Warning: include(): http:// wrapper is disabled in the server configuration by allow_url_include=0 in /home/dpennell/FrontierTales/2012/04Apr/mercy.php on line 1

Warning: include(http://www.frontiertales.com/2012/04Apr/headerApr.php): failed to open stream: no suitable wrapper could be found in /home/dpennell/FrontierTales/2012/04Apr/mercy.php on line 1

Warning: include(): Failed opening 'http://www.frontiertales.com/2012/04Apr/headerApr.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/local/lib/php:/usr/local/php5/lib/pear') in /home/dpennell/FrontierTales/2012/04Apr/mercy.php on line 1

by Dave Hoing

He was a handsome boy, even with his face contorted in a scream as my husband Jim applied the first stroke of the bone saw to his arm. We had long since used the last of our chloroform, and the whiskey had been insufficient for the task. The boy wore no uniform, but I believe he was a Rebel. He had lain among the dead on the field for the better part of the afternoon, until the North's Negro gravediggers could carry him into our home in their makeshift shell and stretch him out upon the table. He was in a frightful state, feverish and weak from blood loss. A musket ball had shattered his right elbow, and his forearm dangled at an angle God did not intend. When in his delirium he cried out to Jesus and Mama and someone named Susannah, it was in a Southern accent.

We had been at this for hours, yet Jim worked tirelessly, pull after push after pull, the teeth of that saw grinding through the boy's arm with a terrible rending sound. Bone dust clogged air that was already a miasma of putrefaction, loosened bowels, and vomit. "Tighten that tourniquet," he said, his halting speech the only indication of his weariness. His skin oozed sweat, and he had to pause frequently to wipe his hands so they didn't lose their grip.

I did as he instructed, and a few moments later the arm dropped to the floor. Mercifully, the boy had lost consciousness by then. I had no squeamishness left in me as I grasped the mangled thing by the wrist and took it outside, stepping over other ailing soldiers. By now there was a trail of blood across my floor and out my door. I threw the boy's arm onto the pile of severed limbs by the well, where it dislodged a boot with a leg protruding to mid-shin.

It was a hot July evening, the sun just setting on what, until today, had been our lovely Pennsylvania countryside. Within the house I had to steel myself against the moans and the sobbing, lest despair rob me of the strength to do what was necessary. At least out here it was quiet, the cannon and the rifles now silent, the awful Rebel yell subdued by exhaustion, sleep, or death.

Still, I kept my eyes on my feet as I turned back to the door. I dared not look out to the field to see how many more unfortunates may yet need our assistance.

When I returned, two Union officers were lifting the boy from the table. They had removed their own coats to serve as bedding for him. They laid him down tenderly, then brought us the next patient. This one sounded as though he were inhaling liquid, such was the bubbling in his chest. He had a hole in his abdomen.

Jim looked at him and then at the officers. He shook his head. The officers set the man aside to await his appointment with the everlasting.

"Who's next?" my husband said.

One of the officers placed his hand upon Jim's shoulder. "You've done all you can for now, doc. Rest."

This fight was not ours. We were simply ordinary folk caught between two armies. Jim slumped into a chair and gazed at the handsome boy. "You gave him your coats. What if he's a Reb?"

"The Rebs are out there," the second officer said, pointing to the door. "In here, they're just men."

I knew my husband held strong views against the Confederacy, but he just nodded and leaned his head back against the wall.

While he dozed the officers and I tended to the wounded. I mopped their foreheads and brought them fresh water from the well. Despite grievous suffering, the ones who could talk were polite and respectful, calling me ma'am or angel. I was no angel, but with our temporary respite, I could once more open my heart to them. I could hear their cries, and I could hold their hands.

Despite our efforts, though, the Lord chose to take many of our brave invalids. The handsome boy had lost a dreadful amount of blood on the battlefield, and when I came again to him, he was awake but pallid and slipping away. I thought to ask his name, but I would know it soon enough anyway. Men from both sides had taken to sewing their names inside their collars so they would not die anonymously.

"Hello," I said.

He squinted at the stump that had once been his right arm, now ending in bloody rags six inches below his shoulder. His eyes then moved slowly to my arm, my weary, aching, but whole arm, and for an instant I thought I saw envy or anger or accusation in his face. But then his expression softened, and he said in failing breath, "Susannah?"

I cradled his head to my bosom and, as he died, said, "Yes, my dear. It's your Susannah."

The End

Warning: include(): http:// wrapper is disabled in the server configuration by allow_url_include=0 in /home/dpennell/FrontierTales/2012/04Apr/mercy.php on line 79

Warning: include(http://www.frontiertales.com/footer.php): failed to open stream: no suitable wrapper could be found in /home/dpennell/FrontierTales/2012/04Apr/mercy.php on line 79

Warning: include(): Failed opening 'http://www.frontiertales.com/footer.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/local/lib/php:/usr/local/php5/lib/pear') in /home/dpennell/FrontierTales/2012/04Apr/mercy.php on line 79