Uriah awoke the next morning and pondered his plan. His night had been spent in a sporadic alternation of sleep and restlessness. His sleep carried him back to the Argonne Forest, where every moment was spent in a stressful endeavor for survival and his ears were often filled with the screams of the wounded and dying, his eyes with carnage and destruction, and his nose with the lush smell of freshly turned earth tainted with the sulfur of spent gunpowder and spilled human blood. When the monstrous and brutal evil of war became too much, he awoke and stared at the high ceiling, thinking of another manifestation of evil. One with impeccable dress, excellent table manners, an expensive education, and the charm of a gentleman.
No one privy to the true reality of war could ever doubt that such an occurrence was utterly evil, with no redeeming qualities within itself. Benjamin Fitzgerald Jr. on the other hand, was a study in the far more subtle evil of a sinister gentleman. Sure, Fitzgerald had fled Georgia when his elderly father's political empire came crashing down around him. And while Junior was not wanted by the authorities in Georgia, he pretty much was unwanted by everyone else in the Peach State as well. So he had left his old life behind but carried sizable wealth and managed to maintain his father's influence in other states in the Confederacy as well as in New England.
And that was Uriah's thought pattern as they arrived at Michael Blanchard's home, Les Chenes. The party was not very traditional. There was no formal introduction or announcement of guests. The garden in front of the house was filled with jazz music and dancing.
As Uriah's group arrived, he noticed Fitzgerald dancing with a beautiful debutante. How gracefully he moved. Could that lovely maiden possibly understand the sinister capacity of the hand that held firm to the small of her back? Could she not see the the lack of a soul deep in his eyes? Did his polite conversation not drop unintentional hints of the wicked intentions of every breath of his life?
But Uriah's thoughts changed as Thibodaux informed him of the bartender on the main floor gallery. The two men climbed the steps as the other men danced with their dates.
From the gallery, Uriah and Thibodaux had a superb view of the party in the garden below. The two men sipped bourbon and looked down on the festivities. Thibodaux was not impressed but Uriah couldn't help but tap his foot to the beat of the music. He really loved jazz. But his older friend did not. As the disgust festered inside the Louisianan, Uriah leaned his elbows on the rail of the gallery.
"You know, Colonel," Uriah said, "this isn't all that different from the conversation we had at your house last night. Things change. That's inevitable. But if we are wise, we can steer the change appropriately, preserving the important parts of our world while letting less vital parts go. Sometimes letting something go allows us to hold onto something better a little bit more securely."
Thibodaux didn't respond other than taking another sip from his glass. He knew Uriah had been right about ditching slavery and saving farms and independent lifestyles from industrialization. He also knew down deep inside that his two daughters, escorted tonight by the two British visitors, enjoyed this party as much as they enjoyed the more traditional parties at Arcadia. It didn't mean that his parties had to go away, it just meant something new was on the rise. And, in the end, he was still sipping bourbon with a good friend and there was live music.
A voice from behind greeted them. Uriah turned to see a well dressed man who Thibodaux introduced as Mr. Blanchard. The greeting was very casual, Uriah could tell that the man was not given to formality, even if he was stylishly dressed. It was with a vague invitation for detail that Blanchard commended Uriah's reputation for his actions in the Argonne Forest.
"It's probably much more romantic on a gallery in Magnolia Landings, Louisiana than it was in a trench outside Verdun. And I can promise that my kind British companions are much more impressed with my actions than I am. Perhaps they would be better to tell that story." Uriah was rarely in the mood to talk about the war. Tonight was no exception.
And so Blanchard got the attention of a young but balding man tipping his hat to a lady. Placing his hat back upon his head, he stepped toward the gentlemen with another lady just behind him. Blanchard began the introduction, "Gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to my friend, Leroy Grangier from Greenville, Mississippi and his wife -"
"Miss Melanie Habersham." Uriah had interrupted and stammered to apologize and try to not leave too much air in the conversation, "I'm terribly sorry to interrupt your introduction, Mr. Blanchard, but Mrs. Grangier and I are old acquaintances from Savannah."
There were a few chuckles after which Blanchard asked Uriah & Melanie to excuse himself, as well as Grangier and Thibodaux for a few moments. As the three gentlemen stepped away, Uriah nervously began to make small talk with Melanie who responded with "A gentleman might ask me to dance."
And, after the appropriate prodding, Uriah did. Funny how he had no fear in facing the cunning of Fitzgerald but the appearance of the young lady he had courted during the summer he spent with his grandfather in Savannah turned him into a clumsy fool. Melanie had lived one square over from the Meigs family's Savannah home. Her father was a planter and attorney and wished for his daughter to marry into a strong Georgia family. Uriah was quite smitten with her, and she with him. It was a nice combination for a couple to marry into. They courted that entire summer. At the end of the summer, Uriah returned to school in England, then transferred Athens, and finally headed back to Europe for the war. He never so much as wrote Melanie a letter. Studies, cricket games, hands of poker, football games, and German artillery barrages held his attention, When his ship landed in Savannah returning from the war, Melanie was gone.
But here she was again. Still beautiful, still graceful, still captivating. But very married.
"So, what happened to you?", she asked.
The question was blunt and hit Uriah hard. He almost lost his step in the dance, even on a slow song, but regained the rhythm. He began with a simple apology and tried to explain but nothing seemed to sound right. There was no way to politely explain that he had just walked away from an important relationship, regardless of his intentions to do otherwise. The pain in her eyes communicated that she still had feelings for Uriah but the abandonment had led her to a different man, a different life. Her husband was successful and she did love him and looked forward to the future they had together. But there was that pain of wondering what could have been.
In an unintended act of mercy, Grangier returned and cut in. Uriah stepped from the dance floor over to the steps. But at the top, in addition to the bourbon he found another familiar face.
"Hello, Meigs." Fitzgerald smiled and handed Uriah the glass of bourbon he was seeking. "You needn't worry. Poisoning your bourbon would be too obvious and, frankly, simpleminded."
Uriah sneered at his rival and took the glass. "Hello Fitzgerald, fancy meeting you here."
"I was just thinking the same thing. We should take a walk and catch up."
Uriah took a sip without taking his eyes off of Fitzgerald. And then the two men stepped down the gallery and away from the bar.
Whether we're learning the lessons of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, getting a glimpse of the Tennessee River from the Riverpark or the Walnut Street Bridge, enjoying the breathtaking views from Point Park, digging through the volumes at McKay's Books, taking in a show at The Tivoli, or eating entirely too much fried chicken at Bea's Restaurant, we love Chattanooga. Chattanooga is one of the only cities in which I feel truly comfortable.
Needless to say,when I first heard the news on a Chattanooga radio station that I listen to locally, I was stunned. This wasn't some city states away that I know of but don't frequent. This was in my backyard. This was practically local. I didn't need a Google Maps search to find the location this was happening on. I'm familiar with Amnicola Highway, Old Lee Highway, Erlanger Medical Center, all of the places that were being locked down or declared scenes of horror. It wasn't home. But it might as well have been.
So here we are, on the ripples of the Charleston shooting, dealing with a terrorist attack in the Gateway of the Deep South. That has left me wondering about a response. I started ABG because I love the South in general. I can't imagine living anywhere else. And the more I've looked at our history and our culture, the more I've seen it disappearing, even coming under attack. And I don't like that. So I have this "entity" to defend and celebrate The South. So I'm here today to plead with all Southerners to defend The South in the wake of a terrorist attack.
How should react? What is our greatest defense?
We need to be Southerners.
That sounds simplistic and general, I know but I believe it is the best reaction that we could possibly muster. It would be easy to be afraid and go into some sort of shell and hide. But we are Southerners. We need to go outside. We need to swim, dance, and cook various portions of pigs slowly over a smoky fire. We are called to sing gospel, bluegrass, and the blues. We must write poems, short stories, and novels - the best in the world. We need to have festivals. Most of all, we have to look out for each other, pray for each other, and help each other. We have to show off those qualities that have made us famous - hospitality, neighborliness, and that rugged individualism in the face of danger or opposition.
Now more than ever, we need to not look toward Madison Avenue, Hollywood, or Washington D.C. to tell us how to behave, how to react, how to live our lives. We need to look to our grandparents and their grandparents. Slow down, pay attention to those around us. Love this land and our traditions and don't allow any outsiders take those from us.
Let's be Southerners. Let's pray for Chattanooga. Let's help Chattanooga.
The three men thanked Ezekiel for his help in transporting them and made their way up the path through the rose garden and then the parterre, finally making their way up to the front steps. The home was exquisite. The columns stood before two stories of living space, not counting the exposed basement, which was originally the main floor of the house when it was built by Thibodaux's great grandfather in the 1790's. The gardens were well manicured and the front steps started in two opposing segments before meeting on a landing and forming one set of steps to the front porch.
The butler greeted them at the door, directed porters on where to carry the baggage, helped the men with their hats and then announced them to the gathering in the gentlemen's parlor. There was beautiful piano music coming from across the hall in the ladies' parlor. Mr.s Thibodaux was playing music and chatting with the wives of the men who were meeting in the gentlemen's parlor.
Uriah remembered his grandmother playing piano in the ladies' parlor of the family home on Savannah. His grandfather made sure to keep a well-tuned piano in the ladies' parlor so there would be beautiful music in the gentlemen's parlor, which was just across the hall. The other fond memory stoked was from the painting on the wall in the hallway. It was a mainstay in the grand houses of the South. The painting depicted the surrender at Arlington House, and among the Confederate officers lined up and politely watching from along the wall, just to the right of John Gordon, was Elijah Meigs - in his prime and on one of the grandest days of his life. That painting always made Uriah smile.
But Uriah turned to the serious conversation that had already started. The greetings were brief, the drinks were hastily poured and Thibodaux was nervous. He laid out his dilemma. A young upstart, one of those "new money" guys by the name of Michael Blanchard had set up shop around the next bend in the bayou, just before the town of Magnolia Landings. He was doing well in business and attracting a lot of attention. His parties were starting to be the fad in the area. They were known for their dancing and raucous jazz music. Thibodaux found them to be vulgar, a hideous affront to the parties of true aristocrats, especially his.
Uriah was beginning to wonder if he had been called across the world to listen to his friend complain that a younger man had set up shop next door and started having more exciting parties when Thibodaux got to the meat of the complaint.
"Cotton Mills." Thibodaux spat out in disgust, "He's wanting to bring in cotton mills. And not just that, other factories as well. He's partnered with some Yankee scoundrel - my apologies, Mr. Athern - to bring all sorts of factories down here."
Athern chuckled at the perceived offense but then responded, "Gentlemen, we can maintain our partnerships and export your goods to Boston and Portland. If it is guaranteed raised without slave labor, we can expand our deal. Between me, my contacts in New England, and our British friends here, we can buy every boll of cotton you all produce, and then some and give you very good prices. But we're all in agreement that we are bound by conscience and the laws of our nations that we cannot buy slave cotton."
"Slavery is the right of every free man in the Confederacy." said a voice from across the room, "It's the law of the land".
"Agreed." Answered another voice, "And if we start talking abolition in this room, we're going to have big trouble on our hands."
There was grumbling among the group that threatened to get out of hand. But Uriah raised his voice over the din, "Ain't a soul in here talking about abolition, except you two." The chatter stopped and then Uriah continued, "We're talking manumission. It's all your choice. The law says you can own slaves. It doesn't say you have to. And just because something is legal, doesn't mean that it's right. Regardless of what any of us personally think about slavery right now, if what Thibodaux says is the truth, slavery, and our insistence on maintaining it, could be the downfall of our way of life."
Uriah got several strange looks from the men in the room. the thought that slavery was going to destroy the Southern way of life seemed so foreign to the men in the room. These men were planters. Some owned slaves and some did not. But none of them openly supported abolition. Uriah was the only Confederate in the room that had ever taken the argument that far. The din started to revive and then Uriah spoke up again.
"I want y'all to think about this. Cotton mills ain't new. And they ain't run by slaves. Some Yankee comes down here plantin' cotton mills and somebody is going to have to work there. They'll start buying up farms and building factories on the land and then they'll hire laborers from the displaced farmers. Then when those factories make money, they'll pay the laborers a little and then they'll send the rest up north, except the part they pay the guy that runs the place. And if there is one thing you're gonna hate worse than a Yankee living down here, it's gonna be a rich Yankee living down here."
The room fell quiet. Even the piano music had stopped. "Once we become an industrial nation, we lose our way of life. The leaders of companies will call the shots, not planters and farmers. This whole bayou could wind up looking like the Quarter. We'll be dealing with big cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston. The small farmers will be out. They'll be working in factories and reliant on others for their living. Or, we can find ways to grow cotton, tobacco, sugar, and whatever else without slaves. We can export, get paid and save our agrarian system. It's all up to y'all."
Thibodaux broke the silence, "I'm really leaning toward what Uriah is saying this time guys. We can't let this Fitzgerald guy come in here - "
"Fitzgerald?" Uriah blurted out, not even realizing he had cut Thibodaux off.
"Yeah, This Yankee's name is Ben Fitzgerald Jr."
"I'm familiar with Mr. Fitzgerald. He's not really a Yankee. He grew up in Georgia. His grandfather was a copperhead from Massachusetts that relocated before the war. Ben Jr. and I met in Athens in college. His father was a smuggler, an industrialist, and a scoundrel. Ben is cut from the same cloth. The Meigs and Fitzgerald families have a rivalry that dates back to the war. If y'all can help steer the rest of Blanchard's team our direction and get us an exporters' alliance, I will deal with Ben myself."
"How do you suggest we do this?", Thibodaux asked.
"When is the next jazz party?" Uriah asked with a smile.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire