The Torbert Farm
“G.W., if you’ll just talk to J.B . . . . maybe he’ll listen to you. He’s our baby brother and we have to help him with his drinking problem. He can come stay with me in Fairmont. Since I’m retired now, I can take care of him. Just talk to him, please. I know I can help him.”
“Jewell, I have talked to him. Time and time again. I’ve tried to get him to come stay on the farm, but he flat won’t do it.” G.W. Torbert gave his sister a concerned look. “Just take it easy and don’t ride him. He’s forty-five years old and can make his own decisions. If you come down hard on him he’s going to leave and that will spoil the reunion. Since I haven’t seen Willie G. and little Janet in two years, I don’t want to take that chance. Just take it easy, don’t confront J.B. tonight. I’ll talk to him later. It probably won’t any good, but I’ll try again.”
G.W. reached up to tighten a bolt on the tractor, hoping Jewell would ease up. No such luck, though.
“We need to talk about this some more, G.W. I’ve got some sandwiches in the kitchen. Come inside where we can sit down.”
G.W. was silent for a moment, then put down the wrench and climbed to his feet. “I could use something to eat. But there’s no point in talking about J.B., Jewell.”
“Fine,” Jewell said, heading for the house. “Let’s talk about you, then. It’s been six years since Janet died and you’ve been living here in this big old house all alone. Have you thought about asking Willie G. to move back home? I know Grantville isn’t Philadelphia but he could find work around here. Maybe teaching.”
“I do all right. Don’t need anything and Willie G. has his own life, just like I do. Leave well enough alone, Jewell. He’ll move back if he wants to, someday, maybe.”
Jewell sighed, “I’m talking about having someone here you can talk to, human company.”
G.W. repressed his own sigh. That was Jewell all over. Always trying to help people who didn’t want helping. Good-hearted to a fault, his sister.
G.W. ducked, squeezed his eyes shut against the bright light and pulled Jewell down beside him. “What was that? For a minute there it felt like Korea.”
Jewell struggled to her feet. Then she stopped, open-mouthed. “G-g-g . . . what happened?”
G.W. stared in stunned amazement at the ridge of earth and dense forest that had been his cow pasture. The shocks continued as he saw the tractor he had been working on. Part of the rear tire and half the plow was gone and he could see the phone and power lines were down too. He felt his stomach clench as he realized if Jewell hadn’t fetched him he would have been cut in half also.
The sense of urgency was almost over whelming. He went inside, opened the door of the gun cabinet, took out his shotgun and slipped his.45 automatic behind the bib of his overalls.
“G.W., you can’t carry that around with you. You’ll scare anybody you see to death,” Jewell yelled.
“Something has happened and I don’t know what. I want the gun just in case.”
Jewell grabbed his arm. “I don’t know what that flash was but there might be people hurt. Do you want to stand and argue, or are you going to go look for anybody that might be injured?”
G.W. started to argue, then left the shotgun with Jewell. “Keep this handy. I don’t know what’s happened but you better be ready for anything.”
He climbed the loose dirt of the ridge that went through his farm and in a few minutes he was in thick forest. After thirty minutes of searching there was nothing to explain the changes and he was ready to give up and go home. Whatever that noise and light was, it must have caused this mess.
He began to turn away, but the sound of a scream stopped him. It was followed by the sound of men laughing. He moved as quietly and quickly as he could, then found a small clearing. Two young women were struggling with four men; nearby was the bloody body of a young boy. Even from a distance G.W. could smell the odor of burned meat. He didn’t recognize any of the men, their weapons or the clothing they wore, but he sure recognized what was going on. A man held one of the struggling women and the other woman was being held by two of the men, twisting hers arms behind her, trying to tie her. Her clothes were torn and there were several bleeding cuts on her cheeks and arms. Another, dressed a bit better, had his sword shoved into the ground, and gave orders in German—German! What the hell?—to the others to hurry up and get the woman tied up. He yelled at the woman, “Where is your gold, your money?”
Time seemed to slow. The familiar wood grip of G.W.’s.45 was in his hand when he moved into the clearing. He fired without even thinking about it. The shot hit the man in the chest and threw the body through the air. One of the men holding the girl started to turn, trying to pull a knife at the same time. Two shots hit him in the center of the chest, and were so close together they sounded like a single shot. G.W. pointed the pistol toward the third brigand. The first shot broke the man’s left arm as he stood up and backed away; the shock of the bullet turned him completely around. G.W. fired again; the bullet, meant for the chest, hit the man in the throat and almost took his head off.
The fourth man, struggling with the girl, stared in disbelief and fear. He abruptly let her go and ran into the trees. G.W. fired a couple of shots after him but missed. It felt like time sped up to normal as he put a fresh clip into the automatic.
He bent over to help the girl and realized she was a woman of about thirty. He took off his jacket and started put it over her, but she flinched at his touch and shouted at him. The other woman ran to help her. “Must be sisters,” he muttered. “They look a lot alike.”
He checked the boy, but the number of burns, stab wounds and cuts made it obvious the men had tortured him before killing him. He covered the boy’s body with a coat dropped by one of the dead men.
When he approached the women again, they shrank away from him. He held out his hand and said, “No one will hurt you.”
