Louisiana Hurricane, 1860

Kathleen Duey

Published by Simon Pulse, 2000
ISBN 10: 0671039261 / ISBN 13: 9780671039264
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Synopsis:

Shattered Lives

Violence, heartache, and three devastating hurricanes ravaged Madelaine LeBlanc's life in late summer 1860. In the luxurious Creole world of French food, meadow picnics, and silk-gown veranda parties, her father plots her marriage to a rich heir, and with the infamous Nightriders he secretly terrorizes the poor Cajuns in the swamps. Madelaine, searching desperately for a life of meaning and freedom, finds it at last in storm-wrecked fields, where Françoise Jarousseau helps her father rebuild their livelihood. But her family would never accept her love of a poor Cajun laborer. Can she really abandon her whole world for him?

When Françoise's work is done, Madelaine despairs of ever seeing him again -- until a second hurricane threatens her father's crops, and he returns to the plantation. She can't resist their secret meetings, despite the risk of discovery. Her father's vengeance and the final hurricane break over them in one terrifying night. Will their love survive?

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Chapter One

Madelaine LeBlanc stood looking out the windows at the sparkling gas lamps of Baton Rouge. "It won't help to be afraid," she whispered to herself. "And no one knows what will happen."

As the music swelled to a crescendo behind her, Madelaine took a deep breath and forced herself to push aside thoughts of war. She tried to cheer herself with pleasant thoughts. This trip had been lovely. Papa's summer trips were always fun. The long ride to Baton Rouge from the homeplace on the Belle Creole had been a delight, with the steamboat captain as charming as any host. The packet was a beautiful paddle wheeler, with well-appointed staterooms, the beds narrow but soft. The saloon and ladies' social room had been carpeted in deep red, with chandeliers sparkling like those of any manor ballroom. The women all had dressed to the height of fashion. And Madelaine had found it easy to slip away to stand at the rail, watching the scenery glide past in daylight or the stars sparkle overhead at night. The stars had been beautiful, and she had wished ten times that Celia could have come this year. But, of course, with her new baby, she'd had to stay at home.

The city of Baton Rouge was wonderful, as it always was on these once-a-year trips when Papa mixed pleasure with his business calls on bankers and shipping-line magnates. The society here could hardly be outdone. They had attended theatricals, an opera, and a picnic ending with a horse race meeting she would remember forever for the extravagant hats the women all wore. A flock of a thousand ostriches could have no more plumes among them than had graced the hats, and certainly no plume on its original owner could be as brightly dyed!

This evening's ball was as nice as everything else had been. Judge Hector's home was beyond reproach, his wife and daughters gracious and pretty. A silent procession of house servants continually brought more food and drink.

The music ebbed and fell still, and laughter came from the dancers as they whirled more slowly, then stopped. Madelaine turned back to look at them. The warm light of the elaborate brass gaseliers danced in the polished metalwork that ran along the rim of the ceiling. They burned beautifully, merrily. Madelaine was about to turn back to the quiet vista of city lights when she saw her mother working her way free from the edge of the crowd of dancers.

"There you are!"

Madelaine smiled. Maman was tall and still slender, and very handsome in her dramatic emerald silk gown with its cream-colored collar and cuffs of velvet appliqué. Papa had complained about the expense of shipping gowns from France at first, but Madelaine knew he enjoyed the attention it brought Maman as much as Maman did.

"Are you ill?" Madelaine's mother asked, her cheeks flushed from dancing.

Madelaine shook her head. "I feel perfectly fine." "Then whyever would you stand off to the edge like this? When I was your age..."

"I know, Maman," Madelaine said, keeping her voice soft and ladylike. Indeed it was true. She knew all about her mother's youth, what a flurry of parties and hunts and balls she had graced before meeting Papa and falling in love. As a little girl, Maman had even gone to Cajun fais do-do and danced on cypress- planked floors from dusk until dawn with her maternal uncles and aunts and cousins. And Maman still loved dancing. She was graceful and stately at the slow Prince Imperial and sprightly as a girl when the music turned to fast songs for the galops and Deux Temps. Maman had no idea what it meant to be shy.

"Now you just stop moping, Madelaine!" Maman scolded gently. "In four short days, we will be going back home. No one on the bayou is going to entertain as much as usual this season. Your father believes everyone will become more uneasy about riding the roads as time goes on, not less."

Madelaine nodded and took a deep breath. "Maman, I -- "

"No excuses, darlin' girl," Maman interrupted. "If war does come, all this will change. Perhaps forever." She swept her hand over the milling guests dressed in silk and bombazine and fine starched lace. Her eyes held a sadness so profound that Madelaine felt a chill of fear.

"Do you think there will be a war, then?" Madelaine whispered, but the moment was past. Her mother only smiled.

"You ought to be thinking of fun at your age, not politics. Leave it to the menfolk!" Maman laughed, and Madelaine felt her stomach tighten. It had been like this all her life. If anything that meant anything was ever brought up around her, the subject was changed quickly to parlor games or some elaborate skit or her piano lessons -- all the things that meant nothing at all.

"Two more minutes to collect yourself," Maman said. "Then join the dancers. You are the prettiest girl here, and people wonder why you are standing apart and gazing out the windows. Two minutes, Madelaine!"

Madelaine nodded dutifully, then watched her mother walk away. It wasn't that she wanted to be serious-minded and shy. In fact, she longed to be gay and carefree like Julia and Metta, the two lovely Hector sisters who were helping their mother host this summer party -- but she simply was not. She enjoyed parties, but they seemed empty, too, monotonous in an odd way. The whole spring had been a parade of picnics and horse race meetings at home. She had been in two plays, a tableau on St. Valentine's Day that she and the Simpson girls had worked on for weeks. And for what? she wondered. What good does any of it do? What does any of it mean compared to the war everyone thinks is coming?

