particularly fond of him. Jane might be Beth’s confidante, but Samuel was her hero and could do no wrong. Jane could only hold her sister, allowing her to cry herself out.

Finally, as Beth’s sobs subsided, Jane said, “Beth, we must return to the house and see to our parents and sisters. We cannot add to their distress. We must be strong, Beth.”

“S… Samuel was always strong, Jane.”

“Yes, he was. Now, it is our turn. Our family needs us.” She took the girl’s face in her hands. “It is what he would want.”

Beth nodded. Their mother loved her only son almost as fiercely as Beth, and their father doted on him. They would be shattered, leaving the three younger sisters little comfort.

Jane got to her feet and helped Beth up. Hand in hand, they turned to return to the house. As they walked, Jane heard Beth mumble something and asked her about it.

“I said it is their fault, Jane,” she spat.

“Whose fault?”

“Those damned Rebels!”

“Beth, please!” Jane cried. “Please don’t talk like that in front of Mother or Mary! You know how they feel about coarse language.”

“Very well, but I’ll never forgive those evil slave-owning Rebels—never! It’s their fault Samuel went away. Those evil, evil people! I hope God smites them. I hate them! I will hate them for the rest of my life!”

Vicksburg—July 4

Will Darcy sat up in his cot, listening to the cannons going off. He turned to the doctor sitting beside him. “I suppose it’s noon, Charles.”

Dr. Bingley checked his pocket watch. “Yes, it is. Precise, aren’t they, these Yankees?”

Darcy sighed, flexing his body. His recovery from the wounds he suffered in May had been hampered by a persistent fever. He had only grown strong enough in the last week to go to the chamber pot unaided. He desperately wanted to return to his command, but now it was too late. Confederate Lt. General John C. Pemberton had surrendered Vicksburg to Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant after a forty-two-day siege, which brought suffering and starvation to troops and civilians alike inside the ramparts. Pemberton had no choice—he had tons of ammunition, but virtually no food. They could hold out no longer.

“We’ve already furled banners and stacked arms; we were to do that before the Yankees took possession of the city,” Bingley observed. “I’m told we’re to get parole.” He patted the captain on the arm. “We get to go home, Will.”

“Maybe.” In the last month, Bingley spent all of his free time with Darcy, playing cards or telling stories, and they had developed a deep friendship.

Before Bingley could ask his morose companion his meaning, there was a noise at the entrance of the cave. “I’d best see to that,” he excused himself. Darcy watched him walk off to the exit of the ward when the doctor was pushed back by three blue-clad soldiers.

“Here, what’s this?” Bingley cried. “This is a hospital!”

“That’s for us to see, Johnny Reb,” drawled a private.

“We’re to secure this place and take prisoner any stragglers,” said another.

Bingley grew angry. “These are all wounded or ill men. Be quick about your business and leave.”

The third man waved a pistol. “The only one leaving, mister, is you.”

“I’m a doctor and these are my patients. I won’t leave!” The soldiers ignored him and began searching the belongings of the patients. “What are you doing?”

“Searching for contraband,” said what appeared to be the leader of the band as he fingered a pocketknife. He put the object into his pocket and picked up a book.

One of his fellows laughed. “‘Contraband!’ Oh, good one, Pyke!”

“Since when is a man’s Bible contraband?” Bingley cried. He moved to confront the man Pyke. “Put that back!”

Suddenly, Pyke drew a knife. “Resistin’ the surrender, mister?” he growled dangerously. “You don’t want ta be doin’ that—no, sir.”

During the whole time, Darcy had lain quietly, pretending to be asleep, all the while slowly reaching beneath his cot. As Pyke gestured at Bingley with his knife to the enjoyment of his fellows, Darcy whipped out his saber and threw himself at their tormenters. Sweeping backhanded, he struck one on the head with the pommel, stunning the man, before grasping Pyke with his left arm about his throat, threatening him with the sword and using him as a shield against the last soldier.

Darcy stared at the third man with a cold, deadly look. “You will not threaten the doctor while I live.”

“Don’t do anything!” cried Pyke. “He’ll kill me!”

“No, he won’t,” came a voice from the entrance to the ward. “Drop that sword, Johnny Reb.” Darcy turned, forcing Pyke between him and the new threat. He saw a dark-haired man in a blue captain’s uniform holding a pistol on him from his left hand.

“I am Captain Darcy,” Darcy said in his best command voice. “Are you in charge of this rabble?”

“I am, Captain. My name is Whitehead. Release that man, or I shall be forced to shoot you.”

“Your men, Captain, were stealing from sick and wounded men and were about to attack a doctor. This is strictly against the rules of war. Tell them to stand down.”

Captain Whitehead’s mouth twisted into an amused grin under his pencil-thin moustache. “Were they? Very well.” Whitehead barked out an order and the two Yankee soldiers backed away, holstering their pistols. “Good enough, Captain?”

Darcy hesitated a moment, then slowly withdrew his strong left arm from Pyke’s throat. Pushing the frightened corporal away, Darcy reversed his sword and offered the pommel to Whitehead. “My sword, sir. I am yours to command.”

Whitehead holstered his pistol and took the weapon. “A fine saber, Captain. Where on earth did you get it?”

“It’s Spanish, sir—fine Toledo steel. It’s been in my family for four generations.”

“Hmm.” Whitehead inspected the workmanship with ill-disguised envy. “You would hate to lose it, I am sure. Well, have no fears, Captain.” Whitehead glanced at his men standing behind Darcy and nodded. Bingley saw the men move to his friend and cried a warning, but it was too late. A moment later, Darcy lay sprawled insensible on the cave floor. Bingley tried to help, but a soldier seized him, pinning his arms behind his back.

Whitehead walked over to the prone man and laughed. “Yes, Captain, I would not concern yourself over your sword. You’ll have no need for it where you’re going.” He turned to his remaining men. “Take this man prisoner— hold!” As the two lifted Darcy from the ground, Whitehead rifled through the unconscious man’s pockets.

“You bastard!” cried Bingley as he struggled in the soldier’s grip. “You’re no better than a common thief!”

“Now, now, Doctor,” Whitehead remarked as he withdrew Darcy’s pocket watch, “there’s nothing common about me at all. Besides,” he turned to Bingley, “you’re a Rebel and a traitor. You’re fortunate that I don’t shoot you out of hand where you stand.”

“You won’t get away with this,” Bingley vowed.

“Oh, I think I will. You are nothing. I’d keep quiet if you value your parole.”

Bingley threw a rather strong curse at Whitehead, and the officer lost all good humor.

“Very well, Doctor. Take him away, boys.”

July 5

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the victorious Army of the Tennessee, sighed as he enjoyed an after-supper cigar and whiskey in his tent with his friend and subordinate, William Tecumseh Sherman, Major General of Volunteers and commander of his XV Corps.

Sherman puffed his cigar. “I told you, Grant, that if you stayed in the army, some happy accident might restore you to favor and your true place. Well, when news of this victory reaches Washington, you’ll be the toast of the nation.”

Вы читаете Pemberley Ranch
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату