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Barb

 

 

FIn Earnest

Prologue:

The Garretts were a high-toned people, their blue-blooded lineage hop-scotching from one obscure French monarch titled from the Orléans branch to an English-born stowaway, the scalawag riding the wave-tossed landing at Plymouth. Some were colored a bit bluer than others.

The only son still alive of the American patriarchal line endeavored to make up for history's small glitch.

Harlan Robert Garrett was an intense man, with fingers stained from accountant's ink and old money. He was one of those who parceled out coins for the goods in his cupboards and knew exactly what they bought: a well-versed breakfast of poached eggs and dry toast at eight and an equally compiled dinner in the evening at seven o'clock sharp.

Like most excellent accountants, he kept one hand in his pocket and the other in the financial districts of New York and Boston, had contempt of the unexpected, and managed accounts and people much like the digits in ledgers he handled as a young boy—in center square, bound on each side by a thin black line. His steps were deliberate, pushing what was left of the Garrett ancestry forward, if not towards monarchy, than towards the noblesse of Boston society.

What was left was his grandson.

His daughter's death had struck him like a runaway carriage, out of the blue, too quick. He said no words, simply sat and shook his head, holding Catherine's cold hand in the middle of a wet California valley. He felt his neglect of the obvious situation between her and the Scottish immigrant was the primary cause. More to the point, his objections to the marriage of her to Murdoch Lancer had not been strenuous enough to be heard, and obeyed, by both parties.

He mourned his stupidity as he mourned the thought that the ride to Carterville, a place of supposed safety from the pirates attacking the Lancer ranch, had been entirely pointless.

Before God and man, he had built a stoic, somewhat cynical wall during his lifetime and Catherine's death breached the mortar. His whole being shook with it, his tone became sharper and snapping, his hair a little grayer around the temple. It was too little, too late for his daughter.

But not for his grandson.

By the beginning of his sixteenth year, Scott was installed at Harvard, like so many young men of the time, and started on his expected trajectory. Harlan raised the young man in a manner befitting his colored lineage, poising him to first become partner, then to someday take over the entirety of Garrett Enterprises. As the grandfather watched, he could feel his grandson's drive and ambition, because he felt it in himself.

 

Chapter One

The choir's song was called 'Amazing Grace' and it never failed to make Scott a little sad. The notes lingered, echoing through-out the large meeting hall. This morning’s lecture, held by the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, had been absolutely riveting.

He retrieved his coat from the back of his chair and made his way to the exit.

"What are you doing here, Lancer?" The voice boomed out, making him come to a full stop.

Edward Bannister stood by the door with his companion. Scott could only see the side of the man's face, but what he did see made him edgy. Although there were a dozen people shuffling in the aisle, the question was meant for him alone. 

Mr. Bannister was short and round with the harsh accent of a man born and bred in Brooklyn, yet left enough of the 'r's' off his words to make him appear moderately Bostonian. He was tied to his grandfather through Garrett Enterprises in a way Scott had been unable to define. Yet over a handful of months the relationship had deteriorated to the point of being nonexistent—at least as far as his grandfather was concerned.

If Bannister's question was relatively simple, the answer was less so. It was an incredibly awkward situation. "Garrison's lecture was quite insightful don't you think?" he ventured.

The paper in Bannister's hand—The Liberator—rustled when he curled it tightly. He said nothing, yet his eyes, like two black raisins, never left Scott's face.

Scott took a step back when Bannister blocked his escape.

"Doesn't the grandson of the auspicious Harlan Garrett have better things to do than mingle with the common people?"

Scott was taken aback. It was one thing to air grievances in private, quite another to bring them to a public meeting place. He had a notion to look at his backside for a target. He smiled instead, the same placid smile his Episcopalian minister wore for the odd Sunday sermon, but he couldn't quite keep the vehemence out of his voice. "Are we not here for a common goal, Mr. Bannister? Surely the idea of one Union and the abolishment of slavery appeals to all."

"You should ask your grandfather what he thinks of a common Union, and I would dearly love to hear his thoughts on the politics of slavery. Oh yes, especially the politics involved. It's frankly amazing to me that Harlan is able to hold his fork at the dinner table, with his hands so engaged in other people's pockets. Ask your grandfather about the textiles being manufactured on the corner of Third and Wilson. Money seems to talk loudest at its greediest."

Bannister's companion gasped. "That's enough, Edward!"

With his companion pulling on his coat sleeve, Bannister left the meeting hall.

The outburst drew curious looks and frowns. Feeling much like an elephant in a parlor, Scott hastily wrapped his scarf about his neck and buttoned his coat.

After more than two years at Harvard, there came a sudden clarity of mind that made him fairly gasp. He had found his grandfather out. It wasn't a single 'aha' moment that took the scales away from his eyes, but rather a series of incidents, until one day it all fell into place. His stone idol teetered and crashed against unforgiving Boston cobblestones. As heavy idols go, this one shuddered and heaved to sit aright but had never quite gained its high perch again. Bannister's insinuations were fuel to the smoldering fire, if they were indeed true. They were also a puzzle to be worked out later, because if he didn't hurry he'd be late for his appointment at the university.

He saw it was snowing again, the quiet soft flakes at odds with the fiery speeches within the meeting hall.

James Hamilton caught up with him. As closed-minded and small as Bannister was, Hamilton was the exact opposite. His lean face was full of bonhomie and a large smile that split it in two.

"I couldn't help but overhear. Bannister has a rather large mouth, and words to match. I do believe he takes his job as an assistant clerk at the capitol to heart. Sometimes a little too much so. His enthusiasm appears to have taken a sharp left into unreasoning zeal.”

Bannister's remark that the meeting hall was filled with 'commoners' was decidedly incorrect. Garrison's fervent lectures pulled in men and women from all walks of life. Hamilton, a legislature aid and business owner was no exception. Scott had known the older man all his life. There was none better.

"If you're honest in your convictions as I believe you to be, I have news. Governor Andrews has asked for and been given the task of forming a new regiment. The 2nd Cavalry is recruiting men to complete its ranks. The companies will be formed and organized at Camp Meigs in Readville by January. Colonel Charles Lowell has been appointed as commander. He's regular Army and quite seasoned.”

Scott knew of the Boston native, had seen his picture hanging in the hall with the other Harvard valedictorians.

