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FICTION: Revenge

How far would you go to seek revenge?

(Click here for last week’s episode)

Buck’s fingers ached on an unusually chilled October morning as he watched the busy water traffic on the choppy Hudson. His classmates in the distance went for their noon dinner. Buck blew on his hands and shoved them deep in his pockets.

“Buck! I’ve been looking all over,” Fred called and ran up. “What’s this I hear about class? Carter said you fessed cold at recitations.”

“Yes, I guess I fell flat.”

“He said you didn’t know a blessed thing—that you’ve lost your smarts. And recitation’s your best talent!” Fred shoved him impatiently.

“Maybe I’ll go eat,” Buck said.

“You ass wipe, are you looking to flunk out?” Fred danced around him like a gorilla.

“I don’t care,” Buck said. “Maybe I’ll just join the navy—go out to sea or something.”

Fred laughed. “You hate the water.”

“This place is pretty well ruined for me, Fred. I knew my studies today, but I look around and see fellows I once trusted. I’m not stupid enough to believe that you didn’t make them behave.”

“Do you see how incredibly foolish it was to be nice to Streeter now?” Fred asked, kicking a rock from the path.

“Fred, will you ever let it die? I know. I shouldn’t have felt sympathy.”

Fred shook his head. “Of course you shouldn’t have. Black or white, people save their own skins first. It’s natural for most. But you—you go and take the blows for Streeter. It confounds reason. I haven’t told you because I thought it might make you more solemncholy than ever, but did you know that I bribed that darkie fifty dollars to stay quiet over the horse affair?”

“What? Why did I have to take the blame?” Buck said, his grey face thinner now than in summer.

“We thought it better to play up your strengths. The boys could forgive a dead horse before an overactive sense of humanitarianism.”

“So Streeter took the money even though he was off the hook?” Buck asked.

“Well, he threatened to go to the papers and give a different testimony—I suppose Sreeter was a little frightened for his life when we showed up in the dead of night—too bad.” Fred lit a cigar and passed it to Buck. “But now, Buckie, you’ve got a fresh start.”

Buck puffed away. “I was decent to Streeter and I don’t know why—that’s what bothers me.”

“I guess you just didn’t think he would be such a scoundrel.” A gust of wind across the open plain took their breaths for a moment.

“I thought, well,” Buck began with an embarrassed shrug, “I supposed that with his background he might be better.”

“That was flawed logic, Buck. It’s a rare victim who’s also a saint and Streeter’s no saint. Seems he was flirting with one of our girls and he had a vulgar picture.”

Buck laughed.

Fred laughed, too. “All right, I guess we all have dirty pictures, but what Streeter did to you was so low, and you see it now. He won’t be able as an officer in the army. Anyway, no one’s huffed at you any longer. Do you want to throw your life away over a dead horse and a nigger?”

“No, I don’t,” Buck said, chewing the end of the cigar while rubbing his arms in the cold.

“The way I see it, you need revenge, and that’s what I’m good at,” Fred said with supreme confidence.

“Streeter really took money from you to sell me down the river?” Buck asked, picking a piece of tobacco from his tongue.

“Yep, I don’t say that we should kill him or anything,” Fred began, taking Buck by the collar confidentially until he noticed Buck’s appalled and astonished look and softened his tone. “No, of course we would do nothing illegal in the criminal sense. I mean to only frighten and reduce him so he comes to the correct conclusion that he should withdraw from the academy. And you do agree that he doesn’t belong here, Buck?”

“Yes, I agree,” Buck replied, but the memory of his favorite instructor suggesting that he himself wasn’t officer material haunted him.

“Don’t be so glum, Buckie,” Fred said, tapping his brother’s chest. “Everything will work for the best.”

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

***Featured Image: Autumn Reverie by Jervis McEntee 1880

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Taken Prisoner

A Confederate officer stood alone at a crossroad goading his horse to move on in the aftermath of the Union retreat at BULL RUN. Sensing danger he glanced over his shoulder. A Yankee raced over the field tramping the freshly cut hay. As the Yankee drew closer he struggled to pull something from behind his back. The Confederate, with heart thumping through his uniform, pulled out his revolver and took aim.

The Yankee waved a white flag,  stopping abruptly at some distance. He wavered there for a few minutes until the Confederate swore he would do him no harm. Looking to his left and then right, the Yankee weighed his options and moved forward.

The Confederate noted the man’s flushed cheeks and face not yet ready to be shaved. The boy could not be more than twenty yet he was a lieutenant from a New York regiment.

“I give my word to you, sir. If you let me go I’ll never pick up a gun again. I’ll leave at once for my father’s farm,” the boy begged.

The Confederate kept silent and the boy on his horse soon followed, resigned to his fate.

The Confederate and the Yankee may not have realized at this early stage of the war that to be a prisoner was as deadly as fighting on the battlefield, but something in the young man’s cowardice already worked on the Confederate’s conscience. We don’t know if this Confederate officer cursed the angel on his shoulder as the two men walked ten yards.

“Go back to your friends, boy,” the Confederate ordered. “One more prisoner will hardly make a difference.”

When the Confederate met his own scouts they asked what had happened. When they set off in search of the “escaped” prisoner, the Confederate officer refused to join them.*

I wonder about the young New York lieutenant. The other night I happened upon our cat devouring the skin and fat of a just killed chipmunk and was surprised to see the organs still in movement. What moving things did this young man see at Bull Run? Was he a shy boy having trouble fitting in? No. There was something of a leader in him to be made lieutenant. Did he run all the way home or just to his friends?

A Confederate officer stuck on a stubborn horse gave the New York lieutenant his life back. Like a fish released from a net there was no time for gratitude. The currents of war and blood and peace move men along with hardly a moment to consider a chance meeting at a crossroad.

Why did boys on both sides enlist? CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS Their Expectations and Experiences by REID MITCHELL presents  the uplifting and awful traits that make us human.  Mitchell shares  the forgotten stories of individual men. Each one of them (unlike fish unable to escape mere instinct) left  marks on others they  encountered only briefly and never met again.

How did that New York lieutenant live and die? His fear, his youth, his innocence touched a Confederate soldier once. The man was never the same.

*A re-telling of one of the many poignant stories written about in Civil War Soldiers.

**Image courtesy CIVIL WAR TALK

ARTIST: Jean-Leon Gerome

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The Slave Market in Rome

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The Slave Market

 

“It is one of these [more expensive] women, an Abyssinian, that M. Gérôme has taken as the principal figure of his composition. She is nude and being displayed by the djellab, who has the fine head of a brigand accustomed to every sort of abduction and violence; the idea of the eternal soul must not very often have tormented such a bandit. The poor girl is standing, submissive, humble, resigned, with a fatalistic passivity that the painter has very skillfully rendered.” Maxime Du Champ (Wikipedia)

More on Gerome HERE

 

 

 

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FICTION: Summer Ends With A Fall

As summer encampment ends we join Cadet Buck Crenshaw having spent the final weeks of the season in the West Point infirmary. It is assumed Buck suffers under a “nervous complaint” for why else would he bribe stable hands to protect the negro cadet Milford Streeter after a schooling horse is found dead?  Streeter disappears from the scene leaving Buck to take the fall.

The barracks had become a fortress of hostility. Buck half expected to be beaten on the way back to his room after weeks in the infirmary, but everyone went about their business, getting their books and shoes and mattresses in order. Buck practiced what he might say to his roommate Carter, but was surprised by a visitor at his door.

“Sir.” Streeter stretched out his hand.

Buck brushed past, expecting to find Carter, but he wasn’t in.

Streeter followed him. “Sir, I’ve come to see how you are.”

“My nervous prostration is passed,” Buck said. “Anything else before you leave?”

“Sir, I wanted to thank you for taking the fall.”

“Thank me?”

“Yes, as a colored cadet, I would have suffered if it were found that I had recklessly killed that horse.”

“Recklessly? You said the horse spooked.”

“I never should have had him doing such high jumps,” Streeter confessed with a sheepish glance.

“Do you realize how much I’ve suffered, Streeter, for your jumps?”

“Yes, I do feel bad about it,” Streeter said, picking up a framed picture of Buck’s family, “but I’m sure you see how much worse it would have been for me.”

“I only see that you don’t want to suffer for your own mistakes.” Buck grabbed the frame. “You’re willing to take advantage of a person’s goodwill.”

“My people have suffered great injustice because of your people—four hundred dollars is hardly a high price to bear for a wealthy boy like yourself,” Streeter said with a cool air.

Buck laughed. “My people? My uncles fought and died for your freedom—maybe you should be paying me! You think because your father was a slave that you can do as you like and go against common decency and regulations?”

“Have you never broken a rule, Buck Crenshaw?”

“Of course you know that I have. I was caught bribing for you, remember? And I’ve done tons wrong, but I’d never sell another man out.”

Streeter kept his hands clasped behind him as if this were merely a dry debate. “You knowingly got involved. You knew the risks.”

“I didn’t realize I would be risking alone,” Buck said. “I trusted you.”

Streeter scratched his chin. “I had to, in the end, consider myself, sir. If I were kicked out, how would it look for my family? For West Point? Your family has Fred and you’re bright enough to make it elsewhere if need be. God rewards those who reward themselves.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve been forced to read scripture,” Buck said, “but I think you may have strayed from God’s teachings. You behave like a coward and a traitor—two things the army and God don’t appreciate.”

“Don’t speak of cowardice to me. You don’t know what it’s like to be colored!”

“Stop whining! You’re doing well by all accounts and are supported by people that matter. It’s a privilege to attend the academy, and never easy for anyone. For you to desert one of your only friends shows a real character defect.”

“Are you insinuating that colored people are defective?” Streeter asked, eyes blazing. “Maybe the papers would like to know!”

“What will you say, Streeter?” Buck laughed. “What could you possibly say about me?”

“I can say enough,” Streeter said, rather too smugly.

“You would lie, I suppose.”

“I will do what it takes to graduate, sir. I’m sorry that you’re so bitter about having helped me. I would have done the same for you,” Streeter replied.

“Bullshit!” Buck yelled.

Streeter turned and collided with Carter who shoved him. “What the hell are you doing in my room, Mr. Streeter?”

“Let the worm go, Carter. This room is for snakes only,” Buck said.

Carter glared at Streeter and then turned to Buck. “Good to see you, Buck.”

Buck’s summer things had been brought in by a few cadets assigned the task and piled on his bed. He began placing his things according to regulations until he came across a small box and opened it. A shiny gold pocket watch with a reserved and prim soldier painted on its face glistened atop fancy paper.

“Oh, your sister was here earlier. She said the box was a gift from your father,” Carter said as he inched over for a better look. “Merciful heavens, if that isn’t the finest watch I’ve ever seen—and there’s an inscription on back.”

Buck turned away from Carter and read the engraved words: “Don’t hide your light under a basket.” Buck shoved it behind his socks and went back to putting his things away.

Carter worked at brushing his clothes free of imaginary lint. “Buck, well, your face looks much improved.”

Silence.

“Buck, won’t you forgive me for this summer? I was a fool. It was silly of me.”

Buck turned on him. “Silly? What a word you use! I was shorn of all respect and honor over your little silliness. I won’t forgive you so you may as well forget it.”

“A gentleman would accept another man’s apology.”

“So now you want to teach me how to be a gentleman? Gentle behavior has, for some reason, lost its appeal. I’d be stupid to trust you. Fred has put you up to this show of friendship and I’d rather be alone than feel that a friend must be coerced,” Buck said.

“I’ve made up my own mind about you, Buck.”

“Good for you, Carter; that’s some bit of growth.”

Whittaker strolled in now. “Carter . . .” He stopped in his tracks. “Buck, it’s good to have you back among the living. I hope that you aren’t sore at me. I honestly had no ambitions for your corporalship—you know that, but what was I to do when it was hoisted upon me? It’s more responsibility than I’m really able for, I tell you.”

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

***Featured Image: Gates Of The Hudson by Jasper Francis Cropsey

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Man/Boys and Woman/Girls

 

We talked about Lena Dunham wanting to be loved not for her writing but for her half-naked figure in grungy underwear as we sat by the lake watching boys split into rival teams; ISIS vs.soldiers and super heroes.

One hundred and fifty years ago both Union and Confederate soldiers “spoke routinely of deluded people, dupes of the politicians, and ignorant masses. Both  Northerners and Southerners feared that democratic institutions were not adequate to deal with the realities of nineteenth-century America–they relied too heavily on the existence of a virtuous and intelligent citizenry.” Civil War Soldiers by Reid Mitchell

After the Civil War there lived some men and women who imagined high art and expositions like  the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 could pull the native and immigrant masses from their ignorance and childishness. For these men and women believed that real manhood and womanhood were attained when one practiced thrift, sobriety and volunteerism. This Yankee discipline and religiosity had served the North well. The aristocratic South lay in ruins and many veterans of the war remembered the South as a bizarre, other-worldly place of sloth and heat.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is never an empty place, thank goodness. On most weekends the front stairs are crammed with students, tourists and people needing a seat to eat their hot dog lunches, but many, many more people have rejected this “high” art as bizarre and other-worldly.

As much as we hate to admit this about humanity, there are many people who would rather not work at liking something. They’d rather go with their feelings and fuss over strained muscles (brains and brawn). Informational booths at a fair do only scant business compared to the corn dog stand (I like corn dogs–do you?).

Man/boys may have always existed in Western civilization, but for a good, long while in Yankee American culture they were looked down upon, seen as missing a key element of manhood and suspected of deviant behaviors. There is a certain sad and pathetic element to men who play too many games and wear funny pajamas. Women/girls who do photo shoots in bathrooms, give lip service to an ever changing feminism and then complain when young, handsome athletes don’t fawn over them are pathetic as well.

The once famous man/boy Fred Thompson who created Luna Park on Coney Island in the early 20th century had an epiphany at the Buffalo Exposition when the high-minded men of learning nearly bankrupted the endeavor for failing to realize the simple fact that most people didn’t want to be uplifted. They didn’t want to know about lost civilizations and proper canning methods. What they wanted was to be carried along the Midway where amusements abounded. Exotic dancing girls, loud music and incandescent lighting mesmerized and excited the people who already felt too old. Peter Pan was (and is) the hero of the day.

Even among the boys at the lake  some  created strategies and lofty goals. Some boys interrupted with random thoughts about nothing. Some led and some followed. The less ambitious waited to be picked on a team but offered nothing more than their feelings and soon wandered off to cool themselves in the lake before getting a snack from their mothers who probably like us were talking about inane controversies involving childish women we would never actually meet.

Sometimes, even beside a beautiful lake, it’s difficult to stay in an elevated frame of mind.

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It is the mystery of the unknown
That fascinates us; we are children still,
Wayward and wistful; with one hand we cling
To the familiar things we call our own,
And with the other, resolute of will,
Grope in the dark for what the day will bring.–Henry W. Longfellow.