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At Hanover Junction it was necessary for him to change trains. For a while he sat alone on the edge of a baggage truck, his luggage on the platform at his feet. He smoked and looked up at the sky. There was a moon somewhat past the full, but brown and serrated under the mackerel scales of thin clouds. At the far end of the platform a squad of loafers stood talking. Bale had avoided them purposely. The station itself was deserted except for a night agent who sat in his little den, clicking mysterious jabbers to a mute length of wire.
Presently the agent came out of the station and moved across the hollow wooden platform, a bloody lantern in his hand. A clicking and a thud of metal marked his pause at the switch-post. He came back, carrying the vivid green lantern which he had replaced with the red.
He spoke to Daniel Bale. "Looks like we might catch a little rain, maybe."
"Shouldn't wonder," said Dan.
The agent stood there, weaving the hissing green lantern back and forth. His shape seemed strangely lop-sided in the darkness. Bale bent his head slightly to bring the man's body into full silhouette against the soft, kerosene yellow of the station windows…The man had only one arm.
"About this time, first part of June," said the agent, "we generally get a deal of rain around here."
More abruptly than he had intended, Bale observed, "I see you're shy one wing."
The agent's warm young voice gurgled. He spoke as one who is expecting pity and veneration to be lavished upon him, and who feels that they are wholly his due. "But," he concluded, "my wife don't mind a bit. She says she'd rather have me wanting a chunk of meat than not have me at all. And anyways, when you figure how it happened, I guess I'm not sorry. When I signed the roll I figured I might get killed, maybe. I tell you, friend, there's a good many better men than I be, lying down there by that crick this minute. Bet your boots."
Bale watched a crumb of tobacco fall from his pipe and slide into the forest of his beard; it bounded from wiry hair to wiry hair, making its own tiny illumination as it went. He thought, Now it's coming, he's bound to ask, and I wish
"You done a turn with the colors?" blurted the agent.
The green lantern jerked at the abruptness of the reply. When the agent spoke again, he was halting and apologetic. "Well, I always say that a man's first duty is to his family. Course I wasn't married till I come back…You're married, friend, I take it?"
"No," Bale told him. He tapped the bowl of his pipe against the edge of the truck, and a host of red flakes sprayed into the darkness. "I don't hold with some of your notions. I am not in favor of this war, or any war. I'm sorry you've lost an arm, and sorry for most of those who are dead. But I don't intend to go to war, if that's what you wish to know."
He became aware that the rails were checking and crunching under the squeeze of distant wheels. A whistle squawled half-heartedly beyond the black belt of trees.
The agent cleared his throat and spat over his shoulder. "Well," he said, "some holds one way, some another. I don't mind saying there's plenty of Copperheads right in this county."
"I'm no Copperhead."
"No, no. I never said you was. Say, you don't need to be in no hurry to pick up your valise, friend. The train won't go for twenty minutesthe one heading west. This here one goes north."
He went into the station, carrying the green-glass lantern with him. A plume of smoke wavered off from the open doorway. Bale could hear the man whistling, Now, Moses, what makes you so strange and forgetful…Steel was banging and frying and torturing itself, not far up the track. The engine rounded a curve and spread its buxom shaft of light down the cindered roadway. It came on like a hissing, malodorous animal, tiny freckles of orange showing through cracks and bolt-holes in a hundred places. The two coaches behind it were rickety, and illuminated by futile, brownish lamps.
Dan jumped down from the truck and pushed his extension-case into the shadows where it seemed reasonably safe and out of the way. He walked away from the train as it gasped terrifically up to the station. There would be more people, and he had seen all the people he wanted to see for a long time. Not many years before, he had suffered recurrent nostalgia for the settled complacency, the solid and ever-present population of even a rural community in the East. That was all past. One could not travel for six days, pushing ever farther into a scrambling and more tightly-peopled country, without seeing all faults, existent and nonexistent in mere men and women.
In his brief conversation with the one-armed agent, he realized that he had been wholly absurd. Six days before, he would not have mentioned that empty sleeve to the man who owned it.
On this train, waiting to transfer to the west-bound coaches, undoubtedly there would be some old friends and neighbors, or at least old neighbors whom he had once regarded as friends. They would talk about the war. Where he had been, the war sank into a civilized phenomenon below the southeastern horizon, a capitalistic trap which waited to seize the unwary. Even so, many men had gone to it voluntarily…
The light of the railway engine, stationary now, hunted past him; he could see it picking out the trampled weeds which grew close beside the roadbed and turning them into artificial, green paper weeds. A rising ripple of human sounds drifted up through the whuff, whuff of tired steam; people were climbing down from the cars and all talking about it…Bale turned aside into the tide of gray darkness. He stumbled across a rusty side-track, down into a dry ditch, and walked squarely against the bones of a rail fence. Beyond that, at the top of a slope, tiny nine-paned windows shone in an invisible house. This spot called Hanover Junction had never amounted to much and never would…He put his boot on the bottom rail of the barrier, and swung up and over, dangling his legs on the inner side. The edge of the rail was sharp and uncomfortable, but he sat there nevertheless with his back to the station, staring up at that skulking moon.
Something in his pocket was hard and bulky. He dug it out: a small apple. He had bought it from a boy at the train window, early in the afternoon. He took the dead pipe out of his mouth and bit into the apple. His teeth told him that the skin was soft and loose and wrinkled, an apple which had survived in some cellar since the previous autumn. The pulp of it was winy, aged, sour-sweet. He rolled the damp morsels over and under his tongue. Close at hand, the tingling June silence encompassed him; he was in a world apart from the stew of the little railroad junction, and in this world there was no sound but the rack of his own jaws, chewing and chewing.
Another engine was moving closer; it had a cracked bell which swung intermittently, a dull and splintery tolling. The brakes began to tighten and fight with the heavy wheels. Mustn't stay there too long. There would be no other westbound train until the next day.
He thought about his grandfather. Quite possibly the old man was dead, by this time. The letter had been delayed, for Bale was on a trip to the timber with Lucas Mite, hunting for green oak posts, when that letter reached Minnesota. He had come as soon as he could, but perhaps that was not soon enough. There was no reason why he should touch his grandfather's live flesh again. Already they understood each other thoroughly, with an honesty which needed little affection to bolster it. Cancer, the letter had said, but of course he had suspected that all along. It was a dreadful death; he hoped at this moment that all was done with Pentland Bale.
Closing his eyes to the dried-up, metal moon, he could see only the house and the town which he had left seven years before. He was twenty-five years old; he had been in a far place, and was now drawn back to Pennsylvania by this imminent death. It was not at all as he had imagined his return. He had made no fortune, not even a figurative one. He had a few hundred pages of manuscript, blotted and interlined and crossed out. Probably he would never be able to form those notions according to the pattern in his brain. He had firm, stone-knuckled hands and a brown beard; there had been much hunting and much chopping with an axe, and his shoulders were knotted and spread from the weight of the sacked wheat which they had tossed about. Physically he was a different person. There was no measuring stick by which he could check the growth or shrinkage of the creature who lived inside.
A man's voice swam up out of the roiling clatter beyond him. Boooord. Dan threw away the apple core, and pressed his feet back over the rail. He ran up the embankment and stumbled across the side-track. Out in front of the station, the one-armed agent was gazing up and down, looking for him. As he ran, Bale could feel a water of pity for this person, pumping in his throat. He thudded up the platform steps and snatched his grip from its hiding place.
"Thought you was lost," the agent cried.
He said, "Thanks. Is this the one?"
"Hurry up. She's moving"
He caught a gritty iron bar and drew himself up on the stairway of the squeaking car. Burning flakes of soot tore past him; he could feel them settling on his cheeks and kissing his hair. Then he stood at the door of the coach, breathing rapidly, and blinking into the face of the tin lamps.
Perhaps they were the neighbors of his childhood, perhaps they were more than that. At this moment they were only heads above the slatted wooden seats; they were bonnets and beards and children asleep. Carpet-bags, haversacks, cloth-wrapped bundles stood along the aisle. Bale picked his way carefully past them. A baby, fat pink lump wound up in an old plaid shawl, was saying earnestly H'la, h'la, h'la, and its mother fumbled with the front of her dress while the father held up a newspaper to shield her. People filled this coachtoo many people. The war had unsettled the world; it bubbled the sediment and the froth together and kept them sloshing about. Forever, these motley Americans were riding up and down their land on the cars.
There was a vacant space beside a black slouch hat with a white trefoil and a number on the front. Bale sat down, squeezing his leather case between his feet. The man who wore the slouch hat stared pettishly ahead and did not acknowledge Dan's nod. He was about twenty-three, beardless, a thick yellow mustache twisting down to cover his long lips. A white silk handkerchief had been stuffed around his neck to keep stray perspiration from soiling the collar of his uniform. Bent across his shoulders were corroded oblongs of gilt braid.
He moved his unbuckled scabbard aside, and flicked a tuft of ashes from his cold cigar. Then, from the corners of pale blue eyes, he seemed suddenly to see Daniel for the first time.
The officer turned, his mouth curving slightly under its tawny brush. "I'm a sucker," he said, "if you're not Dan Bale."
Bale extended his hand. "Hello, Ty."
"Well," said the officer. His voice was shrill, taut, weary. He stared at Dan. "Thought you had left Pennsylvania for good."
"I thought so, too."
"Are you just coming back, now?"
"Just tonight. You haven't been home recently, have you?" he added, with an unhappy eagerness. "My grandfather's near death. That's why I came back from the west."
The soldier shook his head. "First time I've been home in seven months, and I'm only here now because I'm sick. No sense in my coming. My wife managed it; she had Colonel Baxter send me."
"You're married, then?"
"I married a girl from Philadelphia," said Ty briefly.
They were silent for a moment, their heads bobbing on their shoulders as the car lurched and quivered.
"I see you're an officer, Ty."
"Captain. The Seventy-second. Philadelphia brigade."
"Well, that's good," Bale muttered. He wondered what else he could have said.
Tyler Fanning shrugged. "It's damn hard work, if you ask me. Hardest work I ever did in my life…I got hit with a piece of shell at Antietam Creek. Sick as a dog for weeks. Couldn't keep anything on my stomach." "Are you all right now?"
"Could be better." Fanning spat upon the floor, and smudged the place with the toe of his glistening boot. "We heard once that you had been scalped by the Indians."
Bale felt awkward. He began to wish that there had been a vacant seat beside someone other than Fanning. "No," he said, "they didn't get me, that time. They came near it. A lot of bad Wahpakootasthose are Siouxburned everybody out, in our neighborhood."
"Rebels or Indians, they're all the same. We'd be better off if they were all dead."
Bale said nothing. He realized that he was not looking at Ty Fanning, but was frowning intently at a varnished knot-hole in the seat ahead of him. He wrenched his gaze away. Across the aisle a fat, red-faced farmer was snoring with mechanical regularity, a blue handkerchief spread over his bald head. All around, people dozed or snored or whispered or clacked; the air smelled of stables and soot and coal-oil and fried chicken; but sometimes a puff of wind twisted down the aisle, and then you could think of chilly green woods and dark fields where the hay was ripening.
…They were neighbors, boys who lived in the same town, and only a field apart. Two years in childhood are a generation. There is apt, Bale remembered, to be a holy clique of twelve-year-olds deeply scornful of the ten-year-olds who worshipfully trail them. In a smaller town, they would have been pushed together by the narrowness of circumstance. As it was, they met on common ground only at the Willows, and in the pasture between their homes, and at fires.
The Willows were three in number, growing from a common stump that lifted on oozy roots at a bend in the meanderings of Willoughby Run. Bale shut his eyes: he saw Tyler Fanning standing on the roots, warm and muddy water sloshing two inches below his toes, pressing his hands together in front of his ribs for an awkward dive that was more of a fall. Tyler Fanning lived in the second largest house in town, and he wore a blue velvet jacket, and his mother went to drive in a carriage driven by a freedman. But nevertheless he was thin and whining and querulous when you got him naked down at the Willows. He had knobs on his knees…Captain. The Seventy-second…piece of shell at Antietam Creek. Ho! the wars…
Dan felt his jaw stiffen. He tugged nervously at his thick beard.
"Where'd you get the growth?" asked Fanning.
"I left my razors at home when I went to Minnesota."
"That's how long?"
"Nearly seven years."
Fanning grinned, not pleasantly. "Look out someone doesn't take you for that son of a bitch Stuart."
"For the moment," Ty whined, lazily, "I forgot that you've been in the backwoods and aren't conversant with present-day affairs."
Bale said, "Only as they concern my soul and body. I might as well tell you that I'm no Copperhead, but I'm not Coming Father Abraham or anything like that. I may be a misanthropist, but not because I'm afraid."
"Don't misunderstand me," replied Fanning. He sat up a trifle straighter. "What I meant about Jeb Stuart was this: he came up here last year and paralyzed Curtin and the whole damn state. Burnt stores, stole money, and took away all the horses."
"I heard about that. Naturally, we get some news out there on the prairie. But he didn't reach home, did he?"
"He went south at Cashtown. And he's got a beard like yours. Look out one of our Dutch neighbors doesn't take a sickle to those beautiful brown" The grind and groan of metal killed his words; the train stopped, lurched forward, stopped again, started again. At the rear of the coach the baby began to moan once more: H'la, h'la, h'la.
Bale asked, "Any children?"
"No. I've been married only two years. And the war and all. I'm man enough." He gave a thin laugh. "You'll have to call on us. Mrs. Fanning would be pleased. You aren't married, I take it?"
Dan shook his head. "You might tell me some news, if you don't mind. Grandfather didn't write often, the last year or two. What about Andrew Leen?"
"He's in New York. A printer. Married and a father. The younger boyremember Noah?he ran away and got killed at a place called Front Royal, in Virginia. Elizabeth married one of the Brennemans, over by Cashtown."
"Somehow," said Bale, "I feel very old. I've been on the road six days, and every hour I've had more and more of a creeping palsy."
Fanning chuckled. He squeezed the dead cigar between his fingers. There were gauntleted gloves thrust neatly beneath his sword belt. The scabbard thudded against the floor whenever he shifted his leg. "If you don't mind, Dan," he suggested, "I'm curious to know your views on the war. You're not afraidof course. But convictions without a quoted sentimentDamn it, you know what I mean. We've got a few of your Minnesota troops in the east here. They make ornery soldiers and wonderful fighters."
"Quite probably," said Dan, "I would make a wonderful soldier, but I'm not so sure how I'd match up with the rest of Minnesota when it came to fighting. I mean your kind of fighting. Caissons and platoons and sergeants and things like that, of which I know nothing. You'll have to excuse me, tonight. I'm in more or less of a daze."
"You always were a queer duck, Bale," smiled Fanning. His pale eyes were narrow and expressionless…yes, he's the soldier, he is it, this is the right thing for him to do, he is suitable clay for them to shape and, Almighty God, how they have shaped him!
This talk, Bale told himself savagely, has brought it on. Why did I have to sit down beside this man?
