Surviving/Divided Loyalties: Fredericksburg/Spring of 1863
Music: Sister, Reba McEntire (mail call)
Survive, Lacuna Coil (Jimmy)
Spit Into The Fire, Fury In The Slaughterhouse (Lou)
Das Ist Mein Traum (That's My Dream), Peter Maffay (Cody)
If You're Going Through Hell, Rodney Atkins (Lou)
I Don't Wanna, Within Temptation (Kid)
The Last Dance, Within Temptation (Buck)
When The Heartache Ends, Rob Thomas (Buck)
Lou and Kid
Kid rode up to the clearing at a brisk trot, his shoulders hunched and chin tucked into the collar of his blue woolen coat. He’d worn it for almost two years now, ever since Lou’d brought it back from Denver as a birthday gift for him. He grinned at the memory of how he’d had to apologize to her for being such an ass when she’d left to purchase it.
He slowed his horse to a walk as he entered the clearing. It was precisely halfway between the winter camps of the Union and Confederate troops. He wondered if there would even be anyone there this time. There’d been fewer and fewer men showing up for these parlays lately. At the beginning of the war it had been common to see dozens of blue and grey uniforms mixing together, sharing news from home and trading food and other supplies, even ammunition. But, as the war dragged on and the hatred grew, fewer and fewer were showing up. He wouldn’t have come this time, but he’d promised Lou.
Drawing even with a large oak tree, Kid threw a leg over the horn of his saddle and leaned on it, looking around him. There were a couple of miserable looking Confederate soldiers standing under another tree, but no bluecoats. Not yet. He heaved a sigh, turned his collar up and prepared for a long wait.
His right hand seemed to find its own way into his pocket, fingering the stack of letters wrapped up in a tattered piece of oilcloth. He’d written one himself, but struggled with what to say. Most of them were from Lou, written to Sam, Emma and Rachel. Those three were the only members of the Express family who’d stayed in one place. Even so, getting letters out to them was becoming more difficult by the day. Not that that had stopped either Lou or the others. They kept trying.
Twenty minutes later a young, well fed man in a blue uniform trotted into the clearing, his kepi cap pulled low over his eyes to protect them from the snow that had started falling again. The three Confederates in the clearing quickly converged on him, peppering him with questions.
“Got anythin’ for the 4th Georgia Infantry?”
“Can you mail a letter to my Ma in New York?”
“What ‘bout the 3rd Alabama Cavalry?”
The young man in blue held up a gloved hand for silence, then reached into his saddlebags. “I’ve got a packet of letters for someone in the 1st Virginia Cavalry, Company G, and another packet that needs to go on to Richmond.”
“I’m with Company G,” Kid said, riding up to him and holding out a hand, “I’ll be glad to forward the others, as well.”
“Got anything to send the other direction?”
“Yessir, letters for Rock Creek and Omaha, both in Nebraska Territory.”
“What about you others? Got anything else for me?”
The other grey clad men shook their heads morosely, already preparing to head back to their camps.
“Same time, same place, next week,” the Union rider said as he swung his horse around, already headed back to the Union winter camp across the river and a warm fire.
Early the next morning, the call of “Rider comin’!” could be heard rippling through Company G’s winter camp like water disturbed by a tossed stone. Lou lifted the flap of their snug tent and peered out blearily into the January air. Her face relaxed, though she didn’t allow herself the grin she felt inside, as she saw Kid come galloping into the camp, riding hellbent for leather. He held one hand in the air, waving a packet around and yelling, “Mail call!”
The men of Company G who had relatives north of the Mason Dixon line quickly gathered around Kid’s panting horse, eager to hear if they had any mail.
“Emmett Caldwell!” The first name rang out, followed quickly by others as Kid passed out the letters. Finally, he shrugged, grinned and said, “Sorry men, the rest are for my brother and me.”
There was some good natured grumbling from those who hadn’t received any letters. But they headed back to their fires to warm up, get some chicory coffee and listen in to the letters of those who had gotten news from home today. Virgil walked up and took the reins of Kid’s horse. “I’ll rub him down for ya and feed him, while you and Lou go read your mail.”
“Thanks, Lieutenant,” Kid said as he dismounted, headed toward Lou and their tent. He handed the letters to Lou while grabbing some wood to add to the fire. Emmett Caldwell, Young Louie and Virgil soon joined them, to hear the news. Lou, being the better reader, pulled out her glasses and perched them on her nose as she opened the letters and started to read.
The first letter was from Rachel, telling about how all the kids at school were doing. She also wrote a lot about Janusz, the Polish immigrant she’d helped. The two had been spending a lot of time together recently while he helped care for the stock Rachel was keeping for several of the riders. After laughing at the latest exploits of Janusz trying to re-shoe Katy, Kid said, “Wonder how much longer it’ll be before we get word those two have gone and gotten hitched?”
“Could be already,” Lou said looking at the top of the page. “This letter’s dated November last year. The mail sure has slowed since the Express shutdown, despite that danged telegraph.”
“You know it’s not the telegraph, it’s the war,” Emmett said softly.
Lou just glared at him over her glasses, as she carefully refolded Rachel’s letter and returned it to the envelope. Young Louie turned to Emmett and asked, “Who’s your letter from?”
“My wife. I sent her North when I came to join up. She’s staying with her sister in Gettysburg, a small town in Pennsylvania. Figured it was safer there then here in Virginia.”
“Well, read it!” Virgil, who’d joined the group during Lou’s reading, demanded, nearly as impatient as Louie.
“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’,” Emmett grinned good naturedly. He was busily turning the letter first one direction then the other. “I’ve just gotta figure out where it starts! My wife’s so frugal she uses every inch of the paper. Once she’s covered it writing in one direction, she turns it sideways and writes the other direction, one word between each of the lines going the original direction. Sure makes it hard to figure out where to start! Ah, here we go.”
In winter camp, mail call was often the highlight of the men’s day. With only a handful getting letters at any one time and several not knowing how to read or write, letter reading had become a communal event. They all knew the details of each other’s lives, Lou thought. Well, mostly. A sudden gasp from Virgil brought her back to the present and she furtively looked around the circle of men who now made up the 4th squad. All four faces around her were equally shocked and dismayed.
“I can’t believe he did it!” Virgil stormed, standing up and pacing in front of the fire. “What does he think this will accomplish?”
“He thinks it’ll win support from the British, for one thing,” Emmett said calmly.
“And, it’ll certainly shore up support up North if he turns it into a moral fight ‘sted of a fight over state’s rights,” Kid added bitterly.
Lou looked questioningly at Louie, seated next to her.
“What’d I miss?” she whispered, as the other three men began hotly debating something.
“Lincoln’s freed the slaves,” Louie said quietly. “Remember that Emancipation Proclamation he was talkin’ ‘bout in the fall? Looks like he’s gone ahead and done it. Any slave in any state not back in the Union by January 1st of this year is now officially free, ‘cordin’ to him. That man’s done gone and stirred up a hornet’s nest.”
Lou nodded. She’d have to make sure to get on kitchen duty today so she could slip word to Isaac. She knew things had been getting harder on the older black man as the war dragged on. Thomas had never been a pleasant man but, despite a short improvement in behavior after his Christmas wedding, lately he’d been getting worse. And Isaac was the one he took his anger out on.
“We’ve got to keep this from the darkies,” Virgil was nearly shouting. “There’ll be a slave uprisin’ for sure!”
“Calm down, Virgil,” Kid placated. “It’s not like this ‘Proclamation’ is going to do any good anywhere the Yanks don’t already control anyways.”
“The Kid’s got a point,” Louie piped up.
“Besides,” Kid continued a little more slowly, “I don’t know that this isn’t a good idea. I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea of one man owning another. Just don’t seem right. I’ve lived with, worked with and been friends with coloreds, black, red, don’t matter. And I can tell you, they’re just the same as the rest of us. I didn’t come here to fight for slavery. I came here to fight for Virginia.”
With that proclamation of his own, Kid got up and walked toward where the horses were stabled. Lou knew he’d be spending some time grooming the horses while doing some thinking.
Virgil and Emmett looked at each other as they watched Kid walk off, a little in shock at his pronouncement.
“Well, whatta ya know,” Louie muttered in wonder.
“Get that canvas over here!”
“I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying,” Cody muttered irritably. If I’d wanted to build houses I’d have joined the Corps of Engineers, he thought. The 7th Kansas Cavalry had been busy preparing their winter camp for the last couple weeks. After spending all summer and fall trooping from one Mississippi town to another, they’d been ordered to winter camp outside Memphis. There, they were in charge of protecting the Memphis and Tennessee Railroad. Because they’d be there for a few months, instead of a few days, they were putting up more permanent shelters.
“Has anyone seen the auger?” Thatch asked from her position astride one of the top logs in the small structure. “I need to drill a couple more holes for these pegs so we can properly tie down the roof.”
“Here it is,” shouted one of the new enlistees. Unlike so many of the men who’d ended up in the 7th Cavalry, will they nil they, after Lincoln had begun conscripting men, this one at least appeared to care about his job. He tossed the auger up to Thatch, who caught it neatly with one hand and began drilling holes in the top log.
Cody stepped back to admire the work they’d completed so far. They hadn’t bothered putting in a stone foundation. It wasn’t as if they’d be here long enough to worry about the logs rotting out from under them. So, the bottom row of notched logs lay directly on the ground. The small eight by seven foot structure was intended to house five men for the rest of the winter. Thatch and the Lieutenant were busy putting a tent canvas over the top to act as the roof. Meanwhile, Cody and the others were supposed to be stuffing clay and straw into the gaps between the logs. Chinking it was called. In Cody’s opinion, it was just plain boring. Once that was done and had been allowed to dry, they’d cut out a door in one side and build some bunks for the men to sleep in. Cody grinned. It wouldn’t be near as snug as the bunkhouse back in Rock Creek, but it sure would be an improvement over where they’d been sleeping.
“Hey, Thatch,” he called up to his acknowledge partner in antics, “wanna play some cards, when we get done with this?”
“Why’d I wanna do that? You already owe me two bucks!”
“Aw, come on, Thatch. How’m I ever supposed to win enough money to pay ya, if ya won’t play me?”
“Find someone else to lose money ya ain’t got to,” Thatch called down. “I’m going to read that newspaper that came in last week. It’s finally my turn!”
Cody shrugged in minor disappointment and turned to find another mark. Suddenly, his nose started twitching in excitement as he heard the words, “Here’s your pies! Buy your pies here!”
“No,” Thatch shouted, before he could even ask. “I ain’t buyin’ you a meat pie. Don’t care how many raggedy muffins come a sellin’. I’m savin’ my money for somethin’ and it ain’t no pie. You can just wait ‘til suppertime, William Frederick Cody.”
“Well, ya ain’t gotta sound like my ma ‘bout it,” Cody grumbled to himself. Though, in all honesty, she’d sounded more like Emma than his ma.
Jimmy pulled his horse back to a walk as he entered town. It had been over a year since he’d left Rock Creek. And he hadn’t left on good terms with some of his closest friends and family. He just hoped Rachel would forgive him his hotheaded temper. Again.
He continuously scanned the street for trouble, a habit he’d gotten into while working with Teaspoon. He didn’t see much that might cause problems. About the only thing he really noticed was just how empty the street was. That might have something to do with it being late on a January evening that felt like it might be turning to a blizzard. But he figured it had more to do with the War.
As his horse walked past the Marshal’s office, something caught Jimmy’s eye. He turned the horse back and rode up to the wall that Teaspoon had used to hang out wanted posters. Now, it was plastered with lists of those killed and wounded in the war. The latest casualty list from the North was on the left, the South on the right. Jimmy laboriously worked his way through the list, looking for any familiar names, then turned away relieved. No one he knew was on either list.
When Jimmy reached the end of the lane and rode up to the former Pony Express waystation he and Kid had practically built from the ground up, he slowed his horse even more. Eventually, he decided to just go straight to the barn and stable his palomino before crashing in on Rachel.
The opening of the barn doors allowed a blast of cold wind in, causing the horses inside to shift in discomfort. One let out an annoyed whicker. Jimmy led his palomino down the center aisle, not even thinking, but heading straight to the stall he’d always used. As he passed the two stalls just before it, a black horse stuck its head out over the stall door and snuffled softly to him, quickly followed by a beautiful brown and white head.
“Katie! Lightning!” Jimmy said in surprise. “What are you two doing here?”
Jimmy walked over to Kid’s and Lou’s horses and patted each one hello. Could this mean his friends hadn’t gone off to war, like they’d planned? Or, had they just left their equine friends behind, in safety, like he was planning to do? He’d find out soon enough.
“Happy New Years, you two. I’ll just let you get caught up with Sundancer here, while I go see if I can talk my way into some of Rachel’s fine cookin’!”
“Only if jou apologize to her virst,” a heavily accented voice warned from the barn door.
“Janusz, is that you? What are you doing here?” Jimmy asked in pleased shock.
“To talk my vay into some of Rachel’s vine kookin’,” Janus replied with a grin. “But Rachel, she is not happy vith you. You vill haf to to say ‘I’m sorry,’ und today isn’t Sunday.”
“For Rachel’s cooking, I think I’ll break that rule,” Jimmy smiled.
The two men exited the barn and headed for Rachel’s place.
As it turned out, Jimmy hadn’t had to break his rule about only saying sorry on Sundays. Rachel had taken one look at him and gathered him into her arms. She proceeded to baby him in a way he hadn’t been babied in years. Jimmy set about enjoying the experience, knowing it would end soon enough.
It wasn’t until Jimmy had settled his things into the room Rachel had made up for him at the main house, refusing to let him sleep in the bunkhouse as he’d planned, and he’d worked his way through two bowls of her world famous stew, that Rachel finally asked the question that had been uppermost in her mind.
“How long are you here for, Jimmy? I can’t imagine the Army’s let you go already.”
“Actually, I was discharged last September. Seems the Army couldn’t handle my temper as well as Teaspoon,” he grinned.
“They never had a sweatlodge,” Rachel teased.
“But, I’ll only be here ‘til the storm breaks, I’m afraid. I’m headed to San Francisco.”
“Vhat for?” Janusz asked.
“I’m on a special mission for the Army. Afraid I can’t say any more than that,” Jimmy replied, leaning back in his seat. “I was hoping I could leave Sundancer with you, Rachel? I don’t think he’d take to well to life aboard ship.”
“I don’t ‘spect he would,” Rachel grinned. “That’s fine. It’ll give him time to get reacquainted with Lightning and Katie.”
“I saw them out there, when I was stabling Sundancer. I’m kinda surprised, actually. Figured they’d take their horses with ‘em.” Jimmy carefully avoided saying the names of his two best friends. It would just be too painful.
“They figured it was for the best. Bought a couple of other Indian ponies for the trip and left those two with me,” Rachel said, standing and beginning to clear the table. Janusz stood to help her in what had obviously become a frequently practiced dance of domesticity. Jimmy watched the pair curiously, one eyebrow climbing his forehead.
“I exercise zem daily,” Janusz said. “Zough soon I’ll haf to leave Katie be.”
“Katie and Lightning are a lot more like Kid and Lou than any of us would have thought,” Rachel laughed. “All goes well, Katie will drop a foal this spring.”
“And we all figgered it’d be Lou having the first Express baby!” Jimmy joked. Now that he’d relaxed enough to say the names, he had to ask, “Have you heard from them recently?”
“I get letters ever’ once and awhile. Though they’re gettin’ fewer and farther between,” Rachel said as she began washing the dishes. “Last I heard, they’d joined the cavalry in Virginia. Sounds like things are going okay, although both of ‘em are plenty homesick and can’t wait to come back. You know they can’t give too many details, between sending the letters across enemy lines and Lou’s secret.”
“I don’t know how she keeps such a secret,” Janusz opined, coming to stand behind Rachel as she sat back down at the table. He placed a hand familiarly on Rachel’s shoulder for a moment as he finished, “She vas so obviously a voman.”
“Oh, people see what they expect to see, most times,” Rachel smiled.
Jimmy was counting on just that to keep him safe through the next few months. “Speaking of secrets, I ran into Cody last year. You’ll never believe what he’s gotten himself into over in Kansas.”
Kid and Lou
Thomas sneered as he watched Kid fuss over his ‘brother’. He’d had just about enough of those two catamites. It was time to do something about them. Standing, he called out to his childhood friend, “Virgil, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“What is it, Thomas? I’ve got these duty reports to finish.”
“Well, that’s what you get for goin’ all high an’ mighty on us, Mr. Lieutenant!”
Virgil grinned at the old joke, waiting for Thomas to get to the point.
“Have you noticed anythin’ odd ‘bout those McCloud boys?”
“Other than the fact they can outride and outshoot the lot of us? Cain’t say as I have, Thomas. What are ya gettin’ at?”
“Don’t they just seem a mite, well, too close to ya?”
“Thomas, if ya’ve got somethin’ to say, just say it. Stop beatin’ ‘round the bush!”
“I saw ‘em sparkin’ out in the barn over Christmas,” Thomas let out with a grimace. “Dangedest thing I ever did see. We gotta get rid of ‘em, Virgil. I cain’t hold with catamites, assuming that’s all they are and not really brothers.”
“Doubt you saw what you think you saw, Thomas. You know yer always jumpin’ to conclusions. But even if ya did, so what? We desperately need every man we got, and those two happen ta be the best we got. We cain’t afford to lose ‘em.”
“But I’m tellin’ ya, they ain’t real men.”
“They could be wimmen, fer all I care, Thomas. We need ‘em. Just let it go. Ya don’t havta pass the time with ‘em. Just let ‘em do their job and you do yorn.”
“It ain’t right!” Thomas persisted. “It goes again’ ever’thing I been taught. It goes again’ the Bible, Virgil.”
“Is there anythin’ in this blamed war that don’t?” Virgil responded bitterly. “Now, git. I got real work to do.”
Thomas stared at Virgil as he turned back to his paperwork. Then, let out a huff and turned to stomp off in a frustrated fury. As he entered the center of camp, he saw Lou helping Isaac with the dinner preparations. The pair were talking and laughing like old friends. Enfuriated, Thomas marched up to Isaac and hit him in the face with his quirt.
“You’re not here to socialize, boy. Stop wastin’ time and get back to work,” he growled, ignoring Lou’s agonized gasp and Isaac’s pained pant.
Isaac bowed his head, with his hand held to his now bleeding cheek and whispered, “Yes, massa.”
Thomas nodded and marched off.
“Isaac, are you alright?” Lou asked, running up to him and trying to get a look at his cheek.
“Ise be fine, massa. Ise bettah get back to work,” the man said, seeming suddenly twenty years older than he’d looked just five minutes before. He turned away from Lou and back to the pot of beans bubbling over the fire. “You bettah get along, now. Ise shore you’ve got bettah thangs ta do then stand around lookin’ at ol’ Isaac.”
Lou looked at Isaac with pained eyes for a moment, then turned away and headed back to her squad’s area in the camp. Her shoulders slumped in pain for the older man who’d become a good friend to her these last few months.
“He just makes me so mad, Kid. I could punch his lights out!”
Lou’d been ranting and raving at Kid for the last twenty minutes over the incident between Thomas and Isaac. Kid understood how Lou felt, but didn’t know what he could do to change things.
“And it ain’t just how he treats Isaac, as if that weren’t bad enough. He’s just as nasty to his horses.” Thomas was one of the few men in the unit to have a spare mount. “He rides ‘em ‘til they’re blown then don’t rub ‘em down good. Heck! He don’t rub ‘em down at all. Just lets ‘em sit there ‘til Isaac gets free of cooking and can do it. He’s nothing but a no-account blowhard nob!” she spit out through gritted teeth.
