In (The) Glorious Fourth, Scott thinks about how his war really came to an end on July 4, 1865. This is that story even though it may not seem like it at the beginning.
Thanks to Carmela for her careful editing and Karen for the Lancer Archive.
I own nothing and will make no profit.
Word count: 6,550
It had been the home of the same family for generations. A large rambling house of white stucco over stone sitting at a bend in the river. Its walls were covered with French wallpaper; its rooms were filled with English furniture. A wide green lawn spread out from the veranda at the back of the house.
Now it was a hospital. The once elegant dining room was an operating room where surgeons struggled to save men by hacking off their limbs. Exhausted young women collapsed two, sometimes three, to a bed in the rooms on the second floor. Iron cots lined the walls of the library and the drawing room. On them, men so ill they could barely raise their heads.
Across the lush lawn, where once a family had played croquet and sheep had grazed, were row upon row of dirty white tents that protected the wounded from the elements.
Brushing hot tears from her cheeks a girl ran through the crowded rooms, her wide linsey-woolsey skirts brushing against the cots. She was desperate to get to a window, to get some fresh air.
Constance Clark caught hold of the edge of a French door that led to the veranda. She breathed deeply of the cool evening air.
She thought it would get easier. She thought at some point she would no longer grow faint at the smell of blood or feel nauseated when she picked maggots from wounds. But she was wrong. And now she had totally disgraced herself. She’d fainted dead away while assisting one of the doctors as he sawed off the infected arm of a young soldier.
Her uselessness mortified her. The matron would surely send her packing in disgrace. After all it took to become a nurse, it was humiliating to fail.
Her eldest cousin had been mortally wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg. He’d been brought back to Boston and lingered for some months. Constance had stayed in her uncle’s home to help her aunt with the nursing. She’d just turned eighteen; she’d been proud to be of use at such a time.
After he died she announced to her parents that she was going to join the nursing corps of the Union Army; that she wanted to do her part in the struggle to preserve the country.
Her father said no and returned to reading his newspaper.
Constance had been shocked. He had so rarely told her no when she asked for something. But then she rarely had to ask for anything. Her books, her fashionable clothes, her piano and the music lessons had all been provided without her asking. It was true that there were things she had done to which he would have said no to if he’d known about them- her cousin Daniel teaching her to handle the sails of his sloop as if she were one of the boys; the new side-saddle she’d chosen when she was fifteen selected specifically so that her second cousin Scott could teach her to take her horse over gullies and low walls when they rode in the country; when she and her close friend Julie purloined their fathers’ newspapers and periodicals so they could read about the progress of the war. She had never lied about any of these activities. She had simply never mentioned them and her father never considered that his mild-mannered daughter would ever go against his wishes, even if those wishes had not been pointedly expressed.
The nursing was different. It wasn’t something she could do and hope that her father wouldn’t notice. She would have to be trained and then go south closer to the fighting. Short of running away, there was no way for her to do so without her father’s blessing. Constance was a good daughter, an obedient daughter. Once her father said no, she accepted his prohibition. Disappointed, she asked to be allowed to join Julie at the women’s college that offered an academic education. Again she was told no without explanation.
It was impractical to sulk. Constance went on with her life. Although many families were in some phase of mourning because of the war, there were still parties and concerts in Boston. Constance had always enjoyed her active social life, but suddenly she felt she was trapped. She stayed in Boston reading the letters her cousins sent from the army, still stealing newspapers and feeling totally useless.
Three months later her father dropped dead of a heart attack. Three weeks after the funeral, Constance and her mother sat quietly in the morning room of their imposing townhouse. They were clothed in yards of black bombazine. Rosemary, Constance’s mother, wore a black widow’s cap. This was the beginning of their mourning. It would still be a week before even close friends would visit them. Weeks after that,they would again go out on afternoon calls, but it would be months until Constance could resume most of her customary activities.
Rosemary set her embroidery aside and looked at her daughter. Constance sat in the chair opposite her with her head bent over a book. They were much alike; buxom women of average height with blond hair, Rosemary’s now streaked with gray, light blue eyes and round, soft faces.
The girl looked up from her book. “Yes, Mother?”
“Do you still want to join the nurses?”
Constance blinked in surprise. Nothing more had been said about her request to be trained as a nurse after her father had refused his permission. She had not forgotten, nor had she lost interest, but she was not expecting her mother to bring the subject up.
“I do,” said Constance slowly. With a slight sigh she went on, “But Father was so definite in his refusal I—”
“Your father is dead.”
Rosemary’s voice was flat, unemotional. The statement startled Constance even more deeply than her mother’s original question.
“I’m sorry, my dear, that was too harsh.” Rosemary paused, carefully considering what she would say next. “I know that there are some who believe it is right and proper to be ruled by the wishes of their husbands or fathers who have passed away. But it feels to me that such an attitude would force one to ignore the conditions of their lives as they went on.”
Constance waited, studying her mother’s pale face. An interest in clothes had been something they had always shared. They knew black was not a good color for them, it stole all the warmth from their faces. Black would be the only color Rosemary would wear for more than a year.
“Your father had reasons for refusing your requests concerning the nursing corps and attending college. He believed that it was his responsibility to insure your happiness by seeing that you and your sister made good marriages. He understood that to mean marriage to a man like himself -prosperous, of a good family; someone who would protect you, provide for you. Your father cared deeply for you and Adelaide. He only wanted your happiness and he believed he knew what would provide it. This sort of man would look for a wife of tender sensibilities, a good homemaker but not too clever; a girl who had been sheltered from the ugliness of life -the sort of ugliness that actual nursing would expose a woman to.”
Constance stood, her black skirt swished around her. Not the gentle whispering of thin French silk, but the heavy rustle of bombazine. She paced the length of the room. Normally it was bright and cheerful. Now the thick brocade drapes were drawn blocking out the winter sunshine. The familiar room had shadowy corners.
Rosemary watched her daughter’s restlessness with growing concern. Constance had always been a happy child who made friends easily; who embraced the world outside the walls of their large impressive house. The imposed isolation of mourning would wear on her painfully.
“My dear,” said Rosemary, “nursing in an army hospital, in any hospital would not be like nursing poor Thomas. I’m afraid the unpleasant tasks that the maid performed for you then would have to be done by you. You have no illusions about that do you, my dear?”
“I don’t know,” answered Constance honestly. They both knew she had never dealt with anything more unpleasant than threading a wiggling worm onto a fishing hook when her cousins refused to do it for her.
“I don’t know much of anything. I only know that I want to do something worthwhile, something that supports those who have gone to fight like Scott. His letters, Mother, I know that he is afraid and yet he never turns away from his duty. Whatever horrors nursing might reveal, it would be nothing compared to what Scott, Thomas, and so many of the young men have faced. I just want to be useful.”
“To be useful,” repeated Rosemary. She had been raised to be useful by people who still remembered their Puritan ancestors. She’d married a rich man who grew richer and saw his wife and daughters as adornments of his wealth. It had been a long time since Rosemary had felt useful to anyone but her children and her husband.
“Mother, are you saying that you would let me go; let me train as a nurse?” asked Constance her voice rising with hope. “I thought, I’ve always thought that you and Father were of one accord.”
Rosemary looked down, a sad smile gracing her face. “Your father was always very good to me. He was generous and he was kind; that is not true of every husband. And it was understood that he was the head of the family, the one who made the decisions. A good wife does not counteract her husband’s opinions, certainly not to their children.”
A terrible thought occurred to Constance. Could it be that the contented picture her parents had always presented was false? Hesitantly she asked, “Have you been unhappy all these years, Mother?”
Rosemary looked up in surprise. She shook her head. “No, oh, no. Not unhappy. But at times, disappointed that your father couldn’t see another point of view. The best advice I can give, my love, is that a woman must be adaptable if she is to be happy in her marriage.”
There was a light knock on the door. A maid in a black dress and mob cap entered, curtsied and added lumps of coal to the fire. Rosemary picked up her needlework and Constance parted the curtains just enough to look out onto the street. There were people walking slowly past, respectful of the house draped in black crepe.
Constance was unaware of them. She was thinking that although she had always been close to her mother she would now see her in a new light. In the past she had been Mother, the source of warmth and love. The idea that she had opinions of her own, that her mother had not always agreed with her father, was a new notion.
