Summary: Scott’s shares his war memories with Johnny & Murdoch; together they take a much needed journey to help Scott find closure.
This is a Memorial Day tribute to all the men & women who have served their country with honor and bravery no matter when or for what the cause.
A-ten-shun! Salute the Colors! Fly the Stars & Stripes Proudly! And thank a veteran or soldier for their service to the good ol’ U.S. of A.
With much appreciation and gratitude to Kris for her friendship and beta, a truer Scott girl I have never known…her insight as a research librarian…impeccable and her suggestions…spot-on.
Warnings: Light cussing, a small adult scene and a possible hankie alert, hey it got to me and everyone knows that I’m a Johnny girl.
Usual Disclaimers Apply
Word count: 24,767
“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.” – – – William Gladstone
It was shaping up to be a warm glorious day that had Johnny up and almost out of his rumpled bed; the sun’s rays were peaking over the mountain tops. Johnny yawned and stretched out his well-defined arms out, bending them at the elbows while he inhaled the fresh spring air, heavily laced with the scent of flowers. Maria had told him last night that it was the row of lilac bushes below his window that were now in full blossom making the house smell so sweet, inside and out. She saw to that after she had clipped sprigs of the purple, pink and white flowers in vases scattered throughout the hacienda.
Johnny grinned as he realized how lucky he was to have journeyed north “outta Mexico to Lancer”, the only childhood home he knew, but didn’t remember. “There’s enough food ta eat, the best horse in the world ta ride and my family. Family. Never could have guessed my life would have changed so much in a year. Seein’ as how my prospects of makin’ it ta another day weren’t good, everyday is a bonus. I’m one lucky son of a gun.”
He jumped naked from the bed to perform his morning ablutions by tossing cool water from the pitcher across his face, running a razor across the tracings of facial hair that were barely noticeable. Next he slipped on his silver studded leather calzoneras and his blue flowered shirt, leaving the silver concho belt unbuckled, his shirttails out, he searched for his boots, one rested alongside the tall dresser, the under at the base of his bed. He flung open his door and stepped into the cool darkness of the hallway.
Scott’s door was still shut, which to Johnny was an open invitation to push it open without knocking, to see what reaction he would get from his big brother — their little game, now that T’eresa was tucked away back East at some girls’ finishing school. He grinned with the knowledge that he could walk around naked as a jay bird without worries…except for Mamacita, who wouldn’t come upstairs until all the Lancer men were downstairs unless one was stuck in bed.
He whistled happily at the start of the new day as he dropped his boots down to the floor in a loud clacker, this was about the best Johnny would do to give Scott an early warning that he was busting in on him. Johnny pushed open the door, looked to the bed for his brother’s long frame. The bed was already made: neat, blanket straight, not a crease or wrinkle to be seen.
“Damn if he ain’t something else.”
Johnny saw that the door of Scott’s breakfront was opening, shielding Scott from his view, just the telltale long legs gave away his location.
“Strange, he ain’t bitched, “Doesn’t anybody bother ta knock around here.” Least not yet.”
A little bit louder, “Scott?”
“Ain’t like him.” Johnny stepped all the way into the room to poke his head around the breakfront’s door. He stopped in mid action from slapping his brother on the back when he saw that Scott was staring at his old war picture. “The one where he looked too friggin’ young ta be playin’ tin solider, him and that General, old what’s his name.”
Johnny looked on as Scott stared at the picture, completely unaware that Johnny was standing next to him. Johnny finished tucking in his shirt and buckled his belt, wondered if he should sneak out of the room and leave Scott alone. But the look on Scott’s face was so…troubled and sad. Johnny knew that look better than anyone, seeing as how his mother would get that look on her face…often. “It meant they were packin’ up and movin’ on ta the next border town.” He decided to take the bull by the horns “‘cos there was no way in hell, he was gonna let his brother pack up and leave, not now.”
Giving Scott a brotherly nudge he got Scott to pry his eyes away from the photo to look at him.
“Johnny! What are you doing here? I didn’t hear you knock, brother.” Scott hurriedly put the photo face down on top of the breakfront.
“Well, I didn’t knock, ya know I don’t. Hey, ya okay Boston? Ya seem ta be somewhere else but not here.”
Johnny gave Scott a funny look, “I said ya okay?”
“Ya sure don’t look it ta me. Ya ain’t sick are ya? Ya know that Maria and that pain in the ass T’eresa will be on ya like a hound dog sniffin’ out a rabbit in it’s hole?”
Scott tensed, looked at his brother, “I said I’m fine. Just leave it at that, will you?”
Johnny locked his clear blue eyes on Scott, whose eyes were never more steel blue than right at this minute, two obstinate Lancer men staring at each other to see who would blink first.
“No, Scott, I won’t leave it. Ya wouldn’t in my boots. Don’t ask me ta.”
The tiniest trace of a slight smile appeared momentarily on Scott’s lips as he broke the stare, looked down at the startlingly white socks on his brother’s feet, “You’re not wearing any boots, brother.”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t matter none, ya get my drift. What’s eating ya? That picture?”
“Johnny, I don’t want to talk about this. If you don’t mind, please leave.” Scott’s eyes now pleaded for him to back off.
“Scott, come on, ain’t this where I talk until ya feel better? Or ya talk? Or I figure out what the hell is wrong?”
“NO!” he said, not budging from his stance.
“Johnny, I don’t know if I can explain.”
“Try. Ain’t ya the one always makin’ me talk or listen ta reason when I don’t want ta? Well ain’t ya? Now, it’s my turn, ya might as well start ‘cos I ain’t goin’ away.”
Scott saw that there would be not a moment’s peace now that Johnny knew something was afoot. He looked exasperatedly at his sibling before he retrieved the framed photo of him in his Lieutenant’s Army of the Union uniform, standing so tall and solemn alongside his commanding officer, Major General Philip Henry Sheridan. He had been so young, so very young going off to war to escape his grandfather’s grand plans for his future.
“I see you’re not going to give in, make yourself comfortable,” he waved towards his bed.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Johnny said as he flopped down, wrinkling the top cover from his shifting to get comfortable. “Go ahead.”
“When the War Between the States started in April, 1861, I was sixteen years old, in school and far from the excitement of going into battle defending our country from the rebel forces seeking to secede from the Union. However, I recalled the after dinner conversations Grandfather had with his business associates, always discussing the rhyme and reasons the Southern states had such ill-conceived notions to break-up the Union.”
“Something ta do with havin’ slaves, right?”
“Principally, slavery was one of those necessary evils, or so we were lead to believe by southern states, in need of people to manage the fields and crops. There were many cruel plantation owners who abused their slaves and for the most part considered them to be property, with less monetary value than their tobacco and cotton crops.”
“Sounds like how the Rurales treated the Mexican villagers.”
“Very much so, Johnny. Throughout history, there has always that been brand of individuals, filled with malice, lured by the lust for power, anxious to take advantage of those weaker, passive souls not able to defend themselves. But here, I feel a bit like I’m preaching to the choir, brother.”
“Only a little. Go on with your story, Scott.”
“Thereto a majority of the individual states, southern states, felt that it was their right to establish their own state laws without the federal government interfering. However, the last time I checked, our one flag for these United States has thirty-seven stars prominently displayed, one for each state united for one country. No one state should be able to separate from the country because of disagreements.”
“During July 1-3, 1863 there was a horrifying battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Each day the news grew direr at the staggering death toll for both sides, escalating into the thousands, with well over thirty thousand men wounded. It was President’s Lincoln Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, during the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery at that once sleepy little town, which struck a chord for me. I read his succinct speech until the newsprint rubbed off on my fingers. It was that speech that motivated me to enlist. Not for the glory of whipping the rebels, but for the sanctity of one country and one flag, where all men are created equal.”
Scott looked across the room, transfixed, his gaze upon the swinging pendulum in the grandfather’s clock began to recite from memory; the words flowed from his smooth voice:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
“With this speech, President Lincoln, invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and redefined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as a new birth of freedom to bring equality to all citizens, and created a unified nation in which states’ rights were no longer dominant.
“No longer could I enjoy the life of comfort while others suffered their indignities. The stories of the atrocious handling of humans sold as slaves to do their owner’s bidding were deplorable. People were whipped for any discovered escape attempts North on the Underground Railroad, or tracked down as bloodhounds nipped at their heels to be returned at gunpoint, some were hanged as examples to other slaves what treatment to expect if they ran off. Women were raped to pleasure their “masters”, their children sold to their highest bidder at public auction; it was irrelevant that families were ripped apart.”
“I could no longer idly ignore what had occurred and wasn’t stopping, it just wasn’t right. As President Lincoln said it was about principles, for me it became a defining moment, where the boy turned into a man, motivated to make a difference. What was it that Warburton said that gripped you, brother?”
“A man without principles dies without principles,” Johnny murmured as he sat transfixed on the bed listening to Scott. Neither he nor Scott noticed that Murdoch stood in the doorway. Scott rubbed at his eyes, paused to collect his thoughts.
“Well that was precisely how I felt.”
“Scott,” Murdoch said gently. “If this is too agonizing to speak about…”
“Murdoch, I didn’t hear you.”
“He’s a sneaky one, Scott,” Johnny said in an attempt to lighten the mood that was intense in the room.
Suddenly the day didn’t seem quite as bright as it was only moments before, as Scott’s memories invoked thoughts of Johnny’s own demons that nipped at his heels, like some old bloodhound, if he didn’t fight them back.
“He’s like a big ol’ polecat, tip-toein’ around here, like he owns the place. Ya remember the ol’ man caught us comin’ home late once by sneakin’ around. Ain’t right anyone as big as he is ta not make a sound…just not right.”
Murdoch chuckled as he realized the change of tone that Johnny had diverted them towards, “Johnny, I do own the place. And only once? You really aren’t good with doing your sums, are you lad? Has to have been more than a dozen time this since the beginning of this year alone. But boys, I always know when you drag in late, three sheets to the wind. As the ramrod around here I need to make sure you both manage to make it to your beds for some shut-eye, so you can pull your own weight around here.”
“Always?” queried Scott, mentally calculating how many times it had been, Murdoch wasn’t far off in his estimate.
“You betcha, always,” Murdoch nodded affirmative.
Johnny looked down to thwart his grin from displaying, “Know what this means Scott, next time we’re runnin’ late we stay put, so the ol’ man can get his beauty sleep. More time at the Painted Lady for us is okay by me.”
“Harrumph. “Ol’ man,” indeed. Some respect for your elders, boy, would be appreciated. I came up to let you know that daylight is burning and so will breakfast per Maria if you two don’t come downstairs. Now.”
Scott smiled his appreciation at Murdoch for his timely appearance and for lightening the mood that was too sober for the start of a brand new day. This conversation was better saved for after the sun went down and drinks were in hand to steady jagged nerves, cut open by the discussion. Murdoch was right, it was agonizing to talk about it but perhaps now was as good a time as any to cauterize old wounds of another sort.
Johnny jumped from the bed and made a half-hearted attempt to smooth away the wrinkles by pulling and tugging on the covers, the final result was the top layer skewed down the side with more lumps on the top. He grinned at Scott, “can’t be helped, I tried.” He retrieved his boots from Murdoch who held them out for him. A firm stomp to adjust the feel signaled he was ready for breakfast.
Scott smirked at Johnny’s bed-making effort, knowing that Maria would adjust it later, just like she would make Johnny’s bed for him. She really did look after her “ninos”.
“Boston, I want ta hear the rest of your story. Tonight. Okay?”
Murdoch noticed that Scott was struggling with his private demons, “Son, I’ll like to hear more, but only if you want to share it.” He clasped his hand on Scott’s shoulder, giving him a comforting squeeze to convey that he was there for him. “Well, we better get downstairs before Maria comes after us with her damn spoon waving around, swatting at butts.”
“Whoopee! That’s something I’d pay ta see!” Johnny laughed. “Ya gettin’ your ass whacked by our little mamacita!”
“Harrumph! Save your money, boy.”
“So you were only seventeen when you enlisted?” said Murdoch as he poured drinks while his sons built the evening fire. His eyes pinched shut as he felt waves of guilt gush up, he choked back the lump that formed in his throat as he held tightly the decanter of his strongest whiskey, nothing else would suffice for this story he feared. He willed his hand to not shake as he tilted the amber liquor into the glasses.
“I was eighteen, sir.”
“You were motivated to enlist because of Lincoln’s Address?” asked Murdoch, pondering how young his son had been when he enlisted, too young to face the darkness of war.
“Yes, it was without question one of the greatest speeches written, in a few minutes he summarized the principles of what a democracy is or should be to all the citizens of this land. He also humbly paid homage to the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice with their life’s blood to uphold those principles.”
“Did Harlan know ya enlisted?”
Scott accepted his drink from Murdoch, tasted it before answering, “No, he would have done his best to stop me. I went down to the recruitment office on my birthday to enlist. Being from one of Boston’s “old money” families had some advantages as I was automatically commissioned in a Jr. Lieutenant. I was ordered to report to General’s Sheridan’s Cavalry Unit by January, 1864, along with a company of new recruits to lead. Grandfather was livid when I told him what I had done. He tried to undo it by paying a proxy to stand in my stead. I refused his offer which stunned him, as not many people got away with defying Harlan Garrett.”
“Well…well…well, kinda explains his sneaky methods he played trying ta get ya back ta Boston. He’s full of tricks.”
Did you receive any training, Scott?”
Scott looked at his father, “There was no time for that. New recruits were sent out almost as soon as they were outfitted, training was out in the field in the midst of action. We assembled to drill when we weren’t on the move or in battle, which was few and far between attacks. I was lucky as the majority of my company were of the same age, they didn’t mind following a tin-horn soldier as their leader.”
Scott shifted his position on the couch, “My photo was taken out in the field, as soon as I arrived at the base camp by one of the photographers who followed the battles to take photos for the newspapers. Photos were taken of the new recruits for later identification purposes if necessary. It was the policy for any new arriving officers to have their likeness with their commanding officer if he was available. If you were lucky enough to survive, you would have sometime to remember him. It’s not likely that I’ll ever forget “Little Phil” as he was called, only five foot five but he had a brilliant military mind. He broke through lines leading wild charges that stunned even the opposition, driving the rebels further and further south away from the northern supply lines that had been raided.”
Johnny listened carefully to Scott without interrupting him, “Ya joined the fracas, without tellin’ Harlan? I guess he wasn’t any ta happy with that decision, brother.”
“He was livid, the tone of his letters when they reached me were filled with desperate pleads, accusing me of deserting him, being a fool to go fight a war that wasn’t any of my business. We had nothing to gain or lose over the final outcome of the war. Only incensed me more that he didn’t want to comprehend the fundamentals of “united we stand, divided we fall” unless it was for him and his firm.
“Now that sounds like Harlan.”
“After all, we had parted company for the first time, angry with each other. When I wrote back, I tried to infuse in him why I felt so passionate about what and why I was serving. It was for love of my country and its flag, as well as for what President Lincoln had said. But it wasn’t easy, with each battle I witnessed my comrades who I had shared rations and exchange stories, die to keep this country united. Many left pieces of themselves on the bloodied battlefields or on a surgeon’s gory operating table. My eyes were opened by the brutality and devastation of what one man did against another, who in another time might have been a good friend. Land was stripped barren as the earth suffered, too, from the daily tolls. God only knows how many families were divided by the war as brothers took up arms against brother.”
“But also I saw great acts of sacrifice and charity as men fought shoulder to shoulder for President Lincoln’s principles that aligned with mine. It was like Mr. Dickens said in his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Murdoch in his deep, gravelly voice continued, “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
Murdoch and Scott grew quiet reflecting upon the irony of the words written about another place and another time while the fire crackled and hissed. Johnny thought about how much of what his brother and Murdoch said fit his own life, similar to Scott but oh so different. He wondered if that was what they meant when they spoke about irony. He’d check with Scott later.
Scott leaned back into the sofa, willing himself to be calm, steeling himself for revealing more. Johnny topped off his glass with a stiff double pour, motioning for Scott to take a drink, which he did. Johnny poured another smaller measure into his glass and sat back down alongside his brother after Murdoch waved him off for any more for himself.
Scott rolled the sparkling crystal tumbler between the palms of his long hands, marveled at the shards of light that bounced off the finely cut facets as the light from the fireplace and warm lamp light caught the reflections. He closed his eyes as he again looked backwards into his life.
“There is absolutely nothing glorious about deliberating pointing and firing a red-hot smoking pistol at men charged towards you, clicking it until it was empty reverting to slashing and plunging your saber into another man, who is hell bent determined to do you bodily harm. The sounds of war raged, men screamed, some choked as their life blood gushed from their body, others begged for help or for a drink of water to relieve the dryness in their throats as they departed this world. I couldn’t tell you if the battle was worse than the aftermath, when the dead and wounded were carried from the battlefield. My nightmares are filled with the images of the blank look in the eyes of men at the moment of their death, some mouths were frozen in mortal screams, blood and guts changed the color of the earth.”
“It was kill or be killed, you did it to survive, there were no options. I fought for the love of my country. I pray to God to never again need to do so, or watch anyone I love go off to war. War brings out the worst in mankind. Principles tossed to the wayside as each day was a struggle to make it another day, to another battle, to watch as more of your men were cut down. I did things that I could not have imagined doing, back in the safe harbor of Boston, which was a different world, filled with sugar-coated pleasantries, oblivious to the on-going pain and suffering taking place far, far away.”
Murdoch cleared the lump in the back of his throat. Johnny looked on, his ghosts leaving him alone for the time being as he placed his hand on Scott’s shoulder. He had no words to offer, only the comfort of a touch.
Scott closed his eyes as he continued, “I was nothing but a scared young man leading other frighten men, young and old alike into the belly of purgatory. Cannon balls exploded to my right…my left…in front of the charges I directed…whistled high over our heads before falling to the earth, ravaging the land. I expected to be hit by one of them or cut down by the hundreds of minie balls that ripped the flesh and bone of those nearby. Screams of agony, blood saturated the ground, the smell of gun powder, the booming of cannons, metal upon metal clinking, flashes of gun volleys, horses’ hoofs ringing with urgency as orders were shouted, while in the distance you could hear the bands playing on, it was surreal as reality was wrapped in chaos.”
“So many men who I shared rations with would never return to the homes, never to smile upon their kinsman or know the simple pleasures of holding a pretty girl against their chests, arms wrapped tight around her softness, drinking in the smells of roses, lavender or lemon of her essence. It was not what any of us had bargained for when we bravely and idealistically marched off to war. But we did our duty, as it was paramount; we fought, for our lives, for our country’s future and for our very souls.”
Scott paused to drain his glass, his eyes moist as he held back tears. He softly said, “Murdoch, I think this is enough for now. Do you think you can spare me for a week?”
Murdoch clearly affected by Scott’s experiences, cocked his head, not saying anything, letting his son say what he needed to in his own time.
But Johnny was less inclined to wait, asked, “What for, brother?”
“I saw an article in last week’s San Francisco Sentinel that The Grand Army of the Republic…”
“Ya ain’t plannin’ on signin’ up for another war are ya, Boston? Murdoch, we ain’t at war are we?” Johnny asked with trepidation in his voice, his eyes implored Murdoch to reassure him that Scott was not duty bound to head off to war.
“Settle down Johnny, peace prevails across the land,” Murdoch answered.
Scott’s smile was one of his quick uplifts to the corners of his mouth but his eyes were not smiling as he replied, “Johnny, The Grand Army of the Republic is a patriotic society of Union Army veterans, founded in 1866 to perpetuate the memory and assist needy Civil War veterans and their families. I joined the organization while in Boston after I was released from Libby Prison and had regained my fortitude after nearly starving to death in that atrocious, godforsaken hellhole.”
“Oh, like paying back a debt for services rendered?”
Murdoch quickly spoke, “Exactly like that Johnny. Tell me what you need, Scott.”
“I read that the Grand Post #9, GAR in Modesto is planning to honor Civil War veterans with a permanent memorial located in the Modesto Citizens’ Cemetery. I’d like to be there on Decoration Day when they show their respects to the interned soldiers who migrated west after the war. It’s important to me to honor those who served and offer my assistance to surviving soldiers in the area. I’ll be gone for a week or so.”
The three Lancers sat facing each other on the couches by the enormous fireplace. Johnny for once had remained still during Scott’s telling of his war experiences. He hadn’t spun the rowel on one of his spurs once, or tapped tunes that played in his head with his fingertips against the Waterford tumbler, and no wise quips had escaped from his lips during Scott’s narrative. At times the strife that Scott dredged to the surface was almost too hard for him to endure, as he folded his arms tightly over his chest, in his protective stance against troubles.
Murdoch wondered which one of his sons had fared worst for their not being raised on Lancer, sheltered from the carnage that had entered into their young lives. He felt extreme remorse at what had been while at the same moment he also felt blessed to now have his sons back home where they belonged. Hopefully he could in time erase their awful memories, replacing them with improved ones. He so wanted to make life better for them.
Murdoch’s lips were pursed while he mulled things over, “Scott, if you don’t mind I would like to go along with you on this journey.”
Scott smiled at his father, “I was hopeful you would.”
“Me too,” added Johnny softly. “I wanna be there.”
“I would be delighted to have you both along for the journey. You don’t think Ciprano and Maria will mind looking after the place?”
“No, of course not Scott, they have done it admirably before and I expect will do so in the future. Your brother and I see how meaningful this is to you. That makes it central to us as well. We’ll be there as a united family. I think it’s a tremendous way to pay respects to the local soldiers who served our country.”
Scott looked solemn before continuing, “Yes, I do too. I traveled to Washington D.C. for the first Decoration Day held at Arlington National Cemetery four years ago. In a strange quirk of fate, the land had belonged to Robert E. Lee, commander of the CSA. Lee married Mary Ann Randolph, the only daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, who was the adopted son of the father of our country, George Washington. She inherited the plantation in 1857 after her father had passed on. When the war started Lee was conflicted over which side was right. He had trained at West Point, where many of his fellow officers had taken their commissions with the Union forces, but he was a Virginian by birth and in the end joined the Confederacy. I don’t think he believed in their cause, it was more of his principles to remain loyal to his home state and their position.”
“Anyway, I digressed; the Union Army claimed the home as their headquarters in 1862 after Congress enacted legislation to collect property taxes, had mandated that property owners must pay in person on lands held by the Confederacy. Lee’s wife paid the $92.07 tax, but the government seized the property because Lee failed to deliver the tax himself. Arlington House, as it is called, is one of those large antebellum plantations, constructed in 1802 in a Classical Revival style, modeled after the Theseum in Athens, Greece, was placed high on a hill. It was unfathomable when I visited the home, from the front portico as far as the eye could see one had a bird’s eye view of the thousands and thousands of graves, Union and Confederate alike, together for eternity side by side in death. What a waste. As well as the graves of former slaves buried there.”
“Decoration Day was the idea of General John A. Logan who made a short speech, which was good since General James Garfield’s speech ran over an hour and an half before President Ulysses S. Grant interceded. Everyone was relieved that Grant put a stop to the talk and cheered wildly while a band played some stirring patriotic military marches. Then the crowd hushed when a solitary bugler sounded “Taps” the hauntingly emotional piece written by Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield that signaled “lights out”. I heard that tune played every night while on the campaign trail. The official c ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute. Afterward, the some 5,000 observers, including myself, adorned the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers entombed at the cemetery with flowers.”
Murdoch looked at his son, “Scott, I think this is an excellent tribute to emulate. Tomorrow why don’t you boys ride into Morro Coyo and make the travel arrangements for the stage coach. Unless you want to travel on horseback? I’ll talk to Cip and Maria. We should plan on leaving in two days to be there. Oh, and while you’re in town, send a wire to hold rooms for us at the Adams Hotel.”
“The stage is fine Murdoch, it’ll be easier on your back than overland in the saddle,” Scott said. “Thank you and you too, Johnny for wanting to join me. I appreciate it.”
“Son, you don’t have to thank me. This is what family does, be there for each other. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to do this.”
“Brother, ya know I’ll be there for ya.”
Scott smiled his gratitude while the men watched the fire dwindle down into nothing but smoldering ashes. Each lost in their own private thoughts before they bid the others good-night.
The stage ride to Modesto was a dusty affair, the rains had come and gone for the time being, so the fast-paced team of four horses pulled the swaying coach as it squeaked and rocked along the trail. It would be an all day ride as the coach had several designated stops to make, passengers getting on, some off, teams of horses changed out. With luck no wheels would need to be mended, no hold-ups to impede their progress and no other situation would crop up, like a damsel in distress or a rock slide that blocked the roadway or even an earthquake or cattle stampede to contend with, Murdoch was looking forward to a nice calm stage ride with no distractions.
The stage pulled to a stop in the town of Chico at noon, right on schedule. Murdoch alighted from the interior of the coach, straightened out his back, then stretched his muscles, twisted his back to the left, then to the right. Scott heard a slight groan as a bone cracked, looked over at his father, his face filled with concern.
“Sir? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine Scott. Don’t look so worried. Moving the old muscles trying to get some flexibility back into them is all. Why don’t you and Johnny get something to eat? If I know your brother, he’s hungry by now. Breakfast was hours ago.”
Johnny was busy helping an older woman down from the coach, “What about you Murdoch?”
“Me? No, I’m not hungry; I think a nice cold glass of water and a short walk to get the knots out suits me much better. You two go on ahead. I’ll be along directly.”
Johnny turned to Scott, “Well, you know me, I am hungry. Want to take turns and you can stay out here with the ol’ man?”
Scott watched as Murdoch navigated away from the coach, walked slowly at first as his blood returned to circulating through his upright frame. “If he says he’s not hungry, far be it from me to argue with the man. He’s a big boy and can take care of himself. Need I remind you about the time we followed him to Blessing?”
Johnny guffaw, “Yep, I do, he almost caught us checkin’ up on him.”
“You don’t still believe we fooled him, do you? He knew we witnessed him cleaning up the town. Let’s go eat. See if you can’t fill that huge hole in your belly.” Scott indicated his brother’s belly by lightly tapping his hand to it.
Johnny slung the crook of his arm around Scott’s neck, knocking his hat off in the process to rub the top his skull, “Yeah, Boston, let’s go eat.”
With a filled belly, Johnny drifted off to sleep in his corner of the stage, which the Lancers now had to themselves for the final leg of their travels. With his legs extended to the opposite passenger bench, he crossed his ankles, tipped his hat over his eyes, the perfect picture of relaxation at its best in a rolling coach. Within minutes the steady rocking motion lulled him sound asleep.
Murdoch sat next to him and marveled at Johnny’s ability to fall asleep just about anywhere. As a toddler he would run himself literally into the ground and he, Maria or someone else would find the young lad sleeping in the most unlikely places. An empty wagon bed, the loft (Murdoch never did figured out how he got up there and manage to not tumble off), in the outhouse when he figured out how to drop his messy nappies down the hole to make a resounding splash, which delighted the inquisitive boy to no end. He wanted to use the facilities like “a big boy, Johnny’s a big boy now, Papa, me wanna make mess in dark smelly hole, like you and Mama.”
He had gotten use to seeing Johnny’s little bare hindquarters streak through the Great Room, giggling with delight as Maria chased after him to get another nappie on him before he needed to urinate. Once he discovered that he had a pecker it was impossible to stop him from pulling it up to shoot a stream of the liquid gold at various targets, like Maria’s potted plants on the veranda or directly into the watering trough out front or even attempting to spell his name in the dirt before running out of steam. No amount of cajoling seemed to work other than a quick pop to his naked bottom. Murdoch’s hand print etched across the tender skin. Johnny’s eyes would water and he would holler like someone placed a red hot branding iron back there. Keeping Johnny corralled was a challenge but when he had exhausted himself, sleep came on hard and it came on fast.
Johnny’s sleeping spots could be anywhere, under tables, or his desk and a time or two even in his bed. This was the very last place anyone would check after he and Maria had frantically turned the ranch upside down looking for the scamp, calling out his name until they were hoarse. With big senses of relief they watched him sleep, looking angel from heaven, all tuckered out until he was ready to make their world less peaceful again. Murdoch wished for those times back, he wished he had had them with Scott.
Meanwhile Scott was lost in his thoughts with each passing turn of the coach’s wheels, drawing closer to Modesto, he thought about the men who had served with him. There were so many that had come and gone, falling at Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Yellow Tavern where Sheridan forces managed to kill Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, dealing them a majority lost in their leadership. The Battle at Haw’s Shop and the Battle of Cold Harbor, which ran for twelve long days. He would never forget this battle where he had been captured, taken prisoner by the Confederates when he and his company tried to outflank the retreating rebels. They had ridden into a well devised trap; men left behind positioned in treetops, in dense shrubbery, surprised him and his men, popping out and dropping down on them. They had no choice but to surrender or be shot. Scott choked on the order to drop their weapons. They were tied up like stuffed turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner after dismounting to walk for miles until they received the prison train that shipped them off to Libby Prison.
Scott had done everything in his power to mastermind an escape attempt after another plot to get as many men out of there as possible. It was his duty as an officer of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. His commanding officer would expect no less of this from the young man. As punishment, he stoically endured the hours he was forced to sit in the “hot box” or ride the thin rail beam where his legs dangled, both considered suitable punishment for officers to discourage others from trying. But typically one or two men were openly punished to stop the practice.
His abhorrence of his captors grew as the prison conditions worsened the longer the war dragged on. Most of the soldiers’ self respect had gone, hope and ambition gone, they were half clad and covered with vermin and filth, many men just gave up and died slow agonizing deaths baking in the hot Virginia sun, too weak to endure anymore, to sick of heart too care. Many of them were beyond what meager medical skills there were to treat injuries suffered on the battlefields, the doctors lacked clean bandages or medications to reduce pain. The food was dreadful, either a weak, flavorless watery soup, stale corn bread or rotting sweet potatoes, never a trace of meat. The diet caused diarrhea, dysentery and fever which made more soldiers’ succumb to death as a release, more times than not the only choice to relieve their horrible suffering.
Scott shut many a comrade’s eyes as he mumbled a short prayer over the man’s soul. It wasn’t really a prayer, as to Scott it seemed as if even God had deserted them, so he selected something Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of his favorite authors, had written:
“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.”
Emerson rarely had been at a loss for words and Scott, in another lifetime, had read everything he could find that the man had written. If truth be told, his narrations were more for the others nearby to hold onto a small shard of hope that soon this dreadful war would be over. Then they could return to civilization, home, families, their previous lives, a hot bath, a haircut, clean clothes and a soft bed, now mere memories to help pull his men through another day with a dream to hold onto.
Sometimes Scott recited lines from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Other than these few meager lines to recall traces of humanity, there wasn’t much more he could do, besides devised escape plans. His captors, exasperated with his repeated endeavors became crueler in their punishment of the young officer. He was shackled in the prison yard and lashed in front of the prisoners, left bound on display as an example to others. No one was allowed to aid him or give him water until he was released. Scott refused to let them break him; he depended upon setting an example to keep his men’s spirits and will to live high. He couldn’t keep track of how much he drew on his old friend, Emerson, to keep his mind alert and not on the pain being inflicted upon his back:
“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
No matter what trespasses his enemies did to him, Lieutenant Scott Lancer, never lacked the courage to accept his consequences valiantly. He might have doubted his ability to think clearly when the lash ripped against his skin but he never questioned his resolute to secure freedom for his men and himself at the first possible chance.
The final escape attempt was what had killed so many of his men. Twenty murdered in cold blood that night after twenty-one men crawled, inch by inch through the dark, dank tunnel, to clear the stockyard above their heads. Crawled another 500 yards past the heavily guarded fence to, if calculations were accurate, a cluster of nearby trees. The men were to scatter every which direction, to better elude capture by their enemy. However, one by one each man was captured as he scooted from the tunnel; hands tied behind their backs, lined up against the exterior wall of the camp, so close to freedom. All except Scott. This time the punishment was not directed at him but instead enacted upon his men. The enemy had decided since Scott kept leading escape attempts, his men would now make the ultimate sacrifice.
Scott watched in quiet anguish as each man’s life was snuffed out by a flash of gun powder and a volley from the firing squad. When he diverted his eyes to glare into the cold blank eyes of the officer in charge his head was jerked back, forced to watch the executions. He was the sole survivor, deliberately left behind as the rebels tried again to make an example of him to the remaining prisoners. He was punished in a manner so malicious for his role as the senior officer in charge of the stymied attempt. No wonder, from that night forth Scott Lancer would wake in a panic with the visions of his horrific nightmares, beads of sweat rolled down his face as he pictured the fear in the eyes of his men right before they were brutality murdered in his sleep.
After the war, shortly after he had arrived at Lancer, he became the scapegoat in the minds of former prisoners who swore revenge for one of the fallen soldiers. Lewis and Hardy had been wrongfully led to believe by former Lt. Dan Cassidy that Scott was the one to leak the plans to the enemy. He was not the guilty man. He would have cut out his tongue first before divulging any secrets to the rebels.
When the war was finally over, he traveled North with others jammed inside a box car in a convoy to an army hospital in Washington, D.C., where his grandfather came to see him. He was horrified and had grimaced at the frail frame of his Scotty. Scott was at least now clean of the filth, his fine blond hair neatly trimmed close to the skull to remove all the hair lice and mats, he needed to recuperate from the effects of bad hygiene, improper nutrition, and physical wounds that finally healed under the care and medical treatment of doctors who had ample supplies.
What they couldn’t treat was the hollowed look in Scott’s eyes or eradicate the memories he had of the terrors of the war. He steadfastly refused to mention to Harlan any of his experiences, vowing to take them to his own grave rather than bare his soul to the atrocities he witnessed. Gone was the carefree youth of yesteryear, Scott was now a somber, quiet man, who always looked like the weight of the world rested upon his thin, frail shoulders.
General Philip Sheridan came to visit the men, he bestowed medals for valor and duty upon the soldiers, pinned the small brass metals to their hospital gown, shook hands. He spoke to each man in low tones, some men despite the injuries or conditions made attempts to stand at attention but his firm hand rested upon shoulders to hold them in place. Scott never would forget the leadership or brass this “Little Phil” exhibited on the battlefields; he was honored to have served under such a heroic man. He had read that it was through his efforts that the war finally drew to a close from one newspaper account:
Sheridan’s aggressive and well-executed performance at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek on April 6 effectively sealed the fate of Lee’s army, capturing over 20% of his remaining men. President Lincoln sent Grant a telegram on April 7: “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.” At Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, Sheridan blocked Lee’s escape, forcing the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia later that day. Grant summed up Little Phil’s performance in these final days: “I believe General Sheridan has no superior as a general, either living or dead, and perhaps not an equal.”
He was tremendously proud to have ridden with the man, only wished he had been there at the end of the war not to celebrate the victory but to salute the man who was instrumental in finally ending the fracas that for far too long had scarred the country and had disgraced the flag when the battle lines had been drawn. He was sorry not to have been there for that. There had been no finer General than Philip Henry Sheridan, which was why he named his horse Sheridan in honor of the man.
When Scott was finally released from the hospital, Harlan insisted upon hiring a private railroad car to transport him and Scotty back to Boston. Still too weak to argue with the older man, Scott acquiesced to his care, which was nonstop. He remained calm with the smothering, hoping to appease his Grandfather that he was well enough to be on his own. Slowly he recovered in body, it was taking more time to return to the carefree young man he once was and Scott was not certain he would ever be him again. Harlan allowed his old friends to “drop by”, believing they would cheer him. He plied Scott with his old favorite delicacies, chocolate, fine wine and pretty brainless blonde women with tight corsets that pushed their more than ample breasts higher than gravity would have ever done.
The smell of chocolate now made him throw up, the fine wine made him drunk, but still did not end his nightmares of the war and the pretty brainless women bored him to drink more fine wine, even sipping wine from the hollows of their breasts while a diversion, did not give him any pleasure. It was becoming a vicious circle that seemed to not have any end in sight…
That was until he journeyed to the first Decoration Day, he had been drawn to go see others who shared his experiences. He wanted to know that he was not alone in his suffering and was surprised to see that it made him feel better just being with other soldiers who had served. This seemed to snap him out of his doldrums long enough to stop drinking to excess. But he didn’t have any motivation to join his grandfather’s accounting firm so he enrolled in Harvard to become maybe a lawyer or maybe a doctor. He figured he would make the decision once he got there.
Harvard turned out to be a good thing for the young man. He started to enjoy some semblance of his former life, surrounded himself with friends who hadn’t gone off to war. He started seeing pretty young girls who had pushy mothers and overprotective fathers. Several young ladies tried to capture Boston’s most eligible bachelor into marriage by trickery of placing themselves into inappropriate compromising situations. But Scott didn’t take any of them seriously, always had an escape route planned, lesson learned the hard way from the war. Then one pleasant spring evening, a night after the opera, a vacant house, a bottle of sparkling bubbly champagne drunk with a willing eager female temptress dying to spread open her charms…until Barbara’s father pounded on the boudoir door, as the two were locked in a passionate embrace with tongues eagerly explored, full heaving breasts pulsating to break free of the gown confining them. Scott heard the anguished pleas of Barbara’s mother to leave “well enough alone, she’ll be married to that very wealthy man before the month is over.” He gulped as the banging only got more persistent, demanding his attention to using his escape route.
Grabbing up his cloak, cane and the ultimate symbol of carnal lust, a tempting red apple, which he gleefully took a large bite out of it before discarding it, along with Barbara and her mother’s schemes Scott made for a quick exit out the balcony window. He nonchalantly almost walked straight into the arms of the hired Pinkerton Agent, sent by his father to locate him with the urgent request he come talk with him. The thousand dollars bribe was not what motivated Scott to travel west, nor the demands of Barbara’s father for him to wed the chit. Later the next afternoon Harlan more than adequately paid him off, after all, he had not removed so much as one layer of the girl’s petticoats to reveal any hidden treasures, just a few stolen kisses, a squeeze or two of offered ample breasts that did take his breath away but he hadn’t soiled the girl, she remained intact as far as far as he was concerned. Now whether or not she was indeed a virgin, well who was to say?
What intrigued Scott about his father’s offer was the possibility an adventure he would be sorry to have missed out on. Who knew, perhaps the west would give him something, whatever it was that was missing from his life. The more Scott thought about the offer, the more it made sense to him to go. Something was calling to him, compelling him to make the journey and the winds were blowing in with a westward force. Trusting his instincts, he made his travel plans to go at least meet the man who sired him, whose blood flowed through his veins. He wanted to see why now, why after all the years that had passed by without a word, no gift for his birthday or Christmas, no visits from him. What made this man tick? What would be his destiny in California? Would he discover why his father had ignored him? Would he even like the hardship the west seemed to have on many from newspaper accounts? What type of man was this Murdoch Lancer? How did he live?
Scott didn’t know the answers to his questions, but he was willing to take the chance. He was a sporting man, maybe now was time to toss caution to the winds, take a gamble on his future and see what would be. Harlan was for the second time in his life furious with his grandson. Even more enraged with Murdoch Lancer for stealing another person from his genteel world, to that dreadful place, thousands of miles away, that dust bowl filled with foreigners. He seemed to have conveniently forgotten that Scott was Murdoch’s son and not his.
And so it was that Scott traveled overland taking the train as far as he could, intrigued to view the ever changing vistas of the land from the rolling terrain in the east to the flatlands of the Midwest to the tall prairie grasses where buffalo indeed did roam to the rugged magnificent mountain ranges in the west with blazing shades of red and gold when the sun’s rays glided over them. He had been anxious to arrive and was disappointed when the rail lines ended.
Initially Scott had found that the Overland Stage Coach was slow and cumbersome, it steady pitching would lulled him to sleep. But this was the only way to navigate through mountain passages, and so he sat back to while the hours away in sleep or passages, when his teeth were chattering from the bumps or his sudden jolts as the coach drop into a wheel rut.. Soon however, his thick tome of Shakespeare’s works for the most part remained closed. His eyes fixated not on the Bard’s plays but on the sights nature displayed along the trail once outside of Denver.
Her wonders were fascinating revelations; he could not have painted the brilliant colors on prominent display in his mind’s eye from any of his books. This was a fresh new world that stole his breath away as the trails curved, rolled and twisted around and over mountain passes. Open ranges stretched mile upon mile with outlandish vivid flora in full bloom, snow capped mountaintops in the distance gave way to extraordinary tall cactus plants that spiraled high towards the heavens. The strange variety of animals compelled him to study the passing scenery despite the spray of dust swirling about his face. This land was healing him; he felt lightness in his heart, which had been missing for so long; his soul more at ease than it had been since the end of the war, the fresh crisp unpolluted air free from messy burning coal cleared his mind. It would be a logical assessment to conclude that the change in his environment was precisely what the young man had needed, far away from the hustle and bustle of Boston, the phony snobs of Beacon Hill, and his crusty, controlling, conniving grandfather.
Even the jovial cowboy who had stopped the stage short of Morro Coyo, his destination, was studied and cataloged in his iniquitous mind, similar to a science specimen under a microscope. Never before had Scott seen any man so colorfully garbed, with the exception of General George Armstrong Custer in his elaborate military uniforms he designed that is.
Scott securitized the flashy red shirt adorned with rows of butterflies on either side of the buttons, instead of being fastened to the top closure several buttons were left open to reveal a gold chain that hung low inside the fabric. Scott wondered how far down that chain reached and what was at the other end of the chain? There were silver studs that lined the leather trousers legs, from his narrow waist down to his boots. More silver shone on the back of the boots, spurs with stars that jangled and spun when he climbed inside the coach, landing on top of him as the transport lurched forward.
Then Scott noticed the three-strand beaded bracelet that was wrapped around his wrist, this reminded him of a few friends back east, Catholics, who counted on their Rosary beads during a church service he had attended. Well, at least the cowboy apologized with a crooked smirk as if it was hilarious falling upon him transferring dirty on his grey suit. Scott would give him credit that that his new traveling companion had some manners, before the cowboy drifted to sleep, snoring loudly to the other travelers chagrin.
It was a startling revelation to discover that this peacock was his brother at his journey’s end! Correction, make that half-brother…his father sure had some explaining to do to satisfy his curiosity. He got the impression that Johnny had not enjoyed the pleasure of knowing their father either to this point. “What type of person was Murdoch Lancer? Did he plow his seeds here and there like some errant farmer on a three-day drunk, who had staggered behind his plow team, to drop seeds in some misaligned pattern? And were there others before or after him waiting back at his ranch?”
Now here he was one year later, with a father, a brother, and adapted to his new life and the completing allure of land ownership. “Off on a journey to seek what? Closure or atonement for his failures during the war?” He knew he owed his company of men something; maybe his payment would come by his heart-felt show of respect with the Decoration Day tribute to other men who had served their country with honor and glory. After all they did share a collective bond through the brotherhood of service to their country. There too perhaps similar bleak existences like he had experienced during his time at Libby Prison might be another common bond. He was curious to learn if they had any lingering affects?
Scott became aware that Murdoch’s eyes were pondering him. With a nod of his head towards his father Scott opened his forgotten book as his thoughts finally ceased jumbling around his head.
Murdoch didn’t miss much, hell he didn’t miss anything at all, “Scott, anytime you need to talk I’m here for you, son. We’ve missed so much already in life. I want to try and make it up to you and your brother.”
Smiling, Scott closed the forgotten book, “Thanks, Murdoch. We can talk later. Right now I’m still sorting out my thoughts. But I did think back to my first stagecoach ride and how everything was so foreign to my world in Boston. I had been adrift at sea for months and seeing this country for the first time, well I felt like I was finally coming home, I guess.”
