Excerpt from WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
When the Civil War began, it split more than just brothers...
When the Civil War began, it split more than just brothers...
On the Mississippi 1860
A loud explosion somewhere on the river ahead interrupted her response. They were south of Memphis, but only by several miles. Frankie stood up at the general uproar from the diners. He lifted his arms and stood with his palms outward. After some effort, he managed to get general silence. “Please, mes amis, finish your dinner. I am sure it is nothing. And I have a most splendid surprise for you after dessert.” He gestured for the actress to stand and take a bow. “Miss Dotty Elliston has agreed to perform for us something from her estimable theater career.”
As the commotion turned to approbation, Frankie leaned and said, “What timing. Will you excuse me? I need to go find out what that terrible noise was.”
“Shall I come?” Johnny asked, starting to rise.
“No, I think it’s best if we don’t look like we are panicking. Stay and enjoy our lady passengers’ company.”
Anxiously, Johnny followed his form as Frankie, stopping to reassure people along his path, crossed the salon to the double doors to the boiler deck promenade. Johnny had trouble attending to Lucinda and Dotty’s attempts to engage him in conversation. He finally made his own excuses and followed Frankie out.
He saw Frankie down on the main deck, standing with Captain Mayer and one of the pilots, Compton, looking out at the river. As soon as he peered in the direction of the other riverboat Johnny gasped. Smoke billowed out of the far side, and the boat clearly listed in that direction. When he looked back, Frankie and the pilot were no longer on the main deck, and Mayer headed quickly down the starboard side of the deck calling to crew members.
As Frankie achieved the hurricane deck, he came to where Johnny stood and stopped to speak into his ear. “Looks like one of the Caroline’s boilers blew up. They may be sinking. We need to get their passengers off.”
Johnny shot his gaze back to the burning riverboat, the Caroline. “Oh my God!” he cried. He turned and followed Frankie and Compton up to the pilothouse.
“Let’s see how close we can get to the Caroline without getting too near the flames.” Frankie was talking to both pilots: Tom Rice, who Johnny knew had been on duty, and Compton, who had been in his berth until the noise of raised voices and running feet alerted him to trouble. “There will be burning material in the water on the port side.”
Johnny found a place in the back of the pilothouse, no mean trick since the structure was small and mostly filled by the big spoked wheel and the three other men. Frankie and Compton were soon joined by Mayer, and all three left Rice and Johnny to go to the fore of the Texas deck promenade. Johnny watched the Caroline coming closer and closer, and the muscles in his shoulders and back tensed with anxiety.
He went onto the promenade when the two riverboats were a matter of yards from each other. Looking down to the main deck, he saw crew fending the other boat off with poles. In the meantime, other crew had gotten the gangway up and across to the Caroline. Crews on both boats were shouting back and forth, and he looked over to see Frankie coming toward him. He started to address him, but Frankie shook his head, patted Johnny’s shoulder as he passed, and took the steps three at a time down to the deck below.
Before Johnny could react, Frankie dashed across the gangway. Several of Le Beau Soleil’s crew were already across. Frankie was talking to the captain of the Caroline. They appeared to be arguing vociferously. Johnny found himself muttering, “Get out of there! Do what he says.”
He saw Frankie pull himself up to his full height, button his frock coat, and turn to the passengers who seemed only too willing to take orders from him. With his guidance, the crew of both vessels began to direct the passengers across to Le Beau Soleil.
Johnny saw Frankie’s head whip around before he dashed after a well-dressed man who headed for the stairs to the boiler deck. Frankie grabbed the man’s arm and used all of his might to drag him back. The task was not easy, as the man was large and strong. Frankie finally let him go and turned to a woman with two small frightened children dressed in the simple clothing of farm workers. He crouched to talk to the girls, reassuring them—Johnny was certain—and then helped their mother get them across.
The blaze spread and came through the boiler deck to burst the windows of staterooms. Johnny realized he had bitten his tongue. He kept chanting, “Frankie, get out of there!” over and over. All at once, he thought, what am I doing here? Then he tore down the steps and ran to the gangway.
Frankie saw him and shot, “Get out of here. Go back! The boat is sinking.”
Johnny ignored him and dashed to where a woman struggled with a large, heavy carpetbag. “Forget it. Save yourself!” he shouted at her, but she would not let go. He finally grabbed the bag and threw it overboard, turned back to the woman, and bodily lifted and deposited her on the gangway. He spun to deal with the next challenge. Catching Frankie’s smile, he smiled back, and got busy again.
The Caroline listed so much to port that Le Beau Soleil’s gangway was in danger of toppling off. But the passengers and crew of the Caroline were across, crowding into the little space the already full Le Beau Soleil had to offer. Frankie found Johnny’s arm and propelled him to where the incline of the deck was almost too great to climb. At the last moment, Johnny saw an orange cat clinging to the deck. After scooping it up, he grabbed the gangway rail with his other arm. He made it onto the dangerously tilted gangway with Frankie and the cat. They were all safely on the deck of Le Beau Soleil when the gangway fell sideways and, after hitting Le Beau Soleil’s main deck with a deafening thwack, fell into the river while still tied to both boats.
“Cut the lines!” Frankie screamed, but it was already too late. The Caroline’s rising deck slowed and then lurched away. It started to sink more rapidly. One of the crew finally managed to cut the lines so the gangway flew up and followed the Caroline over onto its side.
The danger was not over. The pull on Le Beau Soleil swung it at a crazy angle, and it slewed around surprisingly smoothly. When its port side-wheel slammed into the hull of the Caroline, it threw everyone off their feet. Blessedly the force of the impact made Le Beau Soleil swing away.
After several minutes, as they anxiously watched the gap between the boats widen, the Caroline, with a heart-wrenching groan, went down. Le Beau Soleil was clear. Frankie was already off on his rounds, checking on passengers and crew alike.
Christopher Hawthorne Moss
Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate and often humorous characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger, the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his husband of over thirty years and four doted upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions at http://www.shield-wall.com. He welcomes comment from readers sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.