Tearing up to the house, Lafayette bellowed for someone to retrieve Cain even as he leapt from the exhausted horse’s back. His hand was already on the doorknob when he heard Josephine call, “Lafe, wait,” followed by a terrified squeal.
Turning he saw, she had misjudged herself, entangling her long, riding habit with her sidesaddle and was hanging half-on-half-off in a perilous position. In one fluid movement of grace and strength, he was at her side, placing her safely on the ground.
Tears brimmed along her lash line, making her eyes shine like dew in the morning light.
‘Is she truly remorseful?’ he thought, a cloud of emotions rippling across his face as her femininity bewitched him.
“Lafe chéri, I did not mean to strike you, s’il vous plaît, believe me.” She said, breaking the spell.
His face twisted, becoming ugly, “Par Dieu, you were in the wrong and I am not lettin’ you twirl me about your finger. Striking me… Ha! That is only a morsel of why I am outraged.” Peeling her fingers from his arm, he backed up the steps. “Leave me be!”
“Non! This ain’t one of your games to win with a shower of tears.” He turned just enough to see her. “I cannot think of one reason to ever have faith in you again.” Gripping the brass handle of Sienna’s front door that stood as wide as three men abreast, he hissed, “I am through with you.” And, he flung the door open, with such force, it crashed into the entry wall, creating a boom that echoed through the house, followed by his own even louder shout of, “Father!”
A soft baritone reply, drifted forth, “in the study.”
A person would think such a loud homecoming would have drawn more interest from the patriarch of the family. However, once Antonio had ceased his idle roaming and settled into living at Sienna full time, he discovered life here was rarely quiet for his children were spirited, headstrong, and impetuous. In short order, little of their hurly-burly activities caused him to raise an eye. It had not taken him long to identify when they came calling for him, what they were truthfully searching for was a mediator. Consequently, it took him even less time to figure out, if left to their own devices; they would soon enough settle their own difficulties.
Striding toward the study, Lafayette clawed off his frock coat, throwing it to land in a jumbled mess on the floor. He felt strong and righteous in his rage. For once, it felt good to let it flow. He thought, ‘I do not give a March hare’s ass if’n I throw all my manners aside and sound insolent. This time I will be heard.’ His ‘red demon’ felt bracing, searing its way through him, keeping the distasteful fear he tasted in front of Lieutenant O’Rourke at bay.
He froze, his anger diminishing in response to the angelic voice calling to him. “You are home.”
Seeing his baby sister racing toward him, down the curving central staircase, with her arms outstretched a tremulous sigh rolled from him. He could never permit his ‘demon’ near Eudora. Anger, hate, bitterness; each member of the family shielded her from these harsh stones of the world outside Sienna’s gates. “Hello love,” he said, lifting her tiny body into the air, spinning her round and round before placing her feet back upon the shining, wood floor.
“You told me, you would not be home until after dark.” She said, peering at him with her large, exquisite, green eyes. “You fibbed. Shame on you.”
“You cannot be callin’ me a fibber, m’chérie.” He said kneeling. “I came home early, is all.”
Barreling into him with a giggle, she practically knocked them both to the floor before he caught his balance. Laughing, he kissed her cheeks. She was everything wholesome, good, and right. Inhaling of her lime verbena perfume, he asked. “So, you are not cross with me, m’ petite?”
“Oh non, Lafe, I ain’t cross.” She said, “I was just funning you.”
Nodding, he asked with a raised eyebrow, “I thought you were to be assistin’ Mams, with that twin of yours?”
“He is too grumpy!” She replied, draping an arm about his neck to lean in close and whisper, “He has been spouting bad words just all over the place.”
Lafayette chuckled, “Chérie, his inordinate use of bad words ain’t anything new.”
“Oh, but he is being really, really bad today,” she said, nodding with a straight face. “I think he even made up a few new ones.” She nodded more, her eyes growing large. “Mams she said, I was to clear out of his room and stay out.”
“Truly?” Lafayette asked, feeling his pounding pulse slowing as his eyes traced the delicate line of her profile.
Eudora Lorraine was graceful and tiny, the perfect counterpart of her twin. The first time a person laid eyes on her; Eudora’s flawless beauty astounded them. Yet the truth was she was flawed. Dora’s mind had not kept pace with her maturing body, leaving her simple, sweet, and innocent.
Lafayette had once come upon Mams educating a new house slave of Eudora. She had been saying, ‘it was because she was a twin and twins go against the laws of nature.’ For weeks afterwards, he had pestered Mams wanting to know what she had meant.
Unable to take his badgering any longer, she had broken saying, ’twins require too much of a filles body. They simply ain’t natural. They always be something not rights with one or both of ‘em.’ Then she had fallen to crying, going on how Miss Genni was alive in Eudora. How she knew she was, because Dora carried all Genni’s tenderness in her soul. And snagging hold of him, she had shook him, exacting a promise; that he would always watch over Eudora and never expect too much from her, as she would forever stand on the brink of childhood until the day she died.
His throat ached looking at Eudora now, ‘the Saints are cruel.’ He thought. Yet, if the pure happiness she emanates is m’ Mère, then she really must have been a grand mademoiselle.’
“Lafe?” Eudora questioned, placing her cool hands on either side of his face.
Bringing himself back to the here and now, he could feel fatigue setting in. As a matter of course, he did not dwell on his sister’s misfortune; ‘It must be the strain of the day affecting me.’ He thought, saying, “Mes excuses, Dora, what were you sayin’?”
Her dark brows furrowed low just as Thaddeus’ did when vexed. “I said… your face is covered in cuts and bruises and you are all covered in dirt” Then her nose wrinkled, “and blood.”
He could hear O’Rourke hollering ‘I will speak with you another day,’ and a shudder ran through him. “I got myself into a fist fight.”
She frowned, “Is you all right?”
Her eyebrows shooting up, she asked, “did you whip’em?”
“I believe so.”
She tilted her head to the side.
“Oui, I did.” His large smile spread across his face and he grimaced at the pain it brought him. “If’n you do not mind how grimy I am, I sure could use one of your big hugs.”
“I knew you had won.” She said, pillowing into his chest, twining her delicate arms about him. “Ain’t none who can hold a candle to m’ frères.”
“If’n you say so,” he mumbled, into her jet-black hair.
“I do.” She exclaimed, pulling back to tap him on the tip of his nose with her index finger, the same way he often did her.
“Hey fille, how about I come up to your room later and I will read you some out of Anderson’s Fairy Tales.”
“After I get cleaned up, but first...” He tilted his head toward the study, “I must go speak with Father.”
She stood, glanced at Father’s study, her mouth twisting to the side, and planting a large kiss on Lafayette’s cheek, whispered, “Je t’aime.”
“Right back at you.”
Giving him one more kiss, she darted off, ever the busy bee flitting from room to room, scarcely ever missing anything that happened in the house.
With his anger dispersed, he felt unsure of himself and rubbing a hand across his lips, earned himself a flinching stab of pain. ‘What the hell am I going to say to Father? Squalling out my indignation had sounded right fine when my blood was boiling. Having come back to my senses, I sure can see it from a myriad of angles and...’ a glazed look of despair spread across his face. ‘I could have handled it a lot more damn competently.’
Miserable, he leaned his forehead against his up-raised knee. ‘I should have cajoled her, even begged, really anything to have not caused a scene. Damn, I knew better. How many times have I told Taddy and Gabe, orderin’ Jo about does nothing but garner them a dose of trouble? What was I thinkin’ orderin’ her?’
“Lafayette Henri Begnoir,” his Father’s thick Kentucky accent summoned from within the study.
He stiffened at the use of his full name, wondering, ’when will the day come, when I stand on the rug before his desk and non longer feel like a child awaitin’ punishment?′ Pushing himself to his feet, he came eye-to-eye with the bronze statue of their stallion, Boreas Red.
The lifelike figure depicted the Stallion in flight; each muscle flexed, strands of mane and tail whipping in the wind. Being their first champion, his winnings and foals had made Sienna what it was today. Dragging his fingers along the flowing lines of the statue, he shoved his hands in his pockets. Somewhere through the years, it had become a tradition to give Boreas a quick stroke on the way out the door for luck. Scuffing his boots on the runner rug, as he walked to the study, he mumbled, “I did not get the chance to touch Boreas before leavin’ this morning. Figures my day went to Hell.”
Outside Josephine stood dazed. The phrase ‘knocked senseless’ was one she had always equated to the finale of a good fist fight or maybe a fall from a horse. Yet, right now, she felt knocked senseless. She had been feeling that way since Lafayette had snarled, ‘I am through with you.’
Stiffly she walked to Nelly and Cain. The horses were breathing hard, heads hanging low. Gathering their trailing reins, she began walking them. Nelly nuzzled her and stopping, Josephine buried her face in the mare’s long, silken mane sobbing until her throat felt raw and the tears would not come any more. “I have to fix this,” she said aloud, pulling from the warm security of her mare, she once more began walking the animals.
Coming up the drive to collect the horses, it was in this dejected state Peter found her. “Hello, Josie gal.”
Startled, she jumped, passing him a feeble smile as he fell in alongside, taking Cain’s reins from her.
She shrugged her shoulders.
Peter nodded, unsure if the slave should have been left to ride home alone. He hoped the boy would choose to return. However, at the moment, it seemed the siblings had brought home a larger difficulty. Letting the silence ride, Peter walked the length of the drive to the barn with Josephine.
Near the barn, Marcus approached, ready to take Nelly.
Peter motioned the slave away. He and Josephine swung around the cottonwood tree together, heading back up the drive, continuing to cool the horses.
When they reached the front gate and turned to walk back, Peter asked, “Would you like to tell me what troubles you, my sweet girl?”
She shook her head.
Studying her downcast face, Peter felt an ache in his heart, “I would bets, it has somethin’ to do with Lafe.”
She peeked at him.
“Do not deem I have heard ’em so cantankerous in a good number of years. What you reckon got him in such a state?”
His question stabbed her.
Whoaing the horses, Peter loosened their cinches. “Give ‘em some time. You rightly know, his dander never stays up long before he be smilin’ again.”
She shook her head.
Peter nodded, making a soft ‘ah hum’ noise, “You recall that day you heaved Taddy’s six-shooter in the pond?” He asked and saw his quick change of subject sparked her interest. “Ah yes, it were ‘cause, he refused to train you to shoot. Sakes alive! When that pistol hit the water, it sure done lit a fire under him, somethin’ mighty it did.”
Defensively, Josephine finally spoke, “it did, but I helped ’em find it.”
“Uh hum, you did. But not till Web, put a stop to y’all tryin’ to teach one another the skill of breathin’ under water.” He chuckled, at the flush rising in her cheeks. He knew she had a way of forgetting details, which did not appeal to her. “Oh yes, I witnessed the drownin’ match. I also recall how y’all was covered in more mud than a sow hog in July. And, how y’all was laughin’ like loons at each other.”
A small smile caressed her mouth.
When he saw it, he chucked her under the chin, “Ah, there be my playful filly.”
Her smile brightened, under his attention, when the distinct crunching of rock from a horse entering the drive interrupted them. Turning, Peter was relieved to see Benjamin. Raising a hand, he helloed, beckoning him.
Sliding down alongside them, Benjamin loosened Copper Belle’s girth.
“Good, you did not push the old gal. She ain’t gots as much vinegar to run out as this pair.” Peter said, still wanting to know what had occurred between the siblings. Although he knew Benjamin would tattle on them without any prompting at all, he preferred to hear it from Josephine. Learning her side would prepare him for when Lafayette came grousing around the stables later.
Taking all three sets of reins, Peter passed them to Benjamin, who was eyeing Josephine like she should be nailed to the side of the barn.” Take ’em on down to Marcus,” Peter said, patting Benjamin on the back, sending him along so he could return his attention to Josephine. “You sure, you do nots want to tell me about your day?”
She shook her head, her good humor fading.
Wishing they had not been interrupted, he retreated to his earlier topic, “You know why, I done brought up that six-shooter?”
“To remind me, I have created a long list of half-witted choices.” She replied, staring long-faced at Sienna’s gaping, front door.
“Oh, no… no child,” he cooed, taking her cold hands as her eyes brimmed over, “I needed you to recollect this ain’t the first time, you done been at it with one of your brothers. My goodness, if’n you did not have Taddy about as riled up as I ever seen ’em that day.”
“And he up and got over it.”
She nodded again.
“Lafe will also.” He squeezed her hand, “he still be younger than he likes to think. Land sakes, that boy has him a tongue sharper than a bull-whip when in a huff. Do not be takin’ none what he be sayin’ to heart.”
Sniffling, she released a shaky breath, “you really think so?”
“I do. I know ’ems better than he does his self. Now sweets, you hustle yourself on in the house and gets cleaned up.”
“Merci beaucoup, Peter.” She said, giving the old trainer a quick hug before rushing up the steps.