After the first burst of local pride and enthusiasm had exhausted itself over young Dutton’s brilliant action, the grim fact connected with young Dutton’s left leg began to occupy the public mind. The despatch had vaguely hinted at amputation, and had stopped there. If his leg had been shot away, was it necessary that the rest of him should be amputated? In the opinion of Schoolmaster Grimshaw, such treatment seemed almost tautological. However, all was presumably over by this time. Had poor Dutton died under the operation? Solicitude on that point was widespread and genuine. Later official intelligence relieved the stress of anxiety. Private Dutton had undergone the operation successfully and with great fortitude; he was doing well, and as soon as it was possible for him to bear transportation he was to be sent home. He had been complimented in the commanding officer’s report of the action to headquarters, and General Winfield Scott had sent Private Dutton a silver medal “for bravery on the field of battle.” If the Government had wanted one or two hundred volunteers from Rivermouth, that week was the week to get them.
Then intervened a long silence touching James Dutton. This meant feverish nights and weary days in hospital, and finally blissful convalescence, when the scent of the orange and magnolia blossoms blown in at the open window seemed to James Dutton a richer recompense than he deserved for his martyrdom. At last he was in condition to be put on board a transport for New Orleans. Thence a man-of-war was to convey him to Rivermouth, where the ship was to be overhauled and have its own wounds doctored.
When it was announced from the fort that the vessel bearing James Dutton had been sighted off the coast and would soon be in the Narrows, the town was thrown into such a glow of excitement as it had not experienced since the day a breathless and bedraggled man on horseback had dashed into Rivermouth with the news that the Sons of Liberty in Boston had pitched the British tea overboard. The hero of Chapultepec—the only hero Rivermouth had had since the colonial period—was coming up the Narrows! It is odd that three fourths of anything should be more estimable than the whole, supposing the whole to be estimable. When James Dutton had all his limbs he was lightly esteemed, and here was Rivermouth about to celebrate a fragment of him.