June 2, 1896
The soldiers arrived in the wake of the battle. With William Howe, aka Billy Buster, and his gang gone, the miners thought they had won. Albeit a costly victory it was still a victory and in that sense it was an honorable death for the men who would not return. The Federal troops changed all that.
Their first act was to post an order in town telling all miners they were required to report for their normal duty shifts beginning Monday, June 2. Anyone who did not obey was subject to arrest. Were my father still alive he would no doubt have laughed in the face of it and demanded they show precedent that not going to work represented a crime under Federal law.
Their second act was to arrest me for the murder of Sheriff Tom Cooley. The eventuality might have been delayed or even entirely avoided were it not for mother’s volunteering of the information when the soldiers arrived on our doorstep. The sheriff’s body was still fresh and lying on our porch. Sam was prepared to implicate William Howe and his men in the death but mother was still under the mistaken impression I had killed my father.
The soldiers slapped me in chains and marched me off to their camp. Ironically, they had set camp on the open field behind the barn where I had been held by William Howe. My laughter at the situation probably did little to help my case. It appeared they thought I had lost my mind and maybe right then I had.
My jail cell was little more than a guarded tent. I tried to rest but found my mind unable to succumb to the exhaustion I felt in my every muscle. Every time I closed my eyes it was to see my father lying cold in the grass. I think there might be something wrong with me because the tears I wish to cry will not come. Instead I boil in rage and anger.
After a long wait, I was visited by the commanding general himself.
“Miss Sarah Waters?” He asked stepping inside my tent.
“Yes.” I replied not bothering to raise myself from the ground.
“I am General Williams. I am in charge here.”
“Are you?” I asked with a touch cynicism in my voice.
“Rest assured I am indeed, Miss Waters.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m less than assured.” I said staring straight into his eyes.
He did not blink and stared straight back at me. I decided to stand and found it harder than I expected. On my feet the tent began to spin around. I lost my balance and began to fall only to be caught in the arms of the General. I looked up at him for a brief moment and then proceeded to vomit.
The General did not pull back as most men would. His arms supported me and when I was done he sat me carefully away from the mess. His hand brushed through my hair and then stopped abruptly. He looked down at me, his face full of sudden concern.
“Get a medic in here now!” He ordered to one of the guards.
It was then that I finally gave into sleep and dreams.
The dreams were hardly dreams at all, more a montage of memories. The greatest moments with my father, relived through the portal of dreams. The small moments in time from which love is deepened everlastingly, flowed past in a milky mist of cobwebs.
He had been away for weeks on a trip to Virginia. On the deck of the train station I welcomed him home with a squeal and open arms. He lifted me high above his head and spun me around before crushing my small body to his. His hand lifted out a gift from his coat pocket; my hairbrush.
It was early morning and the sun was just coming up. “Hurry up, Sarah. You’ll be late for school.” Fathers said from my bedroom doorway. “But I don’t want to go. Take me with you instead.” I replied while brushing my hair. “A mine is no place for an angel, like you.” He replied.
“I have a surprise for you.” Father said while placing a fold of cloth over my eyes. “But I can’t see!” I replied. He took my small hand in his and led me from the house to the outside. We walked for a short distance and I heard a snort. I jumped back, cowering against my father. “It’s all right, Sarah.” He said and pulled the fold from my eyes. A horse nuzzled his head against my belly and I laughed. “Your old enough now to have a horse of your own.” Father said. “He’s mine?” I queried with disbelief. “He’s all yours, my little angel.” Father replied. “Can I name him?” I asked. Father nodded. “Jasper.” I said and the horse raised his head high and pranced in a circle before us. “I think he approves.” Father said with a chuckle.
Father laid out small rocks atop tree stumps in a line in front of me. He handed me his rifle for the first time and helped me aim at the rocks. Not a rock remained on a stump when we were done.
“This world is changing faster than we can keep up, Clem.” Father was speaking to my mother. “Maybe so but it’s no excuse to let her run wild.” Mother replied, speaking of me. “She’s not wild, she just doesn’t belong here.” Father said. “What difference does that make?” Mother asked. “She has a future and we don’t.” He said. A few moments later he entered my bedroom to tuck me in. “You were listening weren’t you?” He asked me. I nodded my head. “Don’t let it go to your head, but someday, you’ll make a real difference in this world.” He whispered. “How do you know?” I asked innocently. “A father knows these things.” He smiled and kissed my forehead.
“Just knowing a thing isn’t always enough.” Father said. We were walking toward home on the road from town. “Enough for what?” I asked. “Enough to survive. You have to learn to apply what you know to the situations that matter.” He said. “I don’t understand.” I replied. “Someday you will.” He wrapped an arm around me and gave a gentle squeeze.
Behind iron bars I stood staring at my father. ““What did you think you were doing?” Father asked. “Whatever I could.” I answered. “Obviously less than you thought.” He replied but there was a weary smile on his face. “Obviously.” I replied and returned the smile.
I paced restlessly behind bars, trapped with my father. “Focus your mind on figuring out how we’re gonna get out of here. That’ll help.” He said. I stopped pacing and stood staring down on him from the bars closest to his cell. “Escape?” I mouthed afraid of being overheard. Father nodded his head in the affirmative. My eyes grew wide. “How?” I whispered. “That’s the question, isn’t it?” He replied.
In a field of grass father lay motionless. There was blood on his chest. My heart stopped beating. I brushed a stray lock of hair from his eyes. He looked up at me. “My angel.” He said. I cried and he looked puzzled. “You don’t belong here.” He said. “Yes, I do!” I replied. “No, not here. It’s not your time.” He replied. “When is my time?” I asked. “When you’ve done what your meant to do.” He said with a supportive smile. “I don’t understand.” I replied. “You will.” He replied. His eyes blinked and the light was fading. “Follow your heart, Sarah.” He said. The grass turned to black and his body fell away from me.
My eyes snapped open. I sat up and reached out screaming, “Father!”
A hand grabbed mine and another pushed me gently back down. I was on a bed inside a large tent. The faces around me were blurry and the noise was nearly deafening at first. After a moment things began to clear back to normal.
“You are one lucky woman, Miss Waters.” A man said.
“I don’t feel too lucky.” I replied without much thought.
The general I had met briefly before, stepped closer to me. He was chuckling a little.
“You had two bullet grazes, one across your back, not too serious but the one atop your head might well have killed you.” The general said.
I raised my hand up to touch my head and found it wrapped in bandages. For just a moment I had thought maybe it was all just a bad dream but reality came crashing back down upon me. I struggled against the tears threatening to overwhelm me and won.
“You must have had an angel, looking out for you. A couple inches difference and you would be dead.” The other man said.
“I think you’re right.” I replied thinking of my father.
I laid my head back down and returned to the world of sleep, only this time there were no dreams.