Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 72

Chapter 72

“Ro-chelle! You took all the covers! And it ain't exactly warm!!”

My laughter must have carried up the stairs because Thor said, “When I catch you Woman, you’re not going to be laughing!”

“Hold onto your pants, I’ll be right back!” I yelled.

A sqwauk of indignation preceded, “I would if I had any on!”

I laughed again but decided not to try his patience, grabbed what I had run downstairs for, and then ran back up before jumping on the bed, trapping us both in the mess of covers and laughing my head off.

“Ro-chelle …” came a warning growl.

“Oh keep your shirt on … I mean …” I fell into another fit of laughing.

Thor sighed and shook his head. “And just what – besides me – has put you in such a good mood?”

I flopped around and finally got the covers back over both of us and reasonably straight. “Guess what?” I asked.

“I’m not sure I even want to know at this point if it is going to make you go as crazy as a doodle bug,” he said with a smile.

“Spoil sport. Seriously, guess what I found?”

Just to egg me on he said with an innocent look, “It … um … looks like a book.”

“Oh never mind, you’ll never guess,” I said suddenly wanting to bolt forward and bring him in on what I had found. “You remember that stuff we found at Uncle Bentley’s? The old jewelry I thought was just costume stuff, the coins, and the maps?”

I’d caught his attention. “Yeah,” he answered cautiously.

“I don’t know … can’t remember if I mentioned it or not … but there is supposed to be some connection between Uncle Bentley’s family and the Charbonneau clan.”

“Yeah, you’ve mentioned it a time or two; said the Griffey’s and your family were related but you couldn’t remember how.”

I bounced around a little and then stopped realizing that the bed wasn’t meant for someone my size to be bouncing around on it when the headboard smacked the wall hard enough to ricochet back at Thor’s head. While he rubbed his head and readjusted the pillows I said, “Well, it wasn’t the Griffey’s but his maternal side and it wasn’t that we were kin … blood or by marriage.” I just sat there looking at him, waiting.

Thor rolled his eyes and said, “OK, I’ll bite. How was your family and Griffey connected?”

“Well, back generations upon generations … back before the War Between the States …”

“The Civil War?” he interrupted.

I told him firmly, “Back before the War Between the States.”

Thor rolled his eyes again but smiled so I continued. “Back before then there was a man down along the Gulf Coast named Roger Charbonneau …”

“Say it again,” Thor told me.

"Say what again?" I asked, irritated at being interrupted.

“That name, say it again.”

“Roger Charbonneau? What about it?”

“Do you speak French?”

I yelped, “Are you listening to me at all?”

“Of course I’m listening to you. You said that name like a native … of Paris.”

I humphed a sigh. “Thor. You … are … being strange … again. No, I am not conversationally fluent in French but I did take it in highschool. Besides, with a name like Charbonneau and all of the hand me down names we have in the family I know how they are supposed to sound. Now can I get back to my story?”

He nodded, “Sure. But I wouldn’t mind if you whispered some sweet nothings to me in French. I don’t care what you say but the accent … oo la la.”

I grabbed a pillow and smacked him one and said, “Behave or you won’t get any oo la la any more.” He stopped and gave me an impossibly angelic look that I had to ignore or I’d bust out laughing again and that would only have encouraged him to be worse than he already was. I cleared my throat and finally got back to the story. “This Roger Charbonneau was … well … from everything in the family history he was a good man for the most part but he was also a bit of a rogue. He wasn’t a scoundrel though, just mischievous with a tendency to go his own way in life. He also gambled when he was a young man though unlike most people he was successful at it because he was very skilled and knew when to quit when he was losing. He was very loyal to those who were his friends but he could be down right nasty to someone who became his enemy.”

I let this sink in, trying to give Thor a second to absorb the character I was trying to describe. “Now he was also a lady’s man … a big time lady’s man … but still gentlemanly about it or so the women in my family always said. I suspect that he was a little freer with his attention than folks want to admit though given the time and his social class, but then again that was before his marriage.”

