“Diamond Courage,” Part 16

 

 

Chapter 17

News from Home

September, 1862

We camped near Leesburg, and since we would be there during the winter, started building cabins to house ourselves. I found it good to be doing a work that resulted in something of use, so I fell to it, so much so that the others had to urge me not to go at it so hard. I ignored them, and soon we had a small abode that would house eight of us in relative comfort.

It was about a month later that a letter arrived from Laurel. Before, I would have taken it back to the cabin to read it in private, but I was so eager to see what she had to stay that I tore it open right then and started reading:

August 15, 1862

My dearest husband and my love,

How I have missed you since we parted. I barely had the time to become used to being with you, my dear one, when I was torn asunder from your strong presence.

We arrived near to our cabin safely, but I needed some things in town, so we went there first. Corporal Johnson, who is a gallant and polite young man, also needed to apprise the sheriff of my situation, so while he did that, I gathered my necessaries. With that taken care of, he left me, and Caleb and I made our way to our cabin, where I received the shock of my life. Our cabin was gone, burned to the ground, and nailed to a tree was a note that read, “You were not here and so my men could not find you, but they will continue looking for you until they do. Count on it.” The note was signed “Eleanor.”  I was so frightened I did not know what to do, so I sat down and thought a while, and then it occurred to me that I could go to the Widow Frederick’s place. She only recently came into that state, and I knew that she would take me in, being a fine Christian lady. That she did, and we are for now safe and sheltered, but I fear what will come. If only you were here to take care of us, I  would be perfectly happy.

I hear that our army is moving in this direction, and there will be a battle soon if all goes as I have heard. I pray earnestly for your safety, and I pray that we will be reunited soon.

I am your loving wife,

Laurel

Adolphus, of course, was there for mail call, but did not receive a letter. He looked over curiously. “Good news or bad?”

“Both,” I said. “Laurel got back safely, but it appears that Eleanor had our cabin burned and delivered more threats against our lives.”

“I am sorry to hear that. It is difficult to know what to do against one who is so filled with malice.”

“Yes. I wish I did know what to do.”

We went back to our cabin, where I immediately started a letter to Laurel.

September 3, 1862

My dearest Laurel,

I received your letter of the 15th ultimo, and was right glad to have it. I am beside myself with the thought of what you endured upon your return. I fear that our nemesis will never stop threatening us until she has been taken care of, if you follow my meaning. I am glad that you feel safe in your present situation with the sheriff aware of your dilemma, and I thank God for good women like the Widow Frederick. May He bless her richly for what she has done.

We are in camp, in a good situation as we are housed in cabins, awaiting our next action, which will likely not occur until next spring, it being difficult to fight in cold weather. I shall ask for leave to come see you at the first opportunity.

I miss you with every fiber of my being and I also long for the day when we can be together. Kiss our son for me. I miss him also.

I am your loving husband,

Caleb

I finished my letter and took it to the tent that served as a post office to mail it. As I turned from the table where the letters were collected, I saw David Andrews, whom I had not seen since I left for Eleanor’s spy mission. I hadn’t seen him before around camp, and assumed that he was dead or otherwise out of the war. It was good to see him.

“David!” I greeted him. “It’s Caleb Dillard! I thought something had happened to you!”

He did a double take. “It is you, Caleb! I thought I’d never see you again. You just disappeared one day and no one knew where you went. What have you been doing?”

“I’ll tell you, but not now. It will take a long time, and I know we’ll have plenty of that in the next few months. Right now I have to get back and let Adolphus know you’re here.”

He waved a hand. “Adolphus knows I’m here. We’re in the same regiment, remember?”

“Of course.”

He looked at me intently. “Have you been playing any baseball?”

“David, the situations I have been in provide neither the time nor the space in which to play a game.”

“Well, we’ve set up a diamond and play teams from other regiments. We have a game tomorrow. Do you want to play?”

“I’d like that, but I’d best come early to see if I still can play. It has been months since I touched a ball.”

“Very good. I’ll see you there. Adolphus knows where the field is.”

I went back to the cabin where Adolphus sat at a little table he told me he had made. “I did not know the regiment was playing baseball.”

He looked amused. “Most of the regiments are.”

