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.”
“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.”
“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.