Wounded (Jan - June 1864, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Yellow Tavern, Cold Harbor)
Music: Complicated, Bon Jovi (Kid/Lou)
Defender, Crüxshadows (Kid)
Noches Sin Luna (Nights Without A Moon), Thalia (Buck)
Sacred Praises, Brulé (Buck)
Who Says You Can't Go Home?, Bon Jovi (Teaspoon)
If You're Gonna Fly Away, Faith Hill (Lou)
We Are Growing, Margaret Singana (Hickok)
Illusion, Creed (Cody)
As Hickok drove the carriage back into the ritzier section of Richmond, where Elizabeth’s three story mansion stood, he mulled over the events of the last couple of weeks. He wished Kid and Lou would’ve agreed to come with him, but he understood their decision. He wouldn’t have wanted to risk Lou’s life either. Shaking his head to rid himself of these thoughts that were distracting him from the job at hand, Jimmy turned to look at the woman seated next to him.
“Ah think we should visit the nearby Prisoner of War camp,” she was saying. “I owe the commandant, Lieutenant Todd… You know he’s Mrs. Lincoln’s half-brother? Anyway, I owe him some of my famous gingerbread and buttermilk. I’d like to see what we can pick up about the latest troop movements for you to take on to General Meade before you leave.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to go with you,” Jimmy muttered. “Can’t see as how there’s any reason for a gunrunner to be visitin’ a POW camp.”
“You might be right,” she nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll just drop by with my mother tonight. Then you can be on your way tomorrow afternoon.”
Jimmy nodded, accepting her plan. It was her city, after all, and he’d need her help to make it out alive.
He pulled the carriage around to the stables at the back of the Van Lew mansion and right into the barn. There, he hopped down and, not slowing to help Elizabeth out of the carriage, hurried straight to the back where he helped Isaac and Samson climb free of the canvas and leftover foodstuffs that had kept them hidden.
“You guys alright?” he asked.
“Yassir,” Isaac said. “Though a mite stiff.”
“I can bet,” Jimmy grinned.
Samson stood next to his grandfather, looking around the barn curiously.
“You two go hide in that back stall,” Elizabeth said as she rounded the back of the carriage to join the group. “I’ll send my Jemma out to help you get settled in the special room for the night. You won’t be able to leave until tomorrow afternoon.”
“Afternoon, ma’am?” Samson asked, confused. Isaac tried to shush him, telling him not to interrupt, but to no avail. “Ya mean we ain’t gonna wait ‘til dark?”
“Nothin’ looks so suspicious as movin’ about when you’re not supposed ta be,” Elizabeth said assuredly. “No, y’all’ll leave tomorrow afternoon with Mr. Merriweather here. Y’all’ll be actin’ as his servants in his role as a gunrunner. Ye’ll board the Lizzie in Richmond Harbor in broad daylight, like any other legitimate traveler. No one’ll ask ya any questions, ‘cause ye’ll be right where you’re supposed to be, far as they’re concerned.”
As all three men nodded in understanding of her plan, she continued. “Then the Lizzie will sail, supposedly for Cuba. But, once clear of shore and any potential spies she’ll turn North instead and deliver you two, Mr. Merriweather and my messages to General Meade and Mr. Lincoln. Messages, by the way, that you two,” she paused to point at Samson and Isaac, “will carry, most assuredly not Mr. Merriweather. Even if, by some chance, he should come under suspicion the authorities will never think to search a black servant. What would you know about spycraft?”
At that comment all four burst into laughter.
“I’d better get goin’ then,” Jimmy said. “I’ll need to get my things and pay off my room at the boarding house before leaving in the morning.”
“Be here at first light, Mr. Merriweather. We’ll have plenty to discuss before you depart.”
When Jimmy returned to the Van Lew mansion early the next day he was not ushered into the same brightly lit salon as he’d been brought to on his previous visits. This time the serving girl hurried him down the hall to a hidden room off the kitchen. There, he found Elizabeth slowly writing down a message in an ink that disappeared just moments after she’d finished. Jimmy knew his reading wasn’t as good as it could be, but he still couldn’t make heads or tails out of what she was writing.
“Is that a foreign language, or somethin’?” he asked.
“No,” she said, continued her hurried notations. “It’s in code. Only General Meade has the cipher.”
“Ah,” Jimmy said and settled in to wait until she was finished.
“There,” she said as she finished the last note. “Take this and roll it up real tiny. It needs to fit through this pinhole in the egg.”
Jimmy looked doubtfully between the piece of paper she’d handed him and the egg she showed him with its insides blown out through two pinpricks, one at each end of the egg. Elizabeth deftly rolled up the first of the slips of paper in front of her and quickly slipped it into the nearest of the eggs. He tried to copy her motions, but no matter what he did, couldn’t get the slip of paper slim enough to fit into the egg.
“Oh, give me that,” she said, frustrated with his inability to help.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Don’t worry about it,” she smiled at him beguilingly. “There are simply some things men are incapable of doing.”
After a hurried brunch, Jimmy found himself out on the sidewalk leading what felt like a parade. Isaac followed close on his heels. Hidden in Isaac’s new brogan shoes were several stolen dispatches, including the evidence against Southern spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow a.k.a. the Wild Rose. Isaac carried Jimmy’s carpetbag and newly acquired valise, full of his supposed business papers for the sale of the ‘special’ Spencer rifle ammunition to the Confederate Army. Behind Isaac tramped Samson, also in newly acquired clothes. He carried a smaller bag of essentials for him and his grandfather, as well as a bag of provisions. Included in the provisions was a basket of fresh eggs for the ‘massah’s breakfast.’ Half of those eggs were hollow, however, and filled with messages for General Meade, current commander of the U.S. Army.
Jimmy shook his head, unable to quite figure out how he’d found himself at the head of this procession. At least both Isaac and Samson had spent the morning with Elizabeth’s maidservant. She’d provided disguises for them that were so foolproof not even Thomas himself would’ve recognized the pair of escaped slaves. Now, if only all three of their disguises would hold until they were north of the Mason Dixon Line.
“Mail call,” Thatch shouted at the top of her lungs as she flung open the door to the small winter cabin she and Cody shared with five other members of the 7th Cavalry’s scouting element.
“Close the danged door,” one man complained, pulling a blanket up over his shoulders to shield himself from the chill seeping through the opening.
“Got anythin’ fer me?” another man asked.
“Yep,” Thatch said. “Ya got a letter from yer sweetheart. And Richie, ya got one from yer ma and pa.”
“What ‘bout me?” asked a grizzled veteran who’d snagged the bunk the furthest from the door.
“Sorry, Cole,” Thatch shrugged. “Don’t look like nobody wants ta have anythin’ ta do with yer rotten ol’ hide.”
Everyone in the cabin laughed, even Cole, at that comment.
“Then who’s the last letter for?” Cody asked, knowing it couldn’t be for Thatch. She didn’t have any family who knew she was here.
“You,” Thatch said.
“Me?” Cody asked. “Is it from Emma? Or Rachel?”
“Danged, Cody, how many sweethearts you got?” griped Cole. “Cain’t ya share?”
“Sorry boys, them’s not sweethearts. Just friends.”
“Says it’s from a Mrs. General Polk,” Thatch said in a questioning tone.
Cody stiffened at the name and snatched the letter from Thatch. He retreated to his bunk where he ripped the envelope open and started to rapidly read. The further he got into the letter, the more color his face lost. When he finished reading the letter he stuffed it inside his buckskin jacket and headed for the door.
“Where ya goin?” Thatch asked from her position by the fire.
“Out,” Cody answered shortly, slamming the door closed behind him.
Later that night, Thatch found Cody sitting on a hay bale in the barn just staring at the letter he’d received, still inside the envelope.
“What’s it say?” she asked timidly.
“My Ma’s dead. Died last November. No one knew ‘xactly where I was, that’s why it took ‘em so long to get me news.”
He punched the side of the stall nearest him, sending the horse in it snorting toward the far corner.
“I shoulda been there,” he moaned. “I always meant to go back. I only left to earn money to support the family after our Pa died. I always sent ‘em every cent I earned. But, one thing led to another and I just never got back.”
“You couldn’t’ve done anythin’ to save her,” Thatch said quietly.
“That ain’t the point. I shoulda been there. Family’s family,” Cody finished, losing all his steam and wilting back down onto the hay bale with this repetition of Teaspoon’s constant refrain. “Family’s family.”
Thatch stood next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder in silent commiseration.
Buck ducked out of the door of Standing Woman’s tipi and looked around. He was headed for his morning prayers. Standing Woman bumped into him, as she was following him out of the tipi and had been unprepared for his sudden stop.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said, then sighed.
“Don’t give me that, Running Buck Cross!” she said.
He wrapped an arm around her waist and pull her tight into his side. “No, really. Nothing’s wrong. I was just thinking.”
“You’ve been doing a lot of that,” she said as they headed toward the medicine wheel he’d set up for their daily prayers outside the camp. “Don’t tell me you still feel like an outsider.”
“No, it’s not that. Rain in the Face was right. Most of the ostracism I thought I’d faced was just me not accepting myself. But, somehow, I still don’t feel like I’m home.”
“That’s because you’re not.”
Buck looked sideways at her.
“Don’t look at me that way,” Standing Woman said. “We’re just visiting and you know it. You won’t feel at home until your Wasicu family is back from their war and you’re back with them.”
“You know me too well,” Buck marveled, shaking his head to knock the slowly falling snow off it, then swooping in for a stolen kiss.
“Stop that,” Standing Woman giggled, “or we’ll never get back into the warmth.”
“At least we’d be alone,” Buck grumbled.
“You know you love the kids.”
“Yeah, I do,” he grinned.
“How’d you like one more?” she asked impishly.
“What?” he asked, coming to a sudden standstill.
“I said, how’d you like another child?”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Well, let’s just say all that snuggling we’ve been doing in the bedroll has had a few consequences,” she grinned up at him.
Buck let out a whoop of joy, wrapping his arms around her waist and spinning her in a circle. Suddenly he stopped his spin and set her gently down on her feet.
“I didn’t hurt the baby, did I?” he asked anxiously.
“No, silly,” she said, slapping his chest. “Some great Medicine Man you are. Forgot all your lessons as soon as they applied to you.”
“I love you, Standing Woman,” he whispered, pulling her in close for a deep, delicious kiss. “I don’t know what I would ever do if I lost you.”
“Well you aren’t losing me today,” she said when they finally came back up for air.
“Come on,” he said, grabbing her hand and suddenly sprinting toward the medicine wheel. “We’ve got some special prayers to say today! Then we’ve got to tell everyone the good news.
She laughed as she stumbled after him through the snow.
*How ya feelin’, son?* Teaspoon asked the Indian brave camped out on Mrs. Herrington’s living room floor using the nearly universal Indian sign language Buck had taught them all so they could communicate with Ike.
*I’ve been better. But I feel good enough to go home,* the man signed back.
Teaspoon nodded. Speaking aloud along with his signs, he said, “I kinda figgered you’d be itchin’ to get back, now that you’re conscious.”
The brave nodded. *My family will be worried. Many will have already decided I died.*
“Well, I won’t ask where home is, son. But might I suggest you stick around until this current blizzard passes on?”
The brave nodded his agreement with a wide grin.
*Wouldn’t want to ruin all your doctoring by freezing to death,* he signed.
Both men started laughing loudly, then stopped as the front door was flung open by one of the older men who’d joined the haphazard collection of folks at the Herrington Ranch. Quincy Folsum had never stopped being upset about the Apache’s presence on the ranch. He’d simply gotten to the point where he ignored the man instead. Walking straight to Teaspoon, acting as if their guest wasn’t there, Quincy handed Teaspoon a packet of letters.
“These were waitin’ fer ya in town,” he said, before turning and stomping back out the front door.
“Now there’s a man who could use some time in a sweat lodge,” Teaspoon grunted. “Sweat all the mean outta him.”
The Apache brave laughed at the joke, as Teaspoon shuffled through the letters. There was one from Emma, another from Rachel and…. he stopped as he recognized the handwriting on the third letter.
“Excuse me, son,” he said gruffly, getting up and walking back toward the room Mrs. Herrington had given him on the first floor of her large ranch house. “I think I’d like to read these in private.”
The Apache’s eyes followed the older man’s form with worry as he disappeared through one of the white man’s doors.
Teaspoon closed his bedroom door behind him and leaned against it heavily. He stared down at the return address on the third letter. Polly. He’d thought he’d lost her for good, when he’d decided to head South. She hadn’t said a word when he’d told her he was going. She’d just turned her back on him and walked toward the saloon she’d bought in Rock Creek. She’d not spoken to him again in the last week he was there, never come to say goodbye when he’d left, never written him. ‘Til now, that was. He was afraid to open the letter. Afraid to find out what it was that had gotten her to relent enough to finally write.
After what felt like hours just staring down at the letter, Teaspoon stood and walked to the bed, feeling blindly behind him for it as he sat down. He never once took his eyes off the letter in his hands.
Finally, he slowly slid one finger underneath the sealed flap and pulled out the single sheet of vellum inside. Opening the sheet folded in half, he started to read.
I know I was mad at you for leaving. I should have known better. I should have known that’s what you had to do before you ever said anything. I’m too old to be making such a fool out of myself. Not to mention too old to be apologizing like this, so don’t expect me to do it again.
I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, Sugarlips. I miss you. I can’t put it more plainly than that. I need you. Here. And I’m not the only one.
Darlin’, the town needs you, bad. Not a single marshal has lasted more than six months since you left. Now, we can’t even get anyone to take the job. We’d even be happy with that Deputy Barnett from Sweetwater you kept complaining about. Between the Indians and the outlaws I’ve had to close down the saloon. I’m staying with Rachel and Janusz for now.
There’s a lot of folks that have given up entirely and already headed either back East or further West.
From what Rachel says, sounds like you’ve taught those folks down there about as well as you taught your Express boys. Don’t you think it’s time to come on home?
Reading through the letter a second, then a third, time, Teaspoon sighed. He had some decisions to make.
James Butler Hickok took a deep breath as he stepped down off the train in Omaha, Nebraska territory. It felt good to be back where he could breathe the fresh air. He’d had enough of big cities to last him a lifetime. They stank. And that was just the people. The smoke and the refuse were almost as bad.
Isaac and Samson stepped down off the train behind him. After delivering their precious cargo to General Meade and suffering through an extensive debriefing in nondescript building in Washington, D.C., the government had bought the three of them tickets as far as Omaha and sent them on their way.
“Come on,” Jimmy said. “Emma and Sam live around here somewhere. Can’t be too hard to find ‘em.”
Isaac grinned at Jimmy’s already turned back. “Yeah, right. This ain’t Rock Creek, Mister Jimmy.”
“I told you not to call me that,” Jimmy tossed over his shoulder. By now the long running argument over how Isaac and Samson should address Jimmy had become more of a joke than a disagreement. “Jimmy’s just fine.”
Isaac harrumphed as he motioned to Samson to grab their bags and trotted off in Jimmy’s wake. Jimmy snorted. Isaac wouldn’t let him carry his own bags, insisted on calling him ‘Mister’ all the time and was the most stubborn cuss he’d ever met. He couldn’t wait until Isaac ran into Teaspoon. It would be a case of the kettle meeting the pot. The only question was, which one would still be whistling come morning.
Looking around, Jimmy started to slow his stride. He’d never been to Sam and Emma’s house in Omaha, but had figured it would be easy enough to find. Unfortunately, Omaha was quite a bit bigger than he’d expected. Now what was he going to do? As he started to look around worriedly, Isaac tapped his arm.
“Yes, Mister Isaac?” Jimmy joshed.
“Sir, why don’t you ask at the Marshal’s office?” Isaac said, pointing to the sign over a building they’d just passed. It had the image of a marshal’s star emblazoned over the words ‘Territorial Marshal’.
“That sounds like a good idea,” Jimmy grunted. “Be right back!”
Hopping off the boardwalk, Jimmy dashed across the street, weaving in and out amongst the wagons and carriages. On the other side he quickly disappeared into the Marshal’s office. Moments later he was being dragged back out by a taller man with a white hat on. The slim, rough edged man looked around a moment until Jimmy pointed out Isaac and Samson to him. Still dragging Jimmy along by the upper arm, the new man repeated Jimmy’s hazardous trek across the street. Not letting go of Jimmy, he held his hand out to Isaac.
“Name’s Cain. Marshal Sam Cain,” he said. “You must be Isaac! I’m pleased to meet ya.”
“Sam,” Jimmy whined. “Ya can let go of my arm now.”
“No, I can’t,” Sam said. “If Emma finds out you were in my office and I let you get away without bringin’ you home for supper she’ll have my hide.”
“What is it with you married men?” Jimmy groaned, rubbing his free hand across his face as Sam dragged him down the street. “First the Kid, now you. Does saying ‘I do’ mean you give up your brains or something’?”
“Nope. Just gives us somethin’ better to think about,” Sam boasted, causing Isaac to laugh. Looking over his shoulder at the older man, Sam said, “You know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout, don’tcha?”
“Shore do, suh,” Isaac answered. “Havin’ a good woman to think ‘bout shore changes the way a man thinks ‘bout most everthin’.”
“Well, I just don’t get it,” Jimmy complained.
“You will one day, son. You will one day.”
At that Sam opened the gate of a white picket fence and pulled Jimmy through it, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Emma! Get on out here, woman!”
“Sam Cain, if you don’t stop caterwauling like that you’ll find yourself sleeping in the garden tonight,” Emma grumbled as she walked out onto the porch, wiping her hands dry on her apron.
Jimmy gulped at the emotions the sight brought to the forefront. He’d seen her do that a thousand times back in Sweetwater. But it meant so much more this time. It meant home in a way he’d never thought about before.
“Emma, I’ve got a surprise for ya,” Sam boasted, then stepped aside so she could see the man standing behind him.
“Jimmy!” she exclaimed, racing down the steps of the front porch and wrapping her arms around him. “Jimmy, you came home!”
“Yes, ma’am,” was all he could manage to say without losing a control he’d never felt so threatened. Nearly whispering, he said, “I’m home.”
That night, Jimmy found himself seated at Emma’s kitchen table, sandwiched between Samson and a two year old Sam Cain, Junior. Across from him, Sam cradled his three month old son, Ike, in his arms. Meanwhile Lou’s little sister Theresa helped Emma clear the table.
“Uncle Shimmy, Uncle Shimmy,” the toddler everyone affectionately called Junior tugged at Jimmy’s sleeve. “Mama made my fav’rite.”
“Oh,” Jimmy said, bending down so he could look the little tike in the eye, “and what’s your favorite?”
Leaning over as if to impart a world secret, Junior loudly whispered, “Dessert!”
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Jimmy said. “Dessert’s my favorite, too.”
Placing a finger to his lips, he added, “Shhhh. You can’t tell now.”
The little one shook his head in agreement so violently he almost fell backward off the bench he and Jimmy were sharing.
“So, how long are you staying, Jimmy?” Sam asked. “I’d hate for ya to have to leave before Jeremiah gets back from Sioux City.”
“What’s he doin’ up there?”
“Oh, he finished up his schoolin’ last spring and got a job workin’ for a freighting company,” Sam shrugged. “He’s on a run north right now, should be back sometime next week.”
“That’s too bad,” Jimmy said. “I’ve only got a couple days, then I’ve got to head back to Missouri. I’ve got orders to report to the Provost Marshal’s office down there. I may’ve resigned from the Army but they still seem to have a hold on me.”
“I could arrange for you to work here, as a Territorial Deputy Marshal, instead,” Sam offered.
“That’s alright, Sam,” Jimmy shook his head. “I’d rather be down in Missouri. I’ll be closer to Kid and Lou, if… when they need me.”
“Lulabelle?” Emma asked, reaching out to grasp Sam’s hand tightly.
“You’ve heard from her then?” thirteen year old Theresa asked. “I’ve been so worried. We haven’t heard from either of them in more than a year.”
“Better than that,” Jimmy boasted. “I’ve seen ‘em. We had a nice visit ‘bout six weeks ago, just outside of Richmond.”
“Now that sounds like quite a story, Jimmy,” Sam said, standing up with the sleeping babe in his arms. “Why don’t we put these young’uns to bed and you can tell us all about it.”
The next morning found Jimmy walking back to the train depot, with Isaac and Samson still trailing after him. It had been hard saying goodbye to Sam and Emma again, but he was glad he’d gotten the chance to visit. Before leaving, he’d handed a teary-eyed Emma Lou’s packet of letters. She’d promised to mail Rachel’s on to her.
After just a few hours with Emma and Sam, Jimmy felt himself more grounded than he’d felt since the end of the Pony Express. He felt like he could take on the world and everything would be all right.
“All aboard!” came the conductor’s call.
“That’s you two, Isaac,” Jimmy said. “Now remember, once you get to Blue Creek you go to the livery and you ask for Jenkins. He’ll take good care of you. It’s only a half day’s ride from there to Rock Creek. Rachel and Janusz’ll be waiting. I wired them this morning.”
“We’s can’t thank ya enough,” Isaac began.
Jimmy held up his hand to stop the older man’s thanks, yet again. “I’ve told you before, Isaac. It ain’t about the thanks. It’s about what’s right. Even Kid, stubborn as he is, finally saw that. Once you’re in Rock Creek you’ll be able to decide for yourself what you want to do.”
“We’ll be waitin’ out the war, suh,” Isaac promised. “Gots ta find out how all you Express boys did.”
An hour later, Jimmy boarded his own train, headed south for Springfield, Missouri.
Cody looked up from the horse he was grooming in the depths of the barn at the slamming of the barn’s door. At the sight of Thatch wandering in, his mouth tightened. Something was up with her. Lately, she was disappearing at all hours, only to turn up the next day with nary a word about what she’d been up to.
“About time you remember’d ya’ve got a job, ‘round here,” Cody grumbled. “I’ve had to do all my chores and half a your’s!”
“Ah, poor Cody,” she teased. “You actually had to work for a change.”
“This ain’t no jokin’ matter, Thatch.”
“Hey, I ain’t scheduled to be on duty until 7:30. I’m ten minutes early,” Thatch defended herself. “You’re just grumpy ‘cause I ain’t followin’ ya around like a puppy no more.”
“It ain’t that I mind so much,” Cody said to the back of the horse he was grooming. “I’m just worried ‘bout ya is all.”
“Well don’t. I’m not doin’ nothin’ to get in trouble. I’ve just found a friend who understands what I’m goin’ through a mite better’n’ you, if ya catch my drift.”
Cody’s eyes shot up to meet Thatch’s bright eyes over the back of the horse.
“Ya mean…?” He left the question hanging.
“I mean,” she responded solemnly, despite the impish glint in her eyes. “Listen, we’re headed into town for a bit of sport after duty this evenin’. Wanta come along?”
“Where ya headed?”
“The Silver Spurs. It’ll be our last chance to have a blow out before we take off on spring maneuvers,” she enticed.
“What the hell. Ain’t like I got anythin’ better to do,” Cody accepted. “But I ain’t runnin’ interference with the saloon gals, again.”
“No problem. Danny’s taught me some new tricks.”
“He has, has he?” Cody asked. “I can’t wait to see this.”
Unfortunately, the next morning the only memories Cody had of his night out on the town with Danny and Thatch were the incessant pounding of his head and a tongue that felt like cotton.
“Here,” Thatch said, shoving a flask under his nose. “A bit of hair of the dog that bit ya.”
“No thanks,” Cody said, shoving the flask away. “Teaspoon taught us a long time ago, that don’t really work. I’ll just go drink some water. Soon’s the world stops spinning.”
“Better hope it stops spinning soon,” Thatch said. “We’re supposed to ride out at noon.”
“Ugh!” Cody moaned, dropping back onto his bunk from the half sitting position he’d pushed himself into just moments before.
“That’s alright, Mr. Cody,” the Captain said, pushing his way into the cabin. “You’re not coming along.”
“What?!” That news was enough to have Cody jumping to his feet in shock.
“You heard me. I just received new orders for you. You’re to ride out tomorrow morning for a new posting at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Seems you’ve been requested personally by General Polk. Must have some friends in high places there son. Gotta say, we’re gonna miss ya on the trail.”
“Oh man! I’m gonna kill her!” Cody moaned.
“Who?” Thatch asked as the Captain left.
“Mrs. Polk,” Cody answered. “She was a good friend of my ma. I’ll bet ya anythin’ she’s behind this gol-danged transfer.”
“Ain’t much ya can do ‘bout it ‘til ya get there,” Thatch commiserated. “So ya might as well enjoy the extra day of rest.”
Cody simply growled and threw his pillow at her as she left.
“You’re sure you won’t change your mind?” Savannah Herrington asked for the thousandth time. She was following Teaspoon around the buckboard as he checked the hitchings and made sure everything was tied down properly. “We’ll always need your advice, Mr. Hunter.”
“You know how to survive out here, now, Mrs. Herrington,” Teaspoon answered, as he checked on last lashing. “Better ‘n most of those born out here. And with Alchise and his people watching out for ya, it ain’t like ya’ve got ta worry ‘bout Indian attacks. Just make sure to keep feedin’ ‘em any time they show up.”
Mrs. Herrington smiled. While a lot of resentment still festered amongst those who’d settled at the Herrington Ranch for the duration of the war, she herself had become quite fond of the young Apache brave they’d been caring for. He’d left to return to his people just a week earlier.
“And, they need me back in Rock Creek,” Teaspoon added as he climbed up onto the seat of the buckboard. “Polly needs me.”
“And we can’t disappoint your Polly,” Mrs.Herrington smiled up at the old man who’d done so much to help her over the last few years. “You tell her if she doesn’t take good care of you, we’ll be comin’ up there to discuss the situation.”
“Don’t think I’ll be needin’ to do that,” Teaspoon guffawed. “But I’ll keep that in mind. Y’all take care now.”
And, with a wave to the group gathered in the yard between the ranch house and massive barn, Teaspoon urged the horses into motion. He was headed home. For good this time.
“Four ladies,” Jimmy said, laying his cards on the table. He’d been back in Missouri for a couple of months now, and hated it as much as ever. His job with the Provost Marshal’s office was actually fairly boring. He spent most of his time dragging drunk soldiers back to camp and smoothing ruffled feathers amongst the merchants in town. The highlight of his time was the occasional robbery to investigate.
The groans of the other men seated around the saloon table serenaded him as he scooped up his winnings. Good thing, too. Once again the Provost Marshal was late with his pay. But, thanks to Rachel's teachings, he could survive off gambling.
“I think I’ll call it a night, gents,” he said, standing and pocketing his winnings. Then he straightened his guns and turned to walk out of the saloon.
“Hold up there, Hickok,” his fellow Deputy Simon Sutter said. “I’ll come with you. I ain’t havin’ any luck at the table tonight, anyway.”
The two men walked out of the saloon side by side. It felt good to have someone to watch his back again, Jimmy reflected. But Simon, good man though he was, wasn’t Kid, Lou or any of the other Express riders. From the news in the papers, it didn’t look like the South could hold out too much longer. Maybe they’d all be back together again by Christmas.
“Say, Hickok,” Simon broke the silence between them as the y walked down the darkened street. “How come you’ve never taken the Army up on their offer to replace those old ’51 Navy Colts with the latest model?”
“Don’t see the need to. These work just fine. They hit what I aim at. What else do you need from a gun? ‘Sides, these guns and I’ve been through a lot together. Wouldn’t feel right retirin’ ‘em.”
“The newer ones shoot faster and are easier to load,” Simon offered.
“Have ya ever seen me need to be any faster, Simon?” Jimmy asked grimly. “I’m plenty fast enough to get all sorts of attention I don’t want. What the hell would I do if I got any faster?”
“Maybe not have to worry ‘bout the man who thinks he’s faster ‘en you.”
“Naw, man. There’ll always be some young whipper snapper who thinks he’s faster than me. Don’t matter how fast I am. Someday, he may even be right. But that day ain’t today,” Jimmy ended with a laugh. “Now, let’s get some cheese sandwiches at the mess hall and call it a night.”
“Sounds good to me,” Simon agreed jovially.
Teaspoon hunkered down into the folds of his sheepskin coat. He prayed he’d find some sort of shelter soon. He kept glancing worriedly at the storm clouds building on the horizon. It looked like an awful blow building in the west. And this time of year, that meant a late spring blizzard.
Shivering in the chill winds that had started picking up about half an hour ago, Teaspoon guided the horses along the wagon tracks he’d been following into a nearby canyon. It should provide a little shelter, he thought to himself. About half a mile into the canyon, Teaspoon allowed his eyes to follow the antics of several large birds playing in the pre-storm winds. That’s the only reason he noticed the entrance to a cave about twenty feet up the the canyon wall. There was even a small path leading up to it, meaning he could bring the horses on in too.
As the first flakes began to fall, Teaspoon carefully led the second horse up to the small cave. It was just big enough for Teaspoon, the two horses and a small fire. He’d brought in enough food to keep the three of them alive for several days and anything that even resembled a blanket. Everything else he’d left to the mercy of the elements.
By the time he had a small fire going near the entrance to the cave, with water boiling for tea on top, the storm had set in for good. The winds were howling loud enough he could barely hear himself think. The snow was coming down so fast and heavy Teaspoon couldn’t even see the wagon he’d left just twenty feet below him.
Thinking about his close escape from the elements, Teaspoon snorted to himself. He’d survived worse than this, many a time. This would be just a slight bump on his road home. He stared into the flames, dreaming about his reunion with Polly and trying not to worry about his boys, and girl, still off to war.
Kid and Lou
“Damnit, Kid,” Lou hissed. “I know how you feel about continue to fight in this war, but if you get yourself killed tryin’ not to kill others, I’m gonna kill ya!”
She grabbed a handful of the unspent cartridges in Kid’s ammo pack and slammed them into her revolver before turning around to head back toward the post where Thomas and Louie were holding off a squad of General Grant’s cavalry.
The fighting around Spotsylvania courthouse had come in fits and starts over the last week as the newly minted commander of the Union forces tried to find Lee’s weak spot. Cursing under her breath, Lou raised her gun and carefully sighted down the barrel over the head of the lead rider’s horse. Squeezing the trigger, she sent a shot just over the horse’s ears, making it rear in fright and dumping the blue coated cavalry officer on the ground.
Kid’s lack of fighting will was getting worse. She cursed herself for not trying to talk him into accepting Jimmy’s offer to sneak them out. He was fine in camp, but as soon as the shooting started he quit. The Kid hadn’t used a lick of ammunition in over a month now. So, she’d found herself shooting twice as much, just to cover for him.
She started to snarl at Louie when he grabbed her elbow, pulling her gun hand down as she was about to target the next rider. “What?”
“Don’t shoot it,” Louie whispered, pointing at a little brown rabbit that had mysteriously made its way into the midst of the battle field.
Even as he spoke up, Lou noticed the gunshots starting to peter off and quiet beginning to reign on the misty May morning. The rabbit relaxed with the quiet and started to move again, hopping toward a nearby field, weaving its way around fallen horses, men and other obstacles.
Lou jerked in surprise as she heard Kid start cheering the rabbit on.
“Come on! You can make it!”
She turned to stare at her husband, standing up and shaking his fist in the air at the now madly hopping rabbit. Just as she was about to jerk him back down behind some cover, she noticed several other soldiers, in both blue and grey, standing up to cheer the rabbit on its way.
Lou could only watch the surreal moment as both sides in this bloody, seemingly interminable family feud took a moment out of the fighting to yell encouragement to a bunny. It was a moment to cheer on life in the midst of death and destruction.
When the rabbit reached the cover of a series of bushes along the side of the road, the cheering slowly ebbed away. Lou grabbed Kid’s arm and pulled him down behind cover just as a shot rang out from the Union forces, narrowly missing his head.
It wasn’t moments more before the remnants of Squad 4 heard the Yank’s bugle call to move back. Once again, they’d held off Grant’s attempts to push toward Richmond.
“Ol’ Grant didn’t find his weak spot today,” Louie commented as he started to clean his revolver.
“I’m just glad we survived,” Lou muttered, shooting a dark look Kid’s direction. “Again.”
“Hey, isn’t that Virgil headed this way?” Thomas asked.
Looking up, Kid and Lou eyed the incoming rider. After a moment, Kid said, “Yep. Sure looks like him.”
“Wonder what he’s doin’ over here?” Lou said. “He’s supposed to be over t’other side of the courthouse with the other half of Company G.”
“Lou, round up the men,” Virgil shouted as soon as he was within hearing distance. “The General’s ordered us to head toward Yellow Tavern, to get between General Sheridan and Richmond. Double time!”
“Yes, sir!” Lou snapped off her response, already turning her back on the First Lieutenant to begin issuing orders. “Louie, sound the bugle call to round up the men. Kid, as they get here, check on their ammunition status. We’ll need to redistribute what we can before we get to Yellow Tavern. Thomas, I want you to ride back toward the supply train and see if you can get us some new provisions, especially ammunition.”
With quick nods, the men split off to their various duties and a short time later her half of Company G was headed off in the direction of Yellow Tavern.
That night, as the men of Company G bivouacked near a creek between the Spotsylvania Courthouse and Yellow Tavern, Thomas, Virgil and Louie watched an entertaining act put on by Kid and Lou.
Food lately had been hard to come by. It had been getting scarcer by the day for months now. The South just wasn’t growing enough food to provision all its troops. Even foraging wasn’t bringing much in these days. All the men were getting extremely skinny from the constant movement and lack of decent nutrition. But Lou was probably the worst. He’d gotten so skinny and fragile looking that sometimes they were afraid he’d break in two if they touched him wrong. But while all the men worried about Lou and took pains to slip him extra food now and again, his brother was the worst. He’d regularly slip half, or more, of his food into Lou’s plate when he wasn’t looking.
The hilarious thing was, Lou was just as worried about Kid as they all were about him. So, when Kid turned his head for a moment, Lou would start slipping food onto Kid’s plate. Both of them were so busy trying to feed the other they never noticed what the other was doing.
All the men enjoyed watching their antics and daily betting on whether one of them would notice what was going on had become the latest fad within Company G. Everyone knew that as soon as one noticed, there would be a no holds barred fight, which Lou was favored to win five to one. Of course, that’s cause most everyone figured Kid would just refuse to fight for fear of breaking the increasingly fragile youth. The others figured Kid would win just by sitting on Lou.
“Lou, would you eat!” Kid said irritably as he watched her stare into the fire, seemingly ignoring the food on her plate.
“I’m full, Kid. Why don’t you finish it,” she said, pushing the plate of unappetizing hardtack, crawling with grubworms, toward him.
“Lou,” Kid started in a warning tone.
“Don’t say it, Kid. I ain’t no worse off than any of the others ‘round here,” Lou said. “I’m just too tired to eat tonight is all.”
With that, she leaned back against her saddle and pulled her tattered hat down over her eyes. At least the danged plume they’d both laughed at so hard two years ago had finally bitten the dust over the winter. Now, it was almost a decent hat, she thought as she closed her eyes, trying to snatch at least a few moments of sleep before they had to ride out in the morning.
Kid sighed forlornly as he watched her, then began picking at the food left in front of him. She was starting to look like a skeleton, he thought. He had to get her out of here, and soon. Though he’d been thinking about it for months now, he still had no idea of how to go about it without risking both their lives. Finally giving up on the internal battle he’d been waging, Kid kicked some dirt over the fire to tamp it down and lay back himself. It would be an early morning for all of them.
About mid-morning the next day, Company G joined and the rest of the 1st Virginia Cavalry and some 4,500 troopers stationed along a low ridgeline beside the road from the Yellow Tavern Inn to Richmond.
Lou spent the time pacing her horse up and down along the line of troopers, making sure all the men under her command had everything they needed. As the noon hour approached, she began ordering the men to take shifts dismounting, eating and taking care of other necessary business. This was her attempt to keep all the nervous men fresh in the growing tension.
The tromping of thousands of horses could be felt in the vibrations of the ground beneath them more than a half hour before the first lookouts caught sight of the advancing Union forces. The 10,000 mounted Yankees had already destroyed several rail cars and the tracks, downed telegraph lines and recaptured some 400 hundred POWs in the last couple of days.
It wasn’t long before the columns of blue coated men came down the road like an unstoppable wave.
“Ah, man,” Louie moaned, pointing at the men in the lead, “they’ve all got those danged rapid fire Spencers!”
“You heard him,” Lou said, passing the warning on, “look sharp and make every shot count. Don’t fire ‘til ya see the whites of their eyes!”
Soon the gunfire was coming fast and furious, accompanied by the occasional heavier boom of field artillery being fired. But, despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned, the brave boys in grey were holding out, Kid thought grimly. Sometimes he wished they’d just quit.
At the shout of pain, Kid hurried over to check on the latest wounded man. After the fiasco at Spotsylvania, Lou’d assigned Kid medic duties, loading him down with bandages, healing herbs and twists of willow bark for the injured men to chew on, instead of the usual ammunition. It was almost a relief, but not quite.
Even as he bandaged the arm of the newest casualty of war, Kid’s gaze kept being drawn to Lou as she rode up and down along the line, shouting orders and encouragement to the men. There was no doubt she was good at what she was doing, but did she have to take so many risks doing it?
“Keep your fool head down, Thomas,” Lou shouted for what felt like the hundredth time that day. “Or are you tryin’ to get it shot off.”
“Just tryin’ to get my fair share of Yanks,” Thomas shouted back at her, almost maniacally gleeful.
“Great, one man who won’t fight no more, one who won’t watch out for his own fool head and a boy,” Lou muttered to herself as she kept roving down the line of skirmishers. “How’m I supposed to keep ‘em all alive?”
“Incoming!” came the shouted warning just moments before an exploding cannon ball spread flying shrapnel through several of the troopers near Lou.
“Close up this hole!” she shouted, as her horse picked its way through the scattered limbs and other body parts. “And get a medic over here to check for survivors!”
The fierce fighting dragged on for one, then two and finally three whole hours. The once proud men of Stuart’s Cavalry were becoming ragged as they took more and more casualties.
“Lou! Round up the rest of the 1st Virginia,” Virgil shouted as he trotted up to her side. “The General wants to mount a countercharge against the Yanks advancing on that hilltop over there.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lou saluted. “You heard him men, let’s get those horses ready and pull out your sabres, we’re ‘bout to ride for glory!”
A dozen full-throated rebel yells answered her call to arms as the men took heart from their General’s characteristic bold battle plan. Within moments, hundreds of troopers were prepared for the bugle call to charge and went rushing up the hill toward the Union forces.
General Stuart himself was riding up and down along the side of the charging column, shouting encouragement to the men. “That’s the way boys. Put the fear of the South in them Yanks!”
The sudden, unexpected charge from what had appeared to be nearly beaten, inferior forces appeared to unnerve the Union cavalry. Soon the men in blue began to retreat from the coveted hilltop position, down past the point where General Stuart had paused his horse to watch the action.
Lou, glancing back to check on her men behind her, saw the General raise his arm, sabre in hand, and begin to issue his own Rebel Yell. Even as the first strains of the yell began pouring from his throat, she saw a dismounted Union private turn and take aim at the General. She opened her own mouth to issue a warning that died in her throat. It was already too late. The private’s shot found its mark, slicing into the Generals’ left side and exploding out the middle of his back. Lou watched as he began to slump painfully over his horse’s neck.
“Kid!” she shouted, “The General’s hit. We’ve got to see to the General!”
Spurring her horse into action, she galloped to Stuart’s side, catching him just as he started to fall off his horse.
“Come on, Sir!” she whispered. “You’ve got to stay in the saddle, or our boys’ll break.”
“Wouldn’t want that,” he gasped. “But, I won’t last long. It’s bad, Lou.”
Lou glanced up at the General, surprised he remembered her from one night of frantic service over a year ago.
“Where’s he hit, Lou?” Kid asked, breathless from his frantic ride over.
“Looks like they got him in the stomach, Kid,” she said mournfully.
“Well, let’s get him away from here. We’ll take him over to the other side of the ridgeline to wait for an ambulance.”
“Sure, Kid,” Lou said. “But we gotta make it look like he’s only slightly injured or this ‘victory’ will quickly become a rout.”
It took them several minutes to slowly walk the General’s horse out of the way of the waning battle. By the time they reached the other side of the ridgeline, it had become obvious to both of them the General was not going to survive this wound.
“My wife,” Stuart gasped. “Call for my wife.”
“Here,” Kid said, dismounting and reaching up to catch his commanding officer’s body. “Let’s lay him down in the shade. The next ambulance should be back in a few minutes. They’ll take him to Richmond.”
“Kid, he ain’t gonna survive,” Lou said.
“I know that, Lou!” Kid snapped. Then, gathered himself and said, “Sorry. It’s just so frustrating. And useless!”
“Sir,” Lou asked gently, “do you have any family in Richmond?”
“My brother-in-law,” the nearly senseless Stuart finally gasped. “Dr. Charles Brewer.”
“Alright, Sir,” she said. “We’ll make sure the ambulance takes you to him.”
With a faint nod, Stuart acknowledged her promise before closing his eyes in pain.
“Buck,” Standing Woman gasped, suddenly standing up from her position by the fire in front of their tipi. “Buck! Get Dawn Star, I think my time’s come.”
“What?!” a suddenly panicked Buck squeaked. “But, ain’t it a bit early?”
“Buck, babies don’t come on a schedule. They come when they’re ready and it feels like this one’s ready. Now go!”
At that command the tall, slender medicine man took off for the center of the Kiowa camp where Dawn Star was helping several other young women cure buffalo hides.
“Dawn Star! Dawn Star!” he started yelling before he was even in sight of the camp center. “Come quick!”
“What is it?” Dawn Star asked, as Buck came to a panting halt near the group of women she was working with.
Bending over to catch his breath, he gasped. “The baby. It’s coming!”
Despite the initial rush, Buck spent the next several hours pacing back and forth in front of the tipi he shared with Standing Woman. He’d wanted to stay with her, couldn’t believe she was going through this without him. But even she’d agreed to kicking him out when he’d started panicking at the first moans she’d uttered. And his presence had scandalized the other women in attendance. Now, all he could do was wait.
As the hours passed and the sun slipped beneath the horizon, Buck found himself drawn to the isolated spot outside camp where he and Standing Woman had set up their medicine wheel for prayers. That’s where Dawn Star found him in the early morning hours, praying earnestly.
“Buck,” she said quietly, almost tentatively.
“The baby? Standing Woman?” he asked, jumping to his feet in worry at the look on her face.
“You were right. The baby came early,” she began.
“Oh no!” he started to moan.
“No,” Dawn Star quickly stopped him. “Your son is fine. He’s a strong, strapping boy.”
“Then what’s wrong, Dawn Star,” he demanded. “And don’t tell me nothing, it’s written all over your face.”
“It’s Standing Woman,” she began, then stopped to reach out a hand toward this husband she hadn’t asked for but had begun to care about. His face had blanched to a white she wouldn’t have believed possible if she hadn’t seen it. Placing her hand on his arm, she stepped closer to him. “She lost a lot of blood. Something must’ve gone wrong inside, and that’s what started the labor. She’s asleep now. Well, more unconscious, really.”
“But she’ll be okay,” Buck practically begged.
“We don’t know. We won’t, not until she wakes up,” Dawn Star said, growing quieter with every word. “If she wakes up.”
“Nooooooo!” Buck wailed, before turning back to the prayer wheel and falling to his knees. “No! Not again.”
“Buck,” Dawn Star said gently, coming to her knees beside him and pulling him into her arms to comfort him. “Buck, it’ll be alright. The Spirits won’t take her from us. We need her too badly.”
Needing the human contact in his dazed grief, Buck wrapped his arms around Dawn Star’s waist and dragged her tightly against his body. She tucked his head against her chest and they stayed that way for quite some time, each lost in their own thoughts.
Finally, Buck started to turn his head up to say something to her just as she leaned down to whisper something in his ear. His lips brushed across hers softly. But, what started as an accidental touch quickly turned into a hard, bruising kiss as each tried to convince the other the woman they loved, the woman who’d helped save them both, would be okay.
Under the June sky scattered with diamond bright stars, Buck and Dawn Star finally consummated a marriage that was nearly a year old. Their touches and movements filled with the grief both felt they couldn’t survive if allowed to blossom fully.
Hickok laboriously worked his way through the latest battle reports in The Republican, the local daily newspaper. Today’s headline read “Confederate Cavalry General J.E.B. Stuart is mortally wounded.” Knowing he was Kid and Lou’s commanding officer, Jimmy’d carefully read the entire report. But, there was no word on any other casualties in the battle at Yellow Tavern Inn. Despite felling the man who’d become the bane of the Federal cavalry, apparently the Union General Sheridan had determined he couldn’t hold the land he’d taken and withdrawn.
Jimmy sighed. At this point, no word was good news. He’d been carefully reading every article that came out in the paper about the battles going on in Virginia, always on the lookout for any news about the 1st Virginia Cavalry and Company G.
It wasn’t like he had a whole lot else to do. His job with the Provost Marshal’s office was just as boring as he’d expected. And it had now been more than a month since he’d been paid, with no sign of money coming any time soon. It was a good thing he was capable of supporting himself playing poker.
At the sound of a commotion outside the saloon doors, Jimmy stood and put his hat on, seating it carefully on his head as he walked out to see what the fuss was.
“I ain’t too young to have a drink,” a boy was shouting angrily as his companions held him back from the saloon doors. “I’ve been drinkin’ longer than y’all’ve been fightin’!”
“Aw come on, kid!” one of the older teens laughed. “Tell us somethin’ we can buy. That ship ain’t holdin’ no water. You ain’t been in a single battle yet. Ya ain’t even old ‘nuff to shave!”
“Don’t have to shave to shoot a gun,” the boy shouted angrily. “I’ve been fightin’ since ’62 alongside better men than you. Ever heard of Buffalo Bill Cody? He taught me everthin’ I know!”
At the sound of Cody’s name, Jimmy’s gaze sharpened on the young ‘lad’.
“Thatch?” he asked. “Is that you?”
At the sound of his voice, the teens holding the youth back started slowly slinking off and disappearing into the night.
“Who’s askin’?” she answered gruffly.
“Hickok,” he said. “Jimmy Hickok. Cody told me all ‘bout you.”
Thatch glared at him. “Well, what’d he go and do a dang fool thing like that fer?”
“Most likely he just forgot his mouth was still flappin’,” Jimmy joked.
Thatch’s stance relaxed as she joined Jimmy’s laughter at their mutual friend’s expense. “Yep. He sure has a tendency to do that!”
“Well, come on in,” Jimmy offered, leading the way back into the saloon. “Food ain’t much, but the whiskey’s wet.”
“Thanks. I’m supposed to meet a friend here,” Thatch said, following him indoors.
“Um. Would this friend be of a similar persuasion as you?” Jimmy asked, grinning as he sat back down.
“You might say so.”
“Good Lord, Lou, what did you go and start?” Jimmy muttered, hiding a grin behind his raised whiskey glass. “So, what’s his name?”
“Danny,” Danny said, sliding into the third seat at the table, alongside Thatch. Danny was tall, taller than Jimmy, and skinny with a haggard face. She would never have been considered pretty as a woman, and was completely believable as a man. She pulled a corncob pipe out of one pocket and started to tamp down some tobacco in it. “Who’s askin’?”
“Danny, this is one of Cody’s friends I was tellin’ ya about,” Thatch said. “This is Jimmy.”
Jimmy settled back in his chair and watched the two women silently. Things are looking up, he thought. He was no longer bored, that was for sure.
