Mrs Hannah Smith Nurse
Source: Anting-anting Stories
The red eye of the lighthouse on Corregidor Island blazed out
through the darkness as a Pacific steamer felt her way cautiously
into Manila harbour.
Although it was nearly midnight, a woman--one of the passengers on
the steamer--was still on deck, and standing well up toward the bow
of the boat was peering into the darkness before her as if she could
not wait to see the strange new land to which she was coming. Surely
it would be a strange land to her, who, until a few weeks before
had scarcely in all her life been outside of the New England town in
which she had been born.
People who had seen her on the steamer had wondered sometimes that
a woman of her age--for she was not young--should have chosen to
go to the Philippine Islands as a nurse, as she told them she was
going. Sometimes, at first, they smiled at some of her questions,
but any who happened to be ill on the voyage, or in trouble, forgot
to do that, for in the touch of her hand and in her words there was
shown a skill and a nobleness of nature which won respect.
The colonel of a regiment stationed near Manila was sitting in his
headquarters. An orderly came to the door and saluted.
"A woman to see you, sir," he said.
"A woman? What kind of a woman?"
"A white woman, sir. Looks about fifty years old. Talks American. Says
she has only just come here. Says her name is Smith."
"Show her in."
The man went out. In a few minutes he came back again, and with him
the woman that had stayed out on the deck of the Pacific steamer when
the boat came past the light of Corregidor.
The Colonel gave his visitor a seat. "What can I do for you?" he said.
"Can I speak to you alone?"
"We are alone now."
"Can't that man out there hear?" motioning toward a soldier pacing
back and forth before the door.
"No," said the officer. "We are quite alone."
The woman unfolded a sheet of paper which she had been holding,
and looked at it a moment. Then she looked at the officer. "I want
to see Heber Smith, of Company F, of your regiment," she said. "Can
you tell me where he is?"
In spite of himself--in spite of the self possession which he would
have said his campaigning experience had given him, the Colonel
"Are you his--?" he began to say. But he changed the question to,
"Was he a relative of yours?"
"I am his mother," the woman said, as if she had completed the
officer's first question in her mind and answered it.
"I have a letter from him, here," she went on. "The last one I have
had. It is dated three months ago. It is not very long." She held up
a half sheet of paper, written over on one side with a lead pencil;
but she did not offer to let the officer read what was written.
"He tells me in this letter," the woman said, "that he has disgraced
himself, been a coward, run away from some danger which he ought to
have faced; and that he can't stand the shame of it." "He says," the
woman's voice faltered for the first time, and instead of looking the
Colonel in the face, as she had been doing, her eyes were fixed on the
floor--"he says that he isn't going to try to stay here any longer,
and that he is going over to the enemy. Is this true? Did he do that?"
"Yes," said the officer slowly. "It is true."
"He says here," the woman went on, holding up the letter again,
"that I shall never hear from him again, or see him. I want you to
help me to find him."
"I would be glad to help you if I could," the man said, "but I
cannot. No one knows where the man went to, except that he disappeared
from the camp and from the city. Besides I have not the right. He was
a coward, and now he is a deserter. If he came back now he would have
to stand trial, and he might be shot."
"He is not a coward." The woman's cheeks flamed red. "Some men shut
their eyes and cringe when there comes a flash of lightning. But that
don't make them cowards. He might have been frightened at the time,
and not known what he was doing, but he is not a coward. I guess
I know that as well as anybody can tell me. He is my boy--my only
child. I've come out here to find him, and I'm going to do it. I
don't expect I'll find him quick or easy, perhaps. I've let out our
farm for a year, with the privilege of renewing the trade when the
year is up; and I'm going to stay as long as need be. I'm not going
to sit still and hold my hands while I'm waiting, either. I'm going
to be a nurse. I know how to take care of the sick and maimed all
right, and I guess from what I hear since I've been here you need
all the help of that kind you can get. All I want of you is to get
me a chance to work nursing just as close to the front as I can go,
and then do all you can to help me find out where Heber is, and then
let me have as many as you can of these heathen prisoners the men
bring in here to take care of, so I can ask them if they have seen
Heber. My boy isn't a coward, and if he has got scared and run away,
he's got to come back and face the music. Thank goodness none of the
folks at home know anything about it, and they won't if I can help it."
The woman folded the letter, and putting it back into its envelope sat
waiting. It was evident that she did not conceive of the possibility
even of her request not being granted.
The officer hesitated.
"You will have to see the General, Mrs. Smith," he said at last,
glad that it need not be his duty to tell her how hopeless her
errand was. "I will arrange for you to see him. I will take you to
him myself. I wish I could do more to help you."
"How soon can I see him?"
"Tomorrow, I think. I will find out and let you know."
"Thank you," said the woman, as she rose to go. "I don't want to lose
any time. I want to get right to work."
The next day the young soldier's mother saw the General and told
her story to him. In the mean time, apprised by the Colonel of the
regiment of the woman's errand, the General had had a report of
the case brought to him. Heber Smith had been sent out with a small
scouting party. They had been ambushed, and instead of trying to fight,
he had left the men and had run back to cover.
"But that don't necessarily make him a coward," the young man's mother
pleaded with the General. "A coward is a man who plans to run away. He
lost his head that time. Wasn't that the first time he had been put
in such a place?"
The officer admitted that it was.
"Well, then he can live it down. He has got to, for the sake of his
father's reputation as well as his own. His father was a soldier,
too," she said proudly. "He was in the Union army four years, and had
a medal given to him for bravery, and every spring since he died the
members of his Grand Army Post have decorated his grave. When Heber
comes to think of that, I know he will come back."
The General was not an old man;--that is he was not so old but that,
back in her prairie home in a western state, there was a mother to
whom he wrote letters, a mother whom he knew to value above his life
itself his reputation. The thought of her came to him now.
"I will do what I can, Mrs. Smith" he said, "to help you find your
boy. I fear I cannot give you any hope, though, and if he should be
found I cannot promise you anything as to his future."
"Thank you," said the woman. "That is all I can ask."
And so it came about that Mrs. Hannah Smith was enrolled as a nurse,
and assigned to duty as near the front in the island of Luzon as any
nurse could go.
Six months passed, and then another six came near to their
end. Mrs. Smith renewed the lease of the farm back among the New
England hills for another year, and wrote to a neighbor's wife to see
that her woolen clothes and furs were aired and then packed away with
a fresh supply of camphor to keep the moths out of them.
In this year's time Mrs. Smith had picked up a wonderful smattering
of the Spanish and Tagalog languages for a woman who had lived
the life she had before she came to the East. The reason for this,
so her companions said, was her being "just possessed to talk with
those native prisoners who are brought wounded to the hospital." The
other nurses liked her. She not only was willing to take the cases
they liked least--the natives--but asked for them.
And sometime in the course of their hospital experience, all
Mrs. Smith's native patients--if they did not die before they got
able to talk coherently--had to go through the same catechism:
Was there a white man among the people from whom they had come;
a white man who had come there from the American army?
Was he a tall young man with light hair and a smooth face?
Did he have a three-cornered white scar on one side of his chin,
where a steer had hooked him when he was a boy?
Did he look like this picture? (A photograph was shown the patient)
From no one, though, did she get the answer that her heart craved. Some
of the prisoners knew white men that had come among the Tagalog
natives, but no one knew a man who answered to this description.
One day a native prisoner who had been brought in more than a week
before, terribly wounded, opened his eyes to consciousness for the
first time, after days and nights of stupor. He was one of these who
naturally fell, now, to "Mrs. Smith's lot," as the surgeons called
them. As soon as the nurse's watchful eyes saw the change in the man
she came to him and bent over his cot.
"Water, please," he murmured
The woman brought the water, her two natures struggling to decide
what she should do after she had given it to him. As nurse, she knew
the man ought not to be allowed to talk then. As mother, she was
impatient to ask him where he had learned to speak English, and to
inquire if he knew her boy.
The nurse conquered. The patient drank the water and was allowed to
go to sleep again undisturbed.
In time, though, he was stronger, and then, one day, the mother's
questions were asked for the hundredth time; and the last.
Yes, the prisoner patient knew just such a man. He had come among the
people of the tribe many months ago. He was a tall, fair young man,
and he had such a scar as the "senora," described. He was a fine young
man. Once, when this man's father had been sick, the white man had
doctored him and made him well. It was this white man, the patient
said, who had taught him the little English that he knew.
"Yes," when he saw the photograph of Heber Smith, "that is the man. He
has a picture, too," the patient said, "two pictures, little ones,
set in a little gold box which hangs on his watch chain."
The hospital nurse unclasped a big cameo breast pin from the throat
of her gown and held it down so that the man in bed could see a
daguerreotype set in the back of the pin.
"Was one of the pictures like that?" she asked.
The Tagalog looked at the picture, a likeness of a middle-aged man
wearing the coat and hat of the Grand Army of the Republic. In the
picture a medal pinned on to the breast of the man's coat showed.
"Yes," said he, "one of the pictures is like that."
Then he looked up curiously at the woman sitting beside his bed. "The
other picture is that of a woman," he went on, "and--yes--" still
studying her face, "I think it must be you. Only," he added, "it
doesn't look very much like you."
"No," said the woman, with a grim smile, "it doesn't. It was taken
a good many years ago, when I was younger than I am now, and when I
hadn't been baked for a year in this heathen climate. It's me, though."
In time, Juan, that was the man's name, was so far recovered of his
wound that he was to be discharged from the hospital and placed with
the other able-bodied prisoners. The hospital at that time occupied
an old convent. The day before Juan was to be discharged, Mrs. Smith
managed her cases so that for a time no one else was left in one of
the rooms with her but this man.
"Juan," she said, when she was sure they were alone, and that no one
was anywhere within hearing, "do you feel that I have done anything
to help you to get well?"
The man reached down, and taking one of the nurse's hands in his own
bent over and kissed it.
"Senora," he said, "I owe my life to you."
"Will you do something for me, then? Something which I want done more
than anything else in the world?"
"My life is the senora's. I would that I had ten lives to give her."
The woman pulled a letter from out the folds of her nurse's dress. The
envelope was not sealed, and before she fastened it she took the
letter which was in it out and read it over for one last time. Then,
pulling from her waist a little red, white and blue badge pin--one
of those patriotic emblems which so many people wear at times--she
dropped this into the letter, sealed the envelope, and handed it to
the Tagalog. The envelope bore no address.
"I hav'n't put the name of the place on it you said you came from,"
she told the man, "because goodness only knows how it is spelled;
I don't. Besides that, it isn't necessary. You know the place, and
you know the man; the man who has got my picture and his father's in
a gold locket on his watch chain. I want you to give this letter into
his own hands. I expect it will be rather a ticklish job for you to
get away from here and get through the lines, but I guess you can do
it if you try. Other men have. Don't start until you are well enough
so you will have strength to make the whole trip."
A week or so after that, one of the surgeons making his daily visit
reported that Juan had made his escape the previous night, and up to
that time had not been brought back.
"What a shame!" said one of the other nurses. "After all the care
you gave that man, Mrs. Smith. It does seem as if he might have had
a little more gratitude."
Mrs. Smith said nothing aloud. But to herself, when she was alone,
she said: "Well, I suppose some folks would say that I wasn't acting
right, but I guess I've saved the lives of enough of those men since
I've been here so that I'm entitled to one of them if I want him."
Then she went on with her work, and waited; and the waiting was harder
than the work.
An American expedition was slowly toiling across the island of
Luzon to locate and occupy a post in the north. Four companies of
men marched in advance, with a guard in the rear. Between them were
the mule teams with the camp luggage and the ever present hospital
corps. No trace of the enemy had been seen in that part of the island
for weeks. Scouts who had gone on in advance had reported the way to
be clear, and the force was being hurried up to get through a ravine
which it was approaching, so it could go into camp for the night on
high, level ground just beyond the valley.
Suddenly a man's voice rang out upon the hot air; an English, speaking
voice, strong and clear, and coming, so it seemed at first to the
troops when they heard it, from the air above them:
"Halt! Halt!" the voice cried.
"Go back! There is an ambush on both sides! Save yourselves! Be--"
The warning was unfinished. Those of the Americans who had located
the sound of the words and had looked in the direction from which
they came, had seen a white man standing on the rocky side of the
ravine above them and in front of them. They had seen him throw up
his arms and fall backward out of sight, leaving his last sentence
unfinished. Then there had come the report of a gun, and then an
attack, with scores of shouting Tagalogs swarming down the sides of
The skirmish was over, though, almost as soon as it had begun, and
with little harm to any of the Americans except to such of the scouts
as had been cut off in advance. The warning had come in time--had come
before the advancing column had marched between the forces hidden on
both sides of the ravine. The Tagalogs could not face the fire with
which the Americans met them. They fled up the ravine, and up both
sides of the gorge, into the shelter of the forest, and were gone. The
Americans, satisfied at length that the way was clear, moved forward
and went into camp on the ground which had previously been chosen,
throwing out advance lines of pickets, and taking extra precautions
to be prepared against a night attack.
Early in the evening shots were heard on the outer picket line, and
a little later two men came to the commanding officers tent bringing
with them a native.
"He was trying to come through our lines and get into the camp, sir,"
they reported. "Two men fired at him, but missed him."
"Think he's a spy?" the commander asked of another officer who was
"No, Senor, I am not a spy," the prisoner said, surprising all the
men by speaking in English. "I have left my people, I want to be sent
to Manila, to the American camp there."
"He's a deserter," said one of the officers. Then to the men who held
the prisoner, "Better search him."
From out the prisoner's blouse one of the soldiers brought a paper,
a sheet torn from a note book, folded, and fastened only by a red,
white and blue badge pin stuck through the paper.
The officer to whom the soldier had handed the paper pulled out the
pin which had kept it folded, and started to open it, when he saw
there was something written on the side through which the pin had been
thrust. Bending down to where the camp light fell upon the writing,
he saw that it was an address, scrawled in lead pencil:
"Mrs. Hannah Smith; Nurse."
"Do you know the woman to whom this letter is sent? he asked in
amazement of the Tagalog from whom it had been taken.
"Do you know where she is now?"
"Yes, Senor. She is in a hospital not far from Manila. She is a
good woman. My life is hers. I was there once for many, many days,
shot through here," he placed his hand on his side, "and she made me
"Do you know who sent this letter to her?"
"Who was it?"
The man hesitated.
"Who was it? Answer. It is for her good I want to know."
"It was her son, Senor."
"Was he the man who gave us warning of the ambush today?"
The officer folded the paper, unread, and thrust the pin back through
the folds. The enamel on the badge glistened in the camp light.
"Keep the Tagalog here," he said to the men, "until I come back;"
and walked across the camp to where the hospital tents had been set up.
"Where is Mrs. Smith?" he asked of the surgeon in charge.
"Taking care of the men who were wounded this afternoon."
"Will you tell her that I want to see her alone in your tent, here,
and then see that no one else comes in?"
"Mrs. Smith," he said, when the nurse came in, "I have something here
for you--a letter. It has just been brought into camp, by a native who
did not know that you were here and who wanted to be sent to Manila
to find you. It is not very strongly sealed, but no one has read it
since it was brought into camp."
He gave the bit of paper to the nurse, and then turned away to stand
in the door of the tent, that he might not look at her while she read
it. Enough of the nurse's story was known in the army now so that the
officer could guess something of what this message might mean to her.
A sound in the tent behind the officer made him turn. The woman had
sunk down on the ground beneath the surgeon's light, and resting her
arms upon a camp stool had hid her face.
A moment later she raised her head, her face wet with tears and
wearing an expression of mingled grief and joy, and held out the
letter to the officer.
"Read it!" she said. "Thank God!" and then, "My boy! My boy!" and
hid her face again.
"Dear mother," the scrawled note read.
"I got your letter. I'm glad you wrote it. It made things plain I
hadn't seen before. My chance has come--quicker than I had expected. I
wish I might have seen you again, but I shan't. A column of our men
are coming up the valley just below here, marching straight into an
ambush. I have tried to get word to them, but I can't, because the
Tagalogs watch me so close. They never have trusted me. The only way
for me is to rush out when the men get near enough, and shout to them,
and that will be the end of it all for me. I don't care, only that I
wish I could see you again. Juan will take this letter to you. When
you get it, and the men come back, if I save them, I think perhaps
they will clear my name. Then you can go home.
"The men are almost here. Mother, dear, good by.--Your Boy."
"I wish I might have seen him," the woman said, a little later. "But
I won't complain. What I most prayed God for has been granted me."
"They'll let the charge against him drop, now, won't they? Don't you
think he has earned it?"
"I think he surely has. No braver deed has been done in all this war."
"Don't try to come, now, Mrs Smith," as the nurse rose to her
feet. "Stay here, and I will send one of the women to you."
When he had done this the officer went back to where the men were
still holding Juan between them.
"Your journey is shorter than you thought," the officer said to the
Tagalog. "Mrs. Smith is in this camp, and I have given the letter
"May I see her?" exclaimed the man.
"Not now. In the morning you may. Have you seen this man, her son,
since he was shot?"
"No, Senor. He gave me the note and told me to slip into the forest
as soon as the fight began, so as to get away without any one seeing
me. Then I was to stay out of the way until I could get into this
"Do you know where he stood when he was shot?"
"Can you take a party of men there tonight?"
"Yes, Senor; most gladly."
Afterward, when it came to be known that Heber Smith would live,
in spite of his wounds and the hours that he had lain there in the
bushes unconscious and uncared for, there was the greatest diversity
of opinion as to what had really saved his life.
The surgeons said it was partly their skill, and partly the superb
constitution that years of work on a New England farm had given to
the young man. His mother believed that he had been spared for her
sake. Heber Smith himself always said it was his mother's care that
saved his life, while Juan never had the least doubt that the young
soldier had been protected solely by a marvellous "anting-anting"
which he himself had slipped unsuspected into the American soldier's
blouse that day, before he had left him. As soon as she knew that her
son would live, Mrs. Smith started for Washington, carrying with her
papers which made it possible for her to be allowed to plead her case
there as she had pleaded it in Manila. A pardon was sent back, as fast
as wire and steamer and wire again could convey it. Heber Smith wears
the uniform of a second lieutenant, now, won for bravery in action
since he went back into the service; and every one who knew her in
the Philippines, cherishes the memory of Mrs. Hannah Smith; Nurse.
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