Dark Thicket

( 6 )


In this novel, first published by Doubleday in 1985, Texas novelist Elmer Kelton returns to the Civil War period, once again examining, as he first did in Texas Rifles, the effect of the war on Texans at home. Even while the conflict raged to the east, several groups of Texan Union loyalists hid out across the state, trying to avoid the anger and violence of the confederate-sympathizing “home guard.”

Kelton bases this story on a group who lived in a then-huge thicket on the ...

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In this novel, first published by Doubleday in 1985, Texas novelist Elmer Kelton returns to the Civil War period, once again examining, as he first did in Texas Rifles, the effect of the war on Texans at home. Even while the conflict raged to the east, several groups of Texan Union loyalists hid out across the state, trying to avoid the anger and violence of the confederate-sympathizing “home guard.”

Kelton bases this story on a group who lived in a then-huge thicket on the Colorado River near present-day Columbus, although the characters, incidents and town of the book are of Kelton’s invention. As he always says, fiction writers are liars and thieves. Owen Danforth, a wounded Confederate soldier, comes home to Texas to recover, intending to return to his regiment. His family is torn apart by the war—two brothers dead, one uncle, a Union sympathizer, shot in the back by the home guard. His father—also a Unionist—hides out in the thicket with his remaining family because the home guard, led by “Captain” Phineas Shattuck, has sworn revenge on the Danforth clan. Torn between duty and family loyalty, Owen Danforth faces difficult decisions until a violent encounter leaves him only one choice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the best of a new breed of Western writers who have driven the genre into new territory."—The New York Times

"The greatest Western writer of all time."—Western Writers of America, Inc.

"Recently voted the 'greatest Western writer of all time' by the Western Writers of America, Kelton creates characters more complex than L'Amour's."—Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780875652078
  • Publisher: Texas Christian University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1999
  • Series: Texas Tradition Series , #27
  • Pages: 200
  • Sales rank: 1,265,762
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Elmer Kelton is the author of more than thirty novels dealing with Texas history at various periods. Several of his books have won the Spur Award from Western Writers of America and the Western Heritage (Wrangler) Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. WWA, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Western Literature Association have honored him for lifetime achievement. His most recent book is The Buckskin Line. TCU Press keeps several of his novels available in reprint editions.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The war against the Union lay five weeks behind him, and he had crossed the Sabine out of Louisiana four days ago. Owen Danforth was beginning to feel at last that he was truly back in Texas. Here, until he decided he was ready to return, the war would not touch him.

Until he was ready…A dull throbbing brought his right hand up to grip his tightly bandaged left arm. Not all the fever had left it. He wondered if he would ever be ready to go back.

Late in the morning he had broken out of the close and confining piney woods. Now he rode upon the higher, drier prairies that looked and smelled of home. His rump itched with an urgency for getting there, but the afternoon sun was in his eyes, and he knew night would catch him with miles yet to go. The big Yankee horse beneath him no longer took a long and easy stride. The journey had been wearying, and only a couple of times along the way had Owen managed to beg oats or corn for him from some farmer he met, some stranger in whose barn he slept a night. The war had left little enough even for people to eat, and horses must sustain on whatever grazing they could find. The fresh spring grass was yet weak, and so was any animal that depended upon it.

Owen came finally to a wagon trace which seemed to strike a chord in his memory. Turning in the saddle for a different perspective, he thought he recalled using this road when he had traveled eastward two years and more ago with his brother Ethan, eager to join the fighting before it could all be finished without them. He found familiarity in the pitch of the gentle hills, the steeple of a distant church, the lay of a neglected cornfield with a gully started at its lower end, gradually carrying away the fertile topsoil with every rain.

A mile ahead he saw a string of large wagons moving ponderously toward him. They reminded him of the long military supply trains he had seen early in the war, trains that had gradually shortened as the Confederacy found it difficult to keep filling them. These, he saw as he came nearer, were heavy freight wagons paired in tandem, each pair drawn by four spans of big draft horses and mules. He pulled out of the trail to yield them room. A tired-looking middle-aged man on horseback rode up to him. He gave Owen's bandaged arm a moment's study.

"Howdy, soldier," he said pleasantly. "Where you bound?"

Owen said, "Home. I'm Owen Danforth. You'd be Jake Tisdale, wouldn't you?"

Tisdale blinked. "Owen?" His eyes narrowed for a longer, more careful look. "Damned if you ain't. Wouldn't of knowed you, son. You've changed a right smart."

"So've you. When I left here you was farmin' on the river. You in the freightin' business now?"

Tisdale nodded. "War duty. I was too old to tote a rifle, and they said I'd do the government more service haulin' freight. I take cotton bales down to the Rio Grande and ferry them across to Mexico. Confederacy trades them to French and Englishmen for war supplies. The Yankees can bottle up the Texas ports, but they can't do nothin' about us tradin' in Mexico." He pointed his chin toward the lead wagon, its wide-rimmed wheels raising dust as they labored by. "I come north with guns and ammunition and such."

Owen had heard about the cotton trains. "I been told the Yankees invaded Brownsville from the sea to put a stop to this."

"They did. But we cross the Rio farther west, where their patrols can't reach. Then we travel down the river on the Mexican side and thumb our noses as we go by. Makes them madder'n hell." Tisdale looked at Owen's arm again. "If you're lookin' for work, I believe I can find somethin' you could do with one arm."

Owen shrugged. "Maybe later, after I see how things go with my folks. You seen them, Mr. Tisdale?"

Tisdale shook his head. "I been on the trail too much. It's all I can do to spend a night with the wife and young'uns when I pass through." He frowned. "I hear things, though. Seems like your old daddy's still got notions against the war. There's some fire-eatin' patriots that'd do him bodily harm if somebody was to just lead the way."

Owen grimaced, suddenly not sure he was in a hurry to be home. "I ought to've known he wouldn't see reason."

Tisdale seemed hesitant to speak "I heard you and him had a considerable disagreement when you left for the army."

"I was of age to make up my mind. So was my brother."

"Maybe the Lord's sent you at a good time. You bein' a wounded soldier come home, maybe the hotheads'll stand back and leave him alone. But you watch out, son. Things are touchy. There's been men killed for sayin' less than your daddy has."

Tisdale shook Owen's hand and fell into the dusty wake of the last wagon. Owen watched the train move away in its own slow time, and a sourness settled into his stomach.

Hell of a situation to come home to.

Gauging the position of the sun, he decided he should reach Uncle Zachariah Danforth's farm before dark. The tall bay horse needed rest, and Owen could better face the confrontation with his father if he arrived home fresh. Uncle Zach had been of the same mind as Andrew Danforth on the confederacy question and the war, but at least he could be tolerant of an opposing viewpoint. Tolerance was a seldom thing with Owen's father.

The left arm felt hot beneath the bandages, which had needed changing for the last two days. Now and then a sharp pain grabbed him with the violence of a cotton hook. Odd, he could not remember feeling any pain when the Yankee saber had slashed him. He had been caught up in the shouting fury of hand-to-hand fighting. Something about the fever of battle masked the pain until the excitement had peaked. Only then had he realized his arm was hanging uselessly, blood spilling from his sleeve and running down a dead-numb hand that could not feel its warmth. The first doctor who examined him was ready to saw the bone in two. Owen had fought like a cornered badger until the doctor turned away in his frustration, telling him to go ahead and the if that be his choice. Blood poisoning had nearly killed Owen, but he still had his arm. He could not yet tell whether it would ever be of use again.

He felt no rancor toward the doctor or even toward tile faceless Yankee who struck him and rode on. He had no idea, for the excitement had been intense, whether the Yankee had been small or large, young or old. He did not know if the man had survived the fight. Many on both sides had not.

I'll be home tomorrow, he told himself. His mother would know what to do, what would be needed to draw out the fever and the poison. If the arm was to be saved, his mother would know how.

When the fever had been at its worst, the lifeline to which Owen had clung most tightly was an obligation to set things right with Andrew Danforth, to reconcile for careless and angry recriminations flung at their parting. Perhaps tomorrow he would find better words.

The sun was twenty minutes gone behind the great oak trees on the river when a turn of the trail and a clearing of the scattered timber showed him Zach Dan-forth's cabin in the dusk. Before he thought better, he touched spurs to the big horse and tried to bully a faster trot from him. He slowed, knowing he had taxed the animal too much already.

Uncle Zach had been a widower longer than Owen could remember. His only child had died at birth, along with its mother. Zach had helplessly watched her die and could never bring himself to put another woman through that jeopardy.

Riding toward the double cabin, Owen kept his eyes on the open dog run between its two sections. He shouted, "Hello the house. Anybody home?"

A gruff voice spoke behind him. "Turn slow, soldier, and show me who you are."

Owen turned quickly, stiffening at sight of a shotgun. Zachariah Danforth stood beside a small shed where he sheltered his harness, saddles and other goods that needed protection from the weather. He raised the shotgun to let Owen see the muzzle of it.

Owen swallowed. "Uncle Zach, it's me."

"Owen?" Suspicious eyes stared from under a wilted felt hat that had been old when Owen was yet a boy. "Come a little closer and let me see."

Owen was drawn thin, and he had not been able to shave himself decently since he had taken that saber wound. He wore a beard that had not felt scissors or razor since he had left the Georgia cotton warehouse that served as a field hospital. "It's me sure enough, Uncle Zach."

The eyes flickered with glad recognition, and the shotgun dropped to arm's length. "Git down, boy. I was lookin' for company, but you ain't what I expected."

Owen dismounted slowly, clinging to the saddle after his feet were on the ground, for his knees threatened to buckle. Zach was about to embrace him when he noticed the bound arm. He still almost broke Owen's right shoulder with a loving squeeze of his big hand. "You been hurt, boy."

"That's why they let me come home."

Zach's long silence and pained eyes spoke of sympathy. He had always provided a sympathetic refuge when Owen had one of his many quarrels with his father. "I'll put your horse up and find him a bait of oats. You look like you've had a long trip on a bad road."

"Looks don't lie," Owen admitted, rueful at letting someone else take care of his horse. That was a job a whole man did for himself.

Relief washed over Owen as he stared into that kindly, beloved face. Zach was a little older than Owen's father, but the eyes were the same, the deeply lined face similar except for Zach's rough, gray-streaked beard.

"Good-lookin' bay you got," Zach commented. "Better than you left here on."

"Turncoat horse," Owen said. "He was in the Yankee army. I caught him runnin' loose after a little sashay against some Union supply wagons. Owner never showed up to claim him."

"Wonder the army let you come home with him. They keep the good ones for the officers and make the boys take the plugs."

Owen frowned. "A lieutenant taken him away from me. The night I left, I borrowed him back off of the picket line."

Zach spat. "I hope you brought home a gun, too. You'll need it, to keep that horse."

"There's a pistol in my saddlebag. I got it the same way I got the bay."

"Carry it in your pants, or in your boot. They won't give you time to fetch it out of your saddlebag."

Owen blinked. "Who? We never had much trouble with horse thieves in this country."

Zach gave him a troubled study. "Things ain't like you left them, son. You've probably got a notion you put the war behind you when you started back, but you didn't. It's here."


"Worse. The country's overrun with heel flies."

Heel flies were insects that buzzed around the hocks of cattle in season and drove them crazy. "What have heel flies got to do with the war?"

"These are the two-legged kind. Home guards, they call theirselves." Zach spat again, and Owen could see anger boil into his eyes. "They enforce the conscript law and make sure everybody says a prayer once a day to Jefferson Davis. They see somethin' they want, they take it in the name of the Confederacy. They see somebody they don't like, they jail him for the same cause, or do worse. It's almost a pity you come home, boy. Now you'll see what you been fightin' for."

Before Texans had cast their votes for secession, Zach and Owen's father had been among several in the county who campaigned vigorously to remain within the Union. Sam Houston had talked against secession, and like many Texans those two old settlers thought Sam Houston had hung the moon. They had embraced the Union flag too long to turn against it.

That had been the source of much friction, some spoken and some swallowed, between Owen and his father.

He could see the years had not tempered Zach's feelings. He knew within reason that his father's would be as strong.

When the bay horse had been fed, Zach took Owen's rolled blanket and his saddlebags under his arm. "We tend the stock-first, then the men. I ain't got much in the way of fixin's, young'un, but I'll not leave you sleep hungry."

Owen might have been a young'un when he left home, but the war had whipped that out of him. Times he felt as old as Uncle Zach.

In the kitchen side of the double cabin, the old man coaxed a small blaze in the fireplace and hung a pot of beans to warm. He whipped up a batch of bread with stone-ground corn of his own raising and ground a double handful of coffee beans. "Coffee's scarce," he said. "I generally save it for Sundays, but this is an occasion." Lastly he cut thick slices of bacon and laid them in a skillet. It was simple bachelor fare, but to Owen it had the aroma of a feast in the making. He had missed more meals than he had found on the trail home.

Zach said with a touch of sadness, "It's good to have you here, Owen. Been an empty place without you comin' over to see me…you and your brothers."

An old ache came to Owen, and he stared at the floor. "I wrote you what happened to Ethan. Did you get my letter?"

Zach nodded. "Died in your arms, you said."

"It was quick. He was gone in a minute after the bullet struck him." He kept looking down, unable to lift his gaze. "I never did hear just what happened to Andy Jr., except that he was killed."

Zach was awhile in answering. He rubbed the corner of one eye. "It was after they started the conscript law. Your daddy knowed they'd be comin' after your brother first thing, so he let him and a couple others of the same persuasion light out for Mexico. They got a hundred miles before a home guard patrol caught up to them. Claimed the boys put up a scrap, but you know Little Andy wasn't no fighter. Murdered all three and left them layin' where they fell."

Zach paused. "I went down with your daddy to bring the boys home, but some kind folks had buried them. We never could find just where."

Owen felt a biting anger and the helplessnes of loss. "Dad shouldn't've let him go. If he hadn't been so almighty set against the war…"

Zach's eyes gave no quarter. "You taken one brother to war with you and lost him. Your daddy tried to keep the other at home and lost him too. Looks to me like you and him ought to call it even and find a way to get along."

Owen rubbed the hurting arm. "That's what I want to do, if he will."

"Give him time. They was brothers to you, but they was sons to him. You can lose a brother and go on. Lose a son, and you lose a part of yourself."

Owen said, "I'm not proud of the way I left here. I said things I shouldn't've. When I get home tomorrow, I'll set myself straight with Dad and with Mama."

Zach looked away, suddenly: "Your mama?" He gave his attention again to the cooking, turning the bacon with a fork. "I reckon where you been you didn't get much mail."

"Been way over a year since Mama's last letter. Most of the mail gets lost."

Zach set the food on the table. Owen tried to remember his manners, but the hunger was too much. He wolfed down the first plateful, then gave more time to the second. Zach ate little, watching him with troubled eyes. When Owen had finished, Zach said sadly, "I didn't want to tell you till you'd had your supper. Your mama died back in the winter. There was a fever come through the country."

Owen had seen so much of death on the battlegrounds that he had thought he was immune to grief, but this caught him unprepared. He walked outside, and Zach let him work out his feelings alone. Much later, when Owen went back into the cabin, Zach sat in an old rocking chair that had been his wife's. He looked at Owen without comment, waiting for Owen to speak. But Owen had no words to say.

Zach stood up, finally, and walked over to look at Owen's bandage. He unwrapped the dirty cloth and frowned at the wound. "Wonder you didn't lose the arm."

"Almost did. Truth is, Uncle Zach, they sent me home figurin' I stood a good chance to die."

"No money in your pocket. No medal on your coat. You didn't get much except experience, did you?"

"I've had aplenty of that."

Zach cleansed the wound with homemade whisky, which raised a fire in the raw flesh. He took a drink out of the jug and offered it to Owen. The fire in the arm was too strong for Owen to risk another in his belly.

Zach observed, "Still fevered some, I'd say."

Owen told him it was.

"Well, I know what'll draw that out. I'll fix you a pony poultice."

"A what?"

"You just set here and rest. I'll be back directly." Zach lighted a lantern and went outside. When he returned the aroma came through the door with him. He carried half-dried horse manure in a bucket. He said, "This won't do much for your social standin', but it'll do a right smart for your healin'."

He wrapped the arm lightly with clean white cloth, then applied a liberal helping of the manure and wrapped it over with more clodi to hold it in place. "I'll bet if you asked ten doctors, there wouldn't be one tell you about this."

"I expect not," Owen replied dryly.

The arm felt better; that Owen would have to admit, though it was some time before he became reconciled to the odor.

He lay awake a long time, remembering his mother, seeing her face in the darkness, hearing her voice. It seemed to him that he could feel a drawing sensation in his arm, and a sense of extra heat even beyond the fever that had been in it. He slipped away finally into a heavy sleep demanded by his weariness. When he awoke, it was suddenly and in response to a loud voice.

"Danforth! You come out here, Zach Danforth, or we'll come in there and fetch you out!"

Owen sat up quickly, bringing a sharp pain to his arm. He blinked in confusion, not remembering for a moment where he was. He heard his uncle curse softly across the dark room as he dressed and stamped to get his feet all the way into his boots. Zach said, "You just as well get up, Owen. Night's over."

Owen was still putting on1 his clothes when Zach stepped through the cabin door and a presunrise glow was reflected in his bearded face. Owen let the left sleeve hang free, his heavily wrapped arm inside the shirt. He could hear a belligerent voice.

"We're lookin' for some deserters, Danforth. Tracks showed they was in the river bottoms yesterday. We figured you're the most likely man hereabouts to be hidin' them out. We're searchin' your place whether you like it or not."

"Go ahead and search, Shattuck, and God damn you to hell!"

Owen pulled on his boots and walked through the open door to stand beside his uncle. Against the half-blinding sunrise he saw a full dozen horsemen. He knew the one nearest the cabin. Before the war, Phineas Shattuck had been the kind of dramshop brawler who liked to beat up an occasional stranger smaller than himself but always slipped out the back door if someone bigger came in shopping for a fight. Owen's father and uncle had taken Shattuck to court over a wagonload of acorn-fattened shoats removed from the Danforth river bottom land. They had forced Shattuck to pay, but they had not gotten the man sent to jail as he had deserved. Shattuck was a landowner, even if a small and grubby one, and not to be lightly imprisoned like some luckless hired hand for becoming a little careless in the gathering of livestock. He was given the benefit of considerable doubt. Afterward, Andrew Danforth's barn had burned. Everyone knew who had done it.

Shattuck's hand went to the butt of a pistol in his waistband, and he glowered suspiciously at Owen. "Who are you?"

Owen knew Shattuck would feel no friendlier when he knew. "I'm Owen Danforth. Andrew Danforth is my father."

That name deepened the hostility. "What're you doin' here?" Shattuck stared at what was left of Owen's once-gray uniform. "You desert from the army?"

Owen touched his bad arm. "I taken a saber cut. They sent me home till I get well."

Shattuck seemed to believe, though it was plainly against his will. "You got any papers?"

"In the cabin, in my saddlebags."

Shattuck looked to the two horsemen nearest him. "Jones, Adcock, you go with him. Keep a sharp watch, and be sure there ain't nobody else in there."

