Posts Tagged Plantations
Simone’s head raged. Her, a delivery girl for this pompous planter! The mere thought of it forced her heart into overdrive; the desire to smash the painting over his egotistic head was near overwhelming.
True, he’d seen her art, and appreciated it for what it was. Yet he still had the gall to ask HER to deliver it! It was all she could do to keep from telling him to shove the painting up his, well, shapely derriere and take it himself!
She noticed its tight, carved form when he bent over to lift her box, the way the trousers curved in just the right places. Normally she stowed the paints in the music store across the pathway, but when she felt his eyes undressing her while she was in a compromising position, she couldn’t resist the all-to-good temptation.
Plus, she did some undressing of her own. He wasn’t too bad to look at, now she had spent part of the day checking him out. The trip to the market had been planned, hoping she might run into him again while shopping for lunch.
His appearance in the Square was a surprise, made more so with his purchase. Normally, she would have charged ten dollars for a painting, but for some reason, she wanted to test him – see if he was cheap, like most of the other men of his type.
He passed the first test, but failed the other. Instead of being a gentleman and looking away when she bent over, he took advantage. He was a pig. Just like all of the other men of his type. Perhaps a refined pig, one with good taste in art and women, but still pure grade swine.
He would pay.
“Rue St. Peters?” she said, after following him in silence for two blocks toward his home. They were at the intersection of Rue Chartes and Rue St. Ann, just up the road from all of the flop houses that lined Rue Bourbon. “Isn’t that a bit low for one such as yourself?”
He cocked his head. “What do you mean?” he said. “The neighborhood’s quite charming.”
She nodded. “I’m sure you see it that way, Monsieur,” she said. “Most of your type would. Perhaps living among the lower class makes you feel more powerful.”
He stopped and placed the box on the ground. “Now see here, Mademoiselle,” he said.
“Simone,” she replied, cutting him off.
“Simone,” he said, waving a dismissive hand. “Whatever. I’ve resided in that house for over ten years. I’m as much a part of the neighborhood as any other person living here.”
He tapped his silver-capped cane on the ground, creating a rapping noise that echoed along the brick streets, turning the heads of a couple standing beneath a porch awning.
“And what is it to you where I live?” he said. “I can live any damned place I choose!”
She smiled, not the face lighting one she used when truly happy, but one saying she had him on the ropes. Feeling his anger build, she thought it best to tone it down a notch. Inside, she laughed. It was like playing with a child.
“Of course you can, Monsieur,” she said. “Forgive my insult.” She opened her arms, still holding the painting in one of her hands. “I was merely suggesting you appeared to be living beneath your means.”
“Humph,” he said. “As if you knew my means. Didn’t I just buy one of your paintings?” He shook his head and grunted.
“I’d think you’d be more appreciative.” He stopped, awareness suddenly filling his face.
“Wait a minute,” he said, his eyes narrowing. He pointed his cane at her. “You’re trying to get me angry, aren’t you? You’re mad because I asked you to deliver the painting yourself.”
Uh oh, she thought. Maybe not a baby after all. Perhaps he was a BIT smarter than she imagined. He’d figured out her game rather easily, and now it was time to create a new one or she’d be in trouble.
“Yes!” he exclaimed. “That’s it.”
He leaned against the plastered wall of a row house and crossed his arms. Her eyes went to the box. “Well,” he said, shaking his head. “The game’s up. I’m not going any further with that shipping crate of yours until you fess up.”
Simone thought for a moment, taking time to quietly inspect his features. He appeared angry, yet at the same time playful. Was this part of a game as well? Who should she be in this charade they played: coy, innocent Simone, or worldly all-knowing Simone?
“You caught me, Monsieur,” she said, thrusting her hands into the air, but not before gently setting the artwork on the sidewalk, and leaning the painting against her leg. “Red handed, in the act; guilty as charged.” He rolled his eyes.
“What?” she said, frowning and lowering her arms. “You don’t believe me?”
“No,” he said. “I DO believe you. That’s the problem.” He laughed. “Here I was, trying to find a way to talk longer and in the process, insult you.” He shook his head. “What a world.”
Talk to me longer? She thought. It hadn’t occurred to her he might want to do such a thing. Something felt off with his statement, so she played it out further.
“You were being lazy,” she said, pointing her finger at his chest. “I thought you were a gentleman. Asking a woman to carry your painting for you?” she shook her head, allowing feigned anger to rise. “It’s sad to learn chivalry is dead.”
“What?” he said, confusion wrinkling his brow. “You asked if I wanted it delivered. I simply thought if you, uh, were the one who delivered it…” He paused, letting the sentence slip away as he looked into her eyes.
She shook her head slowly, tapping her foot. “You thought wrong, Monsieur,” she said. “Had you used your head for something other than a hat rack, you’d have realized asking a woman to do your grunt work was the wrong decision.”
There, she thought. That should put him in his place. He could have at least asked her to accompany him to see it hung, or to accompany the delivery boy to insure its safety.
Men never think, she said to herself. Not with the proper brain, anyway.
He ran his hand through his hair beneath his hat and frowned. “But,” he said. “I, uh, meant for… well, you see.” He stopped when she held up her hand.
“You’ve said enough,” she said. “Shall we make our way to your house? I’d like to eat dinner before sunrise.”
He nodded, bent down and lifted the crate, then motioned down the street. “Three more blocks and we’ll be there,” he muttered. “Allow me to carry your bag.”
She nodded, handing over the satchel in silence. “Once we get there,” he said. “I won’t trouble you any longer.”
She sighed. What an idiot. Now he’s pushing me away. Men had such an interesting way of playing games. Just because she was insulted, didn’t mean she wanted to stop playing. How had he built a business being so meek?
“Monsieur,” she said. “What do you do for a living when not insulting talented, beautiful artists?”
They turned down Rue Royal, passing by mixtures of commercial shops, houses and large residences. Here, wrought-iron, gated passageways led into courtyards and gardens hidden behind colorful, two storied walls.
“I deliver things,” he stated without looking back. She smiled, hearing the sarcasm in his words. He owned a shipping company, so of course he delivered things. Moving her hair back over her ear, she picked up the pace until she was walking beside him.
“Like paintings?” she said, giving him a sideways glance. He stopped, smirked, then laughed.
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been known to ship a few of those, especially when a customer was moving their estate overseas.”
“Really?” she said, pretending as if she didn’t know who he was or what he did. “All by yourself?”
“I have a little help,” he said. A carriage rumbled past, horse hooves echoing off of the houses with every clip clop. The driver tipped his hat at the pair, which Tomas matched in return.
“That seems like a mighty chore,” she said. “With just a little help.”
She cocked her head, allowing the excitement in her stomach to grow. The rage in her head was gone, replaced by a buzzing just behind her eyes. “Are you a sea captain?”
He shook his head and turned. “No,” he said slowly. “But I do know how to pilot a vessel. My position dictates I stay behind, though I do love the sea.”
Huh, she thought. I’d never have guessed that. She glanced at his hands, once again noting the rough, yet delicate, thick length.
He cocked his head and leaned against a green stucco wall. “Why so interested?” he said. “A moment ago, you were tearing my head off, and now you’re curious about what I do.”
“Small talk,” she piped in. “I like to know my customers. Just in case they choose to become patrons.” She held up her hand. “I’m still upset at delivering your painting, though.”
“I see,” he said. “But not as angry as before.” He looked her up and down, then nodded. “I’m glad.”
“Oh really?” she said, not minding his eyes on her this time. “You should be. My anger knows no bounds.”
He pushed himself away from the stucco wall, then motioned toward the direction they had been walking. “Shall we?” She nodded.
“So if not a ship captain, then what?” she said, walking beside him again. She felt his warm presence radiating in an inviting way. “Warehouse manager, or shipping clerk, perhaps?”
“Why’s it important?” he said, pausing at the intersection of Rue Orleans to insure a carriage didn’t run them down as they crossed.
“Isn’t it enough knowing I find your work fascinating?”
She smiled, allowing the compliment to fill her being. He meant more, just didn’t say it. How hard should she push? “It’s not ‘that’ important,” she said, grasping for words. They were on the seven hundred block of Rue Royal, so her time was running short.
“I’m just curious.” She shrugged, spotting movement on a second floor balcony across the street. A gray-haired man sat in a rocking chair reading a book, smoke curling from a pipe clenched in his teeth.
“You seem to be well off,” she continued. “Perhaps even a planter by the clothes you wear.” She eyed him up and down to emphasize her point. “And your fiancé certainly seems like a belle.”
He sighed, gave her a sideways glance, then motioned her forward to cross the street. “My fiancé,” he stated. “I’m still shocked you knew about that.”
“I know many things,” she said. “It’s how a lovely woman like myself survives life as a street artist.” She caught his glance and noted he said nothing, only lifting his eyebrows as if impressed.
“Then you probably know I own and operate a shipping company,” he said, tossing the idea out casually. “And I now also own a plantation.”
She shrugged and smiled, yet said nothing. They turned up St. Peters then stopped about halfway up the block. Across from them rose a burnt-orange colored, two story house with green shutters hiding the windows.
Being a mix of French and Spanish influence, it was uniquely New Orleans. Gas lamps lined the wall between the windows, flickering in the fading light of late afternoon. Abutted next to the sidewalk, the house, like all others on the street, grew from the edge toward the sky.
“It’s a recent acquisition,” he said, pausing on the last word. His pointing finger led her gaze to the house across the street.
“We’re here,” he said. Looking both ways, he led her to a closed, black wrought-iron gate. An arched brick tunnel led through the building toward a garden peeking from beyond the gate.
“Lovely,” Simone said. “You’ve lived here for ten years?” She met his eyes, but only for a moment – just enough to feel the truth of his words.
“I have,” he said, his voice tinged with a hint of sadness. He turned his gaze upon his house. “I was born at the Willows, but this is home for me.”
“I see,” she said, scrambling for words. He appeared hesitant to walk beyond the passageway’s black gate, choosing instead to stare through the iron bars as if lost in memory. “It fits you.”
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “How do you mean?”
“It’s the way you gaze upon it,” she said. “Like seeing a dear friend you’ve always known.”
Like the way he looked at her.
He bobbed his head. “That makes sense, I suppose,” he said, then removed a key from his pocket, and inserted it into the inset lock. With a clicking twist, the latch opened and the gate swung inward, it’s iron screech of protest ringing off the bricks.
The dim, tunnel-like passageway gave way to a warm, open air garden. Expanding from the adjacent vine-covered, three story brick wall to her left, the oasis swept outward. Large, square paving stones sat within a carpet of green, forming a path from the tunnel to a small pond in the center. A willow tree draped over the water, offering a canopy of rustling green leaves as shade for a carved, wooden bench.
She turned, smiling at his almost sad face. The sun had settled behind New Orleans, yet still provided evening light into the rectangular courtyard. Its splashes of brilliance illuminated the red, yellows and purples of the garden’s flowers, while shimmering silver sparkles on the pond and casting long shadows into the lush, green corners.
She breathed in the fresh fantasy of honeysuckle and jasmine, their yellow and white blossoms intertwined among the leafy vines – striving for the freedom of a clear, blue sky. Using white, wooden lattices, they clambered the heights beside her, creating a living wall of wall of flowering green, – filling the air with aromatic dreaminess.
Nestled against red brick columns of the arched, open porch to her right, heart-red roses sang for attention, each planted in such a manner, as to demand attention. Matching the design of the entry tunnel, these arches formed two sides of the garden – balancing the mass of yellows and whites, with the individualism of the elegant roses.
The fourth side of the courtyard, opposite the tunnel, was solid red brick with three lion’s head fountains set within recessed arches. Matching the height and shape of the porch, the recesses rounded out the design, appearing as if they could one day be opened as well. The fountains spat water from their carved mouths into stone, half-circle basins, happily bubbling like an eager, forest brook. Set like walls, the sides of the basins rose high enough to act as benches, with blue-tiled sides and stone caps.
Above the fountains, three rectangular balconies curved out from the wall, matching the basins in shape, while using wrought iron railings to contain matching bistro sets. Shuttered windows flanked green wooden doors, shut tight to the mysteries that lay behind.
“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered, turning her head this way and that – taking in all of the elements of the oasis.
“Thank you,” he said, suddenly standing beside her. His tone breathed the words, and she shared the breath. They made their way to the pond, where a green, spotted frog hopped from one of the four lily pads – rippling the water with a soft, deep kerplunk.
“I tried to bring what I loved most about the Willows here,” he said. “Recreate it in a small way, so I could enjoy it on evenings such as this.”
“What a blessing, Tomas,” she said, smiling into the water. The darkness of the ponds depth reflected their shimmering image upon its surface, flowing together like one of her paintings. “I could paint this scene every day,” she purred, “and never capture all of its essence.”
“You’re welcome to do so,” he said, moving closer to her. She felt it, more than heard – his warmth splashing her body with energy. “Anytime you wish.”
She nodded. “I’d like that,” she whispered, though why, she wasn’t certain – it just came out.
The light danced in this garden in ways she’d never seen in Jackson Square. She looked skyward, trying to discern from where it came. It had to be bounce light, the manner in which the courtyard was framed by surrounding buildings. Light did funny things when it reflected, and the color of the bricks combined with the greenery of the garden made this light unique.
“This way,” he said, motioning toward the porch. “I’ll introduce you to Joe.”
“Who’s Joe?” she said, slipping from the trance and following Tomas as he walked toward the central archway opposite the lions head fountains. A green door could be seen beyond, flanked by framed windows and as welcoming as the garden.
“My housekeeper,” he said. “Though he manages my home more than keeps it.” Once beneath, he pointed toward a small table against the wall, just beside a pair of whitewashed rocking chairs.
“You can put your things there,” he said. “We’ll take the painting inside.”
Dropping the paint box and bag in the place he pointed, he reached for the doorknob.
“Excuse moi?’ Simone said. “We?”
The feelings of awe were gone, replaced by tension in her stomach and a constriction in her throat. “I said I would deliver your painting, and so I have.”
“It’s time that I bid you adieu, Monsieur Laiche.”
Tomas turned and cocked his head. “You don’t wish to meet Joe?” he said. “If you come to paint, he’ll need to let you in the gate.”
She breathed a breath, feeling a sense of being lured into something she did not wish to happen. However, she had agreed to paint in the garden. She sighed. Might as well see where this goes.
“Very well,” she said. “I’ll meet Joe,” she said, lifting a finger. “But I’ll not stay for dinner.”
Damn! She thought. Why did I say that? The words had come without thought, as if on their own volition.
He chuckled, then turned the door latch. “I don’t recall inviting you,” he said. “Now you mention it, perhaps we can make room.”
He dipped his head inside. “JOE!” he called. “Could you come outside a moment, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
“Be right dere, Marse Tomas,” a deep, elderly voice called back. “I just put da po boys on for you an Marse Anton.”
Tomas smiled a boyish grin, the charm of it lifting her spirits. “He’s on his way.”
“So I heard,” she stated, trying not to sound interested, even though her heart raced with excitement. Isn’t this what she wanted? She’d followed the man into the Market of all things. Now he’d invited her to dinner. At his house, at HER silly suggestion.
Things were getting out of control, and she gathered her thoughts to make sure they no longer did. “It sounds like you already have plans for the evening, Monsieur,” she said. “Perhaps I’d best be on my way.”
A kinked grey-haired head poked out the door, then the entire man – wiping his hands on a dish towel as he stepped out onto the porch. Offering a bow, and then a grin, he looked to Tomas for the introduction
“Might I present Mademoiselle Simone,” he said, opening an arm wide as if sweeping her forward. “She’s an artist. Simone? This is Joe.”
“My, oh my,” Joe said, shaking his head – not hiding the fact his eyes were taking her all in. “What a pleasah, what a pleasah indeed.” He bobbed his head in a bow. “I’d shake ya hand, but I been choppin shrimp.”
She laughed, feeling the sincerity in his voice. “The pleasure is mine, Monsieur Joe,” she said.
“Jus’ Joe, Miss Simone,” he said. “I ain’t no one special. Joe’ll do just fine.”
She shook her head and smiled. “If you take care of this place, you’re more than special. I’ve never seen a garden like this in the entire city.”
Joe’s face lit up and he met Tomas’s eyes with a ‘where did you find her’ sort of look. The planter nodded in agreement and Joe turned back to Simone.
“Why thankya miss Simone!” he said. “I does my best wits what I got.” He pointed toward the door.
“You joinin us for dinner? Shore be nice ifn ya did.”
“I’m not sure Mademoiselle Bourgeois would approve,” she said, letting her shoulders slump. “Monsieur Laiche bought one of my paintings,” she added, glancing at Tomas as she did. “I helped him bring it here. As a gift.”
Tomas grimaced and frowned, yet Joe remained undaunted. “Don’t you be silly,” Joe said. “This house ain’t hers yet, Miss Simone. Ifn we wants comp-ny, we’ll ‘ave comp-ny.”
If it had been Tomas saying it, she would have said no. While she was intrigued by the man, he was still engaged to be married. However, the way Joe said it made her feel truly welcome as a guest. She looked to Tomas, whose grin looked a bit silly and shy.
“Very well, then,” she said, inspecting the richness deep within Tomas’s eyes. “I guess I’ll have to stay for dinner.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “Let me help ya wit ya things.” He lifted her easel, a rig as Tomas called.
“You say Mistah Tomas gone an bought one a yore paint-ins?” She nodded, lifting the wrapped canvas for him to see.
“Well I’ll be,” Joe said, gathering up the rest of her supplies, then waiting for her to enter the house. “In ya go, Miss Simone. I’ll be right behind.”
“You just tell ole Joe where to put em, then we’ll see about hangin that new paintin’.”
Cries of gulls rang out over the café where Tomas and Marguerite settled in for their noon-time meal. Angry at being shooed away by the wait-staff, the whitish-grey birds wheeled and howled in dismay.
Scents of roasting meats, baked bread and flavorful spices floated on the breeze, while quiet conversation fluttered between tables where red-stripped umbrella’s provided shade for the lunching patrons.
“Darling,” Marguerite said. “Why did you pretend to duel to Monsieur Gullette?”
“Excuse moi?” Tomas said, pulling himself from thoughts of seagulls, children and the lift of an eyebrow.
“People were watching, Tomas. It was embarrassing and distasteful.”
“Distasteful? Anton and I are old friends. We’ve done that almost every Saturday since I’ve been in New Orleans.”
He casually ignored the part of being with other women, thinking it would be best not to rile her jealousy.
“He sells flowers, darling,” she said. “He’s not our type of people. We should be socializing with the other Planters. Not street vendors and the common bourgeois.”
Tomas almost laughed at the use of the word, which in fact was her family name.
“I have an idea!” she said, clapping her hands. “Why not go to the Planter’s Club? All of daddy’s friends do.” Tomas groaned.
“If I recall,” she continued. “Your father did as well. We could make new friends, meet new people; our sort of people, Tomas. Not vendors.”
The way she said the word, vendor, made it sound like a disease to be eradicated. Like the current round of yellow fever raging through the city, though he doubted burning tar pots would run off Anton and his shop.
Tomas sighed and looked away. In the corner across the courtyard, a couple shared a glass of wine together, leaning close across the table and giggling. He could almost see the energy between the two, as if strands of love flowed from one set of eyes to the other.
“They aren’t my type,” Tomas said, then smiled as the couple kissed across the wine. “All they ever discuss is sugar, cotton, business and…”
He paused, wondering if he should add mistresses to the sentence. That was the typical topic of the club: what woman a man had bedded that night, and how good the conquest.
“I don’t relate well to them.” Marguerite cocked her head in compassionate concern.
“Dear,” she said. “They’d love for you to be there. You have the confidence to hold your own with them. You run a successful company. And now, with the Willows in your name, you have more power than most.”
She nodded, her eyes glittering in the mid-day sun. “You deserve to be in that hall, building your greatness.”
Tomas smiled, nodding at his future wife. “Of course, you are correct, my love,” he said.
“Perhaps I’ll go there tonight once you depart for Emerald Oaks.” He was going to say more, but the waiter arrived to take their food request.
“Monsieur,” he said, offering the menu to Tomas. “Mademoiselle. Welcome to Bon Ami. Might I offer you some wine to begin your lunch?”
“That would be lovely,” Tomas said, handing the menu to Marguerite. “Bourdeaux, si veaux plais.”
“Right away, Monsieur,” the waiter said, dipping his head in a bow and scurrying away toward the back of the restaurant. Set within the courtyard, the café claimed the exterior brick walls of adjoining buildings as its own. Fountains bubbled water in the corners, while trees and ferns provided cooling shade for the umbrellas.
“Darling,” Marguerite said, handing the menu back. “Decide for me. I trust you.”
He never understood why men ordered for women, as if they weren’t intelligent enough to figure out what they wanted to eat. The few women he actually enjoyed being around knew exactly what they wanted, even though society felt they should not.
Except Marguerite. She believed herself incapable of choosing her meal. Or perhaps, that was simply the way she was. Did she enjoy being seen subservient? Perhaps she believed it.
As Tomas lifted the menu to read aloud the choices, a couple entered the café and were escorted toward a table in the corner, opposite from the young lovers Tomas was watching.
“Josephine!” Marguerite said, practically leaping from her chair. She waved her hand as she called out. “Josephine!”
Heads turned in the café at her outburst, as did the woman named Josephine. She clapped her hands, said something to her companion and scurried toward Marguerite.
“Marguerite!” she exclaimed as the two came together in a hug, kissing one another on each cheek as they did so. “It’s so good to see you! It’s been forever since we last met.”
She turned and smiled at Tomas, who stood to welcome the young woman. Her companion joined them once the table had been reached.
“Madame,” Tomas said, bowing in welcome. “It appears that you know one another?”
“We do indeed, darling,” Marguerite said. “We were both in school together. Josephine? Might I present my fiancé, Tomas Laiche.”
Josephine extended her hand for Tomas and curtsied.
“I’m delighted to meet you, Madame,” he said, kissing the back of her hand. “Any friend of Marguerite is a friend of mine.”
“And might I present my husband,” Josephine said, turning and smiling a sincere grin at the tall gentleman. “Frederic LaCour.”
Frederic bowed as he was introduced, which Tomas matched. They shook hands. “Tomas Laiche,” Tomas said, then pivoted toward Marguerite.
“And might I introduce my fiancé, Marguerite Bourgeois.” She performed the greeting with as much grace, if not more, than her friend Josephine – batting her eyes and playing shy as Frederic kissed the back of her hand.
“Would you care to join us?” Tomas said, motioning to their table. “We would be honored if you did so.”
Josephine and Frederic exchanged glances, while Marguerite did everything she could to hold back her excitement.
“The honor would be ours, Monsieur,” Frederic said. Capturing the waiter’s attention with a snap of his fingers, he motioned to let the man know they would be sharing a table.
Once the women were seated, the men took theirs – sitting side by side, so the women could discuss the latest gossip.
“Laiche?” Frederic said once the waiter had brought the wine. “Are you the same Laiche that owns the Two Oceans Trading Company?”
Tomas nodded “The very one,” he said. “I hope my reputation is a good one?”
Frederic nodded, sipping his wine as he leaned back in his chair. He wore a similar coat to Tomas, though not near as bright. One might say reserved, as the colors were muted.
Where Tomas wore a light green coat, Frederic’s was dark brown, bordering on black. They both wore tall, knee-high black leather boots, but Tomas’s pants were light tan to match the willow pattern of his shirt. Frederic’s shirt was white, as were his trousers.
“Indeed is it,” Frederic said. “One might call it sterling, if I might be so bold. I’ve always wondered what the mysterious captain of the largest trading company in the south might look like.”
Tomas took a sip of wine and chuckled. “And now you know,” he said. “Do I pass muster?”
Both men looked at the two women, who were giggling like they were back in school. The conversation was centered around Marguerite, and the sort of day she was having.
“You do, indeed,” Frederic said. “My friends and I occasionally discuss you at the Planter’s Hall.”
“You’re a planter?” Tomas asked, sipping his wine. He heard the words, ‘disgusting artist’ and smiled. Frederic nodded.
“My father is the planter. I’m an attorney here in New Orleans.”
Tomas nodded. “LaCour and Boudreaux?” Tomas said, cocking his head. If so, they were a formidable firm in New Orleans – handling every sort of defensible case they could get their hands on. The rumor was, that they had never lost.
Frederic tipped his glass. “I see that MY reputation proceeds me,” he said. “I hope it, too, is a good one?”
“From what I hear,” Tomas said, taking another sip of wine. His glass was near empty. “In fact, we once considered putting your firm on retainer. We ran into issues with the Port Authority on a trade deal we’d arranged with France.”
LaCour nodded. “I remember that,” he said. “Not needed in the end, if I recall. It worked out favorable for you, then?”
Tomas nodded. “Worked well for both parties. We got our deal, and the Port made enough coin to build a new wharf for the extra cargo.”
LaCour nodded and glanced toward the waiter. Lifting his empty glass, the man came hurrying over with the wine bottle – refilling both LaCour’s and Tomas’s.
“So tell me,” LaCour said after taking a sip of his wine. “How did Mademoiselle Bourgeois capture New Orleans’s most eligible beaux? Surely there is a story behind the pursuit?”
Tomas rubbed his eyes and shook his head, as all three sets of eyes turned toward his. “Oh do tell us, darling,” Marguerite said. “It’s such a delightful story.”
He sighed, then nodded. “Very well,” he said. “If you insist.” At least he would never have to be called most eligible beaux anymore.
“It all started beside a lily pad pond, just beneath the Willows.”
Simone slumped atop her stool, lost in the gray, dappled paving stones of her street corner. Alise, having long since returned to her parents, still wailed at the loss of her sister.
Lucette’s parents huddled with the Archbishop beneath the porch of the Lower Pantalba building, just across the street from Simone’s easel. News had quickly reached his ears, and he arrived with a retinue of priests and nuns – all to say prayer over the fallen girl and to console the parents.
With the crowds dispersed, Simone stared into nothingness. She had loved the little girl like her own, teaching her art while she painted in the Square. Lucette’s excitement had inspired her search for the art school’s location. Now that the girl was dead, all she could think of was that she had caused her tragic death.
A police officer dressed in black boots and a helmet-style hat approached, holding his flip pad at the ready.
“Mademoiselle,” he said, readying his pencil. “I understand the little girl was with you when she ran into the path of the carriage?”
Simone looked up, using her knuckle to wipe away tears from the corner of her misty eyes. “Pardon?” she said, blinking.
“You were painting her?” Simone shook her head.
“No, monsieur,” she said. “I was revealing a painting of her.” She pointed toward Lucette the Gull, still sitting on the easel.
“Her parents just purchased the painting, and Lucette was enjoying it.”
She shivered. “She was dancing. Twirling and spinning like she was the gull. The bells rang and then…” She sniffed, rubbing her eyes – now freely flowing with tears.
“The carriage came out of nowhere. Never stopped.” She closed her eyes. “And she was gone.”
The officer wrote notes in his book. “Did you see what caused the mule to bolt?” Simone shook her head.
“No, monsieur,” she said. “Maybe the church bells? They rang about the same time.” He nodded, making a notation.
“Do you paint here regularly?” Simone nodded. “Oui, monsieur,” she said. “Every day.” She pointed toward the metal placard mounted on the fence. A crow took flight, winging away from the oak tree just behind. “I have a permit.”
“I see,” he said, jotting something in his notepad. “And has this mule done this before, mademoiselle? Run when the bells rang?”
Simone blinked and looked toward the corner. Sam always tied his mule to a hitching post while they shared a café au lait. Had he ever bolted? The bells rang all the time, always on the hour – especially the call to Mass. Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening.
“No, monsieur,” she said. “He’s never done that since I’ve been here.”
“And how long is that miss…?”
“Simone,” she said. “Simone Plachette.”
“Ah,” he said, making the notation. “How long have you worked here?”
“Almost a year.”
“I see,” he said. “Might there be anything else that would explain why the mule did what it did? Was its driver negligent?”
“Sam?” she said. “Never. He’s one of the best carriage drivers in the city. That mule is one of the gentlest creatures I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
The officer nodded. “It’s been put down, mademoiselle,” he stated.
“No!” she gasped, covering her mouth. “It was just scared.”
“It destroyed a cart in the market, mademoiselle,” he said. “It was a menace.” He snapped his booklet closed. “Final question. Why do you wear your hair loose? Shouldn’t you be wearing a tignon?” Simone wrinkled her face in confusion.
“Pardon?” she said, trying to understand why this was of importance. “I like my hair down.”
“It’s the law,” the officer said. “That is all for now, mademoiselle Plachette. If I have any additional questions, I will come around again.” He tapped the side of his helmet. “Don’t forget about your tignon, either.”
“Please know,” he continued as she nodded. “You might be called to testify in court. If so, you will receive a summons to appear.” He tore a small piece of paper from his pad and handed it to her.
“That is my name,” he said. “If something else comes to mind, you may contact me at the precinct.” He touched the bill of his helmet.
“Bonsoir, mademoiselle,” he said. “I’m sorry you had to witness such a horrid accident.”
“Merci, monsieur,” she whispered. He turned and walked toward Sam, who was being interviewed by another police officer.
“Witch!” an elderly voice hissed. Simone turned and confronted a hunched, wrinkled woman in a black mourning dress, with lace ruffles up to her chin. She wielded the cross from her rosary like a shield, forcing it toward Simone as it hung from her neck.
“Your devilry killed that little girl!”
Simone stared, tears forming in her eyes once more. It was the same woman Maria had scared off the day before.
“I did no such-“
“Vile Temptress!” the old woman stated, drawing the attention of four other people. “Mary, Mother of God cast this creature back into the depths of hell!”
“That’s enough, mother,” a man said, dressed like he’d just come from Mass. “She’s an artist, not the devil.” Simone smiled at the man, yet he kept his eyes on the old woman.
“Come with me, we’ll get you back to your home.” The woman hissed once more, thrusting the small, silver cross in Simone’s direction.
“Be gone, creature of darkness!” the old woman said, waving her rosary as her son led her away. Others walking by remained silent, yet their looks were those of agreement mixed with apathy; very little sympathy.
“Simone-eh,” Maria’s voice said. Simone lifted her head and turned toward Maria. “Dat no be ya fault.” Simone nodded, then reached for the large priestess – welcoming the woman’s enveloping hug.
“Dere ya be, child,” Maria whispered patting Simone’s back. “Dere ya be.” While it had been less than an hour since the accident, Simone finally let her emotions loose and cried completely for the loss of Lucette.
“You knew, didn’t you,” Simone said, sniffing back tears and daubing her eyes with a linen cloth. “It’s why you wanted me to give her the painting.”
Maria said nothing, instead patted Simone’s back while gazing toward the river.
“I see tings,” Maria whispered. “I be tellin ya dis. My eyes, dey always see troots, especially when dey coom from da ‘eart.”
Simone sighed, leaning her head against Maria’s chest. “Like my art,” she said, earning another nod from the priestess.
“Now what do I do?” Simone said, pulling away and sitting up on her stool. Lucette’s parents were still with the priests, but the archbishop had left.
“Everyone I’ve ever cared about ends up dead.”
“Ya go on,” Maria said. “Dat be parta life, Simon-eh.” She motioned toward the painting, still turned for the reveal. “We all be movin on soom time. No one know when dat time be.”
“You do,” Simone said, glancing around to insure no one heard her words other than Maria. “You knew Lucette was going to die.”
“No,” she said. “I only knew dat ya must be givin da paintin to de lit-lun.” She shook her head, the dark blue, checkered tignon wrapped around Maria’s head rattling its beads. “I no see she be dead.”
“You had an idea, though,” Simone said. “I saw your sadness last night.” Maria shrugged.
“Maybe,” Maria said, pointing at the painting. “Ya saw it in dere, Simon-eh. Dat why ya be paintin what ya do.”
Simone followed Maria’s eyes, seeing the swirl of color that was the girl and gull mixed together as one as if for the first time. Had she seen Lucette’s death? Her stomach knotted, clenching her breath as well.
“What if my paintings are of people dying?”
“Doan be gone dere,” Maria said. “Dat no be da way.”
Simone couldn’t help it, she already had.
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.”