I heard no more complaints, but left Miss Grey more in charge of the kitchen, and did enough medical inspecting to know that I had been unjust. Some of the surgeons had been on duty, and the men were not so much neglected as I had feared. As for the Ladies, I do not know how many there were of them, but they were of good social position—quite as good as the average of those whose main object in life is to look as much better than their neighbors as circumstances will admit. There was on board one of those folks for whose existence Christianity is responsible, and which sensible Hindoos reduce to their original elements, viz.: a widow who gets a living by being pious, and is respectable through sheer force of cheap finery; one who estimates herself by her surroundings, and whose every word and look and motion is an apology for her existence. She was a Dix, or paid nurse. The ladies snubbed her; we had no room for her hoops; and she spent her time in odd corners, taking care of them and her hair, and turning up her eyes, like a duck in a thunder-storm, under the impression that it looked devotional. If I had killed all the folks I have felt like killing, she would have gone from that boat to her final rest.
One night about eleven o’clock a strange surgeon, who had just come aboard with twenty wounded, came to the kitchen door, and handed in a requisition for tea and custard and chicken for his men. The man told him he could have nothing but cracker-broth or coffee. He was very indignant, and proceeded to get up a scene; but the man said, firmly:
“Can’t help it, Surgeon! That’s the orders!”
“Orders! Whose orders?”
I got down from my porch on the stairs, came forward and said:
“It is my orders, sir, and I am sorry, but this is really all we can do for you. If your men have tin cups, each one can have a cup of warm soup—it will not be very hot—or a cup of warm coffee. Those who get soup will get no coffee, and those who get coffee can have no soup. You can get tin cups from the commissary, and should have them ready, so that the food will not cool.”
While I made this statement he stood regarding me with ineffable disdain, and when I was through inquired:
“Who are you?”
“I am the cook!”
“The cook!” he repeated, contemptuously. “I will report your insolence when we reach Washington!”
“That may be your duty; but I will send up the coffee and soup, and do you get the tin cups.”
He stamped off in dudgeon, and others who heard him were highly indignant; but I was greatly pleased to find a surgeon who would get angry and raise a disturbance on behalf of his patients. I never knew his name, but if this should meet his eye I trust he will accept my thanks for his faithfulness to his charge.
On the lower deck, behind the boilers, lay twenty wounded prisoners, who at first looked sulky; but as I was stepping over and among them, one caught my dress, looked up pleadingly, and said: