The bark of a pistol shot echoed in the early dawn an’ I was out from under the scant cover of my ol’ slouch hat faster than who-hit-John. Within a moment, I was one of six men scrabblin’ about the Virginia brush gatherin’ horse tack.
Saul Langly jumped his horse over a three rail fence an’ rode past at a gallop wavin’ a smokin’ Colt an’ bellerin’, “Yankees!”
Saul hadn’t never been much of a talker, but seein’ as how a mob of bluebelly cavalry come surgin’ up ta that fence after him, I figured he was as eloquent as the situation warranted. Two of them troopers dismounted an’ commenced breakin’ down fence rails whilst others let loose with a fusillade of carbine fire. Them bluebellies wasn’t no better at shootin’ from horseback than they was at jumpin’ fences, but their bullets serenaded through the trees like a chorus of hornets I dropped my saddle an’ yanked Pinstock’s bridle rein from the pawpaw I’d tied it to. That ornery ol’ horse snapped at me but I wasn’t in no mood ta play. I dodged his good mornin’ greetin’ an’ bounded onta his broad back without anythin’ betwixt us but the seat of my gray wool britches.
The rest of our boys was leavin’ out of there like scorched cats, but little Leland Sinclair was new ta Mosby’s Rangers an’ was havin’ a devil of a time with his horse. I had Pinstock shoulder that obstreperous dapple geldin’ back his direction as we rode by and when Pinstock hits somethin’, it surely moves. Well Le got his arms about his horse’s neck an’ managed ta climb up just as them Yankees come a boilin’ on through that busted fence.
Some of our boys had galloped off East, some West. I nosed Pinstock off inta a narrow footpath that led ta the creek an’ Le trailed along. As we rode, I could hear the cussin’ an’ yellin of them Yankees behind us. They was all bottlenecked by the brush and we outdistanced ’em through the trees an’ tanglin’ briars.
I didn’t slow down until we drew nigh the creek. I waved down Le’s urgin’ for me ta hurry-up ’cause I smelled smoke an’ breakfast acookin’. I whispered back, “Troops campin’ up ahead. Must be the whole Yankee army.”
“What’ll we do?”
“Punch on through,” I told him whilst I dragged out my big .44 Colt.
“But I ain’t got a gun.”
“Where’s your guns?”
“I took ’em off ta sleep comfortable.”
“Well you ain’t so comfortable now, are ya?” I demanded. “Of all the derned fool things! How are we ever gonna make a Ranger outta you?”
“Well, Saul was on watch, I just figgered…”
“If Colonel Mosby ever hears, he’ll cuss you unmerciful!” I pulled the Navy Colt from my right boot an’ passed it over. Rangers did their fightin’ from the back of a horse an’ most everyone carried two or three revolvers.
I didn’t reply ta his nod of thanks. I just moved off slowly. It never had been much of a trail an’ what with the war an’ all, the briars had crept in so as ta scrape my britches on both sides as I rode. I was just smellin’ the damp of the creek when I heard a slap an’ a Yankee cuss, “Damned mosquitoes!” from not too far ahead. I waved at Le ta stay put whilst I walked Pinstock on along. I found that picket by his grumblin’ an’ cussin’. He wasn’t nearly as concerned about guardin’ his camp as he was about them tormentin’ skeeters.
I cocked my Colt ta announce my presence an’ ordered, “Pass me that rifle, butt first.” He was a pale-faced kid, no more’n sixteen year old. He passed over that rifle an’ I waved him off with my pistol. “Git!”
That boy taken to runnin’. I waved ta Le an’ kicked Pinstock. We burst outta that brush an’ had galloped halfway through the rows of white tents before anyone realized what was happenin’. In about two shakes, that camp changed from sleepy men, leisurely eatin’ an’ shavin’, ta high-kickin’ boots an’ flyin’ elbows as them boys scrabbled fer their stacks of rifles. Them who was in our path jumped aside ta save their lives.
One of their pickets taken a wild shot at us an’ I finished the war fer him with a .44 slug. I heard Le let loose with my .36 Navy a couple of times durin’ our dash. Then our horses was hock deep in the creek. There wasn’t any real firin’ at us until after we already made the brush an’ trees of the far bank.
A half mile along a deer trail, I pulled up an’ dismounted ta walk an’ rest Pinstock. We’d found the enemy camp, sure enough; now we had ta live ta report back ta the Colonel.
When the trail widened out, Le moved ta walk beside me. “I want ta thank ya kindly fer savin’ my bacon back there, Tom. First with my horse, then borrowin’ me this gun.”
“Well just don’t go gettin’ ‘comfortable’ next time you’re out scoutin’,” I scolded him a mite. “When them Yankees come, they’re thick as fleas an’ mighty abrupt.”
“I’ll be ready next time.” He offered my Navy Colt back.
“You just keep that till we’re back ta our own army.”
“It’s okay, I’ve got this one now.” He showed me a new Army Colt he had shoved in his belt.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Took it away from a Yankee Cap’n who was drawin’ a bead on your back.”
“You snatched it right out of his hand as ya galloped past?”
“Well congratulations, Le,” I give him a slap on his shoulders an’ took my gun. “Looks like we’ll make a Ranger outta you yet!”
Rob Mancebo is a former army scout and infantryman, classified courier, locksmith, alarm/video technician, and security guard, He now makes his living in the tamer environment of emergency medical care as an X-ray and medical technician. He’s had numerous Spec-fiction, Historical fiction, Western, Fantasy, and SciFi stories published. His latest rollicking Western, Born to Trouble, is now available from Eternal Press.