The Writer's Corner
Chapter 17 - On Being A Soldier
Written by Michelle Palmer
He traveled with a heavy heart that morning. Leaving Margaret
was the hardest thing he ever had to do. He could still hear her
voice echoing in his mind. He could feel her kiss on his lips.
He wanted so badly to stay and marry her, but he had a job to
Mid-morning, Lucas tied his horse to a hitching post outside the
town of Silver Creek and made his way to the telegraph office.
“I need to send a telegram right away.” Lucas took the form and
To: Captain Tom Benton
United States Calvary
I am on my way back. I have been restored and am ready to accept
the challenge you sat before me. Will await your return telegram
as to your exact location. I am in Silver Creek, Oklahoma. Lucas
“I’ll be at the saloon,” he told the telegrapher after paying
him. Lucas stepped out onto the boardwalk and took out a cigar.
Putting it to his lips, he lit it then started across the
Lucas stepped up to the bar. “Whisky,” he ordered as he threw
his coin down on the counter. The bartender, a rather skinny
man, put the glass before him and filled it with whisky. Lucas
drank it down fast.
“You’re new around here,” the bartender commented without
looking up as he re-filled Lucas’ glass.
“Just passing through,” Lucas answered gruffly. “Don’t talk to
“I see. Where ya headed?” The bartender asked as he leaned on
“The war’s pretty bad over there. You might ride right into it.”
Lucas took another shot of whisky and drank it down fast. “I
might at that.” He dropped the money on the counter then turned
and walked away.
Lucas shifted the rifle in his left hand a bit as he walked
toward the door. He looked up to see a man standing there with
his fingers laced through his gun belt. “Well, hello there, Mr.
Long John’s!” the man declared as he eyed Lucas from head to
toe. “You’re a bit young to be in a place like this, ain’t ya?”
“Mister, I don’t want any trouble!” Lucas declared. “I’m just
“Well now…” The man crossed his arms and spread out his legs.
“It looks like you found trouble, Mister. If ya didn’t want
trouble, ya should’ve left your TOY outside!”
“Like I said,” Lucas stated as he clinched his jaw. “I don’t
want any trouble.”
The man lifted his chin in the air and stared at Lucas through
the bottom of his eyes. “Where ya from?”
“None of your business!” Lucas answered gruffly. He tried to
push past him. “Now I gotta be…”
The man reached out and put a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “Take
your hand off me NOW!” Lucas demanded through clinched teeth.
The stranger just peered down, smiling at him. “Take your hand
off or I’ll take it off for ya!”
“Ohhhhh….” The man turned and looked at the men sitting in the
saloon. “I am REALLY shaking!”
Lucas clinched his fist. The man continued to mock him. Lucas
reared back and gave the man a hard punch. The man fell to the
floor. He groaned as he held his bloody nose. “Thanks for the
welcome,” Lucas grumbled as he turned and walked out of the
Lucas started back across the street. “Hey, Long Johns!” Lucas
froze at the sound of the man’s voice. “Why don’t ya just turn
around and fight like a man instead of like a boy?”
Lucas slowly turned around. “Look, Mister…We’re in the middle of
a bloody war – one I am on my way to continue fighting in and I
don’t cotton much to killing a man in the middle of a street in
a small town.” Lucas nodded slightly. “So if you’ll excuse me…”
“Well that’s too bad!” The man shouted as Lucas started to turn
away. “Because you got that a little wrong…You ain’t gonn kill
me. I’m gonna kill you!”
“Oh?” Lucas turned and clinched his jaw again. “What makes you
so sure I ain’t a good shot?”
“You’re all talk!” the stranger shouted. “’Cause Jimmy knows a
gunfighter when he sees one…and you ain’t no gunfighter!”
Lucas watched as the man’s hand started slowly moving toward his
gun. Lucas knew that he may very well have to kill his second
man in mere seconds, except this one didn’t have death in his
eyes. Lucas cocked his rifle. “Look Mister, I done told ya
The man put his hand on his gun. Lucas watched his hand the
entire time and saw the instant the man lifted it from the
holster. Lucas lifted the rifle and fired. The man fell to the
ground. His gun lay beside him. Lucas felt sick to his stomach
and ran to a nearby alley to relieve himself. When he came out,
he saw some men carrying the body down the street. Another man,
with a star pinned to his shirt, turned and walked over to
Lucas. “What’s your name, boy?”
“Luke…Lucas McCain,” Lucas answered. “And stop calling me boy.
I’m a man.”
“This the first man you killed?”
Lucas narrowed his eyes at the sheriff. “No.”
“Well…there were plenty of witnesses. Your shooting was
Lucas shot his head up and glared at the sheriff. “Justified?
Justified for whom? I didn’t WANT to pull that trigger, but I
didn’t want to die either!”
“You did some mighty fine shooting with that rifle. Mighty fine
shooting,” the Sheriff declared.
“You mean…” Lucas pointed a finger at him. “Are you telling me
you watched the shooting?”
“Why didn’t you try to stop it?” Lucas asked.
“Mister…” The Sheriff crossed his arms across his chest. “When I
see an opportunity to get rid of a thorn bush, I don’t try to
stop someone from pruning it.”
“I see. So you’re a coward.” Lucas started down the street
toward his horse. “You’re such a coward that you would allow a
man to die and another man to kill him. Lucas stopped and turned
to look at the Sheriff. “Men like you make my skin crawl!”
“Now look, Mister…”
“Sheriff Adams!” The man from the telegraph office hurried down
the street with a telegram in his hands. “You want to know who
you’re talking to? You’re talking to Lieutenant Lucas McCain of
the 13th Indiana Calvary.”
“Oh?” The Sheriff took the telegram from the man and read it.
“Well…LIEUTENANT…” He handed Lucas the telegram. “Looks like you
are expected in Virginia. You got a long ride.”
“Yeah.” Lucas stuffed the telegram in his pocket. “Don’t expect
I’ll be stopping in your town again.” Lucas put a foot in the
stirrup as he said, “Didn’t much care for the welcome.” He
tipped his hat to the Sheriff then rode down the road.
Johnny Drako smiled as he looked down at his cards. “Well
now…you’ve been sitting there looking at those cards for ten
minutes now,” He told Private Hayes. “I hate to tell ya this,
but they ain’t gonna change. So what are ya gonna do?”
Private Hayes studied his cards again and looked at Johnny.
“Well, I’ll tell ya what I’m gonna do.” He threw two more
pennies into the pile of coins already on the table. “I’m gonna
see you and raise ya to…” he turned to make sure Captain Benton
wasn’t around. But he paused when he saw Captain Benton coming.
“Well now…” Captain Benton put his hands on his hips. “Peers to
me that we have some gambling going on.” He raised his eyebrows
at his men. “As I recall, gambling is strictly forbidden in my
“Only pennies, sir,” Johnny declared.
“Mm hm.” Captain Benton nodded. “Men, I have an announcement to
make! Those of you who were with us at Gettysburg probably
remember Sergeant Lucas McCain. Well, he had some…uh…trouble and
had to leave us for a spell. Seems he’s fully recovered and on
his way back to us.”
“Luke’s coming back?” Johnny smiled as he stood up. “You mean
he’s all better?”
“Well, I’ll know that once he’s back, but right now it appears
so. I took liberties to promote him to Lieutenant while he was
gone. So when he’s back, you new recruits will be trained by
McCain to fight.” Captain Benton patted his pocket. “I think
I’ll go into town and meet him. He sent me a telegram yesterday.
He should be here tomorrow.”
Captain Benton was so proud. There was something he really liked
about Lucas. “Can I accompany you, sir?” Johnny asked as he
stood up. “After all, McCain and I have always been good
Captain Benton nodded his head. “Alright. We’ll leave first
Lucas kicked dirt on the fire to put it out. He had been riding
hard for the past week, and was happy he’d soon be joining up
with his regiment again. He didn’t much want to rejoin the war,
but he wanted the war over. His fighting meant a lot to Margaret
and he would fight to stay alive for her.
Lucas mounted his horse and headed on the last leg of his
But after riding for only a few hours, he saw smoke rising in
the East. “Whoa!” he called to his horse. He shaded his eyes and
looked down to see a smoldering house. He heeled his horse
gently and started down the hill. When he got there, he found a
man holding a baby in his arms. The man’s eyes were streaked
with dirt and tears. Lucas bent down in front of the man. “Sir?”
The man lifted his eyes and stared into Lucas’ “Sir…What…what
The baby started crying in his arms. “There were three of them.”
The man swallowed. “They held guns on me and ordered me to give
them food. I…I…I only had enough for my family for one more
meal. I begged them…not to…” The man swallowed. “They…they were
desperate! They…they shot at my house and a fire started…I got
my baby out, but nobody else…” The man began sobbing as he
lowered his head.
“Who, sir?” Lucas asked. “Who did this?”
“Rebels.” The man swallowed hard as he tried to speak. “They
were rebel soldiers.” He drew the baby against him. “What do I
do now? Oh, what do I do now?”
Lucas slowly stood up. He felt anger fill his entire being. “How
long ago?” Lucas asked. “How long ago did they do this?”
“They left an hour ago. Rode like the devil…That way.” The man
pointed over his shoulder.
Lucas bent down and helped the man to his feet. “I’ll take you
“No. No, you go on. Leave us be.”
“I can’t do that!” Lucas bent over and looked into the man’s
grieving eyes. “I’ll send somebody back to bury your wife and
children. Your baby…needs food and a…a woman. Please…Please, let
me take you into town.”
Lucas’ heart was breaking for this man. He could feel anger
burning inside him. This was a senseless war that had no rules
or morals. No longer did soldiers follow the “ethical” rules
that had been in place in other wars. No, this time soldiers on
both sides were taking it upon themselves to do whatever they
wanted to survive. Soldiers were becoming animals.
Lucas helped the man up onto his horse and handed him the baby.
Then he took the reins and led the man and his daughter into
town. His feet ached and the sun burned down on them, but he
kept moving. He wanted to kill those three men who caused this.
He wanted to kill them without giving the matter a second
As they rode onto the main street, people stopped and stared at
Lucas, who was now wearing his Sergeant’s Uniform, and the man
upon the horse with the baby who was still sobbing. The street
was soon lined with people. Lucas stopped in the middle of the
street and dropped the reins. He felt angry as the people
gawked. “What are you all staring at?” he shouted. “Isn’t this
what we wanted? Isn’t this what we’ve been asking for all this
time? For two years…it’s been brother against brother. We’ve
watched this country torn apart. So why…now…do you stare in
wonderment as you try to figure out WHY…in the name of
Heaven…something like this happened?”
Lucas carried the baby as the man stood beside his horse. He
walked up and down the crowd. “This war is man against man…but
this man lives. His wife and children were killed…killed by
Rebel Soldiers…Is that war?” Lucas growled. “Is that what we’re
fighting for? To see women and children killed because the
soldiers are starving?”
Down the road, Captain Benton and Johnny Drako turned the
corner. They heard a man shouting at the crowd that had
gathered. They saw a man holding a baby yelling at the crowd.
They knew that voice. Both men looked at each other. “Luke…”
Johnny said. They heeled their horses and hurried down the
“How much longer will this continue? How much longer must we go
on before you and your family is killed by soldiers? How much
more are we willing to take? The Rebels claim they are fighting
for States Rights. The Union claims they are fighting to free
the slaves.” Lucas shook his head. “Is killing innocent women
and children…leaving babies without a mother or father…is THAT
the way we are fighting so we can be free?”
“Lucas!” Johnny hurried forward. Lucas turned and looked at
Johnny. He handed the father his baby back. “Luke, what’s going
Lucas walked to his horse and grabbed his rifle. “I’m going to
kill them, Captain. I’m going to kill all three of those Rebel
soldiers who did this!”
“Did what?” Captain Benton asked.
“They…they set the man’s house on fire. They…they caused the
death of his wife and children.”
“I thought you were better, Luke. The telegram…” Captain Benton
Lucas let out a long sigh. “Oh, I am better. I’ll live through
anyhow. That killing…it changed me for…forever, I expect but
I’ll survive.” Lucas turned and watched as a woman took the baby
from the man’s arm. “I just get so frustrated to see this stuff
happening. Innocent people killed…I’ve never seen a more
“Well…now that you’re back, we can get the private’s trained and
end this war. What do you say? We’re just over the border of
Virginia. Shall we get started?”
“No.” Lucas turned and nodded toward the man who was being
helped into the hotel. “I promised him I’d send some men back to
bury his family. Then I want to track the men who did this.”
“Forget it!” Captain Benton answered.
Lucas paused and turned to look at Captain Benton. “Don’t you
care? These Rebs weren’t in a Confederate state. They were in a
Union State. That means…”
“…That they are probably deserters and are running for their
lives. Grey in a blue state is like a tiger in Arkansas. They’ll
stick out like a sore thumb, and they will get what’s coming to
“So we just walk away? Let them go for what they did? Captain…”
“Lieutenant, must I remind you of the things our Union Soldiers
have done to Southern settlers who are just as innocent? Must I
remind you of General Sherman and General Grant? Do you really
want me to go there?”
Lucas closed his eyes and sighed. “I just want this damn war
over. I’ve a gal waiting to marry me back home, and I aim to
marry her just as soon as I can.”
“Alright.” Captain Benton slapped Lucas on the shoulder. “Let’s
get a bite to eat at the restaurant. Then we’ll see about
burying your friend’s family for him.” Captain Benton looked
toward Johnny. “Sergeant Drako, see that the man is well taken
care of.” Captain Benton threw him a few coins. “Make sure he
and his baby are properly fed and get a room for a few days.
Tell the men of this town that as an officer of the Union Army
which they split from Virginia to be a part of, I’m telling them
that they owe everything to this man. Make sure they understand
this man will need shelter and a job.”
