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Heaven and Hell
The North and South Trilogy (Book Three)
By John Jakes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 John Jakes
All rights reserved.
All around him, pillars of fire shot skyward. The fighting had ignited the dry underbrush, then the trees. Smoke brought tears to his eyes and made it hard to see the enemy skirmishers.
Charles Main bent low over the neck of his gray, Sport, and waved his straw hat, shouting "Hah! Hah!" Ahead, at the gallop, manes streaming out, the twenty splendid cavalry horses veered one way, then another, seeking escape from the heat and the scarlet glare.
"Don't let them turn," Charles shouted to Ab Woolner, whom he couldn't see in the thick smoke. Rifle fire crackled. A dim figure to his left toppled from the saddle.
Could they get out? They had to get out. The army desperately needed these stolen mounts.
A burly sergeant in Union blue jumped up from behind a log. He aimed and put a rifle ball into the head of the mare at the front of the herd. She bellowed and fell. A chestnut behind her stumbled and went down. Charles heard bone snap as he galloped on. The sergeant's sooty face broke into a smile. He blew a hole in the head of the chestnut.
The heat seared Charles's face. The smoke all but blinded him. He'd completely lost sight of Ab and the others in the gray-clad raiding party. Only the need to get the animals to General Hampton pushed him on through the inferno that mingled sunlight with fire.
His lungs began to hurt, strangled for air. He thought he saw a gap ahead that marked the end of the burning wood. He applied spurs; Sport responded gallantly. "Ab, straight ahead. Do you see it?"
There was no response except more rifle fire, more outcries, more sounds of horses and men tumbling into the burning leaves that carpeted the ground. Charles jammed his hat on his head and yanked out his .44-caliber Army Colt and thumbed the hammer back. In front of him, strung across the escape lane, three Union soldiers raised bayonets. They turned sideways to the stampeding horses. One soldier rammed his bayonet into the belly of a piebald. A geyser of blood splashed him. With a great agonized whinny, the piebald went down.
Such vicious brutality to an animal drove Charles past all reason. He fired two rounds, but Sport was racing over such rough ground he couldn't hope for a hit. With the herd flowing around them, the three Union boys took aim. One ball tore right between Sport's eyes and splattered blood on Charles's face. He let out a demented scream as the gray's forelegs buckled, tossing him forward.
He landed hard and came up on hands and knees, groggy. Another smiling Union boy dodged in with his bayonet Charles had an impression of orange light too bright to stare at, heat so intense he could almost feel it broil his skin. The Union boy stepped past Sport, down and dying, and rammed the bayonet into Charles's belly and ripped upward, tearing him open from navel to breastbone.
A second soldier put his rifle to Charles's head. Charles heard the roar, felt the impact—then the wood went dark.
"Straight on, Ab! It's the only way out."
"Mr. Charles, sir, wake up."
He opened his eyes, saw a woman's silhouette bathed in deep red light. He swallowed air, thrashed. Red light. The forest was burning—
No. The light came from the red bowls of the gas mantles around the parlor. There was no fire, no heat. Still dazed, he said, "Augusta?"
"Oh, no, sir," she said sadly. "It's Maureen. You made such an outcry, I thought you'd had a seizure of some kind."
Charles sat up and pushed his dark hair off his sweaty forehead. The hair hadn't been cut in a while. It curled over the collar of his faded blue shirt. Though he was only twenty-nine, a lot of his handsomeness had been worn away by privation and despair.
Across the parlor of the suite in the Grand Prairie Hotel, Chicago, he saw his gun belt lying on a chair cushion. The holster held his 1848 Colt, engraved with a scene of Indians fighting Army dragoons. Over the back of the same chair lay his gypsy cloak, a patchwork of squares from butternut trousers, fur robes, Union greatcoats, yellow and scarlet comforters. He'd sewn it, piece by piece, during the war, for warmth. The war—
"Bad dream," he said. "Did I wake Gus?"
"No, sir. Your son's sleeping soundly. I'm sorry about the nightmare."
"I should have known it for what it was. Ab Woolner was in it. And my horse Sport. They're both dead." He rubbed his eyes. "I'll be all right, Maureen. Thank you."
Doubtfully, she said, "Yes, sir," and tiptoed out.
All right? he thought. How could he ever be all right? He'd lost everything in the war, because he'd lost Augusta Barclay, who had died giving birth to the son he never knew about until she was gone.
The spell of the dream still gripped him. He could see and smell the forest burning, just as the Wilderness had burned. He could feel the heat boiling his blood. It was a fitting dream. He was a burned-out man, his waking hours haunted by two conflicting questions: Where could he find peace for himself? Where did he fit in a country no longer at war? His only answer to both was "Nowhere."
He shoved his hair back again and staggered to the sideboard, where he poured a stiff drink. Ruddy sunset light tinted the roofs of Randolph Street visible from the corner window. He was just finishing the drink, still trying to shake off the nightmare, when Augusta's uncle, Brigadier Jack Duncan, came through the foyer.
The first thing he said was "Charlie, I have bad news."
Brevet Brigadier Duncan was a thickly built man with crinkly gray hair and ruddy cheeks. He looked splendid in full dress: tail coat, sword belt, baldric, sash with gauntlets folded over it, chapeau with black silk cockade tucked under his arm. His actual rank in his new post at the Military Division of the Mississippi, headquartered in Chicago, was captain. Most wartime brevets had been reduced, but like all the others, Duncan was entitled to be addressed by his higher rank. He wore the single silver star of a brigadier on his epaulets, but he complained about the confusion of ranks, titles, insignia, and uniforms in the postwar army.
Charles, waiting for him to say more, relighted the stub of a cigar. Duncan laid his chapeau aside and poured a drink. "I've been at Division all afternoon, Charlie. Bill Sherman's to replace John Pope as commander."
"Is that your bad news?"
Duncan shook his head. "We have a million men still under arms, but by this time next year we'll be lucky to have twenty-five thousand. As part of that reduction, the First through the Sixth Volunteer Infantry Regiments are to be mustered out."
"All the Galvanized Yankees?" They were Confederate prisoners who had been put into the Union Army during the war in lieu of going to prison.
"Every last one. They acquitted themselves well, too. They kept the Sioux from slaughtering settlers in Minnesota, rebuilt telegraph lines the hostiles destroyed, garrisoned forts, guarded the stage and mail service. But it's all over."
Charles strode to the window. "Damn it, Jack, I came all the way out here to join one of those regiments."
"I know. But the doors are closed."
Charles turned, his face so forlorn Duncan was deeply moved. This South Carolinian who'd fathered his niece's child was a fine man. But like so many others, he'd been cast adrift in pain and confusion by the end of the war that had occupied him wholly for four years.
"Well, then," Charles said, "I suppose I'll have to swamp floors. Dig ditches—"
"There's another avenue, if you care to try it." Charles waited. "The regular cavalry."
"Hell, that's impossible. The amnesty proclamation excludes West Point men who changed sides."
"You can get around that." Before Charles could ask how, he continued. "There's a surplus of officers left from the war but a shortage of qualified enlisted men. You're a fine horseman and a topnotch soldier—you should be, coming from the Point. They'll take you ahead of all the Irish immigrants and one-armed wonders and escaped jailbirds."
Charles chewed on the cigar, thinking. "What about my boy?"
"Why, we'd just follow the same arrangement we agreed on previously. Maureen and I will keep Gus until you're through with training and posted somewhere. With luck—if you're at Fort Leavenworth or Fort Riley, for instance—you can hire a noncom's wife to nursemaid him. If not, he can stay on with us indefinitely. I love that boy. I'd shoot any man who looked cross-eyed at him."
"So would I." Charles pondered further. "Not much of a choice, is it? Muster with the regulars or go home, live on Cousin Madeline's charity, and sit on a cracker barrel telling war stories for the rest of my life." He chewed the cigar again, fiercely. Casting a quizzical look at Duncan, he asked, "You sure they'd have me in the regulars?"
"Charlie, hundreds of former reb—ah, Confederates are entering the Army. You just have to do what they do."
"When you enlist, lie like hell."
"Next," said the recruiting sergeant.
Charles walked to the stained table, which had a reeking spittoon underneath. Next door, a man screamed as a barber yanked his tooth.
The noncom smelled of gin, looked twenty years past retirement age, and did everything slowly. Charles had already sat for an hour while the sergeant processed two wild-eyed young men, neither of whom spoke English. One answered every question by thumping his chest and exclaiming, "Budapest, Budapest." The other thumped his chest and exclaimed, "United States Merica." God save the Plains Army.
The sergeant pinched his veined nose. "'fore we go on, do me a favor. Take that God-awful collection of rags or whatever it is and drop it outside. It looks disgusting and it smells like sheep shit."
Simmering, Charles folded the gypsy robe and put it neatly on the plank walk outside the door. Back at the table, he watched the sergeant ink his pen.
"You know the enlistment's five years—"
"Infantry or cavalry?"
That one word gave him away. Hostile, the sergeant said, "Southron?"
The sergeant reached for a pile of sheets held together by a metal ring. "Name?"
Charles had thought about that carefully. He wanted a name close to his real one, so he'd react naturally when addressed. "Charles May."
"May, May—" The sergeant leafed through the sheets, finally set them aside. In response to Charles's quizzical stare, he said, "Roster of West Point graduates. Division headquarters got it up." He eyed Charles's shabby clothes. "You don't have to worry about being mistook for one of those boys, I guess. Now, any former military service?"
"Wade Hampton Mounted Legion. Later—"
"Wade Hampton is enough." The sergeant wrote. "Highest rank?"
Taking Duncan's advice made him uncomfortable, but he did it. "Corporal."
"Can you prove that?"
"I can't prove anything. My records burned in Richmond."
The sergeant sniffed. "That's damned convenient for you rebs. Well, we can't be choosy. Ever since Chivington settled up with Black Kettle's Cheyennes last year, the damn plains tribes have gone wild."
The sergeant's "settled up" didn't fit the facts as Charles knew them. Near Denver, an emigrant party had been slain by Indians. An ex-preacher, Colonel J. M Chivington, had mustered Colorado volunteer troops to retaliate against a Cheyenne village at Sand Creek, though there was no evidence that the village chief, Black Kettle, or his people were responsible for the killings. Of the three hundred or so that Chivington's men slew at Sand Creek, all but about seventy-five were women and children. The raid had outraged many people in the country, but the sergeant wasn't one of them.
The dentist's patient shrieked again. "No, sir," the sergeant mused, his pen scratching, "we can't be choosy at all. Got to take pretty near whoever shows up." Another glance at Charles. "Traitors included."
Charles struggled with his anger. He supposed that if he went ahead—and he had to go ahead; what else did he know besides soldiering?—he'd hear plenty of variations on the tune of traitor. He'd better get used to listening without complaint.
"Can you read or write?"
The recruiter actually smiled. "That's good, though it don't make a damn bit of difference. You got the essentials. Minimum of one arm, one leg, and you're breathing. Sign here."
The locomotive's bell rang. Maureen dithered. "Sir—Brigadier—all passengers on board."
In the steam blowing along the platform, Charles hugged his bundled-up son. Little Gus, six months old now, wriggled and fretted with a case of colic. Maureen was still wet-nursing the baby, and this was his first bad reaction.
"I don't want him to forget me, Jack."
"That's why I had you sit for that daguerreotype. When he's a little older, I'll start showing it to him and saying Pa."
Gently, Charles transferred his son to the arms of the housekeeper, who was also, he suspected, the older man's wife-without-marriage-certificate. "Take good care of that youngster."
"It's almost an insult that you think we might not," Maureen said, rocking the child.
Duncan clasped Charles's hand. "Godspeed—and remember to hold your tongue and your temper. You have some hard months ahead of you."
"I'll make it, Jack. I can soldier for anyone, even Yankees."
The whistle blew. From the rear car, the conductor signaled and shouted to the engineer. "Go ahead! Go ahead!" Charles jumped up to the steps of the second-class car and waved as the train lurched forward. He was glad for the steam rising around him, so they couldn't see his eyes as the train pulled out.
Charles slouched in his seat. No one had sat next to him, because of his sinister appearance: worn straw hat pulled down to his eyebrows, the gypsy robe beside him. On his knee, unread, lay a National Police Gazette.
Dark rain-streaks crawled diagonally down the window. The storm and the night hid everything beyond. He chewed on a stale roll he'd bought from a vendor working the aisles, and felt the old forlorn emptiness.
He turned the pages of a New York Times left by a passenger who'd gotten off at the last stop. The advertising columns caught his eye: fantastic claims for eyeglasses, corsets, the comforts of coastal steamers. One item offered a tonic for suffering. He tossed the paper away. Damn shame it wasn't that easy.
Unconsciously, he began to whistle a little tune that had come into his head a few weeks ago and refused to leave. The whistling roused a stout woman across the aisle. Her pudgy daughter rested her head in her mother's lap. The woman overcame her hesitation and spoke to Charles.
"Sir, that's a lovely melody. Is it perchance one of Miss Jenny Lind's numbers?"
Charles pushed his hat back. "No. Just something I made up."
"Oh, I thought it might be hers. We collect her famous numbers in sheet music. Ursula plays them beautifully."
"I'm sure she does." Despite good intentions, it sounded curt.
"Sir, if you will permit me to say so"—she indicated the Gazette on his knee—"what you are reading is not Christian literature. Please, take this. You'll find it more uplifting."
She handed him a small pamphlet of a kind he recognized from wartime camps. One of the little religious exhortations published by the American Tract Society.
"Thank you," he said, and started to read:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending
Bitter, Charles faced the window again. He saw no angels, no heaven, nothing but the boundless dark of the Illinois prairie, and the rain—probably a harbinger of a future as bleak as the past. Duncan was undoubtedly right about hard times ahead. He sank farther down on the seat, resting on the bony base of his spine and watching the darkness pass by.
Softly, he began to hum the little tune, which conjured lovely pastel images of Mont Royal—cleaner, prettier, larger than it had ever been before it burned. The little tune sang to him of that lost home, and his lost love, and everything lost in the four bloody years of the Confederacy's purple dream. It sang of emotions and a happiness that he was sure he would never know again.
TO THOSE WHO SUFFER.—It would seem almost incredible that men will continue to suffer when such a Remedy as PLANTATION BITTERS is within their reach. Persons troubled with Headache, Low Spirits, Heartburn, Pain in the Side, Back, or Stomach, Cramps, Bad Breath, and other symptoms of that horrid monster, Dyspepsia, are earnestly invited to test this Remedy.
Excerpted from Heaven and Hell by John Jakes. Copyright © 1987 John Jakes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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