At the top of the stairs he turned and noted dim light under the door of one of the back bedrooms. The hall straight ahead ran directly to a double door, liberally glassed, opening onto the balcony. A door ten feet ahead on the left stood open, its opposite number closed with no light showing. He took the lamp through the open door and placed it on a low storage box at the foot of the bed. A large lithograph of Jefferson Davis hung over the headboard, a company of leaden toy soldiers on a varnished shelf directly beneath the picture. All the soldiers permitted to stand were enameled in a bright gray. A few blue-coated foes lay fallen before them. Wondering whether to sleep in a room with the enemy president's picture dominating it occupied Cal's mind for the next few seconds. He settled the issue by carefully removing it from the wall and placing it face down on the coverlet which lay folded at the foot of the bed. Finding no other overt evidence of rebellion, Cal bent and patted the pallet laid beside the child's bed. Soft and inviting. He sat on the floor to remove his wet and muddy boots, and immediately decided that the late cups of coffee were beginning to have an effect. The boots would stay on for now.
Cal made his way as silently as possible down the stairs, through the kitchen and out the back of the house past the weary guard to the privy. Sounds around the house were diminishing as the troops settled down from an eventful day. When he again mounted to the top of the stairs, he noted the light in the rear bedroom had been extinguished. He had taken off his boots upon reentering the kitchen, so he was able to move about more silently than before. Placing the boots into the bedroom, he went to the double doors at the end of the hall and carefully opened the one on the right. Night air felt good, but he was chagrined to note some mist in the air. Red sky at night, a sailor's delight? All they needed was some more rain, he mused sarcastically. For some minutes he stood leaning against the rail, feeling the fine drops on his face, considering the possibilities. The platform was deep, leaving plenty of room for the enameled wooden chairs which stood about.
Cal backed slowly away from the rail until his calf bumped into a chair seat. He looked around to verify the location, then sat slowly. For a couple of minutes he remained motionless, leaning forward, his forearms resting on his thighs. No conscious thought riffled though his tired mind, no unbidden emotions lay claim to him. What will be in the morning will be, and I'll deal with it then. Sleep would come easily now, and he needed to move, to get inside on that soft and inviting pallet. But he sat still, watching the few troops remaining on the streets, those who had been posted as guards or those who had some last minute business (cards? dice?) to attend to. None of them looked toward him, hidden deeply in the shadows of the moonless April night.
'A penny for your thoughts, Colonel Moore.'
Cal sat bolt upright, nearly losing his balance as he spun around to regard his visitor. Suzanne Pender stood in the shadows, wearing the same dressing gown she had worn when he last saw her. Cal's eyes were well adjusted to the dark and her features were plainly visible. Unsmiling, she seemed unsure of her welcome. 'I apologize if I startled you,' she said softly. 'The balcony door stood open, and I couldn't sleep...'
'No, please sit. Please.' He stood as he indicated a chair on his right, close by the door. Suzanne Pender gained the chair and sat quietly.
Several moments passed before she spoke. 'I'm sorry my words wounded you. I didn't...'
Cal held up his hand. 'Please. The fault is mine. I'm afraid I ...well, Mrs. Pender, for some reason - I don't know why - you have the ability to affect me just by being in the room. I don't know why this is. But that's my fault, my problem, not yours. But you seem to feel that I don't regret Jim's...death. That's just not true.'
'I never said that. I only meant -'
'No need to explain. Perhaps I made too much of what you said. But hear this. I have a reason, however bad, to resent comments like that. My brother died when I let him ride a horse he shouldn't have been on. My parents never blamed me, but I knew I should have stopped him. I ran away from the guilt that time - I never moved home when I finished college. I lost my dearest friend and mentor at Chickamauga Creek. The bullet could have hit me as easily. But Helen McAlister's a widow and Mary Moore is not. I don't for the love of God understand why that is. My orderly there in Chattanooga died after protecting me from having surgeons cut my leg off. I was shot, he wasn't. But I didn't die, and he did. Another dead, again I felt as though it were my fault. Jim was bound for Tennessee, but I brought him here instead. Now he's dead. Again, it's my fault.
'Once I realized there was nothing I could do, I just put it aside to deal with later. I'm not heartless. And I know he'd become your friend. Friendships happen fast at times like these. It's only to be expected that you'd question why I seemed unaffected.'
'But at the burial,' Caroline interjected, 'I saw that you were hurt. I saw it in your eyes. And I wept for you as well as him.' She put her hand on his. 'I regret that you misunderstood my words. I admire - truly admire - the way you got us to safety, and the way you lead your men.'
For a long minute Cal and Suzanne looked at each other, dim lights from distant torches and camp fires of the outposts flickering on their faces. As if in defiance of his own wishes, Cal pulled her to him and kissed her gently. To his own surprise she did not resist in any fashion. Indeed, she softly met his lips with her own.
They kissed with increasing intensity as they sat, side by side in their chairs, for some few minutes. Cal released her and they looked at each other silently. He kissed her gently on her eyes and then her cheeks. Finally he spoke. 'What I'm thinking is wrong. Very wrong, and I shouldn't be thinking it.'
'And I am thinking just as wrongly, God help me. But I am chilled here. I can't believe I am about to say this, but may we go to your room?' He kissed her again, this time covering her right breast with his cupped hand, massaging it gently, feeling the soft fabric between his hand and her body. When he released her she said in a whisper, 'Let's go.'
Cal silently closed the balcony door as he saw her disappear into his room. When he entered the room she stood awkwardly in the middle, seemingly uncertain where to go or what to do. He walked slowly to her and kissed her again, pulling her solidly to him. 'Oh, Lord,' she whispered, 'what are we about to do?'
'Something,' Cal said softly, 'I think I've wished for since the moment I saw you.' He reached his hand inside her gown, cupping her breast, and kissed her again. As he slid his kiss onto her throat, he pulled her gently down onto the pallet. Outside, distant lightning softly and briefly lit the sky and muffled thunder went barely heeded in the bedroom of the little Rebel boy.