Simone sat in the Ericksen’s garden watching a thick patch of Black-eyed Susan’s bobbing in the wind. Her hand caressing the arm bound up in a sling. It hurt, but nothing like the pain compressing her heart. Hearing footsteps, she considered what she might say to send the visitor away. She did not wish to be rude still, she wanted to be alone. Turning, she saw it was her boys.
Their skin was pale with dark smudges under their eyes, but they held their heads high and their backs straight. As they drew near their eyes further broke her heart. Her hand went to her mouth. The mischievous, loving spark she had always seen in her boys was snuffed out. Their eyes were flat, like those of a dead thing, and she wondered, ‘Are their souls shriveling up in the same manner?’
Thaddeus took the seat next to her, wrapping her to him as Lafayette dropped to the ground nearby. Simone felt cold as a January morning and drew Thaddeus closer. Leaning into him, she focused on the steady beat of his heart and the sound of Lafayette’s breathing. Beneath the foul odor of smoke, she could smell their familiar scent and knew they were waiting for her to tell them what had transpired. Swallowing, Simone began.
“Marie and I were in the kitchen, tidying up from lunch, when we heard the horses; too many to be a neighbor stoppin’ by. Marie has always been a timid thing, and the sound of their horses charging up the drive spooked her like a cat and she dropped the plates. Oh, but they shattered all over the floor. I did not scold her because I was spooked too.” Simone, kneaded Lafayette’s shoulder, and taking a breath, went on. “Do not know why... but I knew something was not right. Recalling Dora was gatherin’ in the clean sheets. I ran to fetch her and she was not there. She had run off, leavin’ one sheet still partially clipped, so it drug on the ground. Seeing her missing, my heart jumped up in my throat. I set to searching for her right away and found her ’round front, peeking through the honeysuckle bushes at a large collection of men on the drive.”
Lafayette turned, looking up at her, his brows drawn up tighter than as she had ever seen.
“Oh, there were a mess of ‘em strung across the drive and Mister; he was on the front steps. He were speaking with a strutting lil’ rooster with a big blue feather in his hat, the likes as you see in a filles bonnet. Behind him was that puffed up O’Rourke, who has been sniffin’ about our place every since you took Josie from ’em.”
Both brothers stiffened, their throats constricting as the description of each man personally slapped them in the face.
“Then I saw m’ Web and Gabe coming from the south field. They looked so big and strong in that peculiar greenish storm light.” Simone took a breath and looked up into Thaddeus’ bright eyes, “You ever notice how sharp things look under that odd light?”
He nodded, giving her a supportive smile.
“Liked that light, since I was a girl.” Pulling away, she sat up, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth. “Anyways, I recalls thinkin’, ‘looks like the storm is goin’ to part and miss us. ’ Simone stopped speaking, her eyes staring away into the distance, seeing again that terrible afternoon.
After a bit, Lafayette touched her arm, “Mams?”
Not looking at him, she snapped, “Stop!”
She shook her head and stood. “I have decided not to tell you.”
They were on their feet as fast as the flick of a horse’s tail.
Thaddeus blocked her way, pleading, “Mams, you gotta.”
She looked deep into his green eyes and then at the tight set of Lafayette’s mouth. ”Non, it will tear y’all apart.”
“Mams, the not knowin’ will do worse to us.” Lafayette replied.
Her eyes scrolled over their tight wane faces, and with a weary exhale, she retook her seat. “One of those men shot Gabe. Just like that. Nothing said or done, just shot ’em. I was looking right at him when the bullet hit ’em, saw the pain spread across his face, watched him stagger and fall to a knee. Eudora, she saw it too, and I just barely got a hold on her before she flew to ’em.
Told her she had to come ‘round to the back of the house with me. By then, all them pistols were a firing and it was so loud. And Dora; she were arguin’ with me like she had never done before. I had to shove her along to keep her moving.” She looked to Thaddeus still standing over her. “She sounded just like you, garçon even usin’ some of your filthy words.” Hot tears ran down her face, and sniffing, Simone said, “Marie were clinging to the backdoor. Her eyes all wild and I could see she wanted to run, but did not know where to go. I pushed Eudora to her and told ’em to hide upstairs. I should have sent ’em here. Why? Why, did I send ’em inside?”
