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The "Grievance Industry"

Apr. 18th, 2014 | 12:27 pm

Many years ago, just after the end of Reagan’s first term, I was listening to a local Talk Radio host, Ronn Owens, doing a sort of “summing up” of the Reagan administration so far. He brought up Reagan’s question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” and he said, “I gotta tell ya. Yes, I am. And everyone I know is better off too.”

Ronn invited his mostly white, middle-class listeners to weigh in. One after another they lined up to chirp about how well they were doing in Reagan’s America.

Then, he got a black caller, who informed the host, “I’m not better off. I’m not better off at all. In fact, things have gotten worse. And I don’t know one single black American who’s not doing worse.”

“Oh now sir,” Ronn said, with the air of someone calming down a hysteric. “don’t you feel you’re being a little myopic?”

I guess the farsighted, non-myopic approach would have been for the caller and all those other black Americans to think happy thoughts about how well Ronn Owens and the other white folks were doing, rather than focusing on their own petty concerns.

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Another American "Chooses" to Die

Apr. 9th, 2014 | 12:47 pm

From Women on the Move: Charlene was unable to get Obamacare because she made too little to get the subsidies to purchase health insurance. She had no dental insurance. Her teeth hurt her at night and had so many cavities but could not find anyway to get the decay in her teeth fixed. She was denied medicaid and when she went to get obamcare she was told she could not get subsidies.

So she went to the emergency room 2012 she had heart issues and was told to get on medicine and be monitored. No health insurance to do so. 2012 Obama won and we all were so sure… NOW Charlene would have health insurance. But the republican party of Florida and Rick Scott turned down medicaid expansion. In December Charlene went to the emergency room with abcesses in her legs. Her teeth hurt her constantly. Charlene never complained. She took her two older kids to school each day and reported for work at her various jobs. Recently she began selling vaccuum cleaners in addition to the babysitting and house cleaning. She took anti biotics. She got her healthcare at Florida hospitals emergency room


On March 21, 2014, a Florida woman with chronic heart problems died on the floor of a stranger's house. She was trying to sell a vacuum cleaner -- one of the ways she struggled to support herself and her three kids, along with house-cleaning and baby-sitting. Charlene Dill was 32 years old. She died of a chronic heart condition that, with medication and monitoring, needn't have killed her.

Oh, sure, she had the emergency room, that option so frequently cited by Republicans when they insist that here in the good ol' USA "everyone gets medical care." But the emergency room couldn't provide what was required to keep her healthy. And Governor Rick Scott decided to score political points and refuse the expansion of Medicaid.

So she went without. So she died.

That's what the political gamesmanship played by the Republicans means. That's what happens when you stand in between a sick woman and her access to medical care.

The people responsible know this. Governor Rick Scott and the people around him are not stupid. They're something else. Maybe they genuinely believe that people like Charlene Dill are inherently inferior and deserve to die. The poor, we keep getting old by right wing pundits, are "jealous," "lazy," "irresponsible." Hey, why'd she have three kids anyway?" ask many of the same people who are doing their best to eliminate safe and affordable contraception and access to abortion.

I mean, c'mon, if we provide access to affordable healthcare for poor single mothers, what kind of message does it send?

Better to let her die.

Then we can work out what to do about her children.

*

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The Dudays Chapter 5

Mar. 29th, 2014 | 02:43 pm

Tom Reckoner arrived at exactly the right time. Telesphore had made it plain to him the timing was important and that he should not be seen arriving, should walk straight into the back yard. So there he was, standing on the stone flags in the garden, just before sunset. Gwennoelle was waiting for him.

"My son," she said, "has told me what you wish. "Has he made the risks clear to you?"

"I am a man used to taking risks," Reckoner said, trying appear grim, and Noelle had to keep her lips from twitching into a smile.

The sky was not quite dark enough yet. "You are looking for... what?" she asked. "Respect? That was what my son told me. But monsieur, yours is the oldest, most wealthy and powerful family on the island. You already have respect."

"Madame Duday...please... I am many things, but I am not a fool." (If he only knew, Noelle thought, how many fools say that!) "I know what people think of me."

tompleads

"Oh monsieur, really..."

"They think I'm a joke, that I'm not like the rest of my family. I lack their strength, their determination. Your son told me there was something you could do to instill... to give me the spirit, the will..."

She leaned forward and saw him fall silent, his eyes a little frightened. "Of the beast?" she hissed. "You wish to feel the surge of power that drives away all doubt, that can make you pitiless and determined to win at all costs?"

"Yes! That's what I need, what I want! Can you...can you do that for me?"

Noelle smiled. "Of course! But there is a cost, Monsieur. We are not wealthy people. As you have instructed, we have purchased what it necessary to effect your transformation. But it is dear, very very dear, and we have spent all we have to obtain it."

noelleexplains

She held out her hand. Without a word he took a small bag of gold from beneath his coat and handed it to her.

"D'accord," she said. She put the payment in the pocket of her apron, and withdrew from that same pocket a small vial.

"You must drink this. Drink it quickly and in one gulp."

"When will it take effect?"

She smiled her warmest, most motherly smile. "Immediately monsieur. Immediately."

"So I can take it home and..."

"No!" she reached out and closed his hand around the little glass container. "Feel how warm it is. You must drink it now, when it is at just the right temperature."

"Yes." he stared down at the vial of dark brown liquid. "I'll drink it now."

He pulled out the stopper and tossed it down.

Noelle stepped back and silently, quickly cast her own spell at his feet.

First there was the fire without flame and the early intimation in his eyes that something was wrong, that he could not flee as he longed to do. His shoes felt rooted to the earth.

thechange

Then there was the pain that doubled his body over, the terror, the strangled scream of despair.