“It caught on quickly, then.”

“That it did. We have a game tomorrow if you want to play.”

“I saw David Andrews at the post office. He told me about it.”

“Ah! Good, then. We’ll go.”

“I’ll need to arrive early to practice. I told David I hadn’t touched a ball in months.”

“We can do that. Right now, let’s go practice on some food.”

“I am for you, sir,” I said, and we both laughed.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 15

 

Chapter 16

Front Line

August, 1862

The train did come, of course, and all too soon I found myself back with my original outfit. It turned out that the Peninsula campaign was over when I was speaking with Colonel Bryon. He did not have that information, and so the train took us up by Strasburg and through Manassas Gap. I wasn’t that far from where I was captured in the early days of the war. It seemed like so long ago.

I joined up with my old outfit near Front Royal. They came marching through, and I recognized Adolphus among them. I hurried over to him. “Adolphus! It’s me! Caleb!”

He set down his pack and embraced me, then held me at arm’s length. “It’s good to see you, my boy—” He called me ‘my boy’ even though we were about the same age—“but I’m glad you said who you were, otherwise I would have thought I was seeing a ghost. What have you been up to since I saw you at Front Royal?”

“There’s a lot to tell, so I’ll talk to you while we march along. Have you heard where we’re headed?”

“It’s more of the same. Jackson wants to seize the rail junction at Manassas, so it looks like we’re going to fight in about the same place we did just over a year ago.”

Because I had wanted to keep myself safe, I had very little experience with combat. I would have to tell Adolphus.

“Do you remember when we shared that knoll earlier this year?”

He nodded.

“I have to tell you that I never engaged in combat, but stayed hidden there until the battle was over.”

“Did you ever fight?”

I shook my head. “I was at first battle of the Seven Days, and did the same thing. Then I was taken to Washington where I was held against my will, but I escaped and made my way to Winchester, where I took my wife and son and attempted to run, but we were caught by some Confederate cavalry and I was sent to join up with our outfit.”

Adolphus shook his head. “With all that, it’s a wonder you know who you are. What happened to your family?”

“They were sent back home with an escort. I of course have heard nothing about how they fared. I will have to trust them to God.”

“Hmm. That is certainly the best plan. I will pray for all of you.”

“Thank you, Adolphus.”

We marched along until about six, when we stopped to eat. I of course ate with Adolphus, who fended off those who were curious about the new recruit. He kept saying, “This is my cousin Caleb,” and that seemed to satisfy them. I told him in detail about Eleanor and her evil scheming. He sat back when I was done. “You couldn’t make something like that up, so I have to believe you. Not that I wouldn’t in any case, for you are an extraordinarily honest fellow.”

Adolphus admired honesty among all the virtues, so I was surprised when he said I was his cousin. I suppose that could be called a small and necessary lie. Adolphus knew more about moral systems than I did, and so I had to think that he considered the matter carefully before he acted.

Word filtered down that we were going to camp overnight in our present location, and I surmised that meant we would be in the thick of it the next day. I hoped I could sleep.

***

The next morning, I awoke groggy, on account of not being able to sleep at all. The air was filled with groans from men uncomfortable with lying on the group, talk, and an occasional scream as some poor soul was lucky enough to sleep but unfortunate in having a nightmare. We dressed ourselves and had a quick and not very good breakfast of hardtack and coffee. There was not time for more. Our officers told us we would move out in half and hour from the time we arose.  And so, breakfast done, we marched off against the enemy.

I remember the day as one of confusion, with smoke from cannons obscuring our view, the screams of wounded men and horses, the continuous discharge of our weapons, and the unearthly screeching that is called the Rebel Yell. Although intended to confound the enemy, it was enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck. I wish I could recall if I loaded my rifle. I know I fired it, but I do not think I struck anyone. At least I hoped not. As I have said, I was sick of war and wished not to do anyone any harm, or to have anything like that visited upon myself. To those who would judge me for this, I say that you have not experience the confusion, noise, emotion and horror of men inflicting wounds and death on each other with implements of destruction. I do not need your judgement. I have God to judge me, and He is just and merciful. I will throw myself on his goodness when that time comes.

