Read The Creole Princess Online
Authors: Beth White
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC027050, #Alabama—History—Revolution (1775–1783)—Fiction, #Christian Fiction, #Love Stories
“Are you indeed
? Your poor husband must be obliged to beat you daily. Only see the damage you have inflicted.” He held open his mangled waistcoat. “One wonders why anyone would come back, after such a welcome.”
welcome—to go away and
He blinked at her sadly. “Are you really not going to tell me your name?”
She regarded him tight-lipped for a moment, arguing with herself. He was too lazy to be dangerous, despite his height and the clever way he had relieved her of her knife. And he
frightened away the nasty sailor. Also he smelled very good, faintly of sandalwood. “I am
Lyse Lanier. Of Bay Minette,” she added, surprising even herself. “I’m not usually rude, and I thank you for sending away that—that miscreant.”
She was treated to the full impact of Rafael Gonzales’s flashing white teeth and sparkling dark eyes as he swept off his tricorn, making its extravagant red plume quiver. He bowed deeply at the waist, twice, a ludicrous exaggeration considering her ragged and barefoot state.
“You are utterly forgiven, beautiful mademoiselle, señorita, miss—and what an enchanting name for an enchanting young lady! If all the women of Mobile are so gracious as you, I am doomed to enslavement! Perhaps I should, like Perseus viewing the Sirens, go about blindfolded in order to maintain my sanity.”
She laughed and took his arm, tugging him in the direction of Burelle’s. “Then you would certainly be in trouble, you ridiculous man! Odysseus is the hero you’re thinking of—and he had his sailors plug their ears and tie him to the mast, for it was the Sirens’ song and not their beauty that was so dangerous.”
He waved a languid hand. “One of those moldy Greek fellows is so much like the other, I can never keep them straight. But I assure you, if you begin to sing to me, I shall run away in terror.”
Lyse had never had a conversation like this with another human being, ever. He spoke with the musical syntax of the classical heroes in her grandfather’s library. She waited for Rafael Gonzales to inquire how a tattered Creole girl came to know the difference between Perseus and Odysseus.
But he continued to saunter alongside her, whistling something that sounded like “Down among the Dead Men,” until she finally said reluctantly, “I can’t sing.”
“That is of no moment. I can sing well enough for both of us.” And, to her astonishment, he burst into a sweet tenor rendition of
The street was crowded, and people were turning to smile and stare as they passed. Lyse clutched his arm. “Stop! This is not New Orleans. People do not sing on the street.”
He broke off a liquid melisma to give her one of his sleepy stares. “Do they not? How very inconvenient. Next time I shall bring my guitar.”
“We do not play the guitar in the street either.” She couldn’t help giggling. In front of the inn she halted. It was the largest building outside the fort, a two-story with a broad front gallery graced with several large rocking chairs and a swing. “Here is the inn. Would you like to sit down before claiming your room? I can go inside and get someone to bring you a tankard of ale.”
“You are very kind, mademoiselle, but if I could trouble you for one more favor, I should like you to deliver a message to Major Redmond for me.”
“Major Redmond?” What business could Daisy’s gruff father have with this lazy, musical young Spaniard?
“Do you know him?” Gonzales’s black brows came together. “I have not stopped at the wrong fort again, have I?”
She laughed. “His daughter is my dearest friend. What would you have me tell him?”
Gonzales smiled, clearly relieved to be in the correct port. “I have brought a hundred pounds of sugar from Havana, being off-loaded even as we speak. And I would like to entertain him for dinner this evening, if he is free.”
Lyse nodded. “I will tell him.” She privately doubted the busy major would be interested in leaving the fort to share a meal with
a young merchant who couldn’t be bothered to deliver his own invitations. But she hadn’t seen Daisy for several days, and she was now provided with an excuse to visit. She backed toward the street. “Are you sure you don’t want me to find a servant to help you in?”
“No. I thank you.” He flapped open the beautiful red brocade waistcoat, sadly lacking in buttons, to display his trim middle. He reminded her strongly of a preening cardinal. “As you see, I am quite restored. No need to worry after all.” Propping one hand on his sword hilt, with the other he caught her fingers and carried them to his smiling lips. “Adieu, mademoiselle. Adios, señorita. Goodbye, milady. We shall meet again, I vow.”