“Yes sir.” Johnny hurried toward the hotel. Captain Benton
turned toward Lucas. “I’m glad your family was able to help
“Yes.” Lucas smiled. “My brothers…they just wouldn’t let go. Two
Sundays ago, I was at my lowest point.” Lucas sighed. “I wanted
to…take my own life. I think that’s when I turned around and
“How’s your mother?”
Lucas took off his hat and lowered his head. “She died the day
after I arrived. Both my folks are gone now.”
“I’m sorry.” Lucas nodded. “Well, let’s get going. The sooner we
get back to camp, the sooner we can get this war over with!”
“I’m ready!” Lucas declared as he put his hat on and started
toward the restaurant. “I’m ready to give them hell!”
As the men ate, Captain Benton told another story from his years
as a private. “My Captain was so mad that…” the Captain suddenly
stopped talking. His eyes grew wide as he looked over Lucas’
shoulder. “Oh, my my my my my!”
Lucas and Johnny turned around to see what had suddenly gotten
their Captain so excited. They saw a woman, skimpily dressed,
standing there with a wink and a smile. Lucas turned and looked
at Johnny who nodded his head. “Would you like us to call her
over?” Johnny asked. Captain Benton held up a hand to protest,
but Johnny stood and waved her over.
She smiled and came to sit down at the table. “Gentlemen,” she
acknowledged as Captain Benton had to stand up and seat her. She
smiled her thanks. “My my!” She looked all three of the men up
and down. “What brings you three here when there’s a war to
fight…” She put her chin in her hand and smiled at Captain
The Captain blushed. “We were uh…” Captain Benton cleared his
throat. “Uh…uh…just came in to meet the Lieutenant here. He was
on leave and is on his way back to us now.”
“Oh. I see.” She smiled at the Captain. “My name’s Mary Lee
Gene,” she said as she smiled into the Captain’s eyes. “What’s
your name, Captain?”
Captain Benton just stared at her. “Mary…Lee…” he smiled.
Lucas nudged Johnny and they cackled. “Uh…his name’s Tom
Benton,” Lucas answered for his Captain. “He’s bashful.”
That woke the Captain from his dream state. “Lieutenant, I’m
your superior! Watch how you talk about me!” he ordered.
“Would ya like a beer, Captain?”
“I would…” Captain swallowed as Mary Lee put a hand on his...
“Uh…uh…I actually don’t think that would be…” Captain Benton
suddenly stood up. “Men, we should get going. Got a long ride to
Lucas and Johnny chuckled as they stood up. “You know, Captain…”
Lucas stated as he walked over to the Captain. “Maybe we should
go out and wait by the horses and you can go say goodbye to
Captain Benton watched a laughing Lucas and Johnny hurry from
the restaurant. With hat still in hand, he turned back to Mary
Lee. “You…have girls come to your camp?” she asked.
Captain Benton lowered his head. He nodded. “They do once in a
while. They come to uh…keep some of the men company.”
“I see.” Mary Lee came closer to him and smoothed his jacket.
“Pardon me for being so forward, Captain, but I was wondering if
maybe I could uh…”
Captain Benton blushed. “Oh…oh no! I don’t…don’t…take that sort
“Oh, I wasn’t asking you to invite me into your tent. I just
wanted to see you again.”
“Oh. I see.” Captain Benton cleared his throat. “I uh…I tell you
what…A girl like you shouldn’t risk her life just to see me so
you stay here in West Virginia and I’ll…try to get away
Mary Lee threw a hand to her chest. “Are you saying you want
to…to…call on me, Captain?”
“Uh…uh…” Captain Benton swallowed hard.
Mary Lee put a hand on her hip. “Just how many women do you have
hangin’ on ya?”
“Actually….” Captain Benton swallowed. “None.”
“Oh, I see.” She narrowed her eyes. “So should I expect you
Captain Benton pushed his hat way back on his head and scratched
his forehead. “Well ma’am, in case you haven’t noticed, we are
not exactly in a time of peace in our country. This is war. When
I get the orders to go, I have to take my men to battle or on a
mission. Our camp usually sits in the Western part of Virginia –
just over the border here – but I can’t guarantee you a time.”
“Oh, I see…”
“But uh…I may just have to come in with the privates next time
they come to buy supplies.” Captain Benton smiled.
“Captain, let’s hustle!” Lucas called from the doorway.
“Right!” Captain Benton held up a finger.
He started backing toward the door. Mary Lee walked towards him.
Captain Benton was suddenly very nervous. “Now, don’t ya go and
get yourself killed before you get back here to call on me,
“Oh, uh…” Captain Benton ran into a chair. He straightened up
and nodded bashfully. “I’ll uh…do my best.”
“I uh…gotta go now.” Captain Benton swallowed again. “I…Oh,
where will I find you?”
“I go to work in the saloon at 1:00.”
“The saloon.” Captain Benton nodded. “Of course. I should have
guessed that. Well, I…” He was backed up to a wall now. He tried
to slide right to get to the doors, but Mary Lee was standing
right in front of him. She put a hand on his cheek and ran it
down his cheek. Then she bent in and kissed him.
“Bye,” She fluffed her short skirt then walked out the door.
Lucas and Johnny watched her leave, but Captain Benton didn’t
come out. Lucas looked at Johnny and raised his eyebrows. Then
they hurried inside. Captain Benton was still against the wall.
His eyes were wide. “Well…” Lucas folded his arms and grinned.
“Look at our Captain!” Lucas smiled. “He acts as if he’s never
met a saloon girl before. She kiss ya?”
Captain Benton focused on Lucas. Then he narrowed his eyes and
stood to his full height. He pulled his hat back down on his
head. “Men…Let’s go!” he ordered.
Lucas and Johnny laughed as they got on their horses to ride.
On their way, they dug through the rubbles of the burnt house
and found the remains of the family. After burying them and
standing over the graves for a moment of silence, they turned,
mounted their horses and rode for home.
The next morning, Lucas was more than ready to start his job as
a Lieutenant. There were several new recruits who had arrived
just two days before. After breakfast, Lucas ordered them all
to line up. On their faces, he saw excitement and readiness for
adventure. Lucas folded his hands behind his back and walked up
and down the line. He didn’t say anything at first, but just
looked them up and down. Some of the boys didn’t even look like
they were 17, but at this point in the war their age wasn’t
questioned too much. The army was desperate for men.
One “boy” in particular stood out to Lucas. He had a big smile
on his face and some sort of boyish charm about him. Lucas
stopped in front of him and put his face right in front of his.
“What’s your name, Private?”
“Excuse me? I didn’t hear that! What’s your name, Private?”
Lucas asked again.
“Harry Chase…SIR!” Lucas could tell it killed him to add that
“How old are you, Private Chase?”
“Eighteen.” Lucas raised his eyebrows and pressed his lips
together. “…sir!” Lucas turned and started to take another
walk up the line. “Pardon me, Lieutenant, but you don’t look
much older than me.”
“Did I ask you to speak?” Lucas asked as he turned and raised
his eyebrows at Harry.
“I assure you men,” Lucas said in a loud voice as he addressed
all the men. “…that I got my stripes and bars by working hard
and bravely in this war. For the next few weeks, you will be
going through many drills that will prepare you for your first
battle. Your first battle may be small like a few rebels trying
to sneak into the camp…or attacking you while your scouting; or
it may be a huge battle where thousands of soldiers will die.
You will be shooting through smoke and even sometimes in
darkness…rain…blizzards…You will feel the men beside you fall
while you still stand. You will have to crawl across the dead
bodies to get to the enemy, and every moment your thought will
be that this may be your last breath.”
Lucas heard Harry suck in his breath. He turned and looked at
Harry Chase again. “I hope that at the end of your training,
you will no longer be boys looking for adventure. Because the
things you witness here are not the adventures you imagined.
Believe me….I KNOW!” Lucas nodded toward them. “Look at the
man beside you. Take a good look. Chances are, two out of the
three of you will die in battle.”
All the men in the row turned and looked at the man on his right
and left. The men stared at Lucas. Lucas saw some of the
excitement in their eyes die hard. “Two-thirds of the time, we
are at peace working the camp like we’d work a farm…doing
everyday chores, going through drill after drill after drill,
playing cards…But when that bugle sounds the battle cry, that’s
when you go out there and you fight like hell to kill the enemy.
The enemy, gentlemen, is not the man you are fighting against.
The enemy is the whole entire Confederacy.” Lucas paused in
his walk back and forth. “Remember that. If you want to
survive, you’ll have to look past the individual and see the
Lucas turned and saw the Captain standing a short distance from
him. The Captain nodded and gave his approval. He was
convinced that Lucas had done some maturing and healing while he
was home. And he couldn’t be happier for the young Lieutenant.
Lucas then announced to the men that there wouldn’t be much
cause for target practicing. Ammunition was precious during war
and needed to be saved for battles. He hoped they knew how to
shoot already. If they didn’t…they shouldn’t be in war. Lucas
spent the whole day putting his men through hard training. He
made them run, crawl, and march. Once when he ordered the men
to crawl, Harry Chase just stood still, staring at the ground.
The other privates were already on their stomachs, but Harry
just stood there, refusing to get down. “I ain’t no snake!”
Harry shouted. “You can’t treat me like an animal!”
Lucas paused and turned toward Harry. He got right in the
Private’s face. “No, I can’t MAKE you crawl out there on the
battlefield. If you want to get your head blown off, then by
all means, stand straight up with your arms spread out and make
yourself a target! But Private Chase, when we are in a drill,
you WILL do EXACTLY what I tell you to do because I, PRIVATE, am
your enemy; and if you think a Rebel soldier is mean, you just
MESS with ME and see how BAD I can GET!” Lucas took a deep
breath and pointed to the ground. “Now, CRAWL!” He shoved
Harry to the ground. “CRAWL!”
Later that night, Lucas sat by the fire enjoying his cigar. The
camp had grown quiet as most men had turned in for the night.
Johnny came to sit beside Lucas. “It’s good to have you back,
Luke.” Lucas nodded. “You did good out there today.
Something…happened while you were gone.”
“A lot happened,” Lucas answered. “Maybe I did some growing
up…or something…” Lucas couldn’t help but smile as he remembered
the trouble he had gotten his little sister in.
“How’s the family?”
“Both my folks are gone now.” Lucas looked over at Johnny. “Ma
had cancer. It was a slow, painful death for her.”
Johnny sighed as he shook his head. “I’m sorry. Seems your
family’s had the lion share of trouble lately. Are they okay?”
“They’re McCains’. They’ll survive,” Lucas answered with a nod.
“Laura’s living with Abe and his family. Emily’s taking Ma’s
death really hard. She was always so close to Ma. She’s leaning
on Peter and Tiffany a lot. Em’s big with child. Their baby’s
expected to come in November.”
Lucas smiled as he turned and looked at Johnny. “Margaret…” He
reached in his pocket and took out a picture she had given him.
He stared at it. “She’s wonderful.”
“You marry her while you were on leave?”
“Marry her?” Lucas rolled his eyes. “Of course not!”
“Why not? You wanted to.” Johnny could see that in Lucas’ eyes
when he mentioned her name.
“Yes.” Lucas nodded as he took a long puff off his cigar. “I
wanted to very…very badly.” He remembered his Margaret. He
remembered the feel of her skin as he held her face in his
hands. He remembered the feel of her lips as she passionately
returned his kiss. He remembered the emotions that raced through
him every time he looked at her.
“Did you ask her?”
“Not really,” Lucas answered.
“Not really?” Johnny shook his head. “Come on, man! Are you two
engaged or not?”
“No. We’re not engaged. But we’re courting and I told her I’d
ask her when I get back.”
“And…how does Scott feel about all this?” Johnny asked then as
he stared into the fire.
“Scott? What do you mean?”
Johnny rolled his eyes as he took a puff off his cigar. “I’m
assuming Samuel’s still loco?” Lucas nodded. “Then you DID ask
Scott for permission to court Margaret?”
“Of course not!”
Johnny shot his head up. He cocked his head to one side. “What
do you mean ‘of course not?’”
“I mean…of course not! Margaret and I have always been sorta
promised to each other! There’s no need…”
“Whoa…whoa…” Johnny shook his head. “You HAVE to have the
family’s official permission to court or marry a girl!”
“Didn’t you ask Samuel before you took her to the dance when you
“Why of course! But she was only 14,” Lucas answered. “But…”
“Has Scott given you any…looks?” Lucas nodded. “Luke…” Johnny
shook his head in disappointment. “Didn’t your father tell you
this stuff when he told you about sex?”
“Sex? What’s this got to do with sex?” Lucas suddenly asked. “I
thought we were talking about my courting Margaret. That has
NOTHING to do with sex!”
“There’s a lot more on the subject then just making love to a
woman.” Johnny narrowed his eyes as he studied Lucas for a few
moments. Finally, he asked the question. “Who…told you about
“Well…Pa left it up to my brothers. He’d already had the talk
three times and figured my brothers could…”
“OHHHH!” Johnny rolled his eyes and slapped his forehead with
the palm of his hand. “You mean everything you learned was from
Abraham, Jeremiah, and Peter????”
“No. Abraham, mostly. Peter told me some too.”
“Saint Jeremiah McCain wasn’t even involved in the
conversation…I should’ve known!” Johnny shook his head. “Exactly
what did they tell you about sex?”
“That’s none of your business! I know how it all works!” Lucas
“Yeah.” Johnny nodded as he took another puff. He blew the smoke
out slowly. “Sex is the easy part.”
“Abe told me a couple don’t do much else than kissing before
they are married.”
“He told you they don’t do much else then…” Johnny rolled his
eyes. “Man, I’m surprised Margaret hasn’t slapped you silly by
now!” Johnny declared.
Lucas narrowed his eyes as his friend. “She’s been tempted to a
few times. I’m about to slap YOU silly!” Lucas rolled his eyes.
“Don’t tell me someone as rough and tough as you knows all about
the “right” way to treat a woman?”
“My father made sure I understood perfectly all about it.”
Johnny scooted closer to Lucas. “Luke, making love to your wife
is only a small part of the conversation. Before you kiss a
girl, you should make sure you are in love with her and you have
her permission, because for many women…a kiss is like stealing a
piece of your heart. You…DID ask her for permission the first
“No…it just…you know…happened,” Lucas answered.
Johnny rolled his eyes. “And as far as what your brother said…”
Johnny threw his cigar into the fire. “You should show a woman
the upmost respect. In many families, a woman is considered to
be ‘weaker’ in some ways. Before you can court her, you MUST
have the permission of the male head of her family – the one who
makes decisions for the family. That would be Scott. Before you
even think about asking her to marry you, you MUST ask Scott!”
“But I don’t want to marry Scott!” Lucas declared.
“When you marry Margaret, you marry her whole family. A single
woman ‘belongs’ to the male head of her household until she is
married. Then she ‘belongs’ to the husband, in a way…if you know
what I mean…”
“But let’s suppose Scott were to say no. That means that no
matter how much I loved Margaret, I’d just have to walk away?”
Johnny shrugged. Lucas sighed. “This female stuff sure is
“You got it!” Johnny stood and slapped Lucas on the back. “I’m
going to bed.”
Lucas nodded as he stared into the fire. He shook his head as he
thought of the wrong he had committed. Then he stood and walked
to his tent. He took out a tablet and began writing.
First of all, let me explain to you that everything I learned
about the opposite sex I learned from my brothers. With that
said, I wish to sincerely apologize for not getting your
permission to Court your sister. I know it’s a little late now,
but since we do spend so much time together writing letters
back-and-forth, I find it appropriate to write a letter to you
and request your permission to court Margaret.
I don’t much understand why I have to ask you this. Seems silly
for me to ask another adult, and I wonder what it would mean if
you were to say no (though I don’t think you would). When I
asked Johnny he didn’t answer. It seems wrong for a father or
brother to keep the woman from the man she loves, but anyway…
So, do I have your permission to court Margaret?
Lucas read the letter through three times, making little
corrections here and there. Then when he was satisfied with the
letter, he put it in an envelope to mail. He then took out
another piece of paper.
My Dearest Margaret,
I have returned to camp and am now settled down for my first
night. I had quite an adventure on my way out here. Some
gunfighter in Silver Creek thought he could kill me. I had to
kill him before he did so. Then when I was in West Virginia, I
witnessed another sad truth of war. It just makes me want to
fight that much harder so that the men who joined the war on
both sides can finally return to their moralistic way of living
and become neighbors again.
Margaret, I’m afraid I did something wrong. I don’t really
understand why it’s wrong, but Johnny talked to me tonight about
the proper way to treat a woman. I should have asked your
brother for permission to court you and I didn’t. I just wrote
him a letter to request his permission.
Margaret, I wonder what a man is supposed to do were the family
member he had to ask said no? Would he have to walk away and
simply forget she ever existed? I could never do that with you.
I’m afraid I’d fight for you long and hard. Johnny said that the
head male of the household ‘owns’ the women. That doesn’t seem
right. Does that mean they are under our command? My father and
mother always treated each other equal. Though my father did
make the important decisions, I never really understood how my
mother could be ‘weaker’ than my father. At times, it seemed the
Johnny also told me I should have asked your permission to kiss
you. He’s surprised you didn’t slap me silly for kissing you.
But Margaret…I’ll always remember that first kiss and how scared
I was. I have no regrets about it, because that kiss is when I
discovered that I was in love with you. It only took me four
years to own up to that truth. And I now have memories of so
many kisses we’ve shared. Maybe it was wrong. Maybe those sort
of kisses should be reserved for when we’re married, but I
enjoyed every second of it; and I have no regrets.
I’m really tired now, Margaret. I must close. I’m anxiously
waiting for your return letter.
Lucas was up the next morning before the sun. He prepared
himself for another day of hard training with his men. In a few
days, he planned to assign them to their Sergeants and request
they go on scouting parties with them. As he trained with the
men throughout the day, he nodded his approval at the progress
they were making. But one man, the same man he had trouble with
the very first day, seemed to take a different attitude – a
cocky attitude that didn’t sit right with Lucas.
Private Harry Chase did all the drills to perfection, but he
acted as if he was above the drills. He did the drills as if he
had already been through it and didn’t NEED the training.
As the men sat down for lunch that day, Lucas sat down to talk
to one recruit who was really struggling with a part of his
training. Lucas wanted to give him guidance. But as the men
started eating, Harry Chase cleared his throat. “You know…doing
these uh…drills…reminds me of the time I spent back home working
in my hometown. My old man showed me how to shoot a gun when I
was only knee high, and I got good fast…really fast! When I go
hunting, I learned how to scurry up trees and crawl through
caves to find the meat I need. Why, I’ve even had to shoot
myself out of a few scrapes…you know…protecting the ladies’
honor and such…”
Lucas lifted an eyebrow as he looked at Harry Chase. Harry
paused, his prideful smile dying a bit as Lucas continued to
stare at him. “You’ve killed men, you say?” Harry nodded. “Oh?
And how did killing your first man make you feel?”
“Ohhhhhhh….” Harry chuckled. “Well, it’s just one of those
things that have to be done. It didn’t bother me much. I…gave
the man every chance to live, but he just wouldn’t have it that
way. When he threatened to kill my dear, old, sweet Mama,
why…that was it as far as I was concerned.” Harry chuckled.
Lucas shook his head and looked toward the Captain. Captain
Benton motioned for him to follow him to his tent. Lucas walked
into the Captain’s tent and sat down. “That man is bad news,
“I know. He seems all talk and no blow if you ask me.”
“I’ve seen men like him before. I doubt he ever killed a man.
How does he behave during the drills?”
Lucas took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair as he let
his breath out slowly. “He goes through the drills as if he’s
too good for them. He acts like he’s so much better than anyone
else. I’ll hear him make little comments like, ‘Oh now this is
going to be easy.’ Or ‘That’s all I have to do?’ The first day,
he refused to get down on his belly and crawl until I demanded
him to. Now…” Lucas shook his head.
“Well…some of the men will not be staying with us. After their
training, they will be sent to other infantries. Chase will be
one of them…and unless something changes, I’m going to request
KP duty. A man like him…he wouldn’t last two seconds out on the
“A man like him…” Lucas mumbled. “You mean weak?”
Captain Benton narrowed his eyes. “You’re thinking about Private
Gibbs and that man at Gettysburg? You think that they’d still be
alive if they went on KP?” Lucas nodded. Captain Benton leaned
forward and put his hands on his desk. “Lieutenant McCain,
Private Gibbs did have a weakness. He cared about people too
much. He was afraid to fight in the war, and from what you told
me the only reason he came was because his father ‘made’ him. Am
I right?” Lucas nodded. “Yes…well, maybe we shouldn’t have
forced him out but he made his decision. But he never ran from
the enemy, Luke. He faced his enemy head on. So did that soldier
you killed in Gettysburg.”
Lucas lifted his head and looked at Captain Benton. Then he
nodded. He knew the Captain had a point. “As for Private
Chase…I’m afraid he would run if faced with the enemy. We’ll
know more in a few days. Just…keep your eye on him and don’t let
him brag so much to the other men. One of your duties as a
training officer is to uh…keep the peace among your men.”
“Yes sir.” Lucas stood and saluted his Captain. He turned to
“Lieutenant?” Lucas looked up to see another one of the new
recruits, Justin Meadows, standing in the opening of the tent.
“Can I…talk to you and the Captain for a moment, sir?” Private
Meadows saluted him.
Lucas nodded and invited him inside. Private Meadows sat down.
“I…know Private Chase. I grew up with him for a time. I still
remember…the day his parents died. Harry and his sister moved to
another town close by where their older brother, Wilton, lived.
Harry was only ten.”
“I see…” Lucas mumbled as he turned to look at the Captain.
“There’s more.” Private Meadows sighed. It pained him greatly to
report these facts. “Harry…Private Chase…he moved to a city. He
never lived on a farm…or…wherever it is he claims he lived. He
learned to shoot from one of the kids in town. That much I know.
His brother made him join the army.”
“How do you know that?” Captain Benton asked as he stood and
“I know…because his sister, Mildred, moved back to our town a
few months ago. She told me he was being forced to join since
Wilton couldn’t.” Private Meadows lowered his head. “Thought
that by him joining the army it would make him a better man.
Harry boasts a lot, but I honestly don't think he's done half
of what he brags he's done. I guess his bragging is a way to
prove he's as good as his older brother…“I’m sorry. Wilton’s a
really nice guy, but he just couldn’t…take Harry anymore.
He…Well…That’s about it.”
“Thank you, Private.” Lucas turned and looked at Captain Benton.
“We need to keep a close eye on that solder. A very close eye.”
Margaret Gibbs stood from her stooped over position at the small
vegetable garden in the yard as her brother rode into the yard.
She put a hand on her hip and shook her head at Scott. “Amanda’s
inside working on supper, and she’s madder than a wet hen!”
“Why?” Scott asked as he pushed his hat way back on his head and
wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Scott Gibbs!” Margaret declared. “This morning when Amanda sent
you to town, she told you to have that baking soda back in
plenty of time so she could fix your favorite cake! She needed
it two hours ago!”
Scott hit his forehead with his hand. “OH NO! I forgot the
“YOU WHAT??????” Amanda placed a hand on her hips and slowly
walked out the door. “Scott Gibbs, I’ve a good mind to…”
Scott held up his hands to defend himself. “Okay, honey…I’ll
“The store’s closed, Scott.” Amanda crossed her arms and walked
toward Scott. “It’s after six o’clock. You should have been back
a long time ago.” She leaned forward and sniffed his breath.
“Did you have a good time at the saloon?” she asked accusingly.
“I just had two beers!” Scott assured her. “Well…I got to town
and saw Peter. You know how it is…”
“Yes,” Amanda nodded curtly. “I know how it is. And I’m fairly
sure Tiffany will give her husband what for as well!”
Scott cleared his throat. “I…got a letter from Lucas,” he
announced, quickly, changing the subject.
Margaret gasped. “YOU got a letter from Lucas?” Scott nodded.
“Well…why did he write you???”
“Well, he IS like a brother to me!” Scott declared, a bit put
out that Margaret was so shocked he’d write him.
“Yes but. I…” Margaret stopped.
“It just so happens, my dear sister, that he wrote you a letter
too.” Scott took it from his pocket. Margaret reached for it,
but he snapped the letter out of her reach. “Ah, but first, dear
sister, we have to talk.”
“Let’s go inside.” Scott led his fuming wife and curious sister
inside. He sniffed the air. He could smell a freshly baked cake.
“I thought you were out of baking powder.”
“I was!” Amanda declared. “Margaret went and borrowed some from
“Oh.” Scott sighed. “So I reckon I’ll be sleeping in the barn
“I reckon you will…especially since you stopped by the saloon!”
Margaret stomped her foot. “Scott, the letter!”
“Oh yes.” Scott sat down at the table. He turned and looked at
his wife as she continued to stare at him. “Excuse us, honey.
This is private.”
“Pri…” Amanda narrowed her eyes. “Why you…” She turned on her
heels and hurried from the room, giving the kitchen door a hard
Scott winced. “I’m afraid I got a lot of making up to do.”
“Serves you right!” Margaret declared.
Scott cleared his throat. “Do you want to know what Luke had to
“Well…Lucas was a little…confused…still is, actually…on certain
“What matters?” Margaret asked as her heart started beating
“Well…he didn’t realize that he needed to ask my permission to
“Oh.” Margaret raised her eyebrows. “Does he?”
“I see…Scott, I thought Luke and I had BEEN courting.”
“You have,” Scott nodded.
“And you never said anything?”
Scott chuckled. “Because…I guess I took for granted the fact
that you two were in love and didn’t need Luke to humbly ask me.
Besides…Pa should be the one he’s asking.”
Margaret folded her hands on the table. “I know, Scott.” She
lifted her head. “So, what are you going to tell him?”
“I thought he just asked your permission to court me.” Scott
nodded. “Well, what are you going to tell him?”
Scott smiled. “Well…”
“And if it’s anything but ‘yes,’ Scott Gibbs, you’ll be…”
Margaret started as she shook her finger at him.
“Alright, alright!” Scott chuckled. “I’ll send Luke a letter
tonight. I’ll give him all the do’s and don’t’s of courting my
“Scott Gibbs…” Margaret warned as she folded her arms.
“Alright, alright…” Scott handed Margaret the letter and stood
up. He turned and looked toward the kitchen. “But first I need
to make things right with my wife.”
Margaret read the letter Lucas had written to her. As she
finished, she rolled her eyes. “Lucas McCain!” she declared as
she hurried to her room to write the return letter.
It had been nearly three weeks since Lucas had taken on the task
of drilling his men. He was proud of how far they had come. No
matter how much he yelled at them, he couldn’t make them
break…except for one. He hadn’t been too hard on Harry Chase
yet, but Lucas decided the time had come for him to reveal the
true Harry – and the coward that Lucas believed he was.
Lucas had grown very weary of the tall tales Harry had been
telling lately. He wasn’t sure that he could take too much more
of this man. Lucas was just about to go to work on Harry when he
received an urgent note from Captain Benton. Lucas read the
words. “Are you sure about this, Sergeant Drako?” Lucas asked as
weariness showed on his forehead.
