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Barb

 

 

FContritus
Part of a sequence of stories, following 'In Earnest' and "Man Plans, God Laughs". Follow the link to see the story order

Contritus: Ground or crushed to pieces, bruised, worn down


Chapter One

It was a sound Scott would forever associate with a Rebel canister whining its way through the air. The buzzing had woken him from a hard dreamless sleep as surely as if someone had shaken him roughly or yelled in his ear. A blessing really, for his neck immediately started to complain about the bitter angle his head had dropped to against the damp, steamed window. His train car gave a little lurch, not quite as big as the one in his chest when the noise had occurred. He blinked and looked for the source of his alarm.

A child's spinning toy—a whirligig—was all it was, held in the small hands of grinning young boy who pulled on the separate twine ends sending the scalloped edges twirling again. He barely contained the flinch when the whizzing noise ratcheted upwards as it reached full speed. The mother and father, he assumed, stood behind their son looking chagrined.

The father clearly wished two things: that he hadn't pushed his little family to this part of the train and that he hadn't found someone sitting there. Scott also wished two things: that the man would move to another seating area and take his young son and the toy with him. It seemed best all around. The man glanced up and down the aisle. Left. Right. Left.

Help didn't arrive from either direction.

And so a small decision was made. Scott could read it in the man's face as he carefully planted his feet apart and shifted side to side, brow crumpled with concentration. It was like watching a tree take root as he claimed the other half of Scott's bench seat, and prodded his wife and son to the empty seat facing them.

Mindful of what his patched uniform looked like, Scott telescoped his legs back under his seat from their forward sprawl and half stood—hospital cane forgotten at his side—when the lady sat down across from him. She glanced at him and fluttered a gloved hand in greeting, a wan smile upon her face.

When her eyes crinkled at the corners in pity, he straightened his jacket and flicked away a minuscule piece of dust, not that it truly mattered, and looked out the window. His face was reflected there, a ghostly image magnified by steam and the light of the summer day. He hoped at some point the vision in his head of how he looked would again match the one in the mirror. But today wasn't the day.

He wondered if his grandfather had changed, as he had changed. Although it seemed rather impossible to think of it. Where his skin was once smooth, there were now ridges and indentations, a few scars. Where his hair had been thick and touching his ears, it was growing out in spiky tufts from being shaved at the hospital. Once the thrill of having his lice eradicated by an industrious nurse eventually wore off, he allowed himself a few seconds of vanity and mourned the loss of his hair. It had taken something away that shave, and there had been too much taken away already. His jacket draped where there'd been no excess before, pulled tight and newly belted at the hollowed curve of his waist. Perhaps Grandfather didn't wear grey anymore. Maybe he had moved on to brown. He tried to picture the old man in brown tweed. It made him look like tree trunk and he had to dress him quickly in grey again.

He heard a faint rustle and looked down. The boy had put aside his toy and was reaching into a small paper bag offered by his mother. His hand went in and out came a striped stick of candy as big round as Scott's finger and twice as long.

He caught himself teasing his lower lip between his teeth while concentrating on the boy's crunch and sensed the mother and father watching him. He didn't think for a moment they'd understand.

"Please," she said gently and held up the bag. "Take one."

The smell of her tipped him sideways. Soap, milky coffee and lemon-scented perfume. It was within him to refuse, but he had to search for the refusal and surely that wasn't good, was it? In the meantime, his mouth betrayed him by flooding his back molars with saliva in anticipation.

Too quickly, he nodded.

He held the stick of striped candy in his hand delicately, as though it were made of glass. The first lick of peppermint burst onto his tongue, sunshine and summer fairs all bound together. He might have closed his eyes. After a year's worth of deprivation and want, salvation came in the form of a boiled sweet.

"Thank you," he replied, ignoring the urge to lick the sugar off his fingertips. She smiled fully this time showing even white teeth, and he thought of sunshine again.

The boy set his toy down and stuck his forefinger in his mouth, swishing it around and plucking it out with a wet pop. He held it up, grinning at the sound he'd just made and surveyed the train. His eyes followed the carpet runner in the aisle all the way to the ticket taker standing by the door, one foot tracing a lazy looping pattern in the fine dirt on the floor underneath his seat.

"Mama, I want to go home."

"Hush, Benjamin. You'll bother the nice man. We'll be there soon enough."

"But Mama, when? When?"

The father shifted his considerable bulk. "That's enough, young man."

Benjamin blew out a heavy sigh that deflated his small chest and collapsed against his mother's side in a performance worthy of any Shakespearean stage drama.

When, indeed. It was a word so chock full of yearning it made his teeth grate. And one he used often enough the past few months. Like the boy, his desire for home was tangible, a living thing he wanted to squeeze and hold close.

Scott rested his head against the scratchy horsehair of the seat. The train was running late and had one more stop to go before they reached the Haymarket station. How late he couldn't tell because when he felt for his pocket watch—old habits certainly died hard—it wasn't there. God knew where it was exactly, but he had last seen it in the hands of a young Rebel. This tardiness was just one more obstacle to be breached, however. He would do it standing on his head if need be.

With an abrupt jerk, the train slowed itself and gave two short bursts of horn. The father harrumphed and gathered his family together. The mother quickly pressed the bag of sweets into Scott's hand and before he could say anything, he heard the swish of petticoats and the buzz of the whirligig as the family traveled past each seat and out the door.

He sat by the window hoping no one else would invade his bench. He'd chosen it because it was quiet and away from the press of passengers in the main car. A private car was too private. He'd gotten used to rubbing elbows, but would just as soon have some space between him and the next man. As each person passed, he felt palpable relief they didn't swing into his seat. He didn't notice the tall, thin man with black hair walking against the tide of newcomers until he stopped in the aisle.

"Excuse me, sir." The soldier's head swiveled in a nervous gesture to take in the other seats while his fingers made a run through his hair leaving it standing straight up. It was a most familiar gesture.

The man hesitated and cocked his head to the side. His eyes were piercing.

"Lieutenant…Lancer?" The New Englander, who had a patched bullet hole in the left arm of his uniform sleeve, drew himself up with a smile.

Scott grinned back like a pirate. He hadn't seen Sergeant Michael Latto since the regiment's first foray into Virginia. He motioned to the seat across from him.

"The other cars are…."

"Too noisy? Too crowded? Too…everything?" Scott opened the bag of sweets and held them aloft.

"If I had known you had these, Lieutenant, I'd have come back sooner."

"Any later and they'd be gone. Good, huh?"

Latto nodded since he couldn't talk for the candy in his mouth. He didn't bother with niceties and licked each finger.

He squinted at Scott, eyes snagging on the hastily repaired shoulder of his uniform. But it wasn't pity that shone in his eyes. "It's been a long time."

That was the understatement of the year—and it was only late May.

"The doctors finally discharged me from the hospital." Latto wagged his arm like a chicken bone. "I would have been home sooner, but infection set in."

He folded like an oriental fan, suddenly hiding its pattern, guilty and angry. "You'd left your horse. We'd seen you go down, but couldn't get to you."

The change in topics was dizzying.

"That battle turned into a rout. By the time the Colonel got us twisted back around, hell on earth had broken loose," Latto said, and his broad face was stony. Fair enough, after what had happened. Scott had cause to know, it was there he lost Carter. And there, too, began his year of exile in Richmond.

Scott would have happy to forego reminiscing about that battle but he wanted to make sure Sergeant Latto understood. There were no accusations about who didn't save who. He waved the man's concerns away.

"Then we heard you boys were taken to Richmond."

He waved that away, too. He often wondered, sitting on his miniscule piece of buggy prison flooring how he would react if anyone asked him about his time in Confederate hands. Waving seemed appropriate because there were no words in his head to describe it. Although it was bound to get breezy from all the fanning.

Latto's head tipped up. "Did you hear about Colonel Lowell?"

He had. But just recently while in the hospital, the grief was still real.

"Taken in October last, during the Valley Campaigns. Sheridan promoted him to brigadier general on the day he died."

Scott nodded. "He was a fine man. A good leader."

"Remember the look he gave us when Anderson fell off his horse not once, but twice, during drill at Camp Meigs?"

"I don't recall, he had so very many looks when he inspected us, our company especially. I fully remember Anderson's, though. And mine." Scott laughed out loud and it felt fine. "What a time."

As he had discovered a few years ago, wearing the same uniform had a way of freeing a person from the usual strictures of what to say and how. Besides, they had a history together: training, Vicksburg and others. They talked easily, and the more he heard, the more memories—good memories—returned. He found himself voicing opinions in a way he hadn't done in a very long time, laughing and nodding and disagreeing at times with a vehemence that would have horrified his grandfather.

The two of them spoke fiercely about fallen comrades, Lincoln's assassination a mere month ago, family, duty and friendship.

"What will you do now that the war has ended, Sergeant Latto?"

"I think I would like to find my own bed and sleep for a month then get up and do it all over again."

"And after that?"

"I worked in my father's store before I enlisted, and being a simple country clerk sounds good right now. But most of all, I want to get back to Anna and the children."

They sat in silence for a few short moments.

"What about you Lieutenant? Colonel Lowell wasn't the only good commander we had. Has the Army called your name indefinitely?"

Plans had been made, just a few short years ago. But they seemed so far out of reach at the moment. He'd thought hard about a military career, and had expected to enter the regular Army, but when the hometown 2nd Regiment was formed it was too inviting to turn down. And after his first battle, he had managed to find himself, to lead others in the fight for the Union, for the country. He was proud of what he had accomplished.

Then the battle that ended one thing and began another. He didn't quite know what to do now.

"For now, I think your idea about sleeping has some merit." He winked. "Although I may go for three months instead of two."

They heard the train switching gears before seeing the station. A low hum, a rumble underfoot, a deep-throated whistle was all it took for the two of them to exchange knowing smiles stretching so wide their cheeks hurt.

A few moments later on the platform, Sergeant Latto's wife and five daughters mounted an offense and surrounded the poor man with a chorus of joyous noise and clutching hands. Scott couldn't stop a bubble of laughter. For some reason he didn't think Latto minded. At all.

*****

Why did some memories remain crystal clear while others languished in the murky recesses of his mind, never to return? Harlan recalled one sliver of the time when his assistant delivered the right merger contracts to the wrong person, and the whole ugly episode came rushing back. Other things he would like to remember, were completely invisible to him. If only memory was like his library, everything stored away as it should be, well within reach. The Greek Mythologies? Upper left, far side. Mathematics and accounting, center front. An anthology of Dickens (against his better judgement) lower right in their gold-embossed jackets.

So there Scotty would be. Tall for all his youth and smiling, a fishing pole in one hand, a basket of sandwiches in another. Were they at Elizabeth's country house? Where was he going? The hedgerow boiled with insects while the boy waved and then— What?

He hadn't a clue. He didn't remember the rest.

He'd last seen Scotty when the Army saw fit to afford his grandson a bit of leave, over a year and a half now. That thought sent a prickle down his neck. The few days they'd had together, Scotty had slept, ate and took young Miss Dennison dancing. There'd been so little time to talk. But that was all over, the war was finished and he was due home from the hospital. They would pick up their lives and everything would fall into place just as it should be.

The train, however, was being uncooperative. When it finally arrived, forty-five minutes late and belching black smoke, it coughed out its passengers in a volatile—and somewhat offensive—miasma of odors, voices and color. The station was full of suitcases, bags and rucksacks. One could barely move. All around, he saw joined-together people talking and laughing and looking forward to their futures. So much joviality it had steamed up the windows.

Harlan chose a position by the balustrade, scanning the crowd.

"Excuse me?"

His heart gave a swing. He looked to his side, and of course it was another man. The red-faced drummer offered a lopsided grin by way of apology, then nodded and moved away.

Harlan's eye caught on a scrap of blue down the platform. The soldier leaned on a cane, hat obscuring the head now thrown back as if in laughter at some private joke. The worn uniform had been repaired at the shoulder in a haphazard manner, the cloth marred by a not tight-enough seam. A few other patches appeared at the elbow and hem. The jacket size was too large for the man, who wore it tucked and belted around his thin waist like the tattered clothes of a scarecrow. And like scarecrow clothes, the color had faded from either sunlight or wear. If the soldier was indicative of the type of men the Union attracted, it was a wonder the Confederates weren't in Washington this very hour.

Boisterous screeching assaulted his ears. Bedlam took the form of several young girls running (in public!) towards the two men. He tutted, shaking his head at the circus, and looked down the platform for his grandson.

Where on earth was the boy?

******

Scott turned away from the Latto family reunion and his breath caught. When Grandfather swept his eyes over him then looked back to the train in anticipation, he felt a hollowing punch. He'd become unrecognizable, at least to family.

He wasn't sure whether it was a fit of perversity or simply to give himself time to drink in a familiar face, but he watched his grandfather for a few minutes. The four-in-hand tie was properly situated against the starched white shirt. The only bit of whimsy was the silver vest, accentuating his grey trousers and jacket with a bit of color. His hands, smaller than his own large ones, were clenched.

He walked towards him, cane thumping against the platform.

"Grandfather," he said quietly, yet his voice cut through the ruckus of sounds on the platform. The white head turned, lips pulled downward in a frown that suggested he didn't like to be bothered while about his business

Oh, and then Scott saw it all. The look of shock. Horror. Pity, too. A part—a very small part—of him felt guilty that his appearance aroused such feelings. Grandfather had come all the way to the station and believed his grandson would be the very same one who left. He was sorry for the way truth won out.

The old man tugged the hat from his head and held it against his chest as if it might protect him.

"Hello, Scotty."

Hello, he said. Yet no words came.

The last year slipped away. Something brown skittered past the wooden planks of a box left on the platform. Grandfather looked at him again and Scott lifted his face to meet the gaze.

This time there was no desk between them. No books or papers. No office doors. No war or prison. Grandfather looked and looked, searching his face, but he didn't step away. He didn't gasp. Instead, he took a few steps closer and reached out to clasp Scott's hand.

He closed his fingers around the warmth, the very solidness of his grandfather, and held on.

 

 

Chapter 2

Someone had strung garish bouquets of red and blue around some sort of white flowers on the wrought iron gate that separated the house from the street. It must have bothered Grandfather to no end. Indeed, he sat stone-faced, a small tic starting below his left eye when he caught sight of them, fighting very hard not to say anything antagonistic. Scott inwardly chuckled, Aunt Elizabeth was the probable cause. Well, he for one, appreciated the gesture.

The day was warm and it made him weary. But perhaps it was from the long train trip, not the weather. Their driver reined in the horses at the curb and they disembarked.

A man stood in a nonchalant lean against the fence, a wide smile across his face, pinked by the sun and freckled like a school boy. The eyes were different, though. They seemed older, tired.

Scott didn't budge, he didn't breathe, only waited to hear the sound of Carter's voice. And when it came, it was finer than he could have ever imagined.

Carter Willoughby was dead, over a year ago. Yet the mirage walked over and placed his hand on Scott's shoulder and squeezed. A very long moment held.

"Why didn't you tell me you were returning to Boston today? I had to hear it from Skimmerhorn who told it to our Sarah who…well, never mind. Thank God the servants talk. Why on earth did you ever think it was a good idea slipping back into Boston unannounced?"

Carter now picked at what remained of Scott's uniform jacket with one hand, trying to straighten it, and he could hear the worry beneath the warm rush of words.

He swallowed. Carter was wounded on the battlefield. He'd seen the blood on his shirt, on his head, running into his beard. God forgive him, Scott had left him there alive, in gore and flame. His strength fled and he slumped back.

"Steady, boy," Carter whispered.

"Tell you? How? I thought you were dead," he said, finding his voice. A spasm shuddered through him, and he closed his eyes briefly.

"As you can attest, I most certainly am not. And I sent letters, when I got to a point where I could write again."

He touched Carter's sleeve that was pinned up high on the right side to compensate for the lack of limb. "How long ago was that?" he asked quietly.

"Not all that long. Father couldn't save my arm, but he probably saved my life. Ah, but that's a story for another time."

"What about your medical studies?"

"Also a topic for another time. But it seems as though you have missed several meals. What's the matter? Confederate food not up to your standards?"

Grandfather gasped at the cheek, but Carter's face shone in the hazy sunlight, his eyes bright and dancing, and Scott could almost see, superimposed on top of that face, the one he knew at Harvard before the war.

"What about your brother? Is Paul…?"

"He's home from his foray with the infantry, fat and happy. To be married in two months to the only woman in Boston inured to his multitude of faults. You've been tasked to stand with me, so make sure the Garrett tailors make you something that fits."

Scott did his best to come to attention and mock saluted his friend's command.

Carter's grin faded. "Julie wants to see you. What shall I tell her?"

The kind, pitying eyes of the woman on the train came to mind. He didn't think he could take that, not from Julie. "Perhaps it would be better, in a few days."

Carter nodded in understanding. "Then I will tell her that, but expect her to be severely out of sorts when you do meet up."

Grandfather cleared his throat in warning.

With a critical eye and a thin smile, Carter leaned forward, "Garner your strength so you'll be up for the challenge. And Scott? We'll talk later."

It mattered, Carter's death, had clung to him for the last year. Something hot pricked behind his eyes as he watched his friend walk away, but it must have been from the overly bright sunshine.

*****

Grandfather had bade him to rest and he needed no further encouragement. He was relieved to find his room as he left it, for as much as he felt like a stranger coming back.

At the mirror, he knew the image staring back from the glass was a tell of where he had been. Of what he had done and what had been done to him. He rubbed the rough stubble, saw the prickle of shadow on his jawline, the old scar at the temple, and reconciled the data, like aligning numbers on a spreadsheet. Then took off his uniform coat, more patches at this point than Union blue, and hung it across the back of the chair. It had served him well and him it. Funny how putting it on at the hospital prior to discharge made him feel somewhat whole, a real soldier again. Even more so when his nurse pinned the missing rank to his shoulder.

Without quite knowing how or why, he found himself pushing open the curtains, raising up the window to let the sweet smell of summer into the room.

Scott leaned against the smooth wood of the windowsill and looked out to the street, down to the black and red cobblestones that covered the city as far as the eye could see. The very same cobblestones he had traveled for all his life. Why did they seem so foreign now?

After his capture, he had dreamed of home.

In the beginning, when the dream was new, he'd known he was looking for someone, that if only he were to walk in the right direction he would find them. But no matter how often the dream occurred, he'd never seemed to manage it. One street would be replaced by another or he'd look away at the wrong moment or he'd suddenly wake up.

Over the relentless days and months, the dream changed. The certainty that he would find what it was he sought just slipped away, until one night he knew there was nothing, no one waiting for him. No matter how far he walked, or how methodically he searched, how much he desperately wanted to find the person he was looking for, he was alone.

He hadn't had the dream since leaving Richmond. Yet something akin to desolation lingered from it.

Unbelievably tired, a familiar cascade of shivers ran through him. He fought through them, teeth clenched. He couldn't be sick now, not when he just returned home. But he was cold, too cold.

*****

Harlan Garrett rubbed his eyes. It was early in the morning, but he was not in the habit of letting his schedule become interrupted. He looked at his journal, information neatly arranged chronologically, tabbed with bookmarks and other pieces of paper. Beyond it, more research strewn across the broad mahogany desk: governmental writs, newspapers and letters. A good accountant had his fingers in many pots and Harlan strove to keep abreast of the current economy. Since the war began, creditors were forced to use and accept paper money at face value, not backed by silver and gold. Income taxes were imposed to help fray battlefield blunderings. The office had never been busier.

Research was a bit of an obsession, he'd be the first to admit. Luck had nothing to do with success in the financial world: tenacity did.

For better or worse, the war had changed things. And people, too, he thought remembering Scotty from last night. The boy was quiet at the dinner table. Not eating nearly enough.

He jerked at the sound of footsteps and abrupt knocking. The staff knew better than to interrupt. Before he could retort, the door to his office flew open.

"Sir, I took him a breakfast tray, but he's so ill."

He brushed past the cook's assistant and took the stairs, heart hammering in his ears.

Scotty was sprawled on the floor, amidst eggs, toast and spilled coffee. He was pale in the morning light, dark circles under his eyes. The garbled stutterings raised all the hair at the back of Harlan's neck.

He knelt down, pressing knees into the worn weave of the carpet at Scotty's hip. The boy was shaking so badly, he couldn't form his words.

"Scotty?" he asked into the air, listening to the quick shallow breaths.

A moment then, thin and tight, like a violin string stretched too far, "I need. Need the med…medicine."

Harlan felt a prickle in his throat that was foreign to him. It felt like panic. Perhaps beyond panic: it was fear. "Where is it? Tell me."

But his grandson was beyond answering.

He sensed a presence behind him. The cook's assistant stood wide-eyed in the doorway.

"Fetch Doctor Willoughby."

She shook her head and crossed herself.

Annoyed at her hesitation, his voice became hard. "I said to fetch the doctor." He rose to confront her. "Run, girl!"

She finally spun on her heel out the door and Harlan's fear pitched higher as Scotty shook and shuddered.

*****

Oddly enough, the more awake Scotty got, the less Harlan thought he could bear to be around him. The first day, he wanted to be there constantly, couldn't take his eyes off his grandson, not even to sleep. Cook brought him coffee, the paper. His assistant at the office talked with their clients, smoothing any ruffled feathers. He sat for most of the wait, sometimes with Elizabeth, just watching. It was unnatural seeing his grandson shiver so with the fever.

No rattling of his breaths, which was good—Willoughby told him it was very good—and so far nothing untoward to any of the treatments. He'd hired a nurse who came in every hour to wipe the fevered brow and coax Scotty into taking a medicinal concoction of some sort.

Certainly, his grandson had been sick at times as a child, but this was the first episode where the possible outcome was so dire and so much, however indirectly, Harlan's fault. If he had only denied Scotty the military commission, or perhaps sent him overseas to ride out the war instead they wouldn't be in this predicament.

At the end of the second day, Scotty began to stir.

Harlan had woken up from a light slumber to see his grandson's eyes open, turned to him, staring. He needed a shave.

