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- Tomaso's Fortune and Other Stories - 1/41 -
TOMASO'S FORTUNE and other stories by HENRY SETON MERRIMAN.
"The common problem, yours, mine, every one's, Is--not to fancy what were fair in life Provided it could be,--but, finding first What may be, then find how to make it fair . . ."
SISTER. A SMALL WORLD. IN A CROOKED WAY. THE TALE OF A SCORPION. ON THE ROCKS. "GOLOSSA-A-L". THE MULE. IN LOVE AND WAR. TOMASO'S FORTUNE. STRANDED. PUTTING THINGS RIGHT. FOR JUANITA'S SAKE. AT THE FRONT. THE END OF THE "MOOROO". IN A CARAVAN. IN THE TRACK OF THE WANDERING JEW. THROUGH THE GATE OF TEARS. A PARIAH. THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN.
It does not matter where it was. I do not want other people--that is to say, those who were around us--to recognize Sister or myself. It is not likely that she will see this, and I am not sure that she knows my name. Of course, some one may draw her attention to this paper, and she may remember that the name affixed to it is that which I signed at the foot of a document we made out together-- namely, a return of deaths. At the foot of this paper our names stood one beneath the other--stand there still, perhaps, in some forgotten bundle of papers at the War Office.
I only hope that she will not see this, for she might consider it a breach of professional etiquette; and I attach great importance to the opinion of this woman, whom I have only seen once in my whole life. Moreover, on that occasion she was subordinate to me--more or less in the position of a servant.
Suffice it to say, therefore, that it was war-time, and our trade was what the commercial papers call brisk. A war better remembered of the young than of the old, because it was, comparatively speaking, recent. The old fellows seem to remember the old fights better--those fights that were fought when their blood was still young and the vessels thereof unclogged.
It was, by the way, my first campaign, but I was not new to the business of blood; for I am no soldier--only a doctor. My only uniform--my full-parade dress--is a red cross on the arm of an old blue serge jacket--such jacket being much stained with certain dull patches which are better not investigated.
All who have taken part in war--doing the damage or repairing it-- know that things are not done in quite the same way when ball- cartridge is served out instead of blank. The correspondents are very fond of reporting that the behaviour of the men suggested a parade--which simile, it is to be presumed, was borne in upon their fantastic brains by its utter inapplicability. The parade may be suggested before the real work begins--when it is a question of marching away from the landing-stage; but after the work--our work-- has begun, there is remarkably little resemblance to a review.
We are served with many official papers which we never fill in, because, on the spur of the moment, it is apt to suggest itself that men's lives are more important. We misapply a vast majority of our surgical supplies, because the most important item is usually left behind at headquarters or at the seaport depot. In fact, we do many things that we should leave undone, and omit to do more which we are expected (officially) to do.
For some reason--presumably the absence of better men--I was sent up to the front before we had been three days at work. Our hospital by the river was not full when I received orders to follow the flying column with two assistants and the appliances of a field-hospital.
Out of this little nucleus sprang the largest depot for sick and wounded that was formed during the campaign. We were within easy reach of headquarters, and I was fortunately allowed a free hand. Thus our establishment in the desert grew daily more important, and finally superseded the hospital at headquarters.
We had a busy time, for the main column had now closed up with the first expeditionary force, and our troops were in touch with the enemy not forty miles away from me.
In the course of time--when the authorities learnt to cease despising the foe, which is a little failing in British military high places--it was deemed expedient to fortify us, and then, in addition to two medical assistants, I was allowed three Government nurses. This last piece of news was not hailed with so much enthusiasm as might have been expected. I am not in favour of bringing women anywhere near the front. They are, for their own sakes and for the peace of mind of others, much better left behind. If they are beyond a certain age they break down and have to be sent back at considerable trouble--that is to say, an escort and an ambulance cart, of which latter there are never enough. If they are below the climacteric--ever so little below it--they cause mischief of another description, and the wounded are neglected; for there is no passion of the human heart so cruel and selfish as love.
"I am sorry to hear it," I said to light-hearted little Sammy Fitz- Warrener of the Naval Brigade, who brought me the news.
"Sorry to hear it? Gad! I shouldn't be. The place has got a different look about it when there are women-folk around. They are so jolly clever in their ways--worth ten of your red-cross ruffians."
"That is as may be," I answered, breaking open the case of whisky which Sammy had brought up on the carriage of his machine-gun for my private consumption.
He was taking this machine-gun up to the front, and mighty proud he was of it.
"A clever gun," he called it; "an almighty clever gun."
He had ridden alongside of it--sitting on the top of his horse as sailors do--through seventy miles of desert without a halt; watching over it and tending it as he might have watched and tended his mother, or perhaps some other woman.
"Gad! doctor," he exclaimed, kicking out his sturdy legs, and contemplating with some satisfaction the yellow hide top-boots which he had bought at the Army and Navy Stores. (I know the boots well, and--avoid them.) "Gad! doctor, you should see that gun on the war- path. Travels as light as a tricycle. And when she begins to talk- -my stars! Click-click-click-click! For all the world like a steam-launch's engine--mowing 'em down all the time. No work for you there. It will be no use you and your satellites progging about with skewers for the bullet. Look at the other side, my boy, and you'll find the beauty has just walked through them."
"Soda or plain?" I asked, in parenthesis.
"Soda. I don't like the flavour of dead camel. A big drink, please. I feel as if I were lined with sand-paper."
He slept that night in the little shanty built of mud and roofed chiefly with old palm-mats, which was gracefully called the head surgeon's quarters. That is to say, he partook of such hospitality as I had to offer him.
Sammy and I had met before he had touched a rope or I a scalpel. We hailed from the same part of the country--down Devonshire way; and, to a limited extent, we knew each other's people--which little phrase has a vast meaning in places where men do congregate.
We turned in pretty early--I on a hospital mattress, he in my bed; but Sam would not go to sleep. He would lie with his arms above his head (which is not an attitude of sleep) and talk about that everlasting gun.
I dozed off to the murmur of his voice expatiating on the extreme cunning of the ejector, and awoke to hear details of the rifling.
We did not talk of home, as do men in books when lying by a camp- fire. Perhaps it was owing to the absence of that picturesque adjunct to a soldier's life. We talked chiefly of the clever gun; and once, just before he fell asleep, Sammy returned to the question of the nurses.
"Yes," he said, "the head saw-bones down there told me to tell you that he had got permission to send you three nurses. Treat 'em kindly, Jack, for my sake. Bless their hearts! They mean well."
Then he fell asleep, and left me thinking of his words, and of the spirit which had prompted them.
I knew really nothing of this man's life, but he seemed singularly happy, with that happiness which only comes when daily existence has a background to it. He spoke habitually of women, as if he loved them all for the sake of one; and this not being precisely my own position, I was glad when he fell asleep.
The fort was astir next morning at four. The bugler kindly blew a blast into our glassless window which left no doubt about it.
"That means all hands on deck, I take it," said Sam, who was one of
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