“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
– From a headstone in Ireland
Andrea Hunter stared at the back of the boy—young man really—as he leaned against the white column on the porch, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, hands in his pockets, left leg crossed over right, so much like his father it was uncanny.
“Angelina’s coming,” he said to no one in particular.
Andrea watched the small blur in the distance turn into a horse and rider.They approached from the east, through the pastures, jumping any obstacle in their path before sliding to a stop in front of the house.
Andrea stood from her rocking chair on the porch and eyed the heaving horse and rider. “You shouldn’t ride like that young lady.”
“You did.” Angelina exchanged a mischievous smile with the young man.
“Who told you that?” Andrea turned to her son. “Daniel Hunter. What nonsense are you telling Angelina?”
“It weren’t him, Mistis Hunter,” Angelina answered, dismounting and tying the horse. “Mamma tol’ me. She tol’ me back during the War that you—”
“Well, it was different back then.” Andrea watched the two smile like they shared a secret joke as she sat back down. “Remind me to tell Gabriella to mind her own business.”
The topic of war caused Andrea’s thoughts to wander back through the mist of time. In many ways the scenes she recalled seemed more like a dream to her now, vague and shadowy—like the stuff of fantasy or myth. But sometimes the vividness of the memories would come rushing back—names, faces, scenes of war. Things she would always remember. Things she could never forget.
Her gaze drifted to the hill, to the two tombstones standing as monuments to the manly forms that once walked the earth. She thought of their noble lives, and their heroic deaths, and then looked back at her son and Angelina together. It seemed a hundred years ago that Angelina was born a slave child here, perhaps a thousand years ago, so distant did that time seem to be.
Now, Angelina and Gabriella were free, living on twenty acres on the other side of the hill. And Angelina and Daniel were like brother and sister, the existence of the institution of slavery existing only as stories from their elders—not as memories.
“Mamma ran out of sugar.” Angelina came striding up the steps, still out of breath.
“You know where it is. Help yourself,” Andrea said absently to the girl, who was already through the door and in the house. Her thoughts drifted again to the past, to a time when the rolling, emerald fields of Hawthorne had been new to her.
“Mother.” Daniel knelt down by the chair and placed his hand on hers, jolting Andrea from her memories. “There’s a wagon coming up the drive. Can’t tell who it is.”
Andrea stood and watched the two-horse team pull up to the house and stop. The wagon’s lone occupant, a gray-bearded man, stared for a moment without speaking, looking first at Andrea then over her shoulder at Daniel, blinking all the while as if shedding away the years.
“Mr. Carter! What a nice surprise.”
“Surprise?” He jumped lightly off the wagon and gave her a hug. “You received the invitation did you not?”
Andrea’s smile faded. “Yes I received the invitation, but I did not respond. I-I do not wish to attend.” She nodded toward her son, putting an end to the conversation. “I suppose Daniel has grown since last you saw him.”
Carter grasped Daniel’s outstretched hand, his eyes sweeping over the youth who stood a full foot taller than his mother. “Spittin image,” he said, acknowledging that the boy, born from the union of some of the noblest—and possibly most stubborn—blood of Virginia, had inherited the physical characteristics of his father. “Too bad if I drove all this way for nothing.” Carter turned his attention back to Andrea. “Fannie was looking forward to having you spend the night and then going to the picnic bright and early tomorrow.”
“What picnic, Mother?” Daniel interrupted.
“It’s a reunion, son. The men from your father’s Command get together every year. Your mother has never attended and the men are anxious to see her.”
“Oh, Mother, can we go? You … we … never go anywhere!” Daniel turned to Carter. “Shenever goes anywhere,” he repeated, as if telling the man something he didn’t already know.
“I am sure no one is anxious to see me.” Andrea lifted her skirt and began making her way back up the steps.
“War’s over, ma’am.”
Andrea turned and stared hard at Carter. “For some it is. As you well know, in Virginia, the Rebellion dies hard.”
“And you are a Virginian are you not?”
“What I am and what people say are two different things,” Andrea replied, knowing stories that had begun as gossip and rumor during the war had, over the years, turned to legend and fact. “And what I was and what people think are equally diverse.”
“As you wish.” Carter sighed. “I didn’t think you were the type to surrender to hostilities without a fight, but I understand.”
“I am surrendering to nothing. I do not care to go.”
“It’s been fifteen years, Mrs. Hunter. Surely you can attend just this once.”
“Mother, can we?”
Andrea looked at her son sternly. “Go inside a moment, Daniel, and see what is keeping Angelina.” Andrea watched him glance at Carter, then back at her, and knew she had gotten her message across: Keep Angelina in the house until you are sure it is all right to come out.
Andrea waited until she heard the door close behind her. “I don’t care how they should treat me at this gathering of well-meaning friends and designing enemies.” She pushed a stray tendril of hair from her face. “I have stood friendless in the midst of enemies before. But I’ll not have my son abused and devoured as food for gossip because of the allegiance or supposed heritage of his mother.”
“No one will dare mistreat that boy as long as I draw breath,” Carter said calmly.
“You misunderstand, Mr. Carter.” Andrea took a step toward him, her voice low and distinct. “I say it not for his protection, I say it for theirs. For I can and shall take care of my own!”
Carter swallowed hard.
“The punishment will be as certain as the crime,” she continued, not noticing his uneasiness. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Quite madam.” Carter took out a handkerchief and dabbed his brow.
Andrea took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She revealed lashes now misty with tears. “I suppose I cannot always protect him from …” She drew another deep breath. “Against my better judgment, I will accept your invitation. You will allow me the honor of a few minutes to prepare?”
“Of course, ma’am,” Carter said, shaking his head and trying to conceal his smile of satisfaction. “Fannie will be most delighted.”
