Diamond Hope, Part 7

 

Chapter Seven
Tales of the Flood
June, 1863

I opened my eyes. I hurt all over and there was no sound at all, and I wondered if I had gone completely deaf. Then I heard the flood rumbling somewhere below us, and suddenly the memory of what had happened rushed in on me.
I was lying in a tangle of limbs and dirt, and I didn’t know how I was going to extricate myself. I tested my arms and legs further, and they didn’t seem to be broken, at least not as far as I could tell. I could see, and my hearing returned bit by bit. That’s a blessing, I thought. That was very good. I looked around for the others, but didn’t see anyone for the piles of debris that dotted the mountainside. That was surely one mighty flood, I thought, but I knew that I would have to get out from where I was and call them.
With a mighty effort, I wriggled my way out of the pile, falling to the ground where I lay for a few minutes to recover my strength. Then I gingerly stood up. Checking myself all over, I noticed I had scrapes in every possible place. I hadn’t felt them because I was occupied with getting out and finding the others. That was most important. The scrapes didn’t hurt too badly right then, but I knew they would be much, much worse later.
I looked all around me and called, “Laurel! Andrew! Hiram! Where are you?”
After first no one answered me, but then I heard a weak voice say, “Over here, Caleb,”
“Where? I can’t see you,” I said. “Who is it?”
“It’s Hiram. Walk toward the sound of my voice. I’m stuck in a tree right behind you. I’ll need your help to pull me out. I can’t move.”
I walked slowly toward the voice, intent on finding whoever was speaking. There was so much clutter between me and him, I was no more than ten feet away from a fallen tree when I saw Hiram lodged in some of the branches. He looked about like I did, but he was holding his arm as if it hurt him.
“Hiram! Let me get you out of there!”
“Careful with my arm! I think it’s broken.”
“I’ll be careful. Don’t worry.”
I worked to free him from the branches. Like me, I did so with some difficulty. Then I had him sit down on a rock. I could tell just by looking at his arm that it was broken. I had seen several of those in the army.
“Are you in a lot of pain?” I asked him.
He nodded, unable to speak from the pain.
“After we find the others, we’ve got to get you to a doctor. There’s probably one in the next town we’ll come to. It’s a pretty good size. In the meantime, I’ll splint it as best I can after we find them. Can you walk?”
He nodded again, grimacing and bearing his teeth. I knew if he were doing that, it must have been painful indeed, since Hiram didn’t show much emotion or reaction to pain in general..
“Good. Let’s walk over here and I’ll have you lie down in a clear spot. Then I’ll walk around and call for the others.”
I gently lowered him to the ground at a place not too far off and then I started walking back and forth in ever widening arcs as best I could with all the branches in my way. I would also see if I could find a blanket for Hiram if I could, but it was going to be slow going.
“Andrew!” I called. “Laurel! Caleb!”
After about ten minutes, Hiram called over to me. “I think I heard someone calling you.” It was good that the pain apparently had eased enough that he could talk.
I went over to where he was and listened. The voice was faint, but I could tell it belonged to a young man. “That has to be Andrew,” I said. “Andrew! It’s Caleb! Keep talking! I’ll come over to you.”
I followed the sound of his voice until we saw that he was, like Hiram, stuck in a tree. I worked to pull the branches away from him, and finally moved enough of them that he could climb down the trunk. When he got close enough, I put out my hand and helped him the rest of the way.
“Are you injured?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No injuries, thank God, but I’m sore and a little dizzy. I guess that’s to be expected after you’ve been thrown about in a flood.”
“I would say so. Now you rest here for a moment and when you feel like it, then you can help me find Laurel and Caleb.”
“Where’s Hiram?” Andrew asked.
“I found him, but I think he has a broken arm. He’s down the slope a bit, lying down. He was really shaken up.”
“I’m sure he is. I know how I feel, and I don’t have a broken arm.”
“True. I’m going to look for Laurel and Caleb now.”
“I hope they’re all right.”
“So do I. I’m going to look upslope for them. Join me when you’re ready.”
“I will. Good luck.”
“Thanks.” I left him and moved up the slope, pushing limbs out of the way and clambering over fallen trees and started calling for Laurel, hoping she could hear me. I had to move very slowly, so it took me a while to cover any distance at all. After about five minutes, Hiram said, “I hear a woman over here.” It turned out that he had found both of them, possibly because he was younger and his hearing better. And they were down the slope from where he was, so I had been going the wrong way.
I came back down toward Hiram, went past him, and came upon Laurel standing on a branch high in a tree.
“Laurel!” I called. “Are you injured? Is little Caleb all right?”
“No, Caleb. I’m all right. Thank God I’m all right.”
I noticed she had something in her arms. “Is it Caleb?”
She turned her bundle toward us. “Yes, it’s little Caleb. And he seems to be unharmed.”
I was amazed. “I’m so glad! How on earth did you hold onto him during the flood?”
She regarded me with determination. “I knew that a mother’s love is stronger than anything, and that thought gave me the strength to hold onto him. I just held him the whole time, and he didn’t make a sound. He’s a brave little boy.”
I felt my eyes tear up for a moment. Laurel had done what none of us could do, I thought, and because of her, our son was alive. It was a miracle of love, and I thanked God for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part 6

 

Chapter Six
For Better and Worse
June, 1863

I thought it would take us another six days to our place near Winchester. The distance was shorter than other legs of the trip, but we would have to climb some pretty good elevations.
About six hours out of Lynchburg, I loved over toward the west and noticed some heavy dark clouds gathering on the horizon. “Look!” I called. We’re going to have a gully washer! We’d better find shelter! Look for a cave or overhang among the rocks! Hurry!”
We looked, but try as we might, the best we could do was a small overhang that wouldn’t do much to protect us from the elements. We needed more, much, much more. We would have to build something, and quickly.
“Laurel, you stay here with Caleb. Hiram, Andrew, you come with me! We’re going to build a lean-to.” I had had a lot of experience building things with wood through the years since I lived on a farm, and the other two fell in with me and started felling small trees using their big knives. I found four trees equidistant from each other in a rough square that look like they would serve to anchor the rest of the construction. “We’ll use these to tie the poles to that will hold the roof,” I told them. Then we’ll put some other branches across and secure some pieces of bark to form a roof. It will leak some, but that will be better than being in a downpour. It’ll keep the worst of the rain off us.”
We hurried around, hacking at trees like madmen. When we had all the timber we needed, we secured the poles we had cut to the four trees I had found, and then placed more poles across the first ones. Lastly, we put pieces of bark on those poles. We had the lean-to put together in short order, much more quickly than I would have thought possible.. I looked back up at the clouds. “I think we will have just enough time to move everything in here. Hiram, run back to where we were quickly, and tell Laurel the shelter is done. And both of you carry as much as you can. We’ll be coming right after you and take the rest!”
Hiram took off at a run, as I had told him, and we followed more slowly. We met the other three as we were coming up to where they had been.
“Caleb, do you think this will keep the rain off?” Laurel looked worried.
“I’ve made a number of these and been in them in all kinds of weather. You’ll have to trust me.”
She looked in her eyes. “I do. And you’re a wonderful man.”
“Thank you, my love. I married a wonderful woman.”
They kept going down the mountain, and we toiled our way up to the overhang, stopping for a moment when we got there to catch our breath. We quickly grabbed all we would need in both arms, leaving the rest under the overhang. It would be all right there, and we would retrieve it after the storm. We hurried back down to the shelter, nearly falling several times in our haste to find Laurel and Hiram organizing what we had. We put what we had carried down the mountain where Laurel told us to. “That goes here, Andrew, and Caleb, you put that over there.” She knew exactly where each item needed to be.
I looked back up at the clouds building behind the mountain. As I watched, they spilled over the top and came down toward us. “Here it comes!” I shouted. “Hurry! Everybody in the center of the shelter. Hold on!”
I had spent a lot of time outdoors and witnessed so many storms, but this one coming up looked to be the worst once I had seen. The clouds were so black they looked blue, and they seemed to have a depth to them. The lightning flashed and the thunder boomed, sounding more like artillery than a natural occurrence. Then I heard a roaring, and I hoped it was not a tornado.
When the rain came, we could not see much beyond the edge of the shelter. The rest of the world disappeared not far from where we stood. A wind tore fiercely at the structure, and a few small limbs from the top flew away.
“Is this going to hold?” Andrew asked. “This is such a terrible storm.” I could barely hear him for the noise.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’ve never been in a storm like this. I hope we won’t be struck by lightning or wash away. And I think I might have heard a tornado.”
“Oh, I hope not,” Laurel said, and, although I could not hear what she said after that, I could tell she was praying. I bowed my head and joined her.
“Lord, we know that you are mightier than any storm. We pray that your mighty power will guard and protect us. That is what we ask for, Lord, in our time of need. These things I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.”
I looked around when I had finished, and saw Andrew and Hiram were praying as well. I had thought Hiram was not religious, but maybe this would cause him to make a start on becoming so. I hoped so, anyhow.
In my experience, most strong storms like the one we were in had lasted fifteen minutes at the most, but this storm raged with the same intensityfor half an hour without showing signs of stopping.
Then, suddenly, it finally began to let up, so we could relax and let go of the trees we were holding.
“I’m glad that’s over,” Laurel said.
“As am I,” Andrew answered.
“And we’re all in one piece,” I added.
“Wait,” Hiram cautioned. “What’s that sound?”
A low rumbling came from the mountain above us, and I knew in an instant what it was. “Flash flood! It sounds like a big one!” I cried. “Get in a tree, as high as you can go, quickly!”
Hiram and Andrew would not need any help to scale any tree quickly, but Laurel had little Caleb, with her, and so climbed a tree would be more difficult for her. “Come over here!” I shouted, motioning her to two trees that were close together. “I’ll go up first and brace myself on one tree. When I’m fixed, then hand Caleb to me. After you climb above me on the other side, I’ll pass Caleb back to you, and we’ll work our way up that way. This is the only way we can do this. Let’s go!”
We went up as best we could in that fashion, which was harder than I thought it would be. Finally, after some struggle, we were at least 20 feet above the ground. The sound of the flood had grown so that we couldn’t hear each other at all.I hoped that wouldn’t affect our attempt. I kept motioning with my head to Laurel to go up! Up! Up! Go up, I kept urging her. And she responded, struggling mightily to take Caleb from me and then giving him back when I had climbed above her.
We had reached about 30 feet when the flood struck in all its fury. I looked over at it just after I had passed Caleb back to Laura. The water stood like a moving wall, 30 to 40 feet high, and I just knew we were going to be overpowered by it in only a few scant seconds. I looked at Laurel and found her eyes that I had looked into so many times before. “I love you,” I mouthed and then the dirty brown wall laden with rocks and branches struck and I knew no more.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part 5

 

 

Chapter Five
Northern Journey
June, 1863

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Hope,” Part 4

 

Chapter Four
Prepare for Boarding
May, 1863

I somehow managed not to run us aground during the hour I had the tiller by keeping us in the middle of the river, as instructed. Anderson came back up to take the helm from me. “I see we’re still in the wet part!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, but only by the grace of God.” Actually, compared to some other things I had had to do, sitting there in the sunlight and seeing the natural beauty all around me, I found it rather relaxing in spite of the situation we were in. And I would need all the relaxation I could get, given what lay ahead of us. I prayed that all would turn out well.
I went back on the deck to where Hiram and Andrew lay asleep, both of them snoring, and, perhaps inspired by their example, or just worn out by our adventures in the past several months, I lay down. It felt good no longer to be on my feet, and I soon joined them in slumber.
***
“Up! Up! Up!”
Someone was shouting somewhere. I opened one eye to see Anderson standing over me. “We’re getting close! Get up and get ready!To arms! Or, as the French say, “Aux armes! Aux armes!” He winked at me. “They were our allies in the big war.”
I wonder what he thinks the present war is, I thought, and I struggled to sit up. Judging from the sun, I had been out for over four hours. I certainly was tired, but I had to get up quickly since we were drawing near to the other boat.
Anderson came over and handed me a rifle. Then something occurred to me. “Who’s steering?”
He laughed. “That little wharf rat. He’s an amazing little fellow. He can barely reach the wheel, but he’s doing a good job. I don’t see how he sees, but he does. I’d better watch out or he’ll lead a mutiny and take over the vessel!” He laughed some more at that and then said, “I wasn’t sure he would know how to use a rifle, but he says he has a slingshot and a supply of stones. I suppose that was good enough for David, so it should be good enough for us.”
“I believe it will be,” I said.
Andrew had been awakened by the clamor and sat up, groggy-eyed. “What’s going on?” he slurred sleepily.
“We’re almost on the brigands!” Anderson shouted. “Here’s your rifle!” He thrust it at Andrew, who took it and regarded it quizzically. He looked up at Anderson.
“What’s a ‘brigand,’?” he asked.
“Them what are on the other boats are brigands of the greatest degree. We will give them horrible deaths!”
It occurred to me that it was too bad Anderson was not in the army. H e certainlyhad the fire for it.
Now that Andrew and I were awake, Anderson said, “I pray all of ye will be good shots. In fact, I’m depending on it! I’m going back to take the helm. Line up on the starboard side. I’ll tell ye when to fire.”
We continued to make our way down the waterway, and about fifteen minutes later, we came around a bend and saw the other boat ranging about 500 yards ahead of us. “I don’t know what they’ll think of us,” Anderson called. “There’s no way to tell that. They’ll see that we’re with the company, which we are, but our coming the other way might make them suspicious. We’ll find out in a few minutes, but we need to be cautious.”
My stomach knotted as we crept closer and closer. I had tried to avoid fighting for a while now, but I would do anything to have Laurel and Caleb back, so I was willing to jump into this fray with everything I had. The three of us knelt behind the railing, holding our guns down so as to have the element of surprise on our side. Anderson called out, “Steady…steady…steady…that’s it. When I give the command to fire, kneel behind the railing, take your best shot and then drop down again Keep doing that but make sure you do so at irregular intervals so they can’t time their shots. Do you all understand?”
“Yes,” I said, and the others nodded. We kept our positions huddled behind the railing, awaiting his order to fire.
I could see there was one person in the wheel house of the other boat, the captain I assumed, and as I watched, he hailed Anderson. “Captain Anderson!” he called, “Yer going the wrong way! Is something wrong?”
“Aye, Captain Hughes. I have a sick crew member, and he fell ill when Chattanooga was the nearer of the two cities. I pray he doesn’t have the cholera, although it looks like it.”
“We’ll steer well clear of ye, then. God be with all of you.” He crossed himself.
“Thankee, Captain. Do you have any unusual passengers?”
“Aye. There’s a woman and a boy on board, and I have an idea they don’t want to be with the men who brought them on board.”
“I see.” Anderson took his Colt from his belt and fired a single shot into the air. “That’ll get ‘em up here,” he said.
He was right. Four of the Home Guard came bounding up the ladder, rifles held ready. I guessed one of them stayed behind with Laurel and Caleb. One of the guards dropped his rifle and went over to a small cannon I had not noticed before on the bow of the ship and shoved a charge down the barrel, followed by a cannonball. He lit a match and lowered it to the vent. We hadn’t counted on this.
“Fire!” screamed Anderson, and we let loose. Andrew was unaccustomed to rifles, and his first shot went high.
“Lower, Andrew,” I called. “You’re shooting high. Be sure to aim.”
We were concentrating on the man at the cannon, allowing the others to shoot at us without distraction.
“Fer God’s sake,” Anderson. “Don’t shoot at just one man! Take the others! Take the others!”
Hiram whirled his slingshot around and loosed a rock that struck the cannoneer in the head. He went down.
I remember this battle as salvo upon salvo aimed at the men on the other boat. All was confusion, but we managed to disperse our shots as Anderson ordered, and soon had the other three down. I did not know if they were killed or wounded, but they would not impede us further.
“We have them, boys! Prepare to board!” Anderson seemed to relish this action on the water. It reminded him of his actions during the war, I am sure. We were fortunate that he had such experience because he knew exactly what to do.
We jumped on the deck of the other boat. Hughes, who had hidden behind the railing of the wheel house, poked his head up, white as a sheet. Apparently he was unaccustomed to such actions. “They’re on the first deck down,” he called. “That is if he hasn’t moved them.”
“Anyone else on board?” Anderson asked.
Hughes shook his head. “They took over the boat. There was nothing I could do since they were armed and I wasn’t near my gun.”
“Do you know where on the deck that are?” Anderson looked grim.
Hughes shook his head. “They could be anywhere, or not even on the deck, as I told ye.”
“All right. We’ll have to trust to luck to get this done. I don’t like that, but we have no choice.” Anderson. He looked at me. “You have the most experience with this sort of thing, and you also have two dogs in this fight, so you lead the way. Tell us what to do.”
I thought quickly and said, “Do your best to keep to the sides of the ladder, and when you reach the deck, drop down and try to find the man holding her. Then shoot him.” I did not think it was necessary to add that, but I wanted to be sure they knew what I wanted. “Do you understand?”
