Out in the hall, the door to Josephine’s room rattled in its frame, startling Lafayette as he stepped onto the first step of the central staircase. Pausing, he saw Mams barreling toward him. As she neared, he made out that under her breath; she was hissing and cursing in French. Curiosity getting the better of him, he leaned back into the handrail. “Difficulty, Mams?”
She froze, eyeing him. “Laws Lafe, you would not have faith in what your sœur said to me. That fille is impossible. She says, she ain’t any intentions of catchin’ herself a husband and that havin’ bébés is silly and... also…” Simone stepped closer, “… she does not give a Dutch coin about what people think of her.” She took another step closer, her nostrils flaring like a hound catching a scent.
Lafayette tried to take a step back and ran up against the stair railing.
“Them words sound awfully familiar. Do they not? If I find out you has been placin’ your thick-witted notions in her head. Why I tell you, garçon, there will be nowheres you can hide from moi.” Simone scolded, shaking a fist and pushing by him. “By Peter’s Gate, first you... now her, all the whiles Taddy acting like he is in concert with Lucifer. I swear y’all, each and every one of you, is tryin’ to put moi in my grave.”
Watching her fly down the stairs with her petticoats rustling louder than the evening katydids, Lafayette absently stroked the edge of his ear, and when the door to his father’s study slammed, he released the pent up air, he had not realized he had been holding. “That was close. I thought she had me for sure.”
The way their Mams could seize and twist an ear was a terrible thing. She had been snatching hold of their ears since they were old enough to cause trouble. Of late, Lafayette had put forth a case to their father, requesting him to forbid her from doing so any longer. His reasoning being, they were too old for such disrespect. And, furthermore, should no longer have to be on guard against such measures.
To Lafayette’s eternal humiliation, once he had presented their case, Father had snorted with laughter until he had wiped the tears away, saying. ’My Son, it amazes me, what you will let ‘em talk you into. Listen up real close and take this bit of advice back to the rest of them hellions, I christened under my name. When all of you behave like the blood of your breeding and less like wild yearlings, then none of you will ever have an ear twitched again. Until that day dawns, I give Simone my full blessing, as it appears to be one of the few punitive measures which controls the lot of you.’
His answer had seemed so unfair. Later, though, Lafayette had admitted to himself, it was not only just, it was correct. Still, it had been hard going. Explaining the merit of their father’s words, to the same siblings who had encouraged him to enter into the discussion in the first place. The idea of their fate being in their own hands either did not sink in, or plain did not appeal to them. Himself, he had taken it to heart. So far, Mams had not latched on to him once this season. Yet, to be on the safe side, he also kept more than an arm’s length from her when she was irritated.
Knowing he did not want to proceed downstairs and possibly be called out onto the rug before Father’s desk; he chose instead to reconnoiter Josephine’s side of the uproar. His fingertips, once more tracing the curve of his ear, he muttered. “Besides, I need to speak to that fille. This ain’t the first time it has gotten back to me of her echoing mon words.’
He shook his head, thinking of his sister, Josephine, who, when upset her true mule headedness emerged. Worse, if she dug in her heels, her word choices were poor and intermixed with cursing she had learned from him and Thaddeus. So, between her roughshod language and slipped comportment, she wound up ruining any image of a cultured lady, Father, Mams, and their elder sister, Katharine were attempting to train into her.
Consequently, she placed herself in hot water rather frequently, but fortunately, for her, Lafayette was always willing to bail her out of. He did this because he adored her. Adored her like a personal pet, even adored her rebellious spirit, although, he would never divulge this to a single soul.
She was his favorite of his sisters. And, why would she not be? Their elder, sister, Katharine was elegant, amicable, and moral to the point of prudishness. At heart, a perfect Southern lady. Except being so perfect made her tiresome company. He knew it was wrong to regard her poorly for she was exactly the daughter, his Mother would have desired. Nevertheless, her veiled looks of disapproval, she cast his way tended to make his skin prickle. So as a rule, he avoided Katharine.
Then there was his youngest sister and Thaddeus’ twin, Eudora. She was the gentlest creature; God had ever placed upon this earth. He loved her deeply, and he would protect her with his life, yet far too long ago, he had outgrown her.
The middle sister, Josephine Michelle Antoinette was the spitfire. And, oh, how that girl loved to upset the general idea of being well behaved. If there was ever a law book written on what a lady should and should not do; then a person could, without remorse, bet every cent, they owned that Josephine was all for breaking every rule in it. The same great exasperation, she brought to the rest of the family also brought him great happiness. On the other hand, she had never publicly insulted, embarrassed, or wounded him as she had other members of their family. Maybe, this was why he still found her antics amusing and why he would play her advocate during heated family disputes.
Besides, he was proud of how Josephine would not allow anyone to push her about. And, to her credit, she was a highly thought of equestrian, respected for her hunting skills, and she never burst into tears as other females were prone to do.
