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?”
“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.