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HADDINGTON Hospital had its “characters,” as every place has. I formed ties and associations during the spring of my stay there, which can never be forgotten. Nearly all who were there at the time, I remember with pleasure. There was “Chris.” Miller, whose leg was amputated below the knee, and who walked splendidly on his “Palmer leg,” when he got it. If there was one of the boys there whom I liked better than any other, it was “Chris.” He was a jovial fellow, humorous and witty, and the boys were never at a loss for a laugh when he was about. When he got his artificial leg on tight he got tight himself on the strength of it, and made so much noise that the Doctors came to the melancholy conclusion that it was necessary to put him into the guard-house—which was Room No. 41, fourth story. There he made more noise than ever, sat in the open window with his feet dangling out—one a wooden one, you know—and threatened to jump down upon the roof of the piazza, a distance of twenty-five or thirty feet; so, the Doctors got scared, lest he should do so, and thus sprain the ankle of his new leg, and they had him brought down and locked up in the cellar, where there was not such a broad field for exercise.
Nor shall I ever forget Young, a reckless boy of the New York Fire Zouaves, whose leg was amputated five times. One evening when I was just about to retire, he came home from the city, more than tight, fell, as he came blundering up the steps, and bursted his unfortunate “stump” open, so that half-an-inch more of the bone had to be sawed off. He begged the privilege of keeping this fragment of himself, and when he got into a convalescent state again, he worked whole days at it with a pocket knife, and carved it into a very handsome ring, which he ever afterwards wore on his middle finger, both at the table and elsewhere.
There, too, was Mr. Becker, (a citizen,) the clerk of the hospital. He was a handsome fellow, with black curling hair; and he made love, pro tempore, to one of the village girls.
And there was Bingham, whom I shall never forget, a religious fellow who sung psalms of an evening, and induced the boys to make up money enough for him to go home on—although it was subsequently ascertained that he had plenty of money himself at the time. He was the only mean fellow I remember; but he had lost a leg in the service of his country, and I will spare him.
One evening, a few weeks after I had been admitted to the hospital, a man named Thomas, who had been absent for ten days, returned and occupied a bed by the side of mine. He was a soldier who had been slightly wounded, and was doing guard duty at the hospital. He had been absent without leave, had been drinking all that time, and now returned in a very nervous and shattered state of body, and an uneasy and gloomy frame of mind. To add to his trepidation, he was apprehensive that he had been marked as a deserter, during his absence; and he retired to bed in uncommonly low spirits.
I was just falling asleep, and every thing was quiet about the hospital, when Mr. Thomas suddenly startled me by springing up to a sitting posture in his bed, and crying out:
“No you don’t! I’ll die first! I won’t be taken! You want to try me for a deserter and shoot me with twelve muskets! I tell you, I’ll not be taken!”
“What’s the matter, Thomas?” I asked in alarm.
“Matter? Why, don’t you see? There’s a whole company of soldiers surrounding the house, and they want to take me for a deserter! Look!” he exclaimed wildly, pointing through the window. “Don’t you see them?”
“No, no,” I replied, perceiving that he was afflicted with a mild attack of the horrors. “There are no soldiers there. Lie down!”
“Yes, there are!” he exclaimed, springing out upon the floor. “See! See! Twenty! Thirty! Forty! Fifty!—I’ll cut their hearts out if they try to take me! I will!”—— ——Here he swore a profane oath.
I confess that I felt rather uneasy in the presence of this madman, but calming my fears, I said, coaxingly:
“Come, now, Thomas, there’s no one after you. Don’t act so foolishly! Do lie down and go to sleep!”
“But I see them! They are down there by that car, now. Do you see? O, I’m watching them! They’ll be sharp if they take me alive!”
The terminus of the Market Street and West Philadelphia horse railway is at the building then used as a hospital, and a car arrived and departed every forty minutes till eleven o’clock. At this time, there was one standing some fifty yards from the building, awaiting its time to depart for the depot in West Philadelphia.
“Yes, I do see them now,” I said, thinking it better to humor him; “but it is very plain they have concluded you are not here, for they are getting on that car to leave.”
“O, I know their tricks!” he replied, quickly. “They only want to make me think they are gone, so that I will go to sleep, and they can come and take me easily. But they don’t catch me that way! I should think not! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“Really, Thomas,” said I, persuasively, “I believe they intend to go. Go to bed, and I will watch for you. If they do not leave on that car when it goes, and offer to come this way, I will wake you and tell you. Depend on me.”
