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"Ah, dammit! I don't want to be a Yankee," Charles Osgood said.
It was there; it had finally come, and Ashley was grateful.
And the semi-drama going on here surely meant her mind had been trying to warn her that the day was not going to come without its share of trouble, because it was already proving to be one hell of an afternoon.
Morning had brought the business of breakfast, visitors pouring onto the property to spend time at the campsites. Now they were coming close to the main event of the day, the reenactment of the battle that had taken place at Donegal Plantation.
She'd never expected the real trouble to come over the sad situation of an ailing faux-Yankee.
"Dammit!" Charles exclaimed again.
Ashley thought that the man sounded like a petulant teenager, though she knew that he didn't really want to argue. Not on a day like today. He flushed as the words came out of his mouth, and cast her a quick glance of dismay. She wasn't even the one handing out the assignments, though she was the only Donegal among them now. The relish the group was taking in telling Charles his new role unsettled her a bit. Charles Osgood was the newest in the "cavalry unit" of reenactors, which meant that he got the assignment to play for the other side. Yet this seemed to be turning into a college hazing; they were all friends, and they were usually courteous to one another.
"Charlie, come on! Being a Yankee will be fun. Okay, so they were jerkswell, the ones herewho couldn't spy on a neon sign, couldn't hunt, couldn't shoot . But come on! Being a Yank will be fun!" Griffin Grant teased.
Ashley shook her head; how could grown men be so immature?
In her mind, although she truly loved the living history that took place at the plantation, she thought the units clinging to so-called glory were nothing more than inane. The event had ended with the death of one her ancestorsnot a party.
"Hey, hey, all of you!" Ashley said, addressing the men around her and using the voice she would utilize when working with one of the school groupsthe grade-school groups. "I know you all like to cling to the magical illusion that the antebellum South was a place of beauty, grace and honorwhere men were men. Real men, hunting, riding, brawlingbut honorable. Yes, we reenact what was. But this is now, and that was then! None of you would seriously want to go back to the Civil War, and no one here is prejudiced. The slavery of any person was a horrendous way of life."
"Ashleyyou're making it sound like being a real man is bad thing!" Cliff Boudreaux commented, laughing. Cliff, horse master at Donegal, was clearly amused and having a good time.
"Well, of course, Ashley, it's not like we take this too seriously," Griffin Grant said, staring back at her as if she was the one who didn't understand the question. Griffin was a striking man in his early thirties, sleek and slick, a CEO for a cable company in New Orleans, though his ancestors had lived out here, two hours down the road from the big city. "We know realityand like it. But this is important playacting! "
She groaned softly.
They were good guys, really.
It was playacting, and for the playacting they were able to believe truly with their whole hearts that it had been about nothing other than states' rights. Ashley knew all the statistics about the fighting men most of the men who fought and died for the South during the war couldn't have begun to have afforded a slaveand war was seldom caused by one issue. But her parents and her grandfather had never been the types to overlook the plantation's complicated history. Cliff was part of that with his gold-green eyes, bronze-colored skin and dark tawny hair. She knew that half their visitors were immediately enthralled with him. He was one of the reenactors on the Southern side because of the Donegal blood that ran in his veins. Early on, a Donegal widower had fallen in love with a slave, creating the first racial mix in his background. In the 1920s, his great-grandfather had married a Donegal cousin, something that caused a serious scandal at that time in history, but which now gave both halves of the family a sense of pleasure and pride. She wasn't sure how to count second and third or twice-removed relatives, so she considered Cliff to be her cousin.
History was history. Donegal was steeped in it, good and bad, and they didn't hide any of it.
"Charles, they're right. It's a performance, you know," Ashley said. "It's a show, maybe even an important show in its small way. It's where people can see the weapons of the day, the uniforms that were worn. And, actually, remember, this particular fight started because men had a bar brawland then an excuse to fight because the war was getting underway. You're all examples of keeping history alive, and I'm so grateful to all of you."
Charles stared back at her blankly; the other men were smirking.
Why didn't they all get it? They were actors in a show, hopefully teaching American history, with several perspectives, along the way. But some things died really slowly here, in plantation country. Family was still everything. Loyalty to hearth and home, kin, parish and state. They'd been wrong; they'd been beaten, and they knew it, but still, only one side of the cast of players was considered to be elite. And the reenactors could be incredibly snobbish.
That made Charles Osgood the odd man out.
Toby Keaton cleared his throat and then said softly, "Charlescome on. You're lucky to be in with the 27th Bayou Militia Cavalry Unit. Most of the time, the fellows taking part in the reenactments here are direct descendants of those who fought before. You've got to see the truth of this thing. You claim your place in the ranks through marriageyour stepfather was an O'Reilly, and I know he raised you, but, you know, in other old Southern units, that wouldn't count." Toby was forty-four, and Ashley's next-door neighbor at Beaumont, his Creole plantation, though they both had acres and acres of land. Toby grinned as if to cut the harshness of his words. "Newcomerodd man out. You're a Yankee if I've ever seen one!"
"Great! So now I'm a newcomerand that makes me an outsider?" Charles asked, staring around the room. "Come on, guys, you've just got to understand. This will really make it look as if I don't belong here at all!"
He gave his appeal to the others gathered at the horse master's office in the old barn at Donegal Plantation that dayCliff Boudreaux, Griffin Grant, Toby Keaton, Ramsay Clayton, Hank Trebly, all still with property in the general area, John Ashton, tour director from New Orleans, and Ashley herself. The
"Yankees" were gathering in the old smokehouse a separate building, and now a small apartment. Charles would be joining them soon; all of the reen-actors gathered together for their roundtable discussions on the war, but each side met separately first on the day of the reenactment to make sure that every member knew the character he was playing. Later, they'd all meet back here to make sure that everyone was apprised of all the safety factors involved.
