G H I J K L M 

Total read books on site:
more than 10 000

You can read its for free!

Text on one page: Few Medium Many
Jean Marie,
generous gentleman, gambled the slaves away one by one, until none was
left, man or woman, but one old African mute.

The indigo-fields and vats of Louisiana had been generally abandoned as
unremunerative. Certain enterprising men had substituted the culture of
sugar; but while the recluse was too apathetic to take so active a
course, the other saw larger, and, at time, equally respectable profits,
first in smuggling, and later in the African slave-trade. What harm
could he see in it? The whole people said it was vitally necessary, and
to minister to a vital public necessity,--good enough, certainly, and so
he laid up many a doubloon, that made him none the worse in the public

One day old Jean Marie was about to start upon a voyage that was to be
longer, much longer, than any that he had yet made. Jacques had begged
him hard for many days not to go, but he laughed him off, and finally
said, kissing him:

"_Adieu, 'tit frère_."

"No," said Jacques, "I shall go with you."

They left the old hulk of a house in the sole care of the African mute,
and went away to the Guinea coast together.

Two years after, old Poquelin came home without his vessel. He must have
arrived at his house by night. No one saw him come. No one saw "his
little brother;" rumor whispered that he, too, had returned, but he had
never been seen again.

A dark suspicion fell upon the old slave-trader. No matter that the few
kept the many reminded of the tenderness that had ever marked his
bearing to the missing man. The many shook their heads. "You know he has
a quick and fearful temper;" and "why does he cover his loss with
mystery?" "Grief would out with the truth."

"But," said the charitable few, "look in his face; see that expression
of true humanity." The many did look in his face, and, as he looked in
theirs, he read the silent question: "Where is thy brother Abel?" The
few were silenced, his former friends died off, and the name of Jean
Marie Poquelin became a symbol of witchery, devilish crime, and hideous
nursery fictions.

The man and his house were alike shunned. The snipe and duck hunters
forsook the marsh, and the wood-cutters abandoned the canal. Sometimes
the hardier boys who ventured out there snake-shooting heard a slow
thumping of oar-locks on the canal. They would look at each other for a
moment half in consternation, half in glee, then rush from their sport
in wanton haste to assail with their gibes the unoffending, withered old
man who, in rusty attire, sat in the stern of a skiff, rowed homeward by
his white-headed African mute.

"O Jean-ah Poquelin! O Jean-ah! Jean-ah Poquelin!"

It was not necessary to utter more than that. No hint of wickedness,
deformity, or any physical or moral demerit; merely the name and tone of
mockery: "Oh, Jean-ah Poquelin!" and while they tumbled one over another
in their needless haste to fly, he would rise carefully from his seat,
while the aged mute, with downcast face, went on rowing, and rolling up
his brown fist and extending it toward the urchins, would pour forth
such an unholy broadside of French imprecation and invective as would
all but craze them with delight.

Among both blacks and whites the house was the object of a thousand
superstitions. Every midnight they affirmed, the _feu follet_ came out
of the marsh and ran in and out of the rooms, flashing from window to
window. The story of some lads, whose words in ordinary statements were
worthless, was generally credited, that the night they camped in the
woods, rather than pass the place after dark, they saw, about sunset,
every window blood-red, and on each of the four chimneys an owl sitting,
which turned his head three times round, and moaned and laughed with a
human voice. There was a bottomless well, everybody professed to know,
beneath the sill of the big front door under the rotten veranda; whoever
set his foot upon that threshold disappeared forever in the depth below.

What wonder the marsh grew as wild as Africa! Take all the Faubourg Ste.
Marie, and half the ancient city, you would not find one graceless
dare-devil reckless enough to pass within a hundred yards of the house
after nightfall.

* * * * *

The alien races pouring into old New Orleans began to find the few
streets named for the Bourbon princes too strait for them. The wheel of
fortune, beginning to whirl, threw them off beyond the ancient
corporation lines, and sowed civilization and even trade upon the lands
of the Graviers and Girods. Fields became roads, roads streets.
Everywhere the leveller was peering through his glass, rodsmen were
whacking their way through willow-brakes and rose-hedges, and the
sweating Irishmen tossed the blue clay up with their long-handled

"Ha! that is all very well," quoth the Jean-Baptistes, fueling the
reproach of an enterprise that asked neither co-operation nor advice of
them, "but wait till they come yonder to Jean Poquelin's marsh; ha! ha!
ha!" The supposed predicament so delighted them, that they put on a mock
terror and whirled about in an assumed stampede, then caught their
clasped hands between their knees in excess of mirth, and laughed till
the tears ran; for whether the street-makers mired in the marsh, or
contrived to cut through old "Jean-ah's" property, either event would be
joyful. Meantime a line of tiny rods, with bits of white paper in their
split tops, gradually extended its way straight through the haunted
ground, and across the canal diagonally.

