Riding the Rails: December 1861
Music: Baby You Belong, Faith Hill (Lou/Kid)
War at Home, Josh Groban (all)
Shout to the North, Delirious (Buck)
Brokenpromiseland, Bon Jovi (all)
Living a Lie, Epica (Cody/Thatch)
Texarkana, R.E.M. (Hickok)
“Man, I hope there’s something good for supper. I’m starvin’,” Cody muttered, half to himself.
“Don’tcha ever get full?” Thatch grumped. “You’ve already eaten enough for three men today.”
“Yeah, my friends back in Nebraska Territory were always tellin’ me that. What can I say, I’ve got a hollow leg. Or two. There’s our stop. Pull up in front of that building, so’s we can unload this thing and get some grub,” Cody smiled at his young companion. He still hadn’t figured out if anything fishy was up or not, but he was watching Thatch with an eagle eye.
Thatch brought the big freight wagon to a lumbering halt in front of a warehouse in the center of Fort Leavenworth. The other freight wagons in their convoy pulled up alongside. While Thatch hopped down and began tying the giant draft horses to the hitching post, Cody sauntered around to the back of the wagon and opened up the gate. He stared at the piles of boxes waiting to be unloaded and sighed forlornly.
“What’s’a matter?” Thatch asked as the youngster walked up beside Cody.
“It just looks like an awful lot of hard work and I’m hungry now!” Cody whined.
A couple hours later, after stacking all the boxes of food, guns and ammunition in the various parts of the warehouse, then taking care of the horses and wagon, the pair headed toward the 7th Cavalry’s mess tent. Each carried their own tin plate, spoon and cup.
Upon arrival Cody automatically headed toward a water pump just outside the tent and started to wash up. He pulled off his shirt and dumped a bucket of water over his head, before scrubbing as much of the accumulated trail dirt off his face and hands as he could. As he was drying his face on the inside of his buckskin jacket he happened to catch a glimpse of Thatch’s face. Thatch was watching Cody with a look equal parts astonishment and envy. Cody just looked at the youngster and shrugged.
“First Emma, then Rachel, they’d never let us come in to eat without washin’ up first. Didn’t matter how long we’d been on the trail. Guess it’s just a habit now. “
Thatch didn’t say anything, just followed Cody into the mess tent.
Lou and Kid
“Careful, Kid, the horses are a mite jumpy with all the noise the engine’s makin’,” Lou warned as she maneuvered her mount into the train’s boxcar in St. Joseph, Missouri.
“Alright,” Kid replied as he followed them up the ramp with his own horse. “Are ya sure you want to ride in the boxcar with the horses? It’s not too late to get tickets for the Pullman car. You know we can afford it.”
“No thanks. I’d rather just travel with the horses. It’s not only cheaper, but it’s easier to go unnoticed back here. And that’s what I need to do now.”
Kid nodded, not happy, but understanding of Lou’s decision. Now that they were boarding the train this trip was starting to seem a little too real for his comfort, but it was too late to back out now. They pulled their saddles off the horses and tied the animals up at one end of the boxcar with plenty of hay and a bag of oats each. Then they placed their saddles against the opposite wall of the boxcar, along with their saddlebags and other gear. They would use the saddles as seat backs and pillows throughout the rest of the train trip.
Once everything was settled in place, Lou and Kid sat down, side by side, in the open door of the boxcar, waiting for the train to leave the St. Joe station, headed for Springfield, Illinois. There was no direct route south. They’d have to travel east into Illinois first, before heading south to Cairo. Then they’d have to hit the trail again, riding across the dangerous Mason Dixon line into Confederate territory before they could catch a new train in Columbus, Tennessee, that would eventually take them all the way to Richmond, Virginia. The trains moved an average of eight miles an hour, so the 1400 mile trip should take about eight days, assuming there were no delays. The Express had actually moved the mail faster than that.