“Yes, indeed I will. Lie down.”
“I will, then; but, mind, don’t let ’em get near. They’re sly as foxes. Watch ’em.”
“Don’t fear,” I replied. “Go to bed, and I will wake you in good time if I see them coming.”
Thereupon Thomas, who was a large strong man of thirty years, returned somewhat reluctantly to his bed, while some of the other boys of the “ward” began to wake up, and swear moderately because their slumbers had been disturbed. The murmur soon subsided, however, Thomas seemed to sleep, all grew quiet, and I lay down again.
I was just getting into a comfortable doze, when Thomas started suddenly, sprung out upon the floor, between his bed and mine, making the whole house quiver, placed his hands upon my stomach, and leaped clear over me and my bed at a bound. At first, I thought my “time had come,” for I fancied he was about to “slash” me in two with a knife; but having executed the gymnastic feat just described, he withdrew his hands, and stood in a kind of crouching position, trembling like a leaf—especially like an aspen leaf.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, trembling about as much as he.
“Hush!” he whispered, in an awful manner. “They’re at the window! They were pointing their muskets in! One of them touched me on the head. Look! See their bayonets at the window! Where’s my knife? Reach and get it for me from my pants’ pocket! Do!”
“Wait a moment,” I replied, “till I go to the door and look out. I want to see how many there are.” My object was to get out into the hall, go and wake the Doctor, and inform him of this sad case.
“No, no, no, no, no, no!” he said, quickly, at the same time jumping about four feet high, and coming down on the floor like a thunderbolt; “don’t open the door! They would all rush in!”
“Only the hall-door,” I persisted, beginning to rise. “They’re not in the hall. Stay here, and I’ll get you a musket to defend yourself with.”
The muskets belonging to the guards off duty were kept on a kind of rack in the hall, immediately adjoining the room I was in. I did not wait to hear any further remonstrances on the part of Thomas, but leaving him standing there trembling, as only a man suffering from delirium tremens can tremble, I seized my two crutches—for I used two then—stalked to the door, went out into the hall, closed the door after me and hastened to the room in which the Doctor slept, which was on the same floor.
It was some little time before I succeeded in getting him awake, and when I did, he growled out in an ill humor, asked what in the deuce I wanted, imagined I was some one come to rob him, seized his revolver, cocked it, threatened to blow my unhappy brains out, called to me to “halt, or I was a dead man;” and, in fact, he was, altogether, quite playful.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” I fairly yelled. “It is I, Doctor—I, John Smith!”
“What do you want—waking a fellow at this time of night?” he demanded. “Are you sick? Do you want medicine? Go to the cadet and tell him to give you:
“Stop! stop, for suffering humanity’s sake!” I interrupted. “I am not sick, at all. On the contrary, am quite well—thank you. But——”
“Well, what is the matter?”
“I came to tell you that Mr. Thomas is raving mad. He imagines that a provost-guard is after him, and that he is to be shot as a deserter; and he is scampering about over the ward, like a rat in a hot stove. He talks strangely about cutting people’s hearts out; and he may hurt some of the boys.”
“O, is that it?” said the Doctor, now wide awake. “Well, I’ll attend to him!” And he hurriedly turned out and drew on his unmentionables.
Accompanied by the Doctor, a light, and a guard of two men armed with muskets, I soon returned to “Ward A,” and found Thomas raving like a “wild man of the woods.” He imagined himself already attacked by a company of soldiers, and he was hammering away at my empty bed with his big fists, and cursing and swearing like an officer of the Regular Army. All the boys of the “ward” were now wide awake, and more than scared. They were all cripples, and some of them still in a weak condition, and they really had much to fear in case of Thomas’s becoming generally pugnacious.
“What do you mean, Thomas?” demanded the Doctor, angrily. “Do you want to go into the guard-house right now? or will you lie down and take a night’s rest?”
“They’ve surrounded me!” vociferated Thomas, with a profane oath. “And I’ll not be taken! I’ll sell my life as dearly as possible! I will!”
“Confound you!” said the Doctor, vexatiously. “You’ll cheat the man that buys it, then!—seize him, boys, and put him in the cellar. Put on your pantaloons, Thomas; you must sleep in the cellar to-night. You shall not carry on in this way.”
Much to my surprise, Thomas at once cooled down, and became perfectly tractable. He offered no resistance, nor showed any signs of disobedience, but straightway drew on his trousaloons, put on his blouse, placed his cap on his head, with the visor shoved down over his eyes, and quietly accompanied the guard, and allowed himself to be locked up in a strong room in the basement. So, our peace and tranquillity were no more invaded till roll-call in the morning.
