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Quinn's War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quinn’s War

 

 

By Joe B. Slater

 

Copyright 2016 Joe B. Slater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Dec. 17, 1862

South of Nebraska City

 

When he picked up the scent, the mule threw his head, took the bit, and bolted. Quinn saw the wolves come up from the west. He tensed in his stirrups and pulled the rifle from the boot. To the east was the river. Ahead were some trees lining a swale or a ravine. “Make it to the trees, mule,” he said. “Make it to the trees.”

Quinn was looking back when the mule swung sharply left and he slipped in the saddle. With his eye on the tree line he pulled the reins back and again looked over his shoulder. They wouldn’t make it. Better to get down and cut the mule loose. They’d go after the mule. Maybe. As he searched the ground ahead for any kind of depression, he saw a roiling dark mass explode from the ravine ahead and race towards him. The mule headed back left for the river and Quinn levered a cartridge into the chamber. When he turned to take aim he saw the two dark clouds collide into a storm of ramping, thrashing fur, throwing snow and prairie grass into the wind.

He bent over the mule’s neck, and the mule kept up the pace for a mile. When he slowed to a stiff canter, Quinn pulled him up and looked back. There was no sign of wolf on the horizon. He let the mule walk, patting his neck and cooing. “We did it, mule. We did it!” He stopped and swung down. His knees buckled and he fell laughing. “Oh, Sweet Mother of God!” He tried to think of some patron saint to thank.

“Good enough, mule. Good enough.” The mule stood with his front legs splayed and his head down, wheezing. He shuddered.

Quinn was afraid if the animal went down, he might not get him up. He ran to pull the saddle and rack from the mule as he talked to him and patted him, promising water and rest when they got to the river. He took the rifle and led him a quarter mile to a spot where they could get down and they both drank.

Quinn pulled the mule out of the water before he had his fill. “Back to the traces, mule. Let’s go.” He led the animal back to where he had dropped the packs and he reloaded him. He found a ravine down wind and built a big fire with an even bigger feeder pile next to it and he set camp for the night. He pegged the mule close and slept sitting against a tree.

The next morning Quinn took the trail leading south. When it split along Three Mile Creek he turned upstream and rode west until he came upon a crossing used more by animals than by men. He swung his legs into the mule and the animal picked his way down and across the creek and humped up the other side without hesitation. Quinn pulled him up and looked at the western sky. The wind had come up and was blowing icy snow into his face. Quinn was thankful for the hat and the buffalo robe coat. He wiggled his toes and felt them in his shoes, Emit Wilkins’ shoes, and he blessed the dead man for his gift. It wouldn’t do, he thought, to have escaped the wolves and die frozen on a mule.

He kneed the animal and guided him south, edging through the low drifts. If he kept his pace he could reach McKissick Island before sunset. He would make camp and get warm and then decide whether to cross the river or continue riding south.

He camped below a cutbank out of the wind and slept curled around the rocks from the fire and woke when they were cold. A faint light was coming up. He ate biscuits and jerky and drank from his canteen. Then he saddled his mule and led the animal along the river looking for a place to cross.

The island beyond looked but a stone’s throw away. He sat his mule and watched the wind dust snow across the ice. If he made it across to the island, there still was the broader channel on the Missouri side to cross. Look for sand on both sides, sand and no snow, he thought. The best chance for shallows. He found a likely spot and dismounted. He took the mule to the edge of the ice and walked him along. When the mule stopped, Quinn decided that this was the spot. He tied the reins over the mane and stripped the bags, saddle, and rack. Then he bundled it all and leashed the rack to his waist with a length of rope.

He ran his hand along the bony ridge of the animal’s back and stroked his neck and thought about their escape the day before. “Mule,” he said aloud. His voice sounded strange to him, so he prayed silently. Take me over the ice, mule. Take me over to the other side. He slapped the mule’s rump and the animal stepped daintily onto the river and Quinn grabbed his tail and followed.

The mule leading the man eased across the ice like a sorry animal dragging its trap. Quinn kept his eyes down, listening. Six feet from shore the mule locked his haunches and hesitated, and then with quick steps to the sand, he levered himself to the shore. Quinn followed and patted him on the rump and walked to the tree line. The mule followed. “Well, that’s a day’s work and then some, mule,” he said aloud and breathed deep. He found a log and sat. “We made it.” The mule walked two steps toward him and lowered his head. Quinn scratched his ears. “We made it, mule.”

Quinn took off the bridle and haltered the mule. He left him tied while he explored the island. When he came back he led the animal through the thicket to the other side and found the spot where he and Marjorie had camped those long months ago and he dropped his pack. He led the animal to the river and walked until he found a running spring. He broke the ice for the mule and filled his canteen. He slipped the halter off and let the animal forage while he collected firewood and made camp. “We’ll stay here and study the other channel,” he said aloud. “Maybe try it in the morning. Maybe wait a day.” In the time they had been on the trail, only the light had changed, dim in daytime and black at night, and the air was only slightly colder in the morning. There was no wind on the east side of the island and for that he was thankful.

The fire ring he and Marjorie had laid out months ago lay undisturbed. The log they sat on was there and the nest they bedded down on. Quinn piled the horse blanket atop it and made a fire. Without proper tools, he thought, it’s going to be rabbit on a stick. Better get gittin’. He pulled his rifle from the rack and spent an hour tramping the island looking for rabbit pellets. Then he started looking up. Even the birds were gone. Itching for game, he shot at a nest high in a tree and missed. Maybe went clean through, he said to himself, but he knew better.

He walked back to camp and started dragging firewood.

He spent the day next to the fire and walking around picking up sticks. In late afternoon he took the rifle and walked toward the heel of the island and sat. South from the island the river receded into the distance and became indistinguishable from the land. A rabbit hopped out of the brush toward the river and froze. Quinn raised his rifle and killed it.

He picked up the carcass and brought it back to camp, where he skinned and gutted the animal. Then he walked down toward the river and threw the offal into the weeds. He walked to the spring and washed the meat and scrubbed his hands. On the way back he cut a branch for a skewer and set the naked animal on the log next to him while he whittled and warmed himself. The mule walked into the camp and stood with his head toward the fire while Quinn threaded the carcass and propped the stick over the fire with rocks. He sat and watched the fire and thought of the last meal he cooked here with Marjorie. When he awoke from his reverie the mule had not moved and it was time to turn the rabbit. The mule shifted his back legs and went back to sleep. Quinn let the meat cool on a rock as he arranged his pack and made his bed closer to the fire. He sat and picked at the meat and longed for salt and the simple comforts.

When he was finished, he went to piss in the weeds. He piled more wood on the fire and sat and watched the fire die. He used a branch to bank the coals against the rocks at the foot of his bedroll and he took off his shoes and socks and put them on a rock and he propped his feet next to them. When they had warmed, he put them back on and prepared to sleep. With his saddle at his head and his gear surrounding him, Quinn lay covered by the black greatcoat and the buffalo robe. He curled on his side and slept fitfully.

The mule howled in the dark, and Quinn sat up as the mule ran off.

“Stop it! Stay there. Don’t you move.”

There was enough light from the fire to make out the shape of the man standing 30 feet out.

“Move and I’ll shoot ya!”

Quinn sat with his feet twisted in the coat and his hands away from his side.

“Who are ya? What are you doin’ here?”

“Hey, wait, now,” Quinn said. “I’m just here trying’ to get to the other side. We’ll be gone in the morning. We’ll be gone.”

“Damn right, you’ll be gone. You goddamn bushwackin’ nigger stealin’ sonofabitch. I’ll shoot you, and you’ll be gone. That’s right. Now. Get on your knees.” Quinn rolled to his hands and knees. “No! Up on your knees! Kneel up! Hands on your head!” The man walked toward the fire. “Who’s with you? Where are they?”

“It’s just me. Nobody else, just me.”

“You said ‘We.’ You said, ‘We’ll be gone.’ What’s that?”

“Me and the mule. We’ll be gone. Right away in the morning.”

“Where’re you goin’? You got a name? Where you from?”

Quinn looked up at the man. “James Quinn. I’m down from Nebraska City.”

The man on the other side of the fire walked toward him and lowered the butt of the rifle to the ground and waved his other arm. “Well, shit! It’s you, then. Jamie!” The man let the rifle fall and circled the fire. “Stand up, man! It’s me! Rafe! Stand up, now, boy! Stand up! It’s me, goddamnit. Jesus Christ, it’s good to see you!” He grabbed Quinn’s elbows and lifted him. Quinn stood and looked at the man.

“Jesus, I’m sorry, Jamie. I’m sorry. I thought you was…”

“Rafe? Rafe, what are you…how’d you…”

“I’m sorry. Jesus, Jamie, I’m sorry! I came to the river when I heard the shots and I saw your fire and came across…”

Quinn drew a deep breath and blew it out. “Well, of all the people I can think I’d want waking me up in the middle of the night….” He laughed aloud. “Aah, shit!” And shoved the man’s shoulders. “Other than a woman, Rafe, it’d be you, Rafe! Mother of God!” He turned to the fire and scrubbed his face with his hands. He turned back. “What are you doin’ here?” Quinn picked up the greatcoat and shrugged into it. “Let me get some fire goin’.” He pulled sticks from the feeder pile and scratched at the coals and fed them.

Rafe stood and walked over and picked up his rifle and wiped it off. “I can tell you the whole story when we got a drink or two in us and I can wave my arms. For now I’ll just say I thought you was a bushwacker. These are bad times along the river and they see us as easy pickin’s. They’re like grasshoppers, like snakes, like everything in nature that destroys, and you can’t stop them from comin’. They don’t care what side you’re on. They’ll shoot you and maybe find out later. I came over to get the drop on ‘em. So, I’m glad it was you. I mean, I’m real glad to see you, Quinn, even aside of the bushwackers.”

Quinn took a deep breath and sighed. “Yup! Me, too, Rafe. Like I said.” Quinn looked toward the horizon. “What time of night is it, you think? I’d cook you some coffee, but I don’t even have a pot.”

“Moon’s gone. About four, maybe later. We can just sit here and get warm until light. Tell me what’s been keeping you, and then we’ll get across and take you to see the little woman. She’ll be worried I been gone, so sooner the better.”

Rafe sat on the log and took off his shoes and propped them against one of the stones. Then he pulled another stone close and propped up his feet and peeled off his socks and laid them up. Quinn crouched next to the fire and fed it as he gave his friend a general picture of his adventures over the last three months.

When he paused, Rafe asked, “And Marjorie? She just disappeared?”

“The last I heard from her she was working in a boarding house in Eastport. I got a letter saying that. I wrote back telling her I was going to ride out to Fort Kearny, and when I got back I’d go look for a place to claim. When I didn’t hear from her, I went looking for her back in Omaha. I saw some of her friends. They said she was there for a visit and then she just disappeared.”

“Did she go back to the boarding house maybe?”

“No, I went back there and asked around and didn’t find anything. I rode back to the farm and there was no sign of her, so she’s gone.”

“Oh, that’s no good. I’m sorry. She was such a nice girl. So much fun. And pretty.”

“I think she would’ve loved coming back to see you and Marion. The whole circle. She would’ve loved to come back, I know.”

“So you were on your way to visit us, huh?” Rafe laughed. On your way to visit and I found you here. Ain’t that somethin’? You got across the west channel, no problem? You and the mule? Sorry I scaired him off. We can get him when it gets light. He can’t go far.”

“He’ll show up. He’s like a pet. The best animal I’ve known. Better than most men, for sure. We worked the docks together south of Omaha and I got him and went out to Fort Kearny and back.”

“I want to get home to Marion soon as I can to put her mind at ease. If the mule don’t show up, we’ll come back and round him up tomorrow.” Rafe laughed. “I can see us both dragging your ass across the ice.” He pulled his shoulders up to his ears and laughed. “Your cold ass on the ice. Pretty good!”

Quinn laughed, too. The picture was funny. Both the men sat staring into the fire and saying little as they waited for the dawn.

“I’d ask you more about your travels, Quinn, but I’ll wait. Marion’ll want to know, and she’ll pry it out of you. She’ll think of things I’d be afraid to ask.” He laughed. “She might even ask me some things. Maybe I oughta hang back and let you go in alone!”

“You and Marion not gettin’ along?”

“Naw, I’m just jokin’. But sometimes she can get things out of me I didn’t even know myself. And I find myself going to confession and telling her things….well, and then that gets her goin’, you know?”

Quinn took on a pastoral voice. “No, my son, I don’t. But why don’t you tell me about it?”

Rafe broke up at that and the two of them carried on and fed the fire until light.

They stacked Quinn’s gear, covered it with the oilcloth, and weighted it with rocks. Then they took the skiff and walked it across the ice and pulled it up.

“It’ll be fine here, no worry,” Rafe said. “Let’s go home, Jamie.”

Marion greeted them on the porch with her arms wide. “Rafe, honey. Rafe! I was worried when you didn’t come back. Who you got there?”

Quinn swiped off his hat and held it in both hands and looked up. “It’s me, Marion. I need a haircut, is all.”

She ran down and wrapped her arms around his. “Jamie! Oh, Jamie! It’s good to see you. Come up. Come on!” She grabbed his arm and walked with him up the steps. “I got coffee and I got eggs I can cook. I know you like eggs, and where’s Marjorie? Did you bring Marjorie? Oh, tell me what happened, Rafe.” They walked into the hotel and Rafe began to tell it from his leaving the night before. When he paused to take a breath she said, “Oh, Jamie, you tell it. Rafe always leaves something out. Come on. Sit down. I moved the table a little closer to the stove, you notice. You remember? We’re not having guests for supper now very often. Come sit.” She pulled out a chair from the table. “Sit. I’ll get the coffee. There’s the cream. I knew you’d be back, Rafe, I just thought it’d be earlier. I wasn’t really worried. I didn’t hear gunshots or anything, so I got up and fried some bacon. I know you like bacon, too, Jamie, and Marjorie.” Marion went to the kitchen and came back with an enamel pot and a fistful of cups. “There.” She poured from the pot, holding the lid on. After she set the pot on the stove, she turned with her hands on her hips and said, “Where is she, Jamie? Is she OK? I know she’d come if she could. Is she OK?”

“She’s fine, Marion,” said Rafe. “Let’s just sit and warm ourselves and drink your coffee. Jamie pretty much went through it all while we waited to come over. We can eat some and talk. We got all day. Come on, sit.”

The three of them sat and ate their breakfast and Quinn told his story in some detail, and when he finished, Marion asked him to start over and tell it again, this time allowing for questions.

“Let the man rest, Marion. Let him rest, maybe listen a while.”

“Then you two visit and I’ll get supper on the stove. It’s only gonna be supper today, an early supper. But it’ll be good.”

They sat and drank coffee and Quinn asked about the Landing, the hotel, and Rafe’s farm.

“Nothin’s goin’ good enough to make a living,” Rafe said. “People have left. The war’s comin’ up here. There ain’t many on the river anymore.”

“It’s frozen, Rafe.” Quinn laughed. “Only fools go out on a frozen river.”

“Naw, you know what I mean. I don’t expect it’s gonna get any better when it breaks up, either.”

“Your cousin—Marjorie and I met him. He was at the landing when we came down. Is he still around?”

“He went off to war. The Federals came and got him. It may be only a matter of time before they come after me. I wasn’t paying him. He only worked for food, his room, and what folks on the river gave him for his help. He’s probably living better now.”

“And the piteous people?”

“Oh, they’re safe. They’re pacifists. You know they’ll give you a sermon in the street on how this country was settled by people just like them. The Federals don’t want ‘em. You ever thought about goin’ to war, Jamie?”

“Not on your life, or mine, for that matter, Rafe. If I wanted to fight, I would have stayed in Ireland.”

“I bet there’s a bunch of stories there, am I right?”

Marion came in and sat.

“Marion, you’re just in time for some Irish war stories, am I right, Jamie?”

“You first. I’ve been burning to ask why you came over to the island in the middle of the night, Rafe,” Quinn said.

“I been worried.” Rafe paused and looked at his wife. “No. We been bothered…and others, too, not just us. Riders have been comin’ through and they don’t stop, but when they do, it’s not to give us good news. Not good news. I told you earlier I thought you was a bushwacker.”

“That and you… maybe you thought, ah… let me see…” Quinn searched. “I was a goddamn bushwackin’, nigger stealin’ sonofabitch.” He turned to Marion and smiled big. “He was really wrought up.” Quinn nodded. “That’s what he said.”

Rafe laughed. Quinn held up his hands in surrender. “Yeah, now it’s funny. It wasn’t then. You had a gun on me. I was scared! Jesus, I was scared!”

“I didn’t know.”

“He didn’t know,” Marion said. “He told me he was gonna stop trouble before it started and he went off. He told me not to worry ‘cause he said he was gonna do what they do, and that was to shoot first and find out whose side they’re on after, is what he said.”

“I’m glad he didn’t,” Quinn said. “He was a perfect gentleman about it. He asked my name. And my address. And then…”

“And then I asked him about his ass!” Rafe hooted.

“Goddamn it, Rafe!” Quinn said. He laughed.

“I think it’s time to break out the good stuff. Honey, will you bring in that bottle from Irlbeck’s?”

“I’m gettin’ it. No one’s comin’ and we can sit here all day. And all night, too, if we want.” She pulled her chair around. “Rafe, go get some more wood. Drag that stump over here and I’ll go get the bottle. This’ll be good.” She turned to Quinn. “We’ve been waitin’ for a special occasion to break this out.” She got up and went to the kitchen.

“Glory, she’s a good woman,” Rafe said. “I can’t imagine being without her. But I better get that wood. Before she comes back.” He laughed and shuffled away.

Marion came back and poured whiskey all around while Rafe fed the fire and told her about the walk across the ice. They laughed about Marjorie and Quinn’s visit, the saloon across the street from the hotel that doubled as the church, and the piteous people who prayed there and sometimes crossed the street for supper. Quinn told his story about the stage ride to Omaha and about leaving Marjorie in Omaha to go back to earn money on the docks. He finally got around to telling again what he knew about Marjorie. “I don’t know what happened. I thought I’d come back and we’d go off and stake a claim and settle down and farm. She was good. She knew farming, maybe better than me. I don’t know what happened. I wanted to leave everything behind and start farming. That’s all.” Quinn told the couple of his trip to Eastport and the month he spent at the abandoned farm before setting out for McKissick’s Island. “And I figured I had to go on without her.”

The three were quiet.

Rafe broke the silence. “I know what you mean,” he said quietly. “I got what I want, that’s for sure, and I just hope I can keep it.” He looked at his wife and she smiled.

“That’s my cue to put the potatoes on top of the chicken.” She laughed. “I do have to finish supper, no matter what dreams you men have. Women live for the next meal, you know.” She got up and disappeared.

Quinn stood with his back to the stove. “What is it, Rafe? You live in a secret corner of the world here. Remember when Marjorie and me first came we thought we were in Iowa? Nobody should bother you up here.”

“Jamie, thing have changed. The war, runaways, bushwackers.”

“You telling me you got bushwackers? And slave hunters? What is it? I was on the business end of that rifle. You were worried. What brings those vermin up here?”

Rafe held the bottle out to Quinn.

“Or maybe it’s none of my business,” Quinn said. He held out his cup.

“It’s everybody’s business, Jamie, but this is something I gotta deal with direct, is all. Something I chose and I took all that comes with it.” He poured. “And Marion, too.” He poured his own. “Renegades is renegades. They’ll fight together to bring a man down, and then they’ll fight amongst themselves for the carcass. And slave catchers is all over Missouri, because there’s so many runnin’ north, and it’s a good business. A hawk can catch any negro, and they can return him to his owner for the bounty or sell him in the market. Hell, they can even keep him and kill him, if they want. The negro is chattel, like your mule. Even the Union calls him ‘contraband,’ like he’s property under the laws of war, even in the north. Somebody always hasta own him. That’s the way it is.”

“I can see that happening in the South, but Missouri isn’t the South.”

“And it ain’t the North, neither, Jamie. Missouri ain’t declared in the war, but it’s still a battleground. We didn’t secede, so we’re still Federal. But we got our own Little Dixie smack dab in the middle of the state. It’s always been legal to own slaves in Missouri. We never had a problem owning slaves.”

“In about a month, though, that won’t be the case. The Emancipation’ll take care of that.”

“Whoa! Oh, no, Jamie, it won’t. It don’t apply here. I don’t know everything, but I know ole Abe excluded Missouri and the others to keep ‘em from joining the Confederacy. A year ago outa spite General Fremont freed the Missouri slaves. Emancipated ‘em, just like that, and they fired him.”

“What?”

“He freed ‘em and they fired him. In August Fremont set up martial law and freed Missouri slaves by edict, and when he wouldn’t take back the orders, Lincoln fired him and put Jim Lane in his place and gave him Brigadier General rank. Lincoln didn’t want to upset ‘our loyal friends in the south.’ And you know what Lane did? Whoo! eee!” Rafe slapped his knee. “He took command of Fremont’s units and then went ahead and organized what he called a ‘citizen’s army’ to fight alongside his troops. Then he went ahead and organized a regiment of colored troops.”

“The Kansas senator?”

“God, yes! A real senator-soldier! And then you know what? He organized the renegades and named them The Redleg Brigade. Organized them. God, it’s a mess. Did I just say organized renegades? Jesus!”

“And they brought the border wars into the big one, huh?”

“Been at it for years, and now they’re deadly. A year ago those was just mostly guerrillas raisin’ hell. Lane took his Redlegs and deputized them as Union soldiers. Him and his men murdered and burned Osceola in September right after he mustered ‘em in. Got ‘em blooded, so to speak. Guaranteed instant success. Burn down a town. You think that didn’t piss people off? Goddamn! You think that’s gonna make Missouri loyal to the Union? Damn it! They could just leave us alone!” Rafe took a drink and shook his head. “No. Too late for that.”

“But don’t the bushwackers do the same thing? The same kind of thing was going on in the Kansas wars, and that went on a long time. It was going on when I came over.”

“Yeah, one side, then the other. When Kansas came in as a free state, you’d think that would of settled it. Missouri lost out. OK. Now, Missouri’s bad off. You think the nation’s divided? You read about the War pitting brother against brother. Yeah, that’s true. Some fight for the North and some for the South. But they’re lined up shooting at each other in a civilized sort of way—different colored uniforms and flags and all. You can see it, sort it out. People even come out to watch it. Ain’t that grand? Here in Missouri the sides are mixed up and there ain’t no uniforms. We got two legislatures, for Christ’s sake! Two constitutions and two governors! You don’t know who’s on what side. Hell, there ain’t no two sides! There’s dozens ‘a sides! Ah, Jesus!”

Rafe took a drink and waved the cup at Quinn. “There are slave holders in this state who are unionists and they’d wear blue, if they had to. And there are abolitionists who hate negroes and want them all to go back to Africa. There’s a big bunch of white people who are against slavery in Missouri, so all the black people have to go somewheres else so’s only white people is in Missouri. And that’s just the beginning. There’s people on the same side as you just as soon kill you ‘cause you agree with ‘em, but for the wrong reason! Christ! And that doesn’t account for the guerrillas that fight for a side and don’t wear uniforms goin’ up against honest-to-God troops that fight under a flag.”

Rafe drank and Quinn waited. “And then there’s the gangs that ride and rape and steal and burn and spread the word they’re fightin for a cause when they’re in it for the fun and are beholdin’ to no one. Hell, Jennison’s boys got a regular storehouse where they keep their ‘contraband’, as they call it. It’s the stuff they steal…from anybody. They keep it south of Leavenworth or in Kansas City, and they auction shit off on main street on a regular basis. Put up handbills and auction it off!”

Marion came in. “If you boys are finished fighting the second revolution, Rafe, maybe you can set the table. Jamie, you come wash up in the kitchen and keep me company. I still got a lot of questions.”

They ate and sat around the stove drinking tea and telling stories. Quinn talked about Ireland. He shied away from the painful memories and admitted to putting a coat or two of sugar on his days with the railroad. When Rafe asked about his life before Marjorie, Quinn promised a week of stories in front of the fire.

“I’ll match you on that, Quinn. Marion will just have to sit there and listen and not say a word.” He smiled at his wife. “I met her, and my life’ll never be the same. Life has never been better.”

He told the story of their courtship and their travels west, their move to Missouri, and their dreams of the future. The three of them laughed about the religious group Marion called the “piteous people” and they speculated about the future of Missouri and the course of the war. “We can move on,” said Rafe. “We really got nothin’ holdin’ us here.”

“The hotel?” said Quinn. “Could you sell it? You got quite an investment here.”

“We could walk away from it and start over, couldn’t we Marion? We look to the future, and I think this little corner of Missouri is slipping backwards. When we came here we thought it was the perfect place for a town—the landing, the island, only a few miles from Hamburgh—but the stage line quit us and the landing wouldn’t grow, and then…”

“So we might leave anyway, no matter what happens,” Marion said. “Missouri is Missouri, and it ain’t gonna change. Iowa three miles away is another country. Nebraska across the river is another world. We been thinking of tryin’ Nebraska. The Homestead Act comes in the first of the year and people are linin’ up.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” said Rafe. “Some are just running, and Nebraska Territory’s got its own problems.”

“We’ll see,” she said. “There’s no reason we couldn’t stake a claim, find something on the Little Blue.”

Rafe turned to Quinn. “We been talkin’ since we saw you in September. You kinda gave us the idea.”

Marion interrupted. “That’s not the whole truth, Jamie.” She looked at Quinn. “Rafe doesn’t want to tell what happened because he thinks he’s to blame, and then we get to talking and I end up thinking I’m the one to blame. And then we…” She stood. “I’m gettin’ the bottle, Rafe. I can’t tell this story all the way through without a drink.”

Marion came back with a full bottle of liquor. “A little of the good stuff.” She poured what was left from the first bottle into the three cups. “And a little of my cooking spirits.” She added an equal measure from the new bottle and sat.

Rafe shook his head. “Quinn, that’s all right. She don’t cook with it. She drinks while she cooks. It’s what passes for whiskey in these parts.” He laughed.

Marion held up her cup. “Let’s drink to mixing the good with the bad.”

The three touched their cups and drank.

“I never refuse a lady’s toast, Jamie, and I hardly ever interrupt my wife’s story, but before she gets started I want to say I should of gone to the courthouse and checked a map. Now, Marion, go ahead and tell it.”

“The railroad’s taking the farm. They showed up one day with maps and a writ from the judge and told us we were squatting on the railroad’s right-of-way. They showed us a plat map with squares drawn on both sides of a line from St. Joe up through Hamburgh, right through our farm.”

“The good thing is we got the crop in and got the money for that, and we didn’t have anything put up except the cabin,” Rafe said.

“But you spent a lot of work clearing trees and grubbing stumps, Rafe.”

“And we got three years of crop out of it, Marion. We learned a lot. And we got this hotel.”

“And we got this hotel, which we just might be giving up.”

“Oh, Marion,” Rafe said. “Come on! Let’s all drink to a new life and to new possibilities.” He poured and the three drank.

“Jamie, we still want to farm,” he said. “To stake a claim. We wouldn’t necessarily have to give up the hotel right away. We talked about goin’ out in the spring and staking out a piece, and me living there and busting sod and her comin’ back here. Only thing, I worry some about her being alone. But we’ll figure it out.”

“I still got my eye on that corner of Nebraska, too,” said Quinn. “But January’s no time to go traipsing over the frozen prairie—hell, you’d have trouble pounding in the stakes!” He laughed. “And sure it’s cold, with the wind blowing and the gray sky, day after day. I am thankful, Rafe, that you didn’t shoot me on the island and deprive me of Marion’s cooking and a night in a warm, soft bed.”

Rafe smiled at his wife. “I don’t take her for granted, do I Marion?” He turned back to Quinn. “It don’t matter what I got, as long as I got her.”

“That might be my cue to find my room and catch up on the sleep I missed last night,” Quinn grinned at Rafe.

“Oh, you make me blush, you two!” said Marion. “But let me take you up. You don’t have to turn in, but I can at least show you your room.”

The three of them rose. Rafe gave his wife a squeeze around the waist. “We should get an early start in the morning when it’s cold. I’ll make some noise and we’ll have a quick breakfast before we go get the mule.”

Quinn crawled into a featherbed and found a foot warmer at the bottom. He laid his head on a crisp, feather pillow. As he drifted off he was thankful for a day that began crazy and wild and ended in a hotel so civilized. He thought about his mule and looked forward to the morning.

He woke when he heard feet on the stairs. He fell back to sleep and came up again when he heard voices, whispered voices, and he fell back to sleep, weary, warm, and at peace.

Marion’s soft rap on the door woke Quinn from a sound sleep. He dressed and went down to a plateful of eggs and bacon and toast with a steaming mug of coffee. Rafe was already at it. “I love my mule,” Quinn said, “but not enough to let this breakfast get cold. Marion, you are a good woman.” He picked up his fork and the three of them were silent.

After breakfast Quinn and Rafe walked to the landing talking about crazy ideas, ways to make money during the winter without having to work too hard at it. Rafe suggested they use the mule to pull lumber from the mill across the river on the ice, and Quinn thought they could get the sawdust from the mill and then cut ice from the river and in the spring knock together a raft and float it on a raft down to sell the ice in St. Louis. “When the war’s over,” Quinn said, “we could even float it down to New Orleans.”

“It wouldn’t cost a thing, and it’d be a good ride,” Rafe said. “We could be back by the first of April at least, and then go out and find a couple a places. Leave Marion here and then come back and make a plan. I could bust sod and keep off the claim jumpers, and you could come out when you wanted and help me. I don’t know exactly the requirements, but you don’t have to stay on the claim full time. Who’s gonna know? We got a whole new world ahead of us, Quinn. And a mule to help us tame it.” He laughed.

“Do you think we’ll need the boat this time to get him?” said Quinn.

“It’s best we use it in case one of us goes down. It ain’t much. Let’s go.”

As they pulled the boat onto the ice, Quinn said, “You know a couple years ago the Atchison Topeka railroad ran an engine across the ice. Laid telephone poles down and spiked the ties to the poles and laid the rails. Tryin’ to prove something, I guess.”

“You want to get some poles to put down for the mule, it’ll take a while.” Rafe leaned down to push.

“I’m not kidding. They did.”

Rafe stood. “I’m sure they did. It spread the weight out. And they probably could afford to lose that engine. Let’s go.”

The two men bent to the stern, and as they pushed they tried to outdo one another with more ideas for making money.

When they got to the island, the mule bugled out to them. He put his head down when Quinn approached and Quinn scratched his ears and talked to him as he slipped on the halter. He tied on an eight-foot length of rope and the two men piled Quinn’s baggage into the boat and they eased it onto the ice. The mule followed.

When the boat hit shore, Quinn dropped the rope and grabbed the prow and pulled while Rafe pushed. Quinn walked back to the mule.

“You did it again, mule.” He continued to talk to the mule as he led him carefully off the ice and up the bank.

The mule followed them back and the men’s spirits were high with their success. They looked forward to the day and made plans that included Marion and the mule. “Not an equal partnership,” said Quinn. “I only bring a mule into it.”

“You can joke about it now, Jamie. But we’ll talk seriously about it with Marion. It’s a three-way partnership until you get a wife and I get a mule.” He laughed.

“I agree with you, Rafe. Let’s just say that I’ll bring all I have to it and that’s it.”

“I been thinkin’. We could each claim a quarter section. They allow women to stake a claim if she says she’s the head of the house.”

“You’re serious.”

“I am and I ain’t. But I’ll see how far I can go with this. We’ll talk to Marion. Either way, she’ll get a kick out of it.”

When they got back, Marion met them on the porch. “So this is the mule you worked so hard to get and keep.” She walked down the steps as Quinn hitched the animal to the rail. “He got a name?”

“I call him ‘mule’, but it might be time to give him something a little more personal. You’re gonna have a stake in him, so you should have some say about his name. Hell, if we get another mule, we gotta have names to tell them apart. What do you think? Oh, and don’t pick Jack.” He laughed.” I think that’d be like naming yer kid, ‘Hey You!’”

Marion laughed. “You know him best. You gotta name an animal something that fits him. Rafe, what do you think?”

Rafe leaned against the rail. “I agree with Jamie here. ‘Mule’ fits him. I’m gonna put it on you, Marion. You think on it. Try out a few names, and when you decide, we’ll christen him.”

“Rafe Lewis! That’s blasphemy! Oh, that’s so bad!” She giggled. “If the piteous people heard you they’d start gathering wood for a bonfire.” She walked up the stairs. “You boys come in now. I have dinner ready. It’s early, I know, and we don’t have to eat yet, but cooking makes me peaceful. It takes my mind off anything I might be worried about. Let’s just sit around the stove and I’ll heat up the coffee.”

When the three horsemen rode up, Marion was setting the table and the men were sitting around the stove. Rafe walked out and Quinn followed. None of the three dismounted.

“We’re lookin’ for a runaway nigger girl. We got a fugitive bill and a certificate of removal here.” He pulled a leather folder from his saddlebag and waved it. “We know where she crossed the Nishney, so she’s headed up here, unless she laid off in the bush somewhere. We figger she’s headed for Ioway.”

“If she is, that’s about three miles up the road there, but we ain’t seen her.”

“There’s reward money, if you see her, and more if you ketch her. She’s skinny as a broom and no taller. And you should know, she’s real hard to identify as a nigger, ‘cause she looks so white. The only thing other’n that you got to go by, I would say, is that she’s a stranger and she’s on foot.”

“And that could be lots of folks traipsin’ along the river. You know this is a Mormon route, don’cha?”

“Never seen a Mormon travelling alone, though. You?”

“No, but I was just sayin’. That’s not much to go by. Anyways, we ain’t seen nobody. It’s too damn cold to be out walkin’. Or lookin’.”

“We’ll head north, then. If you can ketch her, lock her up ‘til we come back through. We will be back through, sometime or another.”

“Good luck, then, and see you on your way back.” Rafe waved as they wheeled and rode off toward Hamburgh.

Quinn followed Rafe up the stairs past his wife and into the hotel. “Rafe, you scared the shit out of me when you showed up and pointed a gun at me. But those boys scared me more just sittin’ on their horses. I sure wouldn’t want them chasing me.”

“Go get her, Marion. We got time to take her to the island before they get back. Go.”

Quinn followed Rafe into the kitchen and waited for him to explain. When Rafe began to stuff goods into a bag, Quinn said, “You got that girl here? You got that runaway here? You see that negro? That negro was the biggest man I’ve ever seen! And the guy on that big grey? Sat as high as the darkie. Rafe, what’s goin’ on?”

Rafe stuffed bread and meat into the pillowcase. “We got the runaway and we’re not giving her up. She came to us last night and we promised to get her up to Civil Bend. We done this before and it’s nothin’ to worry about. Only a little closer is all. We can do it.”

“You know these men? You done this before? What in the hell are you doing?”

“We’re part of the route, Jamie, one of the routes. They come up. Usually we got some notice. Never one just shows up, and we never turn one away. We may not get them where they want to go, but we ain’t never lost one. And we ain’t gonna lose this one.” Rafe lead the way to the clerk’s desk and set the bag on the counter.

Marion brought the girl down. She was scrawny, but clean, and groomed. He had her pegged for 16 because she had the shape of a woman. But she could have been twelve or thirteen. And she was white. As white as Quinn’s sister, as white as his mother. This was no negro slave. The men who rode up were hunting her for a different reason. Somebody thought they owned her, but she was not a slave. No one owned this child.

Marion led the girl by the hand toward the kitchen. Rafe said, “I got some food, Marion. You got her things? Go up and get her things. Jamie, go put the saddle on the mule.”

Quinn had the rack and the saddle on the mule when the three men pulled up in the middle of the road.

The little man turned his horse to Quinn and said, “You thinkin’ about goin’ someplace on that mule?”

Quinn reached under for the surcingle. The little man said, “Didn’t you hear me? I said you goin’ someplace with that mule? You deef?” He walked the horse three steps toward the rail.

Quinn stood straight and draped one arm over the animal’s neck and looked up at the man and shook his head. “I don’t figger it’s none of your business what I’m doing.”

“You don’t, huh? Well, what does your mule think?” The man turned his horse to the rail and dismounted. He took a step toward Quinn and drew his pistol. “What does your mule think, huh? What do you think, mule?” With his eye on Quinn, he shot the mule and it dropped. The man’s horse reared, and Quinn leapt over his mule’s neck reaching for the man’s gun and it flashed.

Quinn woke with a hot poker in his eye and his face on fire. Samson, he thought. Jawbone of an ass, he thought. He went under and came back and his face crackled with pain. He croaked and then he moaned.

A voice next to his head said, “Lay still, now. Lay still.” He felt a hand on his chest. “Open your mouth. I’m going to put some powder on your tongue. Just swallow it.” The hand moved from his chest to his lips and fingers opened them. The powder was dry and his lips were dry, and he tried to lick them. A wet cloth met his lips and squeezed water between them. He licked his lips again and the water trickled to the back of his throat. He moaned and the wet cloth moved lightly over his nose and mouth. More powder and more water came, and Quinn made noises he thought were thanks and then he slept and woke and slept again.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Two months earlier

Shawneetown, Kansas

 

Elizabeth Stiles thought, when she heard horses and the knock at the door, that it was about the note on the table. She opened the door and was relieved to see a man in a Federal uniform. She stepped out and held the lantern into the night. A cluster of soldiers sat their horses behind him. The man removed his hat.

“Good evenin’, ma’am. Captain Todd.” He nodded. “Is your husband home? I’m sorry to call so late, but I have orders here.” He pulled an envelope from his belt. “I thought your husband could help.”

“Come in, Captain.”

“No, I’ll wait out here. If you’ll just call him, I’d appreciate.”

Elizabeth went to the bedroom door and found Jacob dressed and pulling on his boots. “It’s OK,” she said. “Our soldiers—looking for something, somebody. The Captain wants to see you.”

She heard the girls talking in the room next door and looked in. “Shush, now! Go to sleep! It’s nothing. Go to sleep.”

She followed her husband onto the porch and handed him the lantern. The men had dismounted and tied their horses to the rail.

The Captain introduced himself and handed Jacob the paper he held, and the two stepped out into the street.

“Here. Let me hold that.” The Captain took the lantern and held it high while Jacob read. Then he pulled his pistol and shot Jacob in the head. Holstering his pistol, he set the lantern on the ground, pulled the paper from Jacob’s hand, folded it, and stuffed it into his belt.

Elizabeth screamed and ran to her husband and knelt. Sobbing and calling his name, she turned his face and tried to cover the mass of blood and gore at the side of his head.

She felt a hand grab her hair and drag her onto her back. She saw another man grab her husband’s shirt, stick a pistol into his mouth and fire.

Elizabeth felt the world go cold and black and then a hand grabbed her blouse and pulled her up. The man standing over her stuck a pistol to her stomach. “Did ya git my note, schoolmarm? Huh?” He knelt astride her and pushed her down and held the pistol to her cheek.

“Let her go, Palmer,” someone said. “She’s too pretty to shoot. Besides, she’s a teacher.”

“I know, goddamn it. I know who she is. She’s a spy!”

“Let her go. Git yer horse.”

The man got up and grabbed the lantern from the ground. “I’m gonna fire the house. I’m gonna burn it down.”

“Git yer horse, Palmer. Come on. You can come back later. We got work to do, and you know these people.”

Elizabeth looked up as the men walked their horses into the town square. Then she stood and looked to the porch. Her two youngest were crying and clinging to her oldest, who stood between them. Elizabeth ran to them and knelt.

“Clara’s going to take you somewhere safe. Go inside and get one thing to take with you and go out the back. Clara, make sure they’re dressed warm. Grab a blanket and take them to the schoolhouse. Stay there until I come to get you. Go.”

Elizabeth stepped into the street and watched the soldiers drag tables and chairs out from houses, break them up, and feed the fire in the center of the street across from the saloon. Others dragged men with women following, some trying to pull their men from the grasp of the soldiers. People stood beyond the light of the flames to watch or to quiet crying children or to comfort wailing women.

Elizabeth walked to the edge of the crowd that was forming in an arc around a line of men standing in front of the bonfire. A man in uniform shouted a name from a list. The soldier commanded, “Step forward when I call yer name.”

“He’s there,” someone in the crowd shouted. A man stepped forward.

“What’s yer politics, sir?”

“Who’s asking?”

“You know who I am.”

“You got my name. I just want to hear yours.”

“William Clarke Quantrill, Confederate Partisan Rangers.” The man in uniform walked three steps ahead. “What are your politics, sir?”

“This is Kansas, and Kansas is a free state. I am a free stater and you…”

Quantrill took a step and shot him.

Quantrill stepped back into the line of soldiers and read another name. One of the men in front of the fire stepped forward and said, “I’m Missouri. We’re not on a side. I got no politics.”

Quantrill spoke loud enough for everyone in the crowd to hear. “Let’s make this easy and quick. I’m not here to listen to a bunch of speeches. If any one of you folks in town got a problem with the way I sort things, just let me know. I’ve gathered these here men so you all can see what you got in your midst. I can’t shoot all the snakes, but I kin help you reconize ‘em.

Now, you men. You gotta make a choice—not like this man here.” He waved his pistol. “You, sir, step back in line. Not like this man here who doesn’t take sides. You gotta make a choice and live with it. Or not.

If you choose to follow the Stars and Bars of the Confederate States, stand clear. If you like a country with no freedom and want to die a Yank, step forward.” Quantrill stood with his pistol at his side. “Take yer time. I’ll give you a minute

.” He waved his pistol at the houses. “You men git to fire’in up them houses.” He turned to the line of men. “I guess that does it. If any of you decide to change your politics in the next ten minutes or so, be sure’n look me up.” He turned to the crowd and waved his pistol. “These men are not to be buried. They lie where they fell. You bury them and I will know and I will come back and I will burn the rest of the town and kill whoever I kin find did it. You all can go now. I want the street clear.”

He turned to his men. “Proceed at will. We will mount up in an hour.”

Elizabeth turned back to her house and found it already ablaze. She picked up her skirts and ran to the school, where she found women and children huddled along the walls. Her own three she found behind her desk. She took George and Sara by the hand and led the three of them out to the road and north.

They walked through the night and waited at the river until the sun came up. It took little to convince the pilot that the four needed free passage across the Kaw. He gave them food and water and directed them up the road to Quindaro. When they arrived at the Friends Church they told their story and were fed and comforted. The next day they were taken north to the inn known as the Six Mile House.

It was not yet noon and the fire pit in front of the inn was already going. A youth held the horses as Elizabeth helped her children out of the buggy. Men were busy in the corral and at the stable. Elizabeth brought her three children into the saloon and the man who escorted them introduced the man who came from the kitchen.

“Elizabeth Stiles, meet Theodore Bartles. Mr. Bartles is your host while you’re here at Six Mile.”

Elizabeth curtseyed. “This is Clara, this is George, and this is Sara.” The girls dipped and George shook hands. “Pleased to meet you,” they said in turn.

“Welcome to Six Mile. You’re Jacob’s family, aren’t you? You’re just in time for dinner.”

“Thank you. Before you go to any trouble, is Col. Hoyt in? I was told by the Friends in Quindaro he might be here.”

“He is in his office. I’ll go down and get him. But first, won’t you come sit and let me get you some refreshments? Tea? Sarsaparilla? Beer?”

“Some water would be fine for now.”

“Come sit. I’ll have my wife bring you something.” Theo led them to a table and disappeared into the kitchen.

George Hoyt came out of the kitchen behind a woman in an apron. Elizabeth and the children rose from the table as she set out the drinks. “Elizabeth! And the three growing Stiles!” He grabbed her hands and shook them while she introduced the children. “What brings you out of your element? I hear you are doing great things with the Shawnees south of the river. Tell me about the new school. And how’s Jacob?”

Sara sat and began crying. Her brother sat and put his arm around her.

“I’d like to have a word with you, Col. Hoyt. About Jacob.”

“Rebecca, will you stay with the children while Elizabeth and I use your office?” He smiled at her. Then he led Elizabeth into the kitchen.

For the next ten minutes Elizabeth went over the night of the raid. She was interrupted by Mrs. Bartles. “George, can you go downstairs? I’m going to fix up something for these three children, something sweet and warm. Something for you, too, if you like. Mrs. Stiles?”

Elizabeth shook her head and Hoyt said, “Good idea, Rebecca. See what you can do for them.” He led Elizabeth down the butler staircase to the basement that glowed in the lamplight. A narrow shaft of light fell on the floor from a window set high in the west wall.

Hoyt led her into a room furnished with a wall-mounted cot, a chair and smoking stand, a trunk, and a desk flanked by bookcases. He pulled glasses and a bottle from the shelf and poured. “First, let’s sit and take a few breaths. We’ve got time.” He set a glass on the smoking table next to the club chair and gestured, and she sat. He pulled the chair away from the desk and sat. He held his glass to her. “Here’s to Jacob. May he rest in peace.”

Elizabeth raised her glass. “May he rest in peace.”

They drank.

“I want you to go bury them, Col. Hoyt. Make sure they’re buried. It’ll be two days. The people there won’t do it. The town’s terrified.”

“I’ll leave as soon as we’re finished here. Is there anything else I should know?”

“Lemuel Palmer. He’s a neighbor. I had no idea it was him that wrote that note. He was there when we marched through the town that very afternoon. A little girl came up and gave me the note while we were marching.”

“And what did the note say exactly?”

“Exactly? It said, ‘If this parade is repeated you may expect a coat of tar and feathers.’ I didn’t think much of it. When I got home I showed it to Jacob and I laughed—said something like, ‘well, it has good grammar, and no spelling errors. Someone went to school!’ Someone angry that I brought the schoolchildren out for a parade. You know, Colonel, it was people in the town that got the reservation school shut down. People like Lemuel Palmer.”

“I’m not surprised they shut it down.”

“And some of the Indian haters wrote to the Quindaro newspaper about my setting up a school that mixed Indians and white children. The paper printed their story and used it editorially against them, but still…”

“I’ll take care of it. Let’s go over it one more time. Just the names.”

“The man who came to the door and shot Jacob. He said his name was Todd.”

“George Todd. And the leader of the bunch was Quantrill.”

“Yes. He announced that name to the man he shot.”

“Did you recognize anyone else in uniform?”

“No one else. There wasn’t much light.”

“I don’t suppose anyone in the town would have ridden with Quantrill in uniform that night. Who were the men Quantrill lined up? Do you know them? Get a good look at them?”

“Yes, I did. I know them all, and Quantrill had a list of them. They weren’t all real strong loyalists, but I recognized them.”

“I’d like you to make a list of those men. Is there anyone else in the town that Quantrill missed? Anyone you know you could go to, somebody who supported your school?”

“Oh, yes. Just women without their men—men who died in the fighting or gone to war.”

“How many?”

“Six or seven.”

“I’d like them on a list, too.”

Elizabeth looked at him.

“When I get there I’ll need some support. I may need help getting the men buried.”

“Yes.”

“You sit here.” He pulled paper, pen, and ink from the desk. “If you think of anything else I should know before I go there, make a note for me. I’m going up and see that my men are doing what I told them to do. You come up when you like. The children are fine with Mrs. Bartles.” He stood and put his hand over his heart. “I am truly sorry that you have lost your husband and that your children have lost their father. Nothing will bring him back, but I will do what I can to bring you comfort.”

“Thank you, Colonel.”

Hoyt walked up to the kitchen and called Mrs. Bartles aside. “Rebecca, let’s have dinner early, if you can manage. The men and I are going for a ride.”

“It’s ready, Colonel. You ring the bell and by the time the men get in here, it’ll be on.”

“And the children. If it is not too much trouble, would you serve them and their mother in the saloon? And sit with them, please. I’ll take care of the men. Thank you.”

When the men were all seated at the table, Hoyt stood and the room quieted. “You may continue with your meal, but I’d like to say a few words about a mission we are compelled to carry out this evening. The children sitting in the next room—two days ago they saw their father executed in front of them. Their mother was threatened and their house was burned to the ground. The men who did it advertised themselves as Quantrill and Todd. The gang wore Federal uniforms and were supported by members of the town, Mrs. Stiles’ own neighbors. Tonight we ride to avenge the Stiles family and mete out justice to the murderous traitors in our midst who support the rebellion. We leave in an hour, armed and light. We’ll be back before sunrise. Any questions?”

“One. Which side of the river?”

“Kansas, south of the Kaw. We cross east of the Grasshopper. Good question. Pete, I want you right now to get on your horse and go down and hold the ferry. Do what you need to do to make it happen. We’ll be right behind you.”

The man grabbed a meaty bone and left.

“Any other questions?”

“Will you put me to work if I ask one?”

“I’ll take that as a question. Yes, is the answer. When we get back you muck out the stable. Any others?”

“Do we announce ourselves? Go in uniform?”

“Wear your leggings and your sabers. Bring pistols and long guns. We might get lucky. Any other questions? If not, eat, fill canteens and mount up. See you at the corral.”

When eleven members of the Kansas Seventh Volunteer Cavalry Irregulars got off the ferry, they rode east along the river for ten minutes when Hoyt called them to dismount.

“We are headed for the Shawnee Mission. We will stop short and pull into the trees above the town. Beauregard and I will disarm and ride into town to reconnoiter and see if Quantrill left any men behind. Stand off your horses quiet. Let them graze. No smoking. We will be back after dark.”

As Jack “Beauregard” Bridges and George Hoyt rode abreast of each other, the Colonel filled him in on the plan. “We’ll look to see if they’ve buried the bodies. We get here and give off the idea that we support it, ask who gets credit, and so forth. What we’re after is identifying people on this list. We keep them safe. Look it over.” He handed Bridges a copy of the list Elizabeth had composed. “Above all, we want Palmer. Whatever we need to do, whatever ass we need to kiss, whatever stories we need to tell, we want to identify Palmer. He’ll give us names and we’ll sort them out on the second pass through. Any questions?”

“Nope. I’ll just follow your lead.”

“Good. Let’s go, Beauregard, and have a little fun.”

Hoyt was surprised at what he saw when he passed through the town. Houses burned to the ground, stables burned, the hotel identifiable only by the limestone blocks of its foundation. The church still stood.

They rode into the square. The sun was gone and light was fading. There was no one in the street. No one came out of a house.

“This is not good, boss,” said Bridges. He pointed to two bodies covered with sheets outside the church.

Hoyt shook his head. “Let’s see if anybody’s home. Head down that direction. I’ll take this street. Let’s see if we can find somebody to tell us what happened here.”

When Hoyt saw a light, he stopped, dismounted, and stepped up to the house. His knock was answered by a woman in a white cap who just looked at him.

Hoyt removed his hat. “Good evening, missus. I don’t mean to bother you, but we came across the river to visit and it looks like somebody brought the war to town. I sure am sorry what you got.”

The woman held the door. “There’s nothin’ I can do fer you. Go away.” She closed the door.

Hoyt spoke to the door. “Is there anybody in town? I came quite a ways and it’s almost dark.”

The door opened a crack. “Why’d ya come here?”

“I’m looking for a man who said he might be able to help me. Name of Lem Palmer. Said to just stop by.”

“That fool? Lemuel Palmer!” She opened the door and stuck her head out and spat. “There! He’s the one who brought all this down on us. Look around. Smell. He brought death to this town.”

“I’m sorry, missus. I just want to talk to him and I’ll go.”

“Yer not one ‘a them, are ya? One ‘a them fancy killers that dress up like soldiers, friends of Lemuel Palmer?” She opened the door wide and spat on the porch floor.

“I assure you, I’m not. No. Can you tell me, maybe let me know who can? Then I’ll be goin’. Looks like there’s no place in town to stay. So, well, thank you.” He settled his hat on his head and touched the brim.