Madelaine took a deep breath and looked back out the window, this time seeing not the lights of the city but her own reflection. Hope, her mother's maid, had done her hair, and Madelaine had to admit that though she would always prefer Celia's touch, it did look nice. The front was frizzed perfectly, and the little beaded headdress of black velvet ribbon and gold braid set it off well enough. Her dress was a pretty flowered merino. Black silk ruchings graced the double hemline, and the waist had lace-covered Elizabethan sleeves. Madelaine smiled at her reflection, then frowned when she heard the music starting again. Deep in her heart, she knew very well why she was uneasy and bored with dancing, why everything seemed trivial to her lately.

She was terrified there would be a war and that her brothers and father would end up fighting in it. But every time she wanted to talk about it, her father shushed her. He told her to practice her French or her Italian or her piano playing or her elocution -- and not to worry.

Madelaine turned back toward the dancers, knowing Maman would come get her if she didn't join in. The swirl of colored gowns looked ethereal, dreamlike, as though a good wind would scatter them like flower petals in a storm.

The shed smelled of cut grass and warm milk. FranÕoise Jarousseau patted old Marie's side. Her coat was rough, and he resolved to add a little lard to her grain. He loved this dear old cow. She was lop-eared and silly and looked like the devil, but she gave a full pail of milk every morning and another three-quarters at night, and she had done so for the four years he had owned her. She dropped her calves easily and regularly, and they grew up straight and fine. And beyond that, she was kindhearted and listened to him sing and whistle as though she enjoyed it. FranÕoise was proud of Marie. No one else had seen her value that day at the stock sale. If he hadn't bought her, the cattleman said, she'd have gone to butcher.

"I will see you this evening," FranÕoise told her, standing up and stretching before he picked up the pail of steaming milk. He set it high on the wall shelf, then loosened the tie rope and slid the loop over Marie's head. She turned around without further prompting and went out the shed door. She lowed once to let her pasture companions know she was coming, then hurried along, her swaying gait surprisingly fast. FranÕoise saw his mules and the steer he was fattening for next year's meat look up from their grazing to greet old Marie. Even they liked her.

FranÕoise smiled. The pigs were fed, the milking was done, and there was enough grass in the lower pasture still for all the stock. He had repaired the chicken coop to keep out the fox he had seen skulking around his barnyard. With all that done, he could gather moss today and fish on the way back, trolling a line behind his bateau.

FranÕoise headed back up the path, threading his way through the live oaks that stood in a thick copse behind the barn. Coming out of their long shadows, he stopped to look at the sun rising in the east. It glittered on the bayou, changing the brown water to gold.

Inside his cabin, FranÕoise strained the milk through a soft piece of clean muslin, then put it in the cooling basin until Antoine came. Humming to himself, FranÕoise washed his face and neck in the washbasin. Throwing the water out the window, he aimed for the indigo patch. It still seeded itself, even though he hadn't really taken care of it since his mother had died. He never wove cloth now. Both his sisters-in-law were wonderful weavers. He gave them milk and his extra eggs and pecans. His peach trees were among the best on the bayou, so he shared that fruit as well. He was pretty sure he would never have to weave cloth or sew clothes for himself again.

FranÕoise exhaled, thinking about Antoine and Pierre. His two older brothers had found women they loved. Both had children laughing and running through their houses. They were happy men. So there was hope for him. FranÕoise began to whistle again as he went about his housework, a high, flutelike sound. He carried wood inside from the pile of freshly split logs behind the house. He had worked like a fool on wood splitting for nearly a month. The blisters on his palms were healing, and he had enough to last until Christmas if he was careful.

Finished with the wood, FranÕoise thought about making another pot of strong coffee, then decided against it. He wanted to get out on the bayou, pole upstream a ways, and find a good area for moss gathering. He hoped to find enough to help Pierre build his new room and have enough left over to sell to one of the plantations down on Bayou Lafouche. Never before in his life had he cared at all about making money, but he needed it in the worst way now.

"You are lonely," he said aloud to the ceiling. When it was kind enough not to answer, he addressed it again. "I may never find anyone with my mother's beauty and wit, I know."

"Are you awake?"

FranÕoise jumped at Antoine's shout from the dock. Grateful that his brother hadn't been close enough to hear his conversation with the ceiling, FranÕoise laughed aloud when Antoine opened the door and came in grinning. Antoine was tall, handsome, and nearly as dark-skinned as their mother had been. FranÕoise missed her most when he looked at Antoine -- or looked into his mirror. They both had her dark skin and her blue eyes. Pierre and Jean were both lighter-skinned, both stockier, heavy through the shoulders, as Papa had been.

"You all right?" Antoine laughed. "You look startled."

"You look like Maman," FranÕoise said quietly.

Antoine's grin faded. "Have you noticed my oldest girl lately?"

FranÕoise smiled. "She will be a beauty like Maman."

Antoine grinned. "You will help me chase off the boys?"

FranÕoise nodded. "And Pierre. It will take all three of us and more besides." They both laughed, and FranÕoise slapped his brother on the shoulder, wishing they could be boys again. He imagined it: Maman and Papa cooking together in the kitchen, laughing and flirting, the summer heat heavy on the bayou, himself little again, joyous and content with no deep sorrows lodged in his heart.

Copyright @copy; 2000 by Kathleen Duey

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Title: Louisiana Hurricane, 1860
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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