When one of the guards went to give Thomas his breakfast, he found him sitting with a grave air on a low stool near the door of his prison, with a large bloody pocket-knife in his hand. There was a pool of gore on the floor at his feet, and his neck and breast were terribly gashed.
“Why, Thomas!” exclaimed the horrified sentinel, “What have you done?”
“Some fellow,” returned Thomas, in a calm, and even dignified tone, “murdered my father last night in the room above, and——” pointing to the blood on the floor—“his blood ran down here. Some of it fell on me, but how could I help that?”
“But what are you doing with that knife? You have surely cut yourself.”
“O,” he retorted coolly, as he pointed to his lacerated breast, “I have been merely trying to get my heart out. I had hold of it once, but it slipped out of my hand.”
There was a wild look in his eye, and he presented a rather dangerous appearance with the gory knife in his hand, and his clothes stained with blood. The sentinel paused a moment, then duty triumphing over fear, he advanced boldly, and said, in an authoritative tone:
“Give me that knife!”
Without a word, Thomas submissively handed him the bloody instrument, with which he had been attempting self-destruction. It was a large knife with eating-fork attached, such as was much used by soldiers during the war—the blade being about four inches long.
Having secured this weapon, the sentinel closed and locked the door, then hastened to inform the Doctor of what had occurred. Thereupon Thomas was conducted to an upper room, his wounds—twenty-two in number—were examined and dressed, and he was put to bed. There were two Doctors at the hospital at the time, and both expressed a like opinion on the case of poor Thomas. They said they wouldn’t be surprised if he should die, but yet, that it was possible he might get well—if “kept quiet:” so, by this non-committal course, they did not endanger their reputation.
Dans la forêt de mort, sans saisons, sans feuillages,
—Où la sève des pins, de leurs troncs mutilés,
Coule en lente agonie—il est un exilé
De la vie, attendant de vains appareillages.
Il regarde la vague apporter sur la plage
Les masques transparents, aux traits annihilés,
Des méduses.—Semblable aux ruines de Philæ,
A ces visages d’eau s’oppose son visage.
Masques faits et défaits du mouvement des flots,
La mer toujours les roule à même ses sanglots,
Des soleils de minuit jusqu’à l’aube des lunes.
Les immolés ont tous la face de Jésus,
Qui, des sables passifs, rejetés par le flux,
Comptent le temps sans fin au sablier des dunes.
Amis, voici mon livre; et qu’il n’ait aucun vice
Autre que celui-là dont nous sommes complices!
Des amours décidés dans notre froid cerveau:
Préparer sa folie et le geste qui vaut
Est affaire de sport, non de veule nature;
Car pour nous ressembler, créer notre aventure,
Il nous faut déjouer tous les jeux du hasard,
Congédier le sort, se choisir, non trop tard,
Ses poisons, se disant: C’est moi qui m’exécute.
—je ne serai jamais celui que persécute
Autrui qui m’indiffère.—Et j’assiste, invité
Curieux, mais distant, à l’Emotivité.
Et l’on ne m’aimera que si je veux qu’on m’aime!
… Mais parfois je m’invente un plus proche moi-même.
—Mécanisme du corps, viscères: peuple vil….
Obéis à ce moi détourné de profil;
Puisque la volonté m’incite à l’énergie,
Je veux bien que ces vers portent mon effigie.
Sans plus tâcher de plaire ou même d’émouvoir,
Laisse-moi m’approcher de toi, plus virginale
Que la neige; apprends-moi ta paix impartiale,
Anéantis en moi la force et le vouloir.
Je veux cacher mes yeux, plus tristes que le soir,
A tes yeux, oublier jusqu’au petit ovale
De ta face, et, mon front dans le frais intervalle
De tes seins, sangloter des larmes sans espoir.
Mes pleurs sont un poison très lent que je veux boire,
Au lieu de mendier à quelque amour banal
L’ingrate guérison, l’aveuglement final.
Près de toi mon désir se consume, illusoire.
O mes regrets! combien j’éprouve encor ce mal
De rêver au bonheur auquel on ne peut croire.
Ah! le silence, le multiple silence,
Vivant dans les départs,
Et le pressentiment traversant comme un phare
L’ombre et la distance.
Qu elle semble loin, qu’elle semble tard
Dans un tourbillon d’heures—un jour, pas davantage—
Que de naufrages,
Que de débris épars,
Restés de ces naufrages!
