Notes: This is just a story on how I saw Buck growing up and becoming the man we see in the M7 TV series. Because there wasn't very much information the 'Ladies man' gave us I had to use some creative license with his past. Including such things as his mother, his time wearing a badge, and how he met Chris.
Special Thanks: To Elisia, Antoinette, and Julie. You guys are just AWESOME!!!
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Nebraska Territory, 1840
"Push Mattie," Josephine yelled from the end of the bed.
"I am," Mattie sighed, as she lay her head back against the pillow, she felt as someone wiped her face down with a cool cloth. She screamed again as another contraction came harder and longer this time. Her child was coming.
When the child did come Mattie looked wildly around the room. Though she was exhausted, she couldn't wait to see the baby she'd carried for nine months. When Josephine handed her the child, her face lit up when she saw the thick black hair on the child's head.
"It's a boy," Joe said. She touched Mattie's arm and wiped the thick hair away from the boy's face.
"Ladies." A woman with wide hips wearing an elegantly cut red dress entered the room with a demeanor that demanded attention. "We've got customers down stairs," she ordered, motioning for the door. Her face was painted heavily as she tried desperately to hide the signs of aging. She was the 'Madame of the House' and her girls worked for her.
This wasn't the first child to be born in a whorehouse, nor would it be the last. Thankfully, Madame Jewel didn't have a problem with her girls raising their children in her home. As long as they were productive and stayed out of sight, they were tolerated. Josephine had been the first and so far the only 'girl' to have had a child while under Jewel's roof, sadly, however, the child didn't live past three months, having died in its crib late one night. Mattie had helped her best friend through her most trying time and less than two years later she found herself in the same predicament. Pregnant, with no husband, and the social stigma of being a 'working girl', all of which wasn't going to get her any proposals.
Several of the girls moved past Jewel, wearing their usual working attire of corsets, stockings, and bloomers.
Joe continued to sit next to her friend and she looked up when Jewel stepped closer to the bed. Mattie sat with a smile on her face, her eyes brighter than ever, and her hair matted beyond belief. There wasn't a more beautiful woman in the world.
"What are you goin' to name the child?" Jewel asked, she looked longingly at the boy.
Mattie smiled. "Buck after his pa," she replied with a smile.
"Thought you didn't know who he was?" Joe asked, slightly concerned.
"I don't." Mattie smiled. "But I figured he had quite a buck in him when he left me with this little guy." She looked lovingly down at her son.
"You've got yourself a wild streak girl," Jewel said, with a laugh before turning to the door intending to see to business. "I'll have one of the girls bring you up a bath and something to eat, you're goin' to need to be strong to take care of that one," she smiled, "I can see that already." She turned and left.
"He's beautiful Mattie." Joe wrapped her arm around her friend's shoulders then she gently touched the boy's cheek.
"Yes," the new mother said with a smile. "He's gonna break a lot of hearts."
Nebraska Territory 1848
Buck sat in the back of the class as his teacher, Miss Tucker, wrote the reading assignment on the chalkboard. There were only four students in the classroom, himself included. He kicked the leg of his desk when he noticed Amos Jacobson, his archrival, eyeing him from across the aisle. Amos was a year older than Buck and twice as big, but he picked on the 'son of a whore' because he could. The only other boy in school was Timothy Hicks, who was half Jacobson's size and the son of the local preacher. Judy Henson, Buck secretly despised. She had long red hair and wore glasses that made her nose look too small for her head. She was two years older than Buck, which meant that she was always the first student called on when Miss Tucker needed some help. And that was something that Buck Wilmington wanted to do. He'd had a crush on the new teacher ever since she stepped off the stage two months ago.
Katherine Tucker was beautiful. She had long blonde hair that seemed to be streaked with copper. Her eyes were so blue that Buck was convinced the sky had loaned her its color. When she smiled he couldn't keep from feeling as though as his heart would skip a beat. Next to his mother she was the prettiest woman the world had ever seen well as far as he was concerned anyway.
A knocking from the back of the room caused everyone to turn in their seats. John Moyer stood holding his dusty hat looking quite sheepishly around the room. His face turned a shade of red when he saw all the students looking at him. Miss Tucker carefully placed her chalk on the desk and asked Judy to, once again, take over her class. Buck watched as his teacher left the room wearing a smile that only John seemed to be able to give her.
"Everyone pull out your books," Judy ordered.
Buck rolled his eyes and pulled his reading book out from under his desk. He watched as Judy or 'Red', as she was called when nobody was around, walked up and down the short aisle like she was the Queen of England.
"Did'ja hear that Miss Tucker and Mister Moyer are gettin' hitched?" Amos leaned over his desk toward Buck. "Heard my ma tellin' pa that they'd better before she ended up workin' for Jewel at the whorehouse." He snickered in his chair knowing what Buck's mother did for a living.
"It's better than pullin' eggs out of a chicken's ass," Buck replied. He knew Amos' mom came into town every morning with a basket full of eggs for the grocer but he couldn't help himself. Buck hated it when the others teased him about his mother.
Amos grabbed the front of Buck's shirt and threatened to hit him except Judy stepped in the way. As big as Amos was he couldn't compete with Judy, she could scream louder than a train's whistle and she never cut her fingernails.
"Are you 'boys' finished?" she asked, with her head tilted to the side.
Buck patted the front of his shirt after Amos let him go. He really didn't like Judy; she just had to butt into everything.
"Shut up Judy," Amos snapped.
Timothy snickered into his hand and ducked his head before anyone could see his face. He was only seven years old but he understood what was happening between the older kids. He liked Buck, but his folks wouldn't let the two boys play, something to do with his mother.
All the children looked up when Miss Tucker came back into the classroom wearing a particularly wonderful smile that lit up the whole room. Buck's heart sank, at nine years old he just wasn't old enough to make a woman like that happy. His gut told him that Mister Moyer had asked the beautiful teacher for her hand in marriage. He fingered the pages of his book and listened as Miss Tucker made her announcement inviting all of her students to be in the wedding.
Ever so slowly, Buck stood up and grabbed his book then gradually made his way out of the classroom. He didn't even hear Miss Tucker call his name. He just wanted to get home.
The house, as usual, was bustling with activity as Buck entered. Then, as previously ordered, made his way up to the room he shared with his mother. Children should be seen and not heard. He was surprised to see his mother standing in front of the mirror wearing her best dress.
"What do ya think?" she asked, turning from her reflection when she heard her son enter the room. Her face fell when she noticed the solemn look he was wearing. He looked as though his favorite dog had just died.
"Ya look real pretty mamma," Buck responded. He sat his book on the dresser then sat down on the bed.
Mattie knelt down in front of her son and gently lifted his chin with her forefinger and thumb. "What's the matter?" she asked softly.
Buck couldn't deny his mother anything. All she had to do was flash her big brown eyes that were full of nothing but love for him. "Miss Tucker's gettin' married," he answered sadly.
Mattie smiled and ducked her head so her son wouldn't see her relief. She knew his case of puppy love would pass in time but she wanted to treat him like a man, like the man he would become. "Does he make her happy?" she asked sweetly.
Buck hesitantly nodded his head. "Yes," he replied, slightly disappointed.
"It's okay to be hurt, Buck," she looked earnestly into her son's eyes, "but remember the important thing is her happiness."
Buck reluctantly nodded his head. "I still don't like Mister Moyer."
Mattie smiled and grabbed her son's knees with both hands then promptly stood up. "Just between you and me " she grinned, "neither do I."
Buck chuckled. His mother always made him feel better. "Where are you goin' all dressed fancy?"
"I have a dinner date." Mattie stood up straighter and whisked her dark brown hair away from her shoulders. "What do you think?"
"I think you look right pretty."
Mattie rustled her son's brown hair, gave him a wink, and then disappeared through the door. Buck smiled watching her go.
Mattie jumped when Madame Jewel grabbed her arm. "What?" she gasped, looking in surprise at her boss.
"That school teacher is here lookin' for you." Jewel pulled her into a private room. "I run a business here, Mattie, not a home for wayward women."
"I'll take care of it," Mattie reassured. She nodded her head and quickly exited the room. She noticed right away the uncomfortable school teacher standing in the center of the entryway. "Miss Tucker?"
"I just came by to check on Buck," she rubbed her hands together nervously and tried not to look at the women sitting around the room wearing nothing but their undergarments. "He left school rather suddenly and I was just "
"He's suffering from " Mattie smiled, "a broken heart?" She looked at the school teacher that had her son up in his room wishing he was older and more handsome.
Katherine blushed and smiled realizing for the first time that one of her students' had a crush. She'd been so preoccupied living in a new town and meeting a new man that she didn't realize why Buck had been staying late, helping her with the cleaning of the classroom, and on many occasions walking her home.
"I didn't realize "
"He'll get through it," Mattie said confidently. "Don't be surprised if he doesn't make it to your big day."
Miss Tucker smiled and nodded her head in understanding. "Your son is a very special boy."
"Yes, he is." Mattie watched as the young teacher turned and then headed out. Mattie patted her dress down and looked at herself one more time in the mirror that hung on the wall in the entryway, making sure she was presentable then headed out to join her dinner date.
When Mattie entered the brothel well after midnight she quietly crept up to her room. The sun had set hours ago and her evening hadn't turned out like she'd planned. She should have known Mr. Cochran was only after one thing he had just wanted it on his own terms.
Slowly she opened the door to the room she shared with her son and quietly stepped in. The right sleeve of her dress had been torn and her face was now marred with bruises. She didn't want Buck to wake and see her like this. It wasn't the first time she'd been beat, but this time was different. Quietly, she turned up the lamp next to her bed and noticed Buck curled up in her pillows sound asleep. The sight warmed her heart.
Buck stirred feeling eyes upon him and looked up to see his mother sitting on the edge of the bed. Tears had stained her cheeks, her right eye was red and swollen, and there was blood smeared on her chin below her bottom lip.
Mattie stood up quickly and pinched her cheeks trying to hide the damage, she didn't' want her son to see her in such a state. She was hurting, not just on the outside but on the inside as well. More than anything she wanted to provide a good life for her child. But no matter what she did she always felt like she failed.
"Did you help Miz Warner with the dishes?" Mattie tried to hide the tremors in her voice.
Buck nodded his head and sat up on the edge of the bed carefully watching his mother. "She give me an extra cookie for after dinner."
"Gave you an extra cookie," Mattie corrected.
"He hit you?" Buck asked, knowing full well that his mother's dinner date had indeed struck her.
Mattie wiped at the tears that threatened to fall. She smiled despite the pain she felt. "You ain't ever gonna hit a lady are ya Buck?"
"Oh, no momma. I'd never hit a lady." He stood up and wrapped his arms around his mother's waist.
Mattie leaned over and kissed her son's head and returned his warm embrace. He was all she had in the world that was pure and she wanted to keep him that way. He'd never questioned what she did for a living, instead, he simply understood it was what she had to do. Buck never talked about how the other children in town teased him, he didn't want to burden his mother with more worry but she knew. She saw it in his face when he'd come home from school or the way he'd look out the window wanting more than anything to be invited out to play with the others. It wouldn't happen, not ever. Buck wasn't the kind of child 'respectable' folks wanted their children to play with. Mattie knew many of the men whose sons played in the alleys were customers of the very brothel she worked in. But it was different for men, especially men who were married.
It was hard seeing her boy long for the things he couldn't have, the things that he should have. He didn't have a mean bone in his body and all the girls under Madame Jewel's roof adored him. He was learning at a very young age how to treat a lady even before he realized the value in his education. Mattie had even caught Jewel showing Buck how to properly ask a lady for a dance. Joe had taken him under her wing and given him lessons on the things a lady likes to hear. Mattie just stayed back and enjoyed her son as he cherished all the attention. He did love the ladies.
The next few years Buck started to grow into the man he would become. He had his mother's dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, and all around good looks. He dropped out of school with his mother's permission when he'd turned twelve. He agreed to continue his studies with Joe until his fifteenth birthday.
He'd managed to get a job working for Mr. Steel at the livery. The livery seemed to be the perfect place for a young boy to learn. He loved working with the horses and cleaning and maintaining the incoming stages was a great place to let his imagination run wild. One minute he was chasing down a band of Pawnee Indians and the next minute he was outrunning a gang of outlaws. Gregory Steel didn't mind the young man's antics. He rather got a kick out of them; it reminded him of his own youth.
As Buck's fifteenth birthday grew closer Mattie did her best to prepare the best surprise birthday party she could. She saved her money and with the help of one of her long time customers she'd managed to buy a horse for her son. She could barely contain herself because she wanted to give him the beautiful gray gelding. She'd saved the money for a year skimping on everything she could to make sure her son would have a horse.
The rest of the 'girls' had all pitched in and managed to get the boy his first pistol, a Walker Colt. It wasn't anything fancy and it was slightly outdated but it was perfect for his first weapon. Jewel had gotten Buck a box of ammunition, ammunition that was only to be used for practice. They didn't want him shooting anything, but the West was a hard life and nobody should be without a weapon to protect themselves.
Miz Millie was one of the new girls and only a year older than Buck. She'd been a 'working girl' longer than she could remember. She was a pretty thing and because of her youthful age she quickly became one of Madame Jewel's most requested girls. Millie had managed to get the night free and share it with the young man who had managed to make her feel like a lady a real lady.
Buck had a small crush on the girl the moment she walked into Jewel's house looking for work. Unlike his first crush, Millie returned his advances. She always had a nice word for him and always finished a conversation with a small kiss on his cheek. He loved it. They had never taken it any farther than that but Millie had different plans for tonight.
Buck stomped his feet on the steps before entering, as usual, through the back door of the house he was born in. It was a Wednesday night and the town was rather quiet as ranchers and farmers were home with their own families preparing for the upcoming winter. He could smell the wonderful cooking of Miz Warner. She always had a way of making the kitchen smell like an appetizing version of heaven.
The room rang wildly with calls of 'Happy Birthday' as soon as Buck opened the door. He jumped back not expecting all the attention. All the girls surrounded him giving him kisses on his cheeks and the occasional pinch on his butt. He was used to it.
"Now girls," Miz Warner spoke up with her usual hefty voice while parting the sea of women. "Time for some cake," she announced proudly, grabbing Buck's hand and leading him toward the counter.
Buck's stomach growled when he saw the perfectly cooked cake covered in chocolate frosting. His favorite. His mother touched his shoulder proudly as he watched Miz Warner cut into the cake as though she were cutting through air. He couldn't wait for the first bite. His mouth watered in anticipation and his stomach grumbled like a hungry lion anticipating his prey.
Miz Warner handed the first plate to Buck and smiled when the young man stuck his fork in the cake and all but downed his whole piece in one bite. The cake was perfect and she knew it when the young man's face fell into complete ecstasy.
Joe stepped forward and handed Buck an elegantly carved wooden box wrapped in a simple red bow. She giggled then grabbed a cloth from the table in the center of the room and wiped the chocolate that was now all over his chin. Buck was not an elegant eater, something all of the women were chastising themselves for, they should have taught him how to eat like a gentleman when he was younger.
Buck took the small package with a surprised look. Birthdays had always been a big event in the house, usually consisting of late nights singing, laughing, and dancing with the ladies. His mother never had a lot of money but she did what she could for him. A new shirt, new shoes, and even a pocket knife after he got older. But this was different. This was something extraordinary; he could tell by the way all the ladies were anxiously waiting for him to open the box. There was a particularly special look in his mother's eyes.
It didn't matter what he received as gifts. He was just happy to be in the company of all these women that made him feel special. And Miz Warner's cooking was always a bonus no matter what day of the week or what time of year it was.
When he opened the box he gasped in disbelief. The weapon was the most beautiful gun he'd ever seen. Wooden grips and a barrel that looked to have been spit shined. He couldn't wait to fire it. Mr. Steel had shown him how to shoot a rifle and later his pistol when he felt comfortable with the boy's sense of responsibility. Now, however, Buck had his own.
Buck turned and gave all the girls a hug, several gave him a kiss on the mouth, and his mother gave him a warm hug and gentle kiss on the cheek.
Madame Jewel's stepped forward and handed Buck the box of ammunition. "I expect you to shoot me a turkey for Thanksgiving and that's all." Her face was deadly serious then suddenly she smiled and patted him on the cheek.
Millie was next to step forward while the others dug into Miz Warner's cake. She slipped the key to her room into the palm of his hand and whispered in his ear for him to meet her in her room when he was finished. Buck blushed. She squeezed his arm then moved past him to grab a plate of cake.
Mattie grabbed her son around his shoulders and led him out of the room. She didn't say anything as she gently pushed him out onto the front porch. The night air was crisp and winter was well on its way. Businesses had closed for the night and only the night fires were left burning in the streets.
A dapple-gray gelding flicked his ears when he saw the two people step out of the big house. He nickered softly expecting some affection.
Mattie nudged Buck in the ribs and smiled. "Mr. Hinckley said he was a bit flighty but he thought you had enough experience from working at the livery to handle him." She smiled when Buck looked at her in question. "He's yours."
"How?" Buck responded in disbelief.
Mattie smiled when she saw the look she'd been waiting so long to see. "Every mother's son needs a horse, a gun, and a heart for the ladies." She tussled his hair and pushed him toward his steed. "You'll have to come up with a fitting name for 'im I don't think 'Bob' is appropriate." She chuckled.
Buck stepped off the porch and gently touched the large animal's soft nose. The gray in response pushed his head into his new master's chest. Buck smiled unsure of how to say thank you to his mother for such a wonderful gift. He knew she didn't have the money to pay for such a beast. She must have been saving for a very long time.
"I I don't know what to say," Buck said, looking up at his mother who had her arms wrapped around her.
"Promise me somethin'," she looked earnestly at her boy. "Promise me you'll be careful and do somethin' great with your life."
Buck looked at his mother wondering if she knew something he didn't. She always had a way of making him feel whole despite never having had a father or growing up in a more 'suitable' home. This was his home. A house filled with women of independent minds, strong wills, and true character. Yes, they were prostitutes, but they saw themselves as living life on their own terms. He admired that about them and it gave him an understanding of how he should treat a lady despite her looks, her name, or even her position.
"I promise," Buck responded with a smile.
"Good," Mattie said with conviction. "Now go take care of your horse and get back here before Jewel has to hire someone to widen the doors on her house," she started back inside, "she'll have to anyway if Miz Warner keeps cookin' like she is."
Buck laughed and watched his mother enter the big house then he grabbed the lead rope and headed for the livery with his new horse.
Millie ran her finger down Buck's chest and smiled. The sun was just starting to come up over the horizon and it seemed to be the perfect time of day. It was the first time in her life that she'd made love with a man and enjoyed it, simply for the fun of it. There weren't any expectations to be met, orders weren't given, and no money exchanged hands.
Buck gently grabbed Millie's hand and kissed it. For someone who was so young he truly knew how to treat a lady.
"You, Buck Wilmington, will go down in history as one of this century's greatest lovers."
Buck's face lit up with a mischievous smile. "Yeah, well, what can I say it just comes natural like." He laughed when Millie hit him in the shoulder.
She sat up on the bed and brushed her fingers through her hair. She grabbed her soft lace robe from the end of the bed and slipped into it then moved toward the window. She liked it here, she liked the people, and she liked where her life was going. She was still a prostitute and she always would be, but here, people were to preoccupied trying to survive, much less condemning others for their chosen way of life.
Buck quickly got out of bed and slipped back into his clothing feeling suddenly as though he were intruding on a moment.
"You don't have to go," Millie said, turning back from the window.
"I need to get to work and besides I don't want to keep ya."
Millie smiled and nodded her head in understanding. She did need to get to work. Just because it was morning didn't mean there weren't customers waiting. She watched as Buck quickly left the room. He had a special place in her heart.
Buck grinned more to himself than anything else as he slipped out of Millie's room. He'd just had the most terrific night of his life. He had a new gun, a new horse, and a woman who had shown him how to be a man. Life was good. He saw his mother step out of her room wearing a knowing smile and he blushed slightly realizing she'd known all along what had been happening.
"You better get down to the livery and take care of that new horse of yours," Mattie said, while adjusting her red dress. She knew her son was growing into a man and with that came learning about new experiences in the world. At least while he was still living under the same roof as her she could keep an eye on him. She was sure Millie treated him right. Sometimes a man's first time could be an embarrassing experience, but the smile on Buck's face told her differently.
"I's just headin' out," Buck replied softly. He kissed his mother on the cheek the same way he'd done every morning for as long as he could remember. His mother patted his cheek gently as to reaffirm that her son was still quite young.
"Make sure you eat somethin' before you go," she ordered, and then headed down the stairs.
Buck was convinced he'd never meet another woman quite like his mother, so strong and understanding. She never chastised him for the mistakes he'd made, she always let him learn in his own time, and she always had words of encouragement when he questioned himself. She'd done more for him than he'd ever expected, giving him the best home she could under the circumstances, and she made sure he had food in his mouth and clothes on his back. She managed to do more for him than many families had done for their own children. Most of all he felt loved, and that's what counted.
Buck continued to fire at the empty cans that he had positioned on a fence. He'd been coming to this spot outside of town trying to practice his accuracy. So far he hadn't been very successful. Mr. Steel from the livery had given him an old leather holster that he'd had tucked away. The leather was old and stiff but Buck had spent hours oiling it up until it reached its once youthful appearance and flexibility.
The young man had strapped the belt on so that it hung low on his hip, so that the grip of the weapon just touched his fingers.
An older man rode up behind Buck on a palomino gelding. He watched as the kid tried repeatedly to hit one of the cans that rested on the fence. The old man with short salt and pepper hair rested his arms on the horn of the saddle watching in amusement. The young man was eager and determined enough he just lacked the experience and training.
Buck slipped the Colt back into its holster and rolled his shoulders trying to relax.
"You know son," a voice came from behind him, "if you pull that belt up on your hip a bit more, it'll give ya more control."
Buck turned and looked at the man slightly surprised that someone had found him practicing his shooting. "This is how all the locals wear their belts." He wasn't sure who this stranger was and he wasn't sure if he knew what he was talking about.
The older man chuckled then pulled his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "Name's Mark Parker or Mac, dependin' on what you want to call me."
"I'm Buck. You lookin' for somethin'?"
Mac smiled and looked at the young man. "I'm lookin' for an old friend of mine. Not quite sure you could tell me where I can find a lady by the name of Jewel Carson could ya?"
"Madame Jewel?" Buck looked questionably at the man who looked to have been in more fights than a bobcat looking to claim a new territory.
"That'd be her."
"I's headin' back to town I can take you if you want?" Buck looked up and noticed for the first time how big the man really was. He wasn't heavy by any means just large. His hair was short and up kept. A large scar ran from the corner of his right eye to his top lip.
"That'd be fine," he replied then watched as the youth gathered up his cans then mounted up on his horse. "So how is it you know Jewel?"
Buck paused a moment before answering. "My ma works for her." He looked forward. "How is it you know her?"
Mac laughed remembering some of the times he'd shared with her. "Me and Jewel go back a long way," he paused and looked at Buck riding next to him, "there was a time when we were goin' to get married but things didn't quite work out like we'd planned." He didn't need any encouragement to continue. "I left her thinkin' I'd be back but when I joined up with the US Marshals "
"You were with the Marshals?" Buck interrupted, his youthful exuberance showing through.
Mac chuckled suddenly remembering that he too had been consumed at the idea of wearing a badge. "I was with 'em for twenty-five years," he said proudly. "Took a bullet in my leg a couple years back and it just slowed me down to much, couldn't keep up with all them youngin's who were joinin' up."
Buck cleared his throat wanting very much to ask this man for advice. "Are you gonna be in a town for a while?"
"I hope longer than just a while."
"Would you mind uh "
"Out with it son, the only way you're goin' to get what you want is to ask." He looked up toward the small town they were coming upon with a smile.
"Could you give me some pointers?"
Mac smiled and nodded his head. It had been only on rare occasions that he'd come across young men with that amount of willingness to learn. Most boys his age knew everything or at least acted like it. "Yeah, I'll give ya a few pointers. First of all tighten up your belt, as low as you've got it you won't have any control. You don't want it too high because it'll interfere with your draw speed." He looked over at Buck who seemed to be taking everything in. "How about me and you get together a little later and talk about some of these things?" Mac looked toward the brothel that was only a few yards up the road.
"I'd appreciate that." Buck slowed his horse and watched as Mac dismounted and tied his palomino to the hitching rail and head inside the house. He laughed to himself when he heard an unfamiliar squeal come from Jewel.
Buck adjusted his belt so it hung slightly off his hip. It hung within easy reach but at the same time out of harms way. It felt good. He tried not to let Mac, who was standing behind him, make him nervous as he tried to shoot the cans off the fence.
Mac had taken to the young man with an open heart. He'd never had children of his own, never staying long enough in one place to do so. And Buck was an eager student wanting to learn about everything and anything about Indians, tracking, shooting, hunting, and Marshaling. Mac was eager to share it with him.
