Deeper and Deeper
I wouldn’t have known that the month had changed had not Sean looked at an almanac and told me. “Yessir,” he said, “It’s February and we’re in for some cold weather.” It had been warmer than usual in January, and I wondered what we would do to keep warm. The skins weren’t much help in really cold weather.
He fixed breakfast and we ate. Andrew still have not stirred. I went over to him and felt his forehead. He was burning up. Sean came over and took one look at him. “The wound’s infected. He won’t be doing any traveling.”
“I have to find my wife.”
“You’ll do it without him, then.”
“Would you take care of him. I can pay you. I don’t have it with me, but I have some waiting upriver.”
Sean thought for a while and then said, “Well, OK. You’re in about as desperate a strait as a man can be in, so I’ll keep him. Try to hurry up and get back, though. Having to feed him will ruin me low pretty quick.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fitzpatrick.”
“I thought we settled that. It’s ‘Sean’ to you.”
“Thank you, Sean.”
I went over to where Andrew lay. I didn’t know if he could hear me or not, but I said, “Andrew, I’m going to look for Laurel and Caleb. Mr. Fitzpatrick here will take care of you until I get back, but don’t worry. I’ll come back for you and bring them with me. It’s been good having you on our trip, and I look forward to continuing it with you. Heal quickly, and try not to eat too much.”
He stirred as I spoke those last words, and I took that as a sign that somehow he heard and understood what I was saying. I turned and walked out the door to the boat, got in, and started rowing downriver again. I wish I were as confident as I was when I spoke those words to Andrew. I was beginning to have the tiniest doubt that I would never find my family, and if that happened, I didn’t know what I would do.
It was a gray morning, and the weather matched my mood. And so I rowed on.
Two hours later, tired, cold and wet, I tied up at a dock that led to the main street of a small town. I not only wanted to get in out of the weather: I needed to buy some flour. I should say I needed to trade something for some flour, for as I have told you, I had no money. I stepped out onto the dock and stopped at the first business I came to, which just happened to be a general store. Maybe my luck was turning. I went in, and a woman about 40 years old greeted me. “Good afternoon, young fellow. What can I do for you?”
“I need some flour, but I’ll have to trade for it. I left my money upstream.”
She looked interested. “What do you have to trade?”
I pulled out my pocket knife. “This—”
She looked at it over her glasses. “Got anything else?”
“I got a whole rowboat of things. What would you be interested in?”
“Something I can sell. At a profit to myself, of course. Say, what are you doing on the river in a rowboat in weather like this?”
I hesitated, and then decided I could trust her. “I’m trying to find my wife and son. Some desperado took them, and headed south, so I’m trying to track him so I can bring them back.”
Her hand flew to her mouth. “How terrible! Look, a man in your circumstance doesn’t need to worry about paying for flour. How much do you want?”
Maybe my fortune had turned after all. “I could use about two pounds.”
She went over to a huge barrel and measured out the amount into a cloth bag. “Here you go,” she said, handing me the bag.
“Thank you m’am. I’ll find a way to pay for it when I come back through here.”
She fluttered her hands. “Don’t worry about that. A man’s family is the most important thing he has, and if I can do something to help you find them, I consider it my Christian duty.”
“I’m much obliged. I’ll come by when I come back.”
“Well, I know you will. And go with God.”
I went out the door and to my boat and jumped in, thinking that with the exception of the Garretts, who I did not consider to be like other people in the area, everyone I had met on the river was kind, from Huck to the lady I had just left. Without their help, I would not have been able to pursue Laurel, and who knows what I would have done without them. I would have lost her forever, and that was something I did not even want to think about.
The current was fast enough that I could drift and steer with one of the oars so I could catch up with Garrett, if he were still running by the river. I found myself wondering what lay in that direction, but whatever it was, I knew it would be a horrible situation for Laurel. I could tell that from what I had seen of the Garretts already. And so I drifted, glad to not have to row for a change, and watched the shores as I went by.
I drifted all day without seeing a soul and, as darkness fell, pulled over to the bank for the night. As I have mentioned before, there was no sense in traveling at night, even with a lantern. I would be risking too much if I did that.
I couldn’t see any sign of human habitation, so I tied the boat up and made my way to a stand of trees that looked like it would be a good place to camp for the night. I was able to carry what I would need for the night with one trip. I set up a blanket I found on the boat as a kind of tent, made a fire, and heated some pork, which tasted good, I was so hungry from my travels. I didn’t take the time to make flat bread with the flour I had gotten earlier in the day, but I would do that in the morning. Finn had some potatoes which I baked in the coals, so all in all, I had a good meal.
After I ate, I lay on my back on some pine boughs I found and looked at the moon and stars in the clear sky. I wondered if Laurel were looking at the same sky, and had a strong feeling that she was. “I’m coming for you, my love,” I whispered and, tired from the day, I closed my eyes and soon fell asleep.