I apologize for the rather poor writing here... I was running out of time and had to finish the story as quickly as possible. I read it now and cringe... But I hope you enjoy it, anyway.
A woman fingered the picture frame that sat on the fireplace mantle in front of her. She smiled, revealing the deep dimples on her face. A salty tear escaped and ran down her wrinkled cheek.
The two people in the photograph, her daughter and son-in-law, were both away at war. She had offered to take care of their house while they were gone, since she lived right down the street.
She thought about the strange telegram she had received from her son-in-law, over a month ago. It said that her daughter was traveling somewhere to get some little girl. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it didn’t surprise her. Charlotte was always on some sort of an adventure. After all, how many women went to war along side her husband?
The woman stared out the window and into the busy street beyond. She prayed that one day both of them would walk safely through the white gate leading to the house once again.
She laughed and shook her head. They would be all right. She actually felt better that Charlotte wasn’t on the battlefield; it was too dangerous for her baby girl.
I groaned. My eyes opened and the sky above me spun around and around. I winced from the throbbing pain in my arm. I was afraid to look.
I sat up, my head still spinning. Immediately blood started spilling down my left arm. I grabbed the wound with my right hand and tried to stand. My bag was gone, which meant so was the revolver.
It took a few tries, but I finally found the strength to stand.
“Dessa!” I yelled, although it came out as a whisper. “Dessa!”
I knew that I needed something on my arm. The only thing I had was my shawl, so I carefully wrapped it around the painful wound and knotted it. I was beginning to feel faint, but I refused to pass out. I had to find Dessa.
I stumbled forwards, back into the woods from where we had just come. Before I had gotten very far, I had to sit down on a fallen tree, for I was quite out of breath. Oh for a drink of cold water right now!
Then suddenly I heard a noise. Or did I? Yes, yes, there it was again! It was voices! Were they real or was I hearing things?
“Why don’t you fix something for the little lady to eat?” I heard someone say.
I stood up and stumbled forwards. Through the thick brush I spotted horses, then two men kneeling over a fire. One of them was the man who had shot me.
I clenched my teeth. Sitting on a tree stump, her hands tied behind her back, was Dessa.
“Why? Why did you shoot my Charlie?” she sobbed. “Why?”
“Be quiet, or I’ll make you be quiet,” one of the men retorted.
They turned their attention to the food they were cooking and that’s when I made my move. I sneaked around behind Dessa. I knew that if I tapped her on the shoulder I would startle her and be found out. I felt bad for doing it, but I knew there could be no other way. So I clapped my hand right across her mouth, tightly. She jumped, but the men didn’t notice a thing. I slowly pried my hand away and began working at the rope. Once it was untied, I grabbed her by the hand and motioned for her to start running. I could tell she wanted to throw her arms around my neck and give me a kiss, but we had no time.
The second we started running, the men saw us.
“Hey!” Their voices echoed through the woods.
“Run, run!” I screamed. Please don’t let me faint, I prayed. Please.
Dessa was leading the way. Her sharp eyes immediately spotted the perfect hiding place. A cave, its entrance covered by hanging vines. I was growing weaker and weaker by the second, but she helped me make it safely into the cave. There we collapsed on the wet ground and prayed the men wouldn’t find us.
We waited in the darkness, the only sounds our heavy breathing and water dripping somewhere deep within in the cave. To our great relief, the men did not see the cave and ran right by it. After she was sure they were gone, Dessa threw her arms around my neck and exclaimed,
“Oh, Charlie! I’m so glad you’re alive!”
“So am I,” I whispered, a small smirk appearing on my face.
“It’s Charlie and Dessa!” someone cried.
I looked up in shock and saw three very blurry people.
“Estie? Is that you?” I whispered.
“Oh, miss Charlie!” she exclaimed, running over to where I was propped up against the cave wall. “Oh ma gracious! You’re hurt! Joe, Daniel, she’s hurt!”
I remember only a few things after that. Being carried out of the cave by Joe, and being laid in the bottom of a canoe or some sort of water raft. After that, my mind goes blank until I woke up in a soft bed, surrounded by everyone plus a man who was examining my arm.
“Don’tcha worry, hon,” Estie said softly. “Good ol’ Doc here says you’s gonna be just fine.”
I smiled and tried to say something, but the doctor stopped me.
“Just rest, Mrs. Hamilton. You’re weak from blood loss. But I suspect you will be able to travel to your home within a week or two.”
“Where am I?” I whispered, despite the doctor’s orders to stay silent.
“This is the next station,” Daniel said. “And don’tcha worry 'bout Doc Linden, he’s on our side.”
“We’re in Indiana?” I asked.
“Yes hon. You were sleepin’ like a baby when we crossed de Ohio,” Estie said.
The wait to go home was practically unbearable. Even with Joe and Estie and Dessa trying to cheer me up. I didn’t want to stay in bed for weeks and be catered to every day! I just wanted to go home. I wanted this wretched war to end. I wanted Jack.
Jack knew that my trip was going to take a long time, but he didn’t know why. I couldn’t mention the underground railroad in any telegrams, so I had a lot of explaining to do when Jack got back home in Indiana.
Doc Linden did, however, send this to him:
Wife was injured –(stop)- she is fine –(stop)- expected home in few weeks –(stop)- Doctor Amos Linden, Basketville, Indina –(stop)-
I knew Jack, and that simple “she is fine” would not do. If he wasn’t an officer for the Union Army he would have been on a train to Basketville, Indiana as soon as he received the telegram.
When I was able to travel, Dessa and I made plans to go home to Bloomington by rail. We were in Indiana now, and I felt more comfortable traveling in the open. Joe and Estie were heading to Illinois, so we had to say goodbye. It was hard, for we had all grown very close.
“God bless you both,” I said. We exchanged hugs and kisses and went on our ways.
I jumped out of the carriage, my eyes filling up with tears. The door burst open and my mother came running out.
“Charlotte! You’re home!” she cried. She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed tight.
“Oh, mother… How I’ve missed you!” I said. For a few minutes she wouldn’t let go. “I want you to meet someone very special,” I said at last, turning to the carriage, where a little girl sat.
“Mother, this is Dessa,” I said, helping her down.
I think my mother was a bit surprised when she saw Hadessah. She had no idea that Dessa was half negro.
“Hello, darling,” she said, giving Dessa a warm hug.
It felt so good to walk in the front door of my house again. It wasn’t a large house. But it was cozy, just the way Jack and I liked it.
We walked through the hall and into the living room, where Jack and I had spent many evenings sitting by the warm fire or eating our supper at the table on the far end of the room.
The three of us sat down on the couch, as I giggled like a schoolgirl at seeing my mother again.
“How have you been?” I asked.
“Oh, just fine. How have you and Dessa-that’s right, isn’t it? How have you both been?” she asked, her dimples standing out on her pale cheeks.
I looked at Dessa and smiled.
“Oh, uh, just hunkey dorey!” No sense worrying my mother over things that had already passed.
“Hunkey what? Now what on earth is that supposed to mean?” she asked, as Dessa and I laughed.
“Never mind,” I smiled. “Let’s go get something to eat. I’m starved!”
“Charlie,” Dessa said quietly. It was a rainy afternoon, a few days after we had arrived. We were on my bed, and I was writing letters to friends and family.
“Hm?” I asked, not looking up.
“What’s going to happen to me?” came the blunt question. I looked up and into her brown eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“Where am I going to live?” she asked.
“Well… um… Your daddy said he-well-wanted you to have a nice family,” I stuttered. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure that all out later,” I said.
Suddenly the front door slammed shut and someone came hurrying up the stairs.
To be continued!
Kathryn (aka Chatty Kathy