The Tree Line…

26 Feb

A GSP release from Author of the Week Andrew J. Olinde, Jr

The Tree Line is a about a melancholy Confederate captain who is struggling with the perilous combination of war and alcohol addiction. The cruelty of the American Civil War not only affects the captain, but it also affects the emotional state of his deteriorating wife who resides in Union-occupied New Orleans. In desperation, the wife asks her husband to make a promise. 


The invisible hand of anxiety was squeezing the very life out of Captain Leon. He turned away from his ragged men and strolled behind the long row of white tents. Once he had walked deep within the safety of the large cluster of honey locust trees and was certain he was out of sight of Second Company, the captain, with trembling hands, loosened his stiff red collar and tried to get some oxygen into his deflated lungs. He paced between an auburn shrub to the height of the navy sash tied around his waist and the decorative web of a garden spider spun between two small trees. As he paced, the captain’s legs weakened. Finding a nearby tree stump, Leon sat down and ran his thin fingers through his long locks of blonde hair. He tried to stroke away the suffocating feeling that was making beads of sweat stream down his broad forehead and drip into his deep blue eyes.
    He wished he had someone with whom he could share his troubles. His inability to show or share these unnerving experiences with his fellow men of the 6th Louisiana made Captain Leon’s current state unbearable.
    As he sat upon the tree stump drawing in shallow breaths of warm air, Leon began to think about his wife, Elizabeth. He longed to return home to be in her soft comforting arms. As he thought of her, Leon realized his only escape from his current surroundings were his thoughts, and he allowed his thoughts to carry him away from this hot summer’s day. Away to the delicious Sunday mornings he and Elizabeth spent together on Saint Charles Avenue.
    The sunlight crept through the white drapes and ran up Leon’s smooth face until it hit his eyes. He softly kissed his wife’s cheek, and rose from his white feather bed to begin his morning routine of eating breakfast and reading his favorite newspaper, The Picayune. Elizabeth always slept until the sunlight interrupted her rest, and then joined Leon on the front veranda encircling their large Victorian home. After breakfast, they dressed in their best attire and boarded their white carriage. Weekly, Elizabeth and Leon attended mass at Saint Louis Cathedral and took long walks through the family’s sugar plantation on the banks of the Mississippi River. They picnicked under the large oak tree where Leon proposed to Elizabeth, drinking French wine and listening to the church bells ring.
    Leon ran his tongue over the faint taste of red wine on his cracked lips. His thoughts created the sounds of church bells ringing in his sun burnt ears until the sound of crumbling leaves interrupted them. Turning, he expected to see Lieutenant Spiller’s red flannel shirt and pale complexion. Relief flooded the captain, the perpetrator’s footsteps were only the stick-like legs of a black crow searching for his morning meal.
    Leon hopelessly muttered to himself, “If only I were that crow I would leave this damned place and fly home.” As if on cue, the crow gave Leon a penetrating and knowing look, and flew away.
As he watched the crow fly through an opening of a locust tree the captain realized he knew all too well what the consequences were for “flying away” from the Army of Northern Virginia. Last week, two soldiers of Captain Leon’s Second Company were caught in the act of desertion and Colonel Robb decided to make an example of them. The two men had managed a small restaurant in the French Quarter Elizabeth and Leon frequented before the war. The younger man, Jack Boland, was married to the older man’s daughter, Lucille. Lucille loved both her husband and father very much, and she would write them ten letters a week. However, her latest letters depressed the husband and the father. She had written that Yankee officers had been making sexual advances toward her in the restaurant, and she feared their future advances might become forceful. In response to the letters, the two men resolved to desert the army and protect their wife and daughter.
    Leon was shaken when he had heard the news that skirmishers had captured the two men. The colonel ordered the entire 6th Louisiana to be present at the hanging. Unfortunately for Leon, Second Company was in the front row just a few feet away from the scaffold. The two condemned men were brought out. Jack Boland, unlike the father, had no intention on dying with dignity. The young husband kicked, jerked, twisted, pulled, pushed, screamed and cried all the way from the confinement room to the gallows. The two guards forced the young husband up the short flight of wooden steps and steadied him on the platform. Once the noose was drawn tight around both of their necks, Jack realized any further resistance would be futile.
    “Last words?” The executioner first asked the older man. The father refused to speak and the black sack was placed over his gray head.
    Though tears flowed from his eyes and disappeared in his thick red beard, Jack was calm. “Last words?” The executioner repeated without looking into the young husband’s reddened eyes.
    Jack nodded, cleared his throat, and stepped forward on the gallows, making the noose tighten around his neck. He took one step back and addressed the 6th. “I did not flee from this army. My wife is in desperate need of me.” The young husband dropped his head for a moment and then lifted it again. “Will someone please pay a visit to my wife if you ever return to New Orleans? Her name is Lucille Boland and our home is at Royal and Dumaine in the Quarter.” He nodded to the executioner, refused the black sack and began praying in unison with the priest who looked up at the gallows from the muddy field.
    “. . . Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” The executioner pulled the lever and the door on the gallows’ floor opened. The fall from the scaffold broke the father’s neck immediately, but the young husband’s neck did not break. Captain Leon watched as Jack’s face became bright red as he continued to kick his feet for a while and then finally stopped.   




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