Tom had not been outdoors ten minutes when his brother came out. It was 6:30 pm. He glanced behind him, saw Lawrence walking at a quickstep toward him. "Tom, you'll catch something for sure if you stay out here!" The evening was chilly, and Tom hadn't thought to bring an overcoat. He didn't mind the cold.
"Lawrence, you sound just like Mama. You know that?"
The 25 year-old chuckled. "I'm your brother, remember? I'm supposed to look after you. Well, I guess a short walk won't kill you. Come on. Mother says there'll be snow tomorrow, and I want a chance to enjoy what's left of this fall weather."
Tom eagerly strode ahead. "What're you waitin' for? Let's go!"
In his brother's opinion he had been playful as a child; impish, mischievous, a "little rogue". But at the age of 14, he'd learned to control that energy, to keep it stored up for occasions like these.
"Don't go too far."
Tom glared. "Course not. I'm not dumb."
"I never said you were."
"I know, but it was implied in your tone." Tom sat on a fallen tree and pouted.
Lawrence sighed. How many times had they had this conversation? He'd lost count. "Thomas, Mother wants me to discuss something with you."
If his brother used his full name, it was serious. "What, then?"
"I... don't know how to say this, but... You're 14, now. You should understand why I say what I'm gonna say... There are certain... things a full-grown man needs to know." He mentally swore. Damn awkward conversation. But it had to be done. "You need to grow out of your childish ways. Be a man, if you will allow the expression." He felt vaguely like he was chastising his students. "I don't mean to be harsh, but if you don't straighten up now, I fear you never will. I don't want you to become the 'village idiot', in a sense. I want you to become a fine young man. Father doesn't emphasize that enough, and Mother asked me to take over where he left off." He stopped as he saw Tom's face redden.
"Lawrence, I am grown up. I'm 14, for God's sake. Can't I have a few more years to be young? I don't want to end up a boring old man, sittin' in my rocking chair, readin' the newspaper." He smoked an imaginary pipe. "I want an exiting life. How am I gonna get that when I haf ta be all stuffy? I don't want to grow up."
Rebellion. It was only natural. Tom was an angel in church, in class... but if the opportunity arose, he would rush out the front door in to the surrounding forestry to carouse with friends. We almost lost him last night, but he found his way back. How to deal with this independent individual?
"Tom, I'm gonna go in, now. Don't stay out past supper."
Tom nodded, went off to find his friends.
No one was out that evening, except an occasional deer. He preferred being alone, anyways. The path was clear, the air slightly chilly. Nature beckoned. Maybe this is what Lawrence enjoyed so much about the occasional evening family walks.
They had grown closer that fall. Closer than their parents. No. Mustn't think on that. Mama only stayed with Dad because of her five children. Her faith differed from his. He was an atheist, she was a believer. Tom knew they would eventually divorce, as soon as he was out of the house and into college. But college didn't appeal to him. To spend all that time studying, not enjoying the wonders around you. How dull.
It became very dark, and he turned to go back, but the path was nearly invisible. He was beginning to feel cold.
Tom found the fallen tree from earlier, sat on it, brooded. Got to keep myself warm. Make a fire. But how? He reached into his pocket, pulled out matches, smiled. Guess I was lucky. Now for some wood.
There was a plethora of branches left from a recent storm. He collected the shorter ones and soon had a smoking fire going. The wood was wet, and so it did not provide much heat. But it was something. Animals would not approach a campfire. He resumed his perch on the fallen trunk.
There's no use trying to find my way back. So damn dark. Well, looks like I'm stuck out here. Might as well stay out here until I can see better.
After about an hour, he fell asleep. His fire went out. Mother Nature took pity on him and held back the blizzard that was coming until he woke up.
The snow swirled around him, encasing everything in a white blanket. A deer trotted past, searching for shelter.
Shelter... He needed to get home soon, or he would freeze to death.
Tom heard voices somewhere in the blinding storm. "THOMAS!!!" That was Mother. What was she doing out in this weather?
"Lawrence, I can't imagine what could have happened to- oof!" She must have tripped. Heard his brother say, "Are you alright, Mother?"
"Yes, I'm fine. You mustn't worry about me. I'm going back in the house. For God's sake, go find Thomas. And don't even think of returning without him." She sniffled. Mother never cried. I must have really got her shook up about this.
"TOM!!!!!!!!!!" His brother's voice rang out.
Tom couldn't move. There was too much snow. Must get warm. He wrapped his jacket around him tighter, stuck his hands under his arms, trying not to freeze.
It scared him to think that he couldn't get back to his family, and he was bound to freeze before then. He curled up underneath the fallen tree.
Rustle. Crack. Running footsteps through the forest.
An answering call from behind him. "Tom!!!"
He glimpsed a lantern held high in the swirling dark and climbed out from underneath the trunk. The man sank down on his knees beside him. "Tom, is that you?" Familiar face. Blue-grey eyes, dirty-blond mustache. He couldn't quite put a name with it. A warm gloved hand reached out and touched his cheek, then he was engulfed in an embrace so tight he thought he'd be squeezed to death. "My God, Tom. You're still alive. I was afraid you'd frozen!"
Tom said nothing. He put his arms weakly around his brother. It was awkward to be embraced like this. Luckily no one was watching.
"Tom? Say something, please. I can't come home with a dead little brother!"
The teenager blinked.
The arms around him tightened.
"God Almighty, will ya let go? You're gonna squeeze the breath from me!"
His brother didn't comply. Apparently he had not heard.
"Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain. Get. Off. Of. Me."
"Fine, fine. I was only seeing if you were alive or not."
"Of course not! You practically crushed me!"
It was just banter, but his brother wasn't up for an argument. "You're lucky I found you. You could have died."
"You care too much."
"I care about my little rogue getting himself into a scrap and having no way out of it."
Tom blushed. He'd never given thought to his brother's fears. He had always believed that the older man wasn't afraid of anything, except maybe God. "You know, Lawrence? I had a dream last night that you were in the army. Both of us were. I could see a whole regiment in front o' you. There was a hillside in the background. You ordered me to fill a hole in the line of fire, A man in gray had me in his sights. I stared into the barrel of his flintlock. Fortunately I woke up before it fired." Tom shivered.
"Well, I don't think you or I have any need to enlist, so we're safe for now. If it does come to be that we're in the same regiment, I'll keep you from the front line."
"Careful whatcha promise, Lawrence. You may eat your words someday."
Almost nine years later...
The rebel Army had advanced almost to the protective stone wall on Little Round Top. Chamberlain blinked smoke from his eyes. He noticed a wide gap at the hinge of the left flank.
"Tom, go plug that hole!"
Rushing past the other officers standing around, Thomas Chamberlain stabbed his saber into the soft earth and fired repeatedly in to the wave of Confederates charging towards him.
He became an easy target for the reb sharpshooters. They fell like trees in a storm under his deadly accuracy.
For the space of a second, Chamberlain saw the rifle poke out of the chaos, its sights trained on his youngest brother.
"You may eat your words someday."
He was thrown back to the cold night in Maine. His brother's vision had come true.
"TOM!!!" A scream of anguish escaped his lips.
Then he saw the boyish face turn to him, gritting his teeth, expecting pain.
There was nothing. Not even a scratch. Someone must have shot the rebel. Who? Looked over, saw two of the 2nd Maine men lower their rifles and pull out another cartridge. He looked towards Heaven. Thank God.
Suddenly Tom was at his shoulder. "Told ya, didn't I?" Apparently he had remembered, too. They grinned at one another hugely. Chamberlain reached out to touch him, didn't expect the embrace that followed. The men regarded him with a questioning look. He glared over Tom's shoulder, and they went back to reloading. He didn't care what they thought; his brother was alive.
This story was inspired by a passage in "The Killer Angels." by Michael Shaara.
"Chamberlain thought of Tom and his mind wandered back to Maine; young Tom lost, in the dark of winter, a long search, Mother crying, we never found him, he came back himself, a grinning kid with a bright red nose, never once afraid . . ." (Shaara, 116)