Riding on the freight wagon as it made its way to the docks, Lafayette boiled over being returned to the position of Master. He had relished the idea of being able to say he did not own slaves. Then, with one word, Odette had put him right back in the harness. ’Well, it does not matter. I do not own her. She is Grand-mère’s property, not mine.’ Truth was he was only quibbling to make himself feel better. For no matter what he told himself, he knew he would still be living within a household of slaves. ‘Damn our institution it appears the only way I am to escape it would be to move North.’ Sighing heavily, he shifted his attention to the three laborers he was sitting alongside, and was shocked to see they were all white men.
Their clothing was ragged and thin from long use and they hid themselves under low-slung mechanic’s hats. The one beside him was so small in stature; Lafayette felt sure when the man stood he would be even shorter than Thaddeus. Fresh scabs decorated the small man’s knuckles and overall he raised Lafayette’s curiosity. He tried to think of a way to draw the man out, although before he could, the wagon jolted to a halt in front of their steamer, Uncle Sam.
“Monsieur, ya point ’em out and I will get ya back with ya family in a trice,” the freight driver stated, rolling off his seat to lean his flabby body against the wagon. As he did so, he shoved the nearest man out of the way, hollering, “Ya Micks get to it if ya knows what is good for ya.”
′Jésus pleura, he must have trois chins,′ Lafayette thought, trying not to stare, ’and non neck. Damnation, I ain’t ever seen a person so corpulent.′
Taking his travel papers to the Uncle Sam’s steward, the curt boatman read them and set about having the trunks brought from stowage. Staying where he was, Lafayette observed the manner in which the fat man treated the much smaller Irishmen. It twisted Lafayette’s anger on its edge; for there was little, he detested more than a bully. Sucking the insides of his cheeks, he thought, ‘I sure would like to cut that bastard down to half his size, but anything I say ain’t goin’ to do these men one turn of good.′
Of all the immigrants swarming to suckle of America’s milk and honey dream, the Irish were the most miserable runt on the tit. There was not a large city in the States where they had not settled and there was also no location, which had given them any sort of fair shake.
In New Orleans, it had become more economical to hire a penny-a-day Irish than to clothe and feed a slave, or worse, to risk a skilled slave to a dangerous labor. Not when there were Irish could be worked long and hard and if one of them died from injury or yellow fever, it was no skin off a landowner’s wallet.
Due to this, keeping a stable of slaves was becoming an unneeded expense. Many owners were allowing their slaves to hire themselves out. Naturally, they were required to present a commission from their earnings back to their Masters. Still, given time, negros were purchasing their freedom. So ironically, here in New Orleans set on the southern shore of the Deep South, even a free man of color stood higher on the social ladder than a white man from Ireland.
A guilty sympathy filled Lafayette as the underfed men struggled beneath the opulent weight of his family’s luggage. Staring at his feet, he thought, ‘It feels damn peculiar to not chip in as I would back home.’ Peeking at their foreman once more, he knew if he hefted a single trunk, the lot of them would lose their job and most likely without their day’s pay. After what felt like an eternity of standing on hot coals, Lafayette called out, “All right, that is all of’em.”
The Irishmen scrambled onto the wagon, sweating freely in the crisp air.
Lafayette asked, “Were you informed of the delivery address?”
“Oui, ya slave, tolds me.”
Lafayette’s insides cringed.
“She tolds me too, we would be paid once ya goods are unloaded at the Bueford house. Right fine area, that is,” the driver said, eyeing Lafayette from his western hat to his tall riding boots.
Ignoring the look, Lafayette nodded toward the men crouched on the wagon, “And, their pay?”
“I toss ’em crumbs at the end of the day.”
Lafayette’s jaw tightened, and swinging aboard the wagon, he snapped, “Drop me near the Cathedral.”
With sham politeness, the driver replied, “As you say, Monsieur.”
At the corner of rue de St. Anne, Lafayette hopped off. However, before taking his leave, he thanked each man dropping coins into their hands. His generosity earned him a look of disgust from the driver and he thought, ‘He should be feelin’ pleased I have enough decorum not to give him an honest piece of my mind.’
Reaching the man, who had proven to be shorter than his brother, Lafayette took hold of his offered hand. As they shook, he noted the little finger of the man’s left hand had parted company with him. Unlike the other two men who mumbled their appreciation without raising their eyes, this bandy man tipped his hat, flashing a huge smile. He had dark blue eyes set deep in his face and a bit too close together and somehow the purple shiner encircling his right eye was a comical contrast to his exuberant smile.
’Hellfire, we are within a stone’s throw of being the same age.” Lafayette thought, flashing back a smile just as large. Then, before he thought not to, he introduced himself, asking, “What is your name, Sir?”
In a lyrical baritone the little man replied, “Connor Sir, Connor Shelly.”
“I greatly appreciate your aid, Monsieur Shelly.” Lafayette said, once more shaking the man’s hand while wondering how someone with such intelligent eyes could not find less back breaking work. “I do hope your day is good.”
“You too, Mister Crowe, Sir, welcome to the grand, gaudy Crescent City.”
As the wagon drove away, Michaël rushed over, grabbing his Uncle’s hand as he watched the wagon depart with Connor Shelly.
“You payin’ them wharf hands were uncalled for Maître. As mon Maîtresse will see their foreman paid. They are his men to care for.” Odette said, fearing someone might have seen her young Master fraternizing with men well beneath his status.
“I understand. But I did not read him as being much of the sharing type.”
“Hmm.” Her eyes narrowed. “Your coin, suppose you spend it as you wish. In the future, you may want to reflect more on your actions. Perhaps you should speak with m’ Maîtresse about the Irish and--”
Turning his back on Odette, he spoke to Katharine, “I expect we should introduce ourselves to the Curé,” while, thinking, ’it is one thing for Mams to ramrod me. She is mon Mère and has the right. But, par Dieu, there ain’t non way in hell I am about to let Odette do so.′
Sensing his rising anger, Katharine squeezed his arm before stooping to straighten her son’s clothing, “Michaël chéri, we are going into the Lord’s house. You must be on your bestest behavior.”
“Madame Katharine, I will await you there.” Odette stated, pointing to a tree growing near the banquette.
As they walked off, Odette’s eyes snaked after Lafayette. She had not missed the way he cut her off and she did not liked it. Frowning, she wondered if he was going to be difficult to control, her thoughts, though were interrupted by Katharine saying.
“Odette, we shall not be long as I am anxious to see Grand-mère.” Removing her rosary from her reticule, Katharine took hold of Michaël’s hand, leading him up the Cathedral’s steps. Not seeing her sibling’s rosaries, she pursed her lips, giving her beads a meaningful shake in their direction.
A prickle of sweat ran down Lafayette’s spine, “Uhm… I... um, do not believe I brought mine.”
“Lafayette Henri Begnoir!” she hissed, spinning on him ready to put him in his place. The quick, red blush racing across his face tripped her up, and seeing Josephine fidgeting in his shadow she said, “Not you too?”
Josephine’s brows shot up and she inched sideways, preparing to duck fully behind Lafayette, when quick as a whip, Katharine had hold of her, hustling both her and Michaël inside so swiftly that the long streamers of her widow’s cap flared wildly after them.
Rubbing at an eye, Lafayette hung back far enough to remain clear of the frigid anger streaming from his elder sister. He was past the vestibule with one boot upon the marble tiles of the sanctuary when he heard Odette call his name in a tone filled with clear-cut disapproval.
Tired and cranky, he spun about barking, “Quelle?”
She shook her head.
Dragging his self to where she stood, it came to him; ′m’ rosary is marking my spot in Old Curiosity Shop which is lying on the table by the veranda doors in m’ chambre.’ Then not for the first time, but the first time this day, he wished that were precisely where he was. Stopping in front of Odette, he asked in a tight voice, ”Quelle?”
“Merci for walkin’ over here like a monsieur as it is poor manners to raise one’s voice in public. I feel you should know m’ Maîtresse deems bad manners far below Begnoir-Bueford standards. And I am certain, she would feel the same about wearin’ a hat in the Lord’s home.” She stated, before almost tearing his black hat from his head. “I shall hold on to it for you Maître Lafe,” she said, with icy politeness, shaking her head over how he had nearly smudged the Begnoir-Bueford name.
Anger flooded Lafayette, his face become hard and cold, the left dimple moving rapidly. To keep his words to himself, he exhaled and turned on his heel, unsure if he was more infuriated with her or himself, until she deftly tipped the scales in his favor.
“Maître Lafayette, excusez-moi, but you might wish to express your adherence to the Church of Rome by pausin’ at the font, this time.”
Dipping his fingertips in the sacred water, he made the sign of the cross, murmuring, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit, Amen.” Having dones so, he ducked into the sanctuary away from Odette’s glare, but unconsciously he felt of his ear, knowing if Mams were here, he would not have gotten off so easy. ‘Still, I oughta to be given leeway; it has been ages since any one of us has been in a Cathedral.’
Being a Catholic in Missouri set the Crowes apart from their neighbors, as most of them were devout Baptist with a sprinkling of Lutherans. If it were not for Katharine leading them in prayers he would be such a lapsed sinner there would be no hope for him.
Yet truth was he attended evening prayers, same as saying prayer before dinner. It was all purely out of habit and without consideration. The correct phrases and responses rolling from him as his mind drifted elsewhere. Consequently, during his next hour with Père Croix, he found himself searching for the exact actions for every step he took.
After confession, followed by a lengthy penance, his absolved soul was allowed to exit the cool inferno of the Cathedral into the warmth of the late afternoon sun. Happy to be free of the cloying incense, he took a deep breath of the salty air, thinking, ‘Hellfire, I best be for studyin’ my catechisms if’n I want to keep from lookin’ a fool.’
Her eyes sparkling with mischief, Josephine said, “Mon frère you survived confession, I see.”
His brows rushed together, and ignoring her, he hurried down the steps offering his arm to Katharine.
“I cannot accept as true, how both of you heathens failed to bring your rosaries.” Katharine stated, taking his arm. ”Notre Mère would be mortified. I myself cannot even grasp at the words to express how the pair of you made me feel. I expect, I should at least be content neither of you made any further transgressions.”
“Mes excuses, Katharine.” Lafayette replied and from the corner of his eye, he saw Odette smiling shrewdly. Knowing for now she had the upper hand, he fixed his eyes on the gray-green slate banquette stones lining Pirate’s Alley.