We made our voyage to Cuba, and Ramsey had the leg irons taken off before we reached the port. I think he saw that if I left the ship, I would have nowhere to go, being unfamiliar with Havana and no way to return to Shreveport except on his ship. We delivered bales of cotton and took on large crates which I assumed contained firearms from England. This process took most of a day, and then the crew, including me, had liberty the next day until the dinner hour, after which we would start on our way back.
Most of the crew, except for the few necessary to provide security for our cargo, went ashore to do what sailors do when they are in port: drink, fight, and involve themselves in what could be dangerous or shady activities. For that reason, I stayed on board even though I could have gone with them.
I sat on a rail looking over the harbor, which had all manner of ships, including some small fishing boats. The fishermen were setting out to make their day’s catch, and snatches of Spanish floated up to me. On the whole, the day was pleasant with a clear blue sky and a light breeze. As I sat there musing about what had happened to me, I felt someone come up. It was Captain Ramsey. He sat beside me and started a conversation. “You said you would tell me more of your story when we had the opportunity. I assume now is as good a time as any.”
He took off his cap and studied my face. “Begin at the beginning, then.”
“I became an orphan from the age of sixteen, and I married my wife Laurel shortly before I joined the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment at the beginning of the war. As I told you, I saw action for about ten minutes before I was captured at Fairfax Station in Northern Virginia. We were sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington.”
He nodded. He knew about half of what I had told him.
“While I was there, the Union chaplain told us about baseball, and we formed a team. We were dreadful at first, but soon improved so that we were able to defeat some of the better Union teams and even a couple of professional ones.”
Ramsey looked thoughtful. “I have heard of this game, but never actually witnessed it. You will have to tell me more at a later time.”
“I will do that. I was in prison for several months when I was recruited to acts as a spy by a wealthy war widow who owned factories which supplied uniforms for the North. She had secret sympathies for the South, and devised a plan whereby I would pass as her brother, a Union soldier whom I resembled greatly, and thereby gain information about Union plans.”
“You do not seem to be the sort to spy.”
“In truth, I am not.”
“Why did you do it, then, other than it released you from prison?”
“That is a good question. The widow, whose name is Eleanor, threatened my family, which was back at my home.”
“I see. But you somehow got away from spying.”
“Yes. Through various escapes and subterfuges, I was able to return home and take my family first to the west and then south. It was on that leg of our journey that Laurel and my son were taken, as I believe, to Shreveport, where I have been trying to find them. It was at this point I was taken to the ship, and you know the rest from here.”
“Yes. And you truly believe that your wife and son are in Shreveport?”
“I am convinced, and I need only to return to the church to see what information the minister’s wife has gained, if any. I pray that my Laurel and little Caleb are there, so that we might be reunited.”
“We will be back within ten days. You will have another three-day leave to look for your wife. But I must warn you, if you are not back when the leave is up, I will not be so lenient.”
“I understand.” I did not tell the captain that if I found Laurel and Caleb, we would continue on our journey and suffer whatever consequences we might. I have said that I cannot live without Laurel, and being without her for those months was difficult enough.
We finished our business in Cuba and set sail for Shreveport. One evening, I went out on deck and looked in the direction that I took was leading us to Louisiana. I raised my eyes and quietly said, “I’m coming for you, Laurel. You may count on me.”
As I left for my leave in Shreveport, I was met at the dock by Andrew. I was surprised to see him. “Andrew! It is good to see you, but I thought you would be at the hotel.”
“I would be, but I have something I must tell you which is not good news.”
My heart sank. “Is it related to Laurel and Caleb?”
“I fear that it is. No one told her that you were here looking for her, and she left suddenly without a word to anyone, taking Caleb with her. No one knows where she is gone.”
I sank to my knees. “This is horrible. How could such a thing happen?”
“I only know as much as I have told you. I don’t know what we will do now.”
“We will continue looking for her, of course. My best guess is that she would try to go toward the Tennessee mountains, believing that I would be there. We talked of going there to get away from the war.”
“I see. Is that where you were headed when I met you?”
“Initially, yes. We found we could not get far enough south at the time to then make our way to Tennessee, so we went further west. Grant has driven to the south, so the way is now clear for us to make our way eastward. Laurel might have been aware of this opening and decided to go where we had talked about.”
“I see. When do you want to leave?”
“As soon as possible.”
“What about the navy?”
“What of it? Nothing is more important to me than finding Laurel. I will risk all to be with her again.”
We went back to the hotel, packed our items and checked out. Then it was back to walking, eastward this time, to the place where I hoped I would find my love.