To men who study war, and Captain Baron Patrick Callahan had been a student all his life, these great conflicts have a definite pattern. In the beginning, it is all hearts bursting with pride and dreams of glory. Too soon the gleaming brass buttons on crisp uniforms tarnish. Feet that marched smartly to a vibrant, tattooing drumbeat grow weary and plod from one battle to another, scuffing up puffs of dust or sucking through mud deep enough to bury a good-sized mule and wagon. The days of family picnics on the hillsides as opposing armies gather below to deal death were over and the reality, the work, of war had set in.
Baron had settled into war easily. It was as if something he had waited for all his life had finally arrived, wide-eyed and faunching at the bit to be off on the grand adventure. He would have loved it more, if that were possible, if its arrival hadn’t also delayed something he had waited for just as eagerly, his marriage to Lorena Dobbs McKenzie.
This was the original prologue of The Rain Crow, but has since been cut. I decided to open the story right before Sumter, switch opening POV characters to Lorena, and do away with a prologue.
Even so, I decided to post this today because of that little word “faunching”. Faunch means nervous excitement similar to champing at the bit. Faunch is more rare and, I think, more period. We can settle our readers into an era not only with setting and dialogue, but also with the words we use and it can be done so subtly they don’t realize you’re taking them through the looking glass. In my case I don’t beat my readers over the head with “y’alls” and “dahlings”, but they know when my southern girls are loose.
The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
– Mark Twain Letter to George Bainton, 10/15/1888
Note: In the first battle of Manassas the people from the north thought it was going to be such a thorough trouncing of the upstart rebels that politicians, sight-seers, families, vendors, and all manners of civilians brought their buggies and picnics to watch the show. The rout was so complete the fleeing civilians were nearly trampled by soldiers who were running just as fast. Jackson wanted to take 10,000 men into Washington to take the town and sue for peace, but Davis refused saying they would defend only. The war might have been ended that day had Davis given Jackson free rein.