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And Other Incidents
By Gilbert Carper
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Gilbert Carper
All rights reserved.
A great fault line split the American continent into North and South. The men, on either side of the struggle, were tragic players in that crucial drama spread over earth's grand stage.
History repeats itself, proving men do not learn from it. As men failed to grasp the true meaning of liberty, they were forced to struggle for a new definition of it upon the bloodied fields of bitter conflict.
What are the causes of war? Men start wars when they are no longer reasonable enough to argue. There are always those whose unswerving devotion to an idea is undiminished by the proven uselessness or erroneousness of the idea. Resultantly, the march of intellect is often in retreat. Nonetheless, it is nobler to suffer defeat with truth than triumph with error.
The paradox of truth is like the paradox of evil: there are a thousand defenders of both and never a single definition of either. Freedoms' once bright promise had been obscured by implacable ironies erupting into a bitter Civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation conceived in the womb of freedom and brought forth with the violent birth pangs of conflict could survive as the bastion of liberty for all who sought her refuge. The trumpet call of freedom had given an uncertain sound and now it strained to emit a purer note. And should truth and justice prevail, they would inaugurate a new and wondrous rebirth from which the world could rest.
However, that is only an intricate part of this story which began in the year of 1862 as the American Civil War escalated into one of the fiercest and bloodiest conflicts of history, and the fate of a nation and that of the future of the world hung precariously in the balance. However, no one could see into that future.
Clem and Jeb were brothers and acclaimed gunsmiths living near Manassas, Virginia. With the dreadful intensity of the conflict expanding about them, they decided to escape the war, which had engulfed them on two separate occasions. They traded their farms to purchased seven hundred acres of virgin timberland in the northwestern mountains of North Carolina, near a locale called Grandfather Mountain. The land contained a hundred acres cleared and suitable for farming with a house large enough both families could live in it until Jeb and Sue built their own.
That locale seemed an inviolate acreage of streams and nestled woodlands in hills of quiet splendor only a short distance from a small, southern, seemingly mostly uninvolved community politically, which presented a retiring and tranquil atmosphere. Nevertheless, this presentment misrepresented the true hearts of the men who lived there, for it was an enclave of abolitionist activity and a constant thorn in the side of the Confederacy. An occasional military detachment were sent to establish a southern presence, but the Confederacy did not want to rowel up trouble behind its lines, so this local was usually left alone and out of further Southern conscription in 1862 after a battalion of local draftees deserted to the North.
Clem, the older of two brothers, by his very presence would have stood out among men. Of grand stature—noble of appearance, tall, of massive build with an incredibly large forehead, his unfathomable blue eyes held their intelligence like some great mystery waiting for the appropriate moment to reveal itself. He had a well-formed nose, most would say a very handsome face, but in moments of tenseness, his expression was inscrutable like that of the sphinx; but summed up in his entirety, his disposition exuded kindness and empathy in a depth rarely perceived. He was an erudite scholar with a rare diploma in Religion and Philosophy from an established College and possessed a rare library of nearly three hundred books but had always preferred working with his hands. His brother, Jeb, was very much like him while borrowing nothing from him except for his books, every attribute and feature distinctly original on its own account. He was nearly as intelligent and more down to earth. Their wives were the exact compliments of their husband's attributes but could have stood alone without the men.
More than a mere annotation, more like a vengeful stab of history, Jed and Sue's youngest daughter, a twin of their youngest son, had been killed by a stray bullet in its murderous misadventure of war as the conflict raged about them at the first Battle of Bull Run. Tragedy is no respecter of the very young and most innocent and leaves in its wake those who must endure, because not to endure is to suffer as sorrowful a fate as death. For, if love and hope are unable to survive the great tragedies of life, than how can the human heart endure this pilgrimage of misfortunes which plague our lives? Though time may allay life's nearly inconsolable sufferings, it cannot erase those memories where a sacred place remains in the heart where no other can enter, and no other joys replace. The monuments of life are made of the mortar of tragedy and the marble of life, and the meaning and nobleness of life is in the triumph of love's embrace, and happiness is in caring for those who remain.
Three days out on their journey, they turned off the main pike after reaching Front Royal, Virginia, traveled south and ascended a steep, winding trail over the Massanutten Range west of the Blue Ridge and at the summit took in a breathtaking view of seven bends of the great Shenandoah River, then descended the western flank of the ridge, forded the great river where it ran swallow and wide, allowing their horses to cool off in mid-stream, their wagons surrounded serenely like small islands in a great flood of waters. From this vantage, they were able to get an unobstructed view up and down the river for a considerable distance to where it curved out of sight. The movement of the river added an element of action and movement to the landscape reposing at its edge as though the land had merely dozed and was stirred into wakefulness by the coming of the wagons and horses. The water lapped softly about the legs of the horses and swirled playfully about the wagon wheels, splashing excitedly as the horses and their wagons vaulted to the far shore. They climbed the bank under boughs of Dogwoods and disappeared into the faint shadows beneath the variegated green canopy of the forest. Dogwood sprinkled the forest floor with a mixture of white and pink flakes from their flowering boughs. And, a few early clusters of Honey Suckle vine lent an enticing sweetness to the air, and with other fragrances, the air was almost cloy with sweetness and delight. A soft breeze caressed the leafy branches overhead, and the air sighed with a deep and sleepy contentment. The spirit of the place became the spirit of the travelers, and for a while, they forgot their troubles while anticipating a more promising future.
