Saturday, March 23, 2013

My First Short Story: Vision Forum Essay Contest: "Fight Hard and Hold Fast!"

     This is the story I sent in to Vision Forum for their  catalog front-cover essay contest in 2011.  The theme was "Fight Hard and Hold Fast".  The original version was much more rough and full of problems than this one, and, needless to say, it didn't place.  I was going to enter the contest last year too (2012), but completely forgot to send in my story.  Grrr....  Oh well, maybe the Lord just wanted my siblings and friends to be the only ones to read it.  :)
I was hunting all over the internet today looking for the original picture that the story was built around, but could not find it anywhere.  I have no idea why it has been apparently deleted from the web, but it is.  So... I have put in the photo which they replaced the old one with, and will have to leave the additional details in the original to the imagination of my readers.
      I know this story isn't the best, but I hope you all enjoy it, and will try to finish/ think up some new ones later on.  Next week I will be posting my first book review, so "stay tuned"!

(Quick note:  if there is anything said in this story that appears offensive against a nation or class of people, please forgive it, as it is purely the expression of the character(s), and I do not think so myself, though it may have been true at the time, and it was added solely to give more reality to the story.)

For Hearth and Home

It was a fine morning in the mountains of Peru. The sun was shining on a settler's plantation as brightly as was possible in that foggy region. The mountains were bathed in the morning light, with mists rising thickly from the valleys, mounting higher and higher above the trees until they were dissipated by the rising sun high in the air. No living creature was visible except a few birds, but in a sheltered valley, around the plantation afore mentioned, there were gathered nearly a hundred members of one of the guerrilla bands that were the scourge of the country round. They were besieging the solid house of the settler. The circumstances of the occupants of this house we will leave to be explained by themselves.

     "I tell you Jones, the best thing we can do will be to take their offer. If it was just myself, or only men, I should say to hold out to the last, but think of the women and children! There is only you, Parker, Curtis, Billings up on the roof, myself, and Mr. Cathart, the missionary. We haven't got much food or ammunition, and there's no prospect of help. Should we not surrender while there is a chance of mercy?”
     At this point, the missionary interrupted. “Smith, you know as well as I do that these men are the most faithless rascals in South America. They only ask us to surrender, and promise to let us go in order to save themselves the trouble of taking this house while we defend it. They do not know the meaning of the word mercy. Besides, they desire to rid the country of me and my family in particular because of the way the Lord has blessed my work among the Indians, who no longer join them in their wicked deeds. While possible, I at least shall not leave the work which the Lord has called me to because the country's outlaws desire me to do so.”
      Here Smith burst out. “John, think of what you are doing because of your stubbornness. You are trying to force us to stay and be killed, when you won't lift your little finger to help us devise a plan to escape!”
       Mr. Cathart continued. “As I said, to comply with their conditions would be to defy reason, as well as a cowardly and vain act. Let us pray that we may receive assistance from the Lord."
     Smith snorted. “Much help we can expect from Him! I'm goin' up on the roof.”
      The remaining men all bared their heads, and the missionary then lifted up their plea to Him who hears, and shows Himself strong on behalf of His people.  When Mr. Cathart was finished, all the other men returned to their posts except himself, Parker and Jones, and they were about to do the same, when the missionary's son, Jack, touched him on the arm.
     "Father, could we not receive aid from Edwardo De Gama, the governor of San Juan? You know that he promised to help if there was trouble."
     “He might keep his word, but we have no way of communicating our distress to him.”
     "I could go Father!" Jack exclaimed eagerly. "I know the way cross-country, and wouldn't even need to take the road. Please let me go!"
     "But Jack, if you don't take the road, then you will certainly need another person to help you descend the cliffs-"
      "Papa, I could go with him and help" interrupted Jack's sister, Victoria. "I am good at climbing ropes, can walk a long way, run fast, anything! Please let me help!"
      Mr. Cathart looked at the siblings. He loved all his children dearly, and hated the thought that any would have to face severe danger without him. Yet they must receive help somehow, and, faint as it was, the governor seemed to be their only chance. He sighed, and said: "I will tell the other men of your offer, but first, let us pray."
      John Cathart approached the other men, as they stood, with the exception of Curtis, who was on watch, talking matters over. He opened the offer by asking if they had thought of any plan to deliver themselves from the brigands.
      “No, we've proposed several things, but nothing yet with the shade of a chance of success. Do you have an idea?”
      “What if we could receive aid from the town?”
     “You mean San Juan?” exclaimed Parker. “Why, the governor would no more think of assisting us than he would of flying. Most likely he's sitting in his house drinking wine and being fanned to keep the flies from bothering him. He probably doesn't even know that there are bandits in his district.”
      “But he did promise to render assistance to those that may require it. If someone were to apprise him of our distress, he might send a party to rescue us.”
     “I should hardly think he would,” said Jones bitterly. “these Spaniards care too much for their own miserable skins to assist anyone whom they won't gain advantage from helping.”
     “But he told the American ambassador that he would render assistance to any emigrants that were attacked.”
     “But the American ambassador would never hear the story if we were all slaughtered” responded Billings. “Besides, you know as well as I do, Cathart, that he doesn't like your work with the Indians.  He would have it stopped if he possibly could, but it would put him in a bad flavor with the Americans and British.”
     “But if a messenger got through, then the ambassador would hear of it.”
     “The messenger would never leave San Juan” said Smith, the man that had advised surrender.  “There are plenty of men there that would kill for a few dollars.”
     “I know,” Cathart sighed. “But we must be relieved or all is lost! I may as well tell you that my Jack has offered to try and get into the town with his sister to help him descend the cliffs. He's young, but shows wisdom beyond his age, and knows every foot of the territory to within a few miles of the town.”
For a moment there was a surprised silence among the men. Then Parker said slowly: “Well, there is no possible prospect of help in any other direction. I don't think we have a choice in the matter. Have you prayed about it John?”
     “I wouldn't have laid it before you if I hadn't” said the missionary quietly.
Smith cleared his throat. “Well, ah, Cathart, perhaps you should lead us all in prayer.”
     An expression of surprise crossed the missionary's face- Smith was known to be a man who cared nothing for religion or God, so such a suggestion, coming as it was from him, was caused the men standing round to experience a feeling border-lining astonishment. Then, Mr. Cathart recovered himself, and once more prayed for guidance from the One who alone was able to lead them in this difficult strait.
     Half an hour later, Jack was outfitted for the long arduous trek to San Juan. The other men had agreed to hold off all thoughts of surrender until three days were past without help. They couldn't spare a rifle, but he was given a machete and a revolver with which to defend himself and his sister. Over his shoulder he carried a long coil of rope with a grapnel fastened to the end. He also carried a hunting knife, and bag with the revolver's holster attached to the side of it. This last, with the revolver had belonged to Hiram Billings, one of the men. After taking a tender farewell of their family, Jack and Victoria set off through a secret passage that led a little way into the jungle.
     As they took leave of Mrs. Parker, the planter's wife, Jack said: "Goodbye ma'am. We'll do our best, you can be sure. We should be able to cover the distance in six hours, and shall send the troops immediately. They should arrive sometime tomorrow or the next day. Remember, until then, Fight Hard, and Hold Fast! It's for hearth and home."
In another minute they were gone. Mrs. Parker returned down the passage saying contemplatively:
"Fight Hard and Hold Fast!"
Jack and his sister made good progress for some time. They tried not to leave many traces of their passage, for they knew that there were several Indians with the guerrillas, and that if they came across the trail they would pursue relentlessly. They had to descend several cliffs, and Victoria's help was invaluable to her brother. After four hours fast walking on little frequented hunting trails, they arrived at last in sight of San Juan. They saw smoke rising above the treetops, and hurried forward. Indeed, they hurried too fast, and Victoria, who happened to be in front at the time, stumbled and nearly fell over a precipice in front of them. Jack seized her by the skirt and dragged her back from the edge somewhat violently. After they had recovered their breath, Jack looked to the bottom of the cliff, and an expression of dismay spread over his face.
     "Why, we shall have to go around this! It is sheer 300 feet down if it's an inch, and our rope is only 200 feet long. What are we to do?"
     "Go down it, to be sure" promptly respond Victoria. "Don't you see the ledge down there?"
     Jack looked down again. "Why, there is a ledge! We could descend to that, shake down the rope, refasten it, and get to the bottom quite easily."
     This program was carried out. Jack soon fastened the grapnel, and swung himself over the brink of the cliff. "When I reach it, I'll give a shout, and then you can descend."
      "But Jack, I can't climb down all that way! I'd fall!"
This was a new complication. Jack thought for a moment. "Then you'll have to hold on to me" he said. "I've carried heavy loads with me before, and I can take you."
     Victoria happily climbed on her brother's back, and they proceeded rapidly down the cliff. When within a couple yards of the ledge however, they both started, for they both had heard at the same time a fierce snarl proceeding from a hole in the rock just below the ledge. As they hung perilously from the rope, straining their ears for any repetition of the sound, a large puma, or mountain lion, suddenly appeared, and stood, lashing its tail, on a rock jutting out from the cliff, just below the ledge. Victoria gasped.
     "Jack, we can't reach the ledge! It's going to attack us!"
     "You'll have to shoot it Victoria" her brother answered. "I can't- if I let go of the rope we'll both fall."
      Just then, to make matters worse, as the big cat began to climb onto the ledge, the siblings suddenly felt the rope slip down nearly a yard. The grapnel was giving way. Victoria drew the revolver and took aim.
     "Take him between the eyes!" Jack exclaimed warningly, as he saw her aim at the animal's chest. "A wounded puma is often more dangerous!"
      Victoria shifted her aim, but her hand was trembling so that she could scarce hold the gun, and her vision was so clouded that she almost couldn't see the mountain lion. She breathed a silent prayer for help, and took careful aim. The rope slipped again. Now she was only a few feet above the panther, and it was almost on the ledge. Once there, it could easily spring onto them. Suddenly her vision cleared, her hand ceased to shake, and became rock solid. She fired, and, as the report died away
among the cliffs, the puma stumbled backwards, and fell from the rocks into the empty space below.
      Almost instantly, Jack allowed them to slide the last few feet to the ledge. Victoria released her hold, and leaned against the cliff for a few minutes. Jack, seeing how shaken she was, laid his hand on her shoulder for a moment, then proceeded to shake down, and re-attach the rope. Then, he returned to her side.
"Victoria, that was an excellent shot. We need to finish our climb though."
     An hour later, they entered San Juan, and proceeded straight to the governor's residence. As they entered, a soldier came up to them.
     “Who are you, senor? Why are you here?”
     “I must see the governor at once. Please show me in to him, and tell him it is urgent.”
     “You wish to see the governor, senor? Why do you come?”
      “My family and some friends are besieged by brigands at a plantation in the hills. My name is Jack Cathart. They must be relieved without delay!”
     “The governor is busy senor, could you speak to him, ah, tomorrow at three o'clock? That will be good, I will set down your name for that time.”
     “But this is a matter of life or death! By three o'clock it will be too late, I must see him now!”
      The Spaniard ignored Jack, and began to open the door, preparatory to forcing them out. Victoria, seeing that if he had his way her family, and the others in the hills would be destroyed, threw herself in front of him.  
     “Oh, senor, please let us in! We must see Governor De Gama at once, or our family will all be killed, and so will our friends. Please senor, if you have a daughter, think of her. Think of your mother, and wife, and children! What if they were in this position? Would you say “the governor is busy, come back later” when later would be too late? Please senor, for the love of God, and for the sake of your own family, let us in!”
     The soldier, although the words obviously produced an effect upon him, still looked doubtful. He shook his head, and prepared to thrust them out into the street. The reason for this was that De Gama, although not saying so openly, had strongly implied that Americans were to receive no assistance from him, and were to be put off by various excuses if they called for help. He had one worthy soldier in his garrison however, and one with sufficient authority to make a difference in events. This was one Capitan Espartero. He happened to be passing through the hall into which the entryway in which the speakers were standing opened. Thus he heard the last portion of Victoria's impassioned appeal to the humanity of the soldier.
     “Pedro, what is going on in there?” he called. “Are you giving some lady a difficulty?” he asked smilingly as he entered the room.
     Victoria saw the kindly expression on the captain's face, and at once seized her opportunity. Almost running up to him, she looked directly into his eyes, and swiftly poured out the whole story in a few rapid sentences in Spanish, which she and her brother both spoke fluently. Espartero listened closely, first with a look of kindness on his face, then it was replaced by one of close attention, and finally, as she told of Pedro's treatment of them, one of indignation took their place. When she was  finished, he said:
     “Pedro, go to the barracks at once. I will have someone else fill your place here, and will speak with you later."  And Pedro slunk off, crestfallen under the captain's righteous indignation.  "Follow me,” he said kindly to Jack and Victoria, as the man disappeared.
