“I was about to send Simon out in the buggy for you.”
Uncle Josiah had arrived home a few minutes before Tom. The good aroma of supper cooking wafted out into the hall, where the man was placing his hat on a hook.
“You don’t look so well, boy.” He put an arm around Tom. “I know that hospitals are pretty sad places. I forgot you might not be used to that.”
“I-I’m all right.”
Tom told him all that had happened, and Molly seemed interested, too, as she served up platters of chicken and dumplings. Apparently she knew and liked Nate.
“Well, you find out in the morning, Tom. A very good afternoon’s work, I should say. I have another important meeting early tomorrow, or I’d go. We have to get this packet of information off to Philadelphia before noon. But Simon can drive you out.”
“That’s all right, sir. I’d like to finish this myself.”
“All right, then.”
The next morning, however, after a good night’s sleep in the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept in, he felt much better. Rested and raring to go, even a little proud of all he’d accomplished, he hurried downstairs. He’d done what his uncle had asked of him, and wouldn’t Aunt Abigail be surprised. And Mother would be pleased.
He sat down jubilantly to the fine breakfast Molly had prepared.
“I’ll find him, today, sir.” He promised his uncle as they left and went their separate ways. He had thought for a moment that he might take his uncle up on last night’s offer. Ride in a buggy with Simon driving, just like an honored nephew of a well-to-do businessman and government official should….
But then he realized that he really did want to do this himself. With no help. So he set out—jauntily at first—until he passed the church.
This time he noticed the pews that had been carried out and stacked on one side of the church. And he remembered the rows and rows of seriously ill and wounded men. And his heart sank. Was this what war was all about—not fine young men marching out to conquer the world—or at least the great country of England. Out to prove that they could live and govern themselves on their own….
Nate seemed to think it was more than all that. He had this idea that God was in control. That God had great plans for this country. That England was all well and good, but they’d gone too far on this taxation business. It was a new day and Nate felt he needed to have a part in it. Do something for the good of America.
But Nate had never been cocky. He’s always wanted to do things God’s way.
Tom had never had any use for God, though of course he went with the family to church, as expected. But he often envied the boys who didn’t have to go, the men who frequented the taverns, even during the day…the ones who didn’t do a whole lot of work, yet seemed to have a good time.
His aunt was always telling him that you couldn’t cheat and be successful. You had to do a good hard day’s work to feel fulfilled and live honorably. Mother, more gently, taught him that the wise and God-fearing were the prosperous ones.
That was before the war. Now everything seemed topsy turvy. Especially the events of the last few days.
But the morning was gorgeous and warm.
Spring was bursting out everywhere, and he couldn’t quite imagine everything being bad on such a day. He’d come upon a good place at Uncle Josiah’s. The breakfast had been quite excellent, and missing the last few days of school with Aunt Abigail as teacher was even better. Surely he would find Nate. And maybe he could stay here a while, where people liked and respected him.
As he finally came into sight of the massive camp hospital, there was Sam waiting for him, waving excitedly. And Tom surprised himself again by wondering what kind of a breakfast he’d had.
But Sam came hurrying at him, crookedly on his crutches. Tom ran to steady him as he almost fell on the uneven ground.
“He’s awake. And he remembers!” Sam exclaimed. “Hurry boy. He doesn’t remember much but he remembers something!”
Not much. What did that mean?
The man that Sam eagerly introduced him to was weak from surgery, but he grasped Tom’s hand.
“Nate’s little brother….” Tom tried to take his hand away. Why’d the guy have to treat him like a child? “He talks about you all the time.”
“He does?” Tom relaxed.
“Uhh…” the man grimaced in pain, and Tom glanced at the bandages wrapped around his waist. “It was bad, boy. They came out of nowhere. We were scouting. Your brother’s a great scout, you know. And suddenly they were right on top of us! We can usually hear them Redcoats comin’ a mile away but they’re getting’ better.”
“Did you see Nate?”
“Right in front of me! He went down. Then they got me, too.”
“So he was wounded?”
“ ‘Fraid so, boy.”
“But we can’t find him. Not anywhere.”
“Maybe ‘cuz he was headin’ into the swamp.”
“The swamp? Why would he do that?” Sam jumped into the conversation then.
“I dunno. To hide? Get under cover? All I know he was walkin’ toward the swamp. Then he seemed to fall to the ground and started crawling. Last I saw of him.”
And no matter how they questioned him, that’s all he could tell them.
“But God is good, boy….”
Good? The man’s laying there with a stomach wound, in the middle of a hospital full of wounded, dying soldiers, and he says God is good?
“You find him, boy. Good man and a good soldier. Talks about ye all the time, boy. Ya need to know God, Tom. Trust Him in this. He’ll help ya find your brother.”
Know God…. He knew God. He went to church, didn’t he? Aunt Abigail—and even his mother— wouldn’t put up with him missing church. Trust God? Tom began to feel angry. Trust a God who apparently let his brother be ambushed and wander off into some swamp?
“Now, now,” a nurse bustled over, not the nice one that Tom had met the day before. “My patient’s had enough visiting for now. He needs to rest. Off with you now. You can visit some more tomorrow.”
She shooed them away, but the man was already dozing off.
“You think he knows what he’s talking about? Where’s this swamp, anyway?” asked Tom.
“Oh, sure he knows. And it’s right over there.” Sam swung about on his crutches and led him to a spot not too far away, at the edge of the camp.
“The ambush happened right up there near those trees. And then the battle later. Vicious it was, they backed off to that hill up there. Nobody really won this one. The Redcoats, they took off, and left us lickin’ our wounds. But it could’ve been worse. I don’t think they made out to good either.”
“But–but why would he go in the swamp?” Tom echoed the man’s own question. “Swamps are dangerous, aren’t they?”
“Don’t know, boy. And yes, they can be…where ya going, boy? Better not go in there without a guide. Gotta know where there’s dry ground or you can get in real trouble.”
Maybe it was time to get help from Simon. Would Simon know his way around a swamp?”
“Sam!” The nurse’s voice rang out. “You come back here, Sam. You need to rest that leg. You’ve been out and about all morning. Now come back here and lay down a while.”
Sam grimaced and turned back. “She’s a tough one, she is. But she takes good care o’ us. She’s right, I am getting’ kind of tired. And the leg’s painin’ me.”
“Thank you, sir. I think I’ll go back and get help.” Tom was looking out over the swampland more closely and realized it was a lot of water, and a lot of mud. And where was the dry land, anyway? And there was certainly no sign of his brother now.
“Okay, boy. You come back and let us know what you find, won’t you. Caleb, he sure thinks a lot of your brother. You let us know.”
But Tom was at a loss until he suddenly saw a figure on horseback down a ways. It was a boy a little older than himself. He was mounted on a huge dark brown horse, and many bundles were attached to the saddle. He was coming from the swamp, very dirty actually, and heading in the direction of the main tent. He stopped when someone looked at him with a scowl.
“Mr. Harris.” The boy nodded politely.
“What are you doing here? You’re not wanted in this town.”
“Just on business, Mr. Harris. Good day, sir.”
And the boy came closer as the man shook his head, still frowning, and walked off, muttering, “could at least be presentable—certainly wealthy enough to dress decently….”
Tom watched curiously as the nurse hurried forward.
“Ethen, thank goodness.” She stopped short. “Whatever happened to you?”
He grinned, “Midnight lost his footing and I ended up in the mud. He doesn’t do that too often. Thankfully he didn’t injure himself. Here’s some things from Father. And he said to take this as well.” The boy pulled something from an inner pocket.
A small pouch of—coins, maybe? He handed it to the nurse. “You’ll get it to the right person, I know.”
“I’m off my shift soon. I’ll go myself and get supplies. These men need some nourishing food! Meanwhile, those things can go in here.”
The boy dismounted and unloaded his horse, hauling bags and tightly rolled blankets into a small tent. “We got plenty of medicine when we went yesterday. We kept some, but the man’s getting up and around. He’ll be all right. Father won’t let him leave quite yet, though.”
“Thank you, Ethan. And don’t mind Mr. Harris. We don’t all think that way.”
“I know, ma’am.” He mounted and nodded good bye to the woman, turning his horse.
“Perhaps you should go around by the road.” She shook her finger at him.
He grinned. “Two slow, ma’am, when this is such a good shortcut.”
Tom suddenly realized that he might have some help here. He’d been ready to walk back and get Simon but…this boy had come through the swamp!
“Excuse me! Wait!” He ran toward the boy. “You—know the swamp?”
The boy looked down at him. “Yes, I do. Been coming through it for years….”
“I need to go in there. Could you guide me?”
The boy seemed willing but curious.
“It’s just that my brother went in there. I need to find him. I need to look for him.” He was suddenly desperate that this boy help him. “I’ll—pay you!”
Then he remembered that he’d spent most of his money on—candy of all things. “I mean—my uncle will…for your services.”
The boy smiled. “No need to pay me. Your brother, you say? A little boy? This isn’t the place for children! He’s lost?”
“No. Not a little boy. My brother was in the ambush—he’s missing.”
The boy looked at him quizzically. “I know where your brother is, I think. No need to search. Nathanial?”
“Yes! You know Nate?”
The boy grinned, and held out a hand. “Come on up. He’s at my house.”
Tom’s eyes lit up with relief, then he suddenly remembered.
“I-I can’t ride—” he mumbled, miserably.
“Just hold on. You’ll be fine.”
Tom grasped the outstretched hand, and with more strength than he expected, the boy pulled him up behind him. Tom settled himself rather precariously, but the boy didn’t laugh at his awkwardness—as Tom might have done in the same situation.
“Just hold tight with your knees and hang on to my shirt if you want.” And they were off!
The horse, even though it was merely walking, seemed to sway and shift. But Tom got the hang of it without too much problem—except when their mount was making his way through the boggy mess.
Then they got up onto a strip of dry ground, and all was well for a while.
Ethan started to tell him what had happened. “He was right over there. That’s where I found him. “ He pointed to a dark stretch of brush and grass and mud under some trees. “Not safe. There’s some dangerous creatures in here. Gators and such. They were so busy at the hospital that I just took him on home. My father has some medical training.”
“Gators!” Tom looked about anxiously.
“Oh, we’re all right. They’re out in the river, mostly. But they do come over here sometimes. They like the mud. Okay, Midnight—this is where you slipped before, steady there. Good boy….He’s got a sixth sense most of the time but once in a while things shift under the water. There’s bogs and sand bars…that’s a boy…up the hill now. Almost home.”
Tom could feel the strong muscles of the big horse as he climbed a steep embankment.
“I wouldn’t advise everybody to come this way. It is much safer going around by the road—but—” Ethan grinned, “this is more fun.”
The boy had a refined way of speaking and was exceedingly polite, but seemed like an adventurous sort in spite of it all. Tom liked him.
“About your brother, of course we’re convinced it was the Almighty’s plan that I was here. I’m usually not way over here at that time of day. It was dusk and the swamp’s even more dangerous at night, of course.”
“The Almighty!” God again? Just when he’d thought this boy was a decent fellow.
“Well, yes, I was here to find him. If I hadn’t it most likely would have been too late. He was too far gone.”
“What do you mean, too far gone?”
“He had a bad bayonet wound. Very deep. Father fixed up his leg. It was infected what with all the mud and dirt, and he’d lost a lot of blood. Here we are, you’ll see him soon.”
Tom was still trying to take it all in, but now he had something more to think about. They emerged into luscious green meadows and fields of brown dirt, freshly planted. Beyond that was a large house, painted white with wide verandas. Not fancy but certainly substantial, with a lot of land.
It was then that he remembered what that Mr. Harris had said about the boy being wealthy.
Suddenly a young girl appeared on the veranda.
“Ethen! You’re back, finally! More trouble! Townspeople were here to harass us. They’re on about Tories again!”
Tories! Tom let go of the boy’s shirt but nearly bounced off the horse, for Ethan was allowing Midnight to canter now that they were on good ground.
Could this family be a Tory household? His brother in the hands of Tories? But why would they help a wounded colonist?
He didn’t know what to think. All he knew was he had to find out if his brother was all right.
To Be Continued….
By Carol Bennett