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No Promise for Tomorrow

No Promise for Tomorrow

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No Promise for Tomorrow

ratings:
5/5 (1 rating)
Length:
567 pages
9 hours
Released:
Oct 26, 2018
ISBN:
9781946920515
Format:
Book

Description

Yesterday a war, today a war, a family in between… all revealed in this final book in the Quinn Saga from the Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal Winner, Thomas E. Simmons!


In 1917, when all the world was waiting with bated breath to see if the United States would come the rescue of Europe, Lt. Ansel Quinn is assigned to the French Army Headquarters in Paris as a neutral observer. This sets off an unimaginable chain of events affecting his new wife, Isabel, in international intrigue, and a family’s struggles across the twenty short years between the end of World War I, a period that includes the influenza epidemic, the roaring twenties, prohibition, the great depression, and the start of World War II.

Released:
Oct 26, 2018
ISBN:
9781946920515
Format:
Book

About the author

Thomas E. Simmons grew up in Mississippi and attended the Marion Military Institute, the U. S. Naval Academy, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the University of Alabama. He served as commercial captain of a seventy-foot sailing vessel, has been a pilot since the age of sixteen, has flown professionally, and participated in air shows flying aerobatics in open-cockpit biplanes. In 1960, he served as an artillery officer in Korea. He and his wife live in Gulfport, Mississippi.


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No Promise for Tomorrow - Thomas E. Simmons

Simmons

Acknowledgments

Scores of details of historic places, events, people, and facts intertwined in this story were derived from careful research of historical books, old newspapers, libraries, and endless sources available on the internet. It would be ungrateful of me not to acknowledge the vast historical works of others concerning World War I, Cuba, Paris, London, and the American South for the period 1915 -1942. Those works contributed to the authentic details of this book. A list of such sources is far too extensive to record here, but I salute all those whose efforts contribute to the ever-expanding knowledge and understanding of history.

The idea, words and style of a work may originate with the author, but the finished book—tidy, free of awkward structure, grammatical errors, lapses in syntax, and authentication of facts (all the things that make a book acceptable to the reader)—must be credited to the publisher’s staff (editors, proof readers, fact checkers, layout artists, printers, and type selection and book cover designers) whose work often goes unrecognized and unsung. I hereby sing special praise of the staff at TouchPoint Press and especially to my editor, Kimberly Coghlan. Finally, this work may well have languished unpublished without the faith and hard work of my tireless agent, Jeanie Loiacono of Loiacono Literary Agency, LLC.

Last, I praise a special lady, my wife, Kay, for her love, support, and especially her patience in putting up with cantankerous me and a no-account dog.

"We are dead inside because of the war, and

there is another war coming, so let’s party."

The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway, 1926

Prologue

Early November 1916

C

aptain J. Ansel Quinn, glad to be alive, knew he would be in trouble when he reached home. He had not been allowed to write a letter to Isabel for months—not since shell fragments hit him on the Somme where, as a neutral American Army observer, he was not supposed to be. Unconscious for over a week, he awoke on a hospital ship crossing the English Channel on his way to the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital in London.

When it was discovered that he was an American captain, a cloak of secrecy was clamped over the fact. If word got out that an American Army captain had been injured in combat on the front, all hell would break loose from the German propaganda machine. Their embassy in Washington would have claimed that America was not neutral—that American soldiers were on the front with the English. Woodrow Wilson was in a tight campaign for re-election on the theme, He kept American boys out of the war. An American soldier discovered wounded at the front would enrage isolationist voters and very well cause Wilson to lose the election.

The British were just as concerned that if word got out that an American soldier was wounded on the British sector of the Somme, it could adversely affect neutral America’s willingness to continue supplying Britain with all forms of materiel critical to their continuing the war.

The French, too, were cautiously apprehensive since Ansel’s basic assignment by the American Embassy in Paris was to work out of French Army Headquarters in Paris.

Captain Quinn’s story simply had to be kept secret.

Once released from hospital in London, arrangements were made to clandestinely return Ansel to the United States. To do so, the British used devious means, including changing Ansel’s identity to that of a Canadian officer. Wearing a Canadian uniform, he was placed aboard a Canadian hospital ship, which returned wounded Canadian soldiers to Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there, he traveled by train to Washington D.C. Only when he was on American soil, he was allowed to change into his American uniform and assume his own identity. Even then, the American State Department was concerned that an American Captain carrying a walking cane would be hard pressed to explain a crippled thigh, a scar across the right side of his face, and a scar below his shoulder, front and back. In an attempt to hide the truth, Ansel’s injuries were reported by the American Embassy in Paris as ‘due to an automobile accident in Paris.’ The French cooperated by filing French police reports of the accident and hospital records confirming the fact.

