Man Above Challenge
A First-Blood Duel with Colichemardes, Behind the St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana, April 3, 1834


Emile Dauphin, 19,
French Creole


He should not have crossed Canal into our Quarter, nor entered the octoroon ball and defiled it with his odious taint, like too much choupique at the market.  These Kaintock keelboat rats have done much to damage our town—set fire to the Tchoupitoulas Street Fair where Papa kept his cattle and killed poor Monsieur Gaetano's dancing bear in his Congo Square circus.  Indeed he is beneath my birth, yet I feel the need to lash and strike this boorish tramp who approached sweet Yvonne, whose sister I keep in a clean white cottage on Rue Rampart, and pulled her hand from Jean Philip's and barked back the timid boy, affrighted by stories of Wild Bill Sedley and other river boat bullies.  He would not heed my call so I demanded his blood from my blow, or he could have mine in turn, and though his shoulders are thick as any field Negro's, I possess the skills—two full seasons under tutelage from my maitres d'armes, Bastille Croquere, the swiftest Mulatto you ever saw, but whom I have certainly outgrown, and he will see so surely in my stance and in the grace with which I dispatch this ruffian—and tomorrow mes amis in cafes will sing how deftly I did defeat our enemy.


We cross on cypress boards laid in the mud, two Negroes before us with lighted lanterns to see our way through the dark and so on to St.  Anthony's Park, hidden from sight by the bustling gowns of Spanish moss, and I recall when I was but fourteen and walking this very banquet, a Kaintock and I came to an impasse until our eyes met and I acquiesced and stepped down into the mud of the road and was ashamed to look back at Papa's disapproval, though he had moved off as well—I wish he could see me now as I strike this oaf and his blood runs down his lips and onto his filthy fingers, the ones he rubbed on Yvonne's thin wrists and she did not even flinch at his gaucherie, but now I have my honor and will retrieve her as my own reward—Jean Philip be damned.


Dale Culver, 23,
River Boat Kaintock


All I did was see a purty half-breed gal, covered in cream-colored lace, dancing with some princey French fool and so stiffened my back paddle-board straight and said, Scuse me now, Son, but I'm cutting in, but I really wanted to knock hell out that sissy boy and flang that gal over my shoulder like a fifty pound sack of sugar and skidaddle with her, lace and all, back to the keelboat and if I had to fight off the boys who'd try to make sport of her, well I'd holler em back with my fists and the trusty blade I keep in my boot, shouting, I'm a man made of anvil and alligator, been weaned on wolf milk and whiskey; got dynamite for a heart and snake spit for blood; any man what touch my gal will count himself lucky not to wake with his ears missing by morn or an eye gouged out or his tongue torn from his flappy jaw, when this other little dandy pokes me in the chest and says he's her escort—he is, him—what goes the size of a bantam pullet I've lost my money on and me with red turkey feather in cap to show I'm the bully of my boat, been hauling on a cordelle and pulling the sweeps since I was twelve, so I laughed in his face but he just up and took my nose between his knuckles and twisted and ever' last one of them Frenchies stepped back and even the musicians stopped they song, and buddy boy, I knew the score—but before I could call, Put up your dukes, he says to me, Sir, let us as gentlemen satisfy our honor, but I have absolute no use for this show of dignity—what good is your honor, man, when you are dead and in the grave?


Yet here I am, tightening my grip till my knuckles burn white 'round the handle of this wooden sword, blood pounding in my barking mad mind and I surge to strike and bash this boy's head, but the Nongela rye's got me bandy-leg'd as the first time I took to boat, so I rise and swing and stumble again, and he taps my noggin and splits my bottom lip clean in two like a pig's hoof and says, It is done; let us repair, and turns his back as I slip out the sweet steel I've carried all the way from Louisville to fend off pirates and bushwhackers: you wanted some of my blood, boy, but I will have all of yours.



Bastile Croquere, 59,
Maitres d'armes, Mulatto, F.M.C.

Standing in the mud of the street, I study the grease tracks from rats' backs smeared across the foundations of these homes, when Emile and his coterie come pouring out the Orleans Theatre, where I am barred because of the brown in my skin—though I am lighter than the proud mothers who auction their daughters in there—I knew a challenge had been made, knew in my heart it was Emile's own doing because he is rash and foolish—his mother has paid me to save his life—but it is too late, the weapons and site agreed upon—I was unable to intercede out here, ankle deep in the stinking sludge of the street that the Blacks have named Bastille in my honor, the same dignity bestowed me by the Whites in Paris, where I would escort every color of woman known in this world and we went anywhere we chose and I killed four Whites in duels and an Algerian too and the people and papers begged me to stay—but I came home to this city where no White will even honor me with his blade or barrel—instead I must stand near wooden gutters that smell of garbage and night soil yet if Emile loses this fight, as his teacher, I too am insulted but without means of redress.


My pulse slows as Emile draws first-blood from the brute, and heedless to our rules, the Kaintock presses his lip to his shoulder and curses and crouches and takes up a bowie knife, and though I am, as second, expected to aid my man, I hesitate and let him draw the blade across Emile's thin neck and the tiniest wound smiles there, then yawns, and the black blood breaks down his shirt front and Emile falls, gagging and dying, and my heart springs full and my finger tips tingle as I withdraw my rapier and prepare to run this man through and what man among us will dare question my rights.  

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