“Diamond Courage,” Part 33

 

Chapter 34

A Long Way Down

January,1863

Andrew and I didn’t say much for a while. I think we were both thinking about what had happened and wondering what would come up next. The river was quiet for a long time, and then we came upon a large steamboat moored to a dock in some small town.

“Let’s put in. The way the steamboat is facing, it’s come up river. Maybe someone saw something.”

“That sounds good to me,” Andrew said. And so we put over and tied up at the dock, not far from where the steamboat stood. We got out, walked down the dock and came upon a deckhand coiling rope.

“Say, did you happen to see a man traveling on the shore with a woman and small child on your way up here?”

The deckhand frowned. “No, I just came up on deck shortly before we got here. George might have seen something, thought. Hey! George!” he yelled to another deckhand across the way.

“What is it?”

“Did you see a man with a woman and small child? They were on the shore.”

“Yeah, I saw something like that?”

“How long ago?” I called out.

“About an hour. They were traveling fast.”

“Thank you!” Andrew and I got back into the boat and pulled into the channel. With the speed of the current and some hard rowing, we could catch up with them.

We traveled for two hours, taking turns at the oars. I was rowing while Andrew watched ahead. We came around a curve, and he whispered, “I think I see them.”

I turned around to see a man on a horse with a woman and child, but the horse was walking. Garrett must have worn it out, and thought he could safely walk the horse. “Let’s put over to the shore,” I whispered back.

We put in to the shore and tied up to a tree. I thought the sound of the river might cover up any noise we made, but we tried to be quiet nonetheless. I took the rifle Simpson had given me and Jimmy my pistol and we set out on the bank.

We were able to get within range in a couple of minutes. We stopped where a tree had fallen, thinking we could use that for cover.

“I think we’re in range for the pistol,” I whispered. “I’ll call out and tell Laurel to duck, and when Garrett turns sideways, take your best shot. I’ll do the same. Are you ready?”

“You bet.”

I took a deep breath and then called out, “Laurel, duck. Garrett, over here!”

Garrett instinctively turned toward the sound, and I saw Laurel lean over the horse’s back, shielding Caleb. Andrew and I fired at the same time, but I could tell we missed. Garrett spurred the horse, and the three of them galloped off.

“Back to the boat!” I shouted, as Garrett turned around and shot at us. I heard Andrew cry out and I looked over to see that he had been shot in the arm. I went over to where he had fallen. “Are you bad hurt?” I asked.

“I don’t think so, but it hurts. It hurts a lot.”

I looked at his wound, and it looked like something I could treat. I tore off the tail of my shirt and used it to wrap Andrew’s arm. “C’mon, let’s get into the boat. There’s some whiskey left that I can pour on the wound.”

“What good does that do?”

“Keeps it from getting infected. I don’t know why. Doctors in the army use it for that, and to lessen the pain from surgery, although they can’t take care of all of it.”

“I think I’ll drink some.”

“Not a bad idea.”

I got him into the boat and poured some whiskey on his wound, and covered it with some cotton strips I found. They were about as clean as anything. I could see the bullet went straight through his arm, which was good since I wouldn’t have to try to dig it out. All I would have had would have been my knife, and it was none too clean.

I then gave him the bottle, and he took a big swig.

“Whew! That ought to do it!” I thought he’d take a sip after his experience along the trail.

I shoved us off and started rowing hard. We had to catch up with them.

A few minutes later, I turned back from looking to see where we were going to find Andrew dead asleep. Well, I won’t bother him, I thought. It’s probably good for him to rest.

I pulled steadily, but then some heavy rain showers moved in, and I was forced to find shelter along the river bank. Since I wouldn’t see much, I didn’t want to risk being run over by a bigger boat, which was almost everything else on the river. I solaced myself with the thought that the rain would slow Garrett down as well, so we were about even. I just prayed the rain wouldn’t last long.

I nosed the boat into the bank and tied it up to a tree. I covered Andrew up as best I could and then went to look for shelter. Moving down the river, I came upon a small house, a shack, really up in some woods. I knocked on the door.

