Read The Creole Princess Online

Authors: Beth White

Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC027050, #Alabama—History—Revolution (1775–1783)—Fiction, #Christian Fiction, #Love Stories

The Creole Princess (6 page)

BOOK: The Creole Princess
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Lyse felt Grandmére pull her out of the room. In the kitchen, she flung her arms around Grandmére’s waist and burrowed into her in an attempt to block out the sound of Papa’s sobs.

Grandmére held her tight for a minute, then gently led her out to the gallery. “Let’s sit on the steps. I have something for you.”

“I don’t need a present,” Lyse said as she plopped down beside her grandmother on the top step. All she wanted was her mother. She crossed her arms over her knees and laid her head on them. She could still hear Papa crying through the open window.

“No, it’s something my maman gave me when I needed it. Now it’s time to pass it on to you.”

Lyse turned her head. “Which maman?” According to family legend, Grandmére had been adopted as an infant, her real mother being Grossmére Geneviève’s unmarried sister Aimée.

“The one who loved me enough to give me her Bible and teach me to revere its author.”

Lyse frowned, trying to disentangle Grandmére’s meaning. “Grossmére Geneviève?” she guessed.

“Yes. She came to Louisiana when it was little more than a rotten fort and an Indian village or two. People say she came just to marry my papa, but she really came because of this Bible. She believed every word of it and read it every day.”

“Like you do?”

Smiling, Grandmére leaned over and picked up the Bible, which had been lying on the seat of one of the rocking chairs on the gallery. She sat there every morning as the sun came up, reading and rocking and praying under her breath. “I wanted to be just like her.”

Grandmére was the happiest person Lyse knew. She slowly reached for the Bible. It was heavy, leatherbound, scarred from years of use. It pressed on her lap with the weight of wisdom. “Will you help me understand it? Grandpére says I’m smart, but—” she looked doubtfully at the Bible—“there’s an awful lot of big words in there.”

Grandmére nodded. “There’s hard truth and stories of cruelty and evil as well, but there will also be help and encouragement when you need it. And stories of heroes who lived for God. Women who followed him even when their lives were difficult. Geneviève
Lanier was a woman like that. She had to keep her faith quiet for a time, but God protected her.”

Lyse had heard the stories of the Huguenot persecution in France, how Geneviève and her sister Aimée had gotten on a boat with twenty-three other French brides-to-be, to come to New France and choose husbands from among the king’s explorers. Tristan Lanier had been a man among men, one of Bienville’s trusted advisors. When the settlement was moved downriver from the twenty-seven-mile bluff, he had been instrumental in choosing the present location. Still, he and Geneviève had built their home apart from the fort so that they could practice their Reformist faith without interference from the king’s Catholic prescriptions.

“Why didn’t God protect Maman from the fever?” she asked.

“Lyse, everyone dies, some sooner than others. We cannot know what lies behind God’s mighty purposes for those who love him. What you
can
know is that he is with you always, even now. He understands your grief, he weeps with you, he will hold you through it. Look at me, little one.” Grandmére took Lyse’s chin. “You must keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, no matter what happens.”

Remembering that scene, Lyse looked at her brother with new eyes. He hadn’t been as close to Grandmére as she. No wonder he had a hard time with faith and forgiveness.

Simon put an uncharacteristically gentle hand on her shoulder. “It was a hard time for us all,
cher
. Grandpére submitted to the British here in Mobile in order to keep his property. He tried to stop Uncle Guillaume from going to New Orleans, knowing the revolt was pointless and dangerous.” He shrugged. “It turns out, he was right.”

Politics had never interested Lyse, except when her family was directly affected. But this young Spaniard had awakened something . . . restless within her. “So are you going to marry Daisy?”

He heaved a moody sigh. “Of course I want to. But the major doesn’t particularly like me. And I can almost understand why.”
One side of his mouth curled up. “My prospects aren’t particularly bright.”

“Why don’t you ask Grandpére to teach you the shipping business? You could be a great help to him.”

“I don’t want to sit in an office running accounts. I want to be outdoors on my boat, working with my hands.” He paused. “Besides, Daisy is young. She thinks she wants me, but she also thinks her father is going to give in and give us his blessing. I’m afraid we may have to go away if we want to be together.” He scowled. “Don’t you tell her I said all this, Lyse.”

He hadn’t talked to her in such depth since they were children. She shook her head. “I won’t. You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?”

“Of course I have. I can’t just marry Daisy and move her in with us over at Bay Minette.”

Lyse laughed. “No. And that really isn’t funny, is it?”

“No.” But he smiled. “I hear things at the docks, Lyse. Changes are coming, now that the Americans are trying to throw off the Brits. They’re going to be cracking down on trade, embargoes are likely, and I’ve got to find ways to keep us fed. As long as fishing is good, we’ll be all right . . .” He shook his head.

Simon might be the most cautious one in the family, but he wasn’t afraid of anything. Hearing him express these doubts was sobering. Lyse knew better than to press him about the Spaniard.

Who she’d likely never see again anyway.

The line jerked. “Simon, you’ve got one!”

Fishing was a much more productive enterprise than wishing one’s life away.

3

M
ARCH
1777

Lyse was helping Simon unload a workboat full of tobacco up from the island, when Niall McLeod’s bright red head popped from behind a towering stack of crates. The whites of his blue eyes were round as eggs.

“Lyse, you’ve got to come now! Your pa’s got himself in trouble again.”

She shifted the heavy crate in her arms onto a new stack, then stood up with a hand to her back. The days of lazing about with a charming Spaniard on a boat tour down the bay, as she had seven months ago, were long gone. If it was true that an army marched on its stomach, the British troops of West Florida were going to subsist mainly on cigar fumes. She and Simon had been shuffling tobacco crates all morning, with no signs of stopping before dark. The British frigate
Hinchinbrook
had brought her valuable cargo from Carolina, sailing around East Florida via Havana, and had orders to leave port at dawn on the morrow.

Reluctant to take Niall seriously, Lyse glanced at Simon. He hadn’t heard, or he’d be exploding with anger. He was arguing with a porter whose wagon had been commandeered to transport
the tobacco to the fort. Their father should have been here to deal with cartage so Simon could focus on the boats, but they hadn’t seen Papa all day. “Papa’s always in trouble,” she said with a shrug. “What’s the problem now?”

Niall edged between the crates and stood before Lyse, rotating his hat between his hands. “Drunk and disorderly again. I talked the sergeant out of putting him in the guardhouse, but you’ve got to come get him. Now. Please, Lyse.”

She looked down at her work garb—Simon’s outgrown breeches and shirt topped off by an ugly, shapeless homespun coat, with homemade moccasins on her feet. Necessary for hauling freight on the dock, but unacceptable for walking about in town. “Niall, I can’t come now. Don’t you see we’re in the middle of—”

“Either you come get him and take him home, or I’m letting him go to the guardhouse.” Niall’s round face was set in uncharacteristically obstinate lines.

Papa must have really done it this time.

“All right, I’ll come.” She glanced over her shoulder. Simon couldn’t be spared, so it would have to be her. “Simon! I have to run an errand—I’ll be back in an hour.”

Guiltily shrugging off her brother’s angry objection, she followed Niall. They dodged the longshoremen, sailors, merchants, and slaves who crowded the dock, Lyse pulling her hat lower to cover her eyes and hide her face. Her hair was braided and tied out of the way under a scarf, so maybe nobody would recognize her and tell Justine she’d been working at the wharf again.

She tugged Niall’s sleeve. “What did he do this time?”

Her old friend hesitated. “There was a faro game at Coup de Chance.”

Faro. Mixed with rum and politics, no doubt, and—judging from Niall’s involvement—off-duty soldiers. A combination which Antoine Lanier would be unable to resist.

When she didn’t answer, only sighed, Niall said, “I tried to get
him to come out. I told him you and Simon had work down at the quay, that you needed him.” Niall shook his head. “He just said something about ‘all those mouths to feed’ and called for another round.”

“All those mouths” included herself right now—which was why she spent her days either working at the dock or fishing for her supper—but Lyse would not feel guilty for refusing the first offer of marriage to come her way, from a friend of her father’s who already had three children. She was only sixteen, and there would be more. She sneaked a glance at Niall. He would ask her, she was sure, as soon as he got up enough nerve to brave Simon’s contempt. Papa would say yes, relieved to be shed of her.

Niall looked at her again, his face flaming when he met her eyes. He wasn’t handsome, but he was a good boy, and he didn’t seem to mind her complicated, slightly seedy family. If she married him, she would be a British soldier’s wife.

Which would be little better than marrying Bertrand Robicheaux.

Feeling her throat tighten, she snatched for joy. Nobody said life should be easy. Even Daisy, who lived about as charmed a life as anybody she knew, faced her father’s reluctance to let her marry Simon. But God was good, and something would work out.

Lyse smiled and bumped Niall’s shoulder with sisterly gratitude. “It will be all right. You’ll see.”

It seemed God had been listening to her prayers, for nobody they passed gave her and Niall more than a cursory glance as they trudged up from the quay to turn onto the street which ran past the gate to the fort. They stopped at the gatehouse, where Niall exchanged salutes with another young infantryman. “Reporting back to Sergeant Adamson.”

The guard looked happy to have his solitary boredom interrupted. “Who’s this?” He looked at Lyse with mild curiosity.

“M-Monsieur Lanier’s . . . son,” said Niall, tugging at his uniform collar. “Adamson’s request.”

“Oh. Yes. Take him in.” The young guard looked doubtful. “You might need a wagon, though. I doubt he can walk in his condition.”

Lyse’s heart sank. Please, God, let him be sober. Otherwise she’d never get him home. Simon was going to be furious.

It was a prayer without much hope.

Lyse followed Niall past headquarters, hoping that she wouldn’t run into Major Redmond or anybody else she knew. She couldn’t help remembering the day last August when she and Daisy had delivered the message from Don Rafael. It had been a highlight in a bleak season, as British military presence tightened over the port, limiting trade with “suspicious parties,” notably American ships. French vessels were also scrutinized, as gossip said Louis XVI was ready to ally his country with the Continental rebels.

She hadn’t seen the insouciant young Spanish merchant since their tour down the bay on Simon’s bateau. If he had returned to Mobile for trade purposes, he hadn’t sought her out. Which was just as well. She had no time for lazy popinjays.

Niall halted, and she realized with a jerk of awareness that they had stopped outside a barracks whose door stood open to the fresh spring breeze. Smoke curled from the chimney, dissipating into a cloudless cerulean sky, and the smell of fish stew wafted from a kettle over the fire. Lyse’s stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten since a dried apple gobbled at daybreak. The time must be near noon.

“Wait here,” Niall told her. He disappeared inside the barracks, and she heard him address someone within. “Lanier, it’s time to go. Lyse and I are going to take you home.”

There was a groan followed by an unintelligible mumble.

“Sir,” Niall said loudly, “you can’t stay. My sergeant—”

Niall catapulted backward through the door.

Lyse caught him, stumbled back, and nearly fell under his stout body, but she managed to break his fall, letting him roll hard onto his stomach.

He got up spitting dirt. “You crazy old bear! I’m trying to help you!”

Lyse went to the door of the barracks. “Papa! It’s me! What’s the matter with you? Why did you hit Niall?” After the brightness of daylight, the room was stuffy and dim, filled with shapeless forms of furniture, hanks of tobacco, ropes, and tools hanging off the walls, the smoke and smell of the stew strong enough to choke.

Something on the closest bunk shifted, growled like the bear Niall had called him. “Lyse? What you doing here?” Papa’s French was slurred, rough.

“I’m taking you home. You can’t stay here.”
I can’t either,
she thought, uncomfortably aware that she stood in a bachelor dwelling. Her reputation, shaky at best, would collapse if anyone else knew she was here, dressed in her brother’s clothes.

“Can’t go home.” Papa flopped back onto the bunk with an arm across his eyes. “Poor Justine. She hates me.”

This was absurd. When had she turned into her father’s confidante? “No she doesn’t. She just wants you to come home tonight. She misses you.”

“The children need shoes.
You
need shoes. But I lost yesterday’s shrimp money, and Michel Dussouy’s given his business to the British pigs. I don’t know what to do.”

Lyse gritted her teeth. She loved her handsome papa, but he was the biggest trial on two continents. He hadn’t even the common sense to keep his controversial political comments to himself. No wonder Justine had sent him fishing.

“The weather is getting warm enough so none of us will need shoes for long. Let’s go home, Papa. We’ll pray about it and figure out what to do.”

“There are some things praying won’t fix, little one.” But he sat up, scrubbing his hands over his face. Apparently he had cat eyes, for he gave her a disapproving look. “What are you wearing?”

BOOK: The Creole Princess
9.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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