She stared for a long moment and fell weeping into his arms, clinging to him as sobs racked her body. Finally, exhausted, she collapsed. G.W. started to pick her up, but saw other men in the shadow of the trees. He stood, slipped the.45 out of the overall bib and waited.
A small crowd of ten or twelve men and women, with several small children, emerged from the trees. Three of the men were clutching knives and one had an axe. A young girl suddenly broke from the crowd and ran over to the two women, babbling more German at them. Why German, G.W. wondered. It just didn’t make any sense. “Does anyone speak English?” he asked.
Helmut Benz spoke a little English. At least he recognized the strange old man’s words. In a mixture of broken English, gestures and German he said, “We found the women’s sister in the forest. We were coming to see if there was anything we could do. There is no time to talk now. If more of Tilly’s men are about, they will catch us.” Helmut looked at the four dead soldiers. “We are going deeper into the forest to hide. If you come with us it will be more protection.” While looking for the women, they had seen the flash and heard the thunder and suddenly land was there that wasn’t there yesterday and what was there yesterday was gone.
Finally, just as they were getting ready to rescue the women from Tilly’s dogs, they had seen the old man step out of the woods and kill the soldiers. That had stopped them in their tracks. Fighting Tilly’s men was one thing. Fighting an old man of the forest who shot several times with the same gun without reloading after having seen a miracle — that was something else. It seemed likely that the old man was connected to the miracle
“I have a farm just over on the other side of the woods.” The old man gestured to where the light and thunder had come from, “I’m not going to leave it,” He looked at the women and children. “If you want to come with me I can give you some food and water.” The old man was speaking the same mix of German, English and gestures with more English and the strangest accent Helmut had ever heard. It all fit together in a strange sort of way. They had fallen into a fairy story.
“We left everything when we ran. Anything will help,” Helmut said. He wasn’t up to explaining what five hundred mercenaries would do to a village that had less then a hundred, mostly women and children. The old man — perhaps old wizard — motioned them to help the women and turned away to lead them to they knew not what. The old man was a fool for trusting strangers or more powerful than he seemed. And his people did need food and water.
Jewell met him at the door. Ignoring the sharp pain in his back, G.W said, “Jewell, I don’t know what the devil is going on but the whole world has gone crazy.” He pointed. “I caught four men molesting two women. Men with swords, for God’s sake.”
“I tried to call for help,” Jewell said, “but the phones are out and the electricity. I’ll put those women upstairs in J.B.’s old room.” G.W. could tell she was trying to keep the panic out of her voice.
“Who are all those other people,” she asked. “And what are we going to do with them? Maybe you need to go talk to them and try to find out what’s going on.”
Two men had been posted as lookouts, and the women were taking care of the exhausted children. Helmut Benz came to the porch and explained, “When we heard Tilly was coming, we grabbed everything we could carry and fled. We scattered our livestock and hid in the forest.” Helmut looked around. “I have never seen your village before but I thank you for offering food and water. What is that ridge of dirt? I have never seen anything like it.”
One of the other men turned toward G.W. “Who are you? What the devil has happened? I’ve lived here all my life and I have never seen you or this place!”
G.W. was silent for a moment, fighting growing fear. Ignoring the outburst he said to Helmut. “Who is this Tilly you keep talking about?” After an hour of listening to Helmut talking about Tilly and Magdeburg, he gave up trying to understand. There was work to do, if nothing else.
Jewell met him at the kitchen door, carrying a tray of meat. “We’ve got, what? Fifteen or twenty people to feed? And the electricity is still out. So I’m going to start up the grill.”
“The lines are cut, Jewell. It may be a while before we get any power, but there’s charcoal in the shed. And some coal oil lamps. Everyone will feel better after they eat.” He paused a moment. “I told the others they can sleep in the barn. I think they’re okay but I don’t want to take a chance tonight.
“I’m not sure but it looks like whatever happened busted the sewer line to the septic tank. Water will be ok, it’ll soak into the ground, but don’t use the toilet yet, nothing solid.” G.W. rubbed his neck. “I don’t know what happened to the cesspit; maybe it’s where the rest of the farm is. Helmut already has men digging a latrine.”
For a long moment Jewell just looked at him. “G.W., slow down a little, calm down. Go get cleaned up and by the time you get back and light the fire, the meat will be ready to cook.”
Instead of cleaning himself up, G.W. took out the.45, cleaned and reloaded it, then put it back behind the bib of his overalls. Then he went into his office and pulled out the T volume of the encyclopedia; opening it to Tilly. After reading the entry, he sat down trying to understand the significance of what he had read and what it might mean for the future.
After explaining what he had found out, G.W. told Jewell, “I’m going to go back and get the body of that boy and bring it back. Before . . . “
He stopped. Probably it wouldn’t be a good idea to mention wild pigs just now. “I should be back soon.” He started toward the door and then turned back. “Get some of Janet's old clothes for the women. They only have the clothes they are wearing.”
He saddled two horses, putting a coil of rope and an old tarp on the spare horse. Within a few minutes he was riding carefully through the woods.
Carefully studying the area, G.W. saw and heard no one. When he reached the clearing, he tied the horses and checked the bodies. The first body had a pouch of money, a knife and four pistols. The next body produced similar results with the addition of a garrote. G.W. loaded everything in a burlap sack and tied it and the sword and the guns on the spare horse. He shook his head over the weapons. They looked like something out of a museum.
He tied the boy’s tarp wrapped body on the saddle of the spare horse, then mounted his own. He rode around the clearing a bit, and saw four horses tied to a tree. “Might as well take those,” he muttered. “They aren’t going to do those pigs any good.”
Silence fell for a moment when G.W. got back to his house. Then two of the men untied the canvas wrapped body and carried it into the house. Jewell led them inside. “Helmut,” G.W. asked, “do you have anyone who can build a coffin?” Helmut nodded and motioned another man over. G.W. led the way to the old barn and showed the man where to get tools and wood.
“You all can stay in the new barn tonight.” G.W. pointed to it. “You might want to think about staying here. There’s shelter and food and some weapons. We could make some defenses in case there’s an attack. Think about it and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
Two young women came out the back door with a large pot of water and put it on one end of the barbeque. Jewell said, “G.W. this is Isabel and Katherine Arendt, call her Kathy, and the woman who was attacked is their older sister, Marie. She’s sleeping, probably the best thing she can do.”
G.W. nodded gravely at the two young women. ” Good evening. How are you? If there is anything you need ask for it. We will talk later.” From their expressions it was plain they didn’t understand everything he said but enough to guess his meaning. I don't think they know that I brought in their brother's body yet. I'll tell them after they've eaten. They need food right now. Bad news can wait.
Everyone ate well enough that night. It looked like Jewell had taken every bit of pork out of the freezer. Which was just as well, since everything was probably going to thaw without power. The beef could be used tomorrow.
Head spinning with everything that had happened and too tired to stay awake much longer, G.W. called Maximilian, the Vietnamese pig, out from under the steps and into the house. Maximilian, all one hundred and twenty pounds of him, regally lay down and surveyed the domain he had been denied for so long. G.W. checked the doors and windows and then settled back in an old recliner with his shotgun on the floor beside him. His last thought as he drifted into sleep was of a pair of big, blue, frightened eyes.
The Torbert Farm
The Nightmare Continues
G.W. woke up before first light. Maximilian opened one possessive eye, snorted, and went back to sleep. In the kitchen, G.W. lit one of the coal oil lamps, then filled a large pot with water and tea bags and took it out to the barbeque to boil. After he got the fire started, he went back to the kitchen and was getting out cups when he heard a noise at the door. He turned around. Standing in the door was a beautiful, blond angel, wrapped in a blanket.
He smiled at her. “My name is George Washington Torbert. This is my house. You are safe here. Your sisters are still sleeping.” He picked up a bowl and cracked some eggs into it. “I’m fixing breakfast. Would you like something?”
The woman stared as he worked then said timidly, “My name is Marie Arendt.” Before she could say anything else, her sisters came in and everyone started talking at once.
Jewell wasn’t up yet, so G.W. wound up cooking for four. As they ate, he questioned them about what had happened the day before. Who the men were that had attacked them? From the giggles it was obvious that often what he thought he’d said wasn’t what he actually said.
It was getting light by the time they finished breakfast. He could hear noise down by the barn as the refugees started to move around.
Jewell came in, grumpy as she always was before she had her coffee. “What are we going to do about cooking? If it starts raining, the barbeque won’t work all that well.”
“I’ll see about setting up the old Franklin cook stove. It’s out in the barn loft. Lord, I hope this’ll all be over and everything gets back to normal soon.” He thought for a moment. “One thing, I found out Marie speaks a little English. She’s a widow and one of her husband’s friends was English. Truth to tell, I only understand about one word in three of what she says. But at least you’ll be able to communicate some. See if you can find some clothes to dress their brother’s body in. They’ll know what to do.”
Jewell nodded. “Okay. And we need to get something ready to feed everyone else, too. Guess we can add some more water to the soup. At least it’ll give them something hot.” She smiled at him. “I’m glad to see you’ve calmed down. You were starting to sound like a record on the wrong speed. Talking faster and faster until it was almost impossible to understand what you were saying.”
G.W. stood on the front porch looking out over the farm in the early morning light. A movement in the wheat field caught his eye and he went inside to grab a rifle. When he fired, he saw the herd of deer start running away; the one he had shot at managed about ten leaps before it fell.
Jewell opened the screen door. “You could’ve at least given some warning you were going to fire. What were you shooting at, anyway?”
He grinned at her. “There were some deer in my wheat field. I’m not going to let any deer eat my wheat. Besides with all these people we’re going to need fresh meat before you know it. Some nice venison steaks will go real good for supper.”
Jewell looked at him and sniffed. “You need a keeper to make you toe the line. Shooting guns on the front porch, scaring people to death, pack-ratting.”
Helmut walked over to the porch. “I sent two men to the field to bring back the deer.” He glanced toward the door. “Women giving you trouble for shooting at the house? I hope there will be no trouble with your leaseholder.”
G.W. snorted, “It’s my land and I’ll shoot deer on it if I want to.”
Helmut looked at G.W. in surprise, “You own the land? You don’t lease it?”
G.W. blinked, “Of course I own the land! We’ve owned this land for over a hundred years. I don’t know what’s happened or where we are, but I own this land, even if we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Helmut was silent for a moment and then looked up, “What is Kansas?”