"Ah, finally," Harlan said quietly, fighting for an even voice. It wouldn't do to show the boy any fear, nothing but confidence. "Doctor Willoughby had high hopes for you to come around today after the quinine had been administered."

Scotty swallowed and looked away, eyes glassy. "I didn't hurt the young lady who brought the tray, did I?"

That was his first question, of course. Harlan couldn't say a word to that, not one. He'd let her go for her incompetence.

The nurse stood in the doorway with her bag. She nodded. "I'll get the doctor; he'll want to talk to the patient."

Harlan waited until she was gone, then turned his head to find Scotty looking at him. He didn't know what was moving in those eyes, but it looked to be a combination of fear and confusion, perhaps some kind of guilt.

He stood, unable to shoulder what he saw there.

"I'll have a luncheon sent up," he said finally. "Your new book is there on the stand if you should so desire."

"Grandfather?" And the voice was scratchy, he should probably have some water.

"Doctor Willoughby tells me you'll feel better in a few days. He'll let us know when you can get up."

He closed his eyes, willed himself to a calm he didn't feel and forced himself to face his grandson.

"I should have—" Harlan began, but that was all. More was too much.

Scotty's breath was coming too fast and Harlan knew he was upsetting him.

"Grandfather?" It was the last thing he heard as he left the room.

*****

Scott ran his thumb over the gold binding of the first edition Walden. Aunt Elizabeth had slipped it into his hand at his homecoming, whispering in his ear, "some reading for later, when you're settled". He wasn't close to being settled after his sickness but couldn't take his bed—soft as it was—anymore. So he ventured down to the study where the book shelves against the far wall had always served as a place of comfort and solitude.

He sat beside the fireplace, its ashes black and cold for the summer, and opened to the first page. She hadn't told him. It was signed and inscribed by the author. He shook his head at the scratchy handwriting. Elizabeth was a great proponent of the transcendental movement hailed by Emerson, Thoreau and Fuller. Had foregone society life in the city for her country house. She was An Original. Unfortunately, her originality did little to impress Grandfather, but she never appeared to need or want his approval. She was, as Carter liked to remind him, a source of inspiration.

He slouched in his chair, the room comfortably warm, and his seat cushion exceedingly soft. Soon enough, the words on the page blurred and he felt his head dip to the side.

The white light from the window sliced the study into a thousand shards of shattered glass, glancing through him as though he was made of warm butter. The odor of rusting metal and unwashed bodies overpowered him, and his stomach roiled unpleasantly.

The tired farmer's field, pre-dawn fog forming on the warm ground like a nest of ghostly snakes, mixing with the surprising chill of the air. The smell of sweat and gunpowder. Puffs of smoke rose from the perimeter, twenty Rebels with Parrott rifles loaded to the gills with canister circling them like a noose.

The gunpowder smell registered and there, as though he was standing in front of Scott, a mustachioed black-haired man, and familiar—more than familiar—but so scared. He hadn't seen him for over a month or more, the intervening days had pared the muscle and fat to the bones underneath, had turned a man into a gross skeleton. He recognized Daniel Cassidy immediately, though he'd never seen him in this place outside the prison walls. He was staring at some point behind Scott, saying something and he heard his low sing-song voice, the salty-sweet slide of an Ohio accent.

"Traitor. You've killed them all."

He strained to hear the rest, but everything was suddenly overwhelmed by the crack of a rifle. The ground, stony and rough, was awash in a spray of Cassidy's blood and he fell into it, brown eyes rolling back and Scott shouted 'no!' in a voice that didn't belong to him before the war.

He panicked, flailing out, his arm hitting something hard. He shoved the Johnnie up and back against the brick of the fireplace. He heard heavy panting, the scratch of shoes against floor, then the smell of cologne, not gunpowder. Grandfather's voice was right in his ear, "Scotty! Unhand me! Now!"

Grandfather was pinned to the mantle, his left foot trailing through ashes, with Scott's right forearm against his neck. His breath was heavy and haggard as if he'd been running. The new book had been flung to the ground and was cocked on its side near the chair.

Slowly, the old man extricated himself from his position, swallowed, his eyes wide, considered Scott as though he'd just announced he was going on stage to perform an acrobatic show. He still had one hand bunched in Scott's shirtfront.

"What is the matter?" It wasn't a question, really. His eyes were white rimmed, and Scott didn't need to really think about it—briefly seeing Cassidy in the prison hospital after the liberation was imprinted on his brain. And, too, the profanity-laced harangue from the ill man accusing him of selling out the escape.

Scott's memories had left him and his grandfather scrambled, like so many eggs.

Grandfather seemed to notice his fist clenched on Scott's chest, and relaxed his hand enough to take it away.

"Never again." The words were pitched low, but not so low that Scott couldn't hear the anger, the shock.

Finally, after the few minutes it took for their hearts to return to a place approaching normal, Grandfather reached out and touched his hand, turning the knuckles to the light.

"You're bleeding."

"I must have caught it on the mantle." He pointed to where blood had welled up from a small scratch on Grandfather's cheek. "So are you." Scott took a shaky breath. He might have done far worse damage.

He stepped backwards, and fell into the chair, pressing both hands against his forehead, waiting for the panic to pass.

It took a while. After a minute or two, he heard the jangle of coins in pocket while Grandfather adjusted his coat and shirtsleeves and came around to his side. Scott lifted his head in time to see him pulling out his handkerchief and offering it to him.

He took it and pressed it to the back of his hand. He swore softly, not for the barely noticeable pain from his knuckles, but for his behavior.

Grandfather faltered a moment, went to say something then stopped—gave Scott a baffled look as if unsure of what he'd heard. Perhaps he was trying to figure out exactly who he picked up at the train station a week ago.

"Language, young man." The reprimand lacked his usual confidence.

Scott bent over to retrieve his book, laid it across his lap and smoothed out the pages.

Grandfather sighed. "You looked to be asleep and it was falling out of your hands. I tried to get it before it hit the floor."

"I would say thank-you, but under the circumstances…"

Scott watched him take a deep breath. "It was an act brought about by your recent illness no doubt. We'll speak of this no more."

What he wanted to say was that these particular Rebels hadn't been brought about by fevers, they'd been with Scott for many months. But it wasn't for his grandfather to hear.

The incident was offensive in more ways than one, and Scott did what he always did when dark thoughts threatened to undo him. He moved. He set off for the door, leaving his grandfather open-mouthed.

*****

Harlan stepped back to the fireplace and ran his fingers across the mantle, feeling Scotty's arm across his throat for the second time that day. He touched his cheek and came away with a bright red drop of blood, his hand trembling. He'd been right to worry when the boy hared off to war, yet he never expected anything like this.

But his grandson was no longer a boy, and he was afraid there was little he could do to help the man.

 

 

Chapter 3

The wind whipped through Scott's shirt, almost yanking it from his trousers. He stood and clapped the dirt from his hands. Grandfather's garden had been ill-tended of late, perhaps he was distracted. Perhaps they were both distracted. After the ugly incident in the study, they'd been circling and sniffing each other like hounds, each waiting for a sign from the other about which way to go. Unfortunately, Scott didn't have a clue. Too much had happened for him to go back to what once was.

He tucked his shirt in tight and paused a moment to catch his breath, looking back at the greenery that clung like barnacles to the wrought iron fencing. Far beyond that he could see the barest hint of water at the harbor with the odd fishing boat bobbing on the swell as gulls swooped and spiraled above their catch. He inhaled salt-laden air. It had always calmed him, watching the water. But today peace wouldn't come no matter how much ocean or garden surrounded him.

Scott glanced at his watch. He'd underestimated how long it would take to right this end of the garden, not to mention the weariness that assaulted him from the very simple tasks of pulling weeds from the hydrangeas. A year of poor diet, among other things best not rehashed, and good old-fashioned lack of sleep.

He'd slept terribly the night before. His room and bed were both comfortable enough, but he'd been plagued by strange dreams, the sort that lingered into the waking hour then slithered away from memory when he tried to hold on to them. Yet they left him feeling disquieted.

Scott's feet felt heavy against the brick walkway, and not just from the lack of sleep. Everything had a new weight now. Pinging in his skull and buzzing painfully like a fly entrenched in spider's webbing. For the weeks that followed his release from the prison, there'd been his health. Then enough mundane distractions in the hospital to keep his focus and attention. Eating. Drinking rivers of good coffee and clean water. Letters to write and newspapers to read. Uniforms to mend. Cajoling doctors and nurses. Pouring over train schedules to Boston and who knew there'd be so few? But no one needed any signatures anymore. No guard was telling him what queue he needed to stand in. He had no orders to take or give. He had no soldiers to counsel or lead.

And yes, there was anger. A small amount, oddly enough, was directed at the men he couldn't save. But the lion's share of anger was reserved for himself. Then it wasn't anger but tears rising at the back of his throat, behind his eyes. He blinked them away, swallowed it down. The feeling was useless.

"Picking daisies?"

He whirled around at the deep voice.

Carter held out his hand palm up in earnest surrender. "You were so in thought you didn't hear me walk out. Well, it was a poor jest at that." He cocked his head to the side and his eyes narrowed as they swept over Scott. "Too early to be jesting, eh?"

"You could say that."

Carter's face softened. "Then I brought something that may cheer you up."

The door to the garden cracked open, loose enough for the wind to catch it and fling it back against its hinges. Tugging one of her long, sun-paled braids, Annie tip-toed outside. Carter's younger sister—the imp. Now almost eleven, she'd grown a bit taller in the years he'd been away, her soft features more refined.

Annie's head swiveled as her eyes raked him up and down, surveying the damage. "Oh my goodness!" Her high-pitched squeal made his tired head hurt, but he laughed anyway.

She wagged her finger at him, marching over. "I missed you, Scotty."

He managed a sketchy low bow. "I missed you as well, Miss Annie."

"It's Suzanna now," she said in her best grown-up voice, then her face crumpled with raw emotion. She threw herself into his arms and held on for dear life, burrowing into his neck. "I was so afraid when my brother said you couldn't come home with him. And then you stayed away for far too long."

Scott caught Carter's glistening eye, swallowed and nodded his silent thanks. He succumbed to the hug and held on tight.

She leaned back, supporting her elbow with her hand, tapping her temple while she thought deep thoughts. In a scene she had probably witnessed hundreds of times from Carter and her father, Annie pantomimed taking a pocket-watch from her waistcoat and put her finger to his wrist.

He quirked his eyebrow upward. "Another doctor in the family?"

Carter shrugged. "Father indulges her, but she has acumen. I think he's secretly pleased that two out three of the family want to follow in his footsteps. Mother is decidedly less happy. She had high hopes for this one attending Miss Lowry's Finishing School for Young Ladies."

After a moment, Annie ceremoniously put her hands to his brow and stopped in surprise. Her lips pursed, and all the play and make-believe fell away as she touched his cheeks, sensing the very real warmth radiating from them.

"You're sick," she accused.

Carter started forward, but Scott waved him off. "It's just the sun, I've been out in the garden for too long."

The little girl shuddering in his arms took his full attention. Setting Annie on the ground, he crouched and placed his hands on her shoulders. She never took her eyes off the ground.

"Annie…Suzanna, are you all right?" She nodded, studying her shoes. Scott tilted her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes. "Something must be wrong, what is it?" Annie's eyes darted from him to Carter. She shrugged in a mimic of her older brother.

"Come on, you can tell me." Scott didn't know what to think. Her fear appeared to be genuine.

She spun around facing Carter. "You were too sick to visit when you came home, everyone said so. But I wanted to come, every day. I don't want you to die."

Right or wrong, overactive imagination or not, she was terrified. And Scott would protect her with everything he had.

"Oh, Annie," he said. "I have no intention of dying. And I have been ill, but I'm better now. More so since you came to see me." He pulled on her braid. "I've just spent too much time in the sun."

The little girl nodded and brightened, grabbing his hand. "Then we should go inside."

Scott looked over his shoulder at Carter as he was tugged forward.

"Did you miss the memo? She's a Willoughby through and through." But Carter said it without his usual humor. More was amiss with her than what was visible.

They walked inside the house and rounded the stairs.

Skimmerhorn appeared beside him, a heavy frown marring his mouth. "We have visitors in the parlor, Sir. May I take the young Miss to the kitchen for some of Cook's sweet cakes?"

As she was led away, Scott overheard his grandfather talking.

"My grandson is too ill and cannot be bothered."

For a moment Scott thought the visitors might be Julie and her father, but he'd never heard the voices before. He and Carter entered the parlor to find two military officers, standing at semi-attention.

"Grandfather, I'll speak for myself." He turned to address the men. "I'm Lieutenant Scott Lancer, Major," he acknowledged the senior officer with a nod.

"Currently on medical leave from the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry?"

"Yes. Have I been ordered back to the regiment?"

"I'm Major Thacker from the Judge Advocate's Office." He gestured to the other man beside him. "Captain Cahill, my assistant."

"The Judge Advocate's Office? May I ask the meaning of this?"

"We've been ordered to deliver this letter."

The envelope was heavy. He slipped a thumb under the seal:

Headquarters of the Army Adjutant General's Office Washington, June 25, 1865.

Special Orders No. 377

By direction of the President, and on the application of First Lieutenant Scott G. Lancer, 2nd Cavalry, a Court of Inquiry is hereby appointed to assemble at Camp Meigs, Boston, on Monday the 15th day of July, 1865, or as soon thereafter as practicable for the purpose of inquiring into Lt Lancer's conduct at the Danville Prison on or about the February 20th, 1865.

The Court will report its facts and opinions as to whether from all the circumstances in the case, any further proceedings are necessary.

Detail for the Court.

Colonel John B. Smith, 2nd Cavalry

Colonel Michael C. Sweeney, 9th Infantry

Lieutenant-Colonel Wesley McBride, 3d Cavalry.

1st Lieutenant Jesse Lee, Adjutant - 9th Infantry, is appointed Recorder of the Court.

He managed by the thinnest of margins to keep his voice steady. "I see. Am I to be relieved of duty Major Thacker?"

Carter turned his head to him in surprise, until he read the letter Scott held out to him. Then the surprise turned to something else entirely.

"Not at this time, Lieutenant. A court will the make the decision, if and when it comes down to that, of course."

Thacker and Cahill each took time to look him over. Appraising. Their minds apparently made up, few pleasantries were wasted on a supposed traitor. They made their goodbyes and made a hasty retreat out the door and, he assumed, back to post.

Scott held on to the letter for a long time after the soldiers had left, his thumb absently rubbing one sharp corner of the envelope.

Grandfather approached from behind, his cologne pricking Scott's nostrils. "Let me see."

He handed over the letter and watched Grandfather's eyes flick from one word to another with the same amount of precision given an unbalanced spreadsheet.

"What is the meaning of this?"

"It's a summons for a military inquiry."

The white head popped up. "Don't be churlish, Scotty, I'm able to read after all. This states the military is looking into your conduct—surely not. Obviously, they have the wrong man."

"The Army has made its share of mistakes, but unfortuntely this isn't one of them." The sharp pungent tang of sweat and desperation was a living thing, clipping their heels as they stumbled towards the tunnel opening. Where screams ripped the morning air that Scott would remember for the rest of his days.

"I led sixteen men to their deaths in an escape attempt at the Danville Prison."

He felt a small, warm hand wriggle into his and he clasped it, as if in anchor. "Scotty, it will be all right won't it?"

He hadn't even acknowledged her return. She looked up at him, crumbs dotting her mouth, confusion written across her face.

"You can still call me Annie, if you wish." He touched her sunny braid.

Scott's shoulders dropped and he sighed. "Yes, Annie. Everything will be all right." He shared a look with Carter that spoke volumes.

"My girl, it looks like we need to be off. We've kept Mother waiting for far too long, haven't we?" Carter squeezed Scott's shoulder as he went past and whispered in his ear: "Courage. We will fight."

Only Grandfather remained and looked as though he just noticed him, like he'd bumped into Scott at the club. Then he sighed explosively and the wind picked up throwing a branch from the tree outside against the window, almost in complement.

"Well, that's definitive," Harlan muttered, and threw the letter onto the fireplace mantle.

"What do you want, Grandfather?"

"Perhaps a straight answer about this, a better explanation of events. How about that?"

"You never cared for my military career before, why now? Because it might tarnish the Garrett name?" Dear God, two years ago—one year ago—he would never have spoken like so to his grandfather.

"You underestimate me, Scotty. Worse, you underestimate yourself as you have never done before. If this is what the war did to you, then I was right to have misgivings."

Hurt and humiliation tangled inside him.

Harlan pointed to a chair. "Sit down."

He didn't so much sit as collapse. His hands shook, his stomach shuddered. Grandfather sat across from him, hands on his knees. And those eyes, as blue-grey as his own, level and considering.

"You've not been out of the hospital one month yet. You haven't got your bearings anymore. Willoughby says you will come around physically, you'll be strong again, but it will take time. And now the Army says you have done something I know my grandson is incapable of doing. Tell me, am I to stand by and do nothing?"

Scott pursed his lips, said nothing for a long moment. The tic-tic of the tree was a metronome against the window. The air in the parlor used and stuffy.

His grandfather sat, apparently content with the silence and the scene. While he slouched, pale of face and hard of eye.

A lucid thought surfaced among all the muddled ones: talk. For once in his life, Scott didn't think it through. He just spoke, starting somewhere in the middle of it all. And as he did, a strange giddiness crept toward out and out nausea. And afterwards?

"Ah, my boy." The old man's voice petered out, and the parlor was filled with silence once again, louder than the tree branch's strenuous knocks.

He kept his eyes on his grandfather's four-in-hand tie because that was easier, and tried to keep his face from crumpling, tried to keep it in, all that sudden heartache.

 

 

Chapter 4

A funny feeling, to have time to sit alone together, and talk. Yet Julie took a blade of grass and twisted it until it became a knotted mess. He was no better, preferring to look out at the lake with its rowboats and ducks riding the gentle swells.

She looked beyond him, in the direction of their buggy and her smile wavered. She sighed then. A long steady exhalation that made her shoulders deflate. "Sometimes I wish…"

The words hung between them, heavy and full. He waited for a conclusion that didn't come. Not knowing what to say, he ran his hand over his too-short hair and remained silent.

She reached out and touched the back of his hand lightly. "I wish you'd never gone into the cavalry."

"Well, the infantry certainly held no interest."

From the look on her face, his quip fell flat—he almost heard the thud. He reached out and grasped her fingers. "I know what you're saying, Julie."

"Do you? Carter lost his arm and you—you could have died."

She stopped herself and blinked, startled at her outburst. "I'm sorry, Scott. I don't mean to seem like a surly child. I shouldn't be so weak."

"Julie, you don't need to apologize. You aren't weak."

"Roland says war changes men. That it can't be helped given what they have to do."

"Your cousin Roland? How would he know? The last I saw him he was firmly ensconced in his father's portrait studio, pleading ill-health to avoid the sign-ups."

"You know he suffered from pleurisy as a boy."

"And yet that never stopped him from racing his horses, or conducting a rather fast-paced schottische around the ballroom, did it?"

"Why did they call for a board of inquiry, Scott?"

His eyebrows shot up. "You've discussed this with him?" he asked, turning to face her. "I don't believe it."

Julie shook her head in confusion, pressing her hand against his to get his attention. "You've been so sick and refused to see me when you came home. He was the only one I could talk to, Scott. Besides, he's family."

"Not my family."

Lips thinned out to a single line, she folded her hands on her lap. "I see."

"Julie, I need to know. Do you think I'm guilty of doing something wrong?"

She stared at him, saying nothing for a time. When she spoke, her voice was no more than a whisper. "I think that whatever you did, you must have done it because there wasn't any choice, or because you had good reason."

He couldn't help but notice she never really gave him an answer.

#-#-#-#-#

Rain. Slow and steady, ticking against the tin roof like a grandfather clock recently wound. Imagining a different sound, Scott looked to the closed door. Merely the crack and wheeze of old plank flooring settling itself, not the Colonel's aide coming out to escort him to the board. Where another man may have felt a reprieve, it wasn't within his nature. He got up to pace, even as Carter heaved an aggrieved sigh of annoyance beside him.

"Walking a hole in the floor won't make them hurry any faster."

He turned back to the wooden bench. It reeked of damp wood and mold. He sat, jarring Carter in the process who huffed and moved a tic away. Something drove him to his feet again and he fussed with his patched uniform as he paced the brick cage. Each rend and subsequent stitch served as a reminder of what he'd done and what had been done to him. It was his coat to wear. And he would, proudly.

"Here, let me. Even one-handed, I can do a better job. I don't know why your peculiar brand of Garrett stubbornness wouldn't allow you to borrow someone else's coat. The court will take one look at you in this grubby attire and throw you out."

Carter hmm'ed like an old grandmother as he tugged and straightened. Then his head popped up. "Was that your intention all along? How subversive of you. I believe your time in the Army was well spent after all." He grinned like a Cheshire cat.

"Say, what's this mark on your rank?" He pulled Scott's shoulder board toward the light from the window and frowned.

Scott looked down and could feel the color flood his face. "My horse."

"Mortimer?"

Scott nodded. "He was forever lipping at my shoulder boards."

"From the look of this tattered mess, I think you should have fed him more often. But he took good enough care of you, so I would see fit to forgive him his faults, however multitudinous they might have been." The gibe held no malice.

He twitched. Of all the horses at Camp Meigs, he was smitten the first time he'd laid eyes on the hulking brute. He grinned as he fingered the mar in the fabric. Mortimer had chewed the rank the very same day Scott was promoted. How he missed that horse. Bleakness suddenly enveloped him, as smothering as a woolen blanket on a summer day. He cleared his throat to say something, hesitating a moment as he steadied himself.

"How do you manage?"

"I cannot pretend to have what isn't there. I'm fortunate the Johnnies didn't take both, because that would have been very inconvenient." Carter glanced at him. "But you didn't mean my arm, did you?"

Scott paused, felt a stab of guilt.

"I'd much rather be discussing this with a brandy in my hand and the opportunity to order more. Many more."

The rain retreated abruptly and they both peered out through the guard of droplets left on the windowpane to the muddied courtyard beyond.

"Since I mustered out last year, I've had ample time to think on the subject, and now isn't the place. Yet I will say this," and Carter lifted his hand as though he was going to point to something, but finding nothing, rested it again on the windowsill, "I think dying is sometimes easier, it's the living, the going on, that's so very hard to do. From what you've told me of this failed escape, I know you understand that all too well. Now you have to convince those men on the other side of that door who hold your career—and your honor—at the end of their pens."

Plagued by nerves, he strode to the end of the room. Today of all days, it was vital to speak faithfully and betray no emotions. Grandfather seemed destined for disappointment: first his mother, now him. Yet he had strived to do what was right. He still believed in the sanctity of one Union, that slavery in any of its forms abhorrent. But the fervor that was there at the beginning had been diminished a little after each battle. All that mattered was the debt owed the dead and his honor. The thought of defeat this way was unbearable.

The door Scott found himself staring at swung open to reveal a thin man with corporal stripes on his arm and a serious face. His old-world accent sent shivers up Scott's spine. It reminded him of First Sergeant Bauer. How long ago had it been since he saw him? Over a year, and more.

Carter gave him a concerned nod and he focused his thoughts once more on what lay beyond the door as he followed the corporal into the anteroom.

Colonel John B. Smith's face was superbly creased, like a sculpture in wet slab clay. It bore the signs of every day lived hard. So too did his eyes, never resting, travelling over Scott's face like it was a map to somewhere interesting. Indeed, they were all looking at him from across the long table with studious interest, as one would find an odd specimen under a microscope. Only Lieutenant Lee, the recorder, had pasted a wan smile on his features.

He stood at attention, acutely aware of his ragged uniform, and waited while the Colonel read off the very same letter that had been delivered to Scott last week.

"Do you have any objection to the members named in the court, Lieutenant Lancer?" Colonel Smith asked.

Each soldier was unknown to him, he thought it might be scurrilous to ask if any had been in battle or imprisoned. "No, Sir."

"Lieutenant Lee please make a note for record that Captain Justin Cahill has been assigned as the military counsel for the respondent and is present."

Out of the corner of his eye, Scott saw Cahill approach from the side of the room. He carried a book in one hand and a battered leather bag stuffed with notes and paper in the other. He turned slightly as Cahill approached with a look of warning in his expression. There was another look, too: worry.

The members of the court were then sworn in by Lieutenant Lee, whose smile had disappeared altogether. In turn, Lee was duly sworn by Colonel Smith, the President of the Court.

A court stenographer—civilian—was introduced and sworn to a faithful discharge of his duties.

Colonel Smith nodded to Scott and Cahill and they took their chairs.

Lee spoke directly to Smith, "I have subpoenaed witnesses to the number of six, and up to this morning four have arrived that I am aware of. I wrote to the War Department for data in this case, and as to whether there were any accusations, imputations or charges against Lieutenant Lancer. I have received certain papers in reply in this morning's mail but have not had time to adequately examine them."

Scott thought for a moment, and spoke to Cahill. The lawyer nodded and stood.

"To the court, Lieutenant Lancer objects to proceeding at this time, because he has not been informed of any complaints against him."

Lee spoke, "Lieutenant Daniel J. Cassidy, 83rd Ohio Infantry, has made certain accusations against Lieutenant Lancer. The full nature of said complaints, I believe, is in the papers I received this morning."

He flinched. Cassidy. In April, through rumor, they had heard Richmond was burning. They never suspected Danville might be as well. Like ants tumbling out of a wrecked mound, they fled confinement only to find the sun blocked by smoke. He'd fallen to his knees as he coughed and retched, nothing in his stomach to empty. He finally rested his forehead against earth that smelled of sand and stone and hunger, lungs sawing for air. Eyes streaming, he lifted his head and found his feet. It was there in the haze he saw Cassidy being lifted into waiting ambulances by Union soldiers along with other patients from the hospital barracks. Daniel's face twisted in purpled rage when he saw Scott, like he'd seen the devil himself.

Colonel Smith's words brought him back to the room.

"Is Lieutenant Cassidy here, or are we waiting for him?"

"Since the armistice, Lieutenant Cassidy has been a patient at Lincoln General Hospital in Washington. He is unable to attend this inquiry due to lengthy illness brought about by his incarceration at the Danville prison. I desire to submit the question to the court now and let it decide whether Lieutenant Cassidy shall be invited to suggest the names of any witnesses in this case, or to send any other evidence that will throw light on this investigation."

Colonels Smith and McBride conferred. One black head and one grey bobbed up and down like two city pigeons going after the same crumb.

"As a reminder to the court," Lee shuffled the papers in front of him and chose one to read, "you are called to investigate the conduct of Lieutenant Lancer and it is a well-known principle of law that a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty and it is not for Lieutenant Lancer to prove that his conduct was good, until the contrary is proven."

McBride nodded and Colonel Smith spoke, "It is the court's desire then to ascertain what is in the papers you received and invite Lieutenant Cassidy, with his best ability, to send us the names of any witnesses he believes may be suitable in this case. This court is hereby adjourned to meet at 2 o'clock this afternoon to interview the witnesses currently present."

Colonel Smith brought the gavel down on the table.

Carter took one look at Scott's face when he exited and grimaced through his beard. "Damn," he said, for both of them.

Camp Meigs had changed with the passage of time and loss of mission. No two ways about that, yet it still teemed with humanity and no charm. It was too big and not big enough, an in-between place unsure of itself since the war's end. It was manifested in, as Grandfather liked to say, an end of year feeling that said everything was on borrowed time. Scott wished it wasn't quite so fitting.

They found their old Cavalry Barracks. At least most of it, as it was being converted to hospital beds and a library. Good luck with that, he thought, hands jammed in the pockets of his coat, not warm enough even though there were neglected summer daisies drowning in leftover rainwater around the flagpole. His head sang with weariness and his step at times unsteady. Along with refusing a new coat, he had refused to bring his cane. He regretted the cane.

They stopped at a bench under a shady oak and he sank down.

"Well?" prodded Carter.

"Does the name Daniel Cassidy bring back any memories?" Carter's eyebrows pulled up. Scott always enjoyed watching that, took it as evidence that his friend hadn't thought of everything, could still be surprised.

"The man from Ohio, the one from the infantry," Carter clarified. He shifted in his seat and Scott prepared himself, because this was Carter getting ready to pontificate. "The same one from the 83rd you escorted to Vicksburg? I remember you wrote about his friend, who made a comment about it being so very hard to catch a cavalryman in the heat of battle." He was fiddling with his folded sleeve while he spoke, but suddenly stopped. "Oh, yes, the very same at Danville, too."

"He's ill, in Washington, but has apparently lodged accusations against me."

"Having to do with the escape?"

Scott shrugged. "I'm assuming so, but I'll have a better idea when we meet again this afternoon. The lieutenant from the court has paperwork stating his cause."

He rubbed his temples, trying to ease the feeling of betrayal along with his headache.

They talked about safer things for a bit: Carter's brother Paul and his upcoming nuptials, an invitation to returning veterans from the Harvard class of '65 to attend commencement. About how green Boston looked—so green it hurt the eyes—this time of year with the rain. About smelling salt on the air like the answer to a prayer.

"Carter, when did Annie start with this Suzanna business?"

The question tugged a bitter smile from his friend. "Sometime after I came home with no arm and a very poor outlook. You know, I refused to let them take my arm at first." He waved his hand in the air. "All that shadowing Father on his medical visits and to his surgery at the hospital, I thought I knew what was best. Until it became quite apparent I didn't. I was so ill, it was a necessity to finally cut the thing off. And then there was Annie."

He startled. "Good God, I forgot!" Fumbling in his pocket, he brought forth a square of lumpy linen, well wrinkled, that he shoved into Scott's hands.

"This is for you. She made them with help from Cook."

He picked it apart and stared. "These are crumbs."

"They were cookies when they started out this morning." Carter reached in to snag a largely intact piece. "But they're still good.

"She was there, Scott, every time Father changed my bandages. Every time I had a fever, or when dark thoughts pervaded. When I got better, she started to worry when you didn't come home." He sat back. "She grew up. Quickly."

Scott watched a company of men march past them, a few of them more ragged than the rest. Where had they been? What had they seen? All around them signs of life proceeded, sometimes obliviously it seemed. It was too familiar to him now, the understanding that death and pain existed in the midst of life. But almost eleven-year olds weren't supposed to know.

He sighed and pulled out his watch. After one-thirty already, they would have to rush to make it back on time.

 

 

Chapter 5

The rain started beating against the windows as soon as Scott sat down in his chair in court for the afternoon session. It seemed fitting enough.

Lieutenant Lee opened his satchel and took out two pieces of paper. "The letter from Lieutenant Cassidy was read, as the court directed. To which, it forms the basis upon why the inquiry was initiated." He glanced up at the senior officers before him. "It is of note the letter was dictated from the officer to the hospital administrator, as Lieutenant Cassidy is unable to adequately report due to his illness."

His illness. Cassidy had been so sick he begged Scott to take over the escape. The last time Scott had seen him—until the release—was when he and the others carried him to the prison hospital under the watchful eyes of the guards.

Dan sat up right away, couldn't seem to tolerate being on his back. But had gotten up too quickly, and Scott had to catch his elbow. Then helped him to his feet, where he swayed like a tree about to fall. That wasn't good. Scott cautiously led him away from the men, easing him down again. The sound he made was indescribable when he hit the dirt, had raised all the hair on the back of Scott's neck in a way that usually involved Rebel yells and cannon fire at dawn.

"Dan, are you still with me?" he asked into the air, hearing quick shallow breaths.

Cassidy snatched his arm away, looking alarmed and ashamed. "Yes. I'm better."

Scott didn't bother with the contradiction, they were a bit past that now.

Cassidy's eyes, fever-bright, were impossible to read, but his jaw worked a little. Making some kind of decision. Was going to fight Scott on something. Most likely something to do with the escape—it wouldn't be their first disagreement. Tension caused tempers to be short and sniping on both sides, there was far too much at stake here.

"I'm not going, I'm afraid," Cassidy said with a tight smile.

"But Dan, it's all set." Nothing except the quick breathing, hard to pick out from the murmur of the soldier's around them.

"The fever…getting worse. I wouldn't make it five feet. Leave me here with the others."

Scott glanced around. Charles Reese was in the corner with his stub of charcoal and stolen paper, drawing. His broken ankle had healed badly. Bob Edison sat rocking and singing softly to himself. He'd left Danville a long time ago. And Martin Green who could only catch his breath to cough up more blood.

Just sixteen of them still remained somewhat healthy, able to pick up and run. As they would surely have to do.

"Take them, Scott. Promise me you'll lead the men out of this place. To safety."

Scott could barely think. He dropped his hands from Dan's shoulder and studied his frayed shirtsleeve. An old stain there, blood maybe. For a moment, he felt a tendril of fear creep down his spine. He nodded, scared—for all of them—but as sure it was the right thing to do as waking up in the morning.

A sound came from the dirt, almost a hum. Scott glanced down quickly, could only see Cassidy's profile against the dark of it.

Their eyes met, and Cassidy's face froze before something else moved in. For one second, one brief moment that Scott was absolutely sure of, he saw it through twin etchings of pain and weariness on Cassidy's face: complete resignation. Dan was letting go, and not only of the escape.

"But the letter is in Lieutenant Cassidy's words?" asked Colonel Smith.

"Yes, Sir."

"Proceed then."

Lee's eyes flicked over to Scott and back to the paper in front of him. He began to read:

"In terms of length of time served, I was senior officer and summarily placed myself in command of the escape from Danville Prison. As a soldier, I tried to execute the plan to the utmost of my ability. Totally unexpected as it was, and in ignorance of the severity of my illness, I was forced to surrender my duties to the next officer in line, Lieutenant Scott G. Lancer. Had I understood what kind of man he had become after Vicksburg, I would not have done so. For he is a traitor to the uniform, and to the Union."

"No!" Scott said, a growl more or less, tempered by Cahill's sudden hand around his wrist.

Lee continued as if not hearing his outburst.

"Lieutenant Lancer sold out our escape, for what Confederate favors I cannot abide. To say that I was merely angry at the deaths of those sixteen men would hardly express the state of my feelings. I was and still am outraged beyond measure."

Scott slumped in his seat.

Cahill stood abruptly. "The matters charged in the letter are subject to proof. It is understood that the reason why we are assembled."

"We are not to be confined to that letter. We fully expect to go over the entire case," Colonel Smith replied, after a minute. "Lieutenant Lee, call the first witness."

Major Edward Clemons, 2nd Cavalry, was brought in, and duly sworn to testify the truth. Clemons was a captain when Scott was introduced to him as their new company commander after Miles died at Vicksburg.

Scott felt the raw look from Clemons as he took his chair. Gambler's eyes, the men used to call them, and always behind the good Major's back. So deeply brown they were almost black, his eyes were piercing, otherworldly at times. Would he stand by Scott? Despite some early petty bickering, he knew he could count on Clemons for counsel. Their spats aside, they understood each other. Harvard and Yale, two university men. Perhaps he would remember.

Colonel Smith spoke, "State what Lieutenant Lancer's conduct was like at the battle of Long Creek and Winchester in regard to energy, efficiency, and whether such would inspire his men with confidence or the reverse, and state any facts and circumstances in support of your opinion of the conduct of the officer."

Clemons cleared his throat. "I've known Scott Lancer to be dutiful. He had gained battle experience in Vicksburg by the time I met him, placed summarily in command of Company B when Captain Miles was killed. From all accounts he did an admirable job."

Murmurs from the long table surely meant something.

"Under my command, he was a young headstrong officer, experienced in the ways of the cavalry and battle. Those two things alone made him quite valuable to me, but what was most gratifying was his way of capturing the minds and hearts of the members of the company, if not the regiment. Steadfast, is how I would describe his behavior. As it was in the battles you just named."

"And of his behavior as a prisoner in the Danville Prison?" asked Colonel Smith.

"Sir, I can hardly answer that question."

"It will have to be answered unless objected to. Conjecture, if you must."

"The man named in such a despicable crime against the Union, is not the man I knew. I certainly have nothing to say against Lieutenant Lancer. That is the whole sum of my answer. Further proof, Colonel Lowell had complete faith in him." Clemons stared at Scott. "As do I."

The Colonels bobbed their heads in unison while Lee furiously wrote in his ledger, trying to keep abreast of what was being reported. When the scratching stopped, he signaled Colonel Smith. The gavel came down, excusing Clemons.

Scott groaned a little through exhalation.

"One down," Cahill said.

The second witness came in and Scott almost groaned again. Lieutenant Hawkins, his uniform pristine as ever. He rued his temper back then in the Major's tent, yet even now found his hands balled into fists. Reluctantly, he unclenched them. They'd been on foot for most the day, their mounts held back to the rear, and when he shouted forward with a wave of his saberthey marched as a great animal mass. His men roared while revolvers sputtered and bullets pinged. For the first time in the war, his saber pierced human flesh. A skirmish, the press had called it afterwards, but for those fighting it was hand-to-hand battle, tree-to-tree. They desperately needed support, but like a haggard bride at the altar had been left waiting. Mad-dog angry, he'd lost more than his composure that day.

He watched as Hawkins raised his hand to take the oath and wondered if the man had ever had an occasion to step out of the sanctity of his tent during the war.

Colonel Smith's question was to the point. "Did you see the officer on the fifteenth and sixteenth days of August, 1863?"

"Major Hill and I were engaged in strategy planning with the commander on the fifteenth, but the sixteenth, yes."

"What happened on that day?"

"His actions were unspeakable. I told the Major then that Lancer ought to be court-martialed." Hawkins gave the impression he was the cat swiping at a trapped mouse. "He should have been relieved and placed under arrest."

"And those actions were?"

"Why, he stormed into our tent demanding to know why there were no reinforcements in language that cannot be repeated. His insubordination to me and Major Hill was quite spectacular. He had no respect for the uniform and certainly not for the men in them. As if we had anybody to spare…"

Smith's face was set, emotionless, but he raised his hand in warning: enough is enough. He looked at Scott. "Lieutenant Lancer do you deny what happened?"

"No, Sir. Not in the tent." His words were rapid-fire and cutting as the anxiety of that day was unearthed, burning bright. "There was no rear echelon of aid at Piney Branch, D and E companies were diverted to a hill where there were no skirmishers. By the rebel's second barrage, thirty percent of my men were dead or wounded. I don't apologize for what I did that day, but how I did it."

Smith's eyes remained steady. "Lieutenant Lee, can we find this Major Hill and request him as a witness?"

Lee leafed through a sheaf of papers with ink-stained fingers. "Unfortuntely, he was killed in the Valley Campaigns, November of 1864."

"How did Major Hill react, Lieutenant Hawkins?"

"I believe mutinous was the word used by Major Hill at the time." About to deal a death-blow to the mouse he was playing with, the cat wore a smirk of self-satisfaction. "And as I recollect, he idly wondered if Lancer had caused the death of his men."

Scott straightened, pushed a wave of panic down savagely.

"How so?"

"By breaking too early at the rebel stampede. If he had waited a few more minutes we could have run the enemy back. Major Hill ascertained it from the post-battle briefing. He was quite angry at the time."

Dumbfounded, Scott sat back. He and his men had reached a stand-off at Piney Branch. They'd been driven back to the spur, but held the flank. He'd just gotten a bit ahead of himself, but it wouldn't have made a difference. The dead lay scattered long before he broke the line.

He licked his lips, realized his hand was fisted on his thigh and uncurled his fingers.

Cahill hissed in his ear, "You will keep your mouth shut, or I'll see you banished from court myself."

Colonel Smith asked if there any further questions from the court and when there were none, Hawkins was dismissed. He addressed the room, "This inquiry is to be reconvened tomorrow at nine o'clock. Gentlemen, I would remind you that this is an inquiry, not a public court-martial, and as such pertinent facts and figures should not be discussed outside the confines of this room."

The gavel came down with all the force of a minister trying to get attention from an unruly congregation. But the court's congregation were stone silent. The bangs echoed like rifle shots.

Scott bided his time until the officers left, leaving them quite alone. He didn't care how Cahill made sense of it, but he needed to tell him, right now.

He rounded on the lawyer. "You don't know me."

"Lieutenant Lancer, you're quite correct, I don't know you. But if you keep blurting out your concerns in court…"

Scott shook his head. "You don't know me, or you would understand I could never do what Cassidy has accused me of doing."

"I fully understand that prison will change a man." Cahill's voice was hushed and flat.

He stepped closer, his height drawing the man's eyes upward where Scott could see growing alarm. He didn't care. "Those men were my comrades, my friends, my confidants, my brothers. I would never have sold their lives in that filthy prison."

He didn't know what they'd just shared, but realized tears coursed down Cahill's face. For the first since court opened, Scott's anger was pushed aside.

"My brother died in Andersonville, not at Rebel hands, but by one of his own. From all accounts, strangled in the dirt like a mangy cur. Over a slice of mold-ridden bread." He raked a hand through his hair. "I assured Major Thacker that I would remain unbiased and yet I find myself here at this most difficult juncture. I'll arrange a different counsel for you."

Scott took a long steadying breath. He shook himself and nodded once.

Cahill's shoulders drooped.

It was too warm in the room, so Scott unbuttoned his coat collar. "As I said, Captain Cahill, you don't know me or what happened in Danville, but I'd like to enlighten you."

*****

Master accountants either live by the books or die by them: not much of a choice, but Harlan had a well-founded aversion to clutter in his spreadsheets, so before falling asleep he pulled out the offensive one to study. Thoughts of his grandson kept intruding.

Scotty was frightened after his first day of the inquiry, Harlan knew that right away, could tell from the concentration he had put into the letter he was writing, and he wondered if the simple act of applying pen to paper had given some comfort. Then Scotty had paused between one sentence and the next, the long sharp nib poised.

"The garden still needs tending."

It wasn't what he'd been expecting, so he had smiled a little and nodded.

Harlan sighed over his own pen. The garden wasn't the only thing that needed tending. He got up from his desk. A crumpled piece of paper had fallen to the floor from where Scotty had sat writing. He automatically stooped to get it, a spat of dizziness hitting him. The last few weeks had taken their toll. It wasn't good to move too fast. He flattened out the paper, read the few words and shook his head. He didn't know of any James Atherton in the area.

On his way out, he passed the bottle of brandy stored on top of the cabinet. And noted its level was significantly lower than from the morning.

He didn't knock on the library door—it was his house after all—and found Scotty with his sleeves rolled up and collar unbuttoned, sprawled on the sofa, coat halfway to the floor, his face buried in a pillow.

He didn't know what to think. Then saw wetness weeping around his grandson's head like an ungodly halo. A half-empty snifter lay upturned beside the pillow.

He didn't panic, simply took the two quick steps required to lift the glass away and assure himself that his grandson was all right.

It took one glass of water to coax Scotty to sit up. He sipped it, holding it in that peculiar full-palmed grip that was new since his return from the war. Clutching the glass like it was going to run away. He wasn't ignoring Harlan, just not responding. Far away. Hurting.

"Why don't you get some rest," Harlan suggested, wishing that his grandson would say something.

After a minute, Scotty nodded his head. "I think I will. It'll be a long day tomorrow."

He walked stiffly to the window, didn't turn, merely lifted a hand to the curtain and pulled the heavy fabric back, looking over the black of the night. At the stars beyond. "I wanted so desperately to come home."

Harlan could hear it in his voice, an almost frantic need for this to be over.

 

 

Chapter 6

First Sergeant Gregor Bauer looked over at him, and his broad face was puzzled for a moment, but it only took a moment for recognition to spread. In the hazy grayness of the courtroom, Scott kept shifting from ancient to nineteen again—his age when Bauer was first assigned to the regiment.

The older man's face lit up with a smile wide as a river delta at sunset, a sheet of brilliant white so sharp it almost hurt. Scott smiled back, but it was hesitant, as though it had a long journey before it could make it to his face. Bauer moved, every step sure, crossing the courtroom and came to a stop a few feet from him.

"Oh, Lieutenant, Lieutenant," he said, and it was almost like a song the way he said it, played with it, like cards in his hand being shuffled. "What did you get yourself into?" It could have been a question or it could have been regret, might have even been an accusation—it was difficult to tell. The heavy accent was drawn out between consonants, and Scott heard familiar traces of old world Germany and wide open prairie.

The gavel tapped as a reminder and Bauer moved off to take his seat.

"You were assigned to the Second Cavalry from the regular Army is that not so?" asked Colonel Smith.

"Yes, Sir."

"I wish to ask your judgment of Lieutenant Lancer during that time."

Bauer's eyes drooped at the corners, and his voice held an edge. He was like a sheepdog, Scott decided, trying to protect those around him—the regiment, the men of Company B, an unsure lieutenant.

And he remembered from that first time he and Bauer sat by the fire with their coffee and he'd heard the words: Fine time for a man to be lost…or run away. Knew you'd find me. Boy's not new, but he hasn't seen enough fighting to be toughened up yet."

Bauer's face was set, emotionless now, the common jaw outlined by a close-cropped gray beard. "Lieutenant Lancer had battle experience, but to me, was still a little green."

"How so?"

"He wasn't," and he cocked his head to the side in search of a word, "knowledgeable in the world of men yet. Young."

"Did he show cowardice?"

His hand slashed the air in an impatient gesture. "No. Never. That wasn't his way," he barked, steel in it.

"Explain."

"He questioned himself too much. But that is no fault, as I would say most men in battle do so at one time or another. He took it hard when one of our men tried to desert. It changed him. A borrowed debt, if you will." There was an air of resignation in the way Bauer said it, and Scott felt a flare of guilt at the statement. Private Merrell.

"Some men revel in war, others get by doing what they have do in order to survive. Lieutenant Lancer always fought with a sense of duty, to my way of thinking. The man who tried to leave didn't have the same sense. There was some talk of letting him go."

Colonel Sweeney leaned over the desk, a heavy frown of disapproval marring his face. "Outrageous. Desertion falls under penalty of death, at the very least a court-martial. And Lieutenant Lancer encouraged the mutiny?"

Bauer's eyes widened as if caught between something bad and something worse. The color rushed into his cheeks and his face screwed up as he murmured some rather colorful German words reserved for the most thick-headed of recruits.

Scott didn't know which was worse: facing down a senior officer, or what the senior officer was saying. Was implying.

Bauer unbuttoned the top button of his uniform and smiled grimly. "Bear with me," he said and couldn't help but make it an order of sorts, the steel was back. "My father kept several hundred acres on the plains of Kansas. Most farmland, some with stream and woods. We also kept a few sheep by the by." His eyes were penny bright. "Every so often we would get a wolf or big cat. They have to follow their instincts, yes? But that don't mean we liked to lose our sheep. To protect them we got a donkey, they have sharp hooves and they're protectors, not predators. The sheep are dumb, they think the donkey is one of them, but the donkey knows better. It lives with the sheep, but isn't one of them. It protects them from the wolves and cats."

Colonel Smith leaned forward. "Are you saying that Lieutenant Lancer is a donkey?"

Grinning, Sergeant Bauer caught Scott's eye and nodded. "He brought his man back, after all."

Time. Second chances. Debts. None of it mattered anymore for the dead men in the bloodied farmer's field in Virginia. All the anger, sloshing around like red wine in a perforated wineskin, drained from him. Suddenly, all that was left was worry and guilt and sadness.

When he looked up, it was to see Sergeant Bauer giving him a concerned look as he went out the door.

"Lieutenant Lee, do we have any witnesses available who were actually at Danville?" asked Colonel Smith, sharply as if he was tired of wading through the chaff and wanted to get to the heart of the matter.

Lee looked down at his papers. "The next witness was imprisoned there for almost a year and a half, sir. Private Charles Reese."

The soldier shuffled in, leaning heavily on one crutch, holding a leather haversack. Reese had been at Danville for over three months by the time Scott first met him. A veteran in more ways than one.

Through-out imprisonment, Reese sketched. Hundreds of pages, most of them ripped and tatty, some only as big as postcards, filled his portfolio. Portraits decorated the dark stone walls of the cell, a few making their way to line the wall outside the cell, stuck to the stone with dried gruel. Sometimes a guard would ask for a special sketch and post the work in his quarters, occasionally giving Reese a bigger piece of black bread, or a few Confederate coins. The coins were no good to him—or anyone—by that time so he took his payment in the form of art supplies. A pencil, or nib of charcoal. Some smuggled clean paper.

At night, he sketched by candlelight with a halo of fluttering moths or mosquitoes circling the flame, casting wild shadows against the stone walls, surrounded by the snoring, hacking, gurgling coughs of their fellow soldiers. While listening to the scratching of Reese's charcoal, Scott would think about the men he might have killed; and of the faulty steps of the regiment during his last campaign. Grandfather. His father. Over time, however, he was seized by a kind of despair, a dejected acceptance of fate, believing their captivity was a kind of mercy in that they were fortunate to have their lives spared.

Colonel Smith brought his gavel down and fixed Reese with a stare. "Describe with particularity the manner of the escape attempt commanded by Lieutenant Lancer from the point of the night chosen to its subsequent failure and ramifications, and whether any Confederate aid was used or abided."

Reese hugged the haversack to his chest and spoke, "In the evenings, we talked about our escape and a consensus started to develop, which was that it would be best to make our break by digging a tunnel. The rock under the brick was limestone pumice and somewhat easy to dig through, even with our lone knife."

"Was Lieutenant Lancer in charge?"

"Well, Lieutenant Cassidy was the senior-most ranking in our cell, all the higher-ups were in other cells and floors of the buildings. He was the one who took charge at the beginning. But he wasn't well. Finally, he gave the reins over to Lieutenant Lancer and the last we saw him he was on his way to the prison hospital."

"So with Lieutenant Cassidy gone, Lieutenant Lancer decided to go ahead with the escape."

Reese bobbed his head. "We all knew, even if no one said out loud, that we needed to hurry."

"Why?"

His chin jutted out. "Because none of us were getting fat and healthy on Confederate hospitality. And General Grant had stopped the exchanges."

"Did you see Lieutenant Lancer confer with the guards at any point?"

"No more so than the rest of us." Reese rubbed his whiskered chin with darkly smudged fingers. "Some of those guards…they were as bad off as us, but without the bars."

Colonel Smith sat back and looked at Colonel Sweeney for a moment. He continued, "You didn't take part in the escape?"

"Not that night, no. I had broken my ankle when the Johnnies found me and the bone never knit back together right."

"Were you angry about being left behind?"

He glanced at the crutch beside him. "I wasn't happy about it, but I was purely thankful for it after that escape was done and over. Me and Green, and a few others talked some about being left behind while they were digging out, but we were happy the sixteen were able to go. And we all took part to help, doing what we could

Scott remembered that they had made an egregious mistake by not planning for the amount of rubble removed from the tunnel. The only way to dispose of it was to have each man carry a load to the latrines three times per day, whether they were in on the escape or not. Thankfully, they were all amenable.

"We saw them off, saluted right smartly, too. Then we waited. If we were to hear any shouts, that would mean they'd be coming back through the tunnel and we would need to be ready to cover the evidence."

"How did you discover something had gone wrong?"

"We heard something all right, but it wasn't them coming back. It was bullets and canister. Green snuck a peek out the boarded window and said the night sky was lit up near the river. It was then we figured the escape had gone to hell."

"And when did you see Lieutenant Lancer again?"

"Maybe a half hour after it got quiet again. We were at the windows by this time, the guards weren't paying us any attention. The big iron gates swung open and he was dragged in the dirt to the clearing betwixt the buildings. The Johnnies were hopping mad when they tied the stick in his mouth. Nigh on to twelve hours he was bucked and gagged, right in the middle of the camp. My thoughts at the time were that they wanted to break him, like a dry twig. It was where…" He shot a look of sympathy to Scott.

"Where what, Private Reese?" Colonel Smith prodded.

"Where the Confederate boys had some fun with him. We were pulled out for roll call late the next day, an unusual thing because they didn't like us to be outside. Lieutenant Lancer was hunched and bent by the rods and rope into a tight package that bucking makes a man." Reese's jaw worked in concentration, making a decision of some kind. "Beg your pardon, sir, I'd rather not talk about it. It's all in there." He pushed his haversack across the table to the Colonels.

From Scott's vantage point, it contained what looked like a sheaf of papers, in various sizes. Colonel Sweeney's eyebrows pulled together in one great brown bushy line. Whatever the papers showed had the two officers shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

Smith motioned for Lee to take them to their table.

Cahill gasped a little. Five seconds that felt like forever, and Scott had to catch his own breath when the first piece of paper made its way into his hand.

With simple strokes of his charcoal, Reese had captured the piss streaks across Scott's back and legs, the puddles by his boots where he sat tied. Tobacco spittle in his hair. His head was raised, one eye blackened and swollen shut. Most of the blood on him had come from someone else though, and he tried to stop the vivid memory of what had caused it, but couldn't. God, he wanted a drink. Badly.

He found his fingers pressing on the divot beside the corner of his mouth that refused to heal for the longest time after the gag stick was removed.

"In your best estimation, do you think Lieutenant Lancer aided the enemy that night?"

Reese's mouth opened, then shut and he shook his head. "He was made an example for the rest of us, don't you see?"

"What happened after that?"

"They hauled him to the cellar."

"The cellar?"

"A hole. Solitary. We were made to watch as he was thrown in. We didn't see him until they lined us up outside again. Over a week, he'd been in there."

When he was able to stand again, he would look up through the slats of the wooden grate to see two or three dim stars. If he strained he could hear the night-mutter of birds, the snick of rats and mice as they moved about, or if the evening breeze was just right, the trilling of frogs from beyond the prison wall. He started out with sums, doing them in his head then out loud just to hear another voice. At one point he sang all the songs he knew—loudly—and found there were far too few of them. He dictated hundreds of letters, most of them addressed to a place in California called the San Joaquin Valley, care of Murdoch Lancer. Gah. His imagination took flight in that small place.

Flicking through the drawings, he wasn't surprised the find the faces of the sixteen etched for posterity among them. He paused when another showed him being pulled from the hole—an event he truly did not remember. Surely, the stooped bearded skeleton with the hand shielding his eyes wasn't him, was it? Fine beads of sweat dotted Scott's forehead, could feel it trickle down his chest and back. Where the bucking and gagging was merely physical agony, solitary had brought him to his knees.

Stomach roiling, he shoved the drawings back into the haversack and slapped it closed with too much force—the room had gone silent.

Colonel Smith gave Scott a long slow look of consideration, not quite believing, not quite ready to call the inquiry to a close despite the evidence in front of him. He turned to the witness and dismissed him.

Private Reese hitched out of the courtroom, one arm wrapped around his crutch, the other akimbo with the bulky weight of the haversack. An invisible thread woven with hardship and hunger bound them together and when Reese exited, Scott felt a distinct loss.

"I believe," and Colonel Smith's voice faltered, the first time it had done so since the inquiry was called. "I believe we should have a recess."

Lieutenant Lee interrupted, "Sir, if I may? We only have one more witness to call today, we're still awaiting the arrival of the sixth."

He stared intently at Scott, as if in appraisal. Finally, "Then let us have him, Lieutenant."

"Sergeant Michael Spivey."

The name meant nothing to him.

Spivey's face was littered with pock-marks across both cheeks. Tall, lean and narrow-chested. He sat down and stared at Scott like he was enjoying himself. Maybe he was. Spivey chuckled, low, in his throat and pointed.

"That's the devil who sold out the escape."

 

 

Chapter 7

Scott crooked his head, wiping gritty sweat onto the upper sleeve of his uniform despite the sudden chill in the courtroom.

Captain Cahill nudged his arm. "Do you know this man?"

He shrugged, more with his lips than with his shoulders. "Never met him as far as I can remember."

Michael Spivey didn't look like a sergeant, the fact he was in rumpled civilian clothes added to the decided lack of military bearing. But Scott was not a new recruit anymore, knew there was more beneath the surface of the cagey grin. He ducked his head when Colonel Smith swore him in, nonchalant and slow in a way that made Scott's breath hitch in irritation.

He had an easy grace, built as he was like a fighting dog—all muscle and bone—but was whittled down, drowning in a brown sea of fabric. A thought pricked Scott's brain: prisoner. Because Spivey had that look about him. But he hadn't been in their cell. Maybe the man sensed his attention because he stopped fiddling with the two buttons on the front of his coat and glanced up.

"How do you know Lieutenant Lancer?" asked Colonel Smith.

Nodding to Scott, his smile was incremental, and not at all encouraging. Perhaps a little annoyed by the directness of the question.

"Don't like to think about it."

Slowly, Colonel Smith's attention turned to him, gray head distinct in the dark blue of his uniform.

"Sergeant Spivey, need I remind that you took an oath?"

"Took an oath at the beginning of this fiasco, too. And look where it got me. Too weak to farm the fields and my wife gone when I got back." He swept out one broad hand to include the courtroom. "When do I get mine for holding this Union together, Colonel?"

He tapped the side of his head. "No sir, all I got is a body that won't keep weight and four years of memories from this war. Bad memories. Some I made on my own, but others were given to me. I didn't sign on for that. Purely switch and bait, is what the Army is. Promising one thing and delivering another."

His eyes widened, and there was fear, but underneath that, hardship. Loss and hardship, years of want. Scott was certain.

Anemic sunlight filtered through the window, light and shadow mottling Colonel Smith's face. He looked drawn and haggard.

"What happened at Danville, Sergeant Spivey?" The question wasn't unkind, just straightforward, like the man himself.

"About the actual escape itself, I don't rightly know," he mumbled, bravado gone like the flash of a summer storm. The courtroom went still, just the scratching of Lieutenant Lee's pen could be heard competing with the ticking from the Regulator clock on the wall. "But I'll tell you the truth. As far as I know it anyway" He took a deep breath.

"And what is that truth?" Smith demanded, his hand pushing the gavel away. It was a good question, and Scott waited, mostly because he had no clear idea of the coming answer.

Spivey closed his eyes, and for a moment nothing happened. His words were so quiet that Scott didn't hear them at first. Then, as the clock thumped, the words drifted to him: Guards knew about the escape the night before it even happened.

Standing now, feeling suddenly exposed for all that the table was between him and the witness, Scott glared down, feeling all eyes upon him. He had always commanded space, ever since that first fistfight at Camp Meigs and he wasn't giving up the high ground now.

The gavel struck wood with two loud claps. Colonel Smith's order of sit down, Lieutenant Lancer! came with Captain Cahill's frantic hand tugging at his elbow.

Scott balanced Spivey's testimonial against his own festering memories. He couldn't give into the known paths—fury, fear, sorrow. Instead, all his worry went to a cold flat place. It came to him in that instant: outrage wouldn't serve in this situation.

All these past few years, in battle and out, and this was the one thing he should have learned. Clear headed anger, focus. A weapon in and of itself. It was like one of Grandfather's lessons. He'd watched Harlan twist and subdue his anger for years, thought it was a particular weakness, not a useful tool at all. But even as he thought that, it fell away.

He held on to that, turned his head away from the witness deliberately and sat down.

Spivey swallowed and started to pull on his buttons again.

"Sergeant," Colonel Smith said, and his voice was hushed and flat. "What do you want to say?"

A brisk knock interrupted. The same corporal who had escorted Scott in that first day appeared. "Beg your pardon, sir." He waved a piece of paper in the air. "This telegram is from Lincoln General Hospital in Washington. It arrived for Lieutenant Lee." At Colonel Smith's nod, he strode towards Lee, gave him the paper and exited again in his practiced efficiency.

"Continue, Sergeant Spivey."

He swallowed again, leaned in his chair towards Colonel Smith, like he was confiding in a friend. Then hunched into himself, looking at his hands. "So much blood, they said."

"Sergeant," Smith breathed out, "you need to tell us what happened."

"Murder," he replied, after a minute. "No other word for those sixteen men. Like shooting fish in a barrel."

Spivey shifted in his chair. "We heard the shots, even from where we were. Knew it couldn't be good."

"And where were you?"

He scrubbed a hand across his face. "Across camp. The pox had taken me down and I was in the hospital, all of us were in the bay listening and hoping the escape would make good. Then we heard shots and wondered what happened. It was just a little while later until the camp commander came in and crowed about it, about their murderin'. And we were thanking God none of us was there. Lieutenant Cassidy took it the hardest, he knew all the men that got killed, and seven had come from his own regiment. But sixteen lives is sixteen lives, Colonel. It don't matter where they come from, right? We all mourned."

Scott didn't miss the look Colonel Smith gave to Colonel Sweeney, surprise, followed quickly by keen interest.

"Cassidy figured that Lieutenant Lancer had told' em ahead of time. I'd never seen anyone so angry."

Colonel Smith looked at Scott and shook his head. A warning.

"You said you all were listening for it, how did you know the escape was to take place?"

"I was in the bed across from him." Spivey squeezed his hands together. "It wasn't Lieutenant Cassidy's fault, you see? When they brought him in, he was sicker than a dog. The fever had' im, he was raving out of his head. We all knew about the escape because he talked about it. We played it off like it was nothing but the orderlies were there, they heard every last detail, the same as us."

Scott ran his hand across his face. It felt like a dream, someone else—not him—listening to it all. He shivered, caught between wanting to run and wanting to stay because he was nothing if not curious. He had thought about it ever since Major Thacker and Captain Cahill appeared in Grandfather's parlor with their missive. Couldn't get it out his head. Because he knew he hadn't sold out the escape, yet it was too much of a coincidence to have that many Rebels waiting for them outside the prison walls. But Dan spilling the secret? Well, that had never entered his mind.

"And what happened to Lieutenant Cassidy afterwards?" There was nothing of curiosity in Smith's voice now, and anyone bothering to really listen would hear the frustration. It was probably confusing Spivey. A different kind of baiting, Scott thought.

"He got worse, melancholy. I think the only thing holding him together was his anger." He pointed a finger at Scott. "At you."

Colonel Smith drummed his fingers against the table. A signal maybe that perhaps he'd heard enough. Scott had definitely heard enough.

Spivey was dismissed.

Lieutenant Lee stood, the telegram in his hand. "Sir, this is from Lieutenant Cassidy, I had sent word to the hospital asking if there were any more witnesses he would like to name as per court request, however…" he struggled to explain.

"Out with it, Lieutenant."

"But Sir…"

"Did he or did he not name any witnesses?"

"Yes, as dictated by the hospital administrator."

"Then read them off."

Lee let out a soft sigh, his voice thick, "Private Joshua Lewis, Corporal James Atherton, Sergeant Harrison Stanford, Corporal Aaron Raines, Corporal Stephen Root, Second Lieutenant John Bakely…"

"That's Lieutenant John Baker," Scott interrupted. "He died in my arms outside the camp."

Colonel Smith looked incredulous.

"As did all those men Lieutenant Lee called out and, I'm assuming, the rest of them to be named from the telegram. I led them to their deaths that early morning of the escape."

"Lieutenant Cassidy sent these names as witnesses?"

At Lee's firm nod, Colonel Smith's eyebrows rose as one. "And are they the sixteen who died?"

Lee nodded again. "Sir, there's an addendum here. A doctor's report. It states that any further correspondence is suspended as Lieutenant Cassidy has fallen gravely ill."

Scott felt eyes on him and raised his head. Colonel Smith had been watching him, and he straightened, keeping his gaze level. Smith took hold of the gavel and brought it down. The limp tap on the wood of the table didn't echo this time.

"We'll dismiss for a recess. Lieutenant Lancer, stay close. I don't expect this to take long."

He found Carter and Master Sergeant Bauer waiting for him in the anteroom when he exited.

"How goes it?" asked Carter.

Scott shook his head. "Let's talk of better things. Sergeant Bauer, I appreciated your testimony but how did they ever find you?"

"Didn't we talk about this at one campfire or another? The Army is a small place, they'll find you if they need you. But in this case I was just about to go on leave when they caught me."

"You gave up your leave for this?"

"It's for a good cause, my leave can wait."

He was humbled, felt grateful for this man—this comrade—who had come to his aid.

"Do you remember Private Merrell?"

"Of course. And I believe you called me a donkey in the courtroom about the Merrell incident?"

Pink suffused to the tips of his ears and Bauer produced a grin. "A good donkey is worth his weight in gold, Lieutenant."

He laughed, for the first time in days.

"But you might be happy to hear that Merrell made it home after the war just fine. His brother Charles sent me a letter and his thanks. And I told him to send them along to you. After all, you plucked that boy from his path of destruction. The way Charles wrote, it seems as if Merrell grew up some."

"Haven't we all?"

Sergeant Bauer stroked the gray stubble on his chin. "It'll be all right, Lieutenant. The officers in there don't strike me as mean-spirited, they've just been tasked to suss out a puzzle. They'll come to the right conclusion."

He was feeling many things, but none he could identify as right. Tired. Sad. So worried he was almost alarmed.

They all looked to the door when it opened. The corporal came out and motioned towards him.

"Sir, they're ready for you now."

"Lieutenant?" asked Bauer. "I need to catch a train, those few acres in Kansas are calling my name at least for a little while. I'd like to know how this all turns out. I've left my address here with..."

"Don't say it. Remember, I'm not a Lieutenant anymore."

"…with Mr. Willoughby.

"Oh no, you're not getting away with that. If I may be so informal, it's Carter. After all that has happened I think we can at least be on a first name basis."

Bauer grinned a full toothy grin.

There was a story there, something his friend had left out in all his ramblings. He shook the strong, calloused hand of Sergeant Bauer and said his good-byes, promising to write. Took a deep breath, threw a smile he didn't feel to Carter and followed into the courtroom.

If Captain Cahill hadn't become a lawyer, he would have made a good poker player. His face was thoroughly devoid of emotion when Scott reached his side at the table. They both remained at attention facing the senior officers.

Colonel Smith stood to speak, and that surprised Scott.

"This court was convened solely to inquire about the conduct of Lieutenant Lancer at the Confederate prison in Danville. We have heard the witnesses speak and have gone over the evidence presented. Lieutenant, I do not excuse nor condone criminal behavior."

Smith stared at him, no expression, and Scott felt a punch in his stomach.

"However, I cannot confer punishment when there is no criminal behavior to be found. Let the record show that Lieutenant Lancer's conduct at Danville was above reproach. And it is the consensus of this board that it will give its strongest recommendation for this matter to be closed for all posterity."

He and Cahill remained standing as the court officers adjourned. As he was walking past, Smith shook his head. "How long have you been in the Army, Lieutenant?"

Scott hesitated, as if the admission might be costly. "Going on three years, sir."

A wistful smile crossed the Colonel's face. "Just going on, eh? Well, you've seen and done a lot in your short time in the Army. One thing to remember, Lieutenant, despite what was brought out here, the Union matters. If not its men."

He watched as they all filed out of the courtroom. Probably had to meet wives and children at home. Or have dinner. Or finish writing their reports. The world was moving in an excruciatingly normal way.

"Are you winning the argument?" Carter pulled up beside him, dropped into the chair vacated by Cahill and placed a large envelope on the table.

Oh no, had he been talking out loud? Waving his hands around?

He eyed the envelope with suspicion. "It's over."

"I surmised that when everyone left. Everyone except you. I also surmised that it went well from the grin on Captain Cahill's face. What is the saying…beware a lawyer's smile?"

Scott sat down heavily. "In this case his smile is sincere. It turns out that Dan, through no fault of his own, told the guards of the escape."

He heard Carter's sharp inhalation, saw the shake of his head. Pity? Anger? Sadness?

All of those and more were whirling inside of him. He understood what Colonel Smith was trying to say when he left the courtroom, but it had come at too great a cost.

Carter cleared his throat and pushed the envelope towards him. "Private Reese left this for you."

Scott tapped it against his fingers, felt the heft and finally opened it. He pulled out a smudged piece of paper.

"He mentioned you might want this particular one."

It was shadowy and dark, done in looping fashion as if the artist hurried to get it down before the scene changed. Yet at the same time quite clear. He was in his spot, his back against the far wall of the cell, a tattered book open in his hands as if reading. With something of a bemused look on his face. John Baker sat beside him, hand raised in the air like he was making a point in some lively discussion. Most likely reiterating the differences between Thoreau and Emerson—almost a calling for him.

A smile came to his lips. It was so easy to bait John, he always believed he was right.

"Scott?" Carter's voice came whisper-soft.

He nodded and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes to clear a sudden cloudiness. It came away suspiciously wet. He should think about going back to school in the fall and interning with Grandfather next summer and taking a long walk by the pier, but none of that seemed important. At all.

 

 

Chapter 8

His head felt stew pot big. It hurt badly, but he knew the feeling. Too much drink, and its corresponding headache—though well-deserved—was colossal. So as to avoid opening his eyes, avoid seeing what happened to him, Scott took blind stock.

His head hurt, that he knew. The bitter taste of bile filled his mouth, coating his teeth, but he didn't have any recollection of vomiting. Not that he wanted to remember; his mind shied away from the act of recollecting. Recollecting: collecting again, like picking up apples after the horse kicked the cart over. He was taking stock, and that involved not remembering, he counseled himself. The words felt wise and somehow very appropriate.

His head felt like someone kicked it. Actually, his nose did, too. And his eye socket. He didn't want to think about why. His hand hurt, resting at an awkward angle under his pillow. His other arm was asleep.

Recollecting accomplished, there was no need for Scott to probe further.

He was in his bed. His left arm was asleep. He felt as though he had thrown himself in front of a runaway carriage, but that conjured up images of force and velocity, two concepts he was not in the right frame of mind to contemplate.

Thirsty. When his arm awoke, it wasn't going to feel good. But he was warm. The blankets weren't heavy, there was a down duvet on top of him.

Taking stock.

The bed smelled of sweat, and whiskey, and loss. A combination that required Scott to do some temporal addition, which he didn't really want to do, but the smells were compelling, and the not knowing was becoming intolerable. So he put one and one and one together in a sequence and came up with a tawdry scene behind the club.

A slim book slid across the slickness of the blanket when he shifted, releasing his numb left arm to come back to full restoration, and this development sent all notions of mathematics and velocity and thirst out the window, considered or not.

John's Thoreau, in all its stained and tattered glory.

Memories flowed over and around the whiskey dam he had built to stop them, pooling and eddying in his brain. He screwed his eyes shut again, yet his voices howled and moaned. "Guilty!" said one, "Heartbroken!" sang out another, and the lowest voice cried, "Run! Run!"

#-#-#-#-#

The tailor stabbed him with his needle. The pain was sharp and fleeting, much like a bee-sting.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Lancer," he said, the needle and thread suspended in his fingers between them. His hair was copper shot through with grey and his accent was musical. Probably immigrated to Boston and found his entire world tilted upside down as the war simmered and boiled. The tones and inflections reminded Scott of a poorly strategized poker game deep in the armpit of Mississippi with Lieutenant Conall Doherty from the 83rd. "Please stay as still as you can."

A neat daguerreotype of a young man in uniform stood proudly on the tailor's small desk, a place of honor amongst the jumble of colored threads, measuring tapes and scissors. He stared at the picture and found he was holding his breath.

The tailor caught his eye and straightened with a crack of spine. "My son Padraic. Part of the twentieth, he was. He usually does the measuring for me, but he's out this afternoon thinking I don't know he'll sneak about her house with flowers and a song."

The breath left him in a happy whoosh. So the soldier was alive then. "Her house?"

"He has it in his mind to be marrying. And a fine young lady, if I do say so myself. Maybe it will help him to settle." He speared Scott with a stare. "As a father, I have a right to worry, but where does it get me?"

Scott shifted a little on his feet, risking another barb from the needle, as he puzzled over his own father. He couldn't imagine Murdoch Lancer worrying over anything, especially the detritus from a shipwreck over twenty years ago.

The tailor stooped, puzzling over something at the waist and marked it with chalk. A new suit for Paul's wedding, as Carter had mandated. And another pair of blue uniform pants to go along with his hobo jacket for an engagement at the university.

"There you are, Mr. Lancer. All done." The tailor looked up at him in expectation.

His reflection eyed him from the mirror, turned side-to-side, assessing. A thin figure in black wool sateen, coat collar with razor sharp points, and buttons—two each—decorating the sleeves in the current fashion. He was afraid if he angled his arms and flapped a bit that he might be mistaken for a tall crow.

"You look like a prince," the tailor said. He took the pins from his mouth and pushed them into the fold of his apron, his grin turning into a full-fledged smile. Scott looked back at the picture on the desk. They had the same eyes, crinkled at the corners as if from too much laughing. But the father's eyes were gentle, filled with humility where the son looked like the sort of man to betray a secret, just to see what happened.

Shrugging out of his new coat, Scott gestured towards the picture. "I'm glad your son is home."

The tailor became quiet. Finally, "Yes. My boy returned. We're back together, as it was meant to be." It was uttered with profound relief.

Scott felt a small jolt as if briefly losing his balance. He didn't know if was unease, or something else. Yearning? He caught himself in the mirror and was appalled to see how washed-out and strained he looked.

When he left the tailor shop, not for the first time did his thoughts stray to California.

*****

It was a bright July afternoon, as close to one thousand alumni swarmed about the Harvard Yard for the grand commencement. Far ahead, to the right, was Governor Andrew and his contingent. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes were talking, heads together nodding in earnest conversation.

The morning was fine, but warm. Scott pulled the collar of his jacket away from his throat to let in some cooling air. Jostled from behind, he swiveled around to take it all in. The visitors, a deuce mixture of dignitaries, invitees like himself and locals interested in seeing the men they admired from afar streamed towards Gore Hall, the college library.

Old Massachusetts Hall and Harvard Hall were profusely dressed in banners and bunting, neatly arranged, with a line of flags traversing the space between them. A centerpiece carried an inscription: "Non ille pro caris amicis aut patria timidus perire."

His Latin was rusty, the last time he had used the language was with John in prison as a way to keep his mind nimble. He let the stern frown of old Professor Fitzroy wash over him and the words came quickly enough: "He never was afraid to perish for dear friends or for country."

University Hall, which faced the main entrance to the college yard, was festooned with bunting, looped up here and there, by shields and flags, and bearing on its center a golden eagle, surrounded by a trophy of seven American flags. In the eagle's beak was the welcoming inscription: "Quod bonvm favstvm felixque sit vobis reique publice. Redite in patriam ad penates."

Fortunately, someone had taken the time to translate: "Whatever there is good, felicitous and happy, may that be to you and the republic. Return to your country and your household gods."

He rocked back on his heels. "Carter, did they know what was coming? Did they know how awful it would become?"

His friend sighed and appeared thoughtful for a moment. "I don't think so. They couldn't have known the risks, what it might have cost. Even at our late entry into the war, I remember thinking we would ride off, save the Union and return home as conquering heroes. I would go back to school and with my superior skills would become a surgeon emeritus at the most prestigious hospital in Boston." He winked. "Then back to everyday again."

Carter was still accepted in the Medical School—by the grace of President Hill and his father's hearty protestations—but he wouldn't be doing any surgery.

Their mood was somber by the time they reached the pavilion, for there stood the simple college arms. A crimson shield with three open books, and the word 'Veritas'. Under this were six tablets with the names of Harvard's fallen in the order of their classes.

Scott looked for and found several of his comrades among the pages. Everyday life—home again. For these men, it would never come.

The commencement started and he and Carter left Grandfather with the Willoughby's to join Paul in the ranks of the procession. More than two hundred soldiers and sailors were with them, some proudly wearing empty sleeves, or a pinned up trouser leg as they marched or hobbled along, all met with loud cheers. An array of beautiful and gaily dressed young ladies, interspersed with matrons in soberer hues, completely crowded the galleries. The procession filed down the center aisle to the platform and to the reserved seats, amid loud applause.

Carter tapped on his shoulder when they sat. "How many letters this week?"

"What makes you think I've sent any?"

Tilting his head, Carter leveled a hard stare.

"Add a bit more hair about the ears and you'd look just like the schnauzer Julie and I found begging for scraps in the park."

Carter clicked his teeth together. "Shall I bark or snap? I believe either would garner some undesirable attention in this crowd, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong."

"Only one. To Corporal Atherton's mother and father. They live too far away to visit."

"Ah, that Maine boy." Carter looked stricken. "How many are left?"

He held up a single finger. He'd been putting it off for as long as he could.

Carter asked him something else, but a conversation next to him caught his ear. The two men were talking about before the war.

Always before the war. It was said again and again—before the war. The only way they as soldiers could understand things now. What did he remember from before the war? It seemed as though nothing really existed before, certainly nothing that signified. The house was full of servants and Grandfather was always at his office, scratching out whatever contracts or deals he thought needed to be made. Carter laughed all the time, pulling pranks and jokes. He remembered the burning speeches of William Lloyd Garrison at the town hall on the apathy of the people, and something about pedestals and leaping statues.

But all those things were nothing to what he felt like before the war. Back then, everything was certain. Like the rising and setting of the sun each day. Like Grandfather putting on his tweeds and reading the newspaper before breakfast. Like the cold Boston rain that came each fall, heralding the coming winter. He remembered most the groves of elms, the trimmed boxwoods and wide lawns that dipped green fingers towards the ocean. He could look across them to the harbor in the distance and almost see forever.

Antebellum was a new word coined by Miss Mary Chestnut, a diarist from South Carolina. It was a more genteel way of saying before the war. She was right, Scott mused, it was a most proper word, but for him the antebellum had quite simply ceased to exist.

His sense of being—that feeling of before—was aided by summers spent in the country after Aunt Elizabeth returned home from Europe. One late August, when the breeze moved so gently it was a caress, he laid in the wild grass beside the barn, sleepy in the thick clover, feeling his body vibrate with the buzz of the earth, the energy of the sun soaking through him. With the confidence of any young man, he knew himself then. Was sure of his path.

The memory of that summer was so real. But a seismic shift had occurred. And like most seismic shifts, it cut everything open and pulled everything apart. Each morning he awoke, and for a moment, just a moment, life was as it had been, and then with quiet horror, he would recall what had happened. He had to be busy in order not to think. Writing the wives, mothers and fathers, and fiancée's about the men they lost helped to assuage the guilt, in part.

With each letter or visit, he wondered how they would bear the loss, or ever recover. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't see the way forward. Only one letter was left, marked in care of Mrs. John Baker. He found this one to be the most difficult one of all.

"You haven't answered me, Scott. When will you cease thrusting the sword through your heart with this business?"

He looked at Carter, knew his unstated concern, as readable as John's Thoreau. Then turned to listen to James Russell Lowell deliver his commencement ode.

He bristled at Carter's insinuation. Shocking because of all the emotions he attached to pain, anger was not on the list. Remorse, yes. But white fury? It came too quickly when he wasn't expecting. One day, not long after the trial, he'd been on Tremont Street and a man pushed in front of him with his packages. He tripped and almost fell. It was nothing really, but he chased after the man, wanting to let him know what he'd caused, wanting him to feel nothing but shame because that's how it was for him. The anger throbbed in his belly as if it were breathing. "What's wrong with you?" the man had asked when Scott demanded an apology.

So he had tried to resume the way things had been before. He dressed in the mornings, took Julie on outings, listened to Grandfather drone on about the vagaries of the stock market. But none of these things had substance. They were things he did but they added up to nothing.

A bleak mantle of melancholia settled over him. They were gone. It wouldn't matter how many letters he wrote or how many relatives he let cry on his shoulder. He hadn't been able to save them and he wondered when it would be that he'd forgive himself for that.

 

 

Chapter 9

My Dear Aunt E.,

I concluded to write you tonight even if it is late as I have not written for a while. Grandfather has endeavored to keep me busy at the office between illnesses. For his sake or mine, I am at a loss to say. Disappointment may be too trite a word to use, but I fear it will be my legacy in that regard. I was sorry to hear you were unable to attend the commencement as it was a fine and somber time. Carter and I were wondering if not the whole of Boston showed up in attendance at Harvard Yard. Mr. Emerson was in the audience and I engaged him in a short, but fruitful conversation after the speeches. You know I am quite intrigued with him and his ideas of individualism, and not just because he is a fellow student.

I wish to thank you again for your kind regards during the trial. I can honestly say I am happy it is over and done as it was a harrowing time. Despite your misgivings about the Army, your presence in the city made all the difference.

My last bout of fever receded rapidly which gives me hope I have seen the last of them. Doctor Willoughby remains ever attentive, however. And now I have news! Orders have come and I'm to muster out of the Cavalry on Thursday as our entire unit will be disbanded in late August. The ending seems incomplete to me somehow, but perhaps the feeling is a temporary one.

I will endeavor to visit Zephyr Fields sometime before school starts again.

Yours ever,

Scott

*****

It was just a couple of weeks into August, and a good couple of months before the season turned no matter which calendar was consulted, but Scott felt something stirring. Morning in Boston, after-dawn fog forming on the warm ground, and he was on his way out the door to Camp Meigs for the last time.

"Sir? I have your letter and I'll see that Toby takes it to Zephyr Fields this morning, but shall I post that one?"

Skimmerhorn pointed to the vanilla-colored envelope propped up on the foyer table. Mrs. John Baker. The barely-legible black scratching looked as though someone was in a hurry to get the job completed. He picked it up and felt its weight, not much heft in terms of physical size yet it contained volumes in sentiment, if not paper. After the commencement exercise, he'd expected to feel a measure of peace. Instead he began to dream again, not of the escape but of John. He'd left his windows open at night, hoping to be soothed by the cool air, but it didn't work and he often woke with a start.

He bounced the letter once more in the palm of his hand. Such a small thing. With sudden clarity, he realized he'd left it on the table, hoping someone else would make the decision for him. Yet indecision was not something that sat well with him. Perhaps it was because he knew he could easily make the trip to John's hometown and visit his wife in person.

"No. I've changed my mind. If I do want to mail it later, I'll take it myself." He pushed it into his coat pocket.

Skimmerhorn arched a brow in puzzlement. "Very good, Sir."

"Scotty!"

Left hand on the doorknob, he flinched. He'd nearly brought his right hand around in a fist before he caught himself. The gesture, and the fact he'd been so lost in his own thoughts that someone could come up behind him, reminded him that he had lost sleep over the past few days.

Skimmerhorn's eyebrow arched higher, if that was possible, and Grandfather dismissed him to his duties. He glided away.

Scott relaxed. Harlan Garrett was impeccably dressed in his frock coat, with a black silk puff tie centered against the stark white of his shirt. For all intents and purposes, a successful businessman on his way to the office. But his eyes, as vivid a grey-blue as his own, were filled with concern.

"I'd hoped to convince you to wait," he said quietly.

"There was no reason for that, I have my orders."

"You look terrible, Scotty." He lifted the back of his hand as if to check for fever and hesitated. After a moment suspended in air, the hand fell back to his side. The gesture reminded Scott of when he was a child and thinking of that, he felt overwhelmed. For the first time in years he missed that time desperately, in much the same way he missed having a real father or mother.

"When you return, I would like you to come to the office this afternoon, there's someone I'd like to introduce."

"I don't know when I'll be done, Grandfather. I could be a while."

Harlan's sigh was ripe with annoyance. "But you'll make an effort, correct?"

Scott looked down at his hands and flexed them, stifling his own sigh. "Yes, I'll be there."

"I only want what's best for you, Scotty."

"You always did." He suppressed a shudder, feeling the walls closing in on him. "But right now I must leave."

*****

Scott pointed his horse north. Corn fields with yellowing stalks flashed by, they'd soon bend like brittle old men to harvest in the next month or so.

Reaching Hyde Park, he could see the Readville Station on the Boston & Providence Railroad. Corrugated scraps of tin, a mangled horse cart, and a gather of equally ragged men with wild eyes. They were veterans from the partial uniforms, and they were about as calm and collected as feral cats. If they'd had pointy ears, they'd have lain flat against their matted heads. Tails, they'd be bushy with anxiety.

Aside from the cleanliness of the clothes and a morning shave, Scott knew he wasn't so different from those men. Layers of blue wool covered him, leather boots on his feet. Mostly, though, it was the expression in their eyes, and Scott recognized it immediately: displacement.

A train had slowed for the crossing, two long whistles followed by one short, moving slow just coming out of the city, and stopped at the station. He watched the men as they assaulted the disembarking passengers for a few coins and silently wished them the best of luck as he kneed his horse forward.

A few minutes later, he crossed through the wrought iron gate, the veritable line of demarcation from rural quiet to bustling camp.

That day, almost three years ago, when he walked out of his civilian life and into a military one, he had no thought of the future. Nothing beyond training, tent-life, campaigns and victory. He reined to a halt, figuratively he had no idea where he was going anymore, only knew he was searching for something without knowing what it was.

He pushed past the corrals and barns. And inordinate amount of men—civilians mixed with those in uniform—were lolling around as if waiting for something. He caught a glimpse of horses being moved in the barn before he turned off towards the designated brick building. He counted each door, until coming to number five and that one was open. It was a good omen.

Even growing up in a house adorned with possessions, he was amazed. He'd never seen so many things stuffed onto one desk before. A couple of amber glass bottles sat forgotten off the side, two tins of sweets, a rearing horse figurine, a daguerreotype with a vaguely female visage and various knickknacks that were beyond his power to recognize. Crammed into every corner, oozing around the desk's ornamentation was paper. Lots and lots of official-looking paper.

In the midst of it all was a Corporal Williams, if indeed the name plate was correct, his ink-stained fingers buried in an official-looking book. Scott heard him mutter under his breath. He leaned against the door jamb as Williams stuck one thumb in his mouth to give it a hasty lick, then turned the page with it. To the corporal's credit, he managed to muffle most of the curse before viciously hopping to his feet when he spotted Scott.

"Your door was open," he said, as Williams pinked.

The corporal shrugged. "Left open by the last man in an all-fired hurry to get over to the pay-master." He brushed at a shock of brown hair curling on his forehead. "Is there a problem, Lieutenant?"

"Not so I've noticed."

"Fine." Williams put down his book and crossed the room, moving out of Scott's view until he shifted inside the door. Standing beside a bank of cabinets propped up against the wall, the corporal flipped the curl from his forehead again and opened a drawer, his unsmiling lips drawn into a tired thin line. "Is there something you need? Sir."

"I believe I need to go to the paymaster, too."

Williams fixed Scott with a steely stare. "Are you mustering out?" It was more of an accusation than a question.

He brought out his orders when Williams moved back to his desk.

"You're late, Lieutenant…Lancer."

"Are you saying the paymaster is out of money?" Scott asked through a grin, trying to follow William's thoughts, if not his gravity. It was hard to be serious when looking at the desk and its ridiculous contents.

Dipping his head to the side, the corporal peered up through the flop of brown in his eyes. "Say, I've read your name before."

He lifted a few errant papers, but apparently not finding what he wanted let them flutter back to their resting place behind the rearing horse and went to another stack. "As far as I know, the paymaster is all set, it's just that I have to find my mustering out paperwork again before you get to him. All the rest of the regiment scattered like buckshot after the war. Just a few of us left to make sure it all gets filed properly."

Scott wasn't sure where the words had come from, since the corporal's lips hadn't seemed to move. Like a magician's trick. He smiled, not with his teeth, and sat in the lone chair in front of the desk.

The corporal stopped his shuffling, magpie interest bright. "Ohhhh, you're the one. You were at Danville." He shifted from foot to foot.

"Well, I'm back now." Scott said, not really caring how stern it sounded. He was a little past stern as a barrier to conversation.

Corporal Williams's eyes rounded and he looked as though he was trying to decide on the best answer.

Scott stood and waved the orders in his hand. "But I need to be out. Preferably before the entire regiment is disassembled."

"Ah, yes. Yes you do."

The corporal's hand disappeared within a drawer and rifled through a sheaf of papers, eventually calling out 'here it is!' with all the cheeriness of a Pentecostal minister.

The paperwork signing him back into life as a civilian was accomplished, with Williams sniping a glance at him every so often. The corporal blew on the ink encouraging it to dry, and offered Scott a page to keep.

"You're owed a lot of money. Nearly thirteen hundred dollars in back pay." He wagged his head side to side. "Red's gonna have a fit."

If Williams was impressed, he hid it remarkably well, placing the newly-signed document carefully back into the drawer. Scott fervently hoped it would eventually get to the right person. The last thing he needed was a uniformed anyone showing up at Grandfather's door again.

"Thank-you, Corporal."

"Payroll is two doors down." Brown eyes came up, locked with his. A grin erupted. "And Lieutenant? Welcome home."

Scott found himself smiling back.

He stepped outside blinking in the sunshine, and pulled the good corporal's door closed with a snick to guard against any further intruders of the late variety. A trickle of sweat made its way down his neck and he stifled a sigh. With the weight of his discharge firmly ensconced in his breast pocket, time stuttered and his cavalry life flickered in, the men, the horses, the camps. It shocked him with all the suddenness of cold water doused over his head: however exhilarating and horrifying and exhausting it was, he would miss it.

He lingered a moment in thought, rubbing at the hard angles and frown-lines on his face, then started walking.

The door to the payroll office was open. Inside was airless with the heavy smell of coffee and tobacco. Two men were perched on a tall stools behind a chest-high desk. The younger of the two was a flat-faced and jut-jawed private, not too far from the plow. The older sergeant was bald as an egg, but his graying beard had a spattering of bright color running through it.

Scott came forward, hearing a cacophony of whinnies and shouts of men behind him. "I'm here to collect my pay."

The sergeant, he assumed this was the "Red" Williams had spoken of, nodded, seemed prepared and ready.

"Did you see Williams next door? You can't get your money without seeing him first. No argument, it's just the way it has to be. It's all—" and he went on at length and in detail about federal regulations and requirements. As Red related his entire body of knowledge on the Army's financial system, Scott slid looks to the window. The movement of men and horses became louder down the street, until it drowned out the sergeant's speech.

"…auction."

Caught off guard, he could only manage a raised eyebrow. "Hm?"

"The regimental horses, them's that are left anyway, are going to auction tomorrow. They're moving them out in bunches to a civilian place. Although I wouldn't give a tinker's dam for' em. Most are plain used up. Problems on the hoof, as I like to say. Do you have your discharge?"

Reading what Williams had written and signed, Red blew out a low whistle. The beefy private swiveled on his stool and looked over the sergeant's shoulder. He looked questioningly at Red, deferential. Scott remembered this kind of relationship with Bauer—a sort of student to mentor.

"Well all right. I'd say this is one of the bigger ones I've come across. Back pay for year? What was the matter? Army couldn't find you?"

"Oh, they knew exactly where I was," he murmured, then regretted sounding facetious.

Red didn't smile, but he didn't seem to take offense either. "We have to get a few things straightened out first before I hand over that much money, Lieutenant. Where's your issued carbine?"

That got his attention right away. "I'm inclined to believe it's somewhere in the Virginia countryside outside of Richmond."

"Your revolver?"

"Same."

Red and the private exchanged a glance before Red cleared his throat. "I'm guessing your saber is there too?" He sounded troubled. "In the Virginia countryside?"

Actually, his saber had met its fate two weeks before Virginia, chipped and broken in half. Scott had saved the hilt as a remembrance, but even that was lost now. He nodded to the question though, it seemed easier.

"Is that a problem, Sergeant?"

"Not with this much money." Red sighed with his whole body. "But those items will have to come out of your pay and we've got to do more paperwork."

The private looked up, helpful. "It's not our mandate, the Army has…"

Scott waved his hand in the air. "Regulations?"

He nodded, happy that Scott could see the way of it without an argument.

Sometime later, he left the perfunctory Red and his Private, short by few hundred dollars. The price of arms in the military had gone up since Scott entered the cavalry. He was just happy he didn't have to pay for Mortimer. A pang went through him, it seemed he had lost everything in damn Virginia.

On a whim, he wandered to the stables.

Of the several corrals and barns on the post he had passed on his way to Williams's office, only the main one was now busy enough with milling horses to warrant his attention.

He remembered the weeks spent drilling, the horses as green as their riders. Private Anderson and the uncanny way he kept falling out of the saddle and John, swearing he had no fear of Confederates because his mount would kill him before they actually got to war.

Two men were at the corral, the one in uniform sat splay-legged on the top of its bars. When the Corporal saw Scott, he jumped down and snapped out a salute. "Corporal Morgan, Sir."

Scott saluted back. "I heard you were moving some horses out. Thought I would take a look."

Disinterested, the civilian harrumphed and turned his attention back to the corral.

"The horses are almost all gone, except for these poor creatures." Morgan cocked his head towards the older man and rolled his eyes. "Mr. Kirby here is doing his civic duty and taking them to auction."

The motely herd, to a one, was ragged. Each was barely standing, their heads hanging down. Used up, as the paymaster had said.

"Duty or not I have a contract with the Army and you'd best remember that Corporal. Yessir, those horses are going to be gone, one way or another."

Morgan hawked, spat on the ground. "Goddamn shame." Scott knew exactly how he felt.

He looked into the corral again. Something inside him pulled up, unable to wrap sense around what he was seeing. He felt the color drain from his face.

"What's wrong, Lieutenant?" the corporal asked at his shoulder.

"That horse. The big bay in the corner." Scott's heart leapt ridiculously, so fast and strange he had to look away.

Kirby's eyes latched onto Scott's, canny beneath seams of scarred skin. "Is mine, Lieutenant. Ugly as he is."

Mortimer's body was so emaciated his head looked comically large. Scott's heart sank as he took him in—jutting ribs, prominent hips, a coat ruined by rain rot. Listless, he stumbled a bit when a front hoof caught a few stones, hardly able to hold his head up.

Standing in the sun-spangled exposure between the corral and the massive dark hulk of the barn, weather vane turning in the sky above like a child's whirligig, he glared down at Kirby, taller than him by a head.

He balanced his war time memories against Mortimer's life, against a festering darkness within himself unused for sure, but there nonetheless. Scott couldn't give in to known paths—anger, fear, sorrow. Instead, all his worry went to a cold flat place. It came to him in an instant: outrage wouldn't serve in this situation.

Something else would have to suffice. "How much?"

Kirby nodded, an easy smile twisting his mouth. "Five hundred dollars."

Corporal Morgan sucked in his breath. "Lieutenant, that horse isn't worth twenty dollars."

"Five hundred, or he goes to auction."

Scott smiled at the outrageous price, too tired and too full. Rising to Kirby's bait was pointless, however. Still, it took him a moment to collect himself.

"Done." He peeled off the bills.

The dazed corporal offered him a lead rope and he walked slowly into the corral towards his horse.

Kirby called after him, barely containing his glee at the fleecing. "You come again, son, if you want any more horses. I'll be at the auction downtown all day tomorrow."

He could hear the hard flicks of paper bills as Kirby sorted and re-counted them. What the man didn't know was that he would have paid much more for Mortimer, much more. Scott didn't look back.

 

 

Chapter 10

The dog was barking at something outside, but that was nothing new. The black terrier always barked, mostly at its own shadow. The thought made Elizabeth smile. As a guard dog, Dickens was second best only to the donkey. She sighed, Zephyr Fields was getting filled to the brim with a menagerie of animals. But she wouldn't have it any other way.

The society class in Boston proper may have labelled her as eccentric—Harlan was appalled—but, she noted, they always took her money. Pushing away her coffee cup, she folded Scott's letter back into its envelope and got up when the yips turned insistent. Really, she thought, Boone took too many liberties with that dog.

"Missus! We have company!"

At Boone's shout, she drew aside the curtains and gasped.

Scott stood in the courtyard, leading a poor-looking horse. His face was angled to the ground, all his weight on one foot, and a hand came up to rub his head like he'd been hit. After a moment, he turned towards Boone, and for once Elizabeth couldn't read what was in his eyes.

Guarded, as he never was before.

*****

Mortimer stood swaybacked and droopy from nose to tail. Eyes shut, his head hung almost to his knees. Utterly still for the last pair of hours. The dog barked at some unknown entity outside the barn and the horse's eyes fluttered open briefly, but he didn't turn his head to look.

It took Scott a while before he could get to his feet from his cramped space in the corner of the large stall, but when he did it was worth it. His back didn't hurt as much. A giddy, nauseating sensation rolled through him: he needed his medicine but it had been so long since the last episode he'd taken to not carrying it. Hand shaking, he grabbed a bucket and headed to the pump and trough.

He looked back at the open stall. He couldn't save Mortimer, not with good grain, water or medicine. Not even by being near him. Couldn't save himself, either, from feeling singularly angry and helpless.

He made it as far as the bale of hay near the open door when the next rack of shivers caught him and a small groan escaped before he could stop it. Fine beads of sweat formed on his brow. The bucket fell from his lax hand.

"Scott?"

He didn't answer, just breathed—fast and rumbly.

"Scott, say something, please!" Elizabeth grabbed his shoulder and shook him.

He squinted at the hazy figure clutching at him. He tried to listen to her, but his ears were ringing like crystal goblets.

*****

Boone waved the pistol back and forth. Grey eyes earnest. "The horse is bad off, Missus. You can see it as well I can. It's a quick way to go."

The flinch Scott gave when he saw the weapon said it all.

Elizabeth continued, had to make herself perfectly clear. "It's for the best." Scott wasn't looking at her anymore, which somehow made it easier. "The horse is suffering, surely you know that. There's a time for letting go, Scott, letting things take their natural course."

For a long moment, she didn't know what her nephew would do. In the terrible aftermath of the war, Elizabeth felt herself slipping, sometimes felt the hold she had on everything—Zephyr Fields, family, the nature of being—was tenuous and brief.

Then Scott straightened his shoulders, gestured to the gun with a tremulous hand. "Take it away. No one is going to shoot my horse. And I'm not leaving him."

Elizabeth opened her mouth but nothing came out, nothing at all, and she realized why. It was the look on Scott's face. She shook her head at Boone, and sent him to fetch a few blankets, then helped her nephew back to the stall. Watched him slide down the wall into a wan heap.

Her eyes roamed over Scott as she took a steadying breath. He looked terrible. She remembered the strength and power that had emanated from him when he left Boston with his regiment. The pure boyishness that punctuated his sly smiles. He was so thin now, muscles still defined but much less than what they'd been. The smiles replaced by a grim slash.

She wanted to tell him that he'd been missed, dreadfully so, but she couldn't find the words. It seemed almost cruel to burden him with her worries from the past. Not when he had so many of his own now.

Boone brought the blankets and she knelt, drawing them high on Scott's chest, tucking in the loose ends. She spoke in his ear. "Don't you dare think of leaving us with this horse to tend, young man" she said. "Boone and I are not in the business of taking in charity." Minuet, the donkey who'd been starved and beaten before she found him, brayed loudly over his feed, punctuating her lie.

Scott's eyes remained closed, but a corner of his mouth curled up in droll amusement. "My horse is not charity. And this…will pass."

She could feel the heat roll off him as his teeth clacked together. "Your medicine?"

Scott's hand rubbed through his hair. It needed a cut, and he had a day's growth on his face, dirty nails, Elizabeth could see. A man in need of some attention. Wild.

"Didn't bring."

"I'll send Boone…"

"Auntie."

She surveyed the dusty barn as the tang of tears pulled behind her eyes at the diminutive he hadn't used in many, many years.

"Will need Boone here to help…with Mortimer. Tell him to put away his pistol. And keep it away." His hand slipped down and he grasped hers with damp, cold fingers. "Have done this before…much worse place. I'll get through."

Her voice hitched. "You'd be more comfortable in the house, in bed, not this drafty stall." She turned away and let the silent tears fall. After a moment she looked at Scott, having found an inner strength. "But you need to stay here, of course." She snuffled, felt her jaw set in that peculiar trait she and Harlan had inherited from their own father. The same one her nephew now bore: defiance to the current situation. She covered Scott's arm with the blanket and patted it, murmuring, "You'll be fine. I know you will." The reassurance was more for her sake than his.

She studied the thin horse and shook her head. Somehow the two of them were tied together, beyond mount and master.

She rose and went to the pump where she fumbled with the bucket, trying in vain to get it under the stream of water, until it was gently taken from her and filled.

"What else do you need Missus?"

"Boone," Elizabeth halted, her throat closing up suddenly, too much all at once. She clutched at the handyman's cotton sleeve. "That horse has to live."

*****

After shivering for what seemed like years, Scott kicked off the blanket. It was too warm, too stifling, too annoying. He rubbed his aching head and opened his eyes, testing them, taking care to focus. Everything braided and bled together like melted wax, then cleared.

He watched three or four horseflies flitting about, darting above him in perfect squares and triangles as they flew aimlessly over the stall. When he moved his head, a trail of disorienting, dust mote-like lights stretched away from everything, so he closed his eyes, giving them a rest. He growled in pain and frustration.

As he sat there, calming his lungs one breath at a time, he sorted through his memories of the last day, separating the nightmare images from reality and finding there'd been moments when the two overlapped.

It was as though Mortimer and his time in prison had merged into the same thing: loss. In a strange way, Mortimer had taken care of him ever since they'd been assigned together, whether galloping toward battle, taking him to relative safety, or merely lipping at pieces of Grandfather's letters as Scott read from them. He was a touchstone, had given Scott a sense of purpose, of security and responsibility. They had come together at Camp Meigs under auspicious circumstances and a miracle had occurred: they fit. Mortimer was his and he was Mortimer's.

Scott put his hand to his chest and sat up straight, breathing with controlled, steady breaths. He drew his knees up and rested his elbows on them as he cradled his head in his hands. He felt old and tired, hungry and weak. Despite all of that, he needed to get up, no matter how much his body protested. The pain in his head shifted and pulled as he pivoted and brought his legs underneath him, feet against the floor.

He glanced over and saw that at some point, Mortimer had laid down. His front legs were bent at the knee and tucked under his chest, head drifting to the straw bedding at an awkward angle.

Scott lurched upwards, the barn dipping and pitching around him as he bobbed like a dinghy in a hurricane. Collapsing beside his horse, he lifted the shaggy head to his knees. The horse was warm where the sun shone in through the window. He stroked Mortimer's once glossy neck and listened to his soft breaths and sighs. Scott said his name and told him it would be all right.

A part of him felt like the worst kind of traitor. What was he to do? Scott looked away, sweat beading on his temples, but it wasn't from any fever. His eye caught a glint of silver from the tack shelf—Boone's pistol. Bright and shiny.

Stomach flipping, he got up and found it carelessly placed among among the brushes and picks. He turned the heavy weight over and over in his hand. This was part of not facing death—he had no plan for the obvious.

It was odd, he and his regiment had faced death every time they went into battle. Later, facing death meant getting up every day in their dank, foul-smelling room at Danville. It meant soldiering on despite the lack of food and water, the heat of summer, the utter cold of winter without fire. It meant gathering the men and singing songs at Christmas, celebrating birthdays by pooling their ration of bread. Carrying on when sixteen comrades had died. Facing death meant facing life.

He knelt back down and took the head on his knees again. He ran his hand over Mortimer's shoulder, patted his neck, traced his sunken cheek and nose. Felt the soft tufts of ears. And raised the pistol. He thought it would be simple. A thing you do without thinking while you think instead about something else entirely. His hand was slippery with sweat, he grasped the pistol tighter.

None of it felt right.

Mortimer's one visible eye opened to a mere slit. Scott held the horse's gaze for a long, long while.

*****

The August breeze was balmy, and it seemed to carry every memory, every scent from the last year of hardship: memories and days that Scott labored to forget as if working them into garden compost, cloaking them in cards and drink, and in the almost diligent way he defied Grandfather's wishes.

The breeze blew open the half door, sent it banging against its hinges and knocked his empty cup from the upturned hay bale. It seemed that all those memories had not been riven to soil and worm food, nor caught in a flood of good brandy but had been stored away somewhere—perhaps in some cabinet of his brain—ever bright and unharmed ready to return at a moment's notice. And they did return, spilling and sliding from the empty shelves, or perhaps they made up the breeze itself. He was afraid, as he was in his first battle at Vicksburg smelling the cannon fire, then filled with overwhelming sadness. He found himself weeping.

He went outside, his face damp, frightened and lonely as if all he had strived for in the last few months, all he had labored to bury and convert to good was for naught. It had returned on the single whim of the wind.

He looked to the west.

Elizabeth's fields were harvested and tilled. The rows of furrows stretched comfortingly before him. The rows were perfect, evenly spaced, and yet seemed to converge across the field's great distance to a single point, quite hidden, down by the stream. There was a wild elegance to the land, an ominousness to that hidden point.

He started to walk towards it, but was stayed by a rustling coming from the stall.

For one moment he stood very still, the shade of the barn door barring the ground between them. Mortimer rocked unsteadily to his feet and moved with choppy, stiff-kneed steps to nose a forgotten bowl of mash.

The dog barked sharply in greeting, and he heard footfalls behind him.

Elizabeth came up beside him, concern furrowing her brow. She reached up to touch the side his face. When no fever was found, her eyes softened. She looked past him to see what he was looking at, and he could hear her breath catch.

"Well, honestly…he's standing. That's something." Her voice was filled with the wonder and delight that Scott couldn't quite express.

The sun had fully come up, and the barn with its donkey and a pair a sheep was just the same, like some framed pastoral painting on Aunt Elizabeth's wall, all beams of light and cobwebby corners. Scott felt like a big hand might descend from the sky, perhaps God creating something, but he had no idea what God might want to point out to him. Mortimer was alive, and maybe He had something to say about that, but Scott doubted it. The God he believed in seemed to be missing these past few years.

Outside the doorway, the breeze whistled through the tall grass, turned the metal wheel atop the barn, squeaking out a song. A mad argument broke out between the chickens as they scuffled in the yard.

Scott felt a weight lift, a door opening in him that had been nailed shut for some time, and everything felt like it might be all right.

Mortimer, chasing the last bit of mash around teeth and tongue, looked at him with a weary gaze as if to say: Where have you been?

It made him smile.

 

 

Chapter 11

Boone caught Scott's attention in the yard. He was leading Minuet from barn to pasture, or trying to, as the donkey was quite exuberant. When released, it did a little sideways kick and brayed out his satisfaction. Loudly.

Scott felt a tug of longing. He hoped for a similar outcome where Mortimer was concerned. More than hope, he yearned. Ached with the desire for his horse to be whole again, to see the light in his eyes, to roll in a grass-filled pasture with all four hooves in the air, like he did in garrison at the beginning. He reminded himself, sometimes, of Marlowe's Faustus. A man who craved so much he was willing to make a pact with Lucifer to obtain what he wanted. He wasn't sure, however, just how much his soul was worth at the moment.

Elizabeth laid her hand upon his wrist and gently squeezed. "You will soon be back at Harvard and working on your studies again. Like before."

"I'm not the same as when I left, how can I expect school—my life—to be the same as it was? The things that happened, the terrible choices, the monstrous decisions…"

"Tell me about them. Tell me, please, and then I'll understand."

And how exactly would he start? With the battles at Vicksburg? Virginia? At Danville, when he held John as he choked on his own blood? Good God—John. He could feel his face blanch. His death hurt the worst of them all. He looked at her and simply shook his head.

Her lips pursed. "Do you remember King Tutankhamun's spoon?"

"How could I forget?"

Indeed, it had been a childhood obsession. A spoon no longer than his little finger, the pewter handle engraved with twists and swoops of curlicues. It had seemed so exotic to him, made more so by his Great Aunt's admission that it was the Boy King's very own. One day he took it out of the ornate box when she was in another room, ostensibly to play with it. He hadn't gotten far before the deed was done. He didn't tell his Aunt for weeks, not wanting to see or hear the disappointment. And when he did finally make his confession, she simply smiled and made a confession of her own. It had been a teaspoon from the Garrett china all along.

"How did you ever get it out of the hearth, my dear?"

It came back to him quickly enough. "I took the poker and moved away the logs, let it lay there on the bricks until I heard you coming. In a fit of embarrassment, I shoved it into my pocket." He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. "It was still quite warm as I recall."

She visibly shuddered. "No more. I don't want to hear it."

He rubbed his finger on the tablecloth, picking up the odd breakfast crumb. "You know, I wasn't going to tell you that I dropped the spoon into the fire."

"But you did anyhow. Even then you knew who you were and what to do."

He was curious now that he thought about it. "Why King Tutankhamun of all people?"

She smiled. "Why not? You needed a distraction and it sufficed. School boys can be so wretched."

It seemed a thousand years ago, and truly it was, the teasing and chattering about one's father and mother, or lack thereof. While most of the adult curiosity was quelled, the children his age paid no heed to Grandfather's money or status. He remembered Carter had magnanimously offered to share his, but it wasn't exactly the same.

"I've told you the story that Edward and I were travelling in Europe when word came of your mother's death. Remember?"

He nodded.

"By the time we came back to America, Harlan was proudly showing off his grandson. You know I never met Murdoch Lancer, but I assume him to be a man of some fortitude. After all, he married my niece, and to do that he had to stand up to my brother. Not many people have actually interfered with his plans, your father was one of them."

Scott bit his tongue, shrugged a little, trying to indicate indifference.

"I see that look on your face." She placed her hand on his arm. "Stay. Eat. Boone is watching over your Mortimer and I have something to show you."

He dragged a fork through his eggs then rested it on the side of his plate. Too tired, his appetite had fled.

She returned with a gilded box, which he recognized now as something to hold jewelry, its color faded from bright yellow to brass. Yet the colorful inlaid stones shone with the same luster as they had back in the day that made it all too appealing to a young boy. As he looked closer he could see that it was inexpensive, its stones were not the grand jewels as he once thought, merely paste.

"The spoon box?"

"Edward gave it to me for my birthday, the year before he died. He complained that he could afford a much more expensive box, but I wouldn't have any other. The prettiness caught my eye, and it was enough to hold my baubles and such. Most importantly it held the treasure of King Tutankhamun." She winked at him. "For a short while, at least."

"What does it hold now?"

"Something that may be of more interest than a teaspoon."

"Another distraction?

"Heaven knows you could use one, my dear." Her eyes softened as she ran her fingers over and around the colorful mosaic on the box top and found the mother-of-pearl clasp. "While it's true I never met your father, I did know him."

She reached in and pulled out several envelopes. "Catherine told me about him and the love they shared, through these."

The papers were thin and crinkled in spots, yellowed in others. He looked at the looping script and felt a familiar ache settle in his chest. He read through a few paragraphs and found his mother to be quite gregarious, at least in words. Whimsical, but steadfast.

"Why now, Aunt Elizabeth?"

"You're ready. And your father is very much alive in California." Her voice lowered to an almost whisper. "I sent a letter to him."

"You did what?" Indignation crept into his voice. "My father chose his life and it has nothing to do with me." Scott angled up his chin, not wanting to hear about Elizabeth's thoughtful plan to reunite an errant father with his son. "You had no right to send any letters. Especially to him."

He pushed back his plate, now cold, and looked at her. Her eyes dropped and she surveyed the back of her hands as if they were suddenly unfamiliar.

Scott could see her mouth work, rubbing words together like sticks to make flame. "For all intents and purposes, you were dead. The Army couldn't find you for a time and we assumed the worst. Correspondence was issued, which your grandfather and I took as the truth." She pinned him with a vivid blue stare. "May you never have an occasion to feel such sorrow. Do you truly believe I would not write your father under such circumstances?"

He felt heat suffuse his face at the intimate chastisement. He looked away, out the window.

Raised voices just behind the closed door, his grandfather and the tall man.

His name, Scott, sharp and jagged like a paper star cut with pointed scissors. His name used as a weapon.

There were other angry words hurled. Why was Grandfather talking so loudly to the man? His grandfather, who never raised his voice.

Scott cocked his head, trying to hear.

The little boy blocked his ears, thought about horses and ships. His birthday party with the fancy balloons and cake.

Scott tried to push aside the boy's fears, his ramblings. In the cold depths of his mind, the truth was lurking, waiting for him to clutch it and drag it to the surface.

But not today. He shook himself.

Elizabeth chuckled, but it wasn't with any humor. "Scott, I have watched you grow, your mind becoming eager and agile. You've stood up to classmate bullies twice your size. You protected Carter on your ill-fated hiking trip without any regard for yourself. You marched off to war—stalwart, though still a boy—and returned a man, haunted by his convictions. So yes, I have some idea of who you are Scott Garrett Lancer. Which is why I'm worried."

He drew a breath, though it wasn't clear what he was about to say. Did the answer lie with seeing a father who abandoned him almost twenty years ago? He almost laughed out loud. He couldn't fathom such a meeting.

Luckily, he was interrupted.

*****

"Good morning, Scotty."

Not by the flicker of an eyelash did Harlan reveal his amusement in watching the changes in his grandson's expressive face. The shock, the embarrassment. His amusement fled when he saw Scotty's face looking haggard and shadowed. The boy had obviously been ill since he'd left the house and not returned. Seemingly from nowhere, displacing both anxiety and irritation, grief slammed into him, so all-encompassing that he wondered for a few minutes if the heart beating out of his chest could survive it.

Harlan curled his fingers into his palms until nails indented skin. It did not lessen with time, the feeling that they could never go back to what was before.

"Goodbye, Grand— Goodbye, Sir." Those were the very last words Scotty had spoken to him when he left to join his regiment. Harlan had not seen him again until the few days of leave just before he went off to Virginia and was captured.

Good-bye, sir. Not Grandfather, but sir. He swallowed and tamped down whatever was tickling the back of his throat. "Have I caught you at an awkward time?"

Scott waved his hand. "No. No."

"Your absence at the appointment I had set up was disconcerting, as we left on a bad note with each other yesterday morning. Naturally, I wanted to see what held my grandson's attention."

"I intended to send word."

"But…?"

A squabble came from beyond the window. Elizabeth rose from her chair and pulled back the lace. "I should shut the chicken coop while Boone is out to the pasture." She leaned over the sink, one hand grasping a sill laden with dried herbs and once again Harlan wondered what his sister saw in this godforsaken rural life. Chickens, indeed. Then she turned her head, body still over the sink, and stared right at Scott.

"I'll see to Mortimer, make sure he's comfortable."

She unbent and relaxed a fraction, returning to an elder, composed state, one that reminded him of their mother. "You deserve better than what the war left in you."

Her eyes were locked tight with Scotty's and she spoke only to her grand-nephew.

"I know it," he said.

That seemed to satisfy her, because she gave a quick nod. "So you do."

"But Aunt Elizabeth…no more letters." And at her shuttered look, continued, "Please." The single word seemed to take the very air from her. She turned away and walked outside.

Harlan watched from the doorway until she was no longer visible.

"It seems I remember you mentioning a Mortimer in your letters."

"He was my first mount. The one issued to me at Camp Meigs, and the very same I lost in Virginia before Danville. I found him going to an Army auction when I mustered out."

"And you couldn't leave him."

"No. I brought him here to…convalesce, for lack of a better word."

Harlan peered outside at the stone retaining wall, an effort to hold in what was once a large garden at one point. The old garden now contained nothing but withered grasses, tall enough to be wind-broken. Scotty used to walk along atop that wall, arms stretched taut from his body in the form of a cross, a ridiculous smile upon his face.

Elizabeth's last words came back to him in a rush. The storm cloud that was his grandson lifted his coffee cup in a full palm grip then dropped it back onto its saucer in what seemed to be an afterthought. Harlan wasn't going to make a fuss about the appropriate etiquette, because it was easy to see that something had happened. There should be a limit, a ration to what had happened to Scotty.

He sniffed and shuffled his feet for a moment. "Of course you couldn't. I would expect no less." He toggled out a chair from the scratched kitchen table and sat facing a bouquet of yellow flowers. Daffodils, perhaps? An eyebrow rose as that little bit of unwanted knowledge asserted itself. He pushed the vase to the side.

"He was something," and Scotty's voice was different. Soft and sad, edges blurred with perhaps little to no sleep for the dark rings under his eyes. Too tired for an honest conversation with an old man. For these past few months, too.

"Such an odd name for a horse."

A slow grin worked its way across Scotty's face, the first since Harlan had arrived. "It wasn't my choice, but it seemed to suit. I never wanted to leave him in that field." His head tipped to the side and the smile dropped away. "I never left him."

Despite his earlier platitudes to leave questions unspoken, Harlan wanted to make it better but couldn't. He couldn't. He'd made Scotty as whole as he could but maybe it wasn't enough. It didn't matter, though. It was done and nothing he could say or do would change that. Yet he had the oddest feeling his grandson was talking about more than his mount.

"Sometimes, it's like that my boy." He sighed and reached for the coffee pot. "I know what it's like to lose someone." The pour of the coffee made an abnormally loud sound in the quiet kitchen.

"We just have to live with it."

Scotty wore a peculiar expression. "I can't do this much more." It was a mere murmur under his breath.

"Yes, you can. You will," he said, firm. "You have to. It's who you are." Harlan heard how bleak the words were, but it was more, it was despair, loss of hope.

"You prepare while you can, and ride it through when you can't."

"Another man told me the same thing a couple of years ago, Grandfather. Although I daresay it was in much less comfortable surroundings."

Harlan clicked his tongue against his teeth. The chair creaked when he shifted and he heard chickens crabbing out in the yard. Perhaps Elizabeth was tardy with her coop closing. "Well. You've done it before. It makes us stronger."

Scotty wasn't coming home today, Harlan understood that, perhaps not even in the next few days. Outside, the day had turned sunny bright. Inside, his grandson smiled again, sad, and Harlan wished the last few years away.

 

 

Chapter 12

If the day got any hotter, Scott was going to take off his shirt, no matter how much his thin chest might terrify the chickens. An idle thought; it would be awhile before he'd feel comfortable going shirtless, even before barnyard fowl.

Between the fatigue and general achiness from his recent bout with the ague, Scott hadn't been able to find many positions that didn't result in discomfort, which meant he spent a lot of time hunched over the kitchen table propped up with his elbows, or sitting upright, as he was now. His long legs dangled from the feed bin, back propped up firmly by the pine wall behind him. Grandfather had left days ago, one white eyebrow permanently arched over his grandson's desire to stay in the country. It took no small amount of effort but even he had to concede the horse needed care.

Scott sighed, not unhappily. Sore, but sated. Comfortable in the fact that he had made the right decision to bring Mortimer to Zephyr Fields. He shaded his eyes with his right hand, stiffly turned to look at the horse in the corral. The tatty mane and rain rot didn't bother him as much now. Maybe it was growing on him.

He'd related it often enough to anyone who would listen, how Mortimer had taken care of him, a green recruit, ever since they met. The horse had given him the status of someone who mattered, who was needed. And in the multitude and mass of the Army where a man was just another name, it was exactly what Scott had needed.

This was a new Mortimer, one he would have to get used to once again. And maybe the idea that he didn't have to understand everything, didn't have to put everything into neat rows, wasn't quite as anathema as it once had been. Nothing had really been in neat rows since Danville.

He'd tried to figure it all out, that year in prison, furtively glancing about, rain hitting him in the face like an insult on a day he was tasked to haul water from the river, because it had been so long since he was outside. He watched men sicken and die while others retreated into themselves. Every day had mattered in the beginning, every meal, every formation. He watched the members of his little group carefully, especially the ones who had lost hope.

He had aches and pains in places he didn't think he could get aches; he had cuts from hauling out stone and rubble from their tunnel and had sat shivering alongside John with the ague on dark nights.

It's for the cause, he kept telling himself.

It's the rule set by the commandant, he told himself when one of the more experienced prisoners ran intentionally over the dead line during a surprise roll call.

One hundred and five dollars a month, he whispered under his breath with every cold meal of cornbread and insects.

He started to feel good about what he was doing when they started the tunnel, when Cassidy asked him to take charge. Scott had it all planned.

They're all dead, this when the guards pulled him from solitary, and Green sewed up the infected graze on Scott's upper arm when he hadn't been nimble enough to avoid the first bullets. He hadn't even felt it.

The Union. The regiment. Slavery. Grandfather and Great-Aunt Elizabeth. Carter. John. Dancing with Julie. Studying at Harvard. Dining at the club. Even damnable Murdoch Lancer.

God help me, he thought the first time Union cannons and fire found the prison and he suddenly caught sight of freedom. His heart stopped cold, everything slowed—time, blood, and burgeoning excitement. God help me, was his only thought and it did him no good at all.

He banged his heel rhythmically against the bin. I can't do this much longer. And thought about the wide open field outside the barn the morning when it looked like Mortimer wasn't going to pull through. He couldn't explain why he blurted, though it had come out more in the form of a murmur. Old ears notwithstanding, Grandfather had heard. Scott hadn't seen the look on his face—didn't care to—but could guess it was either disparaging or stricken, and both were too much for him at the time.

His foot stilled against the bin.

It came to him as forceful as a stinging slap to the cheek. In many ways, it was just the same as directly after the attempted escape. The path diverged, yet only one route was really possible. There were things Scott kept hidden from himself, but this wasn't one of them. Perhaps in the same way his horse had changed, so had he, and the world around him.

Mortimer knickered his way to the corral bars. Scott shuddered when memory of the first night in the barn flitted through his mind. Kneeling beside his horse, gun in hand. It had been too close. Much too close.

Experimentally, he stood, stretching his cramping legs. It was as real as anything else. More so, even. It was weightless, the feeling. The only direction open was forward and it smelled like true freedom.

He approached the corral and Mortimer stretched his long neck over the bars and lipped the shoulder seam of Scott's shirt.

"No rank to eat anymore, eh, boy?" He reached up to scratch under the horse's chin.

After an entire morning split between helping Boone feed the animals, fixing a stall door and merely reveling in the fact Mortimer had set his hooves towards recovery, Scott had forgotten it was a blistering hot day. A dislocation: he remembered his great aunt's farm from childhood winters as something cold and quiet, an ice castle set on a far shore. The place changed dramatically in the summer, a locus of happy noise and energy.

What was I thinking, wanting to go into the Army? I should have been a writer. A poet. He grinned outright at the thought. Right now, he was an ex-cavalry officer, looking at his rather worn-down mount, like it or not.

"I hope it was a useful conversation." Elizabeth came up beside him, one pale hand clasping the top bar of the corral, the other held his forgotten coat.

Had he been waving his hands around? Or just talking out loud?

Scott eyed the coat.

"You would have left it here and you can never tell about Boston weather. One minute it's warm the very next too cold."

"How did you know…?"

"That you were leaving soon?"

Scott nodded.

"Because Mortimer is recovering nicely. He'll stay here, of course. Boone would be severely put out if the horse was moved back to the city."

"Just Boone, Auntie?"

She turned and smiled, pulling a fan of wrinkles across her sharp cheekbones. "Perhaps not just Boone." She winked. "Minuet would have something to say as well."

"Your donkey always has something to say. And I will be forever grateful."

Her smile faded. "Mortimer will be well cared for, Scott. He has a home here. He saw you through a most troubled period, it's the least I can do."

As she handed him his coat, a white envelope tipped out of a pocket and fell to the dirt. Elizabeth had already bent down to retrieve it before Scott could think.

"Mrs. John Baker? That name is most familiar." She gave a soft gasp. "Is this Lieutenant Baker? The one from your letters?"

"Yes. It's just a short missive to his wife Josie." He stared at the careful writing, remembering how hard it was to pick up the pen. How long he had pored over the sheets of paper held within.

"It was good of you. She'll be most grateful for whatever is written."

There was too much of a pause. "Yes, I'm sure she would." He stuffed it back into the pocket.

"And you…you have all the earmarks of a man who has come to some sort of decision."

She crooked her index finger, a signal known to him since the age of fourteen, after a spectacular growth spurt. He leaned down to hear her say, "I trust you have made the right one."

Then she kissed his cheek and let him go.

*****

"Lancer! You cheated!"

Scott didn't quite remember how he and Carter had ended up at Abbott's, but the club was better than nothing. It was something to do and God alone knew he needed something to do. It was too bad Julie's cousin seemed fit to ruin the evening.

He wasn't quite drunk, but not steady either, and sat back in his chair and pondered exactly what Roland was shouting at him from across the table. The cards he played were left idly on the table, two kings overturned, the other three waiting like assassins in the wings.

His head did a bob and he looked over at Carter, who was all bushy eyebrows and pursed lips.

Scott raised a hand in protest because he never cheated. Everyone knew that. It was a certainty, like the sun rising in the east. He only had a few moments to think before cards flew into his face. Sure enough, Roland had launched the deck and now the entire table wiggled as though an errant earthquake had struck their side of the club.

Perhaps he was drunk. But the table did move. "I didn't cheat," he said, blinking away the film from his eyes that several good brandies gave a man.

"You bastard!"

Carter tutted beside Scott. "Now, now, my dear boy. We all know Scott isn't a bastard, although his father might be, but not in the familial sense of course. Why don't we lay that argument to rest? It's so old it has grown a lengthy bit of hair."

"He's a traitor to the Union. Absolved of guilt through his grandfather's money."

Roland had clearly lost his mind. Scott rose swiftly, lurched towards him, one arm outstretched. The other was held captive by Carter, who squeezed his elbow. Hard.

"Let it be, Scott."

"Are you even listening to him?"

Carter's voice pitched louder. "Remarkable, really, for someone who never set foot in a Union recruitment office."

Roland turned red-rimmed eyes toward the both of them. "And you, a one-armed useless wonder, who is just as bad. Keeping friends with a man who may as well have shot his men himself. Julie would do well to be rid of you, Lancer."

Sighing, Carter looked up at Scott, and gave an elegant shrug.

Scott lunged.

Roland jumped out of the way, but not fast enough and the both of them went crashing to the floor. Julie's cousin had a good twenty pounds on him where Scott had rage. It only took one punch to his head before he sent out a hard right.

He managed two more before Carter and few other patrons leapt between them. In the background, Scott could make out Del Abbott's anguished cries.

"Lancer cheated!" Roland stammered out the epithet as he struggled between the two men holding him back.

The grey-haired owner pushed into the fray. "This is an honorable establishment, gentlemen. We will have no violence here." He addressed the excited crowd, "Has the cheating been seen by anyone else in the club, or at the table?"

It was a hushed silence that greeted him. Several of those men who sat closest to their table shook their heads.

Abbott looked to Roland, eyes glittering. "Young Lancer has never given me cause to think he's anything except above board. Perhaps you are mistaken, sir, in your thoughts. As well as your manners." He flicked his finger and the two burly men holding Roland let go. "It would be wise for you to retire for the night."

Roland swallowed and rubbed his good eye, the one not closed by Scott's fist. He nodded.

Abbott turned to Scott. "You, young man are not a cheat. However, your other indiscretions have become numerous to prying eyes. You will vacate these premises for the period of one month. Perhaps during that time you will have come to your senses."

Carter groaned and murmured, "For God's sake, now is not the time to be a dunderhead."

Scott gingerly tapped on the swelling around his split lip, and finally nodded.

Abbott turned to them both. "Excellent choices, gentlemen. I trust you know your way out?"

*****

Carter pulled him down the cobblestones. "Everyone knows Roland can't hold his liquor, just as everyone knows you are not to blame for those deaths." He stopped and looked up. "Even Baker's."

Scott's hand fluttered. "Don't. I'm too tired and have had far too much to drink tonight for that conversation. I've made my peace with it."

"Have you?"

"Yes."

"Then you sent the letter to his wife?"

Scott looked away, felt his face become warm. "I regret telling you about that."

"I'll take that as a no then."

They both stopped under a street lamp. Buzzing insects set up a loud cacophony around the harsh light set forth by the coal oil.

"Why are you hounding me about this, Carter?"

"Because I thought you were better when you returned from your Great-Aunt's country estate. Yet you drink and wager until all hours of the morning. I could only surmise the cause."

"And you think it has to do with John Baker?"

"Is it?"

Scott looked away, the gesture as damning as any words.

"Well, Roland had one thing right, Julie may decide to turn you lose if you don't fix what's wrong. You don't want that to happen, do you?"

Scott didn't answer. The gambling. The liquor. The fisticuffs. He wanted nothing more than to get absolutely legless, to feel nothing. Did it have to do with John's death? Or did it have to do with something else?

Scott looked at Carter, daring him to say anything more. It wasn't a good idea to get inebriated at the club, especially with the potential of having Grandfather's associates looking on. It was a coherent thought, one the last few he would remember in the morning.

 

 

Chapter 13

He must have fallen sleep because much later he awoke, crick-necked and dry-mouthed, the dawn of a new morning warm on his face. The fingers of his right hand were leaden and prickly, and he had dreamed of nothing. Literally. Vast empty furrowed fields. He should have been relieved, but instead it felt like a portent. Hollowed, Scott stretched and yawned.

He got up and went to the window, barefoot, his evening clothes crinkled and stained. It was starting to be a bad habit, waking up in the same clothes as the night before. The early sun lit the room so it was soft and pale, yet not quite there. He opened the pane and a chirruping of birds, invisible to the eye but riotous to the ear, greeted the rise of the day. He ran his fingers through his hair finding knots where he had shifted restlessly in the night and felt in sudden need of cleansing, with sweet-smelling soap and clear water.

Afterwards, he groped for a towel and wrapped himself in it.

In the hallway, his feet left dim prints on the wooden boards, like an errant beach wanderer. Rubbing the ends of his hair dry, he walked to his bedroom to get dressed.

He possessed a terrible clarity: It didn't happen all at once, the avoidance of what must be done. It came in spurts and stops.

Since he had awoke, first stretching in that bright and restless dawn, his every movement had been consciously avoiding his small bedside bureau and the slim volume that sat in the very first drawer, watchful and waiting. He needed a plan for the day and needed it quickly. Perhaps he could attend the lecture on restoration of the southern states being given at Grange Hall on campus. Since going to the club was out of the question, Harold's, located by the harbor, would offer libations just as effective, and with a view. All he had to do to escape was get out of the house and walk.

Instead, he sat on his rumpled bed, chin in one hand, elbow propped up on a knee. The book was inside his bureau. He twitched. It was quiet in the hallway yet, although the birds outside his window sang with less exuberance and traffic murmured as the inhabitants of their street abandoned bedclothes for Hansom cabs and cobblestones. The clock across the room said half past seven.

He balanced on his tightrope, thinking of other people and tried to root himself in the order of things. Carter would still be asleep, sheets pulled up to his beard, snores drowning out the most vigorous of noises. Young Annie—Suzanna—would be up doing whatever it was an eleven year old would do in the morning because she was one who didn't want to miss a minute of the new day. His grandfather? The old interloper. He couldn't help but include him. He was always an early riser so undoubtedly he was up creaking about the house. He would tut at the birds and press his knuckles firmly against the window, shutting them out.

And the other. The one he rarely thought about, much less spoke about. For hadn't he been dismissed? Didn't he cease to exist? Yet he could imagine Murdoch Lancer, standing at his window in the early haze of a California morning. His dark hair—for surely it was dark—pomaded and combed back. He would be approaching his late forties if calculations were correct, but fully able to do a day's work from horseback. And later, casting about dinner orders to his servants. But perhaps the man oversaw his empire from behind a desk, corpulent and tight-fisted, with other men to do his bidding.

A decision was made.

He opened the drawer, and took out the book. It's heavily tarnished gild along the spine still jumped, John's handwritten notes in the margins bold and spiky, seeming to climb about the pages like so many spiders. He watched it like it was an unpredictable living thing, muscles tensed, ready to move if it flew at him. Except it was dead, like its original owner, just a dried husk. It blew in the past, dust choking, with its yellowed pages and creased paper.

He saw him then, as he should be. John Baker. Standing in a white canvas field tent, with new—at least to him—lieutenant bars pinned to each shoulder. A wide rakish grin splitting his face in two, a tin cup half-full of brandied cheer in his hand. Full-bodied and happy. Laughing without effort. Smiling without care, despite the uniforms and armaments. How could he be real?

It was impossible to believe that John was really gone. Leaving a water-stained Thoreau, smudged with fingerprints and ink.

He turned the book over in his hands, feeling its weight. He thumbed through the pages and waited a moment, before finding a favored passage. As he did so, he fancied he caught a whiff of an old scent, biting like wood smoke or the rancidness of moldy cornbread. The taste in his mouth was bitter, metallic. He found he was biting hard on his lip, a thin smudge of blood on his finger when he touched it. Annoyed with himself, he dropped the book carelessly to his bed. Tucked inside, an envelope with Mrs. John Baker care of Worchester written in his own jagged hand fell onto the bedspread. He made himself open it casually, with indifference. The paper was thick parchment, cream-colored, written on one side only.

Pardon me for addressing you in this your season of sore anguish and bereavement, it began.

His chest tightened to a gasp. What tripe, the whole of it.

Time passed and he realized he'd been sitting quite still, hunched at the side of the bed. He crumpled the letter in one tight fist.

*****

It was over Grandfather's hearty protestations that he made the trip to Worchester. School was to start soon, and there was yet another opportunity to meet influential investors at the office, but Scott shooed the excuses away. It was a journey that had been waylaid for far too long.

The town was full of hills. Full of charm, too, the boisterous humanity notwithstanding. The people weren't particularly nice, from the patronizing waiter in a restaurant too used to customers not being regulars, to the innkeeper and his suspicious look—with a subsequent greasy grin—at Scott's open wallet. The Regulator clock had ticked loudly from a side wall when he registered, giving him a pervasive feeling that everything was on borrowed time. He wished it wasn't quite so fitting.

Too big and not big enough, it was an in-between place unsure of itself, had given up everything that made small town life good, but not embraced what made the bigger cities great. Scott disliked it on principle because of the wasted opportunity. But perhaps his feeling came more from the purpose of the journey, not the town itself.

He decided to walk to John's house.

He paused a moment and closed his eyes, letting memories fray and fade. When he opened them again, he almost ran into the path of two young women. They smiled as he stepped aside and one of the women touched the chatelaine swinging softly at her waist. The small chains carried a portrait of Lincoln, a miniature flag, and a round emblem that Scott recognized as a recruiting pin. He smiled back, too stiffly and too late. Behind him he heard the women's laughter, coy and bubbling, the brisk tip-tapping of their shoes, and Scott had the idea that he had missed an opportunity of some sort. He wondered about the chatelaine and all that it held, where she had gotten it and why. He started walking again, setting one foot in front of the other, and thought about that recruiting button. Something similar had been on posters in every store front, church and meeting hall when the war first started.

As he crossed a wooden footbridge, Scott allowed himself to notice something he'd been trying to avoid ever since that night with Mortimer in Aunt Elizabeth's stable. The restless feeling was back. It was a thing he'd normally associate with another episode of the ague, but he was without fever. A gnawing absence beneath his ribcage, it had been smuggled in on the back of John's book. Scott drew a deep breath and walked faster. It was strange the feeling of something that was missing, and odd that it could exert as much force as any solid object. It felt a bit like homesickness. Perplexing. First, he was a grown man and shouldn't give in to such childish feelings, second, he was home and had been for a number of months.

He had the idea—when lying in his cot at the hospital with the crisp, clean, white sheets, and on the long train ride homeward bound—that the dull ache would be alleviated when he set foot again inside the family home; the very instant Grandfather would welcome him with a clap on the shoulder and a toothy smile. It hadn't though.

Scott had slowly come to realize the ache came from a different place. Not homesickness at all. It was an awareness that something had been lost. He wasn't missing a place, he was missing a piece of himself. And he knew the very spot where it had been left.

In a small mean pasture outside a tobacco warehouse in Virginia.

He'd felt it happen when John's lifeblood ebbed away amid shrieks and shouts. He'd panicked when the gunfire opened up, a hot liquid surge. A layer of himself, the part that felt and feared, peeled away like last season's onion, its useless skin fluttering to the ground and discarded. Only a hard kernel remained and he had put his head down and struck out, thinking nothing, feeling nothing, aware only of his own rasping breath in his ears.

That separation, the displacement, had changed him. It had allowed him to maintain his sanity through the beatings and the solitary confinement, through the knowledge that he had, in fact, led sixteen men to their deaths. But he looked at things and people now as if through a smoky glass. He tried to explain it once to Dr. Willoughby, after one of his fevers. Carter's father had related, in a most kind way, that he had seen it in a few of his patients who were soldiers. Which was all very well and good, but that didn't make it any less terrifying when Grandfather spoke about the future of Garrett Enterprises, or when Julie smiled at him, and all he felt was emptiness. When he drank or played cards with Carter at White's, when Suzanna fussed over how much weight he lost and baked cookies to fatten him up. Scott felt…nothing.

He took out the piece of paper and checked the address once more. Turned it sideways, then lightly cursed himself for his appalling handwriting. Too quick, too careless. He looked up at the wide brick house with the white door bound and framed by black crepe. It was immediately jarring, something that just didn't go together with the red geraniums in clay pots or the yellows of marigolds lining the porch. He really hadn't needed the paper to tell him he was at John's house. Wasn't the odd alcove off to the side with a rickety-looking swing just the same as John had described it? And the hint of a handsome garden—courtesy of his bride—around back?

The door opened and a scowling face caught him off guard, a woman closer in age to his grandfather. "What do you want, young man?"

It took a moment to collect himself, swallowing nerves and sadness that threatened to expose him. "I've come to see Mrs. Josephina Baker."

The woman looked him up and down before arriving at an expression of suspicion and vague dislike. Her hand swept out to encompass the crepe, the black wreath on the door. "Surely you can see she's in mourning for her husband. She'll not see anyone, especially a stranger. " Her grey head tipped towards him to punctuate the last word.

"I'm not…" He stopped, his voice had gone cold and he tried desperately to amend it. "I'm not exactly a stranger. To Josie perhaps, but I served with John in the 2nd Massachusetts."

"I hardly think you should use my daughter's name in the familiar sense," her head jerked up, "you say you served with my son-in-law?"

Scott nodded. "With the 2nd Massachusetts, Madam. My name is Scott Lancer."

The color had leached from her face. She shrugged, then sniffed and shuffled her feet. The door flung open wide.

The black-haired woman in mourning dress had an easy grace. Her high-bridged nose reminded Scott of a statue, the kind he'd studied in a purely useless Greek course his first year at Harvard. Calypso, or Athena, something like that. The statue's serenity was marred by sharply narrowed eyes, an angry mouth.

"You're the man who killed my husband."

Josie. His heart plummeted.

She stood at the wide-open door, flanked by her mother, stiff as a sentry, face hard, gaze cold.

"You're not welcome here."

Scott stared at her, lips parted in half-surprise, half-frown. It wasn't an admonishment. Nor a plea. It was a threat. The door closed shut in his face.

Without thinking, he looked down at his hands, turning them over. They were steady but then again, they always were. It didn't mean anything.

 

 

Chapter 14

Scott turned away from the door and looked down the street, first one way then the other. His mind balked, uncertain of what he wanted to do. The vehemence in Josie's voice was fresh, too vivid for him to do anything more than stand on the cobblestone walkway that linked the houses.

He closed his eyes to hold back everything, and it stopped nothing.

The door to John's house opened on a single creak. Cautiously, he opened his eyes again, and realized his heart was hammering too hard.

"Young man…Mr. Lancer. My daughter would like to speak with you after all."

*****

"Mother, I should like to speak with Mr. Lancer in private," Josie said, her jaw barely moving. "If you would, send word to Martha that I will be unavailable to meet with her today."

"Should I tell her why?" Her mother's voice scratchy with emotion, could hardly be heard.

Josie stared at Scott. "No."

Scott felt the color drain from his face and fumbled with his hat and gloves as her mother took them in hand and left the two of them together in the parlor. He glanced about and saw a hallway mirror covered in the same crape as outside. Curtains were pulled against the windows, a black wreath festooned with flowers upon the mantle. He had seen a few tableaus set like this, particularly when he had to deliver the grievous news of a lost loved one. But somehow, this was more somber, more significant.

She sighed, a soft breathy sound. "I thought you might come. From what John related in his letters, you seemed to be the type of man who shoulders responsibility."

Dry-eyed, Josie sat in her wing chair, grieving the loss of a loved one for whom all her tears had been spent, lips pressed firmly together, while he sat on the sofa, knees together like a schoolboy. She kept stealing looks at him, the afternoon sun cutting slantwise across her pale face through the window glass. A kitten tumbled out from a knitting bag beside her chair to jump up and curl into a ball in her lap. A tiny bit of orange and white amongst the mourning hues.

Scott couldn't read her expression; it was hooded, tucked away in reserve like a store of food in a pantry.

"Why? Why are you alive and not John?" she demanded.

In truth he had no answer. Anger was the first stop on most of his many journeys lately, especially ones that concerned any aspect of his imprisonment. Because what was left, all he had in the world, were memories. So instead of concern he felt anger, and it was always so easy, that.

As the date of the escape neared, John had gotten quiet, not putting up a fight—even over an old Thoreau versus Emerson argument—and that was perhaps a signal of sorts.

He asked what was wrong and John had told him. Three sentences, that was all, and Scott's anger turned to something else, because he heard what John wasn't saying, knew what his friend couldn't admit: a sense of foreboding had embraced them. After all, others had tried to escape, and failed. But with John it went beyond that, he knew he was going to die.

Scott swallowed hard. He dipped his head towards the floor. So what had determined his fate, aside from a Rebel welcoming committee comprised of gunfire? Was it luck? Destiny?

Josie arced her hand in the air as if to chase away the question. "I told John that no good would come of his joining up. Professors," she disparaged. "There are obligations, and then there is the past. John eloquently argued for both, but too many young men, they don't understand the difference."

That was close, overlapped and transected with what John had said one time when digging latrine trenches, about doing manual labor with a scholar's mind. Scott was quiet, staying still for a moment, wrestling down the guilt. He nodded slowly. John's death and the others couldn't be in vain.

Josie's attention was on the loops and whorls of flowers on the wallpaper, faded to muted gold from bright yellow, her face held so still Scott didn't know if she was going to yell, cry, or throw him out of the house.

Finally, she nodded once. "I had no right to say the things I did to you on the porch. My apologies, Mr. Lancer. I've been unsettled since I received the word of my husband's death." Her eyes flicked to him and away.

"John never seemed quite the archetypical military man. How did it happen?" Scott asked when she fell into silence.

Josie shrugged and pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders, seemingly cold despite the swelter of the afternoon. He would have offered to fetch the afghan from the rocking chair, except he didn't want get up from the sofa, take his attention from her words.

"A boy like you. That's what happened."

There was a time to interrupt and a time to let it continue, Scott didn't need to fill every moment with talk, even after surprising admissions like this one.

After a minute of sliding her fingers in and out of the kitten's fur, Josie set them quietly on each chair arm. "His name was Alan, John's younger brother. Full of life. And bravado. Did John ever speak of him?" She smiled softly when Scott nodded. "He loved a cause, Alan did. Had a fine sense of justice, he saw what was happening in our country and abhorred the very idea of slavery."

She stopped. Not because she was at a loss for words, but because she wanted him to understand. "He wasn't like John. He didn't want to make a bed, have a family, or stay in one place. Alan lived for adventure, he needed to keep moving." She laughed, bitter as a field sowed with lime. "He was a nomad, not a soldier, and John knew it, even if the recruiting officers didn't."

"So John," Scott started, then caught himself, unsure. What a thing to ask. Josie watched him as he tried to smile a little.

Then she was up, spilling the offended kitten off her lap. She went to the fireplace mantle and adjusted a picture frame as Scott watched. After a few moments collecting himself, he swallowed, sure of the question.

"John followed Alan?"

She stopped fussing with the frame, set it off to one side and braced both hands on her hips. Her lips clamped for a moment, and it was like a boil needing lanced, infected and painful.

"Alan died in a skirmish at Fisher's Valley in the Carolinas. Life as a teacher held no meaning for my husband after that day. Whereas Alan had many causes, John only had one—to take care of his brother. Do you have siblings, Mr. Lancer?"

He shook his head. The closest he had was Carter, but he often wondered what it would be like to have grown up with a real brother beside him. Would he feel the same for his brother as John did for Alan? Would his father have wanted them both in California instead of Boston? He savagely pushed the thoughts away. It was folly. There was no brother.

"I don't know if you can understand then, but John would have done anything for Alan, even follow him into battle."

"But he waited…why?"

She stared at the daguerreotype on the mantle. "Me. We had been newly married, I asked him to stay. I had no right, but I asked anyway." Josie fingered the black button at her throat. "What could I do?" she asked after a long pause. "I was scared. For him, for us. Then Alan died and still very much wrapped in his grief, John enlisted. The only difference was that he had my blessing this time. I let him go," she whispered.

He must have made some noise, because Josie roused herself. She stared at him, eyes shuttered, unreadable. He looked away.

"You reminded John of his brother, after a fashion. Stalwart. Opinionated. The same but different, because he saw more in you. A young man who eventually became a fine leader for his soldiers. And someone who John felt had become a brother. Not a surrogate for Alan, but a brother nonetheless. That spoke volumes to me, Mr. Lancer, and I will always thank you for that."

With an awful hollow yearning, he wished for John to be back, laughing at how slow the Army acted, chastising him for allowing Mortimer to chew his shoulder boards, arguing that Emerson was a pale imitation of Thoreau. Whole, clean. He just wanted it the way it was, that's all.

When he finally raised his head, the look on Josie's face moved from puzzlement to understanding to concern in under two seconds.

She gasped, her hand at her mouth. "That wretched escape, you think it's your fault, don't you? Those words on the porch—please—they meant nothing. I was distraught."

Scott steadied his breath. "I led the escape. I'll always feel responsible."

She wiped the corner of her eye, attention on her fingers like she'd found something there. She was quiet. And lurking behind the quiet was a string of lonely months stretched like hung laundry across time.

She said nothing for a time and when she spoke, her voice was no more than a whisper. "I forgive you."

A wave of sadness bubbled up. "I don't deserve your forgiveness."

"Yes, you do. We all do. God…"

"God isn't listening at the moment."

"Well then, I forgive you. As someone who is a friend, if I may be so bold." She gripped his hand, sandwiching it between hers, anchoring him as her words and voice penetrated. "Scott, I forgive you."

She studied his face, holding his hand, nodding her confirmation to the question he couldn't quite bring himself to verbalize. It was just him and Josie. No one else to see him wipe his eyes.

"How long are you going to punish yourself? A few months, a year? Two? How long will be enough? You didn't choose this outcome. You didn't live so you could lead this type of life. John and the others are dead, but you aren't." Her brown eyes rounded. "How happy are you?"

Scott couldn't utter a word, had been speared through as efficiently as though Josie was armed with an issued Union sword. Happy? What did that have to do with anything? He was alive, and that's all that mattered, wasn't it? Her question about his happiness left Scott exposed like a tatty sail in a typhoon. Maybe after a few years the hole would close up, maybe he would be all right, but it wasn't good. No good at all, depending on something as capricious as time. The idea of happiness and loss were so keen and intertwined that he had to keep his eyes on his hands.

She looked away, not frail, but deep in memory, which left her open. Her eyes were full, he realized, brimming, and maybe that's what she'd been scratching at earlier, knowing that tears would be shed. Her mouth opened, and shut. Then Josie settled back into her chair. And began to talk about John.

He listened, taking it all in, saying nothing—except when she told him about their wedding day and the dance that went horribly wrong.

"A Schottische? Are you serious?" Scott laughed full-on, straight from his belly. "Oh, what I wouldn't have given to see that!"

"Well, he was terrible at it," Josie confided with a grin. "He could have been wonderful, but he was stubborn and unwilling to learn. Willfully ignorant. But he knew how important it was to me, so he did it. Not well, certainly not happily, but he did it."

It brought memories of a cold winter camp, ankle deep in snow, dancing with a shadow. He'd been embarrassed to find John watching him by a tree, but within a few moments, his friend had slid into his own jerky waltz. Their intent had been identical.

Her face shone in the odd half-light from the window, eyes bright, and Scott could almost see, superimposed on top of that face, a younger one, what she had been before, waiting for John to return from the war, the light of life glowing beneath the surface. The hope.

"And then word came," Josie's voice faltered, the first time it had done so since she started talking. "That he had died while attempting to escape." She shook her head, but her eyes were clear. "It felt like some sort of terrible justice, for when I kept John from Alan. Perhaps they both would have lived."

"Josie." He reached out, touching her cheek briefly, just with his fingertips, then drew away.

"Scott, my husband—our John—wouldn't want this. You owe it to him to go on. He'd expect no less." He slumped at that, acknowledging the truth in her words. She looked at him then, and he saw the beauty that John had described, and the bleak days that ached in her eyes made him want to run in the opposite direction.

Scott inclined his face for a moment. He took his time to consider her words because they true and right; when he spoke it was with resolution and conviction. "A debt owed then. For the both of us." So low, and Josie let out a sob.

He nodded to her, and Josie nodded back. "Thank you," he said softly.

The small weight in his coat pocket tipped forward when he sat down, reminding him why he had come, in part, to Worchester in the first place. Scott reached in and brought out the tattered Thoreau. For the longest time he couldn't bring himself to look at it, yet now it was a thing to be cherished. He rubbed his thumb down its spine for the last time. Then handed it to her.

Josie took the book as if it was made of expensive china, mouth parted in wonder. He watched as she carefully opened it and found John's handwriting, tracing it with her own finger as she read. She hesitated for a moment, longing and fearful. Scott recognized the expression, had seen it on his own face a few times, when something was wanted so badly it was a weakness beyond reckoning, an exposed wound.

"John was lost until he found you." Josie closed the book and met his eyes, solid and steady. "I'm so very glad he did."

And Scott felt he could begin again, that it was allowed.

 

 

Epilogue

Alone with a glass of brandy in Grandfather's study and the letter, he couldn't help but smile. Josie was doing well and thanked him again for coming to her in her hour of need. He wasn't sure who was the neediest those several months ago, he or Josie, but in the end it didn't matter, they had saved each other, in a way. He was grateful.

What he wasn't grateful for was the colder November weather. Since his summer in Virginia it seemed he grew chilly at the very mention of snow. He cocked his head when he thought he heard someone below at the front door. Carter was expected and, per his usual flair, late. He always did like to make an entrance. Perhaps after Grandfather's soiree, they would leave to celebrate something of more import, namely the start of Carter's medical rotation at the hospital. Unable to attend surgery, the clinical side of medicine seemed to satisfy his friend almost as well.

The start of school again had been at once a harrowing experience and a mind-numbing bore. What could compete with sabers, horses and uniforms? Not Old Fitzroy's Latin. It was all so inoffensively normal.

At Harvard, he knew a boy named Franklin Abbott, whose banking father owned several transportation companies. Franklin's father, the son of a merchant and an Irish maid, used astute judgement and blind luck to make his first fortune, afterwards he went on to make several more. At one memorable party a few weeks ago, Franklin smoked fine El Plantador cigars, drank his way through several strong whiskeys, and he told Scott that his two brothers worked for his father. Franklin waggled his eyebrows at the word work. His brothers laughed at their father's often-told stories of the old country, said nothing when the old man shouted too loud at the race track and looked away when Father stuck his finger in the back of his mouth to clear away the food behind his molars.

Franklin was drunk, and by that time Scott had consumed his own share of drink. So he'd asked: "What are you going to do after school?" Franklin had replied, "I'm going to see Europe on Father's ship then come home, put on an expensive suit, and marry a brunette from our side of the city who will bear my progeny. And I will carry Father's bags to the train station and laugh at his stories."

That evening, he was tipsy, which had the effect of making him sleepy and patient, but Scott had listened carefully to Franklin's family story. And while he'd always thought the thin, pock-marked boy who lived in the student hall next door was not terribly interesting, he felt a little sorry for him. Franklin genuinely believed he had no choice in life but to follow his brothers' bitter-sounding path. It was nonsense to think that he of all people had no choices in life. But after spending the evening with him, Scott began to understand that what mattered was not what you could do, but what you believed you could do.

In his own dormitory, there was Carter Willoughby, his friend since childhood. When Carter decided he wanted to be a physician, his parents threw him a party because like father-like son, he was following in the family tradition. During dessert, as he cut into the cake, Carter took several sips of brandy, eyebrows pulling together at the burn. He announced to everyone there, black eyes glittering with liquor, that he would become staff surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital by the time he was twenty-five. At such a bold announcement, his father and mother gathered their breath like children before birthday cake candles. And now, Carter was left with one arm and no surgical residency.

This was what he wanted to know: When life didn't go your way, was it because it wasn't meant to be, or because you didn't have faith, or was it that you couldn't make it so by the labors required of you? He thought about the offices of Garrett Enterprises on Tremont Street, and feared for his own conclusion.

He took another sip of his drink, losing himself in his thoughts until a voice from down the hall prodded him.

"Scotty? Scotty?"

He blinked. Grandfather was calling his name.

He was restless, unusually so. He'd had a dream last night, one that was well known to him, however infrequently it made its appearance. The dream remained the same—he was desperately looking for someone, yet unable to see the way ahead. Here he was surrounded by people he'd known and loved his entire life, and all he wanted…

Ignoring Grandfather's voice for the time being, he stared out the window, searching for the answer.

All he wanted was to…

He didn't know. That was the problem. He didn't know what he wanted.

He just knew that it wasn't here.

 

 

~end~
8/2017

Timestamp: Special Delivery ----->
Timestamp: The Reunion ------>

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