We were far enough west that we could walk up the Valley to Winchester and then home. Andrew, Hiram and I had been this way before, and I wondered if some of the people we had met then would still be there, if they were alive. With war, I could not tell, but knew we would be able to find out as we passed through each town.
Adolphus walked beside me for a while. “I know you have been this way before, and I am eager to meet the people and see the places you have spoken of.”
“Yes, we will do that, but seeing those we met might not be possible, war being what it is.”
“I will pray that they are still there and doing well.”
“Are you used to so much walking?”
“That is an odd question to ask a soldier. In the past four years I have walked more than I have in my life before the war. So, yes, going this far will not be difficult for me at all.”
“I am pleased to hear that.”
We walked in silence for a while, and then Adolphus asked, “Have you thought more about the school we talked about?”
“Yes, and I have my mind set on it. We shall have to let Laurel know our plans, of course, but I know her well enough to be sure that she will be all in favor of it and even an enthusiastic support of what we plan to do.”
“You know her best.”
“I suppose I do, and I am most eager to see her again. Is there anyone you would wish to communicate with?”
“As I told you, there is no one, but our group has become my family, so I feel little pain at my loss.”
So, gathered together, we set off for the west, knowing that soon we would turn north to follow the Valley. We were not that far from Lynchburg, and so we made our way there, thinking that we could buy what we needed from the same story that I had gone to with Hiram, Andrew, Laurel and little Caleb.
We came to the city and followed the street that should have led to the store, but when we go there, we saw that the store had been burned, by who knows who. An old man was sitting on a log in front of what had been the store.
“Howdy,” he said as we walked up.
“Hello,” I answered. “What happened to the store?”
“Can’t you see? It got all burnt up.”
“I meant, who did it?”
“That isn’t what you asked.”
“I just did.”
“It was some local vigilantes. Said they didn’t want it to fall into Yankee hands.” He chuckled. “They got fooled.”
“Do you know a place where we can resupply?”
“Not for 30 miles. You go up the Valley to a little town. You’ll know it when you get there. There ain’t nothing else around it for miles.”
“Thank you for that information.”
“You needed it and I gave it to you. It’s as simple as that. Say, why’d you boys quit? Why didn’t you get into the woods and continue the battle from there?”
“General Lee asked us not to.”
The old man spat on the ground. “Lee! He’s the reason we lost this war!”
“How can you say that? He was a fine general.”
“If he was so fine, why are you here and not off fighting some place?”
“In any case, he’s a fine man. Losing can’t take that away from him.”
“Maybe so, but a different general could have done better.”
I didn’t want to argue any more with him, so I tipped my cap and said, “Thank you for the information. How do you sustain yourself?”
“Oh, I have my ways.” He said this in such a way that I didn’t want to know any more about the subject. And so we pressed on.
Adolphus walked beside me. “Pleasant character, wasn’t he?”
“Oh, he didn’t bother me. He’s been through a lot and it looked like he didn’t have a lot of people he could talk to, if any. It’s remarkable he can still get along by himself.”
“That’s true. I hope he’ll be all right.”
“So do I.”
We walked along in silence for a while, and then Adolphus said, “How will we get supplied?”
“The old man said there’s a store about thirty miles away. We have provisions enough to tide us over until we can get there.”
“Yes. We should be there early tomorrow. I hope it’s still standing and that there’s something left.”
“Yes, but didn’t Jackson ravage the Valley?”
“He did, but that was years ago. They should have had time to recover.”
“I will pray that they have.”
We walked on in silence. I am praying for the same thing, I thought. May it all be so.