Tuesday, October 18, 1859
‘It is hard to believe we are at last here.’ Lafayette thought, as their steamer steered into the port of Orleans. He had no doubt, if he had traveled alone, he would have arrived weeks ago. However, from day one he had learned the trip would be a tribulation.
His first hint had been when Peter reined the team in preparing to set camp before the sun had tinged the western sky orange. When he commented they still had several hours of sunlight left, Peter had laughed, saying, ‘Last time you traveled with ladies, you was still a boy. I recall you and Taddy was plenty happy to halt. Y’all were off explorin’ soon as your feet touched the ground. On this trip, you be learnin’ how many extra hours ladies pack into a journey. Do you nots know they wear down effortlessly? You better listen up, Lafe. Any proper gent allows time for a lady to rest, or else he will wind up with a sick filly on his hands.′
The second arrived when Peter swung the caravan east toward Lexington. When he asked why they were not taking the shorter road to Kansas City. Peter had given him an odd look before saying, ‘Why Son, Kansas City has a military garrison. You ain’t usin’ your head. Mister tolds me there might be a warrant with your name on it. Nope, I ain’t takin’ you nowheres near that place. We be takin’ our business to Rupe’s Landing, a right good Southern area. I intends on keepin’ you out of harm’s way, Lafe, my boy.′
The final kick had arrived from Katharine when their boat had ported in St. Louis and she informed him she was perfectly exhausted. Hearing her, he had replied, ‘I will hasten us all on another boat within the hour, then you can rest as we head on South.’ In reply, she had tsk’d at him, ‘Bless your soul Lafe, however you do not fully appreciate how I feel. I am tired. I wish a night’s sleep, where I shall not fret if the boiler might explode or if we are going to run aground on a snag. Candidly, m’ frère, I should not be required to enlighten you of such a necessity. I fully considered you refined enough to suggest a night or two on land. Alas, as you have not. I am informing you, I wish to sojourn to a hotel.′
After her reprimand, he arranged layovers. They visited the sights of a town, shopped, ate in fine restaurants, and always he found the choicest hotels. In this way, they hopscotched down the Mississippi, arriving with the cool breezes of autumn.
Which was just as well, for once temperatures rose in Louisiana, it was inevitable for yellow jack to sneak into the port town with its deadly fever. Each summer it flitted up-and-down the cobblestone streets of New Orleans, caring not if a person was old, young, wealthy, or poor. Yellow jack was not blind like Lady Justice; it slaughtered all who crossed its path. Families with means, such as theirs, closed up their city homes spending the hot months out in the airy country where yellow jack scarcely visited.
As their steamer edged closer to the docks, Lafayette turned his face to the mild wind, thinking, ’Our delay has ensured, Grand-mère has returned to her home here in the Carré from the famille’s country plantation, L’Eau Sucree . Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeper, feeling himself relax a bit. That was until his nephew squeezed his small body between him and the ship’s railing.
“Oncle look. Look!” Michaël squealed, pointing at the busy docks below.
“Uh hum.” Lafayette answered. Plucking off his wide-brimmed western hat, he handed it to Josephine; swinging his nephew up onto his shoulders. “Mikey, ride up here, you will be able to see more.”
Thrilled, Michaël clapped his hands, wobbling dangerously.
“Whoa garçon, if’n you are goin’ to ride, then you must hang on with both hands.”
“Oui, Sir.” Michaël said, latching hold of his Uncle’s frock coat collar.
Lafayette caught Katharine’s eye and she nodded approvingly.
Shifting his sights to the congested river of people ebbing along the docks, he felt a surge of eagerness to join the throng. The many stops along the way had been mere appetizers, for now he was in the city of his dreams. His glowing eyes darted here and there, trying to take it all in at once; heaps of bananas, row after row of cotton bales piled four and five high, green sugar cane, baskets of flowers, fish, fruits, so many products he could not decipher the exports from the imports. A myriad of aromas swirled about him; ripe produce, coffee, sweet pastries, breads, roasting nuts, the pungent bite of the sea, livestock and the unwashed scent of the people.
Over all of this was a heart pumping melody wending its way across the harbor, blending with the rowdy babble of voices until they fused, creating an opera. Focusing on the voices, he could distinguish Spanish, Italian, German, and a few he had never heard before. Binding it all together was the rich music of Creole French, the true language of the Vieux Carré.
In the distance, the glowing spires of the St. Louis Cathedral reached to heaven. Squinting, he could make out the hands of its moon-faced clock ticking toward three and he thought, ’Hellfire, this might be entertaining, maybe being sent South ain’t so bad. The Carré has grown more than I imagined since I last seen it.’
Their packet was bumping against the docks and the Captain peeled off whistle-blast after whistle-blast, clearing the way for the swing boys. Lafayette had seen them in action at every stop along the river; still the agile young boys who secured the ship’s ropes to the docks and lowered the long planks to shore amazed him. And, as the planks thumped to the wharf, for the first time in weeks, he released his large toothy smile.
’I wonder who Grand-mère sent to fetch us.′ Despite his smile, his brow twisted, furrowing, ’I do hope she received the telegram Katharine sent from Plaquemine. Scanning the docks and nearby roads, he spied a line of omnibuses for hire and thought, ’If’n not, I will hire one of ’em to take us to the rue de Royal house.′ Seeing the passengers of their steamer massed together on the lower deck like frightened cattle, he said. “Katharine, I feel we should wait a bit, let the herd thin some.”
Scrunching her face up, Josephine glared in hot jealousy at the passengers taking their leave of the Mississippi. She too wanted to be free of the river. The entire trip had been unbearable. Never had she felt so restricted. Even more than wanting to be free of the river, she wanted to be free of Lafayette. She knew she could testify before the Lord himself that her brother had been an efficient sentry. For not once had he allowed her to make a single move without him, and through it all he had been rigid, ill tempered, and strict. Sliding her eyes to glare spitefully at him, as had become her habit; she instead found pity rising up. ‘He appears done in and ready to drop.’ Tilting her head to the side, she studied him more, ‘he looks older too.’
Feeling her eyes on him, Lafayette’s face hardened. Recognizing, the pulled expression about Josephine’s mouth as her being in deliberation, he growled. “Do not start with me. I have the tiniest bit of patience left and I advise you to not go spendin’ it all at once.”
In a flash, her softened emotions turned cold and she toyed with tossing his hat in the river.
“Oncle look!” Michaël hollered, lurching forward throwing his weight against Lafayette’s neck, sending a spasm of pain shooting down his back.
“Mikey!” Lafayette yelped, butting his head against the boy, shoving him back onto his shoulders.
Non-pulsed, Michaël continued hollering, “See the funny people,” pointing to a musical troupe stationed on the street; comprised of face-painted boys dressed in harlequin costumes, performing acrobatics.
In his peripheral vision, Lafayette could see a small hand darting to-and-fro, and with a growl, he said, “Ain’t you supposed to be holdin’ on with both hands?”
“Mes excuses,” Michaël gulped, grabbing his Uncle’s collar.
Katharine touched Lafayette on the arm, “Chéri, should we depart?”
With much of the steamer’s foredeck now empty, he nodded.
“Well, I ain’t being left in charge of this.” Josephine said, shoving her brother’s hat at him. “If’n it gets crushed, you will have something else to hold against me.”
His mouth shifted to a sneer, then hearing Father’s words about how it was disgusting to fight with a fille, he exhaled his anger as had become his custom over the past five-hundred-miles. Bending his knees, he lowered Michaël. “Let Mikey wear it.”
Michaël’s face split into a wide grin. “Look at me, Mère.”
“My Michaël, you are grandly handsome.” Katharine said, patting his leg. “Be a bonne garçon. Do not be fiddling with it, we do not want it to escape from you.”
Michaël gave his Mère a quick nod of acknowledgment, a mannerism he had gained from watching his Uncle these past weeks.
Back in Missouri, if asked, a person would describe Lafayette Crowe as jovial, talkative, and even flirtatious. Yet, on the voyage, new facets of his personality emerged. He had become serious, tight-lipped, brisk, and commanding. As these traits took hold, his sisters also perceived he preferred using facial expressions along with jerks of his head to convey his wishes and concerns in public places. It had not taken long for them to become skilled in reading his new form of communication, such as, a curt nod to affirm action. However, if accompanied by a slight smile, he was affirming them. Moreover, it was not long before Michaël began imitating him.
“Oh Lafayette... wearing your hat, there ain’t a soul who would not believe right off that he is not yours.” Katharine said, shuddering inwardly; ’it should be Archie carrying notre fils, not m’ frère.′ Putting on a brave face, she patted Michaël’s leg once more, saying, “I swear, y’all are just deux peas out of the same pod.”
Taking her hand, Lafayette gave her a soft, wide-eyed look and kissed her temple.
“I am fine, Lafe, just fine.” She said, too brusquely. “But you on the other-hand are quite disheveled. Josie, s’il vous plaît, straightens his coat where Michaël has it all bunched. And, why Lafayette, must I unceasingly remind you of your collar?” Katharine asked, her lips thinning out with irritation. “I cannot grasp why you insist on tugging it loose when you altogether know it is improper to show so much flesh.”
Having straightened his frock coat, Josephine snickered, and knocking his hands out of the way, said, “Hold off, I will get ‘em for you.” While securing the buttons, she murmured. “It is quite terrible havin’ to be respectable... ain’t it, Lafe?” Her eyes sparkled, hoping to get a rise out of him. Anything would be better than his frigid farce of geniality.
Yet, as had also become his custom, he merely stared off over the top of her head; ignoring all she said. Feeling the last button flicked into place, he at once moved from her, “better Katharine?”
“Much.” His elder Sister, answered distractedly, searching about, a small, puckered frown taking residence on her face. “Do you see Margie anywhere?”
Lafayette’s eyes turned to the faces of his Sisters, a closed mouth smile lighting up both of his dimples.
Reading mischief loud and clear, something she had not seen in him for oh so long, possibly not since breakfast on the morning of the picnic, Katharine narrowed her eyes. “What do you know?”
“Only that she was most likely the first off the steamer.”
“What? I do not understand Margie has never been misbehaved.”
“She ain’t misbehavin’.” And, through a warm, glowing smile, he said, “I gave her a pocket full of banknotes along with her freedom papers.”
Josephine’s brows furrowed.
Katharine’s mouth opened and closed several times as if she had forgotten how to speak. Then, as if they had rehearsed it, they yelped in unison, “You did what?”
“Y’all should see your faces,” he said, his laughter escaping. “Here is something for each of you to put in your hat,” he winked at them. “Taddy and I utterly loathe the notion of being slaveowners. Thusly, my first step in my new life was to free myself of the terrible title. You see, in one fell swoop, I freed Margie and myself both.”
“Lafayette you should have--” Katharine began, but he cut her off.
“Rein in. I respect you as my elder. Still, there ain’t a word you can speak which will alter my way of thinkin’. I will hire a servant for you, once we are settled. However, I am done owning another person. I shall never do so again. So, unless you wish to waste your breath, I suggest you leave this be.”
Katharine’s face tightened, disliking his tone even more than him freeing of her maid.
Seeing her irritation, Lafayette tried to close down his growing smile but could not. Giving up, he blatantly laughed, “Come Sœurs; let’s disembark to meet this new life Josephine has chosen for us.”
As if he had pinched her, Josephine squeaked, “That is not fair!”
Arching an eyebrow, he laughed louder, his laughter sounding a touch caustic as he walked off leaving Josephine flustered and Katharine confused.
Stepping on land he felt unsteady, much the way he did after a long day in the saddle and before his legs felt fully connected to him, they were rushed by street vendors offering: confections, wine, gaudily colored birds, perfumes, fans, tobacco, beads, too many fancies to keep track of. To each, Lafayette responded, “Merci, non.” Weaving through the press of people, he turned to check on his sisters, “You both bonne?”
“Yup,” Josephine answered, her eyes alight with excitement.
A brisk nod was his reply and he targeted them toward the St. Louis Cathedral. ’I will place ’em in the safekeeping of the Curé, while I hire a crew to haul our trunks to Grand-mères,′ he thought, and then he heard his name being called.
“Monsieur Crowe. Over here, Monsieur Crowe.”
Pivoting, he saw Odette waving from where she stood by Jackson Square Park. Striding toward her, he thought. ’Damnation, I do not believe seeing a person has ever brought me such relief. And, par Dieu, if’n she does not look exactly the same as the last time I saw her.′
Odette was a tall, whipcord-thin, her skin almost as light as Lafayette’s and from her tightly-braided hair to the hem of her bright colored skirt, she was the image of confidence and competence.
Drawing near, Lafayette felt like laughing again, ’I can hand a good share of what has been m’ daily chore...′ he glanced at the smiling Katharine and grumpy Josephine,‘... to Odette.’ Halting in front of her, Lafayette hefted Michaël from his shoulders to his hip and replaced his hat on his head. “Bonjour, Odette, it is mighty fine to see you.”
“Monsieur Lafayette, seein’ you brings me great joy. I knew it was you the moment I laid eyes on you. Monsieur, you are the image of your Père. I declare the mirror image. You take me right back to when he was courtin’ Mademoiselle Genni.”
“Merci,” Lafayette said, not sure how he felt about the comparison.
“Who be this garçon?”
“This is my neveu.” Lafayette replied, giving Michaël a jiggle, hoping he would use the manners Katharine had been plying into him.
“Bonjour, I am Michaël Archibald Waverly,” Michaël said proudly, holding his hand out, “I am pleased to meet you.”
“My goodness, what a proper Monsieur,” Odette stated, curtsying before taking his hand, “I am your Grand-grand-mère’s Odette. I, too, am pleased to meet you.” Bowing her head, she released Michaël’s hand, moving on to the ladies. “Madame Katharine it has been far too long. Mon Maîtresse has been eagerly awaitin’ your arrival.”
“As have I and I am quite pleased to have at last arrived.” Katharine stated and meaning it, for it had been a long, arduous journey; in particular with Lafayette and Josephine endlessly sniping at one another.
“Well, now, you surely have grown.” Odette took a long appraisal of Josephine. “Your père sent a telegram. Mmm hmm, it said you were to be registered for classes at Ursuline Academy. He hopes they will cultivate a level of decorum in you which he failed to attain.” Odette said, her voice holding a curt level of disapproval that even Katharine had never attained. ”Mon Maîtresse forthwith procured you a placement.”
Josephine’s mouth unhinged itself, ‘Classes with the Nuns? How terrible!’ She thought, frantic she turned to her brother. ‘Surely here he will take sympathy on me and put a stop to this.’ One glimpse of his impassive face and she knew she would be attending.
“I will take charge of Monsieur Michaël,” Odette said.
“Merci beaucoup,” Lafayette replied.
“Them men over there,” she pointed to a freight wagon.
“I commissioned them to retrieve your belongin’s home. Come along Chéries, we shall await Maître Lafe by the Cathedral steps.”
Lafayette cringed all the way down to his toes as Odette casually bequeathed the title ‘Master’ on him before walking away.