Preview from THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE
CRESCENT CITY is my Austen-inspired take on the history of America’s most unique city, New Orleans, and the people who dare to live there. I propose to relate the history of the Crescent City though the eyes of members of the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families who have left England for the New World.
The cornerstone of the project is my three-volume novel about the events leading up to, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Some of you may have read this story when it was posted on several Jane Austen fan fiction boards. Completely updated and revised, CRESCENT CITY is now three books:
• BOURBON STREET NIGHTS (Volume 1)
• ELYSIAN DREAMS (Volume2)
• RUIN & RENEWAL (Volume 3)
These books will be published over the summer of 2015, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Katrina.
But to start things off, and to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, I am writing a prequel to CRESCENT CITY entitled THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE.
It is 1814, and America’s second war against Great Britain is going badly. Now the enemy is ready for its knock-out punch. They seek to take New Orleans, and by doing so, control the Mississippi River and North America forever.
Major Matthew Darcy of Baltimore is dispatched to help defend the beleaguered city, and discovers an alien place that does not trust its new countrymen. He also finds forbidden love with a lovely Cajun-Creole lady.
Now, with a devastating invader at the city’s door, Darcy joins General Andrew Jackson’s rag-tag army of backwoodsmen, Creoles, and buccaneers in the face of overwhelming odds.
To whet your appetite, I’ve posted an excerpt introducing the other major character in this story, Major James Fitzwilliam of the British Army. In the section below, James has returned to his troopship after the British suffered an embarrassing defeat near Baltimore, the battle famous for Francis Scott Key’s The Star-Spangled Banner. You’ll also learn that things are not well in the Family Fitzwilliam.
September 1, 1814 – HMS Imprudent, off the coast of Maryland
Major James Fitzwilliam, British Army, straightened his dirty red uniform coat, and took hold of the accommodation ladder before him. With practice gained from doing this exercise countless times, he waited until the swell reached its zenith before he scampered up the ladder. He reached the deck of HMS Imprudent, an old ship-of-the-line converted into a troop transport, quickly. There was no salute—they had come to the informal leeward side rather than the official starboard, and the ship’s captain was nowhere in evidence.
Not that James gave a right damn about that. There was only one person he wished to see, and she did not disappoint.
“Jamie,” cried Margaret Fitzwilliam before she embraced him openly on the deck.
Years before, James would have reminded his wife that it was unseemly for a lady to engage in such public displays of affection. And she would have reminded him that it was of no matter as she was not a lady. Now, James gratefully acquiesced to the ordeal of having his dear Margaret’s arms around him.
“Meg, I am dirty—please,” he murmured.
“And what do I care about that? You came back to me.” In their present existence of army officer and camp follower, they had learned to speak in low tones, the only privacy assured from living in close quarters with others. “Come, love, we’ll get you cleaned up straight away.”
Hand-in-hand, the pair made their way below decks, ignoring the stares—amused, offended, or resentful—directed at them. Soon they were in the relative seclusion of their cloth-walled cabin, where Margaret set upon divesting her husband of his filthy clothing. Naked, James stood in a shallow, wide tub submitting to a sponge bath with salt water. Once he was as clean as possible, Margaret directed her husband to their small bed, set hard against the hull of the ship. She then removed her own clothing and began his real welcome home.
Later, as the pair lay intertwined, James thought again of how fate had brought them here.
James Fitzwilliam was the youngest of the Earl of Matlock’s three sons. He loved farming and longed to stay and help increase the prosperity of his father’s lands. Unfortunately for James, that duty fell to his eldest brother, Andrew, the viscount, and no son of an earl could be a steward. So it was the army, the navy, or the church for James. He reluctantly joined the infantry, like his brother, Richard. Richard was very good at fighting and eventually became a colonel. But James saw the army as his duty, not his profession.
There was another reason James was loath to go to war. He had fallen in love with an undeserving woman. Margaret Smith was the pretty daughter of one of his father’s tenants. She was a lively and lusty farm girl, but chaste, all the same. They became acquaintances as youths, James often meeting and talking to Margaret during his rides about the estate. Friendship flared into attraction as Margaret grew into womanhood. No shrinking violet was she; her frank and slightly challenging look as he appreciated her face and figure stirred him like no other woman. The vapid and simpering ladies the countess constantly threw in his way were but candle flames compared to the bonfire that was Miss Smith.
The events on the day everything fell apart were unintended, but should have been foreseen. James had received his purchased captain’s commission and orders for the Peninsula, and he only meant to say goodbye to Margaret. Both knew marriage was impossible, and both thought they were prepared for the final break. Both were wrong. Mutual love and mutual desire was too strong. They took each other’s virginity in a shaded glen, calling out each other’s name in their pleasure. The sweet caresses and lingering kisses afterwards only made discovery that much more painful, as a hunting party found them in flagrante delicto.
The families were outraged. The Fitzwilliams demanded James give up the girl and marry a proper lady as soon as possible. The Smiths were livid at their daughter’s immoral actions and wanted to throw her out of their house. Margaret’s family expected to receive monetary compensation for their loss of a daughter, and the earl was of a mind to pay it.
What shocked all was the couple’s determination to stay together. James swore he would marry Margaret, and she would not leave him. Threats and cajoling did not move the young people. The die was cast. Finally a decision was made—the two would marry quietly. James would receive the portion of his mother’s dowry upon her death and his commission in the army. Other than that, not a penny more could be expected. As for the Smiths, in their shame of a daughter’s fall and anger over the loss of funds, they declared their daughter dead to them and warned that any letter received would be burned unread. James and Margaret were on their own.
With no other option, Margaret Fitzwilliam traveled with her captain to Portugal and became, for all intents, a camp follower. The skills learned from her mother served her well, and she was in much demand as a seamstress. Rough living was no difficulty to her, and James knew many were jealous that he had his wife for company in his tent.
Through Portugal and Spain and into France, Captain Fitzwilliam fought under Field Marshal Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington. James’ intelligence had caught the attention of his commanding officers, and those who were not concerned with offending Lord Matlock, such as General Robert Ross, used him as an aide.
James was very happy with Margaret, and while the army was not always to his liking, he was satisfied with his success. James knew his rise was due to his abilities and not to any influence from his estranged parents. His connection with Andrew was non-existent. As for Richard, their relationship was complicated. Colonel Fitzwilliam was proud of his brother, but Richard Fitzwilliam, second son of an earl, could not acknowledge his brother’s marriage. Their last conversation in France had been painful.
March, 1814 – Orthez, France
Captain Fitzwilliam had been summoned to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s quarters. He stood at attention, resolutely refusing to look his brother in the face.
Finally, Richard sighed. “Sit down, James. It is good to see you.”
James sat in a chair opposite the desk. “This is new. You haven’t spoken to me in over three years.”
“What would have been the purpose?” asked Richard. “Nothing has changed.”
“Then what is the reason for this interview?”
“I wanted to see how you got on. I have missed you.”
James was incredulous. “You missed me? Not enough to seek me out.”
“That was impossible before, with your—” Richard caught himself, but James knew he was going to say your wife. “Father has forbidden it.”
“So what has changed?”
“My position, for one. A commander of a regiment can do things a lower ranked officer cannot.”
“Including acknowledging his wayward brother?”
“Frankly, yes. Allow me to wish you joy on your promotion to major. I also wanted you to know everyone at home is well—Father, Mother, Andrew, Eugenie. The Darcys, too. By the way, Darcy has married.”
James was surprised how much he still cared that his family was in good health. “I thought I heard Darcy married and not to Anne de Bourgh. Who is she?”
“No one of our acquaintance. The lady is from a small village in Hertfordshire.”
“No society beauty? I suppose the family had fits over that.”
Richard colored. “No. The family quite likes her, actually—except for Aunt Catherine, of course.”
All of James’ resentment over his rejection returned. “So Prince Darcy gains approval, while I am thrown out of the family!” James rose and stomped over to a window.
“Of course,” Richard said in a louder voice. “Darcy’s wife is the daughter of a gentleman, while yours is not. Do you have any idea of the scandal your marriage caused? We tried to keep it quiet, but it still got out. Several of Father’s friends will not so much as speak to him in the Lords.”
James knew how important it was to his father to have influence in the House of Lords. “I did not know. You may not believe this, but I did not do what I did to inconvenience the family.”
Richard held up his hand. “Let us not go into that again. I just wanted to see you before you left.”
James calmed down a bit, and then a thought occurred to him. “You knew I was to leave the brigade and of my promotion to major.” A suspicion grew. “How? Did you have something to do with it?”
Richard would not meet his eyes, and that said volumes.
“I suppose I should thank you.”
Richard shrugged. “General Ross wanted my opinion and I gave it. I would just as soon see you safe.”
“Safe fighting Americans?”
“They cannot be worse than Bonaparte’s finest.”
There was nothing else to say. “I must go and prepare for our departure. Believe it or not, it was good to see you again, Richard.”
“Safe voyage, James. My best to your wife.”
The acknowledgement was unexpected. “Thank you. Farewell, Richard. God keep you.”
In the months to come, I’ll have more excepts from this and the other CRESCENT CITY novels for your reading enjoyment. THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE – a story of CRESCENT CITY is scheduled for release through White Soup Press in January of 2015.
Until next time, this has been the Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles.