We topped a rise, and there it was, the town of Glasgow. We paused a moment before we started down to it.
“Looks peaceful to me,” Andrew said.
“We’ll still approach it carefully,” Adolphus answered. “You can’t tell much by just looking.”
It occurred to me that we were acting as if the war were still on, and maybe that was warranted and maybe it wasn’t. It didn’t hurt us any to be careful.
We made our way down the slope to the main street. “Still is quiet,” Andrew said. “I don’t like it.”
“Could be everyone is napping. It is just after lunchtime,” Adolphus said, but I noticed he was looking around the same way he did during the war when we were sent out to scout.
We made our way about halfway down the street before we came upon a general store. It had fallen into somewhat a state of disrepair, but from what we had seen, that wasn’t unusual.
“Do you think anyone’s here?” Andrew asked.
“Let’s go in and see,” Adolphus responded.
“Tell you what,” Andrew said. “Whoever wants to can go in, and I’ll stay out here.” He pulled out a large Colt revolver I didn’t know he had. “You have in a trouble, just yell and I’ll take care of it with this— ” he brandished the Colt.
Oh, Lord, I thought. All we need is for Andrew to shoot some innocent shopkeeper. “You be careful with that thing,” I said.
Andrew sighted along the barrel of the Colt. “Don’t worry—I’ve had plenty of experience with one of these.”
“I’ll stay out here with you,” Hiram said. I was glad to hear that. Hiram was a sensible lad.
We went into the store and couldn’t see for a moment as our eyes adjusted to the light. Anyone who would have wanted to shoot us just had the perfect opportunity, I thought. Seems like it’s all right in here.
When we could see, we noticed an older man standing at the counter, but we also saw there wasn’t much left on the shelf. “Howdy, strangers. You need supplies?”
“We surely do,” Adolphus said. “We hope you have enough of what you want.”
“Now that depends on what you want.”
“We need food and supplies for three days. Can you do that for us?”
The man nodded. “Just barely. There’s not much left because I’m getting out of the business and going back North. I know things aren’t going to be pleasant around here for a long, long time. Say, where you folks headed?”
“Just west of Winchester. That’s home for this fellow here.” Adolphus nodded toward me.
“All right. My name’s Currant. Help yourself to what’s left, and I’ll give you a good price. I just want to get rid of it as soon as possible and get out of there. I’ve had it.”
“I’ll go tell the boys,” I said to Adolphus.
Currant looked concerned. “By ‘boys’ do you mean a gang or ‘boys’ in the sense of a young man?”
I laughed. “Don’t worry. One of them is 18 and the other is 14 and only has one arm. They’re not much of a threat to you.” Except for the gun one of them is holding, I thought. I’ll have to take care of that before we come back in.
I went outside, again not being able to see for a few moments. Andrew had the gun trained on me, but I didn’t take that personally since he would have done that for anyone who walked through the door. “Andrew!” I said. “Put that thing down! There’s only one older guy, and he poses no threat to us.”
Andrew hesitated. “Come on,” I said. “Put it away before I take it away.”
I could tell Andrew was debating, but he finally slid the Colt into a coat pocket.
“Good. Now leave it there until after we’re finished here.”
I couldn’t blame Andrew too much. We were all literally gun shy after what we’d been through.
We went back into the store to find Adolphus taking cans off shelves and putting them into a bag he had apparently gotten from the shopkeeper. He turned around and looked at us. “Good! Help me with this!”
We all fell to and soon had everything we needed. We were lucky, I thought. It could have been much worse.
We put our bags on one of the counters, and Currant pulled out each can and item and wrote the price on a scrap of paper with a pencil. He then added the numbers, sticking out his tongue while he did so. I wonder why people do that, I thought. It must help them concentrate, or so many people wouldn’t do it.
He finished adding up our bill and said, “That comes to seven dollars and eighty-five cents.” He was right. I hadn’t had to buy anything for years, but I could tell that was an excellent price. Currant must have seen how I looked, because he said, “Told you I’d give you a good price. With what you’ve bought, there’s not enough to keep the store open, so I’m leaving for Pennsylvania tomorrow.”
“We thank you,” I said. “It’s too bad you can’t leave now. You could travel with us.”
“Can’t do it. There’s some business I have to take care of.”
“That’s too bad. Well, be safe on your way north.”
“I will. And if things get unsafe, I have this.” He reached underneath the counter and took out a Colt identical to Andrew’s.
“All right. You be careful with that.”
“It’s the miscreants who’ll have to be careful. Not that I’ll have that much money on me.Now, about that payment…”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. I turned to Andrew. “Pay the man.”
Before I knew it, Andrew had dumped our entire store of gold dollars on the counter. My heart jumped into my throat. I had told him never to do that in public. You just couldn’t tell who was watching and what their intentions were. But the cat, or rather the coins, were out of the bag and there wasn’t anything we could do about it.
The storekeeper’s eyes lit up. I don’t know if anyone else noticed that, but it was clear to me he was calculating something, and it wasn’t the value of the coins.
“That’s quite a pile of gold you have there, mister. You’d best be careful, carrying that much. There are some rough people who would gladly relieve you of it.”
“We will be, and we have this—” I pulled out my Colt—“and others like it to make sure we keep what is ours. We were soldiers until last week, so we know what we’re doing.”
He didn’t seem to be affected by my declarations, so I was surer than ever he would be up to no good, and soon. “The folks I spoke of have bigger weapons than that. So, as I said, be careful.”
The only thing we’ll be careful of is watching for your friends, I thought. “With that, well be on our way. Thank you for the goods and for the warning.”
We stepped outside into the sunshine and what proved to be a beautiful day. I turned to Alphonso and Andrew. “I think the shopkeeper is out to steal our gold. Be on the lookout for anything suspicious.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Alphonso said.
“I’m sorry I forgot what you told me about showing the gold,” Andrew murmured.
“Well, it’s done, and there’s not much we can do about it. We can do something about robbers with these—” I pulled out my Colt. “Andrew, do you still have yours?”
He took his out. “Yes. It’s right here.”
“And I have mine,” Alphonso added.
“Let’s go, then.”
We walked along the road going uphill for about half an hour, reaching the crest and starting down the other side.
“It’s a relief to be going downhill,” Andrew allowed.
“Yes, it is,” Alphonso, “but what’s coming up would be an ideal place for an ambush. He pointed to a thick stand of trees next to the road about halfway down the hill.
“Should we go around that?” Andrew asked.
“It will take more time and we’d have to fight our way through the underbrush.”
I stood for a while and then said, “Let’s stay on the road. I want to see Laurel as soon as possible.”
“It will only add 20 minutes to our journey to go off the road.” Alphonso looked determined. “It would surely be worth our time.”
“We can’t ever be sure that there is anyone there. Yes, we’ll go straight through.”
I could tell Alphonso was not pleased with my decision, but he stuck with the group and we started down the hill, slowing down as we came near the trees. As we came closer to them, six rough-looking men stepped from within the trees holding pistols on us.
I should have had us draw our weapons, I thought, but it’s too late now.
“Hands up!” one of the men cried. “And don’t make a move for your guns or we’ll blow your heads off. We’ve done that before and we won’t hesitate to do it again.
They came up to us and took our guns. Then the one who seemed to be the leader called, “Let us have the gold.”
“We don’t have any gold!”
“I have it on the authority of a certain person that you do. Hand it over!”
“Give it to him, Andrew,” I said.
“No ‘buts’ about it. Do as I say! Do you want us all to die?”
Andrew took the bag from his coat and dropped it in front of the leader.
“Pick it up and give it to me. I’m not stooping for you.”
Andrew slowly picked the bag up and handed it to the man. He passed it to another ruffian and then turned back to Andrew. “I don’t like your attitude. Here’s a little something to help you change it.” He fired his pistol, striking Andrew in the arm. I quickly saw that he had only grazed him. I had seen many such wounds inflicted before.
Andrew fell to the ground, holding his arm. To his credit, he made no sound. I wonder what would have happened had he screamed, but then decided I didn’t want to think about it.
The thieves stared at him for a moment, and then turned to me. “Give us your guns.”
“But we need them for protection from animals.”
“Are you calling us animals?”
“Not at all. I mean things like boars, bears and snakes. I was attacked once by a boar not far from here.”
Another one of the groups spoke up. “Aw, Ned, let them keep their weapons. It can’t hurt anything.”
Ned turned on him. “Except maybe us.”
“They don’t have the gall for it.”
Ned looked hard at us. Then his shoulders slumped. “Go ahead,” he said. “Keep ‘em. But if we come upon you and you try to use them, we’ll kill you for sure.”
“All right.” I said. “Thank you.”
“First time a man thanked me for anything after robbing him. But whatever suits you.”
With that, they disappeared into the underbrush. We watched them go, and then tended to Andrew’s wound, which was not serious. I thanked God that we had picked up some bandages at the store for just such an emergency.
As we wrapped his arm, Andrew said, “What will we do without money?”
“We don’t really need more,” I said. “We’re close enough to my house that we’ll have the supplies we need. Don’t worry.”
“And I have some coins hidden in one of my boots,” Adolphus said. “I’ve kept them there most of the war.”
“I didn’t know that,” Andrew said.
“Exactly why I didn’t say anything about them. I was the only one who needed to know about them, so I told no one. Until now.”
“I am right glad that you have them,” I said. “Does your arm feel all right?” I asked Andrew.
“Yes. It still stings a little, but I’m all right.”
“Let’s go, then,” Adolphus said. “I know someone who’s eager to be home.”
In spite of our recent trial, we laughed at this and resumed our way with as light hearts as we could muster.