Dedicated to the people who inspired and supported me including my former wife, Myrna Park, my daughters Katherine and Shauna who keep me laughing, my sons Carson and Liam who spent a holiday holed up in a hotel as I went through the provincial archives reading the papers of the day.
To the early residents of Canada, and especially the early Chinese community, in recognition of their hard work and suffering.
Also, especially my editor, Nancy Bell, who not only edited several times and made great suggestions, but also kept pushing when I was bogged down.
Finally, to you the readers, who have made it all worthwhile.
BWL Publishing Inc. acknowledges the support of the Government of Alberta.
“Justice? —There ain’t no Justice for Chinks, or the white men who marry them. Now beat it, I’m here to up-hold the law for decent white folks,” Sean’s voice was grim repeating the Sheriff’s words.
“Sean, did he really say that?” His mother Lin’s voice was soft and sad. Sean hadn’t intended for Liam to hear the conversation about the upshot of his meeting in town. Liam was picking up wood just outside the cabin when the words floated through the open window.
Words do hurt. The sheriff’s words hurt, and it must have been all Pa could do to keep from hitting him.
He’d never give the sheriff a reason to run us right out of Missouri, at least that’s what Pa always says. Ma knows our family faces all that hatred because she’s Chinese, but she never shows it. Her quiet strength always amazes me.
The sentiments were familiar, he’d heard similar language before, but he wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having Pa and Ma know he’d overheard the conversation. Liam quietly moved away from the side of the log cabin to the barn, picked up a dinted galvanized milk pail and headed for the top of the steep hill behind the farmyard to tend to the rest of his chores.
Half way up the steep hill he stopped and sat down at his favorite spot overlooking the farm. He could see most of the yard from this vantage point. The dirt road leading up from the main road; the weathered, grey and worn rough lumber barn. To one side of it was the green garden with rows of potatoes and corn, next to the log house they called home. He continued to sit by the narrow path in an almost dream like state as he looked down through the trees at the valley floor.
Liam enjoyed living in the country. He took in a deep clean breath, enjoying the freshness of the forest. Each deep breath brought him peace as he slipped deeper into contemplation. He normally relaxed here, but the overheard conversation troubled him deeply. Not that the words were new, but they struck deep. It worried him what might it mean for his family and him. Ma had asked Pa numerous times to move, and she would probably do so again now, but the stubborn old Irishman always refused. Liam doubted this recent incident would change the man’s resolve. Besides where would they go? The whole country was in a state of turmoil. Why did Pa even bother to go to the Sheriff? He must have known what his response would be.
Liam reached out and grabbed some branches uphill from where he sat and pulled himself upright. He swiped his hand over the seat of the worn wool pants and checked to see he had brushed off all the dirt. Clothes were hard to come by so Liam was careful to take care of them. Almost everything the family wore, Ma had made or refitted from used clothing. He smiled at the thought. Ma was a good seamstress and it was a source of pride for her to make their clothes. Liam liked it too, mostly because he saw the love and joy she put into them. Because of her background, the garments were often different from what the other boys wore, and it sometimes made him a target for the school bullies.
That was what happened this afternoon. He tried to ignore the other boys as he started down the road for home, but four or five of the bigger ones surrounded him and laughed at his pants. Most boys his age wore straight cut wool pants with enough room to go over their boots. Liam’s were too short and tight in the leg, so they stopped at the top of his hand-me-down work boots. The too large boots and his thin legs gave him a cartoonish look. Liam looked down at his boots, then shook his head as though he could shake the thought from his mind. Picking up the pail he continued winding his way up the path.
Over the years, the trail had worn down exposing tree roots left skinned and shiny against the dark dirt. These roots sprawled across the path like hundreds of snakes lying in the sun. In his mind, he imagined they were snakes, friendly to him, but protecting the old milk cow from unwanted visitors. He envisioned them attacking the white men that seemed to hate him so much. He didn’t know why they called Ma a Mongolian or a Coolie, but the sneer that usually went with the comment implied it wasn’t a compliment. Ma and Liam had both been called ugly, lazy and dumber than a nigger, but never in Sean’s presence. Pa could be explosive and had won enough fights that most men were careful not to rile him.
Liam broke out of the dense under growth into a small cleared plateau at the top of the rise. He stopped to look back over the edge of the trail at their cabin a couple hundred feet below.
He wiped his forehead with an old white cloth handkerchief. Not only was it hot, but the humidity was high, and he was already soaked from his own sweat. He folded the cloth and shoved it into the rear pocket of his pants.
Liam had lived most his fourteen years on this farm, but he still never got tired of the rugged beauty of the Ozark Mountains that surrounded it. On days when there was no hurry he’d sit in the still and quiet and imagine what life might be like if there was no war between the states. If only people would look at Ma and me and see ordinary people instead of a China woman and her half Chink son. He could live with the taunts and ridicule directed at him but hated it when they were directed at Ma.
When he came home from school this afternoon, all skinned up again, his father’s temper flared, and he left for town to talk to the sheriff about stopping the older boys who often bullied him. He had tried to discuss it with the teacher several times, but she failed to do anything. What his father didn’t know was often the fights were the results of Liam striking back at the bullies when they insulted Ma. Like his father, Liam didn’t care how big the other boys were, he would wade in swinging and as often as not came home bleeding or with a black eye. He might not win those fights, but he took pleasure in knowing he hurt the other fellows too. Deep inside he acknowledged he would never win, there would always be someone calling him out about his color or the shape of his eyes.
The sun was pleasantly warm on his face, he looked up, shook away his thoughts and smiled. He loved this little clearing on the plateau at the top of the hill. He was sure no one outside the family knew about it. Here, he was free to be anyone he wanted, even if was just himself. Today was not going to be such a day however. Pa wanted him to hurry with the milking and help with some extra chores so there would be extra free time tomorrow. Pa said he had a surprise in store. The surprise, Liam knew would be taking a picnic basket, fishing poles, and venturing further into the hills for some relaxation and to catch fish. Father and son loved to do that every so often, not just for the food but also as a welcome break to the never-ending daily drudgery.
He turned away from the edge, walking quickly towards a split rail corral. Reaching it, he ran his hand over the rough top rail, remembering the day the three of them built it to hold their one milk cow.
The zig zag pattern of the rail fence allowed thin split logs to be stacked and tied with wire so there were no posts or nails required. It was a far easier and quicker way to build in the rocky soil than trying to dig post holes. Sean wisely insisted they keep the corral back far enough from the edge to be out of sight from the yard below. The clearing backed on to a high bank, sheltering it from the high winds common to the area. His father, a feisty red headed, bearded Irishman, could turn out the work of any two men, at least that’s what Liam often heard others say about him. He remembered how he had to struggled to keep up with him. Ma also worked hard and accomplished a lot, especially for a small, slender Chinese woman. Walking to the corner of the corral, he dropped his pail over the top rail and climbed in after it.
If the Union Army ever found this place, they would take the cow for the war effort as they had done with most the other livestock in the area, as well as half of the garden produce. If the Northerners or their Bushwhackers didn’t take the cow for the Union, then for sure the Southern Army, the Red Legs or Jay Hawkers would seize her in the name of the Confederacy. Every other day it seemed one side or the other would sweep through the area pushing the front line of the war back and forth. If it wasn’t the armies, then one of the roaming bands of raiders who rode for one side or the other would appear.
The cow is safe up on the plateau. No one will bother climbing the hill without a reason, Pa said. The old cow protested when we first led her up the steep path. Fortunately, there was enough clear land on top to let her graze all summer and still have enough hay to feed her through the winter. In return she gives us milk, cream, and butter, riches few people in the state enjoy these days. We used to have chickens and eggs too before the army killed them all. I understand why men kill birds for food, but the last bunch just used them for target practice, then left them lying in the sun. I’m not even sure which side that band of outlaws supported. The war seems to be making all men crazy.