* * *
Andrea and Fannie were chattering away when Carter pulled the horses into a great expanse of field that served as picnic grounds. Though it was early enough that dew still blanketed the grass, the meadow was already packed with horses and wagons and people of every age and description. Andrea gazed in wonderment at the assemblage of veterans and their offspring, and then looked at Carter with an amused smile. She had never seen so many children in one place in her life!
But as Carter took her hand to help her down from the wagon, Andrea’s gaze drifted over his shoulder to rest on the hills that lay beyond. For a moment she imagined she heard a voice rising above the roar of guns in the midst of a hard-fought battle. And when her eyes met Carter’s briefly, he nodded in understanding of a time when they had both heard those hills ring with the clarion voice of her husband leading a charge.
“Mother, may I go look around?” Daniel asked excitedly.
Andrea gave a nervous glance to Carter and he nodded his head. “He’ll be fine.”
“I suppose so,” she said reluctantly. “Don’t go far.”
Andrea’s gaze drifted back to the picnic grounds. Everywhere she looked there were children running, playing, laughing and talking. The war veterans stood around in groups, patting each other on the backs, apparently recounting heroic incidents of the past, while their wives huddled around huge picnic tables piled high with food.
When Fannie became engaged in greeting an old friend, Andrea stood idly by watching the rush of activity with an amused smile.
“Mamma.” Andrea looked around to see if anyone was going to claim the blonde-haired girl who stared up at her with large, expressive eyes. When no one stepped forward, she bent down and picked her up. “I’m afraid I’m not your mamma.”
“Hey, Will! You lose one of your flock?” a man walking by yelled to someone behind her.
Andrea turned around, smiling now, with the child clinging to her neck. The gentleman referred to was likewise engaged in a conversation and had his back to her. But at the sound of his name he turned. “Oh, I beg your pardon, ma’am,” he said, holding his arms out for the child.
Andrea was midway through the exchange with the man when their eyes met—and the past collided with the present. “Captain Pierce.” His name escaped Andrea’s lips before she could stop it.
“It’s Will, ma’am,” he said, staring into her eyes, and bowing politely with the child in his arms. “William Benjamin Pierce, at your service.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Andrea looked down. “Mr. Pierce.”
“No need to apologize. You may call me Captain Pierce if you wish. Old habits are hard to break.”
He smiled graciously, revealing two small dimples Andrea could not recall ever having seen. Otherwise, she noticed, he had the same striking appearance as when he wore a Confederate uniform—except he was perhaps more handsome, for his face and his eyes were softer, no longer carrying the bitterness and anger he displayed so constantly during the war.
“I can’t believe ol’ Carter was successful,” he said in an amused voice before quickly changing the subject. “I’d give you a hug, but my hands are full.” The child began to struggle in his powerfully built arms. “Want down!”
“Father, may I go over by the brook?”
Andrea watched another young girl, perhaps fourteen, tug on Pierce’s shirt from behind.
“Yes Ellie, but where is Esther? And Alexander? And here, can you take Lillian to your mother first?”
Andrea’s smiled widened. “Four children?”
Pierce grinned and sat the youngest on the ground. ‘Yes, and another on the way. Ellie, I would like you to meet the Colonel’s wife. May I present my eldest daughter, Ellie.”
“The Colonel’swife?” She looked at her father in disbelief.
“Yes, the one and only.” He turned back to Andrea. “Please come and meet my wife.” He took her by the arm, not giving her the option of declining. “We have a picnic table in the shade where we keep the flock.”
“Charlene!” he yelled, dragging Andrea the last couple of yards. “I’d like you to meet Mrs. Hunter.”
A woman who had been bending over peeling a banana for a young girl straightened slowly, her stomach swollen with impending birth. “The Colonel’s wife?”
“Yes, the Colonel’s wife.” Pierce sounded exasperated.
He turned to Andrea. “I apologize. I fear your name is a bit of a legend in my household. They do not believe you are a mere mortal of flesh and blood.”
“Me? Because I am married to Alex?”
“No … you because you are… you.”
Charlene came forward and grabbed Andrea’s hand. “I have always wanted to meet you,” she said shyly, continuing to stare at Andrea.
“You’ve got a beautiful family.” Andrea gazed around at the smiling faces. “Those I’ve met so far anyway.”
“She met Ellie and Lillian,” Pierce explained to his wife. “Well, this is Esther,” Charlene said, pointing to a girl of about ten, eating a banana, “and that is Alex.” She nodded toward a youngster who now had a tight grip on his father’s leg.
Pierce bent down and picked him up, his eyes meeting Andrea’s over the significance of the name. “My only son. We have to stick together against all these women, don’t we, son?”
Andrea smiled at the compassion shown, then turned her attention over his shoulder to search the crowd for signs of Daniel.
“You look like you’ve lost someone,” Pierce said.
“Yes, my son. He wanted to explore a little.”
Pierce cocked his head to one side as if surprised.“Oh yes. I remember Carter telling me now. I don’t know where the years went.” He sighed. “I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch.”
Andrea smiled. “I see you’ve been quite busy. No need to apologize.”
“I went out West right after the war. Didn’t really keep in touch with anyone for a while.” He gazed over her shoulder. “What is your son wearing, maybe I can— Well I’ll be damned!”
“William Benjamin Pierce!” Charlene exclaimed as Andrea followed his gaze.
“Oh, I beg your pardon.” Pierce’s eyes were wide and disbelieving. “It appears my daughter has found him. He’s not hard to recognize.”
Andrea smiled when she saw the young lady leading Daniel by the arm toward her family. “Father, I would like you to meet Daniel. This is his first reunion, but he says his father fought with this Command.”
Pierce looked in amazement from Andrea, to her son, to his daughter, and back, while Ellie turned to make other introductions. “And this is my mother. And this is Mrs. Hunter, the Colonel’s wife,” she said proudly. “My father knows her.”
Daniel looked at his mother. “So do I,” he said. “That’s my mother.”
Ellie’s face turned pale, then bright red as she looked at Daniel in astonishment. “You didn’t tell me. Oh my, then your father—”
The boy shrugged and sat down on the edge of the picnic table. “You never asked.” He turned to Pierce. “I believe I’ve heard your name in stories about my father.”
“I hope in a good light.” Pierce looked at Andrea and chuckled. “Your father and I did not always see eye to eye.”
“Yet your father respected him and relied on him immensely,” Andrea said.
“So you fought with my father?” Daniel’s eyes glowed with interest.
“I was a captain.” Pierce’s gaze fell on Andrea again. “I fought under your father. I fought with your mother.”
“In more ways than one!” Another voice joined the conversation. Andrea turned around at the presence of a hand on her shoulder. “Boz!”
“It’s Nelson, ma’am. Nelson Boswell. And you remember Gus Dorsey.” He nodded toward the man beside him. “Mr. Boswell. Mr. Dorsey.” Andrea gave both an enthusiastic hug. “This is my son, Daniel Hunter. I suppose you know everyone else.”
Boswell looked at Andrea. “I think I could have figured that one out too. Looks just like his sire.”
“You were saying?” Daniel looked impatient as he cocked his head to one side. “My mother fought with Mr. Pierce?”
Pierce looked from the boy to Andrea. “Surely he’s knows all about— You’ve told him about—”
“He knows of his father’s accomplishments.”
“But not yours?”
“She speaks not of her past,” Daniel volunteered. “Never.”
“There is nothing to speak of.”
Pierce, Boz, and Gus looked at her in amazement. “The Colonel was proud of your deeds, your efforts on behalf of the Command,” Pierce said. “Surely your son has the right to know that.”
“My husband died for what he believed a pure and holy duty,” Andrea said. “Anything I did for the Confederacy was for purely selfish reasons. I do not like to compare the two.”
“You are mistaken if you believe that.” Pierce shook his head. “Your sacrifices are all the more significant that they were made on behalf of his Cause—not yours.”
“I’d like to hear, Mother.”
“It was a long time ago,” she insisted. “Things were different then.”
“Indeed they were,” Pierce said, turning to Daniel.“She has told you nothing?”
“Nothing at all, sir.”
“Oh my, fellows, this is going to take a while,” Pierce said.
“Daniel, they will fill your head with outrageous stories,” Andrea said. “Let’s take a walk.”
“But I’d like to hear, Mother.” Daniel sat firm with arms crossed, informing her he was not going to budge—and informing everyone else that not all of his traits had been inherited from his father’s side.“Sometimes I’m not sure I believe all of the stories you tell me about Father.”
“You can believe them,” Pierce said. “All the better that you hear them from the mouths of those who fought beside him.”
“If you men are going to tell war stories, go over under the trees,” Charlene interrupted, shooing them away. “I have work to do.”
* * *
The men, many of them with their sons, remained huddled in a circle in a grove of trees, talking noisily and laughing loudly. Some of their voices carried, and Andrea smiled at how affectionately they spoke of Alex as they fondly recalled scenes of the past.
“They were firing on us hot and heavy,” she heard one say, “and we were both dismounted watching the action, when he turns to me and says in his low voice, ‘Harris it’s getting a little warm up here. Move over to the other side of your horse in case a bullet comes this way.”
“I thought he was joking and told him, ‘but Kulnel, that’s the direction the bullets is coming from.’ And he says with a completely straight face, ‘I’m well aware of that, Harris, but good horses are a lot more scarce in Virginia right now than good men.’”
Hoots of laughter swelled among the group causing other men to drift toward the gathering.
“Hey, Hanson, you remember that fight with the 5th New York, don’t you?” Pierce laid his arm over the man’s shoulders. “I think it was you that went and told the Colonel to move to the back.”
“Yeah, that was me,” Hanson said, his face turning red. “I told him to move to the back, ’cause they were shooting at him. And he looked at me with those deadly gray eyes and said, ‘Thank you for bringing that to my attention, sir, but they’ve been doing that for about three years now.’”
The group howled and laughed, each picturing Colonel Hunter sitting aloofly on Dixie while bullets whizzed by his head.
“Gus, you remember that time you rode in and told the Colonel there was an entire brigade coming our way?” Gus nodded and laughed. “And the Colonel said, ‘Good.’” At that point all of the men who were gathered around joined in, repeating the words that Hunter had spoken that day. “The more that are looking for us, the less that are fighting!”
The men laughed, but they now knew how right he had been. Who could tell how many lives he had saved? Literally tens of thousands of Union soldiers had been kept guarding supply lines, railroads and outposts, that if not for Hunter, would have been in active service in the front.
“What I can’t believe is how the Kulnel always kept where we were going a secret,” Hanson said. “And how we all followed him when we didn’t know where the hell we were even going.”
“Yeah, well, I almost got him to tell me once,” a man named Riley said, his chest puffed out with pride.
Everyone looked over at him with questioning eyes. “It was winter sixty-four, I think, freezing cold, sleeting, boot-sucking muddy—”
“Ah, the Kulnel’s favorite weather,” someone said, and everyone laughed.
“Anyhow, I rode up and said, ‘So Kulnel whar we headin’?’ Well, he pulls his hoss to a complete stop, leans over, puts his hand on my shouldah and says in his deep voice, ‘Riley, can you keep a secret?’ And of course I says, ‘Yes suh!’ And he says, ‘So can I. Don’t ever ask me that again!’”
The group roared with laughter, making the old woods ring.
* * *
Andrea was in high spirits when Pierce took her arm to escort her to the program later, while Charlene stayed behind to care for the younger children. She found herself seated beside Carter in the front row, with Daniel beside her and Ellie and Pierce settling in to his left.
When all had gathered, Carter walked up onto the stage to offer an official greeting to his friends and their families.
“Comrades, welcome!” he began, smiling broadly as he gazed out over the crowd. “It is such a privilege to stand before you all once again as we gather to renew old acquaintances and pay tribute to those whose lives were sacrificed in the great struggle.”
His smile suddenly faded, and his voice grew deep with emotion. “Today, as most of you know, is a day of special significance in its sad and sacred memories. Though time in its rapid flight has borne us on until we are fifteen years from that fateful hour, it is yet hard to gather together and not think of the vacancy left in our ranks when our comrade and commander yielded up his great, knightly soul for his country’s honor.”
Andrea gazed up at Carter, beginning to figure out his motives for making her attend.
“I need remind no one here of his magnetic influence as a leader of men. Whether leading a charge or standing as a mark for their shot and shell, one could not help but admire his gallant and virtuous conduct on and off the field of battle. He showed the enemy what a soldier should be. And he showed us all what a man should be.”
When Carter paused, the awed hush of a common sorrow was deafening. Andrea reached for her son’s hand to steady the shaking of her own.
“And now, his name, his fame, his lauded accomplishments shall remain as an honored legacy to all those who had the great honor of knowing him—and to those gathered here, who had the greater privilege of serving under him. Although we need no monument to let his memory live forever, we felt it our duty to share with future generations the embodiment of all that is noble and pure and honorable in a man. It is therefore with great pleasure that I unveil to you this day, a tribute in imperishable stone that will stand for all time as an enduring testament to the devotion, the valor and virtue of a legend.”
With Carter’s final words a curtain fell, and the audience gasped in unison, and then roared with thunderous applause. Andrea sat mesmerized, staring in wondrous admiration at the sight of a daunting life-sized statue of her husband rising in mythical splendor from the soil of the green meadow. Her gaze roamed the manly figure seated firmly and gracefully on a rearing stone steed. It was just as she wished to remember him—reins taunt, Colt drawn, staring out over the horizon in the very direction of the battlefields where he had fought.
Andrea never blinked as she took in every detail of the statue that reflected in meticulous detail her husband’s strength and grace. The coat he wore floated behind him as if from the fury of a great storm. His strong, powerful hand held firmly the reins, while his spurs were turned distinctly into his horse of stone.
Her eyes drifted up to his face, chillingly and accurately portrayed. His jaw was set determinedly and his unforgettable eyes appeared to be literally blazing—as if gazing fearlessly into the eyes of Death. It was him: rugged, stalwart, impregnable as a mountain. She could not help but tremble in its presence, so true was the likeness to that which was once flesh and bone.
When the applause died down, Carter cleared his throat again. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have the additional honor and surprise today to be blessed with the attendance of Colonel Hunter’s widow, whose presence here proves with certainty that Southern and Northern hearts are indeed forever linked in a common destiny.”
A solemn hush pervaded the sunny field, followed by a round of sparse and intermittent applause, as well as a few hushed whispers of utter dismay that a Yankee would be singled out among the crowd on this somber and glorious day.
“And I am hoping she would be kind enough to say a few words.”
Andrea looked up at him in horror and shook her head, but Carter stepped down and took her hand, giving her no choice but to follow. Stumbling blindly to the podium, she feared to gaze again at the image of the godlike spirit behind her, yet dreaded even more to gaze out at the blank, staring, scrutinizing faces of the crowd.
When Carter left her side, Andrea stared down at the podium and then at the sky and then at her toes. “Good afternoon,” she finally said. “This is quite … quite a surprise … and overwhelming.”
She cleared her throat. “I scarcely know what to say, but I am deeply humbled by your resolve to pay tribute to the virtue and patriotism of my husband… my late husband.” Andrea’s eyes rose and fell on Carter who just smiled and nodded encouragement, and then on Pierce who simply winked. She took another deep breath, lifted her head, and began.
“As you can well imagine, I am more than a little apprehensive about standing before you today, for as most of you are aware, my heart, spirit and loyalty resided with the Union.”
Andrea spoke the words with sentiment and passion now, her resolute and rebellious eyes scanning the crowd, not wavering from anyone who dared to meet them.
“On the other hand,” she continued, “perhaps no one can have greater admiration for the brave soldiers of the Confederacy than those who opposed them and learned firsthand of their chivalrous conduct.”
She paused for a moment and took a deep breath to calm her nerves, yet her stature denoted nothing but grace and poise and elegance. “I’m sure Colonel Hunter would be very proud of this tribute,” she said, turning around and glancing briefly at the monument, “and I know you must all feel, as I do, his presence with us here today.” At that moment a slight breeze stirred Andrea’s hair, and her cheeks turned rosy with emotion. With straight back and shoulders square, she gazed into the distance as if receiving divine strength from that which no one could see.
“It has been a pleasure for me to mingle today with the remnants of this proud and gallant Command,” she began, her voice shaking ever so slightly, “to stand beside those who preferred death to dishonor, and showed the world how they valued the rights and liberties of their land. And though your Cause was not my own,” her eyes fell briefly on Pierce, “I can stand here today with unsurpassed admiration in the memory of your deeds.”
A hush spread over the field as the audience held onto her every word, and all that could be heard was the gentle flapping of the Southern Cross as it fluttered in the breeze over Andrea’s head. “I believe the Colonel would be overwhelmed, and perhaps not a little dismayed, to be singled out with this honor, especially when gathered here today are the brave members of his Command, without whom he could never have achieved his revered reputation.”
She looked out over the crowd again, picking out faces of men she knew, and remembering with brilliant clarity scenes of days long past. Before her were men whom she had once feared and despised—and whom she had grown to admire and respect. Many had more gray hairs, longer beards, and slower movements than when she had last seen them, but from their eyes she drew assurance and felt renewed strength and courage.