“When the time is right, talk to me. Okay son?” Murdoch asked, placing his bear paw sized hand on Scott’s kneecap. “I have been told that I’m a good listener. I can’t express how much it means to me to have you come home and your brother.”
“Yes sir, when the time is right we’ll talk.”
Johnny excelled at playing possum when he wanted too had the hearing of a hawk, under the brim of his hat said, “Seems ta me someone once told me, no time like the present, Boston. Why don’t ya shoot? Get it off ya chest?”
“Johnny! How long have you been pretending to be asleep?” asked Murdoch pulled his hat away from his son’s face. “Eavesdropping on our conversation, that’s bad manners, son, you should always make your presence known.”
Johnny chuckled, “Not long, but ya know me, and hell, I’m sittin’ right here, not like ya didn’t know that…unless ya need ta get some of those spectacles, like Val keeps hidden away, ta help ya see ol’ man.”
“Yes, I know you and your sleeping habits. You were a handful when you were a toddler, only then I could get away with popping you soundly on your rear end to get your attention. Made you mind your manners. It’s too damn bad kids grow up.”
“Yeah, well will ya let mamacita in on that, I’m grown up? She smacks my ass enough with that friggerin’ spoon. Someday it will vanish. That is if I can get my hands on it without her knowin’.”
Murdoch and Scott both laughed at the indignant look etched upon Johnny’s face.
“Well she does!”
“Maybe, Johnny, a little less thumbing your nose at her rules would end that problem,” Scott suggested. “Good luck with disposing of that spoon. Leave me out of any hare-brained schemes you come up with, brother. I don’t want to know.”
“Ha, ha Scott, like ya haven’t thought about it.”
“Actually, Johnny I haven’t seeing how I avoid displeasing the lady.”
“Well, I know she got ya.”
“Maria’s the only person who can get away with that, boys,” smirked Murdoch. “Maybe I’ll give her free rein to do it more often or buy her the largest spoon I can find.”
“Better not, ol’ man,” Johnny grumbled as he pull his hat back over his face and fell back asleep.
The stage coach delivered the Lancers to the growing town of Modesto. Since the last time Murdoch had been in Modesto whole blocks of structures had been built, bringing new life and growth to the town. No question about it, here was a growing community as house after house, in neat orderly rows had sprung up on the outskirts of the town. Modesto’s streets were filled with activity as people conducted their business, wagons filled with people and their supplies rolled up and down the main thoroughfare as the steady cadence of horse hoofs click-clomped. Still other folks were clustered on boardwalks, some holding onto small children as they walked toward their destinations.
To Murdoch’s eyes it was magnificent to see that the once sleepy cow town had changed, it was now a community with several churches, a schoolhouse and a post office. He smiled as the coach rolled past the new train depot; where a spur of track now linked Modesto to San Francisco. “Yes sir, progress had come to Modesto,” he surmised as the coach pulled to a stop. He hardly recognized the town from his last visit, which had been quite some time ago.
At the Adams hotel, Murdoch signed the register while his sons looked on, he was ready to brush away the rigors of travel with a hot bath, food and a few drinks before getting a good night’s sleep. The clerk handed Murdoch the keys to the rooms, he asked the clerk to send up tubs and hot water, knowing that Scott would want to enjoy the rejuvenating effects as well. Now Johnny was another matter, he probably was ready to go out on the town just the way he was. Murdoch pause midsentence, for behind him he heard the familiar voice of one of his longest and dearest friends in the world, Aggie Conway. He turned to verify that his over-tired imagination was not playing tricks on him. It indeed was not, for there she was speaking with the doorman, whose hands were full as he juggled several oversized packages. Murdoch heard her direct the man to be cautious with one of the boxes, for it was fragile.
She swirled around; skirts rustled softly, a broad smile beamed across her delicate face, “The one and the same! Murdoch Lancer! What a small world!” Both crossed the lobby toward the other. She offered her hands to an equally pleased Murdoch, whose large hands dwarfed her small, soft hands. He canvassed her face, pleased to notice that her eyes twinkled with amusement before he bent down to kiss her cheek.
Johnny and Scott stood behind their father; both with amused looks etched across their faces as they observed the warm greeting. A few brotherly jabs were exchanged while they watched their father’s transformation, no longer tired from their travels, from seeing the woman they knew he was secretly in love with burst with boyish pleasure and charm at his neighbor.
“What brings you to Modesto, Aggie, if I might inquire?”
“Of course you may ask. I’m here for a wedding.”
“A wedding, oh, I see,” said Murdoch his voice dropping with unhappiness.
“Not mine, silly! A friend’s daughter on Sunday.”
“Oh, I see,” he repeated with vigor. “Most excellent!”
“Well, now that you know why I’m here, what about you and the boys?”
Murdoch had seemed to have completely forgotten his sons as he looked down at the petite energetic lady, their hands remaining clasped, “We’re here for the Decoration Day tribute on Monday. Scott wanted to attend and well, Johnny and I tagged along to keep him company. You know it’s always good to take a break from the ranch.”
She smiled up at the tall man, “I would have to agree, it certainly is good to get away for a few days.”
Johnny poked Scott in his ribs; he ducked his head to the side grinning cheekily, “Betcha they go off ta dinner and leave us ta fend for ourselves.”
“Now brother would that be so bad? But he won’t desert us.”
“Guess it all depends upon Murdoch and what his true intentions are with Aggie. Wanna bet a dollar?”
“What are you driving at, brother? I’ll take your wager.””
“Don’t ya remember the talk around Morro Coyo? When Addison was sniffin’ around her like a polecat? Figured ya’d take the bet. Ya do like them sucker bets, Boston.”
“Well, Addison had asked her to marry him. A man has the right to spend time with his future bride. How could I pass up such a temping losing wager like yours, Johnny?”
“Not from the way everyone was talkin’ about Murdoch stallin’ with his claim ta her. Everyone thought he should have married her a year after her husband died. We’ll find out soon enough who wins this one, Boston.”
“Ssshhh, they’ll hear you.”
“Likewise, brother, ssshhh.”
Murdoch turned towards his sons, “Boys! Look who’s here, Mrs. Conway.”
They removed their hats in sweeping gestures to Aggie, who giggled like a schoolgirl, her cheeks flushed with excitement and her eyes sparkling with merriment. Murdoch had yet to let go of her hands. And Aggie did not try to take them back.
“Oh, my boys! Enough of that, you know you don’t need to stand on any ceremony with me.”
“Yes ma’am,” said Scott as he caught Murdoch’s slight head gesture, motioning for them to go elsewhere. Scott deciphered this pretty much meant Johnny had won their little wager. A hardy slap to his back from Johnny told him he had indeed lost to his impetuous little brother, yet again. For a betting man Scott’s record with winning bets against Johnny had not improved in the last year. He was going to need a new system. His current system that he had developed since his war and college days was completely useless against his sneaky brother.
“Aggie, we just arrived. I was planning on heading to Hennessy for a nice fat juicy steak dinner. You don’t have dinner plans, do you? If not, join me. The boys have other plans for their evening. Right boys?”
“Murdoch Lancer! Somehow I get the feeling you are attempting to pull the wool over my eyes with those big blue eyes of yours and your ever so charming smile!”
Johnny collapsed against Scott, silencing his guffawing into the shoulder of Scott’s jacket. Scott stoically remained composed, observing the courting ritual taking place between these two, as he shoved Johnny off of him.
He whispered furiously, “Behave.”
Murdoch coughed, “Scott why don’t you and your brother take the luggage upstairs?”
Scott knew this wasn’t a request but a tune to jig to. Being the older and somewhat wiser brother in reading his father, he picked up several bags and a valise from the floor. He pressed the valise into Johnny’s stomach, “Let’s go, Johnny.”
Johnny grabbed the valise, “But don’t ya…”
The couple watched the boys mounting the stairs, Johnny joshed, “I tried ta tell ya, Scott. How come ya never listen ta me? What did they teach ya at the fancy school of yours? I tried ta…”
“Shut up Johnny,” Scott growled as he prodded Johnny in the back to climb faster.
“Well Murdoch, you did a fairly decent job of dispatching those boys of yours. Now you were saying something about dinner?”
“Only if I’m not interrupting any plans you may have. I should go wipe the dust off.”
She linked her arm through the crook of his arm, “None at all. After I dropped off my packages, I was heading out to dinner. Murdoch, you don’t look all that dusty to me, I’ve seen you looking worse.”
“Don’t remind me about that disastrous day with that scoundrel Addison. It was the best thing I could do for you, pound some sense into him and scare him off.”
“I agree, the very best. Even if you both ended up covered in muck from the ducking you both took in the river.”
“Ah, yes, thank you dear sweet Aggie for reminding me about THAT!”
“Now Murdoch, you have to admit it was pretty funny. Shall we go?”
“Not to me, young lady. But yes, let’s go before the boys venture downstairs and make any more wagers on us.”
“Oh Murdoch, I think they know better. They’ll wait until we’re gone inside the restaurant before stepping out onto the boardwalk for their own plans.”
“Harrumph,” Murdoch growled. “Am I that much of an ogre?”
“Not at all, dear, dear Murdoch. We all know that your bark is much worse than your bite.”
“I’ll have to work on that then, Aggie,” Murdoch chuckled as the pair strolled down the street.
Upstairs Scott turned over a dollar to Johnny, “Don’t spend it all in one place, brother.”
“I’ll try not ta, Boston.” He placed the silver dollar inside the front concealed pocket at the waistband of his pants. “Ya want ta go get some chow?”
“No, I’m not hungry. You go on without me.”
“Come on Scott, I ain’t leavin’ ya here to sulk by your lonesome. Ya got stuff goin’ on inside your head and need ta spill it out or ya need to tie one on so ya can unwind, ya more nervous than a cat surrounded by a pack of wolves, and not just today. Ya ain’t foolin’ me that something’s botherin’ ya.”
“You don’t give in do you Johnny?”
“Nope. Now will ya stop fussin’ with those clothes and let’s go see the town, get some chow.”
“Just a minute, I want to hang up my things.”
“I’ll be ready in a few minutes. Now relax, brother. There will still be plenty of food for us.”
Johnny sighed as he sank to the bed, bouncing his butt on the mattress, noting it was pretty soft and billowy. He smiled knowing that tonight he would rest well. Since his return to his father’s home and his birthplace, Johnny had gradually become accustomed to a different lifestyle. Less beans and tamales, nights sleeping under the stars on the hard ground, now it was good food and soft beds. Sure there was a lot of hard labor, up before dawn, sweating in the hot sun, but the rewards at the end of the day were worth the aggravation. He continued bouncing on the bed, making the springs moan and groan from the motion.
In the corner of the room with his back to his brother, Scott rolled his eyes. His brother had the ability to figure out the fastest way to make the most amount of noise to drive him to distraction. Sometimes it was a blessing in disguise, other times, like now it he was a big pain in his posterior. He hurried to put his clothes away. Better to feed the hungry beast before he drove him batty.
Johnny meanwhile, kept his eyes on his brother, trying to determine if he was getting to Scott in a good way or not so good. He felt it was his job to keep Scott’s mind off of his troubles if only for a little while, now that Murdoch had another distraction. “Damn it, with his back turned away I can’t tell if he’s pissed or pleased.”
“Come on Scott. Let’s go!”
Scott dropped the last of his clothes into a dresser drawer, slammed it closed, “Fine, I can tell that there’s no living with you until you get some food into that ravenous belly of yours. Let’s go.”
“He’s pissed; I better back off…a little.”
The brothers roamed the boardwalks, looking inside the various restaurants; many were filled with diners already and were overly noisy with the clanging of silver to china and endless chattering of the occupants. The boys hurried past Hennessy’s Steak House, neither one willing to step foot inside, knowing that Murdoch would lecture them to no end later on, about their checking up on him. The last thing either brother wanted was for Murdoch to ride their tails. Truth be told, Scott wanted a quiet place to eat, where he could be lost in his own thoughts.
Johnny tugged on his sleeve, “Over there Scott, one of those Chinese restaurants. Ya can get ya Moo Poo chicken and I can get something extra spicy with those hot red peppers.”
“It’s Kung Pao chicken, Johnny, and Chi-chien.”
“Those hot, thin-skin red peppers you like so much are chi-chien.”
“Leave it ta ya ta, brother, ta know what they’re called.”
Smiling at his brother with a small quirk Scott allowed himself to be steered away from Hennessy’s towards the enticing smells of Yang’s. It was both dark and quiet inside the small frame building, the waiter padding softly on silk slippers towards the men. He indicated for them to follow him to a table, Johnny pointed to the far corner, away from the door. He sat down where he could keep his eyes on the doorway, while Scott had his back to the room.
“For being you and knowing I want privacy.”
“De nada, Scott. Are ya gonna relax any?”
Scott sighed, “Johnny, not sure. My head is full of memories, many not very pleasant at all.”
“Ya want ta tell me about them?”
“No, not now. Let’s try and have a good meal. Maybe another time.”
“Suit yourself brother. But take it from me, it ain’t good ta keep ‘em locked up inside for long. I know.”
“Johnny, have you ever wondered what it would have been like to grow up together as boys?”
“Sure, Scott. I betcha we would have had the ol’ man snatchin’ his hair out. Or wearin’ my tail end out, one of the two.”
“Or both, brother,” smiled Scott as he rubbed a finger pad along the top of his tea cup. “I expect you would have been a handful for Murdoch, skipping school, pulling pranks, chasing after the girls with frogs and snakes.”
“Oh, like ya wouldn’t have been? Think on it Scott, a cattleman’s son, livin’ in the west, no fancy schools or museums or tea parties ta go traipsin’ off ta. No Harlan bendin’ ya ta his mold. Just Murdoch as big as the outdoors. Betcha all of us would have turned out different had life not spit in our faces. Maybe I wouldn’t be here, if ya mother had lived and ya wouldn’t have been swept away ta live in Boston. And if I had been shot by that firin’ squad in Mexico, you’d be an equal partner with the ol’ man.”
Scott listened to his brother, pondering his sibling’s wisdom; Johnny never ceased to amaze him, his ability to cut to the heart of the matter. “Johnny, guess I’m glad things turned out the way they did. I cannot imagine what my life would be without having you as my brother.”
“Thanks, brother, same goes for me.” He took a drink of his green tea and made a face. “How the hell can ya drink this stuff?”
“It’s an acquired taste, similar to me drinking you tequila. Take it slowly; it gets easier going down with each shallow.”
“I’ll take ya word for it. As soon as we’re done here, let’s go find some real drinks, what do ya say, Boston?”
