Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Rivers of War: Snippet Thirty Three

       Last updated: Sunday, March 20, 2005 04:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 33:

    Laudanum took a bit longer to take effect than raw spirits would have. But it hardly mattered, since it wasn’t as if the surgeon had been kept waiting. Few lumberjacks in the world used a saw more vigorously and more continuously than an army surgeon after a major battle.

    “And now we’re back to you, Sergeant,” the surgeon said finally. Through blurred vision, Driscol saw the young doctor leaning over him again. The man’s cheap frock coat was a bloody mess.

    Driscol was in a haze, now, but he had enough consciousness left to peer up at McParland. The private’s face was a blob, but he could still recognize the anxiety, if not quite the features on which that anxiety was displayed.

    “Help the surgeon and his boys get me onto the table, McParland. And then help them hold the arm while he saws it off. I may twitch just a bit.”

    The effort of moving to the table almost drained him of consciousness. He had just enough of his wits left to whisper one last request.

    “Do me the favor, youngster. If I scream anything untoward, keep it to yourself, would you?”


    Even with the laudanum, the brief time that followed was agonizing beyond belief.

    But McParland assured the sergeant afterward that the only thing he had screamed during the operation was Fuck the Sassenach!

    “You hollered that mebbe a hunnerd times.”

    Driscol thought McParland might be fudging the truth. He’d never know, since his own memory was thankfully nothing but a blur. It didn’t matter, really, so long as McParland passed the same story along to the troops.


    The surgeon, as usual, just tossed the severed arm onto the pile of limbs, but McParland dug it back out. He was determined to give the troll’s limb a proper burial.

    On the battlefield itself—with a squad to fire a proper salute. McParland would fire one of the muskets himself.


    Winfield Scott came to visit Driscol the next day. The brigadier’s first words were typical of the man—direct and to the point.

    “Will you consider that commission now, Patrick? With only one arm, your days as an active-duty sergeant are over. The best you could hope for would be a position in the quartermaster corps. And you’re not a good enough thief for that job. You’d wind up in the poorhouse.”

    Driscol squinted at him. “And is this your idea of cheering up the troops, sir? Offering them a choice between becoming a bloody officer, or a life of squalor?”

    Scott looked surprised. “Well. Yes.”

    Driscol chuckled, though it came out rasping. “Napoleon would have handed me a miniature marshal’s baton—just a promissory note, as it were, not the real thing—and given me a pension that’d vanish within eight months when he needed the money for another campaign. The assurances of the mighty. Water poured on sand.”

    Coming from someone else, those words might have angered Scott. As it was, the brigadier simply smiled.

    “Well, to be honest, once the war is over a U.S. Army commission is likely to be about as valuable as one of Napoleon’s little sticks. I’ll try for captain, Patrick, but we’ll probably have to settle for first lieutenant. Still, it’ll be better than nothing.”

    Driscol had now been given several hours to ponder bleakly on his future, and had come to the same conclusion himself. “Aye, sir, I’ll take it. And thank you.”

    “The thanks are entirely due the other way, Sergeant.” The words were said forcefully, as well they might be. The brigadier’s glorious victory at the Chippewa had ensured his career, and enriched his own future prospects— assuming he survived the war, of course. And while that victory was due in part to Scott’s own skill and courage, a great deal of it was due to men like Patrick Driscol.

    The brigadier cleared his throat.

    “I must be off, I’m afraid. Riall’s retreating to Fort George, and General Brown wants to press the campaign. Rightly so, of course. Now’s not the time to give the enemy any breathing space.”

    He cleared his throat again. “Patrick, the worst place for you to stay is here in this tent.”

    Driscol’s chuckle was even harsher, now. “Do tell. A man’s got a better chance of surviving a battle in the first rank than he does surviving a stay in a camp surgery.”

    Scott nodded. “So I propose to transfer you to Washington. I’ll send along orders to have you placed in military quarters there. And”—here the brigadier’s face brightened—“I happen to know a splendid doctor there. A very fine gentleman by the name of Jeremy Boulder. He has real medical degrees and everything. Studied under Benjamin Rush himself ! I’ll also send a letter asking him to take you under his care.”

    That news did not cheer up Driscol. A real doctor, with real degrees—a fine gentleman, no less—who’d studied under the most famous medical practitioner in the United States . . .

    He might as well just shoot himself in the head.

    But he saw no point in arguing the matter with someone from Scott’s class. There’d be time enough and opportunity to evade a “real doctor” once he got to Washington.

    Assuming he got there in the first place. Driscol looked down at the stump that protruded below his left shoulder. It was all that remained of his arm. The bandages covering the stump were crusted with dried blood, and the thing ached constantly. It would do worse than ache, too, once the last of the laudanum was gone. There was no way that Driscol, even as tough as he was, could survive a journey to Washington unless he gave himself several weeks to heal first.

    Alas, surviving several weeks in an army surgical camp was a chancy prospect.

    From the look on his face, which was no longer cheery at all, it was obvious that Scott understood as much himself. The brigadier grimaced.“Very well. I’ll leave instructions to have inquiries made with the local residents. There might be a farmer nearby who’d be willing to take you in.”

    Driscol barely managed to keep from laughing aloud. The chance was just about nil that any local resident, such as were left, would be willing to take in a wounded soldier. That was just as true of American citizens living across the river as Canadian ones on this side. The war had ravaged the area for two years—and, to make things worse, the American army had conspicuously failed to make good on its promises to carry the war past the border territories. For the citizens of upper New York, the slogan On to Montreal! garnered as much respect as continental money, bungtown coppers, and wildcat bank notes.

    The assurances of the mighty.

    Water poured on sand.

    Driscol caught a sudden little motion out of the corner of his eye. McParland had more or less informally attached himself to the sergeant since the battle. As was usually the case, he was perched on a stool nearby in the tent.

    He turned his head. “You wanted to say something, Private?”

    McParland looked simultaneously eager and . . . worried. He cleared his throat. Cleared it again.

    “Oh, just speak up, lad!” Driscol growled “I promise I won’t have you shot. Neither will the brigadier.”

    “Well. It’s just. Well...My family’s not far away from here, Sergeant. We live on a farm just a few miles north of Dansville.” The young soldier flushed a little. “That’s why, uh, I tried to run away. My home being so close and all. It’s less’n seventy-five miles away.”

    Eagerness pushed aside anxiety: “And my mother’s a right slick healer.” He gave Scott an apologetic glance. “Of course, she bean’t a real doctor. Don’t have any degrees or such.”

    Scott sniffed, as well he might. McParland’s family was no doubt dirt poor. And while his mother might have some medical skills in the way of farmwives the world over, she’d be riddled with herbalist nonsense and have no proper sense at all of modern medical theories.

    Driscol seized the offer like a drowning man seizes a lifeline.

    “Done, then! I can survive seventy-five miles.” He cocked an eye at the brigadier. “You’d need to place Private McParland on detached duty, sir, as my escort. I couldn’t manage the trip on my own—and I’ll need him for the introductions anyway.”

    To his credit, Scott didn’t hesitate. Whatever his own opinion of a farmwife’s medical care, he wasn’t blind to the fact that anything was better than leaving Driscol to rot in an army camp.

    “Very well. I’ll write up orders sending both of you to the private’s home. But I’ll expect you”—here he shot McParland a stern look—“both of you, mind, to show up in Washington as soon as possible. Leaving aside the fact that you do need proper medical treatment as soon as possible, Sergeant Driscol, there’s the little matter of your commission.”

    “Aye, sir. We’ll be along to the capital as soon as I can manage the trip.”

    He meant it, too, although he had no intention of looking up Scott’s precious real doctor, the fine gentleman Jeremy Boulder.

    Driscol came from a poor family himself—albeit his father had been a village blacksmith rather than a farmer—and he had no illusions as to the joys of country living. A poor family like McParland’s would be hard-pressed to provide for themselves, let alone another adult, especially one who was unable to work. To be sure, they’d eventually be recompensed by the government for the expense. They might even be lucky enough to get payment in some real currency, such as the Spanish reale, which was the most favored coinage in the United States. But they were just as likely to be paid in shaky state bank notes. And, no matter how they got paid, the money would take its sweet merry time getting to them.

    Still, anything was better than an army surgery.

    “It’s settled then,” Scott said firmly. “I’ll look forward to seeing you again, the next time I’m in Washington. The Lord Almighty knows when that’ll be, though.”


Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image