Concerning St. John Of Jerusalem by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Story type: Literature

Let those who know my affection for Troy consider what my feelings were, the other day, when on my return from a brief jaunt to London I alighted at the railway station amid all the tokens of a severe and general catastrophe. The porter who opened the door for me had a bandaged head. George the ‘bus driver carried his right arm in a sling, but professed himself able to guide his vehicle through our tortuous streets left-handed. I had declined the offer, and was putting some sympathetic question, when a procession came by. Four children of serious demeanour conveyed a groaning comrade on a stretcher, while a couple more limped after in approved splints. I stopped them, of course. The rearmost sufferer–who wore on his shin-bone a wicker trellis of the sort used for covering flower-plots, and a tourniquet, contrived with a pebble and a handkerchief, about his femoral artery– informed me that it was a case of First Aid to the Injured, which he was rendering at some risk to his own (compound) fracture.

“It’s wonderful,” said George, with a grin, “what crazes the youngsters will pick up.”

Thereupon the truth came out. It appeared that during my absence a member of the Ambulance Association of St. John of Jerusalem had descended upon the town with a course of lectures, and the town had taken up the novelty with its usual spirit.

I said a course of lectures; but in Troy we are nothing if not thoroughgoing, and by this time (so George informed me) three courses were in full swing. The railway servants and jetty-men (our instructor’s earliest pupils) had arrived at restoring animation to the apparently drowned; while a mixed class, drawn from the townsfolk generally, were learning to bandage, and the members of our Young Women’s Christian Association had attended but two lectures and still dallied with the wonders of the human frame.

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George told me all about it on our way through the town–for I had consented to be driven on condition that he removed his arm from the sling, and he could not deny this to an old friend (as I make free to call myself). Besides, he was bursting to talk. To be sure, he slipped it back for a few moments as we breasted the hill beyond the post-office and his horses dropped to a walk. I fancy that he glanced at me apologetically; but since there was comparatively little danger hereabouts I thought it more delicate to look the other way.

“And the Chamber of Commerce has not protested?” I asked.

We call it the “Chamber of Commerce” for euphony’s sake. It is in fact an association which keeps an eye upon the Parish Council, Harbour Board, and Great Western Railway, and incites these bodies to make our town more attractive to visitors. It consists mainly of lodging-house keepers, and has this summer prevailed on the Railway Company to issue cheap Saturday market tickets to Plymouth–a boon which the visitor will soon learn (if we may take our own experience as a test) to rank high among the minor comforts of life.

No; the Chamber of Commerce had not protested. And yet it occurred to me more than once during the next few days that strangers attracted to Troy by its reputation as a health resort must have marvelled as they walked our streets, where cases of sunstroke, frost-bite, snake-bite, and incipient croup challenged their pity at every corner. The very babies took their first steps in splints, and when they tumbled were examined by their older playmates, and pronounced to be suffering from apoplexy or alcoholic poisoning, as fancy happened to suggest. I believe that a single instruction in the Association’s Handbook– carefully italicised there, I must admit–alone saved our rising generation. It ran: “Unless perfectly sure that the patient is intoxicated, do not give the emetic.”

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To be sure, we left these extravagances to the children. But childhood, after all, is a relative term, and in Troy we pass through it to sober age by nice gradations; which take time. Already a foreign sailor who had committed the double imprudence of drinking heavily at the Crown and Anchor, and falling asleep afterwards on the foreshore while waiting for his boat, was complaining vigorously, through his Vice-Consul, of the varieties of treatment practised upon his insensible body; and only the difficulty of tracing five Esmarch bandages in a town where five hundred had been sold in a fortnight averted a prosecution. I was even prepared for a visit from Sir Felix Felix-Williams, our worthy Squire, who seldom misses an opportunity of turning our local enthusiasms to account, and sometimes does me the honour to enlist my help; but scarcely for the turn his suggestions took.

“You are, of course, interested in this movement?” he began.

“I have to be, seeing that I live in the midst of it.”

“You have joined the Ambulance Class, I hear.”

“Do you think I would neglect a precaution so obvious? Until their enthusiasm abates, I certainly shall range myself among the First-Aiders rather than the Injured.”

“My idea was, to strike while the iron is hot.”