Lyse dipped a curtsey, recovered her hand, and hurried to the street before she could betray the odd flutter in her stomach at the touch of that warm mouth upon her skin.
she thought as she hurried toward the fort. How Daisy would laugh when she told her about this absurd young Spaniard.
Daisy was not amused. “And why were you at the waterfront by yourself? You know Simon has forbidden it!” She set aside her embroidery and rose, her blue eyes worried. “You could have at least taken along one of your little brothers.”
Lyse snapped her fingers. “
for Simon’s pronouncements! He is neither my father nor my master.” But she couldn’t help smiling at her friend’s idea of protection. “And what possible good would a five-year-old be if I were attacked by brigands?”
“He could run for help!”
“Pooh.” Lyse reached around Daisy to pick up her needlework. She studied the tiny stitches in awe. “I don’t know how you keep from going blind. Justine’s is nowhere near this fine.”
Daisy was not to be distracted. “You are fortunate this Spaniard
came along to frighten away the sailor. I will make Papa reward him handsomely.”
“He is quite handsome enough already.” Lyse grinned as Daisy rolled her eyes. “Don Rafael doesn’t need money. He just wants to talk to your papa, which is the least I can do in return for his . . . chivalry.”
“He sounds like a proper fop. Did he really faint at the sight of his own blood?” Daisy drew her lacy shawl from the back of her chair and led the way to the front door.
Incurably honest, Lyse shook her head. “He was only looking for an excuse to put his arm around me.” A laugh bubbled up. “I think you’ll like him, Daisy. At least he smelled good!”
“Which is more than I can say for your brother,” Daisy said with a rueful laugh. “He always smells like fish.”
Lyse smiled as she went down the gallery steps. “He would say that is the smell of bread and butter. He’d better bring in a good catch today, or we’re all going hungry. I sold out of everything we had by midday—which is why I went down to the docks to begin with.” Shading her eyes against the glaring sun, she paused at the bottom of the steps to look up at the looming main gate of the fort. “Is your papa on duty?”
“Yes, he’ll be in his office in the administration building. He told me to have supper ready by seven, as he’s bringing a couple of junior officers with him.” Daisy gave a ladylike snort. “He keeps hoping to take my interest away from Simon.”
“A French Creole fisherman will never be good enough for you, Daisy. Especially one who is the grandson of a slave.” Lyse said it without self-pity. It went without saying that many of the British military and civilian population of Mobile disapproved of the deep friendship between the two young women. The budding romance between Major Redmond’s daughter and Simon Lanier had developed into quite a scandal.
side of your family is one of the oldest in the city.
And Simon is my best friend’s brother.” Daisy hooked her arm through Lyse’s and marched her toward the gate. “Papa will just have to get used to the idea that I’m not going to marry a soldier, no matter how many redcoats he makes me cook for.”
“At least you can cook! I sometimes wonder if part of Simon’s interest isn’t prompted by the prospect of escaping Justine’s fish stew!”
“Now, Lyse . . .” Daisy gave her a reproachful look. “Poor Justine—”
Justine knew what she was getting when she married my papa.” Lyse bit her lip against further criticism. Her young stepmother was a beautiful paper-skull, but she did not deserve the hardships that accompanied life with a charming drunk, two willful adult stepchildren, and three—almost four—children under the age of five.
As usual, Daisy followed her thoughts. “How much longer, do you think, before . . .”
“Before the new baby comes?” Daisy’s manners might be too delicate to directly refer to the subject of childbirth, but Lyse had no such qualms. She had helped to deliver her youngest siblings, Geneviève and Denis, and had vivid memories of Luc-Antoine’s squalling arrival into the world.
Daisy’s cheeks pinkened. “Papa said I might send a pork pie or something else nourishing when the time comes.”
“I’m sure a pork pie will cheer her right up,” Lyse said with a twinkle. “It shouldn’t be much longer. Lord knows she’s big as a whale. She quite shakes the house when she walks from the kitchen to the back porch.”
“Lyse!” Daisy burst into a fit of giggles. “That’s very—unkind!”
“But true.” Lyse mimicked Justine’s waddling gait, one hand at her back for balance, then suddenly twirled on her toes, arms gracefully aloft. “Oh, Daisy! Your pork pie makes me want to dance! How can I ever thank you!”
Arms about each other’s waists, shaking with laughter, the girls saluted the guard who opened the gate for them and passed into Fort Charlotte—formerly known, under the long French regime, as Fort Condé. The British had rebuilt the crumbling fort and renamed it for their queen eight years ago, but its timbers were already rotting again under the onslaught of hot, moist summers and continuous infestation of bugs. Lyse fully expected the stockade to topple under the next hard rain.
She would never have dreamed of entering the fort alone, but Daisy had free rein. The two of them often had occasion to run errands which took them to Major Redmond’s office. As they walked toward the headquarters building, situated on the far side of the drill green, Lyse looked for familiar faces. During the past year, a few boys with whom she’d grown up had declared loyalty to the British Crown and enlisted as soldiers.
She recognized no one today, until a young officer hurried out of the gatehouse and caught up to them.
“Miss Redmond!” he said breathlessly, falling into step. “Lyse—I mean Miss Lanier! May I escort you to—wherever you’re going?”
Daisy halted long enough to give him an annoyed look. “Thank you, Niall, but we’re capable of finding our way across the green.”
Removing his misshapen tricorn, the ensign executed an awkward bow and rose with clanking of sword and sweat dripping off his spotty brow. “I’m sure you are, but your papa told me not to let you—that is, he asked me to look out for you, if you should come this way—”
“For heaven’s sake, Niall,” Lyse interrupted. “Where is Major Redmond?”
Niall plopped his hat back onto his rusty curls. “He’s with Colonel Durnford—but you can’t go in there!” He scampered after the girls, who had looked at each other and resumed their walk. “Hey! I said—”
“I heard you,” Daisy said over her shoulder. She quickly mounted the steps onto the gallery and pushed open the heavy oaken door of the admin office, Lyse and Niall right behind her. Daisy paused at the desk of her father’s subaltern. “Corporal Tully, I would speak with my father.”
Tully looked up from some task he’d been concentrating on. He sighed. “Miss Daisy, you know you can’t come barging in here without a by-your-leave. Major’ll have my head.” He gave an uneasy look at the closed office door. “He’s got Colonel Durnford with him.”
Daisy opened her mouth to argue, but Lyse blurted, “We heard. Why?” In her experience, the arrival of the lieutenant governor of West Florida generally preceded some unpleasantness.
“That would be nothing I could discuss with little girls—even supposing I knew.” Tully scratched his head, disarranging the thinning sandy hair. “They’ve been in there close on two hours and not a peep out of ’em.” He frowned. “So best you two go home and play with your dolls.”
Daisy’s gentle expression frosted. “Corporal Tully, you overstep—”
The office door opened, and Daisy’s father stuck his head out, along with a virulent cloud of cigar smoke. “Daisy? I thought that was your voice. Are you all right?”
“Yes, Papa. But Lyse brings you a message.” Daisy took Lyse by the elbow and tugged her closer. “Tell him, Lyse.”
Lyse hesitated. She and Daisy had been friends since the day they’d met as small children, but the handsome, bewhiskered major still gave her the shakes.
And the impatient dip between his thick brows didn’t help. “What is it, girl? I’m in rather an important meeting.”
Lyse studied the two uniformed men inside the office—a youngish one puffing on a big Havana Special cigar, and the other, a grayer version of Redmond, nursing a snifter of French cognac.
She gathered her courage. “Sir, I apologize for the interruption. But I bear a message from a young man I met this morning on the waterfront—Don Rafael Maria Gonzales de Rippardá, merchant of New Orleans.” Reeling off the young Spaniard’s litany of names, she quelled the urge to roll her eyes. The busy major would never take her seriously.
But Redmond opened the door wider. “Rippardá! In truth?” He grinned. “I’m surprised he didn’t come with you! Where is the young scalawag?”
Lyse exchanged looks with Daisy. “He—he’s settling in at Burelle’s, sir. He told me to say he wants to entertain you for dinner tonight—or at your earliest convenience.” Well, she added that last bit herself, for courtesy’s sake.
Major Redmond didn’t seem to notice. He turned to address the officer with the most gold braid on his uniform, the young one with the cigar. “Colonel Durnford, you’ll want to meet this young Spaniard. Protégé of Oliver Pollock—a wealthy Irish merchant with quite a bit of influence among the Spanish military.”
“It’s the Spanish crown I’m most concerned about,” Durnford growled. “King Carlos tells the military where to go and provides the coin to get it there.” He stuffed the cigar between his teeth and spoke around it. “I’ve heard of Pollock. If you think this boy might connect that coin toward us and away from the rebels, it’s worth the time.”