~April 8, 1808~
Ellen Aston, Viscountess Moreton, walked into St. Camillus Hospital for Wounded Veterans and took in a deep breath. The intense smell of human bodies, blood, and despair was tempered only slightly by an underlying waft of lemon and alcohol that were used as cleaning agents. Was it odd that Ellen could feel her shoulders relax? Was it disturbing that this was where she felt happiest, amongst the wounded?
This was her work and her passion. This was where she felt whole. She was needed and busy. There were no gossips whispering behind their fans while giving her strange looks from the corner of their eyes. There were no gentlemen to approach her and then suddenly turn and walk in the other direction.
There were men who had risked their lives for their country. There was pain, yes, but it was usually understandable. Frequently, it was even something she could help relieve with a dose of laudanum or even just a hand to hold or an ear to listen to tales of valor and woe. Here there were trained doctors and nurses doing unspeakable things all in an effort to ease the suffering of the men brought here from the continent. It was usually the last stop before the men either returned to their homes into the arms of their loved ones or, sadly and too often, to their local church’s burial ground to be laid to rest with their ancestors.
Sometimes it was Ellen’s own determination that might make the difference in which direction a man went, and it was that which brought her back here two, sometimes three times a week, to spend the day tending to the men. And so today, after taking in a deep breath, she took off her pelisse, her hat, and gloves and went to wash her hands as she did every time she came to the hospital.
“Oh, Lady Moreton, I am so happy to see you here today,” Nurse Mary Cotswold said as she rushed past.
Ellen shook the water from her hands as she quickly followed the woman who was always on the run. “Good morning to you, Mrs. Cotswold. Please tell me where I may be of assistance today.”
“We had another new batch arrive yesterday evening. I haven’t yet had a chance to match names and beds. Could I please ask you to do so?” the small woman asked with a glance over her shoulder.
“Yes, of course! I’ll get the book and get right to it,” Ellen said, changing directions and heading off to the office where the official book of patients was kept. Each man got a page in the book where his progress would be tracked, but someone had to get as much information about each man as possible to begin with. Of course, many would come with orders or papers of their own, but everything had to be noted into the book. It was a job Ellen particularly liked because it gave her a chance to get to know each man who came through.
She grabbed the ledger and a small pot of ink, pulling her own quill out of her reticule. A quick look around the ward led her to the bed of the first newcomer.
Pulling up the little stool that stood next to the bed, she smiled comfortingly at the man lying there. His eyes were closed, but Ellen didn’t think he was asleep. “Good morning,” she said softly. “I’m Lady Moreton. Could you tell me who you are?”
She had spoken with half a dozen men and had just started with a pale, dark-haired man with blue eyes laced with pain when the man on his far side spoke up. “I say! You’re Lord Major Percival’s man, aren’t you?”
The man who’d just introduced himself as Sergeant Frederick Jones turned wide eyes to the fellow next to him. “I am,” he said with a slight hesitancy to his voice.
“He shouldn’t be here!” the man said to Ellen, his face beginning to turn red. “I am Lord Captain Newsbury, and I say he should not be here! This hospital is for officers, not the rif-raf.”
Ellen shook her head and quickly placed a restraining hand on Sergeant Jones’ shoulder when he attempted to sit up. “I do beg your pardon, my lord, but this hospital is for wounded veterans, whether they are enlisted soldiers or commissioned officers such as yourself. We do not discriminate.”