The Biloquist of the Western Empire

5 Feb

Kenneth Clay traveled to New Orleans in 1808 for the sake of making himself a fortune in the newly created Empire of the West.

The brainchild of Aaron Burr and General James Wilkinson, the expansive realm along the Mississippi River included most of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the Texas Territory that had once belonged to Spain’s colony of Mexico.

With the loan of ships and money from Great Britain, the band of armed adventurers commanded by Burr and Wilkinson had taken New Orleans and made it the capital of the great swath of land that constituted the mostly empty expanses of the new-born country, not yet definitively named.

The seizure of the city from the Spanish forces still in possession of it in late 1806 meant the fulfillment of the fabulous dream of Aaron Burr, former Vice-President of the United States of America. If he could not take over the presidency of the latter, he was able to make himself Lord Governor of a larger, wider land to its west.

This was the frontier region where Kenneth Clay had hopes of finding his fortune.

George Feu, a widower involved with river commerce, lived on Josephine Street with his teenage daughter, Janice.

Kenneth came to New Orleans to work as the latter’s private tutor, living in the wood frame house with the family employing him.

An ebony black house slave in formal suit ushered him to the dining room where Feu and the young woman sat at a long table eating their noonday meal. The father welcomed Kenneth and asked him to sit down with them.

“How was your journey down the Mississippi, Mr. Clay?” he inquired.

“Quite pleasant, sir. I saw a lot of beautiful, most interesting sights along the river banks. My hope in the future of your newly proclaimed country has risen very, very high. I will be glad to be making my own contribution to its success,” said the traveler with a friendly smile.

The merchant exchanged glances with his daughter while Kenneth studied her attractive face of bright freshness. The confident green eyes of his new student focused on him with warmth and trust.

“You must first have something to eat, Mr. Clay,” muttered her father. “Janice will show you about the house later. The two of you shall have the rest of the day to become acquainted. I believe that you will find her a most diligent and dedicated student, ready for serious instruction in all subjects that you are master of.”

Janice led her tutor through the two stories of the multi-roomed house, getting over her initial shyness with the person she was unfamiliar with.

Kenneth finally was shown to the guest chamber where he was to stay while in New Orleans. He took the rest of the afternoon settling in, arranging his limited possessions when they arrived in a horse-drawn wagon.

At dinner with the Feus that evening, he had an opportunity to describe himself and his life experience to his two hosts.

“I did very well as a student, learning Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. My ambition was to become a pastor who both preached and wrote on theology, but a series of illnesses weakened me. My only alternative was to find employment as a private teacher and tutor, and that is what I did for several years.

“Seeing your advertisement in a literary digest while being between post, I decided to come down the Mississippi and see for myself this capital of the Empire of the West. It was curiosity for what is unknown that brought me to New Orleans, I do profoundly believe,” said Kenneth with his widest smile.

George Feu frowned darkly as if a shadow was crossing his mind. “I have been surprisingly successful in my commercial enterprise, but I lost my wife to the fever when Janice was only a baby. It has been difficult raising her, because we have been dependent upon nurses and governesses, as well as the best house servants whom I could locate.

“But my daughter has been a wonderful child, always kind and thoughtful, with a generous, considerate nature. Yes, I am extremely proud of Janice and the love and obedience she has always displayed toward me.” He turned toward his daughter and beamed at her with joy.

“She has, I have discovered, a melodious and beautiful voice,” noted the new tutor. “Along with Greek and Latin, I am able to give lessons in singing and the piano.”

“I intend to purchase an instrument for music as soon as possible,” promised the father with near rapture.

Instruction sessions began the next day in a special chamber set aside for them in the spacious attic of the large house.

Janice proved to be an eager, industrious pupil. Kenneth found her well-prepared by private teachers from New Orleans. She enjoyed unusually high pleasure and satisfaction from her singing lessons. Folk ballads and church hymns were the pieces of music that the young woman enjoyed learning to sing, Kenneth accompanying her on a small pianoforte.

Her control over her voice made progress with each song she learned and mastered, but one day Janice appeared to be having some sort of problem.

“Is there anything the matter, bothering you?” her tutor asked, bringing their session to a rapid end.

She spoke with difficulty and reluctance. “It is hard to describe, sir, but I think that I am hearing another voice along with my own. It sounds like an echo of what I myself am doing, like an accompaniment of a sort.

“But I feel strange when it sounds in my ears along with my own voice.”

Kenneth grinned at her. “Try to ignore anything so imaginary, Janice. Perhaps it is only your own ears playing some kind of trick when you are singing.

“The thing you hear should quickly go away as you continue to practice.”

But that was not at all what came to happen.

Like often before, Kenneth dreamed that night of how his teacher-mentor back in Philadelphia had spoken to him before the young novice had left for the West.

“You now have the capacity of throwing the voice, the art called biloquism and ventriloquism. It bestows enormous power and influence upon those persons who master it.

“By imitation of the voice of other individuals, you can speak to them as their own conscience, their inner soul and deepest spirit.

“You can be the voice of the dead and departed, of supernatural beings, of angels or demons.

“It is your responsibility never to abuse or misuse the ability that you will now possess. Use it only for worthy aims, not for selfish purposes that have no justification, my lad.”

Kenneth suddenly awake from the vision in his sleeping mind.

He was terrified to find himself in an uncomfortable cold sweat.

Janice was in a whirlpool of shock and confusion, hearing a voice that she recognized as her own. Was it her very soul that was speaking to her? It had begun with the voice that sang with her own like its echo. It then would come to her in the presence of her new tutor. But now it occurred at all and any time, telling her things of total intimacy that no one but she alone knew.

Should she seek help? But from whom? she wondered. Father would not at all understand, but blame it on an overburdened imagination.

Janice saw no alternative to revealing the voice that talked to her to the one outsider she had come to trust, Kenneth Clay.

She sought him out late one evening in his attic bedroom, where she found the tutor sitting in a sofa chair reading a book from her father’s library.

He looked up in surprise with a sudden joyful smile. “What is it, Janice?” he managed to say.

She stepped forward till she was only a foot away from him. Kenneth decided instantly that he had to take full advantage of the opportunity offered him by this unexpected, unforeseen encounter with his pupil.

“I must speak with you about something of importance that is bothering me of late,” she haltingly informed the one who acted as her teacher by day.

All at once, Kenneth abruptly rose to his feet, standing close to and towering over her. His tall, lean body was no longer in his formal suit of the role of tutor. He had on a plain, simple white shirt, with no necktie or cravat.

Janice, never having seen him in so informal dress, was immediately affected by the situation.

“Forgive me for interrupting you at this hour, but there is something that I feel should be told to you, for I am in grave need of your wisdom and advice.”

“Please explain, my dear,” he softly murmured with intentional sympathy. “Do not hold back what may be troubling you. I shall attempt to help you however possible.”

“I have been hearing a voice that is exactly like my own, but it comes from outside rather than my own throat. It is a very strange experience to undergo, Kenneth. I do not at all understand it.”

All of a sudden, he reached out with his right hand and took hold of hers.

“Do not be frightened, my dear. When I was in Philadelphia I learned of many such instances.” He looked directly into her whitish green eyes. Janice did not at all avoid of turn away from his gaze.

He decided that Janice would not fight his physical advance at this opportune moment.

The tutor swiftly placed his hands about her waist, bent down, and kissed her gently on the mouth.

Meeting no resistance or repulsion, he repeated the kiss, turning it into an entire series.

On and on it went, till his chest met hers and their faces touched each other.

Janice said and did nothing as he proceeded to remove her outer clothing and explore her exposed young body.

With his student now under his biloquist sway, Kenneth turned the focus of his action upon her father.

He approached George Feu as the latter worked on business ledgers and accounts in the library room that he used as his private office.

“I wanted to speak with you about my plans for Janice’s further progress with her musical education, sir,” humbly declared the live-in teacher.

“Come in and sit down, my boy,” said the merchant, glad to discuss anything pertaining to his dear daughter.

Kenneth began to describe how he planned to teach her the art of playing the piano as an accompaniment to her singing. “Her voice is sweet and melodious,” he concluded. “She deserves to achieve mastery of the instrument that can accompany and compliment it, Mr. Feu.”

The latter did not directly reply, but appeared distracted and distant. His mind was clearly elsewhere at the moment.

All at once, the father seemed to shake himself awake. His whitish green eyes focused on the tutor.

“Did you hear it too?” he said.

“What do you mean?” inquired Kenneth, pretending he had no idea what the older man was referring to.

“The voice,” sharply replied the other. “You must have heard the voice that spoke at the same time that I was. Who was it? I could see that your lips were silent. But only you and I are present in this room at this moment. Who could it have been? I don’t at all understand, not at all.

