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I will tell you.
You know"--

The interpreter was rolling a cigarette, and paused to light his tinder;
then, as the smoke poured in a thick double stream from his nostrils, he
said, in a solemn whisper:

"He is a witch."

"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed the other.

"You don't believe it? What you want to bet?" cried the interpreter,
jerking himself half up and thrusting out one arm while he bared it of
its coat-sleeve with the hand of the other. "What you want to bet?"

"How do you know?" asked the official.

"Dass what I goin' to tell you. You know, one evening I was shooting
some _grosbec_. I killed three, but I had trouble to fine them, it was
becoming so dark. When I have them I start' to come home; then I got to
pas' at Jean Poquelin's house."

"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed the other, throwing his leg over the arm of his
chair.

"Wait," said the interpreter. "I come along slow, not making some
noises; still, still"--

"And scared," said the smiling one.

"_Mais_, wait. I get all pas' the 'ouse. 'Ah!' I say; 'all right!' Then
I see two thing' before! Hah! I get as cold and humide, and shake like a
leaf. You think it was nothing? There I see, so plain as can be (though
it was making nearly dark), I see Jean--Marie--Po-que-lin walkin' right
in front, and right there beside of him was something like a man--but
not a man--white like paint!--I dropp' on the grass from scared--they
pass'; so sure as I live 'twas the ghos' of Jacques Poquelin, his
brother!"

"Pooh!" said the listener.

"I'll put my han' in the fire," said the interpreter.

"But did you never think," asked the other, "that that might be Jack
Poquelin, as you call him, alive and well, and for some cause hid away
by his brother?"

"But there har' no cause!" said the other, and the entrance of third
parties changed the subject.

Some months passed and the street was opened. A canal was first dug
through the marsh, the small one which passed so close to Jean
Poquelin's house was filled, and the street, or rather a sunny road,
just touched a corner of the old mansion's dooryard. The morass ran dry.
Its venomous denizens slipped away through the bulrushes; the cattle
roaming freely upon its hardened surface trampled the superabundant
undergrowth. The bellowing frogs croaked to westward. Lilies and the
flower-de-luce sprang up in the place of reeds; smilax and poison-oak
gave way to the purple-plumed iron-weed and pink spiderwort; the
bindweeds ran everywhere blooming as they ran, and on one of the dead
cypresses a giant creeper hung its green burden of foliage and lifted
its scarlet trumpets. Sparrows and red-birds flitted through the bushes,
and dewberries grew ripe beneath. Over all these came a sweet, dry smell
of salubrity which the place had not known since the sediments of the
Mississippi first lifted it from the sea.

But its owner did not build. Over the willow-brakes, and down the vista
of the open street, bright new houses, some singly, some by ranks, were
prying in upon the old man's privacy. They even settled down toward his
southern side. First a wood-cutter's hut or two, then a market
gardener's shanty, then a painted cottage, and all at once the faubourg
had flanked and half surrounded him and his dried-up marsh.

Ah! then the common people began to hate him. "The old tyrant!" "You
don't mean an old _tyrant_?" "Well, then, why don't he build when the
public need demands it? What does he live in that unneighborly way for?"
"The old pirate!" "The old kidnapper!" How easily even the most ultra
Louisianians put on the imported virtues of the North when they could be
brought to bear against the hermit. "There he goes, with the boys after
him! Ah! ha! ha! Jean-ah Poquelin! Ah! Jean-ah! Aha! aha! Jean-ah Marie!
Jean-ah Poquelin! The old villain!" How merrily the swarming Américains
echo the spirit of persecution! "The old fraud," they say--"pretends to
live in a haunted house, does he? We'll tar and feather him some day.
Guess we can fix him."

He cannot be rowed home along the old canal now; he walks. He has broken
sadly of late, and the street urchins are ever at his heels. It is like
the days when they cried: "Go up, thou bald-head," and the old man now
and then turns and delivers ineffectual curses.

To the Creoles--to the incoming lower class of superstitious Germans,
Irish, Sicilians, and others--he became an omen and embodiment of public
and private ill-fortune. Upon him all the vagaries of their
superstitions gathered and grew. If a house caught fire, it was imputed
to his machinations. Did a woman go off in a fit, he had bewitched her.
Did a child stray off for an hour, the mother shivered with the
apprehension that Jean Poquelin had offered him to strange gods. The
house was the subject of every bad boy's invention who loved to contrive
ghostly lies. "As long as that house stands we shall have bad luck. Do
you not see our pease and beans dying, our cabbages and lettuce going to
seed and our gardens turning to dust, while every day you can see it
raining in the woods? The rain will never pass old Poquelin's house. He
keeps a fetich. He has conjured the whole Faubourg St. Marie. And why,
the old wretch? Simply because our playful and innocent children call
after him as he passes."

A "Building and Improvement Company," which had not yet got its charter,
"but was going to," and which had not, indeed, any tangible capital yet,
but "was going to have some," joined the "Jean-ah Poquelin" war. The
haunted property would be such a capital site for a market-house! They
sent a deputation to the old mansion to ask its occupant to sell. The
deputation never got beyond the chained gate and a very barren interview
with the African mute. The President of the Board was then empowered
(for he had studied French in Pennsylvania and was considered qualified)
to call and persuade M. Poquelin to subscribe to the company's stock;
but--

"Fact is, gentlemen," he said at the next meeting, "it would take us at
least twelve months to make Mr. Pokaleen understand the rather original
features of our system, and he wouldn't subscribe when we'd done;
besides, the only way to see him is to stop him on the street."

There was a great laugh from the Board; they couldn't help it. "Better
meet a bear robbed of her whelps," said one.

"You're mistaken as to that," said the President. "I did meet him, and
stopped him, and found him quite polite. But I could get no satisfaction
from him; the fellow wouldn't talk in French, and when I spoke in
English he hoisted his old shoulders up, and gave the same answer to
every thing I said."

"And that was--?" asked one or two, impatient of the pause.

"That it 'don't worse w'ile?'"

One of the Board said: "Mr. President, this market-house project, as I
take it, is not altogether a selfish one; the community is to be
benefited by it. We may feel that we are working in the public interest
[the Board smiled knowingly], if we employ all possible means to oust
this old nuisance from among us. You may know that at the time the
street was cut through, this old Poquelann did all he could to prevent
it. It was owing to a certain connection which I had with that affair
that I heard a ghost story [smiles, followed by a sudden dignified
check]--ghost story, which, of course, I am not going to relate; but I
_may_ say that my profound conviction, arising from a prolonged study of
that story, is, that this old villain, John Poquelann, has his brother
locked up in that old house. Now, if this is so, and we can fix it on
him, I merely _suggest_ that we can make the matter highly useful. I
don't know," he added, beginning to sit down, "but that it is an action
we owe to the community--hem!"

"How do you propose to handle the subject?" asked the President.

"I was thinking," said the speaker, "that, as a Board of Directors, it
would be unadvisable for us to authorize any action involving trespass;
but if you, for instance, Mr. President, should, as it were, for mere
curiosity, _request_ some one, as, for instance, our excellent
Secretary, simply as a personal favor, to look into the matter--this is
merely a suggestion."

The Secretary smiled sufficiently to be understood that, while he
certainly did not consider such preposterous service a part of his
duties as secretary, he might, notwithstanding, accede to the
President's request; and the Board adjourned.

Little White, as the Secretary was called, was a mild, kind-hearted
little man, who, nevertheless, had no fear of any thing, unless it was
the fear of being unkind.

"I tell you frankly," he privately said to the President, "I go into
this purely for reasons of my own."

The next day, a little after nightfall, one might have descried this
little man slipping along the rear fence of the Poquelin place,
preparatory to vaulting over into the rank, grass-grown yard, and
bearing himself altogether more after the manner of a collector of rare
chickens than according to the usage of secretaries.

The picture presented to his eye was not calculated to enliven his mind.
The old mansion stood out against the western sky, black and silent. One
long, lurid pencil-stroke along a sky of slate was all that was left of
daylight. No sign of life was apparent; no light at any window, unless
it might have been on the side of the house hidden from view. No owls
were on the chimneys, no dogs were in the yard.

He entered the place, and ventured up behind a small cabin which stood
apart from the house. Through one of its many crannies he easily
detected the African mute crouched before a flickering pine-knot, his
head on his knees, fast asleep.

He concluded to enter the mansion, and, with that view, stood and
scanned it. The broad rear steps of the veranda would not serve him; he
might meet some one midway. He was measuring, with his eye, the
proportions of one of the pillars which supported it, and estimating the
practicability of climbing it, when he heard a footstep. Some one
dragged a chair out toward the railing, then seemed to change his mind
and began to pace the veranda, his footfalls resounding on the dry
boards with singular loudness.



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