"We shall fill that ditch," said the men in mud-boots, and brushed close
along the chained and padlocked gate of the haunted mansion. Ah, Jean-ah
Poquelin, those were not Creole boys, to be stampeded with a little hard

He went to the Governor. That official scanned the odd figure with no
slight interest. Jean Poquelin was of short, broad frame, with a bronzed
leonine face. His brow was ample and deeply furrowed. His eye, large and
black, was bold and open like that of a war-horse, and his jaws shut
together with the firmness of iron. He was dressed in a suit of
Attakapas cottonade, and his shirt unbuttoned and thrown back from the
throat and bosom, sailor-wise, showed a herculean breast; hard and
grizzled. There was no fierceness or defiance in his look, no harsh
ungentleness, no symptom of his unlawful life or violent temper; but
rather a peaceful and peaceable fearlessness. Across the whole face, not
marked in one or another feature, but as it were laid softly upon the
countenance like an almost imperceptible veil, was the imprint of some
great grief. A careless eye might easily overlook it, but, once seen,
there it hung--faint, but unmistakable.

The Governor bowed.

"_Parlez-vous français_?" asked the figure.

"I would rather talk English, if you can do so," said the Governor.

"My name, Jean Poquelin."

"How can I serve you, Mr. Poquelin?"

"My 'ouse is yond'; _dans le marais là-bas_."

The Governor bowed.

"Dat _marais_ billong to me."

"Yes, sir."

"To me; Jean Poquelin; I hown 'im meself."

"Well, sir?"

"He don't billong to you; I get him from me father."

"That is perfectly true, Mr. Poquelin, as far as I am aware."

"You want to make strit pass yond'?"

"I do not know, sir; it is quite probable; but the city will indemnify
you for any loss you may suffer--you will get paid, you understand."

"Strit can't pass dare."

"You will have to see the municipal authorities about that, Mr.

A bitter smile came upon the old man's face:

"_Pardon, Monsieur_, you is not _le Gouverneur_?"


"_Mais_, yes. You har _le Gouverneur_--yes. Veh-well. I come to you. I
tell you, strit can't pass at me 'ouse."

"But you will have to see"--

"I come to you. You is _le Gouverneur_. I know not the new laws. I ham a
Fr-r-rench-a-man! Fr-rench-a-man have something _aller au contraire_--he
come at his _Gouverneur_. I come at you. If me not had been bought from
me king like _bossals_ in the hold time, ze king gof--France
would-a-show _Monsieur le Gouverneur_ to take care his men to make strit
in right places. _Mais_, I know; we billong to _Monsieur le Président_.
I want you do somesin for me, eh?"

"What is it?" asked the patient Governor.

"I want you tell _Monsieur le Président_,

"Have a chair, Mr. Poquelin;" but the old man did not stir. The Governor
took a quill and wrote a line to a city official, introducing Mr.
Poquelin, and asking for him every possible courtesy. He handed it to
him, instructing him where to present it.

"Mr. Poquelin," he said with a conciliatory smile, "tell me, is it your
house that our Creole citizens tell such odd stories about?"

The old man glared sternly upon the speaker, and with immovable features

"You don't see me trade some Guinea nigga'?"

"Oh, no."

"You don't see me make some smuggling"

"No, sir; not at all."

"But, I am Jean Marie Poquelin. I mine me hown bizniss. Dat all right?

He put his hat on and withdrew. By and by he stood, letter in hand,
before the person to whom it was addressed. This person employed an

"He says," said the interpreter to the officer, "he come to make you the
fair warning how you muz not make the street pas' at his 'ouse."

The officer remarked that "such impudence was refreshing;" but the
experienced interpreter translated freely.

"He says: 'Why you don't want?'" said the interpreter.

The old slave-trader answered at some length.

"He says," said the interpreter, again turning to the officer, "the
marass is a too unhealth' for peopl' to live."

"But we expect to drain his old marsh; it's not going to be a marsh."

"_Il dit_"--The interpreter explained in French.

The old man answered tersely.

"He says the canal is a private," said the interpreter.

"Oh! _that_ old ditch; that's to be filled up. Tell the old man we're
going to fix him up nicely."

Translation being duly made, the man in power was amused to see a
thunder-cloud gathering on the old man's face.

"Tell him," he added, "by the time we finish, there'll not be a ghost
left in his shanty."

The interpreter began to translate, but--

"_J' comprends, J' comprends_," said the old man, with an impatient
gesture, and burst forth, pouring curses upon the United States, the
President, the Territory of Orleans, Congress, the Governor and all his
subordinates, striding out of the apartment as he cursed, while the
object of his maledictions roared with merriment and rammed the floor
with his foot.

"Why, it will make his old place worth ten dollars to one," said the
official to the interpreter.

"'Tis not for de worse of de property," said the interpreter.

"I should guess not," said the other, whittling his chair,--"seems to me
as if some of these old Creoles would liever live in a crawfish hole
than to have a neighbor"

"You know what make old Jean Poquelin make like that?

Pages: | Prev | | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | 28 | | 29 | | 30 | | 31 | | 32 | | 33 | | 34 | | 35 | | 36 | | 37 | | 38 | | 39 | | Next |

U V W X Y Z 

Your last read book:

You dont read books at this site.