Connor and Fox appeared in the parlor first, so robust and masculine amongst the dainty trimmings they resembled heroes of old returning home. Each was so freshly clean that his hair glistened damply, the invigorating scent of bay rum soap floating about them.
“Hello lassies, it be good to be home. Them horses of Sienna be everything Lafe and Jo ever boasted of.” Connor stated. Taking Lorraine’s hand, he kissed the back of it. “In the morning, I shall be for escorting ye to the stables. Ye must seem ’em, Missus, they will take ye breath away.”
“Sounds like an ideal start to the day. I am so glad you are home, Connor chéri, it has been dull with you away.”
He winked at Lorraine, “I think me blarney be rubbin’ off on ye.”
She giggled and took his hand as she rose from her chair, smiling at the young man standing in Connor’s shadow. ”Bonjour, Monsieur welcome to my home.”
“Missus, this here be one of ye grandson’s Boyos from Missouri, I be told his name is Clarence Northrup.”
Fox’s eyebrows raised above his eye like an arrow.
Smirking at the boy’s ire, Connor explained, “’Cepting, he do not care for his first name none. He prefers being called Fox, I hear tell, even his own Mum calls ’em Fox.”
Lorraine took in the lean, freckle-faced boy and his thick thatch of red hair, “Fox, I am pleased you came to visit us here at L’Eau Sucree.”
Stepping forward, Fox peeked at Connor, unsure what was expected. At the last moment, he gave Lorraine a quick bow. “Thank ya, Ma ’am, sure is a nice spread ya have here.” He smiled, the sharp, bony angles of his face transformed him into a grinning boy; who looked as out of place as he felt.
“Why merci beaucoup. S’il vous plaît, take a seat.” She motioned to a soft, sage-green, velvet settee.
Glancing at it before sitting, Fox thought, ‘Sure am glad I changed clothes.’ His narrow eyes slid about the lavish, gilt-gold adorned room. ‘And I thought Sienna was over the top.’
Seeing his discomfort, Lorraine said, “Violet, sil vous plaît, brings the monsieurs glasses of rum.”
"Oui, Maîtresse,” replied a creamy, coco skinned girl not much older than Fox.
Taking a seat on the opposite end of the settee, Connor held up a cheroot, “Missus?”
“Must I keep reminding you, smoke does not bother me in the least little bit.” She chided, opening a pearl inlaid wood box and removing a match, she handed it to Connor. “The scent brings to mind m’ chéri Michaël. This summer, he has been in heaven quinze years and still, I miss him every day. ”
Connor nodded solemnly, striking the match to the sole of his boot. He drew deeply, releasing a mist of smoke and offered a cheroot to Fox.
The redhead declined, afraid he might ash or do some other damage to the room.
Violet glided over, handing a crystal snifter of rum to each man.
Fox smelled of it, ’Hell, it is sugary; should have figured as much.” Shooting the almost black liquor down, so he could return the glass that he was afraid would shatter in his hands, he gasped at its potency.
Connor nudged him with his toe, “Ye be careful, plantation rum may smell like it be safe, but it be having ye blackin’ out if ye drink it too fast.”
Lorraine turned from the boy with a grin. Taking the carafe from Violet, she asked, “Would you like a refill, Fox?”
“Thank ya, no, Ma ’am.”
Topping off Connor’s, Lorraine handed the bottle back to Violet and peered toward the entry hall. “Where can m’ fils be?”
“Missus, when we left ‘em, Lafe be explainin’ to Taddy, for the third go through on how he were not in Missouri and he were required to be dressed for dinner. That one, do be all the handful his family has been speakin’. He seems the right brash lad and I am findin’ myself lovin’ him all the faster for it.”
She lowered her head over her clasped hands, almost as if praying, “Then m’ plus jeune fils is still a trouble causing pup?”
“He be. Perhaps though, with his size and stubbornness, he be more a wolfhound than a pup, these days.” Connor replied.
Coming through the archway wearing slim-fitted slacks, a starched white shirt, blue waistcoat, and a silk necktie left low on his neck in a loose knot, Thaddeus snarled, “I heard that.”
“Did not mean for ye not too,” Connor answered, toasting Thaddeus with his rum. “Like I says, they not made ye out to be no angel.”
“Thaddeus, m’ fils," Lorraine heaved, rushing to him.
Smiling, yet feeling a bit shy, Thaddeus glanced to his brother for guidance.
Then Lorraine had him in her arms, hugging him to her. “It is so, so very bonne to have you here. I believed I would never see you again.”
“Why is that Grand-mère?” Thaddeus said, looking her in the eyes.
“I fear the long journey to Sienna would be too much for me and oh, m’chéri, I do vividly recall your dislike for city dwellers."
Thaddeus cheeks reddened, “Was I that vocal on my last visit?”
“Ain’t that consistently how you are?” Lafayette asked, leaning in to give Lorraine a kiss on the cheek. “It is a relief to be home. You look belle, Grand-mère.”
"Merci, Lafe, I missed you greatly.” She beamed momentarily at her elder grandson then returned her attention to the younger. “Oh my, to have deux of m’ fils here with me. I feel beyond blessed.”
“Taddy, want some rum?” Lafayette asked, taking the carafe and filling himself a glass.
Thaddeus nodded, grinned, and kissing his Grandmother’s cheek stepped deeper into the fancy parlor.
Lorraine gazed adoringly at the brothers, ”Bénis les Saints, but the pair of you so resemble ma fille très doux.”
“If you be thinkin’ we do then you should see Dora. Father claims she is an exact copy of Mère." Thaddeus replied, taking a large drink of the rum. “Oh! That is strong.”
Lafayette, Connor, and Fox all laughed.
Lorraine shook her head at the men enjoying their foolishness.
Finishing his drink, Thaddeus set the fragile glass down, and removing his cuff links, he pocketed them, rolling his shirt sleeves while ogling the parlor. “It is mighty fine to be here. I have always been curious about L’Eau Sucree. Gotta say, this place is amazing. I consider, Sienna dam--” He sucked in his lips interrupting his natural flow of cursing. “... fine, but it is simple in comparison.”
"Merci, m’ fils. However, your Sienna is quite charmant. I always enjoyed visiter. I am supposing you monsieurs have worked up an appetite. Shall we adjourn to dîner?”
“Famished is what I am.” Thaddeus offered his arm, “Lead the way, Grand-mère."
Taking hold of his upper arm, she smiled at his rolled sleeves, saying, “It is still so warm; I told the servants we would have dîner on the back veranda where we might get a breeze.”
Lorraine led them out the back of the house and up the outside stairs. On the veranda she turned to Thaddeus, “I cannot stop thinking this, so I may as well impart it on you, I just adore seeing mon Grand-mère’s eyes looking out from your face.”
"Quelle?” Thaddeus asked, cocking his head to the side.
“All these years and all the bébés, and not until you deux did her green eyes reappear.”
Thaddeus eyebrow rose and he leaned closer listening intently to his Grandmother.
“See they, the slaves that is, used to whisper...” Lorraine’s voice took on a conspiratorial tone, “... she had magic and that is why her eyes were as green as a snake. As a child, I recall how they were all respectfully scared of her. ”
Thaddeus smiled, his single dimple creasing his cheek, “You hear that, Lafe?”
Lorraine’s eyes darted between her Grandson’s, ”excusez-moi?”
“Oh, mes excuses, it has been an ongoing question where Dora and I came by our eyes.”
Lorraine smiled a bright maternal smile at him, “They come from m’ famille. First day, I held you mon Taddy and in your fierce, determined cry, you reminded me of my Grand-mère’s strength. Her name was Taddea Nicoloine. I knew you should be named for her.” She cupped his firm, square jaw. “She had a terrible temper. Mostly, though she was brave, wise, and oh so sweet, sweet, sweet. Then there was her laughter, it would fill a room. Is any of this the same with you m’ Taddy? I know so little about you, it pains me.”
“You just described me better than anyone ever has.” he said, flashing her his crooked grin and pulling out her chair. His eyes ran down the expansive spread of food covering the long, wide table to the fair-haired lady at the opposite end.
As if on cue, the blonde rose from her chair, “Welcome to mon maison Monsieurs.”
Thaddeus went to greet her, moving purposely along the opposite side from his cousin, Fay, who was smiling like a cat waiting to climb into the milk bucket.
“You must be m’ Tante Blanche.” Thaddeus said, taking in the blonde’s dark-eyes and perfect skin. “It is great to meet you and I look forward to becoming better acquainted.”
“As do I, neveu.”
“Perhaps not as much as I look forward to gettin’ to know everything about him.”
Blanche’s lips pursed into a perfect tight rosebud when her son said this. Turning on him, the sweet tone dropped from her voice. “What have I declared about such talk, Fay?”
Fay’s eyes widened, “What talk? I said I was looking forward to gettin’ to know him.”
Thaddeus’ eyes darted to his cousin, his skin tingling and becoming pink.
Blanche shook her head, “Thaddeus, mes excuses, for mon espiègle fils as it appears he has previously found the time to torment you and here you have only just arrived. I do adore him, but he can be rather exasperating. Mes excuses”
Thaddeus nodded, “It is all right, Tante. I have heard annoyin’ people is a trait which seems to run within some of us, in this famille.” Taking her hand, he kissed the back of it. “And, truth is I too adore all of m’ famille, even when they are...” he threw a thinly-masked, threatening look to Fay, ″.... exasperating.”
Noticing Fox was still standing near the veranda railing, Thaddeus waved him over. “Hey all, I ain’t had the chance to introduce m’ ami to everyone.” He dropped an arm about Fox’s shoulder, “This here is Fox Northrup. He was good enough to volunteer manning the second barge down the rivers with me.” He grinned at Fox, “It is good to have an ami who is there for you, and Fox is mine. So, I do hope y’all will make ’em feel welcome.”
A smile spread across Fay’s face and he leaned forward in his seat, preparing to stand.
“Not that welcome, Fay,” Thaddeus said, his green eyes turning grim.
Fay leaned back, smirking.
Slipping into the chair beside Katharine, Connor smiled dotingly at her, “Hello Lass.”
“Oh, Connor, I missed your company.” She leaned closer, whispering, “I find myself feeling quite jealous when Lafe steals you away.”
Connor patted her hand, “I be here now, and later we can take a stroll abouts the garden and you be for updatin’ me all that has gone on.”
Lafayette dropped into his customary seat to the right of his Grandmother, Fox took a seat next to Michaël, and Thaddeus moved to sit beside him.
“Sit here, Taddy.” Lorraine said, tapping the table setting to her left, “I want to learn more of you, than your frères et sœurs have told me.”
Dinner was a joyous affair filled with much laughter and the retelling of Thaddeus’ fearless departure from the barge. As a dessert of bananas foster was being served, Lorraine looked to Fox Northrup, ”Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Fox, for all the assistance you have provided to m’ famille. I do hope you will enjoy the remainder of the summer here with us in the country.”
“Why thank ya, Ma ’am.” Fox replied.
“I am positive we will send you home with grand memories of your time here. In fact, I deem we shall hold a barbeque in honor of your and...” she smiled at her Grandson, “Taddy’s arrival.”
“It sounds wonderful, Ma’am. But, I regret, I must return home right away. My leaving was unplanned and I am sure my Mother is around the bend with me.” He answered with a blushing grin.
“I understand. Do know you will be missed here as much as I am sure, your own Mère is missing you even now.”
Thaddeus cleared his throat, “Uhm, Grand-mère, I will be returnin’ with Fox.”
"M’ fils..." she turned wide eyes on Thaddeus, “Lafe, expressed you would be stayin’ on to care for the horses.”
Thaddeus folded his napkin, placing it beside his plate, ”Mes excuses, Lafayette did not bother consultin’ with me first and he has been speakin’ out of the side of his mouth.” He eyed his brother, “and should be ashamed of himself.”
Lorraine’s face crumbled, biting her lower lip, she stood quickly, ”Mes excuses, s’il vous plaît, excusez-moi.” With a final tearful look at her grandson’s she rushed away.
“Damnation and hellfire, Taddy.” Lafayette barked. Rising, he tossed his napkin on the table. ”Pardonner, m’ language, Michaël, Tante, Katharine.”
"Non, I actually feel likewise,” Katharine replied, glaring at her little brother with the expression he most often related to his eldest sister.
“What the hell? I am goin’ home. Y’all did not really think I would stay here, did you?”
Lafayette shook his head and with a snort, left to comfort Lorraine.
Thaddeus rose from his chair. “Hellfire, talk to me, Lafe.”
Lafayette stopped, turning back to face his brother, “Break off and do not be pushin’ me. Anything I say at this moment is goin’ set us off in damn bonne brawl.”