Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

Southern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry online

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up his sleeves, he opened his coat-tails a leetle further, he
drug up his stool, he leaned over, and, sir, he just went for
that old planner. He slapt her face, he boxed her jaws, he
pulled her nose, he pinched her ears, and he scratched her
cheeks, till she farly yelled. He knockt her down and he
stompt on her shameful. She bellowed like a bull, she bleated
like a calf, she howled like a hound, she squealed like a pig,
she shrieked like a rat, and then he would n t let her up. He
run a quarter-stretch down the low grounds of the bass, till he
got clean into the bowels of the earth, and you heard thunder
galloping after thunder, through the hollows and caves of
perdition ; and then he fox-chased his right hand with his left
till he got away out of the trible into the clouds, whar the
notes was finer than the pints of cambric needles, and you
could n t hear nothin but the shadders of em. And then he
wouldn t let the old pianner go. He fetcht up his right wing,
he fetcht up his left wing, he fetcht up his center, he fetcht up
his reserves. He fired by file, he fired by platoons, by com
pany, by regiments, and by brigades. He opened his cannon,
siege-guns down thar, Napoleons here, twelve-pounders yonder,
big guns, little guns, middle-sized guns, round shot, shell,
shrapnel, grape, canister, mortars, mines, and magazines, every
livin batter) and bomb a-goin at the same time. The house
trembled, the lights danced, the walls shuk, the floor come up,
the ceilin come down, the sky split, the ground rockt BANG !


"With that bang! he lifted hisself bodily into the ar , and he
come down with his knees, his ten fingers, his ten toes, his
elbows, and his nose, strikin every single solitary key on that
pianner at the same time. The thing busted and went off into
seventeen hundred and fifty-seven thousand five hundred and^
forty-two hemi-demi-semi-quivers, and I know d no mo ."



[George Washington Cable was born in New Orleans. Louisiana,
in 1844. Though very young when the Civil War began, he served
in the Fourth Mississippi Cavalry.
After the war he was for some
years a surveyor and then a clerk in
a cotton factor s office. He gave up
this position to become a reporter
on the New Orleans Picayune, for
which he had been writing sketches.
Reporting was, however, not to his
taste, and finding that the stories
he had had time to write between
his newspaper duties were accept
able to Sc rib tier s Magazine and
other periodicals, he decided in
1 879 to devote himself to literature
as a profession. In 1 886 he moved
to Northampton, Massachusetts,
where he still resides. While en
gaged in newspaper work he began
to write sketches of New Orleans
life. These he later gathered into his book " Old Creole Days," pub
lished in 1879. Since then he has written several novels and collec
tions of short stories, nearly all of which have his distinctive background
of Louisiana Creole life. Becoming interested in philanthropic enter
prises, he has given much time and energy to the promotion of societies
for social betterment, such as the Home Culture Clubs, founded in
1887, .now the Northampton People s Institute. In addition to the
writing of books, he has lectured on literary and philanthropic subjects
and h&s given readings from his own stories.]




Whoever has been to New Orleans with eyes not totally
abandoned to buying and selling will, of course, remember
St. Louis Cathedral, looking southeastward riverward
across quaint Jackson Square, the old Place d Armes. And if
he has any feeling for flowers, he has not forgotten the little
garden behind the cathedral, so antique and unexpected, named
for the beloved old priest Pere Antoine.

The old Rue Royale lies across the sleeping garden s foot.
On the street s farther side another street lets away at right
angles, northwestward, straight, and imperceptibly downward
from the cathedral and garden toward the rear of the city. It
is lined mostly with humble ground-floor-and-garret houses of
stuccoed brick, their wooden doorsteps on the brick sidewalks.
This is Orleans Street, so named when the city was founded.

Its rugged round-stone pavement is at times nearly as sunny
and silent as the landward side of a coral reef. Thus for about
half a mile ; and then Rampart Street, where the palisade wall
of the town used to run in Spanish days, crosses it, and a public
square just beyond draws a grateful canopy of oak and sycamore
boughs. That is the Place. One may shut his buff umbrella
there, wipe the beading sweat from the brow, and fan himself
with his hat. Many s the bullfight has taken place on that spot
Sunday afternoons of the old time. That is Congo Square.

The trees are modern. So are the buildings about the four
sides, for all their aged looks. So are all the grounds adorn
ments. Tre me market, off beyond, toward the swamp, is not

1 Owing to inability to secure permission from the publishers of Mr. Cable s
works to include a selection from his short stories or his novels, I have availed
myself of this vivid sketch of a characteristic feature of the old life of New
Orleans. The article was originally contributed to the Century Magazine^
Vol. XXXI, page 517.


so very old, and the scowling, ill-smelling prison on the right,
so Spanish-looking and dilapidated, is not a third the age it
seems ; not fifty-five. In that climate every year of a building s
age counts for ten. Before any of these M. Cayetano s circus
and menagerie were here. Cayetane the negroes called him.
He was the Barnum of that region and day.

Miche Cayetane. qui sortie del Havane,
Avec so chouals et somacaques.

That is, " who came from Havana with his horses and baboons."
Up at the other end of Orleans Street, hid only by the old
padre s garden and the cathedral, glistens the ancient Place
d Armes. In the early days it stood for all that was best; the
place for political rallying, the retail quarter of all fine goods
and wares, and at sunset and by moonlight the promenade of
good society and the haunt of true lovers; not only in the
military, but also in the most unwarlike sense the place of
arms, and of hearts and hands, and of words tender as well
as words noble.

The Place Congo, at the opposite end of the street, was at
the opposite end of everything. One was on the highest ground ;
the other on the lowest. The one was the rendezvous of the
rich man, the master, the military officer of all that went to
make up the ruling class ; the other of the butcher and baker,
the raftsman, the sailor, the quadroon, the painted girl, and
the negro slave. No meaner name could be given the spot.
The negro was the most despised of human creatures and the
Congo the plebeian among negroes. The white man s plaza
had the army and navy on its right and left, the courthouse,
the council-hall and the church at its back, and the world before
it. The black man s was outside the rear gate, the poisonous
wilderness on three sides and the proud man s contumely on
its front.


Before the city overgrew its flimsy palisade walls, and closing
in about this old stamping-ground gave it set bounds, it was
known as Congo Plains. There was wide room for much field
sport, and the Indian villagers of the town s outskirts and the
lower class of white Creoles made it the ground of their wild
ball game of raquette. Sunday afternoons were the time for it.
Hence, beside these diversions there was, notably, another.

The hour was the slave s term of momentary liberty, and his
simple, savage, musical and superstitious nature dedicated it to
amatory song and dance tinctured with his rude notions of
supernatural influences.


The booming of African drums and blast of huge wooden
horns called to the gathering. It was these notes of invitation,
reaching beyond those of other outlandish instruments, that
caught the Ethiopian ear, put alacrity into the dark foot, and
brought their owners, male and female, trooping from all quar
ters. The drums were very long, hollowed, often from a single
piece of wood, open at one end and having a sheep or goat
skin stretched across the other. One was large, the other much
smaller. The tight skin heads were not held up to be struck ;
the drums were laid along on the turf and the drummers be
strode them, and beat them on the head madly with fingers,
fists, and feet, with slow vehemence on the great drum, and
fiercely and rapidly on the small one. Sometimes an extra per
former sat on the ground behind the larger drum, at its open
end, and " beat upon the wooden sides of it with two sticks."
The smaller drum was often made from a joint or two of very
large bamboo, in the West Indies where such could be got, and
this is said to be the origin of its name ; for it was called the


In stolen hours of night or the basking-hour of noon the black
man contrived to fashion these rude instruments and others.
The drummers, I say, bestrode the drums ; the other musicians
sat about them in an arc, cross-legged on the ground. One im
portant instrument was a gourd partly filled with pebbles or
grains of corn, flourished violently at the end of a stout staff
with one hand and beaten upon the palm of the other. Other
performers rang triangles, and others twanged from jew s-harps
an astonishing amount of sound. Another instrument was the
jawbone of some ox, horse, or mule, and a key rattled rhyth
mically along its weather-beaten teeth. At times the drums
were reenforced by one or more empty barrels or casks beaten
on the head with the shank bones of cattle.

A queer thing that went with these when the affair was pre
tentious full dress, as it were at least it was so in the
West Indies, whence Congo Plains drew all inspirations was
the Marimba brett, a union of reed and string principles. A
single strand of wire ran lengthwise of a bit of wooden board,
sometimes a shallow box of thin wood, some eight inches long
by four or five in width, across which, under the wire, were
several joints of reed about a quarter of an inch in diameter
and of graduated lengths. The performer, sitting cross-legged,
held the board in both hands and plucked the ends of the reeds
with his thumb-nails. The result was called music.

