Monthly Archives: May 2018

“Diamond Courage,” Part 33


Chapter 34

A Long Way Down


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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“Diamond Courage,” Part 32


Chapter 33



After about an hour, we came upon what must have been the Garrett place. We stopped in a stand of trees about a hundred yards distant from the house to see what was going on. Foster was right—the farm, if you could call it that, was a sorry, no count looking place that I’d be ashamed to own. The house was unpainted, and the front door hung by one hinge. Some of the windows were broken out, and what must have once been a garden looked untended, even in the winter.  Three horses stood tied to a tree, trying without much success to find some grass to eat. The horses looked gaunt and pitiful, as if they’d been beaten. The Garretts seem to have no respect for anyone or anything.

I turned to Andrew. “We’re going to have to get closer so you can use your pistol,” I whispered. “I’m OK from here with the rifle, but we’ll need both of us firing to deal with these scoundrels.”

Andrew nodded, and we crawled on our bellies to get closer to the house. We couldn’t see anyone stirring, which was good. We could catch them unawares. As we came upon the horses, one of them nickered, and I froze, thinking that might awaken one of the Garretts. We still weren’t within the range of the pistol, so, after hesitating for a few moments, we continued crawling.

We were just about in range when one of the captors came out of the doorway. “Quick!” I told Andrew, “Move ahead about ten yards!” He scuffled his way forward, and the figure ahead of us called out, “Who’s out there?”

“Wait until at least one more comes out before you start firing,” I told Andrew.

The Garrett peered into the darkness. “I’m getting my rifle!” he exclaimed. “You’d better get gone if you know what’s good for you!”

He disappeared into the house and gave us a chance to come even closer. “Andrew! Move over that way about twenty yards so they can’t shoot both of us at once. Fire when you see any of them. I’ll watch for the others!”

Andrews had just finished moving over when two of the Garretts came through the door holding rifles. Andrew dropped one with a single shot. The boy could shoot. I took care of the other one with the rifle. We jumped up and ran for the house. We went through the door, only to find a back door wide open and no one inside. The remaining brother had taken Laurel and Caleb and gone out. The sound of a horse’s hooves told us that they were getting away. I prayed that they would use a single horse, leaving the other two for us to ride.

We ran out the door and jumped on the horses. I could hear that they were headed downriver, so we went that way. We had ridden for fifteen minutes when I called for a halt. “Let’s stop and listen and see if we hear anything,” I told Andrew.

We waited, listening for a couple of minutes and heard nothing. They were either stopped as well, hiding, or they had gotten far ahead of us. Our horses might have been slower. I didn’t know.

“Let’s keep going for a while and stop again to see if we can hear anything.” With that, we set out again, my heart bursting with the prospect of being with my family again.

We rode hard for several minutes and then stopped again. We heard nothing. I felt sick.

“Looks like we lost them,” I told Andrew. “We might as well go back to the boat and keep going down the river.” With heavy hearts, we went back to the town and stopped by the telegraph office. Simpson was still there. He took one look at us and asked, “What happened?”

“We shot two of the Garretts. I don’t know if they’re dead or live. We left them there, but the third one got away with Laurel and my son.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. The sheriff will get involved when he sobers up. If he sobers up.”

I nodded. “Yes, I remember he’s their uncle. Of course, I’m not going so stay around—I’ll continue to go downriver and keep at it until I find Laurel.”

Simpson put out his hand. “I wish you well, Mr. Dillard. I hope you find your family.”

“Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Here’s your rifle.”

He shook his head. “As long as you’re after a Garrett, you’ll need it. Someone needed to do what you did today for a long, long time.”

I looked at him. “Does everyone around here feel the way you do about the Garrets?”

He smiled ruefully. “Them and their whole infernal family. Their uncle shot and killed my brother-in-law.”

“That’s terrible! Why?”

Simpson shrugged. “Hard to tell. He was drunk, as usual and Robert crossed the street in front of him and he shot him. Or maybe it was just out of meanness. Anyhow, Robert left a wife and two girls. Without him, they had to move out of their house and move in with us.”

“I’m sorry.”

“At least Emily had someone to live with. I had to imagine what would have happened if she didn’t.”

“Isn’t there anything that can be done about the sheriff?”

Simpson sighed. “There’s a war on, and the military and judges are busy with that. Maybe after the war, whenever that comes. We’ll just have to hang on until then.”

I put out my hand and Simpson shook it. “Now it’s my turn to wish you well, Mr. Simpson. God bless you all.”

“Thank you, Mr.Dillard. Now you’d better get going if you want to find your wife and son.”

“All right. We’ll try to get back through here and see how things are going.”

Andrew and I rode back to the boat and climbed in, leaving the horses tied to a tree. I hoped whoever found them would take care of them, which the Garretts had not done. I took the first turn rowing, and it occurred that rowing about was like our situation. Most of the time, I couldn’t see what lay ahead, and when I turned my head to look, I never knew what I would find. And so we continued down the river.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 31

Chapter 32




I rowed as hard as I could for as long as I could. When I stopped to rest, Andrew said, “Do you want me to do that?”

“Do you know how to row?”


“It would take me longer to explain it than it does for me to rest. I’ll show you when we have time. It’s not hard.”

“I understand.”

After I had rested awhile, I went at it again, and had to stop sooner than the first time. As we drifted along, I said, “I’ll show you how to row. I can’t keep up this by myself.”

Andrew and I exchanged placed. He took the oar handles.

“All right. You’ve been watching me for a while, so you should have some idea of how it’s done. Put both oars in then pull back. When you lift the oars for another stroke, rotate the handles so that the blade goes in flat to the water. Rotate again to bring the blades perpendicular to the water. Got it?”

He nodded and pulled through two strokes, concentrating hard.

“Oh—one other thing: look around every few strokes so you see where you’re going and you don’t run into anything.”

“This is hard.”

“It’ll get easier the more you do it.”

Ten minutes later, he had gotten into the rhythm of it, and was pulling strongly. Since he was younger than I, I figured he could go longer. After an hour, I asked him, “Want me to take it for a while?”

He shook his head. “No, I’m fine for now.” He hesitated. “Do you think Finn’s going to make it?”


“That’s a shame. He was so good to us.”

“Yes, I hate to think of it.”

“How will you know if he dies?”

“I don’t know. We’ll find out somehow, though.”

Half an hour later, we came upon a town and pulled in to the bank. “Maybe someone here saw the men who took Laurel and Caleb,” I said. “Let’s go into town.”

This settlement was larger than the one where we left Finn, and had a telegraph office. There might have been one at the other town, but I didn’t see it. I figured we would go to the office since that’s where people gathered from all over.

We went two blocks down and found the office. The telegrapher looked up as we came in. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m Caleb Dillard, and this is my nephew Andrew. We were traveling west, and some men took my wife and son. I wanted to know if anyone has seen three men with a woman and a boy about two years old around here.”

“I’m Roger Simpson. Can’t say that anyone around here had seen anything like that. Tell you what, though, that sounds like something the Garrett boys would do.”

“Who are the Garrett boys?”

“They’re three brothers who are always up to no good. They haven’t killed anyone yet, but they’ve broken a bunch of laws. Thing is, they’re hard to pin down, so they haven’t been convicted of anything. They’re the type who would take a man’s wife and boy.”

“Are they from around here?”

“They have a farm, if you can call it that, to the west of here, about five miles. But don’t get any ideas about going out there. They’re a dangerous bunch.”

“What about the sheriff?

Simpson snorted. “He’s their uncle, and drunk most of the time. You won’t get any help from him.”

“Well, thank you for your help,” I said, and started to leave.

“Mister,” the telegrapher called, “you said your name was Dillard, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

“I have a message that came in for you. Here it is.”

He held out a telegram to me, and I read,


I turned to Andrew. “Finn’s dead. And the doctor wanted to know what to do with the body, but I’m not going back until we find Laurel.”

The Simpson spoke up. “You can send him a telegram.”

I frowned. “I don’t have any money.”

He pulled out a sheet of paper. “A man in your state shouldn’t have to worry about money. This one’s on me.”

“Thank you.”

“What do you want to say?”

I dictated, “Please bury Finn and arrange for suitable tombstone. Will settle up on my return. Dillard.”

I handed the sheet to the telegrapher. “I’m obliged to you.”

“Glad to do what I can. Now, remember what I said about not going out to the Garrett place.”

I turned to go when Simpson called me back. He reached underneath the counter and pulled out a Springfield rifle. “Here,” he said. “You’ll need this more than I will.”

I gave him a puzzled look. “How’d you know what I was going to do?”

“I could tell by the look in your eyes that nothing was going to stop you from getting your wife and boy back.”

“I am doubly grateful to you, sir.”

Simpson’s eyes clouded over. “My son died of diphtheria last year. I know what it’s like to miss a boy like that. You have a chance to find yours. Take it and go, and God be with you.”

I felt myself tear up, and I turned and started walking quickly down the street. Andrew caught up with me.

“Wow! That was really something what that man did.”

“Yes, it was.”

“So we’re headed out of town?”

“After we go back and get Finn’s pistol. You know how to use a gun?”

“Yessir, my daddy taught me. I’m a good shot.”

“You’re going to need to be, what we’re going to do. If the Garrets are there, which I pray they are.”

We got the pistol and set off at a trot for the Garrett place, not know exactly what we’d find. I never do, I thought. I just hope this turns out well.


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