War is Hell/A Family Reunion (Summer 1863/Gettysburg- winter at Brandy Station/Spring 1864)
Music: If You Want Blood, ACDC (Lou & Kid)
Volver a Nacer, Chayanne (Buck & Standing Woman)
Crazy, Alanis Morissette (Cody)
Rawhide (theme), Blues Brothers Sndtrk (Teaspoon)
All Fired Up, Pat Benatar (Jimmy)
Winterborn, Crüxshadows (Kid)
Lou and Kid
“Kid, grab Louie and get some water. Our squad’s got KP today,” Lou ordered.
“Yes, Sir! Lieutenant, Sir!” Kid grinned, flipping Lou a jaunty salute before heading off to do what he’d been told.
Lou was slowly adjusting to her new status as an officer. It was something she’d never expected. Not in the Confederate Army. Unlike the U.S. Army, officers at the company and regimental level were elected by their subordinates. Not even being from the South originally, Lou had figured she’d finish out the war with the same rank of Private that she’d started with. But, when the promotions became a necessity due to the death of Lieutenant Morgan at Chancellorsville, a quiet word of encouragement from the General along with her willingness to do any job, no matter how dirty or disgusting it was, and her coolheadedness under fire had led to Company G adopting her as a sort of mascot. They all treated her like a younger brother, despite her new rank of 2nd Lieutenant, although none dared disobey her orders. They had had plenty of evidence of her temper, and her ability to follow through on it.
Kid had been her primary worry when she’d first heard about the promotion, Lou thought as she rounded up Emmett and Thomas, who’d been transferred to Squad 4 after Virgil had been moved up to 1st Lieutenant. After all the fights they’d had over him being overprotective of her during their Express days, Lou had feared he wouldn’t be able to handle taking orders from his wife. But, apparently, that was just fine with him. He appeared to not only be handling it, but enjoying it. It was almost as if, by giving up all control, he was able to relax, simply be himself and enjoy spending time with her.
The only smudge in her life at the moment was Thomas. She wondered why he’d had to be transferred to her unit. Probably, she fumed, because no one else would take him. He followed orders reluctantly and only when someone was standing over him to make sure he actually did what he’d been told to do. And, he abhorred taking orders from Lou. The man seemed to walk around with a perpetual sneer on his face these days.
Oh well, Lou mentally shrugged. At least she’d get to spend some time working with Isaac today. Kitchen Patrol, or KP as most called it, was her favorite duty. The men hated it, of course, which just made her all the more cheerful when Squad 4 was assigned. Her lighthearted attitude toward any chore was part of what allowed her to order the rest of the men, all except Louie being much bigger than her, around.
“Alright, Isaac, we’re here. What do you need?” Lou asked with a smile.
Thomas glowered to hear her speaking to Isaac as if he were a person of authority. While KP was Lou’s favorite duty, it was Thomas’ least favorite. He hated the fact that even though he ostensibly owned Isaac, he had to do what Isaac said. And, the more time Isaac spent around that nancy-gal, Thomas grumbled to himself, the more uppity he got. He’d have to whip Isaac back into shape soon, or lose a perfectly good house slave.
“If one o’ y’alls could peel them potatoes,” Isaac said, pointing to a pile of potatoes in a bucket, “that’d be right fine.”
Lou looked pointedly at Emmett who pulled out his Arkansas toothpick, as the large knives most of the men wore were euphemistically called, and sat down on an upended log to start peeling.
“Ise could use some more firewood, if Ise gonna make stew tonight,” Isaac said pointing to the nearly depleted pile of logs. “And Ise gonna need some more water.”
“Kid and Louie are already on that,” Lou said. “Thomas and I’ll handle the firewood. What’s for supper tonight?”
“First Squad brought in a few chickens fer the stewpot,” Isaac said. He shrugged. “Don’t rightly know as to where they found ‘em, and they’s awful scrawny, but at least they’ll put a bit of flavor in the stew. And Captain Irvin’ himself found us them potatoes. They’ll help that stew stick to your ribs.”
The chicken and potatoes, sparse as they would be, were a treat. Most meals these days consisted of hard tack and beans or beans and hard tack. Except when it was just hard tack.
“And the L-T could really use a little meat on his ribs,” Kid teased as he and Louie walked up, lugging buckets of water.
“Like any of y’all are any better,” Lou responded with a grimace.
Unlike Union troops, the Confederates were really starting to struggle to keep their men provisioned. The cavalry, especially, could not rely on the supply trains to keep them fed. Mostly, if they wanted to eat, they had to scavenge for it. That was Lou’s second least favorite duty, right after Hospital duty.
“Louie, why don’t you come pile the wood up for Isaac while Thomas and I chop it,” Lou said. “Kid, go help Thomas peel those potatoes. The sooner we get all the work done, the sooner we get to eat!”
Isaac grinned and tipped an imaginary hat to her. “That’s right, Suh! And the eatins’ gonna be right fine tonight, if’n Ah do say so mahself!”
The entire squad, except for Thomas, laughed at the quip. Thomas just swung the ax harder as he split the next log.
The next day, Company G, along with the rest of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, packed up camp and prepared to head North. In an effort to end the war once and for all, General Lee had decided to take the fighting to the Yanks front door. The Rebels were invading Pennsylvania.
“Lee figures we’ve got a chance, if we hurry,” Captain Irving had told Virgil and Lou after his conference with General Stuart and the other leaders of the 1st Virginia Cavalry. “But that’s gonna mean moving fast and hard, with every probability we’ll lose our supply train along the way.”
“Don’t reckon I mind foragin’ so much, if I’m takin’ the Yanks’ food fer a change,” Virgil had offered.
Company G had bivouacked near Culpeper the night before, after spending much of the day performing in a grand revue for General Lee. So, most were grumbling at the day’s early start as they broke camp. As usual, Thomas was the loudest.
“Don’t see why we gotta get up so danged early! It ain’t like the blue coats got any idea where we are,” Thomas complained. “We could ride right up to ‘em and say, ‘Boo!’, and they’d die of fright.”
“Thomas, quit yer gripin’,” Emmett said.
“But,” Thomas started to add something when Lou jumped in.
“Thomas, we’ve heard enough. Yes, it’s early. Yes, we’re tired. Welcome to the Army. If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined.”
“Ya know we’ve got screening duty for the infantry,” Kid joined in, “especially as we get deeper into enemy territory.”
“That means we’ve got to get up and get movin’ before everyone else.” Lou finished. “And that’s tough on all of us. Yer gripin’ ain’t doin’ anyone any good, so can it!”
With that, Lou swung into her saddle and trotted off to check on the readiness of the other squads. Thomas glared after her, but knew he didn’t dare say or do anything, not with her guard dogs all standing so near and watching him.
A short time later, the entire regiment was mounted and ready to move out. Colonel Munford, in temporary command due to the illness of their regular commander Fitz Lee, was moving slowly up and down the lines, checking to make sure everyone was in proper spit and polish shape.
Lou snorted as Munford passed Company G with a grimace. The Amelias, as the unit was known, might not be the best looking of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, but they were undoubtedly amongst the best fighters.
A mounted messenger came galloping up to the Colonel and his officers and handed them a dispatch. Lou tensed. By the look on the messenger’s face, it wasn’t good news.
“Look sharp, men,” Lou hissed. “We may be fighting soon.”
The men began to quietly move about, checking on their ammunition supplies and the condition of their weapons. The men of Company F, immediately next down the line, looked over in annoyance at the sudden spurt of furtive movement. Colonel Munford glanced up from the dispatch he was reading, then said something to the officer next to him, motioning the man toward Company G.
The officer rode over to Lou and Virgil and hissed, “Get your men under control! They are still under review!”
“But…” Lou started to protest, until Virgil laid a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“Yes, Sir,” Virgil said quietly. After the officer had returned to the command circle, he turned and told the men, “Check your weapons and be prepared, but move slowly and quietly. Don’t let them catch you!”
Several nods across the ranks indicated understanding of the situation. By now whispers were making their way through the Companies, as those closest to Munford and his men passed on what they were hearing.
“The Yanks have attacked.”
“They crossed the Rappahannock before dawn this morning.”
“They caught the pickets by surprise!”
“General Jones didn’t even have time to get his clothes on. He rode out to fight the Yankees in his longjohns!”
“The General’s waitin’ fer us to help out ‘Rooney’ Lee. He’s been in the worst of the fightin’.”
“The General wants ta know what’s takin’ us so long to get there!”
The more the men heard, the more restless they became, wondering why they weren’t riding out at top speed. After another half hour of standing in parade formation, Munford finally wrapped up his conference and sent his staff officers out with orders. It was time to ride!
It wasn’t long before the men of Company G, along with the rest of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, were strung out along the northern flank. ‘Sharpshooters’ like Kid and Lou were in the front, harassing the now retreating Union cavalry along the road. But Lou noticed something odd about Kid’s shooting. He didn’t seem to be hitting as many as he could have. And those he did hit were only wounded, not killed.
Jimmy looked around the crowded ballroom. Soft music was playing in the background to the accompaniment of quiet conversation and tinkling wine glasses. He’d never expected to be someplace this high-falutin’, Jimmy thought to himself. He’d had to watch every move he made, so as not to break his cover as a successful gunrunner.
After months of work in the Richmond area, Jimmy thought he was on to something. But he wasn’t sure yet. Watching the crowd, he kept an eye out for his quarry.
Henry Dumfries was an apparent bumpkin, but he always seemed to be in just the right place. Jimmy had begun to think Dumfries stupidity was as much an act as Jimmy’s polish. Seeing Dumfries glance around then slip out a side door, Jimmy downed the last dregs in his wineglass and placed it on the platter of a passing servant. Tugging his frock coat into place, he smoothly and quietly followed Dumfries.
The door led to an extensive garden covering at least an acre behind the house.
Jimmy glanced around, not quite sure which direction to go, and saw the corner of Dumfries vivid green frock coat disappearing into the entrance of the maze that took up a large portion of the gardens. Sighing, Jimmy followed. Jimmy had no idea which direction to go, but figured Dumfries was most likely headed for the secluded seats at the center of the maze. Luckily, Jimmy’d overheard a couple young southern belles talking about it earlier at the ball. The trick, apparently, was to place your right hand on the bushes and never take it off. As long as he followed that hand, he’d end up in the middle of the maze, and be able to get back out again. Eventually.
What seemed like hours later, Jimmy heard voices coming from his left. He slowed his pace and crept along quietly, hoping to hear what the men were talking about.
“She says they’re experimentin’ with a way to turn the Springfield Rifles into breechloaders,” Jimmy heard a man say.
“All Ah need to know is if they’ll still use the same ammunition,” Dumfries responded.
“She says there’s no indication of changing the caliber size. It would still take a .58 minié ball.”
“Excellent. That’s precisely what I needed to know,” Dumfries enthused. Jimmy could almost see the pudgy little man rubbing his hands together in greed. “I’ve got a gunrunner in town who says he can provide me with 50,000 minie balls of that caliber. Now, I know it’s a good deal.”
“Glad to be of service. Do you have any messages for me to take back to the Wild Rose?”
“No. Not at this time.”
Jimmy quickly backed away into a deeply shadowed corner as the two men left the center of the maze. The unknown man passed within touching distance of Jimmy, but try as he might, Jimmy couldn’t make out his features in the night’s dark. But that was alright. He had a name now. The Wild Rose. He laughed. Somehow he wasn’t surprised it was a woman who’d had the Federal investigators running in circles the last two years.
Before returning to the ballroom, Jimmy quickly scribbled out a note, grimacing at his still childish handwriting, and folded it up as small as he could get it. He placed the note on a tray held by a young black woman as he grabbed a glass of champagne on his way through the garden doors to the dance floor. He never even acknowledged the freewoman holding the tray. She’d chosen to act as Jefferson Davis’ servant and had been slipping information on Confederate movements to the Union Army since the firing began. But Jimmy would never endanger her life by even nodding to her.
Kid and Lou
The Battle at Brandy Station had been the biggest cavalry battle of the war to date, Lou thought. She’d finally lost her Indian Pony. The poor thing had been shot right out from under her. Unlike some she didn’t have a spare with her and would have found herself relegated to riding shanks mare if she hadn’t managed to steal a Union cavalry officer’s horse later the same day. She shifted uncomfortably in the saddle. Despite being grateful to have a horse at all, Lou was finding herself pressed to like the animal. It was stubborn as all get out and had the most uncomfortable gait Lou’d ever encountered. Kid thought it was all hilarious. Said it served her right to get a horse so much like herself. Lou grimaced. As much as she disliked the animal, it seemed to have formed some sort of attachment to her. At least she could be certain it wouldn’t wander off on her.
“There’s smoke coming up over them treetops,” Emmett pointed out. “Bet that’s a farm.”
Lou nodded. “You’re probably right. Let’s check it out.”
They’d been on the march North for a couple weeks now, moving in fits and starts. Virgil had told her military experts said an Army traveled on its stomach, and she figured that was pretty accurate. They could only move as fast as they could find things to eat. That’s why Squad 4 was out foraging today. As they moved toward the smoke lazily curling up into the bright blue sky, the men of Squad 4 returned to their discussion of recent events.
“Do ya think they’ll court martial ‘im?” Young Louie asked.
“Naw. He’s got some pretty high placed relatives,” Emmett said. “But I doubt Munford’ll command anythin’ bigger than a baseball team anytime soon.”
Lou chuckled along with the others. The General had been more than a mite upset over Munford’s delay in reinforcing ‘Rooney’ Lee at the Battle of Brandy Station. He’d been very civilized and proper about it, but by the time he’d finished reading Munford the riot act Lou was surprised Munford could walk out of the tent on his own two legs.
“I’m just glad Fitz Lee’s back in command. He’d never leave us just sittin’ there, on parade, missin’ out on a great fight,” Thomas crowed.
Kid didn’t contribute to the conversation. He’d been even quieter than usual lately. Lou wondered what it was he was mulling over so hard. If he didn’t watch it, she thought sarcastically, he’d mull it right into the ground.
The five riders broke out of the treeline into a clearing. A small, snug cabin sat back up against the hill. It was a neat little farm, though a bit rundown. Lou figured the men must’ve all gone off to fight the war and the women hadn’t had the skills to keep things up. One woman was standing by a water pump, staring at the cavalrymen in abject terror. As they came to a stop at the edge of the farmyard, she started screaming hysterically and ran for the door of the cabin.
“Rebs! Johnny Rebs! They’re here to kill us! Quick, hide the babies! Hide the food!” she screamed.
“Ma’am,” Lou said, walking her horse slowly toward the panicked woman, “Ma’am, we ain’t here ta kill ya.”
Unfortunately, this did nothing to calm the woman, who continued to screech at the top of her lungs. A ragtag group of children and young teens were peering out the windows and around the edge of the door at the goings on. Lou turned to them and asked, “Is there anyone who can calm her down?”
“I can, Sir,” said a young boy, maybe 14 years of age, as he walked diffidently out of the barn. Walking up to the woman he grabbed her by the shoulders and gently shook her. When that didn’t get her attention, he grabbed her chin in his hand and forced her eyes to meet his. “Ma! Ma! Ya gotta stop screamin’. They ain’t here to kill us. Yet. But they might change their minds if we can’t talk sensible to ‘em.”
Slowly the screaming tapered off and the woman seemed to simply deflate as she collapsed on the ground, leaning against her son’s leg. He looked back up at Lou and asked, “What do you want, Sir?”
“I’m sorry to tell you we’re here to confiscate whatever food stuffs we can carry with us,” Lou apologized. She hated this part of the job. “If you’ll have everyone on the farm gather here in the yard, my men’ll search the place and take what we need. So long as y’all cause no trouble, we’ll leave peaceable like.”
“Yes, Sir,” the boy nodded. Turning to the cabin he yelled, “Mae! Dolly! Grab the babies and get out here. Don’t do nothin’ funny to get these folks riled up at ya!”
Two pre-teen girls slowly walked out of the cabin door. One was carrying a toddler, the other an infant. Both were leading young children by the hand. They slowly shuffled toward the boy and his Ma, keeping their eyes on the ground. Without looking away from the miserable little group and keeping one hand on her sidearm at all times, Lou motioned behind her to the others. They knew what to do.
Kid and Louie headed for the barn while Thomas and Emmett strode toward the house. Lou heard a lot of squawking, then the bellow of a cow coming from the barn and a few minutes later Kid and Louie came back out. Kid had a pail of milk that he quickly transferred into a waterbag. Louie followed with two struggling chickens in one hand and a basket of eggs over the other arm.
“We left ‘em two hens and a rooster, just like ya said, Lieutentant,” Louie told her. Lou nodded.
She could hear Thomas and Emmett moving around in the cabin, tossing things around by the sound of it. She hoped Emmett could keep Thomas under control. A moment later, Thomas came stumbling out the door, obviously pushed by Emmett. Thomas had a pie of some sort in his hands and Emmett was carrying a side of salt pork. At the sight, Louie let out a whistle. “Man, we’re gonna eat good tonight.”
But Lou held up a hand in a signal to hold that thought. “What did ya leave ‘em?”
Thomas growled under his breath at the question but didn’t dare outright contradict her. Emmett answered, “There’s still a couple pounds of bacon in the meathouse and a side of venison. We couldna carried those anyway. I’ll go back and get a bag of flour. They’s got two.”
“Alright then. But hurry up!” Outside of the fact Lou wasn’t comfortable with stealing, and that’s what they were doing no matter how they tried to dress the matter up, there was always the danger of someone deciding to start shooting. She wouldn’t relax until they were well out of sight of this farm.
Within a few moments, the food stuffs were packed onto the horses and the men mounted again behind Lou. She finally, slowly removed her hand from her revolver’s hilt and tipped her hat to the boy and the tearful woman. “We’re much obliged for the food, ma’am. Sorry for the unpleasantness.”
As the squad wheeled their horses and headed for the tree line, Lou heard Thomas muttering, “I still say we should burn ‘em out. We oughta burn ‘em all out!”
Lou turned to him and glared. “Just ‘cause some folk use the war’s an excuse to act like savages don’t mean we gotta sink to their level. And maybe, just maybe, if we show a little care and compassion to a few folk, someone might show it to us someday, when we need it the most.”
“This, from a boy,” Thomas said, putting an especially intense form of derision on the word boy, “who admits to not only having worked with but befriended a red savage.”
“It’s not the color of your skin or where you come from that makes you a gentleman or a savage,” Kid spoke up. “It’s what you do with what you’ve got. Teaspoon taught all us boys that.”
Cody“Man, I am so tired of playing hide and seek with them damned Rebs,” Cody muttered as he walked into the tent, slapping his hat against his leg to relieve it of some of the dust it had accumulated on this latest ride. “I swear, they’ve been takin’ lessons from Buck. It’s like, they’re there one minute and, poof!, disappeared the next.”
“Uhunh,” Thatch agreed, equally exhausted.
They flopped down on their bedrolls and just lay there for a moment. Just as Thatch’s eyes started to flutter closed for a well deserved snooze, Cody sprang upright, saying urgently, “Hey Thatch! Wanna have some fun?”
“Nope. Wanna sleep.”
“Aw come on. I’m dying of boredom here. If I don’t get somethin’ to laugh at soon, I’m gonna go plumb loco.”
Cody punched Thatch’s shoulder for that comment before beginning to urge her once more to wake up and have some fun. Eventually, he convinced her to come outside with him. A half hour later, she deeply regretted her decision. Knee deep in a hole she’d spent the last hour digging, she glared up at Cody who lounged nearby.
“This was your idea, so why is it I’m doin’ all the work?” she demanded.
“’Cause it’ll be less suspicious that way. Anyone sees me doin’ it and they’ll know somethin’s up.”
“Right,” she sneered as she climbed out of the hole. “Well, I think it’s deep enough. Now what?”
“Now, we gotta haul some water in to fill ‘er up.”
“And I suppose I gotta do that, too, so’s to avoid any suspicion.”
Cody just grinned at her. She was beginning to catch on. With a sigh, she turned and headed for the creek.
“Guys, we’ve spotted a troop of Reb cavalry just outside of Corinth!” Cody shouted urgently to the group of cavalrymen playing cards at the table. “Captain says to mount up quick, we’re goin’ after ‘em.”
With that, Cody turned and ran quickly toward the barn where all the horses were stabled. But, as he turned the corner of the sulter’s cabin, he slid to a stop and hid behind a barrel across the alley from Thatch. The cavalrymen came charging around the corner after Cody and ran straight into the knee deep hole Thatch had dug and filled with water. The hole was now more mud then water and the four men stood up, howling in anger as they shook mud off their arms and hats.
Their screams of outrage had attracted an audience which seemed to appreciate the sight as much as Cody. They joined in on his howls of laughter at the men, who were now trying to crawl out of the hole. Unfortunately, as one man almost made it out, another would slip and pull him back in. It was a comedy of errors that kept the watching crowd in stitches.
Eventually, the victims of the practical joke cleared the edge of the mudhole and started advancing on Cody with murder and mayhem in their eyes. Noticing the change in their demeanor Cody sobered and started to splutter an apology. However, noticing it was falling on deaf ears, Cody chose the better part of valor and ran for the hills. Now, Thatch was the one laughing so hard tears started rolling down her cheeks.
Cody’s little joke had definitely beaten another day on the trail, that was for sure. Now, if she could just steer him in the direction of jokes that would take a little less effort on her part!
Teaspoon stood from his stooped over position and stretched his aching back. What in tarnation had ever made him think planting one field in cotton would be such a great idea, he asked himself for the millionth time. Oh yeah, that was right. Money. When he’d gone to Galveston last winter to sell their extra wheat, the buyer had mentioned the Confederacy’s increasingly desperate need of food for its army. Things had gotten to the point where the government had asked landowners to stop growing cotton in the majority of their fields. This meant the price of cotton had skyrocketed. Several Texans had decided to try selling their cotton in Mexico, taking advantage of the increased prices.
The problem was, Teaspoon thought as he stopped at the end of the row to grab a drink of water from the bucket, all the work it took to grow the cotton and harvest it before they could sell it. He was a lawman, dammit, not a danged farmer.
Heaving a sigh, he turned around and glared at the field while pouring a second scoop of water over his head. Returning the dipper to the bucket, he shrugged and moved toward the next row. Like it or not, this had been his idea so he’d better do his part.
Lou and Kid
“Oh man, I hope General Lee lets us take a day or two off after this,” Thomas complained. They were all exhausted after the last week of maneuvers. Lee had sent Stuart’s cavalry out to harass the Federal cavalry, which had apparently not gotten the notice they were to be present to be harassed. Despite a week of roaming the Pennsylvania countryside, they hadn’t even found enough Yankee manure to start a campfire, let alone any cavalrymen or the horses they rode in on.
Suddenly, the column of horses came to a standstill, amidst many snorts and whinnies of disgust from the surprised animals.
“What the hell?” asked Captain Irving. “Virgil, go see what’s going on.”
“Yes, Sir!” Virgil pulled his horse out of the line of order and took off for the head of the column. It wasn’t a few minutes later he returned with a worried look on his face. “Sir, they’re gone.”
“General Lee’s Army, Sir.”
“There’s nothin’ but ashes and debris left where they were camped.”
This news worried everyone in Company G. They were supposed to rendezvous with the main body of General Lee’s Army before pressing on to either Philadelphia or Washington, D.C. The decision of which city hadn’t been made when they’d left on maneuvers.
“Sir,” Virgil continued, “the General’s asking for Lou and Kid. Says they’re the best scouts we got. Wants ‘em to find out which direction the Army went. And fast!”
“Well, you heard him,” Irving said looking at Lou, “Get your brother and get up there.”
With a nod, Lou headed back to the rest of Squad four and grabbed Kid. Soon they were galloping into the horizon.
“Well, there’s no doubt about it,” Kid said as he mounted back up after investigating the wagon tracks that had carved deep ruts into the ground. “This is the direction the supply train headed off in.”
“Let’s get back and tell Stuart,” Lou said, already swinging her mount in the direction of the mounted cavalry they’d left behind not a half hour ago. Within minutes they cantered up to the group of officers surrounding General Stuart.
“Sir, they headed east. It’ll be easy enough to follow ‘em. The supply wagons left a pretty clear trail,” Lou reported.
“Men, you heard the lad. Let’s move ‘em out. If General Lee moved on it means he’s huntin’ Yankees and I don’t know ‘bout you lot, but I don’t wanna miss the fight!” Stuart grinned as his officers scattered to get their regiments back on the trail. “Fine job boys. You may return to your unit and give my compliments to Fitz Lee and Captain Irving.”
It took another two days of hard riding to catch up with General Lee’s army. Hours before arriving they could hear the booming cannon and popping rifle shots. The noise had all the men in the column glancing nervously at each other and subtly urging their horses to a faster pace. Before they arrived at the battlefield, a messenger from General Lee galloped up to the officers at the head of the column carrying orders.
“We’re supposed to turn around back behind these hills and attack the Federals along somethin’ called Cemetery Ridge,” Virgil told the rest of Company G. “Lee figures the Yank line is about to break and a rear action might be the key.”
But they never made it to Cemetery Ridge. A couple miles away they ran into a large group of Union cavalry guarding the road at a small farm.
Company G and most of the rest of the 1st Virginia stayed hidden in the woods behind the farm along with another regiment. They watched in pained anguish as two other companies of skirmishers attempted to take the farm from the Federal cavalry. As the dismounted Confederates moved into the farmyard, the Federals started shooting. An hour later the remnants of the two greyclad companies rejoined their fellows hiding in the woods behind the farm.
“Keep your fool heads down!” Lou yelled for what felt like the umpteenth time. “Or do ya want ‘em shot off?”
Emmett ducked back below the top of the stone fence they were sheltering behind, pushing Louie’s head down at the same time. Kid just nodded at Lou. No one even thought to check on Thomas. He’d been careful to stay out of harm’s way throughout the course of the battle.
The distant thunder of booming artillery was overtaking the whining hornet sound of the flying minié bullets they were all hiding from. Lou snugged her scavenged Springfield rifle a little closer to her side, searching for any threats to her squad. Virgil came trotting out of the fog generated by all the gunfire. At his pointed look, Lou scuttled over to his side, careful to stay out of the line of fire.
“Tell the men to mount up,” Virgil said. “The General sees a hole in the Union line. We’re to charge between the two lines that’ve formed and scatter the damned Yanks.”
“Yes, L-T,” Lou nodded and began heading up and down the fence line, passing along the orders. Soon, the rest of the men had mounted up and were ready.
“Draw sabres!” the order came filtering down the ranks.
Kid looked nervously at Lou. Lou shrugged as she pulled her sabre from its scabbard. She shifted it to her left hand along with her horse’s reins and pulled her revolver with her right. She’d gotten to the point where she could use the sabre if she had to, but she’d never become what could be called proficient. It was a good thing the sabres were issued dull. She’d never bothered to sharpen hers, using it more to stab with than slash. Kid on the other hand had had more time to practice and had actually gotten pretty good.
Kid wasn’t the only one aware of Lou’s deficiencies with the sabre. Soon all four members of her squad, even the normally abrasive Thomas, had surrounded her in a protective stance.
“Forward, March! Double time!” Louie lifted his bugle to his lips and sounded the charge. The ground shook with the thunder of hundreds of pounding hooves as all of Fitz Lee’s 1st Virginia Cavalry headed for the gauntlet posed by two rows of Federal cavalry.
Suddenly, a group of Yankee cavalry came racing down the center of the two Federal lines, headed straight for their Confederate foes. At the head of the countercharge rode a maniacally screaming man with long, flowing blond hair. He could be heard shouting, “Come on, you Wolverines!”
As the two forces prepared to meet head to head, Lou raised her right hand and began shooting. In her frantic push forward Lou still had time to notice that Kid, once again, wasn’t shooting to kill unless he had no choice. In the back of her mind, she worried. Wounded men could still fight.
When the two forces clashed they came to a standstill as a general melee began. Lou continued firing until she’d emptied her pistol, then holstered it and started stabbing randomly with her sabre through the protective fence formed by her squadmates. As she was pulling her sabre back from a feint toward a Union rider over Kid’s shoulder she felt the force of Louie’s body pushing her out of the saddle. They tumbled to the ground, the horses somersaulting over their heads.
Pushing Louie off her, Lou started to scramble back to her feet. Standing over Louie in a protective position, Lou faced off against the Yankee private that had been coming after Louie. The Yank had dropped his sword in the fall but was raising his fists, ready to start punching it out. Lou looked at him, then glanced down at the sabre in her hand. As he closed in and threw his first punch, she handily ducked, blessing all the brawls she’d gotten into with the other Riders. While he was still unbalanced from his unconnected swing, she stepped in and knocked him handily over the head with the hilt of her sabre.
“Knew that thing was good for somethin’,” she muttered. By the press of horseflesh around her, Lou could tell Emmett, Thomas and Kid had closed in protectively around her and Louie. Looking up trying to see if she could identify her horse to remount, Lou watched as a Union cavalryman sliced straight through Emmett Caldwell’s belly, his head and torso falling to one side of his horse as his legs toppled to the other in what felt like slow motion. “Nooooo!” Lou screamed. “Emmett!”
Even as her mind was silently gibbering in anguish, she grabbed the back of Louie’s uniform to jerk him back to his feet as well. “Come on! We can’t stay here. Get back on a horse! Any horse!”
A bugle’s sweet tones pierced through the screams of wounded men and the shouting of those still fighting to sound the call for a retreat. “You heard the call, men,” Lou shouted. “Grab what you can and get out of here. Try to stay together, but more important try to stay alive. We’ll rendezvous at the Fairfield Inn along the road to Hagerstown in twenty-four hours. Now move! Move!”
“Louie, you take Emmett’s horse. He won’t,” Lou started to choke up at the thought, “he won’t be needing it anymore.”
“Yes, sir,” Louie responded through his pants.
Kid pulled Lou up behind him as they ran for it. She buried her face against his shoulder for a moment to hide her incipient tears and get her bearings.
“What happened?” he asked quietly.
“This damned war,” Lou spat, “that’s what happened.”
Kid nodded somberly in acknowledgement not only of what she’d said but of what she wasn’t saying. Squad 4 started the frantic race South. Each rider preoccupied with his own thoughts of grief and distress as they sprinted away from their blue coated tormentors.
As night fell, they paused in a wooded area for a few moments of sleep. The horses, let alone their riders, couldn’t keep going forever. Each of the remaining men simply collapsed on the ground, covering themselves with leaves and deadfall to decrease the chances of discovery.
“I’ll take first watch,” Lou said quietly. “Kid, you’re up next. Then Thomas and finally Louie. One hour each, then we hit the road again.”
Kid nodded in acknowledgment and closed his eyes. He was tired to the bone. Not just the exhaustion caused by three days of hard riding followed by a frantic fight and flight. Not just the exhaustion from the knowledge they’d lost a major battle and the fear it was the beginning of the end for the South. Not just the fear he’d get Lou killed. The fear he’d made the wrong choice. The fear he should’ve been wearing blue, not grey that night. All those fears circled and swirled through his brain, chasing themselves through his thoughts, until he slowly slipped into the oblivion of sleep.
She was so beautiful. Her face was radiant and full of her love for him. Her grin was the one she got when she was trying to restrain how happy she was. He loved that grin. As she grew more comfortable being Louise instead of Lou, he hoped she didn’t lose all those quirks she’d developed to hide her gender. They were part of what he loved about her.
As she glided down the aisle toward him, he couldn’t repress his own broad smile. He was barely aware of his brothers, Cody, Buck and Noah, at his side or Teaspoon behind him. His whole world narrowed to this woman who’d finally agreed to spend the rest of her life with him. He knew what she was giving up to do it, and he couldn’t be prouder that she thought him worth the loss.
A sudden banging at the church doors had Lou and Jesse turning to see what was going on. The doors flew open, revealing the gory battlefield they’d just abandoned.
“No!” he screamed as he saw cannon balls start flying through the church doors, mowing his friends down. He tried to get in front of them, to protect them as everything in his nature required, but he felt as though every frantic step forward moved him further away from his goal. He watched in horror as Lou looked down at herself, watching her beautiful, white gown turn scarlet with blood. She looked back up at Kid and slowly wilted to the ground.
He blinked and suddenly he was in the courtyard outside a field hospital, surrounded by the arms and legs doctors had discarded as they rushed through amputation after amputation. Looking at his feet, he noticed a small, feminine hand with a white lacy sleeve to the wrist. Next to it lay Jesse’s even smaller arm wrapped in his borrowed black suit coat. Tears coursing down his face, he started to pick-up and toss the assorted arms and legs behind him, frantically searching for the parts that were left of his friends. They’d need those limbs.
The first part of Lou’s watch had passed quietly. One Union mounted patrol had trotted past, but hadn’t even stopped to check their little copse of trees. Her charges were sleeping quietly behind her.
About 15 minutes before she was planning to wake Kid and get some sleep herself, a sudden bout of moaning and thrashing started behind her. Looking, she saw that Kid was caught in the grips of a nightmare, his face pale and sweaty. Rushing to his side, Lou lay her weapon down and shook his shoulder, trying to wake him up.
“Lou! No! She needs that!” he moaned.
“Kid,” Lou hissed, trying not to wake the others, “wake up! It’s just a nightmare.”
Her voice seemed to penetrate the fog of his dreams and he slowly stopped his thrashing, his hands reaching up to grab hers. As his eyes fluttered open, he dragged her into his arms, crushing her against his chest.
“Kid, what’s wrong?” she asked, her voice muffled by the scratchy fabric of his uniform jacket.
“You were dead. They all were. Cody, Buck, Jimmy. Everyone. Torn apart by this damned war,” he whispered in a tortured voice. “Oh God! Lou, what have I done?”
Lou pulled back, looking into his eyes searchingly. “You did what you thought was right, Kid. Like you always do.”
“But, I think, this time, I was wrong, Lou. So wrong. And that might get you killed.”
“Kid, whatever comes, we face it together, remember. We’ll be okay. We just gotta stick together.”
“Don’t leave me, Lou. You can’t ever leave me. I don’t think I’d survive.”
“I’m not goin’ anywhere, Kid,” she reassured him, settling in next to him, ready to stand his watch with him. They sat there, side by side, watching each other’s back for danger. As they’d done for years now. As they always would.
“I’ve got a cargo of 50,000 boxes of .58 caliber minié balls comin’ into Richmond next month,” Jimmy told Dumfries. The pudgy weapons procurer had cornered him outside a gentleman’s club in Richmond and invited him in for lunch. Only after they’d finished the meal, surprisingly good considering the war shortages, had Dumfries gotten to the point.
“Ya must understand, Ah don’t like dealin’ with new sources, but you seem to be offerin’ somethin’ no one else has,” Dumfries said. “Just why is that?”
“I travel more,” Jimmy lied smoothly, avoiding the truth that the ammunition was being supplied by the Federal government and was actually completely worthless, having been deliberately designed to blow up in the faces of those trying to shoot it. Hopefully by that time he’d be well away from Richmond. “It allows me to make more…. connections.”
Dumfries nodded sagely at this. “Connections do indeed make business… easier.”
“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” Jimmy said, wiping his mouth with his napkin and setting it down on the table, “I have an appointment I must keep.”
“And just what kind of appointment might that be?” Dumfries asked, once again suspicious. “You wouldn’t be tryin’ to start a biddin’ war, now would ya?”
“No, nothing of the sort. It’s an appointment with a lady.”
“Well now, that’s another story entirely. Wouldn’t want ta keep the lady waitin’. Our Virignia belles don’t appreciate that,” Dumfries said, standing to shake Jimmy’s hand. Jimmy nodded in silent agreement.
Shortly he found himself back out on the Richmond streets, moving toward a fashionable residential district. Coming to a tall, elaborate home, heavily shaded by magnolia trees, Jimmy moved up the walk and knocked on the door. Within seconds the door opened and a young black girl looked up at him.
“How’s can Ah hep you, sir?” she asked.
“I’m here to see Miz Elizabeth Van Lew,” Jimmy said. “Our mutual friend, Mr. Harold Jarvis asked me to drop by and give her my respects.”
The girl’s gaze sharpened at the mention of Jarvis’ name and she quickly stepped back. “Won’t you come in, Sir. I’ll just let Mrs. Van Lew know you’re here.”
Jimmy marveled at how the girl’s ‘slave’ accent had suddenly and completely disappeared. She now spoke with a diction superior to his. Leaving Jimmy in a bright, sunlit salon, she hurried off through a hidden door in the wall.
Moments later a woman with elaborately coiffed reddish brown hair glided into the salon, holding out one carefully manicured hand.
“I’m Mrs. Van Lew,” she introduced herself in a soft, cultured voice. “And you would be?”
“Mr. Ambrose Merriweather,” Jimmy said, taking her hand and bowing over it.
“And just how do you know Mr. Jarvis, Mr. Merriweather?”
“Oh, we met a few years ago,” Jimmy said calmly, expecting the probing question. “We bought a brindle bulldog from him for my little brother, Hezekiah.”
Relaxing now that Jimmy had used the code words indicating he’d been sent by the Federal government, Elizabeth smiled more naturally. “Well, it’s nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Merriweather. Would you like some refreshments?”
“No thanks, Ma’am,” Jimmy said. “I just had lunch with Mr. Dumfries. I was actually hoping you might be able to pass on a message to our mutual friend.”
“And what might that message be, Mr. Merriweather?”
“Tell him, our quarry is called Wild Rose and he is a she.”
That startled a gasp out of the poised Elizabeth Van Lew. “Do you have any proof, Mr. Merriweather?”
“So far, only a couple of conversations I was in position to overhear. But I’m still searching.”
“Perhaps, I can be of help to you in your endeavors. It is often possible for a woman to go places a man cannot, Mr. Merriweather,” she offered. “That is, of course, if you are not offended at working with a woman.”
With a grunted laugh and a soft smile Jimmy accepted. “That’s never been a problem for me, ma’am. In my experience, women can do whatever they put their minds to, and quite well at that.”
“Then we have a partnership, Mr. Merriweather,” she said, holding out her hand for a gentleman’s handshake. The two quickly got down to planning their next move in the search of the dangerous Southern spy.
“But why should Running Man’s band have the honor of three Shamans, one of them the holder of a white buffalo robe, when Tower of Skull’s band has none,” the white-haired elder complained.
Buck sighed and shifted in his seat. Standing Woman next to him patted his knee in a silent admonishment to be patient. He smiled down at her. If he’d realized being a Medicine Man would mean he’d end up spending most of his days at the Sun Dance stuck in the Elders’ Council he would have run away screaming. He cast a longing glance at the horses, tethered to the nearby tipis. He wanted nothing more than to hop on his favorite mount’s back and speed off into the horizon. Another sigh and he returned his attention to the ongoing debate.
The problem at hand was that Standing Woman had already been an acknowledged Medicine Woman in her own right before they’d met. Her presence with her father had been acceptable to other bands, as she had been his accepted successor. But, her marriage to Running Buck and his subsequent acceptance as a Medicine Man had left their band with what many of the other bands of Northern Cheyenne considered an unacceptable abundance of spirit guides. Now, half the Elders were arguing over who should move to which band. The other half were arguing that all three were members of the same family and should not be forced to split up.
“I still say we cannot count Running Buck as a true Medicine Man as he is Kiowa and may not remain with The People for long,” one elder added to the disagreement.
The debate continued for hours with the final decision being, any moves should be up to the individuals. They were representatives of the Spirit Realm here on Earth and they would go where the spirits said they should go.
“We should talk,” Buck told his wife. “They were right about one thing, I do not want to live the rest of my life with the Cheyenne.”
“Yes, I knew you would want to leave sooner or later,” Standing Woman said, taking his hand in hers as they walked. “We discussed this while we were courting. I am ready to go when you are. But which family do you wish to go to?”
“In the long run you know I plan to live with my Express Family. After the Wasicu’s war is over, the…” he paused and swallowed hard over the next word, “survivors will return to Rock Creek. That’s what we all agreed on, before going our separate ways. But for now I feel the need to visit my brother’s band. I’ve just been getting this… feeling… he needs our help.”
“Then we should leave soon.”
“I think we can wait until after the Sun Dance before heading south,” Buck smiled indulgently. Looking up, he noticed a commotion at the circle of tipis that their band had erected near the horse corrals. “What’s going on?”
Following his gaze, Standing Woman gasped and took off running toward the group of women and children milling around.
“Dawn Star!” Standing Woman shouted, waving at another young woman at the center of the group. “Dawn Star! What are you doing here? We didn’t expect you this year.”
Then, she noticed Dawn Star’s appearance. A quick appraisal revealing her ragged hair and arms healing from numerous cuts. “Oh no, Dawn Star! Who?”
“My husband,” Dawn Star finally spoke in a voice hoarse from crying. “He was killed by a band of Pawnee last month. That’s when I decided to come back here. I could not stay there without any family. We are not Arapaho. We are Cheyenne.”
“Oh honey, come here,” Standing Woman crooned, taking the other woman into her arms. “Don’t worry about putting up your tipi tonight. You and the children can stay with Running Buck and I tonight.”
“My husband. We married last winter. He’s Kiowa and a Medicine Man,” Standing Woman said. “Buck, this is my elder sister, Dawn Star.”
Buck nodded politely at the haggard young woman, perhaps two or three years older than Standing Woman.
That night, after Dawn Star and her children had gone to sleep, Buck held Standing Woman close in their bed, whispering to her.
“I’ll need to go hunting this week. We don’t have enough supplies to feed this many people through the rest of the Sun Dance,” he whispered in her ear.
“Of course,” she smiled up at him. “I’ll pack our hunting bags first thing in the morning. We might have to ride several days to find any game. This crowd tends to scare all the animals away.”
“No, I think you should stay here. Your sister needs you now and you haven’t seen her in two years.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m used to riding alone,” Buck answered.
The next morning, carrying several days’ worth of pemmican, his bow and arrow and hunting knife, Buck rode out of camp. Standing Woman watched him go with a heavy heart.
“He’ll only be gone for a short time,” her father comforted her.
“It’s not that,” Standing Woman said.
“Than what’s the matter?”
“I wish I knew,” she sighed as she turned back to the tipi to help Dawn Star prepare breakfast for the family.
Lou and Kid
Lou sat staring at the water rushing past her in the creek. A pad of paper sat abandoned on her lap, the pencil twirled absently in her fingers. Silent tears coursed down her cheeks. She’d seen some hard times in her life, but it seemed writing this letter was more than hard. It was impossible.
The sound of soft footfalls behind her startled Lou from her reverie. She quickly swiped a hand across her face to erase the evidence of tears before swinging her head around just as a large hand came to rest on her shoulder.
“Writing condolence letters?” Virgil asked.
“It’s probably the hardest part of the job.”
“I know. I’ve done several since the company elected me 2nd Lieutenant,” Lou sighed, then paused to gather her composure. “But, they were all young men, with nothing to leave behind. Tragic, but… I can’t help thinking of Emmett’s kids. They’re going to grow up without a father now. How will their mother keep them together? I know what that’s like and I know what life has in store for them. I guess… I guess I just wish I could somehow change things with my words.”
“Then write that,” Virgil said. “Tell them exactly what ya just told me. I think it’ll mean more to them than any formal letter of condolence ya might write, simply telling them when, where and how their father died.”
Lou nodded. “That’s a good idea. Thanks.”
“But, you’ll have to write it later,” Virgil shrugged. “Captain wants everyone to gather for a briefing in 15 minutes.”
Lou stood and started packing the letter writing materials into her haversack. Hoisting the shoulder strap of the haversack over her head she said, “I’ll go let the men carin’ for the horses know and meet ya back at camp.”
It took less than 15 minutes for everyone to gather for the briefing. Captain Irving motioned for the men to make themselves comfortable, then climbed atop a stump to begin speaking.
“Men, ya know we got beat and beat bad at Gettysburg. Things ain’t lookin’ too good for the Confederacy right now, especially for the General.”
At this, a murmur of disagreement started running through the men. The Captain held up his hand for silence. “Now, we all know he was doing what he’d been told to do and nothin’ that happened was his fault. But there’s those that say he took too long coming to the rescue and if we’d’a showed up a day or two earlier we mighta won. Y’all just remind them of what he did at Chancellorsville when he didn’t follow orders and that what happened at Gettysburg was ‘cause he was followin’ orders. I’m just sayin’ yer gonna need to be aware of general feelings in the Army of Northern Virginia right now and be prepared to defend Stuart, but I don’t want no fightin’, ya understand?”
With that, the Captain glared around the group of men who made up Company G. Once he was assured he had the consent, however unwilling, of everyone, he moved on. “Now, I’m also here to tell ya the Yanks’ cavalry is gettin’ better. Y’all saw what happened at Gettysburg and survived it. Now, we gotta learn from it. We can no longer go into battle expectin’ to beat the Yanks when they’ve got three, four, five men to our one. From now on, we’ve gotta treat ‘em as the equals they’ve become.”
A general growl of disagreement swept through the gathered men. The Captain laughed. “Problem is boys, ya done too good a job killin’ off all the stupid Yanks. The one’s that are left are smart and they’ve been learnin’ from us. Every time we beat ‘em, they got bettah. Now, we gotta assume they’re as good as us. When we’re scoutin’ and run into Yankee cavalry, we gotta stop and think before attackin’. If they outnumber us, I want ya to run the other way. Run, stay alive to fight another day. That’s the only way we’ll win this war, now. Do ya understand me? Them’s orders!”
“Sir! Yes, Sir!” the men shouted in near unison.
“Cap, didya ever find out who that crazy yeller-haired feller was leading the countercharge?” one of the men asked.
“Word is he’s a new, up and comin’ hero amongst the Yankees. Name of Custer, George Armstrong Custer. Thinks he’s God’s gift to the cavalry.”
“Ain’t no good gonna come from that man, that’s fer sure. He was one crazy feller.”
“Too true, Horace. Too true. Now that we’ve got that taken care of, here’s what we’re plannin’ next,” and the Captain began laying out the plans for setting up defenses against the Yankees return to Virginia.
That night, Lou was just wrapping up her letter to Emmett’s wife and kids when she noticed Isaac struggling with a big pot of stew. One of the legs of the tripod the pot was hanging from appeared to have broken and he was trying to keep the food from spilling out all over the ground. Lou jumped up and ran over to help.
“Here, use this to hold onto the pot so ya don’t get burned,” she said, handing the rag she used to clean her pistol with to Isaac. “I’ll prop up this leg to help.”
Raising her voice she called out, “Kid, come help get this pot off the fire! Louie! Quick, find another pole we can use to fix this tripod!”
After supper all three stuck around to help clean up the kitchen area, which was still a mess from the earlier accident. Kid was helping Isaac wash the dishes, while Lou and Louie picked up debris from the ground and tossed it into the fire. Kid sighed.
“Wassa mattah, young massah?” Isaac asked.
“Somethin’s botherin’ Lou, and he won’t talk ta me ‘bout it. Says it’s one o’ them problems where I’m a part of ‘em,” Kid answered forlornly. “I think he’s mad at me fer joinin’ up. Things ain’t been goin’ the way I’d thought.”
“Yup. I’d say thas so,” Isaac agreed. “Youse startin’ to come to yer senses and realize this here war ain’t ‘bout defendin’ no homes.”
Kid could only nod in agreement.
“But,” Isaac continued, “I doan think that’s young massa Lou’s problem. Why don’t Ise talk to ‘im. Mebbe he’ll feel more comfortable talkin’ to me.”
“Ise y’all’s friend, ain’t I?”
“You sure are, Isaac,” Kid answered, patting the older man on the back as he put the last of the dishes back in the cook wagon.
It took Isaac a bit to find a way to get Lou alone. But when he did, he got straight to the point.
“Kid says somethin’s botherin’ ya real fierce like and ya won’t talk to ‘im ‘bout it.”
Lou nodded glumly, not meeting Isaac’s eyes.
“Could ya mebbe talk ta me ‘bout it.”
“It’s kinda embarrassing,” Lou muttered, looking down at her hands.
“Wimmen stuff?” Isaac whispered so quietly she could barely hear him. Lou nodded. “Well, ain’t no females ‘round here, so yer gonna havta make do with ol’ Isaac.”
“I,” Lou stuttered to stop then started again. “I ain’t had my courses in more than three months.”
“Think yer expectin’, hunh?” Isaac asked, eyeing her spare frame from tip to toe. Lou just nodded. “Ise got a question fer ya, have ya had any other symptoms?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, have ya bin unusually tired? Are ya… sore?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at her chest area. “Havin’ any trouble eatin’ or keepin’ food down once ya done ate?”
“No. The only problem I have with eating is getting enough food,” Lou said, “just like everyone else.”
“Then I doubts yer pregnant,” Isaac said, shrugging. “More’n likely ya’s got the opposite problem.”
Lou looked at Isaac in confusion.
“Yer ain’t gettin’ ‘nuff ta eat and yer gettin’ too much exercise. Yer body’s shut down and ya cain’t get pregnant right now,” Isaac said. “Happens sometimes on the worst of the plantations ta the wimmen what work the fields.”
“Do you really think?”
“Yep. Ise really do think,” Isaac grinned at her, his white teeth shining brightly against his dark face in the gathering evening gloom.
“But, does this mean I’ll never be able to have a baby?” she asked in sudden fear.
“Naw. Once ya’s gets to eatin’ an’ sleepin’ proper again, yer body’ll start doin’ it’s thin and you’ll probly be pregnant before ya even know it!”
“Thank you, Isaac,” Lou exclaimed leaping up and hugging the older man around the neck. “Thank you.”
Suddenly she pulled back and looked around in fear someone might have seen her emotional outburst. Isaac laughed out loud at the look on her face.
“Mebbe ya bettah go tell Kid what all ya’ve bin thinkin’,” Isaac advised. “He’s a mite worrit yer angry and blamin’ him fer getting’ ya into the war.”
“Thanks Isaac, I’ll do that,” she said already moving away toward camp in her hurry to find Kid. She didn’t notice an enraged Thomas coming up behind Isaac as she left.
That night found Kid and Lou in a good mood and looking for a way to leave camp for awhile and get a little time alone. They’d offered to water the horses for the evening, letting a couple of corporals have the night off. After leading the last of the animals down to the creek to drink, they deliberately took their time wandering back to camp. Kid wrapped his arm around Lou’s shoulders and watched her watch the stars above. Kid was just starting to lean in for a kiss when they both stiffened at an unexpected sound.
“Did you hear that?” Kid asked.
Lou nodded. “What do you think it was?”
“Sounded like a baby or a wounded animal.”
“Not around here,” Lou said. She pulled away from Kid and started searching the area, unconsciously dividing it into a grid pattern to make sure she didn’t miss any spots. It didn’t take her long to stumble across a body hidden in the nearby brush. “Kid, over here!”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know,” she began. “Help me turn him over….”
She gasped as her efforts to turn the injured man over revealed Isaac’s face. “Isaac!”
“Isaac?” Kid questioned. “What happened?”
Isaac only moaned quietly, not quite conscious. Lou pulled her hand away from his shoulder to push a lock of hair out of her face. Suddenly she stopped and stared intently at her hand, then began frantically inspecting Isaac’s back.
“He’s been whipped, Kid. He’s been whipped bad!”
“What are we gonna do?”
“Run get my medicine pouch Buck made me. We’ll have to help him here. We try to take him back to camp and you know Thomas won’t let us near him.”
Kid nodded and flew through the darkened forest toward their camp. The pair spent the night tending Isaac’s wounds. In the morning light they could tell the whipping hadn’t been nearly as bad as Lou had first feared, though it had been plenty bad enough. When he healed, Isaac would have a whole new set of scars on his upper back and arms to accompany numerous others already there. And he’d be moving real careful for the next few weeks. But, other than to thank them for their help, Isaac refused to allow his injuries to keep him from heading off with the first rays of the sun to start breakfast. In parting he said only, “Things’d jest get worse iffen I let this keep me from doin’ my job.”
After he left, Lou and Kid just sat there staring at each other for a moment. Then Kid said, “We’re gonna have to do somethin’ to help him, Lou.”
She nodded. “Thomas is gettin’ worse. It used to be just insults, the occasional slap or shove.”
“But, the worse the war goes, the worse his attacks on Isaac are getting,” Kid finished for her.
“What can we do, Kid? It ain’t like the Underground Railroad is exactly operatin’ around here.”
“I don’t know, Lou. But we’re gonna have to keep our eyes open and look for the opportunity to do somethin’.”
Teaspoon sighed and shifted on the hard bench of the freight wagon he was driving. The injury he’d taken to the knee when he first got to Texas was acting up. Probably meant it was going to rain tonight, he mused. The weather predicting capabilities of the now healed injury were actually amusing, in their own way. But the fact he could no longer ride a horse for more than a few minutes without being in agony was a loss to which he still hadn’t resigned himself. Probably explained why he kept trying.
“Mr. Hunter, where do ya think we are?” one of the earliteen boys he’d brought with him on this expedition asked. Teaspoon sourly noted how easily the boy sat in his saddle as he rode alongside the wagon.
“I know that, Mr. Hunter. I was there when we crossed the Rio Grande yesterday. But, where in Mexico are we?”
“Well, I can tell ya where we ain’t,” Teaspoon said with a heavy sigh. “We ain’t where we’re headed.”
“What are we gonna do down in Mexico City?”
“Well, I suppose we’ll sell all this cotton we’re hauling along on the trip, sonny. Then, we’ll buy somethin’ nice for all the ladies back at the ranch and head on home.”
“When do you think we’ll get there?” the persistent young man asked.
“Well, the way I figure it, we’ll get there when we get there.”
The boy looked at Teaspoon for a moment, his eyes nearly crossing as he tried to figure that out. Then, he snorted in disdain and pulled his horse around to go talk to one of the younger men driving the other wagons. Teaspoon let out his own snort of disdain.
“Young’uns. Gettin’ younger and more impatient every day.”
Buffalo Bill, as he now preferred to be called, leaned low over his horse’s neck as the animal stretched out into a full gallop. They’d caught the rebels with their pants down in the Alabama town of Tuscumbia and now had them on the run. Guiding his mount with his knees, Cody pulled his pistol and took careful aim. Not that that would do much good. He’d never had the control over a pistol of Jimmy or the Kid, or even Lou for that matter. But, he didn’t have time to reload his now empty rifle. Mentally shrugging his shoulders he squeezed off a shot. Maybe he’d get lucky. With all these bullets flying through the air at the Johnny Rebs, one of them had to hit something, sooner or later.
Thatch suddenly came pounding obliquely back toward the chasing cavalrymen.
“Artillery, dead ahead!” she warned, gasping for breath.
Captain Utt, at the head of the galloping cavalry, held up a hand signaling they should slow down for a moment. “Men, you heard the scout, there’s artillery ahead. But we’ve got these seccessh bastards on the run and I, for one, am not in the mood to let them get away. Again. Are you with me?”
A bellowing cheer went up from the panting riders. The Captain nodded, pleased, then ordered, “Check your guns and your saddles boys. We ride for glory!”
Sliding off his horse a few minutes later to take shelter with Thatch behind a well, Cody muttered, “Wonder what happened to all that glory?”
“Went down with Captain Utt when that cannon ball took his horse out from under him,” Thatch answered.
“Has anyone managed to get to him?”
“Not yet. And if they don’t soon, it won’t matter anymore. He’ll bleed out.”
“Cover me then,” Buffalo Bill said boldly, “I’m goin’ in!”
Crawling along in his elbows and thighs, trying to stay as flat to the ground as he could, Cody slowly inched closer to the man who’d led his unit in the charge on the booming cannon. So far, Captain Utt looked to be the only casualty and Cody looked to make sure he wasn’t a permanent one.
“Captain! Captain! Can you talk?” Cody whispered as he finally reached the man’s side.
“Ah! One of my intrepid scouts,” the injured man gasped. “I should have known it would be you who would come for me.”
“Captain, we’ve got to get you out of here.”
“No, I must stay to see the battle through.”
“Captain, don’t be stupid. The men have almost completely taken the hill and all the artillery. No sense lying here bleeding to death when the job’s already done,” Cody pleaded. “Now, come on. Let me help you back to the horses.”
“Alright, son,” the man finally assented.
“Is he gonna make it?” Thatch asked when Cody finally managed to lug the man back to the well she was sheltering behind.
“Not if we don’t get him to a doctor. And soon.”
“Here, I’ll help ya get him on a horse then go let the Lieutenant know where we’re goin’,” Thatch said, already suiting actions to her words. After helping Cody pull the Captain up onto his horse with him, she slapped the horse into motion, “Now, get goin’. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up soon.”
Cody was halfway back to the cavalry’s base in Corinth by the time Thatch caught up with him. Together they rode through the night, hoping against hope to get the Captain to a doctor in time to save his life. About dawn they rode up to the front of the hospital tent.
“Doctor! We need a doctor!” Cody shouted, as the limp form of Captain Utt dragged him off his horse, nearly flattening him into the ground.
A doctor wearing a blood spattered apron came lumbering out of the tent. Upon seeing Cody barely holding up Captain Utt he yelled over his shoulder, “Recruit! Recruit Price, get out here! We need another set of arms.”
A tall, skinny man with a bushy head of already graying hair and an equally gray beard came shambling out of the hospital tent at the summons.
“What is it this time? Another half dead officer?” he sneered. “They’re all after the glory and leave us to deal with all the guts.”
He guffawed at his own joke as he grabbed Captain Utts legs and helped lift the man’s dead weight onto a stretcher. Then, bending down he grabbed one end of the stretcher while Cody grabbed the other. They rushed the Captain into the entry way of the tent, where a base had been set up for stretchers. The entire walk the doctor was peering at the Captain’s wounds, moving pieces of fabric around, gingerly fingering various bits of torn flesh.
“How long ago was he injured?”
“About eight hours, Sir,” Thatch said at Cody’s elbow. Cody jumped in surprise, not having noticed she’d followed him into the hospital.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do to save the legs, then. It’s been too long and there’s been too much blood loss. The best we can hope for is to prevent an infection and save his life,” the doctor said briskly. Turning to the recruit who’d collapsed onto a nearby three legged camp stool he said wearily, “Get me the saw.”
“Get me the saw, throw away the limb, don’t forget to wash your hands,” the man muttered sarcastically as he walked away.
“I apologize for ol’ Kit Price there,” the doctor said. “He’s a mite bitter. Joined up last summer, almost immediately got injured at Vicksburg, spent the winter in the hospital recovering only to catch a pleurisy of the lungs. They’re going to discharge him for it later this week. Can’t do anything else with him in the meantime, so he works here as an orderly.”
While speaking, the doctor was efficiently scrubbing his already reddened hands in a mixture of boiling water and carbolic acid.
“Whatcha doin’?” Thatch asked curiously.
“Well, son, one thing this war has done is opened our eyes to a few things. Infection appears to spread less when we doctors wash our hands and our equipment with something like this acid or alcohol before and after treating each patient. And every little bit we can do to save lives is a blessing. We’re losing more men to disease and infections than to the damned bullets and cannons.”
Finished washing his hands, he took the bone saw from Recruit Price and began scrubbing it down in the same bowl.
“I’m afraid I’m going to need your help boys. Most of my staff just turned in not half an hour ago and I’m reluctant to wake them. Sleepy medics made stupid decisions. So, I’m going to need you two to help hold your Captain down while I take his legs.”
“Both of ‘em?” Cody gulped.
“Yes son, both of them. They’re just too badly damaged. Here, you take this leather strap, place it between his teeth and then hold it down under the table so he can’t lift his head.”
Turning to Thatch he continued, “You boy climb up on top and sit on him. That’ll keep him from bucking too much and I’ll be able to get a cleaner, quicker cut. Price, you know how to hold down his arms and shoulders.”
Price nodded and squared his shoulders, ready to do his duty.
“Everyone ready?” the doctor asked, meeting the eyes of each of his aides. At their nods he said, “Alright then, take your positions.”
Cody grabbed both ends of the leather strap and pulled tight. Thatch climbed up on top of the Captain and sat on his belly, grabbing the stretcher on both sides with two hands. Price just leaned over the patient’s shoulders and lay down on him, using his weight to hold him in place.
“Hang on boys, it’s like riding a buckin’ bronco,” Price warned with a grimace.
The doctor took a deep breath and brought the saw into position over Utt’s left leg. With the first swipe the saw’s teeth tore through the flesh quickly reaching bone. It took the doctor several long minutes to finish cutting through the thigh bone of the left leg, with blood spattering up at him from the severed artery. When the last tattered remnants of Utt’s left leg tore free from his body, the doctor tossed it into a far corner of the tent and grabbed a red hot knife in the same motion. He pressed the knife up against the still bleeding stump and held it there for several seconds, until the smell of burning flesh and singed hair permeated the room.
Up until that point, the Captain had been blessedly unconscious. But the pain of the cauterization brought him around and he started trying to get away from the pain, nearly bucking Thatch to the floor.
“You boys better hold on, ‘cause I’ve still got to take that other leg,” the doctor warned. The three helpers looked at each other, gulped and hunkered down.
Fifteen minutes later, Thatch and Cody watched in astonishment as Kit Price, who’d been so calm and nonchalant throughout the surgery suddenly rushed out of the hospital tent and began vomiting into the weeds at the tree line.
The doctor finished cleaning his hands and the saw as he watched Price go.
“The others around here call him Mean ol’ Kit Price because he’s got such a mouth on him. But anyone who’s gone through surgery knows, his attitude is just a cover. It gets to him. Bad. Hell, it gets to all of us.”
A white faced Cody nodded in agreement. He’d thought the battlefield was bad, but he’d take that over this any day. He just prayed he’d never end up on that table, he thought, looking down at the once more unconscious Captain Utt. He’d rather be dead, than have to live through that again.
Lou and Kid
“Lou, get those men around that bend and behind some trees before the Yanks get here! Or the gig’s up!” Virgil ordered impatiently.
Lou looked to her left, noticing several of Company G’s men had simply stopped their horses halfway around the bend and could still be seen clearly well down the Warrenton Turnpike. Trotting over to them she shouted, “You fools! Ya think the Yanks are blind and stupid? They can see ya a mile away! Now get behind some cover.”
The startled men quickly followed her orders, hiding their horses amongst the trees that lined the turnpike. Lou nodded in satisfaction before returning to her own post further up the road. Squad 4, along with two other squads, was detailed to wait until the Federal troops chasing General Lee’s men had passed by and sprung the trap further up the road. Then, they were to come in from behind and scatter the bluecoats.
Lou sighed. The last couple weeks had been a series of inconclusive skirmishes. But they’d led up to another major defeat for the Confederates at Bristoe Station. Once again, she and the rest of the men of the 1st Virginia Cavalry found themselves covering Lee’s retreat. If only the man would quit moving so fast he outstripped his supply lines. Then again, by now that didn’t mean much. Supply was a rumor these days, not a fact.
Kid gently nudged her elbow, motioning toward the turnpike they were supposed to be watching with his chin. Lou looked and nodded. Here came the bluecoats.
On the other side of the turnpike, Louie and Thomas watched the approach, too. Everyone tensed and readied to spring into action at the first sign of fighting once the Federals rounded the bend ahead of them. Squad 4 remained understrength, as did many of the squads left in Company G, after Gettysburg. There simply were no new recruits to replace Emmett and the others killed in battle anymore.
The sound of clanging steel and the popping of fired revolvers brought all the men in hiding to their feet. A rebel yell and they were off.
The ambush had already rattled the Federal troops. The added attackers from the rear had them coming completely unglued. In a matter of moments they were fleeing back down the road, as fast as their horses could carry them.
“Come on, boys!” Virgil shouted. “Looks like they wanna race!”
“Ain’t no Yank gonna beat me in a race,” Thomas answered, whipping his horse to a faster pace.
Lou shook her head as she stared into the fire. The chase that night had lasted nearly five miles and only ended when the Federal advance troops got too close to their main forces again. The bright spot in the recent string of Confederate losses had quickly been dubbed the Buckland Races, after the Buckland Mills nearby. A slight grin and chuckle escaped her lips. The fleeing Yanks had been funny in their frantic efforts to escape.
“What’s so funny, Lou?” Kid asked.
“Nothin’,” Lou said, “Just thinkin’ ‘bout the Buckland Races.”
Kid’s smile soon matched hers. Any reason to smile these days was worth revisiting as often as possible, he thought. Especially considering their second wedding anniversary was next week and they were still living like brothers. He’d thought those days were over when he’d watched her walk down the aisle, dressed as a woman in front of the entire town.
“Do you think we’ll be spendin’ the winter here?” he asked quietly.
“Most like. Unless Lincoln decides to launch another offensive, which I just can’t see this late in the year. His supply lines are already getting mucked up by the winter weather up North.”
“That’s good,” Thomas said. He rarely joined in the squad’s conversations. But lately his nearly constant anger had alienated him from everyone else. Squad 4 had no choice but to put up with him. “Anabel should’ve had the baby by now. If we stay in one place, one of the nigras should be able to find me with the news.”
“What do ya think it’ll be?” Louie asked. “A boy or a girl.”
“Oh, it’ll be a boy,” Thomas declared assuredly. “My Anabel would never have a girl first. She’s too proper for that.”
Lou coughed into her hand to disguise her laughter at his attitude. But all traces of laughter were suddenly strangled in her throat at the sight of Virgil coming toward their campfire with Isaac’s young grandson, Samson, trailing forlornly behind him.
“Thomas, we need to speak,” Virgil said quietly, taking his friend by the arm and nearly dragging him away from the fire. “Samson, you stay here and get warmed up. Lou, could you find somethin’ for him to eat?”
Kid patted the ground next to him and said, “Samson, take a seat. We ain’t got much, but you’re welcome to share.”
Samson knelt down wearily on the ground but didn’t reach out to take the plate Lou was trying to hand him. She noticed his eyes seemed to stare off into the distance.
“Samson?” she asked, concerned. When he failed to respond, she turned to Louie and said in a tight voice, “Can you go get Isaac, Louie. I think somethin’ really bad’s happened. Samson seems to be in shock.”
Louie flew off into the dark night, only to return a few minutes later with Isaac jogging on his heels.
“Samson! Boy, wassa mattah?” Isaac asked, taking Samson into his arms.
At the sound of his grandfather’s voice, the youngster suddenly lost all control, weeping and wailing against Isaac’s chest. Slowly those around the fire pieced the story together.
A Yankee patrol out foraging had stumbled upon the Berkeley plantation house. They didn’t bother to ask any questions, just attacked. The last Samson had seen, the blue coats had been torching all the buildings, including the barn. The women on the plantation had hidden in a special room they’d built underneath the barn floor. He’d heard them screaming in agony as he’d crept off into the night.
“No!” came Thomas’ anguished cry from the nearby darkness, as Virgil told him the tale. “No! Anabel! My son!”
The grieving man came rushing back toward their camp with Virgil hot on his heels. As he neared the group seated about the fire, they could all see he had murder in his eyes. And he was aimed directly at Isaac and Samson.
Isaac pulled the boy toward him and whispered quietly in his ear, “Run, boy, run. And don’t look back.”
The boy started scooting back out of the ring of light shed by the fire. As soon as he was fully in the dark, he took off at a sprint for parts unknown. Thomas never noticed. His anger was aimed fully at Isaac who’d stepped in front of Samson. He took a flying leap at the older man, tackling him to the ground.
“How dare ya even be alive, when they’re not, ya thievin’ nigger,” he snarled as he began punching and kicking at the fallen man. “Ya stole my son from me!”
Isaac did nothing to stop him, simply putting his hands up protectively over his face.
“Kid! Virgil!” Lou pleaded, “we’ve gotta stop him or he’s goin’ to kill Isaac!”
“Virgil,” Kid said, “grab Thomas! Get him outta here ‘til he calms down.”
“Don’t know what all the fuss is. Better he take his anger out on him than me,” Virgil muttered, but grabbed Thomas, still screaming invectives, and began dragging him off to the other end of camp. He warned, “You better get that man hidden, I won’t be able to keep him confined for long.”
“We will,” Lou said. As Virgil and Thomas disappeared into the dark, she turned to Kid and Louie. “Come on, help me get him up. We’ll hide him in Louie’s tent for tonight.”
“My tent?” Louie asked in surprise.
“Yes, yours. One, ya’ve got the room since Emmett passed. Two, Thomas’ll come searchin’ our tent. He won’t think to check yours. Now move!”
“Yes, sir,” Louie responded automatically to the command tone that had entered Lou’s voice at the end.
Buck yawned as he followed Dawn Star, her two kids and Standing Woman back to their part of the camp. Rain would come along later. The giveaway portion of the evening’s celebration was over. While many would continue to visit and dance throughout the night, the Sun Dance had officially come to a close. In the next few days he and Standing Woman would pack up the camp. But this time they wouldn’t be heading out with Running Man’s band of Northern Cheyenne. They would be heading south, toward Red Bear’s band of Kiowa. He hoped their welcome would be warm, but was none too sure of that after their last parting.
As Buck ducked to enter the tipi he shared with Standing Woman he found his young wife sitting on their bed, staring into the fire. Dawn Star had erected her own tipi while he’d been off hunting and was already settling in for the night there with her two children, little Shining Star, of five winters, and baby Sleeps A Lot, just one winter old.
Sitting down next to his wife, he asked, “Do you want to tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“Whatever it is that you’ve been thinking so hard about the last week.”
“I, well,” she paused then started again. “Buck, I’ve got a favor to ask of you. A really big one and you’re not going to want to do it.”
“What are you talking about, Standing Woman? You know I’d do anything for you.”
“You won’t know until you ask,” he encouraged.
She took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then began. “I don’t want to go with you to Red Bear’s village. Not alone. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with Dawn Star, Buck, and she was miserable away from her family. I couldn’t handle that.”
“But…” he started to protest.
Standing Woman placed a finger over his mouth. “Let me finish, Buck, please.”
“Alright,” he smiled gently at her, kissing her finger.
“At the same time, if you left alone, that would mean neither Dawn Star nor I would have anyone to provide for us while you were gone. Sure, I can hunt, but I couldn’t do enough of it to support us properly. That would be putting too much of a burden on the rest of the camp.”
Buck nodded, understanding what she was saying.
“Add to that my duties, and yours, as a Shaman. What happens when we have children? You and I won’t have enough time to do everything we’re supposed to.”
“What are you getting at, Standing Woman?” he asked, almost scared to hear what she had to say.
She took a deep breath and blurted out, “I want you to marry Dawn Star!”
“No!” he exclaimed, jumping to his feet. “Never! I only want one wife. You. How can you ask this of me?”
Standing Woman rose and moved up to him, leaning her head against his shoulder and wrapping her arms around his waist. “I know how you feel, Buck. And I feel the same way. But these traditions exist for a reason. She needs someone to provide for her. I’m her sister. That makes you the logical choice. We need help and we’re going to keep needing it.”
She looked up into his eyes. “Do you think I want to share you? Even with my own sister?”
Buck’s stiff stance softened and he wrapped his arms around his wife, pulling her tight against him.
“No,” he whispered, almost inaudibly.
“And who’s to say it has to be a permanent marriage? Or even a real one? Right now, Dawn Star isn’t ready for a real husband, that’s for sure. Even if she were, she’s still nursing Sleeps A Lot and will be for at least another year. That means there couldn’t be anything between you until then, anyway. By then she may have healed enough to find her own husband,” Standing Woman responded hopefully as she took Buck’s face between her hands, “and give mine back to me.”
“You can’t count on that,” Buck warned.
“No,” Standing Woman said. “Nor can I count on surviving tomorrow. We must take care of today and let tomorrow take care of itself.”
“Have you discussed this with Dawn Star?” Buck asked, heaving a deep sigh. “How does she feel about this?”
“Yes, we’ve talked. She’s willing, if you are. For the children’s sake, if nothing else.”
Buck smiled gently as he thought of the two young ones. He wouldn’t mind adopting them, which would be part of any marriage to Dawn Star. He loved spending time with them, taking care of them.
“Well, I guess there’s nothing to do but talk to Rain,” Buck said. “But tonight I plan to enjoy the wife of my heart.”
Running Man’s band put off their planned departure to celebrate the wedding of Dawn Star and Running Buck. It was nowhere near as festive as had been his wedding to Standing Woman. All understood it was a marriage of necessity, of survival, not of love. But they wanted to put a good face on it. The band hosted a feast and merrily escorted the groom to his new bride’s tipi, where he and Dawn Star would be sequestered for the next seven days, to get to know each other.
Standing Woman watched from the sidelines, holding little Shining Star’s hand. She would watch her during the honeymoon period. The baby had had to stay with Dawn Star and Buck because he was still nursing. This was what she’d wanted, she had to keep reminding herself. Her sister would be taken care of and she wouldn’t be alone with a strange people. But, it was still hard to watch her husband enter another woman’s tipi like that.
A week later Buck followed Dawn Star out of her tipi. He’d spent the last seven nights laying beside her on her bed, staring up at the smoke hole at the top of the tipi. The days he’d spent repairing old arrows, making new ones and getting to know his new son, Sleeps A Lot, better. Yet, despite all that imposed rest, he was exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to curl up and go to sleep in his wife’s, his true wife’s, arms. But, as he looked around, eager for his first sight of Standing Woman in a week, he found her already hard at work dismantling her tipi.
He started to move toward her, but Dawn Star put a hand gently on his arm, holding him back and shaking her head.
“Let me talk to her,” she said quietly.
Buck nodded and watched her move off toward her sister while he stood there and waited.
“Good morning, sister,” Dawn Star began.
“Morning,” Standing Woman grunted.
“Would you like some help with that?”
Standing Woman shrugged as she continued to pull the hide covering off her already emptied tipi. Dawn Star moved in quietly and began to help with the arduous task. Only after the last of the tipi cover was off the lodgepoles and carefully packed away on a travois did Dawn Star speak again.
“Our husband loves you very much.”
“I know,” Standing Woman answered, barely holding back a sob.
“You cannot punish him for this,” Dawn Star said taking her sister’s hands in hers. “At least, not anymore than he is torturing himself mentally. Over the last week he spoke of nothing but you!”
“Really?” Standing Woman asked, raising her eyes to meet Dawn Star’s with growing hope on her face.
“Yes, really,” Dawn Star answered with a sad smile. “And I am glad. He is all the husband I need or want. Someone to help raise my children and provide for our needs. He will not demand of me things I cannot give him.”
“Oh, thank you!” Standing Woman exclaimed, throwing her arms around Dawn Star’s neck and hugging her tight. “Thank you.”
“Alright already,” Dawn Star laughed. “Don’t hug me! Go hug your husband. He needs to know that you still love him, too!”
“Yes, ma’am!” Standing Woman responded, turning and flying in the direction of her anxiously pacing husband.
Seeing her sudden approach, Buck set little Shining Star, who’d come toddling up to him while her mother was busy, back on her feet. Bending down, he whispered something in her ear. Then, standing, barely managed to brace himself in time to catch his wife in his arms without falling onto his rear. He let her body slide down his, setting her back on her feet while enjoying the physical contact he’d missed so much in the last week.
“Good morning,” she whispered almost shyly into his ear.
“Good morning,” he answered, bending his head to capture her lips with his, heedless of the improper spectacle they were making of themselves. Hungrily, they began to consume each other, relearning the beloved feel of their spouse. A few moments later, when both came back up for breath, he said, “I was afraid you were angry with me.”
“No,” she said, pressing her forehead against his chest to hide her shame. “I was angry with myself. I know you only married Dawn Star because I asked you to and to help take care of her. But….”
“But it still felt like a betrayal?” he asked softly.
“Yes,” she breathed.
“I know. I felt the same way.”
“But now, now I think we’ll be able to work this out,” Standing Woman said, raising her eyes again to meet his.
“That’s good,” Buck answered, wrapping his arms more tightly around her waist. “Because I don’t think I could survive losing you. I’ve lost too many important people in my life. Now, let’s get to work helping Dawn Star dismantle her tipi, so we can get on the road. I can’t wait to introduce you to my brother!”
“You can’t wait to introduce me?” Standing Woman asked coyly as he set her away from him, “Or you can wait to introduce your two wives?”
“I plead the fifth,” Buck answered with the broadest grin he’d felt on his face in weeks. Things were going to work out, he thought as he happily followed the love of his life to his second wife’s tipi to start dismantling it.
Jimmy followed Elizabeth quickly out the window of Dumfries office window, slipping beneath the edge of the sill just as Dumfries and a business associate entered through the door on the other side of the room. Jimmy and Elizabeth crouched down below the window, listening in on the conversation. Unfortunately, it seemed to be about legitimate business and wouldn’t add to what they’d already found. When they were sure they wouldn’t learn any more, the duo slowly crept away through the Dumfries garden and into the alley behind.
“Whew, that was a close one,” Jimmy sighed in relief once they were well away from the house. “I thought he had us for sure.”
“Ah’ve had closer,” Elizabeth sighed breezily. “And didn’t come away with anythin’ near as important as this.”
She waved a sheaf of papers clutched in her left hand at Jimmy. “We got it! We finally got it! Proof that the Wild Rose is Rose O’Neal Greenhow! We’ve got her now.”
“Only if we can get those papers into the right hands, across the front lines,” Jimmy muttered, a tad less enthusiastic. “Findin’ them was the easy part.”
“Oh, Ah already know how we’re goin’ to get the information into General Meade’s hands, himself,” Elizabeth said, heading off toward her own mansion. “You’re goin’ to inspect the troops that are usin’ the Spencers you’re providin’ the ammunition for. Ah’ll come along to bring our good fightin’ boys a few Christmas goodies. From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump into the Union lines. Ah have all the passcodes we’ll need to get these papers safely to General Meade from there.”
Jimmy just shook his head in admiration of her carefully thought out plan, wondering just how long she’d been working on it.
“Well, what are ya waitin’ for?” she called back over her shoulder. “We’ve got some Christmas bakin’ to do.”
Lou and Kid
Kid looked up as Lou entered their tent. She’d been off at an officers meeting with Captain Irving. He straightened up as he got a good look at her bone white face.
“Lou?” he asked questioningly.
She looked up from the note she held in her hand, as if suddenly realizing where she was and who else was there. Silently she held the note out to Kid. He looked down and carefully worked his way through the words.
“Mr. Ambrose Merriweather proposes to inspect the troops who are using the captured Spencer rifles to ensure they are being properly maintained before delivering new stockpiles of ammunition for them next month,” he read. Looking back up at Lou he repeated the two most unnerving words of the note, “Ambrose Merriweather?”
Lou nodded again.
“But… but he’s dead,” Kid protested.
“Jimmy ain’t,” Lou said quietly.
At that reminder, Kid suddenly plopped back down on his bedroll as if his legs had lost all strength.
“You know Jimmy’s used his name a couple times when he didn’t want to use his own,” Lou added.
“What are we gonna do, Lou?” Kid asked plaintively.
“Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that?” Lou asked meeting Kid’s pained eyes. After a moment, he looked away in guilt.
“I can’t turn him in, Lou. He’s our best friend.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Kid. Because I think he can do us a huge favor.”
“Isaac. We can’t keep hidin’ him forever. We’ve gotta get him and Samson outta here. You know Jimmy’ll help.”
Kid nodded slowly. “Besides, I need to apologize to him for what I said at Noah’s funeral.”
“Yes, Kid, you do,” Lou said softly. “But so does he, and I think he knows it. But all the same, I think I should be the one to approach him first. He may be using another name, but he’s still gonna be our Jimmy.”
Kid laughed at the smile Lou had as they both imagined Jimmy’s probable first response if he saw Kid without warning. “I think you’re right, Lou. I wouldn’t want to get shot by my best friend after surviving three years of war!”
Jimmy jumped limberly out of the carriage he’d been driving then turned to hand down his elegantly gowned companion. She moved gracefully to his side and looked around the camp.
“Wha..?” Jimmy muttered as he started looking around. Who was calling out to Bulldog? They couldn’t mean him. No one here would know about the nickname. Well, except for…. No. Couldn’t be. They were out Manassas way, not here by Richmond. Weren’t they?
Suddenly, a small, wiry body pounded into his as Lou tackled him. “Bulldog! I can’t believe you made it in time for Christmas!”
“Lou?” was all Jimmy could think of to ask, even as he edged between one of his best friends and his fellow spy. “What are you doin’ here?”
“We joined up, just like we said we would, silly!” Lou responded, punching him gently in the shoulder. He winced. How’d she gotten stronger since he’d last seen her? “Now come on! Kid’s just dyin’ to see ya. He was afraid to come welcome ya, after that last spat you two had before you left. But I told him you’d already forgotten it, right Jimmy?”
She paused in her chatter to glance up at Jimmy just long enough to catch his confirming nod, before pulling him along after her. Jimmy looked back helplessly at Elizabeth and shrugged. She smiled and waved him on, clearly not concerned.
“Um, Lou, what…?” Jimmy started to ask, then stopped as she threw a glare his way without pausing in her excited chatter.
“Bulldog, just you wait. You’ll never recognize the Kid. He’s got a full beard now and his hair’s longer ‘n’ yours used ta be. By the way, what happened to your hair? I didn’t think anyone’d ever get you to cut it again.”
As she wrapped up this last sentence, she pulled him into a copse of trees at the edge of camp. Once hidden from sight, she suddenly grew very quiet, holding a finger to her mouth indicating a need for silence and pulling Jimmy after her.
Fifteen minutes of hiking through the Virginia snow later, she led him into a cave more than a mile away from camp, well hidden by brush and trees.
Once inside, she finally broke her silence. “We need your help, Jimmy.”
“Would you mind tellin’ me what the hell’s goin’ on here?” he finally spat out at her, half in amusement, half in anger.
“We’re pretty sure we know why you’re here, Jimmy,” Kid said, walking out of the gloom at the back of the cave, “and we need your help.”
“What?” Jimmy said again. “You know I’m gettin’ damned tired of saying that word. Would one of you please answer me!”
Kid shrugged. “Usin’ the name you’re usin’, we’re pretty sure you’re here spyin’ for the Federals.”
Jimmy started to backpeddle frantically, but Kid held up a hand asking for patience. “Don’t worry, we don’t aim to stop ya. Thing is, if I could figure a way to get us outta here, without endangerin’ Lou’s life,”
“Or yours,” Lou put in. Kid just looked at her.
“We’d have lit out after Gettysburg,” Kid finished. “But this ain’t about us. There’s no way we could get clear of this war without bein’ shot for desertion. We’re too well known by now, by too many people.”
“But,” Lou walked up to stand beside her husband, wrapping one arm around his waist, “there’s someone else who can’t wait ‘til the end of the war. If we don’t get him out of here soon, he’s gonna git killed.”
“What do ya need?” Jimmy asked, ready to talk. After Lou and Kid had explained all about Isaac and Thomas’ increasingly brutal beatings, he said simply, “I’ll help. But I’ve gotta talk to Elizabeth, first.”
“Elizabeth?” Kid questioned, with a slight smirk.
“It ain’t like that!” Jimmy slapped at Kid’s shoulder. “She’s my contact with the Federals. Been spying on Davis right from his own backyard since before the war started.”
“Oh, that lady you rode in with,” Lou said.
“Yep. She’s the one arranged this little trip. Things were gettin’ a mite hot in Richmond. We needed to get out of town for awhile, lay low, and get some important papers North,” Jimmy explained. “She’ll know what to do to get your friend out of here to safety.”
“Why doesn’t it surprise me you’d end up ridin’ with a lady?” Kid murmured.
“I don’t know. Maybe cause you and I always been so much alike?” Jimmy needled back.
“Alright boys, enough,” Lou said repressively, leading the way to the cave entrance.
“Good lord, she’s gotten bossy the last couple years,” Jimmy complained to Kid.
“You ain’t guessed the half of it,” Kid murmured, following his two best friends back out into the winter sunshine.
“L-T, guess what? We’re gonna have a bonafide Christmas dinner tonight?” an excited Louie shouted to Lou as the trio walked back into camp. They’d deliberately circled around so they’d re-enter camp from the opposite side they’d departed it.
Lou pushed her glasses up on her nose as she smiled at Louie and said simply, “You don’t say.”
“Yeah. There’s a pork roast with sweet ‘taters and apples. And real pumpkin pie!”
Lou laughed at the boy’s antics.
Behind their backs, Jimmy turned to Kid and mouthed, “L-T?”
Kid nodded back.
“Third in command of Company G,” he said proudly.
“I don’t see any Lieutenant’s bars on your shoulder, Kid. Does that mean she….” At Kid’s warning glare he quickly switched pronouns. “He’s your boss?”
“Yep,” Kid grinned, enjoying Jimmy’s shock.
“Good Lord! You’ll never get him to stop takin’ risks now!”
Kid just shrugged. Jimmy grunted in acknowledgement of the other man’s apparent easy acceptance of the risks his wife now took. This was not the same man Lou’d once called a ‘mealy-mouthed coyote’ for his overprotective attitude toward her. He asked simply, “What happened?”
Kid knew exactly what Jimmy meant. “This war. It ain’t good for much, but it’s certainly good for makin’ a man think long and hard about his priorities in life. One thing I’ve learned, Lou’s usually right. It’s easier to accept risks when we’re side by side, then it ever was watchin’ him ride off without me. I understand now the promise he made me give back in Davenport.”
Jimmy nodded in appreciation. When they reached the center of camp they found Elizabeth supervising the laying out of a snow white cloth over a quickly improvised dinner table. Jimmy grinned. She’d even insisted on bringing out a complete set of silverware. He moved up beside her and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and walked away.
Lou, having finally ditched the excited Louie by sending him over to help Elizabeth, raised an eyebrow at Jimmy. He just smiled at her, indicated everything was fine, and asked, “So, which horses did ya take?”
“Well, we’ve only got one of the Indian ponies left. Lost the other back in Chancellorsville,” Kid said. “He was Ike’s favorite. Want to go say hi?”
“Great idea,” Jimmy said, glad Kid had picked up on his hint.
“We only took him after Buck left,” Lou said, walking between the two men. “We’d both figured he’d take him.”
“But, he was the best of the lot when it was time to head out,” Kid said.
“Except for Katy and Lightning,” Jimmy added.
“Those two were never a question,” Lou said quietly. “We weren’t going to risk them out here.”
“I know. I left Sundancer with Rachel before heading East, too. You know Katy’s foaled by now.”
The trio disappeared into the barn, discussing horses, like they always did.
That night, Kid sat back and belched. He hadn’t eaten that well in months. And it was good to have Jimmy by his side again, and not angry at him. It had been easier than he’d thought to admit he’d been wrong. He was glad Jimmy had understood why they couldn’t leave with him. It would be hard to say good-bye, but much easier than it had been to lose him with no word like last time.
Kid and Jimmy both remained carefully concentrated on their conversation with Virgil and Thomas. Lou had ostensibly left with Louie to help with clean-up. But, she’d quickly slipped away from the kitchen area, on the pretense of returning some dishes to the carriage, and never returned.
The plan had been for her to sneak away and help Isaac and Samson hide themselves in the carriage, underneath the emptied dishes. Kid had to stay in plain sight throughout the night. Between his now well-known anti-slavery attitude and the animosity between him and Thomas, he would be the first man suspected when Isaac disappeared. So, Jimmy was making sure he had plenty of alibis.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Lou asked for the umpteenth time. “You two know you’re going to have to stay in there and stay absolutely still and silent for several hours.”
Isaac smiled as she issued the unnecessary warning. “We’ll be fine, missus. We cain’t thank ya enough fer all ya done fer us.”
“No thanks required,” Lou smiled.
“But, yer endangerin’ yer own life to help us,” Samson piped up from his hiding spot behind Isaac.
“Well, see, I’ve come to think of you two as family,” Lou said gently to the young man. “And as a good man once taught me, family is family. You take care of it, before anythin’ else.”
Isaac smiled and pulled the thick carriage blanket up over his head to complete their hiding spot. As she made last minute checks to ensure nothing gave the pair away, Lou continued. “Now, don’t you two forget to head for Rock Creek and Rachel Dunne’s house, soon’s you get North. We’ll see ya there, when this war’s over.”
“Yes, missus,” came the muffled reply.
Lou sighed, then turned and walked away. When she returned to camp, Virgil and Thomas were saying goodnight. Elizabeth had already bedded down in the barn, well guarded by Young Louie. Kid and Jimmy sat waiting for Lou by the fire outside their tent. That night they lay wedged into the two man tent, side by side, reminiscing about their days with the Pony Express well into the wee hours of the morning.
After Kid fell asleep, Jimmy finally found the courage to ask the question that had been bugging him since he’d first seen her. “Are ya happy Lou?”
“Happy as I can be. It ain’t where I expected to be after nearly two and a half years, but we’re together. That’s all the matters.”
Jimmy lay back, quietly digesting her words. He’d made the right decision, not to fight for her, then, he thought. Not if she could be happy with her choices after all this. He gently squeezed the small hand wrapped in his, knowing the other was still tightly wrapped in Kid’s, then closed his eyes and went to sleep.
The next morning, Lou had to report for a meeting with Captain Irving, so Kid was left to say goodbye to Jimmy alone. He handed his best friend a packet. “I was hoping you could see your way to mailing these for us.”
At Jimmy’s questioning look, Kid explained, “They’re letters, mostly Lou’s, to Rachel and Emma. We ain’t been able to get any mail out since January.”
Jimmy nodded, pocketing the packet of letters. “Sure thing, Kid. Long as the next time Lou writes Emma you have him tell her, I ain’t had nothin’ to drink nor been with any fancy women for over a year now.”
Kid nodded, grinning in understanding. “She’ll be real tickled to hear that, Jimmy. Real tickled.”
For all the trouble the trip to Mexico had been, it had meant good news for the Herrington Ranch. They had enough money to get through the next year, even if they didn’t plant a blamed thing in the spring. Not that Savannah Herrington planned to do any such thing. Teaspoon grinned. She was turning into a right fine frontier woman, didn’t rightly need him around anymore.
Slapping the reins of the buckboard against the horse’s rear to get the animal moving a bit faster, Teaspoon sighed. He was starting to feel useless again. The only reason he stuck around now was because of the increasingly frequent and ever deadlier Indian attacks in the area. With all the soldiers, Federal and Confederate, off fighting this War Between the States, the Indians were taking the chance to win back lands they’d steadily lost over the last few decades.
The wheels of the buckboard bounced along the road beneath him, jarring Teaspoon out of his reverie. He looked up just in time to see an Indian pony go bounding off into the dusk, riderless.
“Now, that don’t look good,” Teaspoon said to his horse. “Don’t look good a’tall.”
Pulling the horse to a stop, he painfully climbed down off the buckboard, absently rubbing his aching knee. After taking a moment to get his feet underneath him, Teaspoon started carefully searching the nearby area. It wasn’t long before he found an injured Apache brave near the side of the road, unconscious.
It took a lot of grunting and groaning, on Teaspoon’s part, to manhandle the young man into the back of the buckboard.
“Wonder what Mrs. Herrington’s gonna have to say ‘bout this?” he muttered to the horse as they got back underway. “Don’t matter. Couldn’t just leave the man lyin’ there to die. Wouldn’t be Christian.”
When Teaspoon finally pulled into the yard in front of the Herrington Ranch house people poured out of the door.
“We were gettin’ quite worried ‘bout ya, Mr. Hunter,” Savannah said in quiet admonishment.
“Couldn’t be helped, ma’am. Found an injured man along the road and had to get him into the buckboard.”
At those words, several of the women rushed around to the back of the buckboard to help. But, upon seeing who the injured man was, they all backed away even more quickly. One woman even let out a short scream, before another shushed her.
“How could you, sir!” demanded one irate older gentleman. “You should have left that savage to die where he was. You know he was hurt killin’ other, peaceful, settlers!”
“I don’t know nothin’ of the sort,” Teaspoon began, then stopped as Mrs. Herrington interrupted him.
“Mr. Lewis, if ya cannot abide by the Good Book than ya are welcome to leave any time. As for me and my house, we shall do as the Lord says and ‘love our enemies as ourselves.’ Just because his kind have killed whites doesn’t mean he has. We shall be good neighbors to this man. Mr. Hunter, will you kindly help me get him into the house?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Teaspoon said, pleased at her strong stand. As they carefully maneuvered the injured man up the steps and into the living salon, he whispered to her, “Bully for you, Mrs. Herrington.”
“Tweren’t nothin’,” she said. “Just doin’ the right thing.”
Red Bear stood at the edge of his band’s winter camp watching the small group of travelers approach from the north. His scouts had alerted him to their presence and the fact this apparent family group seemed to be headed straight for the Kiowa camp. He couldn’t help but wonder who this family was.
It was obvious, whoever they were, they were important. At the head of the group strode a slim, confident man wearing a white buffalo headdress. The head of the buffalo had been fully preserved and sat on the man’s head, with the body of the robe flowing down his back and over his shoulders. The shadow cast by the headdress obscured the man’s features. There was something very familiar about the way he moved. Red Bear just couldn’t quite place what. Whoever the man was, he was obviously a very rich and important man, in more ways than one.
A small herd of horses followed the leader of the group, three pulling travois piled high with personal possessions. Two women were mounted on saddled horses along the edge of the herd, keeping the rest of the animals gathered together. One of the women had a cradle board hanging from one side of her saddle. The other had a little girl seated in front of her.
The little girl suddenly squirmed down from the horse and began running ahead toward the man in the white buffalo headdress. She started yelling something to the man, the words losing their distinctness in the distance. The man, however, heard her and stopped, squatting down on his haunches and holding out his arms to the little girl. She flung herself into his arms, wrapping hers around his neck, buffalo robe and all, knocking the headdress slightly askew.
The man stood still holding the little girl in his arms and turned back toward Red Bear. As he resumed his journey toward the Kiowa chief, Red Bear suddenl y gasped. A ray of sunlight illuminated the man’s face.
“Running Buck!?!” In growing excitement he yelled to the camp, “Running Buck! It’s Running Buck!”
Without realizing what he was doing, the Kiowa chief began an undignified sprint toward his younger half brother. He raced toward him much as the little girl had, with both arms outstretched in warm welcome.
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