04 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 5.2

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[Continuing chapter five]


Back in his room, Stewart eyed the laudanum flask as he undressed. He and Miss Martin had walked for several hours and his leg hadn’t hurt at all. If it wasn’t for the engraving on the flask, and all that it represented, he would have been happy to throw the thing away.

Aside from the uncomfortable moment in front of the houses inhabited by free blacks, he had very much enjoyed himself tonight. The pleasure had more than justified the risk he’d taken. And in the dark, smoky tavern where she’d fed him something called a cock-tail, she had more than made it clear that, however she might feel about what married white men did with colored women, Miss Martin was not averse to the idea of certain unmarried men and women meeting again.

So why had he shied away from her? As soon as he’d fully understood what she was saying to him, Stewart had felt edgy, a bit as if he’d drunk too much coffee. He’d left her as soon as it had been seemly to do so. Now he wondered just how much he might be willing to risk for this woman. That, he decided, was only the most recent of the perplexing questions he’d come to face since arriving in New Orleans.
* * * *
“What, exactly, do your spies have to do with Irish politics?” Sherman asked.

“That what I’d like to find out,” Grant said. “That’s why we’re going to visit this doctor fellow.”

“What I mean is, why do you think that Brown and Connell are using an Irish republican group? Why not just hire burglars to break into the Cabildo and get the information they want?”

“If it was just information, that’s probably what they’d have done,” Grant said. “I would be pleased to discover that information is all they’re after. I still think that sort of spying is distasteful, but I could live with it.”

“But you don’t think information is what they’re after.”

“No. I’ve spoken with an acquaintance of mine about this. Thomas D’Arcy McGee; perhaps you’ve heard of him. Lawyer, publishes a newspaper.”

“I’ve heard talk about him,” Sherman said. “Used to be a republican himself, didn’t he?”

“He says not. He admits to being a rebel, but not a republican. McGee doesn’t seem to have much liking for republics, Sherman. Can’t think why.”

“The French didn’t do such a good job of theirs,” Sherman said. “Maybe he just knows more about the French than about the United States.”

“Or maybe he just has a fondness for kings and queens. At any rate, McGee tells me there isn’t any real republican organization in New Orleans. When the United Irish were smashed a few years ago, most of the republicans here left for New York, or were transported to Australia, or recanted.”

“So what sort of group are we investigating?”

“Some people called the Garda,” Grant said.

"Garda? Sounds like a patent medicine."

"It's the Gaelic word for 'guardians'." Grant looked out the window of the omnibus. "We should get out here, I think, and walk the rest of the way."

"Fine with me," Sherman said. "I need the exercise."

I'm probably being too cautious, Grant thought. They were in a residential neighborhood, after all. Doctor John Meighan lived in a respectable house on a respectable street. Grant doubted that the doctor was a bloodthirsty man. Still, McGee's stories of the way some of these Ribbonmen dealt with threats had made him wary of unnecessary risks. The doctor might not be a man of violence, but that didn't mean his house wasn't watched by those who were. Better to disguise their approach to the place, just to be sure.

"So what are these Garda guarding against?" Sherman asked.

"Mostly the British, I gather. But other Irishmen, too. The Irish secret societies are a confusing bunch, Sherman. Most of them want independence, but not all. One McGee told me about has a loyalty oath to the queen in its initiation rites."

"And they're not republicans?"

"Not according to McGee. The United Irish were the only republican bunch among 'em, he says."
"So these societies are fighting the British—and each other—for an independent Ireland that's a kingdom?"

"That's how I read it. According to McGee, the societies that are active here mostly formed as peasant groups and aren't all that sophisticated, politically."

"And what the hell are they doing in North America?"

"Mostly raising money. But some of them try to sabotage the British wherever they can. McGee says that the Garda are the most political of the societies here, so that's why I'm investigating them first."
Sherman stopped. In the silence, Grant could hear the unhealthy gurgle of the sewage canal that ran down the center of the street. "If they're political and you suspect them," Sherman said, "how are you going to investigate them by walking up to their leader's doorstep?"

"By asking the doctor if he wants to help me spy on the British and Canadians," Grant said. He smiled at Sherman's reaction. "Brown and Connell haven't told anybody at the legation what they're up to," he said, "so how could I be expected to know if the doctor's already been recruited?"

Sherman laughed. "That's guileless enough, Grant, that it just might work."

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