Boston moved through the rows of cots in the army hospital. It saddened him to hear the men's cries for water, but it saddened him more to see the ones who did not cry out, the ones who open-mouthedly lay still with eyes nearly closed. It is only by the grace of God that I am able to help these poor souls.
He had no trouble keeping busy. Just the men asking for water was enough. Then came cleaning out bed pans and listening to soldiers who needed someone to talk to about the end of the war. He was just giving one feverish soldier a dose of quinine, rather against the man's will, when he saw a young man peer into the ward. He forced the last drops down the soldier's throat and pulled away from the men's' whining voices.
"What have you brought us, David?" he asked the assistant from the pharmacy down the street. The man clutched two baskets full of jars. Boston knew that the hospital didn't use local pharmacies to supply its dispensary. But medicine could run short after years of war, and some of the doctors were good enough and well-heeled enough to boost the supply.
The young man held the baskets out. "Here, Doctor." He gazed around the ward with a queasy look on his face.
Boston took the baskets. Finding a bottle promising to cure all ailments, he pulled out the stopper and approached a moaning soldier suffering from dysentery.
"Er, Doctor?" He looked up to see David still standing in the doorway. "I haven't but paid yet. Or tipped."
"Don't worry." Boston waved the pharmacist's assistant away. "You will get your money soon. Trust me on that. I live my life in a way that no one can protest."
Shaking his head, David retreated. Moments later, a hand reached out to take the bottle from Boston's hand. He felt a hand clap on his shoulder.
"Leave the doctoring to me, Boston," Charles urged. "I'm glad to see that you're feeling well enough to leave your cot now. I haven't looked at your wound yet today, though."
Boston slid up his shirt, revealing ribs poking out from his stay in the prison camp. Charles ripped the bandages from his side.
"Splendid. There's not a bit of infection left." Charles tossed the bandage into a waste bucket. "I'm proud of your determination, Boston, and I'm happy to say that you no longer need my services."
His patient quailed. "But where else can I go? My wife died, and I don't want to go back to England."
Charles sighed, and his eyes scanned the prone figures in the room. "You have a place in the barracks with the Sixteenth Cavalry, and you're a fine sergeant if I've heard correctly. But I'll let you stay here if you like, up until the moment that one new soldier comes in. Truth be told, it will be nice to have someone to talk to who is not feverish."
"Thank you, Doctor." Boston offered a sip of water to yet another poor soul who was crying for it.
Charles sunk down onto the edge of Boston's empty cot. "I've vowed to do something that may be bigger than I can handle. I'm a surgeon, but I need to be a smuggler and an actor."
Boston laughed. "I wish you had told me that earlier. I have overheard a great deal from your women nurses. That Indian herb doctor's boy is a friend of a big-time actor."
"You're kidding me, Boston."
"I speak nothing but the truth. The critics said that he was the best Romeo that ever graced the stage."
Charles' gaze moved to the doorway of the ward. Boston wanted to know what he was thinking, but he didn't trust himself to work the information out of the doctor. "Anytime you need to confide in me, please do, Doctor. I share no secrets."
Charles continued to stare with unseeing eyes until a rattling cough echoed from across the ward. He hurried toward it. "I have no time for talking. There is much good to do here."
"Indeed." Boston passed a hand across the back of his head. Every day the hair felt longer, growing out again after the military prison guards had chopped it off. Soon I will look like Jesus again.
Charles left the General Army Hospital long after the sun had sunk beneath the horizon. Lights flickered from streetlights and the windows of the elegant homes along the broad street that he took. He found that many others had chosen to walk that night, enjoying the quiet tree-lined thoroughfare. His overcoat protected him just enough from the lingering nip of winter in the air. The capital had, in the end, avoided invasion from enemy troops and now felt peaceful.
As Charles walked, he noticed that his fellow pedestrians all tended in the same direction, and he fell in step with them. With his work finally behind him after a long day of straining his eyes and fingers, his mind played catch-me-if-you-can, wondering about the smiling people around him. Charles pushed his everyday cares from his mind, along with his struggle of how to help his newest, greatest patient.
Soon, he left the trees and houses behind. The avenue reached a broad grassy area in front of the federal mansion. A large crowd had gathered in front of the building. Charles' heart bottomed out as he first saw it. He feared that the man's infirmity had become public, but his fear immediately subsided. The crowd was silent, gazing toward the dimly-lit building with joyous, upturned faces. Above them, Charles could hear the low rumble of the great man's voice speaking. A light shone in a second-story window, and Charles realized that the man stood inside the mansion addressing the crowd before him.
Unable to distinguish the words and curious to a great degree, the surgeon pushed his way forward through the crowd. He had no great trouble, for he was young and fit, and the men and women of the capital were used to such treatment. Charles' muttered apologies and energetic elbows soon earned him a place within the closest hundred listeners, where his progress was arrested by a man with a nightstick, who shot Charles a cautioning glare.
"…in seeing all united for him," the speaker intoned, "is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them?"
He wants to expand voting rights. Charles marveled at the audacity of such an address, mere days after the end of the war. A lesser man would have been satisfied with the achievements made in victory. He wondered if a dread of his condition had inspired the man's haste.
"…only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it?"
More strange metaphors. Are they a symptom of erithism? He could see the leader's head now in the light of the lantern in the window. He leaned out of the window, holding his paper in front of him.
"…and sudden changes occur in the same state; and withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can be safely prescribed as to details and…" His voice trailed off. Charles saw his hands drop down to clutch the windowsill. His head did not drop, though. Rather, the eyes, which Charles could just see glinting in the lantern's light, stared above the crowd gathered before him.
He is having a vision. He is not in the present.
Within moments, the great man shook his head. He stared at the paper before him. Charles saw the person standing beside him shift on his feet nervously. He also saw movement in the next window over. The faint rustle of a whisper reached him. "…collateral," the man continued. "Collaterals. Such exquisite, no, such exclusive, and inflexible plan, would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may, and must, be inflexible."
Charles breathed in relief. This can't keep happening. One more stumble, maybe two, and everyone will know. Doctors will come to study him, and the whole nation will know that he has lost his mind. As the speaker concluded, and the light withdrew from the window, the crowd began to drift away.
One man, a few paces away from Charles, stood stock still as the lawn cleared. Charles saw the intensity in his face. Mustache standing stiff, the man's eyes burned into the mansion before them. What fate has put him in my path today? Charles moved toward him. "Fine evening, isn't it?"
The man blinked and turned to stare at Charles. His fiery gaze sent shivers down Charles' spine. He tensed as if to turn on his heel and leave, but evidently curiosity won out. "I don't know you," he barked.
"I'm only a surgeon named Charles. I'm not a celebrity like you, but I have heard about your role in Romeo and Juliet."
The actor scowled. "I do not want to be remembered that way. I have left the stage. You may refer to me as John now." He walked into the open lawn, away from the mansion.
Charles followed him. "John, I know the call of my own work, and I cannot imagine that you would want to pass up what could be the greatest role of your life, though it might put you back on the playbill once more."
John yawned. "Don't waste my time, Doctor. I am rich, and I already have the rest of my life planned out. There is nothing that you can interest me in."
"It regards our esteemed leader."
"He is no leader of mine!"
Charles raised his eyebrows at the sudden setting of John's jaw. He had feared that John's allegiance would lie with the rebels, but Charles knew that his plan to remove the chief would make even his greatest enemies happy, even if Charles knew it for the good of the united country. He decided to forge ahead and laid out his scantily-formed plan to John. Once he did, he had the actor's rapt attention. "I would like for all of us to gather for a meeting tomorrow morning," he suggested. "We cannot wait on this."
"I am in," John answered huskily. "Where do you suggest that we meet?"
"Here, inside, tomorrow at ten in the morning. I will be here."
"Inside?" he chuckled. "I have a certain reputation. I can bring someone with me, a lady of blameless repute and wide influence, whom I trust completely. I can get through these doors no other way, even under your recommendation."
Charles nodded. "Of course. I have my Rebecca."
John grinned and drew a bottle of gin from his coat. After taking a long sip, he offered it out to Charles.
The surgeon shook his head. "So you're a drinker."
"Always. Never a drunk."
"I am risking a lot on you, John. And this is no simple matter. Don't make me lose."
"Don't worry." He pocketed the bottle. "Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasma or a hideous dream."
As Charles watched him pass into the flickering light of the streetlights, he wished for one of his chief's strange metaphors. There is no turning back now. I have allies.