Monday, April 23, 1860
“Oncle,” Michaël squealed, flying down the stairs.
Catching his nephew, Lafayette spun him round. “I surmise you have gotten taller just since Christmas. You keep this up you are goin’ to be a giant.”
“I hope so. I want to be as tall as you.”
“Oh, you do?” A twinkle lit Lafayette’s eyes. “Are you sayin’ I am a giant?” he asked and with a roar, flipped the boy to dangle upside down.
Laughter poured from Michaël and when Lafayette placed him back on the staircase, he cried, “Again, again.”
Smiling as large as his nephew; Lafayette turned the boy over letting his fingertips drag on the runner rug as he walked him to the back door.
“S’il vous plait, put him down.” Katharine stated, stepping into the hall. “Michaël you should be upstairs doing your handwriting exercises.” Seeing her brother was not listening to her, Katharine’s face tightened, “Put him down this second!”
Turning Michaël upright, Lafayette hugged him to his chest. “You oughta try being a little less tyrannique. It never hurts a child to laugh.”
Her cheek twitched. Stepping closer, she spoke, drawing each icy word out precisely, “Lafayette Henri Begnoir, I will not have you undermining me. I have noted how you comport yourself and I am much disappointed.”
Lafayette’s nostrils flared. Kneeling, he wrapped his body about his nephew as easily as sliding into a coat and spun the pair of them away from Katharine. “Hey little man, Connor is expectin’ me. Will you run on out and tell ’em, I will be along after I speak with your Mère?”
Michaël leaned out to see his Mother and Lafayette moved with him, blocking her from his view. Looking into his Uncle’s brown eyes, Michaël’s lip trembled, “Mère says, I am to go upstairs.”
Rolling out a full dimpled smile, Lafayette cooed, “It will be all right. I will speak with her. You…” He tapped Michaël on the nose. “do as I say. Go give Connor my message and ask him to teach you a new rhyme.” Giving the boy a hug, Lafayette pushed him toward the garden even as he stood, rounding on Katharine. Blocking the hallway, he gave her a look that dared her to stop Michaël, and hearing the door open and close, he said, “I judge we need to talk.”
Her frown deepened, “if you say so.”
Giving her a half bow, Lafayette motioned to the parlor.
Marching in, Katharine took a seat on the settee.
Neither of them spoke, tension hanging between them like simmering heat over a fire. Walking to the piano, he placed his palms on its shiny ebony top.
Watching him, Katharine thought, ’Why must he be so difficult? I was actually relieved he was the only brother to accompany us South; as in the past, he was always so pleasant and reasonable.’
Turning around, he caught her shaking her head at him and his eyes turned mean, “This must end.”
“I have not the slightest idea what you are speaking of.”
“Non idea?” He sucked at his front teeth, looking down, he could feel his demon rattling to be free and hissed, “non idea, at all!?”
“You wanted this conversation, not me.”
Slowly he raised his head, when Katharine saw his face; her throat went dry at the fury she saw residing there. Before she could react, he sunk to the floor in a squat, dropping his face into his hands.
Remaining motionless, she eyed him, her breathing stilted.
Having reined himself in, he looked up, stroking his lower lip with his index finger, “To begin with, each time you speak to me it is with pure waspishness.”
“That is not true.”
“Oh, but it is.”
She opened her mouth and he shook his head. Her lips pressed tight together.
“You refuse to accompany me in public.”
Her lips puckered, her eyes turning hard.
“About the house you demean and undercut me at every instance you find.”
“Lafayette Henri Begnoir you are being utterly absurd.”
He smiled, but to her it appeared more of a controlled, contorted snarl and she shifted her eyes from him.
“Par Dieu, most times you resist even addressin’ me and when you do, it is only by my full given name. Except, when you say it...” His dark eyes appeared strangely dangerous, “... it sounds like the lash of a whip.”
She looked to her hands.
“Katharine, I am désolé you feel discomfited to be related to me. However, I am not désolé for anything you judge, I have done inadequately, merely saddened you are so altogether ashamed of me.”
“Lafayette Henri Beg--”
“I deem you believed...” He said, speaking over the top of her. “... that you would be in charge once we reached Orleans. I see now, you submitted to my leadership on the voyage merely because it was the proper etiquette to do so. Nonetheless, I am sick unto death of you treatin’ me as a damn child. Look at me Katharine.” He stood. “I am not a child. I am a man. Every member of this famille treats me thus, except for you and I am done with it,” he said, taking a deep breath, focusing on maintaining control of his anger. “Furthermore, I am tired of walkin’ on tender hooks, simply ’cause I never know what will set off one of your tantrums. I am done with your coldness; your reprimands, and the way you snip at me. More than anything, from here on out, I will cease tolerating the way you take your anger out on everyone, especially Mikey. I amour my neveu and I deem he feels the same for me. Yet, you doggedly keep us apart. So, while I am standin’ here, I want you to explain why you feel the need to treat me so damned maliciously.”
Katharine stared beyond him at the leafy tendrils of the potted fern on the piano.
The silence stretched out, his left dimple flickering the only movement between them. Until at length, he ran a hand back through his long hair, “damn it, this is your chance.” His temper flared, rising rage making his voice sound rough, “Speak!”
Keeping her eyes adverted, Katharine said, “I had hoped you would be the perfect role model for my son. And, all you do is make atrocious blunders.”
“Blunders? I have never heard of anyone who was perfect and you expect me to be so.”
“Maybe not perfect, still Lafayette…” She turned to him, her cheeks glistening. “He adores you and I do not want him to reason that breaking the commandments, as you do, is acceptable.” Her voice strengthened as she spoke “Furthermore, you are correct, I am ashamed of you. His Father was an upright church man of morals, and you…” She let her words trail off.
“Hmm.” He grunted, scrubbing a hand across his face. “Katharine, I cannot live up to your memories of Archie, even for Mikey’s sake. For you, he was a great man, a dutiful husband, and an adoring Father. I regret he is non longer here for y’all. However, you cannot expect me to be his moral replacement.”
Shoving her fist against her lips, Katharine clenched her eyes tight.
Seeing her agony, Lafayette sat in the low chair near her and reached for her free hand, “Chérie?”
She shook her head vehemently. “I believed Father trusted my judgment and that he would be pleased to have Mikey and I return home. Yet, he has informed me our return is out of the question. I non longer want to be here, nor do not wish to be here with--.” She stopped speaking, her face reddening.
“With moi. Who you feel is nefarious and does not give heed to you.”
A timid smile trembled on her face, “I do not see you as nefarious... just bad. And, Lafayette, you do not listen to me.” She raised her eyes to him, her cheek twitching, “Why!?”
Taking her hand, he leaned in, “Because, as I said, I am not a child and I am not a role model. I am simply your frère. Moreover, I will make mistakes and I will also attain triumphs. However, I will do both on my own, without anyone informin’ me what I should do. You worry about what Father thinks. Well Katharine, he believes in me and trusts m’ decisions. So, why cannot you?”
She looked away.
Seeing she did not intend to answer him, Lafayette released her hand, and standing, he exhaled heavily. “Fine, if’n this is how you wish it to be between us, I shall stay damn well clear of you. Per contra, I do beseech you relent in your maliciousness toward Mikey, Jo, and Connor. Being around you is like waitin’ for a damn trap to snap shut. It is a hard way to live day in, day out and though I shall abide with it, the rest of our famille should not have to.
Silent tears traced her cheeks.
Seeing them, he fell to pacing the small room. “I recollect when you used to smile, Katharine, hell even laugh. I appreciate being a widow, markedly at your young age is dreadful. Then again, if you broke off searchin’ for the worst in people you might, once again, find a measure of happiness.”
Katharine clenched her hands together.
“Jo and I are not at odds and I do not wish for us to be.” Lafayette said, as if this fact would burst from him if he did not voice it. Squatting once more, he peered deep into her wet eyes, “would you like to mend this tear between us?”
“Are you fully prepared to give us a chance?”
Standing, he kissed her forehead, “Je t’aime, chérie, s’il vous plaît, let’s be as we were before we came here.”
She nodded, again, giving him a quivering smile.
“Would you like to be left alone?”
This time she shook her head.
Taking a seat next to her, he wrapped her in his arms.
Releasing a huge, shuddering breath, she leaned into him, “Lafe, I do amour you and I will endeavor to treat you better and… I will strive to be more forgiving.”
“Lafe!?” Hearing the bellowed scream, they both looked to the ceiling tracking Josephine’s movements on the second floor.
Slanting his eyes to Katharine, he smiled softly, “Then we are good?”
She nodded as an echoing shout of “Lafe!” reverberated down the stairs.
His large, dimpled smile erupted, “she will be on this floor soon.”
“Is this what goes on around here when Grand-mère and I are away?” Katharine asked.
His beaming smile vanished.
“I am not being critical, merely inquiring.”
“Well, when y’all are out, this old place does sound a lot more like Sienna.”
Then, with perfect timing, almost as if to prove his words, a mumbled oath carried down the stairs.
“Jo and I miss Sienna’s chaos. Given half a chance, we revert rather easily to it. I am afraid to say.”
Katharine half-laughed, “honestly, there are times I too miss the noise.”
Josephine shouted, “dang it Lafe, where in blazes are you?”
His dimples deeply grooving both sides of his face, Lafayette stood, placing a finger to his lips and moved to stand in the center of the parlor.
Rushing by, Josephine threw the room a cursory glance but, catching sight of him, she slid to a halt, “There you are! Why the hell did you not answer? I know you heard me. Do you have any idea how difficult it is racin’ around searchin’ for you in this damn contraption Katharine, expects me to wear?” Josephine snapped slapping at the metal bone stays of her corset at about the same time noticing her sister sitting on the settee.
“I find it more entertaining not to answer. Since you have found me, I suppose, I should ask, what may I do for you?”
Josephine could see amusement shining in his eyes and wanted to rise to the bait, yet, at the moment, all she could think of was Katharine. “This mornin’ you said you would have a surprise for me when you came back from the law offices. I heard you come in and…” Swallowing, her brown eyes shifted to her sister. ’Why is Katharine not rebuking me? Are those tears in her eyes? Did Lafe make ‘the porcelain empress’ cry?’
“Jo…?” he prompted.
Her attention snapped back to him, “You know, waitin’ kills me.”
“I know.” The corner of his smile turned up. “You shall have to have patience as I do have a grand surprise for you,” he said, leaning in giving her a wink. “Katharine, if’n you would excuse us.”
Katharine settled for nodding, not trusting herself to keep from reproofing Josephine for her actions and language.
“Merci, for our conversation,” Lafayette said, giving his elder sister a slight bow before taking Josephine’s hand and leading her to the garden. “But first Jo, we must visit Connor’s quarters.”
Shooting glances back at the house, Josephine snatched hold of Lafayette’s hands, dancing the pair of them about the courtyard, “I cannot believe I escaped her condemnations.”
“Count your blessings.”
“I am. I am!”
He laughed, pulling free of their dance, “Connor is waitin’ on us, come on.”