Pa called him Jean in the French way and he did indeed speak with a strange French accent. The man came to visit us every year to hunt and wander the woods looking for birds. We all liked it when Pa announced that Mr. Jean was coming for a visit, even though that meant he would take the big bed and we would be relegated to the trundle or even worse, the floor.
Mr. Jean would bring birds home for us to eat, but some of the birds, he would prop up next to a tree or in some grass and then get out his big book and get to work making likenesses of the birds in charcoal and paint. When Mr. Jean was working in this way, we could watch, but we could not speak or otherwise disturb the man. Pa saw to that with the threat of a switch.
When we were supping, Mr. Jean and Papa would tell stories of their old times, traveling in far off places up and down the Mississippi river way south of here. Mr. Jean would speak of Haiti, Paris, and London as though he were intimate with the places and people that lived there. My imagination always got the best of me and I would dream of seeing those places.
Mr. Jean would tease me with stories of made up animals like the éléphant which he said was as big as a barn, had trees for legs, sails for ears, and a nose like a snake.
Imagine my surprise when, years later, I travelled far and wide as well and saw an elephant in true flesh and blood in Mr. Barnum's circus. The animal was just as Mr. Jean had said it was, only he had forgotten to tell that it also had the tail of an ass and the rumble of distant thunder.
Also, Imagine my surprise to find that my father’s friend, our Mr. Jean was famous and those silly portraits of birds were known to the King of England himself.