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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 10

Return

March, 1864

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.

“You shouldn’t.”

“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?”

“Why?”

“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.

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 9

To the Edge

March, 1864

“Come along, Caleb!”

Adolphus stood in front of me, gesturing that I should join him. We had found it difficult to make our way against the early March wind that blew like a January zephyr. Adolphus seemed to be able to make his way against it than I did. I knew we were both weakened by the miserable conditions in camp and the execrable food, but I had no idea how weak we were until we set out on this journey to see Hiram. We had learned a week earlier that he was recovering, if that was the right word, in Blackstone, some distance to the west southwest from where we were. Doctor Brown told me that a hospital had been established there in a railroad shed, there being no other structures large enough to meet the needs of a hospital.

We could walk the 40 miles of our journey taking most of a long day, stay overnight, and then see Hiram the next day. We would stay there overnight and come back. I wished we could have stayed longer, but our captain in granting our leave said that was all he could do. He hinted at something big coming up, and we took that to mean that the hostilities would commence again, and he would need every soldier he could muster.

We were about halfway to our destination when Adolphus said, “Let’s stop and eat something. I am beginning to be hungry.”

“You’ll have no argument from me about that. And I need to rest for a while.”

We stopped by a stone wall which gave us some little shelter from the wind. Adolphus pulled out our provisions and set them out.

“Would you happen to have any dried pork that I could have?” I asked, knowing full well that all we had.

“Indeed. And it will please the taste of any gastronome.”

We found our dialogue humorous for some reason and laughed until tears ran down our cheeks.

After we had eaten and rested for a short while, we continued on our way to see Hiram. We were glad to see a sign indicating that Blackstone was four miles further on, since that meant we would be there in an hour or so.

“Look!” Adolphus said, gesturing with his hand. “Here’s where the railroad joins our path. All we need to do from now on is to follow it.”

“That does make things easier,” I answered.

Seeing the railroad gave us renewed energy, and we arrived at the railroad shed about 6. “This must be it,” I said. “I see no other structures that would be capable of housing a hospital.”

“I agree with you,” Adolphus answered. “Let us hurry, for we are losing the light.”

A sentry stood by the entrance, which I thought useless since we were so far away from the armies. “Papers!” he demanded, and Adolphus pulled out our leave permissions and gave them to him. He perused them as if he could not tell from our uniforms what we were.

“All this seems to be in order. You may go in.”

“Thank you,” Adolphus replied. “We will enter.”

We went into the interior, and I could tell that this affected Adolphus more than it did me. He had never been in such a place, and he recoiled at the sight and smells before him.

“I know it’s bad,” I said,” but we must do this for Hiram.”

“Of course, my boy. It is just so much worse than I could imagine.”

“That it is.”

With so many soldiers before us, we could not begin to know where Hiram was. Finally I caught the attention of one of the nurses bustling around their patients. “Excuse me, m’am?”

The nurse I spoke to hesitated, and I went on. “We are looking for a very young soldier named Hiram. He was on the lines at Petersburg.”

She thought for a moment. “Does he have one arm?”

“Yes, he does.”

“And he’s here for nervous exhaustion?”

“That’s correct. Can you show us where he is?”

She collected herself. He’s here, but he’s not in the shed. He’s in a smaller tent beyond that wall. She pointed. “You’ll be able to find him easily there.”

“Thank you,  m’am.”

“You’re welcome.”

We made our way toward the back wall, and Adolphus said, “I wonder why she hesitated before she told us where Hiram was.”

“Perhaps she did not wish to think about what lies within the tent.”

“I hope it is nothing too bad.”

When we came up to the wall, we encountered another sentry who guarded the entry to the tent. “Papers!” he demanded. We gave him our orders, and he scrutinized them. Finally, he handed them back. “This does not give you permission to enter the ward.”

“It gives us permission to come here, and the ward is where we are.”

“I have my orders—no one enters without the right papers.”

“And where do we get the ‘right’ orders?”

“From your commanding officer.”

I shook out orders at the recalcitrant sentry. “These are  from our commanding officer.”

“But they’re not right. Listen, we can go around and around about this until I’m relieved, which can’t be soon enough. No papers, no admission.”

“But our commanding officer is ten hours away. On foot. That is how we came here.”

“No. And if you don’t leave, I’ll have you arrested.”

“What would be the charge?”

He smirked. “Improper papers.”

“Come on, Caleb,” said Adolphus. “We’re wasting our time here.”

We went back outside the shed. “What do we do now?” I asked.

“Go back and get the right papers and then come back.”

“But when will that be?”

“I don’t know. Shooting could start again, and we wouldn’t be able to leave.”

“Yes. Well, let’s go find a place to camp out. Then we can start walking in the morning.”

“No one can say we didn’t try to see Hiram.”

“No, they couldn’t.”

We found a place to camp, built a fire and had some warmed-up pork to eat. Then we lay down on our blankets. “Adolphus?”

“Yes, Caleb.”

“Are you glad we made this trip?”

“I am glad for the trip. We got away for a while. But I am not glad for the outcome.”

“Neither am I.” I lay there looking at the stars for a while and then fell asleep.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 8

Holding Fast

February, 1864

The first week in February was a rainy one, and our camp turned into a muddy quagmire. Life was miserable, or more miserable than usual, as we tried to keep dry and still fulfill our duties. I had finished my guard assignment and went back to our shack. Inside, I found Adolphus reading while lying in bed, and Hiram and Andrew were playing poker, using pebbles as chips. I went over to them.

“Can you cash in your pebbles after you win?” I asked.

Andrew grinned. “Yes! We can get a stone, and if we win enough, a boulder.” He laughed, while Hiram just stared at him.

“What’s wrong with you, Hiram? That was funny!”

“It’s not funny when you’re losing. It’s just a game.”

“A game I want to win.”

“Well, I wish you well, then.”

Hiram grunted and went back to his cards. We never could tell what he was going to do or say, or how he would react, but of course we were happy that he had healed without any complications.

I went over to Adolphus and sat on my bed, which was next to his. “What are you reading?”

He turned the book over so I could see the title. “‘Moral Theology’,” I read. “Is it a difficult book?”

“I fear it is. When I finish it, I will endeavor to explain it to you. If I understand it well enough.”

“I am certain that you will. When the war is over, I should like to go back to school. I had so little, and I think it will limit me if I do not remedy the situation.”

Adolphus smiled. “I can tell you will be a good student. You learn quickly and have a curiosity that is so important to learning.”

“You are kind. What will you do when the war is over?”

“Well, I pray that will happen soon, but I am not certain what I shall do. I fear my house has been destroyed, although I have relatives whose places must be untouched. I do not wish to be a burden to them, so I am thinking I could be a minister. I know it will be difficult as we rebuild, but it will important for congregants to have spiritual leaders. For yourself, where do you think you will go to school?”

“I know so little about it, I cannot say.”

“Ah. I am certain you will find out as much as you can as soon as you can.”

“That is my purpose.”

At that moment, Hiram cried, “Faugh!” and threw down his cards. “I fold! I have never met such a good player, and I have seen many of them.”

I bet you have, I thought. The kind of rough life that Hiram led on the river would guarantee that he would be in close contact with a number of gamblers. The question was, with so little contact with gamblers, if any, how did Andrew learn to be an excellent player? I resolved to ask him when I had the opportunity, but he stood up and announced, “Now I have the guard duty. I will be back when it is done.”

“Be careful, my boy,” Adolphus told him. Andrew went out, and Adolphus turned to me. “Two of our company have been wounded, and we need no more.”

“That is certain, although Hiram was afflicted rather than wounded.”

“You are correct. This war has impaired my ability to make such distinctions.”

“That is a small matter.”

“Perhaps so, but before the conflict I would not have made such a mistake.”

“It is no matter, as I said. Let’s have something to eat. I am starved.”

“We have a supply of the finest salt pork, if that will satisfy your appetite.”

“That is about all it will do, but it is better than no food at all.”

“That it is.”

We ate our meal without saying much. Adolphus and I sat at our little table, but Hiram took his food over to his bed and are it there. Something was clearly troubling the lad beyond losing at poker. After we ate, Adolphus lay on his bed to rest, and I went over to talk to Hiram.

“Hiram, what is wrong? You did not eat with Adolphus and me.”

“Nothing is wrong,” he said and lay on his bed, turning his place to the wall.

“If you do not tell me what is amiss, your condition will grow worse.”

He turned toward me, his face a mask of fury. “I SAID TO LEAVE ME ALONE! NOW GO AWAY!”

I stumbled backward, shocked and surprised. Even in the worst circumstances since we had known him, I had never seen him like this.

Across the shack, I could see out of the corner of my eye Adolphus, who had stood up and was gazing on the scene before him with wonderment and concern. He came over to me and pulled me to the other side of the shack.

“Adolphus, something is wrong with Hiram,” I said.

“That I can see. I wonder if he has a weakness of the mind which only now is manifesting itself.”

“But he has been in much worse circumstances without behaving so.”

“Perhaps all those circumstances have helped bring him to his present condition.”

“Perhaps. What shall we do?”

“You run and fetch the doctor. I will remain here and try to calm him.”

“Good,” I said, and walked calmly to the door of our shelter, wanting to do nothing that would further aggrieve Hiram. When I reached the opening, I ran as fast as I could toward the surgery. Soldiers that I passed looked at me curiously. We never ran, except on the rare occasion when we double-timed to the front, or when we were attacking, or running from the field of battle. I didn’t care what those I passed thought of me: I only wanted to obtain help for my friend.

I reached the surgery and ran in. A corporal seated at the table looked up curiously. “What is the matter?” he asked.

“My friend—he is not himself—I need the doctor—to come—quickly!” I gasped, trying to catch my breath.

“He is making rounds and can’t be disturbed.”

“He knows of this case. He recently performed surgery on him.”

The man before me looked doubtful. “Wait here. I’ll see what I can do.”

I collapsed on a chair, still breathing heavily. Within about a minute, the corporal came back with Dr. Brown.

I jumped from my chair. “Doctor! It is Hiram! He is acting strangely! I fear he might have a brain fever or some such!”

“What is he doing?”

“He has become belligerent and refuses to talk to us! I have never seen him like this!”

“Let us make our way to your shelter. Just on the basis of what you’ve said, I fear he may have acute mania. Did he strike anyone?”

“No, but he would have had I persisted in trying to talk to him.”

We both went back through the trenches to our shack. Adolphus was standing by the shack, looking through the door and then back along the trenches. He saw us and called, “Please hurry! He has grown worse!”

“What is he doing?” the doctor asked.

“He is attempting to harm himself. I tried to remove all dangerous objects before I came out, but I am sure there are several left.”

“Perhaps we had best wait for my orderlies.” Dr. Brown looked troubled.

“We cannot hesitate. I fear he will kill himself if we do not go in this instant!”

“All right, then,” Brown said. “But let me go first. I have more experience.” He hesitated, then pushed through the door with Adolphus and me right behind him.

Hiram was over in a corner, greatly distracted. He held a large knife at his throat. “Don’t come any closer!” he screamed. “Or I’ll kill myself with this—” He pantomimed driving the knife into his chest.

Dr. Brown approached him slowly. “You need to give me the knife,” he said. “You might hurt yourself.”

Hiram spat at him “I want to hurt myself! I want to kill myself, and I will, if you get any closer to me, so don’t try anything.”

We all stood where we were, not knowing what to do next. Finally, I moved to where Dr. Brown was.

“I told you not to move!” Hiram yelled. “Stop where you are, or you know what will happen!”

I spoke softly to Dr. Brown so that Hiram couldn’t hear. “Let me talk to him. He knows me much better than he knows you.”

“Go ahead,” Brown said. “Try.”

I moved slightly to get closer to Hiram, but he didn’t say anything. “Hiram,” I said gently, “Do you know who I am?”

He spoke slowly. “I recognize your face, but I don’t know your name.”

“It’s Caleb, and we first saw you on a wharf beside a river. We’ve spent a lot of time together, and you saved our lives. Will you give me the knife?”

“Why?” He gestured again with the blade.

“If something happens to you, a lot of people will be sorry.  I will miss you, as will Laurel and Clinton and Andrew and little Caleb. So will Adolphus. Please put down the knife and we will help you.”

He gestured toward the Doctor. “He said he would help me,” he hissed, “but he hurt me! Twice!”

“That was necessary to save your life. We can help you feel better. Please—the knife?”

