Camp Douglas (Aug 1864 - Apr 1865)
Music: Fantasmic, Nightwish (Thatch)
Social Disease, Bon Jovi (Cody/Hickok)
Fallen From Grace, Heart (Hickok)
When It Rains, Gretchen Wilson (Hickok)
Monsters, Hurricane Bells (Kid)
Straight From The Heart, Meatloaf & Bonnie Tyler (Lou)
Send Me An Angel, Scorpions (Teaspoon)
Next 100 Years, Bon Jovi (Buck)
Broken, Firewind (Hickok/Thatch)
Ballad For Dead Friends, Dashboard Prophets (all)
Thatch looked down at the latest edition of the paper Danny had just handed her. The headline read “Both Sides Claim Victory in Battle That Claims 7,000 Federal Dead in Less Than an Hour.”
“Ya’d better warn ‘im,” Danny said, pointing at the list of those reported missing and killed in action. Her finger landed right below the names Kid McCloud and Lou McCloud. “Before he finds out fer himself.”
Blanching as she thought of what he’d do when he found out, Thatch nodded and took off for the Provost Marshal’s office.
Bursting through the doors, the paper still clutched in one hand, Thatch saw Simon Sutter sitting behind the Marshal’s desk.
“Where’s Jimmy?” she gasped.
Seeing the look on her face, Simon sat forward and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Bad news, and it’s better if he hears it from a friend.”
“Last I heard he was down at the saloon,” Simon said, standing up and grabbing his hat. “I’ll come with you. If it’s as bad as it looks on your face, it may take two of us to keep him out of trouble.”
“I’d be grateful for your help,” Thatch said, following Simon out of the door.
Jimmy was sitting at the bar of the Diamond Lady Saloon nursing a glass of sarsaparilla and contentedly munching on a cheese sandwich, when Simon and Thatch came in the door. Seeing their faces he surged to his feet. “What’s wrong?”
“Jimmy,” Thatch began, “why don’t we get a table?”
“Just tell me, already,” Jimmy said, getting impatient at the delay.
A glance passed between Simon and Thatch. She turned back to Jimmy and said quietly, “It’s Kid and Lou, Jimmy.”
Jimmy’s face went dead as he dropped back onto the bar stool he’d just vacated.
“Tell me,” he said in a cold, emotionless voice.
Holding out the paper as proof, Thatch said, “They’ve been reported killed in action at Cold Harbor back in June. I’m sorry, Jimmy.”
He waved off her offer of sympathy and banged his fist on the bar. “Barkeep!”
“I’ll get ya another sarsaparilla in a moment, Mr. Hickok,” the barkeeper tossed over his shoulder as he finished serving someone at the other end of the bar.
“Make it a whiskey,” Jimmy grated out as the barkeeper came down to his end of the saloon. “And leave the bottle.”
Despite his best efforts to be unfriendly, Simon and Thatch decided it wasn’t a good idea to leave Jimmy alone. Hours later he still sat on that same barstool, gazing emptily into his whiskey glass. They’d done their best to slow down his consumption, with even the barkeeper getting into the game by providing watered down whiskey. But that hadn’t stopped Jimmy’s bender. Now, he could barely stay upright.
“Itsh all mah fault,” he slurred into his glass.
“Now Jimmy, that ain’t true,” Thatch began.
But Jimmy rolled right over her words, as if he’d never heard them. “Ifn ah hadn’t been such an ash… ash…. ass… Kid never woulda gone. An’ ifn Kid hadn’t’ve gone, Lou wouldn’ta either. Mah fault, all mah fault.”
Suddenly the copious amounts of alcohol he’d consumed that night became too much for him, and he collapsed on the bar unconscious.
“Grab him,” Simon muttered, “before he falls and cracks that fool head of his open.”
“We’d better get him back to his rooms before he wakes up,” Thatch said, wrapping one of Jimmy’s arms around her shoulders. Simon nodded and copied her actions on Jimmy’s other side. Moving carefully the pair half dragged, half carried their drunken friend home.
Entering his rooms, Simon helped Thatch situate Jimmy on the bed.
“I’ll watch over him,” Thatch said. “Do you know how to get ahold of his friends?”
“I know about Mrs. Dunne in Rock Creek,” Simon said.
“Add William F. Cody in St. Louis to the list. I think we might better send them a telegram lettin’ ‘em know what’s happened and how hard Jimmy’s takin’ it.”
“You’re right,” Simon agreed. “I’ll get right on that.”
“Then, get a good night’s sleep,” Thatch said quietly. “I don’t think we can leave him alone for a while, Simon. One or the other of us’ll have to keep watch. Maybe I can get Danny to help, too.”
“Good plan. See ya in the morning,” Simon said as he walked out the door, closing it softly behind him.
Thatch walked over and sat down on the bed beside the passed out Jimmy. She reached out and pulled his hat off, hanging it on the bedpost, then carefully wiped his already lengthened hair out of his face.
“Oh, Jimmy,” she whispered to the tall, lanky sharpshooter. Then bent over and pressed a kiss to the forehead of the man she’d started falling in love with from Cody’s stories and finished falling in love with in the last couple of months as his friend.
Lou and Kid
“How ya feelin’?” Lou asked, as Kid finished eating the hind leg of the rabbit she’d caught in a snare overnight.
“Better,” he smiled at her. “But my back still feels like it’s on fire.”
“Let me take a look,” she said, moving forward and beginning to pull his shirt off over his shoulders. After a short inspection she said, “Looks like it’s healing pretty well, though slowly. There’s no sign of infection.”
“That’s good,” he grunted, gasping at the pain her probing fingers were causing.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“It’s alright, Lou,” he managed, laying a hand on her arm. “I’ll be able to travel soon and we can start heading home.”
“Home,” Lou whispered. “That sounds good.”
They’d been holed up in this cave just north of Richmond for nearly two months now. It had been two weeks before Kid had even regained consciousness. Since then, he’d been slowly regaining his strength and the wound in his back had been healing, though they were both worried about how much use he might have of his right arm after this.
That night, as she’d been doing most nights, Lou headed out to scavenge for food. The items she’d picked up on the battlefield the night she’d evacuated Kid had lasted only a few days. Since then, they’d been surviving off hunting and gathering skills picked up from Buck.
On this night, Lou headed down to the creek and refilled the canteens with water. Then, she checked over the blueberry brambles along the edge of the creek. Seeing that they’d finally ripened, Lou gathered as many as she could carry. She ended her night by checking all the snares she’d set in the area. Unfortunately, on this night she’d caught nothing. Twice though, she’d had to rapidly hide in the undergrowth to avoid detection by passing patrols, one Confederate, one Union.
She finally returned to the cave with her cache of blueberries and not much else shortly before dawn. As she entered the small, rocky recess her eyes went immediately to the bedroll where she’d left Kid sleeping. She stiffened upon seeing the bedroll empty, then relaxed as Kid walked toward her slowly.
“Thought I’d spend this evening trying to build up my strength,” he said as he continued to pace back and forth, occasionally swinging around his arm to stretch his back muscles.
“I only got these blueberries tonight,” she said. “We can’t stay here much longer. The area’s pretty much picked bare, and the patrols are getting thicker. I almost got caught twice.”
“Then, how about we plan to head out tomorrow night?” Kid suggested.
“Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Won’t know for sure until we’re traveling, but obviously we can’t continue to stay here,” he shrugged, then winced as the movement pulled at his wound. “If nothing else, we should get far enough away to escape detection by the 1st Virginia Cavalry.”
They smiled sadly at each other, knowing both their lives were on the line. Right now, they were presumed dead. If any Confederate forces recognized them on their trip home, their lives would be forfeit, as deserters.
“Which direction should we go?” Lou asked.
“Due North’s probably the safest,” Kid answered. “Once we’re clear of the fighting, and can get clothes to replace these uniforms, we should be safe enough. Then we can start heading west.”
“We’ll have to forage, at first,” Lou said. “The only ‘cash’ we have’s Confederate script. Won’t do us no good up North.”
“We’ve done worse,” Kid smiled softly at his ever practical wife. “We’ll survive. We really only need to get far enough North we can find a safe telegraph office. We’ll wire Rachel and she’ll send us the money for train tickets home and provisions.”
“Looks like we’ve got a plan then,” Lou said. “Let’s get some sleep, so we’ll be well rested for the trip.”
Putting their meager belongings away in the single haversack Lou had managed to scavenge the night after Cold Harbor, they prepared for bed. Soon they were curled up in each other’s arms, Lou’s head on Kid’s uninjured left shoulder.
“What’s the first thing you want to do when we get home, Kid?” Lou whispered.
“Take Katy for a run,” Kid teased. At her mock punch into his side, he grabbed her hand and pulled it up to his mouth to kiss it softly. “No, I want to take you out for a steak dinner, with all the fixin’s.”
“Sounds good,” Lou sighed. “Me, I want ta take a hot bath. Maybe two.”
“Can I join you?” Kid teased.
“If you’re good,” she whispered, shyly into his side. It had been nearly a year since they’d been able to have any alone time like this. And since they’d been in the cave, Kid had been too injured to do more than hold hands, and now cuddle close. That day, they fell asleep both dreaming of the better times soon to come.
Shortly after sunset, Lou pulled the haversack’s strap over her head and wrapped an arm around Kid’s waist.
“Ready to go home?”
Together they walked out of the cave that had been their refuge and headed North, the first leg of their journey home.
“Giddyup!” Teaspoon shouted at the team of horses pulling the buckboard. He could see the town of Rock Creek rising out of the horizon. It had taken him twice as long as expected to get back, thanks to the spring blizzard he’d run into. But finally, he was here and he was eager to see Polly and Rachel.
“Come on, boys. There’s hot oats and mash waitin’ fer ya at the barn,” he encouraged the horses to pick up their pace.
“Still no word,” the postmaster told a disappointed Polly, shrugging apologetically. She’d been by every day for the last two months, looking for a letter from the former Marshal, Teaspoon Hunter. Every time he’d had to tell her no, her face had gotten a little longer and her shoulders had drooped a bit more.
“Polly! Polly!” Rachel came hurrying down the street, shouting for her friend. When Polly turned toward her, Rachel pointed down the road to a buckboard making its way into town. Polly stared in confusion for a moment, before recognizing the grizzled figure in the driver’s seat.
“Teaspoon,” she shouted, hopping off the boardwalk and running down the middle of the street toward the advancing buckboard, skirts hitched indecorously high above her ankles. “Sugarlips!”
“Whoa! Whoa!” Teaspoon called to the horses, desperately pulling back on the reins and pushing down on the brake with one foot. “Polly? Is that you?”
“In the flesh,” she said, clambering up onto the buckboard beside Teaspoon, too impatient to wait for him to get down. Throwing her arms around his neck she planted a big welcoming kiss on his lips, before pulling back and smiling up at him. “Welcome back, Sugarlips!”
“Now that’s the kind of welcome that’ll keep a man comin’ home,” Teaspoon smiled at her. Then, he broke out in a fit of coughing that left him breathless.
“Sugarlips,” Polly exclaimed. “What’s wrong?”
“Got caught in a spring blizzard on the way here,” Teaspoon gasped. “Picked up this cough and can’t quite shake it.”
“Well, let’s get you over to Rachel’s place and we’ll get you fixed up in no time,” Polly said, smiling brightly as she reached over to grab the reins Teaspoon had dropped while coughing. She clicked to the horses. “Let’s go, boys.”
Rachel was waiting at the door to the barn as they pulled up.
“Why didn’t you write to let us know you were coming?” she demanded.
“Aw, Rachel, ya know I ain’t so good at letter writin’,” he cajoled. “The spellin’, it always gets me. Besides, figgered I’d get here fast as any letter, so why bother?”
“Well, you didn’t,” she said as she started to help Polly unhitch the traces.
“Yep,” Teaspoon admitted as he climbed down off the buckboard as well. “Wasn’t countin’on runnin’ inta that spring blizzard.”
Another round of coughing interrupted whatever he’d been about to say next. Rachel and Polly exchanged worried looks, then Rachel said, “Polly, why don’t you take Teaspoon on into the house and get him settled. I’ll take care of the horses and buckboard.”
“Right,” Polly said. “Come on, Sugarlips. Just you wait ‘til you see the room we’ve rigged up for ya.”
“Now there’s a scary thought,” Teaspoon joked. “I remember the last time someone fixed up a room for me. It was Christmas and the boys thought my space in the tackroom needed a little sprucin’ up. I think it was Lou’s idea.”
Teaspoon grinned at the memory.
“I’d only just found out her little secret a few months before. Anyway, they got me this beautiful new quilt, all full of flowers!” he said in an outraged tone. “And put up curtains in the windows. Pink curtains!”
“Oh my!” Polly gasped. “They didn’t.”
“They did. And I couldn’t do anythin’ but say ‘Thank you’, pretty as you please,” Teaspoon said. “Took me another six months to come up with enough ways to undo all their ‘fixin’.”
“Well, it’s nothin’ like that,” Polly assured him as she led him into the house and up the stairs. “Just a nice room with a comfy bed and warm fireplace.”
Opening the door to the first room at the top of the stairs, Polly motioned Teaspoon on inside.
“Looks invitin’,” he said.
She moved across the room toward the bed and sat down on it, patting the covers beside her. “Why don’t you come on over and sit down for a spell.”
Teaspoon sidled over sideways and settled down on the bed gingerly, “Don’t mind if I do.”
“Teaspoon,” she said, suddenly serious, “Why did you come back?”
“I was wrong, Polly.”
“So was I. And I won’t say it again.”
“Neither will I,” Teaspoon smiled at her. “Ain’t as opposed to ‘Sorry’s as Jimmy is, but still…”
Polly smiled at him. Then stood and straightened her skirts briskly. “You’ve had a long trip, why don’t you get some rest. Supper’s at six.”
With that, she walked toward the door, stopping in the doorframe to turn and blow Teaspoon a kiss. “Sleep well, Sugarlips.”
Only after she’d left the room and closed the door behind her did Teaspoon answer. He lay back on the pillow, lifting his feet up onto the bed and pulling his hat down over his eyes.
“Best I’ve slept in years, Polly girl. Best in years.”
Hickok and Cody
Cody looked down at the telegram that had just been placed in his hands, re-reading it for a third time.
Lou and Kid dead. Stop.
Jimmy in trouble. Stop.
With only a moment’s hesitation, he stood up and headed toward the closed door at the back of the room. A sign on the door read General Polk. Cody knocked and then entered without waiting for permission.
“Sir,” he said, “I need leave to return to Springfield.”
“Son, my wife worked hard to get you this post where you’d be out of harm’s way,” Polk said, surprised.
“I know, Sir,” Cody said. “But, a friend… no a brother of mine’s in trouble and I’ve got to go help him.”
“I thought both your brothers had died, son.”
“Jimmy’s more like, well an adopted brother, I guess you could say. We ain’t related by blood. But all of us that rode for the Express, we became a family.”
“And family’s that important to you son, that you’re willing to risk a promising career for it?”
“Yes, Sir. Family’s family and you always stick together, through the good and the bad,” Cody answered fervently.
The general nodded and began writing something down at the desk in front of him.
“Sir?” Cody asked. When the general looked back up, he said, “Do I have permission to leave?”
The general nodded and handed Cody the paper he’d been writing on. “Here’s a pass that should get you through any military checkpoints. Take as long as you need. But, keep me updated on what’s going on and let me know when you’re headed back.”
“Yes, Sir,” Cody agreed gratefully.
“Oh, and please, stop by and let the Missus know what’s going on before you leave.”
Within the hour Cody was on his horse and galloping southwest toward Springfield.
“So, how’s your Jimmy doin’?” Danny asked Thatch, as they cantered across a field north of Springfield. They’d been out on patrol overnight and were headed back into town with the dawn.
“Well, I’m no longer afraid he’s gonna use that gun of his on himself,” Thatch said somberly. “But he’s still livin’ on the edge, divin’ into a whiskey bottle near every night. He does his job and then drinks the night away.”
Their horses picked their way down an embankment toward the last river crossing before town.
“Has he talked ‘bout it?”
“Only ‘nough to say it’s all his fault,” Thatch sighed. “I sure hope Cody gets here soon. Maybe he can talk some sense into him.”
Suddenly a dark brown equine blur streaked past the riders on patrol, spooking Thatch’s and Danny’s horses at the front of the column. Both horses reared back, dumping their riders into the swirling river waters.
Thatch surfaced, sputtering and then just stood there in shock. Danny came up out of the waters cursing like a dockhand. Neither noticed at first how the water had plastered their uniforms to their bodies. Not until they looked up at the sound of approaching hoofbeats.
“Cody!” Thatch shouted. “Why can’t you ever watch where you’re going!”
“Um, Thatch,” Cody said diffidently. “You might want to, uh, put a coat on, or somethin’…” his voice trailed off.
Looking down she finally noticed how her summer weight uniform had suddenly become formfitting in a way not good for a woman trying to hide her gender. Horrified, she raised her eyes to look at Danny and find she was in the same condition.
“Would you like to explain this to me, Corporal Thatcher? Daniels?” their commanding officer demanded as he pushed his way toward the front of the group of gaping troopers.
“Well, uh, sir…. No,” Thatch said. “Not really.”
“Don’t think there’s much ta say,” Daniels added. “You’ve already reached yer own conclusions.”
“Get back on your horses. We’ll be talkin’ to the general when we get back to camp,” the commander said, then clicked his horse into motion, leading the rest of the troopers past the two dismounted women.
“Girls in uniform.”
“They’ve seen me in the all together!”
The whispers spelled doom for their careers in the Army. Looking at each other, Thatch and Danny sighed in unison.
That night, Thatch joined Cody and Jimmy at the bar of the Diamond Lady.
“So, what’d the general say?” Cody demanded.
“That our presence wasn’t regulation,” Thatch sighed, sipping the sarsaparilla the bartender had placed in front of her. “Made us turn in our rank insignia and weapons then and there, before we even started filling out the paperwork. A toast gents, I am officially a private citizen once again.”
Thatch raised her glass in the air and waited for Cody and Jimmy to react. They gently tapped their glasses against hers and all drank deeply in silence.
"What's Danny gonna do?" Jimmy asked.
"Shhh," Thatch pantomined, putting a finger to her lips. "Danny's gonna head East and re-up with another unit!"
Then Jimmy asked, “And you?”
“Well, for starters, I’m gonna have myself a real drink,” Thatch said, grabbing Jimmy’s whiskey glass and downing its contents in one swig. “No more Army, no more Army regs.”
“Aw man,” Cody groaned. “You two really are cut from the same cloth!”
“Put up or shut up, Cody,” Jimmy said, grabbing a third glass from behind the bar and pushing it toward Cody.
“What the hell,” Cody muttered. “I’m officially on leave. Might as well enjoy myself.”
“Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man,” Jimmy trilled hours later.
“Washed his face with a fryin’ pan,” Cody added in.
“Combed his hair with a wagon wheel and died of a toothache in his heel,” Thatch rounded out the chorus. “Hoorah!”
The three lifted their glasses in the air and downed another shot of whiskey.
“That does it for me, you two,” Cody said. “I had a long ride and need some rest. I’ll see ya in the morning.”
Before leaving he gave Thatch a significant look and she nodded back. She had the night watch.
“So, Thash,” Jimmy slurred. “Any idea whatch yer gonna do now that yer outta the Army?”
“I’m pretty handy with a gun, thought maybe ya could use me over at the Provost Marshal’s office,” Thatch teased.
“Don’t think ol’ Sanborn’s quite as open minded as Teaspoon was,” Jimmy said. “Hic! Sides, it’s still part of the Army.”
“Maybe I’ll just run off and join the circus, then,” Thatch said. “Always wanted to walk the tightrope in front of an adorin’ audience.”
“Ish no wonder you and Cody become friends.”
“He’s been a good buddy,” she agreed, catching Jimmy by the arm as he started to tilt out of his seat. “I think it’s time to get you home to bed, Hickok.”
Standing up without letting go of his arm, she dragged him to his feet. He ambled along, content to let her guide his stumbling feet in the right direction.
As they mounted the stairs to his room he stumbled into her from behind and used both hands to steady himself by grabbing her around the waist. Leaning against her soft body at the top of the steps, Jimmy peered down at her.
“So, how come you and Cody never became more’n friends, Thatch?” he asked.
“Because I was already in love with someone else,” she said quietly, turning away from him to open the door. She pulled him into the room and dragged him to his bed, where he flopped down onto his back.
Walking to his feet, which were hanging off the end of the bed, she grabbed one between her legs and began to pry off his boot. Jimmy lay staring at the ceiling.
“Thash. Thash,” he said repeatedly. “So, whash yer real name, anyways? I mean, Lou was Louise. But I cain’t figure out Thash.”
“It’s Agnes,” she said quietly, placing the first boot on the floor and grabbing his second leg. “Thatch is short for Thatcher, my real last name.”
The effort required to pull his second boot off was more than her own unsteady balance could handle and she landed on her hands and knees on the floor. Using the side of the bed, she pulled herself up and collapsed onto it next to Hickok.
He rolled over to look at her more closely. “Agnes? Thatsh a pretty name.”
Reaching out to push an unruly lock out of his eyes, she smiled at him. “Thank you.”
“Agnes,” he asked. “Would you mind if I kissed you?”
“I’d like that, Jimmy,” she said. “I’d like that a lot.”
The next morning, Cody entered Jimmy’s room with a tray full of food balanced on one hand.
“Mornin’ Jimmy,” he said. “Thought ya might like…. Oh fer cryin’ out loud! What have you two done?”
“Hunh?” Jimmy asked, leaning up on one arm and pushing his hair out of his face. The motion disturbed the young lady lying on her stomach next to him, her legs still entwined with his.
“Leave me alone,” she grumbled. “Don’t havta get up. Not in the Army no more.”
Jimmy looked down at her, startled. Then his eyes flew back up to meet Cody’s.
“You hurt her, and I’ll hurt you,” Cody said. “I’ll leave this food here and go downstairs to wait for ya.”
With those sober words, the normally ebullient Cody walked out of the room, closing the door softly behind him. Hickok looked back down at the slender back of the young woman lying next to him in bed.
“Thatch?” he asked
She rolled over and peeked up at him through veiling eyelashes, trying to judge his mood. “Yes?”
“Did we do what I think we did?”
Her whole body stiffened and she opened her eyes completely to glare at him. “Are you tellin’ me you don’t remember?”
“I’m sayin’ I ain’t sure.”
She hopped out of the body, unmindful of her state of undress. “Get back to me when yer sure.”
“Come on, Thatch,” he pleaded, sitting up fully. “You knew I was drunk as a skunk. You can’t expect me to remember everthin’.”
Thatch sighed as she finished buttoning up her shirt. She walked over to the window and pulled open the curtain. Jimmy flinched away from the shaft of sunlight that suddenly fell on him.
“Oops,” she said. “Sorry. You’re head must be pretty bad this mornin’.”
As she turned to face him, a sudden memory surfaced.
“Agnes. Your name is Agnes.”
The sudden smile that blossomed across her face made the pleasant looking young woman radiantly beautiful.
“Yes,” she whispered, flinging herself across the bed to grab Jimmy’s face in her hands and drag him in for an intoxicating kiss.
Moments later he pulled back to stare into her eyes. “I take it to mean I’m forgiven?”
“Yes,” she said, then grinned. “Now what say we rebuild those memories you’ve mislaid?”
Kid and Lou
This looks like a good place to stop for the day,” Lou suggested. The copse of trees wasn’t ideal, but was the best they’d seen in the last hour of searching. They hadn’t been able to find another suitable cave such as they’d used outside of Richmond. “Kid?”
“Hunh?” he roused enough to turn and look at her. His face was haggard, with a slight grayish tinge. The night’s hike had taken a lot out of him, even riding on their sole horse while Lou walked. He wasn’t as healed as they’d hoped.
“I said, this looks like a good place to stop for the day.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, slumping to a seat at the base of a tree.
“Alright, let me dig a fox hole and collect some brush for cover, then we’ll get some sleep.”
“I’ll help,” he said, starting to push himself up.
“No!” she exclaimed. “You rest. You’re still healing. I can do this.”
He smiled at her wryly and sat back down. “Yes, ma’am.”
In the few minutes it took Lou to dig the foxhole and gather some branches for cover, Kid had fallen asleep. She sighed gently and smiled at the sight.
“Kid,” she whispered, brushing his face with her fingertips. “Kid, you need to wake up. Just for a moment.”
Gently she guided him to the foxhole and helped him lie down. Then, she crawled in beside him and covered them both with the branches. Soon, she was fast asleep next to him.
“Lou! NO!” Kid screamed in his sleep.
“Sh!” Lou tried to shush him. She’d thought he was past these nightmares. He hadn’t had one in weeks. “Kid! Wake up!”
“Hey, Malone! I hear somethin’ back here!”
“Sounded like a Johnny Reb to me,” the first voice said.
“Over here, in this copse of trees.”
Lou slapped a hand over Kid’s mouth in a desperate attempt to quiet him. But her small body couldn’t keep his much larger one from thrashing around in the throes of his nightmare. She nearly wept in frustration as she heard the Federal soldiers coming closer and closer to their hiding place.
“Malone, over here. I found ‘em,” the first voice said triumphantly as the man behind the voice pulled away the last of the branches hiding Kid and Lou in their foxhole. “Hidin’ like a couple a scared rabbits!”
“Alright you two, up and out of there,” Malone said. “You’re now prisoners of war. If you promise not to try to escape, we won’t tie you up.”
“Sir, we’re just trying to get home to Nebraska,” Lou pled. “My brother’s been badly hurt and we just want to go home.”
“I’m sorry, kid,” Malone said, not unkindly. “But you’re wearing Rebel uniforms. I ain’t got no choice but to take ya in.”
Lou nodded resignedly.
“Look,” he added. “If you can promise not to run off, I’ll let your brother here ride instead of walk. I can see he’s not that strong.”
“We promise,” Lou said eagerly. Kid simply nodded in agreement. “Ain’t like we got any place to run to. The Confederates would just hang us for deserters.”
Teaspoon leaned back in his old chair in the Marshal’s office. Despite his lingering cough, as soon as the city leaders of Rock Creek had learned he was back in town they couldn’t offer him the job as Marshal fast enough. So, here he sat. It felt… right.
He smiled as he watched his Polly emerge from the front door of her re-opened saloon and cross the street to his office. She carried a platter in her hands with something underneath a white cloth. He sat up and rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Lunch.
“Waiting for me, I see,” she grinned as she entered the front door. “I must be getting predictable.”
“Only to my stomach,” Teaspoon said, patting the named organ. “Tell me you’re staying?”
“I really shouldn’t, Sugarlips.”
“Aw, what is there to be done over at the saloon that your girls can’t take care of?”
“Nothing much, I suppose,” she said reluctantly.
Teaspoon patted the second chair next to his desk. “Then stay.”
“How’s the cough?” she asked casually, as she picked up a roll off Teaspoon’s plate and started tearing it into bite sized pieces.
“Pert near gone,” he declaimed. “The summer heat’s done burned it out o’ me.”
“That’s good to hear,” she said.
“I been thinkin’ there’s somethin’ else you’d like ta hear,” he said, clearing his throat and looking around the office at anything but her. “At least, somethin’ I’d like ya ta hear.”
“And what’s that, Teaspoon?”
“Well, see, it’s like this. I know things didn’t quite work out fer us before, but I’d like ta think I’m a bit wiser with age.”
She laughed at this and he glared at her for a moment.
“Where was I? Oh yeah, wiser. Anyways, seein’ as how I’m a tad wiser, I was wonderin’ if ya’d give me another chance at that husband job?”
“Are you asking me to marry you, Sugarlips?”
“Well, I ‘spect that’s ‘bout it,” Teaspoon said, suddenly bashful.
“Well, it’s about time,” she said, standing up only to sit down on Teaspoon’s lap. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me ever since you got back to town. If you hadn’t asked soon, I was going to ask you.”
“Well, we couldn’t have that, now could we?” Teaspoon smiled at her.
“Never, Sugarlips. Now, kiss me!”
“With pleasure,” he said as their mouths met in a tender kiss.
That night, they joined Rachel and Janusz for supper as had become their custom. Teaspoon confiscated the seat nearest the fire, as the chill night air had a tendency to bring on an unwanted coughing fit. Polly snuggled next to him.
As the foursome finished their meal, Teaspoon cleared his throat.
“I’ve, well… Polly and me, we’ve got an announcement to make,” he began.
“Not zo fast,” Janusz interrupted, reaching over to grab Rachel’s hand in his. “Rachel und I haf an announcement to make, too.”
Polly and Rachel just grinned at each other as the menfolk tried to glare each other into allowing them to go first. Finally the women burst out in unison, “We’re getting married.”
Teaspoon and Januzs turned to look at their respective fiancés in mock horror.
“Well, what’d ya go and ruin the surprise fer?” Teaspoon grouched.
“What surprise?” Rachel asked. “We’ve all known this was comin’ ever since ya came back. It was only a matter of time.”
“And please, Janusz,” Polly added. “You’ve had that spark in your eye for more’n a year now. The only question is what was takin’ ya so long.”
Janusz ducked his head bashfully and muttered into his lap, “I vas being respectful.”
Rachel leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. Polly turned to Rachel and asked, “So, when were you thinking of tying the knot?”
“Well, Janusz and I were talkin’ and seein’ as how it’s a second marriage fer both of us, we don’t see any need to wait and plan some big fancy weddin’,” Rachel said.
Teaspoon leaned forward, pulling Polly close into his side.
“Sounds good to me,” he grinned. “Never did see the need for all that folderol.”
Polly smiled down at him, “Besides, for us it’s more like a renewal of vows than a real wedding. We’ve already had that.”
Janusz chimed in, “Und I only care that Rachel becomes my vife, not how. The sooner, the better, I belief is how it is said.”
“It’s settled then,” Rachel blushed. “We’ll talk to the pastor and find out when he’s free to perform the weddings. That is, you did want to make it a double wedding?”
Thus it was that just a few days later, on a bright, warm Sunday afternoon in August the two couples found themselves in front of what they’d expected to be an empty church. But somehow word had gotten around the growing town of Rock Creek and just about the entire village had stuffed itself inside the church.
As the music stopped, the pastor looked down at the two couples standing before him. Clearing his throat, he began the service, “Dearly beloved….”
It took just moments to complete the ceremony and soon Janusz was kissing Rachel and Teaspoon was kissing Polly, to the loud cheers and whistles of their friends. A quick glance between Rachel and Teaspoon was the only evidence of the pain of missing family at this most special of moments.
“Do you know what you’re gettin’ yerself into?” Cody asked suspiciously. He and Thatch were walking toward the livery where Cody had stabled his horse while in Springfield. After a week, he’d decided Jimmy had calmed down enough to be trusted on his own again. So, Cody was headed back to his post in St. Louis. But, he was worried about Thatch. “You know he’s still in love with her.”
“I know,” Thatch said, quietly, looking down at her hands. The morning after her ignominious discharge from the Army, she’d headed straight to the nearest dressmakers shop and gotten herself some women’s clothing. Unlike Lou, the only reason she’d been in boy’s togs to begin with was for the adventure. “But, I’m here and she ain’t. Sooner or later, he’ll realize that.”
“I just hope it’s sooner rather than later,” Cody sighed. “Lou coulda tol’ ya. Jimmy’s always been a stubborn cuss. He’s likely to realize only after it’s too late.”
“Guess that’s my risk, then ain’t it?” Thatch said defiantly.
“It is at that,” Cody said as he grabbed his saddle and began saddling his horse. Tightening the cinch strap he turned to her one last time. “Just, let me know if you need anythin’. Even if it’s just to talk.”
As he mounted up to ride out, Thatch looked up at him and smiled. “Like I could ever get a word in edgewise, Mr. Buffalo Bill Cody.”
With that she slapped his horse’s rear to get him started, nearly unseating the startled Cody. Laughing at the sight of the blonde man trying to stay in the saddle, she called after him, “Ride safe!”
Cody shook his head and grinned at the memory. It was exactly what he would have done in the same situation. They were so much alike, him and Thatch. Agnes. He needed to remember to call her Agnes now. Why hadn’t he and Agnes ever fallen for each other, like Lou and Kid had, he wondered to himself. Maybe it was because they were just too much alike. Both were showmen at heart and neither could really stand to share the spotlight for long.
His trip down to Springfield last month had been the last interesting thing to happen to him, he thought, sighing as he returned his attention to the unending paperwork in front of him. From Agnes’ latest letter, it sounded like she and Hickok were making things work. So far. Then again, it had only been a month. Even Hickok should be able to keep a relationship going for that long.
“Hey, Buffalo Bill, you ‘bout done in there?”
“Sure thing, Will,” Cody said, flashing a grin at the young man peering around the corner of the door at him. “Just got to go get the General’s John Hancock on these, then I’m done fer the day.”
“Well, hurry up, then,” Will McDonald said impatiently. “I wanna go riding before supper.”
It took only a few minutes for Cody to get everything wrapped up, grab his hat and head out the door with his young friend. Will McDonald was every bit the prankster Cody was and they’d struck up an almost immediate friendship upon Cody’s arrival in St. Louis.
Chattering about the trivial events of the day, the two headed for the livery and collected their horses. Cody swung up onto the back of his mount without using the stirrups. It was a trick Will had not yet been able to copy, much to his chagrin. The two took off, galloping down the street toward the edge of town, sending other riders, stray dogs and the occasional pedestrian flying out of their way. Many a fist of anger was shaken at them after they’d passed, not that either of the two irrepressible spirits noticed.
An hour later, the two young men were walking along the side of the road, headed back toward town. Each held his horse’s reins in one hand and their hat in the other, enjoying the late afternoon sun on their heads.
“So, ya think yer friend’s gonna be alright?” Will asked.
“Probably. Thatch, er Agnes, appears to have gotten him over the worst of it,” Cody said. “Not that I think he’ll ever completely get over their deaths. Lou and Kid, they were his best friends. I mean, we were all family, but those three, somehow they were always a bit more.”
Will nodded without saying anything.
Changing the topic, Cody asked, “Did I tell ya Teaspoon got hitched, again?”
Will shook his head.
“Yep. Just got a letter from Rachel,” Cody said, smiling broadly. “The old coot remarried his second wife, Polly. Not sure if that makes this his sixth marriage or his seventh?”
The two started to laugh at the joke, but stopped to admire a beautiful young woman cantering down the lane past them. She was tall and slender with dark brown eyes and beautiful long black tresses. Most important, in Cody’s eyes, she sat a horse like she’d been born on one.
He said nothing, just followed her movements with his eyes until she was out of sight. Then, he turned to his friend and asked, “Who was that gorgeous lady?”
“Her?” Will asked nonchalantly. “Oh, that’s just my cousin, Louisa. Louisa Frederici. She lives here in town with her parents.”
“You’ve got to introduce me,” Cody sighed. “Cause I think I’m in love.”
Running Buck was seated in a sunny spot between the tipis his two wives had set up on the edge of the Kiowa summer hunting camp. Soon, they would be returning to their winter camp in Kansas and Buck still hadn’t decided whether or not to stay with them. Lying in the sun next to him, Standing Woman was recovered from the ordeal of delivering their son, Shines Brightly, just three months ago.
Buck looked down at the infant sleeping in his lap, tiny fists curled up near his face, his lips pursed and occasionally making sucking motions.
“I bet I know what you’re dreaming about, young man,” Buck smiled at his son. “I’ll tell you a secret, I’ve been havin’ similar dreams lately. But you can’t tell your mother.”
Buck looked up to see his second wife, Dawn Star standing nervously in front of him, wringing her two hands together. Since Shines Brightly’s birth, their marriage had been more traditional, in the sense that when he slept in her tipi they actually shared a bedroll. But for both of them it remained a case of taking comfort in the other, not a love match. So, they’d kept the new aspect of their relationship to themselves, hoping to spare Standing Woman any pain.
“What is it?” he asked, concerned by her look.
“We need to talk,” she said.
“So talk,” he smiled.
“Not here. Privately.”
“Alright,” he said slowly, standing up and laying his son back in his cradle board next to his mother. “I’m coming.”
As he followed Dawn Star around the tipi to the corral where their horses were kept, he wondered what it was that had her so upset.
“Dawn Star,” he said, grabbing her elbow and turning her around to face him. “What’s wrong?”
Looking down at the ground, continuing to wring her hands, she finally whispered, “I’m pregnant.”
“What?!?” Buck asked, shocked.
“I know it’s not what we’d planned,” she began, apologizing. “I never wanted to come between you and my sister. I’ll just put your things out and go back to my father’s camp…”
Seeing the tears streaking silently down her cheeks as she babbled on, Buck realized the impression he’d given her in his shock. He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. Pressing his nose into her clean hair he said, “You have nothing to apologize for, Dawn Star. If anyone should be apologizing, it’s me. It was my actions, my need for comfort, that led to this. And you won’t be going anywhere. You’re my wife and this is my child. Standing Woman will understand.”
Pulling back from him, Dawn Star wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand. “Do you really think so?”
“She’ll have to,” Buck began.
“What will I have to understand?” Standing Woman asked, cradling her infant son in her arms.
Buck and Dawn Star started at the sound of her voice, then turned to face her looking like a couple of misbehaving youths caught in the act.
“You’d better tell me before I come to the wrong conclusion,” she grinned at them.
Buck pulled away from Dawn Star and began walking toward Standing Woman slowly, holding out one hand in a placating gesture.
“Standing Woman, we’ve got some news you might not like…” he began.
“I’m so sorry,” Dawn Star said at the same time.
“Sorry about what? What won’t I like?”
“I’m pregnant,” Dawn Star stated baldly.
Standing Woman gasped, her gaze flying between her husband and her sister, seeing the truth in their eyes. Covering her mouth with one hand to catch the incipient sob, she turned and fled the scene. Dawn Star started to move after her, but Buck caught her arm and held her back.
“Let me,” he said. “We need to settle some things between us.”
Dawn Star nodded and watched him lope off after the love of his life. Tears continued to stream down her face. He was her husband, the father of her unborn child, but she knew he would never love her as he loved her sister. At least he would love their baby, she thought, just as she would.
Buck caught up with Standing Woman as she neared the pond where they’d spent many an hour since their son was born, just being together. It was a place of peace and love. He could hear the sobs building and breaking free of her against her will.
Reaching out, he tried to pull her into his arms to comfort her, but she began to strike out at him, pounding on his chest.
“How could you!” she raged. “How could you! It was just supposed to be a temporary marriage. You said you loved me! How could you betray me this way?”
Knowing there was no defense, Buck just let her rage, accepting any blows that she managed to land with a stoic fatalism. Eventually, her grief and her anger ran their course, leaving her depleted of energy. She wilted against him, almost falling to the ground except for his support.
