The Commandant of the Marine Hospital was at his desk, working hard, when the door of the room was flung open and the Officer of the Day rushed in.
"Sir," he exploded, "the New Era has come."
"Very likely, Mr. Corker," answered the Commandant. "It has been coming continually since the world began. But is that any reason why you should enter without knocking, and with your coat covered with bread-crumbs and cigarette-ashes?"
So the Officer of the Day went outside, brushed his coat, knocked at the door, and awaited orders.
"Mr. Corker," said the Commandant, "have the kindness to bring me your report on the condition of yesterday's cases, and let me know what operations are indicated for to-day. Good morning. Orderly, my compliments to the Executive Officer, and I wish to see him at once."
When the Executive Officer arrived, he began:
"Sir, the New Era--"
"Quite so, Mr. Greel, but you understand this Hospital has to carry on as required in any kind of an era. How many patients did we receive yesterday? Good. Have we enough bedding and provisions? Bad. Attend to it immediately, and let me know the result of your efforts to remedy a situation which should never have arisen. The Navy cannot be run on hot air."
As the Executive Officer went out he held the door open for the Head Nurse to pass in. She was a fine, upstanding creature, tremulous with emotion.
"Oh, Doctor," she cried, "I simply must tell you about the New Era. Woman Suffrage is going to save the world."
"I hope so, Miss Dooby, it certainly needs saving. Meantime how are things in the pneumonia ward?"
"Two deaths last night, sir, three new cases this morning. Oxygen is running short: no beef-tea or milk. Five of my nurses have gone to attend conventions of woman--"
"Slackers," interrupted the Commandant. "Put them on report for leaving the ship without permission. I shall attend to their cases. Fill their places from the volunteer list. Be so good as to send the head steward here immediately."
"I'm very sorry, Sir," said the steward, "but ye see it's just this way. The mess-boys was holdin' a New Era mass-meetin', and the cook he forgot--"
"Milk and beef-tea!" growled the Commandant as if they were swear-words. "What the devil is this new influenza that has struck the hospital? Steward, you will provide what the head nurse requires at once. Orderly, my cap, and call Mr. Greel to accompany me on inspection."
In the galley the fires were out, the ovens cold, the soup-kettles empty, and all the cooks, dish-washers, and scrubbers were absorbing the eloquence of the third assistant pie-maker, who stood on an empty biscuit-box and explained the glories of the one-hour day in the New Era.
'"Ten_shun!_" yelled the Orderly, and the force of habit brought the men up, stiff and silent. The Commandant looked around the circle, grinning.
"My word!" he cried, "what a beautiful sight! What do you think this is--a blooming debating society? Wrong! It's a hospital, with near a thousand sick and wounded to take care of. And it's going to be done, see? And you're going to help do it, see? No work--no pay and no food! Neglect of orders means extra duty and no liberty --perhaps a couple of twenty-four-hour days in the brig. That's the rule in all eras, see? Now get busy, all of you. Chow at twelve as usual. Carry on, men."
"Aye, aye, sir," they answered cheerily, for they were weary of the third assistant pie-maker's brand of talk and felt the pangs of healthy hunger.
Then came the second engineer, out of breath with running, followed by two or three helpers.
"Fire, captain," he gasped, "fire in the fuel-room--awful blaze--started in the wood box--cigarette--we were just settin' round talkin' over what we were goin' to do in the New Era, an' the first thing we knew it was burnin' like--"
"The New Era," snapped the Commandant, "and be damned to it! Sound the fire-call. All hands to quarters. Lead along the hose. Follow me," he cried, hurrying forward through the gathering smoke, "this ship must be saved."
And so it was--strictly in conformity with the old laws that fire burns, water quenches, and every man must do his duty promptly. On these ancient principles, and others equally venerable, the hospital carried on its good work. But the Commandant made one new rule. It cost five dollars to mention the New Era within its walls.
Return to the Henry van Dyke library , or . . . Read the next short story; The Night Call