All during the time of his treatment, rehabilitation, and travel home, he had not been allowed to communicate, by any means, with his wife, or for that matter, anyone but British Intelligence and the U.S. State Department. President Wilson’s re-election was still days away, and the German propaganda machine would give anything to learn his story. To cover the period of silence, the Army sent Isabel an official letter stating that Captain Ansel Quinn had been assigned to evaluate new infantry tactics being developed at a British base in Scotland—so secret that no communication with the outside was allowed.

Now, released from a debriefing in Washington, it was time to go home to his young wife for whom he carried a heavy burden of guilt. Right after their wedding, he left her to oversee the running of the Quinn family cotton plantation in Mississippi and the sugar plantation in Cuba. With Ansel in the Army, Isabel was the only Quinn left to watch over the operations since Ansel’s ‘Aunt’ Bethany had been suddenly and tragically lost on Lusitania on her way to visit Ansel in Paris.

Bethany had begged Ansel to leave the Army and return to help her run the family business. You are the last male Quinn. It’s your family duty, she would argue whenever they were together.

Aunt Bethany, he would counter, I’m a soldier. What about my duty to my country? There will be time for me to take on the family duty after this war is over.

Not one to let it go, she’d shoot right back, You can do it now. America is not in the war.

His kiss would find her cheek, and then he’d remind her, "You and Jonathan were gun runners to Cuban rebels; you were a spy against Spain—refused to leave Cuba in her time of crisis—and we weren’t yet in that war either. Y’all sent me away to Marion Military Institute to become a soldier, to get me out of Cuba, which led me on to West Point. Now, you want me to be a farmer."

Since he was a child, his Aunt Bethany had loved him like a second mother—taken him on trips and taught him so many things. Only after her death, when, by her instructions, he was given her diary, did he learn why.

Ansel worried how Isabel would take all the Quinn secrets revealed in Bethany’s diary… but those thoughts drifted away as he concentrated on getting home. Should I call Isabel, who hasn’t heard from me for months, or just go home?

Ansel, showing his ignorance about women, made the ill-advised decision to simply show up without notice at Shamrock Plantation near Vicksburg and surprise his beautiful wife. Better to explain it all in person rather than by letter. After all, he had been in the hospital in London for months with numerous surgeries and a long period of rehabilitation, during which time he wasn’t allowed to write. As a matter of fact, he reminded himself, I wasn’t even there. It was Canadian Captain J. A. Williams who was there. Now home, standing with the aid of his cane in the hallway of Shamrock cottage, he found himself facing a war of a different sort.

Once Isabel got over the shock that Ansel had just walked in the front door, she realized that he had been seriously wounded. She examined the long scar running across his cheek to his right ear and watched him walk with the aid of a cane. She wept compassionately at seeing him hurt so badly, then thankfully that he was home and alive. Only after she had time to think about his return and the fact that he had been wounded, after she had regained her composure and contemplated all that could have possibly happened to Ansel, did Isabel go into a full-blown hissy fit.

"You lied to me Ansel Quinn! You told me you sat bored doing paperwork in Paris, but look at you! You’ve been in the fighting, haven’t you? You lied to me! You married me and left to go back to France, promising me you would be far from any danger. You just had to go to the front and play soldier, didn’t you? She beat him on his chest with her fists. Damnit, Ansel Quinn! You nearly got yourself killed!"

Grunting in pain, he asked, Do you know how beautiful you are when you’re angry?

She hit him again.

He grimaced. "Please don’t hit me on the left side of my chest. I’m afraid I’ve got a scar there, too."

She burst out crying again. J. Ansel Quinn, if the Army calls you back, I will shoot you myself before I’ll let you go.

Well, Lizzy was glad to see me, and she didn’t beat me. What’s for supper?

You ought not get any supper. Don’t you ever leave me again!

I promise I’ll explain everything. I just need a little food, a little bourbon, and you, Darlin’ Isabel.

Don’t you ‘darlin’’ me! You don’t deserve a single thing you’ve asked for. The very idea of you walking in like this all shot up and not letting me know you were coming, not letting me know you were hurt.

Lizzy, the long-time Shamrock housekeeper had come from the kitchen to hear what the shouting was about. Miss Isabel, dis here poor man needs ‘is suppa.

Lizzy, you know that all men are cowards?

Dey is when a woman throws a hissy fit.

"You always take his side. Go fix us some supper and get out that bottle of bourbon."

Yesum. Lizzy said, wiping her hands on her apron. Plum tickled pink, she walked toward the kitchen with a big grin on her face. Dat boy is home. Praise da Lord.

It took all of his charm and his ally, Lizzy, to finally calm Isabel down—that and a night of making passionate love to her.

