Perilous Times

[A/N:  The title of this story comes from a line in Frank Herbert’s classic book Dune: “Beginnings are such perilous times”.  I need to acknowledge the authors of Cajun Country, whose explanation of late 19th and early 20th century courting rituals among Cajuns gave me this story idea.]

Fourteen-year-old Pierre LeMay watched his brother Denis button his collar and put on his tie.  He cleared his throat, as was only appropriate for a young man who had news as important as his.  “I saw Jacques Dubois jus’ finish paintin’ his chimney top and gate blanche, moi.”

Denis froze.  “What did you say?”

“You heard me,” Pierre replied with amusement.

“I – but – mon Dieu.” He took two steps backwards in shock and sat down abruptly on his bed.

“Denis, you’d better not let Maman see you sittin’ t’ere.”

The young man looked around dazedly.  “Oh.  Yes.” He stood, and made motions at smoothing down the duvet, which only wrinkled it more.

“So, are you going to rush over so you can beat Lucien Hébert?”

Ferme ton bec, Pierrot.”

“Shut up? T’at’s a nice way to talk to me, Denis. Especially after I ran all t’e way home just to tell you.”

“Ah, I – I just – oh, merde.”

Denis! Such language!” Aurelie LeMay stood in the doorway, watching her sons with mingled amusement and disapproval.

Denis bowed to his mother. “Maman, excusez-moi.” He took one more look at himself in the mirror and left hastily.

Aurelie looked at her younger son and shook her head.  “You shouldn’t tease him like that, cher. He’s going to be in such a hurry he’ll probably fall down along the way.”

Pierrot shrugged and grinned at her.  “All t’at fuss over a girl.  Catch me runnin’ like t’at!”

She hid a smile. “Of course not, ‘tit fils.  It couldn’t have been you I saw carrying Francie Robichaux’s books home t’is afternoon, could it?”

He blinked at her.  “Well, maybe.  But I didn’t have to chase her to do it.”

We’ll see when you get a little older, cher, who’s doing the chasing.Mais, Pierre, don’t tease him.  This is a very important thing he is doing.  Much like your chores.”

Pierre had the grace to look abashed. “Oui, Maman”, he said, and left to do them.

* * *

On his way to the Dubois house, Denis tripped twice, ran into the bald cypress in front of Antoine Thibodeaux’s house and apologized to it, and nearly snagged the sleeve of his best jacket on a salt matrimony vine he’d seen nearly every day of his life but somehow missed today. In sight of his objective, he stopped and brushed himself off and took a leaf off the vine, trying his best to clean the dust from his newly-shined shoes.  Finally, he took a deep breath and marched determinedly toward Jacques Dubois’ house.  Sure enough, he saw the marks that told a Cajun boy that a Cajun girl of marriageable age was on the premises.

Stop bein’ so nervous.  You’ve known M’sieu Jacques all your life and he’s Papa’s best ami.  Just go in and be yourself.

He lifted the latch of the freshly whitewashed gate and walked up the flower-lined path to the front door. “Tell him Papa told you about t’e shrimp.  Tell him about t’e shrimp …” he murmured repeatedly as he waited for some one to answer his knock. “Tell him …”

Jacques Dubois opened the door so abruptly that Denis finished the sentence to the older man’s face. “ – about t’e shrimp.”

Bon soir, Denis.  What about t’e shrimp?”

Startled, Denis said, “Oh. Ah. Bon soir, M’sieu’ Jacques. Mais, Papa said for me to let you know t’at Pierrot and I were going to go shrimping tomorrow and to ask if we could bring any back for you.”

“Could be I could use some, me.  Why don’t you come in and have a cup of coffee and we’ll talk about it.”

Isabelle Dubois looked up as he came into the kitchen.  “Denis, how nice to see you. Is your mother well? I haven’t seen her in awhile.”

Bon soir, Madame Dubois.  Maman est bien, merci.”

Bon.  I believe you like your coffee black, no?”

Oui. Merci.”

Isabelle hid a smile and went for the coffee. She came back with the pot and a plate with a piece of cake on it.  “Our Annette baked this today. I thought perhaps you would like a piece.”

Oui, merci.” Oh, ye yaie.  I think I just said that.

Jacques stifled a smile. “So, you were tellin’ me about some shrimp, you.”

“Yes, sir. Pierrot and I had a full day planned.  Papa had said that we should bring back some for both families, that you might need some and that I should check with you so that we have enough.”

The two of them discussed it further, and as they did, Annette came into the room, hung towels from the hooks on the wall and walked back out without saying a word to her uncle or to Denis.

Denis managed to choke on his coffee and cake. Amused, Jacques slapped him on the back until he could talk again.

“You bien, Denis?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I hear you been fixin’ up your Nonc Joseph’s old house.”

“Yes, sir.  It’s done.  I just need to pick the color to paint it.”

“Maybe you’ll be wantin’ someone to help you make t’at decision, you?”

Denis flushed a little. “Well, yes, sir.  I might, at that.”

“Your Papa tells me you are goin’ to work in an office in t’e ville, you. T’at right?”

“Yes, I am. It’s an accounting firm, Johnston and Buford.  I’ve always been good with math. Mr. Johnston knows my teacher, and he agreed to take me on as soon as I graduate in June.”

“Good for you.  Will you make a good salary, eh?”

Denis knew Andre would have already told Jacques. “Well enough –“ He hesitated, and then dove in. “Well, enough to be able to think about my future. About a family.” It’s not like he doesn’t know why I’m really here.

“Sounds promisin’.” Andre rose, and Denis stood as well. “I’ll look forward to gettin’ those shrimp, me.”

He walked Denis to the door. As the young man started to leave, Jacques spoke again.

“So, Denis. You free on jeudi soir?”  He laughed to himself at Denis’ reaction – I t’ink you could light up a whole house from t’at boy’s face.

Oui! – I mean, yes, sir. Jeudi soir.”

Ça, c’est bon! We’ll see you t’en.”

Denis had to go down the steps very carefully – he wasn’t sure his feet were touching the ground.  As he walked away, he waited until he was sure Jacques was back inside – and then took the path that went around the house.  Annette stood at the parlor window, and she waved at him, shyly.  He smiled warmly at her, his whole heart and future hopes in his eyes, waved back once and started for home.

– 30 –

[A/N 2:  Jeudi soir means Thursday night.  According to Cajun Country, that’s the night proposals were delivered.  Bear in mind that Denis and Annette haven’t just met. This is a part of my Guardian Angel universe.  All the other stories, save one, from this universe are on my website at http://www.tec4.co.cc]

2 thoughts on “Perilous Times

  1. Even the inspiration is so far removed from what I typically read across blogs and published fiction. An intersection of Frank Herbert and 19th century courting rituals? You deserve applause for the inception alone.

  2. I am fascinated & a little in love with the Cajun culture, and I’ve written a lot of stories set there. And I’ve read Dune somewhere around 200 times, at a rough guess. Had to figure they’d run into each other eventually! 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

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