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Attalie Brouillard Post by :davepc3 Category :Short Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :June 2011 Read :2423

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Attalie Brouillard

1855.


I.

FURNISHED ROOMS.


The strange true stories we have thus far told have all been matter of public or of private record. Pages of history and travel, law reports, documents of court, the testimony of eye-witnesses, old manuscripts and letters, have insured to them the full force and charm of their reality. But now we must have it clearly and mutually understood that here is one the verity of which is vouched for stoutly, but only by tradition. It is very much as if we had nearly finished a strong, solid stone house and would now ask permission of our underwriters to add to it at the rear a small frame lean-to.

It is a mere bit of lawyers' table-talk, a piece of after-dinner property. It originally belonged, they say, to Judge Collins of New Orleans, as I believe we have already mentioned; his by right of personal knowledge. I might have got it straight from him had I heard of it but a few years sooner. His small, iron-gray head, dark, keen eyes, and nervous face and form are in my mind's eye now, as I saw him one day on the bench interrupting a lawyer at the bar and telling him in ten words what the lawyer was trying to tell in two hundred and fifty.

That the judge's right to this story was that of discovery, not of invention, is well attested; and if he or any one else allowed fictitious embellishments to gather upon it by oft telling of it in merry hours, the story had certainly lost all such superfluities the day it came to me, as completely as if some one had stolen its clothes while it was in swimming. The best I can say is that it came unmutilated, and that I have done only what any humane person would have done--given it drapery enough to cover its nakedness.

To speak yet plainer, I do not, even now, put aside, abridge, or alter a single _fact_; only, at most, restore one or two to spaces that indicate just what has dropped out. If a dentist may lawfully supply the place of a lost tooth, or an old beau comb his hair skillfully over a bald spot, then am I guiltless. I make the tale not less, and only just a trifle more, true; not more, but only a trifle less, strange. And this is it:

In 1855 this Attalie Brouillard--so called, mark you, for present convenience only--lived in the French quarter of New Orleans; I think they say in Bienville street, but that is no matter; somewhere in the _vieux carre_ of Bienville's original town. She was a worthy woman; youngish, honest, rather handsome, with a little money--just a little; of attractive dress, with good manners, too; alone in the world, and--a quadroon. She kept furnished rooms to rent--as a matter of course; what would she do?

Hence she was not so utterly alone in the world as she might have been. She even did what Stevenson says is so good, but not so easy, to do, "to keep a few friends, but these without capitulation." For instance there was Camille Ducour. That was not his name; but as we have called the woman A.B., let the man be represented as C.D.

He, too, was a quadroon; an f.m.c.(A) His personal appearance has not been described to us, but he must have had one. Fancy a small figure, thin, let us say, narrow-chested, round-shouldered, his complexion a dull clay color spattered with large red freckles, his eyes small, gray, and close together, his hair not long or bushy, but dense, crinkled, and hesitating between a dull yellow and a hot red; his clothes his own and his linen last week's.

He is said to have been a shrewd fellow; had picked up much practical knowledge of the law, especially of notarial business, and drove a smart trade giving private advice on points of law to people of his caste. From many a trap had he saved his poor clients of an hour. Out of many a danger of their own making had he safely drawn them, all unseen by, though not unknown to, the legitimate guild of judges, lawyers, and notaries out of whose professional garbage barrel he enjoyed a sort of stray dog's privilege of feeding.

His meetings with Attalie Brouillard were almost always on the street and by accident. Yet such meetings were invariably turned into pleasant visits in the middle of the sidewalk, after the time-honored Southern fashion. Hopes, ailments, the hardness of the times, the health of each one's "folks," and the condition of their own souls, could not be told all in a breath. He never failed, when he could detain her no longer, to bid her feel free to call on him whenever she found herself in dire need of a wise friend's counsel. There was always in his words the hint that, though he never had quite enough cash for one, he never failed of knowledge and wisdom enough for two. And the gentle Attalie believed both clauses of his avowal.

Attalie had another friend, a white man.

FOOTNOTES: (A) Free man of color.

 


II.

JOHN BULL.


This other friend was a big, burly Englishman, forty-something years old, but looking older; a big pink cabbage-rose of a man who had for many years been Attalie's principal lodger. He, too, was alone in the world.

