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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| January 25, 2019 Views: 134|
Chapter 11 of the book Gun For Hire
Helping a young boy holds up Jeb's journey
by Catherin Elizabet Belle
Staying in the pines, I stayed away from other rebs and yanks roaming the countryside. The two skirmishes encountered back in 'bama make me edgy meetin' up with others. Caleb and I had strayed away from others through Missip' and Louisian. I had no money t'werent no point in entering a town. I had all the fightin' I wanted.
The days and nights ran together I jist kept traveling west; must uh been near the Texas border when I rode upon a cabin back in the piney hills. I was about to ride on when I spied this here young'un running across the way with a blue belly right on his tail a yelling, "Maw! Maw! Pulling my pistol, I ride into the clearing pointing it at the yank. This woman in a calico dress holding a shotgun steps outside taking a bead on that thar yank. She fired hitting the ground throwin' dirt on that fella as the boy veered toward me.
Touching spurs to my old horse, I rode between the boy and the yank pointing my pistol at him.
He turned on me, "I'll kill you Reb."
As he moved to draw my old shooter barked. He fell from the saddle as the boy reached his Maw. Stepping off from my horse with pistol still in my hand I walked over to where that hombre lay. My shot hit him right between the eyes.
The woman still holding the shotgun walks in my direction asks, "Is he dead?" With a sigh of relief, she lowers the gun. "Who are you, Reb? Whatcha doing in these here parts?"
Holstering the shooter and tipping my rebel cap I reply, "Names Jeb Smith, Ma'am. I'm headed down Texas way."
Being cautious she ask, "You fit in the war, what outfit?"
Grinning with pride, I reply, "Ma'am I was with Terry's Texas Rangers." I walk back to my horse preparing to mount.
"Well, Jeb bet you could use a good meal." She moves toward the run-down cabin turning as she reaches the porch. "Come on son, taint much but yo're welcome to what we have."
Taking the boy by the shoulder and shoving him toward the door, "What was you doing, boy?"
The young'un looks up at his ma shrugs off her hand entering the cabin ahead of her. As I step up on the porch, I hear him say, "Ma I snared a rabbit and that blue belly stole it from me. I threw a rock hitting him in the head. He grabbed his horse and set chase. Standing taller with manly pride, "But I ran where he couldn't go a horseback but when I broke out of the trees, he set that horse one me."
I rapped on the door and heard her say, "Get yor self in here." When I step into the small cabin, I see the furnishings are sparse. "Ma am, where's your man?"
The silence in the cabin was deafening. The woman faces the fireplace and I watch her shoulders sag. She says not a word but stirs the pot on the hearth.
The boy looks at me and as our eyes meet, I see sadness, "Pa's dead, kilt in the war. He was a Johnny Reb like you, mister."
With the death and misery the past five years, I'm at a loss what to say to the family. Finally, "I'm right sorry son. Ma'am can I help with the chores" I can't pay for the meal, but I'll work."
She turned from the hearth, "Mister you ain't nothin' but a boy. Set yorself down."
"Ma'am, where I can wash up?"
"Jake, show Mr. Smith to the lean-to."
"This a way mister." Following I notice there's little wood in the woodpile and even less to cut. "Mister, you gonna stay awhile"
Thinking about what he asks and looking at all the work the place could use, "Don't know sonny, I'm a headin' back to my folks place down Southwest Texas way."
Returning to the cabin the woman has bowls of food set on the table showing me where I should sit. Removing my hat, I take the chair she says. Sitting herself at the end she says, "Well, I declare I'm forgettin' my manners Mr. Smith. I'm Callie Horton; this here's my son Jacob. Set to while the food is hot.
It was hot mush with a few berries and tidbits of what could been a small rodent. In times like these you jist don't' ask. Takin' a spoon full I say, "Ma'am it's real tasty...it's been a while since I had home cooked vittles." And it shor was the truth.
Jacob finds his voice chattering through the meal despite his Ma telling him, "Let the man eat in peace." As we finished the mush, Ms. Horton pours cups of coffee. "Mr. Smith, whatcha do before the war?"
"Mr. Smith the name is Callie, Ms. Horton sounds so uppity."
With a grin more childish than one of a Johnny Reb, "Fair enough, if you make it Jeb." Pausing as she nods her head I continue. "My folks own a ranch down near the Mexican border. It's been a few months since the war ended. Our commander said we could jist leave or wait for the official release by the yanks the next day. A bunch of us Rangers jist lit out. Them yanks be a takin our guns and we figured we be needin' them. Met up with a Reb went by Caleb, an old mountain man headed for the Rockies. We parted company a way back."
Taking a sip of coffee, Jacob asks, Di'ja see yanks travelin'"
"Yup, Jacob, and rebs too. Them yanks was still fightin' the war. Caleb and I ran for our lives twice. We came up on rebs that had gone plain bad. After that we jist stayed off the main roads riding in the trees."
Standing, "Sorry, ma'am I didn't mean to get carried away. I ain't talked so much since ever."
Clearing the table, she goes to a chest in the corner. Pulling out a blanket she passes it over, "Jeb you can bed down in the barn. Nights have a chill."
Taking the blanket, "Thank you ma'am; I'm awful tired, I'll bed down now." Closing the door behind me I walk out to the barn, ramshackle like the cabin and fences around the place.
Walking to where that yank lay, I take his feet and drag him into the brush. The buryin' can wait till morning. Picking up the blanket I'd dropped I settle down in the barn.
Standing in the barn door watching the sun's rays wash away the night turning to gray silhouetting the trees against a pale sky. Turning back into the shadowy interior I search for a shovel to bury that yank lying out thar in the brush. Picking my way through the myriad stuff I find a shovel near the back wall scattering field mice scrounging for feed.
Stepping into the early dawn the woman hails me from the porch, "Jeb vittles 'bout ready. Come on in set yor'self."
Stopping in a few feet from the porch, "Morning Ma am, I got burin' to do." As I move on toward the woods she calls out.
"It can wait til you've et. Now get on in here." With that she turns walking back into the cabin as the boy strides by a comin' from the outhouse fastening his overalls.
Grinning like a possum he says, "Come on, Maw aint' no good when I tarry. She gets right huffy."
Standing the shovel by the front steps I follow that young'un indoors. Callie is jist sittin' out bowls of mush and warm bread, we didn't do no palavering jist chowed down. Wiping my bowl clean of them vittles I says, "Ma am, that was real tasty. I'll be seeing to the buryin' of that fella."
Found a spot away from the cabin where I dig a sizeable grave. He might a been a yank still fightin' the war, but he deserves a proper burial. Well, least ways the best I can do. Looked for somethin' to tell me who he was, but tweren't nothin' to say. Glancing up through the trees I see the sun is purty high as I hear footsteps coming this a way. I step back in the shadow of a big pine and wait gun drawn. Tweren't long a for Jacob comes through the brush. "Watcha doing boy?"
"Thrusting a canteen toward me he says, "Maw said you's to have water." He stands poking one bare toe in the loose soil where I had dug the grave, trying to get the courage to speak.
"Thanks Jacob!' Taking a long swig, "Shor tastes good son. Thank your Maw for me." I hand the canteen back to the boy and continue to fill the grave. After dumping the last spade full on the mound and packing it down, I lean on the handle gazing at nothin'. Nothin' but death and destruction the last few year. As I return the spade to the barn, I notice the boy's chopping wood. He is a little shaver to be doin' such a big chore. "Jacob, whatcha say I help out." I pick up the axe, "I'll chop, and you stack." With the sun descending on the western horizon we had a sizeable pile of wood out back of the cabin. Shaking my head and with a beaming grin on my face; It shor feels good doing somethin' I use to have a set-to with Maw and Paw 'cause who likes to chop and stack wood.
As the last log is stacked I heerd Callie call from the porch, "Fella's, vittles is on." I look up and see her standing thar with her apron wrapped around her shoulders. Tweren't shor if she twere cold or jist habit. I recollect Maw standing the same way.
The dishes are cleared from the table and Jacob has gone to bed. I sit on the porch staring into the darkness listening to the breeze rustle through the trees and the hoot of the owl as he searches for rodents on the forest floor.
Callie steps outside her arms wrapped around her to ward off the chill as she moves to the edge of the porch. "Jeb, you shor saved my boy; and for that I'm beholden' to you."
The lamp casting radiance around her shadowy silhouette gives an angelic glow to her slumped shoulders. In a whisper I ask, "Callie, you have folks where you can go?"
Gazing into the depth of the ebony night she is quiet, unmoving I doubt she will reply. With her voice full of sorrow, she says, "Folks died in an Indian raid a few years back, two babies buried out by that old Hickory, my man kilt in the war." With her hand she wipes her hair off her face, "Jeb, reckon me and the boy'll stay here on the land." She pauses bowing her head then continues, "If you mightin' see your way to stay I could use your help son. I can't pay you."
It tweren't nothin' I woulda expected to heer from her. I stand and walk out a way near the woods listening to the silence pondering her words. I think of the woman and boy alone and the yank that stole the boy's rabbit and then chased him; the same yank threatened to kill me. I walk back to her at the edge of the porch I say, "Callie, I reckon I'll stay." I went to the barn where I lay awake into the night. It is near dawn when I doze listening to the breeze rustling the leaves of the surrounding trees.
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