     The captain led them up a flight of stairs, and through several halls, then stopped at a heavy wooden door. He knocked on it, and a voice from inside the room called “Come in.”
     As they entered the room, Victoria looked round with interest. The walls were richly paneled with mahogany, and two easy-chairs stood before a desk, at which sat a slightly built Spaniard. Several shelves of books lined the walls, and on the mantle above a large fire place were placed two or three ornate statues. This was obviously the governor's private study.
     “Espartero, why have you brought these people here?” asked De Gama in Spanish, with an expression of strong disapproval on his face. “I thought I made it clear that no English or Americans were to be permitted!”
     “Senor, it will be wise for you to hear their case before saying they ought not to be allowed an audience. Perhaps if you will listen to this young gentleman for a few moments you will understand that your honor obliges you to act.”
     The governor threw himself back in his chair, and lit his cigar. “You may retire, Espartero.  Proceed with your story boy,” he said to Jack, in good English, though with a strong accent, as the captain left the room.
     “It will be my pleasure, Senor ” responded Jack, in Spanish. He spoke this language almost as well as his mother tongue, and, as Espartero had guessed, had understood every word that had passed between him and the governor. The latter reddened. He realized at once that the American lad now knew that he had intended to break the promise given to the ambassador, and the thought was an uncomfortable one.  Jack then explained the position of those left at the plantation. The governor listened, but Jack could see that he was already thinking of excuses for why he would be unable to relieve the helpless settlers.
     "What is the name of the brigand, and how many men does he have with him?" he finally asked languidly.
     "Well senor, we are not sure, but we estimate that he has 100 men, and a few Indians. We believe the leader to be Rigoberto Hernandez."
      Senor De Gama had shown no interest until Jack said the name of the guerrilla leader. Then he suddenly sprang to his feet.
"Rigoberto Hernandez!" he exclaimed. "Why, he is a scourge to the district. I will be most pleased to send an expedition against him!" He rang a small bell that sat at his side, and when an orderly entered, he said: "Send Capitan Espartero to me at once."
     Espartero set out with a force of 75 men to attack Hernandez and his guerrilla band. They took the siblings along with them. When Jack had asked to be allowed to accompany the force Espartero had granted him permission at once, but it had taken quite some time to convince him to allow Victoria to go. He had a daughter her same age, and was strongly reminded of her by the brave American girl. He wished to protect her, and was unsure that she would be safe if she accompanied them. He had
objected at first on the grounds that it was too dangerous, but Jack pointed out that she could stay well to the back of the soldiers, and could be placed behind a tree if there was any firing by the guerrillas.  This was unlikely, as Espartero hoped to surprise them, in which case they would probably flee without firing a shot. He next said that she must be worn out after the excitement and strenuous journey. To this objection Victoria replied that though she was somewhat tired, she would have ample time to rest while the troops were being prepared. She begged so hard to be allowed to go, that at last, her pleas, accompanied by the fact that if she didn't go along with the expedition a detachment would have to be sent back to fetch her, finally conquered the captain's objections, and he gave in, on the condition that she eat something, then lie down and rest until it was time to start.
     The march commenced at midnight. The Catharts had arrived at three in the afternoon, thus Jack and his sister had about seven hours to rest, after a hearty meal at four. Usually the troops would have been unable to set out through the forest at night, but an Indian had been found who was more than willing to guide them, as his family had been destroyed by the same band two years previously.  Most natives would have refused to go, but he was a Christian, and thus was unafraid of the spirits which supposedly roamed the forests after nightfall, so they had no trouble on that account.
     Victoria had never been in the forest at night before, but with her brother and the kind Spaniard to protect her, she was unafraid.  The troops had to go by the road, and as they were carrying arms, ammunition and haversacks they marched rather more slowly than the siblings had been able to walk. However, by three o'clock in the morning they were within a mile of the Parker's plantation, and Espartero called a halt and gave his two lieutenants their orders.
     “Juan Mendez, you and your half- company will go round to the right. Pablo Gallitas shall go to the left. I myself with the other twenty-five men will take the center. Jack, you shall keep your sister in safety during the engagement.”
      Jack led his sister along behind him as the captain's detachment moved forward. After proceeding nearly half the distance they were met by a scout whom Espartero had sent out. He reported that the enemy were sleeping round their fires apparently drunk save for a couple of sentries, who were deeply engaged in the serious business of inebriating themselves as well. A man was sent to either of the other detachments to inform them of this, and all three moved silently down upon the sleeping outlaws. Jack quietly drew his sister behind an enormous double-trunked tree to protect her from stray bullets, and stood beside her with his drawn revolver.
      The fight, when it occurred, was brief. The brigands were taken entirely by surprise, and made but a feeble resistance. Most were shot down at the first volley, and soon none remained except Hernandez himself. He was less drunk than the others and had managed to secrete himself beneath a thick bush he chanced to be sleeping beside. After the fight was over the captain ordered a search made for the outlaw leader, and believing there to be more danger in remaining where he was than in trying to escape, he began to stealthily move towards the edge of the forest, keeping all the time in the deepest shade of the scattered bushes. Now it so happened that the tree Jack had placed Victoria behind had dropped a large limb the day before, and her dress became entangled in it's jagged end. As Jack helped her disengage her skirt from it, he was suddenly startled by hearing a stick crack behind him. He turned sharply round, just in time to avoid a blow from the knife of the brigand captain. With a loud shout he seized the man's wrist as he raised his arm to repeat the blow, at the same time knocking Victoria into the space between the two trunks of the tree. The struggle Jack found himself engaged in was a most unequal one, but there was help not far off. He had laid down the revolver in order to use his hands with greater facility while disentangling Victoria's dress, and thus found himself entirely unarmed.
     Rigoberto Hernandez was a powerful man, and the conflict would soon have been over, even with the soldiers within two hundred yards, but unbeknownst to both parties, there was a sheer cliff of some fifty feet in height scarce a yard from where the two stood. Jack felt himself being pushed back against the tree where his sister hid, and the thought of possible harm to her gave him new strength. With a sudden lunge he pushed the bandit backwards so sharply that the man had to take a half step to keep himself from falling to the ground, and in doing so trod upon a small stone. He slipped and fell backwards, then Jack felt his hold suddenly give- there was a sharp cry, a dull thud- and all was silent.
     The boy guessed at once what had happened, and leapt swiftly back from the edge knowing that the ground in such places is liable to give way suddenly, and returning to the tree he ascertained that Victoria was unhurt. Just then a number of soldiers ran up. The whole event had taken less than half a minute.
     “What has happened?” exclaimed Espartero, hurrying to Jack, who was panting heavily from his exertions. “Did you find the leader? Are you injured?”
     For answer Jack pointed to the edge of the precipice, now clearly visible in the early morning light.
      “You will find Hernandez down there senor. I am not hurt in the least except for a bruise or two. He came upon us suddenly, and I had a sharp struggle of it for a moment, but he went over the cliff and I fancy he'll need no tribunal in San Juan.”
The captain peered cautiously over the edge. “You are right lad. He's been judged by a higher tribunal than that of the governor. Now let us go and see how the people in the house have fared.”
The next day, a happy party was gathered at the Parker plantation. The missionary was sitting, with Victoria on his knee, listening to Jack recount the details of the journey. When he told of the governor's reaction to the brigand's name however, Jack paused, and said:
     "I still do not understand why he was so willing to send an expedition against Hernandez. He has shown but little interest in ridding the district of outlaws before now, so the reason he gave doesn't seem to be his real one."
     Captain Espartero laughed. "Senor, you do not know much of Edwardo De Gama. He bore that fellow a special grudge, for he once raided his plantation, and stole his valuables. The governor has always been on the look out for him since."
     "As the heavens are high above the earth, so are God's ways above man's ways" quoted Mr. Cathart.  "Who would have thought that God would use the governor's evil desire for revenge to save us from the danger that threatened. And you my children," he went on, changing his tone "have done well too. Victoria, you obeyed your brother implicitly, and thus preserved your lives. Jack, you showed both
wisdom and courage in the way you cared for your sister, and spoke to the governor. But something you may not know, is that your parting words became our battle-cry, and when the fight for hearth and home was at it's fiercest, one could hear, rising above the noise, the cry of 'Fight Hard, and Hold Fast!'"

1 comment:

  1. I love it, Layna! I enjoyed finally reading it in full! The theme is so prevalent in every person's life, and surely encouraged me to fight hard and hold every situation, not wavering from right no matter what may come! Thank you for posting this long awaited story. =) It blesses me to see you use your writing abilities for God's glory!
    love to you...