“Good mo’nin’, li’l Miss Iris,” Josephine cooed on her way in from her laundry.
Iris squirmed in my arms at the sound of Josephine’s voice. I recollected the day Mr. Duncan set me on the drive at the Deshotels Estate, the softness of Josephine’s bosom when she hugged me the first time. It’s no wonder Iris loves her so. I love Josephine dearly.
“She ain’t eaten yet,” I said, as I surrendered her into Josephine’s outstretched arms.
“Shame on you, Miss Kate! How this chile don’ starve to death, the mercy o’ the Lawd hi’sef. Wha’s so impo’tant in that Pic’yune, you gon’ shun this li’l angel so?”
“Ain’t no one gonna starve with you in this house, Josie,” I smiled. “I started her a carrot.”
Rural Free Delivery was a great success. The New Orleans paper I used to walk in to Henri LaRue’s store to fetch was being delivered to my door by paid subscription, a wonder among many in times changing so fast I could hardly keep up. It was laid out on the table before me.
“Listen here what Dorothy Dix says!” I exclaimed.
Josephine turned from the stove to face me, but I was sure I was reading more to hear the sound of my voice. Her attention was entirely on my baby girl, who delighted to their accustomed play while they waited for the carrot to finish boiling. “That Do’thy Dix gon’ feed you yo’ bre’fix?” she asked Iris, poking a finger into her ribs. “No, she won’!”
Iris squealed at the tickling. “Um,” she said, pointing to the stove.
Of the 300 women on board the ill-fated Bourgogne, which sank at sea a few days ago, only one woman was saved. Of the 200 people who came out alive, only one was a woman. Survivors tell how women, struggling to reach the boats, were beaten down and trod upon, how those who succeeded in getting on rafts were pushed off and thrust under the water with boat hooks, how the little white hands of women and children, clinging to the life lines, were hacked off with knives.
“Hacked off with knives! Can you imagine?” I set the paper on the table shaking my head. “Men are no better than ruthless animals.”
Hebert Jr. walked in to hear my last comment. “Perhaps I should begin keepin’ my quarters in the barn,” he said.
“I don’t reckon the horses ‘ll be too pleased with that odious perfume you put to your shavin’,” I answered. I passed the newspaper to him and showed him Dorothy Dix’ column.
As he took the paper to read, he stole a swift kiss to my cheek, a custom he’d taken to when he thought I was being too saucy. My hand was too slow to punish him for it.
“You see? Sweet as sugar, just like she said. You chop off my hand to save your skin, Hebert?”
“Man in fear sometime do things he ain’t bound to do otherwise,” Josephine said, sitting down. She began to smash up the carrot in a bowl, with Iris in her arms trying to help.
I stood to take Iris back.
Hebert set down the paper in disinterest. “A woman in fear is capable of some insanity herself.”
“A woman in fear protects her young,” I argued, the very account of which had brought me to the Deshotels Estate to begin with. “She don’t hack off its hands to drown.”
“Mm hmm,” Josephine agreed.
“Perhaps those men thought they were lookin’ after their young, by keepin’ themselves alive to care for them. Lifeboat only has so much room. It’s a powerful thing to lose your own life to save the life of another.”
I stood quiet.
Hebert narrowed his eyes, pushing his brow tight to make him look just like his father. “Right then. I’ll prepare my new quarters straight away,” he said in jest, and continued on through the kitchen toward the yard.
Josephine pushed the bowl of carrot to me. I sat again and tested it to my lip before offering it to Iris.
“Wha’ he say took the spirit out o’ you so fas’, Miss Kate?”
My mother was once the baby girl Josephine had raised almost as her very own. She lost her life protecting me from just such a ruthless animal. I’d asked Josephine once before if she wasn’t curious about it. My eyes nervously met hers and then returned to Iris’ feeding.
“A lady told me once, ‘When you get my age, you learn. Some things are better off without you knowin’ ’em.’” I cleaned up some dribbling carrot and returned it to Iris’ mouth.
Josephine nodded. “Soun’ like she a wise lady.”
I love Josephine dearly.
© 2013 Anne Schilde