Gettysburg, PennsylvaniaNovember 19, 1863
"FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN YEARS ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
The breeze picked up, just as President Lincoln began to speak.
Finn Dunne heard a soft crackle from the dead and dying leaves that clung to or fell from the trees in the surrounding forests and hills. It was almost as if the earth itself mourned the tragic loss of life here.
Still mounted atop his large thoroughbred, Finn surveyed the crowd. He had ridden near the president during the procession from the Wills House to Baltimore Street, along the Taneytown Road, and into the Soldiers' National Cemetery. Looking at the president, Finn reassured himself that others equally tasked with the duty of guarding him were likewise vigilant. Vigilant even through the last speaker, Edward Everett-ex-senator, professor and highly acclaimed orator...and certainly a long-winded fellow-had gone on for two hours before giving way to the president.
There were children in the crowd growing very restless, prompting their mothers to take them toward the graves where their antics would be less audible. Other mothers who had lost sons stood near the speakers, dabbing at their tearstained eyes. And since life went on despite the dead, soldiers and civilians stood a little closer to the prettier women, trying to use the occasion, with all of its solemnity, to flirt.
Soldiers, and other Pinkerton men, stood around, the soldiers obvious-some in dress uniforms and some in their well-worn fighting attire-and the Pinkerton men in various combinations of clothing, from dress shirts to frock coats to railway jackets. It was November, and the day had a nip to it: "a cold like the dead," someone had whispered earlier.
The victory at Gettysburg and recent successes along the Mississippi and on the western front had been encouraging. But Abraham Lincoln's reelection remained in doubt. Even now, there were those sick of the war, those who believed they should just let the Confederacy go their own way, and good riddance, too.
But that had not happened, and so Finn was on the lookout for Southern sympathizers, fanatics who might just want the tall, grave man who carried the world on his shoulders out.
The president had arrived by train yesterday, and a young local man, Sergeant H. Paxton Bigham, had been assigned to guard the chief executive. Finn had met Bigham, and liked him, and his brother, Rush, as well. Neither had slept during the night. Their loyalty couldn't be questioned. Finn wanted to believe that he could rest easily; Gettysburg was firmly entrenched in the hands of the North. But he never rested, for there was always the possibility that a Confederate spy or sympathizer might just take a shot at Lincoln.
Never before had Finn met a man that he was so completely willing to die for. For Lincoln, he would give his all.
Not that he'd ever die easily.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
Finn scanned the natural surroundings-acres, hills, trees and beautiful little streams where rivulets sent sparkling water dancing over the rocks by day. There were also rocky tor areas, trails that twisted and turned through narrow paths. Places like Devil's Den...
Where bodies had lain upon bodies... So many men had become trapped in the rugged rock formations, and mown down. More than fifty thousand casualties here alone-Northern and Southern, dead, dying, wounded and captured. Rains brought the masses of hastily buried bodies back to the surface, the decaying corpses a mortal reminder that filled every breath, and which attracted swarms of flies and herds of wild pigs intent upon consuming everything. As the summer heat following the July battle added to the wretchedness of the place, Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania had to do something, and thus the cemetery had been planned. And the president's consecration of that land today.
Gettysburg would never be the same again. For some, it would be a shrine. For others, it would be remembered as the site of a massacre. Finn was fairly certain that no matter how it was seen by his contemporaries, history would prove that it was the pivotal ground upon which the rest of the war would hang. Here, the South had been forced to retreat. General Lee was said to have all but wept at the loss of life, and that his chance to take the war into the North had surely been lost. And with that, likely the war, as well.
A surge of anguish so strong it was almost physical swept through Finn. He knew General Robert E. Lee. He had been Lincoln's first choice as a commander for his own forces. Lee, so it was said, spent a tortured night pacing the hallway of his Arlington home, trying to decide by light of his conscience and his great belief in God what was the right path to take. The grandson of Lighthorse Harry Lee, a hero of the Revolution, Lee had finally decided that he was a Virginian first, no matter his individual thoughts and feelings on secession.
In the rear, near a gravestone but moving closer to the podium. There was a woman, her shoulders covered by a long cape, her arms and hands concealed by it. Carrying something...
Lincoln-never truly aware of his own personal danger-gave his complete attention and heart to his words. "We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."
Finn drew his coat more tightly about him as he whispered, "Stay, boy," to Piebald and dismounted. As he slipped through the crowd, most people barely noted him; they were silent, listening. Some, however, smiled as he passed, glad for a break from standing and staring. Many had now wandered off, Everett's speech having left them fatigued.
Finn looked over toward the podium.
He knew that the Bigham brothers and their company were on assignment, and, by the president's request, Finn's own guard kept a perimeter. There shouldn't really have been any trouble. Lincoln's appearance here had actually been a last-minute consideration-after all, tens of thousands of men had died in many locations, and he couldn't be present for every burial. But the battle at Gettysburg had demanded a price of American blood, Northern and Southern, like no other. Finn imagined that Lincoln's host, Attorney Wills, might have believed the president would turn down the invitation to speak. But Finn also imagined that Lincoln had actually been looking for just such an opportunity. A victory like Gettysburg was hard-won, and this was the place to convince the people that the war could be won, and must be won. And that it would end not in retribution against the rebels, but in a true peace for all Americans.
President Lincoln was always hard to guard. He considered himself a man of the people. And he couldn't be a man of the people if he didn't see the people, and if they didn't see him. This, of course, made gave his bodyguards more of a chore.
Finn had almost reached the woman. The president was still speaking, and it seemed that he had thoroughly gripped the attention of the people now. No one noticed as Finn politely slid closer and closer to the woman-who herself moved closer and closer to the president.
"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Lincoln's voice rang with sincerity, a tremulous quality to it.
And the woman was almost upon him.
"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced," Lincoln intoned somberly. "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The president of the United States stepped back from the podium. Some of the crowd applauded enthusiastically. Some stared ahead with such glazed eyes that Finn wondered if they'd really even heard the man.
But Finn's quarry, she was a young beauty, and she seemed to be watching the president with rapt, splendorous eyes. Huge, hazel eyes fringed with impossibly dark lashes. Her long wavy hair fell down her back in shades of reddish gold-
A murderous agent didn't have to be ugly on the outside to carry out a heinous deed! Finn reminded himself.
Just as he made it to her side, she reached beneath the encompassing warm cloak.
He'd expected a gun.
Or a knife.
His arms encircled her just as he saw what she carried....
A beautifully knitted scarf in the colors of the American flag.
Her eyes, gold and gleaming, turned on his. They seemed to burn with a strange fire, and yet, one he knew too well.
"Idiot!" she whispered at him.
She turned away, somehow escaping Finn's grasp and backing out of the crowd.
The scarf fell to the earth.
For a moment, Finn lost her, but whether or not she had been carrying nothing more lethal than wool, his instincts told him not to trust her. He moved quickly and saw her again, hurrying away, toward the woods.
The crowd was clearing, enough so that he could whistle for Piebald. His horse came to him, carefully moving through the dispersing crowd. He leaped atop the animal and urged it into a trot to clear the crowd, and then a lope to hurry in pursuit.
The beauty had already disappeared....
Finn rode into the woods and reined in, looking, listening. He heard the rustle of a tree, and quickly turned.
Yes, something moved, just ahead....
He urged his steed on and tore ahead. There...darting from one tree to the next!
When he was almost upon her, he jumped from his horse's back and tackled her back down to the earth. She lay beneath him, staring up at him with hatred and fury.
"What? What?" she demanded. "What do you want from me?"
"What ill intent did you intend President Lincoln? Who are your coconspirators? What is the plan? "he demanded.
"Coconspirators?" she said blankly.
But there was the hint of a soft Southern drawl in her speech....
She took him completely by surprise; that was his downfall. He knew his own power and strength, but he'd been so damned confident in it that he'd not bothered to ascertain hers.
"Ass!" she hissed.
And then she shoved him up off her and backward, much to his surprise.
She was on her feet in seconds. "For your information, I would do anything for that man! Anything at all!"
He leaped up, staring at her. "Then stand here and tell me who and what you are!"
She shook her head, and turned.
He lunged for her, and caught a lock of her hair. She cried out in fury and escaped his hold. And then...
She seemed to disappear into thin air.
He held nothing.... Nothing, save a lock of her hair.
He held on to the red-and-gold lock of that hair, intending to find her, come hell or high water.
He would hold on to it, until he found her again.
And find her he would.
But well over a year of war, bloodshed and death would follow before he did.