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American Struggle 1832â"1862
4 Stories in 1
By Veda Boyd Jones, Norma Jean Lutz
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Great Ohio Flood
Emma Farley bit her lip, trying to hold back her worry. "The river's rising," her cousin, Rob Etingoff, told his father. "The men at the wharf say it's up three feet in the last hour. They're moving wagon loads to higher ground."
Emma and Rob had detoured by the public landing on their way to his father's shipyard, where Rob was the cleanup boy after school. Rob was actually her cousin a few times removed. Their families jokingly called each other distant cousins because Emma's family lived on a farm outside of town and Rob's lived smack inside Cincinnati. They went to the same school, though, and they had been best friends all their lives.
"We'll go under," Rob's father said matter-of-factly. "I've got three men loading the steam engines. Go on to the toolshed and start to help. I'll send someone else out as soon as I can."
"Can I help, Uncle Anthony?" Emma asked. She wanted to do something, too.
Anthony Etingoff gave her a small smile. "We could use as many hands as possible. Just don't get in the way of the men."
Emma nodded and ran after Rob into a small brick building.
The mighty Ohio flooded every spring, but it usually waited until later in the year. Now, even inside the shed, Emma could hear the river's roar. Of course, the shipyard was near the river so that new ships could be launched easily into the water.
"Will it flood?" she asked Rob.
He shrugged. "Sometimes the shipyard goes under water. Sometimes it doesn't."
It had rained for two days, but that wasn't the only thing making the river rise. The rain and melting snow on the western slopes of the Allegheny Mountains fed small streams and the big rivers near Pittsburgh—and eventually they all flowed into the Ohio River. Odd that something so far away could affect them here in Cincinnati.
Rob handed Emma a pair of leather gloves. She pulled them on and helped him fill a wheelbarrow with hammers, wedges, chisels, and saws. The leather gloves protected her hands from the cold metal, but the tools were heavy. Soon her arms and fingers began to ache. Once they filled the cart, Rob pushed it to the main building, with Emma tagging along behind him. She didn't know what else to do, though she wished she could be more help.
Rob's father was busy loading record books onto a flatbed wagon.
"Where should I take the wheelbarrow?" Rob asked him.
While she waited, Emma glanced toward the rising river water, which was nearing the base of the new sign: Etingoff Shipyard. Quality Steamboats. Anthony Etingoff, Owner. She knew the last sign had been washed away a year ago. But this time, Uncle Anthony had made a sign he said should withstand the Ohio's fury. The supports were brick, and the sign hung a good twelve feet aboveground.
Instead of answering Rob, Uncle Anthony called to a nearby worker, who helped Rob lift the wheelbarrow onto the wagon. Then Uncle Anthony turned to Rob. "Did you get everything?"
"No. Some chains and ropes are still in the shed. We'll go fill another barrow."
Uncle Anthony nodded, and Emma and Rob ran toward the shed.
"Rob, Emma, wait!"
The children turned around.
"Go check on the Davis sisters. See if they'll come to our house."
Rob and Emma changed directions and ran toward Plum Street. The cold wind that had been blocked by buildings at the shipyard hit Emma full force as they dashed down Front Street. At least the downpour had ended at noon, but the sun had never broken through the thick gray clouds. They looked like snow clouds, which would have been more likely in mid-February than all this rain.
When they came to the cross streets, Emma looked down them toward the river. She could see churning floodwaters now threatening Water Street. It always went under, seemed like, so it had been well named.
Last spring, Emma remembered, the Davis sisters wouldn't leave their home. They insisted the flood wouldn't reach their house, and they'd been right. But Emma thought the look and feel of the water was different this year. Emma pulled her wool coat closer around her neck against the chilly wind. Rob shivered and pulled his cap lower on his head, leaving only a thatch of blond hair sticking out at the back. As he sprinted ahead of her, Emma followed, doing her best to keep up, though her side was aching now from running. As she went, she was bombarded by the sound of men yelling orders, horses neighing as they pulled heavy loads toward higher ground, and women's high-pitched voices as they passed, carrying household items and hustling children away from the river's encroaching waters.
Emma was out of breath by the time they reached Plum Street. She was sweating under her coat, but she could see her breath in the frigid air.
Rob knocked on the door of the two-story brick house and hollered, "Miss Clara!"
A moment later, Miss Clara Davis opened the door. "Hello, children. Come in."
They stepped inside the hall and shut the door quickly behind them so the winter air wouldn't enter the house. "Father sent me to ask you to go to our house," Rob said. "The water's bound to reach your home this year."
"Now, Rob, I've seen a few more floods than you have." Miss Clara laughed. She always laughed after she said something; Emma thought it was an odd habit. "The water won't get this high."
"We're moving the engines and machinery," Rob said in an effort to convince her.
"We're moving some of our belongings upstairs, just in case," she said. "Ruthann insists, but I don't think we're in any danger."
Emma glanced down the hall to the parlor. Although furniture was still in place, lamps and some of Miss Clara's decorative figurines were missing. Miss Ruthann's frail figure appeared at the top of the stairs, and she slowly made her way down, holding on to the railing.
"Are you here to help us take things upstairs?" she asked in her soft, quavering voice. She was the elder of the two sisters, and Emma guessed she must be nearing seventy.
"We could use the help," Miss Clara added. She was at least five years younger than her sister, although she looked younger than that, probably because she got around so much better. She also weighed twice what her sister weighed and had that loud laugh.
Emma and Rob exchanged looks, and Rob rolled his eyes behind Miss Clara's back. "For a few minutes," he said. "Father's expecting us back at the yard." Emma knew he was eager to go back and help his father—but she also knew Uncle Anthony would want him to help the Davis sisters. They ate Sunday dinner with the Etingoffs nearly every week after church, and Emma had often heard Rob's father say he had known the sisters long before Rob and Emma were born.
As quickly as they could, Emma and Rob climbed the stairs, loaded down with foodstuffs and kitchen utensils. They made several trips, carrying chairs and small tables. Then they helped Miss Clara carry the heavy dining room table.
"You'll come back tomorrow and help us carry all this back down, won't you?" Miss Clara asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Rob answered.
"It won't be tomorrow," Miss Ruthann said. "The river's taking control."
Miss Ruthann obviously agreed with Rob's opinion of the flood. "Then why don't you go to our house where you'll be out of the river's reach?" he asked.
"Oh, we couldn't leave Papa's house," Miss Ruthann said. "We'll be fine."
Emma glanced at the mantel clock as she grabbed it and carried it upstairs. Their few minutes of helping had turned into an hour already. She knew her mother would be wondering where she was. But she couldn't leave Rob alone to help these women carry their treasures upstairs.
Miss Ruthann made one trip for every six of Emma's and Rob's. Miss Clara lumbered up and down twice as fast as her sister, but she was still painstakingly slow. Rob looked at Emma and sighed. "What else do you want carried upstairs?" he asked the sisters.
"What about that trunk of Mama's in the back room?" Miss Ruthann asked.
"Oh, yes, we'll need that upstairs," Miss Clara agreed, and Rob hurried to fetch the trunk. Emma giggled to herself; it was one of the few times she'd heard the two sisters agree on anything.
After another dozen trips up the stairs, Emma heard a commotion outside. Earlier there had been the noise of people hurrying by, carrying boxes or driving teams of horses, but this was different.
"It's surging," she heard someone call.
She and Rob raced to the window and saw muddy river water rushing toward them. Both women were upstairs; Rob took the stairs two at a time.
"It's coming," Emma heard him yell as she followed him upstairs more slowly.
The sisters were already at the bedroom window, looking down on the street below.
"It can't get this high," Miss Clara said. "It might get in the cellar, but this house is built too far off the ground to be in any danger."
Emma bit back her impatience. She didn't want to argue with the old woman, but panic was building inside her. Doing everything in her power not to scream, she looked at Rob, but she knew he was as helpless as she was.
"Dear God, help us be safe," Miss Ruthann prayed. Rob added his "Amen" in a high voice Emma barely recognized.
"Run down and get some firewood," Miss Clara ordered him. "The wood box in the kitchen is full."
Emma knew Rob didn't want to leave the scene at the window, but he did as he was told. Emma waited with the sisters, too tired and scared to move. On Rob's second trip back from the kitchen, Emma noticed his feet were wet. The third time he came back upstairs, the bottom of his pant legs were dark and damp; the water must have already been creeping into the downstairs room. He had just started his fourth trip down the stairs when Emma heard a crash. She ran to the top of the stairs and watched in horror as the front door burst open. River water gushed through. A log, carried by the great force of the current, had rammed against the door, breaking the lock.
Rob dropped what he was carrying, shouted, and fled back up the stairs.
"What was that noise?" Miss Clara asked, joining the children at the top of the stairs.
Emma felt paralyzed as she looked down at the swirling water and the big log that now blocked part of the doorway. Rob must have felt the same, for he pointed down at the log without a word.
"Oh, no," Miss Clara said.
The water lapped at the staircase until it reached about a third of the way to the top. Firewood floated and bumped against the walls.
"Let's get inside the front bedroom," Miss Clara said.
Somehow, Emma forced herself to walk the few steps down the hall to the room. Miss Ruthann's pale face stared at her, and then she turned back to the window.
"I knew it would come in this time," she said. "It hasn't flooded like this for thirty years, but I knew this time the river would take over."
"Well, it won't get this high," Miss Clara said. She added a piece of wood to the fireplace, and Emma shivered when she watched the orange-colored flames lick around the wood. The room was damp and cold now that the downstairs was open to the winter air and the icy river.
