Authors: Jim R. Woolard
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
organ's coming! Morgan's coming!”
Ty Mattson felt the fool the moment he shouted those words. He was yelling for Boone Jordan, a Mexican War veteran and the calmest man in all of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The redness faded from his cheeks as a chuckling Boone Jordan stepped from the stall he had been mucking. Mr. Jordan's peg leg stirred a tiny cloud of dust on the floor of the livery stable. “Is he in sight yet?”
Gulping breath, Ty halted before the livery owner. “No, they say he may pass through here tomorrow or the next day.”
“I heard about the telegram the dispatcher at the L and N Depot received during the night,” Boone said. “Not to disappoint you, lad, Morgan's main column won't attack Elizabethtown. A scouting party or foraging detail may come nosing around, but not the main column.”
Ty frowned. “How can you be so sure?”
Boone leaned on his pitchfork. “Morgan will follow the road through Lebanon and Bardstown, even if it means a fight with what Union blue bellies are blocking his path. It's the shortest route to the Ohio River. He's aiming to cross the Ohio at Brandenburg.”
“Then he won't attack Louisville or Elizabethtown like many people claim?”
Boone stroked his bearded chin. “Naw, if he captured a city the size of Louisville, he couldn't hold it. Federal forces are after him like bees swarming on honey and they'd surround him in a day or two. He'd lose his whole command. And Elizabethtown is out of his way now. He has no interest in burning the L and N trestles at Muldraugh Hill again. He has bigger game in mind. He means to invade Indiana and Ohio and raise hob as long as he can before recrossing the river.”
Ty didn't doubt Boone Jordan's reasoning, but he was mighty curious as to how the livery owner could be so certain about Morgan's intentions, while no one else seemed certain about anything where the infamous raider was concerned. “How did you learn what General Morgan's real plan is, Mr. Jordan?”
Boone's response shook Ty from brow to toes. “Your father told me.”
“My father lives in Texas,” a bewildered Ty said. “He's been there all my life. How would he know what's happening in Kentucky?”
Boone stood his pitchfork against the wall of the stall he was cleaning. “Old Joe can finish the mucking out. Come back to the tack room with me, lad. You're old enough and have a right to the true story of Owen Mattson.”
Ty stuck tight to Boone Jordan's heels, heart pounding like a smithy's hammer. Maybe he would finally learn something about his father, besides what little his grandmother had told him: how his father had gone off to fight in the Mexican War, leaving behind Ty's pregnant mother, who had died giving birth to him. According to his grandmother, his father had chosen to remain in Texas after the fighting ended. To the best of Ty's knowledge, his father had never attempted to contact his grandparents by messenger or mail after that fateful decision.
Ty never ceased wondering why his father had abandoned him. Did his father even know he was alive? Was it too much to hope Mr. Jordan might at last provide the answers to his many questions? Was his longing to know the truth finally, truly over?
The oversized tack room smelled of leather, horsehair, neat's-foot oil, and fried lard. Saddles rested on sawhorses and bridles; harness and headgear hung from wall pegs. A cast-iron stove occupied the wall opposite the doorway, with its stovepipe piercing the wall through a tin vent hole. Two ladder-back chairs flanked the small wooden table, where Old Joe and Mr. Jordan ate their meals and enjoyed their evening ration of corn liquor, behind closed doorsâwhat with Elizabethtown being a strict Baptist community that denounced, each and every Sunday, the partaking of distilled spirits.
Boone pointed to one of the chairs at the table. “Have a seat, lad.” Pivoting on his peg leg, the livery owner dropped into the chair across from Ty.
“I suppose I better start at the beginning. Your father and I went off to Texas in 18 and 46. We enlisted at Lexington, Kentucky, in John Hunt Morgan's company. Morgan was a captain then. Once the tussle with Mexico was finished, your father and I decided to settle in Texas. It may sound cruel and cold to you, but your father knew your mother had died during childbirth. She was a beautiful woman, and it sapped the will out of him for months. Heâ”
“Did father know I survived?” Ty interrupted.
“Don't get impatient with me, lad,” Boone Jordan said with a gentle smile.
“I'm sorry I was rude, Mr. Jordan. I've asked that question since I was old enough to understand what few tidbits about my father that Grandmother shared with me.”
Boone Jordan sighed, extended his arm and clasped Ty's shoulder. “Owen knew you survived. Enoch and your father had a falling-out before he left Kentucky, but your grandmother defied his orders and wrote your father and told him.”
“Then father never wanted to lay eyes on me, to claim me for his son,” Ty blurted out, choking back a sob.
“Hear me out, lad,” Boone said. “Don't judge your father too harshly until you do. All right?”
Ty nodded his head and bit his lip to make sure he remained silent. He might not like what he was about to be told, but he wouldn't bawl like a child and disgrace himself. He was nearly seventeen years of ageâtoo old to break into tears in front of Mr. Jordan.
“Owen mourned your mother for years,” Boone said. “He talked of returning to Kentucky. Then we joined the Rangers, so as not to starve, and we were soon chasing Comanche warriors over most of Texas. We were scouting on horseback nearly every waking hour. Years went by and your father started talking of some day owning a ranch of his own. He hardly mentioned Kentucky, lad. I think so much time slipped away, your father was terribly embarrassed that he had ducked his fatherly duties.”
Boone leaned back in his chair. His gaze was fixed on Ty's face. “There was also your grandfather to be dealt with, if he came home. Now, Owen fears nothing. He saved my life when we were caught in that Comanche ambush at Blue Springs. Sure, I lost part of a leg, but I'm still waking to daylight.”
Brain whirling, Ty hung on Boone's every word.
“What Owen didn't want was a brawl with your grandfather. Enoch objected to his marrying your mother. Your grandmother told Owen in her letter that your grandfather had disowned him, had legally denied him his rightful inheritance, and had himself appointed your guardian by the Elizabethtown courts. If Owen ever set foot on Mattson property again, your grandfather vowed he'd shoot him.”
Boone Jordan's heavy brow knitted together. “Lad, I wager you know nothing about Owen being disowned, the guardianship, or your grandfather's threat, do you?”
Flabbergasted, Ty could only shake his head. His grandmother hadn't told himâthat he understood. Victoria Mattson seldom went against the wishes of her husband. Her single letter to his father constituted a lifetime of rebellion in the strict household of Enoch Mattson.
Which left his grandfather. Why had he opposed his father's marriage? What had been wrong with his mother? Did he ever intend to inform Ty of the guardianship, which legally had eliminated any claim his father had on him? How could his grandfather hate his own son that much?
Boone Jordan sat quietly, allowing Ty a chance to digest and accept what he'd just learned; here was knowledge that would change how Ty thought and felt forever. Ty's first question was no surprise. Boone would have asked the same one in his place.
“How did you find all this out, Mr. Jordan? Did Father tell you while you were in Texas together, or did he write to you?”
“No, he told me in person.”
Boone saw Ty's face droop from shock. He grinned as Ty grabbed the edge of his chair with both hands. Somehow the youngster kept his composure, which impressed Boone mightily. This lad had promise, real promise of perhaps becoming the man his father was.
“Owen is riding with General Morgan's cavalry right now, today,” Boone continued. “He joined the general in Tennessee, a year ago June. We became friends with General Morgan while serving under him in Mexico. Your father is assigned to the general's personal staff. I wrote your father after I returned to Elizabethtown. That's how he knew I'd taken ownership of my uncle's livery stable after he passed away. Owen sought me out after General Morgan's men captured Elizabethtown last Christmas.”
“Did he want to see me?”
Boone Jordan showed no annoyance with Ty's abrupt inquiry. “Yes, he did. He just didn't dare show himself at your grandfather's door in anything other than a blue uniform. An ardent Union sympathizer, like your grandfather, would have started shooting the minute he saw a Confederate cavalryman in his barnyard, son or no son. You deal with Enoch Mattson, you better walk the same path or suffer the consequences.”
“You're right, Mr. Jordan. Grandfather had the house shutters battened. He and the neighbors were armed and ready. Lucky for us, Morgan's man didn't come out north of town and pester us.”
“That wasn't luck. It was your father's doing. He asked General Morgan for orders that the home and property of Enoch Mattson was not to be looted or burned, and the general thinks enough of Owen he issued such orders.”
“So, even though grandfather despises him, father protected him from any harm at the hands of Morgan's men.”
“Not exactly, it was more that he was preserving the Mattson acres and its Thoroughbred horses for his son, the future heir.”
An entirely different picture of his father was rapidly forming in Ty's mind. What did his father look like? What kind of uniform did he wear? How did he talk? How did he walk? Why did General Morgan hold him in such high regard? How much did he honestly care about his only son?
A craving swept through Ty with the force of a tidal wave. Suddenly the most imperative need in his whole existence was to meet his father face-to-face, and he couldn't wait until the war was over. What if his father died in battle?
To search for his father, he needed a horse and a gun. Blue and gray soldiers and maraudersâwith no allegiance to either sideâroamed the Kentucky countryside, killing, burning, and looting at will. No sane soul dared travel afoot and unarmed. It was doubly risky to travel alone, as Ty would.
He ruled out one possible source of a horse and gun. While he wasn't happy with how his grandfather had come between him and his father, Ty was loath to steal from the person who had boarded and provided for him since birth. He couldn't countenance being branded a common thief by the Elizabethtown Baptists, to the embarrassment of Church Elder Enoch Mattson.
Ty swore Boone Jordan was inside his head with him. “Want to meet your father, do you, lad?” Boone asked.
“Yes, sir, more than I want to breathe. But I can't go off hunting him without a horse and gun. Grandfather won't give them to me willingly, and I can't rightly steal from him.”
“By damned, you are Owen Mattson's son, all right. He can't steal from others, even if he's starving.”
Boone smiled slyly. “Well, young feller, maybe I can be of help to you. You'll be seventeen in a few days. In a year you'll be eighteen. Your grandfather can't keep you out of the blue-belly army once you reach the draft age of eighteen without breaking the law of the land. We both know he won't do that. Maybe you should have a say as to what your future will be. If you're grown enough to don a uniform and tote a rifle, and I believe you are, then you're old enough to decide which side you want to fight with. Follow me, lad.”
Peg leg thumping the floor, the livery owner skirted the stove. With a loud grunt, he pulled a wooden crate from behind it. “Grab the other end. Help me slide this crate over by the table.”
Full of unbounded curiosity, Ty could hardly wait for Mr. Jordan to unbuckle the crate's leather straps and lift its lid. “Been a while since I poked around in here,” Boone said, “but I believe we have everything you need.”
First out of the crate was a wide-brimmed hat, with the right side pinned to the crown by a brass star. Ty's astonishment grew, the deeper Boone dug. A pair of spurs, with huge silver rowels and tiny bells, and leather jackboots, which tied above the knee, followed the hat. Next out was a holstered revolver with waist belt, a leather shoulder bag, a pair of woolen trousers, and, finally, a cotton shield shirt.
“I judge you to be about my size. The clothes and boots should fit okay.”
“Are these the clothes and revolver you wore in Texas, Mr. Jordan?”
“Yep, this is Ranger garb. Gano's Brigade of Texas Cavalry rides with General Morgan. You meet up with Morgan's column and you'll be a dead ringer for those crazy Texans.”
Boone lifted the revolver and drew the weapon from the cavalry holster. “This is the most important thing on the table. You recognize it, don't you? I owned a matching pair of 1858 Remingtons. I sold your grandfather the other revolver last summer. It's the pistol he taught you to shoot with. Enoch bragged this winter how accurate you'd become at target practice.”
Ty didn't bother interjecting that his grandfather hadn't shared that positive opinion of his target shooting with him. Compliments from Enoch Mattson were scarce as a barn cat with five legs and cow horns.
“Lad, I don't preach,” Boone said. “I'm not by nature a preacher. I'll make an exception this one time and share the cardinal rule of the Rangers with you. Unless it's orders from a senior officer, never let anyoneâunder any circumstancesâseparate you from your weapon. Part with your gun and you're as good as dead. Many a Ranger is alive because he stuck to that training. Will you promise me that?”
At Ty's nod, Boone Jordan laid the revolver aside, rapped the table with his knuckles, and rose from his chair. “Let's mosey out to the stock pen. You can't meet up with Morgan's cavalry afoot. Those Texas rowdies would laugh Owen Mattson's son clean out of Kentucky.”