Kid just smiled gently and let her rant, hoping she’d get it out of her system and be able to relax some. Though he doubted his feisty Lou would put up with Mr. Thomas Ewell for much longer.
Teaspoon leaned his chair back onto its rear legs, resting his feet up on the porch railing. With a sigh, he tipped his hat down over his eyes. With all these women folk running around the farm, it was hard to get a good nap in these days.
“Mr. Hunter! Oh, Mr. Hunter, there ya are,” Mrs. Herrington’s dulcet voice interrupted his pleasant thoughts. “Ah was just wonderin’ Mr. Hunter, if ya’d like a taste of this dried peach pie Emily just pulled out of the oven.”
Teaspoon tipped his hat up and contemplated the offering. Maybe if he accepted the pie, she’d just leave him alone for a bit. He couldn’t believe it, but he was actually getting a bit claustrophobic with all these people around all the time, constantly wanting his time and attention. He missed his office back in Rock Creek, where they only called on him when he was needed, either as a Marshal or to give some good advice. Here, he couldn’t get a word in edgewise. All those women talking all the time, telling each other what to do and what not to do. Things had been much simpler when the only women in his life had been Lou and Rachel. And Lou’d been more boy than girl, anyway. Leastways, until she’d finally given in and married the Kid.
With a grin at the memory, he reached out and accepted the plate and fork from Savannah Herrington. “Much obliged, ma’am. Much obliged.”
Standing Woman dished up some buffalo stew and handed it to her new husband. Smiling at her, he grabbed her wrist instead of the bowl and pulled her into his lap along with the food.
“Why don’t you just feed it to me?” he whispered in her ear.
“Because if I do, I might end up back in that bedroll we just crawled out of. And whether you are or not, I’m hungry,” she said tartly, smacking him on the chest with her free hand. Setting his bowl down on the ground next to him, she scrambled out of his lap to dish out a bowl for herself.
“Isn’t that kind of the purpose of this?” Buck said, his eyes twinkling at her mischievously. Even before the wedding, Buck had begun relaxing around Standing Woman, allowing her to see the real him, twisted humor and all. Now, he wasn’t holding anything back and it felt good. He hadn’t felt this good since before Ike died. “Now hurry up and eat, woman. Your man’s starting to get cold over here.”
“Well, we can’t have that, now can we,” Standing Woman smiled at him then tossed a buffalo robe across the tipi into his lap. “Why don’t you just wrap up in that to keep warm.”
“I think I’d rather wrap myself up in you,” Buck said, leaping to his feet and scooping her up in his arms. By this point in their play, all thoughts of food had disappeared from both their minds. Standing Woman placed her hands on Buck’s cheeks and pulled him down for a long, deep kiss. There were some things the Wasicu had certainly gotten right, she thought with a wicked grin against Buck’s roving lips, and kissing was definitely one of them.
Kid and Lou
“Kid, Lou, y’all up for some horizontal refreshments?”
“Uh, no thanks,” Kid muttered, ducking his head and blushing a little, “we’ve got other plans.”
“What, gonna play some more cards? There ain’t nothin’ to do ‘round here but play cards and polish the tack. ‘Lessin ya got a little lady tucked away somewheres we don’t know ‘bout.”
The group of men burst out laughing at the joke. They were all spiffed up for a Saturday night ‘on the town’ with the camp followers.
“Naw,” Lou piped up from her position squatting by the fire polishing a boot, “just don’t wanna bring home any social diseases.”
As the group turned to walk away, Kid noticed a peculiar whispering amongst the men with several looking back toward squad 4’s fire. He scratched his head in bewilderment and said, “Wonder what that’s all about?” to no one in particular.
“The latest camp canard is that y’all are a couple gal-boys,” Louie said, walking up to the fire and squatting down to warm his hands near the flames.
“What?” Kid asked in confusion.
“He means they think we both like men,” Lou explained quietly.
“Kid, ya gotta take this seriously. This could mean big trouble for us. It may’ve been a joke back in Sweetwater, but here it’s serious business.”
“What do you mean, Lou?” Virgil asked seriously, starting to wonder if there was some truth to the rumors.
“Back in Sweetwater, Kid used that as an excuse to avoid visitin’ the local cathouse with our older brother, Jed,” Lou explained. “He just didn’t wanna cheat on his sweetheart.”
“You gotta sweetheart?” Louie interjected excitedly. “That’s the first I’ve heard tell of it. What’s she like?”
Kid settled down by the fire, leaning back against his saddle. “Well, she’s the prettiest little thing this side of the Atlantic. Real petite, with these big gorgeous brown eyes,” he began to lapse rhapsodic about Lou, who simply kept polishing her boots. Each carefully avoided looking at the other. “You can get lost in those eyes.”
“I know you tol’ me you two got married, but you never get any letters from her,” Virgil stated. “What happened?”
“Oh, we kinda put things on hold until after the war,” Kid said somberly, one hand sneaking into the interior pocket of his jacket to caress the wedding ring resting there in a velvet bag. “But we plan to buy a ranch near Rock Creek when the war’s over. We’re gonna breed and train horses.”
After everyone had turned in for the night, Lou snuck up to Kid’s side and shook him awake.
“We gotta do somethin’, Kid,” Lou hissed.
“I don’t care what Thomas thinks, but if there are rumors around camp, we gotta do somethin’ to stop ‘em.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Maybe we should go down to the camp followers, you know, just to make it look like we’re ridin’ the dutch gals, not really do it. Or, we could get in a fight. Or, we could do both!” Lou finished happily.
Kid eyed her warily, aware they probably did need to do something but not sure he liked her solution. Reading his expression, Lou hissed, “You got any better ideas? I’m listenin’!”
“Alright then, it’s settled. Next week, we’ll go down the line with the rest of the men, then slip out the back when no one’s lookin’.”
“What about the fightin’,” Kid asked a little apprehensively.
“Oh, leave that to me,” Lou smiled mischievously. “You just have to be yourself.”
Now that they had a plan of action, Lou felt she could get some sleep and settled back into her bedroll, pulling her hat down over her face. Unfortunately, Kid didn’t think he’d be sleeping soundly again anytime soon.
A few days later, Kid was busily re-shoeing a horse when Lou came stomping out of their tent with murder in her eyes. Several of the men in Company G, who by now were well acquainted with Lou’s temper, dropped what they were doing and started following her. They could tell a fight was about to happen and quickly started placing bets on the winner. Lou, despite her small stature was ahead by two to one.
“Let ‘er rip, Lou,” one man hollered after her.
