Chapter 5: off duty.
“My dear girl, we shall have you sick in your bed, unless you keep yourself warm and quiet for a few days.
can take care of the ward alone, now the men are so comfortable, and have her vacation when you are about again.
Now do be prudent in time, and don't let me have to add a Periwinkle to my bouquet of patients.”
This advice was delivered, in a paternal manner, by the youngest surgeon in the hospital, a kind-hearted little gentleman, who seemed to consider me a frail young blossom, that needed much cherishing, instead of a stout spinster, who had been knocking about the world for thirty years. At the time I write of, he discovered me sitting on the stairs, with a fine cloud of unwholesome steam rising from the washroom; a party of January breezes disporting themselves in the halls; and perfumes, by no means from “Araby the blest,” keeping them company; while I enjoyed a fit of coughing, which caused my head to spin in a way that made the application of a cool banister both necessary and agreeable, as I waited for
the frolicsome wind to restore the breath I'd lost; cheering myself, meantime, with a secret conviction that pneumonia was waiting for me round the corner.
This piece of advice bad been offered by several persons for a week, and refused by me with the obstinacy with which my sex is so richly gifted.
But the last few hours had developed several surprising internal and external phenomena, which impressed upon me the fact that if I didn't make a masterly retreat very soon, I should tumble down somewhere, and have to be borne ignominiously from the field.
My head felt like a cannon ball; my feet had a tendency to cleave to the floor; the walls at times undulated in a most disagreeable manner; people looked unnaturally big; and the very bottles on the mantle piece appeared to dance derisively before my eyes.
Taking these things into consideration, while blinking stupidly at Dr.
Z., I resolved to retire gracefully, if I must; so, with a valedictory to my boys, a private lecture to Mrs. Wadman
, and a fervent wish that I could take off my body and work in my soul, I mournfully ascended to my apartment, and Nurse P. was reported off duty.
For the benefit of any ardent damsel whose patriotic fancy may have surrounded hospital life with a halo of charms, I will briefly describe the bower to which I retired, in a somewhat ruinous condition.
It was well ventilated, for five panes of glass had suffered compound fractures, which all the surgeons and nurses had failed to heal; the two windows were draped with sheets, the church hospital opposite being a brick and mortar Argus
, and the female mind cherishing a prejudice in favor of retiracy during the night-capped periods of existence.
A. bare floor supported two narrow iron beds, spread with thin mattrasses like plasters, furnished with pillows in the last stages of consumption.
In a fire place.
guiltless of shovel,
tongs, andirons, or grate, burned a log, inch by inch, being too long to go on all at once; so, while the fire blazed away at one end, I did the same at the other, as I tripped over it a dozen times a day, and flew up to poke it a dozen times at night.
A mirror (let us be elegant I) of the dimensions of a muffin, and about as reflective, hung over a tin basin, blue pitcher, and a brace of yellow mugs.
Two invalid tables, ditto chairs, wandered here and there, and the closet contained a varied collection of bonnets, bottles, bags, boots, bread and butter, boxes and bugs.
The closet was a regular Blue Beard
cupboard to me; I always opened it with fear and trembling, owing to rats, and shut it in anguish of spirit; for time and space were not to be bad, and chaos reigned along with the rats.
Our chimney-piece was decorated with a flat-iron, a Bible, a candle minus stick, a lavender bottle, a new tin pan, so brilliant that it served nicely for a pier-glass, and such of the portly black bugs as preferred a warmer climate than the rubbish hole afforded.
Two arks, commonly called trunks, lurked behind the door, containing the worldly goods of the twain who laughed and cried, slept and scrambled, in this refuge; while from the white-washed walls above either bed, looked down the pictured faces of those whose memory could make for us-
One little room an everywhere.
For a day or two I managed to appear at meals; for the human grub must eat till the butterfly is ready to break loose, and no one had time to come up two flights while it was possible for me to come down.
Far be it from me to add another affliction or reproach to that enduring man, the steward; for, compared with his predecessor, he was a horn of plenty; but — I put it to any candid mind — is not the
following bill of fare susceptible of improvement, without plunging the nation madly into debt?
The three meals were “pretty much of a muchness,” and consisted of beef, evidently put down for the men of ‘76 ; pork, just in from the street; army bread, composed of saw-dust and saleratus; butter, salt as if churned by Lot's wife; stewed blackberries, so much like preserved cockroaches, that only those devoid of imagination could partake thereof with relish; coffee, mild and muddy; tea, three dried huckleberry leaves to a quart of water-flavored with lime — also animated and unconscious of any approach to clearness.
Variety being the spice of life, a small pinch of the article would have been appreciated by the hungry, hard-working sisterhood, one of whom, though accustomed to plain fare, soon found herself reduced to bread and water; having an inborn repugnance to the fat of the land, and the salt of the earth.
Another peculiarity of these hospital meals was the rapidity with which the edibles vanished, and the impossibility of getting a drop or crumb after the usual time.
At the first ring of the bell, a general stampede took place; some twenty hungry souls rushed to the dining-room, swept over the table like a swarm of locusts, and left no fragment for any tardy creature who arrived fifteen minutes late.
Thinking it of more importance that the patients should be well and comfortably fed, I took my time about my own meals for the first day or two after I came, but was speedily enlightened by Isaac, the black waiter, who bore with me a few times, and then informed me, looking as stern as fate:
I say, mam, ef you comes so late you can't have no vittles,--‘cause I'm ‘bleeged fer ter git things ready fer do doctors ‘mazin‘ spry arter you nusses and folks is done.
Doe gen'lemen don't kere fer ter wait, no more does I; so you
jes' please ter come at de time, and dere won't be no frettin‘ nowheres.
It was a new sensation to stand looking at a full table, painfully conscious of one of the vacuums which Nature abhors, and receive orders to right about face, without partaking of the nourishment which your inner woman clamorously demanded.
The doctors always fared better than we; and for a moment a desperate impulse prompted me to give them a hint, by walking off with the mutton, or confiscating the pie. But Ike's eye was on me, and, to my shame be it spoken, I walked meekly away; went dinnerless that day, and that evening went to market, laying in a small stock of crackers, cheese and apples, that my boys might not be neglected, nor myself obliged to bolt solid and liquid dyspepsias, or starve.
This plan would have succeeded admirably had not the evil star under which I was born, been in the ascendant during that month, and east its malign influences even into my “‘umble” larder; for the rats had their dessert off my cheese, the bugs set up housekeeping in my crackerbag.
and the apples like all worldly riches, took to themselves wings and flew away; whither no man could tell, though certain black imps might have thrown light upon the matter, had not the plaintiff in the case been loth to add another to the many trials of long-suffering Africa
After this failure I resigned myself to fate, and, remembering that bread was called the staff of life, leaned pretty exclusively upon it; but it proved a broken reed, and I came to the ground after a few weeks of prison fare, varied by an occasional potato or surreptitious sip ef milk.
Very soon after leaving the care of my ward, I discovered that I had no appetite, and cut the bread and butter interests almost entirely, trying the exercise and sun cure instead.
Flattering myself that I had plenty of time, and could see all that was to be seen, so far as a lone lorn female could venture in a city, one-half of whose male population seemed to be taking the other half to the guard-house,--every morning I took a brisk run in one direction or another; for the January days were as mild as Spring.
A rollicking north wind and occasional snow storm would have been more to my taste, for the one would have braced and refreshed tired body and soul, the other have purified the air, and spread a clean coverlid over the bed, wherein the capital of these United States
appeared to be dozing pretty soundly just then.
One of these trips was to the Armory Hospital
, the neatness, comfort, and convenience of which makes it an honor to its presiding genius, and arouses all the covetous propensities of such nurses as came from other hospitals to visit it.
The long, clean, warm, and airy wards, built barrack-fashion, with the nurse's room at the end, were fully appreciated by Nurse Periwinkle, whose ward and private bower were cold, dirty, inconvenient, up stairs and down stairs, and in everybody's chamber.
At the Armory
, in ward K, I found a cheery, bright-eyed, white-aproned little lady, reading at her post near the stove; matting under her feet; a draft of fresh air flowing in above her head; a table full of trays, glasses, and such matters, on one side, a large, well-stocked medicine chest on the other; and all her duty seemed to be going about now and then to give doses, issue orders, which well-trained attendants executed, and pet, advise, or comfort Tom, Dick
, or Harry, as she found best.
As I watched the proceedings, I recalled my own tribulations, and contrasted the two hospitals in a way that would have caused my summary dismissal, could it have been reported at headquarters.
Here, order, method, common sense and liberality seemed to rule in a style
that did one's heart good to see; at the Hurly burly Hotel, disorder, discomfort, bad management, and no visible head, reduced things to a condition which I despair of describing.
The circumlocution fashion prevailed, forms and fusses tormented our souls, and unnecessary strictness in one place was counterbalanced by unpardonable laxity in another.
Here is a sample: I am dressing Sam Dammer
's shoulder; and, having cleansed the wound, look about for some strips of adhesive plaster
to hold on the little square of wet linen which is to cover the gunshot wound; the case is not in the tray; Frank, the sleepy, half-sick attendant, knows nothing of it; we rummage high and low; Sam is tired, and fumes; Frank dawdles and yawns; the men advise and laugh at the flurry; I feel like a boiling tea-kettle, with the lid ready to fly off and damage somebody.
“ Go and borrow some from the next ward, and spend the rest of the day in finding ours,” I finally command.
A pause; then Frank scuffles back with the message: “Miss Peppercorn ain't got none, and says you ain't no business to lose your own duds and go borrowin‘ other folkses.”
I say nothing, for fear of saying too much, but fly to the surgery.
informs me that I can't have anything without an order from the surgeon of my ward.
where is he?
and away I rush, up and down, here and there, till at last I find him, in a state of bliss over a complicated amputation, in the fourth story.
I make my demand; he answers: “In five minutes,” and works away, with his head upside down, as he ties an artery, saws a bone, or does a little needle-work, with a visible relish and very sanguinary pair of hands.
The five minutes grow to fifteen, and Frank appears, with the remark that, “Dammer wants to know what in thunder you are keeping him there with his finger on a wet rag for?”
tears himself away long enough to scribble the order, with which I plunge downward to the surgery again, find the door locked, and, while hammering away on it, am told that two friends are waiting to see me in the hall.
The matron being away, her parlor is locked, and there is no where to see my guests but in my own room, and no time to enjoy them till the plaster is found.
I settle this matter, and circulate through the house to find Toddypestle
, who has no right to leave the surgery till night.
He is discovered in the dead house, smoking a cigar, and very much the worse for his researches among the spirituous preparations that fill the surgery shelves.
He is inclined to be gallant, and puts the finishing blow to the fire of my wrath; for the tea-kettle lid flies off, and driving him before me to his post, I fling down the order, take what I choose; and, leaving the absurd incapable kissing his hand to me, depart, feeling as Grandma Riglesty is reported to have done, when she vainly sought for chips, in Bimleck Jackwood's “shifless paster.”
I find Dammer a well acted charade of his own name, and, just as I get him done, struggling the while with a burning desire to clap an adhesive strip across his mouth, full of heaven-defying oaths, Frank takes up his boot to put it on, and exclaims:
“I'm blest ef here ain't that case now!
I recollect seeing it fall in this mornin‘, but forgot all about it, till my heel went smash inter, it. Here, ma'am, ketch hold on it, and give the boys a sheet on't all round, 'gainst it tumbles inter t'other boot next time yer want it.”
If a look could annihilate, Francis Saucebox
would have ceased to exist; but it couldn't; therefore, he yet lives, to aggravate some unhappy woman's soul, and wax fat in some equally congenial situation.
Now, while I'm freeing my mind, I should like to enter my protest against employing convalescents as attendants, instead of strong, properly trained, and cheerful men. How it may be in other places I cannot say; but here it was a source of constant trouble and confusion, these feeble, ignorant men trying to sweep, scrub, lift, and wait upon their sicker comrades.
One, with a diseased heart, was expected to run up and down stairs, carry heavy trays, and move helpless men; he tried it, and grew rapidly worse than when he first came: and, when he was ordered out to march away to the convalescent hospital, fell, in a sort of fit, before he turned the corner, and was brought back to die. Another, hurt by a fall from his horse, endeavored to do his duty, but failed entirely, and the wrath of the ward master fell upon the nurse, who must either scrub the rooms herself, or take the lecture; for the boy looked stout and well, and the master never happened to see him turn white with pain, or hear him groan in his sleep when an involuntary motion strained his poor back.
Constant complaints were being made of incompetent attendants, and some dozen women did double duty, and then were blamed for breaking down.
If any hospital director fancies this a good and economical arrangement, allow one used up nurse to tell him it isn't, and beg him to spare the sisterhood, who sometimes, in their sympathy, forget that they are mortal, and run the risk of being made immortal, sooner than is agreeable to their partial friends.
Another of my few rambles took me to the Senate Chamber
, hoping to hear and see if this large machine was run any better than some small ones I knew of. I was too late, and found the Speaker
's chair occupied by a colored gentleman of ten; while two others were on their legs, having a hot debate on the cornball question, as they gathered the waste
paper strewn about the floor into bags; and several white members played leap-frog over the desks, a much wholesomer relaxation than some of the older Senators
indulge in, I fancy.
Finding the coast clear, I likewise gambolled up and down, from gallery to gallery; sat in Sumner
's chair, and cudgelled an imaginary Brooks
within an inch of his life; examined Wilson
's books in the coolest possible manner; warmed my feet at one of the national registers; read people's names on scattered envelopes, and pocketed a castaway autograph or two; watched the somewhat unparliamentary proceedings going on about me, and wondered who in the world all the sedate gentlemen were, who kept popping out of odd doors here and there, like respectable Jacks-in-the-box.
Then I wandered over the palatial residence of Mrs. Columbia
, and examined its many beauties, though I can't say I thought her a tidy housekeeper, and didn't admire her taste in pictures, for the eye of this humble individual soon wearied of expiring patriots, who all appeared to be quitting their earthly tabernacles in convulsions, ruffled shirts, and a whirl of torn banners bomb shells, and buff and blue arms and legs.
The statuary also was massive and concrete..but rather wearying to examine; for the colossal ladies ad gentlemen carried no cards of introduction in face or figure; so whether the meditative party in a kilt, with well-developed legs, shoes like army slippers, and a ponderous nose, was Columbus
, or Cockelorum Tibby the tragedian, was more than I could tell.
Several robust ladies attracted me; but which was America
and which Pocahontas
was a mystery; for all affected much looseness of costume, dishevelment of hair, swords, arrows, lances scales, and other ornaments quite passe
with damsels of our day, whose effigies should go down to posterity armed
with fans, rocket needles, riding whips, and parasols, with here and there one holding pen or pencil, rolling-pin or broom.
The statue of Liberty I recognized at once, for it had no pedestal as yet, but stood flat in the mud, with Young America
most symbellically making dirt pies, and chip forts, in its shadow.
But high above the squabbling little throng and their petty plans, the sun shone full on Liberty
's broad forehead, and, in her hand, some summer bird had built its nest.
I accepted the good omen then, and, on the first of January, the Emancipation Act
gave the statue a nobler and more enduring pedestal than any marble or granite ever carved and quarried by human hands.
trip to Georgetown Heights, where cedars sighed overhead, dead leaves rustled underfoot, pleasant paths led up and down, and a brook wound like a silver snake by the blackened ruins of some French Minister's house, through the poor gardens of the black washerwomen who congregated there, and, passing the cemetery with a murmurous lullaby, rolled away to pay its little tribute to the river.
This breezy run was the last I took; for, on the morrow, came rain and wind: and confinement soon proved a powerful reinforcement to the enemy, who was quietly preparing to spring a mine, and blow the five hundred miles from the position I had taken in what I called my Chickahominy Swamp.
Shut up in my room, with no voice, spirits, or books, that week was not a holiday.
by any means.
Finding meals a humbug, I stopped away altogether, trusting that if this sparrow was of any worth, the Lord
would not let it fall to the ground.
Like a flock of friendly ravens, my sister nurses fed me, not only with food for the body, but kind words for the mind; and soon, from being half starved, I found myself so beteaed and betoasted, petted and served, that I was nearly killed
with kindness, in spite of cough, headache, a painful consciousness of my pleura, and a realizing sense of bones in the human frame.
From the pleasant house on the hill, the home in the heart of Washington
, and the Willard caravansary, came friends new and old, with bottles, baskets, carriages and invitations for the invalid; and daily our Florence Nightingale
climbed the steep stairs, stealing a moment from her busy life, to watch over the stranger, of whom she was as thoughtfully tender as any mother.
Long may she wave!
Whatever others may think or say, Nurse Periwinkle is forever grateful; and among her relics of that Washington
defeat, none is more valued than the little book which appeared on her pillow, one dreary day; for the D D. written in it means to her far more than Doctor
Being forbidden to meddle with fleshly arms and legs, I solaced myself by mending cotton ones, and, as I sat sewing at my window, watched the moving panorama that passed below; amusing myself with taking notes of the most striking figures in it. Long trains of army wagons kept up a perpetual rumble from morning till night ; ambulances rattled to and fro with busy surgeons, nurses taking an airing, or convalescents going in parties to be fitted to artificial limbs.
Strings of sorry looking horses passed, saying as plainly as dumb creatures could, “Why, in a city full of them, is there no horsepital
often n a cart came by, with several rough coffins in it, and no mourners following; barouches, with invalid officers, rolled round the corner, and carriage loads of pretty children, with black coachmen, footmen, and maids.
The women who took their walks abroad, were so extinguished in three story bonnets, with overhanging balconies of flowers, that their charms were obscured; and all I can say of them is, that they dressed in the worst possible taste, and walked like ducks.
The men did the picturesque, and did it so wall that Washington
looked like a mammoth masquerade.
Spanish hats, scarlet lined riding cloaks, swords and sashes, high boots and bright spurs, beards and mustaches, which made plain faces comely, and comely faces heroic; these vanities of the flesh transformed our butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers into gallant riders of gaily caparisoned horses, much handsomer than themselves; and dozens of such figures were constantly prancing by, with private prickings of spurs, for the benefit (,t the perambulating flower-bed.
Some of these gentlemen affected painfully tight uniforms, and little caps, kept on by some new law of gravitation, as they covered only the bridge of the nose, yet never fell off; the men looked like stuffed fowls, and rode as if the safety of the nation depended on their speed alone.
The fattest, greyest officers dressed most, and ambled statelily along, with orderlies behind, trying to look as if they didn't know the stout party in front, and doing much caracoling on their own account.
The mules were my especial delight; and an hour's study of a constant succession of them introduced me to many of their characteristics; for six of these odd little beasts drew each army wagon, and went hopping like frogs through the stream of mud that gently rolled along the street.
The coquettish mule had small feet.
a nicely trimmed tassel of a tail, perked up ears, and seemed much given to little tosses of the head, affected skips and prances; and, if he wore the bells, or were bedizzened with a bit of finery, put on as many airs as any belle.
The moral mule was a stout, hard-working creature, always tugging with all his might; often pulling away after the rest had stopped, laboring under the conscientious delusion that food for the entire army depended upon his private exertions.
I respected this style of mule; and, had
I possessed a juicy cabbage, would have pressed it upon him, with thanks for his excellent example.
The historical mule was a melo-dramatic quadruped, prone to startling humanity by erratic leaps, and wild plunges, much shaking of his stubborn head, and lashing out of his vicious heels; now and then falling flat, and apparently dying à la Forrest
: a gaspa squirm — a flop, and so on, till the street was well blocked up, the drivers all swearing like demons in bad hats, and the chief actor's circulation decidedly quickened by every variety of kick, cuff, jerk and haul.
When the last breath seemed to have left his body, and “Doctors were in vain,” a sudden resurrection took place; and if ever a mule laughed with scornful triumph, that was the beast, as he leisurely rose, gave a comfortable shake; and, calmly regarding the excited crowd seeemed to say-“A hit!
a decided hit!
for the stupidest of animals has bamboozled a dozen men. Now, then!
what are you
stopping the way for?”
The pathetic mule was, perhaps, the most interesting of all; for, though he always seemed to be the smallest, thinnest, weakest of the six, the postillion, with big boots, long-tailed coat, and heavy whip, was sure to bestride this one, who struggled feebly along, head down, coat muddy and rough, eye spiritless and sad, his very tail a mortified stump, and the whole beast a picture of meek misery, fit to touch a heart of stone.
The jovial mule was a roly poly, happy-go-lucky little piece of horse-flesh, taking everything easily, from cudgeling to caressing; strolling along with a roguish twinkle of the eye, and, if the thing were possible, would have bad his hands in his pockets, and whistled as he went.
If there ever chanced to be an apple core, a stray turnip, or wisp of hay, in the gutter, this Mark Tapley
was sure to find it, and none of his mates seemed to begrudge him his bite.
I suspected this fellow was the peacemaker,
confidant and friend of all the others, for he had a sort of “Cheer-up,--old-boy,--I'll-pull-you-through” look, which was exceedingly engaging.
Pigs also possessed attractions for me, never having had an opportunity of observing their graces of mind and manner, till I came to Washington
, whose porcine citizens appeared to enjoy a larger liberty than many of its human ones.
, sedate looking pigs, hurried by each morning to their places of business, with a preoccupied air, and sonorous greeting to their friends.
Genteel pigs, with an extra curl to their tails, promenaded in pairs, lunching here and there, like gentlemen of leisure.
Rowdy pigs pushed the passers by off the side walk; tipsy pigs hiccoughed their version of “We wont go home till morning,” from the gutter; and delicate young pigs tripped daintily through the mud, as if they plumed themselves upon their ankles, and kept themselves particularly neat in point of stockings.
Maternal pigs, with their interesting families, strolled by in the sun; and often the pink, baby-like squealers lay down for a nap, with a trust in Providence
worthy of human imitation.
But more interesting than officers, ladies
, mules, or pigs, were my colored brothers and sisters, because so unlike the respectable members of society I'd known in moral Boston
Here was the genuine article-no, not the genuine article at all, we must go to Africa
for that-but the sort of creatures generations of slavery have made them: obsequious, trickish, lazy and ignorant, yet kind-hearted, merry-tempered, quick to feel and accept the least token of the brotherly love which is slowly teaching the white hand to grasp the black, in this great struggle for the liberty of both the races.
Having been warned not to be too rampant on the subject of slavery, as seceth principles flourished even under the
shadow of Father Abraham, I had endeavored to walk discreetly, and curb my unruly member; looking about me with all my eyes the while, and saving up the result of my observations for future use. I had not been there a week before the neglected, devil — may care expression in many of the faces about me, seemed an urgent appeal to leave nursing white bodies, and take some care for these black souls.
Much as the lazy boys and saucy girls tormented me, I liked them, and found that any show of interest or friendliness brought out the better traits which live in the most degraded and forsaken of us all. I liked their cheerfulness, for the dreariest old hag, who scrubbed all day in that pestilential steam, gossipped and grinned all the way out, when night set her free from drudgery.
The girls romped with their dusky sweethearts, or tossed their babies, with the tender pride that makes mother-love a beautifier to the homeliest face.
The men and boys sang and whistled all day long; and often.
as I held my watch, the silence of the night was sweetly broken by some chorus from the street, full of real melody, whether the song was of heaven, or of hoe-cakes; and, as I listened, I felt that we never should doubt nor despair concerning a race which, through such griefs and wrongs, still clings to this good gift, and seems to solace with it the patient hearts that wait and watch and hope until the end.
I expected to have to defend myself from accusations of a prejudice against color; but was surprised to find things just the other way, and daily shocked some neighbor by treating the blacks as I did the whites.
The men would
swear at the “darkies,” would put two gs
into negro, and scoff at the idea of any good coming from such trash.
The nurses were willing to be served by the colored people, but seldom thanked them, never praised, and scarcely recognized them in the street
whereat the blood of two generations of abolitionists waxed hot in my veins, and, at the first opportunity, proclaimed itself, and asserted the right of free speech as doggedly as the irrepressible Folsom
Happening to catch up a funny little black baby, who was toddling about the nurses' kitchen, one day, when I went down to make a mess for some of my men, a Virginia woman standing by elevated her most prominent feature, with a sniff of disapprobation, exclaiming:
Gracious, Miss P.! how can you?
I've been here six months, and never so much as touched the little toad with a poker.
“More shame for you, ma'am,” responded Miss
P.; and, with the natural perversity of a Yankee, followed up the blow by kissing “the toad,” with ardor.
His face was providentially as clean and shiny as if his mamma had just polished it up with a corner of her apron and a drop from the tea-kettle spout, like old Aunt Chloe, This rash act, and the antislavery lecture that followed, while one hand stirred gruel for sick America, and the other hugged baby Africa
, did not produce the cheering result which I fondly expected; for my comrade henceforth regarded me as a dangerous fanatic, and my protege nearly came to his death by insisting on swarming up stairs to my room, on all occasions, and being walked on like a little black spider.
I waited for New Year's day with more eagerness than I had ever known before; and, though it brought me no gift, I felt rich in the act of justice so tardily performed toward some of those about me. As the bells rung midnight, I electrified my room-mate by dancing out of bed, throwing up the window, and flapping my handkerchief, with a feeble cheer, in answer to the shout of a group of colored men in the street
All night they tooted and tramped, fired crackers, sung “Glory, Hallelujah,” and took comfort, poor souls!
in their own way. The sky was clear, the moon shone benignly, a mild wind blew across the river, and all good omens seemed to usher in the dawn of the day whose noontide cannot now be long in coming.
If the colored people had taken hands and danced around the White House
, with a few cheers for the much abused gentleman who has immortalized himself by one just act, no President
could have had a finer levee, or one to be prouder of.
While these sights and sounds were going on without, curious scenes were passing within, and I was learning that one of the best methods of fitting oneself to be a nurse in a hospital, is to be a patient there.
For then only can one wholly realize what the men suffer and sigh for; how acts of kindness touch and win; how much or little we are to those about us; and for the first time really see that in coming there we have taken our lives in our hands, and may have to pay dearly for a brief experience.
Every one was very kind; the attendants of my ward often came up to report progress, to fill my woodbox, or bring messages and presents from my boys.
The nurses took many steps with those tired feet of theirs, and several came each evening, to chat over my fire and make things cosy for the night.
The doctors paid daily visits, tapped at my lungs to see if pneumonia was within, left doses without names, and went away, leaving me as ignorant, and much more uncomfortable than when they came.
Hours began to get confused; people looked odd; queer faces haunted the room, and the nights were one long fight with weariness and pain.
Letters from home grew anxious; the doctors lifted their eyebrows, and nodded ominously; friends said “Don't stay,” and an internal rebellion seconded the advice ;
but the three months were not out, and the idea of giving up so soon was proclaiming a defeat before I was fairly routed; so to all “Don't stays” I opposed “I wills,” till.
one fine morning, a gray-headed gentleman rose like a welcome ghost on my hearth; and, at the sight of him, my resolution melted away, my heart turned traitor to my boys, and, when he said, “Come home,” I answered, “Yes, father ;” and so ended my career as an army nurse.
I never shall regret the going, though a sharp tussle with typhoid, ten dollars, and a wig, are all the visible results of the experiment; for one may live and learn much in a month.
A good fit of illness proves the value of health; real danger tries one's mettle; and self-sacrifice sweetens character.
Let no one who sincerely desires to help the work on in this way, delay going through any fear; for the worth of life lies in the experiences that fill it, and this is one which cannot be forgotten.
All that is best and bravest in the hearts of men and women, comes out in scenes like these; and, though a hospital is a rough school, its lessons are both stern and salutary; and the humblest of pupils there, in proportion to his faithfulness, learns a deeper faith in God and in himself.
I, for one, would return tomorrow, on the “up-again,--and-take-another” principle, if I could; for the amount of pleasure and profit I got out of that month compensates for all after pangs; and, though a sadly womanish feeling, I take some satisfaction in the thought that, if I could not lay my head on the altar of my country, I have my hair; and that is more than handsome Helen did for her dead husband, when she sacrificed only the ends of her ringlets on his urn. Therefore, I close this little chapter of hospital experiences, with the regret that they were no better worth recording; and add the poetical gem with
which I console myself for the untimely demise of “Nuse Periwinkle :”
Oh, lay her in a little pit,
With a marble stone to cover it;
And carve thereon a gruel spoon,
To show a “nuss” has died too soon.