“Yes sir,” Drako answered, retaining the respectful address in
front of the Privates. “It happens tomorrow.”
“Very well.” Lucas turned to look at the other men. “Alright
men…some of you will be leaving here to join other infantries
tomorrow. I suppose the Captain thinks you are ready to go on.
Lucas named the names and the Infantry they would report to. “It
has been a true pleasure training you. You will all make fine
soldiers…” Lucas stopped and looked toward Harry. “Or should I
say…most of you will.” Lucas looked at Harry hard. He had a
strange look on his face. Lucas just shook his head, deciding he
really didn’t want to figure out what that look was for.
Lucas started back toward his tent, but Harry’s voice stopped
him. Lucas turned to see what Harry wanted him for. “Uh…since
we’re so near a town…I was wondering if I could go in and…”
“Towns are strictly forbidden except for when we’re going in for
supplies,” Lucas answered.
“I know, but I ship out tomorrow and…”
“NO!” Lucas answered as he removed his gloves. “That’s my final
“Look, Lieutenant, I…”
“The matter’s closed!” Lucas gave him a hard stare, then turned
and walked away.
Lucas woke with a start. Something wasn’t right. He heard a
horse whinny. Then he heard a man shout “Stop!” Lucas jumped
from his cot and pulled his pants on. “Captain Benton! Captain
Benton!” That sounded like Jake Stryker.
Lucas hurried from the tent and ran up to Jake. Captain Benton
and most of the other men ran up to them as well. “What’s this
all about, Corporal?” Captain Benton asked.
“I tried to stop him! I tried to…” Jake Stryker swallowed as he
tried to catch his breath. “He just raced right past me,
“Who?” Lucas asked.
“Private Chase. I heard his horse whinny as he was sneaking
away. Before I could get to him, he jumped on his horse and
raced away. I ordered him to stop.”
“Chase…” Lucas grumbled as he shook his head. “I’m gonna shoot
“No, no…don’t do that! A Court Martial will take care of him!”
Captain Benton declared.
“Maybe we’ll get to have a firing squad!” one of the newly
enlisted Privates declared excitedly. Lucas turned and glared at
the private. “Well, I mean…”
“Hardly…” Lucas rolled his eyes. “Now, if I ever go A.W.O.L.,
maybe you’ll get that firing squad.” Lucas turned and looked at
Captain Benton. “Just give me a few more trainees like Chase and
you may very well get your chance.”
“Alright, everybody get to bed!” Captain Benton ordered. “We’ve
plenty of drills to do tomorrow, and we’ll be going out on
scouting parties after the new recruits ride out!”
“Ah, but Captain, I wanta see Chase get it!” Captain Benton
turned and glared at another one of the new recruits. “I’m just
joking!” He cleared his throat and hurried back to his tent.
Lucas shifted his rifle in his other hand and went to saddle his
horse. “I’m gonna give that boy a piece of my mind when I catch
up with him!”
“Maybe it’s better if you wait until first light to ride out,
Luke. You’re taking a big chance riding into town in the dark.
Never know when…”
“Sir, I want to catch that boy before he’s too drunk to know
what hit him.” Lucas held up a fist. “And THIS is definitely
going to hit him!”
Captain Benton nodded. “Alright, McCain.” The Captain watched
him ride out and shook his head. “God help that boy,” he mumbled
as he went back to bed.
The town was buzzing with life. It was 2:00 AM, yet still men’s
voices and piano playing filtered from the various saloons along
the main street. Lucas dismounted his horse just outside the
three-story hotel and walked toward the Silver Dollar. He looked
around inside, hoping he’d hit his luck on the first try. But he
turned away when he didn’t see Chase.
He came face to face with a drunken townsman. “Well…well…well…”
The man took a long swig of the beer he carried in his hand and
smiled. “We have us a Union Soldier!”
“Lieutenant,” Lucas corrected him.
“Ah yes. A Lieutenant…” The Private smiled as he looked Lucas up
and down. “Hey Rod!” A man walked over to the drunk. “How much
credit you think I’d get if I turned this man here into the
“Ah Charles, I ain’t in the mood to play soldier tonight! He
just came to have a drink.”
“Actually, I’m looking for one of my soldiers, a Private. Ya
“Oh yes. That would be the fellow that I just put to sleep.”
“What?” Lucas cocked his head to one side.
“Yeah. He came in telling us some dumb story about having just
finished off a battle and killing about twenty of us Rebs.”
Lucas shook his head. “What a stupid boy!” He cocked his head to
one side. “I thought we had taken over this fine town.”
“You did,” Rod nodded. “But my friend here still seems to think
he can take over the whole town even with all the Union Soldiers
“I see.” Lucas’ eyes widened then narrowed. He looked the Rebels
up and down. “Consider yourselves lucky that you aren’t in
Lucas hurried across the street. He pushed through the doors and
saw Harry Chase’s heap lying on the floor. Lucas rolled his
eyes. He walked up to the bar and picked up a pitcher of water.
Slowly, he dumped it over the Private’s face. Harry sat up
sputtering and cursing. Lucas slammed the pitcher down on the
bar and crossed his arms. “Oh…what do you want?” Chase asked.
Lucas angrily bent over and grabbed Harry by the arm. He lifted
him to his feet as he yelled. “You are a stupid Private! I am an
officer and you will not address me without standing on your
feet! Stand up straight and at attention when I talk to you!”
Harry actually shook his head at Lucas. “I don’t need this from
you! All your talking and ordering around! I came to help our
country, not take orders from you!”
Lucas reared back and gave Harry a hard punch, knocking him
across the room. “Orders from me?” Lucas hurried across the
room, bent over and grabbed him by his jacket. “Get on your
feet, I say!” Lucas shouted as he got right in Harry’s face.
“Private Chase, I told you once, I am your enemy! I am your
worst enemy and the stunt that you pulled tonight will allow me
to show you just how much of an enemy I am!” Lucas shoved him up
against the wall hard. “What you did tonight is called Absent
without leave! I hope you had yourself a damn good time because
after tonight, you won’t have a good time for a long…” Lucas
jerked on his jacket. “long…long time!”
Lucas flung him out the door and onto the street. He sat on top
of Harry as he lay in the street. “You are a stupid coward,
Harry Chase! You have no brains at all!”
“No! I’m a brave soldier!” Harry was shaking from fear.
“A brave soldier, huh? What if I was to tell you I’m throwing
you in front of a court martial? What if they find you guilty of
abandonment? What if they put you in front of a firing squad?
Are you still going to be the BRAVE SOLIDER you claim you are,
Private? Are you? HUH?????”
Lucas lifted his fist to punch Harry again. Chase sat and glared
at Lucas, the thought of going up in front of a Court Martial
terrified him, but he wasn't about to let Lucas McCain see his
But Lucas did see the fear in his eyes.
Lucas couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for Harry. It was one
thing to be a coward. It was another thing to try to act the
opposite, only to be degraded in front of a whole bunch of
people. Lucas sighed as he stood up and folded his arms.
