Berlin (Germany) Charité-krankenhaus.

The Century, Volume 96 online

. (page 107 of 111)
Online LibraryBerlin (Germany) Charité-krankenhausThe Century, Volume 96 → online text (page 107 of 111)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


comes over here to scrub. She spent the
first six months after her arrival darning
socks in the linen-room, and if that is n*t
heroism, I 'd like to know what is.

April I, 1917.

Poisson itJvril! April Fool ! For this
is not a letter at all, but merely a reminder.
And I myself am forcibly reminded that
it is the day of whatever saint makes
jokes, for there are fishes everywhere,
cardboard carp and little tin minnows
made by the men, which they attach to
one another in unexpected places, with
shrieks of laughter, all of which is the
French way of giving you your first of
April gold-brick. One would think that
this were a huge kindergarten instead of a
ward full of wounded soldiers.

A budget of transatlantic mail to-day,
and how nice of you to work so hard for
months getting up cases of surgical dress-
ings for our friends, the Allies ! And how
they are needed! I wonder if there are
any other women save only our Ameri-
cans who would do this month after
month, when we are not at war ourselves.
It has not that religious fervor that some
people put into missionary boxes, either.

The bell rings, and I must away.

April 5, 191 7.

We have the news of the declaration
of war to-day. Is n*t President Wilson's
message splendid!

I rejoice and mourn over it at one and
the same time, and in solitude; for I am
among strangers. The blesses greeted me
with:

"Bonjour, Mees! You are an ally now,"
and some of them congratulated me as



though I myself had declared war. But
most of them don't know what has really
happened; some of them can't read, and
none of them can possibly realize what it
will mean even to themselves, America
is only a name to them.

But is n't it fine and dreadful, too? I
look at these brave Frenchmen and say
to myself, "What if they were Ameri-
cans, our own boys!" But I know that it
is right and necessary and quite time. And
what would n't I give to be a man at
the present moment !

An evacuation is ordered. All cases
that can be moved are to go away, so to-
morrow will see the last of Cruchet, the
Alsatian ; the bordelais with only one eye ;
my little car-conductor from Lyons, and
many others. And how I shall miss them !
Little No. 124, with both feet off, went
to-day, and yesterday afternoon he was
given permission to go out in his little
carriage, in which he is wheeled like a
baby by one of the other men, a poor devil
with frozen feet who himself can hardly
walk, but who is certainly saving his own
soul by such kind acts as these.

At 5:30 No. 124 entered the ward in a
state of the most idiotic inebriety, by way
of celebrating his departure. He was
laughing joyously like a half-witted thing,
and having such a good time in his tiny
baby-carriage that I did not have the
heart to scold him. The priest pretended
to be shocked, but he really felt as I did,
so neither of us let on ; and as it was his
last day here, there was no way to keep
him in to-morrow, which is the usual pun-
ishment for such conduct.

A month here yesterday. Time flies at
a high rate of speed, and, contrary to all
preconceived notions, I find I like these
"homely household tasks" ; they are posi-
tively soothing. And even if I did n't,
I should stick to them, anyway, now. I
adore the Poilus, as does every one who
nurses them. Thank Heaven we have no
officers! I 'd hate to mix business and
social relations.

I am bandaging quite neatly, and feel
too important for words. My professional



Digitized by



Google



LETTERS OF A V. A. D.



831



pride over diese bandages is really laugh-
able, and prodigious. Shoulders are awk-
ward as yet, but that aside, I am sure I
could bandage anything, even a piano leg!
Snow nearly every day, and a bleak,
dour, and gray landscape; the country is
as flat as a chess-board. Taking a bath is
a piece of heroism second to none, and
Greenland's icy mountains are as warm
as Ceylon's sunny isle compared with our
chalet

April 14, 191 7.

What ho! I Ve so much news to tell
you that I don't know where to begin.
We must make the most of our five-cent
stamps these days, you know. Economy 's
die word. Luckily, the infirmeres mili"
taires, like the soldiers, pay nothing for
dieir postage in France.