Standing outside her door, Lafayette rubbed a hand across his mouth, considering how society might see his sister. ’Could the rest of the famille be right, and Jo needs to begin playin’ the part of a mademoiselle?’ Reflecting on this, he sucked at his front teeth. When clear as a rifle shot, he recalled Father’s remarks at last Sunday’s dinner. ’Josie, you are fully in the bloom of life. I, my dear, do not know of a prettier Miss anywhere. Yet, daughter, time has caught even your youngest brother, requiring him to behave as an adult. So my girl, how do you expect to escape the same fate? I tell you, your shenanigans must cease. You are too old to be setting neighbors’ tongues to wagging so.’
A sharp tingle ran down Lafayette’s spine, ‘Does this mean, I concur with Father? If so, this would be the first time, I have cared what society thought of any of us.’
Between his fight with Thaddeus and now this, he could feel tension building along his neck. Scrubbing his hands up his face and back through his hair, he willed himself to let it all go. Then he heard Josephine’s voice, leaning an ear to the door, he jerked back in disbelief. ‘She cannot truly be bellowing to Peter, all the way down, at the stables?’
Rapping hard on the door, he was rewarded by the rattling clatter of French doors being slammed closed. Followed by a desperate flurry of movement, he knew, was Josephine composes her overall appearance. All at once, he realized, ’She thinks, I am Father. Ah, par Dieu one of the many reasons, why I amour her, she makes me laugh, even when she does not intend to.’
Gradually the door opened, revealing Josephine wearing her most pert smile and she had even pinched her cheeks, giving them just the right amount of fresh color.
Pushing by her, into the room, he chortled, “if’n you do not beat all. I swear, you ain’t happy, unless you are causin’ some sort of ruckus.”
Sticking her head into the hallway, she peeked both ways to see if he was alone before shutting the door. Spinning about, she found him reclining in her reading chair by the cut-glass French doors that were still hanging ajar.
Even though he had stopped laughing, his whole attitude bubbled with mirth. Her rich, nut-brown eyes, which, moments before had brimmed with sweetness, now overflowed with acidic scorn. Her new expression brought forth another rumble of laughter to fill the room.
“I will not have you hooting at me, Lafe!” She said, raising a fist at him. “I damn-well will not stand for it!”
Leaping to his feet, he snatched hold of her upraised fist, “Not stand for it? You!?” he queried, rolling out a Machiavellian smile. “Jo, m’ petite, I really deem, it is I who should be angry. I have been informed; it is I, who has placed all sorts of insane notions in your head.”
Her smooth, white teeth clamped over her lower lip, “Lafe sugar, I just said those things to get Mams out of my room.”
“I figured as much.” He flipped one of her chocolate curls out of her eyes, noting how her hair hung free. This, most assuredly, was one of the points distressing Mams “Still, how am I to defend you in the next famille war if’n you leave me so ill-informed? And speaking of which, pray tell me, what is the theme of this day’s war?”
Although, considering the blue riding habit she wore, topped off with a brown wide-brimmed hat, he knew the argument was her appearance. Focusing on the hat, he decided she must have pilfered it from Gabriel’s wardrobe, because he did not recognize it as his or Thaddeus’. Taking in her over-all appearance, he wondered, ‘is she dressing to attract attention? If’n so, this outfit will achieve her goal.’ In that moment, he, too, decided, he wanted her to change into much more appropriate day dress. ‘Course that is goin’ to require delicate steps to coddle her into the notion. What should I say differently from Mams?’
“Lafayette, I want to ride over to the Barnett’s.” Josephine cooed, stepping in closer and turning her begging, brown eyes up to him. “I already sent down a request for Nelly to be saddled.”
Lafayette rubbed at his eye, trying not to let his large smile escape, for he could not recall a time a mademoiselle’s request was shouted from a veranda.
“Anyway, I cannot comprehend why Mams deems, I must be conveyed in a buggy along with wearing that,” Josephine stated, pointing to the offending lavender-plaid, day dress spread across her unmade canopy bed.
“Belle fille, the pale colors of the dress will accent your skin spectacularly. Why does it chafe you so?” He asked, reeling her in close, “here, I will enlighten you of a confidential missive. Wearin’ such a frock, I have clear-cut faith; you will not only capture a score of mon pals hearts, but utterly destroy ’em; if they are unable to attract your attention.”
Jerking free of him with such force, she almost knocked herself to the floor, Josephine squalled, “Ta gueule! I know you and I ain’t goin’ let you charm me into anything I do not want.” Curling her lip, she stomped to the bed, “I do not fancy wearin’ this all-fired dress.” Then, quick as a redbird her hand darted into the pile of fabric. Shuffling through her unmentionables, she withdrew a corset; triumphantly she waved it right under Lafayette’s nose. “And, I refuse to be cinched up in these damn awful stays.”
