From the back of the garden, they heard Michaël singing, “... Bells of St. Clement’s. You owe me five farthings, say the Bells of St. Martin’s. When will you pay me, say the Bells of Old Bailey.”
“You hear that? He is singing ′Oranges and Lemons’.”
Josephine snapped, “I never cared for that rhyme.”
“Well, I did,” Lafayette, replied holding back the philodendron’s large, heart-shaped leaves for her.
“I know.” She said, turning her eyes up and stepping by him into a smaller courtyard, where the garçonnier extended along the rear wall of the garden. Before the door of one of the rooms, Connor sat tilted back at a dangerous angle on a wooden chair. Wood slivers filtering to the ground as he carved singing along with Michaël.
The boy had his back to them, working his way through a hopscotch pattern when his Aunt and Uncle arrived. “When I grow rich, say the Bells of Shoreditch. When will that be, say the Bells of Stepney?”
Seeing the siblings, Connor set the front feet of his chair on the ground.
Lafayette laid a finger to his lips, nodding at his nephew who was squatting on one leg to scoop up his puck stone. “I do not know, say the Great Bells of Bow.”
Lafayette picked up the song, sweeping Michaël off his feet, “Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed. Here comes a Chopper to chop off your Head. Chip-chop. Chip-chop... the Last Man is dead.” At the song’s end, Lafayette spun Michaël, hanging him upside down. “Chip-chop. Chip-chop. Should I drop you on your head?” he asked, letting the boy slip a little.
A shriek of laughter pealed from Michaël, “Non, Oncle. Non!”
Spinning him over, Lafayette gave Michaël a hug before squatting to let the boy perch on his bent knee. “That is a tough pattern.”
Michaël nodded. “I ain’t made it through once.”
“You will.” Lafayette grinned, “Lemons and Oranges – great song, I used to sing it while playin’ this when I was your age.”
“He did, he and your Oncle Taddy. I still cannot fathom why y’all adored it so much. Just a horrid song, the whole the last man is dead and all,” Josephine fumed, placing her hands on her hips.
Lafayette looked up innocently. “Now who is condemning who?”
“I am,” she nodded with a wide smile. “I am condemning you.” She threw a look at Connor. ”Merci, for teachin’ it to ’em, Connor, I will be forced to hear it all the time, all over again.”
“It be a fine gamin’ rhyme.” Connor said, grinning impishly at Josephine. “I cannot be believin’, ye me wild lassie, do not be for enjoyin’ it.”
Josephine smirked at him.
Wrapping an arm around his Uncle’s neck, Michaël asked, “Did you really used to hopscotch?”
“Yup, probably still can.” Lafayette chortled. “Peter taught it to all of us. He said it would train us to be quick on our feet. We used to play ’till our legs ached.”
“Will you play with me?”
“Another time, little man, you have studies that I have encouraged you to disregard.”
Michaël’s mouth dragged down, “oui.”
“You have had a grand recess, so I would say it is time for you to be back inside.” Lafayette stated, placing Michaël on his feet, then standing himself.
Michaël drug a small foot along a chalk line peering up at Lafayette with doleful eyes.
“Oh ho, that will not work on me Garçon. Now, chip-chop, chip-chop. Hit it. Inside you go.” Lafayette said, lightly popping Michaël’s backside and the boy took off like a horse from the starting gate with a ribbon of laughter trailing after him.
“You are good with ’em.” Josephine said.
“You sound surprised?”
She shrugged, punching him in the arm, “Could be ’cause you were always so tough on Taddy and me.”
“I would say your memories are tainted. I was the one who invariably had to pull you off Taddy. Hell, I would say, part of the reason he is such a good fighter is from learnin’ to dodge your blows.” Lafayette said, sidestepping another punch with a laugh. “See!”
Unable to hold onto her irritated expression, Josephine laughed. “Maybe, you are right.”
“I know I am.” Lafayette said, raising his chin a notch.
“Hmm, what is it Taddy says, “Oh yes.” She rolled her eyes, “Lafe’s always right, ain’t no use arguin’ with him. You will just wind up damn frustrated and still wrong.’”
“At least he understands the truth.” Lafayette said, dodging another punch.
Connor stepped up, “sure look it, hate to be breakin’ this up.” He nodded to Josephine, “’Cause I deem she could take ye, Boyo. But, it be time.”
“Oui, it is past, most likely.” Lafayette said. “Meet you at Jackson Square.”
“See ye there,” Connor replied, heading for the garden gate.
“What fool’s errand have you set poor Connor on?”
“Does not concern you.”
“Hmpf!” She took a few tentative jumps on the hopscotch pattern. “I miss being able to play,” she said, snorting in a very unladylike manner at the yards of fabric creating her wide, hoop skirt. “Hell, I miss seein’ my feet.”
This set Lafayette to laughing until tears wet his lashes, “Come on, Jo. Walk with me so I may escort you to your surprise?”
Looking up at the tall brick buildings of the French Quarter, Josephine said, “it really is lovely here.”
“I like it.”
“If’n takin’ me to lunch was not my surprise, then what is?”
“My, you are persistent, ain’t you?”
Spinning to walk backwards in front of him, she said “Yeah, and you are being a botherment.”
“Turn around before you trip, s’il vous plaît.”
She did, but not before sticking her tongue out at him, “Lafe you are indubitably…” She stopped, “is that Jon with Connor in Jackson Square?”
“Appears to be.”
Grinning, she left Lafayette behind, hustling as fast as permissible rest of the way down rue de Chartres.
At the Square gate, Connor passed her, tipping his hat, “Hello again, Lass.”
“Hello.” She chirped, buzzing by him to reach Jonathon where he restlessly sat on a park bench.
Seeing her, he leapt up, offering her a seat.
“I prefer to walk about the garden.”
“All right,” Jonathon replied, holding out his arm and as she took it, he shot a glance back to Lafayette and Connor.
Both of them nodded, remaining where they were, reclining against the Square’s wall. Josephine threw a quick scowl at her brother before shifting her attention to the man at her side. “How is your family?”
Jonathon answered, quietly. “Good.”
“Have you been well?”
Her brows furrowed, “I have not seen you all week.”
“I have been rather busy.”
Her mouth twisted at his short answers. “I suppose your Father has had you working.”
“Not too much.” Jonathon said, swallowing hard and pulling her to a halt behind the statue of Colonel Jackson.
“Jon, are you sure you are well.” She cupped his face. “You look peevish.”
Her touch caused his chest to tighten. “I am fine.”
Tilting her head, she arched an eyebrow at him.
“All right, I am not altogether fine.” His blue eyes slanted toward the gate. Unable to see his pals there, he said, “Father, wishes me to return to England to broker trade deals.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, her brown eyes flying wide.
“I hope that means you will miss me.” Jonathon said his voice thick and unsteady.
“I suppose, I might miss you.” Josephine replied, thinking, ‘Do not cry like some ninny.’ However, it did not matter as hot tears were already spilling over her lashes.
“Josephine.” he gulped, and seeing no one he knew, he wrapped her in his arms.
Clutching tight, she bit her lip, trying to control her rising sobs, “How long will you be gone?”
“Most of a year.”
Hearing this, she lost her control and set to crying in earnest.
“Shhh,” Jonathon soothed, stroking her back. “I would like to take you with me.”
Pulling back, she looked into his face, “Oh, what a wonderful dream you weave...”
“I have never been more serious.” Taking her hand, he dropped to one knee, “Josephine Michelle Antoinette would you do me the honor of becoming my wife and accompanying me to England?”
Her breath caught as she stared into his clear, blue, hopeful eyes. Unable to catch her breath, she inwardly cursed her corset, worried she might faint. Then her smile lifted, rounding out her cheeks, and wrinkling her nose and she squealed, “Yes. Jon, yes.”
Removing her lace glove, he slid a golden band weighted with a large sapphire on her finger. Standing, he tentatively pressed his lips to hers. Holding her, his passion ignited and his kiss deepened until they both surfaced breathless.
Josephine peeked at the ring, placing her fingertips to her lips knowing whatever she had declared regarding not wanting a husband was an utter lie. Then a terrible thought came to her. “Jon, what about Lafe? And my Father?”
Jonathon laughed, “I kiss you like that and you think of them?”
She blushed, giggling, “Only because I want you to kiss me like that forever and they could make it difficult.”
“Then, my dear, you will be pleased. For I have already acquired their blessings,” he replied, kissing her again. “I love you, Josie.”
“I actually believe, I have been in love with you since the first time I saw you, Jonathon Samuel Burgess.”
“If it was not so cliché, I would say the same.”
She gripped his hands, “Oh, go ahead, be cliché.”
Kissing her on the left cheek, he said, “Josephine,” then kissing her forehead, “I have loved you.” Pausing, he kissed her right cheek, “since the moment I saw you.” He kissed the tip of her nose, “asleep beside that fountain.” He finished kissing her fully on the lips.
“I love you, Jon.” She hugged him tight, “so this was Lafe’s surprise.” She threw her head back laughing with gusto. “He knew your plans and used ‘em to pester at me all mornin’.”
“Sounds about like him.” Jonathon said, through a laughing smile, feeling as if he could never stop smiling. “To think, he is to be my brother. You will have to give me advice on how to best handle him on a daily basis.”
She shook her head, “There are no tips. Trust me.” Leaning closer, she whispered in his ear. “Besides, he will be the last thing on your mind, once we are married.”
Snagging her hands, he kissed the insides of her wrists.
“How long before we leave for England?”
He looked up, “a month.”
A frown flitted across her mouth, “Well then, we shall have a small wedding and honeymoon in England. But, Jon, when we return can we travel to Sienna for a visit?”
“As you wish, m’chérie.”
“French does not suit you.”
“I will remind you,” he said, raising both his brows at her, “I was born here in New Orleans.”
“Well, my love, it does not suit you.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Course it does not suit me either, so we are well-matched.”