Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: purely an amateur work of fiction, done as um, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. No profit was made from this story; no profit will be made from this story. Based on characters and situations from the TV show Magnificent Seven, with guest appearances from Maverick, Bronco, and How the West was Won. Originally published in the fanzine Magnificent Shorts #1, from Neon RainBow Press.
Mag 7 (pre-Old West)
March 10, 1863
by Susan M. M.
"Cap, what the hell are we doin' here?" Private Vin Tanner asked.
"Trying not to get killed, for the most part," replied Captain "Bronco" Layne of the 7th Texas Cavalry.
"Neither one 'a us owns any slaves. Neither one 'a us could afford any, even if we wanted to." Vin scratched an itch. With a casual accuracy born of far too much practice, he caught a louse and crunched it between his fingernails. "And me, I never wanted t' own a man. So why are we out here fightin'?"
"War ain't over slavery. It's about states' rights, whether or not a pack of politicians in Washington can tell sovereign states what to do," Bronco said, reciting the Confederate rationale.
"But the main thing them Yankees is tryin' t' tell us t' do is free the slaves," Vin countered. The private had stringy brown hair and pale blue eyes. A diet of army food (too little, and damned little of it fit to eat) had left him scrawny.
"General Lee freed all his slaves years ago. And that there Emancipation Proclamation of old Abe's didn't free all the slaves," Bronco explained.
"It didn't?" Vin was surprised. Illiterate, he couldn't read the newspapers himself and was dependent on his messmates discussing the headlines. When they didn't read past the headlines into the articles, or when they preferred to talk about girls rather than the news, he remained as ignorant of current events as a fresh-hatched chick.
"Nope," Private Bret Maverick piped up. "Lincoln only freed the slaves in the states that are 'in rebellion' against the federal government. The slaves in the border states that stayed in the Union, and the slaves in occupied territory like Memphis or New Orleans are still slaves."
"Ain't that just like a politician?" asked his brother, Private Bart Maverick. "Frees the ones he doesn't have and keeps the ones he does."
Vin tried to puzzle it out. Shaking his head, he decided he'd never understand politics.
"Ten dollars says you can't make the shot again," Lieutenant Slocum challenged. "Not at that distance."
"You're on," Ezra Standish replied. He was dressed in the uniform of a Confederate officer, and drawing Confederate pay, but he had never been commissioned in the army.
Ezra aimed carefully and fired at the playing card nailed to the tree. He had already hit the spade in the center of the card with his first bullet. Now he fired again, five times. The other young men had no idea that these five bullets had been blanks, so he only appeared to have hit the same point on the ace of spades six times.
"With marksmanship like that, you should be up at the front," Lieutenant Culpepper marveled. "You're wasting your talents playing with paperwork."
"Heaven forbid," Ezra replied. "Yankees shoot back, cards don't."
The others laughed and Ezra smiled to himself. The others had taken it as a joke, as he'd intended. The best way to lie, the con man had long since discovered, was to tell the truth, but to either tell only part of it, or tell it in such a way as to not be believed. His military colleagues were foolish enough to think he was as eager to risk his life for a lost cause as they were.
Legally, he wasn't even in the army, although, luckily for him, the paymaster hadn't realized that yet. A few months ago he'd been wearing a borrowed uniform to collect funds for a non-existent hospital. It had been a very successful scam. Despite what the war had done to the South's economy, people had almost thrown money at him. Then a colonel had seen him in the street and commandeered him, and he'd been in his first and last battle. When the colonel was shot and restricted to desk work, Ezra had accompanied him as his aide. As the one in charge of paperwork, it had been easy to hide the fact there were no transfer papers from his old unit. He was far from the front, and relatively safe from Yankee bullets. His gray uniform accentuated his good looks; patriotic southern belles wouldn't give a second glance to a man in civilian clothes. The work was light, and his army pay provided a stake for his real fundraising endeavors: poker. As hidey-holes went, there were worse ones.
"As much as we might be desirous of joining our confreres at the front, gentlemen," Ezra lied, "remember the words of the poet: 'They also serve, who only stand and wait.' Our duties here, while less than glamorous, assist the war effort."
The others nodded.
"Now, gentlemen, if I may collect my winnings?" He smiled disingenuously. "I need to buy a new deck of cards. It seems I've ruined the ace of spades, and I wouldn't want anyone to think I was playing with a marked deck."
