Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2015 by Parker Sheaffer
Two more years passed and, outside the city, the war was growing and spreading as young men fought and died for things that Lucas couldn't understand. Lots of men from Knoxville had left to join one side or the other to fight. There were weekly postings of the names of those who would not be coming back. Because Lucas looked so young no one expected him to join up. Because he lied about his age in the beginning, Earl thought that he was approaching eighteen years instead of twenty-two. Although people had seen him around for a couple of years they didn't think of him as being a man, only a boy, so they paid him little attention. Lucas was happy for that.
In the fall of 1863 the Blue army came and drove out the Gray. Knoxville was then in the control of the Northern forces who hoped to secure all of East Tennessee.
Confederate General James Longstreet and his rebel troops tried to retake the city. He failed, and that was the most fighting that took place in Knoxville. Fearful of the siege, people began to buy up things from the store. Everyone wanted flour, coffee, sugar, whisky, beans and anything else they could stash away for the hard times ahead. It was only the beginning of those times of deprivation and need. Both armies had stripped the land of crops and livestock and now hunger threatened everyone.
Earl almost gave up on getting food stuffs for the store and, because money was so tight, people were not buying much of anything but essentials. The store shelves were empty except for things like chinaware and cloth. Lamp oil, candles and whiskey sold almost as quick as they got them while flour and corn meal became rare items.
Lucas, like everyone else, prayed the war would end soon. However, they had to endure two more years before it was over. Finally, on April 9, 1865 the south surrendered and Knoxville breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was not to be the end of everyone's trouble, though. Ruffians and Carpetbaggers descended from the north and the defeated rebels who survived began to return to their homes. Lawless people roamed the streets and they caused a lot of trouble.
One night a small band of dirty, drunken men broke into Earl's store to steal food and anything of value they could find. Lucas was in bed when he heard the front door being forced open and the sound of breaking glass. He cautiously peeked out and was frightened by what he saw, so he barricaded his door by propping a chair under the knob and hoped the intruders wouldn't know he was there. Then he heard Earl shouting at the thieves and shots were fired. The robbers fled and a shaken Lucas cautiously came out to find one man dead and Earl lying wounded beside him, his rifle by his hand.
The boy cried out as he knelt and tried to help his friend and benefactor to rise but Earl was too weak to move.
Lucas tearfully said, "Mr. McCarthy, are you alright? Please be alright. You can't die on me like this. What would I do?"
He tried to staunch the flow of blood from the hole in Earl's side while he called out for help. A creak of the floor board alerted Lucas that someone was behind him. Because he was turning to look, the knife that was meant for his back struck his shoulder instead. Instinctively Lucas grabbed the barrel of the rifle that lay by his hand and swung it like a club as he rose and turned around. The gun's stock caught the dirty thief on the side of his head and knocked him unconscious.
Thankfully, help arrived at that moment. Men rushed in and took Earl to the doctor while others dragged out the robbers. Dazed and bewildered, Lucas sat on a stool as someone bound up the gash on his shoulder and helped him back to bed. The doctor came around almost an hour later to see to him and gave him Laudanum to help with the pain and help him sleep.
Mrs. Ogle was there when he awoke and she had brought him something to eat and stayed with him while the Sheriff came to ask questions. He promised that the man who stabbed him was going to hang, but Lucas only wanted to know about Earl.
Two days later the doctor took a look at the cut on Lucas's shoulder and was amazed to see that it was almost healed. Lucas assured him that it had only been a scratch but the doctor said, "Scratch? I saw your shoulder, boy. That was no scratch. You were cut pretty deep and I thought I was going to have to sew you up except you had done quit bleeding. I've never seen anybody heal a cut this fast."
Lucas was relieved when the doctor let the subject drop.
They brought Earl back to his rooms above the store where he laid suffering from his wound. Lucas nursed him as best he could and the doctor came by daily to see about him. Earl was in great pain and he knew that the end was near for him.
He said to Lucas, "Son, you're like an angel that has been sent to me from Heaven. You are so beautiful. You'll never know how much I've come to love you. At my age I thought that love was something that I just missed out on, that I would never feel it, but then you came along. The first time I saw you I thought you were one of the most handsome boys I had ever seen, and now, four years later you look just the same. You haven't changed a bit. You're still an angel."
"Sir," said Lucas, tearfully, "I'm not an angel. I don't know what I am except that I'm grateful to you for helping me so much. You've changed my life, taught me everything I know and protected me. I don't know what would have come of me if it wasn't for you. I love you too, Earl."
Earl's wounds were severe, yet he managed to hold on for three days before death took him. While he still could muster the strength Earl ordered a lawyer to come make a will for him. He gave everything, the store and his savings, to Lucas, the boy he had come to love.
People were surprised because the boy wasn't kin to Earl, but then Earl had no family at all in Tennessee.
Some people wondered how a boy like Lucas could keep the store running and others remembered that he had said he was sixteen when he arrived four years earlier. That would make him twenty now, but that was impossible. No one even suspected that he was actually twenty-five years old. Questions were asked, gossip spread and again Lucas began to think about moving on.
He asked his friend, Mrs. Ogle to help him sell the store so that he could leave town. The two of them sat in the upstairs room where Lucas and Mr. McCarthy had taken their meals together. The place seemed different, cold and lonely, without the presence of the older man. His books still sat on the shelves, his pipe lay on the small table by his favorite chair. Over in the corner his bed was still unmade.
"I hate to see you go, son," the woman told him kindly. "It was good to have a connection to the folks back home. Still, I reckon you got good reasons for going and I'm not going to ask what they are. I can see that there's something different about you. Don't worry; your secrets are your own. Just take care of yourself and don't forget about me. Come back and see us if you ever get by this way again."
"I will, Ma'am. I appreciate all the help you gave me. I don't know what I would have done without you. I came here lost and you set me on a good path. I'm grateful," he told her sincerely.
"I remember that you were a scared little fellow when you first came to me. Now you talk like a city boy instead of a mountain boy. That's owing to you and Earl. He taught you good and you learned it good. Keep on learning and make something of yourself out there in the world."
"I will try, Ma'am."
Mrs. Ogle knew most of the townspeople, especially the ones who still had money so she soon found a buyer. Because he was in a hurry to leave they didn't get as much for the place as they should have, but it was more than enough to travel with. Lucas helped himself to several new changes of clothes and packed them into a large suitcase. His earnings from the past four years plus the profits from the sale of the store and the money Earl had kept hidden under the floor beneath the counter all came to almost four thousand dollars. Most of it was in gold, but the rest was in notes, either Confederate or U.S. Lucas left the Confederate money behind.
Although he had become more accustomed to handling money, it made Lucas uneasy to have that much gold on him. A little of the money he kept hidden in the suitcase and a bit more he put in a money belt that he wore under his shirt. But these were only decoys to deter any thieves who might try and rob him. The bulk of his money was in four small pouches tied to each calf and each ankle so that they were carefully concealed while he traveled.
Lucas had recently made the acquaintance of a man from Boston who lived at Mrs. Ogle's and was a foreman at one of the local factories. Mr. O'Shea told him about how beautiful the city of Boston was and how the people were good and pious. It sounded like a fine place to Lucas so he purchased a train ticket to Boston and left the South behind.
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