Phillipe watched Tomas descend the stairs, smiling and sipping brandy from the window of his study. He saw Tomas mount his horse and ride down the allee of trees leading to the river road. He chuckled once Tomas was out of sight.
“Mabel!” he shouted, turning away from the window. “Bring your ass in here!” A negro girl scurried into the room, eyes downcast as she smoothed dingy white folds of her wrinkled cotton dress.
“Yassah, Marse Bourgeois,” she said. “What can I do?”
“Fetch Marguerite,” Phillipe said, opening an engraved wooden box situated on the outer edge of his cherry wood desk. He lifted a cigar from within, held it to his nose and sniffed its length. “I want a word with her.”
“Yassah, Marse Bourgeois,” Mabel said, turning to run – her feet scuffling across the wooden floor.
“And stop that running!” he said, using ornate, silver sheers to clip the end from the cigar. “You’re gonna break something, and then you’ll wish you’d walked.”
“Sorry, Marse Bourgeois,” she called back once in the hallway. “I’za be careful.”
Phillipe nodded, struck a match and lit the cigar – puffing clouds of smoke until it was fully lit. Tilting his head back as he sucked in the fumes, he blew a cloud toward the ceiling and sighed.
“Here she be, Marse Bourgeois,” Mabel said, standing behind as Marguerite strode into her father’s library.
“Daddy?” Marguerite said, looking around the room. “Is Tomas still here?” Phillipe nodded toward Mabel.
“Shut the door, Mabel,” he said. “And don’t show yourself unless I call, you hear me?” Mabel nodded and shut the pair of tall double doors, latches clicking into place as they thudded closed.
Marguerite crossed her arms and pursed her lips. They exchanged looks, then Phillipe puffed a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling and held his cigar in one hand.
“He left,” Phillipe said. “In a bit of a hurry, I might add.” He nodded. “He’s got plenty to consider before coming back again.”
“What did you do to him?” Marguerite said, narrowing her eyes as she tapped her foot.
“Do?” Phillipe said. “Nothing. I merely informed him of his options, as well as the requirements for marrying you.”
“You’ll allow him to ask?” Marguerite said.
Phillipe nodded. “I will,” he said. “But I need you to do something for me first.”
“You’ll require him to list you as the benefactor to the entire Laiche estate,” Phillipe said. “That means the shipping company, the Willows – everything.”
Marguerite smiled. “Okay,” she said. “But won’t he do so anyway?” Phillipe shook his head, taking a final puff of his cigar before smashing its smoldering tip into a silver ashtray.
“Doubtful,” he said. “I sure as hell wouldn’t. However, this insures you have ownership, should something tragic happen.”
“What if he refuses?” Marguerite said. “Then what?”
Phillipe smiled, walking over to pat his daughter on the shoulder. “He won’t refuse. Tell him you convinced me this was the only way you’d marry him.”
She frowned. “Will this get me the Willows?” Phillipe pulled her into a tight hug.
“My dear,” he said, patting her back as she smiled against her father’s chest. “The Willows is already yours.” He looked out the window.
“It’s simply a matter of when and how.”