“See the church?” She stepped out onto the porch and waved. “Two doors over from the church there. And don’t tell him you heard it from me. From now on I don’t know the man.” She stepped in and slammed the door.

Hoyt rode down and met Bridges in the street. “Find anybody?” he asked.

Bridges shook his head.” Nobody who’d answer the door. There’s lights. People are home.”

“I don’t blame them. I found a woman who wasn’t happy with Lemuel Palmer, but she pointed out his house.”

“If nobody’ll talk to us, we’re not gonna find the people on the list.”

“And we’re not going to have much fun here, then, are we?”

Bridges looked down and shook his head. “Nope.”

“Let’s ride back and get the men. We still have Lemuel Palmer to deal with before he goes to bed.”

When Hoyt and Bridges rode into the trees, the men pulled their horses around and listened. “It’s not like I thought,” Hoyt began. “Quantrill burned half the town and the other half is going to die on its own. We’re going to go back and kill Palmer in his house and tell his wife and kids to bury him and the two stinking bodies they got lined up in front of the church and to do it before the sun comes up. Tell them if they’re not in the ground by sunup, they die. Not make a big show of it, maybe not even wake up the town. We all ride in wide and slow. Beauregard and I go in, see Palmer, and then we all ride out.”

The next morning Elizabeth and her children ate breakfast in the kitchen with the men. They made polite conversation and the talk came around to including the children and questions about school. “We haven’t decided exactly,” their mother said, “but there’s a good chance we can get them into school back in Washington. The children and I talked about it last night, and they agree that it’s time to leave the frontier. Their father’s sister lives in Washington. I think it’s safe there, and I’m planning to go to Fort Leavenworth to telegraph her with the news. I won’t ask for help, but if there is not room for us, we’ll find a place somewhere else. There’s always a need for good teachers.”

The conversation took a turn to the east, and the men who had traveled some marveled at the progress the railroads had made in the last few years. Hoyt shared his travels back to Washington to lobby the President’s support for the cavalry. He brought to the table the latest news on the war fronts, and all the men weighed in on what they thought about the war in the undeclared states.

Hoyt brought the speculation to a close when he promised to take their concerns to Washington and the men took that as a prompt for foolishness. Hoyt turned to Elizabeth. “I need to bring these men under control. I’m going to ask that you and Rebecca retire to the saloon with the children. Bring your coffee. I should be able to bring them under rein in five minutes or so, and then I’ll join you. Thank you.”

When Hoyt dismissed the men, he came in with his coffee and sat down with Elizabeth. “Rebecca, would you take the children out and show them the grounds?”

She smiled at him. “The grounds, Col. Hoyt? Could I restrict the tour to the stables?”

Hoyt nodded. “The stables. Look at the horses. Maybe you can find one out there with your name on it!”

When they had gone, Hoyt rolled the cup in his palms and looked down at the table. “You and the children have been through a lot in the last three days,” he began. “I heard you say at breakfast that you want to find a safe place for them. Is Washington where you want to be?”

“Washington or Chicago. I lived in Chicago until I was nineteen and I have people there. It really isn’t about where I want to be. It’s where we can fit in. Family is important to me. We’ve all lost so much. My children, you know, are not my own. The two oldest were my sister’s and when she died, Jacob and I took them in. Sara, bless her heart, was literally left on our doorstep. At the mission’s doorstep. So they are tough, but they are also very tender. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but the sooner I get them settled, the better for them.”

“And how about you? What’s best for you?”

“I have to make a living and I have to take care of my children. Right now I think what’s best for me is to have the man who killed my husband tied to a stake in front of me and to tear pieces off his body with a pliers.” She looked up at him and smiled. “I think that would do it.” She nodded. “Oh, wait. As long as I’m dreaming, I’d like to hold a gun to Lemuel Palmer’s head until he pissed himself.” She laughed and shook her head. “Yes. Then I could settle down. Go back to teaching. Raise my kids.”

Hoyt looked up. “There’s no good way to tell you this, so I’ll come out and say it direct. I left Beauregard to watch over your husband’s body. Lemuel Palmer said he was sorry before I shot him.” Hoyt didn’t wait for Elizabeth to draw a second breath. “His wife and children were left to bury him and your husband and the other poor soul who died with him. We didn’t burn his house.”

Elizabeth looked at Hoyt and didn’t make a sound, but tears welled up and fell. She reached out and put her hand over his.

“You do not get the comfort of burying your husband. Palmer’s death doesn’t address the injustice of the murders, the burning, and the terror, but it’s a start. If I could find Todd, I’d bring him to you. I’m going to let you sit here while I go out and talk to Tough, and then I’m going down to my office and write up a report. When you feel up to it, go out and look around. It’s a beautiful fall morning and we’ve got some nice horses in the corral.”

Elizabeth sat only for a moment and followed Hoyt out into the courtyard. She caught up to him and walked at his side. “Col. Hoyt. Your actions give me great satisfaction and move me to ask a favor of you. I need to find a place for my children before I can grieve for my husband. I need to go to Leavenworth to telegraph my brother-in-law. Can you give me a horse? I’ll get my business done and be back in a day.”

“I’ll do you one better. I’ll have Ralph rig up a buggy and we’ll both go. I have business at the fort and I can take you there and introduce you. We both can use the telegraph and do business and be back by supper.”

Elizabeth touched his elbow and he stopped. “I welcome your company. But I’d like to ride. It’s time I get back on the horse, so to speak. My daddy taught me to ride and shoot and I think it would be invigorating.”

Hoyt smiled. “You want a brace of pistols? Or just one for your purse?”

“Colonel, I never carry a purse.” She looked up and smiled. “Write your report, and we’ll go.”

The ride to Leavenworth was an Indian summer pleasure. Hoyt introduced Elizabeth all around and the men in the General’s office were solicitous. When they were ushered into the Adjutant’s office, the man at the desk stood and bowed and offered Elizabeth and Hoyt chairs. “You have my condolences, Mrs. Stiles, and that of the entire fort. While you don’t need confirmation of your experience, it might be of some satisfaction to know that the raid is validated by a news report in the Leavenworth paper.” He picked up a newspaper from the corner of his desk, unfolded and refolded it, and handed it to Hoyt, who read aloud from it.

DAILY TIMES, LEAVENWORTH KS,

October 19, 1862

Another Raid.

Quantrill in Kansas!

Shawneetown Burned!

A report reached us last evening that Quantrill, with a portion of his band, visited Shawneetown on Friday, burning thirteen houses and killing two men. After robbing the citizens of such articles as seemed desirable he made an about face and left for his old haunts in Jackson county.

Elizabeth bent at the waist and began to cry.

Hoyt asked, “May I keep this?”

The man behind the desk nodded. “We will do what we can to bring the killers to justice, Mrs. Stiles, Col. Hoyt. Is there anything today we can do to help you?”

Hoyt shook his head and thanked the Adjutant. He led Elizabeth by the elbow out onto the porch. “I’m going to take you to the officers’ quarters and then do some business. I’ll come back for you and we can send a telegram to your sister-in-law.”

The ride back to the inn was quiet and they arrived after dark. While Mrs. Bartles fixed them supper, Elizabeth put her children to bed. After supper she sat at the table with Hoyt. “If I get good news from my brother-in-law, I’ll take my children to Washington as soon as I can. I think that’s best.”

“I can arrange military passage from Atchison on the train. There will be guards and I’ll outfit you with a pistol. Have you thought about what you’d do, where you’d go from there?”

“I could stay in Washington. That might be harder than if I leave. I’ve thought about going to Chicago.”

“And you could come back here. I want you to consider it while you are gone. If you are interested in working for the Union, there are many ways to help.”

“I’ve thought about it, but I won’t work as a nurse. I can still feel Jacob dying in my hands.”

Before she left, Hoyt gave her a leather case. “Here are some documents I would like you to deliver for me. There is also a list of people who might be able to help you, along with a letter of introduction from me. Have a safe trip, Mrs. Stiles, and I hope to see you again.”

Elizabeth took the envelope and thanked Hoyt. “If I don’t return soon, I will send a letter regarding my whereabouts. You’ve been a godsend to us, Col. Hoyt. Thank you.”

Hoyt assigned one of the men to ride up to Atchison with Elizabeth and the children and put them on the train to St. Joe. From there they rode to Hannibal and then on to Washington, where Elizabeth met with Lafayette Baker, who gave her a copy of the newspaper from Lawrence, Kansas.

“I’d say your champion has done it again, Mrs. Stiles. I hope he can stop Todd and Quantrill, for your sake and for all our sakes as well.”

LAWRENCE REPUBLICAN

November 6, 1862

THE QUANTRILL HUNT.—Captain Hoyt, with a detachment of Independent Scouts, arrived in this City this morning. The Captain says that his company has been in the saddle for two weeks, with Col. Burris’ force, hunting Quantrill and his men. He reports Quantrill’s band dispersed and were driven south. Several of his men were captured by Captain Hoyt, from one of whom important facts were learned concerning Quantrill and his gang. The names of his associates and friends were learned. Parties in Leavenworth, Kansas City, and this place are said to be implicated. Captain Hoyt said that Quantrill will soon be back at his old haunts. He also says there is no doubt Quantrill contemplated a raid upon Lawrence. A good many contrabands chose the opportunity of Captain Hoyt’s escort to leave Missouri for a land of freedom.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

November 15, 1862

Corinth, Mississippi

 

General Grenville Dodge was writing a letter in response to a request from Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut when he received notice that a rider with escort had passed the pickets north of the camp. His aide, in announcing the party, said, “They look pretty good, General. Their horses do, too. They ain’t been to battle, I’d say.”

When the soldier returned to announce that General Edward D. Townsend had arrived from Washington, Dodge had him wait. He put aside the letter he was composing and sat quietly for a moment and put General Hurlbut’s request out of his mind. When he felt his equanimity had returned, he called his aide to bring Townsend in.

The man introduced himself and pulled a leather case from his waist and handed it to the General. “The President of the United States sends his greetings and asks that you read and respond to these messages at your earliest convenience.”

Three years earlier, in the fall of 1859, Illinois Senator Abraham Lincoln had visited Council Bluffs, Iowa to see about a parcel of land he had invested in. There he met politicians and railroad people, among them Grenville Dodge. “I met with every politician within a hundred miles on this trip,” he confided to Seward later, “but I had to meet with only one man from the railroad.” He wrote his wife Mary, “I am confident now. I believe I have a chance for the Republican nomination for President and, if that doesn’t work out, we have a place to homestead in Nebraska.”

The General opened the aide’s letter and read it.

General Dodge:

“Thank you for your support of the Pacific Railroad Enabling Act, and thank you for your service to the Union and your attention to the railroads in the Mississippi region. It would please me to know that you agree to extend your service to the nation even further. General Townsend has the details and will carry back your response. Yours, A. Lincoln.”

He smiled at the President’s sense of irony. Two years ago the man who was to become the President had promised him and his people that Council Bluffs would be the eastern terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. In return, Dodge had assured the senator that a bridge across the Missouri was in the works and would be ready by the time the first spike was driven. The year before, Dodge had surveyed the route for the railway from the Platte River Valley all the way to the Pacific, and both men agreed that a northern route was essential, as Lincoln put it, “to keep the balance between the industrial north and the agricultural south.”

At the end of Lincoln’s trip to Council Bluffs, Grenville Dodge had taken the Senator across the Platte River Valley to Elk Horn to look at another piece of land.

The General opened a second letter that came in a sealed packet. It was a personal appeal from the President. He politely dismissed the Adjutant to the anteroom and sat and read the letter. The President’s request cited the opinions of Dodge’s superiors—Stanton, Grant, and Sherman. The President remarked on the faith these men had in him and acknowledged the intelligence system already had in place in the South. If he would tentatively agree to the President’s request and add one more responsibility to the long list, Secretary Stanton would spell out the details of the President’s plan and would be pleased to listen to any ideas the General might have on the matter.

Dodge took his time writing his response to the President. Then he called his aide to deliver it to General Townsend. He felt more confident as he turned his attention to his written response to General Hurlbut’s telegram.

 

Nov. 15

Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut

Commander, Fourth Division

District of Western Tenn.

Memphis, Tenn.

 

Sir:

At the risk of losing funding for my operations, I cannot submit to your request for the names of my agents in the field. The security of my scouts is paramount. No one beneath me in my command and no one above me, General Grant included, is privy to that information.

Very respectfully,

G. M. Dodge

Corinth, Mississippi

 

The General gave his aide instructions to seal the letter and send it via courier to General Hurlbut and to wait for a reply.

A week later Dodge was in Washington. He listened to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton as a private listens to his captain. The Secretary outlined his plan and the General caught his enthusiasm, not just for the necessity, but also for the beauty of the design. When given leave to speak, he already had a list of refinements he wanted to add.

Dodge spun them out, and when he paused, Stanton added, “We want you to keep in place the people you have in the South, of course, and perhaps refine it a bit as you have elaborated. The military has two problems with intelligence—people and the system of delivery. Let me address the first because it is the easiest.

We have used Pinkerton because, quite frankly, he was successful at espionage. He found people under our noses. He was good with a magnifying glass, good at uncovering corruption, but he never saw the larger scope of the war. McClellan is gone and Pinkerton has resigned. Lafayette Baker now runs the show. Grant and Burnside both like your work, and we do, too. We are especially grateful for the work you did at Pea Ridge and we are sorry for the wounds you suffered.”

Dodge knew that the President was aware of the intelligence debacle at Fredericksburg, but he wondered what he knew about Pea Ridge, that it was Dodge’s scouts that alerted Curtis of Van Dorn’s plan and that it wa Dodge’s troops that had saved Curtis’s men. When the battle was over, the units from Iowa had suffered one third of the 1400 Union casualties, but it was a win for the generals. At the end of the month, Curtis became Major General and Dodge was promoted to Brigadier General.

Dodge’s way of doing things was so different from Pinkerton’s that it seemed they were engaged in two different wars, and he was glad the man was no longer in charge. Dodge gathered information using people he knew, and he instructed his people in ways to assess the information they had gathered before it was sent along. He recruited people who were committed to either the cause of the Union or the cause of abolition. Most of them worked without pay. He wondered what, if anything, would change in Washington under Baker’s command.

When Stanton moved on to the second problem, Dodge agreed with him and went further in examining it. “The biggest problem is logistical. It takes too long for information to be passed up the chain of command. I have known it to take as long as ten days for a message to get to the right people. Hierarchies work efficiently from the top down, never from the bottom up. And if the message is dropped on the ladder, it is lost. My people work as in a web rather than as on a ladder, and the message is replicated, redundant. And this brings up a third issue—interception. The telegraph is vulnerable. For critical messages I use couriers, and I use more than one. If the message is important enough to risk one life, it is important enough to risk two or three. Every critical message is in split cipher. You need two or more parts of the message to read it.”

Stanton reassured the General. “The President would like you to keep your practices and your people. He would like you to direct your attention to the north, especially to Kansas, Missouri, and Kentucky. Missouri and Kentucky are part of the war, yet they are not part of the Confederacy. Kansas, on the face of things, is on our side, but their enthusiasm for abolition causes problems with their neighbors.”

He immediately bridled at the Secretary’s cavalier attitude. Did the Secretary not understand the phrase “Bleeding Kansas”? And what did the man really know about Missouri? Or was Stanton picking up Lincoln’s sense of humor? He decided to put judgment aside and listen.

“As you know, operating in the South we can act on certain assumptions. In the border states we can’t. The big threat in those states are guerrillas who disrupt road, rail, and river traffic and cause political turmoil that sends ripples in measure far beyond their level of violence.”

Dodge knew the insidious threat that guerrilla fighters presented to the military. A solitary sharpshooter who melts into the woods. One man with an axe who attacks a truss in the middle of a bridge. A fire at night on a hillside.

He also knew the political chaos—the loss of respect for political structures and the primacy of law. The conflict between local, state, and federal officials. The nighttime guerrilla raids on towns and farms. The executions and tortures. Communities torn apart. People not trusting their neighbors.

Dodge wondered what Stanton knew that he himself didn’t know. He waited patiently as the secretary went on with his agenda, describing the problems inherent in working in the South vs. working in Missouri. When the Secretary had fired all his guns, Dodge addressed the practicality of the request. “The President is asking me to assume responsibility for building and running what is essentially a spy operation in the north. As you have just said, in the South you can make certain assumptions, and in Missouri you can’t. That makes the challenge of finding people and gathering information in the North all the more difficult.

A second consideration is cost. While the people I have recruited in the South, for the most part, work for the Union and not for pay, I trust I will not find that so in Missouri. A black slave in Dixie has some recourse if things get bad. He can appeal to me and I can extricate him and he will become a fugitive in the North. Every negro in the South is waiting for the President to issue his proclamation to free all slaves in the Confederacy from bondage. A fugitive slave in Missouri is still a slave, and there is no guarantee that someone, anyone—military or civilian—won’t take him back to his master.

An abolitionist woman, a wife living in Booneslick country, puts herself and her family at risk if she is even suspected of being an abolitionist. People don’t know who to trust.

I don’t mean to muddy the waters here, Mr. Secretary, but simply put, I will need money to operate. I will not be able to administer both the northern and southern spying operations while building and repairing railroads and bridges.” He paused and added, “And from time to time taking my troops into battle.”

“Well said, General,” Stanton said. “While I cannot solve both problems, I think I can help you solve the money issue. There are direct funds for scouts, and we can channel those on the military payroll to you and you can give them their orders. The people you use beyond the military, the extra-legals, must be paid out of extra-legal funds.”

Plunder, General Dodge thought. Illegal markets. Extortion and ransom. Graft and political corruption.

Secretary Stanton waded into a complicated description of contraband, the market operations, and international trade. He ended it. “As a commanding officer you forage, expropriate, and impress. You live off the land. What I am suggesting here is no different in kind, only in scale. The Union is waging an economic war, General. If we can break the back of the South’s economy, which is based on the plantation system and its fruits, we will have won the war. What I am suggesting is that instead of ‘burning as we go,’ as General Sherman tends to do, we confiscate and ship the contraband north. Right now there are pens full of hemp and warehouses are full of cotton. Anything the army can’t eat, we can sell. We can market that contraband and we can use the money to fund your operation in the North. We will give you access to the fiber and our contacts in the markets. The price of cotton in the last two years has gone from ten cents to nearly two dollars. French ships are waiting in Boston, General. We just have to fill them.”

“I can’t possibly do that. I don’t have the skill or the time or the people.”

“You can hire it done. Before the rebellion, you were a successful businessman. I’m sure you know people who can carry out your directives, people you can trust to bring back the money.”

Stanton paused. Then he said, “I am here to convince you, General, to do what is best for the Union. And I know you will agree to do it or we wouldn’t still be talking about it. Let’s let it rest for a while. Come to my house for dinner. I promise we won’t talk about any of this or about the war, if you like. You can come tomorrow and see me here and we can hammer out the details.”

He stayed one more day and met with the Secretary and Lafayette Baker. At the end of the day, Dodge sent telegrams to the men he knew he could count on to put the northern operation in place.

 

Back in Corinth a week later, Grenville Dodge spent the first thirty minutes of his meeting with Will Brown, and Floyd Burkley reliving the glory days of Omaha-Council Bluffs. Floyd pulled out a flask and passed it around. When it was time to get down to business, the General outlined the President’s charge.

“Why are you asking me?” Will Brown turned to Floyd. “And he’s asking you, too, Floyd. Why is he asking you? We don’t know anything about spies or spying.” He turned back to the General. “You know that. Doesn’t the Union Army have people who do that?”

“Hell, Will. Everbody knows I can spy,” said Floyd. “I spent much time with the Injuns and learned many of their ways. General Long Eye here is right to call us into his service.”

Dodge laughed and shook his head. “Will, this is why I wanted to see you. I knew Floyd wouldn’t come unless you did, and I needed his Indian ways to understand the enemy. Let me get you some of my firewater, Chief.” He got up and pulled a decanter and three glasses from a cabinet. He poured and held up his glass. “To good friends, old friends, trusted friends.” The men touched glasses and drank.

“All fun and done,” Dodge said. “I called you both here because I know you. I’d come to you even if the army had its own intelligence system, which it doesn’t. We’ve been friends a long time. You are extremely loyal and you are circumspect in your dealings.”

“That means I’m secretive, right? Good for spying.” said Will. “How about honest? Can you throw honest in there?”

“I don’t want to, but I can. If I thought it would make you take the deal.”

“Honest Will Brown.” Will Brown grimaced. “No, you’re right. It doesn’t sound right. I’ll settle for trusted friend.”

“Then you’ll take it on?”

“I’ll listen, and I’ll sign on one step at a time. This isn’t the kind of business I like.”

Floyd Burkley grinned, held up his glass, and took a drink.

“Let’s get started then,” said Dodge. “Down here everybody’s politics is taken for granted. Even if they don’t one-hundred-percent believe it, everybody down here professes that the war is about defending a way of life. As a result, operating as a spy is traitorous for every white male in the South. Men are not good candidates. There are exceptions and I’ll get to them later.

The best candidates are slaves. They are faceless and invisible. And there are a lot of them. They are a walking history of dissembling. They know things their masters don’t know, and they have their own channels of information.

The second group of candidates are the women. They also learn to serve, smile, and get along. Many are likely candidates for recruiting because they want to rebel and can’t. They have been oppressed, and often they identify with the negro. On the other hand, they may be crueler and more repressive than their plantation-master husbands. It can go either way.

There’s a third group. These are men who turn away from the Confederacy and disavow the system. Some men signed up at the beginning of the rebellion to defend their community, or they signed up as soldiers in a state militia. When Jefferson Davis began conscription and soldiers were assigned to units away from their homes, many deserted—in some cases whole families left—and if the men didn’t, the women did, and that makes for unhappy husbands. The best examples are the Tennessee Cavalry families. I have many in my service here and I will get together a dossier for you.

And in the fourth group you have real scouts. These are more than spies. They are men who know the landscape and the communities and can move in and out and come and go. Most of them are not paid and are on no one’s list, blue or gray.

Up north, especially in Missouri, recruiting will be difficult, but some of the work is already done. It’s not highly organized, but you should be able to use what is in place. Each general has his own scouts, and he husbands them jealously. Some generals share intelligence, some do not. Beyond the range of official military control are what we euphemistically call guerrillas. They know the people and the countryside. In peacetime the community would turn against them and either have them lynched or charged as criminals. For our purposes we cultivate them, reward them, and for what it’s worth, take what they offer. They can go places and do things a soldier or a scout cannot.

Two years ago Fremont freed all the slaves in Missouri, and General Curtis, in defiance of the national law and the will of the President, ordered his troops to give safe harbor to any fugitive slave. Both those men have been removed and generals who are less enthusiastic about freeing slaves have replaced them. Schofield, for example, believes every abolitionist should be hanged, and he has said so on numerous occasions. He has also been accused of getting bushwhackers sympathetic to the Confederacy to do some things that soldiers are not allowed to do.

It’s best to think of Missouri as another country that also just happens to be a state that may or may not be in the Union. You know the history and the politics, and the war has made things in Missouri only worse. Where jayhawkers in the border wars rode in to burn and pillage, now the Federals march in to burn and forage. I feel sorry for the people. They’re not defending a way of life or a political system. Mostly they just want to be left alone. Bushwackers continue to intimidate them and jayhawkers continue to terrorize them. But that’s what happens in a civil war, like it or not. In this war, the casualties are not all counted.

Two of the best generals who operate out of Missouri are Ewing and Blunt.”

Floyd cleared his throat and scooted his glass toward the center of the table. “You suppose…?”

Dodge responded by picking up the carafe and setting it next to Floyd’s glass. Floyd poured a measure and held it up to the General.

“As I was saying, you can count on Ewing and Blunt.”

“And stay clear of Schofield,” said Floyd.

“You won’t have to worry about General Schofield. He won’t know you exist. Blunt and Ewing, however, can be a big help. You can go to them if you are in a pinch. I wouldn’t play them off against each other, though. They are not exactly friends, but they are able to work together, and the men and women they pay as scouts cooperate. The generals have even managed to organize some of the jayhawkers. A month ago Blunt was able to convince some of the remnants of the Seventh Regiment of the Kansas Cavalry, the men who walked away after Col. Jennison resigned, to work together as a loosely organized unit. He promised to pay every enlisted man as a scout—that’s seven dollars a day—and the official scouts would have license to recruit “irregulars,” men not on the payroll, who are paid with what they find.

Col. George Hoyt is in charge of what he calls the Seventh Cavalry Irregulars. His men nicknamed him ‘Will’, for ‘at will Hoyt’. They say it’s his favorite way of dismissing his men. He rules with a shrug and an upturned palm and he offers his orders as suggestions. There is no chain of command. He has a company of a hundred men who come and go according to whim and suggestion from a warehouse south of Kansas City and an inn known as the Six Mile House, just north of Wyandotte. Individuals in the unit follow the men who stand for what they admire most. There’s a cadre of avowed abolitionists. Some of them rode with Read Anthony and some have families who worked to help runaways. Some are friends of Jim Lane. For the most part these are skilled cavalry who got fed up with the politics of the military. You’ll want to look for two men who have taken Confederate ‘noms-de-guerre,’ Joseph Bloom Swain and Jack Bridges, also known as Jeff Davis and Beauregard. They will be invaluable to you.

There are men on the payroll who are paid as scouts, but their real métier is spying. Ewing’s best spy is Red Clark. Blunt trusts Walt Sinclair. There’s a third, Will Tough.”

Floyd held up his hand. “Jesus Johnson! Wait a minute, General. I can’t follow this. All these names! And I don’t understand half of what you’re sayin’.” He nodded to his companion. “I’ll bet Will O. here can’t follow it either, although he’s too polite to say so. What do you think, Will?”

“You lost me back there, General,” said Will Brown. “My attention stopped and my curiosity took over when you said Jeff Davis and Beauregard were part of the cavalry. Can you tell me how they got those nicknames? And can you write all this down? Then Floyd and I can concentrate on listening.”

General Dodge laughed and promised notes and maps and addresses and anything else Will and Floyd found necessary. “As to the origin of their nicknames, one of the stories is that they were wearing Confederate uniforms on one of their missions and succeeded in bedding two sisters by convincing them they were Jefferson Davis Jr. and General Beauregard. It’s a good story, don’t you think?”

“You bet!” said Floyd. “Gimme one a them! I bet Abraham Lincoln’s already taken, though, huh? Tell me I’m wrong, General.”

Dodge shook his head and laughed. “Floyd, as a spy you can be whoever you want to be. No one’s going to argue with you.”

“I’ll work on that. O.K. Now go on. I’m ready to listen.”

“I was coming to a real character, Will Tough. He’d rather be an out-and-out horse thief than a spy. Hoyt lets him be both. There are men who sometimes attach themselves to these three, but these three are the men you trust. I would look to them if you want to recruit new people.

Hoyt has scouts who go out on particular missions and come back with information. The scouts are reliable, although sometimes they fall in with this last group, the truly dangerous men. When these men ride, they ride under a black flag. Their motives are various and personal. They all understand revenge. They are young and old—they’ve got a cold blooded killer who is 15 and a 72 year old who’ll backshoot you without ever seeing your face.

They have cultivated the reputation of being Redlegs, all of them. Despite their individual lack of character, they are extremely loyal to each other. They follow no flag and wear whatever uniform suits them. They love their horses and prize their weapons. They ride armed to the teeth. They equip their saddles with four pistol holsters, a saber sheath in front, and two long gun racks in back. One for a rifle and the other for a shotgun. They strap a Bowie knife on their thigh and carry their ammunition in their shirt pockets.

Aside from the Redlegs, your best source for information are the Jessie Scouts. Presently, these are part of my people, but I will gradually turn their management over to you. They’re organized and they don’t ride as guerrillas. General Fremont, before he was removed, selected a bunch of smart men under his command and assigned them as his scouts in Missouri. Jessie’s scouts, he called them, after his wife. He passed the Scouts on to me. Charles Carpenter initially commanded the Scouts, but if you see him, run the other way or shoot him. Schofield had him arrested and he’s not supposed to be in Missouri. I will send a man from the unit I trust, Robert Milroy. He’ll be of service to you, I know. He’ll be our liaison.”

“General, do you have someone here, an aide, maybe, I could count on for some of the details? There are things I don’t want to bother you with, and I’d like Floyd and me to take a day or two and digest this, ask our questions, and then take off and not bother you. Let’s say I write a monthly report and keep it safe, and send it on if necessary. I’ll send you summary reports by courier—I heard you don’t like the telegraph.” Will Brown smiled.

“It will come into its own after the rebellion is put down. For now, it is vulnerable to interception, counterfeit, and mayhem. The biggest problem is that if a message is compromised, you don’t know it. If a letter is stolen, a courier killed, you know you’ve lost the message and whatever confidentiality you had. That’s all. I accept telegrams, but if the information is critical, I may or may not believe what is in it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I myself like person-to-person contact, but those days are gone, I’m afraid.”

“Mr. Brown, I don’t have a confidante you can rely on here in camp. Stay here as long as you like and don’t hesitate to come to me. Come to me any time. My men say that, like a horse, I sleep standing up. That’s a charming exaggeration. There are two men you have to get through, and they both have orders to let you pass at any time. Now if you have no questions, you are dismissed.”

“General, I’ll do what I can and I’ll tell you when that doesn’t work. I look forward to working with you.”

Will and Floyd were escorted to the officers’ quarters, where their bags were already at their bunks. “I think the General misses us,” said Floyd. “Well, not maybe us in particular, just people like us. He did go on and on.”

“When a man sees another man he truly respects, he sees himself. Grenville Dodge is the careful one.”

“He’s circumspect, wouldn’t you say?”

“Very. But he trusts us. We are not in his world. I would guess that the military is a dangerous and brutal world. And I’m talking about the good guys.”

“Will, we can go back to Omaha any time we want, am I right?”

“That’s right, Floyd. We don’t live here. And we can leave any time we want.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Six weeks after leaving the inn, Elizabeth Stiles rode back to Six Mile with a letter from Jim Lane, which she delivered to Col. Hoyt. He read the letter and handed it back to her. “Have a seat, Elizabeth. I see you had a productive leave in Washington. Jim Lane is one of the good ones.”

“I have a confession to make. I never met the man. That letter is a forgery—written by Lafayette Baker. I’m not denying the content is accurate, though.” She laughed.

“It’s an auspicious beginning, isn’t it? A forged introduction to the world of spying. It’s good to see you. If you stay in St. Louis, I know our paths will cross.

“I’m going there, but I don’t know how long I’ll stay. General Blunt was not forthcoming in his description of what my duties might be.”

Hoyt nodded. “Blunt knows, but won’t say. If you had talked to Jim Lane he would have told you more than you wanted to know. At this point, Elizabeth, it really doesn’t matter. You have your people in St. Louis, and they will tell you everything you need to know.”

“What can you tell me, Colonel? I’m afraid I’m about to deliver myself into the lion’s den.”

“It’s more like having a ticket to the whole circus, Elizabeth. Since the rebellion, St. Louis has become a city like no other. All the issues and problems Missouri had during the border wars have been brought to one place and thrown together. The city looks and operates as it did before. The cotton market and the slave pens are gone, but both still get brokered in side streets.

The state’s got a governor who has plans to deliver Missouri to Jeff Davis, and St. Louis has a mayor who is in the Gratiot Street Military Prison for conspiring to overthrow the government. They’ve got a Judge Advocate General who is a slave-holding Unionist who has said he believes every abolitionist should be hanged. There’s no clear distinction between who’s a rebel sympathizer and who’s a secessionist, and the prisons are full. The city is under martial law. It’s only the presence of federal troops that keeps Wide Awakes and the Minutemen from waging battle in the streets by day and by night riding like Quantrill through the city exacting revenge on the folks they don’t like. If you’ve got a cause, you’ll find support there. If you’re out for revenge, you can find someone who’ll trade you stories. Everybody’s got somebody who’s been a victim of battle or depredation, and they’ll be happy to enlist you in their fight. My advice is to decide clearly what you want to do. Then go to the people who can help you and stick close to the people you trust. Above all, declare your allegiance to no one in public.”

Hoyt pointed to the letter. “Jim Lane says—excuse me Lafayette Baker says—you have important work to do. What is it you want to do?”

“I want to stop being that woman who laid there helpless in the street. I want to ride with the Redlegs, but I know that’s not possible. I want to do something, something that has a real effect, something that makes a difference. Does that make any sense?”

“As much as anything.”

“General Blunt has given me sealed papers to be delivered.”

“Your first job. So you’ve already started. I’ll give you a good horse, a pistol, and a list of people I trust. Do you need money?”

“I have enough to get me there. And thanks for the offer. Ordinarily, I’d take you up on it, but this time all I need is a purse pistol and a ticket on a riverboat.”

“I’ll have an envelope made up with some confederates and some greenbacks. The bogus bills might be useful for you. Did Blunt say anything about putting you on payroll?”

Elizabeth smiled and nodded. “You were fishing. You knew, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t hear it from Blunt, I assure you. Yes, I knew. Franklin Dick, the Provost. His name is on the papers you carry. You get paid seven dollars a day, same as me. Scout or spy?” He laughed. “We’re all the same, Elizabeth. That makes us part of the same unit, then, doesn’t it? Maybe we need to have an initiation or something.”

Elizabeth’s first response melted into a smile. “Only if you want everyone to know you get paid the same as a woman!” They laughed.

“Elizabeth. Wait here. I’ll be right back.” Hoyt returned and handed a package to her. “You don’t have to wear them, but I think you should have them. Come back here and there may be an occasion for you to put them on.”

Elizabeth opened the package and unrolled a pair of pink lambskin leggings and held them up. “Col. Hoyt. I am pleased and honored.” She dropped them into her lap. “This means a lot. I’ll carry them with me and they will remind me of you and your men. Thank you.” She paused and then said, “I do hope I can find the occasion to wear them.”

“Now you are a properly initiated Redleg scout.” He looked at her and smiled. “And now that you are, I will tell you what your plans are. You won’t travel on a riverboat. Odds are if the ice doesn’t get you some bushwhacking sharpshooter looking for an easy target will at least give you grief. The big boats are carrying troops and materiel up and down the Mississippi, and only the little ones are left to navigate that mean little river on our border. I’ll arrange your travel by train. Once you get to Hannibal you will take a river boat down to St. Louis. It’s secure from there. And I will outfit you properly—a pistol for your purse and a ‘Fear of God’ revolver in your carpetbag. You know the muff pistol is for show, and not for killing, don’t you? I wouldn’t rely on it.”

“I won’t. But it is nice to have. It makes me feel like I can. Not just if I have to, but that I can.”

 

 

Chapter 5

 

It took Will Brown and Floyd Burkley a week to get back to Kansas City and another day to get to Leavenworth. Blunt’s aide, Capt. Thomas Anderson, laid out papers and explained the General’s list of scouts and spies, and when Brown was introduced to Hoyt, the Colonel offered to compare notes.

“Colonel, I don’t have much to offer except a bunch of questions about how everything works. General Dodge has taken us to school, as it were, but we’re still ignorant. Floyd and me we got lists and maps and notes and we agree that none of it adds up to a comprehensible system. I can tell you, it makes no sense. The more we learn, the more confused it gets.”

“That, Mr. Brown, is what Socrates would say is the beginning of understanding. And it holds especially true of where you are going. St. Louis is the crucible of Missouri, the best example of the worst of the war. It’s all there. Every force and fragment of the war has its representatives fighting by proxy there, pimps and preachers all. We are sending into that den of iniquity a member of the fairer sex. I hope you can keep her under your wing. Her name is Elizabeth Stiles.” The Colonel waxed rhapsodic about her beauty and her virtues and told her story.

He ended with Jim Lane’s letter of recommendation. “She’s our best link to Lafayette Baker. From what she told me, he was quite taken with her. He has set her up with bona fides as a rebel facilitator and she is our link to many of the seditious groups in St. Louis. Be good to her.”

“What can you tell me about your operation here? Anderson in Blunt’s office suggested this place was a nest of vipers, Redlegs and jayhawkers all.”

“But our money’s still good, as the saying goes,” Hoyt said. “Blunt got orders to either bring us under control or disperse us last spring. They ran Jennison off, transferred the Seventh Cavalry to Corinth and put them under Grant. When they did that, many of the men just up and quit. Some of them went to the bush, and some came back here and hired back on with Blunt as scouts. You see, Blunt knows that the Redlegs can do things he can’t do. While we’re a thorn in his side, we’re also the saber on his hip. We’re good at what we do and we’re quick about it.

The core of our company had been riding with Jennison’s jayhawkers off and on during the border wars, and the Colonel brought us into the official service of the Union Oct. 28, 1861. We were mustered in to the Department of Kansas, Army of the Mississippi and served there until September last. I was in Company K from the first. Under Col. Jennison we prided ourselves in our abilities as horsemen, as a self-sustaining cavalry unit independent of a larger parent force. Col. Jennison got us Colt revolving rifles and .44 caliber army revolvers. We saw ourselves as the scourge of the bushwackers, and we were successful in that we burned them out of their nests and rode them down and killed them. We stole their horses and mules and freed their slaves. We didn’t touch their women and children.

What ultimately destroyed us as a regiment was the politics. The politics of Missouri, the politics of the military, and the politics of Honest Abe, who wanted to save the union and end the war at all costs. Eventually the generals tried to bring us under control by moving us out of Missouri and down into Mississippi and Tennessee, and then they made us part of Sheridan’s army, but that came later.

We started to come apart as a fighting cavalry when Jennison resigned. Daniel Read Anthony was brought in to replace him and if the politicians thought they were getting control over the Seventh by bringing him in, they were quickly proved wrong.

Read Anthony gave up newspapering and joined the Union Army to free slaves and punish their masters, pure and simple. He was an excellent leader, a good horseman, and our champion. He was angry that Missouri still held slaves and he got tired of slave hunters being given free passes through our lines to chase runaways. He knew, we all knew, that the hawks were scouts, spies, sometimes even sharp shooters. You can’t run an army and let the enemy get behind you.

So in June, Anthony issued Order No. 26. It got picked up in the papers and everybody got talking. That was the big problem, the newspapers. Again, it gets back to politics. If Anthony had just told his men to stop allowing people through the lines instead of issuing an official order, he might still be in command. But that’s not Daniel Read Anthony’s way. General Mitchell told him to countermand the order and Anthony refused, so Mitchell had him arrested and thrown in the guardhouse. Then the senate got involved and when they got finished investigating and arguing, Halleck released Anthony from prison, reinstated him to duty, but didn’t give his command back. Anthony resigned and became postmaster. I took over Company K while Anthony was in the guardhouse and I held it together for a few months. The politicians didn’t like my history of jayhawking. They pulled me and put Albert Lee in charge and moved the Seventh down to Corinth, and from what I understand he’s doing fine.”

“And the men who stayed here, the men who didn’t go down to Corinth…”

“They’re here with me, aren’t they?

“As their commander.”

“I prefer to say that I’m their leader. The men I ride with don’t take commands. They only look to me for leadership, and I’m proud to do that. They don’t need me. If I go down, they will continue to be The Seventh Cavalry Volunteers.”

“And they are down on the books as scouts. You see, I’m interested because part of my assignment is to organize a strategic information system in Missouri and I’d like to know what you can do for me. What I can do for you.”

“That, Mr. Brown, is yet to be discovered, isn’t it?

 

 

Chapter 6

 

General Grenville Dodge was aware of the heavy irony in bringing Thomas Durant in to direct the operation’s financial end. Durant was responsible for the first railroad bridge built across the Mississippi at Rock Island, Illinois. Soon after the bridge was completed, a steamship plowed into it. The owners of the ship sued the M and M Railroad and president Durant for damages as well as a judgment to have the bridge dismantled. Successfully defending Durant and the M and M in court was a young lawyer from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. Six years later as President, Lincoln appointed Durant’s company, with its operations center in Council Bluffs, to be in charge of establishing the eastern terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Dodge needed Durant’s connections to move the goods seized from Confederates out of warehouses and onto eastern port ships. He needed Durant’s business and banking acumen to market the goods and to turn at least a portion of it into greenbacks so that the people in his northern spy system could get paid. The General wired Durant.

Durant’s response was immediate and enthusiastic. He met Dodge in Corinth a week later.

“General, to get this operation underway quickly, you need fungible commodities to bring European capital into the market. In my ride down here I saw poverty and destitution on one side of the road and on the other I saw incredible wealth rotting in the fields. You get your corn and oats harvested because you need to feed your horses and mules. You don’t harvest cotton or hemp or any other cash crops. What do you do with the cotton you confiscate? What you don’t burn or dump into the river you store in barns and warehouses. Give me that cotton and the authority to move it and I’ll convert it into greenbacks ahead of sale. Give me further license and I’ll bet I can find storehouses full of contraband that you didn’t even know existed.

And looking ahead, let’s get those fields turned over and ready for planting in the spring. It’s not too late to pick the cotton that hasn’t rotted. On the road, I passed thousands of able black men and women who could earn their keep if you gave them work. Let me get them organized. I’ll give them places to live and food to eat, and in the spring we’ll plant. Not just cotton. We can plant short term crops, buy them livestock, and let them feed themselves.”

When the meeting was over, Dodge gave Durant some of the control he wanted and left on the table options for a larger enterprise once the funding project was underway. The General was not so naïve as to believe that Durant could gain control of the existing market in contraband cotton, but there was no harm in letting the man discover that for himself. General Butler controlled the Louisiana market, and General Grant controlled the Tennessee market. Grant was as clean as Butler was corrupt, but Grant’s honesty and dedication to stopping the corruption of the political and military system came at a price—he persecuted anyone in his district who dealt with unauthorized trade in goods. On Dec. 17 he levied General Order No. 11, which in effect expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee under the assumption that the “Israelites” were responsible for all the unauthorized trade in his jurisdiction. Lincoln rescinded the Order three weeks later, but the damage was done.

By contrast, Butler by his lack of enforcement encouraged trade in contraband goods in his district. Butler did not invent the practice of seizing military contraband and selling it, but he was the first to apply it to slaves. “Slaves aren’t people,” he argued. “They are military assets and they support the rebels by building and digging and transporting and are therefore subject to seizure.” The opinion, incorporated into Lyman Trumbull’s bill that became the Second Confiscation Act, was signed by President Lincoln in July.

Whereas Grant was directly involved in attempts to stop the trade of illegal goods, Butler had a roster of civilians who contracted to deal in contraband. Butler learned early that if he seized the cotton, all he had was cotton. If he seized it and he sold it, the money realized was traceable, clearly military money. Instead, he allowed the cotton to come to New Orleans, where it was auctioned off for low prices, and had a proxy buy it. General George Shipley, as Military Governor of Louisiana, gave Butler’s contractors the license to transport goods through military lines. The cotton was shipped down to New Orleans to be sold and then back up the Mississippi and put on trains for the eastern ports.

Durant learned that if money were to be made in the cotton trade, it would not be in contraband seized under Grant or Butler’s jurisdictions. But money was to be made, he said, “in the cracks of the system.” He went to George Johnston, George Shipley’s subordinate, and made a deal. First, he said, he wanted “permission” to get control of Texas cotton. Since it was not under Butler’s jurisdiction, it was only a question of courtesy, but Durant wanted official approval. He got the nod from Butler’s man and went to Washington and got official permission from Secretary Stanton. Durant told Stanton that the cotton would not be sold in the U.S. but would be traded for arms in Cuba or Mexico. That satisfied Stanton, because Grant was complaining about the illegal cotton trade. It also satisfied Butler because it kept Texas cotton off the market that he was selling to.

Durant next addressed the inefficiency of the cotton confiscation system. He put it this way to Butler’s man Johnston. “Everybody thought this war would be over in a matter of months. That’s what they all think when they start a war. But we’ve got to be in this for the long haul. Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Seizing cotton takes away the motivation to plant another crop. If you want a crop to harvest in the fall, you have to motivate the planters.”

Durant convinced Johnston to give an unwritten promise to plantation owners that their slaves would not be freed by troops under Butler’s control and that their cotton would not be seized, but would be allowed to be shipped to New Orleans to be sold by the plantation owners—at low prices, granted, but for a profit, nonetheless. That was the carrot. The stick was for Butler to administer a census in his district as a way to send a message to those planters who were not willing to play along. Butler sent squads of soldiers to the 4,000 plantations in the Louisiana District asking for a pledge of loyalty to the Union. Refusal to sign the pledge meant that the owners were banished from their plantations and property seized, under the Second Confiscation Act. Durant suggested a taunt: “We’ll take the plantations and turn them into freedman farms. Wouldn’t that be a shame?”

With the promise of a new cotton crop, Durant went north to arrange for financing, essentially selling futures in the fall crop that was not yet in the ground.

Immediate capital was provided by speculators from the North who were eager to lease plantations that were seized by Butler and worked by contraband slaves that were also “freed” from the slavery of their masters. To prove the viability of betting on the future production of cotton, Durant published bulletins in newspapers in the south and the border states: “Any FMC or FWC willing to work will be clothed and in every way provided for out of their earnings. Payment will be, depending on quality of the work, $12.5 cents per pound of cotton, and productivity other than field work will be paid on a contract basis.”

As easily as he found investors, Durant found managers, although they were not cut from the same cloth. He sent letters and telegrams to the relief societies asking for money and volunteers. The overwhelming response brought people, money, and goods, as well as promises to help build the freedman villages that would help run the plantations. What Durant could not get from donations or the army he bought on credit. To Dodge’s relief, contrabands from the camp in Corinth began to relocate to the villages and their plantations.

Even General Grant sent congratulations on the success of the enterprise and remarked on the relief it gave his troops. “Our officers no longer feel the need to feed and clothe the refugees and considerable peace is brought to the ranks because of it,” he wrote. Dodge knew of what his superior spoke. Not all Union soldiers were abolitionists, and even those who were sympathetic resented the trailing mobs of freed slaves that followed them, hoping for a little food to go along with their freedom.

Once Durant found buyers for the cotton futures as well as the cotton in the bale, he was one step away from going to the Confederate cotton merchants and offering a way around the blockade. By the first of the year he was offering to pay, at a discount, to take the cotton they had in their warehouses off their hands. His most effective argument: sell it to me now, or have it seized later.

And if there were any question about that inevitability, Durant referred them to General Yancey, who welcomed Durant’s initiative to the degree that he accepted Durant’s offers to draft and deliver letters above his signature as Adjutant-General.

 

HDQRS. DIST. OF TEXAS, NEW MEXICO, AND ARIZONA, Las Animas

Dec. 23, 1862

Brigadier General H. P. BEE,

Commanding at Brownsville:

SIR: I am instructed by the Major-General commanding to direct you to send with Captain Da Ponte to Havana a reliable and competent business man, Mr. Thomas Durant, for the purpose of purchasing arms, ammunition, &c., in accordance with instructions. Captain Da Ponte is perfectly familiar with the Spanish language, but has little experience in business, and the general thinks it will be necessary to send someone capable to assist him.

These arms will be paid for with Government cotton, if there be any in Brownsville at the time of their arrival at that place, and if there is none, you are directed to seize any cotton in the place for the purpose of paying for them. As soon as these arms arrive, you will cause them to be sent without delay to Houston, and for this purpose you will seize such a number of teams, no matter to whom they may belong, as may be necessary, if there is not sufficient Government transportation.

These arrangements are not intended to affect in any manner your own movements in pushing forward without delay to the eastern part of the State, which you will do in accordance with previous instructions.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

STEPHEN D. YANCEY,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General

The cotton for arms agreements were in place. By January, Durant was shipping cotton to Havana in exchange for arms and ammunition, which was then shipped back to the Union troops.

When Dodge over-ran Van Dorn and captured 100 bales of cotton, the financing of the operation was guaranteed. Cotton was nearly $2.00 a pound. At 500 pounds per bale there was a fortune in contraband.

Durant sent a cable to Dodge:

Please advise regarding shipment and warehousing of seized contraband. Will use military transport. Will use discretion regarding total amount of material. Releasing ten percent immediately to market.

Grenville Dodge shook his head when he read the telegram. Durant knew it should have gone by courier, but the man was impatient. His ‘use discretion’ comment was a flag to anyone downstream. It said, ‘Pay attention. This is important.’ The General knew Durant would release the seized cotton in small lots to keep the price up. No matter. Let it go.

Dodge wrote his response and sent it via courier.

When Durant showed up a week later asking for a meeting, Dodge knew he was in for a ride.

“General, I need your advice. I don’t have enough information to deal with this properly, and maybe you can’t help me, but I can’t just sit on this.

I have been very successful in dealing with putting the negroes to work to generate revenue, and marketing contraband is going well up until now. I could sell the cotton and hemp and the price was going through the roof. General Yancey has been very cooperative in directly trading the cotton for guns.

But Yancey wasn’t at all pleased when he found that somebody was driving up the price of guns. There’s only two possible bidders in this war. First we argued price with the Cubans, and then their agent said it was also a question of supply. Yancey got word there were guns to be had in Mexico, and I went to Matamoros and no one wanted to deal with me. There were guns to be had, but nobody wanted to deal. They were just sittin’ on them. Why won’t the Mexicans sell us their guns?”

“Doc, what is it you want from me? Have you talked to Stanton?”

“I don’t want to go to him about this. You’ve got a whole list of people who can find out what’s going on. What do they know? What can they find out? Yancey wants the guns and I don’t like to be beat, General. That’s the truth. I want to know who my competition is, at least.”

“I appreciate what you are telling me. I will put the word out, and I’ll also write to Stanton. For now, I am asking you to redefine your mission, to reset your priorities. The operational funds are there. Don’t worry. We can always use the weapons, but right now I want you to scale back your attempts to trade cotton for guns. Focus on getting and holding the cotton, not necessarily on marketing it. Warehouse it, if you have to. Keep it out of the hands of anybody who can use it. Let me know if you need people and transport. Keep me posted on your progress. I appreciate your coming to me with this, and I will deal with Stanton.”

Dodge did not want to challenge the man who had financed his northern operation. The General had maintained his very limited southern system of scouts and spies under the auspices of General Grant, and their reports clearly reflected that there were more than two sides in this war. To win the war for the cause of the Union involved placing strategy ahead of tactics. It involved losing battles in order to gain position. It involved getting information and perhaps holding onto it instead of acting on it. Durant should know better. These were men Durant had dealt with all his life, the profiteers who traded in everything—people, goods, and currency. Like jayhawks, they held no allegiance and preyed on everyone, even each other.

Dodge forwarded Durant’s complaint to Secretary Stanton. He wanted no part of any of this, but the genie was out of the bottle.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

Thomas Jefferson Walker sat at his desk in St. Louis and copied out the message from the cipher. He took out a sheet of paper and wrote a response. It was not written in cipher. “Mr. Durant: I do not tell you what you can do with your cotton, or your horse or your wife, for that matter. So, sir, do not presume to tell me what I can or cannot do with my niggers.”

He addressed the letter and gave it to his butler to be posted. “And find my son and tell him to get in here. If he’s not in the house, put out the word.”

While he waited for his son, he pulled out the ledger and did some calculations. Yes, he would do the deal if he could get his son and his matched pair of nigger hawks on their horses and on the scent. Picking off the stragglers from the parade of runaways was easy, but he preferred to get his slaves from the Union soldiers. It suited his sense of poetic justice: Trade stolen horses for runaway slaves captured by greedy Union soldiers assigned to supervise those runaway slaves, slaves who were enthusiastically building and digging and hauling, just as they had done for their masters. So much more satisfying than simply plucking the low hanging fruit. He was doing his part. Knowing that the captured runaways would be returned to the south to be traded for cotton and that the cotton would be traded for guns to arm rebel soldiers completed the circle.

