Monthly Archives: April 2018

“Diamond Courage,” Part 30

 

Chapter 31

Downriver

January,1863

Because of the rain and the current, we moved swiftly down the river. I had to hope that Laurel’s captors were still on horseback and not in a boat. We stood more of chance of finding her if they stayed on shore, and they probably stopped for the night. I did not intend to do so, and that gave us a better chance of catching them than if we did stop.

We drifted all night without seeing anything or anyone, and with the dawn, I was growing discouraged. As the sun was coming up I asked Huck, “Do you think they kept going east?”

“Naw. Too many people and too much law. They’re sticking to the river.”

I felt better after he told me that, but was still anxious to find Laurel. As the sun started to come up, Andrew said, “I think I see something on the shore ahead.”

Without saying a word, Finn put the boat over to shore. “Get out,” he said. “If it’s them, we stand a better chance if we’re ashore than if we stayed out here.” We did as he ordered, and I noticed that he pulled a huge pistol out of his pack. He saw me looking at him and held the pistol up. “I call this my Persuader, because it helps people make up their minds.” I was glad he had his pistol since I had left mine where we cached our belongings.

Andrew and I climbed out of the boat, and Finn got out. The three of us pulled it up on the shore. We crept closer to where Andrew had seen something. When we got closer to them, we dropped down and crawled along the ground. After doing that for about a hundred feet, Finn raised his head up. “I see ‘em, and they got Miss Laurel all tied up. Your young ‘un is attached to her with a rope around her wrist and his arm. At least the poor little feller can walk around.”

He watched for a while longer, and then said, “I’m going to get close enough for a shot. Wish I had a rifle, but the pistol will have to do. Wait here until I tell you to come up.”

Andrew and I waited while he went toward the campsite. We couldn’t see much, but we heard two shots. Then we heard someone groaning, the sounds of swearing and horses. Although Finn had not told us to come forward, I had to know what had happened. Andrew and I ran up to where we had heard the sounds, to find Finn lying on the ground, bleeding from his shoulder.

“Finn,” I said. “What happened?”

“Aw, dern it, one of them got the drop on me, but I got him back. Then they left, taking Laurel and Caleb with them. Dang it all, I wish I had had a rifle.”

“Are you badly hurt?”

“Naw, it’s a scratch. I’ll be all right.”

“Let me see it.”

“Blast you, I told you it wasn’t anything.”

I looked at Finn’s shoulder by the light of the campfire Laurel’s captors had left. He was bleeding heavily, and would require the attention of a doctor. “This wound is bad, Finn. We need to get you to a doctor.”

“No! We have to go after those varmints who got your wife and boy!” He was insistent. “Help me to the boat and I’ll…I’ll…”

He tried to stand up, but fell over, lying flat on the ground. He had fainted.

“Andrew, help me get him in the boat. There has to be a settlement with a doctor. In the meantime, tear up anything you can find so I can stop the blood flow and look for some of that whiskey to pour on the wound. We might have to have him drink some of it if he comes around.”

Andrew helped me, and we got Finn into the boat where we poured some whiskey over the wound. I mopped up as much blood as I could, and then folded the cloth. “Here,” I told Andrew. “Put this on the wound and keep pressure on it!”

Andrew began treating the wound while I shoved the boat into the current,   jumping in and taking the oars to move us faster.

“Aren’t you afraid of running across them fellers?” Andrew asked.

“No,” I said grimly. “I have Finn’s gun. He’s a civilian, but I belonged to the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment and know how to use a gun. I’d love to meet those  scoundrels.”

We traveled for about half an hour when I saw a small settlement on the right bank. We put the boat in to a dock, and I said to Andrew, “Go see if there’s a doctor and if there is, bring him here. Aw, heck, if there isn’t, bring someone to help us.”

“I’ll do it!” he said, and jumped up on the dock. He ran down what looked like a main street. Smart boy, I thought, and then turned to look at Finn. He was still out and the arm was still bleeding. I didn’t like the looks of that, so I tore off some more cloth and used that to replace the bloody rag that we had put on the wound.

Finn stirred and groaned when I did that, but he still didn’t regain consciousness. “C’mon, Finn,” I told him. “Stay with me.” Some would say that I was foolish to talk to an unconscious man, but I believed that somehow he could hear me. I kept talking to him until I saw Andrew coming with an older man carrying a black bag and a couple of other men. He had evidently found a doctor.

“I’m Dr. Wilson,” he said, and turned to the other two. “Get him out and lay him on the dock. I don’t want to treat him in the boat.”

The two men did as he instructed, and Wilson examined the wound. He shook his head. “I don’t like this.” He turned to the men. “We’ll take him to my office.”

As they picked Finn up, he said to me, “How’s this happen?”

“It’s a long story, Doc. I can tell you after you see if you can stabilize him.”

He harrumphed. “He could be a criminal, as far as I know. In fact, you could be one.”

“He’s not and I’m not.”

“Your word, then.”

“It’s all I’ve got. I’m a stranger around here.”

“I guess we’ll have to see.”

The men carried Finn to the doctor’s office with the doctor, Andrew and me following. When we got close to the office, the doctor ran ahead and opened the door. “Right there, to the right, in my surgery.”

They carried him in and laid him on the table. “All right, while I look at him more closely, tell me what happened.”

