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A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.

VOL. XVIII. — SEPTEMBER, 1866. NO. CVII.

THE

THE SURGEON'S ASSISTANT.

1.

HE sickness of the nation not being unto death, we now begin to number its advantages. They will not all be numbered by this generation; and as for story-tellers, essayists, letterwriters, historians, and philosophers, if their "genius" flags in half a century with such material as hearts, homes, and battle-fields beyond counting afford them, they deserve to be drummed out of their respective regiments, and banished into the dominion of silence and darkness, forever to sit on the borders of unfathomable ink-pools, minus pen and paper, with fool's-caps on their heads.

I know of a place which you may call Dalton, if it must have a name. At the beginning of our war, — for which some true spirits thank Almighty God, -a family as wretched as Satan wandering up and down the earth could wish to find lived there, close beside the borders of a lake which the Indians once called - but why should not your fancy build the lowly cottage on whatsoever green and sloping bank it will?

Fair as you please the outside world may be, waters pure as those of Lake St. Sacrament, with islands on their bosom like those of Horicon, and shores beautifully wooded as those of Lake George, but what delight will you find in all the heavenly mansions, if love be not there?

"I'll enlist," said the master of this mansion of misery in the midst of the garden of delight, one day.

"I would," replied his wife. They spoke with equal vigor, but neither believed in the other. The instant the man dropped the book he had been reading, he was like Samson with his hair shorn, for his wife could n't tell one letter from another; and when she saw him sit down on the stone wall which surrounded their potato-field, overgrown with weeds, she marched out boldly to the corner of the wood-shed, where never any wood was, and attacked him thus:

"S'pose you show fight awhile in that potato-patch afore you go to fight Ribils. Gov'ment don't need you any more than I do. May be it 'll find out getting ain't gaining!"

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1866, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts

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She had no answer. The man was thinking, when she interrupted him, as she was always doing, that, if he could secure the State and town bounty, that would be some provision for the woman and child. As for himself, he was in different as to where he was sent, or how soon. But if he went away, they might look for him to come again. Gabriel's trumpet, he thought, would be a more welcome sound than his wife's voice.

He enlisted. The bounties paid him were left in the hands of a trusty neighbor, and were to be appropriated to the supply of his family's needs; and he went away along with a boat-load of recruits, his own man no longer. Even his wife noticed the change in him, from the morning when he put on his uniform and began to obey orders, for she had time to notice. Several days elapsed after enlistment before the company's ranks were complete, and the captain would not report at head-quarters, he said, until his own townsfolk had supplied the number requisite.

Even his wife noticed the change, I said; for, contrary to what is usual and expected, she was not the first to perceive that the slow and heavy step had now a spring in it, and that there was a light in his clouded eyes. She supposed the new clothes made the difference.

Nearly a year had passed away, and this woman was leaning over the rail fence which surrounded a barren field, and listening, while she leaned, to the story of Ezra Cramer, just home from the war. She listened well, even eagerly, to what he had to tell, and seemed moved by the account in ways various as pride and indignation.

"I wish I had him here!" she said, when he had come to the end of his story, the story of her husband's promotion.

Ezra looked at her, and thought of the pretty girl she used to be, and wondered how it happened that such a one could grow into a woman like this. The vindictiveness of her voice accorded well with her person, expressed it.

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Where were her red cheeks? What had become of her brown hair? She was once a free one at joking with, and rallying the young men about; but now how like a virago she looked! and her tongue was sharp as a two-edged sword.

Ezra was sorry that he had taken the trouble to ascertain in the village where Nancy Elkins lived. Poor fellow ! While enduring the hardships of the past year, his imagination had transformed all the Dalton women into angels, and the circuit of that small hamlet had become to his loving thought as the circuit of Paradise.

Some degree of comprehension seemed to break upon him while he stood gazing upon her, and he said: “O well, Miss Nancy, he's got his hands full, and besides he did n't know I was coming home so quick. I didn't know it myself till the last minute. He would 'a' sent some message, would!"

course he

"I guess there ain't anything to hender his writing home to his folks," she answered, unappeased and unconvinced. "Other people hear from the war. There's Mynders always a-writing and sending money to the old folks, and that's the difference."

"We've been slow to get our pay down where we was," said Ezra. “It's been a trouble to me all the while, having nothing to show for the time I was taking from father."

The woman looked at the young fellow who had spoken so seriously, and her eyes and her voice softened.

