When Titine came to report on her first meeting with Hannah, Jennet had been so light-headed with relief that at first she had simply failed to comprehend the bad news: Hannah had arrived safely in New Orleans, but she was sick with swamp fever. How sick, Titine had refused to speculate; instead she had consulted with her aunt Amazilie, filled her apron pockets with herbs and medicines, and gone straight back to the city. And never returned.
By the second day it was clear to them all that Titine had been abducted, or was dead at the hands of common thieves. It was then that Jennet allowed herself to contemplate the full weight of the facts: Titine was gone for good, and Jennet was responsible for this. Add to that, news just as bad: Titine had disappeared before she had thought to tell anyone where Hannah was hidden in the city. Hannah was stranded someplace, ill unto death, without money or papers. In the pack that Titine had brought back to Maison Verde for safekeeping was the letter Jennet had written for Luke, in code.
Luke was missing, too, and there was no word of him. In short, all their plans had gone wrong.
Despite all this, Jennet had no choice but to present a calm and benign expression to the world in general, and to Mme. Poiterin in particular. Her daily routine did not change with Titine’s disappearance, except that Amazilie was now required to accompany her to Mass and confession every morning, followed by Mme. Poiterin’s
And so Jennet concentrated on her son. When Jacinthe brought him, Jennet could put everything else away for that short time. She set herself the goal of making him remember, if only by touch and voice, who his mother was.
It was Jacinthe who suggested, shyly, almost apologetically, that Jennet put her son to the breast.
“Let him suckle,” Jacinthe had told her. “Let him pull hard, the milk will come back.”
“But…” Jennet, afraid to take Jacinthe at her word, had hesitated and asked the more crucial question. “Surely Madame will object?”
Jacinthe blinked at her and put a long hand on her own high rounded belly. “Madame got another great-grandchild coming,” she said. “This one will need to suckle, too.”
Jennet had the idea that Mme. Poiterin was not likely to acknowledge Jacinthe’s child as her own blood, but she did not say so. Instead she put her son back to the breast and let him draw. The pain, at first, was exquisite, but it was not long before her milk came back, and in such abundance that she was swollen with it when Jacinthe brought the boy later than usual.
The joy of having her son back in this particular way was enough to offset the unpleasant nature of her afternoon duties, when she was expected to arrive at Larivière at three every day to take coffee. Or rather, she had been summoned to read aloud while the old lady took coffee and ate a multitude of sugary little confections
called pralines. Jennet might have taken some satisfaction from the simple act of reading well, if Madame had not interrupted constantly to correct her French pronunciation or to lecture.
The old lady used the newspaper reports as a way to launch into her daily catechism, which began with a biting critique of everything having to do with Americans. She found them to be vulgar, brazen, uncouth, greedy; she deplored the garish houses they were building in the sprawling new suburbs that clung to the city like leeches, and most of all, she resented their insufferable interference in Creole business and society. Beyond all that, she disdained their inability or stubborn refusal to learn French, the only language that Mme. Poiterin cared to hear spoken around her. New Orleans would always be French, could be nothing less than Creole.
The reports of Commander Patterson’s raids on Barataria and his routing of the Lafitte brothers made the old lady so angry that her plump hands shook. The Lafittes had offered their services to the Americans—why they should do such a thing she could not imagine—but instead of showing their gratitude that men of courage and wide experience were willing to assist them, the American navy had destroyed the village at Grand Terre, taken dozens of prisoners, and confiscated half a million dollars in property.
She had no doubt, Madame said darkly, that the milled soap and Belgian lace and embroidered fabrics she had ordered from France were now in the possession of an
American woman with a loud voice and no sense of style. The only comfort was the fact that the Lafittes had eluded Patterson, and would soon be back in business.
“What would be best,” she pronounced finally, “is if the British and Americans killed each other off entirely, and let us return to our own ways. What do you say to that, miss?”
Jennet sometimes wondered if her face might crack from the effort of hiding her feelings, and thought that Mme. Poiterin would actually like to see that happen. It seemed to be her goal.
The oddest thing of all, Jennet had decided quite soon, was that Madame seemed unable to take the threatened English invasion seriously. It mystified Jennet that a woman who prided herself on her political acuity and good business sense would refuse to entertain the idea that anyone might try to impose their will on her, or to take something she called her own. Jennet, who had been raised on a steady diet of Scottish history, could have told Madame something of the way the British treated the people they defeated, but she also understood that this was not a discussion, but a lesson. If she wanted to be accepted as a Poiterin she must take on the opinions and positions that were presented to her, and make them her own.
Jennet wondered if Honoré might be able to convince the old lady that she needed to make plans in case the worst should happen and the city was overrun, but she had seen Honoré very rarely since she came to Louisiana, and he was never present when she paid her long afternoon calls at Larivière. It was a surprise, and an unsettling one,
to find him in the parlor a week after Titine’s disappearance, his legs stretched out before him and a coffee cup balanced on the silk brocade vest over the flat plane of his stomach. He pretended surprise when she came in, and then played the concerned and loving husband, bringing her pillows she did not want and coffee she would not drink.
Madame was not taken in, either, and she pursed her small pale mouth in displeasure. Jennet could not tell if Honoré’s purpose was to anger her, or if he simply didn’t care about her mood. Another possibility presented itself, far more frightening: Honoré was here because of Titine’s disappearance. Maybe he had learned something and was just waiting for the opportunity to give her bad news; perhaps he knew exactly what had happened to Titine, because he had made it happen. She thought of Piero Bardi’s head sitting on top of her trunk in an abandoned shack, and she shuddered.
“Are you cold?” he asked her. “Can I get you a rug for your lap?”
His grandmother tsked at such a bold question, but Honoré ignored her. He wanted to know how Jennet fared, if she was comfortable in her new home, whether she required anything from town that he could get for her.
“Have you had word from your family?” he asked, and a shower of gooseflesh rushed up Jennet’s back at the expression on his face.
“Of course she has not,” his grandmother said sharply.