Saturday, August 13, 1859
“Leave it be,” Simone barked. Glancing from the sheet, she was fitting onto his bed thinkin, ’this ain’t a task I would bend my back to any other day. But, ain’t anyway, I am letting ’em slip off to the Barnett’s in attire unbecoming a monsieur.′ Hearing rustling, she frowned and quietly asked, “What did I just say?”
“I heard you.” Within the three little words, she could clearly hear his exasperation.
“Done makes you look civilized, m’ chéri," Simone replied. “Puts your frock coat on and ignores it.” With a grin, she returned to making the large four-poster bed. Hearing him again, tugging at the perfectly tied cravat, she hastened over, “Lafayette, I said leaves it be, garçon,” swatting his shoulder.
Relinquishing his destructive hold on the stiff, white tie, the corners of his mouth pulled into a crooked frown. He was unable to fathom why it was necessary for him to wear the confounded thing. Nevertheless, he dutifully raised his chin, allowing her to fiddle with the scratchy, starched fabric. Even as he reminded himself, not to snort his frustration, for he knew doing so would earn him another lecture on how; snorting like a hog in mud lowered him to the same level as white trash, which were not worth the dirt on their skin. A specific reprimand, he knew by heart both backwards and forwards.
Patting the repositioned cravat, Simone stepped back with a proud nod, ’Mon Lafayette Henri has done turned out fine, even for being reared out heres in the wilds.’ Though Missouri was ever evolving, Simone still saw it as nothing more than a backwater forest that would forever lack the civilized charm of the Vieux Carré. “An’ laws Lafe chéri, anything that helps you appears refined is needed. I swear you can be more feral than the wolves howlin’ about here at night,” she scolded, kissing his cheek, “Mon garçon, you is becoming a monsieur on me. What shall I do with all m’ bébés soon to be leavin’ me. You eldest Crowes needs to be settling down and having some bébés of your own?”
An ornery grin crept across Lafayette’s angular face, stirring up sparkles in the depths of his eyes. He loved Simone; as a Mother. Still, there was not a time he could recall her not herding him, in what she deemed was the correct direction. It was a way of life for him, a doctrine more set in stone than any government constitution; a doctrine of family, honor, lineage, and how one should behave.
“Mams do not commence pushin’ me to find a bride. I told you and told you, I ain’t ready,” he said, turning from her and catching his reflection in the mirror. His playful smile faltered, and then faded all together. ‘She is correct. I have reached an age, where I am considered a prospect for marriage. Imagine how folk will run on, when they hear I have chosen not to follow the great Southern list of life commandments.’ He thought, his lips pressed together in a white slash. ’I fully comprehend matrimony; or at the least, a long engagement is the next agenda on my list. Still, neither sits well with me. I cannot help, but see a wife as anything other than a hindrance. Ain’t a chance in hell, she would not interrupt mon plans of studyin’ law, back in Kentucky. Of course, once I become an accomplished counselor, a wife might not be so large an imposition. Hellfire, I might even require one and if I choose correctly, she will improve my presence. For is not image everything?′
Smoothing a few stray hairs from his forehead, he nodded, ‘It is goin’ to require more than intelligence for me to hit m’ target. I have non intention of becoming a barrister only to hang my shingle in Harrisonville. Non, I want a seat within the rotundas of our Nation’s Capitol. Yup, if ‘n I play my cards right, I oughta hit my mark without a hitch.’ Studying himself, he sucked his cheeks, causing his face to harden and his dimples to become straight, deep grooves.
Seeing him, Simone chided, “If you ain’t feelin’ almighty positive of your self-importance this day.”
Rolling his eyes, Lafayette’s dimples jumped back to life in his reddening face.
Seeing his chagrin, she knew she had caught him giving rein to his high-headed notions and her mouth pinched tight. Why he wished to abandon those who loved him for a far off home was beyond her. Snatching hold of a discarded shirt, she began vehemently folding it, “You realize there is going to be plenty of well-bred Mademoiselles at the Barnett’s picnic today. Is non need for you to travel all the way to Kentucky to find one. ’Specially, when you have your choice of ’em, right here. A fine monsieur such as you and with a grand family name. Why, garçon, you are quite the catch just as you are. No need to go make yourself all uppity and live along that pestilence ridden Potomac.”
“Oh, I am positive, you are correct, Mams. And, I got mon intentions of dancin’ with more than a dozen of those well-bred filles you is speakin’ of. Think I will let myself become engulfed in their sweet fragrances. Still, you mark my words, Mams, I will retain my liberté. As I keep sayin’ I got non intention of having some fille interrupt my carousing, huntin’, gambling, drinkin’. And, furthermore, I ain’t lettin’ one hold me back from studyin’ at Transylvania, all the way over, in Kentucky,” he said with emphasis; since, back in June he had gathered his moving away was the root of her constant harping. He turned an eye her direction, “sides, Mams, I am of a mind you have purposely not been listenin’ to me. I cannot think of another way to tell you, I have not the least bit of desire to be restrained by a missus. She and young’uns would be an outright botheration to me!”
A raw hurt glittered in Simone’s eyes, “Shame on you Lafayette Henri Begnoir Crowe! Your sweet Mère, she would be grief-stricken hearing you. I cannot imagine a child of her blessed blood blathering on so immorally.”
He tried to appear rebuked. Yet, riling Mams up brought him infinite merriment. So, despite himself, his wide smile escaped, causing his dark eyes to crinkle and his trademark dimples to dance.
Placing her hands on her hips, Simone shook her head at him. “Here you is... standin’ in her house bragging and laughin’ over such vile sins as drinkin’ and gambling. Lafe garçon, how can you be so spiteful sinful after all I done for you?”
His smile held, although his eyes lost their sparkle.
For more than sixteen years, Simone had been his Mams. She was also the only mother, he and his five siblings had known since their Mother’s death. Still, not a remonstration crossed her lips, when she did not call upon the wishes and beliefs of his long, deceased mother. To the world, Simone was a dutiful mammy. To him, she was his world. He wished he could get her to understand this. It was her alone that mattered, not the lady he only knew from a painting that hung in the parlor. If Mams requested him to stay in Missouri for herself and herself alone, he knew, he could never board a train headed east.
Deciding she was losing the battle, Simone changed her tactics in mid-confrontation. “I suppose, I just ain’t done right by you,” she stated, her shoulders drooping. “And, I tried so hard to raise y’all up, just as Miz Genni would of done herself.”
“Uh-huh, I can see, you have set your sights on acquiring my attention.” Lafayette replied, utterly cognizant of her ruse as she used it on him, more than she realized. Pulling her into a hug, he spun her round and round. “You rightfully know, you have done an incomparable deed of bruiting all of us into manners, myself included.”
“Lafe, you put me down.”
“Aw, Mams,” he sighed, giving her a kiss on the cheek and setting her feet back on the thick, wool rug as if she were made of porcelain.
“Do not be sugaring me none. ’Cause, I know, I did not do right by you, or you would not be so terrible sinful.”
“Mams, do not go on so. I adore you too much to act out exactly as the devil calls me to,” he said, pushing his lower lip into a pout.
Seeing him do this, her mouth curled into a tiny smile, for she could never stay mad at Lafayette... even when she tried. “Mon garçon, leave off being a rapscallion, as I do not believe my old heart can handle it.”
Smiling, he wrapped his arms about her, devoted, adoration shining in his eyes.
Breaking free, she said, “it seems to me, you mights go in and say au revoir to your petit frère before heading off to the Barnetts. Maybe encourage him not to be such a wrathful bull.” She shook her head, crossing herself. ”Par Dieu, if I only fathomed, what offense, I surly done to have such a punishment ladled on me as caring for Taddy when he is with maladie. I would make amends.”
A snort erupted from Lafayette.
“Garçon! Do not be pushin’ me non more this day.”
Swallowing, he cast his eyes down.
