Welcome. I am the author of Universal Time, a sci-fi urban comedy;
Beaufort 1849, an historical novel set in antebellum South Carolina;
and Pearl City Control Theory, a comedy of manners set in present-day San Francisco.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Night Before the Duel (excerpt)

As the party guests were loaded on the boat, Jasper retired to his room to find Jim with a whale-oil lamp lit and a magazine on the table in front of him. “I hear you’ve landed yourself in some trouble,” Jim said, barely glancing up when Jasper entered.
Jasper shook his head. “I hate the South. I really, really hate it.”
Jim shrugged. “Then let’s leave. Tonight.”
“If I did,” Jasper said, “it would disgrace Henry until the end of his days.”
“As near as I can tell, he’s not the one doing the dying,” Jim pointed out. He eyed Jasper critically. “You know, you left the South but it didn’t leave you. If your white man’s honor is more important to you than your life, so be it. But don’t pretend you’re doing it for Henry. You’re doing it for yourself.”
Jasper sat down heavily in a chair. Of course Jim was right. After Johnny’s challenge, it was his own honor at stake, his own social acceptance in Beaufort, as marginal as it was, that now hung by a thread. The honor of a gentleman might be just a matter of custom and values but it was as real as a set of manacles. He either had to leave tonight with his tail between his legs or fight tomorrow. And he just wasn’t ready to leave.
“Will you come to the duel?” Jasper asked at last. “Put me back together if any pieces fly off?”
Jim nodded with resignation. “So long as he doesn’t get you in the heart or the head, I can probably patch you up. Funny how you managed to avoid French husbands calling you out when you deserved it, and now, when you don’t deserve it, you wind up with this. I told you that petticoat would cause you trouble. Admit it, I was right.”
Jasper had to smile. “You’re always right, damn you.”
“And I’m also right about you wasting your time trying to change something that’ll never change.”
Jasper considered the assertion. “When you weigh it against all the potential suffering, it’s got to be worth a try.” Jim shook his head as he stood up. “You really have to go?” Jasper said.
“You need me to hold your hand?” Jim asked.
“If I only have seven hours left to live, I could use some company.”
Jim snorted. “Now that I’ve seen the world, I can truly say what I’ve always believed: southern white men are the biggest idiots on earth. I don’t know why we worry about freeing the slaves. A few more years of you all shooting holes in each other, and there won’t be any of you left to be masters.”
“Have a nice ring shout,” Jasper said sourly to Jim’s back as he left. Of course Jim was right: he was an idiot to be caught up in what was essentially a lover’s quarrel. Though he might recognize in Cara an unusual sensibility being squashed by the South’s parochial culture, being maimed or killed by her rejected lover was hardly doing her a service. Yes, the whole farce was absurd. Unfortunately, there was no way out except through.
Glancing at the table, Jasper picked up Jim’s reading material and idly examined it. It was the maiden volume of a magazine called Æsthetic Papers, and the essay it was opened to was titled, “Resistance to Civil Government,” by some New England transcendentalist named Thoreau. Wondering where Jim had gotten it, Jasper pulled his reading glasses out of his waistcoat and sat down to read about the moral imperative not to cooperate with an immoral government.

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