Buck gently took the cradle board from her and hung it from a low hanging branch on a nearby tree, then returned to his wife. Taking her face in his hands, he lifted her tear swollen eyes to his.
“Are you ready to listen?” he asked.
She said nothing, just sat there, staring at him.
“Alright,” he said. “We did not do this to hurt you. It started in grief, the night of Shines Brightly’s birth. We sought only to comfort each other and one thing led to another.”
“And you couldn’t even wait to find out if I was dead yet?” she asked bitterly.
“Standing Woman, you know the losses I have suffered,” Buck said reprovingly. “I was not thinking clearly. In my mind, the Earth Creator had already taken you from me.”
He stopped speaking and just stared at his wife, until she lowered her eyes from his and nodded once, choppily.
“Once the relationship was begun, there was no going back. We kept it quiet, because we did not want to hurt you. And, honestly, neither of us was thinking of a future. This was still just a way of taking comfort in each other. We never planned on children. Our original plan for this marriage remained.”
“Not anymore,” Standing Woman sliced at him with her words.
“No, not anymore,” Buck agreed sadly. “She will remain my second wife. I will provide for and help to raise our children. And, as you pointed out when you asked me for this marriage, she will be there to be a mother to our children when our duties as Shamans take us away from them. We can make this work, but only if we all try.”
Standing Woman just stared at her husband, the man who’d brought her so much joy and now so much pain. Seeing that pain in her eyes, Buck gathered her close, offering her the only comfort he could at that moment. Closing his own eyes in pain at the hurt he’d handed her, he said, “My heart is still yours, Standing Woman, and always will be. Do with it what you will.”
Lou and Kid
“Lieutenant,” Malone said, walking up to where Lou stood at the edge of the encampment of Confederate Prisoners of War, “tell your men to prepare to move out.”
“Where are we headed, Sir?” she asked, concern in her gaze. As a prisoner any change could be bad news.
“Just got orders, you and all the rest of the prisoners held by the 30th Ohio infantry are being transferred to Camp Douglas tomorrow,” Malone said.
Lou nodded. She’d been expecting something like this soon. The number of Confederate POWs was growing by the day. So far, she was the highest ranked officer captured, which had put her in charge of this lot. And since, unlike Company G, she had no history with these men, it took a lot to keep them in line. She’d had to build a corps of bodyguards, centered around Kid, to help her keep the hardcases in line. As it was, she’d been unable to prevent dozens from making repeated attempts at escape. Few had succeeded. Those who had had been brought back dead within hours.
The good news about the time they’d spent here, was Kid had had a chance to finish healing. Physically he was back to his old self. Mentally, he’d admitted to her, he was still struggling. He’d told her he didn’t know if he had it in him to shoot another human being ever again. It was a good thing they were both out of the shooting part of the action for the remainder of the war. Unfortunately, she’d heard stories about what a POW camp could do to a man’s mind. She worried about how Kid would handle the deprivations.
Mentally shrugging, Lou turned and headed back to the tent she’d designated as command headquarters amongst the prisoners. There was nothing she could do about it now, so time to worry about the things she could do.
The next morning, Lou was up early, chivvying the grey clad prisoners into orderly lines and columns, ready for the long march to Camp Douglas in Illinois. She’d arranged things so each man carried only what they could handle. The weakest carried nothing but the clothes on their backs and were carefully dispersed amongst the strongest of their brethren, in case they needed help.
Nodding in satisfaction that she’d done all she could, Lou hurried toward the front of the column. Saluting the Union officers gathered there, she reported that the prisoners were ready to march. Within moments, they began the trek that would cover hundreds of miles of terrain before dropping them all off at the doors of Camp Douglas, just outside of Chicago.
Marching between Kid and another young man, Lou was just thankful for the pleasant early October weather. So many of the men lacked adequate clothing and blankets for winter weather. She just hoped they’d make it to Camp Douglas and better provisions before winter weather hit.
Three weeks later Lou’s only thought was to put one foot in front of another. They’d marched straight through, ten hours a day, seven days a week, moving hundreds of men from Northern Virginia through the newly formed state of West Virginia, then Ohio, Indiana and now Illinois. Despite her best efforts, she’d already lost a couple of dozen of the weakest prisoners to the travails of the journey.
Lou looked up in surprise at the unexpected command, nearly tripping over her own feet in an attempt to comply. Only Kid, reaching out to grasp her arm, kept her standing as the rest of the men shambled to a halt behind her.
“Stand at Ease!”
Looking at each other in confusion, Lou and Kid settled in to wait.
“What do ya think’s goin’ on?” asked Alfred Potter, one of the young men who’d attached themselves to Lou just before the beginning of the march.
“No idea,” Kid said.
“Best bet is just to wait and find out,” Lou added.
Moments later, a group of mounted men in blue uniforms rode over the edge of a nearby ridge and thundered down on the group of exhausted prisoners. The leader of the group began to ride up and down along the line of men. Soon, he came to a standstill at the front of the column.
“Men, you are our prisoners and will remain as such until the cessation of hostilities. There will be NO escape. Anyone caught trying will be shot on sight,” he began in a booming voice that could easily be heard by all in the crowd. “Many of the things you carry with you now are contraband and will be confiscated by my men before you can enter the camp. Anyone who tries to resist will be shot. There will be no exceptions. You chose to take up arms against your country and you will be treated as the traitorous dogs that you are.”
After spitting out those words in a scarily calm voice, the man, apparently the commandant of the POW camp, turned and rode back over the ridge. The soldiers who’d rode in with him stayed and began circulating through the column in groups of three. One man held an aimed weapon at all times, the second would search the prisoner and everything he carried. The third man watched the other prisoners nearby during the search and then carried any confiscated contraband over to a growing pile at the edge of the column of prisoners.
Lou groaned as she saw what they were confiscating: food, coats, boots, tents, blankets along with anything that conceivably be made into a weapon. How were they going to survive the winter, she wondered to herself. But, she did not allow any of this to show on her face, not wanting to spark a riot amongst the already upset prisoners.
“Lou?” Kid asked, as she quickly grabbed his wedding ring on the chain around her neck and stuffed it, chain and all, down inside the bindings she used to flatten her chest.
“Don’t,” she said. “Just don’t.”
He nodded in understanding and reached into a pocket to pull out the velvet bag that held her ring and handed it to her. It quickly followed his ring into hiding. Then they stood there, waiting through the interminable search, both lost in their own despairing thoughts about the winter to come.
By the time they were marched into the camp, all the men were barefoot and had only a single shirt and pair of pants to their name. That night, they huddled together three and four people to a bunk in the underheated barracks building, trying to stay warm. Lou found herself squashed between Kid, who’d claimed the spot along the wall, and Alfred. Another, unknown young man clung to the outer edge of the bunk, trying simply not to fall off.
“Up and at ‘em,” came the call the next morning. “Into formation for roll call! Move it! Move it! Move it!”
The scruffy guards banged pots and pans together to accompany their screams at the prisoners. Lou could see her breath as she followed Kid out into the cold morning air. By the time the guards had finished taking roll the sun had finished climbing into the sky, but had done little to warm the earth. Lou had lost all feeling in her feet some time ago and begun stomping them on the ground to keep the blood flowing. Soon the entire corps of prisoners had followed suit and the parade grounds had resonated with the sound of hundreds of feet stomping in unison.
“Brrr!” Kid shivered as they re-entered the barracks. “I sure wish they’d hurry up and issue us some coats or blankets.”
“Don’t be naïve, Kid,” Lou snapped. “They ain’t goin’ to. They’re tryin’ ta kill us, or hadn’t ya noticed.”
“Mite testy, ain’t he,” muttered an older man pushing past their group into the barracks building.
Lou glared after him. She’d already noticed the lack of military discipline at the camp. It had immediately been apparent that things worked on an ‘every man for himself’ basis here. She was no longer the top ranking officer in the camp, but it seemed no one was trying to keep order either.
Seeing one of her former bodyguards start to go after the man, Lou grabbed his arm and shook her head. A small cadre of men who’d followed her lead on the trip here had remained in orbit around her, providing a small sphere of influence. Catching the eyes of each of the men who’d remained near her, Lou indicated with her head they should meet at the back of the room, furthest from the stove.
“Sir,” Alfred asked, as the men gathered around Lou, “What are we gonna do?”
“What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna survive,” Lou said flatly. “That’s the only goal we can or should have at this moment.
“We should be lookin’ fer ways to escape,” one man said.
Lou glared him down. “Have you seen or heard any evidence to suggest a single man has ever managed to successfully escape?”
She left the question hanging for a moment before answering it herself.
“No. You haven’t. We may outnumber the guards, but as soon as we get away from the camp, we’re so heavily outnumbered here it ain’t even funny. And that’s before you consider we ain’t got guns, or food, or even clothes to protect us from the winter. No, escape is not an option.”
“Sounds like ya got a plan, Lou,” Kid said quietly from behind her.
She smiled at him, grateful for the implicit support in his words and tone.
“My plan is to work together,” she said. “I can’t put it any plainer than that. We’ve all seen already how there ain’t no sense of community here. Every one’s just trying to keep body and soul alive. But, workin’ together’s the best way to do it.”
She could see now that she had them, most of them at least. Several were nodding in agreement. She began to lay out the details of her plan.
“We’ll all take turns. We’ll sleep in shifts to protect each other. We’ll take turns on the inside and outside of the bunks. We’ll take turns fetching water and cooking. We’ll put our rations together and eat together. We’ll go to roll call together. Heck we’ll go to the latrine together.”
She searched the eyes of every man in the group, making sure they were paying attention. “They’re trying to kill us and we ain’t gonna let ‘em. And I’ll tell you one thing, if they can make us give up our community, our humanity they’ll have won. They don’t need to kill the body, if they’ve already killed the soul. We cain’t let that happen. Are ya with me boys?”
A chorus of ragged cheers and nods answered her.
“Alright, let’s split up into groups of four, that means every man’s got at least three available partners at all times,” Lou said, getting down to the nitty gritty of setting up her little band of survivors.
That night, Lou crawled into the bunk, taking her turn on the outside along the wall. Despite the cold and discomfort, she was satisfied with her day’s work. Her group of four had ended up being comprised of Kid, Alfred, the youngster who’d marched with them from Virginia, and a giant of a man by the name of Tiny Silverstein. Tiny was at least six foot tall, maybe taller, and as wide as Kid and Lou put together, made up of pure muscle. He and Alfred came from the same town in Northern Virginia and were as attached to each other as Kid and Lou.
That night, in whispers in the bunk, Kid and Lou had to explain their secret to Tiny and Alfred. The security arrangements meant all the latrines and sewers were open to the public, and thus the eyes of the guards. It would take some special maneuvering on their part to protect Lou's secret.
“But, why don’cha jest tell ‘em what ya are?” Alfred asked.
“I won’t leave without Kid,” Lou said, grabbing her husband’s hand in the dark. “And there’s no way they’ll let Kid out of here before the war’s over. So, I’m here for the duration, too.”
Kid pressed a kiss into Lou’s shoulder, where his head rested in their cramped positions on the shared bunk, thanking her for her devotion.
“Protectin’ yer secret won’t be a problem,” Tiny finally mumbled. “So long’s ya can keep mine.”
“What?” Lou asked, startled.
“I’m a woman, too,” she revealed.
Silence reigned amongst the four compatriots for a moment.
“Well, hell!” Kid complained. “Next thing yer gonna tell me yer married to l’il Alfred here.”
“No,” Tiny laughed.
“I’m married to her little sister,” Alfred said quietly.
“I joined up to protect him for her,” Tiny said. “I’m the eldest, but no one ever wanted to marry me, ‘cause o’ my size. When the war started and Alfred said he had to join up, Coraline asked me to go along and protect him. So, I stole some of Pa’s clothes and here I am.”
Lou reached out a hand and fumbled around until she found Tiny’s large paw. Wrapping her fingers around the other woman’s she said, “Well, your secret’s safe with us, Tiny.”
Every morning, several men were found dead from the cold. Though, so far never one of those who followed Lou, thanks to her sleeping rotation schedule. During morning roll call, the guards entered the barracks and removed the bodies, piling them up in a mass grave near the dead line. When the grave was full, they asked for volunteers to fill it in and dig a new one further down the road. The volunteers got extra clothes and provisions, so the men, and women, of Lou’s little group of survivors volunteered for every job they could get.
“Man, I don’t know how many more of those jobs I can endure,” Kid complained as they walked back to the barracks one frigid November afternoon.
“Ain’t that bad,” Alfred said. “At least I ain’t cold from sitting still in the barracks all day.”
“And we didn’t have to go find snow fer water,” Tiny added. That was often the most dangerous job. The garrisoned soldiers had shut off the two water pumps to the camp in punishment for the way Union POWs were being treated in the South. This meant the men had to collect and melt snow for drinking water. With the number of men in the camp, upwards of 8,000, that meant they often had to range dangerously close to the dead line to get enough. The dead line was a line marked out with stakes about three feet in from the walls of the camp. Any prisoner caught between the dead line and the camp walls was shot on sight. Just being near it could get a man shot if a guard had an itchy trigger finger.
“Just make sure to wash up real good,” Lou reminded them. “It’s dangerous bein’ so near all them dead bodies for so long.”
“Aw, Lou, that’s jest Buck’s superstition,” Kid said.
“No, it ain’t,” Lou said. “Think of all the gravediggers that’ve come down with some illness or another since we’ve been here. We ain’t. Cause we’re careful. We got ta keep being careful.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kid said, with a hint of the humorous sparkle she loved so much.
Lou pushed him away from her for the joke. A playful fight started to ensue until a bullet hit the dirt at Lou’s feet.
“Break it up!” shouted an irritated guard.
The group’s good luck when it came to taking on dangerous duties failed them the next day. When they got up, it wasn’t hard to tell Tiny had a fever. Lou stayed behind to watch over her that day while the others headed out looking for volunteer duties they could perform.
“How’s Tiny doin’?” Alfred asked anxiously when he and Kid got back.
“Not good,” Lou said. “The fever’s gettin’ worse. And I ain’t got nothin’ to treat it with.”
“Should we consider taking Tiny to sick call?” Kid asked.
“No,”Alfred said quickly. “They’d find out Tiny’s secret!”
“Would that be so bad, if it saved Tiny’s life?”
“Let’s wait and see how Tiny’s doin’ in the mornin’,” Lou suggested, trying to keep the peace.
But, the next morning, Tiny was worse and the three friends agreed it was time for her to give up her secret for a chance to live. It took all three of them to half drag, half carry her to roll call.
“We’d better just head straight over to the hospital,” Alfred said once they were dismissed.
“Yep,” Kid said. “She’s heavier than Jimmy when he’s drunk.”
Lou chuckled at that, remembering all too well just how heavy Jimmy could be once he’d passed out.
“Come on, all together now,” she said. “And, lift.”
But, when they got to the hospital, the orderly turned them away.
“We’re all full up,” he said. “Ain’t no more room here. You’ll have to go to the overflow hospital.”
“Where’s that,” Lou asked impatiently.
“They turned the old chapel into a temporary sick hall,” the orderly said, pointing down the dirt road to a building with a cross over the door.
Lou nodded and said to her friends, “Come on.”
They were met at the door by another orderly who examined Tiny by lifting her eyelids to peer at her eyes and feeling her forehead.
“Yep, he’s sick,” the man said brusquely. He motioned to a couple of people inside and they rushed forward to take Tiny from Lou, Kid and Alfred. When they started to protest the orderly shut them down. “Sorry, only sick folk and medical personnel are allowed in here. Camp rules.”
“How can we find out how our friend is doing?” Lou asked.
The orderly pointed to a list of names posted outside the door.
“Just check the list each mornin’,” he said. “It’ll tell ya if yer friend’s still here sick, released back into the population or dead.”
The three nodded somberly and slowly turned away. The next morning, as soon as roll call was over, they headed straight back to the overflow hospital.
“Well, is he there?” Alfred asked anxiously as Lou scanned the list, looking for the Ss.
“Simon, Sills, Silverstein,” Lou said, finally finding the name she was looking for.
All three peered anxiously at the words written next to Tiny’s name. Discharged.
“Looks like they found out,” Kid finally said quietly.
“Hope that means she’s gettin’ better,” Alfred said.
“Well, all’s we can do is pray, now,” Lou said. “It’s not like they’ll tell us anythin’ else ‘bout what happened and they sure as heck ain’t gonna let her come back here and visit.”
Kid patted Lou’s shoulder with one hand and Alfred’s with the other as the three turned and walked dejectedly back to their barracks.
Jimmy rolled over in his sleep, wrapping his arms around the small woman in his bed.
“Lou,” he breathed, then finished waking up and shook off the remnants of the dream he’d been locked in. He’d been having the dream a lot lately. That Lou was locked away with Kid in that prison back in Prosperity, doing hard time. He had this feeling he should be riding out to find them, rescue them. But they were dead. He hid his face in Agnes’ hair and let the tears flow.
Agnes had awoken when Jimmy rolled over and heard his whisper. She wrapped her arms around him and held him close, letting him grieve. Again. She thought back to the conversation she’d had with Cody about being able to handle the fact Jimmy was in love with another woman. At the time she’d been so sure. Now, she wasn’t. Lately, every little thing had been upsetting her. She’d never been so emotional in her life.
Finally she pulled back from Jimmy and asked gently, “Ain’t ya got work today?”
“Yeah,” he sighed, sitting up. “Sorry, didn’t mean ta wake ya.”
“I know,” she said. She’d taken a job working the bar at the saloon. She wanted the money to keep her own place, even if she was spending most nights with Jimmy.
“Go back to sleep, honey,” he said as he crawled out of bed and began putting on his clothes. “I’ll see ya at supper.”
She watched every move he made as he covered that beloved body, pulled on his boots, strapped on his guns and grabbed his hat. She smiled sadly at him when he looked back at her once, before walking out the door.
“Miss ya,” she said, just as he closed the door behind him.
She hadn’t meant for him to hear that, he thought morosely. He knew his dreams and his inability to get over Kid’s and Lou’s deaths were hurting her. He wished he could let them go, but something wouldn’t let him. It was almost Christmas, maybe he’d get her something special for the holiday to show her how he felt.
That afternoon, as she was getting things set up behind the bar, Agnes couldn’t help snapping at everyone around her.
“My, my,” said a tall man sitting near the end of the bar. “Must be that time ‘o the month.”
“No it ain’t,” she snapped at him. “Not that it’s any of yer business.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” he said apologetically. “Didn’t mean no offense. Wanta tell me what’s botherin’ ya?”
This offer gave her pause and she started to laugh. “I think that’s supposed to be my line.”
“Just tryin’ it on fer size,” he said.
“What’s yer name mister?”
“Lake. Bill Lake,” he answered. “I’m part owner of the circus that just come into town. You ever seen a circus?”
“Have I?” she gushed in excitement. “I love circuses. I want to learn to walk the tightrope and wear pretty dresses and perform in front of great big crowds someday.”
“You’ve certainly got the balance and the grace for it,” Lake said, looking her up and down.
“What would you know ‘bout it?”
“Well, officially I’m a clown,” he said smiling. “But unofficially, I do a lot of recruiting for the circus. Finding new performers, training them, you know.”
She nodded sagely.
Across town, Jimmy was trying to decide what to get Agnes for Christmas. Simon was starting to get rather miffed at all the stops Jimmy kept making in their afternoon rounds.
“Come on, Jimmy,” Simon whined. “I want to get this done so’s we can go back to the office and warm up.”
