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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| January 7, 2019 Views: 193|
Chapter 6 of the book Gun For Hire
Gonna be a fightin'.
by Catherin Elizabet Belle
Leaning against a pinon Jeb's voice is low. "The ranch was doing well after the war with Mexico. Then Texas voted in February '61 to secede from the Union." Staring into the darkness he listens to the lonesome wail of a coyote high on the ridge; an eerie howl against the glow of the pale orb. "I heerd tell about a regiment of Texas Cavalry mustering in Fort Bend County to aid the confederacy. Regiments were being raised all across Texas I couldn't wait to join up. Pa's dead set agin it said I had chores on the ranch. One night late while everyone was abed I snuck out. Leading my saddled horse into the timber away from the bunkhouse where the men were sleeping, I lit out for Houston where Terry was gathering a cavalry unit."
Silence ravishes the night as Cal lay waiting for Jeb to continue. Just when he thought he'd say no more.
Me and that old mustang rode during the day camping at dusk. Siting by a small fire back in a grove of mesquite chewing on jerky, I brewed a small pot of coffee. I's sitting in the shadows when I heerd a rider moving close. Un-holstering my six shooter, I wait.
"Hello in the camp."
Listening for other horses Jeb says. "Ride in." As the horse and rider ride into the glow of the campfire he continues, "Howdy step down and sit a spell." Tossing the rider a tin cup, "Help yourself to the coffee."
As he steps to the ground he drops the reins of his mount. "Thanks partner, Names Jess."
Looking at the hombre the thought crosses his mind. Why he's just a young sprout no older than me. "Whar you headed Jess?"
As he helps hisself to the coffee he says, "I didn't catch your name."
"The name pa and ma give me is Jebidiah but call me Jeb. Most folks do" Listening for other riders hearing nary one. "You live around here?"
"Naw Jeb I'm hail from over Pecos way. I heerd they's a mustering-men to fight for the confederacy. A guy by the name of Terry is gathering men at Houston. I figure to join up." Taking a sip of coffee, "What about you."
Grinning like a braying ass. "Well, I's a aimin' to join up, same as you." Adding another log to the fire he says, "Reckon we could ride together if'n you'r a mind to."
"Jeb, I'd like that a lot, yes I would."
Putting his cup in his pack he says, "Jess, I reckon daylight will come early. I'm beddin' down."
In the shadows of the mesquite grove Jeb watches as Jess moves to the other side out of the glare of the fire. Unsaddling his mount and staking him near grass he uses his saddle for a pillow.
Snores emanating from Jess echo through the light breeze rustling the leaves. Jeb hears the owl's wings flap as he soars through the night in search of prey. The stars twinkle bright as the moon rises above the horizon casting a pale light over the land. With the natural sounds of the night, Jeb drifts to sleep.
We hit the trail as dawn turns the ebony shades of night to gray. Tweren't long 'til the sky turned pale from the light of the rising sun. Jess had the look of a sodbuster. Don't make no nary a mind long as he aint giving me no trouble. Stopping as the sun is high overhead at a small crick, we rest the animals filling our canteens. Off in the soft cedar I spied a deer, drew my rifle, aim and fired. "Well Jess we'll have fresh meat tonight."
We spend the time near the crick preparing it. He was a fair hand with gutting and cleaning. As dusk creeps across the prairie we built a fire back off the water roasting a big chunk of that varmint. "Jeb I bet you can smell this here venison off a ways."
"Yup, load your pistol. We might be gettin' visitors" With that I reloaded my rifle checking my pistol. Edging back into the shadows I listen to the night. At midnight we laid the rest out to cool. With a full gullet we dozed. Long bout midnight I heerd riders, and sigh when they keep drifting. Maybe they didn't see the gleam of the embers. Not much bothered Jess; that told me he weren't trail wise; or he'd be a sleepin' with one eye open.
Most days we rode from sunup to sundown. We heerd riders off in the distance, moving east like us'n. I calculated we were three or four days from Houston. Jess kept inching ahead. As we drew closer, there were more riders heading to join up. A rider joined us, but quickly put spurs to his mount taking off at a gallop.
Riding into Houston I never see'd so many people in one place, it twere a teeming with ranchers and such from all o'er Texas; a looking to join up with Terry. Somewhere in the crowd of mares and people Jess and I got separated.
Wow! All these folks, meandering through the crowd of men I stopped at the livery. An old man with a gray beard brown with tobacco stains was sitting on a bale of hay, "Howdy Mister. Can you tell me where I might find Mr. Terry?"
Eyeballing the young'un he spits tobacco wiping his chin with the back of his hand. "How old are you Sonny? What you want Terry for?"
Jeb bristles. "I come to join up." Picking up the rein lying across the saddle he turns to leave when the old man cackles. "You and a thousand others, what makes you think he'll want a runt like you?"
"Old timer, the confederacy needs men, they need Texas men. I come to join up." Jeb stares at the old man his eyes black steel. Dust drifts through the air as the two leer at each other.
Standing in front of the bale he was a sitting on. "Son, I reckon you're hell bent on fightin' in this here war. You'll find Terry at the old capitol building." Shaking his head his beard more brown than gray he returns to his perch on the bale of hay. Lighting his pipe he watches the sprout ride into the crowd.
It didn't take me long to find the place where you sign on. When I got to the table where that fellow was taking our names he said, "Howdy Son, You here with your pa?"
Tweren't too happy he asked about Pa, I's growed. In a voice deep as I could make it. "Sir, I come to sign up in this here cavalry. Where do I sign?" That feller just shook his head turning the paper around.
When he done that I took that thar quill and like thousands of others I signed er. There were so many people crowding in that Houston town, I moved toward the edge of the crowd sorta looking for Jess. But if he were thar I shor didn't see him.
It tweren't no time till we were high tailing it east; a few of us on horseback others riding the train. Two three days later we reach Beaumont where all the horses are sent back to Houston; saddles, tack, and such loaded on carts. It was a sorry thing to leave that thar mustang I raised from a colt. But they promise us horses when we get to where we's a goin'. And I's gonna be fightin' for the confederacy! I shore do like that.
Going down the Neches to Sabine lake we veered to Nibblet's Bluff across the Sabine in Louisiana. Boy, t'was it a hot mesquite infested country; I never see'd so much water. Day after day rain poured from the heavens everything was sopping wet. I never see'd so much sickness afore that thar march was over; those too sick to walk were load on carts and wagons; t'was a sorry sight.
Never cottoned to walking; I'll be danged if we didn't marched plum to New Iberia water dripping off sweat soaked clothes. Don't reckon I knowed what hot was living in Burned Valley. Didn't make no friends to speak of we were always on the march, just too damn tired to do more than drop when we stopped for the day.
Living out on the ranch all my life where there weren't too many people passing out our way. Being more at home on the range I guess I stayed to myself. There's a few men my age but they scattered among the others. Yes sireee we are a real gaggle.
We were sitting around the campfire one evening when the old timers started in on me. "Boy, how long you been off the teat."
Another with a long scraggle of a beard chimed in. "Hell boy you ain't dry behind the ears yet."
I sat there a grinning at their teasing. Tweren't nothing I hadn't heerd afore. As the night wore on the camp noise died out and the sounds of the nocturnal animals echo through the muggy air. Being around a lotta folks is unsettling, the only visitors back on the ranch were Apache or mescans; most riding off in the distance.
There's a lot of complaining about having to walk. "We didn't sign on for this here being a foot." The officers kept saying. "You getting' horses, good ones." Can't say I blame um I weren't too happy about walking either. Being raised up on a horse I spent most days and lots a nights in the saddle---- One ranger walkin' a few rows behind spoke loud and not too friendly. "Hell! A man ain't nothing without his cayuse," T'was the way of it!
At New Iberia we loaded on boats; sweat soaked bodies crammed into that boat with lots guys hanging over the edge seasick, t'was a sorry sight.
One afternoon late I was standing by the rail looking out across the water when I heerd this voice behind me. "Howdy, mind if I join you?"
I look to see who was asking. "Nope, reckon not." Sticking out my hand, "Names Jeb."
The man in buckskins with red hair stickin' out from under a coonskin cap stands bowlegged at the rail. With a big old grin on his whiskered face he takes Jeb's hand. "Howdy! Bear's the name. Where you hail from?"
"Over in Fort Bend near Burned Valley. My folks have a spread been there since the forties. Where do you call home?"
"Don't call no place home. Grew up in the hills of Tennessee farming, one day I jist wander away and ain't been back." He stands puffing on an old corncob pipe gazing out across the water. "Son, tain't none of my business, but why'd your folks letcha join up?"
A grin crosses Jeb's face not reaching his eyes. "Pa was agin it. So, late one night I lit out, me and my old buckskin." Jeb turns back to looking at the churning water as the boat moves toward New Orleans.
We were a bunch of rag tag Texicans; we were between New Iberia and New Orleans when we kept hearing us being called "Texas Rangers"; never knowed how it come to be. We liked it; yup, we liked it jist fine. On reaching port it surprised Terry and the regiment that a certain esteem accompanied the name. We like it, but now we had to live up to it.
Bear took me under his wing. "Sonny, you stick with me, we'll fit then thar blue bellies. Old Bear sure could drink corn liquor, but ever time I thought to get a drink he took it right out of my hand downing it in one gulp hisself. Then smiling he says, "Give sonny here a sarsaparilla." Ever time he did that the whole regiment would hurrah. It was right about then I called him Pap.
T'was early October we took the rails to Nashville. Along the early route we passed cypress with moss hanging from the limbs, but as we moved north there were oak, pine, and beech all along the tracks. The air-cooled further north we traveled.
Arriving at Nashville we camped at what the citizenry call fair grounds. Didn't look like much, land cleared, not much else. "Pap, you reckon what makes us so special?"
Pap puffed on his old pipe sitting up wind from the campfire, hunkered down to keep warm. "Sonny, I reckon it's cause we's Texas Rangers." His voice carries a sense of pride. Watching the fireflies flitter through the darkness I sit pondering his words.
Reaching over I place another log on the smoldering embers. "I reckon as how you're right, Pap."
Over the next ten days a few members of the regiment borrowed horses entertaining the Nashville ladies with their riding skills. One blustery day near the corral two rangers were showing off; riding hell bent for leather down the street charging each other guns drawn. Dust swirled around the riders settling across the bystanders.
Just as the ranger on the roan drew toward the corner where the bank stood, a young boy in short pants darted into the street. The crowd paralyzed with fear gasp as the horse and rider barrel down on the boy. Sheb approaching from across the street swerves between the riders grabs the boy by the seat of his pants hauling him up in the saddle. Twisting his mount away as a horse at the hitching rail bucked hoofs pounding the dirt where the boy had stood.
The crowd roared with elation, guns blasted into the air at the heroics of Sheb. When he turned back to set the boy on the boardwalk the boy's ma grabbed that young'un. "Thank you! Thank you!" Tears streaming down her face, she walked away clasping the lad to her bosom. The lad couldn't a been more'n two three year old.
Fellow rangers slapping Sheb on the back saying, "Come on I'm buying." Charging into the Saloon yelling; "Set em up barkeep." The ranger plopped down money on the bar as the bartender poured drinks for everyone. When he got to me, Pap took the glass downed it grinning. "Give Sonny here a sarsaparilla."
"Come on Pap, I'm old enough."
"You ain't growed; I bet you ain't more fourteen year old." Pap downed his whiskey stood waiting for Jeb to finish his sarsaparilla. "Let's vamoose, things apt to get a little rowdy."
The old mountain man and the young'un step out into the dusk just as the golden orb decorated the western horizon in reds and gold. Moseying on back to the camp sitting by the campfire Pap regaled me with stories as a mountain man up in the Rockies.
During our stay, we experience our first death after an outbreak of measles. Many of the men tired of waitin' defied orders leaving camp drinking and creating disorder in the town. I might been one of um, except Bear kept me clear of such goin's on. I think he woulda took me by the scuff of the neck and walloped me if'n I give him any sass. When the town sheriff tried to quell the melee pistol fire erupted. The men weren't too well discipline, restless and expectin' to be fightin'. They came to fight and tweren't no fighting. We were just a sittin' and a sittin'.
Commander Johnston moving the regiment from the town of Nashville orders us to Bowling Green, Kantuck. We didn't much more and get setup we were on the moved again to Columbus a few miles west. Here we were under General Albert Sidney Johnston's command. "Well, Pap whatcha think about us going to Kantuck?"
"That's where they said we get mounts, sonny. Guess its okay by me."
Terry's orders had him setting up camp fifteen miles from the headquarters in Oakland. It's here that we became a regiment for real. Up to this time we were just a gaggle of men dead set a fightin'. The officers are elected by the men; under Colonel Terry we are designated the 8th Texas Cavalry. "Are we really the 8th Texas Cavalry, Pap?"
Wiping tobacco off his chin he ran his hand downs his pants. "Ah, sonny we's Texas Rangers. Don't matter what they call us does it."
|The book continues with The Ravages of War. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.|
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