Liam took a handful of grain from a large box next to the fence and placed it in a trough made of rough boards. He opened a gate and when into a small covered shed, picked up some hay and threw it the trough as well to keep the cow busy so he could milk her. He pulled up a short three-legged wooden stool, sat beside her to begin milking.
Rich milk was just beginning to stream into the pail when a loud, crack echoed through the trees. His heart stuttered, and he leaped to his feet. The sound was unmistakably a gunshot. Running to the fence, he vaulted over the top rail and ran to the edge of the hill where he flopped down on his belly. Crawling the last few feet through the long grass he peered down into the farmyard below.
Few people stopped at the out of way farm, which was hidden from the main road by the thick forest. Still the place had been overrun several times in the past year, once by the rebel Bushwackers, the Missouri guerrillas, and twice by the pro-North Red Legs and Jay Hawks from Kansas, as well as once by the Union Army.
Each time Sean used his Irish gift of the gab, to calmly convince the raiding parties the family had no slaves and were only poor dirt farmers with nothing of any value. Each time the men had taken whatever food they could find and left the family unharmed except for a few taunts aimed at their mixed-race.
From this vantage point, Liam looked down through the tall green trees that ringed the top of the hill. He could still see most the farmyard and clearing below. In the middle of the yard four men in blue uniforms sat on tired looking horses. Thank God, it’s not guerrilla forces. Liam let out a long breath. The blue uniforms indicated they were from the official Army of the Union, the side his father secretly supported.
One of the soldiers held a revolver pointing in the air. He fired it a second time, their horses all pranced a little as the sound of the shot echoed through the woods.
Pa is a Northern sympathizer, he’ll be okay. Liam hoped that would be the case. It didn’t pay to publicly take sides in this part of the country. The war had taught Sean to keep his Irish temper in check. It wasn’t always easy living right on the line dividing the North and South. An area where families were often torn apart, with brothers going off to fight for opposite sides. An area where the larger farms had black slaves and the smaller farms often did not.
Liam noticed one soldier with three large yellow stripes on the arm of his blue army issued jacket. The man was obviously the leader, and he seemed to be arguing with Sean. Pa pointed towards the other three men, and for the first-time Liam realized they were also leading three horses tied in a string.
More shouting appeared to be taking place between the leader and Sean, although Liam couldn’t hear them from this distance. Sean reached up and grabbed at the bridle of the leader’s horse, seemingly in protest. The big man suddenly raised his rifle to his hip and fired. Smoke and fire exploded from the end of the barrel followed a split second or two later by a louder and deeper crack echoing through the woods. The man’s horse stepped high and backed up, obviously startled as well. Liam held his breath as the action played out below as if in slow motion. Pa stumbled backwards a few feet, falling on his back, dry dust rising above him like a cloud. He lay face up in the hot sun and didn’t move.
Life is Over
Liam jumped up to his feet, panic thundering through him. He hurled his body down the steep trail, nothing in his mind except Pa lying in the dirt. Is he hurt bad? He can’t be dead… His heart pounded in his ears so hard it hurt and blurred his vision. His breath came short and fast, the image of his father falling backward into the dirt driving him on. He can’t be dead, what will happen to Ma and me if he is? How can we survive the war without him?
In his frenzy, he left the trail and cut across the switchbacks as he ran straight downhill. The straight approach made the descent much steeper, Liam careened down almost out of control as the branches and thorns ripped at his clothes and exposed skin. His legs couldn’t keep up with the speed of his descent and sent him head over heels. Liam let the momentum roll him back to his feet and kept going, ignoring the pain.
At the bottom of the hill, he broke out of the trees into the clearing. Ma appeared on the porch of the cabin holding the big Henry rifle they kept just inside the door. The gun was almost as large as she was, her arms trembled while she struggled to lift the heavy weapon. The soldier with the revolver turned and laughed when she attempted to bring it to bear on him.
