“Sure look it, I be havin’ a hard time believing, ye be sweatin’ ye tarnished looks,” Connor said, as he and Lafayette climbed the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral. “Ye should be joyous, ye not lying out in all ye splendor for Father Croix to read over ye.”
“True. Save for you ain’t met m’filles. When they lay eyes on me, I may require your protection all over again.” Lafayette whispered removing his hat, as they slipped through the thick, wood doors just as the mass bells fell silent. Glancing at Connor, he dipped his fingers in the font, crossed himself, and hurried down the center aisle.
A hiss of curious whispers chased after them, as they advanced deeper into the Cathedral, even louder than the clumping echo of their boot heels. Ashamed of his appearance, Lafayette yanked the tie holding his long hair, shaking it so it fell concealing the patchwork of multi-hued bruises covering his face. Almost passing by his families’ pew, he slid to a halt, dropping to his right knee to genuflect. He did it so face, Connor had to sidestep to avoid running him down.
Passing his friend a crooked, apologetic smile, they rose as one, sliding into the pew the same time the altar boys entered swinging the golden incense burners.
Angling his face to hide behind his curtain of black hair, Lafayette said his responses to Father Croix greeting. When the time came for the congregation to take their seats, Lafayette felt eternally grateful. That is until an angry spasm shot along his back, causing him to jerk. Hearing a collective gasp, he knew his family saw his expression of pain along with his busted up face.
Focusing on keeping the pain rising in him at bay Lafayette heard little of the mass and when at long last, Father Croix requested all to kneel for Eucharist, he sighed, ‘not much longer and I can return home.’ Then his head snapped up and leaning into Connor, he muttered, “I did not go to confession.”
Connor shrugged, reciting, “… and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
When his family rose to partake of the Blessed Sacrament, Lafayette stepped into the wide, marble aisle allowing them past. Scanning the sea of faces who admired his Grandmother, a burning need to atone swelled in him and he dropped to his knees right where he stood.
Connor squatted just as quickly and seeing the rosary beads slipping through his friend’s fingers; he laid a hand on Lafayette’s shoulder, “take heart, Boyo.” And, leaving him he joined the line to the Alter.
Gossiping murmuring rose around Lafayette like the hum of locusts and sweat trickled down his back, as the scandal of him not partaking of the holy sacrament grew like a biblical monster. Biting hard on his lower lip, the pain honed him in on his task of penitent prayer. He became determined despite his misery to remain as he was until every cleansed soul received Father Croix’s blessing. By the time the last rows trailed to their seats, his hands were slippery with sweat and his body burned as if on fire. Somewhere along the way, his prayers had become a mixture of imploring forgiveness and pleading for strength, when he felt a cool hand placed on top of his head.
“Mon fils, vous sont pardonnés,” Father Croix intoned, his soft voice carrying to the farthest recesses of the cathedral.
Taking hold of Lafayette’s arms, he aided him from the floor and to his pew while telling the congregation, “this glorious morning, let us raise our voices to the sweet words of Jonathon Newton’s song.” Good-humoredly, he stroked Lafayette’s shoulder as the words, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” rose to the painted ceilings and with a beatific smile, Father Croix returned to the altar.
As the final amen echoed away, Lorraine Bueford turned to Connor Shelley sitting beside her. “Monsieur, it would bring me great happiness to have you return to our home for déjeuner.” She said, with the sweetest smile.
His maturing friendship with Lafayette meant a great deal to Connor, as he was weary of being alone in the world, so before accepting he peeked to his friend.
Beaming Connor replied, “Ma’am, I would be honored.”
Narrowing her eyes at her grandson, Lorraine ignored his proffered arm, taking Connor’s instead, “tell me what is your name?”
“I be Connor Shelley, Ma’am.”
“Shelley? Like the poet. How delightfully wonderful,” she replied, leading him from the Cathedral.
“You do not look so good, Oncle?” Michaël said, offering Lafayette his hat, he had left under the pew.
“I do not feel quite myself today, Mikey.” He ruffled the boys brown hair. “You may carry my hat if’n you wish.”
Michaël’s voice quavered when he asked, “what happened to your face?” His small dark eyes studying the gashes and bruising.
“Do tell,” Josephine parroted.
Lafayette’s tired eyes fell on his sister, “Mikey, I took on more than I could handle. Just remember, a man cannot always do all things alone.”
Michaël’s mouth twisted, unable to grasp the wisdom being imparted, still with a nod he said, “I will remember, Oncle.”
“Michaël, walk with me.” Katharine snapped.
Michaël shrank from the bristling glare his Mother aimed at his Uncle, he so idolized. Still, he went to her. Only to have his Mother say, “s’il vous plaît, return your Oncle’s hat. He can carry it himself.” Once he had done so, Katharine latched hold of her son, all but dragging him down the black-and-white aisle to the doors.
Inching closer, Josephine whispered, “Lafe, what did you take on you could not handle?” And, pointing to the back of the cathedral where Lorraine and Connor were exiting. “Was he there? Did he help you?”
Paying her no heed, Lafayette inhaled and began walking, focusing on placing one foot in front of the other, when he felt her hand upon the back of his neck. Double-quick he ducked, swerving before she could touch his throbbing head.
“Take it easy.” She hissed. “Good Lord, I was just fixin’ to brush dirt from your collar.” Looking to her hand, she saw the red smear of blood on her glove. Her breath caught, and stepping in front of him, she held out her fingertips, “What is this?”
There was sharp fear shining in her eyes.
“Lafe, what has happened?”
“Got myself twisted into a rough spot, ain’t nothing for you to get balled up over.”
Her mouth pinched tight as she took the time to truly look at him, ‘beneath those bruises he is the color of skimmed milk and his eyes are full of pain,’ unable to control her emotions, tears sprung forth sparkling brightly on her lashes.
Seeing them, he grabbed her hands. “Cease weepin’ it will draw attention. Besides, Josephine, I ain’t in need of you puttin’ on a show for me. I already know how little you me.”
“What!?” She brushed at her eyes, “are you deranged. I was so frightened when you disappeared. And.. and.. seeing you this way,” she waved a hand at his face, her eyes drifting to the red stain on her glove.
Lafayette eyed her, scratching at his neck.
Leaning closer, she whispered, “Damnation, Lafe, I was terrified you were dead.”
His tongue darted across his split lower lip and wrapping an arm about her, he began walking. “Hush Jo, I am here and I am fine. To answer your question; oui, he was there and I was chanceux he was. Connor saved my life.” Feeling her muscles tighten, he passed her as large of a smile as his healing lip would permit, “non need to be upset. It all worked out.” Feeling himself shifting his weight on to her, he stood straighter.
“Lean right back on me. I rightly know you need to.”
Stepping into the sunlight, Lafayette steered them to the side taking time to set his hat at an angle that would shield his eyes from the painful light.
Studying him, Josephine decided he was more damaged than he was letting on and moved protectively closer.
So close, he could see worry darkening her amber eyes until they were almost as dark as his, he took her chin in his thumb and forefinger. “I came damn close to cashing, Jo. Close enough, to remind me what is important and I suppose, I have been unduly harsh with you.”
Her lower lip quivered, “are you forgivin’ me?” She sniffed hard taking his hand from her face in a tight grip, “I have prayed for your pardon. I know you ain’t about to believe me, but never have I wanted anything so badly as to be your ami again. Also, I understand--”
“I will speak and you will let me. I have contemplated this for some time, so I need you to hear me.” She stared up into his eyes until he nodded in response. “I apologize for strikin’ and embarrassing you in front of all our neighbors. I also apologize for puttin’ you in a situation where you was forced to throw your beliefs, principals, and impartiality to the dirt. And, I apologize for losin’ your enrollment to Transylvania University, gettin’ you banned from Missouri, and worse separated from Taddy and Jackson. You have always been my truest pal. The loss of your camaraderie has been the worst kind of punishment. I have missed you more than I can ever express.” As she spoke, she saw the love she had not seen glowing forth.
“I pardonner vous. I should have done so already, I was being obstinate. Mes excuses, it was heartlessly, foolish of me.”
An irresistible, devastating smile lit up her face and she looked radiant; once more the belle of the County. Seeing her thus, he understood how much his coldness had wilted her. Pulling her into an embrace, he whispered, “it feels damn bonne to be amis again, I have missed you.”
“Michaël, come back here.”
Scuffing his shoes along the banquette, the boy bleakly returned to his Mother.
Katharine’s face drew tight. She knew what her son wanted. It was what he always wanted. He wanted Lafayette. Seething inside, she stalked up to her brother, “you should know, Lafayette Henri Begnoir, I am writing Father in regards to your conduct. I suspect it is time for us to return home.”
His face grew altogether somber, taking a shallow breath, he said, “Katharine...” and paused, realizing how hard her name felt in his mouth, “Are you so ashamed of me?”
However, before she could reply, Josephine was between them, her wide bell skirt shielding Lafayette from their elder sister’s frozen exterior. “You ninny! When will you see Lafe is no longer a child for you to reprimand? To think you reproach me daily on how to behave like a proper mademoiselle. Perhaps you should look to yourself, for if’n I recall a proper mademoiselle never scolds a monsieur, particularly not in public.”
Katharine’s elegant eyes narrowed to hard chips. ’Oh ho... I see they are pals again and she is, at once, by his side. Well, the entire Carré will be rumor mongering about his comportment, and I shall be apologizing for him for weeks on end,’ she thought. Raising her chin, she said, “we shall see if Father agrees with your estimation, Josie. I would not hold too much faith that he will. Think then; how will you feel about Lafayette’s decorum, when you are required to return home leaving your Monsieur Burgess behind.”
Once she had stormed off with Michaël in tow, Lafayette mumbled, “I do not imagine, I shall ever rise to her expectations of ideal comportment.”
“Who could?” Josephine responded
“Better yet… who would want to?” Lafayette said, grinning out of one side of his mouth.
“Oh, I have missed you.” Josephine chirped, kissing him on the cheek. “Shall we go home?”
“S’il vous plaît.”
The instant the front door of the rue de Royal house was closed Lorraine turned on Lafayette, “How critically are you injured?”
Her words, much like magic, sapped him of his remaining strength. “I can say I would very much like to lie down.” Looking to the fifteen steep steps leading up to his room, he exhaled heavily, “Connor could you?”
Being mindful of his wound, Shelley slipped under his arm, “You be mighty pale, Boyo. Ye be bleeding once more?”
“Oui.” Lafayette grunted, a sheen of sweat glossing his face.
Katharine exclaimed, “Bleeding?”
Reaching the second floor landing, Lafayette groaned deep in his throat and wrapping his right arm snugly about his side, he said. “Thursday night I was stabbed and it might be a bonne idea to fetch a docteur.”
“Stabbed? Oh, m’fils” Lorraine gasped, fingering the black lace of her collar. “Is it bad?”
Trying to keep his voice from shuddering, he replied. “Non... I can barely feel it. A scratch really.”
Shaking her head, Lorraine replied, “your attempts to charme moi are failing, m’ fils."
He looked at the polished floor beneath his feet and then back to his Grandmother, “Would vous, s’il vous plaît, fetch a Doctor?”
“I would even if you had not requested one.” Lorraine replied.
“I will go Gran-mère.” Josephine volunteered, catching up her shawl.
“Bonne. Oh mercy, it is Sunday, the servants are away on personal time. I have no one to chaperone you.” Lorraine answered, fidgeting more with her collar.
“I be pleased to chaperone her, Ma’am.”
Lorraine’s eyes narrowed, scrutinizing this man she had so recently met.
“Gran-mère, I trust him as famille. Go on Connor, I can make it from here.”
Trotting down the stairs, Connor said, “shall we be off, Lassie?”
“Monsieur Shelley, I would prefer Katharine to go.”
Katharine started, “Me?”
“Oui, m’ chère, I will see to Mikey.” Lorraine stated, shoving them out the door.
Lafayette passed a weak smile to his Grandmother and limped off to his room. Shutting the door, he exhaled feeling more tired than he ever imagined. However, being within the shelter of his room made him feel somewhat better until he pulled off his frock coat; a rending jolt of pain expanded from the knife slash forcing him to bite deep into his lip to keep from crying out. Angry, he flung the coat from him.
Entering just as it hit the desk, sending books and papers flying, Josephine laughed, “Here now frère, stop that, you will regret it later.”
“I am damn sick of not being able to do a fuckin’ thing...” Catching himself, he lowered his voice, “... I am tired of havin’ to rely on others.”
“I know. I know.” She cooed, “you always been a terrible convalescent worse than Taddy, really. Let me.” She came over gently removing his cravat and vest. Its lining along with his shirt were stained ruby red. Inhaling deeply, she carefully untucked his shirt and moved to unbutton it.
"Grand-mère would not see it as proper. I will keep it on until the Docteur arrives.”
Putting her hands on her hips, Josephine snorted, “social graces be damned. You are m’ frère, I have seen you shirtless plenty of times, and I simply do not care what others will think; I want to know how bad off you are.” She pointed at the bed, “Do as I say and sit the hell down.”
Too tired to care himself, he obeyed her.
Lifting the shirt over his head, she gasped, “Ah, hell.”
He peeked up, “Quelle?”
“Your back is crisscrossed with black bruises. And…” gulping down the weakness she felt rising, she used his ruined shirt to wipe him clean. “your wound is weeping.” Once done there she parted his hair, her nose wrinkled, “Ewww.”
“You may have actually cracked your skull.” She peeked around at his face. “It is pretty ghastly.” Folding the shirt, she applied pressure against his side where blood was welling forth and trickling toward his pant line and heard a sound like a tea kettle. She grinned, knowing he was sucking his front teeth. “Mams would tell you to knock that off ’cause you sound like river trash.”
“Mmm hmm,” he grunted.
“At least, tell me the other gent looks worse.”
Lafayette bowed his head, “Connor believes he killed ’em.”
“Oh,” she answered and taking his hand, she placed it on the folded shirt. “Keep a hold on this while I get your boots off.”
“Merci beucoup," he smiled at her, but it did not reach his pain-filled eyes. ”S’il vous plaît, do not tell the others how terrible it all is.”
“Never,” she said firmly.
Easing himself back on the bed, he thought, ’I wish the Docteur were already here; some laudanum, let him do his work, and then off to sleep.’
The bed wobbled and bounced as Josephine climbed up next to him, “Careful, one wrong slip and you will do me in.”
“Ta gueule! That is not funny.”
“It is a little funny.”
She rolled her eyes at him, offering a pillow. He wrinkled his nose, and she used it herself. “I am so thankful you are home.”
He was quiet for a long time; so long, she decided he had fallen asleep, when he whispered, “me too.”
Snuggling closer, she grinned, “you look atrocious.”
“Still, I am sure in a few weeks, the filles will be moonin’ over you as usual.”
He grinned, giving her a poke, “Shhh, I am tryin’ to sleep.”
She giggled, but stopped talking, happy to have her friend here with her.