The next morning, we ate another of Laurel’s wonderful breakfasts, and I headed for town to take the letter to the post office. It was another beautiful day, and although I was pleased to be at home with my family, I enjoyed being by myself, walking along and seeing what I could see and hearing what I could hear. I could not believe how much I had missed being in this area, and it seemed everything around me conspired to reminder me of how beautiful it all was.
I came to town without seeing anyone and once again went along the backs of the stores and slipped into the post office. John Green was there behind the counter, and I was glad to see no one else was there. I had been lucky that way twice. “I have a letter to mail,” I told him.
“I’ll take it,” he replied, and I handed the letter over to him.
“Both times I’ve come in there has been no one here.”
“It’s a slow time. It gets busier later in the afternoon. I heard you had some visitors at your place yesterday.”
News does travel fast in a small town, I thought. “Yes, Virgil Dailey and some other men came over and did most of the work building a new cabin for us.”
“I hear they finished the whole thing. I’d say that that was a real neighborly thing to do, but Virgil’s a fine man.”
“He certainly is. It would have taken me a week even with my family’s help if they hadn’t done that. And they did a really nice job, maybe better than what I could have done. Well, that’s all I need to do here. I wish you well and I’ll see you next time.”
I turned to go out when suddenly the door burst open and a Federal captain came in, along with several other soldiers of varying ranks. He looked at me. “I’m Captain Reynolds of the U.S. Army, charged with finding soldiers absent without leave. What might your name be, sir?”
I had to think fast. If I used my real name and he found out I was a Confederate soldier, I would end up back in prison camp. Or I could tell him I was John Duncan of the 71st New York Regiment and end up back in the Union Army. Either way, I would be in the army and I would not be going home for a while.
“My name is John Duncan, of the 71st New York under Colonel Martin.” I looked directly at the postmaster, but I had known him for a long time, and I knew he would not betray me. He nodded, and I knew he would not contradict me.
Reynolds looked at Green. “Is he telling the truth?” he asked.
“Yessir, that’s who he is.”
“How would you know? He’s from New York.”
“He told me who he was. He came in here to mail a letter.”
“And you did not turn him in as a deserter.”
“I was going to wait until he left. If he thought I was going to do that, he might have shot me.”
Reynolds grunted in a way that made me think he believed John.
In any case, he’s away and not in uniform, so I’ll have to take him in and see what happened to him.
One of the sergeants grabbed me by the arm. Simon turned to him. “That won’t be necessary. We’re armed and he isn’t, and I haven’t met a man yet who could out run a bullet.
The soldiers laughed.I think it was just a matter of bad luck that these men came upon me.
Reynolds looked at me. “I am with the 71st. I don’t recall seeing you. What is your rank and why are you out of uniform?”
“I am a lieutenant, and I am not in uniform because I was given leave to go find my wife, who had been kidnapped.”
“I see. And did you find her?”
“I am most pleased to tell you that I did.”
“Well, you’re going to have to be separated from her again. The reason I have been charged with finding all absent soldiers in this area is that we’ll need every man we can find because Lee is planning to invade us soon, but I will check your story with Colonel Martin, and if all is not as you said, you will be tried and thrown in the stockade as soon as the battle is over. Do you understand?”
“Yessir, I do. Clearly.”
“Good. You will now come with us.”
“One moment, please, sir.” I turned to John. “Will you tell Laurel what has happened to me? And will you tell her that I love her? And little Caleb. Also please give my regrets to Andrew, Caleb and Clinton. Tell them I’m sorry I will not be there to help them. And tell all of them I will be praying for them.”
John nodded, and we went outside where a number of horses were tied to the rail. “Take the sorrel,” said Reynolds. “I assume you know how to ride a horse.”
“I do indeed.”
As we walked to our horses, I thought about making a run for it but decided not to since I couldn’t outrun a horse, any more than I could outrun a bullet. It would have been no contest.
We saddled up and rode out of town. People had come in along the streets while I was in the post office, and we made a spectacle for all to see. I saw people pointing and whispering as we rode past them. They must have been trying to figure out why I had been taken and where I was going. I tried to ignore them. I surely did not know what awaited me. I had fallen from the utmost happiness of having a home and being with my family to being forced to do something I really didn’t want to. It was about the worst thing that could have happened to me at that time. I would have to see what would happen next.