"Here and There in the South"
Harper's New Monthly Magazine
Harper's New Monthly Magazine
I.--Old and New
THE train that rushed out of the wide winding suburbs of Washington down into Virginia, in the dawn of a cold February morning, was filled with Northerners going to New Orleans. They had, oddly enough, the alert, expectant air of explorers into an unknown country. The men looked out on the sleepy streets of Alexandria with as critical eyes as if it had been its namesake in Egypt, and the women buttoned their tight ulsters more closely, and slung their alligator satchels to their sides in readiness for any emergency.
They were intelligent people of the class who have leisure; they were familiar with the upper range of States; many of them ran over to Europe or to California every summer. But this three-cornered segment of their country, which had a climate, history, and character of its own, was foreign to them as Arabia Felix.
“I was in the South thirty years ago,” said one fidgety old gentleman. “Visited a college found in eastern Virginia. Queer life! Great scrambling house in a large plantation, crowded with guests; leaky roof, magnificent old family plate, patched carpets, negroes swarming everywhere. Saddled horses hitched always by the door in case you wanted to cross a field. Old families, each with its coat of arms and pride of birth. The most generous, unmethodical, kindly people in the world.”
The old gentleman in his enthusiasm took off his silk travelling cap, letting the cold wind blow over his bald head with its fringe of gray hair. His wife—a pudgy, prim little woman—replaced it with, “You forget, my dear!”
“Yes, yes. I forget I’m a broken-down old invalid when I think of those days. It makes me a lad again to get into the South,” turning to his listening neighbors. “I’ve been pastor of a church in western New York for forty years, you see. Never took a holiday. Some chronic trouble set in last fall, and the doctors said—Europe. My people raised the money at once. But I said, I’ll go South and rest. No Europe for me. Why, gentlemen, in all the drive and struggle of those forty years the remembrance of the leisure and quiet, the laziness if you like, of the South, has come before me like a glimpse of the Isles of the Blest! Life there is not all money-getting. They take it as they go.”
His companions listened to the eager talk of the garrulous old fellow with assenting nods and smiles, he being one of those people to whom the world in all of its humors says yes and smiles. But they did not at all agree with him. Having the usual large careless good-humor of the American, they had no lingering grudge or bitterness against the South because of the war. But it was alien to them, as it had always been; they were men whose occupations and thoughts ran in fixed and narrow ruts, and like the great mass of average Northerners they knew the South only through long-ago recollections or hearsay traditions. It was in their minds a vague tropical stretch of sugar and cotton and rice fields, peopled by indolent, arrogant men and haughty, languid women, their feet still firmly set on the necks of the negro race.
The names of the stations, too, began to recall the fact that they were in a once hostile country, and among a people who had been their foe. As the conductor shouted “Fairfax,” “Manassas,” Culpepper,” they looked out eagerly at the snow-covered fields and the unpainted wooden station-houses which replaced the brick Queen Anne villas affected by Northern railways, expecting to find something novel and foreign. A few lean, nervous-looking white men were at work on the platforms, and a crowd of negroes shouldered each other away from the car windows.
“Fried chicken, sah?”
“Col’ boil tongue? Nice snack!”
“Hyah’s yoh wine-saps! Albermarle apples!”
Mr. Ely, the old clergyman, bought apples and tongue from half a dozen, looking out laughing from the window as the train rolled on, leaving them squabbling and joking over the money.
A pursy young man from Chicago was superciliously calling attention to the worm-fences, the lean fields, the forlorn houses, as—
“Wretchedly poor, sir! Now there is really no excuse for such poverty. Even grant that the State was laid waste by the war. All that was twenty years ago. Twenty years is enough for any man to get upon his legs again.”
“It is all due to lack of energy!” decisively said a close-shaven, trig little iron-master from Pennsylvania. “We all know the South. Some of the best books in American literature are descriptions of these people. Did you ever read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or A Fool’s Errand? They show you that a more indolent, incapable, pig-headed race never breathed. The men spend their time in idling, duelling, and drinking. The women are merely lovely, helpless babies.”
Mr. Ely, with an indignant snort, girded himself to make battle; but at that moment the train stopped in the suburbs of Charlotteville. Steep streets ran up into the picturesque town, back of whose peaked roofs rose the snowy hills. A crowd of students from the University filled the platform. An elderly man, after much hand-shaking with them, entered the car.
“Hello!” said Mr. Ely; “surely I know that face, Sarah? Except for the bald head—“ He bristled up. “I beg pardon. It is a long time ago. But are you not Wollaston Pogue? I am James Ely. Don’t you remember? I visited the Medills in Accomac in ’55, and you—“
“Bless my soul! Of course I remember. Why, my dear sir, I am glad to see you back in Virginia. And how has the world used you in all these years?”
“Well, well! roughly enough,” said Ely, with a sigh. He had, in fact, a comfortable home, and until lately sound health, yet, as the two men sat side by side, it was the anxious, lean Northerner who most looked like the victim of a destructive war. The Virginian was a stout, ruddy, overgrown boy. Prosperity apparently oozed out of every pore, from the red fringe of hair about his shining pate to his beaming spectacled eyes, and the gurgling laugh of pure enjoyment that bubbled out every minute.
“Changes?” he said, rubbing his knees meditatively, as Ely plied him with questions. “Oh, great changes! Necessarily. The houses in which you visited have all passed from the old families. Except the Grange. That is a place of summer resort, kept by Mrs. Leigh.”
“Not that lovely Anna Page who married Joe Leigh?”
“The very same. Beautiful as a dream, wasn’t she? But she is making money fast, keeping borders. The house was torn out by the Yan—by one of the armies. After the surrender that woman put up partitions, hung doors, glazed windows, papered, painted—with her own hands. She’s equal to a whole troop of mechanics.”
“And John Medill?”
“Killed at Manassas. His son lost a leg, and was invalided for life. His daughters carry on the plantation. Virginia is in the saddle every morning before dawn. She herself ploughed and dug until she was able to hire hands. She had the banner crop of tobacco in that county last year.”
Mr. Ely made a clucking sound of amazement and dismay. “And what became of the Allaires?”
“They lost everything. The boys as they grew up went to work. Fred in an iron-mill in Richmond, and St. Clair as brakesman on this road. They have both risen steadily.”
“No lack of energy there!” said the old clergyman, with a sharp glance toward the scoffing iron man. But he fell into a depressed silence as his friend continued his history. Brakesman and boarding-house keepers! He had cherished for so many years his picture of the stately Southern homes and their indolent landlords, and now it was crumbling to pieces. If he had found a decayed, mouldering aristocracy, passively wasting away in their ruined homes, it would have been in mournful keeping with his recollection. But this busy, commonplace stir, this sudden plunge of the defeated South into the world’s market-place, bewildered and annoyed him.
“I hope the troubles did not injure you, Mr. Pogue?” he said at last.
“Major Pogue,” quietly amended the Virginian. “I had that rank in our army. Yes”—nodding good-humoredly—“I was left without a dollar. Fortune of war, eh? But I was young, and could accept the situation. It went harder with the old men. Our Southern women, I will say, were the first to stagger to their feet. In every household it was invariably the woman who first faced the inevitable and tried to make the best of it. The old men never have quite recovered from the blow. Some of them even yet fancy that the old issues are still alive. But it is the men who were children in ’65 that have their hands on the lever now; they make no mistake about issues. Where their fathers dreamed of reopening the slave-trade and of conquering Mexico and annexing Cuba, to form a great empire, they talk of new cotton-gins, and Bessemer steel-works , and coal-mines, and a thousand other ways of developing our resources. It is the young men who are the New South. I fancy you Northern people know little about the New South.”
“Very little indeed,” replied Mr. Ely, smiling uneasily. “In fact, I did not know until five months ago that there was such a nation.”
“You will see”—laughing significantly.
“But what did you do after the surrender? Start afresh, like your New South?”
“Precisely. Got a position as clerk in Atlanta. I have an interest in two or three concerns there now, and have my home near the town. I have just been up to see my boy at the University. You’ll stop and make us a visit?” he added, anxiously. “Oh, I’ll take no denial! Mrs. Ely will plead for me. I intend to take my daughter down to New Orleans to the Exposition , and we can form a pleasant party. Come, now, old friend; it is all arranged.”
Mr. Ely fidgeted and protested. He would have fallen again easily into those lax, hospitable ways. But his wife settled the matter in her slightly nasal, decisive tones.
“Of course we shall stop and wait for you and Miss Pogue, Major. But you must allow us to stay at a hotel. We really should prefer it.” Mrs. Ely, away from home, usually was only a dumb, smiling adjunct to her enthusiastic husband. But there were times when she felt it necessary to put down the brakes. Yet she was secretly excited at the thought of studying one of the dark-eyed, languid Georgian women in her own home. During the afternoon, as they passed down through the close, shouldering hills and lonely villages of central Virginia, she tried to picture to herself the indolent grace and flower-like beauty of these Southern women, as she had read of them in their songs and novels. For herself, she was quite willing to be taken in the South as a fair specimen of the cultured Northern women, though, after all, the culture amounted only to a nice taste in Kensington art work, and a mania about drainage. But she pleased herself by thinking that she would open new worlds of thought to the Major’s daughter, who doubtless knew nothing of society, or literature, or plumbing, or any of those great social questions which Mrs. Ely, like a brown sparrow in big grain fields, had picked at in turn. “The mind of any women,” she said to her husband, “in these lifeless villages must be limited, and their talk klein-städtisch  beyond bearing.”
They stopped for a day in Lynchburg, which recalled Pittsburgh to Mr. Ely. “It is almost as busy and as black,” he said, as they sauntered past the towering factories, “and the business men look as if, like ours, they were challenging life at the point of the bayonet. We wear out brain and body in our haste to be rich, at the North, and you are following us, I’m afraid.”
The Major laughed good-humoredly. “We were forced into the race. The Southerner, when he goes into business, throws the same ardor into it that forty years ago he did into his fun, or courting, or fighting. A steam-engine will pull, you know, Mr. Ely, no matter what kind of load you put behind it.” He pointed out the solid blocks of business houses and tasteful dwellings, “built since the war.”
The next day, in Charlotte, the same story was told and retold. Instead of descanting, as he would have done ten years ago, on the ancient glories of the old South lost in the struggle, the Major was eager to show every sight of the solid foundation which the New South was laying for an enduring, stable prosperity. Spartanburg, Greenville, and other pretty towns followed, each with its wide shaded streets, its new mills in the suburbs, its “cheap stores,” its imposing new hotel, its stir of freshly awakened life.
“But who has done all this?” asked Mr. Ely, half annoyed. “Northern men?”
“At first, yes. They were the first to see that money was to be made here. They usually met a cold welcome, as you know. Our old men wanted to run the South in the old tracks—cotton, politics, fighting. But our own young men, as I told you, are getting the reins now in their own hands. Our leading manufacturers, brokers, newspaper men, and even city officials, everywhere, are as a rule Southerners, and under fifty.”
“Atlanta!” shouted the conductor.
“But this is a Northern city!” exclaimed Mr. Ely, as they stepped out into a large station, grimy with bituminous smoke, and walled in by blocks of huge warehouses that opened into crowded streets of conventional banks, hotels, and shops, solidly built, and offering an odd contrast to the irregular, straggling, green-bowered thoroughfares of Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah.
“Atlanta is the capital of our new nation,” said the Major, as he handed Mrs. Ely from the car. “It is the head-quarters for shrewd, pushing men from all the Gulf States. Outsiders call us Georgian Yankees.”
Two motherly negro women, turbaned and white-aproned, boarded the train instead of porters, took Mrs. Ely’s wraps, and led her to the waiting-room. A lady, very little and very young, was standing in the centre of the dingy room, watching the door. The alert, intent figure caught Mrs. Ely’s eye.
“A teacher from Boston,” she decided, as she scanned the thin, eager features, the vigilant eyes, the mass of yellow hair. “I wonder if she ever takes time to sit down or draw a long breath?”
But the Major hurried to meet the little lady, kissed her, and presented her as “my daughter Lola.” In her dismay the clergyman’s wife was awkward, and posed self-consciously. But the Major’s daughter welcomed her with a quiet simplicity to which Mrs. Ely paid instant homage.
“She has never had any doubt of her breeding or social position,” she thought. “She would be just as sure of it in rags as in that velvet.” The little girl stood waiting for her guests, polite but utterly incurious. “She does not even observe how I am dressed,” thought Mrs. Ely. “These Southerners all act as if they ‘had that within which passeth show’—of money or clothes.”
In many ways their old ideas were demolished that day.
“When I was young,” said Mr. Ely to his wife at night, “the South sent North for even its pins. It made nothing for itself. But here in Atlanta, Pogue tells me, they manufacture everything, from a house to a match. All since the war. Take out the money value of the slaves, and Georgia never was so wealthy as she is to-day. The same is true of the Carolinas. Once let these hot-blooded, eager Southerners get a firm footing as manufacturers and producers, and they’ll run the North hard in the business world. So Pogue says.”
Their acquaintance with the Pogue family brought them countless invitations during their stay in Atlanta. The new stately dwellings and their aesthetic interiors became familiar objects to them.
“Here are the very same etchings, the same bric-à-brac and Daghestan rugs, that I left behind in New York and Philadelphia,” Mrs. Ely complained to Miss Pogue as they drove out together one afternoon. “The same hats on the women, the same dishes at dinner, and the same talk too, only that it runs in amore leisurely current.”
“You would see more distinctive life in the country,” Lola said, turning her ponies into a broad grass-edged highway.
In an hour they were in the pine woods. At long intervals there were openings in which was a wide, low, many-galleried house, with its appendage of dilapidated negro quarters and neglected farm lands—a gray, hoary wreck of prosperous days. The snow, which still lay in drifts in the woods, had melted here from the saffron stubble fields. The houses usually appeared to be over-full; all of the windows shone redly in the closing dusk; the rooms were alive with the children, with gay young people; matrons with delicate, fastidious faces bent over their work; portly, handsomely dressed men loitered in the galleries or rode down the long avenues.
“You would find the old habits of hospitality kept up in these houses,” said Lola. “Family connections are large in the South. A Georgian of the higher class has cousins all through the Carolinas and the Gulf States, just as the Virginians and Kentuckians are really all of one blood. From five to ten guests may drop in uninvited for any meal, or come to stay a week. They are always sure of a welcome. The old class of Southerners would rather give up their chance of heaven than the pleasure of keeping open house for their friends on earth.”
Mr. Ely’s face flushed. “It is a gracious, beautiful custom!” he exclaimed. “We lost much that was worth keeping with the old feudal systems.”
“Yes,” said Miss Pogue, dryly. “I have known a dinner prepared in our house for four persons, and before it was served twenty guests arrived unexpectedly. So it goes on all the year round.”
“That is delightful,” hesitated Mrs. Ely. “It takes one quite back to patriarchal life. But it would not suit Northern house-keepers nor Northern cooks and chamber-maids.”
“It does not suit here,” said Lola, promptly. “Our mothers were used to it when they had plenty of money and of servants. But now that we have not enough of either, the custom keeps many a family poor, and makes life a tread-mill for most women. The generation I belong to, Mrs. Ely,” she said, after a pause, her thin, decisive features heating, “have learned to practise small economies in poverty, and they are forced to see that there is a great leakage in their incomes through these old customs which seem to you so beautiful and grand. Yet,” she added, with sudden pride, “I doubt if the Southerner will ever give up that custom.”
Mrs. Ely, talking matters over that night as usual, declared that “the Georgian girl talked and thought precisely like a New-Englander. And, as far as I can see, she is not an uncommon type now in this New South. I have met women, since we came here, capable, shrewd, and alive with energy. They manage plantations and shops; they raise stock, hold offices, publish newspapers. Indeed, while Northern women have been clamoring for their rights, Southern women have found their way into more careers than they. They keep up with all the questions of the day. Miss Lola actually gave me some new hints on drainage. I suppose we Americans have but one blood, after all, and a hard struggle with poverty will produce the same woman in Georgia as in Connecticut.”
The next day our travellers, with the Major and Miss Pogue, left Atlanta for Montgomery. They soon left behind the leafless, deciduous woods and the snow, and entered interminable pine forests rising out of the rich red earth, pale green in the spring air. Occasionally the endless phalanx of pines crowded back in disgust to make way for a flat plateau of yellow clay, out of which rose “a clarin,” a forlorn huddle of gray, unpainted cabins. Not a tree, nor flower, nor blade of grass, appeared in the wide swamp of mud. Negroes in rags lounged against the worm-fence, too lazy to look up at the train; lean woolly cows, their sides daubed with mud, lazily got out of the way of the cars: leaner hogs wallowed in the lower deeps of mud, looking up to wink sleepily at the puffing engine. Then men of the hamlet lounged about the station-house, yellow-skinned and heavy-eyed from long diet of perk and whisky.
Mr. Ely, catching his wife’s look of consternation, hastily explained. “You must remember, my dear, that up to the beginning of this century this part of Alabama was an absolute wilderness, broken only by a few settlements of half-breeds and Spaniards, with neither law nor religion. Pennsylvania and New York were then open to the great tide of immigration. It never has set in here. What progress has been made is due to the people themselves, not to European influence, as is the case with us.”
