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laughter and excitement had lured from the garden, scampered up the
steps and handed it to the old man.

"Honoré!" cried Raoul, "it must not be read. It is one of your private
matters."

But Raoul's insinuation that anybody would entrust him with a private
matter brought another laugh.

Honoré nodded to his uncle to read it out, and those who could not
understand English, as well as those who could, listened. It was a paper
Sylvestre had picked out of a waste-basket on the day of Aurore's visit
to the counting-room. Agricola read:

"What is that layde want in thare with Honoré?"
"Honoré is goin giv her bac that proprety - that is
Aurore De Grapion what Agricola kill the husband."

That was the whole writing, but Agricola never finished. He was reading
aloud - "that is Aurore De Grap - "

At that moment he dropped the paper and blackened with wrath; a sharp
flash of astonishment ran through the company; an instant of silence
followed and Agricola's thundering voice rolled down upon Sylvestre in a
succession of terrible imprecations.

It was painful to see the young man's face as, speechless, he received
this abuse. He stood pale and frightened, with a smile playing about his
mouth, half of distress and half of defiance, that said as plain as a
smile could say, "Uncle Agricola, you will have to pay for
this mistake."

As the old man ceased, Sylvestre turned and cast a look downward to
Valentine Grandissime, then walked up the steps, and passing with a
courteous bow through the group that surrounded Agricola, went into the
house. Valentine looked at the zenith, then at his shoe-buckles, tossed
his cigar quietly into the grass and passed around a corner of the house
to meet Sylvestre in the rear.

Honoré had already nodded to his uncle to come aside with him, and
Agricola had done so. The rest of the company, save a few male figures
down in the garden, after some feeble efforts to keep up their spirits
on the veranda, remarked the growing coolness or the waning daylight,
and singly or in pairs withdrew. It was not long before Raoul, who had
come up upon the veranda, was left alone. He seemed to wait for
something, as, leaning over the rail while the stars came out, he sang
to himself, in a soft undertone, a snatch of a Creole song:

"La pluie - la pluie tombait,
Crapaud criait,
Moustique chantait - "

The moon shone so brightly that the children in the garden did not break
off their hide-and-seek, and now and then Raoul suspended the murmur of
his song, absorbed in the fate of some little elf gliding from one black
shadow to crouch in another. He was himself in the deep shade of a
magnolia, over whose outer boughs the moonlight was trickling, as if the
whole tree had been dipped in quicksilver.

In the broad walk running down to the garden gate some six or seven dark
forms sat in chairs, not too far away for the light of their cigars to
be occasionally seen and their voices to reach his ear; but he did not
listen. In a little while there came a light footstep, and a soft,
mock-startled "Who is that?" and one of that same sparkling group of
girls that had lately hung upon Honoré came so close to Raoul, in her
attempt to discern his lineaments, that their lips accidentally met.
They had but a moment of hand-in-hand converse before they were hustled
forth by a feminine scouting party and thrust along into one of the
great rooms of the house, where the youth and beauty of the Grandissimes
were gathered in an expansive semicircle around a languishing fire,
waiting to hear a story, or a song, or both, or half a dozen of each,
from that master of narrative and melody, Raoul Innerarity.

"But mark," they cried unitedly, "you have got to wind up with the story
of Bras-Coupé!"

"A song! A song!"

"_Une chanson Créole! Une chanson des nègres!_"

"Sing 'yé tolé dancé la doung y doung doung!'" cried a black-eyed girl.

Raoul explained that it had too many objectionable phrases.

"Oh, just hum the objectionable phrases and go right on."

But instead he sang them this:

"_La prémier' fois mo té 'oir li,
Li té posé au bord so lit;
Mo di', Bouzon, bel n'amourèse!
L'aut' fois li té si' so la saise
Comme vié Madam dans so fauteil,
Quand li vivé cóté soleil.

So giés yé té plis noir passé la nouitte,
So dé la lev' plis doux passe la quitte!
Tou' mo la vie, zamein mo oir
Ein n' amourèse zoli comme ça!
Mo' blié manzé - mo' blié boir' -
Mo' blié tout dipi ç' temps-là -
Mo' blié parlé - mo' blié dormi,
Quand mo pensé aprés zami!_"

"And you have heard Bras-Coupé sing that, yourself?"

"Once upon a time," said Raoul, warming with his subject, "we were
coming down from Pointe Macarty in three pirogues. We had been three
days fishing and hunting in Lake Salvador. Bras-Coupé had one pirogue
with six paddles - "

"Oh, yes!" cried a youth named Baltazar; "sing that, Raoul!"

And he sang that.

"But oh, Raoul, sing that song the negroes sing when they go out in the
bayous at night, stealing pigs and chickens!"

"That boat song, do you mean, which they sing as a signal to those on
shore?" He hummed.

[Illustration: Music]

"Dé zabs, dé zabs, dé counou ouaïe ouaïe,
Dé zabs, dé zabs, dé counou ouaïe ouaïe,
Counou ouaïe ouaïe ouaïe ouaïe,
Counou ouaïe ouaïe ouaïe ouaïe,
Counou ouaïe ouaïe ouaïe, momza;
Momza, momza, momza, momza,
Roza, roza, roza-et - momza."

This was followed by another and still another, until the hour began to
grow late. And then they gathered closer around him and heard the
promised story. At the same hour Honoré Grandissime, wrapping himself in
a greatcoat and giving himself up to sad and somewhat bitter
reflections, had wandered from the paternal house, and by and by from
the grounds, not knowing why or whither, but after a time soliciting, at
Frowenfeld's closing door, the favor of his company. He had been feeling
a kind of suffocation. This it was that made him seek and prize the
presence and hand-grasp of the inexperienced apothecary. He led him out
to the edge of the river. Here they sat down, and with a laborious
attempt at a hard and jesting mood, Honoré told the same dark story.




CHAPTER XXVIII

THE STORY OF BRAS-COUPÉ


"A very little more than eight years ago," began Honoré - but not only
Honoré, but Raoul also; and not only they, but another, earlier on the
same day, - Honoré, the f.m.c. But we shall not exactly follow the words
of any one of these.

Bras-Coupé, they said, had been, in Africa and under another name, a
prince among his people. In a certain war of conquest, to which he had
been driven by _ennui_, he was captured, stripped of his royalty,
marched down upon the beach of the Atlantic, and, attired as a true son
of Adam, with two goodly arms intact, became a commodity. Passing out of
first hands in barter for a looking-glass, he was shipped in good order
and condition on board the good schooner _Égalité_, whereof Blank was
master, to be delivered without delay at the port of Nouvelle Orléans
(the dangers of fire and navigation excepted), unto Blank Blank. In
witness whereof, He that made men's skins of different colors, but all
blood of one, hath entered the same upon His book, and sealed it to the
day of judgment.

Of the voyage little is recorded - here below; the less the better. Part
of the living merchandise failed to keep; the weather was rough, the
cargo large, the vessel small. However, the captain discovered there was
room over the side, and there - all flesh is grass - from time to time
during the voyage he jettisoned the unmerchantable.

Yet, when the reopened hatches let in the sweet smell of the land,
Bras-Coupé had come to the upper - the favored - the buttered side of the
world; the anchor slid with a rumble of relief down through the muddy
fathoms of the Mississippi, and the prince could hear through the
schooner's side the savage current of the river, leaping and licking
about the bows, and whimpering low welcomes home. A splendid picture to
the eyes of the royal captive, as his head came up out of the hatchway,
was the little Franco-Spanish-American city that lay on the low,
brimming bank. There were little forts that showed their whitewashed
teeth; there was a green parade-ground, and yellow barracks, and
cabildo, and hospital, and cavalry stables, and custom-house, and a most
inviting jail, convenient to the cathedral - all of dazzling white and
yellow, with a black stripe marking the track of the conflagration of
1794, and here and there among the low roofs a lofty one with
round-topped dormer windows and a breezy belvidere looking out upon the
plantations of coffee and indigo beyond the town.

When Bras-Coupé staggered ashore, he stood but a moment among a drove
of "likely boys," before Agricola Fusilier, managing the business
adventures of the Grandissime estate, as well as the residents thereon,
and struck with admiration for the physical beauties of the chieftain (a
man may even fancy a negro - as a negro), bought the lot, and, both to
resell him with the rest to some unappreciative 'Cadian, induced Don
José Martinez' overseer to become his purchaser.

