Daniel Jones put the phone down; no one had answered his call. A scrap of paper lay staring up at him from his desk, the tight scrawl reading: “Commander-In-Chief, Union in danger.” Beneath was a Pennsylvania phone number, long distance calling from Georgia.
A swift knock split the air, slicing through the emptiness of his vast house. He was alone, as always. No wife or child stayed to warm the homestead with him, though there was ample room for a family of eight. Daniel’s heart twitched inside his chest, and he glanced at the study door in anticipation. What innocent person could be at the door at this time of the evening? What child out selling cookies or political advocate searching for votes would brave the twilight to further their cause? His instincts told him it was no innocent traveler, and his hand found a letter opener lying flat on the desk. The dull metal edge curved in poor imitation of a weapon. Something more useful, a cell phone, was nestled in his pocket. Daniel looked down, flipped it open and put his finger over the number one.
Each hand clutching its designated item, he inched out of the study, down the brightly lit hallway, toward the front door.
“Who is it?” Daniel shouted out, shoving the letter opener deep into his back pocket. He drew the half-curtain away from the door to peer outside into the growing black.
A young man stood expectantly on the porch, slouched in that self-important manner that privileged youth adopt. His arms were folded across a broad chest, hiding both hands from view. A baseball cap, turned backwards tipped off the back of his head, hiding tiny spikes of blond hair beneath. Seeing Daniel, he smiled only for a moment, then his eyes turned serious and dark.
“It’s me, professor, open up.” The young man demanded, reaching out uninvited for the door knob.
Daniel folded his cell phone back into his pocket, drawing in a deep breath to silence his racing heartbeat. He opened the door, stifling the fear that he suddenly felt at the sight of his former student.
“The Revolution isn’t what you think it is, professor.” The young man said, as soon as the door was open and the thin air invaded Daniel’s home.
“You mean it’s not a bunch of bigots screaming about a return to the old South?” Daniel challenged, well aware of the danger posed by his remark.
“You don’t know anything about what’s true or right.” The young man stepped forward, his blue eyes splinters of glass that chopped straight through Daniel’s breath. “This country don’t own us, and we can prove it.” He pressed forward, and now Daniel could smell the sick twang of alcohol on his breath, a dangerous combination. “Your Union is just a mirage.”
“That document will never hold up in court.” Daniel swore, his voice breaking.
“It will.” The young man spoke with the conviction of his unfinished high school education. “We’ll finally have our own country.”
“You’re crazy.” Daniel shook his head, backing up instinctually.
“Who did you tell?” The boy demanded, stepping inside the house.
“No one.” Daniel denied feverishly, fumbling around in his pocket for the cell phone. “I want you to leave this property now.”
“Who did you tell?!” The boy screamed. In one achingly slow arch, he reached behind his back and swept a Glock 20 10MM pistol into the light.
Daniel felt a hard whack as his back collided with the hallway partition wall, his hands rising of their own accord. “No one, Jim. I swear.”
“What if I pick up your phone and hit redial?” The boy edged around the door frame and kicked the door closed behind himself, locking the two of them in together.
“Okay.” Daniel whispered, barely able to breathe. “I called the Commander-In-Chief, but he didn’t answer. I didn’t speak to anyone.”
“Liar!” Jim shook the gun in the air, his pale face contorted in rage. “They don’t have it anymore. We know that. They lost it.”
“Even if you found it,” Daniel stammered, “it wouldn’t help you. It’s just a historical oddity.”
“We’ll just see how odd it is.” The young man threatened, sneaking a peek around the room with slitted eyes.
“Please don’t shoot me.” Daniel whispered. “You can take anything you want.”
“I have my orders.” The child intoned, his voice devastating in its lyric simplicity.
Animal instincts took over in Daniel’s mind, and the “fight or flight” response screamed: FIGHT. He hunched his shoulders and burst full force at the boy, ramming into the child before he had a chance to fire. The gun went up toward the ceiling and a shot rang out. Something exploded in the air above them, sprinkling the twilight with plaster dust. Daniel dove out into the hallway without giving Jim a chance to recover. He hit the hallway wall full force, sliding an open palm against the painted surface. The study rushed up on him, yawning its open door.
Daniel flew through, hearing cursing in the background as he swung the door shut and locked it. Thinking quickly, he ran around his desk and split the curtains from the window. He had the thing halfway open when another shot rang out and the door rocked back on its hinges.
The window pane knocked against the top of the frame just as the young man stepped inside. His dusty yellow work boots proceeded him, clapping against the warm polished wooden floor. The gun was the next thing Daniel saw, slick and silver, pushed thick into willing hands. The boy came to a stop just inside the door, his sharp eyes burning in intensity.
Daniel calculated that he had enough time to put one leg over the sill. Not enough time to get through the boxy opening to make the drop to the bushes below. He looked back at the boy, standing across the open room, in front of the desk. There was no time to get to him, no time to stall fate, no time to throw a chair or reach the letter opener or call out for help. No time. Daniel saw it all in an instant before he heard that crack of the pistol firing.
He felt a fierce punch in his chest and then pain, deep and searing, and then nothing. His head whipped back against the window, slamming the back of his skull through the glass. Something crunched, something sprinkled to the ground. The earth tilted, and light fled from the room. Everything rocked until he realized he was lying on the floor. The last image that came to him was of yellow work boots slowly crossing the floor. Then Daniel Jones lay dead, and the child who killed him crouched cheerfully to check through his pockets.
“Mom! Have you seen my brogans?” Aiden Hooper yelled out into the hallway, combing through various piles in his room in search of the black leather boots.
“Sweetheart, have you looked in the closet?” Michelle called back, busy in the kitchen with supplies for the car ride.
“Here they are!” Aiden called back.
He sat down to pull the clunky shoes over his white socked feet. Tying them up carefully, the eight year old studied himself in the full-length hallway mirror. The authentic blue wool uniform he wore made him look like someone from out of history. The Union Army, he knew, had defended the freedom of millions of slaves and eventually ended slavery in the United States. It defeated the ‘Secesh’ or the Rebel Army that had wanted separation from the Union. He heard the banter, and the tales from hundreds of his grandpa’s friends around campfires and on the battle field.
Aiden was a member of the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Reenactment group. Weekends during the summer, he, his mom and his grandfather got dressed up in old Union uniforms and went out to the battlefields to prance around and have fun. They built campfires and pitched tents. They used only items that people would have had back then, like iron pots, real wood, tin cups and plates and forks. Aiden and his friend Sam were the drummer boys, who lead the Union Army into battle. It took a long time to memorize the different codes for different maneuvers: one for assembly, one to call the troops for duty, one for marching. But he learned it all, and played his part proudly, leading his grandpa and friends into battle.
And the battles were fierce. Old men and young men alike marched down grass and flowered fields. Meeting the enemy, they stuffed raw gunpowder down into ancient rifles and fired blasts of hot air and noise. Clutching their sweating chests, men fell to the ground in mock-death throws in the blistering heat of the summer sun. Then young girls in belled hoop skirts ran around the battle field distributing ice to the “wounded” soldiers.
Sometimes Aiden died and lay looking up at the sun in the middle of the field, listening to the battle wind its way around whatever national park they were stationed at. Sometimes he stayed to the end of the fight, to see the Union or the Confederates surrender. Sometimes he was taken captive and marched back to the enemy camp, where he was watched over by somebody else’s dad until his mom came to get him for lunch.
They wandered around the sutler’s tents, those merchants that set up shop and sold all the pieces of uniforms and weapons that re-enactors needed to complete their costumes. There was a guy who came most times and had real birch beer in glass bottles. Aiden liked that and the big bags of kettle corn that often came with it. They were about to go away on another glorious adventure, this time to the heart of the re-enacting community, the little town of Gettysburg.
“Are you ready?” Aiden’s mom poked her head up the stairs. She was wearing her long blue camp dress, with ballooning sleeves and a collar that pinched her neck. Her hair was parted down the middle and pulled back into a black hairnet. Her fingers, encased in white gloves, were clutching fistfuls of the dress fabric, revealing layers of underskirts and just the hint of blue jeans beneath.
“Yeah, I’m ready.” Aiden snuck one more peek at the little drummer boy in the mirror, then grabbed his hat off the floor and scooted down the stairs.
“You two ready to be off?” Aiden’s dad hit pause on the DVD in the living room and came out to join them.
“I’ll call you when we get there.” Michelle promised, pressing her lips against her husband’s stubbled cheek.
“Mom.” Aiden moaned. “That’s so farby.” He used the reenactment slang for something unauthentic, like a nineteenth century woman on a cell phone.
“I’ll scootch down in the car.” She smiled, running a warm hand across his back. “Let’s go. Grandpa’s waiting for us.”
“Yeah!” Aiden jumped up into the air, racing to the door without another thought. His grandfather was everything his parents weren’t: relaxed, carefree and fun. He loved spending time over at Grandpa’s house, where he was allowed to have cookies for dinner, play in the hose even when it was cold, dig in the dirt and watch cable TV. Reenacting was just something else they shared with Grandpa, something all three of them enjoyed.
“Hey champ!” Aiden’s father called out, mocking hurt feelings. “Don’t you have a hug for me?”
“Sorry Dad.” Aiden ran back to his father, giggling as the man wrapped strong arms around him and lifted him off the floor.
“I’ll see you when you get back.” Dad promised, already drifting back to his DVD.
“In the car.” Mom sighed, walking Aiden out to the car.
After a quick check to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything, Michelle climbed into the driver’s seat and pulled away from their little home in the suburbs. It was an hour’s drive to her parents’ house, and Aiden had a DVD playing in the back. She began to relax on the familiar journey, anticipating the tapestry of sights and sounds that would accompany their weekend journey.
Sometimes, when camping was available, they would string two halves of canvas together and pitch a tent, just as Union soldiers on the march used to do. Sutlers sold bales of hay that they could break up into padding, laying blankets on top for a semi-comfortable night sleep. That was ultimately satisfying because you stayed in character, dropping off to sleep and waking up in the camps. Revile woke you then, in the darkness of early morning, and Michelle knew the supreme pleasure of being a civilian then, and able to sleep in as her father and son grumbled about getting up. This time they were staying in a hotel, so there would be hot water and showers and television at night after the battles.
Michelle could feel her work-day life receding into the background as she pulled into her parent’s driveway. She hopped out, sliding the door open for Aiden as he leapt from his seat.
Michelle’s mother came out to stand on the porch, dressed in pajamas and a light robe, holding a coffee mug. “Do you want to come in for a cup?” She called out, kissing Aiden on the top of the head as he raced past her and in through the door.
“Sure.” Michelle climbed the stairs to plant her own kiss on her mother’s cheek. “What are you up to?”
“What do I ever do when your father goes away?” She grinned, her deep eyes twinkling.
“Go shopping?” Michelle guessed, pressing past her into the kitchen.
“Exactly,” Carol Alan smiled, swinging the door shut behind herself.
Aiden was already on the couch, juice box in hand, flipping through the cable channels. Carol followed her daughter into the kitchen and watched as the young woman poured hot brew into a solid mug, chasing it with cream and sugar.
“You sure you don’t want to come with us?” Michelle asked finally, knowing what the answer would be.
Carol shook her head. “I can’t stand visiting battlefields. All that death. I don’t know how you and your father do it.”
“It’s history mom.” Michelle took a deep sip off of her drink, finally hearing her father coming down the stairs. “It can’t hurt you.”
“Are we ready to go?” Bob Alan poked his head through the kitchen door, smiling brightly.
Like Aiden, he was dressed in his Union uniform, made only more impressive by his age. This was the simple uniform of a private, white cotton shirt, baby blue pants held up with stripped suspenders. The jacket he held slung over one arm, and in the other clutched his canteen and haversack. He had purposefully gone without shaving for a week or more it seemed, to affect the appropriate battle-worn roughness. His grey hair was brushed up under his cap, the entire picture perfected by the antique round glasses perched on his nose. Fitted with his normal prescription, the glasses were a prized item that had not come cheap. They had been doing this since before Aiden was born, and many of the minor details were the result of birthday and holiday gifts from friends and family who knew of the hobby. The glasses had come from Carol, one Christmas many years ago.
“Yeah, we’re ready.” Michelle took another sip off her cup, then set it down.
“I didn’t tell you the most exciting thing.” Bob chattered, as Michelle exited the kitchen to stand with him.
“I discovered a relative of yours was in the Union Army at Gettysburg.” He filled his arms with tent supplies and shuffled them out to her car.
“A relative of mine?” Michelle repeated, following after him with bedrolls and her father’s heavy antique rifle.
“Your mother’s ancestor.” Bob clarified.
“Cool.” Aiden ducked into the conversation, climbing down the porch steps.
Bob made one last trip into the house to grab the rest of his uniform, his powder canisters and spark caps and a wooden box full of spare props.
“Did you bring anything for the hotel? Soap? Toothbrush? Pajamas?” Michelle reminded him.
Bob chuckled softly, shaking his head. He had almost forgotten that bag, tucked away at the bottom of the stairs. “Aiden, will you go get the blue bag in the hallway?”
Aiden dutifully scampered back into the house and returned a moment later with a bright blue nylon duffle bag.
“Ready?” Michelle drifted toward the car, raising her hand in salute to Carol who had come back to stand on the porch.
“Ready!” Aiden sang, dancing around the car to hop into the back once more.
Bob patted down his pockets, making a mental note of keys, cell phone, cigarettes. “Ready.” He hopped back up the porch steps to kiss his wife goodbye, then walked around to the passenger side and climbed into his daughter’s vehicle.
“So how did you find this person?” Michelle turned down the volume on Aiden’s DVD as she pulled out onto the highway.
“Geneology.com.” Bob answered with a grin.
“He really fought in Gettysburg?” Aiden piped up from the back.
“Really.” Bob laughed.
“You think he’s named on one of the monuments?” The DVD forgotten, Aiden leaned forward.
“He survived the war.” Bob answered happily, pleased to share this discovery with his only grandchild.
“Cool.” Michelle mirrored her son. “Sit back Aiden.” She put in, in that motherly tone that couldn’t be denied.
Aiden sat back and they passed the rest of the three hour ride in happy chatter and quiet pauses. The Pennsylvania farmscape drifted by them on either side as they got off the highway. Tiny towns popped up, then faded away, each main street bordered by quaint-looking houses and general stores. They stopped for lunch at a diner half way to the battlefield, and received knowing winks from the locals. They were used to seeing re-enactors around this time. Gettysburg was like a Mecca for the Civil War set.
The turning point in the war, Gettysburg was the farthest north General Lee’s Confederate Army had ever come. Before Gettysburg, it seemed that the country might indeed be split in two. After the Confederate defeat, Lee never again got his Army back on the offensive. A nothing town before the war, Gettysburg capitalized on the slaughter and turned their berg into a tourist trap. Now every building boasted a plaque exclaiming what event had occurred at that site in 1863. Bullet holes were never walled up, leaving tiny round pock marks for tourists to gawk at. Waitresses in local restaurants wore period garb, and all the food had cute names like the Robert E. Lee burger and General Meade fries. Every year on July 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, (or the closest weekend), re-enactors flocked to the site for battles and ceremonies. This year was the 150th anniversary of the battle, a date that was sure to draw a stupendous crowd.
Michelle had seen some tiny reenactments, with eight to twelve men making camp and drilling in formation. The average event drew up to one hundred soldiers and soldiers’ wives, enough for two armies and a battle if you leaned heavily on the imagination. But this one was likely to draw thousands from as far away as Louisiana and Georgia. Real Rebel units from the deep South made the long trek up, following the route of their long dead brethren.
Together, the lines of blue and grey soldiers as they marched past the spectators into battle was amazing. Their ranks swelled to that of a real army, each corps in tight formation, drifting away into the distance. And when they fired a volley, every man firing his ancient rifle in unison, the sound was deafening. Bob and Michelle had been to the 145th anniversary when Aiden was in diapers, and that was amazing. Michelle could only imagine how many this prestigious anniversary would draw.
She pulled into the hotel parking lot at one in the afternoon. It was a little bit later than Bob would have liked it to be, and he was itching to get out to the battlefield. Michelle checked in, leaving her son and father alone to idle in the car. She got the room key and went out to find them, taking a quick second to check her hair in the bathroom mirror as they ran their things in. She hiked up her skirts and deposited the key in her jeans pocket. She put in a quick call to her husband to let him know that they had arrived, and promised to put the phone on vibrate before shoving it deep into her pocket.
Bob eyed her with a nervous apprehension. There was a battle scheduled for two o’clock and he was clearly afraid they would miss the call. They locked up the hotel room, jumped in the car again and drove down to the battle site.
The re-enactors, using live guns and gunpowder, were not allowed on the actual historic battlefield. There was no mock death among the real ghosts of the battle. The re-enactments took place at a farm, not far down the road from the Military Park. Michelle pulled off the main road, following a steady stream of cars come to witness the event. At the turn off to the parking area, both Bob and Aiden begged off, leaving Michelle to maneuver alone through the rows upon rows of modern vehicles. Boyscouts had been drafted as parking lot attendants, waving her monster minivan toward the very edge of the field.
Michelle parked, walked around to the back of the car and pulled out her plastic hoop skirt. A series of white rings slung together by cotton fabric blossomed from just below her waist to a bell-like structure at her feet. With an un-ladylike abandon, she hiked her skirts up and stepped into the piece, fitting it around the top of her jeans. The skirts fell back into place on top and suddenly she was transformed into an 1860s housewife. It just wasn’t practical to try to drive in the hoops, or to walk into buildings or pee for that matter. They came of an era when women were encouraged to be helpless, look pretty and stay at home. It was fun to dress up, just as long as at the end of the weekend she could take it all off and go back to the business suits she habitually wore.
She crossed the parking lot and maneuvered through the sutler’s village just in time to reach the spectator’s ridge as the excitement was building. A mix of period-dressed women and normal 21st century families spread deep across the crest of one hill, looking out into a valley ripe with wheat and grasses.
“Are they going to do the wheat field?” Michelle inquired of one re-enactor woman she didn’t know.
“Yes.” The woman turned excitedly, sizing her up as knowledgeable on first glance. “They’ve been growing it all summer just for the boys.” They always called them ‘boys’ even though most of the re-enactors were like her father and approaching retirement age. A deference to the original cast of characters, most of whom were merely 18.
Michelle shouldered through the crowd, looking for a place to sit. The hills were packed with spectators, shoulder to shoulder with standing room only. Little boys and girls sat on top of their Daddies shoulders for a better view. Present day women looked and pointed at her dress as she moved by. Michelle smiled pleasantly, more than willing to be part of the spectacle. She spotted the cannon at the top of a slope in the distance, wondering if that were the Union line or the Confederates. Tracing the line of the horizon over to the right, she spotted the complementary line of cannons, twenty guns for each army it seemed.
Then she saw them, way down at the edge of the field, the boys in blue. The Union line advancing, rifles clasped in weathered hands, marching to the beat of her child’s drums. They were too far away to see individuals, and the line too vast for her to pick out her regiment. Row after row of perfectly dressed Union soldiers marched, filling up the entire field. The effect was breathtaking, like an epic Hollywood movie come alive.
