of Louisiana Literature
“A No-Account Creole.”
ONE agreeable afternoon in late autumn two young men stood
together on Canal Street, closing a conversation that had
evidently begun within the club-house which they had just
“There ’s big money in it, Offdean,” said the elder
of the two. “I wouldn’t have you touch it if there wasn’t.
Why, they tell me Patchly ’s pulled a hundred thousand out of
the concern a’ready.”
“That may be,” replied Offdean, who had
been politely attentive to the words addressed to him, but
whose face bore a look indicating that he was closed to
conviction. He leaned back upon the clumsy stick which he
carried, and continued: “It ’s all true, I dare say, Fitch;
but a decision of that sort would mean more to me than you ’d
believe if I were to tell you. The beggarly twenty-five
thousand ’s all I have, and I want to sleep with it under my
pillow a couple of months at least before I drop it into a
“You ’ll drop it into Harding & Offdean’s mill to
grind out the pitiful two and a half per cent commission
racket; that ’s what you ’ll do in the end, old fellow — see
if you don’t.”
“Perhaps I shall; but it ’s more than likely I
shan’t. We ’ll talk about it when I get back. You know I ’m
off to north Louisiana in the morning” —
“No! What the deuce” —
“Oh, business of the firm.”
“Write me from Shreveport, then;
or wherever it is.”
“Not so far as that. But don’t expect to
hear from me till you see me. I can’t say when that will be.”
Then they shook hands and parted. The rather portly Fitch
boarded a Prytania Street car, and Mr. Wallace Offdean hurried
to the bank in order to replenish his
been materially lightened at the club through the medium of
unpropitious jack-pots and bobtail flushes.
He was a
sure-footed fellow, this young Offdean, despite an occasional
fall in slippery places. What he wanted, now that he had
reached his twenty-sixth year and his inheritance, was to get
his feet well planted on solid ground, and to keep his head
cool and clear.
With his early youth he had had certain
shadowy intentions of shaping his life on intellectual lines.
That is, he wanted to; and he meant to use his faculties
intelligently, which means more than is at once apparent.
Above all, he would keep clear of the maelstroms of sordid
work and senseless pleasure in which the average American
business man may be said alternately to exist, and which
reduce him, naturally, to a rather ragged condition of soul.
Offdean had done, in a temperate way, the usual things which
young men do who happen to belong to good society, and are
possessed of moderate means and healthy instincts. He had gone
to college, had traveled a little at home and abroad, had
frequented society and the clubs, and had worked in his
uncle’s commission-house; in all of which employments he had
expended much time and a modicum of energy.
But he felt all
through that he was simply in a preliminary stage of being,
one that would develop later into something tangible and
intelligent, as he liked to tell himself. With his patrimony
of twenty-five thousand dollars came what he felt to be the
turning-point in his life, — the time when it behooved him to
choose a course, and to get himself into proper trim to follow
it manfully and consistently.
When Messrs. Harding &
Offdean determined to have some one look after what they
called “a troublesome piece of land on Red River,” Wallace
Offdean requested to be intrusted with that special commission
A shadowy, ill-defined piece of land in an
unfamiliar part of his native State, might, he hoped, prove a
sort of closet into which he could retire and take counsel
with his inner and better self.
What Harding & Offdean had called a piece of land on Red
River was better known to the people of
as “the old Santien place.”
In the days of Lucien Santien and
his hundred slaves, it had been very splendid in the wealth of
its thousand acres. But the war did its work, of course. Then
Jules Santien was not the man to mend such damage as the war
had left. His three sons were even less able than he had been
to bear the weighty inheritance of debt that came to them with
the dismantled plantation; so it was a deliverance to all when
Harding & Offdean, the New Orleans creditors, relieved
them of the place with the responsibility and indebtedness
which its ownership had entailed.
Hector, the eldest, and
Grégoire, the youngest of these Santien boys, had gone each
his way. Placide alone tried to keep a desultory foothold upon
the land which had been his and his forefathers’. But he too
was given to wandering — within a radius, however, which
rarely took him so far that he could not reach the old place
in an afternoon of travel, when he felt so inclined.
were acres of open land cultivated in a slovenly fashion, but
so rich that cotton and corn and weed and “cocoa-grass” grew
rampant if they had only the semblance of a chance. The negro
quarters were at the far end of this open stretch, and
consisted of a long row of old and very crippled cabins.
Directly back of these a dense wood grew, and held much
mystery, and witchery of sound and shadow, and strange lights
when the sun shone. Of a gin-house there was left scarcely a
trace; only so much as could serve as inadequate shelter to
the miserable dozen cattle that huddled within it in
A dozen rods or more from the Red River bank stood
the dwelling-house, and nowhere upon the plantation had time
touched so sadly as here. The steep, black, moss-covered roof
sat like an extinguisher above the eight large rooms that it
covered, and had come to do its office so poorly that not more
than half of these were habitable when the rain fell. Perhaps
the live-oaks made too thick and close a shelter about it. The
verandas were long and broad and inviting; but it was well to
know that the brick pillar was crumbling away under one
corner, that the railing was insecure at another, and that
still another had long ago been condemned as unsafe. But that,
of course, was not the corner in which Wallace Offdean sat the
day following his arrival at the Santien place. This one was
comparatively secure. A
charged with huge creamy blossoms, grew and spread here like a
hardy vine upon the wires that stretched from post to post.
The scent of the blossoms was delicious; and the stillness
that surrounded Offdean agreeably fitted his humor that asked
for rest. His old host, Pierre Manton, the manager of the
place, sat talking to him in a soft, rhythmic monotone; but
his speech was hardly more of an interruption than the hum of
the bees among the roses. He was saying: —
“If it would been me
myse’f, I would nevair grumb’. W’en a chimbly breck, I take
one, two de boys; we patch ’im up bes’ we know how. We keep on
men’ de fence’, firs’ one place, anudder; an’ if it would n’
be fer dem mule’ of Lacroix —
I don’ wan’ to talk
’bout dem mule’. But me, I would n’ grumb’. It ’s Euphrasie,
hair. She say dat ’s all fool nonsense fer rich man lack
Hardin’-Offde’n to let a piece o’ lan’ goin’ lack dat.”
“Euphrasie?” questioned Offdean, in some surprise; for he had
not yet heard of any such person.
“Euphrasie, my li’le chile.
Escuse me one minute,” Pierre added, remembering that he was
in his shirt-sleeves, and rising to reach for his coat, which
hung upon a peg near by. He was a small, square man, with
mild, kindly face, brown and roughened from healthy exposure.
His hair hung gray and long beneath the soft felt hat that he
wore. When he had seated himself, Offdean asked: —
your little child? I haven’t seen her,” inwardly marveling that
a little child should have uttered such words of wisdom as
those recorded of her.
“She yonder to Mme. Duplan on Cane
River. I been kine espectin’ hair sence yistiday — hair an’
Placide,” casting an unconscious glance down the long
plantation road. “But Mme. Duplan she nevair want to let
Euphrasie go. You know it ’s hair raise’ Euphrasie sence hair
po’ ma die’, Mr. Offde’n. She teck dat li’le chile, an’ raise
it, sem lack she raisin’ Ninette. But it ’s mo’ ’an a year now
Euphrasie say dat ’s all fool nonsense to leave me livin’
’lone lack dat, wid nuttin’ ’cep’ dem nigger’ — an’ Placide
once a w’ile. An’ she came yair bossin’! My goodness!” The old
man chuckled, “Dat ’s hair been writin’ all dem letter’ to
Hardin’-Offde’n. If it would been me myse’f” —
Placide seemed to have had a foreboding of ill from the start
when he found that Euphrasie began to interest herself in the
condition of the plantation. This ill feeling voiced itself
partly when he told her it was none of her lookout if the
place went to the dogs. “It ’s good enough for Joe Duplan to
en grand seigneur,
Euphrasie; that ’s w’at ’s
Placide might have done much single-handed to
keep the old place in better trim, if he had wished. For there
was no one more clever than he to do a hand’s turn at any and
every thing. He could mend a saddle or bridle while he stood
whistling a tune. If a wagon required a brace or a bolt, it
was nothing for him to step into a shop and turn out one as
deftly as the most skilled blacksmith. Any one seeing him at
work with plane and rule and chisel would have declared him a
born carpenter. And as for mixing paints, and giving a fine
and lasting coat to the side of a house or barn, he had not
his equal in the country.
This last talent he exercised little
in his native parish. It was in a neighboring one, where he
spent the greater part of his time, that his fame as a painter
was established. There, in the village of Orville, he owned a
little shell of a house, and during odd times it was Placide’s
great delight to tinker at this small home, inventing daily
new beauties and conveniences to add to it. Lately it had
become a precious possession to him, for in the spring he was
to bring Euphrasie there as his wife.
Maybe it was because of
his talent, and his indifference in turning it to good, that
he was often called “a no-account creole” by thriftier souls
than himself. But no-account creole or not, painter,
carpenter, blacksmith, and whatever else he might be at times,
he was a Santien always, with the best blood in the country
running in his veins. And many thought his choice had fallen
in very low places when he engaged himself to marry little
Euphrasie, the daughter of old Pierre Manton and a problematic
mother a good deal less than nobody.
Placide might have
married almost any one, too; for it was the easiest thing in
the world for a girl to fall in love with him, — sometimes the
hardest thing in the world not to, he was such a splendid
fellow, such a careless, happy, handsome fellow. And he did
not seem to mind in the least that young men who had grown up
with him were lawyers now, and planters, and members of
Shakespeare clubs in town. No one ever expected anything quite
so humdrum as that of the Santien boys. As youngsters, all
three had been the despair of the country schoolmaster; then
of the private tutor who had come to shackle them, and had
failed in his design. And the state of mutiny and revolt that
they had brought about at the college of Grand Coteau when
their father, in a moment of weak concession to prejudice, had
sent them there, is a thing yet remembered in Natchitoches.
And now Placide was going to marry Euphrasie. He could not
recall the time when he had not loved her. Somehow he felt
that it began the day when he was six years old, and Pierre,
his father’s overseer, had called him from play to come and
make her acquaintance. He was permitted to hold her in his
arms a moment, and it was with silent awe that he did so. She
was the first white-faced baby he remembered having seen, and
he straightway believed she had been sent to him as a birthday
gift to be his little playmate and friend. If he loved her,
there was no great wonder; every one did, from the time she
took her first dainty step, which was a brave one, too.
was the gentlest little lady ever born in old Natchitoches
parish, and the happiest and merriest. She never cried or
whimpered for a hurt. Placide never did, why should she? When
she wept, it was when she did what was wrong, or when he did;
for that was to be a coward, she felt. When she was ten, and
her mother was dead, Mme. Duplan, the Lady Bountiful of the
parish, had driven across from her plantation, Les Chêniers,
to old Pierre’s very door, and there had gathered up this
precious little maid, and carried her away, to do with as she
And she did with the child much as she herself had been
done by. Euphrasie went to the convent soon, and was taught
all gentle things, the pretty arts of manner and speech that
the ladies of the “Sacred Heart” can teach so well. When she
quitted them, she left a trail of love behind her; she always
Placide continued to see her at intervals, and to love
her always. One day he told her so; he could not help it. She
stood under one of the big oaks at Les Chêniers. It was
midsummer time, and the tangled sunbeams had enmeshed her in a
golden fretwork. When he saw her standing there in the sun’s
glamour, which was like a glory upon her, he trembled. He
seemed to see her for the first time. He seemed to see her for
the first time. He could only look at her, and wonder why her
hair gleamed so, as it fell in those thick chestnut waves
about her ears and neck. He had looked a thousand times into
her eyes before; was it only to-day they held that sleepy,
wistful light in them that invites love? How had he not seen
it before? Why had he not known before that her lips were red,
and cut in fine, strong curves? that her flesh was like cream?
How had he not seen that she was beautiful? “Euphrasie,” he
said, taking her hands, — “Euphrasie, I love you!”
at him with a little astonishment. “Yes; I know, Placide.” She
spoke with the soft intonation of the creole.