“Despite my allegiance, I do not hesitate to laud your heroic devotion to your state and principles, as today we cast our eyes back to your noble and daring achievements. For I know that you fought and defended your homes, not in the spirit of anger or of hate, but in fulfillment of duty and a conviction for honor.” She paused. “As did I.”
She lifted her eyes and stared out into the audience again, biting her cheek, and clasping her hands together to keep them from shaking. Her gaze fell on her son, and then on the young girl beside him, and she gained even more resolve.
“When I look out over this field, I see the faces of the men who witnessed the Colonel’s knightly valor, not from afar—as many who adored him did—but beside him. You were there at all times with him, without complaint and without hope of reward, undaunted and fearless in your deeds of unprecedented and noble daring, obeying his every command in the heat and hell of battle, even when asked to follow him, countless times, into the very jaws of death.”
The audience remained silent, though it now seemed more out of deference to her words than a deliberate act to not acknowledge who was speaking them. She spoke with such dignity and bearing and solemnity, that they were held captive.
“Today, as you cast your eyes on the sacred emblem of the Confederacy, on the flag around which you rallied and beneath which brave comrades breathed their last, you can stand tall in the knowledge that your valor, your gallantry, your dauntless spirits have won for the South a glory that the wealth of the world could not purchase in all the tide of time.”
Here Andrea paused, though had she wanted to she could not have continued. The hills suddenly trembled with a long, loud, rolling yell of unearthly proportions. The aging warriors were apparently unable to suppress their patriotic devotion any longer. Each, it appeared, was attempting to out-yell the other, or else they were desirous for their shouts to reach those in the heavens who had died too early to witness her devotional words.
She waited for the Rebel yell to subside, and then, scanning the rolling hills in the distance, began again. “To you, the legions that served him, allow me to commend you once more on your brilliant feats and victories, which I can assure you, excited the admiration, aroused the envy, and stirred the patriotic blood of all who had the opportunity to witness them. Even your enemies.”
The many bedewed eyes in the audience reflected the deep feelings being spawned by her words. Never in all the reunions past had a speaker been more intimately involved with the Command, nor more appropriately captured its spirit or the depth of its sacrifice or devotion. Many of the men sat in deference with uncovered heads in respectful silence as they listened with rapt attention.
“Believe me when I tell you—” Andrea leaned forward and made eye contact with as many of the battle- and time-scarred veterans as she could. “Believe me when I tell you, the Colonel felt it his splendid privilege to serve beside you. To the end he thought of you, for you were as dear to his heart as the liberty and soil he defended. Please accept my deepest appreciation for your affectionate regard and devotion to him, and please know that he left this earth profoundly pleased, truly proud and sincerely grateful to have had the good fortune, and indeed the supreme honor, to call you his men.”
Never did the old hills reverberate with heartier cheers, as it seemed an electric current surged through the crowd. Not a dry eye remained on the field, save perhaps a few dozen Virginian women who felt it their sacred duty to despise anything remotely Yankee, and believed it a horrible desecration of the gallant Colonel’s sacred memory to be honored by one—especially one who had trapped him into marriage when he was on his deathbed.
Sure the war was over, but Colonel Hunter deserved better. It would be unnatural in the name of the Confederacy to honor one of its destroyers. It might be the Christian thing to do to forgive wrong, but it was not the Christian thing to honor wrong.
* * *
Pierce saw Andrea standing alone beneath the towering monument, staring at the polished marble as dappled shadows from the lowering sun flickered across the inscription.
“It appears you approve.”
Andrea did not turn around, as if she knew he was there or expected that he would be. “I do not need a monument to be reminded of the worth of my husband, Mr. Pierce.” She turned around then, as if sorry she had spoken so abruptly. “I mean, I would rather have the man than a piece of stone honoring his courage.”
“But now future generations can know of the honorable services he rendered,” Pierce said in a soft, deep voice, “and know that Virginia has given her best and noblest blood.”
Andrea nodded. “A pity the country demanded the noblest for her altars.Would that I could have taken that bullet and left him to Virginia.”
Pierce put his hands on her arms and looked into her eyes. “Do you not think every man here does not wish that? That every man there that day regrets not following him on his errand of mercy?” His voice cracked. “A thousand lives could not be worth as much!”
Andrea nodded with a wistful smile planted on her face, and then turned away. “I’ve been wishing to take a walk by the stream before we depart. Would you care to accompany me, Mr. Pierce?”
“You are welcome to call me Will,” he said, frowning at her attempt to change the subject. “And I would be most honored to escort you.”
They walked down the hill toward the sound of running water, neither speaking. Andrea turned around once to gaze at the memorial as the light of early sunset cast it in a red fiery blaze of glory. Pierce stopped and looked at her as she beheld the spectacle, and saw despair and grief in her eyes rather than a reflection of the magnificent statue. He felt like he was watching the pain of the passage of time in her expression. He could almost see what she was thinking: what were memories and a slab of stone compared to the mortal man?
Andrea turned then and sighed as she stared out over the great fields of battle. She looked over at Pierce as if just remembering he was there, and then proceeded down the hill. She had taken only a few steps when she stumbled slightly. Pierce reached out for her arm to steady her.
“Damn this leg,” Andrea said under her breath. “Oh, sorry for my language. Please pardon me.”
Pierce smiled and let her go. “No harm done. The old riding injury acting up, I suppose.”
Andrea had continued walking again and looked back over her shoulder, her brow drawn in confusion. “Riding injury?” Then she laughed softly as if remembering a joke, and continued walking. “Oh, yes, the riding injury.”
Pierce touched her arm. “It was not?”
