THE PIQUE-EN-TERRE LOSES ONE OF HER CREW
Ask the average resident of New Orleans
if his town is on an island, and he will tell you
no. He will also wonder how any one could have
got that notion,-so completely has Orleans
Island, whose name at the beginning of the present
century was in everybody’s mouth, been forgotten.
It was once a question of national policy, a point
of difference between Republican and Federalist, whether
the United States ought to buy this little strip of
semi-submerged land, or whether it would not be more
righteous to steal it. The Kentuckians kept the
question at a red heat by threatening to become an
empire by themselves if one course or the other was
not taken; but when the First Consul offered to sell
all Louisiana, our commissioners were quite robbed
of breath. They had approached to ask a hair
from the elephant’s tail, and were offered the
For Orleans Island-island
it certainly was until General Jackson closed Bayou
Manchac-is a narrow, irregular, flat tract
of forest, swamp, city, prairie and sea-marsh, lying
east and west, with the Mississippi, trending southeastward,
for its southern boundary, and for its northern, a
parallel and contiguous chain of alternate lakes and
bayous, opening into the river through Bayou Manchac,
and into the Gulf through the passes of the Malheureuse
Islands. On the narrowest part of it stands New
Orleans. Turning and looking back over the rear
of the town, one may easily see from her steeples
Lake Pontchartrain glistening away to the northern
horizon, and in his fancy extend the picture to right
and left till Pontchartrain is linked in the west
by Pass Manchac to Lake Maurepas, and in the east
by the Rigolets and Chef Menteur to Lake Borgne.
An oddity of the Mississippi Delta
is the habit the little streams have of running away
from the big ones. The river makes its own bed
and its own banks, and continuing season after season,
through ages of alternate overflow and subsidence,
to elevate those banks, creates a ridge which thus
becomes a natural elevated aqueduct. Other slightly
elevated ridges mark the present or former courses
of minor outlets, by which the waters of the Mississippi
have found the sea. Between these ridges lie
the cypress swamps, through whose profound shades the
clear, dark, deep bayous creep noiselessly away into
the tall grasses of the shaking prairies. The
original New Orleans was built on the Mississippi
ridge, with one of these forest-and-water-covered basins
stretching back behind her to westward and northward,
closed in by Metairie Ridge and Lake Pontchartrain.
Local engineers preserve the tradition that the Bayou
Sauvage once had its rise, so to speak, in Toulouse
street. Though depleted by the city’s present
drainage system and most likely poisoned by it as
well, its waters still move seaward in a course almost
due easterly, and empty into Chef Menteur, one of
the watery threads of a tangled skein of “passes”
between the lakes and the open Gulf. Three-quarters
of a century ago this Bayou Sauvage (or Gentilly-corruption
of Chantilly) was a navigable stream of wild and sombre
On a certain morning in August, 1804,
and consequently some five months after the events
last mentioned, there emerged from the darkness of
Bayou Sauvage into the prairie-bordered waters of Chef
Menteur, while the morning star was still luminous
in the sky above and in the water below, and only
the practised eye could detect the first glimmer of
day, a small, stanch, single-masted, broad and very
light-draught boat, whose innocent character, primarily
indicated in its coat of many colors,-the
hull being yellow below the water line and white above,
with tasteful stripings of blue and red,-was
further accentuated by the peaceful name of Pique-en-terre
She seemed, too, as she entered the
Chef Menteur, as if she would have liked to turn southward;
but the wind did not permit this, and in a moment
more the water was rippling after her swift rudder,
as she glided away in the direction of Pointe Aux
Herbes. But when she had left behind her the
mouth of the passage, she changed her course and, leaving
the Pointe on her left, bore down toward Petites Coquilles,
obviously bent upon passing through the Rigolets.
We know not how to describe the joyousness
of the effect when at length one leaves behind him
the shadow and gloom of the swamp, and there bursts
upon his sight the widespread, flower-decked, bird-haunted
prairies of Lake Catharine. The inside and outside
of a prison scarcely furnish a greater contrast; and
on this fair August morning the contrast was at its
strongest. The day broke across a glad expanse
of cool and fragrant green, silver-laced with a network
of crisp salt pools and passes, lakes, bayous and
lagoons, that gave a good smell, the inspiring odor
of interclasped sea and shore, and both beautified
and perfumed the happy earth, laid bare to the rising
sun. Waving marshes of wild oats, drooping like
sated youth from too much pleasure; watery acres hid
under crisp-growing greenth starred with pond-lilies
and rippled by water-fowl; broad stretches of high
grass, with thousands of ecstatic wings palpitating
above them; hundreds of thousands of white and pink
mallows clapping their hands in voiceless rapture,
and that amazon queen of the wild flowers, the morning-glory,
stretching her myriad lines, lifting up the trumpet
and waving her colors, white, azure and pink, with
lacings of spider’s web, heavy with pearls and
diamonds-the gifts of the summer night.
The crew of the Pique-en-terre saw all these
and felt them; for, whatever they may have been or
failed to be, they were men whose heartstrings responded
to the touches of nature. One alone of their
company, and he the one who should have felt them most,
showed insensibility, sighed laughingly and then laughed
sighingly, in the face of his fellows and of all this
beauty, and profanely confessed that his heart’s
desire was to get back to his wife. He had been
absent from her now for nine hours!
But the sun is getting high; Petites
Coquilles has been passed and left astern, the
eastern end of Las Conchas is on the after-larboard-quarter,
the briny waters of Lake Borgne flash far
and wide their dazzling white and blue, and, as the
little boat issues from the deep channel of the Rigolets,
the white-armed waves catch her and toss her like a
merry babe. A triumph for the helmsman-he
it is who sighs, at intervals of tiresome frequency,
for his wife. He had, from the very starting-place
in the upper waters of Bayou Sauvage, declared in favor
of the Rigolets as-wind and tide considered-the
most practicable of all the passes. Now that
they were out, he forgot for a moment the self-amusing
plaint of conjugal separation to flaunt his triumph.
Would any one hereafter dispute with him on the subject
of Louisiana sea-coast navigation? He knew every
pass and piece of water like A, B, C, and could tell,
faster, much faster than he could repeat the multiplication
table (upon which he was a little slow and doubtful),
the amount of water in each at ebb tide-Pass
Jean or Petit Pass, Unknown Pass, Petit Rigolet, Chef
Out on the far southern horizon, in
the Gulf-the Gulf of Mexico-there
appears a speck of white. It is known to those
on board the Pique-en-terre, the moment it
is descried, as the canvas of a large schooner.
The opinion, first expressed by the youthful husband,
who still reclines with the tiller held firmly under
his arm, and then by another member of the company
who sits on the centreboard-well, is unanimously adopted,
that she is making for the Rigolets, will pass Petites
Coquilles by eleven o’clock, and will tie
up at the little port of St. Jean, on the bayou of
the same name, before sundown, if the wind holds anywise
as it is.
On the other hand, the master of the
distant schooner shuts his glass, and says to the
single passenger whom he has aboard that the little
sail just visible toward the Rigolets is a sloop with
a half-deck, well filled with men, in all probability
a pleasure party bound to the Chandeleurs on
a fishing and gunning excursion, and passes into comments
on the superior skill of landsmen over seamen in the
handling of small sailing craft.
By and by the two vessels near each
other. They approach within hailing distance,
and are announcing each to each their identity, when
the young man at the tiller jerks himself to a squatting
posture, and, from under a broad-brimmed and slouched
straw hat, cries to the schooner’s one passenger:
“Hello, Challie Keene.”
And the passenger more quietly answers back:
“Hello, Raoul, is that you?”
M. Innerarity replied, with a profane parenthesis,
that it was he.
“You kin hask Sylvestre!” he concluded.
The doctor’s eye passed around
a semicircle of some eight men, the most of whom were
quite young, but one or two of whom were gray, sitting
with their arms thrown out upon the wash-board, in
the dark néglige of amateur fishermen and with
that exultant look of expectant deviltry in their
handsome faces which characterizes the Creole with
his collar off.
The mettlesome little doctor felt
the odds against him in the exchange of greetings.
“He, Doctah, que-ce qui t’apres
“Ho, ho, compere Noyo!”
“Comment va, Docta?”
A light peppering of profanity accompanied each salute.
The doctor put on defensively a smile
of superiority to the juniors and of courtesy to the
others, and responsively spoke their names:
The Doctor and Agamemnon raised their hats.
As Agamemnon was about to speak, a
general expostulatory outcry drowned his voice.
The Pique-en-terre was going about close abreast
of the schooner, and angry questions and orders were
flying at Raoul’s head like a volley of eggs.
“Messieurs,” said Raoul,
partially rising but still stooping over the tiller,
and taking his hat off his bright curls with mock courtesy,
“I am going back to New Orleans. I would
not give that for all the fish in the sea;
I want to see my wife. I am going back to New
Orleans to see my wife-and to congratulate
the city upon your absence.” Incredulity,
expostulation, reproach, taunt, malediction-he
smiled unmoved upon them all.
“Messieurs, I must go and see my wife.”
Amid redoubled outcries he gave the
helm to Camille Brahmin, and fighting his way with
his pretty feet against half-real efforts to throw
him overboard, clambered forward to the mast, whence
a moment later, with the help of the schooner-master’s
hand, he reached the deck of the larger vessel.
The Pique-en-terre turned, and with a little
flutter spread her smooth wing and skimmed away.
“Doctah Keene, look yeh!”
M. Innerarity held up a hand whose third finger wore
the conventional ring of the Creole bridegroom.
“W’at you got to say to dat?”
The little doctor felt a faintness
run through his veins, and a thrill of anger follow
it. The poor man could not imagine a love affair
that did not include Clotilde Nancanou.
“Whom have you married?”
“De pritties’ gal in de citty.”
The questioner controlled himself.
“M-hum,” he responded, with a contraction
of the eyes.
Raoul waited an instant for some kindlier
comment, and finding the hope vain, suddenly assumed
a look of delighted admiration.
“Hi, yi, yi! Doctah, ’ow you har
The true look of the doctor was that
he had not much longer to live. A smile of bitter
humor passed over his face, and he looked for a near
Raoul struck an ecstatic attitude
and stretched forth his hand as if the doctor could
not fail to grasp it. The invalid’s heart
sank like lead.
“Frowenfeld has got her,” he thought.
“Well?” said he with a
frown of impatience and restraint; and Raoul cried:
“I sole my pigshoe!”
The doctor could not help but laugh.
“Shades of the masters!”
“No; ‘Louizyanna rif-using to hantre de
The doctor stood corrected.
The two walked across the deck, following
the shadow of the swinging sail. The doctor lay
down in a low-swung hammock, and Raoul sat upon the
deck a la Turque.
“Come, come, Raoul, tell me, what is the news?”
“News? Oh, I donno. You ‘eard
concernin’ the dool?”
“You don’t mean to say-”
“Agricola and Sylvestre?”
“W’at de dev’!
No! Burr an’ ’Ammiltong; in Noo-Juzzy-las-June.
Collonnel Burr, ’e-”
“Oh, fudge! yes. How is Frowenfeld?”
“’E’s well. Guess ’ow
much I sole my pigshoe.”
“Well, how much?”
“Two ’ondred fifty.”
He laid himself out at length, his elbow on the deck,
his head in his hand. “I believe I’m
sorry I sole ’er.”
“I don’t wonder.
How’s Honore? Tell me what has happened.
Remember, I’ve been away five months.”
“No; I am verrie glad dat I
sole ’er. What? Ha! I should think
so! If it have not had been fo’ dat I would
not be married to-day. You think I would get
married on dat sal’rie w’at Proffis-or
Frowenfel’ was payin’ me? Twenty-five
dolla’ de mont’? Docta Keene,
no gen’leman h-ought to git married if ’e
‘ave not anny’ow fifty dolla’
de mont’! If I wasn’ a h-artiz
I wouldn’ git married; I gie you my word!”
“Yes,” said the little
doctor, “you are right. Now tell me the
“Well, dat Cong-ress gone an’ make-”
“Raoul, stop. I know that
Congress has divided the province into two territories;
I know you Créoles think all your liberties are
lost; I know the people are in a great stew because
they are not allowed to elect their own officers and
legislatures, and that in Opelousas and Attakapas
they are as wild as their cattle about it-”
“We ‘ad two big mitting’
about it,” interrupted Raoul; “my bro’r-in-law
speak at both of them!”
“Glad to hear it,” said
Doctor Keene,-which was the truth.
“Besides that, I know Laussat has gone to Martinique;
that the Americains have a newspaper, and that cotton
is two-bits a pound. Now what I want to know
is, how are my friends? What has Honore done?
What has Frowenfeld done? And Palmyre,-and
Agricole? They hustled me away from here as if
I had been caught trying to cut my throat. Tell
And Raoul sank the artist and bridegroom in the historian,
and told him.