“How can there be a perfectly audible voice when no one in here is responsible for it? That is impossible as far as I can tell. Was it some ghost or invisible kind of spirit?

“Tell me what you think, Kenneth. Please.”

The ventriloquist waited a considerable time before making any reply.

“Perhaps the voice that you heard originated within yourself, sir. I have heard educated persons state that one’s own mind, or even the soul of an individual, can talk in the voice of the one who receives the sound.

“It is your own inner voice that is talking to you, I believe. Perhaps it is giving you important and valuable advice on matters that concern you.”

Kenneth suddenly stood up, made a bow, and left the businessman alone.

A troublesome dream occurred to the biloquist that night. He once again the hollow, aged face of the man who had taught him the method he used in projecting his voice to a different location without giving any outward signs of the lips, mouth, or throat.

“Do not ignore or forget the obligations that you will bear in the future with the exercise of this gift that I have bestowed. Your own voice will be transferred into that of an invisible being. It will appear to be distant and absent to the one hearing it. The source will be a hidden one, unknown to the perplexed recipient of its sound.

“In time, a person will come to believe that the voice coming from you is theirs. The thoughts presented will be interpreted as their own as well. This process can be the basis of dominance over the subject of it. If enough fear is created, control over the thoughts and actions of the affected one becomes possible. This can turn harmful if misused and must be kept under complete control at all times. The alternative can be disaster and damage to the innocent…”

Kenneth, becoming uncomfortable with the warning in his dream, suddenly awakened. Within a few seconds, he succeeded in forgetting the alarm that the dream had been causing to his unconscious self.

The next morning, the tutor had more serious business than singing to take care of with his pupil.

“Janice, my dear one,” he told her in a quiet tone. “There is a question that I have hesitated to ask you. But now is the appropriate moment, I have concluded.

“Would you accept from me a proposal of marriage between the two of us? Your saying yes would give me heavenly happiness. I promise to be your faithful and dutiful spouse for the rest of my days in this world. Will you agree to my becoming your husband in the eyes of the law?”

“I myself am willing to agree,” she said happily, “but the consent of my parent will be necessary, won’t it?”

Kenneth beamed with joy. “I shall talk with him today and present our common request for approval. I am more than certain that he will give an affirmative decision on this matter.”

He bent down and kissed his intended on her white brow.

Early the following morning, the tutor found the merchant busy in his study. “Are you busy, sir? There is something I have to tell you that you are sure to want to hear.”

“Come in and sit down,” said George Feu with a hint of surprise.

Once Kenneth was seated, he announced the important news in a couple of words.

“Janice has agreed to marry me. Perhaps I should have spoken to you first, before proposing marriage to her. But now it has happened quickly, and all that is left for us to do is to ask you for your blessing to what both of us wish to do.

“I realize how much the happiness of your daughter means to you, sir. I pledge myself to do all I can to make our life together a successful one.” He stared at the suddenly perplexed father of his fiancé.

“I must think about the matter of her future, my good man,” mumbled George in confusion. “First of all. it will be necessary for me to speak with the girl. She is still so young…”

Kenneth interrupted him. “Of course, we must think of her future support and expenses. I shall not continue as a mere tutor, of course. I am fully willing to enter your export-import firm and apply my talents there. It would be a very fine wedding present for you to name me as your partner in business, with all the authority and responsibility that involves. Will you do that immediately? It would make Janice extremely happy, I am certain, to see our future together secure and assured.”

The two men stared at each other in silence awhile.

“That will certainly come in good time,” declared the father. “But first, I think that I should congratulate and talk with Janice. We will, all three of us, be together at dinner this evening.

George entered the bedroom of his daughter without first knocking, finding her lying in top of her bed in full clothing. She gave him a look of alarm. “Father, has he told you?”

“Yes, my dear one,” he said in nearly a whisper. “It was something that I could never have predicted. But you and I must tell each other everything and hold nothing back in secret. I do not understand how this could have happened. When was it that you first realized that Kenneth even thought of you as his potential mate? Do you remember how the process of your courtship began?”

Janice raised herself up, leaning her head on the bed’s pillow.

“It was the day that I thought that I felt dizzy and faint. That was the first time that I heard the voice.”

“Voice? What voice, my dear?”

