by Sevenstars

It was Ezra who asked the question: "What evidence has led you to this assumption, Mr. Dunne? It was our understanding that you had never known your father."

"I didn't," JD whispered. "He's got a watch. There's a picture inside it. My mamma, and me when I was a baby. It was the only time she ever had her picture taken, the only time she could afford it, and she had a copy made to keep. It was on the shelf right beside her bed, all her life. I had her buried with it." He looked up a moment. "She gave him the little watch print when he went off to war."

"I think, Brother Dunne," Josiah observed, "that Buck is right and you ought to tell us all this story. It does a man no good to keep such burdens locked away in his heart. Surely you've seen enough, since you came here, to know that."

JD let out his breath in a painful sigh. The words came slowly, with many pauses. "M'father... his name was Daniel Valerius Dunne... he was, I mean his family was, well, they'd been a big name in New York almost since there was a New York. His grandpa was an apprentice in his uncle's store when he was thirteen, founded a shipping company at twenty-one, and by the time he was thirty was one of the richest men in the city. They were in banking, and shipping, and law, and gettin' into railroads by the time he was a kid. They had everything, you know? Big house, fine horses, fancy clothes, servants... servants." Hesitation. "M'father, that watch was given to him when he was sixteen and graduated from the Academy. That was the spring before he went to college. He was taught to box, fence, ride, shoot, dance, and sail, and he did all of 'em well. He could read five languages besides English by the time he finished college. Then a few years later, he was twenty-three, workin' in the family shipping offices but still livin' home, and he met a girl. A maid who worked for his parents, a little Welsh immigrant girl seventeen years old and not more'n six months off the boat, couldn't read or write but in Welsh, though she could speak English with this beautiful accent that made every word of it sound like she was singin'.

"He could've, I mean, well, you know, and nobody'd have thought twice about it, but he didn't. Mamma always used to say he was the finest, truest, realest gentleman she ever knew and she wanted me to grow up just like him. And he, well, he was just taken with her from the first, at least she said he told her so. She wasn't one bit like the proper prissied-up society girls his folks expected him to choose from. So they ran away to New Jersey and got married.

"'Course when they came back, two weeks later, his father was just madder'n hops at him. He couldn't do anything to make the marriage not be, on account of m'father bein' twenty-three and old enough to make his own choices. He offered Mamma money to leave him, ninety thousand dollars, and she wouldn't. He said if m'father stayed with her he could count himself no more a member of the family than the butcher's boy, and he gave him fifteen minutes to decide and two hours to pack his things. And m'father, he didn't even take the fifteen minutes, he just said, 'I'm sorry you feel that way, but I love Marged and we're staying together,' and he went upstairs to his room and had the footman fetch his trunks, and two hours later they were in a cab and drivin' off down the street.

"He was smart'n'well-spoken, a lot like Ezra is, I guess, and he'd had a good schooling, and he had a little legacy of money from his mother's grandpa that nobody could keep from him, about five thousand dollars it was. He knew there was no way anybody in banking or shipping'd give him work for fear of makin' an enemy of his father, and he hadn't been to law school, so he went down to Fifth Avenue and got himself a job cashierin' in a big dry-goods store. What that means is he had a desk up on the mezzanine where the bookkeepers were, and every time one of the shop clerks down on the floor made a sale, they'd put the money and the sale slip in a little carrier box on cables and it'd go whizzin' up there to him and he'd make change and send it back. Two thousand dollars a year it paid, good money. He used his legacy money to buy a little house over in Brooklyn where it was pretty and green, and he used to take the ferryboat over every morning and back at night. The house cost twenty-five hundred dollars and the furniture fifteen, and he didn't have to take out a mortage. That made his expenses lower, and he could put away better than six hundred and fifty a year, besides what he had to spend, on clothes and food and ferry money, tax on the house and a maid. And he and Mamma were real happy, she said, and then two years later I was born and it seemed like life was just complete.

"Mamma always said I got my gift for talkin' from her side of the family, that Welsh people've always been like that, they call it the hwyl. She said they're great horse lovers too, and that was why I got on like I do with horses. She used to insist that the way we're made, the small bones and slender frames and sharp, well-cut features, were proof of our descent from Welsh aristocrats, the pure Cymric masters of Gwynedd, the White Land, who once ruled most of Britain. M'father used to call her his 'little bird,' she said, because her bones were so small and fragile. And I got my black hair from her, but not my eyes--hers were blue.

