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"The early morning darkness reminded Hugh Hallam of Mexico; then as now he had saddled his horse before dawn and ridden out while the others slept, to survey the territory around San Augustín before the day’s assault and get the feel of the land in his bones. He wondered why he should think of the war now, when peace lay over the fields and the heat of the day was still a long way off. Beyond the fences, the cotton lay in dark, leafy rows in the fading starlight, nothing like the stony wasteland of the pedregal fourteen years ago, before the battle that would rage all day towards Churubusco.

"Behind him in the silent house, his wife, Serena, would have drowsed back into sleep by now. They had made love early, while it was still cool. He remembered her body on the bare sheets, the heat and softness of her skin. No smoke arose yet from the brick kitchen as he rode by: Markie was not yet up. He had drunk a cup of cold water from the cistern on his way out.

"The moon had set by the time he closed the last gate behind him and headed out towards the orchard, past the long, low house and through the two short lines of slave cabins. He had built the first of them himself—his only shelter that first winter in Tennessee, when he'd left Serena and the children behind and come out ahead to clear the land. The others he had added as necessity dictated over the years. They were small, plain structures, but of good quality by the standards of the neighborhood; he had allowed his slaves to build their own chimneys of solid brick, purchased by himself at the mason's, and not the usual wattle and daub that managed to catch fire once or twice a year. Each cabin had a small yard where its inhabitants could keep chickens or tend a patch of greens.

"Five of the cabins were silent and dark now, their narrow doors open to catch the coolness of the night air. In the sixth cabin a candle burned. French would be awake, studying the advertising circulars he had picked up yesterday in Kinlock. Hallam paused in front of his door, then resisted the impulse to intrude. It would be a long day; let him have his privacy before it began."

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