With this statement, she rushed to the French doors, with a fierce toothy smile, she threw them open and as the warm summer breeze blew in, her corset flew out. It spun cartwheels in the bright blue sky, for a moment, before plummeting out of sight.
A burn spread over Lafayette’s body, his face heating to a soft red and he found himself at a loss for words. ’Hellfire, I have seen a filles unmentionables, even seen ’em on and off the right filles. But, I could have lived the rest of my damn life, without seeing Jo’s.’ Tracking for anything that would allow him to escape, without further chagrin, he sidled toward the door with her words buzzing about him like errant flies.
Clapping her hands in front of his face, she said, “Damnation, Lafe are you listenin’ at all?”
“I was sayin’, the day is too gorgeous not to ride and definitely, too gorgeous to be restrained in that civilized torture device.”
“You are correct about the weather chérie, still a mademoiselle...” he fumbled at the doorknob.
Grabbing his hand, she pleaded, “s’il vous plaît, not you, too.” In desperation, she clutched his arm, hoping his dark eyes would be filled with the support, she routinely found there.
Swallowing hard, Lafayette pushed past his uneasiness, and fast as a tickling breeze, he found the whole incident hilarious. So when he did look down, his eyes were once more sparking with unvoiced laughter.
With a snort, Josephine, shoved him away.
And, his humor burst forth in loud brays.
“Oh, you! I was so worried, I had displeased you. And, you were, you were playing at one of your dad-gum games. You... You... You... low-down, four-flushin’, yellow diable!”
Around his laughter, Lafayette snorted, “First you want my endorsement, and then you curse me. Quelle honte, Jo, which is it to be?”
“Out of my way, you bilk.” She hollered, pushing by. “I will ride Nelly to the picnic. Not a word any of you say will sway my mind.” Stomping from him, down the long, navy and burgundy tapestry runner that led to the staircase, her boot heels reverberated like hammer blows. Not slowing, she spun to walk backwards and shout, “And, I demand for you to stop cackling at me, Lafayette Henri Begnoir. You, without a doubt, have the most despicable damn manners!”
“Manners? Ha! You would be une to talk of manners, m’chérie.” Lafayette hollered back, following her, until he spied a highly irritated Mams coming up the central staircase. “Oh, hellfire!” Making a hard turnabout, he darted for the back stairs. Making his escape, he thought, ’mood, she appears to be in, I sure hope Taddy heeds mon advice and keeps a civil tongue in his mouth; otherwise I do not even believe maladie will save ‘em form Mams.’
Simone Bueford, or as she was most often called, Mams, was dark, gaunt, and sinewy. Her flashing gold eyes often matching her wolfish personality. She had arrived at Sienna as a free-woman of color, over thirty years hence with her mistress, Gena Lorraine Begnoir-Bueford upon her marriage to Antonio Crowe.
Antonio Crowe had built Sienna from nothing, and it was a beautiful gem in the wild woods of Missouri. However, despite Sienna’s grandeur, Simone had been appalled by how pell-mell the plantation’s slaves were; often taking advantage of their Master’s kindness. With Gena Lorraine becoming the Lady of Sienna, she placed Simone in a position of authority. Right away, Simone reeled in the reins on Sienna’s rowdy clutch of slaves; training them in the proper codes of conduct, how a house should be kept, and in particular, respect for their masters, along with respect for themselves, as a part of Sienna.
Then, with the arrival of Antonio and Gena Lorraine’s heirs, Simone’s personal position was raised even higher, when she became their children’s Mammy. Never once did Simone shirk from the heavy load of her position; first to rise, last to bed, forever in charge, and always a protective bulwark for all who called Sienna home. Through the years, Missouri had intertwined itself around Simone like the tendrils of a sweet pea vine, and yet, she still daydreamed of the Vieux Carré she and her Mistress had left behind.
In Louisiana, Gena Lorraine’s family, the Begnoir-Buefords, set the standard for the upper echelon. Their substantial holdings included: business properties, riverboats, sugar and cotton fields, a luxurious plantation in the St. Tammany Parish, and a large home within the heart of the Vieux Carré. If asked, the Begnoir-Buefords, like any decorous Southern family, could quote their lineage just as if they were rattling off their own children’s names; except their blood trailed back to the aristocratic lines who had once sunned themselves upon the palace lawns of France.
Perhaps it was their once noble line, which made them unique, for they treated their house slaves with a deference bordering on kinship. Thusly, Simone was not merely, Gena Lorraine’s personal servant, but also, her lifelong companion. Their friendship was galvanized by their survival of the rigorous training in the laws of respectability, obligatory for people of stature. These laws were Simone’s personal bible, daily she would trot them out, whenever the mood struck her, and it struck her often.
Simone might understand that she was a servant, but a person would pay hell trying to convince her, she was not the ruler of Sienna’s great house and, especially, its children. To her, this was her family. And by the testament of all the Saints, they would live up to the name of her beloved deceased Mistress, Gena Lorraine.