One, Charles, so it seemed, would have to play a Yankee, and go join the group in the apartment. They were short a Yankee, and that's the way it was. All of them belonged to Civil War roundtables, and these days, none of them really cared about sidesthey just liked to discuss tactics and procedure. They often met in the dining room at Donegal; Ashley loved to listen, because they also knew their history, and they spoke about events in the lives of many of the key players in the war, and the fact that the generals had often been best friends before they had been forced to choose sides in the bloody conflict. They knew about weapons, uniforms, sad stories about treason and resisters, draft riots, food, clothing, trade and so much more.
"Charles," Cliff Boudreaux said patiently. "We're all just teasing you here, really. We're short on Yankees today, on account of Barton Waverly being sick with the flu. We're pretty desperate. And that's the rule; newcomers play Yankees when our brothers from up North ask for help. Hell, remember that year when half of us were laid up with the croup? Three of them Yankees had to come play Southern boys. We're not doing anything bad to youreally."
Ramsay Clayton was seated across the table from Cliff. Ramsay looked like an artist; he was tall, with a wiry muscle structure, long dark hair and classical features. He owned a small place down the road, but he spent a lot of time in New Orleans, where he sometimes showed his work at Jackson Square and sometimes had showings at the galleries. He grinned at Charles. "Yeah, and don't forget, the Yankees won. Hell, come to think about it, where were all the Southern boys when we were losing this thing?" he asked lightly. "Ah, well. Born in our day and age, it's easy to look back at the South's part in the Civil War and wonder, 'What the hell were we thinking?'"
Ashley smiled. She liked Ramsay. He was a good guy.
"Well, I wish I could just step up to the plate, but I can't. I can't play a YankeeI just can't," Toby Keaton said. "Hell, my great-great-great-whatever grandfather was the first one to answer Marshall Donegal's call for volunteers. He was one of his best friends. I think he'd roll in his grave if I played a Yankee. Good God! I own a plantation! Wouldn't be fitting for me to play a Yankee. Lord knows, it could be bad for business."
Hank Trebly grinned. "Well, I'm just big sugar. I don't really give a whit. I see the war as over, over, over, and that's the way it is. Lord A-mighty! The damn thing ended in 1865." Hank owned the property next to Donegal, and his ancestors had owned it forever. The old plantation had been replaced by a sugar refinery years ago. He was a small man, in his early forties, and his business meant everything to him.
John Ashton shrugged. "My family might have been here, but I don't care," he said. "The Civil War means my income these daystourists love to go back. But I love 'em all. Yankees, rebels, Brits, Brazilians! Bring them on. They all spend money and take tours."
"And what happened here was in 1861, for God's sake, before the thing had really even gotten going," Griffin said, shaking his head. "Come on, now! My ancestor went on to die at the Second Battle of Ma-nassasnow, that's a damned big battle. We're here to teach, and to remember everything that happened in the pastand how it made us what we are today. Let's have fun, folks. C'monI come out here to forget the office and programming and statistics, computers and red tape. I don't care who plays what. It's just for a good time."
"I spend most of my time in New Orleans, art on the square and all thatyou can call me a doughboy for all I care. It's the spirit of this thing," Ramsay said. "And Lord knows, what happened here couldn't even be called a battle. My ancestor and most of the Southern boys except for Marshall survived, but, as we've all pointed out nowthe North won. We are living the United States of America. This wasn't even really a battle."
He was right. What had taken place late in 1861 hadn't even been a battle. Drinking downriver, toward New Orleans, two Yankee spies had heard about Donegal's then-ownerMarshall Donegal preparing a major summons to area troops to prepare them for an invasion of New Orleans. In trying to draw Marshall Donegal's men out further on the subject, they had all gotten into a fistfight when one made a ridiculous statement about Northerners being chickens. The two Confederates suspected the men of being spies, and had run back to Donegal. The spies went back to their headquarters, but they were spies, and thus their numbers were small. On each side, six men were musteredand, rather than be executed as spies if they were caught, the Union men donned their uniforms.
The fighting had ranged from the stables to the porch of the main house and out to the chapel and cemeteryending when Captain Marshall Donegal had died of a bayonet wound in his own family graveyard. The enemy had "skedaddled," according to the Southern side; the rebels had been left in utter defeat, according to their Northern counterparts.
Now, the "battle" was something that taught history, and, largely due to its small sizeand the fact that the current owner of the plantation, Ashley's grandfather, Frazier Donegal, was a history buff and glad to welcome the units on his propertyit was a popular event. "Living history" took place frequently at Donegal, as often as once a week, but an actual re-enactment was done only once a year. Sometimes the actors doing the reenactments were involved in other locations. Some belonged not just to Civil War units, but Revolutionary War units, and it just depended on where the biggest shindig was going on. Luckily, most of the men who could claim to have had ancestors in the brawl loved the plantation and the nearly exact-to-the-past-moment location of the place, and they usually made this reenactment a priority.
Donegal House was surely one of the prettiest places left on the river road, with memories of the antebellum era held in place. The great house still maintained a gorgeous front. It had been built with magnificent Greek columns and wraparound porches, and elegant tree-shaded entries stretched forever before the front and back doors. The currently used stables, housing only six horses, were next to the house, while the larger stables needed in a bygone era were far back from the house, to the left, riverside, and offered three apartments for those who wanted to stay for the night. The old smokehouse and servants' quarters were available for rent as well, and sometimes they even rented out five of the rooms in the main house. With Beth there, Ashley's extraordinarily talented friend and chef, and the efforts they were making with the restaurant and the crazy business that came along with the reenactment, they had chosen this year just to let rooms in the outbuildings.