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"They were afraid you 'd get ill yourself?" Ward asked.
"It was n't only that. They had nice, clean Puritan minds, and poor little Fanny was three or four years older than I was,-'old enough to know better,' as they said,-and they treated the whole incident as a nasty scandal. Really! There had been something the matter about her mother; I never knew what. But they saw 'the bad blood' coming out in Fanny, and one of my maiden aunts was quite relieved when the illness killed her. I heard her saying so, with tears, of course, and sanctimoniously, arguing that it was probably 'all for the best' to have her taken away from the sins and temptations of this world. Lord! how I hated her!"
Ward had been struck by the parallel between this incident and the death of 'Angel Mary' in the hospital, and with that parallel in his mind he asked cryptically:
"Where did 'the Jackdaw' come in?"
"It was n't a jackdaw. It was a
"It looked like my aunt in her black dress," Hellmuth said, "and it looked like the undertaker, and all the mourners came trooping around like black birds. birds. I ran away and hid in the orchard and would n't go to the funeral. And I hated them all and I hated the house and I hated the crows."
WARD, relating it, settled back in his chair and spread his hands as one says, "And there you are!"
"But do you mean to say-” I
"I mean to say," he interrupted, "that because of those incidents in his childhood, the black bird became associated with death in Hellmuth's mind to such a degree, and so unconsciously, that whenever he saw a crow or a purple grackle, it gave him a depression, a fear, and a sense of failure that he could n't fight against. Any black bird was a symbol of death to his instinctive emotions. It was this fear and hatred of death that made him a doctor. His ambition to study medicine began almost immediately after his cousin died. That was where 'the call' came from. He wanted to fight death as a divinity student wants to
"I did n't," Ward evaded him. fight sin. It was a real call, and it
"Tell me about the raven."
It was a stuffed bird, under a glass bell, on the mantelpiece of the room in which Fanny was laid out for burial. Hellmuth was taken in there by the family to join in funeral prayers, and he could not bear to look at Fanny's face; and he would not look at any of the family because he felt that they were all, like his aunt, glad that she had died. So he stared sullenly at the bright-eyed bird on the mantelshelf, with its head cocked on one side like some pert imp of Satan.
made him a great surgeon. But it also set his limitations as a physician. He had to have tangible causes and results; hence surgery. With the knife you know pretty well what you want to do, and you have only to acquire the necessary skill in order to do it; hence Hellmuth's drive to develop his hands. And I'm willing to bet it was his fear of death and of melancholy thoughts of death that made him hate any kind of sad music. And I 'm not ashamed to say that I believe some of his hatred of Germany
probably came of that two-headed black bird, the imperial eagle, or whatever it is. And when war broke out, he saw it as the triumph of death, and he gave up everything to fling himself into it."
"Did you tell him so?”
"I did not," Ward said grimly. "It would have sounded as fantastic to him as it does to you. You people can't stand to have the childishness of your apparently intelligent mental processes exposed to you. I simply connected his black-bird depression with his first knowledge of death, and let it go at that. I'm sorry now that I did n't tell him the whole truth. I might have saved him."
"Saved him how?"
"Saved him from being killed by a blackbird.”
I MUST have shown my amused incredulity. Ward got up and took a letter from the clutter of papers on his desk, and sat down with it, turning the pages.
"The cable from London," he said, "reporting Hellmuth's death, announced that his hospital unit had arrived at Brindisi without him, and was held there in quarantine. I cabled to Rogers, his assistant, asking for confirmation. I got this letter from him after he reached Paris. Listen, now."
He began about page three.
"Hellmuth showed no signs of strain up to the night we left Kraguyevatz. We were retreating before the Germans under Mackensen, with the Austrians off to our left, I think, and the Bulgarians pressing in from the other flank to cut us off. Our orders were to get ourselves and our ambulances to Prishtina by way of—""
"We understood that at Prishtina we might expect to meet the Allied forces on their way north to block the Bulgars. The road from Kraguyevatz to Prishtina took us down the entire Serbian line that faced the Bulgars, and we had the German guns behind us, where our division was fighting rear-guard actions, and the Bulgarian guns coming in nearer and nearer from the east. At first we had plenty of work, lots of wounded, wherever we pitched our hospitals tent, but as the retreat became more of a rout, the day's wounded could not be gathered up for us. They had to be left where they fell. It was this, I think, that first depressed Hellmuth. He was always miserable when he had no work to do.
""The weather was cold-late in October-and rainy. The roads were full of refugees, mostly women and children, some of them mere tots, carrying bundles, driving their sheep and goats through the rain and mud; and these were all mixed up with army convoys and retreating troops. Desolate country. The villages through which we passed had all been evacuated. There was, of course, no food to be bought anywhere. We were all right. We had our supplies. But these women and children! We could see them sleeping in the bare fields at night, around little camp-fires, without shelter, in the rain, hundreds of them. Whenever we halted, Hellmuth used to go and try to talk to them. Then one day he asked the major how many of them would starve to death. This was just before we got to Prishtina, and we knew that every inch of Serbia
was lost. The major said that, all told, he thought about half a million refugees would perish. After that, Hellmuth never looked at them.
"Just outside of Prishtina he seemed to be all in. We had come through a gorge in the mountains, riding day and night, except when a jam of traffic held us up. We were on ponies. Very cold. I had on three pairs of heavy socks, boots, and overshoes, but even so I had to wrap my feet and my stirrups in straw and
which means, "the field of blackbirds." Hellmuth had been in a sort of daze. All of a sudden he looked up at the sky as if he saw an aëroplane swooping down on him, and he began to kick his heels into his horse and beat it with his fists and yell at it. It broke into a staggering gallop and then stumbled and fell. He was n't hurt. He was thrown clear of the horse and lay unconscious. I thought at the time that he had been knocked senseless by the fall. I found that he had only fainted. It scared me a good deal.""
Ward looked up at me significantly, but made no comment, and went on with the letter.
"At Prishtina'-no, we can skip that. He says the allies did n't arrive. and instead of going on south toward Salonica, they were ordered to turn west to Petch, at the foot of the mountains of Montenegro.
"We knew this meant the annihilation of Serbia. Two hundred thousand men, with all their convoys, and Heaven knows how many hundred thousand refugees with all their carts and cattle had to squeeze through-'
"Yes. Well, let 's see: 'Of course there were n't roads enough. We had to take to the fields, following any sort of track, through swamp and bush, scrub-oak and boulders. The motorambulances could just make it and no more. It was slow going, pulling them out of mud-holes with ox-teams, cutting brush to get them across bogs, riding ahead to find tracks they could travel on, and coming back to lead them. It began to be evident that we 'd have to abandon them if we were to get away at all. Hellmuth would n't hear of it. It meant losing all our hospital equipment. worked like mad to save them.
""Then, at Petch, the P. M. O. of the division told us it was impossible to get farther with cars. We could n't even make it with carts, he said. We'd have to pack what we could on the horses, and leave the rest. This was really a blow to Hellmuth. He got a lot of the instruments out of their cases and put them in his rug bag, but of course he could n't take them all. We had n't pack-saddles enough, and we needed all the available room for food.
"We had to leave our tents, beds, clothes, cooking-dishes, the whole field kitchen, all our hospital equipmenteverything but food and blankets and the clothes we could put on. Hellmuth seemed to regret nothing but the surgical things. He turned away from them without a word, and as a matter of fact he spoke very little from that time on. We were getting away from the sound of German guns, but he kept watching the sky for airplanes.' Ward looked up at me. I had nothing to say. He went on:
"He kept watching the sky for airplanes, though, as a matter of fact, we saw none until we were bombed by them after we were safe in Medua, on the other side of the mountains, and Hellmuth was no longer with us by then. He died between Petch and Roshai, if I remember. It's all as confused as a nightmare to me. I did n't make any entries in my diary after we left Petch. Even if I had n't been too tired at any time to think of it, my fingers were always too stiff with cold to hold a pencil. You see, we were n't going through the mountains by the passes. Those were so full of refugees that it was impossible to get through them. We followed trails right over the ranges, through