Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Celestine, The House on rue du Maine" Chapter 15

Chapter Fifteen
Maurice was a month longer than expected.  Celestine spoke of it to Jean during one of his afternoon visits with her and the baby.  The next visit, he brought his big charts and pointed to where Le Celestine had been and, for how long… he was told the Le Celestine was in Port-au-Prince a full month longer than needed. Celestine was devastated to hear this news.  She envisioned him pacing the decks rushing home to meet his child and take his wife in his arms. 
Jean was becoming a good friend, and she depended on him to fill long afternoons and winter days when the baby was too young for her to venture out. He was kind and gentle with the baby, and he made her laugh and remember times before her husband left, taking the life out of the big house.  Jean had not gotten personal since the day on the levee, and his behavior endeared him to her even more. She looked forward to his calling card on the little silver tray in the music room off the courtyard.  It meant he was waiting for her or he had gone but would return.  She did not know how lonely she was until he started visiting. The friendship was a terrible mistake. 
When the baby turned two months, Jean stopped coming around.  She missed him and wondered if she had done or said something to offend.  She took Marguerite and Josef for a fortnight’s visit to Colette and Pierre.  She was glad to be out of the city and looked forward to lively dinners and seeing little Letty.  Colette had not seen the baby and wrote that she must come for a long visit.  The visit was lovely, but Colette and Pierre were distant.   She was nearing the end of the visit when Colette asked her about her ‘affair’ with Jean Laffite.  She was dumbfounded; where had this accusation come from?
“The city is small, ‘Tine and he’s infamous.  His every move is followed and watched.  Don’t you love Maurice anymore?”
“Colette, what are you talking about?  Of course I love Maurice.  There’s no affair with Capt. Laffite; he’s just been keeping me company, that’s all.  Why would you ever think such a thing?”  She was trying not to get angry, but these were serious allegations, and she could lose her beloved Maurice. She had not forgotten how jealous he was of the Pirate.
“Maurice has been told and he’s written to Pierre to have the rumors dispelled or verified.”  Celestine’s heart was in her throat.
“Maurice has been told what?  There’s nothing to tell, Colette.”
She was mortified.  Why were her actions up for scrutiny in the first place?
“Did Maurice ask Pierre to keep his spies on me; is that what this is, Colette?”  She was not going to sit and hear any more of the horrible accusation that could ruin her marriage. Pierre walked innocently into the room and felt the venom flying between the two old friends like stinging sand on a windy beach.
“Well, Ladies, a game of cards this evening?”  He looked from one to the other and everything in his being was shouting, ‘Women angry, run away, fast. Women angry, duck and cover.’
“Pierre, tell me what you said to my husband regarding Capt. Laffite, please.” She sat watching his face turn from happy man to pig at the slaughter.
“Colette, what’ve you been saying?”
“You may as well tell me everything.  I’ll not leave you alone until you do.”  She watched as he showed disgust at his wife’s bad manners.
“Maurice was told that you’ve been entertaining the pirate.  He’s very angry.  He asked if I’d check it out and I did.  I discovered that the rumor got to Maurice from one of Laffite’s own men, probably at Laffite’s request.”
“Tell me what my husband was told, Pierre.”  She was dying inside.  She knew Jean was capable, but she had not counted on his trying to destroy her marriage in such a vicious manner.
“He was told… where is this taking us, Celestine?”
“Tell me damn it, if I’m to be branded for adultery, I would like to know the charges.”
“He was told that Laffite moved in and is living in the house, but leaves before day. He was told that Josef works for Laffite’s brother and is the liaison between you two.”  She was going to be sick.
“Why did my husband stay in Port-au-Prince a month longer than necessary?  Does it have to do with this gossip?  Is he with Anna?”
“Celestine, this is getting us nowhere, leave it.”  He walked out of the room and up the stairs.
Celestine turned to Colette.
“Is this why you invited me here, to see if I’m a whore like our mothers, or can we assume that Jean Laffite is a lying ass?”
“I had to know, Celestine, I had to see for myself and look into your face.”  Celestine wondered if she would have questioned Colette in the same situation.  She would like to think she wouldn’t, but people get carried away with gossip and tales of romantic interludes; after all she was the wife of a seafaring man, and he could be gone from home over a year, and… she was befriended by a very dangerous, infamous, man.
“And?”  Celestine stood back and waited for an answer.
Colette ran and put her arms around Celestine.
