With the Bourgeois family on the Riverboat to Emerald Oaks, the Willows returned to normal. Finery was replaced by every day clothes, and Tomas prepared to leave for New Orleans. While the plantation needed his hand, the Trading Company still had to operate as if nothing had changed.
Riley Mac might be a good manager, as Marguerite hinted, but the Two Oceans needed Tomas’s guidance. Without the firm hand of a Laiche at the helm, the Company would sink fast – especially with their busiest time of the year upon them.
Fate, Tomas said to himself as he descended the stairway to have breakfast with his mother. Marguerite said it was fate that brought them together, made them one – a couple. What a funny creature, fate. In a world where freedom was his normal choice, he now accepted fate in marrying Marguerite.
For some reason, though, it made him smile. One less issue to deal with. His mother would be happy, Marguerite would be happy and, perhaps, even Phillipe.
“Tomas!” his mother said from the end of the dining room table – shortened now that it was only two of them. The way she pounced when he walked through door made her seem like a waiting spider. “Good morning.”
Tomas kissed his mother’s slightly wrinkled cheek, though the French creams she used hid them well. No matter her age, he still saw her as if he were twelve.
“Bonjour,” he said, choosing a chair next to her instead of the opposite end. A servant poured chicory darkened coffee into a white china cup. Tomas nodded in thanks, then lifted it to his lips.
“I hope the morning finds you well?”
Mammie narrowed her eyes in curiosity as she studied Tomas. “It does indeed,” she said. “Though I think it finds you better.”
She lifted her tea cup and sipped, holding the white saucer underneath the cup. Tomas chuckled. “What makes you say that?” he said, reaching for a piece of fresh pineapple from the white china fruit platter between them.
“I understand you and Marguerite had quite a lengthy conversation in the garden,” Mammie said. “Anything of interest?”
“Mother,” Tomas said. “You could have at least waited until I had my breakfast.” She shrugged.
“At my age,” she said, “time is in short supply.” He chewed his fruit and waved a dismissive hand.
“Oh come off it,” he said. “You sound as if death has you in its grasp.”
“It might,” she said, setting her tea cup on the table. Sounds of clinking plates came from an adjacent room, as the servants prepared the main course. “You haven’t been around here long enough to know.”
Tomas heaved a deep, chest-filling sigh.
“Alright,” he said. “We did have a pleasant conversation.” How to say it? All night he’d practiced how he would tell his mother, and now, when the time came, it was more difficult than he imagined.
“I’m going to ask for Marguerite’s hand in marriage,” he stated, feeling the weight of the words in his chest: tight, thick and breathless.
Mammie gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. “Oh, Tomas!” she exclaimed. “Are you serious?”
He nodded, as if it had been an everyday topic. “Yes, mother. Very.”
Tears poured from her eyes, blinking as if trying to stop the flood and failing. She threw her arms open. “Hug me!”
Tomas did, pulling her close as they both stood by the table. “I’m so happy for you,” she whispered into his chest. Her sobs of joy bouncing in rhythm to his heart.
She pulled away to look into his eyes. “Did you propose last night?” He shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I still need to talk to Phillipe before I do, but he’ll agree.” To what, was the real question. The man wanted the Willows, and Tomas suspected that his marriage to Marguerite wouldn’t make things easier.
“Well, then,” Mammie said. “We need to prepare an engagement announcement as soon as you ask Phillipe.” She leaned past Tomas as Mammy May walked into the room carrying a silver salver of spiced, link sausage and roasted, red potatoes.
“May?” Mammie said. “Did you hear the good news?”
“What news is that, Miss Mammie?” May said, placing the salver on the dark mahogany sideboard. His mother waited, looking to him to explain the news.
“I’m asking for Marguerite’s hand in marriage,” Tomas said, this time with more confidence.
“Well I’ll be!” May said. “That the best news I hear all day, Marse Tomas. When you gone do it?”
Tomas opened his mouth, but his mother beat him to the words. “He has to ask Phillipe first,” Mammie said. “And then, once he says yes, we’ll host an engagement party right here at the Willows!”
“Mmhmm,” May said, pursing her lips and grinning. “We gotsta have a party, Miss Mammie. I better get to tellin the staffs so they ready.”
“And I’ll make a list of invitations,” Mammie said, nodding and placing a finger to her lip. “We’ll need Jim to deliver them personally, of course,”
“You got that right, Miss Mammie,” May said. “Won’t be proper otherwise.”
Tomas watched the pair go back and forth on plans for HIS engagement party, listening to them talk as if he weren’t involved. Every time he raised a finger to say a word, one of the two cut him off.
“Mother,” he said, shaking his head when she didn’t respond. They were discussing food at the moment. “I’ll be in the library.”
“Tomas,” his mother said just before he left the dining room. “Be sure and catch the Creole as it passes. You don’t want to be late to Emerald Oaks.”
“Excuse me?” he said. “I have to be in New Orleans.”
“Right, dear,” Mammie said. “Stop in at the Bourgeois on your way in.” She tapped her lips with a finger. “And take Jim with you, as well. He’ll need to return with the date for the engagement.”
“Hurry along, Tomas,” Mammie said. “We have a party to plan, and you have a question to ask of Monsieur Bourgeois.”
She turned to May just as the kitchen staff entered the room.
“Whats all tha ruckus?” one of the maids said, looking at May and then to Mammie. “I heard yellin.”
“Marse Tomas gettin’ married!”
The Willows exploded in squeals.