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The Bully Pushers

 

 

 Les Riley

 WPR Publishing                             

eBook: Coming soon
ISBN 1-931129-75-4 / 289 pages

 

 

Paperback: $13.95

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The Bully Pushers

Chapter One

 

      On a bright November morning in 1863, the Commanding Officers of Companies D and H, 62nd Regiment, Georgia Cavalry ride through dense woods along a narrow trail paralleling the southern shore of the Roanoke River.

The morning sun filtering through the treetops creates a kaleidoscope of light and shadow, perfect camouflage for the pair as they press hard for Hamilton. The War is in its second year and there are neither birds nor squirrels nor rabbits to announce their coming. Brittle oak leaves crackle and spin overhead egged on by a persistent breeze. Underfoot, a damp carpet of newly fallen leaves muffles the steady beat of their horses' hooves.

The big black thoroughbreds have carried them from neighboring plantations in south Georgia to the woody swamps and rich farmlands of eastern North Carolina.

The Captains Duval are lean, black-eyed Georgia boys in dress down uniforms on man's oldest mission—a woman.

The Major had approved their request for leave and designated their mission "Recon." They had twelve hours to find Suzanne Lambersen.

Thomas and Andrew were first cousins closer than most kin. Their mothers were sisters who married brothers and the lads grew up on adjoining plantations across the road from their grandparents.

Friendly neighbors for two generations, the Duvals and the Bennettes were secretly dismayed by their children's determination to wed. Having known all four from birth, each felt their own deserved better.

When it became obvious the children's choice was matrimony or the brambly bushes, the disappointed parents gamely raised their glasses, toasted the goodness they had wrought, and quickly reached consensus on their wedding gifts.

Inheritors of royal grants enhanced by year's of successful farming and wise investments, the Duvals and the Bennettes owned thousands of acres of land on both sides of the Dubee, a red clay road running straight as a parsons forefinger between the two small towns of Friendly and Dashed. A common boundary equidistant from both towns divided the plantations.

As soon as the deeds were drawn up, the families gathered in the Bennette's formal dining room for an auspicious presentation of Bennette ham, lamb, poached fish and the famous Bennette trifle, a recipe passed down with their original land grant.

Breaking with tradition, coffee was served at the table.

The evening had been light and pleasant. Relieved by the tenor of the table, the young couples were unsuspecting when both fathers rose in unison and presented them with slim vellum scrolls secured with royal purple satin ribbons.

Finding their names on deeds to family property across the Dubee, the future bridegrooms were hard put to be grateful. The law office in New Orleans would have to wait.

The girls were ecstatic. "Oh, Mumsy, we're going to be here forever!"

Having come of age that spring, the foursome had received considerable trust monies from their grandparents and much to the dismay of their Atlanta architect, amid glorious magnolias and ancient oaks, they built identical two-story, red brick plantation houses catty-corner across from their parents'. Thomas's mother effected the only architectural change. She topped her columns with Ionic capitals "instead of those gussy Corinthians."

Her father-in-law, Yancy Duval, a strong individualist and lifelong admirer of the great Khans, exploded more than once over his sons' dissolution of their decision making rights.

"How," he raged one Sunday morning, slapping his thigh so hard the bay mare all but bolted on the way home from church, "how did we raise two boys, lawyers yet, whose reply to every wifely whim, is, 'Whatever pleases you, Darlin'."

"They're in love, Dear."

"So were we ..."

"Are, Dear, are."

"Yes, of course we are, but we didn't build a pair of damn bookends."

"No, we didn't. But then, there were only two of us. Tim and Sissie married the following year. remember?"

"And Sissie had the good sense to want her own house, not a copy of yours."

"And if she hadn't?"

"I'd of called brother Billings out."

"Oh, Darlin', don't be silly."

Yancy Duval bided his time. When Tommy and Andy turned five, he bought them black ponies, miniature standards, and toughened them up in the best Mongol tradition. The first thing they mastered was riding hours at a time standing in their stirrups.

Briefed by their grandfather long before they were ten, they'd ridden out of the Great Kahn's grasslands, carrying his standard southeast across the Gobi into Kaifeng and Zongdu. Picked their way west across the Altai Mountains. Ridden the Silk Road into Samarkand and Boukara. Bathed in the sparkling blue waters of the Caspian Sea. Battled up into the Ukraine and jubilantly ridden home again.

They'd traced his campaigns on the map in Poppa Duval's den. Fingered them on the old Italian globe beside his desk. And when a grown-up said, "But he was so cruel," the boys proudly quoted Duval Kahn, "Everything we know about him was written by his enemies."

By fifteen, they'd mastered the Great Kahn's strategies and developed a few of their own. With opposing legions of three-inch soldiers mounted on painted iron horses, they tested their battle plans on a plank table twelve feet long covered with sandy deserts, green felt fields, iridescent mica water and movable paper-mâché mountains.

Satisfied with a new strategy, they'd mount up with Duval Kahn and take to the woods to prove their point.

They were superb horseman, skilled archers and crack shots. They believed in God, family, country, accountability and Duval Kahn.

Yancy wisely abrogated responsibility for their social graces. Their adoring mothers drilled them in etiquette and dance. Their proud fathers introduced them to their tailor, their private club in Atlanta, political meetings in Alabama and their first bordello in New Orleans

Tommy took it all in stride. Often Andy was not amused.

At twenty, they enlisted in the Army of the Confederacy and were commissioned second lieutenants assigned to Company D, 62nd Georgia Calvary Regiment. A month later, they were promoted to first lieutenants. Two years later they were captains and CO's of Companies D and H.

The 62nd Regiment, with seven Georgia companies and three North Carolina companies, fought at New Bern and Windsor. By the fall of 1863, the 62nd was part of a force responsible for containing the enemy north and south of the Chowan River in eastern North Carolina.

Mid-October, much to their surprise, the Captains Duval received a formal wedding invitation from a former classmate at the Academy, Boots Rindell, now commanding officer of a Union unit stationed south of Plymouth, North Carolina. The wedding was to take place in the country near Jamesville.

The Duvals could hardly refuse.

The Major concurred. "Bring back the latest local information and as much bride's cake as you can manage."

On the appointed day, Thomas and Andrew rode south from Windsor with their respective companies. The weather was glorious. The men, glad for a break from camp, were in a festive mood. Weddings meant food. Or used to, anyway. And pretty new faces.

The twelve miles passed without incident. When they reached the Artless plantation, Thomas and Andrew threw out a picket line, dusted of their hats, settled their swords and walked into the house, resplendent in full dress uniform.

The bride's family was struck dumb. The harpist lost her place. The old minister shuffled toward them fumbling for his handkerchief. Suffice to say the groom had neglected to mention his invitation.

Guests rallied at once, genuinely glad to see the young Confederate officers. The Buffaloes could afford no less. Buffaloes were Southerners sympathetic to the Union.

The ceremony was short. The garden reception proved most pleasant.

Early on, Thomas rescued Andrew from two serious matrons who had once spent a week in Friendly and knew they had met his parents. If not his parents, his aunt and uncle. Or his grandparents. Charming people. Charming.

"I owe you, Tom," Andy said, out of the corner of his mouth, as they moved away from the ladies, "Let's get something to drink."

"You may have mine, sir."

Andrew stopped and looked down into the flushed face of a small boy standing by his side. "Thank you," he said, taking the proffered punch cup.

"It's not real punch. You might not like it either. Not even the right color."

Andrew too a sip. "You're right. Not real punch."

He took a bigger sip. The juice and Cruzan rum slid down his throat like oil on ice. Pays to have friends with resources. Especially in wartime.

"I'm Andy Duval," he said, putting out his hand. "Let's go find some real punch."

"I'm Harry Ballington," Harry said, shaking his hand, "And I'd like that very much."

Thomas had drifted off a step or two and was introducing himself to a cluster of admiring young ladies.

Harry took Andrew's hand and they started back toward the house. It was a handsome old Federal, built, Andy guessed, with ballast brick.

Midway across the lawn, Harry broke away, calling, "Uncle Bruce, Uncle Bruce. Come meet my new friend."

Smiling, Andrew walked toward the tall, gray-haired man who greeted Harry by tossing him up in the air.

"Andrew Duval, Sir."

"Bruce Gatler, Captain."

"We were going to get some punch, Uncle Bruce."

"Well, let's go then," Bruce said, putting Harry down.

A moment later, Harry was off again, running toward the house.

"Auntie Suz! Auntie Suz!"

Andy recognized Auntie Suz.

She'd held the bride's bouquet through the ceremony. During the lengthy prayer on faithfulness and fertility, he'd studied the back of her long, pale blue silk dress. Figured her waist to be about four hands. Counted sixty little pearl buttons running from her hips up under her shining ash blonde hair. He'd caught a glimpse of her profile in the recessional. she was stunning.

"Mrs. Gatler?" he asked softly.

"No, Andrew, Harry's Aunt Suzanne. His mother and Suzanne were twins. Florence died a few days after Harry was born. His father is serving with the 1st North Carolina. Until he returns, Harry is living with Suzanne and his grandparents, Gretz and Emily Lambersen. Their plantation, Rivicello, is on the Roanoke not far from mine.

Andrew nodded, his eyes following Suzanne's slow progress across the lawn as she stopped to greet old friends. Watching Harry fend off kissy old ladies, he couldn't help but smile. He remembered those days.

"He's a lucky little fellow, Andrew. Comparatively speaking, that is."

"Yes, sir, he is. Comparatively speaking, of course."

Looking up, Thomas saw Suzanne step out on to the gallery and scan the hundred or so guests socializing on the lawn. Looking for someone. Hopefully not her husband. Admired her carriage as she walked down the long front steps. Could not believe his good fortune when she smiled, waved and headed for Andy and company.

Begging pardon of the young ladies mesmerized by his admiring eyes and debonair manner, Thomas hurried off, edging up to Andy just as Suzanne arrived.

Hugging Bruce, she stepped back to acknowledge his introductions to the young Confederate officers.

Her clear blue eyes met Andy's head on. She surprised him with her firm handshake. When she smiled and said, "I'm very glad to meet you, Captain," he knew she meant it.

Turning toward Thomas, she grinned as he executed a deep, sweeping bow, the brim of his soft gray hat grazing the ground at the feet.

My kingdom for a two by four, Andy thought, watching Thomas slip into his most successful and charming persona, the Young Cavalier.

A splintered two by four applied to your courtly rear, dear Cuz, to launch you head first into yon lily-covered fishpond.

Duval Kahn's warning came to mind. He could hear the old man's deep voice, "Beware of unleashing old desert curses with unseemly desire."

They were twelve, and curious, of course. "I don't know how the curse manifests," his grandfather had said solemnly, "but believe me, gentlemen, you'll know." He'd cleared his throat and added, "Or so I've been told."

"Captain Andy?"

Andy looked down.

"Captain Andy, can we get our drink?"

"Why, yes. Excuse us, Bruce."

"I'll be right here, Andy," the older man answered, with a nod toward Thomas, "keeping an eye on Sir Walter."

 


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