The horses were frisky and vexing with their new found freedom from the boats. To work off their pent up energy, they pushed them fast. After supposing they had traveled twenty miles, they made a late camp and during the night, not one horse caused difficulty.
The summer sun hung heavy on the western horizon, their second day of travel drawing to an end, riding alongside the herd, Lafayette surveyed the three men he had hired; Julien Marrec, Roland Rosier, and Andre Michon who had proved themselves on drive and now had the horses flowing smoothly along lake road. Shifting in his saddle, Lafayette thought. ’We are damn close; reckon we ought to arrive with enough light left to get ‘em settled in. That is if Julien, up on point does not return tellin’ us, yet again, we are required to vacate the road for passing traffic. Hellfire, I am more than ready for a bath, couple shots of whiskey, and a meal. Even more, I am bone weary of being in the saddle.’
After thinking this, Lafayette laughed inwardly, ‘Never figured being in the saddle would make me tired. Goes to show what city living will do to a man. Well, with Taddy and the herd both here, I will get in plenty of ridin’ time.’ Searching the perimeter, his eyes narrowed. ’Where is m’ petit frère? Ah, there he is on drag. I want to check in with Julian then I suppose it is time to inform Taddy what to expect at the plantation.′
“There he goes again,” Thaddeus said, to Connor, pointing out Coffee moving to the front in a rocking, ground, covering trot. “He’s never been one for settin’ back and lettin’ the damn road take ‘em there. Always plannin’ and darting about like a bee stung jackrabbit.”
“He be one for figurin’ and keepin’ his self busy, that be for sure.” Connor answered, taking a draw on the cheroot he was smoking.
“Connor, you been by his side, ever since that fuckin’ fight, he ’bout got himself killed in; is that right?”
“I have. Your Bub moved him and me out to the bachelor’s quarters of Royal house. I argued against him a treatin’ me like I be an obligation. All that sure up and did was anger him a mite. He declared I be family to ’em and I should to shut up my mouth and let ’em treat me as such.” Connor took another drag, “Ain’t been too hard, ’cause truth be I do see Lafe like me brother.”
Thaddeus slanted his eyes across the space separating him from Connor, “If’n that is how it all stacks up, I suppose you and I best be gettin’ to know each other a whole lot fuckin’ better.”
Conner turned, his face smooth, but his eyes hopeful.
Thaddeus burst into a smile, “So, m’ frère, you got any more of those cheroots?”
“I rightly do, Boyo.” Connor replied with a wink, passing one over. “I be serious though, I highly admire ’em.” He nodded toward Lafayette, “he got ’em a heart that be bigger than the moon, he would do ‘bout anythin’ for a person. Has not taken me long to be downright attached to ye family, they rightly made me one of their own. That Mikey, he be a good chap. Smart, funny, and lively and his Ma, she be sweeter than a dozen beignets.”
“We are talking about m’ sœur, Katharine?”
“Whom else would I be speakin’ of?”
“Ah, Jo, she be a right fine lassie. Loud, spirited, and lovin’; just the proper type of lass to have for a sis.”
Thaddeus shook his head, “She is all that, but... Katharine a sweet--”
Whatever more he might say was interrupted by Lafayette riding up, “If you deux are finished gossipin’, I need to borrow Taddy. Figure I ought clue him in on a bit of knowledge.”
“Ye be planning to tell ’em about...” Connor looked to Thaddeus and back to Lafayette.
“Ye be for doing it, Boyo. Do not be letting ’em ride in there blind like we did.”
“I would not do that.”
Frowning and shaking his head, Connor replied. “Yes, ye would. We both know it.”
“I said, I would and I will.” Lafayette stated, releasing a smile so infectious that Connor gave up and smiled back. “Move on up and take my place along the flank, s’il vous plaît.”
Nudging Copper Belle out of line, Connor spun the horse; turning a serious eye on Lafayette, “I be trustin’ the goodness in ye to do the right of it.”
Thaddeus’ gaze followed Connor, “What does he mean?”
“Let’s drop back a bit.”
Thaddeus’ nose wrinkled.
“Hellfire, you can still see ‘em all and we will not be eatin’ so much damn dirt.”
“What does Connor want you to tell me?”
Lafayette smiled at his brother, but did not receive one in return.
“You are fuckin’ up to something, m’ frère.”
Removing his canteen from his saddle, Lafayette took a long drink.
Thaddeus turned from him, examining the sweat streaked backs of the herd. “They all is damn tired; ain’t used to this wet heat. Hell neither am I.” He hung his hat on his saddle horn and scratched his scalp, shaking out his wet hair. “This heat is goddamn terrible,” and sighing, he undid the buttons of his shirt. “How do you handle it?” he asked, eyeing Lafayette who still wore his vest buttoned and his shirt sleeves down, managing to appear only mildly uncomfortable.
“I agree it is damn terrible. However, I have been here all season as it has built up. I do feel for you and Fox, just steppin’ off into it as you have,” Lafayette replied, veering closer to Thaddeus to avoid a thick streamer of Spanish moss dangling across the road.
Picking up his canteen, Thaddeus took a couple swigs before splashing water down his back and front. “How much further?”
“Close enough. I switched Andre to point, as he has worked at L’Eau Sucree makin’ him best suited to ensure all is ready when we come streaming in. Told ’em to cut across the front cotton field, loathe ruining a portion of the crop, but there ain’t non way, I am havin’ the herd trotting across the front lawn.”
Thaddeus’ face scrunched, “Cotton field?”
Lafayette’s nostrils flared, “If’n you are considering slaves, well, L’Eau Sucree has an abundance of ’em.”
Thaddeus’ clenched the leather rein in his hand so tight, his knuckles turned white, his eyes darting to the pair of negros riding flank on Sienna’s herd.
“Before you curse me, they are freemen-of-color.” Lafayette stated, returning Thaddeus’ hard glare. “I hired those trois specifically for their skill with horses. I am payin ’em a bonne wage. The Begnoirs may use slaves, ain’t damn much I can do about it. However, I will not abide by slavery when it when comes to labor regardin’ our stock.”
Thaddeus nodded, his shoulders loosening.
“This, however, is only one of the matters I need to address before we arrive. I have to say though; I was damned cheered reading of the absence of slaves on Sienna. One day, with the steps I am implementing, I too will be able to say the same of L’Eau Sucree .”
Thaddeus’ saddle creaked sharply as he turned to better see his brother, “What the hell? You sound like you are fuckin’ settin’ yourself up to remain here.”
“At the present, I have not made permanent decisions. However, since I am damn-well unwelcome at home. I am weighing my options.”
“Fuck, Lafe, you ain’t--”
“Non.” Lafayette held up a hand. “I am considerin’ mon future. Hell, in many ways all of our futures.”
Thaddeus crooked an eyebrow at his brother, the corners of his mouth dipping low, “How the fuck is that?”
“Father has never much elaborated on the business end of the racing circuit; thusly I have been educatin’ myself to that world. For there will be a day when we, trois frères, will be required to take the reins of the Crowe race lines.”
“Father has been hedgin’ around the same line of talk with me.”
“I know.” Lafayette smiled. “I get regular posts. I said I was unwelcome at home not unwanted.”
Thaddeus snorted, “And, you tell me, I come up with fuckin’ unhinged notions.”
“You do,” Lafayette chuckled. “But, Taddy, you are derailing me. I really do have some details you need to understand, before we reach the plantation.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Thaddeus undid the rest of his shirt buttons and untucking it, grumbled, “Damn heat.”
“You plannin’ on still being dressed when we arrive?”
“Very fuckin’ funny.” Thaddeus sniped, “leave me be and go on and talk, since you seem to be bustin’ to anyways.”
“Has Father informed you how Gran-mère has me seein’ to the business side of the Begnoir-Bueford estate?”
“Since the demise of our Gran-mère’s brother, Louise three-years-ago, she is the only remaining child of her parents.” Lafayette swerved Coffee, pushing a pair of straying mares back into the moving line. He started speaking, but saw Thaddeus’ attention had shifted to the horses. Sighing and rolling his eyes skyward, he growled. ”Frère, pay attention.”
Thaddeus shot him a look, “I am.”
“Well, if’n you are then listen to everything I am sayin’ for fuckin’ once.”