Buck pulled his weapon and fired at the cans. He missed. Trying to keep the disappointment from his face he went to reload his weapon. Mac came up behind him and gently laid his hand on the kid's shoulder.
"Drawin' is one thing Buck that everyone can do and doin' it fast is somethin' that comes with time and practice, but the one thing you want to remember is keepin' your aim true," Mac said with experience. "Don't draw fast, just aim and fire it only takes one bullet to kill a man."
Buck nodded his head in understanding and then replaced his Colt back into its holster. Mac took a step back and watched. He could see the wheels turning in the boy's mind. Buck pulled his weapon and carefully took aim and fired. The can flew back and landed with a faint clank on the ground. Buck turned back and smiled, it was the first time he'd ever hit anything with his pistol.
"Now you're gettin' the hang of it," Mac said, with a chuckle.
"Think maybe I'll wear a badge one day?" Buck said, opening up the weapon to reload.
"I reckon one day you just might." Mac took the gun from Buck's grasp. "Always make sure you've got an empty chamber under the hammer that way if you ever get into a bind you won't shoot your own foot off." He carefully placed five bullets in the cylinder and then closed it up.
"Is that how you got shot?"
Mac laughed, "No, I uh had a little accident with a married woman."
Buck chuckled but didn't say anything. "You and Jewel gettin' hitched?"
"Naw," he shook his head, "not that I didn't ask her though. I figure Jewel's happy where she's at and if I'm lucky she'll let me share the last few years of my life with her."
"You dyin' or somethin'?"
"No son," Mac put his hand on Buck's shoulder and guided him toward the horses, "I'm just gettin' old."
Mattie stepped out the back door of Doctor Mason's office. He'd only agreed to see her if she managed to arrive at his 'respectable practice' unseen and managed to leave the same way. Normally she wouldn't have gone but the pains in her belly were getting worse. She always seemed to be feeling sick, always tired, and the pain in her lower back was getting more intense.
Dr. Mason wasn't a kind man and Mattie believed firmly that he'd gone into medicine just to inflict pain on the already suffering. He was demanding, condescending, and arrogant but he was all that the town had to offer as a physician.
The doctor didn't have a diagnosis for her. He simply stated that she was in a state of 'debility' and she just needed rest. If only it were that simple. She stopped before heading back into the brothel and rested herself against the stairs. She hadn't told anyone about her illness, instead she kept it to herself hoping that it would soon pass. Instead, it continued to get worse.
"Are you all right Mattie?" Millie asked, stepping out onto the porch after noticing her friend.
Mattie stood up and wiped the stray hair away from her face. "Just got winded was all." She smiled and gently patted her belly as though she were making herself presentable for company. She started up the steps slowly and stumbled but Millie managed to catch her.
"Let's get you inside." Millie pulled Mattie's arm up over her shoulder and wrapped her arm around her and helped her get inside.
Jewel was shocked to see two of her best girls enter the house arm in arm. "You sick Mattie?" Jewel asked in concern, helping Millie get Mattie to a chair.
"No, I just haven't been sleeping well." Mattie wiped her hand across her forehead trying to hide the sweat that had gathered there.
"Uh hu," Jewel sighed, taking in her friend's appearance. She'd noticed for the past few weeks that Mattie hadn't been feeling well. She'd been sleeping late, up all night, and losing weight. She'd seen it before in other women all of them had died.
"Maybe I should go get Dr. Mason," Millie suggested.
"I've already been." Mattie grabbed Millie's hand. "He says I just need rest." She smiled trying to lighten the moment.
"Damn doctors," Jewel sighed in disbelief, "only reason they can find their cock is because some woman showed 'em." She looked at the two girls in front of her and started laughing. "It's true."
When Joe came down the stairs three sets of eyes landed on her and she looked up in surprise. "What?" she snapped then laid eyes on her longest friend. "Mattie you look awful."
"Help get her upstairs," Jewel ordered. "Make sure she gets to bed."
"Jewel, I'm "
"I don't want to hear it. Get yourself upstairs and rest, I'll have Millie bring you up some dinner." Before Mattie could protest Jewel left the room heading into the kitchen with Millie on her heels.
Joe helped her best friend get to her feet. "I'm all right," Mattie tried to reassure.
"I've known you for twenty years," Joe looked hard at her friend. "You're not all right."
Millie followed Jewel into the kitchen where Miz Warner was cooking up dinner. "Shouldn't we do somethin', call on a doctor "
"There ain't nothin' to be done," Jewel said sadly, preparing a plate for Mattie.
"I don't understand, she was fine this mornin'."
"She's been sick a while now, she's just been real good at hidin' it."
Miz Warner dished out some stew and cut a fresh slice of bread. She listened to the conversation knowing what was happening. She'd seen girls come and go, some getting married, some just disappeared, and others passed on.
"You think she's dyin'." Millie stood back a moment.
"I've seen it before, and I reckon I'll see it again. Ain't nothin' to be done 'bout it, all's we can do is make her comfortable." Jewel filled a glass full of milk and placed it on the try.
"Could be weeks, could be months let's hope it's sooner than later." Jewel looked hard at Millie. "It's a painful way to die." She picked up the plate and carried it out of the room.
As the weeks went by Mattie got worse. The pain was so bad that even the laudanum Buck had managed to purchase from a nearby town wouldn't help. He never left her side except for when the ladies chased him out of the room to help Mattie change or see to her other needs. He hated seeing her like this. She'd lost the light that had at one time lit up a whole room. Now, she was thin and pale. She reminded Buck of Fall trees, just before the dying leaves fell.
Buck entered the church that rested at the far end of town. He'd never been before; he never had a reason too until now.
Pastor Hicks turned and smiled when the young man entered the Lord's house. "What can I do for you?" he asked quietly, stacking his papers neatly on his pulpit.
Buck took his hat of and nervously fingered the brim. "I came to ask you about givin' my ma a proper burial?" He walked closer to the pulpit.
"Who's your mother son?" He wasn't familiar with anyone from town that was dying.
"She works for Madame Jewel," Buck cleared his voice wanting to get his point across.
"I'm sorry son, but I can't, not for someone "
"First of all I ain't your son, and second her only sin is doin' what she did to care for a child. I'm sure you wouldn't have no trouble givin' a service for the man that left that child in her belly then left her with nothin'."
"I can't, not until she repents "
"Repents," Buck said in disbelief. "More 'an half the men who attend your services every Sunday spend part of their pay at Jewel's I'm only askin' that you say some nice words over her grave nothin' more."
Pastor Hicks paused a moment and saw the despair in the young man's eyes. "Does she know you're here?" he asked quietly. He remembered Buck from the school and he remembered why he wouldn't let his son play with the boy. Now, he was rethinking his position.
"No," Buck responded firmly. "My ma ain't got nothin' to be ashamed of. She did the best she could and if I say so myself, she done a damn good job."
The pastor nodded. She had done a good job. The young man standing in front of him took 'honor thy mother and thy father' to a whole new level. Most children could learn a lot from him. "What would you like me to say?" he asked, sitting down in the front pew so he could focus all his attention on the man standing before him.
Buck hadn't expected the question. He cleared his throat and scratched his head. "I figure maybe somethin' 'bout bein' a real good mother and friend."
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," Pastor Hicks repeated the simple yet enforcing quote from the Bible. "I would be happy to say a few words on your mother's behalf."
Buck's jaw dropped but he quickly regained his composure.
"I'd like to meet your mother. It would help me prepare for her " he paused not quite sure how to finish his statement.
Buck nodded his head in understanding. "It's best if you come early in the mornin', the pain ain't so bad then."
Pastor Hicks stood up and willingly shook Buck's hand. "I'll come first thing in the morning Mr "
"Wilmington," he responded, reciprocating the offered hand.
"I'll come first thing in the morning." The Pastor smiled watching the young man leave the church. He wished he could see such devotion in his parishioners.
Buck continued to stay at his mother's side. Pastor Hicks did as he said he would. He came to talk with Mattie. It amazed Buck that he'd come through the front doors of the brothel. He was dressed in a black suit with his Bible grasped tightly in his hands. He'd stayed in the room with Mattie for three hours getting to know the woman who had raised Buck. Pastor Hicks left with a better understanding of who she was.
Buck squeezed his mother's hand as more pain racked her already frail body. It was hard for him, seeing her like this. Many times he found himself wishing she might pass away during the night while she was sleeping so she couldn't feel the pain. But she was a fighter. She didn't want to die and at thirty-three who could blame her.
Mattie forced her eyes open and she looked up into the heavenly face of her boy. At sixteen he'd grown into a man that she was proud of, handsome, strong, and independent. She squeezed his hand with all the strength she had and smiled when he looked down at her.
"Do you remember your promise?" she asked, her voice was barely above a whisper.
Buck nodded his head. "I remember." He gently tightened the grip around her hand. She was so thin, Buck sighed. "I'll make you proud."
"I'm already proud of you Buck," Mattie replied. The pain seemed to ease a bit and her whole body relaxed. "The day you were born " she paused as a tear rolled out of her eye. "You give my heart wings Buck, and no matter what you do with your life I'll be proud of you."
Buck felt his heart swell as he leaned over and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. She had been the most influential person in his life. He admired her and more than anything...he loved her.
Mattie squeezed her son's hand and let her eyes close. For the first time in months the pain was gone.
Buck watched as his mother drew in her last breath. Then, she was gone. No more pain filled nights and no more crying. Tears streamed down his face as he continued to hold his mother's hand. He wanted her pain to end but he didn't want her to leave. It was a double-edged sword.
The funeral was simple and it surprised Buck to see how many people arrived. Jewel had closed down the house for the day so all her girls could attend. Ranch hands and many customers arrived, without their wives, but they had the courtesy to pay their respects. Pastor Hicks gave a heart- warming service and Buck truly wished that his mother was looking down on them from above hearing what it was that people were saying about her. She was indeed a special woman. She'd touched many lives and Buck soon realized she would continue to do so.
Buck tied his bedroll to the back of his saddle when he looked up and noticed Millie, Joe, Jewel, and Mac enter the livery. His horse 'Dez' flicked his ears up at the newcomers but quickly went back to finishing his early morning meal as Jewel stepped forward with Mac supporting her waist. Buck stopped what he was doing and turned to face them.
Jewel grabbed Buck's hand and squeezed it gently. She wasn't an emotional woman by nature, having lived a tough life, but now she was finding it difficult to maintain her composure. "Your momma " she paused as her chin quivered. She tried to force a smile on her face but the tears came anyway. "Your mamma was a dear friend. She taught this old bird a lot about life and I want you to know that if you ever," she stressed the last word, "ever need anything, you just let me know." Jewel placed a handful of cash into Buck's palm, "It's to help you on your way it's the least I can do." She patted Buck's arm as she felt Mac tighten his grip on her waist.
Mac grabbed Buck's hand and shook it forcefully. "Remember what I taught you kid," he smiled, "and watch your back out there."
"Thanks Mac," Buck responded, returning the shake with just as much vigor. He watched the two people leave slowly; he was touched by their offer.
Millie clasped her hand around Buck's and without saying anything she reached up, stepping on her tip toes, and kissed him on the cheek. Quickly, she turned and exited the livery not wanting him to see her cry.
Joe was the last to step forward. She'd known Mattie the longest; they had come to this town together, two young girls with no place to turn. She looked at Buck and smiled warmly. "The day you were born I had never seen your mother lookin' so happy." She reached up and touched his cheek. "She was so happy you were a boy and not a girl," she said it with a smile but there was sadness in her eyes.
Buck understood. He knew what happened behind closed doors, he saw the bruises on the girls' faces, the puffy eyes after a night of crying, and he saw their heartache.
"After my son Toby died " Joe paused a moment trying to regain her composure. "Your ma gave me this," she pulled a little book out of her skirt pocket, "she said it would help, and to read it when I got to feelin' real low." She handed the small book of poetry to Buck who took it in question. "I want you to have it it ain't much but your ma cherished some of those poems."
Buck fingered through the pages and took notice of hand written dates and notes in the margins, some made by Joe and others made by his mother. Buck had only heard his mother mention the poet Lord Byron on a couple occasions and it was usually around the holidays.
"Thank you Joe," Buck said sadly. He'd treasure the book always.
Joe reached up and kissed him on the cheek. He was the closest thing she had to a son and hated to see him leave but she understood why he had to go. "You be careful." She waited until he nodded his head then quickly she turned and left. She didn't say goodbye because she believed goodbyes were forever.
Buck watched her go realizing he was opening the next chapter of his life.
Kansas Territory 1858
Buck managed to get a job working cattle for a rancher by the name of Bobby Hudson. Mr. Hudson started ranching after his law practice failed. He was a young man with high expectations but with little 'cattle knowledge'. He barely stood five feet tall and somehow he managed to make himself look taller with his boots with extra high heels and his ten-gallon hat.
Bobby came from a wealthy family and therefore had the financial backing to run the large cattle ranch. Litta Hills was 1000 acres of rolling hills, natural springs, and luscious wooded areas. Cattle seemed to flourish on the land. There were seventeen men employed for Mr. Hudson, most of who handled the cattle.
Eli Gibson, or just Gibson, was the line cook who prepared Sonofabitch Stew at least once a week. His other favorites were Cowboy Beans and Vinegar Cobbler. Eli was a cantankerous sort who knew more about food than he did people. He wore a top hat and apron that earned him unflattering remarks from the cowhands but he didn't seem to mind. Unless, of course, someone tried to give him cooking advice and if someone tried it they usually ended up facing the broad end of a skillet.
It had been Buck and his new friends Kip and John who had snuck into Gibson's cookshack and stole a loaf of bread just to prove to the others that it could be done. Of course Gibson, who took his job very seriously, managed to get back at the three younger men. There were two things that the cowboys at Litta Hills cherished most, one, their meals, and two, their sleep. Buck, Kip, and John didn't get either one for a week after Gibson laced their food with castor oil.
Benjamin Rodgers, or Mister, was the trail boss. He was a big man who had obviously had an extensive education but the pull of the West had kept him from the big cities. His black mustache always made his mouth appear to be in a smile, which gave him an approachable appearance. Mister was older than the other hands but his age only added to his knowledge and experience. That was something everyone learned early on how to appreciate. Dan Peterson was his first in command. Dan was a runaway slave who had joined up with Mister after he'd proven himself to be a great horse and cattleman.
The men were driving Mr. Hudson's cattle from Caldwell to the Red River Station in Texas, where they were ordered to sell the herd of 1750 Herefords. It had been rumored that the Union army was buying up cattle to feed their soldiers who were anticipating the upcoming war with the South.
Buck continued to ride the flank position. His bandana was pulled up over his nose to keep the thick dust from choking him. He slapped his chap- covered thigh with the end of the lariat creating a warning signal for the cattle that wanted to stray.
The men had been on the trail for six days and it was anticipated they would be on it for four more. The sun beat down on them with vengeance and the warm summer wind cut into their faces like fine razors. Thankfully they were only a day's ride from Washita River where they were all looking forward to a swim, a bath, and a days rest.
Kip galloped up beside Buck and pulled his chestnut gelding to a stop. "Dan said to watch out for Comanches he thinks they may try and steal off some strays."
"How does he want us to stop 'em without causin' a stampede?" Buck asked, knowing there really wasn't any way around it.
"He don't, just count off how many they take and don't get killed doin' it," Kip replied with a smile. He was looking for a fight. Buck recognized the gleam in his eyes.
"Don't you go and start somethin' you can't finish," Buck warned. He shook his head when Kip winked.
Kip always had a tendency to bit off more than he could chew. It was just the way he was. Buck didn't mind he always had a good time with him. Kip was that friend he could always count on, no matter what. Granted many times it was Kip who got him into trouble but he always managed to help get him out.
Buck turned over in his bedroll and looked up toward the Big Dipper and the North Star. He could tell by their placement what time it was and he figured it was a little after 2:00 a.m. Thankfully the night was clear. He could hear John singing, The Old Chisholm Trail, something that always seemed to calm the cattle. Many of the trail hands continued to snore as horses and cattle swiped their tails in an attempt to keep the flies off their backs.
When the first shot rang out every ranch hand jumped to their feet as though they were of one mind. Many of the men, wearing nothing but their long underwear, grabbed their weapons and ran for their horses. Nobody wanted to be on the ground if a stampede occurred. It was a death sentence for sure.
Orders were shouted, cattle bellowed, and horses squealed as the men took off to contain the excited herd and find out where the shot had been fired from.
A group of young Comanche warriors separated out ten of the fattest steers they could find. Their intentions were to remove the cattle quietly before any one could spot them. They weren't here for a fight. They were here to find food for their people who were starving.
Kip had stumbled upon the warriors and fired his gun not realizing the consequences of that action. The herd jumped as one unit and started running in the opposite direction of the shot. The Indians didn't return fire, instead they rushed, with the cattle, toward the east, easily escaping the stampeding cattle. Kip chased the thieves for as long as he could then turned back toward the livestock.
Men on horseback, several bareback, sped by the young man with one intent on their minds. Stopping the herd before they ran themselves to death.
Buck sat on Dez's back as the big gray ran flat out. His ears were pinned and his legs pounded the ground mercilessly, his nostrils flared, and sides heaved heavily as the air that was now filled with dust entered his lungs. Riding bareback, Buck kept his legs wrapped tight around his horse's girth as they sped by the fleeing cattle.
Buck wasn't sure what was happening. Suddenly Dez's even stride broke and the big gray fell tangling his legs in the surrounding brush. Buck landed hard on his side and then slowly he struggled to his knees. The world seemed to spin for a moment until he managed to catch his breath. He stood up on shaky legs and looked around the darkened plains.
Dez lay on his side breathing heavily. The big horse made no effort to get up. It was obvious he'd broken his leg.
Buck fell to his knees next to his horse's head. He ran a hand over his face and sighed. Dez nickered softly and lifted his head after Buck patted his neck. "Ho boy," he soothed. Dez dropped his head again.
"Buck!" John called, after finding his friend sitting on the ground next to his downed mount. John dismounted and walked to his friend's side. "Shit," he sighed, after feeling the horse's left front leg. "He broke it good."
Buck nodded his head and slowly got to his feet. Dez rolled up onto his side and managed to get up on three legs. The big horse was ready to continue, despite being broken.
"Did Mister get the herd back under control?" Buck asked, while giving Dez as much comfort as he could.
"The river stopped 'em," he chuckled. "You want me to do it?" John asked, pulling his pistol out of its holster.
Buck shook his head. "I'll take care of it thanks John."
John took a few steps back and grabbed the reins of his own horse.
Buck slipped Dez's bridle off and then rubbed his soft muzzle. The animal continued to shake but managed to keep to his feet. Hesitantly, Buck checked the chamber of his Colt. He didn't want to do this. Dez had been the last gift his mother had given him. Buck pulled his knife out of his boot and cut a handful of gray hair out of his horse's mane. Carefully he tied the bundle with a piece of string and then slipped it back into his pocket. With tears stinging his eyes he brought his pistol to just below Dez's poll and pulled the trigger.
The big horse jumped back and swayed momentarily on his feet then fell to the ground. Buck took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut. He heard John behind him clear his throat and ever so slowly Buck regained his composure. As soon as he got to Red River Station he was going to find the most beautiful woman there and spend the next year in bed.
Graves lined both sides of the Red River, marking the spots where trail hands had lost their lives trying to cross the veracious waterway. The ground was scared with hoof prints and wagon tracks indicating to the curious observer that many men had passed this very spot. Thankfully, this year there had been a drought and the river was low making the task of crossing that much easier. Mister ordered his men to help Eli get the chuck wagon across first then with practiced ease they got the cattle across.
Cattle with brands of almost every kind filled the corrals and streets. Flying 7, Running W, and Forked Y's added to Mr. Hudson's Open A brand. The cattle were being shipped from Red River Station to surrounding cities to be butchered.
Glass shattered and a body landed hard on the boardwalk as Buck, Kip, and John entered the saloon. The bartender, a short man with balding hair and carrying a shotgun, yelled while chasing the troublemakers out of his saloon
"Looks like my kinda place," Kip said with a smile. He entered the establishment to find that was full of cowhands from all over the territory.
Buck smiled when he saw the ladies of all shapes and sizes. "Ladies!" He yelled, walking into the saloon with his arms spread out. "Buck Wilmington has arrived!"
Several of the girls squealed and rushed into the new cowboy's arms. Buck grabbed a couple of them around the waists and, without having to ask where the best rooms in the house were, they led him upstairs for a night of fun.
"How in the hell does he do it?" Kip sighed, taking a drink of his beer.
"Damned if I know," John complained. He couldn't figure out what Buck had that the rest of them didn't. John didn't think he was all that terrible looking, his nose was a bit too long, his hair a bit too red, and he was a bit too skinny. His mother always said he'd grow into his looks, he just wish he'd do it sooner than later.
John knocked on the room Buck had disappeared into the night before. He could hear a squeaking bed, giggles, and small patters of bare feet on the wood floor. John looked to Kip who only shook his head. Had Buck been going all night?
A short brunette with large doe eyes peered through the crack in the door. "Whatcha want?" she asked, hiding a giggle behind her hand.
"Buck around?" John asked, knowing he was.
"He's busy," the brunette replied. "Come back later." She closed the door leaving John rubbing his head in frustration.
"Buck!" John pounded on the door again. "Damn it! It's two days ride to Fort Worth. Let's go!" He looked over at Kip who only rolled his eyes. Mr. Hudson had wired his men's pay to the bank in Fort Worth because it was safer there than in Red River.
"I'm comin'," was the muffled reply through the door.
John stood back away from the door as the same woman who'd answered the door the first time they knocked stepped through. She scowled at the two interrupters before brushing her hair back away from her shoulders and strode down the stairs. John was about to step into the room when three other women rushed through the entryway giggling like school girls with their first crush.
"Damn," Kip sighed, watching as the three beauties rushed down the stairs. He looked up and chuckled when noticed John showing him four fingers.
Buck stepped out of the room while his friends still stood frozen in the aisle. His gun belt was slug over his shoulder. "Let's go get paid," he said, looking at his friends then slowly he made his way down the stairs. He left Kip and John in stunned silence.
The threat of war between the North and South was getting closer and Buck's inner self was feeling the call to duty. Life was passing by and he wanted to leave his mark. John had gotten married and Kip ended up getting himself hung after he stole a horse late one night while on a drinking binge. Buck had long since departed his friend's company at the time and had read of his demise in the local paper.
The smell of lavender filled Buck's senses as he rolled over and found Emma brushing her long red hair. He'd been with her off and on for quite some time. She was one of Orson Carson's working girls but she found herself falling for Buck's charms. He didn't treat her like her other customers. Buck treated her like a lady and she loved it.
"What are you thinkin' about?" Emma asked, carefully putting her hair up.
"War's comin," Buck stated. He knew she was aware of the impending war.
"Why's that your concern? From what I've heard it ain't goin' to last long." Emma stood up and proceeded to get dressed.
"That ain't a guarantee," Buck replied, resting his chin on his fist while he watched the shapely redhead slip gracefully into her clothing.
"Rickettsville 's too far west to get affected."
"They're threatenin' a draft," Buck sighed. He'd read that a draft would be invoked if men of fighting age didn't volunteer. For now it was only a threat but he knew that it would only be a matter of time before it was passed through Congress.
"In other words you don't want to be told what to do?" Emma said with a laugh. Like most men Buck's age, they liked to live life on their own terms. She was five years older than the young man lying in her bed and she knew how youth sometimes led the heart. Wisdom came with age.
"Hell no!" Buck almost yelled.
"Then how in the hell are you gonna take orders from a commandin' officer?" Emma asked, placing her hands on her hips.
Buck shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it's the call to those 'Southern Belles' that got me needin' to enlist."
"God's gift to women," Emma shook her head. "Just make sure she ain't married " she smiled then leaned over the bed. She ran her fingers over Buck's chest and started downward past his muscular belly. "From what I hear, those Southern boys have got good aim and it would be such a waste " she kissed him forcefully on his lips, "if you lost little Buck." She laughed when Buck grabbed her around the waist and pulled her down onto the bed.
"Who are you callin' little?" he asked with a mischievous grin. "Besides, I'd rather get my head shot off."
"It is your head," Emma laughed again, and squealed when Buck started working his magic fingers.
Buck saddled up his chestnut gelding, Pitch, lovingly named due to his color, and then slowly tied his bedroll onto the skirt of his saddle. Mrs. Hendricks from the restaurant had made him a knapsack full of food for his trip. After he'd heard about the North's recent loss at Fort Sumter, he decided to head east and enlist.
Rickettsville had been a nice place to live but it was time to move on and the Army seemed to be the perfect place to go. The only thing Buck was going to have to supply for himself was the women and he never had a problem finding a warm bed to sleep in for the night.
He'd promised Emma he'd return, but she knew he wouldn't. She'd heard that promise before and she'd hear it again. Buck would move on and do something great she had to tell herself that, otherwise, what was the point? Emma had said goodbye in the only way she knew how. During the night she'd gotten out of their bed kissed him gently on the cheek then quietly left the room.
When Buck woke, Emma was gone, deep down he understood why. He wasn't the only man in her life and just like he found comfort in her, she found comfort in someone else. He packed up his saddlebags with his few belongings and made up his bedroll. He was going to miss the smell of beer, woman, and cigars. As he walked down the steps and through the saloon he took one last deep breath and left through the bat wing doors. Nobody was awake but the smell still lingered in his senses.
Mrs. Hendricks met him on the boardwalk with a knapsack full of food. For some reason she'd taken her maternal instincts out on Buck. She knew he was a rogue cowboy with the desires that followed. But there was something special about him that drew that mother hen out of her. She always served him extra without charging him when he came to the restaurant. Maybe it was the way he made her feel young, appreciated, and adored. She was sorry to see him leave but like so many other young men he was fulfilling his duty to the Union.
As Buck rode out of town Mrs. Hendricks and her husband watched the young man leave wishing their own child had lived long enough to go with him.
Buck enlisted in the 14th Union Calvary under Brigadier General Joseph Hooker. When he'd arrived he'd discovered that there weren't just young men enlisting. Men from all walks of life had come to Washington, just like he had, all with the intention of stopping the Confederacy. Boys and grandfathers walked around the grounds wearing their new uniforms. Horses, artillery, and tents lined the land as far as the eye could see. Fires roared and men sat around talking, eating, and thinking about the road ahead.
Buck's Lieutenant, one William Paterson, took his job more seriously than his men were willing to take. He was always dressed immaculately and acted as though his mother had used starch to bath him in. Tall, handsome, and articulate the ladies of 'class and culture' found him irresistible. Like most of the men under his command he'd never seen battle. He'd only read about it while attending West Point. His father, a senator from New York, had paid to have his son commissioned to Lieutenant. He was a rich boy with a new toy.
Lt. Paterson soon let it be known that he wouldn't tolerate drinking, vile language, or womanizing. Buck had rolled his eyes when the announcement was made. Like most of the men listening to the rules, he ignored them.
Lt. Paterson's bugler was a kid by the name of Toby Gillus, or Trip, as he was soon dubbed because he couldn't seem to walk ten feet before his large feet got the better of him. He was a good kid whose only downfall was his willingness to trust anyone.
Buck and his new friend, Samto, lovingly named because his family already had one son named Sam and they couldn't think of anything else to name him. They liked to stir up trouble and one afternoon they had found Trip's bugle and covered the mouthpiece in red lip paint Buck had 'borrowed' from one of his lady friends. Trip had gone half a day wearing bright red lips until someone in camp was kind enough to point out why everyone had been laughing at him. Samto and Buck had both escaped being caught and for the most part their antics had relieved much of the tension the whole unit had been feeling since the start to Virginia.
Buck quickly decided that Virginia, or the South in general, wasn't where he wanted to be. It was too hot and too muggy to do anything but breathe. Sweat ran down his back in narrow streams and he placed his red bandanna around his head to keep the sweat out of his eyes.
"Ya ever been this far South?" Samto asked. His horse fell into a steady gait next to Buck's.
"No," Buck responded. "I'm seriously wonderin' what the hell I'm doin' here to begin with." He pulled his sweat soaked shirt away from his chest. He was so hot.
"Wait 'till August," Samto chuckled then continued, "ya can cook an egg without lightin' a fire."
Buck looked at him in disbelief. "Shit." He shook his head. "I joined up for the women not the heat."
"Is that all you think 'bout?" Samto asked, diverting his attention.
Buck choked back a chuckle then looked at his friend. "You're still a virgin?" It sounded more like a statement than a question.
"I am not," Samto denied. He shook his head.
"Boy, we have got to find you a pretty little gal who'll show you the more important things in life." Buck said with a chuckle.
"I promised my Ma, I'd wait 'till marriage."
Buck turned a stunned look at the younger man riding next to him. "We're about to go into battle and you're talkin' marriage damn boy " he paused looking out past the trees toward the rolling plains, "life's gonna keep passin' you by until you reach out and grab it." He shook his head thinking about his mother. "First chance we get " a mischievous grin appeared on Buck's face. "I'm gonna find you the prettiest, sweetest, and most educated gal to give you the ride of your life."
"What's your secret with the ladies I mean?" Samto asked shyly.
Buck smiled. "Think of the softest an' most perfect place you've ever been and ya share it with the woman you're with."
Samto looked at the man riding next to him and then shook his head. "Ya talk about 'em like they're our equals or somethin' my pa always said a woman's place was in the home cookin' dinner and warmin' the bed. They ain't got no other use 'an that."
Buck returned his gaze to his friend. "Kid, with that attitude you ain't ever gonna get married and you try treatin' a lady like that I'll personally ram your head through a wall."
Samto raised his eyebrows knowing that Buck was serious. "It ain't how I think, I's just repeatin' what my pa told me."
"Your pa don't know shit about women!" Buck stated. "You just stick with me and I'll show you how to treat a lady right."
Samto smiled. "Just as long as she's purty."
"Ain't no such thing as an ugly woman," Buck said, looking at the kid beside him, "only lazy ones."
"Your ma teach you that?"
"Yep." Buck smiled thinking back to his mother and the way she looked at things. After all these years she was still influencing him.
At twenty-two Buck was convinced he was too young to face the horrors of war. In reality it wouldn't matter how old he was he'd always be too young to face such devastation. Children were being cut down, being ripped apart by cannons, and facing the uncertain future of living their lives without limbs. The ones who died were lucky. The memories wouldn't haunt them and the battle scars wouldn't remind them.
The first time General Hooker's men faced battle during the Seven Days Campaign, many boys and men, had run. Samto had run. The young man had turned tail after the first shot had been fired. He simply didn't want to die and for the first time in his life he was facing death.
Several men who had run had been captured. Those that had run and didn't get captured were the lucky ones. For those who did get caught they were held by fellow troopers like prisoners of war. Then like cattle being marked, their drawers were pulled down and a 'D', for desertion, was branded onto their hips. Members of their ranks were made to watch as a warning for those who didn't run but had thought about it.
The deserters were now scarred for the rest of their lives for an unforgivable crime. Buck had turned away from Samto's pleading eyes as his punishers pulled down his britches and placed the red hot iron on him. His screams would be imprinted into everyone's minds forever. Lt. Paterson would not tolerate such behavior from his men and he made sure to make that clear.
Buck looked up when Samto stepped up to the tree where the ladies man was sitting. He didn't know what to say, neither of them did.
"Can I sit?" Samto asked.
Buck motioned for him to do so. He noticed the kid was still sore on his hip, even after a week, but it would heal in time. The emotional scars would last forever. "Why'd you do it?" he questioned. He knew in his gut why the kid ran but he wanted to understand from his friend's point of view.
Samto cleared his throat and paused, he was unsure of how to answer the simple question. "I just wanted to go home," he shrugged his shoulders, "I saw them kids fall and I didn't want to be one of 'em. I always thought I'd live long like my pa and raise my own kids "
"And you thought you'd do that if you ran?" Buck wasn't mad he was just disappointed.
"I don't want to die out here "
"Shit," Buck interrupted. He removed his kepi and ran his fingers through his hair. "Nobody wants to die out here."
Samto nodded his head and looked out at the camp where tents, horses, and men roamed the grounds getting ready for the next battle. It would come. "I ain't got many friends Buck and I got even less now "
"My ma told me once that true friends never turn their back on ya no matter what ya done."
Samto nodded in understanding. He swore to himself that he'd never let Buck down again.
After the tragic loss at Second Manassas, Hooker and his men were sent to South Mountain by order of Major General McClellan. The Battle at Manassas had been hell on everyone. Dead bodies had lain about while the wounded screamed and cried for their mothers. Buck shuddered at the sight. Children lay bleeding and crying. There wasn't any help coming, and there wouldn't be, not until the Confederates took care of their own wounded first.
Samto fought bravely, trying to make up for his past mistake, but the fear in his eyes was still there.
General Hooker's I Corps headed to South Mountain. Buck looked over at Samto as they rode slowly down the dirt path. In the past year and a half, both boys had turned into men. Boys didn't survive war, men did. Pitch shook his head as the flies irritated his ears and Buck turned his attention back to the road. It was times like this that he missed his old life. Mac would tell him what to do, his mother would tell him to be careful, and Miz Warner would cook some of her finest food. His stomach growled and he tried to hide the noise by tightening his stomach muscles. It didn't work.
Samto reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of hardtack and handed it to his friend. "Got some jerky here someplace." He chuckled while searching his bag.
Lt. Paterson watched his men like a teacher watching his students. He was still known for being inexperienced on the battlefield and his decisions in combat only confirmed it. He hated being under Hooker's command. The general had a reputation for frequenting the brothels and Paterson didn't want to be affiliated with such practices. He had been watching a few of his men who seemed to disregard the orders he gave when he assumed command. Drinking, bad language, and womanizing were all things that he wouldn't tolerate from his men. The flask that he had tucked in his jacket was for medicinal purposes only, and he never swore unless he was really angry, and womanizing, how could he call it womanizing when he paid for their services?
Buck looked up the road to his Lieutenant. The man was the quintessence of arrogance. Buck had been appalled when Paterson had chosen to brand the men who had run after the first battle. The punishment was extreme but expected. There was a reason the U.S. Army had made a branding iron in the shape of a 'D' and a 'C'. However, most of those who were branded were just young boys. They were lucky though; they were given the choice of where they wanted the brand. The unfortunate ones usually ended up with the skin- scaring brand on their cheeks or foreheads.
Samto handed Buck a chunk of jerky and noticed the far away look in his eyes. "Ya thinkin' 'bout what lay ahead?"
"Yeah," Buck said nodding his head. He didn't want to explain to his friend what he had been thinking about.
"Word around camp is that we're gonna finish this war soon think maybe I'll make it home in one piece." He tried to sound encouraging.
Buck nodded his head. It was a great thought to think they'd go home after But what home would he go to.
like most nights after the camp was set up, the men prepared for the battle that would come. The sound of fires burning, men singing, and horses swatting their tails filled the hot night air. Buck watched as Samto penned a letter to his parents. As the 13th of September 1862 slipped into night and the threat of battle echoed in each man's mind.
Buck knew that Major General McClellan had plans to end the war in the East at South Mountain. The ladies man understood why, they were all ready to go home. The fighting against friends and family was tearing them up inside. This wasn't a war against another country, or a war against another people this was a war with each other.
As the troops started heading to bed Buck continued to watch the night sky. It seemed so peaceful. When a woman's scream sounded in the distance Buck stood up and started looking for its origin. Most of the men were still asleep as the ladies man rushed through the camp searching for the caller. Lt. Paterson's tent glowed in the night from the low light that was burning and then Buck heard the scream again. This time the noise of a man growling and bedding being ruffled alerted him.
A woman, wearing a torn chemise and a dark brown skirt, fell through the tent flaps onto her backside. Lt. Paterson followed. His hair was messed and his shirt had been untucked and unbuttoned. His suspenders hung past his hips. Paterson looked up and met Buck's eyes.
"This isn't any of your affair." He reached down and pulled the young woman to her feet. "Now leave," he snapped
"I disagree, Sir." Buck stood his ground when he saw the look of fear in the woman's eyes.
"Help me " she pleaded pulling away from Paterson's grasp.
Buck stepped forward, unwilling to back down. "Let 'er go," there was a hint of threat in his voice.
"I don't make orders twice, Corporal." Paterson tightened his grip on the woman's arm and she cried in protest.
"Orders or not I'm not leavin' here without her."
The young woman looked wildly between Paterson and the stranger. Truly she wasn't sure if her would be rescuer would be any better than the man who'd paid her for a trick. Instead Paterson had just wanted someone to beat on.
"If that's the way you want it, son, then you can have her when I'm finished." He snapped then pushed her into his tent.
Buck grabbed Paterson's arm. "If you don't release that girl Sir then I shall be pressed to report your actions," he whispered forcefully into Paterson's ear.
Lt. Paterson looked daringly at Buck. "You wouldn't dare," he snarled.
Buck smiled. "I would." He knew he was taking a chance. Corporals didn't challenge their superiors unless they had proof. Thankfully he did.
"Do you have any idea what the repercussions of your actions could be?" Paterson asked bitterly.
"Well now, how I see it you're lookin' at 'actions unbecomin' an officer'. So I guess we're both in a fix." Buck stood his ground like a rattler ready to strike.
The young woman had managed to step out of the tent past Paterson. Buck recognized the fear in her eyes and he wouldn't leave her alone with this man.
"Watch your back tomorrow Corporal wouldn't want you to accidentally meet your demise," Paterson snarled, then he turned and glared at the woman who tried to hide herself in the shadows of the tent.
Buck watched him enter his tent. "You all right ma'am?" he asked softly. He knew she was scared and he didn't want to scare her anymore.
Slowly she nodded her head and then turned her attention to the horse she'd ridden in on.
Buck held his elbow out for the young woman to take. She paused a moment, trying to collect herself, then placed her hand in the crook of his elbow. Together they walked toward the older buckskin gelding.
"I want'a thank ya for what ya done," she spoke quietly. "I ain't got no money to pay ya for your help."
"I ain't lookin' for money Paterson wasn't treatin' a lady like he's supposed to and I take exception to that." He smiled down at her as they reached the old horse. "You have a name?"
The woman smiled. "Nobody's ever cared to ask before." She grabbed the reins to her horse and turned back towards her rescuer. "Anne," she said shyly.
Buck helped her up onto her horse. "Are you gonna be all right ridin' back alone, Anne?"
Anne smiled. She liked hearing her name, usually men didn't care, they came to her for one thing and that was to service their needs. "I'll be fine," she reassured. "Thank you again "
"Buck." He watched her nod her head then slowly turn away from the camp. He didn't know where she was going and frankly he only hoped it was someplace better than here. As soon as she was out of his line of sight he headed back to his tent.
Paterson wasn't a man that Buck liked. Despite the double standards, which everyone knew about, there was more to the Lieutenant's malevolence. It was in his eyes and behavior that set him apart from the others. Even his commanding officers were leery of his temper and mood swings. Nobody knew what he was going to do at any given time. In the face of battle he either fought bravely or cowardly, there was no telling which until it was too late.
Buck knew that intervening would cause him problems. Paterson wasn't the type who let this go. But Buck didn't care. Anne was scared and no woman needed to be put in a situation where she didn't feel comfortable. He'd seen the results of a beating on the soft tender skin of a woman's face or the red eyes after a bout of crying. Nobody deserved to be treated like an animal nobody.
The battle at South Mountain continued well into the night. Hooker's men were exhausted, hungry, and hot. Samto nursed his bleeding forehead with his bandanna while thanking the good Lord that the bullet hadn't been closer. His horse had been shot out from under him and after only after Lee's army had retreated to Harpers Ferry did he retrieve his saddle and equipment. Buck had gone with him to help.
Though the battle was over the day was still fresh in each man's mind. The fog of war still filled their senses while screams and cries of fallen comrades echoed in their minds. Nobody lit fires to cook their evening meals, nobody talked about the day's events, and nobody talked about the future.
Grown men were mourning the loss of friends and family. They were wiping their eyes of the tears that they'd shed. Buck watched as Samto tied his bandanna around his head then rubbed his face with his hand. The kid had grown up. He'd changed from that young boy who had run from his first fight. Now, he was scarred with the memories of war.
Buck took a long drink from the bottle of whiskey he'd managed to barter for some time back. He passed the bottle to Samto and then looked up at the night sky.
"Paterson ordered my transfer," Buck said out of the blue.
"What?" Samto asked in disbelief.
Buck chuckled, the alcohol reaching his system. "Seems I 'offended' him."
"Glad someone did," Samto muttered. He didn't like the lieutenant either. "Where are you goin'?"
"I'm to report to a Lieutenant Simpson tomorrow before noon." Buck took another drink of his whiskey. "He's under General Burnside's command."
"I've heard of 'im," Samto said, his interest spiked. "S'poze to be a real good general."
"Yep," Buck sighed. General Burnside did have a reputation for being a great leader and even more so he wouldn't tolerate any less from his officers.
"Maybe we can get together after the war," Samto suggested. He knew as well as anyone that the chances of meeting up with Buck were slim but it was the only thing he could think of to say. Buck had been his best friend since the start of the war, granted it had only been a little less than a year and a half, but it was long enough.
"Maybe," Buck responded.