“Besides, even if I cannot prove it, I know you are wrapped up in his catchin’ this ailment. If you was younger, I would wring the truth out of you with a willow stick. Do not bother actin’ penitent. We both know you ain’t guiltless and I ain’t having a lick more of your artifices this day.” She stated, waggling a finger at him. “And, I done spent too much time in here already. I need to be hustlin’ Josie along. I swear that petite is slower than an old mule. Least ways, you behave as the monsieur, I consider you to be and see to your frère. “And...” She opened the door to the hallway, her golden eyes narrowing at him, “... leaves that cravat be.”
When she snapped the door closed, he stood still listening to her hollering at his sister even as her swift, clicking heels carried her down the hall to Josephine’s corner room.
Sinking onto the cowhide settee near his bedroom window his thoughts turned to the Barnett’s picnic. ‘Colonel Barnett hosts quite the shindig today; if’n all the rumor buzzing is true. To think, it is all in honor his daughter, Elizabeth’s sixteenth birthday. Tarnation, a birthday party. I would just as soon go huntin’. Then again, the Colonel is friends with exactly the well-connected monsieurs, I need in my corral to attain the political placements, I want. Still, I cannot work up any sort of hankering to attend.’
Taking up a boot, he thought, “I ain’t ever met a girl as plain and foolish as Elizabeth. She has herself a voice, shrill as a starling. Hell, me and all m’ amis have watched her casting an eye for a husband since last winter. Moreover, I am of a mind, she has me as her objective.′ Picking up his right boot, he snorted, ‘hellfire, in the past when I have dealt with her, she has not been the correct age for marriage. So, none of her flirtations caused me the least bit of jitters. Today...’ he jerked the boot on, ‘the game will be different. This is more than a birthday party. Far more. Today her Father is announcin’, to one and all, he is ready to accept offers for her hand.’
Standing, he leaned against the window frame, staring out at Sienna’s tree line drive. ‘Damnation, I got me a gut feeling she is goin’ be doing more than tossin’ simpering smiles my way. Hell, it is goin’ to take every ounce of chivalry, I have, to keep my mouth in check.’ Leaning his forehead against the sun-warmed glass, he rolled it back and forth, ’par Dieu, I do not want to go! Every gent, I know will be grousing heartily about: politics, Kansas, and anything else the border might have bled out these past months. I am worn out on the conversations of abolitionists, Jim Lane, and the never-ending deliberation of why we should secede.′
Thinking this his gut tightened, “I do not suppose even Saint Peter could explain how I feel regarding slavery, raiding, and the various new Senatorial laws. But if ‘n I slip up, I will get my ass ostracized. Not only, ostracized, but branded a hypocrite with my family line originating in Kentucky and Louisiana. Besides, how do I defend my views when slaves labor right here on Sienna?’ Inhaling until his lungs felt near popping, he released a long drawn out breath. “Oui, I would just as soon avoid all the arguments, so I might keep my neutrality intact for a bit longer. I ain’t a fool, I know the time is approachin’, when I will be required to throw the fat in the fire and face the conflagration. But, I ain’t got the slightest notion how my life will be twisted about afterwards.”
Moving to his bedside table, he removed an ivory-handled, six-inch blade. Rolling the honed steel between his fingers, he wondered if his wanting to remain clear of the fighting was because he was nothing more than a coward. For had he not been actively avoiding riding with patrol units? The same units, which declared it was their sovereign duty, as Missourians, to prevent foragers from raping the soils of their beloved State.
Sliding the blade into his boot top, he growled, “I ain’t a coward. I just cannot condone the current fashion of an eye for an eye vengeance. And, I do not wish to be included in the tainted justice running rampant through our hills.′ He looked toward his brother’s room, ‘except, knowing it ain’t what I want, does not mean I cannot be trapped between combatants. I have seen roads stained with blood and the word justice used in so many imaginative ways; I do not surmise men even understand what it means any longer.’
Reaching into the drawer, he removed his wallet and placed it in the interior breast pocket of his brocade vest. ‘It has got so a man has to ride wary. Perhaps Colonel Barnett is being far too bold hosting such a gala event.’ Exhaling heavily, he headed for his brother’s door.