First of all, the concert. It was an
unqualified success. It took place in our
ward, and there was an impromptu stage
erected, the beds being arranged in rows
in front of it, and the men brought down
from the other wards on stretchers, while
the convalescents sat in die rear. My
little blesse did very well with his "Mon
blanc muguet," although it broke his heart
that he could not stand up before the
audience without his crutches. He had a
streak of natural pride about it, for which
I don't blame him. "Johnny" sang; she
has a lovely voice, among other talents,
literary above all. The Tennessee niunber
elicited shouts of appreciation and an en-
core from the audience, and Sister Brown-
ing, the blonde with the poached-egg eyes,
has certainly missed her vocation in life,
as she would have made a perfect movie
heroine, while her two husky cavaliers,
done up in "chaps" from a modi-eaten
bear rug, sombreros, revolvers, drunken
swagger, and all, drew forth screams of
laughter from men who had n't smiled in
months, and who quite forgot they were
ill in seeing their dignified nurses perform
such andcs. There was a seance of hypno-
tism by some of the men ; then some very
French, but very funny, songs, ending
with "Lc Rcve Passe," with a ripping
martial refrain in which every one joined.



The medecin-chef allowed extra pinard
for the occasion, which was served instead
of tea, with cakes, and which made the af-
fair distincdy a party.

Last of all came a tableau representing
France and England, with Miss "Tapi-
oca," the fat Italian masseuse, dressed up
in a gorgeous yellow-spangled ball-gown,
installed on a dirone as a sort of queen.
Behind her was the benevolent Church-
of-England clergyman who acts as orderly
here, his white whiskers twitching with
patriotic fervor, for he was no less a per-
sonage than the English Channel, and was
clodied in flowing garments to convey the
impression of water, while he carried a
painted sail-boat in his hand, typifying the
English fleet (O Shades of Nelson). At
each side of them were six nurses, in our
best nighties, and our hair down, to the
enlightenment of the blesses. I nearly
froze. We had French and British flags
draped over us, French on one side of the
English Channel, and British on the other.
The whole was called the entente cordiale,
and was intensely applauded. Miss "Tapi-
oca" was, I take it, the entente cordiale
in person, which, along with the English
Channel, unites the two countries. I can-
not account for her otherwise. It ended
in a burst of patriotism, with "La Mar-
seillaise" and "God Save die King."

All in all, it was worth the trouble, and
the appreciation of the men would have
repaid any amount of pains. It cheered
us all up enormously, although I will say
that we are usually fairly gay, and diat,
I am sure, is why the men like it so much
here.

How I wish you could see my be-yu-ti-
ful American flag, which figured in die
performance. It seemed really too bad
that we did not have the Stars and Stripes
for the new allies. I knew that such a
thing would be impossible to obtain in

L . Nevertheless, I felt myself to be

a diplomatic, or an undiplomatic, but, in
any case, sole representative of my coun-
try, and I determined that we should have
it at all cost And we did I

Some one gave me some pieces of red
and blue tissue-paper, from the linen room



Digitized by



Google



832



THE CENTURY MAGAZINE



I got a square of an old white tablecloth,
then begged glue and scissors from some
one else; and the girl pharmacist helping
me, we "organized" an American flag,
thirteen stripes and forty-eight stars, the
rh)rme and reason of which I Ve explained
to many inquirers since, English as well
as French. How I rejoiced over this
chef-d'oeuvre I I could hardly listen to
the concert for looking admiringly at my
beloved flag, for which I felt not only the
enthusiasm of a patriot, but the adoration
of a creator! At any rate, it was bigger
and brighter than any of the others.

The cold continues ; another snow-storm
yesterday, and we ask ourselves if it is
really this spring or next autumn. It
seems as if God punished men for being
at war when one remembers history and
the dreadful winters when Napoleon
fought and men and horses froze to deadi.
Then there is the winter of 1 87071,
which the grandfathers of our present
Poilus remember well. And now comes
this winter of 1916-1 7, the worst in France
for more than thirty years, with snow even
among the palms and orange-trees along
the Mediterranean. To-day the sun is
shining for the second time only since my
arrival, so we begin to hope for better
things.

I am reminded of the spring, too, by a
bunch of lovely double violets and carna-
tions that grace the rickety stand which
serves me for dressing-table, wash-stand,
and desk. One of the blessSs, when out
of uniform a florist at Toulouse, wrote to
his wife at home, who sent him three
enormous bouquets, which he presented
with charming courtesy to sister, the other
pro, and me.

You should see me pulling myself out
of bed at 7 a.m. It is really six o'clock,
as we are on summer time already. O tern-
poraf O mores/ That it should come to
this!

April 20, 191 7.

Now we have evacuated every thing in

sight, after a second order from the

authorities. So we are awaiting a train

of blesses. There is all the time in the



world to write letters, but nothing to say.