“No, you don’t,
Euphrasie. I did n’ know myse’f how much tell jus’ now.”
Perhaps he did only what was natural when he asked her next if
she loved him. He still held her hands. She looked
thoughtfully away, unready to answer.
“Do you love anybody
better?” he asked jealously. “Any one jus’ as well as me?”
“You know I love papa better, Placide, an’ Maman Duplan jus’
Yet she saw no reason why she should not be his wife
when he asked her to.
Only a few months before this, Euphrasie
had returned to live with her father. The step had cut her off
from everything that girls of eighteen call pleasure. If it
cost her one regret, no one could have guessed it. She went
often to visit the Duplans, however; and Placide had gone to
bring her home from Les Chêniers the very day of Offdean’s
arrival at the plantation.
They had traveled by rail to
Natchitoches, where they found Pierre’s no-top buggy awaiting
them, for there was a drive of five miles to be made through
the pine woods before the plantation was reached. When they
were at their journey’s end, and had driven some distance up
the long plantation road that led to the house in the rear,
Euphrasie exclaimed: —
“W’y, there ’s some one on the gall’ry
with papa, Placide!”
“Yes; I see.”
“It looks like some one
f’om town. It mus’ be Mr. Gus Adams; but I don’ see his
“’T ain’t no one f’om town that I know. It ’s boun’
to be some one f’om the city.
“Oh, Placide, I should n’ wonder
if Harding & Offdean have sent some one to look after the
place at las’,” she exclaimed a little excitedly.
near enough to see that the stranger was a young man of very
pleasing appearance. Without apparent reason, a chilly
depression took hold of Placide.
“I tole you it was n’ yo’
lookout f’om the firs’, Euphrasie,” he said to her.
Wallace Offdean remembered Euphrasie at once as a young
person whom he had assisted to a very high perch on his club
house balcony the previous Mardi Gras night. He had thought
her pretty and attractive then, and for the space of a day or
two wondered who she might be. But he had not made even so
fleeting an impression upon her; seeing which, he did not
refer to any former meeting when Pierre introduced them.
took the chair which he offered her, and asked him very simply
when he had come, if his journey had been pleasant, and if he
had not found the road from Natchitoches in very good
“Mr. Offde’n only come sence yistiday, Euphrasie,”
interposed Pierre. “We been talk’ plenty ’bout de place, him
an’ me. I been tole ’im all ’bout it — va! An’ if Mr. Offde’n
want to escuse me now, I b’lieve I go he’p Placide wid dat
hoss an’ buggy;” and he descended the steps slowly, and walked
lazily with his bent figure in the direction of the shed
beneath which Placide had driven, after depositing Euphrasie
at the door.
“I dare say you find it strange,” began Offdean,
“that the owners of this place have neglected it so long and
shamefully. But you see,” he added, smiling, “the management
of a plantation doesn’t enter into the routine of a commission
merchant’s business. The place has already cost them more than
they hope to get from it, and naturally they haven’t the wish
to sink further money in it.” He did not know why he was
saying these things to a mere girl, but he went on: “I ’m
authorized to sell the plantation if I can get anything like a
reasonable price for it.” Euphrasie laughed in a way that made
him uncomfortable, and he thought he would say no more at
present, — not till he knew her better, anyhow.
said in a very decided fashion, “I know you ’ll fin’ one or
two persons in town who ’ll begin by running down the lan’
till you would n’ want it as a gif’, Mr. Offdean; and who will
en’ by offering to take it off yo’ han’s for the promise of a
song, with the lan’ as security again.”
They both laughed, and
Placide, who was approaching, scowled. But before he reached
the steps his instinctive sense of the courtesy due to a
stranger had banished the look of ill humor. His bearing was
so frank and graceful, and his face such a marvel of beauty,
with its dark, rich coloring and soft lines, that the
well-clipped and groomed Offdean felt his astonishment to be
more than half admiration when they shook hands. He knew that
the Santiens had been the former owners of this plantation
which he had come to look after, and naturally he expected
some sort of coöperation or direct assistance from Placide in
his efforts at reconstruction. But Placide proved
non-committal, and exhibited an indifference and ignorance
concerning the condition of affairs that savored surprisingly
He had positively nothing to say so long as
the talk touched upon matters concerning Offdean’s business
there. He was only a little less taciturn when more general
topics were approached, and directly after supper he saddled
his horse and went away.He would not wait until morning, for
the moon would be rising about midnight, and he knew the road
as well by night as by day. He knew just where the best fords
were across the bayous, and the safest paths across the hills.
He knew for a certainty whose plantations he might traverse,
and whose fences he might derail. But, for that matter, he
would derail what he liked, and cross where he pleased.
Euphrasie walked with him to the shed when he went for his
horse.She was bewildered at his sudden determination, and
wanted it explained.
“I don’ like that man,” he admitted
frankly; “I can’t stan’ him. Sen’ me word w’en he ’s gone,
She was patting and rubbing the pony, which knew
her well. Only their dim outlines were discernible in the
“You are foolish, Placide,” she replied in
French. “You would do better to stay and help him. No one
knows the place so well as you” —
“The place isn’t mine, and
it ’s nothing to me,” he answered bitterly. He took her hands
and kissed them passionately, but stooping, she pressed her
lips upon his forehead.
“Oh!” he exclaimed rapturously, “you
do love me, Euphrasie?” His arms were holding her, and his
lips brushing her hair and cheeks as they eagerly but
ineffectually sought hers.
“Of co’se I love you, Placide.
Ain’t I going to marry you nex’ spring? You foolish boy!” she
replied, disengaging herself from his clasp.
When he was
mounted, he stooped to say, “See yere, Euphrasie, don’t have
too much to do with that d—— Yankee.”
“But, Placide, he isn’t
a — a — ‘d—— Yankee;’ he ’s a Southerner, like you, — a New
“Oh, well, he looks like a Yankee.” But Placide
laughed, for he was happy since Euphrasie had kissed him, and
he whistled softly as he urged his horse to a canter and
disappeared in the darkness.
The girl stood awhile with
clasped hands, trying to understand a little sigh that rose in
her throat, and that was not one of regret. When she regained
the house, she went directly to her room, and left her father
talking to Offdean in the quiet and perfumed night.
When two weeks had passed, Offdean felt very much at home
with old Pierre and his daughter, and found the business that
had called him to the country so engrossing that he had given
no thought to those personal questions he had hoped to solve
in going there.
The old man had driven him around in the
no-top buggy to show him how dismantled the fences and barns
were. He could see for himself that the house was a constant
menace to human life. In the evenings the three would sit out
on the gallery and talk of the land and its strong points and
its weak ones, till he came to know it as if it had been his
Of the rickety condition of the cabins he got a fair
notion, for he and Euphrasie passed them almost daily on
horseback, on their way to the woods. It was seldom that their
appearance together did not rouse comment among the darkies
who happened to be loitering about.
La Chatte, a broad black
woman with ends of white wool sticking out from under her
stood with arms
watching them as they
disappeared one day. Then she turned and said to a young woman
who sat in the cabin door: —
“Dat young man, ef he want to
listen to me, he gwine quit dat ar caperin’ roun’ Miss
The young woman in the doorway laughed, and showed
her white teeth, and tossed her head, and fingered the blue
beads at her throat, in a way to indicate that she was in
hearty sympathy with any question that touched upon gallantry.
“Law! La Chatte, you ain’ gwine hinder a gemman f’om payin’
intentions to a young lady w’en he a mine to.”
“Dat all I got
to say,” returned La Chatte, seating herself lazily and
heavily on the doorstep. “Nobody don’ know dem Sanchun boys
bettah ’an I does. Did n’ I done part raise ’em? W’at you
reckon my ha’r all tu’n plumb w’ite dat-a-way ef it warn’t dat
Placide w’at done it?”
“How come he make yo’ ha’r tu’n w’ite,
“Dev’ment, pu’ dev’ment, Rose. Did n’ he come in
dat same cabin one day, w’en he warn’t no bigga ’an dat
Pres’dent Hayes w’at you sees gwine ’long de road wid dat
cotton sack ’crost ’im? He come an’ sets down by de do’, on
dat same t’ree-laigged stool w’at you ’s a-settin’ on now, wid
his gun in his han’, an’ he say: ’La Chatte, I wants some
an’ I wants ’em quick, too.’ I ’low: ’G’ ’way
f’om dah, boy. Don’ you see I ’s flutin’ yo’ ma’s petticoat?’
He say: ’La Chatte, put ’side dat ar flutin’-i’on an’ dat ar
petticoat;’ an’ he cock dat gun an’ p’int it to my head. ’Dar
de ba’el,’ he say; ’git out dat flour, git out dat butta an’
dat aigs; step roun’ dah, ole ’oman. Dis heah gun don’ quit
yo’ head tell dem croquignoles is on de table, wid a w’ite
tableclof an’ a cup o’ coffee.’ Ef I goes to de ba’el, de gun
’s a-p’intin’. Ef I goes to de fiah, de gun ’s a-p’intin’.
W’en I rolls out de dough, de gun ’s a-p’intin’; an’ him neva
say nuttin’, an’ me a-trim’lin’ like ole Uncle Noah w’en de
mistry strike ’im.”
“Lordy! w’at you reckon he do ef he tu’n
roun’ an’ git mad wid dat young gemman f’om de city?”
reckon nuttin’; I knows w’at he gwine do, — same w’at his pa
done.” “W’at his pa done, La Chatte?” “G’ ’long ’bout yo’
business; you ’s axin’ too many questions.” And La Chatte
arose slowly and went to gather her party-colored wash that
hung drying on the jagged and irregular points of a
But the darkies were mistaken in
supposing that Offdean was paying attention to Euphrasie.
Those little jaunts in the wood were purely of a business
character. Offdean had made a contract with a neighboring mill
for fencing, in exchange for a certain amount of uncut timber.
He had made it his work — with the assistance of Euphrasie -
to decide upon what trees he wanted felled, and to mark such
for the woodman’s axe.
If they sometimes forgot what they had
gone into the woods for, it was because there was so much to
talk about and to laugh about. Often, when Offdean had blazed
a tree with the sharp hatchet which he carried at his pommel,
and had further discharged his duty by calling it “a fine
piece of timber,” they would sit upon some fallen and decaying
trunk, maybe to listen to a chorus of mocking-birds above
their heads, or to exchange confidences, as young people will.
Euphrasie thought she had never heard any one talk quite so
pleasantly as Offdean did. She could not decide whether it was
his manner or the tone of his voice, or the earnest glance of
his dark and deep-set blue eyes, that gave such meaning to
everything he said; for she found herself afterward thinking
of his every word.
One afternoon it rained in torrents, and
Rose was forced to drag buckets and tubs into Offdean’s room
to catch the streams that threatened to flood it. Euphrasie
said she was glad of it; now he could see for himself.
when he had seen for himself, he went to join her out on a
corner of the gallery, where she stood with a cloak around
her, close up against the house. He leaned against the house,
too, and they stood thus together, gazing upon as desolate a
scene as it is easy to imagine.
The whole landscape was gray,
seen through the driving rain. Far away the dreary cabins
seemed to sink and sink to earth in abject misery. Above their
heads the live-oak branches were beating with sad monotony
against the blackened roof. Great pools of water had formed in
the yard, which was deserted by every living thing; for the
little darkies had scampered away to their cabins, the dogs
had run to their kennels, and the hens were puffing big with
wretchedness under the scanty shelter of a fallen wagon-body.
Certainly a situation to make a young man groan with ennui, if
he is used to his daily stroll on Canal Street, and pleasant
afternoons at the club. But Offdean thought it delightful. He
only wondered that he had never known, or some one had never
told him, how charming a place an old, dismantled plantation
can be — when it rains. But as well as he liked it, he could
not linger there forever. Business called him back to New
Orleans, and after a few days he went away.