And so I went through the battlefield in a kind of daze and found myself at the end of the day watching my fellow soldiers drive the Yankees from the field. I felt no joy that the battled was over and that we had won, only relief that it was finally over. But I knew that if I continued in this way, there would be other and perhaps more terrible battles, although it was hard to see how there could be a worse case.

I sat down, unable to move for a while, but then bestirred myself and went about discerning who was wounded and who was dead. For the wounded, I signaled the litter bearers making the round of the field. For the dead, I closed their eyes and commended them to God. There was nothing else I could do for them, and I left them lying to wait for the coming of the burial detail. It was a hopeless feeling to think that their wives and children and  friends and comrades in arms would no longer see their animated faces or hear them laugh or marvel at the stories they told or share meals and holidays with them on this earth.

Adolphus found me doing these things. “Caleb! Come away! There are others who can do what you’re doing.”

“I must be of service.”

“No, you must rest. We are going back to Leesburg, and you will need your strength for that journey.”

“Back to Leesburg? Why not pursue the Federals?”

He chuckled and put his hand on my shoulder. “My boy, you have been away from the fight for too long. Since we were captured, the Yankees have heavily fortified the capital. Not all the armies of the South could overcome them where they are. As to why we are going back to Leesburg, the word is that Lee is planning an invasion of the North, most likely next year when we can manage it.”

“I see. Alphonso, do you find all this hard, nearly impossible to bear? Were it not for you and our fellows, I would desert in a minute.”

His face grew sober. “Yes, what we are a part of wracks me to the deepest parts of my soul, and I will tell you more if you swear before God you will not tell any living soul.”

“I so swear, before God.”

“I have been studying Scripture, particularly the Gospels, and I am no longer convinced that owning human being is what a Christian should be doing.”

I caught my breath. My family was too poor to have slaves, and independent enough to do our own work, with all that entailed, including not owing anything to anyone, slave or free. “I am with you on that.”

“Then what are we doing here?”

“Do you forget the sovereignty of states? Is that not important?”

Alphonso gestured to the destruction that lay all around  us. “Is it worth this? I think not. There are surely political solutions to this madness.”

“What would you have us do?”

“Continue to do what we have sworn to do, and look for every opportunity to influence those who are able to bring this conflict to an end.”

I scratched my head. “You have come a mighty distance since first we met.”

“Yes, and we all have a long way to go. Right now, let’s go a lesser distance and start for Leesburg.”

He helped me up, and together we started walking.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 14

 

Chapter 14

Visitors

August, 1862

We bypassed Strasburg, where I had nearly ended up in jail what seemed so long ago, and by that evening, I judged that we were near the town of Woodstock, but not knowing what we might find there, I took us off the road and into the woods where we would spend the night. We made camp, and Laurel fixed our food. We ate, and tired from what we had endured, fell asleep before the sun had set.

I was awakened by rain on my face, so I stirred myself and gathered the oil cloth that I had in my pack and improvised a shelter for us. Laurel joined me just as I was finishing, with Caleb in her arms.

“This will make travel more difficult,” I told her, “but I know we can overcome a little rain.”

“Indeed we shall.” She had not said much since the shooting, which I understood. Horrible sights occupy the mind and leave little room for words.

We had cold biscuits and pork for breakfast, there being no way I could see to build a fire. Then we mounted our horse and set out again. The rain fell more heavily until we had to stop and shelter under a tree and hope that it would slacken soon. I turned to Laurel. “What are your feelings about what happened yesterday?”

She shuddered. “It seems like a nightmare to me, but one that came true.”

I held her. “I will be by your side, not matter what happens.”

She looked up at me. “That I believe.”

We were forced to stay under the tree for an hour, and then resumed our way. Neither of us spoke, thinking, I am sure of recent events and wondering what Providence had in store for us. The Bible said that the Lord will not give us more than we can bear, but I have to admit that I am not sure about that statement. I know I could not bear Laurel’s loss, even if that meant to others that my faith was lacking.