Screenshot-950

Then nothing but the bone-bending agony of his transformation.

changecurl

And then...

complete

It was done.

"Mon dieu, Monsieur" she said quietly. "It is horrible. May God forgive me" And she crossed herself.

He was staring down at his hands, or rather, the claws that had been his hands. Slowly, he raised them to his face. When he felt what was there, he threw back his head and let out a long howling wail of horror.

"As I told you," she said coolly. "There were risks."

Matthieu had emerged from the house. Now he was on his knees, pretending to sob frightened prayers into his cupped hands.

The creature that had been Tom Reckoner was making noises now, trying to speak, holding out its blacknailed claws to her in appeal. "Ah Monsieur Reckoner," she said. "I am sorry. So very sorry. It is a terrible thing when this happens."

It's noises were becoming more frantic, and it took all of Noelle's willpower to keep Reckoner confined, to prevent him from feeling into the countryside. It kept touching its head, shaking it.

"You cannot think Sir? Helas, it is the beast. It is taking over. But never fear. The suffering will end soon. All thought will cease. Just know, monsieur, before your mind darkens forever, how sorry we are..."

It let out a high pitched shriek, like dog that had been kicked, hard.

"...but the cure, it is out of our reach. So dear, so very dear. We could never afford it..."

Suddenly hope! Its eyes brightened and it snuffled, reaching its hands out to her. If she had allowed it, it would have plucked pitifully at her skirt.

"But how, monsieur?"

With all its might, it drew in its breath and managed to enunciat..."aaaank..aaaft."

Bank draft.

Noelle turned towards where her husband knelt. "Get up, man!" She snapped. "We must help poor Monsieur Reckoner."

Mattheiu promised he would run all the way to the club, where Monsieur Bonney spent his evenings. Noelle hoped he would hurry. Keeping Reckoner in place was getting harder and harder. After a few minutes, however, he seemed to calm down a bit, and she could relax her grip. Now he seemed pitifully resigned, trembling, head down, occasionally whining.

When Matthieu returned bearing the payment, Reckoner looked as joyful as any beast with a muzzle and fangs could look. The creature watched as Matthieu hurried to his table and bent over it for a few minutes, let out another howl, this time of joy, when Mattheiu approached him with another vial, this time containing something red. It stretched its arms out.

"Stand still, Monsieur Reckoner," said Noelle, pulling out her wand. "I must break this vial at your feet, and then cast my own glamour. You'll be set aright in an instant."

For an instant, she thought it had worked. Again, the red fire, but then he threw back his head, howled, and let out a snarl that caused Noelle to drop her wand and scream.

howl

Matthieu leapt forward to pull her back, and the creature lunged at him.

angrywerewolf2

Noelle's confinement spell was breaking. She and Matthieu turned and fled into the house. Reckoner, thank God in Heaven, was not pursuing them. They could hear him thrashing about in the woods, his snarls and howls becoming fainter. For a moment they stood in the dark house, staring at each other. Matthieu was trembling.

"Dear God, Noelle. What happened?" he whispered.

"It didn't work," he said. "I made it exactly the way the book said, and it didn't work."

"Obviously."

"What are we going to do? Oh my God have mercy on us, poor Monsieur Reckoner... He will kill someone!"

She thought for a moment.

noellethinks

"I should have cast a restoration spell at the same time. That might have done the trick. It still could..."

"But how will we find..."

She raised her hand and he fell silent. She'd heard something. A voice. "Listen," she whispered.

They heard it again. Gregoire. Gregoire was talking to someone.

"Mon Dieu!" Horrified, Noelle rushed to the window and peeked out.

reckonerandgregoire

Slowly, carefully, she and Matthieu opened the door and stepped out. "Gregoire," she said, hoping her voice wasn't trembling too much. "My son. Come here."

"Hmmmm?" Gregoire looked up, then smiled his simple smile. "Hello, Mama. Look, I've made a friend."

"Indeed." She edged forward. Perhaps, on reflection, it would be better if Gregoire stayed where he was. Any sudden movement...

She got as close as she could, drew back her wand, and concentrated. Behind her, Matthieu was, again, muttering prayers. Sincere prayers, this time. She cast the spell.

Then waited.

restoration

It was done.

hiseyes

Noelle's relief was such that for a moment she felt dizzy. "You are restored," she said.

Tom Reckoner simply looked at her.

"You must go home," she said. "Go home and sleep. That would be the best thing. You must be terribly sore."

Without a word, he walked past her and around the house.

Tomreckonertransformed

"Huh," she heard Gregoire say from his rocking chair. "Tom Reckoner. Now where did he come from?"

greginchair


It was a success. They were no longer poor though, Noelle felt, they needed to keep it quiet for a while, not arouse any suspicions with any sudden signs of prosperity. The next day she went over with Telesphore all that had happened -- what had gone right, and what had gone wrong. Then she'd left with just a little of the money they'd made, to buy a new apron. Her's had gotten slightly singed.

Telesphore took Gregoire aside for a quiet talk. "Now Gregoire," he said gently, "you do realize, don't you, that a loup garou is dangerous? You must never, ever, ever, get that close to one, ever again. He laid a hand on Gregoire's shoulder and gave it a gentle shake. You were lucky not to have been killed."

"No," Gregoire said, smiling his vague, pleasant smile. "It was not luck. If it were a matter of luck, I'd be dead."

Gregoire pointed his finger at the floor and Telesphore felt as though his feet had turned to stone. Gregoire opened his hand, and Telesphore shifted his feet.

"I got him back and kept him in place until Mother had finished."

telandgreg

Tel stared at his brother. "You're that skilled? Good lord, Gregoire!"

Gregoire shrugged. "It really doesn't interest me much. I prefer doing sums, to tell you the truth. And reading, when I can get a chance. I've almost finished that copy of Darwin you borrowed from Dr. Teach, by the way, so you can take it back whenever you like." He cocked his head at Telesphore. "You do realize, don't you, that this business with Tom Reckoner is not over? I don't know what Mother was thinking, but he's not cured, not by a long shot. He's going to have bouts. Serious bouts. We're going to have to keep our eyes open when the moon is full." He sighed. "I just hope to God Laurette never finds out. We'll never hear the end of it."

"Yes, yes, I know, you're right of course. We'll have to be careful. But Gregoire, I'm absolutely stunned. Why pretend to be a dunce? Why hide your abilities? If mother knew she would be so delighted. She would..."

"Make me her favorite? Ah, no brother."

Gregoire smiled, and now it was his hand who rested kindly on Telesphore's shoulder. "That lot, I fear, has fallen to you."


*

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The Roselyns 6

Mar. 22nd, 2014 | 02:10 pm

August 1887

I have been unable to write for the past few weeks because I could not bear it.

God does not love me.

Hortense, after a long and agonizing travail, gave birth last month to a daughter, baptized in haste because we feared for both the infant's life and the mother's. Her name is Kristal.

My wife lives. The child lives.

My wife has turned imbecile. The rages are gone, but she is listless. She talks like a child. She speaks of going to St. Louis to light a candle, of her nurse taking her to watch the dances at Congo Square. She asks for her worthless Papa. She smiles at Pinny and speaks to her as though she were a servant. Kitty she imagines to be a playmate.

As for the poor infant, I could tell from the beginning that Dr. Teach is troubled by her. I caught him holding the baby close after it was born, looking into its face and frowning. Yes, Kristal has gained flesh as infants should. What of it? The eyes have an emptiness that I fear will never brighten.

But that is not the worst of it.

I write this from our new home, the little stone cottage I thought would be merely a husband and father's holiday from the cares of family life.

Pinny has told me much of what happened that terrible, terrible night last week. I was working long past closing at The Rose, partly, I must admit, because I feared leaving the place, envisioned a fire being kindled there, my lifes work destroyed by the malice of the Reckoners.

Sometime well after midnight, Pinny was awakened by Kitty crying out, "Calinda! Calinda!" and sat up in bed to see her sister looking out the window. By the time she reached it, Calinda was out of sight, but Kitty said she had seen the little beast running away from the house carrying a bundle.

My eldest daughter is a girl -- no, a woman now, in spirit if not in years -- of considerable intelligence and resources. She quickly dressed, and ordered her sister to dress, then roused her mother and managed to get her out of bed and clothed. Then she picked up the baby and, leading her mother by the hand (she knew Kitty would have enough wit to follow.) fled the house. "I knew something had been troubling you," she told me later. "And I hear the gossip. Jack Reckoner said things to me -- no Papa, I won't repeat them to you. He's a brute and, God be thanked, a fool. Let's say no more than that."

For that much, I am grateful to providence, Jack Reckoner's rattling tongue, and Peony's common sense.

By the time I arrived, Lindquist was there, one of Madame Reckoner's hired brutes. I cannot describe my feelings when I walked into our house and saw him standing there, imagined my wife, my children in his hands.

intruder

I do not remember what I may have said or done. I would like to think I was able to put up a fight. All I know is that I was driven out of the house and rendered insensible by a blow to my head.

drivenout

I awoke an hour or two later in a ditch half a mile away.

In the meantime, my family had made their way to the cottage, where, of course, Calinda had barricaded herself.

therefuge

She let them in after only a minute of them knocking, calling, pleading, and promises not to punish her.

Pinnyandbaby

When I got there Calinda was sitting sullenly in a corner of the cottage, refusing to respond to any questions, while Kitty was outside, silently weeping by the pond. Pinny had put her mother to bed and was waiting for me, Kristal in her arms.

My first impulse, after embracing my children and going in to look at my sleeping wife, was to drive out the cowardly slattern who'd run off, leaving the children in her charge to the mercies of the likes of Lindquist. But before I could, Pinny took me aside. "Papa, you cannot expect an ignorant servant girl to put herself in between us and one of the Reckoner's savages. Of course she ran!"

"We don't need her!" I declared, and Pinny shook her head.

"We do need her. Mama cannot be trusted with anything, especially not a baby. She spent the first hour here wandering around and around this house tapping on the windows and giggling like child.

madhortense

"When I told to her to in, she looked at Kristal and said, 'Oh Mathilde, you had a baby! How adorable!"

pinnyhortensebaby

"But this one is bad."

pinnyhortensebaby3

"We'll never sell it. Toss it in the pond."

pinnyhortensebaby2

pinnyangrywithhortense

Pinny handed me the baby, which lay inert in my arms, its eyes looking at nothing. Then she went outside to comfort her sister who, as soon as Pinny's arms were around her, burst into passionate tears. Yes, Calinda will stay, but I doubt Kitty will ever feel quite the same about a woman she had trusted as a second mother.

pinnycomfortskitty

The Rose is no longer mine. It is the Reckoners.

And I must work there.

I must greet customers, as always, make witty remarks, oversee the staff. "Grandmother says we could never do it without you," Jack Reckoner has told me. "I really can't imagine what she'd do if you refused." Then he chuckled. "You know what a temper the old girl has. I truly, truly can't imagine."

We are trapped. I have no money left to escape this island with my family. Madame Reckoner's light enticed me, we have smashed upon the rocks, and the wreckers have gathered up the pieces for themselves.

Yesterday, Pinny brought me a note she'd received from Artiste Macana. "How can I help?" is all it said.

"Do you want me to send it back?" she asked.

"Only if you wish it," I told her.

Jack Reckoner has oh-so-kindly allowed us the cottage. There is only one bed. My wife sleeps in it, with Pinny beside her. The baby sleeps in a cradle I've made from a box. Kitty and I make do with pallets on the floor.

Calinda sleeps outside.

"You will rise again, Papa," Pinny told me this evening, her hand on my shoulder. "You came from worse." I nodded. Do I believe it?

At the moment, I can love no one but my two daughters. Certainly none is left for the baby. Or for Hortense. My feelings for her are as dead as my hope.

*

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The Roselyns 5

Mar. 22nd, 2014 | 02:07 pm

July 1886

I now carry a sidearm, and I instructed Calinda that the girls could no longer be outside after sunset. Kitty was not happy about it. My little poet came to ask me why they could no longer play "under the light of the moon and the stars," and I explained to her that night air could be dangerous. She's a good daughter and she nodded gravely.

Andilerebukingkitty

So now, as soon as the sun begins to set, Pinny and Kitty hurry inside. It is a pity, but can't be helped.

girlsplayatsunset

girlsrunat sunset

September 1886

Wonderful news! My beautiful, darling wife is enciente. She came to me with her suspicions last week, and Dr. Teach has confirmed it. By next year at this time, if God is good to me, I will have a son!

thekiss

June 1887

Pinny has blossomed. She has her mother's face and voice, but untroubled and confident, everything Hortense could have been. It soothes me to watch her.

Pinnyasteenger

Especially since her mother is not doing well.

Hortenseeyes

My wife's moodiness has become exaggerated to the point where I fear for her health and that of my son. She was prone to melancholy in the past when pregnant, but I have never seen it so profound. Where before she would become sometimes sad to the point of somnolence, she now flies into rages that more than border on madness.

In addition to that, I had yet another encounter, this one even more sinister than the one by the canal.

This afternoon, while I was strolling in the public square, I met young Jack Reckoner, Ellen Reckoner's grandson. I don't know him well, and but what I've seen and heard, I have no high opinion of him. It is said he is very like Madame Reckoner in temperament and morals, and that he, rather than her weak son Thomas, is considered her heir.

This callow puppy informed me, smiling as though it were a perfectly ordinary comment, that Monsieur Tesange should be dismissed because "My grandmother's digestion has suffered."

oneofthereckoners

Perhaps with more emphasis than I should, I informed him that I had no intention of dismissing the best chef on the island, and that if his grandmother wished to enjoy his cooking, she is always welcome at The Rose. He responded by saying something about his family's "forebearance" regarding the use of the building (which I have bought and restored with my own money!) "My father was the man who had it built," he observed. "And while we are delighted with the manner in which you have run the business, we fear you may be under a misapprehension about our island traditions concerning ownership. It's natural for an outsider, of course, but still..."

My tongue got away from me. Thomas Reckoner is a nice fellow, but not clever, and his building the inn at the time he built it is widely regarded as yet another one of his badly thought-out business follies. This, I pointed out to Jack Reckoner, along with the fact that The Rose was legally purchased and is legally and undeniably mine.

argumentwithkidd

It did not please him.

kidddoesntlikeit

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The Roselyns 4b

Mar. 22nd, 2014 | 02:00 pm

March 1883

At last, I have all assembled for my life's work. The Rose is a reality, a fine building near the center of town, with convenient access to the wharf, a restaurant on the ground floor, rooms for travelers in the upper stories. It was originally built some ten years ago, when Madame Reckoner's son, Tom Reckoner, imagined Touperdu could compete with Hawaii and Louisiana as a source of sugar. A hurricane that wrecked the crop and is still talked about today scared away any investors, the hoped for customers never materialized, and the building feel into decline. Now I have restored its fortunes. Its time has come!

Therose


December 1884

This evening, Dr. Teach and I were conversing quietly in the library. Yes, Tuperdu has a library, the result of a shipwreck that netted our island an only slightly waterlogged selection of books on various subjects. Most of the volumes are highly practical tomes on manufacturing, agriculture, botany, animal husbandry, seamanship and (to my great joy) cookery. Teach and I often encounter each other there and are, in fact, its main patrons aside from the occasional Bonney, Reckoner and, every once in a great while, Monsieur Macana. As we were discussing an outbreak of Hatter poisoning on the eastern side of the island, he suddenly leaned forward and, looking over my shoulder, murmured "the Witch Duday."

So I glanced back and saw, striding past, Noelle, the woman who scrubs pots at The Rose.

thewitchdude

I had heard of the Witch Duday. The more ignorant -- and it is said, even some of those who should know better -- are convinced she has the ear of the Almighty or the Devil or quite possibly both. Her whole family is said to be "gifted," able to cast charms and curses, tell the future etc. I'd pictured someone along the lines of Marie LaVeau, dark, slender and glowering, and instead I see an excitable, stout blonde woman I'd long considered a bit ridiculous.

Some months ago, while looking out one of the upper windows into The Rose's kitchen yard, I saw her sanding a pot while two of the sous chefs conversed nearby. Suddenly she set the kettle she was working on down, stood up, and began talking quickly, apparently emphatically pacing up and down and gesturing, while the chefs paused and watched her. Sometimes she would apparently throw a comment her way, and I'd see them nod. Then, as apruptly as she'd begun, she returned to her pot, settle down and began scrubbing it vigourously, with the air of someone who had made her point. Later I asked Viktor, one of the chefs about it, and he rolled his eyes and laughed. "The French and their politics," he said.

But there in the library she had considerable dignity. I saw her disappear among the shelves and, very quietly, followed her, curious. She'd pulled out an old book and was reading it laboriously, her brow furrowed, her mouth moving, one finger moving slowly beneath the words. It was plainly difficult for her, but her intensity as she glared down at the page was impressive. Given where I come from, and how hard fought was my own education, who would I be to smile at her efforts?

April 1885

Kitty

How strange it is to watch infants grow into persons, from their pudgy sameness into individuals. Kitty now dashes about on her own two feet, talks, thinks, is a little girl rather than a baby. Her resemblance to her sister is remarkable except that her hair is a lighter color. She has the same striking dark-blue eyes, and while they share the same fondness for laughter and riddles, they are in spirit quite different, Pinny the practical older sister and hardworking little student, Kitty the dreamer, the child who loves to draw and paint and sing songs. As I had hoped, they are company for each other, constantly whispering together and making each other laugh.

pinnykittysharingjoke2

And in the evenings, it's Kitty who dashes about beneath the stars with Pinny.

Pinny and Kitty running

They love each other, my little girls. There is none of the rivalry I've seen among other brothers and sisters.

girlshugging

In truth, I have to say it's hard to imagine somebody NOT loving Kitty. She is not only a tender and affectionate little girl, she has wit. She's even been able to make her mother laugh, which is no easy feat.

makingHortenselaugh

September 1885

Things are going very well at The Rose. There are, of course, slow periods during the rainy season, but the amount of business we do when the weather is good quickly makes up for it. Between the food, the rooms, and the sales of our sauce, the building has already paid for itself.

But most exciting of all that Monsieur Tesange has gone from a hope, to a promise to a known quantity. At last I have convinced him to come on as our chef. He will continue to "do" occasionally for the Reckoners when they entertain, but his days hidden away in a private house are done.

Agreement

January 1886

The joys of wealth. For a man of my means, the racket of a house with two growing children need not be an inconvenience. A recently purchased stone cottage by a pond now serves as my office and refuge. My desk, my papers, and this journal are now there, along with a few bachelor necessities. Calinda comes in once a week to clean it.

cottage

July 1886

An unsettling encounter the other day, as I was taking a walk along one of the canals. A fellow sidled up to me, rather ragged and poorly dressed, plainly frightened and began talking very quickly and very quietly. I must be on my guard, he told me. Madame Reckoner was, he said, not at all pleased about my hiring of Tesange, and her displeasure could have very serious consequences. "People have lost everything" he said to me. "Or have had accidents, or simply been beaten. They have even simply disappeared. I implore you, monsieur, to take care."

warning

Even if what he says is true, Monsieur Tesange is now my employee, a vital asset to The Rose, and quite happy to be so. The restaurant is making more money than it ever has before, and a visiting merchant told me there is even talk about it in New Orleans. While I have been faithful, prompt and (I believe) quite reasonable in paying the kickbacks the Reckoners demand, I cannot allow myself to be bullied into breaking a contract, however informal.

Let us hope that the increase in business at The Rose resulting from Tesange's work there will mollify Madame Reckoner. I will double the amount I pay in that informal weekly "tax" her bully Lindquist picks up every Friday afternoon.

And, of course, I will be on my guard.

*
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The Roselyns 3

Mar. 6th, 2014 | 03:36 pm

March 1881

Monsieur Tesange and I went for our usual walk and had our usual talk. He is a clever man who understands business, so I believe he suspected what I was going to say, and once I'd begun, knew I had planned carefully what I would say to him. I knew he knew, but I was no less passionate once I began.

convincing2

And more important, I took care to show I had thought through things carefully. He already knows I am knowledgeable about food and its preparation. But am I knowledgable about how to run a restaurant? And can this new, struggling island village support one? I pointed out the number of birds of passage now coming through the island, the merchants and factors and other serious men of business who are forced to meet in the park, or hunched over tables at the noisy Death To Spotswood.

convincing3

He was won over, in part from my arguments,but also, I believe, because he is a man painfully aware that his own talents are being wasted as a private chef. I have not yet revealed all about my plans, but I was convincing enough about my competence and my intent to wrest a promise from him that, once I had more to offer, he would be a part of it.

May 1881

Calinda needs to keep a closer watch on Peony. She is impeccable about caring for Caterina, in fact, dotes on her, but as often happens with young girls caring for children, she has chosen Caterina as her favorite.

kalinda and kitty

As also frequently happens, both children, have been renamed by their nurse, which is only fair given that my eldest has renamed her "Calinda." Pronouncing Peony's name correctly has plainly defeated Calinda, so she is now "Pinny," while Caterina, inevitably, was first "Gatita" and now is simply "Kitty."

Calinda seems to feel that once she has cared for Kitty, she needn't bother with her sister and late this afternoon, while Calinda was preparing supper, a ragged little fellow slipped into the house as quietly and brazenly as a stray cat, and tiptoed up the stairs to where Pinny was bent over her schoolwork. Caterina was being noisy in her crib, but Pin is used to that. What made Pinny look up was the boy clapping his hands over his ears and letting out an oath he probably learned from his father. "What a racket!" he announced.

noisybaby

I don't know how long he conferred with her, but the lad is clever and engaging. His name, I've since learned, is Artiste, and in spite of his rather tattered appearance, he's quite intelligent and comes from a very well-off family on the island, the Macanas.

Peony and Marcus

His sire, I've been told, is a terrible old man and savage in every sense of the word. It is rumored that Macana bears tribal scars beneath his shirt, still has his (blooded) headsman's axe. It is not rumor but fact that he has utterly cowed everyone from his much younger wife, to his neighbors, to Constable Acorn. Even Ellen Reckoner is said to give him a wide berth.

Whatever his father may be, I confess, I like the boy, in spite of the fact that he incited Pinny to run outside before she'd completed her studies. He reminds me of myself at that age.

playingatnight

Which makes him, alas, no suitable companion for my daughter, as I explained to her once I'd sent him away.

The fact is, the girl is lonely. She needs a playmate her own age, and Kitty is still far too young.

September 1882

This evening I came home to find Hortense not in her usual place, either at her chessboard or on her sofa with a book. When I went upstairs, I found her in our room. Hiding. I knew immediately that something had happened that day, and had a good idea what it could be.

Afraid to come out

The last time had been some weeks ago. She had decided to take a walk in the park and had come upon Madame Thibodeux, whom I had always thought would be a good companion to Hortense, being about her age and temperament. The conversation started out well, but as always with Hortense, she was in fact becoming more and more nervous and self-conscious.

hortenseandfriend

And then, of course, she began to speak madness. I don't know what it was that time. Witchcraft, the stars being aligned improperly, voices whispering from the chiffarobe... Whatever it was it ended the conversation, and my poor wife was left ashamed and even more bereft of friends than she'd been before.

hortsenserants

This time, finding her upstairs in her room, I knew it had happened again, and after some gentle coaxing, I learned the truth from her.

Calinda has started a garden. A fine thing, and she plainly knows what she's doing. Hortense is always interested in gardening, and she watched, shyly at first from a distance, then drawing a bit closer.

Kalinda planting

She began asking questions that I am sure were quite intelligent, even managing to disarm Calinda to the point where they had a conversation -- highly unusual with Calinda, who is almost always silent with everyone except for Kitty.

hortenseKalinda

It's not clear what set it off. If it was clear, it would all not be so insane. Suddenly something angered Hortense. Perhaps she abruptly decided she was lowering herself to converse with a servant; perhaps she perceived an expression she interpreted as impertinent.

kalindaembarrassed

Neither Hortense nor Calinda will tell me what she said. I only know that it shocked Calinda, and Hortense's temper ran away with her, and she quite simply began to rant at the poor girl.

hortenseyellsatkalinda

And Calinda lost her own temper and snapped back.

kalindaangry

Neither has told me this, but I can gather that's what happened. What can I do? If I dismiss the girl, it will mean finding another servant who has to get used to Hortense's mood and diet, and one who might be more social and gossipy than Calinda. No, Calinda must stay. She and Hortense will have to make it up somehow.

In the meantime, I managed to get Hortense back downstairs. I asked Pinny if, instead of dashing outside, she might stay indoors and talk to her mother this evening, and she agreed with a gravity and kindness well beyond her years.

Hortense and peony

She even watched as her mother practiced on the chessboard, saying she wanted to figure out how it's played.

hortenseandchess

My poor wife. If people only knew how quickly and wholeheartedly she responds to simple kindness. If they only knew how clever, and how good she truly is.

Marriedlove

I think if she stays close to home and takes pleasure in her children and the simple duties of a wife, she will be happy. And someday soon, we will have a son.


*

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The Roselyns 2

Mar. 4th, 2014 | 09:00 am

1880

The Day After Arrival


trees

To reach Toutperdu, one's possessions and then oneself must be loaded onto a smaller craft more suitable for navigating the rough, rocky harbor. Fortunately, we had only three chests of clothes. Most of our furniture was sold in New Orleans, with a few pieces sent ahead for furnishing our new home. (The rest, tables, beds, etc., were puchased from Glaspell's on the island and were already in the house. They are, I am glad to say, quite suitable, and if they had not been it would be of no great moment. I am a wealthy man now, and can buy others.) I was both encouraged and alarmed by how crowded was the smaller boat. It pleases me to say that, in addition to some families, I saw a good many men of businesss apparently come to look over the island's prospects. One fellow was a sugar merchant, the other, more rough looking and friendly, a horn-handed builder, who told me had had come because they would be expanding the wharf on the harbor.

All those people, of course, frightened poor Hortense, who sat inside the large common cabin, very stiff and silent, on a bench near our chests, and kept her head down, her eyes practically closed, holding Catarina on her lap so tightly I feared the poor little mite would be hurt. Most people seeing her probably assumed she was ill from the movement of the boat. Peony sat next to her, looking about with huge eyes, but, unlike some of the other children, showing no inclination to leave her seat and wriggle through the crowds. I pushed my way out onto the deck to get a good look at the island, and managed, through judicious use of elbows and oaths, to get to the railing.

A wonderful wind in the face that smalled of salt, fish, earth, and mint, a rocky coast, and high up on the green sward over the gray and brown rocks, a few houses, all rolling past with an astonishing, exhilarating swiftness. I heard a woman shouting "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" and looked over my shoulder to see a stout blonde woman with a shawl thrown over her head, leaning so far over the railing I feared she would fall in. She was pointing at the rocks, at the grass, even at the sky, and shouting first in delight, then in horror, then in outrage. Ah, how green, how lovely! But the rocks, the rocks, they are too close! Surely the sailors are mad, surely they are pirates out to murder us all! Ah, look, how lovely, that house with the trees, all around it, surely it has a pretty little garden there too, and oh! That was too close, far, far, too close! Mathieu! Matheiu! You must SPEAK to those sailors, you must tell them we are too close...

toutperduhouses

Initially, her excitement infected us a bit, as we nervously observed just how close the boat edged around the rocks and cliffs, but after a minute or two her voice was merely another sound along with the waves, the wind, and the sea gulls. By the time we rounded the last outcropping of cliffs that brought the harbor into view, we were groaning and chuckling in admiration of the navigator's skill, and when the woman's voice rose into almost a shriek of amazement as the port hove into view, we all let out a roar of laughter and relief.

the port

The usual confusion of disembarking was exacerbated by the smallness of the current pier, and the sandy strand where we all gathered, quite close to an old beached ship that, judging from the smoke pouring from a nearby shack, is used as a sailor's eating place and tavern. Fortunately Constable Davey Acorn was as good a his word, and a horse, cart and driver were waiting for us as he'd promised in our correspondence. We got it loaded quickly. Hortense was as inert as one of our rolled carpets and had to be lifted up, but Peony climbed in cheerfully enough and even held onto her little sister for the comparatively short, bumpy ride to our house.

homeedit

It is fairly remote. The houses closest to Toutperdu's center are, after all, occupied by longtime residents. Newcomers, however well off, must make do further away. But it occupies a rise that overlooks the sea, and it is not so far away that getting supplies is difficult. It is also, I fear, ugly. Square, undecorative, a blight on the hillside. Hortense burst into tears as soon as it came into view. She walked straight upstairs to where our room was, lay down on the bed, and shut her eyes.

But the house is also spacious and clean. All of our furniture has been carefully chosen and arranged. The children have a large room at the top, and I look forward to the sound of clattering footsteps running up and down on the sturdy stairway. And while Hortense's insensibility at first brought me close to despair, the creature who appeared shortly at our door shortly after we arrived, Gabriela, appears to be a godsend.

Gabriela and Catarina

Gabriela Palmira, ugly, flatfaced, barefooted, apparently no more than fifteen, though she assured me she is older. She speaks the common patois of the island, a combination of Spanish and French, with the occasional English or Irish pronunciation thrown in. Odd-sounding, but musical and for someone used to the dialects of Louisiana, quite intelligible. Her reaction to everything from the carpets she helped unroll, to Peony, to the baby, (who she immediately picked up and dandled,) is to open her eyes wide in astonishment and exclaim "aaaaaah, QueLEEEEENDaaaaa!" The kitchen is quelinda. My books are quelinda. Even Hortense, lying pasty-faced and silent on her bed, is "quelinda" (though uttered in an awed whisper from the doorway.) The tiny room off the kitchen where she will sleep with its narrow cot and single candle is not "quelinda," but only because it sent her into such speechless raptures I feared she would collapse.

She will, however, be quite useful and a good addition to the household. Peony is still treating her with some suspicion, which seems to trouble Gabriela not one whit. On Tuesday morning, our first full day here, she helped Peony dress, muttering "quelinda" as she fastened the buttons and Peony turned around, looked hard at her and asked, "Is that your name?"

"No, Senorita. It is your frock."

Gabriela and Peony

"This is a kayleenda?" asked Peony, pointing at her dress.

"Si."

"Everything is a kayleenda?"

"Si." Gabriela raised one shoulder in a faintly amused shrug and turned away. "I must work. Go play," she said.

Since then Peony has insisted on calling her "Kayleenda" rather than Gabriela, and I suppose that is how it will be from here on.

Hortense, to my surprise, recovered to the extent of dressing herself and coming downstairs shortly before noon. She was hungry! Fresh sea air, untainted by the fumes of a large and dirty city, truly do work wonders.

Gabriela and Hortensev

She walked into the kitchen and instructed Gabriela to prepare her a meal of chopped vegetables and spices. (Hortense's physician has strictly forbidden any animal matter in her diet.) Immediately the girl got to work chopping and seasoning the vegetables already on hand in the pantry, while Hortense tried to explain to her why no shrimp, no pork, no meat of any kind could be included.

Gaby and Hortense2

Her surprise and pleasure when the girl simply turned and offered her a nicely prepared plate of exactly what she'd requested was gratifying.

Gaby and Hortense3

I saw none of the eye-rolling and elaborately mimed bafflement and disgust frequently encountered in the "old country" when a simple request is made for something without bacon, fish or shrimp.

It has been a week now, and we are all settling in. I have been spending my days walking about the island, getting to know it and its people. As I had been told, there is plenty to be had here in the way of natural resources. For a man interested in cuisine and its possibilities, it's an exciting place. I have no desire to run a plantation, but transforming the spices, fruits, fish and vegetables here into sauces, or managing their export to my friends in New Orleans, could be quite lucrative.

Among the people I have met here is Monsieur Raymond Tesange -- trained in some of the finest kitchens of New Orleans! He has been working as a chef in the house of Madame Reckoner's family. It will be a pleasure to have someone on the island to talk to about a subject so dear to my own heart.

Mr

Another friend I've made is young Dr. Teach, a third generation islander and a fellow of considerable wit and intelligence.

Dr

He welcomed me into his office and at one point pulled out a beautiful, heavy rock of an amazing bright red hue. It was, he explained, cinnabar, which can be found in the hills of the island. As we walked to the Death-to-Spotswood Tavern one afternoon, he pointed to distant smoke rising from the hills. "That's where they mine it for the mercury," he said. "A terrible business, terrible! The stuff is poison. But oh, how much money it brings in!"

So my days go. In the evening, I come home for a light supper with Hortense, then an evening of reading. On one of the first such nights, I was coming into the house and almost trampled by little Peony, who rushed past me and out onto the lawn. I was prepared to rebuke the girl, but when I saw her dashing about under the stars, I was glad.

Peony Running

Yes, the night air here is intoxicating. Here on the hill, no mosquitoes spoil the soft, almost velvety atmosphere. Let the girl run, I decided, and every night, after her own meal, she does. The sound of her laughter outside does me good.

Andi and Hortense reading

The little parlor of the house is a peaceful bubble for Hortense, a bit of New Orleans that we brought with us -- some handsome dark carpets, her favorite sofa and chairs. We sit together in happy silence, Hortense reading one of her fanciful novels, I reading books on natural flora, and of course, on cooking. So engrossed am I in my studies, that I stay up quite late, long after my wife, yawning, has made her way up to bed. So many ideas! So many plans! So much that I still have to learn!

Andile studies

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The Rise and Fall of Amadou Roselyn, Chapter 1

Mar. 3rd, 2014 | 08:18 am

AndileRoselyn

On this summer's day in 1880, I, Amadou Roselyn, begin my journal, writing slowly as the ship rocks like an enormous cradle. The Amber Cat approaches the shores of Toutperdu Isle, and, if the weather remains good, tomorrow we shall disembark and begin our new life. I am an optimist. Some day, I am certain, my sons will stride the busy streets of Toutperdu, and the name Roselyn will be known and respected. It is for their sakes, and the sake of their children, that I begin this record. I want no secrets in this family and no shame.

The name Roselyn was my mother's. I have no reason to believe she ever had the dignity of a surname, unless it be that of the creatures who bought and sold her. She plainly had memories of a home before the house where I was born, but she died when I was no more than six, so I know nothing. My given name, "Amadou", was, she once told Madame Eloise, the name of her father, a fact which would confirm our family's African origins, if my mother's soft features and coffee-colored skin had not already done so.

I, alas, did not inherit her looks. My sallow color, pinched features, and lanky hair mark me as the son of some nameless white man who had enough money and leisure to pay Madame Eloise. As for Madame, she was fond of my mother, as were most of the women there. That is why I was born, and why I remained in the house even after poor Roselyn had at last stopped coughing. There I was educated, taught to read, do sums, and -- most important of all -- cook.

New Orleans is a city of flesh, and where better to learn the art of searing, spicing, and stewing it? From the time I could walk I strove to become useful and amusing to those who had power over me. I calculated and studied and ingratiated myself and learned to transmute that ability into coins. Many, many coins. Enough so that my wife's father, one of the most high-nosed and vicious old vultures in the Quarter, was willing to accept a certain sum in exchange for Hortense's "hand in marriage."

Hortense Roselyn

She'd been presumed to be un-marriagable. Aside from her hue, rumor had it she was, "neurasthenic." In the mind of a man who, before the war, had begotten and sold his own children with barely a flicker of concern, this rendered his daughter not a fragile treasure to be all the more protected, but an encumbrance to be sold off to a man who was a stranger to her, an ugly fellow like me who worked in her father's kitchens.

I vowed to be more worthy than her father, and while we never so much as spoke two words to each other before we married, I have since then cared for my wife with all the zeal and affection of an ardent lover after a long engagement. Yes, her health is sometimes troubling. She is entirely too fanciful, too prone to moods. She still sometimes says things that disturb my rest.

Andilehasdoubts

But she has repaid me with her love and two daughters, and I have faith that, once she feels safe and comfortable in her new home, she will bear me the first of many sons.

It is partly for her sake, and the sake of my daughters that I come here. I first heard about Toutperdu from a poster on a wall on Broad. "Adventurous and prosperous men of color wanted!" it declared, and went on to announce the island as a place free of prejudice, where men of all races could settle with their families and invest. Intrigued, I wrote to the address listed at the bottom of the page, one Madame Ellen Reckoner, who replied with a frank, and detailed history of the isle.

Madame Reckoner

It was originally settled by people widely regarded as the refuse of civilization – pirates, runaway slaves, the occasional political and criminal fugitive. The dangerous currents and rocky coastline which gave the island its name also provided protection from pursuit, and any authorities who did succeed in landing were likely to face organized and savage resistance. At the same time, the inhabitants soon learned the safest way to enter the harbor, and smuggling became practically an avocation.

Several generations have now lived on Toutperdu, and there has arisen a desire for a higher level of civilization and respect. The island offers abundant gifts -- seafood is naturally plentiful, bananas, cocoanut and pineapple are abundant. Cane fields provide a lucrative trade in sugar, molasses and rum, and the now (mostly) law-abiding residents welcome and assist rather than repel ships edging into the harbor. There is a school, and even a library, and Madame Reckoner, (the Mayoress!) has observed with justifiable pride that every teachable child on the island learns to read and write before their eighth birthday.

Of course, I did not rely solely on Madame Reckoner's letter, but contacted a friend of mine, Rene Baldwin, at the Picayune, who knows such things. He confirmed most of the Mayoress had told me, adding wrecking to one of the islands industries. Baldwin laughed at the tales often told of wreckers, of lights let out to lure ships in, or even tied around the neck of a donkey to feign another ship moving on the horizon. "They'd be more likely to put lights out" he observed. But he did say it appeared to be true that survivors who made it to shore ended up living there the rest of their lives, willingly or not. How could they leave? It would be hard enough on their own, and the islanders welcomed new blood and had no interest in anyone leaving and telling tales. One legend has a slave ship coming to grief and of many Africans managing to break their chains and make it to shore. These escapees naturally became among the most loyal and fierce defenders of the island.

As for Madame Reckoner -- "Watch out for that old pirate," Baldwin warned. "I understand she and her family rule the island. If you move there, Mandy, try to keep that tongue of yours in check and stay on her good side."

I can do that, I am sure. I want my children to live in a place where their complexions will be no hindrance to their happiness. Peony is six now, the age where a child begins to look around and draw conclusions from the world.

Peony Roselyn

I do not want to see in her the fear that was instilled in her mother, poor Hortense's obsession with propriety, her consuming self-consciousness. Already I fear my little girl is lonely. I have not the time to spend with a daughter, and her mother is often too nervous to deal with her. The child spends too much time watching us, her eyes grave and perplexed. She needs to be in a place where she can occupy herself with childish joys, flowers, butterflies, other children.

lonely peony

It pleases me to think her baby sister, Caterina, will learn to speak on the island, and have little memory of the cruel city where she was born. Unlike Peony, she's a placid, cheerful little thing, waking or sleeping, and even Hortense can hold her without becoming uneasy and wanting to put her down.

Tomorrow -- our new world!

motherandchild
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The House (1964-71): Sonya Reconsiders

Feb. 13th, 2014 | 10:22 am

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