Mrs. Baker drove in silence, allowing Lafayette to collect himself, even as she mused through what she had just learned about the teasing young man. It was pleasurable knowing there was a touch of a dreamer in him. She wished she could converse more with him in this way. Although, she felt sure he would avoid further such conversation. As he most assuredly had been raised like other men, dreaming was for the weak-minded, interfering with the work of life. Still, it was nice knowing this little extra bit about him.
‘My Betsy will be sixteen this winter,’ she thought, her eyes roving over Lafayette where he rode beside them in silence. ‘Let me see, he is Antonio’s third... no, second son. That should put him around eighteen. My goodness, would he not make a fine husband for my girl? I do believe, when Mr. Baker returns from St. Louis, I shall have him visit with Antonio. It would not hurt to see if any arrangements are in place.’ She nodded, flicking the reins encouraging her team to pick up their feet. “Ah, you are correct, we arrived at last.” Mrs. Baker said, breaking the silence, which had fallen about them. Looking to the sign above the gate, she read, ‘Barnett Farm’ aloud.
The words were hewn into a rough-cut log that looked quite out of place hanging from the filigree, iron arch of the gate. The log was a reminder to each person traveling beneath it, that this prosperous family had once lived in a meager one-room cabin, upon a small plot of land, which lay buried within the immense acreage they had amassed.
The Barnetts settled in Missouri when Hannah’s father had still been a child in Maryland. They had arrived when the region was still uncharted, sharing meals with Sac, Fox, and Oto Indians. It was the Barnett clan who had greeted the earliest settlers. It was also the Barnetts, along with other early families, who had made Missouri into the gracious State it was now. Therefore, when the Barnett’s hosted a social event, families traveled from all over to attend, for the Barnett’s were considered pioneer royalty.
The long drive to the Barnett house wound its way through fields of tall, green corn that would soon be harvested for its golden crop. Looking down each long, long row Lafayette thought, ‘Damn, there must be thousands of stalks.’ He could see hours of exhaustive labor wrapped up in the crop from spring through fall. These fields demanded full-days of backbreaking labor.
Overall, it made him twice as thankful his father had fashioned his fortune and their lives around horses; rather than the land. The continuous lines of corn stretching away to the horizon showed a tedious patience, Lafayette knew he could never achieve. He felt just as the quiet rotation of the seasons must have settled in the Barnett’s blood, so in the same way, had the racing-blood of their horses spiced his own. And, believing this, he knew he could never be a farmer or even marry a farmer’s daughter. For their thoughts and passions would always differ too greatly.
The red house of the Barnett’s was spoken of far and wide, and coming around a curve, the legendary home loomed into view. It stood three-stories high and for all that, it looked overtly squat in the middle of its perfectly manicured lawn. It would have been an outright ugly home, if it had not been so cleverly trimmed with sculpted porticos, columns, and arches that seemed to have been plucked straight from the Roman countryside.
Standing before the home like the Roman Emperor, he was named after; Colonel Octavius Barnett warmly greeted each guest as they arrived.
Mrs. Baker waved cheerfully, steering her carriage into the teardrop drive where several slaves rushed forth to assist her.
“Madame Baker, I am most grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to travel with such flawless Missouri roses.” Lafayette said, kissing his fingertips and waving butterfly kisses to the young Baker girls. “By non means has there ever been a truer bouquet.” Edging Cain closer, he took Mrs. Baker’s hand, “Your daughters do great honor to your own beauté,” he said, brushing his lips across the back of her gloved hand. Releasing her, he waved farewell, calling out, “au revoir, and a bonne day to y’all.”
“Howdy and mornin’ to you, Lafayette,” Colonel Barnett called and Lafayette rode to him. “Tarnation boy that is one impressive stallion.”
"Merci.” Lafayette replied as Cain pawed the raked gravel, sending rocks flying. ”Mes excuses, he is awfully headstrong.”
“Can he run?”
“Like the wind.” Lafayette beamed. “Peter and Taddy think he may be faster than Boreas.”
