Part Four of the Diamond Destiny Series
It seemed that I had only been asleep for a few minutes when I was suddenly awakened by someone kicking at my feet with his boots. I sat up, exclaiming, “What the Devil are you doing?” It is well that I am not a man given to strong language, for I would have made full use of it if I were. But I am not, so when my vision cleared, I saw Adolphus’ smiling face.
“Time to get up. You have the next watch.”
“I thought Francis had that assignment.”
Adolphus shook his head. “He has the dysentery, and you wouldn’t want to be around him any more than he wants anyone around.”
“All right. Give me a minute to get dressed and assemble my necessaries. How did your duty go?”
“Well. All was quiet my entire watch.”
“That’s good. I hope that continues.”
I struggled into my clothes and picked up my pack and my rifle. “You didn’t hear any troops moving up?”
“Not a one.”
“Maybe there won’t be an attack today.”
“As we talked about, it’s very hard to tell what will happen next.”
“Yes, but still it would be nice to not have to fight today.”
“It would be nice not to have to fight ever again.”
“I say ‘amen’ to that, my brother.”
Adolphus went into the tent to have a few hours of sleep before reveille. I picked my way through the trenches to the forward observation post. I greeted a sleepy sentry named Johnston whom I had talked with briefly before. “Hello, Johnston.”
“How does it look?”
“Very quiet, almost strangely so.”
“That’s what Adolphus said. I hope it continues.”
“As do I. In fact, I wish it would be quiet the rest of my life.”
I chuckled. “So do I, but you know what they say about wishes.”
“That beggars could ride them?”
I climbed onto the parapet and looked across to the Union lines. Adolphus and Johnston were right—there was no sign of activity on the other side. I had not reason to doubt them, but there’s something in us that makes us want to see for ourselves. “It is quiet,” I whispered over to Johnston, who had joined me on the parapet.
“I told you, didn’t I?”
“You surely did.”
Since our position faced east, we would see the sun rise in about an hour. That’s when the reveilles would sound and the troops begin stirring on both sides.
“Not too long until dawn,” Johnston whispered.
“When that comes, we’ll know if they’ll attack us or not.”
We both fell into a long reverie, which was unusual. It seemed I was always around noise and clatter, and I preferred quiet, but there was precious little of it in my situation. I looked across the fields to the emplacements across the way, ghostly and strangely beautiful in the pale moonlight. That is truly an illusion, I thought. There is no peace for us. Not now or anytime soon.
We kept our heads below the top rail of the parapet, although we would pop up if we heard something to see what it was. Just before dawn, we heard a heavy thud from the direction of the Union lines, and Johnston raised his head to see what it was.
There was a loud report, and Johnston fell backwards. I crawled over to him, but he was dead, shot in the forehead by a sniper. We hadn’t had too many snipers during this campaign, so I guess we had grown complacent. And our lack of attention cost Johnston his life.
A sergeant whose name I did not know came crawling along the parapet. “What happened?” he whispered. I supposed he thought there might be another shot.
“We heard something from the other side, and when Johnston put his head up to see what it was, a sniper shot him. He’s dead.”
The sergeant grunted. “We tell you troops to be careful but look what happens.”
I thought that was a cruel thing to say. Johnston didn’t ask to be shot. He just did what any of us would, except for the sergeant, apparently.
“All right. Stay at your post. I’ll get someone to take Johnston away.” He crawled off a ways, and then turned back. “Do you want me to send someone to help you?”
“No,” I called. “It’s close to dawn, so I think I can handle it.”
I knelt behind the parapet, careful to keep my head down no matter what I heard. As it happened, I didn’t hear anything. A few minutes later the sun came up and reveille sounded from both sides. The army is consistent in that, at least, if little else.
Two soldiers I had seen around camp came long. “We’re your relief,” one said. “Where’s the other fellow?”
“Dead. Sniper got him.” I didn’t feel much like talking.”
“Well, too bad for him. Anything we should look out for.”
I made my way back to our tent. Adolphus was up, as he always was. “How was the rest of the night? ” he asked.
I shook my head. “Not good. A sniper got Johnston just a few minutes ago.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “He seemed like a fine fellow.”
“I’m sure,” I said, but I thought, we’re all fine fellows, and look what happens to us. It doesn’t seem right.
“It looks like they won’t attack today. That’s good.”
“There’s always tomorrow.”
“Let’s take one day at a time, my friend.”
“Good idea,” I told him, but I thought, that’s not so easily done.”