Jennifer Weston adjusted her hat and looked around at all the other women on the train. Everyone was eager to get to the fort and start the procedure of procuring the remains of their loved-ones. She was excited too, but in the back of her mind a lot of things were running rampart. There had been talk of civil war for months and the tension that it brought stirred everyone. Did these women understand the turmoil of these trying times, she wondered?
There was no use worrying about it. They came on this mission knowing it might not all be good. But the their goal of getting their loved one's home was all they thought of.
They'd be getting off in Ft. Worth and a wagon would take them to the fort, which would be the last leg of their journey.
She was the only woman on the train that wasn't a widow. But her brother had died out west and her family needed closure, so she came, to claim his body and have it moved back to New York.
As she sat listening to the sounds the train made against the tracks, she contemplated this strange journey she had volunteered for. Her mother was in ill health and her father had to take care of her youngest brother. Since only women would be allowed by the government on this trip, she knew she was the only one that could carry through the task. Still, there was something about uprooting a body and reburial that bothered her. The government said he died a hero, that he was buried with full military honors. But her parents insisted he needed to come home and be buried in the family cemetery. Jennifer had mixed feelings on the subject, but finally agreed to do it for her mother.
She had no idea what to expect. She heard a lot of the women talking about where their husbands had been killed and how they weren't even sure there were bodies left to bury. It made her doubt this trip being wise.
When they were close to arriving at Ft. Worth, she changed into more appropriate clothes, a suede riding skirt and vest, with a white blouse, she'd even bought a hat at one of the small towns they stopped at.
Most of the other women didn't change. She wondered why, but she said nothing. Since she was an avid horsewoman, she donned this kind of clothing often.
Ft Worth was a loud, and boisterous town, with gambling, gun play and rowdy cowboys coming or going on a cattle drives. The dust rarely settled.
But there was a man standing on the platform of the station waiting, and she was sure he must be the one with the wagons, that would take them to the fort.
They all got off and nearly emptied a whole car of seats.
An older woman came straight up to the man on the platform. "Are you the man that will take us ladies to the fort?" She asked.
The man eyed her, "Yes ma'am." He glanced over the crowd of women. "If you'll all follow me."
"Excuse me, but it was a long ride and some of us are rather parched, can we stop somewhere and get something to drink." One of the women sashayed up to him.
"Sorry, there's a water barrel over against the building. Get yourself a drink and let's go." He instructed. He sounded a bit abrupt, but Jennifer realized that they were complaining of their train ride, of their thirst and asking questions he obviously couldn't answer.
"We can't go to a café?" one lady asked with a sweet voice.
"No ma'am, I've got to get you there and settled as quickly as possible, there aren't many men at the fort and we are constantly under attack by the Indians."
"Indians?" Another woman yelped.
"Yes ma'am. Indians." He almost smiled.
Jennifer stared at the man, he was uncommonly handsome and clean shaven, but he sure had a sour-pus attitude. The women lined up for a drink of water then followed him to the wagons with benches built to hold them.
"We have to ride this to the fort?" Another woman asked.
"Yes ma'am, it's a ten-day ride and we'll be there. We've got three wagons," He told her. "I realize it isn't comfortable, but considering how many women there are, it is the best we could do on such short notice."
"Short notice, you didn't know we were coming?" Another woman shouted from the back of the crowd.
"Not until last week, no ma'am."
"What's your name young man?" the older woman asked him.
"Quirt Noble, ma'am."
"Quirt, what a strange name." She huffed.
He helped them in the wagons and they were all crammed into them like pickles in a barrel. Two of the solders from the fort were driving the other wagons. They also talked among themselves and shot him some rather unfriendly faces too.
The ride was bumpy, hot, and the benches were hard. Jennifer was sure she'd have a few bruises on her backside, all the women were uncomfortable, but there was no other sensible way of getting there all together.
That night Quirt made a fire, got out the pots and pans, and offered them all beans and salt pork.
As they gathered around the fire later, Quirt stayed a distance away from them, allowing them every privacy, but he felt he had to warn them. So later that evening before they bedded down he gathered them together.
He cleared his throat and came into the big circle they made. "Ladies, I feel I need to warn you all of what to expect."
Everyone's head reared at that. His commanding voice seemed to boom on the prairie.
"The fort is in Indian territory. The Indians are rather hostile with us at the moment. And the war between the states has already started, as you probably have already heard or read in the paper. You were sent here with the best of intentions, but our situation has changed so drastically that I'm afraid you won't be happy with it."
The women all remarked to each other for a moment, until he cleared his throat again.
"My name is Quirt Noble, for those of you that didn't hear earlier. I'm a scout for the army. I've been given temporary rank by the commanding officer to actually command the fort until Confederate troops take over." He explained.
"Confederate troops," someone way in the back of the crowd yelled.
"Yes ma'am, we're in Texas and Texas is a Confederate state."
"When will they take over the fort?" One woman asked.
"I don't know when they will pick up command, I'm sorry. Most of the men at our fort have evacuated, including the commander. The reason for that is because most of them were from the north, stationed out here to protect the settlers from Indians. Now that this war has started, things will change. And I won't be aware of all the changes before you are. Confederate soldiers may occupy the fort at times. At other times we'll be down to a skeleton crew. Indians are our main concern right now, later we might even have to fight the Yankees, if they come this far southwest. Although, I don't look for that to happen for a while.