“Private Chase, you are not setting a good example of what a
Union soldier is, and you know it. Now…” Lucas lifted him to his
feet. “Get on your horse and ride back to the camp. And if you
try to run…I won’t hesitate to shoot you.”
There was silence on the ride back into camp. Lucas followed
Chase as he went back into the camp. The sun was just starting
to rise on the men in blue and the scent of coffee could be
smelled. Lucas kept his accusing eyes on Chase as they
dismounted their horses. He motioned for Chase to go to the
Captain’s quarters. Outside, Chase turned and looked pleadingly
at Lucas. “You going to make me be court marshaled!”
“That will be for the Captain to decide. Get in there!” Lucas
shoved him inside.
Captain Benton looked up from putting his boots on. “Well,
Private Chase…” Captain Benton slowly stood and walked over to
him. He got right in his face. “Did you have a good time?”
“N…not really,” Harry answered as he swallowed hard.
“Hm…” Captain Benton shook his head as he looked Chase up and
down. “Private, I want you to go to your tent and pack up all
“You mean…I’m leaving?” Harry asked with a little hope.
“Soon,” Captain Benton answered. “Soon you’ll be going to your
assignment.” Harry’s eyes filled with fear. Captain Benton shook
his head. “Though you deserve to stand in front of a Court
Martial for the stunt you pulled, we need every man to fight.
What happens to you after you leave here will be up to your new
commanding officer. But until then, you’re on latrine duty.”
“But Captain…” Harry swallowed. “Everyone will think I’m…”
“After you put your gear on, I want you to march the camp.”
“For how long?”
Captain Benton suddenly grabbed Chase by the collar and jerked
him forward. “For as long as I say!!! Now get!”
Lucas turned and watched Harry ‘get.’ He turned back and shook
his head at Captain Benton. “He’ll never amount to anything. You
figure he learned a lesson?”
Captain Benton allowed a small smile to play on the corners of
his mouth. “What do you think?”
“I think he’ll be a braggart and a blowhard all his life.” Lucas
walked to the opening of the tent and looked out. “Because
that’s the only way he can live. It’s all he knows. I can’t help
but wonder…what makes a man like him tick…”
The army camp was eating lunch that afternoon when one of the
soldiers on guard announced a rider was coming. The officers
stood and hurried forward. They watched a man dismount his horse
and touch the tip of his hat. “Captain. Lieutenants…”
“What can we do for you, mister?” Captain Benton asked as he
crossed his arms.
“I’m sorry for the intrusion. I heard you were camped here and
thought I’d stop by on my way home.” The stranger took off his
hat and slowly turned it in his hands. “My name’s Wilton. Wilton
Chase.” Lucas and Captain Benton looked at each other. Lucas
lifted an eyebrow. “From the look on your faces, I’m guessing
you know who I am and I take it my brother’s given you trouble.”
Wilton shook his head.
Lucas turned and looked at Wilton. “Yes. We know who you are.
And your brother has given us quite a bit of trouble.
“Could we talk? In private, Captain?”
“Of course,” Captain Benton answered. “But allow me to introduce
you to your brother’s training officer…Lieutenant Lucas McCain.”
“Then I’m sure you’ll want to join the Captain.” The three men
walked to the Captain’s tent. After seated and enjoying a cup of
coffee, Wilton spoke. “Harry’s always been a hard case. You see.
He loved our mother very…very much. He hardly left her side when
she was around. My Pa tried to put some separation between the
two…didn’t think it was healthy for the boy…but it just caused
them both anxiety.” Wilton took a sip of his coffee. “You
see…Harry came to my folks later in life. I was already fifteen
years old. My sister was ten. My sister was quite the Tom boy
and didn’t wish to do the house-hold chores.”
Wilton swirled the coffee around in his cup. “My folks were
returning from town. According to my sister, my father had
forced Harry to stay home and work on the chores…chopping wood
and…such…Something happened to the wagon. When they didn’t
return, Harry went to look for them and he…he found them.”
Lucas shook his head. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t imagine…”
“Well…” Wilton took another sip of his coffee. “Seeing that…did
something to the boy. By the time I arrived, the sedation was
wearing off. He told me he wanted to go home. He was worried
about Ma. I took him home with me along with my unmarried
sister. We lived in the city. As the years passed, Harry began
telling story…after story…after story…” Wilton shook his head.
“I didn’t like his being around my children anymore, Captain.
His stories were so elaborate…so gruesome at times that even I
got confused on what was true and not.”
“So you decided to send him to the army?” Lucas asked in an
“Lieutenant!” Captain Benton warned.
“I’m…sorry…” Lucas apologized unwillingly.
“Quite alright, Lieutenant.” Wilton stood up and walked to the
entrance of the tent. “That’s not the only reason I sent him
away. My whole family was being infected by his poison. When my
sister married, it seemed to make things much worse. My wife…she
couldn’t take his stories anymore. And he was so weak that I
thought…” Wilton hung his head.
“…that the army would toughen him up?” Wilton nodded. Lucas
sighed as he stood and walked over to Wilton. “This time I
really want to apologize for my earlier comment. I’m beginning
to understand…” Lucas put a hand on Wilton’s shoulder. “I have
three older brothers, and they just helped me through one of the
hardest experiences of my life. Have you talked to him? Tried to
“Until I was blue in the face,” Wilton nodded. “I’ve had
specialists talk to him…trying to explain to him that his mother
is dead…but…it’s no good. He is STILL convinced that his mother
lives. He really believes that she’s on a trip to town and will
Captain Benton stood. “Well, I’m afraid we don’t have the luxury
of time to ‘toughen’ him up. He likes to glorify himself, but
now I understand that he is doing it so he doesn’t feel so weak…
Mr. Chase, if your brother were to stay with my regiment I'd
see that your brother wouldn't be sent to the battlefield. But
we need soldiers to man the lines, and that's why you sent him
to the army, to MAN the lines... to fight.
“I understand. And I thank you. Captain…Lieutenant…I’m really
sorry for all the trouble. I didn’t mean…I just didn’t know what
else to do with him.”
“It might be best for him…” Captain Bento stated as he shook
Wilton’s hand. “…if you escort him to his new post.”
Lucas watched as the two silently communicated with their eyes
for a few moments. Finally, Wilton nodded his head. “I’ll to do
that, sir. I’ll make sure he gets there.” They watched him leave
to go find his brother.
“Captain…you didn’t tell him about last night.”
“No.” Captain Benton smiled. “I think his brother has enough
worries on his mind. He doesn’t need to hear about that.”
“Do you think they’ll ever make it to the infantry?” Lucas
Captain Benton sighed. “I don’t know, Luke. But that’s a
troubled family, and I certainly won’t be surprised if they just
ride for home.”
…To Be Continued…in twenty-one years…
The Years Before — The Story of Johnny Gibbs
This is a story based on the TV series
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch