The fig-tree, in Louisiana, sometimes sheds its leaves while it is yet summer. In the rear of the Grandissme mansion, about two hundred yards northwest of it and fifty northeast of the cottage in which Agricola had made his new abode, on the edge of the grove of which we have spoken, stood one of these trees, whose leaves were beginning to lie thickly upon the ground beneath it. An ancient and luxuriant hedge of Cherokee-rose started from this tree and stretched toward the northwest across the level country, until it merged into the green confusion of gardened homes in the vicinity of Bayou St. Jean, or, by night, into the common obscurity of a starlit perspective. When an unclouded moon shone upon it, it cast a shadow as black as velvet.
Under this fig-tree, some three hours later than that at which Honore bade Joseph good-night, a man was stooping down and covering something with the broad, fallen leaves.
“The moon will rise about three o’clock,” thought he. “That, the hour of universal slumber, will be, by all odds, the time most likely to bring developments.”
He was the same person who had spent the most of the day in a blacksmith’s shop in St. Louis street, superintending a piece of smithing. Now that he seemed to have got the thing well hid, he turned to the base of the tree and tried the security of some attachment. Yes, it was firmly chained. He was not a robber; he was not an assassin; he was not an officer of police; and what is more notable, seeing he was a Louisianian, he was not a soldier nor even an ex-soldier; and this although, under his clothing, he was encased from head to foot in a complete suit of mail. Of steel? No. Of brass? No. It was all one piece—a white skin; and on his head he wore an invisible helmet—the name of Grandissime. As he straightened up and withdrew into the grove, you would have recognized at once—by his thick-set, powerful frame, clothed seemingly in black, but really, as you might guess, in blue cottonade, by his black beard and the general look of a seafarer—a frequent visitor at the Grandissime mansion, a country member of that great family, one whom we saw at the fete de grandpere.
Capitain Jean-Baptiste Grandissime was a man of few words, no sentiments, short methods; materialistic, we might say; quietly ferocious; indifferent as to means, positive as to ends, quick of perception, sure in matters of saltpetre, a stranger at the custom-house, and altogether—take him right—very much of a gentleman. He had been, for a whole day, beset with the idea that the way to catch a voudou was—to catch him; and as he had caught numbers of them on both sides of the tropical and semi-tropical Atlantic, he decided to try his skill privately on the one who—his experience told him—was likely to visit Agricola’s doorstep to-night. All things being now prepared, he sat down at the root of a tree in the grove, where the shadow was very dark, and seemed quite comfortable. He did not strike at the mosquitoes; they appeared to understand that he did not wish to trifle. Neither did his thoughts or feelings trouble him; he sat and sharpened a small penknife on his boot.