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Authors: Owen Parry,Ralph Peters

Bold Sons of Erin

BOOK: Bold Sons of Erin
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BOLD SONS
OF ERIN

Owen Parry

[Ralph Peters]

STACKPOLE
BOOKS

Books by Ralph Peters

Nonfiction

Lines of Fire
Endless War
Looking for Trouble
Wars of Blood and Faith
New Glory
Never Quit the Fight
Beyond Baghdad
Beyond Terror
Fighting for the Future

Fiction

Cain at Gettysburg
The Officer’s Club
The War After Armageddon
Traitor
The Devil’s Garden
Twilight of Heroes
The Perfect Soldier
Flames of Heaven
The War in 2020
Red Army
Bravo Romeo

Writing as Owen Parry

Faded Coat of Blue
Shadows of Glory
Call Each River Jordan
Honor’s Kingdom
Rebels of Babylon
Our Simple Gifts
Strike the Harp

 

 

 

Copyright © 2003 by Owen Parry

Published by

STACKPOLE BOOKS

5067 Ritter Road

Mechanicsburg, PA 17055

www.stackpolebooks.com

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All inquiries should be addressed to Stackpole Books, 5067 Ritter Road, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania 17055.

Printed in the United States

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

Cover photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-00250

Cover design by Tessa Sweigert

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Parry, Owen.

Bold sons of Erin / Owen Parry.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-8117-1133-3 (pbk.) — ISBN 0-8117-1133-1 (pbk.)

1. Jones, Abel (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Irish Americans—Fiction. 3. Welsh Americans—Fiction. 4. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3566.A7637B65 2012

813'.54—dc23

2012003810

eBook ISBN: 978-0-8117-4855-1

To the people of Schuylkill County

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  
. . . a lie which is all a lie may be
met and fought with outright,
But a lie which is part a truth is a
harder matter to fight.

—Tennyson

ONE

THE MOON WORE A BANDIT’S MASK OF CLOUD TO ROB the sky of stars. Cold it was in the boneyard, for October had shown her teeth. When the wind scraped down the hillside, dead leaves rose, riding a sudden gust to climb my back. They crackled and scratched and crumpled. My lantern glowed, faint as the hopes of Judas. Even that much light was a mortal risk.

That night was murder black and stank of death. I wished me far away, that I will tell you. But I needed the body.

If body there was in the coffin.

The boys dug glumly, dutiful but slow. For no one likes to retrieve a new-laid corpse. The soldiers I had brought along were Dutchmen, thick and quiet, as solemn as death themselves. Still, I hushed them every time they coughed. Vital it was that the Irish should not learn of us. For the sons and daughters of Erin adore their dead, and graves enchant them. They will kill for a corpse as soon as for the living.

Now, a Dutchman has his own odd superstitions, carried from the darkness of the Germanies. But the soldiers at their labor had other fears, far more real than demons or even the Irish. They believed what they had heard, that contagion lay in that grave. As for my Christian self, I kept me quiet.

I did not believe it was cholera, see.

The wind slashed through our uniforms, like bayonets through Pandy. When I held the lantern high, it swayed and sputtered. If I lowered it down, the leaves attacked the glass,
swarming like wild Afghanees at the kill. We were at work in the hills of home, in Pennsylvania, where miners dismayed by the war had turned to violence. But India was with me, too, its ghosts the sort that linger in the mind to whisper of life’s swiftness and fragility. I believed the Irish had lied about the cholera and thought the coffin likely to be empty. Yet, death’s transforming power touches all. Rare is the fool who smiles in a graveyard.

And I knew death.

I do not speak of Our Savior’s death, not when I speak of that night, but of lesser fates that I myself had witnessed. First as a child in Wales, then as a soldier, when the heat of love come to scald me in Lahore. But let that bide. For now I was a married man and a major got up proper, and I had begun a new life in America.

I did not believe it was cholera. I declined to think it.

