Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

We held our family council and unanimously decided to head west in the spring. Everyone even agreed with me that the Nebraska Territory should be our objective. I had the thousand dollars JC had won for me, so selling the farm was only important for my family’s honor. We planned on all sitting down at least weekly to develop and refine a plan for the move. JC agreed that he would accompany us at least as far as North Texas.

The second part of the family meeting was how we would protect ourselves from the unpleasantness that we knew was looming. JC and I figured that Cummins probably had some thugs in his hire that would happily dispatch us to our maker and burn the farm to the ground for a few dollars in whiskey money. To that end we divided up into three teams: JC, Anne and Rose; Mama, Ruth and Florence; and Rachael, Carole and me. Then we instituted a watch schedule, with each team taking a four-hour shift. Two members of the team on watch would be out in the barn while one waited in the house.

We positioned weapons near the shuttered windows of the house so they were easily accessible to the others when the team on watch raised the alarm. We had plenty of weapons, both those belonging to JC and me, as well as those from four other households. All of the women could shoot with varying degrees of accuracy, and all were more than ready to contribute to the family’s defense.

Rachael and I were the members of our team that stood watch from the hayloft of the barn. While on watch, Rachael and I were alone for the first measurable amount of time since I returned from the war. We talked a lot that first night; some of the things she said astonished me.

We were discussing the move to Nebraska when out of the blue she said, “I want to be your woman, Jeremiah.”

I had been staring out of the hayloft as we talked, her pronouncement made me jerk my head around towards her.

“W ... what?” I stammered.

She regarded me seriously as she reached her hands up and unpinned her hair. Rachael had beautiful hair the rich reddish color of chestnuts. It hung to the small of her slender back in thick waves. The light from the three-quarter moon spilling into the loft made her tresses sparkle as if they were covered with drops of dew.

“I want to be your woman,” she repeated firmly. “I could care less if we ever marry, but I love you and I need you, Jeremiah. You are the only man I feel comfortable and safe around. Coop was a good man and I loved him in a fashion but with you it is different. I felt it as soon as you came back. You make me feel as if I were Ruth’s age again.”

I was speechless at her proclamation. All I could think to do was hold my arms out to her. She gave me one of her sweet smiles and fell into my embrace. Rachael was the first woman for whom I’d ever had a yearning. I had always thought that she was beautiful with her amazing hair and flawless skin. She was slender and graceful, medium of height with a comely figure. I think a part of my besottment with Millie Silvestry stemmed from her resemblance to Rachael. So Rachael’s pronouncement wasn’t unwelcome by any means. However, there was a huge fly in the ointment.

“I would love that Rachael. You know I have always adored you, but what about Mama and the rest of the family?”

“Mama knows how I feel, Sweet Baby. She loves us both and wants to see us happy because of all the sorrow our family has been through. The rest of the family will be fine with the idea. We women have already discussed it.”

Rachael gave me a smile so sweet my heart turned to mush. Then she snuggled up against me and whispered in my ear.

You and I are here all alone sitting under a lover’s moon. Don’t you think you should at least give me a kiss while you think about it?”

I covered her lips with mine and kissed her the way Lorena had taught me. I guess Rachael wasn’t expecting me to know how to kiss or something because her eyes popped open and she moaned into my mouth.

“That was fantastic beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, Jeremiah. Wherever did you learn kiss that way?”

“I would not be a gentleman if I told, but I am very pleased that you enjoyed it,” I replied.

She pulled my head down and kissed me passionately. She broke the kiss and actually laughed out loud for the first time I could remember. I asked her what was so funny. She replied that she thought she’d be the one teaching an inexperienced boy about lovemaking, not the other way around. I chuckled too.

“Let me show you what else I learned,” I said eagerly.

As I said before, I’m not one for idle boasting, so let us leave it that Rachael enjoyed being the beneficiary of my lessons from Connie and her friends.

I could tell that we weren’t the only team finding novel ways to entertain ourselves up in the hayloft, as JC and Anne became more demonstrative in their affection toward each other. Still, it was a surprise to me when JC came to talk to me while I was in the barn sharpening a scythe. I had five of the implements to peen and stone and two that needed repairs to the snath (handle). We would need them shortly to mow in hay and fodder for the winter. JC stood next to me, uncharacteristically quiet, until I looked at him inquiringly.

“Jeb, I think I’m in love with Anne and she says she loves me too. It is the damnedest thing, because I can’t recall ever feeling about a woman this way. I can’t think when I’m around her. She tells me something and even if it is a thing I wouldn’t ever do, I find my head nodding up and down as if it was the best idea I ever heard. I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“This is a good thing, JC. But only if you are not going to be chasing around and gambling as you did in Richmond. Anne is an adult and can make up her own mind, but she and the girls are family to me.”

JC grinned ruefully.

“Them days are over Jeb, word of honor. For some reason Anne makes me not even think about such as that. One thing though, when we move west I ain’t sod bustin’ for a living. I want to ranch, run a few head of cattle and maybe breed some mules and horses.”

I returned his grin.

“I am done farming when we leave here, JC. I have never wanted to farm, anyway. My feet are too itchy for even ranching, probably.”

JC and Anne together was one of those oddities for which only love could account. They were opposites in every manner you could measure. JC was stocky and ruddy with black hair. Anne was willowy, fair and blonde. JC was easy going and talkative, while Anne was serious and quiet. I guess, come to think about it, they complemented each other perfectly.

Anne was the one who finally dragged JC’s real name out of him. She said she wasn’t marrying a man who refused to tell her his real name. JC finally fessed up at supper that night. Right in the middle of the meal he got down on one knee in front of Anne’s chair. “My real name is Julius Caesar Colberteri, Anne. Now will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Rachael and I were on watch about a week after JC proposed to Anne when eight riders tried to sneak up on us. We saw them from the loft as they led their mounts to within a few hundred feet of the house. After a short conference one man held the horses and the other seven crept forward. When they were about a hundred feet away from the house two of the men lit creosote torches while three others started to move around behind the house. Their plan was clear; they were going to set the house on fire and probably kill anyone who came out the doors or windows.

Rachael was armed with my Enfield and one of our cap and ball pistols, a Colt in .36 caliber. I had my Spencer repeater. I put my lips to Rachael’s ear and told her to fire at the man with the torch on the right when I gave her the signal. Rachael appeared scared but determined. I knew she was capable of hitting the man from this distance. On my count of three we fired almost simultaneously. The man I hit dropped to one knee but held onto the torch. Rachael’s target pitched backwards and his torch went flying through the air. The airborne torch landed behind the other two men and silhouetted them even better than the half moon had. I worked the Spencer’s mechanism and dropped another.

I grabbed Rachael’s arm and pulled her backwards out of the barn’s upper door when the remaining man fired a pistol in our direction. The pall of smoke from our shots was a dead giveaway as to our location. As we were wiggling backwards I heard shooting coming from the house. I hoped that JC and the other women were accounting for themselves as well as we had. We left the Enfield and scrambled down the ladder and out the back door of the barn. As soon as we were outside in the shadows I pulled Rachael against me and kissed her hard.

“You are some kind of a special woman Rachael, it made me randy watching you in action,” I whispered.

No, I am not that big a degenerate, but Rachael appeared shaken by having to shoot someone, so I was trying to snap her out of it.

“Now all you have to do is keep an eye on me as I move around the side of the barn and make sure no one sneaks up behind me, okay honey?”

She gave me a shaky smile, nodded and squeezed my hand. I handed her the Spencer and took the Colt. The revolver was fully loaded and I had a spare loaded cylinder in my pocket. I opted for the hand gun because I thought I could move quieter with a less cumbersome weapon. I was going to circle around as quickly as I could and get the drop on the man holding the horses. I figured that any survivors were bound to head that way also and I could mop up any of them that were still alive. I stayed in the shadows and moved to the corner of the barn looking into the front yard. Nothing was moving so I motioned Rachael to join me.

I had Rachael lie prone behind the corner of the building and told her to drop anyone coming towards the house unless she recognized them as family. When I was sure she understood what I wanted I slipped back around the barn and crept along the fence and among the big live oaks and hickory trees surrounding the house. It took me about ten minutes to maneuver around behind the horses. It wasn’t difficult to find them as the horses nickered occasionally and two men were whispering urgently to one another. The two raiders didn’t know I was there until I was only a few feet behind them.

“Don’t move unless you want to join your friends in hell,” I said quietly.

Of course the man that wasn’t tending the horses started to swing around, pistol in his hand. I shot him in the head without a thought about it. I was protected and semi-concealed behind a big pine tree and could probably have slowed him down instead of killing him. I could have but I didn’t, because by attacking my family he had made his decision that it was his night to die. The other man did not so much as twitch. The horses didn’t bolt with the gunshot; they were well-trained warhorses.

“Lie on your stomach and put you arms behind your back,” I ordered the remaining man.

He quickly complied. “Don’t kill me mister, I’m just watching the horses. I ain’t even got a gun,” he begged.

I didn’t reply to his beseeching as I moved to check his compatriot. The man I shot was quite dead, a gaping wound where his right eye had been. I removed his belt and took his pistol from his lifeless fingers. The man had been armed with a LeMat grapeshot revolver. Finding the man with a LeMat was a surprise because the only others I’d seen were carried by high-ranking Confederate officers. PT Beauregard carried one, and so did Jeb Stuart. The weapon was not hardy enough to take the punishment of life with a line soldier. The LeMat was in excellent repair with all nine cylinders and the underslung shotgun chamber loaded. I put it in my belt, sat on the other man’s back and trussed up his hands with his friend’s belt.

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