Frou Frou: Our Complete Short Story
[This article first appeared in Picture Show magazine (UK), October 15th 1938]
Frou Frou is the UK title for The Toy Wife
In Search of a Husband
She got the name of Frou Frou because when she came within the hearing of people there was a rustle of silk and satin which the French phrase so admirably describes. But perhaps the words of her father’s housekeeper, Suzanne, a negress, gave even a better description.
“Hear dat fine silk rustle. Just like leaves ablowing and water runnin’.”
For this was life in 1850, when the French nobility and gentry owned the big plantations in Louisiana, and ladies wore silk and satin skirts that were big and wide enough to rustle. This was the period when New Orleans counted itself one of the gayest cities in the world and thought itself as smart as Paris.
Frou Frou was the daughter of Victor Brigard, a rich planter and a descendant of a famous French family, and her real name was Gilberte. She had a sister some few years older than herself, Louise. Although born in Louisiana, Frou Frou had spent her childhood and girlhood in France, and when she was eighteen her father decided it was time she and Louise came home. So he set out to bring them back, making the trip a holiday for his daughters and himself, as well as a duty.
The return of Frou Frou and Louise caused quite a sensation among the gentry and also the coloured servants of the district, the latter slaves except for a few instances in which their master had given them freedom.
There was a big difference in the nature of the sisters although only four years difference in age.
It was not only her habit of rustling silk and satin that had given Gilberte her name.
She was very beautiful and light-hearted to the point of frivolity.
Louise, though yielding nothing to her sister in looks, was of a more serious disposition. Though she had been to school in France she was older than Frou Frou when she went there, and perhaps the more solid training of the plantation life had made Louise a little less flighty.
It was characteristic of Frou Frou that she slept all the way from New Orlenas to the plantation where their home was situated, and when she awakened to get out of the coach she asked, “Is this New Orleans?”
“New Orleans is where we left the ship,” said Louise.
“I didn’t see it,” said Frou Frou.
“Of course you didn’t, Sleepy Head. Papa had to carry you ashore and put you in the coach because you wouldn’t wake up.”
“What I want to know is when we are going to visit New Orleans?” said Frou Frou.
“Not soon,” said Louise. “Papa’s been away four months fetching us. He’ll be needed here.”
“What a pity,” pouted Frou Frou. “Where shall we show ourselves in all our pretty dresses? And how shall we ever find husbands?”
“So you want a husband,” laughed Louise.
“Above everything,” promptly replied Frou Frou. “And dare to tell me you don’t want a husband, too.”
“Well, not just any husband,” said Louise.
Frou Frou tossed her head.
“My word! Do you think I want just any husband? My husband must like to dance, and like to ride. And buy me jewels, make me laugh and let me do just exactly as I please.”
And there in a few sentences was Frou Frou’s creed.
She lived for herself, and because she was so pretty, so helpless, and so “frou-frou,” men were glad to live for her and give to her. She could even get some women to do the same thing, and that, as any woman knows well, is something much more difficult to achieve.
Frou Frou’s tactics in getting a husband were typical of her nature.
She chose Georges Sartoris, a rising and popular attorney who had been Louise’s boy sweetheart.
On the return of Louise everybody thought the boy and girl friendship would end in marriage between Georges and Louise, and there was good reason for this belief. Georges had distinguished himself by shooting a murderer who was attempting to escape from the court as he was about to be tried, and in doing so he was wounded by a knife thrown by the murderer’s accomplice.
The wound itself was not very serious, but the knife was dirty and blood poisoning set in, which laid Georges up for a month, during which time Louise nursed him, assisted by Suzanne, for Mr. Brigard, who had been present in court at the time of the shooting, had insisted that the young attorney should be taken to his house.
While Louise was nursing Georges, Frou Frou was flirting with Andre Vallaire, son of Madame Vallaire, a neighbour and friend of Victor Brigard. She had met Andre in New Orleans when she and Louise had accompanied Madame Vallaire on a short visit to that city, but in that little time Frou Frou had so fascinated Andre that he had left the delights of New Orleans for the calm of his mother’s plantation, an action that caused many tongues to wag, for Andre, though a good sportsman from a man’s standpoint, was notorious for his affairs with women. These affairs had led to many duels in which Andre always won, for he was a magnificent swordsman and always being the challenged party (by some aggrieved husband of lover) he had the choice of weapons.