"You ladies were sent out here to see to the proper burial of your loved ones. The intentions of Washington were extremely generous about letting you leave to the forts where your husbands were killed. But, I must tell you now," he paused to look out over the crowd of women who already looked a bit shocked. "You will not leave this fort."
Murmurings went up all over the crowd.
"I can't be responsible for your lives if you leave. So, for now, you will all remain at the fort and until further notice."
"But sir, my husband wasn't killed at Ft. Davis." One woman hollered through the crowd.
"I'm aware that many of your husbands weren't. But things have changed drastically from the time you left Washington and now. Now our nation is at war with itself, and the Indians are at war too. I must inform you that because of the war between the states, some of the southern forts will be abandoned, and impossible for you to proceed to. I realize this is not what you expected. None of us expected. We didn't know in time to stop you from coming."
"You mean, after all of this, all this long trip which has been harrowing to say the least, that we still won't be able to see or retrieve our loved ones?"
"No ma'am, you won't. Except for the ones buried at Ft. Davis. And I am truly sorry for this. Unless the Confederate commander has other ideas, you will have to stay at Ft. Davis. And I do realize what an imposition this is on your plans. However, due to the war, it cannot be helped. Because the Indians are warring and the states are warring there is no way we can permit travel from one fort to another. It is strictly for your own safety."
"But…that's preposterous! The federal government promised us." A beautiful young woman came right up to him, with her hands on her hips and her face contorted into a huge frown.
"Yes ma'am, I agree. If we could have stopped your train and redirected you back to your homeland, we would have. But that was an impossibility, too. So, what this means to both of us is that for now, you are all subjects of Fort Davis until further notice."
The women all began to bicker between themselves and Quirt knew he was going to be ganged up on soon.
When a handful approached him a few minutes later, they stood with their hands on their hips and their jaws set, with frowns as big as the state of Texas staring at him. "You can't do this!" They protested.
"I'm afraid it's out of my hands ladies. I have orders to protect you, no matter the cost to my men. I aim to do that to the best of my ability." He explained. "Not only you, but the homesteaders around the fort."
The women all began talking at once. It was worse than any Indian attack he'd ever fought in, Quirt was sure of that.
Then a rifle shot fired into the air, stopped everyone as Jennifer stepped closer.
"Ladies," her glance went around the crowd. "We are caught between a war. Several wars in fact. A war none of us wanted. Nonetheless a war. This man has a job to do and he's got to do it. There's nothing we can do, we are all relatives of soldiers, we know the rules, the regulations. Nothing to do but cooperate with these men at the fort and do the best we can until help arrives. So, I suggest we make do, for now! Like the man said, it is possible the Confederate officers will see things differently, until then we are stuck, not by anyone's choosing."
"But my husband…."
Jennifer nodded, "Is dead. We aren't. Don't you see, we are in distress. We have a fort with few men, Indians on the warpath and another huge war coming at us. There is nothing we can do, except try to help in any way we can. Let's face it ladies, that's what we are good at, helping. I suggest from this moment on that we roll up our sleeves, forget the petticoats and work with the men to survive. We do want to survive, don't we?"
Quirt's brow raised in amazement, he certainly hadn't expected for a woman to come to his rescue, but right then he could have kissed her for her words. Because whether they liked it or not, they all began to see the seriousness of the situation.
He stared at the woman. She was curvaceous and had beautiful blonde hair and dark brown eyes that nailed him to the spot. She had saved him, but he saw a tongue lashing coming, sooner or later from her too.
One thing he had to remind himself. He couldn't become attracted to any of these women. Most, if not all were widows and here to tend their dead husbands. Besides that, he had more important things to worry about, like Indians and Yankees.
When the crowd of women dispersed, he went over to the tall blonde and tipped his hat. He liked the fact that he could look at her almost eye-level. "I want to thank you for that little speech you gave. I guess I'm not very good at knowing how to talk to women."
She let a slight smile slip past her firm lips and nodded, "I thought you could use some help. My name is Jennifer Weston, I've come out here to find my brother's remains and have them shipped back to New York."
"Your brother, then…. you aren't a widow?" He asked with a frown.
"No," She didn't offer any more explanation.
"I thought all the women were here to collect their husband's remains?"
"They are, I'm not. I wrote some time ago, to a Mr. Robert E. Lee about my brother and he arranged for me to come out with the other ladies."
"Robert E. Lee?" His jaw flexed.
"That's right. He was stationed at one time at your fort I believe."
"Well yes, it's just he's been promoted to lead the Confederate Army, did you know that?"
"No, I wasn't interested in his title at the time."
"You're from the north then."
"Yes, New York."
"Well, I must tell you now, you won't be shipping anything home for a long while."
"I cannot allow people coming and going during an Indian war too, ma'am. It's too dangerous. You see, the war between the states has already started and it won't be long the Indians will know this. They'll be attacking. They'll know we don't have enough men to defend the fort. We're going to have to prepare for the unknown ma'am."
"Why do you think we came out here, sir?" She asked, putting her hands on her hips now.
She was a very handsome woman, and Quirt had to fan his attraction. "It doesn't matter, those plans have changed. All of them, and unfortunately, we have no choice. When our commander left this fort, so ill-equipped to fight the Indians, believe me, this fort changed, and not for the best ma'am. We are in danger here, but there is absolutely nothing we can do, but our best to protect it. That's my job, to protect this fort, and you ma'am are part of that fort... now!"
"But…" she was speechless as he walked off and didn't give her a chance to object again.