"I'm so glad that Blanchard always springs for the good liquor." Fitgerald spoke as if he and Uriah were old friends or at least as if there was no animosity between their families.
"He does have some good bourbon here." Uriah was willing to play along for a while.
"Grangier always has some rot gut and swears it's the finest stuff on Earth. Then he brags 'That's how we do it in Mississippi.' as if I've never had good bourbon in Iuka or Gautier."
Uriah chuckled at that quote. He could shoot Fitzgerald between the eyes and sleep no worse for it. But he had to admit the jackass did make him laugh occasionally.
"I saw you dancing with Ms. Melanie," Fitgerald continued, "did you find it as delightful as you did before the war?"
"Melanie is a happily married woman."
"Ah, the chivalrous Galahad from the Round Table at Inaha. Don't be absurd, Uriah. Grangier is a fat moron and if he had your money, he wouldn't be drinking popskull in Greenville. And if the liquor isn't bad enough, you should see the bovines that come to his parties."
"Do you have any friends?"
"A companion, a confidant, someone you can trust or count on, someone that can count on you."
"I trust me. The rest of that crap I buy. And if I was looking for a friend, it wouldn't be someone like Grangier. In fact, I'm hoping that you and I can bury the hatchet. You're here to try to keep me from building cotton mills in the South. But I think you and I can make a lot of money in this deal. A lot of money."
"What makes you think I want to make money with you?"
"I don't think you necessarily want to make money with me but I'm betting you want to make money. And if you work with me, you'll be making money on your cotton from seed to shirt. Getting paid every step of the way. I'll deal you in. We'll split half of the enterprise and these fools will split half. Of course they'll have the more expensive half. But it's not just cotton. We're going to process sugar, tobacco, who knows what else. So you'll be making money off their fields too. Reaping where you haven't sewn, if you will."
Uriah couldn't believe his ears and he could trust Fitzgerald even less. "Why should I trust you?"
"It's a gamble, I admit. But I'm also taking a risk in trusting a guy that got most of his unit wiped out in the Argonne Forest and gets called a hero for it. You even got one of my slaves killed."
"That slave was fighting in your stead."
"Yeah, think about how bad it would have been had daddy not sent his negro instead of me. I could be dead and some goon could be running around that doesn't know how to do anything but take cotton off train cars and carry it inside a factory. Thank God daddy had some walking around sense."
Uriah's mind was transported back to the doorway of a small town in northern France. His friend Duke was sitting in the floor of a damaged house, cradling a severely wounded young black man, rocking back and forth, and singing quietly. The young man was crying and covered in blood and soot. "I wanted to live like a free man" the young man whimpered. Duke stopped singing and whispered, "You a free man now. Can't nobody take that away from you." Duke cradled the young man until he stopped whimpering, stopped crying, stopped breathing. There were no dramatic last words, no noticeable transition from the temporal to the eternal. The kid just quit breathing and his soul wasn't present anymore.
And from that flashback Uriah reawakened looking at Fitzgerald. He took a step towards his rival, grabbed him by the coat lapels and shook him. "I don't care what the skin color, social status, or any other condition of the person in question, don't you ever question the worth of a man that was in those trenches while you were over here sipping bourbon and chasing girls in front of me ever again. You understand me, don't let me hear you degrading the memory of a real man ever again."
"Or what?" Fitzgerald grinned.
"Or nothing. Just don't do it, period. Understand?"
Fitzgerald's grin became a sneer. "Let go of me, you fool. You know this is neither the time or the place for your pugilistic nonsense."
Uriah pushed Fitzgerald back on his heels and pointed his finger at him. "Don't try me."
"You don't have to say it. You think I don't know that you still have Robert Toombs' dueling pistols? I bet they're in your steamer trunk back at Arcadia. Well, I don't think I'm going to step onto the dueling grounds with you. I'm smarter than that. If you're interested in my business proposition, I need to know before you leave town. If you're not, I'll make the deal and the money without you." Fitzgerald pulled his lapels straight once again. "It's a new era, Uriah. Everything you once knew is about to fade away. You sit up here and try to drown the memory of your supposed valor in that bourbon. I'm going back to the dance. This new age makes it silly for a man of my status to leave a party without some female companionship. And Blanchard throws the best parties in Dixie."
With a wink and a click of the teeth, the smaller of the two men headed back to the mirth of the party. Uriah thought for a minute. He finished his drink, set his glass down on a tray and walked down the stairs.
Grangier was over in a corner telling stories about who knew what grandeur he had credited himself with so Uriah asked Melanie for another dance. In the course of the dance, he persuaded her to convince Leroy to accept any invitation to Thibodaux's private compound that he might receive. He assured her that there was an excellent financial outcome from such an invitation. He finished the dance with a bow, a sincere apology for the way he had disappeared years previously, and a polite kiss on the back of her hand.
His next stop was Banning. Daniel was the only one on the Thibodaux side of the issue that had the tact and the money to have the needed influence with Blanchard. "We have a better offer for him than Fitzgerald. He has to understand that. You get him to that compound or we're gonna lose this deal and lose it bad."
"We can work on my speaking after you wow Blanchard with yours. We have no time to waste."
Uriah found two more glasses of bourbon and then he found Thibodaux. "Colonel, Do you still have your hideout on Bayou Dimanche?" Then he held out one of the glasses
"Of course I do. Why?" Thibodaux replied accepting the drink.
"I have an idea."
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire