People wonder about the transformation of Jean Marie Poquelin. He had been a gregarious, successful indigo planter, but his gambling led to the loss of his fortune and all but one slave, and indigo ceased to be a profitable crop. In an effort to recoup his fortune, Poquelin turned to smuggling and the slave trade. However, there, too, success eluded him: His last voyage to Africa ended in disaster, and he came home one night without his ship or his cargo.
He also returned without his younger brother, Jacques, who had insisted on going along, and people wonder about this circumstance, too. Poquelin was devoted to Jacques, always praising his bookish brother’s learning and intelligence, but Poquelin also is known for his bad temper. Did he murder Jacques in a fit of rage?
No one knows, and no one asks. The once proud estate decays, its fields reverting to marsh. Dwarf palmettos grow up as a fence around the property; in the canal alligators crawl, and in the brackish ponds snakes lurk beneath the carpet of water plants. Strange stories, like the strange flora, grow up about the house: At sunset all the windows are reputed to turn blood red; beneath the front door there is rumored to be a bottomless well to receive unwelcome visitors—and no visitor is welcome. Only an occasional hardy schoolboy ventures near to watch Jean Poquelin being rowed by his one remaining slave, an old mute.
With time, though, developers come. They want to drain the marsh, fill in the canal, and run streets through Poquelin’s property. The new American government will pay Poquelin for this land, which it wants in order to provide housing for the influx of Yankee immigrants.
Poquelin, however, does not want anyone encroaching on his property. He goes first to the governor and then to the municipal authorities, where, with growing irritation, he insists on his right to keep his land, but the official is adamant. Finally...
(The entire section is 794 words.)