Inching down the back stairs, Thaddeus licked his lips, his revolver case clutched in one hand and boots in the other. Pausing, he leaned against the closed kitchen door. . Hearing only his blood pounding in his ears, he said a quick prayer before slipping inside. To his relief the sun-drenched kitchen with its small dining area was empty and he muttered, “Dieu almighty, I have near about stolen my freedom.”
Slipping on his boots, he spied a rubbish box by the back door and his mouth twisted into a wry grin. Placing his revolver case in the box, he hefted it, hoping the glass and tin did not clank. The last thing he wanted was to alert anyone with his escape so near at hand.
As much as he loved her, Mams was pushing him to the brink. With each passing hour, his muscles had been balling up tighter until his desire for liberty had grown from a want to a sheer necessity. ‘I feel like a damn bronc ready to tear the fuckin’ walls down,′ he thought, opening the back door. ‘If’n I do not get out. I sure as hell ain’t goin’ to be able to toe-the-line on my promise much longer.’
Once Mams had won the battle for Thaddeus to remain at Sienna, she had taken over his care from top-to-bottom. Her cure included the banning tobacco, alcohol, and being out of bed for any longer than she felt pertinent. Furthermore, she had forbidden bleeding and any modern cure alls when Doctor Mathews came to visit. Honestly, Thaddeus had no grounds to complain, for her methods had brought him back to full health.
Yet freedom continued to elude him as she refused to loosen her hold. If any reference was made regarding lessening his restrictions, she would begin raging in French how he would be dead if not for her. During these past weeks, Thaddeus found his own French had improved greatly, as it was the only language she would somewhat, give ear to him in. Still, it did not matter for if his arguments made any headway, she would set to weeping. And, Mams’ tears would destroy him, so before he knew it, he would find himself back in bed. Finally discouraged beyond words he had turned to father, a man he never asked anything of, to intercede on his behalf. Antonio’s answer had been, ‘Tad, I say you may do as you wish. But what I say matters little, for from what I hear, y’all understand each other better than I ever will.’
Thinking on this, Thaddeus paused on the back step, ‘Maybe, I ought to go back to my room,’ and then a spot deep inside of him cracked. ‘Fuck this, I am done being coddled. Ain’t a reason one, I should feel bad about being outside.’ Still, he eased away from the house, knowing if she found him and set to crying he would be right back upstairs.
Walking around the long tables dotting the brick patio, which was Sienna’s outdoor kitchen, he told himself, ‘Break off feelin’ fuckin’ guilty. You ain’t goin’ to get any healthier than this. Sides, she cannot keep me tied to her like some damn porch baby.’ Stepping into the open courtyard, he turned his face to the sky. “Damnation that feels good,” he thought, leaning against a sun-warmed column and inhaling of the robust autumn air until a smile filled his face. Stepping away, he spun in a circle, laughing softly, “Hellfire, it feels good to be free.”
“Where you goin’?”
Startled so bad by the abrupt question, he dropped the wood box, rubbish clattering about his boots like broken wind chimes. “Jésus pleura! Why you always sneakin’ up on me?” He hissed, at his twin standing mere inches from him.
Eudora’s face was rigidly somber, “I was not sneakin’.”
Her eyebrows rose nearly to her hairline, “I was not.”
“I ain’t believin’ you,” he grumbled, scooping his intended targets back into the box; all the while casting glances at the house.
Crossing her arms behind her back, Eudora leaned forward, catching his eye, “You spooked ‘cause you is the one sneakin’.”
Thaddeus’ chin jutted out, “Damnation, Dora, quit rippin’ me.” Standing, he hitched the box onto his hip, “And, I ain’t sneakin’.′
Stepping in front of him, she put her hands on the lip of the box, “What is you doin’ then?”
He tried to walk about her, but she held fast. “I am goin’ to do some target practice, if you must know, Miss Busybody.”
A pair of deep lines appeared between her eyebrows. “Do not be callin’ me names. I been watchin’ you since you left your room... and I know what I seen.”
“I tell you, I...” He scowled, “Hell with it. Let go! I damn-well ain’t standin’ here arguin’ with you.”
“Mams says you ain’t to go nowheres.”
“Mams says!” He shook her free. “Mams says. Hellfire, all I hear, all live long day is, Mams says.”
“As, do I,” came a crisp reply from behind them.
Thaddeus’ eyes darted beyond Eudora to where Marie stood in the center of the covered patio with her hands resting upon her narrow hips.
“Mister Taddy, Ms Simone’s done told me ’bout you.” Marie glanced to the backdoor. “You is to be inside.”
His voice took on a petulant, spoiled note, “Well, damnation. You think I do not know that?” He snorted, loudly, walking away.
“Mister Taddy, you ain’t to be outside tiring yourself out.” Marie called after him. Walking on, he grumbled, “Doux Jésus,” and raising his voice belligerently, he snarled. “I ain’t goin’ to tire myself out and hellfire, it does not matter because ain’t neither of you can stop me anyways.”
“You be correct about that.” Marie answered with a self-satisfied knowledgeable smile. “However, I could holler for Ms. Simone.”
“Me too, I could holler too.” Eudora added grinning only because she saw Marie was. “And, I can holler real loud, too.”
Thaddeus’ chin dropped to his chest. Inhaling, he swung round. When he raised his face, he wore his crooked grin and in smooth purr, he asked. “Come now, filles, you ain’t goin’ to treat me so terribly, are you?” He knew convincing Eudora was simple. Marie, she was another matter. Setting the box down, he walked toward her; grit crunching beneath his booted feet. “Chèrie you ain’t really goin’ to call the Patroller on me?” he asked, his grin becoming the one the McIntosh gals always squealed over, claiming it withered their wills, making them feel all fluttery and silly. “Surely not, Chèrie?”
Color rose in Marie’s face, and with a trembling hand, she covered her own smile, “Do not be for charmin’ me, Mister Taddy. It ain’t workin’ this time.”
Tilting his head to the side, he kept playing out the grin until his eyes were sparking with wickedness.
Pulling up her apron, Marie hid behind it, giggling.
“Ah Chèrie... s’il vous plaît,” he cooed, taking hold of her hand, and kissing its back. ”S’il vous plaît."
Shaking her head, she whispered, “You are bad, Mister Taddy.”
“What if I go with ’em?” Eudora piped in, switching sides. “I could watch ’em.”
Thaddeus held his smile when he really wanted to scowl at his twin. ‘I almost got Marie convinced and I ain’t in need of any damn chaperon,’ he thought. Yet, seeing a flare of hesitation in Marie’s face, he decided to play the hand his sister had dealt him. “Why, that is a damn-fine notion, Dora. With you taggin’ along, everyone will know I ain’t up to much mischief. Ain’t that so, Chèrie?”
“I do not know.” Marie answered, flicking her eyes to the kitchen door. “Ms. Simone be beside herself when she finds you missin’.”
Studying his handsome face, she flung her free hand out, dropping the apron hem, “Oh for land’s sake, gets out of my sight. Do not be tellin’ Ms Simone we spoke, Mister Taddy. Please do not be tellin’ her.”
“Why would I ever do that?” Kissing her hand once more, he released her, ”Merci beaucoup." And, with a hushed cheer called, “If you are comin’ Dora, come on,” and snatching the box as he raced off, hightailing it down the worn path that wound past the slave cottages.
’Hot damn! A lot of ‘em is empty.’ Thaddeus thought, exhaling a long sigh of contentment at numerous boarded up cottages. ‘I had not realized how many left during the summer. Seems Father will need to hire laborers. Appears all mine and Lafe’s talk against slavery is effecting the Old Man. Walking past two Negros hoeing a large garden patch, Thaddeus’ cheer dimmed, as even these few bothered him. Raising a hand, he called out, “Hello, Joe, William.”
“Good Day, Mister Taddy.” They returned.
Rubbing at his eyebrow, he frowned, ‘I just do not see the difference between them and me. They ain’t anymore brutal, dim-witted, or any of the other colorful terms I have heard used. Hell, if’n I had my way, I would hand out freedom papers this very day.’
Veering from the path into a cluster of tall, thin cottonwoods, he hurried along putting more distance between his self and the house.
Beneath his feet the waxy yellow leaves felt slick and he decided it would be better to slow his pace. Gazing up at the almost bare limbs squeaking above him, he thought, ‘Where did summer go?’ Then with a shrug, he jumped into the double-line of wheel ruts created by years of hauling crops in from the fields. Following the rut, he set to whistling. After whistling a tune through twice, and still not being able to recall its name, he hollered, “Hey Sis, what song is that?” Getting no answer, he turned around, “Sis?”
She was chest high in a thick patch of sumac, her hair glistening in the sunshine like the barrel of a freshly oiled shotgun. The red sumac leaves glittering just as brilliantly as they dipped and twirled, waving in the breeze as she intently peeled free limb after berry-laden limb from the tall plants.
Placing the box on the ground, Thaddeus lay back in the grass.
In time, she came skipping over, a large armful of the willowy limbs bouncing on her shoulder.
“Sumac lemonade?” he asked.
“Mmm hmm,” She twirled; her black hair and the red limbs streaking after her. “It sure is a beautiful day and you were whistling Angelina Baker.”
“Oh yeah... I did not think you heard me askin’.”
“I did.” She peered down at him, “Is this where we are stoppin’?”
“Nope,” he replied, climbing to his feet and swinging the box up on his shoulder.
“Far enough, we will be out of range of Sienna,” he answered, peering back at the house’s chimneys towering above the young grove of trees they had just passed through.
The rosy color drained from Eudora’s cheeks, “We ain’t supposed to leave Sienna.”
“I meant the house not the property.” He shook his head at her, following the wagon path on east.
“Oh.” She mouthed, staring at the visible pieces of the stone fortress they called home. Seeing her twin leaving her, she shoved her feelings of discomfort away and ran to catch him, just as he left the rut to disappear into a thick stand of pin oaks.
Ten minutes of steady walking brought them to a clearing, and wading into the long brown grass, Thaddeus began, once more, whistling ‘Angelina Baker’.
“Taddy, I cannot see the house non more.” Eudora said, sneaking looks to the dark shadows the oak trees were casting that looked like claws reaching for her. “Taddy,” her voice quavered this time, “I cannot see the house. Are we there yet?”
“Just ’bout.” Lines deepened around his eyes. “When did you get so damn worried about venturing out?”
“Since Mams told me, people is being made dead when they wander off.”
Skidding to a halt, he turned to face her and saw she was afraid. He thought, ‘Why in hell would Mams tell her that?’ Taking her hand in his, he squeezed it, keeping her near him. “We ain’t got much further. Moreover, ain’t I right here with you?”
“Would I let anything happen to you?”
She shook her head.
He pulled her close up under his arm, “then do not be such a damn goose.”
Placing her hand on his chest, she giggled, snuggling against him and whispered, “I am not a goose.”
Poking her in the ribs, he made her squawk, “Just proved you are.”
She giggled, ”Je t’aime.”
Hugging her tighter, he replied, “right back at you.”