And yet neither was he so utterly alone as he might have been. For he was a cotton buyer. In 1855 there was no business like the cotton business. Everything else was subservient to that. The cotton buyer's part, in particular, was a "pretty business." The cotton _factor_ was harassingly responsible to a whole swarm of planter patrons, of whose feelings he had to be all the more careful when they were in his debt. The cotton _broker_ could be bullied by his buyer. But the _buyer_ was answerable only to some big commercial house away off in Havre or Hamburg or Liverpool, that had to leave all but a few of the largest and most vital matters to his discretion. Commendations and criticisms alike had to come by mail across the Atlantic.

Now, if a cotton buyer of this sort happened to be a bachelor, with no taste for society, was any one likely to care what he substituted, out of business hours, for the conventional relations of domestic life? No one answers. Cotton buyers of that sort were apt to have very comfortable furnished rooms in the old French quarter. This one in Attalie's house had the two main rooms on the first floor above the street.

Honestly, for all our winking and tittering, we know nothing whatever against this person's private character except the sad fact that he was a man and a bachelor. At forty-odd, it is fair to suppose, one who knows the world well enough to be the trusted agent of others, thousands of miles across the ocean, has bid farewell to all mere innocence and has made choice between virtue and vice. But we have no proof whatever that Attalie's cotton buyer had not solemnly chosen virtue and stuck to his choice as an Englishman can.

All we know as to this, really, is that for many years here he had roomed, and that, moved by some sentiment, we know not certainly what, he had again and again assured Attalie that she should never want while he had anything, and that in his will, whenever he should make it, she would find herself his sole legatee. On neither side of the water, said he, had he any one to whom the law obliged him to leave his property nor, indeed, any large wealth; only a little money in bank--a very indefinite statement. In 1855 the will was still unwritten.

There is little room to doubt that this state of affairs did much interest Camille Ducour--at a distance. The Englishman may have known him by sight. The kind of acquaintance he might have had with the quadroon was not likely to vary much from an acquaintance with some unknown neighbor's cat on which he mildly hoped to bestow a pitcher of water if ever he caught him under his window.

Camille mentioned the Englishman approvingly to three other friends of Attalie, when, with what they thought was adroitness, they turned conversation upon her pecuniary welfare. They were Jean d'Eau, a slumberous butcher; Richard Reau, an embarrassed baker; and one ---- Ecswyzee, an illiterate but prosperous candlestick-maker. These names may sound inexact, but _can you prove_ that these were not their names and occupations? We shall proceed.

These three simple souls were bound to Attalie by the strong yet tender bonds of debit and credit. She was not distressingly but only interestingly "behind" on their well-greased books, where Camille's account, too, was longer on the left-hand side. When they alluded inquiringly to her bill, he mentioned the Englishman vaguely and assured them it was "good paper to hold," once or twice growing so extravagant as to add that his (Camille's) own was hardly better!

The tradesmen replied that they hadn't a shadow of doubt. In fact, they said, their mention, of the matter was mere jest, etc.


III.

Ducour's Meditations.


There were a few points in this case upon which Camille wished he could bring to bear those purely intellectual--not magical--powers of divination which he modestly told his clients were the secret of all his sagacious advice. He wished he could determine conclusively and exactly what was the mutual relation of Attalie and her lodger. Out of the minutest corner of one eye he had watched her for years.

A quadroon woman's lot was a hard one; any true woman would say that, even while approving the laws and popular notions of necessity that made that lot what it was. The law, popular sentiment, public policy, always looked at Attalie's sort with their right eye shut. And according to all the demands of the other eye Camille knew that Attalie was honest, faithful. But was that all; or did she stand above and beyond the demands of law and popular sentiment? In a word, to whom was she honest, faithful; to the Englishman merely, or actually to herself? If to herself actually, then in case of his early death, for Camille had got a notion of that, and had got it from Attalie, who had got it from the Englishman,--what then? Would she get his money, or any of it? No, not if Camille knew men--especially white men. For a quadroon woman to be true to herself and to her God was not the kind of thing that white men--if he knew them--rewarded. But if the case was not of that sort, and the relation was what he _hoped_ it was, and according to his ideas of higher law it had a right to be, why, then, she might reasonably hope for a good fat slice--if there should turn out, after all, to be any fat to slice.

