Cajun folktale about a beautiful girl who has the misfortune of choosing a real devilish mate. Written and told by J.J. Reneaux.
Table of contents
Marie Jolie – Audio Story
Down in the bayou country there was once a beautiful girl named Marie. She was so pretty, so jolie, that all the people called her Marie Jolie. She was as sweet as sugar cane, but if you did her wrong, look out, for that girl could show a temper as hot as cayenne pepper!
Now Marie Jolie grew to be of a marrying age, but to her maman’s disappointment, she wasn’t yet of a mind to be married. First, she wanted to have adventures and see the big world, so she found something wrong with every young man who came to court her. This one was too short; that one was too tall; the next one had the ears of an elephant.
After a while her maman got impatient with Marie, for she worried that her daughter would wind up an old maid – a terrible fate in those days. So Maman says, “Marie Jolie, it is time for you to take a husband. You can’t pick one to suit you, so me, I’m gonna do it for you. We gonna have us a contest. You see this pumpkin? I’m gonna get M’su Carencro, the buzzard, to put it on the highest little skinniest branch of that big cypress tree out there in the swamp. Chère, the man that can fetch that pumpkin down without fallin’ in the water is gonna be your husband!”
“Well, Maman,” says Marie, “if it’s got to be, I s’pose – that’s as good a way as any of choosin’ a man.”
The contest was held the following week. Men came from parishes far and near, each one more eager than the next to win the hand of Marie Jolie. But one, a tall, dark, handsome man, stood out from the crowd. “Ooh, Maman,” says Marie, “I hope he gets the pumpkin! He’s a good-lookin’ devil for true.”
One after the other, the men tried to climb the great cypress, but they all ended up spitting swamp water. At last the good lookin’ stranger’s turn came. Quick as lightnin’, he scaled that tree like a cat, snatched the pumpkin, and landed with his boots on dry land. Before she knew it, Marie Jolie was a married woman!
She climbed proud as could be into her husband’s wagon, and they started driving down the road. It wasn’t long, however, before she noticed that things were getting strange. The path was growing darker and darker, and her new husband uglier and uglier.
Suddenly, a fearsome man appeared beside the path. “Gimme my tie and collar which I lent ya!” he calls out. Marie’s husband took off the tie and collar. “Here, then,” he says, “take back your ol’ tie and collar.”
A little farther down the road, they met another man. He says, “Gimme back my coat which I lent ya!” “Take your ol’ coat,” says her husband.
Yet a third man appeared and demanded his trousers; a fourth demanded his hat. A little while later, her husband stopped the wagon, disappeared briefly into the swamp woods, and returned just as well dressed as before!
Finally, a fifth man, fiercer than all the others together, his face hidden in the shadow of his tall hat, appeared before them and pointed a long, bony finger. “Give me the horses which I lent ya!” he roars. “Go to the devil, then,” says her husband with a wicked laugh, “and take your ol’ horses with ya.”
He watched as the man led the animals away, then he turned to his wife and hissed, “Girl, get down and hitch ya’self to the wagon and pull us home !” Marie Jolie could feel her temper rising. She was gonna tell him a thing or two! But a terrible change had come over her husband. His icy glare and ugly scowl frightened her. She thought she had better do as he said at least for a little while. She climbed down, hitched herself to the wagon, and began to pull with all her strength.
At last they arrived at her husband’s cabane. It was a gloomy lookin’ place, set way back in the swamp woods. “Marie Jolie,” says her husband, “I must leave. While I am gone, you will stay here and see no one. My maman will take good care of you ” And he disappeared in a burst of flames and smoke.
Marie was scared for true. She begged her new momma-in-law, “Please, Belle-Megrave, tell me why my husband is so strange.”
Belle-Megrave, who was a kind woman at heart and felt worse than anybody about how her son had turned out, sadly shook her head. “Oh, chère fille, ” she says, “you’ve made a terrible match. You have gone and married M’su Diable, the devil himself!”
Marie couldn’t believe her ears. “Old woman, you are only jealous. You just want to break up my marriage.”
“You do not believe me, p’tite fille? Come with me,” the old woman whispered. She led Marie Jolie inside the house to a secret door. She unlocked it with a big brass key and the heavy door creaked open. There, inside that dim room, Marie saw the devil’s other wives – each one hanging from a hook!
Now Marie Jolie knew the truth. “Oh, please, Belle- Mère,” she cried, “you gotta tell me how I can escape! How can I get out of here?”
“Girl, do you not see what became of the others who tried to escape? Stay with me, little one, I will keep you company and ease your suffering,” Belle-Megrave pleaded. “Do not bring down the terrible wrath of my son, the devil!”
But Marie Jolie was growing angry, and in her anger she grew bold. “No,” she insisted, “I will not be the devil’s wife! If you won’t help me escape, then I’ll find a way on my own.”
Belle-Megrave sighed. “The devil knows many tricks. He can change into fire and smoke and ride the wind. You cannot outrun him, but maybe if you are brave enough you can outsmart him. Even the devil cannot defeat a strong heart. But if your courage fails, he will destroy you.”
Marie was determined. “My heart is strong and my mind is made up,” she said. “M’su Diable will not destroy me.”
“All right then,” says Belle-Megrave, “here is what you must do. M’su Diable will return in the deepest night, at three o’clock, the soul’s hour. He hates dawn and the rising sun. In its light he cannot hide his true self, so he sleeps. His spy, Gaime, the rooster, keeps watch. If he catches you tryin’ to escape, he will crow. Tonight you must feed Gaime three bags of corn instead of one, so that he will oversleep. At sunrise, go and gather six dirty eggs. They will protect you. Do not take the clean eggs, for they are bad luck. Then, chère, run as quick-quick as you can away from this place!”
Marie did as she was told. Rooster overslept and she got the six dirty eggs. She tiptoed out, soft-soft, but the gate hinge squeaked and Gaime woke up crowin’ full-throat. “M’su Diable, M’su Diable, wake up! Vite-vite! Your wife is gettin’ away!”
Marie ran for her life as M’su Diable came screaming after her. She had not gone far when she turned and saw a cloud of smoke and fire approaching. She took one dirty egg and threw it over her shoulder. Boom! It exploded right in the devil’s path, and a fence of wood as high and wide as the eye could see sprang up. M’su Diable snorted and stomped in fury and flew back to his cabane. When he returned, he had his magic golden axe. The axe chopped through the fence at once, and the devil was again hot on the trail of his runaway wife.
Marie grabbed a second dirty egg and heaved it straight at the devil. Crack! It flashed like a bolt of lightning, and a fence of brick sprang up as high and wide as the eye could see. The devil cursed and spat, and his magic axe smashed the brick to splinters.
Marie took aim and flung the third dirty egg. It shattered like thunder, and a fence of stone sprang up as high and wide as the eye could see. The devil shrieked and set his axe to ripping through the wall, and soon the cloud of fire and smoke again threatened to destroy her.
Marie took the fourth egg and hurled it through the air. The earth shook with its force, and a fence of iron sprang up as high and wide as the eye could see. But it, too, was little trouble for M’su Diable’s fearsome magic.
Marie ran as fast as she could, but M’su Diable was almost upon her. She grabbed the fifth egg and pitched it straight into the fireball behind her. A wall of flames roared to the sky, and a deep bayou appeared before the devil. The water stopped him cold. But suddenly a great gust of wind blew the evil cloud of smoke and fire over the bayou, and the waters began to boil.
Marie’s blood ran cold as ice when she looked back this time. For M’su Diable had dropped his disguise, and now she saw the ol’ devil himself as he truly is. His forked tail whipped wildly about, his cloven hooves raised clouds of dust, and his goat beard flapped wickedly in the wind. The bright sun glinted off his sharp, curved horns, and his beady eyes burned like hot coals. Crusty red scales covered his body. For true, M’su Diable looked a whole lot like a boiled crawfish!
Only one dirty egg remained, and Marie threw it with her last ounce of strength. But her hand trembled so that she completely missed her mark. The egg fell at her own two feet and exploded. The earth rumbled and cracked. A mighty river came rolling by. It was the Mississippi! Marie was trapped. How could she ever swim such a wide, dangerous river?
But wait – wasn’t that ol’ Grandmaman Cocodrie sunning herself out there in the shallows? Marie cried out to the alligator, “Je vous en prie, Grandmaman, traver-sez-moi. Sauvez ma vie! Aidez-moi, vieille Grandmaman! I beg you, carry me across. Save my life. Help me, old Grandmother!”