From the right, the Confederate troops swarmed the hills. Their numbers were just as mighty, their rows just as impressive. Their sea was a patchwork of greys and blues, light tones, dark ones, homespun and interspersed with bare cotton undershirts. The South didn’t have the money that the Union had. They stole uniforms from the fallen Union soldiers; they made their own, or went without when they lost them. Some men marched without shoes, for authenticity’s sake; the Confederacy could not afford to shoe all of its soldiers. And their line swam, whether authentic or not. Most of the Union re-enactors complained that their Confederate counterparts were not as well trained. The 26th Pennsylvania prided itself on being one of the most accurate, well-drilled companies in the Army. They looked down their collective noses at any group that failed to be so faithful to practice.
Michelle watched as the two fronts marched inward, weaving pieces together from a variety of battles, and portraying no real historical event in its entirety. That would save until tomorrow, July 4th, when the real crowds were going to come in.
The cannon exploded on either side of the field, crashing down on the unsuspecting spectators with a reverberation that shook their teeth. The sides clashed. The Union Army fired off a volley, and a line of Confederate Soldiers fell to their knees. The Confederate Army fired and the Union boys took hits. Back and forth it went until the Union General tried something that looked like Pickett’s Charge, and sent his entire Army scrambling full force at the Confederate line. Only a few of them made it.
They fought hand to hand, mock-stabbing each other with phantom bayonets. Then the remaining Union Soldiers were captured and the battle came to an end. Michelle looked around contentedly at the spectators as they gave into gossip amongst themselves. It was truly a pleasure for the boys to bring history to life for all these people.
After the battle, it took Michelle maybe another hour to find the Union Camp and then to find the 26th Pennsylvania.
Aiden came bounding up to her, his uniform jacket shed in the heat, and his suspenders riding up over a pink cotton shirt. “Did you see the battle?” He cried, grabbing at her hands.
“Yes I did. It was amazing!”
“Did you get any pictures?” Bob wanted to know, seated on the ground outside the company tent, his head dripping with water.
“Are you hot, Dad?” Michelle joked, judging from the canteen in his hand that he had just doused himself.
“It’s hot.” Bob complained.
Michelle looked up and spotted some of the 26th’s regulars. David Smith was a black man, which was farby to say the least because way back when, races didn’t mix. But you could only take authenticity so far, and it wasn’t right if it excluded any true history buffs. He was a psychiatrist and a certified Civil War nut, with more than his share of rusted pocket knives and disintegrating bullets. Maxwell Right was a CPA by day and knew everything there was to know about both the Civil War and owls. John Magni was a retired business man and a Vietnam Veteran, although he never talked about what he had done during the war and Michelle had never asked.
“Afternoon Michelle.” John nodded, chewing on his authentic and well functioning pipe.
“Great battle.” Michelle smiled, “Where was the 26th?”
“We were in the back.” Maxwell was seated inside the company tent, carefully slicing an apple onto a tin plate.
“I died Mom.” Aiden piped up, tugging on her arm.
“That boy’s got more energy.” David looked out from under the brim of his hat, as he lay back against a hay bale in front of the tent.
“There’s gonna be a drum session at night, Mom, can I go?”
“That depends.” Michelle tugged back, freeing her arm gently from his grip.
“On how late it is.”
“Get this, get this.” Maxwell set down his knife, picked up a slice of apple and tucked it into his mouth. After chewing dramatically for a few seconds, he began to tell his story. “Kid comes up to Bill Gumphry out at the Military Park.” Bill Gumphry was the man who portrayed their regimental Colonel. “Says, ‘Did the battle really happen here mister?’ Bill says, ‘Yes, son, right here where we’re standing.’ Then the kid says, ‘That can’t be.’ Bill says, ‘Why not?’” Maxwell leaned forward for the punch line, “Kid says, ‘Cause there are no bullet holes on the monuments!’”
The entire tent roared with laughter. Even little Aiden who had reattached himself to Michelle’s fingers, giggled a bit. “Cause they put up the monuments after the war.” He said, checking comprehension.
“That’s right.” Maxwell sighed, wiping his eye.
“Are you hot?” Michelle joked. That was the other question that spectators asked unfailingly. The answer was yes.
“Did you check out the sutlers?” Aiden wanted to know.
“No,” Michelle smiled, “Would you like to go?”
“Can we get kettle corn?” He perked up, a seemingly endless fountain of energy while his grandfather and peers lounged, exhausted after the battle.
While Michelle and Aiden drifted off in search of birch beer and kettle corn, Bob took a deep swig off his canteen.
“How’s the wife?” Maxwell asked in conversation.
“She’s fine.” Bob smiled. Both David and Maxwell had absent spouses too, and Michelle was their only collective child who had decided to grace the ranks. “Who’ve they got for the ceremony tomorrow?”
“Actor playing Lincoln’s going to read the Gettysburg Address.” David answered. As always, the true history buffs were loathe to mix two historical events like the battle and the speech, but the park service wanted to capitalize on the crowds. It promised to be as boring as the battle was engaging, and every bit as well attended. They would stand at attention like good soldiers, shifting feet and trying not to snicker at the particularly goofy moments.
“Going afterwards to the 26th Monument?” Bob asked, though he knew the tradition by heart. They would walk down the road in formation and lay a wreath at the base of the monument to the 26th Pennsylvania. There was something poignant about portraying a company that had fought and died on the very ground you were marching.
The rest of the unit nodded.
“Want to go to the Dobbs Tavern tonight?” John asked around, always ready to let loose a few cold ones.
“Where are you staying?” Maxwell asked, to try and better judge dinner plans.
“Me too.” Bob offered.
“I’m in the Best Western.” David grinned.
“How did you get in there?!” John gasped.
“Planned ahead.” His knowing smile taunted them all. The Best Western was positioned within walking distance of the Dobbs Tavern and the High Water Mark.
“Did anyone see that Rebel Calvary Unit?” Maxwell laughed, remembering the battle in all its glory.
“How could we not?” Bob replied.
They passed the time joking about the ‘farby Rebs’ until Michelle and Aiden came back from the sutler’s with their arms full of birch beer. Michelle doled out one to each man, nodding in appreciation as they cheered their thanks.
“I want you to come back to the sutler’s row with me.” Michelle sat down on the hay bale at David’s back, pulling the cork out of her own bottle.
“Okay.” Bob struggled to his feet.
“Mom said she’d think about buying me a new hat.” Aiden circled the two of them, his face alight with impatience.
“That’s right, I said I’d think about it.”
“What did you find?” Bob draped his canteen over one of the tent poles, waving absently to his friends.
“I found this really cool book.” She started out, and he remembered just then how she had looked at Aiden’s age, all wonder and delight. “It’s period, you can tell from the writing and the binding.”
“Let’s see it.” Bob answered cheerfully.
Michelle and Aiden lead the way down to the massive encampment of vendor’s tents. Everything from toy rifles to the real thing, little souvenirs for the spectators and real period costumes for the re-enactors was sold under these massive cotton canopies. Aiden had found a wide-brimmed civilian’s hat that looked real cute drooping down over his eyes. As soon as they found the right tent, he darted over to grab it, fitting it down with a righteous swagger.
Bob laughed. “You look real good partner.”
“Can I get it, Mom, can I get it?” Aiden pursued.
“Just a minute.” Michelle went up to the sutler, an older lady in period dress. “Can I see that book again?” She queried, holding out delicate gloved hands for the exchange.
The vendor handed over the merchandise, smiling deep in a wrinkled face. “I just found that myself at an estate sale.” She shared warmly. “Didn’t get a chance to read it, but I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Did you get it appraised?” Bob cut to the chase, ready to make a bargain if the deal was good.
“No.” The sutler answered honestly, “But it’s the real thing, you can tell by the dates. Someone’s great grandmother’s diary.”
Michelle turned the find over in her hands. The cover was a paisley print, hardened and worn to a dull sheen from so many years of exposure and storage. It opened delicately, thin browning pages filled with a loose, flowery script. July 1859, the thing started: “I went down to the school today. Mary seemed ill and when I questioned her, she confessed to being overly tired. They do not know if the baby will live.” Michelle passed the treasure over to her father, waiting to see if he would approve.
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