April 2, 1895
Early spring in Washington D.C. had come in with a gentle rain that had turned the hills of Arlington green with beauty. On top of one of those small rises was the majestic home known as Arlington House. In one of those supreme ironies, the house had once belonged to the family of Mary Anna Custis Lee, but with the coming of civil war in 1861, the house had been claimed by the U.S. government while the surrounding property had become Arlington National Cemetery in 1864. Robert E. Lee and his wife were never to live in the beautiful home again, another one of the endless sacrifices made by those who had chosen to go with the South.
Even though it was now late afternoon two people stood by the newest of the cemetery’s graves. As the heat from the sun faded, the cool reminder of the time of year sent a chill through the figure of the slim woman who stood there silently. Her hair was still long and light in color so the silver threads were not as noticeable although the events of the past few months had certainly produced lines of grief and pain in the once lovely face.
At her side was a slender man who had traveled far to be there on that Tuesday, a distance not only measured in miles but in time and memory. In fact, this man and woman as well as the man now at peace in the grave shared a unique history, dating back over thirty years.
Black mourning dress accentuated the paleness of Sarah Cassidy’s face as she turned slowly to face the waiting man. “I do appreciate your coming all this way, Scott. I think Dan would be pleased to know that you have forgiven him.”
Feeling slightly uncomfortable at the point of reference, Scott Lancer reached out to take one of the widow’s hands. “Sarah, whatever Dan tried to do to me was over many years ago. He was a victim too.”
Sarah nodded slightly. “He. . .he talked about you and your family many times after we left Lancer. He really tried. . .wanted to make things right, to acknowledge the risks you and your family took for us. I know that Jed and Rick would have killed us both had you not intervened.”
“Whatever Dan did, he wasn’t truly responsible for the deaths of those sixteen men. It could just have easily been me who was delirious and revealed the escape attempt.”
Sarah leaned over to adjust the flowers placed on the grave. Face hidden from Scott’s gaze, Sarah whispered, “I think D-Dan had almost convinced himself of that at one point. The nightmares had become less frequent. He even seemed to understand about my not telling him the truth at the beginning.” Standing, she turned to face the silver-haired man. “I didn’t think he could truthfully. One night he drank too much and said horrible things to me, about how I had almost sacrificed your life for his peace of mind. He never could forgive himself for his arrogance in going after you.”
“Sarah. . . .”
“No, it’s all right. In the last twenty-five years, I’ve had to face what I did. I loved him so much and knew that he. . .he’d be lost to me if he ever discovered what he had done so I allowed him believe that you were responsible. I let those two. . .Rick and Jed play on his hatred and almost kill you. There was nothing he could accuse me of that I didn’t think of first.” Sarah put one hand over her eyes before looking up into the lined face of Scott Lancer. “I loved him, but it just wasn’t enough. For a time I deluded myself that we could get through it together, but then the letters started coming. Every year on the same day. He tried to shield me from them, but one day I found one.”
“The first one was fifteen years ago. It was only one line and only one part of it changed from year to year. The first one said ‘Today my brother would have been thirty-five.’ The letters were never signed, but Dan always knew who had written them. When. . .when the note arrived last month, he didn’t even try to hide it. I watched him as his face crumpled. All he could say was ‘fifty’ as if it was the key to a puzzle. When he saw me standing there, he walked over and kissed me. Then Dan went out for a ride. They. . .they found him later, his neck was. . .broken from a fall.”
Trembling with the memory of her loss and the cold in the air, Sarah took Scott’s arm. “Perhaps we should go back to the hotel. I can always come again tomorrow. I’ve decided to sell our home and move into a smaller place here so I can be nearby. It’s the last thing I can do for him. As long as I’m alive, they’ll be someone to remember what Dan Cassidy was like before war and hatred destroyed him.”
“Sarah, don’t you think I remember that man too? We were good friends once. I was proud to serve with him in the 83rd. I just regret there wasn’t more that I could do to help him.”
Sarah squeezed Scott’s arm. “You gave him a second chance and it wasn’t so bad for awhile. He tried, he really tried but in the end Jed Lewis won. The irony is that one of Dan’s army friends who stopped by the house to pay his respects told me that Lewis was killed not long after Dan. . .died. He was in some kind of brawl and was knifed. I don’t know what happened to Rick Hardy.”
As the carriage crossed the bridge over the Potomac to Washington , Sarah hesitated then continued, “I almost didn’t send you the telegram when. . .because I didn’t want to open up old wounds. Both Dan and I assumed that you would never want to hear from us again. I know your brother didn’t approve of us being there at Lancer although your father was very understanding.”
