Mary Roberts Rinehart.

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stood smiling down at the girl.

"The only person in the world who believes in me!" said the girl
bitterly. "And he's a fool!"

The Dummy smiled into her eyes. In his faded, childish eyes there
was the eternal sadness of his kind, eternal tenderness, and the
blur of one who has looked much into a far distance. Suddenly he
bent over and placed the man's hand over the girl's.

The last wall was down! Jerry buried his face in the white

* * * * *

The _interne_ was pacing the roof anxiously. Golden sunset had faded
to lavender - to dark purple - to night.

The Probationer came up at last - not a probationer now, of course;
but she had left off her cap and was much less stately.

"I'm sorry," she explained; "but I've been terribly busy. It went
off so well!"

"Of course - if you handled it."

"You know - don't you? - it was the lover who came. He looks so strong
and good - oh, she is safe now!"

"That's fine!" said the _interne_ absently. They were sitting on the
parapet now and by sliding his hand along he found her fingers.
"Isn't it a glorious evening?" He had the fingers pretty close by
that time; and suddenly gathering them up he lifted the hand to his

"Such a kind little hand!" he said over it. "Such a dear, tender
little hand! My hand!" he said, rather huskily.

Down in the courtyard the Dummy sat with the parrot on his knee. At
his feet the superintendent's dog lay on his side and dreamed of
battle. The Dummy's eyes lingered on the scar the Avenue Girl had
bandaged - how long ago!

His eyes wandered to the window with the young John among the
lilies. In the stable were still the ambulance horses that talked to
him without words. And he had the parrot. If he thought at all it
was that his Father was good and that, after all, he was not alone.
The parrot edged along his knee and eyed him with saturnine



Big Mary was sweeping the ward with a broom muffled in a white bag.
In the breeze from the open windows, her blue calico wrapper
ballooned about her and made ludicrous her frantic thrusts after the
bits of fluff that formed eddies under the beds and danced in the
spring air.

She finished her sweeping, and, with the joyous scraps captured in
her dust-pan, stood in the doorway, critically surveying the ward.
It was brilliantly clean and festive; on either side a row of beds,
fresh white for the day; on the centre table a vase of Easter
lilies, and on the record-table near the door a potted hyacinth. The
Nurse herself wore a bunch of violets tucked in her apron-band. One
of the patients had seen the Junior Medical give them to her. The
Eastern sun, shining across the beds, made below them, on the
polished floor, black islands of shadow in a gleaming sea of light.

And scattered here and there, rocking in chairs or standing at
windows, enjoying the Sunday respite from sewing or the
bandage-machine, women, grotesque and distorted of figure, in
attitudes of weariness and expectancy, with patient eyes awaited
their crucifixion. Behind them, in the beds, a dozen perhaps who had
come up from death and held the miracle in their arms.

The miracles were small and red, and inclined to feeble and
ineffectual wrigglings. Fists were thrust in the air and brought
down on smiling, pale mother faces. With tight-closed eyes and open
mouths, each miracle squirmed and nuzzled until the mother would
look with pleading eyes at the Nurse. And the Nurse would look
severe and say:

"Good gracious, Annie Petowski, surely you don't want to feed that
infant again! Do you want the child to have a dilated stomach?"

Fear of that horrible and mysterious condition, a dilated stomach,
would restrain Annie Petowski or Jennie Goldstein or Maggie McNamara
for a time. With the wisdom of the serpent, she would give the child
her finger to suck - a finger so white, so clean, so soft in the last
week that she was lost in admiration of it. And the child would take
hold, all its small body set rigid in lines of desperate effort.
Then it would relax suddenly, and spew out the finger, and the quiet
hospital air would be rent with shrieks of lost illusion. Then Annie
Petowski or Jennie Goldstein or Maggie McNamara would watch the
Nurse with open hostility and defiance, and her rustling exit from
the ward would be followed by swift cessation of cries, and, close
to Annie or Jennie or Maggie's heart, there would be small ecstatic
gurglings - and peace.

In her small domain the Nurse was queen. From her throne at the
record-table, she issued proclamations of baths and fine combs, of
clean bedding and trimmed nails, of tea and toast, of regular hours
for the babies. From this throne, also, she directed periodic
searches of the bedside stands, unearthing scraps of old toast,
decaying fruit, candy, and an occasional cigarette. From the throne,
too, she sent daily a blue-wrappered and pig-tailed brigade to the
kitchen, armed with knives, to attack the dinner potatoes.

But on this Easter morning, the queen looked tired and worn. Her
crown, a starched white cap, had slipped back on her head, and her
blue-and-white dress was stained and spotted. Even her fresh apron
and sleevelets did not quite conceal the damage. She had come in for
a moment at the breakfast hour, and asked the Swede, Ellen Ollman,
to serve the breakfast for her; and at half past eight she had
appeared again for a moment, and had turned down one of the beds and
put hot-water bottles in it.

The ward ate little breakfast. It was always nervous when a case was
"on." Excursions down the corridor by one or another of the
blue-wrappered brigade brought back bits of news:

"The doctor is smoking a cigarette in the hall;" or, "Miss Jones,
the day assistant, has gone in;" and then, with bated breath, "The
doctor with the red mustache has come" - by which it was known that
things were going badly, the staff man having been summoned.

Suggestions of Easter began to appear even in this isolated ward,
denied to all visitors except an occasional husband, who was usually
regarded with a mixture of contempt and scepticism by the other
women. But now the lilies came, and after them a lame young woman
who played the organ in the chapel on Sundays, and who afterward
went from ward to ward, singing little songs and accompanying
herself on the mandolin she carried with her. The lame young woman
seated herself in the throne-chair and sang an Easter anthem, and
afterward limped around and placed a leaflet and a spray of
lilies-of-the-valley on each bedside stand.

She was escorted around the ward by Elizabeth Miller, known as "Liz"
in Our Alley, and rechristened Elizabeth by the Nurse. Elizabeth
always read the tracts. She had been there four times, and knew all
the nurses and nearly all the doctors. "Liz" had been known, in a
shortage of nurses, to be called into the mysterious room down the
hall to assist; and on those occasions, in an all-enveloping white
gown over her wrapper, with her hair under a cap, she outranked the
queen herself in regalness and authority.

The lame mandolin-player stopped at the foot of the empty bed.
"Shall I put one here?" she asked, fingering a tract.

Liz meditated majestically.

"Well, I guess I would," she said. "Not that it'll do any good."


Liz jerked her head toward the corridor.

"She's not getting on very well," she said; "and, even if she gets
through, she won't read the tract. She held her fingers in her ears
last Sunday while the Bible-reader was here. She's young. Says she
hopes she and the kid'll both die."

The mandolin-player was not unversed in the psychology of the ward.

"Then she - isn't married?" she asked, and because she was young, she
flushed painfully.

Liz stared at her, and a faint light of amusement dawned in her

"Well, no," she admitted; "I guess that's what's worrying her. She's
a fool, she is. She can put the kid in a home. That's what I do.
Suppose she married the fellow that got her into trouble? Wouldn't
he be always throwing it up to her?"

The mandolin-player looked at Liz, puzzled at this new philosophy
of life.

"Have - have you a baby here?" she asked timidly.

"Have I!" said Liz, and, wheeling, led the way to her bed. She
turned the blanket down with a practised hand, revealing a tiny red
atom, so like the others that only mother love could have
distinguished it.

"This is mine," she said airily. "Funny little mutt, isn't he?"

The mandolin-player gazed diffidently at the child.

"He - he's very little," she said.

"Little!" said Liz. "He holds the record here for the last six
months - eleven pounds three ounces in his skin, when he arrived. The
little devil!"

She put the blanket tenderly back over the little devil's sleeping
form. The mandolin-player cast about desperately for the right thing
to say.

"Does - does he look like his father?" she asked timidly. But
apparently Liz did not hear. She had moved down the ward. The
mandolin-player heard only a snicker from Annie Petowski's bed, and,
vaguely uncomfortable, she moved toward the door.

Liz was turning down the cover of the empty bed, and the Nurse, with
tired but shining eyes, was wheeling in the operating table.

The mandolin-player stepped aside to let the table pass. From the
blankets she had a glimpse of a young face, bloodless and wan - of
hurt, defiant blue eyes. She had never before seen life so naked, so
relentless. She shrank back against the wall, a little sick. Then
she gathered up her tracts and her mandolin, and limped down the

The door of the mysterious room was open, and from it came a shrill,
high wail, a rising and falling note of distress - the voice of a new
soul in protest. She went past with averted face.

