The dog’s ears stood straight up. He rushed to the window and barked loudly.
“What’s bothering Samson?” Annie asked, looking up from her book.
Tommy pushed open the second-story window and leaned out. Samson joined him.
“There’s a wagon coming down Telfair Street,” he said. “Samson, what do you think’s in the wagon? Hogs?” Tommy smiled as he imagined the hogs snorting and squealing.
“It’s more likely beans or squash,” Annie said. She tossed her book aside and joined them.
The wagon rolled by, and the awful scene below left them speechless. Instead of colorful vegetables or squealing hogs, the cart overflowed with dirty, bloody Confederate soldiers. They looked like old rags that had been cast aside. A breeze carried the unmistakable stench of sickness and death up to the window.
“Oh, my,” Annie said, covering her nose and mouth.
Samson’s nostrils flared.
“Smells like rotten fish,” Tommy said. “They must be going to our church.”
First Presbyterian Church, where their father was pastor, stood catty-corner to their house. The white picket fence surrounding the church shone in the noonday sun. “I wish they wouldn’t use our church as a hospital,” Annie said.
“It’s still a church,” Tommy said.
“Not with that yellow flag flying out front. Yellow flag means hospital.”
Tommy turned his attention back to the wagon.
“Look, the man on top is missing an arm.”
The one-armed man stared into the sky with a strange blank look on his face. Tommy looked up to see what held the man’s attention. Clouds whirled around like giant balls of white yarn unrolling across a deep blue sky.
“The men aren’t moving,” Annie said.
Tommy and Annie had seen a lot of wounded men coming and going from the railroad depot. Those men were constantly moving, hoping for some relief from their pain. The only movement on this cart was one man’s lifeless leg, which hung off the back, swinging back and forth like the pendulum of a large clock.
“You think they’re dead?” Tommy asked.
“That would explain the smell. I bet they’re on their way to Magnolia Cemetery.”
Tommy pointed. “Look, the one-armed man has something under his arm.”
Annie squinted. “It’s a book—maybe a Bible.”
“Or secret battle plans,” Tommy whispered.
Just then, the small ragged book slipped out from under the man’s arm and landed on the edge of the wagon. The wagon hit a bump, and the book bounced into the middle of Telfair Street.
“He lost his book!” Tommy said.
Annie shrugged. “The man is dead. He won’t miss it.”
The cart slowed. The driver motioned to two soldiers standing in front of the church. They disappeared inside and returned with a stretcher, then carried the one-armed man inside.
“See? He’s not dead,” Tommy said. His voice reflected the pleasure he felt at his small victory over Annie.
“I hate war,” Annie said. “I’m going to the cookhouse to see what’s for lunch. Come on, Samson.”
Samson stared at Annie but did not move.
“Why won’t he come?” she said. “And for that matter, why does he always sleep in your bed? I want him to sleep in mine.”
Annie stared at the unmoving dog. “All right. Stay if you like, but you’re my dog, too.” She left the room.
Tommy stared at the small, dusty book in the middle of the street.
“That book must be special if the soldier carried it through the battlefields all the way to Augusta,” he said to Samson. “If you think we should get the book, then bark.”
“Good boy.” Tommy put his arm around the dog. “I can’t go outside until after lunch. Mother said so. That means if we want the book, it’s up to you to fetch.”
“That’s right. Fetch.”
Samson followed Tommy down the stairs. Tommy opened the front door.
“Fetch the book.”
Samson trotted down the steps and into the street. He picked up the book and returned to Tommy. They hurried to the sitting room, where Tommy inspected the cover.
“There’s no title or author’s name, Samson. Should I open it? I can’t read words very well, but there might be maps inside. I can read a map.”
Samson pulled at Tommy’s arm.
“What’s the matter? You don’t want me to open it?” Tommy stared at the small leather strap that held the book closed. He wanted to tear it open, but something held him back. He rubbed the book as if to bring out its secrets.
“Maybe you’re right,” Tommy said. “This might be important for the war. I should return it to its owner.”
Tommy gazed out the window at First Presbyterian Church. He had gone inside only once since it had become a hospital. The bright, well-kept sanctuary was gone; in its place was a world filled with screams, groans, and pleas for help, and a heavy, overpowering smell of death.
“Samson, I’ll return it. But I’m not going inside the church by myself. You’ll have to go, too.”
At the word “go,” Samson stood.
“Not yet,” Tommy said. “After lunch we’ll find the one-armed man.”
Text copyright © 2011 by Laurie Myers
Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Amy June Bates