THE Fête DE GRANDPERE
Sojourners in New Orleans who take
their afternoon drive down Esplanade street will notice,
across on the right, between it and that sorry streak
once fondly known as Champs Elysees, two or three large,
old houses, rising above the general surroundings
and displaying architectural features which identify
them with an irrevocable past-a past when
the faithful and true Creole could, without fear of
contradiction, express his religious belief that the
antipathy he felt for the Americain invader was an
inborn horror laid lengthwise in his ante-natal bones
by a discriminating and appreciative Providence.
There is, for instance, or was until lately, one house
which some hundred and fifteen years ago was the suburban
residence of the old sea-captain governor, Kerlerec.
It stands up among the oranges as silent and gray as
a pelican, and, so far as we know, has never had one
cypress plank added or subtracted since its master
was called to France and thrown into the Bastile.
Another has two dormer windows looking out westward,
and, when the setting sun strikes the panes, reminds
one of a man with spectacles standing up in an audience,
searching for a friend who is not there and will never
come back. These houses are the last remaining-if,
indeed, they were not pulled down yesterday-of
a group that once marked from afar the direction of
the old highway between the city’s walls and
the suburb St. Jean. Here clustered the earlier
aristocracy of the colony; all that pretty crew of
counts, chevaliers, marquises, colonels, dons, etc.,
who loved their kings, and especially their kings’
moneys, with an abandon which affected the
accuracy of nearly all their accounts.
Among these stood the great mother-mansion
of the Grandissimes. Do not look for it now;
it is quite gone. The round, white-plastered brick
pillars which held the house fifteen feet up from the
reeking ground and rose on loftily to sustain the
great overspreading roof, or clustered in the cool,
paved basement; the lofty halls, with their multitudinous
glitter of gilded brass and twinkle of sweet-smelling
wax-candles; the immense encircling veranda, where
twenty Creole girls might walk abreast; the great
front stairs, descending from the veranda to the garden,
with a lofty palm on either side, on whose broad steps
forty Grandissimes could gather on a birthday afternoon;
and the belvidere, whence you could see the cathedral,
the Ursulines’, the governor’s mansion,
and the river, far away, shining between the villas
of Tchoupitoulas Coast-all have disappeared
as entirely beyond recall as the flowers that bloomed
in the gardens on the day of this fête de grandpere.
Odd to say, it was not the grandpere’s
birthday that had passed. For weeks the happy
children of the many Grandissime branches-the
Mandarins, the St. Blancards, the Brahmíns-had
been standing with their uplifted arms apart, awaiting
the signal to clap hands and jump, and still, from
week to week, the appointed day had been made to fall
back, and fall back before-what think you?-an
inability to understand Honore.
It was a sad paradox in the history
of this majestic old house that her best child gave
her the most annoyance; but it had long been so.
Even in Honore’s early youth, a scant two years
after she had watched him, over the tops of her green
myrtles and white and crimson oleanders, go away,
a lad of fifteen, supposing he would of course come
back a Grandissime of the Grandissimes-an
inflexible of the inflexibles-he was
found “inciting” (so the stately dames
and officials who graced her front veranda called
it) a Grandissime-De Grapion reconciliation by means
of transatlantic letters, and reducing the flames
of the old feud, rekindled by the Fusilier-Nancanou
duel, to a little foul smoke. The main difficulty
seemed to be that Honore could not be satisfied with
a clean conscience as to his own deeds and the peace
and fellowships of single households; his longing
was, and had ever been-he had inherited
it from his father-to see one unbroken and
harmonious Grandissime family gathering yearly under
this venerated roof without reproach before all persons,
classes, and races with whom they had ever had to
do. It was not hard for the old mansion to forgive
him once or twice; but she had had to do it often.
It seems no over-stretch of fancy to say she sometimes
gazed down upon his erring ways with a look of patient
sadness in her large and beautiful windows.
And how had that forbearance been
rewarded? Take one short instance: when,
seven years before this present fête de grandpere,
he came back from Europe, and she (this old home which
we cannot help but personify), though in trouble then-a
trouble that sent up the old feud flames again-opened
her halls to rejoice in him with the joy of all her
gathered families, he presently said such strange things
in favor of indiscriminate human freedom that for
very shame’s sake she hushed them up, in the
fond hope that he would outgrow such hérésies.
But he? On top of all the rest, he declined a
military commission and engaged in commerce-“shopkeeping,
However, therein was developed a grain
of consolation. Honore became-as he
chose to call it-more prudent. With
much tact, Agricola was amiably crowded off the dictator’s
chair, to become, instead, a sort of seneschal.
For a time the family peace was perfect, and Honore,
by a touch here to-day and a word there to-morrow,
was ever lifting the name, and all who bore it, a
little and a little higher; when suddenly, as in his
father’s day-that dear Numa who knew
how to sacrifice his very soul, as a sort of Iphigenia
for the propitiation of the family gods-as
in Numa’s day came the cession to Spain, so now
fell this other cession, like an unexpected tornado,
threatening the wreck of her children’s slave-schooners
and the prostration alike of their slave-made crops
and their Spanish liberties; and just in the fateful
moment where Numa would have stood by her, Honore
had let go. Ah, it was bitter!
“See what foreign education
does!” cried a Mandarin de Grandissime of the
Baton Rouge Coast. “I am sorry now”-derisively-“that
I never sent my boy to France, am I not?
No! No-o-o! I would rather my son should
never know how to read, than that he should come back
from Paris repudiating the sentiments and prejudices
of his own father. Is education better than family
peace? Ah, bah! My son make friends with
Americains and tell me they-that call a
negro ’monsieur’-are as good
as his father? But that is what we get for letting
Honore become a merchant. Ha! the degradation!
Shaking hands with men who do not believe in the slave
trade! Shake hands? Yes; associate-fraternize!
with apothecaries and negrophiles. And now we
are invited to meet at the fête de grandpere,
in the house where he is really the chief-the
No! The family would not come
together on the first appointment; no, nor on the
second; no, not if the grandpapa did express his wish;
no, nor on the third-nor on the fourth.
cried both youth and reckless age; and, sometimes,
also, the stronger heads of the family, the men of
means, of force and of influence, urged on from behind
by their proud and beautiful wives and daughters.
Arms, generally, rather than heads,
ruled there in those days. Sentiments (which
are the real laws) took shape in accordance with the
poetry, rather than the reason, of things, and the
community recognized the supreme domination of “the
gentleman” in questions of right and of “the
ladies” in matters of sentiment. Under such
conditions strength establishes over weakness a showy
protection which is the subtlest of tyrannies,
yet which, in the very moment of extending its arm
over woman, confers upon her a power which a truer
freedom would only diminish; constitutes her in a
large degree an autocrat of public sentiment and thus
accepts her narrowest prejudices and most belated
errors as veriest need-be’s of social life.
The clans classified easily into three
groups; there were those who boiled, those who stewed,
and those who merely steamed under a close cover.
The men in the first two groups were, for the most
part, those who were holding office under old Spanish
commissions, and were daily expecting themselves to
be displaced and Louisiana thereby ruined. The
steaming ones were a goodly fraction of the family-the
timid, the apathetic, the “conservative.”
The conservatives found ease better than exactitude,
the trouble of thinking great, the agony of deciding
harrowing, and the alternative of smiling cynically
and being liberal so much easier-and the
warm weather coming on with a rapidity-wearying to
“The Yankee was an inferior animal.”
“But Honore had a right to his convictions.”
“Yes, that was so, too.”
“It looked very traitorous, however.”
“Yes, so it did.”
“Nevertheless, it might turn
out that Honore was advancing the true interests of
“It would not do to accept office under the
“Of course not.”
“Yet it would never do to let the Yankees get
the offices, either.”
“That was true; nobody could deny that.”
“If Spain or France got the
country back, they would certainly remember and reward
those who had held out faithfully.”
“Certainly! That was an old habit with
France and Spain.”
“But if they did not get the country back-”
“Yes, that is so; Honore is a very good fellow,
And, one after another, under the
mild coolness of Honore’s amiable disregard,
their indignation trickled back from steam to water,
and they went on drawing their stipends, some in Honore’s
counting-room, where they held positions, some from
the provisional government, which had as yet made
but few changes, and some, secretly, from the cunning
Casa-Calvo; for, blow the wind east or blow the wind
west, the affinity of the average Grandissime for
a salary abideth forever.
Then, at the right moment, Honore
made a single happy stroke, and even the hot Grandissimes,
they of the interior parishes and they of Agricola’s
squadron, slaked and crumbled when he wrote each a
letter saying that the governor was about to send
them appointments, and that it would be well, if they
wished to evade them, to write the governor
at once, surrendering their present commissions.
Well! Evade? They would evade nothing!
Do you think they would so belittle themselves as to
write to the usurper? They would submit to keep
the positions first.
But the next move was Honore’s
making the whole town aware of his apostasy.
The great mansion, with the old grandpere sitting out
in front, shivered. As we have seen, he had ridden
through the Place d’Armes with the arch-usurper
himself. Yet, after all, a Grandissime would
be a Grandissime still; whatever he did he did openly.
And wasn’t that glorious-never to
be ashamed of anything, no matter how bad? It
was not everyone who could ride with the governor.
And blood was so much thicker than
vinegar that the family, that would not meet either
in January or February, met in the first week of March,
every constituent one of them.
The feast has been eaten. The
garden now is joyous with children and the veranda
resplendent with ladies. From among the latter
the eye quickly selects one. She is perceptibly
taller than the others; she sits in their midst near
the great hall entrance; and as you look at her there
is no claim of ancestry the Grandissimes can make which
you would not allow. Her hair, once black, now
lifted up into a glistening snow-drift, augments the
majesty of a still beautiful face, while her full
stature and stately bearing suggest the finer parts
of Agricola, her brother. It is Madame Grandissime,
the mother of Honore.
One who sits at her left, and is very
small, is a favorite cousin. On her right is
her daughter, the widowed senora of Jose Martinez;
she has wonderful black hair and a white brow as wonderful.
The commanding carriage of the mother is tempered
in her to a gentle dignity and calm, contrasting pointedly
with the animated manners of the courtly matrons among
whom she sits, and whose continuous conversation takes
this direction or that, at the pleasure of Madame
But if you can command your powers
of attention, despite those children who are shouting
Creole French and sliding down the rails of the front
stair, turn the eye to the laughing squadron of beautiful
girls, which every few minutes, at an end of the veranda,
appears, wheels and disappears, and you note, as it
were by flashes, the characteristics of face and figure
that mark the Louisianaises in the perfection of the
new-blown flower. You see that blondes are not
impossible; there, indeed, are two sisters who might
be undistinguishable twins but that one has blue eyes
and golden hair. You note the exquisite pencilling
of their eyebrows, here and there some heavier and
more velvety, where a less vivacious expression betrays
a share of Spanish blood. As Grandissimes, you
mark their tendency to exceed the medium Creole stature,
an appearance heightened by the fashion of their robes.
There is scarcely a rose in all their cheeks, and
a full red-ripeness of the lips would hardly be in
keeping; but there is plenty of life in their eyes,
which glance out between the curtains of their long
lashes with a merry dancing that keeps time to the
prattle of tongues. You are not able to get a
straight look into them, and if you could you would
see only your own image cast back in pitiful miniature;
but you turn away and feel, as you fortify yourself
with an inward smile, that they know you, you man,
through and through, like a little song. And in
turning, your sight is glad to rest again on the face
of Honore’s mother. You see, this time,
that she is his mother, by a charm you had overlooked,
a candid, serene and lovable smile. It is the
wonder of those who see that smile that she can ever
The playful, mock-martial tread of
the delicate Creole feet is all at once swallowed
up by the sound of many heavier steps in the hall,
and the fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles
and nephews of the great family come out, not a man
of them that cannot, with a little care, keep on his
feet. Their descendants of the present day sip
from shallower glasses and with less marked results.
The matrons, rising, offer the chief
seat to the first comer, the great-grandsire-the
oldest living Grandissime-Alcibiade, a shaken
but unfallen monument of early colonial days, a browned
and corrugated souvenir of De Vaudreuil’s pomps,
of O’Reilly’s iron rule, of Galvez’
brilliant wars-a man who had seen Bienville
and Zephyr Grandissime. With what splendor of
manner Madame Fusilier de Grandissime offers, and
he accepts, the place of honor! Before he sits
down he pauses a moment to hear out the companion
on whose arm he had been leaning. But Theophile,
a dark, graceful youth of eighteen, though he is recounting
something with all the oblivious ardor of his kind,
becomes instantly silent, bows with grave deference
to the ladies, hands the aged forefather gracefully
to his seat, and turning, recommences the recital
before one who hears all with the same perfect courtesy-his
beloved cousin Honore.
Meanwhile, the gentlemen throng out.
Gallant crew! These are they who have been pausing
proudly week after week in an endeavor (?) to understand
the opaque motives of Numa’s son.
In the middle of the veranda pauses
a tall, muscular man of fifty, with the usual smooth
face and an iron-gray queue. That is Colonel Agamemnon
Brahmin de Grandissime, purveyor to the family’s
military pride, conservator of its military glory,
and, after Honore, the most admired of the name.
Achille Grandissime, he who took Agricola away from
Frowenfeld’s shop in the carriage, essays to
engage Agamemnon in conversation, and the colonel,
with a glance at his kinsman’s nether limbs
and another at his own, and with that placid facility
with which the graver sort of Créoles take up
the trivial topics of the lighter, grapples the subject
of boots. A tall, bronzed, slender young man,
who prefixes to Grandissime the maternal St. Blancard,
asks where his wife is, is answered from a distance,
throws her a kiss and sits down on a step, with Jean
Baptiste de Grandissime, a piratical-looking black-beard,
above him, and Alphonse Mandarin, an olive-skinned
boy, below. Valentine Grandissime, of Tchoupitoulas,
goes quite down to the bottom of the steps and leans
against the balustrade. He is a large, broad-shouldered,
well-built man, and, as he stands smoking a cigar,
with his black-stockinged legs crossed, he glances
at the sky with the eye of a hunter-or,
it may be, of a sailor.
“Valentine will not marry,”
says one of two ladies who lean over the rail of the
veranda above. “I wonder why.”
The other fixes on her a meaning look,
and she twitches her shoulders and pouts, seeing she
has asked a foolish question, the answer to which
would only put Valentine in a numerous class and do
him no credit.
Such were the choice spirits of the
family. Agricola had retired. Raoul was
there; his pretty auburn head might have been seen
about half-way up the steps, close to one well sprinkled
with premature gray.
“No such thing!” exclaimed his companion.
(The conversation was entirely in Creole French.)
“I give you my sacred word of honor!”
“That Honore is having all his
business carried on in English?” asked the incredulous
Sylvestre. (Such was his name.)
replied Raoul, resorting to his favorite pledge-“on
a stack of Bibles that high!”
This polite expression of unbelief
was further emphasized by a spasmodic flirt of one
hand, with the thumb pointed outward.
“Ask him! ask him!” cried Raoul.
“Honore!” called Sylvestre,
rising up. Two or three persons passed the call
around the corner of the veranda.
Honore came with a chain of six girls
on either arm. By the time he arrived, there
was a Babel of discussion.
“Raoul says you have ordered
all your books and accounts to be written in English,”
“It is not true, is it?”
The entire veranda of ladies raised
one long-drawn, deprecatory “Ah!” except
Honore’s mother. She turned upon him a look
of silent but intense and indignant disappointment.
“Honore!” cried Sylvestre, desirous of
repairing his defeat, “Honore!”
But Honore was receiving the clamorous
abuse of the two half dozens of girls.
“Honore!” cried Sylvestre
again, holding up a torn scrap of writing-paper which
bore the marks of the counting-room floor and of a
boot-heel, “how do you spell ‘la-dee?’”
There was a moment’s hush to hear the answer.
“Ask Valentine,” said Honore.
Everybody laughed aloud. That
taciturn man’s only retort was to survey the
company above him with an unmoved countenance, and
to push the ashes slowly from his cigar with his little
finger. M. Valentine Grandissime, of Tchoupitoulas,
could not read.
“Show it to Agricola,”
cried two or three, as that great man came out upon
the veranda, heavy-eyed, and with tumbled hair.
Sylvestre, spying Agricola’s
head beyond the ladies, put the question.
“How is it spelled on that paper?”
retorted the king of beasts.
“Ignoramus!” growled the old man.
“I did not spell it,”
cried Raoul, and attempted to seize the paper.
But Sylvestre throwing his hand behind him, a lady
snatched the paper, two or three cried “Give
it to Agricola!” and a pretty boy, whom the
laughter and excitement had lured from the garden,
scampered up the steps and handed it to the old man.
“Honore!” cried Raoul,
“it must not be read. It is one of your
But Raoul’s insinuation that
anybody would entrust him with a private matter brought
Honore nodded to his uncle to read
it out, and those who could not understand English,
as well as those who could, listened. It was a
paper Sylvestre had picked out of a waste-basket on
the day of Aurore’s visit to the counting-room.
“What is that
layde want in thare with Honore?”
“Honore is goin
giv her bac that proprety-that is
Aurore De Grapion what
Agricola kill the husband.”
That was the whole writing, but Agricola
never finished. He was reading aloud-“that
is Aurore De Grap-”
At that moment he dropped the paper
and blackened with wrath; a sharp flash of astonishment
ran through the company; an instant of silence followed
and Agricola’s thundering voice rolled down upon
Sylvestre in a succession of terrible imprecations.
It was painful to see the young man’s
face as, speechless, he received this abuse.
He stood pale and frightened, with a smile playing
about his mouth, half of distress and half of defiance,
that said as plain as a smile could say, “Uncle
Agricola, you will have to pay for this mistake.”
As the old man ceased, Sylvestre turned
and cast a look downward to Valentine Grandissime,
then walked up the steps, and passing with a courteous
bow through the group that surrounded Agricola, went
into the house. Valentine looked at the zenith,
then at his shoe-buckles, tossed his cigar quietly
into the grass and passed around a corner of the house
to meet Sylvestre in the rear.
Honore had already nodded to his uncle
to come aside with him, and Agricola had done so.
The rest of the company, save a few male figures down
in the garden, after some feeble efforts to keep up
their spirits on the veranda, remarked the growing
coolness or the waning daylight, and singly or in
pairs withdrew. It was not long before Raoul,
who had come up upon the veranda, was left alone.
He seemed to wait for something, as, leaning over
the rail while the stars came out, he sang to himself,
in a soft undertone, a snatch of a Creole song:
The moon shone so brightly that the
children in the garden did not break off their hide-and-seek,
and now and then Raoul suspended the murmur of his
song, absorbed in the fate of some little elf gliding
from one black shadow to crouch in another. He
was himself in the deep shade of a magnolia, over
whose outer boughs the moonlight was trickling, as
if the whole tree had been dipped in quicksilver.
In the broad walk running down to
the garden gate some six or seven dark forms sat in
chairs, not too far away for the light of their cigars
to be occasionally seen and their voices to reach
his ear; but he did not listen. In a little while
there came a light footstep, and a soft, mock-startled
“Who is that?” and one of that same sparkling
group of girls that had lately hung upon Honore came
so close to Raoul, in her attempt to discern his linéaments,
that their lips accidentally met. They had but
a moment of hand-in-hand converse before they were
hustled forth by a feminine scouting party and thrust
along into one of the great rooms of the house, where
the youth and beauty of the Grandissimes were gathered
in an expansive semicircle around a languishing fire,
waiting to hear a story, or a song, or both, or half
a dozen of each, from that master of narrative and
melody, Raoul Innerarity.
“But mark,” they cried
unitedly, “you have got to wind up with the story
“A song! A song!”
“Une chanson Creole! Une chanson des
“Sing ‘ye tole dance la doung y doung
doung!’” cried a black-eyed girl.
Raoul explained that it had too many objectionable
“Oh, just hum the objectionable phrases and
go right on.”
But instead he sang them this:
“La premier’ fois mo
te ’oír li, Li te pose au bord so lit;
Mo di’, Bouzon, bel n’amourese!
L’aut’ fois li te si’ so la
saise Comme vie Madam dans so fauteil, Quand
li vive cote soleil.
So gies ye te plis noir
passe la nouitte,
So de la lev’
plis doux passe la quitte!
Tou’ mo la vie,
zamein mo oír
Ein n’ amourese
zoli comme ca!
blie manze-mo’ blie boir’-
blie tout dipi c’ temps-la-
blie parle-mo’ blie dormi,
mo pense âpres zami!”
“And you have heard Bras-Coupe sing that, yourself?”
“Once upon a time,” said
Raoul, warming with his subject, “we were coming
down from Pointe Macarty in three pirogues.
We had been three days fishing and hunting in Lake
Salvador. Bras-Coupe had one pirogue with six
“Oh, yes!” cried a youth named Baltazar;
“sing that, Raoul!”
And he sang that.
“But oh, Raoul, sing that song
the negroes sing when they go out in the bayous at
night, stealing pigs and chickens!”
“That boat song, do you mean,
which they sing as a signal to those on shore?”
“De zabs, de zabs,
de counou ouaie ouaie,
De zabs, de zabs, de
counou ouaie ouaie,
Counou ouaie ouaie ouaie
Counou ouaie ouaie ouaie
Counou ouaie ouaie ouaie,
Momza, momza, momza,
This was followed by another and still
another, until the hour began to grow late. And
then they gathered closer around him and heard the
promised story. At the same hour Honore Grandissime,
wrapping himself in a greatcoat and giving himself
up to sad and somewhat bitter reflections, had wandered
from the paternal house, and by and by from the grounds,
not knowing why or whither, but after a time soliciting,
at Frowenfeld’s closing door, the favor of his
company. He had been feeling a kind of suffocation.
This it was that made him seek and prize the presence
and hand-grasp of the inexperienced apothecary.
He led him out to the edge of the river. Here
they sat down, and with a laborious attempt at a hard
and jesting mood, Honore told the same dark story.