At the Corner of Absinthe and Aniseette by Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis
IT was drizzling, and the banquette was overlaid with a black slush
which seemed to ooze from the very paving-stones. The girl standing on
the corner—her slim, white-gowned figure softly outlined against the
pink stucco of the wall behind her—appeared curiously at variance
with the November-afternoon gloom. The single passenger in a street-car
crawling past glanced out at her with a momentary gleam of interest.
“She looks like a bayou lily,” he murmured, returning to his evening
There is nothing earthly which can compare, for whiteness, with the
bayou lily—hovering above the dark marsh like a tethered soul—pure,
spotless, radiant; exhaling an innocent perfume, its flexible stem
rooted far below in the slime.
The drizzle became a downpour, and the few pedestrians scurried into
shelter, leaving the narrow street quite deserted. The girl drew a
little farther under the high, projecting balcony, with its
wrought-iron balustrade. Her white gown, slightly open at the throat,
as if designed for indoors, was drenched with the wind-blown rain;
though, by some miracle, the hem remained unsmirched by the ooze
beneath her feet. She was very young. The delicate, almost child-like
face beneath her round hat was pale; her violet eyes had a strained,
expectant look. She leaned against the wall of the old building,
trembling, as if frightened or over-fatigued.
The heavy batten shutters were flung back; their enormous bolts
turned aslant; the inner doors, whose upper halves were composed of
fancifully shaped panes of ground glass, were closed.
On the same spot—christened by some dead-and-gone wag The Corner
of Absinthe and Anisette—stood, in the year of our Lord eighteen
hundred and thirteen, the self-same building. It was even then more
than a quarter of a century old, and a conspicuous landmark in its
isolated situation; a few low habitations only clustering between it
and the outlying swamps, and but a thin scattering of houses stretching
down to the river. The steep roof of the single squat story was tiled;
a long arm thrust out from the eaves held a lantern over the muddy,
unpaved street. It was a cabaret then as now; and then, as now, famous
for its “green hours.”
Its rough outer wall, one morning in the autumn of that year, was
adorned with a large printed poster which set forth, in the three
languages then current in the old town on the Mississippi, the misdeeds
of one Jean Lafitte, smuggler, marauder, desperado, and pirate, and
offered, in the name of his Excellency Governor Claiborne, a reward of
five hundred dollars for the capture of the said Jean Lafitte and his
delivery into the hands of justice.
The laughing eyes of a knot of apparent idlers on the wooden
banquette were turned alternately from this placard to the tall,
handsome man—no less a person than Jean Lafitte himself!—who leaned
against the wall, the long, curling locks of his hair blown against the
signature of his (late Provisional) Excellency. But there were covert
flashes of malign intelligence in some of the laughing eyes, and an
imperceptible movement of the crowd towards the batten door at the
outlaw's right hand. His own glances, as he bandied jests with the
leaders, toying the while with the fringed end of his green silk sash,
went warily about. He knew himself to be in danger of arrest; he might,
indeed, pay with his life for his seeming bravado. But he was not
thinking of himself. His ear was strained to catch the slightest sound
within the cabaret, where Henri Destréhan was blithely quaffing his
glass of absinthe, unaware that his enemies, sworn to butcher him like
a rat in a trap, were closing upon him.
It was the knowledge of his friend's impending peril which had drawn
the pirate chief from his lagoon fastnesses.
“How about that last bale of smuggled silk brocade, Lafitte?”
demanded a brawny, dark-browed man, lightly, edging nearer to the wall
as he spoke.
“Sold at ten dollars the yard for the waistcoats of his Excellency,
the Governor!” returned Lafitte, in the same tone.
“And the gold chain captured on the high seas from His Grace, the
Mexican Bishop?” laughed another.
“Sold off in inches for the repose of his Grace's soul.
He had dropped the end of his sash. His hand, as he spoke, was on
the door. “À moi, Destréhan, à moi!” he cried, bursting
into the dimly lighted cabaret. And, catching the bewildered young
officer into the sweep of his powerful arm, he lifted him from the
floor, bore him through the very midst of his enemies, turned the
corner with the leaping speed of a stag, and disappeared behind a clump
of cabins in the direction of the swamp. A howl of rage and a volley of
shot from the baffled plotters followed the fugitives, but they were
already safe from pursuit.
A few days later Destréhan was about starting on his roundabout
journey to France. A pirogue, dancing on the breast of the sinuous
bayou which led away from the outlaw's stronghold at Barrataria,
awaited him with its lithe, dark-skinned paddler. “If ever a Destréhan"
—these were his parting words to Lafitte, with a warm hand-clasp—” if
ever a Destréhan fails a Lafitte in the hour of need, may his soul die
and his bones rot unburied.”
Léonie Destran, apparently unconscious of the rain, which continued
to fall, was waiting still. The pallor of her delicate face had
increased. She moved nearer to the closed door of the cabaret.
Within there was a drowsy silence. The fat, bald-headed proprietor
was nodding over an out-worn copy of La Mouche.
It was midway between les heurs vertes—early and
late—of the staid and respectable habitues who came with the
regularity of unimpeachable clocks every day at noon, and every day
before setting towards their late dinners.
The floor had been re-sanded since noon and swept into fresh
geometrical figures, and the old-fashioned wooden bar with its simple
fixtures was in readiness for the six o'clock clientèle.
There was, however, a single patron, who stood with his left hand
resting lightly on the bar; in his right hand he held a small tumbler;
the wan light filtering in through the ground glass of the door fell
upon its cloudy green contents, giving them a strange, unearthly gleam.
The man, who was elegantly and fashionably attired, was young and
extraordinarily handsome, though his face showed signs of dissipation,
and his dark eyes beneath the thick brows had a bold, unpleasant
He wore a white flower in his buttonhole.
He lifted the glass to his lips, but set it down hastily. Octave
Lafitte! It was a whisper, a faintly dying breath, but he heard his
own name distinctly pronounced. He looked at the deaf old man half
asleep in his chair; then he stepped noiselessly to the door. The rain,
striking him full in the face as he opened it, blurred his vision for a
second. “Mademoiselle Destran! Léonie!” he exclaimed, starting back
surprised, his dark face flushing with pleasure.
She lifted her hand. “Stay, monsieur,” she said, speaking rapidly
and in French, “there is no time for words. I was following you, and I
saw you enter here. I have been waiting for you to come out, but I
dared wait no longer. You must leave this State—this country—at
once Stay”—for he was beginning to speak—“'Toinette Farge, on Bayou
Desnoyers, near our plantation, has confessed to her father that it is
you”—a wave of crimson dyed her face and throat, but she continued to
look steadily at him—“that it is you who have disgraced her and
ruined their home. Old Dominique Farge will kill you. He has sworn to
hunt you down like a dog. My father is ill . . . we fear he is dying .
. . he could not come himself to warn you . . . I did not even stop to
change my dress . . . I have been travelling all day.” She stopped,
panting for breath, with her hand pressed to her side.
His eyes were glowing; he smiled exultantly. “And you have done this
for me, Léonie, for me!” he whispered, tenderly, moving towards
her with outstretched arms. “Then you do care for me! You do love—”
She drew away with a gesture of loathing. “You! God forbid!”
she cried. “I do the duty of the Destréhan to the Lafitte,” she added,
calmly. “But you must go at once, monsieur. Dominique Farge may reach
the city at any moment. Go, before it is too late—”
It was already too late. There was a sound of footsteps above the
rush of the rain, and Dominique Farge came around the corner—a large
old man, with a swart, bearded face. His blue cotton shirt—he wore no
coat—was open at the throat, showing his massive chest; and the
unbuttoned sleeves fell away from his hairy wrists. His deep-sunken
eyes were bloodshot; his long, grizzled hair, soaked and matted by the
rain, clung to his cheeks. At sight of his prey his face lighted
horribly. “Li mové nomme!” he hissed, with a forward
Lafitte, with his eyes on the uplifted hand, stood rooted to his
place. But there was a quick movement on the girl's part.
She had thrown herself in front of the intended victim; and the
alligator knife in Dominique's hand, descending, sheathed itself in her
Without a cry, and like a bayou lily whose stem has been suddenly
cut, the white figure sank into the ooze of the banquette, her spirting
blood dyeing the stuccoed wall.
The old man passed his hand over his starting eyes. He did not even
stoop to see if the child of his neighbor and old comrade-in-arms were
dead; but stepping back a pace, he drew a revolver from his belt and
placed the muzzle against his forehead.
His body fell heavily at her feet.
The report of the pistol brought a voluble, hurrying crowd into the
drowned street, but there had been no witnesses of the double tragedy—
which caused extraordinary comment. No one ever knew its meaning.
'Toinette Farge, cowering over her nameless infant in the cabin on
Bayou Desnoyers; Henry Destran on his deathbed in the old Destréhan
plantation-house—even these but dimly surmised the truth.
The deaf old cabaret-keeper came out to watch the removal of the
dead bodies, leaving the little room quite empty.
The untasted glass of absinthe on the bar glowed like a huge,
scintillating opal in the purple shadows.
A year later a man drifted at nightfall one day—alone—into a
cheap pot-house on the outskirts of Paris. There was an air of decayed
gentility about him. His well-fitting clothes were shabby. The lining
of the top-coat he carried over his arm was frayed and much soiled.
His face, covered with a stubble of black beard, was haggard. His
dark, shifting eyes had a dull, outworn expression.
The hand which he stretched out towards the little glass pushed
towards him by the gruff, ill-looking proprietor, shook almost as if
He grasped the slender stem eagerly and raised the glass to his
lips, but set it down again with a nauseate shudder and turned away. “I
cannot drink it!” he muttered, dropping upon the rude bench outside the
door, and drawing the brim of his hat over his eyes, as if to shut out
something from his sight. “God! I am dying for it, yet I cannot
drink it! There were exactly those green, changing lights in her eyes
that day! And when I remember”—he threw out his arms with a gesture
of self-loathing—“when I remember that I am, after all, a Lafitte only