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TITLE: A Heart's Journey - chapter 7
By Michele Fleming
01/05/12
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A raging Civil War forces Ana Grace to flee the only home she has ever known. Can the young and handsome Sgt. Jacob Dalton get her to safety and help her reclaim a faith she thought was gone forever? And…can he help her discover a love not even the horrors of war can keep apart?
Chapter 7

Ana and Lucy woke later than usual the next morning. It was a beautiful sunny day out and they were excited about their upcoming trip by stagecoach. They dressed and headed for the door, but as they neared it, they saw a note lying on the floor. Ana picked it up and read aloud.

I hope you slept well. Yesterday was such a tiresome day, so I decided to allow you to sleep late.
Once you are dressed, check to see if I am in my room. If I am not, head downstairs to the dining room and choose whatever you would like to eat.
I am heading to the telegraph office to check for a response from your father. I will be back soon.
Do not forget, the stage leaves at 11:00 am sharp.
Thomas

“I hope we can hear from Papa.” Lucy said wistfully.
“I do too. I miss him terribly.”
“I wonder if he knows about Liza yet.”
“If he’s gotten any of Thomas’s telegrams, he does.”
“I miss Liza.” She said with tears in her eyes. Ana wrapped her arms around her sister and held on tight.
After a few minutes, they headed toward Thomas’s room only to find him gone. They did as Thomas had instructed and headed downstairs to breakfast. After only a few minutes, Thomas made his way into the dining room.
“Good morning. I see you found my note.” He said as he took a seat.
“Yes. Did we get word from Papa?” Ana asked getting straight to the point. Thomas looked at both of them and nodded as he pulled the telegram from his pocket.

UPSET TO LEARN OF LIZA STOP WILL BE IN TOUCH WITH AUTHORITIES IN SHREVEPORT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE STOP FIGHTING SPORADIC HERE STOP HOME DESTROYED STOP GIVE MY LOVE TO GIRLS STOP INFORM ME OF ARRIVAL IN FLINT CREEK STOP LT COLONEL JAMES LAWSON STOP STOP

“What does de-stroy-ed mean?” Lucy wanted to know as soon as he was finished reading.
“It means that our house was torn up.” Ana began to cry. It slowly it sank in for Lucy and she began to cry as well.
“I know this is hard news to hear girls,” Thomas began, “but the most important thing was spared.”
Both gave him questioning looks. “Your father.”
“That’s true.” Ana said and began to dry her tears. “That is, what’s most important, Lucy.”
“But…I love our house.” She cried.
“So do I, but with the shelling that was going on when we left we should have known that something like this could happen.”
Lucy nodded then looked to Thomas with wide eyes. “They blew up the store next to the church…I saw it!”
“Yes, I saw it, too.” He told her. “Let’s think on better things from this point on. We have a big day ahead of us and we only have an hour to finish getting things ready.”
Ana and Lucy made quick work of the rest of their breakfast and then headed up to gather their things. Thomas stayed behind to secure a box of food for the trip and when he finished, made his way upstairs to make sure the girls were ready to go. In no time, the three of them were seating on the front porch of the hotel surround by their trunks and satchels waiting for their trip to continue.
“Mr. Schneider, Mr. Schneider!” Ana looked to see a small framed man wearing glasses and a dark green visor running their way and waving a piece of paper over his head.
“It’s the gentleman from the telegraph desk.” Thomas informed her as the man made his way onto the porch.
“Mr. Schneider, you have received another telegram.” He said in a winded voice as he handed Thomas the note. “I’m glad I was able to catch you.”
“Yes, as am I. Thank you, sir.” Thomas told the man as he took the note.
The man nodded at Ana and Lucy then turned back to Thomas. “Would you like me to wait while you read it, in case you need to reply?” he asked.
“Yes, yes of course.” Thomas answered then began to unfold the telegram. Ana and Lucy moved closer and waited for him to begin.

SENDING SGT DALTON TO SHREVEPORT TO HELP
AUTHORITIES STOP WILL NOTIFY YOU OF PROGRESS STOP LT COLONEL JAMES LAWSON STOP STOP

“Do you need to reply, sir?” the man that was waiting wanted to know.
“No, no reply needed,” Thomas told him then reached to shake his hand. “Thank you, sir.”
“My pleasure, you have a nice trip now.” He then turned and headed back off the porch and down the street.
Thomas helped Ana and her sister board the coach and then signaled to the driver that they were ready. With a quick lunge forward, they began to roll toward their final destination. Ana watched as the town shrank in the distance then turned her attention to the view that lay ahead. She kept telling herself that things were going to work out fine. Jacob was going to find the men that hurt Liza and help bring them to justice, the war would soon end, and then they would be make their way back home to their father.
******
It did not take long for the thrill of being on the stage to fade away. The ride was rough, hot and dusty, and Lucy grew more and more ill by the minute. She was constantly about it being too hot, or too bouncy, or she was hungry or tired. Each complaint from her contained more drama than the last.
Ana was on the verge of tossing her out the door, when they came to a stop. The driver hopped down and announced that since they had just came through some fairly rough terrain they were going to take lunch and give the horses a break. Ana stepped out of the coach, stretched her arms and legs and began to take in her surroundings.
It was actually a lovely spot. There were a lot of shade trees and a small creek that ran down along the side of the trail. She picked a spot under a huge oak tree close to the creek and began to set out their picnic that Thomas had gotten for them.
It did all of them good to be out of the stage for a while. They ate their meal and then allowed Lucy to run and play as much as she wanted hoping to tire her out. Ana even gave in and let her take off her shoes and wade in the creek.
Once they were back on the trail Ana began to wonder about their chaperone. He had sort of fallen into their lives, but in the very short time, they had known him, he had become very important to her and to Lucy as well. Ana realized that she knew absolutely nothing about him, so she decided to remedy that.
“Thomas, I’ve been thinking.”
“Um…what on?” he said turning his attention her way.
“Well…I realized that I don’t really know anything about you.”
“What would you like to know?”
“For starters, where exactly are you from? I don’t recall ever having seen you around Chattanooga before.”
“I actually came to Chattanooga about five years ago. I was living in a small town in Alabama and came north to find work.” He paused.
“Go on…” Ana coaxed, her curiosity causing Thomas to grin.
“Okay…here goes.” He said and then began to paint Ana a picture of his life. “Like I said, I’m originally from Alabama. It was a very small rural area, populated by nothing, but small farmers and sharecroppers.
“My wife Nancy and I grew up there together…” his expression turned sad for a moment. “Anyways…I helped sharecrop with my father until about seven years ago when my wife took ill with consumption. I started staying home to take care of her, but she passed about nine months into her illness.
“By this time, my father’s health was deteriorating and he had given up farming. Since I didn’t have a job and jobs were hard to come by at home, and since my parents needed help to make ends meet, I headed north to Chattanooga and was blessed to find this job.”
“As a conductor?”
“Yes.” Ana could see by the distant look in his eyes that the memories were getting to him.
“I’m so sorry about your wife, Thomas. I know it has to be really hard on you.”
“At times, it is.”
“What about your parents?”
“They’ve both passed on now.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I miss all of them terribly.”
“I know what you mean. It hurts my heart so much when I think about Mama and now Liza.”
“I know it does. Never stop thinking about them, though. Keep them alive in your heart always, and make sure that little one does the same.” He said as he pointed to a sleeping Lucy.
“I will. I worry about that sometimes, though. She was so young when Mama passed, she already doesn’t remember anything about her.”
“That’s where you come in. Make sure you tell her every story about your mama that you can think of.”
“I’ll try.” She told him, needing to change the subject to keep from crying. “I guess that’s why I never saw you around town, because you were always on the train.”
“I guess so.”
“I guess once you deliver us to Aunt Josie, you will head back to Chattanooga?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been thinking on that a lot since we set out and I think I have decided to wait and see what this new town has to offer me.”
“You would really consider staying on in Texas?” Ana was surprised.
“I’m not getting any younger, so why not? I think a change would do me some good.”
“I would love it if you would stay. I’m actually rather nervous about this whole thing, so it would do wonders for me and Lucy too, to have a familiar face around.”
“Then it’s settled! I will stay—at least until you girls get settled.”
“Great! This trip might not be so bad after all.”
“Of course it won’t! Think about it as a learning adventure. There’s always room for more learning, and how better to learn, than to live?”
Ana smiled and nodded her agreement then turned her attention to the horizon, the sun having almost faded. As she gazed at the purples and pinks painted before her, she found herself hoping that the lessons were not to be more hard ones. She felt as though she had learned enough of those to last a lifetime.
*****
Just before the light in the sky was completely gone for the day, the driver pulled the stage into a tree-lined area to make camp. He and his partner started a fire and got ready to bed down for the night.
“Thomas, what are we going to do?”
“I will sleep outside with them and of course, you girls will stay in here.” He instructed, a worried Ana.
“It’s kind of scary being out in the middle of now where like this.”
“We will all be fine…I promise.” He assured her. “I will sleep as close to the coach as I can if that will help ease your fears.”
“Yes, I believe it would. Thank you, Thomas.”
“It’s my pleasure. Now, get a goodnight’s sleep, you have a big day tomorrow.” With that, he was out the door.
Ana did what she could to get Lucy and herself in a comfortable position then tried to fall asleep. As it turned out, it was a more difficult task than she had hoped.
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