I had gone to the house serving as a headquarters, which also doubled as a supply depot, to get some provisions when one of the corporals there hailed me. “Dillard, I have something for you.”
“Oh? What is it?”
He handed me two letters. One I could tell was from Laurel; the other I could not say except to tell it was from a man. The characters in the address and return address were less well formed and not as pleasing to the eye, but from some marks on the envelope as to its origin, which I could not understand, I thought the letter came from a military source, a soldier or some such. I determined I would read Laurel’s letter later, when I was alone, but I tore open the other letter and read this,
My dear Corporal Dillard,
I am writing you as Eleanor’s brother with some very sad news. Eleanor fell into a low state of mind after her trip to see you and would not eat or go out, but lay in her bed day after day. What the cause of her affliction is, I do not know, as she did not share the exchange she had with you when she came to see you.
She declined further, and doctors were called, but the matter was beyond their practice, and she passed away on January 20, at about four o’clock in the afternoon. I believe she died of something which gave her great sadness, and we buried her in the graveyard of a little Episcopalian church in Georgetown three days later. Many high ranking officials from government came, as did some of the captains of industry. You know her state and the high esteem in which she was held by people such as these.
And so my sister is gone. She worked hard to free me from prison recently, even appealing to Abraham Lincoln for my release. I will likely never know a woman like her again, and my heart is broken, although I will carry on as best I can.
You should know that one of her last acts before she began her decline was to arrange for the release of the soldier named Andrew from the Old Capitol prison. Somehow, I think she thought this would compensate you for some wrong, real or imagined, that she had done you. I do not know this for certain. It is only a surmise.
I trust you are well. Although we fight on different sides, I feel a curious bond with you, since we both knew my beloved sister and we resemble each other greatly. Perhaps in another life we would have been brothers. Fate and circumstance indeed are mysterious things.
I bid you good health and good fortune.
I am, brokenheartedly, yours,
71st New York Regiment
I read the letter once, and then read it again, stunned. I never expected Eleanor would, in essence, take her own life, but she did as surely as if she had used pistol or laudanum. John could not know the reason for her falling off, but it seemed clear to me: she felt such guilt about all she had done to me, she could not bear living any longer. And I made it worse by not forgiving her. At the time it seemed in my own mind as if I were justified, but I never intended to bring her life to an end. Our Lord commanded us to forgive, but my pride and anger prohibited that, and I killed a sister of a good man. As difficult as she made my life, in later times, she did shows some acts of kindness and mercy. I believe she was turning toward a true spirituality when she came to see me to ask my forgiveness, but I cut that off, insensitive and hard toward her as I was..
I could only pray that God would forgive me for this violation of one of His commandments. I stood there and prayed, but received neither answer or word from our Father. Sometimes such answers are delayed, I knew, so I determined that I would talk to Adolphus about it in the meantime, as his grasp of theology and such matters was far superior to my own.
I trudged back to our shack with a heavy heart, hoping that Adolphus would be there when I arrived. I opened the door and went in, but only Hiram was there, lounging on his cot. I thought he would be off with the drummers. “I’m surprised to see you here. Why aren’t you with the other drummers?”
“Our sergeant says he is sick, but the kind of sickness he has comes out of a bottle. I’d say he was hung over and could barely walk, much less tell us what to do. I’m amazed that they let such a man lead the drummers, but I believe it is because he is so good at what he does when he is sober. So, yes, I have the day off.”
“Good for you. Do you know where Adolphus is?”
“No. I guess he left before I got here.”
“Well, if he comes back, please tell him to wait for me. I have something important to discuss with him.”
He looked startled. “You’re not going to make me stop being a drummer, are you? I like it so much, so I would be upset if I couldn’t do it.”
I smiled. “No, it’s not that. It’s about a letter I received.”
“Oh. From Laurel?”
“One of them is from Laurel.”
“And the others?”
“There’s only one more and it’s not from Laurel.”
“That’s not much to go on.”
“You see what I am trying to do.”
“Is it from Eleanor again?”
“She’s dead, isn’t she?”
I was amazed. How could he have known? He couldn’t have looked at John’s letter—could he? “How did you know?”
