I rowed as hard as I could for as long as I could. When I stopped to rest, Andrew said, “Do you want me to do that?”
“Do you know how to row?”
“It would take me longer to explain it than it does for me to rest. I’ll show you when we have time. It’s not hard.”
After I had rested awhile, I went at it again, and had to stop sooner than the first time. As we drifted along, I said, “I’ll show you how to row. I can’t keep up this by myself.”
Andrew and I exchanged placed. He took the oar handles.
“All right. You’ve been watching me for a while, so you should have some idea of how it’s done. Put both oars in then pull back. When you lift the oars for another stroke, rotate the handles so that the blade goes in flat to the water. Rotate again to bring the blades perpendicular to the water. Got it?”
He nodded and pulled through two strokes, concentrating hard.
“Oh—one other thing: look around every few strokes so you see where you’re going and you don’t run into anything.”
“This is hard.”
“It’ll get easier the more you do it.”
Ten minutes later, he had gotten into the rhythm of it, and was pulling strongly. Since he was younger than I, I figured he could go longer. After an hour, I asked him, “Want me to take it for a while?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m fine for now.” He hesitated. “Do you think Finn’s going to make it?”
“That’s a shame. He was so good to us.”
“Yes, I hate to think of it.”
“How will you know if he dies?”
“I don’t know. We’ll find out somehow, though.”
Half an hour later, we came upon a town and pulled in to the bank. “Maybe someone here saw the men who took Laurel and Caleb,” I said. “Let’s go into town.”
This settlement was larger than the one where we left Finn, and had a telegraph office. There might have been one at the other town, but I didn’t see it. I figured we would go to the office since that’s where people gathered from all over.
We went two blocks down and found the office. The telegrapher looked up as we came in. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Caleb Dillard, and this is my nephew Andrew. We were traveling west, and some men took my wife and son. I wanted to know if anyone has seen three men with a woman and a boy about two years old around here.”
“I’m Roger Simpson. Can’t say that anyone around here had seen anything like that. Tell you what, though, that sounds like something the Garrett boys would do.”
“Who are the Garrett boys?”
“They’re three brothers who are always up to no good. They haven’t killed anyone yet, but they’ve broken a bunch of laws. Thing is, they’re hard to pin down, so they haven’t been convicted of anything. They’re the type who would take a man’s wife and boy.”
“Are they from around here?”
“They have a farm, if you can call it that, to the west of here, about five miles. But don’t get any ideas about going out there. They’re a dangerous bunch.”
“What about the sheriff?
Simpson snorted. “He’s their uncle, and drunk most of the time. You won’t get any help from him.”
“Well, thank you for your help,” I said, and started to leave.
“Mister,” the telegrapher called, “you said your name was Dillard, didn’t you?”
“I have a message that came in for you. Here it is.”
He held out a telegram to me, and I read,
FINN DEAD STOP ADVISE AS TO DISPOSITiON OF BODY STOP NICHOLSON MD
I turned to Andrew. “Finn’s dead. And the doctor wanted to know what to do with the body, but I’m not going back until we find Laurel.”
The Simpson spoke up. “You can send him a telegram.”
I frowned. “I don’t have any money.”
He pulled out a sheet of paper. “A man in your state shouldn’t have to worry about money. This one’s on me.”
“What do you want to say?”
I dictated, “Please bury Finn and arrange for suitable tombstone. Will settle up on my return. Dillard.”
I handed the sheet to the telegrapher. “I’m obliged to you.”
“Glad to do what I can. Now, remember what I said about not going out to the Garrett place.”
I turned to go when Simpson called me back. He reached underneath the counter and pulled out a Springfield rifle. “Here,” he said. “You’ll need this more than I will.”
I gave him a puzzled look. “How’d you know what I was going to do?”
“I could tell by the look in your eyes that nothing was going to stop you from getting your wife and boy back.”
“I am doubly grateful to you, sir.”
Simpson’s eyes clouded over. “My son died of diphtheria last year. I know what it’s like to miss a boy like that. You have a chance to find yours. Take it and go, and God be with you.”
I felt myself tear up, and I turned and started walking quickly down the street. Andrew caught up with me.
“Wow! That was really something what that man did.”
“Yes, it was.”
“So we’re headed out of town?”
“After we go back and get Finn’s pistol. You know how to use a gun?”
“Yessir, my daddy taught me. I’m a good shot.”
“You’re going to need to be, what we’re going to do. If the Garrets are there, which I pray they are.”
We got the pistol and set off at a trot for the Garrett place, not know exactly what we’d find. I never do, I thought. I just hope this turns out well.