“Diamond Courage,” Part 43

 

Chapter 43

Swept Away

April,1863

I heard a drumming sound coming from far away as I came to my senses. What is that? I thought I am no longer in the army, so there shouldn’t be any drummers around. I raised my head, and saw that I was lying on a little patch of sand beside the raging river. I looked around, and saw Andrew lying still, face down, on an adjoining patch. I staggered to my feet, noticing that I had numerous cuts and bruises, no doubt resulting from all the debris that had rolled over me in the river. The rain had let up some, and  I made my way over to Andrew and turned him over. I thanked God that he was breathing, and, as I watched, his eyes fluttered and he tried to sit up.

“Stay still,” I told him. “Don’t try to sit up.”

“Where are we? What happened?”

“The bridge collapsed with us on it when a huge tree came down the river and hit it. We’re lucky to be alive.”

“Something else happened…can’t…remember…” With that, he collapsed on the sand and lay there. I hope he was not seriously injured, although I was beginning to think that was the case. Then I remembered seeing Laurel, and anxiously cast my eyes upstream. I saw no sign of her, and wondered what had happened. We were not more than a stone’s throw from each other…and now this happened. We would have to find out some way across the river, although I suspected that the destroyed bridge was the only one for miles.

Just then Laurel rode into view on the opposite bank. “Caleb! My love! Are you hurt?”

“Just some scratches and bruises. I don’t know how bad off Andrew is. He came to and then collapsed again.”

“What shall we do?”

“I think the bridge we tried to cross is the only one for miles, so we can’t go down to it. We don’t know where it is or how long that would take. We’ll have to try to put something across that we can climb on to get to the other side. I’ll have to tend to Andrew first, though, to see if he’ll be able to help.”

“All right. I’ll stay right here.”

“How’s little Caleb?”

“He’s fine overall, but he’s upset by all that has happened. I know he want to see you.”

Just then Caleb woke up from where he had been napping sitting in front of Laurel. “Look!” she said. “It’s Daddy!”

I saw him reach out his hands and call, “Daddy!” Such a sight had a telling effect on my heart. I had missed him and Laurel so much, and now, with some effort and luck, we would be together again.

“I’ll look to Andrew. Stay where you are.”

“Don’t worry. I never want to be apart from you again.”

I went over to Andrew to find he was coming to again. I shook his shoulder. “Andrew! Wake up! Laurel’s across the river and I need your help to get to her. Come on, Andrew!”

His eyelids fluttered and once again he tried to sit up, only to fall back. “Andrew! You can do it!”

This time he was able to sit up. “What’s going on? What happened?” He must have hit his head to be so confused.

“We were cast into the river when the bridge collapsed and came ashore here. I need your help to put a tree or something else across so we can reach Laurel and Caleb, who are on the other side.”

He looked puzzled. “What are they doing here?”

“We’ve been trying to catch up with them, and there they are! Look! Look across the river and you’ll see them!”

Andrew focused with great difficulty. “Oh, yes, I see them!” He waved, and Laurel waved back. He turned to me. “How will we get over there?”

“We’ll have to find a tree and put it across. It has to be fallen since I don’t have anything to cut one down.”

“Well…all right.” He got to his feet with difficulty and stood there, swaying. “I feel dizzy,” he said, and fell over. I went to him. He had fainted. He wouldn’t be any help to me for a while.

I turned to the river. “Andrew has fainted!” I shouted to Laurel. “I can’t do anything without him. We’ll have to wait.”

“I know you’ll be able to get over to me. I’ll sit here and wait.”

“Why did you come this way?” I asked her.

“This is where we talked about coming when we first started out. After I got free of that horrid man and was in the home, I looked for ways to be able to come here. One night, I just left, taking Caleb with me. Where were you?”

“You know I was not with you, but it would take too long to have to shout it. I’ll tell you more when I join you on that bank. I have missed you so much.”

“And I you.” With that, I sat down to await Andrew’s recovery. Laurel and Caleb lay in the grass on the other side and apparently fell asleep. They had had a wearying journey, I was sure.

I lay down myself and had not been settled for fifteen minutes when I heard some disturbance from across the river. I jumped to my feet and saw four men in uniform take Laurel and Caleb, put them on their horse, and ride off at a great rate. They must be part of the Home Guard, I thought. I despaired of knowing where they were taking her and my soul cried out since I would not be able to follow them for a while. I sat on the ground, dejected.

I sat that way for an hour, when Andrew began stirring. He sat up and seemed more clear headed. “Are you ready to find that tree?” he asked.

I waved my hand. “There is no hurry. The Home Guard has taken Laurel and Caleb and ridden off with them.”

He groaned. “We have the worst luck.”

“So it would seem. But we need to figure out a way across and go after them. Come on, let’s go!”

We started down the river, and Andrew said, “What will we do for food or supplies? It all fell into the river.”

“We must pray that something will turn up.”

We had not gone very far when we came to a bend in the river. As we came around it, I saw a tree had fallen in such a way that we could cross. “See?” I said to Andrew. “Our first prayer has been answered.

We crossed carefully, not wanting to experience the river again. When we got to the other side, I said, “We must strike a diagonal course to where we believe they are. We will run into more obstacles that way, but it will be faster.”

“I am for that,” Andrew answered, and we set out into the underbrush. It was indeed more difficult as we encountered various thickets and brambles. Two hours later, scratched and bleeding, we came upon the trail.

“We must run from here on out,” I said, “as far as we can.”

We started running, and made stronger by all our walking, ran for about an hour before we came to a small settlement. We went into the tiny store. The shopkeeper looked up. “You folks look like you got into a fight with a  porcupine!”

“No,” I told him, “we went off the trail to see if we could catch up with my wife. She was taken by the Home Guard. They were on horses.”

“I heard someone go by on horses about an hour ago.”

“That would have been them. Say, could I arrange to have some things on credit. We fell into the river and all my money was lost.”

“You are having a bad time of it, all right. I will let you have some credit with the expectation that you will pay me back in a week.”

“I would be most grateful,” I said, although I did not know if I could pay him back in a week. We gathered what we needed, including a pack and a gun and some ammunition, and set out once again.

“Do you think we can catch them?” Andrew asked.

I shook my head. “Not while they are on their horses, but they will have to rest. That is our best hope and will be our best opportunity.”

We walked for three hours on the path, and then I heard the nickering of horses. I motioned for Andrew to be quiet. “That may be them. Let’s take to the underbrush and see if it is indeed.”

We went back into the underbrush and moved silently. When the sounds grew louder, we dropped to our stomachs and crawled along until we could see it was Laurel and the Home Guard.

“What do we do now?” Andrew whispered.

“If I can get close enough, I will shoot them.”

“Can you get all three before one of them returns fire?”

“I’ll find that out when I try it.” For someone who was sick of the killing in the war, I had done a lot of it in the past few months. I pushed these thoughts out of my head and crept closer to the clearing where they stood.

As I came to the point I would shot from, Laurel, who was facing me, saw me coming up. I put a finger to my lips, but her eyes opened wide and her hand flew to her mouth. The Guards turned around. “What are you looking at? Is someone there?” With that, I fired and dropped the first Guard. The other two ran in different directions, one grabbing Laurel and forcing her to go with him. I was able to shoot the other one, but the third Guard got Laurel and Caleb on his horse, and they galloped off.

Andrew and I ran into the clearing to see the condition of the Guards. “This one’s dead,” he said.

I check the other man. “So is this one. We’ll have to follow as fast as we can,” I said, and we took off running. I knew we could not keep up with a horse at full gallop, but we would come upon them somehow. We would have to

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