The sun blazed down upon Cave Hill Cemetery, bathing the graves of the fallen with tribute for their ultimate sacrifice. Harlan stood among an impatient crowd. He knew some of the men here, who had departed their sweet Kentucky homes, their beloved creeks and brooks, for the sake of the indivisible Union, and from time to time he would visit their graves. Standing before the marble headstones, he would pray with great devotion, then increasing disquiet as the voices of the dead would reproach him for leaving service before the war had ended.
Every year a soldier for the Union had spoken, but today was different — not only had a soldier arrived to give his sacred communion with his fallen brothers, but the soldier was a hero of Shiloh, a son of Kentucky, and now a son of Reform and the man of the hour. Great huzzahs and applause — inappropriate for a cemetery, thought Harlan — marked Bristow’s passage through the crowd, which parted before him as did the Red Sea before Moses.
Harlan strode forward to meet his old friend.
“Pardon me, sir — who are you?” A burly fellow with a club thrust himself into Harlan’s path.
“It’s good old Harlan!” Bristow called from behind.
Harlan raised his chin in an aggressive manner at the agent, who looked appraisingly at Bristow then back to Harlan.
“You watch yourself.”
Harlan shoved the man aside and shook Bristow’s hand.
“You come now with a retinue?”
“A necessity, I am afraid,” said Bristow. “Come here,” he gestured to a small tent set before a wooden platform, “we shall catch up while others warm up the crowd.”
Bristow and Harlan ducked into the tent. Several agents followed.
“You may speak freely before these men. I trust them completely.”
Harlan spat a rich shot of tobacco on the ground. He had some difficulty establishing the same degree of conversational intimacy with three rough-looking men hanging upon his every word.
“How are you?”
Bristow laughed. “Very well, indeed! It is rare in public life to be so entirely vindicated.”
Harlan hesitated a moment.
“Are you in fear of retaliation?”
“The possibility cannot be excluded,” said Bristow. “I am in this fight up to my eyes, against tremendous money and unscrupulous thieves. I have but few men about me whom I can trust implicitly. The President told me — ‘Let no guilty man escape if it can be avoided.’”
“If it can be avoided?” Harlan snorted. “What the D____ does that mean?”