Down in the rich parish of St. Bernard (whose boundary line now touches
that of the distended city) lay the plantation, known before Bras-Coupé
passed away as La Renaissance. Here it was that he entered at once upon
a chapter of agreeable surprises. He was humanely met, presented with a
clean garment, lifted into a cart drawn by oxen, taken to a whitewashed
cabin of logs, finer than his palace at home, and made to comprehend
that it was a free gift. He was also given some clean food, whereupon he
fell sick. At home it would have been the part of piety for the magnate
next the throne to launch him heavenward at once; but now, healing doses
were administered, and to his amazement he recovered. It reminded him
that he was no longer king.

His name, he replied to an inquiry touching that subject, was - - - - ,
something in the Jaloff tongue, which he by and by condescended to
render into Congo: Mioko-Koanga; in French Bras-Coupé; the Arm Cut Off.
Truly it would have been easy to admit, had this been his meaning, that
his tribe, in losing him, had lost its strong right arm close off at the
shoulder; not so easy for his high-paying purchaser to allow, if this
other was his intent: that the arm which might no longer shake the spear
or swing the wooden sword was no better than a useless stump never to be
lifted for aught else. But whether easy to allow or not, that was his
meaning. He made himself a type of all Slavery, turning into flesh and
blood the truth that all Slavery is maiming.

He beheld more luxury in a week than all his subjects had seen in a
century. Here Congo girls were dressed in cottons and flannels worth,
where he came from, an elephant's tusk apiece. Everybody wore
clothes - children and lads alone excepted. Not a lion had invaded the
settlement since his immigration. The serpents were as nothing; an
occasional one coming up through the floor - that was all. True, there
was more emaciation than unassisted conjecture could explain - a
profusion of enlarged joints and diminished muscles, which, thank God,
was even then confined to a narrow section and disappeared with Spanish
rule. He had no experimental knowledge of it; nay, regular meals, on the
contrary, gave him anxious concern, yet had the effect - spite of his
apprehension that he was being fattened for a purpose - of restoring the
herculean puissance which formerly in Africa had made him the terror of
the battle.

When one day he had come to be quite himself, he was invited out into
the sunshine, and escorted by the driver (a sort of foreman to the
overseer), went forth dimly wondering. They reached a field where some
men and women were hoeing. He had seen men and women - subjects of
his - labor - a little - in Africa. The driver handed him a hoe; he
examined it with silent interest - until by signs he was requested to
join the pastime.

"What?"

He spoke, not with his lips, but with the recoil of his splendid frame
and the ferocious expansion of his eyes. This invitation was a cataract
of lightning leaping down an ink-black sky. In one instant of
all-pervading clearness he read his sentence - WORK.

Bras-Coupé was six feet five. With a sweep as quick as instinct the back
of the hoe smote the driver full in the head. Next, the prince lifted
the nearest Congo crosswise, brought thirty-two teeth together in his
wildly kicking leg and cast him away as a bad morsel; then, throwing
another into the branches of a willow, and a woman over his head into a
draining-ditch, he made one bound for freedom, and fell to his knees,
rocking from side to side under the effect of a pistol-ball from the
overseer. It had struck him in the forehead, and running around the
skull in search of a penetrable spot, tradition - which sometimes
jests - says came out despairingly, exactly where it had entered.

It so happened that, except the overseer, the whole company were black.
Why should the trivial scandal be blabbed? A plaster or two made
everything even in a short time, except in the driver's case - for the
driver died. The woman whom Bras-Coupé had thrown over his head lived to
sell _calas_ to Joseph Frowenfeld.

Don José, young and austere, knew nothing about agriculture and cared as
much about human nature. The overseer often thought this, but never said
it; he would not trust even himself with the dangerous criticism. When
he ventured to reveal the foregoing incidents to the señor he laid all
the blame possible upon the man whom death had removed beyond the reach
of correction, and brought his account to a climax by hazarding the
asserting that Bras-Coupé was an animal that could not be whipped.

"Caramba!" exclaimed the master, with gentle emphasis, "how so?"

"Perhaps señor had better ride down to the quarters," replied the
overseer.

It was a great sacrifice of dignity, but the master made it.

"Bring him out."

They brought him out - chains on his feet, chains on his wrists, an iron
yoke on his neck. The Spanish Creole master had often seen the bull,
with his long, keen horns and blazing eye, standing in the arena; but
this was as though he had come face to face with a rhinoceros.

"This man is not a Congo," he said.

"He is a Jaloff," replied the encouraged overseer. "See his fine,
straight nose; moreover, he is a _candio_ - a prince. If I whip him he
will die."

The dauntless captive and fearless master stood looking into each
other's eyes until each recognized in the other his peer in physical
courage, and each was struck with an admiration for the other which no
after difference was sufficient entirely to destroy. Had Bras-Coupé's
eye quailed but once - just for one little instant - he would have got the
lash; but, as it was -

"Get an interpreter," said Don José; then, more privately, "and come to
an understanding. I shall require it of you."

Where might one find an interpreter - one not merely able to render a
Jaloff's meaning into Creole French, or Spanish, but with such a turn
for diplomatic correspondence as would bring about an "understanding"
with this African buffalo? The overseer was left standing and thinking,
and Clemence, who had not forgotten who threw her into the
draining-ditch, cunningly passed by.

"Ah, Clemence - "

"_Mo pas capabe! Mo pas capabe!_ (I cannot, I cannot!) _Ya, ya, ya! 'oir
Miché Agricol' Fusilier! ouala yune bon monture, oui!_" - which was to
signify that Agricola could interpret the very Papa Lébat.

"Agricola Fusilier! The last man on earth to make peace."

But there seemed to be no choice, and to Agricola the overseer went. It
was but a little ride to the Grandissime place.

"I, Agricola Fusilier, stand as an interpreter to a negro? H-sir!"

"But I thought you might know of some person," said the weakening
applicant, rubbing his ear with his hand.

"Ah!" replied Agricola, addressing the surrounding scenery, "if I did
not - who would? You may take Palmyre."

The overseer softly smote his hands together at the happy thought.

"Yes," said Agricola, "take Palmyre; she has picked up as many negro
dialects as I know European languages."

And she went to the don's plantation as interpreter, followed by
Agricola's prayer to Fate that she might in some way be overtaken by
disaster. The two hated each other with all the strength they had. He
knew not only her pride, but her passion for the absent Honoré. He hated
her, also, for her intelligence, for the high favor in which she stood
with her mistress, and for her invincible spirit, which was more
offensively patent to him than to others, since he was himself the chief
object of her silent detestation.

It was Palmyre's habit to do nothing without painstaking. "When
Mademoiselle comes to be Señora," thought she - she knew that her
mistress and the don were affianced - "it will be well to have a Señor's
esteem. I shall endeavor to succeed." It was from this motive, then,
that with the aid of her mistress she attired herself in a resplendence
of scarlet and beads and feathers that could not fail the double purpose
of connecting her with the children of Ethiopia and commanding the
captive's instant admiration.

Alas for those who succeed too well! No sooner did the African turn his
tiger glance upon her than the fire of his eyes died out; and when she
spoke to him in the dear accents of his native tongue, the matter of
strife vanished from his mind. He loved.

He sat down tamely in his irons and listened to Palmyre's argument as a
wrecked mariner would listen to ghostly church-bells. He would give a
short assent, feast his eyes, again assent, and feast his ears; but when
at length she made bold to approach the actual issue, and finally
uttered the loathed word, _Work_, he rose up, six feet five, a statue of
indignation in black marble.

And then Palmyre, too, rose up, glorying in him, and went to explain to
master and overseer. Bras-Coupé understood, she said, that he was a
slave - it was the fortune of war, and he was a warrior; but, according
to a generally recognized principle in African international law, he
could not reasonably be expected to work.

"As Señor will remember I told him," remarked the overseer; "how can a
man expect to plow with a zebra?"

Here he recalled a fact in his earlier experience. An African of this
stripe had been found to answer admirably as a "driver" to make others
work. A second and third parley, extending through two or three days,
were held with the prince, looking to his appointment to the vacant
office of driver; yet what was the master's amazement to learn at length
that his Highness declined the proffered honor.

"Stop!" spoke the overseer again, detecting a look of alarm in Palmyre's
face as she turned away, "he doesn't do any such thing. If Señor will
let me take the man to Agricola - "

"No!" cried Palmyre, with an agonized look, "I will tell. He will take
the place and fill it if you will give me to him for his own - but oh,
messieurs, for the love of God - I do not want to be his wife!"

The overseer looked at the Señor, ready to approve whatever he should
decide. Bras-Coupé's intrepid audacity took the Spaniard's heart by
irresistible assault.

"I leave it entirely with Señor Fusilier," he said.

"But he is not my master; he has no right - "

"Silence!"

And she was silent; and so, sometimes, is fire in the wall.

Agricola's consent was given with malicious promptness, and as
Bras-Coupé's fetters fell off it was decreed that, should he fill his
office efficiently, there should be a wedding on the rear veranda of the
Grandissime mansion simultaneously with the one already appointed to
take place in the grand hall of the same house six months from that
present day. In the meanwhile Palmyre should remain with Mademoiselle,
who had promptly but quietly made up her mind that Palmyre should not be
wed unless she wished to be. Bras-Coupé made no objection, was royally
worthless for a time, but learned fast, mastered the "gumbo" dialect in
a few weeks, and in six months was the most valuable man ever bought for
gourde dollars. Nevertheless, there were but three persons within as
many square miles who were not most vividly afraid of him.

The first was Palmyre. His bearing in her presence was ever one of
solemn, exalted respect, which, whether from pure magnanimity in
himself, or by reason of her magnetic eye, was something worth being
there to see. "It was royal!" said the overseer.

The second was not that official. When Bras-Coupé said - as, at stated
intervals, he did say - "_Mo courri c'ez Agricole Fusilier pou' 'oir
'namourouse_ (I go to Agricola Fusilier to see my betrothed,)" the
overseer would sooner have intercepted a score of painted Chickasaws
than that one lover. He would look after him and shake a prophetic head.
"Trouble coming; better not deceive that fellow;" yet that was the very
thing Palmyre dared do. Her admiration for Bras-Coupé was almost
boundless. She rejoiced in his stature; she revelled in the
contemplation of his untamable spirit; he seemed to her the gigantic
embodiment of her own dark, fierce will, the expanded realization of
her lifetime longing for terrible strength. But the single deficiency
in all this impassioned regard was - what so many fairer loves have found
impossible to explain to so many gentler lovers - an entire absence of
preference; her heart she could not give him - she did not have it. Yet
after her first prayer to the Spaniard and his overseer for deliverance,
to the secret surprise and chagrin of her young mistress, she simulated
content. It was artifice; she knew Agricola's power, and to seem to
consent was her one chance with him. He might thus be beguiled into
withdrawing his own consent. That failing, she had Mademoiselle's
promise to come to the rescue, which she could use at the last moment;
and that failing, there was a dirk in her bosom, for which a certain
hard breast was not too hard. Another element of safety, of which she
knew nothing, was a letter from the Cannes Brulée. The word had reached
there that love had conquered - that, despite all hard words, and rancor,
and positive injury, the Grandissime hand - the fairest of Grandissime
hands - was about to be laid into that of one who without much stretch
might be called a De Grapion; that there was, moreover, positive effort
being made to induce a restitution of old gaming-table spoils. Honoré
and Mademoiselle, his sister, one on each side of the Atlantic, were
striving for this end. Don José sent this intelligence to his kinsman as
glad tidings (a lover never imagines there are two sides to that which
makes him happy), and, to add a touch of humor, told how Palmyre, also,
was given to the chieftain. The letter that came back to the young
Spaniard did not blame him so much: _he_ was ignorant of all the facts;
but a very formal one to Agricola begged to notify him that if Palmyre's
union with Bras-Coupé should be completed, as sure as there was a God in
heaven, the writer would have the life of the man who knowingly had thus
endeavored to dishonor one who _shared the blood of the De Grapions_.
Thereupon Agricola, contrary to his general character, began to drop
hints to Don José that the engagement of Bras-Coupé and Palmyre need not
be considered irreversible; but the don was not desirous of
disappointing his terrible pet. Palmyre, unluckily, played her game a
little too deeply. She thought the moment had come for herself to insist
on the match, and thus provoke Agricola to forbid it. To her
incalculable dismay she saw him a second time reconsider and
become silent.

The second person who did not fear Bras-Coupé was Mademoiselle. On one
of the giant's earliest visits to see Palmyre he obeyed the summons
which she brought him, to appear before the lady. A more artificial man
might have objected on the score of dress, his attire being a single
gaudy garment tightly enveloping the waist and thighs. As his eyes fell
upon the beautiful white lady he prostrated himself upon the ground, his
arms outstretched before him. He would not move till she was gone. Then
he arose like a hermit who has seen a vision. "_Bras-Coupé n' pas oulé
oir zombis_ (Bras-Coupé dares not look upon a spirit)." From that hour
he worshipped. He saw her often; every time, after one glance at her
countenance, he would prostrate his gigantic length with his face in


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