MAKING UP THE EXPEDITION.
In 1795 New Orleans was nothing but a mere market town. The cathedral, the convent of the Ursulines, five or six cafes, and about a hundred houses were all of it. Can you believe, there were but two dry-goods stores! And what fabulous prices we had to pay! Pins twenty dollars a paper. Poor people and children had to make shift with thorns of orange and amourette [honey locust?]. A needle cost fifty cents, very indifferent stockings five dollars a pair, and other things accordingly.
On the levee was a little pothouse of the lowest sort; yet from that unclean and smoky hole was destined to come one of the finest fortunes in Louisiana. They called the proprietor “Pere la Chaise." He was a little old marten-faced man, always busy and smiling, who every year laid aside immense profits. Along the crazy walls extended a few rough shelves covered with bottles and decanters. Three planks placed on boards formed the counter, with Pere la Chaise always behind it. There were two or three small tables, as many chairs, and one big wooden bench. Here gathered the city’s working-class, and often among them one might find a goodly number of the city’s elite; for the wine and the beer of the old cabaretier were famous, and one could be sure in entering there to hear all the news told and discussed.
By day the place was quiet, but with evening it became tumultuous. Pere la Chaise, happily, did not lose his head; he found means to satisfy all, to smooth down quarrels without calling in the police, to get rid of drunkards, and to make delinquents pay up.
My father knew the place, and never failed to pay it a visit when he went to New Orleans. Poor, dear father! he loved to talk as much as to travel. Pere la Chaise was acquainted with him. One evening papa entered, sat down at one of the little tables, and bade Pere la Chaise bring a bottle of his best wine. The place was already full of people, drinking, talking, and singing. A young man of twenty-six or twenty-seven entered almost timidly and sat down at the table where my father was—for he saw that all the other places were occupied—and ordered a half-bottle of cider. He was a Norman gardener. My father knew him by sight; he had met him here several times without speaking to him. You recognized the peasant at once; and yet his exquisite neatness, the gentleness of his face, distinguished him from his kind. Joseph Carpentier was dressed in a very ordinary gray woolen coat; but his coarse shirt was very white, and his hair, when he took off his broad-brimmed hat, was well combed and glossy.