“Are you, um, Mrs. Albert Simpson?” The pudgy young soldier on her doorstep looked down at Henrietta’s feet. He held his hat in front of him.
“Yes, that’s me,” she answered. Dread flooded her chest. She had been expecting this visit, but not this man. She had never seen him before but could have described him in her sleep.
He confirmed her fears.
“Well, ma’am, my name is Private Gabriel Straub. I represent the United States Army.”
Albert’s best friend was covered in sweat despite the cool April air, and his pale forehead gleamed like a moon in the morning sun. He looked exactly how Albert had described him, except a lot less jovial.
Understandable under the circumstances, and Henrietta felt a twinge of pity for him. But she wasn’t sorry for what had happened.
The only reason Albert joined up in the first place was that loudmouth older brother of his. Anton reveled in telling stories — tall tales, more like — about his adventures fighting in the war between the states.
What young man could resist the promise of such romance?
But Albert soon found life in the Army to be mostly hard and boring, at least until they sent his unit to help move the Indians off their own land. It was an atrocity, and Albert wanted out.
Desertion meant prison, though. Or worse.
So Albert did his best to stay out of the direct conflict, and he spent his time playing cards or checkers with Gabe, and writing letters to Henrietta.
And thinking about how he might break free.
When the chaos with the Sioux erupted at Powder River, he saw his opportunity. Reynolds left so many soldiers on the field, Albert knew it would be hard to sort everything out. Anyone missing would be assumed dead or kidnapped, which might have been just as good.
Gabe fumbled with a button on his blue coat and extracted a folded letter. He held it out to Henrietta, still looking at the ground. He didn’t even notice the man sitting at the kitchen table behind her.
She looked back at Albert, and he nodded. They had to chance it.
Henrietta cupped the soldier’s jawline in her hands and gently lifted his head. “Gabe,” she said softly.
The young man’s eyes widened in surprise at her boldness, then slid from her face to Albert’s as the dead man smiled and walked toward him.
Tears streamed down Gabe’s cheeks.