He found General Hancock at the rear of the field, lying on a blood-soaked stretcher and impatiently waving away aides. As he approached, he slowed his steps and found himself taking off his hat at the sight of the general's damp, hastily wrapped bandage, tied with the desperation of stopping the steady flow spreading down his legs. There was still defiance in his eyes as Bingham knelt down at his side.
''Heaven above, Captain, I'm not dead!'' he snapped. ''Put your hat back on!''
Bingham heard the snarling pain in his voice, the frustration at lying on his back away from the front lines. He had said not two hours ago that there were times when a commander's life didn't matter, had refused evacuation. Bingham felt a deep admiration for him behind the sorrow he felt for the sight. He obeyed and put his hat back on.
''How are you, General?'' he asked.
''I've been worse,'' he grimaced in response and Bingham willed himself not to look down at the wound, tried not to remember watching the general pulling at that great, bloody nail and those splinters. I've been worse, he repeated in his mind and almost wanted to smile at Hancock's tenacity.
''We must get you to the hospital, General,'' he said simply and then, in reply to the fight still echoing somewhere, still pushing though Bingham had seen the devastation by those trees: ''Here is no place for you to be.''
''I seem to be in the wrong places constantly today, Captain –'' He winced suddenly and Bingham reached to steady him as he tried to move. He glanced at the bandage then immediately regretted it, instead looked up to the sky, the beautiful evening, thought of how very curious it was. Such a terrible day. ''-or that's what people keep telling me.''
Bingham returned to Hancock, saw the last flickers in his eyes as he wrestled with staying awake. He motioned to some aides to assist him and he squeezed the general's hand as they rolled him onto his back again on the stretcher, until he realised his eyes were glazing over. It didn't matter how hard either of them tried, they couldn't stop the wound claiming him for a while.
As they lifted him, he turned to look out again across the field and saw them, all the other wounded, too many to even begin to count. They were lying there, some still clutching weapons and flags fluttering in the breeze, twisted bodies of blue and grey, lying side by side. The tortured face of General Armistead suddenly came into his mind, the anguish at the news of General Hancock, the message he'd given the young lieutenant beside him.
He'd heard much of Armistead from General Hancock, had listened to the stories, had seen the pain when he spoke of him but that plea, that final desperate attempt, that look, had spoken just as much as he had knelt there beside the man. He thought of telling Hancock, wondered if he was thinking of him as he lay there looking up at the orange sky, where he was, how he was and Bingham ached at keeping such precious information from him.
But then he thought of the lieutenant – Chamberlain, Tom Chamberlain. He was a good man and he had promised deeply, honestly, truthfully to the general that he would deliver the message. And he would. So Bingham kept quiet, kept his head down as he helped the general to the hospital. There would be a time and he prayed it would be soon.
He had to find a path through the fields of the dead and the wounded and the crying. He saw friends clinging to one another, some clinging to their last moments together, some thanking God they were both still breathing, some already too late and sitting there holding a still body in their arms. He wondered how many were brothers, how many were cousins, how many were fathers and sons. But all of them were lost, driven on now the fighting had ended by a grim, desperate search to find those they had lost sight of before through the gun-smoke and madness. Tom had to turn away as he saw one man standing amongst the wreckage and helplessly shouting for a man named John, eyes wide and so knowing as he looked around.
He had to find Lawrence. He had to be here.
He kept looking up but the image of him lying at his feet with all the others was insistent. No, he wasn't like that. This wasn't the end. It wasn't the end, not today. Tom found himself repeating that as he stumbled along, believing it less and less with every step. Lawrence, come on, where are you? He felt his name building in his throat, ready to yell it to the sky, but he heard again the pleading cry of John's name and he tried to force it back down. It came out instead as a trembling whisper.
''Lawrence…'' he said, heard the crack in his voice before he heard a feeble response below his feet. For a moment, he felt a burst of hope glow in his chest but then he looked and saw dark eyes, an old, weather-worn face.
''M-my name is Lawrence…'' the man said. There was a blood stain pooling and spreading below his blue jacket, just above his heart, but a sense of serenity in his eyes. ''Are you looking for me?''
Tom gulped and shook his head, couldn't say anything to him. Neither could he look back as he moved on, eyes back on the field before him. A purple mist was beginning to descend onto it and before long, it would be dark. He had to find him before then. He couldn't lose two in one day. Not my brother, anyone but my brother.
His name was pushing at his lips again, about to break and scream, but then, across the hazy sea of bodies, standing on some island, there was a figure, looking back at him and staring. Just staring.
He wanted to run, call out to him, but his legs were too weak and his voice lost. He instead began to stumble, his eyes never leaving him as if he would just disappear if he stopped. They met halfway, found each other silently and slowly, and Lawrence grasped his shoulders, looked long and hard at him, searching for something. Tom knew his knees were softening, could feel his throat tightening but he couldn't move, couldn't look anywhere but Lawrence.
It seemed they stood like this forever, maybe he wanted to, didn't ever want to see a battle like the one he'd seen over the last three days again. As Lawrence's grip slowly became less firm, he suddenly felt faint, was there again at the top of this bloody field, shuddering of the weight of what he'd seen, what he may be about to see, but then he was being pulled closer and Lawrence's arms were around him, protection from all those memories. In the midst of all this madness, he hung on to his last shred of hope for dear life, trembling and trying to hold back the tears before they spilled over and he helplessly whispered Lawrence's name into his shoulder.
Lawrence had always been there, the man who couldn't face shooting deer on the hillside back home but had, just the day before, ran and yelled down another hill now so far away from home into the face of the shocked Rebels, fearless as a lion sheltering his young. This is my brother, he had said to a defeated Reb officer when they stood before him after. My brother. The one who used to make up stories when the storms raged outside the house to send me to sleep.
He clung to him then like those storms had returned, though knew that no wild Maine storm could be anywhere near as vicious or bone-chilling as that day in Gettysburg. It would be another beautiful summer back home right then in Maine, the freshest, sweetest, most beautiful place he could ever imagine and oh, he couldn't think of home. Couldn't think of anything anymore, when everything made his throat tighten and knees weaken. What was he doing here?
The question must have slipped from his lips as he felt Lawrence shake his head against his shoulder. He expected a long, philosophical answer, was surprised when he said merely, simply, honestly: ''I don't know.''
I don't know. The only three words that had made any sense on this terrible day. I don't know. No. Nor do I.
Apologies for the wait! Thanks for all the favourites/alerts/comments so far!
If this chapter seemed to stop very abruptly, as it seemed to kind of do when I was reading it back, apologies - the next chapter starts pretty much straight after where this leaves off.