Thursday, June 2, 2011


After pledging, in my last post of October 2010, to do a better job of updating my blog, I have--obviously--failed to peform as advertised. The reasons are several, but the chief one is that I've been working very hard to complete the sequel to Nor the Battle to the Strong, my 2008 novel about the American Revolution in the South.

Its working title is The Sunshine of Better Fortune, a phrase taken from Major General Nathanael Greene's parting address to his army in the spring of 1783. When Green used those words, he was looking toward a bright future for the American nation he and his army had just helped to establish. But while he had won his war, he had also lost both his personal wealth and, to some extent, the good regard of his heretofore faithful soldiers. He was looking from a deep darkness into the light of hope.

The story of the last year and a half of the Revolutionary War in the South is both grim and inspiring; I won't spoil the novel by divulging details here, but suffice it to say, Greene and his men, and their women, were tested to their limits by severe trials both on the battlefield and off. Yet despite these difficulties, it was also a time when men and women could find love or recover a lost love; share the unique bond that unites those who fight for their lives and for a cause; and be satisfied that they had struggled successfully to attain a high and worthy purpose.

I've found that story so compelling that I've devoted all my energies to it for these past several months. The story is so large and so important that I've often doubted my ability to do it justice. But in spite of everything I've kept steadily at it, till I've reached the point when I can just catch a glimmer of its ending; thus I've told myself I'll complete it by summer's end or by early fall at the latest. Then of course I'll have to try to get it published--no mean achievement given the current economic environment.

Now, the other reason I've allowed my blog to languish for almost eight months is that I find myself a singularly uninteresting person; thus, it's difficult for me to write about myself. I'm mainly just an old guy sitting at a computer and doing little else but research. So rather than bore you with a recital of personal trivia, I thought I'd patch in below an excerpt from my manuscript of The Sunshine of Better Fortune:

Day broke, and at mid-morning one of Major Call’s dragoons came pounding into camp bearing word that Lady Greene’s conveyance had passed the vedette line at Goose Creek Bridge and was fast approaching.

That was the thunderbolt. It mattered not that she had been long expected, three interminable months upon the road, delayed first in Philadelphia and next at Mount Vernon, Petersburg, the Moravian Towns, Salisbury, and finally at the High Hills. Now she was here. It seemed a miracle, or a phantasm. Excitement stabbed him so sharply that he feared his heart might burst; he did momentarily lose his breath, and perhaps, he feared, the power of speech. But then he heard himself call for his horse with his old battlefield roar and a startled Peters scampered obediently off to fetch a saddled Cruger. With the same exuberance he summoned Pendleton and Morris; Caty knew them from his letters, would be pleased to see them in his company.

A sudden inspiration set him rummaging in his trunk; he sought and found the cockade given him by a friend when he left West Point to take up the Southern command; it was the only bright thing remaining to him—perhaps its bit of color would relieve, to a degree, the spectacle of dilapidation he knew he would present when Caty saw him. He fixed the silly thing to his hat, a whimsy of the sort common to him in easier times but now so rare as to seem peculiar. Pendleton and Morris stared disbelieving when they came, but Greene did not mind; on this one occasion he would permit himself a felicity. Five minutes more found them galloping toward Goose Creek, accompanied by a swiftly summoned sergeant’s guard of dragoons.

They had made about twelve miles when, at noon, the path straightened and ran on before them to the very verge of sight, diminishing to a thread; and upon that thread, just before it lost itself in the surrounding wilderness, Greene spied an atom of movement. “There!” he cried. “There she is!” He struck spurs to Cruger and the gelding sprang into a run.

Greene leaned forward into Cruger’s flying mane. The speck in the distance grew, took shape, became a coach and four; behind it, riders—dragoons by their dress—in a column of twos. Then details emerged: the body of the coach, once green but weathered now to a mud-dimmed olive; a sour-faced driver on his perch hauling at the reins, a footman on the rear dickey box turning round to peer at him; then, thank God! faces in the near-side windows, first Burnet’s squint at the quarter-light, then, in the door-light…Caty.

He flung a hand high in greeting; she gave back a timid, unsure gesture, a flutter of her fingers, withdrawn as quickly as given, and he realized with a plunge of despair that she did not know him. Sobered, he slowed to a trot as her escort—Third Dragoons by their white coats, probably from the Continental camp at the High Hills—advanced on him with drawn sabers, their lieutenant demanding to know his business.

His anger surged. “I’m General Greene,” he bellowed. The lieutenant paled, drew aside with a salute, mumbled an apology. Greene ignored him, spurred alongside the coach, bent eagerly to the door-light. And saw Caty. In a black tricorne trimmed with yellow, ruffled neckwear, a riding habit of purple velvet, a multitude of golden buttons, lace at her wrists. Beauty that stole the breath.

Her eyes just now were a luminous violet in the light of day but would be black as jet when passion came; he suddenly remembered that. But under the beauty she was pale, worn. Which was she—surpassingly lovely or jaded, reduced? She looked up at him oddly, inquiringly, as if trying to believe that he was actually her husband and she was actually herself, that they were the same two who had wooed and wed and made children together and once had known how to laugh and dance and make love and walk hand-in-hand under golden-red maples in the Rhode Island autumn. He knew he had changed in the two years of their separation but he had not expected her to change too. He had expected to see what he remembered—his vivacious child-bride, his wild girl from Block Island, lit from within by laughter and mischief. Now her fire was dimmer. A wound opened in him that he feared might never again close. They had lost so much. They had lost a part of each other’s lives, a prize beyond value that could never be recovered. War had consumed it. All they would have of each other now was the remnant that the war had left them. He reached down and they clasped hands and suddenly he burst into tears. But Caty did not weep. She smiled and spoke his name with the old tenderness. Her almond-shaped cat’s-eyes brightened. She said, “That’s a pretty cockade you’ve got in your hat.”
He choked on tears and then on laughter. “I fear,” he said, “it’s my only possession to escape the mold and rot—including my poor self.”

“We’re no longer what we were,” she admitted. “But then, look what we are.”

“What’s that?”

“Lovers,” she smiled. “Man and wife, come together after too long a time apart. And the very best of friends.”

He stepped down, unwilling to release her hand, Pendleton and Morris and the sergeant’s guard trotting up all unnoticed. He spoke vaguely to Burnet. The Major, who had somehow left the coach without his knowing, took Cruger’s reins. Next a strange lady came forth—fortyish, shapeless in a billowing pelisse, a calash on her head and features hidden by a traveling mask of stiffened silk—this must be Mrs. Kingston, hired by Caty in Philadelphia as a traveling companion, to keep malicious tongues from wagging; Pendleton helped the duenna into the dickey box. Then Caty’s strong hand drew him up. He was inside the coach. She was in his arms. Her fullness. Her warmth. Her smell. Her mouth upon his. And at last her tears too. He tasted their salt. “You were with me,” he told her. “Even when I tried to shut you out.”

“I know,” she answered. “And you were with me.”

No comments:

Post a Comment