I hate this stupid war, I hate Damyankees, and, most of all, I hate stupid Confederate officers who issue stupid orders. Sometimes I wonder how a smart Texas boy like me could have let himself get hornswaggled into joining the cavalry of the sovereign state of Texas in the first place. Then, on top of that, I let myself get appointed to the rank of sergeant. Now, I tell you, in case you wondered, that ain't smart by any stretch of the imagination.
The only good thing to come out of this fiasco (yes, I went to school, so I know fancy words like that) was that I got issued one of the LaMat pistols. It has a cylinder with nine chambers in .42 caliber. The slickest part, though, is that it has an 18-gauge shotgun slung below the barrel. I usually load mine with six size #00 buckshot, and it makes a bodacious bang when it goes off and is absolutely deadly up to about 15 feet. All I have to do is flip a lever on the hammer and I can go from pistol to shotgun to pistol in about two seconds, flat.
Actually, I've got two of those wonderful pistols and I wouldn't swap them for any other gun. I picked up the second gun from the ground when another trooper in my squad was killed. I sure didn't want a Damyankee to have it. I wear both guns in shoulder holsters, and let me tell you, that is a slick arrangement. Of course, being a Texan, I'd feel naked without my bowie knife, so people tell me I look like a Mexican desperado when I am fully armed, which is most of the time.
Well, back to business. The stupid order I mentioned was this mission. I'm supposed to deliver some dispatches to Quantrill in Missouri. Now, I have no idea where Quantrill might be, nor if he is even still in Missouri. I don't hold much with the kind of war he fights, but the officers want to use him, so I guess I don't have much say in the matter.
I was told to head to Sedalia and start my search from there. The big problem is that I have to dodge Union soldiers and Jayhawkers while I hunt. Shit, I didn't join the Army to be a mailman, but my grandpa always insisted that I had to finish any job I started, and his word was law, so I developed the habit early, and my pa, what little I saw of him, felt the same way. Anyway, here I am on my way to Missouri.
I crossed over into Arkansas at a ford near Texarkanna. Hell, I'm from the plains country, so woods look like woods to me, so the only way I knew I was in Arkansas was because I crossed the Red River. I do have a good sense of direction, though, so I knew when I was headed in the right way. I guess this is pretty country, though, if you like lots of trees.
I had hardly got into Arkansas when some galoot took a shot at me. Now, I'm pretty big, 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing in at 187 pounds, but I have learned to scrunch pretty small when I'm being shot at, so I did that and took off as fast as my horse could carry me through the trees. That trail wasn't much, but my horse treated it like the best turnpike it ever saw; he didn't like being shot at, either. I never did find out who was shooting at me, I was just grateful to get away. He was shooting a Mississippi Rifle from the sound, and those things are a little slow to reload, so I had enough time to escape, and that was enough to satisfy me.
I spent the night in hotel in a little town, but I can't remember the name of it. I had an early breakfast and headed north. It wasn't long before I met up with a patrol of Arkansas cavalry, so I showed them my orders. They let me through with no trouble and I was able to make about 35 miles that first day. I ran into some rough country pretty soon though, so it took me six days to get to Ft. Smith. I looked up the local command center and reported in. They agreed with me that I was operating under crazy orders, but we all shrugged and let it be.
I spent two days in Ft. Smith letting my horse catch his breath before I headed north again. The country I soon ran into was rough enough that the trail really wandered about, so it took me another week to reach Missouri. Around here, I couldn't see that there was enough difference between Arkansas and Missouri to amount to a hill of beans, but the local people seemed to care.
I headed northeast and it took me nearly five days to reach Springfield. Of course, the war may had had something to do with it, but these people didn't appear to take much pride in their roads. I swear that I felt like I spent as much time traveling sideways as I did traveling forward.
When I reported in at Springfield, the First Sergeant gave me a good piece of advice. He said that I looked too much like a Confederate soldier to be safe on the roads by myself. He recommended that I get some civilian clothes and forget about being a soldier until I returned to Texas. I thought about what he said and realized that he must know what he was talking about. I spent a couple of hours the next morning getting a civilian outfit so I wouldn't be so conspicuous. I did refuse to give up my LaMats, though.
I set out from Springfield toward Sedalia, and I was feeling kind of strange, since that was the first time in two years that I wasn't wearing my army-issue hat. The rest of the outfit wasn't that much different. That night, I had to camp out, but I didn't mind too much, because it gave my new clothes a lived-in look.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of a gunshot. I rolled out of my bedroll and grabbed a pistol. Whoever it was, wasn't shooting at me. I took the time to slip on my boots and found a position where I could survey the situation. There had been two more shots from two different pistols while I was getting into position. One of the pistols sounded like a Colt Navy and the other one sounded like a .31. I never understood why a man would bother with a .31, since it wasn't powerful enough to stop a dog, much less a man, at a range of 25 feet. Then I heard the Navy fire and the sound of a woman's scream of pain.
Shit, who would be shooting at a woman? There weren't enough of them to go around, as it was, so no sane man wanted one dead. I had thought to ignore the gunfight, but now I just couldn't. Even if the woman was in the wrong, I didn't want her killed.
I started sneaking toward where I had heard the scream and hadn't gotten 10 feet when a bullet whizzed by me from that Navy. Now he was getting personal, so I started trying to find him to put a hole where it would do him the least amount of good.
I had moved another 10 feet when I saw a movement among some bushes. I knew it wasn't where the woman was, so I snapped off a shot. I'm a pretty good, no, I'm a damn good shot, and my bullet went where I had intended. There was a man's scream and he jumped straight up. I wasn't about to take chances, so I hit him with another bullet, and this must have done the job, because he fell down and there was no further movement from that quarter.
I resumed moving toward the woman's location and asked when I got close enough, "Was he the only one shooting at you, Ma'am?"
"Yes, he was the only one. Thank ya fer savin' me. Can ya he'p me? I'm wounded."
"I'll be happy to do what I can. Just let me get a little closer." Man, she was a beauty. Light brown hair done up in pigtails, and a face to stop an army in admiration. I couldn't tell much else about her because she was lying down at an awkward angle trying to staunch the flow of blood coming from her hip.
I took a quick look and saw that I was going to have to offer her some embarrassing alternatives. "Ma'am, that wound is pretty well centered on your hip, and gangrene is a real danger. If the wound ain't cleaned pretty soon, you almost certainly could die within two weeks of gangrene. We can treat it by cutting a hole in your trousers at your hip, or you could slip your waste band down far enough for me to work. Which is it going to be?"
"Oh, dear! I'm not wearing any ... uh ... well, you know what I mean." What she meant was that she had no underwear under her trousers. I wasn't surprised, I was dressed the same way.
"Well, Ma'am, you have to make the decision: save your modesty or save your life. I know which choice I would make, but it's up to you. By the way, my name is Jeff Burnside."
"I'm Jane Arthur. Well, Mr. Burnside, it looks like there is no real choice. Please help me slip my pants off. I certainly don't want to die from gangrene! I've seen it, and it scares me to death."
"Miss Arthur, it will be easier if you let me carry you to my camp, it's only about 70 feet that way. I'll lay you on my bedroll and you'll be much more comfortable than you will lying on the ground."
She nodded, so I holstered my gun and picked her up. Except for whores, this was the first woman I had held in my arms since I hugged my ma goodbye when I joined the army. Dammit, I started getting hard. Well, there was nothing I could do about it, so I just ignored it, but I knew that Jane Arthur would notice as soon as I put her down. Shit! Embarrassment piled upon embarrassment.
I lay her on her side on my blankets and started to pull her boots off. She looked surprised for a moment, then smiled and nodded for me to continue. She unfastened her gunbelt and I set it aside; I noticed that she had the popgun I thought I had heard.