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The surgeon said, ‘He can hardly live.’

He laid the hand down softly, and left this patient, to pass through the ward.

It seemed to say that all that earth could do had been done, to save the life of the gallant young soldier. I followed the surgeon a few steps on the routine of duty. We stopped, and looked each other in the face. He knew I wanted to know the whole truth.

‘Must this boy die?’

‘There is a shadow of a chance. I will come again after midnight.’

I went back, with a heavy heart, to the cot we had left, and, knowing something of hospitals and dying men, I sat down to wait and see what new symptoms would occur, with the full directions of the surgeon in any event.

The opiate, or whatever it may have been, which I had last administered, could not take effect at once; and, somewhat worn out with the day's labors, I sat down to think. To sleep, was out of the question; for I had become so deeply interested in this young man it seemed to me I could not give him up. * *

It was nearly midnight. The gas had been turned off just enough to leave the light needed, and twilight was grateful to the sick-room; for in this vast chamber there were more than two hundred sick men. Now and then came a suppressed moan from one couch, or a low plaint of hopeless pain,—while at intervals thrilled from the high ceiling the shrill scream of agony. But all the while the full harvest-moon was pouring in all the lustrous sympathy and effulgence it could give, as it streamed over the marble pile called the Patent Office, the unfinished north wing of which had been dedicated to this house of suffering. [432]

Almost noiselessly, the doors of this ward opened every few moments, for the gentle tread of the night nurses, who came, in their sleepless vigils, to see if in these hours they could render some service to the stricken, the fallen, and yet not comfortless.

Leaving my young friend for a few moments, I walked through the north aisle; and it seemed to me—so perfect was the regime of the hospital, so grand were its architectural proportions—more like walking through some European cathedral by moonlight, than through a place for sick soldiers. The silence greater than speech, the suffering unexpressed, the heroism which did not utter one complaint, the completeness of the whole system of care and curative process, made one of those sights and scenes which I would not tear away from my memory if I could; for they have mingled themselves with associations that will link each month and year of time to come with all the months and years gone before them.

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