At a dinner in the house of Victor Brigard, Madame Vallaire gave a very just summing up of her son’s character.
Her words came in answer to a remark made by Frou Frou who said to Georges, apropos his knife wound, “I suppose you have been wounded often in duels?” To which Georges replied, “I have never fought a duel, mademoiselle.”
Then Madame Vallaire said in her forthright fashion, “Monsieur Georges has something better to do. He leaves duels to idle young men like my son Andre.”
It may be that the remark by Andre’s mother made Frou Frou decide that however desirable Andre might be as an escort, because he was so handsome and charming, he would not make a good husband for her.
Frou Frou remembered the words of Pick, her young coloured maid, and confidante. Said Pick (whose name was short for Piccaninny because her parents were unknown and she had come into the world without a name). “Suzanne always says dat a lady is like a postage stamp. De minute she’s got a black mark on her she ain’t no good no more to nobody.”
Frou Frou was shrewd in matters that affected her own interests, despite her frivolity and apparent helplessness. Frou Frou was well aware that Madame Vallaire worshipped her son, but because she was a clever woman she was not blind to Andre’s many faults. And there was no questioning the wisdom of Suzanne’s reference to a lady and a postage stamp.
So Frou Frou decided to marry Georges.
Astute as was the young attorney he was no match for Frou Frou in matters of this sort. He had no idea that the frivolous girl had weighed him up as carefully as he sorted evidence.
He was as handsome as Andre, if more sedate in his manner, and he was rich enough to satisfy Frou Frou’s expensive whims. So she made Georges fall in love with her thereby frustrating Andre in asking her to marry him, which well she knew he was on the point of doing.
Of Louise she gave no thought, though she knew her sister was in love with Georges, and that had she kept away from fascinating Georges with her “frou-frou” methods he would certainly have asked Louise to marry him, for his boyhood friendship with Louise was rapidly ripening into love.
Louise Makes A Sacrifice
It was a terrible shock to Louise when she heard the news, which she did from Georges’ own lips.
At a party given by Mr. Brigard to celebrate the recovery of Georges, the latter waited for Louise in the hall.
“There is something I want to say to you before anyone else comes,” he said in a whispering voice. “I have just spoken to your father and he tells me I must speak to you.”
“You’ve spoken to Papa about —-“
Louise stopped speaking and turned away her head, too shy to add the word – “us.”
It is necessary to remember that this was in 1850, when girls were taught to say that they were surprised when men told them they were in love with them and wanted to marry them.
It seems incredible, but it must also be remembered that in that age the legs of women were hidden by many petticoats and pantalettes, and that even the legs of pianos were shrouded in print or muslin wrappers.
So poor Louise was tingling for Georges’ declaration of love when he said:
“Can’t you guess? I’m in love with your sister.”
Louise was not one of the fainting kind or she would have fainted then, so great was the shock.
“Gilberte!” was all she could say.
“Yes,” replied Georges. “Didn’t you know it?”
“No,” replied Louise. “But why do you tell me. Why don’t you tell her?”
“Because your father hesitates to give his consent without your approval.”
“I can understand that,” said Louise. “She’s so frivolous and you’re so serious.”
“Perhaps too serious,” admitted Georges. “Your father says you have decided everything for Gilberte and that you’re to decide this. So my fate is in your hands, dear Louise. Do you approve?”
“Of course I approve,” said Louise. And I advise you to speak to her at once. You may find rivals here to-night.”
Louise went striaght to Frou Frou and told her that Georges was waiting to propose to her.
Frou Frou was amused as she was excited. She chatted away about the serious-minded Georges choosing her and then suddenly said:
“Aren’t you in love with him yourself?”
“Do you think a woman in love with a man would ask another woman to marry him?” replied Louise.
“I wouldn’t, but you might,” said Frou Frou.
“Well, it happens that I love someone else,” lied Louise. “The Count de la Richelle.”
Frou Frou pretended she comuld not make up her mind whether to accept or refuse Georges, and this annoyed Louise very much, though she was careful not to show it.
She thought it a very unkind fate that gave the man she loved to a woman who clearly was not in love with him.
But Frou Frou had not the slightest intention of refusing Georges. She was out to get a husband, and though she was not in love with Georges she liked him as well as any man she had met except Andre Vallaire.
Andre Vallaire was really in love with Frou Frou, and he had told his mother he meant to propose to her that night, but Georges announced his engagement before Andre could see Frou Frou alone.
A few days after the marriage of Georges and Frou Frou, when they had gone to New Orleans to live, Andre sailed for France.
Within a year of her marriage Frou Frou had a baby – a boy which they named Georgie, for Georges, though of French birth, now regarded himself as an American, for in 1803 France sold Louisiana to America. So he thought Georgie more suitable to an American-born boy.
The marriage was not a success.
Frou Frou was neither a good wife nor a good mother in a domestic sense. The negro slave servants took advantage of her laziness and lack of management and shirked their duties. As for the boy, Frou Frou was too kind to him in the wrong way. She petted and spoilt him, and his nurse Sophie took advantage of Frou Frou’s slackness to neglect the child. This was the state of affairs when Andre Vallaire came back from France. He arrived on Georgie’s fourth birthday, and in a shop he met Frou Frou. They were both engaged on the same task – buying birthday presents for the boy.
There was pleasure as well as surprise in Frou Frou’s eyes as she saw Andre.
“When did you get back from France?” she asked.
“This morning,” replied Andre. “I find you buying presents for your son’s birthday. So am I.”
“How did you happen to remember Georgie’s birthday?” asked Frou Frou.
Andre smiled, and Frou Frou thought he was handsomer than ever and even looking younger.
“I am very good at remembering things,” said Andre. “Five years ago on the twenty-sixth of this month you were married to Georges Sartoris, and four years ago on the eighth a son and heir was born.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a Madame de Cambri.
She was a gushing woman and wih he reputation of being a gossip, and Andre was not at all pleased to see her. But Madame de Cambri was very pleased to see him.
“He’s the very man we need,” she said to Frou Frou.
Then she explained to Andre that Frou Frou was playing the leading rôle in an amateur theatrical performance for charity which she (Madame de Cambri) was producing, but as yet she had not been able to find a suitable leading man.
Five years in exile in France had not cured Andre of his love for Frou Frou, and he seized the opportunity to be near her, if only on the stage. He told Madame de Cambri he would try out the part, and madame was delighted, for Andre’s reputation as an amateur actor was almost as great as his prowess as a swordsman.
Frou Frou made no mention of meeting Andre when she returned home. She might have done so the next morning, but that was the very day that Georges determined to put his foot down.
He came down early to find the servants quarrelling and fighting. After restoring order by telling them they would be sold if he caught them making such a disturbance again, he turned to Pick.
“This is the third morning I haven’t seen Master George before going to the office,” he said. “Why is that?”
“Well,” replied Pick, hesitatingly, “dat Sophie she likes to sleep late, and ah reckon she a’t got him dressed yet.”
Georges went up to his wife’s bedroom.
She and Georgie were having a romp, and Georges noticed the child was not yet dressed.
“The child’s feet are like ice,” he said reprovingly.
“Oh, put him in bed with me!” drawled Frou Frou.
“He should have been dressed and had his breakfast an hour ago,” said Georges.
“Don’t scold me,” said Frou Frou petulantly. “I won’t listen.”
“Oh, yes, you will!” retorted Georges angrily. “There are a lot of things I want to say to you. About Georgie for a start.”
“You’re not going to accuse me of neglecting him, are you?” cried Frou Frou.
“No, but his nurse does and it’s got to be altered” said Georges.
He then went on to speak of her extravagances and told her she must economise.
“There’ll be no more horses nor diamonds till we come back,” he finished.
Frou Frou opened her eyes excitedly.
“So we’re going away. Good. To Paris? she asked.
“No. To the south-west of Mexico,” replied Georges. “I’m to head a commission to revise their laws. It’s America’s second job of the sort. It will make the men who do it famous.”
Frou Frou Accuses Louise
To Georges’ amazement Fou Frou absolutely refused to consider the idea of going to Mexico.
At first she insisted that he should refuse the appointment, and when Georges said he meant to go, she told him he would have to go alone. In the end Georges gave in to her. He refused the appointment.
It was soon after this that Mr. Brigard called on Georges and Frou Frou to tell them he was making a business trip to France.
“Where’s Louise?” asked Frou Frou.
“At home,” replied her father. “She thinks she ought to stay on the plantation while I’m away in France.”
“Nonsense,” said Frou Frou. “She must come here. We need her, don’t we, Georges.”
“I’m afraid we do,” agreed Georges.
“Well go and fetch her if you can,” said Mr. Brigard.
Georges went to the plantation, Frou Frou being too busy rehearsing her play to accompany him.
Georges made a frank confession to Louise. He told her he was still in love with Frou Frou but that she was not in love with him, at least, not as a wife should love a husband. As for Georgie, she liked him as a playmate, not as a mother.
“You’re the only one who has ever had any infuence over her, Louise,” said Georges, “and I beg of you to use that influence for all our sakes or this marriage will end in disaster.”
Louise did not want to go, but believing that she might be of use she consented.
Frou Frou was genuinely glad to see her sister, and she was only too glad to hand over the responsibilities of managing the house.
Under Louise’s capable management the house ran like clockwork, and Georges felt that even if Frou Frou remained the same to him, little Georgie would have a proper bringing up and the home life would run smoothly. And this state of affairs did continue for some time.
Frou Frou, now relieved of all responsibility, devoted her days and most of her nights to pleasure.
She saw quite a lot of Andre Vallaire, but as nearly all their meetings took place at Madame Cambri’s house in connection with amateur theatricals, there was little gossip and none of it reached Georges.
Frou Frou knew she was taking a big risk, for Andre was always declaring his love and wanting her to admit she loved him and was not happy with Georges, but Frou Frou refused to commitherself.
When Mr. Brigard returned from France he brought with him Count de la Richelle, and Frou Frou was very excited.
“He’s come to marry Louise,” she told Georges.
“What does Louise say?” asked Georges.
“She’s been in love with him for years,” said Frou Frou.
She was, of course, thinking of what Louise had told her on the night she and Georges became engaged.
But to the surprise of everybody Louise refused the count.
Frou Frou was furious when she heard the news, for she had become jealous of Louise. She insisted that Georges should try to make Louise change her mind before the count went back to France.
Much against his wish, Georges did so, but he soon returned with the information that Louise was determined not to marry the count.
“Then I’ll see,” said Frou Frou
Frou Frou began her talk by saying how much she had to thank Louise in regard to her own marriage.
“I didn’t love my husband when you persuaded me to marry him,” she went on. “Don’t you think you would love the count in time as I love my husband?”
“No,” replied Louise.”I should not be happy. I know myself.”
“Not so well as I know you,” said Frou Frou, completely changing her attitude, as she grabbed the household keys Louise carried at her waist. “I gave you these. I trusted you and you have stolen everything in this house.”
Louise tried to quieten Frou Frou.
“Someone will hear you,” she said.
“Let them!” cried Frou Frou. “You have taken my home, my husband, and now my child. And that’s why you want neither home nor children of your own. You want mine. Deny that you love my husband, if you can.”
“I did love him,” replied Louise,”but he loved you and it was for his sake that I made your marriage, and only to save that marriage would I have come into this house. He said your marriage would end in a disaster unless I saved it. He said you were incapable of caring for your home and child as a woman should. Ask him what he said to me the day you sent him to me.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Frou Frou. Then she added vindictively:
“You haven’t got very good eyes, my wise sister.”
“What do you mean?” asked Louise.
“You’ll see, you’ll see,” replied Frou Frou.
And then she went out laughing, but the laughter was unnatural and strained.
Louise knew what her sister had meant the next morning.
Frou Frou ran away with Andre Vallaire.
It was found out that they had booked for New York, and this was confirmed when Madame Vallaire received a letter from her son giving the name and address of the hotel at which he and Frou Frou were staying.
Mr. Brigard was for going to New York and bringing back Frou Frou, but Madame Vallaire dissuaded him.
“Scandal we must bear – but not murder,” she said.
“You’re afraid Georges might put a bullet through your son’s heart, said Mr. Brigard. “I don’t blame you.”
“My son can defend himself,” replied Madame Vallaire. “I want to spare him the sorrow of killing a man who never wronged him. I suggest you write your daughter that you never want to see her again, which is what I shall write my son. Then perhaps they’ll stay away until Georges Sartoris realises he’s well rid of a cheap -“
Mr. Brigard interrupted her with an angry gesture.
“Madame!” he cried. “I’d challenge any man who spoke that way of my daughter.”
“Then you’d challenge the whole State,” said Madame Vallaire heatedly.