"I'd just had my first birthday when the war broke out. Mamma said m'father never hesitated a minute about what he should do, even though he was married; he enlisted right off. The government paid him an enlistment bounty, a hundred dollars, and the state and county added more, so he could give her close to five hundred when he left. He fixed it so the bank would pay her a certain amount of money out of his savings every month, and he figured what with th'Army coverin' his food and his uniforms he could send some of his pay back too. She could raise chickens and vegetables for money, and rent out a couple of the bedrooms. And anyway, he said, it would all be over in six months. She said she knew she could make it; there might not be as much money, but there'd be one less man to feed and dress too. He was assigned to the Seventh New York Regiment, and Mamma must've told me a hundred times how she took me into the city to see it march down Broadway, past two miles of people all cheering their hearts out.

"He'd been to college, and he could've gone to Officer Training School if he'd wanted to, but I guess maybe he figured if he did that he'd be thrown in with a lot of other rich men's sons and they might not think too much of what he'd done with his life. So when they held the elections for the company officers he ran for orderly sergeant, and got it. For a couple of years he sent letters and money, and I can just remember sittin' on our next-door neighbor's front porch with Mamma, listening while she read his latest letter aloud, 'cause of course Mamma didn't read English. We got along, though things got pretty tight even with all of Mamma's economies, because by the time I was four and a half a greenback dollar wasn't worth more'n thirty cents gold or silver.

"Then sometime a little before the Battle of Gettysburg, the letters stopped. At first Mamma wasn't too awful worried, there'd been dry spells before; maybe the mail train got raided or somethin'. But months went by, there was no word from him, nothin' from the government that he'd been killed in action or was in a hospital alive or dead. Mamma kept on waitin' and hopin', thinkin' he'd maybe been taken prisoner, but the war ended, he didn't come, and there was no word his name'd been found on the rolls of any of the prison camps. After a year or so Mamma decided he must be dead.

"We might've made it even yet if the house hadn't burned, but that was the only real asset she had. She couldn't even get the widow's pension of eight dollars a month, 'cause she didn't have anything to prove she was eligible. And like I said she couldn't read or write in English, so most of the good jobs were just out of her reach. About all she really knew was keepin' house, for herself or somebody else, so she went back to domestic service."

As war always does, that one had left the country with a lowered moral tone, a lowered respect for human life and property, a lowered political ethic, too much folding money in unaccustomed hands, and a preoccupation with business and play which gave politicians unlimited opportunities. Many individual fortunes had been greatly increased and new ones created by war contracts: many a man had started out on a shoestring and become a rich industrialist because everyone needed his products. And the nouveau-riche particularly were eager not only to ape the ways of the families with older fortunes, but to put them in the shade. The demand for household servants shot up, while the number of people available to fill the positions actually went down, as the new industries and the siren song of the West lured many of the poor and working class, native and immigrant alike. The nouveaux didn't care whose sensibilities they stepped on, and it wasn't difficult for Marged Dunne to find one such household where either her husband's story wasn't known or no one was worried about incurring his family's enmity by giving work to his despised immigrant widow.

"It didn't pay but two-fifty a week, but her room and board and uniforms were counted in and she could keep me with her; otherwise I'd've had to go to an orphanage, most likely. She might've got better money and shorter hours in laundry or food processing or the garment industry, but then she'd've had to make some arrangements for me, and pay her own living expenses besides. At the mansion there were always people I could go to--Jenkins the butler and his wife the cook, Sam Lockwood the coachman. Mamma made sure I went to one of the city schools even though it was only in a church basement and the streetcar cost a nickel each way, and I don't know how but she managed to get the little girls' governess to let me have their old textbooks. She told me again and again how important it was for me to get as much schooling as I could and to go to college like m'father did, because I wasn't like other servants' sons whose folks would be thrilled just to see 'em get into the police department or a skilled trade like carpentry. No, I was his son, and I deserved a shot at the same kind of money and position his family had had, and didn't I want to show up my grandfather anyway? So she saved every penny she could, and sat up nights sewin' to make a little extra. Then as soon as I got big enough I started workin' in the stable whenever I wasn't in school; I only got half pay, but it was another twelve-fifty a month. Sam had a cousin who trained race horses on a farm up in Westchester County, and he got me my first rides when I was ten. I was good at it, and whenever I finished in the money I got a share of the purse too, besides my straight ridin' fee, which was four-fifty for each time up.

"Then one day when I was twelve I had a race out on Long Island, and I was with the horse I was supposed to ride, in his stall, gettin' to know him a little, when I heard a couple of men talking outside. They must've been lookin' over the form sheet and seen my name on it, because one of 'em said he'd known a man named Dunne in school and he wondered if I was any relation."

"Would that have been Daniel Valerius Dunne?"

"Why, so it was. Someone you knew?"

"He was orderly sergeant of the Seventh New York during the war. A good man, I remember, a good fighter. Shame what happened to him."

JD remembered Mrs. Jenkins saying that eavesdroppers never heard any good of themselves, but it wasn't him these men were talking about; it was his father, the father he'd never really known, and if these men could shed any light on his fate, anything that might bring Mamma peace, wasn't it his duty to listen and learn? He kept low and quiet, soothing the horse with his hands, and waited for what might come next.

"How was that?"

"Oh, he married some immigrant servant girl and his father disowned him. Too bad; he could have gone a long way. He was a smart fellow, could talk very persuasively about almost anything. I remember hearing him debating the emancipation in winter camp, right after it was enacted. He said he wanted to see the North win as much as anyone else did, but he washed his hands of abolitionism. He was willing to fight to the death for the Union, the Constitution, and the laws of the country, but he'd enlisted for the sake of the restoration of the nation and to keep slavery where it was, not to free the Negroes. And anyway, he said, this kind of en masse emancipation wouldn't do a damned thing to improve their lot; to them, freedom implied release from all conditions of servitude, and many would interpret it to mean breaking all bonds they knew as slaves, including the bonds of family. They'd been so long dependent on their masters that they'd have no idea what to do to make their own way in the world, he said, or raise their children properly. They'd revolt against discipline and become irresponsible, and many would resort to thievery. And given the resentment that was likely to turned on them by their former owners, where would they go? The North, where they weren't wanted. Lord, the cheer he got from the men! I hadn't heard the likes of it except when we made a strong advance in battle."

"A lot of men deserted over that whole issue, didn't they?"

"Well, of course they didn't tell the officers why they deserted, but desertion was common enough, God knows. I can see how men who were disgusted enough with the concept might have decided it was the final straw, and gone over the hill."

"Whatever became of this Dunne?"

"I don't exactly know. There was a skirmish a month or so later and I was wounded and invalided out. By the time I rejoined the regiment he'd disappeared, and nobody could say where or when."

JD scarcely heard whatever else they had to say. He felt dizzy and sick and his heart was pounding until it sounded like thunder in his ears. Could it be true? Could his father have deserted because he disagreed with emancipation? Though his own memories of them were fragmentary at best, JD had been all but weaned on stories of the Draft Riots of July of '63: eighteen Negroes hanged, the Colored Orphan Asylum (among many other buildings) looted and burned--if mobs would behave in such a way because of the draft and the issue of Negro freedom, what was to prevent an individual soldier from deciding that such things weren't worth the risking of his life?

Or maybe Daniel Dunne had taken a long look at his life and decided his wife and child were nothing but a ball and chain, a reminder of everything he'd given up, and resolved to take advantage of the uncertainties of warfare to remove himself from their lives, or perhaps more accurately them from his. Growing up in the midst of servant gossip JD had heard stories enough of deserting husbands and fathers, some of whom had flitted for far less apparent cause. He'd never consciously connected the possibility with his father before, but then he'd never heard anyone speaking firsthand of the frequency of soldiers leaving their service; with a boy's natural militarism he'd just always assumed that men who went into the Army were patriots and stayed until they died or were discharged. The rest of that day was a blur; he never clearly remembered the ride he made or even whether he and his horse finished well. When he finally got home his mother took one look at him and demanded to know if he was sick.

"I couldn't tell her what I'd heard. How could I tell her, after everything she'd said about him, everything she believed of him? Her memory of her time with him and the hopes she had for me were all she had left in life. So I kept quiet and let her fuss about me for a day or two. But I didn't ride races any more. I just told Sam I thought I was gettin' too heavy for the job, and he accepted that and I stayed on at the mansion stables, helping him out like before.

"Then Mamma died, and I came out here. I don't know why I never thought I might meet my father someday--where would be a more natural way for a deserter to go but west? But when I saw that picture in the watch, somethin' just all of a sudden seemed to blow up inside of me--all the struggles we had, all the way we were treated, the way Mamma died--and I couldn't, I--" He had to stop, overcome, almost choked, by the old resentments that filled him.

In the quiet Buck and Chris, the two who were Union veterans, met each other's eyes, knowing too well just how frighteningly possible it all was. Apart from certain immigrant groups, especially the Scandinavians, and some regional ones, particularly Massachusetts abolitionists and Midwesterners, the Union army as a whole was but little imbued with antislavery principles, and Chris had heard it said that it was doubtful that more than ten per cent of the total of men who fought in the Federal forces had any interest in that cause; the primary motivation was rather likely to be the Union and the system of government it represented (not that the Confederacy wasn't a democratic nation too), and if slavery entered into the question at all, it was generally as an institution which ought to be left alone where it existed but not permitted to extend itself into the new Western territories. He well remembered from his own experience the less-than-positive feelings with which many of the boys in blue had greeted the news of the Proclamation. Blacks, they felt, were responsible for the war: they were the slaves whose presence had helped disrupt American institutions--for slavery, as all understood, was the one contributing issue which was simply too emotionally loaded to be negotiated over. Many soldiers, too, had been deeply prejudiced against Negroes even before they entered the service. Now that the war had become a war for emancipation, they felt that they were risking their lives for undeserving blacks. Even among the officers, when Chris's Colonel tried to generate support of resolutions in favor of the measure, a quarter of them voted against it and as many again refused to vote at all.

Still, there was no real proof, and neither of them liked to see the youngest of their group so confused and angry. "There's a lot of reasons a man might never be heard from, JD," Chris said slowly, wondering whether he ought to go into specifics; he didn't doubt that JD's mother had been familiar with Mathew Brady's candid photographs--everyone had--but there were many things he hadn't immortalized, if only because he knew that women and children were sure to see them. For all his experiences with the Seven, JD, and still less his mother, had never seen what a battlefield was like after a full-scale engagement, with artillery and cavalry charges and all. It wasn't uncommon for both sides to lose thirty to fifty per cent of their forces in a single battle; some smaller outfits--companies--had as many eighty per cent casualties, and a few even more. And while some died cleanly, heart or temple pierced by a Minie ball, others were shockingly torn apart by grape and canister. No man carried any sort of official identification, only personal papers such as letters; if an enemy looter turned a dead man's knapsack inside out or stripped the clothes off the body--as happened all too often--these might soon be scattered to the winds or rained on to illegibility, for Heaven knew rain was a frequent enough occurrence in that war. In that case the only identification of the deceased was likely to be the testimony of friends from his unit, and if enough of them were killed, or if his side were routed or ordered onward before the burial parties finished their task, even that wouldn't happen.

Nor was action the only cause of death--far from it. Two to four times as many soldiers died of disease, with typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea, malaria, smallpox (though the Union vaccinated its enlistees against that), measles, and pneumonia the great killers, and influenza and poor food almost as bad. No doubt the hospital staffs tried hard to maintain good records, but in times of stress, when there was epidemic racing through the wards, or when in a field hospital the wounded were coming in in rivers, it might be possible for a dead man to simply be hauled out by the orderlies and thrown into a common grave without thought to whether anyone had noted down his name. Apart from this, troops were constantly being reshuffled, with whole regiments being transferred from one command to another. First Sergeants, who did their companies' record-keeping, labored manfully to keep things straight, but sometimes records were lost to fire, to enemy looters, or to sinkage on steamboats or accidents or enemy attacks on trains heading East. And then there were those who were captured in action. By the fall of '63 disagreements had arisen over the prevailing prisoner-exchange system, chiefly as regarded former slaves serving in the Union forces, and it had broken down except for officers, who were, of course, always white. It was hardly inconceivable that, in some of the worst-run or worst-crowded camps, a man might die, and be buried by his comrades in self-defense, without ever word of it getting to the camp authorities, who were probably simply relieved to have one less mouth to feed. Or he might escape, get clear, and then, miles and days away, succumb to accident, incipient sickness, or the efforts of some Secesh family to defend its chicken house or cornfield, and so no news of his fate ever come to his family.

"Chris's right, kid," Buck added, saving his oldest friend from trying to find a way to suggest any of these things diplomatically. "Even some of the hospitals it got pretty frantic. I was in one; I know."

"But the watch, Buck," JD insisted, his face down in his hands now. "The watch, and that picture in it. Why would anyone carry that picture if it wasn't his?"

"Why would anyone carry a picture of a family he'd run out on, John Dunne?" Josiah asked gently. "If that family was such a burden to him, such a hated reminder of all he'd lost, why would he want to look at it every day?"

"No--I don't know. But it's there, Josiah, it's there and I can't ignore it." JD lurched to his feet, almost knocking his chair over. "I gotta get outta here."

Buck put out a hand to stop him. "JD!" But the boy was already out the batwing doors.

The gunslinger scrambled up, but Josiah caught his arm in a gentle yet insistent grip as he started past. "Leave him be, Brother Buck."

"Leave him be!" Buck echoed. "How the hell you 'spect me to leave him be? The shape he's in right now he could do any damn fool thing!"

"He's hurting and confused. He needs to be alone for a while, to lick his wounds and get his thoughts straight," the big man insisted. "We know how much you care for the boy. He knows too. But this...this isn't something you can shield him from. This he has to work out for himself, with the Lord's help."

Buck gazed out over the doors with a longing look. "You think he can, Josiah? You think so for true?"

"Moses sought the silence and solitude of Midian afore God would speak to him," Josiah pointed out. "King David was a shepherd boy in the Judean hills. The prophet Elijah lived in a cave. Even Our Lord Jesus did His forty days and nights of fastin' in the wilderness, resistin' Satan's temptations, before He begun His ministry. Bein' alone where you can hear no voice but God's ain't a bad thing, Buck. We're all still close enough to the beasts of the field that we seek solitude when we're bad hurt. What the boy's doin' is natural and it may well help him. Give him a few hours at least before you go bargin' in on him. He'll come to you again, soon or late. How can he not? You're the brother he chose, and this--if he's right in his thinkin'--is a father he ain't ever known. Which of the two of you do you honestly think he'll choose?"

Buck sank back into his chair, the pain he was feeling for JD's sake too evident in his dark eyes and the cant of his brows. "I wish I could be as sure," he whispered, and tossed down the untouched second drink he'd poured out for JD. "And I wish I could be sure he wasn't gonna suffer from this. But I know he is."

+ + + + + + +

"Say, you--what's your name, anyhow?"

Nathan looked up from the new Wanted posters he had been studying. Not knowing why Buck and JD had left or when they were likely to come back, and seeing that JD had begun preparing a receipt for the prisoner's possessions, he had finished the job himself, listing everything on the desktop that didn't belong there and the saddle gear and handgun he didn't recognize, and taken it over to be signed, noticing that the prisoner used the same designation JD had, John Doe. Then he'd decided to improve his time by looking over the office mail. "Nathan Jackson," he replied warily.

"All right, Nathan Jackson--just who was that kid that was here?" the prisoner asked.

"Name's John Daniel Dunne, but he goes by JD. Why?"

The other ignored the question. "He said he was sheriff here. Now that can't be true, can it? A kid like that? He can't be past eighteen."

"He was nineteen in April," Nathan corrected, "and he's sheriff all right. Judge Orin Travis hisself pinned the badge on him."

The prisoner uttered a wry, thoughtful snort. He paced around his cell a couple of times while Nathan eyed him curiously, then stopped. "What town am I in?"

"Four Corners," said Nathan, wondering where all this was going. "Didn't you know?"

"Neither of those two that brought me in cared to say very much. Four Corners? Hell. I should've realized."

"What?" Nathan figured if he kept asking questions of his own he might eventually get some inkling of what had happened in here just before he'd come in.

"A kid, a big man, a long-haired fellow with a sawed-off Winchester. And a black man who doesn't carry a sidearm. You're some of the ones they call the Magnificent Seven, aren't you? The ones the dime novels are about. Chris Larabee's outfit."

Nathan sighed. "Name wasn't our notion, but that's us, sure enough."

"I'll be damned," the prisoner muttered in a tone half bemused, half delighted. "How about that, now. Just goes to show the unlikeliest things do sometimes happen."

Nathan had heard enough well-schooled people talk, around the plantation where he'd been reared, to know that this was another of them. He gave the prisoner a second, closer look, noting the grace of his movements, the neatness (dust and wrinkles aside) of his dress and grooming, the general look of breeding about his features. "Who exactly are you, Mister?"

The other met his eyes, his own bright with amusement. "Why don't you look inside my watch?" he suggested.

Nathan hesitated, knowing that it was ordinarily jail policy not to unseal a prisoner's belongings until he was released or otherwise out of their custody. But he felt that this might shed some light on whatever he'd walked into earlier, and Nathan had the human weakness of curiosity. He twirled the dial of the safe, pulled out the big yellow envelope in which he had put the smaller items, unsealed it, fished out the watch, opened the case and glanced inside. "This picture? That don't tell me anything."

"Not the picture. Underneath," the prisoner directed.

Nathan inserted the tip of the office letter opener under one edge of the photograph and lifted. As was often the case, there was a sentiment engraved on the underside of the lid, beautiful delicate script that filled the whole breadth of it. Nathan read it and felt a chill steal over him.

To Daniel Valerius Dunne
From His Father

On the Occasion of His Graduation
From St. Martin's Academy, New York City

June 7, 1851

Be Ever Mindful of Your Good Name
And of the Obligations It Entails

Daniel Valerius Dunne, the healer told himself. John Daniel Dunne. My dear Lord.


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