Shortly after his 20th birthday David Hawkins’s childhood sweetheart married the son of a wealthy cotton broker. Brokenhearted and disenchanted with farm life, he ran off and joined the Army. After nine months in an infantry battalion, constantly drilling and marching about, he began to think he had made a huge mistake.
But one day a high-ranking officer saw Hawkins breaking in a horse that no other man could ride. His reputation for fighting and expertise with firearms had already made him a bit notorious, and soon he was transferred to the cavalry. After nine more months of training, consisting of long journeys through Texas and Indian Territory, he was promoted to corporal and sent to far-off New Mexico Territory. From there he went on countless expeditions through the newly acquired territories and California, exploring and helping bring civilization to a wild, reluctant land. He chased outlaws and banditos. Made friends with most Indians, fought and killed others.
Though tough and rugged, he was also very bookish, reading almost constantly in his spare time. His study habits were very acute, never letting an unknown word or phrase slip past his eyes, digging and researching until he had a full grasp of its meaning.
He loved studying military geniuses like Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Napoleon. He often wondered why all men of war and conquest seemed sinister and wicked, with only degrees of good and right, regardless of loyalties. Thoughts like this would haunt him throughout his career.
His favorite authors were Victor Hugo, James Fennimore Cooper and Herman Melville. He was also intrigued by the exchange between Emerson and Thoreau when the former visited the latter in jail for refusing to pay a war tax. And though he disagreed with the philosophy of Civil Disobedience, Hawkins found the man’s intentions quite admirable. Occasionally a taste of the bizarre suited him and he would indulge in the likes of Mary Shelley or the strange short tales of Edgar Allen Poe. He once read The Tell-Tale Heart aloud to a group of Comanche while struggling with the translation, coaxing horrified glares of wonder from the natives. Another time he sat up all night with a group of friends drinking scotch, discussing the merits of Frankenstein and whether or not life could actually be reanimated through science. Such pointless debates entertained him, helping him unwind after a week or two of hard soldiering.
The son of a benign slaveholder, Hawkins was aware of the cruelties of slavery, but he was shocked when he read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It seemed strange to him that slavery in the modern world had become distinguishable by color, especially in a nation contending with the very definitions of freedom.
Talk of a possible war between the North and South was not uncommon in those days. There were many issues that could lead to war: states’ rights, free navigation of the Mississippi River, trade with Europe and expansion westward. But all of these, Hawkins realized, could be negotiated. Some sort of compromise could be reached.
There would be no sitting down at a table and discussing the issue of slavery. It would only be solved by violence because violence was what kept it in place as an institution. Hawkins was in favor of freeing the slaves, but realized until the system itself was radically changed this would not happen. In some parts of the South there was simply no such thing as a free black.
After four years in the military, Hawkins’s superiors saw him fit to be an officer and he was commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant. He did not disappoint his commanders, stepping into the role of a confident leader of men as if born to it. His troop showed much promise, accomplishing one successful mission after another. He imagined his future as a victorious high-ranking officer of honor and renowned, gaining peers of status and prestige.
But a year after he received the commission, his mother passed away and he returned home to Louisiana.
He was temporarily posted in Shreveport at Fort Turnbull to be near his family. It was then that he met Emily Rains and took her to be his wife.
Not long afterwards tragedy struck again. A barn was being raised at the Hawkins farm and David had gone into town to get more supplies. While he was gone, his brother Paul slipped and fell from the top rafters, breaking his neck killing him instantly. Ira Hawkins was devastated. Though he loved his eldest son, Paul had always been his favorite. For it was Paul who had stayed on the farm, never complaining, always working feverishly to bring in the crops or do whatever it took to keep the place up and running.
Two more times Hawkins was sent out West. Once to help negotiate treaties with the Apache and Navajo Indian tribes. The natives knew him now and trusted him. He was affectionately called Barbarossa or Red Beard by both tribes and was openly welcomed to many of their seasonal celebrations.
By this time many of the tribes living on land recently gained by the war with Mexico were already somewhat leery of white men, another terrible stain of European conquest. Although most initial contacts were peaceful, U.S. relations with the Indians always became strained at best.
Hawkins hated the obvious way the natives were constantly being lied to and cheated out of their land, but short of treason there was little he could do about it. He also despised the general way in which the Indians were judged by most whites. Some were bad, but most were good, just like all people. In most cases those that feared them were driving them to their hostile nature.
While he was gone he corresponded with Emily almost constantly, at times both receiving and sending out small bags of mail. He wrote to her in great detail about the vast painted land out West, referring to it in very intimate terms.
It is a red-brown, dry cracked land, my love. Open, forever changing by the second, by the tick of the sun, by the dance of the moon. It greets me with howling wolves and coy dogs. There are grizzlies, wild cats and herds of bison with no end. Great birds of prey, song and scavenge. A kingdom of insects, snakes, scorpions and spiders. Huge unreal mountains like infinite cathedrals. Canyons, breathtaking and otherworldly. Heat to shrink the soul and slow the spirit, and cold like I’ve never felt, speechless and biting. Waterless for weeks and months on end, then deluges and floods from nowhere.
Emily responded in kind, keeping him abreast of all the local activities and the silly community gossip, and soon they both had trunk-loads of letters and cards.
In 1856 Hawkins’s unit was dispatched to a northern section of Indian Territory to deal with a minor uprising by a small group of Cheyenne when his outfit briefly crossed into Kansas. They watched from a distance as a bunch of crazies fired at each other from across a cornfield. It was then that he first heard the name John Brown. The Army had orders not to interfere with the insanity, pro-and anti-slavery men bleeding the state, gearing up for the war to come.
Three years later, on his last tour out West, Hawkins was helping oversee the protection of a gold mine in a very remote part of Colorado Territory. Suddenly, news was told of a violent insurrection at a place called Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, by the abolitionist John Brown.
It was the beginning of the Confederacy.
For over a year, Hawkins remained loyal to the Union. But when Louisiana seceded he resigned his commission.
Just six months earlier he had taken a position as a surveyor at a Cherokee reservation in the southeast corner of Indian Territory, only a day’s ride from his farm. It was there that he received word that his father had died, suddenly collapsing on the porch while reading the newspaper.
By April of 1861, David and Emily Hawkins had somewhat settled into their modest estate and he was even considering retiring from the military altogether. Then one morning a rider came, delivering news that Beauregard had fired on Fort Sumter. The war had begun.
For six months he had stayed in the area training men who already knew how to ride and shoot. He thoroughly taught them the basics of practical military necessity, strategies and tactics, morale and structure of command, turning them into disciplined soldiers, at least on the training ground. But how, he often wondered, would they react when brushed against a regiment of the enemy to play for keeps, strangling one another in a house divided.
Most every night he was able to ride home to Emily and discuss this as they lay holding one another in bed.
“They’re so eager to go and fight,” he said, as she nuzzled her face in the nape of his neck, running her hand gently across his chest. “Some are even worried the war will end without them firing a shot.”
“Somehow,” she purred in her hypnotic tone. “I don’t see the worry in that.”
“They only want to be part of history, my darling,” he said, running his hand through her long dark hair, lifting it away to let it fall in soft strands across her shoulder. “And they’re afraid it will pass them by.”
“I can do without the history,” she said nibbling on his ear. “What I can’t do without is you.”
Eventually word came that his regiment was being transferred to Mississippi to await deployment elsewhere. The days leading up to his departure were especially hard for Emily. She would stand close, pressed up against him, rarely leaving his side. Sometimes she would just embrace him, not saying a word, holding him tight, feeling the warmth of his hard body. Other times she would simply hold his hand, gazing at his face, occasionally looking off as if searching for some danger lurking there in the distance.
Before sunset their last evening together they walked along the levee, holding hands like so many times before, the dogs trotting along as they took the trail to their special spot under the old oak. The weather was always so nice in northern Louisiana that time of year, the oppressive heat of the summer gone, and the wet cold winter not yet arrived. A cool, crisp breeze blew through the grove as they reclined in the clover, propped on their elbows facing one another. Jacko snuggled tight at Emily’s feet, while Caesar walked a perimeter check.
“What’s going to happen, David?” she asked running her fingers down his forearm.
“I don’t know, my dear.” He brushed a lock of long dark hair away from her face.
“When do you think you’ll be back?” It was a question she had never asked before. He had always told her beforehand, letting her know of his approximate return.
“I’m sorry, my love, but it could be some time yet.”
She didn’t say anything, just looked up at him, holding his gaze for a moment, then laying her head across his arm.
“I’m so sorry, Emily,” he said, reaching to pull her close to him as the last glimmers of dusk played through the trees. “You’ve deserved so much better than this. I’ve been gone far too often.”
“Well, I guess I could forgive you,” she pouted playfully, “if you’ll only come back to me.”
