“You were here until after midnight, and must have some rest.”
“Corporal Kendall, how dare you talk to me in that manner? You promised to send for me if there were any change for the worse; and after this I cannot trust you. Now I must stay here. Do you think I am going to lose my investment in you? Do you suppose I would work over you as I have been doing, and then drop you for fear of a little more work?”
As I passed to the kitchen I found that blue lips and pinched noses had suddenly come into fashion; that there were more of them than I had time to count; but did not, for a moment, dream of letting a man get into the graveyard by that gate.
The merry, young Irishman who had volunteered as my orderly, had a period of active service; and no more willing pair of hands and feet ever were interposed between men and death. Hot bricks, hot blankets, bottles of hot water, hot whisky punch and green tea were the order of the forenoon, and of a good many hours of night and day after it; for that victory was won by a long struggle. For ten nights I never lay down in my room; but slept, all I did sleep, lying on a cot about the center of Ward Four, and two cots from the man minus a bone. I could drop asleep in an instant, and sleep during ordinary movements; but a change in a voice brought me to my post in a moment. I could command anything in the dispensary or store-rooms at any hour of the day or night, and carried many a man through the crisis of a night attack, when if he had been left until discovered in the morning, there would have been little hope for him; and when a surgeon could have done nothing without a key to the kitchen which none of them had.
I kept no secrets from any of them: told each one just what I had done in his ward; thankfully received his approval and directions, asked about things I did not understand, and was careful that my nursing was in harmony with his surgery.
During that trial-time there was one night that death seemed to be gaining the victory in Corporal Kendall’s case. Pain defied my utmost efforts and held the citadel. Sleep fled; the circulation grew sluggish, and both he and I knew that the result hung on the hour. It was two o’clock A.M., and from midnight I had been trying to bring rest. The injured limb was suspended in a zinc trough. I had raised, lowered it by imperceptible motions; cut bandage where it seemed to bind, tucked in bits of cotton or oakum, kept the toes in motion, irritated the surface wherever I could get the point of a finger in through the bandages; kept up the heat of the body, and the hope of the soul; and sat down to hold his hands and try mesmeric passes and sounds, when he turned his head on the pillow, and said:
“Even if I should get well, I’ll never be fit for infantry service again.”
“No, you never will.”
“I might walk with that machine you talk of; but never could march and carry a knapsack! But I have been thinking. I am a pretty good engineer. You know Secretary Stanton? You might get me transferred to the Navy, and I could run an engine on a gunboat.”