Scott was lost in his thoughts again; a group of four men, wearing the familiar grey caps of the Confederacy with their crossed rifles and rebel flag, had come inside and sat at a nearby table. He stared not at them but at the tattered, faded hats perched on their heads. He heard their southern drawls and his skin began crawling from hearing their speech. His hand shook as he tried to sip his tea, what little traces of appetite disappeared as the four tossed “y’alls” and “fixins”. Even the pallor of his skin faded.
“Johnny, I need to get out of here.”
“But our food hasn’t come yet.”
“Doesn’t matter, I can’t eat anything at the moment.”
“Why? Because of them?”
“Yes. Are you coming?”
“Scott, relax, the war is long over.”
“Not yet, brother, not yet,” Scott pushed his chair away from the table, picked up his hat. “Coming or not, suit yourself, Johnny.” Scott turned and walked out of the restaurant, leaving Johnny to stare after him.
It was Johnny’s turn to sigh, as he peeled out several dollars to leave on the table. He stared at the men at the other table, who paid no attention to the two cowboys. He rushed outside to find that Scott was leaning against a post, sweat pouring down his face. He guided Scott away from the building, down the street.
“Come on, brother.”
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere, where ya can forget your troubles.”
“And where in the hell would that be, Johnny.”
“Ya let me worry about that. Ya just follow along and let me take care of ya.”
Johnny pulled and prodded Scott down one back alley to another and finally to a third. Scott wasn’t sure Johnny knew where he was going, but at least he was guiding them away from those damn rebels. Scott had thought he could face his demons but when he heard those “y’alls” rolling out of their mouths, saw their hated C.S.A. on their caps; his stomach had turned at the thought of sharing his meal with the enemy. He just could not do it, no matter how many years had gone by, memories of his men’s harsh treatment and his own burned forever in his mind.
The next thing Scott realized was that Johnny had found a watering hole, the Beehive, to his liking, where the music was loud, the drinks not watered down and the women willing to reveal all for the press of a dollar between ample breasts that jiggled enticingly. If one was to believe the sign on the batwing doors which proclaimed:
Within this Hive, we are alive;
Good whiskey makes us funny.
Get your horse tied, come inside;
And taste the flavor of our honey.
After Johnny poured drink after drink of special blend of remedy tequila, the core of Scott’s being relaxed from the alcohol. He willingly climbed the stairs with one of the soiled doves, which Johnny paid for the pleasure of her company for him, more of his special type of doctoring to mend what troubled his brother. Little did Scott realize that his brother had given the girl a generous bonus to keep Scott entertained all night long.
Johnny watched as they disappeared behind an upstairs door, while another soiled dove sat on his lap. At this point, all he could do was wait and see if this worked. He whispered something in the ear of his dove, she got up and he patted her rear end. She tucked a bill into the folds of her breasts, pushed up right with the riggings she wore. Drawing her fingertips along the base of Johnny’s neckline, she leaned over, her breasts brushed against his cheek as she whispered, “Don’t take too long, darling.”
“Go on, I’ll be there shortly.” With another pat to her rear, Johnny watched her motion as she too climbed the staircase, slipping into the adjacent room.
Johnny turned his attention to the card game he joined; with the silent wish that Scott’s soiled dove was working her magic on him. He watched as the dealer shuffled the cards and placed his bet. The group of men was not talkers, which suited Johnny fine. He could fix his attention of his cards, their tells and whether or not the dealer was passing off seconds from the bottom of the deck. As the night wore on, Johnny won some, lost some, won more back. He decided to cash it in, now that a couple of hours had gone by. Time for him to go join, what’s her name, Johnny forget to ask, more concerned that his brother’s needs be taken care of than his own. His needs were superfluous; Johnny liked the sound of that word that Scott had taught him. Johnny loved having a big brother, he just wished he could wipe away what was bothering him.
With a tip of his hat, Johnny left the game, allowing another player to take his place. He tipped the dealer, who to his surprise was honest and climbed the stairs. He paused at the one door, smiled when he heard that the bed springs were merrily squeaking away. He got his money’s worth, or least Scott should have a smile on his face tomorrow as his carnal pleasures were being suitably taken care of, he heard the soft sounds of coupling before stepping away pleased. He entered the other room and found his dove stretched out on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
“’Bout time sweet cakes. I was thinking you would never come,” she giggled as she sat up.
Johnny snorted at her choices of words, “Don’t ya worry none little lady.”
The sun woke Johnny the next day, as he felt the naked backside of Lottie nestle against him. He felt his manhood rise with the sun as he rolled her over to lay claim to her one more time. Johnny loved starting his day off with a quick fix. He was busy attending to matters when he lifted his head to hear the same activity was going on in the room next to him, as the walls were paper thin. “Good, at least I know Scott ain’t drunk for this one.”
Afterwards, Johnny slipped back into his clothes as Lottie watched his muscles ripped from his motions. She drifted back to sleep with a smile on her face and a twenty dollar gold piece she gripped in her fist. Johnny slipped from the room and knocked on the other door.
Scott poked his head out, “Good morning, Johnny.”
“I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
“Take your time, brother. I’ll wait for you downstairs.”
“Thank you, again.”
Johnny laughed, “As long as it makes ya feel better brother, de nada.”
Scott smiled, “Josephine is quite the nymph du prairie.”
“If you say so, brother. Take your time.”
At the hotel, Murdoch checked his watch, wondering what trouble his sons had managed to find. He and Aggie had quite the enjoyable evening together, having a night cap in the lobby of the hotel. Only afterwards he discovered that his boys were not back from their evening’s activities. He and Aggie had breakfast and she was back upstairs, doing whatever women do before they go out for the day. He would like to escort her but did not want his sons to feel as if he had abandoned them.
So Murdoch sat and waited, crossing and uncrossing his extended limbs as he waited, he read the more current newspaper that was brought in the day before from San Francisco. Read about the prices of beef, the latest legislation that was being brought up for discussion and all the latest gossip in San Francisco. Every once in awhile he would find some article that peaked his curiosity but it didn’t hold his attention for too long. One of his friends, Pladdin was mentioned as in who he was seen escorting about town.
Murdoch tossed the paper aside as he rechecked the time, only five minutes had elapsed since he had last checked the time. He stood up to pace the lobby, twenty steps, back, twenty steps, back was his pattern. This was achieving little; Murdoch was an achiever and was growing impatient, waiting.
Fortunately while he was pacing away from the door, his sons walked in. Johnny stopped making Scott bump into him, “We’re in for it now Scott, the ol’ man’s waitin’ on us.”
“Go on in Johnny, we’ll face the music together, not the first time, won’t be the last time, I’m sure.”
“Reckon ya got that right.”
Murdoch turned as Johnny and Scott stepped into the lobby, “’Mornin’ Murdoch.”
“Good morning, sir.”
“Boys! Good to see you. I hope you had a good night out?”
Not quite what they expected to hear, but then again they were standing in the middle of a public lobby. Perhaps Murdoch would wait to cut into them.
“I was wondering whether I should wait for you or escort Aggie today. We’re already had our breakfast. She should be down directly. You know how women are, always fussing with their hair or dress or something.”
“I heard that Murdoch Lancer!” Aggie laughed as she linked her arm through his, standing on tip-toe to kiss his lips, “And here we women have always believed that you men liked that we fussed for you.”
Murdoch cleared his throat, “Well, that my dear is true but only if you don’t waste the entire day doing it.” He patted her arm, looking very pleased with himself.
“Mr. Lancer, I’ll have you know that I was gone a mere fifteen minutes.”
“Seemed longer to me.”
Scott and Johnny checked each other, tried to not laugh at their father, they were both certain he would not appreciate that at this time. It appeared to them as if perhaps Murdoch and Aggie had possibly; just maybe spent more than dinner together last night. Murdoch sure seemed mellower this morning, with more spring in his step.
“What are you boys plans for today?”
“Plans?” asked Johnny. “Scott, this is your call. I came along for the ride, remember?”
Scott looked at him, “Yes, I seem to recall that at some point last night.”
“Last night? What do you mean Scott? What exactly were you boys up to last night?”
Johnny hurriedly spoke up, “Nothin’ much Murdoch, the usual.”
“Oh, I see. We can discuss this more in depth later,” he said. “But what about today?”
“Murdoch, if you and Aggie have already made plans, by all means don’t let me stop you. I want to locate the office of the Grand Army of the Republic or barring no office, find the man in charge. I’ll offer my assistance in whatever way they can use me for the service.”
“Well that takes care of you Scott. What about you Johnny?”
“Me? I’m taggin’ along with Scott, if he wants me too, that is.”
“By all means, brother. You’re tracking skills may come in handy trying to locate the office. Murdoch why don’t you and Aggie go enjoy the day?”
“Are you sure Scott? I don’t want to feel like I’m leaving you?”
“I’m sure Murdoch. We should all plan on dinner tonight to catch-up on the day’s events.”
“Good, as long as everyone is settled on their plans.”
“Say uh, Murdoch, where are ya two headed?” Johnny ventured to ask.
“A picnic,” Murdoch answered, looking down at Aggie, smiling.
“A picnic,” repeated Johnny. “Well if that don’t sound great!”
Aggie smiled up at Murdoch, Scott told Johnny later, she was blushing like a new bride. And Johnny wanted to know how much experience Scott had with blushing brides. To which Scott remained silent.
“Well, have a nice day, you two.”
“Yeah Murdoch, don’t do anything I might do.”
Murdoch looked at his son, unasked questions in his mind as to what Johnny was eluding to, but he let it go.
“Boys, we’ll see you at dinner. Scott, keep your brother out of trouble.”
Scott laughed at his assignment, knowing that his father was doing his best to keep things lighter for him, “I’ll do my best, Murdoch.”
Johnny and Scott retreated to their room to change clothes before going to find the people in charge of the Decoration Day ceremony. Murdoch headed to the livery stable to rent a rig for the day. Maggie made her way into the hotel dining room to arrange for a picnic basket.
Checking with the front desk clerk, the boys were directed to the home of William Hoskins, the man who was in charge of the Modesto branch of the Grand Army of the Republic. His home was about ten miles out of town. This required them to rent horses at the livery stable for the day. Scott and Johnny reached the livery in time to observe Murdoch and Aggie drive off, gaily laughing, she with her arm linked through Murdoch’s as he clicked the team forward. The brothers tipped their hats as they rode past by.
“Scott, if I didn’t know better, I would think that Aggie timed her visit to match ours.”
“Murdoch didn’t have enough time to get word to her. Brother, I think you are overly suspicious of what Murdoch’s intentions are with Mrs. Conway.”
“Not so much his, more hers. I think she’s linin’ him up into her sights, that’s all.”
“Johnny would that be so bad?”
“I don’t know Scott; have ta think some on that. What do ya think about havin’ a new momma?”
“I think that Murdoch is old enough to make up his own mind if he wants another wife.”
“Seems like he’s had his fair share of ‘em already.”
“And it seems to me, brother, that you need to mind your own business, when it comes to the affairs of our father’s heart. You already chased Mrs. Dane away, now there was a pushy one with her scheming to work herself into our world. But regardless of her motivations, to find a home away from trouble for her boy, Murdoch was pretty aggravated with you for some of your comments. I thought he was going to raise the roof. I sure do miss eating Mrs. Dane’s chowder, now that was the best.”
“I’ll think on it Scott.”
Scott shook his head, “You do that. Mrs. Dane sure was wrong about using Lancer to keep her boy out of trouble; you sure know how to find it.”
Johnny grinned, “Naw Scott, it just knows where to look for me, that’s all.”
The brothers covered the short distance from Modesto, riding by orchards where tree branches were filled with a variety of colorful fruits and hard-shelled nuts. Johnny pulled alongside one of the fruit trees to yank at the red ripe apples that looked appetizing. He pitched one to Scott, who gratefully sank his teeth into the succulent delight.
“Thanks, brother. I owe you for dinner since we missed it last night.”
“That’s right ya do, Boston. But at least I got us dessert,” he winked. “When we get finished with this visit; I wanna get a regular meal.”
“No doubt, I hear your stomach growling,” Scott nodded, and then his tone turned somber. “Johnny, I’m sorry we didn’t stay for dinner. I…I…I…it’s…just…”
“Scott, ya don’t have ta say anything. I get it. Don’t ya think I hear ya pace the floor at night when ya can’t sleep? Hear ya tossin’ and turnin’, poundin on ya pillow? If anyone understands what’s goin’ on inside, tearin’ at your guts, it’s me. Been there myself, more times than I can say. Seems ta me that something triggered ya, ‘cause now that I think about it, ya been more jumpy lately. Ya wanna talk about what’s grippin’ at ya?”
Scott bit his lower lip as Johnny continued, “I guess we both have things in our past we would rather not remember, locked away. Scott, anytime ya need ta talk, I’m here.”
“Likewise, Johnny. Maybe we should unlock our heads and hearts, clear them out once and for all.”
“That’s what this is all about, huh Scott?” Johnny finished his apple, tossed the core away, glad to have had something to do with his hands.
Scott nodded his head.
“That must be Hoskins’ house,” Scott said then cleared the growing lump in his throat with a deep swallow; his eyes were moist as he pointed. Down the road, maybe a half-mile or so they saw a house where several buggies and wagons were gathered.
“Come on Boston, let’s see if these nags have any gitty-up ‘n go, race ya,” he said as he urged his mount forward.
Scott watched him ride off for a few moments while he composed his emotions. He was grateful that Johnny was, well Johnny — it was good to have a brother, “Thank you, brother, relieved to have you around.” He kicked his mount, in pursuit of Johnny, who now had a pretty decent head start. The galloping became a release from his spinning emotions that had churned inside as he charged down the pathway, feeling the air brush across his face.
Johnny vaulted from his horse, tied the reins to the white picket fence and watched for Scott to catch-up with him.
“What do you want, mister?”
Johnny whirled to the sound of the voice; it came from a young boy, about ten, maybe eleven years old. He was turning the crank to draw a water bucket from the well.
“Hey kid, this the home of William Hoskins?”
Scott arrived as the young boy hauled the bucket with him to the closed gate, his feet bare, covered in a layer of dirt, the tops and for sure the bottoms, his overalls were spotted with an assortment of stains, here was a typical boy, his tow-head of hair spiking in various angles, needed a good combing. Splatters of water sloshed over the top of the bucket, leaving a trail in the dirt.
“Is he here?”
Johnny looked down, his hands rested on his slim hips, this kid wasn’t talkative, it was like wading through quicksand to get anything outta him. In the meanwhile, Scott arrived, tension not tight around his mouth, Johnny noticed.
“He ya pa?”
“Ya sure don’t have much to say, do ya?”
The kid shrugged his shoulders as he held onto his water bucket with both hands.
“Well, kid, can ya tell him he’s got company?”
“He’s got company already,” the boy remained rooted to his spot.