Grandmaman Cocodrie, always on the lookout for an easy meal, swam up to Marie without a moment’s hesitation. “Maybe I will carry you across,” she growled. “But tell me, what makes you think I won’t eat you up?”
“Grandmaman,” says Marie, “I’d rather be your supper than be the devil’s wife!”
“Climb on my back, p’tite fille, I like your courage!” says the old cocodrie, and she carried Marie quickly and safely to the other side.
Just then, M’su Diable came running up to the bank. In his most charming voice he called out, “Traversez-moi, Grandmaman, traversez-moi! Belie, belie cocodrie! Carry me across, old Grandmother, carry me across! Beautiful, beautiful alligator!”
“Climb on my back, M’su, I’ll give you a ride for sure,” says ol’ Alligator with a snap of her jaws. M’su Diable stepped onto her scaly back, holding his forked tail out of the muddy water, while Grandmother Alligator swam out into the deep river.
Things were looking awfully bad for Marie, with M’su Diable closing in on her. But, if there was anything that Grandmaman Cocodrie hated, it was a mean ol’ devil on her back, and suddenly, way out there where the water was swiftest and darkest, she dived. M’su Diable didn’t have a snowball’s chance in August. M’su Diable, of course, can’t swim a lick – not much water down where he comes from. The 0l’ Muddy took that devil kickin’ and sputterin’ all the way downstream to New Orleans. Some say he washed up in the French Quarter, right smack dab in the middle of Bourbon Street, but then, that’s another story altogether.
As for Marie Jolie, she lived to be une très vieille femme, a very old woman. She had many adventures before her black hair turned snow-white. People called her Marie Esprit, the spirited one. When they asked why she never married again, she’d just smile and say, “You know, chère, once you been married to one devil, there’s no need to go out and look for another one!”
– THE END –
Where Did This Story Come From?
Storyteller J.J. Reneaux:
“This is my all time favorite story. I heard the skeleton of the tale from my grandmother. The interpretation is my own, however, a combination of personal experiences and the stories passed down by several generations of grandmothers and aunts.
As a young woman, I worked for an oil seismograph crew along stretches of the Mississippi River. Sometimes when the sun was just coming up on the levee and fog lay like a shroud over the water, I thought I could hear Marie in the distance calling ol’ Grandmaman Alligator. Even though I knew it was only my imagination, I’d get a shiver down my spine, and I’d just have to look over my shoulder to make sure ol’ M’su Diable wasn’t behind me!
All of (my) stories derive from my life and experience. I heard most of them firsthand from family, neighbors, and friends in Louisiana and Southeast Texas. They were related in many different places on as many different occasions : fishing trips, fish frys, neighborhoodfais-dodos school playgrounds, holiday gatherings, the old ladies’ café au lait-sippin’ hen parties. Others I collected over the years from Cajun friends and acquaintances, not only in Louisiana but across the country as well, in the most varied of locations – airports, dances, nursing homes, schools. Young people usually told the stories in English, spicing them with a smattering of Cajun French. Older raconteurs often spoke in their beloved Cajun French, occasionally in Black French.
Like any good raconteur, I have told the tales for true as I heard them, but added personal touches, twists, and turns as the stories grew to be a natural part of my own life. For me, these tales are not museum pieces whose time was and is no more. They are alive and vigorous, brimming with joie de vivre – the zest for life that is the essence of Cajun culture.
Thus each of (my) stories contains a part of me – the beliefs, experiences, and people who have shaped my life. I share these tales with love and pride. It is my hope that readers and listeners will discover the beauty and spirit of the Cajun people and – perhaps more importantly – of their own lives as well.”
Marie Jolie – Story Credits
Written and Told by J.J. Reneaux
Audio version from the tape, Cajun Fairytales
Copyright 1992 J.J. Reneaux
Published by August House Publishers, Inc.
Used by Permission
Text version taken from the book, Cajun Folktales
Copyright 1992 J.J. Reneaux
Published by August House Publishers, Inc.
Used by Permission
Artwork provided by August House Publishers, Inc. Photography by Karen Lawrence, Georgia Department of Natural Resourses. Used by Permission.