The boy sat in a pool of quiet light, high on a hill surrounded by small, white granite headstones. His back against the rough bark of an old-growth pine, he closed his eyes and listened to the wind rustling through the trees.
As the last rays of the sun spread out over the lawn, each stone glistening in the light, he remembered the names of the soldiers. He hummed a marching song, tapping out the drum rhythm on his leg.
A campfire was burning close by making his nose burned with the acrid smell of red cedar smoke. He heard Goodwood Duxford climbing the hill, dry leaves crunching under his feet.
“Jonny, it’s time,” Goody said, stopping just below the hill crest. “It will be sundown soon, and you need to be in bed by dark.”
“There are so many of them, Dux,” Jonny said, opening his tear-filled eyes.
Jonny pointed out over the white stones, laid out in military precision as far as he could see.
“See those square stones, the little ones nearly buried in the grass? The ones with only a number on them?”
Goody stayed silent but took a few steps forward.
“Those are the ones that no one could put a name to. They’re lost to their families, but I see them, Dux.”
Kneeling down, Goody put his hand on the young drummer’s shoulder. “I know you do Jon. I wish I could help them.”
Jonny ran a sleeve under his nose and sniffed loudly.
“I’ve seen ya try Dux, and I’ll always apprec’ate that.”
Goody Duxford, caretaker and ghost wrangler at Gramberly Cemetery, tracked Jonny Clement to the Civil War cemetery across the river from Pepperidge Township. Of all the Gramberly residents that go wandering, Goody never brought his toolkit to bring Jonny home.
“You did them proud, Jonny,” Goody said, his hand out to help the boy stand up.
“I ain’t so sure, Dux,” Jonny said, dusting off his britches with both hands. “My whole regiment is here.”
“Doesn’t mean you failed ‘em, Jon.”
“What does it mean then?” The boy’s voice cracked, but Goody wasn’t sure if it was from emotion or Jon teetering on the edge of manhood for eternity.
“Your drumming gave them courage, gave them comfort,” Goody said, his arm around the boy’s shoulder, leading him down the hill toward Gramberly. “They knew they weren’t alone. You kept drumming through the whole skirmish, even when you were hit. That was a very brave thing you did.”
Jonny swiped at his nose again and took a deep, trembling breath.
“You’re a good man, Dux,” Jonny said, “for a rebel.”
The two walked in silence the rest the way to Gramberly. After Goody helped Jonny back into the Clement family plot, he sat on the Remembrance Bench for a while. Wiping his own eyes, and swallowing a catch in his throat, Goody knew he’d repeat the entire evening, word-for-word, the next time Jonny went wandering.
He hated that part of his job. The part where he couldn’t lead his Gramberly residents to a place where they would never have to roam again.