Wednesday, April 18, 2012

T. E. Story #10

As i waited for the stage, I went over again in my mind, what could be so important for the Commandant to pull me away from  this contract since it had only been a couple of months ago that he sent me on this job to see that it got finished in a timely manner.  The previous Chief Engineer had had some difficulty with the project and he was immediately replaced by the Commandant and I was sent out to relieve him.  It was my understanding that his next project was the Second Asst. Engineer to the construction project in the swamps of Florida, with a demotion in rank to match!

Certainly, there had been talks of a possible war, however, that talk had been raised first by one politician and another for the last 20 years.  It was apparently a favorite subject between the Senators and Congressmen who disagreed about the slavery question which was a festering sore between the North and the South.  Then too, there was the question of the Union using its superior population numbers to influence various bills and prospects in Congress which unfairly gave the Union a  political edge over the Southerners.

As the stage came rolling up it stopped and the night watch gave me a hand getting the luggage on board the stage.  Then shaking his hand we took leave of each other and then we were rolling down the country road toward St. Louis and a connection with the train that would carry me to the meeting with my superior.  There were two others in the coach already and both were asleep.  I was not tired as I had just woken the hour before and had three cups of what cookie called his special coffee, black as the ace of spades with a double dollop of rum.  Good man that Cookie, but a little set in his ways.

As we moved along, I gave some further thought to the report of the figures along the river that Hezzie had mentioned.  Since the road was laid along the river in this particular stretch the road was just as dangerous as the waterway for that matter.  I wondered if the stage driver and guard were aware of the concern, but decided that they had probably gotten the same warning on either end of their shift.  However, just to be safe I quietly removed the revolver from the shoulder holster and checked the loading and the priming.  I preferred the cap and ball pistol that the Navy prized so highly.  It was a .38 caliber, and at twenty-five yards had a very decent knock down power.  I had only used the pistol once during the Mexican war, when a Mexican soldier tried to hijack a paymaster's box during a visit to the camps around Mexico City.  I got in a lucky shot which broke the man's arm and the cavalry escort that was with us secured him.  I understood that the man was later hanged for his crimes as he had killed three men earlier.  Ever since that time I practiced with the pistol daily until I could hit a small tin can at twenty-five yards five out of six times.  That was about as good as was possible with Army powder and round balls but I felt it was good enough in case I got into trouble.  However, being in command of a river clearance project was hardly the same as being a sheriff or Marshall's deputy.

As the night sped by with a blur of the dark trees, I began to fall asleep, and was abruptly awakened by an explosion close by.  I immediately came awake to find the coach slowing and the driver hollering to the horses to stop.  It was still full dark and I could see the flicker of a torch or fire in the road up ahead  A moment later a shadow fell of the top of the stage with a groan and hit the ground.  The guard! What the hell was going on?!!  The others in the coach awoke and looked around both of them still drugged with sleep. I slipped the colt out of its holster and slumped down in my seat,  below the edge of the window.  The leather window curtain was down on all the windows and the doors to give some protection from the night wind of our passage and latched from the inside.  I tapped each of the others on their knees and motioned for them to slump in their seats as well. The coach lurched to a stop, and a voice outside shouted  "Throw down that money box you are a carrying, or you're a dead man!"

A second voice nearer by said, " Let's see what you got fer passengers.  I  am sorely in need of a new pocket watch.  Okay you folks inside, come on out!"  There was a hard rap on the coach door.  I gestured for the others to be quiet, and wait.  "God damn it!  I said get outen that damn coach, " and the door handle jerked down and the small door opened wide.  I just caught the flash of a dirty white riding coat, and I fired point blank into the figure.  I fired three times, and the man hit the ground.  I leaned out through the door just as the first man turned toward the sound of the gunshots,  I fired again using the final three shots, two of which hit the man in the chest and one in the knee ,  The masked man fell and lay unmoving.  I immediately jumped out of the coach and checked both men with my belt knife.  By this time the driver had his shotgun out and was looking along the road for anyone else.  Both road agents were dead, and the guard had a bullet in his side.  We picked him up and laid him inside the coach and a brief search found two ponies tied back in the woods a few steps,  We led the horses out and  tied them behind the stage.

The stage driver nervously said, "We'd better git goin' agin.  Those shots may have brought in some more of them river rats.  This is the fourth time I've been held up on this route.  I'm down a guard and I don't like this at all."

I spoke up and said, "I'll ride shotgun for you if you want.  The guard  has  taken my seat anyway, so it will help us all."

"Yer damned welcome friend, " said the driver slapping the seat next to him.

The driver looked down at the three of us and the other two gentlemen were certainly businessmen, probably from New Orleans on business.  Neither one had any weapons at all. The driver said, "It'll be a pleasure to have you.  Lets get those two varmints tied over their saddles and git on down the road."

The two businessmen helped me with the bodies and we quickly tied them over their saddles.  The two gentlemen reentered the coach and I picked up the guards coach gun where it had fallen, and then climbed up on the drivers seat.  The driver pointed down to a second shotgun and a rifle in the boot.  "Here's a couple of guns if we have any more trouble,"  he said.  I nodded and he whipped up the horses again and soon we were moving at a fast clip along the road.  We road in silence for awhile, and I reloaded my pistols  from a powder box on the coach.  Then the driver turned to me and said with a grin, "You a gun-slinger mister?  You sure handled that pretty good back there.  I want to thank you.  I have got to tell you I was pretty scared with that owlhoot swinging that six-shooter around like he was."

I laughed and answered, "No, I'm a soldier-engineer, and headed back to Washington City,"

"Well, " said the driver, " You sure plugged them nasties.  Three shots each.  You don't believe in takin' chances I spect.'"  The old man spit to the side from a tobacco plug that he was chewing on.

"No reason to," I said with a grin, "It was pretty clear who the bad guys were.  When we get to St. Louis, I'll ask the Officer in Charge of the fort their if he can send a squad of soldiers back with you on your return trip.  Some of my men spotted some strange men as they came down the river on a log raft yesterday, so I want to make a report on that as well while I'm here."

"I'd be much obliged Mr. if you would have a word with the Major.  He might listen to you.  He don't seem to have much use for civilians."  The driver spit to the side once more, and I suspected it was more disgust than necessity this time.

"I'll  be sure to do that, " I replied and settled back in the seat.

The remainder of the trip went by with no further problems.  The coach came into the town limits of St. Louis, and the driver told me, "I'm gonna pull around to the hospital and git Jess, that's the guard, fixed up first, and then I'll drop you at the stockade and wait there until you have yer confab with the Major, then I reckon that you'll be headed for the train station.  That all right with you?"

"That'll do fine, " I said and got ready to get down and help carry the guard into the hospital.

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