A story set during the Northern Occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War
|The soft blue light of the full moon failed to penetrate the branches of the ancient live oaks. All the better since the figure in the dark blue sack coat ghosting amongst the trees didn’t want to be seen. The woods ended about a hundred yards from the Sugarhouse Plantation home, leaving a wide swath of brightly lit grass between Corporal Ethan Graham, 15th Michigan Infantry, and his destination.
He looked carefully left and right. Nobody was around. Ethan spoke a quick prayer, took a deep breath, and bolted across the grounds. He reached his goal, a giant oak that shaded the corner of the house, in good time. Blood pounded in his ears. He took the time to control his breathing, looking about to see if anyone noticed his mad dash. When his breathing returned to normal, Ethan grasped the nearest branch, hauling himself higher into the thick branches until he was level with the second floor porch.
A set of French doors, locked and closed against the early autumn chill, guarded the entrance. Ethan took a pebble from his coat pocket and chucked it at the doors. He missed high, hitting the wood frame. Rolling his eyes in frustration, Ethan pulled another pebble from his pocket. His aim was true, as the stone connected with the glass, producing a loud click.
“Marie!” he called out softly. There was no answer, so he tried another rock, calling out as he threw again. “Marie!”
A slender figure in white came to the door. Her hazel eyes widened in surprise at the figure in the tree. Ethan smiled and waved, nearly losing his grip in the process. Marie Bouvier fumbled with the lock on the door and pulled it open.
“Ethan Graham,” she hissed. “What kind of fool are you? Do you know what my Daddy would do to you if he caught you in that tree? He’d shoot you like a squirrel and have you for breakfast.” The harsh words were softened by a smile that Ethan thought was the prettiest in the country.
He scooted across the branch to get as close to the railing as possible. “I’m the kind of fool that’s in love with you,” he said.
Marie sighed and reached to her right. She grabbed her robe and pulled it on over her night dress. She walked to the railing while pushing dark strands of hair back under her nightcap and leaned close to Ethan.
“What you are is a fool with a death wish,” she said softly. “If Daddy didn’t shoot you, William would. That is if you don’t fall and break your neck first.”
“Your Daddy slept through the bombardment of Fort Jackson. I doubt he’s going to wake up to us talking. And that old Negro slave of yours can’t hardly see to shoot.”
“William can shoot better than you give him credit for. He’s kept our table from being empty on more than one occasion since you Yankee marauders showed up.”
Ethan smiled at her, his blue eyes twinkling in the moonlight. He reached out and took her hand while awkwardly holding on to the branch he was seated on with the other. “We’re not all bad,” he said.
“Well,” Marie said as she squeezed his hand, “I suppose not. I mean, after all, one particularly handsome rogue did save my life.”
“Really? What did he look like so I can thank him the next time I see him.”
“He had short dark brown hair, blue eyes, a round face. He was a little taller than me, I think.” She smiled at Ethan as she remembered the first time they met. “His chin was strong and he had a couple of scars. One on his forehead and the other above his lip. The scars weren’t ugly, but they added character.”
Ethan leaned in closer until he was scant inches away from her face. The moonlight highlighted the freckles on her pert nose. Her mother’s diamond earrings glinted from her delicate lobes. Marie’s full lips smiled invitingly, pulling Ethan in closer.
She pulled back with a giggle. “And he had a bloody nose from where I hit him for laying his hands on me without permission.”
Her sudden movement nearly caused Ethan to lose his balance on the branch. After a precarious couple of seconds, he managed to prevent a fall.
“If I’d have asked permission, you would have been run over by that wagon,” he said. “And my nose aches when it gets cold, thank you very much.”
“Miss Marie!” said a deep voice from below. Ethan moved away, trying to place the trunk between himself and William.
“Miss Marie,” William said. “What are you doing up?”
Marie pulled the robe tighter around herself. She moved to the corner of the porch so William didn’t walk around to the other side of the house. “I just needed some air, William,” she said as she looked down at the silver-haired man. The moonlight glinted off the barrel of the rifle William held in his hands.
“I heard voices,” he said. “Who you talkin’ to?”
Marie swallowed quickly. “Momma,” she said. “I was talking to Momma. I was hoping she would hear me up in heaven.”
“I know she is because Miss Josephine shore loved you,” William said. “I know she’s still lookin’ out after you, too.”
Ethan continued to move slowly, as quietly as he could, while watching Marie. He hoped the old Negro wouldn’t come around the corner. He reached for his next handhold…and missed. Ethan attempted to catch himself, but he was overbalanced. With a loud crash and a whoosh of breath, he landed at the base of the tree.