“Back at you and pay attention,” Lafayette snapped, laying a powerful, hard glare on his younger brother. “The pair of’em were Lafayette and Genève Begnoir only children to achieve adulthood and as we know, Lorraine married Michaël Robert Bueford.”
“Huh? So, that is where my middle name came from.”
"Jésus pleura, it ain’t a secret. It is written out in the front of the famille bible. You know, the same one that has lain on parlor piano, your entire damn life.”
Lafayette exhaled, “Obviously.”
“Well then, smart-ass, do you know where Thaddeus comes from?”
Lafayette looked down, his brows bunching and after considering it, he shrugged. “Anyway, Robert and Lorraine only had our Mère, along with a garçon named Lafayette who passed on at two-years-of-age.”
“Hmpf never heard of ’em.”
Lafayette laughed, “Says the one, who did not even know he was named after his own Grand-père.”
Thaddeus saluted Lafayette with his middle finger.
Sending Lafayette into a laughing jag, “Where was I?”
“The garçon who died.”
“Okay… so our Mère became their only child. I do hope you know her descendant line?”
“Damnation, frère, I up and forgot what a fuckin’ knee-slapper you judge yourself to be.”
Lafayette’s large, dimpled smile appeared, ”Grand-mère’s brother, Louis had himself a whole passel of filles; seven or eight, I think it was. They are all married and sprinkled amongst familles from Biloxi to Richmond. Do not ask me their names, as I do not recall.”
“That means we got us a passel of cousins.”
Lafayette rolled his eyes, yet again, “Louis was Grand-mère’s frère that makes all them filles our tantes.”
Thaddeus tilted his head.
“For Christ Sakes, Tante... Aunt. You best be rememberin’ more of your Français or you are goin’ to be fuckin’ lost down here, hell, more than you normally are.”
Thaddeus saluted his brother once more. “What I meant, smart-ass, oh wait... excusez-moi. What I meant, frimeur is tey must have had enfants, meanin’ we have cousins.”
"Oui. But hellfire, we got cousins in Kentucky among the Crowes. What the hell, do you think we are all alone in this world?”
“I swear you can be a real ignoramus.”
Thaddeus’ nose scrunched, “You feel like bein’ fuckin’ punched off that horse?”
“Not particularly.” Lafayette replied, sidestepping Coffee.
“Great, you discovered we got more famille spread across the South. Strengthening any reason not to join up with the Northern forces.”
“True, however, what I am gettin’ at is this. Louis’s second wife, Blanche, still lives out at L’Eau Sucree.”
“What I am fixin’ to tell you, I learned through studyin’ estate ledgers, legal documents, and getting’ Grand- mère to answer questions. By the way, getting’ her to talk was the hardest part of m’ investigation, anyway, the Inheritance Will for L’Eau Sucree states upon Louis’ death, the place is to be transferred to its named successor. About here is when I also discovered, Grand-mère does not care one pinch of salt for Blanche.”
“You warnin’ me, it may be damn interesting when we arrive?"
“Oh, it is. But, keep listenin’ this gets better. Louis had himself duex garçons. The first died from a fall and you will never guess what his name was.”
“You rightly know, I do not fuckin’ care for guessin’ games.”
Lafayette shook his head, with a grin, “Fine, the garçon’s name was Lafayette Henri Begnoir.”
With a snorting laugh, Thaddeus quipped, “they named you after deux different dead garçons.”
Exhaling heavily, Lafayette glared at his brother, “Like I said, ignoramus. I am named after our Grand-Grand-père, Lafayette Henri Begnoir.”
“If’n you say so.”
With a shake of his head, Lafayette chose to ignore him, “part of the reason Grand-mère does not care for Blanche, has something to do with her being Louis’ second and much younger wife. Also beca--”
“How much younger?”
“I would put Blanche in her early thirties and Louis had his second garçon with her. He is seventeen and lives out at the plantation."
“You are sayin’ I will actually meet a cousin.” Thaddeus grinned, “This will be a first.”
Lafayette passed his brother a quizzical look, “what is with you and cousins?”
“We know familles who have loads of’em and us… well, all we got back in Harrisonville is us. I always thought it might be damn interestin’ to have more famille about.”
Lafayette nodded with a smile, “But here is the unbelievable part of mon story...” unable to hold a straight face, his grin began to grown, “you ain’t never goin’ to guess what this particular cousin’s name is.”
“What did I just damn well say about guessin’ games?”
Lafayette nodded, still smiling, “I know, but give it a try, just one guess.”
Thaddeus’ mouth twisted.
Lafayette pointed at himself.
Thaddeus’ mouth popped open, ”Non fuckin’ way.”
“His name is Lafayette?”
Lafayette rolled his hand in the air asking for more.
“Lafayette Henri Begnoir?”
“There be duex of you?”
Lafayette barked out a laugh, “Oh, I would not say that. If’n you think I am dandied up; you ain’t seen nothing, yet. Our cousin ain’t worked one-hour in his life and is put together as sweetly as any fille, I ever seen.“”
Thaddeus’ eyebrows shot up.
“See, mon cousin and are as different as night and day. I judge you will say that same after meetin’ em.”
“So, what do I call ’em?”
“You call ’em by his name. Why would you call ’em anything else?”
“Does he go by Lafayette, all the time or by Lafe like you do?” Thaddeus spit on the ground. “This is goin’ to be damn confusin’.”
“He goes by Fay.”
Thaddeus exhaled and shook his head, “Hellfire, I always considered Lafe an odd moniker but Fate.”
This time Lafayette saluted Thaddeus with his middle finger, before saying, “not Fate but FAY.”
“That sounds like a filles name.”
This time Lafayette shrugged and asked, “May I go on?”
“Go on, I ain’t holdin’ you back.”
“Somehow, I do not recall you being this damn difficult to converse with.”
Thaddeus grinned so large his eyes crinkled up in his merriment.
“It appears our Grand-Grand-père; Lafayette Henri Begnoir was a character of sorts. This Will decrees: L’Eau Sucree is to remain, at all times, in the Begnoir bloodline. Upon the death of the current title holder, which was Louis, the deed and monies there entailed automatically are transferred to the eldest heir bearing his name. If one does not exist, then the eldest blood heir.”
“Eldest male heir bearing his name?” Thaddeus rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “Begnoir?”
“More than that, he meant quite literally his name.”
Thaddeus rolled his teeth across his lower lip, and then his head popped up, “YOU!”
"Moi.” Lafayette nodded.
Thaddeus could not hide the shock from his voice. ”L’Eau Sucree is fuckin’ yours.”
“Technically, it has been mine for three years. However, I consider it Grand-mère’s until her passin’.”
“Well, why not Gabe?”
“The second Lafayette was alive when Gabriel was named.”
“But, Fay has your name?”
Lafayette shrugged; he is his Mère’s backup plan. His naming did not please Grand-mère none. As she considers it an ill omen, to name a child hopin’ the first one bearin’ the name dies. ”
“Well, hellfire.” Thaddeus began laughing, “I swear you got all the fuckin’ luck.”
Lafayette nodded, his dimples punctuating his smile, “all the bonne looks, too.”
“Oh, bullshit. I got the good looks.”
Hearing the brother’s laughing heartily, Connor dropped back to speak to them. “I take it ye be telling ’em all that goes on at the plantation.”
“I gave ‘em run down, but he ain’t goin’ to believe it ’till he sees it for his self.”
“Did ye not be warnin’ ye wee bother, Boyo?”
“I told ’em how Fay is a dandy and all.”
Connor snapped back, “Well, he be more than that.”
“He told me some of that too.” Thaddeus put in.
Connor looked pointedly at Lafayette, “Boyo??”
“He will learn soon enough.” Lafayette answered, nodding ahead where the front gates of L’Eau Sucree loomed on the horizon. “Ain’t non more time, anyhow. We need to get these horses bunched so they will be easier to control on the property.
Thaddeus glanced at Connor and then his brother, knowing his recently acquired brother was hinting at something important.
Lafayette grinned, “Do not fret, Taddy. You will do just fine. And, boy howdy is Grand-mère goin’ to be damn delighted to see you.” Saying this, he urged Coffee forward to the front of the herd.