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THE LESSON IN HORSEMANSHIP. BY JEAN FRANÇOIS MILLET (TIMOTHY COLE'S WOOD ENGRAVINGS OF MASTERPIECES IN AMERICAN GALLERIES)

THE CENTURY

Vol. 99

NOVEMBER, 1919

No. I

33

The Nut

By ALICE HEGAN RICE
Illustrations by W. M. Berger

"The Nut had been shot up at Château-Thierry, gassed at Belleau Woods, and recommended three times for bravery."

Y

ES, SIR, I been in this here prison ward ever since the hospital opened in September, 1917. Doctors have come and gone, nurses has come and gone, fellows in training here have gone over seas and landed back here for demobilization; but I've stuck right on, and what I 've seen has been a-plenty.

We 've had some lively bunches of kids in here. What are they in for? Everything from smoking cigarettes in bed to committing murder. Most of them are in for military offenses, and nearly all of them are either waiting for operations or getting over them.

Talk about your pep! You take a lot of colts out of pasture and put 'em in a box-car, and you'll get some idea of what we are up against. You see, the boys in all the other wards have got talking-machines and story-books and magazines; they got a stream of visitors, pillow-patters with baskets of good things, Red Cross ladies that they used to deliver ice and groceries to their back doors, hanging round to wait on 'em and take 'em automobile-riding. And yet you'll hear 'em grousing.

Up here in 8-C, where they can't even have a postage-stamp except on Friday, they are the cheerfulest lot in the hospital. I guess most of them learned

that in the trenches. The less fun you get outside, the more you got to pump up inside if you want to keep going. There ain't anywhere that they tell such funny stories, keep up such a ragging, or play as many darn pranks as they do right here.

Why, only yesterday, when Number Six was brought in from the operatingroom, and we was waiting for him to come to, did n't some of those devils rub talcum powder all over his hands and cross 'em on his chest, and take some flowers off the table and strew 'em all over his sheet? Number Six is Irish, and he saw the joke as soon as he got one eye open; but with some it might have been fatal.

I suppose you always feel a bit different to the first lot you take care of than to any others, but there's another bunch that I remember better than any of them. It was the crowd that was here last Christmas, the first overseas men we got in. There was Ricks, that refused to have his arm taken off, and lit out for his home town in a bath-robe. He stayed just long enough to git ten doctors to sign a paper saying the arm did n't need amputation; then he come back and give himself up. He did three months in the prison ward; but what did he care? His arm got well!

Then there was Baker, that old bullet

Copyright, 1919, by THE CENTURY CO. All rights reserved

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THE CENTURY MAGAZINE

"He saw the joke as soon as he got one eye open"

headed bounder that could say more funny things than any vaudyville man I ever saw, and little old chicken-livered Mert and the Nut. Did n't I ever tell you about the Nut? Well, that 's a story all to itself. He sure did keep us guessing.

You see, nobody knew whether the Nut was crazy or not. The medical officer said he was, and the disciplinary officer said he was n't, and all the rest of us changed our minds a dozen times a day. I remember he was under observation for the first three weeks, sitting over there on that end bed, refusing to talk, and just staring holes in the wall. It was the only thing I ever knew to get the other fellows' goat. They could n't leave him alone. When they was n't deviling him, they was trying to cheer him up and coax him to talk. You see, he was up against it, for if he was crazy, the nut-picks was laying for him up in the psychiatric ward; and if he was sane, the court martial was waiting for him on a double charge of bigamy and forgery. They had him coming and going.

What complicated matters was that the Nut had been shot up at ChâteauThierry, gassed at Belleau Woods, and recommended three times for bravery. Since he had come back to America, between the times he was getting married and forging checks, he was being shifted around from one base hospital to another, each new doctor finding an

other piece of bone to take out of his hip. After our captain had taken out his souvenir, and the Nut was able to sit up, this crazy business developed. Some days he could n't seem to remember anything, and other days you 'd catch him looking real intelligent, but always with a sort of hurt look in his eyes that made you want to look the other way.

He never took any notice of anything or anybody, and it was downright pathetical to see him sitting there with his big fists limp in his lap, letting those kids plaster up his hair with adhesive plaster, or shave his upper lip to look like Charlie Chaplin.

He

You bet they did n't do it when Mrs. Merton was around. She was the mother of the boy in the bed next to his, and she was sure good to him. You see, her son was in a nasty hole, too. was a regular baby, one of those spoiled kids that never did anything harder than dancing until he was caught in the draft. The family pulled all sorts of wires to keep him out of the service, but there was nothing doing. Well, when he had to buckle down to army life, he just could n't stand it, and by the time the 84th Division was ready to sail he was in such a blue funk that he shot himself in the foot to keep from going with his battery.

A story like that goes the rounds, you know, and he would have had a cold deal

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even in 8-C, where they ain't over-particular, if his mother had n't come the day after he did, and served out his time with him. Say, I wish you could have known Mrs. Merton. She was one of these gentle, trustful sort of ladies that just would n't believe anything bad about anybody. She did n't stop at spoiling her own boy; she spoiled every blamed fellow that come into that ward. I've seen her sit up and bathe a drunk's head all morning while she lapped up all he told her about its being his first offense, and he never would have done it if another fellow had n't persuaded him, and all that line of talk. She'd slip candy in for the boys, and chewing-gum and cigarettes. Once she got me in bad by bringing a homesick country guy a book to read. He never had seen a book of short stories, and he says to the nurse: "Say, what kind of a book is this? I keep beginning it over again at each chapter, and waiting for all these folks to git hitched up together; but they never do."

The nurse bawled me out for the book getting in, but of course I never give Mrs. Merton away.

It was her that started the boys to knitting. She got 'em cotton and yarn and needles, and had 'em around her three deep learning to put on and put off and cast over. One big bloke of a regular that had been brought in with

"Nobody knew whether the Nut was crazy or not"

"Shave his upper lip to look like Charlie Chaplin"

a broken head after a raid on a dive down in Cedar Street learned to do the neatest pattern with white thread and a needle not much bigger than a toothpick. He had been working at it for a couple of weeks before he thought to ask:

"Say, lady, what am I making?"
"It's a yoke," says she.

"Well, says he, "I ain't got but one girl that 's big enough to fit it, and that 's the Goddess of Liberty."

But I started to tell you about Mrs. Merton and the Nut. It looked like she

just could n't stand seeing him sitting there all day just looking at the wall, never speaking and hardly ever changing his position. After all the rest of us had given up, she kept on trying to rouse him and get him interested in something. One time when she brought some flowers in for Mert she saw him watching her fix them, and she put some in his glass on the table by the bed. All that day he looked at the flowers instead of the wall, and when she said sort of encouraging, "You love flowers, don't you?" he spoke for the first time and said sort of confused, "Do I?"

That woman's patience beat anything I ever saw. Think of a lady like her being mixed up with all that riffraff day after day for three solid months! She 'd not only look after that selfish kid of hers, listening at his whines, reading to him, playing games with him, boosting him up, but she had time to listen to

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