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THAT was the funny thing about grandpop's story. It had a head and a tail, all right; a beginning and an end, like they say. But still an important detail was missing, same as if in a jig-saw picture puzzle of Washington crossing the Delaware the piece with the general on it was lost.

This being Memorial Day was what reminded me of it; it being a day of remembrance of our soldiers and sailors. All the churches and different societies are putting new clean flags by the headstones up at Pine Hill. But we folks chipped in and got a special silk flag for grandpop's grave; even the kids saved up their pennies for it. New he'll have a pretty flag that will last till snow comes, anyway; that's what grandpop always used to say: "I'll last till the snow comes."

He did, too; he hung on 'way after Thanksgiving. That sure was going some, seeing that he was past eighty-seven. He got kind of wobbly there toward the last but he wouldn't let on. Of course he had a cane, been carrying one for years; but he always said the only reason he kept it was because all the swells carried them when he was a boy and he'd got the habit and couldn't quit.

His eyesight wasn't so good, either, when he got along past seventy-five. Naturally dad and me and the rest of the family expected it in a man of his years; but he wouldn't admit it for a minute, not grandpop. We had to be careful as the dickens because if we showed we thought he wasn't as spry as he used to be, he'd lay about him with that heavy cane of his and anybody or anything that got in the way was sure to get hurt.

Take for instance Roy, that's my younger boy, he used to play a trick on his great-grandpop that always got a smile out of dad or me because it showed up the way grandpop was still trying to fool us. Roy would saunter along the porch where grandpop was usually sitting; first he'd say hello to the old man and then he'd lean against a post with his hands in his pockets and stare down the road. Well sir, he wouldn't never do that for long before grandpop would speak up at him and say, "What are you looking at, boy?" And Roy would keep staring and yell so grandpop could hear: "Oh, I'm watching a frisky mare down the road a piece." Grandpop would look himself and then after a bit Roy would spring it on him easy like so's he wouldn't get suspicious. "Grandfer," Roy, would say, "can you see the horse all right ?" And grandpop would straighten up and answer, "Why certainly, boy; it's a bay."

Of course there wasn't no horse there at all. I made the young one quit doing it after a while because a boy has got to learn to respect his elders; not that Roy meant any harm. And then there was grandpop's hearing; you had to shout at him the last ten years of his life, but you had to pretend that you wasn't. And whether he heard you or not, he always give some kind of an answer.

That brings me to what I was getting at: his memory. Naturally it wasn't quite so good after he was getting on toward eighty. Not that I mean to say he was like a school boy who can't never remember his three R's. Grandpop had a lot of things packed in his head right up until the day he died. But speaking from my own observation, memory is a peculiar thing; when we get on in years we seem to remember best the things that are most important and forget the little ones that don't count. And here, the way I see it, is the funny part: the important things we remember aren't the ones we thought was important when we were young. We get a new valuation sort of, on life and living. What we thought was so particular important when we were young don't seem to amount to a darn when we get older and we clean forget them; and it's just the other way about with the other things; people and places and ideas that we thought we had forgotten all about, stir up in our memories when we get as old as grandpop was, and turn out to be the most important things after all.

Leastways that's the way it appears to me, though I don't claim to be a philosopher. And it's the way my son Roy felt about grandpop's favorite story. He figured he was leaving the most important part of it out, and I did too until what dad said that day got me to thinking.

Of course one thing grandpop always remembered because he was in it, was the American Civil War. The War, he called it, like that, with capital letters. It was the only war he ever thought about. Whenever I would be telling my boys of my experiences over in France in 1918, grandpop would always pretend that he wasn't listening. And if I ever put it up to him direct he'd shrug his shoulders and stroke his beard and say just as though it wasn't nothing at all: "Yes, I heard something about you boys being in a little fracas over there in Europe. What did it amount to—much?"

I kind of suspect, thinking of it now that he's gone, that he was just having his little joke on me, but he never let on. I never did pretend to know, anyway, just what went on in his head, bald like a pumpkin it was, though he made up for it with that white beard of his which was longer than Moses.'

But before I get on to grandpop's favorite story about The War perhaps I ought to say something about our family. We're roamers, you know; always have been, though now we're sort of settled down because there's no need for moving about, what with railroads everywhere and fast ships and airplanes. But grandpop was always on the move; he floated barges down the Ohio and the Mississippi after The War; and his dad before him went out to California in forty-nine. My dad's been everywhere, too, and he dragged the whole lot of us every place.

