I did not find her. They had disappeared from the face of the earth. I went to the river boats and to the quay but got no answers. His house had been closed. I looked for his servant who had gone as well, and then I looked for the Frenchman. I finally found him, drunk and penniless in a saloon, caked in the mud of the streets and his own urine. He couldn’t talk or stand, much less recognize me, and so I took him to his miserable lodgings and watched for three days while he shook and trembled and screamed for brandy.
‘It’s you, my girl,’ he said when he finally awoke. He was lying on his filthy pallet, one eye open, the other crusted with tears.
‘Where is he?’ I sank to my knees by his side.
‘The devil only knows,’ he said after a while.
‘What happened to her?’ I asked, but he wouldn’t tell me. Finally he saw that I wasn’t going to leave, and he said, ‘Where she is, no one can help her.’
‘Where?’ I shook him, ‘tell me, where is she?’
‘She’s with the Virginian.’
‘With Percy?’ He must have heard the relief in my voice because he looked at me and knew that I hadn’t understood yet.
‘The blackguard sold her. He sold her to the Virginian.’ He turned his back to me and I could hear his muffled sobs, and I knew he had been part of it, but somehow that Devil had betrayed him too. I left a few coins by his bed and departed.
The money was in a sack under my skirts when I got on the boat, though the blacksmith and his wife had warned me not to go. ‘You free here, on dat man land you still slave. Why he sell her back to you, when he be rich enough to buy ten of her?’ they asked, but I could not let her go. I sailed up the river and walked down the allee where we had landed so long ago. But when I got there, the house was dark and everything was still and hushed. I went around to the back and knocked and the cook let me in. She was a formidable woman in size and manner, and when she looked at me I thought I would blow away in a puff of smoke. But when she recognized me, she took me by the arm and sat me down and gave me a cup of buttermilk to drink.
‘Mr. Percy, he real bad. He don’ come out of him room fo’ days now. Him man say he have fever and he sunk real low,’ she said.
‘Is she here?’ I said in a small voice, knowing that I was too late.
‘She die, honey. She done kilt herself.’
I sobbed and sobbed and that woman rubbed my back and held me, and then she took me by the hand and led me to the place where they put Marie into the ground, where I stood for a long time thinking about what had happened.
When I got back, the blacksmith said that he had word that the Frenchman had been making inquiries about me. I went to his lodgings but found him at a nearby tavern. He was about to disappear into a haze of forgetfulness and only by repeating my name over and over again and that of Marie and that Devil’s was I able to jar him.
‘I know who you are, ‘ he said, ‘and I know where he is,’ he held his finger to the side of his nose and laughed.
‘Where is he? I insisted.
‘I’ll take you there,’ he said, reeling out into the street. I followed close behind until we came to a fine house.
‘What is he doing there?’ I asked doubtfully.
‘He’s playing a big game. With the money he made off her.’ Staggering away, he fell in the street, but I was transfixed by the house, and when I looked over, he was gone.
I waited all day and night and into the next morning. My heart was thundering when he emerged, and I followed him a way because he was on foot. He was buoyant, and I knew he had won the pot. I followed him to a shipping office and waited outside until he concluded his business. I was certain that he was going away now that he had gotten what he wanted.
I waylaid him when he came out. I could see he was surprised, but then that old look overcame him, and I knew he meant to twist me and use me to his advantage.
‘She dead, you know. Suicidee,’ I said the word in French, but he understood me. ‘But you kill her with your cruelty.’
He brushed past me as if I wasn’t there. I trotted after him, and when we were clear of the docks and people, he grabbed my arm and pulled me into an alley. He pressed his body into mine and held me tightly against the wall. He nuzzled my neck, but I turned my face away.
‘I’m leaving, come with me now. I’m rich, and soon I’ll be even richer.’
‘You just want her money. When I go with you, you take her money and get rid of me just like you get rid of her,’ I said. He saw his power over me had faded and looked at me mockingly.
‘You kill the Congo woman,’ I said.
‘She was about to curse me,’ he spat.
‘She don’t need to curse you. You already curse. Everything you do, evil. Everything you touch turn bad. Your baby dead,’ I lied.
‘Well, what’s it to me,’ he growled, turning away from me.
‘You not a man. You not human!’ I shouted after him, but he had gone and did not hear me. I heard he left New Orleans shortly thereafter, and I never saw him again.