“I’m glad you did. I admit I was. . .disappointed that Dan wouldn’t give me a chance to tell my side of the story, but I refuse to judge him. From what you say, he must have lived in his own hell for all those years. Hatred and guilt can be worse than bullets.”
Biting at her lip, Sarah looked at the profile of the still-handsome man with the buggy reins in his hands. “I didn’t tell you this before, but Dan left me a note. He wanted you to come to his funeral. That’s why I did contact you despite my own feelings about the matter. Fortunately, I. . .we found a way to delay the funeral until you could arrive.”
When the carriage stopped in front of the Willard Hotel , Scott helped the blonde-haired woman down. Chilled from the ride, he suggested they stop in the lounge for a cup of hot cider. It and the roaring fire in the fireplace were most welcome.
Pleased to see renewed color in Sarah’s face, Scott proceeded to talk about Sarah’s plans for the future. Sighing, Cassidy’s widow admitted, “I’m not really sure what my plans are. Once I sell the house and with the money Dan left me in his will, I shouldn’t have any problems in that way. I regret we were never able to have children, but in the end perhaps it was a good thing.” Hesitating, she gazed into Scott’s blue eyes. “What about you? You haven’t told me anything about what you’ve been doing all these years.”
“Working hard. My grandfather died in 1878 so I had to return to Boston for a time to take care of that. Then Murdoch was killed in an accident in the early 80s so that meant increased responsibility for Johnny and me.”
“So Johnny stayed at Lancer?”
“Is there any reason he shouldn’t have?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” Sarah apologized. “It’s just that he didn’t seem to be the kind of man who enjoyed staying in one place.”
Scott grinned at the remark. “Well, he did have an itchy foot for awhile there. He lost that when he got married.”
“He married a young woman from Mexico . They had a daughter and moved to a small ranch not too far from Lancer.”
“I don’t understand. You just said. . . .”
“When the little girl was four, some men from my brother’s past came looking for him. His daughter was killed and not long after that his wife left him. She couldn’t handle what had happened. He gave up their ranch and came back to Lancer.”
Sadness filled the lovely woman’s face. “I’m very sorry to hear about his loss. It’s not easy when something from the past threatens those you love.”
“Time has helped. That and being able to play uncle to Teresa’s children. She has three of them and they spend lots of time at Lancer. Johnny and I have made them the heirs to the ranch. It only seems fair since no one loves Lancer more than Teresa.”
“And you never married?”
Scott shook his head. “Had a chance once or twice, but in the end I decided it wasn’t for me.”
“Well, as long as you’re content.”
“For the most part I am. You know the War has been over for almost thirty years and I still dream about it. Then I look at all those graves like the ones at Arlington and I realize that nightmares are a small price to pay. I survived and I’d like to think that I came out of it a stronger man.”
“You certainly did. I only wish. . .but enough lamenting the past. Would you be interested in going to dinner with me later, Mr. Lancer?”
Scott gave her a smile. “I certainly would, Mrs. Cassidy. Perhaps tomorrow you could show me the sights of Washington ? It’s been a long time since I’ve visited here.”
“Of course. I would be delighted.
“Fine. I’m starting back to Lancer day after tomorrow. Can’t leave Johnny in charge for too long. The last time I did that he almost sold half the ranch to raise money for some kind of flying machine.”
“Flying machine?” she gasped.
“Many years back Chad Lancre, who was some kind of cousin of ours, got involved with this professor who was convinced that a flying machine could be built. Johnny took an interest, even after Chad took off from the ranch. When he met another man who was interested in building one, Johnny was really excited. He wanted to finance the machine, but to do so he would have had to sell off part of the ranch and he would never do that since it wasn’t long after Murdoch’s death. I offered to lend him the money, but well, when he went back to look for the man, he had disappeared. Guess there won’t ever be a Lancer Lightning.”
“That’s what this man said he would call the machine if Johnny came up with the money.”
“It. . .it sounds like something out of a dream.”
Scott smiled. “I guess it does, but would anything be accomplished without a dream to start with? Just look at Lancer.”
Sarah Cassidy looked down at the watch pinned to her black dress and then announced, “If we are to have dinner later, Scott, I must go change. I shall meet you here at 7:30 if that is all right.?”
“Fine.” Scott rose to his feet while the trim woman made her way to the staircase. Deciding to have a whiskey before changing for dinner, he walked into the bar and ordered a double. With the death of Dan Cassidy there was only Scott to remember the men of the 83rd. In silent tribute he raised his glass to their memory.
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