George Washington Cable
Part 4 out of 8
Alas! the phonograph was invented three-quarters of a century too late.
If type could entrap one-half the pretty oddities of Aurora's
speech,--the arch, the pathetic, the grave, the earnest, the
matter-of-fact, the ecstatic tones of her voice,--nay, could it but
reproduce the movement of her hands, the eloquence of her eyes, or the
shapings of her mouth,--ah! but type--even the phonograph--is such an
inadequate thing! Sometimes she laughed; sometimes Clotilde,
unexpectedly to herself, joined her; and twice or thrice she provoked a
similar demonstration from the ox-like apothecary,--to her own intense
amusement. Sometimes she shook her head in solemn scorn; and, when
Frowenfeld, at a certain point where Palmyre's fate locked hands for a
time with that of Bras-Coupe, asked a fervid question concerning that
strange personage, tears leaped into her eyes, as she said:
"Ah! 'Sieur Frowenfel', iv I tra to tell de sto'y of Bras-Coupe, I goin'
to cry lag a lill bebby."
The account of the childhood days upon the plantation at Cannes Brulees
may be passed by. It was early in Palmyre's fifteenth year that that
Kentuckian, 'mutual friend' of her master and Agricola, prevailed with
M. de Grapion to send her to the paternal Grandissime mansion,--a
complimentary gift, through Agricola, to Mademoiselle, his
niece,--returnable ten years after date.
The journey was made in safety; and, by and by, Palmyre was presented to
her new mistress. The occasion was notable. In a great chair in the
centre sat the _grandpere_, a Chevalier de Grandissime, whose business
had narrowed down to sitting on the front veranda and wearing his
decorations,--the cross of St. Louis being one; on his right, Colonel
Numa Grandissime, with one arm dropped around Honore, then a boy of
Palmyre's age, expecting to be off in sixty days for France; and on the
left, with Honore's fair sister nestled against her, "Madame Numa," as
the Creoles would call her, a stately woman and beautiful, a great
admirer of her brother Agricola. (Aurora took pains to explain that she
received these minutiae from Palmyre herself in later years.) One other
member of the group was a young don of some twenty years' age, not an
inmate of the house, but only a cousin of Aurora on her deceased
mother's side. To make the affair complete, and as a seal to this tacit
Grandissime-de-Grapion treaty, this sole available representative of the
"other side" was made a guest for the evening. Like the true Spaniard
that he was, Don Jose Martinez fell deeply in love with Honore's sister.
Then there came Agricola leading in Palmyre. There were others, for the
Grandissime mansion was always full of Grandissimes; but this was the
In this house Palmyre grew to womanhood, retaining without interruption
the place into which she seemed to enter by right of indisputable
superiority over all competitors,--the place of favorite attendant to
the sister of Honore. Attendant, we say, for servant she never seemed.
She grew tall, arrowy, lithe, imperial, diligent, neat, thorough,
silent. Her new mistress, though scarcely at all her senior, was yet
distinctly her mistress; she had that through her Fusilier blood;
experience was just then beginning to show that the Fusilier Grandissime
was a superb variety; she was a mistress one could wish to obey. Palmyre
loved her, and through her contact ceased, for a time, at least, to be
the pet leopard she had been at the Cannes Brulees.
Honore went away to Paris only sixty days after Palmyre entered the
house. But even that was not soon enough.
"'Sieur Frowenfel'," said Aurora, in her recital, "Palmyre, she never
tole me dad, _mais_ I am shoe, _shoe_ dad she fall in love wid Honore
Grandissime. 'Sieur Frowenfel', I thing dad Honore Grandissime is one
bad man, ent it? Whad you thing, 'Sieur Frowenfel'?"
"I think, as I said to you the last time, that he is one of the best, as
I know that he is one of the kindest and most enlightened gentlemen in
the city," said the apothecary.
"Ah, 'Sieur Frowenfel'! ha, ha!"
"That is my conviction."
The lady went on with her story.
"Hanny'ow, I know she _con_tinue in love wid 'im all doze ten year'
w'at 'e been gone. She baig Mademoiselle Grandissime to wrad dad ledder
to my papa to ass to kip her two years mo'."
Here Aurora carefully omitted that episode which Doctor Keene had
related to Frowenfeld,--her own marriage and removal to Fausse Riviere,
the visit of her husband to the city, his unfortunate and finally fatal
affair with Agricola, and the surrender of all her land and slaves to
that successful duellist.
M. de Grapion, through all that, stood by his engagement concerning
Palmyre; and, at the end of ten years, to his own astonishment,
responded favorably to a letter from Honore's sister, irresistible for
its goodness, good sense, and eloquent pleading, asking leave to detain
Palmyre two years longer; but this response came only after the old
master and his pretty, stricken Aurora had wept over it until they were
weak and gentle,--and was not a response either, but only a
Shortly before the return of Honore--and here it was that Aurora took up
again the thread of her account--while his mother, long-widowed, reigned
in the paternal mansion, with Agricola for her manager, Bras-Coupe
appeared. From that advent, and the long and varied mental sufferings
which its consequences brought upon her, sprang that second change in
Palmyre, which made her finally untamable, and ended in a manumission,
granted her more for fear than for conscience' sake. When Aurora
attempted to tell those experiences, even leaving Bras-Coupe as much as
might be out of the recital, she choked with tears at the very start,
stopped, laughed, and said:
"_C'est tout_--daz all. 'Sieur Frowenfel', oo you fine dad pigtu' to
loog lag, yonnah, hon de wall?"
She spoke as if he might have overlooked it, though twenty times, at
least, in the last hour, she had seen him glance at it.
"It is a good likeness," said the apothecary, turning to Clotilde, yet
showing himself somewhat puzzled in the matter of the costume.
The ladies laughed.
"Daz ma grade-gran'-mamma," said Clotilde.
"Dass one _fille a la cassette_," said Aurora, "my gran'-muzzah; _mais_,
ad de sem tarn id is Clotilde." She touched her daughter under the chin
with a ringed finger. "Clotilde is my gran'-mamma."
Frowenfeld rose to go.
"You muz come again, 'Sieur Frowenfel'," said both ladies, in a breath.
What could he say?
A RIDE AND A RESCUE
"Douane or Bienville?"
Such was the choice presented by Honore Grandissime to Joseph
Frowenfeld, as the former on a lively brown colt and the apothecary on a
nervy chestnut fell into a gentle, preliminary trot while yet in the
rue Royale, looked after by that great admirer of both, Raoul
"Douane?" said Frowenfeld. (It was the street we call Custom-house.)
"It has mud-holes," objected Honore.
"Well, then, the rue du Canal?"
"The canal--I can smell it from here. Why not rue Bienville?"
Frowenfeld said he did not know. (We give the statement for what it is
Notice their route. A spirit of perversity seems to have entered into
the very topography of this quarter. They turned up the rue Bienville
(up is toward the river); reaching the levee, they took their course up
the shore of the Mississippi (almost due south), and broke into a lively
gallop on the Tchoupitoulas road, which in those days skirted that
margin of the river nearest the sunsetting, namely, the _eastern_ bank.
Conversation moved sluggishly for a time, halting upon trite topics or
swinging easily from polite inquiry to mild affirmation, and back again.
They were men of thought, these two, and one of them did not fully
understand why he was in his present position; hence some reticence. It
was one of those afternoons in early March that make one wonder how the
rest of the world avoids emigrating to Louisiana in a body.
"Is not the season early?" asked Frowenfeld.
M. Grandissime believed it was; but then the Creole spring always seemed
so, he said.
The land was an inverted firmament of flowers. The birds were an
innumerable, busy, joy-compelling multitude, darting and fluttering
hither and thither, as one might imagine the babes do in heaven. The
orange-groves were in blossom; their dark-green boughs seemed snowed
upon from a cloud of incense, and a listening ear might catch an
incessant, whispered trickle of falling petals, dropping "as the
honey-comb." The magnolia was beginning to add to its dark and shining
evergreen foliage frequent sprays of pale new leaves and long, slender,
buff buds of others yet to come. The oaks, both the bare-armed and the
"green-robed senators," the willows, and the plaqueminiers, were putting
out their subdued florescence as if they smiled in grave participation
with the laughing gardens. The homes that gave perfection to this beauty
were those old, large, belvidered colonial villas, of which you may
still here and there see one standing, battered into half ruin, high and
broad, among foundries, cotton-and tobacco-sheds, junk-yards, and
longshoremen's hovels, like one unconquered elephant in a wreck of
artillery. In Frowenfeld's day the "smell of their garments was like
Lebanon." They were seen by glimpses through chance openings in lofty
hedges of Cherokee-rose or bois-d'arc, under boughs of cedar or
pride-of-China, above their groves of orange or down their long,
overarched avenues of oleander; and the lemon and the pomegranate, the
banana, the fig, the shaddock, and at times even the mango and the
guava, joined "hands around" and tossed their fragrant locks above the
lilies and roses. Frowenfeld forgot to ask himself further concerning
the probable intent of M. Grandissime's invitation to ride; these
beauties seemed rich enough in good reasons. He felt glad and grateful.
At a certain point the two horses turned of their own impulse, as by
force of habit, and with a few clambering strides mounted to the top of
the levee and stood still, facing the broad, dancing, hurrying,
The Creole stole an amused glance at the elated, self-forgetful look of
his immigrant friend.
"Mr. Frowenfeld," he said, as the delighted apothecary turned with
unwonted suddenness and saw his smile, "I believe you like this better
than discussion. You find it easier to be in harmony with Louisiana than
with Louisianians, eh?"
Frowenfeld colored with surprise. Something unpleasant had lately
occurred in his shop. Was this to signify that M. Grandissime had
heard of it?
"I am a Louisianian," replied he, as if this were a point assailed.
"I would not insinuate otherwise," said M. Grandissime, with a kindly
gesture. "I would like you to feel so. We are citizens now of a
different government from that under which we lived the morning we first
met. Yet"--the Creole paused and smiled--"you are not, and I am glad you
are not, what we call a Louisianian."
Frowenfeld's color increased. He turned quickly in his saddle as if to
say something very positive, but hesitated, restrained himself
"Mr. Grandissime, is not your Creole 'we' a word that does much damage?"
The Creole's response was at first only a smile, followed by a
thoughtful countenance; but he presently said, with some suddenness:
"My-de'-seh, yes. Yet you see I am, even this moment, forgetting we are
not a separate people. Yes, our Creole 'we' does damage, and our Creole
'you' does more. I assure you, sir, I try hard to get my people to
understand that it is time to stop calling those who come and add
themselves to the community, aliens, interlopers, invaders. That is what
I hear my cousins, 'Polyte and Sylvestre, in the heat of discussion,
called you the other evening; is it so?"
"I brought it upon myself," said Frowenfeld. "I brought it upon myself."
"Ah!" interrupted M. Grandissime, with a broad smile, "excuse me--I am
fully prepared to believe it. But the charge is a false one. I told them
so. My-de'-seh--I know that a citizen of the United States in the United
States has a right to become, and to be called, under the laws governing
the case, a Louisianian, a Vermonter, or a Virginian, as it may suit his
whim; and even if he should be found dishonest or dangerous, he has a
right to be treated just exactly as we treat the knaves and ruffians who
are native born! Every discreet man must admit that."
"But if they do not enforce it, Mr. Grandissime," quickly responded the
sore apothecary, "if they continually forget it--if one must surrender
himself to the errors and crimes of the community as he finds it--"
The Creole uttered a low laugh.
"Party differences, Mr. Frowenfeld; they have them in all countries."
"So your cousins said," said Frowenfeld.
"And how did you answer them?"
"Offensively," said the apothecary, with sincere mortification.
"Oh! that was easy," replied the other, amusedly; "but how?"
"I said that, having here only such party differences as are common
elsewhere, we do not behave as they elsewhere do; that in most civilized
countries the immigrant is welcome, but here he is not. I am afraid I
have not learned the art of courteous debate," said Frowenfeld, with a
smile of apology.
"'Tis a great art," said the Creole, quietly, stroking his horse's neck.
"I suppose my cousins denied your statement with indignation, eh?"
"Yes; they said the honest immigrant is always welcome."
"Well, do you not find that true?"
"But, Mr. Grandissime, that is requiring the immigrant to prove his
innocence!" Frowenfeld spoke from the heart. "And even the honest
immigrant is welcome only when he leaves his peculiar opinions behind
him. Is that right, sir?"
The Creole smiled at Frowenfeld's heat.
"My-de'-seh, my cousins complain that you advocate measures fatal to the
prevailing order of society."
"But," replied the unyielding Frowenfeld, turning redder than ever,
"that is the very thing that American liberty gives me the
right--peaceably--to do! Here is a structure of society defective,
dangerous, erected on views of human relations which the world is
abandoning as false; yet the immigrant's welcome is modified with the
warning not to touch these false foundations with one of his fingers."
"Did you tell my cousins the foundations of society here are false?"
"I regret to say I did, very abruptly. I told them they were privately
aware of the fact."
"You may say," said the ever-amiable Creole, "that you allowed debate to
run into controversy, eh?"
Frowenfeld was silent; he compared the gentleness of this Creole's
rebukes with the asperity of his advocacy of right, and felt humiliated.
But M. Grandissime spoke with a rallying smile.
"Mr. Frowenfeld, you never make pills with eight corners eh?"
"No, sir." The apothecary smiled.
"No, you make them round; cannot you make your doctrines the same way?
My-de'-seh, you will think me impertinent; but the reason I speak is
because I wish very much that you and my cousins would not be offended
with each other. To tell you the truth, my-de'-seh, I hoped to use you
with them--pardon my frankness."
"If Louisiana had more men like you, M. Grandissime," cried the
untrained Frowenfeld, "society would be less sore to the touch."
"My-de'-seh," said the Creole, laying his hand out toward his companion
and turning his horse in such a way as to turn the other also, "do me
one favor; remember that it _is_ sore to the touch."
The animals picked their steps down the inner face of the levee and
resumed their course up the road at a walk.
"Did you see that man just turn the bend of the road, away yonder?" the
"Did you recognize him?"
"It was--my landlord, wasn't it?"
"Yes. Did he not have a conversation with you lately, too?"
"Yes, sir; why do you ask?"
"It has had a bad effect on him. I wonder why he is out here on foot?"
The horses quickened their paces. The two friends rode along in silence.
Frowenfeld noticed his companion frequently cast an eye up along the
distant sunset shadows of the road with a new anxiety. Yet, when M.
Grandissime broke the silence it was only to say:
"I suppose you find the blemishes in our state of society can all be
attributed to one main defect, Mr. Frowenfeld?"
Frowenfeld was glad of the chance to answer:
"I have not overlooked that this society has disadvantages as well as
blemishes; it is distant from enlightened centres; it has a language and
religion different from that of the great people of which it is now
called to be a part. That it has also positive blemishes of organism--"
"Yes," interrupted the Creole, smiling at the immigrant's sudden
magnanimity, "its positive blemishes; do they all spring from one
"I think not. The climate has its influence, the soil has its
influence--dwellers in swamps cannot be mountaineers."
"But after all," persisted the Creole, "the greater part of our troubles
"Slavery," said Frowenfeld, "or rather caste."
"Exactly," said M. Grandissime.
"You surprise me, sir," said the simple apothecary. "I supposed you
"My-de'-seh," exclaimed M. Grandissime, suddenly becoming very earnest,
"I am nothing, nothing! There is where you have the advantage of me. I
am but a _dilettante_, whether in politics, in philosophy, morals, or
religion. I am afraid to go deeply into anything, lest it should make
ruin in my name, my family, my property."
He laughed unpleasantly.
The question darted into Frowenfeld's mind, whether this might not be a
hint of the matter that M. Grandissime had been trying to see him about.
"Mr. Grandissime," he said, "I can hardly believe you would neglect a
duty either for family, property, or society."
"Well, you mistake," said the Creole, so coldly that Frowenfeld colored.
They galloped on. M. Grandissime brightened again, almost to the degree
of vivacity. By and by they slackened to a slow trot and were silent.
The gardens had been long left behind, and they were passing between
continuous Cherokee-rose hedges on the right and on the left, along that
bend of the Mississippi where its waters, glancing off three miles above
from the old De Macarty levee (now Carrollton), at the slightest
opposition in the breeze go whirling and leaping like a herd of
dervishes across to the ever-crumbling shore, now marked by the little
yellow depot-house of Westwego. Miles up the broad flood the sun was
disappearing gorgeously. From their saddles, the two horsemen feasted on
the scene without comment.
But presently, M. Grandissime uttered a low ejaculation and spurred his
horse toward a tree hard by, preparing, as he went, to fasten his rein
to an overhanging branch. Frowenfeld, agreeable to his beckon, imitated
"I fear he intends to drown himself," whispered M. Grandissime, as they
"Yes, your landlord, as you call him. He is on the flatboat; I saw his
hat over the levee. When we get on top the levee, we must get right into
it. But do not follow him into the water in front of the flat; it is
certain death; no power of man could keep you from going under it."
The words were quickly spoken; they scrambled to the levee's crown. Just
abreast of them lay a flatboat, emptied of its cargo and moored to the
levee. They leaped into it. A human figure swerved from the onset of the
Creole and ran toward the bow of the boat, and in an instant more would
have been in the river.
"Stop!" said Frowenfeld, seizing the unresisting f.m.c. firmly by the
Honore Grandissime smiled, partly at the apothecary's brief speech, but
much more at his success.
"Let him go, Mr. Frowenfeld," he said, as he came near.
The silent man turned away his face with a gesture of shame.
M. Grandissime, in a gentle voice, exchanged a few words with him, and
he turned and walked away, gained the shore, descended the levee, and
took a foot-path which soon hid him behind a hedge.
"He gives his pledge not to try again," said the Creole, as the two
companions proceeded to resume the saddle. "Do not look after him."
(Joseph had cast a searching look over the hedge.)
They turned homeward.
"Ah! Mr. Frowenfeld," said the Creole, suddenly, "if the _immygrant_
has cause of complaint, how much more has _that_ man! True, it is only
love for which he would have just now drowned himself; yet what an
accusation, my-de'-seh, is his whole life against that 'caste' which
shuts him up within its narrow and almost solitary limits! And yet, Mr.
Frowenfeld, this people esteem this very same crime of caste the holiest
and most precious of their virtues. My-de'-seh, it never occurs to us
that in this matter we are interested, and therefore disqualified,
witnesses. We say we are not understood; that the jury (the civilized
world) renders its decision without viewing the body; that we are judged
from a distance. We forget that we ourselves are too _close_ to see
distinctly, and so continue, a spectacle to civilization, sitting in a
horrible darkness, my-de'-seh!" He frowned.
"The shadow of the Ethiopian," said the grave apothecary.
M. Grandissime's quick gesture implied that Frowenfeld had said the very
"Ah! my-de'-seh, when I try sometimes to stand outside and look at it, I
am _ama-aze_ at the length, the blackness of that shadow!" (He was so
deeply in earnest that he took no care of his English.) "It is the
_Nemesis_ w'ich, instead of coming afteh, glides along by the side of
this morhal, political, commercial, social mistake! It blanches,
my-de'-seh, ow whole civilization! It drhags us a centurhy behind the
rhes' of the world! It rhetahds and poisons everhy industrhy we
got!--mos' of all our-h immense agrhicultu'e! It brheeds a thousan'
cusses that nevva leave home but jus' flutter-h up an' rhoost,
my-de'-seh, on ow _heads_; an' we nevva know it!--yes, sometimes some of
us know it."
He changed the subject.
They had repassed the ruins of Fort St. Louis, and were well within the
precincts of the little city, when, as they pulled up from a final
gallop, mention was made of Doctor Keene. He was improving; Honore had
seen him that morning; so, at another hour, had Frowenfeld. Doctor Keene
had told Honore about Palmyre's wound.
"You was at her house again this morning?" asked the Creole.
"Yes," said Frowenfeld.
M. Grandissime shook his head warningly.
"'Tis a dangerous business. You are almost sure to become the object of
slander. You ought to tell Doctor Keene to make some other arrangement,
or presently you, too, will be under the--" he lowered his voice, for
Frowenfeld was dismounting at the shop door, and three or four
acquaintances stood around--"under the 'shadow of the Ethiopian.'"
THE FETE DE GRANDPERE
Sojourners in New Orleans who take their afternoon drive down Esplanade
street will notice, across on the right, between it and that sorry
streak once fondly known as Champs Elysees, two or three large, old
houses, rising above the general surroundings and displaying
architectural features which identify them with an irrevocable past--a
past when the faithful and true Creole could, without fear of
contradiction, express his religious belief that the antipathy he felt
for the Americain invader was an inborn horror laid lengthwise in his
ante-natal bones by a discriminating and appreciative Providence. There
is, for instance, or was until lately, one house which some hundred and
fifteen years ago was the suburban residence of the old sea-captain
governor, Kerlerec. It stands up among the oranges as silent and gray as
a pelican, and, so far as we know, has never had one cypress plank added
or subtracted since its master was called to France and thrown into the
Bastile. Another has two dormer windows looking out westward, and, when
the setting sun strikes the panes, reminds one of a man with spectacles
standing up in an audience, searching for a friend who is not there and
will never come back. These houses are the last remaining--if, indeed,
they were not pulled down yesterday--of a group that once marked from
afar the direction of the old highway between the city's walls and the
suburb St. Jean. Here clustered the earlier aristocracy of the colony;
all that pretty crew of counts, chevaliers, marquises, colonels, dons,
etc., who loved their kings, and especially their kings' moneys, with an
_abandon_ which affected the accuracy of nearly all their accounts.
Among these stood the great mother-mansion of the Grandissimes. Do not
look for it now; it is quite gone. The round, white-plastered brick
pillars which held the house fifteen feet up from the reeking ground and
rose on loftily to sustain the great overspreading roof, or clustered in
the cool, paved basement; the lofty halls, with their multitudinous
glitter of gilded brass and twinkle of sweet-smelling wax-candles; the
immense encircling veranda, where twenty Creole girls might walk
abreast; the great front stairs, descending from the veranda to the
garden, with a lofty palm on either side, on whose broad steps forty
Grandissimes could gather on a birthday afternoon; and the belvidere,
whence you could see the cathedral, the Ursulines', the governor's
mansion, and the river, far away, shining between the villas of
Tchoupitoulas Coast--all have disappeared as entirely beyond recall as
the flowers that bloomed in the gardens on the day of this _fete de
Odd to say, it was not the grandpere's birthday that had passed. For
weeks the happy children of the many Grandissime branches--the
Mandarins, the St. Blancards, the Brahmins--had been standing with
their uplifted arms apart, awaiting the signal to clap hands and jump,
and still, from week to week, the appointed day had been made to fall
back, and fall back before--what think you?--an inability to
It was a sad paradox in the history of this majestic old house that her
best child gave her the most annoyance; but it had long been so. Even in
Honore's early youth, a scant two years after she had watched him, over
the tops of her green myrtles and white and crimson oleanders, go away,
a lad of fifteen, supposing he would of course come back a Grandissime
of the Grandissimes--an inflexible of the inflexibles--he was found
"inciting" (so the stately dames and officials who graced her front
veranda called it) a Grandissime-De Grapion reconciliation by means of
transatlantic letters, and reducing the flames of the old feud,
rekindled by the Fusilier-Nancanou duel, to a little foul smoke. The
main difficulty seemed to be that Honore could not be satisfied with a
clean conscience as to his own deeds and the peace and fellowships of
single households; his longing was, and had ever been--he had inherited
it from his father--to see one unbroken and harmonious Grandissime
family gathering yearly under this venerated roof without reproach
before all persons, classes, and races with whom they had ever had to
do. It was not hard for the old mansion to forgive him once or twice;
but she had had to do it often. It seems no over-stretch of fancy to
say she sometimes gazed down upon his erring ways with a look of patient
sadness in her large and beautiful windows.
And how had that forbearance been rewarded? Take one short instance:
when, seven years before this present _fete de grandpere_, he came back
from Europe, and she (this old home which we cannot help but personify),
though in trouble then--a trouble that sent up the old feud flames
again--opened her halls to rejoice in him with the joy of all her
gathered families, he presently said such strange things in favor of
indiscriminate human freedom that for very shame's sake she hushed them
up, in the fond hope that he would outgrow such heresies. But he? On top
of all the rest, he declined a military commission and engaged in
However, therein was developed a grain of consolation. Honore became--as
he chose to call it--more prudent. With much tact, Agricola was amiably
crowded off the dictator's chair, to become, instead, a sort of
seneschal. For a time the family peace was perfect, and Honore, by a
touch here to-day and a word there to-morrow, was ever lifting the name,
and all who bore it, a little and a little higher; when suddenly, as in
his father's day--that dear Numa who knew how to sacrifice his very
soul, as a sort of Iphigenia for the propitiation of the family gods--as
in Numa's day came the cession to Spain, so now fell this other cession,
like an unexpected tornado, threatening the wreck of her children's
slave-schooners and the prostration alike of their slave-made crops and
their Spanish liberties; and just in the fateful moment where Numa would
have stood by her, Honore had let go. Ah, it was bitter!
"See what foreign education does!" cried a Mandarin de Grandissime of
the Baton Rouge Coast. "I am sorry now"--derisively--"that I never sent
_my_ boy to France, am I not? No! No-o-o! I would rather my son should
never know how to read, than that he should come back from Paris
repudiating the sentiments and prejudices of his own father. Is
education better than family peace? Ah, bah! My son make friends with
Americains and tell me they--that call a negro 'monsieur'--are as good
as his father? But that is what we get for letting Honore become a
merchant. Ha! the degradation! Shaking hands with men who do not believe
in the slave trade! Shake hands? Yes; associate--fraternize! with
apothecaries and negrophiles. And now we are invited to meet at the
_fete de grandpere_, in the house where he is really the chief--the
No! The family would not come together on the first appointment; no, nor
on the second; no, not if the grandpapa did express his wish; no, nor on
the third--nor on the fourth.
"_Non, Messieurs_!" cried both youth and reckless age; and, sometimes,
also, the stronger heads of the family, the men of means, of force and
of influence, urged on from behind by their proud and beautiful wives
Arms, generally, rather than heads, ruled there in those days.
Sentiments (which are the real laws) took shape in accordance with the
poetry, rather than the reason, of things, and the community recognized
the supreme domination of "the gentleman" in questions of right and of
"the ladies" in matters of sentiment. Under such conditions strength
establishes over weakness a showy protection which is the subtlest of
tyrannies, yet which, in the very moment of extending its arm over
woman, confers upon her a power which a truer freedom would only
diminish; constitutes her in a large degree an autocrat of public
sentiment and thus accepts her narrowest prejudices and most belated
errors as veriest need-be's of social life.
The clans classified easily into three groups; there were those who
boiled, those who stewed, and those who merely steamed under a close
cover. The men in the first two groups were, for the most part, those
who were holding office under old Spanish commissions, and were daily
expecting themselves to be displaced and Louisiana thereby ruined. The
steaming ones were a goodly fraction of the family--the timid, the
apathetic, the "conservative." The conservatives found ease better than
exactitude, the trouble of thinking great, the agony of deciding
harrowing, and the alternative of smiling cynically and being liberal so
much easier--and the warm weather coming on with a rapidity-wearying to
"The Yankee was an inferior animal."
"But Honore had a right to his convictions."
"Yes, that was so, too."
"It looked very traitorous, however."
"Yes, so it did."
"Nevertheless, it might turn out that Honore was advancing the true
interests of his people."
"It would not do to accept office under the Yankee government."
"Of course not."
"Yet it would never do to let the Yankees get the offices, either."
"That was true; nobody could deny that."
"If Spain or France got the country back, they would certainly remember
and reward those who had held out faithfully."
"Certainly! That was an old habit with France and Spain."
"But if they did not get the country back--"
"Yes, that is so; Honore is a very good fellow, and--"
And, one after another, under the mild coolness of Honore's amiable
disregard, their indignation trickled back from steam to water, and they
went on drawing their stipends, some in Honore's counting-room, where
they held positions, some from the provisional government, which had as
yet made but few changes, and some, secretly, from the cunning
Casa-Calvo; for, blow the wind east or blow the wind west, the affinity
of the average Grandissime for a salary abideth forever.
Then, at the right moment, Honore made a single happy stroke, and even
the hot Grandissimes, they of the interior parishes and they of
Agricola's squadron, slaked and crumbled when he wrote each a letter
saying that the governor was about to send them appointments, and that
it would be well, if they wished to _evade_ them, to write the governor
at once, surrendering their present commissions. Well! Evade? They would
evade nothing! Do you think they would so belittle themselves as to
write to the usurper? They would submit to keep the positions first.
But the next move was Honore's making the whole town aware of his
apostasy. The great mansion, with the old grandpere sitting out in
front, shivered. As we have seen, he had ridden through the Place
d'Armes with the arch-usurper himself. Yet, after all, a Grandissime
would be a Grandissime still; whatever he did he did openly. And wasn't
that glorious--never to be ashamed of anything, no matter how bad? It
was not everyone who could ride with the governor.
And blood was so much thicker than vinegar that the family, that would
not meet either in January or February, met in the first week of March,
every constituent one of them.
The feast has been eaten. The garden now is joyous with children and
the veranda resplendent with ladies. From among the latter the eye
quickly selects one. She is perceptibly taller than the others; she sits
in their midst near the great hall entrance; and as you look at her
there is no claim of ancestry the Grandissimes can make which you would
not allow. Her hair, once black, now lifted up into a glistening
snow-drift, augments the majesty of a still beautiful face, while her
full stature and stately bearing suggest the finer parts of Agricola,
her brother. It is Madame Grandissime, the mother of Honore.
One who sits at her left, and is very small, is a favorite cousin. On
her right is her daughter, the widowed senora of Jose Martinez; she has
wonderful black hair and a white brow as wonderful. The commanding
carriage of the mother is tempered in her to a gentle dignity and calm,
contrasting pointedly with the animated manners of the courtly matrons
among whom she sits, and whose continuous conversation takes this
direction or that, at the pleasure of Madame Grandissime.
But if you can command your powers of attention, despite those children
who are shouting Creole French and sliding down the rails of the front
stair, turn the eye to the laughing squadron of beautiful girls, which
every few minutes, at an end of the veranda, appears, wheels and
disappears, and you note, as it were by flashes, the characteristics of
face and figure that mark the Louisianaises in the perfection of the
new-blown flower. You see that blondes are not impossible; there,
indeed, are two sisters who might be undistinguishable twins but that
one has blue eyes and golden hair. You note the exquisite pencilling of
their eyebrows, here and there some heavier and more velvety, where a
less vivacious expression betrays a share of Spanish blood. As
Grandissimes, you mark their tendency to exceed the medium Creole
stature, an appearance heightened by the fashion of their robes. There
is scarcely a rose in all their cheeks, and a full red-ripeness of the
lips would hardly be in keeping; but there is plenty of life in their
eyes, which glance out between the curtains of their long lashes with a
merry dancing that keeps time to the prattle of tongues. You are not
able to get a straight look into them, and if you could you would see
only your own image cast back in pitiful miniature; but you turn away
and feel, as you fortify yourself with an inward smile, that they know
you, you man, through and through, like a little song. And in turning,
your sight is glad to rest again on the face of Honore's mother. You
see, this time, that she _is_ his mother, by a charm you had overlooked,
a candid, serene and lovable smile. It is the wonder of those who see
that smile that she can ever be harsh.
The playful, mock-martial tread of the delicate Creole feet is all at
once swallowed up by the sound of many heavier steps in the hall, and
the fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles and nephews of the
great family come out, not a man of them that cannot, with a little
care, keep on his feet. Their descendants of the present day sip from
shallower glasses and with less marked results.
