This is a continuing story, if you would like to read the from the beginning, the letter A : Aces and Eights But... each letter/story stands alone as well. Enjoy:)
Dawn had begun to break, Ben watched the new recruits move through rifle drills. They would do this for the next twelve to fourteen hours of their life. He flexed the fingers of his right hand.
They were stiff and still numb from the bullet to the shoulder he’d taken in their last battle. The sawbones said the damage was probably permanent. Ben wouldn’t accept that.
He sat back on his cot and picked up his pistol. Good he could grip it, forcing his finger to curl into the trigger was difficult but once there Ben felt he could maintain it. He made sure the barrel was empty of amunition and squeezed.
The gun shifted out of his hand and into the dirt. Ben growled in frustration as he tried again. “You’re my body, obey my commands.”
He tried again, and again, it improved but the unforgiving muscles wouldn’t let him keep hold for more than two shots. Exhaling deeply he tossed the pistol onto the cot next to him and listened to the greenies go through their drills.
Ben turned and watched them for a moment. Determination filled him, he would not be shipped home half a man. Ben dressed full uniform, musket in hand then walked over to the commander of the new platoon. “Major Haute, may I join your men in drills, sir?”
The major gave him a questioned expression but could not find a reason to refuse. “Very good Lieutenant, position at the end of the front line.”
Ben nodded to a nervous new recruit, who gazed his rank as Ben took the spot next to him. “Eyes front, son.”
The recruit snapped back to attention, Ben had to grin as he remembered his own awe at officers among them. The Major raised his saber and began to call out. “Prepare to load. Load.”
Ben lowered the butt of his rifle to the ground and the barrel gripped in his left hand
“Handle cartridge.” The Major eyed Ben and his stiff movement as he concentrated to make his arm bend and pull the packet from his pouch.
“Tear cartridge.” It took painful effort for Ben to lift his arm high enough to bite down on the paper and tear open the powder. Worse yet he had to hold it there until all the greenies had figured out the step.
Finally the next order came. “Charge cartridge.” It was a relief to drop his arm enough to pour the powder into the gun barrel until the bullet set in place at the mouth under his thumb. He could feel the last weeks of inactivity through his shoulder and down his arm. His fingertips had started to tingle. That was a welcome feeling compared to the numbness he had started to become accustomed.
“Draw rammer.” Ben took a deep breath and pulled the rammer from its slot along the top of the musket’s barrel. He had to lift his arm high to pull it free. He didn’t grimace or curse as much as he wanted to as bone clicked and ground with his movement as he positioned the rammer over the musket ball, and shoved it down with the next order to ram it.
He noticed a few of the greenies eyes glancing down to see his example. Ben did his damnedest to give them a good one and hide his weakness. He stood tall and kept up with their speed. Able to load up to four shots a minute.
Ben worked with them for the day. With each drill, his movement became more fluid. Even the sensation in his fingers and hand had begun to return. He sweated in his thick wool uniform under the sun and felt better than he had the morning he took Johnny Reb’s best shot.
When the Major relented to the young men’s groans of ache and tedium, he released them for supper. Ben grinned as he heard the younger men talking about him and the rumors of his own platoons exploits.
His puffed ego soon deflated as he stepped into his tent to find a telegram from his uncle. They and other ranches were bullied by the railroad for their land. Uncle had not given in to their demands and stood fast that he would not.
This worried Ben, he knew from his experience with the railroads here, they held great power. At the last was good news at least. His uncle mentioned that Ellen and Joseph were well and sent their love.
Ben set the telegram on the desk and started to pull off his coat when the numbers in the corner caught his eye. A telegram with difficult news barring the operator code 11-88. Aces and eights, his omen taunted again that something was on it’s way.