The patient desired some small service performed for him. I performed it—remembering to address him as “Sir.” Various other patients, observing my presence, took the opportunity to hail me. I found myself saying “Yes, Sir!” “In a moment, Sir!” and dropping—with a promptitude on which I rather flattered myself—into the manner of a cross between a valet and a waiter, with a subtle dash of chambermaid. Soon I was also a luggage-porter, staggering to a taxi with the ponderous impedimenta of a juvenile second lieutenant who was bidding the hospital farewell, and whose trunks contained—at a guess—geological specimens and battlefield souvenirs in the shape of “dud” German shells. This young gentleman fumbled with a gratuity, then thought better of it—and was gracious enough to return my grin. “Bit awkward, tipping, in these days,” he apologised cheerily, depositing himself in his taxi behind ramparts of holdalls. “Thank you, Sir,” seemed the suitable adieu, and having proffered it I scampered into the ward again. Anon Sister sent me with a message to the dispensary. Where the dispensary was I knew not. But I found out, and brought back what she required. Then to the post office. Another exploration down that terrific corridor. Post office located at last and duly noted. Then to the linen store to draw attention to an error in the morning’s supply of towels. Linen store eventually unearthed—likewise the information that its staff disclaimed all responsibility for mistakes—likewise the first inkling of a profound maxim, that when a mistake has been made, in hospital, it is always the orderly, and no one else, who has made it.
Engaged on these errands, and a host of intervening lesser exploits in the ward, I had to cultivate an unwonted fleetness of foot. I flew. So did the time. Almost immediately, as it seemed to me, I was bidden to serve afternoon tea to our patients. The distribution of bed-tables, of cups, of bread-and-butter (most of which, also, I cut); the “A little more tea, Sir?” or, “A pot of jam in your locker, Sir, behind the pair of trousers?... Yes, here it is, Sir”; the laborious feeding of a patient who could not move his arms;—all these occupied me for a breathless hour. Then an involved struggle with a patient who had to be lifted from a bath-chair into bed. (I had never lifted a human being before.) Then a second bout of washing-up with Mrs. Mappin. Then a nominal half-an-hour’s respite for my own tea—actually ten minutes, for I was behindhand. Then, all too soon, more waitering at the ceremony of Dinner: this time with the complication that some of my patients were allowed wine, beer, or spirits, and some were not. “Burgundy, Sir?” “Whiskey-and-soda, Sir?” I ran round the table of the sitting-up patients, displaying (I was pleased to think) the complete aplomb and nimbleness of a thoroughbred Swiss garcon, pouring out drinks—with concealed envy—placing and removing plates, handing salt, bread, serviettes.... After which, back to Mrs. Mappin and her renewed mountain of once-more-to-be-washed-and-dried crockery.