When his son came in, the father gave him his orders and said, “More horses, too, if you want them for yourself. Just tell Bolin. I don’t want you bringing anything else back here. Take the niggers directly to Lexington. I don’t want to see them. Do the paperwork and bring back the receipts. And keep an eye on our big black nigger hunter.”

While Elliott Walker was taking his orders from his father, the butler made a show of delivering an envelope to the stables, where the ostler, who was eating, put it under his plate.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Will Brown walked up the granite stairs of Gratiot and rattled the double doors at the top. He was on his way down when one of the doors opened. The old soldier stood in the doorway and looked down at him.

Will turned. “Can I see Elizabeth Stiles?” He started back up.

“You sick?”

Will stopped. “No.”

“Got an appointment?”

“No, I didn’t think I’d need one.”

“Don’t, if you’re sick. You want to come back when you’re sick? Or you want to make an appointment?”

Will Brown turned and walked down to the bottom of the stairs.

“Sir! Wait!” A woman’s voice turned him around. She came down the stairs wearing a bloodstained pinafore. “I’m sorry. He’s only protecting my interests.” She held out her hand and he took it. “I’m Elizabeth Stiles. I stepped out for a breath and heard my name. You are…”

“Will Brown. Col. Hoyt gave me your name. I thought you might be able to help me.”

“I apologize for Lawrence.” She looked back. The door was closed. “He doesn’t want to be here.”

Will formed a reply but thought better of it. “Did you get word that I was coming?”

“Yes, I did. Perhaps we can meet somewhere. This is not a good time. I’ll be home tonight. You can call at seven. It’s five blocks north and a block west.” She pointed. “You can’t miss it. It’s the Sisters of Charity convent. Go around back and knock.” She turned and started up the stairs before Will could respond. Over her shoulder, she said. “See you after supper, then.”

He watched her rattle the door and wait. He left when it opened.

That night Will presented himself to the grate in the convent door and was ushered into a cozy anteroom off the front hall. “Please have a seat, Mr. Brown. Mrs. Stiles is expecting you.”

She came in and he stood and shook her hand. “Thank you for seeing me, Mrs. Stiles. It’s not Sister Stiles, is it?”

“You can call me Sister, but I’m not a nun. If your information is good, you know that, and you know why I’m here. Let me get Sister back here and we’ll go to the guest drawing room. I think we are both going to need to take notes.” She pulled a bell near the door. “She’ll be here in a minute. Have you been in St. Louis long?”

“This is my first full day. I came down from Omaha. I’m here to set up an office and get organized.”

The little nun stood in the doorway, then turned and disappeared. Will made a gesture toward the door. Elizabeth sighed and walked through. “Sister knows I’m coming. She will wait.” They walked down a dimly lit hall, turned, and then passed the dish room. “I’m in the guest quarters in the back. I call it the ‘second best room.’ It is sumptuous compared to the nuns’ cells. And very convenient. I can come and go as I please without disturbing anyone.

The little nun was standing at the door. Elizabeth led him in. “Can I get you a brandy, Mr. Brown? I’m going to have one. It’s been a hard day. Have a seat at the table.” She poured two glasses at the sideboard and brought them over and sat. She held up her glass. “Here’s to the end of the war.” He raised his and touched hers.

“To the end of the war.”

“When I came down to St. Louis my heart was set on murder and I was ready to go into battle.” She took another drink. “I believe you know my story, is that right?”

“Yes’m I do. I spent three days at Six Mile and one at Leavenworth. Col. Hoyt was very helpful. You come highly recommended.”

“It’s that letter from Jim Lane.” She laughed. “Oh, the doors that man’s name can open!” She bowed her head to the table and sighed. “I am so weary of the war.”

“The quicker we can end it the better. That’s why we’re here.”

“Well, then, let’s get down to business.”

“You first.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“I’m curious how you got here. In the convent, I mean.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Lafayette Baker had it all figured out. He gave me credentials on Lane’s Senate letterhead. I presented myself to the Officer in Charge at Gratiot Military Prison one snowy day in December and explained my mission—to search the prisons and the hospitals for Confederate soldiers who were unaccounted for. The credentials implied that I was with the Sisters of Charity. I told the officer we had sisters in the Tennessee District looking for Union soldiers who were missing and we were promoting a humanitarian exchange with the help of the aid societies. The officer saw no harm in it. He offered to walk me back to the convent through the snow at the end of the day.

I had not done my homework and had no idea that the Sisters of Charity had a convent six blocks from the prison. He walked me around back and led me to the grated door and I told him it was as far as he was allowed to go. He said good-bye and left me there. I made my way back to my room at the inn and the next day, before I went to the prison, I visited the convent and asked to speak with the Mother Superior. I explained my situation and she got quite a laugh out of it. She told me there actually were such programs, so I wouldn’t be living a lie if I continued in that role. Then she offered me one of the guestrooms. ‘You can take supper with us after Vespers at six, if you like,’ she said, ‘and you won’t be bound by any of the convent rules. There’s always someone at the door, so you can come and go as you please.’ I agreed and moved my things that night and I’ve been living here since. How’s that for an auspicious beginning?”

“But you’re working in the hospital.”

“It didn’t take long before the Officer in Charge asked if I had any hospital experience and I said I did. Then he asked if I would go over to the hospital side and help out. He told me he would assign one of the guards to go through the files for me, and that I could come work in his office any time I chose.

The guard—remember the doorman at the hospital?”

Will scowled. “Yes. He doesn’t want to be there.”

“The Officer in Charge assigned a member of Lawrence’s regiment to my project. I can’t begin to tell you. He’s cut from the same mold. Anyway, he gives me carte blanche in the prison wards and I come and go as I please there, too. I bring the guards food and the prisoners food, too, and I volunteer to help write letters for them, just as I do for those on the hospital side. You know what that worked into. I’m now a trusted member of the mail underground. I couldn’t have arranged it any better myself.

The prisoners were reluctant to write letters when it became apparent that their mail was being intercepted, and that worked in our favor. The Provost collected and copied all of Absalom Grimes’ letters to his sweetheart as well as her responses. Then he had them published serially in the newspaper. Can you imagine?”

“That certainly would sell newspapers.”

“I don’t know what purpose it served other than to embarrass people. But I’m not complaining. It helped make me the darling of both sides of the building.”

She raised her glass and he raised his. “Now it’s your turn—your toast and your story.”

“To the Darling of Gratiot.”

They touched glasses and drank.

Will began with his meeting in Corinth with General Dodge. Elizabeth interrupted his story. “Oh, this is good, Mr. Brown. Let me get us both materials for notes. There are details I want to go back over. Questions I know I’ll want to ask.” Elizabeth went to the desk and got pen, ink, and paper for each of them, then brought over the brandy. “For starters, how do you know General Dodge?”

Will explained his history with Grenville Dodge in Omaha and ended with a list of the people that she would be working with. He went on to talk about the complications of loyalties in Missouri.

“Lists,” Will said. “Everybody’s got lists. If you could imagine the number of official lists the Provost Office has—loyalty oaths, seditious public statements, draft surrogates…”

As Elizabeth listened, her own lists welled up in her imagination. The prisoner lists, lists of lost soldiers, lists of next of kin. Secessionists in Shawneetown. George Todd’s list, Quantrill’s list, Hoyt’s list. Indian orphans. Names and codes on Jim Lane’s Trail.

“Are you OK?

“I’m tired, and the brandy just hit me. Yes, I’m fine.”

“I’m going to suggest that we end it for this evening. I will write out the list of names I think are necessary for you to remember and I’ll go over them with you tomorrow. I’ll want to sit down with you and go over a list of your people, too. Put the notes aside. Jot down any questions you have and we’ll start there.” He stood.

“And I’ll prepare my own lists for you. It’s best that you come here tomorrow night. Come by any time after seven. If you show up again at the hospital I’m afraid there’ll be talk.” She laughed and led him to the grated door and said good night.

 

 

Twelve hours later Will Brown walked up the stairs to Marjorie Wilken’s porch and twisted the bell on the door. A light-skinned negro woman answered and asked who she could say is calling.

“Just say it’s Will. And what is your name?”

“Winnie, sir. I’ll tell her you are here.” She closed the door and Will took a seat on the swing.

When Marjorie opened the door, she screamed. Will hardly had time to get out of the swing before she was on him with one arm around his neck and the other around his waist. “Oh, Will, you’re here, you’re here!”

She released him and then stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. “I missed you so! Oh, Will!”

“Hello, Jorie. You look well.”

She took his hand. “Come inside. I’ve so much to tell you. What kept you?” She led him into the parlor and sat him in one of the wing chairs. “Winnie!” The servant was already in the doorway. “Please make up some tea and cakes, Winnie. Thank you.”

The woman backed out and closed the door.

Marjorie took the chair next to him. “Oh, Will! So much has happened. Thank you for comin’. Thank you for makin’ all this possible. This is all yours, you know. Let me show you the house.” She stood.

Will held up his hand. “Slow down, Jorie.”

“It’s Marjorie now, but you can still call me Jorie if you want.” She sat.

“We can take the tour in a little bit. I’d like to sit and talk for a while. Rest a bit. Floyd and I came down on the boat from Omaha. Do you remember Floyd?”

“Of course. Mr. Burkley, from Council Bluffs. Your friend.”

“We arrived two days ago, and I tell you, the river from Kansas City to St. Louis is an adventure. But I’ll let that go for later. We’re going to have lots of time to visit.”

“Are you here for long?”

“A while. I’m here to set up an office in St. Louis to manage some business. “

Marjorie slipped from her chair and knelt in front of Will Brown. She put her hands on his knees and when he did not take them, she sat back on her heels and looked up. “Will, I’ll devote my life to you. Everything I have is yours. Anything I can do for you I will.”

Will smiled. “I know, and right now I’d like you to sit up in your chair before the maid gets back.”

Marjorie spun back into the chair and apologized. “I’m just glad to see you.”

Will smiled. “I missed you, too. Tell me. What happened? Your letters didn’t really say much. Just that you were OK.”

“I was holed up at the hotel for two weeks before I had the courage to come out during the daytime. Then I invested some of the money you gave me and I bought some nice clothes and felt a lot better after that. I met some people and I rented this little house. It came with Winnie and the two of us have become fast friends.”

“Jorie, is she a bondswoman? A servant?”

“Oh, no. She’s an FWC—that’s a Free Woman of Color, you know. She has her papers and has been in St. Louis for quite some time. She’s a big help and we’ve become quite good friends. She might be more help than me if you’re looking for a place. She certainly knows where not to go.”

“I knew you’d land on your feet, Jorie, but I did worry some, I’ll admit.”

“Yes, I have a long history of falling down and gettin’ back up. But now I’m up for good.” She laughed. “Well, not all good, Will. Winnie and me are working girls. There. That’s not a surprise, is it?”

Will smiled and shook his head.

“And the mistress-maid thing? That’s just what we call our division of labor, the roles we play. Winnie spends most of her time in, and I go out.

Winnie knocked on the jamb and entered and put the tray on the table between them. “Is there anything else, missus?”

“Thank you, Winnie. Yes, there is. You can take my seat.” Winnie paused and the two exchanged places.

Marjorie took the things off the tray and walked over and put it on the sideboard. “This is Will Brown, the man who put me on the boat and sent me down here with $500 and a promise of more if I needed it. Winnie, he’s the man who saved me.”

Marjorie came over and poured the tea. “And I am forever grateful.” She slipped a slice of cake on a plate and handed it to Will. “He’s a good man, a very good man.” She served Winnie a slice of cake. “Let me get a chair and join you.” She went to the desk and pulled the chair over. Winnie poured her a cup of tea and Marjorie fixed it with milk and sugar.

“Did Marjorie get a chance to explain our little business, Mr. Brown?”

“Some. She cleared up some of my misapprehensions about your position here.”

“And the roles we play? It’s our ‘division of labor,’ as we say. I play the maid.”

“Yes, I gathered.”

“It’s convenient for me. I don’t go out much, and I never go alone. St. Louis isn’t safe for people of color. Papers don’t matter to people who would take me. I imagine there’s a price on my head, but I don’t know. When I find out, I’m afraid it’ll be too late. People like me just disappear.”

“I told you Winnie came with the house,Will, but that’s not exactly true.”

Winnie added, “And the assumption is that Miss Lotte sold me along with the house.”

“The truth is, Winnie owns the place and she runs the business.”

“Bought and paid for with the blood and sweat of 20 years a slave. You tell him, Marjorie. You will when I leave, I know. I can’t, ‘cause once I get started I’ll go on forever.”

“Winnie cut her master’s throat with a kitchen knife, stole the silver, and ran off.” Marjorie made big eyes at Winnie. “There. How’s that?”

The two women giggled.

Will picked up his cup and saucer and put it on his lap.

“And Marjorie sat on the chest of the man who raped her and shot him in the eye with his own pistol.” Winnie stuck out her chin and grinned big back at Marjorie.

“We’re both outlaws, aren’t we Winnie?”

“Two wanted women.” Winnie spread her hands in the air. “I can see the posters now.”

Marjorie whooped and burst out laughing and Winnie joined her.

When they calmed themselves,Will put the cup and saucer back on the table and looked at Marjorie. “I’m alone in a house with two madwomen, and no one knows I’m here.” He shook his head. “Oh, boy.” It was his turn to laugh.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Dec. 23, 1862

Half Breed Reservation, St. Deroin, Nebraska

 

Jamie Quinn woke when strong arms bent him from the waist and propped him up. “You sit up now and drink. See if you can do that.” He felt a cup against his lips and water pour into his mouth and out the sides. He closed his lips and swallowed. “There. Now, again.” Quinn drank. “Now we’ll have you sit way up. Here we go…up…and up!” The arms raised Quinn more. The pain in his head throbbed and his face glowed hot. “Now, drink some more.”

The next time Quinn woke, the woman came again with powder for his lips. He ate it and was eased back down and he slept some more, and when he woke next he was aware of light that came through his bandage and that his head was wrapped. He heard the rustle of skirts. He moved his head and moaned.

A hand rested on his chest. “You’ve been shot. But don’t you worry. You’re OK. Just rest. Let me put your hands up over the quilt.”

Quinn turned his head and moaned.

He went back to sleep thinking about his name and her name.

In his dream he was back home listening to his mother and his sister talk, waiting for them to say his name. He couldn’t speak, because he wanted to remember their names, but he couldn’t. The dream was peaceful otherwise and stayed a long time. When he woke from that dream into another he figured it would be simple. He would just ask what his mother’s and sister’s names were and he’d be OK. Then he slept peacefully for a long time.

When he woke he was lying with his head propped up slightly and it hurt when he moved. He remained still and tried to go back to sleep, but he couldn’t. He let thoughts come as they would and didn’t try to connect them. When the light came back he would think clearly and he drifted in and out of dreaming and waking. Light came back and he was aware for the first time of the sounds of low talking and some banging.

He raised his hands to his face and felt gingerly over the bandage. He hurt himself and the pain went down through his teeth and back to his throat. He couldn’t swallow and he choked and coughed.

“So you’re up!”

He touched his cheek and made a sound.

“Let’s bring him up a bit. Just lay back and we’ll prop you up.”

He felt arms on either side raise him. “That’s it. Now the blanket. There. A little drink and then. Some more medicine.” He felt the cup at his lips and he drank. “Now, open a little and…” He felt the grains on his teeth and lips. “Now, swallow. Here’s a little more water.” He worked the powder back and took a drink. “We’ll let you sit up for a while. I’ll be back.”

Quinn moaned and brought his hand to his face. “It’s OK,” she said and she took his hand, placed it on his chest and patted it. “You’ll be OK.”

Later she changed the bandage on his face and he screamed. She covered both his eyes and gave him morphine and he slept. In the dream he saw his mother and his sister and he called out to them and they answered, but when he awoke he couldn’t remember their names.

When he awoke, no light came in through the bandage. He waited for her and when he heard her, he tried to speak. He didn’t recognize the croak and she came over. “Let’s have some water, now. Let’s see if you can help me raise you up.” He struggled to get up on his elbows and she raised him from there. “Good! Today we’ll give you some food and you’ll get your strength back. And then you’ll be up and about.”

Quinn put his lips together and tried to speak. “Let’s drink first.” After the water Quinn tried again to say ‘thank you’ and it sounded more human. His face and his throat were swollen and breathing through his mouth had dried everything.

That afternoon he said ‘thank you’ and he laughed when she fed him applesauce and he smacked and licked his lips when she fed him mashed carrots and potatoes flavored with salt and butter. When she wiped his mouth, he smiled.

When he awoke next she came and knelt next to him. “You’re going to have to help me with this. We’re going to get you up to the table and take a look at your eye. First we sit you up.” She helped him sit. “Now, roll over this way, and if you can kneel up I’ll help you into the chair.”

The move was slow and awkward, but when Quinn was seated, she wheeled him into the next room.

“I’m going to bring you over to the table and we’ll go to work from there.” He was aware of the smell and flicker of candles. She took his left hand and set it flat on the table. “Here’s the table. I’m going to take off the bandages and take a look. Don’t try to open your eye.” She cut the bandage behind his head and began unwrapping and it hurt when she pulled it away. That done, she put a warm cloth in his hand. “I want you to hold this over your right eye. Keep it closed. And I want you to leave it there until I come back. Hold it there lightly. There.”

The cloth was soft and the water was warm and while she was gone Quinn ran the fingers of his left hand over his brow and then lightly down the side of his face. When she came back she took the cloth. “Now open your eye.” He opened his right eye and it burned on the outside and ached at the root and it was a blur. “The eye is not damaged. It’s dry and it’s sensitive to light. Close your eye. Close it now. Rest it for a minute.” She took the cloth from him and wiped around his eye. “Now, open it and exercise it a little—blink and look from side to side.” She stood in front of him.

“Now look at me.”

“It hurts.” He blinked. He saw her in a blur. “What’s in there?” He cupped his left hand over his left eye. “In my bad eye?”

“It’s packing. It needs to be changed and the socket needs to heal.”

He dropped his hand. “And my nose.”

“The bullet took a piece of bone out of the bridge. We don’t know whether a fragment from the nose or the socket pierced the eye, but it was a piece of bone that did it. I’m going to first remove the packing and inspect the wound. Are you ready?” Quinn nodded. “Lean your head back just a bit.” She pulled the lamp on the table close. “Now close your eye. Keep your head back.”

He felt her palm cool and dry on his forehead, and at first he felt pressure and then a deep pain that pulled from the back of his head and he gasped. She moved her hand from his forehead to the back of his neck and pushed him forward. “Sit up now. Don’t open your eye yet. We’ve got one more. You’re doing fine. It looks good. Are you ready?” He grunted and nodded and she gently pushed his head back and this time he was ready and took a deep breath and didn’t let it out until she sat him straight.

“You can open your eye now. We’ve got one more thing to do and then you can go lie down.” He turned and looked down at the clotted lumps in the basin and leaned over and smelled. “Now sit straight.” She brought the lamp close to his face and leaned over and brought her face close to his. “It’s not bad. It’s angry, but it’s healing. We’ve got to wash it out now and keep it open to the air for today. There’ll be more pain, but this’ll help it heal.”

When she came with the water she said, “This is warm salt water. I’m going to pour it over your wound and it’ll be a little messy and it’ll sting a little. Ready?” She held the back of his neck with one hand and he shut his eye and leaned back and she poured. He held his breath and at first it burned and then felt warm and ran down his face. “There.” She put the pitcher on the table. He sat up, opened his eye, and leaned over. When she came back with a flannel, he sat up and she wiped his face and patted around the socket.

“Can I see it?” he asked.

“I think we’ve done enough for today. Maybe tomorrow.”

“Is it bad? Please. I want to see.” He ran his hand gingerly over his face.

“No, it’s not bad. You can see it tomorrow before I dress it again. It can wait.”

In the morning he was awake when she came to him. “Now? Can I see it?” He raised himself on his elbows.

She knelt down next to him. “Today we will let you look at yourself before I dress your wound and cover it. But I want you to be prepared. You’re not pretty.” She smiled down at him. “Before you do that, I want to tell you some things and then maybe answer some questions. Let me go first. You were brought here by our friend Marion. She saved your life, you know. You were pretty bad.”

“I thought I remember hearing her voice, but I wasn’t sure I remembered right.” He rolled over on his side. “Can you help me sit up?” She propped him up. “She brought me here? Did she say what happened?”

“She did. You were shot in the face and left for dead. She got you in a boat and took you downriver. This is St. Deroin, part of the Half Breed Reservation.”

“Nebraska or Kansas?”

“Nebraska. Down in the corner. My name is Lucy Faw Faw. I was born Lucy Deroin. My grandfather started the town.”

“And my name is Quinn. I think you know that. Jamie Quinn. My memory is a little foggy, but I know who I am.” He sighed. “I think I know who I am. If this is a half-breed reservation, then you must be…”

“I am part Ioway, and part white American. It’s complicated, but this place has been set aside for us misfits and we’ve built a pretty good place here. I’ve left and gone other places. This is my home now.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing it. And thank you again, for taking care of me. If Marion saved my life, I think it’s you who kept me all along from dying. How long have I been here?”

“Nearly two weeks. You were unconscious when you came and I was afraid the brain swelling would take you. We kept giving you water and letting you sleep and gradually you came around.”

“I remember I kept wanting to go back to sleep. I didn’t want to wake up. Because of the pain.”

“We were lucky we had the morphine. It was Marion, me, and Miss Morphine that saved you. I think maybe without her the pain would’ve killed you. That, and you’re a tough man, Mr. Quinn, so let’s say it was the four of us saved you.” She smiled.

“So I’m going to live.” He gave a short laugh. “Where did you learn to take care of men with broken eyes?”

“That’s a nice phrase. In Otoe your name might be ‘Isdani Nadoxe.’ Broken Eye. Indian names are so much more interesting than European names.”

“You are Ioway and speak Otoe.”

“Otoe, Ioway, Missouria—same language, different dialects. We’re all half-breeds here together now. And we all speak American.”

“What is your Otoe name? What do they call you here?”

“They call me Lucy. Lucy Faw Faw.” She laughed. “We are quite white here in the Tract. We are the survivors.”

“What name were you born with, then?”

“My Eagle Clan name is Marata. Some say it different—Morata. It means Echo Woman.

“English names used to have meaning. Yours still does. Lucy means ‘light.’”

“And my namesake is the patron saint of blindness. Did you know that? If I’m named for St. Lucille, that is, and not for Lucifer.” She put her chin to her chest and laughed.

“You didn’t tell me where you learned doctoring, Ma ra ta.”

“I have learned many things. I learned early to care for the sick.”

“You are something, Mrs. Faw Faw.”

She smiled and shook her head.

“Then you are married?”

“Yes, but I’ve never been called Mrs. Faw Faw. Even with the Agency, I’m listed as Lucy Deroin Faw Faw.”

“Then I’ll call you Lucy. Lucy, I’m impressed with your skill. You must have seen surgery.”

“You expected to be treated by a medicine woman on a dirt floor in a tipi, Mr. Quinn?”

“I didn’t expect anything. I didn’t want to die, I know that.”

“As you will see, we don’t have tipis here. We have houses and a few lodges. My grandfather was an educated man.”

“I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“I’m not insulted. I was the one who brought it up. I got sensitive to the white man’s attitudes toward Indians when I was sent back east. My grandfather sent me back to Boston to school when I was eight. I came back here five years ago to teach in the school and to help the sick. I have spent the last year and a half in field hospitals, so my training was there. That’s my brief experience. I returned home for what the military courteously calls a ‘leave.’ And you can thank the Union Army for the morphine. You’ll be glad to know there’s more where that came from.”

She laughed and patted his hand. “Right now, though, I need to tell you about your eye.”

He nodded.

“We took it the night you were brought here. I was confident—hopeful, anyway—that we could do it without complications. My biggest fear was that you would thrash about and do more damage to your brain. We iced your head and face and gave you chloroform and it went smoothly. What you are going to see is not terrible. I just want to prepare you.” She held up the mirror.

Quinn took it and saw a ruined face, swollen and discolored with an angry hole half covered by a flap of skin. He didn’t want to focus on it. His beard was a patchy stubble, as was the left side of his head. And his left eyebrow was gone. His head was misshapen, out of balance. He held his left hand over the left side of his face to see if he could recognize himself and he couldn’t. He dropped the mirror to his lap and muttered an oath. Then he eased himself back and dropped his head to his chest.

“You will heal and you will be fine,” she said. “The swelling will go down and your face will adjust. It will. I’ve seen it.”

He didn’t look at her. “You’ve seen it,” he said.

“Yes. I’ve seen this and worse, Mr. Quinn. The war is horrible. You’re going to be all right. The socket looks good. We’ll cover it today and tomorrow we’ll give you a patch you can take off and put on, and I’ll show you how to care for the wound. Then you’re on your own.” She took the mirror from his lap and stood. “I’ll be back in a little to dress the wound and maybe then you can get up and…” She paused and searched for a good phrase. “…and we can take a walk.”

When she came back with her hands full, Quinn was sitting atop his folded blankets at the foot of the pallet. “I’m ready. If you give me the patch I can leave this afternoon. I’ll need my clothes.”

She took his arm and helped him up and led him to the table. “Sit.” He shook off her hand. She pulled over a small crock, a pair of scissors, and a pack of rolled bandages and stood at arm’s length. “Mr. Quinn. Sit and I’ll make a bandage and I’ll show you how to care for yourself. Please sit.”

He sat.

“Yesterday we washed the socket with saltwater. This…” She dipped her finger into the crock and held it up to him. “This is an ointment from the Otoe healing.” She spread it thick on the square of cloth and gave it to him. “Here. Hold this against the socket while I wind this band around your head.”

He took the pad and looked at it. “That’s what I smelled on the stuff you pulled from my eye. I can’t smell much but that really stinks. What’s in it?”

She looked down at him. “The worst of the smell is your blood. My grandmother would say it is your dying spirit that smells. Put the pad on your eye now.”

“You mixed my blood in that stuff?” He held the pad in place.

“A few drops.” She began to wrap the bandage around his head. “Mixed with buffalo fat and gall, laced with yarrow, squirrel tail, wound wort, and garlic. There are a few other things to make it smell better.”

“Squirrel tail?”

“Those are herbs, Mr. Quinn. Purified. Used by our people for centuries. Now hold still while I pin this in the back.”

He turned his head and looked at her. “And gall? That’s an herb?”

“No. That’s from the buffalo’s stomach. The same buffalo that owned the fat. Now sit still.”

She pinned the bandage and stepped back and folded her arms.

“Jamie, your wound isn’t healed. I don’t want you leaving until it is. You get a fever in it and it’ll go directly to your brain, and then where will you be? When you leave, when you are healed, you’ll go prepared. You’ll have salve and salt, a leather eye-patch, morphine, and directions to wherever you want to go.

Right now, what do you have? Marion brought in your rifle, and you had a knife and a few coins. You were dressed in a big old buffalo coat and cap and were wearing brogans that are too big for you. We’ve washed your clothes and cleaned your cap as best we could.” She walked to his side and put her hand on his shoulder. “You don’t even know where you are. Where will you go? From what I understand, you don’t have a home, and any plans you had were pretty much shattered by the man who shot you.”

Quinn leaned his arms on the table and put his head in his hand and wept.

She picked up the scissors, the crock, and the remaining bandages. She put her hand on his shoulder. “Come into the kitchen when you’re ready. We’ll have breakfast.”

The smell of bacon roused him from his self-pity and he went into the kitchen. He was hungry and, he thought, glad to be hungry.

She was standing at the stove forking strips of bacon onto a plate on the warmer above. “How do you like your eggs?” she asked without turning.

“Any way is good. I just like eggs. Thanks for taking care of me. I know I thanked you before, but this morning it’s not the thanks of a drowning man. I know what you did for me.”

“Let me get these eggs done. It’ll only take a couple of minutes. Sit there.”

She pulled a skillet with two thick pieces of crusty bread out of the oven and brought it to the table and slid one onto his plate and one onto hers. Then she brought the bacon, flipped the eggs, poured the coffee, and finally brought over the skillet with the eggs. She slid four eggs onto his plate and two onto hers. She sat next to him and pulled over a tray loaded with condiments. “There! Let’s eat. Help yourself.”

Quinn poured cream and spooned sugar into his coffee.

“Dig in,” she said. “You can put jam on the fry bread or pile your eggs on it. I like the jam.” She quartered the bread and dished jam onto her plate.

“You said Marion brought me here. Is she OK?”

“She’s OK now. She’s not hurt. She brought you downriver in Rafe’s boat and put in at a place called Indian Cave. She told me she slid the boat along on the ice until she got south of the island, where she found a current. When she got to the cave she left you there and came here for help.”

“Where’s Rafe?”

“They killed Rafe. The men who shot him didn’t find her. And they left you for dead.”

“Did she tell you anything about what happened?”

“She told me the whole story, but I’ll let her tell it when you see her.”

“Where did she go? Have you heard from her?”

“She said she was going to find the men who killed her husband and burned the hotel. I gave her clothes and food and sent her with a friend to Quindaro with the names of some men who could help her. She made it fine. She wrote and said she’ll be at the Six Mile House—it’s between Quindaro and Leavenworth—and if she’s not there, they’ll know where to find her.”

“I know I’m not ready to go, but I’d like to find the men who did this, too.”

“There’ll be time. When you’re strong enough I’ll outfit you and send you on your way. Let’s take that walk. I’m proud of what we’ve built here and I’d like to show you off.”

“Show me off?”

“Sure! Everybody in the village found an excuse to come by when you were unconscious on the floor. My reputation as a healer needs you to get up and walk around. And.” She paused. “I want to go out and see how the preparation’s coming for tonight’s festival.”

“Tell me about this place.”

“St. Deroin is a village on the eastern edge of what’s called The Half-Breed Tract. It’s a settlement for Indians who are not claimed by their clan, and they’re outcasts in white society. We are mostly children of white fathers and Otoe-Missouria mothers. We were given the land between the Big and Little Nemaha and running for ten miles in from the Missouri River. The boundary lines have been moved twice because of white squatters. We stay to ourselves. We plant and we hunt some, not buffalo anymore, but small game. Our settlement is dying out. The land we’ve been given was restructured, as they say. There are problems.”

“Is that why your grandfather sent you away? For you to learn to live in white society?”

“I don’t think so. He had his dreams. I think he wanted me to come back and help lift the whole community back on its feet. That was the unspoken message I got, anyway. Looking back, though, perhaps it was to keep me out of harm’s way, to keep me safe.”

“Life here wasn’t safe?”

“When I was young, I thought so. When I came back I found it was a different story. The border skirmishes that started soon after I left Deroin bled over into this corner of Nebraska. And I found out when I came back that for years my grandfather and many of the clan worked as the first Nebraska stop on Jim Lane’s Freedom Road.”

“I spent five years across the river from Nebraska City in East Port, Iowa,” Quinn said. “Everyone knows about the Lane trail. I was there when John Brown came through with those 12 slaves. Everybody acted as if the Mayhew cabin was a secret. Probably the only people who didn’t know about it were the two men in town who owned slaves, and if they did know, they couldn’t have done anything about it.”

“What saved us from the depredations that others on the Freedom Road suffered further south was the insulation of the Half Breed Nation. We always saw them coming. And when the slave chasers figured us out, they simply laid in wait above us up near Nemaha City. So we changed the route and started taking them across the river at Indian Cave and up to Lewis Landing and then to Civil Bend.

Nowadays, by the time the runaways get here, they’re almost home free. When I came back from Boston, getting the fugitives to the next station wasn’t so easy. In ‘58 I was 16 and full of fire for freedom, and I was a celebrity for about a day.” She laughed. “And then the next day I was just the clan’s newest abolitionist. I started a school and a clinic here and when the war broke out, I used my connections to get assigned to a field hospital in Mississippi. The army took any woman who didn’t faint at the sight of blood and sent them to follow the troops. When the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry went with Grant to Tennessee, I was moved to Leavenworth and then came back here.” She put down her fork. “I stay in contact with my friends attached to the Kansas Seventh, and that has served me well.” She went to the stove and brought back the coffee pot and refilled their cups.

Quinn thanked her and sipped from the cup. “I came over in ‘58 and kept my head down and worked hard to bring my family over. I worked wherever I could, mostly on the railroad. I worked in Iowa and Missouri, digging drainage and building roadbeds. And I worked freight transfers at Nebraska City off and on. My politics were still tied to the old country and I set my sights on freeing my own family. When you’re in Ireland, America looks pretty good.”

They both were quiet for a while.

“How long have I been here?”

“You came here the 19th. You were unconscious and unresponsive for three days and then in and out for a couple more. I fed you morphine to keep you quiet. I was afraid you’d thrash about and hurt yourself. But you’re well now. You can get up and pretty much do what you want, although I’d advise against traveling for a while. Would you like to take a walk around the place now? Just give me a few minutes to clean up the dishes.”

“It looks like I missed Christmas.”

“You were in and out of it. Your Christmas dinner was mashed carrots, and applesauce mixed with grits. And a slug of my magic potion—herbs mixed with a little morphine powder and dissolved in warm apple cider.”

“I’ve still got New Year’s to look forward to.”

“That’s tonight. We’ve got a big feast planned, with prayers, followed by a bonfire, and dancing and singing. We’ve got lots to celebrate.”

“More than other years?”

“I should say! Emancipation is effective at the stroke of midnight. It’s what we worked for.”

“Oh. I’d forgotten. I’m sure I knew that. Things are a little fuzzy and my brain’s not all that good.”

“It’s an important day for all of us, but there’s still a war to be won and thousands of freedmen to be cared for.”

“Then runaways won’t be a problem.”

“Not the same problem—maybe a bigger one than we expect, though. Lincoln’s emancipation has made holding slaves a war crime. But the proclamation only applies to the states in rebellion. Slavery is still legal in border states like Missouri that refused to join the Confederacy. The slave chasers are having a field day there. More slaves are running north and the hawks are scooping them up along with freedmen and selling them downriver. Did you know you can still own slaves in St. Louis and there’s an auction block in Lexington, Kentucky?”

She stood and began clearing the table. “But enough of that talk. Let me finish and we’ll take that walk.”

She took dishes to the sink and turned. “There’s something I have to tell you, Jamie. Marion brought you here with very little—besides your buffalo robe, a pack with a big black coat, some utensils, and some letters. That’s what I have to confess. I read the letters, so I know something about why you came back to Lewis Landing. I’m sorry about Marjorie.”

“I’m sorry about Marjorie, too. I don’t know what happened. She just disappeared. We used to joke about how we both died and came back to life. We had a lot of fun playing around with that. We even made up a religion that was open only to people who had died and come back to life. She’s gone and I keep thinking how she’d get a kick out of knowing that I did it again. Died and came back. But my mother would say, ‘Now, Jamie. That’s God’s way of punishing you for your blasphemy.’” He laughed.

“And my mother might tell you that it was God’s way of saving you for another purpose.”

“Your mother was religious?”

“She was, but not in that way.” She laughed. “I was freely translating.”

She walked with him on her arm through the village and introduced him to people along the way and she answered his questions.

At the center of the village they came to a clearing of packed dirt with a pyre in the middle ready to be lit. “This is where the important ceremony will take place. We will eat at those tables over there, and, after we eat, there will be some singing, and a member of the Fox clan that lives south of us will give a prayer and talk about the Jesus Road. He will speak in English, so you will understand that part. Then there will be an Otoe prayer, which you won’t understand. Then there will be more eating and the fire will be lit and then there’ll be a few men dancing, but after that you must go back to your pallet. I will give you something to help you sleep.” She laughed. “Lord knows, you’ll need it! The dancing and singing will go on all night.”

“I take it I am not invited.”

“I’m sorry, no. Even the Fox and Sac who have come up for this celebration will be asked to sit this one out. Jamie, I’m going to take you back now. You see? You don’t have your strength back. I’ll give you some medicine and put you down for your nap. You can sleep the afternoon away so you’ll be fresh for this evening.” She laughed. “Before you take a little rest, let’s fit you with a better patch.”

She took him into the kitchen and sat him at the table. She handed him a stitched leather patch with four rawhide thongs sewn to the edges.” I want you to wear a pad behind this, for a while, at least.”

Quinn turned it over in his hand. The convex outer surface was hard leather and the inside was lined with tanned soft leather. “How do I wear this?” He held it up by two of the strings.

“I suggest that you wear it over your bad eye.” She bent down and looked him in the face. She smiled. “Let me help you.” She took the strings and held it in front of him. “Hold the patch lightly over the eye so two of the thongs go back over the top of your head and two down low—your ear’ll be in the middle between the two. Here.” She tied the two on top. “Once you get the proper length figured out, you can tie the top strings before you slip it on, and then just reach behind your head and tie the bottom two.”

Quinn reached back and fumbled with the strings. “I know I’ll be able to do this. Maybe just in a knot.”

She took the strings and tied them in a bow. “A little practice. You learned to tie your shoes, you can learn to tie this.”

Despite his curiosity, Quinn slept through the singing and dancing and woke refreshed in the morning. When Lucy came in to wake him, he was sitting cross-legged on his pallet.

“Good morning! Good dreams, Mr. Quinn?

“All my dreams are good,” he lied. “Did the singing and dancing go on all night? I slept hard. I imagine that was thanks to you. Today I’d like to get my Sharps and go out and see if I can hit anything. Good thing it was my left eye.”

“After breakfast you can do what you like.”

“And maybe a horse?”

“We’ll see. Come in and sit while I fix breakfast. It’s eggs and fried grits this morning. And coffee.”

While she busied herself at the stove, she recounted the evening’s celebration. “After the gourd dance—everybody dances the gourd dance—we ended the evening with the tail dance, a ritual dance performed by only the initiated. Earlier in the evening I talked with a man who met you as we walked through the village. Do you remember? I introduced him as Cedar Tree, Par-the-me.”

“I remember that name, yes.”

“He is a cousin and taught me much about medicine. He suggested I bring you to the sweat lodge tonight. He thought it might do you good.” She held up her hand. “And before you say anything, let me tell you that it can’t do you any harm, and if you approach the experience with healing in mind, it can do wonders.”

Quinn smiled. “It might. In former days, I’d rely on a bottle of whiskey and maybe a book.”

“I’m serious, Jamie.”

Quinn didn’t reply and she continued. “The sweat lodge is a ritual cleansing. You might treat it as a healing experience both physical and spiritual.”

“Sounds like you’ve been reading my mind as well as my mail.” When she didn’t respond he said, “I’d like to go. If I stay here, this’ll be just another place. I don’t know if I can stay here and not go crazy. Just give me a horse and my rifle and a map, I’ll be going.”

“Let’s have breakfast first and we’ll outfit you, and then you can decide.”

Breakfast was quiet. “I can give you a horse and a map, Jamie, and let you go your way, or I can give you escorts to the way stations on the Lane Trail. You can take the trail to above Topeka and then over to Leavenworth and either way it’ll take you three days. I want you to take the trail and stay on it. It’s not safe to wander.”

“If you give me a map and some places to stop along the way. I’d just as soon not sleep out, but Lucy, I don’t need an escort. People got things to do other than lead me around. I’ll be OK by myself.”

“I don’t think you’re ready, but go if you want. Don’t be afraid to turn around and come back here. There’ll be a place for you sick or well.”

Breakfast ended with a detailed map and notes. Lucy listed places to stop, names of farmers, problem areas on the trail. When she was finished Quinn said, “I’ll have no trouble. I can do this and I promise I’ll be back.”

Lucy gathered his things and gave him a medicine bag. “Here’s the salt, ointment, and a packet of morphine. You know how to take care of yourself and I know you will. The extra things in the bag, just hold on to them and think of them as me traveling along with you. You can get a good day’s ride under your belt and stay at Reese’s and Bauer’s. They’ll take care of you. Just mention my name and show them this. When you get to Fort Leavenworth, ask for one of the men listed at the bottom.” She handed him a folded paper. “Consider this your ticket to ride the Freedom Road.”

Quinn opened the paper. On it were Lucy’s name and the fraction “36/40 and the names Blunt, Jennison, Hoyt, Swain. He stuffed the paper in his pocket and said nothing. “There are good people out there,” she said, “and I don’t need to tell you that there are bad people out there, too.”

She had packed food for the journey and a bag of extra clothes for him. Quinn loaded and balanced the bags on his horse and tied them behind the saddle. Then he shoved the Sharps rifle into the boot and swung onto the horse. “I’ll be back, and when I do I’ll not be the sickly, one-eyed sack I feel like today. Thanks, Lucy.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Quinn headed north to Nemaha, where he sold his rifle and bought supplies. He rode on to Brownsville and crossed the river at Peru and spent a night at an inn. He rode up to Lewis Landing the next day.

The limestone blocks of the hotel were covered with ash and the rubble of burned timbers. A hum of voices speaking in unison came from the church across from the ruins. He turned and tied his horse to the rail in front of the church. Three months ago he and Marjorie had spent what he thought to be the best night of his life in America there. What he heard coming from the church were voices speaking in unison. He walked up the steps and through the door.

The people seated around a table took no notice of him. One of the men led the group, hands joined, in a call and response prayer. A litany, Quinn thought. Like a litany. Except raggedy, not as quick, not as automatic.” The leadership of the prayer changed. Quinn sat in a chair and waited. Finally, everyone in the circle raised their feet off the floor and the prayer stopped. Their feet back on the floor, chairs screeched back from the table and the people stood. A tall man walked over to Quinn. “Welcome friend. Have you come to pray with us?”

“No,” Quinn said. “I’m just here waiting. A church is always a good place to wait.”

“Are you a prayerful man?”

“Yes. Yes, I am,” Quinn nodded. “I followed your prayers and found them comforting.”

“Then they have met their purpose, friend, and you are welcome here. My name is Peter Watley.” He turned and nodded at the knot of people leaving. “We are a small group of selected saints brought together to bring Light into the wilderness. We are a religious community left behind by other saints. We are, as Jesus said, ‘the corn thrown by the wayside to grow and prosper in the wilderness.’ What brings you here?” The man led Quinn out and down the steps and they joined the group.

“I came to see my friends, Rafe and Marion Lewis. They took me in and fed me when I was hungry and gave me a bed before sending me on my way. But I see their hotel is burned.”

“We lost two saints on that day, the day they died. Three men came one morning, a big black man, a big white man, and also there was a small white man. They asked about the owners of the hotel, and they told us they had talked to them. They said there was a reward for the capture of a white nigger girl. That’s what they said. A white runaway nigger girl. They rode out of town and then turned and came back. We didn’t tell them anything or say anything. And we went on our way. We heard shots, and by the time we got back here the hotel was on fire, and a man and a mule was dead in the street. Rafe was dead on the porch and we dragged him down the steps, and in no time another group of horsemen rode up and asked us questions about the first group of men and then told us to go home. So we did.”

Quinn thanked him and asked where the Lewises were buried. “Only the mister,” one said. “There ain’t no other remains, to speak of. Mr. Lewis, we buried him the next day in our graveyard. There was nobody else, except the mule, and we dragged him off. They must of took the dead man who had the mule. There was nothin’ else. “

Quinn untied his horse and walked with the man in silence.

“Do you have a place to stay?” the tall man asked.

“Not this night. I’m headed south as soon as I can. To look for the men who shot Rafe and burned the hotel. If I can find the other men, I’d like to talk to them. Have you seen or heard anything?”

The man shook his head. “People take the deaths and burning as bushwackers on the loose and nothing much can be done about it. No.” He stopped and turned to Quinn. “You want to come for supper? We could put you up for the night and you could go on your way with a full stomach. It’d be no trouble.”

Quinn thanked the man and the two trailed the group from the church to a small two-story farm house a quarter mile down the road. The man went on about the history of their religious group, and Quinn listened and tried to remember the meals he spent at Rafe and Marion’s table ignoring this man and his conversation. The man did not recognize him and Quinn did not care to be known.

After supper the man and his family spent the evening talking about what they knew of the rebellion, and they all assured Quinn that they took no part in violence of any kind and wanted no part in any of the fighting. They just wanted to live in peace and practice their faith.

Quinn agreed, that it wasn’t his business, and he told his own story of coming over from Ireland and trying to make a life. “I do want to find those men, though. I doubt that I can start my life again unless I find them.”

The man nodded. “And you know, that it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.’”

From deep in his memory came Quinn’s response. “And it is also written, ‘The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.’”

The man nodded. “We all have to live according to the word as we hear it. God bless you, sir. And God bless all of us.”

Quinn rode south after breakfast feeling refreshed and strong. He took the old stagecoach trail across the Nishnabotna and got to St. Joseph well before sundown.

The next day he crossed into Kansas at Atchison, and then he rode on to Ft. Leavenworth. Lucy had instructed him, “Once you get to the fort, ask for one of the men on the paper.”

Quinn passed the sentries and was stopped at the gate and told to dismount and wait. Fifteen minutes later an escort ushered him to a cabin. The young man standing guard took Quinn ten steps down the board walk. “I am General Blunt’s Adjutant and his friend, so I’d like to say a few things before you go in there. The General has spent the last six weeks leading the Army of the Frontier in a very successful campaign. Now he’s back here getting ready to go God knows where because the President is putting Schofield in his place. I just thought you should know. Tell me your name, please, and state your business.”

“James Quinn. I’d like to ask the General about some bushwackers who attacked me and killed my friend.”

The officer nodded and led Quinn to the office doorway and rapped on the jamb.

The General was busy piling papers, books, and articles of clothing into crates. He shook hands with Quinn. “State your business, sir. I’m getting ready to move out. If I can help you, I will.” Quinn handed him the folded paper and Blunt opened it and nodded. “This is a pretty good list of people, excluding me, of course.” He handed the paper back to Quinn. “A week ago that paper wouldn’t have got you anywhere but out on your ass. Me and the people on that list were ‘persona non grata.’ That means we were on Schofield’s shit list. You know General Schofield?” Without waiting for an answer he asked, “Where you from? You’re not from a regiment, are you? No, I would say not, not with just one eye. Sit down.” The General removed a pile of papers from a chair and Quinn sat. General Blunt went on with his packing.

“General, I’m looking for some bushwackers and for a trio of slave chasers. Lucy Deroin gave me that paper and told me the people on the list could help me, and if they couldn’t they might know somebody who could.”

The General grunted. “I’m afraid I can’t help. I can put out the word among my staff here, but most of these men have been down at Prairie Grove with me up until right before Christmas. They were on the shit list, too. I don’t think they’d know much. We don’t have anything to do with the general population or the home guard. Just our policy. Your best bet is to go south and try and find Hoyt’s men. They are all over the place, but they come back to a tavern on the road between Leavenworth and Quindaro. It’s called the Six Mile House. You go there and wait and some of them’ll show up. I’d go there. Wait. Let me write a note.”

The General sat and scrawled a note on a piece of paper and folded it in thirds and then twice again. He heated a wax stick in the candle on his desk, dripped wax on the paper, then pressed a seal into it and addressed it. “There. Give this to Hoyt. This’ll convince him you’re serious.” He handed Quinn the paper. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to packin’ my shit.”

Quinn thanked the General and turned to leave. “Mister, you can stay here for a day or two, if you like. Eat. Rest a bit. Just tell my man outside there.”

When Quinn rode up to the inn the next afternoon, he was struck not just by the size of the building, but also by its design and construction. Above the hewn limestone blocks that formed the foundation were half-timbers supporting walls of polished walnut plank. The board and batten sides rose a full two stories with glass windows and shutters and a split shingle roof. The building was laid out in a shallow U with a courtyard of flagstone. A stone fire pit stood in the middle.

A boy came out and took Quinn’s horse and tied him to the rail, then took his pack and led him into the inn. The greatroom was already lit by lanterns hung from the beams, and men were sitting around tables talking and drinking. The boy put down the pack and walked over to one of the men at the table and said something. The man came over and held out his hand. “I’m Joseph Bloomington Swain.”

Quinn stepped forward and shook his hand. “James Quinn. Pleased to meet you. I’m here to see if you can help me find some people.”

“We got word you were comin’. Marion’s in the kitchen. She thought you’d be here days ago. Let’s go see if we can convince her to give up what she’s doin’.”

Quinn found Marion up to her elbows in dishwater. She turned, and drying her hands on her apron she walked over and wrapped her arms around Quinn. “Oh, Jamie! Jamie!” She burst into tears and buried her face on his shoulder. Quinn put his arms over hers and held her.

Bloom Swain backed out of the room.

“Oh, Marion.” He put his chin on her head. They stood together for a minute.

She took his hand and led him to the table and they sat.

“I’m sorry, Jamie. I got him killed and then got you shot. It was my idea and then you came…”

“Marion. No, no. They did it, not you.”

“It was me. She was comin’ to me. And I got Rafe shot and I lost the girl. There’s nothin’ good came out of it. The hotel’s gone and Rafe’s gone and I can’t go back.”

“Lucy told me you saved me. They left me for dead.”

“And they killed Rafe. God Damn! I wish I was a man! I just went and hid. I didn’t want to die. Now I just want to find ‘em and kill ‘em. I do!”

“We can find them. Lucy said the men here knew who killed Rafe and shot me.”

“Four of the men from the regiment were chasing bushwackers and they came up when they saw smoke. When I got down here I told them my story and Bloom says he knows who they are. He knows who two of them are. They’re slave chasers from St. Louis and they’ve been through here before. But let’s not go on about that just now. I want to hear about you. Just let me look at you. When I left you at the reservation, I thought you were gonna die. Lucy wrote me that you came out of it and would be fine. And then she sent a letter saying you were comin’ down, although she didn’t think you were well enough to ride. And here you are.”

“And here I am. Lucy said it was thanks to you and her and Miss Morphine that I’m alive. You saved my life.” He clutched the bag around his neck. “Even now, without her magic powder I still won’t make it through the night. Lucy told me some about how you brought me to the reservation. I was out for four days, and even now what I remember about that morning is just a blur.”

Marion put her hands flat on the table in front of her. “You remember the three men? How they rode up, and then they came back? I was upstairs and heard the talking and the first shot, and I ran down. I got to the door and heard a second shot and I saw…I saw all of it happen so quick. You were down and Rafe stepping onto the porch with his rifle and the man on the horse shot him, and I ran back into the kitchen. I heard one of them pounding up the steps hollering at me to come out, and I ran to the back porch and lifted the lid to the cistern and slipped in and pulled the cover down. I heard him tromping around and hollering and the stove getting’ kicked over and dishes crashing. I’m guessing he threw the lantern on the stove because the fire started and they talked some and they left. I crawled out when it got quiet and the front room was burning, I just went out the back. I looked to see if they were gone, really gone, and when I was sure they were, I came around and saw Rafe at the bottom of the steps and you and the mule on the ground. I thought you were dead, too. I went to Rafe and he was gone, and then I went to you and you were still breathing and all bloody.”

“What happened to the girl? Did they get her?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know where she went. Things happened so fast and I was so scared. I stood there just bawlin’. I got Rafe’s horse and tied him next to the steps and dragged you up and hoisted you over the saddle. I led the horse down to the river and pulled the boat over and got you in it. I sent the horse back and then I did what Rafe said he did. I pushed the boat onto the ice and got behind and pushed it down to the point of the island and got in and poled along the ice until I caught a current. I floated to Indian Cave and pulled up. The reservation isn’t far and I went and got help. They took you to Lucy, and I stayed around the reservation for a couple days and couldn’t stand it. Lucy sent me to some people and they took me to Quindaro. I came up here after Christmas and I’ve been helping out. Lots of people comin’ and goin’ around here, I tell you.”

“What is this place? Somebody put a load of money into it.”