They all nodded and I said, “Andrew, you follow me, and then Hiram. You’ll have to move fast!” I looked at Hiram. “Nice shot on the cannon, boy.”
Hiram grinned. “I usually kill rats. This was a much bigger target, so it was easy.”
I didn’t want to ask him what he did with the rats. Some things I don’t want to hear about.
I asked the boys, “Are you ready?”
“Ready!” they called, and I jumped for the ladder more sliding down the sides rather than using the rungs. It was totally dark below decks, and my eyes were assaulted by a blast of light. They Guard was shooting at me, but the muzzle flash told me where to point my gun. I fired, and heard someone shout with pain. In the brief light that my gun provided, I had seen the Guard holding Laurel by the arm, blood running from his arm. It looked like I only grazed him, and I had taken the chance that I might hit Laurel by firing blind. I would have to be more careful, if that were possible.
I dropped to the deck and rolled over behind a box. Andrew and Hiram piled in, so it was three against one. I liked those odds.
“Drop your guns,” the Guard shouted, “Or I’ll shoot her! I swear I will!”
I answered by firing another shot in his direction and had the satisfaction of hearing him scream. It was another hit, but I didn’t know how badly he was wounded. I decided that I would have to go to him and take him down. I had been lucky with two shots, and I didn’t want to risk another.
“Cover me!” I whispered to the boys. “I’m going to tackle him!” I gathered my strength and then launched myself through the space between us. As I did so, it occurred to me I hadn’t seen Caleb. Of course, there was little light. I could only pray that Laurel had put him some place safe, although I didn’t know where that would be.
I was expecting to grab the Guard by his arms, but I only slammed into the side of the hull. I had missed him! I lay there, trying to recover from the blow I had received. I heard Laurel scream, and the Guard shouted, “I know you can’t see me! I have your wife by the arm and I’ll kill her unless you stop!”
“Caleb, do as he says.” It was Laurel’s voice. “I’ve seen them do some things to people that are too horrible to describe. He will kill me in an instant unless all of you put down your guns.”
I had no choice. I knew that when we dropped our weapons, he certainly would kill all of us. It was my fault for trying to take Laurel and Caleb back by force but I was blinded by my need to have her with me. Then I thought, I had now choice. There were no other options open to me
I dropped my rifle, and Andrew followed suit. I heard his weapon clatter on the deck. I wondered where Hiram was since I hadn’t heard anything from him since the attack started.
“All right,” said the Guard. “You shot me, and now it’s my turn to shoot you, but I’m a better shot than you are, and I can see you well. You’d better say your prayers!”
Oddly enough, I was doing just that, praying that God would make my death as painless as it could be and asking forgiveness for all the wrong things I had done. I prayed quickly, and then I closed my eyes and waited for the final shot.
Instead, I heard the Guard cry out and fall to the deck. I immediately leaped on him, as did Andrew. We soon had him down, and Hiram found some rope so we could tie him up with since our eyes had finally accustomed themselves to what little light there was. We bound him as securely as we could, and then Laurel fell into my arms, and I was overjoyed to feel the warmth of her beautiful body.
“I have missed you so much, my dear love, and now you have saved me from these awful men.”
“These brave lads and the captain helped me,” I said. “But where is Caleb?”
“I left him asleep in one of the cabins, with I doubt he is still so with all this commotion. He has been a brave lad during his captivity.”
“I want to see him as soon as possible, but first I knew I had to ask Hiram something.” I turned to him and said, “Did you do something to bring him down?”
“Yep. Used my slingshot.” This had truly been a David and Goliath situation.
“Thank you so much. I owe you everything.”
“I’d be glad to take it, but I don’t have any place to put it.”
We laughed at that, but the Guard snarled, “There are more like me, and it will go badly for you when they hear of what has happened.”
“I’ll worry about that when it happens. If it happens.” I said that confidently, perhaps with more confidence than I felt.
“Halloo below decks! Are ye well?” It was Captain Anderson.
“We have the brigand tied up, Captain. It’s safe to come down now.”
He clambered down the ladder, moving gingerly since his eyes had not accustomed themselves to the dim light. He looked around. “I can’t see ye well, but I’m glad all of ye are safe. For a moment there, from what I heard, I thought you were all dead. That was a horrible feeling, all right.”
“We’re fine, Captain, thanks to Hiram and his slingshot.”
“Well, I never heard of such a thing. What do you think of that?” He turned to Hiram. “You’re a brave lad, and maybe this makes up for some of the awful things you’ve done in the past.”
I thought, I don’t want to know what Hiram has done in the past. I only know that without him we would all be dead.
“We all owe our lives to Hiram,” I said. “I’m glad I ‘hired’ him to go with us.”
“I was glad to do it,” Hiram answered. “I think I need a bonus for what I did.”
“We’ll talk about that later. Right now we need to get moving.”
Captain Anderson looked at me. “What do we do now?”
“I’ll need your approval for this, but I think we should leave this desperado tied up on the boat. Someone might find him before he starves or bleeds to death, but I hope not. That sounds cruel, but I’m sure he has done some terrible things as well.”
“I’ll show you some more terrible things when I get loose from this.” The Guard gave all of us a look of pure hatred.”
“I doubt you’ll get loose from those bonds. And if you do, we’re all armed now and you’re not>” Anderson spoke confidently.
“My comrades will be looking for me when I don’t show up in Chattanooga in a couple of hours, and then they will come looking for you, and we are numerous!” The Guard spat out these words, and I had no doubt there would be more like him as he said. We would have to hurry to get away from him and his fellows, I thought, but we would have no problem doing that.
I ignored what the Guard said, and continued to speak to Anderson. “If you’d take us to Chattanooga, we’d be much obliged, Captain. You can take Hiram back with you, if that’s what you want to do. And what he would like.”
We all turned toward Hiram. “I’d like to come with you,” he said, smiling, one of the few smiles I had seen from him. “I never have had a real family.”
Laurel came over and took him in her arms. “You saved all of us. Of course you can come with us.”
“It’s settled, then, I said. On to Chattanooga!”
Laurel went and fetched Caleb, and I had a joyous reunion with him. As we climbed the ladder to return to our boat, I thought, I bet not many men are as lucky—and as blessed as I am. I hope we can continue to be lucky, I thought, but I am certain we will continue to be blessed. That much I am sure of.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Hope,” Part 3

 

Chapter Three
Take the Hindmost
May, 1863

As we steamed down the river, I still marveled at how fast we were going. The trees and fields on either side seemed to blur, although I knew that was because of my lack of experience with such speed. They were in reality the same as they always had been. Of course, I was used to boats either rowed or carried by the current, and since we were moving downstream, the efforts of the engine were added to those of the river itself. That was wonderful, since our velocity meant we would catch up with the boat carrying Laurel more quickly. I kept having that thought, but I could not keep myself from it. And what we would do when we came upon them, I do not know. I would have to think of something, but I knew I was determined to have her back, no matter what it took on my part and whatever it cost me.
With the boat underway and Anderson commanding, there was little to do until we encountered the other boat. Andrew and Hiram came to me from their stations, and we sat on the deck together. Hiram, still kept a sharp lookout for anything that might be a danger to us. I found myself still curious about the boy.
“You say you don’t have any parents. What happened to them?”
“I don’t know. I never saw them.”
“How could that be? You had to have been around them at some point, or someone must have told you about them.”
He looked at me sternly. “I came to awareness when I was about three, on the wharf. No parents, no home, no nothing.”
“How did you survive?”
“Some ladies who lived near the docks took some small care of me and made sure I didn’t starve. It was the most they could do, given their station They also taught me to talk, but that was about it. They were too busy to teach me to read and write.”
“What was their occupation?”
“You have seen enough of the world to know what women do whole live near the docks and wharves of the world.”
“Ah, yes I do.” I thought for a minute and then said “So you don’t’ read or write?”
“I know a few letters, and I can recognize words by their shapes, if I’ve seen them enough, but otherwise, that’s all it amounts to.”
“It’s remarkable you’ve survived. How do you eat?”
He shrugged again. “Sometimes people give me what they don’t want. It’s amazing what they throw away. Other times I simply take it.”
“You steal food, then.”
“That’s what it’s called. It’s either that or starve.”
“Why did you come with us? You didn’t have to put yourself in danger. There’s no sense in it!””
“I like a good fight, and I have a feeling that’s what this one is going to be, for sure, like none I’ve ever seen before. I’ve been in plenty of fights, but it was with other wharf rats, and it was with fists or sticks or rocks. I’ve never fought where there were guns involved.”
“It’s an entirely different matter. Here’s some advice: try not to get shot.”
“I gather that’s the general idea. I’ll do my best”
“Anyhow, I appreciate your help more than you’ll ever know.”
“Yes, well, you’re missing your wife and son, so you don’t have a family right now, and I never had a family, so we’re alike, except you’ll get your wife back.”
‘You sound certain of that.”
“I know certain things. It might sound odd, but I think it’s a gift given me to make up for not having a family.”
“I surely hope you’re right. It would be wonderful if you were.”
“I know I’m right. You can count on it.” With that, he lay down on the boards of the deck, pulled his hat over his eyes and fell asleep.
“I wish I could do that,” Andrew said softly. “I’m really nervous about what’s going to happen.”
“That just shows you have some sense, but you heard Hiram. Nothing’s going to happen, and we’re going to have Laurel and Caleb back and all go home.”
“Yes, to your home. I don’t have a home or family any more.”
What Andrew said caught me up short. It had never occurred to me that he, like Hiram, was an orphan. Except now their little band was a kind of family with me.
Andrew looked doubtful about our chances in the upcoming fight. “I wonder. There’s six of them and they’re all men. We have you and me and a kid and an old sailor and someone who’s not right. I’d say those are not very good odds.at all”
“Yes, well, it’s funny, but I really do believe Hiram when he says he has a gift. There were people near where we lived who had that, and they were almost always right.”
“You said ‘almost.’ It seems to me that leaves room for doubt.”
“You can doubt if you want to. I choose to believe.”
Andrew lay down and pulled his hat over his face, “I choose to have a nap,” he said from underneath the brim. And that’s how he finished out discussion about the fight.
I knew I should have tried to try to rest before the upcoming encounter, but I went back to the wheelhouse where I found Anderson relaxed and whistling a tune I did not recognize.
“You’re awfully happy,” I told him.
“Yes, the thought of seeing some action takes me back to when I was a lad. It’s exciting.”
“What song were you whistling when I came in?”
“It’s ‘Buffalo Gals.” Have you ever heard of it?”
I shook my head. “Can’t say as I have.”
“We’ll have to work on your knowledge of music. It’s sorely lacking.”
“Maybe we can do that later, if we have time. How long do you think it will take us to catch up to them?”
He studied the shoreline, I suppose to gain an idea of our speed, and then he said, “I’d say about five hours. Plenty of time to get ready.”
“Do you have a plan? Because I know I surely don’t.”
He nodded. “I do. We carry about ten rifles, in case of trouble. I take it you know how to use one.”
I nodded and he smiled. “Yes, a man your age would be in the military on one side or another. I won’t ask you which. It doesn’t matter to me.”
“Actually, I’ve been on both sides. And in the Confederate navy.”
“Now, that sounds like quite a story. You’ll have to tell it to me some time when this is over.. After we rescue your wife, I mean.”
“Yes, yes. So what do you intend on doing?”
He seemed lost in thought for a minute or so, and then he said. “I figure we can come up on them in the middle of the river and rake them with rifle fire to try to force them into the shallows with the idea that they’ll run hard aground.”
“All right. And then what do we do?”
“We board her and it’s every man for himself. That’s the dangerous part.”
“You know I don’t want my wife or son hurt.”
“I can’t guarantee anything at all. If you want her back, you’ll have to take that risk.”
“Yes, I suppose do. Say, you still have a military mind, don’t you?”
He smiled. “Yes, I do. It’s been years and years, but there are some things you never ever forget. Say, would you mind steering for a while? I’m not as young as I used to be, and we left my second in command back in town.”
“Surely I can do that.”
“Here you go. It’s pretty simple. Do you think you could keep it between the banks in the wet part? Ha, ha, ha! That’s good! ‘Keep it between the banks in the wet part!’ I am so amusing, even if I do say so.”
He went over to the hatch and disappeared down the ladder, probably to take a nap, I thought. He was different, but I was glad he was on my side.
Steering down the center of the river with the sun out and the temperature balmy, I had a chance to think for the first time in a while. I did not know what we would do once Laurel and Caleb were freed. There seemed to be no good options that I could see, but maybe Anderson knew what he was talking about. If he didn’t, something would turn up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Hope,” Part 2

