08 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 5.4

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[Concluding chapter 5]

Stewart stood in the hall long after the commissioners and the general had retired to their rooms. The flickering light of his candle cast weirdly mobile shadows on the walls, shadows that seemed to symbolize the forces gathering against the commission.

That the Federals were behind these attacks seemed beyond doubt. Much as he disliked and distrusted the English, Stewart could think of no reason why they might want to drive the Confederates away. Over the past few days he’d come to realize that the English and Canadians had much to gain from a treaty of recognition with the Confederacy. The industries of Louisiana and Missouri, for example, would find ready markets in the Confederacy for weapons and uniforms.

But the Federals couldn’t be doing this by themselves. The United States legation in New Orleans didn’t employ that many people, and only a handful were soldiers with the skills to set bombs or shoot at Confederate generals. General Magruder hadn’t been able to offer much of a description of the attack on him; the general seemed still to be in shock, which spoke rather poorly of his military bearing. His aide-de-camp, though, had told Stewart that none of the men with Magruder had seen who fired the shot. More importantly, they hadn’t seen any flame either, and the attack had taken place on the broad expanse of Canal Street as the men walked back to the hotel from the ball they’d attended.

So, whoever had fired at Magruder had attacked from a distance, likely using a rifle. The ball had gone through the skirt of Magruder’s frock-coat, which to Stewart at least suggested a marksman who knew what he was doing. Benjamin’s assumption notwithstanding, Stewart didn’t think that the ball had been intended to kill the general. A kill-shot would have hit Magruder somewhere in the body; this ball was intended to leave evidence of its passage without actually causing harm.

That was his conclusion, at any rate. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to convince the others, any more than he’d been able to convince Benjamin that the bombing of the Comet had been at least in part directed against the Confederacy. But the fact that Stewart couldn’t prove his suspicions didn’t mean he couldn’t start looking for proof. If he was correct in assuming that someone in the U.S. legation was behind these attacks, then a reconnaissance of the legation would prove useful. I’ll bet Patton would love to join me in that.

But where was Patton? He hadn’t come out of his room despite all the noise; either Patton was dead or seriously injured in his room—neither very likely—or he had, like Stewart, slipped out of the hotel.

Suppressing a pang of envy at what must have been keeping the younger man occupied for so long, Stewart went back into his room and pulled a chair near the door. Keeping the door open a crack, he extinguished the candle and waited for his truant companion to return.

It was nearly half-past three in the morning when a stocking-footed Patton, his boots in his hands, crept along the hall to his room. By the time Patton had got his key in the lock, Stewart was behind him, glaring. “And where have you been, young man?”

Patton dropped his boots.

“Lord Jesus,” he said when he’d recovered both breath and boots and pulled Stewart into his room. “Don’t ever sneak up on a man like that again, Stewart. I thought my heart would explode.”

“Your career just might, if Magruder figures that you weren’t here when he came in this morning.” Speaking quickly, Stewart outlined the shooting incident and his own theory of who was behind it. Patton’s eyes grew wider as the tale progressed, and when Stewart had finished he was leaning so far forward in his chair Stewart thought he might tip over and onto his face.

“I apologize for doubting you earlier,” Patton said. “It really does sound as if the Federals will do anything they can to prevent this treaty.” He grinned slyly at Stewart. “Bet this makes the treaty seem a bit more attractive to you.”

“I haven’t changed my mind about the English,” Stewart said. “I just can’t decide who I hate more, them or the Yankees. But the question now is, where the hell were you and what were you up to?”

“I might ask the same of you,” Patton said. “I was downstairs in the lounge this evening when what appeared before me but the sight of my oh-so-serious companion, Captain Stewart, sneaking out of the hotel contrary to orders.”

Stewart hoped that his blush wasn’t too evident in the dim light. There’s a lesson learned: Be more careful next time. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “I was just going for a walk.”

“And that’s what I did, too,” Patton said. “I had an easier time of getting away, too, since you had so thoughtfully taken our shadow with you.”

“So you’ve noticed him too.”

“Man would have to be blind not to,” Patton said. “I used to think it was fun, even flattering, that we were being followed. After what you’ve told me, I’m not so sure.”

It occurred to Stewart that the attack on General Magruder was, if it had no other impact, going to make their Canadian hosts even more determined to watch over them. That would make it a considerable challenge to slip away and perform his weapons-purchasing duties for the Texas expedition.

Is that what you were up to? he wondered. Some assignment of your own about Texas? Aloud he said, “So who was she?”

Patton laughed—a bit shakily, Stewart thought. “A gentleman never tells,” he said.

Stewart grinned back at him. “In that case, Patton—who was she?”

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