“Theo Bartles’ father built it as an inn, a roadhouse. Nobody stays here anymore. I mean, travelers don’t. It’s mostly the headquarters for the Seventh Kansas Irregulars. That’s what they call themselves. They were part of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry under Col. Jennison. They don’t ride with them now, but they say they are assigned various duties under General Blunt. George Hoyt is their commander now. Bloom says one of their jobs is to search out guerrillas and another is to protect the citizens loyal to the Union. He’s one of the men who came up and saw our hotel burning. They were chasing bushwackers and ended up at Lewis Landing. Just after we left. He said they took out after the ones who did it.”

“And Bloom said they knew who they were?”

“Bloom said they did. He said they lost their trail after they crossed the Nishney and couldn’t pick it up, but he was sure they were headed south.”

“Who is the girl? Lucy said she didn’t know her name.”

“I don’t know either. We usually get the word that a runaway is comin’ to us. We hear how many, but not who they are or where they come from. They just tell us where they’re goin’. Let me take you in to talk to Bloom. I’m going in to put supper together.” She put a hand on his wrist and patted it.

Marion led Quinn back into the tavern, and Bloom Swain rose and took him to the two tables where men were talking and drinking. “You won’t remember everybody, Quinn, but you will get to know them if you stay here long enough. The Seventh has a tradition of nicknames and there’s a story behind every one. The men call me a number of different things, and one of ‘em’s Jeff Davis. And we got a General Beauregard who’s not a General. I’ll wait ‘til he gets here and he can tell you the story.”

Bloom announced Quinn to the men and they acknowledged him as they were named.

“Here’s Harvey, Tough, Walt, Red, Sore-eye Dan. Over there, Pickles, Pony, Yellow Tom, Buffalo Bill, Pete, Light Horse Harry, Jackson Flood, and Newt Morrison. We got lots more out doin’ different things and you’ll meet them when they get back. We fancy ourselves the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Irregulars.”

“Hear! Hear!” one of the men shouted! A few of the men pounded their cups and drank. All of them gave Bloom their attention.

Bloom announced to the room, “We been together as a unit since October. We are commissioned by a very important man, and our mission is…” Bloom paused and there was a hush in the room. “We can’t tell you our mission or the name of our leader until we burn you in. Can we boys?” Various forms of assent went round the room. He turned to Quinn. “Once you’re in, you’re in for life. Right boys?” Sounds of agreement went round the room.

One of the men stood and stepped over to Quinn and offered him his seat. “Sit here, now, and we can do it right here.” He put his hands on Quinn’s shoulders and turned to Bloom. “Or should we wait ‘til mornin’?”

“Now’s fine. We may be busy in the morning,” said Bloom.

“Now just sit here quiet, Quinn, and listen.”

The men sat and looked at Quinn.

The man standing looked down at Quinn and kicked his chair leg and laughed. “Naaaw! I made that shit up. There ain’t no such thing!”

The men burst out in laughter and shouted comments and Quinn smiled weakly.

“That’s it! Looks like you’re in!” More laughter. “You’re gonna hear different, but there’s nothin’ like that with us.” He waved at the men. “We’re just a bunch of horsemen with various uniforms. Friends who fight together. But before we tell you what we’re all about, let’s hear about you. What you got to say?”

Quinn stood. “You know my name. Some of you know a bit of my story. Somebody shot me and murdered my friend and I lost my eye and I’m out to get the men who did it. I’d like any help I can get to find them, just as long as you leave their killing to me. That’s all I’ve got to say except thanks.”

He sat down. The men hooted and clapped and slapped the table.

The man who gave up his seat said, “We can wait on namin’ you. You don’t have any say in it, but you’re lucky we’ve already got a One-Eyed Blunt.” Laughter all around. “We call him that so nobody confuses him with General ‘two-eyed’ Blunt. So you’re safe there.”

One of the men came and sat down across from Quinn. “I can tell you what we saw when we got up there, and I can promise you that we will help you find the sons a bitches that shot you. Tough, Jackson, Yellow Tom, and Bloom were along with us.

We was followin’ a bunch a bushwackers out of St. Joe, trailed them to the Nishnabotna—they had no idea we was behind them—and we saw where they crossed a mile northeast of the bridge, and that’s when we saw smoke. We thought it was them. It looked like up in the Hamburgh area—we didn’t know. We crossed the river and hit the stagecoach road and took it fast to the Landing and found the hotel on fire. Pretty much gone. We rode up and found the damnedest thing. We saw this mule. At the foot of the stairs, tied to the hitchin’ rail, was a mule. Dead. Somebody shot him in the head. We talked to some people there who was watchin’ the fire. They described the three that came into town and they wasn’t the ones we was followin’. They was different.”

Another man interrupted. “When they told us about the three, we knew right away who two of ‘em was. They wasn’t our boys. The people there said they was lookin’ for a runaway nigger girl. They was a big white man and an even bigger black one.”

Newt Morrison added, “Everybody knows them. Hunter and Hawk. Don’t know their real names, but they’re slave catchers. The white man uses the colored boy kinda like a coon dog. That’s why they call the black one Hunter.”

Quinn said, “Can you help me find them?”

“Oh, they’re out there,” said Newt. “That’s a couple that’s pretty hard to miss. Whether or not they’re in our area’s another thing. They go back and forth and pretty much have a free pass. The Hawk just claims Hunter is his nigger and shows some papers and they get past any pickets or sentries or guards. They can get on any boat and go upriver or down.”

“And from what I hear, they got good horses,” one of them said. “They got a reputation for ridin’ real nice horses. They got to have a pen somewhere.”

Bloom nodded. “You’re right, Tough.” Bloom spoke to Quinn. “Tough has an eye for horses. He can tell you just by looking where the horse came from.”

“Bloom doesn’t mean the bloodline, Quinn.” Newt said. “He means who he stole it from.” Laughter all around. “Tough’s our local recognized horse thief.”

“And proud of it,” another chimed in.

Tough nodded. “I didn’t see him, but I know the horse the big white man rode. The old man we talked to at the hotel that day described him. I know that horse. He’s an American Saddlebred out of Virginia. Grey Eagle stock. I’d love to get close enough to put my hands on him.”

“And the black man?”

“I don’t know. Nobody said anything about his horse.”

“Tough, I don’t mean the horse. I mean the man.”

“They don’t keep records of their bloodlines, and I expect they all look alike. Do you know what General Lee paid for his horse? He’s a Saddlebred.”

Pete shook his head. “When was the last time you ever paid for a horse, Tough?”

“I do sometimes. In a trade. I throw in a little money to sweeten the deal if I have to. You just don’t know. I have my reputation.”

Laughter.

“It don’t matter about the horses.” Tough spoke to Quinn. “We can find the men if we set out to. That’s my point.”

Quinn said, “And the third man?”

“They said he was a little white man, ridin’ a kinda nothin’ horse,” said Tough.

“Not worth noticin’, huh, Tough?” said Bloom.

“Nobody said nothin’ about him, so, yeah. Maybe he was the one wantin’ the girl.”

When the conversation turned to the virtues of stealing and trading horses over stealing and trading slaves, Marion came out and brought Quinn into the kitchen while she fixed supper.

Quinn thanked her again for saving his life and asked what she knew about the girl that brought the three men to the landing. “We didn’t know anything about her. She was just another runaway—a quiet, scared, skinny girl, and we didn’t ask about her circumstance. You don’t. It doesn’t take long to figure out that you don’t want to know about them. It’s such a heartbreak.”

“Rafe died doin’ a good thing, Marion. Protecting you, helping the girl. He would have killed them if he could have got a shot off. You know, when he came over to the island and thought I was a slave chaser he was a different man. He was ready to kill me right there on the ground.”

“It was more about protecting me than it was helping them get away. I was the one who brought the trail to Lewis Landing. Rafe didn’t really care much, wanted to stay out of it, but I worked the Freedom Trail over near Topeka before I met him. He was just doin’ it because he loved me.” Marion waved her hand in front of her face. “And now he’s gone.”

They both were quiet. She continued. “And we’re here now and got to make the best of it. See it through, see this thing to the end. It seems like it’s been goin’ on forever. This side of the river has been at war over slavery for the last ten years. We thought Lewis Landing was far enough away, but it wasn’t. The river brings it, the poison. Slavery. It poisoned the Missouri side and then it leaked over into Kansas when Kansas wanted to come into the Union. Towns like Quindaro were set up and people from the east brought in to populate them. Towns like Wyandotte sprung up right next to them and filled up with people from the Missouri side.

Not necessarily bad people. But the ones that followed? Feuders, adulterers, thieves of all sorts, land grabbers, preachers, politicians. Twenty years ago when it was just about Indians and whites it was simple. Now look at it. The government took care of the Indians and now what do we have? These poor Indians see the war as part of what has been goin’ on for two hundred years with them, except now they are forced to take sides with the whites. And they know better than to trust any white man. Things are not always what they seem and you don’t know who to trust. On either side of the river.”

“Are you saying not to trust these men?”

“I’m not saying that. Just get to know them. They’re all different. The good thing is that they’re on our side. She brought over the plates. Help me set the table.”

That night Jamie Quinn mixed morphine with his whiskey and when he woke in the morning the men were gone. He dressed and walked downstairs.

Marion met him at the foot of the stairs. “Can I fix you breakfast? Everyone’s up early this morning. They said to let you sleep and to take good care of you. They are all nothin’ but teases.” She smiled and led him into the kitchen. “Come on in and have some breakfast.”

She poured him a cup of coffee and Quinn sat at the table and watched her work. “I like being here. I miss Rafe something terrible, something terrible. These men have given me a place and they respect me and appreciate me, and I feel like I’m doin’ something important. I take care of them. I clean up after them and cook for them. They know I’m here when they come back. When Theo and Rebecca left things got a little out of hand. At least from the mess that was here when I came. Lord! It looked like a den for bears and wolverines!”

She brought biscuits and a plate of eggs to the table. “It keeps me busy cooking and cleaning. Nine rooms. And then there’s the basement and the wine cellar and the secret passages and the dungeon and the…”

They heard a commotion in the next room and the youth who took Jamie’s horse the night before rushed into the kitchen. “Marion! Marion! They’re back! They’re comin’ up the road!”

She turned to Quinn. “Eat your eggs, Jamie. I gotta go see what they got.” She swiped off her apron, grabbed a sweater from the peg, and ran out. Quinn took one more bite and followed her into the courtyard.

He watched from the fire pit as four men rode up leading six horses. They led the horses into the corral, unclipped them, and tied their mounts to the corral rail. Marion headed back toward the kitchen. The men ignored Quinn as they came by and Quinn trialed them into the saloon.

“I got biscuits and coffee ready,” Marion said from the kitchen. “Give me a few minutes for the eggs.” The men hung their gun belts on the pegs and piled their hats neatly in the corner and then went in and sat at the table.

“Tough and his men won’t be here for breakfast,” one of the men announced. “They went south with the horses. They’ll be here for dinner.”

“Colonel,” Marion said, “this is Jamie Quinn. He came in yesterday. Jamie, this is Col. Hoyt.”

“Welcome to the Seventh, Mr. Quinn.” Hoyt stuck out his hand and smiled. “You’re just in time to watch a bit of frontier theater unfold in front of your very eyes. But let’s eat, Marion. The Sheriff’ll be here soon.” The men sat and Quinn started his second breakfast.

Marion poured coffee and the conversation turned to horses, and Jamie had difficulty following it, except to pick up some of the names he had heard the night before.

As Marion came around for refills, the boy rushed in. “They’re comin’. Just down the road. There’s a bunch of them.” The men pushed back their chairs and walked out and picked out their hats from the corner.

Hoyt said, “Hang on. Let me go out first and meet ‘em in the courtyard. No guns. If they want to take one of us in, let them.”

Eight men reined in short of the flagstones. One with a badge pinned to his coat spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. “These your men, Hoyt? We got warrants here for the arrest of William S. Tough. Joseph Bloomington Swain, and Walter Sinclair.”

Hoyt stepped forward. “Bloom’s here, but Tough and Sinclair are out. What you want them for?”

“Horse thievin’. They rustled six horses last night from pickets across the river and had the stones to put ‘em on the ferry this morning and bring them across the river. Pritchard said he took ‘em over. Those horses there? We followed ‘em from the river. Whatcha got to say, Hoyt? Which of your men stole ‘em?”

“You said Tough and Bloom and Sinclair. We’ll go with that, since you got warrants for them, but they aren’t your horses. My men just brought them down from Leavenworth. You want to bring in Bloom, fine, and I’ll tell Tough and Sinclair you’re looking for them when they show up.”

“We don’t care who you send, Hoyt. We got warrants enough for all ‘a you. All we have to do is fill ‘em in.”

“Do you need help with the horses, Sheriff? Harry. Ralph. Help these men with the horses. Bloom, take what you need and go along with them. I’ll be down later in the day to straighten this out. Sheriff, I’ll bring Tough and Sinclair with me.”

Hoyt led the men back to the kitchen table and the men sat with their hats on. When sounds of the horses faded, the whole table raised an uproar. Claps on the back and hats tossed haphazardly into the corner.

Hoyt asked, “Marion, is there any more coffee?”

Marion made the rounds with the pot. The men talked over each other.

“Did you see his face?”

“I was afraid Bloom’d bust out laughin’.”

“Maybe when Tough and you go down, you can do a little horse tradin’.”

“Jesus! I’d like to go along.”

“Colonel, you gonna ask for an apology?”

“Maybe you can get Anthony to put it in the paper.”

“We’ll wait and see if we can rub his nose in it a little more,” said Hoyt. “Tough’s good at that. Until he gets back, we can do the chores around the house. Put the horses up. A couple of you can go down to Young America and replenish the grog. And ask Marion what she needs. Then let’s see what we can get to outfit our new recruit here. Pete. Take him up and get his sizes. Let me know what we need to get while we’re in town. I’m going to write up a report.”

Hoyt stood and the men stood. He snapped a salute and the men each gave an obscene gesture, some of which Jamie had never seen before. They burst out laughing and walked out to, “Good job! Done for the day! We could butcher them nags when we get ‘em back! Hey, how ‘bout it?” And they went on out the door.

Pete got a pencil and paper from Marion and took Jamie upstairs.

“What was all that about?” Quinn asked. “Horse stealing’s a hanging offense.”

“Not down here it ain’t,” Pete said. “Not during the rebellion. Oh, Jesus! The Colonel pulled a fast one, though. Tough and Sinclair and Red went across and confisticated some horses last night and took ‘em north and brought them across. Dan, Pickles, and One-eye met them at the ferry and exchanged horses with them. Ya see, Tough has a pen north a there, and the boys just got six nags before dawn and brought them to the ferry. The sheriff tracked the nags from the ferry up here and Tough took the six blooded horses to his pens south of Leavenworth. Like a swap! Oh, boy, I wish I could go with ‘em to the Sheriff’s. You got a hat? Gimmie your cap. And that buffalo coat. Can I have yer brogans, too? It’s easiest if we just bring these in and then we won’t get the size and the shape wrong.”

“You can have them if you bring them back, Pete. That’s a good outfit.”

“It’s a good disguise, I’d say. Nobody’d take you for a cavalry man.” Pete piled the clothes on the floor by the door. “I’ll bring them back with a new outfit and you won’t ever want to wear that buffalo hair again. Gimme your shirt and take off them pants.”

“Well, shit, you want my long handles? How about my eye-patch?”

Pete laughed. “Naw, I gotta leave you with somethin’. But can you take yer pants off? I’ll have Marion measure your leg from them, and the waist, and give ‘em back to ya. We’ll getcha a good belt with a fancy buckle and a couple pair a pants and shirts. Socks is universal. What else you need?”

Quinn removed his pants. “I’d appreciate it if you could let me have a gun. I’m gonna need a gun more than a new pair of pants.”

“Oh, the Colonel’ll get you fixed up with what you need there. Won’t even have to ask him. When Tough and the boys get back, they’ll all head south this afternoon to see the Sheriff and then go on to the Johnson House. We got a stash down there. He’ll bring some stuff back. Wait’ll you see it. Boy!” He headed for the door and turned. “Now, don’t you go anywhere.” He stuffed the rolled-up pants under his arm and laughed. Quinn heard him repeat the phrase as he went down the stairs.

Quinn sat on the bed in his socks and union suit. He pulled the big black coat out of the saddlebag and put it on, then pulled out the pack of letters and undid the string. He read them and put them back in the saddlebag and was pushing it around with his foot when Pete came in.

“Done!” Pete said as he walked in and tossed the pants on the bed. He picked up the pile by the door. “Let me take these things down and by tomorrow night you’ll have a new outfit.” He wrapped the shoes and the hat in the coat and was off.

Quinn sat on the bed. His socket ached and his head throbbed. He took the medicine bag from his neck and pulled out the packet of morphine. He sifted a measure of the powder into the glass of water by the bed, swirled it, and drank it down. Then he lay on his back and thought about his eye. With his lid closed he imagined that his good eye saw what the empty hole saw and the eye saw darkness and he sat up quickly and opened his eye in a panic. He moved the eye from side to side and he controlled his breathing. He thought about getting up and reading the letters again, but instead toed the bags as he put on his pants, and then he walked down to an empty kitchen.

He walked out into the courtyard stocking-footed and saw no one. The ground was cold, but he wanted something to do. Stay busy. Keep moving, he thought. Circling the inn, he found wood stacked against the back wall, and he began to haul it in by the armfuls and stack it outside the front door. He brought logs to the fireplace, then he brought logs and kindling to the kitchen and put them into the bin.

He sat next to the kitchen stove and pulled down the oven door and peeled off his socks and hung them on the edge. He pulled another chair around and propped his feet up and dozed. He jerked awake, disoriented, and went back up to the dormitory room and brought down the medicine bag to the kitchen. The irrigation would only increase his pain, so he mixed another small measure of morphine powder into a cup of water and drank it. Then he filled the cup again. “Dissolve the salt in warm water,” Lucy had said. “Then add cold. Warm will help the salt dissolve and it will feel better as well.” He poured a bit of hot water from the kettle into the cup and poured a measure of salt into it and swirled it around. When it didn’t dissolve, he got a spoon and stirred it. Then he added cold water and tested it with his finger. He pulled the leather patch off and looked at it and thought it would need cleaning soon, but not today. He put the patch into one pants pocket, stuffed the bag into another, and walked outside.

He leaned back against the wall and thought, there is no good way to do this. His feet were bare and a wind had come up. He thrust his chin up and held the cup level with his good eye. Then he held his breath and poured.

The water ran over his face and head and onto his chest. The worst part, he thought, is the mess. I feel like a child, a baby who’s wet himself. First warm, then cold. He tipped his head forward. The cold air and the warm water took him back to the reservation and Lucy Deroin. A blind man being bathed like a baby. Helpless. He pulled the patch out of his pocket and smelled it. Maybe it’s time to put a pad on and put the magic ointment on it.

“Jamie, what are you doin’? Oh, land sakes! You’re all wet!” Marion walked up to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “You get in the house!”

“I’m washing out my eye. I don’t think it’s healing.”

“Oh, Jamie. I didn’t know. Come. Come on in and let me get you a dry shirt. You’ll catch a cold out here.” He followed her into the kitchen. “You brought in firewood. Why, thank you. That’s my job, or if I can get Ralph to do it. Sit there and I’ll be back.”

He sat and tied the top thongs and slipped the patch onto his forehead. It felt like a cold hand. He pulled it down and reached around and tied the lower thongs.

She returned and put a shirt and a pair of socks on the table. “Oh, I thought maybe you’d let me see behind your patch. I’m not being gruesome. I’m just interested. Take off that coat and let me dry you first and then get you into this shirt.” He took off the coat and laid it over a chair. “And your long handles—just peel off the top and let it hang. It’ll dry.” He unbuttoned and stripped his arms out of the underwear. “Now sit.” She scrubbed his head and he winced. “I’m sorry! I’m so bad. Here.” She handed him the towel and he blotted his face and wiped his chest.

She handed him the shirt and then the socks.

“It’s O.K. I’ll get used to this. It’s been slow in healing.” He put on the shirt.

“Is it still bad? I know it was awful at first. Are you cold? Go sit by the fire.”

Quinn sat by the stove and put on the socks. He propped his feet up on the chair. “Are Hoyt and the men gonna be back soon? I’ve been sitting around, and now I’m ready to do something. Anything. If I had my clothes, I’d go out and split some wood or clean out the fire pit.”

“You can help me in here. I got laundry to do. Do you have any other stuff you want washed? I got to get dinner goin’ and then supper. You want to see the inn? Help me with the potatoes and then let me show you around the place. There’s lotsa stuff to keep you busy.”

She brought a sack of potatoes and a sack of carrots to the table. “When you’re ready, you can peel these. There’s a knife in the drawer there. The roast’s in the oven and I’m baking bread this morning. You can peel until you’re tired. Your hands’ll be clean enough after that to punch down the bread, and then I’ll have you watch the gravy.”

Quinn worked quietly while Marion told him stories about her life before she met Rafe, how her mother was afraid that she would not find a man who would marry her, a white man. “She told me, ‘How are you gonna meet a good young swain? Sometimes I think you are too much man for a man to be attracted. You’re not girl enough,’ she said. Well, Rafe liked me. He was older and I didn’t know until after I married him that he was married before and his wife died. In childbirth. And he moved from Pennsylvania to homestead and that’s what he did for a couple years. Then he came into some money and that’s when he met me. We got married and moved to just south of Hamburgh and thought about buying the hotel, beings that the Landing held such promise. We had a good business for a while, and then the stage took another road and the boats stopped.”

She dried her hands on her apron. “I’m tired of cookin’. Help me pour the water in the boiler and then let’s go take a tour.”

She pumped the water at the sink and it took Quinn three trips to fill the boiler. “Now, a few more sticks to get the fire goin’ good.” She opened a pothole and stuffed and handful of cobs in and three small pieces of wood. “There.” She slid the lid over the hole. “Follow me.”

“Five large bedrooms, four on the top,” she said as she led him up the stairs. “The two you’ve seen.” Two more in the south wing, across the catwalk here.” She led him to an open, railed hallway above the saloon. “The fireplace below, see, warms the upstairs. The cookstove warms the kitchen and the chimney heats the two bedrooms over it.” She led him through the bedrooms and pointed to a butler’s staircase. “Down there’s the kitchen and on down’s the basement. The basement has two ways out, the staircase and there’s one to the outside. Let me get a lamp and we can go down. Stay right here.”

When she came back, they walked down two floors and onto the basement landing. Quinn pointed to the door opposite the foot of the staircase. “The fifth bedroom—that it here?”

“Yup. That’s it. But we can’t go in there. Only Colonel Hoyt goes in there. It was built by old man Bartles to hide runaways.”

The main room in the basement held shelves and bins, and crocks lined the walls. The middle room was an armory on one end and a tool shop on the other. “That door there.” She pointed to the end room. “That’s the wine cellar that’s got a false wall and a room about the size of the privy behind it. We can’t go in there, either, but I’ve seen it. The Colonel lets me in to clean.”

“So there’s no dungeon, then.”

She laughed. “No, I was just teasin’ about that. But we do spread the rumor whenever we can. This place has a reputation for ghosts, too. Col. Hoyt says that the neighbors delight in telling stories of how people check into the Six Mile House and never check out. The old man built a basement escape tunnel to the outhouse.”

“And where are the Bartles now?”

“Theo and Rebecca went south in November to build a Freedman Village in Mississippi. Col. Hoyt promised to take care of the place.”

“Col. Hoyt and you, perhaps?”

“Let’s go up. The water should be ready. We can soak the clothes while we start supper and finish the laundry while it’s cookin’.”

He followed her up the stairs. “Supper?” Quinn said. “We haven’t eaten dinner yet.”

“One step ahead, Jamie. You got to stay one step ahead. Most of the men are gone for dinner, so I’m making a big meal for supper.” She took a steel tub from a peg on the wall and set it on the floor. “You pour the water into the washtub. Put it over there under the stairs first.” While he filled the tub from the boiler, she added water from the sink and stirred in the soap. Then she dumped in the clothes. “Now plunge this up and down for a while.” She gave him a stick with a metal dish on the end. “I’ll set the table and ring the bell.”

Five of the men filed in and Quinn joined them at the table. He learned that two of them had been with Hoyt for years. “I was with him before John Brown,” one said. “Col. Hoyt cut his teeth on the war with ole J.B.. He was the only one Brown trusted not to betray him when he was on trial. I’ll bet you didn’t know the Colonel’s a lawyer. The only lawyer that stuck by John Brown ‘til the end. Col. Hoyt organized a prison break, but it didn’t work out. He says that Brown just wanted to die and Hoyt walked to the gallows with him.”

“And Bill here was with Little John’s sharpshooters before it was the Seventh Cavalry with Jennison. That’s how Col. Hoyt got to know Col. Jennison, through old man Brown.”

The conversation wandered off into names of people Quinn had heard of, and the talk ended with an argument over who started the Redlegs. Marion weighed in from the stove. “Oh, I think lots of men want that honor. Jim Lane’s got the best claim to it, in my opinion.”

“It don’t matter who started it,” one of the men said. “I get naturally riled up when I hear about them bandits that dress up like us and steal the glory just ‘cause they got leggings. It ain’t right.”

When dinner was over and the men had filed out, Marion gave Quinn a cabbage slicer. “I’m goin’ down to get some ham and cabbage. You can clear the table and slice the cabbage over there and then help me finish up supper.”

When she came up, Quinn asked about the men who sat with him over dinner.

“I don’t know all the men. They come and go. They all tell stories and I listen. The important thing is that they are loyal to each other and would give up their lives for each other. They’re all different, of course, but they’re all in love with the idea of some kind of justice. Every one of them has a history to prove it.”

“But Hoyt then didn’t organize the Redlegs? It was Lane?”

“The men all came together under Col. Hoyt, but they were, for the most part, sent to him. From a lot of different places. It was a unit waitin’ to happen. Some say it started off as a bunch of cavalry riders who got tired of the way the war was being run in the day, so they rode at night jumping pickets and sentries and stealing horses. I knew about some of that in ‘61. Many of them just went back to doin’ what they were doin’ during the border wars. Some say they are the culls and troublemakers from cavalry units. When the generals wanted to rein them in, they tried organizing them. But they can’t really control them. Col. Hoyt gets orders from the chain of command, but the men won’t ever admit to taking orders. They joke about it. Col. Hoyt will get the men together and sometimes he ‘suggests’ orders. They operate as they like. They talk about it and decide. We got all kinds—spies, sharpshooters, scouts—that’s how the men are paid, as scouts. The men see themselves as irregulars patrolling the Kansas border. They’re all good with a pistol and ride like the wind.”

The men rode back in groups of threes and fours. Bloom came in waving panels of rust colored buckskin. “Here you are, Quinn! Put these on and you’re one of us.” He held them out. Quinn turned around in his chair. “They’re redlegs, you stupid shit! Leggings to wear like chaps, over your boots.” Bloom looked down at Quinn’s stocking feet. “That is, when you get boots. But here. Let me show you.” Bloom sat in the chair next to him. “Put your foot up here. See.” Bloom propped his foot up on a chair and draped the leather over his knee. “The thongs here wrap around and you tie ‘em top, middle and bottom.” Bloom tied the top. “How high depends on how you like ‘em. In the brush I like ‘em way up, over the knee. Walking around, I slide ‘em down. Here. You try.” Quinn tied one to his knee and stood. “They’ll look better when you get your boots on, and you can trim ‘em if you want.”

Quinn thanked Bloom.

“You’ll really appreciate these things when you get out in the brush, Quinn. Jimmy Lane got the idea. He wore hard chaps in the Mexican War, and then he come on the opportunity to liberate a bunch of ‘em one day when he was reconnoitering. The original ones were reddish pink, almost too pretty to wear, and they was softer than a girl’s titty. These are just as good, though.”

Tough came in and immediately invited Jamie out to the corral. “That one over there—the dapple gray—that’s yours. That’s some horse, Quinn! I picked him out for myself, but Colonel said you needed a horse and, hell, I figured it’d give me an excuse to go out and steal an even better one. Tomorrow maybe we can go out and you can get to know him. I’ll show you a thing or two.”

When the men rode up, Quinn and Tough followed them in amidst shouts and playful slaps and pushes.

When Hoyt rode up they hollered and cheered and followed him in.

“Goddamn! You see that? You did it! He ate crow in front of everybody.”

“You showed him, Colonel.” One of the men put on a Tennessee drawl and hitched up his belt. “‘Well, Sheriff, since you took our horses to Leavenworth, you can just bring ‘em back. Tomorrow’ll be soon enough, thank you.”

Hoyt went to the bar and picked up a glass and a bottle. “Now, Flood, I didn’t sound like a stupid hillbilly. When you tell the story again, see if you can get another accent.” He turned to Quinn. “I see you got your leggings. Your boots and hat, along with your armaments, will be here tomorrow. I suggest we all celebrate. Orders will be passed out tomorrow.” Catcalls and jeers. “And we’ll all go back to soldiering.”

The voices in the room quieted as the men talked and the whiskey bottles set on the tables were only down by half when Quinn and Marion brought in the food.

“What am I missing? Are they always this quiet?” Quinn asked out in the kitchen.

“Hardly,” she said. “There’s something in the wind. We’ll see what it is.”

After supper Hoyt stood at the head of the table. “Some of you know that we got news while we were in town. Yesterday, guerrilla riders and sharpshooters harassed our troops along Linn Creek, and their uniforms over-ran and destroyed Beaver Station. There is word that Marmaduke is marching toward Springfield, so we’re going to have to get on our horses and ride.

Before I get to that, I want to let you know about the bullshit that’s going on above us. Blunt has officially purged the scouts from his command.” Hoyt raised his hand to quiet the hoots and curses. When the complaints died down he continued. “It wasn’t his idea. He had his orders, and here’s how he’s working it. He’s ordered the Provost Martial to monitor the dispersal as best he can. That takes it out of his hands and the military doesn’t have to acknowledge us. Quinn, for your information, that’s us Irregulars. Blunt has ordered some of us, the ones he acknowledges and pays, to report to Lt. Col. Burris, which, of course we cannot do. I will send Harry with a note giving account of who is officially serving under me—any of you who’s on the payroll—and until each and every one of you is served, I expect you not to report. The Provost has better things to do than to come looking for you.

Now, Quinn, just to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with here. These criminals, when they dress up in their Sunday best, are the remnants of Jennison’s Cavalry, and tomorrow morning the Cavalry will ride.”

The mood in the room changed to one of celebration. Jeers turned to cheers and the curses were positive. “Al, you are to take Newt and Pickles and their boys to provide outrider and advance assistance for Lane’s Colored Infantry Regiment. They will be under the command of Captain James Williams. You’ll have to get a move on. I want intelligence on the Regiment as well, and I have spelled out the particulars in your orders. You will escort the Regiment to Fort Scott, where they will formally be mustered into the Union army as six Federal Companies. That done, bring the men back to Leavenworth, and return here at will.

Beauregard will be back tomorrow and will ride to Oceola. The rest of us will go to Linn Creek and see what the situation is there and take appropriate action.

Tough, Pony, Dan, and Walt will be back shortly and have orders to stay here and do what they do best.

They will be stationed here and will come back to the inn from time to time to see if Marion and the crew here need anything. Red, you are to report to General Ewing.”

When Red raised an objection, Hoyt said, “I know. He just fired you, but he wants to see you anyway. He will give you further orders. Get back when you can.

Critical messages will go directly to Fort Scott and Fort Scott will send runners as necessary. We will meet at Fort Scott no later than the 17th. If you cannot make it there by then, you have free reign to return to Leavenworth. Quinn, I want you to stay here. Ralph will be here, as will Marion. Tough and his men will come and go and you can help them out as necessary. You might go along with them to the stables south of Leavenworth and see what we’ve got there.

Lay out your provisions and gear, men. Let’s all get a good night’s sleep and I’ll see you at breakfast.”

Hoyt retired to his room to write up orders. Quinn stayed up with the men playing cards and drinking.

He woke early to the sound of someone banging a steel spoon on the bottom of a cooking pot. He dressed in his pants, shirt, and socks and came down. The men were at the tables loaded with food—pans of baked eggs, platters of biscuits, and bowls of gravy and grits. Marion was pouring coffee into mugs and some of the men were already eating.

“My compliments to the cook, Marion,” Quinn said. Muffled approval came from the tables. “You must have been up and cooking in the dark.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Some appreciation.” The tables erupted with hums and burps and kissing noises.

“Come sit with us, Marion,” said Hoyt. “Grace us with your presence.”

Marion sat and Hoyt stood and addressed the Company. “We’re all going out again to do what we do best—gather information, raise havoc with the enemy, disrupt their supplies, and protect our troops. Here are your general orders.” He waved a bundle of envelopes.” Beyond what’s here, stay in contact with your unit. We don’t want to go chasing around to get you out of jail or rescue you from some farmer whose daughter you’ve compromised.” Laughter and comments all around.

“Wait! Now wait! There’s a lady present. Save it for the trail. You are all going to be out for weeks living off the land. Do what you can to ingratiate yourselves with our allies and friends and feel free to irritate everybody else. Steal only Rebel chickens and liberate only southern liquor. In your envelopes are your Christmas bonuses. Spend the Confederate money quickly and save your greenbacks to spend on the way back. If you have any questions about your orders, see me for clarification. I will field no questions now. You are dismissed.” He had two envelopes for Marion. “Would you see the boys get these when they come? Thanks.”

The men took their time getting up from the table. They sincerely thanked Marion for the food and she was pleased to see that many of them stuffed extra biscuits into their shirts.

Quinn finished his plate and helped Marion clear the tables. He volunteered to help with the dishes. “Thanks, Jamie, but I can handle it. Stop by before dinner, though. I may need a hand. Go out and help the men.”

When Quinn saw the last of them ride off, he went in and sat by the fire and read from the piles of newspapers stacked there. His eye fell on a letter attributed to John Brown Jr. in defense of Daniel Read Anthony. The next paper he picked up he carried into the kitchen.

“Marion, can I read you something? These are from the Leavenworth paper. Last week.” Without waiting for an answer, he sat at the table and read. “Get this one. Here’s what it says. ‘A married woman of Michigan, whose husband is quite wealthy, is now under arrest in New York, for dressing in male apparel and getting married to a pretty girl she met on the cars and whose affections she won. The pair have been living to all outward appearance as man and wife, and spending the money of the rich Michigander as though it didn’t cost anything.’ What do you think of that?”

When she didn’t reply, he went on.

“And get this. ‘A soldier, passing under the name of Charles Freeman, being under medical treatment at Louisville, was discovered to be female. She had served with distinction in the Ohio Fifty-Second Infantry but was discharged on Tuesday last. She gives her real name as Mary Francis Scarbury, and says she volunteered at Columbus.’”

Marion stopped her peeling and turned. “Jamie, of all things!” She wiped her hands on her apron and walked to the table. “Why, what brought those stories to your attention? I’d say you were excited by the vision of a woman dressed up in a man’s clothing.” She crossed her arms, and looked down at him and smiled.

“Well, no. I am pointing it out because I find it so unusual. Is it right, you think? For a woman to pretend to be a man?”

She sat next to him. “I think it’s up to the person who is doin’ it. Why they are doin’ it. Don’t you see that the two stories are not at all related?”

“I see that, but I also see they’re alike. That’s obvious. I don’t see where you’re going with this.”

“I’m goin’ nowhere with this.” She went back to the sink, then turned. “Just what is it that you see, Jamie? What is it about this that you think you understand?”

“I didn’t say I understood. I said, ‘I see.’ I see two stories of women pretending to be men.”

“Oh, Quinn, don’t quibble. It bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, in a way. In another way I find it amusing.”

Marion came back and leaned down with her hands on the table and said quietly, “Jamie Quinn. Don’t patronize. Don’t adopt a superior attitude to anyone.” She got up and walked to the swinging door that connected the kitchen to the saloon and closed it.

She walked back, sat next to him and leaned in.”You remember the night you came here when I was giving you the rundown of the company? I said there were women—wives, nurses, whores, spies—who work for the Union. I’m sure the Rebs have women working for them too. Women gathering information? Running things, carrying messages. Women are important to the cause.” She put her hand on his arm.” I have worked for freedom. Not for the Union, but for the abolition of slavery. And I will continue to do so until this godforsaken war is over. When it is over, maybe our troubles will have just begun.” She put her hands in her lap, sighed, and looked at him. “Go get the newspapers and bring them in here. Read to me while I cook dinner.” She got up and Quinn went into the other room.

Quinn was reading the paper to Marion when Tough, Dan, Walt, and Pony rode up. The men were loaded with gear as they walked into the kitchen and began piling packages onto the table and chairs. “Here you go, Quinn. Here’s all it’ll take to make you a Redleg.” Tough pulled out a pair of calf-length boots with a high brown gloss and held them up. “Sit down. Put ‘em on. They’re Duke boots. Feel that leather. No finer made.” When Quinn struggled to get one on, Tough said, “You might need help with them ‘til they get loosened up.” Quinn set them aside.

“Oh, and yer buffalo outfit’s out by the door. It’s startin’ to smell bad. And so’s yer old brogans. I was afraid if I didn’t get yer boots to ya soon, we’d end up nicknaming you Socks.” Tough laughed.

“Course, I got ya socks to go with them boots. And new riding pants—two pair ‘a those.” He laid them out. “Two shirts.” He piled them on top of the pants and pushed them aside. “And…. Here’s some new long handles. We got your jacket here.” He held it up and folded it and placed it on top of the pile of clothes. “And, your hat! Take it out of the box, Pickles.” Tough handed it to Quinn. “It’s a beaut, ain’t it?

The hat was black felt and high-crowned, with one wing pinned up with a plume floating back. “It looks French, don’t it? But it was made right here. One more thing. And…” He held up a long black coat. “A duster. Sheds rain, too. Finally, what counts the most—Dan, bring them in.” He turned to the men. “I don’t want to hear any ‘a you asking why don’t I get you some.” He laughed. Dan came in and handed Tough a long gun and he held it out to Quinn. “This here’s a new one. A two-row 12 gauge, and yes, smart ass Pony over there didn’t get one. This one is French. What do you think?”

He handed the weapon to Jamie who hefted it, balanced it, broke it and closed it up. Then he cocked back the hammers. “Don’t! Don’t! “ Tough held up his hands. “Wait! Easy! Ease those hammers down. Don’t dry fire it. This ain’t your typical infantry weapon. The only time you want to cock those triggers is when you want to kill somebody. This is a cavalry weapon, designed for short duty and long. A double-ought load in one barrel for close work. That’s the front trigger. The left barrel’s rifled for a slug. Accurate to a hunnert yards.” He heard a groan from someone behind him. “I know it’ll carry a hunnert yards, though I haven’t kilt anybody from that far. Walt, take that from him. Next!” Tough handed Quinn a matched pair of pistols on a belt. “Army Colt Dragons. Accurate to within five feet. Designed mostly for shooting horses.” The men laughed. “They call ‘em Dragons ‘cuz you wear ‘em long enough walkin’ around an’ yer butt’ll be a dragon.” Tough laughed at his own joke and his men groaned. “Yer saddle has pommel holsters. Keep yer pistols in there unless you want to walk around lookin’ tough.” More groans. Tough threw a pair of saddlebags onto the table. None a this’ll be worth a damn without ammunition. It’s all in here.” He patted a bag. Tough handed him a knife on a belt. “Wear this on your right.” He motioned to Quinn. “Put that stuff on the table. We got more.” He turned to Walt. “Walt. Put the rest ‘a that stuff on the table here.”

Tough took a sabre from Dan and cradled it in both hands. “Here’s what makes you a member of the Seventh Cavalry. Hang this on your left and you are dressed for battle. For show, you’ll wear one Dragon. On your right hip, backwards. You pull your pistol with your left. Draw your sabre with your right. Hold the reins in your teeth.” Tough laughed and his men applauded. “Now gimme that and go up and put yer britches on and we’ll go out and practice bein’ a soldier.”

Quinn came down in his stocking feet dressed in riding pants, blouse, knife, and hat. The room applauded and hooted. “Hold it. Hold it! He’s not finished,” Tough said. “Yer not wearin’ yer jacket yet, but go put on yer boots. You come out when yer ready. I’m not helpin’ with yer boots. I’ll be out to the stables.” Tough picked up the saddlebags and threw them over one shoulder and draped the sabre over the other. He picked up the shotgun and pistols and left.

Quinn came out stomping his boots and found Tough behind the corral hanging a piece of metal in a tree. Tough walked toward the stable and waved Quinn over. “Pretend that plowshare’s Johnny’s head.” He reached into the saddlebags hanging on the rail and grabbed a handful of cartridges and stuffed them into his shirt pockets. Then he pulled a pistol from Quinn’s holster, dropped the cylinder out, and replaced it with one from his shirt. “You ever fire one ‘a these before?”

When Quinn shook his head, Tough held the pistol at arm’s length. “Easy. Pull back the hammer with yer thumb, point it like it’s yer finger, and pull.” He fired, then dropped his hand to his side. “Missed. He’s still there.” Tough slid the pistol into Quinn’s holster. “And that’s why we have this second weapon here.” Tough picked up the shotgun from the post. “This one you know. I seen you handle it. Here. You want to try it?” He handed him the shotgun and pulled two cartridges from his pocket and gave them to Quinn.

Quinn broke the gun. “Slug on the left?”

“Yup! Buckshot in the right—that’s the front trigger. It’s yer panic button, first thing you grab. I guaran-damn-tee you’ll hit ole Johnny with that load.”

Quinn closed the breech, raised, sighted, and pulled with one smooth motion, and the metal clanged and swung.

“Jeeeee-zus! Ya got him with the slug!” Tough punched a fist in the air. “Let’s go see what ya did.”

They walked over to the swaying piece of steel and Tough steadied it. “See what it can do?” He fingered the dent in the piece. “It’ll go through anything.”

Quinn felt the dent. “What kind of pattern does the buckshot have?”

“The size of a man’s chest at twenty feet. Figure you ken double that every ten up to fifty. After that’s when you use the slug. It really kicked, didn’t it?”

Quinn stood cradling the gun and he felt good for the first time in months. “Not bad.” He balanced the gun in both hands. “It feels good.”

Tough took the shotgun. “You want to try the dragon? Just to give you an idea? Come on, let’s go shoot a tree.”

Tough lead him back ten feet and said, “OK, Quinn. Jest pull it out, cock it, point and shoot. Right there. That fat Reb tree there.” He pulled a pretend pistol and pointed.

Quinn fired and missed.

“Try holdin’ it with both hands. Here.” Tough took the pistol. “Cock it, use your left palm as a platform for the butt. Keep yer elbow in tight. Set it on yer palm and shoot. You ken practice that, one smooth motion.” Touch pulled his imaginary pistol and shot.

This time Quinn hit the tree. “You kilt him! Another Rebel bites the dust! Come on, now. Let’s go git yer horse.” Tough took the shotgun and led him back to the stable. They talked horses and mules while they saddled the gray.

“This one’s a beaut! I rode him and he knows exactly what to do. I don’t know how he reacts with guns, though. Something you can work him with. He’s got a soft mouth. I think you could even ride without a bit. Not today, though. Hop on, and I’ll fix yer stirrups.”

Quinn swung up into the saddle and the gray danced right. With Quinn’s boots in the stirrups, Tough adjusted the straps.

“Good. Now, git down and we’ll load him up and see how he sets.”

Tough continued to praise the horse while he showed Quinn how to dress him. “Fer battle, yer hip dragons loop over and fit over the pommel like this.” He threw the rig over the saddle and tied the thongs. “So you cross-draw. Mount them handles ahead.” Quinn handed him the pistols and Tough slid them in.

“You’ll get two more for the back of the saddle, if ya want. The shotgun boot goes on yer left, behind yer left hip and it swings. It don’t rub on yer horse that way. Jest loop it behind the cantle, tie it with these thongs.” Tough looked at Quinn. “Better yet, maybe you can see it quicker on yer right.” Tough repositioned it and tied it to the flank strap and then to the skirt. “Slide her in, handle facing front and yer loaded! Aaannnnd…” He draped the saddlebags behind. “The sabre,” he said. “That sabre you save fer battle. You wear it over yer shoulder and you only draw it completely from its sheath to kill a man.” He took it from Quinn. “It is the finest French steel.” He drew it half the way out. “With a silver hilt. It’s yers and you won’t ever give it to anyone.” He snapped the blade into its case. If you want to practice, there are swords hanging over the fireplace. Any ‘a them will do. Good luck, Quinn. Yer now a member of the Seventh Irregulars.” He handed back the sword with both hands.

Quinn took the sword and Tough helped him crawl into the harness and buckle it. Quinn pulled the sword out and snapped it back in. He smiled and held out his hand. “Tough, thank you. Thank you for all this gear and for gettin’ me the horse.” Tough took his hand and Quinn smiled. “I’m ready to become a killing machine.”

Tough laughed. “Now is when I give you the sermon telling you to wield your sword in the cause of righteous vengeance, Quinn.” Tough put a hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “Welcome to the cause.” He grabbed Quinn’s other shoulder and embraced him.

Then Tough broke the embrace, dropped his arms, and looked at Quinn’s face and laughed and pulled his shoulders up to his ears and shook his head. “Quinn, old man, relax. It’s all horseshit. There ain’t no cause. There ain’t no ‘burnin’ in’ and there ain’t no passwords. We make it up as we go along. The only flag we chase is our own, and if we chase another man’s it’s because we want to. We are only dressed as soldiers. We do what we want.”

Tough walked toward the corral and then turned and walked back. “Quinn, I’ll help you wage your war. I’ll chase your flag. For now, at least. A man shoots you once and you live, you find him and shoot him twice.” He looked up to the sky, then nodded. “I think that’s in the Bible.” Tough looked back at Quinn and stomped his foot and laughed. “Jeeze-us! Let’s go have some fun! You wanna go along with us and get some horses? I got a plan. I’ll tell it to ya tonight at supper.”

Quinn raised his hands from his side and said, “Wait, Tough. Help me out of this.” Quinn laughed. “I feel like a ….”

“Yep, yep, yep!” Tough held the sword while Quinn unbuckled. “You can sit a horse with one ‘a these on, and other ‘n that, you gotta stand.” Tough held the sword and ran his hand over the horse’s haunch and down. “Before you go in, walk around him and pet him a little. Let him get to know you. When yer better acquainted, put him up. Later, come back and do it again and walk him around the corral.”

Tough walked back to the saloon and Quinn stayed with the horse. When he finally got to the kitchen for supper, the men were finishing their meal. Marion stood when he came in.

Quinn paused in the doorway in full dress—pistol at his side, saber over his shoulder, and shotgun at port arms. The men turned and hooted and hollered.

“How’s it look? Pretty good, huh?”

“I’m sorry, soldier, no weapons allowed in the kitchen,” Marion said. “You’ll have to check them at the door.”

“But ma’am!” Quinn said. “Without my sword I feel naked.”

“You can’t sit at my table with that on.” She pointed out the door. “Git! Come back when you want to eat.” She sat.

Five minutes later, Quinn swung the door open and entered in his Duke boots, long johns, and his plumed hat. The kitchen broke into total bedlam and Quinn was not allowed to sit down until everyone had taken their turn at ribbing him. Quinn agreed a hat was not appropriate and threw it in the corner, but he refused to go get “at least a pair of pants on,” as Marion requested. She refused to serve him, so Quinn served himself from the stove.

The men sat and talked about the “horse rescuing” raids while Quinn ate, and Tough calmed them down long enough to lay out his plans for the next one. “Pony and me’ll go scout ‘em out and be back in a couple days. It’ll take us two days over and one to come back. Walt, you go up and relieve Red—watch them horses close and don’t even trust the men from the Fort. We’ll come pick you up when we bring in the fresh horses. Quinn can stay here and guard the ranch with Marion. Tell Ralph he needs to come over and stay here ‘til I git back, and tell his ma we need him to stay for at least a week.”

Marion brought a bottle in and the men stayed at the table drinking and playing cards and talking about the progress of the war. Quinn announced that he was turning in early, and the teasing began again and followed him out the door and up the stairs and the laughing continued after he closed the door.

Quinn did not wake up when the men went down to breakfast, and he was still asleep when a large group of cavalry rode up and filed in. Marion fed them what she had. She handed out folded, sealed packets, and when they rode off she spent an hour cleaning up.

Quinn came down to an empty saloon. He stoked the fire and then went into the kitchen and did the same. He wiped his eye patch with his shirttail before putting it on. The swelling in his face was gone, but the socket still ached and wept.

When Marion walked in he had the oven open with his feet propped up on the door.

“I heard you up,” she said. “Can I fix you some coffee? Go over there and sit. I need the stove.”

“Good morning, Marion. I’m still a little sleepy. I almost slept the morning away. Where is everybody?”

“Tough and Pony left early. Practically the middle of the night. Walt rode to Quindaro and’ll be back tonight. I fed a bunch of horse thieves at dawn, and then I went back to bed.” She pulled up a chair and sat next to him.

Quinn said, “I didn’t hear a thing. They slept in the north room. They’ll be back in three days, Tough said?”

“Or sooner, but he plans on three. How’s the eye?”

“I think I’d like you to look at it, maybe even ride up to Fort Leavenworth with Walt. I need to get a supply of morphine and maybe have a doc take a look. I don’t know if it’s healing right as it should.”

“After breakfast. You like flapjacks? God, I hope the sun shines today. I get so weary of the gray, day in and day out—hate it even worse than being cold.” She got up and pulled the coffee pot to the front of the stove and pulled down a crock and smelled the contents. Then she pulled down a large bowl. “Maybe I’ll ride along with you. I don’t like being here alone, everybody gone.”

“You got Ralph comin’.”

She poured water from the kettle into the bowl and ladled batter into it and stirred. “Ralph’s just a boy. No, I guess it’s more that I got nothin’ to do and nobody to do it for. It’ll take two days for us, up and back. I might as well. We can stay at the Fort. Tough and Pony won’t be back until Thursday. Then it’s settled. I’ll go up with you. That’s something to look forward to.” She beat the contents of the bowl and put it above the stove. “Tomorrow it’ll be good. Sour dough pancakes with maple syrup and butter. I can’t make enough when the whole gang is here, but I can do it just for us. Today we got eggs and grits.”

The two sat and ate and Quinn smoked while Marion cleared the table and did the dishes. She dried her hands on her apron and told Quinn to bring his chair over to the window. “I can’t tell anything, Quinn. The socket just looks raw and weepy. I think it’s best to have a doctor look at it. I’ll tell Walt when he gets back tonight that we’re goin’ up with him.”

Quinn spent the rest of the morning reading newspapers. After dinner he worked with his horse in the corral and then he took him down the road. That evening he sat with Walt and Elizabeth at the kitchen table and played cards.

After breakfast the next morning, Quinn followed Walt out to the stable and saddled the grey and took him into the corral and led him around. Walt saddled two horses and went back to the inn and brought out the bags.

“You’d think we were goin’ to stay for a month,” he said as he tied a canvas roll behind her saddle. He slid his two long guns into their boots. “Men fight. Women dance. I’ll fill the canteens, Quinn. You go up and see if she’s ready.”

When she came down the stairs she was dressed in trousers stuffed into riding boots topped with a long blue double-breasted mackinaw. She carried gloves and a plumed hat. “They’ll feed us and put us up at the fort. What are you starin’ at?”

“Nothin’. I was just thinking about those women I read about in the newspapers.”

“I’m dressed to ride, not for show. If you want to talk about it, we can talk about it on the way. We got a long ride, Jamie. Let’s go.”

On the way north, Walt rode ahead and Quinn rode beside Marion when he could, and when the trail got bad, he dropped back. The horse, he thought, was a cavalier’s dream. As he rode, he thought up names. “What do you call your horse? Does she have a name?”

“Marron. Tough named her. I asked if she was named after me, and he said, ‘No. It’s French for brown. The color brown.’ Then he put on this bad French accent and said, ‘Eeet ees good, mademoiselle, non?’ Tough just loves the French. Everything he gets he wants to be French. And he is such a tease.” She laughed.

Quinn nodded. “And he loves horses.”

“More than people, I think.”

“How about my horse, though? He needs a name—you got any ideas?”

“Well, he’s a dapple gray. You’re Irish. Give him an Irish name.”

“McGough—that sounds good. It means horse. It’s an old Gaelic family name.”

“It sounds very ‘British’. You could say he’s ‘McGough out of Missouri.’ Doesn’t that sound good?” She spoke through her nose. “Why yes, I ride Mah-Guff out of Misooooree.” She giggled.

When they got to the fort, Walt led them through the gate and pointed out the hospital. “There’s the regular. You want the small pox, walk a ways out there. “ He pointed. “Don’t go out there, is what I’m sayin’. Stay close to here. I’m off to the hay pen.” He waved and rode south.

Quinn and Marion walked up the steps and in to a desk, where they were directed outside and around the building. They took a stone staircase that led down to a half basement room on the west side of the hospital. Inside was a woman in a long apron pounding at a pestle. She wiped her hands on her apron, dipped a curtsey to Quinn and held her hands out to Marion. “Welcome to our little hospital room here,” she said. “I am Birget. What is it you see the doctor for today?”

Quinn pointed to his patch. “My eye socket. It’s not healing right. And I’ve got a note here. The woman who fixed my eye said I could get some morphine for pain if I came here.”

“Yah, we can do that. The doctor will be back any time now. He is visiting his patients upstairs for a while. You can sit while I make some things.” She went back to working at her pestle, her scales, and her bowls.

The doctor came in stamping his feet and rubbing his hands. “Well, who do we have here? You come to me and not I come to you! This is good. I am Dr. Schmidt.” He held out his hand and Quinn stood and took it and introduced himself and Marion.

“My eye doesn’t seem to be healing right, and I thought you could take a look at it and maybe give me something.”

“Yah, of course. Come into the room here and we will see. Birget, will you come in and light the scopes?”

The doctor led them all into a cheery room with windows at the ceiling on two walls. “Sit there, Missus.” He pointed to a chair to the side. “And you, Mr. Quinn, will take the seat of honor.” He pointed to an armless chair with a high, padded back. Quinn sat. “Now tell me about your eye.” He pulled up a stool and sat, rolling it up close to Quinn’s side. “And I’ll look a little.” He ran his fingers across Quinn’s nose and around to his temple.

“I took a shot and the woman who treated me said it chipped my nose and my eye socket.”

“Let’s take a look. I will remove your patch now. It was she who took the eye I would guess?” He undid the thongs and set the patch on the table next to him and looked at the wound. “Ah, yes. Sit straight.” He pulled and adjusted two levers on the chair and folded the back flat. “You would now recline and I will look closely at your eye.”

Quinn laid back.

“Birget, bitte. The lights.”

While she arranged the mirrored lanterns, the doctor busied himself loading a tray with instruments and arranging them on the small table. When he was satisfied that he had what he needed, he sat at Quinn’s head and peered down into his eye with a magnifying glass. Quinn could feel the warmth of his face and the breath on his cheek.

“Birget. Stand over. And now we look some more.”

With her following his orders, the doctor proceeded to retract the eye flap and probe the socket with various instruments. Quinn grabbed the seat of the reclined chair on each side and took slow, deep breaths as they worked.

“That’s good. Now we sit you up for a while and we talk.” He put his hand on Quinn’s back. “Sit up, please.” He put up the back of the chair and locked it in place.

“It is good. I can smell no mortification and the external wound is nearly healed. The deeper wound is slower to heal, yes. It is emitting good humor at the root and the emission you see on your patch is good stuff. You are impatient, we can apply one treatment or two treatments or we can do nothing. It has been how long? And you are doing what for it?”

Quinn told him.

“Ach, that is nothing. You want to hurry God along, I can do that. I can cauterize it or we can apply desinfecktions bad für schafe.”

Quinn took a deep breath. “Which is better? Which would help it heal faster?

The doctor snorted. “We don’t know which is better, just different.”

“I know what cauterizing is. The other. What is that?”

“Here it is use for sheeps. A treatment for sheeps, their skin.”

“Sheep dip?”

“Yes, maybe. A gentle acid, not much pain.”

Quinn straddled the chair with his feet on the floor and smiled at Marion. “What do you think, Marion? Fire or a gentle acid?”

“I like the third choice, Quinn. You said it was healing fine, doctor, and doin’ nothin’ was an option?”

“Yes, and if you notice it gets worse, we do the other. We can always do the other. Notice if the oozing changes to yellow or it smells bad, come back and we will do the other.”

“That’s good,” Quinn said. “That’s good.”

The doctor turned to the nurse. “Birget, we will need a pad with iodine for behind the patch.”

He turned to Quinn. “I will give you some three things and directions.” He waved at the nurse. “Birget, the eye cup, bitte.” He wheeled over to the counter and pulled out an amber bottle, a clear bottle, a measuring spoon, and a small packet wrapped in parchment. He rolled over and put them on the tray. “For the pain I give you morphine.” He held it up. “If it gets really in pain, then it is time to come back here. This is opium gum.” He held up the packet. “You have a pipe, you put a little in and smoke it, and it will put you to sleep. Only a little, and do not take it with your morphine.” He held up the amber bottle. “This,” he held up the clear bottle, “is boric acid. Not acid like the other. It is like your salt water. Mix one little spoon in a half cup with water and.” He waved to Birget. “Use this.” He took the eye cup and mimed the application. “Do this at night maybe twice and leave your patch off until the morning. It will get better.”

Quinn and Marion had breakfast at the Fort and took their time on the way back. On the Quindaro Road, a quarter mile from the Inn, Ralph ran out waving and shouting as Quinn and Marion rode up and began telling his story even before they dismounted.

“I was out haying the horses and a man rode up and asked me if Col. Hoyt was here, and I said no, and then he asked for Bloom and I said, no, he was gone, too. Then he got off his horse, walked over to me and pulled his gun and shot in the air and grabbed me and pulled me around to the corral. Five men rode up fast and they ran the horses out of the corral and down the road. All of them. The one man let go of me, got on his horse, waved his gun, and rode off. He didn’t say nothin’ else. I couldn’t do nothin’.”

Quinn put his hand on the youth’s shoulder. “You did all right, Ralph. You’re not hurt and we didn’t lose all the horses. Why don’t you come down to the inn in a little bit and maybe we can figure something out. “

Quinn and Marion walked their horses down the road and Quinn looked back. Ralph was following on foot. “Go ahead, Marion. I’ll pick him up.”

Quinn rode back and helped the boy get up behind. Quinn turned the horse back toward the inn. “Did you want to walk, Ralph? You didn’t have to come right away. You could have got your horse and come.”

“Pa took my horse away. I can’t have him no more. He said if I can’t take care of somebody else’s horse, I can’t have none.”

Quinn said nothing. He helped the boy slide off and then gave him the reins. “Would you put him up, Ralph? And Marion’s? Water them and give them some hay? Then come up and I’ll get Marion to fix us some food.”

Quinn took his bags off the horse and carried them to the inn. “Can you fix us something to eat, Marion? Ralph feels bad and his pa is being real hard on him.”

Marion busied herself cooking and Quinn sat at the table. “Thanks for going along, Marion. It was lucky you weren’t here when they came.”

“Maybe if I was here, I coulda done something.”

“No. They had Ralph and there were six of them. It would have only been worse. You know that.”

“It’s lucky they didn’t burn the place. When Tough gets back. He is gonna be a devil to contain.”

“We’ve got a day. Maybe there’s something Ralph can tell us, maybe his Pa. Somebody had to see them. Somebody has to know.”

“Quinn, no. There are a few people like us around, like Ralph’s folks, and they’d do something if they could, but they’re afraid.”

Ralph came in and began apologizing again and Marion shushed him and brought sausage and biscuits and jam and sat. Quinn patted him on the shoulder. “You did good, boy. Nothing you coulda done. I’m glad you’re OK. Nobody hurt, nothing’s lost that we can’t get more of. Did you recognize any of them? Any of them part of the posse that came with the sheriff?”

“Not a one, sir. Nobody.”

Marion growled. “They knew everybody was gone. They were watchin’. Somebody along the Quindaro road. When Tough gets back, he’ll know what to do.”

She cleared the plates and wrapped some biscuits in a dishtowel and gave the package to Ralph. “You be OK walking home, Ralph?” He nodded. “You give these to your Maw, and tell your Paw everything’s fine here, but we might want you to come stay with me for a few days when Tough and the men go off. See if that’s OK with them.”

She pushed him off. “No lollygaggin’, now, Ralph. You get right home, OK?”

“Yes’um, Miss Marion. And thanks for bein’ so nice.”

With Ralph gone, Marion and Quinn sat at the table.

“I don’t know how much longer we’ll have Ralph’s folks to lean on,” she said. “They’ve been talking about picking up and going west. They don’t have a plan. They’re just tired.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Quinn said. “There’s a whole world out west. I rode out to Fort Kearney and saw miles and miles of people. I’m sure they didn’t have a plan, either.”

“And you, Quinn. Do you have a plan?”

He nodded. “Find the men who killed Rafe and took my eye, Marion. You know that.”

“And then kill them.”

Quinn echoed her words.

“And then what? Head west?” she said.

“Go somewhere. West. And you, Marion? Do you have a plan?”

“ I’m here, and as long as I’m useful I’ll stay.”

“And after the war?”

“Nobody talks about after the war. Before the war things were bad enough, and I expect after’ll be bad, too. Whatever happens, the problems we got are not gonna go away. Stay sitting, Jamie. I’ll be back in a bit.”

Marion went downstairs and brought back a bottle of whiskey and a roll of pink leggings and put them both on the table. Then she brought cups and the coffee pot and pulled a plate of biscuits over and sat. “Here’s supper, Jamie. It’s what I have when the men aren’t here. Dig in.” She laughed and poured the coffee and added a shot of whiskey to hers. “You?” she asked holding up the bottle.

“Sure,” he said.

She poured a measure into his.

“Don’t think I’m crazy, Jamie. I don’t sit and hold a conversation with a pair of buckskin leggings when I’m here alone.”

Quinn looked into his cup and shook his head.

“I just think some days of putting them on and bunchin’ my hair up and gettin’ on my horse and just goin’ out and kill.”

“Anybody in particular?”

She laughed. “No, just people in general. Nobody I know.”

“And this feeling you get mostly in the evening when you’ve been sitting around drinking whiskey and not holding a conversation with a pair of leggings. Am I right?”

Marion laughed and shook her head and then began to cry. “Jamie. I miss him so much and I remember the nights we sat around the stove and told stories and laughed. It’s never gonna be that way for me again, and without him I just want to die sometimes.” She put her head in her arms and sobbed.

“I know, Marion, and whiskey doesn’t help. But if I can get to sleep and wake up in the morning, everything’s new, and I can put off dying for another day. There’s always time for that.”

They sat up late waiting for Tough and Pony. When the horse thief heard Marion tell the story, he sat quiet. Pony said, “You want to get ‘em back, Tough? Or do we go ahead with what we planned?”

Tough looked at Pony. “What do you think, Little Horse? If you were callin’ the shots, what would you do?”

Pony looked down. “Finish what we started. Them horses is gone. We get some new ones.”

Tough pounded the table. “Right. I don’t like it, but we keep doin’ what we do best. Stealin’ horses. Killin’ folks can wait. For this raid, I need all of us, so Pony, tomorrow morning you ride up and get Dan and Walt and get back fast. We’ll use you, too, Quinn.” He turned to Marion and smiled big, then shook his head. Marion got up and went to the stove.

Tough was anxious to go over his plan, to spin it out one time and listen for flaws.

“What we know from our people is these men are not fighters. They’ve got to be recruiters from Clarkson’s Home Front Fucking Rangers, and they are lookin’ to take what’s left of the men up here who have horses. They look good and dress like cavalry, but the only thing they got is what they’re carryin’. We’ll hit the pickets quiet and bring them down if we ken. We clip two or three good horses each to our leads and go. Any noise and we raise hell and get out. Cut all of ‘em loose and run ‘em off. That’ll be yer job, Quinn. You are gonna lay back for this first time and mostly watch and step up when yer needed.”

Tough pulled a crude map from his belt and spread it on the table. “Here’s the layout.” He pointed. They’re bivvied here in a barn, 20 of ‘em, and the horses are tied up here along the trees on three strings. There are three pickets uphill from the barn, stationed at each end and the middle of the horses. The middle guy’s supposed to pace to each end and relieve, but we didn’t see that. They mostly stand around and smoke or sit, sometimes together, to try and stay awake. If we ken wait and git two of ‘em together quiet we ken grab the horses. We cut the lines and on our way out stampede ‘em all if we need to.

Should things bust loose, we each take a different route outa there.” He pointed to the map. “Here, here, and here. Quinn, you watch and follow me. Don’t be afraid to cut yer horses loose and go. Johnny’ll be more interested in gettin’ his horses back than anything, so jest git the hell out.

We meet at the Quindaro Ferry before sunup, we git the horses or not. The ferry’ll be there just for us, compliments of Col. Blunt. Once we’re on it, we’re home free. Anybody who doesn’t make the ferry gits home on his own. We should be back here by dinner. We’ll pen the horses up and after we’ve ate we’ll take them south. The good thing is, we were ridin’ the best of our horses before those six bushwacked Ralph, so we’re OK there.”

Marion had breakfast ready before sunup. Quinn and Tough saw Pony off. “Tell ‘em up there we had a little setback and are goin’ out to git more horses,” Tough said. “Bring Walt and Dan back with ya. Just have them feed ya and do a turnaround and git back here as soon as you ken.” When Pony had gone, Tough came to the kitchen and told Marion he would be back before dark. “I’m ridin’ down to Ralph’s folks and see if there’s anything they ken tell me. Then maybe down to America and ask around.”

Quinn spent the morning splitting wood and mucking out stalls and the afternoon working with his horse. Tough was back before supper. The three ate and waited.

Dan led Pony and Walt into the Inn and handed Tough an envelope. “I didn’t read it, but I know what’s in it, Tough,” Dan said, “and yer not gonna like it.”

Tough tore the seal and slid out two sheets and read. “Oh, goddamn showers ‘a shitballs. Now this!” He waved the papers and handed one of them to Dan who passed it to Walt.

“First we git fired from our job. Then our horses git stole, and now we gotta give up the horses we ain’t even got yet. He knows we’re goin’ on this raid, and he goddamn wants our horses!” Tough said.

“Horses we ain’t even stole yet,” Dan said.

“And then, do you know what that pile of horseshit at Leavenworth is asking? Ordering?” He shook the other paper in the air. “They’re ordering that all horses in possession by the Cavalry Irregulars be brought to the camp north of Hartville, Missouri forthwith. I love that forthwith shit. Here he’s sayin’ that the army needs horses. So what do I do? Say, sorry Col. Acting Adjutant, our horses been stole and we ain’t got around to stealin’ any to replace ‘em? Or should I say we don’t exist anymore. We been disbursed! And then,” he sputtered, “then, in the second ‘edict’. Read this.”

He waved the second sheet. “He is sayin’ that ‘it is reported.’ Now git this-- ‘it is reported that secret organizations carrying out raids, harassing the population, and committing depredations on the civilians are to cease and return any seized materiel forthwith.’ Jesus Christ, who is this man? He is talkin’ outa both sides of his ass! If it wasn’t so goddamned stupid it’d be goddamned funny! You know what? I’m thinkin’ about goin’ fer broke here. Let me think on this. Let me think a while.” He turned to Marion. “Please excuse me. I am goin’ to my quarters.”

When Tough came back he called the men around the kitchen table. “You, too, Marion. Have a seat. I went up there and sat and you know the voices of reason I heard talkin’ to me? Hoyt and Pony. Pony said to me when we got back and found they bushwacked Ralph, he said, ‘Finish what we started.’ And he’s right. And then I thought, what would Hoyt do? We all know what he’d do—he’d ignore it. Hell, we’re not even here to get our mail! We’re out there somewhere.” He waved his arm. “The party’s still on. We are stickin’ to our plan. Tomorrow we git up an outa here and we’ll be back in three days. Three days, Marion.”

Before dawn Marion was in the kitchen with coffee when the men came down.

“Marion,” Tough began, “Everybody’s got a job, and I’m gonna give you one. And this is important. If we are not back in four days, take this envelope to Fort Leavenworth and personally hand it to Blunt or whoever’s in charge. He will either keep you there or send you with an escort down to Kansas City, so grab your unmentionables before you go up.”

“What about Ralph?”

“Tell him to go home and stay there and not to worry about anything here. Have him tell his Pa that we might not be comin’ back and he should do whatever he needs to do.”

The men saddled and loaded their horses by lantern, led them out to the road, and mounted up. By sunrise they were sitting their horses waiting for the ferry to fire up.

Sheets of ice swirled past as the ferry dropped back into the channel. The men held their horses and were the first ones off when the ramp dropped. They mounted and walked their animals up the slope. Tough rode alongside Quinn.

“How do you like yer Diablo there?”

“Beautiful animal. Spirited. I think he’ll make a good horse.”

“Have ya tried trainin’ him to gunfire?”

“Nope. Thought it was a little early. But I think I can train him to be a good horse.” They rode a bit. “What happens if the ferry isn’t here when we get back?”

“We keep ridin’. There’s crossings all along the river. We jus’ keep movin’.”

Three hours later the men made camp and cooked their food. They broke camp and rode for another hour cross-country, mostly through brush. They stopped, unpacked their horses, and tied them up.

“We’re downwind of the farm.” Tough waved. “Over that ridge. Their horses can’t smell ours and we’ll be up there. Good position.” He pointed. “Sound won’t carry downhill much. We’ll walk up there and take a look at what we got.”

They walked to the crest of the ridge. Below lay a farmstead—house, barn, crib, haystack, and a corral churning with horses. Between the barn and the house a bonfire had burnt down and two men in homespun were raking coals out and shoveling them into the oven of a stone fireplace. The hay door was open, and men in uniform were coming and going.

Tough counted the horses under his breath. “I lost track at 30,” he whispered. “What do ya think, Pony? 40? 50? We can’t count the men, but I think that’s twice the number I had. Shit! Five of us. Pony, stay here and keep an eye on ‘em. I’m goin’ back an’ think.”

He led the men back to the horses. “They’re not supposed to be here. Somebody joined up with them, and I don’t think they’re recruitin’. It’s cavalry and they’s regulars. We’re bein’ paid as scouts. The horse stealin’s fer fun. Pony and me are gonna stay here and keep an eye on these boys. You three ride back. Leave the food and ammunition. Don’t take the same road over and back, and don’t take the same ferry. Get word to Hoyt about what we saw. Pony an’ me’ll be back when we ken. Maybe steal some horses on the way back.” He laughed. “But you boys be good. I don’t want any attention called.” He took a rifle and canteen from his horse and walked into the bush.

Quinn, Dan, and Walt rode north for an hour and pulled up by the side of the road and rolled out their blankets and slept. At first light, they continued and got to the inn before dinner.

“Where’s Hoyt?” Dan asked.

“Does anybody know where he went?” Walt asked. “Why can’t he tell us where he’s goin’?”

Marion waited for the noise to quiet. “Each captain had different orders and they never share information. You know that. I can tell you that there’s something big goin’ on down south, not just skirmishes. Marmaduke’s comin’ to Springfield again. Jim Lane’s got colored troops being mustered in and I don’t think they’re gonna be any help. I don’t know any more than that, but I wouldn’t waste my time tryin’ to find Col. Hoyt.”

Walt settled it. “I’m goin’ up to Leavenworth and file a report. Tough says to find Hoyt and let him know. Best we can do is tell Leavenworth what we got. We can’t let Pony and Tough waitin’ out there. He don’t want us comin’ after him, but somebody’s got to be told about that buncha Butternuts hunkerin’ down in that barn. Like Tough said, they’re not there to recruit. No, they are surely not.”

Quinn followed Walt out and helped him gear up and the scout rode off.

They waited supper until Walt got back, then the little group sat at the table and listened to Walt’s story as they ate. “Tough was right. And Marion’s right. Marmaduke came back to Springfield. These boys ain’t on no recruiting trip. Leavenworth thinks these ones is part of Hindman’s regiment.”

The men got an early start and were waiting for the ferry at the break of day. They rode without stopping and pulled up at the camp east of the ridge. Walt volunteered to find Tough, but Dan had a suggestion. “Be faster if I went with you. One of us goes right over the ridge and one goes left. Pony and Tough might be split. We’ll both go look—come back here by sundown no matter what. Quinn, you stay with the horses.”

When the four came back, they sat and shared information. Walt led with his news from Leavenworth and Tough and Pony shared what they had seen.

“They doubled the pickets and brought more horses yesterday.” Tough said. “Hard to get a count, but there must be 80 of ‘em. An’ gittin’ a real count of men is impossible, but I’d guess at least 50. So, what do we do, boys? What do we do?”

Tough broke the silence. “There’s five of us. What do we got? Leavenworth knows mostly what we know, but do we know what Leavenworth knows? Walt, did they tell you anything?”

“She-it, Tough, what do you think?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“What would Hoyt do? What would Hoyt tell us to do?”

Dan volunteered, “Raise havoc, he’d say. I guess short of gettin’ horses, we raise hell.”

“OK, you and me agree. Raise hell. Let’s go around. Walt?”

“We raise hell without gittin’ ourselves killed. We’re not gittin’ any horses. No sense in gittin’ killed.”

“Pony?”

“Shoot the horses.”

“Come on, Pony. Get serious,” said Tough.

“No! I am! Set fire to the barn and when they come out shoot ‘em. That’d raise hell.”

“Set fire to the horses,” said Walt.

Dan shoved Walt. “She-it, Walt!”

Everybody laughed.

Quinn spoke up. “We can raise hell easy, but what’s the use of that? We go home and they go back to doin’ whatever it is they are ordered to do and all they lost is some sleep. We get what we came for, and that’s information. Enough, right?”

The men made sounds of assent.

Quinn continued. “I don’t have the experience you men do, but I’m for waiting and watching. We know which regiment they’re probably from, but we don’t know what they’re doing here or where they’re going. They’re gathering more men and horses and they’ve been here for a few days. What does that tell us?”

“They’re not lost,” said Tough.

Quinn nodded. “They’re either waiting for more men and horses or they’re waiting for orders. Either way, the best move on our part is no move at all. We set a watch and rotate—two at camp and one on the ridge, four hours on and four off. The other two of us split. One goes for supplies and comes back as soon as he can and the other goes to Leavenworth. We give them what we got and if we get new orders, we go from there. We might get some horses out of it after all.”

“Speaking of,” said Tough, “see if you ken get Leavenworth to give us some fresh horses, some good ones. Quinn, I want you to ride to Leavenworth. We’ll do four hour rotations here.” The men drew straws while Quinn readied his horse.

Quinn rode to Leavenworth, gave his report, and slept for three hours. Then he got on his horse and rode back.

When Quinn rode into camp, Walt and Dan were sitting next to a glowing fire cooking meat on a stick. While he gave the highlights of his report, Quinn pulled two loaves of bread from a saddlebag and trailed some links of sausages and set them on a rock. Then he pulled two bottles of whiskey from another and put them between his feet as he sat and listened to their report.

“Nothin’. Basically nothin’,” Walt said. “A few more boys arrived with some horses. But I think Tough wanted to tell you about that. Whatcha bring us, Quinn?”

“Who’s got the next watch?”

Dan looked at Walt and grinned. “I heard Tough say that when you got back, you should relieve him. He’s just where you left him first time.”

“Well, then I best be goin’. Don’t eat all the vittles, boys. Oh, and would you put up my horse? Water him and make sure he’s got some grass.” He took the bottles from between his feet and stood up. He walked to his horse and pulled out his shotgun. “And Dan. Mind if I trade you long guns for a bit? I know I can hit something with a Henry. I’m not sure about this thing.” He handed Dan the shotgun and pulled Dan’s rifle from the saddle on the ground and headed up the ridge.

He found Tough sitting against a tree asleep. Quinn walked back down and made sure he made enough noise to alert the horse thief.

“Quinn! Is ever thing OK down there? Where’s Dan?”

“He sent me up to give you some whiskey. Said he didn’t need it, but you did.”

“That crazy sonofabitch! Sit here and we’ll have a snort and then go down. Not much to say about these here boys. Any news from Leavenworth? Anything you think they’d trust us with? She-it!”

“None except we’re doin’ the right thing. Wait and watch. Leavenworth has two confirmations that they are cavalry and are recruiting and that they are part of Hindman’s regiment. Speculation is that Hindman’s cavalry is short of horses and warm clothes and this bunch is out looking to see what they can gather. Whether or not they are planning something up here or are waiting to go back east and south nobody knows.”

“I got my opinion, and I don’t think so, but let’s go back down. I got some things to tell you and I need to wave my arms. And maybe give the boys a drink. Here, let me carry one ‘a those.” Quinn handed a bottle over and Tough uncorked it and drank. “I’ll put it up to the boys what to do.”

The four men who sat around the fire all wanted Tough’s attention, but they quieted when he passed the bottle around. He stood and shared his opinions. “First off, some of these boys is the ones who stole our horses.”

The men cursed and vowed to get their horses back.

“That’s right! Eight riders came in with horses they stole from us and a few others. These boys are out recruitin’, all right. They’re out recruitin’ horses! That doesn’t mean Quinn’s wrong. I’m not sayin’ your report’s wrong, Quinn, but I don’t think Leavenworth knows shit. Look at this. These boys have been gatherin’ here over we don’t know how long. They are not sending anyone out. They are horse rich—good horses—and they’re wearin’ uniforms. Which of these two things is most important? Horses! That’s right, horses. Uniforms don’t mean shit!”

Tough paced. “If we knew somethin’, maybe we could do somethin’ that made sense. I hate sittin’ on my ass watchin’. So what do we do, boys?”

“We could leave. Go back to Six Mile,” Dan said.

“You said if we knew something, maybe we could use that information to figure out what to do next. We’re here. We got supplies and horses. The weather’s good,” Quinn said.

“I’d like to find a warm place to sleep tonight,” Dan said.

“Maybe you can,” said Quinn. “If we split up and just go places. See if somebody can put us up for the night, maybe we can find out something. If not, nothin’s lost. We meet back here in a couple, three days and go from there.”

“Yer right, Quinn. Yeah,” said Tough. “We ken reconnoiter and report, but I say we take our time. I don’t want to have to git up from some girl’s bed and hurry back here jes so I ken meet you.” He nodded at Quinn and laughed. “There’s no hurry, is there? We ken all meet back at Six Mile. When we got somethin’.”

Tough spread his crude map on a rock and discussed the roads that looked promising. “East is where I’m ridin’—Boonslick country. This is where these boys’d get a warm welcome no matter where they lit. But Dan, you head down toward Richmond. Walt, head east toward Brunswick. I’ll take Pony with me. I might get as far as Keytsville. I don’t know.” Quinn volunteered to stay and watch the cavalry and to trail them when they move out.

The men split up the provisions and went back over the routes to take. “It’s agreed, then,” said Tough, “we wander through the countryside and return to Six Mile at will.” Tough laughed. “How do I sound, boys?” He puffed out his chest. “Men, you are free to return at will.”

“You don’t want Hoyt’s job, Tough. You stick with stealin’ horses,” said Walt.

“I’m doin’ what I’m good at, that’s fer sure. Now, let’s go find out what we kin find out.” The men mounted up and rode off.

Quinn spent the rest of the day in camp and slept. When he woke, he took a canteen, some jerky and some biscuits along with his bedroll, and walked up to the ridge. He found a comfortable spot and watched the camp get rowdy and then settle in.

 

 

Chapter 11

 

Will Brown came back late and found a note from Floyd under his door. “A letter came for you. I smelled it and thought I should deliver it myself. Floyd.”

Will woke Floyd up early to retrieve the letter.

“You don’t have to say, but if it’s from that nurse, I’ll bet it’s good news.”

Will opened the letter. “Am I right?” Floyd said.

Will shook his head. “It’s Marjorie.” He handed the letter to his friend.

“Will. Do you remember our talk about good men and bad men? I think I met a really bad man today. Can you come by? I’ll be here.” Marjorie

“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Wait here for me,” Will said.

Will Brown was ushered in by Winnie and led into the parlor. Marjorie came down. “I’m so glad you came, Will. Have a seat and I’ll get us some refreshments.”

When Marjorie came back she poured tea and sat and began her story. “I got a letter delivered three days ago asking me to come for an interview and that a driver would pick me up at two the following afternoon. He arrived here promptly and introduced himself and drove me out to the house, a lovely mansion in the old part of town. A butler was waiting to take me in and a maid served me tea and biscuits. I didn’t have to wait long. An elderly man came in and excused the help. He introduced himself as Jeffery Walker and asked about the ride out.

We maintained polite conversation while he poured tea, and he told me that I came highly recommended, not just for my beauty, but also for my discretion. The proposition he had for me was unique, he said. It was that I contract with him to teach a member of his household my trade.

‘I want you to teach her how to be a fancy girl,’ he said. ‘She’s quite pretty, so there’ll be no problem on that account, and she’s well spoken. The challenge will be in her willingness, her compliance. I will do my part on my end if you agree to help train her. She has a history of running away, so right off you or your maid will need to keep her in sight or under lock and key. Would that be a problem?’ he said.

I said no and he went on.

‘You would be compensated handsomely, and if you decide to end our relationship at any time you may do so without penalty. She would be available to serve your clients at your discretion and I will send colleagues of mine from time to time with my card. I ask that you return the cards periodically for remuneration. In addition to those fees, you will be paid $100 per month for her apprenticeship. Is that agreeable?’

‘Your payment is more than generous,’ I said, ‘but I need to talk with my confidante.’ Out of idle curiosity, I said, ‘Who’s the girl?’

‘A servant in my house,’ he said. ‘She has been mine since birth.’

I asked him to let me think about it for a day or two and I would get back to him by messenger.

‘Very good. And one more thing.’ he said. ‘Under no circumstances is she to be alone with my son. The last time he will see her is when he delivers her to you. After that…’”

Will interrupted. “So I’m your confidante, now, am I?”

“No, Will, you are my benefactor.” She reached out her hand. “Winnie here is my confidante.” She laughed. “Both are valued positions, I assure you, and the compensation is my eternal gratitude.”

Winnie spoke for the first time. “I’ve told Marjorie I don’t think it’s safe. Those are two bad men, father and son.”

Will nodded. “I’ll have to agree with Winnie. Do you, both of you, have guns?”

From an imaginary holster on her hip, Marjorie mimed a quick draw with the pointer of her left hand as she snapped her right elbow straight and opened her right hand to show the over-and-under derringer.

Winnie hardly moved, but she opened her palm in her lap and showed a matching pistol.

“Tools of the trade, Will.” Marjorie looked at Winnie. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt safer.”

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Quinn lay in his nest on the ridge above the farmstead and spent another night watching. Before dawn four men from the farm house pulled wagons out and loaded them with boxes from the barn’s side shed while three women got help from sentries building the fire in the center of the yard. By the time troops emerged from the barn, pots had been set on the coals and, from what Quinn could smell, the food was ready. The wagons left before the food was served. Quinn ate his biscuits and jerky and drank from his canteen and watched as the men mounted up in groups of ten to fifteen and left leading extra horses. Some were wearing Union bluecoats. Others were outfitted in homespun. He counted men and horses, and when the last of the horses were trailed away from the farmstead, he walked back to his camp and packed his horse.

He kept one pistol for his belt and his shotgun for the saddle boot. He wrapped the two other pistols in his leggings and buried them under a rock. He doubted he’d be back to get them, but in the short term it was good to know they were there. He rolled the buffalo robe and tied it behind the saddle. He was dressed, he thought, warm though ridiculous—a black woolen overcoat, a tall buffalo skin hat, shiny new Moroccan boots, and canvas pants. He rode a remarkable horse with a union saddle. If challenged, he would explain that he picked the clothes off a dead man and the horse he found running free. If pressed he would follow it up with a wink and a nod—the clothes were warm when he found them, he would say.

He didn’t choose a particular gang to follow. Instead, he took to the brush for the river ahead of them. If Tough’s map was right, he could get to the ferry at Lexington ahead of the riders and he’d decide then what to do.

He waited for one ferry and another, then followed one of the gangs on board and led his horse to the rail. The men lined up next to him and one of them complimented him on his horse. Quinn nodded and thanked him, but kept his gaze upstream.

“I noticed it’s a Union horse. You in Uncle Abraham’s army?”

Quinn looked at the man. “Do I look like a soldier?”

“No, but your horse is carryin’ a union saddle.”

“Ever seen a man wearing a blue coat that wasn’t a soldier?”

“What are you sayin’?”

“It’s a rhetorical question, but if you want an answer, ask your friend next to you. He’ll help you out.”

“Are you gittin’ smart with me?”

Quinn turned his body 90 degrees and put his hand on his pistol. “The saddle don’t match the horse. I took it from under a man’s head. He was usin’ it as a pillow and his boots were next to the fire. That’s not a riddle, redneck. It’s the truth.”

The man next to the renegade stepped under the neck of his friend’s horse and spoke to Quinn. “Excuse me for interruptin’, mister, but my brother here is just inarrested. That’s a fine horse. He’d bring a lotta money if’n ya decided to trade him, am I right?”

“You’re right as long as you think you’re right, yes. Are you offering to trade?”

“No, I was just thinkin’.”

Quinn stepped under and pulled his pistol and held it at his side. “That’s OK with me. What are you thinkin’? Tell me.”

The second man held up his hands in surrender and laughed. “Yer a mite touchy, mister. Put it away. We don’t want yer horse. Our boat ride’s almost over.” He held one hand out palm up. “Let’s get together on the other side and talk. Until then, we kin enjoy the thought that we’re crossin’ this river safely and not gittin’ wet.”

Quinn turned back to face the water and said nothing.

Quinn trailed the gang as they left the ferry and hung back as they mounted and rode off. He led his horse to the closest saloon, tied him up, and pulled the shotgun from the boot. He went in and ordered whiskey and propped the long gun against the bar apron. Half way through his drink the trooper from the ferry stood next to him.

“I’d like to compliment ya on yer shotgun, mister, if ya don’t take it personal. Kin I buy ya a whiskey?”

“You came back here and looked me up to buy me a drink?”

“Finding ya wasn’t hard. Let me introduce myself, and then I’ll buy ya a drink.” He held out his hand. “I’m Nathan Bolin. That was my brother on the ferry.”

Quinn turned and shook his hand. “James Quinn. And you were right. I am a mite touchy.”

“Whiskey’ll help smooth that out. Let’s go sit at a table.”

Nathan Bolin brought a bottle and two glasses over and poured. “I expect you heard this before, but I’m gonna ask anyway. What’s yer politics?” Before Quinn could respond, Bolin held up his hand. “And let’s say, if we don’t get along, we have a drink and go our way.”

“Fine with me, but I don’t have any politics. I don’t recognize any government whatsoever, and I’m not in anybody else’s fight but my own. Is that good enough for you?”

“Good enough. I understand not signing on to fight somebody else’s fight. Me an my boys ride together and help each other settle our own personal scores. We like to have fun with it. We got started when me and my brothers got two of our cousins to ride with us after we came back and found our farms burned out and our daddy killed. We were in the army. Infantry, for Christ sake. The Union Army. Our ma said she knowed who done it, so we took care and waited and killed ‘em, one at a time. It took us a while. Now all we got to do is kill their families. And that might take a while, too, but that’s OK.”

Quinn swirled the whiskey in his glass. “You quit the army? Just left?”

Bolin nodded. “And went off on a different war.”

Quinn held up his glass. “Then I’ll drink to ‘different wars.’”

Bolin touched his glass and they drank.

“That’s my story, my reason,” Bolin said. “What’s yers? Were you in the army?”

“Never. I’m just a farmer. Three months ago I was burned out by Federals. My homestead was east of the Little Blue. I came in from pickin’ corn one day and found my wife and three kids standing shivverin’ in the yard with our furniture piled up and the house on fire. One was holdin’ a gun on them and the others had the mules and the cow on a rope and were settin’ fire to the barn. I about went crazy, with no gun, no nothin’. Two of them grabbed my team and said they were taking my corn. I said, and by this time I was just about beggin’, I said, ‘if you take these horses and my mules, too, I won’t have anything to work my fields and my family will starve.’ The one holding the gun on my wife said something smart and I bull rushed him and he shot me in the face. It must’ve been a bad charge or I woulda’ been dead. I don’t remember anything after that, but the squaw at the Otoe reservation said that my wife and kids brought me in on a neighbor’s wagon and they left. I don’t know where they are, where they went. A squaw fixed me up, gave me medicine for the pain, and took care of me for about a month. She gave me a buffalo outfit and a knife, and I’ve been out collecting things, workin’ my way up the property ladder, so to speak, for the last couple months. I don’t know who burned me out and shot me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find out, but you can bet I’m gonna keep looking.”

Nathan Bolin poured another drink. “Jayhawkers. Any idea where they came from?”

“No idea. They were wearing Union coats, but that don’t mean nothin’.”

“They were Federals. I know that fer a fact. They burned out you and a dozen others along the river, goin’ from place to place. You go back there you’ll find that out.”

“No doubt,” Quinn said.

“I’m sorry for you and me and every other farmer that gets caught up in this. We’re nobodies. We’re just sheep for the shearing. If ya want, you can come ride with us for a while. Ya don’t have to sign on fer anything and ya can leave whenever ya want. I’ll introduce ya to the boys. If they like ya, they’ll do anything for ya. They might even know something about the men who done it. Whadaya say?”

“Which way are you headed? I don’t want my horse goin’ west of here. He might smell home.”

Bolin laughed. “I understand. We’re goin’ east, to Rolla.” Bolin pulled a map from his waist and laid it out and pointed. “We’re headed here. But we got stops along the way. Here and here.” He swept his finger across the map. “We want to look at the rail head at Sedalia, then go down and cross the Osage at Linn Creek, then over to Rolla. You got anything against capturing runaways and returning them to their rightful owner? There’s money in it.”

“Friend, I got nothin’ against nothin’, except doin’ harm to a woman or a child. Maybe when I find my family I’ll get back my conscience, but until then, everything in my mind is black.”

Nathan Bolin put the cork in the bottle and slammed it down with his palm. “That’s it, then. I’m gonna get another one of these, and we’ll go back and have a drink with the boys.”

The gang camped outside of Lexington, and then they rode east to Dover and then south. They crossed the Minnie and camped the night at Georgetown. As they sat around the fire waiting to bed down, Nathan Bolin explained their mission. “We been riding through Boonslick country. We know both sides of the river like we know the backsides of our mules. No matter what happens in this godforsaken war, the people along here wanna keep their land and their way ‘a life. Tomorra, maybe the next day, we go and deal with one of them Federal spies what keeps a watch on the Sedalia spur. He’s a no good sonofabitch who gives reports when there’s trouble on the line that’s bringing troops south from the river. We’re gonna kill him and see what he’s got, or see what he’s got and then kill him, but we’re gonna kill him, that’s for sure.”

The gang rode in to the Crane farm early in the morning and found the old man standing in his yard with a Springfield rifle. The men dismounted and tied up their horses and four of them walked over to the barn.

Nathan walked up to the old man. “Good mornin’, Hiram. We come to check and see if ya got paid yet. If ya wasn’t, we’ll see if we kin hurry things up fer ya.”

“I ain’t got nothin’ left. Your boys got it all. They came day before yesterday and stole everything and kilt my Edna. She’s dead. Just go away and let me bury her. For God’s sake, let me be.”

“I’m sorry for yer loss, Mr. Crane. Are ya sayin’ somebody came and kilt yer wife and stole yer money? Tell me who that was and we’ll go git them sonsabitches.”

“No, I’m not sayin’ they killed her direct, but she had a fit and died right after. First they took all the money and silver and they left and then she jes died. Please go and let me be.”

“You got her lyin’ in state then, Hiram? Is that right?” Nathan Bolin turned to the men behind him. “You boys go in and pay yer respects. I’ll wait out here and console the bereaved. Jamie, go in with them and take a last look at Edna, will you?”

Quinn followed the men into the house and found the coffin set up on chair seats. One of the men walked out to the porch. “She’s dead, all right. Want us to look around, Nathan?” The men were already ransacking the house. Quinn walked back out as the men from the barn led out a team of horses and a mule.

Nathan Bolin turned to the man. “I see they didn’t git yer horses or your mule. There’s a horse shortage goin’ around. I can’t see how they missed ‘em.” He got a rope from his saddle and tied the captive’s hands in front of him. “John’s gonna lead you around the yard a bit until you remember where you put the silver.” He looped the rope twice around the man’s neck and gave the end to John, who took it and mounted his horse. “Lead him around, John, and bring him back when he remembers.”

The old man followed the horse as it picked up the pace, then fell and was dragged. Nathan turned his attention to the barn. “Burn it,” he said, and then he called out. “John, bring him back. I’m tired ‘a this shit. We gotta go. Jamie, go in and tell the boys to fire the house.”

Quinn went in and found the men packing food into pillowcases and wrapping clothing into blankets. “The old man was right,” one of them said. “He ain’t got nothin’.” He walked over to the coffin and kicked it off the chairs. The body rolled out of the box spilling coins and silverware onto the floor.

“Yipp-ee-ee, Johnny Reb!” the man hollered. “We struck it rich!” Three of the men began stuffing silver into the sacks while the other rolled the body over and searched it.

One of the men walked onto the porch and shouted, “We found it. We got it! It was under the wife!” He walked back in and threw the sacks of food over his shoulder and walked back out.

The old man lay on the ground trying to work the rope from his neck with his hands bound.

“Hiram, we coulda given you a soldier’s death, but you had to use your wife to hide behind. That means that you are gonna be given what we call in the service, ‘death by mule.’’’

“Just shoot me. Please! Give me a bullet. I ain’t done you nothin’ wrong.”

Nathan stepped on the man’s chest and pulled the rope tight. “John. Loop this around the porch post, then tie it on the mule. We’ll fire the house and make sure it burns.”

John raised the man to his feet and began to drag him toward the house. “Please, mister, just shoot me,” the old man said.

He fell to the ground and Nathan walked over and picked up the old Springfield. He looked at it and slid the ramrod in and out of the barrel. Then he walked over to the man and stepped on his chest. “You old sneakshit! You were loadin’ up when we came!” He stuck the barrel into the man’s middle and fired, pinning him to the ground.

With the buildings afire and the team of horses in tow, Nathan Bolin pulled his pistol and shot the mule. Then he mounted up and waved for his men to follow.

Quinn brought up the rear. As the horsemen rode onto the main road, he turned his horse and rode back to the man on the ground, dismounted, and put a bullet in the old man’s head.

The men were in a festive mood. When they stopped for water, Nathan Bolin promised them an early day, that they would stop at Cole Camp and divide up the goods. Nathan brought up the rear with Quinn and as they rode he explained the history he had with the place.

“I tell people that Cole Camp was my first engagement. I was part of the Union army in June ‘61. We was under Nathaniel Lyon. The month before, we surrounded the Rebel regiment under Frost near St. Louis and they surrendered without a shot. Then we marched to Jefferson City and took control of the capitol. Not a shot fired. We were cutting through Little Dixie like a hot knife through butter. We chased the Missouri State Guard south of Cole Camp into the arms of the Union Missouri Home Guard. That was our boys, Union boys. We thought they had ‘em, and we bedded down fer the night. Around midnight they came and all hell broke loose. These was not the boys we was chasin’. It was two groups of amateurs that had gathered south of here, at Warsaw. They rode right through our pickets and shot us in our bivvies. We scurried like rats and came back to camp at dawn to pick up our dead. That was my first experience in battle. Not like I thought it was gonna be. Up to that point I hadn’t fired my rifle, and I didn’t that night, neither. But I lived. Our General, Nathaniel Lyon, he got killed two months later down in Springfield by the Missouri Militia, and I hear the Confederate General Frost—the one we forced to surrender in May? He’s in Gratiot Prison in St. Louis and his two brothers are still fightin’ for the Union. I sometimes think my life has been crazy, but I don’t know how ya go into battle thinkin’ that maybe it is your real brother ya might be shootin’ at. My brothers are right next to me, and one of ‘em gits hit, I might have a shot at his killer.”

Nathan handed over the leads of the trailing horses to Quinn and trotted into the middle of an argument. The men were squabbling over what was in the bags.

“Men! Each ‘a you’s riding a horse that needs water. Dismount, lay the bags out, and we’ll divvy it all up here. Then you boys can fondle what ya got all the way to camp, if that’s the way ya want it. Lay out one of them blankets and dump all the coins out. John, count the coins and see that everybody gets the same. Cut ‘em up if ya have to. George, you lay out the silverware and everbody takes a turn pickin’ one thing, and we’ll go around ‘til it’s gone. After that it’s up to you what you do with it. We start with birthdays. Line up. Ya all know yer birthdays, dontcha? Orville, I know yer an orphan. You can have mine. It’s a good one.” Quinn took his place and the others fell in line with a bit of horseplay. “We’re starting with today. Who in line has the birthday closest to today?”

“Wait, wait!” One of the men held up his hand. “Leroy got the old lady’s ring. He should go last. He cut it offa her after he kicked over the coffin.”

Nathan pointed and the man removed himself, and the division of the spoils began. When it was over the men stashed their portion of the loot in their saddlebags and went on caring for the horses.

They rode on into a clearing that at one time had been a rich farmstead. The house had been burned and the windmill lay on its side. Two barns stood on opposite sides of an expanse that Quinn thought must have been fifty yards wide. Granaries, chicken coops, hog pens and corrals were gone and vegetation was beginning to reclaim those fertile spots.

Nathan directed the men to set up camp in the south barn. “Ya won’t find any forage here, boys. It’s been cleaned out and everbody’s been gone two years. Put up the horses in the north barn, and Harold, take a couple ‘a the boys who can hit somethin’ and go see if you can shoot some game. Give yer canteens to Gerald and Leroy. Take ‘em upstream and try and find some good water, will ya? Thomas, you and yer buddy there get a fire started in the clearing, and John, pull out somethin’ to gnaw on til supper.”

Quinn and Nathan unloaded their gear in the south barn and led their horses across the yard. “This is it, Quinn. This is where we slept.” He held his horse and looked across the yard. “I was over there, on the perimeter. I’ll show ya where I ran.” He led his horse and Quinn followed him down to the creek on the west side of the barn. “I slid down that bank and hid under that tree there, and I didn’t come out until the sun came up and it was quiet.” He led his horse to a path down to the creek and they watered their horses.

“That night killed my heroic dreams of battle. It took us two days to bury the dead. We burned everythin’ here ‘cept the barns and then rode back to Sedalia. Thomas deserted right after that. John and me stayed with the army ‘til Christmas. Through the summer and fall, bushwackers kept at us like tail flies. We did a lot of marchin’ and saw one battle—Springfield.”

The two of them sat and let their horses graze. “You ever seen battle, Quinn?”

“Nope, but battle’s seen me.” They both laughed.

“That does seem to be the way it is,” Nathan said. “You think you’re goin’ to war, that yer gonna pick yer fight, and it turns out the fight picks you.”

“I’m too old to fight. I thought I’d come to America and I could keep away from it, but I can’t.”

“Real fightin’ is for the young men who have nothin’ to lose. Once ya have somethin’ worth fightin’ for—a family, a farm—ya lose the will to fight for fightin’s sake. These boys we got don’t have nothin’ to lose—it’s either gone or they never had nothin’ to begin with. They don’t care if they die. They don’t care if you die, either. If we come outa this war, I don’t know what they’ll do. What’ll they have to go home to?”

“Have they all been burned out? You and me are running on get back. What is it with them?”

“I don’t know about the new ones, but alla my boys was with the Union Army. We all left at different times fer different reasons and we started ridin’ together—it’s been little more ‘n a year—and that first winter we hooked up with a buncha Hindman’s cavalry. They fed us, took care ‘a us. In the spring they gave us good horses and let us go back to bushwackin’. This winter, when the cover was bare, we went north ‘a the river to recruit, and the boys we got—some went south to join Hindman and some stayed with us to form new squads. A few ‘a the veterans and a few ‘a the new boys. Hindman coordinates some ‘a our actions. We git lists ‘a people, jobs to do—like what we’re doin’ next. In the spring we’re free to pretty much go out and raise hell.”

When the men had done their chores, John put the small game they had shot on the fire and the men sat around drinking whiskey waiting for the meat to cook. Nathan took the occasion to lay out his plans for the gang and to take suggestions and questions from the men.

“Tomorra we’re gonna ride most ‘a the mornin’ and cross the Osage at Linn Creek. We stay north ‘a Lebanon, out ‘a the reach of their stockade. I got the schedule for the mail stage, and we ride day after tomorra to Wet Glaize and take it somewheres between there and the bridge. Pull down as many poles as we can and cut up the lines.”

One of the men said he knew the area and suggested they sabotage the bridge and take the stage there. “Sounds good,” said Nathan, “but we’re not gonna get even close to the bridge. They’ll have sharpshooters posted either side and maybe even up a ways. We’ll take it well before that. I’ll post two ‘a you men up somewheres high. I’ll take volunteers. Each ‘a you pick a coach horse and shoot it. That’ll be our cue to go in and pick up the mail, easy as plums.” Nathan laughed. “I know it’s a shame to shoot a good horse, but, damn! It’s sure a good way to stop the mail, right boys?” They all laughed.

The attack on the stagecoach went off without a hitch. The horses went down and the coach went off one side of the road and the driver and the shotgun guard lay beyond it. Nathan went over and shot them both. John cut one of the horses out of the harness and shot the others. The men gathered up the bags of mail and pulled out the small chest from under the seat.

“Hang on to that box, boys. There’s no money in it—nothin’ you could use. Tie it behind yer saddle, John, and let’s head for the bush.”

The men rode east of the Gasconade River. They opened the bags and went through the mail. The box contained papers—no coins and no currency. Nathan removed the contents and stuffed them into his saddlebags. “Harold, you can start the fire with this.” He kicked the box. “John, you supervise the mail. Open everything. Every letter, every package. Save anything that looks like it might be official.”

John passed out handfuls of letters and the men had a good time opening the mail and reading aloud the contents. One of the men stood, read a letter, and composed a reply ex tempore. “My darling,” he pretended to write. “Yer letter has falled into mah hands and captured mah heart. Although I am a dirty, stinkin’ rebel, yer words has purified mah heart and I am ready when this turrible war is over to come to you and prove to you my love. Please write to me and tell me where you live so I can …” The hoots of the men drowned the particulars of the renegade’s wishes. The men drank and fed the letters to the fire.

While the men sat around reading and drinking, Nathan took down a roll behind his saddle and opened it. “Quinn, yer goin’ with me. Put these on.” He held up a Federal long coat and pants. “There’s a belt and a hat here, too. God, yer gonna end up lookin’ like a real soldier.” He walked over to John. “Men! That’s enough with the letters. I’m tired of the noise.”

The men replied with hoots and hollers. One of them stood and pretended to read an official Union report of one Private Nathan Bolin.

“OK, listen, Leroy. You just keep readin’. I know once ya learned how, ya don’t wanna stop.” The men laughed and Leroy tossed a handful of letters Nathan’s way. “You men are gonna ride east and raise some hell. John’ll be in charge, and he knows who yer gonna’ hit. If there’s an opportunity, you’ll pull some rails from the line to Sedalia. We’ll meet at the Boeuf Creek crossin’ west of Hermann. I’d like it to be Monday, but Quinn and me’ll wait a day, and if yer not there, we all meet at the warehouse in St. Louis. Let’s lay out the bivy and git supper goin’

.”

In the morning the gang rode north and the two men headed east, Nathan in the lead and Quinn behind leading the two plow horses. They crossed the Gasconade River and rode up the hill toward the old fort. As they approached, it seemed to Quinn that silhouettes appeared on the horizon and then disappeared as if by magic. It was only when he and Nathan rode up the first crude earthworks built 100 yards from the old fort that Quinn understood the illusion. Men were walking along banks that served for the walls of the fort and then down into a huge entrenchment. The fort was nothing more than a dirt space surrounded by a dry moat that sat below the berm that defined the perimeter. There were no walls, no blockhouse, no decks, no towers, no gates. The two men rode down and up again to the top of the berm. Below them, smoke from morning fires drifted over tattered shebangs and lean-to’s that were set every which way. Lines of black men carried buckets of water and emptied them into troughs for the horses and mules tethered in the moat that surrounded the interior.

Nathan waved his arm toward the camp. “Look at this, Quinn. This is Fort Wyman. What do ya think?” He waved his arm at the village behind them. “And that’s Rolla. Miserable little town. Federals ran off the rebels two years ago and started to build a fort up here to protect it. They got as far as diggin’ a big square hole and plantin’ thirty pounders on the corners, and that was it. Now it’s just a big sump fer the niggers.

It’s the goddamn army stupidity. Now they’re buildin’ an honest-ta-god fort overlookin’ the rail spur where it shoulda been in the first place. They just don’t look ahead.

And what ya see here is a small portion of the problem that will afflict the country if the Union wins this war. Thousands ‘a freed slaves comin’ north lookin’ fer a way to live. This camp has been here fer a year. The niggers come and go. Some git hired by the army building the new fort.”

He pointed to the south. “The parade of ‘em comes up from Springfield. Beyond that they’re comin’ from Fayetteville. They’re on the road by the hunnerts and it’s easy to pick a few of ‘em off at a time and take ‘em into Kentucky. I won’t say it’s the hard part, but it’s the part that takes the most work. Ya need a certain number of men to guard ‘em on the way down, cause, ya know they don’t wanna go with ya.” He laughed. “Ya can put ‘em up for sale on yer own down there, or ya kin get a broker to take ‘em off yer hands. This time it’s gonna be easy. We don’t havta gather ‘em, and we only havta git ‘em to St. Louis. That cuts off the front and back ends ‘a the project. John and me have an agreement with one ‘a the officers that oversees the work at the fort, and fer a fee he will bring those contrabands to us. I told him this first time I’d leave it upta him to choose the ones we get. I suppose fer a little more, we could choose, but we’ll see how it goes. He brings ‘em to the guardhouse. We pick ‘em up at night and we take ‘em to a trader in St. Louis. The broker takes it from there.”

Nathan turned his horse and told Quinn he would meet him at the new fort the following day. “Just follow the tracks south. Meet me at the guardhouse tomorrow at noon. If I’m not there, ask for Captain Tiffany. I’m gonna see if I kin give comfert to a war widow. Just another part of the service we Partisan Rangers offer our country.” He touched his hat and rode off.

Quinn rode down into town and paid for a bed and three squares at an inn. He ate and walked through the town and was greeted with friendly hello’s and an occasional salute. He decided he didn’t want his identity challenged, so he gave up the idea of sitting in the inn and drinking until bedtime. He got on his horse and rode up to the old fort. He dismounted and sat and watched the negroes below until the shadows lengthened. Then he rode back to the inn, ate his supper, and, after mixing a potion of whiskey and morphine, retired early and slept better than he had in weeks.

In the morning he followed the tracks out of town and up the hill to a camp above the spur. The ground was cleared and flat, with the perimeter walls defined by trenches. A solitary gate unconnected to anything else stood closed and alone with a sentry. Quinn rode around the gate to the center of the fort’s design to a half-constructed limestone blockhouse the size of a frontier cabin. Two sentries stood at the entrance. Quinn dismounted and asked for Capt. Tiffany. He was directed to a log cabin down the hill above the creek.

He found Bolin talking with a Union officer outside the guardhouse. Bolin introduced him. “This here is Jamie Quinn, Captain Tiffany. He’s my ‘aide de camp,’ as it were, and often my representative. You kin deal with him as you deal with me.”

Tiffany shook Quinn’s hand and turned to Bolin. “I’d like to take you on a little tour of our camp here. We are proud of it and proud of the work we do. It’s modeled after the camp General Dodge set up in Corinth—the layout, the supervision of the niggers, and the work. The fort building itself we do according to plan, but we see to it that everything’s straight and chinked. Compare it to the camp the niggers set up at the old fort. Nothin’ but a sump, an’ picanninnies runnin’ around in the mud. With nothin’ to do all day the bucks sit around smokin’ and talkin’ and the mammies cookin and sewin’ their rags outa sight in the tents.”

Nathan nodded. “I took Jamie up there and we watched the goin’s on fer a while. Pretty pathetic place, if you ask my estimation.”

Tiffany led Nathan and Quinn down toward the rows of tents. “It’s where we send the lazy niggers. The ones we got here are the good ones. Up here we keep ‘em busy all day, and at night they can work on their own. We pay ‘em good, their women, too. At night they are allowed to use materials and tools from the fort to build useful shelter—and they’re workin on a church down in the hollow now. We laid out streets down there and set aside the downhill end for latrines. Good water can be brought in from the creek and they got themselves a trough for bathin’.

Our biggest problem is numbers—we don’t got room for no more, and they just keep comin’. You asked if we ever have any trouble in the camp. I’d say, no. Or a lot less than we have with our white boys. For one thing, we keep the black boys busy, and they’re so glad to be here that they got no reason to act up. They also got their women here, something we don’t have, and they don’t have to respect the bonds of Christian marriage like our boys. They can just go to a different tent, if you know what I mean.”

Nathan said, “And they don’t haveta look forward to facin’ the enemy. I did hear that Senator Lane was leadin’ a company of colored down to Fort Scott. Any ‘a yours ever show any inclination to fight?”

“No. Not at all. Like I was sayin’, the trouble is, it’s that there’s too many of ‘em, and the new ones don’t know how to act. We pay ‘em and keep out some of it for their food and any clothes they draw and a tax in case they get sick and we have to take care of ‘em. I’m not sayin’ they complain a lot, but those that don’t seem happy with it don’t want to work as hard in my experience. The best we can do is send ‘em over to the old fort. Some of ‘em disappear, but we don’t care, we don’t miss ‘em. Two come along the next day to take their place.”

The Captain showed Bolin and Quinn to their tents and directed them to come to the blockhouse after supper.

Tiffany was waiting for them. “I got ‘em ready for you Colonel,” he said as he keyed the door to the building. “It ain’t finished yet, but it makes a nice little nigger pen.”

Quinn smiled in the dark and felt his left sleeve to check his own rank. “There’s been a little change in the orders.” Tiffany said. “Not a bad thing for you. Could be good, as a matter of fact.”

Tiffany took two lanterns from the wall, lit them, and gave one of them to Quinn. He led them into the blockhouse and down the steps into the vaulted casemate. The Captain held up his lantern. Four black men and three women were huddled in a far corner. He ordered them to line up against the wall.

Nathan walked in front of the Captain and faced him. “What are you tryin’ to do here? The deal was fer four. I count nine. Nine! Four men, three women, and two picaninnies, one still on the tit. What am I gonna do with ‘em? I got two plow horses to git ‘em to St. Louis by Monday. You think maybe they can ride three up with us?” Nathan turned to Quinn. “Whatdaya think, Quinn? Four bucks on the two big horses and the women and kids ride with the two ‘a us? Whatdya think?” He kicked an imaginary clod. “What a buncha shit!” Nathan stomped out of the room, up the steps, and out of the building.

The Captain and Quinn followed him out. “Captain Bolin, the extra ones is free. Like I said, you can do anything you want with ‘em. We caught ‘em on the road as a group day before yesterday. I just need you to move ‘em out or I gotta do something with ‘em. I can’t give you the four and let the women loose with the others. I tell you what, you take all these and I’ll give you a good deal on the next ones. You don’t have to pay for the extras—just lose ‘em once you get on the trail, just make sure they don’t come back here, you know? I don’t want trouble in the camp.”

Nathan shook his head. “Not my problem.”

“You’ll get a good price for them bucks, you will. And some for the little ones, too. I kin give you a woman on South Fifth street who buys ‘em for outside the market.”

“I take ‘em, I gotta transport ‘em. Ya got an extra limber cart? Give it to me and I’ll take ‘em all off yer hands and none of ‘em’ll come back to haunt ya.”

“I can’t give you gov’ment property just like that.”

“Course, ya can. Yer takin cumshaw fer them contrabands. How’s about ya just pretend the cart comes along with ‘em?” Nathan showed his teeth and laughed and nodded. He held out his hand. The Captain took it.

“Bring the horses. I’ll take you to the cart and we’ll rig up a harness.”

“Naw, Captain. You take care of it and have it ready in the mornin’. Er tell one ‘a yer men to do it. You know where the horses are. Me and Quinn are gonna bunk down with the soldiers tonight. We’ll see ya at breakfast.”

Capt. Tiffany followed Nathan Bolin.

“Goddamn! I never thought I’d be givin’ a cart to some runaway niggers to ride in. Your bargain goes against my inclinations, Colonel.”

Quinn followed the two at a distance.

The next morning, Tiffany took Nathan and Quinn to the blockhouse and let them in. Nathan waved his pistol and lined up the captives. “I’m takin you to St. Louis and you’ll be ridin’ in a cart. If I have any trouble with any ‘a ya, I’ll kill ya and go on.” He pointed his gun to the door. “Now git on out there next to the cart.”

Nathan led them out and Quinn followed. He gave Quinn the rope from his saddle. “Tie ‘em up. Just the adults. Once around the waist, tied in front. Loop it back through the crotch, up through the waist, up the back, and aroun’ the neck, then on to the next and the next and so forth. Here, let me do one.” Nathan tied the first man. “There. Bring the end up to the pommel ‘a yer horse. Leave a bit ‘a slack. You lead the cart and I’ll bring up the rear. Load ‘em up on the cart now. I’m gonna deal with the Captain.”

Once they were mounted, Nathan rode up next to Quinn. “We’re takin’ the stage road to Franklin. Not somethin’ I wanted to do, but we need to link up with the boys ‘fore we git to St. Louis. I don’t want any trouble. You lead this train and I’ll bring up the drag. Keep a look out on what’s ahead and don’t worry about what’s behind. If I got problems, you’ll hear from me. If ya see anything, pull that shotgun an hold it on yer hip and keep movin’. We’ll stop once for water about noon and then go on.”

When they stopped Nathan walked the slaves to the creek and let them do their business. “You want to trade places? I’ll lead for a while? It’s up to you.”

“Naw. I’m fine. I’d rather you keep watch. I’m good up here.”

Nathan nodded. “Then let’s git ‘em up.” The slaves filed up and climbed back onto the cart and Quinn threaded the rope up through the traces and looped it twice around the pommel of his horse. He held the leads from the plow horses in his left hand as he stood into the saddle. Without looking back, Quinn spurred his horse and gave the leads a pull.

Over the course of the afternoon they met a stagecoach, two wagons, and a platoon of men in uniform on foot. Each time, Quinn pulled his shotgun from the boot and held it port arms. When the day was about over, Nathan rode up and directed Quinn to a lane that led down to the river. He dismounted and waved to Quinn. “Let’s tie ‘em up. Gimme the niggers. I’ll take ‘em down to the river. You see to the team an then bring the horses to water.”

Quinn brought the draught horses to the river and then the mounts, leading them all back to the top of the bank, where he tied them up. He walked back down to the river and offered to get wood and set up camp.

“Naw, Quinn. Let’s just sit fer a bit and then go. I wanna keep movin’. We’ll ride ‘til dark and dry camp tonight. Tomarra’ we’ll stop early and cook some food. I wanna git there. Don’t wanna miss John and the boys. Let’s just sit fer a while. You might go up and pull a bottle outa my left bag, though.”

Quinn came back, gave Bolin the bottle, and sat and watched the runaways. The women sat together on a log by the water. One nursed the toddler and the two others sat with their arms around a boy. The men stood apart.

“Don’t you worry about one of them running once they’re off the string?”

“Naw. They’re happy in the water, and where they gonna go? Can’t run in the river, and if they make a break on the shore, I kin get ‘em.” He mimed pulling his pistol and pointed his finger. “Boom!”

Bolin pulled two thin cigars from his blouse and handed one to Quinn. “Hellavaway to make a livin’, ain’t it?” He bit the tip off the cigar and lit it with a lucifer match and passed the lit cigar to Quinn. “Whatcha gonna do with the money we get fer these, Quinn?”

“I don’t know. Hadn’t thought about it. I’m just along for the ride.” He lit his cigar from Bolin’s and passed it back.

“I guess we all are, huh? Along for the ride. With any luck it’ll be over soon. Me, I’m savin’ up to start a farm or a little business.”

He pulled the cork from the bottle and drank. He passed it over to Quinn who took a pull and passed it back. “Three years ago I woulda been champin’ at the bit to git into the field. Did ya notice on the way up how many fields still got crops standin’? It’s a goddamn shame what goes to waste. If this war goes on much longer, the fields’ll go back to weeds. Hell, right now I bet there are more wild pigs out there in the woods than there are pigs in pens. No chickens left in the coops, and somm’a the troops are eatin’ horses. I hear down south it’s twice as bad.”

“Horse meat’s not so bad.” Quinn said. “Back home you wouldn’t let it go to waste.”

“Back home?” Nathan said.

“Ireland, of course. You can still hear it, can’t you?”

Nathan nodded. Quinn went on. “You’re impatient, Nathan. America’s new at this. Give it some time. Ireland’s been in rebellion for centuries. Rebellion muddies the waters. In time it will settle out and the muck will fall to the bottom. There’ll always be slaves and there’ll always be masters. The land won’t lie fallow for long. It’ll come back under one hand or another.”

“I’d just as soon it’d be my land under my hand.”

“That’s the American dream, lad.” Quinn said, laying on a heavy accent. “But know the land’s not yours, only yours to work. You know that’s the truth.”

“Maybe. I don’t like to think on it too long.” He picked up a stone and threw it at the men near the creek. “It’s all about them. Them now and them in their comin’ to this country. This war is all about them. People gettin’ all tore up about slaves. Whether slaves is right or wrong—I’d never have a nigger if ya gave him to me. Too goddamn much trouble. Missouri don’t need ‘em. Most don’t even want ‘em around. Even Uncle Abe wants to send ‘em back where they came from.”

Nathan laughed. “We’re doin’ our part, ain’t we, sendin’ ‘em back where they came from? Jesus Christ, I’d rather be ridin’ and robbin’ and killin’ than catchin’ contrabands. Only thing is, it pays good. You saw all’a ‘em in Rolla. They jus keep comin’ and comin’, and nothin’ can stop them. Fer some ‘a ‘em it’s the dream of 40 acres and a mule, and fer some ‘a ‘em it’s just runnin’ til they can’t run no more.”

He picked up another stone and held it. “At least we’re givin’ ‘em a ride.” He threw the stone into the river and stood. “Let’s git ‘em up to the cart.” He walked to the river and took the rope from the bush. “Git up, niggers! Up to the road!”

Two days later Quinn and Bolin met John and his boys in Hermann and exchanged reports and the next morning they set out for St. Louis.

Nathan sent the men ahead with orders to ride tight and two abreast. He gave Thomas the job of leading the plow horses. He and Quinn rode drag. After less than a mile, John Bolin fell back and joined them. “Eighteen men leadin’ a cart fulla niggers ain’t gonna look good to the population, Nate,” he said. “Not the way they ride. They don’t even look like soldiers, much less act like ‘em. I broke ‘em up ridin’ here. Groups ‘a three’r four, and spaced a couple miles apart. Just to keep ‘em from squabblin’. Ya might haveta shoot one ‘er two, jest to keep order. Don’t make no difference. Just pick. Mosta these boys is reject renegades. Recruits, my ass! I think they’re with us ‘cause Hindman couldn’t handle ‘em.”

“Now, John, yer jest trail weary, and not cut out to be an officer.” Nathan laughed big. He pulled his pistol and fired three quick shots in the air and chaos erupted on the road. Thomas and the limber cart plodded on. Five of the riders rode over the top of those ahead and spurred their horses down the road. A few pulled their pistols and wheeled their horses looking for the source of the shots. Six of the men spun off their horses and rolled into the ditch.

Nathan turned to his brother. “We have just sorted our recruits. Which ones would you shoot, John?”

“I don’t know, Nate. That’s why I’m not in the army.”

“Well, if you could lose some, which would you keep? Whatda ya think, Quinn?

“I’m no military man, but I wouldn’t bother with that bunch that rode off.” He waved toward the men who were crawling from the ditch. “I kinda like the ones that dove for the ditch. They didn’t run, and they were smart enough not to stand in the road.”

“Yeah, well, we gotta keep em all. John, go round ‘em up. If they ask, just tell ‘em I thought I saw somethin’. We’ll split ‘em up like you said. Go ahead and group ‘em any way you want. Tell ‘em we’ll meet at the warehouse in St. Louis, and they can look forward to a night on the town ‘fore we go back to rapin’ and pillagin’. And John, make it clear if they’re not at the warehouse when we git there with the runaways, they don’t get paid.” He shouted to Thomas. “Let’s give it a break. Leave ‘em on the cart and give ‘em some water, and we’ll wait a bit.”

John rode off. Quinn followed Nathan to a clearing, where they dismounted and sat. “It’s gonna take us a little longer, is all. One thing the army taught me, Quinn, is that waitin’ is a major part of the war.” They sat and smoked.

As they approached the city, Nathan Bolin took point and Quinn rode drag down along the levees and then along the waterfront, passing barges in the river and wagons on the road. Riotous commerce, Quinn thought, a roiling exchange of people and goods. The barges and transfer boats he worked on the Missouri were a petty enterprise compared to this. Everything imaginable was being ferried, freighted, stored, and sold along the river. A quarter mile downstream, lanterns were being lit on the riverboats and along the waterfront. Shouts and sounds of bagpipes cut the air. Ripples and swirls broke the smooth expanse of the water as the light faded, and Quinn wondered at the current and how long it would take a man to drown.

Nathan led Thomas to a narrow road between warehouses and down toward the river. He pulled up in front of a warehouse and whistled. John Bolin swung one of the great doors open and walked over and spoke to his brother. Nathan dismounted and directed Thomas to bring the cart around back and unload the cargo. “Leave ‘em tied, Thomas. I’ll be out to deal with ‘em jest as soon as I set a few things straight inside. Quinn, unload the bags next to the fire pit.” He waved to John, who followed him into the warehouse.

Quinn sat his horse. He could hear Nathan inside, and except for an occasional phrase punctuated by a familiar curse, he couldn’t make out the subject of his rant. When Quinn thought the fury was spent, he dismounted and tied his horse to the rail.

Another voice cried out and was followed by a pistol shot.

Nathan pushed the door open dragging a screaming, flailing colored girl by the hair. “Quinn. Git over here. Take this black catamount offa my hands. Jesus Christ!” One of the men Quinn recognized from the gang appeared in the door. Nathan pointed at him. “You come outa that door and I’ll shoot her. Ya know I will.”

Quinn walked over and grabbed the girl by the front of the dress and Nathan untangled his fingers from her hair. “Bring her around back and put her with the others. Tell Thomas to tie her up tight. You stay with ‘em, Quinn. I’ll come back when I’m finished here.” He walked through the warehouse door and pulled it shut. Quinn led the struggling, screaming girl around the building. He held her while Thomas unloaded the slaves from the cart and helped him harness the girl and tie her to the others.

“Stop fussin’, girl, or I’ll knock you out,” Thomas said. She quieted and sat on the ground. One of the women came and sat next to her and talked quietly. Thomas joined Quinn leaning against the building.

Nathan came around the corner with John talking to his back.

“And I told ‘em if they weren’t back fer breakfast, don’t come back at all. I jest didn’t wanna deal with ‘em. Like a pack of wolves. I told Carlie you’d deal with him and the girl when you got here.”

“Thomas,” Nathan said, “I’ll take care of the niggers. You go in and find a corner for us to bivvy. Then come out and git a fire goin’.” He turned to John. “You and Quinn water the horses. And bring me the bottle from my saddlebag. Now go on.”

Quinn mounted his horse and took the reins of the plow horses from John, who led with Nathan’s horse trailing. They rode down toward the river, and the draught horses pulled ahead of Quinn as they smelled the water and pulled on the reins. “Just let ‘em go, Quinn. They won’t go nowheres.”

Quinn dropped the reins and the big horses walked into the canal. Both men dismounted and led the saddle horses to the water and tied the reins together.

“Let’s go sit. Take our time,” John said. He walked up the bank and hunkered down. “Let Nathan cool off.”

Quinn joined him. “What was that about?” Quinn said.

“Carlie caught himself a nigger gal and fell in love. Wants to keep her.”

Quinn squatted and pulled up weeds between his feet.

“She was walkin’ in the road like nothin’ and Carlie grabbed her and put her on his horse.”

“Just like that?” Quinn said.

“Jest about. He ran her down. Tied her up. She made a lota noise the first night, but she quieted down after. I shoulda made him let her go right away, but I thought it weren’t no harm fer a while, and then he said he wanted ta keep her, and by then it was too late. Some ‘a the boys sided with him and said he caught her, he oughta be able to keep her. And some of ‘em didn’t like it and said they was gonna go out and find a nigger gal ‘a their own, and I said they better wait. I said Nathan’d take care of it.”

“And he did.”

“He did. He’s up there now reamin’ Carlie’s ass. Carlie better watch it, or he’ll be gone.”

John and Quinn brought the horses up to the warehouse and were brushing them when Nathan came around the back. “Bring the horses and the niggers inside, John. And you keep an eye on ‘em. We’ll get some supper. I don’t know what to do about the boys. What you told ‘em and what I told ‘em. Ya hear me, John? Now go in and tell Thomas and Carlie to git their asses out here and cook some food.”

John handed the plow horses to Quinn and led the parade of horses and slaves into the warehouse. “Pull down some ‘a that hay, Quinn, and leave ‘em. They’ll be fine.” John brought the slaves to the end of the warehouse and talked quietly to Thomas and Carlie, and then the two men left.

Quinn fed the horses and checked with John and then walked out back.

Thomas was coaxing a fire with wads of cotton and Nathan was standing against the warehouse pissing against the wall. “Pull up a stump, Quinn, and let the boys fix us some supper.” He buttoned his pants and settled his gun belt down around his hips. He came over and sat on a log and offered Quinn the bottle.

Carlie came back with an armload of wood and left for another. Back at the fire John was boiling grits and frying meat. “Got rabbit on a stick fer our guests and we get the good stuff.”

Quinn sat next to Nathan, who passed him the bottle. “Ya gonna go with us on our next ride, Quinn? Spring is comin’ and that’s the best time for bushwackin.” When Quinn didn’t answer, Nathan said, “But suit yourself. I know what’s wrackin’ you.”

“I’ll catch up with you down the road. I’m no closer to finding my jayhawkers. I thought I’d go to the Benton barracks tomorrow and ask around. This is a long way from the Blue River, and if I can’t find anything here, I’m heading back north, maybe over to the Kansas side and poke around. The longer I wait…well, it’s just no good. You got your brother. I got nothin’.”

“Yeah, I’m lucky. I sometimes think about givin’ up this partisan shit and head out west. You go ahead and go to town. I decided to bring the boys together in the mornin’ and give ‘em a talkin’ to an then cut ‘em loose fer a few days. You, too. Quinn. Three days, an then we’re goin’ back up to Rolla fer another load. I’m sending Thomas and the boys out on a mission. I could use ya to help me an’ John with the niggers.”

Nathan brought the bottle over to Thomas. “When that rabbit’s done, take it in and feed ‘em. Give John some grits and fatback and leave the bottle with him. Tell him we’ll be in and spell him in a bit.” Nathan went to his bag and pulled out a bottle. “Then come on out here and eat with us.” He pulled the cork and sat on the log.

“It’s none of my business,” Quinn said, “but what about the contrabands?”

“This is where we offload,” Nathan said. “Tomorrow I ride down to Lynch’s, tell the man there we got some goods, and he comes and picks ‘em up. Ya don’t dare go downtown anymore with runaways. There’s contraband camps and free niggers guarding them. Since Uncle Abe’s Emasculation Proclamation the abolitionists are holdin’ rallies and meetin’s to try and get Missouri’s legislature….” Nathan waved his palms in the air like a minstrel. “…the real Missouri legislature, to free all Missouri’s slaves. It ain’t gonna happen. The only Missouri politics that matters comes out of a gun.”

Carlie brought wood and fed the fire and sat apart while the three men ate and drank. Nathan assigned Thomas the first watch. “You go in an help John get ‘em settled.” He stood and scraped the plates and wiped them off with his fingers and put them on a rock next to the fire. “Thomas—and Quinn, this goes fer you, too—we’re not watchin’ just to keep them niggers from escapin’. The river attracts the lowest of the low, men who’ll kill ya fer the clothes yer wearin’. So when it’s yer turn, keep an eye on the door. And listen to the horses.”

In the morning Quinn stood at the fire and ate cold grits and ham and then saddled up. He agreed to meet the Bolins in three days. “We’ll get a pretty good hunk ‘a change fer these ‘uns,” Nathan said. “You don’t wanna miss payday, Quinn.”

He took the road north past the end of the upper levy and then the carriage road away from the river. He crossed a bridge and rode through a stockade fence into a plain devoid of trees and brush. A parade field fronted four rows of low buildings with review towers at each end. Hundreds of men and horses moved in formations through the broad, flat landscape. He skirted the drilling field and rode toward the blockhouse. He dismounted and tied his horse and asked a sentry if he would direct him to the regimental hospital. The sentry pointed to the barracks. “Go right on through. The big two-story on the other side. Can’t miss it. Got two flagpoles in front.”

Quinn climbed the steps of the hospital and was met by a sentry. “If you’re up and walking,” the guard said, “you’ll be wanting the clinic. It’s down around back. The big door in the middle.”

Quinn thanked him and found the door. He explained his need for morphine to a woman at the front desk and told a story about his wound. She asked him for his discharge papers and Quinn told her he had lost everything. “Except this list.” He presented the paper Lucy Deroin gave him and she handed it back.

“I’m afraid that won’t help you here. I suggest you try Gratiot hospital downtown. Do you know the downtown area?”

Quinn shook his head. “I just came in. I got a horse and I can find the river if you can direct me from there.”

“It’s at Eighth and Gratiot right downtown. Get on the road and go south along the river and you’ll find it. You might prevail upon the ward nurse to give you some morphine. The men who come in there generally don’t have papers.”

Quinn thanked her and paused. “Why is that, if I might ask?”

“Gratiot’s a prison. Mostly Confederates, but some outright criminals. Their hospital gets things we don’t get in the regular army. Aid societies and all. Good luck to you, soldier, and I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”

Quinn thanked her again and walked back to his horse and rode toward the river.

He followed a horse-drawn streetcar for the last three blocks into the center of town. The trolley tracks ran in a loop around a park that was teeming with people who spilled out into the street. Quinn pulled up and tried to hear what the speaker in the middle of the bandstand was saying. The message was broken up by “hurrahs” and shouts. A band began playing and some of the women lined up for a march and a new speaker took the stand.

Quinn rode on past the park to the next street, where he found a solid three-story building with three flags flying out front. The building took up most of the block, with a domed central tower that rose above the two wings it joined.

He tied up and mounted the steps in the center and found the double doors locked. He walked down and tried the doors to each wing and then went down to the doors to the half basement. All locked. The windows were shut. He walked around the building and was challenged by an aging sentry. A man who could have been his cousin faced them at the south end of the building. The sentry shifted his rifle and told Quinn to state his business.

“I’m tryin’ to get in.”

“Prison or hospital?” The old man shouldered his rifle and walked toward Quinn. “I’m just jokin’ witchya. It’s closed for the day. Should be open tomorrow. Everything’s closed on account of the meetin’s. Hear ‘em? It’s been goin’ on all day and should really heat up tonight.”

“Religion or politics?”

“Both, I’d say. Abolitionists, emancipationists, suffragettes, and the like. We closed the place in case they get a little carried away with good will. Did you want the hospital?”

Quinn nodded and touched the side of his patch. “I need someone to look at it. Will they be open in the morning?”

“There’s usually somebody here all the time, if they’ll let you in.” The sentry waved the tip of his rifle slightly. “Did one of them ole graybacks git you?”

“I don’t know. Don’t remember what happened. I coulda shot myself, for all I know.”

The sentry nodded. “I got it. You come back tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see ya.” He tipped his rifle again. “I’ll be here.”

Quinn rode one street south along the tracks and followed the parade of women to the edge of an encampment not far from the river. Unpeeled stockade posts ran for a block on either side and down toward the river from a wide gate. Four black guards in Union blue stood with rifles at their sides. Through the gate Quinn could see tents and lean-to’s lining a broad street filled with black people. The parade of women marched through the gate. Quinn turned his horse and followed the trolley tracks back through the center of town.

Beyond the shops and hotels and saloons Quinn found a house advertising a room and two meals for a dollar and he stopped. “Supper and breakfast. Dinner for another two bits, if you’re around. You stayin’ long?”

“Two nights maybe, if I get my business done.”

“Anything I can help you with? You new here?”

Quinn nodded. “Yup. Just here to visit the hospital at Gratiot. And maybe get some new clothes. Thought I’d park my things here and go out looking.”

“Suit yourself. I’ll take you up and show you your room. You’re here alone, right? No guests allowed after nine.”

“I’m alone,” Quinn said, “and I assure you, I’ll be in bed and alone before nine.”

“Supper’s at six. Breakfast’s at seven. Show up after that and you take your chances.”

Quinn paid and took his horse to the stable and gave the boy a dime to put him up. Bundled up against the cold wind, Quinn walked to the line of shops he had passed. He found a tailor easily enough, and he had the woman measure him for a placket shirt, a vest, and a wool frock coat and pants. A cobbler who had a boy in the street hawking for him marveled at his boots. “They don’t quite go with the outfit I have in mind,” Quinn said, and he settled for “ready-made” brogans that fit him with room to spare. The cobbler threw in two pair of new wool socks. A haberdasher gave him a good price on new leather gloves and a new beaver hat. In each case he asked that all his purchases be set aside until the morrow, when his tailoring would be done. Quinn sat in an inn and drank beer and decided to forgo his supper at the boarding house when he smelled spicy sausages and cabbage from the kitchen.

The woman at the bar asked if he needed a place to sleep. “I do and I paid for the night, I regret to say. If your offer is still good for tomorrow night, I may move my things and take you up on it.” He negotiated for a bath, a shave, and a haircut along with the room, and he sat and ate and sat by the fire and drank beer.

He returned to his room and sat on the bed. All in all, Quinn thought, a good day’s purchase for his Judas coin. Warm and full of beer. Civilized, he thought. He didn’t remember the name of the man he killed, but when he lay down and closed his eyes he saw his face as he writhed on the ground.

He got up and took the medicine bag from around his neck. He rolled one ball of opium into his palm. Might as well try this now as later, he thought. Tomorrow I’ll get more morphine and then I’ll be set. The ball was so small he decided it was to be smoked with his regular tobacco, so he loaded the plug into the bottom of the pipe and dropped strings of tobacco on top and tamped it with his thumb. He sat on the bed and lit it.

As he sat and smoked he had no problem convincing himself that he would easily kill the man who blinded him, but he wondered if he would have the courage to kill the man who cuckolded him, were the man to come out of his nightmares into the light of day, but then the man followed him out of his nightmare into the light of his room and took him to bed and Quinn slept and thrashed and woke before dawn.

After breakfast he packed up his things and brought the laundry he had carried with him since leaving the Six Mile House—long underwear, socks, undershirt and pants and shirts—and dropped it off at the sewing shop with the promise that it would be ready with his new set of clothes at the end of the day. He rode to Gratiot and tied his horse in front and walked around to the north wing and waved at the sentry. “Did the abolitionists give you any trouble last night?” Quinn shouted.

The sentry raised his rifle in salute and walked over. “Why, no they didn’t. Thank you for asking. How about you? Did you find any young things that needed emancipating?”

“No,” Quinn said, “But I did get something of a promise for tonight, along with a shave and haircut.”

“Oh, my glory!” the sentry said. “I think I know that woman. Sit on your wallet for the haircut and be sure to sleep with your pistol. You’ll be OK. I got my eye on a suffragette. If she comes by again today I might see if I can’t join her parade. Are you gonna give the hospital another try?”

“Got to. Tomorrow’s my last day in town and I need something for this eye. You keep a good watch and stay off the battlefield, hear?”

“That’s my plan.” The sentry gave Quinn a salute and Quinn returned the wave and walked around to the steps and went up.

The double doors were again locked and Quinn rattled them and waited. A grizzled old man in a Federal uniform opened the door and stepped back. “You want the hospital?”

Quinn nodded. “This is it, right? I was here yesterday and you were locked up.”

“Well, we ain’t now. Come in. Who do you want? You ain’t a walkin’ wounded. You got papers?”

“I just need to see a doc.” Quinn touched his patch. “It’s giving me real trouble. Can you tell me where I can get some help?”

“You got papers?”

“No, I don’t. I lost them. Is there anybody here I can see?”

The old man paused and studied Quinn’s face for a moment. “Stay here.” The old man shuffled away and came back and said, “She’s in the ward. Come on.” He shuffled away and Quinn followed.

They walked halfway round a rotunda that was blocked off by newly built walls and through a door into a theater that had been converted into a sick ward. The air was warm and fetid and smelled of ammonia. A woman dressed in a pinafore and cap and veil stepped down from a platform in the center of the room and walked over to Quinn and the guard. She held out her hand. “I’m Elizabeth Stiles. Lawrence said you wanted me to look at your eye. You want to come over to the window and we’ll take a look?” Without waiting for a reply, she walked away and Quinn followed her to the other side of the room. She pulled out a chair. “Sit.” She leaned over him with her hands clasped behind her back. “Does it hurt?”

“A little. Not like it used to.”

“Are you taking anything?”

“I had some morphine, but I’m out. I thought you might be able to oblige.”

She ran cool fingers along the bottom of the patch and up. “Please remove the patch for me.”

Quinn untied the bottom thong and slipped it off.

She pressed gently around the outside of the socket. “It looks good.” She leaned over from the waist and Quinn could feel her breath on his cheek. “And it smells fine. I would rather not go poking around inside, but I will if you want me to. I can give you a wash and some salve, but one of the best things is to let it air out. Do you sleep on your back?” Without taking a breath she said, “Make sure you take off the patch at night. Check it daily and keep it clean. Wash it with soap. The patch.” She stepped back so Quinn could see her. “That’s it, then.” She turned to the guard. “Lawrence, that will be all, thank you.”

She took the patch from Quinn’s lap. “Let me help you with this.” She looked at it. “But first, let’s clean it up a bit.” She took the patch to a dry sink, and when she came back Quinn smelled the soap. She slipped the patch over his eye and tied the bottom thong.

“Now, I suppose you want morphine for the pain.”

“That would help, yes.”

“Does it still hurt?”

“Some, yes it does.”

“But you don’t know exactly where the pain comes from, isn’t that right? It’s just vaguely there.”

“That’s right.”

“Your eye is practically healed, Mr…I didn’t get your name, did I?”

“Quinn. Jamie Quinn.”

“As I said, Mr. Quinn. Your eye is healed, and now you have what many call the soldier’s disease—morphine addiction. You’re not aware of it, but that’s the source of your pain, not your eye. You associate the pain with the eye and the morphine with the relief. I’ll give you more because I’ve got enough and I won’t be shorting my patients. You’re lucky you came here. Every military hospital is short on drugs. We have a ready supply because we are the darling of all the relief societies—Union and Confederate. We want for nothing—nothing except qualified medical people.”

“But you’re here, and you’ve got help, right?”

“I’m here, but I’m not a doctor or even a qualified nurse. My training is situational, that’s what I’ve got. A doctor from Benton comes by once a week and checks up on me and teaches me a thing or two, but I’m diligent and caring, and I’ve get lots of cooperation from the military and, as I said, support from both sides. Nobody blames me if someone dies because of my care. Nobody but me. Come up to the desk and I’ll write out something for you and you can be on your way.”

Quinn followed her to the dais and scanned the beds that surrounded it as she wrote out the note. “This should do it. Take it downstairs to the north door and give it to the soldier at the desk. He’ll get it ready for you.” She handed him the paper and held out her hand and Quinn took it. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Quinn, and I wish you good health and good luck in your quest.”

Quinn took the paper and thanked her and walked to the door and turned. He wanted to ask her about her last comment, but she had already disappeared among the beds. Lawrence let him out and he walked to the north door and knocked. Heavy odors of alcohol and pungent herbs wafted out the door as the attendant let him in. Quinn gave him the scrip and the soldier looked at it.

“I can give you a portion of what she is requesting here, enough to tide you over. But I don’t have enough to give it all to you. Or, to be more precise, I won’t. Our supply is due to be replenished tomorrow, and if I fill your order completely, I may not have enough for a real emergency. I’m sure you understand.” The soldier moved to a shelf and took down a wooden box, removed the lid, and spooned out a measure onto a parchment page. “I expect you know how to use this. It’s best on an empty stomach if you’re really hurting.” He folded the paper and tied it with string. “Come back tomorrow after breakfast, and we’ll have some more for you.”

Quinn thanked the man and took the package and left.

He rode to the inn and packed up his things. Then he rode to the new inn and stabled his horse. He took a hackney to the wharf and had most of the day to waste before his clothes were clean and he could return to the inn. He rode to the embarcadero and directed the driver to give him another ride along the street, just so he could take in the sights.

“Close to 150 boats along the levee,” said the driver. “And see out there? Another 50 waitin’ to get in. Just no place to park all of them. Everybody wants to be here. I take it you came by horse.”

“I rode in yesterday. This is my first time to the big city. What should I see before I go?”

Quinn paid no attention to the driver’s rambling suggestions. He opened his medicine bag and licked at the contents of the parchment. He watched and listened and smelled the waterfront-- bustling, busy, horses and carts and wagons and buggies. Bells and whistles and noise--tambourine girls, bagpipes, organ grinders, dogs, rasping fiddlers.

Two wagons had stopped to visit in the middle of the street. A girl ran up holding two apples. “A penny for an apple, mister.” Quinn exchanged one for a penny.” For another penny,” she said, lifting her dress, “you can see the apple tree.” Quinn shook his head and the hack moved on.

The sidewalks were full of women and children peddling parched corn and cider and tarts. Collapsible stands held cigar vendors, bootblacks, and street barbers. When the commerce of the embarcadero changed to factories and foundries and warehouses Quinn had the hack turn back. He picked up his clothes from the tailor and returned to the inn. After his shave and haircut he bought a watch from the innkeeper and arranged for a bath. Then he sat and waited at the table for supper and drank beer and went to bed. He mixed a potion and slept dreamlessly and woke too late for breakfast. Dressed in his new outfit he walked down to the wharf and watched the steamers maneuver in and out of the docks. Then he took a hack to the hospital.

The corporal had Quinn’s packet ready along with a note from Elizabeth. Quinn thanked him and walked outside to read it.

“Mr. Quinn. I’m sorry you had to come back. I won’t apologize for Corporal Avery. He did what he thought was best. Elizabeth Stiles.”

Quinn walked up the stairs to the double doors and knocked. The old soldier opened the door and let him in. “I suppose you want to see Mrs. Stiles.” Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked away.

Quinn followed him to the platform in the operating theater and the old man waved without looking back as he went back to his post. Quinn looked over the beds and saw her at work. He perched on the stool at the desk and waited.

Elizabeth walked down the aisle and paused to talk to a soldier before mounting the steps to the dais. “Mr. Quinn! Did you get your packet?”

“I did. And your note. Thank you.”

“You are welcome. Come back again when you run low. We’ll fill it if we have it.”

“I wanted to thank you personally. I feel much better.”

“You look good this morning.”

Quinn smiled and shook his head. “I really cut a ridiculous figure yesterday, didn’t I?”

“I wouldn’t say so. You looked trail worn. This morning you look refreshed, rested.”

“Now that I look and feel a little more like myself, I would like to ask if you would join me at supper tonight.”

“Oh, mylandsakes!” She touched her throat. “Supper! Well, I don’t know.”

“Pardon me, Mrs. Stiles, for being so forward.”

“No, no. I was thinking of who would cover for me here if I left.”

“Let me come back at five. If you are free, we will get something to eat. If not, you’ll tell me so.” Quinn slid off the stool.

Elizabeth slid her hands into her pinafore pockets and nodded.

“I’ll see you at five, then, Mrs. Stiles.” Quinn said. He didn’t look back as he left.

Quinn picked up his bags from the inn and rode back to the warehouse and tied up. He found John and two of the boys sitting around the fire smoking. “You’re early, Quinn,” John said. “You and these two—they got tired ‘a chasin’ pussy. What’s yer story? Sit down and take a load off.”

Quinn sat and filled his pipe and lit it. “The contraband’s gone. Where’s Nathan?”

“Oh, we done that deal yesterday. He went out this mornin’ ta see if’n he could get rid ‘a the cart and them nags. I’m lookin’ at you and I’d say you done pretty well fer yerself. Did ya knock ‘em dead?”

“I spent all my money on clothes and didn’t have any left for the women. I sat around lookin’ good and got lots of talk, but when I couldn’t deliver, I lost ‘em. How about you?”

“Stayed here with Nathan. We’re deferrin’ things, he says. Savin’ ourselves fer later, he says. We did the deal and he left me sittin’ on it while he’s out horsetradin’. He patted one of the saddlebags next to him. “You’re gonna like this.” He gave it another pat. “He said he put an order in fer another train, and unless we git word otherwise we’re goin’ back to Rolla.”

The man next to him waved his cigar. “Horsetradin’, John? Is that what he calls it? Maybe he’s out ‘whores tradin’ this mornin’. What ya think?” He nudged his companion.

John ignored the two. Quinn finished his pipe and went down toward the river for firewood and spent some time sitting in the sun. The men trickled into camp and Nathan showed up mid afternoon and paid them.

Quinn called him aside and confided that he’d like to stay one more night. “I started something I’d like to see finished,” he said.

“It’s not that we couldn’t wait for ya Quinn, but I promised three days, and I gotta get these boys back in shape and on the road. Just take your time. We’ll sleep here and head off to Rolla in the mornin’. We’re pickin’ up another coffle, and ya can meet us at the fort. We’ll likely lollygag here and there along the way—you may even beat us. It’s good to have ya with us, Quinn.”

At five Quinn mounted the steps to the hospital and Lawrence let him in. “She told me to make you wait.” He smiled at Quinn. “She’ll be ready though. Come on over and sit.” He pulled out his watch. “Fifteen minutes she’ll be here.” Lawrence walked Quinn over to two desk chairs in the corner and swatted the dust off with his cap. “ He pulled a flask from his pocket and gestured. “Sit! Sit! Care for a nip? It’s five o’clock! I’m finished at five.” They sat and Lawrence pulled the cork and passed it to Quinn, who took a drink and shook his head and passed it back. “Like catnip,” Lawrence said and he swayed back and forth. “Drive you crazy, drive you blind, world gets hazy, I don’t mind!” He held up the flask in a toast. “Here’s how!”

“You off at five, where do you go?” asked Quinn.

Lawrence took a pull from the flask and pointed to the door. “Right over there. And from time to time over here.” He swung the bottle to his right. “Until some fool rattles the door.” He laughed. “I stay until I get hungry, and then I go get some prison food—better than the hospital food—and I come back here. I stay until I get tired, and I go to the basement and sleep, and then I get up and do this all again.”

“Where’s your relief?”

“Oh, he comes on from time to time, mostly at night, if he ain’t drunk. He’s an old man. I don’t mind if the Commander don’t mind. Things are kinda loose on this end of the building. The rest of my regiment pulls duty at the prison, here or Myrtle Street. They get to shoot people.” Lawrence waited for a reaction and got none. “They really do, I tell you.”

“I believe you,” Quinn said.

“It’s quiet here and I like the people.” He offered Quinn the flask and Quinn shook his head. “You do too, huh?” The old man chuckled. “You got kids?”

Quinn scratched the top of his head. “Yes, I do. Why do you ask?”

“Looks like you’re old enough, is all. Any boys?”

“Two girls.”

“Lucky. They’re gonna start drafting now. I suppose you can’t serve with your eye.”

Quinn nodded. “I was going to say I was too old anyway, but I caught myself.”

The soldier snorted.

“And you? You got boys?”

“Two. One’s dead.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s why I volunteered. Kincade promised we’d see action, and we almost did, then they pulled us back and gave us these shit jobs. I thought it’d be a good way to go, die in battle.”

“Maybe. How old are you?”

“Sixty-five. You?”

“Forty-Five.”

“You’re young enough to be my son. Is your father still with us?”

Quinn shook his head. “He died five years ago, and I came over here. He was about your age when he died. He’d have loved comin’ over and getting into a fight. A fair fight, he’d say.”

“Typical Irish fella, I’d say—the fightin’ part, anyway.” The old man stood. “Look sharp, boy. The general’s comin’! Come on. Get over here.” He walked toward the door and Quinn followed.

“I’m sure if you wait a little longer, she’ll show up,” he said in an exaggerated stage voice. “Oh, wait a minute. I hear her now! And there she is!”

Elizabeth was dressed in cloak and hat, carrying her gloves and a bag. “Mr. Quinn, I’m sorry I’m late. There was an emergency on the floor. I see Lawrence has been entertaining you. Thank you, Lawrence. Are we ready?” She waited at the door for Quinn and walked down the steps with him.

“Lawrence is quite a character, isn’t he? Did he tell you I had an emergency? I sent word out to him.”

“He said he was told to make me wait.”

“He’s a big help around here.”

“He had me going for a while.” They got to the street and watched the lamplighters working their way toward the park.

She put on her gloves and took a deep breath. “It’s good to be outside.” She glanced back at the building.

“Help me out here, Elizabeth. I left my horse at the inn.”

“What a quaint phrase, Mr. Quinn. You’re not lost, are you?”

“No, I just don’t know where we’re going. I hate getting too far from my horse.”

“Oh, I’ll take care of that. At the end of the evening you can find your horse.” She laughed and took his arm. “We’re headed toward my neighborhood. We can eat there. It’s not far.” She jostled his arm and led him down the street.

“Sergeant Kiser is a dear,” she said. “Did you have a good visit?”

“Yes. I mostly listened. He told me about his boys and said that he wanted to see battle.”

“I doubt that they’ll be sent down. Did he tell you about his regiment?”

“No.”

“It’s the Iowa Thirty-Seventh—they’re known as the Silver Greys. They are all fifty-five or older. Kincade split them up for guard duty around town and at the wharf. You’ve seen the waterfront and the wharf, I take it.”

“My room is somewhere between here and there. I spent last night along the waterfront. It’s quite a place.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? St. Louis is quite a city. Have you been here long?”

“Three days. I mostly came to see you and then I’ll be gone.”

“Oh, pshaw, pshaw, Mr. Quinn. I think it was to see Corporal Avery.”

“But it is you who are here, not Corporal Avery, so fate had it that I was here to see you.”

“Fate. Is that right? Do you believe in fate, Mr. Quinn?”

“I believe that you should call me Jamie and that I should call you Elizabeth.”

“Jamie, then. Do you believe in fate, Jamie?”

“Elizabeth, I do. I believe that in looking back we need an explanation, a reason for what happened, and we call that hindsight reasoning ‘fate’. And you, what do you believe in?”

“I believe there is a hand that guides us, that there is a plan too big for us to see.”

“And there’s a reason for everything?”

“Yes.”

“And the reason I’m here is…besides the obvious one…?

“Is for us to see. Isn’t that part of the fun? Maybe fun’s not the right word. Interesting. I think that figuring out the reason for things is part of our job, and we can take it or leave it. It doesn’t matter.”

“Like this war. I know what the reasons are supposed to be. I prefer to think of them as the excuses for war. But reason? I don’t think so.”

“And maybe everybody’s reasons are their own.”

“And what are your reasons?”

“For the war? I didn’t go to war. My husband was murdered by bushwackers.”

Quinn stopped walking. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“I’m OK. That was four months ago, and I’m still a little raw. This place has given me a way to raise myself up. I see what the war has done to others. There are things worse than death, you know.”

They walked without speaking.

“You never asked me about my eye.”

“I never ask about the wounds. It’d be selfish of me to ask. If the boys on the ward want to tell me, they can. Most don’t.”

“I never saw service. I was shot, blindsided by a slave hawk who was after a runaway, a girl of about 14. He shot my mule and then he shot me and left me for dead. I was brought to the Halfbreed Tract and a woman there took care of me for a month. When I thanked her for saving my life, she said it was the morphine. And that led me here.”

“I imagine it helped. The pain might have killed you, but men have suffered worse and survived. She sent you away with a supply and said you could get more from a Union hospital?”

“Yes.”

“She had worked in a hospital?”

“She said she was in the field.”

“You were lucky she only had powder. Your condition is manageable. If she had injected the morphine, you’d have some trouble.”

They walked for a while.

“You mentioned the Half Breed Reservation. They’re Otoe-Missouria, aren’t they?”

“Lucy would make a joke about that, but yes. And she’d say they’re lots of things.”

“Where did you go from there? That’s in Nebraska, isn’t it?”

“Yup. I crossed the river and went back to where I was shot. Thought I might remember something, or I might get some help identifying the men who did it.”

“Did it help?”

“I talked to some people from the town that saw the three of them ride in. Two white men and a negro. I can recall most of what happened that day. But after I was shot, they killed my friend, burned his hotel, and ran his wife off. I was lucky.”

“Lucky?”

“My friend’s wife came back and found me and hauled me to the river. She put me in a boat and got me to St. Deroin.”

“St. Deroin. I know a Deroin up there…the old man, he’s a white man.”

“That’s Lucy’s grandfather. She took care of me for that month.”

She shook her head. “I taught at the Shawnee Mission. The Otoe and Shawnee may not like each other, but they talk.” She laughed. “You might have stayed longer. They would have given you a name, taken care of you, brought you into the tribe.”

“I know. Lucy was working on the name when I left. She wanted me to stay, but I needed to find the men who did it.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know—shoot their mules, burn their houses, kill their friends. That sort of thing.”

“What did your friend’s wife do? She brought you to the reservation and then what?”

“She left. Marion and Lucy knew each other because they were part of the Lane Trail. And Lucy knew people in Kansas, some jayhawkers that operated out of a place north of Quindaro called Six Mile. It’s an inn—it was an inn anyway, before the war. Lucy sent her there, and I guess she’s still there. She was when I left.”

“You went to the Six Mile House?”

“Lucy led me to believe they might be able to help me. I got wrapped up in what they were doin’ for a while, and then I wandered off and ended up here.”

“And here we are. This is where I live.”

They were standing in front of a pair of iron gates that was the only break in a stone wall that ran for nearly a block. Through the spindles Quinn saw a circular carriage drive with a statue in the center. Behind it rose a three-story granite building that dwarfed Gratiot.

“You live in a hospital?”

“I thought you’d be impressed. No, I live in the motherhouse behind.”

“A nun!” Quinn laughed and assumed his brogue. “Sure and now Jesus has me comin’ all this way to be consortin’ with one of his nuns!”

Elizabeth grabbed his elbow and stamped her foot. “Listen, young man, if you don’t behave I’ll box your ears and send you to bed without supper.”

Quinn whined and pulled his head into his shoulders. “Ohhhh, Sister!” They both laughed.

She put her arm through his and pulled him away. “Come on, Jamie. The passage gate is around the corner. We’ll eat with the nuns and then we can sit and talk.”

After supper one of the nuns led them from the refectory into the drawing room. “When you brought Mr. Quinn to supper, Mrs. Stiles,” she said, “I asked our novice mistress if I could be your hostess. You two sit. I’ll set you a fire and get you coffee before Vespers. Are you Catholic, Mr. Quinn? I expect you are, being Irish, unless you are one of the Black Irish and then you are still a Catholic but don’t know it.” She laughed and knelt at the fireplace. Quinn wanted to say something but decided to listen. “I’m a German Catholic and they call us Dutch Catholics and when I came to the convent I learned not all Catholics are the same. I didn’t ask, but, Mrs. Stiles, are you one of us? I only ask because I haven’t seen you at Holy Mass, but you are not always here, are you? And there are, of course, there are many churches in St. Louis.” She stood. “There. Now I’ll be back with the coffee and dessert. We don’t get dessert, but I know that I can find something.”

Elizabeth said, “And could you bring some brandy and cream and sugar for our coffee?”

“Oh, yes. We don’t get that, either, the novitiates. Not even the coffee, but yes, I will bring that, too.”

She started for the door. “Oh, I almost forgot. Can I get a room ready for Mr. Quinn? It would be after Vespers, but I would be glad to do it.”

Jamie looked at Elizabeth and shook his head.

“Why, that would be perfect, Sister,” Elizabeth said, “after brandy and Vespers would be fine.”

Elizabeth and Quinn sat quietly until the little nun returned with the tray. She laid out the dishes on the serving table and asked about their favorite desserts. Then she stood at the door. “If you would just put the things on the floor outside the door I would appreciate it. Mr. Quinn, Sister Mary John will come later and show you to your room. Good night, Mrs. Stiles. Good night, Mr. Quinn. I hope to see you at Mass in the morning.”

When Elizabeth and Quinn settled into their chairs with their coffee and brandy, Elizabeth began her story.

“Jamie, so much of what you told me tonight makes me think we were meant to be here together, from the beginning of your story to the Benton Barracks.”

“If we were meant to be together, I would rather that not be in a convent.”

She laughed. “If you had known my plan before we started down the street, would you still have come?”

“Yes, Sister. I’m Catholic, and I have a strong and unnatural interest in what goes on behind the convent gates.”

“And, what do you think?”

“I think the food is simple and fine, the coffee and brandy surprisingly good. The conversation at supper left something to be desired, but Sister Claude made up for it after.”

“The sisters take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but not silence. They are not interested as we are in the things of this world, and they view talking about material matters to be idle chatter, a sign of weakness—a fault.”

“Do you think Sister Claude will make it to final vows?”

“Part of the novitiate is training to live apart from the world. As time goes on it becomes easier.”

“I found the silences refreshing.”

“Peaceful.”

“I’m not complaining.”

“Or criticizing. I know. As I said this afternoon, I have found my home here and my calling in the hospital.”

“Your vocation?

“The nuns would call it a vocation, but I can’t live my life as a nun. When I came here I had blood in my eye and hate in my heart. I wanted to find the man who murdered my husband and do terrible things to him.”

“And today you wouldn’t?”

“I might, had I the opportunity. I’m not sure, if my foot were on his throat, that I wouldn’t step down.”

“I understand. I entertain myself with great plans for the man I’m after.”

“If you find him.”

“When I find him.”

“But you don’t know his name or where to look.”

“He was in the company of two men who travelled together hunting runaways. The white men rode horses as distinctive as they were. The market for slaves in Missouri is right here in St. Louis. I’ll find them.”

“Do you know George Todd?”

“Everybody knows who he is. Along the river everybody is his friend or his cousin. Is he the one you’re looking for?”

Elizabeth nodded and told her story, right up through George Hoyt’s raid the day after the murder.

“Did you ride with Col. Hoyt?” she asked.

“Not on a raid. I went out on a scouting party with some of his men and ended up following the Bolin gang. I rode with them and ended up here.”

“You ride with the Bolin gang? The Bolins are Quantrill’s men.”

“Technically, they’re part of Hindman’s cavalry. Nathan says he’s got the orders to prove it. He says he carries the papers next to his heart to stop the bullets. If he gets caught it may keep him from being executed in the field, but I doubt it.”

“How about you? Aren’t you worried?”

“I’ve been with them for a couple months. The worst I’ve done is to lead contrabands on a rope to St. Louis. And I’m not ashamed to say I took the money and spent it on clothes. Tomorrow I’m headed back to Rolla to meet up with the Bolins and pick up another bunch.”

“Are you going to continue on with this, Jamie? With this…trafficking?”

“Until I can get some information I can use or information I can pass on to Hoyt. I’m not in any position to stop what’s going on with the gang.”

They both were quiet.

“And when you get information for Col. Hoyt,” Elizabeth said, “you’ll send it along by pony express?”

Quinn did not respond.

“How will you pass along the information? If you happen upon information that is critical, what will you do?”

“I haven’t thought that out. I guess it depends on lots of things. Where I am when I find out, for one thing.”

“Jamie, if Col. Hoyt trusts you, I’m sure that I can, too.” Elizabeth poured brandy into both their cups and stood. “Wait here. I’ll be back in a few minutes and I’ll tell you some things that might help.”

When she returned she had a messenger bag under her arm and an envelope in her hand. She put the bag on the floor next to her chair and sat.

“These are my orders.” She pulled out a paper from the envelope and handed it to Quinn.

Quinn read it and handed it back. “It looks like you are not out of the revenge business after all.”

“I tell myself I’m in the spy business.” She picked up the strap of the messenger bag. “This is what I do at night.” She lifted it into her lap. “These are letters from the prison and a few from the hospital. I helped write some of them, but most were given to me with my promise that I would pass them on outside regular channels. The people in the hospital or in the prison are officially allowed to write one page per week to a relative. The letters go through a censor and then go to the post. My letters go to a lady from the Southern Aid Society and from there I expect they get delivered personally.”

“And you, of course, read them first.”

“I read many of them, copy out parts I believe to be important enough to be sent on. Then I reseal the letters and put them in with the rest. On occasion I hand over the originals to be rewritten, I would assume, with misinformation.”

“Elizabeth, I am amazed!”

“That a woman is part of espionage?”

“No. That you are.”

Elizabeth nodded. “The first letter I showed you. My orders on Senate letterhead signed by Jim Lane? I watched Lafayette Baker write that paper and sign it. He says he writes many letters for many people and none of them have come back to him. He had quite a laugh about that.”

“You’re telling me this because…?”

“I want to help you.”

“Find the man I’m looking for?”

“And maybe help the cause. If you’ve got information you think Col. Hoyt might want, write it out and send it on to me. I promise I won’t edit it.”

Elizabeth put the tray outside the door, and while they were waiting for Sister Claude to take Quinn to his room they talked about their plans.

“The sisters get up for prayer at four. You may not hear them. If you would like breakfast any time after five, put your shoes outside the door and someone will come and get you.”

“And if I don’t want breakfast?”

“You still need to put your shoes outside the door. When the sister comes, just tell her you would like to leave and she’ll see you out. Sister Claude will be here soon, so I’d like to say good-bye before she comes.” She stood and Quinn rose. “Jamie, I don’t expect I’ll see you again, but if you need me, you know how to reach me. The mail to the convent is more than likely secure. The mail to the hospital is not. If you find a place that you stay for a period of time, a place where regular post delivers, you might want to try a letter and I’ll respond. Otherwise, I don’t know what channels you might use. As far as your mission to find the man who shot you, I wish you well.”

“And George Todd? If I find him shall I send for you?”

Elizabeth laughed. “No. Just kill him for me. Then go to confession.”

“Can you imagine the confessions after this war is over, Elizabeth? ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I was responsible for the deaths of half a million soldiers and God knows how many women and children.’” Quinn blew out his breath.

“We can’t think about all that, can we?”

“And I’m not going to ask the big questions either, Elizabeth.” He took both her hands. “Thank you. For everything. For bringing me here. I hope we meet again.”

A soft knock and the door swung in. Quinn stepped out. “Good night, Elizabeth.”

“Good night, Jamie.”

The next day Quinn dressed, ate early, and picked up his horse and gear at the inn. He rode hard to meet the Bolin gang at Rolla. He found Capt. Tiffany in his office and asked if Nathan Bolin had been here yet.

“Nope. Didn’t see him. Don’t know if he’s comin’. You?”

“I saw him last in St. Louis and he said to meet him here. Is it OK if I bivy here until he shows up?

“Why, sure!” Tiffany walked him out to the boardwalk and waved to the left. “Head over to the officers quarters’ and tell them I said to put you up and feed you. Maybe tonight come by and we can have a drink together.”

Quinn rode to the quarters and put up his gear. In the morning he ate and decided to ride back through town and out to the old fort.

It had rained in the night and three men in the sump below were busy with shovels. One was draining puddles from the road while two others worked on either side of the camp digging channels to direct water to the low side of the depression. As he sat his horse on the berm above, Quinn thought about the months he had spent digging drainage ditches along railroad beds so he could save enough money to bring his wife and two daughters to America. He wondered about the men below, what purpose they had this morning other than to direct the water away from their tents and to wait for the sun to come out and dry out the mud. And, he thought, were the soldiers he left at Fort Dette any different, waiting? He rode down and found a place to tie his horse. The mud sucked at his boots and he thought of his pistols wrapped in the pink leggings he left under the rock. He walked over to one of the men who was dragging a shoved through a puddle and asked his name. The man stood straight. “Antunny, suh. Antunny. Does you know me, suh?”

“No, Anthony. I was riding above there and watched you digging.”

“Am I diggin’ fine, suh? OK by you, suh?” He stuck the shovel into the mud.

“Anthony, you’re doing fine. Just fine. I myself have spent a lot of time on the clean end of a shovel. Sittin’ high up there, I noticed some things about the lay of the land here. You mind?” Quinn pulled the shovel out of the mud. “I hate to say that I miss the days when all I had to think about was dirt.” He looked at the man and laughed. “Or the mud.”

The negro stepped back.

Quinn ran his arm out. “From here you can see the low spot, but you have to go up top to see that there’s a slight rise between here and there. See, the water has to go around it. You need to channel it right first, and then around.” He turned the shovel and dragged it like a hoe through the mud. “See? Bring it this way. You got another shovel, Anthony?”

“Yes, suh.”

“Can you get it for me? I got nothing better to do this morning. I’d like to dig in the mud a little.”

While Anthony was gone, Quinn dragged a channel on the surface of the mud to mark his direction. Then he came back and began to dig a trench and fell into a familiar rhythm, right foot stepping into the shovel, handle bent down, mud tossed to the right, stepping back, his foot again to the shovel, mud tossed to the right and back another step. He didn’t stop until he had broken a sweat, and then he stood and leaned against his shovel and looked ahead at his progress. Then he turned and looked where he was going. He went back to work, this time working with his left foot, and when he stopped to lean on his shovel Anthony walked up.

“Massa, you res’. Let Antunny dig a while.”

Quinn stepped away from the shovel and the black man stepped up to the line and began to dig. “Dis be good,” he said. “It rain again tonight.”

“The mud never seems to go away.”

The man tossed a shovel of mud away. “Yessuh.”

“Have you been here long?”

“Yessuh. Since Chrismas.”

“Have you been out to work on the new fort yet?”

“Yessuh. I been dere.”

“I was out there yesterday and it looks like there’s plenty of work for colored folks, men. Women, too. Ever think about goin’ back?”

“No, suh.”

“Is your family here, Anthony?”

“Nosuh.” The black man stood straight, stepped the shovel into the mud, and kept his hand on the top of the handle. “Why you here, suh?”

Quinn looked at him and then at the shovel. “I’ve got the morning to waste. Nothin’ better to do. I used to dig ditches for the railroad.”

The black man shook his head. “An you wanna come into dis hole an dig ditches with de niggahs, is dat it?”

Quinn stepped back and folded his arms. “I came here looking for a man.”

“I know. You a niggah hunta. Dey got lotsa buckrahs like you at de fort. Go back dere. You doan belong heah. We free niggahs now.”

“I’m not after anybody here. I’m looking for a little white man who shot me in the face.”

“An you tink he hidin here, dat it?” The man mumbled an expletive. “Go back to de fort, Massa, and look fo him dere. Lotsa lil white men dere hep you fine anotter lil white man.” He pulled the shovel from the mud and walked away.

 

Quinn was sitting outside Tiffany’s office when Nathan and John Bolin rode into the fort leading a string of horses.

“Quinn!” Nathan Bolin swung down and gave his horse to his brother. “Quinn, my man! Did ya wear her out?” He laughed, shucked his glove, and shook Quinn’s hand. “Look what we got! Is Tiffany around? We got an order for some ‘a these, and we can trade ‘em, too.” He waved at his brother. “John, put ‘em up and come on in and get some grub.” He walked with Quinn to the barracks. “Did ya get what ya stayed for?”

Quinn nodded. “And then some.” He paused. “She had a sister.”

Nathan hooted. “Oh, no! and don’t tell me she had a mother, too!” He stomped his foot. “Whoo eee! And you made it back! Way to go, boy!”

“I climbed out when they weren’t lookin’ and ran for my horse.”

“Good thing, Quinn. Fresh pussy’s like cream, only good fer so long ‘fore it turns, right? You know where yer friends are. Are ya ready fer another ride? We got a big order from you-know-who. Gettin’ horses is what I love. Not more’n pussy, though, right?” He slapped Quinn’s shoulder and laughed.

At the barracks Nathan asked a sentry to send Capt.Tiffany around, but not to hurry. “We wanna have some dinner and clean up. Can ya get us some food, soldier? We been out foragin’ and couldn’t find nothin’ ‘sept horses to eat, right, John?”

The men sat and smoked, and with Quinn as an audience they relived their adventures since leaving St. Louis. The food came and they continued their stories while they ate. When Capt. Tiffany arrived he sat with them and listened.

“There are times when I got half a mind to run off and join you boys. Sittin’ here directing traffic ain’t my idea of fightin’ a war.”

“You are surely welcome to ride along, Captain. You’d haveta be demoted to private, though, right off, but yer pay would surely increase. And speaking of, can ya take some horses off my hands?”

“Not sure, but I can keep ‘em for you for a while.”

“How about some contrabands? Maybe we can trade horseflesh for manflesh.”

“If I knew you was comin’ I coulda had some. Let me keep the horses until I can round up some articles and we’ll see.”

“Keep ‘em as long as you can feed ‘em. We got an order fer more horses and we can’t be draggin’ these ones around, although they are some fine animals. You’ll see.”

“You got to tell me when you’re comin’ back, Colonel. Feeding horses is one thing, contraband’s another. Just gimme an idea and I’ll have ‘em ready.”

“You got a deal. Can you put us up fer the night? Let me use yer telegraph machine and then I kin give ya an idea about our comin’s and goin’s.”

Quinn and the Bolin brothers rode a day and met the gang at an abandoned farmstead, where they camped. The next morning he led them to a rise in a clearing at the edge of a hazelnut grove. Below to the left lay a stock pond fed by a stream with a barn next to it. Nathan turned in his saddle and waved right. “John, you take half the men an ride round the back side of the grove. Thomas, take the rest and git across the crick an down the other side. I’ll wait here an talk to the missus.”

As the men rode left and right, Nathan explained to Quinn that they were looking for livestock. “We was just here couple days ago. Here’s where we got them horses. We was polite an she was polite an’ we didn’t do nothin’. Didn’t take nothin’ ‘scept the horses. Then we left an learned the old man himself was off stealin’ livestock. From the Miamis over in Linn. The lord blessed us with the telegraph an the Indians with smoke signals.” He laughed. “We promised to steal ‘em back. Keep some for ourselfs, ‘a course, but we gonna do what’s right by the Injuns. Goddamn low life bootscraper.” He spat.

Nathan and Quinn rode down to the house and stopped. Nathan called out. “Mrs. Dryden! We’re back ta see yer husband. Is he home?”

When there was no response, Nathan pulled his pistol. “Of course, he’s not home, an he ain’t brought the livestock here, either. Look around, Quinn. See any tracks?” He called out again. “Mrs. Dryden, is yer son home? Kin we talk ta him?” He pulled his pistol and fired it in the air. “We’ll give her time ta think about her son an ta hide the family jewels, though everythin’ worth stealin’s probly buried.” He turned his horse toward the barn. “We’ll just go our way, then,” he shouted, “after we burn the barn an rescue what’s in it. Have a good day, Mrs. Dryden.”

Nathan and Quinn rode down and met Thomas and the men coming up.

“Nothin’ down there. No tracks, either. An empty corral in back, just mud.”

Nathan waved toward the barn. “Bring the animals out an burn it. The stacks, too.” Nathan and Quinn rode back up and met John.

“Can’t get around the grove,” John said. “It goes on ferever, but we didn’t see anything up thata way.”

“Clean out the smokehouse. Check the tool shed and the cistern and tip over the privy. He’s not here, but we gotta check, anyway. Last thing we do is burn the house. If he’s in there, he’ll come out or she’ll come out, an she’ll tell us where he is. I don’t wanna spend a week lookin’ for them animals, an we got orders ta bring ‘em back.”

Nathan and Quinn watched as the men led cows and mules from the barn. Two of the men carried chickens over their shoulders, legs tied with string. A goose ran, wings flapping, from the barn, and one of the men shot it. Shoats ran out and a few escaped into the trees.

John’s men brought hams from the smokehouse and butter from the cistern. Nathan rode around to the tool shed and dismounted. “John. Bring them hams over an let’s eat some. Gerald, you an Alphonse go in the house an see if ya can find some bread an somethin’ ta go with this. Pickles’uld be good.” He fired his pistol in the air. “Mrs. Dryden, we’re in no hurry, if you’d like ta come down and talk with us. We’re gonna burn your house after we have some dinner here.”

Thomas’s men had the animals tied up and the chickens hung in a tree. One of them carried the goose. Two others had their hats full of eggs. “You wanna keep these, Nathan? They’d be good if we can save ‘em.”

“I don’t see us staying long enough to cook ‘em. You can just play with ‘em, Leroy. See if you two kin juggle, or play catch. Maybe get Mrs. Dryden’s attention with them. Let me see yer hat.” He took two eggs and lobbed them toward the house. One of them hit a window. “Dan’l, Jack, drag a couple pigs over an throw ‘em in the cistern.”

As the men gathered to eat, Gerald and Alphonse brought out a sack full of food and a bottle of whiskey. Nathan carved up one of the hams. The men sat and ate and drank and smoked. One of the men walked up to the horses and brought back another bottle.

Nathan got up. “You boys stay sittin’. Jamie ‘n me are gonna git the house started. Keep your pistols ready. I can’t imagine any trouble, but don’t get shot sittin’ on yer guns.”

Nathan took Quinn down to the barn and they tore off boards that had some fire to them and dragged them smoking up to the porch. On a second trip, Nathan said, “Quinn, see if ya can bundle up some ‘a that hay and bring it up. Pile it next ta the door.”

When the two men had the porch smoldering, Nathan kicked in the door. “Mrs. Dryden. You can come down now before we pull the porch posts out. It’ll be easier for ya.” Nathan and Quinn walked back up and sat and watched the smoke draw into the door.

A woman and a boy ran through the smoke coughing. The boy stopped 20 feet from the house and she kept running up the hill and threw a pillowcase at Nathan. “Here it is. It’s all we got. Now get your boys to help me stop the fire. It’s our home. It’s all we got.”

Nathan set the pillowcase aside and stood. “Mrs. Dryden. We are not interested in you or yer house. We asked to talk with the mister an he’s not here, so we’ll have to deal with yer son.” He walked over to the boy and grabbed his arm and dragged him to his mother.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Johnny, sir.”

“Johnny, how old are ya?”

“Twelve, sir.”

“You old enough ta have politics, Johnny?”

“What you mean, sir?”

The woman got between Nathan and the boy. “He’s got nothin’ to say. He’s a boy. We got another and he’s a man, and he’s fighting for the people who came an got him. Don’t take this one, please.”

Nathan pushed her aside. “Johnny, where’s your father?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Did ya hear him say he was bringin’ some animals back here?”

“No, sir.”

“Who did he ride away with?”

“Nobody, sir. He went by hisself.”

“If he was ta bring some animals, where would he put ‘em? Does he have friends or a pasture somewheres?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

Nathan took the boy by the elbow and led him to his horse and his mother followed. “Let’s go, men. Load up what ya can carry an we’ll go. I’m goin’ ahead with this boy an you can catch up.”

The mother grabbed the boy and pulled and Nathan let go. He took his rope from the horn. “Tom, grab her an hold her. John, hold the boy.” He tied the boy’s hands in front of him. Nathan turned to the mother, put his hands on her shoulders, and pushed her hard to the ground. As she scrambled away he said, “Don’t you try an get up.” He walked around the right side of the horse and tied the rope. “You stay there on the ground until every last one ‘a my men is out of sight. You get up an one ‘a us sees ya, we will shoot the boy. If we find the stock yer husband stole from the Indians, he’ll live.”

Nathan put his foot in the stirrup and grabbed the horn. “I don’t wanna haveta come back here.” He lifted into the saddle and led the boy off.

By the time the gang caught up with their leader, the boy was riding behind him. Nathan reined in when his brother was abreast. “Johnny here says they got another place, the old farm. He didn’t wanna tell us in front ‘a his mother. He says it might be where the Indian stock is, but he doesn’t know fer certain, do ya, Johnny?”

Johnny shook his head.

“But it’s a ways. We’re gonna take Johnny there an let him walk home, right, Johnny?”

The boy shook his head.

Nathan waved Thomas to come up.

“Thomas, you an the boys are gonna drive the Indian stock back ta Linn an peel off half the horses before they get ta the Miamis. Some ‘a you’ll take them horses to Hindman an the rest’ll drive the stock to the Indians. I want some sort of receipt from both. I don’t care where ya reconnoiter, but I want ya all to come back together an ride to St. Louis an meet us at the warehouse. John an me an Jamie’ll have a string ‘a contrabands an some ‘a the horses from Rolla, an we’ll wait there fer ya.”

 

Nathan Bolin led his brother and Quinn to the road, where they continued at a pace that threatened to exhaust their mounts. “He’s in a hurry ta get to Rolla ta do his widder duty, as he calls it,” John said. “He’s got ‘em here an there an everwhere. An’ some a them ain’t even widders. Yet.” He laughed. “I tease him about goin’ inta town ta git his orders. This one in Rolla is actually a right pretty lady. Her husband was taken away an shot, she says, though she ain’t sure. That’s what she said she heard. Federals showed up one day an took him an she ain’t seen him or heard from him since, an that’s been more’n a year. Nathan jokes about givin’ her comfort, an he does that fer sure, along with enough money ta let her live pretty good without havin’ ta go out ta the camp. I think she does that, too, though. Fer her part she keeps an eye out fer him. There ain’t many people live permanent in that dirty little town, an ones that do see an hear everthin’.”

John and Quinn were sitting outside Tiffany’s office when Nathan rode up and dismounted.

“Any new orders, Nate?” John said.

“Nothin’ I couldn’t fill, little brother.” Nathan stomped up the steps. “Let’s see if we kin git some horses.” He led them into Tiffany’s office.

“Captain, we nearly filled our equine orders, but I need some ‘a the horses you been keepin’.”

Tiffany came from behind the desk and took keys from the hook behind the door. “Let’s take a look at the articles I got for you first. Some good ones this time, Capt. Bolin. Got ‘em penned up in the block house. They’re good ones. Be worth somethin’. You ride on over and I’ll be right up.”

Nathan, John, and Quinn rode to the blockhouse, tied up, and waited while Tiffany trailed in and left his horse with the sentry.

“Captain, I expect you got some extra ones penned up in there, am I right? Some little pickaninny gals I kin have fer free?”

“Naw, not this time, but I do have a big buck you’ll want, but let’s look at these ‘uns first.” He lifted a lantern from the wall and lit it. Then he took keys from his belt, unlocked the door, and led them into the dungeon. The slaves were bunched up in the far corner, the children crying.

“Five strong bucks and four women. I’ll charge you minimum for the kids.”

“Three kids? I don’t want ‘em. I told you last time.”

“Then it’s no deal. I know you get somethin’ fer them, don’t tell me different. I got ears in St. Louis. Besides, the big ones are easier to handle when you got the kids. Am I right?”

Nathan didn’t respond. He pulled his pistol and walked over to the negroes and sorted the men from the women and looked them over. Tiffany followed with the lantern. Quinn and John walked out and waited.

Tiffany followed Nathan out the door and hung up the lantern. “…and I been keepin him apart from the others. He might give you trouble.” Tiffany locked the door.

“Trouble? Chained? On the end of a rope? I doubt it, but let’s see him.”

“He’s in the officers’ sink. This ain’t gonna be pretty.” The man snorted. “But I had to keep him somewhere outa sight of the workin’ niggers.”

He led the men off to a row of small, narrow sheds on skids lined up down the hill from the blockhouse. “He’s in the one on the end. I had a hasp and lock put on the door, and you shoulda heard the questions and the comments.”

John and Nathan lagged back. “I don’t need to see him, Nathan,” John said. “You do the deal. Jamie and me’ll stay here and help you out if you need us. Just holler.”

The two walked down to the privy and Tiffany keyed the padlock and opened the door. A cloud of flies escaped on the stench that washed over Quinn standing thirty feet away.

“It’s been closed up a couple days. Don’t get much air,” Tiffany said.

Nathan peered in through the dimness and put out his arm. “I ain’t goin’ in there. Where is he? Is he in the pit?”

“Yep. If you don’t wanna look down one of the holes, then you got to tell me you’ll take him sight unseen.”

“Jesus, let’s go upwind and dicker. Lock it up. I’m leavin’.” Nathan walked up the hill past Quinn and John, shaking his head. Tiffany followed.

“He’s big and he’s worth a lot of money. If I go through the trouble ‘a draggin’ this privy to the next trench now, you gotta take him.”

“What? You shittin me? You got somethin’ else you wanna show me, ‘cause I don’t buy what I don’t see, and I sure as hell will not look down into that shithole to check out a nigger.” Nathan stopped and turned. “What’s he worth?”

“Three times a regular buck—$600, but I’ll let you have him for five.”

“God damn, I gotta clean him up and drag his stinkin’ ass to St. Louis. I wish you woulda found another place to keep him. Damn, Tiffany! You get him out, clean him up and give him some clothes that don’t stink, and I’ll take him off yer hands fer three.”

“Four.”

“You can’t sell him fer four. Three fifty. Throw in a mule fer him ta ride and food fer alla ‘em fer a week and I’ll take him. The mule and the food won’t cost ya nothin’. You can do that.”

Tiffany stopped. “How about a limber cart and a team of plowhorses?” The Union soldier laughed, and Nathan Bolin walked up the hill.

“I can’t give you a goverment mule,” Tiffany said as he followed.

“You can give me that mule that’s gonna die tomorrow. Mules die all the time, Captain. Hell, I shoot ‘em ever chance I get.”

Tiffany caught up to him. “I can do that. Three fifty and a mule.”

Bolin kept walking. “And I want ya ta throw in a bath, supper, and good beds for me and my men tonight. And if he ain’t clean and ready by breakfast, the whole deal’s off, and I’ll be glad of it.”

Tiffany stepped ahead and held out his hand and Nathan stopped and took it. He scrubbed his palms on his pants and continued up the hill. “Shit! I must be crazy! Lets’ go look at them horses.”

Tiffany caught up with him and they continued up toward the barracks.

Quinn and John Bolin sat on the side of the hill and smoked and watched two men in blue bring out a team of mules and drag the latrine down to the trench below. The soldiers unhitched the shed and brought the mules back up to the pit. One tossed a lariat into the hole and jerked it tight while the other tied the rope to the tugchain clevis.

The first soldier peered down into the trench. “Pull!”

“Gittup!” The driver slapped the reins and the rope went taut.

“Like pulling a stump,” Quinn said.

“Like pullin’ a stump out of a shithole.” John laughed. A figure slid up over the edge of the trench and the soldier pulled up the reins. “More like pullin’ a tree. Jesus God! Look at the size ‘a him!” John said.

“Whoa!” The first soldier walked over to the figure on the ground. “Merle, come ‘n help me turn him over. Aw, shit!”

The second soldier dropped the reins. “Come on, Merle. I think he’s clogged. We can’t let this nigger die or we’re in trouble.”

Quinn and Bolin stood and walked down. The man on the ground was on his face, his feet kicking, his torso writhing, and his head twisting from side to side against the dirt. He was naked and covered in shit and his wrists were manacled to the ends of a strut that extended three feet on each side of his neck. The solder’s lariat was around one arm of the strut and the black man’s neck.

The two soldiers grabbed one end of the bar and flipped the man over. The first soldier said, “He’s gaggin’. Clean out his mouth.”

“You clean out his mouth. I don’t wanna get bit.”

The first soldier knelt down and loosened the rope. “Get down here and hold his head. Grab his jaw. Get somethin’ to put in his mouth.” The second knelt and pulled his knife and handed it over and the first soldier used it like a bit, then stuck his fingers in the man’s mouth and pulled out the dirt. “God, we shoulda brung some water.” He took the knife out and the man on the ground turned his head and retched. “I’m gonna go get some water.”

“Naw. Just as fast to drag him down to the crick. Come on. He’s OK. Let’s go.”

The next morning the two soldiers were waiting with six horses on a string and Tiffany had the slaves tied in a line with the little ones running loose. The big black man wore his bar and manacles and was blindfolded and tethered to a tree. The mule stood apart. “You want him on the mule?” Tiffany asked.

“Naw,” Nathan said and laughed. “I just wanted a mule. He can walk with the rest of them.” He waved to the two soldiers. “Tie that mule on the line behind the horses.” He walked over to the slave. “He don’t stink. That’s good, but why you got him blindfolded?”

“The boys here said they didn’t want him lookin’ at ‘em. Don’t ask me why. They just did it and I let it on. You can take it off.”

Nathan undid the rope from the tree and handed it to Quinn. “Jamie, you lead this one and follow John. I’ll lead the nags and take the drag.” He laughed. He drew his knife and cut off the black man’s blindfold. “Now let’s git on down the road.”

The men mounted up. “Captain Tiffany, I hope ta be back doin’ business with ya soon.” Nathan said. “I’ll send word ahead.” Nathan saluted the soldier and waved to the road. “Wagons ho! Let’s go, boys!” John and Quinn led the slaves and the animals down the road.

The ride went slow, and gearing up and breaking down took forever. Quinn listened to the negroes talk and sing, but there was no conversation between the men who rode, and stops along the way were brief and infrequent. At night the men busied themselves with the slaves and the horses. “We’ll each take a watch, Nathan said,“an as I always say, keep one eye on the contraband and one eye on the road an one eye in the weeds. There’s hungry men out there, an we got what they want, horses an men.”

They built a fire apart for the slaves, who slept waist-tied and huddled in piles. The big man slept sitting, his head down and apart from the rest. At the end of each day his strut was removed, but the manacles and chain remained and he was tethered to the rest. “Watch him, boys, an shoot him if he runs,” Nathan said.

To keep himself awake during his watch, Quinn hummed quietly and whittled and smoked. He walked around the fire and sang songs from his childhood. Most of the songs were either a call to revolution or sad songs or both, so he mixed them up with wordless jigs and reels, whistling and humming. Quinn imagined sometimes that the slaves listened. The Irish need an audience, he thought. Songs with words were always sung to somebody, he thought.

In the quiet of the third night, Quinn heard the big black man humming, and Quinn recognized part of the tune as an Irish lullaby. Quinn hummed it, then quietly sang the words to the chorus. and the big man hummed along.

The next night Quinn sat next to the man and asked him about the song. “I doan know. I jes knowed it from mah mammy.”

“Me, too,” Quinn said. “From a place across the sea. A country called Ireland.”

“I heared a dat. One big bunch a sodiers I saw come fum dat place, dey say. Dey dress fancy lak dey fum some otter place else, not de nort or sout.”

Zouaves, Quinn thought. “I came here five years ago and I thought I would make a farm, but I went to work digging ditches for the railroad. How did you get here? Did they catch you runnin’?”

The big man nodded.

“You’ll be sold down river when we get to St. Louis, you know.”

“I know. I a niggah. I know dat.”

“Where did you run from?”

“Kintucky. We be down in Lexington ta sell de slabes we cotched, me an Hawk, an now I spect I go right back dere, scept dis time I be on de block”

“You were selling slaves?”

“Got em fum right aroun here, dat’s a fac.”

“You’re a slave catcher.”

“Yessuh, me ‘n Hawk. We a team. We cotch a lot a niggahs.”

Quinn stood and walked back to the edge of the fire and stood for a long time staring into the flames. Then he went and sat on a log and waited to be relieved.

The next night he sat near the big man to ask the questions he had mulled over that day as he rode.

“You and Hawk been a team of slave catchers. Is Hawk a white man?”

“Yessuh.”

“Was he your owner?”

“Naw. He git paid by de head and I go long ta sniff em out. I be Massa Jeffery niggah. It be Massa Jeffery bidness sellin niggahs.”

The big man talked about working with Hawk.

“You been hunting runaways even before the war?” Quinn asked.

“Yessuh. An I work de feels and be Massa Jeffery stud, too. I be Massa Jeffery niggah since I be born. Down in Kintucky I be young an he put me to de stud. He wuk me all day, an night he put me in de room wit tree or fo gal and tole me I had ta make wit dem. I git dem ever night an when dese got wit chile, he say, I git new gal. I knowed some de gal, cause dey be de ones I play wit when I be lil. Mosly, dough, dey was brung from nuthah planatation. I gots treat good, fed good, din git work too hard.”

“How was it for the girls?”

“Some be OK. Otter cry when I done it an Massa Jeffery tell dem he sell dem down de riber if dey doan make a baby fo him, so eben da weepy one done it. Da gal I knowed long year, I sleep wit trew da night. Afer I done my biness, cause de gals would talk ta me an tell me de gossip around de big house, an gal from nuther planatations would talk, too, but I wan’t inerested in dare news.

I gots ta stay by mysef all day Sunny, and Sunny night I gots ta sleep at mah Mammy’s, she what took care a me mah whole life. Den Munny I go to da feel and come in afer an make with de gal.”

“Did you ever have trouble with the girls?”

“Naw, de gal be nice an hep if’n I was tire or sump’in. Only whens it gots ta be a wile an de gal wa’nt makin a baby, den dey do trouble cause dey fear massa sell em down de riber.”

“But he kept you.”

“Fo stud at firs, an da feels. Den he use me lak a coon dog, pair me wit a niggah chasah ta go afer de runawayers.”

“Why?”

“I be a good hunter. I go out at night wit Massa son an de dogs an hunt de real coons, an I gots ta know de dogs an I gots ta be a good tracker. ‘Sides I knows de way a niggah tinks, lak a coon he do, an I smell em lak de dog do. Den Massa Pitney—dat Hawk name—him ‘n me went an cotched lotsa niggahs.

Sometime we run em down, but mos’ly we sniff em out. Massa Pitney brung me roun an tell all de white folk I was his niggah an he ax bout any loose niggahs roun. He let me go out de night ta de quatahs an tole me ta come back when I done talk ta de niggah dere. Sho nuff, if’n I stay a night or come back notha night, some gal tell me how glad she be dat one a us git way an I promise I be hepin if’n I could. Den she tell me an I jes go back an tell Hawk. Massa Pitney. Den we fine em and bring em in.”

“Did you ever…” Quinn paused. “Do you remember catching a little white girl up north a couple months ago? And burning a hotel? Shooting a man?”

The big man nodded. “Yessuh, I do. She be Massa Jeffery pet. We cotched her an brung her back.”

“You and Hawk were there with a little white man.”

“Yessuh, we be dere. Dat Massa Elliott. He do de shootin an de burnin.”

“Do you remember the mule he shot? And the man he shot after?”

“Yessuh, an you be him. I know dat….”

Quinn picked up the rock between his feet and lunged at the big man and struck him alongside the head, knocking him back. The slave held up his manacled hands in front of his face and rolled on his side.

Quinn stepped over him as Nathan scrambled toward the fire on all fours with his pistol in his hand.

“The goddamn nigger tried to get away and I knocked him down. Hold that gun on him while I check his rope.” Quinn said. John Bolin stood next to the others with a rifle. Quinn tugged at the rope around the slave’s waist and kicked him in the stomach. “Roll over. Let me see your hands, you black bastard. Hold ‘em up.”

The big man rolled onto his back and held up his hands. Quinn tugged at the chain. He followed the rope with his hands back to the others who were now standing huddled next to the fire. The women shushed the little ones. Quinn tested the rope between each of them. “They’re good. They’re all good. Now sit down,” he said. He turned to Nathan. “God, I hate this middle of the night watch. I hear things.”

“It’s OK, Quinn,” Nathan said. “We all get that way. Don’t worry about it. You turn in and get some sleep. I’ll take over.”

Quinn went to his bedroll and lay awake and thought. He pulled the medicine bag from beneath his shirt, ate some of the powder and drank from his canteen. He fell asleep and didn’t dream.

The next night Quinn sat next to the big man. “What’s your name?”

The big man looked up but didn’t answer. “Tell me your name or I’ll put out your eye. I’ll get a rock and knock you out and burn out your eye. I swear I will. You tell me your name and tell me the little man’s name. I’ll goddamn blind you, nigger!”

“You bline me an den you own me, you know dat. You gotsta pay dem buckrahs fo me an den you gotsta kill me. Dat’s a fac.”

“If I own you, I won’t kill you, you black bastard. An dat’s a fac!” Quinn picked up a stick from the fire. “Forget your name, then, cause a nigger name don’t matter. Tell me the name of the man who shot me.”

“Dats whut you really wanna know. Cause if’n I tell you, whatcha gonna do? You gonna bline me den? You gonna shoot me fer runnin? I kin tell who shot yer eye out an what den?”

“Then I can cut you loose, let you go.”

“How dat work if’n you is part of dis gang a niggah hawks. I git away an it’s on you. Den whatchu say?”

“I go with you. We both disappear. You tell me who shot me, I let you go, and we go our separate ways.”

“An I say I doan b’leebe you. I say it dis way—you hep me run off’n den you run off’n fine me. We bof safe, I tell you mor’n whatchu wanna know. I tell you bout him. An I tell you bout where ta fine him. An I hep you cotch him.”

“And Pitney. Can you help me find him?”

“Fergit bout Hawk. He gone.”

“Tomorrow night I’ve got middle watch again. When everything’s quiet, I will cut you loose and tell you where to meet me. I’ll stay and make sure no one wakes up and then I’ll go.” He put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Tomorrow night.” Quinn walked over to the rock and sat.

On the next night’s watch Quinn left his knife next to the log where the big man sat with his head on his chest. Quinn went back and sat and crossed his arms and closed his eyes.

When he opened them, the big man was gone. Quinn stepped back from the light of the fire, picked up his pack, and walked to the road. When he came to the creek, the black man appeared next to him.

“We’re goin’ up to St. Louis. If anybody stops us, you are contraband. I will beat you if anyone needs convincing. We get to the city, there’s a place where we’ll both be safe.”

They walked the road for an hour and found a ravine and holed up as the sky brightened.

The next night they took to the brush and made their way east until they hit the tracks. They stayed between the rails and the river and headed north. During the daytime they rested, and while they waited for dark they traded stories.

“Massa Jeffery tole Massa Elliot not ta come back wit out her. I heared him say dat when we go. She way head, cuz she be hep by some white folk. We foun her trail close ta where you be shot, and you member ever thin when we got dere.

We firs ride off ‘n Massa Elliot be bout crazy ta fine her, an he say ride back, an he say he knowed she be dare. He say he smell her. He ride up an shoot da mule, an he shoot you an de otter man, an he run inta de hotel. Hawk an me tuk out back afer de gal, him ridin down de road and me runnin true de bush. It din’t tak long. I hear de crashin true de trees makin racket an she stop noisin an I jes walk up’n cotch her an tote her back. Massa Elliott be settin fire aroun de hotel, an Hawk rode up an tole him ta git on de horse. De gal rode up front wit me fer a wile an we stop, an den Hawk wrap her up an she ride wit him.

After dat we rode ta Sain Joe and got on de boat all de way to Sain Louie. Onliest trouble on de way was Massa Elliott messin at her alla time an when Hawk he say stop messin, Massa Elliott put a gun on him an Hawk he jes laughs. ‘I ain’t yo niggah, li’l man,’ he say. ‘You shoot me? You do an you nebbah git back ta yo daddy.’ An Hawk he smile an nod at me and dat’s when Massa whip me wit de pistol. I git on da groun, so he doan hurt me much, an when he done he say he take care a me in Sain Louie.

De boat ride be long time. I be down in de boat room wit de gal, an she be hid cept fer a walk fer necessaries when it be dark, and Massa Elliott stay way. She nice, but she doan talk much an we jes sit an sometime sing. We git ta Sain Louie, Massa Elliott take charge a her lak he own her, an Hawk he take me back to de quatahs.”

“Did you ever think of running? You know that when you caught the girl you were three miles from the border of a free state.”

“Naw, wut I know be dat Massa Jeffery gots mah wibe an chile. He say he know long as dey wif him, he know I doan run. He laugh an say a coon houn run free all night by hisself an come home in da mornin ta sniff da bitch. Hawk brung my wibe an chile an we stay up all night, an in de mornin Massa Elliott come an take em back.”

“That son of a bitch!”

“Massa Jeffery he come nex mornin an ax bout mah bloody head an I say Massa Elliott disapined me on da way an I doan know why. An he say, niggah, I doan disapine you wit da rod. I disapine you wit da pussy. Ya do good fer me, but ya gotta learn respec fer Massa Elliott. He a hothead boy fer sure. Hawk gonna take you out fo nother hunt. You do good, you come back, we see bout yo pussy. I doan say nutin an he go.

Hawk he come an we go out an cotch a messa runawayers, an Hawk say dat Massa say we gotta bring em direc to de market, so we put em on de boat an tek em to Kintucky.

We gits off de boat an rope up de niggahs an take em to de Cheapside. Massa Pitney talk an argufy an say dese niggahs be Massa Walker niggahs an dey all say no. Dey say Massa Pitney gots ta sell his own niggahs.

Dat when Massa Pitney talk ta Massa Robards an gits a place ta put are niggahs safe, an I stay wit dem in de pen. Massa Pitney come back an say I stay dere two day, den de auction, an I do dat.

Den Massa Pitney come wit de clothes an tell me wash dem up clean. In de afer noon we go, an are niggahs walk free wit me ta de square an wait. When it be time we come ta de block fo de show an dat when I see my wibe up dere an are chile, an de man wit de cane hookin an pullen em, an dey all be cryin. I holler out, an dat when de men grab me an club me ta de groun an drag me off an I doan see dem ebah no mo. No mo.”

Quinn left him in a limestone cave along the river. “You’ve got the pistol and the saddlebags. Stay in the back of the cave and don’t come out. We get your chains off and get you cleaned up and we’ll go into the city.”

Quinn took the road and got a ride with a wagon. He climbed the stairs to Gratiot and rattled the door. When Lawrence opened, the grizzled soldier just shook his head and let him in.

“Thanks, Lawrence.”

“I won’t say you look like hell, Cap, but you look bad enough to need medical treatment. What do you think? Should I call a nurse?” He laughed and walked away.

He returned with Elizabeth, who carried a duffle. “Oh, Jamie! Look at you. You look…”

Quinn held up his hand “It’s OK. Lawrence already gave me a diagnosis. Can I clean up somewhere?”

She pointed. “The door there. There’s a table with water and towels in there.” She handed him the bag. “Here’s a change of clothes. I’ll finish up in the ward and come out and wait for you.”

On the way to the convent, Quinn told her his story of the last week. “I can’t stay long. I need a cold chisel and a hammer. Can you get them for me?”

“And he’ll need clothes.”

“He’s a big man. Whatever you’ve got, throw in a blanket.”

And I’ll get you a horse. You can stay in my room and I’ll be back in an hour.”

She left him with the sister and he slept in his clothes on top of the quilt.

She came back with a bag full of clothes and a pistol in a holster and a Bowie knife and put them on the bed. “There’s plenty of these lying around the hospital. I thought you might feel better if you had them. Lawrence is getting the tools and a horse and should be here shortly.”

“Lawrence? But who’s covering the door?”

“He said it was OK, that he’d just lock up. He was happy to be given a job that mattered.”

“Did you tell him?”

“I started, and he said, ‘That’s enough, Missy. A man shows up lookin’ like that wantin’ a hammer and chisel and you’re carrying a gun. I’m old, but I ain’t dumb.’ He got a good laugh out of that.”

“Elizabeth, I’m gonna bring him in, but I don’t know what to do when I get him into town. He’s still a runaway, and once I bring him in it’s only a matter of time before word gets out that he’s here.”

“You don’t think we can keep him in the contraband camp? He’ll be safe there among his own, and they’re guarded at Benton.”

“He won’t stand for it, and if it were up to me I wouldn’t either. Walker wants him, and if he finds out where he is, he’ll get him.”

“You go get him, then. By the time you get back I’ll have a place. Bring him to the convent.”

Quinn rode into town in the dead of night with the big man on a rope. He brought the slave directly to the carriage house and left him. Then Quinn presented himself to the little nun at the grate and she led him to Elizabeth’s room.

Elizabeth was sitting at her desk writing and she rose to greet him. “Jamie. Is he all right? Can I get you something?”

“He’s fine. I left him in the carriage house.”

“We’re going to put him in the tool shed. I’ve outfitted it with blankets and ticking. Sister Claude will bring him his food and empty his slop pail.”

“What did she do to get that duty?”

“She volunteered.”

Elizabeth went to the door and the little nun was standing there with a lantern. She handed Elizabeth the lantern and stepped out with them and watched as they walkedChapter 16 away.

“She knows?”

Elizabeth said, “Of course, she knows. She knows all about me and what I do, as does Mother Superior.”

The black man was brushing the horse in the dark when they came in, and he kept brushing as Quinn introduced Elizabeth. The slave patted the horse’s back. “He a good horse.”

Elizabeth held the lantern high. “We’re going to put you in the tool shed.” She led the way around the side of the building. “You’ll be safe there. We’ll lock the door and Sister will check on you.”

“I be fine.” The slave unwrapped the rope that was coiled several times around his middle and gave it to Quinn.

“You can move things around and make yourself comfortable,” Elizabeth said. “Tell Sister when she comes around if you need anything.”

“I be fine.”

They locked the big slave in and walked to the grated door. “Come back in, Jamie. It’s almost morning. You can leave before sunup.”

She knocked quietly and they were led to her room.

They spent the hours talking. He told her about the escape from the Bolins. He told her about his reasons for freeing the slave. He talked about how he learned about Hunter and Hawk and how little he remembered about the day he was shot. He told Marion’s account of the burning of the hotel and the murder of Rafe. He related the slave’s history with Jeffery Walker and the big man’s fear of being returned to his master.

“It was Elliott who arranged for him to see his family on the block, and it was Elliott and his men who took him down,” Quinn said. “Elliott turned him over to Pitney, his slave hunting partner, to bring him back, and I think he killed Pitney and then escaped. All he’d say when I asked is, ‘Hawk, he gone.’” Quinn came back around to telling her about Tiffany and the Bolin gang and to the contrabands who were building the new fort. He talked about those who were languishing in the sump of the old one.

She told him about the people she worked with, especially about the men she admired, Will Brown and Lafayette Baker. She told him about Hoyt’s ride to Shawneetown.

“A knight avenging his lady. Did it help?”

“Some. No. I don’t know. When I read the newspaper story about it I felt some satisfaction. I read the article and I felt important. And after that I went to Stanton’s office in Washington where I met Lafayette Baker, and here I am.”

“A spy in the service of your country. Trying to sort out this mess called Missouri?”

“I trust that someone’s figuring it out. I do my part,”

“You’ll tell Brown about me?”

“I can keep your name out of the report. Tiffany and the Rolla operation are important. And the Bolins. How can it be? I can understand that Tiffany kidnaps negroes. I can understand that he sells them. How does he not know that he is dealing with the enemy?”

“If you can understand him kidnapping and selling negroes, then it doesn’t matter who he sells them to.”

“It does for me. In my job. I need to understand that part.”

“It may matter to you, but it doesn’t to him. He’s dealing in the spoils of war. The negroes he kidnaps are contraband. He thinks no more about taking them than he would capturing horses that were running free.”

“But who he’s selling them to. They…”

“They look just like him. They’re wearing a uniform just like his and nobody blinks an eye. They melt into the army population just as they melt into the brush. Put a Union jacket on a man and he’s a Union soldier. Put him on a horse and he’s in the cavalry. Sew a patch on his arm and he’s an officer. Does Tiffany know who the Bolins are? Do Tiffany’s men know? Are the soldiers who pulled that man out of the pit part of the contraband kidnappings? Where does the money come from and where does it go? Who disappears along the way? Who knows what? And who cares?”

“Do you care, Quinn?”

Quinn stood. “I think it’s time to go.”

Elizabeth sat and wrote her report. While she did not identify Quinn by name or link him with the Bolins, she named members of the gang. She named Captain Dexter P. Tiffany. She named Thomas Jefferson Walker and Elliott Norvell Walker and told about the girl who started it all. Now Brown has the big picture, she thought. He should be able to move.

She would send it by courier in the morning.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

While Elizabeth Stiles wrote her report, Will Brown sat in the early hours with a stack of files and a blank sheet of paper and a pen. The top folder was the thickest: William Norvell Walker. The first four pages were covered with paste-ups of yellowed newspaper articles with marginal notes. A second section of the folder chronicled the life, exploits, and death of William Norvell Walker. The third section consisted of a list of legal documents with references to their origination.

While William Norvell Walker got the press for the military exploits, it was clear that younger brothers Jefferson, James, and Lipscomb were at William’s side when in 1853 he failed to conquer lower California and Sonora with a group of filibusters who called themselves The American Phalanx. Jefferson left his brothers before the Phalanx insinuated itself into a revolution in Nicaragua that ended with William being elected President of The New Republic of Nicaragua in 1856. A note referred to an earlier newspaper article that announced President Pierce’s recognition of the republic and its administration. James Walker died there in Masaya. Lipscomb died on the way home, and William fled to Honduras in 1860 and was executed there. The one sentence conclusion was appended: William and his Phalanx, funded in a large part by the Knights of the Golden Circle, had set out to create a utopian slave state, which they hoped would be ushered into the union as Texas had been.

Thomas Jefferson Walker’s file referred often to the information detailed in his brother’s file. Besides covering Jefferson’s adventures in Mexico, it went on to note that in the spring of 1856, before his brother’s inauguration, he had traveled to Beaver Island in northern Michigan and visited with James Strang, self-proclaimed King of the LDS “True Faith” Church. He left before Strang was assassinated in July.

Brown closed T. Jefferson Walker’s first folder and opened the second. It was a replica of a 14 page ledger of slaves, including names, ages, sex, skills, remarks, and the date and price at purchase as well as the date and price at sale. The copyist had scrupulously made the notations in the margins. Some of the entries were lined out and some were totally inked.

The third file was the thinnest: “Elliott Norvell Walker, the only surviving son of T. Jefferson Walker and Emily Sloan Walker. Elliott was raised by a negro nurse. His primary residence is his father’s house in St. Louis. He operated the slave pen across from Gratiot Prison for four years before the pen was closed. He has moved his business to Cheapside in Lexington, Kentucky. He takes pride in his stable of horses. He has no family of his own.”