“Oh,” said I, “a town with so many in the fire–“

“And I thought, perhaps, if we could manage to connect it in some way with the Primrose League–“

“But what can it have to do with the Primrose League?” I asked stiffly. I will admit now to a slight prejudice against the Ambulance business– due perhaps to the lecturer’s having chosen to start it in my absence.

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Sir Felix was disappointed, and showed it. “Why, it was you,” he reminded me, “who helped us last year by setting the widows to race for a leg of mutton.”

“I was a symbolist in those days. And, excuse me, Sir Felix, it was not last year, but the year before. Last year we had the surrender of Cronje at Paardeberg, with the widows dressed up as Boer women.”

“Is that so? I thought we had Cronje two years ago, but no doubt you are right. Now I thought that, with our Primrose fete coming on, and everybody just now taking such an interest in the Empire–“

“To be sure!” I cried. “‘First Aid to the Empire’–it will look well on the bills.”

Sir Felix rubbed his hands together–a trick of his when he is pleased. “It’s an idea, eh?”

“A brilliant one.”

“Well, but you haven’t heard all.” He looked at me almost slyly. “It occurred to me, that while–er–associating this enthusiasm of ours with the imperial idea, we might at the same time do a good turn for ourselves. You think that permissible?”

“Permissible? For what else does an empire exist?”

“Quite so. As I was saying to Lady Williams, only this morning, we must bring home to less thoughtful persons a sense of its beneficence. Now it occurs to me: why go on subscribing to these great public Nursing Funds, in which our mite is a mere drop in the ocean, when by sending up a nurse from our own town–she would, of course, be a member of the League–not only should we have the satisfaction of knowing that our help is effective, but the young woman would be earning a salary and supporting herself?”

“Admirable!” said I. “It would look so much better in the papers too.”

“You see, we have at this moment a score of young women, all natives of the town and members of the League, undergoing instruction from our lecturer. After the course there will be an examination; and then, with the lecturer’s help–and the advice, if I might suggest it, of Lady Williams, who can tell him if the candidate’s family be respectable and deserving–we can surely select a young person to do us credit.”

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Sir Felix took his departure in the cheerfullest temper, and I record his suggestion as one eminently worthy of his head and his heart, although subsequent events have, alas! brought it to nought. I doubt if we shall send up a nurse from Troy; indeed, I doubt if there will even be an examination.

Last evening the Young Women’s Christian Association attended its sixth Ambulance lecture. The subject–roller bandaging–being a practical one, a small boy was had in, set on the platform, and bandaged in sight of the audience–plain bandaged, reverse bandaged, figure-of-eight bandaged, bandaged on forefinger, thumb, hand, wrist and forearm, elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle, foot. He declares that he enjoyed himself thoroughly. After each demonstration the young women took a turn and practised with such assiduity that an hour slipped pleasantly away. The bandages were applied, the spirals neatly stitched, and the stitches promptly snipped for the next pupil to begin. An occasional prick with the needle evoked no more than a playful remonstrance from the boy and a ripple of laughter from the fair executants. At length, alas! Miss Sophy Rabling, in snipping her bandage from the boy’s foot, fumbled and drove a point of the scissors sharply into his toe.

With a howl he caught at his foot, from which one or two drops of blood were trickling. And the sight of it so affected Miss Sophy that she dropped upon the platform in a swoon. A class-mate in the body of the hall almost instantly followed her example.

The lecturer, I am bound to say, behaved admirably. So far was he from losing his head, that he instantly seized on the accident to turn it to account.

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“First aid!” he cried. “Subject: Fainting. Patient No. 1, head to be pressed down below her knees and kept there for a few minutes. Patient No. 2, to be extended on the floor, care being taken to keep head and body level. A form being handy, we could, as an alternative, have hung Patient No. 1 over it, head downwards.”

But at this point, unfortunately, the humour of the situation became too much for Miss Gertrude Hansombody, another of the students. She began to titter, went on to laugh uncontrollably, then to clench her hands and sob.

“Subject: Hysterics!” called the lecturer. “Treatment: Be firm with the patient, hold her firmly by the wrists and threaten her with cold water–“

He spoke to empty benches. The rest of his pupils had escaped from the room and were now on their way home, and running for dear life.

I do not expect that St. John of Jerusalem will figure prominently in our Primrose fete. My reason for saying so is an urgent letter just received from Sir Felix, who wishes to confer with me in the course of the day.

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