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THE REBEL YANK
By STEVEN OSTREGA
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Steven Ostrega
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE REBEL YANK
"The insidious nature of the Beast is to corrupt the soul and defile the innocent. He has succeeded at both."
July 1, 1863
In 1860, while the tendrils of the Beast were still far from the shores of the fledgling Nation, one of Her innocents was returning home. Paul Douglas, the son of a wealthy Chicago iron foundry baron, had just completed four years of study at an Eastern university and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry. He was exceedingly proud of his accomplishment. He had not only mastered the difficult subject matter, but he had also coped well with the added pressure of avoiding being a failure in his father's eyes.
Astride his three-year-old chestnut stallion, Spirit, he rode past the blackened wrought iron gate that guarded the entrance to the Douglas estate, an estate that was commanded by the iron will of Paul's father, James Douglas. Paul loved his father, though they shared little in common other than blood. James was an aggressive and ruthless man in every aspect of his life, especially where his business was concerned. He was driven by the want of wealth and power, a man with a vision that one day his company, Douglas Iron Works, would become a financial empire with himself as its emperor. To this end, James closely observed the simmering caldron of dissent between the states, disagreements that threatened to boil over into civil war. The personal gain he would compile with such an event overwhelmed him with greed.
The government contracts that would be awarded to him for the purpose of supplying the war machine with its requirements of cannon and shot could make him virtually overnight the wealthiest man in the state.
The truly tragic part, though, was that Paul's father had not always been this way. There was a time when he was a very different man, a warm and loving man, who possessed a childlike sense of humor that endeared him to everyone he met.
His transformation began when his wife, Amy, died giving their second child life. At that moment, two lives had ended; Amy was dead and James was completely deadened by grief. He withdrew from his family and friends and immersed his whole being into his business. Through the years, he carefully honed his adversarial business reputation to a razor's edge.
But when darkness fell upon the estate, a different James Douglas surfaced. A spiritually broken, vindictive man could be heard crying bitterly throughout the empty hallways of the great house. Intermittently, thunderous shouts would erupt from the study, as he cursed Fate for stealing his one true love from him like a brigand in the night.
As Paul rounded a small bend in the road, he thought about how different his life would have been had his mother lived. How different all of their lives would have been.
Lost in his thoughts, he barely took notice as the great Douglas mansion suddenly materialized beyond the tree line. A moment later, he found himself within a stone's throw of the front entrance.
Frank Smith trotted up to greet him as he arrived at the lower extremities of the stairway that led up to the mansion's entrance. Frank was the caretaker and stable-hand at the estate.
Paul grinned and said, "Hello, Frank. How are you?"
Returning his smile, Frank answered, "Master Paul, are you ever a sight for sore eyes. I'm very glad to see you back. This place needs a breath of fresh air from the likes of you."
Paul dismounted from Spirit and handed the reins to Frank. "Well, now that I'm back for good, maybe we can get my father to enjoy life more."
"Ah, if only we could, sir," Frank answered as he led Spirit toward the stable, where he would feed the horse and brush the burrs from his coat.
Paul stared up at the forbidding structure as he climbed the snakelike stone stairs that led to the massive entranceway. Grasping the highly polished brass doorknob, he pushed the intricately carved oak door inward. As he stepped into the house, the warmth and brightness of the mid-June afternoon was instantly replaced by the shadowy darkness of the house's foyer. He became engulfed in the silence as years of memories whirled around him, leaving him with a strong sense of vertigo.
Suddenly, the silence was shattered by a scream. Paul's attention was riveted to the top of the sweeping staircase. Silhouetted by the sunlight streaming through the stained glass window at the top of the stairs stood Maria, his baby sister. Even though Maria was sixteen years old, he could never quite accept the realization that she had gone and become a woman. In fact, James had become the butt of many good-natured jokes concerning her true paternity, because she was truly a vision to behold. Her long, silky, blond hair cascaded over her softly rounded shoulders and ended mid-thigh in a pool of gold. She had a creamy complexion that was nearly translucent, which formed a lovely frame for her infectious smile and crystal-blue eyes.
Maria had just completed her third year at the Montcliff Academy for Young Women. James thought it was for the best to send her to a boarding school, what with her mother dead and Paul away at school. He realized that he did not possess the time or the patience to deal with a spunky sixteen-year-old girl. James would let the nuns at Montcliff teach his daughter the social graces and manners that he did not have the time to teach her.
Maria's eyes were alight as she swooped down the staircase. The sudden rush of wind caused her ankle-length dress to billow up. From the fourth stair, she took flight and leaped into Paul's arms. She showered his face with kisses while he gently held her aloft.
As he lowered her to Earth, she said, "It's been so long since you've been home. Without you here this place has felt like a tomb. But now that you're home to start working with father, the house will come alive again."
Paul, somewhat bewildered, replied, "Who said anything about me working with father?"
Maria believed that Paul was trying to play a cruel joke on her. She answered in an amused tone, "That's been the plan all along, silly. You finish school and then you start to work with Daddy. You've now finished school, so on Monday morning you are going to start working at the mill."
Paul replied in an unusually serious tone that caught Maria off guard. "I'm not going to work at the mill on Monday or on any other day for that matter. I have dreams that do not include the mill or even this town."
Maria, near tears, listened quietly as Paul continued, "Do you have any idea what is going on in this country?"
"I know what's going on in this country," a deep voice bellowed from behind Paul.
Visibly startled, Paul turned to find his father standing in the open doorway. The timeliness of James's return home from work was such that he was able to witness Paul's brash proclamation.
James turned to his daughter. "Maria, leave us alone. I want to speak to Paul in private."
Maria screeched her rebuttal. "Daddy, please don't ruin the celebration."
James's reply was short and firm. "Maria! Go!"
With tears flowing, she rushed from the room. James and Paul stood alone in the gathering darkness of the hall. He gestured for Paul to go with him into his study, then closed the door behind them.
Speaking quietly and deliberately, James addressed his son. "Paul, what's this I heard? You're not coming to work with me?"
Paul responded in an unusually sharp, direct tone. "Dad, you sent me to college to broaden my horizonsto allow me to see just a little of what the world has to offer. There is so much more out there for me to see that I can no longer close my eyes and be satisfied to go and spend my days at the mill, only to come home at night and pretend that the money makes the world alright. That kind of life is fine for you, Dad, but it's not for me. I want more. I need to have a purpose to my lifesomething to stand up for, something to rally behind. The mill just isn't enough."
James's complexion reddened. "You ungrateful little lout! I sent you to college for the sole purpose that you would obtain a degree in the Metallurgical Sciences. Then you and I could take this company far beyond its present limitations. You needed to learn about the new advances in metalworking and the new alloys so that the two of us could set this industry on its ear. I didn't send you to school so that you could get this wanderlust and move on." Suddenly growing morose, he continued, "Son, I want you here at home with me. When you were born, your mother and I had hoped that the company would someday be known as Douglas & Son. Please, Paul. I love you. Work with me."
At that moment, a tear coursed down James's cheek. Paul stood stunned in front of his father. Since the time when Paul was a young child, his father had been hard and unyielding. Now Paul was faced with a man who was opening his heart, baring his soul, placing himself in an uncharacteristically vulnerable position. Paul unconsciously stepped forward and threw his arms around his father.
"Dad, I have waited a very long time for you to tell me that you love me. Why now, as I plan to leave, do you finally express your feelings to me?"
His father, pulling him even closer, pleaded desperately with him. "Son, please reconsider leaving. I've lost too many years mourning the loss of your mother. I do not want to lose any more mourning the loss of you, too."
Paul loosened the stranglehold he had on his father and broke the tension of this overwhelmingly emotional experience. "Dad, I'm going to go to the Lone Wolf Pub to see if any of the old gang is still around. I will promise you one thing, though. I will delay my departure until I have thoroughly evaluated your offer versus the plans that I intend for myself."
James nodded, realizing that any further attempt to convince his son to his way of thinking would, at the present time, jeopardize what small foothold he perceived he had achieved. He congratulated his son on graduating college. For the first time in their lives, he told Paul, "I am truly proud of you, son."
James bowed his head and walked out of the room. Paul stood dumbfounded, but a glowing grin soon coursed across his face. He left the room and strode toward the front door. There he saw a sweet angel blocking his way. Only her icy stare belied what her fragile form had concealed. Maria's eyes, welling up with what appeared to be the prelude to a flood of tears, flashed with fiery rage.
"I thought that we were going to be a family again!" she growled with a wounded hiss. "But instead you're running out there." Her trembling arm pointed to the horizon.
Paul responded with equal anger. "Is this the sort of behavior they teach at Montcliff? Do they teach young ladies to listen in on private conversations? I bet your little ear was pressed so hard to the door that you were able to listen in on the termites' conversations as they sat down at their dinner table!"
Paul doubted whether Maria had even heard much of the last comment. She had bolted from the room in a torrent of tears and ascended the staircase two at a time. But Paul had continued firing this last volley in the event that she was not quite out of earshot. He was never one to let an argument rest without that one final, decisive blow.
Muttering that this was not the way he had envisioned his homecoming, he assured himself that after a brief cooling off period things would return to normal. That is, whatever the state of normalcy was in the Douglas household.
He left the house in silence and walked down the front steps. His riding boots, in concert with his spurs, sent a musical clicking sound resonating up the great ivy-covered walls of the mansion. But instead of proceeding to the stable, he turned to his right and began to walk down a finely manicured flagstone path that led away from the house. It coursed down until it reached the edge of the woods that ran along the western side of the house, a distance of about two hundred yards. A footpath continued from there down to a peaceful grotto lying next to a purling stream that ran through the wooded part of estate. It was here that Amy Douglas had chosen for her final resting place.
The edge of the woods designated the border between James's world and Amy's. James's world was one of order, where everything had a purpose and needed to be kept in its proper place. The grass was evenly cut, the trees pruned to perfection. James's world had an artificial aura surrounding it.
Amy's world, on the other hand, was wild and free. She believed that everything that existed had a purpose, even if we didn't comprehend onefrom the deer that roam the forest, to the fallen tree, down to even the smallest seed blown free from its shackles atop the dandelion. Each one needed to be allowed to soar until the appointed time arrived when it, alone, must land to be reborn.
Though the day was bright and hot, the forest was steeped in shadows, and Paul noticed that the air here was much cooler and fresher than by the house. He continued down the path, where he saw three deer bound over a downed oak and melt silently into the thickening shadows. The forest was alive with activity. He had strolled another hundred yards when he heard the familiar sound of the stream lazily running its course over the rocks beneath it. It was here, some fifty yards from the grotto, that Paul had, only once, heard the voice.
A few months after Amy's death, when Paul was six years old, he had ventured alone down to the grotto to be with his mother and to talk with her. His father strictly forbade this, because after a hard rain the stream could become a raging torrent, capable of sweeping unsuspecting little boys off to be with their mothers in heaven forever. Besides, black bear were still occasionally found roaming on the estate. Being eaten by a bear was no way for a little boy to go see his mother, either. But Paul was desperate to be close to her, and with James at the mill, no one was around to take him down to the grotto. So he would go by himself.
As he approached the grotto that day so long ago, he heard a soft, angelic voice call out his name.
He responded with a good-natured, "Who's there?"
After waiting silently for several minutes and not hearing a reply, young Paul ran down the path to the grotto. When he arrived at the clearing, he spread apart the branches that sheltered the entrance. There he saw his mother sitting on the sarcophagus. She was dressed in dazzling white. Her face, soft and pale, seemed to have its own internal glow. Her smile lit up as he sat down beside her on the intricately designed marble vault, which was carved with Amy's favorite scenes from the Bible.
She told him, "I will always love you, and even though I can't be there to hold you and kiss you goodnight, I'll always be with you. If you ever need me, all you have to do is think of me and I'll be there."
He was smiling up at her, just happy to be with his mama again, when he heard his father's heavy footfalls coming down the path. Suddenly, the branches covering the entrance were sheared away as his father tore through them, his face red with rage. He strode across the clearing, grabbed Paul by the upper arm, and dragged him back up the path to the houseall the while screaming at Paul for disobeying him and coming down to the grotto alone. Paul was exasperated. Surely his father had seen his mother talking to him, but he acted as if he was alone. He was going to question his fatherafter all, he must have seen herbut he chose not to. Even at the young age of six, he had learned that there are times when it is best not to say anything and just take your punishment, whatever it may be. As they reached the house, however, at which time Paul figured his butt would soon be the color of his father's face, he saw an amazing and completely unexpected sight. Instead of rage, Paul saw compassion and understanding in his father's eyes.
James said, "I am not going to punish you for what you did. I understand that you miss your mother terribly, and that's a pain that time and not a father can heal. But I want to make it very clear, you are not to go to the grotto alone again. The next time, the punishment will be severe."
The small boy, still crying, hugged his father and gasped, "I love you, Dad, and I promise that from now on I will listen to you in every way."
The memory of that episode flowed past Paul as he walked down the path to the grotto. As he came upon the bushes that hid the sarcophagus, he stood quietly for a moment. A warm, stinging tear caressed his cheek. It fell from his chin and plummeted silently onto the soft ferns that covered the forest floor. Paul pushed the branches aside and stepped into the clearing. There he saw his mother sitting on the marble lid, just as he had seen her those many years before. A small cry escaped his constricting throat as a rapidly forming lump threatened to block his breath. But unlike before, he knew that this vision was merely the exquisitely carved marble statue that James Douglas had commissioned the famous Italian artisan Antonio to create.
Excerpted from THE REBEL YANK by STEVEN OSTREGA Copyright © 2013 by Steven Ostrega. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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