The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
Extract 1.—Scenes in Hospital
Extract 1.—Scenes in Hospital.
Oct. 8.—My sister has had a ward given up to her entirely in the Sant' Apostoli Hospital. We spent Sunday in it.
I am much impressed with the courage of the men in bearing pain; I think the courage required in battle is a trifle compared with it. S——only spoke to some; the others showed their native courtesy in scarcely giving her a sign of recognition as she passed, lest they should seem to put themselves forward, although their faces beamed with pleasure. There is a boy who had had a large ball, which went slantwise through both shoulders and back. He showed me the ball—thimble-shaped, as large as a small wine-glass, but solid. He is obliged to sit curled up forwards night and day. Another whom I was struck with was a young Lombard gentleman, serving in the ranks, very beautiful, like the St. Michael of the Louvre, with reddish hair flowing back in wavy curls from the smooth white forehead. He is mortally wounded, I fear. His fine chestnut eyes are glassy and vacant. There are many who are suffering great agonies, evidenced by the livid lips, the clenched hands, and the drawn features. Those poor faces haunt me in my sleep. page 153 One poor man was having a severe wound in the stomach dressed. It was the first time I had heard the deep hoarse scream of a man in great agony. It went through and through me. It was evident that he tried to repress it, but could not. Yet they are wonderfully cheerful, and are ready for smiles and jokes; and, if they suffer and die, is it not for "la Patria," and for "our general?" Oh! that word "Patria," it is like a trumpet call to new life for each of them! "What an elevating influence is the love of country! Even the Neapolitans are stirred by it. Yet there is a great difference between their characters and those of the northerns. In hospital they come around you begging, or claw the air with ten hooked fingers from their distant beds, to hasten your coming to listen to them, so little dignity they have; whereas the others ask you in the most beautiful Italian, which is like a chime of sweet bells, to allow them to pay for the letters you have brought them from the post. Yet I am full of hope for the Neapolitans, seeing that, after years of degrading oppression, one month of liberty has already called out stray and far-apart signs of nobleness.
Money has been given most liberally, but it gets shamefully thrown away, through the incorrigible thieving propensities of the Neapolitan officials. Baskets full of provisions come in at one door and go out at the other, and are re-sold; and the money goes into the pockets of the hospital start'. The same with donations of linen. The meat for their broth is passed through hot water, which is given to the soldiers; the meat itself being taken home by the cooks to feed their families to the fourth and fifth generation. One day we went at an unusual hour, and found their broth just as if you had washed dinner-plates in lukewarm water, and then sprinkled a little grease on the top: the poor men were leaving it. S——took a basin of it to the kitchen, called the governor, and showed it him before the cook. he just stood in the favourite attitude of Neapolitans, repeating, "Mais que voulez-vous? mais que ferai-je?" "Look after things; scold the cook," she replied. Still he only shrugged his shoulders, spread his hands, made ill-used eyelids, and left her to scold the cook. Everybody is afraid of everybody. Oh! for a little uncalculating manliness!
She one day went up to some of the higher floors not under our care, and found a long gallery full of blankets, sheets, shirts and shoes, and a man in it who, with many bows, protested he was there to give out all that was wanted. She then went to a higher sala, and found it in a horrible state. The wall opposite to the long row of beds was lined with thin old mattresses laid on the cold stone floor; and on them were rows of men tossing and wasted with fever, with woollen covers—not a sheet or a pillow among them. She gave one of them a glass of lemonade, and observed when he put out his arm that he had no shirt; he told her that, when their own red shirts were taken to be washed they never got them back again, and got no substitute. She went back to the linen-room, and, behold, the door was locked, and the key was said to be in the possession of the princess——, who had gone to Sorrento! She then told the head Sister of Charity that she would stand by the man until they brought him a shirt; and presently they did so. Another man in that room had only a few days to live, and was trying to pass the time, while his strength lasted, by reading a little dirty novel. S——gave him a new Testament, and his whole face brightened up. She showed him what parts to read, and told him it was about Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, and that it would comfort him in his sufferings: he said, "Ah, yes; it may help me in dying," and immediately began to devour it. Rejoice with me over this part of our newly-found freedom! If one had done such a thing six months ago, the king, the ministry, the College of Jesuits, and the Council of Cardinals would all have known of it in half an hour, and we should never have seen page 154 the inside of a hospital again, even if we had escaped prison.