Originally published in the 1930s, this book received rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review, and was a main selection of the Literary Guild. It is the account of the Battle of Gettysburg, as viewed by a pacifist who comes to accept the nasty necessity of combat, and becomes involved in an intense and skewed romance along the way.
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MacKinley Kantor was born in Webster City, Iowa, on February 4, 1904. In 1934, he published Long Remember, which received numerous rave reviews and became his first bestseller. Ten years later, Kantor was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Andersonville. He was one of the most well-known American writers during the 1950s and still remains one of the most respected Civil War authors to date. He died on October 11, 1977.
At Hanover Junction it was necessary for him to change trains. For a while he sat alone on the edge of a baggage truck, his luggage on the platform at his feet. He smoked and looked up at the sky. There was a moon somewhat past the full, but brown and serrated under the mackerel scales of thin clouds. At the far end of the platform a squad of loafers stood talking. Bale had avoided them purposely. The station itself was deserted except for a night agent who sat in his little den, clicking mysterious jabbers to a mute length of wire.
Presently the agent came out of the station and moved across the hollow wooden platform, a bloody lantern in his hand. A clicking and a thud of metal marked his pause at the switch-post. He came back, carrying the vivid green lantern which he had replaced with the red.
He spoke to Daniel Bale. "Looks like we might catch a little rain, maybe."
"Shouldn't wonder," said Dan.
The agent stood there, weaving the hissing green lantern back and forth. His shape seemed strangely lop-sided in the darkness. Bale bent his head slightly to bring the man's body into full silhouette against the soft, kerosene yellow of the station windows…The man had only one arm.
"About this time, first part of June," said the agent, "we generally get a deal of rain around here."
More abruptly than he had intended, Bale observed, "I see you're shy one wing."
The agent's warm young voice gurgled. He spoke as one who is expecting pity and veneration to be lavished upon him, and who feels that they are wholly his due. "But," he concluded, "my wife don't mind a bit. She says she'd rather have me wanting a chunk of meat than not have me at all. And anyways, when you figure how it happened, I guess I'm not sorry. When I signed the roll I figured I might get killed, maybe. I tell you, friend, there's a good many better men than I be, lying down there by that crick this minute. Bet your boots."
Bale watched a crumb of tobacco fall from his pipe and slide into the forest of his beard; it bounded from wiry hair to wiry hair, making its own tiny illumination as it went. He thought, Now it's coming, he's bound to ask, and I wish--
"You done a turn with the colors?" blurted the agent.
The green lantern jerked at the abruptness of the reply. When the agent spoke again, he was halting and apologetic. "Well, I always say that a man's first duty is to his family. Course I wasn't married till I come back…You're married, friend, I take it?"
"No," Bale told him. He tapped the bowl of his pipe against the edge of the truck, and a host of red flakes sprayed into the darkness. "I don't hold with some of your notions. I am not in favor of this war, or any war. I'm sorry you've lost an arm, and sorry for most of those who are dead. But I don't intend to go to war, if that's what you wish to know."
He became aware that the rails were checking and crunching under the squeeze of distant wheels. A whistle squawled half-heartedly beyond the black belt of trees.
The agent cleared his throat and spat over his shoulder. "Well," he said, "some holds one way, some another. I don't mind saying there's plenty of Copperheads right in this county."
"I'm no Copperhead."
"No, no. I never said you was. Say, you don't need to be in no hurry to pick up your valise, friend. The train won't go for twenty minutes--the one heading west. This here one goes north."
He went into the station, carrying the green-glass lantern with him. A plume of smoke wavered off from the open doorway. Bale could hear the man whistling, Now, Moses, what makes you so strange and forgetful…Steel was banging and frying and torturing itself, not far up the track. The engine rounded a curve and spread its buxom shaft of light down the cindered roadway. It came on like a hissing, malodorous animal, tiny freckles of orange showing through cracks and bolt-holes in a hundred places. The two coaches behind it were rickety, and illuminated by futile, brownish lamps.
Dan jumped down from the truck and pushed his extension-case into the shadows where it seemed reasonably safe and out of the way. He walked away from the train as it gasped terrifically up to the station. There would be more people, and he had seen all the people he wanted to see for a long time. Not many years before, he had suffered recurrent nostalgia for the settled complacency, the solid and ever-present population of even a rural community in the East. That was all past. One could not travel for six days, pushing ever farther into a scrambling and more tightly-peopled country, without seeing all faults, existent and nonexistent in mere men and women.
In his brief conversation with the one-armed agent, he realized that he had been wholly absurd. Six days before, he would not have mentioned that empty sleeve to the man who owned it.
On this train, waiting to transfer to the west-bound coaches, undoubtedly there would be some old friends and neighbors, or at least old neighbors whom he had once regarded as friends. They would talk about the war. Where he had been, the war sank into a civilized phenomenon below the southeastern horizon, a capitalistic trap which waited to seize the unwary. Even so, many men had gone to it voluntarily…
The light of the railway engine, stationary now, hunted past him; he could see it picking out the trampled weeds which grew close beside the roadbed and turning them into artificial, green paper weeds. A rising ripple of human sounds drifted up through the whuff, whuff of tired steam; people were climbing down from the cars and all talking about it…Bale turned aside into the tide of gray darkness. He stumbled across a rusty side-track, down into a dry ditch, and walked squarely against the bones of a rail fence. Beyond that, at the top of a slope, tiny nine-paned windows shone in an invisible house. This spot called Hanover Junction had never amounted to much and never would…He put his boot on the bottom rail of the barrier, and swung up and over, dangling his legs on the inner side. The edge of the rail was sharp and uncomfortable, but he sat there nevertheless with his back to the station, staring up at that skulking moon.
Something in his pocket was hard and bulky. He dug it out: a small apple. He had bought it from a boy at the train window, early in the afternoon. He took the dead pipe out of his mouth and bit into the apple. His teeth told him that the skin was soft and loose and wrinkled, an apple which had survived in some cellar since the previous autumn. The pulp of it was winy, aged, sour-sweet. He rolled the damp morsels over and under his tongue. Close at hand, the tingling June silence encompassed him; he was in a world apart from the stew of the little railroad junction, and in this world there was no sound but the rack of his own jaws, chewing and chewing.
Another engine was moving closer; it had a cracked bell which swung intermittently, a dull and splintery tolling. The brakes began to tighten and fight with the heavy wheels. Mustn't stay there too long. There would be no other westbound train until the next day.
He thought about his grandfather. Quite possibly the old man was dead, by this time. The letter had been delayed, for Bale was on a trip to the timber with Lucas Mite, hunting for green oak posts, when that letter reached Minnesota. He had come as soon as he could, but perhaps that was not soon enough. There was no reason why he should touch his grandfather's live flesh again. Already they understood each other thoroughly, with an honesty which needed little affection to bolster it. Cancer, the letter had said, but of course he had suspected that all along. It was a dreadful death; he hoped at this moment that all was done with Pentland Bale.
Closing his eyes to the dried-up, metal moon, he could see only the house and the town which he had left seven years before. He was twenty-five years old; he had been in a far place, and was now drawn back to Pennsylvania by this imminent death. It was not at all as he had imagined his return. He had made no fortune, not even a figurative one. He had a few hundred pages of manuscript, blotted and interlined and crossed out. Probably he would never be able to form those notions according to the pattern in his brain. He had firm, stone-knuckled hands and a brown beard; there had been much hunting and much chopping with an axe, and his shoulders were knotted and spread from the weight of the sacked wheat which they had tossed about. Physically he was a different person. There was no measuring stick by which he could check the growth or shrinkage of the creature who lived inside.
A man's voice swam up out of the roiling clatter beyond him. Boooord. Dan threw away the apple core, and pressed his feet back over the rail. He ran up the embankment and stumbled across the side-track. Out in front of the station, the one-armed agent was gazing up and down, looking for him. As he ran, Bale could feel a water of pity for this person, pumping in his throat. He thudded up the platform steps and snatched his grip from its hiding place.
"Thought you was lost," the agent cried.
He said, "Thanks. Is this the one?"
"Hurry up. She's moving--"
He caught a gritty iron bar and drew himself up on the stairway of the squeaking car. Burning flakes of soot tore past him; he could feel them settling on his cheeks and kissing his hair. Then he stood at the door of the coach, breathing rapidly, and blinking into the face of the tin lamps.
Perhaps they were the neighbors of his childhood, perhaps they were more than that. At this moment they were only heads above the slatted wooden seats; they were bonnets and beards and children asleep. Carpet-bags, haversacks, cloth-wrapped bundles stood along the aisle. Bale picked his way carefully past them. A baby, fat pink lump wound up in an old plaid shawl, was saying earnestly H'la, h'la, h'la, and its mother fumbled with the front of her dress while the father held up a newspaper to shield her. People filled this coach--too many people. The war had unsettled the world; it b...
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