We're checking in on our old pal, Uriah Meigs for this year's summer fiction. I still believe that this look at alternative history allows us to explore moral and ethical questions and I hope that Uriah's adventures are as thought provoking for the readers as they are for their writer.
The beads rattled in the cups on the hand made board. Uriah watched as his opponent took a turn. Then, without pause, Uriah took his. The beads moved around the board in a counterclockwise direction as each man made his move. When the last beads rattled to a halt, Uriah had lost.
"Aminifu, my friend, it looks as if the price is yours."
Uriah rarely played a game without stakes. This game of Bao had determined the price Uriah would pay for a shipment of handmade art that Uriah was purchasing from the village elder. Aminifu had just won the negotiation, Uriah offered the man a handshake and a wide smile. Aminifu accepted the handshake and returned the smile.
"I promise you shall not be disappointed, Mr. Uriah."
"Uriah, you are either going to have to find a more effective negotiating technique or get better at playing Bao. You keep this pace and Aminifu is going to own real estate in Georgia."
Uriah turned and chuckled to his English friend and associate, Daniel Banning, who had just stepped into the doorway behind him. "Nonesense!" Uriah responded, I'm just getting started good. Loan me some money."
"I'm not loaning any of my personal money to an American, Confederate or Union.
"Not even me?"
"Especially not you."
Uriah groaned, "Where's Lasch? Lasch! Loan me some money!"
Stephen Lasch stepped out from behind Banning, shook his head and muttered, "You've more quid than me" before the aroma wafting from the far corner of the room attracted his attention.
"Uriah," Banning continued, "We must be on our way. We've received a wire that we have parcels awaiting our return to the hotel. Urgent parcels from Mr. Thibodaux, sent from New Orleans."
Yes, Daniel, I understand but Aminifu's lovely wife is about to serve us ugali and kale."
Lasch's eyes widened at Uriah's announcement and he quickly took a seat next to Uriah
"Oh, not you too!" Banning cried, "Please come on, we can eat on the train. If we miss this one, who knows when the next one will come."
Uriah turned to the other Englishman, but Lasch only shook his head.
"I know", Uriah muttered, "he doesn't eat anything you can't find in a pub in London. Why do you even bring him to Africa with you?" Uriah turned back to Banning, "Look, we can't exactly skip out on ugali and kale just because Thibodaux invited us to poker night. We're in Africa and he knows that, or else he wouldn't have sent the parcels here. He knows we can't get to Louisiana in a few days so a few more hours won't throw us off schedule. Sit and eat Ugali with us and I'll buy the drinks on the train."
"I thought you had no money", Banning replied.
"Why? Because I was going to gamble with yours? And you Brits say Americans are dense."
The business partners, two Englishmen and one Confederate, sat and enjoyed the home-cooked meal and laughed with their African client and host. When the meal was complete, the trio headed back down to the train platform to catch a ride back to town. As the rickety conveyance clicked and clacked across the countryside, the partners discussed the business they conducted on the trip. Banning made a comment about securing deals with contracts but Uriah objected. He believed ion handshakes and refused to do business with any man he couldn't trust on a handshake. Banning was always nervous about this policy but they had all made a lot of money with it.
Upon arrival at the hotel, they tracked down their parcels. Three oversize envelopes were sealed with purple wax, the Thibodaux family crest had been affixed.
"I don't exactly think this is an invitation to poker night", Banning remarked as they opened the envelopes. He was impressed with the stationery and the penmanship. He rubbed the envelope between his thumb and forefinger as all three men read their letters.
It sounded like trouble. Thibodaux was calling for help. And he was calling on the big guns. Old war friends like the three partners in Africa and some new friends and business acquaintances. The wording was cryptic at times and left the men with a sense of unease.
"Thibodaux is up to something", Uriah said.
"It sounds as if he's trying to start some secret club", Banning added.
"That's not all there is to it", Lasch added. "Thibodaux doesn't get involved in anything he doesn't think is going to make a lot of money or wield a lot of power. Lasch didn't speak often. Usually when he did he was among close friends or was being very observant. On this occasion, it was both.
Uriah and Daniel knew he was right. Thibodaux had returned from the Great War in Europe and used his inheritance and life lessons to establish a business empire in southern Louisiana. Cotton, sugar, and commerce had made him wealthy and powerful. His home was exquisite and his parties were famous both throughout the Confederacy and the British Commonwealth. If he was gathering a group of successful and powerful gentlemen for business purposes, something was afoot.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire