PART THREE (of 4)
"Sorry, Jim. I'll continue."
"Take your time."
Artie regained his composure and continued on with his reading: "Caroline and I survived the night in the Wasatch and caught up to our fellow thespians the following day. We carried what few possessions we could and sought shelter in the wagons belonging to our friends.
In late August, around the 21st, our party fought extreme exhaustion. At every turn we found our way blocked by dense willows. Emigration Canyon, as I heard the Mormons call it, was such a place. For those who still had a wagon, double-teaming took place. Our pace was painstakingly slow; most of our time was used for road building. By this time, two members in our party had fallen ill. Young Ed Breen, a lad of thirteen, traveled with his broken leg in a splint; and Mr. Luke Halloran was consumptive, and passed on several days later. After much arduous work we stumbled out of the Wasatch. It took one month to reach the Great Salt Lake. It should have taken only one week. There were still 600 miles to travel.
One day late in August, we came upon a note from Lansford W. Hastings. The tattered piece of paper had been found on a board in a meadow near the Great Salt Lake Desert. The note said: 'two days -- two nights -- hard driving -- cross desert -- reach water.' We did not know that the forty-mile desert was nearly twice as wide. It would not have mattered if we had known. There was no way to turn back."
Artie paused in his reading to sip some water.
"That I remember -- the great desert," said Jim. "I was so thirsty all the time. I remember Mom giving me a pebble soaked in peppermint oil to stave off the dryness. Didn't help much."
Artie nodded. "No, the sun was just too hot; and the road was too long. Shall I continue?"
Artie continued to read. "Through the desert we traveled by day and night. The searing daytime heat left us unprepared for the piercing cold of night. Thirst was our constant companion. By the first of September our party should have been making its way south to Mary's River; but we were only at the Great Salt Desert. Hastings' shortcut, we figured, had added 125 miles to our journey.
Our party traveled in segments across the desert with the William Eddy family in the lead. The closest families to us were the Reed and Donner families, who were several hours ahead. Other families filled the gap. On the desert, each family took care of itself.
I'll never forget the appearance of the Salt Desert. It was a hard and dusty vast white plain. It was level in all directions and devoid of any vegetation. There was, in the center of the desert, a shallow lake of alkali, all turned to mush in the blistering heat of day. The substance clung to our feet, wagon wheels, and clothing; nearly turning to stone as it dried. We saw the mountains ahead and they seemed to float on air, never getting any closer. The setting sun in the West stretched our shadows as far back East as we'd come. The night was deathly cold -- Caroline and I shivered not at the temperature; but at the sound of crying children carried back to us on the stiff desert wind. One of our fellow thespians rode ahead for water. We had but two choices at this time: Move or die.
For several days we struggled across the Great Salt Desert. My dear Caroline's birthday, on the second of September, passed as the other days had been. My heart ached to give her something special to celebrate the occasion, but there was nothing to be found... not even flowers. The barren desert stretched on before our eyes. Late in the evening on the third, our theater comrade returned with precious water for us. Caroline said it was the most precious birthday present she had ever received.
So many in our party lost cattle, wagons, and personal possessions. The loss for some was enormous. By the eighth of September, all of our party were resting at the base of Pilot Peak at a crystal clear spring. Days were lost searching for 40 head of oxen, all bolted into the desert and crazed with thirst. Eighteen of those animals, they said, belonged to Mr. James Reed. Mr. Reed also abandoned two of his wagons on the salt flats. Thankfully, Caroline and I had shelter with our friends. Only one family in our party, the Breens, got through with no losses. Even young Ed Breen, whose leg had been broken, had healed nicely.
Days of September passed in succession, one day equaling the next. Two gentlemen, Charles Stanton and William McCutchen, rode on ahead to California for supplies. An inventory had been taken; and it was determined that our provisions would not last us to the Sierra Nevada. There were hundreds of miles of Nevada desert still to face.
Caroline and I walked everyday. Back at Fort Bridger, we had been told that the Hastings Cutoff offered level roads, plenty of water and grass, little dust, and that Sutter's Fort in California was only seven weeks away. Little did we know what fate had in store for us. We walked for endless days through desert, alkali dust, and rugged terrain. After six weeks time, our company had not yet reached the Ruby Mountains. One night, about this time, Caroline awakened from a violent night terror. She trembled in my arms as I held her; and she breathlessly told me that we must hurry. In her dream, she was running from a shapeless white cloud that was relentless in its pursuit. She feared that if she could not outrun it, it would trap her in its midst. Now, as I look out at the snow around Donner Camp, I realize how prophetic her night terror was."
Artie stopped reading and looked at Jim, who sat wide-eyed in the chair nearest the bed. The wind continued to blow outside; and snow swirled around the train. "Another white cloud of terror," he whispered.
"Artie," said Jim. "Don't." He patted his friend's hand.
"I'm okay." He held up a hand in reassurance. "I'll continue: The days continued into October. Great animosity flourished in our party as time went on, and tempers flared. On the fifth of October, there came an altercation between the Reed family and the Graves family. We came to a sandy hill and the wagons needed to be double-teamed. Oxen from Reed's wagon, driven by Milt Elliott, entangled with oxen from the Graves wagon, driven by a young man named John Snyder. Tempers flared as the incident occurred and Mr. Snyder argued with Mr. Elliott and whipped the oxen. Mr. Reed intervened to restore peace to the situation, but Snyder was in a frenzy and clubbed Mr. Reed with the butt of his whip. Mrs. Reed ran into the confrontation to defend her husband, and she too was struck. In defense, Mr. Reed drew his knife and stabbed Mr. Snyder. The young lad died in minutes. Oh, the chaos that ensued following this event! Some demanded justice be served immediately; and it was suggested that Reed be hanged on the spot. Others favored banishment, and thankfully that was what was agreed upon. Mr. Reed left, saying that he would not be banished, but would leave in order to return with supplies and help for us all. Another man joined Reed on his journey, as it was safer to travel in numbers through this territory. I know not his name other than to say he is a family man and very charismatic. To this day, we have not seen Mr. Reed or his companion, no doubt hampered by the snows. Our thoughts are with them both -- may they return safely to us and their families."
Artie stopped reading for a moment. "Jim, the charismatic friend of Reed's -- he was your dad, am I right?"
"Right you are, pal."
"Must've been tough -- being without him through all of that."
Jim nodded. "It was -- especially on my mom. Still, my dad intervened in the altercation when Mrs. Reed was struck. He had nothing to do with the dispute, but was very concerned for his friend Reed and the injury he had sustained."
"That's why your dad went with him?"
"Yes," replied Jim. "Going with Reed was one way to insure the man would survive in order to return. My family realized that Mr. Reed would be safer traveling with someone. With such high animosity in the group, no one else would accompany him. Everyone blamed him for Hastings' shortcut. As it was, the company provided Reed with no gun, horses, or food. It was his young daughter, Virginia, who brought provisions for her dad prior to his leaving the party."
"Must have been hard to deal with everyone's blame and fear... and then Snyder's death," Artie mused.
"It was," replied Jim. "And as far as I know, he has never spoken of the incident...the killing, I mean." Jim stretched out in the chair. "Read on, Artie. You can't stop now."
Artie smiled. "Very well," he said, then read on: "Throughout October, our party dissolved further into a band of disorganized, ill-supplied stragglers. Paiute Indians noticed our plight and took the advantage, killing 21 head of oxen and stealing horses. Mr. Eddy, traveling with his wife and young children, ages one and three, was down to the clothes on his back, a few lumps of sugar, and several bullets, having lost his wagon and team.
