Encounters and Other Situations
Something awakened me, and it took me a moment to realize that it was the jingle of a horse’s bridle. I rolled over and looked in the direction of the sound and saw the biggest man I had ever seen, mounted on an equally large gray horse, holding an enormous rifle and riding toward us. I could tell from his face that his intentions toward us were not benevolent, and so I stood up.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he shouted.
“My name is Caleb and we are peaceful wayfarers passing through.”
“And who is that with you?”
I thought quickly. I would not tell him Laurel was my wife since that might cause him to harm me and make off with her. I remembered that Isaac and Abraham had passed their wives off as their sisters in the Bible to avoid harm, so I might as well do likewise. I stood up. “This woman is my sister,” I said.
“And who is the little urchin?”
“He is her son. Her husband was killed at Manassas.” Thanks to Eleanor, I had gotten good at quick fabrication. I looked at the man approaching us. No doubt he was a bounty hunter for the Confederates. He pursued, captured and brought back deserters so they could be put in prison, all for money. Such men were despised by troops on both sides, there being little honorable about their trade. I did not know his intentions for us, but I trusted that they were evil.
I stood us. “What do you want of us? We have no money.”
“But you do have a sister, and she is a pretty little thing.”
My heart sank. By not saying Laurel was my wife, I might have made matters worse.
He rode up to us. “You—” he gestured toward Rachel—“get up behind me and make it fast.”
Rachel stood as well. “No.”
“Did you say ‘no’?”
“You heard me.”
“You do what I say or I will shoot your brother or uncle or husband or whatever he is.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
He leaned down and smiled, revealed his broken and rotten teeth. “You’re impudent. I like that in a woman. Climb up.”
“I told you ‘no.’”
He cocked the rifle. “You have until the count of three. One—two—thr—.”
I could scarcely follow what happened next, it was so fast and so unexpected. Rachel dove for her basket, pulled out a larger revolver, sat up, and from that position, shot our visitor in the forehead. His skull fairly exploded, and his body slid off his horse.
She dropped the gun, sobbing, and fell on the ground while Caleb wailed. I went over to her and caught her in my arms.
“I never dreamed it would be so awful. What a horrible thing I’ve done. God forgive me!”
“You had to do it. It was either him or us, and I shudder to think what would have happened if you hadn’t pulled the trigger.”
She continued to sob and moan, and I held her for a while and then went over to see about Caleb, who by that time was whimpering. The noise of the gun frightened him, but I soothed him and soon he was quiet. I took him over and gave him to Laurel.
“Look—because of what you did we have a horse to ride. I cannot help but think that was providential.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she wailed. “My soul is stained dark. I am a murderer!”
“Hush,” I said. “Any judge in the land would say it was self-defense. He threatened us, and you defended our family. Think no more of it.”
“I should have a hard time doing that.” She was beginning to calm down.
“I will help you. Come, let’s gather our things and get on the horse.”
And so we left the bounty hunter where he lay, and I climbed up on the horse, taking Caleb first, and then lifting Laurel up into the saddle. The horse was so big that he carried the three of us without any problem. I turned his head southward, and we were on our way once again.