“There’s soldiers with fever in the church up yon. I’m Jacob Hippel.” He jerks his thumb toward the older man. “This is my grandfather, Lorenz. He offered land to lay the dead to rest. We’re taking bodies to the icehouse until we get a thaw.”
“These soldiers—where are they from?”
“Pennsylvania, mostly, but there were some from Virginia.”
Dread chills my blood. “Do you know their names?”
“Sorry, missus. You could ask Herr Doctor, at the church.” The boy swings his lantern toward a whitewashed log building a short distance down the road.
“My brothers are with the Third Virginia. I received word that they were ill. May I see those men’s faces?” I urge Nelly up beside the cart and steel myself as Jacob relays my request and old Lorenz turns back the blanket.
My two errands, both urgent and of near equal importance to me, lead to the same destination—Valley Forge. I haven’t considered what I’ll do if Henry and Jeremiah are in hospital elsewhere. Jacob holds his lantern up over the wagon bed and the letter’s corner presses against my bosom as I lean forward and study the slack, hairy faces. I breathe a sigh of relief. “These are not my brothers. Why is the hospital so far from the Continentals’ camp?”
“There are field hospitals all over the county, in churches, barns, and houses.”
My heart plummets at this news. My brothers could be languishing anywhere. “Most obliged.” As I dig my heels into Nelly’s ribs, the mare, caught dozing, surges forward in alarm. She carries me to the church, where, unable to suppress a groan as my feet hit the ground, I loop the reins over the handrail and hurry up the wooden steps. It’s a risk to stop, but I can’t take the chance of riding right past my brothers.
A tired-looking man with hair as fluffy as carded wool meets me at the door, candle in hand. “See here, boy . . .”
Removing the hat reveals my face and my long hair straggling loose from its tail.
He squints and raises his candle higher. “Beg your pardon, madam.”
“Doctor, please, I’ve come from Virginia seeking my brothers, soldiers who have taken ill. May I see if they are among your patients?”
He gestures me into the sanctuary where rough benches, pushed against the walls, make room for two rows of men laid out on cots and pallets. In my haste, I forget to take shallow breaths, and gag as the stench of sickness, unwashed bodies, and human waste assaults my nostrils.
“If they’re not here, you might try Captain Francis’s barn, off Pawlings Road.”
Candlelight falls on the drawn faces of the men. Their beards crawl with lice and fleas, but they’re so far gone with fever they don’t seem to notice.
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