Thence arose the other question--had the Englishman any money? And if so, was it much, or was it so little as to make it hardly worth while for the Englishman to die early at all? You can't tell just by looking at a man or his clothes. In fact, is it not astonishing how quietly a man--of the quiet kind--can either save great shining stacks of money, or get rid of all he makes as fast as he makes it? Isn't it astonishing? Being a cotton buyer did not answer the question. He might be getting very large pay or very small; or even none. Some men had got rich without ever charging anything for their services. The cotton business those days was a perfectly lovely business--so many shady by-paths and circuitous labyrinths. Even in the law--why, sometimes even he, Camille Ducour, did not charge anything. But that was not often.

Only one thing was clear--there ought to be a written will. For Attalie Brouillard, f. w. c, could by no means be or become the Englishman's legal heir. The law mumbled something about "one-tenth," but for the rest answered in the negative and with a black frown. Her only chance--but we shall come to that.

All in a tremor one day a messenger, Attalie's black slave girl, came to Camille to say that her mistress was in trouble! in distress! in deeper distress than he could possibly imagine, and in instant need of that wise counsel which Camille Ducour had so frequently offered to give.

"I am busy," he said, in the Creole-negro _patois_, "but--has anybody--has anything happened to--to anybody in Madame Brouillard's house?"

"Yes," the messenger feared that "_ce Michie qui pote soulie jaune_--that gentleman who wears yellow shoes--is ill. Madame Brouillard is hurrying to and fro and crying."

"Very loud?"

"No, silently; yet as though her heart were breaking."


"And the doctor?" asks Camille, as he and the messenger are hurrying side by side out of Exchange alley into Bienville street.

"---- was there yesterday and the day before."

They reach the house. Attalie meets her counselor alone at the top of the stairs. "_Li bien malade_," she whispers, weeping; "he is very ill."

"---- wants to make his will?" asks Camille. All their talk is in their bad French.

Attalie nods, answers inaudibly, and weeps afresh. Presently she manages to tell how the sick man had tried to write, and failed, and had fallen back exclaiming, "Attalie--Attalie--I want to leave it all to you--what little--" and did not finish, but presently gasped out, "Bring a notary."

"And the doctor?"

"---- has not come to-day. Michie told the doctor if he came again he would kick him downstairs. Yes, and the doctor says whenever a patient of his says that he stops coming."

They reach the door of the sick man's bedchamber. Attalie pushes it softly, looks into the darkened chamber and draws back, whispering, "He has dropped asleep."

Camille changes places with her and looks in. Then he moves a step across the threshold, leans forward peeringly, and then turns about, lifts his ill-kept forefinger, and murmurs while he fixes his little eyes on hers:

"If you make a noise, or in any way let any one know what has happened, it will cost you all he is worth. I will leave you alone with him just ten minutes." He makes as if to pass by her towards the stair, but she seizes him by the wrist.

"What do you mean?" she asks, with alarm.

"Hush! you speak too loud. He is dead."

The woman leaps by him, slamming him against the banisters, and disappears within the room. Camille hears her loud, long moan as she reaches the bedside. He takes three or four audible steps away from the door and towards the stairs, then turns, and darting with the swift silence of a cat surprises her on her knees by the bed, disheveled, unheeding, all moans and tears, and covering with passionate kisses the dead man's--hands only!

To impute moral sublimity to a white man and a quadroon woman at one and the same time and in one and the same affair was something beyond the powers of Camille's small soul. But he gave Attalie, on the instant, full credit, over credit it may be, and felt a momentary thrill of spiritual contagion that he had scarcely known before in all his days. He uttered not a sound; but for all that he said within himself, drawing his breath in through his clenched teeth, and tightening his fists till they trembled, "Oho-o!--Aha!--No wonder you postponed the writing of your will day by day, month by month, year in and year out! But you shall see, my fine Michie White man--dead as you are, you shall see--you'll see if you shan't!--she shall have the money, little or much! Unless there are heirs she shall have every picayune of it!" Almost as quickly as it had flashed up, the faint flicker of moral feeling died out; yet the resolution remained. He was going to "beat" a dead white man.