Our horse plodded along (and I say “our” horse as if we purchased him—I suspect that the law would deem him a stolen horse. If it came to that, I would plead necessity, know that there was more than a little opportunity mixed in) until it was time to stop and eat. The rain had moved on, meaning Laurel could fix our food. While she did that, I took Caleb with me, and we led the horse to a small nearby stream and watered him and then let him graze on the grass in the clearing where we had stopped. Caleb liked to pet his nose, and the boy squealed with glee each time he felt its softness.

Something occurred to me as we walked back to where Laurel was. “We need a name for our horse. Such a large animal deserves more of a name than ‘horse.’”

She straightened up from the pot she was stirring. “That is a wonderful idea. What do you want to call him?”

“I thought you might have a better idea since you have more education than I do.”

“Let me think a moment.” Her eyes took on the look that she has when she is thinking seriously about it. Finally she said, “I think we should call him Aethon.”

“Who was Aethon?”

“It was a name applied to reddish-brown horses, like ours.”

“Did it come from mythology?”

“Indeed it did.”

“Laurel, you amaze me with your memory and ability to associate one thing with another. Aethon it is, then.”

We ate our supper while Aethon grazed nearby. I tied him to a nearby tree so he would not run away, although he seemed to readily accept us as his new masters. We went to sleep early, again, still not recovered from having to leave our cabin and the difficulties of our journey.

I was awakened early by the sounds of men’s voices. “Quick!” I called to Laurel. “We must hide ourselves in the woods!”

She started to pack our things. “No! No! Leave them! Hurry!” We had to leave Aethon at his tether.

We left Aethon at his tether and ran into the woods, from where we watched to see a Confederate cavalry patrol ride into the clearing. They stopped at our fire, dismounted, and began examining our belongings. The captain leading the group stooped and held his hands over the fire. “Fire’s still hot!” he called. “They’re somewhere close. Fan out and look for them!”

The troopers spread out in every direction, while we tried to burrow underneath the leaves, although they scarcely covered us. It did not take long for a young corporal to come across us. He held his revolver out. “Stand up!” he shouted. “And don’t try anything! I’ll shoot you if you try to run away!”

We stood with our hands up. “We’re civilians,” I told him, “On our way to see her cousins.”

“Save it for the captain! Now, move!” He herded us back over to our campsite where the captain stood.

“I’m Captain Reynolds,” he said. “What is your name?”

“Caleb Dillard. And this is my wife Laurel and my son, also named Caleb.”

He nodded to Laurel. “What are you doing out of uniform, Caleb Dillard?”

“I’m not in the military.”

“Don’t play me for a fool, Dillard. With the war on, we need every able-bodied man we can get. What is your outfit?”

I knew it was no use to try to continue to fool him. “I am at present without one. I am looking for one to join.”

He looked skeptical. “I’m going to take you back to our headquarters. They have ways of finding out where you belong. If you deserted, you know you’ll be put in prison.”

“I didn’t desert.”

He smirked.

“That remains to be seen.” He turned to the corporal who found us. “Withers, take these people to their horse and see that they get on it. And make sure they don’t run away.”

The young man saluted. “Yessir! I will!” Then he turned to us. “Come on y’all. Let’s go.”

We walked over to where Aethon was grazing. I helped Laurel up, gave her Caleb to hold and swung up onto the horse myself. Withers mounted his horse. “I’ll ride behind you. Follow the others. And remember I’m armed.”

How could I forget a gun that size? I thought, and urged Aethon forward. I followed a small trooper on an equally small horse. That animal looks like a big dog, I thought, and then we were into the woods, following a trail.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 13

 

Chapter 13

Encounters and Other Situations

August, 1862

Something awakened me, and it took me a moment to realize that it was the jingle of a horse’s bridle. I rolled over and looked in the direction of the sound and saw the biggest man I had ever seen, mounted on an equally large gray horse,  holding an enormous rifle and riding toward us. I could tell from his face that his intentions toward us were not benevolent, and so I stood up.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he shouted.

“My name is Caleb and we are peaceful wayfarers passing through.”

“And who is that with you?”

I thought quickly. I would not tell him Laurel was my wife since that might cause him to harm me and make off with her. I remembered that Isaac and Abraham had passed their wives off as their sisters in the Bible to avoid harm, so I might as well do likewise. I stood up. “This woman is my sister,” I said.

“And who is the little urchin?”

“He is her son. Her husband was killed at Manassas.” Thanks to Eleanor, I had gotten good at quick fabrication. I looked at the man approaching us. No doubt he was a bounty hunter for the Confederates. He pursued, captured and brought back deserters so they could be put in prison, all for money. Such men were despised by troops on both sides, there being little honorable about their trade. I did not know his intentions for us, but I trusted that they were evil.

I stood us. “What do you want of us? We have no money.”

“But you do have a sister, and she is a pretty little thing.”

My heart sank. By not saying Laurel was my wife, I might have made matters worse.

He rode up to us. “You—” he gestured toward Rachel—“get up behind me and make it fast.”

Rachel stood as well. “No.”

“Did you say ‘no’?”

“You heard me.”

“You do what I say or I will shoot your brother or uncle or husband or whatever he is.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

He leaned down and smiled, revealed his broken and rotten teeth. “You’re impudent. I like that in a woman. Climb up.”

“I told you ‘no.’”

He cocked the rifle. “You have until the count of three. One—two—thr—.”

I could scarcely follow what happened next, it was so fast and so unexpected. Rachel dove for her basket, pulled out a larger revolver, sat up, and from that position, shot our visitor in the forehead. His skull fairly exploded, and his body slid off his horse.

She dropped the gun, sobbing, and fell on the ground while Caleb wailed. I went over to her and caught her in my arms.

“I never dreamed it would be so awful. What a horrible thing I’ve done. God forgive me!”

“You had to do it. It was either him or us, and I shudder to think what would have happened if you hadn’t pulled the trigger.”

She continued to sob and moan, and I held her for a while and then went over to see about Caleb, who by that time was whimpering. The noise of the gun frightened him, but I soothed him and soon he was quiet. I took him over and gave him to Laurel.

“Look—because of what you did we have a horse to ride. I cannot help but think that was providential.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she wailed. “My soul is stained dark. I am a murderer!”

“Hush,” I said. “Any judge in the land would say it was self-defense. He threatened us, and you defended our family. Think no more of it.”

“I should have a hard time doing that.” She was beginning to calm down.

“I will help you. Come, let’s gather our things and get on the horse.”

And so we left the bounty hunter where he lay, and I climbed up on the horse, taking Caleb first, and then lifting Laurel up into the saddle. The horse was so big that he carried the three of us without any problem. I turned his head southward, and we were on our way once again.

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 12

Chapter12

A Kind of Freedom

August, 1862

We had not gone far when Laurel turned to me. “You said you would tell me of the cause of the peril we find ourselves in when we left the cabin. We are now some distance away, so who or what is the author of our danger?”

I drew a deep breath and told her about Eleanor and her plans and my part in them. Laurel listened quietly, and then bade me stop. She faced me and suddenly embraced me with such force that I nearly fell over backward. “Oh, my dear, dear, Caleb. You have been so much and yet you have remained faithful to me. Was there ever such a man as this? Witness to it, ye heavens, that it may be written in the stars for all to see.”

We stood there a while in each other’s arms, until I gently took myself out of our embrace. “I would recall to you that I am but a man, but a fortunate one to be so esteemed by the woman I loved. We set out again on our way.

I had no clear plan other than to travel southward down the Valley until we hit upon a fortuitous place wherein we might dwell. I did not know what that might be, or where it lay, but determined to rely on Providence for our care.

We stopped for the night after about three hours of travel, and I built a small fire and situated it so as not to draw attention. Laurel had brought some potatoes, and I drew water from a small stream nearby and all three of us feasted on the product of Laurel’s labors. And once again, it was far better than the fine food served in Eleanor’s mansion, because I was free and with those I loved.

Laurel made pallets on the forest floor, and lay Caleb on one. He promptly went to sleep, not doubt fatigued by the journey and the changes this day had brought him. We reclined and talked a while, and then fell into each other’s arms and took our pleasure with each other there under the trees and stars. I then turned over and fell into a deep and mercifully dreamless sleep.

***

I was awakened the next morning by the smell of coffee and opened my eyes to see Laurel bending over our little fire.

I rose from my pallet and went over to her. “Good morning,” I said, kissed her. She kissed me back.

“Good morning. Are you hungry?”