“My darling, I’ve been too long up here with nothing to occupy my silly mind and thinking stupid thoughts about Maurice being gone, and you, left alone in that lust filled city.” 
Celestine could see how that would happen, this place was beautiful; but there wasn’t much to keep a person away from stray thoughts and horrible gossip.
“You need to take up charity work, Colette.  Or, maybe some hobby other than my non-existent love life.”  She wanted to know more of why her husband stayed so long in Port-au-Prince. Was Anna winning him back? She was, after all, the mother of the two most beloved people in his life and his longtime mistress? Bile rose to the back of her throat.
Pierre came back into the room.  He decided the woman was owed an explanation.  If her husband was going to kill a pirate and kick her out of her home, she should know about his peccadilloes also.
“Sit down, ‘Tine.”  He told her everything.  He told her about Maurice and Anna, but not about his childhood. He told of Maurice finally finding true love with Celestine and how devastated he was to think that Jean Laffite had been living with his wife in his own home. He stayed a month more than planned with his mistress until Anna finally calmed him down and almost convinced him that the rumors were lies.  But, Maurice was Maurice, and Pierre wasn’t sure if Anna had convinced him or not.
Celestine didn’t know how to respond.
“Thank you for being honest with me, Pierre. I know about Anna, but thank you for telling me anyway.  I’d like to return to the city tomorrow.  I have things I need to do.”
“Of course, we understand.”
“No, we don’t understand. Pierre, she needs to stay right here until this horrible scandal is old news.”
“No, Colette, I’ll be fine.”
Celestine knew what she had to do. First, she would straighten out one very bad mannered, ass of a Pirate and let him know his foolishness had not worked. Second, she would save her marriage and keep her son from being fatherless.  Third, Josef would have something to say about the lie told on him, and he would certainly explain to his father.
Celestine knew just enough of the bayous from her one trip down to Barataria to hire a small pirogue and an old man to row it.  She wore some of Josef’s old clothes and put her hair under a rag.  She would never be noticed as anything but one of two small men in a pirogue. She spent the first night wondering if she had left enough milk for the baby, but Marguerite had assured her he would be fine.  Marguerite was more worried about Papa Maurice finding out she helped Tanti ‘Tine go into the swamps.  But one thing she and her brother knew about Tanti ‘Tine; she did not respond well to… ‘no’.
The second day, Celestine and her old guide waited outside Laffite’s big compound in a palmetto thicket, and watched as the grand house was being built; again she wondered why he had chosen this desolate place to build a mansion. The boatman explained to her the location, and how it was available to unload his cargo and keep his ships safe from the Gulf.  He explained the real beauty of the Cypress swamp and how the water could light up on a sunny day, and glow like fire in a sunset. He pointed out the beautiful birds and cranes and she saw it for the first time through the old man’s eyes. He told her about the moss gatherers with their hooked poles, wrapping  around the Spanish moss and pulling it from the trees to be sold and end in a soft mattress, and the alligator hunters risking their lives to provide luggage for the rich.  She finally understood how Jean could love this place.
She was strangely calm.  Jean would never hurt her, but she did not know about his men.  They were certainly not the sort with whom one would have a romantic walk on a moonlit night along the big bayou. She remembered his kiss that first night. It had moved her, but now the thought made her mad as hell. That started this whole business.  She left the boatman and walked calmly into the open and around the new home being built, and around to the old house still being used by Laffite and his men. 
The men were at a very raucous but beautiful dinner. The silver candleholders were polished and gleaming, the white linen was clean and pressed, and accentuated the beautiful plates and crystal glasses; too bad his men were not half as clean as their dinner service.  She walked around to the back and looked in the tall windows and found his room; his big jacket was slung over a chair; he had been unpacking. Had he been on a voyage?  His shaving things were still damp, and a big wet bathing towel was drying over his privy screen.  So that’s why he hasn’t been around, he’s been gone; probably terrorizing the gulf, or another woman’s marriage. The bed was made and the covers already turned down for his night’s sleep.  She wondered if all pirates were this pampered, or just the one trying to destroy her?
She slipped in through the big open jib window easily and placed the note under his pillow.  She rubbed her neck with his pillow to be sure to leave her jasmine scent, and left as easily as she had come.  She was back in her own bed in New Orleans before the sun came up on the second day.
Celestine was feeding the baby and wondering what Maurice would like to name him when she heard familiar boots coming across the open courtyard.  She was nervous and knew being too frightened would show guilt where there was none.  She heard him running up the stairs and across the gallery.  Maurice looked into his bedroom and saw his wife leaning against a boatload of pillows in a beautiful nightgown feeding their son from an alabaster breast and remembered his wish.  He stopped to take it in.  He had planned to accuse her right away, but he walked quietly over to the bed and looked down on his little son nursing on the beautiful breast.  He caught himself falling into her trap.  She would have to explain herself before he folded so easily.
“That’s mine.”  He said harsher than he intended, his lips clamped in stifled anger.
“Your son or my breast?”  She asked reaching up for his mouth.
“Both.” He almost yelled and turned his mouth away from hers.
He undressed down to his shirt and breeches and got in beside them. He lay on one elbow watching his son.  He was still her husband; if he wanted he could move the baby and take her right now.
He was amazed at this little creature he had created with this woman.  He wanted to cuddle them both and meld into the little family he dreamed about for so long.  But he would not be made a fool of again. He would take this wonderful child himself and disappear if she wanted the pirate.
Celestine looked over at his jacket with the beautiful gold braid running up the big sleeves hanging over his chair, the sword and belt hanging from the rack in the corner and the big hat resting on its stand.   His boots were standing in front of his armoire, one falling over into the other and it almost made her cry;  these were the signs that her man was home from the sea and in residence.
“I wanted to be on the levee when you came home.”  She turned to him barely keeping the tears from flowing.
 “I love watching Le Celestine sail into safe harbor.” She was getting breathless with fright. She had hoped seeing  her with their son would calm him and help him get some perspective, but it seemed to agitate him even more.
“You’re here, Celestine and that’s enough for now.  What have you named my son?”
“I was waiting for you.”  She could see he was surprised and pleased with her decision to wait for him. He was not expecting that.  If she were going to leave him for the pirate, why would she care what he wanted to name his son?
“Philippe?”  She had never heard him speak of a man named Philippe.
“Yes, Philippe after my father.”  The baby was through nursing and Maurice took his son and put him over his shoulder to gently burp him.
“You never told me about your father.” She purposely left her breast uncovered and wiped a residue of milk off seductively with her fingers; she knew the power the damned things had over him.
“I never knew him.  He went down in a storm off the Irish Coast.” He was trying not to take her in his arms and cover the breast with his mouth, the same beautiful breast that had so recently given nourishment to his amazing son.
“Oh, then, Philippe it is.”  When was he ever going to tell her about his life before her?  He had told her all about Anna, but very little of his life     before going to sea. He had never mentioned his parents and she never asked.  In her world, one did not ask a person’s lineage. He turned onto his back and put the baby on his big chest.  He could not touch it enough, this miracle of his wife’s doing.
“So, Mme. Dubois, you’ve built a person.  It’s a job well done.”
He was purposefully not calling her wife or Celestine.  Not a good sign. Was he reminding her who she was?  Celestine got up and walked to her dressing table.  She picked up her brush and began to brush the soft hair from around her face.  She wanted him to notice Laffite’s calling cards scattered around her dresser.  She and Marguerite had gone all over the house looking for the discarded cards to place them in view on her dresser.  A wife wouldn’t hide cards from an innocent friendship.
“Wi… young Philippe has wet my shirt, come and take him please.”  He  almost called her wife; the home life was working, as she prayed it would. 
She took the baby and put him in his cradle by the side of her bed and changed his diaper.  She went back to the bed and took his shirt and put it in the basket with the laundry. She sat in the big chair by the fireplace or she would faint from desire.  She had truly forgotten that magnificent chest and what it did to her.  She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything or anyone in her life.  She turned back to him and tried to study his face.  She could not go through with her plan.  She had to make this right.
“You promised me, Maurice. When I first gave myself to you on the ship, when I trusted you enough to open myself to you, you promised that you’d always come home to me, you promised.”  She was angry that the tears were coming when she wanted so badly to be calm. 
“Now you come three months late to meet your son. How could you believe lies about me?  How could you?  Do you hate me that much… no, do you hate yourself that much that you can’t believe I love you and only you and will never love anyone else?”  She was moving full steam forward.  She was getting angrier at the thought of his not trusting her and writing to Pierre instead of asking her in any of his letters to her.  She picked up his boot from the floor and slung it hard and it missed him by inches.
“If that’d been my knife, you’d be a gelding now, sir.”  She was sobbing and marching out of the door when he caught her, picked her up and brought her back to the bed.  He was almost there when he spotted the cards on the dresser.  He dropped her on the floor.  Her first plan had just interfered with her second plan and now there was no plan.
He picked up a few of the cards and looked down at her.
She would try to re-implement her first plan.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I wasn’t to have friends while you were away, or stop a man saving me in the market from giving birth to your son on the levee.  Next time I’ll know better.”  She was picking herself up and pulling her wrapper around her breast.
“Madame, tell me what was going on in my house while I was at sea making a living for my family, and mind, tell me the truth.”   His voice was low and rumbling.  She knew what one of his sailors must feel when he had done something wrong, but damn it, she had done nothing wrong.  She was in labor for fifteen long hours giving him a son, she coated herself each night in oils to keep her skin soft and desirable for his return and now she had to answer to him about some bloody pirate. She was feeling the effects and consequence of gossip on innocent women down through the ages.  No gossip monger has to come up with facts, only the gossiped about.  As for as she was concerned, he had crossed a line.  She rang for Marguerite.
“Papa Maurice, you’re home.”  She threw herself into his arms.  He stared over at Celestine.
“This isn’t over.”
“No, it’s not, Captain Dubois.”  He reacted to her using his name and not husband. She noted the effect.
“Rite, darling would you get your brother?  Papa wishes to speak to us all together.”
“Of course, Tante ‘Tine.”  She ran downstairs calling for Josef.
“What are you doing?”  He was so confused, she was messing with his head and he could not trust what she was doing or why. What the hell was going on in his home while he was out making a living, by damn?
Celestine walked down to the courtyard with the baby asleep in her arms.  She sat at the big wrought iron dining table and put Philippe in the little bed Josef made, next to her.
Maurice followed putting on his jacket and pulling up his boots. Josef came around from the stable with Marguerite.  He waited for Maurice to finish dressing and hugged him.
“Please, sit down.”  Celestine addressed her strange little family.
They sat at their usual places; Maurice at the head with Josef to his right and Marguerite to his left, and his wife at the other end of the beautiful table.
“Your father has questions for all of us.  First, I’d like to ask each of you.  Josef, were you ever  aware of Capt. Laffite staying overnight at this house, or was he ever in my bedroom?”
Maurice was up and booming.
“You go too far, Madame.”  He was truly angry now, why would she subject his children to such personal adult problems?
“NO.”  Josef was emphatic.  “We’ve heard the rumors, Papa Maurice and they bare no truth.”  He hoped he would be believed. He knew he was telling the truth, he watched them both.  He would never have allowed it and was ashamed when he finally realized his spying on her in her confinement was for nothing.  He helped the bad Captain in the beginning when Tanti ‘Tine would go to the levee and work among the poor in her condition, but he had never been the liaison for which he had been accused.
“Marguerite?”  Celestine would have it out here and now and he could leave or stay.  If he stayed there may not be enough bandages in the house to stop the blood.
“Papa Maurice, when you accuse Tanti ‘Tine you accuse me and Josef also. Do you not love us and trust us to do right by you?  You’re being unfair to her and she deserves better. She has worried and paced on your behalf each time a storm came up the river.  I’m sorry, Papa, but I must speak.  Josef and I have seen her shed many tears waiting for you to come home to all of us.” 
She was beginning to cry.  This man had slept with her mother for years and had not married her. Why would he be so brutal to this little woman who loved him and was so brave waiting for him to come home?  Men were allowed their women, but women were not allowed one friend in breeches. She was beginning to see the convent as a better life for her if this was marriage. She also liked Capt. Laffite, he had done many favors for her, and brought her the herbs she needed for some of her creations, and he had never treated her like a servant or anything more than Tante ‘Tine’s ward and friend.
“Marguerite, of course I love you and Josef. Stop this, Celestine.”
“My turn, Capt. Dubois.  I have a couple of questions for you.  First and foremost, why would I leave my lover’s calling cards for my husband to see?  If you can answer that, then you may have a case.”
“Of course I can answer that.  You didn’t know I was coming home.”  He stood and looked at his family at the table.  He did not want to be right. His heart was about to break.
“Where is your reasoning, husband?  Josef, when did you know your father would be home?”
“Yesterday morning, the man who brings you news of the ships coming into the harbor announced he saw Le Celestine coming up the river, one day out.”
Maurice sat back down.  What a fool he was.  Anna told him everything; she had even seen this fight and her children’s loyalty to his wife.
“Children, may I speak to your papa alone, please.”  They both bent to kiss his cheek and left the two strangely embarrassed people alone.
“You forced me to do it, husband. You’ll take full credit for this.”
“What was your next question?”  He knew he was played a fool by the black hearted son-of-a-sea witch, Laffite.  He just hoped his trick on the pirate was as humiliating as his had been on him, even worse.  The pirate’s whole crew would witness Laffite’s shame.
“Did you bed Anna? Be careful how you answer.  I want the truth, Maurice.”
“Of course I didn’t bed Anna.  You should know by now, I could never touch another woman.”  If his lie was ever revealed, he would be a dead man, sans pecker; and it wasn’t worth it, Anna was falling in love with a new man.  He felt it in her touch and besides, he had only lain with her in some jealous retribution to his wife and the pirate… Anna could feel that too.
“I’ll see you in the morning.”  She walked upstairs with the baby and locked the doors to her bedroom. Maurice turned and walked back out onto the street.  His embarrassment was getting the better of him.  How could he be so damned blind?  He walked up to rue des Chartres and found a saloon.  He would never get used to the muddy sewage-bogged streets of this damned city. He walked off his ship, not an hour ago in clean boots and now he had mud up to his arse, and hated it.  He wanted his clean ship under his feet.  A man had to walk steady on dry land and hold fast or rumors and gossip could drag him down like the mud on his boots.  He drank a whiskey and left the bar.  It was time to face the gallows. His stupidity had robbed him of his son’s birth, and he would never forgive himself for that.  What he had done to his little dove was appalling. He was ashamed and embarrassed by his accusations. Most Sea Captains received similar news in their careers, and many were false… some were not. After all, the wife of a Captain was not, as a rule, a shrinking violet, they could be lusty women full of the devil, and his was no exception.  He was lucky to still have his manhood.  If she discovered his lie about Anna after his theatrics over Laffite, he would lose his for sure.  Another prayer went to heaven.
He walked back up rue du Maine and stopped at a little shop still accepting customers.  In the window was a beautiful ship in a small bottle.  He never understood how anyone could create these particular objects, but  suddenly he saw it as Celestine creating their son, the tiny being nestled in her womb, perfectly formed, and fragile.  There was jewelry for her in his trunks on the ship, but this would suffice for this particular homecoming.
She heard the gentle knock as she was putting the baby in his cradle.  The glass on the long doors rattled with another knock.
“I’m home from the sea, wife. Did you miss me? I brought a pretty trinket for you and the baby.”  He was standing and tantalizing her with that all powerful smile she could never resist. She hid her smile.
“You’ll have to wait your turn, you’ve frightened the baby.”  She reached for her son and walked back to the bed.
“I can wait.  I can wait as long as it takes.”  The smile had not left his face, and he stood at the door like a repentant school boy waiting for his punishment. She started laughing in spite of herself.  She put Philippe back in his bed and opened the door and stood blocking it.
“Do you promise to trust me?  Answer me, husband.”  His smile got bigger.
“Do you promise to stop being a bully and respect my choice of friends? Answer me, husband.” He picked her up and took her to the bed and threw her into the soft down of the bed. 
“I promise to make you forget how stupid I’ve been for the last several months. You can punish me later if you wish.  How’s that?”  He kissed her, trying to take off her clothes at the same time and as he pulled his legs out of his breeches he managed to get his shirt caught on his arms and could not get to her fast enough.
That was the homecoming she expected from a sex deprived Sea Captain after months at sea. She was feeling the pressure in the small of her back and knew it would not take much to rise to her groin and she would  be embarrassingly ready for his entry. If he had waited with his accusations, he would have seen how eager she was for his love making.  No woman could have been sleeping with a man, and been this needy for a male body.  She was insatiable and he planned to be sore for days.

Celestine thanked God for his safe return. She knew he lied about Anna, but he loved her enough to lie. She could not get enough of her husband. Being in the pirate’s bedroom had affected her… she was moved by the pirate’s scent and the intimacy of his things.  It frightened her and if Maurice had not come home when he did… well, thank God, he came home when he did. But, she would go with him from now on or make sure he didn’t plan such long trips, it was not good for their marriage.  She was firm on this.

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