The Story of Aunt Becky's Army-Life/Chapter XXIII
How the little sunshine of yesterday afternoon cheated us! This morning the drizzle, drizzle, drizzle of the March rains make me nervous, particularly when I have many patients to visit to-day. The past night seemed long enough for two, and the mice got so daring, creeping over me, that I could not shut my eyes for fear of losing the end of my nose; and you know, friendly Journal, I haven't any to spare.
The wind blows hard, and in the midnight the clatter of the tents was almost fearful.
My stove-pipe rocks to and fro, and I cannot cook, so I sit here idly scratching down with my pen. After all, life is about the same mixture all the world through; the same proportion of trouble, of joy, of care, of light and darkness is entwined; and perhaps I am as happy as any one. I like to rear great air-castles; by the time they tumble down, as tumble down they always do, I am prepared for it, and have removed my valuables to a place of safety, so the wreck is nothing but moonshine after all; and, as the materials are always at hand, costing nothing, I can build another, in a brief space of time, grander than the first.
I hope some time to see one built up which will last as long as life—a fabric large enough to hold contentment, and peace, and happiness; high enough to hold God's sunshine, and low enough to look with charity unto all my fellow-creatures. I wonder if the foundations are being laid now, and what form the structure will bear.
I have had a sore throat all day, with a hard cold, and the rain has kept me within my tent; but now I must go, for they have sent for me to make beef-tea and gruel for five men who need it very bad.
Well, my little boxstove carried me through, although the wind did blow, and I feel better for the exertion; I think the men do also. Off to bed after a long day and reading a letter from Mrs. Youngs.
A beautiful Sabbath morning; but my cold has the best of me to-day, and if it were not so lonely I would not venture out. The mail-boat has just arrived, and my heart is in a flutter of hope, waiting for the letter from home.
Oh! waiting for the letter from home, how many waited and went into the fierce battle waiting, and fell foremost before the foe; and when they threw off the full soldier's mail, there were the little missives for which his heart had waited, and other eyes than his should read those words of love and cheer. How strange it must have seemed to them at home to write letters which their anxious souls knew might be too late for the dear eyes; that, even while they were being penned, the soldier's comrades might be heaping the sod over the cold bosom, on which the death-wound lay gaping.
I read and write, and then try to sleep, but those mice—in desperation I take my sword, (O yes, I have a sword; I may some time tell when I got it—not now,) and, with strong intent to kill, I rush upon the nimble-footed little torments, but I only elicit a faint squeal, and they hide beyond my reach, ready for a foray on me again when I get quiet.
I am tired of noise; tired of the tongues which talk, talk, talk at the supper-table; tired of having my house invaded at all hours of the day and evening; tired of the Virginia mud; tired of trying to be happy, and tired of everything. I see the same old camp—the tents, the barracks; the same figures clad in everlasting blue. Sometimes it is a relief to see a new face peeping from under the regulation-cap; but I wish Gen. Lee would surrender, and I could go home and get over being tired.
I found some of the officers who were here wounded last summer, and had calls from two of them; so the day has passed quickly away, and I am ready for sleep.
Again like a summer day. How I enjoy the mere pleasure of living and breathing on such days of sunshine, when the brightness is over all, and through all, and in all!
But life is ebbing out with one poor fellow to-day. Oh! so young to die ! but he is calm and manlike under his suffering. All remains quiet at the front. I dread the bursting forth of the great volcano which will soon upheave the ground around Petersburg, and then to us will come wounds, death, heart-aches, and after all, and beyond all agony, perhaps, peace.
The rain pours down in floods, and it is lonely in my dark tent, but I got one ray of light in the shape of a letter from Mrs. Youngs, my dearest friend in Maryland, and it cheered my heart wonderfully to hear from her. I have a dog in my tent to keep the mice away, and I think he will have hard work to do his duty. I shall have to tie him up to-night to keep him.
After a rainy night the morning has dawned beautifully. The dog in his endeavors to catch the mice, and the mice in their efforts to get beyond his reach, together, kept me awake nearly all night. I am so tired of seeing only men, that I could go to the other extreme and become a nun with a good heart.
They invade my tent when I wish its privacy; and no doubt these lords of creation think nothing in the world is so agreeable to me as their delightful company.
Private Dodge, who was on his way home, called to see me, and I was glad to receive him. I have had a letter from my heart-sister—one who bears a closer relation to me than most sisters by blood. How I long to see her; I have so much to say which I can say to no one else.
It is still raining in dreary monotony, and the tattoo sounds, and I am off once more to bed. Oh this going to bed, and this getting up in the morning, to go over the same—same work! Why couldn't we finish up this going to bed, and getting up, as New England housekeepers do their house-cleaning—twice a year.
Getting up this morning I found my wood wet, and had an unpleasant task to kindle my fire. I am not feeling well, but I must go out to those who feel worse than I. They seem, all but one, in a fair way to recover. He is failing slowly, but fatally.
We have very changeable weather—now rain, now sun, and then hours when it does neither, and those are worse than all.
Another man shot for desertion within sound of our camp. How can they do that dreadful, deliberate murder—for I can call it nothing else—when the defenceless man stands by his coffin on the brink of his open grave, and the hands of his comrades send to his bosom the deadly messengers! It is not right to take life away; reason, instinct, conscience, all rebel against the dreadful sin; and it is a foul black one.
Miss Blackman was in, and made me a good long visit. She is such an estimable young woman, every one admires and respects her. I think something less than a "Saratoga " would hold her wardrobe as well as my own. She has no fear of spoiling white hands, nor shrinks from dirty uniforms, as the poor fellows come in, suffering from the battle-field.
I used once to think my cloth house was pleasant; but now it seems so close and lonely, I cannot bear the confinement; and I long and long, and not in vain, I hope, for the end to come, and to get under a roof which does not let the water on to my bed, nor put out my fire when I most need it.
The rain has cleared away, but it is cold, and the wind is bitter, as March winds usually are thought to be. I have made my rounds amongst the sick, but feel so depressed, I can hardly account for it. Why can one not be happy in every and any position, if only satisfied that they fill a needed want?But that is a problem not yet solved in man's philosophy, and must remain dark till the end of time.
Steward Bennett has just come down from the front, detached from our regiment for hospital-duty, and reports our men all well, and for that I am thankful indeed. If the war is going to last forever, I wish they would be in some place where I might be nearer them, but it is impossible. We have Grant at the head of this army, and they don't go into any camps now.
The wind blows almost a perfect gale, and my tent sways back and fro like a man drunken with wine; but I am used to that, and if it goes over I shall be here to see.After my rounds—and I sit here, lonely, and hardly knowing what to do with myself to pass the time away. This is a dreadful state of things, when the next sound which comes to our ears may be the reopening of active hostilities, and then—horror of horrors—there will be no time for loneliness, or lonely thought.