“The nurses at the base hospitals should be changed every three months,” he said. “They get the worst cases there, in incredible conditions. After a time it tells on them. I’ve seen it in a number of cases. They grow calloused to suffering. That’s the time to bring up a new lot.”
I think he is wrong. I have seen many hospitals, many nurses. If there is a change in the nurses after a time, it is that, like the soldiers in the field, they develop a philosophy which carries them through their terrible days. “What must be, must be,” say the men in the trenches. “What must be, must be,” say the nurses in the hospital. And both save themselves from madness.
THE LITTLE “SICK AND SORRY” HOUSE
And now it was seven o’clock, and raining. Dinner was to be at eight. I had before me a drive of nine miles along those slippery roads. It was dark and foggy, with the ground mist of Flanders turning to a fog. The lamps of the car shining into it made us appear to be riding through a milky lake. Progress was necessarily slow.
One of the English officers accompanied me.
“I shall never forget the last time I dined out here,” he said as we jolted along. “There is a Belgian battery just behind the house. All evening as we sat and talked I thought the battery was firing; the house shook under tremendous concussion. Every now and then Mrs. K—— or Miss C—— would get up and go out, coming back a few moments later and joining calmly in the conversation.
“Not until I started back did I know that we had been furiously bombarded, that the noise I had heard was shells breaking all about the place. A ‘coal-box,’ as they call them here, had fallen in the garden and dug a great hole!”
“And when the young ladies went out, were they watching the bombs burst?” I inquired.
“Not at all,” he said. “They went out to go into the trenches to attend to the wounded. They do it all the time.”
“And they said nothing about it!”
“They thought we knew. As for going into the trenches, that is what they are there to do.”
My enthusiasm for mutton began to fade. I felt convinced that I should not remain calm if a shell fell into the garden. But again, as happened many times during those eventful weeks at the front, my pride refused to allow me to turn back. And not for anything in the world would I have admitted being afraid to dine where those two young women were willing to eat and sleep and have their being day and night for months.
“But of course,” I said, “they are well protected, even if they are at the trenches. That is, the Germans never get actually into the town.”
“Oh, don’t they?” said the officer. “That town has been taken by the Germans five times and lost as many. A few nights ago they got over into the main street and there was terrific hand-to-hand fighting.”