She made the observation in the night that although his right thigh had been shot half away, it didn’t interfere one wit with his ability in bed.

Then, when she left him sleeping the next morning and slipped out of bed to unpack Ansel’s trunk and put his things away, the war started all over again.

She shook him awake. J. Ansel, just what are you doing with a British uniform?

Ansel sat straight up, a little disoriented, and wiped the sleepy from his eyes.

You better tell me everything you’ve been doing or you can sleep in the barn. You lied, lied, lied to me, Ansel Quinn. And what does it mean you could be called back in an advisory capacity?

"I told you the truth. I was a neutral observer assigned from the American Embassy to French Military Headquarters in Paris. And, you’ve been reading my military papers."

"Yes, I have. Now, I want to know what you’ve been doing, how you got hurt, what ‘advisory capacity’ means, and just why you have a British uniform. Here I’ve been working hard to learn to manage this place, traveling to check on the sugar plantation in Cuba, trying to make you proud of me, and worrying myself sick over you, and the whole time you were lying, telling me you were safe in Paris. I knew you were lying all along. You owe me answers, Ansel Quinn."

It’s not a British uniform; it’s Canadian. And can’t we talk about this after breakfast?

"No! You talk to me now or there won’t be any breakfast."

Ansel pulled the covers up. I’m not talking without my pants.

You didn’t need your pants to talk to me last night.

I’m hungry, he whined.

Oh, all right! Isabel walked over to the chair where Ansel had dropped his uniform, picked up his trousers and shirt, and threw them at him. Get yourself cleaned up and dressed! Isabel, still in her nightgown and robe, spun around and left for the kitchen.

Damn, what a woman! Henrí was right. I’ve married way over my head. God, she is beautiful! That reminds me, I need to be careful. She doesn’t know about Bethany, Henrí, and me. Hell, even I didn’t know about it ‘til a few months ago.

***

Thank you for serving breakfast, Lizzy. Now please find something to do at the front of the house. The Captain and I are going to have a private talk.

Mista Ansel, whachu done now?

Lizzy!

I’m goin’, I’m goin’, Miss Isabel.

Well, Captain, why aren’t you eating?

I’ve lost my appetite. He stared blankly at her.

You’re liable to lose more than that if you don’t tell me the truth. Damn it, Ansel! Do you know how many nights I cried myself to sleep? You knew I had been a volunteer in a hospital in London when you married me—that I’ve seen what war does to men. I knew when we married that you were going back to the Embassy in Paris, but you promised you had a boring job, a safe job. Before I agreed to marry you, you promised me you would not be in harm’s way—that you’d come home to me. You lied and left me here to work and worry and pray you would come home. You knew you would go to the front—had already been to the front, hadn’t you? America is not even in that horrible war, but you had to volunteer to play soldier, didn’t you? Tears ran down Isabel’s cheeks. She had not touched a bite of breakfast. You tell me the truth, right now, all of it, or I’ll leave and go home to Memphis. You tell me or I’ll write to that Mr. Lansing at the State Department in Washington, the one who signed that letter you have. What does it mean you are in an intelligence service that isn’t even official? You better tell me everything or I will find someone who will!

His eyebrows shot up. You do and you’ll get me shot.

Then you better tell me. Do you know how frightened I was going months without hearing a word from you? Jed and my daddy made excuses, telling me how busy you were or that the mail ship had probably been sunk. I know about ships being sunk, remember? We met on a ship coming home that was attacked by a U-boat. Do you have any idea how my heart ached for weeks after you left me and returned to France? I told you I didn’t want to marry you—that I couldn’t love and then lose another soldier.

Then why did you?

Because I love you, damnit!

But you’re mad at me.

I’m so mad, I could kill you. Now tell me everything or I’ll leave. I mean it.

So, Ansel did, beginning with his job, which was to observe the French and English tactics, weapons, transportation, and logistics, as well as those of the Germans, and report all he learned to the American Embassy. My orders were to observe ‘from a safe distance.’ That worked at Vimy Ridge and Verdun, but at the battle of the Somme, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Isabel scoffed, A safe distance! Posh! How did you get all shot up at a safe distance?

Please let me finish, Isabel. You must remember and understand that nothing I tell you must be repeated. It is all top secret.

I’m listening. She crossed her arms across her chest and cocked her head, then waited most impatiently.

Ansel told her everything—how many times he had been to the front, how terrible the losses were on both sides, and how important the information he gathered was, should American be drawn into the war.

Back to that British uniform, Captain Quinn. She shook her crossed leg, agitated.

It’s Canadian. He told her of the ruse that had been used to get him from England back to America by pretending the wounded soldier limping with a cane was Canadian Captain Williams and not American Captain Quinn. I should not be telling you all this.

We’ve been over that, J. Ansel. I’m listening.

When I was first told I would have a new name and pose as a wounded Canadian, I jokingly said that I was disappointed—that I thought I would be a hero with my picture on the front of every newspaper with the headline, First American Soldier Wounded in the Great War. They didn’t think that was funny. That’s when I asked them who was going to tell my beautiful wife. I told them you would be worried—that you almost didn’t marry me because of the Army and the fear I might be killed. They passed the task off to Secretary of State Lansing, saying someone from his office would personally deliver the message. I told them no! I said that if a government vehicle drove up at Shamrock, you would think I was dead before they could get out and convince you otherwise.

I would have collapsed right in front of them.

You see! I was thinking of you all along. I told them to let me send you a letter telling you I was okay. I was told they would send a letter—that they had to be very careful and didn’t trust me to communicate directly with you. That was the letter from Secretary of State Lansing telling you I would be on an extended assignment at a hush-hush isolated base in Scotland.

Those cunning bastards. I don’t think I will forgive you for that. Just more lies.

It wasn’t a total lie. There is such a secret base in Scotland.

Keep it up, J. Ansel, and you will be sleeping alone.

I told them you were a mean, unforgiving woman.

You don’t know how true that is. Now, the rest of it.

Ansel told her how he was hidden in a London hospital, went through several operations and therapy, and was finally sent on a ship with Canadian wounded to Halifax and put on a train to Washington, all the time playing the role of a Canadian officer until his train crossed into the United States, where he was allowed to put on his American Uniform and assume his real identity. That’s pretty much what happened, Isabel.

Oh no! Don’t you stop now, Captain Quinn! I know there’s more.

There’s not much more. Really. I was met in Washington by one of Secretary of State Lansing’s operatives. I forgot to tell you that I am also one of his intelligence agents, as are many officers assigned to our embassies overseas. The Army and President Wilson still refuse to establish and fund an army intelligence service, so Lansing has military officers assigned to our embassies under cover for his Department of State.

But you just kept lying and lying to me.

Couldn’t you call it fibbing?

She gave him a most distressing look. And?

I could use a bourbon on ice. My throat is dry.

It’s eight o’clock in the morning, Ansel, and I want the truth!

Ansel looked down at his untouched, cold breakfast, took a deep breath, and began again. After I met with Secretary Lansing and filled him in on everything I could remember about the Somme and my time in the hospital, I caught a train home—several trains actually. Seems there was a big flood that washed out whole towns and a lot of tracks in the Carolinas and Georgia. You must have read about it. To get here, I had to go by train from Washington all the way to Louisville, Kentucky, then down to Memphis to catch the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley train to get to Vicksburg. Old Luke Quagg agreed to drive me here. Now you have it. And don’t scold me for not calling your daddy in Memphis. He might have called you before I got here.

Staring across the table with his best poker face, his mind raced back to his meeting in D.C., to what he could not tell her…

Although he could not be put on combat duty because of his injuries, he had, at the request of Col. Van Deman, the Army’s unofficial intelligence expert, and Secretary of State Robert Lansing, been given a secret intelligence assignment because of his training, knowledge, and field record in military intelligence—and the fact that he had perfect cover for the assignment. At the meeting in Lansing’s office in the State, War, and Navy Building (now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building), he learned that there was evidence that Germany was supporting the Mexican revolutionary, Poncho Villa, and his army with money and arms. At that very moment, on orders from President Wilson, Villa was being pursued in Mexico by General Pershing at the head of over 6,000 American regular and National Guard troops. For the first time, the Army was employing trucks, 588 of them, and six aircraft. Ansel learned that Villa had crossed the U.S. border and raided Columbus, New Mexico, killing thirty-seven Americans. In addition, Mexican raids on American towns and ranches were increasing all along the border.

Secretary Lansing explained, We now have unconfirmed rumors that the Germans are also active in Cuba, exacerbating growing unrest there because of the re-election on the first of this month of the Conservative Party President, Mario Garcia Menocal. The defeated Liberal Party backing Alfredo Zayas y Alfonso for president is claiming the re-election of Menocal was illegitimate, using pay-off money, violence, and fraudulent ballots. They are threatening rebellion in Santiago de Cuba in Oriente Province, home of Zaya. The situation is growing tense. We believe Germany is fermenting and supporting the Liberal’s rebellion with money and perhaps arms, though we have no proof at this time. Germany’s purpose in Mexico and Cuba, as well as anywhere else in Latin America they can agitate trouble, is to cause America to expend men, money, arms, and munitions that otherwise might go to its enemies, England, France, and Russia.

Col. Van Deman turned and addressed him. We know you have a family business in Cuba. We believe you can successfully use that as cover for this assignment. We assume your wife will be with you, which will only add to your cover as an American businessman on a normal trip to look over his Cuban interests. We know that both you and your wife are fluent in Spanish, which strengthens your cover story and enhances your ability to gather information.

Van Deman and Secretary Lansing assured Ansel his wife would be in no danger and knowing nothing about the mission—could not possibly do or say anything to compromise it.

Secretary Lansing asked, Have you recovered sufficiently from you wounds to arrange a trip to Cuba in the near future, and if so, how long could you be in country?

Ansel answered yes to the first question, and to the second, he estimated he could stay maybe three weeks at the most. My wife has been making trips to the plantation in Cuba to check the books and survey the operations. She knows the time it takes to accomplish the tasks. She is a very smart lady and will begin to ask questions if we stay longer. Will that be long enough for your purpose?

Van Deman responded, What we’re after is to determine two things: the first, in the event of serious rebellion because of Menocal’s re-election, will American interests, such as sugar production, be threatened? If so, the U.S. will have to consider whether to act under the terms of the 1901 Platt amendment, which stipulates conditions for U.S. intervention in Cuban affairs. The second is to determine if German agents are stirring up the situation and supporting rebellion. I think in two to three weeks you should be able to gather enough information to confirm what we are hearing. In any case, any information will add to the Cuban file for preliminary planning purposes.

I will do my best.

Splendid. We have a great deal of confidence in you, Captain. It goes without saying that no one outside the contacts we give you must know about your mission. This includes your wife.

Ansel nodded his head.

Secretary Lansing added, Please keep this office informed of your travel plans. Once you reach Cuba, you will report your findings back to us, either through Consul-General James Rogers in Havana or Consul Richard Bartleman in Cienfuegos. As an American businessman with holdings in Cuba, your visits to the consuls should not raise any suspicions any more than other businessmen, American or Cuban. They alone will be informed of your mission. They can be trusted to keep your special activities secret. You will give your reports to the consuls orally. We don’t want to risk anyone, including your wife, discovering a written report in your possession. Your oral reports will be recorded by the consuls and encoded prior to telegraph transmission to this office. Keep in mind that the Cuban telephone and telegraph systems are not secure. You are only to use them in case of an emergency.

Col. Van Deman went on to say, "We are in contact with a British agent that has been in the area for several months. He has agreed to meet with you. Of course, neither he nor you will use your real names. He will bring you up to date on what his agency knows.

Now, for the next two days, you will receive a complete briefing on what we know of the situation in Cuba and Latin America before you depart for home…

All of this buzzed through Ansel’s mind while facing Isabel across the breakfast table.

Ansel, are you all right? You have a strained look on your face. What are you hiding?

He had told her all he could. He took a sip of coffee and found it as cold and bitter as the look in Isabel’s eyes.

I’ve told you what I remember. Anyway, Wilson was re-elected this month. No longer is anyone in Washington worried about Captain Quinn. That’s all of it, except my wife threatens to shoot me.

That’s not all of it! Isabel shouted. Who is Ravensdale?

Ansel set his cup down, turning white as a sheet. How do you know that name?

You screamed it out in your sleep last night. You nearly scared me to death. I can’t live with you unless you tell me the truth about the day you got all shot up. I was a nurse in England, remember? I know what men at war go through. I’ve heard them scream in the night. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what haunts you. I’ve seen what bad dreams and memories can do to men. I’ve seen it drive them to depression or alcohol or both—drive them so deep into themselves, not even their love ones can reach them. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what really happened that day on the Somme. This man, Ravensdale, was with you, wasn’t he?

I don’t want to talk about it, and you don’t want to hear it. You will have to give me a little more time to face that. Ansel, drained, said with pleading eyes, Please, I’m home, and I just want to love you.

The look melted away Isabel’s anger, which wasn’t really anger but a shield, a release from months of pent up fear. She got up from the table, walked around to Ansel, and kissed him on his forehead. When your letters stopped coming, I knew you were in trouble, maybe dead. I can’t explain it, but I could feel it. I’ve been so afraid.

***

By lunchtime, Isabel had calmed down. He’s really home. Thank you, God.

After both were satiated and reclining, Ansel said it was her turn. He wanted to know all about Shamrock and the sugar plantation in Cuba. Isabel described the work she did, her daily routine at Shamrock, and her trips to Cuba. Then she sat him down at the desk with her, went over the books for Shamrock and the Alacon-Quinn sugar plantation in Cuba, and the last audit report from the Todd Law Firm.