Suddenly a second loud crack erupted as she brought the barrel up. The recoil drove her into the darkness of the cabin, the gun dropping heavily to the wooden floor of the veranda. Liam’s heart thumped, tears blurring his vision and streaming down his cheeks. Pa couldn’t die, they needed him, and Ma…. He tried to yell, but no sound came. Liam lost sight of the cabin for a few seconds as he scrambled down a small draw and back up the other side, entering the farmyard. The solider his mother fired at turned his horse towards the house.
“You, yellow whore, I’ll teach you not to shoot at a white man.” The soldier pointed his hand gun towards the cabin door and fired. He shot a second time and turned away laughing.
Ma, why did you do that, how badly are you hurt?
“No,” Liam screamed. This time the sound erupted from his mouth.
The solider with the yellow stripes turned toward him. Liam raced straight at the four mounted men, everything moving in slow motion. The leader put his rifle back in the scabbard in front of the saddle and drew a pistol from his side, pointing it straight at the running boy.
Smoke burst from the mouth of the revolver, followed almost instantly by pain that burned in Liam’s right hip. The fiery sensation exploded through his entire body and the sound of the gunshot rang in his ears. Liam crashed face first into the dirt before he could raise an arm to break the fall. For a moment, the world stopped. He lay unable to move; the pain all encompassing; his right side on fire. His body wouldn’t respond to his commands.
The sergeant yelled, “Let’s get a move on.”
The ground vibrated as the soldiers turned their horses in unison and trotted down road, leaving only silence, the smell of dirt, blood and gun smoke. Liam blinked, gritting his teeth against the pain. Time stood still while he caught his breath again and rolled over onto his good side, so he could see the cabin. Grabbing his hip, he looked down, breath still coming in short gasps, dark red, almost black, blood oozed between his fingers. Struggling to his hands and knees he crawled the few yards to his father’s side, his right leg dragging in the dust.
Sean’s face was almost unrecognizable in death. The thick red hair and beard framed the face, but the deep furrows that normally ploughed through his forehead and the edges of his eyes were gone. The normally tightly pressed lips gaped open. His father’s steely eyes stared up unmoving. Eyes that once sparkled a deep blue with the mischievousness of the Irish, stared upward dull and drained of life. Liam drew a feeling of strength from Sean Caton’s expression, which was now clear of worry, the ruddy weathered face now pale and pasty, seemed to be at peace somehow. Liam leaned down gently touching the side of Pa’s face, the skin already unresponsive, and cooling despite the heat.
“Goodbye, Pa. Rest in peace. Don’t worry about Ma and me, we’ll get by.” Tears dripped down his young face as he struggled to come to terms with the situation.
He left Sean where he lay, crawling and half stumbling toward the cabin he went looking for his mother.
“Ma. Ma.” Reaching the veranda, he grabbed the wooden rail and pulled himself erect. Dragging his right leg up the three wooden steps he staggered across the veranda and fell through the doorway.
“Ma?” he cried, his voice cracking as his eyes adjusted to the dim light of the cabin. “Ma, are you okay?”
She didn’t answer, but her narrow black eyes slowly blinked.
“Ma!” he spoke a little louder, hoping to ignite the flicker of life still burning somewhere inside her. There was no response. Leaning on one elbow he crawled closer, pressing his ear to her chest. Her breathing echoed in his ear faintly, slow and shallow, but breathing. Fear closed his throat and squeezed his chest, he couldn’t lose her too. He wiped his face with the back of his hand, then pulling himself up to one knee he put his left arm under her shoulder. The pain flared fiercely, then settled as adrenalin kicked in. Using all his strength, he gathered her up and then lurched to his feet. With halting steps, he managed the short distance across the room and placed his mother gently on the bed. He slumped beside her, the pain searing like a bonfire in his bones. Darkness crowded the edges of his sight, but he pushed the agony away and gently stroked the black hair back from her face. “Ma don’t leave me.” He lay one arm across her for a few minutes to let her know he was near. He tried to comfort her, the way she had done for him so many times when he was younger.
What started as a nice day, in the space of a few minutes changed dramatically, it seemed his entire life was shattered. Ma had to survive, she couldn’t leave him alone.
“Hang on, Ma.” He gathered his strength and rose again, ignoring the pain, he limped to the stove where he poured hot water from an iron kettle onto a towel then returned to his mother’s side. His eyes were now used to the dim light that streamed in from the small window and doorway. He sat at the edge of her bed and took stock of her wounds. One bullet cut the edge of her upper arm. He ripped apart the towel and bandaged it quickly to stop the flow of blood. The other bullet entered her upper right shoulder and there was no sign of it exiting. He packed some of the hot towel against it and used her long red silk scarf to hold the bandage tight. He didn’t know what else to do. He wiped her forehead with the remaining part of the towel and spoke to her softly in her native tongue.
“Ma, can you hear me?” He continued to stroke her forehead.
“Liam” she said in broken English and then reverted to her native Chinese, “Son?” Her voice was weak, she tried to sit up but failed, her head collapsed onto the pillow.
“I’m right here. Please stay still and lay back.”
“I tried to stop them,” she choked the words out in broken English, “they shoot your father. I try shoot them.”
“I know. I saw. You did good,” he said quietly then laid a hand gently but firmly on her good shoulder encouraging her to lay still. “You must take it easy; you need to get well again.”
“Is he dead then?” her voice just above a whisper.
The quiet of the room was broken only by her shallow breathing her shoulders heaving slightly and trembling as she quietly wept. Her breath became more regular and she seemed to relax, laying as though sleeping, but Liam could see her eyes staring into the unknown, she was still awake. Leaving her for a moment he addressed his own wound which was still bleeding, but not as much as it had been earlier. He undid his pants and pulled them down exposing the damage. The wound was more like a deep, wide cut across his hip. It entered from the front, ripped the skin across his hip and exited to the rear. Bad enough, but not deep. He ripped up a sheet, shoved some of it in the hole and tied the rest around his hip to hold the makeshift bandage in place.
Once he finished tending himself, he returned to his mother. Liam picked up the towel and wiped her brow again. The world would be a much different place without Sean Caton. The wiry Irishman hadn’t always been easy to live with. Sean had his own set of rules and rule one was he was the head of the house. He wanted to raise an Irish lad, so he had frowned upon Liam learning the Chinese ways of his wife. When he wasn’t around Lin taught Liam the language, some of the customs of her ancestry and a few special defensive moves, which she said would give him confidence but insisted they were only for his self-defense. He had to promise her he would only use them to protect himself and try to live in harmony with the world around him. She was always talking about beauty and harmony and liked to point out the beauty that was all around them.
“Ma, please rest. Please get strong again, I need you. I love you.”
He stroked her hair as he looked down at the gentle woman who had taught him love, peace and tolerance for all living things around them.
He marveled she had shot at the man who attacked her family. It seemed so out of character, but he realized just how much love she must have had for Pa to do such a thing.
Pa was more direct, not afraid to stand up to anyone he thought might hurt one of them.
Fear cat pawed over Liam at the thought of the changes the day’s events would bring to their lives. Tears welled up again as he sat in the darkness still touching his mother so she would know he was near.
“Remember the lessons we taught you, Liam.” His mother broke the silence with a gentle whisper. “Remember your father and all the strength of your ancestors will be with you always.” Her voice trailed off, the last words barely audible.
“Yes Mother, we will be alright. Please don’t leave me.”
“Find Carson,” she whispered. “He will help you.” She sighed and closed her eyes. He continued to rub her forehead and listen to her failing breath.
Liam wished Carson was here now. He’d know what to do. Carson Jeffery was the one exception to the local people. The young man lived alone about a mile down the road. His mother died shortly after childbirth and his father never remarried. Carson inherited the farm at sixteen when his father was killed early in the conflict by some Jay Hawkers looking to free slaves. Although the Jeffery’s didn’t have any slaves, they lived in Missouri which was reason enough for men from Kansas to kill him. The raiding party dragged old Mr. Jeffery out of the house into the yard where they hung him then beat young Carson half to death before taking their livestock and riding off. By chance Sean had dropped by shortly afterward looking for help to fix a piece of equipment, instead he spent the afternoon helping Carson cut down and bury his father. After that Sean became the young man’s mentor.
Carson and Sean worked together on numerous occasions, with Liam tagging along being the gofer, especially in fall when work was heavy. Carson would often show up at meal times, always bringing something to eat with him. He enjoyed the Caton’s company and especially Lin’s cooking. Despite the three-years difference in their ages, Carson and Liam became good friends, almost bothers, as Liam tried desperately to imitate Carson. Carson was the only friendly person outside the family the younger boy knew. In the evenings, Lin would teach them both the one topic Sean approved of, Chinese herbal medicine and Sean would teach them all American and Irish history as well as help them with reading and writing.
Despite the men who killed Carson’s father being from Kansas and supporting the North, Carson joined the Union Army. He told the Catons before he left, it was partly out of a sense of duty to help free the blacks, but mostly because it guaranteed him three meals a day.
“Besides,” he said, “the food was more than the farm was providing and there was no more danger of dying in battle than there was living right here on the farm.”
“If I stay, it will only be a matter of time before someone kills me in my own house. I’m afraid of being burned out by one of the roving guerrilla groups.” Sean didn’t answer so Carson continued, “Sean, you should leave as well. For the safety of your family.”
The stubborn Irishman said in a low voice; “We don’t have nowhere else to go. We will never be welcome and with all the fighting going on, where can we go?”
Liam hadn’t seen or heard from Carson after that conversation except for a short visit when Carson stopped by the farm to say goodbye. Liam watched Carson ride off with two uniformed soldiers.
He swallowed bitter bile. They wore the same blue uniforms as the soldiers who had just ridden into the Caton farm yard, took his father’s life and wounded his mother. How could Northern soldiers do this? How could someone with as much hate as that ride for the Union?
He continued to stroke his mother’s hair and whispered, “I wonder where Carson is now or if he’s even still alive? I will try to find him, he’ll help us.” His mother moved slightly but didn’t answer.
Liam was fearful he was about to lose both parents. What would he do? What could he do?
He looked down again at his mother, she was sleeping. The pain in his side was a steady numbing throb, which he had ignored. Now the distraction was removed, it returned sharper and more intense than before. He griped his side, closing his eyes, his mind wandered back to happier days and just before blacking out he wondered if they would both die before morning.
The War Comes Home
Liam opened his eyes, it was dark, and it took a moment before he realized where he was. He had no idea how long he had been asleep. Were the horrific events of the previous day a bad dream or were they real? He moved a little and his side immediately throbbed, confirming the nightmare was real. He reached down and touched his wound, finding it now heavily bandaged. Still half asleep and his mind fuzzy from the pain, he sensed there was someone else in the room.
“Who’s there?” he called trying to sit.
“Easy, son,” the voice was strong and deep. “My friends call me Buck.”
Liam could barely make out the silhouette of a tall man standing near the window peering out through the curtains. He turned and looked towards Liam.
“You’ve been out for a while. We gave you some laudanum I found in a cabinet, it’ll help cut the pain. We bandaged you and your mother up the best we could with your bed sheets. My brother is burying your father behind the house now. How are you feeling?”
“Ma.” He sobbed a little between clenched teeth. “How is she?”
At first the tall man did not answer saying instead, “You’ve lost a lot of blood, but luckily, the bullet just grazed your hip. It seemed to go in and out without taking anything important with it.” As though he might have heard a sound from outside, the man turned and looked out the window again.
“Ma?” Liam turned to face her, realizing he wasn’t free of the nightmare.
“She’s still alive, son. You did a fine job of bandaging, but she’s burning up with a fever. It’s not good and there isn’t anything else we can do for her. I’m sorry.” He cut his words short and turned quickly towards the door with gun drawn as the jingle of spurs and the thumping of boots sounded on the wood steps outside.
“Buck, it’s me.” The door opened and a young man, who in the light of the moon, did not appear to be much older than Liam, stepped inside.
“I buried the poor bastard and put the horses in the barn. Seems quiet enough out there, I think we’ll be okay here tonight.”
“Good,” Buck replied. “But I think it best we not start a fire or light any lamps. You get some sleep; I’ll take first watch. We’ll ride at first light.”
“What about them?” The younger man pointed towards the bed where Liam and his mother lay.
“We’ll tell the first people we see to come and help them. We’ve done all we can.” Buck moved back towards the window and looked outside. The darkness was giving way to splinters of silver light, filtering through the leaves on the trees as a full moon began rising over the ridge. The cool light spilled through the window, lighting the stranger as he continued to stand staring out into the night. His brother was already lying down on the other bed, fully clothed, and what or whoever they were hiding from, didn’t seem to worry him in the least.
The first bright yellow rays of dawn were sneaking in the window when Liam opened his eyes again. The younger man was now standing to one side of the window looking outside while the other slept. Liam turned to his mother and touched her forehead. It was cold. She was completely still and there was no sign of breath.
“No!” Liam pressed against her and buried his face against her breast. “No. You can’t leave me!” He sobbed and ignored the firm hand that gripped his shoulder.
“We’re sorry, son.” It was the voice of the older stranger. Liam didn’t move for what seemed to be a long time. Nor did the stranger. His grip was somehow reassuring.
“What are we going to do now, Buck?” the younger man asked.
“You go saddle up and get our gear ready. I’ll stay here with the boy awhile. Then we’ll take the time to bury his ma before we git.”
Liam’s head was still buried in his mother’s shoulder. The jingle of spurs and boot heels on the floor paused and the sound of the door slowly opening reached him. The man stepped onto the porch where he took two strides across it and then the thump of his foot on one of the three steps. Buck let go of Liam’s shoulder to move to the window where he could watch. There was no other sound except for Liam’s irregular sobs.
A few minutes later Buck quietly returned to the bed and placed his hand back on Liam’s shoulder.
“Come on, son. We’ll help you with your ma.” His voice still strong and cool.
Liam didn’t want to move, but he needed help, burying Ma wasn’t something he could do alone. Drawing resolve from Ma’s words about drawing on the strength of his ancestors, he struggled to his feet. The fire in his hip flared but he ignored it. Wrapping his mother in a blanket, he gathered the small woman up in his arms, refusing the offer of help, he limped awkwardly towards the door.
Several minutes later Liam sat on a rock in the warm morning sun staring at the two mounds of fresh dirt. Nothing seemed real, time moved in slow motion. Buck stood behind Liam, the younger man appearing a few minutes later from the barn leading three horses.
Buck strode towards his brother, meeting him half way. In a loud whisper he said, “What are you doing with that one, Dingus?” He pointed to the unsaddled farm horse.
“It’s the only horse they have, and I couldn’t find a saddle, but I thought the kid could probably ride him,” the younger man said handing the reins of the farm horse to his brother.
“We can’t take him with us. He’s still between hay and grass. He’s hurt and will slow us down.”
“We can’t leave him here for the Yanks, or some group of Jay Hawkers or Red Legs, to find. Hell, some of our own could show up and kill him.”
“And what are we going to do with him? He’s too young to be of any good to us.”
“He ain’t no younger than I was when you took me. I remember you not letting anyone leave me behind when I got hit.”
“That is different. You’re my brother; I could take care of you,” the older man lowered his voice slightly as though he didn’t want Liam to hear their argument, but it carried on the still morning air.
“Right, and there have been times when I took care of you, remember?” His piercing eyes stared at his brother, “This kid ain’t got no brother. How would you feel if you were all alone? You know how we would feel if we lost Ma? He’s coming with us, now let’s all mount up.” The younger man’s eyes narrowed and the muscles around his mouth tightened. There was authority in his voice. Buck stared at him for a few seconds then smiled.
“Ain’t no used to arguing with you, Dingus.” He turned to Liam. “Can you ride?”
Liam had no idea where the two men were going but he didn’t want to be left alone, so he nodded and staggered to his feet, still half dazed.
“Wait! I can’t go, we have a milk cow at the top of that hill. No one will find her, and she’ll starve to death if we just leave her there.” Liam pointed up the hill where he had been doing his chores yesterday when everything went wrong.
“We don’t have time to tend to your cow,” Buck voice was quiet but firm. “We got to get going in case those fellows or other enemies comes back. I’m sure someone will find the cow.”
“No, you don’t understand she has been there through numerous raids and no one sees her. I have to turn her loose.” Liam was frantic.
“I’m sorry, son, we just can’t take the time.”
“I’ll go. It won’t take but a minute or two.” It was the younger brother who spoke.
“Damn it, Dingus! We’re sitting ducks here.” But before Buck had finished speaking the younger man was already half-way to the base of the hill. He found the entrance to the trail and started up it with remarkable speed. Liam’s gaze followed him as he appeared and disappeared among the trees. Three quarters of the way up he appeared to slow to a quick walk and near the top he disappeared for what seemed like a long time. Liam sat and watched but saw no sign of the younger brother or the cow.
Buck returned to the cabin and came out a minute later carrying two saddlebags and a gunnysack in which he had gathered the rest of the food and a blanket. He held out his hand with the small bottle of Laudanum. “Here, I want you to take some more, it will help.” As Liam swallowed the drug, Buck looked at him. “What’s your name boy?”
“Caton, we have a long ride ahead. Dingus says you’re coming, so you’re coming, but stay close. We have-ta keep moving. You must be sharp if we’re going to stay above the snakes. Understand?”
“Come on,” the older man said, let’s mount up.
Grabbing the reins, he led the farm horse to a stump and indicated for Liam to crawl up on it. Biting his lip against the pain, Liam let Buck boost him up onto the back of the horse. He took the reins and followed behind Buck who had swung onto his saddle and was now leading Dingus’s horse towards the bottom of the trail. They stopped at the edge of the bush, greeted by the sound of the cow bawling, and a minute or two later Dingus burst out of the bush laughing.
“Boy, that was some climb. I haven’t had that much exercise since we played on the farm.” He took the reins from his brother, nodded and swung up into his saddle. He was breathing hard and there were sweat stains on the back of his shirt and under the arms. “Don’t worry Liam, your cow doesn’t like the trail, but she’ll work her way down and someone will find her.” Then turning to his brother, he grinned. “I’m ready now. Let’s quite wasting time and get moving.” He smiled, the older man scowled.
“Don’t be afeared,” Dingus said glancing at Liam with a smile, “My brother is always cautious about change, but now he’s committed to bringing you along, you won’t find a better or trusted friend.”
“Just do your best to keep up. We can’t afford to wait for you, like we just did for him,” Buck said as he threw a saddle bag over the back of Dingus’s horse, then hung the sack on his saddle.
Dingus looked at Liam, smiled and nodded. Buck nudged his horse closer to Liam, stopped and handed him his mother’s red scarf, he pulled Sean’s hunting knife and leather sheath from the burlap sack. “Here, I thought you might want these.”
He turned and started out towards the road before Liam could thank him. Liam wrapped the scarf around his waist, tied it on his left side then stuck the big knife and sheath into it opposite the wound. The younger man moved his horse closer to slap the rump of Liam’s horse and they began to follow Buck. As he rode down the trail Liam wanted to look back, but he couldn’t. The three riders turned at the main road and headed north-west. Liam followed the older brother mindlessly, he wasn’t sure who they were, or where they were headed, but he had no other options. Perhaps his mother or father’s spirit had sent them to help. It was all too confusing to think about and his mind numbed by the pain, the drug, and the swaying motion of his horse.