 


IV.

PROXY.


Camille glided to the woman's side and laid a gentle yet commanding touch upon her.

"Come, there is not a moment to lose."

"What do you want?" asked Attalie. She neither rose nor turned her head, nor even let go the dead man's hand.

"I must make haste to fulfill the oft-repeated request of my friend here."

"_Your_ friend!" She still knelt, and held the hand, but turned her face, full of pained resentment, upon the speaker behind her. He was calm.

"Our friend; yes, this man here. You did not know that I was his secret confidential adviser? Well, that was all right; I told him to tell no one. But now I must carry out his instructions. Madame Brouillard, this man wished to leave you every cent he had in the world."

Attalie slowly laid her lips on the big cold hand lying in her two hot ones and let the silent tears wet all three. Camille spoke on to her averted form:

"He may never have told you so till to-day, but he has often told me. 'I tell you, Camille,' he used to say, 'because I can trust you: I can't trust a white man in a matter like this.' He told you? Yes; then you know that I speak the truth. But one thing you did not know; that this intention of his was the result of my earnest advice.--Stop! Madame Brouillard--if you please--we have no time for amazement or questions now; and less than none for expressions of gratitude. Listen to me. You know he was always afraid he would die some day suddenly? Yes, of course; everybody knew that. One night--our meetings were invariably at night--he said to me, 'Camille, my dear friend, if I should go all of a sudden some day before I write that will, _you know what to do_.' Those were his exact words: 'Camille, my dear friend, _you know what to do_.'" All this was said to the back of Attalie's head and neck; but now the speaker touched her with one finger: "Madame, are your lodgers all up town?"

She nodded.

"Good. And you have but the one servant. Go tell her that our dear friend has been in great suffering but is now much better, quite free from pain, in fact, and wants to attend to some business. Send her to Exchange alley, to the office of Eugene Favre. He is a notary public"--He murmured some further description. "Understand?"

Attalie, still kneeling, kept her eyes on his in silence, but she understood; he saw that.

"She must tell him," he continued, "to come at once. But before she goes there she must stop on the way and tell three persons to come and witness a notarial act. Now whom shall they be? For they must be white male residents of the parish, and they must not be insane, deaf, dumb, blind, nor disqualified by crime. I will tell you: let them be Jean d'Eau--at the French market. He will still be there; it is his turn to scrub the market to-day. Get him, get Richard Reau, and old man Ecswyzee. And on no account must the doctor be allowed to come. Do that, Madame Brouillard, as quickly as you can. I will wait here."

But the kneeling figure hesitated, with intense distress in her upturned face: "What are you going to do, Michie Ducour?"

"We are going to make you sole legatee."

"I do not want it! How are you going to do it? How?"

"In a way which he knows about and approves."

Attalie hid her shapely forehead again on the dead hand. "I cannot leave him. Do what you please, only let me stay here. Oh! let me stay here."

"I see," said Camille, with cold severity, "like all women, you count the foolish sentiments of the living of more value than the reasonable wish of the dead." He waited a moment for these words to take effect upon her motionless form, and then, seeing that--again like a woman--she was waiting and wishing for compulsion, he lifted her by one arm. "Come. Go. And make haste to get back again; we are losing priceless time."

She went. But just outside the door she seemed to halt. Camille put out his freckled face and turtle neck. "Well?"

"O Michie Ducour!" the trembling woman whispered, "those three witnesses will never do. I am in debt to every one of them!"

"Madame Brouillard, the one you owe the most to will be the best witness. Well? What next?"

"O my dear friend! what is this going to cost?--in money, I mean. I am so afraid of lawyers' accounts! I have nothing, and if it turns out that he has very, very little--It is true that I sent for you, but--I did not think you--what must you charge?"

"Nothing!" whispered Camille. "Madame Brouillard, whether he leaves you little or much, this must be for me a labor of love to him who was secretly my friend, or I will not touch it. He certainly had something, however, or he would not have tried to write a will. But, my dear madame, if you do not right here, now, stop looking scared, as if you were about to steal something instead of saving something from being stolen, it will cost us a great deal. Go. Make haste! That's right!--Ts-s-st! Hold on! Which is your own bedroom, upstairs?--Never mind why I ask; tell me. Yes; all right I Now, go!--Ts-s-st! Bring my hat up as you return."

She went downstairs. Camille tiptoed quickly back into the death chamber, whipped off his shoes, ran to a small writing-table, then to the bureau, then to the armoire, trying their drawers. They were locked, every one. He ran to the bed and searched swiftly under pillows and mattresses--no keys. Never mind. He wrapped a single sheet about the dead man's form, stepped lightly to the door, looked out, listened, heard nothing, and tripped back again.

And then with all his poor strength he lifted the bulk, still limp, in his arms, and with only two or three halts in the toilsome journey, to dash the streaming sweat from his brows and to better his hold so that the heels should not drag on the steps, carried it up to Attalie's small room and laid it, decently composed, on her bed.

Then he glided downstairs again and had just slipped into his shoes when Attalie came up hastily from below. She was pale and seemed both awe-struck and suspicious. As she met him outside the door grief and dismay were struggling in her eyes with mistrust, and as he coolly handed her the key of her room indignation joined the strife. She reddened and flashed:

"My God! you have not, yourself, already?"

"I could not wait, Madame Brouillard. We must run up now, and do for him whatever cannot be put off; and then you must let me come back, leaving my hat and shoes and coat up there, and--you understand?"

Yes; the whole thing was heartless and horrible, but--she understood. They went up.

 


V.

THE NUNCUPATIVE WILL.


In their sad task upstairs Attalie held command. Camille went and came on short errands to and from the door of her room, and was let in only once or twice when, for lifting or some such thing, four hands were indispensable. Soon both he and she came down to the door of the vacated room again together. He was in his shirt sleeves and without his shoes; but he had resumed command.

"And now, Madame Brouillard, to do this thing in the very best way I ought to say to you at once that our dear friend--did he ever tell you what he was worth?" The speaker leaned against the door-post and seemed to concern himself languidly with his black-rimmed finger-nails, while in fact he was watching Attalie from head to foot with all his senses and wits. She looked grief-stricken and thoroughly wretched.

"No," she said, very quietly, then suddenly burst into noiseless fresh tears, sank into a chair, buried her face in her wet handkerchief, and cried, "Ah! no, no, no! that was none of my business. He was going to leave it all to me. I never asked if it was little or much."

While she spoke Camille was reckoning with all his might and speed: "She has at least some notion as to whether he is rich or poor. She seemed a few minutes ago to fear he is poor, but I must try her again. Let me see: if he is poor and I say he is rich she will hope I know better than she, and will be silent. But if he is rich and she knows it, and I say he is poor, she will suspect fraud and will out with the actual fact indignantly on the spot." By this time she had ceased, and he spoke out:

"Well, Madame Brouillard, the plain fact is he was--as you may say--poor."

She looked up quickly from her soaking handkerchief, dropped her hands into her lap, and gazing at Camille through her tears said, "Alas! I feared it. That is what I feared. But ah! since it makes no difference to him now, it makes little to me. I feared it. That accounts for his leaving it to me, poor _milatraise_."

"But would you have imagined, madame, that all he had was barely three thousand dollars?"

"Ah! three thousand--ah! Michie Ducour," she said between a sob and a moan, "that is not so little. Three thousand! In Paris, where my brother lives, that would be fifteen thousand francs. Ah! Michie Ducour, I never guessed half that much, Michie Ducour, I tell you--he was too good to be rich." Her eyes stood full.

Camille started busily from his leaning posture and they began again to be active. But, as I have said, their relations were reversed once more. He gave directions from within the room, and she did short errands to and from the door.

The witnesses came: first Jean d'Eau, then Richard Reau, and almost at the same moment the aged Ecswyzee. The black maid led them up from below, and Attalie, tearless now, but meek and red-eyed, and speaking low through the slightly opened door from within the Englishman's bed-chamber, thanked them, explained that a will was to be made, and was just asking them to find seats in the adjoining front room, when the notary, aged, bent, dark-goggled, and as insensible as a machine, arrived. Attalie's offers to explain were murmurously waved away by his wrinkled hand, and the four men followed her into the bedchamber. The black maid-of-all-work also entered.