I heard a dog barking, and someone trying to quiet it, and then the door opened. There stood the shortest man I had ever seen. He couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall. His head was covered with curly black hair and his face was wizened. He looked like something out of a fairy tale, and for a moment I wondered if I were in another world. Laurel used to read me fairy tales which had descriptions of some of the creatures who looked very much like this person.

He peered at me with bright blue eyes. “Who comes knocking at my door during such an awful storm? What are ye doing out in it?”

“Someone has taken my wife, and I’m trying to find her,” I started.

“Well, I don’t have her. It’s just me and Daisy here.”

“I know you don’t. She’s somewhere further down the river. I was hoping we could come out of the storm.”

“‘We?’ There’s more than one of you?”

“Yes. My friend has been shot and I need a place for a while to take care of him. It would just be overnight, if you would let us do it.”

“I don’t know about having someone in my house who was involved in a shooting?”

“He’s a young boy, and he’ll be much better off if you’ll let us stay with you for a while.”

“Well…well, all right. But be warned I have a big club if you try anything.”

I didn’t mention that we had guns. “Thank you, sir. I’ll go get my friend.”

I went back to the boat and roused Andrew. He was shivering, and I didn’t like the looks of him. I had found a place for us just in time. “Come on, Andrew, I have a place we can stay in overnight.”

I got his arm around my shoulder and half-carried him to the house. The little man opened the door and we went in. He indicated a cot where I could put Andrew, and he looked him over after he lay down. “This one’s been shot! What were you doing, robbing a bank?”

Either he hadn’t been paying attention when I told him about Andrew or he was shocked to see his bloody bandage.

“No, sir, we were trying to get my wife and son back, and the man who was taking her shot Andrew.”

The man went over and got some water in a tin cup from the pump that stood by a sink. He gave it to Andrew, who drank greedily. I guess he was pretty dry, since we hadn’t stopped to look for water we could drink for a while. Andrew lay back down.

“What are your names?” my host asked.

“I’m Caleb and you heard me say he was Andrew.”

He nodded. “I’m Sean. You didn’t say you were trying to find your boy at first.”

“We are.”

His eyes grew misty. “I had a wife and son. Indian got ‘em, and except for Daisy, I’ve been alone these past five years. I don’t get many visitors, to tell the truth. I was just about toeat. Would you like something?”

“Certainly. I don’t know Andrew will wake up in time to eat with us.”

“That’s all right—it would mean more for us!” He laughed uproariously at this, and set about frying some meat and potatoes that he had ready. In a few minutes, it was done, and we sat down at his rough table. It looked like he had made it himself.

“So, what are you doing out here where your family can be exposed to all sorts of things?”

“We were looking to get away from the war.”

“I don’t blame you. I want no part of it myself, and so far I haven’t been bothered.”

We ate in silence for a moment. “What are your plans?” Sean asked.

“Well, keep going down the river until I find my wife.”

Sean frowned. “Grant’s troops are heading that way. If you can’t beat them, you’ll have to go east and try to make your way to Shreveport. If I was trying to get away with someone, that’s what I would do.”

“I want to try to find her before Grant gets there.”

“Yes, I know you do, but I don’t think you will. There’s a lot of territory to cover, and you’d not be traveling very fast unless you can afford a steamboat. From what I’ve seen, you can’t, so follow my advice.”

I sat there awhile, thinking. “Thank you for your ideas on this, Mr. Sean. You seem to understand why I want to do what I’m going to.”

He laughed, and I was startled. I thought I had said nothing numerous.

“Sean’s my first name, Caleb, or is that your last name? My last name is Fitzpatrick.”

“Oh. My last name is Dillard.”

He smiled. “Pleased to meet you, sir, even under these circumstances.”

We finished eating, and Sean showed me to a corncob mattress in the corner. “You can sleep here. Andrew’s got the cot, and you probably don’t want to be sharin’ a bed with me. I’m going to bed right now, but I warn you, I get up early.”

“That’s all right. I’m going to turn in myself. And I want to get an early start tomorrow, provided Andrew is better.”

“All right. Good-night, then.”

I bade him good-night and crawled off to sleep on the mattress. I lay awake for a while, though, seeing gunshots and wounds before my eyes until I drifted off to sleep

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