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After a busy afternoon among the field hospitals under the naval ridge, I returned in the evening to Chieveley, in the hope, now that the bulk of the work was over, of getting something to eat.  I had not been at Chieveley long when an orderly arrived with a letter to tell me that Lieutenant Roberts had been brought in wounded, and to ask me to go back to the naval hill at once.  It was now dark, and I had at that time no horse.  However, the hospital train was standing in the station, and to the fertile brain of Major Brazier-Creagh, who was in charge of the train, it occurred that we might detach the engine and go down on it to the ridge, since the field hospitals were close to the railway.

There was the difficulty, however, that the line was a single line, and a water train had already steamed down to the ridge, and was expected back at any moment.  It was the simple problem of an engine on the one hand, and of a train on the other, proceeding in different directions at night on a single line of rail.

The case being urgent, the engine was detached and we started.  Major Brazier-Creagh and Captain Symonds came with me.  It so happened that we went tender first.  The railway line appeared to us to go up and down with many undulations, and at the top of each rise we expected to meet the water train.  Fortunately the moon was coming up, and the blackness which oppressed us was fading a little. We proceeded slowly, with much whistling and considerable waving of a red lamp.  At last there was made out the dim outline of the water train coming towards us at a fair speed.  We stopped, and there were redoubled efforts in the direction of whistling, lamp waving, and shouting.  These exhibitions had an immediate effect upon the water train, which, after some hysterical whistling, stopped and backed promptly out of sight.  The driver told us afterwards that he thought a whole train was coming down upon him at full speed, and that he might well have backed down into Colenso.

We got out some way above the ridge and walked on to the field hospital I had so lately left. The gallant officer I came to see was comfortably bestowed in a tent, was quite free from pain and anxiety, and was disposed to sleep.  From a surgical point of view the case was hopeless, and had been hopeless from the first, and no idea of an operation could be entertained.  Our examination and our discussion of the case with Major Hamilton, R.A.M.C., under whose care the patient was, occupied some time, and the engine had long since gone back to Chieveley.  There was nothing to be done but to sleep on the ground in the open, and this we proceeded to do, lying down on the grass outside the tent we had just visited.  There was no hardship in this, as it was a splendid night, and the full moon had risen and had flooded the whole country with a spectral light.

As if by magic the restless, hurrying, motley crowd of the earlier day had vanished.  A cool breeze and pleasant shadows had replaced the heat and the glare of the sun; a gentle silence had blotted out the noise and the turmoil; and of the scene of the afternoon there was nothing left but the white tents gleaming in the moon, the open veldt, and the shadow of the ridge.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Treves: The tale of a field hospital
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