"Nobody would mind about your not sending money hum, Ezra. They'd know you was all right. Such a hardworking set as you belong to! You're looking as if you wondered what I was doing here 'n this lot. I'm living in that shanty! Like as not I'll have its pictur' taken, and sent to my man. Old Uncle Torry said we might have it for the summer; and I expect the town was glad enough to turn me and my girl out anywhere. They won't do a thing towards fixing the old hut up. Say 't ain't worth it. We can't stay there in cold

weather. Roof leaks like a sieve. If he don't send me some money pretty quick, I'll list myself, and serve long enough to find him out, see 'f I don't." At this threat, the soldier, who knew something about WAR, Straightened himself, and with a cheery laugh limped off towards the road. "I'll see ye ag'in, Miss Nancy, afore you start," said he, looking back and nodding gayly at her. Things were n't so bad as they seemed about her, he guessed. He was going home, and his heart was soft. Happiness is very kind; but let it do its best it cannot come very near to misery.

Nancy stood and watched the young man as he went, commenting thus: "Well, he 's made a good deal out of 'listing, any way." His pale face and

his hurt did not make him sacred in her sight.

She was speaking to herself, and not to her little daughter, who, when she saw her mother talking to a soldier, ran up to hear the conversation. A change that was wonderful to see had passed over the child's face, when she heard that her father had been promoted from the ranks. The bald fact, unilluminated by a single particular, seemed to satisfy her. She had n't a question to ask. Her first thought was to run down to the village and tell Miss Ellen Holmes, who told her, not long ago, so proud and wonderful a story about her brother's promotion.

If it were not for this Jenny, my story would be short. Is it not for the future we live? For the children the world goes on.

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Does this little girl - she might be styled a beauty by a true catholic taste, but oh! I fear that the Boston Convention ORTHODOX," lately convened to settle all great questions concerning the past, present, and future, would never recognize her, on any showing, as a babe of grace! - does she, as she runs down the hill and along the crooked street of Dalton, look anything like a messenger of Heaven to your eyes? Must the angels show their wings before they shall have recognition?

Going past the blacksmith's shop she was hailed by the blacksmith's self, with the blacksmith's own authority. "See here, Jenny!" At the call, she stood at bay like a fair little fawn in the woods.

"I'm writing a letter to my boy," he continued. "Step in here. Did you know Ezra Cramer had come back?"

"I saw him just now,” she answered. "He told us about father." She said it with a pride that made her young face shine.

"So! what about him, I wonder?" asked the blacksmith.

And that he really did wonder, Jenny could not doubt. She heard more in his words than she liked to hear, and answered with a tremulous voice, in spite of pride, "O, he 's been promoted." "The deuse! what 's he permoted to ?"

"I don't know,” she said, and for the first time she wondered.

"Where is he, though?" asked the blacksmith.

"I don't know,—in the war." "That 's 'cute. Well, see here, sis, we 'll find that out, — you and me will.” The angry voice of the blacksmith became tender. "You sit down there and write him a letter. My son, he 'll find out if your pa is alive. As for Ezra, he don't know any more 'n he did when he went away; but, poor fellow, he's been mostually in the hospertal, instead of fighting Ribils, so p'r'aps he ain't to blame. You write to yer pa, and I'll wage you get an answer back, and he'll tell you all about his permotion quick enough."

Jenny stood looking at the blacksmith for a moment, with mouth and eyes wide open, so much astonished by the proposition as not to know what answer should be made to it. She had never written a line in her life, except in her old copy-book. If her hand could be made to express what she was thinking of, it would be the greatest work and wonder in the world. But then, it never could!

That decisive never seemed to settle the point. She turned forthwith to the

blacksmith, smiling very seriously. At the same time she took three decided steps, which led her into his dingy shop, as awed as though she were about to have some wonderful exhibition there. But she must be her own astrologer.

The blacksmith, elated by his own success that morning in the very difficult business of letter - writing, was mightily pleased to have under direction this little disciple in the work of love, and forthwith laid his strong hands on the bench and brought it out into the light, setting it down with a force that said something for the earnestness of his purpose in regard to Miss Jenny. When he wrote his own letter, he did it in retirement and solitude, having sought out the darkest corner of his shop for the purpose. A mighty man in the shoeing of horses and the handling of hammers, he shrank from exposing his incompetence in the management of a miserable pen, even to the daylight and himself.

His big account-book placed against his forge, with a small sheet of paper spread thereon, his pen in Jenny's hands, and the inkstand near by, there was nothing for him to do but to go away and let her do her work.

"Give him a tall letter!" said he. "And you must be spry about it. He 'll be glad to hear from his little girl, I reckon. See, the stage 'll be along by four o'clock, and now it 's". he stepped to the door and looked out on the tall pine-tree across the road,that was his sun-dial, - "it 's just two o'clock now, Jenny. Work away!" So saying, he went off as tired, after the exertion he had made, as if he had shod all the Dalton horses since daybreak.

