were standing just inside the main entrance of Washingtons majestic
Union Stationa six-foot-four gawky man leaning down to a speak to
a five-foot-four solid woman who was looking almost straight up. In silhouette,
they could have easily passed for a Norman Rockwell painting, possibly
a small-town high school English teacher speaking to the basketball coach
about a star players D2 theme on a Charles Dickens novel.
Rebecca Fentress had called Don from Union Station less than twenty minutes
earlier to announce her surprise arrival in Washington, D.C., and to arrange
an immediate meeting with him. He had suggested she get in a taxi and
come to his office, which he assured her was barely ten minutes away in
an area called Potomac Park. She said she really would rather not leave
the station. All right, he said. How about meeting me in front of the
huge electronic schedule board at the main entrance of the train station?
It was three in the afternoon. There were many people going to and from
trains and milling about the many shops in Union Station, which had been
very successful since being rehabilitated into a retail center as well
as a train station a few years ago. He noticed the several open restaurants
there in the main rotunda were not crowded and he suggested they find
a quiet place in one.
I dont fly on airplanes, Ms. Fentress said to Don. It
takes a long time to get from Iowa to here by train, it really does. You
have to go through Chicago, for one thing; Pittsburgh, for another.
Soon, they were seated in the quietest corner of a place which, according
to its menu, offered at least one food specialty from each of the fifty
Ill bet the one from Iowa has something to do with corn,
said Rebecca Fentress. Corn is what people think of when they think
of Iowacorn and pigs. She was right. Iowas representative
was listed under side orders: corn on the cob.
She ordered a piece of pecan meringue pie, a specialty of New Mexico,
and a cup of Maryland coffee, which appeared to Don to be like any other
kind of coffee.
He didnt want anything now except what might be in Ms. Fentresss
valise, but, to be polite, he got a simple no-states Diet Coke.
I have brought you Xerox copies of the Albert Randolph materials,
Ms. Fentress said before she made even a move to touch anything.
Don wanted to reach across the table and hug Rebecca Fentress. But all
he didall he thought that was appropriate to dowas say, Thank
you very much. I really do appreciate what you have done. He came
close to speaking on behalf of some long-dead men from a Connecticut regiment
of volunteers with names such as Kingsbury, Griswold, Allbritten, and
Mackenzie. But he thought better of it. That, too, would have been over
The originals are under lock and key at our local bank, and there
they will likely always remain, she said. No one will ever
again be allowed to read them.
Don, in his state of hyperhappiness, didnt quite get it. What was
she saying? Why? Whats the problem? he asked.
The problem is only that the board of trustees of our historical
society decided our purpose was only to collect and preserve things from
the past, not to stir them up.
She was no longer smiling as she took several bites of her pie and a sip
How do you plan to use the information contained in these papers,
doctor? she then asked.
Im not sure, to tell you the absolute truth. I am not sure,
of course, what is in them to begin with. . . .
I told you on the phone that they were sensitive and that they were
definitive. I am confident you will find them so as well. They will undoubtedly
clear up any questions you might have about what happened at the bridge
at Antietam on September 17, 1862.
Im delighted and excited at that prospect. Delighted
and excited said only half of it. His very soul swung and swayed with
the prospect of finally knowing exactly what had happened.
She pushed away her pie plate and coffee cup and reached over to her green
case, which she had placed on the table to her left. She moved it in front
of her and zipped it open.
Don Spaniel began to feel as if he were some kind of mysterious operative,
here amid the cover of a crowded train station, receiving from Courier
Fentress of Iowa the secrets, the goodsthe magic.
Here, she said, handing him a sealed white envelope. It looked
thick. There were several pages of something inside.
Don took the envelope and said, Thank you, Ms. Fentress. I promise
you that I will not
No promises, please. None is necessary. I did this of my own free
will to satisfy my own needs and beliefs.
She zipped the valise closed, looked at her watch, and stood. Now
I must go catch my train.
Don was on his feet. Where are you going?
Home, doctor. Home.
But didnt you just get here?
I came here to hand you that envelope personally. I felt it was
too important to leave to the vagaries of the U.S. mails or one of the
private express firms. My mission accomplished, I am going home.
Don left a ten-dollar bill on the table. She started walking; he fell
in beside her.
Your luggage? Where is your luggage?
A redcap took it when I got off the train. Hes probably now,
as we speak, putting it in my compartment on the new train. That is what
I asked him to do, at least. I love traveling in those bedrooms. Have
you ever done that?
No, maam, I havent.
Its tight for twoare there two of you?
No, maam. And at the rate Im going there may never be
more than methan one.
There are worse things, she said with a clip in her tone.
Message most definitely received, Don said, My problem is that my
job is pretty much my lifetoo much, say the women who come and go.
Im accused of living too much in the past.
Thats what some people say about me, too.
They passed a boutique hardware shop and a bookstore and a model-train
emporium and several more eating places and were now nearing her gate
for Amtraks Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh and Chicago.
He told her how much he had enjoyed meeting her, again thanked her, and
again praised her for what she had done to help him resolve a 134-year-old
It must be quite satisfying and fulfilling work you do as an archeologist,
particularly on the Civil War.
Extraordinarily so, yes, maam.
Ms. Fentress extended her right hand, and he took it in his. She said,
What I do is also satisfying and fulfilling. Few people at home
understand why I would be content to run a historical society in my small
town. I, frankly, can no longer imagine not doing so.
Im the same exact way, Don said.
She had more to say: Please let me know once you have decided what
youre going to do with the Randolph material.
Don promised to do so. He was suddenly eager for Rebecca Fentress to get
back on her train. He wanted desperately to tear open the envelope and
read the Randolph papers. Onward, please. Good-bye. Have a nice train
trip, please. . . .
But there was one last thing. Doctor Spaniel, I trust you are prepared
to deal with the consequences of telling Albert Randolphs Antietam
I believe I am. . . . Yes, maam. It was, in fact, something
to which he had not given that much thought. Most of what he had considered
thus far had to do specifically with Jim Allbritten and Fred Mackenzie,
two present-day descendants of the men in Randolphs story. But first,
he had to confirm conclusively what had occurred in the heat of battle
on an Antietam hillside 134 years ago. Then he would deal with what to
do about itwhat to say to Allbritten and Mackenzie, among others.
Opening up graves can sometimes lead to an unleashing of old demons
and to unexpected consequences, added Ms. Fentress.
I know. Yes, I know, said Don, barely able to conceal his
readiness for her to leave. But he owed her an answer. I believe
that those consequences, whatever they are, are part of the history. Whatever
is meant to be, will be.
She seemed about to respond but then apparently thought better of it and
did finally go.
But from the way she flicked her head to the right and squinted her eyes,
Don read a message of disagreement from Rebecca Fentress of Iowa.
Whatever. Don watched with great pleasure as she showed her Amtrak ticket
to the gate attendant and then disappeared in the direction of Iowa.
He spotted a section of deserted chairs by a train gate not then in use
and raced for them, ripping open the envelope as he ran.
Once seated, he carefully removed the papers.
The first page was typed. It appeared to be a list of items, signed by
a sheriff. Then there were an official army document, a copy of a newspaper
clipping, a black-and-white photograph, and, finally, several pieces of
white copy paper folded over in thirds and held together at the top by
a large silver paper clip.
Don unfolded the pages. There was handwriting on them. It was a letter.
He removed the clip.
He could feel his heart beating, his pulse quickening, his breath shorteninghis
The handwriting was large, clear, and clean.
In the upper-right-hand corner of page one, in neat script, was the date.
September Seventeen, Eighteen Hundred and Seventy Two.
Ten years to the day after the battle of Antietam!
Then Don began to read the text:
I, Albert Randolph, here now render terrible words of con- fession. I
have addressed them to no particular person or persons because I do not
know who will ultimately read them. I have written them mostly for myself
rather than for others. I have written them because I have no choice but
to write them; my troubled soul and my angry God permit no other course.
I was party to one of the most heinous crimes the darkest side of the
human spirit can generate. It was committed on a day ten years ago near
a Maryland town named Sharpsburg on a creek called the Antietam.
I render this confession on this day because the anniversary memories
are acutely painful to my being. That pain, unbearable and unrelenting,
provides the force that moves my pen across this page.
On that morning of September seventeen, the year of our Lord eighteen
hundred and sixty-two, I was serving as a sergeant in the Eleventh Connecticut
Volunteer Regiment. Assigned to the Second Brigade of the Third Division
of the Ninth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, we were a proud and worthy
unit of men, dedicated to fighting for the preservation of our hallowed
Union and for the glory and reputation of our beloved birth state of Connecticut.
We were on that day given the mission of seizing access to and control
of the Lower Bridge across Antietam Creek, which was in the State of Maryland
not far from the Potomac River and the State of Virginia. We were part
of a large and determined force under the leadership of General George
McClellan that had as its ultimate mission to destroy the Army of Northern
Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee.
There were no questions in any mind or heart among those of us in the
Army of the Potomac that we would be victorious.
No Certain Rest by Jim Lehrer Copyright 2002 by Jim Lehrer. Excerpted
by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without
permission in writing from the publisher.
On a ridge
overlooking Burnside Bridgethe focus of the Battle of Antietamsouvenir
hunters find the unmarked grave of an unknown Union officer.
an archeologist in the National Park Service, is called in to examine
the remains. He soon discovers that the officer was murdered and that
his identification disk could not possibly belong to him, since its rightful
owner is buried elsewhere. So who was this officer? Where did he come
from? And why was he killed?
obsessive investigation leads not only to his reliving the horrible carnage
that occurred at Burnside Bridge over a century before, but to the true
identity of the Union officer and the reason why another body resides
in his grave in a small New England town.
In a swift
narrative deftly combining the past with the present, Jim Lehrer has created
an engrossing story that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1934. He is a graduate of Victoria College
in Texas and the University of Missouri. After three years as an infantry
officer in the Marine Corps, he worked for ten years in Dallas as a newspaperman
and then as the host of a local experimental news program on public television.
He came to
Washington with PBS in 1972, teaming with Robert MacNeil in 1973 to cover
the Senate Watergate hearings. They began in 1975 what became The MacNeil/Lehrer
Report, and, in 1983, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the first 60-minute
evening news program on television. When MacNeil retired in 1995, the
program was renamed The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
been honored with numerous awards for journalism, including a presidential
National Humanities Medal in 1999. In the last four presidential elections,
he moderated nine of the nationally televised candidate debates.
Rest is Lehrer's thirteenth novel; he has also written two memoirs
and three plays. He and his novelist wife Kate have three daughters and