Galveston Between Wind and Water - By Rachel Cartwright


October 18, 1862

Darkening clouds hung low in the west over Cooke County, making the flames a few miles away in Gainesville appear brighter.

Bitter autumn wind hissed through the shattered windows of the McGowan family farmhouse. But it was not the sudden chill that made Lorena shudder.

Standing barefoot on the polished floor of the parlor, Lorena clutched her torn blouse against her trembling breasts, her terrified gaze moving in turn to the leering face of each man crowded into the room.

Her six-year-old son, Bret, grasped the crumpled folds of her black skirt and buried his face in her side.

The home guard leader, who had introduced himself as Captain Hugh Bolan, took off his hat and ran gloved fingers through oily, uncut hair. He looked around at the four other men then flashed a curt smile.

“Glad to see you’ve calmed yourself some, ma’am.”

A pudgy man with a face that belonged on the end of a fishhook edged in beside the captain. He sneered at Lorena and ran his tongue over his bottom lip. “That’s right, Captain. She was all fired up when we first showed.”

The captain held up his hand. “Easy, Haines; I’ll do the talking.”

Haines wrinkled his nose with disdain. “Yes sir.” He turned his head away from the captain and took a step back.

The smoky odor of burning wood and hay smothered the last of the fresh morning air, making everything heavy with its stillness. From the barn, the cows—their udders filled to bursting from neglect—increased their incessant, painful lowing.

A stooped, haggard farmer with rheumy eyes, whom Lorena heard the others calling ‘Weems,’ prodded Haines on the shoulder. “You get cold feet? Can’t you see the lady wants to dance?”

Haines stole a glance at the captain and then, without a word, lunged at Lorena and grabbed at her breast.

Bret cried, and Lorena jerked to one side, letting the force of Haines’s attack carry him past her. Instinctively, she snapped her fist up and clipped him clean in the eye before he went crashing into the wall.

Weems cackled and hooted. “Yesirree, Captain! That little lady belongs in the boxing ring.”

Haines rubbed his eye, his lips pursed with suppressed fury. “She got a lucky shot, captain. I wasn’t lookin’.”

Captain Boland shook his head and spat on the floor. “That’s your problem, Haines. You don’t listen to orders, and you never keep your eyes open. I’m surprised some Yankee ain’t blown your fat melon to bits already.”

The captain turned from Haines and put his hand on the shoulder of the youngest member of his troop, a youth no more than seven or eight years older than the McGowan boy.

“Some folks might say war’s no place for a boy, but if they survive they come out of it a man and stronger for it. Ain’t that right, Gus?”

The callow youth with penetrating, deep-set eyes grinned and glanced down at the floor. “Yes sir, Captain Boland. It’s a wonder Mr. Haines still has a brain left in there at all.”

The rest of the men broke into hoarse laughter.

Haines spat at the boy’s feet. “Shut up, you sneaky little weasel. Always diggin’ your nose in some book, lookin’ for things respectable folks wouldn’t want to know about.”

The boy smiled maliciously. “Then you must be the most respectable person in Gainesville. Unless you’ve learned to read since—”

Haines shoved the younger man in the chest. “You damn cockchafer. When we’re finished here, I’ll learn you somethin’ you can’t read in no book.”

The captain put his hat back on. “Easy, boys. We’re in the presence of a real lady.”

Lorena stroked Bret’s sandy brown hair and wiped his cheek with a clean part of her blouse. She crouched and whispered into his ear. “Hush, darling. Momma won’t let anything happen to you. Soon it will be over, and they’ll go away.”

Captain Boland took a step closer. “Why you actin’ so inhospitable, ma’am? I told you. I’m a gentleman and a man of my word. You and the boy have nothing to be afraid of.”

“If that was true, sir, why are we not free to leave? My husband expects us to meet him when his coach arrives. Take anything you want but leave us in peace.” She pulled her son closer.

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about good ol’ William. He’ll make out just fine.” The captain tilted his neck back and lifted a fresh bottle of her husband’s Napoleon brandy to his thin, chapped lips.

The grizzled driver cracked his whip again, pushing the horses at full gallop down the rutted,