“Diamond Courage,” Part 8

 

Chapter 8

Hidden in Plain Sight

July, 1862

And so began my career as an assistant to one of the most implacable enemies of a group I was sworn to defend and also a continuation of my term as a spy and my status of being in the awkward position of sharing a house with a woman who was not my wife, and a woman who had designs on my fidelity. All combined to wear on me, so it was no surprise that I fell ill. A doctor was called, but he could not determine the cause of my affliction, and so recommended that I be sent to a hospital that had been set up in Water’s Warehouse in Georgetown. I think Eleanor arranged for this location so she could come torment me more easily, but although I felt unwell, I welcomed the opportunity to be away totally from my job and, for the most part, from Eleanor. She was able to come not as often as she would have liked, which was far too much for me.

The doctors came by each day and poked and prodded me, trying to discern the nature of my ailment, to no avail. After two weeks of this, they left me alone, requiring of the nurses that they be told should my symptoms worsen. But they were neither better or worse, and so I lingered in a twilight state which in truth I found I could bear easily. My illness did not affect me badly, and the food was much better than I would have gotten in the field, and I did not have to eat with Eleanor except on those rare occasions when she visited me during a meal time. Even then, I could not talk with my mouth filled with food, so these times were tolerable rather than being difficult had I been forced to eat with her in Georgetown.

Matters changed late in July. My chief doctor came to see me. “We cannot, as you know, determine either the cause of or the treatment for your illness, and as it does not seem to distress you greatly, we are sending you back how where perhaps the familiar surroundings will speed your healing.”

That meant, of course, that I would go back to Georgetown, so I said to the physician, “In truth, doctor, I have been feeling worse this day and wondered if I could prevail on you to examine to determine if indeed I am worse.”

The doctor agreed and put me through the usual examination. When he concluded, he said, “I can find no change, so I must dismiss you. We need your bed for a seriously ill patient.”

I could not argue with him, so the next morning, Eleanor came in to take me to her home. “I am pleased that you are feeling better,” she told me, smiling with what I took to be honest emotion. I thought that perhaps she had changed, but I, of course, was wrong.

At the mansion, she had the maid convert my bedroom into a sick room, although with the exception of another basin and a selection of nostrums and elixirs, I could see little change. I never did hold with patent medicines, although I had little need of them, this being the first time in my life I had fallen seriously ill.

Eleanor came to visit me a few hours after I had settled in. “Ah! Good, I see you are awake. Did you have a pleasant rest?”

“I regret to say I was troubled by monstrous dreams, which I attribute to my experiences in battle,” neglecting the fact that my experience in battle was limited to ten minutes’ combat and hiding in a safe place. She need not know these particulars.

“Oh, that is too bad. I think a dose of this—” she held up one of the bottles—“will do you a world of good.” She poured some in a spoon and held it to my mouth. I took it in but did not swallow, hoping she did not notice and that she would not require an answer of me.

As fortune would have it, Arthur appeared at the door at that moment. “M’am, there is a matter downstairs requiring your immediate assistance.” Eleanor turned and went out of the room without a word to me, just as I had hoped. Then I had the problem of what to do with the noxious liquid I was holding in my mouth. I couldn’t expel it into one of the basins—she would see that on her return. I looked around for another suitable container but found none, so I next fixed my gaze on the window. That was it—I crept out of bed and inched over to the window, trying to make as little noise as possible. I carefully eased the sash up, and with great relief spewed the contents of my mouth out of the window and down the side of the house. I did not stop to think that the window to the room that Elanor was quite possibly occupying lay on that part of the house. I heard her coming quickly up the stairs and hastened back to my bed, drawing the covers up and closing my eyes as she came through the door.

“Caleb, what have you been doing? I heard such a racket!” Apparently I had made more noise than I thought. “And why is this window open? Do you not know that the outside air is not healthy this time of year?”

She went over and shut the window. I thanked God that she had not seen the ejectum from the upper story making its way down the window panes.

Eleanor turned from the window and regarded me suspiciously. “Or perhaps you intended to go out the window and make your way to the ground, thereby affecting an escape. Was that your intention? Be honest with me or you know what will happen.”

She probably means she would make me share her bed, and that would be punishment enough.

I manufactured as vile a cough as was ever heard and, after I had finished several rounds of hacking, said, “How could I make my way with my condition thus? I would be a fool to try to flee and risk my death from overexertion.”

Her face relaxed. “Why, yes, of course. How foolish of me to think you would want to leave all this, after all I have done for you.”

“Yes, and I am grateful,” I told her, gritting my teeth at the lie I told, but her mention of my escape put me in mind of doing just that. I would have to wait for my opportunity, and I had come to feel that my illness was occasioned by my circumstances, and did not result from any physical cause.

I resumed eating with Eleanor, pretending to be weak and sickly while my strength built up daily. After a week, I felt I was ready and made my preparations. I hid small items of food for sustenance on my journey, for I resolved to walk home, or share a ride if Providence provided one, meet with Laurel, and take her and little Caleb somewhere where not even Eleanor could find us. I did not know where that would be, but I would have many hours to think of some place suitable.

A new moon hung in the heavens the day of my projected escape, and I knew I would have to wait another month if I did not depart on this day. At dinner, Eleanor noticed my silence as I thought of my plans.

“You are a quiet one this evening,” she said.

“I have many things to think about.”

“Such as?”

“The welfare of my wife and son, for the main part.”

“I may assure you they are well and will remain so as long as you do your part here.”

I took what she said as a threat, and realized that she had some means of knowing the state of my little family there near Winchester. “That is welcome news, and a reminder to me to do as well as I might here.” “Doing well” for me meant escaping, although I of course did not tell her that.

I stood. “I am feeling weak. May I be excused early?”

Elanor also stood. “Of course you may. I hope you are not lapsing into your pas t condition as I have observed you gaining strength in the past week.”

She had noticed, then, I thought. I hope that observance did not jeopardize my plans.

I went upstairs and gathered my necessaries and lay on the bed but did not sleep, awaiting the retirement of the other members of the household. The minutes seemed to creep by as I lay in that state, waiting for the proper moment to take the first step on my way to Laurel and Caleb, so far away.

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