"What's the matter with you, soldier?"
She let him go, and he slowly stood up straight. He held his bowler near his mouth, just in case.
"Well, I reckon I can guess, but I ain't seen anyone who could tell me straight. Can't afford such a person. I've been thinking that, after all these years, I might finally die and not know for sure what killed me. That makes me laugh some."
Carrie said nothing, and then: "If I were to guess from your past history, I would say you'll outlive us all."
"I once thought I was cursed that way, yes, ma'am. But no more. There ain't no more curses out there. My history don't mean nothing. Not anymore, thank God."
She could picture him as a younger man, lying bleeding on the floor of her parlor and then sitting up in one of the chairs of her husband's study, staring out the window. She remembered his nose and how sharp it was in profile, how the light seemed changed after passing over it. He was like a cameo; at least that's what her mind remembered. She'd become used to him quickly, and back then she thought he'd be there forever. Then he was gone. She closed her eyes.
"If you're going to die, there's a place for you here."
"That's what I meant to ask you about."
Sergeant Zachariah Cashwell, 24th Arkansas
We were marching up that pike, and everywhere you looked there were things cast off by the Yankees littering the sides of the road, and it was everything our officers could do to keep the young ones from ducking out of formation and snatching up something bright and useful-looking, like crows looking to decorate their nests. The old ones, like me, we knew better than to pick up anything, because you'd have to carry it, and we knew that our burden was heavy enough. But, hell, the Yankees had thrown away more than we'd laid our eyes on in months, maybe years. There were pocket Bibles and little writing desks, poker chips and love letters, euchre decks and nightshirts, canteens and pots of jam, and all kinds of fancy knives. It looked like a colossus had picked up a train full of things, from New York or one of those kinds of places, and dumped it all out to see what was what. And I'm just mentioning the things that you might want to pick up and keep. There was a lot more, besides. There were wagons left burning on the side of the road, crates of rotten and infested meat, horses and mules shot in their traces. I reckon those animals weren't moving fast enough, and you couldn't blame the Yankees for lightening their loads if they could, but it was a sorry sight. Even so, all that gear gladdened my heart because it seemed so desperate. They were running, by God. They were running from us, the 24th Arkansas, and all the rest of the brigades ahead of us and behind us. The columns stretched far as I could see when I wiped the sweat from my eyes and got a good look around. But mostly I just kept my head down and put my feet down, one in front of the other, the way I'd learned to do.
The officers rode up and down the column on their horses, saying all sorts of things to keep our spirits up. I'd learned that if you needed an officer to pick up your spirits, you were in sorry shape. But some of the younger boys listened, and they were heartened by it. The officers talked about the glory of the South and about how our women would be watching and how they would expect us to fight like Southern menhard and without quitting. I wanted to say, Until that bullet come for you, but I didn't. Those officers were getting a whole lot of the men riled up for a fight, and I figured that was good no matter what else I had to say about it. Some of our boys had their homes around there, and you could just tell they were itching to get going. You had to hold them back, tell them to pace themselves, or else they'd start running and whooping and getting all lathered.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert Hicks
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