“Is Jeff David the President of the Confederacy?”

“That last I heard,” she said, and we both laughed.

“How did you get the coffee? It’s so hard to come by in these parts.”

“I kept some by for a special occasion. And if having your back isn’t special,  I don’t know what it.”

She took a small frying pan from her basket and broke a couple of eggs into it and set it on the fire, along with four strips of bacon. Soon the food was hot, and she removed it from the fire and put it on some wooden plates she had brought along.

“What else do you have in that basket?” I asked her.

“Many and mysterious things, which you shall soon see,” she replied.

We fell to devouring our food, hungry from the business of the previous afternoon and our long walk. Caleb began to stir on his pallet. Laurel went over to him.

“What are you going to feed him?” I asked.

“I have some johnnycakes and dried beef that he’ll like. He eats them right up.”

“He’d make a good soldier, then,” I said, and we both laughed, although my experience with the army showed me I never wanted my son to be a soldier.

We finished our breakfast and Caleb his food, and I stood up. “We’re better get going,” I said.

“Where are we going” Laurel wanted to know.

“I do not know. I will know the place when I get there.”

“You sound like someone from the Bible.”

“My name is from the Bible. Perhaps we shall come to dwell in the Promised Land.”

She looked at me with her face shining. “Anywhere with you is my Eden. You are my love.”

I was so overwhelmed with my love for her that I could not speak. I embraced her for a long time, and then we broke apart. “I could stay like that forever, but we must be on our way.”

“We will stay together forever, some day.”

“Well I know.”

We that, we packed up and started down the path, she and Caleb leading, I behind them. “Why do you not walk with us?” she asked.

“It is the better to see around us and discover any threats to our well-being.”

“That makes a great deal of sense.” She laughed. “I shall lead our merry little band on, then.”

We walked for about four hours and came across a clearing, more of a meadow, actually, and stopped.

“This would be a good place to make our lunch a picnic,” Laurel murmured.

“Perhaps this is the Eden of which you spoke.”

“If you will recall, my paradise is with you, but this is indeed a fair and welcoming place. We shall eat here.”

I put my pack and Laurel her basket on the ground, and she set Caleb down to crawl and explore while she fixed lunch. We ate, and afterwards, we lay back and in the full sunlight, fell asleep. I did not wonder that I should be so fatigued, since I had walked from Georgetown that day before, and Laurel was now doubt tired from her preparations for our journey. And so we were insensible for some time.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 11

 

Chapter 11

Southbound

August, 1862

I decided not to walk through our little town since that would not only occasion comment, making it more likely that Eleanor would find me (although I am sure she had a good idea as to where I had gone), but would also delay my arrival. As I skirted through the woods, A thought occurred to me. Laurel would want to embrace me (as I would wish the same), but I could not let her since I had poison ivy. And so what had been an asset had become a liability.

Preoccupied with these disappointing thoughts, I did not pay attention to my surroundings until I found myself on the path that led directly to our cabin. All I had to do was climb one more hill, and the clearing with our house in it lay at the bottom of the incline. I hesitated, took a deep breath, and crested the rise. There I saw—O sweetest of visions—Laurel hoeing in the garden. I was coming from the south, so the sun was behind me, and I saw her raise her hand to shade her eyes. She could not tell at first who I was, and tensed in case I was one who might pose a threat to her. Finally I came close enough for her to tell who I was, and she dropped her hoe and let out a shriek. “Caleb! Is that you? Oh, my darling, fly to me! Fly, fly, fly!”

Wishing to obey my wife, I commenced running, and before I could say a word, she was in my arms, smothering me with kisses and weeping with joy. I held her for about a minute, and then she pulled back from me. “Let me look at you! You’re so thin! Have you not been eating?”

“My rations have been poor and few,” I told her, thinking that although the repasts as Elanor’s were sumptuous, I could not find much of an appetite, considering the circumstances. So, yes, I had lost weight.

Laurel moved me around so she could see my face better. “What is this upon your face?”

“It is from a patch of poison ivy I stumbled into and then used it so none would come near me and per chance recognize me. It was to the good then; here and now it has been an ill thing. I fear I might have infected you.”

