Mrs. Amory said this, as Christie stood waiting while she wrote an order for some extra delicacy for a very sick patient. Mrs. Sterling, Jr., certainly did look like an efficient nurse, who thought more of “the boys” than of herself; for one hand bore a pitcher of gruel, the other a bag of oranges, clean shirts hung over the right arm, a rubber cushion under the left, and every pocket in the big apron was full of bottles and bandages, papers and letters.
“I never discovered what an accomplished woman I was till I came here,” answered Christie, laughing. “I’m getting vain with so much praise, but I like it immensely, and never was so pleased in my life as I was yesterday when Dr. Harvey came for me to take care of poor Dunbar, because no one else could manage him.”
“It’s your firm yet pitiful way the men like so well. I can’t describe it better than in big Ben’s words: ‘Mis Sterlin’ is the nuss for me, marm. She takes care of me as ef she was my own mother, and it’s a comfort jest to see her round.’ It’s a gift, my dear, and you may thank heaven you have got it, for it works wonders in a place like this.”
“I only treat the poor fellows as I would have other women treat my David if he should be in their care. He may be any hour, you know.”
“And my boys, God keep them!”
The pen lay idle, and the gruel cooled, as young wife and gray-haired mother forgot their duty for a moment in tender thoughts of the absent. Only a moment, for in came an attendant with a troubled face, and an important young surgeon with the well-worn little case under his arm.
“Bartlett ’s dying, marm: could you come and see to him?” says the man to Mrs. Amory.
“We have got to amputate Porter’s arm this morning, and he won’t consent unless you are with him. You will come, of course?” added the surgeon to Christie, having tried and found her a woman with no “confounded nerves” to impair her usefulness.
So matron and nurse go back to their duty, and dying Bartlett and suffering Porter are all the more tenderly served for that wasted minute.
Like David, Christie had enlisted for the war, and in the two years that followed, she saw all sorts of service; for Mrs. Amory had influence, and her right-hand woman, after a few months’ apprenticeship, was ready for any post. The gray gown and comforting face were known in many hospitals, seen on crowded transports, among the ambulances at the front, invalid cars, relief tents, and food depots up and down the land, and many men went out of life like tired children holding the hand that did its work so well.
David meanwhile was doing his part manfully, not only in some of the great battles of those years, but among the hardships, temptations, and sacrifices of a soldiers’ life. Spite of his Quaker ancestors, he was a good fighter, and, better still, a magnanimous enemy, hating slavery, but not the slave-holder, and often spared the master while he saved the chattel. He was soon promoted, and might have risen rapidly, but was content to remain as captain of his company; for his men loved him, and he was prouder of his influence over them than of any decoration he could win.