The approaches to the dressing station and the station itself were under so severe a fire for some hours afterwards that it was impossible for any ambulance to be brought near it. Such casualties as could walk back walked, others were carried slowly and painfully to a point which the ambulances had a fair sporting chance of reaching intact. One way and another a good many hours passed before Ruthven’s turn came to be removed. The doctor who had bandaged him in the firing-line had by then returned to the dressing station, mainly because his foot had become too painful to allow him to use it at all. Merely as an aside, and although it has nothing to do with Private Ruthven’s case, it may be worth mentioning that the same doctor, having cleaned, sterilized, and bandaged his wounds, remained in the dressing station for another twelve hours, doing such work as could be accomplished sitting in a chair and with one sound and one unsound arm. He saw Private Ruthven for a moment as he was being started on his journey to the ambulance; he remembered the case, as indeed everyone who handled or saw that case remembered it for many days, and, moved by professional interest and some amazement that the man was still alive, he hobbled from his chair to look at him. He found Private Ruthven returning his look; for the passing of time and the excess of pain had by now overcome the effects of the morphia injection. There was a hauntingly appealing look in the eyes that looked up at him, and the doctor tried to answer the question he imagined those eyes would have conveyed.
“I don’t know, my boy,” he said, “whether you’ll pull through, but we’ll do the best we can for you. And now we have you here we’ll have you back in hospital in no time, and there you’ll get every chance there is.”
He imagined the question remained in those eyes still unsatisfied, and that Ruthven gave just the suggestion of a slow head-shake.
“Don’t give up, my boy,” he said briskly. “We might save you yet. Now I’m going to take away the pain for you,” and he called an orderly to bring a hypodermic injection. While he was finding a place among the bandages to make the injection, the orderly who was waiting spoke: “I believe, sir, he’s trying to ask something or say something.”