“I don’t care! If I do contract it, we’ll have it together! I can abide anything as long as I’m with you! Come in and let me give you something to eat. But first, you must see Caleb. He has grown so much lately.”

Inside the cabin was exactly as I remembered it: neat and tidy, and everything in its place. We went over to the bed where Caleb lay sleeping. Gazing upon his small features, I thought he favored Laurel more than he did me, which is generally the case that first sons resemble their mothers and second songs their fathers. I felt tears come into my eyes as I looked at my boy, and Laurel embraced me. “It’s all right. I still do that when I watch him sleeping. He is so precious.” With that, she wiped away a tear.

We went into the living area and sat down. “Let me get you something to put on that rash,” Laurel said. “I have some oatmeal that will do the trick.”

“Oatmeal?”

“Yes. It dries up the affected areas. My grandmother told me about it, God rest her soul.”

I sat there looking around , thinking how best to tell Laurel that we must leave, and quickly. I had to make her understand that if we stayed there our lives would be in danger. Once I explained that, I knew she would want to vanish as much as I did.

She came back with a bowl of oatmeal and started applying it to my face and arms with an old towel. “That feels better already,” I told her.

“Yes. Keep this on for half an hour and then I’ll apply more. While that is doing it’s work, I will fix you something to eat. What would you like?”

“Anything you would fix will taste like manna to me, it has been so long since I have had some of your cooking.”

“I’m out of manna, but I do have some pork, tomatoes and potatoes. I trust that will do.”

“That sounds heavenly. And while you’re fixing the food, I’ll take a little nap.”

“That sounds wonderful. Sleep, my love. You are safe here.”

I felt a pang go through me as she said that. She did not know about Eleanor and so did not understand our situation. I would tell her after I ate.

***

I was awakened by the smell of the food Laurel held as she stood over me. “Come to the table,” she said. “You had a good nap.”

“Yes, I was totally insensible. You could have carried me off and I would not have known it.”

She laughed. “I would like to carry you off, if you are cognizant of my meaning.”

Once again I felt something grab in my stomach as she said that. We would have no time for anything except gathering what we would take with us. We could not even stay the night, so perilous was our situation.

I ate quickly while Laurel watched me, her eyes shining. She seemed more beautiful than when I left her, and I knew this was not some fantasy resulting from our long separation. I pushed my plate aside. “That was excellent! You are such a wonderful cook!”

She dropped her eyes modestly. “You are kind, but what I prepared was made with love. Caleb will awake soon. Perhaps we will have time to make love before he does.”

I took her hands and gazed into her face. “There is something I must tell you.”

She smiled slightly. “What is it, my love?”

“We must prepare to leave immediately. Our lives are in danger if we stay.”

She looked puzzled. “Why are we in danger?”

“It would take too long to tell you here, while we are under a threat, we must gather what we need and leave immediately. I will have time to explain everything while we travel. You must believe me.”

Her face was troubled, but she said, “I know you to be an honest man, Caleb Dillard, and  so I will do as you say, although it grieves me to leave this place where I have so many happy memories.” She kissed me, arose and immediately began putting our things into a basket.

I gave her my pack. “You may use this as well.”

We continued our preparations for about fifteen minutes, and then heard Caleb stirring. Laurel went in to bring him out to me. She held him at arm’s length as he yawned and stretched. “He has need of another diaper, so be careful.”

My son regarded me dubiously for a moment. I had to remember that I had not seen him for a long time. Then his face relaxed and he held out his arms. I took him and held him tightly. I do not know that there is a feeling more like unto being in heaven than taking a child in our arms. I closed my eyes, enjoying his softness and indeed even the fragrance that arose from him. I cared not from whence it came at that moment. I was holding my boy, and that was all to me.

I stood for a moment like that, and then handed him to his mother. She took him and went off to change him.

I looked around the cabin, seeing it closely, for I did not know if I would ever come back here again. I finished stowing the few possessions I wished to take, and I was ready. Laurel came back out with Caleb and handed him to me. “The airs around him have much improved,” I smiled.

“Yes. ‘Tis amazing what a small square of cloth can do for a child.” She folded her wedding dress and put it in the basket.

I was puzzled. “Will you have need of that?” I asked.