Mr. Brigard’s face changed colour. Well he knew that his old friend was not a woman to repeat idle gossip.
“This has been a great shock to me,” he said. “I beg you to excuse me.”
Mr. Brigard moved away from the carriage in which Madame Vallaire had been seated during the conversation, but he collapsed as he got into the house.
Louise ran to help him, but he was dead before she could get him anything.
Mr. Brigard had died from the shock of the disgrace his daughter had brought on him and his name.
Madame Vallaire had planned well in keeping her son and Frou Frou away from New Orleans, but the plan did not last long.
An urgent matter in connection with a gambling debt made Andre return to the city, and there was also his desire to see his mother.
Frou Frou accompanied him because she wanted to see her boy. She had changed greatly since she had run away from her husband. While she was with Andre she was light-hearted and as frivolous as ever, but when she was alone or with Pick, she had fits of depression.
There was profound disquiet among the people who had known Georges and Andre when the latter arrived in New Orleans. The code of honour among gentlemen demanded that Georges should challenge Andre to a duel, and there could only be one outcome to that duel. Andre would choose swords as the challenged party and there would be no chance for Georges.
It was a curious code of honour they had in those days. In a case where one duellist was known to be immeasurably superior to the other in the use of one weapon (pistol or sword) it would have been fairer for the seconds to have tossed a coin to decide which weapons should be used. But there were chivalrous men and brave men among duellists. When asked to name the weapons Andre chose pistols, knowing well that Georges was as deadly with a pistol as he himself was with a sword.
There could be only one result to the duel – Andre was killed.
Frou Frou brought his body to his mother, and Madame Vallaire received it while she was leading her coloured servants in their evening prayer.
“Bring your master in,” she said to the servants in a voice as calm as that she had used in prayer.
And as soon as her dead son had been carried across the porch Madame Vallaire shut the door in Frou Frou’s face.
Almost penniless, Frou Frou sought a lodging in a cheap quarter of New Orleans.
Only Pick was with her.
The coloured girl remained faithful.
To make matters worse for Frou Frou she had developed a cough in New York and that had turned to pneumonia.
The landlady of the boarding house was very good to Frou Frou and did all she could to combat the illness by giving Frou Frou soups and delicacies. But not the cleverest physician could have saved Frou Frou then. She was doomed to die.
Frou Frou knew it, and she determined to seek spiritual aid. She went to the Shrine of St. Catherine, and prayed for a miracle to happen.
“Dear St. Catherine,” she prayed. “Forgive me my sins and let me live a long time. And give me back the love of my husband and my child, and Louise. Grant me this miracle, I beg and pray.”
And it was there where Louise found her – Louise, the only one who had been looking for her.
It took Louise a lot of argument and many hard words before Georges could be persuaded to bring Frou Frou back into his home.
“She’s out of my life forever,” said Georges.
Louise pleaded for Frou Frou, but Georges was as bitter and hard against his wife as he had been loving and yielding when she was with him.
Then Louise used hard words.
“Once you called her a toy wife,” she reminded him. “Well, wasn’t it a pretty toy wife you wanted? You said she was selfish, shallow, foolish. But there was a woman who loved you who was not selfish and shallow, and not often foolish. But you never even looked at her, except as a friend, as someone to persuade the toy girl to have you as a husband. I was that woman. You’re surprised. No wonder. You never saw me – for her. Do you think I could have told you that I ever loved you if you hadn’t killed that love forever? Good-bye.”
The burning words of Louise brought a change of heart to Georges Sartoris.
He had Frou Frou brought home, and brought the best doctors to try to save her. He also begged Louise to stay and help him nurse Frou Frou back to health, and though Georges and Louise kept telling her should would get well, Frou Frou only smiled.
“Yes, I know what the doctors say – the danger is all passed. And so it is, but not in that way. The danger is past. Frou Frou will never hurt anyone again. And Georges, I’ll tell you a secret. Louise loves you.”
Georges shook his head as he looked at Louise.
Frou Frou rested to get her breath and then said in a weak voice:
“I want to be buried in that dress papa brought from Paris. The one with the pink rosebuds.”
She had just strength to ask for Georgie before she died, and there was a happy look in her eyes as she passed away.
Perhaps she was happy because she died knowing that although in life she had parted Louise and Georges, in death she had brought them together.
[This article first appeared in Picture Show magazine (UK), October 15th 1938]