About sixty men went off yesterday, and
some of them were very teary-eyed as they
bade us good-by. They have enjoyed be-
ing here, even those who have suffered, for
they are so well cared for, and every one
jokes about everything. So the Demon
Cafard is held in abeyance — cafard mean-
ing blues, only much bluer, nearly black.
In real French, not slang, it means cock-
roach!

I am now occupied scrubbing the white
walls of the ward into a state of pristine
spotlessness such as has never been seen
before. Groups of pros from the other
wards come in to admire it, which pleases
me exceedingly, as they are a most skep-
tical lot, especially about any one new,
with characteristic British conservatism.
I notice, however, that they are equally
skeptical about new Britishers, so that 's
a comfort. And despite their tempera-
mental coldness, they are really very unsel-
fish in practical ways, and the men adore
them.

Now that we are less busy for a day or
two, we prepare for the next rush; and
we (expect an "intake" any day, some of
the results of the present fighting in the
Champagne, without doubt. Also we tea
together and chat, and I am getting ac-
quainted and like it, although I admit,
now that it is over, to having felt frozen
without and within at first. We carry
our tea and bread and jam over from the
hospital, begging them from Madame
Jeanne, the housekeeper.

One of the best girls is Scotch, Mar-
jorie Darrow, with an accent as broad as
Harry Lauder's when she likes, which is
delightful. She has been nursing steadily
since 19 14, so is rather an expert. Their
family history is an up-to-date example of
her race. Her elder sister has learned mas-
sage, which she is practising in the con-
valescent hospitals in England; another
sister was a police-woman in Edinburgh,
but is now working in St. Dunstan*s for
the blind; a fourth is forewoman in a
munitions factory; the fifth and young-
est remaining at home with the mother^
where they occupy themselves with the




Digitized by ]



^e



LETTERS OF A V. A. D.



833



poor of the country-side and run a little
civilian hospital that they have founded
near their estate. The only son was
killed at Gallipoli.

Marjorie (or Darrow, as we are re-
quired to call each other by our last names,
sans Miss), is as dry as tinder, and de-
tests any demonstration of affection, but
is as kind and tender-hearted as possible,
and the men love her. They call her
Mademoiselle Marguerite, and she re-
ceives charming letters from her old pa-
tients. She passes as very rigid and nar-
row-minded among the other girls; for,
having a Puritan conscience and a high
standard for herself, she is inclined to be
critical of others. The thing she hates
most in the world is kissing ; but, happily,
we are n't a "kissy" crowd ; and she warms
up tremendously when she finds that
people like her, and tells us quaint Scotch
tales that might have come from the pen
of Barrie.

fVhen will this cursed cold cease? I
am convinced that it is the fault either
of the Germans or of the French Govern-
ment. Every thing is the fault of one or
the other, according to any true French-
man. It ought to be suppressed.

While on duty this afternoon in the
ward, who should pop in but Van Deeter,
a Paris acquaintance and a most delight-
ful person. I was so glad to see him, a
regular normal man, not wounded, nor
yet a doctor or an orderly, that I nearly
kissed him on the spot. And as I was
on duty alone and most of the blesses
fled, we had a long chat.

In case you don't remember him, I will
explain. He is a thorough cosmopolite,
with a Dutch name, French ancestry, a
Gascogne manner, full of blague and flat-
tery, and an American citizen withal!
He swaggers about the world, and has the
time of his life picking up friends on the
way, like a true soldier of fortune. I am
one of those f.^^nds, it appears.

Lately he has gone into the French
aviation, and looks very smart in his black-
and-red uniform. He drove an American
ambulance at the front for a while, but



about the first of last February, when die
kaiser declared the extreme submarine
warfare, Mr. Van Deeter's sister wished
to sail to France to join him. In the
circumstances it was impossible; so Van
Deeter said to himself, "Do you think
that I *m going to have that man dictate
to my sister whether she can go over or
stay? / ffuess notT And widi that he
enlisted in the French aviation as inter-
preter.

The aviation camp is near here, only
forty kilometers away. A friend came

along with him, a Mr. W , an aviator

and a Westerner, a quiet, determined-
looking chap. Is n't it splendid that there
are men like this who have gone into die
fight before we declared war! Van
Deeter tells me that his friend has been in
the British Army since 19 14. They in-
sisted on photographing me with my home-
made American flag.

April 26, 191 7.

A tragedy has happened ; my American
flag has disappeared! I came into the
ward diis morning after a day off yester-
day, and it was n't in its accustomed place.
My fur was up, and my whiskers a-bristle ;
so I went to sister, a diluted, milk-and-
waterish sort of creature, and asked her
about it. She said we could n't keep it
there without the flags of all the Allies.
It has been there about three weeks al-
ready, I politely reminded her. She said
that a French general might come in for
inspection and object to it. I said that I
had yet to see the Frenchman who did n't
like the sight of the Stars and Stripes and
what it stood for. But I saw diat there
was no use arguing; so the flag remains
down, and my fur remains up, particularly
as the hospital is supported by an American
woman, and this same sister's salary comes
from the United States. My wailings and
complaints I spread broadcast throughout
the length and breadth of die chalet, and
the others heartily agreed with me. So,
after all, she is only one person.

Our convoy has come; we have an in-
flux from the Foreign Legion, including,
among others, a Dane, an Italian, two



Digitized by



Google



834



THE CENTURY MAGAZINE



Spaniards, a Swiss, and a Pole. Sister
Susie spent Sunday scrubbing soldiers, a
voluntary act on her part, as we take no
new cases in D. The poor devils were
rather badly wounded, but never too badly
to rejoice over their recent victory. The
German losses were terrific. "There will
soon be no Germans left," said one to me
as I bent over him, battling with the dirt.

They all looked so tired and dirty when
they came in on their stretchers. The
orderlies carry them in in processions, and
some of them have been on the train
twenty-four hours, despite the fact that
we are not more than four hours from the
Verdun sector in normal times. The
nurses undress them, as they come in full
uniform whenever possible. Then we
bathe them, while an orderly gathers their
belongings together into a sack, to be dis-
infected in the cellar, the men jealously
guarding their precious things, letters
from home, a watch, or money, if they
have any, in their little bedside bags, sent
out to us from England along with the
surgical dressings. What a ticklish busi-
ness It is, to be sure, avoiding the broken
and wounded places. A pesky French
clerk from the office comes in in the midst
of the complications plants himself in a
chair at the foot of the bed, with pen, ink,
and reams of paper, and proceeds to ques-
tion the unfortunate blesse as to his life
history — ^Who he is, from where, and why ;
married, single, or leading a double life;
whether wounded in the Champagne or in
the right thigh; and so on. Meanwhile
the blessi, nearly naked, shivers ; the nurse
curses under her breath, for she can't get
on with anything else until that is finished,
and she needs four hands, anyway, to get
the work done. But the imperturbable office,
rat continues his questionnaire until he has
extracted the last dark secret from the
^Blesse s past, when he moves on to harry
some one else. Eh bien, c'est la guerre: il
ne faut pas se plaindre.

Since then I Ve been to the operating-
room twice, and have neither screamed nor
fainted. I even feel the fascinations of
nursing taking a hold upon me. Odd, is
n't it? There is a charm about it; and



if you like it, it is undoubtedly one of the
things you like.

The Spaniard in A Ward helps the
nurses, as they are short-handed, and he is
not badly wounded. He goes dancing
about the ward, an orange scarf wound
alluringly about the waist of his pajamas,
and his arms as full of bowls, plates, and
pans as a New York waiter, singing merry,
lilting tunes from Seville and Cordova. I
wish he were in D; but they will never
send him to the convalescent ward if they
can help it He 's too useful there.

May 4, between 12 and 2 a.m.

with interruptions.

My first night duty, and I celebrate it
by writing letters. It is a great occasion,
for here I am alone ; it is midnight, and my
thoughts run along to the accompaniment
of a variety of snores from the deep, de-
termined bass of a fat Frenchman from
the Midi, to a timid whistle from the sub-
urbs of Paris. A real Parisian would
certainly never snore.

The last days have been hectic; four
lots of wounded in as many days, and each
one means a tremendous washing, scrub-
bing, and cutting away of bloody band-
ages. No more spare moments to give Eng-
lish lessons; and it is a relief to sit down,
even if one has to stay up all night to do
it. Victories arc costly things; all die
men have come from the Champagne. The
last two "intakes" were mostly Senegalese,
enormous negroes, as black as midnight
and rather handsome in a Bakst and far-
f rom-classic way. They have fine physiques.

They must think that white people have
the worst possible manners, for their beds
are constantly surrounded with an audi-
ence five deep of Frenchmen, including
convalescents, orderlies, workmen from
Heaven knows where, the hospital cook,
and even some of the less-traveled Eng-
lish nurses, all of whom "rag'* and ques-
tion them until, like the proverbial ostrtdl«
they tuck their heads und^T the bcddotta|
and refuse to listen or to answer
Besides, this simple mediod saves '
rassment, and they don't much P
looked at



Digitized by



Google



\\



LETTERS OF A V. A. D.



