Excerpt from Chapter 58
Andrea has left Hawthorne and devoted her time to working in a field hospital near Winchester. In the midst of a raging battle, she runs across a soldier she knows well.
Lifting her eyes briefly in an attempt to get her bearings through the thick haze of smoke, Andrea caught a glimpse of the seemingly endless sea of writhing humanity strewn around her. The beautiful rolling hills of Virginia were nothing like she had once known them. The paradise she had once considered beautiful was now a living hell. Andrea lowered her eyes again and moved on. She could help but one at a time. There was no use agonizing about it.
Kneeling by a man who lay just within a tree line, Andrea stared at the bloody path he had made by dragging himself there. She ripped open his pants leg and tried to stem the bleeding of the fearfully torn flesh. She knew it was somewhat futile. From what she knew of such injuries he would not have the limb for long, if he lived at all. Still, she was determined to do her best. Concentrating on the wound, she felt a hand grasp her wrist.
She blinked at the barely recognizable face staring up at her. The only identifiable feature were the eyes—and they portrayed mortal agony. “Yes, Alex. It is me,” she whispered.
He stared at her unbelieving, blinking through sweat and blood, apparently trying to decide if she was an illusion or real. Andrea put water on a cloth and wiped his brow, resisting the urge to lay her head upon his chest and weep. She had cried many tears since leaving Hawthorne, more than she thought a human being had within them. Now she wondered what kind of god it was that wished to torture her afresh. Why could he not let her go on with her life and forget?
“I must,” Hunter swallowed and licked his lips. “I mus . . . talk . . . to you.” He struggled to hold his eyes open, to stay conscious.
“Be still,” Andrea commanded, sweeping her eyes across the field. Although she could see none of his men, she knew they must be watching, waiting for the opportunity to extract their leader from this precarious place.
“I made . . . terrible mistake.” His eyes were eyes glazed with pain. His fevered, bloodshot gaze searched her face.
“I’m sure your men will forgive you.” Andrea poured water across the wound.
“No!” He grabbed her again violently. “Nothing to do… with… men!”
Hunter seemed to turn somewhat delirious. Although he appeared to be trying to talk, he succeeded in doing little more than muttering incoherently. Still, his voice, his presence, affected Andrea, making her heart throb frantically. Her hands shook as she wiped the clammy dew from his brow.
“Andrea, where… are you?”
“I’m right here.” She tried to sound calm, while turning her attention back to his mangled leg.
“N-o-o!” His voice sounded agonized. He reached out to her again, grabbing frantically for her wrist, which he held with a strength she could not believe he possessed. “Where are you? Take me… there!”
Andrea looked at his wild, glassy eyes. Sweat ran in torrents down his face. His shirt was soaked. “I cannot take you there… a field hospital near Winchester,” she said, grasping his meaning. “You would be taken prisoner.”
“No … matter. Take me … there,” he said weakly. Do not … leave me, Andrea! Please.” It seemed to her he was almost sobbing. “I cannot . . . find you.”
Andrea removed his hand and looked down at him. His face was contorted into a blend of physical agony and emotional anguish. For a moment, just a moment, she considered his wish. But she knew he was better off where he was. “Your men will get you out,” she said curtly. “You are better off here than in a Union prison.”
Hunter whimpered and began talking in a hurried, rambling tone that was frantic and confused. Something was wrong, and it was far more tormenting to him than his injury. Andrea looked again at his leg, an unrecognizable wreck of flesh, and then at his dead horse that lay some rods distant. The Union was not playing fair today. Horse and rider had been hit with artillery.
Somehow, facing cannons with a six-shooter did not seem reasonable. She sat awestruck at the valor of the man who had done so—no doubt in accordance with orders.
A drink of cool water revived Hunter somewhat, though he was still unable to articulate what he so desperately wanted her to understand. He seemed so distraught, rambling on to her about snow and bloody moons, that Andrea feared the injury affected his senses.
Dressing his leg as best she could on the field, she watched him open his eyes and search for hers once more. “Don’t,” he commanded her with his tone and his look, “don’t . . . leave . . . me!”
Andrea looked away. Sympathy and sentiment inclined her in one direction, wisdom and reality the other. She had to refuse him. Even if her heart would break a thousand times more, she had to leave. There was nothing more that could be done for him here. She had no means to move him, and even if she did, she could not bring herself to convey him to a place of certain death. He was safer here.
Pouring some water into a small flask she found nearby, she placed it in his hand. Then, disregarding her heavy heart, and ignoring his anguished cries and pathetic appeals, she turned her back on him and walked away, though heaven knows it was the hardest thing she’d ever done.