Back in the ward Liz leaned over the table and, picking the girl up
bodily, deposited her tenderly in the warm bed. Then she stood back
and smiled down at her, with her hands on her hips.

"Well," she said kindly, "it's over, and here you are! But it's no
picnic, is it?"

The girl on the bed turned her head away. The coarsening of her
features in the last month or two had changed to an almost bloodless
refinement. With her bright hair, she looked as if she had been
through the furnace of pain and had come out pure gold. But her eyes
were hard.

"Go away," she said petulantly.

Liz leaned down and pulled the blanket over her shoulders.

"You sleep now," she said soothingly. "When you wake up you can have
a cup of tea."

The girl threw the cover off and looked up despairingly into Liz's

"I don't want to sleep," she said. "My God, Liz, it's going to live
and so am I!"


Now, the Nurse had been up all night, and at noon, after she had
oiled the new baby and washed out his eyes and given him a
teaspoonful of warm water, she placed Liz in charge of the ward, and
went to her room to put on a fresh uniform. The first thing she did,
when she got there, was to go to the mirror, with the picture of her
mother tucked in its frame, and survey herself. When she saw her cap
and the untidiness of her hair and her white collar all spotted, she

Then she took the violets out of her belt and put them carefully in
a glass of water, and feeling rather silly, she leaned over and
kissed them. After that she felt better.

She bathed her face in hot water and then in cold, which brought her
colour back, and she put on everything fresh, so that she rustled
with each step, which is proper for trained nurses; and finally she
tucked the violets back where they belonged, and put on a new cap,
which is also proper for trained nurses on gala occasions.

If she had not gone back to the mirror to see that the general
effect was as crisp as it should be, things would have been
different for Liz, and for the new mother back in the ward. But she
did go back; and there, lying on the floor in front of the bureau,
all folded together, was a piece of white paper exactly as if it has
been tucked in her belt with the violets.

She opened it rather shakily, and it was a leaf from the ward
order-book, for at the top it said:

Annie Petowski - may sit up for one hour.

And below that:

Goldstein baby - bran baths.

And below that:

I love you. E.J.

"E.J." was the Junior Medical.

So the Nurse went back to the ward, and sat down, palpitating, in
the throne-chair by the table, and spread her crisp skirts, and
found where the page had been torn out of the order-book.

And as the smiles of sovereigns are hailed with delight by their
courts, so the ward brightened until it seemed to gleam that Easter
afternoon. And a sort of miracle happened: none of the babies had
colic, and the mothers mostly slept. Also, one of the ladies of the
House Committee looked in at the door and said:

"How beautiful you are here, and how peaceful! Your ward is always a
sort of benediction."

The lady of the House Committee looked across and saw the new
mother, with the sunshine on her yellow braids, and her face refined
from the furnace of pain.

"What a sweet young mother!" she said, and rustled out, leaving an
odor of peau d'Espagne.

The girl lay much as Liz had left her. Except her eyes, there was
nothing in her face to show that despair had given place to wild
mutiny. But Liz knew; Liz had gone through it all when "the first
one" came; and so, from the end of the ward, she rocked and watched.

The odor of peau d'Espagne was still in the air, eclipsing the
Easter lilies, when Liz got up and sauntered down to the girl's bed.

"How are you now, dearie?" she asked, and, reaching under the
blankets, brought out the tiny pearl-handled knife with which the
girl had been wont to clean her finger-nails. The girl eyed her
savagely, but said nothing; nor did she resist when Liz brought out
her hands and examined the wrists. The left had a small cut on it.

"Now listen to me," said Liz. "None of that, do you hear? You ain't
the only one that's laid here and wanted to end it all. And what
happened? Inside of a month they're well and strong again, and they
put the kid somewhere, and the folks that know what's happened get
used to it, and the ones that don't know don't need to know. Don't
be a fool!"

She carried the knife off, but the girl made no protest. There were
other ways.

The Nurse was very tired, for she had been up almost all night. She
sat at the record-table with her Bible open, and, in the intervals
of taking temperatures, she read it. But mostly she read about Annie
Petowski being allowed to sit up, and the Goldstein baby having bran
baths, and the other thing written below!

At two o'clock came the Junior Medical, in a frock-coat and grey
trousers. He expected to sing "The Palms" at the Easter service
downstairs in the chapel that afternoon, and, according to
precedent, the one who sings "The Palms" on Easter in the chapel
must always wear a frock-coat.