“So, what are you two doin’ here?” he asked. “Last I heard from Cody you were riding with the 7th Cavalry out in Mississippi and Tennesee.”
“We got transferred to General Sanborn’s troops,” Danny answered.
“And Cody went and got hisself a desk job,” Thatch added gleefully.
“He did what?” Jimmy asked in shock.
“Well, see, it all started with….” and Thatch settled in to bring Jimmy up to date on his erstwhile friend’s latest shenanigans.
Lou and Kid
As they ducked, Lou watched the incoming cannon ball slowly arc up into the air and then explode, sending a dozen pieces of deadly shrapnel flying toward the Cavalry troopers huddled along the road near Haw’s farm.
“Be careful, they’ve brought in the new rifled artillery,” she warned the men.
They’d already been fighting the Yankee cavalry troops for most of the day, with the advantage on the field see-sawing between the two sides.
“Sir,” Louie yelled, pointing up the road. Lou turned to see what had him excited and sighed at the sight of dozens of fresh blue clad troopers joining the Federal lines.
“Aw, man!” Thomas groaned, catching sight of their blonde headed leader at the same time as Lou. “It’s that danged crazy yeller hair again!”
Custer’s presence was not a good sign, Lou thought. Her men were hanging on by a thread as it was.
The boom of another cannon firing had Lou and all the men around her ducking for cover again. A shout of pain down the line caught her attention. She quickly motioned Kid in the direction of the wounded man, and stood up to follow him over and check on the man. Just as the two were passing Thomas and Louie, something told Lou to look up. She caught sight of one of the old style solid shot cannon balls bouncing straight toward the members of Squad 4. Even as she opened her mouth to shout a warning, the last bounce pounded the shot straight through Thomas and Louie, leaving them falling limply to the ground.
“Lou!” Kid screamed, tackling her to the ground, saving her from being hit by the rolling shot. He landed on top of her, his weight pushing her face into the soft earth churned up by the hundreds of troopers that had passed over it the last few hours. “Are you alright?”
She grunted and he started to push himself up to relieve her of his weight, then screamed again, this time in agony as a piece of shrapnel from another exploding cannon ball pierced his back. He fell back on top of Lou, hearing a sickening crunch as he landed but unable to do anything about it, unable to even move in his pain.
“Lou?” he whispered, getting only a groan in response. Then, everything went black.
Lou blinked groggily. She could barely breathe. Coughing slightly she turned her head slowly to the side and snorted to clear her nostrils of dirt. Opening her eyes she could tell it was night. What happened, she wondered. The sounds of battle had disappeared. She tried to push herself up and groaned at the pain in her ribs. It felt like she’d cracked at least one of them. But that didn’t explain why she felt like she was under a ton of bricks.
After taking a moment to gather her thoughts and her strength, Lou heaved with all her might and managed to rise to her hands and knees.
“Kid,” she exclaimed, suddenly realizing what it was that had weighed her down. Crawling to where he had rolled when she’d dislodged him, she quickly began checking him for injuries.
“Oh, Kid!” she moaned, as she discovered the large piece of shrapnel lodged in his back. Looking around she quickly realized there was no one around. No one alive that was. Thinking for a moment she decided, “Kid, this is our chance to get out of here. I’m sorry honey, but you’re gonna have to help me. I can’t carry you.”
But despite all her efforts she got no response from her injured husband. Almost in tears from the pain in her ribs and the fear lodged in her throat, Lou collapsed onto her rear and reassessed the situation. Deciding she simply couldn’t give up on this chance to get Kid out of the War, she turned back to her insensate husband. Grabbing his arms, she pulled them around her neck and slowly stood up.
Groaning with pain at every step, she slowly made her way to the trees lining the edge of the battlefield. Sweat soon obscured her vision, as she hobbled, nearly bent over, pausing occasionally to get her breath and make sure there were no bodies in the path of her next few steps. Anyone tracking us is gonna think they’re following a constipated snake, she thought to herself grimly. It took nearly an hour to travel the thirty feet to her destination. Once there, she quickly hid Kid in brush along the edge of the treeline.
At his groan of pain, she grunts too. “I’m sorry, but I’ve gotta do this. I’ll take care of that wound, soon’s I can. Just hang in there, Kid. You promised! No riding off without me!”
Once he was safely hidden away, Lou returned to the abandoned battlefield and began ruthlessly looting the dead soldiers of any gear she thought might be of use. From one she took a sturdy pair of shoes. Another body yielded a nearly full haversack of food and medical supplies. A third was relieved of a nearly brand new woolen coat.
Returning to the Kid’s hiding place, Lou began packing the items together for easier transportation. Then, knowing she couldn’t carry Kid any further and that they couldn’t stay there, she used the knife hidden in her boot to cut two sturdy poles and fashion a travois she could pull. It was nearly dawn by the time she had Kid situated on the travois. She was just bending over to grab the ends of the polls to begin pulling him westward, toward the nearby cave-pocked hills and a suitable place to hide when a familiar whicker caught her attention. Kid’s horse pushed its nose through the brush and walked up to her side, nudging her hand in search of a treat.
“Oh, you’re a good boy,” she whispered in relief and began attaching the travois to the horse’s saddle. “Stay with me, Kid. Just stay with me,” she muttered.
Having to stop and hide from both Federal and Confederate patrols, not to mention taking breaks to coddle her own injuries, made what should have been a two hour hike into the hills a day long trip.
That night Lou finally pulled Kid into the cave where they’d temporarily hidden Isaac and Samson last winter. Drooping in exhaustion, Lou forced herself to keep moving, starting a fire and settling Kid on his stomach on a bedroll at the back of the cave. Soon, she had all her purloined medical equipment laid out and Kid’s back bared.
“Oh, Kid,” she moaned. He’d survived a lot of injuries over the years. His body was covered in the scars. But this was definitely the worst of them. She was afraid to pull the shrapnel from his back. It was almost as long as her forearm and pulling it out could start some serious bleeding. But she knew she couldn’t leave it there, either.
So, she stuck her knife into the fire and let it heat until it was cherry red. Using a bottle of rotgut she swabbed down the area around the wound as best she could. Then, grabbing hold of the knife handle with one hand and the edge of shrapnel with the other she whispered, “Brace yourself, Kid. This is gonna hurt.”
She gave the shrapnel a sharp jerk, pulling it free from the muscle in his upper back. Almost simultaneously she swung her other hand up with the red hot knife and pressed it against the already heavily bleeding wound. The sound of sizzling skin assaulted her ears as she smelled the scent of cooking flesh. She flushed in mortification as her stomach growled in recognition of the smell. After what seemed like forever she removed the knife from Kid’s back and examined the cauterized wound. Deciding she’d done the best she could, Lou set the knife down beside her and doused the wound again with the last of the rotgut.
Having done what she could for her husband, Lou collapsed on her own bedroll next to him. As her eyes closed in weariness, she grabbed his hand in her own and prayed with everything she had for his survival.
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