This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the
Lonesome Dove television show,
(After the episode "Fear")
Surprisingly, it was Austin who stayed beside Mattie for the entire ride back to Curtis Wells. Mosby, obviously feeling the pain of his wound, rode ahead with most of his now-subdued posse. He detailed two of his men to bring the body of Earl Hastings back to town, but Call wouldn’t let them.
"I’ll take care of it," the bounty hunter snarled. "You go fetch his things, if there’s anythin’ here. That’s more what your boss wants anyways. Never know, there might be some money there."
Once back in town, Austin offered to take Mattie’s horse back to the stable. Still feeling numb, she agreed, dismounting in front of the gunshop and handing her reins to the sheriff before walking slowly to the door.
"Mattie," Austin called. She turned her head back toward him. "If it helps any, it didn’t look like Mosby had much choice."
"They both had choices," Mattie said bitterly, "and they both chose wrong." She turned the key in the lock and disappeared into the building.
Not long after, Unbob helped Call carry Earl’s body in and lay it on the undertaker’s slab. Call simply left, without saying anything. Unbob offered to handle the job himself, but even though he’d learned things surprisingly well, Mattie refused. "He saved my life. Least I can do is take care of his mortal remains myself."
"But you tried to stop it, Miss Mattie. Call tole me. Ain’t your fault he wouldn’t listen," Unbob tried to comfort her.
"Doesn’t have anythin’ to do with that. I still owe him somethin’."
But she couldn’t bring herself to get started. She just stood there, looking at Earl and wondering why this had happened, what could have made this man so hell-bent on killing or being killed. She remembered how pleased she’d been at Earl’s attentions, and how enjoyable most of their time together had been. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she barely heard the door open, and jumped a little when Clay Mosby spoke behind her.
"You should have Unbob take care of that."
When she didn’t respond, not even to turn her head and look at him, he continued, "This really isn’t a job for a lady anyway."
"Most folks in this town don’t think I am a lady. Outside of that, you had any complaints about my work?"
This time it was Mosby’s turn to remain silent, and finally Mattie turned to face him. His arm was in a sling, and he looked pale and tired.
"I do my job just like I promised. You got no cause to say otherwise," she defended herself.
"I didn’t say otherwise. It’s just that I should never have let you start. This really isn’t somethin’ a woman ought to be doin’." Mosby wasn’t actually looking at her. His eyes were focussed on the dead man behind her.
"You only let me try ‘cause you didn’t think I could handle it. You figured I’d break down and quit in a month or so," Mattie said.
For a moment, their eyes met, and he managed a ghostly grin. "Less than a month, actually. More like a week, but I didn’t know you then. Not that I’m disappointed, you understand," he added, and then his gaze returned to its previous target.
"Understand?" Mattie cried, her anger and bitterness beginning to show. "No, I don’t understand you. I didn’t understand him. I don’t understand any of this! You mind explainin’ it to me?"
He ignored the question, instead walking to the back door and calling harshly to Unbob. "Get in here and take over for Miss Shaw."
Unbob sidled in reluctantly, unwilling to disobey Mosby’s commands, but worried about Mattie’s reaction. Clay walked back to the front of the shop.
"Don’t worry about the expense. I’m payin’ for the funeral. And he goes in the town cemetery, not Boot Hill."
Mattie crossed her arms and glared at him. "My, what concern for him, now he’s dead and it don’t matter anymore."
"It matters," Mosby retorted. A flash of anger, resentment and possibly even regret put some color back into his face. "He could have walked away. I gave him that chance, but he refused. He challenged me and made it clear that if I tried to walk away, he’d kill me anyway. So I tried to stop at first blood, but he wouldn’t settle for that either. He wouldn’t stop, not until one of us was dead. I suppose, like Call, you figure I should have just stood there and let him kill me!"
"No! It’s just … I’d rather you just tell me what it was between the two of you, and not worry about payin’ for the funeral. Couldn’t you just tell me what this was all about?"
"I’m sorry. I don’t think I can do that." He opened the door, and paused. "If most of the town doesn’t think you’re a lady, most of the town is mistaken." He gave her one last glance before issuing his final instructions. "When Unbob’s done, let me know. They’ve found most of his things. I’ll be goin’ through them to see if he had any family left to be notified." He walked out, closing the door behind him.
Mattie kicked the bottom of the door in frustration. "Damn you!" She screamed. "Damn both of you!"
Unbob stood awkwardly against the wall, still unsure of what he should be doing. Mattie locked the door and made sure the Closed sign was up, not wanting to face anyone else for awhile. She pulled the curtain across so Earl’s body was out of view, and picked up a pistol she’d been trying to repair. Unbob sighed and began to collect what he needed.
Mattie worked ferociously, angrily, trying to ignore what Unbob was doing on the other side of the curtain, muttering under her breath about men who wouldn’t talk about their real feelings. Her father’d been like that, too, never letting on that he was hurting so much inside, giving her no chance to help him until it was too late. "I should know better. Men don’t want a woman helpin’ them when they really need it. We’re too gentle. They probably figured I’d faint or somethin’."
Over at the Ambrosia Club, Clay Mosby sat in his office, going through Hastings’ possessions. He always refused to take morphine or opium or any other medication just for pain, so all he allowed Dr. Cleese to do was make sure the bullet was out, the wound was clean, and everything was properly dressed and bandaged. Beyond that, he preferred to depend upon his usual pain remedy: good whiskey, of which he’d already consumed a great deal, even for him. A glass and a second bottle, already half empty, remained at his elbow, within easy reach.
There was a statement from Anaconda, accepting Earl’s resignation ‘for personal reasons’, giving him certain pieces of equipment in lieu of salary due. There was also a letter of recommendation, praising the surveyor for professional excellence and conscientious work habits. All these were dated several weeks earlier. The man must have started planning as soon as he learned of Clay’s presence in Curtis Wells, and Mosby had to admire him for his methodical precision. His name on all the documents was Earl McCleary; someone named Edward Hastings had written the recommendation. "Damn you," Mosby whispered. If only Earl had used his real name, Clay might have remembered him sooner, and found some way to avoid killing him. He had vivid memories of the placard Templeton’s men had placed around the dead sniper’s neck: Sgt. McCleary, Yankee Murderer. It had been hard enough killing the father, justifiable as it had been, but killing the son was not something he would have chosen to do.
The memories were a little too vivid, and Clay poured himself another glass of whiskey, which he emptied in one gulp just like all the earlier rounds. He’d worked for years to rid himself of battle memories, and allowing just one to emerge from hiding would encourage the others to follow. His arm throbbed, and his eyes were gritty and blurry from whiskey and lack of sleep.
McCleary had certainly planned things well. He used his old boss’s name to reinforce the idea that Anaconda wanted a survey of the Curtis Wells area, and encouraged Clay to keep talking about planning the town’s future and how Anaconda would benefit by helping with those plans. He also encouraged Clay to keep drinking, and only now did Mosby realize that Earl hadn’t been drinking very much himself. He just let Clay drink, until he was assured that his enemy would sleep so soundly, there would be no trouble carrying out the first attack. A pig’s heart, no less!
The thought made Mosby pause before pouring another drink, but only briefly. Maybe he should have accepted Cleese’s advice and taken some morphine. No, he knew from painful experience that morphine only gave him worse nightmares, and he certainly didn’t need that. He had to shake off a flash of memory about a certain house in New Orleans, with a glimpse of a woman’s not-pleasant laughter and Robert Shelby’s angry voice. He pulled his thoughts away from that humiliating experience, and returned to his work.
There were some letters from Delaware, the pages yellow with age and showing signs of having been read many times over. All but the last one were written in a woman’s hand. Earl’s mother, who’d screamed angrily and defiantly at her husband’s murderers.
"Executioners," Clay whispered to himself. "He was a miserable Yankee sniper, and a coward to boot, scuttling home to hide behind his wife’s skirts. It was war, and he was the enemy."
The final letter was much shorter than the others, and in a different hand. It stated simply that Margaret McCleary of Hazleton, Delaware, had died in her sleep and was buried beside her husband. It was dated 1873. There was no mention in any of the papers of any other relatives, so there was no one to write a sad letter to. All Mosby had to do was figure out what to tell Anaconda about the death of their former employee and still leave the door open for some kind of profitable relationship with the largest mining company in the territory.
Mosby pulled out his cigar case, ignoring the box on his desk in favor of the oft-times soothing feeling of this one little piece of his past that hadn’t disappeared in blood or flames. As he opened the case, his eyes were drawn to a folded piece of paper that had been in the case for so long he’d almost forgotten about it. He took the paper and unfolded it, slowly, as though his fingers were so sore it was painful to handle even something as lightweight as paper.
It was a list of names, two of which had been crossed off. Captain Armstrong had blown himself up immediately after giving Clay the names of all the men who’d been with him the day he raided Hatton Willows. Armstrong had obviously felt it was safe to reveal those names, because he intended to take Mosby with him when he died.
At the time, after surviving the explosion almost unscathed, Mosby had taken it as a sign that he was supposed to seek out and punish his family’s murders. However, the quest had not proven very satisfactory. One of the names belonged to a man who died before the end of the war, of gangrene and fever following a relatively minor wound. Another man had been drummed out of the Union army for cowardice and then proceeded to drink himself to death.
Mosby did know the whereabouts of the other two men. He had, in fact, learned about one of them almost a year earlier, but never acted on the information. He told himself that Maine was a long way off and he couldn’t afford to be absent from Curtis Wells that long until his plans were closer to fruition, but deep down, he knew it was the knowledge of the man’s three young motherless children that kept him from seeking his revenge. Only recently, the detectives he hired had located the last man, in California, and Mosby hadn’t acted on that news yet either.
He closed his eyes and in his mind he could see Armstrong, his father’s murderer, tied to a chair as Mosby prepared to do whatever it took to learn those names. Earl McCleary had found his own father’s killer and then left a pig’s heart in Clay’s bed and later threatened him with a stick of dynamite. How different were they, really? "No," he whispered, then repeated the word louder. "No, I still needed information. I wasn’t playin’ with Armstrong the way Hastings was … McCleary was toyin’ with me. Besides, I was aimin’ to see Armstrong brought to justice in a court of law."
Only because Newt Call made him give his word, his conscience reminded him. His hand shook just a little as he poured and drained another glass of whiskey.
"McCleary only lost his father. He still had a home, and a mother. Armstrong and his men murdered my whole family, raped and killed my wife. They preyed on civilians. McCleary’s father was a soldier, and so was I."
But Mosby didn’t have to kill the sniper in front of his family, even if the fleeing man chose to seek refuge in his own home. Clay’s inconvenient conscience kept hammering at him, making him look deep within himself where he could see just how much alike he and Earl McCleary were. He could deny that mirror image to everyone but himself, just as he could deny a similar kinship with Newt Call. Clay knew exactly what Call was feeling, and why, because it was all so familiar to him. For more than ten years, he’d looked at himself in a mirror every day, and the face that looked back at him could have been the same as either McCleary or Call.
Was that why he wasn’t willing to do anything about Call, despite all the aggravation? He shook his head at the thought. No, it was for Hannah’s sake. He tolerated Call as a tribute to her. This time, when he filled his glass he could see his hand shake.
A knock on the door interrupted these morose thoughts, and Mattie walked in. "Unbob and me, we’re ready. You wanted me to let you know when everythin’ was done. All we need is somethin’ to put on the marker."
"Accordin’ to these," Mosby waved a few sheets of paper, "his real name was McCleary, so make it Earl McCleary, Devoted Son."
"Devoted son?" she asked. When he didn’t answer, she pulled another chair over to his desk and sat down, the determined nature of her movements making it clear she didn’t intend to leave until she got what she wanted. "Why can’t you tell me what this was about? And what happened between you two in the cabin? I think I deserve the truth."
Still there was no answer, so she tried a different tack. "I don’t have any notion of tellin’ anyone else. I just need to know, for myself. He saved my life. I can’t just forget that and pretend nothin’ happened. Why did Earl want to kill you? He said somethin’ about you killin’ his father. Was that true?"
"In a manner of speakin’, yes." The words came out before Mosby could stop himself, and he realized that having broken his silence, he was on potentially dangerous ground. It had been so long since he had someone he could talk to, and he needed to talk so badly. "Or at least, I had a hand in it. But it wasn’t murder, it was war."
"No." Mattie shook her head. "Daddy used to say that on a battlefield, everythin’ got so messed up nobody knew who killed who, so a man would just blame everybody in the other uniform. I think this was a lot more personal than that."
Mosby looked at her, through a haze of pain and whiskey. Part of him wanted to find some words that would satisfy her curiosity and send her away without giving her the whole shameful story, but another part was almost desperate to keep going, to talk it all out and put it to rest forever. He decided on a middle road; she didn’t need to know all the details. "His father was a sniper. Killed a lot of good men, all from nice little hidin’ places. Finally, we tracked him down, caught him, and executed him," he said. As he poured himself another drink, noting that the bottle would soon need replacing, he added with a humorless chuckle, "It was one of my first command decisions." If one could really describe his behavior at that particular time in such terms.
God, it was so long ago! The fragments of two separate companies combined to make a large enough unit to accomplish their task, with two colonels who barely knew each other sharing the command, deep into enemy territory, engaged in partisan activity that could get them all executed – and then to be plagued by a sniper! Colonel Templeton had been the ninth victim, followed by his captain, leaving all of his men under Clay’s command. Then it was Stephen Edgar’s turn, quiet, reliable Steff, who’d gotten married in a rush the week before he followed Clay into war, and who had a child he’d never seen.
"How can you call it an execution when he was doin’ what a soldier is supposed to do?" Mattie asked.
"Real soldiers don’t hide in the trees until they kill an enemy and then scurry off like mangy rats," Clay muttered, fully aware that he didn’t even believe that himself any more. When you got down to it, you destroyed your enemies in whatever way you could, before they destroyed you. He should never have gotten into this conversation. "Mattie, please let it go," he pleaded, realizing how close he was to trusting this young woman he hardly knew, all because he needed to trust someone, and there wasn’t anyone else around.
But what would she think if he told her about his failure, his inability to make all the men obey him after Templeton died? Hell, he hadn’t even been able to control Jamey Russell, his own brother-in-law! He wanted to lie about it, find something that would satisfy Mattie without giving her all the details, but he couldn’t force the thoughts out fast enough.
"I need to understand," Mattie persisted. "It’ll haunt me forever unless I get it all straight in my head. Earl was a good man, but there was somethin’ eatin’ away at him. I ain’t here to accuse you of anythin’, if that’s what bothers you." She reached over and took the nearly empty bottle away. "I know there were things Daddy didn’t tell me, things that bothered him, but he wouldn’t talk about it. Ever since he … since he died, all I’ve been able to do is wonder if maybe things would have been better for both of us if he’d told me, but I’ll never know. I don’t want to feel like that again. That’s why I need to know why this happened!"
"Don’t we all?" Mosby whispered. He buried his head in his good arm and mumbled something about being tired and having a headache, one last effort to keep from jumping off the precipice.
Mattie was relentless. "If you’re hurtin’, you oughta get Dr. Cleese to give you somethin’. You want me to fetch him for you?" There was only a trace of sympathy underneath her stubborn determination.
"I don’t need.… The good doctor has already done what he could. I just need to rest." Mosby sat up again. Leaning forward only made his injured arm hurt more.
"You tell me what I want to know and then you can rest as long as you like."
Finally, because he was too weary and too sore to think of any way out and was almost too drunk to care, Clay started to explain as briefly as possible.
"There was this sympathizer up in Maryland who had a way of getting’ supplies around the blockade, but someone had to go up there and fetch them. Since my company got blasted to hell at Gettysburg, we were pulled out of the regiment and ordered to join another company that was in similar condition. Because it was ranger duty, I got my colonelcy, but Colonel Templeton was the senior officer so he had command. Our men didn’t always get along, ‘cause my company was mostly younger men.
"Then this sniper started pickin’ off men, one at a time. We’d catch a glimpse of him once in a while, but couldn’t flush him out into the open. When he killed Templeton, I was left in command, but Templeton’s men didn’t like me much and I just couldn’t control them. Mattie, I wasn’t even twenty years old! Everythin’ was fallin’ apart, and then the sniper shot one of my closest friends."
Clay shut his eyes for a moment, trying unsuccessfully to block out the pain of this particular memory. "Did your father ever tell you how long it takes a man to die with a hole in his belly? We couldn’t take him with us, ‘cause he couldn’t ride. I didn’t know how to save him, and if we left him behind in Maryland, he was sure to get caught and executed, so we … He kept beggin’ us not to let him die like that." He struggled for words, but now that he’d started, he couldn’t stop. "All the officers drew straws, only I cheated. I made sure I’d get the shortest one. Steff was my friend, one of my officers, and my responsibility.
"I killed him. One of my oldest and dearest friends, and I shot him in the head, and buried him in an unmarked grave, all because of that damned sniper. We got movin’ again, but I couldn’t think about anythin’ but Steff. The sniper tried to hit us again about an hour later, but he didn’t hit anybody and this time we flushed him out. I couldn’t stop the men from goin’ after him. I’m not sure I wanted to, even though we were in enemy territory and didn’t know where we would end up. I had enough sense to leave the horses and the supplies behind with just enough men to guard them, and we went tearin’ through the countryside."
There was no adequate way to describe that mad scramble, a group of tired, angry men wearing whatever coats they’d been able to scrounge up to disguise what was left of their uniforms, running through a bitterly cold rainstorm chasing an elusive figure that knew the country so much better than they did.
"I don’t know what the fool was thinkin’. He knew the country, he could have found some place to hide, or just led us into a trap, but instead he ran straight home. We caught up to him when he was on his porch and was reloadin’ his rifle."
For a second, his mind caught on the relatively innocuous thought that in this one respect, certain units of the Confederate army were better supplied than the Federals: the Union army commanders had refused to use the new repeating rifles, but the Confederates grabbed as many as could get through the blockade. Clay and some of his officers had them, which may have been why the sniper would take one shot and then change position, rather than risk being caught while reloading.
"We grabbed him, and then a woman came out of the house with her own rifle, and Jamey Russell grabbed her. The men dragged both of them toward some trees in the yard. It hadn’t snowed yet that year, nothin’ to speak of anyway, but the leaves were all gone and the rain was so cold." More trivial details. Get to it. Finish it.
"How did you know you had the sniper?" Mattie asked, her voice suddenly harsh and suspicious.
"We knew," Mosby said flatly. "We found a boy hidin’ in the barn, looked maybe fifteen or so. The boy … Earl … bragged about it, about how many Johnny Rebs his father had already killed. His father begged us to let his family go." He stared past Mattie into his past, not realizing that there was such a dark, terrible expression in his eyes that she flinched, drawing back a few inches.
"Somebody just laughed and said if he didn’t want his family involved, he shouldn’t have scurried home to hide behind his wife’s skirts. She screamed somethin’ about him bein’ hurt, and Jamey pulled off his jacket to see what she meant. I swear we couldn’t have known he was hurt, he moved so fast, but he was all raw scars from burns. It must have hurt him just to breathe. He’d been invalided home, he shouldn’t even have been wearin’ a uniform. Why didn’t he just tell the authorities that he’d spotted Confederates in the area and let them take care of it? Why come after us all by himself, watchin’ our trail, catchin’ us a few at a time?"
Clay could still remember quite clearly how helpless he’d felt, how detached from reality, as he stared at the evidence of what this man had already suffered in the war, his anger slipping through his fingers like the rain. He wanted to find some way out, something that would make the men just let the Yank go, but he still couldn’t think, not with the memory of Steff, waiting for a friend to kill him so he wouldn’t die at the enemy’s hands. Not until some of Templeton’s men suggested that they ought to hang the whole family did he rouse from his stupor, and regain at least some of the control he needed. "I had my own men take the woman and her son, because I knew I could trust them. I remember Robert Shelby sayin’ that we needed to know if there were other snipers in the area, or had this man reported us to anyone. I promised the sniper that if he gave us that information, I’d see to it his family and their home would be spared, but all he told us was his name, and that we’d find out soon enough if he’d reported us."
They hanged him in his own yard, in front of his family. "I should have confined the woman and her boy in the house, so they wouldn’t have to watch, but already Templeton’s sergeant was mutterin’ that the boy was old enough to be a soldier, and we should kill him before he ever had a chance to wear a blue uniform. I told him that if any man under my command ever again threatened women or children, I’d kill him myself, and I put a bullet into the sergeant’s arm just to prove I meant it."
They left the body hanging from the tree, with the rough sign that called him a murderer, and then they left, to rejoin the other men, collect the supplies and their horses, and ride back to Virginia.
"And you didn’t recognize Earl? Didn’t you even once think he was familiar?" Mattie asked.
"When he asked me if I remembered October of 1863, all I could think of was that maybe he was related to one of Templeton’s men, angry because I … on our next raid into Maryland, we got caught in a trap. The sympathizer betrayed us to save his own neck. I ordered every man who could ride to get out of there, and then I surrendered. The bastard I surrendered to took all the enlisted men, eighteen injured men who weren’t armed and wouldn’t have been able to put up much of a fight, and he killed them. It was my fault. I led them there. I surrendered them."
Clay stopped short. He was going to say that he’d survived, something that still shamed him if he thought much about it. What right did he have to be alive, when so many others had died? He forced himself to finish what he’d started. "I spent the rest of the war in prison, and ever since then I’ve been tryin’ my best to forget. If I’d known his real name, I might have remembered, but … There, now you know it all. Do you feel better, or do you still wish I’d let him kill me?"
He expected her to lash out at him, to blame him for McCleary’s death. He wanted it, even, because then his own anger would return and drive away the hurt and the shame like it always did, even as the more honest corner of his soul recognized that talking about it had finally started to heal at least a few old wounds.
"I never wanted him to kill you," Mattie said quietly. "I just needed to understand why a man like Earl could do somethin’ so crazy. I only wish you two could’ve talked it out. Maybe if he’d known you’d had to kill a good friend, it might have made a difference."
Exhaustion and physical pain were driving away Clay’s emotional aches, and now he just wanted everything to be over. "Nothin’ would have made a difference. I offered to let him ride away. The war was over years ago, there was no need for him to die." He looked down at the papers on his desk, and picked up some of the letters. "Here, maybe these will make it easier for you to understand why he wouldn’t let go."
Mattie only had to read one or two of the letters to figure out what Mosby meant. On nearly every page, the bitter, vindictive woman who was Earl’s mother made some reference to whether her son was doing something to track down his father’s killer and exact justice. She must have spent all her time after the war pouring her hatred and her rage into her son’s heart, and even after she was dead, Earl had kept those letters, probably reading them over and over until every last syllable was burned into him like a brand. Mosby wanted to ask the dead woman if it had been worth it, worth her son’s life.
Mattie moved to put the papers back onto the desk, but Mosby stopped her. "Bury them along with him." Then he reclaimed his bottle and poured another glass of whiskey. Mattie rose slowly and walked toward the door.
"Thank you," she said before she left. "I know it must’ve been hard, talkin’ about it, but I had to know. I don’t think I could have stayed in this town, not knowin’."
"Can I take that to mean you will be stayin’, now?" It was suddenly very important to Clay that she stayed. He hadn’t been able to talk to someone like this for far too long, and although he wasn’t in a hurry to repeat this particular experience, the thought that there would be someone around to talk to if he ever did feel like it, made her answer extremely important.
"Yeah, I’m stayin’, for now, anyways."
"Good. You know, I am sorry you got caught up in this." It was all the apology he was capable of, just then. Perhaps later, he’d ask her to take dinner with him, and they could just talk like ordinary people. He’d apologize to her then, when he wasn’t so tired.
"I know," she said simply. "I’ll see to the burial. You plannin’ on bein’ there?"
Mosby downed his glass of whiskey. "I’ve been to too damned many funerals. Besides, do you really think he’d want me there?"
"I suppose not, but I had to ask. I’ll send Dr. Cleese back over here. Your arm’s bleedin’ right through that bandage."
Mosby looked absently at his arm, noting that the cloth was indeed soaked with blood. When he looked up again, Mattie was gone. He picked up his list, and stared at it.
"Blood," he whispered. "Always so damned much blood." This triggered another memory, and he reached for a slender book lying on top of the desk, paging through it looking for a particular sonnet, and then reading a few lines. "Oh, of thine only worthy blood and my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood and drown in it my sin’s black memory."
He closed the book and just sat, running his fingers over the worn leather binding. The echoes of his old life had become fainter and more distant over the years, but the memory of the pain was still strong. For how many years had he nursed those memories, and the hatred and anger they brought out in him. What good had it ever done? What had his bitterness ever accomplished? Earl McCleary had learned a trade, and apparently used it well, building a worthwhile life, a kind of living legacy, and then he’d let bitterness and vengeance destroy all of it. Mosby hadn’t built anything at all until he started expanding Curtis Wells. He was finally achieving something that would last and would hopefully redeem his family’s position in the world, something so solid that no one would ever be able to take it away from him and once more leave him with nothing but ashes and old memories.
Moving very slowly, he reached out and put the book back. He lit a cigar, inhaling deeply and then letting it out before reciting the rest of Donne’s sonnet from memory. "That Thou dost remember, some claim as debt, but I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget."
He looked over his list again. Armstrong had managed to keep a fragile hold on his military career, but was so bitter about it that he’d been willing to throw it away in favor of stealing a shipment of gold. The rest of the raiding party hadn’t done much better. The man in Maine was struggling to raise three children without a mother, and the one out in California was barely surviving, sweeping out stables on the one leg he had left. Maybe, just maybe, in this one case, vengeance really did belong to God.
Mosby held the faded list up to the cigar, and then held onto the burning piece of paper as long as he could, watching the names shrivel and disappear before dropping it. There were still bad memories aplenty, but at least he’d gotten past a few battles.
"The war’s got to end sometime." He brought his heel down, extinguishing the small blaze and turning the scrap of paper into nothing but dust.
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