Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott
CHAPTER I: OBTAINING SUPPLIES.

"I want something to do."

This remark being addressed to the world in general, no one
in particular felt it their duty to reply; so I repeated it
to the smaller world about me, received the following
suggestions, and settled the matter by answering my own
inquiry, as people are apt to do when very much in earnest.

"Write a book," quoth the author of my being.

"Don't know enough, sir. First live, then write."

"Try teaching again," suggested my mother.

"No thank you, ma'am, ten years of that is enough."

"Take a husband like my Darby, and fulfill your mission,"
said sister Joan, home on a visit.

"Can't afford expensive luxuries, Mrs. Coobiddy."

"Turn actress, and immortalize your name," said sister
Vashti, striking an attitude.

"I won't."

"Go nurse the soldiers," said my young brother, Tom,
panting for "the tented field."

"I will!"

So far, very good. Here was the will--now for the way. At first
sight not a foot of it appeared, but that didn't matter, for the
Periwinkles are a hopeful race; their crest is an anchor, with
three cock-a-doodles crowing atop. They all wear rose-colored
spectacles, and are lineal descendants of the inventor of aerial
architecture. An hour's conversation on the subject set the whole
family in a blaze of enthusiasm. A model hospital was erected,
and each member had accepted an honorable post therein. The
paternal P. was chaplain, the maternal P. was matron, and all the
youthful P.s filled the pod of futurity with achievements whose
brilliancy eclipsed the glories of the present and the past.
Arriving at this satisfactory conclusion, the meeting adjourned,
and the fact that Miss Tribulation was available as army nurse
went abroad on the wings of the wind.

In a few days a townswoman heard of my desire, approved of it,
and brought about an interview with one of the sisterhood which I
wished to join, who was at home on a furlough, and able and
willing to satisfy all inquiries. A morning chat with Miss
General S.--we hear no end of Mrs. Generals, why not a
Miss?--produced three results: I felt that I could do the work,
was offered a place, and accepted it, promising not to desert,
but stand ready to march on Washington at an hour's notice.

A few days were necessary for the letter containing my request
and recommendation to reach headquarters, and another, containing
my commission, to return; therefore no time was to be lost; and
heartily thanking my pair of friends, I tore home through the
December slush as if the rebels were after me, and like many
another recruit, burst in upon my family with the announcement--

"I've enlisted!"

An impressive silence followed. Tom, the irrepressible,
broke it with a slap on the shoulder and the graceful
compliment--

"Old Trib, you're a trump!"

"Thank you; then I'll take something:" which I did, in the
shape of dinner, reeling off my news at the rate of three
dozen words to a mouthful; and as every one else talked
equally fast, and all together, the scene was most inspiring.

As boys going to sea immediately become nautical in speech, walk
as if they already had their "sea legs" on, and shiver their
timbers on all possible occasions, so I turned military at once,
called my dinner my rations, saluted all new comers, and ordered
a dress parade that very afternoon. Having reviewed every rag I
possessed, I detailed some for picket duty while airing over the
fence; some to the sanitary influences of the wash-tub; others to
mount guard in the trunk; while the weak and wounded went to the
Work- basket Hospital, to be made ready for active service again.
To this squad I devoted myself for a week; but all was done, and
I had time to get powerfully impatient before the letter came. It
did arrive however, and brought a disappointment along with its
good will and friendliness, for it told me that the place in the
Armory Hospital that I supposed I was to take, was already
filled, and a much less desirable one at Hurly-burly House was
offered instead.

"That's just your luck, Trib. I'll tote your trunk up garret for
you again; for of course you won't go," Tom remarked, with the
disdainful pity which small boys affect when they get into their
teens. I was wavering in my secret soul, but that settled the
matter, and I crushed him on the spot with martial brevity--

"It is now one; I shall march at six."

I have a confused recollection of spending the afternoon in
pervading the house like an executive whirlwind, with my family
swarming after me, all working, talking, prophesying and
lamenting, while I packed my "go-abroady" possessions, tumbled
the rest into two big boxes, danced on the lids till they shut,
and gave them in charge, with the direction,--

"If I never come back, make a bonfire of them."

Then I choked down a cup of tea, generously salted instead
of sugared, by some agitated relative, shouldered my knapsack--
it was only a traveling bag, but do let me preserve the
unities--hugged my family three times all round without a
vestige of unmanly emotion, till a certain dear old lady
broke down upon my neck, with a despairing sort of wail--

"Oh, my dear, my dear, how can I let you go?"

"I'll stay if you say so, mother."

"But I don't; go, and the Lord will take care of you."

Much of the Roman matron's courage had gone into the Yankee
matron's composition, and, in spite of her tears, she would
have sent ten sons to the war, had she possessed them, as
freely as she sent one daughter, smiling and flapping on the
door-step till I vanished, though the eyes that followed me
were very dim, and the handkerchief she waved was very wet.

My transit from The Gables to the village depot was a funny
mixture of good wishes and good byes, mud-puddles and shopping.
A December twilight is not the most cheering time to enter upon
a somewhat perilous enterprise, and, but for the presence of
Vashti and neighbor Thorn, I fear that I might have added a drop
of the briny to the native moisture of--

"The town I left behind me;"

though I'd no thought of giving out: oh, bless you, no!
When the engine screeched "Here we are," I clutched my escort
in a fervent embrace, and skipped into the car with as blithe a
farewell as if going on a bridal tour--though I believe brides
don't usually wear cavernous black bonnets and fuzzy brown
coats, with a hair-brush, a pair of rubbers, two books, and a
bag of ginger-bread distorting the pockets of the same. If I
thought that any one would believe it, I'd boldly state that I
slept from C. to B., which would simplify matters immensely; but
as I know they wouldn't, I'll confess that the head under
the funereal coal-hod fermented with all manner of high
thoughts and heroic purposes "to do or die,"--perhaps both; and
the heart under the fuzzy brown coat felt very tender with the
memory of the dear old lady, probably sobbing over her
army socks and the loss of her topsy-turvy Trib. At this
juncture I took the veil, and what I did behind it is nobody's
business; but I maintain that the soldier who cries when his
mother says "Good bye," is the boy to fight best, and
die bravest, when the time comes, or go back to her better
than he went.

Till nine o'clock I trotted about the city streets, doing
those last errands which no woman would even go to heaven
without attempting, if she could. Then I went to my usual
refuge, and, fully intending to keep awake, as a sort of vigil
appropriate to the occasion, fell fast asleep and dreamed
propitious dreams till my rosy-faced cousin waked me with a
kiss.

A bright day smiled upon my enterprise, and at ten I reported
myself to my General, received last instructions and no end of
the sympathetic encouragement which women give, in look, touch,
and tone more effectually than in words. The next step was to get
a free pass to Washington, for I'd no desire to waste my
substance on railroad companies when "the boys" needed even a
spinster's mite. A friend of mine had procured such a pass, and I
was bent on doing likewise, though I had to face the president of
the railroad to accomplish it. I'm a bashful individual, though I
can't get any one to believe it; so it cost me a great effort to
poke about the Worcester depot till the right door appeared, then
walk into a room containing several gentlemen, and blunder out my
request in a high state of stammer and blush. Nothing could have
been more courteous than this dreaded President, but it was
evident that I had made as absurd a demand as if I had asked for
the nose off his respectable face. He referred me to the Governor
at the State House, and I backed out, leaving him no doubt to
regret that such mild maniacs were left at large. Here was a
Scylla and Charybdis business: as if a President wasn't trying
enough, without the Governor of Massachusetts and the hub of the
hub piled on top of that. "I never can do it," thought I. "Tom
will hoot at you if you don't," whispered the inconvenient little
voice that is always goading people to the performance of
disagreeable duties, and always appeals to the most effective
agent to produce the proper result. The idea of allowing any boy
that ever wore a felt basin and a shoddy jacket with a
microscopic tail, to crow over me, was preposterous, so giving
myself a mental slap for such faint-heartedness, I streamed away
across the Common, wondering if I ought to say "your Honor," or
simply "Sir," and decided upon the latter, fortifying myself with
recollections of an evening in a charming green library, where I
beheld the Governor placidly consuming oysters, and laughing as
if Massachusetts was a myth, and he had no heavier burden on his
shoulders than his host's handsome hands.

Like an energetic fly in a very large cobweb, I struggled
through the State House, getting into all the wrong rooms and
none of the right, till I turned desperate, and went into one,
resolving not to come out till I'd made somebody hear and
answer me. I suspect that of all the wrong places I had
blundered into, this was the most so. But I didn't care;
and, though the apartment was full of soldiers, surgeons,
starers, and spittoons, I cornered a perfectly incapable person,
and proceeded to pump for information with the following result:

"Was the Governor anywhere about?"

No, he wasn't.

"Could he tell me where to look?"

No, he couldn't.

"Did he know anything about free passes?"

No, he didn't.

"Was there any one there of whom I could inquire?"

Not a person.

"Did he know of any place where information could be
obtained?"

Not a place.

"Could he throw the smallest gleam of light upon the
matter, in any way?"

Not a ray.

I am naturally irascible, and if I could have shaken this
negative gentleman vigorously, the relief would have been
immense. The prejudices of society forbidding this mode of
redress, I merely glowered at him; and, before my wrath
found vent in words, my General appeared, having seen me
from an opposite window, and come to know what I was about. At
her command the languid gentleman woke up, and troubled himself
to remember that Major or Sergeant or something Mc K. knew all
about the tickets, and his office was in Milk Street. I perked
up instanter, and then, as if the exertion was too much for
him, what did this animated wet blanket do but add--

"I think Mc K. may have left Milk Street, now, and I don't
know where he has gone."

"Never mind; the new comers will know where he has moved
to, my dear, so don't be discouraged; and if you don't succeed,
come to me, and we will see what to do next," said my General.

I blessed her in a fervent manner and a cool hall, fluttered
round the corner, and bore down upon Milk Street, bent on
discovering Mc K. if such a being was to be found. He wasn't,
and the ignorance of the neighborhood was really pitiable.
Nobody knew anything, and after tumbling over bundles of
leather, bumping against big boxes, being nearly annihilated by
descending bales, and sworn at by aggravated truckmen, I finally
elicited the advice to look for Mc K. in Haymarket Square. Who
my informant was I've really forgotten; for, having hailed
several busy gentlemen, some one of them fabricated this
delusive quietus for the perturbed spirit, who instantly
departed to the sequestered locality he named. If I had been in
search of the Koh-i-noor diamond I should have been as
likely to find it there as any vestige of Mc K. I stared at
signs, inquired in shops, invaded an eating house, visited the
recruiting tent in the middle of the Square, made myself a
nuisance generally, and accumulated mud enough to retard
another Nile. All in vain: and I mournfully turned my face
toward the General's, feeling that I should be forced to enrich
the railroad company after all; when, suddenly, I beheld that
admirable young man, brother-in-law Darby Coobiddy, Esq.
I arrested him with a burst of news, and wants, and woes,
which caused his manly countenance to lose its usual repose.

"Oh, my dear boy, I'm going to Washington at five, and I
can't find the free ticket man, and there won't be time to see
Joan, and I'm so tired and cross I don't know what to do; and
will you help me, like a cherub as you are?"

"Oh, yes, of course. I know a fellow who will set us
right," responded Darby, mildly excited, and darting into some
kind of an office, held counsel with an invisible angel, who
sent him out radiant. "All serene. I've got him. I'll see
you through the business, and then get Joan from the Dove
Cote in time to see you off."

I'm a woman's rights woman, and if any man had offered help
in the morning, I should have condescendingly refused it, sure
that I could do everything as well, if not better, myself. My
strong-mindedness had rather abated since then, and I was now
quite ready to be a "timid trembler," if necessary.

Dear me! how easily Darby did it all: he just asked one
question, received an answer, tucked me under his arm, and in
ten minutes I stood in the presence of Mc K., the Desired.

"Now my troubles are over," thought I, and as usual was
direfully mistaken.

"You will have to get a pass from Dr. H., in Temple Place,
before I can give you a pass, madam," answered Mc K., as blandly
as if he wasn't carrying desolation to my soul. Oh, indeed! why
didn't he send me to Dorchester Heights, India Wharf, or Bunker
Hill Monument, and done with it? Here I was, after a morning's
tramp, down in some place about Dock Square, and was told
to step to Temple Place. Nor was that all; he might as well have
asked me to catch a hummingbird, toast a salamander, or call on
the man in the moon, as find a Doctor at home at the busiest
hour of the day. It was a blow; but weariness had extinguished
enthusiasm, and resignation clothed me as a garment. I sent
Darby for Joan, and doggedly paddled off, feeling that mud was
my native element, and quite sure that the evening papers would
announce the appearance of the Wandering Jew, in feminine
habiliments.

"Is Dr. H. in?"

"No, mum, he aint."

Of course he wasn't; I knew that before I asked: and,
considering it all in the light of a hollow mockery, added:

"When will he probably return?"

If the damsel had said, "ten to-night," I should have felt
a grim satisfaction, in the fulfillment of my own dark prophecy;
but she said, "At two, mum;" and I felt it a personal insult.

"I'll call, then. Tell him my business is important:" with
which mysteriously delivered message I departed, hoping that I
left her consumed with curiosity; for mud rendered me an object
of interest.

By way of resting myself, I crossed the Common, for the
third time, bespoke the carriage, got some lunch, packed my
purchases, smoothed my plumage, and was back again, as the clock
struck two. The Doctor hadn't come yet; and I was morally
certain that he would not, till, having waited till the
last minute, I was driven to buy a ticket, and, five minutes
after the irrevocable deed was done, he would be at my service,
with all manner of helpful documents and directions.
Everything goes by contraries with me; so, having made up
my mind to be disappointed, of course I wasn't; for, presently,
in walked Dr. H., and no sooner had he heard my errand, and
glanced at my credentials, than he said, with the most engaging
readiness:

"I will give you the order, with pleasure, madam."

Words cannot express how soothing and delightful it was to
find, at last, somebody who could do what I wanted, without
sending me from Dan to Beersheba, for a dozen other to do
something else first. Peace descended, like oil, upon the
ruffled waters of my being, as I sat listening to the busy
scratch of his pen; and, when he turned about, giving me
not only the order, but a paper of directions wherewith to
smooth away all difficulties between Boston and Washington, I
felt as did poor Christian when the Evangelist gave him the
scroll, on the safe side of the Slough of Despond. I've no
doubt many dismal nurses have inflicted themselves upon the
worthy gentleman since then; but I am sure none have been more
kindly helped, or are more grateful, than T. P.; for
that short interview added another to the many pleasant
associations that already surround his name.

Feeling myself no longer a "Martha Struggles," but a
comfortable young woman, with plain sailing before her, and the
worst of the voyage well over, I once more presented myself to
the valuable Mc K. The order was read, and certain
printed papers, necessary to be filled out, were given a
young gentleman--no, I prefer to say Boy, with a scornful
emphasis upon the word, as the only means of revenge now left
me. This Boy, instead of doing his duty with the diligence so
charming in the young, loitered and lounged, in a manner
which proved his education to have been sadly neglected in the--

"How doth the little busy bee,"

direction. He stared at me, gaped out of the window, ate
peanuts, and gossiped with his neighbors--Boys, like himself, and
all penned in a row, like colts at a Cattle Show. I don't
imagine he knew the anguish he was inflicting; for it was
nearly three, the train left at five, and I had my ticket
to get, my dinner to eat, my blessed sister to see, and the
depot to reach, if I didn't die of apoplexy. Meanwhile, Patience
certainly had her perfect work that day, and I hope she
enjoyed the job more than I did.

Having waited some twenty minutes, it pleased this reprehensible
Boy to make various marks and blots on my documents, toss them
to a venerable creature of sixteen, who delivered them to
me with such paternal directions, that it only needed a pat
on the head and an encouraging--"Now run home to your Ma, little
girl, and mind the crossings, my dear," to make the illusion
quite perfect.

Why I was sent to a steamboat office for car tickets, is
not for me to say, though I went as meekly as I should have gone
to the Probate Court, if sent. A fat, easy gentleman gave me
several bits of paper, with coupons attached, with a warning not
to separate them, which instantly inspired me with a yearning to
pluck them apart, and see what came of it. But, remembering
through what fear and tribulation I had obtained them, I curbed
Satan's promptings, and, clutching my prize, as if it were my
pass to the Elysian Fields, I hurried home. Dinner was rapidly
consumed; Joan enlightened, comforted, and kissed; the dearest
of apple-faced cousins hugged; the kindest of apple-faced
cousins' fathers subjected to the same process; and I mounted
the ambulance, baggage-wagon, or anything you please but hack,
and drove away, too tired to feel excited, sorry, or glad.
 
 
1 of