Two weeks later, we found ourselves making the same journey to see Hiram. I thought back to our captain’s reaction when we told him what had happened. “He refused to let you in for improper papers? And threatened you with arrest? When I find out who this so-called soldier is, he’s the one who’ll be in prison for disobeying a legal order!” I thought he would have an apoplectic fit, he was so angry.
We were lucky that hostilities had not begun when he called us in and gave us another set of orders. “If anyone, and I do mean anyone, including General Lee, tells you these are not legal orders, I want you to get his name and I’ll have the s.o.b. court martialed! And good luck to you.”
Perhaps because we had walked the same route before, the journey seemed to go faster. We showed our papers to the sentry at the hospital, and he directed us back to the tent for special cases. “We won’t have any trouble getting in with these orders, will we?” I asked.
“We had a problem getting into the tent last time.”
A look of realization came over his face. “Oh, that was Myers. He’s as crazy as some of the people in the tent. That’s why he wouldn’t let you in. He didn’t know what he was doing.”
“I assume he’s been replaced.”
“Sure has. And his replacement is a friend of mine, too. He won’t give you any trouble.”
“That’s good to know. Thank you.”
The sentry tossed off a casual salute. “Glad to do it. Those poor fellows in there need all the visitors they can get, but very few people come to see them. It’s a disgrace.”
“Well, we’ll go see Hiram now.”
“Bless you for it, my friend.”
We made our way to the shack and came to the entrance of the tent. We presented our papers to the sentry, who glanced at them and said, “Go on in. And bless you.”
“That’s what the other sentry said,” Adolphus told him.
“We all need blessing,” the sentry responded.
“Yes, we do.” With that, we went in to witness a pitiful sight. Some men sat on the edge of their cots, staring into space. Others walked back and forth, back and forth with their heads down. It was enough to make anyone weep, but we looked for Hiram. A nurse came by who looked strangely familiar. Adolphus addressed her. “Excuse me, m’am. I am Adolphus and this is my friend Caleb.”
She stopped. “I am Nurse Robbins.”
“Nice to meet you, m’am, even under these circumstances. We are looking for a young man named Hiram who has only one arm.”
She stopped and considered for a moment. “What is his last name?”
“He doesn’t have one, but he is, as I told you, distinctive .”
She looked at Adolphus. “We have a number of amputees. They’re over there—” she indicated the other side of the tent. “I hope you’re not too shocked by what you see here.”
I looked down. “In truth, m’am, seeing this has cast a melancholy pall over us.”
“I would have the same had I not been here for so long.”
“Excuse me, m’am, but I have one more question. You look familiar. Where are you from?”
She paused. “From a place you’ve never heard of. It’s a small village just to the west of Winchester.” I think she did not disclose the name of the town out of an abundance of caution. We could be anybody.
I smiled. “If I interpret your description of the town correctly, it’s near where I live. Doubtless I have seen you at times when I was getting supplies or attending to other business.”
“That must be it. Do you live in town?”
“No, but we have a cabin not far to the west.”
“Well, Caleb, perhaps we shall see each other again when this war is over, as I pray it will be soon. I have seen enough carnage to last me five lifetimes.”
“We can only imagine, m’am.”
“Please call me Jane. I have called you by your given name, so it is only fair you do the same with me.”
“Thank you, Jane. Now we’ll look for our friend.”
“God bless you for coming to see him.”
“Thank you, m’am—I mean, Jane.”
“You are welcome. See—I am at liberty for the moment, although that will not last long. I will conduct you to the place your friend may be.”
She led the way to the side of the tent with the amputees. We all stopped for a moment, and surveyed the area. Adolphus saw him first. “Look! There he is, over there by the wall.”
And indeed it was he, his small form huddled under some blankets.
“You’d best let me talk to him first. I know how to rouse him with causing alarm.”
She went over to Hiram and touched him gently on the shoulder. He grunted, and she said, “Hiram, you have some friends who have come to visit. Would you like that?”
From Hiram we heard, “No! I don’t have any friends!”
“Will you at least look to see who they are?”
“Because I’m asking you. Haven’t I tended to you and comforted you? Please, Hiram, just one look.”
At this, Hiram roused himself on one elbow and peered at us. “I do not know these people! They have been sent to kill me! Help! Help me!”
This commotion caused all the conscious members of the tent to look in our direction, and a murmur arose. Hiram looked around at this. “And you’ve all been sent to kill me! O, will no one help me? Help a poor soul!”
Jane turned to us. “He will be like this for a spell, so I’m sorry to tell you that you must go from his sight. I hope you can stay long enough to talk to him.”
“We have about an hour,” Adolphus said.
Jane shook her head. “That is not enough time for him to recover. I’m sorry, but he can’t see you on this visit.”
“We understand. It is not your fault. We are uncertain if we can return since the fighting will soon begin again.” Adolphus looked downcast.
“Well. I shall hope that we will meet again.”
“As do we,” I said. “What will become of all of you?”
Jane sighed. “From what I understand, when the hospital is overrun by Union troops, and that is a surety, their doctors and nurses will take care of our wounded. But I have also heard that they might be shot, to save the bother of their care.”
“We must pray for the better outcome,” Adolphus said.
“I will as well. Now I must tend to my charges. God be with you as you go, and at all times.”
“And also with you,” Adolphus said, sounding like a part of one of his Episcopalian services.
And so we set on our way back with heavy hearts and uncertainty that we would ever see Hiram alive again.