Copyright© 2020 by UtIdArWa
When we approached the Hacienda, I was awestruck by the sheer size of the complex. The whole complex was surrounded by a blazing white adobe wall at least 15 feet high. At the two corners that I could see, there were blockhouses built atop the wall. I could see figures inside these structures. I assumed they were sentries.
In the center of the wall was a large double-sided doorway. The doors of which stood wide and inviting. 4 armed guards stood to attention as we passed them. Inside was a huge open space. This was a parade ground larger than the football pitch at Boston University. Larger even than the field I had visited at Harvard in Cambridge. The sheer size was daunting.
Spaced at regular intervals on the left and right walls were what appeared to be replicas of the gateway we had just come through. But these were closed and seemed quite substantial.
Ahead of us, the wall also included these same gateways, but there was a wide patio fronting three-quarters of this wall. A doorway to the left of the center stood open, and a group of men and women stood waiting. Colonel Anderson and his followers headed towards this group and dismounted. Their horses were gathered by handlers that had been standing by and led off to an open doorway to the left.
Meanwhile, the troop of riders that had guarded our travels headed towards a gateway that opened on the wall to the left. Once they passed that gate, it was closed. I could faintly hear shouted commands from that direction.
As our buckboard approached, Colonel Anderson stepped up. “Dr. Barrow, Corporal Wheaton and Miss Miko will show you to your quarters. We have an apartment that is part of our hospital complex and quite spacious and comfortable. Please see to your personal needs and get some rest. We will have an officer’s reception later this evening, and you can meet the officers and their ladies. That is unless you have other plans?”
“No, Colonel, it’s best to get everybody’s acquaintance as quickly as possible.”
“I agree, doctor. Also, if you have no objections, I believe that the NCO’s and their familys have something planned for tomorrow. I probably should also let you know that the ladies auxiliary would like to have lunch with you at your convenience. And then at the end of the month, we will have our monthly Regimental dining in. You are invited to this, of course, but your attendance isn’t required.”
As he had been speaking, a gang of men had swarmed out of the doorway to our front and had started carrying my baggage into the interior. Corporal Wheaton was supervising these activities. Miko stood quietly by and watched Wheaton. When the Colonel paused, she reached up and touched my elbow. “Missy, please?” I looked at the Colonel and shrugged, “I don’t think I have a choice, sir, I seem to have a pressing engagement.” Anderson chuckled. “Please don’t let me hinder Miss Miko’s agenda.”
Miko handed me down from the wagon with my elbow firmly in her grip. She led me past the assembled welcoming committee. She didn’t slow or pause and practically dragged me through the doorway.
This was an even more impressive space than the other. Where the entry plaza was devoid of decorations, this space had walkways gardens and fountains. To the left was a large three-story structure with a wide portico entryway. To the right were a dozen or so smaller individual buildings arranged around a central plaza.
I was Miko’s captive at this point. We were headed to one of the smaller buildings to the left. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a well-appointed and furnished apartment. I was dumbfounded by what Miko showed me next. This was something I had heard of but never experienced even in the swankier Boston mansions. This small, modest home in the middle of the wild, untamed, uncivilized west had indoor plumbing. Indeed, there was a fully functional toilet. Not a disguised thunder mug but a flushing toilet. Also, in the closet was a sink and faucet with running water. Miko demonstrated how they functioned and then left me alone. Smiling as she closed the door.
After seeing to my most immediate needs, I nervously entered the main room of the apartment. This was set up as a comfortable sitting room with several upholstered chairs and a couch. In the corner off to one side was a substantial desk with an unfilled bookcase to the left and right. Centered on the free wall was a fireplace. It currently was cold. It was much too hot for a fire. Angled to one side was the couch. Opposite was a thickly upholstered lounge chair. Obviously, the throne of this castle.
Men were bustling into the room carrying luggage and heading upstairs to what I assumed was my private quarters. I could hear Miko’s voice directing traffic. Corporal Wheaton walked into the room. Wearing an apron and wiping his hands with a cloth.
“I wasn’t sure if you prefer coffee or tea at this time of day, Ma’am. I also have some sticky pastries that the officers mess sent over this morning.”
“That’s ok, Corporal. These men, the ones carrying my baggage, Who are they?”
“That’s the work detail that the Sergeant Major detailed for you. Miko is supervising them upstairs and later will unpack and store your property. In the meantime, I’m to make sure you are comfortable. Later we’ll be getting you ready for the officer’s reception. Don’t worry. It includes a dinner. Just not a fancy formal time affair. For now, though, can I get you that coffee or tea and a bun or two to tide you over?”
“Tea, please. No sweet stuff. Also, once these gentlemen are finished, see that they get some of the pastries and coffee.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I’m sure they will appreciate it.”
I sat in the lounge chair. It was very comfortable. So comfortable that I fell asleep before Wheaton returned with my tea.
The next thing I knew, Miko was gently shaking my shoulder. “Missy, please, you wake now.” I opened my eyes and looked around. Nothing much had changed. But it felt later.