Very conscious, because all the ward was staring at his
gorgeousness, he went over to the bed where the new mother lay. Then
he came back and stood by the table, looking at a record.

"Have you taken her temperature?" he said, businesslike and erect.


"Her pulse is strong?"

"Yes; she's resting quietly."

"Good. - And - did you get my note?"

This, much as if he had said, "Did you find my scarf-pin?" or
anything merely casual; for Liz was hovering near.

"Yes." The nurse's red lips were trembling, but she smiled up at
him. Liz came nearer. She was only wishing him Godspeed with his
wooing, but it made him uncomfortable.

"Watch her closely," he said, "she's pretty weak and despondent."
And he looked at Liz.

"Elizabeth," said the Nurse, "won't you sit by Claribel and fan

Claribel was the new mother. Claribel is, of course, no name for a
mother, but she had been named when she was very small.

Liz went away and sat by the girl's bed, and said a little prayer to
the effect that they were both so damned good to everybody, she
hoped they'd hit it off. But perhaps the prayer of the wicked
availeth nothing.

"You know I meant that," he said, from behind a record. "I - I love
you with all my heart - and if only you - - "

The nurse shook down a thermometer and examined it closely. "I love
you, too!" she said. And, walking shakily to one of the beds, she
put the thermometer upside down in Maggie McNamara's mouth.

The Junior Medical went away with his shoulders erect in his
frock-coat, and his heavy brown hair, which would never part
properly and had to be persuaded with brilliantine, bristling with

And the Nurse-Queen, looking over her kingdom for somebody to lavish
her new joy on, saw Claribel lying in bed, looking at the ceiling
and reading there all the tragedy of her broken life, all her

So she rustled out to the baby-room, where the new baby had never
batted an eye since her bath and was lying on her back with both
fists clenched on her breast, and she did something that no trained
nurse is ever supposed to do.

She lifted the baby, asleep and all, and carried her to her mother.

But Claribel's face only darkened when she saw her.

"Take the brat away," she said, and went on reading tragedies on the

Liz came and proffered her the little mite with every art she knew.
She showed her the wrinkled bits of feet, the tiny, ridiculous
hands, and how long the hair grew on the back of her head. But when
Liz put the baby on her arm, she shuddered and turned her head away.
So finally Liz took it back to the other room, and left it there,
still sleeping.

The fine edge of the Nurse's joy was dulled. It is a characteristic
of great happiness to wish all to be well with the world; and here
before her was dry-eyed despair. It was Liz who finally decided her.

"I guess I'll sit up with her to-night," she said, approaching the
table with the peculiar gait engendered of heel-less hospital
carpet-slippers and Mother Hubbard wrappers. "I don't like the way
she watches the ceiling."

"What do you mean, Elizabeth?" asked the Nurse.

"Time I had the twins - that's before your time," said Liz - "we had
one like that. She went out the window head first the night after
the baby came, and took the kid with her."

The Nurse rose with quick decision.

"We must watch her," she said. "Perhaps if I could find - I think
I'll go to the telephone. Watch the ward carefully, Elizabeth, and
if Annie Petowski tries to feed her baby before three o'clock, take
it from her. The child's stuffed like a sausage every time I'm out
for five minutes."

Nurses know many strange things: they know how to rub an aching back
until the ache is changed to a restful thrill, and how to change the
bedding and the patient's night-dress without rolling the patient
over more than once, which is a high and desirable form of
knowledge. But also they get to know many strange people; their
clean starchiness has a way of rubbing up against the filth of the
world and coming away unsoiled. And so the Nurse went downstairs to
the telephone, leaving Liz to watch for nefarious feeding.

The Nurse called up Rose Davis; and Rosie, who was lying in bed with
the Sunday papers scattered around her and a cigarette in her
manicured fingers, reached out with a yawn and, taking the
telephone, rested it on her laced and ribboned bosom.

"Yes," she said indolently.

The nurse told her who she was, and Rosie's voice took on a warmer

"Oh, yes," she said. "How are you?... Claribel? Yes; what about
her?... What!"

"Yes," said the Nurse. "A girl - seven pounds."

"My Gawd! Well, what do you think of that! Excuse me a moment; my
cigarette's set fire to the sheet. All right - go ahead."

"She's taking it pretty hard, and I - I thought you might help her.
She - she - - "

"How much do you want?" said Rose, a trifle coldly. She turned in
the bed and eyed the black leather bag on the stand at her elbow.
"Twenty enough?"

"I don't think it's money," said the Nurse, "although she needs that
too; she hasn't any clothes for the baby. But - she's awfully
despondent - almost desperate. Have you any idea who the child's
father is?"

Rosie considered, lighting a new cigarette with one hand and
balancing the telephone with the other.

"She left me a year ago," she said. "Oh, yes; I know now. What time
is it?"

"Two o'clock."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Rosie. "I'll get the fellow on
the wire and see what he's willing to do. Maybe he'll give her a
dollar or two a week."

"Do you think you could bring him to see her?"

"Say, what do you think I am - a missionary?" The Nurse was wise, so
she kept silent. "Well, I'll tell you what I will do. If I can bring
him, I will. How's that yellow-haired she-devil you've got over
there? I've got that fixed all right. She pulled a razor on me
first - I've got witnesses. Well, if I can get Al, I'll do it. So

It did not occur to the Nurse to deprecate having used an evil
medium toward a righteous end. She took life much as she found it.
And so she tiptoed past the chapel again, where a faint odour of
peau d'Espagne came stealing out into the hall, and where the
children from the children's ward, in roller-chairs and on crutches,
were singing with all their shrill young voices, earnest eyes

The white Easter lilies on the altar sent their fragrance out over
the gathering, over the nurses, young and placid, over the hopeless
and the hopeful, over the faces where death had passed and left its
inevitable stamp, over bodies freshly risen on this Easter Sunday
to new hope and new life - over the Junior Medical, waiting with the
manuscript of "The Palms" rolled in his hand and his heart singing a
hymn of happiness.

The Nurse went up to her ward, and put a screen around Claribel,
and, with all her woman's art, tidied the immaculate white bed and
loosened the uncompromising yellow braids, so that the soft hair
fell across Claribel's bloodless forehead and softened the defiance
in her blue eyes. She brought the pink hyacinth in its pot, too, and
placed it on the bedside table. Then she stood off and looked at her
work. It was good.

Claribel submitted weakly. She had stopped staring at the wall, and
had taken to watching the open window opposite with strange
intentness. Only when the Nurse gave a final pat to the bedspread
she spoke.

"Was it a boy - or a girl?" she asked.

"Girl," said the nurse briskly. "A little beauty, perfect in every

"A girl - to grow up and go through this hell!" she muttered, and her
eyes wandered back to the window.

But the Nurse was wise with the accumulated wisdom of a sex that has
had to match strength with wile for ages, and she was not yet ready.
She went into the little room where eleven miracles lay in eleven
cribs, and, although they all looked exactly alike, she selected
Claribel's without hesitation, and carried it to the mysterious room
down the hall - which was no longer a torture-chamber, but a
resplendently white place, all glass and tile and sunlight, and
where she did certain things that are not prescribed in the hospital

First of all, she opened a cupboard and took out a baby dress of
lace and insertion, - and everybody knows that such a dress is used
only when a hospital infant is baptised, - and she clothed Claribel's
baby in linen and fine raiment, and because they are very, very red
when they are so new, she dusted it with a bit of talcum - to break
the shock, as you may say. It was very probable that Al had never
seen so new a baby, and it was useless to spoil the joy of
parenthood unnecessarily. For it really was a fine child, and
eventually it would be white and beautiful.

The baby smelled of violet, for the christening-robe was kept in a

Finally she gave it another teaspoonful of warm water and put it
back in its crib. And then she rustled starchily back to the
throne-chair by the record-table, and opened her Bible at the place
where it said that Annie Petowski might sit up, and the Goldstein
baby - bran baths, and the other thing written just below.


The music poured up the well of the staircase; softened by distance,
the shrill childish sopranos and the throaty basses of the medical
staff merged into a rising and falling harmony of exquisite beauty.

Liz sat on the top step of the stairs, with her baby in her arms;
and, as the song went on, Liz's eyes fell to her child and stayed

At three o'clock the elevator-man brought Rosie Davis along the
hall - Rosie, whose costume betrayed haste, and whose figure, under a
gaudy motor-coat, gave more than a suggestion of being unsupported

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Online LibraryMary Roberts RinehartLove Stories → online text (page 11 of 17)