Lou dangled one leg out the side of the boxcar and stuck the end of a piece of hay in her mouth to chew on. Kid leaned up against the open door of the boxcar next to her. They gazed out at the city that had been the end point of the Pony Express for them and held many memories, including the first time Kid had ever seen Lou in a dress. There’d been good times here. But, they were leaving all that behind.
The train jerked beneath them as the engine picked up steam and started chugging down the track. The whistle sounded, indicating their departure for points east.
Later that evening, Kid was dozing, propped up against his saddle with Lou stretched out at his side. They’d just eaten the last of the sandwiches they’d bought in St. Joe. Tomorrow it would be back to cold canned beans and hardtack, at least until they reached Springfield.
Lou stiffened at his side as the rising sound of horses galloping neared the train. “Riders comin’,” Lou murmured, reaching to pull her sixshooter out of its holster. She jabbed Kid in the side with her elbow to make sure he’d heard her.
Suddenly, the train started jerking to a stop, causing the horses to stumble and throwing Lou and Kid halfway across the boxcar. They could hear the riders outside yelling and yipping for all they were worth. Then, the gunfire started. The couple looked at each other in concern, then took up nearly identical posts on the opposite sides of the partially opened boxcar door, peering out into the gathering dusk.
From the passenger car ahead they heard the trampling of boots followed by the bellow, “Quantrill’s Raiders are takin’ up a collection fer the Cause, Ladies ‘n’ Gents. Donate generously, or we’ll donate fer ya!”
“Lou, hide the money! Quick!” Kid hissed. “If we’re gonna get robbed, let ‘em take the money pouch I’m carryin’. It ain’t got near as much in it.”
Lou nodded and scrambled to hide the second money pouch under the wrappings she used to bind her breasts flat, part of her disguise. Even if Quantrill or his men searched her, they wouldn’t feel anything, under all that cloth.
They could hear the raiders getting’ closer. Then, a slender form peered into their car. A pair of very familiar clear, penetrating blue eyes met first Lou’s then Kid’s from over the cloth covering his mouth and nose. The trio froze in instant recognition. He’d grown a few inches since the last time they’d seen him just a few months ago, Lou thought bemusedly.
“Anybody in thar, Jesse?” a disembodied voice yelled.
“Naw, Frank. Just a coupla nags in here. Not even worth shootin’ ‘em fer meat,” Jesse responded, laughing. He turned back to the couple in the boxcar and hissed quietly, “You’ll be safe. Tell Cody, if ya ever see him again, I coulda….. coulda took him out last week out by Leavenworth, but didn’t. Tell him,” he paused and swallowed, “tell him… that was fer Noah.”
The slender youth they’d considered a younger brother just weeks ago turned and disappeared into the darkness.
Aloysius “Teaspoon” Hunter could feel his age with every step of his horse. What on earth had ever made him think this was a good idea, he asked himself. He didn’t like the cold. He didn’t like the long days on the trail. He didn’t like sleeping on the ground. He missed his comfortable chair back in the Marshal’s office in Rock Creek. And Rachel’s cooking. He was too old for this. Yet, he couldn’t, quite, make himself turn back. Maybe, somehow, he could still make a difference.
He hunkered down in his slicker as his horse continued trudging south, toward Texas.
Buck breathed deeply of the sharp, cold mountain air. He was walking up a steep incline, leading his horse. It was too steep to expect the horse to carry him. He looked around, taking in the incredible beauty of the majestic Rockies. This was the right thing. This was where he needed to be at the moment.
A snow flake fluttered out of the sky and landed on his eyelashes. He blinked the quickly melting snow out of his eyes as he glanced up at the gathering clouds overhead. He’d need to find shelter soon, though. A storm was coming and in the Rockies that could mean being snowed in for days, if not weeks or months, on end.
An hour later he noticed a thin stream of smoke rising into the sky slightly south and west of his current position. It would be a hard climb, but if he didn’t ride both he and the horse could make it. The smoke had to mean shelter of some sort and Buck was starting to get desperate. It would be nightfall soon and the storm clouds were closing in on him rapidly.
He made his decision and quickly altered his direction.
He’d been right. It had actually taken less than an hour to reach the source of the smoke. It was a small, one room cabin nestled against the side of the mountain. There was a lean-to out back with at least one mule sheltered inside.
Buck paused at the edge of the cabin’s clearing and called out, “Hello the house! Anyone here?”
Despite the smoke still trailing from the cabin’s chimney there was no response to his hail. After a couple more tries, Buck dismounted, ground tied his horse, drew his revolver and crept slowly up to the cabin. There were only two openings, the front door and a small window on one side. Buck slowly and quietly peeked into the window. There was someone inside, underneath a mound of furs on the bed, tossing and turning. Buck cursed, holstered his weapon and made a mad dash into the cabin.
Kid and Lou
“You two can park your horses over there, while you’re waiting for your connection to Columbus,” the conductor told them.
“Thanks mister,” Kid responded with a grin. “It’ll feel good to just walk around town for a while without the ground moving beneath us!”
The pair tied their horses up at a hitching post outside the train station, underneath the shelter of some trees. It wasn’t as cold as it had been out on the plains, but it had already started to snow here in Illinois and didn’t look to be stopping anytime soon.
“So, besides walkin’, watcha wanna do while we’re here?” Kid asked Lou. It was only 10 in the morning and their southbound train wasn’t scheduled to leave until six that night.
“I could use some decent food,” Lou responded with a grin.
Lou playfully punched her husband in the gut for the teasing comment and the pair headed off in search of a good tavern where they could get something to eat.
“Hey, let’s try this place, The Globe Tavern,” Lou suggested. “That sounds fun. I always wanted to travel the globe.”
Laughing, the couple entered the tavern. As their eyes adjusted to the dim lighting inside they enjoyed the sudden warmth. Kid shrugged out of his coat, but Lou, after glancing around at the room full of men, chose to keep hers on. They found a recently vacated table at the back of the room and quickly slid into the seats.
They each looked longingly at the offerings of steak, fish and other dishes before deciding on a simple bowl of Irish potato soup and a pint of ale in order to save money. Once the barmaid had brought them their food they tucked in quickly. Neither said much, content to people watch.
A tall, lanky young man about their age suddenly walked up with a similar bowl of soup in his hands, already slurping away.
“Mind if I sit with you fellows?” he asked. “There aren’t any other seats open.”
“Sure,” Kid smiled at the young man. “We weren’t using that seat.”
“I’m Robert,” the young man introduced himself between hasty slurps, “Robert Lincoln.”
Kid’s open smile shuttered a bit as the youth mentioned his last name. Then Kid mentally shook himself and relaxed. “Nice to meetcha. Folks call me the Kid. This is Lou.”
“You two new to town? I haven’t seen you before,” Robert questioned them casually.
“Uh, we’re just passin’ through,” Kid answered.
“Waitin’ for the evenin’ train,” Lou added.
Robert nodded in understanding as he slurped up the last of his soup, cleaning out the bowl with the hunk of bread in his other hand. “Headed home for Christmas, hunh? I’m off to join my family tomorrow. Just in town for a few days to make sure all’s taken care of at the house here. With the war on, it doesn’t look like any of us will be making it back here anytime soon.”
Lou and Kid nodded in commiseration. They knew the feeling of missing their home with no hope of a quick return.
Robert shook his head as if to rid himself of the morose feelings and asked, “So, got any plans for what to do while you’re here?”
Lou and Kid looked at each other for a moment, then Kid turned back to Robert and shrugged. “Not really. Figured we’d just wander around town, see what there is to see and all.”
Jimmy stood on the back of his freight wagon, having just finished offloading all the ammunition. He surveyed the Union troops encamped around him at Springfield, Missouri. He supposed maybe more people lived in St. Joe, but he’d never seen so many all in one place before. He couldn’t believe the scope of the camp. And this was just a small portion of the numbers of men heeding the call, on both sides, to fight in this war. Sighing, he jumped down and headed over to the command tent to find out what his next orders were.
After passing the sentry, Jimmy pulled open the flap and ducked into the tent. At least it was a little warmer inside. The weather had taken a turn for the colder last night.
“I know we’re outnumbered, but we’re organized, they’re not, yet. And we have a moral imperative to ensure this state stays in the Union,” Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon sighed. “We must stop Sterling Price and his men here and now. We cannot let them take the capital.”
“Sir, they’ve got 12,000 men to our 7,000. Even with the reinforcements from Kansas and Iowa, we’ll never take them,” argued Colonel Franz Sigel.
“The plan isn’t to take them, it’s to stop them. With organization, we can do that.”
“Remember the old adage Colonel, quality over quantity,” added Major Samuel Sturgis. “We’ve got trained soldiers. They’ve got mostly volunteers and irregulars, raiders. Hell, half of ‘em are barely more than outlaws themselves.”
“So, General, what’s the plan?” Sigel asked.
“Here’s what I’m thinking, gentleman,” Lyon said and the whole group leaned in over a map spread out on the table between them.
A half hour later the meeting started breaking up.
“Remember Colonel, surprise is our ally in this plan. You must, absolutely must, hit the main rebel body from the south at dawn,” Lyon said, slapping Sigel on the shoulder as he walked to the tent entrance.
“Don’t worry, Sir,” Sigel responded, returning his cap to his head. “We’ll be there on time.” He ducked out of the tent, dropping the panel closed behind him.
Jimmy remained standing near the door and the General finally noticed him.
“Mr. Hickok, good to see you, son,” Lyon enthused. “I’ve got a job for you.”
Where had young Thatch hidden, Cody asked himself. He’d been searching the camp for the youngster for half an hour now. Thatch had disappeared from the mess tent after gulping down supper in a matter of minutes. Cody hadn’t noticed. He’d been too busy flirting with the young ladies helping the camp cook. Dang it! He cursed himself. He’d meant to keep a better eye on the kid. Maybe Thatch had headed to the latrines.
Cody found Thatch hidden behind a tree, staring in horror at the latrines. The latrine, it was almost a joke to dignify it with such a proper name, was nothing more than a ten foot deep trench, about 50 feet long. The men just squatted over it and did their business. The mess was covered over three times a day with dirt and lime. When the contents were within two feet of the top of the pit, new latrines would be dug elsewhere. Cody had learned the hard way that maintenance and re-digging of the latrines was usually used as a punishment detail. Between the stink and the absolute lack of privacy, they were a horror.
Cody tapped Thatch on the shoulder and said, “If you want a little more privacy, come with me.”
He turned and headed for the edges of the military camp. After a few moments he heard Thatch running to catch up with him.
“How’d you know I’d follow you?” the kid asked breathlessly.
“I could tell they weren’t up to your standards, anymore than they’re up to mine.”
“So, where’re we going?”
“There’s a wooded area just outside of camp where we can do our business,” Cody responded lifting a small hand shovel to eye level so there’d be no doubt what business he was talking about. Thatch reddened and ducked a beardless chin into the collar of a worn calico shirt.
A few minutes later Cody exited the wooded area whistling to find young Thatch stretched out on the ground staring up at the stars. He paused a moment and scanned the youngster from head to toe. There was no longer any doubt in his mind, Thatch was a girl. Her form was clearly outlined against the night sky. He walked up to her and dug a handful of cloth out of his pocket. He’d found an old sheet and torn it into strips, exactly like the ones Lou used to wear, just in case his suspicions panned out. Now, he dropped those strips on Thatch’s belly.
“You might want to use this to hide your, er, ah… form… a little better,” he advised gruffly.
“What are you talking about?” Thatch nearly screeched as she flew up off the ground and tugged her coat more closely about her.
“Let’s just say you ain’t the first young lady I’ve met who feels it’s her business to do a man’s job.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Thatch began defensively. “I am not a lady.”
With a chuckle Cody help up his hand to stop her. “I don’t care if you’re a boy, a girl or somethin’ in between, so long’s you do your job. And you’ve been doing that right well enough. But… if I figured out you ain’t a boy within 24 hours of you joinin’us, just how long do you think it’ll take everyone else?”
Thatch just stared at him and gulped in fear.
“Hell, it took Kid three weeks to crack Lou’s disguise. And then he only figured it out ‘cause she got shot. The rest of us never did figure it out. We had to be told,” Cody laughed quietly at the memory. Thatch’s fear was turning to curiosity as she watched the tall blond man who’d apparently taken her under his wing.
“So, do ya want some help learning how to be a boy? Or do ya wanta go home?”
Thatch looked at Cody for a long moment without saying anything. Then she held up the wad of cloth he’d dropped on her and asked, “So, what am I supposed to do with this?”
Now it was Cody’s turn to blush red. He ducked his head and stammered, “Well, ya… ah…well… they’re for hiding yerself. You know, you wrap ‘em around to flatten…. stuff.”
Lou and Kid
It had been a surprisingly pleasant day, despite the growing cold and snow. Robert had showed them the state capitol building, even going so far as to sneak them inside to the office his pa had once used there. Lou had never seen a building so big and fancy before, though Kid had back in Virginia. They’d both felt a bit out of place in their travel-stained duds, but had enjoyed seeing the sights.
Robert had nattered on about how Springfield had been settled by trappers and traders some 40 years ago. They’d originally named the city Calhoun, after South Carolina’s Senator John C. Calhoun. But in 1832 the town residents had decided to rename the city Springfield, after a town in Massachusetts known for its industrial innovation. They’d hoped the town’s prosperity would come along with its name. They looked to have been right, for Springfield was a booming town, a county seat, a state capital and now the home of the nation’s newest president.
Robert even told them how he’d been born in the very tavern the three had met in. His parents had been living there while trying to find a permanent home in Springfield. Now they were walking down Main Street just admiring the shops. Kid would stop and look at the dresses and jewelry in shop windows, saying things like, “Don’tcha think Ma would love that one!” He knew Lou loved to look at the pretty things but wouldn’t feel daring enough to do so while in her disguise as a boy. So he did it for her.
Lou knew what Kid was doing for her. It just made her love him even more. For all the fighting she’d done over the last couple of years to keep him from coddling her, sometimes it was nice to have someone who cared so much about you. She smiled secretly up at Kid. He was finally learning there was a difference between over protecting someone and just doing for them.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a body flying out of the door of the next shop. It was a woman, screaming. She was followed by a couple of Union soldiers, dressed up in their fancy blue uniforms. They were obviously drunk and bent on trouble.
“Aw, come on, missy,” the taller of the two whined. “We just wanted to talk to ya.”
“Leave me alone,” the woman gasped, before high tailing it down the road and disappearing into another building.
“They’re from Camp Butler, just outside of town. The Army soldiers are constantly causing a ruckus here. Nobody seems to be able to control them,” Robert whispered to Kid.
The two soldiers made as if to follow her, but Kid and Robert quickly stepped into their path. Kid grabbed the taller one by the shirt and pushed him up against the door frame, roughly. “The lady said to leave her alone!”
Robert stayed on Kid’s heels and glared at the soldier. “I do believe you need to be heading back to Camp Butler before I call your commanding officer and have you arrested!” he spit out through gritted teeth.
Neither Kid nor Robert noticed the second soldier starting to sneak around behind them. Lou punched him in the nose while simultaneously sticking out her foot and tripping him. As he fell to the ground she drew her six shooter and cocked it. “I’d stay right there, if I were you,” she threatened.
Robert looked back, startled, but Kid never took his eyes or his hands off the taller soldier. “You got everythin’ under control, Lou?”