"I wonder if Father got his equipment to higher ground," Rob said softly to Emma.
Emma nodded, but she was full of her own worries. She wondered if her family was safe at home and if they were worried about where she was.
Miss Clara frowned at Rob's feet and then pulled open a dresser drawer. "Take off your shoes and stockings and put these on," she directed. She held out some women's stockings, and Emma giggled. Rob glared at her.
"I don't care," he whispered to her as he peeled off his wet socks. "My feet are so cold they're numb."
When his shoes and stockings were drying by the fire, Rob padded over to the window where Emma and Miss Ruthann were keeping watch.
"It'll be night soon," Miss Ruthann said.
The gray sky became still darker, and rain once again fell. The street below looked unreal to Emma, like something from a nightmare. She had never seen Plum Street under water. From their vantage point at the high window, she could see to Water Street and beyond to the channel of the mighty Ohio. Other two-story houses across the street looked like one-story houses, their first floors immersed in floodwater.
"It sure came up fast," Rob said.
"The current must have built up a dam of logs and brush downriver and then broken through," Miss Ruthann said. "That's happened before."
"Look," Miss Clara said in an awed voice and tapped on the window glass. "Must be from Shantytown."
In the distance, Emma could see a frame house being swept down the churning rapids. She shuddered. Would the powerful Ohio destroy the Davises' house, too?CHAPTER 2
The Waters Recede
Don't worry," Miss Ruthann said. "Papa made this house good and strong. The Ohio won't move one brick of it." Oddly enough, Emma believed her. Suddenly, she felt calm inside, as though they had nothing to worry about. Or was she still in shock? For the last half hour, every time she'd looked outside, she'd gasped at the sight. Now it was too dark to see anything but her reflection in the window.
Miss Clara had lit a lantern and settled in front of the fireplace. Now she was toasting cheese over the flames. When it browned and started to melt, she placed it on thick slices of bread. "My father, my mother—" Rob started.
"Neither Anthony nor Patricia can get here until daylight, if then," Miss Clara said. "The current may still be too strong. You children might as well settle down for the evening. Here's our dinner."
"There's only been one other time it's gotten in the house," Miss Ruthann said. "That was when Papa hung the hook in the fireplace, just in case it happened again, so we'd have a way to cook upstairs. We were up here for two weeks until the water went down. We had soup every day. You should have thought of water, Clara."
"I should have thought of it! I was toting your keepsakes up the stairs. You should have thought of it." Miss Clara laughed. "We both should have thought of it."
Two weeks. Emma bit her lip; she couldn't stay two weeks with the Davis sisters. Surely Father and Uncle Anthony would come for them at first light.
"Shall I say grace?" Miss Clara asked.
"I'll say it." Miss Ruthann launched into a long prayer of thankfulness that they were all alive and well.
Emma ate her bread and cheese and immediately felt thirsty, but there was no drinkable water. All she had to do was step down a few stairs and she could get all the water she'd ever want—but it was filthy and smelled of outhouses and garbage.
The night wore on. Emma and Rob curled up in heavy quilts near the fire. Noises downstairs woke Emma several times, and each time she sat up in the darkness, wondering for a moment where she was. Then she realized debris and furniture were floating against the walls or the staircase. Miss Clara's snore, almost as loud as her laugh, was nearly as disturbing as the thuds that echoed from below them.
Late in the night, Emma awoke to find the fire nearly out. Something was different, something she couldn't put her finger on at first. Then she realized the rain had stopped at last. She got up to look outside and found that the clouds had moved away, leaving the stars twinkling in the dark sky. Moonlight reflected off the water that lapped against the houses, but the churning and swirling she'd seen earlier had calmed. Emma fed the fire a couple sticks of firewood and settled back on the floor.
Emma was startled awake at daybreak. She sat up sleepily and watched as Rob rushed to the window and pushed it open. "Father!"
"Thank the good Lord you're safe." Emma could hear the relief in the voice from outside. "I knew you'd be here. I knew you would be. Is Emma there with you?"
Emma got to her feet and joined Rob at the window. The two sisters crowded in beside her. Uncle Anthony was below the window in a rowboat!
"Good morning, Anthony." Miss Clara laughed. "Come to take these children home?"
"I suspect they've overstayed their welcome." Rob's father smiled up at Emma. "Your mother will finally be able to rest once she knows you're safe."
"Oh, they were both a big help to us yesterday evening." With attention to each smallest detail, Miss Ruthann related the story of moving their belongings upstairs.
While she was talking, Rob put on his dry stockings and shoes, and Emma combed her fingers through her tousled hair. The children walked to the top of the stairs. Emma hung back while Rob opened the door, but curiosity overcame her fear. The floodwater had risen to four steps below the second floor. Rob quickly shut the door again.
Excerpted from American Struggle 1832â"1862 by Veda Boyd Jones, Norma Jean Lutz. Copyright © 2006 Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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