"This meeting of the Sons of the Southern Cause is hereby called to order." Colonel Etter banged a gavel against the makeshift podium and stood as tall as his small, wiry frame would allow. A proud smile curved his lips, and he swept his arm toward the left side of the massive barn. "It is my pleasure to introduce our leader, the esteemed General Edward Floyd." Etter clapped his hands together, and the crowd of men and boys who filled the barn followed in applause.
General Floyd walked to the podium, raised his hands, and the applause and murmuring immediately ceased. "Thank you, men." He scanned the room, pleased to see more than farmers and ranchers in the crowd. The mayor, bankers from two towns, city councilmen, a minister and the town doctor stood among the group. A sturdy crowd of brains and brawn.
Fine soldiers, all.
"Weaving spiders come not here," General Floyd said, "henceforth meaning that all the members of our secret society should leave their personal matters behind. We, the brotherhood, shall not seek personal gain, but shall sacrifice all for independence from tyranny."
Applause started softly, then grew to a roar.
General Floyd raised his hand again, and the crowd quieted immediately. "In order to prove allegiance and sort the chaff from among us, let us all greet one another with a special handshake." The general motioned, and Colonel Etter stepped forward and held out his hand.
General Floyd held three fingers in the air and Colonel Etter mimicked the motion. Then the two men grasped each other's hand with the three fingers pointing toward the inside of the wrist and shook. "With this handshake, I can feel the pulse of my brother," declared the general.
An appreciative murmur rippled through the barn.
"Repeat after me," said General Floyd. "As long as I feel the pulse of my brother..."
The small crowd of men chorused after him.
"...I know the truth shall never die."
General Floyd released Colonel Etter's hand, and Etter stepped back into the shadows again. "The three-finger extension of this handshake represents our God, our families, and our country. Our country--the Confederate States of America, supported by the very lives of each of us, the Sons of the Southern Cause."
This time, the applause sounded like thunder.
General Floyd let the applause continue for a moment, then he bowed his head until the noise subsided of its own accord. When he looked up, his face wore a solemn mask of seriousness. "We must realize, gentlemen, that important things sometimes call for personal sacrifice." His gaze met those of several men in the crowd, one man at a time. "I can think of no one who exemplifies this kind of personal sacrifice better than our leader. Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis."
Floyd stepped forward to shake the hand of President Jefferson Davis as hoots and whistles punctuated the applause echoing off the rafters.
President Davis humbly bowed toward the crowd, then raised his hands to settle the rambunctious group of followers. "Thank you. Thank you. Our time here is precious, so let me get right to the point. As you are aware, General Lee has surrendered his army at Appomattox."
A low murmur of disappointment hummed through the barn.
Davis cleared his throat. "I fear that we have lost too great a general and that our cause must be put on hold, until things are settled and we are once again safe." He stared at the hay-strewn ground for a moment, then looked up. "I therefore am seeking refuge."
His voice cracked then, and after taking a moment to compose himself, Davis continued. "My friend and your brother John Wilkes Booth has an actor friend in Washington who is devoted to our cause. This man looks amazingly similar to me, and he has agreed to pose in my stead and help my wife Varina escape to safe refuge in Georgia. If the imposter and my wife are captured together, the Union Army will presume he is me. They will not harm my wife. The actor has made it clear that he is ready to hang for our cause, if necessary."
A smattering of claps bounced through the barn.
"This is the kind of devotion the Sons of the Southern Cause is known for. It is because of men like him that we will continue to grow and succeed in our quest to build our own country. Whether it is now, or two hundred years from now, the Confederate States of America will thrive."
"Here! Here!" A man in the front row shook his fist in the air.
"Amen!" shouted the minister from the middle of the crowd.
President Jefferson Davis allowed a slight smile. "General Floyd has been secretly preparing a bunker for hiding our confederate cabinet and me beneath this Grand Ol' Lady. We also have stored our most important documents in the bunker. We will remain in hiding until my imposter is confirmed as the President of the Confederate States. He and his escort cavalry will purposely leave behind enough evidence so that even a blundering Union Army will find their trail."
Laughter filled the heavy air.
General Floyd stepped forward and touched President Davis's arm, then whispered in his ear.
Davis spoke again. "We seek refuge for now, yes. But we know it will not be long until we return to Richmond, our new nation's capital. Now, I must not tarry, for the enemy is in quick pursuit. Not even when the United States declared Independence from England did we face such a cruel enemy who doesn't respect the rules of war. The North wants to hang every man in the South, to burn our cities, confiscate our property and violate our women. What dignity does this enemy leave us? We left northern cities intact during our conquest. We did not burn, we did not pillage, we did not terrorize.
"Always remember that we wanted to form our nation without war. We wanted the same freedoms that our forefathers sought from the English King. We will not surrender our dignity to this cruel northern aggressor. We will continue to pledge allegiance to the Confederate States of America.
"California, rich in gold and sympathetic to our cause, has waited too long to join the Confederacy. If California had sent us gold rather than the north, we would surely have won this war. Now California realizes that our cause must be put on hold for now, but they want to make a down payment for the New Confederacy. She has given us gold to save and guard for another day; a day in the future when the South shall rise again!"
Cheers and shouts rang out, persisting nearly a minute after President Jefferson Davis raised his hands to quiet the crowd.
When the men finally quieted, he spoke again. "From this day forward, when you greet each other outside of these walls, you should be extremely careful that your cover is not breached. Therefore, you must greet one another with your secret handshake and oath." He held up a hand. "Now, please join with me, and pledge to never surrender by singing 'Dixie.'"
The song began strong, but grew even stronger, louder as voices throughout the massive barn lifted in solidarity.
President Jefferson Davis, flanked by Colonel Etter, followed General Floyd out the side door of the barn. He smiled up at the cold, night sky, breathing thanks to God for the Sons of the Southern Cause. Softly, he hummed along with the voices from the barn.
"O, I wish I was in Dixie!
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand
To live and die in Dixie
Away down south in Dixie!"