“Alabama turns her poorest side to the railways,” said Major Pogue. “But we will soon skirt the ‘Black Belt,’ which is full of rich plantations under scientific cultivation. As good soil as you have in Pennsylvania.”
Mr. Ely smiled anxiously. The flat gray sky, and the monotonous pillared pines which held it like a roof, oppressed him; he had not drawn a full breath all day. To live always walled by these changeless tress into solitude and poverty, away from the life and motion of the world—how soon it would make a man narrow and prejudice and virulent! No wonder these people fight with the obstinacy and courage of tigers!
The train halted that moment at a little lonely station at the foot of a hill. At its top stood a picturesque old mansion, which seemed to him to embody all the tragedy of the departed South. The sunset flamed redly up behind its gray walls and steep roof, the black shingles of which were mossed with age. A thin wisp of smoke drifted from its great outside chimney across the cold sky; the wind swept through the empty galleries, no light shone from its windows. A little apart from it three ancient cedars stood on guard; they flung their distorted arms toward the east, bent by the winds that in winter swept the hill-top.
“They are pleading against the disaster that has fallen on the house,” thought the old clergyman, smiling on his own gloomy fancy.
A tall man, dressed in the coarse homespun and wide-rimmed hat of the farm hands, came down the hill, and entering the car, sat down in front of him. Undoubtedly a laborer: face, hands, and neck tanned one saffron hue; the high boots patched and muddy. But Mr. Ely detected a haughty reserve in the high-featured face, better befitting a cavalier than a ploughman.
“The typical Southerner at last!” he thought. “With that face, he might have ruled a thousand slaves, or led a regiment into the jaws of death.”
Two passengers, Western men, sitting near, loudly discussed the lean pigs, the bony cattle the poor buildings on the farm; but the owner’s face remained calm as though dogs barked at his heel. Mr. Ely rushed to the rescue. “You forget, gentlemen,” he said, “that the South for nearly a century had one occupation—agriculture. The loss of her slaves crippled her in that. She is turning now with all the strength she has to other industries. She asks us Northerners in a friendly, brotherly way to come down to see in this New Orleans Exposition what she has done; if we go at all, it should be in the same friendly spirit—not to insult her.”
The men laughed, but were silent, and Mr. Ely presently fell into talk with the Alabamian, question him on the resources of his State.
“You should go to the northern part of Alabama,” he said, in a grave, measured tone, “if you wish to get a clear idea of her enormous undeveloped wealth. Near Selma, cotton raising is carried on now with so much skill and certainty that the sons of the great planters in Mexico are sent there as pupils, staying for years. You have been in Birmingham?”
“No. Is it a typical Southern city?”
The planter smiled. “I hope so; but not of the old South. Twelve years ago it was a cotton plantation. Now they are working coal-mines with an output of over 4000 tons a day, and iron-mines that yield metal which they tell me is as good as the best Swedish. With both, they can put pig-iron in the Northern market six dollars a ton cheaper than it is done in Pennsylvania.”
“It is a fact,” struck in Major Pogue, after greeting the farmer as an old friend. “The enormous mineral wealth of Alabama is but just opened. She has rich virign soil, and though you may not believe it, Mr. Ely, a law-abiding, God-fearing population, anxious to work. She has good waterways, and one of the best harbors on the whole coast at Mobile. What she wants is capital and skilled labor.”
Meanwhile Miss Pogue was talking of the planter with Mrs. Ely at the back of the car.
“It is Dupré Mocquard,” she said. “I have heard he was considered the handsomest man in New Orleans before the war. A brave fellow too; he fought half a dozen duels. He belonged to a wealthy creole family; they equipped a regiment for the war, which he commanded.”
“After—“ with a shrug. “He is overseer now, where he was master, on one of his own plantations. He is as eager, I have heard my father say, about raising cotton as he was in duelling or flirting. His four children must live, you see.”
They reached Montgomery that night, and remained there for several days. Colonel Mocquard drove out with them almost every day. He did not lose any of his picturesqueness, at least in Mrs. Ely’s eyes, when he had laid aside his working clothes for ordinary dress.
“His old-fashioned, high-shouldered courtesy,” she told her husband, “would become a deposed monarch.”
The weather on the day after their arrival was cold. High winds drove light purplish clouds over a clear sky. The streets of the first Confederate capital stretched before them wide and muddy, the sidewalks of clay or boards sheltered by fine old trees. Back among trim gardens and groves of green magnolias or leafless China-trees, brown with feathery clusters of last year’s flowers, were set quaint, low, many-galleried dwellings, which the Northern visitors admired enthusiastically.
“They are picturesque, and they belong to the climate and scenery,” said Mr. Ely. “But I am sorry to see here and there a towered brick house, or one of those pretentious villas with which we in the North abuse the memory of poor Queen Anne.”
“Those houses are built, for the most part,” said Lola, “by wealthy Hebrews, brokers or dollar-store men. The Jews ‘entered in and occupied the land’ as soon as the war was over. You will find them in every village and town in the Gulf Sates, living usually in the best houses, which old Southern families could no longer hold.”
“That’s all right, my dear,” interrupted her father. “They loaned us all, blacks and whites, money when we had none. Fair business transaction.”
Lola’s delicate features flushed hotly. “At fifty per cent—yes. The day will come, perhaps, when ‘the king shall enjoy his own,’” she replied, sharply. Then, hastily controlling herself and changing her tone: “Montgomery, as you may imagine, Mr. Ely, is a beautiful city in summer. This large building on the hill is the Capitol. The first Confederate Congress met here, you remember.”
They alighted and passed through the empty lofty halls, coming out again on to a high flight of steps which commanded a view of the quiet city and its superb rampart of rolling hills and rich plantations.
“Just here, on these steps,” said Lola, “Jefferson Davis stood when he was inaugurated President.”
Neither she nor the other Southerners betrayed any further remembrance of the great tragedy which had opened on this little grassy hill-top. The story was too familiar to them, and their own stinted lives too much a sequence and part of the tragedy, for them to see it merely as a great historic drama. But the old clergyman’s heated fancy instantly peopled the hill with the men whose hour’s work that day had had such limitless results. A cold sunny day like this, perhaps, and each had come up from his own home, sincere, eager, ready to risk his property, life, and sacred honor for the cause he believed to be true. And now—
The old man was loyal to the Union; his brothers had died fighting for it. But for the moment he looked through the eyes of this other unknown brother, believed as he believed, felt the wrench of his defeat. His heart beat thick, and a hot film darkened his eyes.
They drove through the plantations in the suburbs of the city, passing stately old dwellings in disrepair and ruins, their parks overgrown with weeds and brambles. Before one a great stone lion, splendid in its day, lay broken and overthrown.
The next moment they passed through the “new town”—streets of cheerful rose-covered cottages belonging to the colored people. Nowhere in the South have the freedmen made more steady and swift progress to thrift and intelligence than here. Swayne College, their principal school, was just dismissed, and a long procession of colored girls and lads marched down the street in tidy, bright-colored clothes, turning to the strangers clear, watchful faces.
They drove to the hotel through streets of new warehouses and shops, while the Major and Colonel Mocquard discussed eagerly some new mining company just forming among the capitalists of the city.
“I think,” said the clergyman, quietly, “you have shown us to-day the significance of both the Old South and the New.”
WHILE they were in Alabama our tourists visited some of the large cotton plantations, and found them equipped with the most modern and costly machinery.
“But the dwelling-houses of the planters,” said Colonel Mocquard, as they were returning from one of these excursions, “must strike you as bare and comfortless. Yes; pardon me. I know that it is so. I have been in the North recently, and I saw how the love of art and house decoration was growing among you with each year. Compare our plantation dwellings with the house and lawns of a wealthy Pennsylvania or New York farmer! But we—we are too busy trying to live. If the South had the money and leisure she once had,” he continued, with a lofty complacency, “she would, I suppose, have long been the foremost in the modern dilettante race.”
Mrs. Ely controlled a smile of amused superiority. Her husband said, hastily, “The South is learning a higher lesson than any which bric-à-brac or pictures could teach her.”
“We will hope so,” replied Mocquard, dryly. “It is certain that there is now a very small number of men among us who are wealthy enough to indulge luxurious tastes. The great mass of our people have been forced to go to work.”
“Yes, and it is better for them, Mocquard,” said Major Pogue, who was in the carriage. “But the great error they make is in giving their whole efforts and thought to one kind of work—that of raising cotton. It is the road to a competency with which we are most familiar, and we are apt to think it the only one; so we neglect a thousand other industries which in the North are common and lucrative. Now this plantation, for instance, which we are passing. A little time and care would give the planter the finer fruits and vegetables for his table and for the market, would surround his house with flower-gardens and well-kept lawns, and fill it with comforts if not elegance. But he turns his back on everything but cotton. That one crop disposed of, his duty for the year is over.”
Colonel Mocquard frequently went with them on these exploring journeys. Mr. Ely was impressed with the business qualifications of the ex-soldier and fire-eater.
“Shrewd and economical he will never be,” he said to his wife. “It isn’t in his blood. But he has energy and a tremendous capacity for work. The North does not suspect what stuff is in these men. I have been looking over some industrial statistics to-day, and I find that over three and a half millions have been invested already in this year right here in Alabama in new enterprises, principally in coal-mining and lumbering. I heard you and Mocquard bemoaning the lack of pictures and bric-à-brac. Stuff and nonsense! They are laying solid foundations of prosperity now; they will put on the gilding by-and-by.”
Colonel Mocquard drove them one morning through the business streets of the city, showing them the manufactories of ice and soaps, and the ginneries where cotton-seed oil was made.
“Ready,” laughed Lola Pogue, “to be exported to Italy, and returned to the North as L’huile de Lucca.”
They came home through the “new town”—a suburb filled with pretty cottages (not cabins) belonging to the negroes. It was a warm evening, and they were out sunning themselves on the galleries, the women and children in gay print gowns. Many of them, who had been his slaves, ran down to speak to “de Boss” as Mocquard passed. There was evidently hearty good-will on both sides.
Down the narrow street, as the sun was setting, came a procession of blacks and mulattoes reverently following a hearse. They marched with linked fingers, and were dressed in black, both men and women wearing a bright purple cape edged with gold braid.
“It is a beneficiary society,” explained Major Pogue. “The freedmen have formed them everywhere throughout the South. They very seldom are political or religious in their aim, but are based solely on the idea of mutual help in time of sickness or death. Each has its secret device or password, however, and they gratify their dramatic sense by some bit of color in the dress or badge.”
“To me,” said Mocquard, “the tendency of the negroes to co-operate is one of the most significant signs of their progress.”
The party were to have separated the next day, Colonel Mocquard going back to the plantation, while his friends went on to Mobile. He insisted, however, on accompanying them for at least a few days longer. Mrs. Ely nodded significantly when she heard this offer.
“Depend on it,” she said to her husband, “Miss Pogue is the cause of his courtesy to us. And a very good thing that match would be. He is poor, a widower, with a houseful of children, and she would make an economical, managing Yankee wife.”
“No doubt when you die, my dear, you will be sent out as a match-making angel,” was his only reply.
Although the spring was the latest known in the South for forty years, the change in latitude was abruptly marked as they neared the Gulf. They left all traces of snow behind; the grass was rank. They passed through close forests of scrub pines springing out of white sand, as on the New Jersey coast. Below the pines came heavy thickets of live-oaks, sycamores, hickories, pecans, and the bur trees, bare but for their brown knobs, while near the lagoons rose impenetrable jungles of undergrowth, knit together by thick trunks of wild grape. The road everywhere was walled in by ramparts of vegetation, to which the dwarf palmetto, sharp-bladed and defiant, and masses of bristling cacti, gave a tropical aspect.
A heavy thunder-storm darkened the last part of the journey, but as they entered Mobile the clouds rolled back, heaping themselves in vast folds upon the horizon, while a soft tender sunset glimmered through, throwing into the foreground the shaded streets of the quaint old town, the dripping, glistening magnolias and camellias in the gardens, the airy church spires, while far in the back the masts at the levee drew sharp black lines against the red sky.
They found the Battle House crowded with people returning from the Carnival at New Orleans. Mobile, French and Catholic, also had kept Mardi-Gras, and the house fronts were still gay with flags and wreaths of flowers. Half a dozen old-fashioned carriages were ranged before the hotel. The horses nodded, and the negro drivers dozed in the warm light.
“Father,” said Miss Pogue, “there is ‘Mosheer,’ who drove us and instructed us so mightily last Mardi-Gras. Let him take us out the Bay Road. Call him. There will be time before dark.”
The beautiful little Georgian had by this time insensibly assumed control of the party, managing shrewdly to save all odd ends of time, to drive good bargains with shopkeepers, and to keep hotel bills down, to the cordial approval of Mrs. Ely, who, like most women, was penny-wise.
The Major beckoned to a greasy mustached old Frenchman with a wooden leg, wearing a coat and high hat a world too big for him. “What is your name, my good fellow?”
“Mosheer Dechiré. I drive all ze strangers who come to Mobile. Carr’ge, zare,” waving his whip toward a shabby open barouche. “Ver sheap.”
Lola nodded approval, and they all crowded into it. No sooner had they started than “Mosheer” turned sideways, abandoning his horses to Providence, the most eager of ciceroni.
“I know Mobile, zare. Mobile knows Dechiré. I trow in my lot here tirty year ago. V’là Government Street, madame. Ze most grand boulevard in ze Souf, zey tell me. Ve zall not drive zere now. To-night you zall see ze Shell Road. Ah-h! Eef you could zee dat Shell Road in de old times! On zis side de beautiful houses on ze pleasure-grounds; on at, ze bay; and going to an’ fro, to an’ fro, ze fine carriages fill’ viv lovely ladies an’ les messieurs on horseback. And ah! ze horses! Mobile have horses zen zat all ze vorld know by name.”
He stopped for them to see a famous grove of huge live-oaks draped with the trailing Spanish moss. They saw here, too, for the first time, the great green knobs of mistletoe, white with waxen berries, high on the yet leafless tree.
The sun was warm, the salt wind bracing; on their left hand the waters of the bay stretched, rippling and glittering, until they were lost in low silvery mists; on the right lay plantations and dwellings, many of which bore traces of old magnificence. Mosheer scrambled zealously up and down, bringing the ladies bunches of moss, of scarlet berries, of the brown seed-vessels of the bur tree. He overheard Mrs. Ely’s remark that a little care would make comfortable dwellings of some neglected houses.
“Ah, madame,” he cried, “you zall see no such grand mansions in ze Norf! Mobile vas a gay, rich, happy city, but ze var took her by ze troat. She begins but to breathe again. She have many rich men who push her on an’ on. Ze young men zey vill make great harbor, great railroads; zey vant to hear no more of ze var”—shrugging his shoulders.
“Did you take any part in the war?” asked Mrs. Ely.
“Oui, madame. A little. Yonder”—pointing with his whip—“jus’ under zat speck of cloud. I vork forty days at ze eartvorks at Fort Powell. I leave my shop. Madame Deschiré, and ze level children zey have small portion to eat zose days. I vas shoemaker by trade. Mais que voulez-vous? I vas man, aussi. Ah! every day ve vork, vork, and ve say, ‘Notting can take zis fort!’” He had stopped the horses by this time, and was gesticulating toward the bay from his high seat, his flabby face distorted with excitement. “You see, zare? you see, madame? zat black line in ze mist is ze island, Dauphin. Jus’ vhere I point my finger is Fort Morgan, von great fort, many guns. At zat side is Fort Gaines. Up ze bay—ah, it vas von day in August, ver’ hot—up ze bay come ze Yankee fleet, two by two, lashed togezzer like von pack of hounds. Close to ze shore vas ze great Monitors, ze Tecumseh in front.”
“The Tecumseh!” exclaimed Mr. Ely. “My dear, was not George on the Tecumseh? A lad of whom we were very fond,” he explained to the Major—“an orphan, the son of a dear friend. But go on, my good man; go on.”
“Here,” continued Mosheer, “vas Admiral Buchanan and our fleet. Under ze vater jus’ in ze path of ze Monitors vas ze torpedoes.”
“Just in the path of the Monitors,” whispered the old clergyman, nervously, turning his face away quickly from them toward the bay, reddening now in the low, peaceful light.
“Yes, zare,” eagerly rejoined Mosheer. “Ah-h, it is very clean vater now, you tink? Notting in it but ze fish? Look, zare; look, madame. Jus’ vhere I point, your Tecumseh struck a torpedo an’ vent down—down! I see ze water boil an’ choke; zat is all. Presently it rush over an’ lie smooth again. Ze great Monitor gone, like a level pebble sunk!”
The old clergyman did not answer; his eyes were fixed on the rippling, smiling water. His wife, who was less excitable, slid her hand under her shawl, unseen, into his, and pressed it.
“And that,” she whispered, “is poor George’s grave.”
The Major raised his hat. “There were brave men buried there that day,” he said gently.
Mosheer broke the silence. “Yonder our Admiral attacked Farragut. Ze bay vas black viz ze smoke an’ ze roar of ze cannon. An’ in ze middle of it ze Yankees creep in—in on Dauphin Island. Vell”—with a shrug, gathering up his reins—“ze end had come! In four days Fort Powell vas blown away. An’ our eartvorks—all gone. Mon Dieu! how my back did ache building zoze eartvorks! All gone!”
“Then, I suppose,” said Lola, indignantly, “you gave up the cause, and went back to your shoemaking?”
“No,” with a sheepish grin. “I vas in hospital. I lose my life for dem eartvorks. Madame Dechiré et les petites zey vor hungry many days. Mais que voulez-vous? Every man had his trouble. I no vorse zan ze oders.”
Mr. Ely turned his distressed face to the man, full of pity and sympathy. “The war never seemed so real to me before,” he said; “that is, your side of it.”
“But, my good man,” interrupted Mrs. Ely, severely, “why did you go into the war at all? You were a foreigner: had you no respect for the flag or the constitution of your adopted country?”
“Perhaps he believed in State rights?” suggested Miss Pogue, slyly.
“State rights an’ ze constitooshun? I know notting about dem. But here vas my home—here in Mobile. I trow in my lot here tirty year ago. Mine leetle house vas here, an’ mine vife. So I fight. Eef I had live in New York, viv my leetle house, an’ ze Souf come to fight, I—I cannot tell. It may be I zall be Yankee—moi!”
The men laughed, but both the ladies were indignant.
“Northern men went into the war with a principle!” cried the older woman.
“And Southern men,” exclaimed Lola, “gave their lives for a great cause! But this man talks as if patriotism was a matter of geography.”
“Hush-h! I am afraid, my dear, that Mosheer speaks for a large party on both sides,” said her father.
After the first day, the travellers had no more occasion for Mosheer’s services. Major Pogue and Colonel Mocquard had a few friends in the city, and as soon as it was known that they were at the hotel, they, with the clergyman and his wife, were welcomed as though they were visiting princes, and overwhelmed with invitations to dine, to drive, to spend evenings, days, weeks, with their new friends.
Good Mr. Ely was in raptures with this cordiality. “It renews one’s faith in human nature,” he said to his wife as they were dressing for dinner, brushing his thin gray locks up to cover his bald pate. “I told you how it was in Virginia, my dear. And to think how we have fought them since and ruined them, and that they are the first to hold out their hands in friendship! I wish all Northerners could come down and see these people as they are. Great heavens! what injustice we do them!”
“My dear!” said his wife, reprovingly. She had not quite made up her mind in this matter. She was very silent when with her new acquaintances, and could not enter, as her husband did, with fervor into their pride in the “stately buildings,” the “magnificent streets,” etc., of Mobile, described in guides to the Exposition. Secretly she thought the Southerners a good deal like children, as vain, and as thin-skinned to criticism, and suspected that this way had probably been useful as discipline in lowering their self-conceit. Like many other Northern visitors to the Exposition last winter, she was always startled to find among “our enemies” the same good sense, feeling, or knowledge that she expected as a matter of course from her own people. Her husband, on the contrary, criticised nothing. “Why should I?” he said. “Because we had the most money and the most men twenty years ago, does that give me the right to come down here and sneer at their cows, their horses, their manners; or even to pat them approvingly on the head?”
He urged all of his new friends to visit him in Pennsylvania. He preached on Sunday in one of the city churches on “human brotherhood” out of so full a heart that the tears rose to the eye of many a prejudiced hearer. Everybody accepted and trusted the old man. “I shall think better of the world because he was born in it,” said Colonel Mocquard.
But even Mrs. Ely at last confessed that Mobile was a beautiful city, unlike any other. She is charming, rather than stately. Like Savannah, Charleston, and the French quarter of New Orleans, she still remains characteristically Southern. Her avenues are broad and well shaded; the dwellings large and airy, and half hidden in exquisite gardens and sloping lawns. Even in the poorer streets roses, magnolias, camellias, and jasmine fill the air with fragrance. The pretentious brick houses with Mansard-roofs and colored glass, so common in Eastern cities, which the Northern and Jewish new-comers are beginning to erect in some of the Southern towns (quite unconscious, apparently, that they are not only ugly, but totally unsuited to a warm, damp climate), have not as yet vulgarized Mobile’s old-time grace. She turns to the stranger a quiet, home-like, friendly face, with that undefinable gracious air of good-breeding in it which only generations of ease and hospitality can give even to houses. No money or architect can impart it to blocks of magnificent mansions built for display.
Among their new friends was a Madame of Parras, a bent, white-haired old lady of eighty, who was lodging in a cheap house in St. Joseph Street.
“Over a bakery, my dear,” explained Mr. Ely to his wife, who had not then seen her. “But she might have been a duchess, in the days of the Bourbons, from her manners. With her brilliant black eyes and white hair, leaning on her ebony cane with its floating ribbons, you could not image a more picturesque figure. She is a descendant of a Marquis de Parras, who came to this country with the French refugees in 1816, and settled in Marengo County.”
“You find so many black swans!” complained Mrs. Ely. “Why does this princess lodge over a bakery?”
“Because she is a dethroned princess, I suppose,” said Mr. Ely. “An old friend of Mocquard’s. She reigned in New Orleans in her days of power, and she is on her way there now from a poor plantation on the Tombigbee. She has a little granddaughter with her. I don’t think,” he added, hesitating, “that the war or poverty has inoculated them with any Northern energy, as they have your friend Miss Pogue.”
“Lola might have been a New-Englander,” said Mrs. Ely for the twentieth time. “She is just the woman to help on Colonel Mocquard’s fortunes. Pushing, close—“
“Men don’t usually look first for those qualities in a wife,” said Mr. Ely, impatiently. “And I suspect that Souther women will gain such virtues out of their poverty much sooner than Southern men will learn to admire them in their wives and sweethearts.”
“Probably. I don’t pretend to understand men,” said Mrs. Ely, with calm superiority.
The next day they went on an exploring expedition to Point Clear, with the Major and his daughter, Colonel Mocquard and some friends from Mobile, among them Madame de Parras.
“Is that her granddaughter in the brown flannel dress?” asked Mrs. Ely, when they were on the little steamer Annie.
“Yes; and a lovely little creature she is,” replied the clergyman.
“I do not agree with you,” she answered, quickly. “I should call her positively homely. She is nothing but a child. I must say I like some style in a girl. You would not find a Northern young lady cling to her grandmother’s side and blush when she is spoken to in that way. Yet she sent Major Pogue on an errand just now as calmly as I should a servant.”
“Southern women are taught to believe that they are born with a sceptre in their hands. I suspect, my dear,” he added, slyly, “that Mocquard agrees with me in my opinion of this little girl.”
“Absurd! I give him credit for too much hard common-sense. He wants a capable manager as a wife, with his children and straitened means. What could a chit like that, made up of eyes and a smile, do for him?”
Mr. Ely shrugged his shoulders, and strolled to the end of the boat to listen to Major Pogue, who was descanting on the merits of Point Clear as a winter resort for Northerners. The Major, with many other shrewd capitalists in the South, had foreseen the large profits to be made by the growing habit of migration among invalids, and had invested a little money and much thought and time in building up different resorts in Florida, Georgia, and the North Carolina mountains.
“The time for drugs is over,” he was saying now, with a group of sallow, coughing travellers wrapped in furs gathered close, listening eagerly. “A famous physician in the North once said to me. ‘Give me the air I want for my patients, and I will not give them a dose of medicine.’ Well, sir, now he can have every kind and quality of air he wants, from the warm damp breezes off the Gulf, in Florida or Louisiana, to the bracing dry winds in the piny woods in Georgia or northern Alabama or the Carolinas. Our people understand now what is wanted. You will find well-kept hotels at all these places. Point Clear is a little jut of land running out into Mobile Bay, about halfway between the city and the Gulf, and it is claimed that the climate is equal to that of Florida. And of the resorts on the Gulf frequented by Southerners in summer ought to be suitable for invalids from the North in winter.”
Lola, who was sitting by Mrs. Ely, laughed. “I suppose the South may count your invalids among her new ‘industries,’ just as your farmers, they tell me, reckon summer boarders a more pofitable crop that potatoes. Of course one is sorry for the poor creatures, but these migrating invalids papa talks of are becoming quite too marked a feature of Southern travel, it seems to me.”
Little Betty de Parras turned with quick assent, her brown eyes wide with pity.
“Oh, we have met them everywhere! So pale and weak, some of them just ready to die. And one can do nothing—not even speak.”
“Dear me! I don’t want to speak,” answered Lola. “They mass themselves together in cars and hotel parlors, and discuss their pills and symptoms. ‘Did you try Aiken?’ and ‘How did Pensacola suit you?’ It is horrible: the poor spectres racing from point to point catching at every hope. The Dance of Death is cheerful to it.”
“If one could do anything!” said Betty, under breath, the tears coming to her eyes.
“It sounded very heartless in Lola, I confess,” said Mrs. Ely to her husband afterward, when the girls walked away; “yet no doubt she would be the most efficient nurse of the two, if put to the test. She has a remarkable skill in giving drugs, her mother told me—doses all the negroes on the plantation.”
“Perhaps so. But that little girl’s pitying eyes and soft pat of the hand would go farther than drugs to cure me,” he persisted, obstinately.
There is a large hotel at Point Clear, the porches of which overlook the bay. The men of the party went out fishing, bringing in drum, red-fish, and a red-snapper caught by the old clergyman, to his great delight.
They came back to the city in high spirits the next morning, a brisk west wind feathering the waters of the bay, and driving bright flakes of cloud across the sky with sudden jubilant gusts.
During the fortnight that followed, Mr. Ely and Colonel Mocquard explored every quarter of the quaint old city. A singular camaraderie had sprung up between the old clergyman and the Confederate soldier. They spent whole days fishing together at the Snapper Banks in the Gulf, or hunting among the lagoons which empty into the bay, sitting sometimes for hours on some sunken log in the wild tangle of vines and bushes, with blazing colors in every weed about them, in eager talk, their guns idle at their feet; or they loitered along the wharves or through the cotton-mills. The older man had keen perceptions and sympathies, and at every step he was moved and excited by some dramatic revelation in the lives of these people who were struggling to their feet after savage disaster. They often drove out through the groves of magnolias and live-oaks which hedge in Mobile. The environs are full of quiet beauty; pleasant country-seats are set on the crests and in the valleys of the wooded hills which rise in low ranges behind it. Spring Hill contains the prettiest of these homes, and is to Mobile what Bryn Mawr is to Philadelphia, or the shores of the Hudson to New York.
Here lives the most famous woman, probably, of the South—Mrs. Augusta Evans Wilson, the author of Beulah, Macaria, etc. She is held in as proud regard by the mass of Southern people as was George Eliot by the English. Her beautiful home on Spring Hill is a kind of Mecca to which her admirers make pilgrimages.
“All American authors,” said Mr. Ely, “should be born in Boston or the far South.”
“The South never neglects her gifted children,” replied Colonel Mocquard, gravely, “when they are true to her.”
The Colonel never tired of hunting out with Mr. Ely traces of the first settlers on the coast. The old clergyman took a keen interest in the romantic story of the three noble brothers who discovered and colonized the coast for France. He insisted on going down to Dauphin Island. “Just here, I fancy,” he said, after long conversation, “the lad Bienville first leaped on shore, and here was the heap of human bones which made him call it the Isle of Massacre.”
Colonel Mocquard showed him the point on the island on which tradition states young Bienville, coming back from Biloxi two years later, with his younger brother and La Salle, built a warehouse for their stores, and the location of the fort, St. Louis de la Mobile, at the mouth of Dog River.
“The Quaker botanist, old William Bartram,” he said, “found the ruins of the fort here in 1777. But it was at the mouth of Mobile River that the two brothers built their principal forts and huts of unbarked trunks of trees covered with earth and palmetto leaves. Close by their fort was the temple of the tribe of the Mobilians, in which a light burned that never was suffered to go out. All the Southern tribes of Indians came here for their holy fire. It was in one of these huts that De Sanvolle, the younger of the lads, died, and when D’Iberville, the eldest of the brothers, sailed up by the bay a week afterward, he found Bienville standing alone on the shore to welcome him. The tradition is that he took the boy in his arms and they wept aloud. D’Iberville died soon afterward, and Bienville was left alone.”
“The whole story of that man is tragic to me,” said Mr. Ely, enthusiastically. “I always believed him to be a true knight by nature as by birth. Conceive the horrible solitude of life here for such a man, chivalric, sensitive, in a miserable little colony on the edge of a wilderness that covered the continent, peopled by wild beasts and savages, and the colony made up of men who for forty years hated and maligned him! Yes, sir, Bienville was one of those gentle, heroic souls that grew and flourished in the hardships of the early history of the Southern colonies. We do not pay them honor enough. Look what New England has done for her grim, bigoted forefathers!”
The Colonel laughed. “No doubt Bienville was a courageous and tough fellow. He certainly persisted in founding trading sites throughout the wilds and jungles of lower Louisiana at the risk of his office and his life. But the proofs of his gentleness are not so clear to me. It was owing to his obstinate whim, you remember, that the capital of the State was placed in the mud flats where New Orleans now stands, below the level of the river, rather than on the dry sandy height of Biloxi. And he had a habit of chopping off the heads of men who displeased him, which was eccentric even in that day. Eighteen at once, here in Mobile, if I remember rightly.”
Mr. Ely laughed feebly, and hastily turned his inquiries to the truth of the legend that the wife of Alexis, the son of Peter the Great, had escaped from her brutal husband and fled to the French settlements on the Gulf, becoming one of the pioneers in the little hamlet of Mobile.
“It may be true,” said Mocquard. “The history of the early French and Spanish colonies along this coast is full of romance. Love and jealousy and a mad passion for adventure had more to do with bringing Bienville, De Cadillac, and even De la Salle half round the world into these bayoux and jungles than any hope of gain.”
“Those ancient traditions, with the background of this tropical scenery, are a fine untrodden field for some American novelist,” said Mr. Ely, and hinted that a cousin of his own, a promising young journalist in Massachusetts, was just the man to use this “material.”
But Colonel Mocquard dryly observed that probably only a Southern hand could do justice to it, and suggested that it was not too late for an afternoon’s fishing.
Mrs. Ely became impatient with this idle loitering. She had gone through Mobile with the energy of the intelligent American sight-seer, had visited the Medical College, the ice factory, the markets, the Marine Hospital, had astonished the Sisters with extraordinary questions in the Academy of Visitation, and was familiar with all the handsome houses on Government Street. She was urgent now that they should go on and see something else, and told Mr. Ely so when he came in from one of his long expeditions.
“I wish we could stay,” he sighed. “I am in love with this quaint old town. If I could breath this balmy, warm air for a year or two I should be as indolent and ready to let the world wag its own way as the old-time Southerner ever was. I don’t blame him. If Sumner or Garrison had been born on one of these sleepy plantations, with a thousand darkies to earn his living and wait on him, breathing the bay air loaded with the scent of magnolias all his life, he would have been as conservative as Mocquard. Character is much more a matter of the thermometer than you think, my dear.”
Mrs. Ely, who was knitting at some soft woollen stuff, listened with the patience she felt was always due to a man’s whims.
“I think we had better go on,” she said, quietly. “You will probably be quite as enthusiastic about New Orleans.”
“We shall never see Mobile again as it is now, I am convinced,” he persisted. “The charm of its quiet and calm will soon be gone. The whole South is fast losing its repose and identity. It used to be delightful to drop out of the hurry and struggle of the North into this sunny, drowsy calm, where nobody was in a hurry. But they are beginning to drive and push here everywhere just as we do.”
“Time for them!” ejaculated his wife.
“As for Mobile,” he continued, earnestly, “it must be the chief sea-port of the Gulf States. That is inevitable. And when these new industries are developed, here is their outlet. Consider the enormous advance made by this State in the last ten years—the opening up of her coal and iron regions, the lumbering trade, the capital invested in manufactories! Why, the State is as rich as Pennsylvania in her natural resources. Here in Mobile must be the centre of her foreign trade. A very few years will make it the New York of the South. But its charm will be gone then for me.”
“I am sure I hope you are right,” she said. “But I think we had better go on. You and Colonel Mocquard would poke about hunting up historical points for months. Major Pogue proposes that we shall stop at one or two quiet little villages between here and New Orleans that he is interested in as winter resorts. We have seen everything here but the cemeteries, and we will go to them this morning. Lola says we had better take the noon train to-morrow.”
“Oh! if you and Miss Pogue have decided it, there is no more to be said. But I don’t want to see your cemeteries.”
“I never feel that I have done a town properly until I see where they put their dead,” said his wife, placidly snapping off a thread.
Late that evening, accordingly, a stout lady in black, accompanied by two slight girlish figures, strolled down the grassy avenues of a large burying-ground in the outskirts of the city. She stopped to read the inscriptions on all the more costly monuments, while the girls glanced impatiently toward the carriage waiting at the gate. The wind from the bay blew sharp and damp; the sky had sunk down overhead flat and lead-colored; the sun hung like a fiery ball ready to drop out of sight.
“Yes, yes; I’m coming. It is late. I feel quite ready for tea. But look at this shaft. It must belong to a family of importance. Have you no idea of the cost, my dear? Dear me, there is a carriage coming along the road. Who can it be?”
“It is Mosheer bringing Mr. Ely and Colonel Mocquard,” said Betty, with a gurgle of delight. “Thank goodness! I thought they would come to take us home safely.”
“Safely? What on earth could happen to you, child?”
“Oh, it is nearly dark. We ought to have a gentleman to take care of us,” lisped Betty, in her soft cooing voice, as she ran forward and caught the old clergyman by the arm.
Mrs. Ely glanced significantly from the Colonel’s approaching figure to Lola. “I don’t know how much devotion girls expect nowadays, but when I was young such watchful care of me would have touched me very much.”
Lola gave an astonished glance at Mrs. Ely and the Colonel. “I don’t know what you mean,” she stammered.
“Do you not? then you are duller than I thought you,” said the old lady, calmly, going forward to meet her husband.
Lola stood motionless, staring at the lichen on a head-stone, a red heat rising slowly to her face underneath the chalk and touch of rouge, with which, like too many Southern girls, she usually covered her pretty skin.
Care of her?
Could this be true? Miss Pogue was not the kind of woman who in any circumstances would give all for love and count the world well lost. But the circumstances of her life had kept the idea of love and marriage further in the background than with ordinary women. She had shared in her father’s struggles for the necessities and at last the luxuries of life. These were the sharp realities which kept her shrewd, practical brain busy. But Lola was not a mercenary woman. The idea that Dupré Mocquard, after all his hard fight in the world, loved her, and wished to make her his wife, touched her. A deep wave of feeling seemed to surge up in her brain and heart. It startled herself. Was it possible that she was in love, and with this man? She looked at him keenly as he came toward her between the cypress-trees and white shafts. He was not a young man, but he had the face and figure to which a Southern woman, however practical, would pay homage. One of Arthur’s knights might have looked like this overseer.
“He need no longer be overseer—if—papa could take him into partnership in the mills. He lives in the Mocquard house, and I could keep it up in its old state for one-half the money he wastes with a house-keeper and lazy negroes. As for the children—are there four or five?” Her eyes kindled as these thoughts flashed through her mind. The untidy house, the children, the lazy servants, quickened and warmed her blood as the sight of a disorderly regiment would kindle the wits of an energetic drill-sergeant.
Colonel Mocquard, when he came up, fancied that Miss Pogue, for whose blond beauty he had a fervent appreciation, appeared embarrassed and irritated.
“Do let us go home,” she said, turning shortly away. “I want to get among living things again. I have no sympathy with dead people. Come, Betty.”
She walked quickly toward the carriage; but Betty, all of whose motions were slow and gentle, looked at the graves, her brown eyes full of pity. “Suppose they could hear her?” she murmured, with a scared, nervous life. “Not sorry for them! To think of them alone here, and that we cannot reach them or do anything for them never again!”
“There are the living still for you to help, Cousin Betty,” said Colonel Mocquard, offering her his arm, and bending over her with a wistful face as they went down the avenue.
“That child’s heart is full of longing to comfort and work for others—even the dead,” said the clergyman, as he followed with his wife.
“Ah,” she snapped, sharply, “I would rather see a little work with the hands than all these heart longings. She cannot button her own shoes. Why, poor as that girl and her grandmother are, she must have a negro maid to dress her like a baby. Help others, indeed!”
“Madame de Parras clings to the old usages,” stammered Mr. Ely.
“A pretty wife for the Colonel!” grumbled Mrs. Ely. “But it’s no affair of mine.”
“No, my dear,” said her husband, plucking up courage. “It is not, happily. And, after all, a man does not want the work of her hands from his wife so much as sympathy and companionship. You,” he added, earnestly, “gave both, Jane.”
Her old face was warm and smiling as she entered the carriage, and she beamed graciously even on little Betty as they drove back to the city.
III.—ALONG THE GULF.
“WE have all agreed, I believe, to make our first halt at Biloxi, in Mississippi,” said Mr. Ely, as the train with our tourists on board rolled out of Mobile.
“And why Biloxi?” asked his wife.
“Ah, madame,” said Madame de Parras, “do you not know it is the town nearest to the Beauvoir plantations? I am sure we shall all wish to pay our respects to President Davis.”
“Biloxi,” said Major Pogue, “is a place which ought to be a winter resort for Northern invalids. I am interested in bringing it into notice. I want you to see it.”
“Biloxi,” exclaimed Mr. Ely, eagerly, “is the point where Iberville with Bienville and the Franciscan Père Athanase landed and built the first fort. It must be full of traces of those old adventurers. Mocquard and I intend to search them out.”
“I want to stop at the town,” said Lola, “to lay in a supply of preserved figs and of shrimps for the family. There are large canning houses there, and I expect to save ten per cent, by buying wholesale.”
“Mr. Ely is going to take me fishing,” lisped Betty, with an ecstatic gurgle. “Some people that my grand’mère knows in New Orleans have a summer cottage in Biloxi. They told me that they bathe and fish, and picnic in the pine woods. Only think how delicious!” shutting her eyes and shaking her curly head in a way which made Major Pogue and the old clergyman exchange looks of delight, while Mrs. Ely groaned inwardly at the hopeless imbecility of men. She began instantly to question Lola as to the prices of canned vegetables in New Orleans, hoping that Colonel Mocquard would hear how well posted the young lady was in the state of the market.
Biloxi is a long scrambling village, built on a ledge of sand-hills between the bay and quiet stretches of pine woods that roll back over Harrison County.
“The very place for invalids with incipient throat troubles!” Major Pogue declared, enthusiastically. “The south wind blows to them straight from off the Gulf of Mexico, and the north wind sifts all the healing for them out of these pine forests.”
Biloxi is but little known as yet as a winter health resort. Our travelers found an old-fashioned inn among the few houses that were open; a pile of galleries in tiers about a court into which cozy little chambers opened, each with its cheery fire and canopied French bed. A creole family had it in charge. What they lacked in English they made up in gestures and good-humor. The house was full of consumptive and asthmatic patients from the Southern States, with a few from Chicago and other points in the Northwest. The average American meets even death with good-humored sang-froid. These pale doomed folk made up fishing parties every morning, and sailed away, coughing and singing, to the islands which lay like blots of shadow in the rolling fogs of billowy silver that filled the bay; they came back, coughing, chattering, and joyous, in the evening, up out of the red sunset, with enormous loads of fish, which they displayed in the court-yard of the inn, under the lamps which hung in the huge live-oaks, while their wives and children and the negroes gathered about them as excited as if these were the first fish ever haled out of that water.
There was a delightful disorder and spontaneity in the whole place. At uncertain hours a gray old negro went through the galleries shouting “Breakfast,” or “Dinner,” or “Supper,” as if it had just occurred to him that somebody might be hungry, and everybody set out in search of a remote dining-room, to find a plentiful meal, peppery and high-flavored, after the creole fashion. After supper everybody, again headed by the invalids, crowded into the cheery little parlor, and danced as merrily as if they had just drawn out new title-deeds to life and youth.
The greasy court-yard with its clumps of live-oaks stretched down to the bay, thrusting long fingers of piers in to clutch the water. On both of the curving shores on either side rows of large hotels or restaurants faced the bay. They were closed now, and tenanted only by melancholy cats, which prowled about their empty galleries.
“Biloxi is a resort in summer for monstrous excursion or fishing parties from New Orleans,” explained Major Pogue, as they sauntered through the deserted wharves and silent hotels.
“And they drink beer occasionally,” suggested Mr. Ely, nodding to the vast heaps of empty bottles in the courts. Back in the village, too, which straggled through green lanes into the edge of the woods, they found millions of these stone and glass bottles, stuck inverted in the ground to make borders for flower beds in the gardens, or as curb-stones for the sidewalks. Mrs. Ely was so appalled at the seas of beer which these endless gray and black lines indicated that she began to drop temperance tracts into the pretty flower-gardens and to thrust them under the front doors.
“I always take a supply with me to carry on the good work,” she explained, nervously, to Miss Pogue, who watched her with polite astonishment. “And really the amount of liquor consumed in the South must be enormous! The incessant treating that even I have seen dismays me.”
Mr. Ely, noticing the angry color on Lola’s cheek, hastily interposed. “Yes, yes, my dear; we hear a great deal at home about the amount of drinking in the South, but we forget the cause. The uneventful, solitary life on farms or plantations always drives men to some kind of devil’s work. In the cattle-herding ranches of the Northwest, I’ve been told, they fall into the habit of soaking in liquor, alone. Here, among a generous, hospitable people, treating has been the natural temptation. In your own New England—“
“There is very little intemperance in New England,” angrily interrupted Mrs. Ely, “compared with—“
“There is more than you suppose,” said her husband. “But the New Englander, in his bare and stinted farm life, falls a victim to a temptation which rarely attacks the Southerner. He grows morbid; he becomes disgusted with his wife, and takes another. ‘Bills’ of divorce have made the domestic relations of some of our communities almost as unsettled as those of Utah. He grows disgusted next with orthodox forms of religion; he begins to taste all kinds of heterodoxy, spiritualism, Buddhism, and the rest. Better tipple in whiskey than in free-thinking, in my judgment. The Southerner is better fed in body, and has a healthier mind. He may drink, but he worships sincerely in the faith his mother taught him, and he is, as a rule, a faithful and fond husband and father. The moral shortcomings of both sections arise, as I said, from precisely the same cause. The pot need not sneer at the kettle.”
“You’re right there, Mr. Ely!” exclaimed the Major. “For generations our men had little to do; they were idle, friendly, hospitable. The rest goes without saying. There is much less brandy drunk now than before our people went to work—much less. You’re right. Occupation, work, prosperity—these are the best preachers of temperance. Our young men, as they are brought into friction with the world, will find out the folly and vulgarity of this perpetual tippling.”
Now and then a party of enthusiastic Georgians or Mississippians, or curious Northerners, visitors to the New Orleans Exposition, would run up to Biloxi and drive out through the pines to the Beauvoir plantations to call on the ex-President of the Confederacy, from whom they all received a courteous welcome. Mrs. Ely sternly repulsed any meek hints of a desire to go with them from her husband as disloyal.
“I have a natural curiosity, my dear,” he reasoned, “to meet and judge for myself a historical character.”
“Have you no respect for the flag?” she demanded. “I never expected to find you, at this late day, aiding and abetting rebellion!”
Mr. Ely, as usual, did not argue with his wife. The next day, however, when Madame de Parras and her granddaughter went out for a drive, the clergyman and Colonel Mocquard accompanied them. The whole party came home, excited and pleased, late in the evening, wearing bunches of white pinks on the breasts, which the ladies hastened to put away as sacred relics. They observed a significant silence while they ate their suppers, and Mrs. Ely thought it wise to ask no questions.
When they left Biloxi, however, taking the railway which follows the coast closely to New Orleans, she was the most eager of the party to catch sight of the plain wooden farm-house at Beauvoir, dimly seen through groves of pine.
The coast-line nearing New Orleans is set with picturesque little villages—Ocean Springs, Moss Point, Mississippi City, Bay St. Louis, and Pass Christian, some of them the summer resorts of Louisianians since the last century. They are all alike in feature—airy, hospitable cottages set in the midst of groves of enormous live-oaks, draped with gray moss, which the wind incessantly sways to and fro: quiet lanes winding through thickets of cypress, magnolia, and palmetto trees; everywhere roses, thrusting themselves up to perfume the air, covering the houses, the trunks of the trees, the ground, with sudden flames of crimson and gold; in the background a rampart, dark and gloomy, of pine forests; and in front the Gulf, stretching to the horizon, a vast shifting plane which in this peculiar shadeless sunlight incessantly glows with opalescent tints strange to Northern eyes.
The march of improvement is at work, however, on these beautiful little nooks, building a line of canning factories and huge hotels from Mobile to the Mississippi.
Mrs. Ely besought her friends to push on to New Orleans. “There will soon be nothing left distinctively Southern here but the weather and the foliage,” she complained. “This hotel might have been transplanted from New York: gas, electric bells, cookery; and all this ash furniture is from Grand Rapids; the clerk and the landlord are Connecticut men, and most of the guests are Chicagoans. I went to-day out of that grove of magnolias directly into a Sixth Avenue auction store, with its piles of ready-made clothes, gilt jewelry, cheap soap, and vases. There was the Jewish sales-lady with her black bang, bracelets, and hooked nose. ‘Did this store come entire from New York?’ I asked. ‘Just as you see it, ma’am. And me too,’ she said, with a smirk.”
“You could repeat your experience in every town in the South,” said the Major. “But when we reach New Orleans I promise to find you some corners which belonged to the France of a hundred years ago.”
It was to this French quarter of New Orleans that Mr. Ely, when they reached that city, gave himself up wholly. His wife and Miss Pogue “did” the Exposition thoroughly; they repaired early every morning to Canal Street to secure seats in the Prytania Street cars; they priced every exhibit; they knew just where to find the cheapest sandwiches in the cafés.
“Nobody,” Mrs. Ely (still bent on match-making) told Colonel Mocquard, “had viewed the Exposition more intelligently and economically than Miss Pogue.” But the Colonel, while he had the most vivid admiration for Lola’s golden hair and blue eyes, had no appreciation of economy or intelligence in any woman.
“He is a very narrow-minded man; he very seldom finds his way to the Exposition,” Mrs. Ely complained in her nightly gossip to her husband; “and when he does come, is quite taken up with cotton-gins and steam-ploughs. And he’s a creole, too! Lola speaks of him as a typical Southerner—a fire-eater and duelist, and full of chivalry. But he goes about like the rest of them in a narrow-rimmed hat, poking into cotton-gins and laughs. I must say I’m disappointed.”
Mrs. Ely, like the majority of Northerners at the Exposition, was perpetually in search of something “typically Southern.” She went to the French Market on Sunday morning with the mob of tourists, and fell a victim to the Jew peddlers who had orange-wood canes for sale manufactured of pine in New York. She promenaded the Boulevard Esplanade, looking out for Mr. Cable’s creoles, and regarding every old man with white hair and black eyes with awe as a possible Grandissime. She made vain pretences of asking her way from people whom she fancied were Legrees, or Madame Delphines, or Texan cow-boys; but they all turned out to be from Duluth or Chicago. She had heard all her life of the wickedness of New Orleans, and she took a fearful joy in venturing into quarters which were said to be its worst haunts; but they now turned gay, decent faces to the passing stranger.
The splendor of the private hospitality in New Orleans overpowered the good woman. She wrote home to the Ladies’ Sewing Circle of magnificent banquets to which she was bidden, and of the simple, unpretending people who gave them. She described minutely some of the immense private houses, set in sloping lawns, with fountains, and groves of palm, and orange-trees heavy with golden fruit. The long galleries at the back, as in Eastern houses, closed around an open green court. “Forty chambers I counted in one,” she wrote, “and all filled with guests during Mardi Gras. And the mistress of it, who once counted her slaves by the thousand, a meek, quiet little Presbyterian body, who insisted on making a plaster herself for my rheumatic shoulder. Indeed, I wish you knew these people better in the North. The closer you come to them, the more you find they are very much like ourselves at heart.”
The Exposition bewildered and stunned her husband. After a day or two he forsook it, and set out to study historic New Orleans, Colonel Mocquard willingly neglecting his business to go with him. When Major Pogue escorted the rest of the party down the river to inspect the jetties, the two cronies refused to go, being impatient to hunt out the precise spot on the miles of levees, now crowded with shipping from all the world, where Bienville first sprang to the shore of the untrodden wilderness from his little barkentine.
“I look upon this great city,” the clergyman said to Colonel Mocquard, “as the outgrowth of the dogged obstinacy of that one man. Was there ever so mad a thing done as to found the capital of a great territory a hundred miles from a harbor, on a swamp lower than the water on either side, with a perpetual fight for life before it against tides, wind, and fever?—and in spite of the constant opposition of the French government. I am convinced, too, that Bienville foresaw the future importance of these possessions, or he would not have persisted in founding colonies among the jungles as high as Natchez.”
The two enthusiasts traced from point to point the strange drama played by the old town, in which French and Spaniards of good blood, Irish refugees, negroes and Indians, were actors. Down in the lower part of the French quarter stood the first orange and fig groves planted by Governor Perrier . In the Faubourg de Ste. Marie the Jesuit fathers planted the slips of sugar-cane, a gift sent them by their brethren in San Domingo, together with a few slaves skilled in its culture.
On the levee below the French Market landed the first slaves, the thousand Children of the Sun imported by Bienville into the miserable little hamlet. A few feet from this spot Governor Du Perrier burned six Natchez braves at the stake. Here, too, guarded by priests and Sours de la Charité, were brought ashore the pious maidens, each with her box of linen, sent from France by the Church to be wives to Bienville’s followers. Several of the old families of New Orleans still sacredly treasure relics of a revered ancestress who was one of these fills de la cassette. The Colonel recalled to Mr. Ely an old tradition that with each importation these pious maidens grew uglier, until General Duclos was forced to hint that his men would prefer more beauty, even with less solid virtue.
In the old Place d’Armes, fronting the Cathedral of St. Louis, Bienville gave to his colony a name; here the citizens met to revolt against their cession to Spain; and here they welcomed victorious Jackson after the battle of Chalmette.
They followed up the traces of Spanish occupation with great difficulty. But two decayed old buildings remained to tell of that stormy period.
“Philadelphia and New Orleans have a more dramatic history than any towns on the continent,” grumbled Mr. Ely, “yet they are the most indifferent to their ancient landmarks.”
Wandering through the Exposition buildings he found hints of every phase of Southern life. There was, most prominent of all, the portly, florid business man, the railway magnate, iron manufacturer, banker, merchant, usually heavily bearded, full-voiced, keen-eyed, a trifle more masculine, more aggressive, more genial and grandiloquent in ideas and words, than his congener of New York or Philadelphia. There was the rawboned, grizzled planter from upper Mississippi, with his flock of eager boys and girls about him. “Enohmously expensive trip, suh, to bring them all,” he told Mr. Ely anxiously; “but it’s a chance foh education I cahn’t afford to throw away foh them, suh.” There were crowds of country girls with thick ivory skins and black eyes, more carefully chaperoned, more beplumed, beflounced, and powdered, than their Northern sisters, but for the rest members of the same giggling, flirting, innocent flock. There was now and then a French overseer or an American workman from some inland parish, speaking a patois quite unintelligible to Mr. Ely. But he found in the manner of many men of this class a deference to their employers, a tacit acknowledgment of inferior social station, quite impossible to the mechanic of Pennsylvania or the West. He did not, oddly enough, find this survival of the habits of the old régime among the negroes, except in an occasional gray-haired freedman not yet quite sure that he was free.
Occasionally he met one of the gentlewomen of that same old régime, well guarded by the men of her family, graceful, white-handed, with that sweet, pathetic treble in her voice also peculiar to Virginian women (quite different from the unctuous Georgian drawl). There was always about her, too, an air of perpetual appeal for protection, and yet something beneath it which told you that she was an absolute monarch in her own sphere. The clergyman found a charm in this imperious helplessness, which touched him more nearly than the self-reliance of Mrs. Ely’s friends at home. When one of these women had gone by he felt as if he had heard a verse of a song, sweet and familiar, but of which he had lost the beginning and the end.
In the evenings the negroes arrived in crowds, gayly dressed, chattering a bastard French.
There were ranchmen from Texas, German, Irish, and English; cow-boys; hosts of the wives of small planters, curious, intelligent, and voluble; judges from South Carolina, colonels from Georgia, orange-growers from Florida—all unlike, yet alike in the uneasy air of having come up out of some remote place where they ruled into a crowd where they were insignificant. In no city in this country could such an exhibition have called together an audience as foreign or as vivid in its contrasts.
The singular dual life of the Crescent City took vehement hold of the imagination of the old clergyman.
On one side of its great artery, Canal Street, is a powerful American city, firmly established, fully abreast of the trade and industry of the time, and clutching eagerly for its share of the commerce of the world. It is vitalized now with an energy which, if not pure Yankee in character, is very closely akin to it.
Here are miles of wharves heaped with cotton and sugar; thoroughfares massively built, through which the endless tides of human life ebb and flow all day; magnificent avenues stretching away out to the country, lined with modern hotels, club-houses, and huge dwellings, each flanked by one or two picturesque towers, which, on inspection, turn out to be only cisterns.
There is the necessary complement of black shadow below these vivid high lights. Poverty and Vice live more out-of-doors in New Orleans than in Northern cities. There they are, barefaced, leering, always on the familiar pave, to be seen and known of all men. Back of all signs of wealth and gayety, too, is the mud, a material, clammy horror. The water, a deadly enemy here, perpetually fought and forced back, rushes in, whenever a day’s rain gives it vantage, at every crevice; floods the streets and clogs the drains. It oozes out of the ground wherever you step on it, drips down the walls of your drawing-room, stains your books a coffee-color, clings to you, chilly and damp, in your clothes and in your bed, turns the air you breathe into a cold steam, and washes your dead out of their graves.
“This Queen of the South has soiled and muddy robes,” said Mr. Ely; “but she is still a queen.”
He delighted to stroll in the afternoon with the Colonel across Canal Street, to find this lusty American city vanish suddenly, and to enter a quiet French provincial town of the days of Louis XIV. Here was no stir, no clamor.
“Voilà la vraie Nouvelle Orléans!” lisped little Betty, as she guided him for the first time into the labyrinth of narrow streets branching off of La Rue Royale. It was her old home, and very beautiful and dear to her. Madame de Parras was confined to the house with rheumatism, and was willing to trust her to the escort of her reverend friend. So the old man and the girl, being about the same age (“as old as the Babies in the Wood,” quoth Mrs. Ely), fell into the habit of strolling in the early morning or gathering twilight through the net-work of oddly silent streets, so narrow that the overhanging eaves nearly met over the cobble-stone pavements. Steep roofs, scaled with earthen tiles and green with moss, hooded dormer-windows peeping out of them like half-shut eyes, rose abruptly from the one-storied houses. Here and there a cobbler sat on his bench in the street plying his awl and singing to himself, or a group of swarthy, half-naked boys knelt on the banquette, flinging their arms about in a gambling game for pennies, and shrieking in some wild dialect, half negro and half French.
Their walks usually ended on the Boulevard Esplanade. Even that wide thoroughfare fell into quiet in the afternoon as the long shadows of the trees lay heavily across it. Within the close walls they could catch a glimpse of the courts about which the houses are built, the glitter of fountains shaded by orange-trees and broad-leaved tropical plants. Sometimes a jalousied window would be left open, and they would catch the tinkle of a guitar or the sound of a woman’s voice singing.
Mr. Ely, like most Northerners, knowing New Orleans only through Mr. Cable’s marvellous pictures, spoke of them once or twice to Betty. But she shook her head impatiently. She would not hear of these photographs of herself and her creole kinsfolk.
“Why put us in a magazine story to amuse the world?” she demanded. “You should read Gayarré’s books on Louisiana, or Picket on Alabama. They are books of dignity, monsieur. We have had our historians!” pluming herself like a little pigeon.
Betty had her friends everywhere: in the stately old creole houses, and among the cobblers, and the market women, and the shrieking boys who played morra . The quaint old city was as familiar to her as the far-distant brisk New York town in which he lived to Mr. Ely. He began to see where the strength of the little girl’s character lay, and why the soft, foolish creature had so powerful an attraction for men and women of all kinds.
“She is the most human being I ever knew,” he told Colonel Mocquard. “I suppose she knows nothing of books or of business, like Miss Pogue. But she knows men and women. She goes straight to the innermost nature of each with her wonderful instinct. These people in her old home she sees but once a year, yet she keeps every thread of their lives in her hands, and comes back eager to be of use. You should see her with some of their old slaves. There are some women who are not at all intellectual, or even capable; they are just well-springs of love and comfort in the world.”
Colonel Mocquard bowed with a gravity which showed how sacred the subject was to him, and Mr. Ely, recollecting his former suspicious, hesitated, stammered, and was silent.
That very afternoon Betty claimed his help on an exploring expedition. “I wish to find a negro, a woman who have belong to my grand-père—oh, a very old woman,” was all the explanation that she vouchsafed, except to state presently that “Mère Deché” was sometimes to be found in the French Market.
“Where does she live?” asked Mr. Ely.
Betty glanced uneasily about her, and then, with a nervous laugh, answered: “If you would believe the negroes, nowhere. They insist that nobody for years has been able to find where she eats or sleeps. She just appears sometimes. But that is their superstition. I am not so foolish.”
“No, of course not. I infer that this agreeable friend of yours is a Voudoo witch, then?”
Betty held his arm more tightly. “Hush-h! these negroes are so absurd with their horrible superstition. It is Pierre who worries me now. Our old coachman. He comes to tell me to-day that Mère Deché had bewitched him—you call it. His food shall no longer nourish him. He goes to die. Oh, it is quite true, monsieur. His skin is gray; he is lean. I tell him I will go find Mère Deché, and compel her—com-pel her, I say—to take off the spell. She is a murderess!” with a vindictive nod.
“But you don’t really believe—“
“No. But Pierre does, and the effect is the same on him as if it were true. It is a mystery, monsieur. Now attend. Three years ago the negroes still went out to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain on certain nights. There is a flat marsh there, and the water oozes up in ponds, black, dreary. Mère Deché would be there, a great fire kindled beside her. The poor black people dance around her. They believe she comes from the evil one, and if they do not obey her they will be accursed. Now they do not go to the lake any more, and—“ she shrugged her shoulders significantly.
“Poor Pierre is accursed? Well, here is the market. Upon my word, a witch would not be out of place in it.”
It was late in the afternoon. The traffic for the day was over, and the crowd of buyers, visitors, and Jew peddlers had left the long market, which runs for a mile and a half through the French quarter. It was filled now only with the French and Spanish fish-mongers and butchers, and the negresses and Indian women.
They had dropped heavy curtains of canvas over the sides of the market, shutting out the already fading daylight. Floods of muddy water poured over the brick pavements. Mr. Ely and his companion climbed on some planks to escape the deluge, and forgetting the dying Pierre, watched the odd scene before them, laughing and curious.
It was like looking into an immense narrow tent filled with a yellow-tinted darkness. Here were groups of old fish-women, the size of cotton bales and the color of coffee, knitting and chattering in a shrill treble; there a dozen swarthy, black-browed Italians gesticulated as though they had discovered a murder over a case of green figs; on the ground squatted some Indian women, dumb, and motionless, beside bags of gumbo filé. Suddenly a shrill cry piped out, and the whole fraternity broke into wild confusion. In the far distance red flames flashed up from a long furnace, lighting the dark faces and hurrying figures. Men in white paper caps and women with red and yellow turbans rushed to and from the furnace, each carrying a shining pewter vessel, coming up suddenly out of the darkness into the red light, and disappearing into it again. Two hideous old negro women at the furnace filled the vessels from the caldron.
“What does it mean?” asked Mr. Ely. “It might be a meeting of witches.”
“It is only hot gumbo,” laughed Betty. “They take now their afternoon goûter.”
“These Latin American people are incomprehensible!” exclaimed Mr. Ely. “They cannot eat a meal without as much fervor and excitement as if it were a political conspiracy, falling, too, into pictures that Rembrandt might have painted. Look at that hag with the red light streaming across her. What an eye for effect she must have! She has no color about her like the others. Don’t you see? She is wrapped in dust-color; her skin is wrinkled like an elephant’s hide, only her wool is white. How old she is! She is age itself. She is one of the cave-women who lived here before the mound-builders came, and she has crept out of her den with the earth still about her.”
Betty, laughing, and peering eagerly into the shifting crowd of faces in the darkness to find the woman, started, and held her breath. “That is Mère Deché,” she whispered. “I go to speak to her.”
“Pardon me, no,” said a voice behind her, and Colonel Mocquard joined them. “I heard of your errand, and followed you. You are pale, mademoiselle. Come out into the fresh air.”
“I will talk to Mère Deché. A dollar or two will make her lift the spell from Pierre; or, better still, the sight of a policeman.”
“Have these Voudoo women a strong hold on the negroes?” asked Mr. Ely, as they walked away.
“Not as much as formerly, but the dread of them extends even yet into classes where you would think it impossible they should be noticed at all. This Mère Deché, for example, is a Guinea negro really of great age—she claims to be a hundred and forty. One can imagine that a mass of paganism and ignorance in the world for that time could gather any amount of magic and murderous spells about it,” he said, jokingly, glancing aside at Betty’s white face. “The principal victims of the Voudoo women now are the field hands. The house servants begin to see that the old witches have designs on their wages, or on their mistresses’ spoons. Even our witchcraft in the South,” he added, laughing, “has taken on a commercial quality. You will find your old cavewoman yonder will succumb to a five-dollar bill as quickly as if she had been born white of American parents. Eh, mademoiselle?”
But Betty shook her head without a smile.
IV.—AMONG THE BAYOUX.
OUR old clergyman and his wife soon felt at home in New Orleans. They were both warmly welcomed by their new friends, but—with a difference. There was always a difference in the way in which the world accepted these two. Mrs. Ely was honest, keen, observant, and civil enough (usually) to keep her prejudices out of sight. Madame de Parras and her friends were ready to talk pleasantly to her, to discuss the Exposition, or the mud, or the last new fashion or book. But there the intercourse stopped. She came no nearer to their real selves than if they had been built up each in a cell like the ancient anchorites, with only their eyes looking out at her through the wall.
But the single-minded old man, with his gentle voice, and fiery zeal in your affairs, and gay little jokes, was everybody’s kinsman. Men instructed their business ventures to him, young girls confided to him their innocent plans, and mothers, sitting by the fire at night, told him of the children who had played on the hearth (ah! such a little while ago!), but who were gone, never to come again. There are still men in the world who, like the ancient prophets, have a gift of healing, and all hurt and wounded creatures, knowing it, come near them.
Every day Mr. Ely felt the difference between the Latin American race who surrounded him and the more logical, thinner-blooded people with whom he was more familiar. “And every day,” he told Colonel Mocquard, “I am more convinced that I should have been born here.”
The color and fire which these men and women put into life, their gayety, their melancholy, their inconsequence, all seemed natural to him. He should have entertained his friends by the score, or shouted for King Rex on Mardi-Gras.
One day he and his wife lost their way in the French quarter, and Louis, who was a merchant of candles, undertook to set them right, and Jacques, the cobbler, left his bench on the banquette to dispute as to the cars they should take, and his wife, baby in arms, with a red kerchief on her head, came to help him, and Baptiste and his wife, and all the boys playing morra, followed, and the whole troop escorted them to the corner, anxious, chattering, watching them out of sight, and waving them good luck.
“What a noisy rabble!” said Mrs. Ely, with a groan of relief, as they escaped.
But her husband looked back, laughing. It flashed on him that in some state of being he had been Baptiste or the cobbler, and had chattered and sat singing in the sun, and had so thrown himself vehemently into trifles with tears and laughter.
They paused a minute, waiting, until a funeral should pass, to cross the street.
“Entrez! entrez!” cried a shrill voice behind them, and a woman, very lean and ragged, threw open the door of her cellar. Like herself, it needed water badly. But the bed had a canopy of Turkey red muslin looped up with bunches of old paper flowers, and on the wall hung gay prints of the Virgin and of St. Agnes, decorated with scraps of lace and tinsel rosettes. The woman herself, with all her lean poverty, had brilliant eyes and a pleasant smile, and welcomed them with a sort of airy grace.
“They decorate their misery, and even their religion!” cried Mrs. Ely, with a vindictive horror, as she hurried away.
But her husband said that he had caught sight of the photograph of a baby framed in a rag of black crêpe, and fastened to the breast of the Virgin. “The poor woman gave her dead child to that other mother in heaven. I can’t find fault with her, Sarah, nor with her poor little symbol.”
“Rank superstition!” muttered Mrs. Ely.
The old clergyman perceived soon after this that his little friend Betty and her grandmother had fallen into some trouble or perplexity. Even Mrs. Ely discovered it.
“Money difficulties, no doubt,” she said. “Trouble of that kind is common enough in the South. But it loses the sting here it was with us, for these people do not feel it a disgrace to be poor. They are incomprehensible to me.”
“I do not think any anxiety of that kind would distress our friends so deeply as they are now,” said Mr. Ely, gently. “Madame de Parras has a certain stoical philosophy underneath her French vivacity which would not let her succumb to petty annoyances.”
“So you call a bill that can’t be paid a petty annoyance!” retorted Mrs. Ely, severely.
“It is no trouble of that kind with our friend,” said Major Pogue. “It is no secret; but it dates back a long way. Olave de Parras, Betty’s father, inherited all his father’s estates. He was an affectionate, weak, light-hearted fellow, just the man to be the prey of a sharper who knew how to win his friendship. A Colonel Jean Gaudry, from Point Coupée, soon took him in hand, made a drunkard of him, and then a gambler, and when he had sucked him dry, threw him off. De Parras had spent every dollar he had, and died at thirty, when Betty was a baby in her cradle. Old Vaudry came back to New Orleans about a year ago, a mere wreck in mind and body. He has been lying ill in one of the hospitals for months.”
“Serves him right!” exclaimed Mrs. Ely. “Oh, I tell you, Major, there is justice in this world, as well as in the next!”
“He suffers terribly from some incurable disease,” said the Major. “Madame de Parras hears of him from the good Sisters every day, and fears he will die before he has made his peace with God. She has offered to go to him, to be friends with him before he dies, but he will not see her.”
Mrs. Ely drew a long breath. “Certainly she is acting like a good Christian. I don’t believe I could do that.”
Colonel Mocquard had entered while the Major was speaking. “De Parras should have shot the scoundrel like a dog!” he said, hastily. “But, as he is alive, it is Madame de Parras’s part to forgive him, assuredly. So our Church teaches.”
“Oh, any Christian Church would teach the same,” rejoined Mrs. Ely, quickly. “But—“
“If he was her friend, kindness to him would be easy enough,” said Mocquard, gravely; “but being her enemy, it is her duty, she being a woman.”
A week later Madame de Parras sent for Mr. Ely. She was seated in her easy-chair, disabled by rheumatism. Betty, in her street dress, stood beside her. Both were laboring under strong excitement.
“My little girl wishes your escort for her and her maid,” said the old lady, trying to smile. “You are so kind to her, and you are a man of God. She is going to the hospital. There is there a poor miserable, who goes soon to die. He will better rest in his grave if he is forgiven by—by those whom he has wronged. Go, my child. Tell him that Olave de Parras’s mother and child forgive him; tell him that we will have masses said for the repose of his soul.”
When they left the room, Colonel Mocquard followed them, walking, as Mr. Ely noticed, on the other side of Betty, as if he had the right to protect her. They passed in silence through the French quarter. It was a dark, gusty day; the quaint foreign-looking streets were in deep shadow, and the wind sobbed through them fitfully. Betty’s face, usually smiling and full of arch coquetry, was set and colorless, and her soft eyes her dull. She had hardly strength enough for her high purpose. The two men kept guard over her, alike awed and silent.
Suddenly she stopped. “Ah, mon Dieu! we are too late!” she cried, pointing to a square of black-bordered paper hanging to a lamp-post. On it was the picture of a tomb and weeping-willows, and below, in the old French fashion of a hundred years ago, the passer-by was “prié d’assister au convoi et à l’enterrement de feu Jean Vaudry, natif de France, décédé ce matin, âgé de soixante-neuf ans. Le corps est exposé rue Ste. Anne, à l’Asile. De la part de sa famille.”
They stood a moment uncertain; then turned and quietly retraced their steps. Betty drew her veil over her face, crying silently.
“You are too late, my child,” whispered Mr. Ely. “But God knows.:
When they came to the Cathédrale de St. Louis, she went quietly into the little passage at the left, and entering the old church, fell on her knees. The negress who accompanied her retreated into a corner and took out her beads. The old Protestant minister remained in the background, his head reverently bared. He had always been used once a year to preach in a perfunctory way upon the “errors of Rome,” but he had never been in a Roman church before. He did not see the gilt and decorated shrines or the burning lamps; nothing but the simple faith of the child, which made it a matter of course for her, being in trouble, to kneel and pray for help. An old woman, evidently the mother of a family—poor, shabby, and hungry-looking—kneeled beside him, muttering her prayers in Spanish; some men, negroes, Irish, and Italians, from the market, baskets or wooden pails on their arms, came in from time to time, and dropped down silently in the dark corners. As each rose, crossing himself, and went noiselessly out, the heart of the good old man went up to God, hoping that he might have left some of his trouble behind.
“I too pray for help,” he thought, “but I am ashamed to do it so openly. Why?”
His eyes that moment rested on Colonel Mocquard, who stood, with bowed head, near him, watching Betty, with all the hunger of a solitary soul in his face. At last he went toward her slowly, as if drawn by a power outside of himself, and fell upon his knees beside her. The old clergyman went hastily out of the church. It seemed to him that he was an intruder. They were alone together before God. He found a quiet seat under the trees before the cathedral, and waited for them. When they came out they walked side by side, and there was a happy shining in both their faces.
That evening Mrs. Ely told her husband that Major Pogue and his daughter intended to return to Atlanta next week. “And it is my belief that Colonel Mocquard will let the chance slip by of winning Lola. Very well: he never will find a better manager or more economical house-keeper. She has given me some of the most admirable recipes for cheap desserts, and her soups are simply perfect; but he is infatuated with the baby face of that little De Parras girl.”
“It is more than that, Sarah. When a man and woman can kneel together with their love before God, they can make life happy even without good soups and cheap recipes.”
“I am not so sure of that,” said Mrs. Ely, shaking her head.
The party which had clung together so long broke up the next week. Colonel Mocquard escorted Madame de Parras and her granddaughter back to their plantation, and Mrs. Ely accepted the invitation of her friend Miss Pogue to make her a visit in Atlanta, while Mr. Ely carried out a scheme which he had formed of exploring the bayoux and prairies of western Louisiana.
“It is the first time that he ever proposed to make a journey without me,” Mrs. Ely said to her friend, “and I give him just twenty-four hours to take cold and have his pocket picked; then he will come post after us to Atlanta.”
Mr. Ely was a fond husband; yet when he found himself alone at early dawn the next day on the ferry-boat to Algiers, he thought of his favorite hero, Eichendorff’s Good-for-Nothing, when he turned his back on work and wages, and set off, fiddle in hand, to explore the lazy, sunny, happy world. The old gentleman took a vicious delight in jerking off his hat from his bald head, and standing in a draught, and when a whining beggar came up he emptied his pockets of all his loose cash with a snap of his fingers to far-off Mrs. Ely and the Organized Charity clubs.
Algiers for nearly a century has been the workshop of New Orleans—at times a disorderly and rebellious shop enough. It looked peaceful, in the chilly morning light, as Mr. Ely sauntered about the dry-docks, waiting for the starting of the train on the Morgan and Southern Pacific Railway. He was just making friendly advances to a couple of villainous-looking Lascars who were sunning themselves on a hogshead, when a young man behind him caught his arm and hustled him into the train, adding a good-humored punch in the ribs.
“Hillo, granddad! you really oughtn’t to be gittin’ into sech cutthroat company when you’re out from home.”
His protector was a natty youth in a new suit of ready-made clothes, with a high beaver hat, blue satin cravat, seal ring, and shining patent-leather shoes as decorations. His hair was cut close to his scalp, and hair, scalp, and face to the eyelids were burned to a dull terra-cotta hue. “Set right down thah,” plumping him into a seat in the car. “I’m goin’ to smoke. I saw you buy your ticket. Sez I, he’s been to Orleans to see the sights, same’s me. But he’ll be picked up. I’ll look after him. Lord! don’t mention it. Lots uv rank strangers a-runnin’ round Orleans now lookin’ fur sights. Cow-boys, frinstens. They talk uv cow-boy’s if they woz roarin’ bulls or rep-tiles. Why”—beaming redly down on Mr. Ely—“I’m a cow-boy. Not much uv the rep-tile about me, I reckon”—stroking down his new lavender trousers. He strutted away complacently to the smoking-car, while a ponderous old gentleman, who consisted principally of a furry coat, an aquiline nose, whiskers, and a huge windy voice, dumped himself heavily into the seat beside Mr. Ely.
“Been to Exposition, suh?”
“Yes, I have, I have,” responded Mr. Ely, rubbing his thin hands eagerly. “A vast enterprise, sir.”
“Vast? Enormous! An answer, such, to the great economic problem of the American future. It hints that the industrial centeh of the republic will at no distant day be the South, and her best market the South American continent. Did you see no significance in the display of our mineral resources, our agricultural wealth, our rapidly increasing manufactures, and in close juxtaposition the friendly greetings from Mexico, Brazil, the West Indies, and the smaller South American states? Are you aware that those Latin American peoples import nearly seven hundred millions’ worth of goods in a year, cottons, clocks, shoes, hats, tools—everything—and that not two millions’ worth comes from the South, suh? Why should we not supply it all—all? And when we do, we shall take our proper place among nations; then, and not till then, suh.”
Mr. Ely assented gently, but soon crept away into another seat. He saw that he had encountered the man with one idea, the pioneer with his axe, who always goes before the army of progress, and he was in no mood to-day for wielding any axe or for welcoming any new ideas, however practical or vast. He wanted to sit in the hot sunshine that streamed into the car, and be borne into some unknown world where he should meet with strange adventures, and where neither wife nor deacons could raise their eyebrows with dismay at this queer tastes or his company. He wanted to slip aside out of these vast currents of trade into which his neighbor panted to plunge, into some obscure corner where there never had been talk of money-making. Turning to look out of the window, his conscience gnawing him with the folly of his own fantastic whims, he beheld his wish accomplished. He had surely found a world unknown before.
From Alabama to Canada this country wears very much the same features—the same golden wheat or green corn fields color all the slopes, and the same pines, maples, oaks, and nut trees give them shadow. The same familiar ferns feather the streams from Maine to Oregon, and the busy five-fingered ivy (which, by-the-way, ought to be our national symbol) trails its soft drapery over the rocks and ugly places of the whole continent. But here Mr. Ely lost all these life-long familiar companions. The track ran through interminable swamps of giant cypresses, magnolias, and fig-trees. Their myriads of gray trunks stood knee-high in water, opening in silent vistas on either side as the train passed through. Overhead huge vicious coils of vines knotted these bare columns together. It was March, but there was no coy, tender approach of spring here. Nature was a savage—fierce, prolific. They very leaves which in the North would have put forth a timid green burst open here like clots of blood or an angry glare of white; even the thickets of saplings were hoary as with age. Strange red and orange birds flashed through the sombre recesses; now and then a huge alligator rose out of the plane of slimy water, stared at the train with dead eyes, and plunged into it again.
They were on the border of that coast country of Louisiana which fronts the Mexican Gulf between Barataria and Calcasieu bays, a remarkable region, unlike any other in North America in its peculiar features, and in the sombre splendor of its scenery. The cause of its peculiarity is easily explained.
The Mississippi in Louisiana makes a huge bend westward in the shape of a bow or a crescent, the upper point being at Vicksburg, the lower at New Orleans, the middle of the arc running nearly parallel with the distant coast. To the northwest of this arc a stretch of pine-barrens, intersected by ranges of low rolling hills, and broken by numberless lakes and ponds, extends into Texas. Through these the heavy blood-colored flood of the Red River urges its way, carrying with it all lesser watercourses, and emptying itself into the Mississippi near the highest point of this bow or detour. Its red stain tinges the water and the banks of all the outlets of the great river thereafter to the Gulf.
With this last great influx (holding all the streams in the Texan Ilanos and the mountains of Mexico), the Mississippi now receives the whole drainage of the continent between the Rocky and Appalachian ranges. Every spring and rainfall in that vast territory helps to swell its tremendous tide below Bayou Sara. Hence the flood of water there pushes its way directly to the sea with resistless power, not only on its acknowledged highway, the Mississippi, but through the whole southern half of Louisiana. It literally enters in and occupies the land, forcing itself seaward, not only by more than three hundred bayoux, many of which are mighty rivers, but by sluggish, scarce-moving streams, by a perpetual soaking, creeping, oozing, though all the earth, showing itself on the surface in countless lakes, ponds, and enormous dismal swamps, and above it in incessant heavy rolling fogs and mists. You cannot dig three feet down in all this district without reaching water.
We must remember, too, that this spongy soil has been soaking in for ages the fat washings of all the rich alluvial river-bottoms on half of the continent. No such conditions enter into the formation of any other soil in the world. If Louisiana can ever be drained and rescued from the sea and the river, her fecundity under the hot tropical suns would be unparalleled.
As it is, the parishes in this region include the richest cotton, sugar, and orange-bearing ground in the States. The forests grow to the size of the woods before the flood; even the ghastly impenetrable swamps choke with rank life.
Mr. Ely during the next month wandered aimlessly through this territory. Leaving the railway, he explored one bayou after another, in a bateau, or in the little steamers which make leisurely voyages up the larger ones, stopping wherever the captain thinks it safe.
Bayou La Fourche was the first of these bright slow-moving rivers which he entered. As early as 1810, Breckinridge and Schultz, making journeys from Canada to the Gulf, noticed and wrote of the beauty of this bayou and its shores, although, as the land was then owned by French and Spanish paysans, it was not guarded by proper levees, and inundations occurred almost yearly. Opulent creole planters, however, soon bought up the grounds of the petits habitants, and the result is the immense estates which now line the shores of the upper La Fourche like a beautiful panorama. Not even a small New England farm can surpass in order and method a great sugar plantation. The levees run along either side of the bayou—green ramparts covered with fern, smilax, wild roses, and purple flags. Back of them, and lower than the stream at high tides, lies the ground, absolutely flat, hundreds of acres often enclosed in a single field, the whole seamed by the plough with mathematical precision, and covered in the spring with delicate lines of feathery green. At one end of the plantation stands the engine-house and works, of substantial brick; at the other, the dwelling of the planter, usually an airy verandaed structure, more or less in need of paint, but covered with such splendor of crimson and golden roses, and so hedged in by orange groves and sloping lawns, and gigantic oaks hung with curtains of moss and wealth of brilliant flowers, that each gay wooden house might put forth its claims to be the fabled dwelling of Selim in the valley of Cashmere.
The old clergyman found his lazy voyages up these bayoux full of picturesque surprises. When the boat stopped at the landing of a plantation, whether early in the morning, or at noon, or in the clear yellow sunset, there was a horde of half-naked black boys half in and half out of the water, or a gray-haired old negro waiting for packages for “de house,” or the planter, high-featured and swarthy, surrounded by children and dogs, watching, as eager as they, for the good fortune of an unexpected guest; or perhaps he would catch a glimpse in the grove near the levees of a group of olive-skinned vivacious creole women, or of American girls, shyer of glance and slower of tongue than their Northern sisters.
Thibodeaux, the capital of La Fourche Parish, is a typical Louisianian town, with the usual excess of beauty in the gardens, mud and pitfalls in the streets, and abounding hospitality of soul in the people. There is much solid wealth in this parish, which is the centre of the large sugar plantations of the State.
The shores of Bayou Plaguemine resemble those of La Fourche. The soil is exceptionally rich. The estates have been for the most part in the same families for generations. When the Mississippi is gorged, its waters rush through this outlet with a force equal to that of the St. Lawrence below Niagara. It overflows into the Atchafalaya, or the Old River, as it is sometimes called, because of an Indian tradition that it was ages ago the Mississippi itself.
The Teche is a gentle, good-humored stream, which rises in the uplands of St. Landry’s Parish, and follows a zigzag course through some of the highest and pleasantest farm-lands of Louisiana, until it too is lost in the Atchafalaya. It has a better character than any other bayou, never having been known to overflow its banks. The live-oaks grow, in the region through which this river lazily flows, to such enormous size that a Louisiana Senator, fifty years ago, offered in Congress to “float enough ship timber down the Teche into the Gulf to build navies for the whole world.” Fifty years is a mere moment in the lives of these ancient patriarchs; they have only wrapped themselves in a heavier cloak of moss since then, and are as ready now as they were when De Soto first saw them to help some ship-builder to fortune.
The rich cotton districts lie in the valley of the Red River and its affluents, but Mr. Ely did not travel so far northward. An accident turned him in another direction.
Coming back from a drowsy voyage up one of the bayoux, he struck the railway again one evening near Morgan City. He found that metropolis of the future, as it calls itself, lost for the nonce in fog and rain. A gray drizzle filled the sky, clammy drops trickled down the faces of the discouraged-looking houses, the backs of the tired mules plodding through the mud gave off steam, while white deathly mists crept in from the Atchafalaya, which swept past in the darkness like an angry sea.
The few glimmering lights of the town stared bewildered through the night.
“‘into the hell of waters,’ as Byron would have called it,” our good clergyman thought, as he too stared out of the window of the hotel into the limitless dark and wet. The damp crept into his marrow, his teeth chattered, though the night was warm. He turned for comfort to the glowing stove, and to a fellow-traveller who was puffing his cigar with this legs stretched out and his hands clasped behind his head.
“This is a wonderful region,” ventured Mr. Ely. “Marvellous scenery. But the universal wetness is appalling. I feel tonight,” he added, with a nervous laugh, “as the Egyptians must have done when the walls of water rushed in on them from every side.”
“Not a Southerner, I infer?” said the other, dryly.
“No. But I appreciate the splendor of your scenery to the full,” eagerly. “And yet, do you know, I really have great respect for the Germans,” lowering his voice confidentially.
“For their choice of a home in this country. The Puritans were satisfied with the bare New England rocks, and the French with this low-lying delta; but the Germans chose the rich high grounds and temperate air of Pennsylvania, the garden spot of the States, sir.”
“I am a Louisianian,” was the curt reply. It drove Puritans, Germans, the inhabitants of all the quarters of the world, into the background.
Mr. Ely, rebuffed, glanced at him deprecatingly; then came nearer, startled, curious. “Why—is it possible? A Lousianian? Weren’t you—surely you are Nettley Pym, of Connecticut? Don’t you remember the Senior Class and little Jem Ely?”
His old classmate suddenly sloughed off his swelling importance, and shook hands heartily again and again.
“Jem Ely? I should think I did remember! Always tail of the class, and writing verses to some pretty girl. Minister, eh? Of course you’d choose some starving business! You never were one to lay dollar to dollar,” giving a swift glance over the old clergyman’s well-kept clothes and cheap shoes.
“You, I suppose, have been more fortunate?” said Mr. Ely, drawing back a little.
“Oh, so so! I came down to this country thirty years ago—tutor—married a rich girl, and have been running a cotton plantation ever since. Naturally I have identiifed myself with my adopted State. There are not many men who understand what Louisiana can do, and is likely to do, as clearly as Nett Pym.”
“You think there is a great future before her, then?” said Mr. Ely, settling himself into a warm corner by the stove.
“That depends,” said Nett Pym, who, by-they-way, had gained the title of Judge in his adopted State, besides nearly three hundred pounds of flesh, and an accent half French and half negro—“that depends wholly on the action of our leaders in this crisis of our history. The majority of our public men are eager to throw open our ports to immigrants, Irish, Dutch, Scandinavians, to compel them to make New Orleans their port of entry, even if they only remain a month or two on their way to the West. I, sir, am opposed to this policy.” The Judge fell into an oracular singsong, pulling through his fingers the black beard which fringed his broad pasty face. “We of the South, sir, should control our own interests. We are urging Northern capitalists to come and develop our resources, and foreign workmen to fill our mines and mills. What will be the result? In ten years Northerners and foreigners will run the South. They will edit our papers, own the mines, manufactories, and railroads; take the lead in our business, our politics, and our society, while we Southerners will be pushed to the wall. I—it is true I am not a Louisianian by birth,” he stammered, recollecting himself, “but I sympathize with them wholly.”
“What would you have them do?”
“Train the mulatto into a skilled laborer, keep out the foreign workmen, put their own capital and energy into other pursuits than agriculture, develop their own resources, and reap the profit themselves.”
Mr. Ely drew a long breath of resignation. He could not, it seemed, escape the man of ideas. The Judge had now diverged into facts. “You must study the resources of this State, sir; you must carry home an accurate account of them—the enormous lumber interests, for example. Look at our cypress forests—absolutely illimitable! There is no more durable or beautiful wood. It is as rich a mine of wealth to us as its pine woods are to Maine. Are we to wait until some sharp-eyed Northerner comes here to gather in that crop? As for iron, come with me north of Red River and I will show you iron ore in Ouachita, or south of it, in Natchitoches, Sabine, or Rapides. Four of our parishes produce one containing nearly fifty per cent. of pure metal. The same parishes have large deposits of coal. Talk of Pennsylvania, indeed! We have petroleum and natural gas as well as Pennsylvania; sulphur and gypsum too; and rock-salt, which your Quaker State has not. You must go to Calcasieu to examine these resources. I’ll go with you; I’ve business in that direction.”
“You are most kind,” stammered Mr. Ely. “I will consider the matter.”
“You must come to Opelousas. There is a country for you! It contains eight thousand square miles. Fine prairie-land, cotton and sugar plantations, sheep and cattle ranches, and the soil black, oily, sir! Stick in your cane, and it roots and leaves! You must assuredly visit Opelousas. I will myself take you to the principal points of interest.”
“Does Opelousas extend to the Gulf?”
“No. Below it is Attakapas. Five thousand square miles. Running from the Atchafalaya to the Gulf. Vast prairies, and on the coast marshes—endless marshes. Peopled by the Acadians, who came here when they were banished from Nova Scotia.”
Mr. Ely kindled into eager interest. “They have altered greatly, no doubt? Become modern—American?”
“Not a whit. They are as ignorant and guileless as their own sheep. No progress among them. You need not waste your time in that direction.”
They parted for the night soon after this. Mr. Ely could not sleep. If he waited until morning he knew he would be swept away to investigate iron, hematites, indigo, or sulphur.
He packed his valise and fairly ran away, leaving a note of courteous regret, stating that he had a deep interest in the Acadians, and had gone on an exploring journey into Attakapas.
The Judge stared at the words in dumb amazement. “The same useless, feather-headed Jem Ely!” he muttered; and lighting his cigar with Ely’s note, went on his way.
OUR voyager, on leaving Morgan City, found that his road entered again into the stretch of low-lying impenetrable swamps and sombre cypress forests. They closed in upon the cheerful old man, significant and threatening, and cowed him as if they had been full of actual crime and death. It was a gray, airless day; at every moment some grotesque unknown form of vegetable life thrust itself into view; rank vines headed like serpents hung from the trees; monstrous growths of fungus of every color choked the swamps; huge saffron-colored flowers leered up at him out of the muddy depths. The masses of moss, black in the twilight, hung from the tops of the trees to the ground, and shut out the farther recesses of the forest. What unimaginable horrors might they not hide there? These vague and vast lairs were a fitting entrance to the Land of the Cannibals, as this region was called by the tribes of Indians who inhabited it when the Spaniards came.
In the valley of the Teche, however, rich English plantations stretched on either side of the road, and at New Iberia Mr. Ely came suddenly into open light and brightness. A plain of singular loveliness lay open before him. It was like the breaking of dawn after a close night.
He was in the heart of Attakapas—a country of vast prairies and countless watercourses, which sweep down from the Atchafalaya literally into the Gulf, for sea and land become one on its border.
The interminable plains of tall grass are webbed by a labyrinth of bayous and rigolets glittering like lines of silver, and dotted here and there like blots of shadow with forests of hoary old trees, which are shrouded from head to foot with the funereal moss, and crowned with the mysterious mistletoe. The streams and the numberless lakes are edged with feathery willows and creeping vines. Every grain of the soil gives birth to a flower; when the wind blows it brings gusts of the odor of magnolia or roses or jasmine. It is a country, too, of swift, startling lights and shadows. The keen sunlight is incessantly darkened by clouds driven in from the Gulf. These clouds pass in never-ending procession, one hour swooping down in black fury of tempest upon the plain, and the next rising in slow soft brilliance, mere breaths of mist, into the highest heaven.
Mr. Ely found New Iberia a peculiarly picturesque town, with some beautiful modern dwellings in the suburbs. It had become famous, the year before, as the scene of a miniature civil war between the two political parties, for the possession of the court-house. During the day that he staid there he heard from both sides the details of the battle told with high good-humor; but careful kept silent, having no mind to stir up any muddy question of politics. He was much more anxious to determine the exact point on the Teche where, according to Longfellow, Evangeline with Père Felician landed from their bateau after their long voyage in search of Gabriel.
The next day he hired a light conveyance, and with a garrulous negro driver and his mules set off across the prairie. It stretched in green shimmering waves to the horizon on every side. Mr. Ely drew a long breath, as a man does in coming from a stifling house out-of-doors. There was all the breadth and freedom of the sea here.
After a while the intense silence of the place began to press him. It was a clear morning. The wind passing from the Gulf bent the grass in long furrows now and then, but made no sound; there was a spell of absolute silence in the sunshine, on the bright sluggish bayou, even on the herds of native cattle that lifted their heads from grazing to stare at them with curious eyes. Flocks of huge black buzzards rose from the prairie occasionally, swooped and wheeled over their heads, and settled again on their prey when they had passed by. Sometimes an eagle swept across the sky with slow majestic directness. Bright-colored lizards darted in and out of the matted grass; on the lower marshes the tiny mud chimneys of the crawfish rose in thousands; a head and two beady black eyes would appear for an instant at the top, and then vanish; but all in unbroken silence. Mr. Ely was grateful when Jabez, the driver, began to talk to his mules, with whom he was on intimate terms. He had never guessed how companionable a mule could be until they answered the negro jokes with hideous snorts.
They travelled all day. Still the interminable prairie, the sunshine, the driving winds, the abounding life, and still the brooding quiet. The rank excess of growth, the exhaustless waste of life and beauty and color, startled the old man, who had been used to the niggardly soil and pinched crops of New England. The very mud in which the feet of the mules sank to the fetlocks, was hid by exquisite lilies and bush-roses. Vines, which in the North would have sent timid thread-like tendrils through the grass, knotted themselves here overhead with thick trunks like saplings, and flung masses of white flowers up into the air. There was something paganish in this silent, fierce extravagance of nature.
The houses of the Acadians are of unpainted wood, dropped down at long intervals on the prairie, with not a fence or hedge near them. Mr. Ely found a little comfort usually in them, and always beauty; masses of grape-vines and yellow roses climbing up the old walls and covering the roofs of black curled shingles. Inside, a bit of ruddy color in the curtains, or a gay picture, or a wreath about the crucifix. The persecuted fugitives from Acadia took possession of this “Eden of Louisiana” in 1754; they are scattered from the Teche to the Sabine prairie. There has been very little apparent change in that time in the country or in themselves. Each family, as a rule, hold the same portion of prairie or marsh which their ancestors first took as a home, and live usually in the same gray old houses, adding a room from generation to generation when necessity drives them to do it. Their grounds are separated by no visible boundaries, except in the neighborhood of one or two settlements by Americans. The Acadians there have caught the idea of meum and tuum  from civilization, and have begun to drive in a few feeble posts and to run fences between their plantations. Mr. Ely fell in with a creole tax-collector from one of the lower parishes, who put the case pathetically to him.
“I live here, m’sieu, forty years, man and boy, and I have no trouble to cross Attakapas until five years ago. My business calls me to ride or drive every day. Who ever thought of fences? People drive along, now here, now there, only keeping out of wet ground. The Acadians grow no crops; they have no grain, no sugar, no cotton, to carry to market. What do they want with fences or roads?”
“How do they live?” asked Mr. Ely.
“They have cattle: each man—every man—has cattle. They run loose; they pasture wherever there is grass, on the upland or on the sea-marsh, keeping on the driest ground. What use of fences? See how convenient, how free, how agreeable it is! I start in the morning to go from Abbeville to M’sieu Del Farge, on the Gulf, and I go as the bee flies, through twenty plantations, provided I can ford the lagoons. But now near the villages I must wind in and out, no matter where I will want to go, in a narrow rut no wider than this room, a fence on either side. That is a ‘road,’ of which they boast! Bah! it chokes me! A road! It is a nuisance!”
The region through which Jabez drove was restricted by no such nuisances. He urged his mules in a straight line, over the unending green plain or through the bayou, with perfect impartiality. The mules seemed, indeed, to prefer to trudge along half under water, to going by land. At long distances over the flat prairies rose windmills, by which fresh-water is brought to the surface. Huge solitary trees, the live-oaks, or lofty, shapely cottonwoods, stood like pillars upholding the low sky.
As evening began to fall they saw in advance of them a tall, lonely black figure on horseback, like a silhouette against the rosy sunset, and made haste to overtake it. Mr. Ely began to find the solitude insupportable. The traveller, Jabez told him was Père Nedaud, on his way to hold mass the next morning in one of the little chapels of the Acadians. The good father had a clean-cut, watchful face. He scanned the stranger with a swift, penetrating glance, then touched his wide-rimmed hat, and smiling as to an old acquaintance, drew his horse in line. They naturally fell into talk of the country and its peculiar features.
“I do not understand the lakes or ponds,” said Mr. Ely. “we have passed to-day at least a thousand, I think, from three feet to three miles in diameter, and all almost perfectly circular. The water in them, too, is live and sparkling, as if the springs, not stagnant. How do you account for their shape? Look at the one we are passing. No surveyor could lay out a more perfect ring.”
“The Acadians have many superstitious reasons for their shape,” the priest said, smiling. “They were worn by the accursed Voudoo dancers, or they were the places where human beings were sacrificed in ancient times. Some of the fermiers will tell you that when two bulls fight they tear up a round hole with their horns and fore-hoofs into which the water oozes, enlarging it year by year, but still keeping the circular shape. It is a singular fact, though, that in the next parish there are mounds, of every size, exactly corresponding in shape to the ponds here.”
“How do you account for them?”
Père Nedaud shrugged his shoulders. “How should I know? There are many hints of other days, before even the Indians came to Attakapas—many mysteries. Science cannot explain them. Me?—I do not meddle with them.”
“You understand the people better?”
“The Acadians? They belong to this world—to daylight. They have been here not two centuries. I am Acadian myself on my mother’s side. Oh, I know my people!”
“I heard much of them at New Orleans.”
“Then,” hastily, “I am glad to have met you, to correct your false impressions of the lazy, wretched ‘Cajans’!”
“They do not seem to be a progressive people,” ventured Mr. Ely.
“No, perhaps not. But is progress everything? They are not lazy. The men work faithfully—when they work at all. The women in these houses keep them tidy, cook, sew, and carry on their little métiers. They have rough looms, and weave the homespun cloths which they and their husbands wear. They make, too, really beautiful fabrics of the Nankin cotton in its native dull yellow color, or beautifully striped with threads colored in vegetable dyes. Some ladies, wives of the late planters, have found agents in New Orleans and New York who will sell the stuffs which these poor women weave. I am told,” added the good father, cheerfully, “that it surpasses in beauty and durability the fabrics woven by the Chinese, and is much cheaper. I do not say that it is so: I have never seen the stuffs made by the people in China. But it is reasonable to suppose that good Christian women could surpass barbarous savages in civilized work.”
Mr. Ely was discreetly silent.
“It would be fortunate,” continued Père Nedaud, “if their little manufactures could be brought into the market. They are very poor, many of them, and thus comfort and much pleasure would be brought into their lives.”
“They are a solitary, gloomy people, then?”
“By no means!—not at all!” exclaimed the father, eagerly. “It is true, they are quite separate from the world in that they have no schools, no books, no newspapers. Very few of them can read or write. But they often act as overseers, or own large plantations and manage them skilfully. Some of the shrewdest business men I know are Cajans who sign a deed with their ‘mark.’ But, m’sieu, the great nobles of England under the last Henry did the same, and you can’t deny that they took an active part in the world’s business. The Acadian is a moral, sober, honorable man. He is fond of his wife and children. He goes to his duty regularly; confesses twice a year; hears mass as often as he can. He has his balls and dances on saints’ days and Sundays, when he eats petits gâteaux and drinks nisette. Sometimes he has races with the creole ponies. The women are gay and happy, though they work hard. Surely it is a harmless, innocent, useful life. Would you teach them ‘progress,’ politics, newspaper gossip, American ideas?” The priest’s tone was triumphantly sarcastic.
“Not I, indeed,” said Mr. Ely.
“Ah, m’situ, progress, newspapers, railroads, do not make the hero; not even education. He is born—here in the Cajan’s cabin just as in ancient Greece or Rome. Let me tell you a story which comes to pass this spring. One of my flock is Landry, a big, middle-aged man, with grown sons and grandchildren. He is a shrewd, money-making fellow, overseer on a great cattle plantation. His life counts for much, you see, to him and his family. One evening I see Joseph in his bateau rowing down the bayou. He does not return until morning. Down yonder is nothing but a desolate island, inhabited only by alligators and wild birds. Again and again I see him go. I ask him what it means, and he tells me, against his will, that a month ago a wretched old negro took the small-pox, and was driven by his people out on the prairie. Joseph took him to the island, made a deserted hut there habitable for him, and every night went down to nurse and care for him, stopping half-way to change his clothes. He took his life in his hand every day, you see, for this miserable! And Joseph is not a young, reckless fellow, but grave, middle-aged. He tells nobody; he counts it for nothing. Aha!” the priest broke into a tremulous laugh, stooping to pat the neck of his horse. “Joseph is a rough-looking fellow. He swears hard, and sleeps when I preach. But it is out of such stuff God makes His servants.”
Mr. Ely and the priest lodged that night in the house of the petits habitants. In the evening, when they were alone, the subject of leprosy came up.
“We hear at the North,” said Mr. Ely, “vague accounts of the Terre des Lépreux, which is said to be somewhere in Louisiana. What truth is there in them?”
“They are no doubt greatly exaggerated,” said Father Nedaud. “A spurious leprosy, elephantiasis, was so common among the negroes under the Spanish domination that Governor Miro founded a hospital for lepers near New Orleans, on the Bayou St. John. It has been gone these many years, and Lepers’ Land is now built up with pretty houses. It was in the suburb Treme.”
“The disease is extinct, then?”
“There were some cases of genuine Asiatic leprosy near Abbeville, in this parish, about twenty years ago. An old creole lady was the first. Her father doubtless brought the terrible taint in his blood from France. When the white scales appeared in her face her husband and family fled from her. There was a young girl, daughter of M’sieu Dubois, who went to her and nursed her alone during the three years in which she fought with death. Another of God’s servants, m’sieu! Four of this old woman’s children, who deserted her, became lepers. The young girl who had nursed her, after she died married a young fermier, and lived happily in her little cabin with her husband and pretty baby. But one day a shining white spot appeared on her forehead. That was the end.”
“M’sieu, after four years. There is no cure. It surely does not matter to her now by what road God called her to Him. There have been since then no lepers in this parish except in these tainted families. The real Terre des Lépreux in Louisiana is now on the lower Lafourche, below Harang’s Canal. The bayou there is turbid and foul; it flows through malarious swamps lower than itself. The creole planters there are honest and temperate folk, but they are wretchedly poor. They raise only rice, and live on it and fish. The wet rice fields come up to the very doors of their cabins. The leprosy which certain families among them have inherited is developed by these conditions. Five years ago Professor Joseph Jones, president of the State Board of Health, went himself with his son to explore the cypress swamps and lagoons of the lower Lafourche. M’sieu, it is the region of the shadow of death. He found many poor lepers hiding there. They were as dead men who walk and talk. They could handle burning coals; they felt no longer cold nor heat nor pain. Their bodies were as corpses. One man lived alone in a hut, thatched with palmettos, which he had built for himself, eating only the rice which he had planted. No man nor woman had come near him for years. The Terre des Lépreux extends as far as Chénière Caminada, where the bayou empties into the Gulf.”
Mr. Ely remained silent, though a torment of angry queries rushed to his lips. Why was nothing done to mitigate the horrors of such a life-in-death? How could this priest, a man of God, so calmly discuss these poor accursed creatures from his safe, comfortable point of vantage, jogging on his easy-going mare from one farm to another? He bade him presently a rather curt good-night, and went to the loft where he was to sleep. When he came down in the morning, Père Nedaud had gone.
“M’situ,” said his smiling host, “le père haf lef’ you bon-matin,” waving his hand to the black figure passing southward far across the prairie.
“This is the father’s parish, I suppose?” asked Mr. Ely.
“But no!” Gaspard answered, gliding into French in his hurry. “Nine years ago he was here. He married me; he baptized all my babies. Then, at his own request, he transferred.” His face grew grave with some unexpressed remembrance. “At times he comes back to refresh himself—to see his old friends. As now, for example.”
“Where is his charge now?”
“M’sieu—“ Gaspard paused a moment. “In hell, I think. It is near Chénière Caminada, in la Terre des Lépreux.”
Mr. Ely walked away from him, and paced up and down the levee for a long time.
“God forgive me!” he muttered to himself.
Mr. Ely’s letters brought him in contact with a few influential creoles, planters for the most part, on the borders of the Teche and Atchafalaya. This last bayou, like all great rivers, has a character of its own; it is a driving, impetuous torrent.
“As if,” our fanciful traveller remarked, “it was bent on some vengeful purpose.”
“Its purpose is vengeful, and plain enough,” said Dr. C—, a sugar planter, with whom he was driving along the levee. “This bayou carries out of the Mississippi a volume of water quite equal to Red River. Tradition states that it was once the channel of the Mississippi itself. It is its direct road to the Gulf now. Captain Eads has examined into the matter, and reports that unless proper defense are erected at the head of the Atchafalaya the entire body of water in the Mississippi will deflect into this bayou, and that shortly.”
“What would be the consequences?”
“Consequences? The towns and plantations on the shores of the Atchafalaya would be lost in the flood, and New Orleans would be left high and dry, an inland town. The bayou has an ugly purpose, as you guessed.”
A week later Mr. Ely set out to explore Vermilion Parish. Twenty-five miles west of the mouth of the Atchafalaya, and running eastwardly, are five remarkable islands, Belle Isle, Côte Blanche, Week’s Island, Petite Anse, and Jefferson’s Island.
Petite Anse and Jefferson, the farthest inland of this cordon of beautiful islets, are in reality huge hills which rise above the green plain of Attakapas, with its glittering bayous and rolling sea-fogs into a pure, sun-dried atmosphere.
Mr. Ely reached the first early in the morning of a clear April day, and found there two scientific men from the North, who had found their way up from the Exposition to visit this island, which contains the only mine of rock-salt on this continent. The island takes its name from Bayou Petite Anse, in which it stands. It forms part of the plantations of the Avery family.
One of the visitors to the mines explained to Mr. Ely that there was a belt of saliferous deposit in Louisiana extending from Bossier and Bienville parishes, above Red River, to the Gulf. The largest of these deposits appears to be the beds of ancient exhausted lakes. Salt springs were known to exist on Petite Anse Island from the earliest date, but the works were abandoned until the blockade during the war raised the price of salt so high in the Southern States that Major Avery reopened them for the use of the Confederacy. It was at this time that he came unexpectedly upon the enormous stratum of pure rock-salt which underlies the soil. Like the island of Ormuz, in the Persian Gulf, Petite Anse is apparently only a huge rock of salt.
The mines have now been in operation about twenty years. The salt is excavated in large masses by blasting with dynamite. It is so pure that it is prepared for the market, not by melting and refining, as in the English mines, but simply by grinding into the requisite grades of fineness. The native crystals detached by blasting are as clear and translucent as glass. Mr. Ely went down into the mine, and wandered through its far-retreating corridors, whose pillars and lofty arches shone with a soft silvery radiance. When the lights of the torches struck into the darkness overhead, the domes flashed back such splendors of color that it seemed to Mr. Ely as if he had entered one of the caves underground where the Trolls have stored all the jewels of the world.
“This is all a surprise to me,” said one of the visitors—a stout professor from some collage in Indiana—as he stepped from the elevator into the upper air; “I actually did not know there was a mine of salt in the United States.”
“And yet,” said their guide, quickly, “you have no doubt used our salt on your table for years. We ship it to every large town in the North and West.”
This little island of Petite Anse furnishes pepper as well as salt to our tables. Tobasco, or the distilled cayenne dear to the hearts of gourmands and chefs, is manufactured here out of a wild pepper peculiar to Louisiana. Two or three fields produce enough of the cultivated pods to send their essence to all parts of this country and to Europe. It is one of the numberless minor industries which have sprung into life throughout the South since the war, and which hint at the strength and vitality of that long sterile soil.
It was early in the afternoon when Mr. Ely, with Jabez and the mules, set out for the last of the line of islands. Monsieur Ourblanc, an Acadian whose acquaintance he had made at the mines, rode with him, having suddenly discovered that he had urgent business up the bayou. The mules and M. Ourblanc’s horse followed a winding course through the pathless prairie, diverging out of a straight line to ford every practicable lake and stream.
“Is there no road?” timidly ventured Mr. Ely.
“Done goin’ on de road, shuah ‘nuff,” responded Jabez.
“In the country where I came from a road seldom passes through a river,” said Mr. Ely, in the unconscious conviction that he was in a foreign land.
Jabez snorted with contempt. “Don’ know what muels do widout pon's and b’yous! How dey wash de mud off deir sides?”
M. Ourblanc undertook to explain the geography of the country to his new friend, who only could guess about half of his meaning through his negro-French-English; but his eager kindness and courtesy were plain enough.
Attakapas, according to the old man, would soon become the wealthiest part of Louisiana. One or two companies of capitalists were formed who proposed to cultivate rice on the sea-marshes. Extensive draining, the throwing up of levees, etc., would be requisite; but that done, the profits would be enormous. Dredges worked by steam were to be employed by them to open the mouths of the bayous and to throw up embankments. One had been brought up from the Gulf by Mr. Joseph Jefferson to his plantation, and used successfully in erecting levees for the protection of his cattle. One dredge could do the work of forty men in a day—white men, I mean; and as for de negroes—M. Ourblanc threw up his hands with unutterable expression. The expense of these dredges was, however, very great. If they were within the reach of all planters, the condition of Louisiana, he declared, would be revolutionized.
As the day passed, Mr. Ely comprehended as he had not done before that he was in a semi-tropical climate. Heretofore the spring had been late, a raw chill hung over the prairies. But now, as they approached the high ground of Jefferson Island, the air quivered with pure blinding heat. Heavy clouds, saffron and dull yellow, were blown drowsily up from the Gulf; the grass was knee-deep, and fragrant with flowers; here was a great slope of daffodil-color, and there another of royal purple; one persistent starry little blossom fairly dyed the marshes blue; out of the gloom of the deep thickets shone monstrous passion-flowers, blood-red swamp camellias, and blush-roses. Rice-birds rose in swarms from the edge of the lakes; innumerable butterflies flashed up like live rubies and sapphires from every bush; out of the pecan-trees came the call of the mocking-bird; while every round little pond bubbled, a living thing in the sun.
He was again in the barbaric dream of life and color, yet under it was the same profound melancholy, an awful significance of loss. Père Nedaud had understood him when he hinted at the singular effect of this scenery; but M. Ourblanc was not likely to comprehend such fantastic ideas. The old man ambled alongside, gossiping of the Acadians, whose solitary, gray, low-eaves houses they occasionally passed, and of the history of the island to which they were going.
Jefferson, or Orange, Island, as Mr. Ely found from his chatter, was the highest ground in southern Louisiana. It was bought by the great comedian sixteen years ago, as a winter home for his family, where malarious fogs, colds, pneumonia, asthmas, and other such chilly servants of death could be held at bay. It embraces about eleven square miles of primitive forests, lakes, and prairies, on which graze great herds of native creole cattle. Here M. Ourblanc paused to celebrate the virtues of creole cattle (as far superior to the Alderney, or to the Holstein, with which Mr. Jefferson grades them), and of the creole eggs, horses, and women, belonging to the region of the Bayou Petite Anse. When he grew tried of this patriotic outburst he came back to the island and to its history, in which there is much romance and mystery. It was a portion of the wilderness given by a patent under Philip II. to Don Carline, a Spanish adventurer. Nearly a century later it was discovered by the corsair Jean Lafitte and his comrades, whose rendezvous was then at Grande Terre, in Barataria Bay. They at once recognized the advantages which its remoteness from civilization, its unbroken forests and deep bayou, gave to it as a secure retreat for them and a hiding-place for their booty. It was purchased by Randolph, Lafitte’s boon companion, if not a pirate himself. Here the great freebooter came for rest and amusement between his voyages. Indeed, it is not improbable that he escaped to this solitude to die, as he was last seen by living men on the coast of Vermilion Bay.
Back of the great orange plantations which form a centre of fragrance and joyous color in the island there lies a deep lake, surrounded by a sombre forest, in the midst of which are a few sunken graves. They are those of Randolph’s family and of his slaves. But they were all long ago opened and rifled by the negroes from the opposite coast, in the hope of finding Lafitte’s buried treasure.
The old French manor-house is still standing, with its quaint wood-carvings, low-ceiled rooms, and overhanging eaves, covered by vines old enough to have showered their blossoms on the the pirate’s head. Mr. Jefferson near it has built a typically Southern house of baronial proportions, full of treasures from every country in the world, on the very crest of the hill; the verandas, with a frontage of ninety feet, overlook the plain of Attakapas to the Gulf. A hedge of roses nearly as thick as the Chinese wall runs for seven miles around the uplands, dividing it from the sea-marshes.
When the roses and magnolias and orange plantations which encircle the house are in bloom they send their soft greetings through the pure air for miles across the prairies.
The plantation is in the charge of an Acadian overseer, M. Joseph Landry, who is a good representative of his race, and a curious specimen, too, of the kind of man which intelligence, shrewdness, a brave simple nature, and tremendous physique will make, with no help whatever from society or schools. The loyalty of these people to their employers belongs to the feudal days. The night before Mr. Ely’s arrival, Landry had faced single-handed a herd of angry cattle, standing in the narrow lagoon in water to his waist from dark until morning, to keep them from rushing down to the flooded sea-marsh, where they would inevitably have drowned. “Can fight le wat’ et le cat’,” he grumbled, “but le mosquit’—he beat me.”
Mr. Jefferson is known to his Acadian neighbors and the negroes only as a planter, wise in organs and cattle, but they have an intense curiosity concerning some other mysterious avocation which he is vaguely reported to follow during the summer, and which they suspect has something to do with swallowing fire and swords. One of his negroes, when they were alone together on the prairie one day, burst out with: “M’s. Jef’son, lemme see dat ar. We hyah all by oursel’s. Foh de Lohd’s sake, cut up a bit.”
Mr. Ely, from the summit of the hill on Orange Island, watched the rosy twilight gather over the vast plain. Seaward a quivering line of red light flashed up along the dark horizon, where the marshes were on fire. The air was soft as balm, and heavy with perfume from the neighboring orange groves. He was alone in a forest of gigantic magnolias and live-oaks, which were hoar with age long before Columbus discovered this continent. Every tree and bush for miles around him was draped with the funereal moss, which in the fading light became a black curtain in the distance, and near at hand veils, mists of pale green or silvery gray. They waved, waved incessantly, with ghastly significance, to and fro in the wind: the whole world seemed to him to be elusive, shifting, full of specters, beckoning to him to follow he knew not where. The waters of the lake near him shone whitely in the darkness, and out of the jungle of wild growths about it came the cry of an owl, and the hoarse calls of the whooping-crane and the bittern.
He understood now that the meanings of this strange country which had perplexed him are those of age. The primeval forests in the North impress the intruder as fresh and virgin; they have no history; they eagerly wait for human occupation. But these great silent prairies, the giant trees decaying for centuries, the huge parasitic growths, the black scavenger-birds crossing with swift aim the low-hung sky—all these come out of a hoar antiquity. It is a land with a past. The imagination in these solitudes goes wavering back to the age of the cannibals, or, far beyond that, to the mysterious nations who have left hints here that they once lived. The silence is full of meaning. Nature seems to pause, holding some momentous secret. Something has happened—who can say when?—in the dim recesses of these forests, or on the banks of the sombre bayous, which she will not reveal.
Familiarity does not render this strange country commonplace, or diminish its peculiar effect upon those who intrude into it. It grew more weird and unreal to the old clergyman with each day of his stay.
He tried faithfully to understand the accounts which M. Landry gave him of the profits of cattle raising, and the culture of the finest oranges on this plantation; to take an interest in the graded calves, and in the adaptability of the soil to sugar raising. But in his secret soul he did not believe in any of these things. He knew he was in a spellbound country, where some mystery of centuries ago slept, like Rip among the Kaatskills, waiting for the hour of waking.
And when at last he turned his face homeward, leaving behind him the sunny silent prairies, the melancholy lagoons, the low driving clouds, the forests with their vistas of beckoning spectral mists, all silent as the shores of death, he felt that he was going back to a real world, to shops, markets, passions, and life, out of some ancient enchanted land, whose ghosts still dwelt therein.
1. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s (1811-1896) Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852. ↩
2. Albion W. Tourgee’s (1838-1905) A Fool’s Errand, by One of the Fools, 1879. ↩
3. The University of Virginia, founded 1819 by Thomas Jefferson. ↩
4. Likely the first battle of the Civil War, known as the First Battle of Bull Run or First Manassas, July 21, 1861. ↩
5. After Henry Bessemer’s 1857 development of the Bessemer converter, a furnace which was the first to allow for the mass production of steel. ↩
6. 1884 World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. ↩
7. German: provincial. ↩
8. Produced by bituminous coal, typically used for heating. ↩
9. Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2, line 85, Hamlet to Queen Gertrude, “these indeed seem,/ For they are actions that a man might play;/ But I have that within which passeth show;/ These but the trappings and the suits of woe.” ↩
10. Anne, 1665-1714, Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. ↩
11. The Provisional Confederate States Congress met in Montgomery, Alabama February to May 1861. ↩
12. Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) was president of the Confederate States from 1861-1865. ↩
13. Now Talladega College, first opened November 1867. ↩
14. French: oil of Lucca. Lucca in Tuscany, Italy is one of the best areas for the production of olive oil. ↩
15. French: But what do you want? ↩
16. Augusta Jane Evans (1835-1909), married name Augusta Jane Wilson, wrote nine novels, including Beulah, 1859, and Macaria, 1863. ↩
17. Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880), pen name George Eliot, author of Middlemarch, 1874. ↩
18. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville (1680-1767). ↩
19. Perhaps Antoine Le Moyne de Châteaugué (1683–1747). Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville (1661-1706), governor of Louisiana, was Bienville’s older brother. ↩
20. French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle (1643-1687). ↩
21. American naturalist William Bartram (1739-1823). ↩
22. Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville (1661-1706). ↩
23. Charlotte Christine Sophie (1694-1757), daughter of Louis Rudolph, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, married Alexei Petrovich Romanov (1680-1718), son of Tsar Peter 1 of Russia in 1711. ↩
24. Charles Sumner (1811-1874) was a prominent abolitionist; he represented Massachusetts as senator from 1852–1874. ↩
25. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was a prominent abolitionist; he started the abolitionist paper The Liberator in 1830. ↩
26. The central family of George Washington Cable’s (1844-1925) 1880 novel The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life. ↩
27. Villainous Louisiana slave-owner of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin. ↩
28. Marie Delphine Lalaurie (1787-1849), a Louisiana socialite who was discovered in 1834 to have serially tortured and killed slaves in her New Orleans house. ↩
29. Étienne Périer (1687-1766) became the fifth governor of the Louisiana colony in 1727. ↩
30. French, literally, “girl with a casquette,” women who were brought from France to marry in the Louisiana colony. ↩
31. One of the battles of the Battle of New Orleans, the final major engagements of the War of 1812, which took place on Chalmette Plantation near New Orleans on January 8, 1815. ↩
32. Following the French and Indian Wars, France secretly ceded Louisiana to Spain to prevent English occupation with the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1762 and reclaimed the territory in 1800 with the Treaty of San Ildefonso. ↩
33. Louis XIV (1638-1715). ↩
34. George Washington Cable (1844-1925), American novelist. ↩
35. Charles Étienne Arthur Gayarré (1805-1895), New-Orleans-born historian, author of 1846 Histoire de la Louisiane. ↩
36. Albert James Pickett (1810-1858) published the History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period in 1851. ↩
37. A counting game, played with the hands, which dates back to ancient Rome. ↩
38. Renowned Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). ↩
39. French: the passerby is “requested to assist in the cremation procession of Jean Vaudry, native of France, deceased this morning at 69 years. The viewing is on rue St. Anne in l’Aisle. On the part of the family." ↩
40. German Romantic novelist and poet, Joseph Karl Benedikt Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857) published Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts or Of the Life of a Good-For-Nothing in 1826. ↩
41. An Indian or Southeast Asian sailor. ↩
42. Likely a reference to the 1813 poem The Bride of Abydos by Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824). ↩
43. Davis perhaps intended to reference the 1804 play, Wilhelm Tell, by German historian and playwright Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805). ↩
44. Acadia was a French colony on the North American eastern seaboard and existed under French control roughly from 1604 to the War of Spanish Succession, which spanned from 1701-1713. The Acadians typically operated separately from French rule and developed important relationships with indigenous peoples who lived in the same region, particularly the Mi’kmaqs. ↩
45. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s (1807-1882) 1847 epic poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. ↩
46. Latin, “mine and thine,” refers in particular to property. ↩
47. King Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain from 1556 to 1598 and of Portugal from 1580 to 1598. ↩
48. Given the birth and death dates of Philip II and Lafitte, Davis’s estimation of a century is too modest; Jean Laffite or Lafitte was a French-American privateer, smuggler, and pirate who lived from c. 1780 to c. 1852. ↩
49. Perhaps John Randolph Grimes, Jr. (1786-1854), an attorney who eventually fought on behalf of Lafitte’s allegiance to America. ↩
University of Connecticut