I talked to a professor out at Notre Dame once and I didn't have to tell him that I was a roamer as he figured it right off from my talk. "Judging from your speech," says he, "I'd say you were born in South Carolina of New England parentage, got your education in California, and then went to live in New York."

Well, that professor wasn't so far wrong at that. Seems like our family never come from any place and never stayed any place long. By the way, did I tell you that our family name is Smith? That's a regular name and we're just regular folk. We're the Jed Smiths; likely as not you've heard of us. The oldest boy in our families has always been named Jed; grandpop's name was Jed, so's my dad's, and it's the same with me; we're the Jed Smiths. No matter where you live, it wouldn't be surprising if you'd run across one of us. Like I explained, we're from all over.

Grandpop, dad tells me, was a spry one in his day and while he always could see the funny side of life, there was one thing that riled him. You know how when you come to a new town folks usually greets you friendly like by saying: "Where you from, stranger?" Well, that used to get under grandpop's skin. He'd stare down at the townsman from his barge or a Conestoga wagon—whichever it was and say with a flicker of a smile in his eye: "I'm from the United States. What the heck place is this?"

But dad, who's a more mild-mannered man, taught me to put it different. We were sailing off the east coast of Florida when I was a kid and dad and me took the jolly-boat one day to do a little fishing. But we was caught in some bad weather and got whipped about till I thought we'd sure seen our last day. The jolly-boat went over and we hung to it till the sun come out again. Then dad climbed up and straddled the keel and dragged me after him. It wasn't till nearly sundown when we come in sight of a town and some folks put out in a boat. When they got to us, one fellow says to dad, "Howdy, stranger, where you-all from?" Dad was about ready to pass out from helping me to hold on all day but he come right back at the townsman. "What place is this?" dad asks in a kind of snappy way. "Why," says the fellow, "this is Key West." "Well then," says dad, "that's where we're from."

So you see we're not Easterners or Westerners, Southerners nor Northerners; we're Americans. It took me years to get that all straight, but with grandpop it just came natural like; his memory took care of that. Like I said, it remembered the important things and plumb forgot all the rest.

IT WAS grandpop's favorite story and he told it every chance he could get. I heard it so many times that I can remember how he used to polish it up here and there. Grandpop never could seem to get the location right. Sometimes he said it was up toward Orchard Knob north of Chattanooga and another time he'd say it happened outside of Cold Harbor; and then again he'd connect it up with Vicksburg or Jackson. But of course dad and me never said anything because it was grandpop's story and he could tell it any way he liked.

I'll never forget to my dying day the last time I heard him tell it. That's because that was the day Roy popped up with the question and dad made the remark that set me to thinking.

"Well," grandpop would start off, "he was too young to have a beard; couldn't have been more than sixteen or seventeen at the most. And he didn't wear no uniform because, you see, he was a scout. The only time I saw him in uniform was in Sixty-one, at the beginning of The War; then lots of the Federal troops was wearing gray and of course the Confederate soldiers was, too. But after the first battle of Bull Run they see their mistake and the Union men switched to blue.

"But this fellow Mordaunt, he never wore a uniform after that—just civilian pants and a hickory shirt or whatever he could get a hold on. Like I said, he was a scout and he kept carrying messages from one side of the lines to the other till—till the time I'm going to tell you about."

Right there in his story grandpop would get up from his chair on the porch and act out some of the first battles for us: Big Bethel, Bull Run, and Ball's Bluff. He'd wave and whip his cane around so fast that we kids had to look sharp to keep from getting hit. Believe me, it sure was exciting.

"And during them battles," grandpop would continue after he got his breath. "Mordaunt was running back and forth from one side of the Potomac to the other carrying messages in code. He was at Gettysburg, too, and at Hagerstown. He carried his life in his hands every minute of the day and night, Mordaunt did. But you'd never know it to look at him. There was l look in his eye that you couldn't stare down and he always carried his shoulders high.

"He was running messages before the battle of Fredericksburg when he got word that someone was in trouble at home. It took him a week to make it what with him losing his horse when it broke a leg in a post hole. He traveled only at night and often lost hie way in the dark. Finally he made it, though he hadn't had nothing to eat and was half dead.

"But it was too late, for when he got home the soldiers had already been there. They'd tore up the house from rooftree to cellar and found what they was looking for, and they took his mother away. She, you see, was a spy. Mordaunt had done all he could to dissuade her but she had said that they only had each other, seeing as how his father had got killed at Antietam, and she couldn't let her boy risk his life without her doing her share, too.

"Sitting there in what was left of their home and his mother gone, Mordaunt knew what had happened and he broke down and cried as if his heart would break—after all, he was only a boy.

