After about an hour, we came upon what must have been the Garrett place. We stopped in a stand of trees about a hundred yards distant from the house to see what was going on. Foster was right—the farm, if you could call it that, was a sorry, no count looking place that I’d be ashamed to own. The house was unpainted, and the front door hung by one hinge. Some of the windows were broken out, and what must have once been a garden looked untended, even in the winter. Three horses stood tied to a tree, trying without much success to find some grass to eat. The horses looked gaunt and pitiful, as if they’d been beaten. The Garretts seem to have no respect for anyone or anything.
I turned to Andrew. “We’re going to have to get closer so you can use your pistol,” I whispered. “I’m OK from here with the rifle, but we’ll need both of us firing to deal with these scoundrels.”
Andrew nodded, and we crawled on our bellies to get closer to the house. We couldn’t see anyone stirring, which was good. We could catch them unawares. As we came upon the horses, one of them nickered, and I froze, thinking that might awaken one of the Garretts. We still weren’t within the range of the pistol, so, after hesitating for a few moments, we continued crawling.
We were just about in range when one of the captors came out of the doorway. “Quick!” I told Andrew, “Move ahead about ten yards!” He scuffled his way forward, and the figure ahead of us called out, “Who’s out there?”
“Wait until at least one more comes out before you start firing,” I told Andrew.
The Garrett peered into the darkness. “I’m getting my rifle!” he exclaimed. “You’d better get gone if you know what’s good for you!”
He disappeared into the house and gave us a chance to come even closer. “Andrew! Move over that way about twenty yards so they can’t shoot both of us at once. Fire when you see any of them. I’ll watch for the others!”
Andrews had just finished moving over when two of the Garretts came through the door holding rifles. Andrew dropped one with a single shot. The boy could shoot. I took care of the other one with the rifle. We jumped up and ran for the house. We went through the door, only to find a back door wide open and no one inside. The remaining brother had taken Laurel and Caleb and gone out. The sound of a horse’s hooves told us that they were getting away. I prayed that they would use a single horse, leaving the other two for us to ride.
We ran out the door and jumped on the horses. I could hear that they were headed downriver, so we went that way. We had ridden for fifteen minutes when I called for a halt. “Let’s stop and listen and see if we hear anything,” I told Andrew.
We waited, listening for a couple of minutes and heard nothing. They were either stopped as well, hiding, or they had gotten far ahead of us. Our horses might have been slower. I didn’t know.
“Let’s keep going for a while and stop again to see if we can hear anything.” With that, we set out again, my heart bursting with the prospect of being with my family again.
We rode hard for several minutes and then stopped again. We heard nothing. I felt sick.
“Looks like we lost them,” I told Andrew. “We might as well go back to the boat and keep going down the river.” With heavy hearts, we went back to the town and stopped by the telegraph office. Simpson was still there. He took one look at us and asked, “What happened?”
“We shot two of the Garretts. I don’t know if they’re dead or live. We left them there, but the third one got away with Laurel and my son.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. The sheriff will get involved when he sobers up. If he sobers up.”
I nodded. “Yes, I remember he’s their uncle. Of course, I’m not going so stay around—I’ll continue to go downriver and keep at it until I find Laurel.”
Simpson put out his hand. “I wish you well, Mr. Dillard. I hope you find your family.”
“Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Here’s your rifle.”
He shook his head. “As long as you’re after a Garrett, you’ll need it. Someone needed to do what you did today for a long, long time.”
I looked at him. “Does everyone around here feel the way you do about the Garrets?”
He smiled ruefully. “Them and their whole infernal family. Their uncle shot and killed my brother-in-law.”
“That’s terrible! Why?”
Simpson shrugged. “Hard to tell. He was drunk, as usual and Robert crossed the street in front of him and he shot him. Or maybe it was just out of meanness. Anyhow, Robert left a wife and two girls. Without him, they had to move out of their house and move in with us.”
“At least Emily had someone to live with. I had to imagine what would have happened if she didn’t.”
“Isn’t there anything that can be done about the sheriff?”
Simpson sighed. “There’s a war on, and the military and judges are busy with that. Maybe after the war, whenever that comes. We’ll just have to hang on until then.”
I put out my hand and Simpson shook it. “Now it’s my turn to wish you well, Mr. Simpson. God bless you all.”
“Thank you, Mr.Dillard. Now you’d better get going if you want to find your wife and son.”
“All right. We’ll try to get back through here and see how things are going.”
Andrew and I rode back to the boat and climbed in, leaving the horses tied to a tree. I hoped whoever found them would take care of them, which the Garretts had not done. I took the first turn rowing, and it occurred that rowing about was like our situation. Most of the time, I couldn’t see what lay ahead, and when I turned my head to look, I never knew what I would find. And so we continued down the river.