Cane River
PAGE 4
Excerpt

"Elisabeth, " Madame said, crinkling her nose as if she had caught wind of something slightly foul, "I've just talked to Oreline, and I want today's supper to be special. I have promised her a birthday treat of her favorites. There will be ten of us in all."

"Yes'm, Madame Francoise," said Elisabeth, eyes still on her worktable, hands never stopping their rhythm.

"We will have chicken and tasso jambalaya, sweet-potato pone, green beans, cala with the gooseberry preserves we put up last year, and peach cobbler, " Francoise instructed.

"Yes'm."

"I've give you my permission to go to the smokehouse after breakfast and get the ham and one jar of preserves," Madame said with a slight not of her head.

"Yes'm."

Madame Francoise walked a few steps toward the doorway and then turned back. Her tone and a scolding edge.

"You used far too much sugar in your last peach cobbler, Elisabeth, and Monsieur Derbanne got an upset stomach. Use less sugar this time."

"Yes'm."

The last time Suzette had served her mother's peach cobbler, she had spent half of that night cleaning up after Louis Derbanne. Elisabeth herself had told Suzette that Monsieur was ill because he had drunk too much bourbon. Her mother had done nothing wrong.

"Madame, it was the bourbon that made him sick, not the sugar."

Suzette's words hung there. Francoise Derbanne turned, took three quick steps toward Suzette, and slapped her hard.

She squinted at Elisabeth. "I won't be contradicted," she said, her voice wavering slightly. You need to teach the girl her place." She wheeled around and walked deliberately out of the cookhouse.

Francoise Derbanne had never slapped Elisabeth before, and it took a moment for her to start to cry. After the first startled tears, she looked toward her mother, who continued working the ball of dough.

"I didn't mean to be bad, Mere."

"Your little-girl days are done Suzette."

A single plump tear stood perched on the high ridge of Suzette's cheek, refusing to drop to the red outline below where Madame had slapped her. Elisabeth reached over and with her broad thumb pushed the wetness away, leaving a thin trace of white flour in its place.

Suzette felt the stinging on her face, the heat of the fires, the stickiness of her shift against her skin. She stared at the old burn spot shaped like a quarter moon on the inside of her mother's exposed arm, fascinated by how perfectly the tips curved in toward each other. She was tempted to reach out and touch it.

"There's lot worse things than slapping," Elisabeth said.

"It wasn't fair," Suzette said.

"There is no fair. Just work, Suzette."

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