The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
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 do.
 
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 wrote:
 
To: Captain Tom Benton
United States Calvary
13th Indiana
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 McCain.
 
“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 street.
 
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 strangers much.”
 
“I see. Where ya headed?” The bartender asked as he leaned on the counter.
 
“Virginia.”
 
“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 passing through.”
 
“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 saloon.
 
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 that…”
 
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 justified.”
 
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?”
 
“I did.”
 
“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 camp.”
 
“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 friends.”
 
Captain Benton nodded his head. “Alright. We’ll leave first light tomorrow.”
 
***
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 journey.
 
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 happened here?”
 
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 to town.”
 
“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 thought.
 
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 street.
 
“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 on?”
 
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 started.
 
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 gruesome war.”
 
“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 them.”
 
“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 you.”
 
“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 started caring.”
 
“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 Benton. “…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 Virginia.”
 
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 your…uh…friend.”
 
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 of company.”
 
“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 sometime.”
 
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 Saturday night?”
 
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, Captain.”
 
“Oh, uh…” Captain Benton ran into a chair. He straightened up and nodded bashfully. “I’ll uh…do my best.”
 
“Captain!”
 
“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?”

“Harry Chase.”

“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 last part.

“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.

“No sir.”

“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 greater cause.”

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.”
 
“And Margaret?”
 
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!”
 
“Huh?”
 
“Didn’t you ask Samuel before you took her to the dance when you were 14?”
 
“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 sex?”
 
“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 declared.
 
“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 time, right?”
 
“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 complicated!”
 
“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.
 
Scott,
 
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?
 
Sincerely,
 
Lucas McCain
 
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 opposite.
 
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.
 
Love,
 
Lucas
***
 
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, Luke.”
 
“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 field.”
 
“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 leave.
 
“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 walked forward.
 
“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. “Well…”
 
“We need to keep a close eye on that solder. A very close eye.”
 
***
 
Enid, Oklahoma
 
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 baking soda!”
 
“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 go…”
 
“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.”
 
“Talk? Why?”
 
“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 Emily McCain.”
 
“Oh.” Scott sighed. “So I reckon I’ll be sleeping in the barn tonight?”
 
“I reckon you will…especially since you stopped by the saloon!”
 
“Well, I…”
 
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 slam.
 
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 say?”
 
“Of course.”
 
“Well…Lucas was a little…confused…still is, actually…on certain matters.”
 
“What matters?” Margaret asked as her heart started beating faster.
 
“Well…he didn’t realize that he needed to ask my permission to court you.”
 
“Oh.” Margaret raised her eyebrows. “Does he?”
 
“Of course.”
 
“I see…Scott, I thought Luke and I had BEEN courting.”
 
“You have,” Scott nodded.
 
“And you never said anything?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“Why not?”
 
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?”
 
“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 sister.”
 
“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. “Alright men…dismissed!”
 
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 answer.”
 
“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, Captain! I’m…sorry.”
 
“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 that kid!”
 
“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 Rebs?”
 
“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 seen him?”
 
“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 on guard!”
 
“I see.” Lucas’ eyes widened then narrowed. He looked the Rebels up and down. “Consider yourselves lucky that you aren’t in some…Union prison…”
 
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 fear.  
 
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.
 
“Not really…WHAT???”
 
“Not really…SIR.”
 
“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 your gear.”
 
“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 accusing voice.
 
“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 reason…”
 
“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 be back.”
 
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 asked.
 
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 The Rifleman

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