Cécile's Gift is the sixth book in the Marie-Grace and Cécile series.

Characters

Introduced

Only in Cécile's Gift

Chapter by Chapter Summary

Chapter One: Great Things

Cecile watches her brother Armand wave on his way to Jackson Square to do some sketching, and reflects happily both on the lovely weather and the fact that Armand has made a full recovery from his ordeal with yellow fever. This thought reminds her briefly of the many who had not survived, including her family’s maid Ellen, and she is grateful that the epidemic is mostly over. The city, which had seemed sick itself with everyone indoors, was coming back to life. As she approaches Holy Trinity Orphanage, Cecile adds a prayer for all the children whose families were lost to the fever--some of which were being cared for at Holy Trinity. Marie-Grace greets her, stating she has good news to share before the girls start their volunteer duties. It turns out her Uncle Luc and his new wife Oceane are planning a trip to Belle Cheniere to introduce Oceane to Luc’s extended family there, and they have invited Marie-Grace along. Cecile expresses her happiness that Marie-Grace will finally see where her own mother grew up, sitting down on an unoccupied bed. The faded blanket stirs up memories of her mother tucking her in when she was small, prompting her to ask Marie-Grace if their work is truly helping the orphans, who have lost so much. Marie-Grace assures her that making beds and assisting with meals is important, adding that Cecile’s storytelling seems so real that the children will forget their troubles for a while. Cecile is saying that the children also love the games Marie-Grace makes up for them when the girls are interrupted by a screeching of carriage wheels outside. In the street, a delivery wagon has stopped at a wild angle, the driver trying to calm his frantic horses, to avoid hitting a young man who apparently collapsed in the middle of the street. A policeman who had arrived confirms that the young man has yellow fever and must be taken to the nearest hospital, alarming Cecile. She says she thought the epidemic was over, and Marie-Grace says there are fewer cases every day according to her father (to whom Cecile is very grateful for treating Armand when he was sick). A small whimpering noise catches both girls’ ears, and they follow a trail of spilled groceries around the corner of the building to where a small dark-skinned girl is sobbing and clutching a burlap market bag. Marie-Grace leaves to get Sister Beatrice while Cecile, through gentle coaxing, learns that the girl’s name is Perrine Dupree and the man who collapsed is her older brother. She and Cecile watch as the unconscious man is loaded onto a wagon and hurried away, and Cecile tells Perrine that her older brother had the fever too, and survived. Perrine reveals that her brother is her last living family (her parents likely died of fever) as Sister Beatrice shows up with Marie-Grace. Cecile quickly tells her what she knows about Perrine, and Sister Beatrice promises that both Duprees will be taken care of: the brother at the hospital and Perrine at Children of Mercy, the nearest orphanage for colored children. Perrine asks Cecile to come with her, and Cecile, after encouragement from Sister Beatrice and Marie-Grace, agrees.

The next morning, Cecile’s wish to check on Perrine is delayed because Maman is planning a fancy lunch for Papa and the other stonecutters at his job. Though she helps eagerly with packing dishes and preparing food, Cecile is still bothered by thoughts of how sad the younger girl had seemed. As she fetches a basket of bread for Maman, Tante Tay comments on how well Cecile handled the situation with Perrine (Tay had found out from Sisters Beatrice and Louise). Cecile answers that having experienced an elder brother’s illness was something they shared, and asks Maman if she could visit Perrine. Maman says yes, adding that company and knowing someone else cares are two things that could really help Perrine at that time. A personal visitor Perrine knows will especially help when the orphanages are so crowded. The wagon passes a graveyard near Papa’s stoneyard, and Cecile is dismayed at the number of coffins being unloaded and transported. She realizes that the reason Papa has been so busy is that he’s been carving headstones and elegant grave markers. Instead of entering Papa’s workshop when they arrive, Cecile helps Tante Tay set up the makeshift table outside before wandering around the yard, wondering how many of the names on the finished tombstones belong to parents whose children no longer had the comfort of family. Papa finds her resting in the shadow of an uncarved block of stone and asks if she’s okay. Cecile answers she doesn’t know and starts talking about Perrine and all the other children who have been orphaned by the epidemic. She asks Papa why things have to change, and Papa slowly answers that while many changes can be damaging and hurtful, change can also make people stronger--strong enough to do important, good things. Cecile feels a bit more hopeful as she and Papa join the others for lunch.

Chapter Two: An Invitation

Chapter Three: Just the Wrong Thing

Chapter Four: Gifts and Dreams

Chapter Five: La Célébration

Chapter Six: So Long for Now

Looking Back: Recovering from Disaster 1853

Discusses how communities worked together to help the needy in the 1800s. Topics covered:

  • The lack of government or national assistance groups in the 1850s for disaster-stricken cities and towns
  • Recovery efforts by religious organizations and businesses
  • New problems and crises following the aftermath of the 1853 yellow fever epidemic, such as caring for newly orphaned children
  • Henriette Delille, who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family to assist orphaned girls of color
  • Margaret Haughery, another woman who established orphanages for the orphans of New Orleans
  • Local efforts to keep the orphanages in operation, such as charity benefits and fundraisers
  • Common benefit performances such as plays, concerts, and poetry recitations
  • Nationwide news coverage of New Orleans' recovery from the yellow fever epidemic
  • New Orleans as a leading cultural city in the United States and the creation of jazz music in the early 20th century
  • The culinary cuisine of New Orleans
  • New Orleans as a city today

Items associated with Cécile's Gift

See also

References and Footnotes

  1. Cécile's letter at the end of Chapter 6.
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