Kid was whistling away as he hammered the last shoe into place on a rear hoof. Just as he straightened a flying right hook pummeled him in the belly, knocking the air out of his lungs. With a grunt, Kid started to fold forward, only to catch a left jab in the eye. As he fell to the ground, he saw Lou standing over him, hands on her hips.
“You, you no good, uppity, pie eatin’ polecat! How dare you! Just ‘cause ya promised Rachel and Teaspoon to look out fer me don’t give ya the right to suggest I ain’t toeing the line,” Lou ranted at him. “Just ‘cause I’m littler than you ain’t give ya the right to treat me like I’m still a kid, Kid!”
Lou followed the rant up with a diving attack at Kid, sending the pair rolling around in the mud. One of the watching dragoons turned to another and said, not so quietly, “Gal-boys, my ass. If those two ain’t brothers, I’ll eat my boots for dinner.”
“Ya might anyways, Tucker. Sam’s up to cook tonight!” another responded, sending the whole group into gales of laughter.
Lou landed one last solid whack to the back of Kid’s head as she climbed out of the ravine they’d rolled into. “And just stay outta my sight, while yer at it!”
With that parting shot she pushed her way roughly through the spectators and stomped back to the tent she and Kid shared, slamming the flaps closed behind her. She’d had to move fast, before she burst out into gales of her own laughter at Kid’s stupefied look throughout the entire ‘fight.’ But, she figured, that plus their trip to the camp followers this weekend ought to have taken care of any concerns the men had about her and Kid.
“You could’ve pulled your punches a bit more,” Kid complained when he returned to the tent later that day. He rubbed a hand across his jaw where a big bruise was starting to form.
“If I didn’t leave at least a few bruises as evidence, they’d never have bought it.”
“But did you have to break my nose?”
“Ah, it’ll look good on you. Now quit whining, you big baby. I can’t take care of you. I’ve gotta go be ‘mad’ at ya.” Turning her loving smile into an angry grimace, Lou stomped out of the tent, leaving Kid behind to nurse his wounds.
“Yeah, but when do we get to ‘make-up’?” Kid wondered quietly to himself.
Jimmy walked down the streets of San Francisco, looking for the man in the black bowler hat with a yellow flower tucked into the hatband. That man was supposed to be Jimmy’s contact, with the information on where Jimmy was headed next. Finally, he spotted the man buying a newspaper near a café. He crossed the street and walked up next to the short, slightly paunchy man. “The sky’s a beautiful shade of periwinkle today.”
“Sure is. But I prefer it when it’s cerulean,” the man replied, never looking at Jimmy. “Meet me at pier 5 tonight at 6,” he whispered under his breath, just loud enough for Jimmy to hear him. Then, without another word, he took his newspaper and headed off down the street. Jimmy turned and walked in the other direction.
That evening, after a filling supper, Jimmy wandered down to the docks, slowly making his way toward pier 5. As he paused to stare up at the prow of a large ship, someone suddenly grabbed his arm and pulled him into a warehouse door. The door slammed closed in front of his face as the man pulling on his arm swung Jimmy around to face him. “You’re late.”
“Sorry. Didn’t wanna be early and give the game away by just standing here looking lost,” Jimmy said sarcastically.
“Good thinking,” the man in black grunted. “We don’t have much time. You’re to join the crew of the Denbigh tonight as the new quartermaster. At Galveston, you’ll leave the ship and join the crew of the Lizzie. The Lizzie will take you to Richmond. There, you’ll pose as a gunrunner in an effort to discover the identity of the spy who’s funneling weapons development information to the South out of D.C. If you have any information you need to get back to us or if you’re ready to be extracted, you’re to contact this person,” he finished, handing a calling card to Jimmy.
Jimmy looked at the card for a moment, slowly working out the syllables of the name written on it. When he looked up the man in black had disappeared.
A week later, Jimmy was questioning why he’d ever agreed to this, as he lay in his oddly shaped bunk, trying not to lose what little he’d eaten that day. He’d heard the motion of a ship likened to the gallop of a horse. But he’d never gotten sick on horseback, even on the worst gaited horse he’d ever ridden.
With a groan, he lurched out of the bunk, scrambling frantically for the chamber pot, as the sea biscuits he’d gnawed on for breakfast made a reappearance. Two more weeks just to get to Galveston, then another three on the Lizzie to get to Richmond was going to kill him. He was never going to make it. How did he always get himself into these situations? Jimmy asked himself. He flopped back on the bunk and closed his eyes in an effort to escape the living hell his life had become.
“Here,” Cody said grudgingly, shoving something into Thatch’s hands. “That’s the $2 I owe ya.”
“Wow, I, ah, well, I,” Thatch stuttered, nearly speechless.
“What’s the matter, cat got yer tongue?”
“No. It’s just I never expected to see this money,” Thatch finally admitted.
“Well, I’ve learned the hard way, if you don’t pay someone what you owe them as soon as possible, you may never get the chance,” the normally ebullient Cody said quietly. Shaking off the somber mood, he asked, “So, what are your plans for tonight?”
“There’s a circus come to town,” Thatch said, her facing lighting up with excitement. “They actually came to visit their menfolk. They all got conscripted last month. But while they’re here, the ladies decided to put on a show, make a little money. Wanna come?”
“Hmmmm,” Cody pondered a moment, stroking his chin in thought. “A circus made up of all women? I could handle that! I’ll see ya tonight!”
Cody slapped Thatch on the back in appreciation of the invitation so hard she stumbled. But he never noticed. He was already halfway down the muddy ‘street’ between the cabins, making plans to spruce himself up for the ladies. Thatch just watched him go, shaking her head in bemusement.
That night the pair sat in the middle of an excited group of blue-coated soldiers. But while the others hooted and hollered in excitement and wonder at the activities going on in the three rings before them, Cody and Thatch watched in silent wonder.
“Isn’t it the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen?” Cody marveled, watching the horse tricks being performed by a well proportioned young lady.
“It sure is,” Thatch sighed in agreement, watching the highwire act in another ring.
When the show ended, Thatch turned to Cody and offered, “I’m going to learn how to walk the tightrope some day. It just looks like so much fun. I do believe I’ll run away and join the circus when this war is over.”
“I don’t know about that, but I definitely want to do something that gets me back on the stage again,” Cody said, a tad less enthusiastic then his companion. “Or better yet, I’d like to own a show. You know, I had this idea once of bringing the West to the big cities back East.”
The two walked out of the circus tent, feeding off each other’s excitement and plans for the future.
Lou and Kid
Kid took careful aim at one of the men loading a Yankee artillery piece up the plank road, squeezed the trigger gently and fired. A moment later the man dropped silently to the ground. Another blue coat quickly stepped into his place and resumed his work. Kid began reloading the Enfield rifle he’d fired. He sighed. He wasn’t as good as Cody with the thing, but good enough at these distances. Though that didn’t seem to matter. For every Yank he shot, another two seemed to take his place, without pause.
A glance down the line of skirmishers found Lou acting as a medic. She’d run out of ammo earlier in the night. This was the second night of fighting, with no end in sight. Many of the men in the 1st Virginia Cavalry were now down to fighting only when they could scavange ammunition from the dead.
A sudden commotion up the road caught all their attention.
“Riders comin’!” Lou shouted over the din of the firing cannons. A dozen horses galloped around the corner. With all the gold braid, it must be a group of officers trying to get the lay of the land, Kid figured. Then he noticed one horse loaded down with two men, one of whom appeared to be unconscious and bleeding profusely from an arm.
“It’s ol’ Stonewall,” someone gasped down the line.
“They’ve shot General Jackson!” another outraged voice shouted.
Virgil stood at the end of the line, heedless of the possibility of being hit by the Yanks down the road, and snapped off a salute to his old commander from the Virginia Military Institute.
“God speed, Sir,” he shouted. Turning to the rest of the men, he added, “Now get back to work! We’ve got a battle to win, gentlemen!”
It seemed like only moments before Young Louie’s bugle called Company G to mount up and move out.
“Where are we headed, L-T?” Lou asked Virgil. She always got more formal in battle situations, Kid had noticed.
“Orders are to pull back. Stonewall wasn’t the only one injured. So was his second in command. That puts the General in charge. We’re to join him at H.Q. to figure out what’s goin’ on!”
The men of Company G whipped their horses into a gallop toward their gallant leader. Upon their arrival, they found the place in an uproar. None of General Jackson’s staff was around.
“Dadgummit,” Stuart cursed. “How’m I supposed to know what orders to give, when I don’t have the slightest idea where my troops even are? All Jackson would tell me, was to use my best judgment!”
Stuart slammed his plumed hat against his thigh, pacing back and forth in agitation. When he caught sight of Captain Irving and the rest of Company G flying into camp, his tension seemed to ease slightly.
“Captain! I’ve got a mission for ya. I need ya to split yer men up,” he said, starting to spit out orders. Company G would serve as his eyes and ears, so he could figure out what to do in this bloody battle. “You!” he shouted at Lou, “Can ya read and write?”
“Then you’ll stay here. I need ya to act as my clerk. I don’t have any staff officers. Plus, that way I can use you as a messenger if need be.”
“Sir!” Lou acknowledged the order.
Kid didn’t say anything, but was glad to hear Lou might be able to stay out of the way of flying bullets, at least for a little while. Lou however stared after him, pained to see him ride off without her but unable to do or say anything about it.
“What’s yer name, son?”
The question startled Lou out of her reverie and she quickly turned back to General Stuart. “Lou. Lou McCloud.”
“Well Mr. McCloud, we’ve got some serious work before us this night. Let’s get a move on,” Stuart said, clapping Lou on the shoulder as he turned to head back to the table that held a map of the area.
As the reports brought by the men of Company G started trickling in, General J.E.B. Stuart’s plan started to take formation. Just before dawn, he turned to the gathered men of Company G and said, “I’m sorry gentlemen. I know yer all tired, but I’ve got one more run for ya before ya can get a couple hours sleep. There’s a packet for each of ya to the various commanders. Ride hard and fast. The safety of Richmond and all Virginia resides in your hands.”
With those words, Lou started passing out the packets. After all the men had taken their assignment and headed out to their equally weary mounts, Lou was left standing holding one last packet. “Sir, there aren’t enough riders.”
“Then you’ll have to go, son. I’ll miss your help here, but I need ya in the saddle more, right now. Ride safe!”
Lou grinned at the familiar refrain and leapt for her horse, fresh after several hours of rest. It was no accident she’d kept the packet with the orders for the unit furthest away at the bottom of the pile. She was no fool. She’d known the numbers and that she’d end up riding too. This way she, the freshest rider, had the longest ride. It was something Kid would’ve done for her. But two could play at that game.
She leaned low over her horse’s neck, wrapping her hands in its mane, urging it to ever greater speeds. No need to worry about the horse getting blown. She didn’t have that far to go. At a flat out gallop she wove her way between the greening trees of spring, jumping the occasional fallen log or stream bed without a pause. A grin crossed her face. For the moment, as she flew across the terrain, she was free again.
Hours later found all the members of Company G drooping in exhaustion. They’d been racing back and forth, carrying orders for the General since before dawn. But, now it looked like the Confederate Army was going to carry the day. Hours of bloody fighting through a dense wood and several failed charges had not deterred the men in grey. They’d finally taken a key ridge, putting the Yankees under enfiladed fire. With bullets coming at them from two sides, the Yankee troops were losing their nerve.
Kid looked up from where he was near the front line and saw the silhouette of General Stuart, sitting straight and strong on his horse atop the ridge. The feathery plume of his distinctive hat gently waved back and forth in the May breeze. His appearance was giving the Confederate troops just as much courage as it was discouraging the Yanks. Chancellorsville would soon be theirs.
Buck walked slowly back toward the tipi he shared with Standing Woman. He was very careful to keep his steps measured and steady. After 48 hours without food or drink, he would be reeling as badly as a drunk if he weren’t careful. This latest vision quest had been the most difficult since last summer’s Sun Dance. But, it had completed his training as a Cheyenne medicine man.
Pulling open the flap of the tipi, he careful bent over to enter the dwelling. But, a slight miscalculation had him tripping over the entrance ledge and falling face forward into the ground.
“Buck!” Standing Woman gasped, running to her husband. “Are you alright?”
“He’ll be fine,” Rain said, coming up behind him. “He just needs water, food and rest. In that order. Let me know when he awakens. We have a celebration to plan.”
Standing Woman smiled at her father as she helped her husband back to his feet. She didn’t care so much about that. All she cared about was the safety of her new husband. They’d been married only a few moons and he’d spent most of the time since their honeymoon with her father, instead of her, completing his training as a medicine man. It was like he was driven by demons. She understood why. It was his way of atoning for his past and trying to protect their future and the future of all their families. But now, he’d be able to take a little time for himself.
A week after Rain named Buck an official Medicine Man, or Shaman, of The People, Buck trotted across the northern plains along with most of the capable hunters of the band. It was the first buffalo hunt of the summer. The herd had been sighted two days ride from the camp. Though Buck was not required to ride along due to his new status, he chose to anyway. Standing Woman had decided to come, as well, and trotted beside her husband on her favorite wedding pony.
All the members of the hunting party carried a bow and arrows. Several also carried lances, long heavy spears designed for close up kills. Few had guns and those who did wouldn’t waste their ammunition on hunting buffalo.
As they slowly trotted around the edges of the herd, so as not to startle it into a stampede until all were in place and ready, Buck and Standing Woman heard the ululating shout indicating the start of the hunt. They leaned low over their horses and took off at a flat out gallop, each chasing down a pre-chosen buffalo.
Standing Woman quickly caught up with the calf she’d picked out. Its beautiful yellow hide would make a wonderful baby blanket. Buck was chasing down a light colored cow he’d spotted, apparently being protected by several other cows and bulls. He could easily have chosen one of the other buffalo circled around the cow. But, somehow, he knew she was there for him. With a screeched Kiowa war cry, Buck plunged into the midst of the herd, weaving back and forth to avoid the bulls’ evil horns. The giant bovines milled around nervously. Soon they would start stampeding and if Buck wasn’t clear of the herd when they did, he could easily be trampled. But his entire being was focused on the object of his hunt.
As he neared the light colored cow, he realized she was not one of the occasional animals that retained the yellow coat of youth into adulthood. This was a white cow. They were sacred to all Indians who hunted the buffalo, due to their extreme scarcity. Buck knew of only two that had been taken. Using his leg muscles to lift him high on his horse’s back, Buck raised the heavy lance in his right hand high over head. He took careful aim, as he would have only one chance, then let it fly. His horse was moving so fast, he wasn’t able to see if he’d hit his target or not, although he heard a pained bellow as he galloped on past. The markings on his lance would identify any kills he made anyway.
Buck exited the herd on the other side just in the nick of time. The buffalo started to stampede away from these strange folk hurting them. The hunters turned their horses to run parallel to the fleeing buffalo and continued their hunt. Pulling out his bow and arrows, Buck targeted two more animals, another adult cow, this one the normal black-brown, and a large bull with a full set of horns. He hit both, though he was unsure if he’d killed them. At least one also had an arrow from another hunter in its side. They’d have to figure out which of them had killed it later. Then, the last of the buffalo disappeared over the rise.
In that one hunt, the tribe had brought down enough meat to last most of the summer. There would be a couple more hunts after the Sun Dance, to provision for the winter. But for now, this was it. Buck turned his horse and trotted back to the killing field. Standing Woman was already beginning to field dress the first of the animals they’d brought down.
Pulling his horse to a stop in front of her he asked, “Have you seen my lance?”
“No,” she said, looking at him strangely. “The Dog Soldiers have it.”
She pointed with her chin to a group of young men, the best warriors in the tribe, seated on their horses in the near distance. Buck nodded and turned toward the group of elite warriors and hunters. At his arrival, Buck dismounted. None of the Dog Soldiers said anything, simply moving their horses aside so Buck could see his kill. He walked up to it slowly, reverently, before dropping to his knees beside it. He tilted his head back toward the heavens and began singing a song of thanksgiving at the top of his lungs. After a moment, the Dog Soldiers dismounted and came to stand behind him, joining in.
When the song was completed, Buck looked up to see Standing Woman was at his side, a hand on his shoulder, quiet pride in her eyes. Both looked at the now obviously snow white cow lying before them. Buck stood, pulled his knife from its sheath attached to the boot he still wore instead of moccasins. He handed the knife to Standing Woman, indicating she should begin butchering the cow, a great honor.
Standing Woman walked over and cut out the cow’s tongue, handing it to Buck. Then, she turned back to the cow, slicing down the middle of the belly to plunge a hand in and cut out first the heart, then the liver. These, too, she handed to Buck. By tradition, as the hunter who’d made the kill, these delicacies were his. He had the choice of eating them himself, immediately, or bestowing the honor upon someone else.
Buck stood, looking down at the meat in his hands, still warm from the cow’s body. After several moments of thought, Buck took one bite from each, then passed them on to the other men in the group. All the band’s hunters by now had joined the Dog Soldiers, Buck and Standing Woman in the huddle around the cow’s body. Each man there took a small, reverent bite then passed the meat on. After all had tasted, the small remaining portions were handed back to Buck.
Someone in the group had begun to hum, then sing a song of reverence and thanksgiving during the ceremonial eating of the cow’s internal organs. All the hunters had taken it up and the quiet music served as background for all their actions.
Buck moved a little away from the cow, and began to start a fire. Understanding what he was about to do Standing Woman quickly moved over to help him. No one said a word, but all continued to sing. When the fire was going well, Standing Woman added some sweetgrass to it. Buck pulled out his brand new ceremonial pipe, filled it with tobacco and quietly puffed on it, waving the smoke to the four directions, North, South, East and West, followed by Heaven and Earth. Then, solemnly, he placed the remnants of the cows tongue, liver and heart in the fire.
“Oh great Buffalo Woman, we thank you for this gift,” he intoned quietly. “We pray that you provide us with the tongues to speak honestly and peacefully, that our courage will be as great as yours and our hearts as strong in love. We promise to honor you for this gift to the best of our abilities. Your generosity shall never be forgotten.”
Lowering his arms to his side, Buck closed his eyes for several moments, allowing those gathered around to add their own, silent, prayers to his. Then, standing, he brushed off the buckskin leggings he was wearing and turned to Standing Woman. With a smile he said, “We’d better get to work! There’re a lot of buffalo to be butchered this day.”
At that lighthearted signal, the group gathered around broke into cheers, shouts and yips of joy, running off to begin the bloody process of butchering the day’s kill. Despite what the Sioux might say, this was a good day to be alive!
“Listen, Mrs. Herrington,” Teaspoon began a little uncertainly, “we’re gettin’ a little low on supplies and, well, since we didn’t manage to sell all our grain and cotton last fall in town, I was thinkin’…”
As he trailed off, Mrs. Herrington looked at the kindly old man and smiled. “Yes, Mr. Hunter? What were you thinkin’?”
“Well, I heard the Confederacy’s gettin’ kinda desperate for goods. Thought I’d load up a couple wagons, take it all down to Galveston and try to sell there. We’d probably get a better price, in a bigger city anyhow.”
“You’ve been right ‘bout everythin’ else up to this point, Mr. Hunter. Ah see no reason to argue with ya now.”
“Well, I was afeared you’d be worried ‘bout me leavin’ ya here on yer own for so long. I’ll be gone at least a month,” he warned.
“Please, Mr. Hunter, have you no confidence in your skills as a teacher? If Ah can’t take care of myself by now, there’s nothin’ else you can do to protect me. Besides,” she added, spreading her arms wide to indicate all the activity around them, “it’s not as if you haven’t provided me with my very own guard.”
“Alrighty then, I’ll round up a couple of drivers and we’ll start loading up. We’ll plan to leave day after tomorrow.”
Teaspoon grinned as he walked out of the Galveston warehouse, counting the money he’d just gotten for the wheat they’d spent the last three weeks hauling down. Shoving the last of the gold into his pockets, in the midst of a war he’d demanded nothing less, Teaspoon smiled as he gazed out at the docks in front of him.
The smile on his face slowly faded away as he watched a familiar looking young man stroll down the gangplank of the nearest ship. A puzzled expression replaced his earlier joy. He could swear he knew that young man, though he couldn’t place how. Teaspoon stood there, scratching his head as he watched the tall young man, with closely shaven light brown hair, walk down the opposite side of the street. He was dressed in a fancy black suit, complete with a silk waistcoat and flounced frock coat. Teaspoon continued to stare in fascination as the man moved on his way.
From the rear, there was something eerily familiar about the young gentleman’s stride. Suddenly Teaspoon started, then shook his head in negation.
“Naw! Couldn’t be. Hickok might let someone con him outta his hair, but that gent weren’t wearing no guns. Jimmy’d never let anyone take away his Colts! You’re just missin’ your boys, ol’ man,” he muttered to himself as he turned and continued on his way. “I’m gettin’ too old fer this.”
“Sergeant Cody,” the Captain motioned Cody toward him, “I need a moment of your time, young man.”
“Yes sir,” Cody said, hurrying over, Thatch on his heels as usual.
“I’ve been watching you young man,” the Captain began. Cody immediately stretched himself taller and began to grin.
“And, although you’re something of a braggart,” he held up a hand to forestall whatever it was Cody had been about to say. “Although you’re something of a braggart you often have cause to brag. I’m impressed by your riding and tracking skills. How would you like to move out of the teamster unit and become a scout?”
“Would I, Sir? That’s what I signed on to do in the beginning, anyway,” Cody said. Then he paused for a moment in thought. “But, only if I can take young Thatch here with me. We’ve been ridin’ together since the beginnin’, Sir, and I’ve taught him jest ‘bout everythin’ I know.”
“Sounds fine with me, Sergeant,” the Captain said before turning to Thatch. “That alright with you young man?”
“Then it’s settled. I’ll have the orders for your transfer processed tonight. You’ll move over and join the scouts first thing in the morning. See you then, Sergeant, Corporal.” And with that the Captain walked off toward the command cabin.
Cody and Thatch watched the Captain for a surprised moment, then turned to each other with nearly identical grins plastered across their faces. Cody leaned back and shouted out, “Huzzah! Watch out, Johnny Rebs, cause Buffalo Bill’s on yer tail now!”
Kid and Lou
Lou squatted by the creek staring at nothing. Ostensibly she was there to refill her squad’s canteens. But in the quiet moments she found herself thinking. That wasn’t a good thing these days. She could feel her eyes filling with tears of fear and sorrow and quickly wiped them away with her elbow, lest any of the men of Company G happen by and find her crying.
She started when she felt a hand land on her shoulder. She began to turn around and tell the interloper off when Kid’s soft voice asked, “Lou, what’s wrong? You’ve been awful quiet lately. That usually ain’t a good thing for me.”
“Nothin’, Kid. Just leave it be,” she said brusquely, shrugging his hand off her shoulder and standing up. “I’d better get these canteens back to the boys.”
With that she turned and started heading back to where they’d bivouacked the night before. Kid watched her go, confusion on his face, before he put his hat back on and followed her. As he entered the camp area, he saw her brush rudely past Virgil and Emmett.
“What’s eatin’ him?” Virgil asked.
“Don’t know. S’pose he’ll let us know when he’s ready,” Kid answered.
“Well, in the meantime, I’ve got good news for all of us.”
“Might even improve ol’ sour Lou’s mood,” Emmett added jovially.
“Well, what is it?” Kid asked, starting to get impatient.
“We’re all gettin’ promotions,” Virgil said expansively.
“All of Company G?”
“No, ya fool,” Emmett said. “All of the fourth squad!”
“Yep! I’m gonna be the new 1st Lieutenant. Lou’s been picked to replace me as second. Kid, you and Emmett, are both being moved up to 1st Sergeants. Even Louie’s getting’ promoted. He finally gets some stripes, as the unit corporal!”
“Hope it’s not gonna be a problem, your little brother outrankin’ ya and all,” Emmett said kindly.
After a short pause to digest the information, Kid grinned ruefully and shook his head. “Nope. Shouldn’t be a problem. I’m kinda used to him tellin’ me what to do, anyway.”
Virgil and Emmett both guffawed at the jest. Virgil slapped Kid on the back and said, “Congratulations, Tops! Now, I’ve gotta go let the rest of the unit know the results of the vote. That’s part of my new job.”
But before Virgil and Emmett could go anywhere the shout went up, “Rider comin’from the west!”
Everyone in camp looked in the direction and watched as a small form came flying into camp on a gaunt horse that had obviously been overridden. A young black boy threw his leg over the front of the saddle and slid to the ground.
“Ise got a ‘portant message for Massa Thomas Ewell,” the boy panted.
“He’s down by the horse corrals,” someone shouted. The boy took off in the indicated direction, running as fast as he, and the blown horse, could manage.
Lou, who’d walked up during the exchange, said, “Wonder what that’s all ‘bout.”
“Must be pretty important news from home,” Virgil answered. “Come on, let’s go find out what Samson’s got ta say.”
“I’m gonna be a father,” Thomas said consideringly, with no small amount of awe in his voice, later that night. In his shocked joy he hadn’t even objected to Lou and Kid’s presence. “I’m gonna be a father.”
“Congratulations, Thomas!” the cry came from all around camp. Nothing made the men happier than news from home, anyone’s home. And news like this was the best possible. The timing couldn’t have been better, either. Just the day before Company G had received word that General Stonewall Jackson had died of the wounds he’d suffered at Chancelorsville. Though in Kid’s opinion he’d more likely died from the doctoring than the wound itself.
“A toast! To the father!” Virgil called out.
“And let us not forget the beauteous mother,” Emmett added.
No one noticed Lou get up and walk away from the impromptu celebration, hands in her pockets, shoulders hunched, kicking at stray stones as she moved away from the fun.
Jimmy ambled down the gangplank from the Lizzie. It had been a harrowing ride into Richmond Harbor, being chased most of the way by Union picket boats. But, they’d made it. After the first few days, he hadn’t even been that sick. Now that he was in Virginia, the real work would begin.
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