The room was heavily darkened. There was a rich aroma of fine brandy on its air. The Englishman's little desk had been drawn up near the bedside. Two candles were on it, unlighted, in small, old silver candlesticks. Attalie, grief-worn, distressed, visibly agitated, moved close to the bedside. Her sad figure suited the place with poetic fitness. The notary stood by the chair at the desk. The three witnesses edged along the wall where the curtained windows glimmered, took seats there, and held their hats in their hands. All looked at one object.

It was a man reclining on the bed under a light covering, deep in pillows, his head and shoulders much bundled up in wrappings. He moaned faintly and showed every sign of utmost weakness. His eyes opened only now and then, but when they did so they shone intelligently, though with a restless intensity apparently from both pain and anxiety.

He gasped a faint word. Attalie hung over him for an instant, and then turning quickly to her maid, who was lighting the candles for the notary and placing them so they should not shine into the eyes of the man in bed, said:

"His feet--another hot-water bottle."

The maid went to get it. While she was gone the notary asked the butcher, then the baker, and then the candlestick-maker, if they could speak and understand English, and where they resided. Their answers were satisfactory. Then he sat down, bent low to the desk, and wrote on a blank form the preamble of a nuncupative will. By the time he had finished, the maid had got back and the hot bottle had been properly placed. The notary turned his goggles upon the reclining figure and asked in English, with a strong Creole accent:

"What is your name?"

The words of the man in the bed were an inaudible gasp. But Attalie bent her ear quickly, caught them, and turning repeated:

"More brandy."

The black girl brought a decanter from the floor behind the bureau, and a wine-glass from the washstand. Attalie poured, the patient drank, and the maid replaced glass and decanter. The eyes of the butcher and the baker followed the sparkling vessel till it disappeared, and the maker of candlesticks made a dry swallow and faintly licked his lips. The notary remarked that there must be no intervention of speakers between himself and the person making the will, nor any turning aside to other matters; but that merely stopping a moment to satisfy thirst without leaving the room was not a vitiative turning aside and would not be, even if done by others besides the party making the will. But here the patient moaned and said audibly, "Let us go on." And they went on. The notary asked the patient's name, the place and date of his birth, etc., and the patient's answers were in every case whatever the Englishman's would have been. Presently the point was reached where the patient should express his wishes unprompted by suggestion or inquiry. He said faintly, "I will and bequeath"--

The servant girl, seeing her mistress bury her face in her handkerchief, did the same. The patient gasped audibly and said again, but more faintly:

"I will and bequeath--some more brandy."

The decanter was brought. He drank again. He let Attalie hand it back to the maid and the maid get nearly to the bureau when he said in a low tone of distinct reproof:

"Pass it 'round." The four visitors drank.

Then the patient resumed with stronger voice. "I will and bequeath to my friend Camille Ducour"--

Attalie started from her chair with a half-uttered cry of amazement and protest, but dropped back again at the notary's gesture for silence, and the patient spoke straight on without hesitation--"to my friend Camille Ducour, the sum of fifteen hundred dollars in cash."

Attalie and her handmaiden looked at each other with a dumb show of lamentation; but her butcher and her baker turned slowly upon her candlestick-maker, and he upon them, a look of quiet but profound approval. The notary wrote, and the patient spoke again:

"I will everything else which I may leave at my death, both real and personal property, to Madame Attalie Brouillard."

"Ah!" exclaimed Attalie, in the manner of one largely, but not entirely, propitiated. The maid suited her silent movement to the utterance, and the three witnesses exchanged slow looks of grave satisfaction. Mistress and maid, since the will seemed to them so manifestly and entirely finished, began to whisper together, although the patient and the notary were still perfecting some concluding formalities. But presently the notary began to read aloud the instrument he had prepared, keeping his face buried in the paper and running his nose and purblind eyes about it nervously, like a new-born thing hunting the warm fountain of life. All gave close heed. We need not give the document in its full length, nor its Creole accent in its entire breadth. This is only something like it:

"Dthee State of Louisiana," etc. "Be h-it known dthat on dthees h-eighth day of dthee month of May, One thousan' h-eight hawndred and fifty-five, dthat I, Eugene Favre, a not-arie pewblic een and for dthe State of Louisiana, parrish of Orleans, duly commission-ed and qualeefi-ed, was sue-mon-ed to dthe domee-ceel of Mr. (the Englishman's name), Number (so-and-so) Bienville street; ...dthat I found sayed Mr. (Englishman) lyingue in heez bade in dthee rear room of dthee second floor h-of dthee sayed house ... at about two o'clawk in dthee h-afternoon, and beingue informed by dthee sayed Mr. (Englishman) dthat he _diz_-i-red too make heez weel, I, sayed not-arie, sue-mon-ed into sayed bedchamber of dthe sayed Mr. (Englishman) dthe following nam-ed wit_nes_ses of lawfool h-age and residents of dthe sayed cittie, parrish, and State, to wit: Mr. Jean d'Eau, Mr. Richard Reau, and Mr. V. Deblieux Ecswyzee. That there _up_-on sayed Mr. (Englishman) being seek in bodie but of soun' mine, which was _hap_parent to me not-arie and dthe sayed wit_nes_ses by heez lang-uage and h-actions then and there in dthe presence of sayed wit_nes_ses _dic_tated to me not-arie dthe following as heez laz weel and tes_tam_ent, wheech was written by me sayed not-arie as _dic_tated by the sayed Mr. (Englishman), to wit:

"'My name ees (John Bull). I was born in,' etc. 'My father and mother are dade. I have no chil'ren. I have never had annie brawther or seester. I have never been marri-ed. Thees is my laz weel. I have never made a weel befo'. I weel and _bick_weath to my fran' Camille Ducour dthe sawm of fifteen hawndred dollars in cash. I weel h-everything h-else wheech I may leave at my daith, both real and personal property, to Madame Attalie Brouillard, leevingue at Number,' etc. 'I appoint my sayed fran' Camille Ducour as my testamentary executor, weeth-out bon', and grant heem dthe seizin' of my h-estate, h-and I dir-ect heem to pay h-all my juz debts.'

"Thees weel and tes_tam_ent as thus _dic_tated too me by sayed _tes_tator and wheech was wreeten by me notarie by my h-own han' jus' as _dic_tated, was thane by me not-arie rade to sayed Mr. (Englishman) in an au_dib_le voice and in the presence of dthe aforesayed three witnesses, and dthe sayed Mr. (Englishman) _dic_lar-ed that he well awnder-stood me not-arie and per_sev_er-ed een _dic_laring the same too be his laz weel; all of wheech was don' at one time and place weethout in_ter_'uption and weethout turningue aside to other acts.

"Thus done and pass-ed," etc.

The notary rose, a wet pen in one hand and the will--with his portfolio under it for a tablet--in the other. Attalie hurried to the bedside and stood ready to assist. The patient took the pen with a trembling hand. The writing was laid before him, and Attalie with a knee on the bed thrust her arm under the pillows behind him to make a firmer support.

The patient seemed to summon all his power to poise and steady the pen, but his hand shook, his fingers loosened, and it fell upon the document, making two or three blots there and another on the bed-covering, whither it rolled. He groped faintly for it, moaned, and then relaxed.

"He cannot sign!" whispered Attalie, piteously.

"Yes," gasped the patient.

The notary once more handed him the pen, but the same thing happened again.

The butcher cleared his throat in a way to draw attention. Attalie looked towards him and he drawled, half rising from his chair:

"I t'ink--a li'l more cognac"--

"Yass," murmured the baker. The candlestick-maker did not speak, but unconsciously wet his lips with his tongue and wiped them with the back of his forefinger. But every eye turned to the patient, who said:

"I cannot write--my hand--shakes so."

The notary asked a formal question or two, to which the patient answered "yes" and "no." The official sat again at the desk, wrote a proper statement of the patient's incapacity to make his signature, and then read it aloud. The patient gave assent, and the three witnesses stepped forward and signed. Then the notary signed.

As the four men approached the door to depart the baker said, lingeringly, to Attalie, smiling diffidently as he spoke:

"Dat settin' still make a man mighty dry, yass."

"Yass, da's true," said Attalie.

