Maurice was gone seven months when Celestine had their baby boy, but he didn’t come home until the baby was three months old. The birth was hard, but uneventful with Marguerite in attendance. In the last year, Marguerite was being trained as a nurse at the convent but she really wanted to be a midwife and help the African women in the city. They were not allowed the hospital and too many were trusting in Voudou and African folklore to help with difficult births. Marguerite felt there was a nice combination between the scientific medicines of the day and the medical gifts from the forests. Each was equally important in her mind.
She helped Celestine through a long labor, but Celestine’s body was so prepared to give birth after the months of plying her with medicines from the woods and feeding her the right foods, that Celestine considered Marguerite a genius. She had not gained one unwanted pound and her skin was oiled and greased into stretching without leaving marks. If one didn’t know, they would never guess the young woman had gone through childbirth. Marguerite taught her how to nurse the baby and keep her nipples from getting too sore and her breast from sagging with the heavy milk. Marguerite enjoyed her work and used Celestine as a grand experiment to see if her lotions and potions worked. So far they had been a complete success and her Tante ‘Tine was a grateful recipient.
Josef was working at Lafitte’s blacksmith’s Shop. Celestine had gotten him an apprenticeship which he was enjoying as he learned a trade, but he still took care of Tante ‘Tine and was devoted to her and his new little brother.
Josef and Marguerite fit nicely in les gens de couleur Libres and Josef was courting a young woman named Augustine. She would make an excellent wife and Josef was anxious for Papa Maurice to give his blessing. The people of New Orleans accepted them as servants for Captain Dubois but still talked behind closed doors about the murderous children killed in the swamps and buried by Jean Laffite. Some said they were twins and were under ten when they were eaten by the big alligators. Some said, no, they were closer to fourteen or fifteen, but none knew them as the two young people working for the Captain and his wife. Josef discovered gossip had a way of destroying itself and turning ridiculous along with the truth it destroys in the process.
Celestine kept herself busy during her husband’s absence. She had her charity work through the convent, part of which was to visit the cribs along the levee and make sure the children had food and warm clothing in winter. She knew what that would have meant to her as a child; a nice hot meal once in a while. Most days Marguerite went with her, but many days she went alone.
Jean Lafitte saw her going in and out of the little cribs and places a woman expecting a child should not frequent, and sent one of his men to watch her at all times for her own protection. Josef kept Jean informed of her outings and unbeknownst to Celestine, her safety was in Laffite’s hands, not hers. Josef enjoyed working as an apprentice to Jean’s brother, Pierre. He mostly fronted their shop and worked on his own ironworks and inventions, as Pierre was usually off with his brother. He suspected they were running slaves and plunder from the back of the shop, but he would not ask and he certainly did not want to know. The brothers were glad to hire him when they discovered this was the infamous Josef, the slave buried and eaten by the alligators in the swamp. The whole idea amused them.
The first time Jean met Celestine after his kiss in the swamp was on market day several months after her husband sailed out of New Orleans. She was much thicker around the waist and he guessed she was with child. He would never leave her unattended if it were his child she carried. He had many children and his mistresses were always protected during the long months of their confinements, not necessarily by him personally, but there was always a man of his choosing watching for their own protection. He loved his mistresses as any man, but this little waif was different. She was a fair maiden and she needed a dark, handsome knight… well, he was a dark handsome knight, and he needed a fair maiden. Of course, this little maiden would cut your throat and feed your genitals to the crabs, but that only made her more desirable to his jaded heart.
He had been accused of being a pirate, but he considered himself a privateer, a corsair, and would shoot any man who said differently. Lately, he wanted to be a dangerous pirate and sail with Celestine around the world by his side, her knife ready to cut or kill, her soft breast and mouth desiring of his touch. He was a hopeless romantic, but no man would ever voice it.
Celestine was startled when he approached her in the big market. He thought he captured a bit of embarrassment on her beautiful face, why not, she was a married woman and she had responded sensually to his kiss, and he felt her shudder when he ran his hand along her breast. It changed his life and filled him with a desire he had not been able to quench with other women. He had been jealous of her husband for months and now to see Dubois’ seed under her dress was almost more than he could take.
“Madame Dubois, how nice to see you.” He was the parlor gentleman at his best.
