Jeanah Poquelin, by George Washington
In the first decade of the present century, when the newly established
American Government was the most hateful thing in Louisiana—when the
Creoles were still kicking at such vile innovations as the trial by
jury, American dances, anti-smuggling laws, and the printing of the
Governor's proclamation in English—when the Anglo-American flood that
was presently to burst in a crevasse of immigration upon the delta had
thus far been felt only as slippery seepage which made the Creole
tremble for his footing—there stood, a short distance above what is now
Canal Street, and considerably back from the line of villas which
fringed the river-bank on Tchoupitoulas Road, an old colonial
plantation-house half in ruin.
It stood aloof from civilization, the tracts that had once been its
indigo fields given over to their first noxious wildness, and grown up
into one of the horridest marshes within a circuit of fifty miles.
The house was of heavy cypress, lifted up on pillars, grim, solid, and
spiritless, its massive build a strong reminder of days still earlier,
when every man had been his own peace officer and the insurrection of
the blacks a daily contingency. Its dark, weatherbeaten roof and sides
were hoisted up above the jungly plain in a distracted way, like a
gigantic ammunition-wagon stuck in the mud and abandoned by some
retreating army. Around it was a dense growth of low water willows, with
half a hundred sorts of thorny or fetid bushes, savage strangers alike
to the "language of flowers" and to the botanist's Greek. They were hung
with countless strands of discolored and prickly smilax, and the
impassable mud below bristled with chevaux de frise of the dwarf
palmetto. Two lone forest-trees, dead cypresses, stood in the centre of
the marsh, dotted with roosting vultures. The shallow strips of water
were hid by myriads of aquatic plants, under whose coarse and spiritless
flowers, could one have seen it, was a harbor of reptiles, great and
small, to make one shudder to the end of his days.
The house was on a slightly raised spot, the levee of a draining canal.
The waters of this canal did not run; they crawled, and were full of
big, ravening fish and alligators, that held it against all comers.
Such was the home of old Jean Marie Poquelin, once an opulent indigo
planter, standing high in the esteem of his small, proud circle of
exclusively male acquaintances in the old city; now a hermit, alike
shunned by and shunning all who had ever known him. "The last of his
line," said the gossips. His father lies under the floor of the St.
Louis Cathedral, with the wife of his youth on one side, and the wife of
his old age on the other. Old Jean visits the spot daily. His
half-brother—alas! there was a mystery; no one knew what had become of
the gentle, young half brother, more than thirty years his junior, whom
once he seemed so fondly to love, but who, seven years ago, had
disappeared suddenly, once for all, and left no clew of his fate.
They had seemed to live so happily in each other's love. No father,
mother, wife to either, no kindred upon earth. The elder a bold, frank,
impetuous, chivalric adventurer; the younger a gentle, studious,
book-loving recluse; they lived upon the ancestral estate like mated
birds, one always on the wing, the other always in the nest.
There was no trait in Jean Marie Poquelin, said the old gossips, for
which he was so well known among his few friends as his apparent
fondness for his "little brother." "Jacques said this," and "Jacques
said that;" he "would leave this or that, or any thing to Jacques," for
"Jacques was a scholar," and "Jacques was good," or "wise," or "just,"
or "far-sighted," as the nature of the case required; and "he should ask
Jacques as soon as he got home," since Jacques was never elsewhere to be
It was between the roving character of the one brother, and the
bookishness of the other, that the estate fell into decay. 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
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
* * * * *
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."
"To me; Jean Poquelin; I hown 'im meself."
"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'?"
"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? I will tell you.
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
"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
"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;
"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. Little White drew a step backward, got
the figure between himself and the sky, and at once recognized the
short, broad-shouldered form of old Jean Poquelin.
He sat down upon a billet of wood, and, to escape the stings of a
whining cloud of mosquitoes, shrouded his face and neck in his
handkerchief, leaving his eyes uncovered.
He had sat there but a moment when he noticed a strange, sickening odor,
faint, as if coming from a distance, but loathsome and horrid.
Whence could it come? Not from the cabin; not from the marsh, for it was
as dry as powder. It was not in the air; it seemed to come from the
Rising up, he noticed, for the first time, a few steps before him a
narrow footpath leading toward the house. He glanced down it—ha! right
there was some one coming—ghostly white!
Quick as thought, and as noiselessly, he lay down at full length against
the cabin. It was bold strategy, and yet, there was no denying it,
little White felt that he was frightened. "It is not a ghost," he said
to himself. "I know it cannot be a ghost;" but the perspiration burst
out at every pore, and the air seemed to thicken with heat. "It is a
living man," he said in his thoughts. "I hear his footstep, and I hear
old Poquelin's footsteps, too, separately, over on the veranda. I am not
discovered; the thing has passed; there is that odor again; what a smell
of death! Is it coming back? Yes. It stops at the door of the cabin. Is
it peering in at the sleeping mute? It moves away. It is in the path
again. Now it is gone." He shuddered. "Now, if I dare venture, the
mystery is solved." He rose cautiously, close against the cabin, and
peered along the path.
The figure of a man, a presence if not a body—but whether clad in some
white stuff or naked the darkness would not allow him to determine—had
turned, and now, with a seeming painful gait, moved slowly from him.
"Great Heaven! can it be that the dead do walk?" He withdrew again the
hands which had gone to his eyes. The dreadful object passed between two
pillars and under the house. He listened. There was a faint sound as of
feet upon a staircase; then all was still except the measured tread of
Jean Poquelin walking on the veranda, and the heavy respirations of the
mute slumbering in the cabin.
The little Secretary was about to retreat; but as he looked once more
toward the haunted Louse a dim light appeared in the crack of a closed
window, and presently old Jean Poquelin came, dragging his chair, and
sat down close against the shining cranny. He spoke in a low, tender
tone in the French tongue, making some inquiry. An answer came from
within. Was it the voice of a human? So unnatural was it—so hollow, so
discordant, so unearthly—that the stealthy listener shuddered again
from head to foot, and when something stirred in some bushes near
by—though it may have been nothing more than a rat—and came scuttling
through the grass, the little Secretary actually turned and fled. As he
left the enclosure he moved with bolder leisure through the bushes; yet
now and then he spoke aloud: "Oh, oh! I see, I understand!" and shut his
eyes in his hands.
How strange that henceforth little White was the champion of Jean
Poquelin! In season and out of season—wherever a word was uttered
against him—the Secretary, with a quiet, aggressive force that
instantly arrested gossip, demanded upon what authority the statement or
conjecture was made; but as he did not condescend to explain his own
remarkable attitude, it was not long before the disrelish and suspicion
which had followed Jean Poquelin so many years fell also upon him.
It was only the next evening but one after his adventure that he made
himself a source of sullen amazement to one hundred and fifty boys, by
ordering them to desist from their wanton hallooing. Old Jean Poquelin,
standing and shaking his cane, rolling out his long-drawn maledictions,
paused and stared, then gave the Secretary a courteous bow and started
on. The boys, save one, from pure astonishment, ceased but a ruffianly
little Irish lad, more daring than any had yet been, threw a big
hurtling clod, that struck old Poquelin between the shoulders and burst
like a shell. The enraged old man wheeled with uplifted staff to give
chase to the scampering vagabond; and—he may have tripped, or he may
not, but he fell full length. Little White hastened to help him up, but
he waved him off with a fierce imprecation and staggering to his feet
resumed his way homeward. His lips were reddened with blood.
Little White was on his way to the meeting of the Board. He would have
given all he dared spend to have staid away, for he felt both too fierce
and too tremulous to brook the criticisms that were likely to be made.
"I can't help it, gentlemen; I can't help you to make a case against the
old man, and I'm not going to."
"We did not expect this disappointment, Mr. White."
"I can't help that, sir. No, sir; you had better not appoint any more
investigations. Somebody'll investigate himself into trouble. No, sir;
it isn't a threat, it is only my advice, but I warn you that whoever
takes the task in hand will rue it to his dying day—which may be
The President expressed himself "surprised."
"I don't care a rush," answered little White, wildly and foolishly. "I
don't care a rush if you are, sir. No, my nerves are not disordered; my
head's as clear as a bell. No, I'm not excited." A Director remarked
that the Secretary looked as though he had waked from a nightmare.
"Well, sir, if you want to know the fact, I have; and if you choose to
cultivate old Poquelin's society you can have one, too."
"White," called a facetious member, but White did not notice. "White,"
he called again.
"What?" demanded White, with a scowl.
"Did you see the ghost?"
"Yes, sir; I did," cried White, hitting the table, and handing the
President a paper which brought the Board to other business.
The story got among the gossips that somebody (they were afraid to say
little White) had been to the Poquelin mansion by night and beheld
something appalling. The rumor was but a shadow of the truth, magnified
and distorted as is the manner of shadows. He had seen skeletons
walking, and had barely escaped the clutches of one by making the sign
of the cross.
Some madcap boys with an appetite for the horrible plucked up courage to
venture through the dried marsh by the cattle-path, and come before the
house at a spectral hour when the air was full of bats. Something which
they but half saw—half a sight was enough—sent them tearing back
through the willow-brakes and acacia bushes to their homes, where they
fairly dropped down, and cried:
"Was it white?" "No—yes—nearly so—we can't tell—but we saw it." And
one could hardly doubt, to look at their ashen faces, that they had,
whatever it was.
"If that old rascal lived in the country we come from," said certain
Américains, "he'd have been tarred and feathered before now, wouldn't
"Well, now he just would."
"And we'd have rid him on a rail, wouldn't we?"
"That's what I allow."
"Tell you what you could do." They were talking to some rollicking
Creoles who had assumed an absolute necessity for doing something.
"What is it you call this thing where an old man marries a young girl,
and you come out with horns and"—
"Charivari?" asked the Creoles.
"Yes, that's it. Why don't you shivaree him?" Felicitous suggestion.
Little White, with his wife beside him, was sitting on their doorsteps
on the sidewalk, as Creole custom had taught them, looking toward the
sunset. They had moved into the lately-opened street. The view was not
attractive on the score of beauty. The houses were small and scattered,
and across the flat commons, spite of the lofty tangle of weeds and
bushes, and spite of the thickets of acacia, they needs must see the
dismal old Poquelin mansion, tilted awry and shutting out the declining
sun. The moon, white and slender, was hanging the tip of its horn over
one of the chimneys.
"And you say," said the Secretary, "the old black man has been going by
here alone? Patty, suppose old Poquelin should be concocting some
mischief; he don't lack provocation; the way that clod hit him the other
day was enough to have killed him. Why, Patty, he dropped as quick as
that! No wonder you haven't seen him. I wonder if they haven't heard
something about him up at the drug-store. Suppose I go and see."
"Do," said his wife.
She sat alone for half an hour, watching that sudden going out of the
day peculiar to the latitude.
"That moon is ghost enough for one house," she said, as her husband
returned. "It has gone right down the chimney."
"Patty," said little White, "the drug-clerk says the boys are going to
shivaree old Poquelin to-night. I'm going to try to stop it."
"Why, White," said his wife, "you'd better not. You'll get hurt."
"No, I'll not."
"Yes, you will."
"I'm going to sit out here until they come along. They're compelled to
pass right by here."
"Why, White, it may be midnight before they start; you're not going to
sit out here till then."
"Yes, I am."
"Well, you're very foolish," said Mrs. White in an undertone, looking
anxious, and tapping one of the steps with her foot.
They sat a very long time talking over little family matters.
"What's that?" at last said Mrs. White.
"That's the nine-o'clock gun," said White, and they relapsed into a
long-sustained, drowsy silence.
"Patty, you'd better go in and go to bed," said he at last.
"I'm not sleepy."
"Well, you're very foolish," quietly remarked little White, and again
silence fell upon them.
"Patty, suppose I walk out to the old house and see if I can find out
"Suppose," said she, "you don't do any such—listen!"
Down the street arose a great hubbub. Dogs and boys were howling and
barking; men were laughing, shouting, groaning, and blowing horns,
whooping, and clanking cow-bells, whinnying, and howling, and rattling
pots and pans.
"They are coming this way," said little White. "You had better go into
the house, Patty."
"So had you."
"No. I'm going to see if I can't stop them."
"I'll be back in a minute," said White, and went toward the noise.
In a few moments the little Secretary met the mob. The pen hesitates on
the word, for there is a respectable difference, measurable only on the
scale of the half century, between a mob and a charivari. Little White
lifted his ineffectual voice. He faced the head of the disorderly
column, and cast himself about as if he were made of wood and moved by
the jerk of a string. He rushed to one who seemed, from the size and
clatter of his tin pan, to be a leader. "Stop these fellows, Bienvenu,
stop them just a minute, till I tell them something." Bienvenu turned
and brandished his instruments of discord in an imploring way to the
crowd. They slackened their pace, two or three hushed their horns and
joined the prayer of little White and Bienvenu for silence. The throng
halted. The hush was delicious.
"Bienvenu," said little White, "don't shivaree old Poquelin to-night;
"My fwang," said the swaying Bienvenu, "who tail you I goin' to
chahivahi somebody, eh? Yon sink bickause I make a little playfool wiz
zis tin pan zat I am dhonk?"
"Oh, no, Bienvenu, old fellow, you're all right. I was afraid you might
not know that old Poquelin was sick, you know, but you're not going
there, are you?"
"My fwang, I vay soy to tail you zat you ah dhonk as de dev'. I am
shem of you. I ham ze servan' of ze publique. Zese citoyens goin'
to wickwest Jean Poquelin to give to the Ursuline' two hondred fifty
"Hé quoi!" cried a listener, "Cinq cent piastres, oui!"
"Oui!" said Bienvenu, "and if he wiffuse we make him some lit'
musique; ta-ra ta!" He hoisted a merry hand and foot, then frowning,
added: "Old Poquelin got no bizniz dhink s'much w'isky."
"But, gentlemen," said little White, around whom a circle had gathered,
"the old man is very sick."
"My faith!" cried a tiny Creole, "we did not make him to be sick. W'en
we have say we going make le charivari, do you want that we hall tell
a lie? My faith! 'sfools!"
"But you can shivaree somebody else," said desperate little White.
"Oui" cried Bienvenu, "et chahivahi Jean-ah Poquelin tomo'w!"