"It had been over a year and a half since Fort Sumter was fired on and everybody had learned long before that war was a mighty serious business. Mordaunt knew that they wouldn't hold out no mercy for his mother just because she was a woman; particularly because she was a proud young girl then and wouldn't never give in and tell where her son was. Mordaunt was sure of that.

"His worst fears was confirmed when a couple of soldiers come back to the ruined house to look for food and he hid and overheard them talking about his mother who, they said, was going to be shot. The soldiers spoke of how she wouldn't reveal no secrets and how she refused to tell where her son was in spite of all their threats.

"But that was small comfort to the boy who was hiding there, hungry, tired, and sick at the thought that his own mother who had borne him, nursed him, and loved him, was going to die."

You could hear the wind hushing through the wheat when grandpop got to that part of his story. Though he'd told it heaps of times before, we hardly dared breathe and we kept our eyes tight on grandpop while he refilled his pipe and lit it up. Funny, but seems he always did, right at that part; I suppose it was because he'd related the story to us so often that he'd got into the habit of going on with it just so.

"Well," says grandpop, after he'd gotten a good draw on his pipe, "when it got dark again Mordaunt made himself coffee out of some parched potatoes which was all he could find and then he went out back of the house and rolled in some icy mud until he was covered with it, his hickory shirt and everything, so that he was so dirty and black that he couldn't be seen in the dark. And he took a black piece of cloth and tied it over his face, cutting slits to see through, because he knew there's nothing shows up at night like a white beardless face.

"Then he slowly wiggled his way into the camp where his mother was. He knew about where the prison tent would be from what he overheard the soldiers say. But it took him nearly all night to worm his way there because he was mighty careful knowing that he mustn't fail.

"It was just a few hours before dawn when he finally slipped into the tent where his mother was and pressed his hand over her mouth so's she wouldn't scream, while he whispered his name in her ear. There was a candle flickering in the tent so's the guard outside could see any movement from the shadows. Mordaunt had brought pencil and paper along and he slid under the cot and slipped up notes to his mother telling her just what to do. He took off his clothes and passed them up to her and she put them on under the blankets while he slid into her dress and squeezed into her shoes.

"When they'd changed their clothes complete, he passed her a scissors he'd brought along and after braiding her hair, she cut it off. Pulling his cap down over her shorn head, his mother smiled for the first time; naturally she thought they was both going to escape. But Mordaunt explained to her in scribbles that they couldn't do that because dawn was almost on them and as soon as the guard found that the tent was empty, the alarm would be raised and they'd both be caught before they had time to get away.

"'You're a soldier, Mother,' he wrote in his last note to her, 'and you must do what's best for all. I must stay here disguised as you and fool them to the very end, or when they find out you've escaped they'll never rest till you are caught and I'll only have saved you to die again. For my sake, Mother, you must go for I cannot die bravely unless I know that you will be free.'

"The poor mother wanted to speak to her boy—to say one last word of comfort—but she could not because it would have meant the death of both of them. So when she slipped down to the floor from the bed, she pressed him to her breast and kissed him and wet his cheeks with her tears—and then she crawled away in the night to freedom.

"When she was gone, Mordaunt lay upon the bed in her clothes, put her bonnet on his head and pinned her Paisley shawl tightly over it all. At sun-up the guard lifted the tent flap and he came out, his head low on his breast. He was marched between a guard of riflemen to a shallow grave beside a hill. The commanding officer was kind, thinking it was a woman and trembling pale because he was forced to shoot her as a spy. He asked if there was anything she wished to say but Mordaunt still hung his head and was silent. Misunderstanding the officer wondered how a daring spy at the last moment could be so afraid. Finally he lifted his sabre and gave the command and the soldiers ?red. And so it was that Mordaunt died and was buried where he fell."

THAT was grandpop's favorite story of the Civil War. And no matter how frequent we heard it, we always was quiet for a minute after he was done because seems like there was nothing to say. But that last time grandpop told it, my son Roy was sitting beside me and he'd never heard it before. He'd just been studying up on American history at school and when grandpop finished Roy asked him a question right off.

"Grandfer," he said, "that's a wonderful story. But what I want to know is whether this Mordaunt was a damned Yank or a Johnnie Reb."

"Why, boy," grandpop replied, scratching his bald head. "I'll be dad busted if I ain't clean forget!"

And then it was that my dad pulled his pipe from his mouth and spoke up. "It doesn't make any difference," he said slow and thoughtful like. "All that matters is that he was a hero."