The interest which
he felt in the improvement of this plantation was of so deep a
nature, however, that he found himself thinking of it
constantly. He wondered if the timber had all been felled, and
how the fencing was coming on. So great was his desire to know
such things that much correspondence was required between
himself and Euphrasie, and he watched for those letters that
told him of her trials and vexations with carpenters,
bricklayers, and shingle- bearers. But in the midst of it,
Offdean suddenly lost interest in the progress of work on the
plantation. Singularly enough, it happened simultaneously with
the arrival of a letter from Euphrasie which announced in a
modest postscript that she was going down to the city with the
Duplans for Mardi Gras.
When Offdean learned that Euphrasie was coming to New
Orleans, he was delighted to think he would have an
opportunity to make some return for the hospitality which he
had received from her father. He decided at once that she must
see everything: day processions and night parades, balls and
tableaux, operas and plays. He would arrange for it all, and
he went to the length of begging to be relieved of certain
duties that had been assigned him at the club, in order that
he might feel himself perfectly free to do so.
following Euphrasie’s arrival, Offdean hastened to call upon
her, away to down on Esplanade Street. She and the Duplans
were staying there with old Mme. Carantelle, Mrs. Duplan’s
mother, a delightfully conservative old lady who had not
“crossed Canal Street” for many years.
He found a number of
people gathered in the long high-ceiled drawing-room, — young
people and old people, all talking French, and some talking
louder than they would have done if Madame Carantelle had not
been so very deaf.
When Offdean entered, the old lady was
greeting some one who had come in just before him. It was
Placide, and she was calling him Grégoire, and wanting to know
how the crops were up on Red River. She met every one from the
country with this stereotyped inquiry, which placed her at
once on the agreeable and easy footing she liked.
Offdean had not counted on finding Euphrasie so well provided
with entertainment, and he spent much of the evening in trying
to persuade himself that the fact was a pleasing one in
itself. But he wondered why Placide was with her, and sat so,
persistently beside her, and danced so repeatedly with her
when Mrs. Duplan played upon the piano. Then he could not see
by what right these young creoles had already arranged for the
Proteus ball, and every other entertainment that he had meant
to provide for her.
He went away without having had a word
alone with the girl whom he had gone to see. The evening had
proved a failure. He did not go to the club as usual, but went
to his rooms in a mood which inclined him to read a few pages
from a stoic philosopher whom he sometimes affected. But the
words of wisdom that had often before helped him over
disagreeable places left no impress to-night. They were
powerless to banish from his thoughts the look of a pair of
brown eyes, or to drown the tones of a girl’s voice that kept
singing in his soul.
Placide was not very well acquainted with
the city; but that made no difference to him so long as he was
at Euphrasie’s side. His brother Hector, who lived in some
obscure corner of the town, would willingly have made his
knowledge a more intimate one, but Placide did not choose to
learn the lessons that Hector was ready to teach. He asked
nothing better than to walk with Euphrasie along the streets,
holding her parasol at an agreeable angle over her pretty
head, or to sit beside her in the evening at the play, sharing
her frank delight.
When the night of the Mardi Gras ball came,
he felt like a lost spirit during the hours he was forced to
remain away from her. He stood in the dense crowd on the
street gazing up at her, where she sat on the club-house
balcony amid a bevy of gayly dressed women. It was not easy to
distinguish her, but he could think of no more agreeable
occupation than to stand down there on the street trying to do
She seemed during all this pleasant time to be entirely
his own, too. It made him very fierce to think of the
possibility of her not being entirely his own. But he had no
cause whatever to think this. She had grown conscious and
thoughtful of late about him and their relationship. She often
communed with herself, and as a result tried to act toward him
as an engaged girl would toward her fiancé. Yet a wistful look
came sometimes into the brown eyes when she walked the streets
with Placide, and eagerly scanned the faces of passers-by.
Offdean had written her a note, very studied, very formal,
asking to see her a certain day and hour, to consult about
matters on the plantation, saying he had found it so difficult
to obtain a word with her, that he was forced to adopt this
means, which he trusted would not be offensive.
perfectly right to Euphrasie. She agreed to see him one
afternoon — the day before leaving town — in the long, stately
drawing-room, quite alone.
It was a sleepy day, too warm for
the season. Gusts of moist air were sweeping lazily through
the long corridors, rattling the slats of the half-closed
green shutters, and bringing a delicious perfume from the
courtyard where old Charlot was watering the spreading palms
and brilliant parterres. A group of little children had stood
awhile quarreling noisily under the windows, but had moved on
down the street and left quietness reigning.
Offdean had not
long to wait before Euphrasie came to him. She had lost some
of that ease which had marked her manner during their first
acquaintance. Now, when she seated herself before him, she
showed a disposition to plunge at once into the subject that
had brought him there. He was willing enough that it should
play some rôle, since it had been his pretext for coming;but
he soon dismissed it, and with it much restraint that had held
him till now. He simply looked into her eyes, with a gaze that
made her shiver a little, and began to complain because she
was going away next day and he had seen nothing of her;
because he had wanted to do so many things when she came — why
had she not let him?
“You fo’get I ’m no stranger here,” she
told him. “I know many people. I ’ve been coming so often with
Mme. Duplan. I wanted to see mo’ of you, Mr. Offdean” —
you ought to have managed it; you could have done so. It ’s —
it ’s aggravating” he said, far more bitterly than the subject
warranted, “when a man has so set his heart upon something.”
“But it was n’ anything ver’ important,” she interposed; and
they both laughed, and got safely over a situation that would
soon have been strained, if not critical.
Waves of happiness
were sweeping through the soul and body of the girl as she sat
there in the drowsy afternoon near the man whom she loved. It
mattered not what they talked about, or whether they talked at
all. They were both scintillant with feeling. If Offdean had
taken Euphrasie’s hands in his and leaned forward and kissed
her lips, it would have seemed to both only the rational
outcome of things that stirred them. But he did not do this.
He knew now that overwhelming passion was taking possession of
him. He had not to heap more coals upon the fire; on the
contrary, it was a moment to put on the brakes, and he was a
young gentleman able to do this when circumstances required.
However, he held her hand longer than he needed to when he
bade her good-by. For he got entangled in explaining why he
should have to go back to the plantation to see how matters
stood there, and he dropped her hand only when the rambling
speech was ended.