 

Chapter Two
Wilderness
May, 1863

I plunged the rusty can into the murky water in the bottom of our boat and tossed it over the side and then did that again and again without letup. We had been underway for about two hours without seeing anything or anyone on the river or on the banks either.
“It’s about my turn now,” Andrew began and then said, “I think we’re coming up on the first place Murphy told us about.”
I would be glad to take the easier task. “You mean Kingston?” I asked. How can you tell?”
“I see smoke over to the right, and that’s usually a sign of disaster or civilization, either one.”
“They’re about the same thing these days,” I said. “But I think you’re right. So keep on rowing, but be alert for anything that looks like a place where boats come in.”
“You can do the looking,” Andrew countered. “Like I told you, it’s time to switch.”
“Oh. You’re right. I should have known that.
We exchanged places, and as we went around a bend came upon what had to be the town, although it didn’t look like much. The buildings by the river looked like Murphy’s place with their aged, unpainted wood, except there were more of them. The riverfront proper extended for about a hundred yards, and we only saw one steamer tied up. I had no way of knowing if it were the boat that Laurel were taken on, but there was only one way to find out. I hoped it was her boat, but doubted that we had caught up with a steamboat with our need to bail and row at the same time. So we came up to the dock and tied up. I couldn’t see anyone around.
The dock was built for larger boats, and we couldn’t see any way to climb up to it. We sat there for a moment.
“So, what are we going to do?” Andrew asked.
“We need to get up on the dock, and unless you have a rope or have learned to fly recently, we’ll have to wait until someone comes along to help us out. At the very least we can ask when this boat came in. That will tell us if Laurel is on it.”
“I hope she is. I guess we have no choice but to wait.”
“We’ll see. I’m afraid we will have to wait. I’ll try to think of a way to get up there.”
Try as hard as I might, I couldn’t think of any way to get up on the wharf, so we sat there for fifteen minutes, and then I decided this couldn’t be Laurel’s boat, and so we started to make ready to go down the river again. “We might as well keep going,” I told Andrew. “No one’s here, I guess. Get ready to keep going.”
Andrew started to push us off, and I prepared to pull on the oars when a head appeared above the wharf. It was that of a boy about twelve years old. “Hello!” he called. “Who are you?” He looked at us curiously.
“Some travelers in need of assistance. Will you help us?”
He wrinkled his nose. “I meant what are your names? I asked you that already.”
I was irritated to think he wanted our names, wasting time while Laurel went further and further down the river, but I pushed down my ire and said, “I am Caleb and this is Andrew.”
“I’m Hiram. Where are you from?”
“Virginia.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for my wife. She’s on a boat like the one tied up at the dock. When did it come in?”
“About two hours ago.”
I turned to Andrew. “That has to be her boat!” I went back to Hiram. “Can you find a rope or something you can use to help us get up there?”
“How much will you give me?” He grinned mischievously.
I sighed. “A dollar.” We could afford it, and I really wanted to get up to the boat. I wonder if he made a lot of money from travelers this way.
“Wait there,” he said, and disappeared.
As if we were going to go any place, I thought, but I said, “We’ll be here when you get back.”
Andrew made a face. “Isn’t that obvious that we’ll be here?” he asked.
“Well, it is, but I wanted to say something to him after he asked our names and wanted money. He was wasting our time.
Hiram came back in about a minute with a short ladder that looked as doubtful as the buildings along the wharf. I hope it’ll hold, I thought. I held up my arms to take the ladder.
“The money first,” he insisted. “You don’t pay, you don’t get the ladder.”
I sighed and lowered my arms. “Andrew, throw him up a dollar coin.” He rummaged in his pocket and tossed the coin up. Hiram grabbed it and clamped down on it with his teeth.
“It’s real.”
“I can never be too sure. I’m thinking of the kind of people I have to deal with.”
“Are you always this difficult, Hiram?”
He shrugged. “I have to be. It’s a difficult life.”
“I’m sure. Now please put the ladder down.”
“All right. Here it comes. Watch out for splinters.”
“So now you’re concerned for my safety.”
“You bet. I might make some more off you.”
And you’re quite the philistine, I thought, but said nothing. He lowered the ladder, while I made sure I had my revolver. “Andrew, you stay here. This shouldn’t take long.” I had no idea how long it would take, but I felt I had to say something.
“All right, Caleb. Be careful.”
“I will.”
I clambered up the ladder and took off running toward the ship. Hiram ran with me. He was surprisingly fast for someone who has such short legs.
“Don’t come with me,” I said. “This might get dangerous. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“Are you a robber?”
“No, but I was robbed. I have to get my wife back.”
“I think you’re a robber.”
“Think what you want. You’ll see what’s happening.”
Hiram matched me step for step, and as we drew near the ship, we saw a man in a grayish uniform that didn’t look like a soldier’s wear standing at the rail we came up to. “Hello there!” I called, and I saw the uniform was that of a captain of ship. We were in luck. I hoped.
“Good afternoon to you, sir. Captain Anderson of the Tennessee River Steamboat Lines at your service. How may I help you?”
“My name is Caleb Dillard and the young man I am with is named Andrew. I have a question for you. Did you get in about two hours ago from Chattanooga?”
He pushed his hat back on his head. “Aye, it’s for certain we came in about eleven, but we are headed the other way.”
I felt my heart sink. This was not the boat Laurel was on. He saw my look and said, “Is there something on the other boat you wish to see? We passed her about an hour ago, headed downstream.”
“Yes,” I said wearily. “My wife was taken from me and is on that boat.”
“Oh! I am so sorry. I fear I cannot help you since I have to keep to my schedule or else suffer for it. The company is quite strict about these matters.”
“Thank you for the information.” I started to walk off, and then thought of something. I turned back to Anderson. “Captain, how much would it cost to hire your boat long enough to catch up with the other one?”
Anderson considered for a moment. “I’m not sure I would do it for any price. The consequences to me would be dire. I see that you are armed, and suspect that those you took your wife are as well. Your encountering them would result in a dangerous situation that I want no part of. I’ve grown too old for armed confrontations, so I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to find another way. I wish I could help you.”
A great sadness overtook me, followed almost instantly by rage at this development. Something changed deep within me, and I drew my gun and held it on Anderson. He held up his hands.
“Now hold on a minute there, fellow. You be careful with that thing. Someone might get hurt if you don’t put it down.”
I held the gun steady. “I’m desperate enough that I don’t care if I’m careful with it or not. You will take us down river or I will do it myself, if it comes to that, and if you catch my meaning. I will give you a fair price and endeavor to be sure no harm will come to you if you will cooperate with me.” I turned to Hiram, who stood open-mouthed at these developments. “Hiram, go tell Andrew to get up here and bring our supplies. We’re going down river!”
“Can I go, too?” He looked eager.
“No. It’s too dangerous. You might get hurt. What would your parents say?”
“I don’t have any parents.”
I was incredulous. “You don’t have any parents? How can that be? ” I looked at Anderson for confirmation.
“He doesn’t,” He said. He’s what we call a wharf rat who hangs around the docks and tries to get money by any means from people who are passing through.”
I grimaced. “Yes, I know about that. Again, tell me how could he not have parents?”
Anderson chuckled. “That’s what we say, but what we mean is that he never knew who his parents were. They left him in the care of others.”
“Relatives, I assume?”
Anderson shuffled his feet and lookeduncomfortable. “Not exactly. I can’t explain it now.” A look came over his face and he shouted, “We need to get going! Speed is of the essence. Damn the Guard! Full speed ahead!”
The old man was certainly becoming agitated about the matter. I was shocked that he had changed his mind so quickly, and wondered what had caused that. I would surely find out later.
I turned back to Hiram. “You can go with us, but it will be dangerous. Do you understand that you might be hurt or killed.?”
Hiram nodded. “Yessir. How much will you pay me?” I had to smile at the idea that, as serious as the situation might become, he was focused on how much he was going to make out of the experience.
“How about a dollar a day, collectible when this is over, if you’re still alive? Is that fair?”
“No. I got a dollar for bringing you the ladder. And that wasn’t dangerous. I want five dollars.”
“No. Those are the wages for a working man for a week. I’ll give you two. As I was involved in this exchange, I thought, Laurel and Caleb are getting farther and farther away, and I’m standing here arguing about what to pay a twelve-year-old. I never thought I would do that.
“I want four.”
“I’ll go to three. Final offer.”
“Three-fifty.”
I gave in. “All right, I’ll do it. It’s still too much.”
“I’m glad you saw the light. That’s fair enough,” he said. “And I’ll be alive when all this is over!” he exclaimed, and ran off to fetch Andrew.
I went back to Anderson. “Can you get this boat underway by yourself, or will we have to wait for the crew to return? I hoped we would be able to get underway with just Anderson and the three of us.”
“Well—” he hesitated and thought for a moment. “The crew’s all gone into town, and I hope they don’t get drunk. They’re the worse bunch I’ve ever had for that. There is the stoker, Brenner, who’s down below. He’s not entirely right in the head, so we make him stay on the boat for his safety—and that of the towns. It takes someone like him to put up with shoveling coal endlessly. It’s a boring, thankless job, but he doesn’t’ know the difference, so it’s a good job for him.”
“In that case, can you and Brenner get this thing going?”
“No, we can’t. Not by ourselves. You and the boys will have to help, but I’ll tell you what to do.”
“We can do that, but can we trust you to take us in the right direction?”
“Just a minute,” Anderson said, and a different sort of look came into his eyes. “I have something in my cabin I want to show you.”
He went back to his cabin before I could say or do anything. I was thinking this was another delay and that Anderson could run off or alert someone, but he came back shortly with what looked to be an old naval officer’s sword hanging from his belt and equally ancient hat that might have fit him years before. Instead, it just perched on his head. He tried to pull the hat further on his head, without much success. He then gave me a salute, which I returned by reflex. “Former Ensign Arthur W. Anderson reporting for duty, sir! What are your orders?”
I was so surprised, I couldn’t say anything, but stood there with my mouth open. I looked over at Andrew and Hiram, and they had the exact same expression. We’re going to catch some flies, I thought, if we keep standing here like this.
I finally recovered and asked Anderson, “You were in the Navy?”
“Yessir. I was a midshipman first, under the command of Captain David Porter of the Essex out of New York in the summer of 1812, right at the beginning of the war. The whole crew was greenhorns, like me, but we soon learned what we were about and what we needed to do when we ran up again our first British ship. We gave them Britons a right hard time, capturing ten of their vessels during that campaign. And during one of those engagements, I saved the Captain’s life, and he promoted me to ensign! Right on the spot! I couldn’t believe it! I served the whole war, but on different ships as one after another either sank or was captured. I thought I was jinxed. I sure was lucky to be alive when it all ended.”
For a while I could think of nothing to say about this. Finally I recovered my wits and said, “That’s a remarkable story.”
“I’d say it is.”
I looked at him and asked, “With all you’ve just said and done, are you declaring with us, then?”
“I surely am! I cannot bear scoundrels, and anyone who would take a man’s wife is the worst of all scoundrels in the world. I was the handiest of men with sword and pistol both, and I pray that I still am.”
“Do you think you still are?”
“I do believe it, but there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? Engage the enemy board to board and face to face to see who comes out the better. Now let me ask you another question. From the way you returned my salute without thinking, I surmise that you are a member of the military.”
“I am. I was.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I was in the army.”
“For which side?”
“Both. It’s quite a long story that we don’t have time for now.”
He made a face. “We will have to untangle the mystery of your military career at a later date. I suspect it is an interesting one, full of twists and turns. Now we must be about it!”
“First, I must ask one more question. What will the owners of your boat say about your putting in with us? Will you be in serious trouble?”
Anderson swore a colorful oath that reddened Andrew’s face, cursing all owners of enterprises and wealthy men back to Noah and then forward again. “I say hang the owners if they do not see the necessity of what I do. And they would be hard pressed to replace me. It should be obvious to you that an old man such as I am is the last resort of any employer. There would be none to come after me since those who are able are in the war, with the apparent exception of yourself, who has other matters to attend to, or so I believe. I believe I have them right where I want them. Damn them all if they don’t understand!”
His swell of words made me dizzy, but I said, “Well, you are a fine and brave man, Ensign!”
“Hardly! I’m just an old sea dog who hopes he has one more fight left in him. But let’s get to it! Brenner! Brenner! Brenner, I say! Topside! And hurry!”
We heard someone dragging up the ladder, and then a rail-thin man came into view. He was two heads taller than I am, and I am considered to be above the normal in height. I might have met a taller man before, but I don’t think so. How he shoveled coal or chunked wood or whatever they used to make steam was beyond me because he seemed so frail. His arms and legs were extremely thin, and I wondered if he got enough to eat or what he ate or how much. He must have been able to do his duties, or he would not have been in the station he was in, although more than likely the steamboat company was desperate for anyone who could do the job. I don’t know.
“Yessss, Captain,” he half croaked, half hissed. He had an odd way of speaking, as well. I could not place his accent, and finally decided it was a combination of several, and such that I could not tell from whence he came. All that didn’t matter: he would be part of the effort to return Laurel to me. “What is it you require?” he asked. He looked more ancient than Anderson, if that was possible.
Anderson let fly with a volley of oaths this time, and Andrew looked as if he wanted to be any place but where he was. I am used to such language from the army, although I do not hold with it myself, but I was amused at Andrew’s reaction. He was receiving an education of a different sort since he had come to be with us. Hiram made no sign that I could take note of, giving me to think he had been around plenty of people with foul tongues and minds, some of whom no doubt raised him. He was used to it, and simply stood there, not speaking.
“What in the blazes (a term which he most decidedly did not use) do you think I ‘require’? I require you to do your job, your poor excuse for a sea monkey, and do it quickly! Now off with you!” He unloosed a further stream of invective, which had no visible effect on the gaunt fellow before us.
Brenner blinked slowly and said, “Aye aye, Captain.” Then he slowly turned and made his way back down below. A few seconds later, we could hear the scrape and clang of metal on some hard substance from there. I supposed the poor old Brenner was indeed, somehow, shoveling coal. I would have liked to seen him at work, but I had more important things to attend to.
We all followed Anderson to the pilot house, but he turned on us and cursed us soundly again. I do not know if he was in the habit of doing that, or if he was excited by the prospect of military action. “Do you suppose that you can do your part sitting in here?” he asked.” By the gods and all that’s holy, get to your stations!”
At least he didn’t curse us with that, I thought. We stood there, not knowing what to do. I had served aboard a ship, but that one had sails. I had no experience with this sort of vessel.
“Excuse me, Captain,” Andrew said. “I think we don’t know what to do!”
The Captain struck his forehead with his hand. “What a bunch of lubbers are ye! Go on! One of ye to the front to cast off, one to the back to do the same, and you, Mr. Dillard, or whatever your name really is, watch for errant vessels or other obstacles marine, terrestrial and celestial! Step lively, now!”
I had to smile at the idea that anything could come from the sky, save cannon shot, but he must have seen my expression and said, “Don’t be smilin’ there, mister. I once was aboard a ship that was nearly hit by a meteor! It sizzled as it came toward us, but missed the tops’l by a good three fathoms, if my reckoning was correct. It caused a huge splash and a towering cloud of steam. The cloud that the Children of Israel followed must have looked the same. I bet the fishes were surprised. Or parboiled! Hah! But I don’t know that even seein’ it in time would have helped us much. A good twenty feet lower and we would have joined the fish in their fricassee. But enough talk! Cast off fore! Cast off aft! And keep a sharp eye for all manner of things and creations, Mr. Dillard! You know where to look now!”
I found myself smiling again at the way Anderson keep telling us we had to get moving while he made some other comment or told another story. But he had finally gotten down to business.
By this time Brenner had gotten steam up, and Anderson put the wheel over smartly, setting us on a course from the dock to the center of the river. Anderson pulled on the whistle, three long blasts of sounds that rattled my teeth as I was so close to that infernal machine. Anderson laughed madly. “It’s just a little noise!” he called. “We’ll see and hear much worse before this day is over!”
He advanced the engine telegraph to “Full ahead,” and it felt like we were flying on the water. Since we had been on rafts and rowboats, any greater speed seemed more than it was. But I was glad of it. It meant I would have Laurel back sooner.
At the same time, I thought, what have I gotten myself into? Then I thought again, if this crazy menagerie can give me my Laurel back, I am for it. I would sail with the Devil and all his imps to have my wife back at my side. Inspired by this line of thinking, I shouted, “Course on! And the Devil take the hindmost!”
I could see Anderson’s open mouth and hear his laughter over both whistle and engine. My time in the navy was not particularly pleasant, but I could hear myself think under those circumstances. Still, it would be worth a little noise if it enabled me to be with my Laurel again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Hope,” Part 1

Chapter One
Keeping On
April, 1863

I turned from the river where I last looked at Laurel and had my last sight of her for a while. I felt the deep sadness of the loss, as if my heart would break. At the same time I felt and intense and glowing anger toward the men who had taken her. I would catch up with them, and it would not go well for those who had kidnapped her and Caleb.
As I meditated on these emotions, Andrew cried, “Look! Over there! “There’s a building, further down river.”
I looked and, being intent on trying to get my shot earlier, had not noticed what looked like a trading post of some sort, and, I surmised, a depot for steam ships. “Let’s go see if they might have any formation on where the Guard might be taking Laurel. It’s worth a try. Come on!”
We made our way up to the building, which was made of weather beaten boards that looked like they had never had a coat of paint. Some of them had pulled loose completely, and others hung by a single nail so that a strong wind would pull them off entirely. The dock was likewise in bad repair with what looked like rotten and missing boards. It also looked as if it had never had any maintenance. “Careful how you step,” I told Andrew. “Some of these board might be rotten.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied. “I have no desire to take a swim. Besides, I don’t know how to.”
“You really ought to,” I told him. “It might save your life someday.”
“Next chance I have, I will. I don’t know when that will be, though.
Andrew and I picked our way to the door and went in, stumbling on some of the planks that had worked their way loose. I don’t know what else I would have expected, I thought. There’s nothing that has been done for a long time both inside and out. I couldn’t see anything for a moment because of the beams of sunlight coming through a grimy window right into my eyes. When I recovered myself and could see, I noticed a short man with bright red hair wearing an apron standing there. “Hello there,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
I wanted to tell him he needed to fix his building before someone was drowned or killed by a fall, but then I saw cans of food and some other things we might need. “I need to pick up some supplies,” I said, “but I want to find out about that boat that just left. Do you know where it’s going?”
He thought a minute. “Well, let’s see, it’s Tuesday, so that boat is going to Kingston, and then on to Knoxville.”
“Did you see a group of men with a woman and child get on the boat?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Do you know who the men were?”
“Yessir, they were the Home Guard, and judging from your questions, you have a decided interest in that situation, but I’ll tell you right now you want absolutely nothing to do with them. They’d as soon shoot you as look at you. Or maybe shoot you before they had a good look at you. It’s all the same to them.”
“I figured as much, but the interest I have is that the woman is my wife and the boy my son. They were taken from me and I want to get them back!”
He blinked and looked down. “In that case, God bless you sir. He is the only One who can help you now. No one around here is going to stand up to the Guard.”
“Is there a sheriff in these parts? Somewhere close?”
“The law? You just saw the law around here take off with your wife and boy a few minutes ago. If you have plans to follow them, and I hope you don’t and if you wanted to do something about that situation, you would need a dozen or so well-trained soldiers, but again, all the soldiers anywhere near here are on that boat. I wish I could give you better news, but I’m just telling you how things are. I can’t change them.”
“Well, thank you for that information. I will tell you what I want from you.”
He indicated what he had on the shelves and in the bins, and I had him put some cans and other supplies into a sack, and Andrew paid him with some of the same money he had discovered at the worst possible time. “I’m sorry I distracted you when you were taking your shot,” he said. “That let them escape with Laurel, but I got so excited, knowing we were short on cash and awfully tired of eating dried venison.”
“What’s done is done and we can’t change it,” I told him. “We’ll catch up to them. I just know we will.”
The storekeeper put his hands on the counter. “I wish someone would do something about the Guard. They don’t care who they hurt, and folks around here are tired of the war and everything connected to it. More good people have been killed than I care to think of, and that’s just awful. Awful, I tell you! Since you seem determined to get your wife and son back, I want you to be careful. I don’t want to hear about another shooting.” He shook his head. “We’ve had too many deaths already.”
“We’ll be careful,” I said. “Thanks for the supplies and the information.”
“Can ask you a question?” he asked.
“Certainly. Go ahead.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s a healthy young fellow like you doing down here away from all the armies and battles?”
“Trying to get my wife back.”
“I know that much.” He looked at the counter. “Let me rephrase my question. Why aren’t you in the army?”
That was blunt enough, I thought, and I hesitated for a bit.I then decided that, given the way he felt about the Guard, I could probably trust him. “My wife and son and I were trying to get away from the war.”
“And the army.”
“Yes. And the army.”
“Which side were you on?”
“Both.”
“Both? How’d you manage that?”
I sighed. “It’s complicated. Let’s just say that I was in the Virginia militia, but then I was captured and forced to take on the identity of a Union lieutenant.”
“You’re right. It is complicated. But you’re a deserter right now.”
“That’s one name for it. A man trying to keep his family safe is another. I knew my family was going to be killed if I didn’t cooperate with a certain woman.”
Cooperate how? Cause you to break your wedding vows?”
I shook my head. “No, no, no! I was to spy for the South.”
“So? There are a lot of spies.”
“I was to assume the identity of a Union soldier, the woman’s brother, who looked like me.”
“I see. So you have been a traitor to both sides.”
“I never thought of it that way, but yes, and that is why I took off, taking my family with me.”
The storekeeper lifted his chin toward Andrew. “What about him?”
“We ran across him when he had been separated from his family. We never found them.”
“So you were traveling with a woman, a child, and an orphan.”
“That’s right.”
“Forgive me for saying so, but you were just asking for any of them to be kidnapped. That was risk to begin with.”
“I can’t help what happened now. What’s done is done, and I just want to find my family and have them back.”
“Well, I wish you well, although you’re going to need more than my good wishes to do anything about your situation.”
“I have prayed to God to help me.”
“That’s fine if you believe in God.”
“You don’t?”
He shook his head. “I’ve seen too many cruelties in this world to believe. If there were a good and loving God, he wouldn’t have let your wife and son be taken.”
“God didn’t take them. Men did, and men can be evil and sinful.” Had I not been so pressed to find Laurel, I would have debated the matter with him further. Adolphus would have loved such an argument, but I didn’t have the time right then.
“I’m sorry you don’t believe, but we have to be on our way.”
“In spite of what I said, I wish you well. I also hope I helped you somehow. Good-bye, now.”
We bade him good-bye, picked up our supplies and started out the door. Suddenly I turned back and asked, “When is the next boat?”
“Not until tomorrow about this time.”
I thought for a moment, and then said, “Do you know of a boat we might borrow?”
He looked at me for a while and then said, “I have a little rowboat you can use. I hope you’ll be able to bring it back, but if you don’t, I don’t care. It’s old and leaky and you’ll have to bail as much as you row. You’re fortunate there are two of you. A man alone would either go nowhere or drown. Those would be his choices, but you won’t have to decide on that. It’s yours id you want it.”
“Yes, we’ll use it. Thank you kindly for the offer.”
We went outside with him following us and showed us to the boat in question, tied to one of the pilings and hidden under the dock. He was right about its condition. The wood looked like that of the building, and I couldn’t see how it managed to stay afloat.
The store owner helped us get into the boat and then handed us our bag. He stooped over and picked up a can and handed it to Andrew. “You might as well start with this,” he said. “You’re already taking on water.”
Andrew took the can from him and started bailing, while I unshipped the oars and started pulling for the middle of the river.
“Good-bye! I hope you get your wife and son back,” the man called.
“We hope we’ll see you again,” I returned. Then something occurred to me. I shouted louder, “Say, I don’t know your name.”
We were nearing the middle of the river again and it was becoming difficult to hear him, but I think I heard him shout, “Murphy! My name is Murphy!” It was hard to tell, but I think that’s what he said.
Figures that he’d be an Irishman, I thought, and called back. “Mine is Dillard,” and then I knew he wouldn’t hear anything further that I said, so I couldn’t say anything more to him. I turned to Andrew.
“We’ll switch off every fifteen minutes or so. I have the easier job since we’re going with the current.”
“All right.” Andrew grunted with his exertions, dipping the can into the water in the bottom of the boat and throwing it in the river.
I looked down the broad expanse of river as if I might see my family. I’m coming to get you, Laurel, I thought. You have to know that. I’ll catch up with the boat and free you and Caleb from those dastards. With that, I pulled even harder on the oars accelerating our pace.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized