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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Extract 2.—Scenes in Hospital

Extract 2.—Scenes in Hospital.

Sunday.—When my sister was distributing her roast-beef to-day in her hospital, there was a cry outside that Garibaldi was coming. People rushed with brooms and swept the floors; and the governor sidled up and hoped she had found the broth better the last few days. Presently Garibaldi entered. A swarm of doctors and attendants immediately surrounded him, praising themselves and craving his notice. She could not hear what he said, but observed that he did not fail to speak to each of the fifty-two men in her sala. She waited at the upper end, beside the handsome likeness of St. Michael, whom I mentioned before. She felt it provoking that, when Garibaldi came up, the governor presented her to him with such a torrent of fulsome flattery that simple dignified Garibaldi could not possibly vie with it, and seemed at a loss what to say, but thanked her most heartily for the care of his men. Then she took the liberty to say that she wished she could do a great deal more—that she would like to see that they had proper food, &c. Then the governor burst out with a declaration that she was the mistress of the whole hospital, and that he lay at her feet, and that everybody, cooks and all, lay at her feet, and that she had only to order to be obeyed, &c., &c. She turned her back on him, and spoke to Garibaldi about the patience and courage of the men; and he went to the St. Michael and bent down and kissed him on both cheeks, and told those around how brave he had been; and the big tears rolled down his face on to that of the dying man. He made him an officer there. All the men, when they heard him coming, began to sit up in their beds and clap their hands, and shout "Papa nostro, papa nostro!" They long to be allowed coffee in the morning instead of their grease and water; so my sister said to one of them, "Now could you not ask the general to order that you have coffee?" The young man answered, "Oh, lady, how could I trouble him with that, when he has so much to see to, and when his very presence gives us new life?" I was glad my sister had this pleasure, for she works with all her heart and soul; and it was a better way of meeting Garibaldi than that of some ladies who sought an interview with him later at the Hotel d'Angleterre, and asked him for a kiss a-piece, and that each might cut off a lock of his hair. General Türr was with him, and looked somewhat out of patience, standing guard over Garibaldi with a comb, and raking down his head after each operation.

On Monday, we went to inquire about the fever cases—about three hundred. They are in the charge of the Princess——and the "ladies of the commission," who have the spending of the money subscribed. The ladies do not visit every day, and sometimes do odd things. There was a poor man, who had not a day to live, his lungs having been pierced. Some of them came running up, exclaiming, "Oh, how ill he looks! Here, dear man—hero are some bonbons!" emptying a lot of almond sugar-plums into his bed, which he regarded with a kind of patient amusement, but, of course, could not touch. The salas up there are not so good. They have a window at each end, and are nearly dark in the midst, and look cheerless; along behind them run rows of small rooms, with windows close up to a dead wall—six men crowded into each of these little holes! This was a barrack turned into a hospital; and the horrid arrangements, which satisfied the dirtiest of all animals (Neapolitan soldiers), still exist. The first of the row of rooms is the public place for the whole floor; but do not imagine that it has any kind of arrangement whatever—any pipes or drains. It has an immense doorway, without any door to shut; at the opposite end of it, a large window, which blows the draught of it all along the rooms, which have their open doorways all in a line with it. Accustomed as I am to the horrors of the streets of Naples, I never imagined page 155 anything like this. It seemed as if it would knock you down when you entered the sala; and it was only with a great effort of self-command that one could remain there. When I awoke in the night, after being there, my throat was sore from the effects of it; what must it be to those poor creatures, wasted with fever, with burning hollow cheeks and glazed eyes, lying without beds—only a thin mattress between them and the stone flags—with their heads up to the very door of this sink of putrefaction, some for thirty days, some for forty? How the human frame can withstand such a thing seems a miracle. We asked a doctor how he had the conscience to undertake to cure people in such a room? He replied, that it was very much against him—"Mais que voulez-vous?" with the usual rise of shoulders and eyebrows.

There are some of the worst cases in these rooms. One young man squints till you scarcely see his eyes, and is so deaf, that the old man who attends him is obliged to scream into his ears, and gets a word or two of answer in a hoarse, unnatural voice—all the effect of the fever. He did not squint, nor was he deaf, when brought in. S asked him if he should not like his friends to be written to; and, with great difficulty, he recalled and articulated his mother's name and address,—at which the others were astonished, as he had been raving for several days, he opened his mouth greedily to swallow the grapes which we gave him, with an expression like that of a famished beast. It was very sad to see. There was a pretty boy, with a complexion almost blue white, who thought he was better, and had got up in his flannel coat; but he swayed about, and then sank down again. His head was so weak that he could not remember where he lived, except "quattre Piano," neither the street nor the town. At last he remembered it was Turin. Another very pretty blue-eyed, yellow-haired boy of thirteen, from Lucca, wasted with low fever, begged S—to write to his mother that he was getting better, and hoped to come home soon. His delicate white face was covered over with great cold drops of perspiration. I wiped it with my fine cambric handkerchief, and gave it to him. He tucked it so affectionately into his neck, and added, very anxiously, "Don't ask father or mother to send me money; they are poor, and I would not be an embarrassment to them." One young fellow of eighteen was so completely paralysed with rheumatism as not to be able to put his hand to his mouth. Near him was one with a finely cut face, but, without doubt, the most dreadful thing we had seen; it looked like the face of a corpse many days dead—the blue lip stretched tight over the glittering teeth—the nostrils dilated, but quite stiff—the eyes wide open, but so turned up into the head, that nothing was seen but shining white, contrasting terribly with the dark, deadly clay-colour of the skin—and a deep hollow under each cheekbone, in which a walnut might have lain. I could hardly suppress a moan of horror and pity when his attendant shouted into his ear, and poked and shook him—which he did rather roughly. He turned down his eyes with an effort—great, brilliant, brown eyes they were—but I think they saw nothing; and immediately they turned up again, till the brown disappeared, without winking or closing. He had been taken prisoner by the Royalists on the 1st, and rescued again the same evening. They did not know if he had been beaten on the head with their muskets, or had been shown the fire he was to be roasted at. He had received a shock to his nerves. I asked what he got as nourishment; they said, a few spoonsful of lemonade squeezed between his teeth. A rather stupid young doctor came by, and I asked him if it would not be good to give him something nourishing, and if I might bring him some beef tea? He said, "Yes, certainly; it would be very good for him." Now, I wonder, if the strengthening food was good, why he had got nothing but spoonsful of lemonade for three weeks.