She smiled. “I might decide to marry again.”

I could say nothing. “And who would that be?”

She came over and embraced me. “I would never marry another, even if you passed on. I told you falsely to make you laugh. I am sorry now for doing it, for I see that you are upset. I am taking my dress because it reminds me of our wedding, one of the happiest days of my life.” She looked down at Caleb. “That day he was born is another.”

I relaxed. “I was not upset. I simply did not understand.” I looked around. “Are we ready, then?”

She nodded. “We appear to be.”

As we walked together, me carrying my pack and Laurel’s basket, and she little Caleb it occurred that in taking them with me I was trading one kind of danger for another. The sun set behind a mountain, and we were away, southbound toward who knew what.

 

 

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“Diamond Courage,” Part 10

 

Chapter10

Into the Valley

August, 1862

I had calculated that it would take me 24 hours of walking to reach Winchester, which of course did not allow for rest, which I resolved to do as little as possible. I had grown accustomed to doing without sleep on marches. Some soldiers could sleep while marching, but I was never able to. I supposed that I would see my Laurel in about a day, something I longed for mightily, and which thought served to quicken my steps.

I knew I would have to cross the Potomac, and watched for the first opportunity to do so. I came across a ferry about four that afternoon, and saw that some other soldiers stood waiting to cross. “Hello!” I cried. “What is the name of this place?”

A sergeant saluted. “It’s Conrad’s Ferry, sir. And where are you bound?”

“To Winchester, to rejoin my regiment. I was called on to deliver a horse to the War Department.”

The sergeant looked at me hard, thinking that I was of too high a rank for such a menial chore.

“That must have been a special horse or a special rider to warrant the use of an officer to do such a deed.”

“Yes, there was something special about this mission, but as to its particulars, I may not share them with you.”

“Ah, it is a matter of some secrecy then.”

“Indeed.”

He peered at me. “What is wrong with your face?”

“Whilst in the city, I contracted some contagion. I fear it is catching, so please do not come any closer.”

The sergeant shrank back, evidently thinking that he had come close enough to catch what I had, and indeed, if he had gotten close enough, he could have had a fine case of poison ivy.

“You need not worry about my coming near. I have enough ills without adding another one. The ferry had pulled in while we spoke, and we went on board, the sergeant apparently telling the other soldiers of my affliction, so that they remained at one end of the ferry and I the other during our short ride across the river.

“I wish you well,” he called. “The hospital tent is behind the headquarters tent.”

“I thank you for that,” I told him. “Although I am familiar with it, that being my regiment.”

The group of soldiers set a fast pace, likely to stay away from me, and they soon disappeared behind a bend in the road. This case of poison ivy is in one wise a fortunate thing, I thought. I only wish that it did not itch so badly.

I figured I had five more hours until I reached Winchester and the camp, and so would arrive there before dusk. But it was not my intent to go near the camp, but continue on to the cabin where I might see my darling wife and precious son. My heart fairly burst at the mere thought of them, and I wiped away a tear, so deep was my affection for them. My plan was to take them down the valley to an out of the way place where we might spend the rest of this, however long it might be waged. In trust, my experiences so far led me to hate war, division, violence and suffer so that I would not have any further part of it on one side or the other. I suppose you might say I was deserting from both sides.

These thoughts led me to recall the uniform I was in and the necessity to somehow procure if not a Confederate uniform, then the attire of a civilian. I judged that to be the more likely case, and, as I passed by what I judged to be Winchester, set myself to looking for laundry hung to dry in about my size which I would take, but unlike the last time, I had money and would leave something to pay for my new outfit.

About two o’clock in the afternoon, I saw such attire hanging on a line outside a small isolated cabin. I hid behind a log and watched carefully for any sign of occupation. After half an hour, I judged that there was none, and made my way to the clothes hanging in the sun, helping myself to a shirt and pants. I would use my uniform hat until I saw someone coming, and hope as well that someone else might have left his hat so that I might have it. If I could find no hat, I of course would continue. The sun was lowering, and I was in the shade much of the time. I would be at our cabin by sunset.

I quickened my step at this thought. Soon my chiefest dream would come true, and I would be with my little family again.

 

 

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