One day, Caroline and I came upon the body of an old man. He lay at the side of the trail, feet swelled past the point of bursting. One of our theater comrades recognized the old man as a Mr. Hardcoop who had been traveling with the Keseburg family. No doubt the soul had been exiled from the wagon and left to die. No one had returned to help him. If only Caroline and I had reached him in time...
On the night of October 11th, we caught up to our fractured party. We camped near bad grass and even poorer water. We learned that Mr. Eddy begged Mr. Breen for a horse to go after Hardcoop, but Mr. Breen refused him. Later, Mr. Breen's horse got stuck in some mud and Mr. Eddy, remembering Hardcoop, refused to help Breen. The horse suffered and died. Also, Mr. Eddy asked Mrs. Breen and Mrs. Graves for food for his children. He was desperate, and they refused. Taking his gun and remaining bullets, Eddy shot several huge geese... and he shared with everyone. Later, all through the night, whistling noises pierced the air, and Caroline and I huddled with our friends beneath the wagons for cover. Fortunately, none of the arrows connected with human flesh...
On the 27th of October, Charles Stanton returned to us laden with supplies and two Indian helpers, Luis and Salvador. Mr. McCutchen, with whom he traveled, was at Sutter's Fort, and too ill to make the journey back to his family. Mr. Stanton informed us that Mr. Reed and his traveling companion were indeed alive and in California. They would send relief to us. The Sierras were just ahead... and the sky above framed them in dark clouds.
This day, also -- traveling at the very rear of the party with the rest of the train a good day or more ahead -- was the day Caroline, myself, and our friends came upon the overturned Donner wagon, with young Georgia, age four, and Eliza, age 3, buried inside. We pulled the children from the wagon; both were quite shaken but not seriously hurt. It was here that Mr. Donner gashed his hand, and that brings me full circle to this day as I write..."
Artie stopped reading and closed his journal. He folded his arms around the book and held it closely to his chest.
"With the Donners," said Jim. "Was there much left to eat?"
Artie nodded. "At the time, yes. We had some cattle... starving cattle. The Donner Brothers gave away clothing, tobacco, and other things in exchange for a promise to be paid top dollar in California. Little did they realize they'd never live long enough to be paid."
"Yeah," replied Jim. "And George Donner's arm never healed properly -- both brothers fell ill, I recall."
"True," said Artie. "By December, Mr. Donner's 'scratch' had infected his hand and arm. I knew amputation was the only recourse; but no one had the skills to do it." Artie opened his journal to the entry dated December 20th, 1846. "Things went from bad to worse at the Alder Creek Camp, Jim. Let me read more. This entry is from December 20th." Artie continued from his journal: "These days in camp, hunger is our constant companion. We are down to boiling hides and bones. Several have eaten mice, scorched over coals. We are huddled in soaked tents and brush shelters, which barely provide protection from winter's fury. From the Lake Camp came Noah James and Milt Elliott for a visit. They'd been to see the Donners and reported that fever was raging through their shelter. Caroline and I expressed our concern for the children and our desire to have them stay with us. Mr. Elliott thanked us for our kindness; but told us the young ones would not be parted from their mother.
Eventually, death found its way into the Donner Camp when Sam Shoemaker, James Smith, and Joseph Reinhardt succumbed to severe malnutrition and fever. These young gentlemen were so lighthearted and spirited out on the plains -- a time that now seems so long ago. They walked a thousand miles only to be buried under a blanket of pure white death. Mr. Elliott and Mr. James left us early this morning and took with them the news of our dire situation."
Artie stopped reading and rested the journal on his lap. He grew thoughtful. "I'd forgotten just how tough it was," he whispered.
"Yes. Time does that," replied Jim. "Artie, what about Christmas? How did you get through that?"
"Ah, James-my-boy," replied Artie with a smile. "That's where Caroline and my theater comrades really showed their ingenuity. Fearing that things would get worse before they got better, Caroline and friends stored away various foods just for the holiday. And to make matters even more amazing, a friend in the troupe located four oxen, three horses, and two dogs, all but lost in the snow! The wind had blown the snow around so much that new drifts had formed, clearing previous areas of ten-foot snow pile. Our friend was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to see the exposed carcasses."