Owen had given the other riders no more than a glance. When these two moved so he could see them without the rising sun in his eyes, he was surprised to find that they were boys, probably only fifteen or sixteen years old. One had the rough look of a born schoolyard bruiser. The other was unsure, perhaps even a little frightened. Most of the men from that age up to infirmity were gone to the war.

The older of the boys wrinkled his nose. "What stinks?"

Owen said, "My arm."

"My God," the boy declared, "you must've got the gangrene."

Owen's saddlebags lay in a chair. His pistol was in one, but caution told him it was best they not see it. He opened the other and took out the paper he had been given, showing he was free to return home on convalescent leave. He tried to show it to the older boy, the rough one, who gave it only a glance, upside down, and said, "Captain Shattuck's the one to read it."

Captain Shattuck. A lot of rank, Owen thought, for a pig thief.

Shattuck read the paper without comment, then frowned at the two boys. "You look at the other side of the cabin while you're afoot. Make sure there ain't no deserters in it."

He shifted his attention back to Owen. "You sure you got a wounded arm? You sure that ain't just a lie to help you desert from the service?"

Owen held down a quick rise of anger. "You want to unwrap it and see?" He moved closer.

Shattuck's face twisted at the odor, and he backed off. "I'll be lookin' in on you from time to time. If you don't lose that arm, I want to be sure your old daddy and this renegade uncle don't make you forget you're still a soldier."

The two boys returned from the other side of the cabin and reported it clear. Shattuck said to Zach, "You probably got rid of them deserters before we come. We'll look the rest of the place over before we leave. If we ever catch you" The rest went unspoken.

He rode to Zach's pens and observed the horses across the fence. "You, solther boy, come over here."

Owen caught a half-trapped look in his uncle's eyes.

Shattuck demanded, "That big bay horse yours, boy?"

Owen said it was.

"A man on sick leave don't have use for a horse like that. We'll borry him from you and leave you one good enough for what little travel you'll be doin'. Adcock, turn that black horse of yours into the pen. I'll take the bay, and you can have mine."

Owen pushed forward to protest, but his uncle's restraining hand was firm on his shoulder.

The black horse was old enough to vote, almost, and seemed to favor its right forefoot. Small wonder, Owen thought darkly, that Shattuck wanted to force a trade.

"Come a long ways, ain't you, Shattuck?" he said.

"How's that?"

"You used to just steal pigs."

Shattuck drew back his big hand. Zach quickly stepped in front of Owen. "This boy's wounded, Shattuck."

Shattuck slowly lowered his hand, but the red did not drain from his face. "When you get ready to return to your regiment, soldier, I'll study about givin' this horse back to you."

He saddled the big bay and mounted. He ordered his men—his boys, actually—to spread out widely and sweep the field and pastureland all the way to the river. As they left, Zach said, "There'll be six foot of snow here on the Fourth of July before he lets you have that horse. The only way you'll get him is to take him."

"I'll do that," Owen swore.

Zach watched in silence until the line of horsemen disappeared over a rise and into timber along the river. "Well, boy, you've met the heel flies."

Owen looked at the black horse, the anger still churning. "I'd just as well saddle up and get started."

Zach shook his head. "Wait awhile. Give Shattuck and his boys time to clear the road."

Zach fixed breakfast, about the same as supper except that he did not heat the beans again. He ground more of his precious coffee beans against Owen's protest. Zach said, "We're kin, boy. What's mine is yours; you don't even need to ask. I'd always figured to leave this farm to you and your brothers. Now there ain't but you left. When I'm gone, the place belongs to you."

Warmth came over Owen. He wanted to hug his uncle, but he was shy about it. He could only say, "Please don't be in any hurry to go. I want you to live a hundred years."

"That's my intention."

Eating, Owen noticed Zach straighten suddenly. He asked, "They back?"

