Because of the rain and the current, we moved swiftly down the river. I had to hope that Laurel’s captors were still on horseback and not in a boat. We stood more of chance of finding her if they stayed on shore, and they probably stopped for the night. I did not intend to do so, and that gave us a better chance of catching them than if we did stop.
We drifted all night without seeing anything or anyone, and with the dawn, I was growing discouraged. As the sun was coming up I asked Huck, “Do you think they kept going east?”
“Naw. Too many people and too much law. They’re sticking to the river.”
I felt better after he told me that, but was still anxious to find Laurel. As the sun started to come up, Andrew said, “I think I see something on the shore ahead.”
Without saying a word, Finn put the boat over to shore. “Get out,” he said. “If it’s them, we stand a better chance if we’re ashore than if we stayed out here.” We did as he ordered, and I noticed that he pulled a huge pistol out of his pack. He saw me looking at him and held the pistol up. “I call this my Persuader, because it helps people make up their minds.” I was glad he had his pistol since I had left mine where we cached our belongings.
Andrew and I climbed out of the boat, and Finn got out. The three of us pulled it up on the shore. We crept closer to where Andrew had seen something. When we got closer to them, we dropped down and crawled along the ground. After doing that for about a hundred feet, Finn raised his head up. “I see ‘em, and they got Miss Laurel all tied up. Your young ‘un is attached to her with a rope around her wrist and his arm. At least the poor little feller can walk around.”
He watched for a while longer, and then said, “I’m going to get close enough for a shot. Wish I had a rifle, but the pistol will have to do. Wait here until I tell you to come up.”
Andrew and I waited while he went toward the campsite. We couldn’t see much, but we heard two shots. Then we heard someone groaning, the sounds of swearing and horses. Although Finn had not told us to come forward, I had to know what had happened. Andrew and I ran up to where we had heard the sounds, to find Finn lying on the ground, bleeding from his shoulder.
“Finn,” I said. “What happened?”
“Aw, dern it, one of them got the drop on me, but I got him back. Then they left, taking Laurel and Caleb with them. Dang it all, I wish I had had a rifle.”
“Are you badly hurt?”
“Naw, it’s a scratch. I’ll be all right.”
“Let me see it.”
“Blast you, I told you it wasn’t anything.”
I looked at Finn’s shoulder by the light of the campfire Laurel’s captors had left. He was bleeding heavily, and would require the attention of a doctor. “This wound is bad, Finn. We need to get you to a doctor.”
“No! We have to go after those varmints who got your wife and boy!” He was insistent. “Help me to the boat and I’ll…I’ll…”
He tried to stand up, but fell over, lying flat on the ground. He had fainted.
“Andrew, help me get him in the boat. There has to be a settlement with a doctor. In the meantime, tear up anything you can find so I can stop the blood flow and look for some of that whiskey to pour on the wound. We might have to have him drink some of it if he comes around.”
Andrew helped me, and we got Finn into the boat where we poured some whiskey over the wound. I mopped up as much blood as I could, and then folded the cloth. “Here,” I told Andrew. “Put this on the wound and keep pressure on it!”
Andrew began treating the wound while I shoved the boat into the current, jumping in and taking the oars to move us faster.
“Aren’t you afraid of running across them fellers?” Andrew asked.
“No,” I said grimly. “I have Finn’s gun. He’s a civilian, but I belonged to the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment and know how to use a gun. I’d love to meet those scoundrels.”
We traveled for about half an hour when I saw a small settlement on the right bank. We put the boat in to a dock, and I said to Andrew, “Go see if there’s a doctor and if there is, bring him here. Aw, heck, if there isn’t, bring someone to help us.”
“I’ll do it!” he said, and jumped up on the dock. He ran down what looked like a main street. Smart boy, I thought, and then turned to look at Finn. He was still out and the arm was still bleeding. I didn’t like the looks of that, so I tore off some more cloth and used that to replace the bloody rag that we had put on the wound.
Finn stirred and groaned when I did that, but he still didn’t regain consciousness. “C’mon, Finn,” I told him. “Stay with me.” Some would say that I was foolish to talk to an unconscious man, but I believed that somehow he could hear me. I kept talking to him until I saw Andrew coming with an older man carrying a black bag and a couple of other men. He had evidently found a doctor.
“I’m Dr. Wilson,” he said, and turned to the other two. “Get him out and lay him on the dock. I don’t want to treat him in the boat.”
The two men did as he instructed, and Wilson examined the wound. He shook his head. “I don’t like this.” He turned to the men. “We’ll take him to my office.”
As they picked Finn up, he said to me, “How’s this happen?”
“It’s a long story, Doc. I can tell you after you see if you can stabilize him.”
He harrumphed. “He could be a criminal, as far as I know. In fact, you could be one.”
“He’s not and I’m not.”
“Your word, then.”
“It’s all I’ve got. I’m a stranger around here.”
“I guess we’ll have to see.”
The men carried Finn to the doctor’s office with the doctor, Andrew and me following. When we got close to the office, the doctor ran ahead and opened the door. “Right there, to the right, in my surgery.”
They carried him in and laid him on the table. “All right, while I look at him more closely, tell me what happened.”
“My wife, son, Andrew here and I were headed for the Indian territory when three men took my wife and son in the middle of the night. We tried to track them and ran into Finn coming down the river. He offered to help, and we caught up with them. That’s when Finn was shot.”
“Oh. Anyone else shot?”
“One of the men.”
“If he got him bad enough, he’ll have to see a doctor as well.”
“I don’t know how badly he was wounded. What can you do for Finn?”
The doctor wiped his hands. “Not much. I see you’ve already treated the wound. Where’s you learn to do that?”
“In the army.”
“I’m not going to ask you which one. I don’t care, but if you’re in the army, why aren’t you in uniform?”
I decided to be honest. “I got tired of the killing and blood and decided to quit it.”
“So you’re a deserter.”
“You know by admitting that, you could be in a lot of trouble.”
The doctor sighed. “My son was killed at First Manassas. Because of that, and some other things I’ve seen, I’m heartily sick of this war as well. I understand what you’re saying.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank all those young men whose end came before its time.”
“I’m sorry about your son.”
His eyes got a faraway look. “So am I. And so are a lot of parents.” He shook his head. “As I was saying, your friend here doesn’t stand much of a chance. I can keep him here and see what I can do for him, but it’ll cost you.”
“I can pay.” I thought it ironic but also fitting that I would use the coins that Finn gave us to help cure him, if that were possible.
“Good. I’ll keep him here. You do what you want, but I expect you’ll keep trying to find your wife and son.”
“Yessir, I will. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
He frowned. “I don’t think it will be that soon. It’s a big territory and a big river.”
“I have to try.”
“I know.” I went over to Finn. “Finn, we’re going to leave you for a while, but we’ll be back.”
One of the other men said, “You know he can’t hear you. He’s out.”
The doctor smiled. “You’d be surprised what they can hear. I’ve seen it too many times”
I gave the doctor the coins. He whistled when he saw them. “You’ll have some of this coming back to you. I’ll keep an honest account.”
“I know you will, doc. Thank you.”
“Get going. Every minute you stand here talking, they get further and further away.”
Andrew and I shook hands with everyone one and then ran back to the boat, jumping in and pulling for the channel. The day was going to be clear, which would help in our finding them.