“Oooh, damnation that hurt,” he groaned. The sound of a rifle hammer cocking brought his attention up. The barrel of the gun aimed at his head looked big enough to drive a train through. Ethan sat up and raised his hands. “Easy William,” he said. “I’m not here to cause any trouble.”
“You hush yo’ mouth boy,” the black man said. “Miss Marie Josephine Bouvier, you get inna that room now.”
“William, please,” Marie called down. “I asked him here.”
“Miss Marie! What would your father say? Especially after the Yankees wronged your Momma,” he admonished. “And here you are talkin’ wit the enemy.” William looked up through the branches at Marie’s pale face. “Git inna that room or I will tell yo’ Daddy. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
He rounded on Ethan. “And you. A proper gentleman calls on a lady during the day, not like some thief in the night, although I cain’t expect much better from you Yankees.”
“I was just…”
William poked the gun at Ethan and growled, “I said hush yo’ mouth, boy.” Ethan swallowed. There was nothing old or frail about the man. William’s steady hands gestured with the barrel toward the trees. “Now you git afore I decide that you is trespassing and the Yankees have one less soldier.”
Ethan nodded and rose slowly. He backed away with his hands in the air. William’s rifle followed Ethan until the woods swallowed him up. Marie watched him go from the porch until he disappeared. She stood listening to the night sounds, occasionally punctuated by William’s voice grumbling from below. A chill went down her spine and she finally retreated to her room.
It took Ethan the better part of an hour to reach his camp. The enlisted and junior officers lived in a compound outside the city of New Orleans. The ranking officers lived in the luxurious hotels in the city itself. The 15th Michigan Infantry’s camp was located on a high spot of ground near one of the main thoroughfares into the city. As Ethan stepped out of the woods and onto the road, a voice challenged him. “Halt. Advance and be recognized.”
Ethan sighed. He put up his hands and strode into the dim light of the fire pit. “It’s me, Jacob,” he said.
“Don’t be dense Jacob. Who do you think it is?” Ethan stopped a few feet from the guard. The man in front of him held the same kind of rifle William had. Jacob Lister was tall and gangly. A shock of blonde hair spilled out from underneath his blue cap. Brown eyes squinted into the night.
“No. It’s Major General Banks come to check on some remote outpost outside the city instead of having drinks at a hotel in the city,” he said with exasperation. “Of course it’s me. Can I put my hands down now?”
Jacob lowered his gun. “Come on ahead,” he said. “But you’ve got to tell me how it went with Marie.”
Ethan dropped his hands and strolled up to Jacob’s position. “Nothing happened because we were interrupted by an elderly slave with a rifle.”
“Oooch,” Jacob said. “Sorry to hear that. By the way, Sergeant Major Riske was looking for you. Something about volunteering at the Harvest Ball they’re having in the city next weekend. What did you go and do that for?”
“Because,” Ethan said with a smile, “all the local plantation owners are attending, as well as their families. I’ll get to see Marie, and hopefully speak to her father about courting her.”
“Ahh, ain’t you the smart one,” Jacob said. “Go find Riske. Then get back here and finish your own shift. Bailey’s trying to play poker again and I want to get in the game before he loses all his money.”
Ethan chucked his friend on the shoulder. “Thanks again. I won’t be long.” He headed down the road to the 15th’s campsite. Tents were set in orderly rows. Fire pits were interspersed among the living quarters. The sounds of laughter and talking intermingled with the snores and sighs of those sleeping. The twang of a jaw harp kept time with a banjo at a fire pit on the far side of the camp where the NCO tents were located. Ethan headed in the direction of the banjo, knowing Sergeant Major Gunter Riske was the only one who played the instrument. The big man was seated across the fire from Sergeant Borke of B Company. The banjo looked like a child’s toy in Riske’s paws, yet his fingers moved with amazing dexterity over the strings. Ethan walked into the firelight and stood at attention.
“You wanted to see me Sergeant Major?” he said.
Riske’s blonde head looked up, ice blue eyes reflecting the fire.
“Ja, Corporal Graham,” he said in his thick German accent. “You mentioned you wanted to be a part of the security team for the Oktoberfest.”
“I did Sergeant Major,” Ethan said.
“Good,” Riske said. “In an effort to develop you into a leader, I am placing you in charge of the detail. You need to pick a squad of ten men for your detail. Tomorrow you will meet Major General Banks’s adjutant, Captain Crandall, at…” he paused and spoke in German to Borke. Borke’s answer was mumbled around the jaw harp, but Riske nodded. “Meet him at the Saint Louis Hotel in the city at 9 o’clock.”
Ethan swallowed, nervous about the responsibility being placed upon him. “Yes Sergeant Major.”
Riske looked down at the strings and began plucking away. Taking this cue that he was dismissed, Ethan did an about face. Before his first step fell, Riske called his name above the music. Ethan turned quickly and stood at attention again.
“Yes Sergeant Major?”
“Don’t worry Ethan, you’ll do fine,” Riske said without looking at Ethan. “If you have any questions, ask. And don’t be intimidated by Captain Crandall. He likes to think he’s smart and better than us because he went to school out East, but we know better. Just do the job I know you can do and he won’t have anything to say.”
“Thank you Sergeant Major.”
Riske smiled and nodded, dismissing Ethan.
New Orleans weather is something of a constant, to wit: It’s always wet. In the spring and summer, the heat and humidity press down on its citizens like a damp rag, soaking every article of clothing with smothering intensity. The autumn and winter are equally damp. However, the humidity combines with the cool air to chill a person to the bone. Ethan was nearly shivering by the time the Quartermaster’s wagon pulled up at the corner of Saint Louis and Chartres Streets. He jumped off and thanked the driver for the ride, then entered the hotel.
The entrance was opulent with gold crown molding and tall Greek columns. The lobby hosted visitors with hardwood floors and rich furniture in dark reds and golds. Hand carved rails led upstairs. Ethan looked around in appreciation.
A talk black haired man in Union blue stood by the front desk. His angular features were emphasized by a thick straight mustache and a pointed beard. Thin bony fingers tugged on the beard agitatedly. Dark eyes gleamed at Ethan. A pocket watch was held in his other hand.
“You’re late,” Crandall said without preamble in a New England accent. “It is now two minutes past nine. You were told to be here by nine sharp.” He looked Ethan up and down with distaste. “And not only am I going to put you on report for being tardy, you are going on report because you are disgusting. Your hair is a mess, your uniform dirty and your boots don’t look as if they have been shined since before Bull Run. I told Riske I wanted a responsible NCO, and this is what he sends me? What company are you in?”
The tirade caught Ethan off guard, so he only blinked at the question.
“Are you dense as well as disgusting?” Crandall asked. “I asked you a question. What company are you in?”
Ethan swallowed. “Uhh…D Company, sir.”
“Ah yes,” Crandall said. “Sergeant Borke. How appropriate.”
“My company sergeant is Sergeant Brock,” Ethan said. “Sergeant Borke leads B Company.”
Ignoring him, the Captain turned and walked toward a double set of doors. The swift movement surprised Ethan and he ran to catch up. Crandall pushed both doors open, nearly hitting a maid walking by on the other side. She yelped and hurried out. The doors rebounded off the stops, nearly flattening Ethan as he came in behind. A quickly raised arm prevented a broken nose, while a quick step to the side stopped the long brass handle from hitting a softer area of his anatomy. The force of the blow still made him grunt in pain.
Crandall turned. “This is what you are going to do.” He pointed to two entrances on either side of the room. “Two men at each door…” then pointed back over his shoulders, “and one at each end of the head table.
“Those doors we just entered through will be open. Two guards will be stationed on either side whilst I announce the guests. Two guards will be at the end of the hallway. The last pair will be stationed at the outside entrance.
“You will position yourself up on the second floor balcony,” Crandall pointed up without taking his eyes off Ethan. “Your job is to observe your guards, as well as our guests. A number of high ranking Union officials, to include Major General Banks, will be in attendance. Therefore, you will see to it that there is no treachery by the Confederate sympathizers.
“Do you understand everything I just told you?” His tone suggested that he doubted Ethan had kept up with his demands.
Ethan rubbed his forearm. He looked Crandall in the eyes and said, “Two men will be at the entrances on either side of the room, plus one on either side of the head table. These doors will be open with a guard at either side.” He pointed at his feet. “You will announce the guests here,” then he pointed over his shoulders as Crandall had done. “Two men will be at the entrance to the hall, while two will be standing outside the building entrance.”
He then pointed straight up without taking his eyes off Crandall. “I will be on the second floor balcony watching the guards and ensuring Confederate sympathizers do not assassinate anyone important.” He dropped his hands and gave the Captain a quick, snarky smile.
Crandall sneered and turned his back on Ethan. “You and your detail will be responsible for setting up the tables, and then clearing the dance floor after dinner. The musicians will be in that corner to the right. The staff will decorate once you have everything in place. Everything will be set up by Wednesday, allowing the staff ample time to decorate. Friday will be a walk through beginning at 3 o’clock,” he looked over his shoulder, “not two minutes past.
“Ensure you men look sharp for God’s sake, if that’s possible.” He turned fully to Ethan. “You’re dismissed.”
Ethan looked around the room to solidify the details in his mind, then turned to leave.
“Corporal!” Crandall snapped. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“Not really Captain,” Ethan said over his shoulder. “Just add that I didn’t salute upon dismissal to your report.” He walked through the double doors, leaving a fuming Captain Crandall behind.
His duties in the city finished, Ethan headed to Sugarhouse to make sure Marie was going to be at the Harvest Ball. He cut through the back woods of the property again, stopping at the edge.
Monday was wash day. The yard looked like a maze of various shirts, trousers, undergarments and bed sheets. The scent of bleach and lye soap mixed with the aroma of red beans cooking over a fire pit in the front yard. The grumbling of Ethan’s stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten much more than some hard tack and coffee before he met with Captain Crandall.
Marie strode along in the shade of the second floor balcony. The sight of her made his heart palpitate, just like the first time he saw her. Just like every time he saw her. She stopped at the corner and glanced in his direction. Ethan looked around quickly and decided to chance a wave. He stepped out and then back quickly into the woods. When he looked back, Marie was gone. In the distance he heard her tell her father that she was going for a walk for some fresh air.
He hurried to the entrance of the property by the road and waited. Marie came up carrying her skirts and breathing heavily.
“Sorry,” she said panting. “Running in a corset and skirt is difficult.”
Ethan took her hand and kissed it, but didn’t let it go. She held on to him, but began fanning herself with the other hand. Ethan smiled as she composed herself. He released her and unbuckled his canteen. She snatched it from him with both hands and took big gulps.
“Easy,” he said. “Easy does it or you’ll make yourself sick.” He took the canteen back from her and smiled.
“You’re laughing at me,” she said when she regained her breath. “It’s not lady-like to run.”
“I’m not laughing,” he said, “I’m smiling. You’re adorable when you’re all flushed.”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“And that isn’t very lady-like either.” He took her hand again and kissed it. “Please tell me you’re going to the Harvest Ball.”
“Daddy doesn’t want to go,” she said. “He blames you Yankees for Momma’s death and wants nothing to do with y’all.”
“To tell the truth, I don’t blame him,” Ethan said with a grimace. “It was bad enough that Major General Butler declared martial law, but General Order No. 28 went too far. I’m surprised we didn’t have an all out uprising.
“Your mother was a very strongly opinioned woman. I’m sorry her heart couldn’t take being jailed.”
Marie pulled her hands back and looked down at them. “I should hate you, you know,” she said softly.
Ethan bent over and looked up into her glistening eyes and smiled. “But how could you hate a rogue as handsome as me?”
She couldn’t quite keep the smile off her face, and it grew when he waggled his eyebrows at her. She blinked the tears from her eyes.
“You damn Yankees are always making a mess of things, stealing food, animals, good silver…”
“And the hearts of good Southern belles,” Ethan interjected, making Marie laugh. “I am in charge of the security detail and I wanted you to know that you will be safe from those horrible Yankee officers who will be fighting with each other just to dance with you.
“Say you’ll be there,” he said. “Just the sight of you makes my gloomiest day bright and sunny.”
“All I can do,” she said, “is to try and convince Daddy. It’s been a while since we stepped out. I might be able to persuade him. He is a stubborn old mule of a Frenchman, you know, so no promises.”
Ethan kissed her hand again.
“I will take that as a yes as no mortal man can resist your charms.” He bowed low to her. “Nothing can ruin this day knowing that I shall see you five days hence.”
He turned and ran down the road toward camp, jumping in the air to click his heels. Marie smiled after him, then turned toward Sugarhouse with a determined step.
When he returned, he found that Captain Crandall’s report had arrived earlier than expected. Ethan knew that Crandall would understandably read Sergeant Major Riske the riot act. Riske would give Brock what for and Brock would put the wrath of God in Ethan. As they say, it rolls downhill. His failure to salute Crandall wasn’t just wrong. It was disrespectful. Riske couldn’t allow it to go unpunished.
The pickets told him to report to Sergeant Major Riske. The big man took Ethan aside and began yelling at him in German, his voice carrying into the woods beyond.
“I told you not to be intimidated, but mein Gott, I didn’t think you would be a dumkopf,” he yelled. “If I had not promised your uncle I’d teach you something, I’d beat some sense into you.
“Your dealings with the pompous ass will be nothing but respectful,” he said. “On top of that, you’ll be getting damned little sleep because you’re taking double guard shifts, as well as the detail, as well as mess duty.
“Now get out of here and be glad you still have your stripes,” Riske said, waving a giant paw. Ethan lit out like he’d been shot from a cannon, leaving the Sergeant Major still cursing in German.
The days leading up to the ball were busy indeed. With his additional duties and setting up for the ball, Riske’s threat of little sleep came to pass. On Wednesday Ethan made sure that the detail was half an hour early, which just set Captain Crandall off even more. The lean officer nitpicked every detail and made them rearrange the furniture until nearly midnight, which made Ethan late for guard duty. Riske added a month of latrine duty on top of the rest of his punishments.
On Friday, he went over everyone’s uniform and equipment, personally ensuring everything was shined, polished, cleaned and pressed. He was fairly certain that Captain Crandall would find fault with something, but Ethan did his best.
The squad marched smartly to the front of the Saint Louis Hotel early that afternoon. Ethan wanted to check on the arrangements while allowing the others time to change. When he was convinced all was in order, he changed. His white shirt was covered by a black vest that matched black trousers. His blue jacket, with corporal stripes still intact, neatly fit on his broad shoulders. A swipe of a polishing cloth over his boots and he was ready.
One hour before the ball began, he placed his men and took his station on the balcony above. A set of double doors led to a terrace where he could see the red-brick streets of the French Quarter. Further out he caught sight of tall masts and smoke stacks traversing up and down the river.
The doors below banged open as Crandall barged in. “Corporal!” he bellowed.
Ethan sighed and turned back to the balcony. He looked over the rail at the Captain.
“Yes Captain Crandall?”
Crandall stood in the doorway wearing a blue double-breasted frock coat over a white shirt with black trousers, a red sash and a sword. Yellow trim highlighted the collar and the Captain’s bars on his epaulettes. The effect would have been one of a dashing officer, if not for the fact that he was visibly seething.
“Your men are disgusting,” Crandall said. “I’m holding you personally accountable. It’s a disgrace and an embarrassment to the General. You’re going on report again.”
“Yes Captain,” Ethan said evenly.
Crandall sneered and stomped off. Guests began arriving for cocktails not long after, the Captain’s greeting announcing them pomposity. From his view, Ethan found the display rather pretty. Waitstaff in white twirled through the growing crowd. Men in waistcoats and vests stood talking to one another. The women sequestered themselves off to one side, voluminous dresses making them look like walking flowers. The younger ladies wore white or pastels, while the matrons moved in groups of light green, blue, pearl, and yellow. The fabric choices were just as varied as the colors with the belles wearing cotton, silk, or taffeta with silk trim.
Ethan began to get agitated as the cocktail hour wound down. As much as he’d hoped Marie would convince her father to attend, he was a proud and stubborn man. He must have put his foot down and declined to humor his only child.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Crandall announced, waking Ethan from his reverie. “I present Monsieur Jean Baptiste Bouvier and his lovely daughter, Mademoiselle Marie Josephine Bouvier.”
Silence greeted the couple. The short Frenchman stood in a black waistcoat over a red vest and a white shirt. A red cravat matched the vest. His steel gray hair was slicked back from his high forehead. A pointed nose crooked slightly off center and anchored a weathered face. The darkened skin and wrinkles gave proof that Jean Bouvier did not sit idly in his manor.
Marie stood by her father’s side gracefully, her gloved hand lightly touching his arm. Her dark hair was piled high upon her head with artful tendrils cascading carelessly down her cheeks. Her mother’s diamond earrings sparkled. A heart-shaped necklace encrusted with diamonds hung around her slender neck and settled gently on the swell of her bosom. Her dress was ecru-colored wool woven with silk. The pointed bodice, rounded neck, and tabs on the skirt had the design of a bouquet of calla lilies. Ethan was floored by her beauty.
Small talk began again, most of it centered on the new arrivals. As he made his way down the stairs toward Marie, he noticed Crandall leering at her. Ethan started a scowl, but it quickly fell away as she entered his vision.
“Daddy, this is the young man I was telling you about, Ethan Graham,” she said gesturing toward Ethan. “Ethan, may I present my Father, Jean Baptiste Bouvier.”
“Bonsoir, Monsieur,” Ethan said as he grasped the older man’s hand. Bouvier’s grip was strong and confident. “You certainly know how to make an entrance.”
“Bah,” Bouvier said in heavily-accented English. “Your accent is horrible. But I will give you credit for trying.”
“Thank you Monsieur,” Ethan said. “You are most gracious.”
“My daughter says you would like to court her, but you are only a boy, and a Yankee dog at that. I will not allow it.”
“Daddy…” Marie gasped.
“Non!” He cut her objection off with a wave of his hand. “I said I would come and meet him. I never said I would assent to it.”
“I understand Monsieur,” Ethan said. “Perhaps I can convince you otherwise. There’s more to me than a blue uniform. If perhaps you could grant me an audience tomorrow, I could validate my intentions.”
Bouvier took a hard look at Ethan. Something bordering on recognition crossed his face and he raised a gray eyebrow skeptically.
“You’ve intrigued me,” he said. “Oui. Tomorrow then in the afternoon.”
“Merci Monsieur,” Ethan said. “Tomorrow after noon.”
He bowed low to Bouvier, then to Marie, taking her hand and kissing it. As the couple left, he saw Crandall eyeing him appraisingly, his bony fingers tugging on his pointed beard. Ethan ignored him and returned to his overview.
The guests began making their way to their appropriate seats when Major General Nathaniel Prentiss Banks, the Federal commander of New Orleans, and Edward Henry Durell, the current mayor of the city, sat at the head table. Colonel Gerhardt Schroeder, commander of the 15th Michigan, Sergeant Major Riske, and Captain Crandall joined them, along with several plantation owners. Bouvier was to be among them, but he purposely took his place card and switched it so he could sit next to his daughter.
Dinner began with a rich turtle soup, followed by shrimp remoulade. A simple salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions in a red wine vinaigrette preceded the main course. The entrée was grilled trout with shrimp in a white wine sauce. Dessert was Pudding de Pain de Noix de Pecan, a cinnamon and raisin bread pudding topped with warm rum sauce. Ethan wished he’d had more than some chipped beef for lunch, as his stomach growled at the wonderful aromas throughout the dinner.
After an appropriate time to for the food to settle, the men retired to a smoking room for cigars and brandy. The women excused themselves to a different area for small glasses of sherry and gossip. When the guests filed out, Ethan rounded up his men and removed the tables, rearranged the chairs, and set up the dance floor. The orchestra entered at this point to warm up. The musicians began playing in earnest once everyone filed back in. The detail returned to their posts, every man wishing the night would end soon.
Ethan felt a stab of jealousy whenever Marie entered the dance floor, which was often. When Crandall took the floor with her, Ethan turned away and stepped to the terrace. The cool breeze felt good after the warmth of the ballroom. He looked down at the street, watching people come and go, their routines uninterrupted by the war. His thoughts drifted to his meeting with Bouvier tomorrow. The man was unsurprisingly reluctant to allow a Union soldier to court his daughter. Ethan’s hand went to his collar, ensuring he hadn’t lost the chain that hung there.
“Lost in thought,” a soft voice said. Ethan jumped. He turned to see Marie’s smiling face. “May I join you?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said as he turned back to the view over Saint Louis Street.
“It feels good out here.”
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
Ethan smiled. “It’s stupid, really.”
“No,” Marie said. “What is it?”
“I was jealous watching you dance with all those men, knowing that unless I could convince your father tomorrow, I may never be allowed to.”
Marie laughed softly. “Jealousy can be a good thing at times. It lets a woman know she’s cared for.”
She opened her handbag and pulled out a small silver flask. Ethan could see a picture of Sugarhouse engraved on the side. He watched Marie with an amused look on his face while she drank.
“Why Miss Marie Bouvier. I am shocked,” he said in mock horror. “What would New Orleans society say to you drinking from a flask like a common riverboat gambler?”
“Oh please,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Half the women in polite society have these and most sip more than a bit. I’m French, Ethan. Momma started me on water mixed with wine when I was five.”
She handed him the flask.
“Daddy uses some of the processed sugar cane to make a rum,” she said. “Try some. It’s quite good.”
“Since I am on duty, I cannot imbibe,” he said officially. “But I shall place this over my heart as a token of my lady’s favor.” He reached his hand in his coat, hiding the flask in the left inside pocket of his vest.
