“Let my fate go whither it listeth.”
In the darkest corner of a ward, in the bed marked number twenty- four, a farm laborer of about thirty years of age had been lying for several months. A black wooden tablet, bearing the words “Caries tuberculosa,” hung at the head of the bed, and shook at each movement of the patient. The poor fellow’s leg had had to be amputated above the knee, the result of a tubercular decay of the bone. He was a peasant, a potato-grower, and his forefathers had grown potatoes before him. He was now on his own, after having been in two situations; had been married for three years and had a baby son with a tuft of flaven hair. Then suddenly, from no cause that he could tell, his knee had pained him, and small ulcers had formed. He had afforded himself a carriage to the town, and there he had been handed over to the hospital at the expense of the parish.
He remembered distinctly how on that autumn afternoon he had driven in the splendid, cushioned carriage with his young wife, how they had both wept with fright and grief, and when they had finished crying had eaten hard-boiled eggs: but what had happened after that had all become blurred—indescribably misty. Yet only partially so.
Inexorable and brutal force
Of the days in the hospital with their routine and monotony, creating an incomprehensible break in his life, his memory retained nothing; but the unchanging grief, weighing like a slab of stone on a grave, was ever present in his soul with inexorable and brutal force during these many months. He only half recalled the strange wonders that had been worked on him: bathing, feeding, probing into the wound, and later on the operation. He had been carried into a room full of gentlemen wearing aprons spotted with blood; he was conscious also of the mysterious, intrepid courage which, like a merciful hand, had supported him from that hour.
After having gazed at the awe-inspiring phenomena which surrounded him in the semicircle of the hospital theater, he had slept during the operation. His simple heart had not worked out the lesson which sleep, the greatest mistress on earth, teaches. After the operation everything had been veiled by mortal lassitude. This had continued, but in the afternoon and at night they had mixed something heavy, like a stone ball, into his drinking-cup, and waves of warmth had flowed to the toes of his healthy foot from the cup. Thoughts chased one another swiftly, like tiny quicksilver balls through some comer of his brain, and while he lay bathed in perspiration, and his eyelids closed of their own accord, not in sleep but in unconsciousness, he had been pursued by strange, half-waking visions.