The matrons, rising, offer the chief seat to the first comer, the
great-grandsire--the oldest living Grandissime--Alcibiade, a shaken but
unfallen monument of early colonial days, a browned and corrugated
souvenir of De Vaudreuil's pomps, of O'Reilly's iron rule, of Galvez'
brilliant wars--a man who had seen Bienville and Zephyr Grandissime.
With what splendor of manner Madame Fusilier de Grandissime offers, and
he accepts, the place of honor! Before he sits down he pauses a moment
to hear out the companion on whose arm he had been leaning. But
Theophile, a dark, graceful youth of eighteen, though he is recounting
something with all the oblivious ardor of his kind, becomes instantly
silent, bows with grave deference to the ladies, hands the aged
forefather gracefully to his seat, and turning, recommences the recital
before one who hears all with the same perfect courtesy--his beloved
Meanwhile, the gentlemen throng out. Gallant crew! These are they who
have been pausing proudly week after week in an endeavor (?) to
understand the opaque motives of Numa's son.
In the middle of the veranda pauses a tall, muscular man of fifty, with
the usual smooth face and an iron-gray queue. That is Colonel Agamemnon
Brahmin de Grandissime, purveyor to the family's military pride,
conservator of its military glory, and, after Honore, the most admired
of the name. Achille Grandissime, he who took Agricola away from
Frowenfeld's shop in the carriage, essays to engage Agamemnon in
conversation, and the colonel, with a glance at his kinsman's nether
limbs and another at his own, and with that placid facility with which
the graver sort of Creoles take up the trivial topics of the lighter,
grapples the subject of boots. A tall, bronzed, slender young man, who
prefixes to Grandissime the maternal St. Blancard, asks where his wife
is, is answered from a distance, throws her a kiss and sits down on a
step, with Jean Baptiste de Grandissime, a piratical-looking
black-beard, above him, and Alphonse Mandarin, an olive-skinned boy,
below. Valentine Grandissime, of Tchoupitoulas, goes quite down to the
bottom of the steps and leans against the balustrade. He is a large,
broad-shouldered, well-built man, and, as he stands smoking a cigar,
with his black-stockinged legs crossed, he glances at the sky with the
eye of a hunter--or, it may be, of a sailor.
"Valentine will not marry," says one of two ladies who lean over the
rail of the veranda above. "I wonder why."
The other fixes on her a meaning look, and she twitches her shoulders
and pouts, seeing she has asked a foolish question, the answer to which
would only put Valentine in a numerous class and do him no credit.
Such were the choice spirits of the family. Agricola had retired. Raoul
was there; his pretty auburn head might have been seen about half-way up
the steps, close to one well sprinkled with premature gray.
"No such thing!" exclaimed his companion.
(The conversation was entirely in Creole French.)
"I give you my sacred word of honor!" cried Raoul.
"That Honore is having all his business carried on in English?" asked
the incredulous Sylvestre. (Such was his name.)
"I swear--" replied Raoul, resorting to his favorite pledge--"on a stack
of Bibles that high!"
This polite expression of unbelief was further emphasized by a spasmodic
flirt of one hand, with the thumb pointed outward.
"Ask him! ask him!" cried Raoul.
"Honore!" called Sylvestre, rising up. Two or three persons passed the
call around the corner of the veranda.
Honore came with a chain of six girls on either arm. By the time he
arrived, there was a Babel of discussion.
"Raoul says you have ordered all your books and accounts to be written
in English," said Sylvestre.
"It is not true, is it?"
The entire veranda of ladies raised one long-drawn, deprecatory "Ah!"
except Honore's mother. She turned upon him a look of silent but intense
and indignant disappointment.
"Honore!" cried Sylvestre, desirous of repairing his defeat, "Honore!"
But Honore was receiving the clamorous abuse of the two half dozens of
"Honore!" cried Sylvestre again, holding up a torn scrap of
writing-paper which bore the marks of the counting-room floor and of a
boot-heel, "how do you spell 'la-dee?'"
There was a moment's hush to hear the answer.
"Ask Valentine," said Honore.
Everybody laughed aloud. That taciturn man's only retort was to survey
the company above him with an unmoved countenance, and to push the ashes
slowly from his cigar with his little finger. M. Valentine Grandissime,
of Tchoupitoulas, could not read.
"Show it to Agricola," cried two or three, as that great man came out
upon the veranda, heavy-eyed, and with tumbled hair.
Sylvestre, spying Agricola's head beyond the ladies, put the question.
"How is it spelled on that paper?" retorted the king of beasts.
"Ignoramus!" growled the old man.
"I did not spell it," cried Raoul, and attempted to seize the paper. But
Sylvestre throwing his hand behind him, a lady snatched the paper, two
or three cried "Give it to Agricola!" and a pretty boy, whom the
laughter and excitement had lured from the garden, scampered up the
steps and handed it to the old man.
"Honore!" cried Raoul, "it must not be read. It is one of your private
But Raoul's insinuation that anybody would entrust him with a private
matter brought another laugh.
Honore nodded to his uncle to read it out, and those who could not
understand English, as well as those who could, listened. It was a paper
Sylvestre had picked out of a waste-basket on the day of Aurore's visit
to the counting-room. Agricola read:
"What is that layde want in thare with Honore?"
"Honore is goin giv her bac that proprety--that is
Aurore De Grapion what Agricola kill the husband."
That was the whole writing, but Agricola never finished. He was reading
aloud--"that is Aurore De Grap--"
At that moment he dropped the paper and blackened with wrath; a sharp
flash of astonishment ran through the company; an instant of silence
followed and Agricola's thundering voice rolled down upon Sylvestre in a
succession of terrible imprecations.
It was painful to see the young man's face as, speechless, he received
this abuse. He stood pale and frightened, with a smile playing about his
mouth, half of distress and half of defiance, that said as plain as a
smile could say, "Uncle Agricola, you will have to pay for
As the old man ceased, Sylvestre turned and cast a look downward to
Valentine Grandissime, then walked up the steps, and passing with a
courteous bow through the group that surrounded Agricola, went into the
house. Valentine looked at the zenith, then at his shoe-buckles, tossed
his cigar quietly into the grass and passed around a corner of the house
to meet Sylvestre in the rear.
Honore had already nodded to his uncle to come aside with him, and
Agricola had done so. The rest of the company, save a few male figures
down in the garden, after some feeble efforts to keep up their spirits
on the veranda, remarked the growing coolness or the waning daylight,
and singly or in pairs withdrew. It was not long before Raoul, who had
come up upon the veranda, was left alone. He seemed to wait for
something, as, leaning over the rail while the stars came out, he sang
to himself, in a soft undertone, a snatch of a Creole song:
"La pluie--la pluie tombait,
The moon shone so brightly that the children in the garden did not break
off their hide-and-seek, and now and then Raoul suspended the murmur of
his song, absorbed in the fate of some little elf gliding from one black
shadow to crouch in another. He was himself in the deep shade of a
magnolia, over whose outer boughs the moonlight was trickling, as if the
whole tree had been dipped in quicksilver.
In the broad walk running down to the garden gate some six or seven dark
forms sat in chairs, not too far away for the light of their cigars to
be occasionally seen and their voices to reach his ear; but he did not
listen. In a little while there came a light footstep, and a soft,
mock-startled "Who is that?" and one of that same sparkling group of
girls that had lately hung upon Honore came so close to Raoul, in her
attempt to discern his lineaments, that their lips accidentally met.
They had but a moment of hand-in-hand converse before they were hustled
forth by a feminine scouting party and thrust along into one of the
great rooms of the house, where the youth and beauty of the Grandissimes
were gathered in an expansive semicircle around a languishing fire,
waiting to hear a story, or a song, or both, or half a dozen of each,
from that master of narrative and melody, Raoul Innerarity.
"But mark," they cried unitedly, "you have got to wind up with the story
"A song! A song!"
"_Une chanson Creole! Une chanson des negres!_"
"Sing 'ye tole dance la doung y doung doung!'" cried a black-eyed girl.
Raoul explained that it had too many objectionable phrases.
"Oh, just hum the objectionable phrases and go right on."
But instead he sang them this:
"_La premier' fois mo te 'oir li,
Li te pose au bord so lit;
Mo di', Bouzon, bel n'amourese!
L'aut' fois li te si' so la saise
Comme vie Madam dans so fauteil,
Quand li vive cote soleil.
So gies ye te plis noir passe la nouitte,
So de la lev' plis doux passe la quitte!
Tou' mo la vie, zamein mo oir
Ein n' amourese zoli comme ca!
Mo' blie manze--mo' blie boir'--
Mo' blie tout dipi c' temps-la--
Mo' blie parle--mo' blie dormi,
Quand mo pense apres zami!_"
"And you have heard Bras-Coupe sing that, yourself?"
"Once upon a time," said Raoul, warming with his subject, "we were
coming down from Pointe Macarty in three pirogues. We had been three
days fishing and hunting in Lake Salvador. Bras-Coupe had one pirogue
with six paddles--"
"Oh, yes!" cried a youth named Baltazar; "sing that, Raoul!"
And he sang that.
"But oh, Raoul, sing that song the negroes sing when they go out in the
bayous at night, stealing pigs and chickens!"
"That boat song, do you mean, which they sing as a signal to those on
shore?" He hummed.
"De zabs, de zabs, de counou ouaie ouaie,
De zabs, de zabs, de counou ouaie ouaie,
Counou ouaie ouaie ouaie ouaie,
Counou ouaie ouaie ouaie ouaie,
Counou ouaie ouaie ouaie, momza;
Momza, momza, momza, momza,
Roza, roza, roza-et--momza."
This was followed by another and still another, until the hour began to
grow late. And then they gathered closer around him and heard the
promised story. At the same hour Honore Grandissime, wrapping himself in
a greatcoat and giving himself up to sad and somewhat bitter
reflections, had wandered from the paternal house, and by and by from
the grounds, not knowing why or whither, but after a time soliciting, at
Frowenfeld's closing door, the favor of his company. He had been feeling
a kind of suffocation. This it was that made him seek and prize the
presence and hand-grasp of the inexperienced apothecary. He led him out
to the edge of the river. Here they sat down, and with a laborious
attempt at a hard and jesting mood, Honore told the same dark story.
THE STORY OF BRAS-COUPE
"A very little more than eight years ago," began Honore--but not only
Honore, but Raoul also; and not only they, but another, earlier on the
same day,--Honore, the f.m.c. But we shall not exactly follow the words
of any one of these.
Bras-Coupe, they said, had been, in Africa and under another name, a
prince among his people. In a certain war of conquest, to which he had
been driven by _ennui_, he was captured, stripped of his royalty,
marched down upon the beach of the Atlantic, and, attired as a true son
of Adam, with two goodly arms intact, became a commodity. Passing out of
first hands in barter for a looking-glass, he was shipped in good order
and condition on board the good schooner _Egalite_, whereof Blank was
master, to be delivered without delay at the port of Nouvelle Orleans
(the dangers of fire and navigation excepted), unto Blank Blank. In
witness whereof, He that made men's skins of different colors, but all
blood of one, hath entered the same upon His book, and sealed it to the
day of judgment.
Of the voyage little is recorded--here below; the less the better. Part
of the living merchandise failed to keep; the weather was rough, the
cargo large, the vessel small. However, the captain discovered there was
room over the side, and there--all flesh is grass--from time to time
during the voyage he jettisoned the unmerchantable.
Yet, when the reopened hatches let in the sweet smell of the land,
Bras-Coupe had come to the upper--the favored--the buttered side of the
world; the anchor slid with a rumble of relief down through the muddy
fathoms of the Mississippi, and the prince could hear through the
schooner's side the savage current of the river, leaping and licking
about the bows, and whimpering low welcomes home. A splendid picture to
the eyes of the royal captive, as his head came up out of the hatchway,
was the little Franco-Spanish-American city that lay on the low,
brimming bank. There were little forts that showed their whitewashed
teeth; there was a green parade-ground, and yellow barracks, and
cabildo, and hospital, and cavalry stables, and custom-house, and a most
inviting jail, convenient to the cathedral--all of dazzling white and
yellow, with a black stripe marking the track of the conflagration of
1794, and here and there among the low roofs a lofty one with
round-topped dormer windows and a breezy belvidere looking out upon the
plantations of coffee and indigo beyond the town.
When Bras-Coupe staggered ashore, he stood but a moment among a drove
of "likely boys," before Agricola Fusilier, managing the business
adventures of the Grandissime estate, as well as the residents thereon,
and struck with admiration for the physical beauties of the chieftain (a
man may even fancy a negro--as a negro), bought the lot, and, both to
resell him with the rest to some unappreciative 'Cadian, induced Don
Jose Martinez' overseer to become his purchaser.
Down in the rich parish of St. Bernard (whose boundary line now touches
that of the distended city) lay the plantation, known before Bras-Coupe
passed away as La Renaissance. Here it was that he entered at once upon
a chapter of agreeable surprises. He was humanely met, presented with a
clean garment, lifted into a cart drawn by oxen, taken to a whitewashed
cabin of logs, finer than his palace at home, and made to comprehend
that it was a free gift. He was also given some clean food, whereupon he
fell sick. At home it would have been the part of piety for the magnate
next the throne to launch him heavenward at once; but now, healing doses
were administered, and to his amazement he recovered. It reminded him
that he was no longer king.
His name, he replied to an inquiry touching that subject, was --------,
something in the Jaloff tongue, which he by and by condescended to
render into Congo: Mioko-Koanga; in French Bras-Coupe; the Arm Cut Off.
Truly it would have been easy to admit, had this been his meaning, that
his tribe, in losing him, had lost its strong right arm close off at the
shoulder; not so easy for his high-paying purchaser to allow, if this
other was his intent: that the arm which might no longer shake the spear
or swing the wooden sword was no better than a useless stump never to be
lifted for aught else. But whether easy to allow or not, that was his
meaning. He made himself a type of all Slavery, turning into flesh and
blood the truth that all Slavery is maiming.
He beheld more luxury in a week than all his subjects had seen in a
century. Here Congo girls were dressed in cottons and flannels worth,
where he came from, an elephant's tusk apiece. Everybody wore
clothes--children and lads alone excepted. Not a lion had invaded the
settlement since his immigration. The serpents were as nothing; an
occasional one coming up through the floor--that was all. True, there
was more emaciation than unassisted conjecture could explain--a
profusion of enlarged joints and diminished muscles, which, thank God,
was even then confined to a narrow section and disappeared with Spanish
rule. He had no experimental knowledge of it; nay, regular meals, on the
contrary, gave him anxious concern, yet had the effect--spite of his
apprehension that he was being fattened for a purpose--of restoring the
herculean puissance which formerly in Africa had made him the terror of
When one day he had come to be quite himself, he was invited out into
the sunshine, and escorted by the driver (a sort of foreman to the
overseer), went forth dimly wondering. They reached a field where some
men and women were hoeing. He had seen men and women--subjects of
his--labor--a little--in Africa. The driver handed him a hoe; he
examined it with silent interest--until by signs he was requested to
join the pastime.
He spoke, not with his lips, but with the recoil of his splendid frame
and the ferocious expansion of his eyes. This invitation was a cataract
of lightning leaping down an ink-black sky. In one instant of
all-pervading clearness he read his sentence--WORK.
Bras-Coupe was six feet five. With a sweep as quick as instinct the back
of the hoe smote the driver full in the head. Next, the prince lifted
the nearest Congo crosswise, brought thirty-two teeth together in his
wildly kicking leg and cast him away as a bad morsel; then, throwing
another into the branches of a willow, and a woman over his head into a
draining-ditch, he made one bound for freedom, and fell to his knees,
rocking from side to side under the effect of a pistol-ball from the
overseer. It had struck him in the forehead, and running around the
skull in search of a penetrable spot, tradition--which sometimes
jests--says came out despairingly, exactly where it had entered.
It so happened that, except the overseer, the whole company were black.
Why should the trivial scandal be blabbed? A plaster or two made
everything even in a short time, except in the driver's case--for the
driver died. The woman whom Bras-Coupe had thrown over his head lived to
sell _calas_ to Joseph Frowenfeld.
Don Jose, young and austere, knew nothing about agriculture and cared as
much about human nature. The overseer often thought this, but never said
it; he would not trust even himself with the dangerous criticism. When
he ventured to reveal the foregoing incidents to the senor he laid all
the blame possible upon the man whom death had removed beyond the reach
of correction, and brought his account to a climax by hazarding the
asserting that Bras-Coupe was an animal that could not be whipped.
"Caramba!" exclaimed the master, with gentle emphasis, "how so?"
"Perhaps senor had better ride down to the quarters," replied the
It was a great sacrifice of dignity, but the master made it.
"Bring him out."
They brought him out--chains on his feet, chains on his wrists, an iron
yoke on his neck. The Spanish Creole master had often seen the bull,
with his long, keen horns and blazing eye, standing in the arena; but
this was as though he had come face to face with a rhinoceros.
"This man is not a Congo," he said.
"He is a Jaloff," replied the encouraged overseer. "See his fine,
straight nose; moreover, he is a _candio_--a prince. If I whip him he
The dauntless captive and fearless master stood looking into each
other's eyes until each recognized in the other his peer in physical
courage, and each was struck with an admiration for the other which no
after difference was sufficient entirely to destroy. Had Bras-Coupe's
eye quailed but once--just for one little instant--he would have got the
lash; but, as it was--
"Get an interpreter," said Don Jose; then, more privately, "and come to
an understanding. I shall require it of you."
Where might one find an interpreter--one not merely able to render a
Jaloff's meaning into Creole French, or Spanish, but with such a turn
for diplomatic correspondence as would bring about an "understanding"
with this African buffalo? The overseer was left standing and thinking,
and Clemence, who had not forgotten who threw her into the
draining-ditch, cunningly passed by.
"_Mo pas capabe! Mo pas capabe!_ (I cannot, I cannot!) _Ya, ya, ya! 'oir
Miche Agricol' Fusilier! ouala yune bon monture, oui!_"--which was to
signify that Agricola could interpret the very Papa Lebat.
"Agricola Fusilier! The last man on earth to make peace."
But there seemed to be no choice, and to Agricola the overseer went. It
was but a little ride to the Grandissime place.
"I, Agricola Fusilier, stand as an interpreter to a negro? H-sir!"
"But I thought you might know of some person," said the weakening
applicant, rubbing his ear with his hand.
"Ah!" replied Agricola, addressing the surrounding scenery, "if I did
not--who would? You may take Palmyre."
The overseer softly smote his hands together at the happy thought.
"Yes," said Agricola, "take Palmyre; she has picked up as many negro
dialects as I know European languages."
And she went to the don's plantation as interpreter, followed by
Agricola's prayer to Fate that she might in some way be overtaken by
disaster. The two hated each other with all the strength they had. He
knew not only her pride, but her passion for the absent Honore. He hated
her, also, for her intelligence, for the high favor in which she stood
with her mistress, and for her invincible spirit, which was more
offensively patent to him than to others, since he was himself the chief
object of her silent detestation.
It was Palmyre's habit to do nothing without painstaking. "When
Mademoiselle comes to be Senora," thought she--she knew that her
mistress and the don were affianced--"it will be well to have a Senor's
esteem. I shall endeavor to succeed." It was from this motive, then,
that with the aid of her mistress she attired herself in a resplendence
of scarlet and beads and feathers that could not fail the double purpose
of connecting her with the children of Ethiopia and commanding the
captive's instant admiration.
Alas for those who succeed too well! No sooner did the African turn his
tiger glance upon her than the fire of his eyes died out; and when she
spoke to him in the dear accents of his native tongue, the matter of
strife vanished from his mind. He loved.
He sat down tamely in his irons and listened to Palmyre's argument as a
wrecked mariner would listen to ghostly church-bells. He would give a
short assent, feast his eyes, again assent, and feast his ears; but when
at length she made bold to approach the actual issue, and finally
uttered the loathed word, _Work_, he rose up, six feet five, a statue of
indignation in black marble.
And then Palmyre, too, rose up, glorying in him, and went to explain to
master and overseer. Bras-Coupe understood, she said, that he was a
slave--it was the fortune of war, and he was a warrior; but, according
to a generally recognized principle in African international law, he
could not reasonably be expected to work.
"As Senor will remember I told him," remarked the overseer; "how can a
man expect to plow with a zebra?"
Here he recalled a fact in his earlier experience. An African of this
stripe had been found to answer admirably as a "driver" to make others
work. A second and third parley, extending through two or three days,
were held with the prince, looking to his appointment to the vacant
office of driver; yet what was the master's amazement to learn at length
that his Highness declined the proffered honor.
"Stop!" spoke the overseer again, detecting a look of alarm in Palmyre's
face as she turned away, "he doesn't do any such thing. If Senor will
let me take the man to Agricola--"
"No!" cried Palmyre, with an agonized look, "I will tell. He will take
the place and fill it if you will give me to him for his own--but oh,
messieurs, for the love of God--I do not want to be his wife!"
The overseer looked at the Senor, ready to approve whatever he should
decide. Bras-Coupe's intrepid audacity took the Spaniard's heart by
"I leave it entirely with Senor Fusilier," he said.
"But he is not my master; he has no right--"
And she was silent; and so, sometimes, is fire in the wall.
Agricola's consent was given with malicious promptness, and as
Bras-Coupe's fetters fell off it was decreed that, should he fill his
office efficiently, there should be a wedding on the rear veranda of the
Grandissime mansion simultaneously with the one already appointed to
take place in the grand hall of the same house six months from that
present day. In the meanwhile Palmyre should remain with Mademoiselle,
who had promptly but quietly made up her mind that Palmyre should not be
wed unless she wished to be. Bras-Coupe made no objection, was royally
worthless for a time, but learned fast, mastered the "gumbo" dialect in
a few weeks, and in six months was the most valuable man ever bought for
gourde dollars. Nevertheless, there were but three persons within as
many square miles who were not most vividly afraid of him.
The first was Palmyre. His bearing in her presence was ever one of
solemn, exalted respect, which, whether from pure magnanimity in
himself, or by reason of her magnetic eye, was something worth being
there to see. "It was royal!" said the overseer.
The second was not that official. When Bras-Coupe said--as, at stated
intervals, he did say--"_Mo courri c'ez Agricole Fusilier pou' 'oir
'namourouse_ (I go to Agricola Fusilier to see my betrothed,)" the
overseer would sooner have intercepted a score of painted Chickasaws
than that one lover. He would look after him and shake a prophetic head.
"Trouble coming; better not deceive that fellow;" yet that was the very
thing Palmyre dared do. Her admiration for Bras-Coupe was almost
boundless. She rejoiced in his stature; she revelled in the
contemplation of his untamable spirit; he seemed to her the gigantic
embodiment of her own dark, fierce will, the expanded realization of
her lifetime longing for terrible strength. But the single deficiency
in all this impassioned regard was--what so many fairer loves have found
impossible to explain to so many gentler lovers--an entire absence of
preference; her heart she could not give him--she did not have it. Yet
after her first prayer to the Spaniard and his overseer for deliverance,
to the secret surprise and chagrin of her young mistress, she simulated
content. It was artifice; she knew Agricola's power, and to seem to
consent was her one chance with him. He might thus be beguiled into
withdrawing his own consent. That failing, she had Mademoiselle's
promise to come to the rescue, which she could use at the last moment;
and that failing, there was a dirk in her bosom, for which a certain
hard breast was not too hard. Another element of safety, of which she
knew nothing, was a letter from the Cannes Brulee. The word had reached
there that love had conquered--that, despite all hard words, and rancor,
and positive injury, the Grandissime hand--the fairest of Grandissime
hands--was about to be laid into that of one who without much stretch
might be called a De Grapion; that there was, moreover, positive effort
being made to induce a restitution of old gaming-table spoils. Honore
and Mademoiselle, his sister, one on each side of the Atlantic, were
striving for this end. Don Jose sent this intelligence to his kinsman as
glad tidings (a lover never imagines there are two sides to that which
makes him happy), and, to add a touch of humor, told how Palmyre, also,
was given to the chieftain. The letter that came back to the young
Spaniard did not blame him so much: _he_ was ignorant of all the facts;
but a very formal one to Agricola begged to notify him that if Palmyre's
union with Bras-Coupe should be completed, as sure as there was a God in
heaven, the writer would have the life of the man who knowingly had thus
endeavored to dishonor one who _shared the blood of the De Grapions_.
Thereupon Agricola, contrary to his general character, began to drop
hints to Don Jose that the engagement of Bras-Coupe and Palmyre need not
be considered irreversible; but the don was not desirous of
disappointing his terrible pet. Palmyre, unluckily, played her game a
little too deeply. She thought the moment had come for herself to insist
on the match, and thus provoke Agricola to forbid it. To her
incalculable dismay she saw him a second time reconsider and
The second person who did not fear Bras-Coupe was Mademoiselle. On one
of the giant's earliest visits to see Palmyre he obeyed the summons
which she brought him, to appear before the lady. A more artificial man
might have objected on the score of dress, his attire being a single
gaudy garment tightly enveloping the waist and thighs. As his eyes fell
upon the beautiful white lady he prostrated himself upon the ground, his
arms outstretched before him. He would not move till she was gone. Then
he arose like a hermit who has seen a vision. "_Bras-Coupe n' pas oule
oir zombis_ (Bras-Coupe dares not look upon a spirit)." From that hour
he worshipped. He saw her often; every time, after one glance at her
countenance, he would prostrate his gigantic length with his face in
The third person who did not fear him was--Agricola? Nay, it was the
Spaniard--a man whose capability to fear anything in nature or beyond
had never been discovered.
Long before the end of his probation Bras-Coupe would have slipped the
entanglements of bondage, though as yet he felt them only as one feels a
spider's web across the face, had not the master, according to a little
affectation of the times, promoted him to be his game-keeper. Many a day
did these two living magazines of wrath spend together in the dismal
swamps and on the meagre intersecting ridges, making war upon deer and
bear and wildcat; or on the Mississippi after wild goose and pelican;
when even a word misplaced would have made either the slayer of the
other. Yet the months ran smoothly round and the wedding night drew
nigh. A goodly company had assembled. All things were ready. The
bride was dressed, the bridegroom had come. On the great back piazza,
which had been inclosed with sail-cloth and lighted with lanterns, was
Palmyre, full of a new and deep design and playing her deceit to the
last, robed in costly garments to whose beauty was added the charm of
their having been worn once, and once only, by her beloved Mademoiselle.
[Footnote 3: An over-zealous Franciscan once complained bitterly to the
bishop of Havana, that people were being married in Louisiana in their
own houses after dark and thinking nothing of it. It is not certain that
he had reference to the Grandissime mansion; at any rate he was tittered
down by the whole community.]
But where was Bras-Coupe?
The question was asked of Palmyre by Agricola with a gaze that meant in
English, "No tricks, girl!"
Among the servants who huddled at the windows and door to see the inner
magnificence a frightened whisper was already going round.
"We have made a sad discovery, Miche Fusilier," said the overseer.
"Bras-Coupe is here; we have him in a room just yonder. But--the truth
is, sir, Bras-Coupe is a voudou."
"Well, and suppose he is; what of it? Only hush; do not let his master
know it. It is nothing; all the blacks are voudous, more or less."
"But he declines to dress himself--has painted himself all rings and
stripes, antelope fashion."
"Tell him Agricola Fusilier says, 'dress immediately!'"
"Oh, Miche, we have said that five times already, and his answer--you
will pardon me--his answer is--spitting on the ground--that you are a
contemptible _dotchian_ (white trash)."
There is nothing to do but privily to call the very bride--the lady
herself. She comes forth in all her glory, small, but oh, so beautiful!
Slam! Bras-Coupe is upon his face, his finger-tips touching the tips of
her snowy slippers. She gently bids him go and dress, and at once
Ah! now the question may be answered without whispering. There is
Bras-Coupe, towering above all heads, in ridiculous red and blue
regimentals, but with a look of savage dignity upon him that keeps every
one from laughing. The murmur of admiration that passed along the
thronged gallery leaped up into a shout in the bosom of Palmyre. Oh,
Bras-Coupe--heroic soul! She would not falter. She would let the silly
priest say his say--then her cunning should help her _not to be_ his
wife, yet to show his mighty arm how and when to strike.
"He is looking for Palmyre," said some, and at that moment he saw her.
Agricola's best roar was a penny trumpet to Bras-Coupe's note of joy.
The whole masculine half of the indoor company flocked out to see what
the matter was. Bras-Coupe was taking her hand in one of his and laying
his other upon her head; and as some one made an unnecessary gesture for
silence, he sang, beating slow and solemn time with his naked foot and
with the hand that dropped hers to smite his breast:
"'_En haut la montagne, zami,
Mo pe coupe canne, zami,
Pou' fe l'a'zen' zami,
Pou' mo baille Palmyre.
Ah! Palmyre, Palmyre mo c'ere,
Mo l'aime 'ou'--mo l'aime 'ou'_.'"
"_Montagne?_" asked one slave of another, "_qui est ca, montagne? gnia
pas quic 'ose comme ca dans la Louisiana?_ (What's a mountain?" We
haven't such things in Louisiana.)"
"_Mein ye gagnein plein montagnes dans l'Afrique_, listen!"
"'_Ah! Palmyre, Palmyre, mo' piti zozo,'
Mo l'aime 'ou'--mo l'aime, l'aime 'ou'_.'"
"Bravissimo!--" but just then a counter-attraction drew the white
company back into the house. An old French priest with sandalled feet
and a dirty face had arrived. There was a moment of handshaking with the
good father, then a moment of palpitation and holding of the breath, and
then--you would have known it by the turning away of two or three
feminine heads in tears--the lily hand became the don's, to have and to
hold, by authority of the Church and the Spanish king. And all was
merry, save that outside there was coming up as villanous a night as
ever cast black looks in through snug windows.
It was just as the newly-wed Spaniard, with Agricola and all the guests,
were concluding the byplay of marrying the darker couple, that the
hurricane struck the dwelling. The holy and jovial father had made faint
pretence of kissing this second bride; the ladies, colonels, dons,
etc.,--though the joke struck them as a trifle coarse--were beginning to
laugh and clap hands again and the gowned jester to bow to right and
left, when Bras-Coupe, tardily realizing the consummation of his hopes,
stepped forward to embrace his wife.
The voice was that of Palmyre's mistress. She had not been able to
comprehend her maid's behavior, but now Palmyre had darted upon her an
The warrior stopped as if a javelin had flashed over his head and stuck
in the wall.
"Bras-Coupe must wait till I give him his wife."
He sank, with hidden face, slowly to the floor.
"Bras-Coupe hears the voice of zombis; the voice is sweet, but the words
are very strong; from the same sugar-cane comes _sirop_ and _tafia_;
Bras-Coupe says to zombis, 'Bras-Coupe will wait; but if the _dotchians_
deceive Bras-Coupe--" he rose to his feet with his eyes closed and his
great black fist lifted over his head--"Bras-Coupe will call
The crowd retreated and the storm fell like a burst of infernal
applause. A whiff like fifty witches flouted up the canvas curtain of
the gallery and a fierce black cloud, drawing the moon under its cloak,
belched forth a stream of fire that seemed to flood the ground; a peal
of thunder followed as if the sky had fallen in, the house quivered, the
great oaks groaned, and every lesser thing bowed down before the awful
blast. Every lip held its breath for a minute--or an hour, no one
knew--there was a sudden lull of the wind, and the floods came down.
Have you heard it thunder and rain in those Louisiana lowlands? Every
clap seems to crack the world. It has rained a moment; you peer through
the black pane--your house is an island, all the land is sea.
However, the supper was spread in the hall and in due time the guests
were filled. Then a supper was spread in the big hall in the basement,
below stairs, the sons and daughters of Ham came down like the fowls of
the air upon a rice-field, and Bras-Coupe, throwing his heels about with
the joyous carelessness of a smutted Mercury, for the first time in his
life tasted the blood of the grape. A second, a fifth, a tenth time he
tasted it, drinking more deeply each time, and would have taken it ten
times more had not his bride cunningly concealed it. It was like
stealing a tiger's kittens.
The moment quickly came when he wanted his eleventh bumper. As he
presented his request a silent shiver of consternation ran through the
dark company; and when, in what the prince meant as a remonstrative
tone, he repeated the petition--splitting the table with his fist by way
of punctuation--there ensued a hustling up staircases and a cramming
into dim corners that left him alone at the banquet.
Leaving the table, he strode upstairs and into the chirruping and
dancing of the grand salon. There was a halt in the cotillion and a hush
of amazement like the shutting off of steam. Bras-Coupe strode straight
to his master, laid his paw upon his fellow-bridegroom's shoulder and in
a thunder-tone demanded:
The master swore a Spanish oath, lifted his hand and--fell, beneath the
terrific fist of his slave, with a bang that jingled the candelabra.
Dolorous stroke!--for the dealer of it. Given, apparently to him--poor,
tipsy savage--in self-defence, punishable, in a white offender, by a
small fine or a few days' imprisonment, it assured Bras-Coupe the death
of a felon; such was the old _Code Noir_. (We have a _Code Noir_ now,
but the new one is a mental reservation, not an enactment.)
The guests stood for an instant as if frozen, smitten stiff with the
instant expectation of insurrection, conflagration and rapine (just as
we do to-day whenever some poor swaggering Pompey rolls up his fist and
gets a ball through his body), while, single-handed and naked-fisted in
a room full of swords, the giant stood over his master, making strange
signs and passes and rolling out in wrathful words of his mother tongue
what it needed no interpreter to tell his swarming enemies was a voudou
"_Nous sommes grigis!_" screamed two or three ladies, "we are
"Look to your wives and daughters!" shouted a Brahmin-Mandarin.
"Shoot the black devils without mercy!" cried a Mandarin-Fusilier,
unconsciously putting into a single outflash of words the whole Creole
treatment of race troubles.
With a single bound Bras-Coupe reached the drawing-room door; his gaudy
regimentals made a red and blue streak down the hall; there was a rush
of frilled and powdered gentlemen to the rear veranda, an avalanche of
lightning with Bras-Coupe in the midst making for the swamp, and then
all without was blackness of darkness and all within was a wild
commingled chatter of Creole, French, and Spanish tongues,--in the midst
of which the reluctant Agricola returned his dresssword to its scabbard.
While the wet lanterns swung on crazily in the trees along the way by
which the bridegroom was to have borne his bride; while Madame
Grandissime prepared an impromptu bridalchamber; while the Spaniard
bathed his eye and the blue gash on his cheek-bone; while Palmyre paced
her room in a fever and wild tremor of conflicting emotions throughout
the night, and the guests splashed home after the storm as best they
could, Bras-Coupe was practically declaring his independence on a slight
rise of ground hardly sixty feet in circumference and lifted scarce
above the water in the inmost depths of the swamp.
And amid what surroundings! Endless colonnades of cypresses; long,
motionless drapings of gray moss; broad sheets of noisome waters, pitchy
black, resting on bottomless ooze; cypress knees studding the surface;
patches of floating green, gleaming brilliantly here and there; yonder
where the sunbeams wedge themselves in, constellations of water-lilies,
the many-hued iris, and a multitude of flowers that no man had named;
here, too, serpents great and small, of wonderful colorings, and the
dull and loathsome moccasin sliding warily off the dead tree; in dimmer
recesses the cow alligator, with her nest hard by; turtles a century
old; owls and bats, raccoons, opossums, rats, centipedes and creatures
of like vileness; great vines of beautiful leaf and scarlet fruit in
deadly clusters; maddening mosquitoes, parasitic insects, gorgeous
dragon-flies and pretty water-lizards: the blue heron, the snowy crane,
the red-bird, the moss-bird, the night-hawk and the chuckwill's-widow; a
solemn stillness and stifled air only now and then disturbed by the call
or whir of the summer duck, the dismal ventriloquous note of the
rain-crow, or the splash of a dead branch falling into the clear but
The pack of Cuban hounds that howl from Don Jose's kennels cannot snuff
the trail of the stolen canoe that glides through the sombre blue vapors
of the African's fastnesses. His arrows send no telltale reverberations
to the distant clearing. Many a wretch in his native wilderness has
Bras-Coupe himself, in palmier days, driven to just such an existence,
to escape the chains and horrors of the barracoons; therefore not a whit
broods he over man's inhumanity, but, taking the affair as a matter of
course, casts about him for a future.
THE STORY OF BRAS-COUPE, CONTINUED
Bras-Coupe let the autumn pass, and wintered in his den.
Don Jose, in a majestic way, endeavored to be happy. He took his senora
to his hall, and under her rule it took on for a while a look and
feeling which turned it from a hunting-lodge into a home. Wherever the
lady's steps turned--or it is as correct to say wherever the proud tread
of Palmyre turned--the features of bachelor's-hall disappeared; guns,
dogs, oars, saddles, nets, went their way into proper banishment, and
the broad halls and lofty chambers--the floors now muffled with mats of
palmetto-leaf--no longer re-echoed the tread of a lonely master, but
breathed a redolence of flowers and a rippling murmur of
But the song was not from the throat of Bras-Coupe's "_piti zozo_."
Silent and severe by day, she moaned away whole nights heaping
reproaches upon herself for the impulse--now to her, because it had
failed, inexplicable in its folly--which had permitted her hand to lie
in Bras-Coupe's and the priest to bind them together.
For in the audacity of her pride, or, as Agricola would have said, in
the immensity of her impudence, she had held herself consecrate to a
hopeless love. But now she was a black man's wife! and even he unable
to sit at her feet and learn the lesson she had hoped to teach him. She
had heard of San Domingo; for months the fierce heart within her silent
bosom had been leaping and shouting and seeing visions of fire and
blood, and when she brooded over the nearness of Agricola and the
remoteness of Honore these visions got from her a sort of mad consent.
The lesson she would have taught the giant was Insurrection. But it was
too late. Letting her dagger sleep in her bosom, and with an undefined
belief in imaginary resources, she had consented to join hands with her
giant hero before the priest; and when the wedding had come and gone
like a white sail, she was seized with a lasting, fierce despair. A wild
aggressiveness that had formerly characterized her glance in moments of
anger--moments which had grown more and more infrequent under the
softening influence of her Mademoiselle's nature--now came back
intensified, and blazed in her eye perpetually. Whatever her secret love
may have been in kind, its sinking beyond hope below the horizon had
left her fifty times the mutineer she had been before--the mutineer who
has nothing to lose.
"She loves her _candio_" said the negroes.
"Simple creatures!" said the overseer, who prided himself on his
discernment, "she loves nothing; she hates Agricola; it's a case of hate
at first sight--the strongest kind."
Both were partly right; her feelings were wonderfully knit to the
African; and she now dedicated herself to Agricola's ruin.
The senor, it has been said, endeavored to be happy; but now his heart
conceived and brought forth its first-born fear, sired by
superstition--the fear that he was bewitched. The negroes said that
Bras-Coupe had cursed the land. Morning after morning the master looked
out with apprehension toward the fields, until one night the worm came
upon the indigo, and between sunset and sunrise every green leaf had
been eaten up and there was nothing left for either insect or
apprehension to feed upon.
And then he said--and the echo came back from the Cannes Brulees--that
the very bottom culpability of this thing rested on the Grandissimes,
and specifically on their fugleman Agricola, through his putting the
hellish African upon him. Moreover, fever and death, to a degree unknown
before, fell upon his slaves. Those to whom life was spared--but to whom
strength did not return--wandered about the place like scarecrows,
looking for shelter, and made the very air dismal with the reiteration,
"_No' ouanga_ (we are bewitched), _Bras-Coupe fe moi des grigis_ (the
voudou's spells are on me)." The ripple of song was hushed and the
flowers fell upon the floor.
"I have heard an English maxim," wrote Colonel De Grapion to his
kinsman, "which I would recommend you to put into practice--'Fight the
devil with fire.'"
No, he would not recognize devils as belligerents.
But if Rome commissioned exorcists, could not he employ one?
No, he would not! If his hounds could not catch Bras-Coupe, why, let him
go. The overseer tried the hounds once more and came home with the best
one across his saddle-bow, an arrow run half through its side.
Once the blacks attempted by certain familiar rum-pourings and nocturnal
charm-singing to lift the curse; but the moment the master heard the
wild monotone of their infernal worship, he stopped it with a word.
Early in February came the spring, and with it some resurrection of hope
and courage. It may have been--it certainly was, in part--because young
Honore Grandissime had returned. He was like the sun's warmth wherever
he went; and the other Honore was like his shadow. The fairer one
quickly saw the meaning of these things, hastened to cheer the young don
with hopes of a better future, and to effect, if he could, the
restoration of Bras-Coupe to his master's favor. But this latter effort
was an idle one. He had long sittings with his uncle Agricola to the
same end, but they always ended fruitless and often angrily.
His dark half-brother had seen Palmyre and loved her. Honore would
gladly have solved one or two riddles by effecting their honorable union
in marriage. The previous ceremony on the Grandissime back piazza need
be no impediment; all slave-owners understood those things. Following
Honore's advice, the f.m.c., who had come into possession of his
paternal portion, sent to Cannes Brulees a written offer, to buy Palmyre
at any price that her master might name, stating his intention to free
her and make her his wife. Colonel De Grapion could hardly hope to
settle Palmyre's fate more satisfactorily, yet he could not forego an
opportunity to indulge his pride by following up the threat he had hung
over Agricola to kill whosoever should give Palmyre to a black man. He
referred the subject and the would-be purchaser to him. It would open up
to the old braggart a line of retreat, thought the planter of the
But the idea of retreat had left Citizen Fusilier.
"She is already married," said he to M. Honore Grandissime, f.m.c. "She
is the lawful wife of Bras-Coupe; and what God has joined together let
no man put asunder. You know it, sirrah. You did this for impudence, to
make a show of your wealth. You intended it as an insinuation of
equality. I overlook the impertinence for the sake of the man whose
white blood you carry; but h-mark you, if ever you bring your Parisian
airs and self-sufficient face on a level with mine again, h-I will
The quadroon, three nights after, was so indiscreet as to give him the
opportunity, and he did it--at that quadroon ball to which Dr. Keene
alluded in talking to Frowenfeld.
