At the stable gate, Lafayette used his riding gloves to beat the road dirt from his clothes. Straightening, he saw Orville Riggs arriving. Orville was a real yacker. He could run on so much, he could talk a group of church ladies to a standstill. Lafayette had seen him do it… on more than one occasion. Recalling this, Lafayette extended his long legs into a walk, he hoped would get him out of sight. It was not that he disliked Orville. He merely was not in the mood to gab.
“Lafayette.” Orville’s booming voice called filling the paddock and hollering even louder, he leapt from the saddle before his brown mare had come to a halt. “Hey, Lafayette holds up there boy.”
A strong desire to wilt and stomp his feet like a child ran through Lafayette. Instead, he dutifully shuffled to a halt.
“You boy!” Orville bellowed, turning his attention on a scrawny, negro boy. A young boy ran over. It was plain to see he labored in the paddock full-time, for a thick layer of dust had colored his exposed skin a powdery gray.
“Here, take my horse.” Orville ordered, tossing his reins at him and set to barking directives.
Absent-mindedly Lafayette ran his tongue along his teeth and loosening some more road grit, he grunted, and spit repeatedly. Then rubbing a hand along the back of his neck where the cravat was starting to chaff, he growled and tore it off without a second thought. Straight away, he felt more like himself, and more importantly, like he could really breathe for the first time since Mams had tied the damn thing around his neck.
Whistling to Benjamin, he called, “come here, s’il vous plaît.” The moment Benjamin came in range, he handed him the cravat. “Shove this hangman’s noose somewhere,” Lafayette said, knowing he would incur Mams ire later. “And, make certain you hustle over to the negro barbeque the Colonel’s hosting. Ain’t any reason you should not enjoy yourself.”
“Thank you.” Benjamin answered, his gaze shifting past Lafayette’s shoulder. “Sir, here comes Mister Riggs.”
Orville Riggs came from a well-respected family. He was of German stock with enough English mixed in to keep him from being a Dutchie. He and Lafayette had known each other since childhood. They had always gotten along and Orville was the type to back a pal up no matter what the cost to himself. Yet, it was a rare occasion they got to spend a day together as they lived on opposite ends of Cass County. Still previous afternoons of having Orville bellowing in his ear, Lafayette had come to relish the miles between them.
Lumbering up, Orville punched Lafayette’s shoulder with his large paw, sending him sidestepping to regain his balance. “Appreciate you waitin’ on me.”
Plastering a tight, closed lip smile on his face, Lafayette also recalled Orville was very much like an overzealous dog; always mauling a person with his enthusiastic affection. “Think nothing of it, shall we?” Lafayette replied, motioning and taking the raked, gravel path toward the Barnett home.
“Hey now, hold up.” Orville said, thumping Lafayette across the back and half turning him toward the side yard. “Ain’t that a passel of the boys jawin’ over there?”
Before he could think what to do, Lafayette nodded in agreement, knowing nothing could save him from joining the huddle of men, who by their body language were in the midst of a heated discussion. One he was positive he would prefer to avoid all together.
“Well, damnation, let’s get a wiggle on and join ’em,” Orville said, pounding Lafayette on the back, this time propelling him a few steps forward.
Breaking free, Lafayette twisted his neck side-to-side; attempting to release the displeasure, he felt building there regarding Orville’s rough style of friendship. Then with a heavy sigh, he clasped his hands behind his back, letting his feet drag him along in Orville’s wake.
As they neared, they could hear one strident voice, over the others. “Why I tell you, we ought not put up with any Northern trash pushin’ us around.”
“You are right on the cog! We ought to bash their heads in for tryin’ to rule over us with their damn Republican policies,” Orville called out.
His words barreled through the other voices, so forcibly that the men turned as one toward Orville and, consequently, Lafayette. Many among them waved greetings and Lafayette counted numerous hemp loops bouncing jubilantly in buttonholes.
“Why Orville, glad to hear the Lord blessed you with a heap of good sense,” Rance McGreen said, stepping out from the crowd. He was a tall, rawboned man whose store-bought clothes set him apart from the others in their tailored suits. “Ya heard, ‘bout me runnin’ into one of their patrols?
“I have not. But it does not take me back none.”
“They had gumption, I will give ’em that. Yet when they started questionin’ me about mine own doings,” Rance grinned, “I then showed ’em a bit of my own gumption.”
“I am sure you did.” Orville said, knocking him heartily on the shoulder. “Good to see you Rance. I do not see enough of you.” He patted him once more, plowing on through the crowd to greet others.
Hanging back, Lafayette plunged his hands in his pockets.
“Why, Lafayette,” Rance said, ambling over. “Is Gabe goin’ to be makin’ a showing?”
“I ain’t Gabe’s damn keeper, so how would I know.” Lafayette answered.
Rance scratched at the side of his jaw, eyeing the younger man, “Well, when ya see ’em, will ya tell ’em, I asked after ’em?”
Conscious he was taking his crossness out on Rance; Lafayette dug up a smile, offering his hand, “I will, Rance.”
Rance took hold with a firm handshake and a half-hearted smile that barely moved his thick mustache, “Thanks,” he drawled, releasing Lafayette to return to his like-minded circle of friends.
Listening to the war mongering talk erupting from the men, combined with Rance searching for his elder brother, Gabriel made Lafayette’s stomach feel like he drank a gallon of rotgut. Taking a deep breath, he told himself, ‘Keep it together.’
“Good Day, Sir, are you not Lafayette Crowe?”
Squaring his shoulders, Lafayette threw forth a congenial smile, “Bonjour Monsieur, I am. However, you seem to have me at a disadvantage as you are acquainted with me, and I cannot say the same of you.” He replied, taking the gentleman’s offered hand while sizing up the impeccably dressed stranger.
“Skye Bernard of Charleston, my cousins, the Sawyers of Clay County are graciously hosting my visit to your parts. I heard your name when several of the gents pointed out that fine piece of horseflesh you rode in on. I must say, it is an honor to meet you. For even as far away as my home, in the great State of South Carolina, your family name is well-known.”
Skye Bernard had puffed out his chest like a bandy rooster, stepping ever closer to Lafayette as he spoke. His contrivances to appear larger than he was, forced Lafayette to restrain an urge to chuckle. Standing a touch over six foot, he towered over most men, and such maneuverings had become commonplace. Still, there were times, it struck him as humorous. With the bit of mirth bubbling in him, Lafayette felt much more like his self. “Merci, Monsieur Bernard, it is exceedingly pleasurable to make your acquaintance. And, I do hope you have had an enjoyable time in mon fine State.”
“Why yes, yes, I have. The hunting and barbeques have been superb. I would like to know though, Mr. Crowe, while here, if’n I might call upon you for the purpose of purchasing an animal or two?”
“You may stop by. I am positive m’ Father will be pleased to speak with you.”
“Very good. Very good. Where should I send my missive?”
“Address your inquiry to Sienna of Harrisonville. I will make your introductions to m’ Father.”
“Why thank you. And, Mr. Crowe, I must ask, where do you stand on being invaded?”
“Rather quick turn of the wheels, Monsieur Bernard. I presume you are speakin’ of m’ State’s current political conflicts and not m’ maison?”
“Why I do suppose, I was unclear. How do you stand on your State being invaded by Unionists?”
And, despite the bit of laughter in the man’s voice, Lafayette felt the hair on his neck rise up.