But the grand instrument at last, the first violin, as one might
say, was the banjo. It had but four strings, not six : beware of
the dictionary. It is not the " favorite musical instrument of the
negroes of the Southern States of America." Uncle Remus
says truly that that is the fiddle ; but for the true African dance,
a dance not so much of legs and feet as of the upper half of the
body, a sensual, devilish thing tolerated only by Latin-American
masters, there was wanted the dark inspiration of African drums
and the banjo s thrump and strum.


And then there was that long-drawn human cry of tremen
dous volume, richness, and resound, to which no instrument
within their reach could make the faintest approach :

Eh ! pou la belle Layotte ma mourri nocent,
Oui nocent ma mourri !

all the instruments silent while it rises and swells with mighty
energy and dies away distantly, " Yea-a-a-a-a-a ! " then the
crash of savage drums, horns, and rattles

For the fair Layotte I must crazy die !
Yes, crazy I must die !

To all this. there was sometimes added a Pan s-pipe of but
three reeds, made from single joints of the common brake cane,
and called by English-speaking negroes " the quills." . . .

Such was the full band. All the values of contrast that dis
cord can furnish must have been present, with whatever there
is of ecstasy in maddening repetition, for of this the African
can never have too much.

And yet there was entertaining variety. Where ? In the
dance ! There was constant, exhilarating novelty endless
invention in the turning, bowing, arm-swinging, posturing,
and leaping of the dancers. Moreover, the music of Congo
Plains was not tamed to mere monotone. Monotone became
subordinate to many striking qualities. The strain was wild.
Its contact with French taste gave it often great tenderness
of sentiment. It grew in fervor, and rose and sank, and rose
again, with the play of emotion in the singers and dancers.


It was a weird one. The negro of colonial Louisiana was a
most grotesque figure. He was nearly naked. Often his neck
and arms, thighs, shanks, and splay feet were shrunken, tough,


sinewy like a monkey s. Sometimes it was scant diet and cruel
labor that had made them so. Even the requirement of law
was only that he should have not less than a barrel of corn
nothing else a month, nor get more than thirty lashes to
the twenty-four hours. The whole world was crueler those
times than now ; we must not judge them by our own.

Often the slave s attire was only a cotton shirt, or a pair of
pantaloons hanging in indecent tatters to his naked waist. The
bondwoman was well clad who had on as much as a coarse
chemise and petticoat. To add a tignon a Madras handker
chief twisted into a turban was high gentility, and the num
ber of kerchiefs beyond that one was the measure of absolute
wealth. Some were rich in tignons ; especially those who served
within the house, and pleased the mistress, or even the master
there were Hagars in those days. However, Congo Plains
did not gather the house servants so much as the " field-hands."

These came in troops. See them ; wilder than gypsies ;
wilder than the Moors and Arabs whose strong blood and
features one sees at a glance in so many of them ; gangs,
as they were called, gangs and gangs of them, from this and
that and yonder direction ; tall, well-knit Senegalese from Cape
Verde, black as ebony, with intelligent, kindly eyes and long,
straight, shapely noses ; Mandingoes, from the Gambia River,
lighter of color, of cruder form, and a cunning that shows in
the countenance ; \vhose enslavement seems specially a shame,
their nation the " merchants of Africa," dwelling in towns,
industrious, thrifty, skilled in commerce and husbandry, and
expert in the working of metals, even to silver and gold ; and
Fulahs, playfully miscalled " Poulards" - fat chickens, of
goodly stature, and with a perceptible rose tint in the cheeks ;
and Sosos, famous warriors, dexterous with the African targe ;
and in contrast to these, with small ears, thick eyebrows, bright
eyes, flat, upturned noses, shining skin, wide mouths and white


teeth, the negroes of Guinea, true and unmixed, from the Gold
Coast, the Slave Coast, and the Cape of Palms not from the
Grain Coast; the English had that trade. See them come!
Popoes, Cotocolies, Fidas, Socoes, Agwas, short, copper-
colored Mines what havoc the slavers did make ! and
from interior Africa others equally proud and warlike : fierce
Nagoes and Fonds ; tawny Awassas ; Iboes, so light-colored
that one could not tell them from mulattoes but for their
national tattooing ; and the half-civilized and quick-witted but
ferocious Arada, the original Voudoo worshiper. And how
many more ! For here come, also, men and women from all
that great Congo coast, Angola, Malimbe, Ambrice, etc.,
small, good-natured, sprightly " boys," and gay, garrulous
" gals," thick-lipped but not tattooed ; chattering, chaffering,
singing, and guffawing as they come : these are they for whom
the dance and the place are named, the most numerous sort of
negro in the colonies, the Congoes and Franc-Congoes, and
though serpent worshipers, yet the gentlest and kindliest
natures that came from Africa. Such was the company.
Among these bossals that is, native Africans there was, of
course, an ever-growing number of negroes who proudly called
themselves Creole negroes, that is, born in America ; J and
at the present time there is only here and there an old native
African to be met with, vain of his singularity and trembling
on his staff.


The gathering throng closed in around, leaving unoccupied
the circle indicated by the crescent of musicians. The short,
harsh turf was the dancing floor. The crowd stood. Fancy the

1 This broader use of the term is very common. The Creole f dialect " is the
broken English of the Creoles, while the Creole patois is the corrupt French, not
of the Creoles, but rather of the former slave race in the country of the Creoles.
So of Creole negroes and Creole dances and songs. [Author s note.]


picture. The pack of dark, tattered figures touched off every
here and there with the bright colors of a Madras tignon. The
squatting, cross-legged musicians. The low-roofed, embowered
town off in front, with here and there a spire lifting a finger of
feeble remonstrance ; the flat, grassy plain stretching around
and behind, dotted with black stumps ; in the distance the
pale-green willow undergrowth, behind it the cypriere the
cypress swamp and in the pale, seven-times-heated sky the
sun, only a little declined to south and westward, pouring down
its beams.

With what particular musical movements the occasion oegan
does not now appear. May be with very slow and measured
ones; they had such that were strange and typical. I have
heard the negroes sing one though it was not of the dance-
ground but of the cane-field that showed the emphatic bar
barism of five bars to the line, and was confined to four notes
of the open horn.

But I can only say that with some such slow and quiet strain
the dance may have been preluded. It suits the Ethiopian fancy
for a beginning to be dull and repetitious ; the bottom of the
ladder must be on the ground.

The singers almost at the first note are many. At the end
of the first line every voice is lifted up. The strain is given the
second time with growing spirit. Yonder glistening black Her
cules, who plants one foot forward, lifts his head and bare,
shining chest, and rolls out the song from a mouth and throat
like a cavern, is a candio, a chief, or was before he was over
thrown in battle and dragged away, his village burning behind
him, from the mountains of High Soudan. That is an African
amulet that hangs about his neck a greegree. He is of the
Bambaras, as you may know by his solemn visage and the long
tattoo streaks running down from the temples to the neck,
broadest in the middle, like knife-gashes. See his play of



[Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1848.

He left school at the age of twelve to go to the farm of a Mr.

Turner, nine miles from Eaton-
ton, to learn the printer s trade
in connection with the publi
cation of a newspaper. Most
of his training for his future
work was obtained from the
books of Mr. Turner s library
and from the negroes on the
plantation, from whom he
stored his mind with their folk
lore. In 1876 Harris became
a member of the editorial staff
of the Atlanta Constitution.
For this paper he wrote the
negro folk tales which were
gathered into the volume
" Uncle Remus : his Songs and
Sayings," published in 1880.
This book at once gave the
author a national reputation,
which has been sustained by

his further volumes dealing with negro folklore and the life of

Georgia country people. He died at his home, " Sign of the Wren s

Nest," in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1908.]



When the little boy, whose nights with Uncle Remus are as
entertaining as those Arabian ones of blessed memory, had
finished supper the other evening and hurried out to sit with
his venerable patron, he found the old man in great glee.
Indeed, Uncle Remus was talking and laughing to himself at


such a rate that the little boy was afraid he had company. The
truth is, Uncle Remus had heard the child coming, and when
the rosy-cheeked chap put his head in the door, was engaged
in a monologue, the burden of which seemed to be :

Ole Molly Ha r
Wat you doirv d ar
Settin in de cornder
Smokin yo seegyar?