A final file contained the summary and recommended actions: “Thomas Jefferson Walker is indictable on several federal counts. It is not advisable to move forward until we have developed the case and have gathered more evidence on all counts. He is clearly at the center of an enterprise that kidnaps individuals and either holds them for ransom, sells them, or murders them. We have hard evidence and corroborating testimony that the operation uses Union officers and soldiers for the purpose of kidnapping people of color, whether free, contraband, or fugitive. We have testimony that the operation uses Missouri rebel guerrillas as intermediaries. We have evidence and testimony that he has traded in wartime contraband, that is, confiscated chattel, for his profit.

What we suspect, but cannot yet prove, is that he is channeling the proceeds of his criminal operation to the Rebel army for the purchase of arms. We further suspect that he is trading with foreign agents to purchase arms or to trade contraband for arms.

There is enough evidence to indict T. Jefferson Walker on capital charges. We are investigating his connections to others involved in corruption at the highest level and will act on Walker when we have evidence at that level.

We are developing cases against his son Elliott Walker that are separate and discrete and suggest the government not file a case against Elliott Walker until the actions against T. Jefferson Walker are exhausted.”

The last folder Will Brown opened contained copies of legal papers and news stories. He set aside the single page items—a Loyalty Oath, a Certificate of Freedom, a Petition for Confiscation, a wanted poster, and a thinly written newspaper article about runaways that included information regarding Walker’s slave. He studied the two documents that warranted several pages each. The first was a petition from the runaway asking that the county jailer be appointed her legal representative and that she be sequestered in prison to keep Walker from seizing her. It further asks she be declared legally free and white along with a request that the courts award her ten thousand dollars for unspecified damages that had been done while she was a slave.

The last document Brown studied carefully. It was a reply written by Walker to a preliminary judgment regarding the runaway.

Dec. 2, 1862

The slave girl in this petition is my property. Her mother was a slave; therefore, partus sequitur ventrem, she is a slave and my property as is her mother. According to the 1661 Virginia statute, “all children born in the country shall be held bond or free according to the condition of the mother.” If the courts argue that it does not recognize the Virginia statute, it, therefore, also does not recognize Virginia under Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution’s full faith and credit clause. If that is the case, then Virginia is not in rebellion because it is not recognized as a state of the Union.

If the courts seize my property under the Second Confiscation Act of July 1862, I will needs be first judged in rebellion against the United States. I have taken the oath of loyalty to the United States and the Provisional Government of Missouri, recorded on November 15, 1862. (See attached affidavit.) I have not been judged treasonous by any legitimate court, and according to Col. Thomas T. Gantt, Provost Marshal General of St Louis, only a court with federal jurisdiction, not a local court, is able to adjudicate that. Were I to be judged so, the courts would have the right to strip me of ownership of my property under the law, but not to free the slave, who would paradoxically, be a slave in Missouri without a master. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation gives neither the Government of the United States nor the State of Missouri the right to take my slave because the law which takes effect on 1 January 1863 applies only to states in rebellion. Since Missouri is not in rebellion, the courts cannot free the slave. If it should strip me of my rightful ownership, she will become a slave in Missouri not under control of a master and, therefore, subject to capture and sale.

If, under a circumstance that I cannot anticipate, the courts were to judge me to be in rebellion, and if it were to construe the state of Missouri to be in rebellion, and if it were to affirm the state of Virginia to be an independent nation whose statutes it does not recognize, I then would claim the slave here mentioned as my daughter, and patri potesta in pietate debet, non in atroclatate consistere, she is my minor child and, therefore, subject to my will. I claim her, then, as filius nullius, and equal to my son, I am in control of her life and responsible for her well-being.

Will Brown set his notes on top of the folders and lay on his bed in his clothes and thought.

Floyd’s knock had him at the door before he was fully awake.

“I saw your light and thought you might be working. Do you want to go down and get something to eat? I hear them banging around down there. I couldn’t sleep.”

Will shook his head. “Come in and I’ll show you what I got.” He picked up the pile from the desk.

“It was delivered by courier. The man refused to identify himself, but he asked me to sign and then he rode off.”

“Highly suspicious, even in our line of work,” said Floyd.

“And would you say suspicious enough to make me suspicious of the contents?”

“Hell if I know,” said Floyd. “What’s in it?”

“Take a look.” They sat and Will dealt the files to Floyd with an explanation of what he’d learned from them.

“I’m not sending along the complete files just yet. We don’t know who generated them or why they were delivered up the channels to us. Instead, I’m going to send along a summary of what I’ve got, hoping the man responsible will be polite enough to not ask for a complete copy.”

He read Floyd the brief cover letter.

Gentlemen:

Enclosed is a copy of the summary report on Jeffery Walker, his son Elliott, and his brother William. I have in my hand the files used in that report. If you do not have them, wire me and I will courier them to you.

Yours, etc.

Floyd took a look at the folders. “You want copies to go to how many people? Let’s be practical here. What is it you really want? Let me tell you what you want. You want to know what sneaky bastard sent them on to you and why, right? And maybe you’d like to know what he expects you to do about it. How about you just ask? Because you don’t want that sneaky bastard to know that you know, right? Jesus, Will. You got to trust somebody or you just end up chasin’ yer tail. Who can you go to? Tell me. Who is the one person you trust to tell you the truth? Besides me, ‘a course.”

“General Dodge, I’d say. I’ve known him since Kanesville, and he knows everybody and then some.”

“Then just wire him and ask. I wouldn’t wait on the couriers.”

“He doesn’t like the telegraph. He thinks it’s not secure.”

“Then put the request in language only he could understand, and tell him if he thinks it’s urgent to send the response by courier with all due haste.”

Will shuffled the folders and thought. “Floyd, you’re right on this. He’ll send something back, and I’ll know where to go from there. I want you to have a look at everything in these files. I should have a reply by the time I get back from seeing the nurse.”

“From seeing the nurse,” Floyd echoed. He looked up from the desk. “Be sure to turn your head when you cough.”

Will rode to Benton and sent a wire to Dodge. Then he rode to Gratiot, and Lawrence directed him to the prison wing, where Will was ushered to the guard’s desk. He was asked to wait there. When the guard returned he was taken to a closet filled with wooden crates stacked waist high. Elizabeth was standing at a makeshift desk poring over a letter.

“Will, look at this.” She handed him a letter.

He started reading it and handed it back.

“You can’t follow it, can you?” she said.

He shook his head. “Not very well. He’s talking about his mother’s health and then it kinda goes off into nonsense.”

“It’s not sophisticated. Read the paragraph backwards aloud.”

Will struggled with it. “Use no currency one clean package for every article no choice regarding articles guaranteed if you are unhappy then replacement exchange freight at hotel sang lou we a weak notice required.”

“That last part refers to an exchange at the Hotel St. Louis,” Elizabeth said.

Brown handed the letter back to her. “It came for someone in the hospital?”

“No. It was to go to Daniel Frost on the prison side. It was supposedly written by his brother. It was given to me to pass on. That’s when I learned from one of the prisoners here that Frost was sent to Alton to be exchanged.”

“How do we find out who wrote it?”

“That would be your job.”

“What would you do?”

“Turn it over to somebody.” When he didn’t respond, she nodded once. “That would be you.”

Brown scratched his jaw. “That would be me. Will you write out what you’ve got and make a copy for me? I’m going to take the envelope and see what I can find out. Can you tell me anything about who delivered it?”

“It came while I was on the hospital side.”

“Ask Lawrence’s brother out there and see what he knows. Hold on to the letter and your copies and I’ll see you at the convent.”

“What did you want to see me about?”

“Some files on the Walkers that were sent up channels. I wanted you to look them over. Maybe you can see something I didn’t.”

“I’m afraid it’ll have to wait. I need to get back to work. There are some sick boys that need me. Come by the convent tomorrow at seven.”

Will rode back to Benton, where he wired his contact at Alton Prison and inquired about Daniel Frost. He waited for a reply and Dodge’s came before Alton’s. “Re your wire: Lafayette Baker. Full response by courier within 24 hours. Yours, General G. M. Dodge.”

Brown waited another hour for a reply from across the river. “1700 Rebs. No master list. Come find him yourself.”

Will considered crossing the river just to deal with the jackass who wrote the cable. Instead, he rode back to the inn and showed Floyd the response from General Dodge.

“There’s a man who is on top of things, Will.” Floyd said. “Now, what did you get from the nurse?”

Will showed Floyd the message Elizabeth had gleaned from the letter. “What do you make of this? She got it from the outside to send on to someone in Alton Prison, and it seems the man is no longer there.”

Floyd read the message.

“What do you think, Floyd?”

“I would say it’s an offer for a trade—packages for articles.”

“I want you to go tomorrow afternoon and see if you can find out who was supposed to get it.”

“Who wrote it?”

“Don’t know.”

“What’s in the trade?”

Brown made a face and shrugged.

Floyd shook his head. “You got any ideas how I’m supposed to find out?”

Brown flopped in a chair. “Use your Indian ways, Floyd. I’m sending you because I have no idea what to look for.”

“Did you enjoy your visit?” Floyd asked.

“I’d bring you along next time if I thought you would behave. Tomorrow morning we’ll go to the Provost’s office and see what we can find out. I know if you don’t behave there, I can have you arrested. I need information about the politics of this town and I need another brain to put things together. Tomorrow night I go back to the convent and see Mrs. Stiles.”

The next morning at breakfast, Floyd suggested they divide and conquer. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy your company, Will. You know I do. But I’ll just be in the way talking with politicians. What say I just go down and poke around the dirt with a stick. Go down to the wharf, maybe go down to the old market. I’ll meet you back here for supper, and then you can take what we got and go from there.”

That night both Elizabeth and Will were excited to share what they had discovered. Elizabeth held up a sheaf of papers. “I thought you should have a copy of these. I forged a copy of the letter, the enigmatic one, and stuffed it into an envelope that looked reasonably like the original, and rode out to my contact. I told her I thought it might be important, and since I knew that Col. Frost was exchanged, returning the letter might be critical. Mrs. Vogel was surprised I knew the recipient. ‘Oh, yes,’ I said, ‘Daniel regularly gets letters through various channels, St. Louis being the richest.’ I was guessing about St. Louis, but it worked. ‘Mr. Walker should know right away. Would you pen a note about Col. Frost’s repatriation?’ she said. ‘I don’t know where he went,’ I said, ‘I just know when, but I’ll be glad to jot down what I know and I promise that I will forward any further information to you.’ That seemed to satisfy her and I was off. So it’s Walker, Jeffery Walker, who wrote the letter. What his connection with Daniel Frost might be I can’t imagine.”

Will Brown patted the leather messenger bag he brought with him. “Remember I said I wanted you to look at some papers the last time we met? Things are beginning to come together.” He gave her a quick summary of the contents of the files on the Walkers and his concern about who compiled it and sent it through channels to him.

“I wired General Grant and he replied immediately—your friend, and our boss, Lafayette Baker.”

“Lincoln’s spy chief is sending you dossiers on the Walkers? Jeffery Walker’s that important?”

“And here’s another bit. The St. Louis Hotel in the letter is in New Orleans. Its rotunda is the site for what someone has called ‘the most glorious place for the most ignominious of human exchanges.’”

“I just assumed that it was our St. Louis here. How is it you know Frost’s letter refers to a hotel on the delta?”

“Because Frost is trading cotton for slaves, and there are no public slave auctions held in St. Louis anymore. An ‘article’ is trader argot for ‘slave.’ A clean package is a ginned bale of cotton.”

“And this you got from one of your people?”

Will shook his head. “Yes and no. I got it from my friend Floyd. He spent the day talking with the runaways down in the contraband camp next to the old slave market. That’s where he got a lesson, as he said, that you can’t get in school. Articles. Clean package. The St. Louis. Everything except Frost’s name is in Mrs. Stowe’s novel. Uncle Tom and the St. Clare slaves were traded under the dome of the rotunda. Floyd tried to convince me that he had read the book and suddenly remembered those details. It didn’t take much questioning to get him to admit that it all came from an old black man in the camp who had seen it all and read about it, too.”

“Where do we go with this now?”

“I have no doubt that Lafayette Baker already has it. My job is to backfill. I’ll send what new information we have to General Dodge and ask for his advice on how to proceed. Until then we keep doing what it is we do. Watch, read, and talk to each other. Share what we come up with.” He smiled. “I’ve got to get back. Floyd’ll be worried.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Quinn visited the big slave late the following evening.

“You hungry?”

“Sistah brung me food. I be fine.”

“I brought you a bottle. It might make you feel better, help you while away the time.”

“I be fine. I doan drink duh wiskey, doh.”

Quinn pulled the cork and drank. He reached into the bag and pulled out a crock and two cups and put them on the two crates that stood for tables. Next he set a wedge of cheese out and a round of hoe cake and poured buttermilk. “Let me see that knife.”

The black man put the knife on the crate. Quinn took it and cut pieces of cheese and corn bread and they ate.

“I don’t have a plan without you. I figure we both want the same thing and we can help each other. You know where they live and you know how to get to them.”

“Yes, suh. I kin sho you de house. Dey bot’ lib in de big house. Dere be no goin in dere. Bes be wait til dey lebe an go sommers.”

“How do we do that? We just can’t stand outside the gate and watch. You can’t leave here without risking being caught.” Quinn pulled out a flyer. “This is on trees and it’s in the newspaper. People see you, they know who you are.”

“I doan know. Massah Jeffery nebba go out. Buckrahs come see him when he wan. Massah Elliott go lots out an bout day an night wit frens.”

“Business?”

“Massa Elliott bidness be horsin and whorin roun.”

“Do you know where they go?”

He shook his head. “No suh.”

“Who, then, would know?”

“I doan know, suh. I thin de daddy doan eben know.”

“And you want his daddy. You got business with his daddy.”

“Yessuh, ah do, an his chile, an any otter one in de house.”

“Besides the two of them, who’s in there, in the house? Does he have a wife?”

“No wibe, no chillun cept Massa Elliott. He gots lite cullahed gal dere wit him. Dey know. We my fine out we git de niggahs ta talk.”

“And that’s not likely.”

“We talk to mah Mammy, she talk to dem, maybe fine out some tings. Mabe see mah Mammy out walkin bout. She not ole. She sometime hire out ta otter people and wuk.”

“So we wait to talk to your Mammy. Shit! This ain’t gonna’ work.”

“Wait’n be de onliest way, Massah Quinn.”

“I’m not your Master. Don’t call me that. Don’t call me nothin’, OK? You hear?”

“Yessuh.”

“I can’t wait and do nothing. You got to sit here. I don’t. I’m going out and ask around.”

“Bout Massa Elliott?”

“Both of them.”

“Be wary dat you doan git yerself kilt. Dere news trab’l faser n de tallygraf. Bes you be axin roun bout mah Mammy, an talk ta her. She know. She lis’n an fine out.”

Quinn spent the day and into the evening asking at the inns and stables, and because he had nowhere to go, he ended up knocking at the grated door of the convent. The little nun let him in and told him to wait. Elizabeth came and took him to her room.

“I’m this close to finding him, Elizabeth.” He held his hands inches apart. “I know where he lives and I can’t get to him. Hell, maybe he’s not even in there, I don’t know.” Quinn related his conversation with the slave. “And if I do find Mammy, I’m not sure that she knows or can find out.”

Elizabeth said, “And when you find him, Jamie, then what?”

“I’ll think of something.” Quinn paused. “How about George Todd? You ever think about him?”

“I think about that night, but not him so much anymore. I think about my children and wonder how they are doing.”

“And if you had George Todd under your heel…?”

“I’ll see what I can do about finding Elliott Walker. Check with me tomorrow night. I may have something.”

Quinn went back to the inn and the next day again walked the streets and reported to the convent.

“I got the word out for her,” Elizabeth told him. “Find the ostler at Walker’s stables behind the quarters around midnight. Leave your horse outside the gate and walk to the stables. Tell the man you are looking for a nurse, and he’ll tell you where to go and when. Be patient, Jamie.”

When Quinn showed up at the stables the old black man brought him up the ladder to the loft. The skinny black woman was sitting on a milking stool, leaning over with her elbows on her knees. “Mammy, here he is. Sister’s man is here to talk with you.”

The woman sat straight. “You see mah boy? He ‘live now?” She held out her hands and clasped them. “Oh, bress you, Massa! Bress you!”

Quinn sat at her feet and related what he knew of her son’s plight—how he saw his wife and child on the auction block, how he was struck down and taken captive in Kentucky, and how he was rescued. “He is safe now, staying with Sister at the convent. He would like to see you, but he says it isn’t safe yet. He wants to find Jeffery Walker and his son. I’ve promised to help him, and he told me that you might know how I might find Elliott Walker.”

“Kin you tak me ta see im? I kin cunfert him, I know. I kin go at night outa de quatahs an fine im.”

“He believes you know the best ways to find the Walkers. He wants to find where his family was sold to. He wants his wife and child back.”

“If dey be sole sout, dere be no fin’en dem. I kin ax roun bout where dey go, an I ax bout de Massas, too. You kin fine em out when dey go way fum de big house. I tink, doh, you fine mah Punkinseed an wait, an dey show up. Dey bof be crazy fo her.”

“Who is Punkinseed?”

“She be mah own leely gal I ray be mah chile, doh she cum fum de big house. She be de one Massa Elliott an mah boy kotched an brung back, but I doan know where she be now.”

“Why do the Walkers think she’s so important?”

“She only a slabe, you be tinkin, but you know she be part ob de fambly. She come fum de big house. I done work dere fo de Mistus, fo she birt any chillun, an I be dere when de fust one come. Dat be Massa Elliott. He be a good lil chile but raise up ta be a rapscal boy. I serve de massa, too, Massa Jeffery, in de big house, an I knowed dat he be wit de slabe gal Janie regular in dat house, and de Mistus tho-in fits bout it, but nutin she be doin bout it cept pestify Janie, an she cain’t hep it. Dat po white woman, an dat po gal. She be Massa Jeffery chile, too, an dat da troot. Oh, lawd! What de slabe know dat de mistus doan know. Po Janie be de da’autah outa anotter slabe gal he sen way. Dat gal be name Margirt. An lil Janie git nused by de mammy.

When Janie grow up and she git wit de chile, Mistus sen her outa de house an doan wanna see her no mo, so Massa put her in de quartah wit me ta tak kir uv an hep birt de baby. Dat baby a gal, an Massa say dis here be you da’autuh, an dat de trut. An Janie she nuss da chile, an when her finement be up, Massa sen Janie to de big house to wuk in de kitchen.

An den, when Janie lil gal be jes one ye-ah, de Mistus she be wit chile, an wen de time come, Massa call me ta come hep wit de birt’in, an he be dere, too. An oh, law, she moan an conplain when de time be nigh’um ta lib’bah de chile hout’uh her. She be cratchin de cheets an pray’un ta Gawd an she be racktified tur’rble. De chile come, an Massa gab it fum me an hole him up’n da feet an holla. He be vex n vile wuds tuh de mistus an shake her, an he say he kill her she doan talk. Den Massa tole me tek de chile ta de quatahs an tie up’n mah mouf bout dis niggah chile dat come out de Mistus an say no mo. No mo!

Nex day de people be wailin an moanful cause de Mistus be de’t birtin, and de chile be de’t, too. I keepa de lil un an git a mammy to nuss im an tell all de slabe he be lef wit me an doan know who brung him. He stay wit me lak mah own, an de Massa he say nutin. Now I gots a cole black boy what gro hell’ty strong jes watchin him, an de tit’tuh jes a leely punkinseed. I gibe dem bof mah name and raybe mah chillun, an I wuk in de big house an tak kir a dem an dey do play wit Massa Elliott when he wan to.

Attuh de time an dey all git gro an Massa sen mah boy to de feel an Massa Elliott to lan’an, an he be comin’ roun tellin mah Punkinseed dis an dat an see de thins he lak ta do wit de letta and de book, and dey bof doin tins t’get’er. Massa Jeffery one day fine dem an lick her an beat de tar outa de boy an lock mah Punkinseed in de room. Nex day Massa Elliott be away an Punkin be sen to da feel and dat be dat.

An dat be dat fer a wile. When Massa Elliott come home at’tuh fie ye-ah, he be tall wit de hair ta be shabe, an he be axin bout mah Punkinseed an come’n see her when she come in. She be joyful an he be la’gin’ an swonguh wit de sweetmout’ talk an she be eye’in wit um an dey go.

Mah black boy now be de time wukin de feel an huntin de runawayers, an dat be de time he git put in wit de gals. He ax Massa Jeffery if’n one uv dem gal kin be his lawfully lady and dat Massa Jeffery say OK. Massa Elliott wuk in de day wit de slabe an com time at night an be wit mah Punkin. An she be wukin de feel in de day, an night Massa Elliott hep her wit de wuds she rite. She sen de wuds ta de locus pastuh at de chuch, an soon de day come an Massa Jeffery come an sen her way cause de greeb she gib him wit’ de trybunul, an he lox her up. Den de bolitionis men dey come wit de constubble an say let de gal outa dere, an Massa he be vex an cussin, say dis gal be de Walka niggah an blonx ta de Walka fo’evah, an he strike de man, and de tree men hole Massa down an free de gal an dey go.

Massa sen de lawyah ta de jail ta lease Punkin, an de bolitinis men say dey let her go. She be gone, dey say. Massa tell Massa Elliot ta git on de hoss wit Hawk an mah boy an fine her an not be back wit’out her an dey go. Dey tak de time but dey brung mah Punkinseed home, an dis time Massa Jeffery hide Punkin way an tell no’un.

“Mammy. I need to find Master Elliott. And your son wants Master Jeffery.”

“You fine Punkinseed, you fine Massa Elliott. He come roun. You look fo mah Punkinseed. You leabe me now an come back in tree day at night here an we go see mah boy. Den you know.”

Quinn reported to the convent grate and was led back to Elizabeth’s room. He sat and told her Mammy’s story and of the woman’s promise to find a way to deliver up Elliott Walker. “She wants to see her son. I’ve promised to bring her here.”

Elizabeth went to the cupboard and took out a bottle of brandy and two glasses and brought them to the table, sat, and poured. She handed a glass to Quinn.

“I know the Walkers, and they are two very bad men. Nothing you’ve told me surprises me.” She took her glass and drank. “I could tell you stories, I could tell that suffering black man in the tool shed stories, that would justify any terrible thing that you might do to them. The ostler you saw last night? And Jeffery Walker’s butler? They both report to me.” She put her glass on the table and went to the cupboard and brought out a leather folder and waved it. “This is a portion of the file that Will Brown, the man I report to, has on the Walkers. It has enough evidence in it to hang them both for treason, and if there is justice in the world, they will. But when it happens, if it happens, it will be when this war is over and not before.”

She put the folder on the table and sat. “Jamie, I’ve told you about how I came to be here. When I first arrived, I went about my work as a woman from one of the aid societies caring for the sick and the wounded and the imprisoned. I did it to get information. I wanted to be important, and now I am. I don’t have to work to get information anymore. Men come to me and tell me things they believe will help their cause, and sometimes the same men come and tell me things just because I’m a woman, a woman who cannot do anything.

Confederate prisoners come to me to pass along letters with information they think will help their side win the war. And loyalist prisoners, Union men, they come, too. There are many in that prison who are there for no reason other than somebody wanted their farm or their wife. You know the term ‘habeas corpus’? They think I can get them a hearing before a judge so they can tell their story. I nod and say I will see what I can do. They keep coming to me and they pass me notes about what they hear and expect me to do something about it, and I assure them that I will. That I can. I can’t, but they keep coming to me anyway.

When I serve on the hospital side, I do what I can do to make the men feel better. Sometimes that means giving them morphine and watching them die. They think I can do something for them, too, but I can’t. I listen to them or write letters for them, but I can’t make them well. I can’t give them back a limb. I can’t cure their dysentery—all I can do is clean them up and watch them die. Not many men in that hospital walk out, you know. The morgue is upstairs. They built an extra story up there above the rotunda just for the dead and every couple nights Lawrence and his buddy carry the bodies down three flights to the wagon.

When we first met, you asked me about George Todd, and if I would kill him if I had the chance and I said I would if it would further my cause.”

“And what is your cause, Elizabeth?”

“I don’t know any more. I can’t see the end of it—the war. And killing George Todd wouldn’t help. Go ahead and kidnap the Walkers, Jamie. Blind the son and deliver up the father. But to who? Go ahead. Go ahead and do it if it satisfies something in you. And then what will you do? Leave Missouri? You think you’ll leave it all behind? Head west? Wait for it to be over? Then what?”

“I’ll find a place somewhere working for myself.”

“Then go now, Jamie. Leave. And make sure you don’t take any part of Missouri with you.”

“Elizabeth, I’ve got to finish this. And I need your help. I need another packet of morphine.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I’ll do it, Jamie, but you’re wrecking yourself. Come by after you bring Mammy to the shed and I’ll have what you need. And be careful, whatever you do.” She stood. “I’m sorry. I need to go. I’ll tell sister you’re ready.”

Two nights later Quinn brought Mammy to the tool shed and left her there with her son. Before Quinn left them alone she told him that Elliott visited the same whorehouse every Saturday afternoon. “It where mah Punkin be, you know. De slabe dat dribe her dere tole me dat. Massa Elliott see mah Punkin eva Sat’ay. Eva Sat’ay afernoon. An den he goes to de drinkin’.”

Quinn left and padlocked the door. He waited outside, and when he heard no sound, he took the lantern to the grated door and knocked. He heard no footsteps, and he knocked again. The nun who answered was not Sister Claude. He held up the lantern.

“I would like to see Elizabeth Stiles, please. I believe she is expecting me.”

The door swung wide and Quinn turned down the lantern and walked into the hall. “If you wait here,” she said. “I will bring her to you.”

Quinn stood in the hall. The smells of supper overlaid with the faint scent of candles and incense reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in a long time and he hadn’t prayed in forever. When Elizabeth came out of the dark of the hall she was wearing a short veil tied over her forehead and back at the nape.

“Jamie. I’m sorry you had to wait. I thought you’d come later.”

He shook his head. “I couldn’t stay in there with them. Do you have time to sit and talk? Just pass the time?”

“Certainly, Jamie. Come back with me.”

He tried to lighten the mood. “Shouldn’t we wait for an escort?”

“No need. Come.” He followed her and waited until they reached her room before he commented.

“The one who answered. She’s not our little nun.”

“Very good, Quinn. Most people don’t make a distinction between one nun and another.”

“Well, our Sister is really tiny. The one who answered the door tonight…”

“Sister Ermalinde.”

“Was taller.”

“Yes. Is taller.”

“Is our little nun busy or did she lose her door job?”

“Sister Claude is no longer with us, Jamie. She left the convent this morning.”

Quinn searched for a reply and then settled on a question. “Is she OK? I mean, is that an OK thing? To pick up and leave like that? Why would she leave?”

“She didn’t share that with me. I’m sure Mother Superior knows, but why people come and go here is only between them and God. She’s fine, I’m sure.”

“And you.” Quinn reached out as if to touch her. “I don’t remember seeing you with a veil.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Well, aren’t you the observant one tonight! I was at Compline with the sisters before bedtime. Sister Ermalinde was there too. Jamie, I wear a veil at the hospital every day. And has it been so long that you’ve been to Holy Mass, Jamie, that you’ve forgotten we cover our heads in chapel?”

Jamie sighed. “No, of course I remember. But if we all can’t get a dispensation from attending Sunday Mass during a war, then I’ll wait until it’s over and then go to confession.”

“Sit, Jamie, and let’s have no more talk of sin and forgiveness.” She laughed and went to the sideboard. She brought back a tray with glasses, a decanter, and a familiar packet. “Here’s your medicine, Jamie. Now sit.” She set the tray on the table and poured the brandy and sat. “And how is your pain?”

Quinn reached back and undid the bottom string on his patch. “The socket is healed, I think.” He dropped his head and slipped the top string over and held the patch. “I don’t see it, but the patch smells OK, and it doesn’t hurt. What do you think?” He leaned toward the lamp and raised his head and looked at her.

Elizabeth had not seen his wound since his second visit with her at the hospital. That was in the daylight, she thought, as she drew in a slow breath and let it out. The light from the lamp cast cruel shadows. She had become accustomed to seeing the patch as part of him and now he seemed naked, as if one side of his face were private and meant to be covered, pink and raw still. Breathe again. Yes, it was healed. She stifled an impulse to reach over and touch it, to pull back what remained of lid that was drawn tight against the socket by the scar. She cocked her head, put her hands on her knees, and bent forward. “May I?”

Quinn nodded and she scooted forward and brought her face up next to his and breathed in again, held it, and moved back to look. She touched his left cheek with the back of her right hand and ran it down to his chin. She sat back. “No heat,” she said. “And no evidence of mortification. If you keep it clean and covered there’s no reason to be concerned. And how is your pain, Jamie?”

“I only use the morphine to sleep, and then not much, I think. More than a little gives me bad dreams and sometimes I’d rather not sleep than to sleep and dream.”

She was quiet with her hands on her knees. She looked at him.

“The packet of morphine isn’t for me, Elizabeth. It’s for Elliott Walker. And I need your help with one more thing.” He told her his plan.

“I need a buggy or a wagon. Can you get me one?”

“And a horse to pull it, I gather?” She laughed.

“Can you get me one?”

“They’re in short supply, Jamie, but I can let you use our ambulance and pony.” She read his reaction and added, “It’s the best I can do. It’s a two-wheel hack and the pony’s big enough to pull it.”

“I guess if I park it out back. Elizabeth, you know I’m going out there pretending to be a horse trader.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something, some story. No shoes for the cobbler’s children, perhaps?”

They spent the rest of the evening exchanging stories. He told of his near drowning and the rescue and how he lost his family. She told him of the deaths of her adopted children’s parents and of the baby that was left on her doorstep and of her work with the Shawnees.

It was well after midnight when Quinn went back to the tool shed. Mammy did not want to leave, but her son promised that soon this would be all over. They both would be free and they would leave Missouri and make a good life together. “Sommers way fum de riber, Mammy, where dere be no slabs an no mo massas.”

 

Quinn waited outside the whorehouse and kept an eye on Walker’s horse as he left. He followed with the hack and tied up outside the saloon. He walked in and ordered a whiskey at the bar. He drank, then advertised to the room that he had horses to sell or trade. When no one rose to the offer, he ordered a bottle of bourbon with a label on it and, muttering, took it to a table and lit a cigar. When his measure of raw whiskey was gone, he put the bottle on the chair between his legs, pulled the cork, and poured the contents of a vial into it. He put the bottle on the table and poured a measure into his glass and corked the bottle. Then he raised the glass and toasted the room. “Gentlemen! Obair sio rai na capaill dall!” Quinn looked around the room and added, “And to little men on big horses—to Generals Beauregard and Bonaparte!” He saluted the room and drank.

Elliott Walker pulled out the chair next to Quinn and turned it and sat. Walker leaned toward him.

“That kind of talk can get you in trouble, mister. Where you from?”

“Dublin,” Quinn said and grinned. “You wanna buy a horse?”

Elliott sat back and looked at him. “What are you here for? Who are you?”

“Private James Quinn, recently discharged from the Union Army and lookin’ for work.”

“And you want to sell your horse.”

“Horses. I got three. I can only ride one. Are you buyin’?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“I take it…” Quinn saluted him with his glass and drank, “that you are a man without a horse.”

Elliott Walker shook his head, stood, and walked back to his table. Quinn stuffed the cigar in his mouth and followed him with his bottle and glass. “I didn’t mean to insult you. You want a drink? I really need to sell one of my horses. Or two. Can I sit?” He held up the bottle and Walker nodded. Quinn sat.

“What do you have?”

“I got a Morgan, a Saddlebred, and a Thoroughbred. I’ll sell any two of them.”

“The Saddlebred. What color?”

Quinn remembered Tough’s description of the horse the big white man was riding that day. “I got him in a hell of a trade with a little man who talked out of the side of his mouth.” Quinn delivered it as if it were a secret. “He’s out of Virginia. Grey Eagle stock. And I got these here Duke boots in the deal.” He held up one foot.

“How big?”

“I’m a hard size to fit. I’m keepin’ the boots.”

“The horse. What does he weigh?”

“Oh, sure. Eighteen hands and about 1500 pounds. Big as a goddamn plow horse, he is.”

Elliott Walker shook his head. “I’ll drink your whiskey, sir, but I will not accept the details of your description. Perhaps what was sold to you actually is a plow horse. Do you think that is possible?”

Quinn poured from his bottle. “I hope not, or I have been taken. I did not actually weigh or measure the beast, but I do have the papers on him.”

“A stallion.”

“Of course. He got his seeds.”

“He’s 18 hands and you didn’t weigh him. Did you measure his cock?”

Quinn pulled back. Then he relaxed. “I didn’t, but I’ll let you do that free of charge if you want.” Quinn laughed. “You had me goin’ there.”

“Well, sir, if a horse trade is this evening’s entertainment, let’s get to it. Say that your grey, your tall and very fat grey, is a Saddlebred, an American Saddlebred, and that he does have his nuts and the papers match the horse, what would you say is a fair price?”

“My daddy taught me the first man to mention a price loses.”

“What in the hell are you saying, sir? That makes no sense.” Walker took a drink and shook his head. “OK, I’ll name a price. One hundred dollars.”

Quinn smiled and held up his glass in salute. “Now we’re talkin’!” He emptied his glass and poured more and the drinking and the play at bargaining began.

In the course of the bottle Quinn added a description of the Morgan, and Walker championed the Saddlebred. “Traveler’s a Saddlebred, you know, and if your horse can trace his line back to Lee’s horse, he could be worth some money.”

“Yes! That’s what I’m sayin’. Somebody who could ride him, put him out to stud maybe later. Like I said, I got his papers.”

“But you can’t sell a horse like that in a saloon. You got to get to the horse people. Take him to Kentucky. That’s real horse country. They appreciate horses in Kentucky. You said you had his papers.”

“Ah, yes, I do for sure.” Quinn poured and raised his glass. “To good horses and to the men who ride them.” Walker raised his glass and they drank.

“If you can assure me his papers are good, Mr. Quinn, I can guarantee you no less than a thousand dollars for that horse. Down in Lexington. Delivered. I could do that for you.”

“For a price.”

“I would take no money from you for my service. You see, in the horse business, it’s connections that count. It’s relationships that count. I form a relationship with you and you come to me when you have good horseflesh you want to trade. I have a stable of horses myself that is the envy of all great horse lovers in Kentucky. I breed and I trade, and I train and I ride, and I love my horses. You bring your good horseflesh to me and I see if it’s something I want to breed or to ride and if not…”Walker raised his glass and saluted Quinn. “I will help you get a fair price for your animal sommer else.”

Quinn raised his glass and they drank.

“Now to be quite candid, Mr. Quinn, I was somewhat offended by your, shall I say, ‘lack of manners’ when you came in here, and I didn’t like your toast. You should not mention Beauregard and Bonaparte in the same sentence, despite their both being French. And the other thing. That must have been in the Irish tongue. Am I right?”

“‘Obair sio rai na capaill dall.’ It’s an old Irish toast roughly translated as ‘To blind horses on treadmills.’ I throw that one out to see if there are any kinsmen within hearing. Sometimes I get a drink out of it.”

“And in this case it cost you a drink.”

“That, sir, is a small price for friendship,” Quinn said and raised his glass.

Their enthusiasm for horses and the morphine-laced whiskey worked on both men, and Quinn’s tolerance for the drug gave him legs that Walker did not have. When Walker began to sag, Quinn grabbed the bottle and called for help from the man behind the bar. “Help me, sir. It’s time to get him home.” Another patron and the barkeep loaded Walker into the back of the hack and Quinn got up in the box.

“Master Walker’s horse, sir,” the barkeep reminded.

“Oh, yes. I’m too much myself in my cups,” Quinn said. “Can you hitch him up for me? Be much obliged.”

Trailing the horse, Quinn drove back to the carriage house. He got down and led Walker’s horse into a stall. He brought the pony and the rig in, closed the double door, and lit a lantern. Then he walked to the tool shed. He pulled the padlock and threw open the door. “We’ve got our man,” he announced. “We’ve got our man! He’s in the stable and I need some help gettin’ him in here.”

The big man followed Quinn and peered over the side of the cart as Quinn held the lantern high. “Dat be him. Dat be Massa Elliott. He drunk?”

“Drunk and drugged. And I’m a little tipsy myself, so if you can help me pull him out, I’ll take one arm…”

“Naw! I git him. I lif him. He a scrawny bastud.” Quinn heard the big man chuckle. “He a lil man.” The slave grabbed Elliott Walker’s feet and pulled him to the tail gate. He put his shoulder to the man’s waist and lifted. Quinn led with the lantern and the black man carried his master into the tool shed and laid him gently on the pallet that served as the bed. Then he rolled him on his back. “He look sleep. Er dead.” He laughed again. He stood and toed the body. “You poke de eye out an den what? Den we go fine de daddy, huh?”

Quinn stood and looked at the body on the floor and a panic threatened to enter his thoughts. He walked through the door and looked back. “Yeah, sure.”

“Ya be lak de cat what caught de mouse an ain hungry, huh? Jes wait. He wake up. Den ya know what ya got.”

Quinn shook his head and held on to the doorjamb. It was the drug and the whiskey, he was sure. “You’re right. Can you watch him for a while? I’m goin’ to sleep this off and I’ll come back. You want to tie him up?”

The big man smiled and shook his head. “Naw. I be fine.”

“You want the lantern?”

“I be fine.”

Quinn closed the shed door and walked to the grated door and knocked. A nun led him to the room that he had slept in once before. He lay on the bed until he heard a knock. He sat on the side of the bed, a little dizzy. Then he stood and opened the door.

“Your boots are not outside the door, Mr. Quinn. Would you like breakfast?” It was Elizabeth.

“What time is it?”

“Lauds are just over. It’s after six.”

“Oh, no! I left him out there all night.” Quinn pulled his boots from under the bed and sat. “Oh, God! I hope he didn’t kill him.”

Elizabeth stood over him as he struggled into his boots. “Slow down, Jamie! Slow down. He’s alive. They’ve both had their breakfast. Sister Ermalinde saw to it. Now. Would you like some breakfast? Come on.” Elizabeth went to the door.

Quinn shook his head. “I can’t eat. You go ahead. I’ve got to get out to the shed. You want to come out? Maybe after breakfast?”

Elizabeth turned in the doorway. “What? You want me to come out and…and…meet him? What. Shake his hand? Say, ‘Why hello, Mr. Walker. So nice to meet you. I’ve heard such terrible things about you.’ Oh, God, Jamie! I can’t do this. I have to go to the hospital.”

“I didn’t mean that I wanted you to…”

“I have to go. Come by. Just tell Lawrence. Good-bye, Jamie.” She turned and Quinn heard her rush down the hall.

Quinn stomped down his boots and walked to the grated door.

 

 

Chapter 15

 

It seemed to Will Brown that he had just gone to bed when he heard a woman’s voice and then a knock.

“Mr. Brown. A boy’s outside here wantin’ to see you. Should I tell him to go away? I got a letter here. He says it’s important.”

Will went to the door. The innkeeper’s wife handed him an envelope and he opened it. Dear Will—I need your help and advice. Please come immediately. I am not in danger. Marjorie

Will asked the woman to send up the messenger.

“Miss Marjorie said to wait and give you the letter,” the black man said, “and I was to bring you back with me.”

The man led Will to a buggy and drove him through the dim morning light to the house. She met him on the porch and rushed him into the house and up the stairs while explaining her urgency. “Remember the girl Jeffery Walker placed with me? She was pregnant when she got here and now she’s in a bad way with the baby. I don’t know what to do, Will.”

A pale girl lay on the bed under a bloody quilt. Winnie sat at her side holding her hand. “She’s feeling better now. I gave her some laudanum and she’s sleeping. But I’m afraid for her, Mr. Brown.”

“I can’t have her die here, Will,” Marjorie said. “I can’t have her die and I don’t know what to do. She’s not mine. She’s not my problem, and if she dies, there’ll be hell to pay. Can you do something? Do something for her, Will. Oh, Will.” Marjorie folded her arms and then hugged herself.

Winnie stood and took Marjorie’s elbow. “Honey, you sit with her for a while, and Mr. Brown and I will go downstairs and talk about it. We’ll find something, Marjorie. Just sit.”

The two walked down and sat in the parlor. “What Marjorie said is true, Mr. Brown. If she dies here we are in a world of trouble, not the least being Jeffery Walker himself.”

“Have you thought of a doctor? How long has she been down?”

“Two days now. I sent for a midwife after the first day and she came and looked and said the mother was awfully small and the baby was turned and she…”

Will held up a hand and looked down. “You’re saying she couldn’t help.”

“Yes. And she said a doctor couldn’t either, short of cutting the baby out and that would be…”

Will waved his hand. “I see, I see. Then the best thing to do is to take her home, take her back to her owner. Can you get me a buggy or a wagon? And the Walker place. I have no idea where anything is in this town.”

“We’ll get her there. I’ll get Rufus to bring the buggy around if you’ll go up and tell Marjorie to bundle her up. Tell her to get a clean nightgown on her.”

Winnie went to the porch and was at the bedside before Will could finish explaining the plan to Marjorie.

“Mr. Brown, if you will go down and wait in the parlor until we’re ready to go.”

Will met the three women at the bottom of the stairs and helped Rufus lift the girl into the buggy. The black man helped Winnie into the coach and Will walked to the other side. Winnie sat next to the woman wrapped in a blanket and held her.

“Now, Marjorie,” she said, “go in and lie down and rest. We’ll be back before you know it. Take us to the Walker mansion, Rufus,” said Winnie. The black man closed her door and climbed into the box.

As they rode, Winnie expressed her gratitude for Will’s help.

“You didn’t need me, Winnie. You knew what you had to do.”

“I’m sorry to have brought you here, Mr. Brown. Marjorie thought that you would be able…”

“No, no. That’s not what I meant. I’m happy to help. It’s just that you’re intelligent and strong and totally capable of taking care of things.”

“I’m pretty good for a negress. I handle myself pretty well. Is that what you mean?”

“No, that’s not it, not it at all. What I mean is that you could have done this.”

“No, Mr. Brown. Can you imagine Rufus and me taking a dying white girl to the Walker mansion in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning? You make us legitimate. No one will stop us because you are here.”

 

 

Chapter 16

 

In the dim morning light Quinn saw the black man leaning against the bench across from the door and the white man sitting on the floor to the left with his knees up and his head down.

“Ah din wan ta star witchout you,” he said. “Whachu wanna do?”

 

The little white man stood, knees bent, with his palms against the wall. “You goddamn sonofabitch! You let me outa here.” He took a step. “You’re gonna die, you know that? Do you know who I am? Do you?” He took three steps and was in Quinn’s face.

Quinn put his palm on the man’s chest and walked him back. “Yes, I do. Do you know me?” He pointed to his patch. “You’re the man who took my eye.”

“I don’t know you, and I didn’t do nothin’ to you. You’re crazy.”

“My name’s James Quinn.” Quinn pushed him. “You shot my mule.” Quinn pushed him again. “You shot me in the face in front of the Lewis Landing Hotel. Now you know me.” Quinn pushed again, pinning Walker against the wall.

The man swiped Quinn’s hand away and made a move to the door. The slave was in front of it before he took a second step. Quinn threw a forearm around his neck from the rear, swung him around, and bulldogged him to the floor. Then he sat on his back and pushed his head against the floor. “My name’s James Quinn. You shot my friend on the steps of his hotel and set fire to it lookin’ for a runaway slave. Do you remember me now?”

Quinn rose and stood astride the man. “Sit up.”

The man turned over and skittered back against the wall and looked up. “I remember. I remember. I’m sorry about your eye. It was just automatic, you understand? You came at me and your friend put his rifle on me. If I didn’t get him Hawk woulda. We stopped by earlier lookin’ for her. We said we were comin’ back and we did. He had the girl.”

“The girl. Did you get her?”

“Yeah, we got her. We still got her.” He pushed himself standing against the wall. “I can’t fix what happened, mister, but I can get her for you, if you want her. If that would help make things right.”

Quinn walked over to the bench and boosted himself up and sat.

“And I can get you some other things,” the white man said. “What can you use?”

“My friend here wants his wife and daughter back.”

“Aw, Jesus Christ! He’s a nigger. The woman and the girl don’t belong to him. She’s ours.”

“And you own him, too. Just the same, he wants them back.”

“He knows I can’t do that. They’re gone. I can give him his papers and some money and send him south. Maybe he can find them, but I can’t.”

“Give him his papers? You think a black man with papers can do what you can’t do? You could, but you won’t. How about your daddy? You think your daddy could find them?”

“Yes. Maybe. I don’t know if he would.”

Quinn paused. He repeated the man’s words and added, “If it were a matter of life and death, you think?”

“Aw, Jesus!” The man sank to the floor. “I’m a dead man!”

From the door the black man growled, “He right. Evabody know Massa Jeffery nebah gibe up no ting ta no body. Dey gone. I know dat.” The black man picked up the whiskey bottle from the workbench. “Dis be in de wagon.” He waved it at Quinn and turned to Walker. “Massa Elliott, you bes be drinkin’ some mo a dis.” He extended the bottle to the man on the floor. Walker waved it away.

“Mista Quinn, dere be a dubbatree in de stable ta git fo me, an de roll a de tallygrab wi’ah dere, too. Tote back dat, an den hitch up de pony an we go fine daddy.” He looked at Quinn and nodded. “I git dis boy likker up an we tak ‘im home.”

Quinn walked back to the stable. The pony had been brushed and fed and tied in a stall. The ambulance had been backed into a second stall, and Walker’s horse was tied, bridled and saddled, in a third. He found the doubletree and the wire in the tack room and brought them back to the shed. Walker was sitting on the floor against the wall and the black man was standing over him with the bottle.

He waved at Quinn. “Obah dere on de bench, be good.” He turned back to the man on the floor. “Massa Quinn git us ready fo a ride, Massa Elliott, so you hab some mo a dis.” He set the bottle between the man’s legs.

Quinn laid the doubletree on the bench and dropped the wire on the floor and left.

He dressed the pony and hooked up the rig and pulled it out into the alley. Then he led Elliott Walker’s horse out and tied it to a wheel of the hack.

Quinn opened the door to the shed and nearly stumbled over the black man, who was sitting on the floor inside the door. His clothes were bloody and he looked up. “We be ready now.”

Elliott Walker was propped up against the opposite wall. He was blood-soaked and his head hung to his chest. His arms were spread wide across the wooden strut and his legs and torso were wired to a board.

The black man stood. “We be ready now.” He held out a bloody knife. “He not dead. You go bline ‘im now an we tak ‘im ta daddy an we see whut de daddy do, huh.” The slave smiled and raised the knife toward Quinn. Quinn shook his head.

“No mo playin wit de mouse, Mista Quinn.”

Quinn shook his head again.

“Doan matta. Massa Elliott no lib to see his chillun. I tuk his seeds. I lebe his gun an tuk da bullets.” The black man laughed. He wiped the knife on his pants and stuck it in his waistband. “Me an Massa Elliott, we be ready, Mista Quinn.”

Quinn walked to the ambulance and didn’t look back. He sat in the box and gathered the reins and waited for the black man to load the body and tie the horse to the tailgate. The slave stepped up and sat next to Quinn. “We be goin now. Les go ta daddy. Les go home.”

The slave directed him and Quinn was quiet. He drove the cart through the open gates and up the circle drive and stopped. “You not be needin ta come wit me, Mista Quinn. I be doin dis mysef.”

Quinn looked at him and nodded.

The black man swung down from the bench and tied Elliott Walker’s horse to the wheel. Quinn looked back as he pulled the man out of the ambulance and propped him up against the other wheel and went back to tie the horse to the tailgate. He circled the rig and put his hands on the bench and looked up. “I go now, Mistah Quinn.”

He turned and put his shoulder under the little man’s arm and lifted. As the big man walked up the steps with his load, Quinn turned the rig around and drove down to the gate, where he met a buggy coming through to deliver another child to the Walker mansion.

 

 

Chapter 17

 

Quinn rattled the hospital door and waited, then rattled again. When Lawrence opened it he asked to see Elizabeth. The old soldier looked down at the steps. “Sorry, Mr. Quinn. She says she’s busy.” He looked up. “Is there something I can do for you? Give her a message?”

Quinn shook his head. “You’re a good soldier, Lawrence. I hope you never see battle. Just tell Mrs. Stiles that the ambulance is waiting.”

Lawrence stepped out and looked at the rig. “You stay safe, Mr. Quinn.” He brought his hand up in salute.

Quinn gave a short wave. “You, too, Lawrence.” He walked down, untied Walker’s horse, and rode off.

Back at the inn Quinn gathered his baggage and his guns and tied them to Walker’s saddle. Mounting his horse, he pulled on the lead and trailed the horse away from the river.

Quinn rode to Rolla and took a room at the inn. Next morning he rode to Fort Dette. He trailed Elliott Walker’s horse up the berm and down into the old fort and saw what could have been the same two men working their shovels along one side of the camp. “Is Anthony around this morning?”

The men looked up. “No, suh,” both said in unison.

“Do you know where I can find him?”

“Yes, suh,” one said. “He ovah at de new fort. He work dere now.”

“Does he come back at night? After work?”

“No, suh. He not be back.”

Quinn got off his horse, shucked his glove, and held his hand out. “I’m Jamie Quinn.” He shook their hands and the men said nothing. “I’d like to leave some things for him.”

He handed his horse to one of the men and Walker’s horse to the other. Quinn stripped his packs and weapons from Walker’s horse and loaded them onto his gray. He left one bag.

“When he comes back tell him the buckrah found his little white man and that this is his horse. The gentleman’s clothes in the bag are mine and tell him I hope they fit.”

“Yes, suh,” the two men said.

Quinn swung into the saddle and rode up the berm and down into Rolla and then north toward the river.

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to all the Quinns, Smiths, and Slaters. Special thanks, again, to Dave Slater and Susan Cooper for their criticism and their encouragement. I appreciate you both.

 

 

Quinn’s War is a sequel to River Crossing, which finds Jamie Quinn being dumped into the Missour River the night of his daughter’s wedding. A third novel in the series, Finding Michante takes Quinn into Nebraska Territory in seach of his son. River Crossing, Quinn’s War, and Finding Michante are available on Amazon and Shakespir.

 

 

 


Quinn's War

Jamie Quinn is shot and left for dead by three men hunting an escaped slave. After being nursed back to health by a squaw on the Otoe Reservation, he crosses the state of Missouri and finds himself riding first with Jennison’s Jayhawkers and then with Bolin’s bushwackers. He saves one of the men he has been chasing from being sold downriver and, with the help of a female Union spy, brings down a corrupt plantation owner. The story is set against the chaos of Missouri—one of the border states that refused to commit to either side during the Civil War. It traces Quinn’s odyssey from Kansas City to St.Louis and examines the devastating effects the war had on its citizens: The bonds and boundaries of trust in the social order are gone. Families and communities are destroyed; revenge and retaliation replace the rule of law; graft and corruption becomes its currency. Nothing is what it seems and the moral universe is in turmoil. Guerrillas ride roughshod across the landscape wearing any uniform that suits them. A black slave hunts a white runaway. Union soldiers capture fugitive slaves and their commanding officer trades them for horses. Union generals trade contraband with plantation owners to buy arms in Mexico. It is the women in Quinn’s war who make a difference. There are the Oto battlefield nurse who heals him, the teacher who becomes a spy after her husband is executed in front of his family, the two prostitutes, one a white fugitive and the other a black runaway, who form their own relationship and work to protect each other.

  • Author: Joe B. Slater
  • Published: 2017-03-31 22:35:15
  • Words: 90360
Quinn's War Quinn's War