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MacCallister The Eagles LegacyDry Gulch Ambush
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2013 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChugwater, Wyoming, July 4, 1888
There was a banner that stretched all the way across First Street from Bob Guthrie's Lumber Supply to Fred Matthews' Warehouse. The banner read:
HAPPY 112TH BIRTHDAY TO THE UNITED STATED OF AMERICA FROM THE PEOPLE OF CHUGWATER, WYOMING
The entire town was turned out for the Independence Day celebration, with First Street turned into a midway of sorts. On each side of the street, the ladies from town and from the surrounding farms and ranches were manning booths where they sold everything from home-canned tomatoes, to baked goods, to quilts. A traveling medicine man had set up his operation at the far end of the street and the barker was doing a brisk business.
The most important event of the day, however, was the big shooting contest, and after two hours of participation, the field had been narrowed down to four people: Elmer Gleason, Biff Johnson, a visiting U.S. Army lieutenant named John Pershing, and Duff MacCallister.
Elmer Gleason was Duff's ranch foreman. Biff Johnson, who was one of Duff's closest friends, owned Fiddler's Green Saloon. Biff, who had served with Lieutenant Pershing during the Apache campaigns in New Mexico and Arizona, was well aware of the young officer's marksmanship, and had invited him to participate in the shooting match. The competition among the four men, though spirited, was friendly.
For several minutes, as bets were made and covered, the four shooters matched each other shot for shot, with no apparent separation between them.
Rarely had such shooting been seen anywhere, and as word spread through the town of the amazing accuracy shown by the four shooters, the ladies who were manning the booths, and then even the medicine show barker, closed down their own operations so they could witness the magnificent marksmanship that was on display here today.
Each of the shooters had their own supporters, and Duff's biggest supporter was Meagan Parker, owner of the Ladies' Emporium, a dress shop which was next door to Fiddler's Green.
Finally the judges conferred, and then decided to move the target farther away. They did that, and the four men stayed neck and neck until they were shooting from two hundred yards. At the two hundred yard mark, Biff Johnson fell out of the contest, one of his bullets striking three-fourths of the way in, and one-fourth of the way out of the bull's-eye.
There were no other dropouts until the three hundred yard range, when Elmer dropped out. Now, only Duff and Lieutenant Pershing remained.
"We're out of targets. What are we going to do now?"
"Light a candle," Duff suggested. "We'll use that as the target." A candle was lit, and Lieutenant Pershing fired first. The flame flickered at the pass of the bullet, but didn't go out.
"Hit," one of the judges said, observing the candle through a pair of field glasses.
"T'was nae a hit," Duff said.
"Sure it was," the judge said. "I saw the flame flicker."
"T'was but the wind of the passing bullet, t'was nae a hit. If it had been a hit, the candle would have gone out."
Pershing laughed. "There is no way you are going to snuff a candle from three hundred yards.
Not unless you hit the candle. And we aren't shooting at the candle, we're shooting at the flame."
"I can do it," Duff said, matter-of-factly.
"If you can put the flame out from here, Mr. MacCallister, I'll hold that you're a better man than I am," Pershing said.
"I tell you what," Duff said. "If I can nae snuff the candle with this shot, I'll be declarin' you the winner. If I snuff it, I'm the winner."
"You don't have to that, Mr. MacCallister," Pershing said. "You're putting it all on the line with one shot."
"Aye, but there's other things to do today than stand here shooting until nightfall. And as good as you are, 'tis likely to come down to that."
"I'll say there's other things to do, today," Meagan said. "You'll not be forgetting there's a dance tonight, Duff MacCallister."
"Sure 'n how would I be forgettin' the dance, now, when I'll be takin' the prettiest lady in Laramie County, aye, and in the whole territory of Wyoming."
Shortly after Duff MacCallister had arrived in Chugwater, eight men had come to kill him, and before it was over, all eight were lying dead in the street. Duff hadn't done it without help.
A man, who was on the roof of the Ladies' Emporium with a bead on Duff, was shot by Biff Johnson. Fred Matthews had tossed Duff a loaded revolver just in time, and Meagan Parker risked her own life to hold up a mirror that showed Duff where two men were lying in wait for him.
Meagan and Duff had maintained a "special" relationship ever since.
"Now, you're saying you are going to snuff the flame, without hitting the candle, is that right?" Pershing asked.
"All right, Mr. MacCallister," Pershing agreed. "If you can do that, you sure as hell deserve to win."
A buzz of excitement passed through the crowd as news of the arrangement moved quickly from mouth to mouth. The contest was to end, right here and right now, on one all-or-nothing shot.
All the contestants had been using the same rifle to ensure fairness. That rifle, a 45- caliber Whitworth, was furnished by the marksmanship committee. The Whitworth had a long, heavy, octagon-shaped barrel of the type favored by Berdan's Sharpshooters during the Civil War. It was especially designed for accuracy.
Preparing for the shot, Duff poured in the powder, and then tapped a paper wad down to seal in the powder. Next, he used a bullet starter, which was a pistonlike arrangement that helped to seat the bullet, which was slightly larger than the diameter of the lands, but not quite as large as the diameter of the grooves. The end of the piston was shaped to fit the nose of the bullet. With a smart blow from the palm of his hand, Duff drove the bullet down into the barrel, engaging it in the rifling. He then used a ramrod to push the bullet down until it was properly seated.
With the loading ritual completed, Duff picked up a little dirt from the street and dropped it, watching the drift of the dust. Next, he rubbed a little dust on the site bead at the end of the rifle barrel. Then, using the sling to help him hold the rifle steady, he aimed at the tiny, flickering flame three hundred yards away.
"Now, don't be getting all nervous," Pershing teased, just as Duff started to aim. A few laughed.
"'Tis thankin' you I am for that kind word of encouragement," Duff replied with a smile.
Duff aimed again. He took a deep breath, let half of it out, and slowly began to squeeze the trigger.
The rifle boomed and rocked back against his shoulder. A great billow of gun smoke obscured his vision of the target for a moment, but he didn't have to see it. The reaction of the crowd told him what had happened, as they cheered and applauded his shot. When the smoke drifted away he saw that the candle was still standing, but the flame had been extinguished.
The crowd rushed toward Duff to congratulate him, Lieutenant Pershing being the first one to do so.
"Folks," Biff said. "I can't afford a beer for ever' one, but I will stand a free beer to all the lads who took part in this shootin' contest. Come on over to Fiddler's Green."
"Good man, Biff," one of the shooters who had dropped out much earlier said.
"Tell me, why do you call this place Fiddler's Green?" someone asked Biff, as all the shooters stood at the bar drinking their free beer.
"I call it Fiddler's Green because I'm a retired first sergeant. I served with the lieutenant here down in Arizona, when we were chasing Apache."
"He did more than serve with me," Lieutenant Pershing said. "Every young officer needs a noncommissioned officer who'll take him under the wing and teach him things he didn't learn at the Point. Sergeant Johnson did that for me."
"It was my pleasure, Lieutenant. Before I was with General Cook, I was with General Custer and the Seventh Cavalry," Biff replied.
"How lucky you are to have left before his fateful battle," one of the shooters who had dropped out earlier said.
"Oh, but I didn't leave. I went on that last scout with him."
"I don't understand. How is it, then, that you weren't killed?"
"I wasn't killed because I was in D troop with Benteen. We came up to save Reno, but we were too late to help Custer."
"Now you can see why he calls this place Fiddler's Green," Lieutenant Pershing said.
"No, I don't see at all."
"You want to tell this young man who wouldn't know 'Stable Call' from 'Mess Call,' Lieutenant?" Biff invited.
"I would be glad to," Pershing said. "It's something all cavalrymen believe. We believe that anyone who has ever heard the bugle call "Boots and Saddles" will, when they die, go to a cool, shady place by a stream of sweet water. There, they will see all the other cavalrymen who have gone before them, and they will greet those who come after them as they await the final judgment. That place is called Fiddler's Green."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Why not?" Pershing replied. "If heaven is whatever you want it to be, who is to say that cavalrymen wouldn't want to be with their own kind?"
"Biff," Duff said. "Would ye be for settin' up all these gentleman shooters with another round on me?"
"With pleasure," Biff replied as the shooters responded in gratitude.
Next door to the saloon, in her apartment over the Ladies' Emporium, Meagan Parker was getting ready for the dance that evening. Meagan not only owned the Ladies' Emporium, she actually designed and made many of the dresses that she sold there, and she had designed and made the dress she would be wearing tonight. It had a very low neckline, no sleeves, and a tight, uplifting bodice. It was a dress that would show off her figure to perfection. She picked it up, and then held it in front of her as she looked in the mirror. She smiled at the image.
"Mr. Duff Tavish MacCallister, are you ready for Meagan?—because she's ready for you," she said. Laying the dress down, she went back to fill the tub for her bath.
* * *
The dance was being held in the ballroom of the Dunn Hotel. The hotel was on the corner of Bowie Avenue and First Street. The Ladies Garden Club had turned the ballroom into a showplace of patriotism, stringing red, white, and blue bunting all about, and displaying lithographs of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Lincoln on the walls.
All was in readiness for the dance.
Chapter TwoMeagan arrived before Duff and, after receiving compliments from the other women about her dress, as well as admiring glances from the men, she walked over to one side to keep an eye open for Duff. She didn't have to wait long.
Duff arrived within a few minutes after Meagan and he was in his kilt. For most men, in fact, for just about any other man Meagan knew, wearing such a get-up would have elicited a great deal of derisive laughter. But Duff towered over every other man there, not only in his height, but in his raw power, broad shoulders, powerful arms, and muscular legs, shown off by what he was wearing.
While in Scotland, Duff had been a captain of the Black Watch Regiment. Because of that he had a complete Black Watch uniform, which consisted of a Glengarry hat, with the cap-badge of the Black Watch, Saltire, the Lion Rampant and the Crown with the motto Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No one provokes me with impunity), a kilt of blue-and-green tartan, black waistcoat, an embossed leather sporran which he wore around his waist, knee-high stockings, and the sgian dubh, or ceremonial knife, which he wore tucked into the right kilt stocking, with only the pommel visible. During his time with the Black Watch Regiment, he had been awarded the Victoria Cross, Great Britain's highest award for bravery, which was awarded him for his intrepidity, above and beyond the call of duty during the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt.
Duff was also carrying his bagpipes, having been asked by Biff Johnson to bring them. Biff's wife was Scottish, and she had a fondness for the pipes.
Duff and Meagan saw each other at about the same time and, with a big smile, Duff came toward her.
"Sure m'girl, an 'tis a vision of loveliness ye be, like the beauty of a field that is arrayed in the rainbow colors of sparkling dew."
Meagan laughed. "I swear, Duff, if ever the needle breaks on my sewing machine, I'll call upon your tongue, for it can weave magic with your words."
Lieutenant Pershing, who was in his full dress uniform, came up to Duff and Meagan.
"I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one in uniform, though I must say, Duff, yours is a bit more grand than my own." Pershing pointed toward the Victoria Cross. "And with a most impressive decoration," he added.
Pershing smiled at Meagan. "And I do hope, Miss, that you will take pity on a lonely soldier, far from home, and save at least one place on your hop card for me tonight."
"Hop card?" Meagan asked with a puzzled expression on her face.
"Forgive me, that is how we referred to them at the Academy. I mean, of course, your dance card."
Meagan looked at Duff and smiled. "Of course, I will save a dance for you," she said.
Pershing made a slight bow with his head, then walked away.
"I must say, lass, it seemed to me as if you were quick to oblige the leftenant's request."
"Why not?" Meagan replied. "It can't do harm to let you know that you aren't the only rooster in the chicken house."
Duff laughed out loud.
"Ladies and gents!" someone shouted, and looking toward the sound, they saw R.W. Guthrie. Guthrie was mayor of Chugwater, and the master of ceremonies for the ball.
Conversations ended as everyone looked toward the mayor.
"I want to say a few words," Guthrie began.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Mayor, you was just elected last year. You got three more years yet, don't go politickin' on us now," someone shouted, and the others laughed.
"No politicking," Guthrie replied with a good natured smile. "All I want to say is welcome to our Fourth of July dance. Now, grab your partners, and let the dancin' commence!"
The music began then and the caller started to shout. The floor became a swirl of color as the dancers responded to the caller's commands, the brightly colored dresses with the skirts whirling out, the jewels in the women's hair, at their necks, or on their bodices, sparkling in the light.
In between the calls, the fiddler worked the bow up and down the fiddle, bending over, kicking out one leg, then the other as he played, his movements as entertaining as the music itself. Then, when his riff was over, the caller would step up again.
After a few more dances, Guthrie came over to ask Duff if he would play the pipes.
"You're sure 'tis not against the wishes of the band?"
Guthrie smiled. "There ain't none of 'em ever heard the pipes and they're curious about it."
Duff chuckled. "I've found that love of the pipes is an acquired taste. There are some, even my friend Elmer, that find no joy in the pipes."
"But there's them that do," Elmer said, having overheard the conversation. "So don't you go deprivin' them none because of me."
"You did bring your pipes," Guthrie said. "I assume that means you are willing to play them."
"Ha!" Meagan said. "I'd like to see someone try to stop him."
Duff smiled. "Ye've talked me into it. I'll play."
"What are you going to play? I'll let the folks know."
Excerpted from MacCallister The Eagles Legacy by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2013 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Publishing Corp.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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