He left her sitting by the window in a big
brocaded armchair. She drew the lace curtain aside to watch
him pass in the street. He lifted his hat and smiled when he
saw her. Any other man she knew would have done the same
thing, but this simple act caused the blood to surge to her
cheeks. She let the curtain drop, and sat there like one
dreaming. Her eyes, intense with the unnatural light that
glowed in them, looked steadily into vacancy, and her lips
stayed parted in the half-smile that did not want to leave
Placide found her thus, a good while afterward, when he
came in, full of bustle, with theatre tickets in his pocket
for the last night. She started up, and went eagerly to meet
“W’ere have you been, Placide?” she asked with unsteady
voice, placing her hands on his shoulders with a freedom that
was new and strange to him.
He appeared to her suddenly as a
refuge from something, she did not know what, and she rested
her hot cheek against his breast. This made him mad, and he
lifted her face and kissed her passionately upon the lips.
crept from his arms after that, and went away to her room, and
locked herself in. Her poor little inexperienced soul was torn
and sore. She knelt down beside her bed, and sobbed a little
and prayed a little. She felt that she had sinned, she did not
know exactly in what; but a fine nature warned her that it was
in Placide’s kiss.
All Saints Day in New Orleans.
The spring came early in Orville, and so subtly that no one
could tell exactly when it began. But one morning the roses
were so luscious in Placide’s sunny parterres, the peas and
bean-vines and borders of strawberries so rank in his trim
vegetable patches, that he called out lustily, “No mo’ winta,
Judge!” to the staid Judge Blount, who went ambling by on his
“There ’s right smart o’ folks don’t know it,
Santien,” responded the judge, with occult meaning that might
be applied to certain indebted clients back on the bayou who
had not broken land yet. Ten minutes later the judge observed
sententiously, and apropos of nothing, to a group that stood
waiting for the post-office to open: —
“I see Santien’s got
that noo fence o’ his painted. And a pretty piece o’ work it
is,” he added reflectively.
“Look lack Placide goin’ pent mo’
’an de fence,” sagaciously snickered ’Tit-Edouard, a strolling
maigre-échine of indefinite occupation. “I seen ’im, me,
pesterin’ wid all kine o’ pent on a piece o’ bo’d yistiday.”
“I knows he gwine paint mo’ ’an de fence,” emphatically
announced Uncle Abner, in a tone that carried conviction. “He
gwine paint de house; dat what he gwine do. Didn’ Marse Luke
Williams orda de paints? An’ didn’ I done kyar’ ’em up dah
Seeing the deference with which this positive piece
of knowledge was received, the judge coolly changed the
subject by announcing that Luke Williams’s Durham bull had
broken a leg the night before in Luke’s new pasture ditch, — a
piece of news that fell among his hearers with telling, if
But most people wanted to see for themselves
these astonishing things that Placide was doing. And the young
ladies of the village strolled slowly by of afternoons in
couples and arm in arm. If Placide happened to see them, he
would leave his work to hand them a fine rose or a bunch of
geraniums over the dazzling white fence. But if it chanced to
be ’Tit-Edouard or Luke Williams, or any of the young men of
Orville, he pretended not to see them, or to hear the
ingratiating cough that accompanied their lingering footsteps.
In his eagerness to have his home sweet and attractive for
Euphrasie’s coming, Placide had gone less frequently than ever
before up to Natchitoches. He worked and whistled and sang
until the yearning for the girl’s presence became a driving
need; then he would put away his tools and mount his horse as
the day was closing, and away he would go across bayous and
hills and fields until he was with her again. She had never
seemed to Placide so lovable as she was then. She had grown
more womanly and thoughtful. Her cheek had lost much of its
color, and the light in her eyes flashed less often. But her
manner had gained a something of pathetic tenderness toward
her lover that moved him with an intoxicating happiness. He
could hardly wait with patience for that day in early April
which would see the fulfillment of his lifelong hopes.
Euphrasie’s departure from New Orleans, Offdean told himself
honestly that he loved the girl. But being yet unsettled in
life, he felt it was no time to think of marrying, and, like
the worldly-wise young gentleman that he was, resolved to
forget the little Natchitoches girl. He knew it would be an
affair of some difficulty, but not an impossible thing, so he
set about forgetting her.
The effort made him singularly
irascible. At the office he was gloomy and taciturn; at the
club he was a bear. A few young ladies whom he called upon
were astonished and distressed at the cynical views of life
which he had so suddenly adopted.
When he had endured a week
or more of such humor, and inflicted it upon others, he
abruptly changed his tactics. He decided not to fight against
his love for Euphrasie. He would not marry her, — certainly
not; but he would let himself love her to his heart’s bent,
until that love should die a natural death, and not a violent
one as he had designed. He abandoned himself completely to his
passion, and dreamed of the girl by day and thought of her by
night. How delicious had been the scent of her hair, the
warmth of her breath, the nearness of her body, that rainy day
when they stood close together upon the veranda! He recalled
the glance of her honest, beautiful eyes, that told him things
which made his heart beat fast now when he thought of them.
And then her voice! Was there another like it when she laughed
or when she talked! Was there another woman in the world
possessed of so alluring a charm as this one he loved!
not bearish now, with these sweet thoughts crowding his brain
and thrilling his blood; but he sighed deeply, and worked
languidly, and enjoyed himself listlessly.
One day he sat in
his room puffing the air thick with sighs and smoke, when a
thought came suddenly to him — an inspiration, a very message
from heaven, to judge from the cry of joy with which he
greeted it. He sent his cigar whirling through the window,
over the stone paving of the street, and he let his head fall
down upon his arms, folded upon the table.
It had happened to
him, as it does to many, that the solution of a vexed question
flashed upon him when he was hoping least for it. He
positively laughed aloud, and somewhat hysterically. In the
space of a moment he saw the whole delicious future which a
kind fate had mapped out for him: those rich acres upon the
Red River his own, bought and embellished with his
inheritance; and Euphrasie, whom he loved, his wife and
companion throughout a life such as he knew now he had craved
for, — a life that, imposing bodily activity, admits the
intellectual repose in which thought unfolds.
was like one to whom a divinity had revealed his vocation in
life, — no less a divinity because it was love. If doubts
assailed him of Euphrasie’s consent, they were soon stilled.
For had they not spoken over and over to each other the mute
and subtile language of reciprocal love — out under the forest
trees, and in the quiet night-time on the plantation when the
stars shone? And never so plainly as in the stately old
drawing-room down on Esplanade Street. Surely no other speech
was needed then, save such as their eyes told. Oh, he knew
that she loved him; he was sure of it! The knowledge made him
all the more eager now to hasten to her, to tell her that he
wanted her for his very own.
If Offdean had stopped in Natchitoches on his way to the
plantation, he would have heard something there to astonish
him, to say the very least; for the whole town was talking of
Euphrasie’s wedding, which was to take place in a few days.
But he did not linger. After securing a horse at the stable,
he pushed on with all the speed of which the animal was
capable, and only in such company as his eager thoughts
The plantation was very quiet, with that
stillness which broods over broad, clean acres that furnish no
refuge for so much as a bird that sings. The negroes were
scattered about the fields at work, with hoe and plow, under
the sun, and old Pierre, on his horse, was far off in the
midst of them.
Placide had arrived in the morning, after
traveling all night, and had gone to his room for an hour or
two of rest. He had drawn the lounge close up to the window to
get what air he might through the closed shutters. He was just
beginning to doze when he heard Euphrasie’s light footsteps
approaching. She stopped and seated herself so near that he
could have touched her if he had but reached out his hand. Her
nearness banished all desire to sleep, and he lay there
content to rest his limbs and think of her.
The portion of the
gallery on which Euphrasie sat was facing the river, and away
from the road by which Offdean had reached the house. After
fastening his horse, he mounted the steps, and traversed the
broad hall that intersected the house from end to end, and
that was open wide. He found Euphrasie engaged upon a piece of
sewing. She was hardly aware of his presence before he had
seated himself beside her.
She could not speak. She only
looked at him with frightened eyes, as if his presence were
that of some disembodied spirit.
“Are you not glad that I have
come?” he asked her. “Have I made a mistake in coming?” He was
gazing into her eyes, seeking to read the meaning of their new
and strange expression.
“Am I glad?” she faltered. “I don’
know. W’at has that to do? You ’ve come to see the work, of
co’se. It ’s — it ’s only half done, Mr. Offdean. They would
n’ listen to me or to papa, an’ you didn’ seem to care.”
have n’t come to see the work,” he said, with a smile of love
and confidence. “I am here only to see you, — to say how much
I want you, and need you — to tell you how I love you.”
rose, half choking with words she could not utter. But he
seized her hands and held her there.
“The plantation is mine,
Euphrasie, — or it will be when you say that you will be my
wife,” he went on excitedly. “I know that you love me” —
not!” she exclaimed wildly. “W’at do you mean? How do you
dare,” she gasped, “to say such things w’en you know that in
two days I shall be married to Placide?” The last was said in
a whisper; it was like a wail.
“Married to Placide!” he
echoed, as if striving to understand, — to grasp some part of
his own stupendous folly and blindness. “I knew nothing of
it,” he said hoarsely. “Married to Placide! I would never have
spoken to you as I did, if I had known. You believe me, I
hope? Please say that you forgive me.”
He spoke with long
silences between his utterances.
“Oh, there is n’ anything to
forgive. You ’ve only made a mistake. Please leave me, Mr.
Offdean. Papa is out in the fiel’, I think, if you would like
to speak with him. Placide is somew’ere on the place.”
shall mount my horse and go see what work has been done,” said
Offdean, rising. An unusual pallor had overspread his face,
and his mouth was drawn with suppressed pain. “I must turn my
fool’s errand to some practical good,” he added, with a sad
attempt at playfulness; and with no further word he walked
She listened to his going. Then all the
wretchedness of the past months, together with the sharp
distress of the moment, voiced itself in a sob: “O God — O my
God, he’p me!”
But she could not stay out there in the broad
day for any chance comer to look upon her uncovered sorrow.
Placide heard her rise and go to her room. When he had heard
the key turn in the lock, he got up, and with quiet
deliberation prepared to go out. He drew on his boots, then
his coat. He took his pistol from the dressing-bureau, where
he had placed it a while before, and after examining its
chambers carefully, thrust it into his pocket.He had certain
work to do with the weapon before night. But for Euphrasie’s
presence he might have accomplished it very surely a moment
ago, when the hound — as he called him — stood outside his
window. He did not wish her to know anything of his movements,
and he left his room as quietly as possible, and mounted his
horse, as Offdean had done.
“La Chatte,” called Placide to the
old woman, who stood in her yard at the washtub, “w’ich way
did that man go?”
“W’at man dat? I is n’ studyin’ ’bout no
mans; I got ’nough to do wid dis heah washin’. ’Fo’ God, I
don’ know w’at man you ’s talkin’ ’bout “ —
“La Chatte, w’ich
way did that man go? Quick, now!” with the deliberate tone and
glance that had always quelled her.
“Ef you ’s talkin’ ’bout
dat Noo Orleans man, I could ’a’ tole you dat. He done tuck de
road to de cocoa-patch,” plunging her black arms into the tub
with unnecessary energy and disturbance.
“That ’s enough. I
know now he ’s gone into the woods. You always was a liar, La
“Dat his own lookout, de smoove-tongue’ raskil,”
soliloquized the woman a moment later. “I done said he didn’
have no call to come heah, caperin’ roun’ Miss ’Phrasie.”
Placide was possessed by only one thought, which was a want as
well, — to put an end to this man who had come between him and
his love. It was the same brute passion that drives the beast
to slay when he sees the object of his own desire laid hold of
He had heard Euphrasie tell the man she did not
love him, but what of that? Had he not heard her sobs, and
guessed what her distress was? It needed no very flexible mind
to guess as much, when a hundred signs besides, unheeded
before, came surging to his memory. Jealousy held him, and
rage and despair.
Offdean, as he rode along under the trees in
apathetic despondency, heard some one approaching him on
horseback, and turned aside to make room in the narrow
It was not a moment for punctilious scruples, and
Placide had not been hindered by such from sending a bullet
into the back of his rival. The only thing that stayed him was
that Offdean must know why he had to die.
Placide said, reining his horse with one hand, while he held
his pistol openly in the other, “I was in my room ’w’ile ago,
and yeared w’at you said to Euphrasie. I would ’a’ killed you
then if she had n’ been ’longside o’ you. I could ’a’ killed
you jus’ now w’en I come up behine you.”
“Well, why did n’t
you?” asked Offdean, meanwhile gathering his faculties to
think how he had best deal with this madman.
“Because I wanted
you to know who done it, an’ w’at he done it for.”
Santien, I suppose to a person in your frame of mind it will
make no difference to know that I ’m unarmed. But if you make
any attempt upon my life, I shall certainly defend myself as
best I can.”
“Defen’ yo’se’f, then.”
“You must be mad,” said
Offdean, quickly, and looking straight into Placide’s eyes,
“to want to soil your happiness with murder. I thought a
creole knew better than that how to love a woman.”
“By ——! are
you goin’ to learn me how to love a woman?”
said Offdean eagerly, as they rode slowly along; “your own
honor is going to tell you that. The way to love a woman is to
think first of her happiness. If you love Euphrasie, you must
go to her clean. I love her myself enough to want you to do
that. I shall leave this place tomorrow; you will never see me
again if I can help it. Is n’t that enough for you? I ’m going
to turn here and leave you. Shoot me in the back if you like;
but I know you won’t.” And Offdean held out his hand.
want to shake han’s with you,” said Placide sulkily. “Go ’way
He stayed motionless watching Offdean ride away. He
looked at the pistol in his hand, and replaced it slowly in
his pocket; then he removed the broad felt hat which he wore,
and wiped away the moisture that had gathered upon his
Offdean’s words had touched some chord within him
and made it vibrant; but they made him hate the man no less.
“The way to love a woman is to think firs’ of her happiness,”
he muttered reflectively. “He thought a creole knew how to
love. Does he reckon he ’s goin’ to learn a creole how to
His face was white and set with despair now. The rage
had all left it as he rode deeper on into the wood.
Offdean rose early, wishing to take the morning train to the
city. But he was not before Euphrasie, whom he found in the
large hall arranging the breakfast-table. Old Pierre was there
too, walking slowly about with hands folded behind him, and
with bowed head.
A restraint hung upon all of them, and the
girl turned to her father and asked him if Placide were up,
seemingly for want of something to say. The old man fell
heavily into a chair, and gazed upon her in the deepest
“Oh, my po’ li’le Euphrasie! my po’ li’le chile! Mr.
Offde’n, you ain’t no stranger.”
“Bon Dieu! Papa!” cried the
girl sharply, seized with a vague terror. She quitted her
occupation at the table, and stood in nervous apprehension of
what might follow.
“I yaired people say Placide was one
no-’count creole. I nevair want to believe dat, me. Now I know
dat ’s true. Mr. Offde’n, you ain’t no stranger, you.”
was gazing upon the old man in amazement.
“In de night,”
Pierre continued, “I yaired some noise on de winder. I go
open, an’ dere Placide standin’ wid his big boot’ on, an’ his
w’ip w’at he knocked wid on de winder, an’ his hoss all
saddle’. Oh, my po’ li’le chile! He say, ’Pierre, I yaired say
Mr. Luke William’ want his house pent down in Orville. I
reckon I go git de job befo’ somebody else teck it.’ I say,
’You come straight back, Placide?’ He say, ’Don’ look fer me.’
An’ w’en I ax ’im w’at I goin’ tell to my li’le chile, he say,
’Tell Euphrasie Placide know better ’an anybody livin’ w’at
goin’ make her happy.’ An’ he start ’way; den he come back an’
say, ’Tell dat man’ — I don’ know who he was talk’ ’bout -
’tell ’im he ain’t goin’ learn nuttin’ to a creole.’ Mon Dieu!
Mon Dieu! I don’ know w’at all dat mean.”
He was holding the
half-fainting Euphrasie in his arms, and stroking her hair.
always yaired say he was one no-’count creole. I nevair want
to believe dat.”
“Don’t — don’t say that again, papa,” she
whisperingly entreated, speaking in French. “Placide has saved
“He has save’ you f’om w’at, Euphrasie?” asked her
father, in dazed astonishment.
“From sin,” she replied to him
under her breath.
“I don’ know w’at all dat mean,” the old man
muttered, bewildered, as he arose and walked out on the
Offdean had taken coffee in his room, and would not
wait for breakfast. When he went to bid Euphrasie good-by, she
sat beside the table with her head bowed upon her arm.
her hand and said good-by to her, but she did not look up.
“Euphrasie,” he asked eagerly, “I may come back? Say that I
may — after a while.”
She gave him no answer, and he leaned
down and pressed his cheek caressingly and entreatingly
against her soft thick hair.
“May I, Euphrasie?” he begged.
“So long as you do not tell me no, I shall come back, dearest
She still made him no reply, but she did not tell him
So he kissed her hand and her cheek, — what he could touch
of it, that peeped out from her folded arm, — and went away.
An hour later, when Offdean passed through Natchitoches, the
old town was already ringing with the startling news that
Placide had been dismissed by his fiancée, and the wedding was
off, information which the young creole was taking the trouble
to scatter broadcast as he went.
Canal at St. Charles in the 1880s.
Pronounced Nack-e-tosh. [Chopin’s note.]
En grand seigneur.
The great lord.
A head scarf.
A position where one’s hands are placed on hips.
A crisp twisted donut spiced with nutmeg and rich in butter
and eggs; similar to a beignet.
A small wallet for carrying coins.
A type of rose.
“A No-Account Creole.” Bayou Folk. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1894.
1-50. Archive.org, 12 Sept. 2006. Web. 11 July 2012.
archive.org/ details/ bayoufolk kate00 choprich>.
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