Chapter Seventeen – Micah Returns Ruthie
Ramon led them to the O’Connor farm. Like most farm and ranch houses in Jack Country, there was a fence around the yard made of juniper and bois d’arc posts. The house was still solid with only a few signs of disrepair. As they approached the fence Ramon said, “They’ve done fairly well with the place, considering how many men are gone. Women have had to handle everything—the crops, the livestock, repairs, the children. Let us hope the savages leave them alone.”
An old man in a rocking chair sat on the porch. He was smoking a long-stemmed clay pipe. When they stopped their horses in front of him, he said, “Ramon Chavez. I haven’t seen you in a spell. I heard you became a Ranger again and signed up with that same unit Frederick’s brother went out with. He didn’t get himself kilt, did he?”
“Yes, it is the same unit. No, Henry is well, but he lost his horse to the Comanches. He should return on foot soon.”
“Get off your horses and I’ll make you and your secessionist friend there some coffee.” His eyes moved to the girl and his smile vanished. “Lord’s sake! Jenny, you best come out here. Ramon Chavez has found your cousin. Good Lord, we feared she was dead.”
“We followed the Kiowas who took her,” Ramon said.
Jenny stepped outside and covered her mouth with her hand. “Ruthie! Oh, Jesus! Ruthie!”
Ruthie stared blankly at her. Jenny ran to Ramon who lifted Ruthie from his horse and passed her down to her.
She smothered the girl in an embrace and kisses. “Ruthie, I was so worried, I thought I’d never seen you again! Thank you, Ramon! Thank you so much! And I thank your friend too.” She looked closer at Micah. “Well, if it’s not Micah Evans. You finally returned to Jack County. I thank you too, sir.”
“Micah’s what you always called me before, Jenny. And I never wanted to be a sir, especially with old friends. Sounds too much like I am—was an officer.”
“Well, seems like a strange notion to worry about.” She clutched Ruthie to herself. “Ruthie, are you well, darlin’?”
Ruthie muttered a few incoherent words, and then groaned in anger. She pulled in a deep breath, then spoke the first words Micah had heard her speak. “It has been terrible, Jenny. Mama and Papa are dead! So is little Jimmy. These two men saved me, and they killed the stinking Indians that took me. Jenny, they did horrible things to me. They hurt me. I wanted to die. I prayed that I would die!” She buried her face in her cousin’s shoulder.
“Shhhh, Ruthie. Don’t talk about it. It doesn’t matter what happened, as long as you are back.” Jenny was crying now, and she placed her arm around Ruthie and led her toward the house. She turned her head. “You men, give us a few minutes so I can tend to her wounds and put some decent clothes on her, and then I’ll fix us a fine supper.” Her eyes fixed on Micah’s briefly, then she looked down. “It’s the least I can do to thank you. Tie up your horses and talk with Papa Charlie. And Papa Charlie, don’t you don’t cause no trouble.”
“War’s over, Jenny. I ain’t gonna mistreat no one who brought home your cousin.” He grinned. “Even if he was a disloyal son of the Union. But I reckon since he is a friend of Chavez, I can put up with him. You are Augdon Evan’s son, ain’t you?”
“Yes, sir, I am.”
“My goodness. My goodness. You can just call me Papa Charlie. I knew your father. He thought a lot of Sam Houston. How did he feel about you joining up with the Confederacy?”
“He didn’t cotton to it much, Papa Charlie. We had some words over it.”
“You as good as man as your father was, boy?”
“I don’t rightly know, Papa Charlie. I reckon he was a better man than I could ever be.”
Papa Charlie looked at Chavez. “What do you think, Chavez?” He pitched Ramon a small sack of tobacco. “Corn husk is inside the pouch if you want to roll yourself a cigarette. I know you don’t cotton to pipes none. It’s good tobacco. Growed it myself.”
Ramon carefully pinched out some tobacco and placed it in the cut square sheet of husk, licked the edge, and then rolled it. Papa Charlie popped a Lucifer match with his finger and held the flame out to him. Ramon lit the cigarette, inhaled deeply, then exhaled. “Thank you, Papa Charlie.” Ramon led his horse to the watering trough and finished his cigarette. “He’s as good a man as Augdon. A natural Comanche killer. He is fearless.”
“Sometimes fearless ain’t a good quality for a man to have. Fearless man takes too many chances and he don’t know when to let something go.”
Ramon passed Micah the pouch of tobacco. “I need to tend to these horses. The Indian ponies belong to Micah, the other two were stolen from Ruthie’s family. I’ll put them in the corral for now.”
