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.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire