Cajun History

Chita: A Memory of Last Island – 2.VI

 

“Chita:  A Memory of Last Island:  A Novelete” by Lafcadio Hearn
Originally published April 1888 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

 

 

Last Island, located in the Gulf of Mexico south of Dulac, Louisiana, was a popular resort for rich Southerners in the 1800s.
The Last Island Village included a resort hotel, several gambling establishments, and approximately one hundred houses.   In the Fall of 1856, a hurricane hit Last Island—not a building was left standing and over 200 people died in the storm.  Last Island and the hurricane are described in Lafcadio Hearn’s novella, Chita: A Memory of Last Island.

 

II. — OUT OF THE SEA’S STRENGTH

VI.

But it seemed fated that Feliu’s waif should never be identified;—diligent inquiry and printed announcements alike proved fruitless. Sea and sand had either hidden or effaced all the records of the little world they had engulfed: the annihilation of whole families, the extinction of races, had, in more than one instance, rendered vain all efforts to recognize the dead. It required the subtle perception of long intimacy to name remains tumefied and discolored by corruption and exposure, mangled and gnawed by fishes, by reptiles, and by birds;—it demanded the great courage of love to look upon the eyeless faces found sweltering in the blackness of cypress-shadows, under the low palmettoes of the swamps,—where gorged buzzards started from sleep, or cottonmouths uncoiled, hissing, at the coming of the searchers. And sometimes all who had loved the lost were themselves among the missing. The full roll-call of names could never be made out;—extraordinary mistakes were committed. Men whom the world deemed dead and buried came back, like ghosts,—to read their own epitaphs.

. . . . Almost at the same hour that Laroussel was questioning the child in Creole patois, another expedition, searching for bodies along the coast, discovered on the beach of a low islet famed as a haunt of pelicans, the corpse of a child. Some locks of bright hair still adhering to the skull, a string of red beads, a white muslin dress, a handkerchief broidered with the initials “A. B.,”—were secured as clews; and the little body was interred where it had been found.

And, several days before, Captain Hotard, of the relief-boat Estelle Brousseaux, had found, drifting in the open Gulf (latitude 26˚ 43′; longitude 88˚ 17′),—the corpse of a fair-haired woman, clinging to a table. The body was disfigured beyond recognition: even the slender bones of the hands had been stripped by the nibs of the sea-birds—except one finger, the third of the left, which seemed to have been protected by a ring of gold, as by a charm. Graven within the plain yellow circlet was a date,—”JUILLET—1851″; and the names,—”ADÈLE + JULIEN,”—separated by a cross. The Estelle carried coffins that day: most of them were already full; but there was one for Adèle.

Who was she?—who was her Julien? . . . . When the Estelle and many other vessels had discharged their ghastly cargoes;—when the bereaved of the land had assembled as hastily as they might for the duty of identification;—when memories were strained almost to madness in research of names, dates, incidents—for the evocation of dead words, resurrection of vanished days, recollection of dear promises,—then, in the confusion, it was believed and declared that the little corpse found on the pelican island was the daughter of the wearer of the wedding-ring: Adèle La Brierre, née Florane, wife of Dr. Julien La Brierre, of New Orleans, who was numbered with the missing.

And they brought dead Adèle back,—up shadowy river windings, over linked brightnesses of lake and lakelet, through many a green-glimmering bayou,—to the Creole city, and laid her to rest somewhere in the old Saint-Louis Cemetery. And upon the tablet recording her name were also graven the words:—

…………………

Aussi à la mémoire de

son mari,

JULIEN RAYMOND LA BRIÈRRE,

né à la paroisse St. Landry,

le 29 Mai; MDCCCXXVIII;

et de leur fille,

EULALIE,

agée de 4 ans et 5 mois,—

Qui tous périrent

dans la grande tempête qui

balaya L’Ile Dernière, le

10 Août, MDCCCLVI.

….. + …..

Priez pour eux!