A Full Confession
by Alan Arnold White
To be read by my son, Alan, upon my death, and by his heir upon his, and so on, that we all may learn from my poor example:
There are many mistakes that I have made throughout my life, but the greatest came in 1864, when I met a man named Reinholt near our ancestral plot in Louisiana. Back then, my name was Albert Baron. Lieutenant Colonel Albert Baron, of the Confederate Army. All of this changed because of Reinholt. I had been on the losing side of the Battle of Baton Rouge, and New Orleans had fallen long ago without so much as a pistol shot. My honor was in tatters and I was ready to abandon the Army to return to my family’s plantation at Delacroix. The last straw was receiving a letter that my brother (for yes, I had an elder brother Alistair, whom you have never known) had taken as his bride your mother, Emily Hamilton, whom I had courted for many years. I resigned my commission to the Confederacy and returned to the plantation in a rage. When I arrived, I was greeted at the door by my darling Emily, now my sister-in-law, and in her eyes my anger melted, for I saw there love, longing, regret, and shame. She threw her arms around me and whispered in my ear that she did not wish to cause me pain, but that her father, seeing my disgrace in battle, had given her away against her will to the Baron he deemed the better of the two. All this despite Alistair’s refusal to fight for his brothers. So the flames of my hatred for my brother died, and burned instead like embers, low but searing hot. In my own family’s home I was made to live with the knowledge that my brother was having his way with my Love. I could hear them, at night, through the walls. I began going into town and drinking in saloons, where I met Reinholt.
He was an ugly brute. Skinny, hairless, except a full beard that grew on his face. His nose was longer than a Winchester. One eye was gone, the other was covered with a square black patch. His shirt was taken from the uniform of a sergeant in the Confederate army, but I doubted that he had ever joined ranks with any military force in his life. A cunning monster and a devil. But he bought me a drink, and I was in the mood for drinking. As we sat there, lubricating our more base emotions, he described to me an island, not far off, where treasure might be found.
“Old Spanish gold,” he said. “Lost and forgotten, except I have the map.”
“Pirate treasure?” I inquired. “Or conquistadors?”
“Legend is that the one plundered the other. Should be a good haul. ‘Cept I’m half blind,” he pointed to his good eye, “and ain’t got a crew.”
“How’d you read the map?” I asked him.
“I said half blind,” he growled. “Stuff up close to my face is fine. I can read,” he spat, “I just can’t see the landmarks. I’ll maybe get some fancy spectacles with my share of the haul, if I could find someone to go in with me on a boat.”
My pulse quickened. I had a boat. One that I could almost man myself. And if the “haul” was good, then I was certain I could take my share, grab Emily, and run away from the Godforsaken swamps of Louisiana for good.
In the end, the crew was four. Almost too much for my ship, which was really just a largish dinghy, with a single sail and some oars. Reinholt brought in a big black brute named Tucker who he said was his “friend.” Tucker didn’t speak much. And then there was Renard. Jean Renard and his brother Paul were white servants on my family’s plantation, but we never trusted them. There were… stories. Accusations of witchcraft and devilry of the worst sort. It was said that they were able to change their shape under the full moon, and walk about not as people but as animals. Wolves and foxes, I believe, were most often cited in these legends, but I had no reason yet to believe them. For me, it was enough to know that they were Acadians, and could therefore not be trusted.
The night was stormy when we set out. There was hardly any moon to guide us. The boy Tucker grunted, pointing out stars and nearly invisible landmarks, always referring back to the map. The waves picked up and I began to think my ship would be lost at sea. Spray came over the bow something fierce. I was not the naval man my father had been, nor even half the sailor I had pretended to Reinholt. I’d had no reason to be. Finally the brute Tucker punched me in the arm, and pointed straight ahead, and I saw it, rising out of the black sea into the black sky, a great black silhouette of a great black island.
I sailed my boat, rather handily, I believed, into a sea cave. When I felt the bottom of the craft scrape against the floor of the cave, I dropped anchor and we waded ashore, torches in hand. We eventually found what we were looking for. Four large chests of silver and gold.
The work was not hard. Tucker and Renard were stronger by far than Reinholt and I, so we let them do most of the lifting. Once the chests were aboard, I joined Reinholt in the second part of his plan: the Betrayal. It was here, I believe, that I sealed my fate. Reinholt and I had come armed. Tucker and Renard had not. As they heaved the last of the chests up onto the deck, we drew our guns, and turned on them.
I’d like to say that I protested as Reinholt bound their feet and hands, pushing small bags of silver coins into each man’s mouth, laughingly calling it their “share” of the adventure. In my mind I’ve told myself a story many times, that I pleaded with him to let them go, or even, Lord help me, to end their suffering right then with two well placed pistol shots. But that is a fiction, a fiction I make to comfort myself at night, so that I may sleep in the house that this cursed treasure bought.
I held the guns on the men as Reinholt tied their bonds. I laughed with him as he stuffed the coin purses in their mouths. It amused me, pleased me, and made my heart glad. The larger the share for me, the faster I could take my Emily away, and make her mine again once more! As the scoundrel filled Tucker’s mouth with coin I noticed the reason for the gorilla’s silence had not been insolence. Rather, his tongue had been cut out at the root. I never learned for what offense this had been done. His gaping, scarred maw dancing in the flickering light of torches often haunts my nightmares to this day.
Renard was another curiosity. As the purse was shoved into his mouth he cursed and spat and screamed. A single silver piece fell from the money pouch and landed on his bare chest. His head flew back and he cried out in unspeakable agony. From what cause I could not fathom. This afforded Reinholt the opportunity to press the pouch deep within his mouth, and silence him. The Prussian picked up the dropped coin, which had fallen to the ground. He pocketed it.
As we left the cave the tide was rising. A storm was blowing in, and I feared that our sail would blow us to sea, so I stowed it and we began to row. Again, I wish to God Almighty I had stopped the boat and untied the men, but instead I gave them not a thought as we rowed our way out. As I rewrite it in my mind I hear myself making protestations that we should save them, only to have Reinholt turn his gun upon me and order me to row.
In truth, we each rowed with all our force and had little time to think of much else. Still a mile out from shore, amidst heavy driving rain and unrelenting waves, we began taking on water. When I had allowed the boat to scrape the bottom of the cave a hole had no doubt opened, which had now widened to a gash. Reinholt took the oars and ordered me to bail the ship out. I did my best, but the storm and the hole were too much for me. With the weight of two men and four chests we would never make it to shore while taking on water. I took the bucket and brought it down hard on Reinholt’s head. Of the countless men whose deaths I caused in the war, of the handful of coldblooded murders I have been party to since the war, I must say that Reinholt’s death is the one that weighs least heavy on my conscious. I tossed him overboard and have given him no thought since, except to curse his name.
I managed to make it to shore, crashing upon a rock rather than docking. I lay there in the wreckage of my boat until I was found by none other than Jean Renard’s brother Paul. The two were so alike in appear ance that I feared at first I had not wakened from my nightmares, but rather into one. I imagined Jean Renard had come to extract his revenge. Paul Renard’s eyes showed me that he guessed more about his brother’s fate than I dared admit. Nonetheless he pretended to believe my story of how Reinholt had attempted to double cross us all, and had murdered Paul’s brother and Tucker before I got the drop on him.
“Yeh should be a hero, ‘vengin’ th’ deat’ o’ mon frere like dat,” he said to me.
“I ask for no acclaim,” said I. “Indeed, this excursion was a secret. I did not mean for any to know of it.”
“Yer secret’s safe wi’ me, mon ami,” Paul smiled. I gave him one of the chests of treasure, one that should have been his brother’s share. The rest I kept for myself. Back at the plantation I arranged at first for Paul to have lighter duty. Then I thought “why should he have lighter duty while I suffer this dreadful weight of guilt?” And I arranged for him to be given the heavier workload. The whole time, he smiled at me, called me his “ami,” and thanked me for avenging his brother. Why he stayed on with us, with the chest I had given him, I did not know. I believed he did it to torture me for what he suspected about the death of his brother.
As the guilt hounded me, I felt compelled to give a chest of treasure to Tucker’s widow. She had no master, but was of the fortune telling gypsy persuasion. I let her come and live on the land as well. My father was old, and my brother too busy attempting to conceive with my Emily. Neither of them seemed to care about Alice Tucker’s arrival on the property.
In truth (and I hesitate to write this as I do not wish to dishonor your late mother, but I promised a full confession) Emily was the most busy. She was fulfilling her marital duties to my brother Alistair, but she and I were carrying on in secret as well. Your mother was a virtuous woman, no matter how this sounds. She was dutiful to Alistair, and she was passionately in love with me. And as a woman torn between duty and passion she acted as best she could.
Finally, nearly a year after the incident at the cave, preparations were made for our escape. A carriage waited for us. It had the two remaining chests of Spanish treasure loaded into it. By this time the South was lost, and many of my old contacts were imprisoned for their roles in the war. But one man, a Major Sholton, had promised to harbor us for a while in Texas.