14. Bad news comes to Fagen

Fagen took the reins and walked the wagon past Minnefee into the darkness at the center of the bridge. The moment they were out of earshot the woman began, "I had to come back and see you," she cried. "God would never forgive me if I did not."

Fagen couldn't see her face in the gray moon-shadow, but heard the alarm in her voice and knew something was very wrong. He reached up and covered her hands with his own. "Tell me, missus. What is it?"

"Your friend Ellis, the bear, you said he was in quarantine."


"You said the doctor had given him Chaulmoogra oil for his skin."

"Yes, I did, but tell me, what's this all about?"

The woman looked around, scanned the area for demons, and then leaned down from her seat, her words an urgent whisper. "Chaulmoogra oil comes from the nut of a tree that grows in Indonesia. I am very sorry to tell you this Senor , but its only use is for the treatment of leprosy."

Her words hit Fagen with the force of a pile driver. Suddenly his heart stopped, flip-flopped in his chest, and then pounded wildly, the hammering growing in intensity until he was certain it would burst. He couldn't believe what he'd heard. Surely the woman was mistaken. It was not possible she should pronounce the most hideous, the most unspeakable of death sentences upon his cousin, his life-long friend. The pressure in his chest crept upward, strangling him, starving him for air, his head swimming in darkness. He saw the woman's lips moving, but her voice was inaudible over the roar in his brain. "If he leaves his quarantine tent, it is not to return to duty my young friend, but to be taken to the place of the unclean, where even God cannot help him. The place from which no man returns. God save you both, Senor !"

At that the woman snapped the reins and trotted off into the night. Fagen stood looking after her, his blood turning to ice water. He wanted to cry out, to shower her with odious and loathsome curses, profane her as she had just done to him. If he'd carried his rifle, he'd have shot her on the spot and tossed her remains in the river for the sand crabs, but deep inside he knew what she said must be the truth. Ellis had no fever, and he had no rash. He himself had said many times he didn't have the "itches." The doctor must have known, or at least suspected the truth all along. That's why he'd quarantined Ellis so quickly, why he'd placed armed guards around the tent.

Leprosy! Fagen rolled the awful word around in his mouth, swallowed it, and his bowels turned to water. In his mind's eye he pictured a rotting shell of a man dressed in a hooded robe, his face too horrifying for words, his fingers and toes lying on the ground all around him. The Biblical picture, the only one he'd ever known, and until now he thought it only happened to people in old books. It was impossible for him to imagine Ellis' face under that hood, impossible even to think about.

David Fagen stumbled dumbly back across the bridge. He pinched himself, knew he was awake, but felt as though he floated through space as if in a dream and saw neither the sky above nor the ground beneath his feet. Suddenly a blood chilling cold gripped him, and his entire body trembled uncontrollably. At that moment it seemed pain and anguish were the only sensations that kept him in his skin. He walked past the guard station. Out of the white noise in his brain he heard Minnefee's malevolent cackle. "That your new girlfriend, Fagen? She's too old. I liked the other one better. What was her name...Loretta? Where's she at now? If you're done with her, send her on over to me."

"The place from which no man returns." That's what she'd said. What was she talking about? What kind of place was it a man can't return from? Where was it? In the furthest reaches of his imagination Fagen could picture another man surviving in the land of the unclean, Sergeant Rivers, perhaps or maybe even himself, but never could he envision gentle, unsuspecting Ellis Fairbanks there.

It couldn't happen. The army wouldn't let it. They'd send him to a hospital, find a doctor to cure him. Ellis had given his soul to the army, they'd not abandon him now. Fagen remembered their conversation that night in their tent at Camp McKinley. "The army's like a wife. She's even better than a wife because she can't divorce you. You give your life to her and she can't ever turn her back on you." Suddenly Fagen's bone chilling cold turned to fear and then panic. He knew he had to get back to camp, and he had to get back now.

He looked at the men sleeping on the bridge. Minnefee the only one even half awake, Fagen knew he'd be no problem. He eased himself over the railing, dropped quietly to the ground, untied Lieutenant Alstaetter's horse and led him up onto the bridge. Minnefee cocked an eyebrow and started to say something, but Fagen spoke first. "Lieutenant saw a snake down there. He wants me to tie his horse up ahead a little way."

The guard yawned. "What are you tellin' me for, lover boy. It ain't none of my business." Fagen walked Alstaetter's Cleveland Bay to the center of the bridge, mounted, and without looking back, dug in his heels and raced away into the night.

The full moon shone high overhead as the horse's hooves pounded a staccato on the dusty road leading to camp. His mind a blur, Fagen had no idea what he would do - what he could do to help Ellis. He only knew he must get back to camp that night. Unseen by human eyes, he rode through a dozen sleeping hamlets and the rhythm of his being fell into time with the steady, metered cadence of the Bay at full gallop, and the miles melted away under him.

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home