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Some hundred yards down the road, I could see a cabin all by itself in the middle of a clearing. “Reckon there’s nobody there?” Enos rode up beside me. His eyes was squinted until they was only slits in the leather of his face. I chawed on the inside of my cheek and ran my thumb up and down the handle of my revolver. The place sure looked abandoned. It was hard to see through the misting rain, but it was obvious there was no chickens in the yard, no smoke in the chimney. The door and all the shutters was closed up tight though. If the Yankees had run the folks off, they wouldn’t have shut everything up so nice before they left. “Nah,” I said. “Somebody’s around somewheres.” “The question is what kind of somebody?” Enos wheeled his horse back around to face the two men behind us. The one, our Sergeant, was leaning against the other, near falling out of his saddle. His eyes was shut, but he was conscious enough to keep his hand pressed against the hole in his left breast. “You got any opinions?” Enos shifted his squint to Jim Triplett, the other man, in a way that meant he was only asking ’cause he didn’t have a choice. Triplett looked down at the little farmhouse, his lips set in a hard line and his jaw muscles working. “If there was Yanks inside, they’d have a fire going.” His iron-gray gaze flicked back to Enos, held his eyes for just a second, then glanced at me. I stared back, wondering how he could be so sure. The man never said anything that wasn’t sure. When he spoke it was the gospel truth—always. I suppose that’s the reason I found myself nodding in agreement. Triplett didn’t look at Enos again. His spur touched his horse’s belly, and he and the Sergeant started down the hill, their horses walking as calm as if their riders was back home going to court their girls. I looked at Enos, but he didn’t say nothing. He just slacked his jaw in the way that always made me feel like there was a storm inside he wasn’t letting out, and we started our tired ponies after Triplett and the Sergeant. With any luck, this would be the last bit of riding we’d see until we had some grub warming our stomachs and some sleep behind our eyes. In back of us was a stretch of trail I was trying hard to forget. Six of us had been following the Duck River since dawn the day before, covering the Army of Tennessee’s retreat to Corinth, Mississippi. During that time we’d seen a heap lot more of General George Thomas’s troops than we had of food or rest. The rains had swollen the river all out of its bounds, holding back the Union troops just long enough for them to sneak between us and the rest of our men. We’d had no change of mounts, and our horses were fixing to give out right quick. “Better hope they’ve got some fast horses hid away in the barn,” I said.
Enos didn’t even look at the barn. He knew as well as I did that the only fast horses between here and the Potomac already had soldiers on their backs— probably blue ones. Triplett reined to a stop outside the dooryard. All the reins were in his left hand; his right held that big dragoon pistol of his up next to his whiskery cheek. He turned his head just enough for us to see the white corner of his eye. Enos and me both had our own revolvers up and ready. I dismounted slowlike, knowing Enos would take my reins. Everything was silent as death, which wasn’t maybe the right comparison to be drawing, but it was the one I’d found myself making more and more over the last two years. The mud on the ground was just a thin layer on top, and I had a hard time to keep from slipping. I wasn’t making a stealthy approach, but maybe the rain thrumming on the roof would drown me out. Anyhow, no shots was aimed in my direction, and pretty soon I was up against the side of the house, my back pressed flat against the slats, and my gun arm pointed toward the door. I took one big breath, pivoted on my inside leg, and gave the door a kick. It swung open hard enough to crash against the wall, and inside the house there was a sound like a woman’s muffled scream.