“But we agreed. Don’t you remember? We agreed tonsend him packing.”n”Wait till you meet him. Then send him packing. If youncan do it, it will be all right with me.”nAnd having met the young man, Harry no more thannLydie could order him away. Harper was so innocentnand willing and openfaced that Harry could only feelnsympathy for him when he saw what puppy eyes the youngnman made at his wife. He offered the lad a drink —nAldershot had overlooked a half bottle of Dickel in a lowerncabinet — and was not surprised when he refused. “Inpromised my mother, sir, before I went ofiF to war.”n”I see,” Harry said, and reflected gravely on the diflFerencenbetween the lieutenant and the private. “But in thenarmy that must have been a hard promise to keep.”n”Oh no, sir. Not when I promised my mother. And to tellnthe truth, I don’t have much taste for liquor.”nHe did accept a cup of tea, spooning into it as much sugarnas would dissolve, and was profusely grateful.nHarry then readied himself with a gin and tonic fornanother stiff dose of History. “I suppose you must havenfought in lots of battles,” he said.nPrivate Harper shook his head sadly. “Only two battles,nsir.”n”Which were those?”n”Well, I fought at Bethel, sir, and then we were sentndown toward Richmond.”n”You were at Manassas?” These were place-names thatnAldershot had deeply imprinted on the Beacham memory.n”Yes sir.”n”And what was that like?”n”Well, sir . . .” For the first time Private Harper lifted hisneyes and looked directly into Harry’s face. His boyishncountenance was a study in apologetic confusion as hensteadied his teacup on his knee and said, “Well, sir, if youndon’t mind, I’d rather not talk ’bout that.”n”You don’t want to talk about Manassas?” Harry asked.nThen his surprise disappeared with the force of his realization:nManassas would have been where Private Harper hadndied.n”I don’t like to talk about the war at all, sir.”n”I see.”n”I know I’m supposed to, but I just can’t seem to makenmyself do it. It opens up old wounds.”n”That’s all right. I understand.”n”No, sir, I don’t believe that you do understand. It is toonhard for me right now. It opens old wounds.”n”That’s quite all right. Where are you from originally?”n”Salem, Virginia,” Private Harper said. “We had a farmnright outside town. I miss that place a great deal.”n”I’m sure you do.”n”I miss my folks too, sir. Something terrible.” And henwent on to talk about his life before the war and his story wasnso idyllic and engaging that Harry called Lydie from thenkitchen to hear it.nThe private spoke rhapsodically of such ordinary tasks asnplanting corn, shoeing horses, repairing wagons, cuttingnhay, milking cows and so forth; his bright face glowed evennfriendlier as he spoke of these matters, and as he warmed tonhis stories his shyness melted and his language becamenalmost lyrical.nHe was the only male in a female family, his father havingndied when Billy was only eleven. He allowed that his mothernand three sisters had rather doted on him, but it was obviousnto the Beachams that he had no real idea how much theyndoted. He had not been required to join the army; he hadndone so only out of a sense of duty and from a fear of thenshame he might feel later if he did not join. He hadnsupposed that the colored men attached to the family,nJupiter and Peter — who were not thought of as beingnslaves — would look after the ladies and take care of thenfarm. But shortly after Billy went away to war, those two hadnslipped off and were not heard of again. He had been in thenprocess of applying for permission to return home when thenBattle of Manassas befell him.nHe seemed to remember mornings fondly, and summernmornings most fondly of all. To wake up to the smell of hamnand coffee and biscuits and grits, to look off the front porchninto the dew-shiny fields and to see the little creek in thenbottom winking with gleam through the bushes — well,nthese sights made him feel that Paradise might be somethingnof a letdown when finally at last he disembarked upon thatnlucent shore. The haze-blue mountains offered deer andnpartridge, possum and quail, and Billy loved to take his baynmare, Cleopatra, and his father’s old long-barreled rifle andnhunt on those slopes from morn till midnight.nAbout that mare he was rapturous. “If I told you hownsmart Cleo was, and some of the things I’ve known her tondo, you’d think I was straying from the truth,” he said. “ButnI’m not. She really is the best horse in the world, thensmartest and the gentlest. Not that she doesn’t have a lot ofnspirit. Why, I believe she has more courage than a bear, butnshe’s as gentle with children as a mammy. And she’s the bestnhunter I know of, bar none.”nThe Beachams smiled, trying vainly to imagine thatnPrivate Harper would deliberately stray from the truth; but itnwas clear that in regard to his horse his infatuation mightnfetch him out of the strait path of accuracy without his evernbeing aware. It seemed that Cleopatra knew where gamenwas to be found up there in the hills and when given hernhead would unerringly seek out the best cover to shoot deernand fowl of every sort. There never was a horse like her fornwoodlore. Harry felt his credulity strained when Harpernmentioned that she could also sniff out trout in the river andnwould carry her master to the sweetest fishing holes. AndnLydie left unspoken her reservations about Billy’s account ofnCleo’s stamping out a fire and thus saving the Harpernfarmhouse and barn and the lives of the four of them.nnnMARCH 1991/21n