George Washington Cable.

The Grandissimes online

. (page 16 of 27)
Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe Grandissimes → online text (page 16 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


sugar-cane to crystallize, so shall all of us, after him, and shall yet
save our lands and homes. Oh, Señor, it will make you strong again to
see these fields all cane and the long rows of negroes and negresses
cutting it, while they sing their song of those droll African numerals,
counting the canes they cut," and the bearer of good tidings sang them
for very joy:

[Illustration: music]

An-o-qué, An-o-bia, Bia-tail-la, Qué-re-qué, Nal-le-oua,
Au-mon-dé, Au-tap-o-té, Au-pé-to-té, Au-qué-ré-qué, Bo.

"And Honoré Grandissime is going to introduce it on his lands," said Don
José.

"That is true," said Agricola Fusilier, coming in. Honoré, the
indefatigable peacemaker, had brought his uncle and his brother-in-law
for the moment not only to speaking, but to friendly, terms.

The señor smiled.

"I have some good tidings, too," he said; "my beloved lady has borne me
a son."

"Another scion of the house of Grand - I mean Martinez!" exclaimed
Agricola. "And now, Don José, let me say that _I_ have an item of rare
intelligence!"

The don lifted his feeble head and opened his inquiring eyes with a
sudden, savage light in them.

"No," said Agricola, "he is not exactly taken yet, but they are on his
track."

"Who?"

"The police. We may say he is virtually in our grasp."

* * * * *

It was on a Sabbath afternoon that a band of Choctaws having just played
a game of racquette behind the city and a similar game being about to
end between the white champions of two rival faubourgs, the beating of
tom-toms, rattling of mules' jawbones and sounding of wooden horns drew
the populace across the fields to a spot whose present name of Congo
Square still preserves a reminder of its old barbaric pastimes. On a
grassy plain under the ramparts, the performers of these hideous
discords sat upon the ground facing each other, and in their midst the
dancers danced. They gyrated in couples, a few at a time, throwing their
bodies into the most startling attitudes and the wildest contortions,
while the whole company of black lookers-on, incited by the tones of the
weird music and the violent posturing of the dancers, swayed and writhed
in passionate sympathy, beating their breasts, palms and thighs in time
with the bones and drums, and at frequent intervals lifting, in that
wild African unison no more to be described than forgotten, the
unutterable songs of the Babouille and Counjaille dances, with their
ejaculatory burdens of "_Aie! Aie! Voudou Magnan!_" and "_Aie Calinda!
Dancé Calinda!_" The volume of sound rose and fell with the augmentation
or diminution of the dancers' extravagances. Now a fresh man, young and
supple, bounding into the ring, revived the flagging rattlers, drummers
and trumpeters; now a wearied dancer, finding his strength going,
gathered all his force at the cry of "_Dancé zisqu'a mort!_" rallied to
a grand finale and with one magnificent antic fell, foaming at
the mouth.

The amusement had reached its height. Many participants had been lugged
out by the neck to avoid their being danced on, and the enthusiasm had
risen to a frenzy, when there bounded into the ring the blackest of
black men, an athlete of superb figure, in breeches of "Indienne" - the
stuff used for slave women's best dresses - jingling with bells, his feet
in moccasins, his tight, crisp hair decked out with feathers, a necklace
of alligator's teeth rattling on his breast and a living serpent twined
about his neck.

It chanced that but one couple was dancing. Whether they had been sent
there by advice of Agricola is not certain. Snatching a tambourine from
a bystander as he entered, the stranger thrust the male dancer aside,
faced the woman and began a series of saturnalian antics, compared with
which all that had gone before was tame and sluggish; and as he finally
leaped, with tinkling heels, clean over his bewildered partner's head,
the multitude howled with rapture.

Ill-starred Bras-Coupé. He was in that extra-hazardous and irresponsible
condition of mind and body known in the undignified present as
"drunk again."

By the strangest fortune, if not, as we have just hinted, by some
design, the man whom he had once deposited in the willow bushes, and the
woman Clemence, were the very two dancers, and no other, whom he had
interrupted. The man first stupidly regarded, next admiringly gazed
upon, and then distinctly recognized, his whilom driver. Five minutes
later the Spanish police were putting their heads together to devise a
quick and permanent capture; and in the midst of the sixth minute, as
the wonderful fellow was rising in a yet more astounding leap than his
last, a lasso fell about his neck and brought him, crashing like a burnt
tree, face upward upon the turf.

"The runaway slave," said the old French code, continued in force by the
Spaniards, "the runaway slave who shall continue to be so for one month
from the day of his being denounced to the officers of justice shall
have his ears cut off and shall be branded with the flower de luce on
the shoulder; and on a second offence of the same nature, persisted in
during one month of his being denounced, he shall be hamstrung, and be
marked with the flower de luce on the other shoulder. On the third
offence he shall die." Bras-Coupé had run away only twice. "But," said
Agricola, "these 'bossals' must be taught their place. Besides, there is
Article 27 of the same code: 'The slave who, having struck his master,
shall have produced a bruise, shall suffer capital punishment' - a very
necessary law!" He concluded with a scowl upon Palmyre, who shot back a
glance which he never forgot.

The Spaniard showed himself very merciful - for a Spaniard; he spared the
captive's life. He might have been more merciful still; but Honoré
Grandissime said some indignant things in the African's favor, and as
much to teach the Grandissimes a lesson as to punish the runaway, he
would have repented his clemency, as he repented the momentary truce
with Agricola, but for the tearful pleading of the señora and the hot,
dry eyes of her maid. Because of these he overlooked the offence against
his person and estate, and delivered Bras-Coupé to the law to suffer
only the penalties of the crime he had committed against society by
attempting to be a free man.

We repeat it for the credit of Palmyre, that she pleaded for Bras-Coupé.
But what it cost her to make that intercession, knowing that his death
would leave her free, and that if he lived she must be his wife, let us
not attempt to say.

In the midst of the ancient town, in a part which is now crumbling away,
stood the Calaboza, with its humid vaults and grated cells, its iron
cages and its whips; and there, soon enough, they strapped Bras-Coupé
face downward and laid on the lash. And yet not a sound came from the
mutilated but unconquered African to annoy the ear of the sleeping city.

("And you suffered this thing to take place?" asked Joseph Frowenfeld of
Honoré Grandissime.

"My-de'-seh!" exclaimed the Creole, "they lied to me - said they would
not harm him!")

He was brought at sunrise to the plantation. The air was sweet with the
smell of the weed-grown fields. The long-horned oxen that drew him and
the naked boy that drove the team stopped before his cabin.

"You cannot put that creature in there," said the thoughtful overseer.
"He would suffocate under a roof - he has been too long out-of-doors for
that. Put him on my cottage porch." There, at last, Palmyre burst into
tears and sank down, while before her, on a soft bed of dry grass,
rested the helpless form of the captive giant, a cloth thrown over his
galled back, his ears shorn from his head, and the tendons behind his
knees severed. His eyes were dry, but there was in them that unspeakable
despair that fills the eye of the charger when, fallen in battle, he
gazes with sidewise-bended neck on the ruin wrought upon him. His eye
turned sometimes slowly to his wife. He need not demand her now - she was
always by him.

There was much talk over him - much idle talk. He merely lay still under
it with a fixed frown; but once some incautious tongue dropped the name
of Agricola. The black man's eyes came so quickly round to Palmyre that
she thought he would speak; but no; his words were all in his eyes. She
answered their gleam with a fierce affirmative glance, whereupon he
slowly bent his head and spat upon the floor.

There was yet one more trial of his wild nature. The mandate came from
his master's sick-bed that he must lift the curse.

Bras-Coupé merely smiled. God keep thy enemy from such a smile!

The overseer, with a policy less Spanish than his master's, endeavored
to use persuasion. But the fallen prince would not so much as turn one
glance from his parted hamstrings. Palmyre was then besought to
intercede. She made one poor attempt, but her husband was nearer doing
her an unkindness than ever he had been before; he made a slow sign for
silence - with his fist; and every mouth was stopped.

At midnight following, there came, on the breeze that blew from the
mansion, a sound of running here and there, of wailing and
sobbing - another Bridegroom was coming, and the Spaniard, with much such
a lamp in hand as most of us shall be found with, neither burning
brightly nor wholly gone out, went forth to meet Him.

"Bras-Coupé," said Palmyre, next evening, speaking low in his mangled
ear, "the master is dead; he is just buried. As he was dying,
Bras-Coupé, he asked that you would forgive him."

The maimed man looked steadfastly at his wife. He had not spoken since
the lash struck him, and he spoke not now; but in those large, clear
eyes, where his remaining strength seemed to have taken refuge as in a
citadel, the old fierceness flared up for a moment, and then, like an
expiring beacon, went out.

"Is your mistress well enough by this time to venture here?" whispered
the overseer to Palmyre. "Let her come. Tell her not to fear, but to
bring the babe - in her own arms, tell her - quickly!"

The lady came, her infant boy in her arms, knelt down beside the bed of
sweet grass and set the child within the hollow of the African's arm.
Bras-Coupé turned his gaze upon it; it smiled, its mother's smile, and
put its hand upon the runaway's face, and the first tears of
Bras-Coupé's life, the dying testimony of his humanity, gushed from his
eyes and rolled down his cheek upon the infant's hand. He laid his own
tenderly upon the babe's forehead, then removing it, waved it abroad,
inaudibly moved his lips, dropped his arm, and closed his eyes. The
curse was lifted.

"_Le pauv' dgiab'_!" said the overseer, wiping his eyes and looking
fieldward. "Palmyre, you must get the priest."

The priest came, in the identical gown in which he had appeared the
night of the two weddings. To the good father's many tender questions
Bras-Coupé turned a failing eye that gave no answers; until, at length:

"Do you know where you are going?" asked the holy man.

"Yes," answered his eyes, brightening.

"Where?"

He did not reply; he was lost in contemplation, and seemed looking far
away.

So the question was repeated.

"Do you know where you are going?"

And again the answer of the eyes. He knew.

"Where?"

The overseer at the edge of the porch, the widow with her babe, and
Palmyre and the priest bending over the dying bed, turned an eager ear
to catch the answer.

"To - " the voice failed a moment; the departing hero essayed again;
again it failed; he tried once more, lifted his hand, and with an
ecstatic, upward smile, whispered, "To - Africa" - and was gone.




CHAPTER XXX

PARALYSIS


As we have said, the story of Bras-Coupé was told that day three times:
to the Grandissime beauties once, to Frowenfeld twice. The fair
Grandissimes all agreed, at the close; that it was pitiful. Specially,
that it was a great pity to have hamstrung Bras-Coupé, a man who even in
his cursing had made an exception in favor of the ladies. True, they
could suggest no alternative; it was undeniable that he had deserved his
fate; still, it seemed a pity. They dispersed, retired and went to sleep
confirmed in this sentiment. In Frowenfeld the story stirred
deeper feelings.

On this same day, while it was still early morning, Honoré Grandissime,
f.m.c., with more than even his wonted slowness of step and propriety of
rich attire, had reappeared in the shop of the rue Royale. He did not
need to say he desired another private interview. Frowenfeld ushered him
silently and at once into his rear room, offered him a chair (which he
accepted), and sat down before him.

In his labored way the quadroon stated his knowledge that Frowenfeld had
been three times to the dwelling of Palmyre Philosophe. Why, he further
intimated, he knew not, nor would he ask; but _he_ - when _he_ had
applied for admission - had been refused. He had laid open his heart to
the apothecary's eyes - "It may have been unwisely - "

Frowenfeld interrupted him; Palmyre had been ill for several days;
Doctor Keene - who, Mr. Grandissime probably knew, was her physician -

The landlord bowed, and Frowenfeld went on to explain that Doctor Keene,
while attending her, had also fallen sick and had asked him to take the
care of this one case until he could himself resume it. So there, in a
word, was the reason why Joseph had, and others had not, been admitted
to her presence.

As obviously to the apothecary's eyes as anything intangible could be, a
load of suffering was lifted from the quadroon's mind, as this
explanation was concluded. Yet he only sat in meditation before his
tenant, who regarded him long and sadly. Then, seized with one of his
energetic impulses, he suddenly said:

"Mr. Grandissime, you are a man of intelligence, accomplishments,
leisure and wealth; why" (clenchings his fists and frowning),
"why do you not give yourself - your
time - wealth - attainments - energies - everything - to the cause of the
downtrodden race with which this community's scorn unjustly compels you
to rank yourself?"

The quadroon did not meet Frowenfeld's kindled eyes for a moment, and
when he did, it was slowly and dejectedly.

"He canno' be," he said, and then, seeing his words were not understood,
he added: "He 'ave no Cause. Dad peop' 'ave no Cause." He went on from
this with many pauses and gropings after words and idiom, to tell, with
a plaintiveness that seemed to Frowenfeld almost unmanly, the reasons
why the people, a little of whose blood had been enough to blast his
life, would never be free by the force of their own arm. Reduced to the
meanings which he vainly tried to convey in words, his statement was
this: that that people was not a people. Their cause - was in Africa.
They upheld it there - they lost it there - and to those that are here the
struggle was over; they were, one and all, prisoners of war.

"You speak of them in the third person," said Frowenfeld.

"Ah ham nod a slev."

"Are you certain of that?" asked the tenant.

His landlord looked at him.

"It seems to me," said Frowenfeld, "that you - your class - the free
quadroons - are the saddest slaves of all. Your men, for a little
property, and your women, for a little amorous attention, let themselves
be shorn even of the virtue of discontent, and for a paltry bait of sham
freedom have consented to endure a tyrannous contumely which flattens
them into the dirt like grass under a slab. I would rather be a runaway
in the swamps than content myself with such a freedom. As your class
stands before the world to-day - free in form but slaves in spirit - you
are - I do not know but I was almost ready to say - a warning to
philanthropists!"

The free man of color slowly arose.

"I trust you know," said Frowenfeld, "that I say nothing in offence."

"Havery word is tru'," replied the sad man.

"Mr. Grandissime," said the apothecary, as his landlord sank back again
into his seat, "I know you are a broken-hearted man."

The quadroon laid his fist upon his heart and looked up.

"And being broken-hearted, you are thus specially fitted for a work of
patient and sustained self-sacrifice. You have only those things to lose
which grief has taught you to despise - ease, money, display. Give
yourself to your people - to those, I mean, who groan, or should groan,
under the degraded lot which is theirs and yours in common."

The quadroon shook his head, and after a moment's silence, answered:

"Ah cannod be one Toussaint l'Ouverture. Ah cannod trah to be. Hiv I
trah, I h-only s'all soogceed to be one Bras-Coupé."

"You entirely misunderstand me," said Frowenfeld in quick response. "I
have no stronger disbelief than my disbelief in insurrection. I believe
that to every desirable end there are two roads, the way of strife and
the way of peace. I can imagine a man in your place, going about among
his people, stirring up their minds to a noble discontent, laying out
his means, sparingly here and bountifully there, as in each case might
seem wisest, for their enlightenment, their moral elevation, their
training in skilled work; going, too, among the men of the prouder
caste, among such as have a spirit of fairness, and seeking to prevail
with them for a public recognition of the rights of all; using all his
cunning to show them the double damage of all oppression, both great and
petty - "

The quadroon motioned "enough." There was a heat in his eyes which
Frowenfeld had never seen before.

"M'sieu'," he said, "waid till Agricola Fusilier ees keel."

"Do you mean 'dies'?"

"No," insisted the quadroon; "listen." And with slow, painstaking phrase
this man of strong feeling and feeble will (the trait of his caste)
told - as Frowenfeld felt he would do the moment he said "listen" - such
part of the story of Bras-Coupé as showed how he came by his deadly
hatred of Agricola.

"Tale me," said the landlord, as he concluded the recital, "w'y deen
Bras Coupé mague dad curze on Agricola Fusilier? Becoze Agricola ees one
sorcier! Elz 'e bin dade sinz long tamm."

The speaker's gestures seemed to imply that his own hand, if need be,
would have brought the event to pass.

As he rose to say adieu, Frowenfeld, without previous intention, laid a
hand upon his visitor's arm.

"Is there no one who can make peace between you?"

The landlord shook his head.

"'Tis impossib'. We don' wand."

"I mean," insisted Frowenfeld, "Is there no man who can stand between
you and those who wrong you, and effect a peaceful reparation?"

The landlord slowly moved away, neither he nor his tenant speaking, but
each knowing that the one man in the minds of both, as a possible
peacemaker, was Honoré Grandissime.

"Should the opportunity offer," continued Joseph, "may I speak a word
for you myself?"

The quadroon paused a moment, smiled politely though bitterly, and
departed repeating again:

"'Tis impossib'. We don' wand."

"Palsied," murmured Frowenfeld, looking after him, regretfully, - "like
all of them."

Frowenfeld's thoughts were still on the same theme when, the day having
passed, the hour was approaching wherein Innerarity was exhorted to tell
his good-night story in the merry circle at the distant Grandissime
mansion. As the apothecary was closing his last door for the night, the
fairer Honoré called him out into the moonlight.

"Withered," the student was saying audibly to himself, "not in the
shadow of the Ethiopian, but in the glare of the white man."

"Who is withered?" pleasantly demanded Honoré. The apothecary started
slightly.

"Did I speak? How do you do, sir? I meant the free quadroons."

"Including the gentleman from whom you rent your store?"

"Yes, him especially; he told me this morning the story of Bras-Coupé."

M. Grandissime laughed. Joseph did not see why, nor did the laugh sound
entirely genuine.

"Do not open the door, Mr Frowenfeld," said the Creole, "Get your
greatcoat and cane and come take a walk with me; I will tell you the
same story."

It was two hours before they approached this door again on their return.
Just before they reached it, Honoré stopped under the huge street-lamp,
whose light had gone out, where a large stone lay before him on the
ground in the narrow, moonlit street. There was a tall, unfinished
building at his back.

"Mr Frowenfeld," - he struck the stone with his cane, - "this stone is
Bras-Coupé - we cast it aside because it turns the edge of our tools."

He laughed. He had laughed to-night more than was comfortable to a man
of Frowenfeld's quiet mind.

As the apothecary thrust his shopkey into the lock and so paused to hear
his companion, who had begun again to speak, he wondered what it could
be - for M. Grandissime had not disclosed it - that induced such a man as
he to roam aimlessly, as it seemed, in deserted streets at such chill
and dangerous hours. "What does he want with me?" The thought was so
natural that it was no miracle the Creole read it.

"Well," said he, smiling and taking an attitude, "you are a great man
for causes, Mr. Frowenfeld; but me, I am for results, ha, ha! You may
ponder the philosophy of Bras-Coupé in your study, but _I_ have got to
get rid of his results, me. You know them."

"You tell me it revived a war where you had made a peace," said
Frowenfeld.

"Yes - yes - that is his results; but good night, Mr. Frowenfeld."

"Good night, sir."




CHAPTER XXXI

ANOTHER WOUND IN A NEW PLACE


Each day found Doctor Keene's strength increasing, and on the morning
following the incidents last recorded he was imprudently projecting an
outdoor promenade. An announcement from Honoré Grandissime, who had
paid an early call, had, to that gentleman's no small surprise, produced
a sudden and violent effect on the little man's temper.

He was sitting alone by his window, looking out upon the levee, when the
apothecary entered the apartment.

"Frowenfeld," he instantly began, with evident displeasure most
unaccountable to Joseph, "I hear you have been visiting the Nancanous."

"Yes, I have been there."

"Well, you had no business to go!"

Doctor Keene smote the arm of his chair with his fist.

Frowenfeld reddened with indignation, but suppressed his retort. He
stood still in the middle of the floor, and Doctor Keene looked out of
the window.

"Doctor Keene," said the visitor, when his attitude was no longer
tolerable, "have you anything more to say to me before I leave you?"

"No, sir."

"It is necessary for me, then, to say that in fulfilment of my promise,
I am going from here to the house of Palmyre, and that she will need no
further attention after to-day. As to your present manner toward me, I
shall endeavor to suspend judgment until I have some knowledge of
its cause."

The doctor made no reply, but went on looking out of the window, and
Frowenfeld turned and left him.

As he arrived in the philosophe's sick-chamber - where he found her
sitting in a chair set well back from a small fire - she half-whispered
"Miché" with a fine, greeting smile, as if to a brother after a week's
absence. To a person forced to lie abed, shut away from occupation and
events, a day is ten, three are a month: not merely in the wear and tear
upon the patience, but also in the amount of thinking and recollecting
done. It was to be expected, then, that on this, the apothecary's fourth
visit, Palmyre would have learned to take pleasure in his coming.

But the smile was followed by a faint, momentary frown, as if Frowenfeld
had hardly returned it in kind. Likely enough, he had not. He was not
distinctively a man of smiles; and as he engaged in his appointed task
she presently thought of this.

"This wound is doing so well," said Joseph, still engaged with the
bandages, "that I shall not need to come again." He was not looking at
her as he spoke, but he felt her give a sudden start. "What is this?" he
thought, but presently said very quietly: "With the assistance of your
slave woman, you can now attend to it yourself."

She made no answer.

When, with a bow, he would have bade her good morning, she held out her
hand for his. After a barely perceptible hesitation, he gave it,
whereupon she held it fast, in a way to indicate that there was
something to be said which he must stay and hear.

She looked up into his face. She may have been merely framing in her
mind the word or two of English she was about to utter; but an
excitement shone through her eyes and reddened her lips, and something
sent out from her countenance a look of wild distress.

"You goin' tell 'im?" she asked.

"Who? Agricola?"

"_Non_!"

He spoke the next name more softly.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe Grandissimes → online text (page 16 of 27)