“Captain Laffite. I knew we’d meet again. I’d like to thank you again for the favor you did for my husband’s wards. Josef is very happy working with your dear brother.” She offered her hand and he turned it over, gently took off her glove and kissed the palm. He held it and breathed in the Jasmine scent a bit longer than she found comfortable, but she felt safe with her husband’s child in her womb and her head could not be turned by his charms. If anything, he caused her to miss her husband, feeling this handsome virile man’s warm breath on the palm of her hand.
“I believe that belongs to me.” She gently pulled it back and began to put on her glove.
“For now, Madame, but who can read the future, nez pa?” The dark green and gold of his hazel eyes were bringing back the old feelings from the swamp.
“You go too far, sir. You forget I’m a married woman.” He angered her with his insult and she needed to leave before she said something she would be sorry for later. He bowed and allowed her to walk away. He had his answer, she desired him as much as he her. She just did not trust it yet. Had she not been angered and flirted back, he would have known it as innocent banter. But she felt something that frightened her. That was a good sign… a very good sign and her idiot Sea Captain left her alone for months, what a fool.
Celestine went on with her life, missing her husband and anticipating the birth of her child. The next she saw Capt. Lafitte was a few months later. She was coming out of one of the cribs when she saw a man start to strike a little girl. She rushed to stop the violence, but Jean stepped from nowhere and grabbed the man by the collar and threw him away from the little child. She rushed to the child and held her close.
“It’s all right, my little lamb. You’re safe now?” The little girl was crying. Jean stepped up, took the child in his arms and walked with her to the market and sat her at one of the stalls.
“Oh monsieur, you’ve saved my little girl. You’re a good man. How can I ever repay you?” The woman was over playing her role. He looked at the bad actress and raised an eyebrow and nodded his head for the woman to stop. Celestine missed that bit of theatrics, but she knew the child did not belong to the woman in the stall selling peppers and onions. She stood back and watched the performance as the big pirate pretended to sooth the child and take his compliments like a hero.
“Berti?” Celestine said. “Isn’t your mere waiting for you to help with the milking?” The child looked past Celestine and up to the big pirate and gave a shrug.
“I tried to tell him you knew me, Mme.‘Tine. Men don’t listen to little girls.” She was off and running down the levee to her family’s barn.
She stood trying not to laugh, waiting for him to say something.
He was speechless. He had never been speechless in his life; he could hold a conversation in any drawing room in any mansion, in any city in the world, he spoke four languages fluently, but he was totally speechless. He tipped his hat.
“Good day, Madame.” He was walking off when her laughter stopped him.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?” She was hurting she laughed so hard but once the laughter stopped, the pain didn’t. She was big with this child and suddenly she was standing in a puddle of water and she thought she had wet herself.
“Ahh, Jean, help me.” She turned to him first, he had many children; everyone knew he had many children by his beautiful quadroon mistresses. He looked over at his beautiful torment, her eyes were full of fear and she was looking to him for help.
She lost the water holding Dubois’ child in her womb. She was in trouble and she called on her knight. That fool of a husband of hers; he doesn’t deserve her. He picked her up and walked up rue du Maine.
“Why are you out alone so close to your time, Madame?” Celestine was surprised at the anger in his voice.
“Where is your husband and why does he allow this?” He opened the big gate calling for Marguerite.
“Hush, Jean. Please don’t criticize my husband.” The contraction made her grab her stomach with one hand and the lapel of his big black jacket with the other as she buried her face in his jacket. He was met by Marguerite in the courtyard and shown to Celeste’s bedroom. Once he put her on the bed, she perked up and thought maybe it was a false alarm, and then another contraction hit and she cried out to Marguerite.
“I’ll return with the doctor, Madame, please don’t fret.”
He walked out of the gate and Celestine was left to deal with the pain and her embarrassment of losing her water in front of this man who reproached her husband for making a living. She was angry but was in too much pain to care. She, the doctor and Marguerite worked all afternoon and into the night. When the doctor placed her little boy in her arms and finally left, Jean got up from the little table under the banana tree. He didn’t notice the mangled and bent decretive iron scroll work on the table he caused each time his damsel cried out in pain. He had not moved since he brought Dr. Pabon back to her, nor would he consider it when Josef offered him supper and late night coffee.
He walked upstairs and saw she was sleeping, bent to kiss her forehead and left his card on the empty pillow next to her. He would be back. What a damned fool her husband was. Jean lost his only wife in child birth; he would not wish that pain and guilt on any man. Dubois shouldn’t have left her alone to walk the streets big with child so near her time.