“Caleb!” Andrew called. “Over here! I think this is a pass!”
We were deep in the mountains that ran along the North Carolina-Tennessee border, and after struggling up one too many mountains, we decided to look for passes, even if that would take longer. We might even have been in North Carolina at that point—there was no way to tell, and we hadn’t seen anyone for two days at a small settlement where the general store owner told us that someone who sounded like they might have been Laurel and Caleb had been through three days earlier. I was frustrated that we did not seem to be catching up with them, and so we pushed even harder, traveling from the earliest first light and keeping on until it was absolutely too dark to see. I cursed myself for not buying a lantern when I had the opportunity. We tried burning tree limbs, but they didn’t last long and we spent still more time trying to find another one that w could burn.
I followed the sound of Andrew’s voice and looked up to where he stood. “Come on!” he shouted. “This is it!” I struggled up a rise and saw that, yes, a pass lay before us. It made sense to me that Laurel would have had to pass the same way, and I had renewed hope we would see her and little Caleb soon.
For the next several hours, we followed the pass until it divided. We stopped there to talk about which way we should go.
“I favor the one to the right,” Andrew said. “That one leads south, and it would take her to a warmer area.”
“I must disagree with you,” I told him. “With the exertion and warmth generated by walking, she would wish for a colder zone.”
“We do not know that she is walking. From the speed of her travel, she must be riding a horse.”
I thought for a while. “You make a good point. South it is, then.”
We turned and followed the pass south, which also led downward, making it easier on ourselves. After a couple of hours, the pass opened into a beautiful valley surrounded by some of the highest mountains we had seen. We stopped again. “I have a feeling that she is somewhere in this valley,” I said.
“I agree,” Andrew returned. “The question, of course, is where?”
“There are only certain ways she can go with a horse. We will have to look for trails and other signs.”
“And so we shall. I’ll lead on!”
We went on our way, and after about an hour, it began to rain so heavily I could hardly see the trail in front of me. “We’d best stop and get under some kind of shelter,” I told Andrew. “This is really bad.”
We got under a huge pine tree. “Do you think it will stop soon?” Andrew asked.
“We have no way of telling. Let’s wait and see if it at least lets up.”
After about half an hour, the rain slackened, and we continued following the trail. We crested a rise and saw a river with a rickety old bridge across it. The water came just under the bridge, and it was running rough from all the rain. “We’d better get across before the water gets any higher,” I said, and we started across. As we did, I thought I heard someone calling my name. It was hard to tell because of the pounding of the rain on everything around. I stopped, and Andrew nearly ran into me.
“Did you hear something?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Only the rain.”
“I thought I heard someone call my name.”
“No. I heard nothing except what I have told you.”
Just then the rain slackened, and I heard it again, sounding as if it were very distant, but that might have been the effect of the rain. I looked toward what I was hearing, and there, across the river, was Laurel! She was astride a horse, holding Caleb in front of her. I never saw a more wonderful sight in my life. Apparently she had just crossed the bridge, and I do not see how it held. It was growing weaker by the minute, so I shouted to Laurel, “Stay where you are! The bridge won’t hold you again! Andrew and I will come to you!”
The rain increased again, and I could not hear what she said, but she gestured that we should come across. I waved, and said to Andrew, “Are you ready?”
He smiled. “This is why we have traveled so far and endured so many hardships. Yes, I am ready! You cannot keep me from it!”
We started across, and I felt the bridge swaying and heard it cracking. “Quick!” I shouted. “Hurry!” After we had gone no more than about ten feet, I heard a tremendous roaring sound upstream, followed by Laurel’s scream. I looked in the direction of the sound and saw that a huge tree had fallen into the river and was speeding toward us. “Andrew—” I started to tell him to hold on, but the tree hit us about then. I saw Andrew fly through the air as the bridge collapsed with him. I followed, and then there was only blackness.