Monthly Archives: April 2018

“Diamond Courage,” Part 30


Chapter 31



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


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



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


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


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


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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“Diamond Courage,” Part 23


Chapter 24

A Turn for the Better

November, 1862

The next morning, we found ourselves on the other side of the Appalachian chain, and I felt assured that if we followed the valley south, we could come upon a river in Tennessee that we could take to the Mississippi and so have an easier way further south. Or we could stay in the mountains and make those our hiding place.

Along about noon, snow began to fall. I was not surprised, as we sometimes had snow in October where our cabin was. I used the word “was,” which rings true since our home that my parents had built was no more. I felt its loss in my heart, but then reminded myself we were making a new and better life for ourselves.

We did not have any winter clothing with us, since it all burned up in the fire and Laurel had not the time to make more. “It’s all right,” she said. “You and I can cover up with the quilts and I can wrap Caleb in the tablecloth. Those will do until we can find something better.”

She was always optimistic. I doubted that we would be anywhere near a store for a month, but I gladly took the quilt she offered me. “This is fine,” I told her. “I don’t feel the cold at all.”

She smiled, and that also warmed me. We continued on our way.


Two days later, we had walked out of the snow and it became warmer so we could put away the quilts and tablecloth. Laurel was walking ahead of me, carrying Caleb when we heard something crashing around in the underbrush. It sounded to me like a large stag which must have been wounded since they are normally very quiet. I put Laurel and Caleb behind a tree for protection. “Don’t move from here unless I tell you to,” I said. “If this is a wounded deer, it can be very dangerous.” With that, I set off toward the noise, carrying my rifle. If I could kill it, we would have enough food to last us for weeks. Things were looking up for the success of our journey.

I stealthily made my way through the underbrush toward the sound. The crashing grew louder and louder, and then a young man about sixteen years old came staggering toward me. He did not appear to be injured, but seemed confused. I lowered my rifle and went toward him.

“Are you all right?” I asked. “Are you injured?”

“I’m lost. I don’t know where my family is. Will you help me?”

I came up to him and saw that, like us, his clothing was homemade.  “Here,” I told him. “Sit down. It looks like you’ve been wandering around for quite a while.”

He sat and lowered his head. “Yes. I don’t know how long, exactly. I walked away from our camp to relieve myself and when I came back, my parents were gone! Whatever happened to them, they made no noise, and they did not cry out, so I don’t know what went on.”

“What’s your name, fellow?” I almost called him “son,” as Alphonso does me, but the young was about as old as I was.

“It’s Andrew. Andrew Coggins. We come from near Front Royal.”

“We’re almost neighbors, then. We’re from around Winchester. My name is Caleb Dillard, my wife is Laurel, and our son is Caleb. He’s about eighteen months old now. I’m sorry to hear this has happened to you. I want you to come over and meet my family, and, since it’s lunch time, have something to eat with us. You must be hungry.”

“That I am. I haven’t had anything to eat since early this morning.”

As we walked back to Laurel and Caleb, I asked him, “What’s your family doing in this remote area?”

“My dad was in the army and he got tired of all the killing and suffering. We’re going to try to get out to the Indian territory and see if we can make a go of it.” He stopped. “Listen to me, talking like I knew where my parents were. Anyhow, those were our plans. If I don’t find them, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “You can stay with us until we find your parents or come upon another situation in which you can make a go of it. We won’t abandon you.”

He nodded, and looked relieved. “I want to ask you what you asked me: what are all of you doing out here?”

“Same thing you and your family are trying to do—trying to get away from the war.”

“It’s a terrible thing.”

“I’ve seen it up close. It’s beyond terrible. It’s inhumane and reprehensible and senseless.”

By that time, we had come near enough to where Laurel and Caleb were that I could call out to them. “Laurel! I’m almost back and I have a young man named Andrew with me! Don’t worry—he’s been separated from his parents, and he’s a fine young fellow.”

We stepped into the clearing, and Laurel immediately came over to us, a look of sympathy on her face. “So you can’t find your parents. How long ago was it that you last saw them?”

“It was right after breakfast. I went off to take care of some business and they were gone when I came back, so it’s been about four hours.”

Laurel gave me a look that indicated that she thought something horrible happened to the boy’s parents, and he would never see them again, but she said, “We’ll help you look for them.” I noticed that Laurel did not say what more people said in these circumstances, which is, “We’ll find them.” She was too honest for that, and Andrew didn’t notice. “What’s your name?”

I had forgotten to introduce him, but he said, “I’m Andrew Coggins, m’am, and I appreciate  you helping me out.”

“It’s our Christian duty. Are you hungry?”

“Yes, m’am. Very.”

“Well, we’ll be ready to eat in about half an hour. Do you like rabbit?”

“M’am at this point, I’d eat almost anything.”

Laurel laughed. “You’ll be easy to feed since we don’t know what Caleb will be able to shoot. You can watch Caleb while I get lunch ready. Do you have any brothers and sisters?”

“Yes, m’am, I have two sisters.” He winced. “I hate to think anything happened to them.”

“Well, then you know how to watch children younger than yourself. Caleb’s an easy child to entertain, and I have no doubt you’re very good at it.”

He smiled for the first time since I came across him. “I am a right good hand at it, m’am.”

“One thing—you don’t have to call me ‘m’am.’ My name’s Laurel.”

He nodded. “Pleased to meet you, Laurel.”

“And I you, Andrew. I’m just sorry it’s under these circumstances.”

With that, he went over to take care of Caleb and, since we didn’t have enough rabbit left to feed all of us, I said to Laurel, “I’ll go out and see if I can find something else we can have for lunch.”

“All right. Be careful.”

“I will.”

I went into the woods, and heard the sounds of squirrels in the trees. I had shot them since I was a boy, so I had gotten pretty good at it, and had two of them in short order. And these weren’t the scrawny squirrels such as we had around Winchester. No, they were big and plump, and it looked like they would make us two meals, even with Andrew eating with us. I took them and skinned them right there with my knife, something I learned how to do from my daddy. He taught me a lot about being in the woods, and I was using it now.

I took my kill back to our campsite where Laurel had built a fire and had a frying pan ready for whatever I brought back.  “You got two squirrels! And look how big they are! We can have a couple of meals off them!”

“That’s what I figured,” I said, putting the meat in the pan.

Laurel busied herself fixing our lunch while I talked to Andrew. I motioned him to sit down on a rock, while I sat on another one. “I don’t know anything about your family except for what you told me already, which wasn’t a lot. What does your daddy do?”

“He was a blacksmith. He joined Stuart’s outfit and things went well for a while, but the Yankees overran the stables and a couple of his friends were killed. He managed to get away, but that was it for him with the army. We set out to get away from the fighting and killing, as I told you.”

“I see. It must have been hard to leave everything you knew.”

“Well, in truth I was relieved to get away, just like the rest of my family.”

“I understand that. We’re alike, your family and mine.”

“If I still have a family.”

“We’ll look for them. Don’t worry.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Glad to do it. Look, lunch is ready.”

As we ate, I kept thinking of what we would do if we didn’t find Andrew’s family. Nothing came to me, but I knew that it would be difficult. Still, I was glad we could help him. He could prove useful.



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“Diamond Courage,” Part 22

Chapter 23


October, 1862

And so we went as far north as we could go on the North Fork, pulled the boat ashore and piled out belongings on the bank. I went back to the river and shoved the boat out into the current, which rapidly took it away. I figured someone else could have use of it, and I wished them well with it. I wish we could have taken it with us for our trip south on another river but it would have been impossible to carry what we had and take care of Caleb as well.

We walked westward on what must have been trails the Indians first trod, from the looks of them. I remembered there was a gap somewhere near where we were which I wanted to take. It would be much easier than climbing over the mountains. We made several false starts until we came to a notch in the mountains which looked likely. We crested the pass and then found ourselves beside a creek which Laurel said was Happy Creek, which I think suited the situation, for I was very happy to be with my family and be moving away from all the difficulty we had encountered.