He seemed to have a great struggle within himself as I heard the orderlies outside. Brown backed away slowly to tell them, I was sure, not to come in just then. As Brown reached the door, Hiram’s face crumpled, and he dropped the knife, falling onto the floor. Adolphus ran forward and took the knife while I gathered Hiram in my arms and spoke softly to him. “They’re going to take you to a hospital and make you feel better. We’ll come see you. Would you like that?”

He nodded wordlessly, and then the orderlies came in. I should say here that orderlies were big, strong burly men who among their duties had to hold down wounded soldiers who were having a limb amputated, and this was done without anything to dull the pain. In my experience, the orderlies, while I would not wish to do what they did, had grown insensible to suffering since they were around so much of it. As a result, they handled their patients roughly and spared them little sympathy.

So, as the two orderlies went past me, I said, “Treat him gently, will you? He’s been through a lot.”

I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I heard one of the orderlies snicker, and that told me how they would treat Hiram. Sure enough, they roughly put him on a stretcher and bound him to it. Hiram reverted to his former state, straining against his bonds and cursing a blue streak. He must have learned how from the river boatmen, for I had never heard some of the words or the ways they were combined.

Adolphus and I stood unable to speak while the orderlies picked up the stretcher, and none too gentle. Then they carried Hiram out of the shack, still cursing. We could hear him for quite a while.
“Well,” said the doctor. “Some men take it well, and others are like your friend.”

“Did the orderlies have to treat him so roughly?”

“Alas, they are inured to suffering by all they have witnessed. While I do not condone what they do, I cannot keep them from it. If they did not do their offices, there would be none to take their places. They are rare creatures.”

“I still do not like it.”

“I do not either, but I have told you why I stand by and watch. I have few choices. What would you do?”

I sighed. “Given the circumstances, probably the same as you.”

“Well, then.”

“Where will you take him?”

“That is difficult to say. We want the hospitals close enough to not interfere with treatment, but far enough as not to present a threat to our wounded. I can say it would be to the west, but how far I cannot tell you this time. I will tell you when the picture becomes clearer.”

“When will that be?”

“I cannot tell that, either. I must get back to my surgery. Although we are not fighting, I still have men who need my offices.”“Thank you, Doctor. This has been difficult for us all, I know.”

“You were the one who calmed him.”

I shrugged. “I had best knowledge of his nature and history. I am pleased that he responded to me, although that did not last long.”

“It gave him a small surcease. Sometimes that can make a difference.”

I did not see how that could be so, but I said, “Please let us know where he is as soon as you find out.”

The doctor nodded. “That I will do. Now I bid you good day.”

“Good day and thank you again.”

Adolphus came over to me. “What do we do now?”

“About Hiram, do you mean? I suppose we have no choice but to wait until we hear where he is and then go see him.”

“Yes. That is what we should do.”

“I’m going to lie down and see if I can take a nap. I have the duty in three hours.”

I went over and lay down on my bed, but sleep was hard to come by. I kept seeing Hiram’s face, by turns contorted with fury, and then looking like a child as I held him in my arms. In truth, he wasn’t much older than a child, and he had seen things that no on should see, but especially not a child. I finally fell asleep and dreamed of knives and crying children.

 

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 7

Descent

January, 1864

I shivered and brushed the snow from my shoulders again. We had had ten inches so far, and it was still coming down heavily. I was glad we didn’t have to fight in this since we were in winter camp, but spring would come soon enough with more shooting and dying.

I heard something behind me and swung my rifle around to meet whoever was coming.

“Careful, my boy. You could hurt someone with that.”

I relaxed. It was Adolphus coming to relieve me.

“You seem a trifle nervous today,” he said.

“Yes, well, there was word of  a Yankee infiltrator who shot someone not too far from here. I thought it was against the rules of war to do so during winter camp.”

He sighed. “War is a rule unto itself, and none may change it. You should be used to it by now.”

“I should be, but I’m not.”

I thought back to leaving my family, and what a sad occasion it was. I wondered what brought me back to the scene of so much suffering and misery, and concluded that it was because I loved my family so much, I had to fight for their lives, even though they were far from the front. Then, too, there was the love of my comrades, which was a far stronger impetus to be there than all the politicians and high-flown oratory. And so I was back.

I went to our shelter to find Hiram resting. This was an unusual thing, so I asked, “Do you find yourself indisposed?”

He grimaced and held his stomach, twisting in the bed. “I’m not indisposed, but I am sick.”