In the back of his brain, far beneath an aching area of his skull, some brown, niggerish creatures in feathers and loose cotton shirts and ragged blankets, crawled and peeked beyond a woodpile. He heard their squawl go gibbering over the world. Lucas Mite dragged his Sharp's rifle across the molasses barrel. Behind him, a dry voice whispered, "I can't git that one." Molasses dripped and burbled from the perforated barrels…and remember how we found those Gardener kidsthey had taken them by their heels and swung them
But they were only animals, he insisted. They were not men. They wore trousers, some of them, and months before they had squatted in front of people's doors, whining for Little Tea, Little Sugee, Little Whisk. Some of them wore clothes, but they were not men. That was not a war. It was shooting at wolves, at snakes, at enormous ghosts who gobbled in the cold daylight…Must keep insisting…
He said to Ty Fanning, "Tell me about Doctor Duffey. He was the one who wrote me about my grandfather, but I've been wondering how he's keeping himself."
"Didn't you see the Missis? She's aboard this carriage. I saw her get on, at the Junction. There she isright ahead. Mrs. Duffey."
Bale stood up. He moved down the littered aisle toward a leghorn hat with painted wooden strawberries dangling from its crown, a hat which roosted cozily above the seat, with an enormous gray bonnet as its neighbor. "Mrs. Duffey," he said. The gray bonnet came up like an opening trap: it showed the face caught insidea pock-marked woman's face with sallow skin and bright hazel eyes. Mrs. Duffey's thin fingers had escaped through holes in her black silk mitts, and held a stiff bouquet of wooden knitting needles. She cried, "Great heavens to Betsy. Dan Bale!"
"I've been sitting back there with Tyler Fanning. He just now told me that you were on the train."
She squealed softly; the mass of brown yarn sank deep into the hollow between her thin knees; she snatched at his hands and squeezed them. "You gave me a start. We were looking for you, but not so quick."
"Then Grandfather isn't?"
Her eyes wiggled intently. "I don't know, Dan. He was still alive yesterday morning when I went over to Collie's. You know, Collie has been down with the feveryou remember Colliethat's my niece who married Joe Kohnkopfer. And her sister-in-law was getting married, and all. Mealy went with me, for the wedding. Heavens to Betsy, you ain't even spoken to Mealy."
He didn't recall Amelia Niede, except as a thin child with white hair who sat outside Pock's grocery store in her father's farm wagon. Now she was pretty in a pale, bony fashion. She had a slender neck and coral lips and listless blue eyes. It was her hat which boasted the painted strawberries. He told her, "I apologize, Amelia. I wouldn't have known you unless Mrs. Duffey had told"
"You used to call me Aunt Eva."
"Unless Aunt Eva had told me."
Amelia said, "I wouldn't have known you either, Mr. Bale." She kept her hands folded in her lap. It was hot in the coach, and Dan could see little glistening dots of perspiration dwelling amid the fluffy hair at the girl's temples.
"Why'd you grow that beard?" demanded Eva Duffey, sharply.
"It came natural, out west. But Ty tells me that I look like Jeb Stuart."
Mrs. Duffey sucked at her tongue. "The war."
"I've heard nothing else since I started east. Out there, we think about"
"Yes?" she demanded. "What do you think about, out there?"
"Or at least I do. Other things."
Amelia smiled drearily. Mrs. Duffey kept gazing up at him; he had the odd feeling that her eyes were sterilizing his face. "You were going to write some philosophy, or some such. A lot of books."
"It's always in the future," Dan said.
The train went jolting across a gap in the rails; rows of heads jerked with each uneven shudder of the old coach.
"Tell me about the Doctor."
"Oh," said the woman, "Adam's fine. He's got his hands all wrapped up in lint, and for two days he did nothing but curse and blaspheme."
"Wrapped up in lint?"
H'la, h'la, h'la sang the baby in plaid, a deadening sound which had begun with the world and would be present forever. Dan looked back up the car. Tyler Fanning had leaned against the seat, his body rigid, his pearly eyelids closed. His hands played with the brass corrugations on the hilt of his sword.
"Yes. He was making some kind of toniche had a spirit lamp goingyou know how careless he is. The lamp exploded and he had to beat out the fire with his hands."
"Oh, they weren't cooked. Just nicely brown. Underdone if anything." She cackled; you felt that this was something which she must regard as a joke, because there were so few jokes in the world. "And swear. Like two troopers. He's been swearing about the war ever since it began; should have been in the calaboose for it, if you want my honest opinion…But that happended two weeks ago, and Elijah's had to drive old Salt for him and wait on him generally."
Dan said, "I meant to ask about Elijah. He was in my mind, but I did not ask Ty Fanning because they've never been friends."
"And now, of all times," nodded Mrs. Duffey. "Elijah's eaten up with jealousy of Tyler Fanning."
Amelia Niede said, without much emotion, "He is not."
The gray bonnet bobbed around. "Well, we hear from you at last, Mealy. Don't you mind her, Dan. She's downright glad Elijah Huddlestone can't get into the army. He's her young man, you know."
"He is not," said Amelia.
"I'll go back and sit with Fanning," Bale told them. "I'd be pleased to help you home with your things, when we get there."
Eva blinked. "Elijah'll be at the depot with the carryall, and maybe Doctor, too. If he isn't, I'll feel like scorching his breeches for him. You can ride up with us."
"They'll know, of course, if Grandfather"
"Don't you worry, honey," said the woman. The words squirted out as if she had been holding them back for a long time. "Pent Bale is an old man and a good man, and he has nothing to fear from God. I guess he's been pretty lonely, and Adam says he's glad to go."
"I would be," said Bale, "with a cancer." She clawed at his hand…He went back to sit beside Fanning.
The young captain opened his eyeshalf-opened them and squinted at himthe lids were rimmed with a weary pink. "You had quite a confabulation with Mrs. Duffey. Who's the lady with her?"
"Oh, yes. She's not bad looking, for a German girl. She goes about with young Huddlestone. Remember young Huddlestone?"
Dan said, "Young? He's a year older than you. Yes, we were good friends."
"He has a rupture or something," Ty told him. "And a bad heart. Can't get into the army. Too bad." He dropped his cigar to the floor and squeezed it into a soggy puddle beneath the sole of his boot. Then he drew the slouch hat over his forehead and closed his eyes. Opened them once more to look at Daniel Bale and say, "I could get there quicker, walking. Plague this train. Demon will be at the depot, if they got my telegram. We'll drop you off at your grandfather's."
"Doctor Duffey may be there, with Huddlestone."
Ty sighed, "You oughtn't to crowd in on them in that dinky little rig of theirs…my stomach feels like the devil."
This time he shut his eyes for good. Presently he was snoring.
He slept all through their brief stop at Hanover City. The train champed away, northwest now. There were tiny, square ventilating holes cut in the bulbous bellies of the swaying lamps. Angular patches of yellownessneither light nor shadow, but seeming to smell of hot oiljerked and swung across the heads of the passengers. The laboring engine drew its strength from blood-vessels and narrow lungs stretched beneath those coaches; you felt the spongy tissues quiver and hiss and give up their all. The whistle made piping and wolfish sounds, the bell clanked despairingly.
They stopped, and someone was knocking upon a wheel with a little hammer. Through the open window, soft soot wallowed in; Bale gazed out past a signal light which seemed nailed against the silver trunk of a beech tree. There were no beech trees, out west…a horse's hoofs went kock, kock, kock in the muffled dust of a nearby road.
A thin man in a checkered coat came swiftly through the car. He stood upon the rear platform and waved a lantern and called hoarsely, "Now, Henry. Now comes it!" The engine leaped, trying to break the cars in two. H'la, h'la, h'la…and give that baby something to eat, so it won't howl any more. And everybody seems to be asleep, with the wheels chewing and chewing and chewing as the yellow squares quiver and dance.
Brakes began to screw tight, bringing a sooty world to life. "Gettysburg," summoned the gaunt Dutchman. "All is out for Gettysburg."
Copyright © 1934: renewed © 1961 by MacKinlay Kantor.