We followed the creek down until we came to the bottom of the pass and, looking at what we would have to do to find a pass through the Appalachians, decided to stop for the night about four o’clock. We were also exhausted by all we had been through. We made camp, and Laurel took out the last of the chicken and beans that the Widow had given us. We ate, and as darkness fell, Caleb went to sleep on his pallet. Laurel and I sat up beside the fire and talked for about an hour before we, too, lay down to sleep. Although we went to bed early for us, it had certainly been a long day.

I had a dream that night. I dreamed that I was walking southward down a valley, trying for some reason the reach the Gulf of Mexico, but I every time I tried, a huge bird with Eleanor’s face kept me from going any further. In my dream, I would climb over the next mountain range into another valley, only to find that the Eleanor bird was there before me. I must have done this ten times, and the last time, I decided to keep going no matter what happened. I had to reach the Gulf.

As I made my way down the valley, I dreamed I could see the Gulf, but just as I was about to reach it, the Eleanor bird swooped down and carried me off to a prison on a ship, where she left me. The ship had no crew, but sailed by itself.

It was at this point in the dream that I felt someone—or something—grasping me by the shoulder and shaking me back and forth. I feared it was the bird from earlier and cried out, “Leave me alone! Let go of me!” in a most piteous voice. Just as I thought I could endure no more shaking, I heard Laurel’s voice.

“Caleb! Caleb! It is I, your wife Laurel! You must wake up!”

I slowly gathered my wits and saw Laurel sitting beside me, her face lit by the dying embers of our fire. “Why did you tell me to leave you alone when I tried to wake you from your sleep. You must have been having a terrible nightmare, you were thrashing about so.”

I embraced her and slowly nodded. “Yes, I was. I dream that a bird with Eleanor’s face picked me up as I was trying to reach the Gulf of Mexico and put me in a jail on a ship and then came back and tried to carry me off again. That was why I was tell you to leave me alone. I thought you were the Eleanor creature, which you could never be.”

She looked at me with mixed love and concern. “‘Tis a strange dream you had, then.”

“Yes, ‘twas most strange.”

“And yet, I can understand why you had it.”

“Understand or no, I wish no more of that kind of dream.”

“Caleb, you are my dream.” She smiled at me.

“And you mine.” We that, we went back to sleep and slept soundly the rest of the night.

The next day, we set out again and, climbing up on the pass, saw our next obstacle, a range of mountains the likes of which I had never seen before. Laurel said they were the Appalachians, and I knew we would have to find a pass through them. As we went on, I saw a low place in the mountains, and we made for that. Laurel looked around, and remembering some maps she used in the classroom, said, “This is Ashby’s Gap. It will give us an easier passage through the mountains.”

We walked all day to come to the other side of the mountains, and there stopped for the night. We had eaten all the chicken the Widow had given us, so I went out to shoot something for our supper, thinking we were too far away from anyone to attract attention. I was being careful, for I did not wish a repeat of our former difficulties.

I quickly scared up a rabbit and killed him with the first shot. I dressed him in the field and took him back to Laurel. She had fashioned a spit from some branches, and soon Mr. Rabbit was turning over the coals. Laurel had found some edible plants in my absence, and with the meat which was soon finished, we had a good supper.

Caleb again drifted off to sleep with the sunset, and so we had a chance to talk about our plans.

“Are you convinced that your plan for losing ourselves is the best one?”

“In truth I cannot say that it is the best one. Rather, I think it is the only one open to us at this time.”

“That is my thinking as well.”

“If you can think of a fairer plan, I hope you would share it with me.”

“You may count on that. I will think more on where we should go and what we should do.

We fell asleep beneath the stars, and I had no nightmare, but only sweet, blissful rest.



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“Diamond Courage,” Part 21


Chapter 22


October, 1862

I cannot say that I awoke early the next morning, for I had stayed awake and arose with the first light, which we would need to see our way. The Widow was up already, fixing a wonderful breakfast for us which I appreciated, for we did not know what kind of food we would have when our limited store ran out, of if we would have anything at all to eat. I put these thoughts aside, thinking that I had always managed to find something, but then again, I was alone in those circumstances and not with a child and a woman. I would have to trust in God in all things, and reminded myself of the fall of manna in the desert. God would provide.

We ate breakfast quickly, and prepared to leave. The Widow embraced Laurel and they both cried, both being good women of tender hearts. “I will be praying for all of you,” said the Widow. “You take care of your family.”

“I appreciate the prayers, m’am, and I will do the best I can to keep them safe.”

I shouldered my pack and Laurel put the handle of her basket over one arm and picked up Caleb. The Widow came over and kissed him. “Such an angel of a child,” she said, and wiped away a tear.

We set out, and looking back, I saw the Widow waving to us until we topped a hill and could no longer see us.

It was a pleasant autumn day, and if I tried hard enough, I could imagine we were going for a stroll in the woods, so did the beauty of the trees and flowers sway my mind. “Where are we going?” Laurel asked.

“I cannot say specifically,” I told her, “but I think it best if we go farther south, away from Eleanor. I have thought on it, and we are too close for our own safety. I did not tell Laurel at the time, but I was forming a plan in my mind to travel into the mountains of Tennessee where we might find a safe haven. I even wondered if there might be some relatives there who would take us in. I didn’t remember my parents talking about such folk, but they might be there.

We walked until the sun told us it was noon, and so we stopped beside a stream and ate some of the chicken we did not finish the night before, along with some cold potatoes and beans. That might not sound like a good meal to anyone else, but we ate it with relish, I realizing that there was much worse food in the Laurel because of her sweet disposition. I rarely heard her complain, and counted her nature a blessing from heaven.

Our meal eaten, we set out again and came upon a river that I took to be the North Fork of the Shenandoah. We must have been bearing slightly east of south to discover it, and I amended our course accordingly. It was then that I thought if we could find a river flowing south, we could fashion a raft or some sort of conveyance to take us to where we wanted to go with less effort and greater safety. I did not know of any such rivers in this part of the country, and so I put such thoughts aside.

We stopped as evening was coming on, still beside the river, and I judged it safe to build a fire, which I did. Laurel fixed some pork with a marvelous gravy and we had that with some ears of corn which she wrapped and buried in the coals. She also discovered biscuits which the Widow had put in her basket, and altogether, we had a fine meal.

After we ate, Caleb went to sleep on a quilt that Laurel had laid out for him, and she and I sat close to each other and watched the embers of the fire. I have found that such an activity is conducive to thought and so we began talking.

“Laurel,” I began, “do you believe that my troubles here of late are the result of some sin I have done, even unawares?”

She sat quietly for a while. I knew her to have a thoughtful, serious turn of mind at some moments, although she could be playful and jovial at other times.

“I do not think that the bad that happens to us is all our fault,” she began. “Much of it is caused by others and by the presence of evil in the world. We are sometimes the victims of that.”  She looked at me. “You are the finest, kindest, best man I know. I do not see any kind of sin in you that would cause you troubles.”

I leaned over and kissed her. “Thank you. You are the best wife I could wish for.”

We lay down on our own quilt, and, tired from our day’s exertions, soon fell asleep.


We were awakened about sunrise the next morning by heavy rain, although we could not see the sun for it. I had some cloth that resisted water in my pack, and we gathered up Caleb and sat under the cloth with him, watching the deluge.

“We cannot easily move with this much rain,” I said. “We will have to find some place to shelter until it lessens. I will go search for such a place.”

“Go, and return soon,” Laurel told me. “We will wait for you here.”

I gave her my revolver. “This is for anyone or anything that might give you trouble, although I pray you will not have to use it.” She took it, and I knew from what happened before that she knew how to employ it.

I started away from the river, thinking there might be a cave or an abandoned mine we could use. I had searched for about half an hour and had not gone too far when I heard the revolver. Knowing that that meant that Laurel was in some sort of trouble, I ran back through the pouring rain to where I had left her, only to find there was no sign of Laurel or Caleb. Someone must have taken them. I knew it was a person because there was no blood where they had been such as an attack by an animal might leave.

I looked all around. Which way had they gone? I could not tell. Then I quieted myself and realized that Laurel and her captor would have left a trail of broken twigs and branches. All I had to do was find that and follow it. I carefully looked in the area and found such a trail leading to the river. I prayed that whoever took them did not have a boat and even now was putting Laurel and Caleb in it and setting out on the river. I would have a hard time keeping up with them if that were so, although it was possible that I would be able to match them.

I ran along the trail I had left, not caring that branches lashed my face. I hardly noticed, only thinking of finding my family and overcoming whoever it was who had taken them. I came to the river and saw that it was just as I feared. Laurel, Caleb and some man were in a small boat moving quickly with the current. I ran along the bank after them, hoping that her captor would not hear me for the noise of the current. I also hoped that if I did catch up with them, Laurel would give no sign I was there since to do so would betray my presence to her captor.

Try as I might, I could not keep up with them. I knew if I didn’t, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to find Laurel. In desperation, I jumped in the river. I am not a good swimmer, but I thought I could stay afloat long enough to find a log or something I might hold on to, and so keep up with them.

I swam for a while, but felt myself tiring. I started to go under, heaving myself above the water only with the greatest of efforts. Just as I felt myself exhausted and unable to keep my head up any longer, a large dead tree chose that moment to topple over and fall in the water. With a super human effort, I made my way over and hung onto it like it was the true salvation that it was. After a few moments, I managed to kick to propel myself more rapidly. As I came around a bend, I saw Laurel, Caleb and her captor in the boat, and I appeared to be gaining on them. Laurel sat facing me, while the man faced her, so he could not witness my approach if Laurel did not betray my presence by any sign that her captor could interpret. I prayed that she might do this.

As I came nearer the boat, I saw the man was steering with his left hand, and holding his left shoulder with his right hand. I thought I saw blood welling from his hand, and surmised that Laurel had shot him in the shoulder. If the wound were severe enough, he could not go long without being incapacitated from loss of blood. I prayed that this might be so.

Just then, Laurel spied me, and, as I had hoped, gave no sign of this save a motion to put her hand over her heart, press it there, and then remove it. Such an action would be taken by her captor as a result of her distress at being captured, and therefore did not betray my presence. So, I was able to draw closer.

I was about twenty feet away when something caused the man to turn around. He reached for something in the bottom of the boat and brought up as rifle. As he was sighting in on me, I let go of the log and dove beneath the surface of the river. While I was there, I heard a shot, but the bullet entered the water well to my left. Then there was another shot, and unable to hold my breath any longer, I heaved myself out of the water, fortunately near my log, which I figured I could use as a shield.

I looked at the boat, so close to me, to find the man lying in the bottom of it and Laurel sitting facing him with my revolver in her two hands. Hers had been the second shot, and from the looks of it, she had either seriously wounded her captor or killed him. God forgive me for wishing for his death, but he had taken my family with him to do who knows what to them.

After I got the boat to shore, I had Laurel help me drag her attacker ashore. On my instructions, we gathered some stones about as big as a man’s head. Laurel had a tablecloth that she tore into strips. We used these to tie the rocks to the body, and then I dragged the man to the shore and pushed him into the river. With the stones weighing him down, I knew he wouldn’t bob to the surface and go downstream where someone might discover him and go looking for who had killed him. I didn’t know how long the strips would hold, but I figured it would be long enough for us to get away.

I had thought of a plan: we would take the boat and float as far north as we could, and then make our way westward to the next river flowing south. I did not know what that was, but I knew Laurel would, and she would tell me after I had told her what I intended to do. I knew we would be retracing our route, but we had had enough bad luck going south down the valley. What would happen after we got on the river going south I did not know, but perhaps we could make our way to the mountains of Tennessee or North Carolina. Laurel had told me that those peaks were bigger than any in Virginia, and I was hopeful they would provide a good hiding place until the war was over. Then we would return to the site of our burned cabin and build another, bigger and finer than the first one.

I had Laurel and Caleb go with me to fetch my pack, which I had left when I heard the first shot. I vowed not to leave them alone again unless I absolutely could not help it or when I knew they were totally safe. We found the pack where I had left it, and we took it back to the boat, climbed in, and started our journey down the river. I prayed that this would be a new episode for us, one of peace, tranquility, and freedom.



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