Half a Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 294 pages of information about Half a Century.

Georgie had gone to the General Hospital, and there was no surgeon in charge at the church when I went to it.  So, once more, I set about doing that which was right in my own eyes.  I could have a bale of hay, whipped out my needle and thread, and for several bad cases who had two blankets converted one into a bed tick, had it filled with hay, and a man placed on it; but three were sadly in need of beds, and had no blankets; and to them I alloted the balance of my precious bale, had it placed under them loose, and rejoiced in their joy over so great a luxury.  My theater men had been laid in a row close to the wall, next to the late scene of their suffering; and about midnight of the first night there, a nurse asked me to go to a man who was dying.  I found him in front of the altar.  The doors and front panels of the pews had been fastened V shape to the floor, and he lay with one arm over this, and his head hanging forward.  He had been shot through the chest, was breathing loud and in gasps, worn out for want of support, and to lay him down was to put out his lamp of life instantly.  What he needed was a high-backed chair, but General Patrick’s sense of duty to the citizens of Fredericksburg left no hope of such a support.  As the only substitute in my reach, I sat on the edge of the pew door and its panel, drew his arm across my knee, raised his head to my shoulder, and held it there by laying mine against it.  In this way I could talk in a low monotone to him, and the hopes to which the soul turns when about to leave the tenement of clay.  He gasped acquiescence in these hopes, and his words led several men near to draw their sleeves across their eyes; but they all knew he was dying, and a little sympathy and sadness would not injure them.

He reached toward the floor, and, the man next handed up a daguerreotype case, which he tried to open.  I took and opened it; found the picture of a young, handsome woman, and held it and a candle, so that he could see it.  His tears fell on it, as he looked, and he gasped,

“I shall never be where that has been.”

I said: 

“Is it your wife?” and he replied,

“No! but she would have been.”

I always tried to avoid bringing sadness to the living on account of death; but it must have been hard for men to sleep in sound of his labored breathing; and to soften it I began singing “Shining Shore.”  He took it up at once, in a whisper tone, keeping time, as if used to singing.  Soon one, then another and another joined, until all over the church these prostrate men were singing that soft, sad melody.  On the altar burned a row of candles before a life-sized picture of the Virgin and Child.  The cocks crew the turn of the night outside, and when we had sung the hymn through, some of the men began again, and we had sung it a second time when I heard George call me.  I knew that he, too, was dying, and would probably not hear the next crowing of the cock.  I must go to him! how could I leave this head unsupported?  Oh, death where is thy sting?  I think it was with me that night; but I went to George, and when the sun arose it looked upon two corpses, the remains of two who had gone from my arms in one night, full of hope in the great Hereafter.

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Half a Century from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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