She had just two hours for doing the greatest piece of work she had done in her short life. And consciously it was the greatest work. Every stroke of that pen, every straight line and curve and capital, seemed to require as much deliberation as the building of a house; and how her brain worked! Fly to and fro, O swallows, from your homes beneath the eaves of the blacksmith's old

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stone shop in the shade of the farspreading walnut, — stretch forth your importunate necks and lift aloft your greedy voices, O young ones in the nests! — the little girl who has so often stood to watch you is sitting in the shadow within there, blind and deaf to you, and unaware of everything in the great world except the promotion of her father"in the war," and the letter he will be sure to get, because the blacksmith is going to send it along with his letter to his son.

She was doing her work well. Any one who had ever seen the girl before must have asked with wonder what had happened to her, it was so evident that something had happened which stirred heart and soul to the depths.

So, even so, unconsciously, love sometimes works out the work of a lifetime, touches the key-note of an anthem of everlasting praise, - does it with as little ostentation as the son of science draws yellow gold from the quartz rock which tells no tale on the face of it concerning its "hid treasure.” So, wisely and without ostentation, work the true agents, the apostles of liberty in this world.

"O dear papa! my dear papa!" she wrote, "Ezra has come home, and he says you are promoted! But he could n't tell for what it was, or where you were, or anything. And O, it seems as if I could n't wait a minute, I want to hear so all about it." When she had written thus far the spirit of the mother seemed to stir in the child. She sat and mused for a moment. Her eyes flashed. Her right hand moved nervously. Strange that her father had not sent some word by Ezra; but then he did n't know, of course, that Ezra was coming. Ay! that was a lucky thought. What she had written seemed to imply some blame. So, with many a blot and erasure, her loving belief that all was right must make itself evident.

At the end of the two hours she found herself at the bottom of the page the blacksmith had spread before her. Twice he had come into the shop and assured himself that the work was go

1866.]

The Surgeon's Assistant.

ing on, and smiled to see the progress she was making. The third time he came he was under considerable excitement.

"Ready!" he shouted. "The stage 'll be along now in ten minutes."

She did not answer, she was so busy, and so hard at work, signing her name to the sheet that was covered with what looked like hieroglyphics.

When she had made the last emphatic pen-stroke, she turned towards him, flushed and smiling. "There!" she said.

"But you have

He looked over her shoulder. "Good!" said he. Give me the n't writ his name out. pen here, quick!" Then he took the quill and wrote her father's name up in one blank corner, and dried the ink with a little sand, and put the note into the envelope containing his own, and the great work was done.

Do you know how great a work, you dingy old Dalton blacksmith?

Do you know, fair child, who must fight till the day of your death with alien, opposite forces, because the bloodvessels of Nancy Elkins, as they sail through the grand canals of the city of your life, so often hang out piratical banners, and bear down on better craft as they near the dangerous places, or put out, like wreckers after a storm, seeking for treasure the owners somehow lost the power to hold?

In a few minutes after the letter was
inscribed and sealed, the stage came
rattling along, and Jenny stood by and
saw the blacksmith give it to the driver,
"Now be kerful
and heard him say:
about that ere letter. It's got two in-
side. One's my boy's, as ye 'll see by
the facing on it; t' other 's this little
girl's. She's been writin' to her pa.
So be kerful."

They stood together watching the
stage till it was out of sight, then the
blacksmith nodded at Jenny as if they
had done a good day's work, and pro-
ceeded to light his pipe. That was not
her way of celebrating the event. She
remembered now that she had promised
a little girl, Miss Ellen Holmes in-

261

deed, that she would some time show
her where the red-caps and fairy-cups
grew, and there was yet time, before
sunset, for a long walk in the woods.

The little town-bred lady happened
to come along just then, while Jenny
stood hesitating whether to go home
first and tell her mother of this great
thing she had done. The question was
therefore settled; and now let them go
seeking red-caps. Good luck attend
the children! Jenny will be sure to
say something about promotions be-
fore they separate. She will say that
something with a genuine human pride;
and the end of the hunt for red-caps
may be, conspicuously, success in find-
ing them; but still more to the pur-
ment on a better basis-a securer basis
pose, it will be the child's establish-
of equality than she has occupied be-
She forgets about Dalton and
fore.
poverty. She thinks about camps and
honor. She has something to claim of
all the world. She is the citizen of a
great nation. She bears the name of
one who is fighting for the Union, who
has fought, and fought so well that
those in authority have beckoned him
up higher. Why, it is as though a
crown were placed on her dear father's
head.

II.

GOING out of quiet and beautiful green Dalton, and into the hospital of Frere's Landing, 't is a wonderful change we make.

The silence of one place is as remarkable as the silence of the other, perhaps. That of the hospital does not resemble that of the hamlet, however. At times it grows oppressive and appalling, being the silence of anguish or of death. A stranger reaching Dalton in the night might wonder in the morning if there were in reality any passage out of it, for there the lake, on one of whose western slopes is the "neighborhood," seems locked in completely by the hills, and an ascent towards heaven is apparently the only way of egress. Yet

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