This is Chapter Eighteen -- "The Vieux Carré"
The other stories in the "Wayfarers" series.
Features Brian Kinney, William Reynolds, Pierre Saint-Etienne,Berthe, Jean, Yves, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Reynolds prepares to introduce Brian into the Sporting Life in the French Quarter. New Orleans, November 1843.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
"Have you heard that William Reynolds is in town?" said one sporting gentleman to another when they met in front of the Cathedral in the Vieux Carré, the French Quarter of New Orleans, one sunny November afternoon in 1843.
"Reynolds, ay? I believe I missed him last season," the second gentleman replied, taking out a bejeweled snuffbox and dipping a pinch of snuff.
The first gentleman nodded. "He was working New York and Baltimore, I believe. I heard he had an excellent year."
"That man never has a bad season!" the other retorted. "They say he has sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for the cards always turning his way."
"Ha! That is a bargain I would consider myself, mon ami," the first gentleman laughed. "Reynolds this very morning was at the Café Royale... and he was accompanied by a most delightful young person."
The second gentleman frowned. "William Reynolds with a mistress? I don't believe that he would bother with such an extravagance, especially when New Orleans is full of first-rate brothels."
"Not a mistress, Yves," said the first gentleman, raising his eyebrows. "A Boy."
The second gentleman -- Yves -- sniffed as he took another pinch of the snuff. "I heard that story also, Jean. About the poker game with a beautiful Boy as the stake. It sounded so absurd, frankly, that I dismissed it out of hand."
"Well, it IS true," Jean insisted. "I saw Reynolds and the Boy this very morning breaking their fast at the Café Royale. There was no mistaking it. Every person in the place was staring at them -- which is obviously what Reynolds was intending in taking the Boy to the most fashionable café here in the Quarter. I know of no better way to announce that he is back in the city -- or to introduce his new amour to the demi-monde than to parade him at breakfast at the Royale! All of the mistresses were discussing this turn of events to the exclusion of all other topics. Mademoiselle Isabelle's new diamond broach was hardly even mentioned. She was furious!"
"So, tell me, Jean -- the Boy?" Yves prodded. "Well? What is your verdict?"
"You know me, Yves, I am one for women only," shrugged Jean. "However, if I were to find this pretty Boy had somehow found his way into my bed, I certainly would not put him out! I certainly would not!" The man grinned, showing a flashy golden tooth.
"Then I am anxious to get a look at him!" exclaimed Yves. He stroked his moustache thoughtfully. "Quite anxious, indeed. This could prove an interesting season."
Jean patted his friend's arm. "Be careful, mon ami. William Reynolds' quick temper is well-known. If you trifle with his Boy you may well find yourself looking down the wrong end of Monsieur Reynolds' pistol on the dueling field!"
"Oh, I plan only to look -- and not to touch, Jean," said Yves. "After all, I am not a complete fool!" And the two gentlemen laughed together and then headed down towards the Market.
"'I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
Traveling through this world alone.
But there's no sickness, toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go.
I'm going there to meet my mother,
She said she'd meet me when I come.
I'm only going over Jordan,
I'm only going over home.
I know dark clouds will gather 'round me,
I know my way is rough and steep;
And beautiful fields lie just before me,
Where God's redeemed their vigils keep.
I'm going there to meet my loved ones,
Gone on before me, one by one.
I'm only going over Jordan,
I'm only going over home.'"
William Reynolds was getting heartily sick of that doleful ditty. Brian had learned it from a deckhand on the 'White Queen' coming down the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans and had been singing it ever since. There was something about the little catch in the Boy's voice, just on the verge of changing, that made the hair on the back of the gambler's neck stand straight up. It was a sensation that he did not enjoy.
"Why don't you sing that little French song I taught you?" Reynolds instructed as he carefully shaved before going out for the evening. He was invited to dinner at Madame Benet's. Yvonne Benet was the mistress of one of the leaders of New Orleans society. She was a Free Woman of Color, from a long line of ladies of the demi-monde who lived in the Quarter and ruled cultural life there. Reynolds planned to introduce his ward at her home as soon as the Boy's new array of clothes was ready to wear. Brian had already been measured and fitted to within an inch of his life for a suitable wardrobe that he was certain to outgrow within six months. "You can sing that pretty song for the ladies when I take you to Madame Benet's salon. You would not want to be singing some ruffian tune you learned from a dirty boatman to elegant ladies, would you, Boy?"
"No, I wouldn't want to do that, I guess," Brian shrugged. To Brian a song was a song, wherever he learned it.
Reynolds smiled. "Then let me hear that little French ditty."
The Boy, who was in the middle of mending a tiny tear in his master's black silk waistcoat, sang:
"'Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment,
Chagrin d'amour dure la vie.
The joy of love is but a moment long,
The pain of love it lasts the whole life long.'"
Reynolds looked fondly at the Boy. The French words sounded quite charming with Brian's slightly Irish inflection. The ladies would indeed be pleased with his Boy.
But Brian stopped and frowned. "This song doesn't seem any happier than that other one I was singing."
Reynolds sighed. "Perhaps not, but pain is always more endurable when it's in another language. Especially when that language is French. Everything seems more endurable in the French tongue. Perhaps because it's the language of Love."
Brian grinned. "I thought you didn't believe in Love and such nonsense. That's what you always say."
"Perhaps," Reynolds replied, drying off his face. "But it would not do to proclaim such an ungallant belief in front of ladies who DO believe in such rot! Always remember to keep your true opinions to yourself, Boy, and tell people exactly what they want to hear." Reynolds looked up at Brian's open face. "Except for me, of course. You will always tell ME the perfect truth."
"Yes, sir," said Brian, setting aside the mended waistcoat. He walked over to where his master was standing and helped him into his blue velvet frock coat. Reynolds was having an identical one made for Brian in a smaller size and Brian could hardly wait for it to be ready. He had tried on his master's blue coat many times and admired himself in the looking glass. When his clothes were ready, Brian would attend Reynolds at the salons and casinos. He would finally see the beautiful rooms and the glamorous people he was learning so much about. Besides, Brian was mightily bored sitting in the hotel suite at night, practicing with his deck of cards.
Sometimes one of the hotel porters, an elderly mulatto who reminded Brian of Mr. Antoine on 'La Belle Helene,' sat with Brian and played cards with him while he awaited Reynolds' return. Ulysses knew many card games. He also knew a lot of stories about New Orleans and the bayou country around the city. Stories about conjuring women and haunts and spells. The Vieux Carré seemed a place steeped in magic. That gave Brian a delicious thrill. He had often watched Flora, the housekeeper at the Paradise, working over her potions, chanting and mumbling while she stirred the big kitchen pot. When she caught Brian peering at her she had threatened to spell him and that made the Boy take much more care not to be discovered watching her again.
"Don't stay up too late, Brian," Reynolds ordered as he slipped on his soft white gloves. "Tomorrow we have much to do. We must retrieve your new clothes and also visit the parfumeur on the Rue Dumaine."
"What's a parfumeur?" asked Brian. He didn't know that word. He was trying to learn, but there were many French words he did not recognize. Brian's French consisted mainly of curses, endearments, and vulgarisms that Reynolds had already warned him not to utter in public.
"The scent-maker, Boy. Monsieur Saint-Etienne has a the most exclusive perfume shop in the Quarter. He keeps a woman there who will blend the perfect fragrance for you. All of the ladies of the demi-monde go there for their mixtures."
Brian's eyes widened. "You mean a perfume just for me? And nobody else? How do they do it?"
"For you and you alone, Boy," Reynolds laughed. "You shall see." And then he went out for his evening's entertainment.
In the morning, after they had breakfasted on fried cakes powered with sugar in the Market, William Reynolds led his Boy to the Rue Dumaine to the Parfumerie de M. Saint-Etienne.
Pierre Saint-Etienne was a stout quadroon with a superior air. He was three-quarters white and lorded that fact over others of his race. Saint-Etienne's mother had been Freedwoman of famed beauty and Pierre had enjoyed a privileged upbringing. He had been educated in Paris and apprenticed by his father, a wealthy white planter, to a preeminent Parisian parfumeur. Upon his return to the city of his birth, Saint-Etienne had opened his own shop and met with great acclaim. But many people said that the true secret of his success was Berthe, a slavewoman from somewhere up country who he had heard about and spent a ridiculous amount of money to obtain. Some said that she was a conjure woman, or that she even used vodoun, a dark practice from the Islands that was strictly forbidden, to mix the perfect fragrance. Because no customer ever walked away from M. Saint-Etienne's shop displeased with their personal scent.
Reynolds introduced Brian to the parfumeur, who looked the Boy up and down, appraisingly. Monsieur Reynolds had bought some regular scents as gifts for ladies he wished to impress many times in the past, but he had never before requested a personal fragrance. This was something different. This Boy, who was obviously Reynolds' young paramour, was something quite special. Saint-Etienne enjoyed boys himself, although this one was obviously well out of his price range, not to mention out of his class and race. But the Boy was quite delectable just to gaze upon. He would definitely be a magnet for every boy-loving scoundrel in the Parish.
"I believe that we can prepare a scent quite to your satisfaction," said Saint-Etienne, beckoning Berthe forward. She was a tall, very dark woman with a strong, unsmiling face. She wore a white turban and a starched white apron over her blue calico dress. "Perhaps an hour, Monsieur Reynolds? If you will leave the young man, so?"
Reynolds glanced at Brian. He removed his gold watch from the pocket of his waistcoat and checked it. "I shall return in an hour. I have a number of errands to see to. Be good, Boy," he admonished. And then he went out the door, leaving Brian alone in this strange shop.
The tall woman led him into an adjoining room lined with many bottles on the high shelves and bunches of herbs hanging from the low ceiling. She pulled up a stool next to a table and motioned Brian to it. He sat, wondering if she was planning to spell him and how she would do it. Brian wasn't exactly afraid, but more troubled in his mind over his probable Fate. He wondered what it would feel like to be spelled.
While she bustled about the room, Brian took out a cinnamon cake that Reynolds had bought him in the Market. He had planned to save it for later, but he was always hungry, so Brian nibbled at the cake while he watched Berthe gather together a collection of bottles and place them on the wooden table.
"You never been to this town before, have you, Petit?" Berthe asked. Her voice was rich and throaty.
"No, ma'am. This is my first time."
"Well, you will come again here," she stated firmly. "But you be careful! This a place that gets hold of folks. Makes them do strange things. This a hot town and it makes folks all hot inside."
"Hot? Like... hot for Love?" asked the Boy. He stopped chewing his cake and licked his red lips.
"Hot for Love. For riches. For all manner of things. Things people want. Things people will kill to get. Like you, Petit."
"Me?" Brian replied. "Kill to get me? What do you mean?"
"Never you mind right now," she returned. "You will know soon enough."
Berthe arranged her bottles in front of the Boy. "For you, nothing flowery. Nothing heavy." The dark woman leaned over and sniffed the cinnamon cake in Brian's hand. "Yes. Exactly. Something sweet, to make the mouth water. A bit of vanilla. A touch of cinnamon. I think I know just what you need, Petit."
Berthe disappeared behind the print curtain, leaving Brian sitting on the stool in the annex of the shop, chewing thoughtfully on the remnants of his cake. The parfumerie seemed a confusion of odors, some heady, some a little sickening. New Orleans was so full of strange smells that it made the Boy long for the fresh air of the country upriver that they had passed through coming down on the 'White Queen.'
After a short while Berthe came out from behind the curtain. She was carrying a large glass bowl and an assortment of small vials, which she set down on the wooden table next to the other bottles. With her potions and containers of herbs she reminded Brian very much of Flora. He was certain that Flora was a witch -- that she had strong powers that she put into her concoctions and brews. This woman was a witch, too, just like Flora. Brian could feel it.
Berthe riveted the boy with her stern black eyes. "YOU have the Power, Boy," she rasped, as if reading his mind. She began pouring thick liquids into the glass bowl.
"Me? I don't have any Power," insisted Brian.
"Yes," she said, adding a light colored oil to the bowl. "But you do. It's a Power you don't know you have -- yet. But it's there. You already using it. You using it on that man that brung you in here."
"I don't understand what you mean," answered Brian. The skin on his arms was beginning to crawl into gooseflesh. He looked around nervously, wondering when Reynolds would come to collect him and take him away from this witch's house. Berthe stirred some crumbled herbs into the mixture.
"You will understand, Petit. You will." The woman placed the glass bowl filled with a viscous liquid directly in front of Brian. "And this will help you."
"Is that a... a spell potion?" asked Brian, his eyes large. "Like a... a love potion?"
"It might be," she laughed. "But only for the one who knows how to use it. Only for YOU, Petit." Berthe took a delicate glass wand in her hand and reached out towards Brian. She ran the wand over his brow and down his temple, catching a few drops of his nervous sweat on the smooth surface. Then she dipped the wand into the thick, amber-colored liquid and stirred it around, chanting something softly as she mixed the potion. "This is your essence. To bind the spell. That way it won't work for nobody else. Nobody but you."
"Work?" Brian swallowed. "Work how?"
"You work your magic, Boy. When a man falls under your spell, he falls for good. He spelled until he dead. THAT is your Power, Petit."
Brian was alarmed by these words. He didn't want to spell anybody. The idea frightened him. And he certainly didn't want to kill anybody with this so-called Power. "I don't think I want that Power, ma'am. Please take it away."
The dark woman laughed. "I can't take it away. That Power was already with you when you come in here. It always been there, maybe since you was born. It's your gift -- and your curse. So you better know how to use it well."
"Use it how?" asked Brian, now curious.
"Well, you could use it to do good -- or to make great mischief. You could use it to gain riches. You could use it to destroy. You could use it to get domination over men. Or you could use it to get Love. So you better be careful, Petit. You already using that Power, so use it wisely. Let me show you." Berthe took his hands in hers and chanted softly for a moment, closing her eyes. Then she opened them. "Ease off your blouse, Petit."
Brian unbuttoned his white shirt and shrugged it off his shoulders.
"Now, open up your front there."
Brian frowned. "You mean my britches?"
"Just the top," Berthe commanded. "Do what I say."
Brian hesitated. But it didn't do any good to disobey a witch, he thought. So he undid the top buttons of his fly. The woman gazed at his body approvingly, while Brian squirmed under her scrutiny. Then she took the glass wand and dipped it into the amber potion. It smelled strongly of vanilla and cinnamon, with some darker note underneath, like the batter of a sinister confection. "Find where your heart beats in the points of your body. That's the place where your Power starts." She touched the wand lightly at the hollow of Brian's throat. Then lightly behind each pink ear where the vein throbbed. Then she turned his wrists up, one by one, and touched the scented wand at the base of each hand. "The blood will send the perfume all through your body. The heat of your blood will make the spell work strong."
Brian stared. The scent of vanilla and cinnamon suffused the room. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. It's working now. Working strong." Berthe dipped the wand back in the glass bowl. Then she trailed it lightly down Brian's bare stomach until she stopped just short of the base of his peg, which gave a strong twitch at the sensation. "See? The Power at work!" Brian flushed bright red, but the dark woman laughed. "You can put your blouse back on, Petit. That man will be back very soon. He hears the call of that spell and he'll be running back here any time now." Then she carried the glass bowl into the back of the shop.
Sure enough, a short while later the door of the shop opened and Reynolds strode in. He was carrying a small package wrapped in brown paper. The woman reappeared from behind the curtain. "I have your mixture. I was just bottling it up for you, Monsieur. Why don't you sample it?" She glanced at Brian and lifted her wrist slightly, gesturing to the Boy. Then she disappeared again.
Brian held his hand out and turned the inside of his wrist up to Reynolds. The man bent down and sniffed. "Hmm. You smell good enough to eat and that is a fact!"
"That's what the lady said. She said this perfume was for me and no one else!" Brian stated proudly.
Berthe came out of the back room with five small dark bottles in her hand, Saint-Etienne following after her, grinning. The woman placed the bottles in a small basket and covered them with a square of white cloth. "When you need more, Monsieur, send word and we will direct them to you wherever you are." She handed the basket into Brian's keeping.
William Reynolds smiled. "Make sure you write down the correct formula, Mademoiselle Berthe. I like this scent on the Boy."
The dark woman snorted. "I don't write. I KNOW! Just send word -- that you wish for the scent for 'le Beau.' For the Beautiful Boy. I won't make a mistake. I never make a mistake, Monsieur." She smiled and Pierre Saint-Etienne nodded in assent.
"I shall remember that then." Reynolds took out his purse and paid Monsieur Saint-Etienne with silver, adding some extra as a gratuity for the female. He was very pleased with the scent the woman had mixed for his Boy. It made his mouth water, like he was tasting something sweet and rich on his tongue. It was exactly what he had in mind for Brian.
In the brown paper wrapping Reynolds had a little present that he had obtained from the jeweler at the end of the street -- a small, but quite fine diamond earring. A Fancy woman, the black mistress of another sporting man on the 'White Queen' coming down to New Orleans, had pierced the Boy's left ear and given him a golden stud to wear in it. But Reynolds thought something a bit more elegant would go better with the new suits Brian would wear in the salons and to the casinos, where he would accompany the gambler and begin the true learning of his trade.
William Reynolds had been planning to stop by the tailor shop on Chartres and pick up some of Brian's new garments, but now he thought it might be better to send one of the hotel porters to fetch the clothes. Because Reynolds had a sudden and overpowering urge to take his Boy directly back to the hotel. Yes, he had been neglecting Brian lately and the pricey gift should smooth a few ruffled feathers. He wanted to see what the diamond looked like in the Boy's ear. He could almost feel the warmth of Brian's delicate pink ear against his lips. Reynolds felt his prick stir strongly in his fawn trousers. The desire was rising in the man and the hotel was a bit of a walk away.
As the gambler rushed his Boy from the perfume shop, he could hear the dark woman laughing behind him. Laughing in a way that made him hot and cold all at the same time. Reynolds looked over at Brian, as he pulled him along the street. The Boy was smiling. Smiling very knowingly. Brian lifted his wrist and sniffed himself, feeling his own Power begin to take hold.
Continue on to "The Daguerreotype".
©Gaedhal, December 2003.
Posted December 9, 2003.