“Can ya go anyway?” asked Johnny, hoping the boy would move. The kid looked from him to the house, his mouth twitching to one side as he considered the man.
Johnny tried a sure fire tactic that had worked on him as a kid, “I’ll give ya two-bits if ya water our horses. He saw the boy’s eyes grow big at that prospect. “And another two-bits if ya get ya pa.”
“Two-bits?” he asked, dropping the bucket to the ground, the contents spilled on the ground, quickly absorbed. “Oh boy!”
“Two of ‘em, boy.”
“Double oh boy! Wait here! I’ll be right back with him.” He raced to the house, slamming the door behind him.
“Nice, Johnny, bribery: the way to a boy’s heart.”
“Well, at least that one! He sure doesn’t say much.”
Johnny leaned over the fence, his arms extended as he twiddled his thumbs, Scott pacing behind him.
Scott came to stand alongside Johnny, both looking up as the front door opened and out came a man with the kid trailing behind him. The man was short with dark hair that was touched with grey at his temples; he walked with a slight limp using a cane as he climbed down the few steps.
“Good morning gentlemen. Jemmy, tells me y’all are asking for me?”
Johnny drew himself up from his position against the fence; saw that Scott had frozen from the southern drawl, “Ya Mr. William Hoskins?”
“Yes, I am. To what do I owe this visit? As you can see, I have other visitors at the present time. Is there something I can help y’all with?”
“I think it’s more like how we can help ya, Mr. Hoskins. I’m Johnny Lancer and this here is my brother, Scott Lancer. We’ve come from Morro Coyo.”
“I don’t quite understand what it is y’all need.”
“Mr. Hoskins, my brother served in the Cavalry, during the war…under Sheridan.”
The man’s face revealed little as he looked on, just a slight blink of his right eye at the name of Sheridan. “I served under Lee myself, but that was a lifetime ago, another place, another time.”
“He read about the Decoration Day plans and well, he wanted ta come see what he could do.” Scott closed his eyes as Johnny talked, clenching his fists into tight balls as images played inside his head that he couldn’t hold back.
Mr. Hoskins noticed the anguish and turmoil he was suffering, quite familiar with the same. He quickly surmised that Scott was reliving times best left forgotten; it was another place, another time. He opened the gate and extended his hand to Scott. Speaking calmly, he said, “Why don’t y’all come in and set a spell inside, it’s cooler. Jemmy?”
“Finish with your chore, fetch the water, your ma’s fixin’ to make lemonade, she’s waiting on you, son.”
Johnny had waited to see if Scott would shake Mr. Hoskins’ hand, and when Scott didn’t, he reached over to shake the man’s extended hand.
Mr. Hoskins “My apologies, sirs for my son’s lack of manners. Y’all are welcome to a refreshing glass. Jemmy, the bucket, fill and take it inside to your mother.”
“Yessir Pa.” He ran to the fence to pick up his forgotten bucket, “Hey mister, where’s my two-bits?”
Johnny smiled down at him, “Ya still need ta water our horses, Jemmy. Do that after ya do what ya pa tells ya.”
“Gentlemen, please come in, don’t just stand there. My humble abode is your abode.”
Johnny grinned, “’Round these parts, it’s more like “mi casa es su casa.”
“My apologies, again for my lack of Spanish.”
“Don’t let it trouble ya at all. Scott? Ya okay with this?”
“I don’t have much choice, do I now?”
“Sure ya do, ya always have a choice. Ya want ta face your demons or let ‘em keep hauntin’ ya?”
Scott looked conflicted, “By all means, let’s not keep our host waiting, brother. It would be rude of us to ride off now.” He squared his shoulders as he marched through the open the gate and stepped inside the threshold.
It was cool inside the house, shades and heavy curtains kept the heat of the day outside and it probably helped that the house was shaded by several looming trees. Mr. Hoskins brought his guests into the parlor, which was one-third the size of the Lancers’ Great Room. Inside were seated eight other men. Johnny recognized the four from the Chinese restaurant. He paused, wondering if Scott was going to bolt today. Here were his demons, face to face with him.
“Mr. Hoskins, is there somewhere a bit more private where we could talk?” Johnny asked.
“This way gentlemen, into my office,” he pointed the way. “Why don’t y’all proceed with the plans, Tom, while I attend to my other guests?”
The Lancers and Mr. Hoskins entered the small office, and Mr. Hoskins softly closed the door. Johnny now noticed that he was closer in age to Murdoch with a gentler disposition. He motioned for the boys to sit down.
“What is it Mr. Lancer? What brought y’all to my home, as y’all can see, I’m quite busy. What can I do to help y’all?”
Scott was perplexed; he had never thought that the chief organizer of the Grand Army of the Republic would be, well a Confederate!
“Sir, first can you tell me how it is that you, a Confederate, happen to be planning the Decoration Day tribute?”
“That’s what’s ailing y’all? Need I remind you that the war is long over, Mr. Lancer? We need to forgive and forget those that have trespassed against us, both sides suffered immeasurable losses. In answer to the question, Mr. Lancer, our group is a small one; the entire membership is sitting in my parlor.”
“We are a joint endeavor of both factions, joined together in the cause of honoring the brave duty and sacrifices made on behalf of the troops, regardless of sides, beliefs, or outcome of the troubles. Our previous leader, Captain Silas Pearson, of the 137 NY Infantry, thereby a Yankee – my sincerest apologies, a Union officer — passed away in March. As next senior officer of the chapter I have taken over the duties.”
“Oh,” replied Scott. He thought that he was behaving irrationally; this was not like him to be undignified towards anyone unless provoked. Here he was, sitting in this man’s home, forgetting all the manners that had been instilled in him as far back as he could recall. This was just such an unexpected shock to be sitting with the enemy — former enemy.
“Mr. Hoskins, I am sorry for what you must think is an inexcusable lack of good manners. It’s just…,” Scott began.
“Yes, I know. Y’all never thought a rebel would be part of the committee. Mr. Lancer, we came west after the war for a fresh start, since it was impossible to continue in the battle worn land, homes had been burnt to the ground, livestock taken to feed the troops, our crops destroyed. There was nothing left for us, but to migrate westward, where most people were ready to leave the past behind and start over.”
Scott sighed, “This will take me a little while to wrap my brain around this development. I came to offer my assistance, however you can use me. Johnny, here came to…”
“Keep him company,” Johnny added.
“I see y’all are close, that’s how it should be, brother for brother, not against. Why don’t y’all sit right here while I get y’all a nice cold glass of lemonade? I’m sure y’all could use the refreshment.”
Mr. Hoskins left the brothers alone, closing the door behind him.
“Scott, ya okay?”
“Sure, Johnny, just really taken aback.”
“Ya want ta leave?”
“No, I came to do something. I guess with my jumbled thoughts and mixed emotions I had completely forgotten about Confederate troops, the possibility of them being a part of the tribute. But Mr. Hoskins is right, the war is over. We should — correction, I should — live and let live.”
Johnny looked over at Scott, “Ya sure about this?”
Scott gave a small laugh, almost as if laughing at himself, “One can never understand the ways of God. Perhaps this is His way of pushing me through the barriers I constructed in my mind. He’s making me see how Mr. Hoskins, his family and friends are similar to my own circumstances. Now I can either accept this or continue harboring negative thoughts against a population of people that suffered.”
“Scott, are ya able to let go?”
“Johnny, I guess this is what I need to find out. It’s not going to be easy.”
“It never is, Scott.”
“As long as I can depend upon you to be here for me?”
“That’s what brothers do for each other, right?”
“Yes, Johnny, that’s what we do.”
A light tap of the door, Johnny jumped up to open it, as the petite lady of the house came inside with a tray, laden with glasses of poured lemonade, a small pitcher for refills and a plate of freshly baked cookies. Johnny accepted the tray with his heartfelt appreciation at the glorious smells wafting inside the room. He mouth began watering at the prospect of wolfing down a handful of warm cookies.
“Thank ya, kindly, ma’am.”
“Y’all are most kindly welcome, boys. If y’all want more, let me know. I have plenty more baking, enough to feed the hungry troops stationed in my parlor.”
Scott had also gotten to his feet, towering over the woman, “Thank you, Mrs. Hoskins. You have made my brother a very happy man.”
“Ya too, brother!”
She giggled before wagging a finger at them, “Don’t y’all stand on any high flaunting airs with me young men. Anything else y’all need, tell me. It’s no trouble at all, y’all hear?
Johnny chomping on a cookie, moaned as the delicious warm contents melted on his tongue, “Yes ma’am. Scott, come on try one of these.”
“Now I expect y’all to stay for supper. And I won’t take no for an answer. I’m making fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and fried okra and along with my home canned sweet pickles and green tomatoes, and honeyed rolls. Y’all need to save room for dessert as I have made my special strawberry shortcake with fresh cream.”
Johnny’s eyes grew round, his mouth watering with the thoughts of the meal, “Yes ma’am.”
Scott slightly bowed at the waist, “Mrs. Hoskins, your warm generosity is only exceeded by your charm.”
Johnny laughed, “That means, yes, little lady, we’re stayin’ for supper.”
She smiled, with satisfaction that she had made her point on the dark-haired boy, the fair-haired boy was a bit more reserved, but her cooking had never failed to make a man feel welcomed in her home. He husband had briefly filled her in on their guests and she knew that the taller one was the one in need of her kindness. As for Nettie, she had learned early on in her life that the way to a man’s heart was indeed through his stomach. Crossing her fingers she closed the door, knowing that she had done what she could for now, the rest was up to her baking and that dark-haired boy. Nettie had nursed the same haunted look from her Billy’s eyes when he came back from the war a troubled man. She would do her part to help this one forget what was ailing him.
After Mrs. Hoskins had brought in her refreshments, Scott and Johnny talked over what to do, stay or go. Johnny was all for staying, while Scott had to keep pushing his emotions aside. When Mr. Hoskins returned to the office, he sat down to talk.
“Y’all know, well Mr. Lancer, you know for sure, as I reckon your brother was a bit too young for service, not that many young lads didn’t try to enlist and in the beginning of the war were sent back home to their mammas But as I was saying, that war only served to remind us, that whatever doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger. Y’all believe that?”
Scott weakly smiled, “Mr. Hoskins, please call me Scott. You make me think my father’s in the room.”
“And I’m Johnny.”
“Alright, y’all can call my Billy, not Will or William or even Willie.”
“Gotcha, Billy,” Johnny grinned. “And my brother and I didn’t know each other durin’ the war. We only got ta know each other in the last year. It’s a long story and not the most important one here. But heck, I only remember hearin’ bits and pieces about it. I was livin’ in Mexico at the time and news took a long time ta reach us.”
“Not living together, what a shame. But y’all are together now and that’s what matters.”
“Billy, I would agree with you on your sentiment. War showed us what we can endure and what we can’t endure.”
“Scott, I would like very much for you and your brother to join the others. We have much more to plan for the service and time is short. All hands on deck would be appreciated by them. Are you ready, willing and able to join forces with your brothers out there?”
Scott clamped down on his lower lip, his teeth sank into the tissue as he wrestled with his feelings, getting to his feet, he held out his hand to Billy, “Sir, I am going to offer my services and will do my very best for our comrades, our country and our united flag, long may it wave over our homeland.”
Billy too got to his feet, accepting the offered hand, knowing what it took for the young man to extend it. Johnny looked on at the joined hands, shaking in friendship with a united front. He hoped this meant that Scott would be able to lose the demons that plagued him.
Johnny leaned back in his chair at the crowded table; he could not put another morsel inside his mouth. He patted his full stomach. Scott had eaten, at first slowly, but as his stomach cried for nourishment, he found that he was savoring the food almost as much as Johnny.
“Ma’am, that was the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted,” smiled Johnny.
“Nettie’s the best cook for miles around,” Billy beamed with pride as he bragged on his wife’s abilities. She blushed.
“I believe it,” Johnny nodded.
“Now, Billy, don’t go bragging on me. These boys haven’t tasted all my dishes.”
Scott added, “Mrs. Hoskins, if we did, Johnny would be too big to fit through the doorway!”
“Oh funny Scott, very funny, I see ya managed ta clear everything from your plate.”
“Boys, there’s more work to be done, why don’t we adjourn back into the parlor to continue?” suggested Billy. “Jemmy, help your mother with the dishes.”
“Ahh gee, pa, I was going fishing with my friends. We’ve been planning all week to go.”
“Later, Jemmy. Help your mother first and then you may go.”
“Yessir,” he said, eyes downcast, legs in constant back and forth motion, deflated that he couldn’t sneak off now.
Johnny whispered to Scott, “That explains why he was so grubby earlier, must have been diggin’ for worms by the well. Maybe ya should go with him, show him how it’s done.”
“Better me than you, Johnny,” Scott joshed, he was feeling better, as if a heavy weight had been removed from his shoulders, and now a home-cooked meal, he was ready to pitch in however he could be used.
“Hey Jemmy, catch,” Johnny underhanded a shiny coin towards the boy.
“Golly, Mr. Lancer, this is a whole dollar! I can’t keep this.”
“It’s Johnny. Sure ya can, you earned, didn’t ya? I don’t have any quarters on me; makes today your lucky day.”
“Thank you, Johnny,” he grinned; displaying that he was snaggled-toothed. Jemmy looked at his father, “Can I keep it?”
“May I keep it, would be better,” said Nettie.
Billy tousled the boy’s hair, “Well as long as Johnny believes you did the job you were paid for, you may keep it.”
The men thanked their hostess for the meal before retiring back into the parlor.
Johnny sat off to one side, his thoughts not so much on the conversation, as he pulled the curtain and shade back to check on the horses. He chuckled as he saw Jemmy scamper off with a tin can of worms and a fishing pool slung over his shoulder. Mrs. Hoskins was by the well drawing water, waving her son off. Johnny decided to step outside to help her since Scott seemed to be holding his own now. His blond head bent low over the papers the others were discussing. Scott looked up and nodded at Johnny.
He nodded back, pointed his thumb towards the door, mouthing, “Be outside.”
Scott understood. His brother wasn’t one for sitting still on his tail for long; paperwork bored him while the outdoors beckoned him, like sirens calling ancient seamen, Johnny’s siren was the great outdoors. He nodded a second time but Johnny was already out the door, quick as a cat, and as quiet as one when he wanted to be.
“Here let me help ya with that, Mrs. Hoskins,” Johnny said as he retrieved the bucket from the well. “I saw that your kitchen help skipped outta here, like his bottom was on fire.”
She chuckled, “Well it could be if his father finds out. But I didn’t have the heart to hold him back any longer. He got up early to do all his chores so he could enjoy the day. A boy should enjoy his boyhood, it’s gone soon enough.”
“Ya have a soft heart, Mrs. Hoskins.”
“Nothing wrong with a mother having tender feelings for her offspring, is there?”
“Nothin’ at all, ma’am.”
So Johnny found himself helping the lady of the house, he rolled up his sleeves to wash while she dried the dishes. Afterwards he was rewarded with a few extra cookies and a cold, talk glass of milk to wash them down.
“Land sakes Johnny, I do not know where y’all are putting everything.”
Johnny grinned, “Ma’am, it finds a spot ta settle in. Boy, ya are a great cook. Just as good as Maria, our cook back home. ‘Tween ya two ladies, well I’ll never be hungry again. I reckon I should go back and see what’s goin’ on.”
“I already checked, the men are deep in their plans. Don’t worry none, Scott’s joining in I heard him make a few suggestions. Those men have such a universal bond linking them, surviving the years of a horrific war left a mark on all of them. I think it’s crucial they have this occasion to reflect back to keep moving forward. Oh, listen to me, what do I know about war and men suffering from it? I wasn’t there on the battlefields with them, seeing what they saw, doing what they did in order to stay alive. I don’t know if I’m making any sense at all.”
“Ma’am ya make plenty of sense ta me. Ya know we can’t change the past, only learn from our mistakes and move on. All we have is today, yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow, who knows? Anything is possible.”
She patted the back of his hand, “Young man, you are wise beyond your years. Well, enough of this talk. You want any more cookies?”
Johnny laughed, “Mrs. Hoskins, I never thought it was possible, but I have reached my limit. Do ya want me ta help with anything else? Chop some firewood? Fetch more water? Anything? I can maybe make some more room if ya put me ta work.”
“Nothing, really, Johnny. Jemmy filled the wood box this morning. For once, everything is done. I thought to sit outside and do some mending while the light is right. Why don’t you head down the path and see if you can’t find Jemmy, maybe give him a few fishing pointers.”
“Oh no, ma’am, not me. Fishin’ suits Scott more than me. If ya don’t mind, I’ll rejoin the others.”
“Go right ahead.”
Johnny found that the men were finally done with making their arrangements. Tomorrow was Sunday, after church services at noon the men would gather at the Grand Army Plot in the Modesto Citizens’ Cemetery to decorate each of the veterans’ graves with small flags and wreathes that the town florist had made. This would be a private duty that the Grand Post #9, GAR would handle. The public ceremony would be held on Monday, when the crowds of people would gather at noon on Main Street to follow the small parade of a marching band, along with the GAR chapter to the cemetery.
For now, the brothers and the other members of the community took their leave of the generous hospitality of the Hoskins. The couple stood on the porch, waving the others off, arms around the other’s waists.
“Mrs. Hoskins, my dear, I see you let Jemmy wander off again. Whatever will I do with you, woman?”
“Love me, just like you have. Jemmy needs to hold onto his childhood as long as he can. Thank God the war ended, five long grueling years of hardship. It was bad enough watching you go off, not knowing if you would come back or not.”
“I told you then, I would return back to you, safe and sound. I have always kept my word with you, Nettie. Have always been true to you.”
“I know that my dear, sweet, Billy. You did a good thing today with young Scott. His brother is quite charming, too.”
“You did well too, my dear. Scott’s heart is in the right place. Did you know that he attended the first Decoration Day tribute in Washington D.C.? I’m happy he got to spend time with us Rebels to see that we’re not so different than from those Yankees. He talked some about his time in service; we never crossed paths on any battlefield. His time as a prisoner at Libby was similar to the ghastly conditions I endured at Camp Douglas, except we frozen during the winter months and he sweltered during the heat of summer. Both camps were overseen by cruel, indifferent commanders, with no regard for human life or their fragility of their dignity, short on food, fresh water and medical treatment, long on brutality, a parallel universe in a foreign land, strangers yet brothers. The things one person can knowingly foster upon another, such a waste.”
Nettie patted his arm, raised up on her tip toes to give him a kiss, “Billy, I hope you invited him to return with his brother.”
“I did, for dinner on Monday night with his father. That okay with you my darling?”
“Perfect! I would have been awfully sore at you if you had not extended an invitation.”
“Now, darling Nettie, I wouldn’t dream of disappointing you.”
Back in town, Scott and Johnny milled about the streets after returning their horses. Murdoch and Aggie were not back yet, which meant they were having a grand old time.
Johnny was less concerned now about the possibilities of Aggie becoming Murdoch’s wife, as he thoroughly enjoyed seeing the warm companionship between the Hoskins. His memories of his mother and her various men was not a good example of how a loving couple should behave with each other. Johnny had to wonder if his mother’s disposition had been the reason for her steady downfall. She sang and danced in saloon after saloon for their meager existence, dragging home men for more money, or not returning until the next day, with a bruised lip or black eye more than a few times.
“Nope, not the best example in the world,” Johnny thought.
“Penny for your thoughts, Johnny.”
“Scott, my thoughts aren’t worth that much.”
“Well something’s on your mind.”
“Just thinkin’ about the Hoskins is all. They seem like they’re happy.”
“Yes, they do. I’m grateful, Johnny, that you helped me stick it out back there.”
“Scott, ya don’t have ta keep thankin’ me. Brothers help each other out.”
“Ya seem ta be more like your old self, Scott. I’m happy ta see that. If I did anything ta help ya get there, then I’m glad. I know I wasn’t always there for ya in the beginning, hell, I know I gave ya a hard time, no wonder ya sucker punched me, I would have done the same, positions swapped. But now I can’t see us not workin’ together ta fix what’s wrong.”
“Hey, here comes Murdoch now!”
The buggy whirled past them towards the stable. Johnny and Scott jogged towards them.
The pair was beaming with pleasure, Murdoch jumped down to reach up, assisting Aggie from the buggy. And she smiled at him, raising her hand to remove a stray piece of grass that was clinging near his ear.
Johnny elbowed Scott, “Will ya lookee there, I think the ol’ man got lucky on his picnic.”
“Shhhh…he’s got ears like an owl, he’ll hear you.”
“Nah, I think he’s too busy.”
“Boys! How was your day?”
“Fine,” said Scott. “We got a lot accomplished.”
Johnny chuckled, “How was your day, Murdoch?”
Murdoch was holding Aggies’ elbow, “Wonderful.”
“Wonderful?” Johnny repeated, getting an elbow from Scott in his ribcage.
“We had a lovely picnic and your father entertained me…”
“I’ll bet he did,” Johnny said, earning a glare from Murdoch and another elbow jab from Scott.
“Yes, Johnny, I’ll have you know that your father can skip a rock ten times across the water, chain flowers, climb a tree to retrieve a lady’s bonnet, and tells some of the funniest stories.”
“Really? He climbed a tree?” asked Scott his face straight.
“Now that I’d pay money ta see,” grinned Johnny. “Hope ya didn’t fall.”
“Now, see here, boys, just because I have a few years on you young whippersnappers, doesn’t mean I’m incapable of climbing a tree or anything else.”
Johnny lost it, falling against Scott, laughing at the mental pictures that were forming in his head.
“Harrumph! We’ll see you two at dinner. Then you can fill us in on your day. Perhaps we’ll find something equally amusing to chuckle over your day. Come along Aggie.”
Johnny laughed until he had to wipe his eyes, “I can just see the ol’ man hangin’ onto branches.”
“I have to admit that picture is quite amusing. I suppose he thinks he’s protecting Aggie from any extra scrutiny.”
“Too late for that brother, ya notice the dust on the back of her dress? The dry grass clingin’ ta her hem?”
“I did, but you better not mention that at dinner. Murdoch might clobber you. Besides, they did go on a picnic, people get dirty on picnics from the nature of them being held on the ground. We better head over to the hotel, clean up for dinner, that is if you have any room left.”
“Picnic my ass,” chuckled Johnny. “What type of picnic lasts all day long, where the couple comes back with rosy cheeks, looking like they’ve been rollin’ in the dirt. Johnny bent over laughing.
“Ya don’t suppose he got sunburn on…”
“Johnny! I don’t want to picture that.”
“Well, ya know as well as me, had that been either one of us, out all day long with a girl, we’d be hauled in front of the Justice of the Peace and hitched faster than we could blink. Which is why, dear brother I refuse ta go on any picnics without ya!”
“Come on Johnny, let’s go.”
Sunday found Scott at the Modesto Citizens’ Cemetery where he assisted with the decorating of the graves. In all there were twenty graves of men who had served their country, came west with families seeking green pastures, some perhaps to escape the remnants of the effects of the war, like the Hoskins.
Scott stayed behind after the other men from the GAR chapter left. He walked the rows, paused to read each name and their service unit. He did not find any names he recognized and was grateful for that. And just like at Arlington Cemetery, the graves were intertwined of Union and Confederate soldiers, no line dividing them in death, but instead at eternal rest amongst the brotherhood of mankind. He jotted the names and ranks onto paper he had brought.
From the street, Johnny kept his watchful eyes upon his brother. He would go get him if he stayed in there much longer. Aggie and Murdoch were heading to the wedding of her friend’s daughter and had invited them to join them. Johnny thought a party would be just the thing for the day, get his brother out on the dance floor, twirling some pretty young girls around, while he enjoyed the wedding cake.
Soon enough Scott walked outside the cemetery, not surprised to find Johnny waiting for him.
“Yes, Johnny, let’s go find the others.”
“Head for the church. Church twice on the same day! Don’t see why they couldn’t have gotten hitched after the regular Sunday preaching.”
“Probably because it’s unlucky for the groom to see his bride before the wedding, is why.”
“Well, that’s a dumb idea if ya ask me. Seems like the groom will be lookin’ at her for the rest of his life, what difference does it make?”
“Johnny, I don’t make the rules. Seems like the women pretty much run the show on how a wedding should be. All we have to do is show up, say a few words, put a ring on her finger, kiss her, and poof, like that you’re hitched.”
Johnny smiled, “Ya left out the best part…”
“Yup, but we know some gals don’t need all that fuss ta get ta the best part.”
“I don’t think you should mention this today Johnny, best left unsaid at the reception.”
“I wasn’t plannin’ on sayin’ a word…just thinkin’ about it.”
“Come on brother, we better move it along, it’s almost 2:00pm. Don’t want ta be late.”
“Not like we know the couple.”
“True, Boston, but we do know Murdoch and Aggie.”
During the wedding ceremony Scott listened partially, his thoughts focusing less of what was said there and more on the morrow. He had a part in the ceremony that was important to him, which was why he lingered after the others had gone away from the cemetery. He marveled at how life was an on-going, never breaking circle of life. Today a crowd of witnesses gathered to celebrate a young couple beginning their journey in life together — who knew what their future held? — while tomorrow people would gather to honor those who gave service to their country and were now gone.
Absentmindedly he followed Johnny’s lead during the ceremony, rising to his feet when the bride entered the sanctuary, sitting back down on the hard wooden pew, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, which for some reason was included. Later he joined in on the dancing, getting pushed from behind by Johnny and pulled from one silly young girl after another, who laughed behind their ornate fans, not thinking any dark thoughts. He was pretty sure he didn’t step on anyone’s toes, or spill any punch as the party went on. Had it not been for Murdoch, Aggie and Johnny, Scott would have left the reception to go back to the hotel.
Early the next morning, Scott rose from his bed; he was fidgety and agitated, which was not like him. He pulled on his clothes, leaving Johnny to snore logs as he shut the door. On the early morning streets, he was one of a handful of people. Sometime during last evening and the morning, colorful banners had been hung on buildings along the street, where the parade would start, complete with a band, leading the observers to the cemetery. Scott walked slowly down the boardwalk; the names of each man who died at Libby Prison during their botched escape attempt were forever etched upon his heart, as each face came to his mind.
He reflected upon his duty today, fraternizing with the enemy during wartime would have gotten him shot as a traitor, now it was okay. What a strange world it was, indeed.
As Scott walked, his thoughts focused on lyrics and a tune, which started playing in his head. It was a familiar hymn that he had sung as a boy in church, the words at the time had meant little to him. He recalled that it was an old hymn written almost a hundred years earlier by John Newton, an English poet and clergyman. It carried the message that now became perceptible to Scott that forgiveness and redemption were possible regardless of the sins people had committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Scott smiled with release, the answer had been inside his heart all along, he just needed the time to work it out and let it come to him. Grace had led him home, from the war to Lancer, and now to here where he found the redemption he had been seeking. He had found his way to put his troubles behind him and move forward, to celebrate and honor those who died seeking freedom for others. “I once was lost but now am found. Was blind, but now I see,” he had indeed been lost and blind, turning instead away from the answers. The answers were clear, his heart and head lighter as the tension ebbed away.
The clomping of boots on the boardwalk jostled him, knowing that at any second, his brother would reach him. He stopped walking, turned around, which made Johnny stop running. He searched his brother’s face and was relieved to see that Scott was smiling, truly smiling, no half little uplift, no biting his lips. His spirit had lifted; his stature taller, his smile wide, his eyes shone bright, no trace of doom, gloom or regret lingered in the steel grey-blue orbs.
“Welcome back, brother,” Johnny grinned as he wrapped an arm around Scott’s neck. “I missed ya.”
“Johnny let go, that’s too tight.”
“I’ll give ya too tight! Ya had me worried for days! I don’t know what happened, but boy am I glad it worked!”
“I remembered a hymn about another man, who had lost his way.”
“Yeah? Well ya can sing it ta me anytime, Scott. So I can shout it out! I was worried ya do something that I would regret.”
Scott pulled away from the head lock Johnny had on him, “Brother, you can’t get rid of me this easy.”
“Easy? Ya call this easy? Nevermind…let’s go eat now that you got me up early.”
“That’s my brother…always thinking about food. But I sure could use some coffee.”
“Whatever ya want Scott, let me know and I’ll get it. Chinese food? A girl? A new fancy ruffled shirt? Whatever ya want, I’ll get it.”
“Coffee is fine, brother.”
Murdoch soon joined his sons in the dining room. He yawned widely, “Pardon me boys, all the fresh air yesterday must have worn me out.”
Scott kicked Johnny under the table, “Ouch!”
“Something on your mind, Johnny?”
“Nope, Murdoch, Scott forgot his legs are longer than mine and this table’s shorter than back home. Right brother?”
“Sorry, Johnny, I should be more careful when I cross my legs.”
“Yeah, ya should.”
“Scott, I hope that you haven’t minded that I have given my attention over to Aggie. It seemed to me that you and Johnny needed to spend some brotherly time together.”
“No sir, we have kept ourselves occupied. Right brother?”
“Yup, found plenty of things ta do in this growin’ town.”
“Good, well, I sense, Scott that things are a bit different for you now?”