835



How strange it must seem to diese poor
innocent savages (they speak but little
French, and always converse among diem-
selves in their own tongue), how un-under-
standable must be this melee of war, hos-
pitals, trains, nurses, clothes, bandages, and
queer food after their African "simple
life."

The truly chic ones have dieir faces
cut in artistic stripes rather like tatooing,
in rays of the sun design, radiating from
the corners of the mouth out over die
cheeks. Several have ear-rings; odiers
have their hair cut in a curious way, with
litde tufts upstanding like handles on the
tops of their woolly heads. One of them
is a priest, a priceless old thing, quite like
the "witch doctors" of the South. The
day he arrived, he asked for a razor, and
proceeded to shave his entire head, leaving
only two wee tassels of hair behind the
ears, which he has decorated with red and
white beads, which bob up and down.
Then he took the wool, rolled it carefully
into a litde ball, got out of bed, against
the doctor's orders, spread a large hand-
kerchief on the floor, kneeled, spat on die
ball of hair, did some prayers and incanta-
tions over it, produced some sand from
somewhere, which he ran through his
hands into die hanky, then gathered his
belongings together and climbed back into
bed again. He gets out of bed in the mid-
dle of the night now and then to repeat
this performance. Among other quaint
traits, he has the souvenir mania. When
he wants anything, such as my scissors or
wrist watch or the belt to my overcoat, he
points at it, all his white teeth gleaming,
and says, "Y* a bon! Souvenir?" He is
not at all bashful about it, either ; perhaps
diat is why he reminds me of our Southern
darkeys; and, like them, he is n't in die
least hurt at being refused, but comes bob-
bing up the next time, unabashed, with a
new request.

Poor devils! I do pity them; lots of
them have frozen feet. And although diey
are perfectly justified in having them this
last month, still, I suspect them of being
like Pedrito, the parrot, who shivers in
the icy blasts of mid-July. There is an



enthusiasm among some of the trained
nurses to be photographed in the midst of
this midnight frolic, an enthusiasm that I
do not share.

Three of my patients have pretty names :
Ya ya, Diata, and Marmadi. Under the
fire of questions from the white men Mar-
madi admitted to five wives, for whom,
he said, he had paid about fifteen francs
apiece. Some men paid as high as sixty
francs; but in his opinion no woman was
worth that much. With his experience
he ought to know ! What of the European
attitude if the war continues long enough ?

I interrupt this letter to make my rounds
every half-hour. All is well. But these
same Senegalese have an insurmountable
prejudice against bedclothes and band-
ages. One nurse did up a man's bandage
seven times during a single night, and he
undid them again as soon as her back was
turned. Curiously enough, after running
around with nothing on but a G string
in Africa, they become most modest in
Europe, and nothing on earth would in-
duce any of them to get up, even for a
moment in his night-shirt. They would
stay in bed forever, if one did n't give
them pajama trousers.

The Germans cannot be called cowards
if they run at the sight of these gigantic
black forms, widi their shining teeth and
eyeballs. They are chiefly employed now
in doing the dirty work of the trenches,
clearing away the debris and burying the
dead.

One of die new blesses has a huge hole
in his back and groans all night long. Why
it did n't touch his spine is a mystery to
the doctors.

The men who just left were so appre-
ciative that some of them nearly cried. It
is a real pleasure to do what one can for
them. Most of our old blesses were
evacuated, and one of the D men came to
say good-by to me. He was a handsome,
surly-looking brute who never spoke to
anyone, but always lay on his bed and
read. He was going home across the
Mediterranean for his convalescence. I
was quite surprised by his nice manners,
although they are very polite as a rule.



Digitized by



Google



836



THE CENTURY MAGAZINE



In thanking me for my "kindness," he
asked me if I would accept some books as
a sign of his appreciation. And what was
my amazement when he handed me "Les
Maximes" of La Rochefoucauld, "Les
caracteres" of La Bruycre, Pascal's "Pen-
sees," and the "Imitation of Jesus ChristT
He is an electrician at Tunis.

It is the most beautiful May night
imaginable, bright moonlight and warm
except for a midnight chill in the air.



Online LibraryBerlin (Germany) Charité-krankenhausThe Century, Volume 96 → online text (page 107 of 111)