But Don Jose, we say, plucked up new spirit..
"Last year's disasters were but fortune's freaks," he said. "See,
others' crops have failed all about us."
The overseer shook his head.
"_C'est ce maudit cocodri' la bas_ (It is that accursed alligator,
Bras-Coupe, down yonder in the swamp)."
And by and by the master was again smitten with the same belief. He and
his neighbors put in their crops afresh. The spring waned, summer
passed, the fevers returned, the year wore round, but no harvest smiled.
"Alas!" cried the planters, "we are all poor men!" The worst among the
worst were the fields of Bras-Coupe's master--parched and shrivelled.
"He does not understand planting," said his neighbors; "neither does his
overseer. Maybe, too, it is true as he says, that he is voudoued."
One day at high noon the master was taken sick with fever.
The third noon after--the sad wife sitting by the bedside--suddenly,
right in the centre of the room, with the door open behind him, stood
the magnificent, half-nude form of Bras-Coupe. He did not fall down as
the mistress's eyes met his, though all his flesh quivered. The master
was lying with his eyes closed. The fever had done a fearful three
"_Mioko-Koanga oule so' femme_ (Bras-Coupe wants his wife)."
The master started wildly and stared upon his slave.
"_Bras-Coupe oule so' femme_!" repeated the black.
"Seize him!" cried the sick man, trying to rise.
But, though several servants had ventured in with frightened faces, none
dared molest the giant. The master turned his entreating eyes upon his
wife, but she seemed stunned, and only covered her face with her hands
and sat as if paralyzed by a foreknowledge of what was coming.
Bras-Coupe lifted his great black palm and commenced:
"_Mo ce voudrai que la maison ci la, et tout ca qui pas femme' ici,
s'raient encore maudits_! (May this house, and all in it who are not
women, be accursed)."
The master fell back upon his pillow with a groan of helpless wrath.
The African pointed his finger through the open window.
"May its fields not know the plough nor nourish the herds that overrun
The domestics, who had thus far stood their ground, suddenly rushed from
the room like stampeded cattle, and at that moment appeared Palmyre.
"Speak to him," faintly cried the panting invalid.
She went firmly up to her husband and lifted her hand. With an easy
motion, but quick as lightning, as a lion sets foot on a dog, he caught
her by the arm.
"_Bras-Coupe oule so' femme_," he said, and just then Palmyre would have
gone with him to the equator.
"You shall not have her!" gasped the master.
The African seemed to rise in height, and still holding his wife at
arm's length, resumed his malediction:
"May weeds cover the ground until the air is full of their odor and the
wild beasts of the forest come and lie down under their cover."
With a frantic effort the master lifted himself upon his elbow and
extended his clenched fist in speechless defiance; but his brain reeled,
his sight went out, and when again he saw, Palmyre and her mistress were
bending over him, the overseer stood awkwardly by, and Bras-Coupe
The plantation became an invalid camp. The words of the voudou found
fulfilment on every side. The plough went not out; the herds wandered
through broken hedges from field to field and came up with staring bones
and shrunken sides; a frenzied mob of weeds and thorns wrestled and
throttled each other in a struggle for standing-room--rag-weed,
smart-weed, sneeze-weed, bindweed, iron-weed--until the burning skies of
midsummer checked their growth and crowned their unshorn tops with rank
and dingy flowers.
"Why in the name of--St. Francis," asked the priest of the overseer,
"didn't the senora use her power over the black scoundrel when he stood
and cursed, that day?"
"Why, to tell you the truth, father," said the overseer, in a discreet
whisper, "I can only suppose she thought Bras-Coupe had half a right
to do it."
"Ah, ah, I see; like her brother Honore--looks at both sides of a
question--a miserable practice; but why couldn't Palmyre use _her_ eyes?
They would have stopped him."
"Palmyre? Why Palmyre has become the best _monture_ (Plutonian medium)
in the parish. Agricola Fusilier himself is afraid of her. Sir, I think
sometimes Bras-Coupe is dead and his spirit has gone into Palmyre. She
would rather add to his curse than take from it."
"Ah!" said the jovial divine, with a fat smile, "castigation would help
her case; the whip is a great sanctifier. I fancy it would even make a
Christian of the inexpugnable Bras-Coupe."
But Bras-Coupe kept beyond the reach alike of the lash and of the Latin
By and by came a man with a rumor, whom the overseer brought to the
master's sick-room, to tell that an enterprising Frenchman was
attempting to produce a new staple in Louisiana, one that worms would
not annihilate. It was that year of history when the despairing planters
saw ruin hovering so close over them that they cried to heaven for
succor. Providence raised up Etienne de Bore. "And if Etienne is
successful," cried the news-bearer, "and gets the juice of the
sugar-cane to crystallize, so shall all of us, after him, and shall yet
save our lands and homes. Oh, Senor, it will make you strong again to
see these fields all cane and the long rows of negroes and negresses
cutting it, while they sing their song of those droll African numerals,
counting the canes they cut," and the bearer of good tidings sang them
for very joy:
An-o-que, An-o-bia, Bia-tail-la, Que-re-que, Nal-le-oua,
Au-mon-de, Au-tap-o-te, Au-pe-to-te, Au-que-re-que, Bo.
"And Honore Grandissime is going to introduce it on his lands," said Don
"That is true," said Agricola Fusilier, coming in. Honore, the
indefatigable peacemaker, had brought his uncle and his brother-in-law
for the moment not only to speaking, but to friendly, terms.
The senor smiled.
"I have some good tidings, too," he said; "my beloved lady has borne me
"Another scion of the house of Grand--I mean Martinez!" exclaimed
Agricola. "And now, Don Jose, let me say that _I_ have an item of rare
The don lifted his feeble head and opened his inquiring eyes with a
sudden, savage light in them.
"No," said Agricola, "he is not exactly taken yet, but they are on his
"The police. We may say he is virtually in our grasp."
* * * * *
It was on a Sabbath afternoon that a band of Choctaws having just played
a game of racquette behind the city and a similar game being about to
end between the white champions of two rival faubourgs, the beating of
tom-toms, rattling of mules' jawbones and sounding of wooden horns drew
the populace across the fields to a spot whose present name of Congo
Square still preserves a reminder of its old barbaric pastimes. On a
grassy plain under the ramparts, the performers of these hideous
discords sat upon the ground facing each other, and in their midst the
dancers danced. They gyrated in couples, a few at a time, throwing their
bodies into the most startling attitudes and the wildest contortions,
while the whole company of black lookers-on, incited by the tones of the
weird music and the violent posturing of the dancers, swayed and writhed
in passionate sympathy, beating their breasts, palms and thighs in time
with the bones and drums, and at frequent intervals lifting, in that
wild African unison no more to be described than forgotten, the
unutterable songs of the Babouille and Counjaille dances, with their
ejaculatory burdens of "_Aie! Aie! Voudou Magnan!_" and "_Aie Calinda!
Dance Calinda!_" The volume of sound rose and fell with the augmentation
or diminution of the dancers' extravagances. Now a fresh man, young and
supple, bounding into the ring, revived the flagging rattlers, drummers
and trumpeters; now a wearied dancer, finding his strength going,
gathered all his force at the cry of "_Dance zisqu'a mort!_" rallied to
a grand finale and with one magnificent antic fell, foaming at
The amusement had reached its height. Many participants had been lugged
out by the neck to avoid their being danced on, and the enthusiasm had
risen to a frenzy, when there bounded into the ring the blackest of
black men, an athlete of superb figure, in breeches of "Indienne"--the
stuff used for slave women's best dresses--jingling with bells, his feet
in moccasins, his tight, crisp hair decked out with feathers, a necklace
of alligator's teeth rattling on his breast and a living serpent twined
about his neck.
It chanced that but one couple was dancing. Whether they had been sent
there by advice of Agricola is not certain. Snatching a tambourine from
a bystander as he entered, the stranger thrust the male dancer aside,
faced the woman and began a series of saturnalian antics, compared with
which all that had gone before was tame and sluggish; and as he finally
leaped, with tinkling heels, clean over his bewildered partner's head,
the multitude howled with rapture.
Ill-starred Bras-Coupe. He was in that extra-hazardous and irresponsible
condition of mind and body known in the undignified present as
By the strangest fortune, if not, as we have just hinted, by some
design, the man whom he had once deposited in the willow bushes, and the
woman Clemence, were the very two dancers, and no other, whom he had
interrupted. The man first stupidly regarded, next admiringly gazed
upon, and then distinctly recognized, his whilom driver. Five minutes
later the Spanish police were putting their heads together to devise a
quick and permanent capture; and in the midst of the sixth minute, as
the wonderful fellow was rising in a yet more astounding leap than his
last, a lasso fell about his neck and brought him, crashing like a burnt
tree, face upward upon the turf.
"The runaway slave," said the old French code, continued in force by the
Spaniards, "the runaway slave who shall continue to be so for one month
from the day of his being denounced to the officers of justice shall
have his ears cut off and shall be branded with the flower de luce on
the shoulder; and on a second offence of the same nature, persisted in
during one month of his being denounced, he shall be hamstrung, and be
marked with the flower de luce on the other shoulder. On the third
offence he shall die." Bras-Coupe had run away only twice. "But," said
Agricola, "these 'bossals' must be taught their place. Besides, there is
Article 27 of the same code: 'The slave who, having struck his master,
shall have produced a bruise, shall suffer capital punishment'--a very
necessary law!" He concluded with a scowl upon Palmyre, who shot back a
glance which he never forgot.
The Spaniard showed himself very merciful--for a Spaniard; he spared the
captive's life. He might have been more merciful still; but Honore
Grandissime said some indignant things in the African's favor, and as
much to teach the Grandissimes a lesson as to punish the runaway, he
would have repented his clemency, as he repented the momentary truce
with Agricola, but for the tearful pleading of the senora and the hot,
dry eyes of her maid. Because of these he overlooked the offence against
his person and estate, and delivered Bras-Coupe to the law to suffer
only the penalties of the crime he had committed against society by
attempting to be a free man.
We repeat it for the credit of Palmyre, that she pleaded for Bras-Coupe.
But what it cost her to make that intercession, knowing that his death
would leave her free, and that if he lived she must be his wife, let us
not attempt to say.
In the midst of the ancient town, in a part which is now crumbling away,
stood the Calaboza, with its humid vaults and grated cells, its iron
cages and its whips; and there, soon enough, they strapped Bras-Coupe
face downward and laid on the lash. And yet not a sound came from the
mutilated but unconquered African to annoy the ear of the sleeping city.
("And you suffered this thing to take place?" asked Joseph Frowenfeld of
"My-de'-seh!" exclaimed the Creole, "they lied to me--said they would
not harm him!")
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