« PreviousContinue »
brilliancy, but which was followed up by corresponding gloom. His administration, if small things may be compared with great ones, was for Louisiana, with regard to splendor, luxury, military display, and expenses of every kind, what the reign of Louis XIV. had been for France. He was a man of patrician birth and high breeding, who liked to live in a manner worthy of his rank. Remarkable for his personal graces and comeliness, for the dignity of his bearing and the fascination of his address, he was fond of pomp, show, and pleasure ; surrounded by a host of brilliant officers, of whom he was the idol, he loved to keep up a miniature court, in distant imitation of that of Versailles ; and long after he had departed, old people were fond of talking of the exquisitely refined manners, of the magnificent balls, of the splendidly uniformed troops, of the highborn young officers, and of the many other unparalleled things they had seen in the days of the Great Marquis.
The inventories made of the property of the twelve gentlemen, whom the decree of the Spanish tribunal had convicted of rebellion, afford interesting proofs of the Spartan simplicity which existed in the colony. Thus the furniture of the bed-room of Madam Villeré, who was the wife of one of the most distinguished citizens of Louisiana, and the grand-daughter of De Lachaise, who came to the colony in 1723 as ordaining commissary, was described as consisting of a cypress bedstead, three feet wide by six in length, with a mattress of corn shucks and one of feathers on the top, a bolster of corn shucks, and a coarse cotton counterpane or quilt, manufactured probably by the lady herself, or by her servants ; six chairs of cypress wood, with straw bottoms; some candlesticks with common wax, the candles made in the country, &c., &c.
The rest of the house was not more splendidly furnished, and the house itself, as described in the inventory, must have looked
very much like one of those modest and unpainted little wood structures which are, to this day, to be seen in many parts of the banks of the river Mississippi, and in the Attakapas and Opelousas parishes. They are the tenements of our small planters who own only a few slaves, and they retain the appellation of Maisons d'Acadiens, or Acadian houses.
Villeré's plantation, situated at the German coast, was not large, and the whole of his slaves, of both sexes and of all ages, did not exceed thirty-two. His friends and brother conspirators, who were among the first gentlemen in the land, did not live with more ostentation.
All the sequestrated property being sold, it was found that, after having distributed among the widows and other creditors what they were entitled to, and after paying the costs of the trial and inventories, the royal treasury had little or nothing to receive.
There were but humble dwellings in Louisiana in 1769, and he who would have judged of their tenants from their outward appearance would have thought that they were occupied by mere peasants, but had he passed their thresholds he would have been amazed at being welcomed with such manners as were habitual in the most polished court of Europe, and entertained by men and women wearing with the utmost ease and grace the elegant and rich costume of the reign of Louis XV. There, the powdered head, the silk and gold flowered coat, the lace and frills, the red-heeled shoe, the steel handled sword, the silver knee buckles, the high and courteous bearing of the gentleman, the hoop petticoat, the brocaded gown, the rich head dress, the stately bow, the slightly rouged cheeks, the artificially graceful
deportment, and the aristocratic features of the lady, formed a strange contrast with the roughness of surrounding objects. It struck one with as much astonishment as if diamonds had been found capriciously set by some unknown hand in one of the wild trees of the forest, or it reminded the imagination of those fairy tales in which a princess is found asleep in a solitude, where none but beasts of prey were expected to roam.
THE TREE OF THE DEAD.
(From History of Louisiana.) In a lot situated at the corner of Orleans and Dauphine streets, in the city of New Orleans, there is a tree which nobody looks at without curiosity and without wondering how it came there. For a long time it was the only one of its kind known in the state, and from its isolated position it has always been cursed with sterility. It reminds one of the warm climes of Africa or Asia, and wears the aspect of a stranger of distinction driven from his native country. Indeed with its sharp and thin foliage, sighing mournfully under the blast of one of our November northern winds, it looks as sorrowful as an exile. Its enormous trunk is nothing but an agglomeration of knots and bumps, which each passing year seems to have deposited there as a mark of age, and as a protection against the blows of time and of the world.
Inquire for its origin, and every one will tell you that it has stood there from time immemorial. A sort of vague but impressive mystery is attached to it, and it is as superstitiously respected as one of the old oaks of Dodona. Bold would be the axe that would strike the first blow at that foreign patriarch; and if it were prostrated to the ground by a profane hand, what native of the city would not mourn
over its fall, and brand the act as an unnatural and criminal deed? So, long live the date-tree of Orleans street—that time-honored descendant of Asiatic ancestors !
In the beginning of 1727, a French vessel of war landed at New Orleans a man of haughty mien, who wore the Turkish dress, and whose whole attendance was a single servant. He was received by the governor with the highest distinction, and was conducted by him to a small but comfortable house with a pretty garden, then existing at the corner of Orleans and Dauphine streets, and which, from the circumstance of its being so distant from other dwellings, might have been called a rural retreat, although situated in the limits of the city. There the stranger, who was understood to be a prisoner of state, lived in the greatest seclusion ; and although neither he nor his attendant could be guilty of indiscretion, because none understood their language, and although Governor Périer severely rebuked the slightest inquiry, yet it seemed to be the settled conviction in Louisiana, that the mysterious stranger was a brother of the Sultan, or some great personage of the Ottoman empire, who had fled from the anger of the vicegerent of Mohammed, and who had taken refuge in France.
The Sultan had peremptorily. demanded the fugitive, and the French government, thinking it derogatory to its dignity to comply with that request, but at the same time not wishing to expose its friendly relations with the Moslem monarch, and perhaps desiring for political purposes, to keep in hostage the important guest it had in its hands, had recourse to the expedient of answering that he had fled to Louisiana, which was so distant a country, that it might be looked upon as the grave, where, as it was suggested, the fugitive might be suffered to wait in peace for actual death, without danger or offence to the Sultan. Whether this story
be true or not is now a manner of so little consequence that it would not repay the trouble of a strict historicalinvestigation.
The year 1727 was drawing to its close, when on a dark stormy night the howling and barking of the numerous dogs in the streets of New Orleans were observed to be fiercer than usual, and some of that class of individuals who pretend to know everything, declared that by the vivid flashes of the lightning, they had seen swiftly and stealthily gliding toward the residence of the unknown a body of men who wore the scowling appearance of malefactors and ministers of blood. There afterwards came also a report that a piratical-looking Turkish vessel had been hovering a few days previous in the bay of Barataria. Be it as it may, on the next morning the house of the stranger was deserted. There were no traces of mortal struggle to be seen ; but in the garden the earth had been dug, and there was the unmistak. able indication of a recent grave.
Soon, however, all doubts were removed by the finding of an inscription in Arabic characters, engraved on a marble tablet, which was subsequently sent to France. It ran thus : "The justice of heaven is satisfied, and the date-tree shall grow on the traitor's tomb. The sublime Emperor of the faithful, the supporter of the faith, the omnipotent master and Sultan of the world, has redeemed his vow. God is great, and Mohammed is his prophet. Allah!” Some time after this event, a foreign-looking tree was seen to peep out of the spot where a corpse must have been deposited in that stormy night, when the rage of the elements yielded to the pitiless fury of man, and it thus explained in some degree this part of the inscription, “the date-tree shall grow on the traitor's grave.”
Who was he, or what had he done, who had provoked such relentless and far-seeking revenge? Ask Nemesis,-or,