“Marie and her sisters have the body ready.” Jewell said, “As soon as the coffin is ready we can get this over with.”
G.W. nodded. “I’ll check with Helmut, it might be ready now. Ask Marie if she wants to bury her brother in our family cemetery, please. If that’s okay, I’ll start someone digging a grave. If there isn’t a preacher among all these people, I guess I can read from the book.”
Marie and Isabel came out of the bedroom where they were sitting with the body. Marie walked over to him and smiled sadly. “We would be honored to have Pieter rest next to your family. Poor Pieter! He was only fourteen but he tried to protect us even when it was hopeless. He could have run away and been safe but he stayed.” With a sob she turned away and rushed back inside.
“We’ll need to get a grave dug,” G.W. told Helmut. “There’s a family cemetery under the trees by the dry streambed.” Then he saw several men he knew he hadn’t seen yesterday. “What do you know about them?”
“One’s from my village and is a good man. He arrived this morning with his wife and children. The other three are brothers named Schmidt. I don’t know them but I’ve heard of them. They’ve been asked to leave three villages that I know about. They have a bad name. They are known for brawling and drunkenness and there are stories they’ve robbed and killed, but no one’s been able to prove anything.”
G.W. stood silent for a moment, both hands inside the bib of his overalls. “Any trouble and they’ll have to leave. I don’t like their looks at all.” He looked around the farm. “We probably need some defenses. And we sure need a ramp to get over that ridge of dirt.” He thought a moment. “There are timbers in the barn and wire. If we put up a post on each side of the ramp and stretch wire across it about where a riders neck will be, anybody who rides in too fast is going to break his neck. That’ll give us a little time to prepare if we get attacked again.”
They checked over the four horses G.W. had brought back the day before. One was a really nice looking, uncut bay. Of the two geldings, one looked good and the other just looked old and pitiful. The last horse was a well-configured black mare.
Helmut’s people had moved into the empty stalls in the barn, putting their few possessions neatly against the back wall. Piled hay from the loft served as makeshift beds. After he looked around G.W. led Helmut to the old barn and pointed to a pile of old tarps and canvas ground sheets. “Helmut, I figured you would all like to stay together last night. But we have several rooms in the house that can be used, so at least the women and children can move inside. The Schmidts, though, can sleep in the barn. I don’t want them in the house.”
Helmut watched as G.W. walked away. The old man wasn’t a complete fool but was still too trusting. Helmut made up his mind to protect him as much as possible.
The coffin, with Pieter’s body, was sitting in the living room. There wasn’t a priest or preacher among the people at the farm, so he’d asked Marie what she wanted. He picked up a well-worn bible from the table and stepping to the door motioned the men inside to pick up the coffin.
At the small Torbert family cemetery, the coffin was lowered into the new grave. G.W. stepped over to Marie and asked, “Would you or your sisters like to say something first?” When she shook her head, he walked to the head of the grave and stood in silence for a moment, head back looking at the sky. Finally, taking a deep breath, he opened the Bible. “I didn’t know Pieter but from what I’ve seen and heard he was someone I’d like to have known. He was a fighter; he died trying to protect his family and for that he is to be honored. Young Pieter has set an example for us all to follow.” G.W. looked at the open bible and started reading, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven . . . A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace . . . ”
When G.W. finished the last verse, Jewell stepped forward and in a clear, ringing voice began to sing “Amazing Grace.” He moved over to the weeping Marie, put his arm around her shoulders, and led her back to the house.
He sat on the porch while Jewell, Marie and the other women bustled about the kitchen trying to get something to eat ready. A noise made G.W. turn his head and he saw a group of small children peeking around the corner of the porch. “Come over here. Where are your parents?”
The children edged forward onto the porch and the oldest boy giggled. G.W. looked at them for a moment and then said, “Sit down, all of you.” Looking at the boy, he said, “You look like the oldest. What’s your name?”
The boy blushed and mumbled, “Wilhelm Georg, sir.”
G.W. froze for a moment. Wilhelm Georg . . . William George. He looked at the boy and said, “I have a son named William George, but everyone called him Willie G., who are your parents?”
Wilhelm shook his head. “My parents are dead. I stay with my uncle Helmut.”
G.W. stood, told the children they could stay where they were, and went into the house. In his office, he looked over the bookcase trying to find a book that would interest the children. Hmmm . . . Tom Swift and his Electric Runabout . . . no . . . Tom Swift Among the Diamond Makers . . . no . . . Toby Tyler . . . no . . . Better but not quite . . . Ah ha, Treasure Island. Just the thing!
Back on the porch he sat at the table, opened the book and an old German-English dictionary, and began to read.
Half an hour later Jewell opened the screen door and looked at the children hanging on every word as he read to them. Clearing her throat, she said, “The children need to get something to eat before it gets dark. You can read to them again tomorrow. G.W., you stay there and I’ll have something brought out to you.”
A few minutes later Marie brought out a plate with pork, rice, black-eyed peas, and collard greens. She sat down and watched him eat. A little later Jewell came out and sat down also. He looked at Jewell for a moment and asked, “What happened to the shotgun I left in the kitchen? I put it there so you’d have it handy if anything happened.”
Jewell looked uncomfortable and admitted, “Well, I put it back in the gun cabinet. There were a lot of children around and I didn’t want to take a chance on an accident.”
“Jewell, the gun doesn’t do any good if it’s in the gun cabinet.” G.W. sighed, “Knowing you, I suppose you unloaded it too. Tomorrow I’m going to put it back in the kitchen; leave it there. Three men came in today and I don’t like their looks. If you’re worried, keep the kids out of the kitchen but leave the gun where you can get to it. I’ll try to make sure the men are with me or that there’s somebody around, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
“Okay, okay, okay, G.W. I’ll leave the shotgun in the kitchen. Anyway, Marie and I got the house cleaned up today. I don’t know what you call cleaning but there must have been two inches of dust on the second floor. No wonder Kathy and Isabel kept sneezing last night. And we got those old cast iron wash boilers out and got most of the clothes washed.”
Jewell looked at him for a long moment. ” I was trying to get an estimate of what food supplies we have. What are you doing with ten bags of sugar? That’s fifty pounds! What are you doing with that much?”
“I was in Fairmont last month and they had a sale on sugar at the Safeway. Ten bags for ten dollars.”
Jewell looked at him. “So you bought ten bags. You know, most people would have been satisfied with just three or four.” When he looked down and wouldn’t look at her, she demanded, “Just how many bags did you buy?”
G.W. turned red and finally admitted, “Well, I bought twenty bags. I had to go through the line twice. But, Jewell, they were on sale!”
Jewell snapped, “I suppose that’s why you have twenty boxes of tea bags, too. Well, why didn’t you buy coffee at the same time? There are only two jars of instant and two cans of real coffee in there. You know I hate tea.”
He shook his head at her failure to understand the simplest thing. “Jewell, the coffee wasn’t on sale.”
Everyone had gone to bed while G.W. sat on the porch thinking. He lit a lamp and investigated the bag of things he had taken off the brigands. He didn’t think about privacy. He was, after all, sitting on his own porch. He decided the sword might go well hanging over the fireplace with Great Grandpa Torbert’s Union cavalry saber. Then he picked up the purses and money belts and emptied them on the table. Sorting through the coins he soon had three piles, a large pile of copper coins, a smaller pile of silver coins and lastly a small stack of nine gold coins. He wondered how much a gold coin was worth.
A noise alerted him and out of the corner of his eye he saw one of the Schmidt brothers standing in a shadow watching. He reached into the bib of his overalls, pulled out his.45 and pointed it at the man. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“Please, Herr Torbert, I’m Gerhardt Schmidt. I am on watch. I saw the light and came to see if everything was all right.”
“Get away from the house and stay away from it. Don’t come back here unless you’re told to.”
G.W. waited five minutes after Schmidt stumbled off before blowing out the lamp, going inside and crossing to the fireplace. He reached into the back of the fireplace, counted two bricks forward and three bricks up, then pressed on the corner. The brick swung out on a metal rod. He reached into the space behind the brick and brought out a small metal box, then put the gold coins and half of the silver in with the twenty dollar gold pieces that had been Grandpa’s “last resort” money.
After he returned the box to its hiding place, G.W. called Maximilian inside and got him bedded down. In the bedroom he put the.45 under his pillow and leaned the shotgun against the wall next to the bed. As he drifted off to sleep his last thought was of Marie. It didn’t matter that she was too young for him and couldn’t possibly be interested in him. He still couldn’t get her out of his mind.
The Torbert Farm
G.W. was helping Marie set up the buffet table the next morning when Jewell came out. “Jewell, you look like hell, are you all right? Can I get you something?”
Jewell shook her head. “Nothing a good cup of coffee won’t cure. I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about what’s happened. And thanks a lot for asking so nicely.” She paused, “G.W., when are you going to try to get to town and find out what happened? I’m worried about J.B.”
G.W. nodded slowly, “I’m just worried about being so far from home. I want to take some of the men to that village, Marie’s village, I saw yesterday. That will give me a chance to look around. It’s got to be done. I saw some bodies and they need to be buried.” He sat for a long moment. “Jewell, I’m going to leave Helmut in charge. I’ll take the three Schmidt brothers and some of the other men. But those Schmidts . . . I don’t trust them and I don’t want them left here.”
The wood of the parade wagon gleamed with the shine of the varnish, the wheels painted a bright red. The wagon had three seats with room to put a fourth if needed. Two of the men started harnessing the team.
While the wagon team was being hitched, G.W. saddled the gelding, mounted and rode ahead of the wagon up the ramp that had gone up the day before. The wagon forced them to ride around the thick forest, instead of going straight to the village. It was almost eleven o’clock when they arrived.
He carefully surveyed the scene of destruction through his binoculars before they made their way into the village. G.W. looked around. “Well, we’d better get started.” He held out a small jar to the other men. “Rub a gob of this Vicks under your nose and tie a wet rag over your nose and mouth. It will help with the smell.” As they reluctantly approached the first body a swarm of flies flew up and the stench was almost overpowering.
It was afternoon by the time the graves were dug and the burials over. As the last body was lowered into the grave G.W. heard the sound of a horse. The rider had stopped about fifty yards away and was looking over the village. G.W. stepped forward into the sunlight, motioning the men to stay out of sight. The rider stared for an instant, then shouted “G.W. Torbert?”
