The Letter

by Heather M.

Characters: JD & Nathan

This is an Old West Gen Fic Crossover with Andersonville (sort of).

Warning: A hanky may be needed

Disclaimer: We are allowed to play with them as long as we do not profit other than the enjoyment of the reading and writing and so it is with this fic as well.

Nathan waited. He sat alone in his clinic and listened for footsteps climbing the stairs to his rooms. In his hand he held the letter. He had written it seventeen years ago now. He barely knew how to write back then but the man who had dictated the letter to him had been ill, deathly ill, and could no longer write for himself. Nathan had long ago given up searching for the recipient, never expecting to deliver it, but still something inside of him would not let him discard it.

Day before yesterday he’d arrived home with Buck and Ezra after three weeks on the trail. Three weeks of Buck’s “singing.” An incessant caterwauling that sent shivers up his spine every time Buck reached for a high-note. He tried in vain to teach the man to sing, to use his male voice as God intended it by teaching him Negro spirituals, but to no avail. Buck insisted on singing the songs of the female chanteuses he’d had known over the years. Songs meant for women to sing. Between that and Ezra’s endless complaining he was like to have been driven mad. One thing about slavery, you learned self-control as a part of self-preservation, guess maybe that was a difference between having been raised a slave and having grown up free.

Once home, though tired, he’d tended to his horse only to get away from Buck and Ezra for a while. Both of them had flipped the stable boy a coin to see to their horses. Having never had it before, he was far more careful with his money. Ezra had gone straight to the bathhouse, Buck in search of Miss Blossom, to see if she would join him in his bath.

His horse settled, he decided on a drink to give Buck and Ezra more time to clear out of the bathhouse before he took his turn. Slapping the trail dust from himself with his hat, he pushed through the bat-wing doors only to stop in his tracks. There at the table with his friends sat the man from seventeen years ago. He trembled and pushed away the superstitions he’d grown up, superstitions involving the dead returning from the after life. His travels and learning to read were supposed to have put those superstitions to rest a long time ago.

The four turned in their chairs to greet him. Their laughter melted away, as they beheld his astonished expression.

“You look as if you’ve seen a ghost, brother.” The voice was low; the words were spoken slowly with a tinge of concern.

“Man just needs a drink I ‘spect.” The sky blue eyes, hunter’s eyes, had noted Nathan’s reaction and watched him for some clue as to what had given their healer such a turn.

“Three solid weeks alone with Buck and Ezra, he needs a bottle and the company of grown men for a change, is all.” The measured words from beneath the black brim were meant to be humorous but instead made it clear he had seen Nathan’s reaction as well.

“Where’s Buck ‘n Ez? Ya didn’t kill them did ya Nathan? Buried them out on the trail? I bet it’d be justifiable homicide if ya did.” The teasing words came from their youngest.

Unaware of the steps he was taking as he moved forward, Nathan’s eyes never left the spectre’s face.

He settled stiffly into the chair beside the ghost. The initial shock was over, his heart rate slowing and his powers of reason were taking over again. This face was different. It was full of life, not grey and sunken with impending death. These eyes sparkled; when last he’d seen them they were blind from malnutrition.

“Ya grew a beard JD?” his own voice sounded foreign to his ears.

The ghost broke into a smile. “Yeah, whattaya think?” asked JD, stroking the dark hair proudly. A youthful beard, it was still soft and hung straight off the jaw line, waving gently as he turned to show his profile off to the healer.

Now thinking back to that moment Nathan sighed heavily. He could not remember what he’d said to JD. Sitting here in the safety of his rooms he wondered to himself, “How had he not seen it before?”

He was not sure if what he was about to do next was the right thing. But after a short commiseration with Josiah to make sure his decision was sound, he had decided. The letter he had written for the dying Tobias John Hubbard to give to Mair Arddun Gruffydd, he would give to their son.

+ + + + + + +

“Hey Nate, Josiah said you wanted to talk to me.” The young sheriff had knocked as always and waited to be invited in. He stood now just inside the door, his hat in his hand.

“JD, sit down,” Nathan gestured toward the chair across from him.

“Nate what’s wrong? Ever since ya got back ya been actin’ funny. Something happen out on the trail?”

“No, nothing happened on the trail JD. But there is somethin’ else, it ah… it has to do with something that happened long time ago.” Nathan paused to shift in his chair and lick his lips. “JD, the other day, in the saloon, you reminded me of someone I met during the war.”

“The war?” Nathan looked at the questioning eyes, the furrowed brow. Given what he was about to say he couldn’t watch the boy and dropped his eyes to the tabletop between them.

“JD in the summer of ’65 I was a stretcher bearer with the 55th. We’d received a number of men released from the prisoner of war camps. They were in bad shape, the worst of ‘em had been at Andersonville.” Nathan stopped here and look up at his young friend.

“I’ve heard of Andersonville. What’s it got to do with me?” The eyes so clear, so innocent, Nathan pushed on.

“JD was your mother’s name Mair Arddun Gruffydd?” He’d pronounced the name poorly but the reaction told him he’d pronounced it well enough to be recognized.

JD’s spine straightened unconsciously with the shock that rippled through the hazel depths of his eyes, “How did you know that?” he whispered.

“I have something for her… from your father.”

Nathan watched as the eyes registered confusion and disbelief. “My father?”

Nathan would not spare JD the truth. He held out the worn and yellowed envelope. “When I saw you the other day, it spooked me, you reminded me so much of a man I met in the hospital back then. I wrote a letter for him. A letter to Mair Arddun Gruff…”

“If ya can’t say it right! Don’t say it at all!” His words feigned resentment to hide his fear.

Nathan saw confusion in his eyes, the young jaw flexed as he fought for control. “Can’t be him!” he spat out angrily, “he died before I was born!”

“JD, I saw a lot of stuff in the war I hope to forget someday but when I saw you with that beard the memory of that man was as fresh to me as if it had happened yesterday. Ya got the same kinda beard as he had JD, the kind that ain’t hardly ever seen a razor. It makes your face look jus’ like his.”

JD stared back with big eyes; the young man’s turmoil swirled in the hazel pools. JD made no move to take the letter from him. Nathan groaned inwardly, maybe this had been the wrong thing to do after all.

Josiah had reminded him that as much as it hurt at the time, Nathan himself had felt better knowing what had happened to his mother. Questions long unanswered had been put to rest, it had helped him reconcile with his father, and in the end he didn’t love his mother any less.

Nathan’s deep brown eyes looked back at him seriously. “Ya never mention your pa and I don’t know what ya think of him but for what its worth I think ya should read the letter.” He set the letter down on the table and then left quietly, shutting the door behind him.

JD sat and looked at the letter a long time.

His mother had never mentioned his father except to say once when he had asked that they had been very young and that he had loved them both very much. JD had always suspected that some portion of what she had said was a lie and he didn’t want to think about it because his mother had never lied to him.

Just laying there in front of him the letter raised such fear in his heart as he had never known. He had faced life as a bastard, his mother’s death and the long trip alone out west; surely he could face whatever was in this letter.

He reached over and picked it up carefully as if it would break easily. His mother’s full name graced the front of it. Turning it over in his hand he noted the wax had long ago dried off. He gently slipped his finger under the flap easing it upwards then suddenly the letter blossomed open in his hand.

It was dated “June 30, 1865.” He recognized an immature version of Nathan’s handwriting.

My dear sweet Mair,

I hope this letter finds you one day. To tell you one last time how much I love you. I have been a prisoner in Andersonville these last sixteen months. From whatever you may hear of this place do not despair despite all the hardship, the memory of you and the hope that I might one day return to you has carried me through the worst of times.

William Cassidy was captured and came to Andersonville five months ago. He brought me news of you and our son. He is our son isn’t he? Yours and mine from that one night together. My dearest Mair, if I had had any notion that our one time together would begat a child we would have been wed before I left. I fairly wept when William told me of him. His mere existence gave me another weapon with which to fight the horrors of imprisonment.

William tells me he is a bright and strong child, with his mother’s colouring and his father’s stature.

There are things he should know of his ancestors that I had no time to tell you. I was born in New York City in 17th July of 1845. The second of five children only one other, a sister, survived. Fever took both our parents in May of 1857, my sister, then three, was adopted into a fine Catholic family. Though not quite twelve years I was sent to Prescott House just outside of Boston. The master of which, was a great benefactor to the church. There I worked as a stable boy and discovered a love and a talent for horses. My dream was to be no man’s servant and I had hoped to earn enough money in this bloody war to buy a little place of our own in Minnesota or maybe the Dakotas to raise horses and a family.

My personal history is brief but enough I hope to hand down to a son. It stands a man in good stead to know where he comes from.

I know as difficult a task as it will be to raise him on your own; he will be a decent and righteous man, true to himself.

I will never see our son nor will I see you again my beloved fore I am dying. I have had this letter written in hopes that someday it will find you and you will know though death take me from this earth, my love will remain with you and our child always.


JD swiped at the tears in his eyes, they seemed to fill his eyes as fast as he could wipe them away. He hadn’t made it through the last paragraph yet but he’d read enough to know, his mother hadn’t lied to him.

+ + + + + + +

He raised his head at the sound of the knock at the door. Then Nathan’s face appeared around the door.


“Hey Nate.”

Nathan took the greeting as an invitation to come in and slipped in closing the door quickly behind him.

JD was sitting where Nathan had left him two hours before. The brightness of his eyes belied the tears he had shed. Nathan settled back into his chair.

“You okay?”

A little smile curled at his JD’s lips, “Yeah.” Then the young man’s eyes dropped back to the letter now lying open on the table.

“Did you know him Nathan?”

“No JD, I can’t say that I did.”

JD couldn’t hide his disappointment; his face fell.

“I’ll tell you what I do know. He and hundreds like him, starving, their bodies broken from malnutrition, with only their will to carry them had walked from Andersonville prison in Georgia to a train that brought him and a few dozen men to Lucas. It was only by luck they were liberated, most of the rest ended up at other camps.” Nathan paused here. He would not spare JD the truth. “He was dying JD. He was blind; he weighed less than 80 pounds. His stomach could no longer take food nor water, there was nothin’ the doctors could do for him.”

Nathan waited, watching the young face, like so many times before; the son faced hard truth, with the same stoic resolve his father had. “I only met him because even as bad off as he was he was raisin’ a ruckus. He wanted someone to write a letter for him. The doctors and nurses couldn’t be spared. I said I knew my letters a little so they gave me the job of settlin’ the man.”

“It took most ‘o the day JD. He tired easy, speakin’ was hard ‘cause his mouth was full of sores, his lips would split and bleed, he had to spell a lot of the words fer me. He’d… he’d go still for a long time and I’d wonder if he was dead and then he’d come round agin and we’d keep goin’. His desire to get word to your mother was the only thing keeping him alive. He made me promise to try and find her. JD he couldn’t see, he didn’t know I was a freed slave that I wouldn’t…”

Nathan stopped. He had tried to find Mair Arddun Gruffydd, through other freed slaves that had traveled north after the war, but his and their resources had been limited.

JD nodded and pursed his lips. “It didn’t help that Momma had changed her name. A nun in the charity ward of the hospital where I was born had thought it best Momma protect the family name so Mair Arddun Gruffydd became Mary Dunne.” JD spoke the syllables of the foreign tongue with ease. There was lyrical quality to the softly spoken words. The last one sounded like Griffith. Nathan would never have thought Gruffydd, was pronounced Griffith.

“Is your name Welsh as well?’

JD smiled, “Ieuan Dafydd.” The strange sounding words tumbled off his tongue effortlessly.

Nathan shook his head, chuckled and smile broadly, “If it’s all the same to you I’ll stick to callin’ ya JD.”

JD laughed and smiled back at him.

“JD, does it help at all? Knowing I mean.” Nathan’s expression was tentative as he stared back at JD.

“It helps a lot,” JD said quietly. “Momma only ever raised her hand to me once. The master of the house had a thing for her. He’d never leave her alone. One night she showed up with a black eye and I cursed my father for leaving her. She hit me so hard she knocked me down, she said my father loved her, loved us both, and I was never to speak of him in such a way again. I thought she’d lied to me.” JD looked up at Nathan, his eyes dewy with tears. “Turns out she hadn’t.”

Nathan nodded. He understood how a parent could sometimes hurt without meaning to, leaving a wound in your heart that seem to fester for years.

“Were you with him when he died?” The question broke the long silence.

Nathan nodded. “It was late in the day. He’d come round from one of his still spells and asked me to read the letter back to him from beginning to end… by the time I was done, he was gone.”

JD nodded absently. “Sounds like he was someone to be proud of.”

“I reckon so.”

“Ya think he’d be proud of me?”

“I wouldn’t doubt it fer a minute JD.”

The End

Feedback always appreciated: or