“Diamond Courage,” Part 37

 

Chapter 37

Passage

February,1863

And so I became a sailor. We made our trip to Cuba and came back sooner than I expected. It was almost March, and I wondered if Laurel would still be in Shreveport, if that indeed was where she was. I certainly hoped so.

Ramsey said we would be in Shreveport for a week, but he gave all but a small skeleton crew three days off, with a strict admonishment to be back at 8:00 AM sharp or face disciplinary action. Actually, he didn’t say 8:00 AM but a number of bells I had to ask someone what they meant. Even being on the ship for weeks didn’t mean I understood the bell system. There was always someone telling me when I had the watch or when I needed to scrape the hull of rust so it could be re-painted. There was always something that needed to be done on a ship, and always someone to work with or to watch you work or to eat meals with or sleep in the same hold with. I think you get the idea. I had been alone a lot of my life, and it was hard to get used to being with people I wasn’t related to.

I left the ship about 8:00 that evening with the intention of never returning. I’m sure I would face punishment if I were caught, but I didn’t intend to be caught. I did intend to find Laurel.

As I walked through the streets, looking at every woman who came by, it occurred to me that I would probably need a place to stay. This time, though, I wouldn’t be sleeping wherever I could. We had been paid before we went on leave, and I had enough to do me for a while. I gave up looking for Laurel for that evening, and walked along looking for a good place to stay. I stood in front of one hotel, trying to decide if it would be a good place to stay. Suddenly, I heard someone call my name. I didn’t know who that could be since I thought I didn’t know anyone. Because it was a man’s voice, I knew it wasn’t Laurel. I looked in the direction of the sound, and when the crowd parted, saw Andrew coming toward me!

He came up to me, and we embraced. I had a thousand questions for him. “What are you doing here? Why are you here? How did you get here? It’s so good to see you!”

He laughed and held up his hands. “One at a time, please.”

“Let’s sit over here,” I told him, and indicated a bench in front of the hotel. We sat down.

“I recovered from my wound and started walking. I thought you might be headed for Shreveport. That was the only place that made sense, and so I found you. Have you found Laurel?”

I shook my head. “I’m just back from Cuba.”

“Cuba?”

“Yes. Someone dragged me onto a ship headed there while I was unconscious. We’ve been gone for three weeks, but I’m back so I can keep looking for Laurel.”

“What kind of ship?”

“A blockade runner for the navy.”

“I see. I’ve been here a week, and I’ve been looking for Laurel, with no success.”

“This city is only so big. She has to be here somewhere.”

“I agree. Where are you staying?”

“I was going to take a room here.”

Andrew made a face. “You don’t want to stay anywhere near the river. I found somewhere that’s about ten block away. Let’s go there.”

“All right. Lead the way.”

As we walked toward the hotel, I found myself still looking for Laurel, and I knew I would not be able to go anywhere without looking for her and Caleb. We came to the hotel where Andrew had been staying. I could tell it was cleaner and nowhere near as shabby as the one I had been looking at. “Here we are,” Andrew said. “My room has two beds, so you can stay there.”

“I’ll pay.”

He looked at me with relief. “That’s good. I was just about to run out of money.”

“Well, I just got paid, so that works out well.”

We laughed and went into the hotel. I had brought my civilian clothes with me, and quickly changed into them. Andrew and I ate at the restaurant in the hotel, and after resting a short while, we again set out on our search. After four hours, we had seen all kinds of people and covered most of the city, but had not seen Laurel and Caleb. “She must be somewhere where she can’t come out very often,” I told Andrew. “Where would that be?”

“It’s hard to tell. There are so many businesses and other places she might be. Those are going to take longer to investigate.”

“Well, I’ve had enough for one evening. Let’s go back to the hotel, sleep on it, and try again tomorrow. Something might occur to us as to her location after some rest.”

We went back to the hotel, and after talking for a while, we fell asleep. Not surprisingly, I dreamed of Laurel, and in my dream, she was buried in a hole in an alleyway. I could hear her, but try as I might, I could not find her. I awoke, frustrated and upset. It was a while before I could get to sleep again, but I thought, tomorrow is another opportunity. We might find her and Caleb then.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 36

 

 

 Chapter 36

Sideways

February,1863

The next morning, the rising sun woke me, and I made bread and had some dried fruit I had found among Finn’s supplies. I considered that a good breakfast (I had certainly had much worse, especially in the army). And  so I started a long period of floating down the river, not seeing much other than steamboats passing going the other way, wildlife, and very few people. I wondered why this was so until I came to Memphis and went into the city. I came across and old fellow sitting on a bench.

“Say, can you tell me why I’m not seeing a lot of people on the river?”

“Yessir, that would be because General Grant is fixin’ to take Vicksburg. If you’re smart, you won’t go anywhere near that.”

“I see. Which way should I go?”

“If I was you, I would travel west, try to get on the Red River and get on down to Shreveport, if that is where your business would take you. There aren’t many other choices, though.”

“I’ll do that. Thank you, sir.” I didn’t go into detail about why I was on the river, but I figured that didn’t make any difference.

I would have to go overland to the Red, which meant I would have to leave the boat on the river after I had floated as far south as I felt safe, and then carry as much as I could from the boat. Then, when I reached the Red, I’d have to find a way to get down to Shreveport. I was certain that Garrett would be doing the same thing since Grant was blocking his way as well.