It was then that I realized that the poor lad did not know the meaning of ‘indisposed,’ but I said nothing to him about his lack of knowledge. He had no education at all, but still was a fine young man who showed bravery at every turn.

“Can I get you something?”

“A little milk would be good.”

I shook my head. “We have none. Can you think of anything else?”

“No,” he groaned, and started to turn on his side.”

“I could see if I could procure—I mean, get some laudanum if you think that would help.” I was not sure the doctor would give such a drug to one so young, but if necessary, I could claim it was for an ailment that I had.

“I’ll try anything. It hurts so much!”

“I think you need to go see the doctor.”

“I can’t walk and if you try to carry me, you’ll make the pain even worse. Please, go get the medicine.”

“All right.” I made my way to the rear where I knew the surgery was located. There was not much call for surgery with so little fighting, but of course there were still illnesses to deal with. A corporal sat at the entrance to the surgery. “I have a friend who’s too sick to be moved. I think a dose of laudanum.”

He smirked at me. “If we had any, I’d take it myself. We ran out yesterday, and don’t know when we’ll have any more.”

“Is there anything else you’d recommend?”

“Do I look like a doctor? I don’t know what to recommend.”

“May I speak to the doctor?”

“He’s over at headquarters. If you want to chase him down, be my guest.”

The HQ was an hour’s walk from where I was, but I decided Hiram’s well-being was worth it. I made my way behind the front lines, seeing that everyone I met looked as tired and bedraggled as I was. Those of equal rank nodded to me, while I saluted those above me, and returned the salutes of those below me. The army certainly did have it all worked out in an orderly fashion.

Finally I came to the headquarters area, which was a place of much confusion. It’s a wonder that anything gets done, I thought, and then it occurred to me that a lot didn’t get done, and I could see why. I asked the corporal standing guard where the doctor might be.

“Which one?”

“Doctor Brown.”

“Well, I don’t know him, but they’re all in that big tent over there talking about something. You’ll like find him there.”

“Thank you.”

“Think nothing of it. I have to stand here anyhow.”

I went over to the large tent and went inside. A couple of the men who I assumed were doctors looked at him as if they were wondering why I was there. I went over to the closest one and whispered, “Beg pardon, sir, but I’m looking for Doctor Brown.”

He sat. “You mean Phineas? He’s right over there.” He pointed, and I saw our doctor sitting by the wall. He looked like he was about to fall asleep.

I walked over to him and knelt down. “Dr. Brown! Dr. Brown!”

“Huh? What!” He had been asleep after all.

“Sorry to bother you, sir, but one of my friends who is a drummer boy is sick and needs something to help him feel better.”

“Why didn’t you take him to the infirmary?”

“There was no one there.”

He sat up, “Didn’t you think that someone would have come long there long before you could have walked here?”

“I didn’t think, sir. I was so concerned with my friend.”

“Hmph. Who’s your friend?”

“Hiram, sir. He doesn’t have a last name, but he’s one-armed.”

A look of realization spread over his face. “Oh, yes, the one armed-wonder. He plays better than those who have both arms. What seems to be the problem with him?”

“He has a terrible pain in his stomach, sir.”

“Hmm…that could be any of a number of things. Tell you what. You high tail it back and find your friend. Take him to the infirmary. There’ll be someone there who can help him. I’ll come along as fast as I can, but not as fast as you. In the meantime, don’t let him eat anything. I think he might have appendicitis, and I’d have to do surgery on him if he does.”

“All right, sir. Thank you.”

With that, I left, running the entire way to get there faster. I came to our shack and found Adolphus bending over Hiram, who was unconscious. He looked me, worried.

“He just passed out,” he said. “Before that, he said his stomach hurt.”

“I’ve just come from seeing the doctor. He thinks it might be appendicitis and we shouldn’t let him anything to eat.”

“Hah! That’s one’s easy, in his condition.”

“What can we do in the meantime?”

“Precious little besides sponging his forehead with a wet rag. He’s burning up with fever.”

We passed a few anxious minutes doing what we could for Hiram. Then we heard someone at the door. It was the doctor, and he was carrying his surgical instruments with him.

“Where is he?” he asked.

“Right in here,” I answered, gesturing to the bed where Hiram lay.

The doctor quickly went over and examined him, pushing on his abdomen. Finally, he stood up and said, “Hmmm.”

“What do you mean by that, sir?”

“By that I meant that he is too sick to move. We run the risk of rupturing his appendix if we do so. We’ll have to operate here.”

“Here!” Adolphus exclaimed.

The doctor turned to him. “With someone in his condition, here is as good a place as any. I have some ether, but if that doesn’t work well enough, you two will have to hold him while I operate.

I quickly prayer that the ether would do its job and said, “Certainly, sir.”

“Very well. Put some of what’s in this bottle on a folded-up cloth and hold it over his nose. Then I’ll check to see if it’s working.”

I did as I directed and noticed that Hiram’s breathing slowed.

“I hope you didn’t give him too much. You could kill him.”

I said nothing.

“All right, let me check to see if he’s out.” He pinched him on his shoulder, and seeing the Hiram made no response, he nodded to us. “Hand me my scalpel.”

I did so, and the doctor prepared to make his first cut. But then he turned to us. “Blood doesn’t bother you, does it? Because there will be a lot of it.”

“We are all too well accustomed to the sight of it and in great quantities. You need not fear us fainting or becoming sick.” Adolphus seemed surprised that the doctor should ask such a question.

“Very well, then. Let us begin.”

Adolphus and I held onto Hiram as a precautionary measure. The doctor made his first cut, and a little blood seeped out. Then he cut more deeply and the blood flowed freely.

“Quickly! Give me some of those napkins in my bag. A nurse would have had them already, but then you’re not nurses.”

Nor would I wish to be, I thought as I retrieved the napkins. The doctor used them to staunch the flow and then cut more deeply. “Almost there,” he said. He made what turned out to be a final cut, and Hiram moaned.

“Quickly! More ether! The other is wearing off. But not too much!”

I tried to give Hiram the right amount, but having had no experience with this, in truth did not know what the right amount was. Apparently I did so, since the poor lad stopped moaning. Dr. Brown moved quickly and soon had the appendix out. He held it with tongs and said to Adolphus, “Here, take this and throw it away.” Adolphus did just that, and came back to the bed.

“Now I have to sew him up,” Brown said. “Normally I leave that to my orderlies, but they’re not here.”

I nodded to Hiram. “He could do that for you.”

“How is that possible? He’s so young.”

“He was living a difficult life on the docks when we met him, and had plenty of experience treating wounds after knife fights, which he saw too many of.”

“Hmph,” grunted Brown. “You never know. Turning to the matter at hand, I wonder if anyone every performed an appendectomy on himself? I suppose it’s possible, but that would mean a fool would do the procedure.”

This puzzled me, so I said, “Why a fool?”

Brown laughed. “It comes from an old saying, ‘The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”

“I see. I’ll have to think about that.”

“Anyhow,” Brown continued, “when he comes to, he’ll need some of this—” He held up a bottle which I suppose contained laudanum. “One teaspoon every four hours. No more than that, or I’ll be performing an autopsy.”

“I understand, I said. Thank you, Doctor.”

“We need all the good men we can get, and this is a good one. Of course, we’re in a losing fight and he could be shot tomorrow. Only the good Lord knows what will happen next.”

“He does that,” I said.

“I’ll look in on him tomorrow. Remember what I said to do.”

“We will,” Adolphus said. “Thank you from me.”

Brown waved his hand. “Take good care of him.” With that, he left.

“Well, Hiram dodged a bullet this time,” Adolphus murmured.

“And it was a self-inflicted wound,” I added.

“Indeed it was.”

We left Hiram lying where he was, going to lie down on our own beds. It wasn’t long until we both fell asleep.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 6

Paradise

December, 1864

The train slowed, and I knew that the next station had to be Winchester. When I got there, I would be within walking distance of all I held dear.

Our trip had been slower than I expected. The train kept running out of fuel, and the train crew had to go into the forest and cut and split wood. I along with a number of passengers helped, but it still took more time than I would have liked.

Finally the station came into view, and I leaped to my feet to be the first to disembark. That was not to be, since the badly wounded came off first, which was as it should have been. I helped with them, and watched as they were laid in wagons, thinking that the rough ride of those vehicles would do nothing for their condition, or make it even worse. They might not make it into the big hospital in town.

I went down the platform to the street that would lead eventually to my house. I had sent Laurel a letter about my coming, but I wasn’t sure that she would have received it. I might surprise her, which would be better, since she would not know I was coming and would not fret about my traveling there.

Encumbered by my rifle and back pack, I tried to run, but that didn’t last long. My condition would not permit it, so I slowed to a walk and tried to rein in my excitement about seeing my family.

The walk seemed longer than I remembered that, but I attributed that to my eagerness to see my family. At least the day was fair and not too cold, especially considering it was December and it could have been snowing.

I came to a slight hill, and I knew that our cabin lay just over it. My excitement at being so near my family gave me more energy, and I began running again. The cabin came into view, and I stopped and looked at it, wondered if this could be a dream. But no, this was real enough, and so I began running again.

Laurel was in the garden by the side of the cabin with Clinton and little Caleb, but I thought that he was no longer little. The baby had become a child in my absence.

Clinton saw me first, and evidently said something to Laurel, for she looked in my direction, shading her eyes against the son. Then she recognized me and started running, leaving Clinton and our son to follow. We rapidly closed the distance between us, and then we were kissing and embracing and saying words I have forgotten, but that is no matter. I was home, at least for a while.

Laurel drew back and put her hand on my face. “You are so thin. Are you not eating well?”

“As well as the army can feed me. Remember I have been recovering from a wound.”

“Of course. How silly of me!”

“You can never be silly, my love.”

About that time Clinton came up, with Caleb ten yards behind him.

Clinton shook my hand. “We’re happy you’re here, Mr. Dillard!”

“So am I. And look who’s coming now!”

I caught Caleb up in my arms and swung him around. I could not tell if he were laughing or crying, but that was no matter. I was home and we were together at long last. Laurel came over and embraced both of us. Clinton looked on, smiling.

Laurel pulled back. “Are you hungry? I can fix something very quickly.”

“I am. I had a little dried pork on the train. I am heartily tired of pork.”

“This is pork, but not army pork.”

“Let’s go in, then.”

We walked to the cabin, our arms around each other’s waist. This is truly a dream come true, I thought. If only it would last longer.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 5

Visitation

December, 1864

A week passed, and I grew stronger by the day. I started walking, first with some aid, and then by myself. I became familiar with the other soldiers in my ward, and also of course with the doctors and nurses. It was the chief doctor, a portly, cheerful man, who told me how I was wounded.

“Well, it’s a good thing you have a thick skull because the bullet bounced off your head. There was some Providence involved as well, since 99 times out of 100, the blow is fatal. So we are glad to have you here with us. How did you come to be shot?”

“I heard something from the area in front of us and raised my head.”

The doctor shook his head. “Tsk, tsk. No matter how well we train our troops, they forget everything when fear or distraction seizes them. I’ll put you down for distraction because I think you do not fear anything.”

“Oh, I have my fears.”

“Apparently not in battle, or you wouldn’t be here.”

“Really, I don’t care for fighting.”

“Who of us does?”

We were both silent for a moment as we thought about the doctor’s words. Then he turned to me again.

“What would you say to a leave of absence? If it’s possible, you could go home, but only for five days. That is the best I can do.”

“That would be wonderful! When can I leave?”

“In about five days. If all goes well and the trains are running, it should take you a day each way to make the journey.”

“I’d walk if I had to.”

“That would take up all your leave and more, so you don’t want to do that.”

“I don’t. I was just trying to give you an idea of how badly I want  to see my wife and son.”

The doctor put his hand on my shoulder. “That is what we are fighting for, isn’t it? And isn’t it ironic that we have to fight to insure peace. I’ll have your pass made up, and you can leave as we discussed.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“It is I who should thank you. You continue to engage in a pointless war without complaint, continuing  to risk your life.”

He walked off as I thought, this can’t be real. It surely is my fondest dream come true. If I can wait a few more days, I will be in heaven.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 4

The Other Side

November, 1864

I opened my eyes to the darkness. I could not tell where I was, but I seemed to be floating. And I was no longer cold. In fact, I felt better than I ever had in my whole life. How could I feel like that since I had been shot? (This is what I assumed had happened to me. I did not really know.)

As I floated there, I saw a pinpoint of light in the far distance, and I started moving toward it. As I neared the light, I could see that it was a shining tunnel, which I went into. I moved at a great rate, so that I quickly came into the presence of a shining being. This being had no form and did not speak, but I “heard” its words inside my head.

“Caleb Dilliard,” the being “said,” “you have been brought here for me to tell you that it not yet your time to come with me. That time will come, but in the meantime you have many important things to accomplish. Do them well, and we will meet again.”

“Wait!” I started. “Who are you? Where is this?”

The being “said” nothing more as the light faded and I found myself once again in darkness. I must have fallen asleep, for I knew no more until I was awakened by the sun coming in the window. I raised myself up with great pain and difficulty. I was in a large room with other soldiers lying in beds. This must be a hospital, I thought, and I am here because I was wounded on the parapet.

A woman dressed in white came over to me. “Corporal Dillard! You’re awake! Praise God! You have been delivered from your coma! I must fetch the doctor!”

I was puzzled. I had been in a coma? I had felt nothing up until my recent experience with the being. What was that? And how long had I been in a coma?

I tried to lie there quietly since any movement on my part brought me great pain, and a few minutes later, the nurse came back with a doctor. He was an older man with a gray beard.

“Corporal Dillard, I’m Captain Ingels. I’m your doctor, and I must say that we’re pleased that you have regained consciousness. We thought you were never going to come to.”

“How long have I been out, Doctor?”

He thought, and then said, “It will be six weeks tomorrow.”

Six weeks. I had so many questions for them, but asked the most important one: “Is the war still going on?”

Ingels’ face fell. “Yes, it continues, but I cannot see that it will last much longer. Grant continues to have men pour in to replace his losses, and they have much more by the way to supplies than we do. We are being gradually ground down, and there is nothing to do for it.”

I do not know what I was expecting, but I felt a sense of disappointment.

“Would you like something to eat?” the nurse asked.

“Yes, please, and I do not know your name.”

She smiled. “It is Abigail.”

“Hello, Abigail. I am pleased to meet you, even under these circumstances.”

“Before I get your food, would you like something for the pain?”

“Yes, please. It is quite strong.”

“I’ll go get both,” she said.

“Oh—before you do, how is my family?”

“They are well, In fact, your wife visited you twice, but you were of course insensate and could not tell.”

“Laurel was here?”

“Yes, and she is a lovely lady.”

“Thank you. I know.”

“I’ll go get what you asked for.

She walked off, and I had the opportunity to think about what had happened to me just before I woke up. Who was the being? It didn’t look like Jesus—in fact, it had no form, being made of light. Should I tell anyone what happened to me? Would they not think that it was a dream or delusion? But it was like nothing I had experienced before. I determined to say nothing until I could talk to Adolphus. He would understand, or perhaps know something about the being. But all that would have to wait until I saw him, and I did not know when that would be.

The nurse came back with a bottle and a spoon on a tray which held some dried pork and apples. “Here you are,” she said. She set the tray down and took the bottle and poured some into the spoon.

“I should have know it would be pork and apples,” I said, “but in my present condition they seem to me to the food of the gods.”

She laughed. “Perhaps you are a minor deity. But first, your worship, you must take your medicine. It will help you heal faster.”

“What is it?”

“Whatever it is, it is good for you and you must take it.”

She proffered the spoon, and I took it into my mouth. It was the foulest piece of work I ever ingested, and that’s saying something considering all the materials I put into my mouth as a boy. I struggled not to spit it out, which I might have done had my nurse not been present.

“Faugh!” I exclaimed. “That is so foul. Why did you not tell me?”

“I told you nothing of it either way, knowing if I told you how wretched it was, you would not take it.”

“And how you know how terrible is?”

“As part of our training, we nurses were required to have a taste of each medicine we would give to our patients. Just a mere taste of this one made girls spit it out or throw it up or say unladylike things about it.”

“Which did you do?”

“None of those. I swallowed it, which we were not supposed to do, and, being slight of form, I fainted.”

“If I faint, will you revive me?”

“You have not so far, so I believe you are safe. Now eat your food from Olympus.”

“Yes, m’am.”

I ate my meal with gusto I would not have believe before my injury. Such a thought made me realized that with all our banter, I did not ask what happened to me. I would have to remedy that situation.

With a full stomach and the medicine at work on me, I fell asleep. As I did, I wondered, would Laurel come again. Surely she would, I thought, and with that I lost all awareness.

 

 

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