Chapter XIV. Cannon Fodder
These cards were already ruled off into columns in each of which the words "Lightly wounded," "Wounded," "Severely wounded," "Ill," "Very ill" were printed in nine of the languages spoken in Austria-Hungary. The clerk merely had to put a cross on the proper word. Here, for instance, is the Lightly wounded column, in German, Hungarian, and the other dialects: "Leicht verwundet, Konnyen megse-besult, Lehce ranen, Lekko raniony, Lecko ranenki, Leggiermente Jcrzto, Lako ranjen, Lahko ranjen, Usor ranit."
A number were Russians - fine, big, clear-eyed fellows with whom these genuine "Huns" chatted and laughed as if they were their own men. On one stretcher came a very pale, round-faced, little boy about twelve, with stubbly blond hair clipped short and an enchanting smile. He had been carrying water for the soldiers, somebody said, when a piece of shrapnel took off one of his feet. Possibly he was one of those little adventurers who run away to war as boys used to run away to sea or the circus. He seemed entirely at home with these men, at any rate, and when one of the Hungarians brought him a big tin cup of coffee and a chunk of black bread, he wriggled himself half upright and went to work at it like a veteran.
As soon as the men were registered they were hurried out of their uniforms and into the bathroom. At the door two nurses in white - so calm and clean and strong that they must have seemed like goddesses, in that reek of steam and disinfectants and festering wounds - received them, asked each man how he was wounded, and quickly, as if he were a child, snipped off his bandages, unless the leg or arm were in a cast, and turned him over to the orderlies. Those who could walk used showers, the others were bathed on inclined slabs. Even the worst wounded scarcely made a sound, and those who could take care of themselves limped under the showers as if they had been hospital boarders before, and waited for, and even demanded, with a certain peremptoriness, their little bundle of belongings before they went on to the dressing-room.
Discipline, possibly, though one could easily fancy that all this organized kindness and comfort suddenly enveloping them was enough to raise them for the moment above thoughts of pain.
As they lifted the man on the dressing-table and loosened the pillow-like bandage under his drawn-up thigh, a thick, sickening odor spread through the room. As the last bit of gauze packing was drawn from the wound, the greenish pus followed and streamed into the pan. The jagged chunk of shell had hit him at the top of the thigh and ploughed down to the knee. The wound had become infected, and the connecting tissues had rotted away until the leg was now scarcely more than a bone and the two flaps of flesh. The civilian thinks of a wound, generally, as a comparatively decent sort of hole, more or less the width of the bullet itself. There was nothing decent about this wound. It was such a slash as one might expect in a slaughtered ox. It had been slit farther to clean the infection, until you could have thrust your fist into it, and, as the surgeon worked, the leg, partly from weakness, partly from the man's nervousness, trembled like a leaf.
First the gauze stuffed into the cavity had to be pulled out. The man, of an age that suggested that he might have left at home a peasant wife, slightly faded and weather-worn like himself, cringed and dug his nails into the under side of the table, but made no outcry. The surgeon squeezed the flesh above and about the wound, the quick-fingered young nurse flushed the cavity with an antiseptic wash, then clean, dry gauze was pushed into it and slowly pulled out again.
The man - they had nicknamed him "Pop" - breathed faster. This panting went into a moan, which deepened into a hoarse cry, and then, as he lost hold of himself completely, he began a hideous sort of sharp yelping like a dog.
This is a part of war that doctors and nurses see; not rarely and in one hospital, but in all hospitals and every morning, when the long line of men - '"pus tanks' we called 'em last winter," muttered one of the young doctors - are brought in to be dressed, There was such a leg that day in the Barracken Hospital; the case described here was in the American Red Cross Hospital in Vienna.
Such individual suffering makes no right or wrong, of course. It is a part of war. Yet the more one sees of it and of this cannon fodder, the people on whom the burden of war really falls, how alike they all are in their courage, simplicity, patience, and long-suffering, whether Hungarians or Russians, Belgians or Turks, the less simple is it to be convinced of the complete righteousness of any of the various general ideas in whose name these men are tortured. I suspect that only those can hate with entire satisfaction and success who stay quietly at home and read the papers.
I remember riding down into Surrey from London one Sunday last August and reading an editorial on Louvain - so well written, so quivering with noble indignation that one's blood boiled, as they say, and one could scarcely wait to get off the train to begin the work of revenge. Perhaps the most moving passage in this editorial was about the smoking ruins of the Town Hall, which I later saw intact. I have thought occasionally since of that editorial and of the thousands of sedentary fire-eaters and hate-mongers like the writer of it - men who live forever in a cloud of words, bounce from one nervous reaction to another without ever touching the ground, and, rejoicing in their eloquence, go down from their comfortable breakfasts to their comfortable offices morning after morning and demand slaughter, annihilation, heaven knows what not - men who could not endure for ten minutes that small part of war which any frail girl of a trained nurse endures hour after hour every morning as part of the day's work.