Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chapter Two: Monsieur Salley

Chapter 2
Monsieur Salley

October, 1876

Alcoholism having overcome Jean Charles, word of his desperate state began to circulate throughout his social circle. Finally, the gossip reached the ear of his childhood friend, Monsieur Michael Salley.

Lela read his letter, expressing concern for Jean Charles’ welfare. He planned to call on his friend within the next few weeks. She sighed as she replaced the letter in its envelope. She remembered him as a jolly man, having grown up with Jean Charles in St. Helena’s parish. However, she considered him to be rather chatty, gossiping just a bit too carelessly for her taste. In any case, she knew that he cared for Jean Charles.

Two weeks later, his carriage stopped in front of the Chevalier Mansion. Salley could not believe the condition of the house, clearly having fallen into disrepair. He feared what he may find inside as he ranged the bell.

“Who is it?” A gentle voice inquired from the other side.

It must be Lela, Jean Charles’ half sister, he thought to himself. It amazed him that she had stayed after all of these years, especially after the way Augustus treated her. Although a Negro, she was still his flesh and blood. He could never understand his mistreatment of her.


“Oui?” He could hear the lock turn.

“It is Michael Salley, Jean Charles’ friend from St. Helena’s.”

She opened the door. He found her to be still as lovely as ever. “Bienvenue, Monsieur Salley. Comment-allez vous?”

“ça va, Mademoiselle,” he greeted her as he entered the mansion, which appeared to be well kept. He could see that she had done her best to maintain the home. “How is Jean Charles?”

“Très mauvais, Monsieur.”

Neither of them said anything for a few moments. “Would you like to freshen up? Or perhaps, you would like something to eat?”

“No, Lela. Just take me to mon bon ami.”

“As you wish, Monsieur. Just prepare yourself… He is no longer our Jean Charles. Our Jean Charles is buried with Lily at La Rose.”

Salley nodded, acknowledging her warning as they began their journey down the hall. The atmosphere seemed to become thick with sorrow; however, he simply brushed it off as his imagination. Arriving at the library, she gave him a final, ‘brace yourself’ look, and then rapped firmly upon the door. There was no response.

“Are you sure that he is in there?” He already knew the answer to his question. After a few moments, she opened the door, allowing him to enter. “Aren’t you coming?”

“No, Monsieur. I will check on him later.” He watched as she closed the door, as if entombing him with the dead. Once the latch clicked, he surveyed the disheveled room, as if a bar fight, in fact, several bar fights had occurred there. Pictures hung at awkward angles, broken mirrors, broken glass strewn across the floor. “My God…”

Scanning the room, he could not find him. Finally, his eyes focused on the wing chair, turned towards the window. “Jean Charles?” Turning it around, he found no one. A wounded animal groaned. He looked down…

“Jean Charles! Man, what is the trouble?” Salley exclaimed. However he could not hear him, or anyone else for that matter, a subject of hell, overcome with alcohol. He lay on the floor covered in vomit, urine and excrement, his beard overgrown, appearing as a sixty year old.

Salley did not wish to touch him. It would probably do little good if he did. Compelled to flee, he ran from the room down the hall into the kitchen.

“Monsieur, what is wrong?” she asked startled. Salley was stark white, as if he had seen death.

“How long has he been like this, Lela?”

“Every since little Lily died, Monsieur. He does not wish to live.”

Slowly, his breathing normalized as his mind raced. What could be done for his friend? “Has a doctor called on him?”

“No Monsieur, I am afraid that there is not a doctor in New Orleans who is willing to treat him.”

“But why? How can they deny him medical attention?”

“He killed his physician.”

“He what?”

“He killed him,” she whispered. “Jean Charles awoke from his stupor during the examination. I think that he believed that the doctor was raping him. He grabbed the doctor’s scissors from the nightstand and plunged them directly into his heart, killing him. Next week, his murder trial begins.”

“My God!” He stood there in shock, surrendering to the hopelessness of the matter. “I think that I will take you up on your original offer, Lela. Please show me to my room, and bring up a tray for me, nothing heavy. I would like a drink, but after seeing my friend… well, I guess that I will just have some chamomile tea and rest for a few hours.”

“Oui, Monsieur.” She led him upstairs to his room, opening the door to a charming, tranquil environment, exquisitely appointed with everything he could possibly need or desire. She turned to leave.


“Yes, Monsieur Salley?”

“Thank you for being a good sister to Jean Charles. I can only imagine the hell that you must have endured with not only him, but with Monsieur Augustus as well.”

Lela, without even realizing it at first, welled with emotion, her face becoming wet with tears. No one had never actually verbalized the words ‘sister,’ to her other than Lily, acknowledging her as a legitimate member of the Chevalier family. She choked back a sob, nodded, and closed the door behind her.


The next day, Salley arose early to go to the court house. His old friend from St. Helena’s parish was chief justice for the Orleans Parish Criminal Court. They had enjoyed the holidays together nearly two years ago, while the judge visited his home in St. Helena’s.

Salley waited in the outer office while Judge Montpelier‘s secretary announced him. A few moments later, he came rushing into the reception area from his chambers.

“Michael! Old friend!” He shook his hand warmly. “It has been much too long! How are you?”

I am well Pierre, how are you?” Salley smiled as he returned his warm greeting.

“Très bien, mon ami! What brings you to New Orleans? Is Madame with you as well? Maybe you both could join ma Mari and me for dinner tonight at home…”

Salley interrupted him as he gently placed his hand upon the judge’s arm. “I am afraid that this is not a social visit.”

Montpelier noticed his change of heart as sadness descended upon his friend. “I see. Please, come into my chambers so that we may talk.”

Montpelier had done quite well for himself in New Orleans. He had recently been considered for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for the State of Louisiana. Although he did not receive the appointment, he still carried a great deal of clout and influence over judicial and legal matters in the state. Salley hoped that he could help their old friend.

“Would you care for a drink?”

“Oui, and you should pour one for yourself as well.”

“Vraiment?” Montpelier responded, now growing quite concerned. He returned to his desk, placing Salley’s drink before him. He extracted a choice cigar from the walnut humidor. “Would you like one?”

“Non, mon ami. Perhaps later.” Now he knew without a doubt that the manner was grave, indeed. He lit his cigar, taking a few puffs, waiting for his friend to begin.

“I am here on behalf of Jean Charles Chevalier, Pierre,” he said, after taking a few sips of his brandy.

“Jean Charles? What sort of trouble could he possibly be in?”

“Well, you are aware of the fact that he lost his wife and child this past year within a short period of time.”

“Lily and Cindy! You are kidding!” He collapsed back into his chair, resting his cigar in the ashtray. “I had not heard. No I did not know,” he sighed, disappointed that he had not kept up with his childhood friend.

“Well, I am afraid that the tale worsens from there. Did you hear of the fellow who stabbed his doctor to death?”

“Oh My Lord…”

“Yes, it was Jean Charles. Mad out of his mind, he awoke from his blackout during the doctor’s examination, believing himself under attack.”

“I have not… I mean…”

“What are you trying to say?” he asked, concerned.

“I have… I have Jean Charles’ case, next week in fact. I have not read the background on the case, as of yet. I did not know the name of the defendant,” he uttered, astonished and disturbed.

“I see,” Salley said, finishing his brandy.


Jean Charles Chevalier’s murder trial was the talk of New Orleans. From the start, the judge’s decisions baffled the press. For example, when the defense attorney requested for the case to be decided by the bench and not by jury as was customary, the judge agreed. Outraged, the State demanded a new judge. However the next morning, the prosecutor did not pursue the issue.

The trial lasted three days. The State presented its damning evidence. Dr. James’ widow wept on the stand, demanding justice, as she cried to the judge how Chevalier had robbed her of her one true love and of her livelihood.

The doctor’s Negro driver testified that while he waited in the carriage for Dr. James to complete his examination of Monsieur Chevalier, he heard screams coming from the house. He rushed in to find Chevalier in a fit of rage as his maid attempted to calm him. Jean Charles proceeded to strike the maid severely about the face, as Dr. James lay on the floor, bleeding to death. “Do you see this man in the courtroom?” the Prosecutor asked.

“Yessah. Dar he is, right dere,” the driver said as he pointed out Jean Charles.

The courtroom spectators chattered about Monsieur Chevalier, who appeared to be somewhat drunk, less than coherent, disheveled, unshaven and crazed. His maid sat beside him, patting his hand, attempting to keep him calm.

“And do you see his maid?”

“Why Yessah. Dar she is right next to him, pattin’ his hand.” The courtroom whispered amongst themselves as the judged sounded his gavel.

“I would like to call the defendant’s maid Lela to the stand.”

Whispers reverberated throughout the courtroom. “Who is this mulatto woman?” A man asked.

“Are they related?” Another lady inquired.

“Well, you can see a strong resemblance…” One of the ladies in the gallery commented as she approached the stand.

The bailiff swore her in. “State your name, please.”


“No last name?”

She hesitated for a moment. “Well, formally no. If required, I will use the name of my former master, Chevalier.”

“Well, this would probably account for one of those ‘required’ instances, would you not agree?”

She frowned at the man. “Lela Chevalier.”

“How long have you known the defendant?”

“Since I was a child, Monsieur,” she whispered.

“She said, ‘Since I was a child.’” The Prosecutor repeated for the benefit of the court. “Please speak louder so that the courtroom may hear your testimony.”

“Oui, Monsieur.”

“Please, speak English.” He really disliked New Orleans, with its hoity-toity nigga’s speaking French all of the time. Dammit, this is America. Speak English. “How is it that you have known Mr. Chevalier since childhood?”