Et cet embrun aux yeux,
Et ces morts sur la plage,
Et ces trésors sombrés au fond de la douleur
La houle de vagues au cœur!
Sentiments exprimés: libretti d’opéra.
La saveur à venir des choses retrouvées…
Ces lointaines vallées
Qui fument de l’azur…
Je fus heureux
Avec ses seuls yeux
—Et cet amour miraculeux
Entre nous deux.
Les villes vaniteuses
Se mirent dans ses eaux…
Un homme, au chapeau dur, de la ville coupable,
A travers la forêt a l’air d’un corbillard.
L’humidité du sol clapote à mes semelles,
Mars accourt, secouant ses écharpes de vent.
De toute leur adolescence
Ils se ruent contre la nuit.
Le mois de mai, comme un poète anglais
Le soleil est venu me chercher dans mon lit
S’en aller n’importe où,
Le bras autour d’un cou.
Vers ces autres couleurs que contiennent nos ombres.
Piano: harpe couchée en ton cercueil sonore.
Harpe, eau mise en musique, cordes … pluie…
Quelque mort pourrissant au fond des marécages
Et le crépuscule laisse tomber la lune….
La lune, lanterne sourde aux mains de la nuit…
Pièce d’argent que nous jette la nuit…
La lune haut cernée de tout son devenir…
Son profil blanc et froid: un fragment de la lune
Et ses mains dans la nuit, fargilités lunaires.
Les grands bouleaux aux yeux de Pharaonne,
Noirs dans leur blanche peau.
De ma verdure citadine.
La branche verte se dandine
A ma fenêtre—Un vers anglais
Ignore le mal qu’il me fait.
M’évanouir dans du brouillard
La face d’un noyé flotte au ras des hublots.
Ivre de boire à flots la belle nuit bachique,
Je n’avais plus besoin que vous vous soyiez Vous:
—Je n’avais plus besoin de la bonne musique!
Je mâchais des débris d’étoiles—tels des fous
Se reposant enfin d’être de trop eux-mêmes
—Des dieux impersonnels courtisent mes genoux.
Les ombres prenaient corps. Je leur disais “je t’aime”
—Disant à tout: “je t’aime” est-ce à toi seule, à Toi
Nuit dont je partageais les vastes diadèmes!
J’étais libre un instant, universel et roi
—Libre des sentiments qui font notre esclavage,
Mais me voici repris par tout le désarroi …
Par le doute et le trouble et le double engrenage!
Je ne suis plus que moi! Les choses d’alentour
Ne sont plus qu’à leur place … Et sûr d’un seul visage
J’ai quitté tout amour pour retrouver l’Amour!
Les lanternes parmi les arbres ont des joues
Peintes: telles mousmés lumineuses qu’on loue!
La chasse aux vers luisants prendra pour son taïaut
Les sons de quelque flûte invisible qui joue:
Arabesques d’une âme ancestrale et mantchoue
Qui s’enfle du désir d’arriver sans défaut
A cette lune prise au pommier le plus haut?
Un tourbillon de neige,
Comme les lucioles
En ajoutant vos regards
Aux regards de mes hôtes,
Je croirai au retour des lucioles.
Voici du maître Avril la frêle orfèvrerie:
Hyacinthes, muguets, cloisons pleines de miel;
La branche du pommier, fragilement fleurie,
Semble être l’éphémère ouvrage d’Ariel.
Je mets tout ce printemps sur ton grand lit: qu’il vienne
Se rouler à tes pieds afin qu’il t’en souvienne.
Vous vivez du temps qu’il fait,
De projets et de voyages;
De tel ennui, de tel fait,
Dun besoin d’air, de visages
Nouveaux, de rien et de tout.
Je ne vis que de vous…
De vous … et sans voir les pages
Des livres, de tout distrait,
Ma barque est un lit défait,
Vos traits sont mes paysages,
L’air qu’il me faut sont vos doux
Parfums: je vis de vous!
Ce toit porte ta nudité,
Ta forme: couleur ou bien vivre.
Je bois le loin de ma bouche ivre
De ta divine crudité.
En pleine chair, en plein ciel suis-je,
(Trébuchant vers quatre horizons
Pour retomber en un frisson)
Seule pour ce double vertige?
Quitter, en tremblant des genoux,
Ce baldaquin où la nuit sème
Peu d’astres, descendre de même
Vers Paris—éteint comme vous!