“Morning Marie,” Gabriel drawled, pouring himself a coffee. Eyeing her across the edge of his cup, taking a sip, he grinned. “You keep starin’ slack-jawed at me like you are, and you are liable to catch yourself a bug.”
Snapping her mouth shut, she gulped out, “Morning, Mister Gabe,” returning to cutting biscuits from the dough, rolled out across the table.
“By Dickens it is cold.” Webster squawked, bursting in the door, rubbing his hands together and heading straight for the coffee pot. Liberally dosing his cup with brown sugar, his dark face exploded into a wide, toothy grin when he spied Gabriel. “Hello stranger.”
Webster was Mams’ only child. All anyone knew of him for sure, was Webster had been born on Sienna and Gena Lorraine had declared him free before he even took a breath. He had grown up beside the Crowe children because it was what Gena Lorraine wished. Of all her children, Gabriel and Webster were closest. The two of them had been trading confidences since they began talking. Now, as men, they both stood six-foot-four in their bare feet with shoulders and chests to match their size. Either of them could heft about anything you aimed them at and their friendship was still close, except Gabriel’s tendency to wander tended to keep them apart.
Refilling his coffee cup, Gabriel said, “bet you would not say no to some assistance.”
“Not in the least,” Webster answered, just as Peter, George, and Mams came in from the outdoor kitchen and back patio.
Smiling Simone stated, “Will wonders never cease.”
“You make it sound like I never assist ’round here at all.” Gabriel replied, pulling on his heavy coat.
“Let us just say, I adore you too much to go into that discussion,” Mams replied, handing Gabriel the steaming cup he had set on the table.
Staring through the back window at Gabriel and Webster, Peter shook his head, “I were not expectin’ to see hide nor hair of ’em today.”
Mams nodded, “It sure be good he is here. We goin’ to be needin’ all the muscle this house has.” She said, washing her hands at the kitchen pump.
Striding through the swinging kitchen door into the toasty room, Antonio yawned, stretching his arms over his head, “morning all.”
“Mornin’ Mister,” Peter replied, waving the coffee pot toward Antonio. “Like a cup?”
“Would hit the spot,” Antonio answered, moving a chair well away from where Marie was cutting biscuits. “Tell me, Peter, how many hogs you got fasted for butchering?”
“Four good-sized ones.”
Drinking his coffee, Antonio closed his eyes, figuring poundage, “You reckon we will be necessitating that much meat?”
Mams, who was fitting biscuits into baking pans, replied. “There still be nine of us and above all, do not be forgettin’ Taddy. He eats enough for trois.”
“I cannot help it.” Thaddeus wailed, tucking his shirt in as he came in on his family talking about him.
“And not an inkling where it all goes,” Antonio stated, looking at his lean son.
“Personally, I think he uses it to fire up all the mischief he gets in.” Mams nodded. “Mmm Hmm, that be exactly what I think.”
Giving Mams a kiss on the cheek, Thaddeus said, “Yeah, but y’all still amours moi.” Scootching around her, he pinched off a wad of biscuit dough, popping it in his mouth.
“Get your mitts out of my pastry,” Mams chided, shooing him away.
Pouring himself a cup of coffee, Thaddeus leaned around Marie pinching off another wad, giving her a quick peck on the cheek, causing her to screech, “Mister Taddy.”
Raising his voice, Peter declared, “leave them gals be and get yourself outside, to see what needs doin’.”
“All right.” Thaddeus mumbled around his mouthful while reaching to steal another pinch.
“Cease!” Mams threatened, raising a wooden spoon.
Thaddeus’ dark brows shot up, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“Do not be testin’ me.” She waggled the spoon, “gets yourself out of my kitchen garçon, afore you force me to injures you.”
Laughing, Antonio slid into his coat, and pulling Thaddeus’ from the peg, he handed it to him. Seeing Gabriel’s was missing, he growled inwardly, ‘Damn him. He has slipped off again. Figures just when he might be of assistance.’
Stepping outside, Antonio took a deep breath of the cold air, ‘Well, there ain’t no reason to let him rile me up.’ he thought. Walking toward the work zone, he marveled at the sun peeking over the ridge, tinting the world a cherry gold when he came to such a fast jarring halt, Thaddeus slammed straight into him.
Ignoring his Father’s dumbstruck look, Gabriel hollered, “about time Squirt, thought I might need to drag you down here.”
Thaddeus shrugged at the startled, questioning look his father threw him and walked toward his brother “Hell there ain’t non way in hell you could drag me anywhere.”
“Really Squirt... I am thinkin’ there is. What do you think, Web?”
“I am a thinkin’. I do not wish to be brought into this. Besides, you seem to be forgettin’...” he pointed at Thaddeus with his chin, “... he bites.”
“Oh fuck, I ain’t bit anyone in years.”
“Well hell, we broke you of one bad habit. Maybe you are trainable.” Gabriel replied, laughing.
Scrunching his face, Thaddeus flashed his center finger at his brother, which brought forth a robust round of laughter from Gabriel and Webster.
Taking in their jovial play, Antonio pushed past his surprise, concluding if Gabriel wished to cease segregating himself, as he had since their fight, then he would be happy to oblige. Wanting to be a part of their friendly banter, he said, “Boys, it seems today shall be a historic day for Sienna. It will be the first time hog butcherin’ is done without the benefit of slave labor.”
The brothers and Webster looked at him for a heartbeat and then Gabriel turned going for more water. Thaddeus fell to pumping the bellows until the fire beneath the scalding pot was roaring, and Webster lit the smaller kettle fires, ensuring there would be hot replacement water for the big pot.
By the time all the pots were bubbling, Peter arrived herding an impressive red swine who was grunting its displeasure.
Handing Gabriel the small-bore musket, Antonio said, “You take the shot.” He hoped offering the task to him, illustrated the respect he felt for his son. As a misplaced shot could rattle around in a hog’s skull pan merely injuring the beast. Most anyone about could impart a horrific tale of damage done by an injured-angry hog, both to property and men.
The shot was exact and clean. Not bothering to acknowledge his Father by passing him the musket, Gabriel laid it on a vacant cabin porch. The brothers and Webster shared a look, knowing it was time to begin the real work.
Kneeling, Webster sliced the hog’s jugular vein, a radiant rush of blood poured forth, soaking the ground. In nothing flat, he cut the gambrel tendons of each rear leg, hooking them over the singletree tied to a hoist, which hung above the scalding pot.
Gabriel and Thaddeus shucked out of their coats, tossing them alongside the musket, as working so close to the fire, they would have no need of them. Grasping the winch ropes attached to the singletree, they heaved; hoisting the hog until it hung above the pot. And then with great care they lowered the beast into the bubbling water.
“Damnation” Gabriel grunted, “He has got to be close to three-hundred-pounds. Maybe we should have taken him to the fair rather than ol’ Scratch.”
“Aw, he ain’t that damn heavy,” Thaddeus replied, winking at Webster. “Conceivably you are gettin’ old and soft, gran frère.”
Frowning Gabriel spit into the fire. “Squirt, I will work your scrawny ass into the ground afore this days’ done.”
“Yeah, duex cartwheels I will have you pantin’ in the shade for were through?”
“Damn, Gabe, you skinflint. Make it gold instead of silver and I will school you to what work actually is.”
“Fine, but you best have the coin when time comes to pay up or I will damn well take it out of your hide, Squirt.”
Thaddeus’ brows dropped low, his jaw line hardening.
“What have I said about wagerin’?” Mams snapped, “Y’all drop this before you get started.” Shaking her head at them, she placed a pair scraping knives on an upended log. “Gets to haulin’ that hog outs before them bristles set.”