“Diamond Courage,” Part 11

 

Chapter 11

Southbound

August, 1862

I decided not to walk through our little town since that would not only occasion comment, making it more likely that Eleanor would find me (although I am sure she had a good idea as to where I had gone), but would also delay my arrival. As I skirted through the woods, A thought occurred to me. Laurel would want to embrace me (as I would wish the same), but I could not let her since I had poison ivy. And so what had been an asset had become a liability.

Preoccupied with these disappointing thoughts, I did not pay attention to my surroundings until I found myself on the path that led directly to our cabin. All I had to do was climb one more hill, and the clearing with our house in it lay at the bottom of the incline. I hesitated, took a deep breath, and crested the rise. There I saw—O sweetest of visions—Laurel hoeing in the garden. I was coming from the south, so the sun was behind me, and I saw her raise her hand to shade her eyes. She could not tell at first who I was, and tensed in case I was one who might pose a threat to her. Finally I came close enough for her to tell who I was, and she dropped her hoe and let out a shriek. “Caleb! Is that you? Oh, my darling, fly to me! Fly, fly, fly!”

Wishing to obey my wife, I commenced running, and before I could say a word, she was in my arms, smothering me with kisses and weeping with joy. I held her for about a minute, and then she pulled back from me. “Let me look at you! You’re so thin! Have you not been eating?”

“My rations have been poor and few,” I told her, thinking that although the repasts as Elanor’s were sumptuous, I could not find much of an appetite, considering the circumstances. So, yes, I had lost weight.

Laurel moved me around so she could see my face better. “What is this upon your face?”

“It is from a patch of poison ivy I stumbled into and then used it so none would come near me and per chance recognize me. It was to the good then; here and now it has been an ill thing. I fear I might have infected you.”

“I don’t care! If I do contract it, we’ll have it together! I can abide anything as long as I’m with you! Come in and let me give you something to eat. But first, you must see Caleb. He has grown so much lately.”

Inside the cabin was exactly as I remembered it: neat and tidy, and everything in its place. We went over to the bed where Caleb lay sleeping. Gazing upon his small features, I thought he favored Laurel more than he did me, which is generally the case that first sons resemble their mothers and second songs their fathers. I felt tears come into my eyes as I looked at my boy, and Laurel embraced me. “It’s all right. I still do that when I watch him sleeping. He is so precious.” With that, she wiped away a tear.

We went into the living area and sat down. “Let me get you something to put on that rash,” Laurel said. “I have some oatmeal that will do the trick.”

“Oatmeal?”

“Yes. It dries up the affected areas. My grandmother told me about it, God rest her soul.”

I sat there looking around , thinking how best to tell Laurel that we must leave, and quickly. I had to make her understand that if we stayed there our lives would be in danger. Once I explained that, I knew she would want to vanish as much as I did.

She came back with a bowl of oatmeal and started applying it to my face and arms with an old towel. “That feels better already,” I told her.

“Yes. Keep this on for half an hour and then I’ll apply more. While that is doing it’s work, I will fix you something to eat. What would you like?”

“Anything you would fix will taste like manna to me, it has been so long since I have had some of your cooking.”

“I’m out of manna, but I do have some pork, tomatoes and potatoes. I trust that will do.”

“That sounds heavenly. And while you’re fixing the food, I’ll take a little nap.”

“That sounds wonderful. Sleep, my love. You are safe here.”

I felt a pang go through me as she said that. She did not know about Eleanor and so did not understand our situation. I would tell her after I ate.

***

I was awakened by the smell of the food Laurel held as she stood over me. “Come to the table,” she said. “You had a good nap.”

“Yes, I was totally insensible. You could have carried me off and I would not have known it.”

She laughed. “I would like to carry you off, if you are cognizant of my meaning.”

Once again I felt something grab in my stomach as she said that. We would have no time for anything except gathering what we would take with us. We could not even stay the night, so perilous was our situation.

I ate quickly while Laurel watched me, her eyes shining. She seemed more beautiful than when I left her, and I knew this was not some fantasy resulting from our long separation. I pushed my plate aside. “That was excellent! You are such a wonderful cook!”

She dropped her eyes modestly. “You are kind, but what I prepared was made with love. Caleb will awake soon. Perhaps we will have time to make love before he does.”

I took her hands and gazed into her face. “There is something I must tell you.”

She smiled slightly. “What is it, my love?”

“We must prepare to leave immediately. Our lives are in danger if we stay.”

She looked puzzled. “Why are we in danger?”

“It would take too long to tell you here, while we are under a threat, we must gather what we need and leave immediately. I will have time to explain everything while we travel. You must believe me.”

Her face was troubled, but she said, “I know you to be an honest man, Caleb Dillard, and  so I will do as you say, although it grieves me to leave this place where I have so many happy memories.” She kissed me, arose and immediately began putting our things into a basket.

I gave her my pack. “You may use this as well.”

We continued our preparations for about fifteen minutes, and then heard Caleb stirring. Laurel went in to bring him out to me. She held him at arm’s length as he yawned and stretched. “He has need of another diaper, so be careful.”

My son regarded me dubiously for a moment. I had to remember that I had not seen him for a long time. Then his face relaxed and he held out his arms. I took him and held him tightly. I do not know that there is a feeling more like unto being in heaven than taking a child in our arms. I closed my eyes, enjoying his softness and indeed even the fragrance that arose from him. I cared not from whence it came at that moment. I was holding my boy, and that was all to me.

I stood for a moment like that, and then handed him to his mother. She took him and went off to change him.

I looked around the cabin, seeing it closely, for I did not know if I would ever come back here again. I finished stowing the few possessions I wished to take, and I was ready. Laurel came back out with Caleb and handed him to me. “The airs around him have much improved,” I smiled.

“Yes. ‘Tis amazing what a small square of cloth can do for a child.” She folded her wedding dress and put it in the basket.

I was puzzled. “Will you have need of that?” I asked.

She smiled. “I might decide to marry again.”

I could say nothing. “And who would that be?”

She came over and embraced me. “I would never marry another, even if you passed on. I told you falsely to make you laugh. I am sorry now for doing it, for I see that you are upset. I am taking my dress because it reminds me of our wedding, one of the happiest days of my life.” She looked down at Caleb. “That day he was born is another.”

I relaxed. “I was not upset. I simply did not understand.” I looked around. “Are we ready, then?”

She nodded. “We appear to be.”

As we walked together, me carrying my pack and Laurel’s basket, and she little Caleb it occurred that in taking them with me I was trading one kind of danger for another. The sun set behind a mountain, and we were away, southbound toward who knew what.

 

 

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