A Light in a Dark Place
Those thirteen months were constant flashes of light.
I recall very few things in detail, but I can clearly remember violent bursts of cannon flames, luminescent pops of rifle fire, and countless trembling hands lighting cigarettes to calm the nerves.
And of course, her.
The three hours in her presence are lit vividly in my mind. When I envision her, she is bathed in the soft glow from the candle she held. As she leaned over me, the flame drew nearer to me so I could see her face. Small, heart-shaped, pale; gaunt from countless hours tending sick and injured men. Gleaming blue eyes sitting atop deep pockets of exhaustion. Chestnut hair that tried to shine in spite of unsanitary conditions and miles separating her from a warm bath.
Despite all of this, she glowed.
She stood over my cot in the medical tent. The doctor accompanying her examined me with grim lips, no sign of hope about his features. Then again, in that line of work such intrepid optimism benefitted no one – half of the men he strove to heal would die the next day.
The medic spoke in muted tones. The girl noted his words on a worn clipboard, nodding silently. When he moved on to the next patient, the young woman fixed her eyes on my face briefly. The light of a million torches burned from her eyes. I found myself unworried about my wound as I watched her.
Our gaze held for longer than was strictly necessary; she glanced away as I grasped her hand.
“That bad, is it?”
She did not answer, but her smile told all, suffused with deep sadness and resignation.
“Come now, don’t be shy. Have I no hope?”
A small, pale hand came to rest on my forehead. “There is always hope, Captain.” Her voice had a distinct accent to it; Southern, but with an undercurrent of another place. Perhaps she was from Appalachia, from a small band of Scots that still spoke the undiluted cadence of their homeland.
“If you have some lying about, could you send it my way, Miss?”
The smile that followed was genuine, with no trace of pity to be seen. She moved away from me, leaving me to ponder the incongruity of such radiant blue eyes in a place of such pervasive pain.
I slept long; the shadows were deep when I awoke again. Small fingers grasped mine, and the stuttering light of a candle blinked before my eyes.
“Captain?” She whispered.
A sleepy grunt was all I could muster, but I stretched my eyes wider to see her face in the blackness.
She glanced around furtively, and then leaned close to my ear. “Your wound is deep, and is laced with infection. There is not enough penicillin to spare. The doctor has asked me to keep you comfortable until your fever overtakes you.”
My weariness was so extensive I scarcely had energy to feel sorrow, or even indignation that they should discard me in such a way. Even so, salty tears sprang forth as I struggled to reckon with the grim reality.
“Captain,” the girl whispered, “I have a need to pray for you. Do you know God?”
I nodded. Of course I knew God. We had all called on Him during the heat of battle. Whether he knew me was another matter.
She squeezed my hand. “I believe He wants to heal you tonight. Do you believe He can?”
My pause was long, but necessary, for I would not be dishonest. After a lengthy silence, I nodded.
For the next several minutes, or possibly hours, the beautiful glowing girl murmured words over my feverish form. Her small, cool hand stroked my forehead. The hushed thrum of her voice lulled me to sleep once more, and I dreamt of perfect angels lit from within.
When I awoke, my fever was gone. The medic prodded my abdomen and examined my injury. He shrugged. “You will be on your way within a day, young man. You leave here for the battlefield. Whether or not you regard this as a miracle is purely up to you.”
His words rang true. The next day I was gone, and the next week I stood in battle at Fredericksburg. I survived the war, and the decades that followed, but I never laid eyes on that radiant young miss again.
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