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Attalie Brouillard
by [?]




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.