On Picket Duty and Other Tales HTML version
The Death Of John
This is not a tale, but a true history.--ED.
FROM "HOSPITAL SKETCHES."
HARDLY was I settled again, when the inevitable bowl appeared, and its bearer
delivered a message I had expected, yet dreaded to receive:--
"John is going, ma'am, and wants to see you, if you can come."
"The moment this boy is asleep; tell him so, and let me know if I am in danger of being
My Ganymede departed, and while I quieted poor Shaw, I thought of John. He came in a
day or two after the others; and, one evening, when I entered my "pathetic room," I found
a lately emptied bed occupied by a large, fair man, with a fine face, and the serenest eyes
I ever met. One of the earlier comers had often spoken of a friend, who had remained
behind, that those apparently worse wounded than himself might reach a shelter first. It
seemed a David and Jonathan sort of friendship. The man fretted for his mate, and was
never tired of praising John,--his courage, sobriety, self-denial, and unfailing kindliness
of heart; always winding up with, "He's an out an' out fine feller, ma'am; you see if he
I had some curiosity to behold this piece of excellence, and when he came, watched him
for a night or two, before I made friends with him; for, to tell the truth, I was a little
afraid of the stately looking man, whose bed had to be lengthened to accommodate his
commanding stature; who seldom spoke, uttered no complaint, asked no sympathy, but
tranquilly observed what went on about him; and, as he lay high upon his pillows, no
picture of dying statesman or warrior was ever fuller of real dignity than this Virginia
blacksmith. A most attractive face he had, framed in brown hair and beard, comely
featured and full of vigor, as yet unsubdued by pain; thoughtful and often beautifully
mild while watching the afflictions of others, as if entirely forgetful of his own. His
mouth was grave and firm, with plenty of will and courage in its lines, but a smile could
make it as sweet as any woman's; and his eyes were child's eyes, looking one fairly in the
face with a clear, straightforward glance, which promised well for such as placed their
faith in him. He seemed to cling to life, as if it were rich in duties and delights, and he
had learned the secret of content. The only time I saw his composure disturbed was when
my surgeon brought another to examine John, who scrutinized their faces with an anxious
look, asking of the elder,--"Do you think I shall pull through, sir?" "I hope so, my man."
And, as the two passed on, John's eye still followed them, with an intentness which
would have won a clearer answer from them, had they seen it. A momentary shadow
flitted over his face; then came the usual serenity, as if, in that brief eclipse, he had
acknowledged the existence of some hard possibility, and, asking nothing, yet hoping all
things, left the issue in God's hands, with that submission which is true piety.