Watching the dust motes swirl in the fat sunbeams, Katharine sat reminiscing the time she had shared with her husband, when the clatter of horses on the drive brought her back to the present. She thought, ‘It is a mite early for those two to be returning. And, yet, who else would it be?’ Before she could set down her sewing, to peek out the window, Lafayette barged in. ’Wonder what trifle has m’ petit frère in such an uncouth uproar?′ Then, with a shrug, she thought, ‘Oh well, he is calling for Father and Father can see to him without my aid’
Katharine Abigail Lorraine was the eldest daughter. She had alabaster skin, almond-shaped, brown eyes, and masses of thick, straight, black hair. As a child, her Father had doted over her, calling her ‘his little Empress.’ Taking him at his word, she had struggled to be his ‘little Empress’, striving to always be decorous, calm, and well-mannered.
With her Mother’s death, Katharine had labored to become the perfect hostess and genteel lady. For her, there was no greater compliment than when a person said she reminded them of her Mother, Gena Lorraine. Katharine was touted as an idyllic hostess; a guest visiting Sienna often left desiring more of the hospitality she had showered upon them. Yet, these past few years, Sienna had been devoid of her courtliness, as she had been seeing to her own home in Bates County, as Mrs. Archibald M. Waverly.
Laying her stitch work to the side, her mind lapsed back to Archibald’s funeral. ‘It rained that week,’ she thought. ‘There are times, I can still smell the rich loam of the muddy dirt, and hear the squishy sound of the clods landing on his casket.’ Absently, she chewed at her cuticle, ′doux Mère Marie, when will this ache fade. I miss him so much. Moreover, to this day, I still cannot comprehend how Doctor Risch judged he died of dropsy. Archie never once complained of his heart; he was strong and healthy.’ Rotating the golden band on her finger, she shook her head, ‘The mud was cold, so cold, and it caked over my ring. I know I was hysterical when Father pulled me to my feet. However, not one soul ever understood, I chose Archie because I adored him. Everyone had shaken their heads and tsk’d behind my back on our wedding day.’
Gazing out the window, she recalled her and Archie’s little home. ’Returning to the farm had been a nightmare. I thought our home quaint, charming like a cottage in a fairy tale. With Archie gone, it became a ghastly lean-to. I cannot recall much following the burial. My first clear memory was m’ frères arriving to bring me home.’ Her eyes scanned her large, sunlit room that had been her own Mother’s personal quarters. With a poignant smile, she picked up her sewing, ’remercier la Sainte vierge, they came for me. Never do I wish to leave Sienna again. I will not find another to love as I did Archie. I have his son and I will live for him, until the day Archie and I are reunited within our eternal Father’s home.′
At just that moment, her son, Michaël giggled. Sucking on her lower lip, Katharine felt guilty for letting such dark thoughts envelope her, yet again.
She smiled at Michaël rolling on the floor with Patches, a flop-eared, speckled brown pup that was a birthday gift from his Uncle Thaddeus. Her brother had declared, the garçon was lonely and needed a playmate, but he supposed the pup would have to do. Patches had immediately become Michaël’s favorite companion.
’I can hardly believe, mon garçon is four-years-old. Where does the time go?’ she thought watching the pair fighting over an old towel tied in a knot. It was hard to be sure, who was enjoying the game more. Seeing his dimpled, rosy cheeks, she felt an urge to grab him and inhale his sweet scent. But, Mams kept chiding, ‘you keep clingin’ to that garçon like you been, your gonna turn ‘em into a skirt tugger.’ To quell the urge, Katharine returned her eyes to the quilt top she was stitching.
She was nearly finished with the white hawthorn flowers twining along the dark green border. Watching her needle dip and bob, her thoughts trailed to her brothers. ’Despite their wildness, it is a great relief to have them on hand for Michaël. A garçon needs monsieurs in his life and here, he is surrounded by them. Oh, to still have Archie.’ As her husband stole again into her mind, her gaze shifted, searching for hints of him in their son. ’Michaël’s eyes are not blue, nor is his hair blonde, he took after mon famille. He is a Crowe. His build is similar to Gabriel with eyes as dark as Lafayette’s, his cherub expressions hearken of Thaddeus, and he has my thick, dark hair. Oui, he is a Crowe.′
Swallowing her tears, Katharine inhaled deeply, ‘it has become awfully silent downstairs, wonder what is happening?’ Laying the quilt aside, she went out in the hall to peek over the hand-railing. There was a quite rumpled Lafayette staring at the statue of Boreas and Josephine was nowhere in sight. Returning to her chair, Katharine thought, ‘Josephine must be the cause of his brash entrance and before the sun sets, I am positive, she will be in here pleadin’ her innocence.’
When she had left Sienna with Archibald, it had been quite liberating to be free of her rowdy siblings. However, lately, Katharine was finding she enjoyed their frolicking, sometimes even their coarse horseplay. Hearing a clatter on the backstairs, she folded her work away. Knowing it was Josephine making such a racket and as if on cue, her little sister lurched into the room with tears dripping from her face.
“Katharine. Oh, Katharine.” Josephine wailed, throwing herself on the floor by her sister’s over-sized chair and burying her face in the stiff skirting of Katharine’s black mourning dress.
‘Josephine is prone to dramatics to get her way; yet, never like this. What possibly has her so distressed?’ Katharine thought rubbing his sister’s back. As she did, Katharine’s nose wrinkled, the perspiration soaked riding habit felt filthy beneath her fingers. Pulling off the man’s hat Josephine was wearing; she tossed it aside to stroke her sister’s hair instead. “Michaël, m’cheri, you and Patches go play on the back patio, s’il vous plaît.”
The boy’s brows were bunched tight as he stood staring open-mouthed at his weeping, hiccupping Aunt.
“All right, Mère,” he answered, his eyes never straying from Josephine as he left the room. “Come on, Patches.”
“Hold onto the handrail.” Katharine called after him, as she did every time he descended the staircase. Its height, making her stomach turn whenever she saw him on it.
“Chérie cease your weeping and enlighten me of your troubles.”
“I was the hugest fool.” Josephine sniffled out. “And, Lafe he is so angry.”
“You must take hold of yourself. I cannot understand what you are sayin’.” With their Mother gone, Katharine felt it only natural she had become her replacement, in a way. However, her primary occupation seemed to be repairing tiffs between her siblings. “Take a breath, Josie.” She said, soothingly.
Pressing a hand to her chest, Josephine gulped, taking several deep breaths. “I started the day on the wrong foot by irritating Lafe.”
“How is that?”
She glanced up, droplets running down her neck, “I struck Cain sendin’ him into one hell-of-a-bucking fit.”
Katharine nodded, deciding to let the cursing go this time.
“While Lafe was keepin’ Cain from slammin’ him in the dirt that measly mouth Hannah Baker drove up with her prissy girls.”
“You should not speak poorly of others,” Katharine reprimanded.
"Mes excuses. But, he chose to escort them instead of me. He had Benjamin, escort me to the picnic. A slave… can you imagine?” Josephine said, her tone growing angry. “How dare he?”
“It is acceptable Josephine, although, I too do not see it as the correct choice. Cease frettin’ m’chérie, I shall speak with him regardin’ this.”
“Katharine... Huh... That ain’t really the difficulty.”
“All right, what is?”
“Well... When I got to the picnic, I was, well, I was infuriated with ’em.” Josephine’s eyes shot to her sister, knowing she would disapprove of what was coming. “See, I… did not wait for Lafe. I escorted myself around the picnic and anytime, he passed near, I ducked off avoiding’em.”
“What abhorrent manners. If his admonishments for this have set you to tears, before you go further.” Katharine sat back, crossing her arms, “you should know I am in complete accordance with him.”
“He never got the chance to speak to me about it.”
Staring at her, feeling furious, it dawned on Katharine precisely what her sister had worn to the picnic and she asked, “Then did you fight over your improper attire?”
Josephine shook her head.
Katharine took a deep breath, “you do understand I can already see how your actions have brought shame on all of us. And--”
Josephine interrupted her, “Wait. I must tell you the rest,” she said, dread filling her. “I met this handsome man and I danced and danced with’em.” Seeing her Sister’s eyes pinch, Josephine hurried on. “I know. I know Mams and you have both told me, this leads a monsieur to gather incorrect ideas.”
“Josephine Michelle Antoinette, no wonder Lafayette is furious!” Katharine stated, wishing she could stand and move away. “You have behaved just scandalously.”
“I realize what I have done.” Josephine said, nodding. “But... Katharine this man, the one I danced with...” She chewed on her lip, her eyes brimming once more with tears. “He is... a… Yankee.”
The last word came out in a whisper and Katharine wanted to believe she heard something else. Their Father had declared this word as despicable as nigger and it, too, was not to cross the lips of anyone who lived under his roof. ‘So, why then did her sister dance with this man, if she could slur him thus? Did he force her? Who is he?’ Question upon question built in Katharine’s brain until she could not choose even one to begin with.
