Diamond Hope, Part 8

 

Chapter Eight
Farther Along
June, 1863

We did come to a medium-sized town that evening, and asked around until we found someone who could tell us where the doctor’s office was to be found. When we came through the door, he looked as if he were starting to leave. He stood up. “I’m about to close. What do you folks need?”
I pointed to Hiram. “He broke his arm.”
“How’d he do that?”
“We were caught in a flash flood from the storm.”
“What in the world were you doing out in that?”
“We’re trying to get home.”
“I see.Where are you folks headed?” he asked.
“Near Winchester.”
He grunted. “You be careful. There’s a lot of troops from both sides in that area. Now let me have a look at this little fellow.
Hiram bristled at being called “little,” but he climbed on the examining table and let the doctor look at his arm.
“Who splinted this?”
“I did.”
He chuckled. “Obviously you had to improvise, but you did a good job. That worked to use a branch as a splint.”
“Thank you.”
“This is a simple fracture, so I’ll splint it with a real splint, and you can be on your way.”
He worked quickly and soon said, “There you go! Better than new. Does it hurt?”
Hiram shook his head.
“Off you go, then. I’m headed home to eat. Would you folks like to have dinner with us?”
Laurel looked at me, and I shook my head. “That’s a most generous offer, but we have food and are eager to be on our way.”
“Suit yourself. If you ever come back through this way, I hope you’ll take me up on my offer.”
“We will,” I said, thinking that we would never see him again. He was too far from Winchester for that to happen. “Say, I didn’t catch your name.”
He chuckled. “That’s because I never told you. I’m Simon Reed, M.D., but you already knew that.”
“I’m Caleb Dillard,” I said, “and this is my wife Laurel, our son Caleb in her arms, and these two fellows are Hiram and Andrew.”
“Is Hiram the one with the broken arm?”
“Oh—sorry I should have told you before. Yes, he is.”
Reed went over to Hiram. “Next time you’re in a flood, remember to stay out of trees.”
He laughed, but Hiram just looked at him. He didn’t seem to find it funny.
I paid the doctor, and we watched him go off down the street.
“I’m exhausted by all we’ve been through,” I said to Laurel. “I’d like to sleep in a real bed tonight, so if this place has a hotel, what if we rent some rooms?”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Laurel answered. “I’m tired too.”
“We’ll do that. We need to clean up as well.”
We found the hotel and went in. From the way the desk clerk looked at us, we must have looked like something that got dragged through the mud, which we had, after all.
“I’d like two rooms for the night,” I told the man.
“And baths?” he asked, no doubt thinking of his clean sheets.
“Certainly,” I said. “We wouldn’t want to get your beds dirty.”
He put the keys to the rooms on the counter. “Bathroom’s down the hall, and check-out time is 10 AM.”
“We’ll be gone before that. Thank you.”
“Thank you for staying here. Have a good night.” I went with Andrew and Hiram into their room.
“Wow! Look at this!” Andrew cried. “I’ve never been in a hotel room before! It’s so nice!”
His enthusiasm made we wonder what the house his parents had was like. Hiram said nothing, but I knew he had never been in a hotel. He lay down on the bed and fell asleep.
“Let him sleep,” I whispered. “We’ll go out to eat in about an hour, and I’ll call both of you then.”
Andrew nodded. “All right. And thank you for letting us stay here.”
“I’d say we earned it, wouldn’t you?”
Andrew grinned, and I went out, going down the hall to the room Laurel, Caleb and I would share.
I found Laurel sitting in a chair in the room, watching Caleb fall asleep on one of the beds. “That’s what I want to do,” I whispered.
“So do I,” she answered, standing up, and pulling me by my hands over to the other bed. We lay on it, embracing and kissing each other.
“I still can’t believe you held on to Caleb during the flood,” I said, looking in her face.
“I had to do it. It were as if God reached down and gave me strength.”
“And as you said, a mother’s love is strong, and that love enabled you to do what you did.”
We were silent for a while, and then she said, “Do you think we’ll make it home?”
“I do. Do you think we won’t?”
“I don’t know. I was sure of it until the flood came.”
“That’s not likely to happen again. The storm was really unusual.”
“But there are other dangers.”
“There are always dangers, but we all have each other, and that will allow us to make it through.”
“I certainly hope so. I know you said you wanted to sleep, but stop talking now and kiss me.”
And I did.
***
The next morning, we gathered in the hall outside our rooms, carrying everything we needed to.
“Did you two sleep well?” I asked Andrew and Hiram.
“Yessir! Just great! Best night’s sleep I’ve ever had!” Andrew was obviously enthusiastic about his stay.
“And you, Hiram, did you sleep well?”
He nodded and said nothing. I was starting to think that he would only communicate with nods. That was better than shakes of his head, I supposed.
We went downstairs and put our keys on the counter. The desk clerk heard us and came out. “You folks sleep all right?” he asked.
“Yes, we did,” I answered, speaking for Hiram.
“Well, that’s good.”
“Would you tell us where we could eat some breakfast?”
He thought a moment. “There’s a boarding house about three blocks down. That’s where you want eat. You’ll come to a saloon before you reach that, but don’t eat there. Several people in town have had food poisoning after they ate there.”
“Thanks for the warning. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye. You folks be careful, now, or at least more careful than you’ve been before.”
We laughed at that, all except Hiram, who put on a sour look. Apparently he found breaking his arm was a sobering experience, and I supposed I didn’t blame him.
We ate quickly, and we set off, glad to make an early start, heartened by our stay and anticipating being home relatively soon as compared to the time we’d been away..
The weather was fine after the storm of the day before, and we made good progress. We stopped for lunch in an area of the mountain where there were large crags. We could see for miles from our vantage point, and I thought how beautiful this area was. I loved it through all the seasons, but I was glad we did not have to push our way through snow as some no doubt had had to.
We had almost finished lunch when Hiram sat up. “I hear something.”
Knowing that his hearing was better than that of the rest of us combined, I asked, “What does it sound like?”
“Grunting. But it’s not a person. It’s some kind of wild animal, and it sounds like it’s mad.”
How he could tell the animal was mad, I didn’t know, but when he said that, I knew what it was. “It’s a wild boar!” I said. “Everyone, get on top of the biggest rock you can find! Hurry! Quickly!”
We scrambled to climb up on the rocks, although Andrew moved more slowly than the rest of us, for some reason. His rock was further away, so it was from my vantage point on top of my rock I saw a gray blur coming toward him. “Andrew! Look out!” I called, but it was too late. The boar was upon Andrew, slashing at him with its tusks again and again.
I was frozen for a moment. My rifle was with our supplies, and I couldn’t get to it without endangering myself. I decided to take a risk and slid down the rock, skinning my hands and tearing the seat of my pants although they were made of a heavy material. I didn’t realize I had done either until later.
I dropped to the ground and ran over to where my rifle was. All this time the boar was busy with Andrew, having taken him down and goring him all over. He could die from loss of blood if I didn’t do something quickly.
I ran over to where my rifle was, checked to make sure it was loaded, and tried to train it on the madly charging animal. “Shoot!” Andrew shouted. “Shoot! Please!”
Of course, I had to wait until I had a clear shot, and it seemed like hours until I had finally had one, although I’m sure it was only a matter of a few seconds. I squeezed the trigger, and saw my first shot go into the animal’s abdomen. It squealed with pain and rage and turned, looking for its tormentor. It saw me and charged. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hiram sliding down from his rock and coming over to Andrew. Hiram pulled him up onto a small rock with amazing strength for someone so small. I wasn’t sure they would be safe there from the boar for long. I shot the animal again. This time, as it was coming on, I caught him in the shoulder. He staggered and lurched, but recovered himself and kept coming toward me. At least he wasn’t coming for the boys, I thought, which was good since they weren’t armed..
I had heard that boars were notoriously difficult to bring down, particularly if they are enraged, and this one certainly must have been one of the hardest. He covered the distance between us far faster than I would have believed. All at once he was on me. I held up the rifle to try to keep him off me, and watched as he hit it with his head and fell to the ground. He seemed dazed, and that gave me time to raise my rifle and shoot him again. He moved just as I did so, and while I intended to shoot him in the head, the shot hit him in the other shoulder. He shook that off and leaped at me again. I ducked, and he missed me, sliding to a stop on the rocky ground still squealing with rage and frustration.
“Hit him in the head!” Andrew shouted. Apparently he had seen this sort of thing before or had hunted boar, but I wondered if he realized that was exactly what I was trying to do. A shot to the head would surely take care of him, I thought.
I chambered a round and got off a quick shot. This time the bullet did hit him in the head. I watched it as it exploded. The animal, finally, after a hard fight, was dead. A welcome silence descended on us.
“That was some shooting!” Hiram exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could handle a rifle like that!
“I wouldn’t say that,” I told him. “If you noticed, I had to shoot him four times before I finally got him.”
“I’ve heard of people using more shots,” Hiram said, leaving me to wonder how he knew that, unless there were boars along the wharves where he came from, which I doubted. But he did say ‘heard of’ and not ‘saw,’ so maybe somehow he knew what he was talking about . In any case, he was certainly a mystery.
The others climbed down from their rocks. Laurel handed Caleb to Hiram, came over to me and embraced me. “You amaze me,” she said. “Boars are so hard to bring down.”
“It seems like everyone thinks so. It was my first, and I’m glad I could kill him before he hurt any of us, but it was close. Come on, we need to see about Andrew.” I went over to him and checked his wounds. They didn’t look that considering what damage a boar could do.
“Laurel, tear one of your slips into about inch wide strips. We’ll use them to bind his wounds. They’re not very deep. We’ll have to get some whiskey to pour on them to prevent infection.”
The others watched as I bound Andrew’s wounds. “Did you learn to do that in the army?” Laurel asked.”
I nodded. “Yes. I had too many opportunities to do this.”
“War must be so awful,”
“It is,” I said grimly.
I finished with Andrew and put my hand on his shoulder. “Can you walk?” I asked him.
“I think I so, but I’ll probably need someone to help me.”
“Hiram and I can do that. We’ll switch off.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hiram nod his approval of my plan.
“Don’t forget me. I can help as well,” Laurel said.
“Oh, of course. I’m sorry I didn’t think of using you for this, but that’s good. It’ll make it easier on all of us.”
I helped Andrew to his feet, and so we set out again, headed for the next town, wounded, dirty, tired, but still standing—and walking, I thought. Thank God for all that. Thank God.

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