Launch Party for THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE: a Story of CRESCENT CITY by Jack Caldwell
(Wait a minute, you say. I thought this was to celebrate the launch of THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE. What is CRESCENT CITY?)
CRESCENT CITY is the story of America’s most unique city, New Orleans, as told through the lives of an immigrant family from Derbyshire, England—the Darcys. The story spans almost two hundred years, from the Battle of New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina, told in a series of novels.
I wrote CRESCENT CITY to tell the true story of Louisiana and New Orleans. If all you know about this great city is the movie The Big Easy, boy is there a surprise waiting for you!
THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE: a Story of CRESCENT CITY is the first book in the series. From the back cover:
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 doorstep, Darcy joins General Andrew Jackson’s rag-tag army of backwoodsmen, Creoles, free blacks, and buccaneers in the face of overwhelming odds.
For background, the book takes place during the War of 1812, what some historians consider the Second American Revolution. Matthew Darcy is a distant cousin of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley; his side of the family immigrated to the Maryland colony before the Revolutionary War. A major in the US Army, he is sent to New Orleans by his commander, General Andrew Jackson, to report on its defenses. Old Hickory fears an attack on the city by the British.
There are elements of Jane Austen’s PERSUASION in this book. For one, Matthew’s great friend is Major Jacob Harville. Another is that Matthew meets and falls in love with a Cajun-Creole heiress, Anne-Marie Dansereau, whose father forbids their relationship.
A decidedly un-Austin character in the book is the City of New Orleans itself. It is an alien place filled with Frenchmen, Spaniards, American expatriates, free coloreds, and black slaves, all intermingled in an exotic gumbo of pride, vice, and suspicion. The language and the rules are far different than Matthew’s Baltimore. Then as now, it is like no other city in the United States.
Romance has to take a back seat when the British Army invades. Among their number is the estranged son of the Earl of Matlock, British Major James Fitzwilliam. Cousin meets cousin on the battlefield that will determine the future of North America—the plains of Chalmette.
The excerpt I’ve chosen for you occurs after Matthew Darcy had been introduced to Anne-Marie Dansereau by her cousin, Henri Herbert, who had made Matthew’s acquaintance several weeks before. Matthew and Jacob have been invited to Sunday Dinner at Anne-Marie’s Melançon relations on Rue Bourbon:
The heat of the day was finally starting to fade when the two American officers were announced. Anne-Marie rose to her feet, her eyes seeking those of Major Darcy. How surprised she was to meet the tall, handsome soldier who galvanized her only a few weeks ago. Never before had she felt such an attraction for a young man.
A moment passed, and his blue eyes were caught by her dark ones. There it was—that strange connection! Like a charge, it ran through her. Her fingers tingled. She flushed so much she was certain she was red as a rose.
His eyes widened. Did he know? Did he feel the same?
Another instant and it was gone. Major Darcy paid his compliments to her aunt and uncle, as well as her father and cousin, before he reached her. By then, Anne-Marie could offer her hand in welcome with tolerable calmness, but she felt a heat course through their gloves. Did she imagine it?
“Bonjour, Major Darcy,” she managed.
“Bonjour, Mlle Dansereau.” He turned to the others. “Allow me to introduce my companion, Major Jacob Harville.”
She tore away her gaze from Major Darcy. Major Harville was very different from the tall, serious, dark-haired officer who had haunted her dreams. The shorter gentleman had a ruddy face and sandy, unkempt hair. His air and grin were of confidence and amiability. Anne-Marie liked him immediately.
“Evening, Mrs. Melançon,” he said in a strong drawl. “Erm…bonjour, madame.” His French was horrible.
Anne-Marie could not help but laugh lightly, holding her hand over her mouth. From the corner of her eye, she saw that her father was not amused.
Her aunt put the poor man at ease at once. “Good evening, Major!” she replied. “Please, do not feel uncomfortable. Most of us speak English. You are very welcomed here.”
“Thank you kindly, ma’am. Sorry I don’t speak your language. Why, Matt here says I barely speak English!”
Matt? Anne-Marie thought. For Matthew? She smiled softly as she gazed at Major Darcy. Yes, the name suits him.
The group removed to the dining room almost immediately. M. Dansereau was to return to his plantation after dinner and wanted to leave while it was still light. Anne-Marie sat to her uncle’s left, her father beside her. Across the table were the three young men, Henry flanked by the two American officers. Anne-Marie was pleased to see Matthew Darcy was directly opposite her.
As the soup was served, Mme Melançon asked Major Harville about his family. The Tennessean spoke at length while Herbert translated for M. Dansereau. He had a large family in Nashville; he claimed three brothers and four sisters. There was a sweetheart, too. A girl from a neighboring farm was promised to him.
“She must miss you,” said Mme Melançon.
“She surely does, ma’am. I write Fanny every week, but it ain’t—beg pardon, I mean, it is not the same.” He took out a small miniature and opened the cover. “We had this done when I went off with Colonel Jackson—General Jackson, now.”
Mme Melançon took it. “She is very pretty,” she said as she passed it to M. Dansereau.
“Yes, ma’am. Prettiest girl in Davidson County.”
The girl was pretty, Anne-Marie thought, but the cameo brought an unsettled conjecture to her. Did Matthew Darcy have a sweetheart back in his hometown—or worse, a wife?
“What is your mission here?” M. Melançon asked while the soup was replaced by their dinner. “We hear many rumors.”
Harville grinned. “In the army, we call that intelligence. General Jackson is concerned ’bout the intentions of the British. New Orleans is an obvious target, so he sent Major Darcy and me to see how things were. Matt here’s the expert in logistics and supply. Me, I know enough ’bout engineering to inspect the fortifications.”
M. Dansereau leaned forward, concerned. “Et qu’est-ce que vous avez trouvé?”
Herbert offered a translation, and Harville repeated it around a bite. “What have I found? Not much so far, Mr. Dansereau, not much at all. Forts St. John and Petites Coquilles need more guns and men. I haven’t been down to Fort St. Philip yet, but I’ll wager things are pretty much the same there. There’s nothing to the west of town, or east, neither ’cept Fort St. Charles, which is hardly worth its name. I hate to say it, but New Orleans is nearly undefended.”
M. Melançon turned to Major Darcy. “And what have your inquiries unearthed?”
He set down his fork. “You have a small corps of militia, monsieur, nowhere near enough to mount a defense. You need more men and better training.”
“I told you, Philippe!” cried Dansereau. “I said les Créoles would stand by and do nothing!”
“Emile,” replied Melançon in a tone that indicated they had this discussion before, “I would remind you I am Creole, and I would do something if I were younger. I do not listen to Marigny.”
Anne-Marie saw Harville and Darcy exchange glances.
M. Dansereau turned his attention upon Herbert. “And you, Henri, what are you doing?”
Herbert shrugged. “That remains to be seen, Cousin, as the English are not here. In the meantime, I have business that needs my attention.”
“I suppose you mean your house in the Faubourg Marigny,” he practically sneered.
The young Creole’s face became frozen. “That is one of my concerns, oui.”
A quarrel was coming, Anne-Marie knew. She spoke up. “Major Darcy! Your friend has told us of his family, but what of yours? Where do they live?”
To her surprise, the young officer seemed hesitant to speak. “I was raised in Maryland, mademoiselle, on a farm not far from Baltimore. My half-brother still lives on the farm, and my sister married a man in Philadelphia. Our mother, you see, was my father’s second wife. They both are gone now.”
“We are sorry to hear that,” said Mme Melançon. “Is that all of your family?”
“Yes,” Darcy answered shortly.
Anne-Marie noticed a grim expression on Major Harville’s face. Oh, dear, I think we stumbled across a painful subject! Think of something else! “Your French is very good, Major.”
“Merci beaucoup. My mother spoke French, and I studied languages in college.”
Harville barked out a laugh. “That comes in mighty handy ’round here.”
“True enough,” said Herbert dryly. “He translates Tennessean for us.”
It took Harville a moment to catch on. “Ha! You’re sure right ’bout that, Henri!”
The rest of the meal passed in pleasant conversation. The only member of the party who did not participate was M. Dansereau. Anne-Marie hoped the young officers would overlook her father’s rudeness. She had long known of his abhorrence of the English and, by extension, their new American counterparts. She had to be happy that he did not start an argument with their guests. He had done so before.
Consequently, when she saw her father off in his carriage back to the family plantation, it was with unaccustomed relief. She hurried back inside her uncle’s house, hoping to speak more with the young gentlemen, particularly Major Darcy. Unfortunately, her aunt had other ideas.
“Ma chérie, will you play for us?” The pianoforte was before her.
Anne-Marie suppressed a sigh as she took her place before the instrument. She decided on a simple country song she knew well. She did not want to make a mistake, for that would defeat her aunt’s obvious intention of promoting Anne-Marie’s accomplishments. Besides, she did want to make a good impression on Major Darcy!
The song completed successfully, if the applause was any indication, Anne-Marie moved to sit next to her aunt, which just happened to be the closest seat to Major Darcy’s chair. The next half-hour was given over to their guests’ impressions of New Orleans. Major Harville was very amusing, but it was clear he was not comfortable with the city.
“It’s a strange town,” he had said, “almost like they done sent me to a foreign land. It’s nothing like Nashville, that’s for sure!”
“You are right, Jacob, New Orleans is different,” responded Major Darcy. “But I have to admit I like the place. The people, the culture”—he smiled at Mme Melançon—“the food. I find it fascinating.”
Harville laughed good-naturedly. “That’s because you’re a Papist that speaks the lingo, Matt. Me, I’m a fish out of water.”
It was time for the young gentlemen to leave. Anne-Marie said farewell to Major Harville, then turned to Major Darcy. “I enjoyed our conversation, Major. I hope we meet again soon.
His blue eyes grew dark. “I would like that very much, mademoiselle—very much, indeed.” He turned his head towards her uncle. “May I have your permission to call again?”
In answer to Uncle Melançon’s questioning look, Anne-Marie gave a slight nod. “Of course, Major, whenever your duties allow.”
Aunt Melançon jumped in. “Oh, the food the army serves must be dreadful! You must come back for dinner—you, too, Major Harville! Perhaps on Wednesday?”
Major Darcy looked so adorably surprised that Anne-Marie had to bite her lip to stop from giggling. “I…I would not want to impose—”
Harville clapped his comrade on the back. “Hold your horses there, Matt. Mrs. Melançon, we would be happy to come—right, Matthew?” This earned a laugh from Herbert.
Anne-Marie was thrilled that Major Darcy turned back to her as he said, “Thank you; we will come, if we can.”
“And if we can’t, we’ll just sneak out!” Harville claimed. “You set a mighty fine table, ma’am!”
Herbert took his leave of Anne-Marie as the two officers were talking to M. Melançon. “Ah, I am overturned for a couple of Americans! You pain me, chérie!”
“You know you are welcomed too, Henri.”
“Non, I would just be in the way. Enjoy your Major Darcy, Cousin.”
“He is not my Major Darcy.”
“But he could be.” Herbert held her shoulders. “Seek your happiness, chérie.”
“As you have done? Is it worth it, Henri?”
Pain flowed across her cousin’s face. “I cannot live otherwise. Good night.”
THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE: a Story of CRESCENT CITY is available now through White Soup Press, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. It is available in print and Kindle format (you’ll have to wait a little while for Nook—sorry).
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 One of CRESCENT CITY
• ELYSIAN DREAMS: Volume Two of CRESCENT CITY
• RUIN & RENEWAL: Volume Three of CRESCENT CITY
CRESCENT CITY will be published over the summer of 2015, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Katrina.
Okay, now for what you’ve been waiting for – A FREE BOOK. To comment, please do one of the following:
• If you have been to New Orleans, tell me of your favorite New Orleans restaurant or landmark.
• If you have not been to New Orleans, please describe what you think New Orleans is like in one sentence.
TWO winners of a print copy will be chosen at random. Good luck!
“It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…”