“My wife, son, Andrew here and I were headed for the Indian territory when three men took my wife and son in the middle of the night. We tried to track them and ran into Finn coming down the river. He offered to help, and we caught up with them. That’s when Finn was shot.”

“Oh. Anyone else shot?”

“One of the men.”

“If he got him bad enough, he’ll have to see a doctor as well.”

“I don’t know how badly he was wounded. What can you do for Finn?”

The doctor wiped his hands. “Not much. I see you’ve already treated the wound. Where’s you learn to do that?”

“In the army.”

“I’m not going to ask you which one. I don’t care, but if you’re in the army, why aren’t you in uniform?”

I decided to be honest. “I got tired of the killing and blood and decided to quit it.”

“So you’re a deserter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You know by admitting that, you could be in a lot of trouble.”

“I know.”

The doctor sighed. “My son was killed at First Manassas. Because of that, and some other things I’ve seen, I’m heartily sick of this war as well. I understand what you’re saying.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank all those young men whose end came before its time.”

“I’m sorry about your son.”

His eyes got a faraway look. “So am I. And so are a lot of parents.” He shook his head. “As I was saying, your friend here doesn’t stand much of a chance. I can keep him here and see what I can do for him, but it’ll cost you.”

“I can pay.” I thought it ironic but also fitting that I would use the coins that Finn gave us to help cure him, if that were possible.

“Good. I’ll keep him here. You do what you want, but I expect you’ll keep trying to find your wife and son.”

“Yessir, I will. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

He frowned. “I don’t think it will be that soon. It’s a big territory and a big river.”

“I have to try.”

“I know.” I went over to Finn. “Finn, we’re going to leave you for a while, but we’ll be back.”

One of the other men said, “You know he can’t hear you. He’s out.”

The doctor smiled. “You’d be surprised what they can hear. I’ve seen it too many times”

I gave the doctor the coins. He whistled when he saw them. “You’ll have some of this coming back to you. I’ll keep an honest account.”

“I know you will, doc. Thank you.”

“Get going. Every minute you stand here talking, they get further and further away.”

Andrew and I shook hands with everyone one and then ran back to the boat, jumping in and pulling for the channel. The day was going to be clear, which would help in our finding them.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 29

 

Chapter 30

A Long Trail

January,1863

We followed the trail until about noon when it began to rain. I knew this would ruin our chances for finding Laurel and Caleb by tracking them, but there were other ways. We continued on until we came to a small settlement and stopped at a blacksmith on the edge of town. The smith stood behind his shop, where he had gone to get some more material for the forge.

“Hello,” I said. “I was traveling with my family, and someone took my wife and young child overnight. Have you seen anyone like that? I’m not sure, but I think the ones who took them were Indians.”

The old fellow scratched his head. “No, I can’t say that I’ve seen anyone I don’t know. Tell you what, thought. Try asking at the hotel. They have a pretty good idea who comes and goes.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I hope you find them.”

“So do we,” I said, and we went over to the hotel. The clerk there said, “I haven’t seen anyone, but there is an Indian settlement not too far north of here. They’d be your best bet.

I thanked the clerk and we set out again. “Do you think we can find them?” Andrew asked. I could tell this was bringing up memories of his lost family.

“We have to, “I answered. “I can’t do without them.”

The rain was coming down harder, and so we slogged along without saying anything.  We came to the settlement, and it was as miserable a collection of hovels as I have ever seen. It was hard to believe that anyone lived under such conditions. They had to be wretchedly poor.

A small child stood in the rain without any clothes on. As we walked up, a woman that I assumed was her mother, darted out of the one shacks and grabbed the child, backing away from us, chattering in her language. I held up my empty hand to try to show her that we were not a threat, but she turned and fled back into the house, if you could call it that.

A few minutes later, an old man came staggering out of the same shack. He was obviously drunk, and I wondered how much information we would get out of him. He reeled up to us, and I wondered how I was going to communicate with him. I figured it was worth a try to speak to him, so I said, “We’re looking for a woman and boy. They’d be traveling with at least three men. Can you help me?”

To my surprise, the old fellow spoke English. “A woman and a boy, you say?”

“Yes. They might have come through here several hours ago.”

He stood there, swaying back and forth. Finally he said, “Did the woman have yellowish hair?”

My heart leaped. “Yes! And the boy with her was about two years old.”

He nodded. “Someone like that came through here about the time you said. I had come outside because I couldn’t sleep. They were on horses.”

“Which way did they go?”

“They were headed east, toward the river.”

“Thank you.”

“Glad to help.”

Now at least we knew what direction they had gone in, although they could have turned off at any point. Going toward the river was our best bet, though, and so we continued that way.

“What are we going to do for food?” Andrew asked. “We left everything behind, and it’s too far to go back before it’s time to eat.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I put the two coins Huck gave us. We can buy something the first settlement we come to.”

“Oh, I see.”

We continued walking until we reached the river, and I thought how hopeful we were that last time we were there. I looked up and down the shoreline for any sight of Laurel and Caleb although I knew there wasn’t much chance of seeing them from where we were.

Andrew looked at me. “Which way?”

“I’m thinking they’ll go downstream. What do you think?”

“I don’t know. Downstream is as good as any direction.”

So we set off, walking until darkness started to set in without running across a settlement. It looked like we were going to have a hungry and wet night. “We might as well stop here,” I said. “It’s getting dark and I don’t want to risk falling in the river.”

“All right.”

We found a large oak that had drifted to the bank and sheltered as best we could in its lee. Even at that, it was uncomfortable, what with the rain. We huddled there, miserable trying unsuccessfully to sleep. Then Andrew said, “What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“I see someone out on the river! They have a lantern!”

We stood up and began calling to whoever it was out there. Evidently, the person heard us and began rowing our way. We of course didn’t know who it was or what their intentions would be, but I was willing to take the risk if it might mean food. We were that hungry.

As the figure came nearer, he seemed familiar to me. I say ‘he’ because at the distance I could tell it was a man. I couldn’t figure out who it was until he drew closer. “Halloo on shore! Who are you and what do you need?” he called.

Hearing the way he talked, I knew it was Finn and we would be all right. All right, that is, except for Laurel and Caleb’s loss, but Finn could help with that.”

I began waving my arms although I knew he couldn’t see me that well. “It’s Caleb and Andrew, Finn! We’re looking for Laurel and Caleb!”

By that time, he was close enough to us that he called out, “Good to see you! Help me get my boat up on shore!”

We went over and helped Huck pull his boat ashore. “What are you doing here? I thought you were headed further west.”

“We were, but three men took Laurel and Caleb.”

“I see. Do you know what they looked like?”

I shook my head. “No, it was dark and I didn’t hear them at all until I head Laurel screaming. By that time it was too late—they were both gone.”

“I guess you’re out here looking for them, then.”

“That’s right. Can you help us?”

“Of course. Where do you figure they’re headed?”

“I think downriver. I know you said that was a dangerous way to go, but I have to have Laurel and Caleb back. I can’t live without them.”

“I can see that. Let’s get the boat back in the water.”

“Before we do that, do you have anything to eat? We haven’t had anything all day.”

“You’re in luck because I just stocked up. You’re welcome to some dried pork, if you like that.”

I had to smile to myself. I had grown sick of pork while I was in the army, but now it sounded good to me, and it beat eating the bark off the trees.

“You can eat in the boat,” Finn said. “Let’s get ‘er in and get going!”

We put the boat in, and I noticed that the rain had stopped. And so we set off down the river, not knowing what we would find, but hoping we would find Laurel and Caleb.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 28

 

Chapter 29

Parting

January,1863

The next morning, I awoke to find Laurel standing beside my pack, looking at something she held in her hand.

“How are you feeling?” I asked her.

“Terrible. I have a huge headache and just feel sick all over.”

“You have a hangover.”

“Oh. I’d heard about them, but I didn’t know how bad they can be. Come over here. I want you to look at this.”

I went over to her and saw she was holding two gold coins in her hand. “Where did those come from?”

“I don’t know. Someone put them on your pack.”

I looked over and noticed that Huck’s canoe was gone. “I’ll bet it was Huck.”

“How kind of him!”

“Why would he want to do something like that?”

Laurel looked at me. “You were kind to him, and I don’t think many people have been in his life.”

I nodded. “He told me his father beat him and that he escaped from that and other things by taking a raft down the Mississippi. With an escaped slave.”

“Oh, my. He was really risking a lot.”

“That he was. Anyhow, he said he tired of the cruelties and injustices of civilization, and lost himself in the Territory.”

“Where we’re going.”

“Yes, but we’re going as far into it as he does. I have a feeling he goes about as far as he can go and not be too far to come back for supplies.”

“What a lonely life.”

“I think that’s another reason he left the coins. We gave him some company and someone to drink with.”

Laurel grimaced. “Oof! Don’t remind me. Do you think we’ll see him again?”

“He said he would find us on his way in to buy what he needed.”

“How will he do that?”

“I’m sure he has his ways.”

“We’ll see. Let me fix some breakfast, and then we can get going.”

I worked on unloading everything off the raft and dividing it up so no one would have to carry too much. By the time I finished that, Laurel had breakfast ready. She went over to wake up Andrew.

“Andrew! Get up! Breakfast is ready!”

He put a hand over his eyes. “Feel…sick…Don’t…want…to eat…”

“He has the same condition that you have,” I said.

“Well, I sympathize with the poor boy.” She turned back to him. “You don’t have to eat if you don’t want to. I feel a little sick myself. You will need to get up in a while to help us get ready to leave.” She left Andrew and went over to get Caleb, who awoke immediately with a smile on his face.

“That’s my boy! You hungry?”

He nodded.

“Good! I have something fixed for you.”

We went over and sat down to eat. As I looked around, I thought how fortunate we were to have met Huck and through his advice avoid getting into serious trouble.

We finished eating and prepared to set out on our trek. The weather had turned warm for the time of year overnight, and so we were able to shed our skins, although that meant we had to carry them. “I feel like I’m caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea,” Laurel said. “It’s too hot to wear our skins, but it makes me hot to carry mine. But at least we’ll have them when the weather turns cold again.”

We walked all day, stopping only for a short while to eat lunch, and then continued on our way.

“I wonder when we’ll encounter our first Indians,” Andrew said.

“From what Huck told me, it could be any time now.”

Sure enough, about mid-afternoon, we saw a party of braves riding toward us. I hoped they spoke English, and as it turned out, some of them did. They were part of a brigade of the Confederate army. We stopped when they drew near and waited for them. Although they did not wear uniforms, it was evident who their leader was from his bearing and the deference paid to him by others. He did not speak English, but one of his men did.

The lead Indian spoke at length to his translator, who turned to us and said, “Chief Climbing Bear wishes to know who you are and what you are doing here.”

I thought for a moment and then said, “Please give our respects to the chief. I am Caleb Dillard and this is my wife Laurel, our son Caleb and that young fellow over there is Andrew. He started traveling with us after his parents disappeared.

“We are here because our house was burned by some soldiers. We are seeking a safe place to live, far away from the war. We mean no harm.”

The soldier translated what I had said, and the chief replied through him.

“The chief says that you may try to find a safe place here, but that will be difficult because there are soldiers all through this area.”

“How far must we travel before we are not around soldiers?”

The interpreter talked in his native language with the others for a while, and then told us, “They say you will need to walk for a week or ten days before you find safety.”

“We have walked further than that to get here, so we can go that far.”

The translator relayed this to the chief and then turned back to us.

“Aiee. The chief wishes you well. He has a family like yours and understands your need to keep them safe. He also regrets we cannot travel with you for safety, but we have our orders.”

“I understand. Thank the chief for us. He is clearly a great man.”

“That he is. And I will thank him.”

With that, the band of soldiers rode off. We watched them until they were out of sight.

“They were certainly nice to us,” Laurel said.

“I guess with our accents they figured we were on the same side as we were. I’m surprised, though, that they didn’t ask my why I wasn’t with the army.”

“They could be as sick of as we are. They were certainly gentle, especially for soldiers.”

“I guess we’ll never know. We need to get going.”

We started walking, this time going uphill on a slight slope. Laurel said the trail would grow steeper when we got to the mountains, and I thought that would be a good place for us to settle. We could hide in one of the hollows, if we could find one close to a settlement where we could buy what we needed. I thought I could make enough money to get by if I hunted and trapped for furs. I told Laurel about this, and she agreed.

We stopped for lunch, and I estimated we had gone about twelve miles by then, so we’d be able to make about 25 by the end of the day. We walked through a rainstorm and kept moderately dry using our skins and Laurel holding Caleb under hers. We walked out of the storm about the time we wanted to eat, so Laurel fixed something and we went to bed shortly after we ate, being tired from all our exertions.

Something woke me suddenly, and I didn’t know what time it was since the sky had clouded over. I listened, and thought I heard a horse neigh quietly. I was reaching for my rifle when three men tumbled into our camp, shouting and flashing pistols. I put my hands up and they quickly looked around and took Laurel and Caleb, jumped on their horses and disappeared to the west. As quickly as they came, they were gone, leaving me to wonder if it had really happened.

Andrew rolled out of his skin. “What was that?”

“Someone has taken Laurel and Caleb! I don’t know where they’re going!”

“Are you going to follow them?”

“I can’t! They’re on horses!” I had never felt so frustrated in my life as I did at that moment.

“What’ll we do?”

“Wait until light to see if we can follow them. I don’t want to be fooling around with a lantern in this kind of darkness. Lie back down and get some sleep. I’ll wake you when it’s time.”

We both lay down, but for my part, I didn’t sleep. I kept seeing horrible things being done to my family. I was angry and tired and frustrated by the time the sun rose. I roused Andrew. “Take what you need, and I’ll hide the rest in the grove of trees. We’re going to need to move fast to try to catch up with them!”

We scrambled around getting ready to leave and set out at a trot, following the trail the men had left. I would be able to follow them as long as it didn’t rain, and the day looked like it was going to be clear. I thanked God for that. I vowed not to stop until we found both of them.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 27

 

Chapter 28

A Past Life

January,1863

Later on, when we came upon someone who could tell us what day it was, we figured that we met Finn on New Year’s Eve. I took this to be another benevolent sign attached to his appearance. On the first day of the year, we prepared to float further down the river, led by Finn, who had apparently made this trip many times.

As we gathered what we had to put it on the raft, Laurel drew me aside. “Did you hear Finn talking in his sleep last night?”

I shook my head. “No, I slept too soundly for that. What did he say?”

“He was calling someone named Jim. And then he said, ‘I’m sorry, Jim. So, so sorry.’”

“Did he say anything else?”

“No, he kept repeating that for about fifteen minutes.”

“Obviously, he’s sorry for something he did to Jim.”

“It might just be a dream and Jim is some figure of his imagination.”

“We can’t tell. And we can’t ask him. It will have to remain a mystery.”

We boarded our vessels. I had intended to find another, better and bigger boat somehow, but Finn said we were about a day away from the place where we would start for the Territory, so there was no use in trying to find another vessel. This was fine with me, for in truth I had no idea how we could have done such a thing. We didn’t have enough money, and I was unwilling to steal something. Our only hope would have been to find something that had been abandoned, but in all our time on the river, we had not seen any such boat. And so I have the idea up and bid it good riddance.

We had a tranquil day floating down the river, putting in only for lunch. Along about sunset, as we were preparing to go ashore to eat, Finn called back, “We’re about at the right place where you can start for the Territory. We can camp here tonight and you can start in the morning. I’ll strike off more to the southwest, so I’ll be leaving you then.”

These words caused some sadness in my heart at the prospect of leaving Mr. Finn, for although he was a rough and unlettered character, he through his advice had kept us from making a terrible mistake and ending up in captivity again. I had had more than enough of that, so my gratitude was heart felt.

We sat around one fire after we ate, Laurel inviting Finn to partake with us. We told stories and jokes, alternately laughing at that which was funny and wiping our eyes at the sentimental and sad accounts. About halfway through the evening, Finn went over to his swag and came back with a small bottle.

“I don’t have much to share with you,” he began, “but I thought you would enjoy a taste of my whiskey.”

I’m not a drinker, but it would have been impolite to refuse such a heartfelt offer. Finn passed me the bottle and I had a small pull on it and passed it to Andrew.

“Can I drink some?” he asked.

“That’s why I gave it to you.”

“My parents don’t drink and don’t want me to.”

I whispered, “It would be impolite to refuse.”

He studied the bottle for a moment, and then said, “They’re gone, so they won’t know what I’m doing.” He also had a small pull and passed it to Laurel. I knew she also did not drink, but she took the liquor and helped herself to a large swallow. She coughed and I had to go over and beat her on the back to help her recover.

She hacked some more, and then recovered herself enough to say, “Thank you, my love. I have never tasted anything that felt like fire going down my throat.”

Finn regarded all this with amusement. “That’s why it’s sometimes called firewater, m’am. I admit it is strong. The man I bought it from makes it that way.”

I thought that somehow the maker of the alcohol had not come anywhere near a revenuer’s office. Apparently, those were the kind of people that Finn kept company with. That did not surprise me.

We passed the bottle around twice, with no ill effects that I could see on Finn or me. Laurel and Andrew were a different matter. The young man fell asleep sitting up, so that Finn and I had to carry him to his deer hide, and Laurel was about to drift off when Finn addressed her.

“May I give you something?”

“Sure,” she slurred. “Jush mak it quick lahj. I can’t sthay awakes much longurr…”

Finn went over to his pack and came back with something small that he held in his hand. He gave it to Laurel, and she peered at it sitting in her palm.

“Wash is it?” she mumbled, making an effort to focus.

I couldn’t see from where I sat, but Finn said, “It’s a locket that I was told belonged to my dear mother, who died shortly after I was born. An aunt saved it for me until I was old enough since my father was a no-count drunkard.”

Laurel’s hand went to her mouth. “Oh, misstar Finn, I couldn’t taksh thiss…”

He folded her hand around the locket. “You must. I have never had a woman be kind to me since my mother died, so you in a sense are taking her place. Thank you.”

“No, thanksh you…” Laurel mumbled, and fell over, dead asleep.

“I can take her over to her skin,” I told Finn. When I came back, I said, “I guess it’s just you and me now, eh, Mr. Finn?”

“M’boy, call me by my first name.”

“And what would that be?”

“Huckleberry, but I’m called Huck.”

I wondered what kind of name that was, but he said it was, and I believed him. “All right, Huck. Say, how’d you get that name?”

He chuckled and took another pull on the whiskey bottle. “I don’t rightly know. I don’t remember being named, but that’s what they called me, so I guess that’s right.”

“I see. How’d you come to be on the river?”

“I live out in the Territory, further than you’d want to go, but I need to come in to buy supplies every so often. That’s what I was doing when I came across your party.”

“We’re fortunate that you did. We would have been in a world of trouble if we had continued on.”

He nodded. “That you would have been. I don’t have much truck with other people, but I could tell you needed help, having a wife and son with you.”

“We’re much obliged. How’d you come to live in the Territory?”

His eyes got a far-away look. “A long time ago, I got tired of folks telling me what to do, so I ran away. I used the Mississippi to do so, and I didn’t know where I’d end up. I didn’t care, as long as it was far away from the folks who kept telling me what to do. And here’s the different part: I traveled with a slave.”

“You could have gotten in a lot of trouble.”

“I could have, but it worked out all right. Anyhow, what I saw on the river was so much worse than what I’d been through. I told myself that if that was civilization, I wanted no part of it. And that’s how I came to live in the Territory.”

“That’s quite a story.”

“Yes, and now you’re going to join me, roughly speaking, of course.”

“I hope it will work out.”

“I do, too. I’ll see where you’re going and visit you when I come back by.”

“I’d like that. Like I said, I don’t care for most people, but there’s something about your family that I find interesting. I believe you in particular are destined for great things.”

“That’s kind of you to say so.”

Huck shrugged. “I can tell about a person, and I know what lies in store for you. Well, that’s enough talk. I’m going to bed. I hope you don’t have the dreams I have.”

“Dreams about Jim?”

He looked startled. “How’d you know?”

“Laurel heard you talking in your sleep, asking Jim to forgive you.”

“Didn’t know I did that, but what I did to him was not good.”

I waited for him to tell me what that was, but I guess he wasn’t ready to do that. “Good night, Huck.”

“Good night, Caleb. Tomorrow’s another day.”

“Yes, it is. We’ll see what it brings.”

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 26

 

Chapter 27

A Sticking Point

December, 1862

We came to the point where the river we were on ran into the Ohio. There was a small settlement on the banks, but we bypassed it, not wanting to meet anyone who might question us about who we were and where we were going.

We managed to supplement our food supply by catching some fish as we drifted along. We had to keep an eye on Caleb, because he was fascinated with the water. Laurel finally resorted to tying him around the waist with a rope and securing the other end around her waist. That way, if he should fall into the water, she could pull him out.

Later that day, we came across a small boat steaming upstream. They hailed us. “Hallooo! People on the raft! Where are ye bound?”

“We’re headed for the Mississippi, as far south as we can go.”

“Ah! Be careful! The armies there are preparing for a big battle!”

“Thank ye for that information!”

“‘Tis my duty, and I pray God will be with you!”

They drifted out of earshot at that point, leaving us to talk about our plans.

“We don’t want to tangle with any armies,” I said.

“Agreed,” Laurel answered. “I think the best plan is to go as far south as we can until we see first evidence of military activity. Then we make for shore and continue on foot, staying away from the river.”

“I hope we’ll be able to get a far distance down.” Andrew looked thoughtful.

“As do I,” I answered.

We floated calmly the rest of that day, and made preparations for having to leave our raft. It would be a shame to do that, for it was still holding together well and go many more miles, but that would not be something we could do. We had no choice.

When darkness fell, we put in to shore, as was our custom. We made a fire and Laurel fixed our meal. We were tired, and would have gone to sleep shortly after we ate, but we say a lantern held by someone in a boat who called out to us. “People on the shore! Who are you?”

Not knowing who was out there, I did not want to give away too much about us. “We are wayfarers like you.” I did not invite the person to come ashore.

“Are you the law or military?”

“No. We are a family on our way south.”

“May I come ashore?”

I looked at Laurel. She knew we were armed and there were three of us and one of the other traveler, so she nodded.

“Come on, then.”

The man came closer, and when he ran his canoe up next to the bank and tied it to a tree, we could see by the light of the lantern that he had a wild countenance, with long hair and filthy clothing. He came toward us.

“He looks like the wild man of Borneo,” Laurel whispered. “I have seen a picture of him, and he has the same wild aspect.”

The man raised his hand. “I have no weapons. In fact, I despise them, as I do all forms of civilization.”

That much is evident, I thought.

“What is your name, sir?”

In spite of his extreme appearance, he seemed peaceful enough, so I said, “I am Caleb Dillard, this is my wife Laurel, and that, our friend Andrew.” I did not tell him about Caleb, who was asleep out of the light from the lantern campfire. I wanted to be careful where our son was concerned. “And what is your name, sir?”

He smiled, revealing a mouthful of rotted and missing teeth. I felt Laurel flinch at this sight.

“The name is Finn. That’s all, Finn. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”

I was surprised that, despite his wild appearance and general disdain for civilization, he was polite. I wondered how he acquired such manners.

“If I may ask, where do you intend to go? There aren’t too many families floating on the river.”

I felt I could trust him with this information. “We intend to float down the Mississippi until we can cut over to the Indian territory.”

Finn shook his head. “No, you don’t want to do that?”

“What is your reason, sir?”

“My reason is that Grant is sitting on the Mississippi at Vicksburg. You wouldn’t be able to get past. A better plan would be to cut over about Memphis. That’s the way I’m going, if you’d like to go that way. We could be a help to each other.”

I hesitated, not knowing anything about this man other than what he had told us. I looked over at Laurel, and she indicated with her eyes that she wanted to speak to me, alone. I turned back to Finn. “My wife wishes to talk to me, if you wouldn’t mind.”

He gestured with his hand. “Go ahead. I was never married myself, but I suppose that this is what wives do.”

Laurel and I drew apart from the others, she holding Caleb in her arms. “What do you think?” I asked her.

She hesitated. “I think it will be all right. He reminds me of some of my students who were beaten. There’s no telling what he has suffered. And we have guns. From what he said, I don’t know that he has any.”

“All right. I trust your judgment. I’ll tell him we’ll go with him.”

I went over to Finn. “Sir, we gladly accept your offer and look forward to assisting you however we can.”

He put out his hand, and I saw then that he was missing a finger on his left hand and had scars all over both hands. Apparently he had had some rough times.

I shook his hand and felt the roughness of the scars. “I’m pleased that we’ll be traveling together,” he said. “Now, may I camp here with you?”

“Of course,” I told him. “We’re fellow travelers, aren’t we?”

He laughed at that, a wet hacking laugh that made me wonder if something was seriously wrong with his health. When he pulled his canoe up on shore, he seemed to have no trouble, so his strength was not affected. He set up his camp a little ways from us, and it occurred to me that because he had a lantern, we could travel at night, and so reach our takeoff place sooner. A few minutes later, we saw he had extinguished the lantern, and presumably turned in for the night.

Andrew and Caleb had already retired for the night, so Laurel and I talked a while, and tired from an eventful day, went to bed ourselves. We would have to see how Mr. Finn worked out, but both of us had a good feeling about what he could do for us.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 25

 

Chapter 26

Onward

December, 1862

Two weeks later, we had walked through snowfall after snowfall. Although it made the going rough, it also froze the venison and kept the smell down from the hides. I had shot another deer the same day we told Andrew there was little hope of finding his parents, so we all had something to lie on. Caleb continued using the tablecloth.

I was looking for a river that would lead to the Mississippi. We could fashion a raft and float down that river to the bigger one, where we would try to find a real boat. Laurel said she was sure there was such a river. She had studied such things to be a teacher. “I’m not sure what it was called or exactly where it was,” she told me.

“That’s all right,” I answered. “As long as you know it’s somewhere around here, we’ll find it.”

Andrew’s mood gradually improved, although he still had sad spells. I didn’t blame him much when he did. I felt the same way when my parents died.

We were on a trail that sloped downward, and one morning around what must have been Christmas, Laurel stopped.

“What are you stopping for?” I asked her.

“Shhh. I hear something.”

Her hearing was so much better than mine. I think women hear things that men don’t, sometimes even when there’s nothing there.

She listened a while longer. “It sounds like—sounds like—WATER! We’re close to a river!”

“That has to be the one we’re looking for,” I shouted. “Andrew, you run ahead and see what you can see and come back and tell us about it.” I knew he was faster than either of us, and he didn’t carry as much. He dropped what he did have and tore down the path.

“You’re convinced this is it?” Laurel asked me.

“Yes! Now that I can hear it, I can tell it’s a big one! Just what we’ve been looking for! What a Christmas present! This is working out just fine!”

Andrew came back in a few minutes. “Yes! It’s a big one! What we’re been looking for!”

Laurel laughed. “That’s what Caleb just said. We can finally escape!”

We quickened our pace, eager to see what the river looked like. We topped a rise, and there it was—wide and stretching off in both directions, with a current that didn’t look too fast. It would be ideal for what we planned to do.

We camped along the bank, ate, and then Andrew and I set about gathering timber for our raft. The only tool I had that I could use was a the big serrated knife I used to butcher game. It took a while to saw through branches, but Andrew and I spelled each other when we got tired, and we were able to cut enough wood that we could start on the raft the next day, since the light was fading fast.

We sat around our campfire thinking of how far we had come, and not really paying any attention to how far we had yet to know. Laurel went over and started rooting around in he basket. She came back with a small tin of something.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Something I’ve been saving for a special occasion, and if this isn’t one, I don’t know what is.” She opened the tin, and the smell of real coffee came to my nose.

“You have coffee!” I exclaimed. “I haven’t had real coffee since I was in Georgetown the first time. It’s been so long!”

Laurel brewed up the coffee and poured it into the tin mugs she brought. She brought something else out of her basket.

“I don’t have any milk, of course, but here’s some honey to sweeten it.”

And so we sat with our backs against some trees, feeling the warmth of our drinks as they went down and listening to the rushing of the river.

“Merry Christmas,” Laurel said, raising her mug.

“Merry Christmas,” Andrew and I echoed.

She smiled. “And God bless us, every one.”

***

The next morning, Andrew and I got up early, even before Laurel was awake, to begin work on our raft. Fortunately, I had some rope in my pack that we used to lash the logs together. I had never built a raft before, but Andrew had an uncle who was in the timber business, and occasionally he would help his uncle tie togs together to float them to market. I hate to think how the raft would have turned out without Andrew there to tell me what to do.

We worked hard and had it assembled before lunch. We went out into the woods and cut a couple of poles that would enable us to steer our creation and also to pole it through shallow places. We had lunch and then worked on getting what we had aboard. I had also never been on a raft before, but again, Andrew had and told us what to do. He made sure the load was balanced and then looked at me. “Are you ready to try this?”

“I don’t know how ready I am,” I said, “but we need to get going.”

With that, Andrew got on the raft first so he could help Caleb and Laurel climb on. Then I jumped on. Andrew took one pole and I took the other.

“Push off!” Andrew called.

“Aye, aye, sir!” I figured that since we were on the water, I should talk like a sailor.

We poled out into the current and then drew in our poles and let the current take us. I sat with my pack at my back while Andrew leaned against our supply of venison. “This is the way to travel!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, it sure beats having to tear through underbrush,” Andrew answered. Laurel didn’t say anything, but from her smile I could tell she was pleased as well.

We drifted along until it got dark, when we put into a likely place on shore. Without a light, I didn’t want to chance being run over by some bigger boat that couldn’t see us. I wouldn’t have wanted to run at night with a light. We didn’t know the river, and I’m sure there were currents and eddies we would want to see, along with whatever might be in the water.

We had our supper and settled down to talk after we ate.

“How far do you reckon we’ve come?” I asked Andrew.

He thought for a moment. “From what I can tell, I’d say we made about thirty miles, and a whole lot faster than if we had walked.”

“That’s for certain.”

“Laurel says this river we’re on leads to the Ohio. How long do you think it will take us to get there?”

He scratched his chin. “I’d say a couple of days more. It depends on the currents and the weather.”

“The Ohio goes into the Mississippi.” I looked at Andrew and Laurel. “Do you think we should try going down that?”

Laurel put out her hand, and I took it. “Why don’t we wait until we get there and see. We don’t know what’s going on in the war over there, and maybe we can find someone who can tell us.”

“That sounds like a good plan.”

We sat there a while longer, and then went to bed. I lay on my back, looking at the stars, which seemed brighter and closer from where we were. I didn’t know what would come, of course, but I felt good about having my family—including Andrew—with me.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 24

 

Chapter 25

Discoveries

November, 1862

After lunch, we set out on our southerly route, thinking that Andrew’s family would have done the same thing, that is, if they were free to do so. As the time wore on, Andrew’s face grew longer and longer, and when we stopped for the evening, he said he did not want anything to eat and went to sleep.

As someone who just turned twenty, I knew that normally people my age can’t get enough to eat, so I knew the disappearance of his family had made Andrew very forlorn. Laurel and I talked about it after we ate.

“What are we going to do about Andrew?” Laurel asked.

“Keep looking for his family, just like we’ve been doing.”

“No, I mean, what are we going to do about his state of mind? It breaks my heart to see anyone so sad.”

Laurel has always had a tender heart, and Andrew’s state of mind was weighing heavily on her.

“I don’t know. I’m not very good at telling jokes making people laugh.”

Laurel smiled. “I’m not talking about that.”

“What are you talking about,then?”

“Doing something that will bring him out of his melancholic state.”

“Such as?”

“If his family doesn’t turn up, and I don’t think they will, we can make him part of our family.”

“You mean adopt him?”

“That would expose us to danger and cost far more than we’re able to put together. No, I think we should tell him that we consider him a member of our family. If we want to adopt him and our circumstances change, we can legally adopt him.”

I sat for a moment. Laurel has a way of looking at things and figuring a way out. She had done it again this with idea.

“All right! We’ll tell him when he wakes up!”

“It’ll have to wait until morning, then.”

“How do you know he’ll sleep until then?”

“I have brothers, remember? It’s what they do.”

“Speaking of sleep, isn’t it time we got some?”

“Yes, let’s go to bed.”

We settled ourselves in our quilt, but I lay awake for a while. I hoped everything worked out and we wouldn’t have any more troubles, but something told me we would.

***

The next morning it turned colder, which I would have expected so near to December, but the cold was greater because of the winds that blew down the valley. I awoke feeling the cold, as did Laurel, and we wrapped ourselves in out quilt.

“We have to figure out some other way to keep warm than using these quilts,” I said.

Laurel thought for a moment and said, “If you can shoot enough deer, we’ll not only have meat. I can make coats out of their skins.”

“Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? I’ll go look for some right now.”

‘Don’t you want something to eat?”

“I’m so cold I can’t think about food.”

I setoff through the woods and, half an hour later, crept up on a big buck. I brought him down with one lucky shot. That was one. Because I wanted to eat, I dragged him near where we were camped. I came into the clearing to find Laurel fixing some pork  and corn pone for breakfast, along with some beans. It was amazing what she could do with an open camp fire. She looked up as I came through the underbrush.

“Did you get anything?”

“Yes, a big buck. I left him over there—” I nodded in the direction of my kill. “I’ll butcher him after we eat. And I want to see if Andrew knows how to do that. If he doesn’t, I’ll show him how. Is he up?”

Laurel shook her head. “I don’t know if he’s still sleeping or just lying there not wanting to get up. Go see if you can get him to come to breakfast.”

“I will.” I went over to where Andrew lay wrapped in his quilt, not moving. I reached down and shook his shoulder. “Andrew! Time to eat! Get up, my man!”

He moaned. “Don’t wanna…”

“Well, we can’t leave you here sleeping. You need to get up so we can keep looking for your parents.”

At that he sat up. “My parents are dead.”

“You don’t know that,” I told him, but I thought, you are most likely right. Still, I had to get him going.

“I shot a big buck that we can use for food and Laurel can use to make coats for us, but I’ll need to shoot some more. I need your help with that. I’ll teach you how to skin a buck and cut him up. C’mon, let’s eat.”

He stared ahead for a few moments, and then slowly crawled out from underneath the quilt. “You’ll teach me how to do that?”

“I sure will.”

“My dad always said he was too busy to show me how that was done. He said it was faster if he just did it himself.”

That was shortsighted of him, I thought, but I said, “My daddy showed me how, so I think it’s only right that I do the same for you.”

“And I ain’t even your son.”

“You could be my son,” I said, thinking that that statement was truer than he knew. We would tell him about all that after we ate and I showed him how to butcher the deer. I wasn’t looking forward to telling him his parents were probably dead, although he seemed to have an idea of it. That would make telling him easier, but still hard to do.

***

Andrew carried the venison and I the hide from the deer. We put both near the fire where we planned to smoke the deer. Doing so would take time, but we wanted to preserve the meat. Laurel helped us put it on the sticks we had set up to smoke it. Then she turned to me. “We forgot one thing about making coats from the deer hide.”

“What’s that?”

“It has to be tanned and stretched.”

“Of course! How are we going to do that?”

“We can’t, not if we want to keep moving. We could flense the hides and used them to sleep on. They’d smell, but it would be better than sleeping on the cold ground.”

“All right. I’ve already gotten everything off the hide of the stag I shot today, and that makes two. I’ll have to find another deer today.” I turned to Andrew. “Laurel and I want to talk to you about something.”

He straightened up from where he was packing some venison.

“What is it?”

Laurel came over to us. “It’s about your parents,” she said gently.

“What about them?”

I swallowed hard. “We haven’t found them yet, and Laurel and I don’t think we’re going to.”

He looked shocked. “You mean—”

I put  my hand on his shoulder. “Yes, there’s a very slim chance that they’re alive and I’m sorry, but we think they’re dead.”

He sat down, hard, and burst into tears. Laurel went over and put her arm around him while I stood there, not knowing what to do. I had witnessed many deaths, but telling a young man his parents are gone is something else entirely.

We let Andrew cry himself out, and then I asked, “Do you feel like going on?”

He half smiled. “Not really, but I guess we have to.”

“You’re a good man. Hold on to that hope that they’re out there somewhere.”

“I suppose that’s all I have, although I don’t think they are.”

“Yes. Let’s go.”

We started southward again, and I was thankful that it was cold for a change, because it kept the odors from the hides and meat down. If it had been hot, we couldn’t have stood it, but I suppose smelly hides and meat were the least of our problems compared to having to deal with Andrew in his loss.

 

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