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AURA LEE PART SIX
12/9/2009 10:11:34 AM

AURA LEE PART SIX continued

It would, if written about today, be considered a feat of thaumaturgy that brought Melissa Menefee a year earlier alongside her husband as he marched on line with the 16th North Carolina Infantry, Company D, just outside the city limits of Raleigh.

Nearing four in the afternoon she casually stepped out from behind a giant oak by the roadside, feigning buttoning her trousers as though having just relieved herself, her musket strapped across her back atop her haversack, her gray kepi at a jaunty angle above her close-cropped hair, and gingerly, with the pluck and pride of any fifteen year old ‘boy,’ elbowed Daniel Menefee aside and came in step with the two thousand three hundred eighty-seven Rebels marching eastward amidst the swirling dust.

“Made it,” was all she said.

Daniel glanced at his wife from the corner of his eye. God, he thought, she’s beautiful even dirty an’ smelly like a real soldier!

After a few moments—when she realized no one was paying any attention to them, the cluster of men around them marching with heads down, tired and hungry from not stopping since noon, feet dragging, bodies and brains numb and distant—she touched Daniel’s sleeve and said: “This most fun I had since them scavenger hunts we used to have up at Beansy Blesham’s barn ‘round Hellaween!”

Daniel cleared road grime from his throat, spitting a wad off to his right. “How’d y’all git here so fast? Look like y’all slept the mornin’ away waitin’ on me.”

“Weren’t too bad. Tell ya ‘bout it tonight.”

Bivouac was at five-thirty on a large farm six miles east of Raleigh. The soldiers, the officers, the horses carrying them, the ones pulling supply wagons and two howitzers were spread out over two broad fields separated by an inviting, fast-moving creek. Tents were pitched, fires were built, but most men dropped where they were on rough blanket rolls. Many were too tired to eat. Those who did eat ate very little, for this particular day Lt. Col. Ansley Cartwright had marched them twenty-six miles.

Daniel and Melissa found a place close to the creek, a shady spot beside two small pines where the ground was covered with soft needles. Surprisingly, no one had taken it, and it was ideal, just right for any two people. They unrolled their blankets far enough apart that during twilight no one would wonder why a full-grown man with a week’s worth of beard would be lying next to a smooth-faced teenage boy.

Daniel said, “Y’all want me make a fire?”
Melissa shook her head. “Maybe later.”

“Gits righ’ cold outside here nights this time a year.”

“I know,” she said, rummaging in her haversack. “I been livin’ outside better’n three weeks waitin’ on y’all. You want somethin’ to eat?”

“No. Dang tired.” Daniel came up on one elbow and looked at his wife in the fading sunlight. “You sure a sight fer sore eyes, li’l girl. Y’all so dang pretty I like to roll over on y’all righ’ now!”

“You do,” she laughed, “an’ that there sergeant over there gonna whup you good fer corruptin’ a li’l ol’ baby boy! That what they teach y’all to do in the army?”

At that, Daniel laughed also and flopped back down, looking at the sky through the low branches of the pines. “Dang, I never thought y’all was gonna make it here. I thought fer sure some dang Yankee gonna pick you off an’ git him some medal or sumpin’ for shootin’ a l’il kid dressed up like some soldier or sumpin’”

Melissa found a decent biscuit in her haversack, pulled it out, and bit off a sizeable chunk. “Some days I didn’t think I was gonna make it, neither. Three weeks all alone on the road comin’ after you was a trial, let me tell y’all that. I slept in some strange places, I ken tell you, an’ gittin’ food one, two times a day was top chore. Shot me some mighty fine ‘possum ‘long the way, an’ they cooked up real good, too. More’n once a farmer’s wife took me in, but most times I slept in barns an’ under the stars. Got a good bath once, too, in some ol’ river few days back.”

“Anybody seen ya?”

“Not I know of.”

“You take all yore clothes off?”

“Sure.”

“Wish I coulda seen you.”

Melissa giggled quietly. “What you woulda done if you could?”

“I doan know.”

“Betcha woulda done what you like to do righ’ now.”

Wanting to change the subject Daniel wondered, “How’d y’all git ahead a us even ‘fore we got to Raleigh?”

“Shoot, that was no chore! Y’all marchin’ like li’l ol’ schoolgirls on vacation! I passed y’all day ‘fore yesterday, an’ I thought nobody was ever comin’ down that road. I seen your dust three mile back, an’ I had a hard time hidin’ out ‘til y’all come along. Weren’t fer that big ol’ oak tree, I’da had to join up with some good-lookin’ lew-tenent’er somebody!”

It was dark by eight and the entire countryside was decorated with campfires, some bright blazes, others mere sparks; a few white tents with lamps glowing from within were scattered across the landscape; and the crumpled bodies of motionless, snoring men were everywhere. Pickets were stationed with no apparent plan around the perimeter, as if the platoon leaders somehow knew there was not a Yankee soldier within ten miles in any direction.
About nine-thirty Melissa stirred under her blanket and said, “Dan’l? Sleepin’?”

“Nope.”

“What y’all thinkin’ ‘bout?”

“Nuthin’.”

“Y’all gotta stand guard?”

“Not tonight. Did last night.”

Melissa was silent for a moment. Then: “You wanna come over here, unner my blanket.”

“Yeah.”

“Come on then. We only got ‘til first light,” she giggled.

“Shhhh, woman. I’m comin’.”

For the next forty minutes or so, until they both went comatose from delirious exhaustion, Daniel and Melissa exercised their nuptial prerogatives and God-given birthrights beneath the North Carolina pines, covered by a moonless, black heavenly cloak, and winked at by smug, knowing and distant stars. Without the least comprehension of how or why, other than submission to the basic and instinctive act, these two otherwise insignificant young people had began a course that would change the history of the United States, if not the world. Passion and lust were again the foundation of all nature’s momentous events.

* * *

Abraham Lincoln sat in his nightshirt on the right edge of his extraordinarily lengthy bed in his bedroom in the White House and stared at his equally extraordinarily long and crooked toes. He thought that if his toes were of normal size, his shoes would be no larger than 10 or 10 1/2. And if that were the case, the other four inches would be shunted up his legs, and he would be six feet nine inches tall, rather than a mere six feet four and one half.
His legs were bare from the knees down because his nightshirt was skimpy. He considered his legs and he did not like them. They were moderately hairy and they were spindly; there was little or no muscle tone beneath the pale, slightly mottled flesh. Nothing, he thought, like his arms, which were sinewy, muscular and powerful—and incredibly long. His knees were as knobby and bulging inward as his wrists were grotesque and gnarled outward.
“Good God A’mighty,” he whispered aloud, “could I—is it possible—that I do, after all, have Marfan’s?”

Mary Todd, his wife of many years, entered the room from her own at that moment, her round, uncomely face glistening beneath a thin oil or therapeutic balm in the yellow glow from the lamp she carried, and her grayish, sparse hair was tightly knotted for bed under a gossamer linen cap.

“Marzipan? Is that what you said?” she asked. Her voice was as thin as Christmas ribbon, though not nearly so colorful. It was a whining tone, high pitched and child-like, devoid of substance or mature conviction. The president looked up at her and marveled at how unhappy that voice always sounded.

“No,” he said, “I was thinking of . . . marsupials. Or mammals, actually. Wild, shaggy beasts.”

“What? . . . What are you mumbling about?” She placed the lamp on the mahogany nightstand and took several steps across the room toward the windows overlooking the grounds leading to Pennsylvania Avenue. There was a desk in front of the tall, narrow windows on which they kept a line of books on various subjects. Lincoln noticed Mary’s own feet were also bare.

“I was thinking, Mother,” he said, “that if you were to stand in the middle of a vast plain in, say, the New Mexico territory, and let’s put you on a mound perhaps sixty feet high; and you were able to see fifty miles or so in every direction; and you were surrounded by a brown and black sea of mammals that were so close and so packed together that not a patch of ground or grass or sagebrush were visible; surrounded by a herd so immense that the entire vista for millions of square yards was layered by these animals . . . what would you be looking at?”

Mary Todd Lincoln glanced back at her husband and said nothing.

“Take a guess,” Lincoln requested.

“You’re an old fool,” Mary sighed. “I don’t like guessing games, and you knew it annoys me when you talk like an imbecile. . . I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I don’t care.”

Lincoln nodded, dejected. “I know, I know, Mother. I was just rambling. Thinking.”

His wife made a snorting noise. “You do that a lot. Rambling. It’s not becoming.”

No more becoming, the president thought, than sitting on the edge of my bed in my nightshirt contemplating my unsightly body. Aloud, “I was thinking about buffalo. Millions of them; they saturate the land from Texas to the Pacific Northwest territories. There are more buffalo on this continent than there are people in Europe and Africa and America combined.”

Mary picked up a book from the desk and started back toward her own room. “Is that a fact? Mesmerizing,” she said, sarcastically. “I’m going to bed.” She stopped in the doorway and looked back at her husband. “Why do they call them ‘buffalo’? Isn’t ‘bison’ the same thing?”

Lincoln shrugged and wondered why she didn’t take her lamp back with her to her room. “I think buffalo and bison are one and the same. Here in America you can call them one or the other . . . Do you want your lamp?”

“Just blow it out or turn it down—or off—if you don’t want it. I have another.” And she was gone.

A few moments later the president lay flat out in his bed covered only with a light quilt, his fingers intertwined behind his head, staring at the mysterious shadows racing in black and white as if cast from a kaleidoscope across the high ceiling. Abe Lincoln did not like pillows, and he never used even one. For now, his hands folded beneath his head were more than sufficient; in a while he would fall asleep, his body level, horizontal, his arms at his side; and so he would remain until the first morning light.
He thought: I may have made a mistake with Hooker. I may have moved too swiftly. Perhaps I should have consulted with Seward and Stanton on this sooner and more thoroughly. The decision was solely mine. Hooker should not have had designs on Burnside, should not have impugned his reputation, deserved or not. Hooker is the better strategist. Burnside is a humanitarian. Who is the better commander? Which is better match for Jackson? Ha! Neither. Why do I not have a Jackson? Why is he Lee’s? Why does Lee bridle him so—hamstring him and stop him from moving against us when opportunities are so ripe? Jackson will win this war for them. We cannot win against him. He will march on Washington and Baltimore; Philadelphia; even New York . . . and we will be done. Jefferson Davis will sleep in this bed. The South will gain independence. The Union will be dissolved--—turned to dust, an empty swirl, a dust devil, gone, blown away with the wind. . . .

The president took a deep breath and the tempo of his heartbeat returned to nearer normal.

I will be dead before I am sixty, he thought, assuming Dr. Herbert Fenton is correct in his diagnosis. Marfan’s Syndrome. A congenital, unstoppable deterioration of my heart muscle. In all likelihood I will not live to see the end of this abominable war. So be it. A consummation devoutly to be wished. I’ll be with you soon, Willie. Soon, my wonderful sons. Soon. Willie . . . Eddie . . . Both of you. Wait for me. Be . . . waiting for me . . . boys.

TO BE CONTINUED

Copyright©2009 by Robert A. Mills



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• JAMIE DUPREE DESERVES BETTER - Saturday, June 19, 2010
• WHAT BARACK OBAMA AND HELEN THOMAS HAVE IN COMMON - Saturday, June 12, 2010
• GRANDNIECE LEIGH IS OFF TO HONDURAS - Saturday, June 05, 2010
• MEMORIAL HOLE-IN-ONE - Saturday, May 29, 2010
• GRANDNIECE EMILY GRADUATES - Wednesday, May 26, 2010
• THE MOON IS ROQUEFORT - Saturday, May 22, 2010
• LENO VS. O’BRIEN – TEMPEST IN A TV POT - Saturday, May 15, 2010


The Taexali Game by Nancy Jardine

Book 1 of The Rubidium Time Travel Series...  
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