"That was fortunate, I'll say," replied Jim. "We didn't find any 'buried treasure' at the lake; but my mom and Mrs. Reed got together and did the same as Caroline and your friends. Food never tasted quite as good as it did that holiday."
"I know what you mean. We rationed off everything so carefully, too. We had to make that meat last as long as possible." Artie held the journal close to his chest. "Still, we ate so very little; and without salt, bread, and vegetables... well, let's just say it was still more substantial than mice."
Jim nodded and listened carefully to the storm outside. Wind still howled; and thunder and lightning still competed with the snow for dominance over Donner Pass. Thinking of their own situation, Jim asked, "You left the camp with the second relief party, didn't you, Artie?" A memory was gnawing at him; and he couldn't firmly grasp its significance.
"Yes, I did."
"And Caroline?" Jim whispered.
Artie knew they'd get to this part sooner or later. He'd prepared himself for it; but it was still difficult. I miss her so...even after so many years, he mused. Still, he wanted to share Caroline's memory with his best friend. "She was with me, Jim... for a little while anyway," he said quietly. "It was Mr. Reed who led our group out of the mountains."
Again, a strange feeling gnawed at Jim, but he dismissed it and listened to his partner.
"It was early March and another blizzard hit while we were out on the trail over the pass," said Artie, his eyes vacant save for the images of the past. "We walked and stumbled through fifteen-foot drifts all day, and late one afternoon the ordeal had become too much for Caroline. Our acting comrades, those who were still with us, moved on ahead with Mr. Reed while I stayed with my dear wife. We had meager supplies -- small strips of jerked beef for food; wood and matches for fire, but it simply wasn't enough." Artie's eyes fell to his journal and he bowed his head in memory. "We sat together in the snow," he whispered. "I held Caroline to my heart. She was unconscious. Shortly before she died, her eyes opened and gazed at mine with an intensity I'd never before seen. The light from our fire reflected a myriad of colors in her eyes." Artie paused briefly to clear the lump in his throat. After catching his breath, he continued. "Weakly drawing her last breath, Jim, she whispered a lovely verse she'd written at camp: 'When Spring returns to a wintry land; the sunlight shines from above; find in this warmth, dear husband; thy wife's eternal love'. It was a verse she'd loved so dear. The wind howled around us, and with that final gust she breathed no more. I felt her presence in that wind... her spirit took flight."
Jim got up from his chair and moved to sit by Artie's side. He placed a hand on his partner's shoulder, but could find no words to say. He let his hand and eyes speak for him.
Artie patted Jim's hand. "I'm fine, buddy," he said, and squeezed his friend's hand in reassurance.
"You managed to find your way back to the others, though it must have been difficult," said Jim.
"More than you can know, pal. More than you can know." Artie looked at Jim and said, "I was reluctant to leave Caroline like that, so I buried her in the snow. There'd been evidence of cannibalism back at the Donner tents; and I just could not fathom that fate for my sweet wife. I thank the stars above to this day for sparing Caroline, and myself, that horrible fate."
"So do I -- for you, your wife...and myself and my family," replied Jim. "My mom and Mrs. Reed held it together enough so food, however meager, was always present. I guess our families and the Reeds were the only ones who did not need human flesh to sustain them. We were damn lucky."
Artie agreed. "That really was the only food left. Back at the camp, when we found our snowbound animals, we made an attempt to reach the Donners', but the snow was just too deep. Those poor people were down to boiling moldy buffalo robes and the soles of their worn-out shoes. They also tried to subsist on tree bark and anything else that could be chewed and swallowed. There was no food left and survival was at stake. The question for some became simple. It was 'how much do you want to live?' Anyway, I left Caroline in a blanket of snow and climbed out of the snow pit that our fire had created. The blaze had melted the snow and we sank twenty feet down to almost bare ground. I had to dig steps in the wall of white to climb to the surface."
