Last Stand at Saber River
Paul Cable sat hunched forward at the edge of the pine shade, his boots crossed and his elbows supported on his knees. He put the field glasses to his eyes again and, four hundred yards down the slope, the two-story adobe was brought suddenly, silently before him.
This was The Store. It was Denaman’s. It was a plain, tan-pink southern Arizona adobe with a wooden loading platform, but no ramada to hold off the sun. It was the only general supply store from Hidalgo north to Fort Buchanan; and until the outbreak of the war it had been a Hatch & Hodges swing station.
The store was familiar and it was good to see, because it meant Cable and his family were almost home. Martha was next to him, the children were close by; they were anxious to be home after two and a half years away from it. But the sight of a man Cable had never seen before-a man with one arm-had stopped them.
He stood on the loading platform facing the empty sunlight of the yard, staring at the willow trees that screened the river close beyond the adobe, his right hand on his hip, his left sleeve tucked smoothly, tightly into his waist. Above him, the faded, red-lettered Denaman’s Store inscription extended the full width of the adobe’s double doors.
Cable studied the man. There was something about him.
Perhaps because he had only one arm. No, Cable thought then, that made you think of the war, the two and a half years of it, but you felt something before you saw he had only one arm.
Then he realized it was the habit of surviving formed during two and a half years of war. The habit of not trusting any movement he could not immediately identify. The habit of not walking into anything blindly. He had learned to use patience and weigh alternatives and to be sure of a situation before he acted. As sure as he could be in his own mind.
Now Cable’s glasses moved over the wind-scarred face of the adobe, following the one-armed man’s gaze to the grove of willows and the river hidden beyond the hanging screen of branches.
A girl came out of the trees carrying a bucket and Cable said, “There’s Luz again. Here-” He handed the glasses to his wife who was kneeling, sitting back on her legs, one hand raised to shield her eyes from the sun glare.
Martha Cable raised the glasses. After a moment she said, “It’s Luz Acaso. But still it doesn’t seem like Luz.”
“All of a sudden she’s a grown-up woman,” Cable said. “She’d be eighteen now.”
“No,” Martha said. “It’s something else. Her expression. The way she moves.”
Through the glasses, the girl crossed the yard leisurely. Her eyes were lowered and did not rise until she reached the platform and started up the steps. When she looked up her face was solemn and warm brown in the sunlight. Martha remembered Luz’s knowing eyes and her lips that were always softly parted, ready to smile or break into laughter. But now she wore an expression of weariness. Her eyes went to the man on the platform, then away from him quickly as he glanced at her and she passed into the store.
She’s tired, or ill, Martha thought. Or afraid.
“She went inside?” Cable asked.
The glasses lowered briefly and Martha nodded. “But he’s still there. Cable, for some reason I think she’s afraid of him.”
“Maybe.” He watched Martha concentrating on the man on the platform. “But why, if Denaman’s there?”
“If he’s there,” Martha said.
“Where else would he be?”
“I was going to ask the same question.”
“Well, let’s take it for granted he’s inside.”
“And Manuel?” She was referring to Luz’s brother.
“Manuel could be anywhere.”
Martha was still watching the man on the platform, studying him so that an impression of him would be left in her mind. He was a tall man, heavy boned, somewhat thin with dark hair and mustache. He was perhaps in his late thirties. His left arm was off between the shoulder and the elbow.
“I suppose he was in the war,” Martha said.
“Probably.” Cable nodded thoughtfully. “But which side?” That’s something, Cable said to himself. You don’t trust him. Any man seen from a distance you dislike and distrust. It’s good to be careful, but you could be carrying it too far.
Briefly he thought of John Denaman, the man who had given him his start ten years before and talked him into settling in the Saber River valley. It would be good to see John again. And it would be good to see Luz, to talk to her, and Manuel. His good friend Manuel. Luz and Manuel’s father had worked for Denaman until a sudden illness took his life. After that, John raised both of them as if they were his own children.
“Now he’s going inside,” Martha said.
Cable waited. After a moment he turned, pushing himself up, and saw his daughter standing only a few feet away. Clare was six, their oldest child: a quiet little girl with her mother’s dark hair and eyes and showing signs of developing her mother’s clean-lined, easily remembered features; resembling her mother just as the boys favored their father. She stood uncertainly with her hands clutched to her chest.
“Sister, you round up the boys.”
“Are we going now?”
“In a minute.”
He watched her run back into the trees and in a moment he heard a boy’s shrill voice. That would be Davis, five years old. Sandy, not yet four, would be close behind his brother, following every move Davis made; almost every move.
Cable brought his sorrel gelding out of the trees and stepped into the saddle. “He’ll come out again when he hears me,” Cable said. “But wait till you see us talking before you come down. All right?”
Martha nodded. She smiled faintly, saying, “He’ll probably turn out to be an old friend of John Denaman’s.”
Cable nudged the sorrel with his heels and rode off down the yellow sweep of hillside, sitting erect and tight to the saddle with his right knee touching the stock of a Spencer carbine, his right elbow feeling the Walker Colt on his hip, and keeping his eyes on the adobe now, thinking: This could be a scout. This could be the two and a half years still going on…
As soon as he had made up his mind to enlist he had sold his stock, all of his cattle, all two hundred and fifty head, and all but three of his horses. He had put Martha and the children in the wagon and taken them to Sudan, Texas, to the home of Martha’s parents. He did this because he believed deeply in the Confederacy, as he believed in his friends who had gone to fight for it.
Because of a principle he traveled from the Saber River, Arizona Territory, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, taking with him a shotgun, a revolving pistol and two horses; and there on June 21, 1862, he joined J. A. Wharton’s 8th Texas Cavalry, part of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command.
Three weeks later Cable saw his first action and received his first wound during Forrest’s raid on Murfreesboro. On September 3, Paul Cable was commissioned a captain and appointed to General Forrest’s escort. From private to captain in less than three months; those things happened in Forrest’s command. Wounded twice again after Murfreesboro; the third and final time on November 28, 1864, at a place called Huey’s Mills-shot from his saddle as they crossed the Duck River to push Wilson’s Union Cavalry back to Franklin, Tennessee. Cable, with gunshot wounds in his left hip and thigh, was taken to the hospital at Columbia. On December 8 he was told to go home “the best way you know how.” There were more seriously wounded men who needed his cot; there would be a flood of them soon, with General Hood about to pounce on the Yankees at Nashville. Go home, he was told, and thank God for your gunshot wounds.
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