“It is all right, Mams.” Thaddeus said, taking a seat and patting her leg. “It is what, I would have done.”
Lafayette looked out across the garden, ‘Not I,’ he thought, ’The house was in danger; I would have sent ‘em away from it.’ He bowed his head, not liking the finger pointing thoughts he was having.
Simone pulled a kerchief from her sleeve and wiped at her nose, “Well, I snuck out in the dining room; the front door was hangin’ open, so I ducked into the parlor... where I could see without being seen. It was a rat’s nest out there... cursing, and orders being hollered, and nobody mindin’ any one. There were strange men lying on the drive, bleedin’, and I knew m’ Web and Gabe had done that to ’em. Then I recalled Gabe was shot. Edging from the parlor is when I saw, m’ fils, they were near the steps and they were powerfully hurt. I could not stay hidden when they needed me.
Rushing out, I surprised a circle of men, beating and kicking Mister. Snagging up the broom, I laid into them cowards. How foolish of me. But, I was angry they was here. I just kept hitting ’em. One of ‘em cursed me; calling me a dim-witted darkey and he caught hold of me and punched me.” Simone touched her face. “Him hittin’ me made me ’bout as mad as I ever been and I came at ’em twice as hard; whacked a couple of ’em good enough to send ’em tottering. Then one of ’em flung me down the steps.” She rubbed her slinged arm with a frown. “I felt it snap. It was like an explosion. Rolling over, I saw Web and Gabe.” A fresh wave of tears rolled from her eyes.
“Web, m’chérie garçon. He was reaching for me and, I ran to ’em. There was blood everywhere and I knew they were in a bad way. Blood was bubbling on mon poor bébé’s lips. Mon Webster was the sweetest child, a heart so big...” A shuddering sob rippled from her. “I kissed his brow, he smiled and was gone. I saw the life leave ’em. Mon fils, m’ handsome, ever-loving fils shot like an unwanted dog. Then Gabe, he set to coughing. He were drownin’ in his own blood. Right then, even as I turned him on his side, I thanked the Saints y’all were far away.” She touched each of the brother’s briefly and shook her head. “Gabe had him a horrid gash in his neck. I think there were a chunk of his flesh missing all together. He had his hand pressed to it, but it were not halting the blood none. Ripping strips from my petticoat, I pressed them to his neck. Except for the one in his leg, when I first saw ’em shot, I saw non other injuries. I set to prayin’, ’cause I knew Gabe, being strong as Sampson, he could make it. When his eyes locked on mine... Garçons, he were not scared. He was angry, hot angry like a boar that has been riled up. I got ‘em to hold the cloth to his neck and I set to bindin’ his leg.” She shivered. Her tears had wet the front of her dress and swiping a hand under her chin, she dispersed those collecting there.
Lafayette squatted, taking her hand in his but she remained rigid, gooseflesh rising on her arms.
“You see I was prayin’ hard by then, prayin’ them men would leave us be and while I was prayin’, I was figurin’ on how I was goin’ a get Gabe out of there. When... oh, Garçons, it were the most horrible, terrible sound, them Yankees was stringing Mister up. Gabe he rolled, snagging hold of Webster’s pistol. It was just awful... they was raisin’ and lowerin’ Mister like some Mardi Gras decoration. Him a clawin’ at the rope and them beasts a laughin’. Gabe he dropped one of ’em right down dead with his first shot.” Simone took a deep quavering breath. “Them other five, they turned to fire as one. Do not know how I was not hit. But, oh m’ Gabe, he bucked up off the ground from all the lead hittin’ him. I was screamin’ and so was Gabe. Him still a firing even when that pistol was clicking empty.” Simone shook her head, falling silent.
Thaddeus nudged Lafayette and his brother dug out his whiskey flask. “Here Mams.” Thaddeus said, spinning the top off and tried to hand it to her.
She stared at the silver flask and shook her head.
“I did not think there was any way it could be worse. I was wrong. ‘Cause when the pistols stopped firin’ and the smoke lifted, I saw Dora on the front porch and clear as a robin’s song, she hollered out, ’You let mon famille be.′
Them men spun and stared at her. Lordie, Lordie if she did not look fierce. It was a look, I have seen on you.” She stroked Thaddeus’ face. “A cool, determined anger; and them men saw it, too.”
Thaddeus inhaled, a shudder running through him.