"You caught up to the others then?"
"Eventually. After this time, I don't recall much of what happened. Obviously, we made it out of the mountains with Mr. Reed. I was snowblind for part of the time; and I fell ill with pneumonia shortly thereafter while convalescing at Johnson's Ranch. When I recovered, my memories were all a jumble of confusion, and many of the events described to me -- following Caroline's death -- I could not recall. To this day, some of it is still blank."
"Well, maybe it'll all come clear one of these days," said Jim, squeezing Artie's arm.
"Yes...perhaps it will."
"So how many of your friends survived, Artie?"
"Sadly, only ten members of the troupe survived. We started out with such high hopes and big dreams -- thirty-five people off to cross the country and bring civilization to an uncivilized land." Artie's voice grew quiet. "Instead, some met the end buried under drifts of white." Artie shook his head. "It was so sad, Jim, you know. Some of my friends survived the mountains, only to die of illness later at Johnson's Ranch. It was not the ending we had envisioned for ourselves."
"For certain," replied Jim softly. "What did you do once you recovered? Must've been difficult going back to the theater without Caroline."
Artie nodded. "I stayed in California for a year or so, then in '48 I decided to head back East to see Caroline's family. Guess I was a little homesick."
"Back to Cincinnati?"
"Yeah. Caroline's parents had taken control of Gordon Iron Works after my mother passed on. My father-in-law was a businessman; so it suited him just fine to oversee those whom we hired to run the business. The arrangement worked well until 1855, when we decided to sell the company out-right. Caroline's dad was getting on; and I was busy with acting and classes, so it was time to let it go. We liquidated the Iron Works to Hazard and Main Textile Mills, the first plant of its kind in South Carolina. Two young men ran the place -- wonderful, pleasant people to deal with, George Hazard and Orry Main. They went on to serve in the war, too, from what I've heard. Kinda remind me of the two of us, Jim... being best friends and all," said Artie with a soft, shy smile.
"They must've been one heck of a pair!" Jim grinned.
"And what about you, Artie? You took classes; worked in the theater..."
"...and opened my home to the Underground Railroad," said Artie, finishing the sentence.
Artie nodded. "After the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 went into effect, it was even more crucial. The law placed stiff penalties on anyone who was caught helping slaves escape to freedom. Of course, the slaves themselves were then returned to the south and forced to return to slavery. Still, those people needed help; and no fear of going to prison was going to stop me from helping. Besides, one of the first people I met when I returned to Ohio was Harriet Beecher Stowe. She was an interesting woman, Jim. She left with her husband in 1850 and moved to Maine, so I didn't get to know her as well as I would've liked."
"Isn't that where she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin?"
"Yes," replied Artie. "As President Lincoln said, she was 'the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war'."
Jim was silent for a moment. "So you acted until the war began?"
"That's right... and I was among the first in my community to volunteer."
Jim looked at his best friend with wonder. I'm so damn proud to be your partner, Artemus Gordon... and even more proud to have you for a friend. "You're amazing, Artie. Always trying to help others and do the right thing." Jim got up from where he sat beside his partner and returned to the chair near the bed. "You must be exhausted, buddy, after telling me all this."
"Not really. I don't think I could sleep anyway... not with that wind, lightning, and thunder." Crack! Mother Nature responded as if she'd heard every word the agent uttered. "Besides, the whole story hasn't been told yet."
"You mean there's more?"
Artie stared directly into Jim's eyes and whispered. "Your story, James. What is your story?"
"I don't know if there is that much to tell, Artie." Jim got up from his chair and poured another glass of water. He looked at his partner and gestured with the water glass. "You want more?"
Jim filled Artie's water glass. "Our experiences along the trail were similar," he said. "My parents, Jonathan and Angela, were friends of the Reeds and the Donners. They, along with my Uncle James and Aunt Sarah, encouraged the move west. They had immigrated to California the year before." Jim sat down and sipped his water glass. "My dad and uncle were prosperous ranchers, so Uncle James was very persuasive in his arguments about the benefits of moving out West."
"Your family was excited to go?"
"Yes. My mother and your Caroline were very much alike, Artie. Two women with the spirit of adventure." He paused a moment to think. "Too bad they didn't meet each other on the journey."
"I know. I would love to have the memory of James West at age four." Artie smiled mischievously.
Jim replied sarcastically, "Oh, I'll just bet you do, pal!" He returned the smile; then turned serious. A faint memory stirred in his consciousness. There it is again... that feeling, he thought. What is it that I can't remember? Jim sat quietly for a few seconds.
"Jim, you okay?"
"Huh?" he replied.
"You're a million miles away, pal," said Artie. "Is everything okay?"
"Oh yes, sure. Everything is fine," replied Jim. "I just keep getting a feeling that there's something I should remember, but I can't."
"Well, maybe you'll remember as you continue," said Artie. "Tell me, Jim. Your dad went with Mr. Reed when Reed was banished. That must've been very difficult."
"It was. My dad was a man of great discipline, confidence, and charisma."
"Sounds like someone else I know," replied Artie, smiling warmly.
Jim let the compliment float between them, then continued.
"Dad had studied at West Point and possessed a quiet, commanding strength. He was extremely warm and loyal to family, friends, and country." Jim sat back in his chair and made himself comfortable. "Dad knew Reed wouldn't stand a chance on the trail alone, so he went with him. He was thinking about us all; and the supplies he could bring back, when he made his decision. My mom was completely understanding. She and dad had a strong marriage -- strong enough to survive whatever the trail could throw at them."
"They fought in the war -- your dad and Reed, didn't they?"
Jim nodded. "After they'd arrived in California, they'd learned that all able-bodied men had gone to fight in the war with Mexico. They, too, joined the fight to win the state of California. Of course, Reed and Dad had no way of knowing that so many of our horses, cattle, and wagons with provisions had been lost. Had they known that, who knows what would've happened differently."
"What was it like at the Lake Camp with your family?"
"We stayed in a cabin with the Reed and Graves families," said Jim. "My mom did all she could for me, my sister Laura, and my brother Jeremy, even though Mom suffered occasionally from severe headaches."
"I knew of your sister, Jim -- isn't she older than you?" asked Artie. "I've never heard you mention Jeremy, though. Didn't know you have a brother."
"Had a brother, Artie. In answer to your first question: yes, Laura is my older sister -- ten years older. Jeremy was a year younger than myself." Jim's voice grew soft. "He died at the lake."
"Oh, Jim. I'm so sorry... I had no idea."
Jim shrugged. "It's okay. After Jeremy died, my mom was overwhelmed by grief... and absolutely driven to get Laura and me over the mountain and into California. Sometimes I wonder if Jeremy gave her the strength to do that."
"Your little brother possessed a strong spirit."
"Yes." Jim was silent. Speaking of Jeremy, or of anything from his past, was not something Jim did with ease. It's not so hard now, though. Maybe because it's Artie who is listening.
"So you, your mom, and your sister left with the second relief, too?"
Jim nodded. "I recall being cold -- numb and cold. We walked endlessly, it seemed, and camped high on the pass that first night. There was a storm and no shelter. Laura sang to me -- that's a vivid memory."
"What did she sing, Jim?"
"Well, it was not Ol' Dan Tucker, if that's what you're thinking," he replied with a smile. "Laura sang some song about being home. Its words went something like this: ' 'Tis home where're the heart is. Where're its living treasures dwell, in cabin, or in princely hall, and forest haunt or hermit's cell. 'Tis bright where're the heart is. Its fairy spells have pow'r to bring, fresh fountains to the wilderness, and to the desert vernal spring'."
"Ah," said Artie. "That's 'Tis Home Where'er the Heart Is. I remember it well. It was Caroline's favorite. She sang it a lot when we were at camp."
"Nice song," said Jim. "It was nice -- Laura's singing. I don't know how she found the courage to sing under such conditions."
"Maybe she just really cared for her little brother." Artie smiled warmly.
"I guess." Jim returned the smile. "Anyway, we did make it to Johnson's Ranch where my aunt and uncle came to meet us. Mom's health was very unstable, but you could see the relief in her knowing that at least Laura and I were safe."
"And your dad?"
"He was fine, too. He was part of the third relief party and soon joined all of us at my uncle's ranch. He never spoke of his experiences on the pass with the third relief other than to say the conditions at the lake were horrific and utterly indescribable."
"That sums it up pretty well. Jim, your mom -- how did she like California?"
"She liked it fine... but fell ill suddenly in June of that year. She passed away on July 3rd, the day after my fifth birthday." Jim looked away, not able to meet his friend's eyes. "The doctor said the malnutrition had left her in a weakened state. We learned that one portion of her food up at the lake was given to my sister and I. Mom died to keep us alive."
The room fell silent.
"James, look at me."
Though reluctant, Jim looked at his partner.
"I'm so very sorry... I had no idea," said Artie with a soft voice.
"I know. I never told anyone before. Anyway, on a brighter note, my entire world became my dad, sister, aunt, and uncle. My dad brought me up and I owe so much to him... and to my mom. Both fought for what they believed in; they were very positive role models. Uncle James and Dad became partners in business and ran the ranch together. As for me, I went to school and, like you Artie, totally immersed myself in it. In 1858, when I was 16, I enrolled at the College of California, where I was very fond of archeological studies. My real goal, however, was to be a West Pointer like Dad. He spent hours preparing me for a military education."
"Why did you attend college in California then, when the military was on your mind?"
"My dad fell ill at the time and had not long to live. I enrolled at the California school so I could be near the ranch and take care of him. He passed on in late 1859. After his affairs were in order, I left for the Point with Danny, my best friend from college."
"Daniel Wentworth," said Artie, recalling the young man whom he met on his first assignment with James T. West. "He brought us together, Jim... on the steamboat, Sultana. That explosion was one of the greatest tragedies of the war."
"That it was; but that's another story."
"So you studied for a year at the Point?" asked Artie.
"Yes...and in 1861 Danny and I were among the first recruits. Made me proud to think of my dad and how he served his country; and now I was doing the same."
"What about your sister?"
"She married, had two children, and lived on the ranch. She and her husband inherited the place when my aunt and uncle died. Laura and her family still live there today. They've hired folks to help them run the place since my brother-in-law, Matthew, is a Western Union Telegraph official for the Central Pacific Railroad."
"A supervisor, huh?"
"Uh-huh. In fact, if there are wire difficulties tonight, you can bet he's on the job."
"I hope he is, Jim. Maybe he'll receive one of our messages." Crack! The heavens, which had quieted, now resounded with a new fury. "Not again...and just when we should be getting some sleep."
Jim got up to help make Artie comfortable for sleeping; then returned to his own chair. "You want one lantern on or off?"
"Leave one on, Jim," replied Artie. "I just hope I can sleep with that racket." Crack! Mother Nature replied.
"Just think about Matt helping to get us out of here." Jim grabbed a blanket and made himself comfortable in the chair. "I'd love to see my sister again..."
"Perhaps you will, James-my-boy," said Artie sleepily. "I'd love to meet her, too."
Jim felt that strange feeling again - a memory probing somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind; just begging to see the light of day. It was fleeting, however, and disappeared in the blink of an eye. "I'd love for you to meet Laura, Artie. Maybe someday, you'll meet my sister."
With thoughts of a reunion, the agents slept...and the storm continued.