Diamond Hope, Part 24

 

Chapter Twenty-Four
Bitter Chill
January, 1863

The winter continued, as did the cold, and a number of soldiers who did not bank their fires correctly were found frozen lying on their cots when their heat gave out. We soon became too accustomed to burials and the ceremonies attending them, which served to dispirit us further.
Hiram did become a drummer, and practiced at all hours until we told him the other troops didn’t want him to play after our evening meal. His enthusiasm, if not his judgement, was commendable. And so day by day went by with little to distinguish them save the weather and the setting and rising of the sun.
One morning, while I was out getting wood (which seemed to be our chief occupation), I saw a tall, thin soldier coming toward me. There was something familiar about him, and when he came close, I saw it was Andrew! I ran to him and embraced him with fervor. “Andrew, my boy! It is so good to see you!”
“It’s good to be here. It would be good to be anywhere save that prison camp I have been kept in, but you know more about that than I do.”
I shook my head. “From what I hear, conditions are much worse than when I was there. I know they don’t play baseball any more.”
“That’s right, and the food is worse than that of any army camp’s, the guards brutal to a man, and few amusements, if you could call them that, save fighting and stealing. We do receive mail, without which we would have been in much worse shape than we are. Than we were. It’s hard to believe I’m out.”
“How did you get out? Exchanges stopped last year.”
He scratched his head. “Would you mind if we talked in your tent? I’ve walked a long way, and I’m just about frozen.”
“Of course! Forgive me for not noticing your condition. Come in, and you can meet my friend Adolphus, and there’s a surprise for you as well.”
“Let’s go in, then!”
Adolphus had his back turned to us when we entered and turned around with a mild expression of surprise. He could tell from Andrew’s face that he had not been eating enough, but of course did not know why.
“Adolphus, I want you to meet Andrew!” I exclaimed.
The two of them shook hands and then stepped back from each other.
“I’ve heard a lot about you from Caleb,” Adolphus said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.”
“Caleb told me you were in prison. How did you get out?”
I looked over at Adolphus. “I had just asked Andrew that question right before we came inside, and I am eager to hear his answer as well.”
“I do not know,” said Andrew. Adolphus looked sharply at me, and I could not read his expression.
“What do you signify by saying ‘I do not know’? Are you suffering from amnesia or a wound to the head that would likewise cause you to lose your memory?”
Andrew shook his head. “I beg your pardon for being unclear. I simply meant that no one was being exchanged, and no reason was given me for my release. I did not ask, for fear that any delay would cause my release to be invalidated.”
“Caleb knows of someone who was released through the intervention of Abraham Lincoln. Could you have had such a happy cause?”
Again Andrew shook his head. “If this were so, I am certain they would have told me, it being an unusual occurrence, but they said nothing and, as I told you, I asked them no questions.”
“Well,” said Alphonso, “the important thing is that you are out prison and that you are safe. Welcome to our shack, such as it is.”
“I am right glad to be here.” He looked around the space. “Where is the surprise?”
Alphonso caught my eye and silently pretended to beat on a drum briefly, pointing in the direction of the parade ground, such as it was. By this I took him to mean that Hiram was practicing his playing with the other drummers.
“Ah, the surprise is not here, but you shall see it soon. Are you hungry?” I asked
“Yes. I haven’t had anything to eat since this morning. I should be grateful for anything you might give me.”
“It’s our usual fare.” Alphonso pulled out some items from our larder box below his cot. “I can offer you dried pork and hard tack.”
Andrew looked at the food, and he smiled. “These are like a fine steak to a hungry man. I thank you.” With that, Andrew fell to eating.
The food must truly be terrible in prison if he this this is “fine steak,” I thought.
We watched him eat as Alphonso asked Andrew how he came to know me and what had happened since then, although I had told him all that. It was Alphonso’s way of making Andrew feel welcome. Alphonso made a habit of doing such, and that was the reason he was held in such high regard by his fellows.
We went on like this for about half an hour when the door opened and Hiram came in. Andrew was so surprised he stood up and spilled his coffee. He appeared not to notice as he rapidly crossed the open space between him and Hiram. “Hiram! It is so good to see you! Who would have thought we would have met here?”
They embraced, and Hiram said, “I had the same thought. I am pleased to see you as well.” Alphonso and I watched, smiling at this reunion of friends.
“How did you come to be here?” Andrew asked.
“I was helping Laurel on the farm, and then the blacksmith’s son, Clinton Dailey, came to live with us. I felt a call to be in the army, and thought Laurel did not need me since she had Clinton.”
“What did she say when you told her you were leaving?”
Hiram looked at the floor for a moment, and then raised his head. “I didn’t tell her. I just left, and I wish now that I had told her.”
I said, “I wrote Laurel and told her where Hiram was. I have not yet heard from her.”
Andrew looked thoughtful. “Well. That is something. I know you wish you had told her of you plans, but I suppose that Laurel’s loss is our gain.” Taking note of Hiram’s uniform, he asked, “Are you in the army now? And if so, in what capacity?”
“Indeed I am. I am a drummer boy. I have just come from practice.”
“Well, I never would have thought that. Had you played the drum before?”
“No, never. My sergeant tells me I must have a natural talent. There could be no other explanation for such a thing. I never had a drum, and so did not have a chance to practice it.”
“Aren’t you putting yourself in danger?”
“That’s what I asked him,” I said. “He told me that once the drummers beat their call, they retire to the rear. He said it was safer there. I told him cannon and rifles can shoot a long way, but that seems to make no difference.”
Andrew looked at Hiram. “You must be careful out there.”
“I will be.”
“Will you be armed?”
“They won’t let me carry a gun, but I have my slingshot.”
Alphonso looked puzzled at this, and I said, “Hiram shoots the slingshot like David in Bible times. He saved our lives with it.”
“He has no need of a rifle, then.”
“I would say not.”
We sat and talked into the evening of many things, and I thought the only thing better than having my young friends with us would have been being with Laurel and little Caleb. When we went to bed, it was they I thought of, which gave me many sweet and pleasant dreams all through the night.

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