St. Clare’s family history is told. He, Augustine, comes from a rich Louisiana family. His mother was a French Protestant, and his uncle a farmer in Vermont, where Augustine often spent summers. He is a dreamer and something of a free spirit, with a joking, teasing intellect. At one point in his youth he fell in love with a northern woman who then apparently broke off their engagement—it turned out, later, that in fact she had never received his letters to her. Thinking himself spurned, St. Clare married his current wife, Marie St. Clare, a moody, beautiful southerner, only to learn of his ill luck with his first love during his honeymoon. This experience ended “the whole romance and ideal of life” for St. Clare, but he goes on living, resignedly, with his wife, who is demanding and indulged.
St. Clare, on the other hand, has lived a life of “bad luck.” His relations with women appear to be cursed, as his current wife is an unpleasant woman, always complaining and never doing anything to change the world around her. Although St. Clare’s romantic disappointment crushes him, he is nevertheless able to carry on in his business and social affairs.
The birth of Eva, however, seemed to cheer St. Clare; he gave her his mother’s name. Marie St. Clare begins to complain of “sick-headaches” and other illnesses. Thus St. Clare travels north with Eva to meet with Miss Ophelia, a relative on his uncle’s side, in the hopes of asking her to come south to nanny Eva. This explains St. Clare’s presence on La Belle Riviere.
Marie St. Clare has a hard time understanding Eva, and from an early age she in some sense competes with Eva for St. Clare’s affections. Her period of “sickness” begins in earnest with Eva’s birth, thus requiring that Miss Ophelia join the family.
Miss Ophelia is a severe northern woman, deeply religious and organized, and convinced that a strong work ethic and sense of duty are essential to living a Christian life. Though she is nervous about moving to the south, she does so because she feels she must help her cousin St. Clare. Despite their differing temperaments, St. Clare and Miss Ophelia get along quite well.
Miss Ophelia is a representative of “the North” in the text. Her hypocrisies concerning slavery, described more fully later in the novel, are the North’s hypocrisies, and her sense of duty and hard-work are also considered Northern qualities.
The boat stops in New Orleans, and the three enter St. Clare’s large, opulent estate, which Miss Ophelia finds impressive but “heathenish.” St. Clare’s domestic slaves are introduced. Mr. Adolph, a boisterous footman, dresses in his master’s clothes and pretends to have run of the house. Mammy serves as a cook and aid to Eva—they are very fond of one another.
St. Clare’s estate is in disarray, but the slaves appear happy and are not ill-treated. Even the décor, according to Miss Ophelia, smacks to her of an “un-Christian” or uncivilized laziness. Though her comment indicates how Miss Ophelia equates being Christian with being rigorous and upright, but she does not yet understand that it also means being compassionate.
St. Clare tells Marie he has brought her a new coachman, Tom. Marie believes that Tom will drink and shirk his duty like their pervious driver. After St. Clare gives Marie a present from his journey, Marie complains that her husband neglects her, and Miss Ophelia settles into life in the house.
Marie does not even consider Tom, nor does she believe her husband, when he says Tom is a devoted, religious man. To Marie, all slaves are the same: indolent and not to be trusted It is beyond her ability to imagine a slave being capable of religion.