"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
A social Evening. -- Presence of Mind. -- A startling Narrative. -- A Cure for Bores. -- How it was effected.
ONE day, while at Sharpsburg, a number of us were seated around a large log fire in an adjoining camp to that of ours, and conversing on a variety of subjects. Finally one of the party related Jerrold's bit of humor on "Presence of Mind." Said he, "The subject arose in Jerrold's presence as to the value of that faculty, and some one said, 'Yes, it was very valuable, especially when attacked by a mad bull or dog.' 'Ay,' returned Jerrold, 'in that case presence of mind is very good, but absence of body is better,'" In a little while "presence of mind" became the subject matter of conversation; and one of the party, a large, fat, jolly captain, noted for telling "whopping big stories," remarked that he exhibited that valuable faculty in a most wonderful manner.
"How? let's hear it, captain," queried the party, with a great deal of interest. The fat captain puffed forth an immense volume of smoke, and, settling himself more comfortably on his "hard-tack" box, proceeded to unburden himself to the following effect: --
"You may know, boys, that I trapped and hunted for a considerable time in the Canadas; and a most exciting life I led, I tell you. Many a time I've camped out on the snowy hills, with nothing but a heavy coat of buffalo skin for extra covering, making myself as comfortable as I could in a log hut of my own construction, living principally on dried meats -- trapping, killing foxes, and other animals I could find, and now and then capturing a bear, whose skins at the time were very valuable. Well, one morning I got up pretty early, and started out to look at my traps. I left my rifle behind me, and with my snow-shoes on, hurried as rapidly as I could over the snow-covered hills. The morning was very cold, and my muffler was closely wrapped around my head, almost covering my eyes, and obstructing my vision. I had walked about a mile, and had just reached an immense shelf of rock, forming a precipice several hundred feet deep, when I heard a deep growl, and, turning about, beheld a huge black bear within a few feet of me. I tell you, boys, I was rather astonished, and somewhat skeered. Before I could make up my mind what to do, the bear leaped upon me; and the first thing I knew distinctly was, that I was clinging on the edge of the rock, and hanging over the frightful precipice. Boys, I tell you it was a fearful predicament for a man of my rotundity, and I thought I was 'gone up.'"
"Gone up !" cried one of the listeners; "gone down, you mean."
"Hush, Sammy," quoth the captain, reprovingly; "you don't understand these things. Well, as I was saying, I thought I was gone up. However, I made up my mind to hang on as long as I could, when the bear, who had been looking at me, turned about and was going off. An idea struck me. With wonderful presence of mind I seized the bear by the hind leg, -- he gave a howl, bounded forward, and dragged me to the top of the ledge, and left me there safe and sound ! Talk of presence of mind -- pshaw ! show me anything to equal that !" and the fat captain puffed away more vigorously than ever, whilst a look of gentle satisfaction stole across his plump physiogomy. We listened to him with mingled admiration and interest, wishing to ask him what he and the bear did when he came so unexpectedly back to the top of the ledge; but we feared a more tremendous whopper, so deemed it prudent to remain silent. At last, one daring fellow had the temerity to put the query. "What did we do?" repeated the captain, in a slight state of bewilderment; "what did we do? Why, you don't suppose I would have hurt a hair of that bear's head, do you, after saving my life? No, no; I just let him go -- I just let him go. I did !"
We all knew that Munchausen was a minor light compared with the "fat captain;" but one of the officers of the assembled party knew this better than ourselves, and as he was one of the captain's lieutenants, he was continually bored with the tremendous yarns he used to tell; therefore he determined to put a stop to them in some way. He arranged a plan, and, strange to say, was remarkably successful.
The way of it was this. The officer who had undertaken the cure went, one day, to a hospital where the wounded rebel prisoners were, and secured a leg which had just been amputated, and had it secretly conveyed to the tent occupied by himself and the talkative captain. At night, taking advantage of the temporary absence of his fat friend, he settled himself in bed, and placed the inanimate leg by his side so as to allow the foot partly to protrude from underneath the bed-clothes. The captain soon after entered the tent, and heard his chum moaning piteously.
"What's the matter, Dick?" asked the captain.
"O, I've got an awful cramp in my left leg; it pains me fearfully; O ! O !"
"I'll soon fix that for you, Dick," cried the captain. "Where's your leg?"
"Here, this one," said Dick, indicating the position of the substituted limb by a gesture, at the same time moaning, and taking the precaution to hold it firmly in a sort of natural position.
"Whew ! it's awful cold, boy," exclaimed Munchausen, seizing hold of the protruding foot. "You'll freeze a fellow if he gets into that bed;" and he gave it a pull.
"How is it now, Dick?"
"Pull again," urged Dick. Another pull, and another; the sweat standing in great drops on the fat man's brow.
"How is it now, Dick?"
"O, it's awful," groaned the victim; this time the captain gave a tremendous jerk. The leg gave way, and the fat servant of Uncle Sam was flung upon his back with what he thought the severed limb of his unfortunate companion in his hands ! A howl of poignant anguish, intermingled with smothered laughter, rung out upon the night air, calling every one from their beds to the tent, where they beheld the victimized captain in a state of horror and amazement, gazing upon the dead limb lying before him. He was incapable of speech or motion. He had, as he imagined, destroyed his beloved comrade, and his extremity wa such that the valuable faculty, "presence of mind," which he boasted he possessed to such a remarkable degree (vide "the bear story" and others equally demonstrative), had entirely deserted him; but the roars of Dick, and the uncontrollable laughter of the crowd, brought him soon to his senses. He looked around, saw Dick sitting on the bed, boasting the ownership of two good legs. A light broke in upon him; he jumped up with a look of disgust, and, with many anathemas, went to his chest, opened it, placed the decanters upon the table, lit his pipe, and was soon enveloped in a cloud of smoke.
The cure was an effective one, and we never afterwards heard the captain (though we met him several times) indulge in detailing his extraordinary personal reminiscences.
Another specimen of of humor was perpetrated at this camp upon a regimental surgeon, nearly as good as the former. A certain officer, desirous of tasting the doctor's brandy, which, by the by, was rarely produced, went to him one morning and said, --
"Doctor, an old ailing of mine has returned after an absence of about a year, and I fear, if not soon attended to, the consequences will be serious; as it is, it totally unfits me for duty."
"What is it, lieutenant?" asked the doctor, blandly, as he motioned the patient to a seat.
"I don't know exactly what to term it, doctor," replied our friend. "My arm is completely dead, and I find it utterly impossible to move it;" and, with a very doleful expression, he lifted up the "deceased" limb, holding it with the right hand under the scrutiny of the doctor. The officer wore one of the heavy military coats with wide sleeves, which he kept closed together with his hand. The doctor took hold of the arm, and started with astonishment when he felt how cold it was.
"Why," said he, "it's heavy as lead and white as wax ! Your hand, lieutenant, appears to be completely dead;" and he looked into the eyes of the unfortunate man with an expression of profound sympathy on his face.
"Yes, I know it is, doctor, but it has been so before, and has been cured for a time, and I think can be cured again."
"Ah, indeed ! Who attended you before, lieutenant?"
"Doctor ___," was the reply.
"What did he prescribe?" continued the doctor.
"Brandy," moaned the patient, to smother his desire to laugh.
"Brandy ! Well, that's curious ! How soon does it operate?"
"Sometimes in an hour, sometimes in two; generally in an hour."
The doctor let go his hold of the hand, and, going to a large black bottle, poured out a good half glass, at the same time saying, "There, take that." The officer took the glass and hastily swallowed its contents. He then got up, and was moving away, when the doctor said, "Call in again in a couple of hours, and let us see what effect the medicine has."
The lieutenant bowed and passed out.
"A very curious case, indeed," muttered the doctor, as he resumed his pill and quinine operations. In about two hours his patient again presented himself, showed his hand, and the doctor found it was all right.
"Well, that's devilish curious," quoth the doctor. "In all my experience, and it's not a short one, I never met a parallel case. Brandy has many peculiar properties which are as yet undiscovered; but in a case of complete paralysis I never knew its power as an important curative, or even such an auxiliary as it has proved in your case. The examination of the paralysis and the healing properties of brandy, as applied to the disease, would, I think, throw a new light on science, and, if you have no objection, I will convene a meeting of the surgeons of the brigade upon this most astounding case, the result of which I will submit to the medical director of the corps."
"Doctor," returned the audacious wag, "to benefit science I would undergo any experiment upon the unfortunate limb; and I heartily assure you, that whenever the consultation is called I shall be entirely at your service."
The doctor produced the coveted brandy, and another libation was had in honor of the unfortunate member.
The hour appointed by the doctor (who was to throw new light on science) for consultation arrived. The surgeons of the brigade and some officers were assembled at his quarters. The doctor then sent his "dark Adolphus" to the quarters of the officer owning the extraordinary limb. Our boy returned with a package and a note. The doctor seized the note with some astonishment, tore it open, and began to read it. As he went on an expression of blank dismay came into his countenance. At last he flung down the note with an expression of rage. "One of ours" picked it up, and read aloud, --
MY DEAR DOCTOR: I have been called hurriedly away, and cannot attend the consultation which is "destined to throw so much light on science." I forward you the limb which you say is in a state of complete paralysis. I trust, when you have carefully examined it, you will "strike" the before-mentioned "light." I hope also that you will demonstrate to the satisfaction of the wise men assembled that "brandy" has many peculiar properties which are as yet "undiscovered," and which, I may say, so far as your brandy is concerned, will remain undiscovered. Thanking you for your kindness to me while under your care, and with many compliments upon the goodness of your brandy,
I am, my dear doctor,
Yours truly obliged,
The loud roars of laughter which followed the reading of the note and the examination of the package would be impossible to describe, and for several minutes the doctor's tent was in a great uproar. THe doctor himself finally joined in, and in a little while resumed his good humor, and sent for the successful wag. He then produced the article containing so many "undiscovered properties." It is unnecessary to add that the consultation was eminently satisfactory, and we think the disciples of Galen went away in a slightly "obfuscated" state.
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