We next went to the Hospital Pelligrino, to ask if a young man was still alive, who was very ill from mortification of the arm up to the shoulder. He page 156 had begged to have his mother sent for from Florence, and S——had just been able to write to her by the same day's boat; otherwise a week would have been lost. She said it was touching to see him when she had written the letter—how he threw his head from side to side, crying, "Subito, Subito! Madre!" in a kind of despairing, entreating voice. We found him with a nice, gentle-mannered, elderly man by his side, who was his father, just arrived, having set off the same day that he got the letter. In the next bed lay a man with blood flowing from his breast, and face livid, and working in great agony: he was a Neapolitan, just brought in, who had been stabbed in a quarrel over cards and money. The knife had touched his heart, and he had not half an hour to live: two women stood wailing over him. All quarrels and stabbing here are about money; it is the one thing that rouses the Neapolitans to energy and passion. Is it not well that, in fault of a still higher object, they should learn even to worship a character like Garibaldi's? This shocked me more than all else I had seen: the power to look on pain and death seemed suddenly to desert me, when the holy cause was no longer there to sanctify them.

Tuesday.—We went at our usual hour. Madame B——accompanied me to the fever labyrinth; I went straight to the bed of the poor fellow who had fallen into the hands of the enemy, with strong beef tea for him. Alas! the bed was empty! I could have cried; I had so much longed to cherish him back to consciousness; it seemed hard for the light to go out from a nameless unknown cause, and not even to know who he was. He was not very young; perhaps his wife and children are waiting for him. He died in great agony at seven that morning; he seemed to be struggling hard to utter some word, but could not.

I had brought a quantity of the strongest chloride of lime from the English Pharmacy, and bought some common plates; and I set it all about the worst rooms, and gave a lump of camphor in muslin to each bed. None of them knew what chloride was: I begged them not to eat it, and to ask the doctor to let it remain until I came again.

Thursday.—I went with Dr. and Mrs. Strange to the hospital of San Sebastian, of the Jesuits, to see the English there. It is under the direction of Madame Mario, formerly Miss Jessie White. The English are in four little airy rooms very high up, with cheerful windows, whence they can look over the housetops to the green hill-side. They are attended by a Scotch doctor named McKenzie, who took his degree in Germany, and by a nice little Irish Sister of Mercy—such a blooming pretty little thing—who was very much delighted to find I had been at the convent of St. Stephen's Green, whence she was sent out to come here. Most of the men are Scotch, and very enthusiastic. Some of the ladies tell them that they were fools to come out. I have it very much at heart that they should be a credit to us; in fighting of course they will—but I wish that they should be well-behaved in every way; and I don't think it will encourage discipline and good behaviour to teach them contempt for the service they had entered. I therefore said all I could, to show them what a noble cause it is, and how proper for the English to help the Italians to secure what God has given them. I wish you could have seen how the faces of those young Scots brightened up at my few words. I think they had become, at the discouragement of some of the English ladies, a little ashamed of what they had done; but now they came out quite eagerly with what they had "thought"—that they must come out and lend a helping hand. I was very much pleased with the style of men they are; not at all the "ne'er-do-well" adventurers that some here pretend. Most are of the well-educated Presbyterian middle class, who use grand words when they talk. One was a watchmaker, another a "traveller to a house;" one an Edinburgh man, another a tall fair Cumberland man. There were two well-mannered Londoners—one a clerk in a merchant's office, and a Sunday-school teacher.

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Friday.—We had a long day in the hospitals—the first part with our own fifty-two patients. The only one of them who was worse was the nice young fellow who had the great wine glass shaped hall through his shoulders. He had been going on well; but, dear silly fellow, he lost his head with joy on Sunday to see Garibaldi, and jumped out of bed—he who was never allowed to change his position—and the wounds broke out bleeding. he has gone back, and the doctor thought very badly of him. Later we went to the Jesuits to see the English again. I gave to each of the rooms a packet of tea and sugar, and to each a spoon to keep, as they never have any; but the present at which their faces brightened the most was a great lump of brown soap for each little room; they exclaimed, "Now, won't we have a wash" The first since they came to Naples! I gave them plenty of books.

I must not forget to tell you of my triumph over the smells before leaving the Apostoli. After finishing with our own sala we went up to the fever wards. I ran along to find out how the smells were, and, behold, the rooms were not worse than ordinary fever rooms. I went to see if the cause was removed; but that was the same. S——had asked one of the men if anything had been done. He answered, "No; only three days ago a lady came and put white stuff in plates about the floors (where it still was), and since then we have not been tormented." He then broke out into an eloquent description of their former sufferings. I had no idea that chloride was so powerful to counteract an existing evil, and could have danced for joy. There are still two more floors higher up where we have never been. It dawns upon me that my true mission is to hunt up bad smells and try to cure them!