely space enough for one row of twelve-foot rooms with windows on a three-foot alley leading to the narrow backyard.

Thus they lie, deployed in pairs or half-dozens, by hundreds, in the variable intervals that occur between houses and gardens of dignity and elegance; hot as ovens, taking their perpetual bath of the great cleanser, sunshine. Sometimes they open directly upon the banquette (sidewalk), but often behind as much as a fathom of front-yard, as gay with flowers as a girl’s hat, and as fragrant of sweet-olive, citronelle, and heliotrope as her garments. In the right-hand half of such a one, far down on the Creole side of Canal street, and well out toward the swamp, lived our friend the entomologist.

Just a glance at it was enough to intoxicate one’s fancy. It seemed to confess newness of life, joy, passion, temperance, refinement, aspiration, modest wisdom, and serene courage. You would say there must live two well-mated young lovers–but one can’t always tell.


We first came to know the entomologist through our opposite neighbors, the Fontenettes, when we lived in the street that still bears the romantic name, Sixth. What a pity nothing rhymes to it. Their ground-story cottage was of a much better sort. It lay broadside to the street, two-thirds across a lot of forty feet width, in the good old Creole fashion, its front garden twelve feet deep, and its street fence, of white palings, higher than the passer’s head. The parlor and dining-room were on the left, and the two main bedrooms on the right, next the garden; Mrs. Fontenette’s in front, opening into the parlor, Monsieur’s behind, letting into the dining-room. For there had been a broader garden on the parlor and dining-room side, but that had been sold and built on. I fancy that if Mrs. Fontenette–who was not a Creole, as her husband was, but had once been a Miss Bangs, or something, and still called blackberries “blackbries,” and made root rhyme with foot–I fancy if she had been doomed to our entomologist’s sort of a house she would have been too broken in spirit to have made anybody’s acquaintance.

For our pretty blonde neighbor had ambitions, or had had, as she once hinted to me with a dainty sadness. When I somehow let slip to her that I had repeated her delicately balanced words to my wife she gave me one melting glance of reproach, and thenceforth confided in me no more beyond the limits of literary criticism and theology–and botany. I remember we were among the few roses of her small flower-beds at the time, and I was trying to show her what was blighting them all in the bud. She called them “rose-es.”

They rarely bloomed for her; she was always for being the rose herself–as Monsieur Fontenette once said; but he said it with a glance of fond admiration. Her name was Flora, and yet not flowers, but their book-lore, best suited her subtle capriciousness. She made such a point of names that she could not let us be happy with the homely monosyllable by which we were known, until we allowed her to hyphenate us as the Thorndyke-Smiths.

There hung in our hall an entire unmarred beard of the beautiful gray Spanish moss, eight feet long. I had got this unusual specimen by tiptoeing from the thwarts of a skiff with twelve feet of yellow crevasse- waters beneath, the shade of the vast cypress forest above, and the bough whence it hung brought within hand’s reach for the first time in a century. Thus I explained it one day to Mrs. Fontenette, as she touched its ends with a delicate finger.