As a matter of course, this vague allusion reminded the little
boy of the fact that the wicked Fox was still in pursuit of the
Rabbit, and he immediately put his curiosity in the shape of a

" Uncle Remus, did the Rabbit have to go clean away when
he got loose from the Tar-baby ? "

" Bless grashus, honey, dat he did n t. Who ? Him ? You
dunno nuthin tall bout Brer Rabbit ef dat s de way you put-
tin em down. Wat he gwine way fer ? He mouter stayed
sorter close twell de pitch rub off n his ha r, but twan t menny
days fo he waz lopin up en down de naberhood same ez ever,
en I dunno ef he were n t mo sassier den befo ,

" Seem like dat de tale bout how he got mixt up wid de Tar-
baby got roun mongst de nabers. Leas ways, Miss Meadows
en de gals got win un it, en de nex time Brer Rabbit paid um
a visit, Miss Meadows tackled im bout it, en de gals sot up a
monst us gigglement. Brer Rabbit, he sot up des ez cool ez
a cowcumber, he did, en let em run on."

" Who was Miss Meadows, L^ncle Remus ? " inquired the
little boy.

" Don ax me, honey. She was in de tale, en de tale I give
you like hit were gun ter me. Brer Rabbit, he sot dar, he did,
sorter lam like, en den bimeby he cross his legs, he did, en
wink his eye slow en up en say, sezee :


: Ladies, Brer Fox wuz my daddy s ridin boss fer thirty
year ; maybe mo , but thirty year dat I knows un ! sezee, en
den he paid em his spects, en tip his beaver, en march off, he
did, des ez stiff en ez stuck up ez a fire-stick.

" Nex day, Brer Fox cum callin , en w en he gun fer ter laff
bout Brer Rabbit, Miss Meadows en de gals, dey ups en tells
im bout w at Brer Rabbit said. Den Brer Fox grit his toof
sho nuff, he did, en he look mighty dumpy, but w en he riz fer
ter go, he up en say, sezee :

Ladies, I ain t sputin w at you say, but I 11 make Brer
Rabbit chaw up his words en spit um out right here whar you
kin see im, sezee, en wid dat off Brer Fox marcht.

" En w en he got in de big road, he shuck de dew off n his
tail, en made a straight shoot fer Brer Rabbit s house. W en
he got dar, Brer Rabbit wuz spectin un im, en de do was
shet fas . Brer Fox knock. Nobody never ans er. Brer Fox
knock. Nobody ans er. Den he knock ag in blam, blam.
Den Brer Rabbit holler out mighty weak :

Is dat you, Brer Fox ? I want you to run fer ter fetch de
doctor. Dat bait er pusly w at I et dis mawnin is gittin way
wid me. Do please run quick, Brer Fox/ sez Brer Rabbit,

* I come atter you, Brer Rabbit, sez Brer Fox, sezee.
* Dere s gwineter be a party over at Miss Meadows s, sezee.
All de gals 11 be dere, en I promus dat I d fetch you. De
gals, dey lowed dat hit would n t be no party ceppin I fotch
you, sez Brer Fox, sezee.

" Den Brer Rabbit say he was too sick, en Brer Fox say he
wuzzent, en dar dey had it up and down, sputin en contendin .
Brer Rabbit say he could n t walk. Brer Fox say he d tote im.
Brer Rabbit say how ? Brer Fox say in his arms. Brer Rabbit
say he d drap im. Brer Fox low he would n t. Bimeby, Brer
Rabbit say he d go ef Brer Fox tote im on his back. Brer Fox


say he would. Brer Rabbit say he could n t ride widout a
saddle. Brer Fox say he d git de saddle. Brer Rabbit say he
could n t set in de saddle less he had bridle fer ter hoi by. Brer
Fox say he d git de bridle. Brer Rabbit say he could n t ride
widout bline-bridle, kaze Brer Fox d be shyin at stumps long
de road, en fling im off. Brer Fox say he d git de bline-bridle.
Den Brer Rabbit say he d go. Den Brer Fox say he d ride
Brer Rabbit mos up ter Miss Meadows s en den he could git
down en walk de balance er de way. Brer Rabbit greed, en
den Brer Fox lipt out atter de saddle en bridle.

" Co se Brer Rabbit know d de game dat Brer Fox wuz fixin
fer ter play, en he termined fer ter outdo im, en by de time he
koam his ha r en twis his mustash, en sorter rig up, here come
Brer Fox, saddle en bridle on, en lookin ez peart ez a circus
pony. He trot up ter de do en stood dar pawin de groun en
chompin de bit same like sho nuff hoss, en Brer Rabbit he
mounted, he did, en dey amble off. Brer Fox could n t see
behine wid de bline-bridle on, but bimeby he feel Brer Rabbit
raise one er his foots.

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonSouthern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry → online text (page 21 of 35)