“Of course, of course, come in,” the old man said. “Lay your hat down and let me keep you awhile.”

The young soldier set his grey cap on the table. “Thank you kindly, mister,” he said. “Combat’s been mighty tough so far, not at all like they said it was gonna be.”

“I know that, son, I know that all too well,” said the old man. He laid a cup of steaming tea in front of his young guest. “I still have a few musket balls rattling around in me from the last great war.”

“In Mexico?”

“Oh no, son, the last great war, against a country that had half a chance of winning. Mexico was a sick man in an alley and we took his coat. I mean the War of 1812. I was there at New Orleans at twenty.”

Setting down the cup after a long drink, the young soldier looked to his host. “The yanks sure can shoot back, I’ll give them that. What did you think, fighting at New Orleans?”

“Well, I thought I was doing a great thing. Voted for my old general, Andy Jackson, three times. Wasn’t a perfect man–no such thing–but he had his priorities straight.”

“States’ rights,” the younger man said. “Defense of a man’s property.”

He was surprised at the glare he received in return from his host. “Now, I reckon you were barely born when Old Hickory died, but let me remind you of something he once said. ‘If a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.’”

Startled, the young soldier reached for his musket. “What is all this, then?” he said. To his confusion, he found that the weapon was nowhere at hand.

“This is Old Hickory’s vengeance on traitors, enacted sadly too late,” the old man said grimly. He laid the stolen musket upon his table even as the young solider drew a belly knife. He made it barely a few steps, though, before the weapon clattered to the ground along with its bearer.

“Don’t you worry, boy. You’ll still be useful to your rebel friends.”

The old man kicked open the door to the cellar, where the rendering pots were already boiling, the grinder awaiting its cargo eagerly as a puppy, the press ready for shaping soap.

Dragging the body downstairs, he eyed the uniform. Poor condition, but usable as scrap fabric. The rebel commissary agent paid handsomely for all of it, soap to butternut, with nary a question about where it came from.

That left the question of the slouch hat. No one would believe something like that hadn’t come from a soldier, not in those unprecedented times, so the old man kept them as souvenirs. He opened a side closet, the old root cellar, and tossed it into a hillside terrain of hundreds of gray hats

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