Micah remained on the porch and rolled a cigarette for himself. He lit it off Ramon’s cigarette, and while he, Ramon, and Papa Charlie smoked, he could only think of the two bright blue eyes of Erin O’Connor.
* * *
That night, Micah and Ramon sat at the O’Connor table and shared the supper of cornbread, pinto beans, canned tomatoes, and coffee that Jenny had prepared.
“I am sorry we don’t have meat tonight,” Jenny said.
“It’s better fare than we’ve been eatin’,” Micah said. “I’m much obliged. I heard you married.”
“I did. Did you know my husband, Micah Evans?”
“No, ma’am, not well anyway. But I did meet Frederick not long after he moved here. He weren’t too friendly at the time.”
“Well, it’s been so long since I heard from him. I fear the worst. I guess I will be another Texas widow. I didn’t want him to get involved in this ignorant war. The store was doing well. He was never real good at taking care of himself, and I just knew some heathen rebel soldier would shoot him down.”
She set down her cup of coffee. “I’m sorry, that sounded harsh. I don’t want to judge you for fighting with the Confederates. Our men here had to choose, and each had to follow his own conscience. I know the war is near over now, but Jack County lost too many men to it, on both sides, and I don’t know what I should be thinking.”
“I can’t rightly remember why I went myself,” Micah said. “Ramon and my father both tried to convince me not to go. They said the county was too divided for any sane man to take a stand. It all seems to have been for nothin’ anyway. I guess standin’ up for an ideal you believe in ain’t enough to win a war, specially when you have men running armies who weren’t cut out for the job. General Smith was a good enough commander, so was Kirby, but some of the others, seem to have been a bit addled. So I take it you are a Unionist like your husband?”
“It’s a touchy issue between my husband and me. My brother moved to New Orleans and joined the 6th Louisiana. One of Lee’s Tigers. He died at Sharpsburg.”
“I’m indeed sorry to hear that.”
“Well, I have such a busy day tomorrow.” Jenny stood behind Micah and refilled his coffee cup, and laid a hand on Micah’s shoulder. “I must go to Jacksboro for some more supplies. So now, I am going to wash the dishes, then prepare a bed for you men on the floor.”
The touch of her hand was light, but it jolted him. “That’s mighty nice of you Miss Jenny,” Micah said. He saw Ramon shake his head slightly.
“Aren’t you the gentleman now, Micah. We grew up together. It sounds strange to hear you address me in such a proper manner.”
“Micah and I can sleep outside, Miss O’Connor,” Ramon said. “The weather is mild, and I feel that you need to be alone with Ruthie. It will be no bother for us.”
“Well, I will give you some extra blankets so you can sleep in comfort, and prepare you a breakfast tomorrow before you leave.”
“We are grateful for your kindness, Miss Jenny,” Ramon said.
Micah found he couldn’t think of anything to say at all. Erin had withdrawn her hand from his shoulder, but he could still feel her hand’s warmth, and something like pre-battle jitters in his stomach.
That night, after they had spread their blankets on the O’Connor porch, Ramon said, “Micah, I am going to say the same thing I know your father would say to you.”
“What’s that, Ramon?”
“I know you took a furlough, but you shouldn’t go back. Your family needs you here.”
“I don’t intend to go back, Ramon. I do have to check on the captain’s family though. Now, quit jawing and let’s get some sleep. Soon Ramon began to snore.
Later, Micah could hear Ruthie whimpering inside. “Damn it, Ramon, how can they sleep with that girl carrying on so?” He didn’t know how to put the thought into words. He had seen hard things in the war, but never something like this. Do you think they . . .”
Ramon turned over on his stomach and raised up on his elbows. The waning moon still gave enough illumination to make out the rim of hills to the west and the cottonwood trees along the O’Connor’s creek. He sighed, “Yes, they did. I’ve never known of Comanches or Kiowas not violating a woman they take. The Comanches and Kiowa have a story they tell. A war party of fifty warriors captured a white woman. The one who captured her took a fancy to her and wanted to keep her as his wife. The others came to him and said, ‘You are not a war chief. You must share the woman with us equally before you can claim her as your wife.’
Well, they all raped her, all fifty of them. When they were finished, one said, ‘Now, you can claim her as your own property.’ The warrior who had taken the woman said, ‘I do not want her now that you have all had her.’ So, they left her to die on the prairie.”
“That story don’t make no sense to me at all, Ramon.”
“Of course not, but it would if you were a Comanche.”