“You don’t get that much mail, and what you do get has been from Laurel and Eleanor. So, if the letter wasn’t from Laurel, and from the look on your face, I could tell you were upset about something, so that I knew it was from Eleanor or someone connected to her.”
“That ‘someone’ was her brother. He wrote that she lost the will to live and died two weeks ago.”
“Why did she give up?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t talk about it anymore. I’m going to look for Adolphus.”
“Go ahead, but if you ever want to talk to me, I’m here.”
“Thank you,” I said, wondering how much good Hiram could be to me. Still, he had surprised me before, so who knew?
I went back out and hesitated, trying to figure out which way to go. I had been at headquarters, which was to the left, and hadn’t seen Adolphus going there or coming back, so I turned right, and soon found myself walking along the river.
I must tell you that my agitated state of mind caused me to do such a dangerous thing. Although we were still in winter camp, that did not mean that the soldiers did not shoot at each other on rare occasion. The previous week, we had a man from a Louisiana shot dead when he came too near the river. That should have told me not to do what I did, but I was not making wise decisions at that point.
I did find that being by the river was soothing, even though I knew somewhere in my mind it was dangerous. I had followed along its cold gray banks with the cold gray water running between them. Such an aspect suited my mood. My mind and soul seemed cold and gray as well, and I wondered if ever spring time would come to them.
I had walked along for about fifteen minutes when I saw Adolphus sitting on a tree root with his back against the trunk and with a faraway look on his face. I hated having to ruin his meditative state, but I felt my need was so urgent and so real that I had to do so. I hadn’t noticed until I saw him that where he was sat beyond the pale of either army, and so the spot was as safe as it could be, under the conditions. That was why Adolphus chose it and while anything could happen in this circumstance, and I prayed for safety for both of us, I felt we would be reasonably safe sitting there..
Adolphus saw me coming and stood up. “Caleb! What are you doing here? Is something wrong? Is it about Hiram or Andrew? Or Laurel? Pray tell me that it isn’t her.” His face showed real concern.
I shook my head. “No, they are well, and I apologize for calling you from your reverie.”
“That is no matter to me. You would not have come here if it were not important and serious.”
“Here it is,” I told him. “The thing that is wrong is my doing.”
He looked puzzled. “How so?” He quickly added, “Please sit down.”
The root had room for both of us, so we sat side by side, looking at the river. I saw why Adolphus had chosen that spot for his reflections. It was tranquil and, even though it was winter, I then saw that it was beautiful in a stark sort of way. I know that does not make a lot of sense, but I hope it allows you to imagine its beauty. Adolphus had a real sensitivity to beauty in all its forms, although he was not moved by the beauty of women. I never asked him why, and could not see into his condition to tell very much about it. And so that part of him remained a opaque and mysterious.
“So, what troubles you? Tell me.”
“You know that Eleanor arranged for wood to be brought to us and to our fellows?”
“Yes, I recall that. A magnanimous and life-saving act.”
“You also probably recall that she said if the other soldiers shared their wood with me, that was up to them and she could not force them to do so in any way?”
“Yes, you told me so. Her heart was hard toward you, but of course we could not let a comrade freeze to death if we had the means of prevention. We gladly shared with you. It was the only decent and humane thing to do.”
“I believe that to be true as well. Were our positions reversed, I would have done the exact same thing. What you do not know is that a month later, she visited me and begged my forgiveness for all she had done to me.”
Adolphus looked surprised. “Where did she do this and What caused such a radical change of heart?”
“She had her carriage driven down here and we sat inside it as she told me what she had to say. It was not too far from our shack. As to her change of heart, by her own account, she said she was visited by what she took to be angel or perhaps our Lord who instructed her to ask forgiveness of me.”
“Well, I have heard of such, but never knew of anyone who actually experienced such a visitation until you told me of this. I cannot judge the reality of the visitation she experienced, but I am certain you forgave her readily, for you are a kind and spiritual man.”
“Adolphus, I did not forgive her.”
“You did not forgive her?” He seemed dumfounded at this. I felt even more guilty for disappointing my friend.
“Yes. My heart was so blackened by anger and sense of injury that there was no room for forgiveness.” Those conditions of my soul crowded out all else.”
Adolphus seemed to be thinking for a while and then said, “Well. I have no words to give you on this.”
This was the first time since I had known him that Adolphus had nothing to say about a spiritual matter. Up until that time, he invariably had good and helpful insights that he shared with all kinds of people. He made differences in their lives.
“There’s more: I received this letter—” I drew John’s letter from my jacket and handed it to him—” from her brother saying that my refusal caused her to become weak, to give up hope, and in short she has passed away, and I am to blame.”
Adolphus read the letter quickly and looked at me, tears in his eyes. “What a terrible thing! I am conflicted at this news. I know you, Caleb, and am distressed that you could not forgive. At the same time, I know the extreme distress that she caused you and your family. I do not know what to say.”
“You have no words of comfort, then?”
“None save the ones I have given you. I simply do not know what to think. I shall have to meditate on what you have told me and pray to God for wisdom.”
“Thank you. I knew I could count on you.”
Adolphus shook his head. “It’s as much as I can do at the present time. I may have further words on this subject.”
We sat there in silence for a while, listening to the sounds of the river.
Finally I asked, “Do you hate me?”
He smiled for the first time since we met. “No, I do not hate you. I am disappointed in you, but I can find it in my heart to forgive your lack of forgiveness.”
“That has irony in it, doesn’t it? Forgiving a lack of forgiveness”
“I suppose so.”
“Adolphus, All this is why you are a finer man than I.”
“No, for I do not know what I would do were I in a similar circumstance. I simply do not know.”
“I will return to our shack and leave you here to think further. I hope something comes to you, and quickly. This thing is gnawing at my heart and I fear it may cause me harm, just as I did ill toward Eleanor. That would only be divine justice, all though I do not wish it on myself. I bid you farewell until we see each other again.”
I walked away in silence from Adolphus, making my long solitary walk back, feeling lonely and sick at heart. I surely hope that Adolphus receives some word from God on this, I thought. I am in dire need of it. I lay on my cot and tried to sleep, but that was impossible. I kept tossing and turning, thinking of my long history with Eleanor, and how she had changed, although I did not credit that change at the time. I was paying the price now, with the impossibility of sleep and a guilty conscience. I prayed that I might soon overcome this state of mind, but at the present time, I could see no way. I fell asleep just before sunrise, which meant I had little sleep, which I so sorely needed.
The next morning, Adolphus came to me as I was sitting up. “You look as if you didn’t sleep.”
“I didn’t. My heart was troubled.”
He nodded. “I understand.” Then, with a settled look on his face, he said, “I have thought hard on your situation,” he said, “and have received what I consider a word from God on it.In times of great need, whether mine or those of others, God always has such a word for me.”
My heart leaped. “I am most eager to hear what it is. Please tell me, and quickly.”
“Let’s sit at the table.” We sat across from each other, and he looked into my eyes. “I know you well, Caleb, and I believe that you do not need my forgiveness or that of any other man.”
“I do not?”
“No. I am certain you had asked for forgiveness from God, for that is where we should begin. Since you have done that, you need to forgive yourself for not offering forgiveness. It is that simple—and that difficult.”
I sat for a moment, and then said. “This is a new idea for me. How do I forgive myself?”
Adolphus smiled. “You must search deeply within your own heart to see what your motives were in not forgiving Eleanor. Once you have found those motives, you must see and understands them. Once you have done that, you will find your heart growing lighter.”
I thought about this for a moment. “I shall have to strive mightily to do that. I hope I will be able to do it well, and do it soon.”
He stood and clapped me on the shoulder, smiling down at me like a benevolent father. “I know you will succeed.”
I stood as well. “I pray that I will, and I thank you for your revelation.”
“You are welcome, but the revelation could only have come from God. Thank Him.”
“I make it my practice to do so every day for something. Now I have a great thing to thank Him for.”
“You are a good man, Caleb. Don’t forget that.” We shook hands, and then stood up.
“I shall try,” I said, and thought, you are as well, Adolphus. One of the best. Your star far outshines mine, but I hope to be as bright as you some day.