The soldiers grumbled over their shovels, glancing at me like children put to punishment. I did not mean to be hard with them, for they were of the invalid corps, and each had suffered in body, if not in soul. But healthy enough they were to serve the provost, to shepherd draft lists or guard a shipment of coal. And the four could dig the earth of the grave between them.

I did not believe it was cholera. My fears were of the Irish down below, in the patch houses, where the mine families spilled from crowded beds, all coughing and complaint. I feared their pastor, as well, at rest in the shanty above us, by his church. For well I knew the duplicity of priests, and the fierceness of their loyalties, which were not always simply to their faith. I had been told that this one lived with books, that he was clean and well spoken, with high manners. It did not tally up. Why would a gentleman deign to labor among those souls cast out of Donegal, from Mayo and Roscommon, or from Clare? I meant to make his acquaintance in good time, to see how much of the darkness of Rome was upon him and to test his tales of cholera out of season. For he had put his name to the cause of death, with the honor of his office as his bond. If we found no body in the grave, the priest would have to answer.

All that was to come. First, we had to dig.

I had been warned of violence, of the laborers’ rage at Mr. Lincoln’s draft and their taste for murder. But I had served beside such men in India. The Irish, I mean. Those famine lads cut loose to find their keep, in a world that did not want them or their kind. Lately I had seen them at their finest, climbing the slopes above a Maryland creek, marching into a torrent of death, falling only to close ranks again, and fighting as grandly as any men could do. I knew the Irish could fight, see. But I did not want their fight to be with me. I had come to admire certain of their qualities, their boldness in battle, and their reverence for song—although I could not praise them as a race. Nor do they count as true and proper Christians. Still, I thought I knew them well enough to keep me safe and sound while at my work.

How little I knew, in my vanity and pride.

I had forbidden my Dutchmen to speak a word, warning them not to clang their shovel heads. Such noises carry like whistles on the wind. And gales play tricks. Had the night been still we would have heard the steam engines down by the colliery, ceaselessly pumping water from the mines. Men slept, but the pumps could not. I knew their throb, that giant iron heartbeat, from Mr. Evans’s pits just north of Pottsville, where I had kept the books before the war, and from the countless shafts that pocked our county. It is a constant struggle, see. The earth tries to drown the men who steal her coal.

We should have heard the drumming of those machines. But the wind come down from the ridge to carry the sound off. That same blow would carry our noises down to the company patch, where the Irish miners slept in their exhaustion. Even nature seemed hostile on that hillside. I had cautioned my lads to be quiet, again and again.

Then one sound, abrupt as death, shut my fingers choke-tight over my cane. It almost made me reach beneath my cloak, just to feel the certainty of my Colt.

Twas the sound of a shovel meeting the wood of a coffin.

I did not think it was cholera. And yet I stepped me back. For I have reason to fear that cruel disease: The memory of my mother dead on the planking, with the locked door trapping me in with her staring eyes. And the loss in Lahore, much later, that haunts me still.

Cholera is too ready a companion. It follows a man over continents and oceans. Even in the fairest summer cantonment, it killed more soldiers than bullets ever did. The rivers of India swelled with bloated niggers, their shorelines ripe with corpses torn by dogs. It made no least distinction between ranks, and showed a hunger for both fair and foul. At night, the burning pyres stank of Hell. The comrade who shared your morning porridge shat himself to death and died in vomit before the bugler sounded you to your tent. Cholera is the bane of modern times.

The soldiers drew back from the rim of the grave, leaving only the fellow taking his turn in the hole. A sergeant he was, but one not shy of work. He looked up at me, face broad and Dutch in the lantern’s cast. His whiskers were blond, but the light turned them bloody red.


Sollen wir doch weiter, Herr Major?
” Sergeant Dietrich asked me. “Now we must open the box,
ja?

“Go on,” I told him in a lowered voice. Just loud enough to be heard above the wind. “Clean off the box, and we will look inside.”

BOOK: Bold Sons of Erin
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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