"Yass," he added, "same time he dawn't better drink much _water_ dat hot weader, no." The butcher turned and smiled concurrence; but Attalie, though she again said "yass," only added good-day, and the maid led them and the notary down stairs and let them out.

 


VI.

MEN CAN BE BETTER THAN THEIR LAWS.


An hour later, when the black maid returned from an errand, she found her mistress at the head of the stairs near the Englishman's door, talking in suppressed tones to Camille Ducour, who, hat in hand, seemed to have just dropped in and to be just going out again. He went, and Attalie said to her maid that he was "so good" and was going to come and sit up all night with the sick man.

The next morning the maid--and the neighborhood--was startled to hear that the cotton buyer had died in the night. The physician called and gave a certificate of death without going up to the death chamber.

The funeral procession was short. There was first the carriage with the priest and the acolytes; then the hearse; then a carriage in which sat the cotton buyer's clerk,--he had had but one,--his broker, and two men of that singular sort that make it a point to go to everybody's funeral; then a carriage occupied by Attalie's other lodgers, and then, in a carriage bringing up the rear, were Camille Ducour and Madame Brouillard. She alone wept, and, for all we have seen, we yet need not doubt her tears were genuine. Such was the cortege. Oh! also, in his private vehicle, driven by himself, was a very comfortable and genteel-looking man, whom neither Camille nor Attalie knew, but whom every other attendant at the funeral seemed to regard with deference. While the tomb was being sealed Camille sidled up to the broker and made bold to ask who the stranger was. Attalie did not see the movement, and Camille did not tell her what the broker said.

Late in the next afternoon but one Camille again received word from Attalie to call and see her in all haste. He found her in the Englishman's front room. Five white men were sitting there with her. They not only looked amused, but plainly could have looked more so but for the restraints of rank and station. Attalie was quite as visibly frightened. Camille's knees weakened and a sickness came over him as he glanced around the group. For in the midst sat the stranger who had been at the funeral, while on his right sat two, and on his left two, men, the terror of whose presence we shall understand in a moment.

"Mr. Ducour," said the one who had been at the funeral, "as friends of Mr. (Englishman) we desire to express our satisfaction at the terms of his last will and testament. We have had a long talk with Madame Brouillard; but for myself, I already know his wish that she should have whatever he might leave. But a wish is one thing; a will, even a nuncupative will by public act, is another and an infinitely better and more effective thing. But we wish also to express our determination to see that you are not hindered in the execution of any of the terms of this will, whose genuineness we, of course, do not for a moment question." He looked about upon his companions. Three of them shook their heads gravely; but the fourth, in his over-zeal, attempted to, say "No," and burst into a laugh; whereupon they all broadly smiled, while Camille looked ghastly. The speaker resumed.

"I am the custodian of all Mr. (Englishman's) accounts and assets. This gentleman is a judge, this one is a lawyer,--I believe you know them all by sight,--this one is a banker, and this one--a--in fact, a detective. We wish you to feel at all times free to call upon any or all of us for advice, and to bear in mind that our eyes are ever on you with a positively solicitous interest. You are a busy man, Mr. Ducour, living largely by your wits, and we must not detain you longer. We are glad that you are yourself to receive fifteen hundred dollars. We doubt not you have determined to settle the affairs of the estate without other remuneration, and we not merely approve but distinctly recommend that decision. The task will involve an outlay of your time and labor, for which fifteen hundred dollars will be a generous, a handsome, but not an excessive remuneration. You will be glad to know there will still be something left for Madame Brouillard. And now, Mr. Ducour,"--he arose and approached the pallid scamp, smiling benevolently,--"_remember_ us as your friends, who will _watch_ you"--he smote him on the shoulder with all the weight of his open palm--"with no _ordinary_ interest. Be assured you shall get your fifteen hundred, and Attalie shall have the rest, which--as Attalie tells me she has well known for years--will be about thirty thousand dollars. Gentlemen, our dinner at the lake will be waiting. Good-day, Mr. Ducour. Good-day, Madame Brouillard. Have no fear. Mr. Ducour is going to render you full justice,--without unnecessary delay,--in solid cash."

And he did.


(The end)
George Washington Cable's short story: Attalie Brouillard

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