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The Civil War Years - One Writer's Reboot
Written by Edward P

Chapter 3 

    The painful throb of his left hand, his bruised body and the sound of water lapped by an animal caused McCain to come to. His straightened himself up and focusing his eyes he saw before him a wall, its construction board and bat. Feeling a saddle under him he saw the neck of his horse, its head down drinking from a trough. Morning scatters of light were giving away to direct sun as it was rising over the hills. Disheveled, McCain dismounted and looking at the building saw it was a stable. He eased his injured hand into the tough, looking for any comfort.  Seeing a side door, he took the horse inside. There were a few other horses there. Taking the saddle off and leading it to a stall he hoped to give the steed some rest and to blend in, should anyone come and react before he had a chance to take action. Running his good hand over the animal, he checked for any wounds or injuries but could only find sweat and pieces of dried mud caked on its legs. He then took some hay and divided it, some nourishment for the horse, and a place off the ground for him to rest. 

    “I have got to try and stay awake” he said to himself as he sat down and ease back on a post. Cradling his left arm and trying to favor other sore and injured places, he played back the recent hours over in his mind, wondered where he was, and if his cohorts made it back. But soon he was asleep. 

*    *    * 

    A streak of yellow light briefly pierced the darkened stables as a door opened and shut. Feet walking on hay straw broke the silence. Moments later an abundance of daylight filled the stables as larger doors were opened on the other side of the structure. McCain came to, groggy and befuddled. Then a jolt from the pain in his hand enlightened him, reminding him of his circumstances. His reaction alerted the new occupant. 

    “Who’s there? Show yourself before I start using this gun.” 

    He did not know if the man was friend or foe, where his sympathies lay in this war, but McCain had no choice. He could only hope for mercy. 

    “Don’t shoot. I am no threat and I mean no harm.” 

    He made his way from the stall, hands raised. Approaching the man, McCain studied his reaction and hoped he may be a sympathizer and provide some aid. 

    “Mister, I need help. My hand is burned and broken and I don’t know what else; I need a doctor.” 

    The man looked him over, seeing a broken and bloodied young man, a representative of the past three years of conflict. 

    “Doc’s off helping with the war effort, which I see would include you. Anybody else with those capabilities is also gone.” 

    McCain sighed in disappointment and discomfort. “How far from Chattanooga? I’ve got to get back to my regiment.” 

    “Almost an hour, but you’re in no shape to make that. Let me have a look at you. I run this stable, blacksmith mostly, but I’ve done my share helping bruises and breaks, mostly on animals.” 

    Leading McCain, he took him over to some hay bales and sat him down.  Checking the injuries, he went to a cupboard. 

    “I’ve got some bandages and salve that I can use. All else I got is horse liniment, but it’ll do in a pinch.” Carefully rubbing the oily substance over his hand he saw that McCain’s index finger and two middle fingers were swollen blue. The blacksmith grasped the digits; McCain let out a short yell and yanked his hand back. 

    “Sorry” the smith responded. “We’re going to have to tend to that.” Getting some small pieces of wood and breaking them to size, the blacksmith placed them on top and bottom of the broken fingers, wrapping them as splints. He rubbed more salve on the blistering hand and poured some liniment on strips of bandages and wrapped the wet bandages around the hand, one at a time. 

    “I suspect you have something to do with that explosion I heard in the distance last night?” he asked. 

    McCain did not respond, only stayed quiet. 

    “Hmm..well anyhow, that is some damage you have there. I’d like to see the person or thing you came up against.” 

    “Ah dammit!” came McCain’s frustrated reaction upon further remembrance. “The rifle. The rifle is ruined. God have mercy, my situation is all the more worse.” 

    McCain forced himself up and lurched started toward his saddle and gear. But the blacksmith overtook him. him. 

    “Easy, I can get that.” Pulling the rifle out the blacksmith shook his head as he saw the damage. The lever was broke, the corner of the stock was chipped and there were scuffs and scratches over it. “Is this what broke your hand? This your rifle?” 

    McCain nodded his head. “Yeah” 

    “Say, this here is one of those Spencer Repeaters. You one of those Lightening Brigade boys?” There was a mild air of awe in the blacksmith’s tone. 

    McCain paused then nodded. “Yes, yes I am.” I’ll be whatever you want me to be, just get me help,” he thought to himself. 

    “Well you take it easy. You say you might have something else broken?” 

    McCain shook head. “My ribs are sore and my shoulder.” 

    The blacksmith felt around his shoulders and torso working his fingers into the ribcage. McCain recoiled and let out a slight yell. 

    “Looks like you’re just all bruised up, I don’t see that you broke anything else.” 

    After giving him some water and fixing a rest area for him, the blacksmith allowed his intruder more respite. Soon the soldier was dozing off. Picking up the rifle, the blacksmith studied it and looking at its owner, was inspired to try and remedy the problem. Rummaging around some scrap metal he came upon a broken saw; a medical tool probably used by some sawbone. It was an item found by some scavengers, one of many items left on or around an empty recent battlefield. He like the way the back bar curved in the front, down to the bottom where the blade would be. 

    “Should work well for this” he thought to himself. Getting industrious, he worked the bellows to stoke up the embers, adding more wood and coal, getting the forge ready to subjugate metal. 

*    *    * 

    The noon sun had passed. An afternoon breeze was finding its way around the stables. The air on his face and the noise in his ears and the throbbing in his hand all brought McCain out of his slumber. The blacksmith was pounding away on a horseshoe. McCain winced in pain and mustered himself to approach his host. 

    “I’ve got to get back to my unit,” he said. “They are going to think I’m dead or a deserter.” 

    “You had a good rest and fair care on your wounds. The best you’re gonna get at this time, in these parts. You alright to ride?” 

    McCain nodded. “Yes, I’m sure.. I’ll be fine….thanks.” 

    “Your horse is rested too, and fed well. And you must be starving. I brought some provisions from the house. You’ll need to eat and get your strength up.” 

    McCain could not turn down the man’s hospitality. He was hungry. Sitting down on a bench by a plate of food and utensils, he picked up a slice of apple and ate. Then taking the fork in his right hand, he shoved some beans into his mouth. 

    “I had to barter some shoe work for that squash,” the blacksmith said. My wife used to keep a nice garden but isn’t too active these days.” 

    McCain also gladly partook of the squash. It was a simple meal but more than he had eaten for a time. The city under siege with supply lines cut resulted in severe rationing. Hardtack was the staple for the soldiers. 
The blacksmith finished up his work on the shoe, waiting for McCain to get some food in him. Then he went and picked up the rifle. Holding it up, he brought it over. 

    “Seeing how your rifle wasn’t of much use, except maybe for beating someone, I took some liberty and did repair work on it. I also made some modifications.” 

    McCain focused his eyes, studying the rifle. Taking it in hand he was surprised at what he saw. He looked at the weapon incredulously and then looked up at the blacksmith. 

    “The old lever was damaged beyond repair” the blacksmith responded. I replaced it and put in this bigger one to better suit your… predicament. It’s like a large bull on trade muskets for winter gloves. Seeing how your hand is going to be under mends for some time, and under wraps. 

    McCain took the stock in his right hand, and passed his bandaged left hand thru the wide loop lever. He cocked the weapon, anticipating some pain, he grit his teeth and mustered some movement with his arm. The rifle responded stiffly with a slight jerk, the sound of a light click, followed by another jerk and louder click and a cartridge ejecting. 

    “How did you know I was a southpaw?” McCain asked. 

    The way you reached toward your gear earlier in spite of your injury and I noticed a little bit of awkwardness with you using your right hand. And when I saw the way you handled that spoon, well I was pretty sure. But that aside, that handle was the best I could come up with. You’re gonna have to use your right for some time, but in the heat of a gun battle, you’re gonna favor your left. 

     Mulling this over in his mind, McCain found it hard to challenge the man’s logic and he did not want to appear unappreciative for his efforts. He thought of Oatman’s reaction on returning the broken and modified weapon. It would not be pleasant. “Now about me getting back.” 

    “You’re by Harrison, about two miles north, up by the river. Follow the creek and it takes you to the river. A ferry crossing is there.” 

    In McCain’s fatigued state he confused the town of Harrison with his colonel for a moment but the mention of the name encouraged him. 

    “Any Confederate presence is pretty sparse,” the blacksmith continued. “Once you get across, you can work your way down along the river and cross back over to Chattanooga. Don’t wear your uniform. I’ve got some trousers of my son’s you can wear.” 

    “Your son?” 

    “He’s away -- with the Second Tennessee Cavalry Corps.” 

*   *   * 

    His physical progress along the Tennessee landscape was undisturbed except for the painful throb that made each step of his horse a nuisance. Inside him, McCain’s spirit was troubled. Mentally he kept going over his situation. He was deeply disappointed at the turn of events with the raid. His disappointed turned to resentment and his resentment to anger. 

    “I try to take a step in a new direction and I get knocked back three. This was a chance for me and it went all to hell. And I had a good situation as it was. In fact, McCain, you had a legacy to fulfill, passed on by your father and your grandfather. Maybe you should’ve accepted your function as a sharpshooter with a little more grace. Now look at yourself. No good to anybody. And it’s not all about you McCain. You had others relying on your leadership. What’s happened to them?” 

    The thoughts looped in his mind throughout the day and each mile brought more despair and self-doubt. It was evening when he finally arrived in Chattanooga. He pushed his troubled thoughts aside. He had other ones to occupy his mind and debated whether he should see the doctor or report in first. Word spread quickly on his return. 

    “McCain, thunder, you made it”. It was Rees exclaiming his relief.

    McCain nodded. “Monroe, Dixon, they made it back also?” 

    “We’re all here, safe and sound. Dixon’s wound was nothing serious. I guess the blade hit him just right.” 

    “Good. Guess I need to report in.” 

    McCain staked his horse, left the rifle sheathed in the saddle and knocked and peered into the colonel’s tent. Aid Miller and Colonel Stoddard were both there. 

    “Excuse me Colonel,” he said as he cleared his throat. 

    “McCain, you made it,” exclaimed the colonel. “Come in. Are you alright? We were all worried about you.” 

    “Well, sir, it’s good to be back here alive, but I did sustain some injury” As he entered the tent they could see his bandaged hand. 

    “Your hand, how bad is it?” And are there any other injuries?” 

    “It is broken…and burned sir. But I think the burns are not too serious. I still have my fingers, fingernails for that matter. And my ribs got a good beating.” 

    “You found some aid, I see.” 

    “Yes sir, a blacksmith. I was hold up in his stables.” 

    “I see. Any port in a storm I suppose.” 

    “I’m very disappointed we couldn’t bring all the cache back, sir. At least the johnnies didn’t get it. We made sure of that.” 

    “Yes, judging by what was on the handcar, it was some pretty good powder.  Well, you’d better go have the doctor look at you.” 

    “Yes sir, I’ll do that. He turned on his heel, and then remembered. “Sir, here is your watch.“ Pulling his right hand from a far pocket he clasped the timepiece, now with a broken lid and broken crystal and gave it to the colonel. “Also, my horse, where does the horse go?” he asked. 

    “You can take him over by the battalion tent. There are several staked there. But go see the doctor first.” 

    Leaving the colonel’s quarters, McCain went to the hospital in the city proper; Doctor Krieg was just finishing evening rounds. In examining his hand the doctor determined that in addition to his fingers, three bones down in the palm including the metacarpal of the thumb were broken. He commended the aid that was done, especially under the circumstances. 
“You have second degree burns, he said on that part of his injury. “They’re going to need some air, but we’ll concentrate on keeping everything clean for now and shoring up for the bones to net properly.”  He cleaned over the blisters and cuts, reset the two fingers, used better splints, changed the dressing and bandaged his palm. He also put the arm in a sling. The patient felt better and a little worse at the same time. 

    Then the doctor got out a hypodermic needle. “I’m going to give you a shot for the pain and to help you sleep. This is an opiate named for the Greek god Morpheus, the god of sleep. McCain would normally be uneasy at the sight of the needle but now welcomed any aid that would ease his pain.  “That’s about all I can do for now. We will need to keep that dressing clean." 

    McCain left the hospital, night had come and the long day was over. He was ready to put this one behind him. Stopping by his tent, he gathered his gear then returned the horse. Slumping back into his tent, he was soon asleep.
 


Chapter 4

The Civil War Years - One Writer's Reboot

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!

 

 

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