"Let us go to Madame Schneider!" cried two or three, and amid huzzas and
confused cries, among which was heard a stentorian Celtic call for
drinks, the crowd again began to move.
"Cent piastres pour l'hôpital de charité!"
"One hongred dolla' for Charity Hospital!"
"Whang!" went a tin pan, the crowd yelled, and Pandemonium gaped again.
They were off at a right angle.
Nodding, Mrs. White looked at the mantle-clock.
"Well, if it isn't away after midnight."
The hideous noise down street was passing beyond earshot. She raised a
sash and listened. For a moment there was silence. Some one came to the
"Is that you, White?"
"Yes." He entered. "I succeeded, Patty."
"Did you?" said Patty, joyfully.
"Yes. They've gone down to shivaree the old Dutchwoman who married her
step-daughter's sweetheart. They say she has got to pay a hundred
dollars to the hospital before they stop."
The couple retired, and Mrs. White slumbered. She was awakened by her
husband snapping the lid of his watch.
"What time?" she asked.
"Half-past three. Patty, I haven't slept a wink. Those fellows are out
yet. Don't you hear them?"
"Why, White, they're coming this way!"
"I know they are," said White, sliding out of bed and drawing on his
clothes, "and they're coming fast. You'd better go away from that
window, Patty. My! what a clatter!"
"Here they are," said Mrs. White, but her husband was gone. Two or three
hundred men and boys pass the place at a rapid walk straight down the
broad, new street, toward the hated house of ghosts. The din was
terrific. She saw little White at the head of the rabble brandishing his
arms and trying in vain to make himself heard; but they only shook their
heads laughing and hooting the louder, and so passed, bearing him on
Swiftly they pass out from among the houses, away from the dim oil lamps
of the street, out into the broad starlit commons, and enter the willowy
jungles of the haunted ground. Some hearts fail and their owners lag
behind and turn back, suddenly remembering how near morning it is. But
the most part push on, tearing the air with their clamor.
Down ahead of them in the long, thicket-darkened way there
is—singularly enough—a faint, dancing light. It must be very near the
old house; it is. It has stopped now. It is a lantern, and is under a
well-known sapling which has grown up on the wayside since the canal was
filled. Now it swings mysteriously to and fro. A goodly number of the
more ghost-fearing give up the sport; but a full hundred move forward at
a run, doubling their devilish howling and banging.
Yes; it is a lantern, and there are two persons under the tree. The
crowd draws near—drops into a walk; one of the two is the old African
mute; he lifts the lantern up so that it shines on the other; the crowd
recoils; there is a hush of all clangor, and all at once, with a cry of
mingled fright and horror from every throat, the whole throng rushes
back, dropping every thing, sweeping past little White and hurrying on,
never stopping until the jungle is left behind, and then to find that
not one in ten has seen the cause of the stampede, and not one of the
tenth is certain what it was.
There is one huge fellow among them who looks capable of any villany. He
finds something to mount on, and, in the Creole patois, calls a
general halt. Bienvenu sinks down, and, vainly trying to recline
gracefully, resigns the leadership. The herd gather round the speaker;
he assures them that they have been outraged. Their right peaceably to
traverse the public streets has been trampled upon. Shall such
encroachments be endured? It is now daybreak. Let them go now by the
open light of day and force a free passage of the public highway!
A scattering consent was the response, and the crowd, thinned now and
drowsy, straggled quietly down toward the old house. Some drifted ahead,
others sauntered behind, but every one, as he again neared the tree,
came to a stand-still. Little White sat upon a bank of turf on the
opposite side of the way looking very stern and sad. To each new-comer
he put the same question:
"Did you come here to go to old Poquelin's?"
"He's dead." And if the shocked hearer started away he would say: "Don't
"I want you to go to the funeral presently."
If some Louisianian, too loyal to dear France or Spain to understand
English, looked bewildered, some one would interpret for him; and
presently they went. Little White led the van, the crowd trooping after
him down the middle of the way. The gate, that had never been seen
before unchained, was open. Stern little White stopped a short distance
from it; the rabble stopped behind him. Something was moving out from
under the veranda. The many whisperers stretched upward to see. The
African mute came very slowly toward the gate, leading by a cord in the
nose a small brown bull, which was harnessed to a rude cart. On the flat
body of the cart, under a black cloth, were seen the outlines of a long
"Hats off, gentlemen," said little White, as the box came in view, and
the crowd silently uncovered.
"Gentlemen," said little White, "here come the last remains of Jean
Marie Poquelin, a better man, I'm afraid, with all his sins,—yes a
better—a kinder man to his blood—a man of more self-forgetful
goodness—than all of you put together will ever dare to be."
There was a profound hush as the vehicle came creaking through the gate;
but when it turned away from them toward the forest, those in front
started suddenly. There was a backward rush, then all stood still again
staring one way; for there, behind the bier, with eyes cast down and
labored step, walked the living remains—all that was left—of little
Jacques Poquelin, the long-hidden brother—a leper, as white as snow.
Dumb with horror, the cringing crowd gazed upon the walking death. They
watched, in silent awe, the slow cortége creep down the long, straight
road and lessen on the view, until by and by it stopped where a wild,
unfrequented path branched off into the undergrowth toward the rear of
the ancient city.
"They are going to the Terre aux Lépreux," said one in the crowd. The
rest watched them in silence.
The little bull was set free; the mute, with the strength of an ape,
lifted the long box to his shoulder. For a moment more the mute and the
leper stood in sight, while the former adjusted his heavy burden; then,
without one backward glance upon the unkind human world, turning their
faces toward the ridge in the depths of the swamp known as the Leper's
Land, they stepped into the jungle, disappeared, and were never seen
Tite Poulette, by George Washington Cable
Old Creole Days
Kristian Koppig was a rosy-faced, beardless young Dutchman. He was one
of that army of gentlemen who, after the purchase of Louisiana, swarmed
from all parts of the commercial world, over the mountains of
Franco-Spanish exclusiveness, like the Goths over the Pyrenees, and
settled down in New Orleans to pick up their fortunes, with the
diligence of hungry pigeons. He may have been a German; the distinction
was too fine for Creole haste and disrelish.
He made his home in a room with one dormer window looking out, and
somewhat down, upon a building opposite, which still stands, flush with
the street, a century old. Its big, round-arched windows in a long,
second-story row, are walled up, and two or three from time to time have
had smaller windows let into them again, with odd little latticed
peep-holes in their batten shutters. This had already been done when
Kristian Koppig first began to look at them from his solitary dormer
All the features of the building lead me to guess that it is a remnant
of the old Spanish Barracks, whose extensive structure fell by
government sale into private hands a long time ago. At the end toward
the swamp a great, oriental-looking passage is left, with an arched
entrance, and a pair of ponderous wooden doors. You look at it, and
almost see Count O'Reilly's artillery come bumping and trundling out,
and dash around into the ancient Plaza to bang away at King St.
I do not know who lives there now. You might stand about on the opposite
banquette for weeks and never find out. I suppose it is a residence,
for it does not look like one. That is the rule in that region.
In the good old times of duels, and bagatelle-clubs, and theatre-balls,
and Cayetano's circus, Kristian Koppig rooming as described, there lived
in the portion of this house, partly overhanging the archway, a palish
handsome woman, by the name—or going by the name—of Madame John. You
would hardly have thought of her being "colored." Though fading, she was
still of very attractive countenance, fine, rather severe features,
nearly straight hair carefully kept, and that vivid black eye so
peculiar to her kind. Her smile, which came and went with her talk, was
sweet and exceedingly intelligent; and something told you, as you looked
at her, that she was one who had had to learn a great deal in this
"But!"—the Creole lads in the street would say—"—her daughter!"
and there would be lifting of arms, wringing of fingers, rolling of
eyes, rounding of mouths, gaspings and clasping of hands. "So beautiful,
beautiful, beautiful! White?—white like a water lily! White—like a
Applause would follow, and invocation of all the saints to witness.
And she could sing.
"Sing?" (disdainfully)—"if a mocking-bird can sing! Ha!"
They could not tell just how old she was; they "would give her about
Mother and daughter were very fond. The neighbors could hear them call
each other pet names, and see them sitting together, sewing, talking
happily to each other in the unceasing French way, and see them go out
and come in together on their little tasks and errands. "'Tite
Poulette," the daughter was called; she never went out alone.
And who was this Madame John?
"Why, you know!—she was"—said the wig-maker at the corner to Kristian
Koppig—"I'll tell you. You know?—she was"—and the rest atomized off
in a rasping whisper. She was the best yellow-fever nurse in a thousand
yards round; but that is not what the wig-maker said.
A block nearer the river stands a house altogether different from the
remnant of old barracks. It is of frame, with a deep front gallery over
which the roof extends. It has become a den of Italians, who sell fuel
by daylight, and by night are up to no telling what extent of deviltry.
This was once the home of a gay gentleman, whose first name happened to
be John. He was a member of the Good Children Social Club. As his
parents lived with him, his wife would, according to custom, have been
called Madame John but he had no wife. His father died, then his mother;
last of all, himself. As he is about to be off, in comes Madame John,
with 'Tïte Poulette, then an infant, on her arm.
"Zalli," said he, "I am going."
She bowed her head, and wept.
"You have been very faithful to me, Zalli."
She wept on.
"Nobody to take care of you now, Zalli."
Zalli only went on weeping.
"I want to give you this house, Zalli; it is for you and the little
An hour after, amid the sobs of Madame John, she and the "little one"
inherited the house, such as it was. With the fatal caution which
characterizes ignorance, she sold the property and placed the proceeds
in a bank, which made haste to fail. She put on widow's weeds, and wore
them still when 'Tite Poulette "had seventeen," as the frantic lads
How they did chatter over her. Quiet Kristian Koppig had never seen the
like. He wrote to his mother, and told her so. A pretty fellow at the
corner would suddenly double himself up with beckoning to a knot of
chums; these would hasten up; recruits would come in from two or three
other directions; as they reached the corner their countenances would
quickly assume a genteel severity, and presently, with her mother, 'Tite
Poulette would pass—tall, straight, lithe, her great black eyes made
tender by their sweeping lashes, the faintest tint of color in her
Southern cheek, her form all grace, her carriage a wonder of simple
The instant she was gone every tongue was let slip on the marvel of her
beauty; but, though theirs were only the loose New Orleans morals of
over fifty years ago, their unleashed tongues never had attempted any
greater liberty than to take up the pet name, 'Tite Poulette. And yet
the mother was soon to be, as we shall discover, a paid dancer at the
Salle de Condé.
To Zalli, of course, as to all "quadroon ladies," the festivities of the
Conde-street ball-room were familiar of old. There, in the happy days
when dear Monsieur John was young, and the eighteenth century old, she
had often repaired under guard of her mother—dead now, alas!—and
Monsieur John would slip away from the dull play and dry society of
Théâtre d'Orléans, and come around with his crowd of elegant friends;
and through the long sweet hours of the ball she had danced, and
laughed, and coquetted under her satin mask, even to the baffling and
tormenting of that prince of gentlemen, dear Monsieur John himself. No
man of questionable blood dare set his foot within the door. Many noble
gentlemen were pleased to dance with her. Colonel De —— and General
La ——: city councilmen and officers from the Government House. There
were no paid dancers then. Every thing was decorously conducted indeed!
Every girl's mother was there, and the more discreet always left before
there was too much drinking. Yes, it was gay, gay!—but sometimes
dangerous. Ha! more times than a few had Monsieur John knocked down some
long-haired and long-knifed rowdy, and kicked the breath out of him for
looking saucily at her; but that was like him, he was so brave and
kind;—and he is gone!
There was no room for widow's weeds there. So when she put these on, her
glittering eyes never again looked through her pink and white mask, and
she was glad of it; for never, never in her life had they so looked for
anybody but her dear Monsieur John, and now he was in heaven—so the
priest said—and she was a sick-nurse.
Living was hard work; and, as Madame John had been brought up tenderly,
and had done what she could to rear her daughter in the same mistaken
way, with, of course, no more education than the ladies in society got,
they knew nothing beyond a little music and embroidery. They struggled
as they could, faintly; now giving a few private dancing lessons, now
dressing hair, but ever beat back by the steady detestation of their
imperious patronesses; and, by and by, for want of that priceless
worldly grace known among the flippant as "money-sense," these two poor
children, born of misfortune and the complacent badness of the times,
began to be in want.
Kristian Koppig noticed from his dormer window one day a man standing at
the big archway opposite, and clanking the brass knocker on the wicket
that was in one of the doors. He was a smooth man, with his hair parted
in the middle, and his cigarette poised on a tiny gold holder. He waited
a moment, politely cursed the dust, knocked again, threw his slender
sword-cane under his arm, and wiped the inside of his hat with his
Madame John held a parley with him at the wicket. 'Tite Poulette was
nowhere seen. He stood at the gate while Madame John went up-stairs.
Kristian Koppig knew him. He knew him as one knows a snake. He was the
manager of the Salle de Condé. Presently Madame John returned with a
little bundle, and they hurried off together.
And now what did this mean? Why, by any one of ordinary acuteness the
matter was easily understood, but, to tell the truth, Kristian Koppig
was a trifle dull, and got the idea at once that some damage was being
planned against 'Tite Poulette. It made the gentle Dutchman miserable
not to be minding his own business, and yet—
"But the woman certainly will not attempt"—said he to himself—"no, no!
she cannot." Not being able to guess what he meant, I cannot say whether
she could or not. I know that next day Kristian Koppig, glancing eagerly
over the "Ami des Lois," read an advertisement which he had always
before skipped with a frown. It was headed, "Salle de Condé," and,
being interpreted, signified that a new dance was to be introduced, the
Danse de Chinois, and that a young lady would follow it with the
famous "Danse du Shawl."
It was the Sabbath. The young man watched the opposite window steadily
and painfully from early in the afternoon until the moon shone bright;
and from the time the moon shone bright until Madame John!—joy!—Madame
John! and not 'Tite Poulette, stepped through the wicket, much dressed
and well muffled, and hurried off toward the Rue Condé. Madame John
was the "young lady;" and the young man's mind, glad to return to its
own unimpassioned affairs, relapsed into quietude.
Madame John danced beautifully. It had to be done. It brought some pay,
and pay was bread; and every Sunday evening, with a touch here and there
of paint and powder, the mother danced the dance of the shawl, the
daughter remaining at home alone.
Kristian Koppig, simple, slow-thinking young Dutchman, never noticing
that he staid at home with his window darkened for the very purpose,
would see her come to her window and look out with a little wild,
alarmed look in her magnificent eyes, and go and come again, and again,
until the mother, like a storm-driven bird, came panting home.
Two or three months went by.
One night, on the mother's return, Kristian Koppig coming to his room
nearly at the same moment, there was much earnest conversation, which he
could see, but not hear.
"'Tite Poulette," said Madame John, "you are seventeen."
"Ah! my child, I see not how you are to meet the future." The voice
"But how, Maman?"
"Ah! you are not like others; no fortune, no pleasure, no friend."
"No, no;—I thank God for it; I am glad you are not; but you will be
lonely, lonely, all your poor life long. There is no place in this world
for us poor women. I wish that we were either white or black!"—and the
tears, two "shining ones," stood in the poor quadroon's eyes.
Tha daughter stood up, her eyes flashing.
"God made us, Maman," she said with a gentle, but stately smile.
"Ha!" said the mother, her keen glance darting through her tears, "Sin
made me, yes."
"No," said 'Tite Poulette, "God made us. He made us Just as we are; not
more white, not more black."
"He made you, truly!" said Zalli. "You are so beautiful; I believe it
well." She reached and drew the fair form to a kneeling posture. "My
sweet, white daughter!"
Now the tears were in the girl's eyes. "And could I be whiter than I
am?" she asked.
"Oh, no, no! 'Tite Poulette," cried the other; "but if we were only
real white!—both of us; so that some gentleman might come to see me
and say 'Madame John, I want your pretty little chick. She is so
beautiful. I want to take her home. She is so good—I want her to be my
wife.' Oh, my child, my child, to see that I would give my life—I would
give my soul! Only you should take me along to be your servant. I walked
behind two young men to-night; they ware coming home from their office;
presently they began to talk about you."
'Tite Poulette's eyes flashed fire.
"No, my child, they spoke only the best things One laughed a little at
times and kept saying 'Beware!' but the other—I prayed the Virgin to
bless him, he spoke such kind and noble words. Such gentle pity; such a
holy heart! 'May God defend her,' he said, chérie; he said, 'May God
defend her, for I see no help for her.' The other one laughed and left
him. He stopped in the door right across the street. Ah, my child, do
you blush? Is that something to bring the rose to your cheek? Many fine
gentlemen at the ball ask me often, 'How is your daughter, Madame
The daughter's face was thrown into the mother's lap, not so well
satisfied, now, with God's handiwork. Ah, how she wept! Sob, sob, sob;
gasps and sighs and stifled ejaculations, her small right hand clinched
and beating on her mother's knee; and the mother weeping over her.
Kristian Koppig shut his window. Nothing but a generous heart and a
Dutchman's phlegm could have done so at that moment. And even thou,
Kristian Koppig!—for the window closed very slowly.
He wrote to his mother, thus:
"In this wicked city, I see none so fair as the poor girl who lives
opposite me, and who, alas! though so fair, is one of those whom the
taint of caste has cursed. She lives a lonely, innocent life in the
midst of corruption, like the lilies I find here in the marshew, and I
have great pity for her. 'God defend her,' I said to-night to a fellow
clerk, 'I see no help for her.' I know there is a natural, and I think
proper, horror of mixed blood (excuse the mention, sweet mother), and I
feel it, too; and yet if she were in Holland today, not one of a hundred
suitors would detect the hidden blemish."
In such strain this young man wrote on trying to demonstrate the utter
impossibility of his ever loving the lovable unfortunate, until the
midnight tolling of the cathedral clock sent him to bed.
About the same hour Zalli and 'Tite Poulette were kissing good-night.
"'Tite Poulette, I want you to promise me one thing."
"If any gentleman should ever love you and ask you to marry,—not
knowing, you know,—promise me you will not tell him you are not white."
"It can never be," said 'Tite Poulette.
"But if it should," said Madame John pleadingly.
"And break the law?" asked 'Tite Poulette, impatiently.
"But the law is unjust," said the mother.
"But it is the law!"
"But you will not, dearie, will you?"
"I would surely tell him!" said the daughter.
When Zalli, for some cause, went next morning to the window, she
"'Tite Poulette!"—she called softly without moving. The daughter came.
The young man, whose idea of propriety had actuated him to this display,
was sitting in the dormer window, reading. Mother and daughter bent a
steady gaze at each other. It meant in French, "If he saw us last
"Ah! dear," said the mother, her face beaming with fun—
"What can it be, Maman?"
"He speaks—oh! ha, ha!—he speaks—such miserable French!"
It came to pass one morning at early dawn that Zalli and 'Tite Poulette,
going to mass, passed a café, just as—who should be coming out but
Monsieur, the manager of the Salle de Condé. He had not yet gone to
bed. Monsieur was astonished. He had a Frenchman's eye for the
beautiful, and certainly there the beautiful was. He had heard of Madame
John's daughter, and had hoped once to see her, but did not but could
this be she?
They disappeared within the cathedral. A sudden pang of piety moved him;
he followed. 'Tite Poulette was already kneeling in the aisle. Zalli,
still in the vestibule, was just taking her hand from the font of
"Madame John," whispered the manager.
"Madame John, that young lady—is she your daughter?"
"She—she—is my daughter," said Zalli, with somewhat of alarm in her
face, which the manager misinterpreted.
"I think not, Madame John." He shook his head, smiling as one too wise
to be fooled.
"Yes, Monsieur, she is my daughter."
"O no, Madame John, it is only make-believe, I think."
"I swear she is, Monsieur de la Rue."
"Is that possible?" pretending to waver, but convinced in his heart of
hearts, by Zalli's alarm, that she was lying. "But how? Why does she not
come to our ball-room with you?"
Zalli, trying to get away from him, shrugged and smiled. "Each to his
taste, Monsieur; it pleases her not."
She was escaping, but he followed one step more. "I shall come to see
you, Madame John."
She whirled and attacked him with her eyes. "Monsieur must not give
himself the trouble!" she said, the eyes at the same time adding, "Dare
to come!" She turned again, and knelt to her devotions. The manager
dipped in the font, crossed himself, and departed.
Several weeks went by, and M. de la Rue had not accepted the fierce
challenge of Madame John's eyes. One or two Sunday nights she had
succeeded in avoiding him, though fulfilling her engagement in the
Salle; but by and by pay-day,—a Saturday,—came round, and though the
pay was ready, she was loath to go up to Monsieur's little office.
It was an afternoon in May. Madame John came to her own room, and, with
a sigh, sank into a chair. Her eyes were wet.
"Did you go to his office, dear mother?" asked 'Tite Poulette.
"I could not," she answered, dropping her face in her hands.
"Maman, he has seen me at the window!"
"While I was gone?" cried the mother.
"He passed on the other side of the street. He looked up purposely, and
saw me." The speaker's cheeks were burning red.
Zalli wrung her hands.
"It is nothing, mother; do not go near him."
"But the pay, my child."
"The pay matters not."
"But he will bring it here; he wants the chance."
That was the trouble, sure enough.
About this time Kristian Koppig lost his position in the German
importing house where, he had fondly told his mother, he was
"Summer was coming on," the senior said, "and you see our young men are
almost idle. Yes, our engagement was for a year, but ah—we could not
foresee"—etc., etc., "besides" (attempting a parting flattery), "your
father is a rich gentleman, and you can afford to take the summer easy.
If we can ever be of any service to you," etc., etc.
So the young Dutchman spent the afternoons at his dormer window reading
and glancing down at the little casement opposite, where a small, rude
shelf had lately been put out, holding a row of cigar-boxes with
wretched little botanical specimens in them trying to die. 'Tite
Poulette was their gardener; and it was odd to see,—dry weather or
wet,—how many waterings per day those plants could take. She never
looked up from her task; but I know she performed it with that
unacknowledged pleasure which all girls love and deny, that of being
looked upon by noble eyes.
On this peculiar Saturday afternoon in May, Kristian Koppig had been
witness of the distressful scene over the way. It occurred to 'Tite
Poulette that such might be the case, and she stepped to the casement to
shut it. As she did so, the marvellous delicacy of Kristian Koppig moved
him to draw in one of his shutters. Both young heads came out at one
moment, while at the same instant—
"Rap, rap, rap, rap, rap!" clanked the knocker on the wicket. The black
eyes of the maiden and the blue over the way, from looking into each
other for the first time in life, glanced down to the arched doorway
upon Monsieur the manager. Then the black eyes disappeared within, and
Kristian Koppig thought again, and re-opening his shutter, stood up at
the window prepared to become a bold spectator of what might follow.
But for a moment nothing followed.
"Trouble over there," thought the rosy Dutchman, and waited. The manager
waited too, rubbing his hat and brushing his clothes with the tips of
his kidded fingers.
"They do not wish to see him," slowly concluded the spectator.
"Rap, rap, rap, rap, rap!" quoth the knocker, and M. de la Rue looked up
around at the windows opposite and noticed the handsome young Dutchman
looking at him.
"Dutch!" said the manager softly, between his teeth.
"He is staring at me," said Kristian Koppig to himself;—"but then I am
staring at him, which accounts for it."
A long pause, and then another long rapping.
"They want him to go away," thought Koppig.
"Knock hard!" suggested a street youngster, standing by.
"Rap, rap"—The manager had no sooner recommenced than several neighbors
looked out of doors and windows.
"Very bad," thought our Dutchman; "somebody should make him go off. I
wonder what they will do."
The manager stepped into the street, looked up at the closed window,
returned to the knocker, and stood with it in his hand.
"They are all gone out, Monsieur," said the street-youngster.
"You lie!" said the cynosure of neighboring eyes.
"Ah!" thought Kristian Koppig; "I will go down and ask him"—Here his
thoughts lost outline; he was only convinced that he had somewhat to say
to him, and turned to go down stairs. In going he became a little vexed
with himself because he could not help hurrying. He noticed, too, that
his arm holding the stair-rail trembled in a silly way, whereas he was
perfectly calm. Precisely as he reached the street-door the manager
raised the knocker; but the latch clicked and the wicket was drawn
Inside could just be descried Madame John. The manager bowed, smiled,
talked, talked on, held money in his hand, bowed, smiled, talked on,
flourished the money, smiled, bowed, talked on and plainly persisted in
some intention to which Madame John was steadfastly opposed.
The window above, too,—it was Kristian Koppig who noticed that,—opened
a wee bit, like the shell of a terrapin; Presently the manager lifted
his foot and put forward an arm, as though he would enter the gate by
pushing, but as quick as gunpowder it clapped—in his face!
You could hear the fleeing feet of Zalli pounding up the staircase.
As the panting mother re-entered her room, "See, Maman," said 'Tite
Poulette, peeping at the window, "the young gentleman from over the way
"Holy Mary bless him!" said the mother.
"I will go over," thought Kristian Koppig, "and ask him kindly if he is
not making a mistake."
"What are they doing, dear?" asked the mother, with clasped hands.
"They are talking; the young man is tranquil, but 'Sieur de la Rue is
very angry," whispered the daughter; and just then—pang! came a sharp,
keen sound rattling up the walls on either side of the narrow way, and
"Aha!" and laughter and clapping of female hands from two or three
"Oh! what a slap!" cried the girl, half in fright, half in glee, jerking
herself back from the casement simultaneously with the report. But the
"ahas" and laughter, and clapping of feminine hands, which still
continued, came from another cause. 'Tite Poulette's rapid action had
struck the slender cord that held up an end of her hanging garden, and
the whole rank of cigar-boxes slid from their place, turned gracefully
over as they shot through the air, and emptied themselves plump upon the
head of the slapped manager. Breathless, dirty, pale as whitewash, he
gasped a threat to be heard from again, and, getting round the corner as
quick as he could walk, left Kristian Koppig, standing motionless, the
most astonished man in that street.
"Kristian Koppig, Kristian Koppig," said Greatheart to himself, slowly
dragging up-stairs, "what a mischief you have done. One poor woman
certainly to be robbed of her bitter wages, and another—so lovely!—put
to the burning shame of being the subject of a street brawl! What will
this silly neighborhood say? 'Has the gentleman a heart as well as a
hand?' 'Is it jealousy?'" There he paused, afraid himself to answer the
supposed query; and then—"Oh! Kristian Koppig, you have been such a
dunce!" "And I cannot apologize to them. Who in this street would carry
my note, and not wink and grin over it with low surmises? I cannot even
make restitution. Money? They would not dare receive it. Oh! Kristian
Koppig, why did you not mind your own business? Is she any thing to you?
Do you love her? Of course not! Oh!—such a dunce!"
The reader will eagerly admit that however faulty this young man's
course of reasoning, his conclusion was correct. For mark what he did.
He went to his room, which was already growing dark, shut his window,
lighted his big Dutch lamp, and sat down to write. "Something must be
done," said he aloud, taking up his pen; "I will be calm and cool; I
will be distant and brief; but—I shall have to be kind or I may offend.
Ah! I shall have to write in French; I forgot that; I write it so
poorly, dunce that I am, when all my brothers and sisters speak it so
well." He got out his French dictionary. Two hours slipped by. He made a
new pen, washed and refilled his inkstand, mended his "abominable!"
chair, and after two hours more made another attempt, and another
failure. "My head aches," said he, and lay down on his couch, the better
to frame his phrases.
He was awakened by the Sabbath sunlight. The bells of the Cathedral and
the Ursulines' chapel were ringing for high mass, and a mocking-bird,
perching on a chimney-top above Madame John's rooms, was carolling,
whistling, mewing, chirping, screaming, and trilling with the ecstasy of
a whole May in his throat. "Oh! sleepy Kristian Koppig," was the young
man's first thought, "—such a dunce!"
Madame John and daughter did not go to mass. The morning wore away, and
their casement remained closed. "They are offended," said Kristian
Koppig, leaving the house, and wandering up to the little Protestant
affair known as Christ Church.