She furrowed her brow as it came back to her. “There was a voice that came out of the blue, out of nowhere. At first, I couldn’t identify whose it was. But then it became clear that it was my own.”

“Your own voice?” excitedly said her father.

“Yes. It was like my own mind or my spiritual soul that made the sound. I thought that I was talking to myself in a second voice exactly like the one I used every day.”

“And what did it say to you, Janice?”

“Many different things, but it assured me that I should trust and believe in Kenneth, that he was looking out for me in all ways. In a few days, it caused me to believe that he loved me and that I should return that feeling toward him as well.”

“It must have exercised a great influence upon you in causing you to accept his proposal of marriage, I can imagine. Did it guide your final acceptance of Kenneth’s offer of marriage?”

“Indeed, it did. At the very time that he asked for my hand, I could hear the secret voice urging me to say yes to it. It has come about that I always accept and carry out what I hear from my soul-voice. That is what I have come to call the sounds that I hear.”

George Feu unconsciously rubbed his chin with his right hand. “I must think about this whole subject before I can grant my permission, Janice. There are questions that I must have answers to. We shall be with Kenneth tonight at dinner, and that will allow me opportunity to consider where we go from this point on.”

He excused himself and left the bedroom. The next few hours were spent in the privacy of his study.

The first of the three to appear in the dining room early in the evening happened to be Kenneth.

He had to sit alone at his place for a few minutes before Janice entered. She took a chair across the table from him, next to the head position always occupied by her father.

She said nothing for a time, until George walked in, followed immediately by the dark-skinned slave who served as house butler and server of the meals.

Not a word came out of anyone’s mouth as dinner was brought in and the plates of warm food were distributed about the table to the three of them.

The father was the first to finish eating and begin to speak in a slow, careful tone.

He looked down the table at Kenneth, avoiding the face or eyes of his daughter.

“I order you to leave this house tomorrow morning and never return here again. You must never meet with Janice again, or write to her in any way.

“You are fired from the position you now hold. I advise you to leave New Orleans immediately and stay away from our city for the rest of your natural life. Never attempt to communicate with either one of us, or else I shall have to hunt you down and take legal action against you.”

He stared with angry scorn at the startled tutor who realized this outburst was the opposite of what he had expected to hear that evening.

“I do not understand at all what you just said,” haltingly objected Kenneth. “I expected you to announce your agreement to and acceptance of our engagement. I was to become your son-in-law and your business partner. What has happened? Why have you reversed all that we had all but agreed to in your office just a few hours ago?” He glared at the merchant with unconcealed wrath and indignation, then turned his face toward Janice across from him.

“Do not keep silent, my dearest one. Ask your father what the reason for his madness happens to be. Has he suddenly lost control of his mind and thoughts?”

George also turned to Janice and addressed her directly, as if the two of them were alone.

“I have come to the conclusion that the person whom I hired to act as your teacher is a fraudulent imposter who uses secret, underhanded methods to take control of innocent human beings. What he has learned to do is to shoot forth and relocate his voice in various directions so as to fool his victims.

“He performed this treachery first upon you, Janice. Then he succeeded in fooling me into believing that I also was hearing the voice of my own spirit, my eternal soul. But it was nothing but evil trickery, that was all that it was.” He turned back to Kenneth and posed a question to him.

“Where did you learn to project your voice out without any natural motion of tongue or throat? Who was the wizard who imparted that arch wisdom to you? How many other families have you brought this strange magic to?”

The father turned to the emotionally shaken young woman and continued. “I remembered having read a book by an author named Charles Brockton Brown in which tricks of the voice were applied in the seduction of an innocent female. The name of the story, I recall, was “Wieland” or something like that. It impressed me deeply at the time, but I had forgotten it until only a little while ago, as I sat in my study thinking about our present situation with this tutor of ours.

“He has been able to seduce both of us with his creation of disembodied voices in the air.

“You must see the man for what he really is, Janice. A shameless scoundrel who came into our house to fleece us and take away all that he could.”

Kenneth made no further argument, but rose and hurried out, heading for his attic room intent on quickly packing up his personal belongings.

Father and daughter stared at each other for a lengthy time.

“You will in time understand that I am right in what I said. Tomorrow, I want you to begin reading the book that revealed to me what people are able to do for bad purposes with voice tricks. It will reveal the true nature of this criminal to you, my dear.”

Janice was too nervously paralyzed and petrified to say a word.

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