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Authors: Dennis McFarland

Nostalgia

BOOK: Nostalgia
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This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2013 by Dennis McFarland

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Pantheon Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

McFarland, Dennis.
    Nostalgia / Dennis McFarland.
            pages cm
       eISBN: 978-0-307-90835-3
       1. Soldiers—Fiction. 2. Disabled veterans—Fiction. 3. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Fiction. I. Title.

PS
3563.
C
3629
N
67 2013            813′.54—dc23            2013003361

www.pantheonbooks.com

Jacket art: Civil War lithograph by Kurz & Allison (detail).
Everett Collection / SuperStock
Jacket design by Peter Mendelsund

v3.1

For M., K., & S., with love & gratitude

Contents

from Ancient Greek
(
nostalgia
),
from
(
nostos
, return home) +
(
algos
, pain)

The Dream of the Forest

Summerfield Hayes—erstwhile private in the Fortieth New York Volunteers, Army of the Potomac—rests alongside a silent muddy creek and resolves not to fall asleep. Injured; abandoned in the Wilderness, left to dodge snipers and stragglers from both sides of the contest; forsaken to the unlikely prospect of outlasting the ruin of his shrapnel wounds and the slow-falling curtain of starvation and exposure—he knows himself lost in every sense of the word, adrift in body and mind. He wonders if his lifelong urge to run, the itch of a trapped animal, has in this flight been fulfilled at last. He looks up for a moment at the stone arch of a bridge that spans the creek; he closes his eyes and studies its afterimage on the back of his eyelids, a graceful curve, silver against dark red. He touches the crown of his head, a dull soreness there and a patch of caked blood. He moves his fingers to his forehead and a lump beneath the skin above his right eye, a boyhood scar that makes him recall his life at home with his sister. No breeze stirs the trees, the stillness of the forest alien, collusive. The pain in his leg and spine grows sharp, which conjures his mother’s face, more nightmarish than comforting, pressed against glass, underwater. He diverts his mind the only way he knows how: some limping drive to survive has managed to find the sole scrap of peace within him—a dot
on his map of horrors, a memory, a day some few weeks ago in April, an afternoon of sunshine, a ball game.

He’d joined the Fortieth (known as the Mozart Regiment) early in 1864, when the regiment was on furlough in New York, and—along with more than a hundred new recruits—returned with them in February to the army’s winter quarters near Brandy Station. Yet another spring was approaching, and the great general who aimed to deliver at last a victory to Mr. Lincoln had decided to wait out the rains before pushing forward. A handful of men in Hayes’s new company, those who read newspapers and had heard Hayes’s name before, were soon after him to marshal for them a regimental nine. The regiment’s many New Yorkers fancied themselves not only best suited but also morally obligated to bring some gravity to the loose infantile pottering that had previously transpired—raucous ragtag bouts of town ball, amalgams of Knickerbockers this and Massachusetts that, even the occasional one-a-cat. Boredom raged through the camp like a fever; with each passing day, engaging the enemy felt more abstract and elusive; sick to death of rain, mildew, mud, and diarrhea, the soldiers meant to fill the time with something new and better, lift their spirits, and, once a team was established, extend a challenge to the other regiments in the brigade. Hayes suggested that the way to start was to arrange a match within the regiment—he proposed bachelors versus married men—from which the best nine would be culled, deriving a second nine in reserve. Somebody approached the sergeant, who approached the lieutenant, who approached the captain, who approached (with beer, it was rumored) the colonel. The colonel granted permission for the match so long as two conditions were met: all fatigue duty should be carried out regularly and impeccably before, during, and after said match; and he, the colonel, should serve as umpire, with all the attending conventional courtesies (more beer, it was understood).

Hayes knew himself to be lucky, observing that other fresh fish like himself had received no particular welcome of any kind at Brandy Station—save the daily misery of drilling in the muck, sleeping in the cold, and the ubiquitous threat of contagion—and many were received with suspicion, as unfit substitutes or bounty jumpers. He was especially glad to have been procured for the special purpose of getting
up a match and overseeing practices, because his sister Sarah’s letters from Hicks Street lacked any grasp of the course he’d chosen. Why, she wanted to know, repeatedly, had he found it compulsory to forsake her; forsake his mates at his club, who’d so generously embraced and promoted him; forsake his plans for school, when his name had never been drawn in any draft lottery? And what was to become of her, with Summerfield her only living family this side of the Atlantic, should, God forbid, he not return? Did he not think it a sufficient loss, in the span of only a few years, their having been orphaned?

These were harder questions—or at least required longer, more thoughtful answers—than those of the infantry boys in Virginia, who wanted to know how the Eckford Club of Brooklyn had fared last season (a reduced number of games, only ten, but all wins, and the championship for the second year in a row). And had Hayes ever the chance to know the great Jim Creighton, inventor of the sinister speedball and dew-drop? (Tempted to lie, Hayes told the truth: he knew somebody who’d known Creighton.)

A sad story, somebody said, that Creighton boy, dying so young.

Tragic, said another. The boy’s heart stopped for no clear reason.

Ironic, said a third, dying young like that without ever setting foot on a battlefield.

The soldiers, many of whom had survived against great odds, and who’d shown valor at Kelly’s Ford and Mine Run, proved diffident when it came to volunteering for a legitimate base ball team. But of course everyone already knew who the best players were, and all that was needed was some legitimate nominating, followed by a bit of legitimate coaxing. The chaplain, a sanguine bespectacled fellow from Yonkers, manufactured five very fine, if lively, base balls by cutting strips of rubber from old overshoes, boiling the strips till they grew gummy and could be formed into small spheres, then wrapping these with yarn and covering them with horsehide. Soldiers whittled a number of bats from a variety of woods and in a variety of lengths and shapes. They found no entirely suitable plot of ground, though the patch they settled on was acceptable but for an alarming downward dip in the center field. The seat of a wooden chair, with legs and back removed, was employed as the home base, and haversacks, filled with
sawdust, served as the three others. The practices comprised as much argument as they did physical exercise, and Hayes, young, new, and untested in battle, found himself at the awkward post of arbiter. Some insisted that certain foul flies, judging how far afield they landed, must surely be ruled as outs. Others complained about the dubious delivery of the opposing pitcher. Base runners failed to touch bases, or not. And some of the more senior members (mostly from the married nine, who elected to call themselves the Twighoppers) had to be cured of the old habit of soaking, for they’d played town ball growing up and still very much relished plunking a runner with the ball. A hulking teamster from Bushwick, named Vesey, who could wallop just about anything tossed his way, claimed exemption during practices from having to run round the bases when he’d obviously launched a crusher.

BOOK: Nostalgia
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