After traveling for several days on the hardtop Valley Pike through the Shenandoah Valley, they passed through the quaint little community of New Market, which had yet to have its bout with the anecdotal page of history where a once excitable, but incidental battlefield lies quietly in history. To the east of New Market, just over the ridge of the Massanutten Mountains lay the small, picturesque town of Luray that would one day become world—renowned after the discovery of a massive and one of the most beautiful caverns in the world.
In pioneer days, before Luray had aggregated into a small town, the land was still ancient and wild and undeveloped, and early settlers had to fend off Indian attacks. So a few of the settlers built the basements of their homes into stone fortresses protruding several feet above ground with portholes in the surrounding walls, which enabled the defenders to fire at attacking Indians. These small fortresses were well kept and stocked with supplies, and several had a tunnel leading from their basements to a well where the defenders could climb out unnoticed and escape if about to be overwhelmed. Now, there were new aggregations of men and different issues to contest, and these artifacts were the nearly forgotten history of that place.
As they drove through the grand and picturesque landscape of this great valley of a lost Eden, divisions of glum, anxious, and boisterously hopeful men in tattered gray marched hurriedly north to get into the necessary business of massacre and destruction. A few would tarry to exchange news and converse shortly before catching up with their comrades. These ominous scenes of impending doom and conflict disquieted the presentment of tranquility of a miraculous landscape and drove like a murderous dagger through its heartland.
Before the cleansing of the nation from its infamy of wrongs, many would perish. And many who treasured truth and good and mercy in their souls would perish so terrible was the conflict unfolding. Could wrongs beyond recompense be avenged and defeated—entombed forever in the cold ground of spiteful malice in which there seemed to be no mercies?
There were grievous and treacherous wrongs on both sides of the conflict. Yet there was redemption if the evils of the past could be defeated. There could be a new day of beginnings—the promise of a purer and nobler hope of a better and brighter future. It was the ultimate conflict, a controversy between good and evil staged upon the vast embattlements of a continent for the eventual and lasting triumph of good. Yet there is little to truly compensate for evil is like seeds hidden and scattered upon the earth so no one can ever be certain where they may spring up to frustrate and challenge and defeat the good. Thus, the defeat of evil requires a Divine Intervention to be defeated, or its horrors will be eternal. This is the struggle mankind is up against. This is the focus where his existence lies. All of mankind are the victims of evil, both those who are good and those who are bad. But evil shall be defeated.
Always, truth defines right from wrong and governs our destinies. Thus, the nation was brought to a cross-roads by its iniquities where it would have to forge out of the tragedies of its past—out of the blood, and sweat and sinews of the misfortunes of war a more resolute and clearer definition of liberty or sink forever into the inescapable abyss of unconscionable tyrannies where nations fall never to rise again.
About a hundred miles south of New Market, they encountered a driving rain storm that unleashed vivid, cursive thunder cracks of lightening, as though the great conflict in the heavens had been provoked by the human conflict below. And the travelers were forced to wait several days for a swollen stream to recede before crossing it, and broke an axle in the crossing from the washout.
Near Big Lick, present day Roanoke, they found a beautiful, sheltered meadow and decided to camp there for the night. It would be a fateful decision.
During the night, Jeb suddenly found himself inexplicably wide awake, listening intently into the stillness. Something had startled him awake. Yet he was unable to detect the source from which this premonition was derived. Alarmed, he had sat bolt upright. "Clem," he yelled in the direction of the other wagon. "Get your gun. There's something amiss."
Some disturbed muttering came from the direction toward which he had flung his warning.
"What's the matter?"
"There's something prowling about."
"Get your lantern," Clem shouted. "I'll be out in a moment."
Sue turned over and asked Jeb sleepily what was going on? He replied, he thought he had heard something but he doubted it was anything to be concerned about, but he and Clem were going outside to check anyway. "Go back to sleep." He did not want to upset her if it were unnecessary.
"I'll wait till you're safely back inside," she whispered.
There was some preparatory banging about inside the wagons, and both men clamored out and began peering into the darkness with the faint glimmer of their lanterns.
The horses were snorting and neighing nervously, jerking at their reins.
"Something is spooking the horses," Clem exclaimed in a nervous whisper. "I wonder what it is? We had better stoke the fire and keep it going for the rest of the night. I don't like it. There definitely is something out there."
The fire was soon roaring and the men positioned themselves to keep watch for the remainder of the night.
"I don't like it at all," Clem reiterated to Jeb in a course and nervous whisper.
Occasionally a branch would snap obscurely, ascertaining a presence unwilling to disclose itself.
"What's going on out there?" Chalice called out.
"I don't know," replied Clem to the unanswered question while trying to sound calm but failing to achieve the effect.
"I am going to load another rifle," Sue exclaimed in an alarmed whisper.
Gradually a faint radiance began washing the horizon with morning light, which began seeping into the woodlands and disturbed its shadows like a new menace. No matter how they actually perceived it, the men were much relieved with the approach of dawn. Whatever, it was the calm before the storm. Suddenly an immense bear exploded out of the shadows with a great roar, attacking the horses and killing one almost instantly.
Clem gasped in startled disbelief!
Then a salvo of fierce gunfire struck and killed the attacker. Both men glanced around to see where this unexpected volley had come from. Sue and Chalice were perched, grimly on the edge of their wagon seats with their guns still raised to their shoulders. There was a terrifying silence from which all peace had fled. Seconds passed—others followed swiftly in frightened pursuit to escape. All power of speech had fled in the stunned after effect of amazed shock and dismay. The children frightened by the violent commotion, began crying hysterically, and both women disappeared inside to attend to the pandemonium of frayed nerves. But the crying of the children also seemed to relieve, somewhat, the tenseness of the moment.
The men stared disbelievingly at the carnage. "It must have had hydrophobia, otherwise it would have never attacked with so many people around and in broad daylight," Clem exclaimed bewilderingly! Sue climbed down from her wagon and joined the men.
"But if it had hydrophobia, it would not have waited all night to attack," Jeb reasoned.
"Whatever, we will have to bury the carcass," Sue suggested.
"We're going to have to find new horses. I'll ride back to Lexington and see if I can buy what we can purchase." Saying this, Clem glanced at the carnage and sighed with a deep distress. But the men soon discovered the bear had been suffering from a festering old gun shoot wound caused by an enemy who had been malevolently after its hide and had gone after it, and that was what had likely fostered the animals madness—the victim of starving Confederate stragglers who had lost their dinner by its escape, and for this: revenge and hunger had been lodged with the bullet near its heart.
"I'll stop at the farm back up the road and let them know what happened. They might give you some assistance while I am gone," Clem suggested as he saddled the chestnut roan, then swung into the saddle and rode off into the grim unknown.
It was several days before Clem returned. The people, who owned the farm, rode down to the meadow and brought the wagons to their place, and made room for everyone in their home until Clem had returned. Their kindness formed a lasting friendship, and they were to communicate for years afterwards.
"Good horses are hard to come by and a confederate commander sympathetic with our plight gave me two horses which he said, 'he could hardly spare, but that we needed them more than he did.' I also heard some disturbing news while I was gone. There is a gang of robbers called the Curley Gang in the area, and they are suspected of a few murders as well. The government has a detachment of troops trailing them, but they have not caught up with them yet. I was warned to keep a sharp eye out for anyone who looks suspicious."
Three days later about midmorning, they were accosted by a band of four ruff looking, ill-kept men with evil faces, asking for directions, but the shiftiness of their eyes hinted they were more interested in what the travelers had in their possession. Everyone was extremely uneasy in their presence, having an ominous portent about what these men were really up too.
Suddenly Clem spied one of the robbers off to his left side reach for a pistol concealed in his jacket. Quick as lightening Clem grabbed his rife and shot the assailant in the chest. The concussion flipped the robber backwards off his horse, and he struck the ground with such force it broke his neck, killing him instantly. A small stream of blood trickled and snaked its way frighteningly through the mud from the onslaught. There was a moment of stunned shock, then a second blast rung out and struck one of the other assailants as he attempted to draw his rifle. The would be assailants fled in panic into the brush and disappeared, leaving a torturous trail of blood thrashed through the underbrush. While the women stood guard with their rifles, the men jumped down from their wagons and inspected and retrieved the body, and tied it slumped over the back of one of the packhorses tied to the rear of one of the wagons.
Excerpted from CALAMITY KID by Gilbert Carper. Copyright © 2013 Gilbert Carper. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
The Conflict, 1,
Solving The Disappearance Of Penny Hastings, 16,
Billy The Baptizer, 26,
Billy The Evangelist, 37,
Billy The Dare Devil, 41,
The Red Pony, 45,
Winter Holidays, 49,
The Dam, 55,
The Scandal, 60,
The Cave, 63,
The Haunted House, 69,
Summer's Misadventures, 76,
The Fugitive, 100,
The Camp Out, 106,
The Scuttled Crime, 117,
Dead Man Alive!, 131,
Jumping To Conclusions, 139,
The Untimely Tombstone, 141,
Sobriety Bears, 146,
'The Church Bell Heist And The Final Battle, 151,
A Simple Gift, 157,
Calamity Kid And The Mine Incident, 173,
The Church Picnic, 181,
Adam's Funeral, 194,
The Satirical Funeral, 201,
The Chief And Master Spirit Of The Age, 203,
A Moral Lie, 207,
Credits, Notes And Comments, 215,