Not all the courage in the world is being used up in the trenches and on the fighting line, even in these days of world-struggle. There is plenty of it to be found in the state
tuberculosis hospital at Salem, where many a patient is facing death 24 hours of every day. There is a curious mixture in the attitude of those who fight the great white plague. For one thing
there is always hope. It may be that one is fated to pass on, and that a few weeks more will end the struggle. So be it, but death must manifest itself without any
help from the sufferer. He always nurses the hope that some remote chance may yet save him. On the other hand there is the recognition that the end may come swift and soon. This curious mixture
of feelings is illustrated by the action of the cheerful young Frenchman who, being convinced by his reason that he cannot continue much longer to survive, auctions his belongings to more fortunate fellows, selling his shirts,
suitcase, watch, etc., for money where-with to buy delicacies. On days that his temperature is high and his condition corespondingly alarming his prices go down; if next day he has a good day and his temperature is somewhere near normal, prices go up again and he begins
to wonder what he will do if he gets well and has no clothes to wear.|
While there is plenty of courage within these walls there is very little contentment, so when one finds an example of it the contrast to the general feeling of unrest is all the more marked, and in "LittleBillie" one finds that shining example of content amid misfortune that would seem sufficient to daunt the most heroic soul. Billie is of Swedish stock and until a few years ago lived with his father and brothers on a homested on the slopes of the Cascade Mountains. When he was 11 years old Billie and his little brother, emulating their father's work in blasting out tree stumps, endeavored to explode some dynamite caps which they had found. They placed them on a rock and laid a train of dry leaves for a fuse. Three times they fired the train and the third time it burned up to the caps but did not explode them. Billie and his brother rushed up to investigate and as they stooped over the caps one of them exploded and Billie suffered the loss of an eye.
That was bad but it was only the beginning of Billie's troubles. A few months later he was taken to the hospital at The Dalles, both legs having been affected by tuberculosis of the bone. He remained at The Dalles hospital seven months and then was brought to Salem.
That was nearly two years ago. One of his legs has nearly recovered from the tuberculosis. The hip on the other side, however, was so affected that the circulation was impaired and after a severe attack of inflammation of the kidneys, that leg became dropsical and is now swollen to twice its normal size. Billie goes from his bed in the morning to a wheel chair in which he spends his day. But do not think he spends it in sour brooding or discontent. On the contrary he is cheerful in conversation, and his whistling and singing are the comment of the hospital. He has an active mind and spends a great deal of time reading, but when not thus engaged he will probably be found in spirited argument with the older patients on such subjects as the value of socialism or the truths of Christianity. He is a firm believer in the literal interpretation of the Bible, and has recently become convinced that Socialism is the true solution of economic problems.
Billie has varied interests. Being gifted with nimble fingers he rapidly acquired the art of knitting and crocheting and became skillful in the production of homemade socks which he sold to the janitor and other employees, and of tastefully crocheted slippers, which he sells wherever he can. He stamps and begs from fellow patients all the foreign stamps and stamps of large denominations which they may receive. It would be a great help to the furtherance of Billie's ambition in this respect if some kindly disposed person should send him a philatelist magazine or catalogue. No doubt, too, many persons who have a few stamps which they will never develop into a collection would do better to send them to Billie than to keep them tucked away in some pigeon hole where they bestow neither pleasure nor profit.
Billie perhaps expressed his own attitude best when he recounted to a ward full of patients the tribulations of an old woman whom he had just visited. "That poor old lady has the rheumatism so bad that she can't move herself at all, and when they bring her tray if there's anything on the far side of it she can't reach it, and yet she's just as cheerful and sweet as any old lady you ever saw, and she'll work away with her fingers and write a letter and never complain about anything. I tell you it makes a fellow feel pretty cheap to be growling around when he things how that old lady is."
Billie keeps up his interest in the homestead and the little brother who is getting to be a big brother now. Last Winter was a hard one and Billie tells how his father and brothers, shut off by the snow from going to town, were forced to live on potatoes which the father dug through five feet of snow. Some day Billie hopes to go back there when he is better, but he is not crowding the issue and for the present is getting out of the present such enjoyment as he can. There might be a lesson to some older and more fortunate folk in the example of Little Billie.