June 3, 1942
Major General Malcolm Little had spent half a year in training commands. Now he was wounded, and he was unable to train rigorously with his recruits. But he was still himself, and he still could rise early, and, if he could not run, he could walk.
New Orleans was still hot and damp at 0400.
He turned down Bourbon Street, going east. He had decided not to impose a curfew, and a few bars were still open. The crowds were subdued, but the few bars were still doing good business, and they would until they sent their patrons home with breakfast. The white men and women still inside drinking were quietly wealthy, comfortable or better. Almost all of them were fat. The few women wore too much makeup, aspiring to a beauty most had never known, even in their youth. They lived their loud and empty lives to the strained notes of tired black jazz musicians, unwilling to leave the euphoria of yet another night of the binge drinking leading them all to early graves.
Malcolm Little turned right down Bienville
Street. Half a block away from Bourbon
Street, a gray-haired man was retching behind the trash cans of the hotel. He looked to be of African heritage, the
grandson of slaves, probably sick on the booze collected from the gutter at the
back of the hotel bar mixed with patrons’ unfinished drinks. Those partying in the still-open clubs back
on Bourbon Street never saw this and didn’t care. The old man fell in his own vomit and moaned
in pain to God.
Malcolm Little did not stop.
Bienville Street was a famous byway of the French Quarter. Here the money of the Confederate States walked the cobblestones by day and laughed and danced in the evening. But as General Little passed Royal Street and Chartres Street in the gaslight dark of early morning, his shoes were the only sound on the street.
The whistle of a tug on the river, hauling a barge full of something, echoed across the empty French Quarter. Malcolm Little could not see the tugboat from Decatur Street. He knew that the easiest way to grab a glimpse would be to go one more block, where the view to the river was clear. Instead, he turned left. The tugboat whistled again, farther away. He would not get to see it. It was life. Opportunities, not taken, passed.
He passed Conti Street and the levees along the mighty Mississippi came into view. The wealth of New Orleans was derived from its location as the last port on the Mississippi River, the place where river trade became sea trade, with a tiny slice of the huge wealth becoming, over generations, the stuff of affluence beyond conception for those with whom he had grown to become an adult. It had been less clear near Chicago, but, now, with age, he saw the railroads as iron rivers. It had been less clear to him even as late as Boston, but, now, he realized how that magnificent port and the banks that it had spawned had become a magnet for gold.
He approached Saint Peter Street. He turned left, alongside the park to his right. The trees were especially fragrant in the pre-dawn mist. At Chartres Street, he turned right, realizing where he had been going all along.
Saint Louis Cathedral was dark. It was lit within in the evening, after sunset, with people around to gaze at the stained-glass beauty. Now it was shadowy and silent, unlit with none to behold it.
Malcolm Little walked up the stone staircase and approached the door. There was a tradition, from the Middle Ages, that the churches were always open. In the Twentieth Century, with realities of crime and conflict, that tradition was past. Nonetheless, he reached for the wrought iron handle.
The great door opened.
Just inside those doors the narthex held an array of altar candles. Several were burnt out, five were burning still, and most were unlit. There was a jar with coins and two paper bills of little value. Malcolm Little, still poor despite his nominal rank, tossed two coins into the jar. He took a fresh splint of wood, lit it from a burning candle, and used it to light a new one. He blew the splint out and put it aside. Then, taking the fresh-lit candle, he walked into the nave.
He was alone. It was dark. Although the church was open, it was not expected nor intended that anybody would enter. Clearly whatever criminals wandered the streets chose to respect the Catholic Church. His way lit by only a single candle, Malcolm Little walked inside.
The pews were simple but rich in flickering candlelight. The aisle was dark but distinct. Almost twenty centuries past, a man had given his life for mankind. Here the white men and women of New Orleans gathered to celebrate his works and his life.
Had the sun risen, Malcolm Little knew that he would have been shown back to the door almost as soon as he had entered.
He made his way to the apse and the altar. There he turned around, went to his knee, placed his candle upon the red-carpeted floor, and bowed his head to pray.
June 3, 1942
Channah Jewell walked into the inner office of the Naval War College unnoticed. It was not yet sunrise, but the glow of the sun’s rays over the horizon had already created a hint of a glow to the early morning Narragansett Bay fog outside the windows of the outer office.
Wayne Crandlemire sat in the big chair at the big desk. Channah watched him. He was reading message traffic. He was reading messages ten to twenty a minute, tossing most aside into a large, scattered pile on the floor behind the desk beside him. The big desk was covered with stacks and sub-stacks of messages that really mattered. He scanned and flipped and scanned and flipped and scanned and stacked and scanned and flipped as no other man on earth could have done.
Channah looked upon the man whom she loved. Other women would have been satisfied at knowing that they loved a man. Channah had to know why. And she did—in addition to his documented bravery and heroism in combat, in addition to the love and respect that he offered, he could do this. Wayne’s brain worked faster and better than hers. Channah could never respect a man less intelligent than herself. She had never, in her life, met a different young man whom she was sure was smarter than she was. Channah realized and appreciated that she was a very lucky young woman to have ever had the chance and circumstance to meet a man whom she could respect as her soulmate who could, and would, love her.
This was the man whom she wanted as the father of her children.
She slowly came closer, unnoticed.
He was so focused that he hadn’t noticed that she was beside him. She turned his head to hers and kissed him, open mouthed, passionately enough to shock his system and to give him a lifetime memory, as she had intended.
After a minute or so, Channah gave him a chance to recover. Wayne looked at the woman in his lap. “You look nice,” he said.
“Thank you for noticing.” Channah had worked more than ten minutes on her makeup before coming upstairs.
“We never get to date anymore.”
“We have right now.”
“I have to finish these messages.”
“No you don’t. You need me. The messages are half done and the rest will wait.”
“But I have to…”
Wayne either realized that Channah was making reasonable sense or he succumbed to another wave of hormones. He kissed her.
June 3, 1942
It had been twenty-five miles southwest down the Appalachian ridges to North River Road. Had it been just men marching, or especially just cars and trucks, it would have been an easy day’s march. Given that the column had more drawn carts than vehicles, it was reasonable that the survivors of Three Churches had reached it after sunset.
That had been their first contact with American infantry. Captain O’Brien had not been engaged. The Americans had fallen back to the west. The Scots-Irish refugees had turned east.
At Rio the column had turned south again, Captain O’Brien pushing the men to push the animals to keep moving. They had made another twenty miles through the night. Sunrise found the column at Mathias.
Reverend Welling came up running beside the driver’s side of the truck in the dawn light. “George, I need to talk to you,” he said.
“Talk. I’m driving,” said Captain O’Brien. August, who had been sleeping, picked up his head.
“There are Americans south of here. The way through the valley is blocked.”
Captain O’Brien, with that, offered the courtesy of slowing down. “Reverend, that’s not good,” he said. “Can we fight our way through if I go forward?”
“We might. But, George, there’s no guarantee it’s just a few men. I think that we need to head east.”
Captain O’Brien looked left, out his drivers’ side window. “Is there a road over that ridge? If there is, I don’t think that my truck can cross it.”
“One of my parishioners knows a road from here to Basye. From there you can get down the Shenandoah Valley. There are cutbacks. Your truck might make it. But I don’t want to gamble my flock in a fight trying to go down this valley. George, I think that we missed our chance for an easy retreat. But if we can get over the mountains, we’ll have a new chance and a new valley.”
Captain O’Brien looked past Reverend Welling to the rock face of the mountains. He had seen the Rocky Mountains. He had always heard in grade school that these mountains were worn down and gentle. He saw little difference between these mountain slopes and those he had seen in Utah.
“Reverend, these are your people. But I do not recommend crossing that ridge.”
“Can you, George, guarantee me that you can break through the Americans and get us out to the south?”
Captain O’Brien closed his eyes. “This is war. There are no guarantees.”
“Then I ask you to lead us over the mountains, George.”
Captain O’Brien bowed his head as he brought his truck to a gentle stop. “Reverend, I know that you have crossed over these mountain ridges. Have you ever taken a group of cars—or wagons—over these mountains?”
“Let us try to go down the valley. Maybe we can break through.”
“I don’t think that we can risk that.”
Captain O’Brien looked up at the mountains. “Reverend, I’ll get out and lead the way. I think that the valley is a better choice.”
“George, no,” said Reverend Welling. “These are my people, and God has commended them to my care. We turn east, over the mountains.”
“Are you sure?” asked Captain O’Brien.
“Yes,” answered Reverend Welling.
August jumped up on the seat and cried. Captain O’Brien said nothing.