“I was a slave on his father’s plantation,” she stated, somewhat embarrassed.

“Oh, I see. And you stayed with him after the war?”

“Yes Mon… Sir.”

“Why would you do that? Are they paying you to serve them?”

“I receive room and board, sometimes a small stipend.”

“But no salary. Am I correct?”

“No, sir.”

He regarded her closely. “Why are you so dedicated to the Chevalier family, Lela? They do not pay you. So why do you stay?”

“Well… Once the war ended, I did not have anywhere to go. They needed help, so I stayed. Jean Charles and his late wife were very kind to me.” She quelled her tears as she remembered the happy family. “Prior to the war, I left the plantation and moved to New Orleans with them, once Monsieur extended the offer.”

“I see. You are very well educated for a Negro woman, Lela. You speak very eloquently, better than many southern whites. Why is that?”

She squirmed a little; however, she maintained her composure. “Well, when Master Augustus sent his daughter Lily to France to complete her studies, I accompanied her as her maid. Lily taught me everything that she learned.”

“So, you never attended classes along with her?”

“I am not sure what you mean, Mon… Sir.”

“Sure you do, gal!” he sneered. “Is it not true that although he treated you poorly, Augustus Chevalier educated you in France along with his daughter, Lily?” A hush fell over the courtroom.


“Augustus Chevalier sent both of his daughters to France to be educated, n’est pas, Mademoiselle Chevalier?” he interrupted her, barely avoiding licking his lips at the revelation. “Are you not the illegitimate half-sister of Jean Charles Chevalier?” The courtroom broke out into gasps and clamor.

“Order! I will have order in this court this instant!” Judge Montpelier demanded.

“Le… Leave her alone! She has done nothing wrong! Leave her alone… Stop…” Somewhere from within the haze of his pain, Jean Charles realized that someone wished to shame to only person left in the world who cared about him. He stood up, incoherent. “Where are we Lela? What is going on? Where is Cindy? Lily? Lily!”

“Order! Counsel, if you do not calm your client…”

Lela, full of meekness and sorrow, looked to the bench. “Your Honor, may I attend to Monsieur? I will calm him,” she whispered so that the gallery could not hear.

He looked into her eyes, seeing the genuine compassion and love that she held for Jean Charles. She has grown into a beautiful woman, he thought to himself. Such a lovely flower. “Yes, my dear. You may go to him. Bailiff, escort Mr. Chevalier’s maid to the defense table.”

She rushed to her brother’s side. “Jean Charles, c’est Lela. Je suis ici.”

“Lela,” he replied desperately, as if awaking from a one hundred year slumber. “Ou sont Cindy et Lily? Sont-ils ici?”

Lela began to visibly weep. “Non, Monsieur. Je t’ai dit, ils sont mort.”

“Non! Ce n’est pas vrai! They are alive, they are not dead!” he desperately pleaded to convince Lela, as well as himself, hoping to change the reality of his life. “They may be at the park. Did you send someone to check?”

“Oui, Monsieur. I did,” she replied, weeping horribly.

His eyes stared into a time and place which no longer existed. “I bought a new doll for my Lily today. She will love it! It came all the way from Paris,” he smiled. “I am taking her to our family château this summer, her and Cindy… we may stay there forever… You may come if you like. Will you come with us, Lela?”

“If you like Monsieur, I will go.”

He became extremely excited, smiling and hugging Lela. “In Paris, we can be brother and sister, not master and slave! That would be nice, would it not Lela? We can be brother and sister…”

The court room fell completely silent, sadden and ashamed, beholding a man so full of love, but unable to share it with either the living or the dead due to invisible, unspoken barriers. Many of the women began to weep. He was completely lost.

Lela desired to take her brother in her arms and comfort him, but she would not, well aware of the repercussions. She patted his hand. “Monsieur, I am devoted to you. I will never leave you.”

“Merci, Lela,” he smiled. “Did cook churn some ice cream for Lily? She will want some once she returns from the park…”

“Oui Monsieur, she did. Mademoiselle will have her ice cream once she returns.”

“Bon! Bon…” Slowly, his face twisted as the memories of the unbelievable and the unacceptable consumed him. “Lily?”

Not one person in the courtroom uttered a word. The Prosecution rose. “The State rests,” he declared defeated. The defense rested their case as well.


Montpelier ruled Jean Charles not guilty due to mental insanity, enraging New Orleanians. The judge remanded him to his family estate in St. Helena’s Parish or the New Orleans mansion, whichever he chose, unable to leave without supervision.

At first, Salley and Lela believed that vigilantes would come to drag them all from the house and lynch them in the front yard. But it never happened and the people allowed them to be. Somehow, the whole matter went away, at least for them.

The doctor’s family packed up and left town.