“Sorry, Simon,” Jimmy shrugged. “Why don’t ya go on without me. I need to look in here.”
“Ain’t gonna be no misbehavin’ soldiers in there,” Simon said dismissively. “That’s a jewelry store.”
“I know it’s a jewelry store,” Jimmy growled. “I can read!”
“Well, what do ya want with a jewelry store?”
“Thought I’d get Agnes somethin’ pretty for Christmas,” Jimmy said through gritted teeth.
“Well, why didn’t ya say so,” Simon said, smiling now. “Let’s go!”
Walking gingerly through the store, Jimmy felt lost. He had no idea which of the numerous necklaces, bracelets, rings and earbobs would appeal to Agnes. Then, a pretty cameo hanging from a gold chain caught his eye.
His memory flashed back to something Lou had told him once, about what she wished Kid would buy her. Reaching out, Jimmy clasped the cameo in a hand and held it up to the light to get a better look. It was just like the one Lou’d described. He sure hoped Agnes would like it.
Agnes walked out of the saloon with a determined stride. When Bill Lake had made that joke about it being her time of the month, she’d started thinking. Then counting. And the results had her worried. Looking around to make sure Jimmy wasn’t out on patrol, she scurried down the boardwalk and entered a small office with a shingle out front reading, “Doctor”.
Jimmy didn’t see Agnes disappear inside the doctor’s office as he exited the jewelry store with Simon. He carefully pocketed the small package he’d just purchased and started purposefully down the street.
“Do you think she’ll like it?” Simon asked.
“I hope so,” Jimmy muttered. “But if you don’t shut yer trap, yer gonna ruin the surprise.”
Catching a glimpse of the scowl on Jimmy’s face, Simon shut up.
Hours later, as their shift was about to end, a young boy came barging into the Marshal’s office.
“Ya gotta come quick!” the boy shouted. “There’s a bunch a soldiers tearing up the Red Garter Saloon!”
“Here we go, boys!” Jimmy said, grabbing his hat and slamming it onto his head. Jimmy, Simon and two other deputies spilled out of the Marshal’s office hot on the heels of the boy who’d called them.
Hours later, Jimmy dragged himself painfully into his room.
“Sorry I’m late, honey,” he said. “There was a ruckus at the Red Garter. Took us a bit to get the men under control. Then we had to haul ‘em out to the Army camp.”
Rubbing his sore jaw from where one of the rowdy soldiers had clipped him a good one, Jimmy sat down hard on the bed. That’s when he noticed it was empty. Turning around, he scanned the entire room, looking for Agnes. But, she was nowhere to be found.
Wondering why she wasn’t there, Jimmy turned around and found a note folded neatly on his pillow. Picking it up, he went to the window to read it by moonlight.
I’m sorry. I knew you still loved her when we took up with each other. I thought I could handle it, but I can’t.
So, I’m running off to join the circus. It’s been my lifelong dream. I’m going to become a famous tightrope walker.
Please don’t follow me. You need time to heal and so do I. Maybe someday we’ll find each other again. And maybe when that day comes we’ll both be ready for that something wonderful I know we can have. But that day isn’t today.
I love you.
Jimmy leaned back against the wall, crumpling the note in one fist as he slid down the wall to sit on the floor with his head resting against his knees.
Across town, Bill Lake helped Agnes up into one of the traveling wagons of the circus. Taking a seat, she smiled gently at him before turning to stare out the window, one hand covering her abdomen.
“You’re sure she’s expectin’ me?” Cody asked for the dozenth time.
“Yep,” Will McDonald answered with a twisted grin. “Of course, the main reason you’re supposed to be there is to make her other beau, Louis Reiber, jealous. But, hey! It’s a chance.”
“Once she’s met me, she won’t remember this Louis Reiber feller,” Cody declared self confidently, pausing to check his appearance in a store front window. After a moment’s consideration he adjusted the tilt of his hat before moving on.
The pair rambled up the boardwalk to a large, French style house.
“This is it,” Will said, pointing to the door, indicating Cody should go first.
“Shouldn’t we knock first?” Cody asked, trying to hide his sudden nerves.
“Naw, I’m family,” Will said with an insouciant grin.
Cody followed his friend into a large salon with a roaring fire in the fireplace. Cody paused in the doorway, taking in the sight of a beautiful young lady at rest reading a book by the fire. He didn’t notice his friend Will sneaking up behind the woman and pulling the chair out from under her.
He did see her fall to the ground. Cody stepped up, planning to help her up, only to be received with a slap in the face.
“Will McDonald, if you ever do that again I’ll…” she suddenly slowed to a stop, her facing turning red in mortification. She stammered out, “I… I’m… well, I’m so sorry.”
Cody stared at her in stupefied silence for a moment, slowly rubbing his hand across his stinging lips. Then, he let out a howl of laughter.
Trying to breathe through his laughter, Will spit out, “Louisa, this is the young man I was telling you about. May I present you to Private William Frederick Cody of the U.S. Army.”
Louisa just stood there, staring, unable to think of anything to say. Cody reached into a pocket and pulled out a handerkerchief to wipe his face. Smiling he said, “I believe Miss Frederici and I have already met.”
“Where?” she asked in confusion.
“In battle,” Cody joked.
The young lady’s hands came up to cover her reddening cheeks and she turned and fled the room.
“I don’t care what you say to her, Will, but you’d better get her back down here!”
“On it,” Will promised before following his cousin up the stairs.
Cody paced nervously, back and forth, in the hallway. Eventually she reappeared with Will at her back, practically pushing her forward. Cody rushed up to her and grabbed her hand in his. Raising her hand to his lips he kissed the back of it and said, at his most gallant, “I apologize most profusely, Miss Frederici, if my laughter embarrassed you. If there is ever anything I can do to make it up to you, you have but to say.”
After that, the evening went well. The food was good and Miss Frederici paid complete attention to Cody, ignoring her other beau at the table. An enfuriated Louis Reiber made an early exit to Will’s obvious delight. Cody and Louisa barely noticed his departure.
“So, Mr. Cody, what do your friends call you? Willie?” Louisa asked as they walked out the door to the front porch.
Leading her to the porch swing and helping her sit down before answering, Cody said, “No. Mostly Cody, sometimes Billy. Only my mother ever called me Willie.”
“Then I shall call you Willie,” she said decisively.
“And what exactly should I call you, Miss Frederici? You wouldn’t happen to go by Lou? Or Lulabelle?”
“Most certainly not,” she said repressively, before letting a hint of a grin show. “You may call me Louisa. I’m too old for nicknames now.”
“Well, now that that’s settled, I’ve got a much more important question for you, Louisa,” Cody said. “When can I see you again?”
“Well, I, well, I’m not sure,” she began, hemming and hawing.
“How about tomorrow night?” he pressed.
After a moment’s thought she said, “I’m sorry but I already have a prior engagement tomorrow night.”
“Then the night after? I shan’t ask again,” he warned.
“That would be fine,” she smiled.
“I can’t wait,” he said, bending to kiss the back of her hand once more. “Until we meet again, my sweet.”
With that, Buffalo Bill Cody sauntered down the path to the boardwalk.
“She may not be Lou,” he said under his breath to himself. “But I do believe Louisa is the one for me.”
“Here, Buck, you watch Shines Brightly for me,” Standing Woman said. “I’m going out to look for spring greens with some of the other women.”
Buck shrugged as he took his 10 month old son in his arms. He watched as Standing Woman walked away. She’d come to a certain acceptance of his relationship with Dawn Star. But she continually found little ways to make him pay. Ways he accepted without complaint.
Moments later, a heavily pregnant Dawn Star walked up and set a toddling Sleeps A Lot on a blanket next to Buck. Little Shining Star, about five years old by now, followed her mother and sat down next to her brother.
“Watch the kids for me, will you Buck?” Dawn Star asked. “I’m going over to help Red Bear’s wives cure some hides and I don’t want the kids near that mess.”
Buck just nodded and watched his second wife waddle away. Then he turned his attention to his three children who all stared right back at him.
“So, what do I do now, hunh?”
“Mommy said you have to feed us,” Shining Star piped up.
“Feed you?” Buck thought aloud. “What do I know how to make that you could eat?”
The kids just gazed at him, waiting for him to decide.
“Porridge. I’ll make porridge. I’m sure Mama Standing Woman has some oats or cornmeal around here somewhere.”
Setting Shines Brightly down next to his elder brother on the blanket, Buck moved into the tipi behind him and began searching through the parfleches that contained Standing Woman’s food supplies.
“Come on, there’s got to be some in here somewhere,” he muttered to himself.
Suddenly he heard one of the babies crying. Dropping the parfleche he’d had in his hands he turned and sprinted out the tipi door to see what was wrong. He found Sleeps A Lot holding a handful of Shines Brightly’s hair, trying to put it in his mouth and chew.
“Now, don’t do that,” Buck said gently, starting to disentangle the younger boy’s hand from his older brother’s hair. “Just be patient and Daddy’ll get you something much tastier to chew on, I promise.”
Once he had the two boys separated and settled on two separate blankets this time, each with their own toys, he looked around for Shining Star. She was nowhere to be seen.
“Now where did your sister get to,” he wondered aloud.
Standing up, he began to search the area around the tipis for the girl. A few minutes later, he found her happily making mud pies in the middle of the horse corral.
“Shining Star, get out of there this minute,” he demanded, exasperated. “Do you know what that mud is made of? It hasn’t rained in over a week!”
Holding up a handful of the wet, black earth, Shining Star beamed at him.
“Daddy eat my porridge?” she asked.
Moving in to scoop her up in his arms, Buck shuddered. “Uh, no thanks, honey. Daddy’s not hungry.”
“I’m hungry. Want porridge.”
Buck heaved a put upon sigh.
That evening Standing Woman and Dawn Star strolled slowly back into camp, chattering about the events of the day. Both stopped in their tracks as they took in the mess Buck had left the camp in. Curled up in the middle of the mess lay Buck with the three children, fast asleep. With oatmeal in all their hair.