“Gabriel, he passed on... while I was watchin’ Dora walk down those steps, shaking her head and stern as a Lutheran minister, she said. ‘ Y’all need to leave. Y’all ain’t wanted here.’ Something in her ordering ’em off broke the spell, and them men set to snickering. That was when I screamed for her to run and she did; with two of ’em hot on her heels.
I leapt up, charging up the stairs and Mister; he was dangling from the railing. He were as beyond my help as m’ doux fils were. And there were not anyone left to help me and the filles." Simone stopped speaking, her fist shoved against her mouth, her breathing ragged.
Thaddeus tapped her leg with the flask.
She shook her head.
He took a drink and placed it in her hands.
Simone looked at the wet, shiny mouth of the flask and took a long drink, gasping at the strength.
Very softly, Thaddeus, asked, “Mams, what happened, next?”
“I heard blood curdling screams. See them men who were not on the drive had been tearin’ through drawers and cupboards. And when I rushed in, one of ‘em, snagged hold of my broken arm. Ah, Taddy, it hurt. Hurt so bad, I screamed fallin’ to the floor. He jerked me up, wanting to know where Mister kept the banknotes. I told ’em, in the study. He made me show ’em where. I led ’em to the box in the bottom drawer of the desk and when he bent to retrieve it; I laid that man out cold with the ashtray made of horseshoes, Mister keeps on his desk. Hit ’em for all I was worth, ‘cause while he be harassin’ me about currency, I could hear the screaming above me. And, I did not know if it were Dora or Marie, but either way this greedy killer was keeping me from ’em. I hope the blow killed ’em,” she stated with a snort, color rising in her face.
“On the back stairs, I found George shot through the head. That old man were too feeble to hurt a chicken and they killed ’em. Then on the second floor, I found a pack of them beasts violating Marie, right there in the main hall.” She felt both boys tense and thought, ‘they wanted to hear it, they shall hear it.’
“Two of ’em were holding her down. One of ’em had not even bothered to re-button his drawers when the third man had climbed atop her to take his turn. Then I saw Dora...” The brothers twitched, their muscles ratcheting even tighter. She briefly touched each of them. “They did not have her. I saw her coming from your room, Taddy and she was carrying a pistol. She was not scared, neither. She was angry, the way Gabe had been. That fille did not say one word, just walked up to that man defiling Marie and shot ’em in the side of his head. Them other two leapt back like boiling water had been thrown on ’em. One of ’em pulled his pistol and Dora shot him straight in the face, saying ‘I told y’all it was fuckin’ time for you to leave.′ I saw that third man drawing his pistol. I cried out, but it was over afore the words left my mouth and there was blood blossoming from Dora’s belly.
She frowned at it and raising your pistol, she shot that man right back and kicked ’em. Sent ‘em rolling down the staircase like the piece of trash he was. Then she sat down on the top step and started cryin’. I smelled smoke and knew they was lighting up the house same as they had done the barn. I ordered the filles to their feet, bossed and bullied ’em like field hands. But, I snuck us all safe and sound down to the cellar. I tell you, Garçons, I was tryin’ to comfort Dora, knowing she was dying painfully and there were not nothing I could do. Sitting there, listening to Marie’s sobs, I was thinking Dieu could take me. Anyways, when I heard you call to me. I figured, I was dreamin’. And, that is all I have to tell and don’t never want to tell of it again.”
A whispering silence rose around them until Thaddeus’ gagged on the sobs he had been trying to hold in. Simone pulled him to her, “Shhh, m’ Garçon, shhh.” She rocked him, looking down on Lafayette and the longer she looked at him, at the bitterness darkening his eyes, the more fearful she became for him.
At length, Lafayette released a shaky breath and stood, saying. “We will not ask you to speak of this again, Mams. Ne jamais! I shall send you and Marie to Katharine. Or anywhere you wish I just want you away from this hell.”
The golden light of the evening gloaming highlighted his face and Simone thought how handsome he was despite the hardness that had settled into his features. Opening her mouth, to ask if they would be joining her, she snapped it closed already knowing her answer, without even asking. Burrowing her face into Thaddeus’ thick black hair, she crossed herself, whispering, ′Dieu, s’il vous plaît, forgive him; forgive both of ‘em, for what they are fixin’ to do.′
“Mr. Ericksen, I cannot thank you enough for your hospitality.” Lafayette said, shaking the older man’s hand. His eyes scanned to the buggy where Marie and Simone sat.
“Proud to be able to assist. Taking your womenfolk to St. Joe is an easy task.”
Mr. Ericksen looked toward the buggy a slight frown on his florid face. He had never owned slaves and wondered if being sent South was what these nigresses wanted, or if it was a matter of transferring property to another place. “Uh hem, Lafayette, if the ladies wish it, they are welcome to stay on here with us.”
Lafayette’s eyes scrolled back to focus on Mr. Ericksen. He stared at the man, thinking, ‘Jackson more resembles his Mother.’
The sheer coldness in Lafayette’s black eyes made Ericksen gulp and he quickly said, “I was not suggesting anything beyond we would be pleased to have them as guests.”
“They are goin’ South of their own choice, Mr. Ericksen.” Lafayette held out a hand toward the buggy, “Ask ’em if you wish.”
“That is fine, Lafayette, there is no need for me to ask them.”
Lafayette nodded, “Mmm Hmmm,” he grunted, not liking the veiled suggestion that he was forcing Mams and Marie to do anything they did not wish. Striding over to the buggy, he handed a thick letter to Marie, “Here Chérie, place this with the other papers. It will explain all to Katharine, freeing y’all from the necessity of havin’ to do so.”
Marie nodded, stowing it in the leather satchel that sat between her and Simone.
Leaning in, Lafayette made to kiss Marie farewell on the cheek.
She drew back with a sharp gasp, her eyes bolting wide-open.
He froze, looking into her scared face, “Marie, chérie, I pray you are able to heal and this life becomes easier for you.”
“I pray, too, Mister Lafe.” A timid, twisted smile came to her pretty face, “I pray you kill every last one of them beasts who came onto Sienna. Part of me believes them being dead will make life easier.”
Lafayette nodded and held out his hand.
She looked at his palm and then laid her palm atop his.
Leaning close, he whispered earnestly, “You keep prayin’ Marie and I will work to make ’em come true.” He kissed the back of her hand, ”Au revoir, doux.”
Leaving her, he walked about the buggy to where his brother stood with Simone holding both his hands.
Thaddeus shot him a cautionary look and before Mams could speak, Lafayette said, “Do not be startin’ in all over again ’bout us accompanying y’all.”
“I could not live with myself... if I did not try,” she said, grasping hold of one of his hands. “I amour each of you so very much. And you, rightly now, Mistress Lorraine is expecting you back. You told me so yourself, Lafe.”
“I know I did. However, I would say circumstances have altered my previous plans.”
“All the more reason, Lafayette Henri for y’all to return South.”
Lafayette closed his eyes and then opened them wearily. “Jon and Jo will be home from England soon and the others are already there. Grand-mère and you too, Mams, will have to make do without Taddy and me for a time.”
“We should not have to,” Simone countered. “Why can y’all not come South with us?”
Lafayette sighed, “You know why, Mams.”
Simone looked from one brother to the other, “The bien Dieu does not approve of vengeance, you were not raised that way.”
“The book says, ‘an eye for an eye’.” Thaddeus answered.
She frowned, “You are choosing words, Garçon. Jesus said to love your enemy and to not seek retribution. That it is best to turn the other cheek.”
Lafayette tightly smiled, “That may be, but as you know, we do not always follow the correct path. ‘ This war has come to us. Taddy and I did not invite it. We did not encourage it. It sought us out; rippin’ from us what we held dear... what made us bien. We amour you Mams. However, our souls are overflowing with dark hatred and unless we can release some of it, it will fester until we are unfit to be near decent folk. You go on South ’cause we ain’t leaving Missouri...” He looked to Thaddeus. “...‘til we are good and ready.” He tried to smile at her, but was unable to find a true one left in him. “Be careful, keep your freedom papers near, and send a telegram to Harrisonville lettin’ us know all is well when you arrive.” He kissed her weathered cheek, and looking to Mr. Eriksen’s hired man, Eli, he commanded, “Get ’em out of here, s’il vous plaît.”
As the buggy faded from view, Jackson came to stand by the brothers, “What shall happen now?
“Taddy and I are going to track each of those bastards down and show ’em the same kindness they have shown us before they can destroy another family.”
“Fuck right.” Thaddeus snarled.