“Miko, how long was I asleep?”
“No long missy, you nap. It good. Now you get ready for dinner. Important dinner.”
The next 30 minutes were spent with a refreshing sponge bath and dressing in a freshly pressed dinner gown. Not fancy but not a pair of dirty pants and a patched shirt either. Corporal Wheaton stepped in after knocking.
“Very good, Ma’am. You’ll have the Lieutenants drooling and the wife’s fuming.” he then took my elbow and escorted me out of my quarters and into the large building in the center of the courtyard. “This is the headquarters building Ma’am. The Regiment runs out of here. The brains of the outfit so to speak.” he led me into a large room.
A crystal chandelier dominated the ceiling. In the center of the room was a u-shaped table set with dinner service for at least 50 people. Around the room, various people stood talking, laughing, and drinking. As we crossed the threshold, a gentleman standing to one side called out. “Dr. Louise Barrow”
To my embarrassment, everyone turned and started to applaud. Wheaton pulled his hand from my elbow and gave me a gentle push. “Good luck Doc.” was the last thing he said to me. When I looked back, he was already out of sight.
When I turned back, Doctor Blanchard and an older woman had walked up. “Don’t worry, Louise. They don’t bite. May I introduce my wife Ethel.” turning to his wife, “Ethel, this is Dr. Barrow. She comes to us as a celebrated physician. I’m sure that you two will be friends. And if I don’t miss my guess co-conspirators when it comes to the social life of the hacienda.”
I reached out and grasped her hand. “Ethel as the first woman I have met out here help. I am totally out of my environment here.”
A startled look crossed her face. Which immediately softened with a gentle smile. “Young lady, I had forgotten how intimidating all these warriors could be. I’d be more than happy to take you under my wing.”
Turning to her husband, “Julian shame on you letting this fragile youth wander unattended amongst these wolves.”
Blanchard stood there with his jaw open for a moment. He then gathered his wits and grinning at the apparent false anger said, “Yes, dear anything you say, dear, please forgive me, dear.”
Looking around the room at all the expectant faces, he said, “Well, as the saying goes, twere best done quickly. Let’s get you introduced around.”
What followed was a parade of young, eager men. Full of pith and vinegar. They were mixed in with older, more seasoned men. The thing that struck me was their eyes. Most of them had tired eyes. Eyes that had seen far more than a human should have. Their smiles were genuine. Their comments pleasant and polite. But underneath, there was a darkness, a pain that seemed to haunt their souls. And to a lesser extent, I could see the same expression in some of the ladies. It was as if they were kindred spirits. On the whole, it was slightly depressing.
Then, I was once again introduced to Colonel Joshua Anderson. Commanding officer of the Regiment. He had a presence and aura that glowed. And amazingly, when he was with those old, tired, warriors, they too were infected with his enthusiasm. He seemed to be the catalyst for most of the optimism in the room.
And when he was around the younger men, it was a mixture of awe, fear, and worship. As if these men fully expected Anderson to walk on water.
I couldn’t remember much of that evening. We ate, we talked. Later the Regimental band was brought in, and we danced.
Somehow I was returned to my quarters. It had been one of the most magical evenings of my life. I had little doubt that this was a life I would be willing to accept and fight for.
The next morning I beat Corporal Wheaton to the punch. I rose early, and after my usual morning routine, I was dressed and ready for the day. Dr. Blanchard had warned me that today would be my first rounds. That I would be accompanying him the first time. On later days, I would have my own patients that I would be responsible for.
When Corporal Wheaton arrived, if he was surprised, he hid it very well. “Very good, Doc. Let’s get breakfast. As we walked to the ‘Dining Facility,’ I was warned by Wheaton not to call it a ‘mess hall.’ that the Sergeant in charge was very proud of his efforts and objected strongly to have it referred to as a mess.
The same room we had used yesterday was the same room used for the officer’s dining room. Wheaton left me at that point. But I wasn’t alone for very long. Soon after coming through the doors, I was surrounded by six very enthusiastic young lieutenants. All of them were competing to seat me get my meal for me coffee? Tea? I think that if I had requested anything, they would have moved heaven and earth to satisfy me.
Seeing Doctor Blanchard at the head table, I gently disengaged myself and joined him. As he poured my cup of coffee, he asked: “They can be a bit much, can’t they?”
What followed was a pleasant if hurried breakfast. As I was finishing, I glanced around the room. It was empty except for Dr. Blanchard and myself. He was smiling as he sipped his coffee. “Well, Doctor, are you ready for the tour?”
“Indeed, Doctor, let get to it.”
Our first stop was the first floor of the hospital. “This is the administration area of the hospital. I’ll show you your office later. This is also our triage and trauma services area. Currently, we don’t have anything going on. However, we could get overwhelmed. If that happens, your assistance will be requested. You’ll also take a duty rotation as the Doctor on call. If anything comes up, you’ll be the responding physician.”