“Damnation, I did not think I was goin’ to make it.”′ Lafayette heaved. “Swear the closer I got, the heavier you got.” And, tilting his head back, he heaved out a sigh, feeling a burn run down his back. Taking a seat next to Thaddeus, where he lay on the bed, Lafayette studied him, “you have ceased sweating.” Biting his lip, his brow twisting as he watched the slight movements of his brother’s chest and laying hand to his face, he thought, ‘he does not feel much different than grabbin’ hold of a hot skillet.’ Worrying the corner of his mouth with his teeth, Lafayette felt unsure what it all meant. ‘Should I get Mams?’ He rose, but not wanting to leave his brother alone, he instead retrieved the basin and a rag and set to bathing Thaddeus’ face and neck.
When a strangled voice croaked, “he is fuckin’ dyin’.”
It spooked Lafayette so badly; he nearly fell off the bed. Jerking about, he saw Eudora, standing by the footboard.
“What did you say?” he asked, unable to fathom such words coming from her.
Moving uneasily from foot-to-foot, she answered in a whisper “Taddy’s dyin’.”
Lafayette’s gut twisted. Hearing it said aloud made it even more true. “Do not be a goose. He ain’t dyin’.”
Eudora’s mouth fell open. She panted faster and faster like a creature in pain until she screamed, “You do not know’em like I do. I say, he’s dyin’. I can feel it.”
“I say he ain’t!” Lafayette fired back, their voices blasting from the room like rifle fire.
“He is!” She shrieked, her hands flapping across the folds of her skirt like flightless birds.
The look in her eyes chilled Lafayette to the bone and yet, he could not stop staring at her. Out in the hall, he heard footsteps and wanted to call for help, but her rhythmic rocking while repeating over and over, “Taddy’s dyin’”, held him mesmerized.
“Sainte Mère!” Mams cried, boiling into the room. “Lafe! You fetch me a bucket of well water and holler for Katharine to hasten in here with her smelling salts.”
Instead of leaping up, he remained riveted by Eudora’s wracking singsong chant,
“Taddy’s dyin’. Taddy’s dyin’. Taddy’s dyin’.”
Slapping him, Mams thundered, “God’s nightgown MOVE!”
He bolted from the room and she moved right into his vacant spot. “Aw Chéri, what you gone and done?” Pulling on Thaddeus, she shoved pillows behind him until she had him sitting upright. Leaning in to listen, a cold knot formed in her stomach at his hesitant, shallow breaths. Closing her eyes, she tried to think of what all she might need and for the first time heard Eudora. Opening her eyes, she turned to the girl. “You hush up. Hush up now, Dora bébé. I ain’t gonna let him die. Do not be frettin’ so.”
Slanting her green eyes from her twin to Simone, Eudora shook her head, her singsong picking up tempo and volume.
“Leave off actin’ such a way. Run on downstairs and fetch me a decanter of whiskey.”
Eudora clamped her mouth shut, except her hysteria could not be contained and as sharp as a raven’s caw; she began shrieking, “Dyin’… Dyin’… Dyin’.”
Rushing into the room, Josephine echoed Eudora, “he is dyin’.”
“Enough!” Simone slapped Eudora, “Do as I say and fetch me that whiskey.”
Shaken from her trance, Eudora plowed into Josephine, knocking her to the corner, where she sank to the floor.
Seeing Josephine numb with fear, a shadow crossed Simone’s face, ‘I ain’t got time for these dramatics,’ she thought, returning to Thaddeus.
“Oh! Bienheureuse Mère Marie,” Katharine said, making the sign of the cross as she entered, moving quickly to the opposite side of her brother’s bed
“Do not be lettin’em spooks you none.” Simone said. Yet, as she took the smelling salts from Katharine, her own fear showed in her shaking hand.
Pressing the salts under his nose rewarded them with a snort, followed by a meager intake of breath. But no more. Simone nervously moistened her lips, holding the salts closer, patting his cheeks, his hushed breaths coming further apart. Desperate, she struck him hard.
With a lurch, he gasped, getting a full snort of the acidic ammonia and began coughing with gusto; sucking air in-and-out by the mouthful.
“That be right m’chéri. You breathe deep of that air, that be bonne, m’ fils.” Sluggishly his eyes fluttered.
“Looks at me, Taddy,” Simone said, her voice stretched tight.” Look at me.”
Lethargically, his dilated eyes swung her with only a glint of green showing.
“I am here m’ fils, you stay with me.” She said, tenderly bathing his face while humming ’come sinners to the gospel feast’. Hearing Lafayette come in, she broke from her humming, “set that pail down and retrieve deux more.”
“Mams is he--”
“Do not talk. Do what I said and much faster this time.” She barked, standing, and taking up the bucket. “Katharine you will be wantin’ to move away from’em.”
Moving back, Katharine held her tongue only questioning Simone with her eyes.
“We got to cool’em down.” She lovingly stroked Thaddeus’ face and then with a deliberate slowness, she poured the frigid well water up-and-down him. When the icy water splashed across his feverish skin, he gasped, sucking in huge gulps of air. No sooner had she finished than Lafayette ran in sloshing water all over, and dropping the bucket, she held out her hand for another.
By the time the second bucket was empty, Thaddeus was regularly inhaling large drags of air into his lungs, and in between, he managed to stutter out, “Fuck... that is colder... than a witch’s tit.”
“Mind your tongue.” Simone chided, but she smiled. “This here water is what’s required to cool you down. Katharine fille, hunch ’em up over his knees, so he can catch hold of his wind.”
Squeezing in behind her brother, Katharine’s thick skirts began soaking up the water and a shiver ran the length of her spine.
“More… push his head on down in between his knees so his ribs spread out, allowing’em to get some good solid breaths.” Simone ordered, taking up the third bucket.
Katharine’s eyes widened as the bucket moved toward her brother’s back.
Simone nodded, “Get a good hold on’em.”
Katharine squeaked, “Taddy, brace yourself.” No sooner had she got the words out then the first drops splashed the pair of them.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Thaddeus cried out.
“Do not blaspheme! It is a sin and abouts now ain’t the time for you to be sinnin’.” Simone said, pouring water along his spine and up across the back of his head. Dropping the bucket, she turned his face to her, kissing his wide forehead, “Remercier le Seigneur.” Hugging him tight, she kissed him, ruffling his hair; sprinkling water all over the three of them. “The fever is breakin’.”
Simone turned to check on the others.
Lafayette was at her shoulder.
Josephine had not moved from the corner.
Their old house slave, George, stood in the hall holding a weeping Michaël and from behind him peeked Eudora.
Simone shook her head at Eudora’s red-rimmed eyes and the outline of her hand on the girl’s cheek, ‘It needed to be done. Shame on her standin’ at the end of his bed calling old Mister Death rights to’em.’ With a nod, she said, “m’chérie, brings me the whiskey decanter.”
Scampering in, Eudora’s eyes were bigger than hen eggs, “how come you ain’t dead?”
Thaddeus nostrils flared, “What the hell kind of question is that!?”
“Hush,” Katharine said, rubbing his back. “She was worried and had herself confused.”
“See fille, I told you not to frets so.” Simone stated, pouring a good dose of whiskey into a glass and surprising Thaddeus by handing it to him. “Drink this.”
Quick as a whippoorwill, he swallowed the golden liquid, “Whew! Talk about hittin’ the spot.”
“It ain’t for you to be enjoyin’.” She chided, but her eyes twinkled for she knew her baby was not meeting St. Peter this night. “Lafe chéri, we needs more water.”
“S’il vous plaît, no,” Thaddeus pleaded. Taking in the drenched bed he was in, he grunted and moved to crawl out.
“You stay put,” Simone commanded. “Matter of facts, Katharine gets on up, so he can lay his self down in them wet sheets. That fire you felt a need to build up, ain’t all together snuffed out.”
Inching and moaning his way into the soggy bedding, Thaddeus did not release one word of argument, even as Katharine and Simone tucked the freezing blankets about him.
“And, when Lafe gets back, you can rest easy. I plan to pour it down you, rather than over you. So you can breaks off givin’ me those sad eyes.”
Combing his jagged bangs from his face, Katharine passed her baby brother a smile of encouragement. She could feel the chill seeping into her bones, from her soaked skirts, so it was easy to imagine how uncomfortable he was.
“Mams, what can I do?” asked Josephine, at last.
Simone eyed her. “You mights go find Margie and assist her in gettin’ Katharine out of her wet clothes afore she too comes down with maladie. And George, you go on and hustle up Louisa and Marie. I want Lafe’s bed freshened with clean sheets, layered with blankets and hot stones. You also tell them deux lazy filles I best not have to speak to’em.” Her attitude softened when she turned back to Thaddeus, “I shall be wantin’ to move our garçon to a clean warm bed next.”
The rest of the hour, Simone and Lafayette spent filling Thaddeus with water until he declared, “That is it. I cannot swallow another drop or I will burst at the seams.”
Kissing him with motherly adoration, Simone said, “What you think Lafe, should we move him to a dry bed?”
“I am not positive he deserves it. What after the fright he gave us, Mams.” Lafayette answered, one corner of his mouth twitching into a grin. “If’n I did not think it would harm in the long run, I would say let’em lie in the bed he made.”
“I expects them sheets is startin’ to warm. I suppose, we could leave ’em there.” Simone said thoughtfully. “It would serve him right.”
“I do not know, Mams, mayhems we should be charitable.”
“S’il vous plait, I want out of this swamp.” Thaddeus pleaded, his lips curling into a grin that creased his eyes and bringing out his boyish charm.
“Oh, I give.” Simone said.
“Hold off!” Lafayette barked, stepping between Simone and Thaddeus. “Are you ready to follow directives, and leave off being such a loud, bully mouth? ’Cause, I swear we are all worn thin with it.”
“That be for sure.” Eudora piped in.
“I will behave.”
“Are you promising me?” Lafayette asked.
“Damnation, I said I would.”
Lafayette’s eyebrow arched, his brown eyes turning dark and his left dimple beginning to flicker.
Swallowing hard, Thaddeus shrugged, “all right, all right, you win. I promise I will mind m’ language and m’ manners.”
Later, tucked snug and warm in Lafayette’s bed, Thaddeus’ eyebrows twisted at the sound of hooves pounding up the drive.
“Damnation, Jésus pleura, I clean forgot Father went for Doc Mathews.”
Quicker than a breath, Mams snagged hold of Lafayette’s ear, giving it a particularly savage twist, “what have I told you about blasphemy?”
“It is a sin.” Lafayette gritted out, rubbing his ear and throwing Thaddeus a look; his brother recognized well enough to choke back his rising giggles.
Simone shook her head, “days are I think you deux ain’t never gonna be much more than petit garcons.”
Both their heads dropped in unison.
Through a stifled yawn, she said, “well, we do not be requirin’ the Doctor. Still, we do not wants to injure his pride. Let’em come on up and poke at Taddy.” Tucking Thaddeus’ almost dry hair behind his ears, she gave him a kiss. “Mon fils, je t’aime. You gotta give your word, you ain’t never gonna scare me like so again.”
“And, Lafe garçon, I want you speakin’ for’em. Do not be allowin’ Doctor Mathews to dose’em with non more quinine or arsenic. I do not give a hickory stick what that monsieur says about it being modern medicine. It has not been helpin’ him none and I will have non more poison fed to m’ fils. Is we clear?”
“Oui, Mams.” Lafayette said. “In fact, we are in exact accordance.”
Patting Lafayette’s arm, she kissed his cheek, and just as she slipped into Thaddeus’ room, Antonio and the Doctor entered staring wide-eyed at the waterlogged bed.
“You Monsieurs will find ’em in Lafe’s room, Mister.” Mams said, pointing through the open sliding doors.