“Murdoch, I found what I was seeking. Today should be a solemn remembrance, a tribute to all the men who are buried here in Modesto, far from their homes. Tomorrow we can go home, knowing that while my memories will stay with me, they won’t trouble me anymore.”
“Son, I’m pleased to hear you say that. Hold tight to the happier memories, let the others fade away. That’s all anyone can do. We must look forward. And speaking of that, boys, do either of you have any objections if Aggie travels home with us on the stage?”
“Sorry brother, I did it again. My apologies. No sir, we don’t have any objections, none at all. It will be a pleasure, traveling with a lady, right Johnny?”
“So help me Scott if, you kick me again…”
“I’ll take that as a yes, Johnny,” Murdoch smiled, raising his coffee cup for a drink.
“Now Murdoch, I must go get ready, the ceremony starts at 11:30am out front of this hotel. I’ll see you afterwards. Don’t forget, we’re invited to dinner at the Hoskins.”
“Around these parts, the afternoon meal is called supper not dinner, dinner is in the evening.”
“If you say so. We’re invited for supper. You’ll like them both.”
“Even if they are Rebels,” Johnny smirked. “That Mrs. Hoskins is a real fine cook.”
“I’m looking forward to it, boys and so is Aggie.”
Johnny quickly shifted his leg away from Scott’s foot.
People began assembling along the street long before the start of the parade. Many carried small flags sold by one of the stores, waving the 37 stars and 13 red and white stripes with excitement. Murdoch escorted Aggie to a front spot on the boardwalk, Johnny by his side handed them each a flag to wave.
Soon music filtered through the air as the small band approached, strands of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” had people waving the flags with patriotic pride. Behind the band were the organizers and members of the local GAR chapter, many wearing pieces of their former uniform, which mainly consisted of hats, a few faded yellow or blue sashes. The men walked in formation, arms swung, mostly in unison as bodies snapped lively to the familiar tunes. “Dixie Land” was played, there were a few Rebel yells made by the crowd during the music.
Next, the band surged forward with the crowd falling in behind the band and the GAR members, holding their flags high and waving them. The band shifted into other familiar pieces of music that had touched their lives during the war, “Aura Lee”, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “Beautiful Dreamer” and “My Old Kentucky Home” caused some people to weep at their forgotten memories about back home.
Murdoch’s heart filled with pride as he found Scott in the GAR group, marching along, and his eyes straight ahead. Aggie pointed him out, “There he is. My, doesn’t he look dignified?”
Johnny wanted to whistle to draw his attention, but didn’t, knowing that Scott wouldn’t appreciate it. And this was the reason they were here, for Scott. So Johnny waved his flag, keeping time with the music.
Arriving at the cemetery, the crowd assembled near the platform where everyone could view the decorated war veteran’s graves. The Lancers with Aggie found a spot near the platform, where the members of the GAR stood at attention. The crowd was hushed, as a large US flag was raised on the flag pole that overlooked the decorated graves. They broke out in song as the band played “The Star-Spangled Banner:
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Next the Reverend Joseph Irving, who had replaced the Reverend Jonathan L. Mann, now gone to his final reward with the other veterans, offered the opening prayer. He selected a hymn that was appropriate for the occasion, written in 1868 for another Decoration Day memorial service:
Kneel where our loves are sleeping, Dear ones days gone by,
Here we bow in holy reverence; our bosoms heave the heartfelt sigh.
They fell like brave men, true as steel, and pour’d their blood like rain,
We feel we owe them all we have, and can but weep and kneel again.
Kneel where our loves are sleeping, they lost but still were good and true,
Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting, we weep, ‘tis all that we can do.
Here we find our noble dead, their spirits soar’d to him above,
Rest they now about his throne, For God is mercy, God is love.
Then let us pray that we may live, as pure and good as they have been,
That dying we may ask of him, to open the gate and let us in.
Kneel where our loves are sleeping, they lost but still were good and true,
Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting, we weep, ‘tis all that we can do.”
In the audience were members of the families of the men buried in this hallowed ground. Many were dressed in black, handkerchiefs pressed to their eyes. Even Aggie had shed a tear at the hymn, which while did not apply directly to any veterans was very applicable as services like this were being held across the nation, where many had fallen while fighting.
William Hoskins came to the center of the platform; he held a slip of paper in his hands. “Friends, families, citizens of Modesto and parts unknown, thank you for joining us on the day we set aside to pay tribute to our fallen comrades, brothers in arms no longer, but instead brothers in peace. It is my great privilege to offer you a profound tribute from General James A. Garfield, Union, from his very long speech four years ago on May 30th, 1868, at the very first Memorial Day observance on the ground of Arlington National Cemetery. I won’t read the entire speech since it took him an hour and a half. As we gather here to remember these brave men, we should offer our appreciation that these men served us:
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and virtue.”
He looked up at the crowd, “Good folks, we have a guest amongst us, Lieutenant Scott Lancer, who served under Major General Philip H. Sheridan, Army of the Potomac, now residing in Morro Coyo. He made a special trip along with his family to attend our Decoration Day Memorial Services. As most senior commission officer present he will read roll call of the honored veterans, resting here.”
Scott stepped forward, head high, shoulders back, he solemnly shook William’s hand, and then they saluted each other. Johnny and Murdoch watched, proud that Scott was able to do both without hesitation, Aggie squeezed Murdoch’s upper arm in acknowledgement that everything was alright, Scott was getting through this.
Scott removed a folded piece of paper from his jacket, began to read the names, pausing after each one to allow one rifle shot to be fired by a row of men, wearing the hats of their uniforms, Union and Confederates united:
James R. Carey
William A. Clayton
Benjamin N. Drake
Cyrus Goodlow Hanna
Charles Warren Johnson
James R. Johnson
Charles Evander Kettle
Samuel A. Mack
Rev. Jonathan L. Mann
Thomas Case McCumber
Charles Lawrence Payne
Daniel J. Shaffer
John Wilson Shannon
Chauncy F. Waldo
Harlan T. White
Pvt., Cos. F & A, 3rd CA Infantry
Pvt., Co. A, 140 IN Infantry
Sgt., Co. E, 53 IL Infantry
Cpl, Co. A, 8 IN Infantry
Pvt., Co. B, 23 IA Infantry
Pvt., Cos. B & H, 4 CA Infantry
Pvt., Co. D, 1 NY Mounted Rifles
Pvt., Co. F, 7 MO Cavalry
Capt., Co. E, 13 PA Reserve Infantry
Chaplain, 9 TN Cavalry
Pvt., Co. G, 51 WI Infantry; Co. A, 53 WI Infantry
Pvt., Co. B, 21 NY Cavalry
Capt., Co. K, 137 NY Infantry
Sgt., Co. B, 64 IL Infantry (Yates Sharpshooters)
Pvt., Co. F, 21 PA Cavalry
Pvt., Co. A, 5 KS Cavalry
Pvt., Cos. D & K, 3 CA Infantry
Pvt., Co. A, 13 IA Infantry
Pvt., Co. G, 3 MI Infantry
Pvt., Co. E, 5 NY Heavy Artillery & Co. I, 2nd US Heavy Artillery
When he concluded with the last name, Scott pivoted on his heels to salute the flag that waved over the graves. He was satisfied he had fulfilled his final obligation to the best of his abilities. For as Scott read each name on his list in his mind’s eye he pictured the faces of each man who had been executed at Libby Prison for the failed escape attempt. Twenty for twenty, it was serendipity that the number matched equally or was it pre-ordained? Either way, Scott felt he had paid his debt in full and was ready to move forward with his life, he didn’t believe he would have any more nightmares. Back in line, standing at attention, eyes forward a tiny smile appeared on the lips of Lieutenant Lancer, that Johnny noticed, as did Murdoch.
Seven ladies in black next came to the platform, each with a card to read a simple piece:
Give sorrow words;
the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart
and bids it break.
~ William Shakespeare ~
They are all gone into the world of light,
And I alone sit lingering here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
~ Henry Vaughan ~
They shall grow not old
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them.
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We will remember them!
~ Lawrence Binyon ~
I have fought a good fight
I have finished my course
I have kept the faith.
~ Timothy 2:4:7 ~
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
~ Aeschylus ~
“War drew us from our homeland
In the sunlit springtime of our youth.
Those who did not come back alive remain
in perpetual springtime — forever young –
And a part of them is with us always.”
~ Unknown ~
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on the snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the mornings hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush,
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
for I am not there,
I did not die.
~ Unknown ~
There wasn’t a dry eye to be found as men, women, young and old wept as one by one the widows took a single red rose, kissed it and placed it upon their husband’s graves.
In the distance a strange sound began as a piper played “Amazing Grace”, which made Scott pay even more attention as the familiar tune was heard. Following the lone piper’s mournful rendition of the hymn, a single bugle played “Taps”, a familiar sound that had all the men at attention:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
The ceremony concluded with the firing on one cannon, in the distance, which made Johnny jump. No one had mentioned that any cannon would be fired. It was quite a stirring ceremony that ended with townsfolk clustered in groups, conversing softly as they inspected the names on the markers. The widows were surrounded by family members and friends.
Scott joined his own small cluster of family and friend. Aggie wrapped Scott in a warm embrace, while she whispered in his ear, “Job well done brave soldier.”
Johnny and Murdoch rested their hands upon his shoulders; there was nothing else to be said. They recognized that they were the fortunate ones, to have their family together. None would forget this day that meant so much to Scott, eradicating his demons as he stood side-by-side with men who one time would have done him harm.
Scott turned to salute the flag again, “one country, one flag, and one family. I am truly blessed.”
“We are all son.”
Patti – May 28, 2010
Reader’s Note #1:
The vast majority of the cited data follows an accurate timeline pertaining to the story of how Decoration Day started as well as the formation of the “Grand Army Plot” in the Modesto Citizens’ Cemetery (see Reader’s Note #2 & #3). I did take liberties with the list of soldiers names Scott read in tribute service. During my research for this story I came across a website that had a brief synopsis of each soldier who was interned as a veteran of the Civil War. Sometimes a writer needs to look past the “facts” when developing a fictional story, when necessary, to blend truth and fiction to craft a story.
While the soldiers’’ names are indeed authentic, the majority of them would have been living during the timeframe of this story were this a non-fictional piece of work. I merely selected a representation of the veterans who passed away before the start of the 20th Century. This was my criteria to have enough names for a list. I did this to provide Scott with a roster of authentic soldiers that had lived through whatever horrors they did and then migrated to California after the Civil War. Scott needed something to do at the services, a roll call list was the answer, and since this is a tribute for Memorial Day, I did not want to craft a list of fictional names when I had factual data at my fingertips. For this reason I did not include the birth and death years of each valiant soldier who served their country during the most bloody time span when brother fought against brother on American soil.
The cemetery itself did not exist until 1872, and so it was necessary to take small liberties to make the story fit into Scott’s history.
Reader’s Note #2:
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.
Why Logan chose May 30th as the official day is interesting, since prior Decoration days in Waterloo, NY were held on May 5, and an earlier Decoration event in Carbondale, IL was on April 29. A possible explanation to this goes back to a French emigrant woman named Cassandra Oliver Moncure, who in 1866 organized a Decoration event in Virginia and picked May 30th. She explained that May 30th is the “Day of Ashes” when Napoleon’s ashes were returned to France from St. Helena.
On May 5, 1868, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that: The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery. This 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances of the day in several towns throughout America that had taken place in the three years since the Civil War. In fact, several Northern and Southern cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg, Pa.; and Carbondale, Ill.
In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo—which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—because the town had made Memorial Day an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
By the late 1800s, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Memorial Day and, after World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor all veterans, living and dead, is celebrated each year on November 11.)
Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.
Several Southern states continue to set aside a special day for honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day.
Reader’s Note #3:
The Grand Army of the Republic was a patriotic society of Union Army veterans founded in 1866 to strengthen the fraternal spirit, to perpetuate the memory, and to assist needy Civil War veterans and their families. In Modesto, Grand Post #9, GAR, received its charter on July 9, 1879, and proud members later marched in parades, arranged military funerals, and honored veterans with a permanent memorial located in the local cemetery.
Once again, I took my liberties as a writer to include CSA soldiers with the GAR, probably, in RL would have been a colossal “no-no” but here again in order for Scott to stumble upon closure, he had to come face to face with his enemies to realize they were regular people, no more, no less than he.
The Modesto Citizens’ Cemetery, Modesto’s oldest, was laid out in 1872 soon after the founding of the town. The Modesto Cemetery Association deeded the section known as the “Grand Army Plot,” which is the final resting place of thirty-eight of the veterans, to Grant Post #9 on March 4, 1882. Through the efforts of James L. Thompson and Grant Post #9, two Civil War-era cannons were secured and placed in this plot as a memorial to the veterans in 1907. The War Department provided twenty-six military headstones. A cenotaph, given by the local American Legion Post honoring the few remaining veterans, was added to complete the memorial in 1925. A second GAR cemetery plot was added in 1908. The deed to this plot was signed by the cemetery trustee, L. B. Walthall, himself a civic-minded, Confederate veteran.
Some one hundred thirty veterans out of the almost two hundred identified Civil War veterans buried throughout Stanislaus County are interred in the four adjoining cemeteries located along Scenic Drive and once known as “The Silent City.” These veterans, Union and Confederate, represent a variety of states including California. After the War, many veterans brought their families by wagon and later by train to establish a new and better life and to trade the horrors and isolation of an earlier time for the realization of dreams of peace and prosperity in a new, undivided land.
Reader’s Note #4:
Contrary to legend, the tune of taps was written (or rather, adapted) by Union General Dan Butterfield of Utica NY in 1862 during the Civil War. The story varies as to the original source of the song. One source says that Taps is actually adapted from the French “Tatoo” (“Extinguish Lights”) that was played at the close of business. Family history, however, says the song was actually written by confederate Milton Butterfield, a relative of General Dan who gave the song to the General written on the back of an envelope during a truce. This is confirmed in a letter brigade bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton wrote to a newspaper in 1898, indicating that he had been given the tune written on a back on an envelope.
The newspaper wrote General Dan Butterfield, then living in Cold Springs, NY. Here is a portion of his response: “I had composed a call for my brigade, to precede any calls, indicating that such were calls, or orders, for my brigade alone. The call of Taps did not seem to be as smooth, melodious and musical as it should be, and I called in someone who could write music, and practiced a change in the call of Taps until I had it suit my ear, and then, as Norton writes, got it to my taste without being able to write music or knowing the technical name of any note, but, simply by ear, arranged it as Norton describes.”
Later, at a Union military funeral, Taps was substituted for the customary rifle volleys at the graveside. It seems that Union officers were worried that the ceremonial gunshots would set off an attack by the edgy Confederates. Taps was well on its way to becoming the nation’s requiem.
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