Marie smiled as she looked over the city. Ethan stood next to her. He could feel the heat emanating from her body in the cool air. They stood close, not touching, just watching the city go about its nightly business.
“Ahem,” said a voice behind them. Ethan took a deep breath, then turned. Crandall’s bony form was backlit by the lights below. “Corporal,” he said, “go do your rounds. Now.”
“Yes Captain,” Ethan said. He turned with a bow to Marie and said, “Adieu Mademoiselle.” He walked stiffly past the officer. Discretely, but quickly, Ethan moved among his men, checking to make sure they didn’t have any issues. When he reentered the ballroom, he looked around for Marie, but couldn’t find her. He headed up the stairs to take a view from above when he heard a muffled scream from the terrace.
Rushing out he saw Crandall with one hand around Marie’s throat, the other over her mouth. Her body was bowed over the railing. Ethan took two steps and clouted Crandall on the side of the head, knocking the tall man to the side. Marie leaned against the rail coughing and gasping for breath. Ethan stepped between her and the Captain, his fists clenched and shaking.
“You shall pay for that Corporal,” Crandall said. Ethan could see the knot forming on the side of his head. There was also swelling on his lip where Marie had apparently objected to his advances. He stood, picked up Marie’s handbag, and called over his shoulder.
“Guards! A traitor!” he yelled. “I have cornered a traitor and a spy! Guards arrest these two at once.” At his outburst two of Ethan’s men came up the stairs. All sound below had stopped.
Ethan held his position. He heard Marie stand up behind him. “Are you alright?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Yes,” she said hoarsely. Marie cleared her throat and tried again. “Yes. Thank you.”
Crandall stood on the balcony flanked by Ethan’s men.
“Arrest them both,” he said. “She is a spy and he, a traitor.”
The two men looked from the Captain to Ethan and back again. Ethan nodded slightly and they moved to flank him and Marie. With the two apprehended, Crandall turned.
“General Banks, I have captured a spy and a traitor,” he announced as he strode down the stairs. “The Corporal was passing troop positions to Mademoiselle Bouvier out on the balcony.”
“NON!” yelled Marie’s father. “My daughter is no spy.”
“Oui, Monsieur Bouvier,” Crandall said. “I have proof right here.”
He held up Marie’s handbag and pulled a slip of paper from it. He walked up to Major General Banks, handing him the paper. Banks looked at it, then at Colonel Schroeder.
“It’s the marching orders to move the 15th to Vicksburg,” Banks said.
“Nein, General Banks,” said Schroeder. “I do not believe Corporal Graham is a traitor any more than you are.”
“Then what’s this?” Banks asked holding up the paper.
“It’s a lie,” Ethan said loudly. The couple had made it down the stairs to stand behind Crandall on the dance floor with their armed escort.
“He planted the note in her handbag when she rejected his advances,” Ethan continued. “It’s not even my writing.”
Crandall rounded and caught Ethan on the jaw with a closed fist, knocking him down.
“If you were an officer and a gentleman, I would demand satisfaction.”
Ethan rose, rubbing his jaw. “You needn’t be an officer to be a gentleman,” he said.
“Ha!” Crandall said with a bark of laughter. “How would you know? You’re just a simple soldier. A peasant, no less. You have no honor.”
Ethan looked at Colonel Schroeder. “Colonel Schroeder, will you vouch for my position as a gentleman of honor?”
Schroeder smiled. “Ja,” he said. “I confirm your position.”
Ethan reached into his shirt and pulled out a chain with a ring on it. He held it out to Marie and bade her to take it to her father.
“Monsieur Bouvier, do you recognize the symbol on that ring?” he asked when she handed it to her father.
Bouvier took the ring and his eyes widened. “Mon dieu,” he gasped. “I do recognize it. It confirms your position.” He passed the ring to Banks.
“Preposterous,” Crandall sneered. “He is a common foot soldier and nothing else. You are no more a gentleman than a dog is.”
“On the contrary Captain Crandall,” Banks said. “I recognize this symbol as well. Corporal Graham, please explain yourself.”
Ethan stood straight and clicked his heels together.
“I am Erich von Rickover,” he said. “The second son of Frederich von Rickover, Baron of Rhine and fifth in succession to the throne of the Austrian Empire.
“I am here to learn what it means to be a leader of men,” he said. He looked at Crandall. “Something you know nothing about Captain. Since you asked for satisfaction, you shall have it. The weapon shall be pistols at 15 paces. I need no second since there is only one way this duel will end.”
Crandall gaped at Ethan and back to Banks.
“Surely, you can’t be serious General?”
“This young man has the pedigree, Captain Crandall,” Banks said. “I suggest you either rescind your spurious claim, or go through with it.”
The Captain’s jaw clenched. “Very well,” he snarled at Ethan. “My claim stands. You are a traitor to the United States of America and Mademoiselle Bouvier is a spy. When I finish with you, I shall see her hanged until dead.”
Ethan turned to Bouvier. “Monsieur Bouvier, may I have the honor of championing your daughter, or do you wish to appoint another in my stead?”
Bouvier looked from Ethan to Marie. Her hazel eyes were wide, but she nodded to her father.
“Oui,” he said. “I would be honored.”
“If we could clear the area, let us finish this here and now,” he said. Men and women rushed to remove themselves from the floor.
“Colonel, may I borrow your service pistol?” he asked Schroeder.
The colonel pulled the pistol from his holster and walked over to hand it to Ethan. “Good luck,” he said in a low voice.
“Thank you, Uncle,” Ethan answered.
“Your Aunt would be most distressed if I were to allow her favorite nephew to die. See that you don’t.”
Ethan smiled. “Yes sir.”
He glanced over to Crandall. The Captain removed his jacket and vest and stood in his white shirt and sash. Ethan removed his coat, handing it to Marie, but kept his vest on.
“Gentlemen,” Schroeder called, “please come to the middle of the floor and face away from each other.” When Crandall and Ethan were back to back, Schroeder spoke again. “I shall count to 15. When I reach 15, you shall both turn. Captain Crandall, since your honor was impugned, you shall fire the first shot. If Corporal Graham is still able to shoot after that, he will shoot next.
“The exchange shall continue until one of you is dead.”
The two men stepped off the paces as Schroeder counted. At the designated spacing both turned. Ethan swallowed, but looked the Captain in the eye. Crandall raised his arm, aimed, and fired.
The Colt revolver roared. Ethan felt something punch him in the chest and neck. He grunted as the force of the bullet spun him to the ground. Blood blossomed on the white shirt collar. Ethan heard a scream. He struggled to get his legs under him.
“My honor has been satisfied,” Crandall turned and said to the throng. “I stand by my claim. The Corporal is dead and Marie Bouvier will hang tomorrow.”
Ethan rose, growling at the pain in his left shoulder, then turned to face Crandall. He raised his pistol.
“I refute your claim and demand my honor be satisfied.”
Crandall jerked. His face was white as he turned. “I r-r-rescind my claim,” he said.
Ethan cocked the pistol.
“Not how it works Captain,” he said. “A true gentleman knows this. Stand and deliver.”
Crandall’s mouth opened, but his words were cut off by the revolver’s report. The bullet hit him in the center of the chest and threw his body backwards.
Schroeder walked over to Crandall’s body. “The claim has been refuted. Corporal Graham and Mademoiselle Bouvier have been cleared by blood. Does anyone dispute this?” When no one responded he continued, “Very well. This business is finished, as is the ball I’m afraid. A bad end to a festive time. If someone would be so kind as to fetch a doctor. Danke.”
Ethan slumped to the floor with a groan at the pronouncement. Marie cried his name, running to him. She ripped open his vest and shirt. A dented flask clattered to the floor. Blood covered Ethan’s left side where it ran down from his neck. She pressed a handkerchief to the wound. Tears flowed down her cheeks and on to Ethan’s face. He heard her voice say his name again, then darkness took him.
The sun had just passed its apex when a coach rolled up to Sugarhouse. William opened the door to the cab.
“William, I took your advice,” Ethan said, wincing as he stepped out. He had to maneuver a bit to make it out of the cab with his left arm in a sling. “Would this be a more proper time to visit a lady?”
The old slave nodded. “Yes suh, it would.”
“Good,” he said. “Please show me to Monsieur Bouvier.”
“This way, suh.” William led him into the house. A sitting room off to the right held three chairs. A pot of sweet tea and a tray of pastries sat on a table in the corner. Bouvier and Marie sat in two of the chairs. Bouvier rose to greet Ethan.
“Bienvenue, Monsieur Graham,” he said. “Please have a seat.”
“Merci boucoup,” Ethan said as he eased into the chair while Bouvier remained standing.
“I need your promise on one thing before I can allow you to court my daughter,” Bouvier said.
“Oui Monsieur. What can I do?”
“Please,” Bouvier begged. “Please stop butchering the French language. Your accent is atrocious.”
Ethan smiled. “Ja. I can do that.”