Saturday, September 17, 2011

Samedi: Ghostly Tales

I hope everyone is ready for another haunted tale because I’ve been eager to tell this one all week.

The story is set in a charming townhouse on Rue Royal which was built during the Spanish era.  It was the “in town” home of a wealthy Creole family in the first decade of the 19th century and the handsome young man who inherited with the death of his father was the most eligible bachelor in New Orleans.

He remained a bachelor, rumor had it, because of the dazzling beauty and undeniable charm of his quadroon mistress whose name I have heard given alternatively as either Colette or Guimauve (which rather amusingly means “marshmallow” in French).  Guimauve was vain and haughty, but the young heir was cruel and enjoyed playing with her emotions by coming home periodically with the announcement that he had at last found the perfect Creole bride.

Finally Guimauve put her foot down and demanded that her man put up or shut up.  She was very light skinned and could easily pass for white, she reminded him.  Therefore she would no longer consort with him until he agreed to rip her name from the “colored” baptismal book at St. Louis Cathedral, marry her and call her his Creole bride.

The young man thought for a while.  Marriage between white and black persons was not just forbidden but illegal.  If Guimauve’s scheme was found out they would both suffer dire consequences.  He pondered his mistress’ demands while growing more and more frustrated – on more than one front – by the day.  Finally he thought of his own solution and approached Guimauve with a deal.

This was not long after the dramatic volcanic eruption at Krakataua.  Though no one in most of the world knew exactly why, volcanic ash caused a dramatic cooling of the climate that made even tropical areas decidedly less comfortable, particularly in winter.  The young man used the unusual cold to his advantage and told his mistress that if she would but spend a night on his townhouse’s rooftop completely nude, he would meet all her demands.

It was December, with three candles already lit on the Advent wreath, and temperatures dropping so low that snow had sprinkled New Orleans a week before.     Guimauve, both determined and proud, did not stop to consider these facts when she took her lover’s challenge.  The following night she ascended four flights of wrought iron stairs, set up a chair and a lamp on the roof and dropped her gown and small clothes to the floor. 

She sat completely naked in the chair for hours, her teeth chattering and her long fingers gripping her arms.  The bitter cold grew worse and worse.  Guimauve’s lantern was blown out by the wind.  Her hands and feet and lips turned blue and finally, as dawn just nudged the east, beautiful, haughty Guimauve breathed her last.

Her lover had triumphed.  Whether or not he felt remorse is never mentioned in the story but only days after Guimauve went to the grave he married a fourteen year old Creole girl who would give him a nursery full of children. 

All that success not withstanding, Guimauve with typical determination returned.  Her baleful but beautiful ghost in all its naked splendor walked the roof of the family’s townhouse each year from the first day of Advent to the last.  It was said that when a member of the family saw her, they caught a chill and died.  Perhaps Guimauve had her revenge after all.

Although the family no longer owns the house on Rue Royal, the beautiful quadroon is seen to this day.  She walks the rooftop naked, lit by a single lantern and as frightening as she is seductive.  The story goes that you can see her bones right through her charming flesh.  Bon Samedi ~

Header: Gailestis by Aubrey Beardsley c 1895 via Old Paint


Timmy! said...

Beautiful, naked female ghosts are the best kind, I find, Pauline...

Pauline said...

It's a popular theme around the world, I find.