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Catahoula Book 4

Maybe this long overdue post will motivate me to get this finished. Target date to publish Book 4 is winter 2018. This is from the first chapter. Our story has moved ahead five years from where we last left Rachel, Ethan, Thomas, and Angel beside the Red River with the charred remains of Catahoula Plantation smoldering behind them. The story is being written around the visit and tour of America by Grand Duke Alexei Romanoff of Russia. He traveled the US from November of 1871 through March of 1872. Among his stops were a buffalo hunt in Nebraska in January and Mardi Gras in New Orleans in March. That was the first year Rex paraded, and the Rex theme song, If Ever I Cease to Love, is associated with the Grand Duke. And that is also the working title of Book 4. Here follows a snip from Chapter One.

*****

4 January 1872

Boston, Massachusetts

Angelique LeBeuf Joubert was in trouble—serious trouble—trouble so serious that her father, that would be me, Ethan Joubert, had been summoned all the way from my home in Louisiana to her finishing school in Boston to deal with it. And I did not appreciate getting a telegram on Christmas Eve telling me my daughter was being expelled from her expensive finishing school, thus it was not a very pleasant Christmas at Catahoula Plantation that year. I departed for Boston three days after Christmas.

Anticipating my arrival that very morning, Angel had been ordered to pack her bags, and she knew what that meant. Her bags stacked on the floor beside her, she sat on the very uncomfortable wooden bench outside the headmistress’ office and contemplated her fate for nearly two hours before I arrived.

The morning was cold with a light snow falling when my hired carriage pulled up at the gate of her school. “Wait for me,” I told the driver, and he nodded his agreement. A doorman let me in after my knock and bade me follow him to the headmistress’s office down a long hallway. At the far end, I saw my daughter sitting on a bench and a pile of her luggage nearby. She rose to greet me, but I only gave her an angry nod for a greeting and marched directly into the headmistress’ office. I’m sure that hurt her, but my intention was to tell her she was in real trouble this time.

Mrs, Warton rose to greet me when I entered. “Mr. Joubert, I’m so sorry I had to disturb your Christmas, but…”

Not the least interested in her apologies, I held up my hand to stop her. “Just tell me what she did.” And she did just that—in great detail, reading from a list of offenses four pages long. I suppose she wanted to be sure she didn’t miss anything, thus she saw the need to write them all down for my benefit.

She never offered me a seat, but as she began reading page two of her litany of offenses, realizing this was going to take a while, I took one anyway, seating myself in a large chair across from her desk. Only briefly glancing up to be sure I was paying close attention and stopping periodically only to catch her breath, Mrs. Warton prattled on. And I listened—and got angrier.

About the middle of page three, one particular offense got my attention. “She what?” I yelled.

Mrs. Warton looked up and what I considered a bit of a sneer crossed her lips. She replied evenly, “Sir, I believe you heard me correctly.”

Angel heard me and jumped at the sound of my booming voice coming from the other side of the large oak door. “She must have gotten to the part about the toad,” she muttered to herself.

Mrs. Warton resumed reading from her list, and Angel sat outside listening to the muffled voices occasionally punctuated by an outburst from me. She eventually became somewhat distracted by the little dancing flecks of dust illuminated by the sun’s rays coming in through the window. That may seem odd, considering what was transpiring on the other side of the door, but she often took notice of things others took for granted and failed to notice. Such had become part of her very nature, survival tricks she had learned during those very dark times at the end of the War of Northern Aggression, that terrible time between losing her mother, father, and younger brother and finding a new home with her adopted parents, Rachel and me. Her interest in the dancing dust particles lasted only until the next outburst from on the other side of that door.

Then everything got quiet for her—ominously quiet.

The big oak door suddenly creaked open, and there I stood staring at her. Actually, “glaring” might be a better description. The perfect picture of chastised humility she lowered her head and slowly stood but never took her eyes off mine, which seemed to be cutting all the way down to her very core.

“Poppa…”

“Say nothing,” I replied sharply with a wave of my hand, as my glare became even sterner.

I’m dead! She thought.

I scooped up armloads of her bags and headed for the door. She didn’t move. I stopped and looked back at her. “You coming?”

“I’ve been expelled?”

“Something like that. Were you expecting otherwise?”

I turned abruptly and resumed my march for the front door of the school. She picked up her remaining bags and followed me outside. It was cold and she was thankful for that, hoping it might take some of the heat off my anger.

I stopped when we reached the gate. The waiting carriage was just outside with its driver huddled in his greatcoat and dozing up in the driver’s seat in spite of the light falling snow that collected on him outlining his form. She caught up with me and stopped, making sure she remained out of my easy striking distance. I had never struck her before, but she thought I just might be angry enough to do so this time.

I stood there with my back to her for a long while before I slowly turned to face her. I set her bags down, and with my lips pursed and my eyes tightly closed, as if looking at her was painful, I shook my head in an exaggerated fashion.

A slight chill ran through her body. Here it comes!

And I began, “You were constantly in trouble here. Your marks were awful. You never paid attention in any of your classes, except art. And you were constantly in trouble—oh wait, I already said that.”

“I liked art…”

I paused my rant and briefly looked skyward and took a deep breath, slowly letting it out. “Angel, did you really put a dead toad in Mrs. Warton’s soup?”

With a frown on her face, she shrugged innocently and looked to the side as if considering her answer. “Well, I figured she might enjoy frog. We do eat them back home.”

I fought back a smile and just barely succeeded. “The legs—we eat the legs, not the whole frog—entrails and all, much less one that has been dead since November.”

“Poppa, she’s mean as a snake…” she started to explain, but nothing she would have said beyond that could possibly have made any sense or helped her cause.

With my extended palm, I stopped her to resume my interrogation. “And when questioned about the toad, did you reply that if she didn’t want to eat it, you could suggest another place she could put it?”

She stuttered, “I-I know how that must sound, but I meant the garbage.”

“Bull shit!”

“Poppa, your language. I’m a lady and not accustomed to such talk.”

“Bull shit, again!” I said it loud enough that time that the hackney driver looked up from his slumber. “You needn’t pretend those words—or worse—have never crossed your lips!”

I had her there and she knew it. She took one step back and tried to change the subject. “Poppa, you know I really didn’t want to come here. Even Momma was against it, but you insisted. And you’re right. I’m not much of a lady, am I?”

No longer able to hold it back, I lost it then and burst out laughing as I took the two strides to her that separated us and grabbed her by the shoulders. For a long moment, I just looked at her and shook my head. I then pulled her to myself and swallowed her in a loving embrace. “Angel, what am I going to do with you?”

Relieved that I wasn’t going to kill her, she put her arms around me and hugged me as if she hadn’t seen me in years. “How about take me home where I belong?”

“That was your intention all along, wasn’t it?”

“Ummm, maybe… I miss you and Momma and Thomas. And I miss Catahoula. It’s my home. Perhaps you can never understand how important you have become to me?”

“You’re right, and I should have understood that especially considering what you went through as a child, losing your own parents and home. I’m sorry. You and your mother were right. This finishing school was not a good idea for you. Let’s go home.”

*****

Needless to say, they didn’t make it back to Catahoula as soon as they thought…

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