Two days later, we were walking on a trail somewhere north of Chattanooga, bound for Lynchburg. We had bid farewell to Anderson, thanking for all he did for us. “Come back,” he cried as we left. “We’ll take another boat! Only this one will have treasure! Be well, me hearties!”
As we walked away from his, Laurel said, “My heavens but does he become excited.”
I looked at her. “He doesn’t have much that he can look forward to. This little adventure we had with him was probably the most excitement he had had since the War of 1812. All he does now is go up and down the same river. He didn’t have anything to distract him until we came along. And did we do that! And freed you and Caleb in the bargain. I’m about excited as Anderson is about that.”
Laurel smiled at me. “You really are wonderful, you know. You describe a situation in which you might have been killed as an ‘adventure.’ I just can’t get over you.” She shook her head.
“You don’t have to,” I said. I’ll be right there.
My plan was for all of us to walk north and see if we could return to our home near Winchester, if it were still there. I hope and prayed mightily that it might be.
We had gathered quite a little band in the chase to find Laurel and bring her back—Laurel, little Caleb, Andrew, Hiram, and of course me. We had asked Captain Anderson if he wanted to join us, but he refused. “I’m an old river boatman now,” he said, “and I need to be on the water. Thankee, though. You gave this old man the most excitement I’ve had in years.”
“Aren’t you afraid of what the Guard might do to you if you stay on the water?”
“It sounds strange, but I don’t think I would live very long if I left it, so it’s death one way or the other, a quick death or a slow one. And, of course, we all must die. I know that.”
I hadn’t expected to hear this bit of theology from the old man, but I said, “Thank you for throwing in with us. We wouldn’t have been able to free Laurel were it not for you.”
He smiled and his eye twinkled. “It was an adventure, wasn’t it? Now good luck to ye, and if we don’t meet on this earth, we’ll meet in heaven.”
“We hope to see you again.”
We all embraced him when we left, all except Hiram, who probably had done something he was afraid Anderson would remember and hold against him. Anderson turned to the boy. “Aren’t you going to give your old friend Captain Anderson a hug?”
Hiram frowned. “After everything I’ve done to you?”
“Aw, come on. That’s all forgotten now. Everyone else hugged me. Why shouldn’t you?”
“Well,” Hiram said, “All right.” He ended up hugging Anderson, but he wouldn’t tell us anything he might have done to him.
And so we set out. I figured we would move more slowly with Laurel and little Caleb with us, so I took that into my calculations. Hiram was an unknown quantity, but I was willing to bet he was quick. I had seen that during the fight. All told, I thought it would take us five or six days of good steady walking to reach Lynchburg. Compared to the amount of time we had been traveling since we first left our cabin, which seemed so long ago, six days on the road didn’t seem like much. I knew we could do it.
This part of the trip was easier since we didn’t have to shoot game for our food. I had grown heartily tired of venison and squirrel and rabbit when Andrew made his discovery of the coins in his coat lining. Although having that much cash made us liable to being robbed or having it stolen, we could buy food at some of the stores in the little towns we passed through. To lessen the impact of any theft or robbery, I distributed the coins among the Andrew, Hiram, Laurel and me. That should do the trick, I thought.
We did make it to Lynchburg in just over five days after all, and went to one of the larger emporiums in the city to stock up on what we needed. As we waited at the counter for the grocer to gather what we had ordered, I overheard a tall, thin fellow, apparently a peddler, talking with the proprietor of the store. “Yes, I’ve been on this route for five years now, and it’s the same towns in the same order.”
“People have gotten to know you,” the owner said.
“That can be both good and bad. Why, when I was in Chattanooga, I heard of one of the riverboat captains being killed.”
My blood froze, and I was afraid to ask the question I wanted to for fear of what I would hear. I stepped up to the counter. “Excuse me, sir, but we’ve just come from Chattanooga and might know the captain you just spoke of.”
He regarded me with interest, sizing me up. He apparently trusted few people. “There are a lot of captains on the river,” he said. “What makes you think you know him?”
“We were on one of those riverboats and got to know the captain. Do you know the name of the man who was killed? We grew to be quite fond of him.”
The peddler shook his head. “I do not. What I heard was that he was killed by the Home Guard because of theft or injury to several of the Guards. The person who told me wasn’t clear, even when I asked for more details. He only knew so much.”
It was Captain Anderson, I thought. It had to be. And he got his wish about dying on the river. He did what he did for us.
I went back to our group. “Caleb, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Laurel said. “What’s wrong.”
I took in a deep breath. There was nothing to do but tell them outright. “Captain Anderson has been killed by the Home Guard. I was afraid that that would happen.”
Laurel started crying, while the others stared at the floor. I was surprised to see the Hiram wiped away a tear. “Mommy, why are you crying?” little Caleb asked.
Laurel wiped her eyes. “Mommy is sad, just like you’re sad sometimes.”
He went over and she caught him up in her arms. “I’m sorry you’re sad. What can I do to make you happy?”
Laurel had to smile at that. “Just be my little boy. Do you think you could do that?”
“That’s easy. I’m your little Caleb.”
“That you are, and I thank God for that.”
The others were affected as well. “I’m thinking of what he did for us,” Andrew murmured, staring straight ahead..
“I know,” I said. “I am, too.I feel like he sacrificed himself for us. I wish there was something we could do to remember him, but he didn’t have a family.”
“I can’t think of anything either,” Andrew answered.
“We’ll have to think of something. Maybe you’d have some ideas, Hiram.”
“I can’t think right now,” the boy said. “I’m too sad. I treated him so badly until this adventure and then he forgave me. I don’t understand that.”
“I don’t think any of us understands something like that, unless it’s love that makes us forgive each other in spite of what has happened.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I just don’t understand it.”
“We’ll talk about it some more later, and we’ll think more about what we can do in memory of Captain Anderson later on. In the meantime, let’s get our supplies and keep going.”
We divided up all we had, gathered it up and set out again, although our steps were heavier, and there was none of the joking and talk that had been characteristic of our trip since we had left Anderson waving to us on his boat. And so we walked on, one step after another, wondering what the future would bring.