Diamond Hope, Part 21

 

Chapter Twenty-One
Winter Camp
November, 1863

I awoke and I knew something was wrong. In spite of being covered by three thick blankets, I was cold. My teeth were chattering, and I could see my breath.
“Adolphus! Wake up! The fire has gone out.”
“Yes, I thought it awfully cold.” He got up and went over and checked the stove. “Yes, it’s out.”
“Do we have any more wood?” I asked Adolphus. “I certainly hope so.”
“I don’t think we do,” he replied. “If there is any out there, it would be a long walk away, down past the headquarters building.”
“I don’t want to go down there and find out they don’t have any either.We’ll have to find something to burn, or we’ll freeze.”
“We’re not the only ones who would do that..”
I stepped outside our shack, which wasn’t much of a building to begin with, and certain not one to live in with a stove. Even with heat, it was cold, and we wore several layers of clothes. We also lay in our beds during the day, covered with blankets and there we stayed, unless something caused us to have to get up.
I found myself outside in a frigid wasteland devoid of trees, shivering with the cold and wind. I looked up and down the line to see if anyone had brought some wood, or anything that would burn, but saw nothing. There was no one there. They were probably inside, trying to stay warm as we did, and their situation had to be growing more desperate by the moment. I went back inside.
“I’m going to lie down and cover up,” I told Adolphus. “I might be able to keep from freezing to death that way.”
“I’m going to join you. It’s hard to believe that we can’t stand the heat in the summer.”
“I wish we had some of that heat right now. It’s too much of both extremes.”
I lay down on my cot and covered up with my blankets again. In spite of the cold, I fell asleep. I dreamed of huge bonfires and banquets of hot, steaming food. It all felt and tasted so good, I hated it when something woke me up. I sat up in bed and instantly pulled my blankets up around my shoulders.
“Adolphus, did you hear something?”
“What?”
“Did you hear something outside?”
He listened for a moment and then said, “Yes. It sounds like a horse. Like several horses. What would horses be doing up here? The cavalry unit is down by the river.”
We quickly got up and stuck our heads out of our shack. There was nothing we could see to the right, but when we looked to the left, we saw something that I thought must have been a dream or a hallucination induced by the cold, but there, headed toward us, came a team of six horses pulling an enormous wagon loaded with lengths of oak. The teamster pulled back on his reins and called to the horses, “Whoa, there! Stop, I say! Stop, ye beauties!”
The whole assemblage stopped, and I heard the hard breathing of the horses as they stood with steam coming off their bodies. It was nice to hear the driver address his horses in such positive tones. Most drivers were a rough bunch, using curses and the whip to get their teams going. The driver looked at us. “You want to help me unload this?”
“Yes,” I said, “and I know where we can get some more help.” I started down the row of shacks to the left while Adolphus went along those to the right, shaking banging on doors and calling to those inside as we went along. Soon the wagon was mobbed by soldiers, taking four and five pieces of wood in their arms and hurrying with it back to their tents. I estimate that it took ten minutes to unload the wagon, a task that I estimate would have taken several hours had we not had the help of our comrades.
“Who sent this?” I asked the teamster.
He shrugged. “I have no idea. I just do what I’m told, like you do. I hope. Looks like you fellows were pretty eager to have some wood.”
“We sure were. I don’t know where you came from or who sent you, but we would have frozen had you not come along. Thank you.”
He shrugged again. “I didn’t buy the wood and I don’t own this team and wagon—they belong to the army.There’s nothing to thank me for. Just be careful and don’t burn everything down.”
“We’ll do our best,” I said, and waved as he climbed back into his seat. He started to call to his team, but stopped.
“I nearly forgot,” he said. “I have something for you.”
He drew an envelope from his coat and thrust it toward me. “Must be a letter, and it must be from a lady. I can’t read, but I’ve been around women enough to know when it’s a woman’s writing. If you know what I mean.” He winked at me, but I ignored that.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Like I said, just doing what I was told,” he replied, and called to his horses. They responded quickly, as if glad to be rid of their heavy load. “Hope it’s from a lady you like,” he called, just before he went out of earshot.
I turned the letter over, looking for some sign of who sent it, but I couldn’t tell anything. Whoever it was only wrote my name, and that was not enough to go on. As I stood there, Adolphus came over to me and said, “Who could have done this? From what I hear, the whole army is out of wood and is being supplied by other wagons. We’re not the only ones.”
“That’s really something,” I said. “I don’t know who sent all this, but I intend to find out.”
He looked at the envelope I held in my hand. “Well?”
“‘Well’ what?”
“Well, are you going to open that envelope or stand there all day and look at it?”
“Oh. I forget I was holding it. How about if I open it and see what it says?”
“My thoughts exactly.”
I tore open the envelope, and there was a letter inside, all right. I unfolded it quickly and read,
My dear Caleb,
You were probably surprised to receive the wood, and wondered why I sent it. It was not because you did such good work for me. You were either running away or not doing as you promised, but I did not want any of our troops to freeze. I hope they let you have some because, after all, you are a deserter and a traitor to both sides. That is a rare feat, but you accomplished it magnificently and in doing so, disappointed me deeply.
I send my regards. I wish it all could have worked out differently, but I am resigned to the way it did turn out. I shall not soon overcome these feelings, and hope that my little gift will make a difference about how things are between us. I hope they will, but don’t think that will happen.
I am,
Your disappointed would-be friend,
Eleanor
Alphonso waited impatiently while I read, and when I looked up, he asked, “Who’s it from? What does it say?”
I gave him the letter. “It’s from Eleanor, and you can read all of it for yourself, but basically she says that the wood is for the army, and if they want to give me some, that is up to them.”
“Why wouldn’t we want to do that?”
“She calls me a deserter and a traitor to both sides.”
“For heaven’s sake, man, you were forced into it.”
“Maybe so, but that makes no difference to her. I just wonder what she will do next.”
“That kind of person, it’s hard to tell. Come on, let’s stop this speculation and get a fire going before I freeze all the way through.”
“I never thought you’d turn down a chance to speculate on anything.”
“It’s hard to think when I’m frozen. Maybe I will be able to when I thaw out.”
We laughed and picked up a couple of pieces of wood for our fire. And that is how we made it through that crisis. I could not forget what Eleanor said about us being friends, but knew there was absolutely no chance of that. She had done too much to me for too long for me to change, even if I had wanted to, which I didn’t.

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