Monthly Archives: April 2018

“Diamond Courage,” Part 20

 

Chapter21

Reunion

October, 1862

I made my way along the road, careful to listen for anyone who was coming so that I might hide myself in the brush and bushes that lined the road. I had to be careful, for anyone who would be abroad at this time of night would surely be up to no good, and I wanted no part of that. I walked steadily, judging that it would take me eleven or twelve hours to reach the Widow Frederick’s humble abode, though the thought of it made me believe it was a mansion of Paradise, so did I esteem her kindness and my family’s love.

At the first opportunity, I went into some bushes and changed out of my uniform into the clothes I had taken. Then I was on my way once again. The day was sunny and clear, and indeed I became warm with my walking, so I took off my jacket. At about what I judged to be noon, I had some hardtack that I had put in my pack. It was hard to eat without water or coffee to soften it, but I managed to chew it and swallow, then I looked for a stream to take the taste out of my mouth, for although it had little taste indeed, the sensation I had was unpleasant and I wished to be rid of it. After about thirty minutes I came across a stream which I drank from since it appeared to be fresh and clean. I berated myself for not bringing a canteen, but I knew there would be other streams, the area being flush with them.

I walked on, seeing no one which I was glad of. Along about two o’clock, I knew I was nearing Winchester, so I took to the woods to avoid anyone from the army, my being a deserter once again. I made my way down hills and through small valleys until I came to the place where our cabin once stood. It was indeed a piteous sight to see it reduced to charred logs, and very few of those, the destruction being almost complete. I tried hard not to think of the happy and pleasant times I had spent there, which were many, but such memories overcame me, and I confess I shed some tears. Any man with a heart and tender sensibilities would have done the same, and I make no apology for having done so.

I went through a meadow which I knew led to a path that would take me to the Widow Frederick’s humble cabin, and after following the way for about ten minutes, I came to the clearing where the cabin stood. I hesitated at the edge of the clearing and there saw the most welcome and celestial sight that I have ever beheld. There was my Laurel, crouched over a row of beans, plucking them from their bushes and putting them in a basket. I supposed that the Widow and little Caleb were within the cabin. I stepped out into the sunshine, and, attracted by my movement, Laurel looked up. She drew back at first, not certain who this man was appearing without notice at the edge of the woods, but then as I drew closer, she dropped her basket, scattering the beans on the ground, and ran towards me as I did her. We met there among the rows, embracing, kissing and weeping all at once. After a while of this, I held her at arm’s length. “Let me see you! I have dreamed of this moment so often!”

She looked so beautiful in spite of having worked in the dirt in the hot sun. I felt as if I could look at her for an eternity, and hold on to her forever, but just then, the Widow Frederick came out of her cabin, attracted no doubt by the to do of our greeting. She came over to us.

“Caleb, is that really you? You’re so thin I didn’t recognize you at first. Are they not feeding you in that army?”

“No, m’am, nothing like the food I could get at home, and I bet yours is just as good.”

“Are ye hungry?” she asked.

“Yes, m’am, very.”

“That’s good, because I just fixed a whole mess of limas and have an old hen who’s quit laying so I can slaughter her and fry her up, and with some fried apples, I think that will make a dandy supper.”

“It sure will.”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Laurel, let’s fix your man something to eat?”

“Widow Frederick,” I said. “Is Caleb awake?”

“No, son, he’s still taking his nap. He should wake up in about an hour.”

Of course I wanted to hold my boy, but he needed his afternoon sleep. The three of us walked up to the cabin and went inside, being very careful to keep quiet and to walk softly. I went back to the bed where Caleb lay. He looked like a little cherubium lying there. Laurel had told me about these baby angels and how they were shown in paintings and sculptures. She had seen these when she was at college. After all I had seen, I had begun thinking that I would like to go to college, after the war, of course.

I went back out to where Laurel was standing at a table by the stove, shelling the limas while the Widow was outside wringing the neck of the old hen. I pulled a chair over to her. “Here, sit down.”

She shook her head. “No, thank you. It’s easier to shell these beans if I’m standing up.”

I didn’t understand that, but it was her choice.  I took the chair. “You are a sight for sore eyes,” I told her.

“As are you. How did you come to be able to be here?”

“It’s a long story, but basically Eleanor found where I was with the Union army. She took me to her mansion where she chained me in the basement. I felt so insubstantial by then I must have looked like a ghost with chains upon my feet. Anyone reading my mind would have found confusion and uncertainty as to what she would do next.”

“She is an unkind person.”

Laurel always had a soft way of talking about people, even the horrible cases.

“I would say she is the devil incarnate.”

She looked down. “Caleb, in spite of what she has done to you and our family I don’t believe any human being is pure evil like Satan. Something is driving her to do what she does.”

“What she will do is destroy all of us unless we find a way to stop her. That is why we must leave this area and try to find someplace where she cannot reach us, although judging by the past, that will be extremely difficult to do.”

Laurel sighed. “While it will be uncertain if we leave here for what is unknown, I believe from what you said that it is a certainty that this Eleanor person will continue to seek to harm us. Yes, we must leave. I will go with you wherever God leads us.”

I went over and kissed her. “No one has ever seen such a wife! God truly has given you to me, and I rejoice in that.”

We ate quickly and made preparations for our exodus, for that is what it was. We were fleeing danger as surely as the Children of Israel flew from Pharaoh’s army. By the time we had everything in readiness,we were tired, so we sat by the fire for a while.

“You be careful going into the wilderness,” the Widow said. “There are still Indians out there, and they might capture you and keep you.”

“We’ll watch out for them,” I told her.

“My great-grandmother, along with another woman, was captured by Indians. They took her up somewhere in what is now Ohio, but they managed to free themselves after a while. They determined if they followed the rivers they could make it back home. Unfortunately, the other woman lost her mind and began threatening my great-grandmother, so she left her and continued by herself. It took her six weeks, but she finally made it back. I remember her telling this story many times.”

“That’s some story,” Laurel said. “What happened to the other woman?”

“Someone found her and took her to Pennsylvania. Later on, her husband found her and took her home.”

“They were very lucky, I’d say.” Laurel looked at the fire.

“Yes, and the Lord was with them.” The Widow stood and stretched. “I’m going to bed. You young folks stay up as long as you want to.”

“We’ll come to bed shortly.” Laurel stood and embrace the Widow. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me—for us. Good night.”

We sat up a while longer and then, realized we wanted to make an early start, went off to bed ourselves, not knowing what the future days would bring. I did not sleep much. I saw again what I had been through in the past year, and they frightened me and kept me awake as well as any monstrous apparition.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 19

 

Chapter 20

Encampment

October, 1862

And so, I fell into the rhythms of a winter camp, cutting wood for firewood during the coming cold, making repairs to our cabin, trying to stay warm, amusing ourselves as best we would and drilling, always drilling. Such is a soldier’s life, and always has been I suppose. We had a few days in the month when it was warm enough and dry enough to play baseball, but to tell the truth, my heart was not in it. I pitched one game and did so poorly that Adolphus replaced me in the third inning. “What is wrong with you?” he asked when he came to take the ball from me.

“I am missing my Laurel,” I replied, “And I am afraid that Eleanor will come and take me away yet again.”

“I think you need not fear that so much. I have not reported your return to the colonel, and he rarely visits us. I am not sure that he knows who you are in the first place.”

I cheered up a bit at that. “I thank you for that.”

“It is the least I can do for you. I cannot bring your wife and son here.” He regarded me with great sadness. “Now give me the ball.”

And so I watched that game from the side, not, as I have said, caring about it, although we won. I felt no joy at this, but returned to our cabin and fell asleep. It was in that state that I dreamed of Laurel and Caleb, and when I awoke, resolved once again to leave camp and go to them and see if we might find a place where we would be safe from the army and from Eleanor.

I made my preparations that evening when the others were elsewhere. I still had my civilian clothes, which I put in my pack, along with other necessaries. I would wait until the dead of night and then attempt to avoid the sentries and walk to where Laurel was. In truth, I had never walked as much as in the previous year since we rarely went far. I judged that all that walking made me stronger, so I did not mind it, especially this time since it would bring me to my family.

That evening, a storm blew in with rain but not much wind, giving me the perfect situation to make my escape.  Adolphus came over to me. “Would you join us in a game of cards to draw your mind from your most recent experiences?”

“Thank you, Adolphus, but I am weary from those same experiences and wish to retire early.”

“It is but eight o’clock.”

“My weariness is great, and so I must lie down.”

He regarded me with concern. “Very well. I trust that you are not coming down with some disease.”

“No illness, just fatigue,” I answered and went and lay on my bed in my clothes. If anyone detected me trying to leave, I could say that I fell asleep in my clothes and had a sudden need to visit the latrines. That would do to get me out the door, but I would not know how to take my pack with me in such a way that would not arouse suspicion. I would have to hope that no one was awake when the time came.

The evening progressed slowly as I lay on my cot feigning sleep, listening to the men around me talking and laughing, with an occasional exclamation as one of them drew a good or bad hand in their card game. Finally, about 11, the last of the revelers went to bed, although it was a good half-hour until I heard them snoring, which I took as a sign they were asleep. I impatiently waited another half hour and then, judging that it was safe, eased my pack from the floor beside my cot and tip toed as quietly as I could toward the door. Adolphus’ cot was right there, and I must have done something to wake him, for his eyes opened and he rolled on his side and looked at me. “Where are you going?” he asked me.

I decided to be honest with him, for he was my best friend. I kept my voice down as well. “I am escaping to be with my family.”

He hesitated, and I thought for a moment he was going to raise the alarm. Instead, he smiled and said, “Give Laurel my love. And a hug to little Caleb.”

I relaxed. “I will.” With that, I went out the door into a moonless night. I wish I could say I had planned for that, but in truth I knew not the phase of the moon. I call it Providence once again.

I made for a grove of trees about 200 yards away, thinking that my dark uniform should hide me well. I gained the first gathering of trees, and then it was a simple matter to cross the line and feel a free man.

I was familiar with the way, and so I set out across the hills, my heart light with the idea that soon I would see my family.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 18

 

 

Chapter19

The Basement

September, 1862

We reached Georgetown at about the time to eat, and I expected we would go straight to the dining room and there have our meal. Eleanor, however, had other plans. Arthur greeted us at the door. “Welcome home, Madame. Welcome home, Lieutenant.” He turned to her. “Will you be dining at the usual hour?”

“Thank you, Arthur. I will not be dining just yet. I need you to take Caleb into the basement. I will join you there shortly.”

“Very well, m’am.” He turned to me. “If you will follow me, please sir.”

I was still in my Confederate uniform, and as we started down the stairs, he said, “We shall have to procure another uniform for you to take the place of the one you have on. It would not go well for you if you appeared on the streets of the Capital wearing that.”

“I can only imagine. Thank you, Arthur.”

“‘Tis my service, sir.”

Arthur lit a lantern and led the way. I had never been in the basement before. Its stone walls were whitewashed, and it was mercifully free from the dampness and smell that plague so many cellars and other underground rooms. Arthur put the lamp down. There were a few chests, which I assumed Eleanor used for travel, and some boxes. Otherwise the space was bare except for some manacles attached to chains and bolted into the way. I had a strange feeling that there were to figure into my punishment.

A few minutes later, Eleanor came down the stairs, holding a large key. It looked as if it would fit the manacles.

“Caleb, you have run like a common slave, so I am going to treat you as one. You will be chained here with only bread and water to eat until you promise me on your oath that you will not try to run again. Do I make myself understood?”

“Yes, m’am.” I thought that I would sooner starve than promise not to run again. Well, we would see.

She held out the key to Arthur. “Arthur, would you fasten Caleb to the wall? I am going upstairs for supper, and I shall have the door left open so that you can smell the delicious odors of the wonderful food I am eating. When you have had enough and are ready to swear, please tell Arthur, and he will set you free. I hope you decide to do this soon. I am not certain how long you will live on the meager portions of bread I give you. Do you have anything to say?”

I looked at her, and thought how she had separated me from my family and threatened them and would not leave us alone, and something snapped in me. “Yes, I do have something to say, Eleanor.  You and your money and your spying and your society and your wicked ways can all go to hell, where they belong. And that is all I will say to you.”

She began laughing.

“Why are you laughing?”

“I am laughing because you are in no position to make threats. I hold all the power, and I will use it to the extent that I find necessary. Remember that, Caleb.” She came over and tried to kiss me. I twisted away.

“The day will come when you will long for that kiss to relieve your misery.” She turned to Arthur. “Come, Arthur. Let us go up stairs. There you may serve me, and then you may eat your own meal, which is nearly as delicious and fragrant as mine, and almost as good to make a man without food willing to do anything I ask.” She smiled at me archly, and then she and Arthur went upstairs.

And so I was left there all night. I tried various means to make myself more comfortable, to little avail. I must have slept some, but what I had of that was brief and poor. I awoke, and a small window told me when the dawn was coming, but I could not say that was a relief to me, for it meant that Eleanor would be coming down the stairs. Sure enough, I heard steps only a few minutes after I had these thoughts.

I expected to see her slipper appear first on the stairs, so I was surprised to witness a boot on the steps. They did not appear to be riding boots such as Eleanor would wear, so unless she had taken to wearing men’s clothing (which I doubted), the boots had to belong to a man. The answer was soon revealed, as Arthur came down the stairs, carrying a carpet bag and bearing a key that I thought I recognized as the one Eleanor used to fasten my manacles. “Arthur! What are you doing here?”

He put his finger to his lips and whispered, “We must be very quiet. I am here to help you make your escape.” He put the key into the lock and I was free. I rubbed my wrists.

“How do you propose to do that?”

He listened for a moment, and then said, “There is a wagon at the back door, in the alley, which had made a delivery to the house. I will go with you, and we will go to the train station. There I have arranged for someone to go with you as close to Leesburg as may be done. That individual will escort you through the lines, and then you will be on your own again.”

“How can I ever thank you?”

He looked at me. “Knowing you are free is thanks enough for me. For a while now I have felt that Mrs. Perry is not right mentally, and her treatment of you was uncalled for and repugnant to the laws of men and of heaven. Here, change into your lieutenant’s uniform.

I quickly put on the uniform, and he handed me the carpet bag. “This bag contains some food and a Confederate uniform you will have to put on once you are past the lines. We must move quickly and use the back stairs to get to the wagon.”

We went upstairs, listening for any signs of life from the rest of the house, and finally reached the back door. Arthur took me by both shoulders. “I wish you the best of luck. Were it not for my aged and infirm mother, I would have quit this job long ago. Mrs. Perry is the most despicable kind of woman, taking advantage and visiting cruelties at every opportunity upon people who cannot defend themselves. I wish I were going with you.”

I shook his hand. “I hope we shall meet again. You are a good man, Arthur.”

“Thank you. Now go!”

I stepped out into the alley to see the wagon as promised, and driven by an elderly Negro. He said nothing, but indicated that I should hide myself in the straw that lay piled in the back. Trusting myself entirely to his mercies, I climbed into the back and covered myself as best I could, hoping the job I did would be adequate.

My driver clucked softly to the horse and we rolled off. We had not gone far, however, when the wagon stopped and I heard the Negro talking with someone. I could not make out what they were saying, but could ascertain that the other speaker was a man. I feared it as a policeman or soldier, but if Eleanor had discovered my absence, would I not be able to hear her cries of alarm? I heard nothing, and so took heart. Then someone began disturbing the pile of hay. Maybe it was a soldier after all, trying to find out where I was. I lay still and hoped whoever it was would not detect me and go away. Then I felt a hand grasp my ankle. I reflexively kicked out, and heard a soft voice whisper, “Caleb, do not kick me again. It is Albert, and I have decided to go with you.”

“How glad I am to hear your voice, Albert.” I reached down, pulled him further up in the bed, and helped him cover himself with straw. “Welcome to my hiding place.”

“I am right pleased to be here.” With that, we fell into silence, waiting for our driver to release us from our secret place. A few minutes later, the wagon stopped, and we heard our driver talking with someone. I surmised we were about to cross the Potomac on the Chain Bridge, which would take us into Arlington. Apparently the sentry decided that an aged Negro could not be carrying anything of interest to him, so we soon were on our way once again.

We rattled along for about half an hour, and the wagon stopped again. “Yous can come out now,” our driver told us, and we poked our heads up from the straw. He stopped the wagon, and I climbed out, went behind a tree, and changed into my Federal uniform. I would have to “shop” for civilian clothes the way I had done a few times before when we got near the lines. I didn’t like doing that, but I would have liked meeting a miné ball even less.

With my clothes changed, I returned to the wagon and started to climb on top of the hay in the back when Arthur objected. “Lieutenant, you should ride on the seat. A person of my station should travel back here.”

“Arthur, I don’t care about stations and other social conventions. I insist you ride in front.”

Arthur thought for a moment, and then said, “If you insist, sir.”

“Good. And don’t call me ‘sir’ any more. I call you ‘Arthur,’ so you should call me ‘Caleb.’”

Arthur started to say something, but didn’t, and settled himself on top of the hay. I climbed onto the seat and turned back to him. “There were times when I counted myself fortunate to ride on any part of a wagon. It all gets where it’s going at the same time.” I turned back to our driver. “Do you have a name, sir?”

“Yassuh, and you don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ My name is Elijah.”

“Well, I’m very pleased to meet you.” I put out my hand for him to shake. He hesitated, and it occurred to me that a white person had never wanted to shake his hand before. Then he shook my hand. “Please to meet you, sir.”

“And I, you Elijah. And please call me ‘Caleb,’ for that’s my name.”

Elijah shook his head, as if all this was too much to figure out, but he said, “All right, Mister Caleb.”

“Caleb” is of course my first name, but I did not bother correcting Elijah. He had had enough for one day.

We drove on until we came to a cabin that looked like it deserted, apparently in great haste. “Pull over, Elijah. I need to see if I can find some clothes here.”

“I’ll go with you,” Arthur said.

“I stays with the wagon,” Elijah told us. “You never know who might come along and decide he would want a wagon with a driver.” Elijah was exactly right about that. In both armies, I had heard reports of wagons being stolen with their cargo.

Arthur and I went up to the cabin and pushed open the door. “Anyone home?” I called. Hearing no answer, I went in, followed by Arthur. We looked around. The inside was bare except for a primitive bed, a broken chair and a homemade chest. I went over to the chest and opened it, and found inside some men’s clothes. I held a pair of pants and shirt that looked like they would fit me. As we were going out, Arthur saw a hat hanging on a peg. He handed it to me.

“This completes your shopping trip, Caleb. And since these are spoils of war, you needn’t worry about being accused of stealing.”

I smiled. I had not been accused of stealing when I took other clothes. Of course, I paid when I could, so it wasn’t stealing in the first place. We left the cabin and resumed our journey, bound for Union lines.

We came upon them late that afternoon. Before anyone could recognize me, I had Elijah stop the wagon and I climbed out. “I’ll leave you here,” I told the other two, “and change in those bushes over there. Give me ten minutes and then come over and take the uniform.”

“All right si—I mean, Caleb,” Arthur said. He came down from his seat and shook my hand. “I wish you well, Caleb. Do let us hear from you.”

“Where will you be?”

“I think an officer would like someone as a valet who has been trained as a butler, don’t you?”

“Yes, I agree.”

Elijah joined us. “Elijah, thank you for your part. Without you, I’d still be in that basement chained to the wall.”

He bowed. “I know what it means to be free,” he said. “I gained mine only a year ago. And I know what Mrs. Perry is like. I tangled with her several times.”

I shook Elijah’s hand. “God be with you both.”

“And with you,” they chorused, and I smiled at their response, which sounded like something I might hear in a church. I went over into the bushes, quickly changed my clothes, and left my uniform under a bush. I took one last look at my companions. They had been so good to me. I hoped I could repay them some way. I don’t know how that would happen, but I would certainly try to make it do so. With that, I started to make my way toward the lines.

I had to find a route that avoided sentries, of course, and to do that, I found a patch of briars and struggled through them. I gained some small cuts as a result, but counted those as a small price to pay for my freedom and return to my comrades. I came to a small hill, which I skirted, staying to the tree line, which I suppose offered the best cover. The sounds of the camp receded gradually, so I felt confident that I could make my way through more open areas, still being alert for any stray soldier who might be wandering the woods on a pleasant day.

I met none, and walked on, bound for our encampment at Leesburg. I felt free and confident, knowing I had escaped a horrible captivity.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 17

 

Chapter18

The Same Game

September, 1862

The next morning, Adolphus told me the game would be played in three days, and that if I liked, he would let me practice my pitching with him. He had already spoken with some of the other players, and they agreed that I would be welcome. In fact, he told me that the pitchers for the team were not very good, so I would be a good addition to the team.

We went out behind the row of cabins, and he paced off the distance from the pitcher’s place to home plate. He had brought a ball, one of which I had not seen since our time in the prison, and threw it to me. “Let me see what you have,” he called, and I threw the first pitch in.

“Very good,” he said. “Now throw me a high one.”

I did, and he caught it and threw it back. “Now a low one.”

I threw this one too low, and it skipped between his feet and came to rest a short distance away.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I’ll do better next time.”

He threw the ball back to me, saying, “I am certain you will.”

I then threw a pitch that he caught at the level of his kneecaps. “That’s it! Bravo!”

I waved my hand by way of thanks and caught the return throw.”

“Now one in the middle.” I did what he asked, and we continued in like fashion for about half an hour.”

“I must cease,” Adolphus said. “I have not done this for months, and my arm is growing tired.”

I agreed, for in truth I had not played for over a year, and my arm was beginning to ache. I would need to practice some more so that would no longer be true.

We walked together back to our cabin. “Are you of the belief that I am capable of pitching against strikers?”

“I believe you will be in three days when we play our first game, but we must do what we have done today every day.”

“I believe so as well. I also believe it is time for a nap.”

“I am for you, my friend.”

With that we went into our cabin, lay on our cots, and soon fell asleep.

***

With each day, my pitching improved, and the morning of the game, Adolphus declared me ready. We were to play a team drawn from the Seventeenth Virginia Infantry, but no one could tell us how skilled they were at the game. We would have to rely on Providence and each other for a victory.

We were to meet at two o’clock, and so we made our way to the field at 1:30. Some from the other team were there, and in truth, they were about the largest men I had ever seen. “We stand no chance,” I whispered to Adolphus. “We are as the spies in scriptures who saw that the people of the land of Canaan were prodigious in size.”

“Perhaps so,” he said, “But remember that those small Israelites brought down the giants, as the boy David also did with Goliath.”

“I wish I could use a slingshot against them,” I muttered.

Our team fanned out and started throwing some balls back and forth to ready ourselves for the game. Other troops began to trickle in to watch the game. About the time we were ready to start, it looked to me as if the whole camp had come to watch us, although I knew that could not be true. I would say that very few of our compatriots did not come to watch us play.

A lieutenant had agreed to serve as umpire, and I must confess that I thought it out of place to see him in his uniform and not the top hat and tails I was accustomed to see an umpire in. Nonetheless, he would serve the same function, top hat and tails or no. As time drew near, he called the captains to home plate.  Adolphus listened intently as the lieutenant explained the rules, although he most likely knew more about them than our umpire that day did. That over, we went into the field, being designated the home team since Adolphus had come up with the idea to have this game. I nervously threw some pitches to Travis Hopkins, who, you will recall, was our behind. The rest of the team was made up of the same fellows I was with in prison. I count it a wonder that none of them had been killed or badly injured or had deserted. We were fortunate indeed.

I would say that the first striker was a large man, but they all were, so I will recall him by his distinguishing feature, which was a flaming red beard. Since I am given to naming objects and people by their most salient characteristic, I mentally call him “Red.” I’m sure you will agree that that is appropriate. Red waved his bat and looked at me menacingly, why I do not know, since we were in the same army. Perhaps he was excited to play and wanted to show something to his team. What that something is, I do not know.

I pitched him a low ball that was barely off the ground, but he managed to reach down and strike it a good stroke so that the ball flew towards David Andrews in right field. David ran over and grasped the ball before it hit the earth. Red slammed down his bat so hard that it broke. I would say he was disappointed.

Next man at the plate was a thin specimen, as tall as he was thin, so that he looked as if he might break apart at any moment. For a name for him, I hit upon the term, “Twig,” since he resembled one. I thought that his fellow might not be able to hit the ball very hard,  just judging by his appearance, but he proved me wrong. After he had swung at two balls and missed both, I became overconfident and, seeking to take him by surprise, I threw him a ball as slowly as I could, thinking he could not hit it as far as a fast one.

The ball reminded me of one of the rockets that we use when he hit it. It flew so high none of us could see it for a moment, and when Travis did spot it, he yelled to Otto Frantz, who was in centerfield, “Otto! Otto! To your right! To your right!”

Otto either did not hear him or understand him, for he stayed right where he was. The ball landed with a mighty bounce, and, having some forward motion as well, skittered across the ground in a way that put me in mind of seeing a frightened rabbit when it is the object of the hunt. It rolled over a slight hill, with Otto in hot pursuit. Alas, he could not reached it in time, and Twig touched all the bases and scored for his team. This was not a propitious beginning, so I resolved to bear down harder. But then something happened that made me forget about the game.

A familiar black carriage was coming towards us. I stared at it, frozen. As I did not make the next pitch, Adolphus called from his position on the sidelines, “Caleb! Pitch the ball, else the umpire should grow impatient with us.”

I did not move.

Adolphus came out to where I was. “What is wrong with you?” We were joined by the umpire.

“Is there something preventing you from continuing the game?” the lieutenant asked.

I pointed at the carriage. “That is.”

The umpire looked around. “‘Tis but an ordinary carriage.”

“Aye, that it is. But it is not the carriage that confounds me so, but what lies in it?”

At that moment, Adolphus understood the cause of my hesitation. “Is it Eleanor who is within the carriage?”

“I fear it is.”

“Give me the ball, then. I shall become the pitcher.”

I gave him the ball, not caring any longer about the game. I would not finish it because who knows what would happen from this point? I walked like a man in a trance toward the carriage.

The door opened, and Eleanor leaned out. “Caleb, you prodigal son. Do come in and sit with me.”

She spoke calmly and even pleasantly, but I feared her demeanor would change once the door shut and we left. Reluctantly I climbed inside and sat down. The driver closed the door and went to climb up to his seat.

Eleanor’s face became a mask of anger and hatred. She thrust it in mine and hissed “Did you really think you could escape me for long? I shall have to think of some way to punish you, and you may be certain it will not be pleasant.”

My head dropped, but she lifted it harshly with her hand. “Don’t you dare look down when I’m talking to you! After all the good I have done for you, you have treated me badly! Soon we shall be back at my mansion, and then the punishment will begin.” She let my head drop and sat back, satisfied that she had frightened me properly and all that remained was to administer the whipping or hanging or whatever she proposed to make me see the error of my ways.

“By what right do you come to a soldier’s camp and take one of them away?” I asked.

She sniffed. “By the right of the wealth that I hold. It opens many doors. It was a simple matter to communicate with your commanding office and obtain his permission to take you into my custody.” She sat back, satisfied with her explanation. God help me, I thought, with women such as this and an evil system that permits them to do as they will.

And so it was that we started on our journey to Georgetown.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 16

 

 

Chapter 17

News from Home

September, 1862

We camped near Leesburg, and since we would be there during the winter, started building cabins to house ourselves. I found it good to be doing a work that resulted in something of use, so I fell to it, so much so that the others had to urge me not to go at it so hard. I ignored them, and soon we had a small abode that would house eight of us in relative comfort.

It was about a month later that a letter arrived from Laurel. Before, I would have taken it back to the cabin to read it in private, but I was so eager to see what she had to stay that I tore it open right then and started reading:

August 15, 1862

My dearest husband and my love,

How I have missed you since we parted. I barely had the time to become used to being with you, my dear one, when I was torn asunder from your strong presence.

We arrived near to our cabin safely, but I needed some things in town, so we went there first. Corporal Johnson, who is a gallant and polite young man, also needed to apprise the sheriff of my situation, so while he did that, I gathered my necessaries. With that taken care of, he left me, and Caleb and I made our way to our cabin, where I received the shock of my life. Our cabin was gone, burned to the ground, and nailed to a tree was a note that read, “You were not here and so my men could not find you, but they will continue looking for you until they do. Count on it.” The note was signed “Eleanor.”  I was so frightened I did not know what to do, so I sat down and thought a while, and then it occurred to me that I could go to the Widow Frederick’s place. She only recently came into that state, and I knew that she would take me in, being a fine Christian lady. That she did, and we are for now safe and sheltered, but I fear what will come. If only you were here to take care of us, I  would be perfectly happy.

I hear that our army is moving in this direction, and there will be a battle soon if all goes as I have heard. I pray earnestly for your safety, and I pray that we will be reunited soon.

I am your loving wife,

Laurel

Adolphus, of course, was there for mail call, but did not receive a letter. He looked over curiously. “Good news or bad?”

“Both,” I said. “Laurel got back safely, but it appears that Eleanor had our cabin burned and delivered more threats against our lives.”

“I am sorry to hear that. It is difficult to know what to do against one who is so filled with malice.”

“Yes. I wish I did know what to do.”

We went back to our cabin, where I immediately started a letter to Laurel.

September 3, 1862

My dearest Laurel,

I received your letter of the 15th ultimo, and was right glad to have it. I am beside myself with the thought of what you endured upon your return. I fear that our nemesis will never stop threatening us until she has been taken care of, if you follow my meaning. I am glad that you feel safe in your present situation with the sheriff aware of your dilemma, and I thank God for good women like the Widow Frederick. May He bless her richly for what she has done.

We are in camp, in a good situation as we are housed in cabins, awaiting our next action, which will likely not occur until next spring, it being difficult to fight in cold weather. I shall ask for leave to come see you at the first opportunity.

I miss you with every fiber of my being and I also long for the day when we can be together. Kiss our son for me. I miss him also.

I am your loving husband,

Caleb

I finished my letter and took it to the tent that served as a post office to mail it. As I turned from the table where the letters were collected, I saw David Andrews, whom I had not seen since I left for Eleanor’s spy mission. I hadn’t seen him before around camp, and assumed that he was dead or otherwise out of the war. It was good to see him.

“David!” I greeted him. “It’s Caleb Dillard! I thought something had happened to you!”

He did a double take. “It is you, Caleb! I thought I’d never see you again. You just disappeared one day and no one knew where you went. What have you been doing?”

“I’ll tell you, but not now. It will take a long time, and I know we’ll have plenty of that in the next few months. Right now I have to get back and let Adolphus know you’re here.”

He waved a hand. “Adolphus knows I’m here. We’re in the same regiment, remember?”

“Of course.”

He looked at me intently. “Have you been playing any baseball?”

“David, the situations I have been in provide neither the time nor the space in which to play a game.”

“Well, we’ve set up a diamond and play teams from other regiments. We have a game tomorrow. Do you want to play?”

“I’d like that, but I’d best come early to see if I still can play. It has been months since I touched a ball.”

“Very good. I’ll see you there. Adolphus knows where the field is.”

I went back to the cabin where Adolphus sat at a little table he told me he had made. “I did not know the regiment was playing baseball.”

He looked amused. “Most of the regiments are.”

“It caught on quickly, then.”

“That it did. We have a game tomorrow if you want to play.”

“I saw David Andrews at the post office. He told me about it.”

“Ah! Good, then. We’ll go.”

“I’ll need to arrive early to practice. I told David I hadn’t touched a ball in months.”

“We can do that. Right now, let’s go practice on some food.”

“I am for you, sir,” I said, and we both laughed.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 15

 

Chapter 16

Front Line

August, 1862

The train did come, of course, and all too soon I found myself back with my original outfit. It turned out that the Peninsula campaign was over when I was speaking with Colonel Bryon. He did not have that information, and so the train took us up by Strasburg and through Manassas Gap. I wasn’t that far from where I was captured in the early days of the war. It seemed like so long ago.

I joined up with my old outfit near Front Royal. They came marching through, and I recognized Adolphus among them. I hurried over to him. “Adolphus! It’s me! Caleb!”

He set down his pack and embraced me, then held me at arm’s length. “It’s good to see you, my boy—” He called me ‘my boy’ even though we were about the same age—“but I’m glad you said who you were, otherwise I would have thought I was seeing a ghost. What have you been up to since I saw you at Front Royal?”

“There’s a lot to tell, so I’ll talk to you while we march along. Have you heard where we’re headed?”

“It’s more of the same. Jackson wants to seize the rail junction at Manassas, so it looks like we’re going to fight in about the same place we did just over a year ago.”

Because I had wanted to keep myself safe, I had very little experience with combat. I would have to tell Adolphus.

“Do you remember when we shared that knoll earlier this year?”

He nodded.

“I have to tell you that I never engaged in combat, but stayed hidden there until the battle was over.”

“Did you ever fight?”

I shook my head. “I was at first battle of the Seven Days, and did the same thing. Then I was taken to Washington where I was held against my will, but I escaped and made my way to Winchester, where I took my wife and son and attempted to run, but we were caught by some Confederate cavalry and I was sent to join up with our outfit.”

Adolphus shook his head. “With all that, it’s a wonder you know who you are. What happened to your family?”

“They were sent back home with an escort. I of course have heard nothing about how they fared. I will have to trust them to God.”

“Hmm. That is certainly the best plan. I will pray for all of you.”

“Thank you, Adolphus.”

We marched along until about six, when we stopped to eat. I of course ate with Adolphus, who fended off those who were curious about the new recruit. He kept saying, “This is my cousin Caleb,” and that seemed to satisfy them. I told him in detail about Eleanor and her evil scheming. He sat back when I was done. “You couldn’t make something like that up, so I have to believe you. Not that I wouldn’t in any case, for you are an extraordinarily honest fellow.”

Adolphus admired honesty among all the virtues, so I was surprised when he said I was his cousin. I suppose that could be called a small and necessary lie. Adolphus knew more about moral systems than I did, and so I had to think that he considered the matter carefully before he acted.

Word filtered down that we were going to camp overnight in our present location, and I surmised that meant we would be in the thick of it the next day. I hoped I could sleep.

***

The next morning, I awoke groggy, on account of not being able to sleep at all. The air was filled with groans from men uncomfortable with lying on the group, talk, and an occasional scream as some poor soul was lucky enough to sleep but unfortunate in having a nightmare. We dressed ourselves and had a quick and not very good breakfast of hardtack and coffee. There was not time for more. Our officers told us we would move out in half and hour from the time we arose.  And so, breakfast done, we marched off against the enemy.

I remember the day as one of confusion, with smoke from cannons obscuring our view, the screams of wounded men and horses, the continuous discharge of our weapons, and the unearthly screeching that is called the Rebel Yell. Although intended to confound the enemy, it was enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck. I wish I could recall if I loaded my rifle. I know I fired it, but I do not think I struck anyone. At least I hoped not. As I have said, I was sick of war and wished not to do anyone any harm, or to have anything like that visited upon myself. To those who would judge me for this, I say that you have not experience the confusion, noise, emotion and horror of men inflicting wounds and death on each other with implements of destruction. I do not need your judgement. I have God to judge me, and He is just and merciful. I will throw myself on his goodness when that time comes.

And so I went through the battlefield in a kind of daze and found myself at the end of the day watching my fellow soldiers drive the Yankees from the field. I felt no joy that the battled was over and that we had won, only relief that it was finally over. But I knew that if I continued in this way, there would be other and perhaps more terrible battles, although it was hard to see how there could be a worse case.

I sat down, unable to move for a while, but then bestirred myself and went about discerning who was wounded and who was dead. For the wounded, I signaled the litter bearers making the round of the field. For the dead, I closed their eyes and commended them to God. There was nothing else I could do for them, and I left them lying to wait for the coming of the burial detail. It was a hopeless feeling to think that their wives and children and  friends and comrades in arms would no longer see their animated faces or hear them laugh or marvel at the stories they told or share meals and holidays with them on this earth.

Adolphus found me doing these things. “Caleb! Come away! There are others who can do what you’re doing.”

“I must be of service.”

“No, you must rest. We are going back to Leesburg, and you will need your strength for that journey.”

“Back to Leesburg? Why not pursue the Federals?”

He chuckled and put his hand on my shoulder. “My boy, you have been away from the fight for too long. Since we were captured, the Yankees have heavily fortified the capital. Not all the armies of the South could overcome them where they are. As to why we are going back to Leesburg, the word is that Lee is planning an invasion of the North, most likely next year when we can manage it.”

“I see. Alphonso, do you find all this hard, nearly impossible to bear? Were it not for you and our fellows, I would desert in a minute.”

His face grew sober. “Yes, what we are a part of wracks me to the deepest parts of my soul, and I will tell you more if you swear before God you will not tell any living soul.”

“I so swear, before God.”

“I have been studying Scripture, particularly the Gospels, and I am no longer convinced that owning human being is what a Christian should be doing.”

I caught my breath. My family was too poor to have slaves, and independent enough to do our own work, with all that entailed, including not owing anything to anyone, slave or free. “I am with you on that.”

“Then what are we doing here?”

“Do you forget the sovereignty of states? Is that not important?”

Alphonso gestured to the destruction that lay all around  us. “Is it worth this? I think not. There are surely political solutions to this madness.”

“What would you have us do?”

“Continue to do what we have sworn to do, and look for every opportunity to influence those who are able to bring this conflict to an end.”

I scratched my head. “You have come a mighty distance since first we met.”

“Yes, and we all have a long way to go. Right now, let’s go a lesser distance and start for Leesburg.”

He helped me up, and together we started walking.

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“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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“Diamond Courage,” Part 13

 

Chapter 13

Encounters and Other Situations

August, 1862

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.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 12

Chapter12

A Kind of Freedom

August, 1862

We had not gone far when Laurel turned to me. “You said you would tell me of the cause of the peril we find ourselves in when we left the cabin. We are now some distance away, so who or what is the author of our danger?”

I drew a deep breath and told her about Eleanor and her plans and my part in them. Laurel listened quietly, and then bade me stop. She faced me and suddenly embraced me with such force that I nearly fell over backward. “Oh, my dear, dear, Caleb. You have been so much and yet you have remained faithful to me. Was there ever such a man as this? Witness to it, ye heavens, that it may be written in the stars for all to see.”

We stood there a while in each other’s arms, until I gently took myself out of our embrace. “I would recall to you that I am but a man, but a fortunate one to be so esteemed by the woman I loved. We set out again on our way.

I had no clear plan other than to travel southward down the Valley until we hit upon a fortuitous place wherein we might dwell. I did not know what that might be, or where it lay, but determined to rely on Providence for our care.

We stopped for the night after about three hours of travel, and I built a small fire and situated it so as not to draw attention. Laurel had brought some potatoes, and I drew water from a small stream nearby and all three of us feasted on the product of Laurel’s labors. And once again, it was far better than the fine food served in Eleanor’s mansion, because I was free and with those I loved.

Laurel made pallets on the forest floor, and lay Caleb on one. He promptly went to sleep, not doubt fatigued by the journey and the changes this day had brought him. We reclined and talked a while, and then fell into each other’s arms and took our pleasure with each other there under the trees and stars. I then turned over and fell into a deep and mercifully dreamless sleep.

***

I was awakened the next morning by the smell of coffee and opened my eyes to see Laurel bending over our little fire.

I rose from my pallet and went over to her. “Good morning,” I said, kissed her. She kissed me back.

“Good morning. Are you hungry?”

“Is Jeff David the President of the Confederacy?”

“That last I heard,” she said, and we both laughed.

“How did you get the coffee? It’s so hard to come by in these parts.”

“I kept some by for a special occasion. And if having your back isn’t special,  I don’t know what it.”

She took a small frying pan from her basket and broke a couple of eggs into it and set it on the fire, along with four strips of bacon. Soon the food was hot, and she removed it from the fire and put it on some wooden plates she had brought along.

“What else do you have in that basket?” I asked her.

“Many and mysterious things, which you shall soon see,” she replied.

We fell to devouring our food, hungry from the business of the previous afternoon and our long walk. Caleb began to stir on his pallet. Laurel went over to him.

“What are you going to feed him?” I asked.

“I have some johnnycakes and dried beef that he’ll like. He eats them right up.”

“He’d make a good soldier, then,” I said, and we both laughed, although my experience with the army showed me I never wanted my son to be a soldier.

We finished our breakfast and Caleb his food, and I stood up. “We’re better get going,” I said.

“Where are we going” Laurel wanted to know.

“I do not know. I will know the place when I get there.”

“You sound like someone from the Bible.”

“My name is from the Bible. Perhaps we shall come to dwell in the Promised Land.”

She looked at me with her face shining. “Anywhere with you is my Eden. You are my love.”

I was so overwhelmed with my love for her that I could not speak. I embraced her for a long time, and then we broke apart. “I could stay like that forever, but we must be on our way.”

“We will stay together forever, some day.”

“Well I know.”

We that, we packed up and started down the path, she and Caleb leading, I behind them. “Why do you not walk with us?” she asked.

“It is the better to see around us and discover any threats to our well-being.”

“That makes a great deal of sense.” She laughed. “I shall lead our merry little band on, then.”

We walked for about four hours and came across a clearing, more of a meadow, actually, and stopped.

“This would be a good place to make our lunch a picnic,” Laurel murmured.

“Perhaps this is the Eden of which you spoke.”

“If you will recall, my paradise is with you, but this is indeed a fair and welcoming place. We shall eat here.”

I put my pack and Laurel her basket on the ground, and she set Caleb down to crawl and explore while she fixed lunch. We ate, and afterwards, we lay back and in the full sunlight, fell asleep. I did not wonder that I should be so fatigued, since I had walked from Georgetown that day before, and Laurel was now doubt tired from her preparations for our journey. And so we were insensible for some time.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 11

 

Chapter 11

Southbound

August, 1862

I decided not to walk through our little town since that would not only occasion comment, making it more likely that Eleanor would find me (although I am sure she had a good idea as to where I had gone), but would also delay my arrival. As I skirted through the woods, A thought occurred to me. Laurel would want to embrace me (as I would wish the same), but I could not let her since I had poison ivy. And so what had been an asset had become a liability.

Preoccupied with these disappointing thoughts, I did not pay attention to my surroundings until I found myself on the path that led directly to our cabin. All I had to do was climb one more hill, and the clearing with our house in it lay at the bottom of the incline. I hesitated, took a deep breath, and crested the rise. There I saw—O sweetest of visions—Laurel hoeing in the garden. I was coming from the south, so the sun was behind me, and I saw her raise her hand to shade her eyes. She could not tell at first who I was, and tensed in case I was one who might pose a threat to her. Finally I came close enough for her to tell who I was, and she dropped her hoe and let out a shriek. “Caleb! Is that you? Oh, my darling, fly to me! Fly, fly, fly!”

Wishing to obey my wife, I commenced running, and before I could say a word, she was in my arms, smothering me with kisses and weeping with joy. I held her for about a minute, and then she pulled back from me. “Let me look at you! You’re so thin! Have you not been eating?”

“My rations have been poor and few,” I told her, thinking that although the repasts as Elanor’s were sumptuous, I could not find much of an appetite, considering the circumstances. So, yes, I had lost weight.

Laurel moved me around so she could see my face better. “What is this upon your face?”

“It is from a patch of poison ivy I stumbled into and then used it so none would come near me and per chance recognize me. It was to the good then; here and now it has been an ill thing. I fear I might have infected you.”

“I don’t care! If I do contract it, we’ll have it together! I can abide anything as long as I’m with you! Come in and let me give you something to eat. But first, you must see Caleb. He has grown so much lately.”

Inside the cabin was exactly as I remembered it: neat and tidy, and everything in its place. We went over to the bed where Caleb lay sleeping. Gazing upon his small features, I thought he favored Laurel more than he did me, which is generally the case that first sons resemble their mothers and second songs their fathers. I felt tears come into my eyes as I looked at my boy, and Laurel embraced me. “It’s all right. I still do that when I watch him sleeping. He is so precious.” With that, she wiped away a tear.

We went into the living area and sat down. “Let me get you something to put on that rash,” Laurel said. “I have some oatmeal that will do the trick.”

“Oatmeal?”

“Yes. It dries up the affected areas. My grandmother told me about it, God rest her soul.”

I sat there looking around , thinking how best to tell Laurel that we must leave, and quickly. I had to make her understand that if we stayed there our lives would be in danger. Once I explained that, I knew she would want to vanish as much as I did.

She came back with a bowl of oatmeal and started applying it to my face and arms with an old towel. “That feels better already,” I told her.

“Yes. Keep this on for half an hour and then I’ll apply more. While that is doing it’s work, I will fix you something to eat. What would you like?”

“Anything you would fix will taste like manna to me, it has been so long since I have had some of your cooking.”

“I’m out of manna, but I do have some pork, tomatoes and potatoes. I trust that will do.”

“That sounds heavenly. And while you’re fixing the food, I’ll take a little nap.”

“That sounds wonderful. Sleep, my love. You are safe here.”

I felt a pang go through me as she said that. She did not know about Eleanor and so did not understand our situation. I would tell her after I ate.

***

I was awakened by the smell of the food Laurel held as she stood over me. “Come to the table,” she said. “You had a good nap.”

“Yes, I was totally insensible. You could have carried me off and I would not have known it.”

She laughed. “I would like to carry you off, if you are cognizant of my meaning.”

Once again I felt something grab in my stomach as she said that. We would have no time for anything except gathering what we would take with us. We could not even stay the night, so perilous was our situation.

I ate quickly while Laurel watched me, her eyes shining. She seemed more beautiful than when I left her, and I knew this was not some fantasy resulting from our long separation. I pushed my plate aside. “That was excellent! You are such a wonderful cook!”

She dropped her eyes modestly. “You are kind, but what I prepared was made with love. Caleb will awake soon. Perhaps we will have time to make love before he does.”

I took her hands and gazed into her face. “There is something I must tell you.”

She smiled slightly. “What is it, my love?”

“We must prepare to leave immediately. Our lives are in danger if we stay.”

She looked puzzled. “Why are we in danger?”

“It would take too long to tell you here, while we are under a threat, we must gather what we need and leave immediately. I will have time to explain everything while we travel. You must believe me.”

Her face was troubled, but she said, “I know you to be an honest man, Caleb Dillard, and  so I will do as you say, although it grieves me to leave this place where I have so many happy memories.” She kissed me, arose and immediately began putting our things into a basket.

I gave her my pack. “You may use this as well.”

We continued our preparations for about fifteen minutes, and then heard Caleb stirring. Laurel went in to bring him out to me. She held him at arm’s length as he yawned and stretched. “He has need of another diaper, so be careful.”

My son regarded me dubiously for a moment. I had to remember that I had not seen him for a long time. Then his face relaxed and he held out his arms. I took him and held him tightly. I do not know that there is a feeling more like unto being in heaven than taking a child in our arms. I closed my eyes, enjoying his softness and indeed even the fragrance that arose from him. I cared not from whence it came at that moment. I was holding my boy, and that was all to me.

I stood for a moment like that, and then handed him to his mother. She took him and went off to change him.

I looked around the cabin, seeing it closely, for I did not know if I would ever come back here again. I finished stowing the few possessions I wished to take, and I was ready. Laurel came back out with Caleb and handed him to me. “The airs around him have much improved,” I smiled.

“Yes. ‘Tis amazing what a small square of cloth can do for a child.” She folded her wedding dress and put it in the basket.

I was puzzled. “Will you have need of that?” I asked.

She smiled. “I might decide to marry again.”

I could say nothing. “And who would that be?”

She came over and embraced me. “I would never marry another, even if you passed on. I told you falsely to make you laugh. I am sorry now for doing it, for I see that you are upset. I am taking my dress because it reminds me of our wedding, one of the happiest days of my life.” She looked down at Caleb. “That day he was born is another.”

I relaxed. “I was not upset. I simply did not understand.” I looked around. “Are we ready, then?”

She nodded. “We appear to be.”

As we walked together, me carrying my pack and Laurel’s basket, and she little Caleb it occurred that in taking them with me I was trading one kind of danger for another. The sun set behind a mountain, and we were away, southbound toward who knew what.

 

 

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