Zach motioned for him to hush and strained to listen. Owen heard some kind of birdcall. Zach pushed away from the table and walked out to stand in the open dog run. He looked around, then put two fingers in his mouth and whistled. Owen heard the distant birdcall again. The hair seemed to rise on his neck.

"Stand easy, young'un," Zach said calmly. "It's all right."

Four horsemen rode out of the timber on the river and up to the cabin. A young man looked vaguely familiar, a face dimly remembered from Owen's boyhood though he could not place name or circumstance to it. The man was armed with two pistols on his belt and a rifle across his lap. He appeared severe enough to rush a bear with a willow switch. The other three wore gray uniforms, or pieces of them. Of late, the average Confederate solther's uniform was whatever clothing he could beg, borrow or get away with.

Zach said, "Mornin', Vance Hubbard. Some fellers was here while ago lookin' for you and your friends."

Vance Hubbard. Owen remembered. Hubbard's father had been a farmer and a fellow campaigner with Andrew and Zach Danforth against secession. He had died, leaving a widow, a daughter and two sons. Hubbard studied Owen with as much suspicion as Shattuck had shown but without the malice.

Zach explained Owen's presence. Hubbard dismounted and extended his hand. Owen said, "I remember you now, Vance, but I had to look at you awhile."

Hubbard studied the stained and fading remnants of Owen's uniform. He said, "I hope your memory will continue to be just as short, should you be asked if you've seen anyone." A Little of a smile came. "The time my father fell sick, your daddy and your Uncle Zach brought you and your brothers to help my brother Tyson and me bring in the crop."

Owen had not forgotten. "I was seventeen or eighteen."

"You did a man's work." Hubbard turned to Zach and nodded his chin at the three riders. "These men have hidden for two days without food."

"Anything I've got, they're welcome to."

Owen stood openmouthed. Zach explained, "There's a lot more people against this war than you might think. There's a bunch of men holed up in the big thicket over east…fellers runnin' from the conscript law, and some who've taken French leave of the army. The heel flies ain't got the guts to try and root them out of that heavy timber. Vance and some of us do what we can to help."

Owen had heard nothing of this, where he had been.

Zach saw his consternation. "This ain't the only place, Owen. There's pockets of resistance like this all across Texas. Over on Bull Creek outside of Austin, a bunch of the boys are holed up in the cedar brakes just like these here. And out in the German settlements, there's a lot of Dutchmen dead set against Jeff Davis. They've kept troops busy almost ever since the war started."

Zach put his hand gently on Owen's shoulder. "Son, I know how you feel, so I wouldn't ask you to be a party to it. What say I saddle your horse and get you started to your daddy's place? What you don't see or hear, they can't hold against you."

Owen was uneasy, knowing these three men were deserters. By not reporting them he was putting himself in jeopardy, even bordering on treason. But he saw something in Vance Hubbard's determined face that would stop a cavalry charge.

Uneasily he said, "Looks to me like a risky business, Uncle Zach. I wish you wasn't in it."

"Everybody serves, son, one side or the other…"

As Owen started to ride away, Hubbard said, "Tell your daddy I'll be by to see him one of these nights."

Owen remained uneasy, for he had a hunch that to associate with Hubbard in these times would be akin to sitting under a lone tree while the thunder and lightning played.

He felt a touch of resentment. Nobody had a right to put his uncle in that sort of danger…or his father.

Copyright © 1985 by Elmer Kelton

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2000

    A Delight!

    Wars are fought on many fronts ... some far away, some in our backyards ... some internal, some external. In 'Dark Thicket,' Elmer Kelton shows us that love, family loyalties, ideological beliefs, and personal honor can cause conflicts that bring out the worst and the best in us. <p> 'Dark Thicket' is a quiet, little story that never quits being entertaining and thought-provoking. It is written in a simple, honest, elegant style that avoids the cloying cliches and humdrum over-writing that are all too often the staple of many so-called western writers. <P> Elmer Kelton is a great novelist and 'Dark Thicket' proves it. Savor it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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