“Diamond Courage,” Part 14

 

Chapter 14

Visitors

August, 1862

We bypassed Strasburg, where I had nearly ended up in jail what seemed so long ago, and by that evening, I judged that we were near the town of Woodstock, but not knowing what we might find there, I took us off the road and into the woods where we would spend the night. We made camp, and Laurel fixed our food. We ate, and tired from what we had endured, fell asleep before the sun had set.

I was awakened by rain on my face, so I stirred myself and gathered the oil cloth that I had in my pack and improvised a shelter for us. Laurel joined me just as I was finishing, with Caleb in her arms.

“This will make travel more difficult,” I told her, “but I know we can overcome a little rain.”

“Indeed we shall.” She had not said much since the shooting, which I understood. Horrible sights occupy the mind and leave little room for words.

We had cold biscuits and pork for breakfast, there being no way I could see to build a fire. Then we mounted our horse and set out again. The rain fell more heavily until we had to stop and shelter under a tree and hope that it would slacken soon. I turned to Laurel. “What are your feelings about what happened yesterday?”

She shuddered. “It seems like a nightmare to me, but one that came true.”

I held her. “I will be by your side, not matter what happens.”

She looked up at me. “That I believe.”

We were forced to stay under the tree for an hour, and then resumed our way. Neither of us spoke, thinking, I am sure of recent events and wondering what Providence had in store for us. The Bible said that the Lord will not give us more than we can bear, but I have to admit that I am not sure about that statement. I know I could not bear Laurel’s loss, even if that meant to others that my faith was lacking.

Our horse plodded along (and I say “our” horse as if we purchased him—I suspect that the law would deem him a stolen horse. If it came to that, I would plead necessity, know that there was more than a little opportunity mixed in) until it was time to stop and eat. The rain had moved on, meaning Laurel could fix our food. While she did that, I took Caleb with me, and we led the horse to a small nearby stream and watered him and then let him graze on the grass in the clearing where we had stopped. Caleb liked to pet his nose, and the boy squealed with glee each time he felt its softness.

Something occurred to me as we walked back to where Laurel was. “We need a name for our horse. Such a large animal deserves more of a name than ‘horse.’”

She straightened up from the pot she was stirring. “That is a wonderful idea. What do you want to call him?”

“I thought you might have a better idea since you have more education than I do.”

“Let me think a moment.” Her eyes took on the look that she has when she is thinking seriously about it. Finally she said, “I think we should call him Aethon.”

“Who was Aethon?”

“It was a name applied to reddish-brown horses, like ours.”

“Did it come from mythology?”

“Indeed it did.”

“Laurel, you amaze me with your memory and ability to associate one thing with another. Aethon it is, then.”

We ate our supper while Aethon grazed nearby. I tied him to a nearby tree so he would not run away, although he seemed to readily accept us as his new masters. We went to sleep early, again, still not recovered from having to leave our cabin and the difficulties of our journey.

I was awakened early by the sounds of men’s voices. “Quick!” I called to Laurel. “We must hide ourselves in the woods!”

She started to pack our things. “No! No! Leave them! Hurry!” We had to leave Aethon at his tether.

We left Aethon at his tether and ran into the woods, from where we watched to see a Confederate cavalry patrol ride into the clearing. They stopped at our fire, dismounted, and began examining our belongings. The captain leading the group stooped and held his hands over the fire. “Fire’s still hot!” he called. “They’re somewhere close. Fan out and look for them!”

The troopers spread out in every direction, while we tried to burrow underneath the leaves, although they scarcely covered us. It did not take long for a young corporal to come across us. He held his revolver out. “Stand up!” he shouted. “And don’t try anything! I’ll shoot you if you try to run away!”

We stood with our hands up. “We’re civilians,” I told him, “On our way to see her cousins.”

“Save it for the captain! Now, move!” He herded us back over to our campsite where the captain stood.

“I’m Captain Reynolds,” he said. “What is your name?”

“Caleb Dillard. And this is my wife Laurel and my son, also named Caleb.”

He nodded to Laurel. “What are you doing out of uniform, Caleb Dillard?”

“I’m not in the military.”

“Don’t play me for a fool, Dillard. With the war on, we need every able-bodied man we can get. What is your outfit?”

I knew it was no use to try to continue to fool him. “I am at present without one. I am looking for one to join.”

He looked skeptical. “I’m going to take you back to our headquarters. They have ways of finding out where you belong. If you deserted, you know you’ll be put in prison.”

“I didn’t desert.”

He smirked.

“That remains to be seen.” He turned to the corporal who found us. “Withers, take these people to their horse and see that they get on it. And make sure they don’t run away.”

The young man saluted. “Yessir! I will!” Then he turned to us. “Come on y’all. Let’s go.”

We walked over to where Aethon was grazing. I helped Laurel up, gave her Caleb to hold and swung up onto the horse myself. Withers mounted his horse. “I’ll ride behind you. Follow the others. And remember I’m armed.”

How could I forget a gun that size? I thought, and urged Aethon forward. I followed a small trooper on an equally small horse. That animal looks like a big dog, I thought, and then we were into the woods, following a trail.

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