The officers laughed at the thought that good old Ezra would ever use a marked deck. Such a thing was unthinkable for an officer and a gentleman.
"What is five times nine…" The schoolmaster looked around the room, trying to select his victim. "John?"
"Huh?" John Dunne looked up from the dime novel he had hidden under his textbook. Zeb Macahan, Mountain Man was much more interesting than the multiplication tables.
"Five times nine," Nicholas Edwards whispered to him.
John hastily worked the problem out on his fingers. Count to five, fold down the thumb, right hand is the ones column, left hand is the tens column, he reminded himself. "Forty-five," he announced.
"Very good, John, but next time do it in your head, not on your fingers," the schoolmaster directed.
"Yes, sir." John waited impatiently until the teacher's attention was elsewhere before he dared return to his book. He just had to learn how Macahan rescued the idiotic Russian aristocrat from the savage Indians!
Springtime in Tennessee is a beautiful thing. The snow melting away, the new grass growing, flowers beginning to bud, birds singing and, in Spring Hill, Tennessee, the bullets flying. General Earl Van Dorn's troops had the Illinois 96th pinned down.
"Damn, that was close," swore Private Buck Wilmington.
"You all right?" asked Corporal Chris Larabee, his friend and squad leader.
"Johnny Reb put another hole in my hat," Buck complained.
"Gonna need a new hat before the war's over," Chris predicted.
Company C, Illinois 96th Infantry had been recruited from the citizens of Lake County, Illinois. Most were farm boys who'd known each other from the cradle. Chris and Buck, as the two outsiders, had naturally gravitated toward each other. Buck was a cowboy who, curious what a big city was like, had accompanied the cattle on the train to the Chicago stockyards. From there he'd drifted northeast to Lake County, and had enlisted when the regiment was formed. Some of the local boys had given him the cold shoulder at first, since Texas had joined the Confederacy. Buck, however, considered himself an American first and a Texan second. Nonetheless, he'd been glad when Chris Larabee befriended him during their basic training. Chris' family had moved from Indiana to Illinois, and he hadn't lived there long enough to be considered a local.
"Larabee! Wilmington! The captain wants to see you."
The two scurried to obey, working their way back to the captain, trying to stay undercover as much as possible.
"Yes, sir?" Chris asked when they reached the captain.
"Sergeant Bennett's dead," the captain reported. "Larabee, you're taking his place. Wilmington, you're squad leader."
"Yes, sir," the two said in unison.
The captain pointed to a spot on a map drawn in the dirt. "Take two squads and lead them to the right, up this hill. Sergeant Murrie will take another two squads up the left. I'll lead the rest of the men through the center. Any questions?"
"Good luck, Sergeant Larabee."
"Brothers, thank you for giving me – and God – this time out of your busy schedule," Josiah Sanchez began.
"It's Tuesday, preacher, not Sunday," a heckler yelled.
"True, brother, true, but Sunday I was obeying my favorite verse from St. Paul: 'but no longer drink only water, but take a little wine for thy stomach's sake.' 'Cept it was whisky, not wine, and I didn't take a little. And yesterday," Josiah confessed ruefully, "yesterday I was too hungover to preach."
The crowd of miners laughed.
"But I'm here now, and I'm sober, and I have come to expound the word of the Lord," the tall, brown-haired man roared.
"Amen," shouted a miner who was less-than-sober himself.
"Brothers, back east there is a terrible war, a terrible war, and the Lord hates war. But worse than war, the Lord hates injustice. God created man in His own image. Nowhere in the Good Book," Josiah said, holding a Bible high, "does it say God created white folks in His image, and black folks in someone else's image."
"The Bible don't say some darky is like God," protested someone in a Mississippi accent as thick as gumbo.
"'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal,'" quoted Josiah. "You gonna call Thomas Jefferson a liar?" He paused for his congregation's laughter, and then he continued. "Brother, maybe you're a better man than some Negroes. And maybe some Negroes just might be better men than you are."
The miner from Mississippi sputtered, too insulted to talk.
"There's a man back east name of Frederick Douglass. I don't doubt you're a better gold miner than he is, but I heard him talk once, and I know for a fact he's a better speaker than I am, and me an ordained preacher and teacher of the Lord's word. And I've read his speeches and essays in the newspapers, and he writes a lot better than I do – spells better, too."
The congregation laughed.
"Whether his soul is purer than yours or mine, that's something only God knows. All we can do is be the best Christians we can be. Christ said, 'therefore be perfect, as my Father in Heaven is perfect.' But we ain't perfect, brothers, and we ain't never gonna be perfect. You know that, I know that, and God knows that," Josiah continued. "Hell, if I were perfect, I sure wouldn't have been drunk on the Sabbath. But I can repent, and I can try again. Our Lord is a forgiving Lord, and as long as we keep trying, as long as we don't give up and give ourselves to sin, then God will always give us another chance."
"You tell it, preacher man!"
"Back east, they're fighting a terrible war, Americans fighting and killing other Americans, brothers fighting brothers. Last summer in Virginia, and I swear by this Book in my hand that this is true, there was a Union sergeant who was ordered to shoot down an especially brave, daring young Confederate officer. Afterwards, he and his captain went to see if the young officer was dead or just wounded, and the sergeant learned he'd shot his own son. The sergeant threw himself into the thick of the battle, and was dead himself by nightfall, unable to live with himself after killing his son.
"Brothers, there ain't no way you can tell me God approves of such a thing – fathers killing sons, and brothers killing brothers. We got us enough killing in the world without going after kinfolk. Pray with me, brothers, for a swift end to this terrible war, and for the soldiers, whether their uniform is blue or gray, to come home safely."
All bowed their heads as Josiah led them in prayer. After a short but heartfelt prayer, Josiah passed the hat. "I'll tell you the truth. A dollar or two of this is for my dinner, and a few dollars will let me listen to St. Paul again. But most of it is going to our brave soldiers, to buy bandages and medicines. Ain't going for bullets or cannonballs, just supplies for the field hospitals."
The sombrero passed from man to man, some putting in coins, others nuggets.
"Join me in a hymn, brothers, while the hat goes round," Josiah urged. "Remember what the Psalms say: 'make a joyful noise unto the Lord.' Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see…"
"Drunken idiot! Get out of here before you do these boys more harm than the Confederates did." Mary Ann Bickerdyke shoved the drunken surgeon out of the tent. She looked around. "Nathan, come here."
"Ma'am?" Nathan Jackson, a 'contraband' runaway slave serving as a stretcher bearer, hurried up to see what Mother Bickerdyke wanted. Even General Sherman refused to contradict her orders; Nathan wasn't about to disobey her.
"I'm going to save this boy's life, and you're going to help me," the intrepid nurse informed the teenager.
"Ma'am?" Nathan had only had a few months to get used to the idea of being a free man. He wasn't quite ready to be a hero. "I ain't no doctor, just a stretcher bearer."
"You're sober, at least. You've seen me administer chloroform, haven't you?"
"Then you give him anesthesia while I get the bullet out," she ordered.
More scared than he'd been since the night he ran away from the plantation, Nathan carefully gave the wounded soldier a little bit of chloroform. Too little, and the soldier would suffer unnecessarily. Too much, and he could kill him. He knew what would happen to a Negro who harmed a white man in the South. Things were better in the North, but not that much better. He'd talked to other runaway slaves and freeborn northern Negroes, and had already learned that free didn't mean equal.
Mother Bickerdyke removed the minie ball, then stitched the wound shut. "Watch how I bandage his arm, you'll be getting the next one."
"We're too short-handed to waste a pair of competent hands. I've seen you, always watching, always paying attention. Not too much chloroform," she interrupted herself. "It needs to last. We have a lot of wounded to tend to."
"What happens when we run out?" Nathan asked her.
"We use whisky, until that runs out, too. Then…" The middle-aged woman swallowed. "…we try to close our ears to the screams, and keep working."
Author's Note: Bronco Layne was the star of the TV show Bronco, on from 1958-1962. Bret and Bart Maverick were the stars of Maverick, broadcast from 1957-1962. Bronco was an ex-Confederate captain who wandered from Texas to Montana after the war. Bret and Bart served in the Confederate forces, but after being captured by Union troops, changed sides and fought Indians until the end of the war. Zeb Macahan was a mountain man on How the West was Won, which was on from 1978-1979. In one episode he did rescue an idiotic Russian aristocrat who'd come to the Wild West to hunt buffalo. The Illinois 96th fought at the Battle of Spring Hill, on March 10, 1863. Frederick Douglass was an abolitionist, orator, and essayist. Sgt. Driscoll killed his son at the Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862: I regret that story is true. "Mother" Bickerdyke was a Union nurse and hospital administrator, infamous for telling off officers she considered incompetent.