The next morning they let Buck sleep in while they cleaned up camp, laughing together at the mess he’d made. That’s how Red Bear found them, when he came looking for Buck.
“He’s still sleeping,” Standing Woman said. “I’ll go wake him up.”
A few minutes later, Buck emerged from her tipi still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “What’s going on Red Bear?”
“Cannot a man simply come to visit his brother?” Red Bear asked ingenuously.
“Not you, not in this way, brother,” Buck said repressively.
“You know me too well.”
“We have received word the Pony Soldiers wish to talk about a new treaty with us,” Red Bear began.
“And you want me to act as interpreter?” Buck guessed.
“No, my brother. Or at least not just that. Several of the other chiefs have sent messages to me asking if you would act as chief negotiator.”
It took Buck a moment to come up with a response he was so shocked. “What? Why?”
“You have obviously been greatly honored by the Earth Creator,” Red Bear began. “And, you understand the Pony Soldiers in a way none of the rest of us can.”
“And what if the terms I find acceptable the rest of you do not?” Buck asked.
“Those of us who are going to the negotiations have agreed to be guided by your knowledge and wisdom.”
“This is a huge honor,” Buck said. “Not to mention a lot of responsibility.”
“Which is why the Earth Creator has asked so much of you already in your young life. So you would be ready when your time came.”
“Alright, I’ll do it,” Buck said after a moment’s thought. “When do we leave?”
“We’ll take the whole band,” Red Bear said. “We leave first thing tomorrow morning.”
As usual it took the settled camp less than an hour the next morning to pack up and move out. It took longer, several days, to reach the spot along Medicine Lodge Creek near Fort Larned designated for the treaty talks.
Upon their arrival, even before his wives had begun setting up their tipis, Buck rode on into Fort Larned itself. Wearing the shirt, vest, trousers and boots he’d worn in his Pony Express days, Buck entered the trading post and took a seat near the door. It didn’t take long for him to hear what he’d come for.
“Looks like the War’ll be over any day now,” one man said to his companion.
“Yup,” said the second man. “General Sherman’s burned most of Georgia and is turning his sight on the Carolinas.”
“I heard Ol’ Jeff Davis is ready to sit down and talk peace with Lincoln hisself.”
“Only if Lincoln’ll agree the South was an independent country. Ain’t never gonna happen.”
The two continued to chatter as they left the building, but Buck had heard what he wanted to know. The war was almost over, which meant this treaty was more important than he’d thought.
“I tell you Red Bear, we’ve got to get the best terms we can for our people,” Buck said that night around the dinner fire. “Once the white man’s war in the east is over, the Pony Soldiers will turn their attention back to us. And they’ll be a lot less willing to make a deal once they’ve got their full strength back!”
“We can beat them,” Red Bear said confidently. “We always have before.”
“You don’t understand Red Bear. There’s too many of them. It’s the same reason the South is losing their Civil War. They can’t match the number of warriors the Pony Soldiers can put up. For every one you kill, another three will come in their place. If you want to survive as a people, you must make peace now.”
“Even if it means giving up our land and traditions?” Red Bear asked.
“Even that,” Buck said. “We’re talking about the survival of our people. To survive, they must learn to live in the white man’s world. And they must do it now.”
Kid and Lou
Lou walked out into the cool March morning, glad that the frigid temperatures of winter had begun to abate. Thanks to team work and careful planning fully 98% of her little band of survivors had made it through the winter, a winter that had killed off nearly 25% of the overall camp population.
“Looks like a beautiful day,” Kid said walking up beside her.
“Yep, sure does,” Lou said. “Would be a great day for a ride.”
Alfred said nothing as he joined them in line for morning roll call. He’d gotten quieter and quieter as the winter had rolled on, until now he barely spoke at all.
“Wonder if there’ll be anythin’ for breakfast,” Kid said idly.
“If there’s anything at all, I can guarantee it won’t be enough,” Lou said somberly. “We need to step up our attempts at getting volunteer jobs if we’re going to have enough food.”
“Quiet!” snapped one of the guards nearby.
Usually roll call lasted a couple of hours and left everyone freezing. This morning, for some reason, it lasted until past noon. Several men had fainted from standing out in the chilled spring morning air for so long in their already weakened condition. By the time the guards released the prisoners to return to the barracks, Lou was shivering uncontrollably.
“Lou, you need to get back in bed,” Kid said worriedly.
“No, I need to go see about a volunteer job,” she persisted.
“Lou, don’t be stupid,” Alfred chimed in. “If you keep pushing yourself like this, you’re gonna get really sick and ain’t a one o’ us could handle losin’ ya.”
“Now get back in bed,” Kid insisted, pushing her toward the bunk the three of them shared.
Despite their precautions, she was worse the next morning.
“Lou, you’ve got a fever,” Kid said. “Let me take you to the hospital.”
“No way, Kid,” she said desperately. “You know what’ll happen. Same as with Tiny. We cain’t let ‘em find out.”
Seeing that she was becoming agitated, Kid placated her. “Alright, Lou. Alright.”
It took both him and Alfred to get her out to roll call the next morning and hold her upright throughout the wait. Afterward, Kid picked her up in his arms and simply carried her back to the barracks, not caring what anyone else said.
He spent the day at her side, using his drinking water to sponge off her face and neck when she was hot and lying on the bunk next to her to warm her up when she got the chills. Throughout the day the other members of the little band of survivors Lou had put together and guided through the winter came up with reasons to pass by her bunk and check on her.
“How’s he doing?”
“No better, no worse.”
“We’re prayin’ for him.”
That night, Alfred and Kid again tried to convince Lou to go to the hospital.
“Lou, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. We don’t have any medicines and we’re running out of water,” Kid reasoned. “Please, let me take you to the hospital.”
“No, Kid. You promised, no riding on without me,” Lou was adamant. “You gotta promise now, you won’t let me be taken to the hospital.”
“I can’t promise that, Lou. Please, don’t ask me to.”
“You’ve got to, Kid,” she nearly wept. “Don’t tell me all this has been for nothin’! Please, promise me.”
Eventually, her tears and pleading wore him down and he promised. But his glance at Alfred as he was saying the words made it clear to the other man that if the time came, he’d break that promise to save her life.
Kid spent the next week battling the fever trying to steal his wife from him. During that time, the others in their band began to look to him for direction. Without realizing it, he stepped into the leadership role Lou’s illness had left vacant.
“Kid, the sewers are overflowing again. What should we do?”
“Ask the guards if you can dig a new latrine, further away from the current one. And downhill. I doubt they’ll object to you makin’ this place less smelly.”
“Kid, my bunkmates are keeping me awake at night with their snoring. What should I do?”
“Well, if kicking ‘em don’t work, try stuffing some cotton in your ears.”
This meant that as word of the latest Confederate defeats began to trickle into Camp Douglas Kid was one of the first to be alerted.
“Kid, Richmond’s fallen! Jeff Davis and the rest of the government fled in the middle of the night.”
“Kid, General Lee’s surrounded at some place called Appomatox. You ever heard of that?”
“Kid, General Lee surrendered. Unconditionally. The war’s over!”
Even that barely got a reaction from the Kid, as he continued to care for his sick wife. The next morning, they got the official word during roll call.
“Gentleman,” the camp commandant began, “most likely by now you’ve heard the rumors. Lee has surrendered unconditionally. The War is over.”
There were no cheers from this group of ragged men as they tried to digest what they were hearing. Tried to understand how it had happened. How their glorious Cause had fallen so far, so fast.
The commandant continued. “In the next few days, we’ll begin to release you lot. Anyone under the rank of colonel who agrees to swear the Oath of Allegiance will be provided with transportation home. All others will have to make their own way. This camp will close its doors by the end of the month. That is all. Please return to your barracks and await further orders.”
In his eagerness to get the latest news from the front, Teaspoon had taken to awaiting the stagecoach’s arrival every week. Before the passengers even got off, the driver handed down the latest shipment of newspapers to the Marshal.
The headlines on the last shipment had been all about how Richmond had fallen and the Federal Army had Lee surrounded. Teaspoon knew this could mean the end of hostilities in just a matter of days. So, today he paced up and down the boardwalk awaiting the stage.
“It’s late,” he muttered.
“No, you’re just impatient, Sugarlips,” Polly said from where she sat on a nearby bench. “Why don’t you come sit next to me and enjoy the spring sunshine?”
“Can’t sit still,” he said. “Gotta know if my boys are comin’ home soon.”
“Well, all your pacin’ ain’t gonna….”
“Stage’s comin’!” the shout came from up the street. Teaspoon suddenly calmed down and stood straighter.
“Whoa! Whoa, there!” the stagecoach driver said, pulling the horses to a halt in front of the hotel. “Rock Creek. Last stop for the night. Everyone off.”
“Well, you got my papers?” Teaspoon demanded.
“Shore ‘nuff do,” the driver said with a grin. “But I can tell ya what ever last one o’ ‘em says.”
“War’s over! Lee surrendered at Appomatox.”
A cheer went up from the crowd that had gathered around Teaspoon to hear the latest news. Soon they had the papers and were passing them around, reading articles out loud to each other, celebrating the end of outright hostilities.
Teaspoon no longer needed the newspapers. He knew what he needed to know. His boys would be headed home soon. They needed to get ready. Turning to Polly, he said, “I’ve been thinkin’. Maybe we ought to expand the house a bit. We could build on and connect it to the ol’ bunkhouse. Make it one big ranch house. That ought to have enough room for all our boys, don’t ya think?”
“I agree, Sugarlips,” Polly said, taking his arm and walking with him back toward the old stationhouse they were sharing with Rachel and Janusz. “Those boys deserve somethin’ better than to come home to a hard bunk. We’ll set it up so’s each one has their own room.”
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