This is the eighth part of a fiction serial, in 780 words.
My first real sight of Kansas was the bustling town of Leavenworth. There were lots of bluebelly cavalry around, and I had never seen so many negroes lounging around doing nothing. It was a noisy place, and fierce hot too. Seemed like a Kansas summer was hotter than back home, real close and humid. Pretty soon, we had both sweated through our shirts, and daddy aimed to get out of there as soon as we could get around the crowded streets. We pushed on until the town was barely visible behind us, pleased to find a cooler spot to camp under some trees next to the river.
Before dark, a rider approached, and he held up both hands to show he meant no harm. He had a carbine in a saddle-holster, but no pistol we could see. His hat was real fancy, turned up on one side, with a bushy feather in the gap. And it was a gray hat. “Hoping to share some food, sir. I have good whisky in my pack. He nodded at the large leather bag tied on to his saddle. He swung off the horse like a man used to riding, and walked over to daddy with his hand extended. “Eugene Delacroix, at your service. Formerly an officer with General Forrest’s cavalry”. He spoke real nice, and his accent was southern, not local.
Daddy relaxed some at the man’s genial manner, and indicated for him to sit on the ground next to the makings of our fire. “Jessie Fuller, and this here’s my son, Phineas”. It was strange to hear my full name spoken. I couldn’t recall the last time I had heard that from anyone. Delacroix thought before he spoke. “I’m guessing you are a southern man, Mister Fuller. Did you see service in the war perhaps? I seem to have travelled across half this country, since leaving Louisiana”. Daddy nodded. “Army of Northern Virginia. Lost my oldest boy at Fredericksburg”. The man shook his head. “My condolences, sir. It’s been a bad time for so many, no doubt. Are you headed west? I thought I might take my chances in California”. Daddy had lit the fire, and I went to get the pot with the food.
“I was thinking about the Colorado Territory. Hear tell there’s good land there”. Delacroix pursed his lips. “Well, it hasn’t been opened up much, and of course you have to think about the savages. All sorts of injuns out there. You might be better to try your luck in this state. Kansas is growing fast, and it would save you a mighty lot of travelling”. He stood up when he finished speaking, and walked over to his pack, which was lying on the ground next to his grazing horse. He came back holding the bottle of whiskey, and I saw daddy relax when that was all he had in his hands. As I stirred the pot, the men drank the whiskey from tin cups, and talked stuff about the war.
After dinner, we settled the horses, and Delacroix smoked a thin cigar while daddy puffed on his pipe. Like he had just thought of something, he suddenly spoke real loud. “Why not Lawrence? That’s a well established town, and it suffered something awful when Quantrill’s men raided. I reckon they will need folks to help get it back to how it was before that dark day in sixty-three. You may just find your niche there, Jessie”. That man talked so sweet, and used words I had never heard. But he seemed to be convincing daddy, judging by the amount of nodding going on. I went to get ready to sleep under the wagon, and left them to it. But when I settled down, I made sure to have the short-barrelled forty-four close to hand. Lawrence or Colorado, it made no never mind to me, either way.
When I woke up the next morning, Delacroix was gone. Daddy said he heard him ride out at first light. “Reckon he talked some sense though, Phin. We could just keep going, or maybe take his advice and go see this town Lawrence he spoke of. Might be nice to settle for a piece, even if we don’t stay there”. I had no vote on that, daddy was just thinking aloud. But I had a feeling he had already made up his mind. He spread out the map, and traced his finger along it. “Reckon we have to head south-west, Phin. Let’s get the horses harnessed”. As we got busy, I asked him, “Is it far, daddy?” He shook his head.
“Reckon not. Maybe two days, three at most”.