The next morning they gathered to see him off. Emily stood to one side as he mounted his horse, stroking the animal’s dark chocolate mane. Sarah, Jacob, Isaac and their children stood to the other side, looks of worried fascination on their faces. Jacko, showing rare solemn reserve. Caesar, as stoic as ever.
“Bring him back to me, Tempest,” Emily said to the horse. “In one piece, if you please.”
And so, David Hawkins left his wife and home again, this time traveling east to fight a war he truly felt was for the sovereignty of the South. Even then, deep in his personal thoughts, there was something unsettling about his choice of loyalties.
But what was he to do? Draw his gun against his friends and neighbors? The terrible thought had entered his mind in those early, infant days of the war.
But those thoughts soon faded as he passed through southlands he had never seen before, meeting the proud Southern folk rich and deep with their heritage and traditions. And though he already had his baptism of fire way off in The Territories, he would soon be totally immersed in something far more incendiary; warfare unlike any he had never imagined.
She had taken ill with a fever. For days she had been complaining of headaches and dizzy spells, unable to sleep or eat. About the time David Hawkins was leaving Virginia to return home, Emily had collapsed in the kitchen and was found there by Sarah. Twice the doctor came, but could do little.
For over a week she laid in bed delirious with fever, calling out his name. Some felt surely he was killed, his presence visiting her, beckoning her on to his new world, lonely and wandering. Then one morning she simply did not awake, passing on in her sleep. The previous night she had cried out quietly, Sarah sitting off to the side by the window.
“I can see him through the trees,” was all she said.
For days and weeks Sarah pondered her family’s fate. There was talk of them being auctioned off to one of the large plantations in the area, brutal places where their small family unit would be shattered by the constant leering eye of the overseer and his arbitrary lash. Taken without voice from the sweet, simple home they had known all their lives. David Hawkins had not been heard from since last spring and rumor was spreading that Louisiana troops were suffering heavy losses in the fighting. Then suddenly he arrived, haggard, exhausted and so glad to be home. And even though they were happy to see him, it broke their hearts to see his heart break so.
It was dark. Sarah and Isaac sat on the porch of the slave quarter looking out toward Miss Emily’s grave, out toward the graves of the Hawkins family. Their family. They could not see him, but they knew he was still there, talking to her, crying, wondering what happened. Even they did not know.
“He been out dair an awful long time,” said Sarah
“He’s griev’n, baby,” replied Isaac. “Dat takes time.”
Sarah stood and moved to the post by the steps. “He looks so much like Massa Ira. I ’member when ’es little. I’d wash’m an’ feed’m an’ play wit’m.”
Jacob stepped out on the porch. “Noah wants ya to kiss’m good night.”
“What ’bout da baby?” asked Sarah, still looking out into the darkness.
Sarah turned and walked over to her husband. “Honey, please go’an check on Massa David. Please.”
For a moment he said nothing, just looked out toward the field. Then Sarah caressed and kissed his shoulder. “Please, baby,”
“Aw’right, shugga.” He looked at her. “I will.”
She went inside as Jacob moved to the post. For a while the two black men just stared off into the darkness.
“Think he’find out?” asked Jacob finally.
“Oh, he’find out,” said Isaac. “Jus’a matter of time.”
He was utterly delirious with grief and exhaustion, still on his knees, his cheek pressed against the gravestone. His hand caressed her name, eyes moist with tears, staring off seeing only her. All the while Caesar and Jacko were huddled at his side.
“It was real pretty in Virginia,” he said softly. “Leaves all change color up there. You’d like it. But it gets real cold. Colder than here. Pennsylvania was pretty too, but I didn’t like it there. Bad things happened.” He paused. “I missed you so much.”
From off in the distance a light was coming. Sensing their master’s urgency, Jacko stayed by Hawkins as Caesar quietly ran off to inspect. The light moved along the edge of the field coming closer and closer to Hawkins. He looked up and saw Jacob standing over him with a lantern in his hand, Caesar close behind.
“Iss cold out, Massa David,” said Jacob through a thick plume of steam. “Lem’me help ya inside. Don’t need ya get’n sick.”
When he finally got the tired soldier up and headed toward the house, Hawkins began speaking incoherently, disjointed ramblings with a faraway look. “Sergeant,” he said, Jacob looking at him strangely. “Sergeant, we must fall back and regroup. Colonel Prescott is dead and Major Bennings is badly wounded. We must fall back. The enemy is moving on our right flank. Sergeant, where are you, Sergeant?”
“I’m here, sir,” said Jacob. “I’m here.”
Someone else had been there, too. Someone holding Hawkins on his right side. Someone strong and constant, a Presence of another world. Later, Hawkins would ask about this Person. Who had it been? But Jacob would tell him there had been no one else, except Sarah and Isaac. The three of them had been able to put him to bed. But days later, Hawkins would swear there had been a fourth Person.
He’d slept all that night, but by morning a fever had taken hold of him, deep and festering. For three days he lay in bed. The doctor came and gave him a dose of laudanum, but still the fever held. Sometimes he would wake screaming for Emily, having to be restrained by Sarah and Jacob. Other times he would call out deliriously as on the battlefield: orders and replies, warnings and pleas for support. There he hovered in a vortex of sweat and nightmares.
During that time Sarah stayed at Hawkins’s bedside, sometimes just holding his hand while she kept a damp rag on his forehead, quietly speaking to him in pleasant tones. Other times, after one of his horrible fits, she would kneel and pray with all her might, even lying prostrate on the floor, begging God to intervene, crying painful tears of petition.
“O Lawd Jee’zuss,” she would cry with solemn earnestness. “Please, Lawd, send ya angels to help Massa David. He needs ya Lawd. I know he wants to be wit’ Miss Emily. But please, Lawd, please don’t take’m, Lawd. We needs’m.”
On the fourth morning the fever finally broke and Hawkins’s condition took an encouraging turn for the better. He was resting peacefully when the rooster crowed announcing the dawn twilight, waking him out of a sound sleep. Sarah and Jacob were in the kitchen when he slowly shuffled in wearing his long night shirt. He sat at the table, looking utterly despondent. After putting her hands to his face and forehead, Sarah poured him a cup of coffee. Jacob stood before him, hands clasped together in a gesture of service.
“What can I do fer ya, Massa David?”
He said nothing, just stared at the kitchen floor.
“Day fo’ yesta’day,” Sarah said. “Isaac kilt a lil’ shoat. Dair’s pleny’a bacon an’ eggs. Grits, too. Lem’me fix ya sump’n ta eat, Massa David.”
“Just coffee,” he whispered, slowly shaking his head.
“Papa, Papa!” Noah’s voice came from outside, as the dogs began to bark. “Somone’s come’n, Papa!”
“I’ll go’n see who it is, Massa David,” said Jacob, leaving the kitchen.
As he sat staring at the floor, tears began to well up in Hawkins’s eyes. He looked up at Sarah and tried to speak, but his mouth only moved; the words would not come.
“Oh, David,” said Sarah, moving to hold him like an older sibling or an aunt. “I’m so sorry, baby. We loved’r so much.”
She held him close, stroking his hair as he cried, his arms wrapped around her, sobbing desperately. He knew only the grief that seemed to rip at his heart, like something jagged and sharp suddenly torn through it. The pain coursed through his body like bits of glass in his blood, no longer isolated to one part, spreading, seeking all the empty places deep in the corners of his soul.
Anytime he could, little Noah would stand right next to his father. Looking, watching, and taking in what he could of the world around him. Hoping to learn without asking too many questions or getting hurt or in trouble. Most of the time, when he was busy, Jacob would tell him to run along or find something productive for him to do. But sometimes he would let him stand right there, his little shoulder touching, pressed up against his father’s hip. When he did this, Jacob would always rest his hand palm down on his son’s head. A covering of love reassuring the little boy it was all right for him to be there. He was doing it now as they watched a rider slowly approaching up the road that led to the Hawkins farm.
“Who dat is, Papa?” asked Noah.
“Dunno, son,” said Jacob. “Could be a friend’a Massa David’s.”
The rider wore a Confederate uniform and looked familiar to Jacob. He stopped in front of the man and his boy and nodded, the two dogs sniffing at the horses’ hooves.
“Howdy, Jacob,” he said. “David here?”
“Why, yessir.” Jacob squinted his eyes. “You be Mista Jenkins. Ain’t dat right?”
“Yeah. Been a while, huh?”
“Yes, it has, sir,” said Jacob. “Massa David’s here, sir. But he’s feel’n awful poorly.”
“I heard. Maybe you could just tell’m I’m here. I think he’ll wanna see me.”
After a short hesitation, Jacob asked, “You da sergeant, sir?”
“Yeah, dat’s right.”
“Why don’t you come on inside? Give the boy here ya horse.”
In the kitchen Hawkins was beginning to pull himself together. Sarah sat facing him, holding his left hand in both of her hands. When she saw Jenkins she stood and gave a slight bow.
“Iss Sergeant Jenkins, Massa David,” said Jacob.
“Morning, David.” Jenkins said, taking off his hat.
Hawkins barely nodded.
“Would ya like some coffee, sir?” asked Sarah. “Iss good’n hot.”
“That’d be fine, thanks.”
Jenkins sat opposite of Hawkins, studying his commander with genuine concern, while Sarah poured him the coffee.
“We’ll be outside, Massa David,” said Jacob.
“Just holler if’n ya need me, David,” Sarah said as they left.
After a long moment of silence between the two men, Jenkins said, “I’m so sorry, David. Jenny didn’t even know. I found out the day after we got back. I would’a come earlier but Jenny’s brother got killed a few weeks ago, so things are kind’a bad at home.”
“Sorry ’bout Jenny’s brother.” Hawkins paused and looked around the kitchen, still half in a daze. “Are ya hungry?”
“No, thanks. I’m not stay’n.”
“Well, I should get dressed,” said Hawkins, beginning to stand. “We still gotta report in at headquarters.”
“No, David.” said Jenkins. “Sit back down. I’ve taken care of all that. They want you to rest.”
Hawkins settled back in the chair and looked up. “Thanks, Steve. I … uh …”
“David, please. Don’t worry ’bout nut’n. Just get ya some rest.”
After another long moment of silence, Hawkins said, “I’ll be need’n an extra plow horse soon.”
Jenkins frowned and stared at the man. Then he began to laugh, slowly shaking his head, leaning forward to prop his elbows on the table.
“Well,” said Hawkins with a stern, serious look. “Nitney’s get’n too old to do all the plow’n by’m self.”
“Don’t ya worry none, David. We’ll get ya ’nother plow horse.” He stood, looking down at his commander. “I gotta run along. They got me help’n out at Fort Turnbull. Train’n dem green ree’crewts.”
“Ya didn’t drink your coffee,” said Hawkins, motioning at the cup.
“Oh, yeah.” Jenkins picked up the cup and gulped down the hot liquid. “Aaaahh!” he went, gasping, shaking his head. “Boy, she’s right. Dat’s good’n hot.”
Hawkins managed a slight laugh. Jenkins stopped at the door and turned back.
“There is something I guess I ought’a tell ya,” he said with his hand on the door jam. “Met’a lieutenant colonel named Hackwith at headquarters. Said you and him served out West together.”
“Grady,” Hawkins whispered.
“Yeah,” said Jenkins. “That was it. Lieutenant Colonel Grady Hackwith. He was miss’n an arm. Didn’t say what happened. Was it like that when you knew’m?”
“No,” said Hawkins, slowly shaking his head, looking down.
“Well, he told me dem Yankees down south might be head’n up dis way.”
“What?” said Hawkins. “Here?”
“Didn’t say much about it. Said it could be a campaign to take Shreveport. Was all he told me. Gotta feel’n he knew more than he was let’n on.” Jenkins waved his hand. “I’ll be see’n ya, David. Gotta run.”
After Jenkins left, Hawkins sat there staring at his coffee. Sarah came in and stood before him.
“Everything all right, Massa David?”
He nodded as Jacob came in carrying his saddle bags.
“I almost forgot deez, David,” said Jacob. “I’ll jus’ set’m here on da table.”
“Lem’me fix ya somp’n ta eat, David.” said Sarah. “Ya needs ta eat, baby.”
“Maybe later,” he said. “I’ll be all right. Y’all run along, now. Don’t mind me.”
Sarah and Jacob looked at one another, then slowly headed toward the door. Just before she stepped out Sarah looked back over her shoulder, a worried look on her face. Hawkins was sitting dazed, staring off into nowhere.
For a while his hand fumbled with the coffee cup, slowly turning it in circles on the table. Then he glanced at the saddlebags to his right. Without much thought his hands found the old leather bags. He could not remember where he got them or what was inside.
The first thing he found was a small pistol, an old short-barrel .32 from before the war. Then he found a small bundle of papers, orders, dispatches, cash and some of Emily’s letters. Maps. A Bible. A pair of field glasses. A flask half full of brandy. A comb. A tin of tobacco. A thick leather-bond journal. Deck of cards. More papers. Then he saw something that he did not recognize at first. Pulling it out and shaking it loose, he saw that it was a blood-stained Rebel cap. Instantly his thoughts were taken back to a horrible battle and a promise he had made almost two years ago.