The Dead Skunk

Rebels (1)
April 20, 1829
Glen Echo, Georgia[1]

Not long ago, this had been a plantation house. SINC had bought the property and was digging the Grand Southern through it, but they’d left the house itself standing. It was still a nice house, and today was a beautiful day. It was warm, but not too hot, the sky was clean and blue, the air was heavy with the smell of scarlet honeysuckle… and March was on the porch with no shirt on and his wrists tied over his head to one of the porch columns. And the militiaman behind him had a whip — March could hear the swish as it was waved around. And the old militia colonel seated in front of him was eyeing him with the least sincere smile he could remember seeing in his thirteen years of life.

“Tall for your age, ain’t you, boy?”

“So they tell me, sir,” said March, desperately trying to keep a level tone despite the increasing pain in his shoulders. “Ain’t got nothing to measure myself with.”

“How tall is this young buck?” The colonel directed the question over March’s shoulder.

“One point seven meters, sir,” came the voice behind him.

“What’s that in feet and inches?”

“About five foot seven, sir.”[2]

“Any distinguishing scars?”

“Not yet.” The man behind him chuckled.

“Now, now,” said the colonel. “That should not be necessary. We know this is one of the boys reported missing.” He turned back to March.

“Your master’s told us all about you, March,” he said. “I know you ain’t a bad nigger. He says you ain’t never made trouble before. But you fell into some bad company, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” And never worse than right now, he thought.

“We’ve been talking to the others. We know it was either Chester, Levi or Cobey who led your little posse.” March was less than impressed by this. They had been a group of five. March was thirteen, and Shoofly was a chucklehead who could barely talk and needed Levi to look after him. “Would you care to tell us which one of them it was?”

Cobey, but we should’ve listened to Levi. He wanted to go the other way, make for Autherley[3] and the Brunswick Spur. We’d done that, we’d be halfway to the border by now. “You ask any one of them three,” he said, “they’ll say ‘I was in charge.’ Those boys didn’t do nothing but argue the whole way down here.” It was the only lie he could think of. The pain was getting worse.

“That’s as may be, but somebody had to win them arguments or y’all never would’ve got this far.” The colonel leaned forward and dropped his phony smile. “And you will tell me who that was, boy.”

March let himself look a little afraid. “It was Chester, sir.” The damn fool. Put on airs on account of his father was a white man, but he didn’t know no better than anybody else. Not that Cobey was any smarter — he knew his brother was working on the Grand Southern and thought that meant none of them niggers would turn us in for the reward.

The colonel nodded sagely. “I thought so,” he said. “We found a map in Levi’s possession of Georgia and northern Florida. Someone gave him that map.”

White man. About forty. Cleft chin, curly hair. Educated fellow with a funny accent. “Didn’t see the fellow myself. He was gone afore they picked me up.”

“And which of them niggers was it read the map?”

Me, you damn fool. Why else would they have brought me along? Never shoulda told ‘em I could read. “Couldn’t none of us read it. Tell you the truth, sir, it warn’t much use to us.”

“So how did Chester know which way to go?”

Finally, a question he could answer truthfully — and just in time, the pain was making it hard to concentrate. “That was easy, sir. You wants to go south, you looks up at night… you finds the North Star… and then you goes the other way.”

The colonel glanced behind him and gave a little nod.

March felt the blow at the same moment he heard the crack of the whip. For the first moment it was like a line of bees along his right shoulder, all stinging him at the same moment. Then the burning started.

“Don’t you lie to me, boy,” said the militiaman. “We can cause you a lot of pain without damaging your master’s property.”

Even without the whip, they were causing him a lot of pain. Doing a man’s work around a stable had strengthened his shoulders, but it hadn’t prepared him for standing like this with his arms straight up in the air. His shoulders felt like they’d been impaled with rusty bolts, and he had no feeling at all in his hands or arms. And the burning was getting worse, as if there’d been so much pain in that whiplash that his skin couldn’t tell him about it all at once.

“The map showed the Hidden Trail safe houses on the far side the border,” said the colonel. “It did not show the ones here in Georgia. Not even niggers could be fool enough to try crossing the state on foot without a rest somewheres. I want to know the names and addresses of the people in this state who are moving stolen property.”

Half a dozen names and locations — things the educated white man had told him, things he’d taken pains to memorize — appeared in March’s mind of their own accord. Any one of them would spare him another blow of the whip, would get his arms free. His eyes were streaming with tears.

“Ask Chester!” said March. “He said he knew the way, but he wouldn’t tell us nothin’! Scared we was gonna go runnin’ back to Massa! Especially me!” He broke down and sobbed openly.

“Of course,” said the colonel. “You’re still just a child. Children always want to run home when it gets dark. I got one more question — what was you planning to do when you got to Florida?”

Work. For pay this time. And get back to learning my letters, this time without nobody telling me I can’t. “Didn’t know,” he forced himself to say. “I just heard the stories. They say it’s like Canaan… a land of milk and honey… only they makes the milk into something like butter and calls it ‘ghee.’” He took a deep breath. “Sounded right good to me.”

The colonel nodded. “You understand that on principle, I can’t send you back to your master without a few stripes. Not after you ran away.” He looked over March’s shoulder. “Five strokes, then untie him.”

The militiaman gave March six strokes. The colonel gave him a disapproving look, but didn’t say anything.

As his back was being washed with salt water (which added a whole new layer of pain, but was supposed to prevent mortification) three things went through March’s mind.

One, if they had sent him back to South Carolina with no marks on him, no other slave would ever trust him again. This was not much comfort to his back.

Two, he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life like this.

Three, the next time he tried to escape, he’d have his own plan.

[1] Ellabell, Georgia

[2] A lot of the older generation outside Washington and the major cities have been slow to adapt to the metric system.

[3] No OTL equivalent. About five miles south of Baxley, Georgia. The Brunswick Spur meets the Grand Southern there.
Rebels (2)
Although by mid-‘29 Spain had successfully concluded the war with Gran Colombia, gaining a small but valuable stretch of territory for the Virreinato, the war in Haiti showed no sign of ending and was gradually draining the treasury. Even Carlos could no longer afford to fund the war effort, and London had better things to do with its money. This did not reflect badly on Carlos, of course; he could legitimately say he’d won his half of the war, and he couldn’t help what the Cortes did…

In Portugal, a number of different deteriorating situations had combined to form a crisis. As with Spain and France, Portuguese conservatism had a strong anti-democratic component, which saw the Cortes and other such institutions as illegitimate and participation in them as at best a necessary evil. Portugal’s equivalent of Carlos was Prince Miguel, third son and seventh child of João VI. A devout absolutist, Miguel had opposed the constitutional order in words ever since its inception, but had yet to take action against it.[1]

Meanwhile, his nation was not doing well. Although it participated in the general improving economy of the 1820s, Portugal had lost Brazil, and with it a major source of revenue. It had gained Tangeria, which might one day be useful but was thus far little more than a source of trouble and a dumping ground for undesirables. Angola and Mozambique, were of uncertain loyalty, and the Portuguese fort at Ajudá[2] was funded not by Lisbon, but by the Brazilian province of Bahia.[3] Many in the Cortes feared that the African possessions would turn away from Portugal and join themselves to Brazil. Then, in 1829, two things happened that pushed the country over the edge into civil war.

The first was the Paixão de Cristo incident. The precise details of the mutiny will never be fully known, but it was clear from the beginning that the escapees, Yorouba[4] captured during the Danhome-Oyeau[5] war, had killed the mostly-Portuguese crew of the slave ship to a man. Of the estimated 150-200 who had survived the wreck, only 14 were caught and brought to Trafalgar for trial. There, a court quickly found that Sangokunle and the other mutineers had acted in self-defense as a response to unjust and unlawful imprisonment. They were brought to Sierra Leone in honor.

Brief and distant though it was, the trial captured the imaginations of all Europe for weeks. In London, the trial briefly pushed the king’s failing health and Charlotte’s latest pregnancy out of the news, as The Liberal was almost entirely given over to poems about the heroism of the Yorouba. The Parisian government praised the mutineers with all the righteous fury of a nation that had been unwillingly relieved of its own slave-based sugar colonies more than a decade ago. Italy and the Netherlands likewise denounced the slave trade and praised those who had escaped it. From Spain came only a polite and merciful silence.

All this attention was deeply shaming to Portugal, the only nation in Europe where the transatlantic slave trade remained legal. That trade — appalling as it was to most of the Christian world — was the basis of its good relations with Danhome and one of the few things keeping Angola and Mozambique in the empire. And hearing what seemed to be the entire world proclaiming that their slaughtered sailors had brought their fate on themselves was no great joy. So when liberals in the Cortes began demanding the end of the slave trade, they encountered far more resistance than they expected — opposition which was led by Dom Miguel himself.

The second — and much the more important — was the death of King João in May.[6]

The king’s oldest son, Emperor Pedro of Brazil, had already abdicated, but offered his son Pedro[7] as king and his sister Maria as regent. Miguel insisted that since Pedro had turned his back on his native land to become emperor of a jumped-up colony, he and his line should be barred from the succession forever. “The throne must go to a faithful son of the king,” he said.

On July 6, Miguel and a portion of the army entered Lisbon and seized the heart of the city. Patrício da Silva, Patriarch of Lisbon, crowned Miguel as the new king of Portugal, calling him “the new David raised among us by merciful Heaven.” Others had different names for him…

Roberto Vargas y Maquez, Falling Crown, Rising Remer[8]; Late Absolutism, Liberalism and the Philosophical Origins of Aristism

[1] IOTL Miguel made several coup attempts during the 1820s. The difference is that ITTL absolutism is weaker, without France or Spain behind it.
[2] Also called Ouidah or Whydah.
[3] This was true IOTL.
[4] Alternate spelling of Yoruba
[5] Alternate spellings of Dahomey and Oyo
[6] He died in 1826 IOTL.
[7] Born 1819. Allohistorical twin of Maria II.
[8] A sun behind a pyramid, intended ITTL as a symbol of glory and hierarchy.


The irony of this post, now, given the current political situation. I assume Miguel promises to "make Portugal great again", I take it?
Another great update!

One question--how is Napoleon II doing? I always thought his IOTL story was incredibly sad. And how are the Habsburgs taking Marie Louise living in France? Did she take a lover/secret husband like she did in our world?
A very interesting timeline. I have a sense that this is all building towards a world war sometime in the mid-late 19th century.
Another great update!

One question--how is Napoleon II doing? I always thought his IOTL story was incredibly sad. And how are the Habsburgs taking Marie Louise living in France? Did she take a lover/secret husband like she did in our world?

I'll get to them in the big interlude update around Christmas. Suffice to say it's all very awkward for France, Austria and Italy.

A very interesting timeline. I have a sense that this is all building towards a world war sometime in the mid-late 19th century.

Ain't tellin'.
Rebels (3)
Imagine yourself a Frenchman under the age of fifty in 1829. Your only memories of France under the Bourbons (besides the brief period in 1814 and early 1815 when Louis XVIII ruled France) come from your early childhood, when most of your attention was given to your immediate family and circle of friends, not to the state of the nation around you. For the bulk of your adult life, France was in a state of political instability and conflict with its neighbors which probably involved you fighting in a war somewhere. But for more than a decade now, under the Regency Council, you have known peace, prosperity and even a degree of freedom which has been increasing with time.

Now imagine yourself a Frenchman over the age of fifty in that same year. You have had the same experience as your younger counterpart of eleven or so fat years after many lean years of war and fear, but for you the reign of Louis XVI was in the days of your youth. Unless you had been personally affected by the actions of that government, you could easily remember its reign as the good old days before everything went wrong.

Finally, imagine yourself a Frenchman under the age of twenty that year. You have never really known anything but peace and prosperity — which unfortunately means you have nothing to compare them to. You know nothing of the Bourbons beyond what you’ve been taught in school and heard from your parents and grandparents. What your teachers told you was that the Bourbons were autocrats who oppressed the people, mismanaged the affairs of the nation and ruled for their own glory rather than the glory of France. What your family told you may well have been something else entirely — but if they were still devout royalists, the very first thing they taught you was never to talk politics with anyone you weren’t sure of. The fact that De L’Eure’s government has moved toward fining royalists rather than imprisoning them[1] is no great comfort — not when a careless word can beggar your whole family.

This was France in 1829. The result was that a certain percentage of young French — more than a quarter, perhaps thirty percent — were growing up seeing France through very different eyes than their peers. To the young Liberals, and the more centrist Conservatives and Jacobins, the story of the last fifteen years was the story of order defeating chaos. France worked. It was an imperfect nation as all nations were, but it was a good place to live, got better with every passing year, and would surely be better still once the young prince came into his own. The desire to restore the ancien régime was as quixotic and incomprehensible as if someone proposed to restore the old provinces of Gaul and send to Rome for governors.

To the more radical young Jacobins, the story of the last forty years was the story of good defeating evil — but not destroying it. The darkest hour was the brief rule of Louis the XVIII, before Napoleon the Great returned from exile to deliver the nation. Even now, France worked, but not well enough; it was good, but not good enough. It was compromised. The priests were still too powerful. And in the darkness of the East, in Vienna, Bucharest and Jassy[2], the old enemy was biding its time, just waiting for its chance. And although the Conservatives pretended to be good citizens, who knew what they told each other when they were alone?

To the young royalists within the Conservative Party, the story of the last forty years was the story of a dark shadow over the land. A tyrannous and ungodly regime held sway in Paris; the true religion and its servants were denied their rightful place. Freethinkers and Jews, with the blessing of the tyrants, sought to corrupt the nation. But there was always hope for the future, so long as the line of the true kings endured (best, perhaps, not to ask precisely which line). And because royalism was the one idea it was forbidden to express openly, because its adherents were accustomed to pretending in public that of course they respected the Regency Council and were counting down the days until the emperorship of Napoleon II, they had no way of knowing how many were on their side. Perhaps all France — or surely the great majority — must feel as they did…

At first glance, Bordeaux seemed the last place anyone would have expected a major insurrection to begin. Though largely pro-Bourbon by the end of Napoleon’s time, the port had acquiesced to the rule of the Regency Council, and had been one of the first places where the Conservative Party had learned to work within the new system. The sheer magnitude of the trade flowing in and out of Anvers had thrown other Atlantic ports a little into the shade, but in addition to being near the opposite end of the coast, Bordeaux had its wine. As a result, it had benefited as much as any city in France from the peace of the 1820s, prospering on the export of wine and the import of grain from the United States, rope from Tehuantepec and (more recently) sugar, molasses, rum and palm oil from Pays-Crou[3]. The city had much to lose and little to gain from disruption of the status quo.

But even this prosperity had carried within it the seeds of potential conflict. To work on the docks, to build the ships that sailed the Atlantic and the riverboats that worked their way up and down the Garonne, men came from the surrounding countryside and the Vendée to the north. They also came from other parts of France — some from other cities. The local Jacobin Party, funded by rich Jacobins in Anvers, had even organized a few squads of fédérés. And immigrants not only came from France, but from the Germanies, Poland and Hungary. As Frenchmen found themselves competing for jobs in their own country with men who spoke little or no French and whose names a native-born Frenchman could barely pronounce, tensions rose — made worse by the presence of Protestants and Jews among the immigrants.

The conflict began in July, even as the rest of France was enjoying the dual celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of the Revolution and the wedding of Prince Napoleon and Adelaide-Louise Davout. It began with a city election. Over the past ten years, two-round voting had taken hold in municipal elections, ensuring that an incoming city government would have a majority. This, like much else in the French electoral system, benefited the Liberals. As the party occupying the political center, even in elections where they were the third choice they were indispensible allies of one party against the other one. In Bruxelles and Anvers, the Liberals united with the Jacobins, while in Marseille and Lyon they united with the Conservatives. The one thing that never happened anywhere, ever, was Conservatives and Jacobins uniting against the Liberals…

In the first round of voting, the 59-year-old Sephardic Jacobin Joseph Rodrigues-Henriques had won with the thinnest possible margin — 34.5 percent of the vote, as opposed to 34.2 percent for the Conservative candidate and 31.0 percent for the Liberal candidate. The Conservatives, who had spent the last three months denouncing the Liberal candidate as a secret cagot[4], now urged the Liberals to unite behind their candidate against the horror of the Jew. On July 17, Liberals, by nearly two to one, opted for the horror. Bordeaux had its first Jewish mayor.

No one knows precisely where and when the riot began. It seems to have arisen in several places at once. Angry mobs of young men shouting “Down with the Jews!” and “France for the French!” chased and beat Jews and foreigners in the streets of Bordeaux. The city police, which consisted of Gascons and Poitevins[5], either joined the rioters or stood aside. The National Guard was summoned, but no one expected them to arrive in time to do anything except haul away the bodies.

Opposition to the rioters was led by the local fédérés — badly outnumbered, but better trained in street fighting and led by war veterans. Not only were they able to protect much of the Jewish quarter from the rioters’ torches, but they even arranged an ambush in the Rue Causserouge that forced a small mob to surrender. Elsewhere in the city, German and Hungarian men joined the fédérés who seemed to be the only ones on their side. Even Poles, as devout in their Catholicism as the rioters and at least as antijudaic, were compelled for the sake of their own safety to fight alongside the Jews they hated. And not everyone who fought the rioters was a fédéré, or even necessarily a Jacobin. When a mob at the docks chased a Crou sailor back onto his ship, they were driven away from the ship not only by other Crou[6], but by French sailors defending their black shipmates against the horde of landsmen.

In spite of all this, of the 53 who were killed in the riots only twenty were native-born Catholic French, and nine of those twenty were killed in the Rue Causserouge ambush. A number of shops and dozens of homes, mostly belonging to Jews and immigrants, had been looted and put to the torch. To make matters worse, the mayor could no longer trust his own police force. He not only had to put the patrol of the streets in the hands of the National Guard, whose loyalty was to Paris and the state, he had to reinforce them with local men who knew Bordeaux… which meant the now-swollen ranks of the fédérés. And, despite the worst efforts of the police, he had prisoners — twenty-two men captured in the Rue Causserouge, with witnesses prepared to testify against them. Either they had to be put on trial, which would surely agitate even more public unrest, or they had to be released, which would give notice to every Jew, immigrant, Jacobin and Liberal that they had no rights which Conservatives were bound to respect.

Rodrigues-Henriques rose to the challenge. When several wealthy citizens asked him to resign “for the peace of the city,” he replied with scorn. “‘France for the French,’ they say,” he said. “My people are French. Jews were living in Bordeaux seven hundred years before the reign of Hugh Capet. We have as much right to take part in its civic life as any Christian, and we will not be driven away.”

Even if he had caved, it would probably have made no difference at this point. The ringleaders of the rioting had already fled into the countryside, where they spread wild rumors that Jews, Jacobins, foreigners and African cannibals had taken over the city, imprisoned true Frenchmen and were committing outrages upon Frenchwomen in the streets. (At least one diarist did in fact report that when a Conservative widow threw a pail of ordure out her window at a group of fédérés in the street, the fédérés “stormed the house and, as it is believed, violated the inhabitant thereof.”) Within two weeks, hastily-formed groups of armed men had seized the town halls of Libourne, Blaye and Royan. The rebellion spread north along the coast until it hit the Vendée, where it caught fire. By the second week of August, the departmental capital of Napoléon-sur-Yon[7] was under siege. And some of the rebels, in their enthusiasm, were shouting the forbidden and unforgivable words — “Our king will return!”

Michel Noailles, The Liberal Party and the Making of Modern France (Eng. trans.)

[1] This isn’t so much a great triumph of free expression as it is a reflection of the fact that prisons are a government expense and fines are the opposite of that.
[2] Capital of Moldavia. Carol I divides his time between here and Bucharest.
[3] Central and southern Liberia and the southwest Ivory Coast. It’s too early to call it a unified state.
[4] In parts of France and Spain, cagots were the equivalent of untouchables in India or burakumin in Japan. There are a number of theories about their origins — that they were the descendants of Visigoths, Arabs or even leper colonies, for instance — but nobody’s been able to find anything that was actually different about them. They were basically families and communities that everybody hated and nobody knew why. France abolished the distinction in the Revolution, and since then cagots have found that if you change your surname and move to a town where nobody knows you, problem solved. This is one more burr up the Conservative butt.
[5] Residents of Poitou, the old province of which the western part is now the Vendée.
[6] The Kru have a maritime tradition. A number of their young men are getting jobs in the French navy and merchant marine.
[7] OTL La Roche-sur-Yon.
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Believable politics! The scars of revolution! A France that's neither fascist, surrendering or run by romanticised royals! Truly, this is my uchronic jam.

Alright, the antisemitism is a dead wasp in the jam, but the metaphor lives.