Thor said, “Uh huh. And is this story actually going some place?”

I hit him with the pillow again. “I’m not prone to telling stories for no reason. Just listen, I’m getting there. You just need some patience.”

“You hit me with that pillow again …”

“… you said if you were irritating me I could hit you with a pillow.”

He shook his head. “I said if I upset you we could work it out with a pillow fight. So far I’m not fighting back if you’ll notice.”

“If you’d stop interrupting this story sure would go a whole lot faster.” I knew that he was irritating me on purpose to just yank my chain. And he knew that I knew. It was kind of funny but at the same time he was getting his toes close to the line and I gave him a look to let him know that too.

Starting again I said, “Now unlike a lot of Frenchman, Cajuns, and Creoles in the New Orleans area at that time our boy Roger didn’t care where someone had come from before he would be friends with them. Roger, even though his father was a wealthy French businessman and his mother Acadian … a Cajun … had many friends outside of those strict social groups, including people of different economic and religious backgrounds from his. But then his father died and poor Roger was suddenly the head of the family. Over the next five years he developed a dislike of the society he had to go around in during the day … so at night he, shall we say lived it up a little loud and rowdy. He would go down by the gambling houses near the water at night and live hard and play hard just so that he could stand the pressures and conformity he had to deal with during the day. His mother and younger siblings all loved their life in New Orleans and he loved them so he felt a responsibility to continue to provide the life they had always known even if it meant giving up his own desires. It didn’t help that his mother was always harping on him to find a woman and settle down, her way of forcing him even more deeply into the role that he was playing, of making it permanent. You see, she alone knew how close he was to the edge as he was very like her own father who had been an adventurer until the sea took his life when she was a young girl.”

Thor was trying to look interested but I knew that he wasn’t getting it so I skipped over some of the other romantic stuff and got to the action. “Roger had a good friend by the name of Marcus. Marcus came from a very poor background and on top of all of the other failings that Roger’s mother constantly enumerated, he was an ‘American.’ In other words he was anything but of French descent and anything other than Roger’s social equal. Roger didn’t care though. Marcus had covered his back during more than one fight that could have turned deadly and was also a good business partner. In return for the friendship Roger put Marcus onto jobs that would help him provide money for his family – the story goes that Marcus’ father was a disabled sailor who was drunk more than sober – and save enough to buy some land of his own which was his dream.”

“One night Roger and Marcus decided to go to the slave market. I know it isn’t politically correct but such things existed back then. Roger wasn’t interested in slaves but his mother was looking for a new indentured girl to be a companion for his youngest sister after the last one had completed her indenture and left. There were no one looking to indenture themselves that night that was suitable so they decided to go a few doors down and join what sounded like a rowdy good party. And that’s where our story takes a turn.”

Thor asked in a falsely enthusiastic voice, “It is?” When I gave him a repressive look he grinned unrepentantly but shut up and let me finish the story.

“Roger stopped half way through the door. Marcus had to nudge him several times before he finally would move. The scene sounds pretty unbelievable, even today. There was a party going on all right but it was a pretty raunchy one with only the lowest women of ill repute, not the higher class of courtesans that were the norm at such parties that Roger and Marcus usually went to. This made the young girl who was tied to a beam in the corner of the room stand out even more. She’d obviously been ill-used but she was still lovely despite that. And according to Roger’s own journals in later years the loveliness was more than just skin deep. The man who had her was a well known piece of dockside garbage and a violent drunk on top of it. He was in deep to the local … I guess you’d call them loan sharks today … and well-known or not he was about to take a permanent swim if he didn’t come up with the money to pay off his debts. No one would take his IOUs so he was using the girl as collateral.”

“Let me guess. Ol’ Roger joined the game and not only cleaned the piece of garbage out but won the girl.”

I smiled grimly, “Not quite. Roger won the girl but only after Marcus cleaned the guy out. Roger wasn’t the only gambler remember and he’d taught Marcus really well. That’s when the fight started. And then someone knocked over a lantern and the old wood and tar building that was literally soaked in years of cheap rum and other alcohol was quickly engulfed in flames. Roger and Marcus were able to able to rescue the girl and escape but Roger was badly injured in the process. Weeks go by and the girl helps to nurse Roger back to health and lo and behold Roger falls in love … but he has a nasty facial scar from a piece of dripping tar that not even a beard will hide. Back in those days in some circles a pretty face mattered nearly as much as it does today. Roger could no longer be ‘the face’ of the family business and it didn’t hurt his feelings at all. The long and the short of it was that he turned the family business over to his two younger brothers who were finally of age and took the girl, who was pining for her family, back to her home. And that’s how the Charbonneau name came the mountains of Virginia. Go ahead, ask me what happened to Marcus now.”

Thor laughed but played along. “OK, what happened to ol’ Marcus?”

“Roger had wanted Marcus to accompany him to Virginia thinking it would be a good place for his friend to find a farm and start his own family. Roger was happy so he wanted his friend to be happy.”

“Didn’t happen that way I take it.”

“No. See Marcus suddenly got greedy. He didn’t just want a little farm to call his own he wanted a plantation and though he’d won quite a bit of money that night it wasn’t nearly enough to fulfill his new dreams. To win more money he had to use his savings and play with richer and richer men which meant he had to take on a richer and richer façade which cost more and more money to maintain. And believe it or not, for a while it worked. But when he started looking the part of the rich but debauched men he played with he eventually started acting like them as well. My grandmothers would worn at this part that when you lay down with dogs, you can't be surprised with you wake up with fleas. Roger was no longer there to moderate Marcus' behavior and warn him away from disaster. By that time Marcus might not have listened anyway.”

“So ol’ Marcus got himself into some trouble.”

“Some? Try a lot. Like I said, maybe it isn’t politically correct but back then slaves and women … their lives were not always good. Some women became … there’s lots of names for them and hardly any of them polite. Basically they were just trying to survive though it doesn’t make their choice of career right. And in those population of women and slaves certain diseases were common. On one of his excursions to the wild side Marcus caught the Great Pox.”

“You mean small pox. I read about it in history books. Did he die or just get scarred for life?.”

“I said the Great Pox, not small pox. He did die hard but it took years.” At Thor’s confusion I explained, “The great pox was another name for syphilis. Two years after Roger has started his new life Marcus, accompanied by his younger brother, showed up in the area looking for him. Marcus’ younger brother … his younger brother named Ben … begged him for refuge in memory of the friendship that Roger and Marcus once had. Roger knew right away that something was up. For one thing Roger had received letters from his mother telling him the rumors that Marcus had been generating about himself and how she’d even been forced to run him off after she’d caught him sneaking around trying to … er … encourage one of Roger’s sisters into a less than appropriate relationship. Roger didn't want to believe such things about his friend but eventually he saw the evidence with his own eyes.”

I stopped and just waited and it wasn’t a moment before Thor admitted, “OK, I’m hooked … I take it the story continues from there.”

“Yep. Poor Marcus was greatly changed from the man that Roger had known. The great pox has debilitated him but no one at the time knew exactly how much. Ben took Roger aside and explained that the rest of their family had died of one of the local fever epidemics and that only he and Marcus survived it; but during that time Ben discovered that Marcus had gone into cahoots with some pirates and then had betrayed the pirates telling them that what they’d put into his safekeeping had been stolen while the city had been shut down by the epidemic by another band of pirates. Marcus had lied, he was the one that had stolen it.”

“And what exactly was ‘it’ or does … wait … you’re not saying ...”

I couldn’t help it. I grinned a Cheshire cat grin and said, “Now you’re putting two and two together Big Boy. ‘It’ was a chest of ill gotten gain. Ben apparently never told Roger exactly what all was in it but he showed him enough that even brave and resourceful Roger got worried. Roger helped Ben buy a small farm on the other side of the river and even introduced the young man around. Ben became a popular addition to the community … young men with good sense and the means to put it to good use usually were in those days. The only fly in the ointment was that Marcus’ ailment became more obvious as his mental faculties disintegrated. Sometimes Marcus would run off and disappear for days and weeks at a time. It became so bad that Ben had to lock Marcus up for his own good and the safety of his neighbors who he’d begun to act paranoid that were out to ‘steal his treasure.’”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I shrugged. “My grandmothers said that the tale used to be told as a ghost story around these parts but that it had pretty much disappeared from local lore by the time my father was a boy.”

“So what happened?”

“Marcus became violent and one night when Ben went to take him his dinner, he attacked his younger brother and escaped … taking the treasure, or what was left of it, with him. Ben was injured but not so badly that he couldn’t get to Roger’s farm … this farm … and get help for himself and to warn folks that his brother was on the loose and dangerous. The people appreciated that Ben – despite the potential social cost to himself – had been willing to warn them and when Marcus was finally found by someone wandering in the mountains they didn’t kill him but instead took him back to his brother Ben. Marcus was nearly completely gone by that time and died a week later of what sounds like malnutrition and exposure. The only intelligible thing he said after he was found was ‘You’ll never find it.’ He would say that over and over and over again. Ben nursed him single handedly up to the very end despite his own injuries that he was recovering from. Marcus was buried in the town cemetery and a legend was born. Uncle B is a however many greats nephew of Marcus on his maternal side.”

Thor just looked at me. Then he said, “I can’t tell if you’re serious or if this is another one of your stories.”

I opened up the book and showed him a couple of old water colors and a couple of sketches. “This is supposed to be what Roger looked like as a young man. There is a real painting down in my dad’s office in the curio cabinet but it is smaller than this … only about a three by five … and he is older in it. His wife’s name was Drucilla … Drucilla Robertson … and her picture is down there too; she was several years younger than Roger when they married. Roger and Drucilla’s son was the one that started this book. It’s been rebound several times adding pages when all of them would get used up; my grandfather was the last one to do it. Dad was going to do it but he never … never got around to it. Mom used the last couple of pages on me.” I had to stop because for some reason suddenly I felt like I was gonna cry.

“Hey, none of that. Not today. Instead of rebinding this one, why don’t we start one of our own? There’s enough fancy paper in that scrapbooking place you got lost in to choke a herd of goats. We can use that.”

I slapped his hand away that was brushing at my near tears that hung on my lashes, but I still laughed. “I told you not to wait for me. I just wanted to look around slow like. Mom always hustled us out of there, the lady that owned the place always complained that I made all her fancy doodads and glass knickknacks jump around when I walked in the store.”

“Mean ol’ hag,” he said but quickly added “The store owner, not your mother.”

That did it, I had to laugh despite it all. “Mom really would have loved you. And I’d love us to start the next volume of the family history. It makes sense. The world had just been force fed a large dose of Ipecac and those of us that have survived the purge are having to start over.”

Thor raised an eyebrow and said, “That’s … um … some picture you paint. As soon as the ice thaws we’ll head back to town and salvage enough for a hundred generations. How’s that sound?”

“Wonderful … a little over ambitious, but still wonderful. But we also have another adventure to go on as well.”

“You want to rebury the treasure? I mean I assume that’s what you are saying all of those gold coins are … Marcus’ treasure.”

“I don’t want to rebury it but possibly unbury another one.”

Thor did a double take and said, “Now Hon, I stayed awake through that whole story and I know for a fact you only mentioned one treasure. And what do you mean possibly?”

Smiling I told him, “That is where Uncle Bentley’s map comes in.”

No comments:

Post a Comment