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AURA LEE PART SEVEN
12/12/2009 6:26:10 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

Scoffie Goodis sat on his haunches in front of his tent, ten feet from where he had stacked his rifle in a pyramid, upright with Hunter’s and four others, but he could not look at the weapons. Hunter Worboys stood in the opening of the tent behind Scoffie, and he did not know what to say. He was miserable, and he was frightened.

“I ain’t never shot nobody,” Scoffie said, his voice a whispering rasp. “Never shot anythin’ more’n a rabbit or ‘coon or a ‘possum. Never even shot at a Yankee. They think I’m gonna shoot somebody in a firin’ squad? Somebody righ’chere in our own army? How’m I gonna do that?”

Hunter stared at his boots. He studied them, seeing a pattern in the dust that was smeared over the tops and down the sides. He tried to make a face out of the whitish, reddish dust, but what he saw was not a face. It was more the shape of a person, a man lying prone on the ground; a dead man.

“Man looks dead to me,” Hunter said, under his breath.

Scoffie raised his head and looked at his friend. “Say what? Who’s dead?”

“Man on my boots.”

“What?”

“Looky here.” Hunter lifted his leg and pointed to the top of his boots. “Dirt there looks jus’ like a man layin’ dead on my foot.”

Scoffie stood up and towered over Hunter, his eyes cast down on the top of Hunter’s kepi. He could barely see the tip of Hunter’s nose under the visor. He put his forefinger under the smaller man’s chin and gently titled his head upward until their eyes met at a sharp angle, two pairs of eyes locked in almost hopeless concern that this was a turning point, a crossroads of life presenting a path from which they could not turn back and over which they must pass to a place and time where nothing would ever be the same again.

Scoffie spoke after a long moment: “’Fore it gits dark, they gonna bring us up there with the others, an’ we gonna shoot them fellas that deserted. They gonna put us in a line ‘longside them others, an’ Cap’in gonna give the command . . .”

“Not me,” Hunter said, stepping back and turning, walking to the edge of the tent. “I ain’t gonna shoot nobody.”

“Then,” Scoffie said softly, “they gonna shoot us. Army regulations say it out plain an’ simple—y’all in a firin’ squad an’ you doan obey to ready, aim, fire, they gonna just shoot you same as the other fellas.”

Hunter squinted against the fading sunlight. “Ain’t never seen that in no Army regulations. You jess talkin’ nonsense.”

“It’s there all right. I seen it.”

“You ken say you seen it but y’all ain’t seen nuthin’.”

Ten minutes later Captain Jameson, Lieutenants Purves and Naylor, and Lieutenant Jack Kreson were waiting for them outside Stonewall Jackson’s tent.

“Ah,” said Jameson, regarding his two new soldiers as though they were joining the others for drinks before dinner, “just in time. Good men. Lieutenant Purves has recruited a squad of eight—you two will make an even ten—an’ we’ll get this done with in short order. We’re in luck tonight—the general’s back and wants to take charge an’ oversee we do this right. Clean an’ quick—quick as possible. ‘Tenshun!”

The flap covering the front of Stonewall Jackson’s tent snapped open with a clap that made Hunter jump and Scoffie spin on his heel, both of them saluting automatically even before the general stepped out before them into the pale, crepuscular light.

General Thomas Jonathan Jackson looked every inch a supreme commander who had just returned from another lengthy and crushing battle. From his filthy woolen cap, a homemade high-kepi coming unraveled around his ears, gray and dirty, the Confederate insignia vaguely visible, down to his crinkled, scarred and dusty boots—size 14 and grotesque on a thin, wiry man who stood not quite five feet eleven inches tall. His long tunic was a gray shambles, tattered sleeve cuffs and elbows nearly transparent, the tight collar a stiff poster board with two stars barely remaining. His trousers looked slept in, as they most surely had been, and there was a tear in the dark stripe that disappeared down the left side into his boot. His sword, however, hanging in a gleaming scabbard, caught slanted refractions from the dying sun and glistened with pellucid military correctness and determination. His hair, long, dark and thick, curled in snarls, continued from under his cap and joined his long and unkempt beard, leaving nothing of his face but a thin, protruding nose and razor-sharp black eyes that some said could see grubs beneath a six foot log. He glanced at Scoffie and Hunter and stopped sucking on half a lemon long enough to casually return their salute.

He pulled the tart fruit away from his mouth and addressed the entire gathering without actually looking at anyone; he said, “Gentlemen, we have a matter to attend to that gives me no joy, but which my duty and rank demands of me ex cathedra. Bear with me.” His voice, not thin but showing little resonance, was even and clear; the voice of a professor who was never uncertain of his subject matter.

Captain Jameson spoke up. “Sir, we await only your presence. The men are assembled at the edge of the wood behind the mess. . . Oh. Sir. These are your new batmen: Corporal Goodis and Private Worboys. Ten-shun!”

Again taking one step forward and snapping to attention, Scoffie and Hunter gave the general another crisp salute; this time he merely nodded and looked at them with tired eyes. He must have noticed their insignia for he said, “Georgia. Next to Virginia, the most glorious in our Confederacy. Rolling mountains of red clay in the north, flat plains of red dirt in the south. Pine trees over it all, swarming like tall locusts.”

Hunter glanced sideways at Scoffie who took the general’s description as a remark requiring a response. “Thank you, sir. Georgia is the state we love. Our home. But we are proud to serve under you, sir, anywhere in the South you feel we are needed.” He wanted to continue with an explanation that being part of a firing squad was service unwarranted, but Jackson raised his hand, displaying a gauntlet that was missing several fingers. His fingernails, long, dirty and cracked, were pointed needles protruding from the glove. He held his beloved lemon in the other.

“Thank you, son. Shall we proceed? But before we do, I want a moment of prayer here. With you. With my officers.” He looked around. “Where is Lieutenant Morrison?”

“Not returned yet, sir,” said Lt. Purves. “He has been delayed at Winchester.”

Capt. Jameson added, “Be back tonight, sir, certain of that.”

Jackson regarded Jameson for a brief silent moment, then nodded. “We will pray,” he said, and dropped to both knees in the damp dirt.

One by one the others removed their kepis and came to their knees in a half circle before the great general. Jameson had a brief struggle adjusting his sword, and Naylor came down on one bended knee, favoring a wound he’d received at Harper’s Ferry. Purves, the bulkiest of the group, grunted as he sank heavily to his knees; and Scoffie and Hunter, as was their custom, reached out and grasped each other’s hand.

“Father God,” Stonewall Jackson addressed his Maker, his voice now strong and firm with a most resonant resolve, “we offer this prayer at the end of another glorious day of life and service as we reflect on this war, this time of painful tribulation that has pitted brother against brother, father against son, son against cousin, and uncle, and grandfather, the whole family of man at odds over issues that could be rent by one stroke of Your mighty sword. Bring, O Father God, finality to this madness and bloodshed. Return us to our rightful places beside our women and children, in our homes, on our land. Let us sit together in peace once again and gaze with rested eyes into the flames beyond each hearth, and feel the nearness of Your Spirit taking permanent residence in our hearts. It is now that we live in a generation that renders our souls in dark confusion, and tonight’s task before us tries mine to the quick with pain and fright. Duty, Father God, like conscience, doth make cowards of us all, and I am the weakest coward among us. Take our two traitors and hold them against the warm bosom of Your eternal grace. Give me the strength to fulfill my most frightful duty, Father God! Lift up my spirit that I may dispatch their souls to Your merciful care by Godspeed! And forgive them their trespasses as I forgive my charges who must carry out this sanguineous deed! Amen! Amen!”

The general and his six escorts silently rose up and marched in almost staged cadence down the long slope from his headquarters’ tents to the small clearing at the wood’s edge. Along the way, an attentive group had already assembled, well aware of the sordid ceremony about to take place, word of the execution having been circulated since early morning. When they saw Jackson and his entourage, they knew the time was at hand, and an undulating sound beginning as a murmur and gradually increasing in volume through voluble ranges of rumble, racket, resonance, reverberation, and reaching a rolling, ringing ratified roar made the hairs on Scoffie’s forearms tingle and stand erect. At the sight of the resolute general, men of all ages and rank saluted as he passed, shouting huzzahs of approbation, waving their arms, their hats, their guns and canteens, hoisting regimental oriflammes and passing them back and forth to flutter in the breeze. A thousand men in disheveled and tattered gray and brown and black nondescript arraignment were spread out on the hillside sloping to the edge of the woods along the Rappahannock as the sun was setting on the two unfortunate, cowardly traitors already stripped of their tunics and secured by thin tow ropes to a sagging fence post.

Stonewall Jackson acknowledged the salute of a brevet captain standing in front of a detachment of eight soldiers at attention with their rifles at their sides.
“Good evenin’ to ya, General Jackson, sir!” the captain, a battlefield commissioned green grocer from Roanoke, said proudly. “These men is ready, sir, best shots in the brigade, I’d say. Jess short, we is, of two ta make ten.”
Jackson stopped and regarded the officer. He then glanced at each soldier in the firing squad, and his glance became intense. He studied the faces of each one, as though attempting to commit them to memory; and he looked carefully at each rifle by their side.

“Well done, Captain,” he said to the green grocer. “These men seem resolved to their sad duty of eradicating an opprobrium.”

The captain’s eyes glazed over, and for a split instant he had no idea how to respond. “Uh, yes, sir . . . that’s, uh, for sure, sir.”

The least wisp of a smile separated the whiskers about Jackson’s lips, and he signaled to Jameson with the twitch of his fingers.

“Private Worboys, Corporal Goodis; fall in!” Jameson quickly directed the two Georgians to assume positions at the nearest and farthest ends of the firing squad. “We’ll take a rank of five into a platoon. Sixth through tenth soldier take one step forward and two to your right-HUT! PreeSEH-HARMS!”

Slowly now, as all ambient noise from the troops slid octave by octave down into a whispering rush to silence, Jackson walked the thirty paces to the fence posts and stood with his chin resting on his collar, his tongue darting now and licking the lemon pulp, and looked upon the deserters. The youngest, a towhead, was leaning back against the post staring at the fading sun, and he was crying. He was trembling, and he was crying.
“How old are you, son?” Jackson asked quietly, and no one but the boy and the other traitor could hear.

Closing his eyes, the boy said, “Seventeen. Sir. Nex’ birthday.” His voice was a nearly inaudible whisper.
Jackson regarded the other. “Are you thirty yet, sir?”
This one did not answer. He raised his head and glared at the general as if he wanted to spit at him.

“No matter,” Jackson sighed. “You should have known better. And you should not have persuaded this one to run with you. . . . Will you men pray with me?”

The boy looked at the general with a demeanor of keen supplication, but the older one turned his face away. Jackson tossed the half lemon into the field beyond the fence and removed the gauntlet from his right hand and pressed his warm flesh to the boy’s head. “Father God,” he prayed, “I cannot scumble the picture of cowardice to make it more pleasing, but I fervently beseech Thee to quickly accept these servants into Thy kingdom that they will never again need suffer the consequences of lese-majeste. In Jesus Holy Name, be merciful . . . as I cannot.”

As Jackson turned away, the boy sobbed a final “Please . . . !” and the older man spoke between clenched teeth: “Give ‘im no satisfaction, lad. Fuck ‘im! Fuck ‘em all!”

The second the general was clear Jameson, who had replaced the brevet captain as squad leader, barked the order. “Ready! Aim! Fire!”

The cacophony of multiple rifle fire shattered the demulcent evening, and a covey of quail sprang from the bushes directly behind the fence. The boy died instantly with three Minié balls ripping open his chest from throat to navel. A fourth struck his left eye and penetrated his brain before exploding out the back of his skull.

The older man was hit in the shoulder, the arm, the groin, and the leg. He was still cursing when Jameson walked forward and shot him behind the ear, finishing him with his Colt .44-caliber Dragoon service pistol.

Scoffie Goodis and Hunter Worboys, four hands trembling, two stomachs knotted, lowered their rifles and waited to be dismissed.

General Jackson stood ramrod straight and stared at the carnage for a long minute before he strode away.

Two surprised quail, moments ago enjoying the remnants of a discarded half lemon, lay dead and unnoticed behind the fence posts.

TO BE CONTINUED

Copyright©2009 by Robert A. Mills



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• EGGS ROSAKOVIA - Saturday, September 11, 2010
• POLL CATS - Saturday, September 04, 2010
• KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE - Saturday, August 28, 2010
• (Bonus Blog) BUT WHO’S COUNTING? - Wednesday, August 25, 2010
• PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACKS - Saturday, August 21, 2010
• LUCKY STRIKE GREEN - Saturday, August 14, 2010
• AMERICARE vs. OBAMACARE - Saturday, August 07, 2010
• THE MAN WHO WOULD (temporarily) BE PRESIDENT - Saturday, July 31, 2010
• THE WEDDING - Saturday, July 24, 2010
• BUTTERFLIES ARE HAPPY - Saturday, July 17, 2010
• HATTERS ARE MAD - Saturday, July 10, 2010
• WHAT DOES THE BOSTON TEA PARTY AND THE REPUBLICAN TEA PARTY HAVE IN COMMON? - Friday, July 02, 2010
• MILQUETOAST HEADLINES - Saturday, June 26, 2010
• 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


BUFFALO HORN by Hank LeGrand

Buffalo Horn is a suspense filled novella that takes the character on a journey they will never forget. Canoing across the lake was exciting--until the the storm moved in...  
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