News Telegram

“Its over!” Sean burst into the sun room of the plantation, the whole of which had been converted into a hospital.  Edmond and a half a dozen other convalescents looked up from their breakfasts to tee the young officer waving a telegram over his head.

Edmond rose and poured Sean a cup of coffee so he could join in the round of toasts.  The telegram rapidly went from hand to hand, its simple message read and reread.

“How did it happen?  What were the terms?  When can we leave?”  Edmond asked as they sat at a small table.

“You know Captain, information I learn in the union telegraph office is secret.”

Edmond raised his eyebrows.

“Top secret.”  Sean smiled.

“How did it happen?” Edmond asked as he pushed sugar and cream toward the Lieutenant’s cup.  “What were the terms?” Edmond pushed pushed a plate of toast and jam to Sean’s side of the table.  “And…” Edmond pushed a plate of bacon across the linen tablecloth.  “When can we go home?”

“Well, sir, the answers are supposed to be secret, but I’m certain the former owner of this plantation was also supposed to give his hogs over to feed the army.”

Sean explained between mouthfuls that a month or more worth of news had come in when the telegraph lines were repaired.  The war had ended when Lee’s army had tried to flee Richmond, and Grant had chased him to Appomattox.  Lincoln had come out with a number of executive orders planning the reconstruction of the south, and congress had agreed to fund them.  Sean had been picking up speed, both in his telling and his eating, so by the time he got to the bacon:

“Troops’re in Virginia and th’ Carolinas, restoring order for construction crews and I heard that they-”

“Slow down Sean!  You’re not on a deadline.”  Edmond laughed as he carefully poured some milk with his new left hand.

“Actually sir, I am.  I’ve been given my discharge papers, the old staff at the telegraph office are expected to be replaced next week.  I thought that you and I might try to catch a train… and the last one out leaves at five.”  Sean looked slightly sheepish as he finished the rushed speech.

“I’ll gather my things.  Where is the train headed, Richmond? ”

“Most of the lines are cut, sir.  We can only get to Savannah or Charleston.”

“Neither of those is exactly a northern direction” Edmond laughed.  “But perhaps we can catch a ship from there.”

The two gathered their things and packed them into a stagecoach.  It was eleven by the time they left, and a long journey into the city proper.  If they could not catch the train, then they would have to find lodgings in the city.  The ticket counter was quiet, a lone teller was talking quietly to a couple of men at the edge of the counter.

“Good evening.  I would like to purchase two tickets to Charleston.”

“For the five o’ Clock?”  The teller asked, looking Edmond up and down.

“Indeed.  How much will tickets be?”

“Ten thousand dollars.”  His tone was flat and level.  It might have been a joke, he might have been about to smile and say that the train was not coming, or that the price was actually four dollars and fifty cents.  He might have, were it not for the sneer and the loaded revolver under the counter that was just touching his fingers.

Sean sucked in his breath to yell, but Edmond saw movement out of the corner of his eye and spoke first.

“Why do you give this offense sir?”  Edmond tried to sound calm.

“There are two ways for a Yankee to leave Atlanta.  One is ten thousand dollars, the other is painful and free.”

“What do you mean by that?”  His officer’s sword was in his pack, his revolver had been destroyed in the blast that took his arm and leg.  That left him barehanded against at least three.  Sean was a large man, and ready to fight, but Edmond could see the long shadows of the two men behind them.

“Walking , certainly Captain.”  The man grinned, showing his teeth.

Edmond heard the sound of an approaching train.