Each week I will be posting a chapter from my upcoming novel, A Wayfaring Stranger. I’m really excited about this historical story of how two characters, Joseph Moore of Ireland and Eliza Clark of Ten Mile, Louisiana came to meet in the mid-19th century.
Feel free to follow along each week as I add a chapter. If you like what you read, pass it along to a friend. Because this is a draft, all input and criticism is appreciated! Use the comment section for feedback.
A Journey is defined as traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; sometimes we call it a passage, which can mean progress from one stage to another.
Normally we consider a journey a trek of physical miles in moving from point A to point B. However, the greatest journeys, as well as the greatest struggles, are always those of the heart.
A Wayfaring Stranger
is a journey of all of these components: a physical trip of thousands of miles, an accompanying struggle to overcome great adversity, and finally and most of all: a journey of/within the heart.
Come join Joseph Moore on this journey…Dedication
To my Dad, Clayton Iles
, the Wayfaring Stranger. He passed on to me the love of the old music, the woods, and his faith. He would have liked this book. He’s “crossed over Jordan…” he’s gone home. However, he is always with me as I write.
“It is difficulties which show what men are.”
A Wayfaring Stranger
By Curt Iles
© 2007 Creekbank Stories http://www.creekbank.net
Chapter 1 – The Journey Begins
I am a poor Wayfaring Stranger,
Traveling through this world below
There is no sickness, toil, or danger
In that world to which I go.
-“The Wayfaring Stranger”
Traditional Irish Spiritual/Ballad
Joseph Moore, breathing heavily and heart pounding wildly, tried to lay quietly behind the low stone wall next to the freshly plowed field. Once again, he felt the wound just below his right knee and withdrew his hand to see blood. He had just run a panic-filled mile frantically trying to escape the baying dogs and shouting men chasing after him.
The dirt felt cool against his face as he lay on the ground. The sweat from his fear and exertion ran down his cheek in a trickle onto the dirt. Wiping his face, Joseph watched nervously through a hole in the rock wall. He could see toward the west as he scanned carefully for any sign of the men and dogs. On a normal day the unique smell of the peaty dirt of western Ireland would have been something he enjoyed. But today was not a normal day. It was a day full of events that would change his life forever – if he survived it.
On this day, in the year 1848, Joseph Moore of Westport, Ireland was a young man of nearly sixteen. A tall thin teenager with sandy hair and fair skin dressed in homespun clothes and bare-footed, he was pretty non-descript among typical Irish teens.
He was pretty non-descript except for one detail – anyone who met him for the first time always commented on his intense deep green eyes. Those eyes smoldered with a fiery passion that was unforgettable when you looked into them. An older Irish lady had once commented to his mother, “My Lord, those green eyes will either get him killed or make him kill someone. I’ve never seen any quite like his.”
Right now those green eyes were peering cautiously over the low stone wall as he heard the howling hounds approaching. Shaking with the rush of adrenaline, he wondered if his life was to end at this young age. In the last three years he had seen plenty of death up close among both adults and many children much younger than him. The failures of the potato crop had caused widespread famine and cost the lives of thousands throughout Ireland. Coupled with the desperate mass emigration of thousands who had left his area of County Mayo, it seemed Ireland was now becoming barren of people.
The smell of the dirt beneath his face reminded him of the hundreds of fresh graves at the cemetery. This presence of daily death attested to the ongoing tragedy continuing in the country he loved deeply. Thinking of all of the recent graves of the past three years, he thought: I’ve helped dig many of those graves. I just wonder if f someone will be digging my own grave before this mess is over.
Laying at the edge of the potato field, he quickly thought back on the events of the day that had brought him to this terrifying moment. This normal April morning had begun innocently enough. There were always plenty of chores to do on the small Moore farm. What had earlier been a family of seven now consisted of only Joseph and an older married sister. Everyone was gone – his dad’s exile to Australia by the authorities, other family members had emigrated to Liverpool or onto America, and the rest were dead from the fever that had swept through during the worst days of the famine.
When the trouble started on this spring morning he had been hoeing away the grass from the potatoes. It seemed as if this year’s early crop might be disease-free. The cool breeze from the west had the smell of the nearby North Atlantic Ocean. He had always loved that salty smell that stung your nostrils and made you feel a little more alive. The ocean smell always made him dream of being on the sea, a huge fantasy for a boy who had never traveled more than twenty miles from home. As he hoed, Joseph was just out of sight of the last possessions of his family farm: their family sheep herd: an old ram, two ewes, and two young lambs. They were grazing in the next field hidden from view by a stone wall and grove of trees.
Along with the garden, these sheep were the livelihood of his sister, her family, and himself. So precious were they that each night they were brought into the one dirt-floored room of the family cottage. It might have seemed odd to a teenager in Dublin or London, but Joseph Moore had never known any other way of life than sharing a house with the family animals. Before they had sold their only pig to pay the rent,
it had been a nightly house guest also.
As he hoed, he heard the first terrible bleating. This dreadful sound was coming from the adjacent field. The fearful bleating of the sheep was joined by the barking and yelping of several dogs. Keeping his hoe in hand, Joseph rushed toward the sound of the animals.
What he saw as he reached the stone wall sickened him. A pack of four dogs were attacking the sheep.
A s is their nature, the sheep were all huddled up helplessly at a corner of the stone wall. The large dogs were attacking the sheep viciously. Blood poured from the neck and head of one of the ewes. A young lamb lay twitching in the convulsions of death beside its defenseless mother.
Joseph sprinted toward the dogs filled with sudden rage, shouting hoarsely and waving his hoe. All but one of the dogs loped off when he came close. The one remaining dog, a big yellow long haired hound, did not stop as it bit down on the neck of the other lamb. Angrily, Joseph struck the dog across the back. The snarling dog turned on the Irish teen and with lightning quick speed latched onto his right calf. Letting out a painful yell and feeling a blind rage that he did not quite know whence it came, Joseph began viciously striking the dog on the head over and over. The dog quickly released its grip on his leg and fell to the ground yelping in pain.
The yellow dog lay with blood pouring out of its mouth and one ear. Even after knowing he had hit the dog enough to kill it, he continued a steady rain of blows to the dog. It was as if all of the anger – from the heavy-handed abuse of the absentee landlords, then the potato failure, the constant hunger and poverty, the unending deaths of family and friends – seemed to pour forth from Joseph and be directed at the body of the prone dog. He turned toward the other three dogs that were watching this event unfold and lunged toward them. They ran off whimpering with their tails tucked between their legs, content that they’d seen enough and happy to escape.
The green eyes that neighbors always noticed were now filled with a burning passion and rage. Breathing heavily, the boy knelt down beside his dead sheep and the quivering dying dog. His right leg hurt badly from the dog bite and his only pair of pants was torn and bloody. He looked at the three dead sheep on the ground and tears filled his eyes as he realized what this loss meant for him, his sister and her family.
Kneeling over the sheep and dog, Joseph didn’t know that an observer had watched the entire episode. This witness to the attack also knew who the dogs belonged to. They were the property of British Lord Blatten, the richest and largest landlord of the Westport area. The brown dog killed by Joseph was his prize hound.
The silent observer didn’t wait long to send word to the Blatten castle about the Irish peasant who had killed the Lord’s hunting dog. As in any small rural town anywhere in the world, most of the village knew about the encounter by noon that day. Not only did the news of Joseph killing the dog spread, but also the echoing vow of Lord Blatten to kill the boy who had dared to have killed his best hunting dog.
When a neighbor ran to tell Joseph’s older sister of this threat, terror filled her heart. Everyone knew that this wealthy English landowner meant what he said and was used to getting his way. It did not surprise her that the nobleman would place the life of a hunting dog above the life of a mere Irish peasant boy. She well remembered last year how Lord Blatten had allowed the public flogging of a peasant hunter caught trespassing on his land. The resultant beating was so severe that the man died the next day. Blatten’s icy comment was that “He hadn’t meant for the men to kill him, but the death would probably go a long ways in reminding others to stay off his hunting land.” Recalling this, Joseph’s sister grabbed him and told him to flee as quickly as possible.
So now, feared with fear and adrenaline-charged, Joseph Moore lay half-hidden in the potato field watching the approaching men, the well-known story of the slain hunter was definitely coursing through his mind. He could now see the baying hounds, noses to the ground, moving step by step toward his hiding place. Behind them he saw the armed Blatten Estate men. They were close enough now that he could see that two carried shotguns and the third looked to be carrying a rifle.
He took a deep breath of the fresh Irish air. I know I’ve got to run. To stay here will mean certain capture and probably death. They may shoot me, but they’ll have to hit a running target. Watching their approach, he selected a small shrub by the side of the road the pursuers were coming down. Then he looked behind him at a grove of trees along another stone wall. When and if the dogs reach that point, I’m going to jump up and run for my life. If I can make it for the first twenty yards to those trees, I’ll be sheltered from the guns long enough to put some proper distance between me and them. .
He had selected the roadside bush because he felt they were still out of shotgun range at that distance. He just hoped the one with the rifle was slow and a poor marksman.
For the first time in a long while, he prayed. Lord, if you could, please turn those dogs. I sure need a little help to get out of this one.
But when the dogs were within about a hundred yards, they evidently picked up his scent for they yelped with a new intensity and began loping right toward his hiding place.
Well, it’s now or never. Feet, don’t fail me now. With a yell that seemed to be a curious mixture of pent-up rage and extreme fear, he jumped up and started running. The Blatten men were looking away as leaped up and made the first few steps. The cry of the dogs and Joseph’s own yell wheeled them quickly back around. He never knew if it was one or two shots he heard. It all happened very fast and he definitely wasn’t in any mood to look back. He heard the pellets whistle past him and felt a sting above his left elbow. In spite of the painful dog bite on his leg and the sting of a pellet hitting him in the arm, he was making tracks for the cover of the trees.
In the coming years, after enough time had passed to dull the pain and allow some humor, Joseph would regale men sitting around the campfire with what he called “My famous wild Irish potato run.” It was especially a favorite story of the young boys who loved hearing him tell it in his rich Irish brogue replete with his renditions of his yell, the guns firing, and the dogs barking.
But there was nothing funny about it on that April afternoon in 1848! With the cover of the trees, Moore was now screened from the guns but he never even considered slowing down. He ran a long time, before the baying of the hounds faded behind him. Finally he stopped, stooped over, placing his hands on his knees and trying to get air into his oxyge
n-starved lungs. Looking back, he saw his three pursuers holding the dogs and watching him from a distance of probably two hundred yards. He heard one of the men holler with a distinctly English accent, “You can run young ‘Irsh’ but you can’t hide. We’ll get you tomorrow or the next day. It’s only a matter of time… Jest a matter of time.”
What a pleasure to read the richness of people who struggled with daily life that created the foundation for our 21st century America. Thanks for remembering my forefathers.
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