Hamilton smiled again. “You're well thought of Scott, despite Bannister's spewing. And Lowell is looking for good leaders."

The choir at the dais had started again and strains of ‘Amazing Grace’ once more filled the hall and wafted out the meeting hall door. It sounded like a prayer.

"There's a meeting tomorrow night with the Colonel and other organizers to look over potential recruits for commissions. Do I give them your name?"

#-#-#-#-#

"Lancer!"

A squelch of boots through the early wet snow heralded the deep baritone. Scott didn't have to turn around to see who it was, but he did anyhow and was met with a cold explosion of the white stuff. What didn't get shoved up his nostrils or into his left ear, trickled down his neck, pooling just below his cravat.

"Willoughby, you ass."

"That's been confirmed by higher mortals than you. But what's the point of all this snow, if one can't have fun with it?"

Scott pulled his scarf away, shook it out, and used its fringed tail to wipe his face. "At my expense, of course."

"You were handy." Carter took a handful of the knitted wool. "This will never do. The color for Harvard is crimson. Not the pedestrian red, nor the plebian coral, but crimson." Shuddering, he dropped the scarf. "For God's sake, we've been wearing the color since Eliot and Crowningshield dipped their oars into the water for the regatta of '58. Anything but blue, do you want to get confused with that other school? President Hill will have your head on a stick."

"Hill doesn't even know me."

"And that's where you're wrong dear boy, he knows every new student, down to the size of undergarments."

"Well, that's a bit disconcerting. Does he know when I change them, too?"

"Beware of Mr. Hill, a good Unitarian and a progressive educator. The two together fairly make me shudder."

"Perhaps I should tell him Aunt Elizabeth knitted this scarf, and I would rather walk on a bed of heated stones before telling her I can't wear it."

"I would expect more snow, an avalanche, if that's your stance." Carter blew out a heavy sigh. "Blue is a justified target for any self-respecting Harvard man. You may as well wear a cow's bell and clang across the courtyard. What is it with the Garrett line? Always so bull-headed."

"I would leave my grandfather out of this, Carter."

"Believe me, I would love to leave your grandfather somewhere."

"And how is it that a student of your stature," Scott leaned in, towering a half head taller than his friend, "a mere one year older, knows so much?"

Carter sniffed and examined his glove, pulling free a miniscule piece of lint. "I get around."

Scott huffed out a laugh, sending a plume of white vapor skyward. "Everywhere except to class. A man who doesn't know his Greeks from his Romans, yet he counsels."

"Only to people I like, as I'm nothing if not beneficent. You always were too dragon-tongued Lancer, you'll be lucky to find anyone to marry you."

Scott folded his arms. "What did you hear from Dennison?"

"Finally got your attention, did I?”

"Has Julie, or her father, made any remarks?"

"None to speak of, however there is some gossip of an engagement down the line."

He felt a flush starting from his neck creep upwards to his cheeks.

"Oh. My sweet Annie will be disappointed then."

"The imp? Why is your sister going to be disappointed with me?"

"I'm afraid she's set her cap for you."

"She's nine!"

"And yet she still knows her mind. A Willoughby through and through."

He plucked at Scott's scarf. "At least tuck the damn thing inside your coat collar, Aunt Elizabeth will be appeased and you'll still look like a loyalist. Since we both find ourselves temporarily on the outside of Cupid's arrow, come with me, we'll do what any self-respecting Harvard man would do such a situation."

"What's that?"

"Go to the smoker and commiserate with all the others who lack in love."

Scott shook his head. "I have a meeting with Old Fitzroy in his office to look over the Latin exam."

"We're on school break and you're throwing me over to conjugate some hoary verbs? I can see I need to increase your tutelage while there's still a glimmer of hope."

A cacophony of students tumbled out of the hall, catching their attention. Gay, almost giddy, they jostled each other into two more or less straight lines as a heavily-accented voice barked out instructions.

Carter took time to stamp the snow from his boots, unknowingly mimicking the students marching in place. "Monsieur Angelle has taken to heart the new training methods brought from the front. The cadets have to be happy getting out of the old gymnasium on the Delta every once and a while. Even if it's to drill in the snow."

A thought occurred to Scott as he watched a few stragglers try to keep step. "Have you heard from Paul?"

Carter didn't bother to stifle a grimace. "Not since his last letter, from a place called Chancellorsville. Why is it we make war in such a hellish place like Virginia?" His voice dropped lower. "After reading his letter, I wonder why we make war at all." Carter looked up at Scott's silence. "What are you thinking?"

"That it would all be over by now. It will be 1863 in another month, we've been at war for two years already. The Union cannot lose, yet it loses every day.”

"So you want to join Professor Eliot's Harvard Cadets? To drill in the snow, protecting us and the piles of left-over cannonballs from the Revolution at the corner of Chauncey Street from attack by rebel sympathizers? I believe the Union will win the war after all."

"You are an ass."

"Guilty as charged, I'm afraid." Carter turned serious. "Mother and father won't say it, but they're worried about Paul, of course. News from Washington isn't good. My brother is like you—the dutiful son—wanting to do his part for home and hearth."

"Need I remind you? I'm no one's son."

"Ah, yes. Grandson then, but the Miss was a Mrs., so you're not a bastard, and the California paterfamilias does live on supposedly. Perhaps now would be a good time to visit him."

"So you did sit a few classes of Latin."

"A few words here and there, mainly to confound my professors and impress the ladies. Scott, you know you're my brother in everything but name."

"Very sentimental of you, but yes. And I feel the same. Why are we having confessions in the middle of the square, ankle deep in snow?" Scott paused as realization sunk in. "You're signing up, aren't you?"

"At the end of the term. The Twentieth is looking for recruits."

"Your brother's regiment?

"Someone needs to look after the old man, and it might as well be me. Although he has stated specifically that he does not want me to join."

"But, the Twentieth is infantry."

"Don't sound so horrified. It's not called the Harvard Regiment by chance. With Paul there and Jones and Peterson from the junior class taking off to training, it will be like old times." Carter squinted up at him. "I see you're fairly bristling with indignation. And yet, despite owning a stable full of horses, you walk everywhere."

"I ride when it's sensible. And when off to war, it becomes very sensible. Even with that old, slow-footed nag you inherited from your father."