Andrea stopped and turned, then smiled awkwardly. “Yes, of course it was.”
“I don’t believe you now,” he said, studying her face. “You wouldn’t lie to an old friend.”
“Very well. If you insist on knowing.” She paused a moment, as if not sure how to proceed. “I was a guest at Libby,” she finally revealed, as if speaking of a prestigious hotel. “And was not one of the warden’s most desired inmates.” She grasped his arm for support and started walking again. “But I did not ask for your company to speak of the war.”
Pierce followed and reluctantly pressed her no more. But in his mind he tried to put together pieces of the impenetrable mystery of her past, the details of which she would never reveal and whose secrets were most likely known only by her husband, whose lips were sealed in death.
“Look at all these beautiful flowers!” Andrea pointed toward a small patch of wildflowers. “Let’s pick a bouquet for Charlene and Alex … for the memorial, I mean.” Andrea did not wait for an answer but began plucking the colorful blooms.
“You have such a lovely family,” Andrea said, not noticing Pierce as he watched her intently. “I must tell you Captain, it seems ironic that you always had a way with women—and now you have a house full of them.” She laughed and then looked up at his unsmiling face. “I’m sorry,” she said, straightening back up. “I mean, Mr. Pierce. I mean, Will.”
Pierce continued gazing at her with a thoughtful stare as she went back to picking wildflowers. “You made quite a sensation today,” he said at last. “Doubtless, captured the attention and admiration of more than one heart.”
Andrea did not seem to understand, or chose to ignore, his meaning. Yet she seemed to sense Pierce staring at her and straightened back up. “Is something wrong?”
“No. Well, um, you consider me a friend do you not?
“’Of course,” she said. “There are no greater friends than foes who have served honorably.”
“Then may I ask you something?”
Andrea shrugged. “Certainly.”
“I have been asked,” Pierce began, taking a step toward her, “that is to say, I’ve had some inquiries.” He cleared his throat. “From some of the unwed men in the Command, good men all, wishing to know your status. Well, not status exactly—perhaps your position… Yes, your position on suitors, on whether you would receive them. And knowing that I know you as I do, they asked me to, um, ask as to whether or not, well, I guess, that is, they would like to know if you would be, you know, open to such a… possibility.”
Andrea appeared to think he was joking at first, but then by the tone of his voice and his stammering, determined he was not. She cocked her head and looked up into his eyes, her brow creased in obvious confusion. “But why? They know I am married.”
Pierce studied her face, unblinking. “He’s dead, Andrea.” His eyes never left hers.
Andrea did not respond other than to push past him and try to get away. He caught her by the hand and whirled her back around to face him, holding her by the arms firmly so she could not get away.
“How dare they send you to me!” she spat. “How dare you think I would betray my husband! Take another man’s name! You are deluded, or you are insane, or you are bloody well drunk!”
Pierce shook her gently and said it again. “He’s dead, Andrea! Fifteen years for heaven’s sake! There are other men out there … good men who would take care of you, cherish you.”
“I need no one to take care of me!” Andrea began to struggle. When she found she could not possibly free herself from his powerful grasp she pounded on his chest with her fists, the flowers falling in a crushed clump from her hands. “I want no one else! Let me go!”
Pierce held on, closing his eyes against her relentless fury as she pummeled and kicked and struggled against him like a wild animal caught in a trap. Finally, out of pure exhaustion, she sank against his chest, sobbing and trembling, years of grief spilling from her soul. “My love is not dead,” she cried into his chest, pouring out her sorrow for the first time. “Our love did not die!”
“Dear Andrea,” Pierce said, wrapping her in his arms and gently stroking her hair. “Would that I could take your grief away and make it my own.”
Andrea sobbed some more and he could feel her warm tears soaking through his shirt, could feel that she was tormented beyond the power of words with the anguish of years of loneliness and heart-breaking sorrow. “I miss him,” she said softly between sobs. “He was my life!”
“Of course you miss him,” Pierce said soothingly. “But you are too young to bury your heart in a grave. He would not ask it of you. He did not expect you to be cloistered away at Hawthorne for the rest of your life.”
“He’s waiting for me. You do not understand!”
The despair in her voice made his bones ache. “Andrea, please reconsider. You have mourned long enough. It is time to rejoin the living. They know you will never love them as you loved him. They accept that.”
Andrea uttered not a sound other than to continue to weep softly, but Pierce felt her arms wrap more tightly around him, as if she needed his strength to overcome the misery that had been locked in her heart for the past fifteen years. He tightened his embrace, hoping to relieve her suffering and the terrible anguish of her yearning.
“Andrea, have you forgotten what it is like to have a man’s arms around you?” He wanted to console her, knowing that encircled in his arms was a young, vibrant woman who had not been held by a man for a decade and a half.
Again she did not answer, but she did not resist. Pierce continued talking, knowing her depth of pain was too deep for words. He ran his hand down the length of golden hair that had spilled onto her back in her struggle, and blinked at its softness.
“You are a woman, Andrea. You deserve to be taken care of, to be treated like a woman.” Pierce’s voice cracked and he closed his eyes, slightly unnerved by his own reaction to the words. This is not what he had planned when he told the men he would ask her if she would receive them. He felt her fingers dig into his back as she clenched a fistful of his shirt.
“But, Will, you do not understand,” she murmured into his chest. “No one understands.”
Pierce suppressed a shiver at the sound of his name on her lips and took another deep breath, wondering why it seemed like he could not get enough air into his lungs and questioning where the heat was coming from that was beginning to surge through his veins. His cheek rested on the top of her head and the smell of lavender in her hair caused his knees to suddenly feel weak. Perhaps he had indeed drunk too much ale earlier, for the feeling of her breath coming fast and hard against his chest, her soft body pressed firmly against his, was beginning to blur his senses.
“The spark that was within you,” he said in an unsteady voice, “is still there. It can flame again at the hands of the right man.”
Now both her hands were fisted tightly within the folds of his shirt as she clung to him in desperate anguish. He could feel her heart fluttering against his chest, could feel each beat, and it possessed an intensity and a tempo that almost exceeded his own.
“After all these years,” he whispered soothingly, “you must long for affection, yearn for strong arms to hold you. You cannot help but crave a man’s touch.”
Pierce felt her swallow hard against him, thought he even heard a whimper—but he could have imagined it, or expected it … or wished it. He allowed one hand to slide down to the small of her back, and wondered at the slightness of the form that carried within it so much vitality and strength. Suddenly there was a passionate temptation within him, the likes of which had not crossed his mind since he had taken his own vows.
“Dear Andrea. I understand why you fight it so.” He lowered his head to speak softly into her ear. “You fear you will enjoy it.”
Pierce felt her take a deep tremulous breath and shiver, as she wrapped her arms more completely around him. Her hands seemed to reflexively open then, fingers lying flat upon his back, the way a woman holds a man. The searing heat within them caused his skin to tingle through the shirt she had been clutching. He wondered if she knew who she was holding anymore, or if she was merely grasping a memory, for her embrace felt suddenly more passionate than it had before.
Pierce shut his eyes when the hands closed again in seeming desperation. This time her fingers dug into his flesh, in an apparent effort to feel the man rather than the shirt. He took a deep sucking breath, realized he must have been holding it for quite some time, and let it out slowly as he tried to control the sensations that overpowered him.
She too was having trouble breathing, for he could feel her chest rising and falling more rapidly against his own, her warm breath feeling more like a flame-throwing torch against his skin than the exhalation of air. Every nerve in his body strained to its limit as wild images flashed through his mind. For so great was the heat between them, he feared if one of them moved, a spark would ignite and surely they would both go up in flames.
For a few more moments Pierce remained breathlessly quiet—in fact breathless—as he acknowledged that he was intimately wrapped in another woman’s arms. He could recall no act in four years of war that required more strength or stamina than the battle in which he found himself engaged, fighting with every ounce of his manhood not to yield to his impulses.
Finally, he felt her start to relax into him, succumbing to her emotions he surmised, surrendering to his touch, at last realizing how desperately she needed a man. Her hands slid down his back and she released her tight hold around him.
Pierce winced, for his skin flamed where her fingers created a trail of heat down his spine. He exhaled long and deep, a sigh of extreme satisfaction and contentment, pleased with himself for the restraint he had shown—and delighted that her unconquerable spirit had bowed to his. Even after fourteen years of marriage he had not lost his touch. He loosened his grip around her. The men would be pleased with what he had accomplished on their behalf. He had done his duty well!
It was not until Andrea pushed away and brought her heel crashing down onto the top of his foot, and then her toe into his shin, that he realized her aforementioned actions were a maneuver—a feint as they called it in the cavalry—to get him to let down his guard and relax his own grip.
“Tell them, no! I can take care of m-y-y-self!” she cried, as she made her escape and ran toward the woods. She looked back only once—and then with an expression that would haunt Pierce for the rest of his life. For he could recall no other look, in dream or in life, that so fully expressed despair and sorrow.
* * *
“Mother.” Daniel watched his mother’s eyes open slowly. “Mother,” he said again.
“Yes, dear?” She turned her head toward him but her eyes appeared unfocused.
“I believe you were dreaming, Mother,” he said, “about the memorial.”
Her eyes met his, then drifted over to his wife, Ellie, standing beside him.
“Yes,” she smiled weakly. “I guess it’s the fever. Funny, I remembered every moment of it.” She struggled to take a breath. “That was where you and Ellie met. Do you remember?”
“Yes, we remember,” Daniel said smiling at his wife. “But that was ten years ago, Mother.”
Her eyes closed again as if trying to remember something or account for the time lost. “Yes, I suppose it was,” she said. “Where is Alexandria?”
“I’m right here Nana.” The little girl stood on tiptoe, poking her nose over the side of the bed between her parents.
“Well, come up here and talk to me.” Andrea patted the covers.
Daniel helped his green-eyed bundle of energy up.
“Why are you in bed so early, Nana?” Alexandria asked. “In the morning, won’t you take me for a ride? You’re the only one that takes me fast!”
“I told you, Alexandria,” Daniel said. “Nana is not feeling well.”
“Maybe I can make you feel better.” Alexandria laid her head upon her grandmother’s heaving chest and Andrea wrapped her arms around the child. But the little girl did not stay quiet long. She reached for the locket around Andrea’s neck and opened it. “There’s the Kulnel,” she said, staring at the faded image of Alex in uniform and speaking as if she knew him well. “My grandpapa.”
Daniel looked at the wistful smile on his mother’s face and knew she was thinking the same thing as he. This child would have had her grandfather wrapped tightly around her little finger.
Alexandria closed the locket and replaced her head on Andrea’s chest. “I wish he was here.”
“He’s very close, dear,” Andrea said. “He’s waiting for me.”
Alexandria sat up. “Can I see him?”
“Yes, some day. But for now, you must be a good girl for your mother and father.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Alexandria glanced at her father. “I am being a good girl, right, Papa?”
“Yes, you are being good today.”
Andrea must have noticed the tone of her son’s voice. “I fear she has inherited more of my traits than you would care her to have.”
“Grandpa Pierce says I’m just like you,” Alexandria said proudly. “He said when you were young, you were as fearless and stubborn as a Yankee—”
“Alexandria!” Her mother and father yelled in unison, trying to stop her.
“—mule,” she finished.
Andrea’s eyes lifted to her daughter-in-law. “Your father would surely know,” she smiled. “Your parents are well?”
Ellie nodded. “Yes, ma’am.
“You will tell them I was thinking of them today, won’t you?”
Ellie gazed at Daniel with look of confusion. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Mother, don’t talk like this. I believe you are getting stronger every minute.” Daniel only hoped his voice did not betray him, because she looked weary and weak. Her eyes were sunken and glassy, her lips pale, and each breath seemed to be a struggle.
“I’m very tired today.” Andrea took a raspy breath. “Ellie, you will take good care of my son.”
Ellie looked at her husband with an expression of sadness and fear, her mother-in-law’s words causing the former—the commanding tone of her voice the latter. “Yes, ma’am.”
Daniel cleared his throat and pulled his wife away from the bed. “Will you send for the doctor?” he whispered, his voice filled with concern.
Ellie nodded. “Come with me Alexandria.” She backed out of the room on her errand, her eyes never leaving her mother-in-law until she was out the door.
“Son, will give you this to Alexandria?” Andrea removed the locket that had not left its place next to her heart since the day her husband had been laid to rest beneath Virginia soil. “I would like Alexandria to have this to remember her grandfather—always.”
Daniel sat down on the side of the bed. “Please, Mother, don’t do this.”
Without hesitating a moment, Andrea slipped Daniel’s ring from her finger, though her eyes were now closed from the effort. “Here, son. Your Uncle Daniel would be honored for his namesake to have this.”
Daniel reluctantly took the ring and watched his mother’s fingers move to her left hand. “Bury me with this one,” she said weakly of her wedding band. “He put it on. I don’t want it taken off.”
“Oh, Mother, please don’t talk like this,” Daniel sobbed, taking her hand in both of his. “Please don’t! I don’t wish you to leave!”
Andrea’s eyes were open now and staring at the flickering shadows created on the ceiling by the gas lamp beside her bed. “He has been waiting long enough.” Her voice was filled with impatience.
Daniel took a deep breath and spoke softly, placing his hand on her shoulder. “You mean, you have been waiting long enough.”
Andrea turned her head slowly to meet the eyes of her son. “You understand, don’t you, dear?”
“I know you don’t have the will to go on.” His eyes were moist with tears as he bent down and kissed his mother’s cheek. “But you have always been here for me, so strong, I do not know how—”
“My dear Daniel.” Andrea reached up and gently stroked his face like she did when he was a child. “You have a family of your own now. You do not need me.”
“Do not say that,” he pleaded. “That does not mean I do not need you!”
“I will still be with you,” she comforted him. “In the hills and the sky of Virginia.”
“Are you sure you will see him?” Daniel asked worriedly.
Andrea smiled peacefully, her eyes closed again. “Yes, I can see the stream.”
“And Father is there?”
“But you always dream of that. Yet, he is always on the other side, and you can never cross.”
“But tonight,” Andrea said, a smile beginning to light up her face. “Tonight there is a bridge.”
Daniel held her hand and watched her take a deep struggling breath. “It is as I always told you, my son. Eternal love is stronger than—”
Opening her eyes again, Andrea turned her head to look him in the eye. Daniel waited breathlessly for her to finish her sentence, but her gaze shifted to somewhere over his shoulder, and her eyes began to dance and blaze with a sparkling look of vitality. Her lips turned upward into a joyful grin that was both shy and radiant, while her entire countenance changed from sickly and frail to beaming and blissful. Cheeks that had been sallow, bloomed with an adoring blush, and she literally glowed with a light so bright that Daniel turned to see from where the illumination was coming.
“Alex! Oh, at last.”
By the time Daniel turned back, a peaceful smile had settled upon her face.
She was gone.
Gone where her soul longed to be.
* * *
Twenty miles away, Isaac Carter stole away from a dinner party and retreated to a far window.
“Something wrong?” William Pierce came up behind him, sipping from a glass of brandy.
“I believe she has passed on,” Carter said calmly. “They are reunited.”
“Why do you say such a thing?” Pierce’s voice was full of distress. “I know she is very ill, but—”
“She did not die of the fever, Mr. Pierce,” Carter said knowingly. “She succumbed to a wound of the heart.”
Just then two dazzling flashes of lightning lit the sky, streaking and forking with brilliant intensity toward each other, until they touched and exploded into a violent roll of thunder that shook the windows in their casings and seemed to cause the entire house to tremble.
“Strange time of year for a thunderstorm.” Will stared out the window at the incredible celestial display with a puzzled look on his face, while other guests joined him to witness the strange autumn weather. “And that with no rain.”
“It’s no storm,” Carter said, with a hint of a smile on his face.
“Sparks are flying in heaven.”
He turned back around to face Pierce and repeated the words, taking silent reassurance in the rapture of united spirits.
“Sparks are flying in heaven.”
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hough he may seem an exceptional and iconic character, Colonel Alexander Hunter is no more remarkable than thousands of other citizen soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the War for Southern Independence.
In fact, the inspiration for his character came from the real life exploits of Colonel John S. Mosby of the 43rd Virginia Cavalry—Mosby’s Rangers.
Mosby and his band of recruits terrorized the Federal army in northern Virginia from 1863 to 1865. Like the fictional Hunter, Mosby grew into a myth, effectively using terror as his weapon of choice and surprise as his watchword. The Yankees believed that Mosby and his band of outlaws appeared and disappeared with the mist, that when they arrived they made no sounds, and when they departed they left no tracks.
Today, travelers on Route 50 (John Mosby Highway) in Virginia can still enjoy the beautiful vistas and quaint towns and villages where Mosby and his Rangers once roamed.
I hope you enjoyed Shades of Gray, and more importantly, that you will want to read more about the brave men and women who believed that honor and principles were worth defending at all costs.
Surely there is something in all of us that longs to return to a time when faith in God and duty to county were noble ambitions, and when love endured as long as the spirit of life remained.