"No, possibly they are not," he said, returning and finding the shutters
By a sad accident, which mortified him extremely, he happened to see,
late in the afternoon,—hardly conscious that he was looking across the
street,—that Madame John was—dressing. Could it be that she was going
to the Salle de Condé? He rushed to his table, and began to write.
He had guessed aright. The wages were too precious to be lost. The
manager had written her a note. He begged to assure her that he was a
gentleman of the clearest cut. If he had made a mistake the previous
afternoon, he was glad no unfortunate result had followed except his
having been assaulted by a ruffian; that the Danse du Shawl was
promised in his advertisement, and he hoped Madame John (whose wages
were in hand waiting for her) would not fail to assist as usual. Lastly,
and delicately put, he expressed his conviction that Mademoiselle was
wise and discreet in declining to entertain gentlemen at her home.
So, against much beseeching on the part of 'Tite Poulette, Madame John
was going to the ball-room. "Maybe I can discover what 'Sieur de la Rue
is planning against Monsieur over the way," she said, knowing certainly
the slap would not be forgiven; and the daughter, though tremblingly, at
once withdrew her objections.
The heavy young Dutchman, now thoroughly electrified, was writing like
mad. He wrote and tore up, wrote and tore up, lighted his lamp, started
again, and at last signed his name. A letter by a Dutchman in
French!—what can be made of it in English? We will see:
"MADAME AND MADEMOISELLE:
"A stranger, seeking not to be acquainted, but seeing and admiring all
days the goodness and high honor, begs to be pardoned of them for the
mistakes, alas! of yesterday, and to make reparation and satisfaction in
destroying the ornaments of the window, as well as the loss of
compensation from Monsieur the manager, with the enclosed bill of the
Banque de la Louisiane for fifty dollars ($50). And, hoping they will
seeing what he is meaning, remains, respectfully,
"P.S.—Madame must not go to the ball."
He must bear the missive himself. He must speak in French. What should
the words be? A moment of study—he has it, and is off down the long
three-story stairway. At the same moment Madame John stepped from the
wicket, and glided off to the Salle de Condé, a trifle late.
"I shall see Madame John, of course," thought the young man, crushing a
hope, and rattled the knocker. 'Tite Poulette sprang up from praying for
her mother's safety. "What has she forgotten?" she asked herself, and
hastened down. The wicket opened. The two innocents were stunned.
"Aw—aw"—said the pretty Dutchman, "aw,"—blurted out something in
virgin Dutch, … handed her the letter, and hurried down street.
"Alas! what have I done?" said the poor girl, bending over her candle,
and bursting into tears that fell on the unopened letter. "And what
shall I do! It may be wrong to open it—and worse not to." Like her sex,
she took the benefit of the doubt, and intensified her perplexity and
misery by reading and misconstruing the all but unintelligible contents.
What then? Not only sobs and sighs, but moaning and beating of little
fists together, and outcries of soul-felt agony stifled against the
bedside, and temples pressed into knitted palms, because of one who
"sought not to be acquainted," but offered money—money!—in pity to a
poor—shame on her for saying that!—a poor nigresse.
And now our self-confessed dolt turned back from a half-hour's walk,
concluding there might be an answer to his note. "Surely Madame John
will appear this time." He knocked. The shutter stirred above, and
something white came fluttering wildly down like a shot dove. It was his
own letter containing the fifty-dollar bill. He bounded to the wicket,
and softly but eagerly knocked again.
"Go away," said a trembling voice from above.
"Madame John?" said he; but the window closed, and he heard a step, the
same step on the stair. Step, step, every step one step deeper into his
heart. 'Tite Poulette came to the closed door.
"What will you?" said the voice within.
"I—I—don't wish to see you. I wish to see Madame John."
"I must pray Monsieur to go away. My mother is at the Salle de Condé."
"At the ball!" Kristian Koppig strayed off, repeating the words for want
of definite thought. All at once it occurred to him that at the ball he
could make Madame John's acquaintance with impunity. "Was it courting
sin to go?" By no means; he should, most likely, save a woman from
trouble, and help the poor in their distress.
Behold Kristian Koppig standing on the floor of the Salle de Condé. A
large hall, a blaze of lamps, a bewildering flutter of fans and floating
robes, strains of music, columns of gay promenaders, a long row of
turbaned mothers lining either wall, gentlemen of the portlier sort
filling the recesses of the windows, whirling waltzers gliding here and
there—smiles and grace, smiles and grace; all fair, orderly, elegant,
bewitching. A young Creole's laugh mayhap a little loud, and—truly
there were many sword-canes. But neither grace nor foulness satisfied
the eye of the zealous young Dutchman.
Suddenly a muffled woman passed him, leaning on a gentleman's arm. It
looked like—it must be, Madame John. Speak quick, Kristian Koppig; do
not stop to notice the man!
"Madame John"—bowing—"I am your neighbor, Kristian Koppig."
Madame John bows low, and smiles—a ball-room smile, but is frightened,
and her escort,—the manager,—drops her hand and slips away.
"Ah! Monsieur," she whispers excitedly, "you will be killed if you stay
here a moment. Are you armed? No. Take this." She tried to slip a dirk
into his hands, but he would not have it.
"Oh, my dear young man, go! Go quickly!" she plead, glancing furtively
down the hall.
"I wish you not to dance," said the young man.
"I have danced already; I am going home. Come; be quick! we will go
together." She thrust her arm through his, and they hastened into the
street. When a square had been passed there came a sound of men running
"Run, Monsieur, run!" she cried, trying to drag him; but Monsieur
Dutchman would not.
"Run, Monsieur! Oh, my God! it is 'Sieur"—
"That for yesterday!" cried the manager, striking fiercely with his
cane. Kristian Koppig's fist rolled him in the dirt.
"That for 'Tite Poulette!" cried another man dealing the Dutchman a
terrible blow from behind.
"And that for me!" hissed a third, thrusting at him with something
"That for yesterday!" screamed the manager, bounding like a tiger;
"That!" "THAT!" "Ha!"
Then Kristian Koppig knew that he was stabbed.
"That!" and "That!" and "That!" and the poor Dutchman struck wildly here
and there, grasped the air, shut his eyes, staggered, reeled, fell, rose
half up, fell again for good, and they were kicking him and jumping on
him. All at once they scampered. Zalli had found the night-watch.
"Buz-z-z-z!" went a rattle. "Buz-z-z-z!" went another.
"Pick him up."
"Is he alive?"
"Can't tell; hold him steady; lead the way, misses."
"He's bleeding all over my breeches."
"This way—here—around this corner."
"This way now—only two squares more."
"Here we are."
"Rap-rap-rap!" on the old brass knocker. Curses on the narrow wicket,
more on the dark archway, more still on the twisting stairs.
Up at last and into the room.
"Easy, easy, push this under his head: never mind his boots!"
So he lies—on 'Tite Poulette's own bed.
The watch are gone. They pause under the corner lamp to count
profits;—a single bill—Banque de la Louisiane, fifty dollars.
Providence is kind—tolerably so. Break it at the "Guillaume Tell." "But
did you ever hear any one scream like that girl did?"
And there lies the young Dutch neighbor. His money will not flutter back
to him this time; nor will any voice behind a gate "beg Monsieur to go
away." O, Woman!—that knows no enemy so terrible as man! Come nigh,
poor Woman, you have nothing to fear. Lay your strange, electric touch
upon the chilly flesh; it strikes no eager mischief along the fainting
veins. Look your sweet looks upon the grimy face, and tenderly lay back
the locks from the congested brows; no wicked misinterpretation lurks to
bite your kindness. Be motherly, be sisterly, fear nought. Go, watch him
by night; you may sleep at his feet and he will not stir. Yet he lives,
and shall live—may live to forget you, who knows? But for all that, be
gentle and watchful; be womanlike, we ask no more; and God reward you!
Even while it was taking all the two women's strength to hold the door
against Death, the sick man himself laid a grief upon them.
"Mother," he said to Madame John, quite a master of French in his
delirium, "dear mother, fear not; trust your boy; fear nothing. I will
not marry 'Tite Poulette; I cannot. She is fair, dear mother, but ah!
she is not—don't you know, mother? don't you know? The race! the race!
Don't you know that she is jet black. Isn't it?"
The poor nurse nodded "Yes," and gave a sleeping draught; but before the
patient quite slept he started once and stared.
"Take her away,"—waving his hand—"take your beauty away. She is jet
white. Who could take a jet white wife? O, no, no, no, no!"
Next morning his brain was right.
"Madame," he weakly whispered, "I was delirious last night?"
Zalli shrugged. "Only a very, very, wee, wee trifle of a bit."
"And did I say something wrong or—foolish?"
"O, no, no," she replied; "you only clasped your hands, so, and prayed,
prayed all the time to the dear Virgin."
"To the virgin?" asked the Dutchman, smiling incredulously.
"And St. Joseph—yes, indeed," she insisted; "you may strike me dead."
And so, for politeness' sake, he tried to credit the invention, but grew
Hard was the battle against death. Nurses are sometimes amazons, and
such were these. Through the long, enervating summer, the contest
lasted; but when at last the cool airs of October came stealing in at
the bedside like long-banished little children, Kristian Koppig rose
upon his elbow and smiled them a welcome.
The physician, blessed man, was kind beyond measure; but said some
inexplicable things, which Zalli tried in vain to make him speak in an
undertone. "If I knew Monsieur John?" he said, "certainly! Why, we were
chums at school. And he left you so much as that, Madame John? Ah! my
old friend John, always noble! And you had it all in that naughty bank?
Ah, well, Madame John, it matters little. No, I shall not tell 'Tite
And another time:—"If I will let you tell me something? With pleasure,
Madame John. No, and not tell anybody, Madame John. No, Madame, not even
'Tite Poulette. What?"—a long whistle—"is that pos-si-ble?—and
Monsieur John knew it?—encouraged it?—eh, well, eh, well!—But—can I
believe you, Madame John? Oh! you have Monsieur John's sworn statement.
Ah! very good, truly, but—you say you have it; but where is it? Ah!
to-morrow!" a sceptical shrug. "Pardon me, Madame John, I think perhaps,
perhaps you are telling the truth.
"If I think you did right? Certainly! What nature keeps back, accident
sometimes gives, Madame John; either is God's will. Don't cry. 'Stealing
from the dead?' No! It was giving, yes! They are thanking you in heaven,
Kristian Koppig, lying awake, but motionless and with closed eyes, hears
in part, and, fancying he understands, rejoices with silent intensity.
When the doctor is gone he calls Zalli.
"I give you a great deal of trouble, eh, Madame John?"
"No, no; you are no trouble at all. Had you the yellow fever—ah! then!"
She rolled her eyes to signify the superlative character of the
tribulations attending yellow fever.
"I had a lady and gentleman once—a Spanish lady and gentleman, just off
the ship; both sick at once with the fever—delirious—could not tell
their names. Nobody to help me but sometimes Monsieur John! I never had
such a time,—never before, never since,—as that time. Four days and
nights this head touched not a pillow."
"And they died!" said Kristian Koppig.
"The third night the gentleman went. Poor Senor! 'Sieur John,—he did
not know the harm,—gave him some coffee and toast! The fourth night it
rained and turned cool, and just before day the poor lady"—
"Died!" said Koppig.
Zalli dropped her arms listlessly into her lap and her eyes ran brimful.
"And left an infant!" said the Dutchman, ready to shout with exultation.
"Ah! no, Monsieur," said Zalli.
The invalid's heart sank like a stone.
"Madame John,"—his voice was all in a tremor,—"tell me the truth. Is
'Tite Poulette your own child?"
"Ah-h-h, ha! ha! what foolishness! Of course she is my child!" And
Madame gave vent to a true Frenchwoman's laugh.
It was too much for the sick man. In the pitiful weakness of his
shattered nerves he turned his face into his pillow and wept like a
child. Zalli passed into the next room to hide her emotion.
"Maman, dear Maman," said 'Tite Poulette, who had overheard nothing, but
only saw the tears.
"Ah! my child, my child, my task—my task is too great—too great for
me. Let me go now—another time. Go and watch at his bedside."
"But, Maman,"—for 'Tite Poulette was frightened,—"he needs no care
"Nay, but go, my child; I wish to be alone."
The maiden stole in with averted eyes and tiptoed to the window—that
window. The patient, already a man again, gazed at her till she could
feel the gaze. He turned his eyes from her a moment to gather
resolution. And now, stout heart, farewell; a word or two of friendly
The slender figure at the window turned and came to the bedside.
"I believe I owe my life to you," he said.
She looked down meekly, the color rising in her cheek.
"I must arrange to be moved across the street tomorrow, on a litter."
She did not stir or speak.
"And I must now thank you, sweet nurse, for your care. Sweet nurse!
She shook her head in protestation.
"Heaven bless you, 'Tite Poulette!"
Her face sank lower.
"God has made you very beautiful, Tite Poulette!"
She stirred not. He reached, and gently took her little hand, and as he
drew her one step nearer, a tear fell from her long lashes. From the
next room, Zalli, with a face of agonized suspense, gazed upon the pair,
undiscovered. The young man lifted the hand to lay it upon his lips,
when, with a mild, firm force, it was drawn away, yet still rested in
his own upon the bedside, like some weak thing snared, that could only
not get free.
"Thou wilt not have my love, 'Tite Poulette?"
"Thou wilt not, beautiful?"
"Cannot!" was all that she could utter, and upon their clasped hands the
tears ran down.
"Thou wrong'st me, 'Tite Poulette. Thou dost not trust me; thou fearest
the kiss may loosen the hands. But I tell thee nay. I have struggled
hard, even to this hour, against Love, but I yield me now; I yield; I am
his unconditioned prisoner forever. God forbid that I ask aught but that
you will be my wife."
Still the maiden moved not, looked not up, only rained down tears.
"Shall it not be, 'Tite Poulette?" He tried in vain to draw her.
"'Tite Poulette?" So tenderly he called! And then she spoke.
"It is against the law."
"It is not!" cried Zalli, seizing her round the waist and dragging her
forward. "Take her! she is thine. I have robbed God long enough. Here
are the sworn papers—here! Take her; she is as white as snow—so! Take
her, kiss her; Mary be praised! I never had a child—she is the