"I'll not have you call Belle either a nag, or old. It would pain her sensitive equine feelings. So you see, with Paul already gone and me possibly leaving in a very short while…"

"Your father will allow it?"

"It wasn't an easy talk. With Paul gone he doesn't want me to go. But father is as patriotic as anyone in Massachusetts. As I was saying, there needs to be someone left behind to take up the reins at home."

"What's good for the goose is not good for the gosling?"

"Exactly. I have one brother gone, I don't need another haring off down the road in uniform." He tugged on Scott's shoulder sleeve. "Are you listening?"

"I attended the lecture by Garrison this morning. He stated that it was impossible for free and slave states to unite on any terms."

"It sounds like he wants the Union to dissolve."

Scott nodded. "To save the Union, you must first destroy it. One of his more radical thoughts.”

"Well, I know you firmly believe in the Union." Carter's mouth gaped open. "My God, you've already done it, haven't you? You've signed up!"

An equal dose of thrill and dread caused the hairs at the back of Scott's neck to prickle. “Only to give my name to the hat. Nothing is set in stone.”

"Have you to spoken with the old goat? I can only imagine his musings on the subject."

"Not yet."

"Tell me, does that vein in his forehead still pulsate so?" He pulled up short. "Don't you know the Federalists supply the mounts nowadays? You'll be lucky to end up with something like Belle."

"Still. Four legs trump two any day of the week. And you can supply your own horse, they encourage it."

"Which ought to tell you something right there. Getting back to your grandfather…"

"I'd rather leave him right where he is, Carter."

"With all of Harlan's reinforcements sturdily in place, that bridge may not be penetrable. Have you thought about that?"

"While the regular Army needs Grandfather's permission for me to join, the state seems to have no such qualms." After the conversation with Hamilton, he was surer than ever. "They'll take me."

"The only difference being, and it seems to be almost a canyon of difference, is that I have my father's permission. So tell me Scott, how will going against the old man ever turn out well? Better to get a modicum of permission than to engage in an all-out conflict while still at home."

Conflict seemed to be a common occurrence of late. What Grandfather didn't know was that he possessed a frying, fizzling ache. The kind that started low in the belly and burned all the way through sinew and bone, one stop at the heart to give it a tight squeeze then tumbled like white water to eddy and foam about in the brain. If he was turned away from the cavalry, there was always the infantry.

He clapped Carter on the back. "You're right, Latin can wait."

#-#-#-#-#

At eight minutes until seven o'clock, Harlan sat behind his desk awaiting the call to dinner. A casual flick of the curtain revealed an almost empty street. He missed Scotty who had unknowingly taken on his mother's trait of arriving just in time for appointments. Evidently the talks he'd given about a gentleman's duty to arrive fifteen minutes early had fallen on deaf ears. Thanksgiving went reasonably well, but it was Friday and the young man was due back to school on Monday, he could have made the effort to be early for once.

Yet when he was home, he was part stranger. There was a different smell about him, no longer the sweet musty scent of boy but something almost wild. He spoke politely, but distantly. Did he resent spending time at home when he could be with his colleagues at school? Surely not if his affection for Cook were any indication. No, his grudge must go further back. But what minor circumstances had piqued his grandson's ire this time?

"Any time he's not where he's supposed to be, he's off with the Willoughby lad," he complained to the wall of books lining the study.

Deep male talk and laughter sounded from the back of the house towards the kitchen. Scotty had arrived with Carter.

"Five minutes to spare, Grandfather. You were counting weren't you?"

"I was doing no such thing." The audible click of his watch fob said differently and produced a wide smile from his grandson.

His gaze drifted past Scotty to Carter. While he didn't permit disapproval to show in his countenance, he could feel his spine straightening up.

"Good evening, Mr. Garrett," Carter said, inclining his head.

"We were delayed watching the students drill in the quadrangle. I've asked him to stay for dinner, by the way," Scott added.

Carter made a noise in his throat. "But I really need to be on my way. I just wanted to borrow a copy of Whatley's Morals and Christian Evidence for the upcoming term." He nudged Scott with one elbow. "It seems your grandson has found himself with two. Now is that because he's in need of instruction, or a slow learner?"

Harlan frowned at the jibe.

"Neither. One was lost, two were found. And at least I actually attended the lectures." Scott's eyebrows rose as one. "Unlike you."

"You wound me mightily."

"Then stay for dinner as amends."

"While I normally wouldn't miss dinner at the Garrett's, Father and Mother are expecting me." He tapped the book. "And I do have some catching up to do before the term starts again."

He saw his friend to the door then Scotty reappeared and swung into the overstuffed chair facing the office desk with the ease and grace that befitted his youth. Harlan studied him, this grandson of his. He had inherited the bold good looks of the Garrett line. Although possibly the high cheekbones came from the Lancer side—he didn't care to know. Wheat-colored hair tousled by the winter wind, swept around a lean, rawboned face that was taut with something. Was it worry? He had lost a touch of weight over the last year, something he attributed to university life, yet the fining down of his features only heightened the power Harlan saw there. He had the Garrett eyes, a storm-filled blue, like Catherine's. They were defiant now as they were in the young boy who wanted to climb mountains so long ago.

"Great-Grandfather served aboard ship in the War of 1812, didn't he?"

"You're well aware that he did, with honor."

"I would like to continue the legacy."

Harlan's mouth compressed into a thin line, despite his best efforts. "You're too young and I refuse to sign a waiver for your age."

"The state of Massachusetts would beg to differ. It seems that several more regiments need to be filled."

"And what of your schooling?"

"More than a few of my friends have already left, the lecture halls are barely half full. I've finally come of age and want to do my part. The university will be here when I return."

"You disappoint me, Scotty." It was a phrase he knew had bite, sting. His grandson looked down at his hands, flexed them.

"Your friends are leaving and you feel you must do the same? I taught you better than that, my boy."

"You also taught me a sense of duty, Grandfather. And I mean to see it through."

"What about duty to your family? To me?"

Harlan looked out across his study, but saw nothing. It was quiet enough to hear the breath Scott took, to brace himself.

"Great-grandfather sacrificed, shed blood for a cause he believed in. How can I do less for a cause I believe in just as much?"

His grandson was no longer a boy, and Harlan was afraid there was little he could do to dissuade him. Scotty always had a propensity for causes

"You're running away from your obligations."

"Hardly, Grandfather, I'm running to them."

Scotty leaned forward on his elbows conspiratorially, as though relaying a secret. "I met Edward Bannister at a lecture this morning. He made certain…insinuations about Garrett Enterprises."

Harlan didn't answer at first, tried to contain the hitch in his chest, his proper breathing. He could feel Scotty's eyes on him, imagined twin points of anger and displeasure boring into his face. He covered it with sarcasm.

"I'm not surprised, that's the kind of man Bannister is."

The corner of his grandson's lip curled and he looked exactly like his mother for a moment.

"Are they true, Grandfather? Is Bannister right about the cotton and textile mill? Is Garrett Enterprises making money from the war?"

Harlan hadn't told him about the options he'd taken out on the mill. The boy was already skittish enough. To tell him too much would start him thinking. His departure to Harvard had changed things, but they were finding the new tare—adapting. It was just the two of them, a reliance, however shaky.

Harlan sighed, ripe with annoyance. "Really, Scotty, there is no need for this kind of nonsense."

The boy stood, face angled to the carpet, 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, and for once Harlan couldn't read what was in his eyes. Guarded, as he'd never seen him.

"What did you do?" They were careful words, chosen with purpose, voice even. What control.

Harlan waved his hand in the air. "I merely took out stock options, as others have done."

Scotty was nodding through Harlan's words as though they didn't matter, a prelude to disagreeing. He readied himself.

"It borders on treason,” he said quietly, in the same way a drawn blade was whisper-soft.   

Harlan leaned back in his chair. "I'm still the owner and president of Garrett Enterprises. I have the investments of my own stockholders I need to attend. Why don’t you ask them about treason?"

The flinch Scotty gave said it all. 

“And what of Edward Bannister, Grandfather?”

“An associate whose interests changed to more of a fanatical nature.”   

For a long moment, Harlan didn't know what his grandson would do. In this terrible world of change, he felt himself slipping, felt the hold he had on everything was brief and tenuous.

Finally, "I've already given my name to the regimental commander, Grandfather. This is my decision." Then he straightened his shoulders and walked to the doorway.

"Where you going?" Harlan asked. Demanded. He knew what he sounded like.

The boy looked back, eyes ablaze. "Out. I find I'm not hungry anymore."

Harlan sighed again, tasting defeat when the door slammed shut, however temporary.   

Having met the governor of Massachusetts a time or two, he would send a missive. An entreaty, if need be, to right the wrong Scotty had made. A proposal for an appointment in Washington perhaps. If the boy had to serve he could do it from behind a desk. At least he would be safe.

In due time, he would come to his senses.

#-#-#-#-#

Edward Bannister glanced up from behind his small desk when the mail was dropped into his wire basket with a quiet thunk. His white shirt had lost its tie and the two buttons at his throat were unfastened. He heaved himself off his chair and shook his head. For not the first time, he wondered how the rest of the capitol would get along if he weren't here to do his job.

He sorted the mail into perfunctory piles. Notices here, invitations for the governor and his staff there. Any war correspondence from Washington would go straight to the governor's secretary.

His eyes widened when he saw the envelope in his hand was addressed from Harlan Garrett.

He ripped it open with his thumbnail, read what was written and a broad smile puckered his cheeks. Chuckling, he reached for the box of lucifers—and wasn't that an apt name—near the lamp.

He struck one against the rough desk and held it to the envelope, watching as the flame licked up its side and gained a full measure of satisfaction. Yes sir, he didn't know what would happen if he wasn't here to do his job. 

 

Chapter Two

An early morning January in Readville, and a pre-dawn fog formed on the cold ground like a silken Indian carpet, mixing with the chilly air, as Scott read from his book of Cook's Tactics. After two weeks of officer drill and then more drill, he believed he was getting the basics down. More importantly, he saw the men watch their regimental commander, Colonel Lowell, with a growing sense of admiration and pride.

The Union had brought them here, but it was the company and regimental leaders that would keep them going. It was something to aspire to. Looking down the long line of canvas tents, he was anxious for the day to begin.

Carter found him. "You're up early."

A small quip. Neither had been overly fond of an early hour, but what surprised Scott was how quickly one adapted. And how much coffee one could drink.

Carter took the book and thumbed through it. "For being in the cavalry, we're doing an awful lot of walking."

"At least there are horses to look forward to, instead of worn boot leather."

"Ah, yes, mounted drill. One set of sores traded for another."

Scott grinned. "I'm happy Paul turned you away from the 20th."

"Too bad they didn't see fit to put us in the same company."

He did his best imitation of Harlan discussing the poor weather at dinner: eyebrows raised, lips pursed and chin tilted. Grandfather hated being fouled by Mother Nature, took it as a personal insult. "Don't you see? It would've been too difficult to contain all that excellence in one area, my boy. Better to spread some of it throughout the regiment so others can benefit."

Laughing, Carter nudged his elbow. "Miles is calling for Lieutenant Lancer—I believe that's you."

James Hamilton stayed true to his word and had given Scott a recommendation for the 2nd Cavalry. The rest had been left to election. While field grade officers were appointed by the state, company grade officers were elected by their men. It was a not only a vote for the position, but a vote of confidence as well.

They thought he could the job. Secretly, it gave him a thrill.

Doubts lingered because as a cavalry officer, he knew a lot of Latin. Something extraordinarily useful in a world filled with column half-left marches, repeating carbines and reconnaissance. His saving grace was that he knew how to ride. Unlike most of the recruits.

Captain Miles, the company commander, strode towards them. A minister in his civilian life, he'd traded his collar for silver bars and a brown moustache that draped over each side of his mouth. Felt that he'd been called to the military, and wasn't it that way for everyone? His transition seemed the smoothest of all. An idea bandied about the camp—never in front of the Captain—was that God couldn't help but look with favor on him, given his past profession. And that favor would ipso facto include the whole company. It was thought to be a good omen.

Scott had the good sense—grace—to stand and salute. The captain looked a bit disconcerted, but returned the courtesy. They were all still new.

"Colonel Lowell will have a briefing in an hour's time, all the officers are to be there." He clasped his hands together like a child waiting for a candy stick, and grinned. "News is afoot!"

"Are we to get orders?"

"Too soon, I should think. Training will take another month or so, but I don't imagine we'll spend all winter trudging through snow. This news is of a different sort, however. We're getting more recruits. From San Francisco, gentlemen. California."

His mind spun.

"It looks like you've seen a ghost, Lieutenant."

"One that is well known, but in name only, right Scott?" said Carter.

A tiny part of him wondered, because hoped was too strong a word. A very long time ago, on a whim, he had memorized the exact distance from the San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco and other cities. He pulled the numbers back from whatever dusty shelf his mind had put them. It wasn't that far to the coast. But surely, Murdoch Lancer was too advanced in age to come and volunteer for the fight.

His heart gave a hard thump inside his chest. "Sir, is there anyone by the last name of Lancer in the group?"

"I have no idea. Is it important? Perhaps a relative?"

He brought up a shoulder and shrugged. "Of sorts." He heard Carter snort behind him.

"Colonel Lowell has more information. You'll have to wait and see."

#-#-#-#-#

Because it was an unseasonably warm January day when they arrived off the Ocean Queen after almost a year of travel, introductions to the Californians were held outside. In typical cavalry fashion. Men, uniforms and horses had to be ready for review. To Scott it meant he had to tell Sergeant Baker to wear a regulation coat, no matter if it could only be buttoned halfway up, and they all had to polish boots, spurs and hooves—the last a direct order from Captain Miles, and most of all, Private Anderson had to find some way to stay in his saddle.

With spurs singing, guidons waving and not a little luck, they managed to execute a fair pass and review in front of Colonel Lowell, his aides, and Governor Andrews and his assistants. All in all a good morning for B Company and the state of Massachusetts.

The California One Hundred, as they called themselves with a fair amount of hubris, were a motley bunch. Yet there was something splendid about them, too. A few looked to be shop owners or clerks in bowler hats and vests. But some were dressed colorfully in cotton shirts and leather. As a one, they seemed to be liquid, bending to slouch against a wall here, a ledge there, lips curled into a sneer. If their demeanor was anything to go by, the war was already won.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a Lancer among them.

#-#-#-#-#

The chestnut gelding was not the most handsome of the lot by far, but Scott saw potential in the big horse with the rippling muscles and intelligent face. He nodded his approval to the stable boy.

“I knew a horse once, called Old Dick, which was—as God is my witness—the orneriest piece of horseflesh in the whole country. Also possibly the slowest.”

The soldier had come up to the corral and leaned against its planking. He switched his half-eaten biscuit to his left hand and held out his right.

“Joshua Benteen, late of Sacramento, California.” A few bits flew out of his mouth, sprinkling the front of the man’s uniform.

“Scott Lancer, Boston.”

“Lancer, you say?”

“Is there a problem?”

“No, it’s just seems that I’ve heard the name before. It’s not the usual Jones or Smith.”

Benteen swallowed the rest of his biscuit and belched with the gusto of a six-year old boy.

“You’re with B Company, aren’t you?”

Scott nodded.

“You did a fair standing the other day in front of the higher-ups. Word is they’ll keep our bunch together in A. I reckon there’d be a ruckus if they didn’t.” He looked around. “Good barn, can’t say a lot for the camp, though. It’s a mite long to walk.”   

A small city of tents and wooden shacks, a row of privies, a brick construction lined with water tanks, the bath house. A white cookhouse tent, still lit up at this time of the evening, well after the dinner hour, some of the men probably playing cards or writing home already. Perhaps both.

“With all of us staying here for training, we need the room.” Scott shrugged. “Long days and drill—“

“Lots of food,” Benteen said, and belched again.

“Clean beds.”

“More drill,” Benteen added to the litany.

“Regular pay,” Scott finished for them, and earned a hoot of laughter. At Army rates, no one was getting rich.  

“Pay or not, after almost a year on board that stinking ship, I’m ready for four legs under me and one of those fancy carbines beside me.”

“Ready for the fight, just like the rest of us.”

He turned and studied Scott. “Are you sure I haven’t met you somewhere before? Have you ever been to California?”

“I’m told I was born there, in Carterville, but I was raised in Boston.”

He looked at Scott and smiled, then glanced away. “Well, I guess that’s why.”

“Why what?”

“I thought you were too good a rider for an eastern boy, and now I know why: you’re a Californian. Anyway, about Old Dick. That horse…” Benteen slapped the corral post. “That’s it! There’s a man named Murdoch Lancer running a spread in the San Joaquin. Got some fine palomino’s in his stable from what I hear.”

“Does he now?”

“Is he some kin to you?”

“He’s my father.” The small moment of silence felt bleak.

“Then you already know about him.” Benteen grinned, showing even white teeth. “Just having me on?”

The thumping in his chest grew painful. “No, I wouldn’t know about him. I’ve never met the man.”

#-#-#-#-#

Harlan took a moment to collect himself and swallowed what was left of his anger, readying himself to meet Governor John Andrew. His letters, and there two, must have been mislaid or somehow stuck, for lack of a better word, in the machinations of the capitol building.

Andrew pulled the door open to Harlan's raised knuckle before he'd even rapped and his eyes narrowed, sweeping over him. A lawyer by trade, the governor was bull-sized both in body and personality. Not so much fat as sturdy with eyebrows arched up like he was in a constant state of surprise. As a staunch abolitionist who had fought and won a few of the better known cases in Boston, it probably served him well in the courtroom, but in an office setting the look was a bit alarming.

"Harlan Garrett!" He motioned to the chair just beyond the edge of the ornate desk.

They chatted on the usual cursory topics: weather and the burgeoning business in the downtown sector before Andrew struck right to the heart of the matter.

"Niceties aside, Harlan, why are you here?"

"My grandson feels he must serve the cause."

"An honorable conviction."

"Yes, but he could do it just as easily in Washington versus a dank, muddy field."

"Need I remind you that we all must do our part?" After a loaded minute, Governor Andrew sat back in his leather chair, hands clasped together in his lap. Harlan felt himself being studied as one would under a microscope. "I receive several entreaties about the war every day for sons and yes, grandsons, and fathers and brothers, too." He pointed to a pile of letters and envelopes sitting on his desk. "I haven't come across yours, however. That being said, I did some investigative work, or rather my secretary did."

At Harlan's look he continued, "It was simple enough to figure out. You've made your feelings quite well known in certain circles. Regardless, I have something for you. Colonel Lowell says Scott is coming along quite nicely and he feels they have made the correct choice for the regiment."

"John, this is ridiculous. If you can't help, the new enrollment act states that I can buy the boy out." The stark anger in the governor's face gave him pause.

"Any more talk like that, and I'll start to think you're not loyal to the Union, Harlan. I would be wrong in that thinking, yes? Because I've heard an altogether different type of talk surrounding Garrett Enterprises and certain textile mills that is most disappointing, if it were to be indeed true."

Harlan was unsure of his footing now—it wasn't a feeling he was used to having.

"Besides," Andrew's eyes softened and his voice was butter-smooth. "It's a bit too late. Scott and a few of his brethren are already on their way to Vicksburg as escort."

 

Chapter Three

The best thing about Mississippi was that when you went at it from an easterly direction, it took no time at all to get through. That was, until they encountered a pair of steep bluffs, where the rolling hills became bayous and blasts of warm wind combined with rain-sodden clouds to dump buckets of wet all along the river valley.

The mosquitoes were the size of dragonflies and they had always liked Scott, a strange affliction going back as far as he could remember. They seemed to prefer Captain Miles as well, for he lit a cigar, adding a toxic delight to the foggy ambiance.

Sweat dripped from Scott's nose and he wiped his face on his shoulder. Both his hands were encased in thick leather gloves, sometimes the telegraph wires would catch and cut if he wasn't careful. Miles nodded approvingly from his horse, examining the company's workmanship the same way Scott's professor would participate in debate—encouraging and non-interfering. Letting them do the work at hand. And this was quick work, but uprooting the railroad tracks earlier in the week had taken much longer and delayed them from catching up with the brigade.

Not that they were worried.

Companies B, C and D of the 2nd Cavalry formed an ad hoc battalion, and had been, as Captain Miles explained, 'lent' to the infantry as part of the large mass of men marching their way to Vicksburg. The 83rd Ohio Volunteers, especially, seemed disgruntled. Their first meeting wasn’t auspicious:

Corporal Lewis guzzled water from his canteen in a way that made it drip from his beard. "Lieutenant Cassidy, you ever see a dead cavalryman?"

"No, I can't say that I have, Corporal."

"Now I wonder why that is."

Cassidy grinned back, his smile wolfish. "Perhaps it’s because they're just so…hard to catch."

Their tune changed in a mere fortnight after Scott and his men, while on scouting patrol, created a screen then routed a small band of Confederates, allowing the 83rd to escape without harm.

Scott smiled. That day had been a feather in their cap and victory was felt throughout the company. A source of pride. Why if all the Rebels were this easy they would be back home in no time. But something niggled at the back of his mind and an involuntary shiver ran up his spine.

He finished quickly and took off the leather gloves, shoving them into his saddlebags.

#-#-#-#-#

Dan Cassidy stood stiffly, buttoned his shirt-even the top button-and pushed his shirttail tightly into his pants making sure all the wrinkles were smoothed out before putting on his coat.

"Like it or not, you're part of the 83rd for the time being," Dan said, and jostled Scott's arm like a brother with a story to tell. "It's time to get our picture taken."

It surprised him to find a photographer setting up his chemicals and cameras in the woods, although he'd seen a few photographs of Brady's and understood that he and his associates went wherever the war was occurring. The 83rd Ohio and the 2nd Massachusetts had coalesced into something just short of family. They lined up, some sitting, some standing, some with pistols or saber points thrust forward in a show of bravado. 

"You cavalry boys came through in a pinch," Cassidy said afterwards, and that seemed as close to 'thanks for saving me and my men' as he was going to get, but Dan wasn't looking at Scott anymore, he was rummaging through some papers. He came out of his tent with a tattered map and spread it across a small barrel.

Scott took off his jacket and looked down at his own sweat-dampened shirt. Although tucked, it was more of an afterthought than direct intention.

"Been around some, those men." Cassidy jerked his thumb towards a small group standing around a campfire. Corporal Lewis was among them, hat tilted loosely over his eyes. Scott kept his silence, wondering if Dan would eventually circle back to the original question, the one before the photograph was taken.

Sure enough, "As for myself, I've been in a few dust ups since leaving Cincinnati." He shrugged. "We all will soon enough, if Grant ever gets off the pisser."

Cassidy fetched his tobacco and rolled it with fingers so deft that Scott was mesmerized by the mechanics of lighting the damp smoke without setting his hands on fire. Once lit there was almost no difference between the muddy brown paper and the sepia-tinged fingertips.

He was given a tin cup of what turned out to be real coffee—a luxurious delight made with ground beans, not chicory—before settling by their own campfire. Cassidy had a boyish glimmer of sheer delight at the whole situation. The confiscated beans in general, the war in particular.

"We're going to squeeze them, Scott, here and here." He stabbed at several points on the map. And that started them off about commanders and time lines, and the weather.

"There's been word of cannon fire, to the south already." Scott had heard a faint rumbling himself, not more than a day ago. But artillery fire played tricks with the ears over a long distance. Maybe it had been his imagination after all.

Cassidy nodded. "Grant's like a dog worrying a bone. He won't let go now."

Scott kept his stare to the campfire with the enlisted men. Some of his own had joined them.

"The Johnnies will gather up every man—everything—they can and match us. Whatever and whoever." A sudden flash of teeth. "Mark my words, boy, they'll come out of the woodwork for the fight. But we're ready, we'll lick the Rebels and give them their medicine!"

Some kind of force drove Dan, one that Scott couldn't—didn’t—want to find within himself. They had the commonality of wanting to see the Union succeed, but Dan condemned the Confederacy and its constituents. Appeared almost fixated on retaliation. 

He tamped down a bit of unease at Cassidy's enthusiasm and pushed his thoughts ahead to the battle that would eventually come. His first. They were in Mississippi, home to the rebels. It was said that those who fought, fought the hardest on home ground.

Across the camp came the sound of a festive song being played out on a harmonica, accompanied by a low buzz of laughter from the ring of soldiers around the fire. He watched them until the fire burned down to red embers and the men peeled off one by one to their tents.

Roll call was at four the next morning, exactly one hour before the infantry's reveille. It wasn't some pique of the Army. They had horses to feed, groom and saddle. Captain Miles and he had split the company into platoons and each saw to their own group of fifty men. Aided and abetted by Sergeant Baker, Scott made sure the men's tents were struck, rations received and canteens filled. At times he felt more like a nanny telling errant children what to do, only most of these 'children' were older than himself.

They all had roles to fill.

He also had to ready his own horse. The strapping chestnut was christened Mortimer by the stable boy at Camp Meigs. An unusual name for an unusual horse. Homely-looking, he stood sixteen hands tall, had an all-day trot and a flair for the dramatic. Scott was his only rider who hadn't been tossed—and it wasn't for lack of trying. They had come to some sort of détente halfway to Mississippi and Mortimer had settled for merely chewing Scott's shoulder board when given the opportunity.

The day was already hot and humid from the past evening's bout of rain. Like a long parade, they assembled into standard marching order: one column, four abreast. The men of the 83rd soon dropped into route step, walking as they pleased and carrying their rifles as they liked while the cavalry was assigned to ride at the sides, front and rear.

Until today, Scott's military life had been filled with the rhythm of patrol and details. Of cutting telegraph wires—and if pressed, certain members of his company would relate he had a real talent for that—and uprooting railroad tracks. A few shots fired here and there, but generally a safe, albeit strenuous, activity.

Not so today. The brigade halted and its soldiers filtered into vacant hideaways in the trees, out of the mud, shedding drizzle.

Thunder came from the left and straight ahead. At odds with the weather, because this thunder was something not found in nature. The battle was less than a half mile away. Scott was nervous, now that it came to it, tasting bile despite the lack of contents in his stomach. Not a few hundred yards behind him, was a sea of green forest pock-marked by glints of blue and silver.

He could feel the strain of the soldiers around him: John Baker, barrel-chested in his non-regulation jacket—the one his wife sent to keep him warm in northern climes and still wore for sentimental reasons, skinny Jake Anderson with his Private stripes sewn askew on his sleeve, Mad Dog McKenzie so named because he could bark like a schnauzer awaiting dinner. Red haired and freckled, Rufus Tucker was formerly a postal clerk and the tallest among them. Rob Gray, fresh from the sophomore class at Harvard, and standing five feet six inches on a windy day, was the shortest. Michael Latto had five children, all girls, and was the oldest at twenty-four. They were business associates, new-friends and neighbors from home. He couldn't help but wonder: Who would be wounded? Who would fall?

"To your commands!" came the order.

Above a pearl-like settling fog, Scott watched the cavalry skirmish line advance. Riding in the interval between his company and the next, he saw the ranks become ragged as the men spread out, covering almost a quarter mile. Speed and shock, that's what they were being used for today.

Cannon was ahead, black muzzles gaping, and he felt a surge of excitement.

Scott could smell smoke. A thick haze passed overhead adding to the fog already on the ground. Were the rebels trying to burn them out?

There was chatter, murmurs, yells, and outright praying in the ranks as they descended into the smoke.

Captain Miles sat back in his saddle for moment, eyes closed. More murmurs, and Scott could guess what he was asking.

"Ready, Lieutenant? God is with the Union!" Miles' voice was soft, edges blurred with his prayers. Yet an undercurrent of something akin to acceptance moved in his words, and Scott wasn't surprised.

As they moved forward, the dirt beneath Mortimer's hooves quivered as a thousand infantry footfalls sounded at his back. The horse shied, then eased again.

Confederate artillery opened up, coming in waves. He coughed through the smoke, felt his eyes burn. Flashes of fire came from the right, along with terrifying shrieks. They were odd sounds, wails, like a ghost, high and thin. The Rebel yell. 

The fight exploded right in front of him. Men were coming towards him, shouting. He strained to hear but the roar of the cannons swept their voices away.

Just a horse length ahead, Captain Miles seemed to freeze in place, staring out. He cocked his head as if listening for something. Then blossomed into a cloud of red as whining canister struck him down. Blood and other bits sprayed backwards across Scott's face, arm and chest. The damaged and bewildered horse kicked out, trying to get to its feet. After a moment that stopped as well.

Scott couldn't move, and he couldn't breathe, caught in world that was speeding by too fast—yet didn't go anywhere. He was alone, a spectator in some Roman arena, waiting for the lions. All that was holding him together was a sense of connection to the dancing horse underneath him. He heard a scream, and had no idea who made such a god-awful sound, but it sounded like his own voice.

Yanking his horse around, he put spurs to his horses' sides and galloped away.

A fiery glow erupted through the blanket of trees in front of him.

A blur, just a blur of movement, jumped towards him from the fire, coming to a stop only a few feet away. A rabbit sat on its haunches, attention fastened to the battlefield.

It wasn't logical.

He held out his hand, stained with drops of Miles' blood and curled it into a fist, squeezing with all his might. Despite every excuse he'd offered himself, he gritted his teeth and looked back to where the captain had been.

God is with the Union.

Something released inside of him. His presence of mind—his purpose—flooded back into place, renewed and clear. He kicked his horse towards the heart of battle.

The field had changed in an instant. The cannon were intermittent now, elevating other sounds: the thump and smack of fists, cracking of bone, the hoof beats and whinnies of excited horses.

He saw a flash of grey in his periphery, then something hit him square in the chest. The rebel who wielded his musket like a club caught him a second time in the ribs before he tumbled from Mortimer. He slammed hard against the ground, grazing his chin on a rock, air exploding from his lungs.

He blinked his eyes open and everything spun. Fetid, hot breath blew across his face, his shoulders pinned by a heavy weight. As the world continued spinning, a shot rang out, close enough to make his ears ring, and the weight fell away. He groaned, rolled over, and his elbow hit something hard—his pistol.

Another rebel—thin and bedraggled—came straight towards him, staring at him with icy hate as though they were the only ones on the battlefield. The man gave him a slow smile and held up an enormous knife. Scott grappled for his saber with raw panic. Realizing his folly, he brought his pistol to shoulder level and had a long paralyzing moment. Then he squeezed the trigger, sending the bullet through the soldier's forehead.

The man looked shocked as he fell.

For the very first time, he had fired with an intent to kill. He would remember the grey eyes in that dirty face for the rest of his life.

He drew a deep breath, but his lungs were scorched by cannon smoke. Hearing the retreat order, he found his mutilated voice and shouted. It came out a croak, but it was enough for one man to hear then another as the word was taken up down the line.

Their beautiful line had broken.

He found his feet and twisted around. Dan was a few yards away, struggling. Scott didn't say anything, just curled his arm around Cassidy's waist, hauling him upright and over Mortimer's heaving haunches.

Sheeted with sweat, he spurred to the trees and let his rider slide off. He stared at Cassidy and saw a mirror image of himself: terror, desolation, anger, rage.

"Are you all right?" Scott's voice was rough around the edges, winded.

Cassidy nodded. One moment, held. Then, "Good fighting, boy."

Incredulous, Scott shifted his gaze to the weaving mass of men in blue. What remained of the attack shredded before their very eyes. It had become a rout.

Major Corby appeared at Scott's side, calling out to the men to stay together as they retreated, to keep firing. "Lieutenant Lancer?" The Major's uniform was splattered with pinpoints of red like some terrible ink blotter.

"Sir?"

"You're in charge of B Company now."

Scott looked down at his own uniform, saw the blood and bits of white and grey across his shoulder sleeve and hand. Shame and nausea were twin bullets of his own making. He could barely keep the roiling in his stomach from spewing out. "Sir, I don't think…"

Corby interrupted. "You've been anointed in battle. Like it or not, you're a veteran." He searched for his words. "War is messy, it happens that way sometimes. This day isn't over, we'll get our turn to pay back the Rebels. Now, get those boys back to the trees."

Scott gathered his own men and horses together, made an accounting of the Captain's platoon. They'd not only lost Miles but Private Anderson as well.

"Did we accomplish anything, Lieutenant? Except losing our men?" asked Sergeant Baker.

It was a straight question and Scott was too shaky for it. But Baker's green gaze was on him, piercing. He had lost a commander and a camp-fire mate in the space of an hour.

"We'll find them," he answered. They would because the burials needed to be done properly. Scott would make sure of it.

"Listen to that," said Baker.

It was an eerie quiet, the cannons had stopped.

"You think the Johnnies are leaving?"

Scott thought about what he'd learned the past few months from Colonel Lowell and Captain Miles about tactics and strategy. He shook his head. "If they were leaving we'd be following them. I'd say they're re-grouping, like us."

He watched Major Corby descend from the clutch of higher ranking officers on a small rise. They'd been talking and from what Scott could see not all were in concurrence with what was being said, if the hand gestures meant anything.

He saw Dan standing with Jed Lewis and caught his eye. Lewis popped a grin and tipped his head towards the battlefield, making a slashing movement with his thumb across his throat.

Scott swallowed hard.

"Form your men!" Corby shouted. Reaching Company B and the 83rd he repeated his order and planted himself between the two regiments. The men arranged themselves in horseshoe fashion. "Take the companies out, wheel left at thirty-five paces and advance. Keep at it, don't quit. With any luck this skirmish will be over in a few more hours."

The cavalry was afoot now. While the greenest of their soldiers held the horses back behind the trees, Scott took his place, center front, of his one hundred men. He counted the 83rd's paces as they went past, like he used to do with the cobblestones outside the theater as a child waiting for his grandfather to finish talking with his companions. Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four. He gave the command, "Company B! Forward...march!

In the end, Corby was wrong. The battle raged for seventeen more hours.

#-#-#-#-#

They were digging graves and with every twitch of the shovel, crows lifted en masse, wings almost blocking out the sun. Scott felt himself pulling away with them, intentionally or not. They were pitching their shovels deep, too deep, but he didn't say anything. The intention was to not let anything dig up what was left of Captain Miles, or Private Anderson.

They laid the dead gently in their graves in the soft Mississippi ground on a May afternoon. McKenzie brought out a well-thumbed Bible and pushed it into his hand.

"You say the words, Lieutenant. It's only right."

He brushed the dirt from his hands and stepped up to the head of the graves. His voice seemed reed thin at first, but garnered strength as he read aloud the prayer.

When it was finished, the men—his men now—started back to camp. He stayed behind to think.

Something backed up in his throat. He’d run! The first true test of battle and his first inclination had been to ride as far away as possible. Guilt was as bitter as bile.

Before today, he had a sense from within that he could do anything. Had spent the better part of the last few years believing in the Union, and the abolishment of the appalling notion of slavery. Yet the ideals he’d stored away were shattered. In a span of hours with cannon shot and spent lives, he’d been tested. And failed. How could he command his soldiers?   

He closed his eyes and saw miles and miles of Boston-green, the house on Tremont Street, clean and incredibly quiet, and no men anywhere, no motion.

A flare of bugles sounded and he walked in the sunshine. By the time he reached the forested glen where the 83rd Ohio was mourning their own losses, he had almost missed muster.

Orders had come, they would be moving out.

 

~end~
4/1/16

 

Notes:

--I have Scott joining the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry as a second lieutenant, when he turned 18. The president asked the state to ‘member up’ a regiment and Governor Andrew did so accordingly. It’s true that company grade officers, like Scott, were men chosen because of their place in society, reputation, etc. Field grade officers (Major and above) were appointed by the state and/or Federal. Oftentimes, there would be a regular Army officer attached for training and/or command purposes. Volunteer troops heavily outweighed the regular Army.  

--There are several 83rd units in the Civil War, but all are infantry. So I kept Dan Cassidy in the 83rd and Scott in the 2nd. According to ‘The Escape’ episode: “There's a special picture of the Company, the way the 83rd looked before it all started…” Cavalry units often did escort duty, so the 83rd and the 2nd were matched up. It coincided that a picture was taken ;-).

--There really is a California 100 (plus) that joined the 2nd Massachusetts. It took them a year to sail aboard the Ocean Queen to get to Boston. After the first venture was successful, more arrived.

--The average age on admission to the university during the 1860’s was 16. Students did drill in the Harvard courtyard during the war, much like ROTC students today. Their instructor was French. Leftover ordinance from the Revolutionary War really was stored on Chauncey Street and was thought to be of benefit if indeed the Confederates managed to get to the city.     

To Timestamp: Silver and Gold --->
To Timestamp: Oaths --->

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