Cain snorted, bobbing his head.
“Seems he agrees with ’em,” the Colonel said with a laugh, his eyes roaming over the muscled, dappled gray. “Y’all consider gelding ’em... you have your Father contact me first. This one, I may offer ‘em enough money to change his mind about not sellin’ stallions.”
Lafayette replied, a teasing sparkle in his eyes, “Long as I am allowed to be present for that negotiation.”
“I would make sure of it, Son. It is good to have you here. I greeted Josephine about half hour ago. Shall I expect your family to be dribbling in the rest of the mornin’?”
Lafayette shook his head, “I regret I will be the last.”
“Then Antonio will not be attendin’.”
“He sends his apologies.”
“What of your brothers?”
“Gabe is away on business and Taddy is still with maladie.”
Lafayette nodded curtly.
“Missed that younger brother of yours at the gatherings this season, he knows how to stir up excitement. I do hope he comes ’round soon.”
“As do I, Sir.”
“Lafayette, I am quite pleased you are able to attend,” the Colonel stated smiling larger. “And, I am very optimistic my Elizabeth will feel the same.”
"Merci beucoup, Colonel Barnett.” Lafayette replied with a full smile and producing a playful salute, he spun Cain, trotting on to the stables.
Despite the Colonel’s reminder that his daughter would be looking for him, Lafayette still felt in high spirits after escorting Mrs. Baker. It had been an entertaining ride, for he gained great pleasure in charming ladies, no matter their age. Not in the way, most people would think if he stated this aloud. He simply cottoned to making a lady feel exceptional and beautiful. Whenever he saw a spark of prideful joy rise within a lady, he felt warm through and through. Truth be told, he was in such a good mood, he found he was no longer even upset with Josephine.
The minute he rode into the stable yard; Benjamin rushed to him, “Master Lafe, may I’s takes Cain from yuse?”
Lafayette winked, appreciating Benjamin’s speedy assistance, even though he judged Cain to be spent after the active ride over. However, no sooner did he shift to dismount then he felt that stallion switch to his off foot, in preparation to carry out some feat of devilry.
Snatching the gray’s ear, Benjamin gave it a sharp twist, to distract the stallion and taking advantage of his quick thinking, Lafayette hopped from the saddle. “Merci. Where is Jo?”
“She is long gone, Master Lafe.”
Rubbing at the stallion’s neck and dislodging dried sweat, he cursed, ’Chiant! Why did she not await my arrival?’
With a small cough, Benjamin touched Lafayette on the arm, pointing to a shady spot in the corral where Copper Belle stood with her head hanging in exhaustion. “Master Lafe, I had to push ol’ Belle just to keep Miss Josephine in my sights. I had to push her all the ways here, I surely did.”
“Chiant!” He could feel his anger peaking as he stared at the pair of mares, neither of them showing any signs of wishing to move another inch. ‘That ride was close to ten miles. She knows better, what the hell has gotten into her?’ As his jaw clenched tighter, his left dimple set to dipping.
“How did Cain do all on his own?”
Loosening the saddle girth, he replied, “he is headstrong, to be sure. But, I got me an inkling he might amount to something. Well, after a bit of serious training.”
“If yuse says so. I is frightfully spooked of ’em, Master Lafe. I just cannot puts much faith in him ever straightening out.”
Pulling the cinch strap free of the girth ring, Lafayette froze, slanting his eyes to Benjamin. “Why the hell are you addressing me as Master? You rightly know, I do not cotton to it?” Lafayette asked, sucking on his front teeth, not even liking the way the word felt in his mouth.
“I knows yuse don’t, but--”
“But, nothing. Why the hell are you doing it?”
“Miss Simone, she tolds me if ’n she founds out, I was not the bestest mannered slave, showing the utmost respect whiles I was here. . . then she would have strips peeled from my back,” Benjamin said, his front teeth whistling loudly as he spoke.
Lafayette fist clenched about the wide, damp leather strap in his hand, ’Why on earth would Mams threaten ‘em so? Ain’t never been a whip used on Sienna.’ Recalling crisscrossed scars he had seen on negros, he felt a wave of disgust run through him and the leather saddle cinch in his hand felt grotesque. “Ain’t a soul goin’ to take a whip to you, Benjamin. Not ever! You have my word. Besides, you are a part of Sienna and I would protect you from anyone, absolutely anyone, who thought to lay a hand on you.”
Benjamin looked up and never had Lafayette seen such disgrace in a person’s eyes, “Yes, Sir. I knows, I’s a part of Sienna,” he said, his Adam’s apple bobbing vigorously. “But, Mister Lafe that just be a fancy way to say I’s a slave, which...” Benjamin paused, moistening his lips, “... makes yuse my Master. And, Miss Simone she done explains to me, there be plenty of gents hereabouts who not look kindly on families who are nots slave owners. She told me, if ‘n I not wants to be carried off down South, to Masters who ain’t as fair as y’all. It would be in my best interests to be treatin’ yuse likes the Master yuse truly is.”
Benjamin’s debasing honesty tore a large gash in Lafayette’s already failing belief in their peculiar institution. His words ‘makes you my Master’ burned hot in Lafayette’s ears, bringing a rushing taste of bile to his mouth. Choking on the disgusting truth, he stepped backwards. Unable to look at Benjamin, he was filled with the desire to climb back on Cain and flee. Taking a breath, he thought, ’this is a conversation, which has been long overdue between Father and I. Even though he raised me to be a slave owner, the whole system turns my stomach. I want our slaves freed and offered an honest day’s wage to stay on at Sienna. Hellfire, simply free ‘em, whether they wish to stay or not. It ain’t like we cannot afford to pay laborers.’
Taking another breath, he thought further, ‘but this is not the day for such out of the ordinary views. If’n I make a single improper statement...’ His eyes darted to the top buttonhole of each man in the stable yard. Fortuitously, he saw none of them adorned with a loop of hemp. However, with so many families present, he felt sure more than a few of Senator Atchinson’s Secret Brotherhood would be here; the simple hemp loop was their insignia.
If any of the Secret Brotherhood or the Blue Lodges were here, they would be on him quicker than a pup on a hunk of raw meat if he made even one hypothetical statement against slavery. The men who joined these societies alleged, if a person was not ‘sound on the goose’ then that person, along with their family were to be considered enemies of ‘the cause’. They were also known to be heavy-handed in their beliefs, to the point of stating, ‘a man was either with them or against them.’ They did not believe in any middle ground.
Atchison’s Brotherhood and the Blue Lodges were populated by the hottest firebrands in Missouri; men who felt slavery to be not only their State right, but there God given one too. For these reasons, they were prepared to fight to protect the institution, even if it meant the destruction of the Union. To them, violence, even extreme violence, was perfectly acceptable if it allowed them to achieve their goals. Furthermore, Senator Atchison had been loudly and repeatedly declaring, ‘any man, woman, or child in Missouri who was against them were not true Southerners, but instead insurgents and should be forcibly expelled from the State’.
Contemplating this, Lafayette shook his head. ‘Perhaps it is just as well Taddy could not attend, he has about as much discipline as a four-year-old when it comes to keepin’ his opinions to himself. I cannot imagine what would become of him blowin’ up at the wrong man.’ Lafayette chewed at the inside of his lower lip, ’All I know is nothing bonne can come of pokin’ these men. They are said to even turn on their own kin. So yeah, it is just a well Taddy is not here.’
Benjamin touched Lafayette’s arm, “Yuse all rights, Mister Lafe? Yuse looks likes the devil just stepped on yuse shadow.”
“I am fine,” Lafayette replied, removing his riding gloves. “And, Ben, what you said is correct. I want you to know your words did not anger me none.” He passed Benjamin a smile and patted him on the shoulder before walking away. ‘I loathe admitting it, but the fear Mams instilled in Benjamin was the best warning she could have sent along for me.’