I got back on the Mississippi and went down it for about two more days, when I began to hear the sound of cannon not too far away. That was a sign to me that it was time to strike out for the Red River. I took as much as I could carry, and left Finn’s boat tied up to a tree. I thought how kind he had been to Andrew and me, and how it was my fault he was shot and died since he was trying to help me get Laurel back. I would always remember him.

It took me the better part of a week to walk to the Red River, and when I got there, I stood on the bank, surveying the scene and looking for a boat. I didn’t see one, which meant, at least for a while, I would have to walk and hope I would come on some way to use the river to get where I wanted to go.

I had walked for about two days when I came upon some lumber that had slipped off a barge and lodged itself in some trees along the shore. I thought I could use it to make another raft. I had taken some rope that Finn had on his boat, and so I set to work lashing the planks together, leaving one out to steer with.  I made quick work of my project and loaded my pack and other supplies on the raft. Then I got on myself, and with my plank, pushed out into the current, which was strong.

I was surprised to hear sounds of a city only three hours later, but of course glad to get off my raft, which is not the most elegant way to travel. I pulled it onshore under a bridge and left everything there except for my pistol. I didn’t know what I would find, but I hoped it would be Laurel.

I climbed up the bank, hoping to meet someone who might have seen my wife. I supposed that Garrett came down the river like me, and so I went to the docks. I had forgotten how crowded and noisy cities were, and how many different kinds of people were in them. Most looked hurried or even hostile, which did not surprise me because I knew the conditions there must be bad because of the war, even though they weren’t near enough to Grant’s army for him to make a difference.

I hailed the first fellow I came across, who had the look of a sailor. “I’m from another place and want to see if you’ve seen a woman—blond hair, short, should be traveling with a boy about the age of two.”

The man stopped, and I could immediately tell he had been drinking. A lot. “Can’t say as I have, but if you see a woman, I could use one. Bad.”

“Thank you anyhow.”

I went on, drawing neared and neared the dock. A navy captain came along, and I repeated my request. He thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I do recall seeing someone like that, a couple of days ago. They were with a rather desperate looking character.”

“That’s them! Do you know where they would have gone?”

“They couldn’t go downriver, so they must be somewhere in the city.”

“Thank you!”

“It’s a big city…”

“I’ll find them,” I said, and headed toward the main street in town. There I was once more assailed by the sound and smell of people in large groups. I looked up and down the street, to no avail. Exhausted by my efforts, I went into a saloon to get something to eat. I did not want alcohol, but hoped they had a good supply of water.

The interior was dimly lit, and some of the characters standing around throwing down drinks didn’t look too savory. I got my food and water and took it to a table. A man sitting at the bar looked over at me. “And what would you be wanting?”

I didn’t want to tell such a person what I wanted, so I said, “I’m looking to join up with the navy.”

He spat. “They call themselves sailors! I could show them a thing or two about that and about killing Yankees. I’ve done in plenty in my time! Why do you want to join that sorry bunch?”

I said nothing, but kept eating. The man stood up and came over. “I asked you a question. Why don’t you answer me?”

I didn’t look up, and he grabbed me by the collar and pulled me to my feet. “I’m talkin’ to you!”

I put down my fork. “I’m listening.”

“I’ll repeat it since you were too good to answer it earlier. Why do you want to join the navy?”

“I want to do my part.”

“That’s no reason.”

“It’s the only one I have.”

He drew back his fist and hit me square in the face. I fell over, and everything went black.

***

I came to, lying in a dark room, but the room seemed to be moving, pitching from side to side. Where am I? I wondered. I felt my nose. It wasn’t broken that I could tell, but it sure hurt a lot. I raised myself up on one elbow and looked around. From what I could see in the dim light, I was on some sort of ship, a large one judging by the size of the room I was in. I raised myself to my feet and looked for a way out. I saw an opening in the next part of the hull, and went toward that. The deck was above my head, and I couldn’t reach far enough to pull myself out. “Hey!” I shouted. “Help me out of here! Please help!”

About half a minute later, a face appeared. “Who are you?” it asked.

“I’m Caleb Dillard, and I don’t know how I got here. Please help me!”

The man reached down and got me by the wrist and pulled me up. I collapsed on the deck. “Thank you, mister.”

“All right. What were you doing down there?”

“Like I said, I don’t know how I got there. I was having a meal in a bar when this guy came over and didn’t like something I said. He hit me and knocked me out and I woke up in the hold. What short of ship is this?”

“We’re on the Laurel, a blockade runner. We’re on our way to Cuba to pick up some munitions.”

“I can’t go to Cuba! I have to try to find my wife!” It was not lost on me that the ship had the same name.

“We can’t turn back. And we’re short-handed. Do you have any sailing experience?”

“None at all. I was a farmer and a soldier.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll teach you how to be a sailor.”

“I can’t do that. I have to look for my wife!”

“No, sir, someone hit me in a saloon and knocked me out. I woke up on your ship, but I had no intention of doing that.”

“I see. I take it Donovan here has explained that you won’t come back to Shreveport until we’ve finished our business in Cuba and made the return trip.” He looked at me as if I were addled. “I told you we have to get to Cuba. You might as well resign yourself to that fact. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the captain. He likes to know who’s on his ship.”

I followed him to the captain’s cabin. He knocked on the door and went in, apparently after hearing someone that I couldn’t hear. I followed him and found myself looking at a man in a naval uniform and sitting behind a large desk. The man who had pulled me out of the hold saluted. “Captaint Ramsey, I found this fellow in the hold. I don’t know how he got there, and he doesn’t either.”

Ramsey looked me over. “So you don’t know how you got here.”

 

“Yes, sir, he did.”

“What were you doing in Shreveport?”

“Looking for my wife and son. Someone took them, and I have good reason to believe that’s where they are.”

“Well, a pity that you won’t be able to look for them for a while. Donovan also explained that we need more crew?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you say to that?”

I smiled ruefully. “Under the circumstances, I’d say I have no choice.”

“You’re right. Any experience being a sailor?”

“None. I was a soldier, and before that, a farmer.”

“Which army?”

“Confederacy.”

“Ah, good, although with our needs we’d take a Yankee. We’re have to keep an eye on him, though. We won’t have to do that with you, will we?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Donovan here will outfit you and tell you what your duties will be. You’ll be an ordinary seaman, unless you do something extraordinary, in which case you’ll be promoted. Don’t count on it, though. I don’t expect much to happen on this trip. I should say I hope much doesn’t happen on this trip. You are dismissed.”

He saluted, and I reflexively returned his salute. Donovan took me below decks to a storage area where he pulled a uniform out and gave it to me. “Here. This looks like it’ll fit you. Put it on and I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping, and lets you sleep some, and then you’ll have your first lesson in being a seaman.”

He left me alone, and I put on the uniform. My head was spinning with all that had happened to me in the past day. Moment by moment I was becoming further and further away from Laurel, and I did not think that I would see her any time soon.

Donovan showed me where I would be sleeping. “I’ll let you turn in. With the day you’ve had, you need the sleep. I’ll wake you up when it’s time for your lesson.”

“Thank you,” I said.

He waved a hand. “Don’t thank me until you see what you’ll be doing. It’s not easy.”

He left and I lay down. Lulled by the motion of the vessel and exhausted by what had happened to me, I soon fell asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 35

 

Chapter 35

Deeper and Deeper

February,1863

I wouldn’t have known that the month had changed had not Sean looked at an almanac and told me. “Yessir,” he said, “It’s February and we’re in for some cold weather.” It had been warmer than usual in January, and I wondered what we would do to keep warm. The skins weren’t much help in really cold weather.

He fixed breakfast and we ate. Andrew still have not stirred. I went over to him and felt his forehead. He was burning up. Sean came over and took one look at him. “The wound’s infected. He won’t be doing any traveling.”

“I have to find my wife.”

“You’ll do it without him, then.”

“Would you take care of him. I can pay you. I don’t have it with me, but I have some waiting upriver.”

Sean thought for a while and then said, “Well, OK. You’re in about as desperate a strait as a man can be in, so I’ll keep him. Try to hurry up and get back, though. Having to feed him will ruin me low pretty quick.”

“Thank you, Mr. Fitzpatrick.”

“I thought we settled that. It’s ‘Sean’ to you.”

“Thank you, Sean.”

I went over to where Andrew lay. I didn’t know if he could hear me or not, but I said, “Andrew, I’m going to look for Laurel and Caleb. Mr. Fitzpatrick here will take care of you until I get back, but don’t worry. I’ll come back for you and bring them with me. It’s been good having you on our trip, and I look forward to continuing it with you. Heal quickly, and try not to eat too much.”

He stirred as I spoke those last words, and I took that as a sign that somehow he heard and understood what I was saying. I turned and walked out the door to the boat, got in, and started rowing downriver again.  I wish I were as confident as I was when I spoke those words to Andrew. I was beginning to have the tiniest doubt that I would never find my family, and if that happened, I didn’t know what I would do.

It was a gray morning, and the weather matched my mood. And so I rowed on.

***

Two hours later, tired, cold and wet, I tied up at a dock that led to the main street of a small town. I not only wanted to get in out of the weather: I needed to buy some flour. I should say I needed to trade something for some flour, for as I have told you, I had no money. I stepped out onto the dock and stopped at the first business I came to, which just happened to be a general store. Maybe my luck was turning. I went in, and a woman about 40 years old greeted me. “Good afternoon, young fellow. What can I do for you?”

“I need some flour, but I’ll have to trade for it. I left my money upstream.”

She looked interested. “What do you have to trade?”

I pulled out my pocket knife. “This—”

She looked at it over her glasses. “Got anything else?”

“I got a whole rowboat of things. What would you be interested in?”

“Something I can sell. At a profit to myself, of course. Say, what are you doing on the river in a rowboat in weather like this?”

I hesitated, and then decided I could trust her. “I’m trying to find my wife and son. Some desperado took them, and headed south, so I’m trying to track him so I can bring them back.”

Her hand flew to her mouth. “How terrible! Look, a man in your circumstance doesn’t need to worry about paying for flour. How much do you want?”

Maybe my fortune had turned after all. “I could use about two pounds.”

She went over to a huge barrel and measured out the amount into a cloth bag. “Here you go,” she said, handing me the bag.

“Thank you m’am. I’ll find a way to pay for it when I come back through here.”

She fluttered her hands. “Don’t worry about that. A man’s family is the most important  thing he has, and if I can do something to help you find them, I consider it my Christian duty.”

“I’m much obliged. I’ll come by when I come back.”

“Well, I know you will. And go with God.”

“Good-bye, m’am.”

I went out the door and to my boat and jumped in, thinking that with the exception of the Garretts, who I did not consider to be like other people in the area, everyone I had met on the river was kind, from Huck to the lady I had just left. Without their help, I would not have been able to pursue Laurel, and who knows what I would have done without them. I would have lost her forever, and that was something I did not even want to think about.

The current was fast enough that I could drift and steer with one of the oars so I could catch up with Garrett, if he were still running by the river. I found myself wondering what lay in that direction, but whatever it was, I knew it would be a horrible situation for Laurel. I could tell that from what I had seen of the Garretts already. And so I drifted, glad to not have to row for a change, and watched the shores as I went by.

***

I drifted all day without seeing a soul and, as darkness fell, pulled over to the bank for the night. As I have mentioned before, there was no sense in traveling at night, even with a lantern. I would be risking too much if I did that.

I couldn’t see any sign of human habitation, so I tied the boat up and made my way to a stand of trees that looked like it would be a good place to camp for the night. I was able to carry what I would need for the night with one trip. I set up a blanket I found on the boat as a kind of tent, made a fire, and heated some pork, which tasted good, I was so hungry from my travels. I didn’t take the time to make flat bread with the flour I had gotten earlier in the day, but I would do that in the morning. Finn had some potatoes which I baked in the coals, so all in all, I had a good meal.

After I ate, I lay on my back on some pine boughs I found and looked at the moon and stars in the clear sky. I wondered if Laurel were looking at the same sky, and had a strong feeling that she was. “I’m coming for you, my love,” I whispered and, tired from the day, I closed my eyes and soon fell asleep.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 33

 

Chapter 34

A Long Way Down

January,1863

Andrew and I didn’t say much for a while. I think we were both thinking about what had happened and wondering what would come up next. The river was quiet for a long time, and then we came upon a large steamboat moored to a dock in some small town.

“Let’s put in. The way the steamboat is facing, it’s come up river. Maybe someone saw something.”

“That sounds good to me,” Andrew said. And so we put over and tied up at the dock, not far from where the steamboat stood. We got out, walked down the dock and came upon a deckhand coiling rope.

“Say, did you happen to see a man traveling on the shore with a woman and small child on your way up here?”

The deckhand frowned. “No, I just came up on deck shortly before we got here. George might have seen something, thought. Hey! George!” he yelled to another deckhand across the way.

“What is it?”

“Did you see a man with a woman and small child? They were on the shore.”

“Yeah, I saw something like that?”

“How long ago?” I called out.

“About an hour. They were traveling fast.”

“Thank you!” Andrew and I got back into the boat and pulled into the channel. With the speed of the current and some hard rowing, we could catch up with them.

We traveled for two hours, taking turns at the oars. I was rowing while Andrew watched ahead. We came around a curve, and he whispered, “I think I see them.”

I turned around to see a man on a horse with a woman and child, but the horse was walking. Garrett must have worn it out, and thought he could safely walk the horse. “Let’s put over to the shore,” I whispered back.

We put in to the shore and tied up to a tree. I thought the sound of the river might cover up any noise we made, but we tried to be quiet nonetheless. I took the rifle Simpson had given me and Jimmy my pistol and we set out on the bank.

We were able to get within range in a couple of minutes. We stopped where a tree had fallen, thinking we could use that for cover.

“I think we’re in range for the pistol,” I whispered. “I’ll call out and tell Laurel to duck, and when Garrett turns sideways, take your best shot. I’ll do the same. Are you ready?”

“You bet.”

I took a deep breath and then called out, “Laurel, duck. Garrett, over here!”

Garrett instinctively turned toward the sound, and I saw Laurel lean over the horse’s back, shielding Caleb. Andrew and I fired at the same time, but I could tell we missed. Garrett spurred the horse, and the three of them galloped off.

“Back to the boat!” I shouted, as Garrett turned around and shot at us. I heard Andrew cry out and I looked over to see that he had been shot in the arm. I went over to where he had fallen. “Are you bad hurt?” I asked.

“I don’t think so, but it hurts. It hurts a lot.”

I looked at his wound, and it looked like something I could treat. I tore off the tail of my shirt and used it to wrap Andrew’s arm. “C’mon, let’s get into the boat. There’s some whiskey left that I can pour on the wound.”

“What good does that do?”

“Keeps it from getting infected. I don’t know why. Doctors in the army use it for that, and to lessen the pain from surgery, although they can’t take care of all of it.”

“I think I’ll drink some.”

“Not a bad idea.”

I got him into the boat and poured some whiskey on his wound, and covered it with some cotton strips I found. They were about as clean as anything. I could see the bullet went straight through his arm, which was good since I wouldn’t have to try to dig it out. All I would have had would have been my knife, and it was none too clean.

I then gave him the bottle, and he took a big swig.

“Whew! That ought to do it!” I thought he’d take a sip after his experience along the trail.

I shoved us off and started rowing hard. We had to catch up with them.

A few minutes later, I turned back from looking to see where we were going to find Andrew dead asleep. Well, I won’t bother him, I thought. It’s probably good for him to rest.

I pulled steadily, but then some heavy rain showers moved in, and I was forced to find shelter along the river bank. Since I wouldn’t see much, I didn’t want to risk being run over by a bigger boat, which was almost everything else on the river. I solaced myself with the thought that the rain would slow Garrett down as well, so we were about even. I just prayed the rain wouldn’t last long.

I nosed the boat into the bank and tied it up to a tree. I covered Andrew up as best I could and then went to look for shelter. Moving down the river, I came upon a small house, a shack, really up in some woods. I knocked on the door.

I heard a dog barking, and someone trying to quiet it, and then the door opened. There stood the shortest man I had ever seen. He couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall. His head was covered with curly black hair and his face was wizened. He looked like something out of a fairy tale, and for a moment I wondered if I were in another world. Laurel used to read me fairy tales which had descriptions of some of the creatures who looked very much like this person.

He peered at me with bright blue eyes. “Who comes knocking at my door during such an awful storm? What are ye doing out in it?”

“Someone has taken my wife, and I’m trying to find her,” I started.

“Well, I don’t have her. It’s just me and Daisy here.”

“I know you don’t. She’s somewhere further down the river. I was hoping we could come out of the storm.”

“‘We?’ There’s more than one of you?”

“Yes. My friend has been shot and I need a place for a while to take care of him. It would just be overnight, if you would let us do it.”

“I don’t know about having someone in my house who was involved in a shooting?”

“He’s a young boy, and he’ll be much better off if you’ll let us stay with you for a while.”

“Well…well, all right. But be warned I have a big club if you try anything.”

I didn’t mention that we had guns. “Thank you, sir. I’ll go get my friend.”

I went back to the boat and roused Andrew. He was shivering, and I didn’t like the looks of him. I had found a place for us just in time. “Come on, Andrew, I have a place we can stay in overnight.”

I got his arm around my shoulder and half-carried him to the house. The little man opened the door and we went in. He indicated a cot where I could put Andrew, and he looked him over after he lay down. “This one’s been shot! What were you doing, robbing a bank?”

Either he hadn’t been paying attention when I told him about Andrew or he was shocked to see his bloody bandage.

“No, sir, we were trying to get my wife and son back, and the man who was taking her shot Andrew.”

The man went over and got some water in a tin cup from the pump that stood by a sink. He gave it to Andrew, who drank greedily. I guess he was pretty dry, since we hadn’t stopped to look for water we could drink for a while. Andrew lay back down.

“What are your names?” my host asked.

“I’m Caleb and you heard me say he was Andrew.”

He nodded. “I’m Sean. You didn’t say you were trying to find your boy at first.”

“We are.”

His eyes grew misty. “I had a wife and son. Indian got ‘em, and except for Daisy, I’ve been alone these past five years. I don’t get many visitors, to tell the truth. I was just about toeat. Would you like something?”

“Certainly. I don’t know Andrew will wake up in time to eat with us.”

“That’s all right—it would mean more for us!” He laughed uproariously at this, and set about frying some meat and potatoes that he had ready. In a few minutes, it was done, and we sat down at his rough table. It looked like he had made it himself.

“So, what are you doing out here where your family can be exposed to all sorts of things?”

“We were looking to get away from the war.”

“I don’t blame you. I want no part of it myself, and so far I haven’t been bothered.”

We ate in silence for a moment. “What are your plans?” Sean asked.

“Well, keep going down the river until I find my wife.”

Sean frowned. “Grant’s troops are heading that way. If you can’t beat them, you’ll have to go east and try to make your way to Shreveport. If I was trying to get away with someone, that’s what I would do.”

“I want to try to find her before Grant gets there.”

“Yes, I know you do, but I don’t think you will. There’s a lot of territory to cover, and you’d not be traveling very fast unless you can afford a steamboat. From what I’ve seen, you can’t, so follow my advice.”

I sat there awhile, thinking. “Thank you for your ideas on this, Mr. Sean. You seem to understand why I want to do what I’m going to.”

He laughed, and I was startled. I thought I had said nothing numerous.

“Sean’s my first name, Caleb, or is that your last name? My last name is Fitzpatrick.”

“Oh. My last name is Dillard.”

He smiled. “Pleased to meet you, sir, even under these circumstances.”

We finished eating, and Sean showed me to a corncob mattress in the corner. “You can sleep here. Andrew’s got the cot, and you probably don’t want to be sharin’ a bed with me. I’m going to bed right now, but I warn you, I get up early.”

“That’s all right. I’m going to turn in myself. And I want to get an early start tomorrow, provided Andrew is better.”

“All right. Good-night, then.”

I bade him good-night and crawled off to sleep on the mattress. I lay awake for a while, though, seeing gunshots and wounds before my eyes until I drifted off to sleep

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 32

 

Chapter 33

Ambush

January,1863

After about an hour, we came upon what must have been the Garrett place. We stopped in a stand of trees about a hundred yards distant from the house to see what was going on. Foster was right—the farm, if you could call it that, was a sorry, no count looking place that I’d be ashamed to own. The house was unpainted, and the front door hung by one hinge. Some of the windows were broken out, and what must have once been a garden looked untended, even in the winter.  Three horses stood tied to a tree, trying without much success to find some grass to eat. The horses looked gaunt and pitiful, as if they’d been beaten. The Garretts seem to have no respect for anyone or anything.

I turned to Andrew. “We’re going to have to get closer so you can use your pistol,” I whispered. “I’m OK from here with the rifle, but we’ll need both of us firing to deal with these scoundrels.”

Andrew nodded, and we crawled on our bellies to get closer to the house. We couldn’t see anyone stirring, which was good. We could catch them unawares. As we came upon the horses, one of them nickered, and I froze, thinking that might awaken one of the Garretts. We still weren’t within the range of the pistol, so, after hesitating for a few moments, we continued crawling.

We were just about in range when one of the captors came out of the doorway. “Quick!” I told Andrew, “Move ahead about ten yards!” He scuffled his way forward, and the figure ahead of us called out, “Who’s out there?”

“Wait until at least one more comes out before you start firing,” I told Andrew.

The Garrett peered into the darkness. “I’m getting my rifle!” he exclaimed. “You’d better get gone if you know what’s good for you!”

He disappeared into the house and gave us a chance to come even closer. “Andrew! Move over that way about twenty yards so they can’t shoot both of us at once. Fire when you see any of them. I’ll watch for the others!”

Andrews had just finished moving over when two of the Garretts came through the door holding rifles. Andrew dropped one with a single shot. The boy could shoot. I took care of the other one with the rifle. We jumped up and ran for the house. We went through the door, only to find a back door wide open and no one inside. The remaining brother had taken Laurel and Caleb and gone out. The sound of a horse’s hooves told us that they were getting away. I prayed that they would use a single horse, leaving the other two for us to ride.

We ran out the door and jumped on the horses. I could hear that they were headed downriver, so we went that way. We had ridden for fifteen minutes when I called for a halt. “Let’s stop and listen and see if we hear anything,” I told Andrew.

We waited, listening for a couple of minutes and heard nothing. They were either stopped as well, hiding, or they had gotten far ahead of us. Our horses might have been slower. I didn’t know.

“Let’s keep going for a while and stop again to see if we can hear anything.” With that, we set out again, my heart bursting with the prospect of being with my family again.

We rode hard for several minutes and then stopped again. We heard nothing. I felt sick.

“Looks like we lost them,” I told Andrew. “We might as well go back to the boat and keep going down the river.” With heavy hearts, we went back to the town and stopped by the telegraph office. Simpson was still there. He took one look at us and asked, “What happened?”

“We shot two of the Garretts. I don’t know if they’re dead or live. We left them there, but the third one got away with Laurel and my son.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. The sheriff will get involved when he sobers up. If he sobers up.”

I nodded. “Yes, I remember he’s their uncle. Of course, I’m not going so stay around—I’ll continue to go downriver and keep at it until I find Laurel.”

Simpson put out his hand. “I wish you well, Mr. Dillard. I hope you find your family.”

“Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Here’s your rifle.”

He shook his head. “As long as you’re after a Garrett, you’ll need it. Someone needed to do what you did today for a long, long time.”

I looked at him. “Does everyone around here feel the way you do about the Garrets?”

He smiled ruefully. “Them and their whole infernal family. Their uncle shot and killed my brother-in-law.”

“That’s terrible! Why?”

Simpson shrugged. “Hard to tell. He was drunk, as usual and Robert crossed the street in front of him and he shot him. Or maybe it was just out of meanness. Anyhow, Robert left a wife and two girls. Without him, they had to move out of their house and move in with us.”

“I’m sorry.”

“At least Emily had someone to live with. I had to imagine what would have happened if she didn’t.”

“Isn’t there anything that can be done about the sheriff?”

Simpson sighed. “There’s a war on, and the military and judges are busy with that. Maybe after the war, whenever that comes. We’ll just have to hang on until then.”

I put out my hand and Simpson shook it. “Now it’s my turn to wish you well, Mr. Simpson. God bless you all.”

“Thank you, Mr.Dillard. Now you’d better get going if you want to find your wife and son.”

“All right. We’ll try to get back through here and see how things are going.”

Andrew and I rode back to the boat and climbed in, leaving the horses tied to a tree. I hoped whoever found them would take care of them, which the Garretts had not done. I took the first turn rowing, and it occurred that rowing about was like our situation. Most of the time, I couldn’t see what lay ahead, and when I turned my head to look, I never knew what I would find. And so we continued down the river.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 31

Chapter 32

Discovery

January,1863

 

I rowed as hard as I could for as long as I could. When I stopped to rest, Andrew said, “Do you want me to do that?”

“Do you know how to row?”

“No.”

“It would take me longer to explain it than it does for me to rest. I’ll show you when we have time. It’s not hard.”

“I understand.”

After I had rested awhile, I went at it again, and had to stop sooner than the first time. As we drifted along, I said, “I’ll show you how to row. I can’t keep up this by myself.”

Andrew and I exchanged placed. He took the oar handles.

“All right. You’ve been watching me for a while, so you should have some idea of how it’s done. Put both oars in then pull back. When you lift the oars for another stroke, rotate the handles so that the blade goes in flat to the water. Rotate again to bring the blades perpendicular to the water. Got it?”

He nodded and pulled through two strokes, concentrating hard.

“Oh—one other thing: look around every few strokes so you see where you’re going and you don’t run into anything.”

“This is hard.”

“It’ll get easier the more you do it.”

Ten minutes later, he had gotten into the rhythm of it, and was pulling strongly. Since he was younger than I, I figured he could go longer. After an hour, I asked him, “Want me to take it for a while?”

He shook his head. “No, I’m fine for now.” He hesitated. “Do you think Finn’s going to make it?”

“No.”

“That’s a shame. He was so good to us.”

“Yes, I hate to think of it.”

“How will you know if he dies?”

“I don’t know. We’ll find out somehow, though.”

Half an hour later, we came upon a town and pulled in to the bank. “Maybe someone here saw the men who took Laurel and Caleb,” I said. “Let’s go into town.”

This settlement was larger than the one where we left Finn, and had a telegraph office. There might have been one at the other town, but I didn’t see it. I figured we would go to the office since that’s where people gathered from all over.

We went two blocks down and found the office. The telegrapher looked up as we came in. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m Caleb Dillard, and this is my nephew Andrew. We were traveling west, and some men took my wife and son. I wanted to know if anyone has seen three men with a woman and a boy about two years old around here.”

“I’m Roger Simpson. Can’t say that anyone around here had seen anything like that. Tell you what, though, that sounds like something the Garrett boys would do.”

“Who are the Garrett boys?”

“They’re three brothers who are always up to no good. They haven’t killed anyone yet, but they’ve broken a bunch of laws. Thing is, they’re hard to pin down, so they haven’t been convicted of anything. They’re the type who would take a man’s wife and boy.”

“Are they from around here?”

“They have a farm, if you can call it that, to the west of here, about five miles. But don’t get any ideas about going out there. They’re a dangerous bunch.”

“What about the sheriff?

Simpson snorted. “He’s their uncle, and drunk most of the time. You won’t get any help from him.”

“Well, thank you for your help,” I said, and started to leave.

“Mister,” the telegrapher called, “you said your name was Dillard, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

“I have a message that came in for you. Here it is.”

He held out a telegram to me, and I read,

FINN DEAD STOP ADVISE AS TO DISPOSITiON OF BODY STOP NICHOLSON MD

I turned to Andrew. “Finn’s dead. And the doctor wanted to know what to do with the body, but I’m not going back until we find Laurel.”

The Simpson spoke up. “You can send him a telegram.”

I frowned. “I don’t have any money.”

He pulled out a sheet of paper. “A man in your state shouldn’t have to worry about money. This one’s on me.”

“Thank you.”

“What do you want to say?”

I dictated, “Please bury Finn and arrange for suitable tombstone. Will settle up on my return. Dillard.”

I handed the sheet to the telegrapher. “I’m obliged to you.”

“Glad to do what I can. Now, remember what I said about not going out to the Garrett place.”

I turned to go when Simpson called me back. He reached underneath the counter and pulled out a Springfield rifle. “Here,” he said. “You’ll need this more than I will.”

I gave him a puzzled look. “How’d you know what I was going to do?”

“I could tell by the look in your eyes that nothing was going to stop you from getting your wife and boy back.”

“I am doubly grateful to you, sir.”

Simpson’s eyes clouded over. “My son died of diphtheria last year. I know what it’s like to miss a boy like that. You have a chance to find yours. Take it and go, and God be with you.”

I felt myself tear up, and I turned and started walking quickly down the street. Andrew caught up with me.

“Wow! That was really something what that man did.”

“Yes, it was.”

“So we’re headed out of town?”

“After we go back and get Finn’s pistol. You know how to use a gun?”

“Yessir, my daddy taught me. I’m a good shot.”

“You’re going to need to be, what we’re going to do. If the Garrets are there, which I pray they are.”

We got the pistol and set off at a trot for the Garrett place, not know exactly what we’d find. I never do, I thought. I just hope this turns out well.

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 30

 

Chapter 31

Downriver

January,1863

Because of the rain and the current, we moved swiftly down the river. I had to hope that Laurel’s captors were still on horseback and not in a boat. We stood more of chance of finding her if they stayed on shore, and they probably stopped for the night. I did not intend to do so, and that gave us a better chance of catching them than if we did stop.

We drifted all night without seeing anything or anyone, and with the dawn, I was growing discouraged. As the sun was coming up I asked Huck, “Do you think they kept going east?”

“Naw. Too many people and too much law. They’re sticking to the river.”

I felt better after he told me that, but was still anxious to find Laurel. As the sun started to come up, Andrew said, “I think I see something on the shore ahead.”

Without saying a word, Finn put the boat over to shore. “Get out,” he said. “If it’s them, we stand a better chance if we’re ashore than if we stayed out here.” We did as he ordered, and I noticed that he pulled a huge pistol out of his pack. He saw me looking at him and held the pistol up. “I call this my Persuader, because it helps people make up their minds.” I was glad he had his pistol since I had left mine where we cached our belongings.

Andrew and I climbed out of the boat, and Finn got out. The three of us pulled it up on the shore. We crept closer to where Andrew had seen something. When we got closer to them, we dropped down and crawled along the ground. After doing that for about a hundred feet, Finn raised his head up. “I see ‘em, and they got Miss Laurel all tied up. Your young ‘un is attached to her with a rope around her wrist and his arm. At least the poor little feller can walk around.”

He watched for a while longer, and then said, “I’m going to get close enough for a shot. Wish I had a rifle, but the pistol will have to do. Wait here until I tell you to come up.”

Andrew and I waited while he went toward the campsite. We couldn’t see much, but we heard two shots. Then we heard someone groaning, the sounds of swearing and horses. Although Finn had not told us to come forward, I had to know what had happened. Andrew and I ran up to where we had heard the sounds, to find Finn lying on the ground, bleeding from his shoulder.

“Finn,” I said. “What happened?”

“Aw, dern it, one of them got the drop on me, but I got him back. Then they left, taking Laurel and Caleb with them. Dang it all, I wish I had had a rifle.”

“Are you badly hurt?”

“Naw, it’s a scratch. I’ll be all right.”

“Let me see it.”

“Blast you, I told you it wasn’t anything.”

I looked at Finn’s shoulder by the light of the campfire Laurel’s captors had left. He was bleeding heavily, and would require the attention of a doctor. “This wound is bad, Finn. We need to get you to a doctor.”

“No! We have to go after those varmints who got your wife and boy!” He was insistent. “Help me to the boat and I’ll…I’ll…”

He tried to stand up, but fell over, lying flat on the ground. He had fainted.

“Andrew, help me get him in the boat. There has to be a settlement with a doctor. In the meantime, tear up anything you can find so I can stop the blood flow and look for some of that whiskey to pour on the wound. We might have to have him drink some of it if he comes around.”

Andrew helped me, and we got Finn into the boat where we poured some whiskey over the wound. I mopped up as much blood as I could, and then folded the cloth. “Here,” I told Andrew. “Put this on the wound and keep pressure on it!”

Andrew began treating the wound while I shoved the boat into the current,   jumping in and taking the oars to move us faster.

“Aren’t you afraid of running across them fellers?” Andrew asked.

“No,” I said grimly. “I have Finn’s gun. He’s a civilian, but I belonged to the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment and know how to use a gun. I’d love to meet those  scoundrels.”

We traveled for about half an hour when I saw a small settlement on the right bank. We put the boat in to a dock, and I said to Andrew, “Go see if there’s a doctor and if there is, bring him here. Aw, heck, if there isn’t, bring someone to help us.”

“I’ll do it!” he said, and jumped up on the dock. He ran down what looked like a main street. Smart boy, I thought, and then turned to look at Finn. He was still out and the arm was still bleeding. I didn’t like the looks of that, so I tore off some more cloth and used that to replace the bloody rag that we had put on the wound.

Finn stirred and groaned when I did that, but he still didn’t regain consciousness. “C’mon, Finn,” I told him. “Stay with me.” Some would say that I was foolish to talk to an unconscious man, but I believed that somehow he could hear me. I kept talking to him until I saw Andrew coming with an older man carrying a black bag and a couple of other men. He had evidently found a doctor.

“I’m Dr. Wilson,” he said, and turned to the other two. “Get him out and lay him on the dock. I don’t want to treat him in the boat.”

The two men did as he instructed, and Wilson examined the wound. He shook his head. “I don’t like this.” He turned to the men. “We’ll take him to my office.”

As they picked Finn up, he said to me, “How’s this happen?”

“It’s a long story, Doc. I can tell you after you see if you can stabilize him.”

He harrumphed. “He could be a criminal, as far as I know. In fact, you could be one.”

“He’s not and I’m not.”

“Your word, then.”

“It’s all I’ve got. I’m a stranger around here.”

“I guess we’ll have to see.”

The men carried Finn to the doctor’s office with the doctor, Andrew and me following. When we got close to the office, the doctor ran ahead and opened the door. “Right there, to the right, in my surgery.”

They carried him in and laid him on the table. “All right, while I look at him more closely, tell me what happened.”

“My wife, son, Andrew here and I were headed for the Indian territory when three men took my wife and son in the middle of the night. We tried to track them and ran into Finn coming down the river. He offered to help, and we caught up with them. That’s when Finn was shot.”

“Oh. Anyone else shot?”

“One of the men.”

“If he got him bad enough, he’ll have to see a doctor as well.”

“I don’t know how badly he was wounded. What can you do for Finn?”

The doctor wiped his hands. “Not much. I see you’ve already treated the wound. Where’s you learn to do that?”

“In the army.”

“I’m not going to ask you which one. I don’t care, but if you’re in the army, why aren’t you in uniform?”

I decided to be honest. “I got tired of the killing and blood and decided to quit it.”

“So you’re a deserter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You know by admitting that, you could be in a lot of trouble.”

“I know.”

The doctor sighed. “My son was killed at First Manassas. Because of that, and some other things I’ve seen, I’m heartily sick of this war as well. I understand what you’re saying.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank all those young men whose end came before its time.”

“I’m sorry about your son.”

His eyes got a faraway look. “So am I. And so are a lot of parents.” He shook his head. “As I was saying, your friend here doesn’t stand much of a chance. I can keep him here and see what I can do for him, but it’ll cost you.”

“I can pay.” I thought it ironic but also fitting that I would use the coins that Finn gave us to help cure him, if that were possible.

“Good. I’ll keep him here. You do what you want, but I expect you’ll keep trying to find your wife and son.”

“Yessir, I will. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

He frowned. “I don’t think it will be that soon. It’s a big territory and a big river.”

“I have to try.”

“I know.” I went over to Finn. “Finn, we’re going to leave you for a while, but we’ll be back.”

One of the other men said, “You know he can’t hear you. He’s out.”

The doctor smiled. “You’d be surprised what they can hear. I’ve seen it too many times”

I gave the doctor the coins. He whistled when he saw them. “You’ll have some of this coming back to you. I’ll keep an honest account.”

“I know you will, doc. Thank you.”

“Get going. Every minute you stand here talking, they get further and further away.”

Andrew and I shook hands with everyone one and then ran back to the boat, jumping in and pulling for the channel. The day was going to be clear, which would help in our finding them.

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