THE LITTLE FRENCHMAN AND HIS WATER LOTS
BY GEORGE POPE MORRIS (1802-1864)
Humorous Short Stories
[From The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots, with Other Sketches of
the Times (1839), by George Pope Morris.]
Look into those they call unfortunate,
And, closer view'd, you'll find they are unwise.—Young.
Let wealth come in by comely thrift,
And not by any foolish shift:
Who gripes too hard the dry and slippery sand
Holds none at all, or little, in his hand.—Herrick.
Let well alone.—Proverb.
How much real comfort every one might enjoy if he would be contented
with the lot in which heaven has cast him, and how much trouble would
be avoided if people would only "let well alone." A moderate
independence, quietly and honestly procured, is certainly every way
preferable even to immense possessions achieved by the wear and tear
of mind and body so necessary to procure them. Yet there are very few
individuals, let them be doing ever so well in the world, who are not
always straining every nerve to do better; and this is one of the many
causes why failures in business so frequently occur among us. The
present generation seem unwilling to "realize" by slow and sure
degrees; but choose rather to set their whole hopes upon a single
cast, which either makes or mars them forever!
Gentle reader, do you remember Monsieur Poopoo? He used to keep a
small toy-store in Chatham, near the corner of Pearl Street. You must
recollect him, of course. He lived there for many years, and was one
of the most polite and accommodating of shopkeepers. When a juvenile,
you have bought tops and marbles of him a thousand times. To be sure
you have; and seen his vinegar-visage lighted up with a smile as you
flung him the coppers; and you have laughed at his little straight
queue and his dimity breeches, and all the other oddities that made up
the every-day apparel of my little Frenchman. Ah, I perceive you
recollect him now.
Well, then, there lived Monsieur Poopoo ever since he came from "dear,
delightful Paris," as he was wont to call the city of his
nativity—there he took in the pennies for his kickshaws—there he
laid aside five thousand dollars against a rainy day—there he was as
happy as a lark—and there, in all human probability, he would have
been to this very day, a respected and substantial citizen, had he
been willing to "let well alone." But Monsieur Poopoo had heard
strange stories about the prodigious rise in real estate; and, having
understood that most of his neighbors had become suddenly rich by
speculating in lots, he instantly grew dissatisfied with his own lot,
forthwith determined to shut up shop, turn everything into cash, and
set about making money in right-down earnest. No sooner said than
done; and our quondam storekeeper a few days afterward attended an
extensive sale of real estate, at the Merchants' Exchange.
There was the auctioneer, with his beautiful and inviting lithographic
maps—all the lots as smooth and square and enticingly laid out as
possible—and there were the speculators—and there, in the midst of
them, stood Monsieur Poopoo.
"Here they are, gentlemen," said he of the hammer, "the most valuable
lots ever offered for sale. Give me a bid for them!"
"One hundred each," said a bystander.
"One hundred!" said the auctioneer, "scarcely enough to pay for the
maps. One hundred—going—and fifty—gone! Mr. H., they are yours. A
noble purchase. You'll sell those same lots in less than a fortnight
for fifty thousand dollars profit!"
Monsieur Poopoo pricked up his ears at this, and was lost in
astonishment. This was a much easier way certainly of accumulating
riches than selling toys in Chatham Street, and he determined to buy
and mend his fortune without delay.
The auctioneer proceeded in his sale. Other parcels were offered and
disposed of, and all the purchasers were promised immense advantages
for their enterprise. At last came a more valuable parcel than all the
rest. The company pressed around the stand, and Monsieur Poopoo did
"I now offer you, gentlemen, these magnificent lots, delightfully
situated on Long Island, with valuable water privileges. Property in
fee—title indisputable—terms of sale, cash—deeds ready for delivery
immediately after the sale. How much for them? Give them a start at
something. How much?" The auctioneer looked around; there were no
bidders. At last he caught the eye of Monsieur Poopoo. "Did you say
one hundred, sir? Beautiful lots—valuable water privileges—shall I
say one hundred for you?"
"Oui, monsieur; I will give you von hundred dollar apiece, for de
lot vid de valuarble vatare privalege; c'est ça."
"Only one hundred apiece for these sixty valuable lots—only one
Monsieur Poopoo was the fortunate possessor. The auctioneer
congratulated him—the sale closed—and the company dispersed.
"Pardonnez-moi, monsieur," said Poopoo, as the auctioneer descended
his pedestal, "you shall excusez-moi, if I shall go to votre
bureau, your counting-house, ver quick to make every ting sure wid
respec to de lot vid de valuarble vatare privalege. Von leetle bird in
de hand he vorth two in de tree, c'est vrai—eh?"
"Vell den, allons."
And the gentlemen repaired to the counting-house, where the six
thousand dollars were paid, and the deeds of the property delivered.
Monsieur Poopoo put these carefully in his pocket, and as he was about
taking his leave, the auctioneer made him a present of the
lithographic outline of the lots, which was a very liberal thing on
his part, considering the map was a beautiful specimen of that
glorious art. Poopoo could not admire it sufficiently. There were his
sixty lots, as uniform as possible, and his little gray eyes sparkled
like diamonds as they wandered from one end of the spacious sheet to
Poopoo's heart was as light as a feather, and he snapped his fingers
in the very wantonness of joy as he repaired to Delmonico's, and
ordered the first good French dinner that had gladdened his palate
since his arrival in America.
After having discussed his repast, and washed it down with a bottle of
choice old claret, he resolved upon a visit to Long Island to view his
purchase. He consequently immediately hired a horse and gig, crossed
the Brooklyn ferry, and drove along the margin of the river to the
Wallabout, the location in question.
Our friend, however, was not a little perplexed to find his property.
Everything on the map was as fair and even as possible, while all the
grounds about him were as undulated as they could well be imagined,
and there was an elbow of the East River thrusting itself quite into
the ribs of the land, which seemed to have no business there. This
puzzled the Frenchman exceedingly; and, being a stranger in those
parts, he called to a farmer in an adjacent field.
"Mon ami, are you acquaint vid dis part of de country—eh?"
"Yes, I was born here, and know every inch of it."
"Ah, c'est bien, dat vill do," and the Frenchman got out of the gig,
tied the horse, and produced his lithographic map.
"Den maybe you vill have de kindness to show me de sixty lot vich I
have bought, vid de valuarble vatare privalege?"
The farmer glanced his eye over the paper.
"Yes, sir, with pleasure; if you will be good enough to get into my
boat, I will row you out to them!"
"Vat dat you say, sure?"
"My friend," said the farmer, "this section of Long Island has
recently been bought up by the speculators of New York, and laid out
for a great city; but the principal street is only visible at low
tide. When this part of the East River is filled up, it will be just
there. Your lots, as you will perceive, are beyond it; and are now
all under water."
At first the Frenchman was incredulous. He could not believe his
senses. As the facts, however, gradually broke upon him, he shut one
eye, squinted obliquely at the heavens—-the river—the farmer—and
then he turned away and squinted at them all over again! There was his
purchase sure enough; but then it could not be perceived for there was
a river flowing over it! He drew a box from his waistcoat pocket,
opened it, with an emphatic knock upon the lid, took a pinch of snuff
and restored it to his waistcoat pocket as before. Poopoo was
evidently in trouble, having "thoughts which often lie too deep for
tears"; and, as his grief was also too big for words, he untied his
horse, jumped into his gig, and returned to the auctioneer in hot
It was near night when he arrived at the auction-room—his horse in a
foam and himself in a fury. The auctioneer was leaning back in his
chair, with his legs stuck out of a low window, quietly smoking a
cigar after the labors of the day, and humming the music from the last
"Monsieur, I have much plaisir to fin' you, chez vous, at home."
"Ah, Poopoo! glad to see you. Take a seat, old boy."
"But I shall not take de seat, sare."
"No—why, what's the matter?"
"Oh, beaucoup de matter. I have been to see de gran lot vot you sell
"Well, sir, I hope you like your purchase?"
"No, monsieur, I no like him."
"I'm sorry for it; but there is no ground for your complaint."
"No, sare; dare is no ground at all—de ground is all vatare!"
"I no joke. I nevare joke; je n'entends pas la raillerie, Sare,
voulez-vous have de kindness to give me back de money vot I pay!"
"Den vill you be so good as to take de East River off de top of my
"That's your business, sir, not mine."
"Den I make von mauvaise affaire—von gran mistake!"
"I hope not. I don't think you have thrown your money away in the
"No, sare; but I tro it avay in de vatare!"
"That's not my fault."
"Yes, sare, but it is your fault. You're von ver gran rascal to
swindle me out of de l'argent."
"Hello, old Poopoo, you grow personal; and if you can't keep a civil
tongue in your head, you must go out of my counting-room."
"Vare shall I go to, eh?"
"To the devil, for aught I care, you foolish old Frenchman!" said the
auctioneer, waxing warm.
"But, sare, I vill not go to de devil to oblige you!" replied the
Frenchman, waxing warmer. "You sheat me out of all de dollar vot I
make in Shatham Street; but I vill not go to de devil for all dat. I
vish you may go to de devil yourself you dem yankee-doo-dell, and I
vill go and drown myself, tout de suite, right avay."
"You couldn't make a better use of your water privileges, old boy!"
"Ah, miséricorde! Ah, mon dieu, je suis abîmé. I am ruin! I am
done up! I am break all into ten sousan leetle pieces! I am von lame
duck, and I shall vaddle across de gran ocean for Paris, vish is de
only valuarble vatare privalege dat is left me à present!"
Poor Poopoo was as good as his word. He sailed in the next packet, and
arrived in Paris almost as penniless as the day he left it.
Should any one feel disposed to doubt the veritable circumstances here
recorded, let him cross the East River to the Wallabout, and farmer
J—— will row him out to the very place where the poor Frenchman's
lots still remain under water.