“That’s me!” G.W. shouted back “Who are you?”
“Fenton Johnson. Say, Mr. Torbert, would you mind taking off your mask?”
G.W. noticed that Fenton’s hand was resting pretty close to his gun. He snorted and pulled down the mask. “What happened?”
“No one knows, Mr. Torbert. There’s a town meeting going on, well, right about now, to talk about it. The word is that Grantville and a chunk of West Virginia about six miles across got dumped into Germany right smack in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War.” G.W. listened as Johnson went on to describe what he had heard in the last three days. The year, Dan Frost getting shot, the union taking over security for the area.
“What are you doing out here? And why the mask?”
“Burying the dead. And they’ve been dead a while.”
“Look, Mr. Torbert, things are pretty disorganized right now but do you want me to help you move into town where it’s safe? There are a bunch of mercenaries running around out here.”
“Son, if we’re in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, no place is safe. I’ll stay on my farm.” G.W. wasn’t the least bit ashamed of killing the four mercenaries; on the other hand, there were laws about killing people. Even that sort of people; even under those circumstances. It wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted spread around, so he didn’t mention it.
Fenton Johnson shook his head and rode away. He didn’t ask about the other men and G.W. didn’t mention them. It didn’t occur to him that they had been hidden in the shadows and that Johnson might not have seen them.
It was getting dark when the wagon arrived back at the farm. As it was being unloaded G.W. told Marie, Kathy and Isabel, “We buried all the bodies we found next to the chapel. I’m very sorry but we had no way to identify who was who so we buried them all together. After everything is settled out, we’ll go back and put up a proper marker.”
Later that night, when he was passing Jewell’s room on the way to the bathroom, he heard the sounds of weeping. He started to knock and then shrugged helplessly. How could he comfort Jewell and tell her everything would be all right? That she would see her children and grandchildren again. He didn’t believe that himself.
G.W. couldn’t sleep. Ever since that flash of light, he’d been on the move, doing, busy, working himself to exhaustion, trying not to think about what had happened. The adrenalin had kept him moving. He felt the black despair of knowing he would never see his son or granddaughter again. The hopelessness of knowing there was nothing he could do to change things back to normal. A voice inside said, “Quit fighting, just give up and everything will be over.” As the despair became almost overwhelming he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up into the worried eyes of Marie Arendt.
He realized that she had asked him several times if he was all right. Unable to speak he waved her to a chair. Marie watched him struggle with himself.
She said, “I was married, you know. Then Franz was kicked in the chest by a horse. He died three days later. I wondered . . . I still wonder why God did this to me. Just as you must wonder why God did this to you.”
G.W., finally back in control of his emotions, smiled wanly at Marie. “Like everything, it will end. People will rebuild their lives, God willing. It will be difficult but people will find the strength to go on, to start over.” He realized the truth of the words even as he spoke them, that she had given him new strength. As she rose to go back to her room he looked at her and said, “Thank you for being here.”
11:00 P.M., Day Three
Fenton Johnson wearily dismounted from the exhausted horse and knocked on Frank Jackson’s door. Frank waved him into the house and handed him a cup of lukewarm coffee. “Well, what’d you find out? We need all the information we can get on what it’s like in the area around us.”
Fenton sipped the coffee and grimaced. “I didn’t see much, but did find old man Torbert. His farm came through the Ring of Fire. I didn’t see the farm, but a couple of miles from where it would be I came across a village in the new territory. I saw old man Torbert with his wagon and the team of Percherons he used to drive in the parades here in town. He was burying some villagers. And not in a talkative mood.”
Fenton took another sip from his cup. “Gah, that’s bad coffee.”
Jackson nodded. “Did you offer to bring him and his sister into town?”
“Sure did. He wasn’t having any. Said he’d stay on his farm, the damned old fool.” Fenton stretched, “I figure the next time we go out there, or maybe the time after that, he’ll be dead.”
Frank snorted, “I doubt it. I’ll get hold of old man Torbert’s brother, J.B., and let him know what’s going on.”
“I'll write up a report tomorrow.” Fenton yawned, “For now I'm going home to bed.”
The Torbert Farm
“We’d better start thinking about what you’re going to do, G.W. When are you going see about what happened to Grantville and J.B.?” Jewell asked the next morning.
He looked at her tiredly. He had forgotten to tell her about meeting Johnson and he didn’t know how J.B. was doing. “Grantville’s still there, I don’t know about J.B. I’m trying to keep everybody safe and I’ve been on the go every minute. There’s been so much to do and I just don’t have time to do everything.”
“Maybe that’s part of the problem. You’re trying to do everything yourself. There are other people here. Use them. Delegate,” she pointed out.
G.W. sat thinking for a long time after Jewell went back in the house. Finally, he stood up and went into the kitchen. He gave Marie a warm smile and turned to the others. “I promised we’d bring down Granny Torbert’s old spinning wheel and loom from the attic for Marie. I’m ready to go up there whenever you are.”
In the attic G.W. grabbed a dustsheet and started to wipe the dirt off the loom. Jewell gasped at what was revealed. “That was Granny’s mirror. I haven’t seen it since she died. I never knew it was up here.”
G.W. nodded. “You weren’t home when Granny died. Grandpa was real upset. He ordered all Granny’s furniture brought up here and covered. Said it reminded him too much of her, you know Grandpa made most of the furniture for her. Anyway, he went out and bought all new furniture in Fairmont.”
Within moments the women were talking excitedly as they started pulling off the cloths draped over everything. An exclamation from Jewell made him turn around. Jewell, Marie and her sisters were huddled around an old trunk. Jewell held up a beautiful, lace covered white dress. “This was Granny’s wedding dress and Mama got married in it too. I always wondered what happened to it. Like everything else of Granny’s it just disappeared.”
G.W. shifted from foot to foot uneasily. “Maybe someday someone else will wear it.” In his heart, he wanted it to be Marie, and he wanted it to be him that waited at the altar for her.
When Marie started weeping G.W.’s face turned red and he turned to leave. Suddenly he felt her hand on his arm. When he looked at her she put her arms around him. He clumsily kissed her and held her in his arms until she quit crying. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head. “You. This house. These things. You. But you wouldn’t . . . “
Hope started to dawn in G.W.’s heart. “You mean . . . you’d . . . marry me? I’m old enough to be your father . . . too old for you.”
She looked up at him. “George Washington, I won’t change my mind. I know you are a good man and that’s all I need to know.”
The Johnson Farm
“Hank, unless you want to eat canned beef stew again tonight, I’m going to need to go hunting,” Anse Hatfield said.
Henry Johnson looked up from where he was sitting at his reloading bench. “Well, would you like some company? I don’t think you should be in the woods alone. From what they said at the town meeting there are some very nasty people running around out there.”
“You sure your leg is up to it? I noticed you limping a bit more than usual the last couple of days.”
“You let me worry about my leg. The day I can’t walk a few miles in the woods is the day I die. Now get your rifle. Pat said some of the people in town saw some wild pigs just over to the east, well what used to be east. And I think some fresh pork would go nice with the green beans I thawed out.”
The knock on the door caught both men by surprise. It was an even bigger surprise when they recognized J.B. Torbert standing there. Over a cup of their carefully hoarded coffee J.B. explained the reason for his visit.
“Anse, I know we haven’t always gotten along but I need your help. Frank Jackson told me G.W. and Jewell are still out at the farm. They’re cut off out there. The road into town went outside the Ring of Fire and it’s not there any more.”
“I believe it. G.W. is a stubborn old cuss.” Henry interrupted.
“I talked to Fenton Johnson last night and he told me that he didn’t figure G.W. would be able to make it on his own. You know what’s going on out there and there’s a pass through the Ring wall near G.W.'s place because he was outside when Fenton met him. Fenton didn’t know that Jewell was out there too or he would have been more insistent.”
“Wouldn’t have done any good.”
“Maybe not, but I’m worried about them. I’m going out there, alone if necessary, but I figure it’ll be safer with two men. If you’re willing to go with me I’ll owe you one.”
Henry was silent for a long moment. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you completely sober, J.B. Are you sure about what Fenton told you?”
J.B. shrugged, “I’m positive. And I haven’t had a drink since the Ring Of Fire. Lord willing, I’ll never have another.”
Anse picked up his rifle then turned and asked, “You got a gun, J. B.?”
J.B. walked over to a nearby tree and picked up the double-barreled shotgun he had left leaning there. “I though I should leave this here while I talked to you. People get nervous when they see me with a gun. Guess it’s all the time I spent drunk that bothers them.”
“Herr Torbert, I mean G.W., this is good news and I want to thank you for providing food and shelter for all of us. You said a few days ago we could use four of the horses and equipment to plant our crops. Is this still so?” asked Helmut.
G.W. nodded. “That’s what neighbors are for. Needless to say you’ve all been a big help working on the farm while you’ve been here, but I know you need to get back to your own places and collect the scattered animals. I’d like for three or four men to work for at least another week, maybe more. They can discuss wages with Marie.”
It was almost two o’clock in the afternoon when G.W. straightened up and stretched sore cramped muscles. The discussion had been going on non-stop, except for a break for lunch. Jewell and Marie had joined in after lunch, taking the planning in directions none of the men had expected. As he turned his head back and forth to work out the tight neck muscles, he froze. “Well, I will be double damned! Look what the cat just drug in,” he shouted.
Coming down the embankment ramp were the two scouts, leaning forward to pass under the wire stretched between the posts. What had him excited were the three men walking beside the horses. Two of the men were in hunting cammies. The third man was J.B.
Suddenly a sobbing Jewell was flying across the yard to throw her arms around J.B. Both were trying to talk at the same time. G.W. crossed the yard at a slower pace, looking intently at the other two men. He knew Henry Johnson and had seen the other man a time or two in town, but didn’t recall his name. He squeezed J.B.’s shoulder and then grabbed him in a hug. Finally J.B. pulled away and said, “G.W. you know Hank Johnson and this is his son-in-law, Anse Hatfield. They agreed to come with me to look for you. We figured it would be safer with three men than one.”
G.W. held out his hand. “I know Henry but I haven’t met Anse, even though I’ve seen him around town a few times. I owe you boys for helping J.B. If you ever need a favor just ask. Now come on in the house and I’ll see if we can’t get you something to eat. You boys look hungry.”
On the porch, he waved everyone to a seat. “This is my brother J.B. Torbert, and some neighbors, Patrick Henry Johnson and Anse Hatfield. J.B., Henry, Anse, this is Helmut Benz and Jakob Glauber and Old Hans and this lady here is my fiancé, Marie Arendt.”
All three of the Americans sat with a stunned expression until J.B. broke into a wide grin. “G.W., you old dog, you. You sure move fast when you want to. Congratulations and when is the wedding date? And Marie, welcome to the family.”
G.W. sat with a sour look on his face as the three congratulated him and Marie. “The first time I hear a joke about the ‘snow on the pumpkin’ or ‘spring-fall romances’ or ‘young things with old goats,’ I’m going to pin your hide to the wall. If you’ll keep quiet it’ll take some time for word to get around and by then it’ll be too late for the jokes. That being said, you’re all invited to the wedding, which will be as soon as we can find a preacher.”
“Well, I guess Reverend Jones could perform the ceremony and if you ask him he’ll probably keep quiet about it for a while.” J.B. attempted a smile.
“That’s good news and I’ll have a talk with Reverend Jones.” G.W. grinned. “What’s the road like between here and town? Would the parade wagon have any problems getting there? If not we can all ride into town in comfort.”
Anse Hatfield shook his head. “Hank and I need to get some hunting done. Our freezer went out and we’re out of meat. We got it fixed but not before the meat thawed and went bad. We were getting ready to go boar hunting when J.B. showed up.”
“You especially want boar meat or will any kind of game do you?” asked G.W. “If venison will do, then you can get it here. I’ve been shooting deer standing on this porch. They come out after my garden. You can see them just at dusk and again at dawn.”
It was dusk when Anse walked out on the porch looking for his father-in-law. Henry was standing looking at the posts on each side of the entrance to the farm. Anse walked up to him, “Hank, is something wrong? You’re awful quiet.”
Henry looked at Anse for a long moment. “Did you see the wire stretched between those two posts?”
Anse nodded, “Sure, kind of hard to miss the way those riders had to duck down under it. What about it?”
“Nothing now, but about twenty or twenty five years ago there was a motorcycle gang tried to move into the area. Rumors had it they were into drug dealing and kidnapping and just about anything else you could think of and there were a couple of unsolved murders. Anyway, the gang leader decided the Torbert farm would make a good headquarters for the gang. They tried to set fire to G.W.’s barn and came around when he was at work and scared his mother and wife.” Henry was silent for a moment.
“G.W. went to the sheriff but he had either been bought off or scared off. He said there was nothing he could do and suggested G.W. move. About a month later somebody stretched a wire across the road to the place the gang was staying at. The gang leader and his bodyguard came along doing about sixty miles per hour and hit the wire. It took the leaders head right off, the bodyguard was a little further back and tried to duck. It took his head off about even with the eyes. The coroner’s jury ruled the incident was a prank by some kids. Not many people remember or they don’t talk about it. It was before Dan Frost’s time as police chief.” Both men stood silent looking at the wire.
The Torbert Farm
3:00 A.M., Day Five
Screams and the squealing of an angry boar woke the house. G.W. ran down the stairs. Maximilian, with a cut on his shoulder had the three Schmidt brothers backed up against the fireplace.
Anse Hatfield and J.B. finally made it downstairs, both carrying rifles. While they covered the Schmidts, who must have been searching for money and valuables, G.W. called Maximilian off. Not an easy task, as Maximilian was enraged.
As the two men were being tied up G.W. relaxed and turned around. Standing out of sight, just inside the door, shotguns in hand were Patrick Henry Johnson and Marie Arendt. He smiled at Marie. “What say we have breakfast and get started to town? We’ll turn these thieves in to the police, then go see about our wedding.”
The trip went swiftly once the wagons were traveling on the blacktop road. They stopped at the Johnson farm to leave the deer and then went on into Grantville.
Shoving the Schmidt brothers ahead of them G.W., J.B., Anse and Hank went into the police department. Dan Frost, his arm in a sling, had just finished speaking to one of his patrolmen. Holding out his hand to G.W. he said, “Well, this is interesting, G.W. What can I do for you?”
G.W. waved to the Schmidt brothers. “These turkeys tried to break into my house and rob me. I want to press charges, but if you don’t mind getting the details from Hank and Anse, I’d like to go see Dr. Daoud while you write everything up. I strained my back a few days ago and it’s been giving me hell.”
Dan nodded. “No problem. After you finish with the doctor come back and check the information and sign the complaint. If there are any problems we can straighten everything out then.”
Two hours later, when G.W. returned, he was dressed in his best suit. After reading the statements from Henry Johnson and Anse, he signed the complaint. Then he grinned at his brother. “We’ve got business over at the church, J. B. You coming?” When G.W. finally arrived at the Methodist Church, Jewell gave him an impatient look. “Where have you been? Marie is starting to think you changed your mind.”
He smiled. “Not in a million years.”
A few minutes later, standing in front of Rev. Jones, G.W. waited while Marie walked down the aisle. She was dressed in Granny Torbert’s wedding dress. Looking at her the thought burst into G.W.’s mind: She walks in beauty.