She listened to her mother speaking with the maid. Rosemary was asking about Adelaide, her ten-year-old daughter, who was upstairs reading in her room. Constance suddenly thought about how different her sister’s adolescence would be from her own.
Once the maid left the room Rosemary spoke again, “Constance, before you make any decision you must consider that your father was right. There are men, many men, who want to believe that the women they marry are as pure and untouched as angels. I know nothing of what might go on in the hospitals, but the little I know of sickness, well, such experiences do mark one.”
Constance let the drape fall closed. She turned around, pausing to look at the collection of photographs in silver frames sitting on the table between the windows. She picked up one, a favorite. Scott, Daniel, Julie and her on the deck of a sloop. It had been a challenging image for the photographer to capture. To keep the camera still it had been set up on the dock. Daniel had been determined that they look natural not staged. It was very difficult to hold a “natural” pose long enough for the camera to work. Daniel was at the helm, she was pretending to raise a sail and Scott, bare-foot with his pale hair ruffled by the wind, was “climbing” the rigging, Julie sat in the middle of the picture looking beautiful.
“I think, Mother,” began Constance, biting her lip. “I think I should rather marry a man who could respect my desire to be useful even if he wasn’t what others might consider to be a good catch. There are such men. Daniel and Scott will be such men. If they weren’t, they would never have taught me to ride and sail like a boy.”
Rosemary laughed, a light-hearted laugh, the first since her husband’s sudden death. She reached out for the photograph. “Your father wanted to know why you weren’t sitting beside Julie. I told him it was meant as a joke that a little girl like you could raise the sails.”
Stair-stepped in age, they’d been brought up together almost like siblings – Daniel, Constance, Scott. Even Uncle understood it would not be good for his grandson to grow up alone in an old man’s household. As small children they had shared a tutor and a piano teacher. When Daniel started day school, Constance and Scott bonded even closer. Constance had been heartbroken when Scott joined Daniel at the Latin School. Fortunately by then they knew the Dennisons. Julie and Constance, being educated at home, shared the same tutors.
Rosemary’s smile grew wider. Her husband had been proud of his own daughters, but there was always the suggestion that he found Julie Dennision- quiet, beautiful, unfailingly correct in her behavior – a paragon of daughters. It amused Rosemary that he never understood Julie was the greatest rebel of them all. She had been determined from a young age to be an educated woman. Her women’s college taught more than modern and ancient languages, more than poetry; it taught math and history. These were subjects her husband had always thought inappropriate for a girl.
As they got older they developed their own interests-Daniel, in spite of his near-sightedness, fell in love with sailing; Constance with the piano; Julie with her books; Scott with horses. They shared them with each other with varying degrees of success. They all learned to sail-at least Julie liked to be at the helm while Scott stood behind her actually steering the boat. They were all well-read and played the piano competently. And they all were good riders, an unusual accomplishment for girls who lived in Boston.
“My dear,” said Rosemary, “are you sure you wouldn’t rather join Julie at her college than join the nurses? You would only be a year behind her.”
Constance pushed a strand of pale hair behind her ear before she answered. “If it weren’t for the war my answer would be an eager yes. But, Mother, sometimes at night I lie awake thinking about Scott so far away, in so much danger.” Her voice shook a little as she went on. Her freckles stood out against her pale skin. “If Scott were wounded and brought to hospital would there be enough nurses for him to receive the care he needed?”
Rosemary looked again at the photograph. There were other cousins and school friends in their set but at the core were these four. Julie really was a beautiful girl with her cloud of dark hair and perfect poise. Daniel and Constance looked like each other, in the photograph one couldn’t tell Daniel’s hair was red. She blinked back tears as she focused her attention on the boy climbing the rigging. At the true center was Scott, the boy who worked until he was accomplished at everything he tried. The tiny child who had appeared long after his mother had been given up for dead. Scott, whose very existence was a miracle to those who had loved his mother.
Long and lean, Scott looked like the Garretts. Everyone said so; it pleased his grandfather to hear it. But Rosemary remembered Murdoch Lancer. She knew that the set of Scott’s mouth came from his father. That although no one would ever accuse the Garretts of lacking persistence, the dogged determination that pushed Scott to excel at everything he attempted also came from the man who Catherine loved enough to follow halfway around the world.
The photograph was less than two years old. They were still children in it. Now Daniel and Scott were in the army. Daniel had a safe posting in the capital. But Scott, he was a cavalry officer. Scott was never safe she feared and he was still just a boy.
Constance cocked her head to one side, smiled slightly and said, “You want me to go, don’t you, Mother?”
“No,” responded Rosemary sharply. “I do not. If you were to go, I would be afraid for you even if you were far from the battle lines. I would dread you seeing the agony, the pain of hundreds, perhaps thousands of wounded men; of seeing far too many of them die. No, no, I want you to be safe.”
Constance stood still, unsure now what the point of their conversation had been.
Rosemary took a deep breath and released it slowly. Still looking at the photograph, she said, “I wish you, I wish Scott, could have known Catherine. We were always close. After her sisters died, we grew even closer. She had many qualities that I loved and admired. But it wasn’t until she decided to go to California that I realized how much courage she had; what a sense of purpose she had.”
Constance watched her mother brush her fingers across her cheek. “You still miss her very much.”
Rosemary nodded then she smiled and extended her hand. Constance clasped it and stepped closer.
“What I want for you, my dearest child, is that like Catherine, you have the courage to make your own decision and then take responsibility for it. If you do decide that joining the nurses is what you want to do, I will do all in my power to help you. That will include obtaining the agreement of Charles and Uncle. They are your legal trustees; you’ll need their permission.”
“Will they agree?” asked Constance with a quiver in her voice.
“Yes, yes, I believe they will.”
To Constance’s surprise her mother was right. Neither her uncle nor her great-uncle raised any objections to her training as a nurse. In fact Uncle, as all the family referred to Harlan Garrett, had taken both her hands in his and said he was proud of her.
Constance had gotten on the train in Boston with a sense of destiny. She was going to do something important; something noble. In a small way she was going to take part in the great struggle the country was engaged in.
Uncle wouldn’t be proud now.
She had tried. She had tried so hard, but she could not tame her squeamish stomach. She could not seem to build up the stamina that would allow her to stay on her feet working from dawn to long after dark. She could not hide her horror as she watched men die inch by painful inch from infection wounds.
Constance pushed herself away from the door. She was in what had been the music room. It was now used as a mess by the doctors and nurses. The furnishings had been pushed haphazardly against the walls to make room for tables and chairs. There was a grand piano covered with a tapestry. Constance was drawn to the piano in her misery. She was an accomplished pianist. If only she were as good a nurse.
She pulled the stool from beneath the tapestry and sat down. Curious to see how out of tune the piano was, she pushed the cover aside. She softly played a few notes. Not badly out of tune, she thought as she played a few more.
Tired and sad she began to play a Beethoven sonata from memory. Closing her eyes she gave herself over to the music. It felt good to feel the keys under her fingers; to let the sound grow around her. She pretended that she was home in her mother’s drawing room playing the grand piano her father had so generously provided for her.
Constance didn’t know how long she played. She knew so many pieces; so many songs her family had sung together. Her tears flowed down her cheeks as she played. Not for herself, but for those who would never again gather round a piano to sing.
Finally she stopped; she folded her hands and bowed her head. She had to find the matron and accept whatever decision had been made about her future.
“Please, miss, please don’t stop. That there is the prettiest thing I’ve heard since I left home more than two years ago.”
Constance jerked her head up. The speaker was silhouetted in the doorway to the veranda. He was on crutches, his left leg missing below the knee. She realized the veranda was full of men standing silently. She had no idea how long they’d been there. Beyond them the lawn was in darkness except for the lanterns hung in the tents of the wounded.
“That is enough for this evening, gentlemen. Miss Clark is tired.”
The men faded into the darkness, a few saying thank you, miss, as they went.
Constance stood up and smoothed her skirt. She faced the woman who’d spoken. “I’m sorry, Matron. I-I didn’t mean to disturb anyone.”
“You are very talented.”
Constance’s laugh was bitter. “I play the piano, sing, do needlework and dance quite well. Sadly none of my talents are of any use here where there is so much need.”
“I am afraid that’s true – you have no natural talent for nursing,” said the woman solemnly.
“I’ll pack my things tonight,” said Constance biting her lip hard to keep from crying. She stepped away from the piano and turned to go.
“Miss Clark, these men need more than just care for their wounds. What you did this evening was truly helpful to them; it gave them a moment’s peace, perhaps even some joy.”
“I hope so, Matron, I truly hope so,” responded Constance brushing angrily at her tears.
“A talent like yours should not be wasted,” continued the matron. “I’m afraid because we always need more help you will have to work during the day. Menial tasks I know you weren’t raised to do.”
Constance turned back towards the woman who she admired and feared. Was it possible that she might still be of some use? “I don’t mind,” she whispered.
“Will you agree to play the piano, sing, perhaps lead them in singing in the evenings?”
“I will,” she answered nodding. “Thank you.”
Constance never developed any talent for nursing. For the last year of the war she made beds, administered medicines and spent her evenings playing the piano. A young captain in a New York militia unit was one of the patients. He asked her to marry him and Constance said yes. She marveled that having done precisely what her father didn’t want her to do, she would marry exactly the kind of man he wanted for her, the gallant son of a very successful New York City banker.
Lt. Daniel Lowell spent two years in the Quartermaster’s Headquarters in the capital. He was very good at what he did. He helped to keep an army supplied. It was not the sort of service for which one won medals; he’d understood that when he accepted the commission. He was a small man with weak eyesight. He’d never been in a fight in his life. He had absolutely no doubt he would not have survived his first battle. Some might think of him as a coward; he thought of himself as a realist. Constance’s father had obtained this assignment for him and he believed he was well placed.
His elder brother had died of wounds received at Gettysburg. He’d lost a half dozen childhood friends on various battlefields. His cousin Scott, his closest friend, was in a Confederate prison camp. They’d heard nothing of him since Christmas. Daniel knew that conditions in the South were desperate. Sherman had reached Charleston wreaking havoc from Atlanta to the sea. Sheridan, whose army Scott had been part of, had left the Shenandoah Valley a smoking ruin.
In every spare moment during the last month of the war he searched dispatches for Scott’s name. He kept on searching after the surrender, after the assassination of Lincoln.
July 1, 1865
Constance had spent the morning writing letters for patients who couldn’t write. She walked slowly between the tents towards the hospital. She stopped frequently to speak to the men huddled by the flaps of the tents.
She turned at the sound of her name. Her cousin Daniel Lowell was striding towards her. Constance felt a tremor of fear. Being so close to the capital, Constance had seen Daniel frequently during her time at the hospital. He always sent a telegram to tell her when to expect him. She was not expecting him now and she feared he was bringing bad news.
Picking up her serge skirt she ran to meet him. “Daniel, what is it?”
“I’ve found him,” declared Daniel, breathing hard. He grabbed his cousin by the upper arms. “He’s alive.”
“Scott?” Constance could barely whisper the name.
“Yes, yes, I’ve found him. I’m sure I have. He’s been in a field hospital since our army took the prison camp.”
Constance swallowed hard. “Is he all right?”
Behind his spectacles Daniel’s eyes were bloodshot, anxious. “I don’t know. But I finally managed to get him orders to be moved north. I think I’ve arranged to get him on a train coming here either the third or the fourth. He’s alive, that’s what matters. He survived.”
“Yes, that’s what matters,” repeated Constance. A shiver ran through her. One grew used to the constant fear for a loved one. She had lived for a long time fearing news of Scott’s death. Believing that he was really coming home would take time. “Have you let Uncle know?”
Daniel shook his head. “I want to be sure that it works out. I don’t want to raise Uncle’s hopes. But it has to be him. Three weeks ago I finally found his name on a dispatch, Lt. S.G. Lancer. It was from the area I thought he had to be.”
“Three weeks ago?”
Daniel gave her an apologetic smile. “I had to be sure before I told anyone. In truth, I’m still not positive that it is Scott but well, it is the first glimmer of hope I’ve had. I just couldn’t wait any longer to share the good news with you.”
“Of course it is Scott. It has to be Scott,” she said firmly, slipping her hand through the crook of his elbow. “How did you manage to get him on a train here?”
“Fortunately, generals don’t always look at what they’re signing. All one needs are orders with the right name on them.” He drew her closer. “Ah, Constance, we’re going to get him back. Scott is going to come back to us.”
“Yes, yes. Thank God.”
He was hot and he was shivering. The fever was back. It came back at night. When he was in the hospital he had been anxious to leave, to find where it was he was supposed to be. To find someone who could give him official permission to go home. Now he wished that he had stayed in the hospital; at least there the kind nurse would find him a drink of water, a cot to sleep on.
He wasn’t sure how many places he had been since he had left the hospital. Someone would shout, “Lt. Lancer!” and he would answer, “Yo!” They’d tell him to get on a wagon and he would get off somewhere new with hundreds of other men. At times he dreamed he was a chess piece being moved across the board.
This new place was almost familiar, a city he’d seen before. If only he didn’t have a fever he might remember which city it was.
He struggled to his feet. “Yo!”
This time they put him in the boxcar of a train with dozens of other men. He found a corner and the rails sang him to sleep. He dreamed. He dreamed of a private car with comfortable chairs, a table spread with white damask, of food and drink. He dreamed of voices he had known all his life.
Lt. Daniel Lowell met all the trains on the third of July. He helped screen the men. Those who needed the hospital, those who were to be discharged or sent on leave. This was the sort of work at which he excelled. He was organized and easily kept details in his head even while he was watching for just one man.
“It is all right. Scott will be on the train tomorrow,” said Constance over supper. “You said it could be the fourth.”
So Daniel met all the trains on the fourth. He sorted men, searching for a man a little taller than himself with thick blond hair. But he couldn’t find him.
“I’m sorry,” he told Constance. “I shouldn’t have made promises. I was so sure I’d found him. I shouldn’t have raised your hopes.Thank God, I didn’t raise Uncle’s.”
Constance took his hand, saying, “Daniel, there will be more trains tomorrow and the next day. There has just been a mix-up. Not everyone is as clever as you are with schedules and lists.”
Daniel forced a smile. “They didn’t have Uncle to train them.”
“Did you notice the bunting we hung all over the veranda?” she asked hoping to distract him for a few minutes. “Tonight’s concert is going to be the real thing. We’ve moved the piano out onto the veranda. The major is making a speech in honor of the Fourth. And then I’m to lead everyone in the singing of all the patriotic songs we can think of. You’ll help me won’t you?”
Daniel took a breath, squared his shoulders and said, “Yes, of course.”
Fortunately, the major was a better surgeon than he was a speaker. Constance assumed that the thunderous applause that greeted her when she took her place at the piano had little to do with her talents and everything to do with the speech being over.
Constance had given a lot of thought to the concert for the Fourth of July. She’d planned a program. She’d start with popular songs like “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys” and “Marching Through Georgia.” She’d end with hymns including Mrs. Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. For a few minutes in the middle, she’d persuaded Daniel to sing some favorite ballads with her.
With the help of several of the nurses, she had dressed as if she were going to a ball. As her friend laced up the red silk dress her mother had sent her especially for the concert, Constance realized she had not worn it since Christmas of 1862. It was the last time she’d danced with Scott.
Scott had just turned seventeen. He was so handsome- his hair the color of ripe wheat curling around his ears; his blue-grey eyes full of laughter. A little taller than she, he was slim and athletic; already a wonderful dancer.
Constance was thankful she had promised to perform. It gave her something to think about besides Scott, besides the horrible doubt she’d seen in Daniel’s eyes today.
The lawn was crowded with men sitting or lying on the ground. Their voices filled the hot, humid summer night. Daniel, who had a surprisingly powerful voice for a small man, was a natural showman.
He’d stumbled off the train. An orderly realized he was fevered and immediately put him in a wagon. Sometime later someone helped him out of the wagon and to a tent. A nurse insisted he drink several cups of water. She put him in a cot and wiped him down with cool cloths. He fell into a fitful sleep.
When he woke, he was confused. It was dark. He was alone in the large tent but he could hear voices outside -many voices singing.
The tunic and trousers of his uniform lay over the end of the cot. But it wasn’t his uniform. His uniform had been burned. This was just two mismatched pieces that almost fit his thin frame when he left the hospital. He put them on and pushed his feet into the too large boots from under the cot.
He stood slowly. He fought the dizziness as he carefully made his way out of the tent. He was near the back of a large group of men sitting on a lawn. Many were smoking, the tips of the cigarettes and pipes tiny glowing points in the deepening twilight. In the distance was a plantation house with a veranda the length of its facade. It was hung with red, white and blue bunting. More than a dozen oil lamps were set at the edge of the veranda casting light on a grand piano at which sat a pale-haired young woman in a red dress. There was a man in a dark uniform standing near her.
It is a dream, he thought. It was too strange to be anything but a fever-induced dream. He shivered with fear suddenly sure that everything that had happened to him since Union troops had liberated the prison camp was nothing but a dream. In reality he was still there, dying of fever.
He started to move forward, drawn towards the light of the makeshift stage. He picked his way unconsciously through those sitting on the lawn. He kept moving even when the singing stopped. Moving slowly, but steadily like a moth drawn to a flame.
“Gentlemen, my beautiful, talented cousin,” said Daniel with an elaborate bow towards Constance, “and I would like to now sing for you several of the songs our family sang together. Perhaps your family like ours often gathered to sing around a piano. We do this in honor of those who are gone and—” Daniel paused. He turned to Constance who smiled encouragingly although her eyes sparkled with tears. “And with hope of finding the lost.”
They had chosen “Scarborough Fair” because it was a favorite of their great uncle, Scott’s grandfather. Long ago on a summer’s evening by the sea, they had worked out their own three-part harmony. It would be lovely as a duet, those listening would not know the third voice was missing. She and Daniel would.
As she struck the first note, an eerie silence spread over the lawn.
“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt…” sang Daniel.
Constance looked out over the lawn as she fingered the keys. How kind of the men to be so quiet, she thought as she joined Daniel with the refrain. To her left she noticed a man mounting the stairs to the veranda. He was quite tall and rail thin, his uniform hung on him. His hair was very short, the color indiscernible. In the flickering light of the lanterns his face was almost skull-like.
They must have shaved his head for lice. Poor soul, he looks so lost, she thought as she sang, “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”
Sadly, it was commonplace for men to wander unaware of their surroundings. One of the other nurses would overtake him and lead him away.
She and Daniel had decided that she would play through the next few lines. Scott always sang that verse. It would be a private tribute to him.
She felt Daniel stiffen behind her. “Keep playing,” he whispered.
Daniel saw the ragged, tall, thin soldier walking towards the steps as the song began. He kept singing, but watched the intruder as he approached. He knew there were men whose minds had been deranged by the war. The soldier appeared to be headed straight for the piano and Constance. Daniel didn’t want to disrupt the concert; as he sang he moved to stand behind Constance. If there was a problem, he would keep her from harm.
The man stepped between the lanterns, he was close enough now for Daniel to see him clearly. For a second, Daniel Lowell, a rational man, was sure he was seeing a ghost. Then their eyes met.
“Keep playing,” he whispered to Constance.
He was sure now that it was a dream, the song, the familiar voices. It was just a dream so no one would mind that he kept walking towards the piano. He stepped onto the veranda. He was close to them now.
Without giving it a thought he sang, “Tell her to buy me an acre of land.” His voice was shaky, a shadow of his normal baritone.
Stunned, Constance missed her cue. Daniel’s voice joined the soldier’s, supporting it.
“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” they sang together.
Daniel took a step forward and extended his hand.
He was sure that Daniel and his welcoming gesture would disappear if he reached for his hand. Yet if he could grasp Daniel’s hand, if he could kiss Constance’s cheek, he would have survived.
He reached out.
“Between the salt water and the sea brine,
then she’ll be a true love of mine.”
Their hands clasped — Daniel drew him forward as they sang the chorus again. As the last chord faded away, slowly, carefully, Daniel put the soldier between him and the piano.
Constance stared up at the emaciated stranger with the voice of her beloved cousin. Tears ran down her cheeks.
“Play ‘Blest Be the Tie’,” said Daniel gently to Constance.
Without looking, without thinking, she played the first few bars. Those watching the curious tableau from the lawn took up the well-known hymn.
“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”
Constance stood. She was looking into familiar eyes, the blue-grey of Vermont slate. In those eyes was confusion and hope. She wanted badly to throw her arms around him but she was very still. She knew he had to make the last connection on his own.
Hesitantly, he put out his hand and brushed the tears from her cheek. “Constance,” he said softly.
Daniel’s resonant voice joined with the mellifluous mix of voices that rolled over them and filled the warm summer night.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.
From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.
~ end ~
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