Chapter Seven: Headed Home
They made better time without the prisoners. Outside of Fort Worth, the riders paused at a crossroad. Elbert and Ezekiel would stay on the main road that would take them to Weatherford and Parker County, while Micah would veer north on the Old Military Road toward Jack County.
“You boys take care,” Micah said. “I’ll get you word soon somehow on how things are. You do the same. Looks like we got fine weather for riding.”
Ezekiel looked toward the north and shook his head. “No. It’s going to rain,” Ezekiel said. “The wind’s shifted. See how your horse sniffs the air. The moon wore the Madonna’s halo last night. We’re in for a soaking.”
“Well, if so, ain’t nothin’ we can do about it, except dust the wet and mud off us in the morning,” Elbert said.
Almost as soon as Micah had taken the Gainesville Road, clouds began to roll thick in the sky, blanketing the moon like a dark shroud. The air cooled, and blobs of rain pelted him. He reached in his saddlebag for his oilcloth poncho. “We’re in for a soaking, Colbert,” he said to his horse. The line of rain ahead paddled the ground, and Micah gritted his teeth as he rode on.
The rain changed to sleet and he leaned his head forward so the brim of his hat would protect his face against the stinging pellets of ice. He thought of his many nights in the cavalry, and how most nights were spent in small tents or on the ground, sleeping between logs. He remembered waking in the morning in his dew or rain-soaked clothes, in the winter sometimes rising with a thin white shroud of snow over his body like a martyred Saint Eulalia.
He pressed himself against Colbert’s neck to absorb warmth, and rode till he came to an abandoned trapper’s shack. It had been built of juniper logs. The door and most of the chinking was gone, but it was more or less dry inside. He broke branches from some nearby blackjack oak trees, piled the wood inside the cabin, and built a fire in the crude stick and clay chimney. When the wet kindling finally took, he felt more human, and less like a soldier. When he enlisted, Erin told him she was afraid this war would cause him to lose his human side.
“Why would you think that?” he had asked her.
“My family is Scottish. My ancestors, just like yours in Wales, spent their lives fighting the English. No good came of it. Just like no good will come of this war.” She said he had war fever just like the others, and told him that in war his job would be to kill and wound men he had never known and against whom he held no personal grudge or malice. Now, Micah couldn’t remember exactly why it was so all-fired important to become a part of this war. Colbert snorted and stuck his head inside the doorway as if to look at the fire, exhaling frosty clouds of breath.
Micah ran his lariat across the shack, post to post, then shucked his clothes and draped them over the rope. He wrapped himself in his gray blanket, stretched out on the ground and stared at the flame. His teeth chattered.
The thunder reminded him of cannon, and the wind took on a mystic voice like a dumb mute uttering garbled arcane secrets. Again, he thought of Erin. The first time he saw her was at the Methodist church. She and her parents had just moved to Jack County from Fort Worth.
That Sunday, Micah had tied his horse just as the Methodist circuit minister rang the church’s bell. He took off his hat as he lined up behind other worshippers and entered the building. The minister wore a black military chaplain’s frock, one he had worn in the Mexican War—a war he talked of often in his sermons. His face bore a scar below his right eye that was covered with a patch, covering the eye he had lost from a faulty rifle cap. He held out his hand.
“Micah, so good seeing you.”
Micah moved into a pew on the edge of the divider between the men and women just as the minister began the doxology to begin the service. He then led the congregation in a few songs. The acapella singing seemed comforting that day.
After the songs, the minister said, “Brethren, I greet you in the name of the Lord. Welcome. We will now go to our God in prayer. I call on all here to observe proper proprieties of worship. I know there are Baptists and Campbellites among us. Feel free to take whatever posture of prayer you wish.”
Most in the congregation took the usual Methodist posture of kneeling on the pew and facing the rear of the church. Micah, though a Methodist himself, decided to just sit. A young woman almost directly in front of him, kneeled on her pew and faced Micah. She smiled at Micah as she bowed her head.
The minister was several lines into the prayer before Micah remembered to bow his own head.
During Communion, she passed the silver chalice over to him. She looked Micah in the eyes just as the minister said, “Now to him that is able to keep us from falling . . .”
“My name’s Erin,” she had whispered.
Micah had only nodded, suddenly finding himself speechless as he looked into her emerald green eyes. After church ended, he had managed to gather enough nerve to walk up to her. “I’m Micah Evans. Would it be possible for me to call on you?”
“You do get right to the point, don’t you.” She flipped open a fan and fanned herself, then touched her heart with the open fan.
“Well?” Micah said.
“Yes,” she replied. “I think that would be nice. I do hope you’ll bring flowers. I like flowers.” She moved the fan to her lips.
“Yes, ma’am. I think I can do that.”
Micah had loved Erin ever since that day. He did call on her that week bringing her bluebonnets, and then afterwards dropped by her parents’ farm every chance he had, helping her father with stock and repair work on the old Smith place they had bought. Erin had not been an easy girl to court. She was more educated than Micah, having had private teachers all her life. She was of Scottish ancestry, confident, and Micah soon learned that she had a fiery temper and would not put up with any nonsense. The kind of woman that he thought would be a good mother for his children.
Micah was not the only man in town who noticed Erin. Frederick too had courted her. Micah had hated the competition, though he thought Erin had only used Frederick to provoke jealousy in Micah. The year before Erin came, Micah and Frederick had been close friends, but the friendship withered, then turned hostile after Micah and Erin were engaged.
A year later, they were married. A year after that, the twins were born. When the twins were four, the war had come, and Micah signed on with the 23rd Texas Cavalry. Frederick had joined a Kansas Federal cavalry unit.
Micah woke from his reverie, bowed his head, and whispered a prayer for Erin. He seldom prayed. Never for himself, not even for his own safety, but when he did pray, it would be a soft prayer for the safety of his family.
Micah knew the war had rattled some things loose, but when he thought of Erin, he knew still had a heart inside him.