Hopping into the opening provided by Katharine’s shock, Josephine said, “He appeared the perfect gentleman. His name is Lieutenant Sean O’Rourke and he is from Ohio. He told me he had been stationed at Cape Girardeau and recently was transferred to Lawrence--”
“Kansas?!” Katharine’s hand flew to her mouth, “Familles across the state will be gossiping about this for seasons. Oh Josephine, how will we ever redeem your réputation? I understand you do not follow men-talk, as you should not. Nevertheless, times are turbulent and to step outside your own social circle, it is not a wise choice. Surely, you have heard the loathin’ tone used when Kansasans are discussed. My goodness, if’n ever there was a town to crackle the nerves of a Missourian, it is Lawrence. The principles of John Brown run stronger in the streets there than common sense.”
Listening, Josephine twisted a strand of her hair about her finger, twirling it round, and round. “But, Father says we are not choosing sides. That we are Americans and Lafe has been rather open ’round here about how he despises the border patrols. I felt it would be all right.”
“True, notre famille has remained neutral during this horrible affair. In addition, we intend to stay this way. However, Josephine, many of our neighbors has chosen a side. They have also been actively questionin’ why your frères do not join a patrol. And now, you have gone and shown special attention to a Lawrence soldier.” Katharine’s head began to ache.
“I did not realize. I was only havin’ a good time... when Lafe, well… he ordered me to cease dancin’ with Lt. O’Rourke.” Josephine’s face turned crimson, but she rushed on. “I thought he was being a bully. It irked me, really, it did, and I lost track of my tongue. I was flippant and cursed’em.”
“In public?!” Katharine felt her head pounding in earnest. “Have pity, s’il vous plaît; tell me there is non more.”
“I know I was wrong. I do not know what came over me.” Josephine answered, tears sliding from her eyes. “And Lafe, he set to scoldin’ me wearin’ that look he gets; you know the one, where he acts as like he is all holier than thou. Well, for an instant mind you, just an instant, I felt I detested him. I amour Lafe, you know, I do. He was just so mean and he made me feel mean too.”
“I scolded’em back. But, whereas he was whisperin’, well, I did it loud... way too loud. I wound up hollering how he sounded like a pompous bushwhackin’ border ruffian. Then I... I...”
“You what? You did what?” Katharine barked, her dark eyes shining with anger.
“I backhanded him… across his face. I tried to apologize, but he shied from me and then that… that damnable Yankee stepped in, twistin’ my words. Katharine, that Yankee he believes our Lafe is a border ruffian.”
“Non.” Katharine gasped, feeling the familiar touch of death’s cold hand. Snatching hold of Josephine’s shoulders, her fingers dug in, “Non!”
Josephine nodded, chewing on her lip. “Lafe swore on his honor, he was not part of any unit. Except that damn Yank, he up and called Lafe, a liar and a maggot crawling coward.” Oddly, a smile appeared on Josephine’s swollen face, “Damnation, but Lafe made him eat those words. He did. Right there in the middle of at least twenty soldiers.”
Katharine’s first thought was, ’hurrah for Lafayette. Not one soul should get away with insulting a member of m’ famille.’ However, the jubilation she felt was short lived, “This is far more than the faux pas. The ramifications are endless. Lafayette might be arrested, even ambushed; there is no telling what the Yankees might do. Oh!′ Katharine’s hand flew to her chest. ’There it is, that word, I understand now. It is because we are non longer neutral. Bienheureuse Marie we have chosen a side.’
“Did he kill the fuckin’ Jayhawking Yank?”
The sisters jumped, their eyes flying to the doorway where Thaddeus stood. His tousled black hair spiky from sleep and resting in clear view on his bare, muscled chest was their Mother’s silver crucifix. It gleamed brightly in the slanting sunbeams and seeing it, Katharine said a quick, hushed prayer.
“Damnation woman fuckin’ speak up!”
Katharine snapped.” Thaddeus Robert!”
His blazing green eyes darted to his eldest sister and back to Josephine, “Well?!”
“He almost did. Jackson stopped ’em.”
“Humph, I would have done it.”
Josephine felt gooseflesh rise all over her body, because she knew he spoke truth. And, hearing him made her aware how easily Lafayette could have died this day.
For a drawn out moment Thaddeus studied Josephine. Then, with a deep growl, he slammed his hand against the doorframe and stormed from the room.