What are the functions of General Hospitals, besides curing the sick and wounded? some readers may ask, who have never particularly attended to the subject.
The first business of such institutions is undoubtedly to restore as many as possible of the sufferers brought into them: and this includes the duty of bringing in the patients in the most favorable way, receiving them in an orderly and quiet manner, doctoring, nursing, feeding, clothing, and cleaning them, keeping their minds composed and cheerful, and their manners creditable, promoting their convalescence, and dismissing them in a state of comfort as to equipment. This is the first duty, in its many subdivisions. The next is to obviate, as far as possible, future disease in any army. The third grows out of this. It is to improve the science of the existing generation by a full use of the peculiar opportunities of observation afforded by the crop of sickness and wounds yielded by an army in action. To take these in their reverse order.
There must be much to learn from any great assemblage of sickness, under circumstances which can be fully ascertained, even at home,—and much more in a foreign climate. The medical body of every nation has very imperfect knowledge of classes and modifications of diseases; so that one of the strongest desires of the most learned physicians is for an improved classification and constantly improving nomenclature of diseases; and hospital-records afford the most direct way to this knowledge. Thus, while the phenomena are frittered away among Regimental or unorganized General Hospitals, a well-kept record in each well-organized hospital will do more than all other means to promote the scientific understanding of disease.
The statistics of disease in armies, the ascertainment of the numbers who sicken and who die of particular diseases, would save more lives in future generations than can be now appreciated; but what can the regimental surgeon do towards furnishing any trustworthy materials to such an inquiry? A dozen doctors, with each his smattering of patients, can learn and teach but little while they work apart: whereas a regular system of inquiry and record, in action where the sick are brought in in battalions, is the best possible agency. Not only are these objects lost when surgeons are allowed to make the great hospital a mere receptacle for a cluster of small and desultory hospitals, but the advantages of a broad study of diseases and their treatment are lost. Inestimable facts of treatment are learned by watching, at the same time and in the same place, a ward full of patients ill of the same disease. People of all countries know this by the special learning which their physicians obtain in large civil hospitals: and the same thing happens in military hospitals, with the additional advantage that the information and improved art tend to the special safety of the future soldiery, in whatever climate they may be called on to serve.
There has long been some general notion of the duty of army-surgeons to record what they saw in foreign campaigns; but no benefit has been reaped till of late. The works of French field-surgeons have long been justly celebrated; but I do not know that in the statistics and the nomenclature of disease they have done much more than others. The English surgeons carried or sent home in 1810 a mass of papers about the Walcheren fever, and afterwards of the diseases of the Peninsular force: but the Director General of the Medical Department considered such a bulk of records troublesome, and ordered them to be burnt! Such an act will never be perpetrated again; but directors will have a more manageable mass of documents to deal with henceforth. With a regular system of record, at a central station of observation, much more may be done with much less fatigue to all parties.
But how is it to be done? may well be asked. In the hurry and confusion of a war, and amidst the pressure of hundreds of new cases in a day, what can the surgeons of the hospital be expected to do for science, or even for the improvement of medical and surgical practice?—The answer is seen in the new arrangements in England, where a statistical branch has been established in the Army Medical Department. Of course, no one but the practising surgeon or physician can furnish the pathological facts in each individual case; but this is what every active and earnest practitioner does always and everywhere, when he sees reason for it. His note-book or hospital-journal provides that raw material which the statistical department is to arrange and utilize. The result will be that a flood of light will be cast on matters affecting the health and life of soldiers and other men, in regard to which we might have gone on groping for centuries among the confusion of regimental records, without getting what we wanted. As to the method of proceeding, I may have something to say farther on. Meantime, we must turn to the primary object of the institution of the Military Hospital,—the cure of the wounded and sick of the army.
In the case of active war, foreign or civil, the General Hospital is usually an extemporized establishment, the building a makeshift, and the arrangements such as the building will admit. In Spain, the British obtained any houses they could get; and the soldiers were sometimes crowded into half a dozen of them in one town. In the last war, the great buildings at Scutari were engaged three months before they were wanted for extensive use; so that there was plenty of time for making them clean, airy, warm, and commodious, and for storing them with all conveniences. This was not done; and the failure and its consequences afford a lesson by which every people engaged in war should profit. A mere outline of what was not done at Scutari may be an indication of what should be done with all convenient speed elsewhere.
There was a catgut manufactory close at hand, which filled the neighborhood with stench. Half a dozen dead dogs festered under the windows in the sun; and a dead horse lay in the aqueduct for six weeks. The drain-pipes within the building were obstructed and had burst, spreading their contents over the floors and walls. The sloping boarded divans in the wards, used for sleeping-places, were found, after the building became crowded, to be a cover for a vast accumulation of dead rats, old rags, and the dust of years. Like all large stone buildings in the East, it was intolerably cold in winter, with its stagnant air, its filthy damps, and its vaultings and chill floors. This wonderful building was very grandly reported of to England, for its size and capacity, its imposing character, and so forth; and the English congratulated themselves on the luck of the wounded in having such a hospital. Yet, in the next January, fourteen hundred and eighty were carried out dead.
It appears that nobody knew how to go to work. Everybody writes to somebody else to advise them to "observe"; and there are so many assurances that everybody means to "observe," that there seems to have been no leisure to effect anything. One thinks that this, that, or the other should be attended to; and another states that the matter is under consideration. It was some weeks before anybody got so far in definiteness as to propose whitewash. Somebody understood that somebody else was intending to have the corridors scoured; and representations were to be made to the Turkish authorities about getting the drain-pipes mended. The Turkish authorities wished to employ their own workmen in putting in the stoves; and on the 18th of December the responsible British officer hoped the stoves would be put up immediately, but could not be certain, as Turkish workmen were in question. This was a month after large companies of wounded and sick had been sent in from the seat of war. Even then, nothing had been done for ventilation, or, on any sufficient scale, for putting the poor sufferers comfortably to bed.
These things confirm the necessity of a regulated cooperation between the sanitary, the medical, and the military officers of an army. The sanitary officer should be secure of the services of engineers enough to render the hospital, as well as the camp, safely habitable. As soon as any building is taken possession of for a hospital, men and their tools should be at command for exploring the drains and making new ones,—for covering or filling up ditches,—for clearing and purifying the water-courses, and leading in more water, if needed,—for removing all nuisances for a sufficient distance round,—and for improving to the utmost the means of access to the house. There must be ventilating spaces in the roof, and in the upper part of all the wards and passages. Every vaulted space, or other receptacle of stagnant air, should have a current established through it. All decaying wood in the building should be removed, and any portion ingrained with dirt should be planed clean. A due water-supply should be carried up to every story, and provided for the bathrooms, the wash-houses, and the kitchen. Every edifice in America is likely to be already furnished with means of warmth; and the soldiers are probably in no danger of shivering over the uncertain promise of stoves on the 18th of December.
Next comes the consideration of store-place, which can be going forward while busy hands are cleaning every inch of ceiling, walls, floors, and windows within. There must be sheds and stables for the transport service; and a surgery and dispensary planned with a view to the utmost saving of time and trouble, so that medicines and utensils may be within reach and view, and the freest access allowed to applicants. The kitchens must have the best stoves and boilers, dressers and scales, and apparatus of every kind that is known to the time; for more lives depend on perfect food being administered with absolute punctuality than upon any medical treatment. There must be large and abundant and airy store-places for the provisions, and also for such stocks of linen and bedding as perhaps nobody ever dreamed of before the Crimean War.
The fatal notions of Regimental Hospital management caused infinite misery at Scutari. In entering the Regimental Hospital, the soldier carries his kit, or can step into his quarters for it: and the regulations, therefore, suppose him to be supplied with shirts and stockings, towel and soap, brushes and comb. This supposition was obstinately persevered in, at Scutari, till private charity had shamed the authorities into providing for the men's wants. When the wounded were brought from the Alma, embarked on crowded transports straight from the battle-field, how could they bring their kits? Miss Nightingale, and benevolent visitors from England, bought up at Constantinople, and obtained from home, vast supplies of body- and bed-linen, towels, basins, and water-cans; and till they did so, the poor patients lay on a single blanket or coarse canvas sheet, in their one shirt, perhaps soaked in blood and dirt. There were some stores in the hospital, though not enough; and endless difficulty was made about granting them, lest any man should have brought his kit, and thus have a double supply. Amidst the emergencies of active war, it seems to be an obvious provision that every General Hospital should have in store, with ample bedding, body-linen enough for as many patients as can occupy the beds,—the consideration being kept in view, that, where the sick and wounded are congregated, more frequent changes of linen are necessary than under any other circumstances.
The excellent and devoted managers of the hospitals of the Union army need no teaching as to the daily administration of the affairs of the wards. They will never have to do and dare the things that Miss Nightingale had to decide upon, because they have happily had the privilege of arranging their hospitals on their own principles. They will not know the exasperation of seeing sufferers crowded together on a wooden divan (with an under-stratum of dead rats and rotting rags) while there is an out-house full of bedsteads laid up in store under lock and key. Not being disposed to acquiesce in such a state of things, and failing in all attempts to get at the authority which had charge of the locked door, Miss Nightingale called to an orderly or two, and commanded them to break open the door. They stared; but she said she assumed the responsibility; and presently there were as many men in bed as there were bedsteads. Her doctrine and practice have always been,—instant and silent obedience to medical and disciplinary orders, without any qualification whatever; and by her example and teaching in this respect she at length overcame the jealousy and prejudices of authorities, medical and military: but in such a case as the actual presence of necessaries for the sick, sent out by Government or by private charity for their use, she claimed the benefit, and helped her patients to it, when there was no other obstruction in the way than forms and rules never meant to apply to the case.
What the jealousy was appeared through very small incidents. A leading medical officer declared, in giving evidence, that the reason why the patients' meals were sometimes served late and cold, or half-cooked, was, that Miss Nightingale and her nurses were forever in the way in the general kitchen, keeping the cooks from the fire: whereas the fact was, that neither Miss Nightingale nor any nurse had ever entered the general kitchen, on any occasion whatever. Their way was to have a kitchen of their own. The very idea of that kitchen was savory in the wards; for out of it came, always at the right moment, arrowroot, hot and of the pleasantest consistence,—rice puddings, neither hard on the one hand nor clammy on the other,—cool lemonade for the feverish, cans full of hot tea for the weary, and good coffee for the faint. When the sinking sufferer was lying with closed eyes, too feeble to make moan or sign, the hospital spoon was put between his lips, with the mouthful of strong broth or hot wine which rallied him till the watchful nurse came round again. The meat from that kitchen was tenderer than any other; the beef-tea was more savory. One thing that came out of it was a lesson on the saving of good cookery. The mere circumstance of the boiling water being really boiling there made a difference of two ounces of rice in every four puddings, and of more than half the arrowroot used. The same quantity of arrowroot which made a pint, thin and poor, in the general kitchen, made two pints, thick and good, in Miss Nightingale's.
Then there was the difference in readiness and punctuality. Owing to cumbrous forms and awkward rules, the orderlies charged with the business were running round almost all day about the food for their wards; and the patients were disgusted with it at last. There were endless orders and details, whenever the monotonous regular diet was departed from; whereas the establishment of several regular diets, according to the classifications in the wards, would have simplified matters exceedingly. When everything for dysentery patients, or for fever patients, or for certain classes of wounded was called "extra diet," there were special forms to be gone through, and orders and contradictions given, which threw everything into confusion, under the name of discipline. The authority of the ward would allow some extra,—butter, for instance; and then a higher authority, seeing the butter, and not knowing how it came there, would throw it out of the window, as "spoiling the men." Between getting the orders, and getting the meat and extras, and the mutual crowding of the messengers, some of the dinners were not put on the fire till an hour or two after the fainting patient should have had his meal: and then, of course, he could not take it. The cold mutton-chop with its opaque fat, the beef with its caked gravy, the arrowroot stiff and glazed, all untouched, might be seen by the bedsides in the afternoons, while the patients were lying back, sinking for want of support. Probably the dinners had been brought up on a tray, cooling all the way up-stairs and along the corridors; and when brought in, there was the cutting up, in full view of the intended eaters,—sometimes on the orderly's own bed, when the tables were occupied. Under such a system, what must it have been to see the quick and quiet nurses enter, as the clock struck, with their hot-water tins, hot morsels ready-cut, hot plates, bright knife and fork and spoon,—and all ready for instant eating! This was a strong lesson to those who would learn; and in a short time there was a great change for the better. The patients who were able to sit at table were encouraged to rise, and dress, and dine in cheerful company, and at the proper hour. It was discovered, that, if an alternation was provided of soups, puddings, fish, poultry, and vegetables, with the regular beef dinner, the great mass of trouble about extras was swept away at once; for these varieties met every case in hospital except the small number which required slops and cordials, or something very unusual. By this clearance, time was saved to such an extent that punctuality became possible, and the refusal of food almost ceased.
All these details point to the essential badness of the system of requisitions. In the old days, when war was altogether a mass of formalities,—and in peace times, when soldiers and their guardians had not enough to do, and it was made an object and employment to save the national property by hedging round all expenditure of that property with difficulties, the system of requisitions might suit the period and the parties. Amidst the rapid action and sharp emergencies of war it is out of place. It was found intolerable that nothing whatever could be had,—not a dose of medicine, nor a candle, nor a sheet, nor a spoon or dish, nor a bit of soap,—without a series of permits, and applications, and orders, and vouchers, which frittered away the precious hours, depressed the sick, worried their nurses, and wasted more of money's worth in official time, paper, and expensive cross-purposes than could possibly have been saved by all the ostentatious vigilance of the method. The deck-loads of vegetables at Balaklava, thrown overboard because they were rotten before they were drawn, were not the only stores wasted for want of being asked for. When the Scutari hospitals had become healthy and comfortable, there was a thorough opening-out of all the stores which had before been made inaccessible by forms. No more bedsteads, no more lime-juice, no more rice, no more beer, no more precious medicines were then locked away, out of the reach or the knowledge of those who were dying, or seeing others die, for want of them.
One miserable consequence of the cumbrous method was, that there was no certainty at any hour of some essential commodity not falling short. It would have been a dismal day for the most suffering of the patients when there was not fuel enough to cook "extras," if Miss Nightingale had not providently bought four boat-loads of wood to meet such a contingency. It was a dreadful night in the hospital, when, as cholera patients were brought in by the score, the surgeons found there were no candles to be had. In that disease, of all maladies, they had to tend their patients in the dark all night; and a more shocking scene can scarcely be conceived.
Every great influx of patients was terrible, whether from an epidemic or after a battle; but experience and devotedness made even this comparatively easy before the troops turned homewards. The arrival of a transport was, perhaps, the first intimation of the earlier battles. Then all was hurry-skurry in the hospitals; everybody was willing to help, but the effectual organization was not yet ready.
Of every hundred on board the transport, an average of ten had died since leaving the Crimea. The names and causes of death of these men ought to be recorded; but the surgeons of the transport are wholly occupied in despatching their living charge to the hospital; and the surgeons there have enough to do in receiving them. Attempts are made to obtain the number and names and injuries of the new patients: there may or may not be a list furnished from the ship; and the hospital surgeons inquire from bed to bed: but in such a scene mistakes are sure to arise; and it was found, in fact, that there was always more or less variation between the numbers recorded as received or dead and the proper number. No one could wonder at this who had for a moment looked upon the scene. The poor fellows just arrived had perhaps not had their clothes off since they were wounded or were seized with cholera, and they were steeped in blood and filth, and swarming with vermin. To obtain shirts and towels was hard work, because it had to be proved that they brought none with them. They were laid on the floor in the corridors, as close as they could be packed, thus breathing and contaminating the air which was to have refreshed the wards within. If laid upon so-called sheets, they entreated that the sheets might be taken away; for they were of coarse canvas, intolerable to the skin. Before the miserable company could be fed, made clean, and treated by the surgeons, many were dead; and a too large proportion were never to leave the place more, though struggling for a time with death. It was amidst such a scene that Florence Nightingale refused to despair of five men so desperately wounded as to be set aside by the surgeons. The surgeons were right. As they said, their time was but too little for the cases which were not hopeless. And Florence Nightingale was right in finding time, if she could, to see whether there was really no chance. She ascertained that these five were absolutely given over; and she and her assistants managed to attend to them through the night. She cleaned and comforted them, and had spoonfuls of nourishment ready whenever they could be swallowed. By the morning round of the surgeons, these men were ready to be operated upon; and they were all saved.
It would have been easier work at a later period. Before many months were over, the place was ready for any number to be received in peace and quietness. Instead of being carried from one place to another, because too many had been sent to one hospital and too few to another, the poor fellows were borne in the shortest and easiest way from the boat to their beds. They were found eager for cleanliness; and presently they were clean accordingly, and lying on a good bed, between clean, soft sheets. They did not come in scorbutic, like their predecessors; and they had no reason to dread hospital gangrene or fever. Every floor and every pane in the windows was clean; and the air came in pure from the wide, empty corridors. There was a change of linen whenever it was desired; and the shirts came back from the wash perfectly sweet and fresh. The cleaning of the wards was done in the mornings, punctually, quickly, quietly, and thoroughly. The doctors came round, attended by a nurse who received the orders, and was afterwards steady in the fulfilment of them. The tables of the medicines of the day were hung up in the ward; and the nurse went round to administer them with her own hand. Where she was, there was order and quietness all day, and the orderlies were worth twice as much as before the women came. Their manners were better; and they gave their minds more to their business. The nurse found time to suit each patient who wished it with a book or a newspaper, when gifts of that sort arrived from England. Kind visitors sat by the beds to write letters for the patients, undertaking to see the epistles forwarded to England. When the invalids became able to rise for dinner, it was a turning-point in their case; and they were soon getting into the apartment where there were games and books and meetings of old comrades. As I have said before, those who died at these hospitals were finally scarcely more than those who died in—not the hospitals—but the barracks of the Guards at home.
What were the changes in organization needed to produce such a regeneration as this?
They were such as must appear to Americans very simple and easy. The wonder will be rather that they were necessary at last than that they should have been effected with any difficulty. But Americans have never known what it is to have a standing army as a long-established and prominent national institution; and they can therefore hardly conceive of the strength of the class-spirit which grows up in the various departments of the military organization. This jealousy, egotism, and stiffness of prejudice were much aggravated by the long peace, in which a great rusting of the apparatus of the system took place, without at all impairing the complacency of those who formed a part of it. The old medical officers were incapable, pedantic, and jealous; and no proper relation had ever been established between them and the military authorities. The imbecility of the system cost the lives of others than the soldiers who died in hospital. Brave men arose, as in all such crises, to bear the consequences of other men's mistakes, and the burden of exposing them; and several physicians and surgeons died, far from home, in the effort to ameliorate a system which they found unworkable. The greatest benefactor in exhibiting evils and suggesting remedies, Dr. Alexander, lived to return home, and instigate reforms, and receive the honors which were his due; but he soon sank under the consequences of his labors. So did Lord Herbert, the Secretary of War, to whom, in conjunction with Miss Nightingale, the British army, at home, in India, and everywhere, owes its redemption from special sickness and undue mortality. In America the advantages may be enjoyed without tax or drawback. The citizens are accustomed to organize themselves for action of all sorts; and no stiff-necked classes stand in the way of good management. The difficulty in America must rather be to understand how anything so perverse as the management of British military hospitals ten years ago can have existed to so late a date.
It was supposed, ten years since, that there must be nine separate departments in every Military General Hospital, and the officials bore titles accordingly; but there was such an odd confusion in their functions that every one of the nine was often seen doing the business of some other. The medical officers were drawing corks and tasting wines and inspecting provisions, when they should have been by the bedside. The purveyor was counting the soldiers' money, and noting its amount, when he should have been marketing, or ordering the giving out of the provisions for the day. The paymaster could scarcely find time to discharge the bills, so much was his day filled up with doing eternal sums about the stoppages in the pay of the patients. There were thirteen kinds of stoppages in the army, three of which were for the sick in hospital: the paymaster could never be quite certain that he had reckoned rightly with every man to the last penny; the men were never satisfied; and the confusion was endless. The commissariat, the purveyor, and the paymaster were all kept waiting to get their books made up, while soldiers were working the sums,—being called from their proper business to help about the daily task of the stoppages. Why there should not be one uniform stoppage out of the pay of men in hospital no person of modern ideas could see; and the paymaster's toils would have been lessened by more than one-half, if he had had to reckon the deduction from the patients' pay at threepence or fourpence each, all round, instead of having to deal with thousands per day individually, under three kinds of charge upon the pay.
The commandant's post was the hardest,—he being supposed to control every province, and have every official under his orders, and yet being powerless in regard to two or three departments, the business of which he did not understand. The officers of those departments went each his own way; and all unity of action in the establishment was lost. This is enough to say of the old methods.
In the place of them, a far simpler system was proposed at the end of the war. The eternal dispute as to whether the commandant should be military or medical, a soldier or a civilian, was set aside by the decision that he should be simply the ablest administrator that could be found, and be called the Governor, to avoid the military title. Why there should be any military management of men who are sick as men, and not as soldiers, it is difficult to see; and when the patients are about to leave the hospital, a stated supervision from the adjutant-general's department is all that can be required. Thus is all the jealousy between military and medical authority got rid of. The Governor's authority must be supreme, like that of the commandant of a fortress, or the commander of a ship. He will not want to meddle in the doctors' professional business; and in all else he is to be paramount,—being himself responsible to the War-Office. The office, as thus declared, is equivalent to three of the nine old ones, namely, the Commandant, the Adjutant-General, and the Quartermaster-General.
Next to the Governor, the Chief Medical Officer must be the most important man in the establishment. He is to be concerned with professional business only, and to see that all under him are to be devoted in the same way. For this purpose there must be an end to the system of requisitions. There must be a Steward, taking his orders from the Governor alone, and administering a simple and liberal system of diets and appliances of all sorts. It is his business to provide everything for the consumption of the establishment, and to keep the contractors up to their duty. The Treasurer's function speaks for itself. All the accounts and payments under the Governor's warrant are in his charge.
There is one more office, rendered necessary by the various and active service always going on,—the superintendent of that service, or Captain of the Wards. He is to have the oversight of the orderlies, cooks, washers, and storekeepers; he is to keep order throughout the house; and he is to be referred to in regard to everything that is wanted in the wards, except what belongs to the department of the medical officers or the steward.
As for the medical department, there is now a training provided for such soldiers as wish to qualify themselves for hospital duty. Formerly, the hospital was served by such men as the military officers thought fit to spare for the purpose; and they naturally did not send the best. These men knew nothing of either cleaning wards or nursing patients. Their awkwardness in sweeping and scouring and making beds was extreme; and they were helpless in case of anything being wanted to a blister or a sore. One was found, one day, earnestly endeavoring to persuade his patient to eat his poultice. It is otherwise now. The women, where there are any, ought to have the entire charge of the sweeping and cleaning,—the housemaid's work of the wards; and as to the rest, the men of the medical-staff corps have the means of learning how to dress a blister, and poultice a sore, and apply plasters, lint, and bandages, and administer medicine, and how to aid the sick in their ablutions, in getting their meals with the least fatigue, and so on.
Of female nurses it is not necessary to say much in America, any more than in England or France. They are not admissible into Regimental Hospitals, in a general way; but in great military and civil hospitals they are a priceless treasure.
The questions in regard to them are two. Shall their office be confined to the care of the linen and stores, and the supplying of extra diets and comforts? If admitted to officiate in the wards, how far shall that function extend?
In England, there seems to be a strong persuasion that some time must elapse, and perhaps a generation of doctors must pass away, before the ministration of female nurses in military hospitals can become a custom, or even an unquestioned good. No rational person can doubt what a blessing it would be to the patients to have such nurses administer nourishment, when the rough orderlies would not have discernment or patience to give the frequent spoonful when the very life may hang upon it. Nobody doubts that wounds would be cleansed which otherwise go uncleansed,—that much irritation and suffering would be relieved which there are otherwise no hands to undertake. Nobody doubts that many lives would be saved in every great hospital from the time that fevered frames and the flickerings of struggling vitality were put under the charge of the nurses whom Nature made. But the difficulties and risks are great. On the whole, it seems to be concluded by those who know best, that only a few female nurses should be admitted into military and naval hospitals: that they should be women of mature age and ascertained good sense, thoroughly trained to their business: that they should be the women who have been, or who would be, the head nurses in other hospitals, and that they should be paid on that scale: that they should have no responsibility,—being wholly subject to the surgeons in ward affairs, and to their own superintendent in all others: that no enthusiasts or religious devotees should be admitted,—because that very qualification shows that they do not understand the business of nursing: that everything that can be as well done by men should be done by trained orderlies: that convalescents should, generally speaking, be attended on by men,—and if not, that each female nurse of convalescents should have a hundred or so in her charge, whereas of the graver cases forty or fifty are as many as one nurse can manage, with any amount of help from orderlies. These proposals give some idea of what is contemplated with regard to the ordinary nurses in a General Military Hospital. The superintendent of the nurses in each institution must be a woman of high quality and large experience. And she will show her good sense, in the first place, by insisting on a precise definition of her province, that there maybe no avoidable ill-will on the part of the medical officers, and no cause of contention with the captain of service, or whatever the administrator of the interior may be called. She must have a decisive voice in the choice of her nurses; and she will choose them for their qualifications as nurses only, after being satisfied as to their character, health, and temper.
No good nurse can endure any fuss about her work and her merits. Enthusiasts and devotees find immediately that they are altogether out of place in a hospital,—or, as we may now say, they would find this, if they were ever to enter a hospital: for, in fact, they never now arrive there. The preparation brings them to a knowledge of themselves; and the two sorts of women who really and permanently become nurses are those who desire to make a living by a useful and valued and well-paid occupation, and those who benevolently desire to save life and mitigate suffering, with such a temper of sobriety and moderation as causes them to endure hardship and ill-usage with firmness, and to dislike praise and celebrity at least as much as hostility and evil construction. The best nurses are foremost in perceiving the absurdity and disagreeableness of such heroines of romance as flourished in the press seven years ago,—young ladies disappointed in love, who went out to the East, found their lovers in hospital, and went off with them, to be happy ever after, without any anxiety or shame at deserting their patients in the wards without leave or notice. Not of this order was Florence Nightingale, whose practical hard work, personal reserve, and singular administrative power have placed her as high above impeachment for feminine weaknesses as above the ridicule which commonly attends the striking out of a new course by man or woman. Those who most honor her, and most desire to follow her example, are those who most steadily bring their understandings and their hearts to bear upon the work which she began. Her ill-health has withdrawn her from active nursing and administration; but she has probably done more towards the saving of life by working in connection with the War-Office in private than by her best-known deeds in her days of health. Through her, mainly, it is that every nation has already studied with some success the all-important subject of Health in the Camp and in the Hospital. It now lies in the way of American women to take up the office, and, we may trust, to "better the instruction."
* * * * *
A STORY OF THANKSGIVING-TIME.
Old Jacob Newell sat despondent beside his sitting-room fire. Gray-haired and venerable, with a hundred hard lines, telling of the work of time and struggle and misfortune, furrowing his pale face, he looked the incarnation of silent sorrow and hopelessness, waiting in quiet meekness for the advent of the King of Terrors: waiting, but not hoping, for his coming; without desire to die, but with no dread of death.
At a short distance from him, in an ancient straight-backed rocking-chair, dark with age, and clumsy in its antique carvings, sat his wife. Stiffly upright, and with an almost painful primness in dress and figure, she sat knitting rapidly and with closed eyes. Her face was rigid as a mask; the motion in her fingers, as she plied her needles, was spasmodic and machine-like; the figure, though quiet, wore an air of iron repose that was most uneasy and unnatural. Still, through the mask and from the figure there stole the aspect and air of one who had within her deep wells of sweetness and love which only strong training or power of education had thus covered up and obscured. She looked of that stern Puritanical stock whose iron will conquered the severity of New England winters and overcame the stubbornness of its granite hills, and whose idea of a perfect life consisted in the rigorous discharge of all Christian duties, and the banishment, forever and at all times, of the levity of pleasure and the folly of amusement. She could have walked, if need were, with composure to the stake; but she could neither have joined in a game at cards, nor have entered into a romp with little children. All this was plainly to be seen in the stern repose of her countenance and the stiff harshness of her figure.
Upon the stained deal table, standing a little in the rear and partially between the two, reposed an open Bible. Between its leaves lay a pair of large, old-fashioned, silver-bowed spectacles, which the husband had but recently laid there, after reading the usual daily chapter of Holy Writ. He had ceased but a moment before, and had laid them down with a heavy sigh, for his heart to-day was sorely oppressed; and no wonder; for, following his gaze around the room, we find upon the otherwise bare walls five sad mementos of those who had "gone before,"—five coarse and unartistic, but loving tributes to the dead.
There they hang, framed in black, each with its white tomb and overhanging willow, and severally inscribed to the memories of Mark, John, James, Martha, and Mary Newell. All their flock. None left to honor and obey, none to cheer, none to lighten the labor or soothe the cares. All gone, and these two left behind to travel hand in hand, but desolate, though together, to the end of their earthly pilgrimage.
There had, indeed, been one other, but for him there hung no loving memorial. He was the youngest of all, and such a noble, strong, and lusty infant, that the father, in the pride of his heart, and with his fondness for Scriptural names, had christened him Samson. He, too, had gone; but in the dread gallery that hung about the room there was no framed funereal picture "To the Memory of Samson Newell." If in the tomb of his father's or mother's heart he lay buried, no outward token gave note thereof.
So the old couple sat alone before the sitting-room fire. It was not often used, this room,—scarcely ever now, except upon Sunday, or on those two grave holidays that the Newells kept,—Thanksgiving- and Fast-Day. This was Thanksgiving-Day. The snow without was falling thick and fast. It came in great eddies and white whirls, obscuring the prospect from the windows and scudding madly around the corners. It lay in great drifts against the fences, and one large pile before the middle front-window had gathered volume till it reached half up the second row of panes; for it had snowed all night and half the day before. The roads were so blocked by it that they would have been rendered impassable but for the sturdy efforts of the farmers' boys, who drove teams of four and five yokes of oxen through the drifts with heavily laden sleds, breaking out the ways. The sidewalks in the little village were shovelled and swept clean as fast as the snow fell; for, though all business was suspended, according to the suggestion in the Governor's proclamation, and in conformity to old usage, still they liked to keep the paths open on Thanksgiving-Day,—the paths and the roads; for nearly half the families in the place expected sons and daughters from far away to arrive on the train which should have been at the railroad-station on the previous evening, but had been kept back by the snow.
But Jacob and Ruth Newell had neither son nor daughter, grandchild, cousin, relation of any nearness or remoteness, to expect; for the white snow covered with a cold mantle scores of mounds in many graveyards where lay their dead. And they sat this day and thought of all their kindred who had perished untimely,—all save one.
Whether he lived, or whether he had died,—where he lay buried, if buried he were,—or where he rioted, if still in the land of the living, they had no notion. And why should they care?
He had been a strong-willed and wild lad. He had disobeyed the injunctions of his parents while yet a boy. He had not loved the stiff, sad Sabbaths, nor the gloomy Saturday nights. He had rebelled against the austerities of Fast- and Thanksgiving-Days. He had learned to play at cards and to roll tenpins with the village boys. He had smoked in the tavern bar-room of evenings. In vain had his father tried to coerce him into better ways; in vain had his mother used all the persuasions of a maternal pride and fondness that showed themselves only, of all her children, to this brave, handsome, and reckless boy. He had gone from worse to worse, after the first outbreaking from the strict home rules, until he had become at length a by-word in the village, and anxious mothers warned their sons against companionship with wicked Samson Newell,—and this when he was only seventeen years of age.
Perhaps mildness might have worked well with the self-willed boy, but his father knew nothing but stern command and prompt obedience in family management; and so the son daily fell away, until came the inevitable day when his wrong-doing reached a climax and he left his father's roof forever.
It was on a Thanksgiving-Day, fifteen years ago, that the boy Samson, then seventeen years old, was brought home drunk and bleeding. He had passed the previous night at a ball at the tavern, against the express command of his father, who would have gone to fetch him away, but that he could not bear to enter upon a scene he thought so wicked, and especially upon such an errand. When the dance was over, the boy had lingered at the bar, drinking glass after glass, until he got into a fight with the bully of the village, whom he thrashed within an inch of his life, and then he had sat down in a small side-room with a few choice spirits, with the avowed purpose of getting drunk over his victory. He had got drunk, "gloriously drunk" his friends at the tavern styled it, and had been carried in that state home.
Oh, the bitterness of the misery of that Thanksgiving-Day to Jacob Newell! He may live a hundred years and never know such another.
The next day Samson awoke from a wretched stupor to find himself weak, nervous, and suffering from a blinding headache. In this condition his father forced him to the barn, and there, with a heavy raw-hide, flogged him without mercy. That night Samson Newell disappeared, and was thenceforward seen no more in the village.
The same night one of the village stores was entered, the door of an ancient safe wrenched open, and something over a hundred dollars in specie taken therefrom. So that on Samson Newell's head rested the crime of filial disobedience, and the suspicion, amounting, with nearly all, to a certainty, that he had added burglary to his other wrong-doing.
His name was published in the papers throughout the county, together with a personal description and the offer of a reward for his arrest and return. But as he was never brought back nor heard of more, the matter gradually died away and was forgotten by most in the village; the more so as, from respect and pity for Jacob Newell, it was scarce ever mentioned, except privately.
Eight years elapsed from the time of his flight and supposed crime, when the fellow he had thrashed at the tavern was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for a murder committed in a midnight tavern-brawl. In a confession that he made he exonerated Samson Newell from any participation in or knowledge of the burglary for which his reputation had so long suffered, stating in what manner he had himself committed the deed. So the memory of the erring son of Jacob Newell was relieved from the great shadow that had darkened it. Still he was never mentioned by father or mother; and seven years more rolled wearily on, till they sit, to-day, alone and childless, by the flickering November fire.
Sore trouble had fallen on them since their youngest son had disappeared. One by one, the elder children had passed away, each winter's snow for five years covered a fresh grave, till the new afflictions that were in store for them scarcely seemed to affect them otherwise than by cutting yet deeper into the sunken cheeks the deep lines of sorrow and regret.
Jacob Newell had been known for years as a "forehanded man" in the rural neighborhood. His lands were extensive, and he had pursued a liberal system of cultivation, putting into the soil in rich manures more in strength than he took from it, until his farm became the model one of the county, and his profits were large and ever increasing. Particularly in orchards of choice fruit did he excel his neighbors, and his apples, pears, and quinces always commanded the best price in the market. So he amassed wealth, and prospered.
But, unfortunately, after death had taken away his children, and the work in the fields was all done by hired hands, the old man became impatient of the dulness of life, and a spirit of speculation seized him. Just at that time, railroad-stock was in high favor throughout the country. Steam-drawn carriages were to do away with all other modes of public travel, (as, indeed, they generally have done,) and the fortunate owners of railroad-stock were to grow rich without trouble in a short time. In particular, a certain line of railroad, to run through the village where he lived, was to make Jacob Newell and all his neighbors rich. It would bring a market to their doors, and greatly increase the value of all they produced; but above all, those who took stock in it would be insured a large permanent income. Better the twenty and thirty per cent. that must accrue from this source than to loan spare cash at six per cent., or invest their surplus in farm improvements. So said a very fluent and agreeable gentleman from Boston, who addressed the people on the subject at a "Railroad Meeting" held in the town-hall; and incautious Jacob Newell (hitherto most prudent throughout his life) believed.
Only twenty per cent. was to be paid down; no more, said the circular issued by the directors, might be required for years; perhaps there would never be any further call: but that would depend very materially on how generously the farmers through whose lands the road would pass should give up claims for land-damages. Jacob Newell needed excitement of some sort, and it took the form of speculation. He believed in the railroad, and subscribed for two hundred shares of the stock, for which he paid four thousand dollars down. He also gave the company the right of way where the track crossed his farm.
In six months he was called upon for two thousand dollars more; three months afterwards another two thousand was wanted; and so it ran till he was obliged to mortgage his farm, and finally to sell the greater part of it, to meet his subscription. In vain he begged for mercy, and pleaded the statement that only twenty per cent. would be needed. A new set of directors laughed him, and others like him, to scorn. He would have sold his stock, but he found it quoted at only twenty-five cents on the dollar, and that price he could not prevail upon himself to take.
So he sat on this drear Thanksgiving-Day despondent beside his hearth. With a hundred hard lines furrowing his pale face, telling of the work of time and struggle and misfortune, he looked the incarnation of silent sorrow and hopelessness, waiting in quiet meekness for the coming of Death,—without desire, but without dread.
It was not strange that on this day there should come into the hearts of both Jacob and Ruth, his wife, sad and dismal memories. Still his gaze wandered silently about the room, and she plied unceasingly her stiff, bright knitting-needles. One would have thought her a figure of stone, sitting so pale and bolt upright, but for the activity of the patiently industrious fingers.
Presently Jacob spoke.
"Ruth," he said, "it is a bitter time for us, and we are sore oppressed; but what does the Psalmist say to such poor, worn-out creatures as we are? 'The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.' Wife, we are not forsaken of the Lord, although all earthly things seem to go wrong with us."
She made no verbal reply; but there was a nervous flutter in the poor, wan fingers, as she still plied the needles, and two large tears rolled silently down her checks and fell upon the white kerchief she wore over her shoulders.
"We have still a house over our heads," continued Jacob, "and wherewithal to keep ourselves fed and clothed and warmed; we have but a few years more to live; let us thank God for what blessings He has yet vouchsafed us."
She arose without a word, stiff, angular, ungainly, and they knelt together on the floor.
Meanwhile the snow fell thicker and faster without, and blew in fierce clouds against the windows. The wind was rising and gaining power, and it whistled wrathfully about the house, howling as in bitter mockery at the scene within. Sometimes it swelled into wild laughter, and again dropped into low and plaintive wailings. It was very dismal out in the cold, and hardly more cheerful in the warm sitting-room, where those two jaded souls knelt in earnest prayer.
* * * * *
A railway-train was fast in a snow-bank. There it had stuck, unable to move either backward or forward, since nine o'clock on Wednesday evening; it was now Thursday morning, the snow was still falling, and still seemed likely to fall, blocking up more and more the passage of the unfortunate train. There were two locomotives, with a huge snow-plough on the forward one, a baggage and express-car, and four cars filled with passengers. Two hundred people, all anxious, most of them grumbling, were detained there prisoners, snow-bound and helpless. It was a hard case, for they were more than two miles distant—with three feet depth of snow between—from the nearest house. The nearest village was five miles away at least.
It was Thanksgiving-Day, too, and they had almost all of them "lotted" upon a New-England Thanksgiving-dinner with old friends, brothers, fathers, mothers, and grandparents. And there they were, without so much as a ration of crackers and cheese.
It was noticeable that the women on the train—and there were quite a number, and most of them with children in their arms or by their sides—made, as a general rule, less disturbance and confusion than the men. The children, however, were getting very hungry and noisy by this Thanksgiving-morning.
In one of the cars were clustered as fine a family-group as the eye would desire to rest upon. It consisted of a somewhat large and florid, but firmly and compactly built man of thirty years or thereabout, a woman, evidently his wife and apparently some two or three years younger, and three beautiful children.
The man was large in frame, without being coarse, with a chest broad and ample as a gymnast's, and with arms whose muscular power was evident at every movement. His hair and beard (which latter he wore full, as was just beginning to be the custom) were dark brown in color, and thick and strong almost to coarseness in texture; his eye was a clear hazel, full, quick, and commanding, sometimes almost fierce; while an aquiline nose, full, round forehead, and a complexion bronzed by long exposure to all sorts of weather, gave him an aspect to be noted in any throng he might be thrown into. There was a constant air of pride and determination about the man, which softened, however, whenever his glance fell upon wife or children. At such times his face lighted up with a smile of peculiar beauty and sweetness.
The woman was of middle size, with fair hair, inclining towards auburn, blue eyes, and a clear red and white complexion. Her expression was one of habitual sweetness and good-humor, while a continual half-smile played about her rosy mouth. She was plump, good-natured, and cozy,—altogether a most lovable and delicious woman.
This pair, with their bright-looking children, occupied two seats near the stove, and were in constant pleasant converse, save when an occasional anxious and impatient shadow flitted across the face of the husband and father. On the rack over their heads reposed a small travelling-bag, which the day before had been filled with luncheon for the children. Upon its bottom was painted in small white letters the name, "Samson Newell."
It was, indeed, the long-lost son, returning on this day to answer, so much as in him lay, the prayers repeated for fifteen years by his father and mother,—returning to see his former home once more, and here, nearly on the threshold, stopped by a snow-storm almost unprecedented at that season. There was occasional bitterness in his impatience at the wearying detention, but he controlled it as well as he was able.
During the night the passengers had been quiet and uncomplaining. Wood taken from the tenders of the two locomotives in small quantities, and, when the engineers stopped the supplies in that quarter, rails torn from neighboring fences and broken up for firewood, kept them warm; but after the day had dawned, when the little treasures of luncheon were exhausted, and all began to feel the real pangs of hunger, things assumed a more serious aspect. Children in all the cars were crying for breakfast, and even the older passengers began to feel cross and jaded.
One pleasant fellow, with an apparently inexhaustible flask of whiskey in his pocket, and good-humor oozing from every pore of his jolly countenance, passed from car to car, retailing a hundred jokes to every fresh batch of listeners. But presently the passengers began to tire of his witticisms, and one after another "poohed" and "pshawed" at him as he approached. Then with infinite good-nature and philosophy he retired to one of the saloons and peacefully fell asleep.
Almost equally amusing was a wizened, bent, and thin old man, draped from head to foot in coarse butternut-colored homespun, and called "Old Woollen" by the funny fellow, who walked from car to car bewailing his hard lot.
"I've left the old woman to home," he whined, "with all the things on her hands, an' more 'n fifty of our folks comin' to eat dinner with us to-day; an' I've got a note of a hundred an' fifty dollars to pay,—to-morrow's the last day of grace,—an' I've been sixty-five mile to get the money to pay it. Now look here!" suddenly and sharply to the Funny Man, "what do you think o' that?"
"Old Woollen," said the Funny Man, with a tremulous voice and tears in his eyes, "it's a hard case!"
"So't is! That's a fact! Call an' see us, when you come round our way!"
And the old gentleman, greatly mollified by the sympathy of his new friend, moved on to find fresh auditors for his tale of woe.
It came to be nine o'clock on the morning of Thanksgiving-Day, and still the snow fell with unabated violence, and still drifts piled higher and higher about the captive train. The conductor and one of the firemen had started off on foot at early dawn in search of food for the passengers, and now there arrived, ploughing nearly breast-high through the snow, a convoy from one of the nearest farm-houses carefully guarding a valuable treasure of bread, cheese, bacon, eggs, and pumpkin-pies; but so many were the mouths to fill that it scarcely gave a bite apiece to the men, after the women and children had been cared for.
Then the passengers began to grow clamorous. Even the Funny Man had his woes, for some rogue entered the saloon where he slept and stole the whiskey-flask from his pocket. When he awoke and discovered his loss, he remarked that he knew where there was more of the same sort, and turned over to sleep again. But all were not so philosophical as he. Some cursed the railroad company, some cursed the fate that had placed them there, some cursed their folly in leaving comfortable quarters in order to fast in the snow on Thanksgiving-Day.
Presently the impatiently-pulled-out watches showed ten o'clock, and still it snowed. Then a rumor ran through the train that there were a couple of barrels of chickens, ready-dressed for market, in the express-car, and a general rush in that direction followed. One of the first to hear of it, and one of the first to be on the spot, was Samson Newell.
"Stand back, gentlemen," he cried to the foremost of the throng that poured eagerly into the car,—"stand back a moment. This poultry is in charge of the express messenger, and we have no right to take it without his license."
As he spoke, he placed himself beside the messenger. There was a determination in his eye and manner that held the crowd back for a short time.
"The chickens are mine," the messenger said; "I bought them on speculation; they will spoil before I can get anywhere with them, and they are now too late for Thanksgiving. You may have them for what I gave."
"I will give five dollars towards paying for them"; and Samson Newell drew out his pocket-book.
"Here's a dollar!" "I'll give a half!" "Count me in for two dollars!" cried the crowd, favorably struck with the notion of paying for their provender.
But one hulking fellow, with a large mock diamond in his shirt-front, and clumsy rings on his coarse and dirty fingers, stepped forward and said that he was a hungry man, that he had lost money by the—— company already, waiting a day and a night in that blamed snow-bank, and that he was going to have a chicken,—or two chickens, if he wanted them,—and he was decidedly of the opinion that there was no express messenger on the train who would see the color of his money in the transaction.
Samson Newell was evidently a man of few words in a case of emergency. He paused for only an instant to assure himself that the man was in earnest, then he slid open one of the side-doors of the express-car, and stretched forth a hand whose clutch was like the closing of a claw of steel. He seized the bejewelled stranger by the coat-collar, shook him for an instant, and dropped him,—dropped him into a soft snow-drift whose top was level with the car-floor. Whether the unfortunate worked a subterranean passage to one of the passenger-cars and there buried himself in the privacy of a saloon is not known; he certainly was not seen again till after relief came to the imprisoned train.
There was neither noise nor confusion in the matter of paying for and dividing the poultry. Samson Newell had already made himself prominent among the captive travellers. He had eaten nothing himself, that he might the better provide, so far as his limited provision went, for his wife and children; he had even gone through the cars with his scanty luncheon of cakes and apples, and economically fed other people's little ones, besides administering to the wants of an invalid lady upon the train, who was journeying alone. He was, therefore, a favorite with all on board. His action, enforcing payment for the provision that would very likely, but for him, have been taken by force, caused the passengers to defer to him as a leader whose strength and courage fitted him for the post, and so he presided at the distribution of the chickens without dispute.
The fuel in the stoves was replenished, and quite a large space was cleared to the leeward of the locomotive, where a fire was built from the neighboring fences, so that in an hour's time from the finding of the poultry the entire body of passengers were busy picking the bones of roasted and broiled fowls. It was not so bad a dinner! To be sure, it was rather chilly, now and then, when the opening of a car-door, to let in a half-frozen gentleman with a half-cooked chicken in his hand, admitted with him a snow-laden blast from without; and then the viands were not served a la Soyer, but there was an appetite for sauce and a certain gypsy-like feeling of being at a picnic that served as a relish. And so, in the year of our Lord 18—, two hundred strangers sat down together at a most extraordinary Thanksgiving-dinner, of which no account has hitherto been published, if I except a vote of thanks, "together with an exceedingly chaste and richly chased silver goblet," (so the newspaper description read,) which were presented to the conductor by "the surviving passengers," after he had procured help and rescued them from their perplexing predicament.
But dinners end. Twelve o'clock came, and still the snow was falling thick and fast, and still the white plain about them mounted slowly and surely towards the skies. Then the passengers became yet more weary and unhappy. Old Woollen, the unfortunate, detailed his woes to more and more appreciative audiences. Even the Funny Man—with a fresh flask of whiskey—sighed almost dismally between frequent uneasy "cat-naps." And Samson Newell, first seeing his wife comfortably settled, and his little ones safely disposed about her, strode up and down, from car to car, with a gloom of disappointment on his face that was almost ferocious. "Too bad!" he muttered, "too bad! too bad! too bad!"
One o'clock came, and the snow held up! At first the passengers noticed that the flakes fell less thickly. Then, gradually and ever slowly decreasing, they finally ceased falling altogether. The clouds drifted from before the face of the heavens, and the sun came out. It shone over a broad surface of glistening snow, with here and there a fence-post obtruding into notice, but otherwhere a cold, blank expanse of whiteness. One or two remote farm-houses, with blue smoke rising in thin, straight columns from their chimneys, a wide stretch of woodland to the right, distant hills bounding all the prospect,—and everywhere snow. No fences, no roads, no paths,—but only snow!
The passengers gazed out of the windows or stood upon the platforms,—drawn thither by the warmth of the sun,—with feelings almost akin to despair. Presently it was proposed to make for the farm-houses, and fifteen of the more adventurous started. A few struggled through and arrived in something over an hour at the nearest house, wet to the skin with melted snow, and too much fatigued to think of returning,—but most of them gave out at the end of the first half-mile, and came back to the train.
So the prisoners sat down and whiled away the time as best they might, in the relation of anecdotes, telling stories, and grumbling. A few slept, and a large number tried to do so, without success.
The slow hand of Time, moving more slowly for them than they remembered it to have ever moved before, crept on to three o'clock, and still there was no prospect of relief and no incident of note save the arrival through the snow of a dozen men sent by the conductor. They brought word that help was approaching from the nearest station where a sufficiently powerful locomotive could be obtained, and that they would probably be started on their way during the next forenoon. These messengers also brought a small supply of provisions and a number of packs of cards, with the latter of which many of the passengers were soon busy. They now resigned themselves to another night in the drift.
But at half after three occurred an incident that restored hope of a more speedy deliverance to a few of the captives.
Through the low pine-lands to the right ran a road which was very thoroughly protected from drifting snow by the overhanging trees, and along this road there now appeared two pair of oxen. In front of the oxen were five men armed with wooden snow-shovels, with which they beat down and scattered the snow. Behind all was a small, square box on runners. It was very small and contained only one board seat. Three persons could sit and three stand in it: no more.
Upon the appearance of this squad of road-breakers with their team, three hearty cheers went up from the train. They were immediately answered by the approach of the apparent leader of the expedition. He was a small, active, spare old fellow, so incrusted with frozen snow, which hung all over him in tiny white pellets, as to resemble more an active, but rather diminutive white bear, than anything else known to Natural History. He scrambled and puffed through the snow till he found a mounting-place upon an unseen fence, when he arose two or three feet above the surrounding surface, and spoke,—
"There's five on us, an' two yoke."
"Two yoke yender, an' five on us."
"Well! supposing there is?" from the train.
"Five mile to town," continued the White Bear, "an' been sence nine this mornin' gittin' here. Five times five is twenty-five, but, seein' it's you, I'll call it twelve 'n' 'arf."
"Call what 'twelve 'n' 'arf,' Sheep-Shanks?" from the train.
"That man don't ride, nohow! I've marked him! I don't cal'late to take no sarse this trip! Take any six or eight for twelve dollars an' fifty cents right straight to the tahvern! Who bids?"
"I'll give you fifteen dollars, my friend, to take myself, my wife, and three children to the village."
It was Samson Newell who spoke.
"'M offered fifteen," cried the White Bear, pricking up his ears; "goin' to the tahvern at fifteen; who says fifteen 'n' arf?"
"I do!" from a pursy passenger with a double chin and a heavy fob-chain.
He glanced round a little savagely, having made his bid, as who should say, "And I should like to see the man who will raise it!"
"'N' 'arf! 'n' 'arf! 'n' 'arf! 'n' 'arf!" cried the White Bear, growing much excited,—"an' who says sixteen?"
Samson Newell nodded.
"Sixteen dollars! sixteen! sixteen! We can't tarry, gentlemen!"
The White Bear proved the truth of this latter assertion by suddenly disappearing beneath the snow. He reappeared in an instant and resumed his outcry.
"I see the gentleman's sixteen," quoth the man who had called the White Bear "Sheep-Shanks," "and go fifty cents better!"
"I see you," replied the auctioneer, "an' don't take your bid! Who says sixteen 'n' 'arf?"
"I do!" quoth the Double Chin; and he glowered upon his fellow-passengers wrathfully.
At this instant appeared Old Woollen on the scene. In one hand he bore his pocket-book; in the other, a paper covered with calculations. The latter he studied intently for a moment, then,—
"I'll give you sixteen dollars an' sixty-two 'n' a half cents; an' if you ever come round our way"—
The jubilant auctioneer, fairly dancing upon the fence in the energy of his delight, broke in here,—
"Can't take no bids, gentlemen, short of a half-dollar rise, each time!"
Old Woollen retired, discomfited, and was seen no more.
From this point the bidding ran up rapidly till it reached twenty-five dollars, where it stopped, Samson Newell being the successful bidder.
It was a study to watch the man, now that his chance for reaching home that day brightened. Instead of being elate, his spirits seemed to fall as he made his arrival at the village certain.
"Ah!" he thought, "are my father and mother yet living? How will my brothers and sisters welcome me home?"
* * * * *
In the village where dwelt Jacob Newell and his wife, an old man, lame and totally blind, had been for over thirty years employed by the town to ring the meetinghouse-bell at noon, and at nine o'clock in the evening. For this service, the salary fixed generations before was five dollars, and summer and winter, rain or shine, he was always at his post at the instant.
When the old man rang the evening-bell on the Thanksgiving-Day whereof I write, he aroused Jacob and his wife from deep reverie.
"Oh, Jacob!" said the latter, "such a waking dream as I have had! I thought they all stood before me,—all,—every one,—none missing! And they were little children again, and had come to say their prayers before going to bed! They were all there, and I could not drive it from my heart that I loved Samson best!"
His name had hardly been mentioned between them for fifteen years.
Jacob Newell, with a strange look, as though he were gazing at some dimly defined object afar off, slowly spoke,—
"I have thought sometimes that I should like to know where he lies, if he is dead,—or how he lives, if he be living. Shall we meet him? Shall we meet him? Five goodly spirits await us in heaven; will he be there, also? Oh, no! he was a bad, bad, bad son, and he broke his father's heart!"
"He was a bad son, Jacob, giddy and light-headed, but not wholly bad. Oh, he was so strong, so handsome, so bright and brave! If he is living, I pray God that he may come back to see us for a little, before we follow our other lost ones!"
"If he should come back," said Jacob, turning very white, but speaking clearly and distinctly, "I would drive him from my door, and tell him to be gone forever! A wine-bibber, dissolute, passionate, headstrong, having no reverence for God or man, no love for his mother, no sense of duty towards his father; I have disowned him, once and forever, and utterly cast him out! Let him beware and not come back to tempt me to curse him!"
Still from the distance, overpowering and drowning the headlong rush of passion, came the soft booming of the evening-bell.
"I hear the church-bell, Jacob: we have not long to hear it. Let us not die cursing our son in our hearts. God gave him to us; and if Satan led him astray, we know not how strong the temptation may have been, nor how he may have fought against it."
Jacob Newell had nought to say in answer to this, but, from the passion in his heart, and from that egotism that many good men have whose religious education has taught them to make their personal godliness a matter to vaunt over, he spoke, foolishly and little to the point,—
"Ruth, did Satan ever lead me astray?"
"God knows!" she replied.
There came a rap at the door.
The melody of the church-bell was fast dying away. The last cadences of sound, the last quiver in the air, when the ringer had ceased to ring and the hammer struck the bell no more, lingered still, as a timid and uncertain tapping fell upon the door.
"Come in!" said Jacob Newell.
The door was slowly opened.
Then there stood within it a tall, muscular man, a stranger in those parts, with a ruddy face, and a full, brown beard. He stood grasping the door with all his might, and leaning against it as for support. Meanwhile his gaze wandered about the room with a strange anxiety, as though it sought in vain for what should assuredly have been found there.
"Good evening, Sir," said Jacob Newell.
The stranger made no reply, but still stood clinging to the door, with a strange and horrible expression of mingled wonder and awe in his face.
"'Tis a lunatic!" whispered Ruth to her husband.
"Sir," said Jacob, "what do you want here to-night?"
The stranger found voice at length, but it was weak and timorous as that of a frightened child.
"We were on the train, my wife and I, with our three little ones,—on the train snowed in five miles back,—and we ask, if you will give it, a night's lodging, it being necessary that we should reach home without paying for our keeping at the hotel. My wife and children are outside the door, and nearly frozen, I assure you."
Then Ruth's warm heart showed itself.
"Come in," she said. "Keep you?—of course we can. Come in and warm yourselves."
A sweet woman, with one child in her arms, and two shivering beside her, glided by the man into the room. They were immediately the recipients of the good old lady's hospitality; she dragged them at once, one and all, to the warmest spot beside the hearth.
Still the man stood, aimless and uncertain, clutching the door and swaying to and fro.
"Why do you stand there at the door? Why not come in?" said Jacob Newell. "You must be cold and hungry. Ruth—that's my wife, Sir—will get you and your family some supper."
Then the man came in and walked with an unsteady step to a chair placed for him near the fire. After he had seated himself he shook like one in an ague-fit.
"I fear you are cold," said Ruth.
"Oh, no!" he said.
His voice struggled to his lips with difficulty and came forth painfully.
The old lady went to a corner cupboard, and, after a moment's search, brought forth a black bottle, from which she poured something into a glass. It smelt like Jamaica rum. With this she advanced towards the stranger, but she was bluntly stopped by Jacob,—
"I am afraid the gentleman has had too much of that already!"
For an instant, like a red flash of lightning, a flush of anger passed across his features before the stranger meekly made answer that he had tasted no liquor that day. Ruth handed him the glass and he drained it at a gulp. In a moment more he sat quietly upright and proceeded gravely to divest himself of his heavy shawl and overcoat, after which he assisted in warming and comforting the children, who were growing sleepy and cross.
Ruth bustled about with her preparations for giving the strangers a comfortable supper, and Jacob and his unexpected guest entered into conversation.
"I used to be acquainted hereabout," the stranger began, "and I feel almost like getting among friends, whenever I visit the place. I rode over with old Gus Parker to-day, from where the train lies bedded near the five-mile cut, but I was too busy keeping the children warm to ask him any questions. I came here because your son Mark Newell and I were old cronies at school together. I—I don't see him here to-night,"—the stranger's voice trembled now,—"where is he?"
"Where we must all follow him, sooner or later,—in the grave!"
"But he had brothers,—I've heard him say," the stranger continued,—with an anxiety in his tone that he could by no means conceal; "I believe he had—let me see—three brothers and two sisters. Where are they?"
"All gone!" cried Jacob Newell, rising and pacing the room. Then suddenly facing his singular guest, he continued, speaking rapidly and bitterly, "You have three children,—I had six! Yours are alive and hearty; but so were mine; and when I was a young man, like you, I foolishly thought that I should raise them all, have them clustering around me in my old age, die before any of them, and so know no bereavements! To-day I stand here a solitary old man, sinking rapidly into the grave, and without a relation of any kind, that I know of, on the face of the earth! Think that such a fate may yet be yours! But the bitterness of life you will not fully know, unless one of your boys—as one of mine did—turns out profligate and drunken, leaves your fireside to associate with the dissolute, and finally deserts his home and all, forever!"
"If that son of yours be yet alive, and were ever to return,—suddenly and without warning, as I have broken in upon you to-night,—if he should come to you and say, 'Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son!' what should you say to him?"
"I should say, 'For fifteen years you have deserted me without giving mark or token that you were in the body; now you have come to see me die, and you may stay to bury me!' I should say that, I think, though I swore to Ruth but now that I would curse him, if ever he returned,—curse him and drive him from my door!"
"But if he came back penitent indeed for past follies and offences, and only anxious to do well in the future,—if your son should come in that way, convincing you with tears of his sincerity, you surely would be more gentle to him than that! You would put away wrath, would you not? I ask you," the stranger continued, with emotion, "because I find myself in the position we suppose your son to be placed in. I am going home after an absence of years, during all which time I have held no communication with my family. I have sojourned in foreign lands, and now I come to make my father and my mother happy, if it be not too late for that! I come half hoping and half fearing; tell me what I am to expect? Place yourself in my father's position and read me my fate!"
While he spoke, his wife, sitting silent by the fire, bent low over the child she held, and a few quiet tears fell upon the little one's frock.
Ruth Newell, moving back and forth, in the preparation of the stranger's supper, wore an unquiet and troubled aspect, while the old farmer himself was agitated in a manner painful to see. It was some seconds before he broke the silence. When he spoke, his voice was thick and husky.
"If I had a son like you,—if those little children were my grandchildren,—if the sweet lady there was my son's wife,—ah, then!——But it is too late! Why do you come here to put turbulent, raging regrets into my heart, that but for you would be beating calmly as it did yesterday, and the day before, and has for years? Ah! if my son were indeed here! If Samson were indeed here!"
The stranger half arose, as though to spring forward, then sank back into his seat again.
But the little child sitting in her mother's lap by the fire clapped her hands and laughed a childish, happy laugh.
"What pleases my little girl?" asked the mother.
"Why, 'Samson'" the child said,—"that's what you call papa!"
Then Ruth, who stood by the table with a pitcher of water in her hand, staggered backwards like one stricken a violent and sudden blow!—staggered backwards, dropping the pitcher with a heavy crash as she retreated, and crossing her hands upon her bosom with quick, short catchings of the breath! Then crying, "My son! my son!" she threw herself, with one long, long sob, upon the stranger's neck!
* * * * *
The story is told. What lay in his power was done by the returned prodigal, who did not come back empty-handed to the paternal roof. His wife and children fostered and petted the old people, till, after the passage of two or three more Thanksgiving-Days, they became as cheerful as of old, and they are now considered one of the happiest couples in the county. Do not, on that account, O too easily influenced youth, think that happiness for one's self and others is usually secured by dissolute habits in early life, or by running away from home. Half the occupants of our jails and alms-houses can tell you to the contrary.
* * * * *
SONG IN A DREAM.
Winter rose-leaves, silver-white, Drifting o'er our darling's bed,— He's asleep, withdrawn from sight,— All his little prayers are said, And he droops his shining head.
Winter rose-leaves, falling still, Go and waken his sad eyes, Touch his pillowed rest, until He shall start with glad surprise, And from slumber sweet arise!
* * * * *
ENGLAND AND EMANCIPATION.
In the British House of Commons, some eighty years ago, two newly chosen members took their places, each of whom afterwards became distinguished in the history of that body. They had become acquainted at the University of Cambridge, were strongly united by friendship, and had each, on attaining to manhood, formed the deliberate purpose of entering public life. Of these two, one was William Pitt, the other was William Wilberforce.
Neither of these members of Parliament had at this time passed the age of twenty-one, and the latter was of extremely youthful appearance. Small of stature and slight in frame, his delicate aspect was redeemed from effeminacy by a head of classic contour, a penetrating and melodious voice, an address which always won attention. His superior social endowments were fully recognized by the companions of his leisure; nor was his influence lessened by the fact, that by the death of his father and uncle he had become the only male representative of his family and the master of a goodly inheritance. He paid from the first close attention to the business of the House, and, though by no means anxious to be heard, showed, that, when called out by any occasion, he was fully competent to meet it. Representing his native city of Hull, his first public speech was on a topic immediately connected with her interests.
The brilliant career of Mr. Pitt commenced, as the reader knows, in early life. Passing by the mental exploits of his boyhood, we meet him at his entrance upon the public service. He had no sooner become a member of the House of Commons than it began to be remarked that in him appeared to be reproduced those same qualities of statesmanship which had marked his illustrious father, Lord Chatham. Such powers, evinced by one who was but just stepping upon the stage of public life, first excited surprise, which was quickly followed by admiration. That strength of thought and keenness of analysis, which, seizing upon a subject, bring out at once its real elements of importance, and present them in their practical bearings, deducing the course dictated by a wise policy, had hitherto been regarded, by those who found themselves the willing auditors of a youth, as the ripened fruits of experience alone.
England was at this time at war not only with her American colonies, but with France, Spain, and Holland. Weakened by these prolonged conflicts, her finances drained, her huge debt increasing every day, her condition called loudly for a change of policy. The cause of American Independence was not without its advocates in the House, and among these Mr. Pitt was soon found, uttering his sentiments without reserve. Probably no individual of that body exerted a stronger influence than he in securing for this country the full recognition of her rights. Of the manner in which he was accustomed to treat of the American War, here is a single specimen. After speaking of it as "conceived in injustice, brought forth and nurtured in folly," and continually draining the country of its vital resources of men and treasure, he proceeds:—
"And what had the British nation gained in return? Nothing but a series of ineffective victories and severe defeats,—victories celebrated only by a temporary triumph over our brethren, whom we were endeavoring to trample down and destroy,—which filled the land with mourning for dear and valuable relatives slain in the vain attempt to enforce unconditional submission, or with narratives of the glorious exertions of men struggling under every difficulty and disadvantage in the sacred cause of liberty. Where was the Englishman, who, on reading the accounts of these sanguinary and well-fought battles, could refrain from lamenting the loss of so much British blood spilled in such a contest, or from weeping, whichever side victory might be declared?"
It was not unusual for Mr. Pitt, when he addressed the House on a topic of sufficient magnitude to call forth his powers, to be followed by plaudits so loud and long-continued that the next speaker found difficulty in securing quiet in order to be heard. While in the youth was recognized the sagacity of the late Lord Chatham, it was declared that the eloquence of the father was exceeded by that of the son. Signal services to the country were augured, even by his opponents, from one of such extraordinary abilities and manifest integrity of purpose. He began to be looked upon as capable of holding the highest trusts, fitted for the gravest responsibilities. Hardly can history furnish a parallel to the case of so young a person solicited by his sovereign to take the lead of his administration, and declining the honor. Yet such, in this instance, was the fact.
A change in the Ministry having become necessary, it was proposed that Mr. Pitt should be appointed First Lord of the Treasury in the place of Lord Shelburne. That this appointment should be made was known to be expressly desired by the King. The friends of the young statesman were delighted. They advised by all means that the offer should at once be accepted. But, undazzled by his own unprecedented success, he weighed the matter coolly and deliberately.
That Mr. Pitt had a due sense of his own powers is evident. Early in his political life he had expressed his unwillingness to hold office under circumstances where he must execute measures which had originated in other minds rather than his own. As this was declining beforehand all subordinate office, an excessive modesty could hardly have been the cause of his backwardness at this juncture. It must be sought elsewhere. It is found in the opinion which he entertained that the Ministry now about to be formed could never be an efficient one. The union which had recently taken place between parties whose political enmity had been extreme indicated to him an equally extreme opposition to the Government. The coalition between Lord North and Mr. Fox would, he anticipated, be the occasion of such a tide of hostility in the House of Commons as he was too wary to be willing to stem.
It was argued that he was needed; that an exigency had arisen which no one but himself could adequately meet; the country, in her adverse hour, must have his services; the King desired them, solicited them. With a remarkable degree of reticence he declined all these overtures, and in a letter addressed to his sovereign gave a most respectful, but decided negative.
Yet fame still followed him, and honor and office still claimed him as their rightful recipient. With the lapse of time came changes, and public affairs presented themselves in new and unexpected aspects. The vast empire of the East loomed up before the vision of statesmen and legislators in hitherto unimagined splendors, and with claims upon attention which could not be set aside. At the India House considerations of momentous interest had arisen. Mr. Pitt entered deeply into these affairs, connected as they were with the onward progress of British rule in Hindostan. A crisis occurred at this time, in which, having the power, he could serve his country with manifest advantage to her interests. At this juncture the offer of the King was renewed. It came now just at the right time, and the young statesman was found as ready to accept as he had before been prompt to decline. Mr. Pitt became the Prime-Minister of George III., and henceforth his history is blended with the movements of the Government.
Mr. Wilberforce had also at this time taken a strong hold upon public life. His energies were enlisted in favor of the Governmental party, of which Mr. Pitt had become the leader. Returning from a journey into France, which they had made together, these two friends entered upon their respective duties. With regard to the question at issue, Yorkshire, the largest county in England, had not yet defined her position with a sufficient degree of distinctness. Here Mr. Wilberforce possessed landed estates, and here he was prepared to uphold the consistency and integrity of the Administration. That peculiar persuasive power, that silver-toned eloquence, which in after years won for him so much influence in the House of Commons, here perhaps for the first time found full play and triumphant success. His power over the minds of men certainly was brought to a rigorous test.