“Just fine, Kid,” she answered, shaking out the hand she’d used to punch the soldier.
“The little shite broke my nose,” the soldier on the ground moaned.
“Don’t care.” Kid said. “Now, here’s what y’all are goin’ to do. You’re going to walk, quietly, down the middle of the street, until you get out of town. We’re going to be watchin’ so don’t think yer goin’ to be able to sneak back. If you do we’ll knock yer heads together and drop y’all off at the Marshal’s--”
“Uh, Sheriff’s,” Robert quietly corrected.
“Right, Sheriff’s office for being drunk and disorderly. You got me?”
The two men nodded mutely. Kid stepped back, picked up the soldier’s hat, which had fallen on the ground in the scuffle, and slapped it sloppily back on the man’s head. “Now, git!”
The two men looked back and forth between Lou and Kid, paying no attention to Robert whatsoever, then skedaddled down the street just as fast as they could go without making it look like they were running. Robert stared after then, bemused.
“How’d you do that, Kid?” he asked.
“Nuthin’ special. Ya just gotta mean what ya say and say whatcha mean,” Kid answered. “That’s what Teaspoon taught us.”
“Who’s Teaspoon?” Robert asked curiously.
“He was our boss, back at the Pony Express,” Lou answered, still shaking out her hand. Kid walked over to her and took her hand in his, carefully examining it. “You’re bleedin’, Lou.”
“I’ll be fine, Kid.”
“Why don’t we head over to my family’s place and find something to put on that hand,”
Robert offered. “It’s starting to swell a bit.”
The fevered form on the bed in front of him was in a bad way. Buck had no idea who the man was or what was wrong with him, but wasn’t sure if he would live through the night. He certainly wouldn’t without some help.
Buck ran back to his horse, quickly unsaddled it and hobbled it so it couldn’t take off then set it free to graze. He dropped his tack off in the shed then headed back into the cabin with his saddle bags thrown over his shoulder. He dropped them on the floor in front of the fireplace. After digging through them for a moment, he pulled out a packet of what looked like twigs. He placed the willowbark in a pot of water and set it over the fire. As soon as it boiled he’d try to get some down the man’s throat.
Meanwhile, he pulled the sour smelling furs off the man, despite his weak protests and tossed them outside. He’d have to burn them later. A shame, but they’d been ruined by the man’s illness. Then, he brought in a bucket of ice cold water from the nearby mountain stream and began dipping his handkerchief in it and wiping the man down. He sighed. It was going to be a long night.
Jimmy huddled under his rain slicker, cursing the weather. Not only had a cold front come through, freezing near everything in sight, but it had brought a frigid, freezing rain with it. At least one good thing had come from the storm. As far as he could tell, all Price’s men had stayed huddled in their tents, rather than brave the elements. Even the sentries were barely doing their jobs. Good news for the Union troops sneaking this way. Jimmy had other news for General Lyon, too. Whether it was good or bad, he didn’t know but it was time to make sure he got it back to the General.
Jimmy slowly backed out of his hiding place in the trees and headed back to his horse, the same palomino that had been his favorite during his Pony Express days. He mounted up and slowly walked the horse away from the enemy camp. A mile down the road he felt safe enough to nudge the horse into a gallop. Despite the icy terrain, he felt an urgent need to get this information back to General Lyon.
Riding in freezing rain was no picnic. Jimmy knew that from experience. He’d had to do it more than once during the previous winter to get the mail through. That made him uniquely qualified for this run, he thought smugly. No one had a better chance of getting back to camp with this information than him.
That didn’t stop him from taking a couple spills along the way and he was limping from a bruise on his hip when he entered the General’s command tent and pulled off his cold, wet rain slicker and coat.
“Price is no longer in charge, Sir,” Jimmy reported. “General Ben McCulloch has taken command.”
“Wonderful news, son!” Lyon enthused. “Just wonderful! I can out think that old Texas Ranger with both hands tied behind my back. Give the order men, let’s march!”
At General Lyon’s request, Jimmy had stayed with the command unit on the long, cold march back to Wilson Creek. He was to be ready to ride out at a moment’s notice as courier or scout and to act as the General’s bodyguard as needed. The march back had been even worse than the icy run earlier in the night. Now, dawn was approaching and when the sun rose, the Union troops would attack.
Kid and Lou
“Come on in,” Robert announced, holding the back door open for Lou and Kid. “I ain’t got much. Remember, I’m here to shut the house up for the next few years. But, what I’ve got is yours.”
Lou and Kid looked around curiously. They couldn’t quite believe they were in the kitchen of the President of the United States. A man whose election had led to the war they were headed to fight in, against him. It all seemed so surreal. The walls were plain whitewashed, while the doors and cupboards were a dark, burnished wood. Lou knew Rachel would’ve killed for a stove that nice. The transfer-print ironstone dinnerware was sturdy, relatively inexpensive, and made the table look real elegant. Lou hoped she and Kid might have a kitchen this nice someday.
“Here, Lou,” Robert said, pulling out a chair in the corner so it sat next to the big cast iron stove. “Have a seat while I put some water on to boil. We’ll get you cleaned up in no time. Kid, there’s some ice still left in the icebox there by the door. Why don’t you get that and put it on Lou’s hand. That should stop the swelling.”
Kid hurried to follow Robert’s instructions and was soon wrapping a handful of ice onto Lou’s hand, using his handkerchief.
“Ow! That’s cold, Kid,” Lou complained, trying to pull her hand away from him.
“It’s supposed to be, Lou. Now, would you stop fightin’ me!”
“The way you two argue sometimes, there’s no doubt you’re brothers,” Robert commented as he prepared to put some coffee on to boil alongside the water for washing. “Even if you don’t look a thing alike!”
Lou and Kid laughed a little uncomfortably at the comment.
“You’re lucky this war isn’t pulling you two apart the same it has so many other brothers in our country,” Robert mourned. “If my pa’d known what his election was going to do to this country he might never’ve run. Then again, he feels so strongly about his principles he might’ve just gone and done it anyway.”
Lou looked at the young man in sympathy. She could well imagine what his whole family was going through. Heck, the whole country was going through the same anguish right now.
“It ain’t his fault, ya know,” she offered in consolation.
“How can you say that, Lou,” Robert asked bitterly. “It was his election that made the southern states start seceding from the Union. And the way he feels about secession he could never let that stand. The only possible result was war.”
“Robert,” Lou said quietly, “we’ve been headin’ toward this war since we kicked the British out. States rights, slavery, those were the same things the Foundin’ Fathers fought over when they was forming this country. That’s why it took us so long to get a Constitution. The Articles of Confederation were pretty much the same as what the Confederates have now. The ties weren’t strong enough to keep us together.”
Lou glanced at the Kid then looked away quickly, almost feeling guilty for what she was saying, but having to say it anyway.
“All that’s happened since then is… we’ve tried to ignore the issue so’s we could keep on being a country, a family. But it’s like you’re pa said, a house divided cain’t stand. We’ve gotta figure out which way we’re gonna go, if we’re ever gonna be able to rebuild our country, our family.”
Lou looked at Kid as she said the next part, completely forgetting Robert was in the room.
“It’s like the difference between when Cody and Jimmy would fight and when you and Jimmy would fight, Kid. Cody’d say somethin’ that would bug Jimmy. Jimmy would haul off and hit him and that’d be the end of it.”
Kid smiled in gentle remembrance of better times.
“But, when something was gettin’ ‘tween you and Jimmy you’d both try to bury it. Pretend it didn’t exist. ‘Til you just couldn’t anymore. Then, you’d haul off and beat the livin’ tar out of each other,” Lou smiled. “That’s when me an’ the boys would hide yer guns, so’s ya wouldn’t kill each other.”
Lou turned back to Robert. “This country’s been actin’ like Jimmy and the Kid, tryin’ to hide from problems, ‘sted of dealing with ‘em. Well, now, things have gotten so bad they cain’t hide no more and they’re ready to start beatin’ on each other. ‘Ceptin’, there ain’t nobody around to hide the guns from ‘em until they get all that anger outta their system. I don’t care what nobody says, this war’s gonna be long and it’s gonna be bloody. But, when it’s over, we’ll still be a family, and we can start rebuildin’.”
The three sat there, quietly looking at each other.
Finally, Robert said quietly, “I’ll have to tell my pa that. It’ll comfort him mightily.”
Jimmy pushed a lock of his sopping wet hair out of his face and peered cautiously around the stump he was hiding behind. The fighting had been going on for several hours now. General Lyon’s men had taken the rebels by surprise and quickly gained the advantage of possession of the crest of a hill near the creek. The fighting had gotten so bad Jimmy had already heard the men referring to their post as “Bloody Hill”. General Lyon had been wounded twice.
Jimmy sighted down his gun and fired three rapid shots, taking out two rebels trying to sneak up on a group of Union soldiers. The Union troops had fought well, but Jimmy didn’t know how much longer they could last. The stench of wounded and dying men was almost unbearable. He could hear the moans coming from every direction, along with pitiful cries for mothers, wives and sweethearts. He knew most of the wounded would die on the field. There was no way to evacuate them and no doctors to treat them even if they did. Jimmy had gotten so used to hiding his emotions he didn’t realize how cold his face looked at that moment. Cody would’ve teased him about trying to out-stoic Buck, if he’d seen Jimmy. All Jimmy knew was, he had to keep fighting. It was the only way to stay alive in this hellhole.
“Retreat! Retreat!” The call came from several of the officers scattered along the hill. Jimmy wasn’t surprised. Colonel Sigel’s pincer move, to trap the rebels between two Union forces must not have worked. They hadn’t seen or heard anything about him all morning.
Jimmy started moving backward, toward his horse, firing as he went in an effort to cover the retreat of the soldiers around him. When he arrived back at his horse, hitched near the command circle he couldn’t find General Lyon anywhere around. He’d been detailed to act as General Lyon’s bodyguard in the case of a retreat and hurried up to Major Sturgis.
“Sir, where’s General Lyon?” Jimmy panted.
Sturgis gave him a pained look. “I’m sorry, Private Hickok. General Lyon was killed in action a bit over an hour ago. I’m in command now.”
Jimmy gulped, then asked, “What do you want me to do, Sir?”
“We’ve accomplished our goal. We’ve stopped the rebels from making any further progress toward Jefferson City. This state will stay in the Union, now. So, it’s time for us to get out of here.”
Lou and Kid
“It was nice meeting you two,” Robert said as he escorted Kid and Lou back to the train station. They’d already collected their mounts and were ready to board the train. “You certainly livened up my last day in Springfield.”
They all grinned at that.
“So, where are you headed?”
It was a topic all three had avoided throughout the day.
“We’ll be joinin’ the war effort after Christmas,” Kid offered without going into details.
“I wish I could join you,” Robert said, “but my pa says it’s more important I finish my education. Don’t know what being a lawyer is going to do to help this country, but…” He let his voice trail off.
“This country’s going to need at least a few people who love it but aren’t scarred by the fightin’ once the war’s over,” Lou said softly. “You’ll be one of the one’s who’ll help rebuild what we’re helpin’ tear down.”
She held out her hand to shake Robert’s, then turned and boarded the train, followed closely by Kid.
- Background Info
- Short Stories
- Sweetwater Romance
- War Correspondents
- Who Am I?
- The Whole Truth
- The Home Front
- Fighting For Love
- You Were Always There*
- The Only Thing To Fear
- Starting Over
- The Gift
- The Courtship of James Hunter McCloud
- To Ride The Cyclone*
- Writers Ranch Challenges
- TYR Fan Videos
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