Ansel questioned, That’s a pretty big debt for cotton seed, supplies, parts, upkeep on those new tractors, and labor, plus management salaries and bonuses, and payment due to the Todd Law Firm.

Well, I’m impressed that a soldier can appreciate such things. It’s about time he learned about the business of farming—a business where first your Aunt Bethany and then your wife was left alone to manage while you ran off playing soldier. And yes, that is a lot of debt. Every farmer takes on yearly debt for planting and harvesting crops. It’s time you recognized that farming is a gamble, a big gamble played out every year. This year, I am happy to report, has been a pretty good one. The cotton is all in, just finished before you got here. It’s on the way to New Orleans for shipment to England at a good price Daddy’s brokerage firm got for us. All those debts you mentioned will be paid off by the first of the year with a good profit left over. We do, however, have a problem that we are told will get worse.

What is that?

A bug called the boll weevil. It moved from Mexico to Texas about 1910. It was thought the Mississippi River would stop it, but it hasn’t. Now it’s reaching Mississippi. Some farms in Texas lost their entire crop. We lost about three hundred acres this year, but they say it will get worse. Chemists have developed a poison they call ‘calcium arsenate’ that is providing some control, but Jed and I don’t know enough about it or how to use it. We’ll have to learn before we plant next year.

I’m married to the smartest plantation mistress in the world. You know so much more than I do. Shamrock is prospering under your command. Ansel was genuinely impressed.

Isabel ignored the remark, closed the books, got up from the desk, and walked toward the couch in front of the fireplace. We’re doing pretty well here and in Cuba, but not because of me. It’s because of Jed here and Cayo in Cuba, the managers Bethany set up to run things, and because Daddy is getting us good prices from foreign buyers through his brokerage firm in Memphis. It galls me to admit it, but the war in Europe is good for business. By the way, Cayo says the rum distillery your Aunt Bethany started is finally beginning to make a little money. But Jed is worried about that bug. He’s afraid it will be worse here next year. It could cost us a lot of money. The whole South is looking for ways to stop it.

Ansel grabbed her and fell onto the couch with Isabel in his lap, kissing her upon landing. You are magnificent, Mrs. Quinn. Let’s go to New Orleans and buy you a new dress.

I’m married to a mad man. Isabel laughed for the first time in weeks.

Chapter One

T

he Yazoo & Mississippi Valley train rumbled and swayed its way toward New Orleans on a cool, glorious, blindingly-clear November morning. Isabel wore a stylish but practical grey wool dress with a black satin collar, grey leather gloves, and a wide-brimmed hat. The dress waist was banded by stitched black satin, finished with a matching bow and buckle. The skirt had an inverted fold trimmed in satin buttons down the front. It was a smart and serviceable dress, but Isabel did more for the dress than it did for her. Ansel wore a dark three-piece suit, one of two that had been stored in his closet at the Shamrock cottage. It hung a little loosely on him due to the weight he had lost during the months spent recovering from his wounds. Still, they made a handsome couple.

Ansel helped Isabel out of her coat and put it, along with her hat, his coat, and the picnic lunch Lizzy had packed in a shoebox, up on the luggage rack above their seat. The car was a little warm, heat being supplied by steam radiators. Rarely reaching a speed of more than thirty-five miles per hour, and with numerous stops along the way, the train ride would last some six hours.

Here you go, again, Captain Quinn. Having just arrived from years in the Army, you’re off on a silly trip to New Orleans when you should be at Shamrock with Jed to learn the business.

"You are so right, Mrs. Quinn."

Well?

Well what, Mrs. Quinn?

Just when are you going to settle down and learn the business?

Why just as soon as I get back from this shopping safari to buy the Queen of Shamrock new frocks and shoes and whatever else she wants—the latest styles, of course.

And I suppose you are going to ask the queen for money out of the Shamrock account.

I am most certainly not, he said quite firmly.

Then I suppose you’ll spend what’s left of your Army pay?

A soldier saves his pay for important things like wine, women, and song.

"You better change the ‘women’ to ‘one woman’ in that old cliché."

Speaking of which, I don’t suppose you had Lizzy stick a bottle of wine in that shoebox, did you?

No! Now back to just how you intend to pay for this trip.

With stock dividends that for years have been accumulating to my account at the Whitney Central National Bank in New Orleans.

Stock dividends? I haven’t seen any records of stock dividends.

The stock was Jonathan’s. When he sold his ships and business in Cuba, he gave Bethany half the money, paid off Shamrock, and invested some of what was left of his half in a few stocks—railroads, a little in oil, General Electric, a steel company, Ford automobile company, a company that makes automobile tires, J.P. Morgan’s bank, and a few bonds—all on the advice of some of his New York friends. I inherited the stocks outright from my mother, Louisette, at her death. In her will, she said it was Jonathan’s wish. Bethany caught me spending a little too much from the account in Paris and put a limit on me. But that was before I married you, Darlin’.

Good for Bethany. I think I will follow that advice.

I find I have fallen into the clutches of yet another female tyrant.

I will ignore that comment for the moment. Why a bank in New Orleans? We have good banks in Memphis.

Jonathan saw nearly every bank in the South fail after the war. People had no money and no credit. He told me a farmer was lucky to see twenty dollars cash in a year. With no money in the South, people had to barter for everything. The money Jonathan made in the shipping trade saved Shamrock. Much of his early shipping business, especially hauling ‘special cargo,’ was done on a cash basis. He needed a bank and began using the British Barclay’s Bank in the Bahamas. When he finally sold out his shipping company based in Cuba, he moved his accounts to the strongest bank he could find close to Shamrock. That meant Memphis or New Orleans. He chose the Whitney Central National Bank in New Orleans.

You said ‘special cargo.’ What does that entail?

Guns, ammunition, medical supplies, I suppose you could call it contraband.

Your father was a gun runner?

The family prefers to say he bought, sold, and delivered hardware in his vessels before he got in the sugar trade.

You Quinns are just full of surprises.

"You said your daddy admired us Quinns because we didn’t lose our land after the War of Northern Aggression, while his family did. Well, the only way Jonathan saved our land was accepting an offer from his old mentor, Captain Deuteronomy Jones, who took him in as a partner on the ship he owned and based at Nassau in the Bahamas. Captain Jones escaped in his ship just before the fall of Mobile. That ship had been a fast blockade-runner, where a young Jonathan learned seamanship before he got a midshipman berth on the raider CSS Alabama.

"Captain Jones made Jonathan a partner in what was called the J&Q Shipping Company. From the Bahamas, they carried all kinds of cargo, but the big profits at the time were in the ‘special cargo’ trade. It was a very risky, dangerous business, yet very profitable. If it makes any difference to you, they didn’t sell arms to despots and tyrants. They sold them to people trying to win freedom from such. Does Cuba Libre mean anything to you?"

They sold arms to the Cubans fighting Spain, didn’t they?

Yes, through two long wars. I suppose, like most people, you think Cuba won their freedom after 300 years of Spanish rule when America declared war and fought Spain for a few months in what was called the Spanish-American War. The truth is, the Cubans had been fighting that war for over four years, and before that, they fought a Ten-years’ War that ended in a draw and got them nowhere at great cost in lives and property.

And your father was involved in all that?

Yes. He later moved the business from the Bahamas to Cuba and carried on under the very noses of the Spanish. Bethany was involved in the second war along with Jonathan. She was a spy right in the middle of Havana. They sent me to school at Marion Institute in Alabama when the fighting got close to Havana.

Isabel put her hand to her chest and gasped, My God! And I married into this clandestine family.

Yes, and I’ve been thinking about that. It’s about time you met them all.

They’re all gone. Just how am I to do that?

By reading two diaries that are locked away in my old room at Shamrock. I think I may have even more to explain after you finish reading them. You see, in some ways, none of them—Bethany, Jonathan, or Louisette—are who I thought they were exactly… and then there is me. I’m not exactly who I thought I was either.

What do you mean you are not who you thought you were? You are not the man I married? I think you better explain.

Well, I am, and I am not. I mean there is nothing wrong with the man you married. He is just not exactly who he thought he was. I didn’t know that until I received the diaries in Paris after Bethany’s death. The Todd Law Firm discovered them in a sealed package with a note from Bethany that they be given to me upon her death. Read them like I did, then ask your questions. And stop looking so perplexed. The other passengers will think we’re having a lover’s quarrel.

Well, aren’t we?

No. I’m not brave enough to quarrel with you. I’m just trying to explain that you won’t understand the family until you read the diaries. Now all this explaining has worn me out. I need to take a nap.

J. Ansel, you are the most frustrating, infuriating man I’ve ever met. She huffed and rolled her eyes at him. God! And to think I married you!

Yes, you did. Ansel smiled contentedly. And I love you madly. Please wake me when it’s time to have lunch.

Isabel watched him nod off to the swaying of the coach and the rhythm of steel wheels clicking over rail joints. She was furious that he could make such startling revelations and simply drop off to sleep. At the same time, she was filled with anticipation over what disclosures lay in the pages of the mysterious Quinn diaries.

Thinking of all Ansel had told her, or how little, she watched out the soot-stained window without really seeing the countryside slide by. The Y&MV train rumbled its way toward New Orleans, puffing black smoke that streamed back over the coaches, depositing tiny cinders on the window ledges, cinders that seeped in if a window was cracked open to let cool air into the stuffy, warm car.

Stops were made at Port Gibson, Harriston, and Roxi. By the time they approached Slaughter, Isabel woke Ansel, and they shared the lunch Lizzy had prepared and packed in a shoebox: fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, sweet tea in Mason jars chilled with chunks of ice and wrapped in newspaper, and to top it off, apple pie.

What do you want to do in New Orleans other than shop?

I don’t want to stay in New Orleans. I want to go back home and read those mysterious diaries, she said, dabbing her lips after her last scrumptious bite.

He set his napkin to the side. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned them.

Well, you did. And I because you did, I have to read them.

There will be plenty of time for that. So, what else would you like to do in the city? Ansel desperately wanted off the diary subject.

I don’t know. I’ve never been to New Orleans.

Never? How can that be?

Daddy said it was a wicked, sinful, and immoral place, and he wouldn’t take his little girl there, not even for Mardi Gras.

Your daddy is a smart man.

Yes, well he went there all the time, said he had business meetings at the New Orleans Cotton Exchange, but I think some of it was monkey business, especially when he took some of his buddies along. He was a widower, you know. As I got older, I never questioned him about it. He worked hard and needed to get away now and then. He was lonely but said he would never marry again. I think he loved my mother very much.

After a brief stop in Baton Rouge, the train finally arrived in New Orleans and pulled into Union Station on South Rampart Street. The Quinns retrieved their coats and hats and disembarked from the train. It was a beautiful clear day—cool, but noticeably a few degrees warmer than Vicksburg.

Chapter Two

U

nion Station was a three-story structure with dormer windows on the third floor, a cupola growing out of the roof, and, at ground level, a broad portico under a hip roof with arched entryways.

Isabel stopped to read a plaque that stated the building was designed in 1892 by architect Louis Sullivan in the ‘Chicago Style.’ Whatever that means, she mused. The Plaque listed the chief draftsman as Frank Lloyd Wright. Neither name meant anything to her. I suppose I should be impressed, but this is small compared to our Union Station in Memphis, which is the largest building in the city. They say New Orleans is the richest city in the South. I would think they’d have one just as large.

New Orleans has four stations instead of one big one.

Four?

Yes, two here on South Rampart and two on Canal Street. Maybe one day, New Orleanais will get as smart as you Memphians and combine all the lines into one station.

The porter arrived with their luggage. You folks need a taxi?

There were more horse-drawn taxis available at cheaper fare, but Ansel chose a Ford Model-T taxi very much like old Luke Quagg’s depot hack in Vicksburg.

Where you folks want’a go?

First, we need to stop briefly at the Whitney Central National Bank on St. Charles, then on to The St. Charles Hotel, Ansel stated.

Yessuh. He drove them up South Rampart, turned right on Gravier, and stopped at the corner of St. Charles. Here you be, suh.

We won’t be long. Come on, Isabel. He held his hand out for her.

On the way into the bank, Isabel asked, Why do you want me to go with you?

To sign you onto the account, Mrs. Quinn.

You are a modern man, Captain Quinn. I doubt many wives are so privileged.

You already run all the Quinn properties, except the house in Paris, so why not the stock account?

Shocked, she cut her eyes at him. We have a house in Paris?

We do. It was Louisette’s, then Bethany’s, and now mine. It’s rented to a French general at the moment.

You are ever full of surprises, Ansel Quinn.

Yes, ma’am, I am.

When Ansel gave his name, he was taken to the trust officer.

How did they know you were coming? Isabel asked.

While you were in the  ladies Necessary Room at the station, I had the operator connect me to their number, Main 461, and asked them to get the necessary papers ready for the prettiest lady in the city to sign. When you walked in, they knew immediately who you were.

You are a silly boy, Captain Quinn.

The paperwork complete, Ansel transferred some funds to replenish the rather low balance of his checking account—enough, he estimated, to cover Isabel’s shopping and his planned travel expenses.

They returned to the taxi waiting with their luggage. Pulling out, they took St. Charles Street, bustling with automobile, streetcar, wagon, and foot traffic, and proceeded

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  • (5/5)
    From book one, By Accident of Birth, you are hooked. The second, The Last Quinn Standing, picks up where one leaves off, not missing a beat. Perfect! You are so worried about Bethany and Ansel you simply have to find out what happens next. Then comes book three, No Promise for Tomorrow. WOW! Tom Simmons is one fantastic author! He brings every nuance of any scene to life. So many stand out that to tell you about them would give the story away. Won’t do it. You have to read it! I absolutely love the characters and how the story is seamlessly woven and nothing is mentioned that has no merit. It all fits together like a puzzle. I highly recommend all three!
    — CJ Loiacono