Jonathon admired the street, he was well familiar with for when riding from his home in the Garden district, he often used Royal to cut over to the docks. True, there were more direct routes then rue de Royal, however, he was fond of the time-honored street. Secretly he fancied one day living on it, although he knew he had a better chance of taming a bobcat than purchasing a home in the Old Square.
Funds was not the issue, it was the Creoles, whose families descended from the original colonial settlers. They had set it as their personal mission to prevent American immigrants from living within their beloved French Quarter.
However, to be fair, referring to American’s as immigrants was only their polite way of saying trespassers. All and all, this was ludicrous, since for nearly fifty years the Creoles had been Americans themselves. Thinking how duplicitous Creoles were known to be, Jonathon considered Lafayette and his speech sprinkled with French, ’Could he be a Creole?”
Almost as if Lafayette were reading his thoughts, he asked, “is your famille from Louisiane?”
“I was born here. My brothers were all born in Oxford.”
“England?” Lafayette asked, his eyebrows rising.
“Quelle honte, not only are you a damnable American but a Northerner one as well.”
Jonathon’s face fell. He looked from Lafayette to the houses along the street and back to Lafayette.
“Hellfire Jonathon, do not take it to heart.” Lafayette chuckled, “I myself come from a State divided; for all you know, I could be Northerner.”
“I am not a Northerner.”
His sulky tone made Lafayette howl with laughter, “Of course you are not.” Shaking his head, Lafayette thought, ‘he is twisted up tighter than a wet guinea hen.’ Reining in, he said, “Doux Jésus, Burgess, you gotta to loosen up.
Hellfire, Southerners are known for their cheerful disposition. You keep on as you are, next you will have me believing you are a Yankee merchant.”
“I am. Wait, no.” Cringing, Jonathon closed his eyes to collect himself.
“I know Jonathon. You told me about your famille enterprise... remember?” Lafayette rode in close, slapping Jonathon on the shoulder, “I am serious. You need to loosen up, Bub. You make yourself far too easy of a target.”
Jonathon glanced away, ‘I like him. Yet, I am not so sure if I can keep pace with his jesting humor.’
“Jonathon...” Lafayette waited until he had Jonathon’s eye. “I would bet my wallet, what got you feelin’ like a limp deuce in an ace high deck earlier, was the whole aspect of me rentin’ this cheval. I would say you told yourself, if’n I am Lafayette Crowe of the splendid Crowe Stables, why would I deign to rent a cheval?”
Jonathon nodded, hesitantly, in agreement.
Removing a leather tie from his pocket, Lafayette gathered his long hair into a smooth tail to lay between his shoulder blades, “Hellfire, truth is... I miss ridin’. I miss it every day. All the same, why would I want to own an animal such as this…” he patted the mare’s neck, ”m’ pardon, mademoiselle."
Turning into the carriage hitch posts before a house, Lafayette shrugged. “See, Jonathon, I do not have a cheval ’cause I do not require one as m’ mansion is situated dead center in the Veux Carré.”
Jonathon Burgess’ clear blue eyes scanned up the ornate three-story red-brick home with its row after row of shining windows trimmed in turquoise shutters. As he did, his mouth quite literally fell open.
Dismounting, Lafayette turned to invite Jonathon in, and seeing his face, his own eyes shifted to the house. Viewing it through Jonathon’s eyes, he felt embarrassed. “Excusez-mo, I sometimes forget how pretentious the place is; m’ Grand-mère enjoys her decorations.” He waved at the overtly ornate cast-iron, “and, I do mean lots of decorations.”
A young Irish boy appeared at Lafayette’s elbow, saying, “Hello.”
Jumping, with a put on pretense of being startled, Lafayette wrapped an arm about the boy, “Whew, did not hear ya at all this time. Why Patrick, you are gettin’ quiet as an injun.”
The boy giggled.
“This cheval,” Lafayette said, snatching hold of the boy, swinging him on to the horse’s back, “belongs to the Silver Spur Stable. Do you know where that is?”
“That I do.”
“Would you like to return her, for me?”
The boy’s freckled face, exploded into a smile, “Would I!”
Lafayette nodded, his own contagious, dimpled smile, “Non racing... at all! If’n I am forced to make mes excuses to the magistrate, yet again, I will be also forced to forbid you from horseback.”
The smile fell from the boy’s face.
“Am I understood?”
“Yes, Mister Lafayette.”
“Off with you then.” Lafayette slapped the mare on the hip, sending her ambling back up Royal, “Climb down, Jonathon, I wish to introduce you to m’ famille.”
Gawking at the showy Creole home and then to its inhabitant standing below him, Jonathon licked his lips, “Monsieur Crowe.”
“Hellfire, do not start with that. The reason I visit saloons so far from home, is precisely to avoid all that Monsieur bullshit. It tires me the hell out.”
Dismounting, Jonathon tied his stallion to the hitch pole.
“See Jonathon, whenever I step outside this gate, I become Monsieur Begnoir-Bueford Crowe.” Lafayette said, theatrically waving a hand through the air, “I tell you, that is a hell of a lot larger name than Crowe to live up to.”
Unable to keep the awe from his voice, Jonathon said, “You are a Begnoir-Bueford.”
With a hearty sigh, Lafayette dropped his eyes to his boots, before looking to Jonathon, “See. There goes that name again. I rightly believe, it thoroughly enjoys entering a room before me.” Loosening his cravat, along with the top two buttons of his shirt, Lafayette grumbled, “It makes me wish I was back in Missouri, where I was just a plain Crowe and people liked me for me... and not for my title.”
Right then Jonathon understood him. Lafayette might be smart, wealthy, and of the top social caste. At the same time, he was immensely unpretentious. Clapping an arm about Lafayette’s shoulder, Jonathon knew without a doubt, he wanted Lafayette as his friend. “How about I just call you, Crowe?”
Lafayette looked up with a jerk, a young boy’s smirk of joy on his face, “You would do that?”
“Sure.” Jonathon chuckled, “Gladly.”
Throwing his arm about, Jonathon’s shoulder, Lafayette said, “I have an inkling, we are about to become magnifique amis.”
“If you say so, Crowe.”
Following Lafayette through the side gate, Jonathon could hear the bubbling music of water hidden within the thick foliage. Peering about for its source, he spied a Grecian sculpted fountain; yet his attention was drawn from it to a lady reclining alongside, on a chaise lounge. Pulling up short his mouth fell open.
It appeared she had been reading, but was now asleep. One delicate hand dangled free, the fingers seeming to reach for the book that had slipped from her grasp. Drawing nearer, Jonathon glanced about, thinking, ‘Where is the artist to capture this beauty?’ His chest tightened as he took in her thick dark lashes, the pert upturn of her nose, and the glorious waves of nut brown hair. ‘She was by far the most stunningly gorgeous lady I have ever seen.’ His eyes traced the landscape of her body, draped chastely in a rabbit fur coverlet, before coming back to her gently parted red wine lips.
“Ah!” Lafayette moaned, with a tight-lipped grin and a shake of his head, he said, “I see, she has captured yet another one.”
No reply came from Jonathon as he was thinking, ‘is she too his?’ Jealousy hardened his features; his desire for her overwhelming his desire for friendship and he bitterly thought, ‘How could she not be? He has everything else.’
Seeing Jonathon’s face purple and his eyes becoming slits, Lafayette whistled low, “She really went straight to your heart. Alas, I feel for you… she is nothing more than m’ amour and m’ bane and mon… bébé sœur.”
Jonathon’s eyes shot wide, “Your sister!” For a second, Lafayette thought he was going to be drug into a bear hug as Jonathon leapt forward grabbing him by the shoulders, shaking him and hooting. “She is your sister, my God, Crowe, your sister. Why how wonderful.”
Patting his friend on the shoulder, “Doux Jésus, I will introduce you, however, I warn you, she will steal your soul away.” Lafayette said, walking across the garden to wake Josephine.
Scooping up the book up, he mumbled, “terrible way to treat the Bard’s writing.” Straightening the pages, he closed it, tucking the book in his pocket. Placing his hands behind his back, he leaned over, whispering in her ear, “Be decorous. I have a visiteur who wishes to be présenté.”
Her eyes popped open, “Lafe! You just scared a good year off my life.”
“Turn around can be fair play, m’doux.”
Her brown eyes darted across his face, reading the slight lines about his eyes and the evil curl of his mouth. She frowned; knowing he was counterfeiting friendliness. Shoving him aside, she snapped, “I will not play your game,” and leapt to her feet. The rabbit drape falling and revealing a simple white dressing gown.
Snagging the coverlet, Lafayette wrapped it about her, hissing, “You best go in immediately.”
Enjoying seeing him flustered, she arched a brow, whispering, “I thought you wished to introduce me.”
“I did not realize you were indécent.” He ground out through gritted teeth, sneaking a peek at Jonathon, who was currently much too intently studying a potted palm. Lafayette snorted, ‘appears he already got a right good look.’ And turning back to Josephine, he pointed toward the doors. “Inside!”
“I am goin’,” she said, walking past Jonathon. As she did so, he turned.
Josephine came to a halt, her lips slowly parting, as she thought, ‘I have never seen such blue eyes.’ Then, without realizing it, she was walking to him, unable to turn away from his attentive expression. ‘He is easily the most attractive man I have ever seen.’
Reaching to set his sister back on course, Lafayette’s grin erupted as he took in Jonathon’s dazed expression reflected on Josephine. “Well, what have we here?”
Both Jonathon and Josephine had forgotten he was there until his rich, full laughter flooded the courtyard, making them both jump their cheeks flaming up rich red.
“Appears I am obliged to présenté y’all despite the dictates of decency.” Amusement filled every aspect of Lafayette’s demeanor as he said, ”Monsieur Jonathon Burgess, this here is m’ petite sœur, Mademoiselle Josephine Michelle Antoinette Crowe. And, I do suppose, I should also s’excuser for the pair of us interrupting her afternoon respite; and thus catching her so unaware.”
Jonathon smiled like a fool on parade, stammering, “Good Day... Miss Crowe... I too apologize, if I have disturbed you in any way. However, Ma ’am, I am beyond delighted to make your acquaintance.”
“And, I you.” She replied, daring to lay her bare fingertips on his hand. “S’il vous plaît, call me Josephine.”
“I am at your bidding, Miss Crowe yet, it would be improper for me to call you by your Christian name. But do not doubt, Miss Crowe, I still am at your bidding,” he said, staring into her eyes.
Josephine’s smile appeared. Not the perfect fake one she used for meet and greets; her true smile that brought forth every ounce of her personality and loveliness. “Monsieur Burgess, do you really mean that?”
“I, certainly, do.” Jonathon replied, taking a step closer. “More than any declaration I have ever made.” He nodded, taking another step.
Deeming this had gone far enough, Lafayette slipped between them. “Jo, should you not head for your room and find some proper attire?”
With a giggle, she raced up the garden stairs and stealing one more peek at Jonathon, she darted through the glass doors into her room.
Lafayette looked to Jonathon, ’Seems rather than finding an ami for myself, I may have found a beau for Jo.′ He shook his head, “Shall we head inside?”
Jonathon stood frozen.
“Hey.” Lafayette said, punching Jonathon in the arm.
Jumping, Jonathon turned another shade of crimson. “My apologies, did you say something?”
Draping an arm about the man’s shoulder, Lafayette chortled, “I suppose, if you have it in mind to stare after m’ sœur like Romeo lost, then I should most assuredly invite you in to déjeuner and to meet m’ famille.”
“Well, I… uhm... that is.” Jonathon licked his lips, his eyes flicking to the double doors where she had disappeared.
“Oh, just come the hell inside.” Lafayette said, laughing again and steering Jonathon through the downstairs courtyard door. “Besides, I would judge you are in need of a good, strong drink.”