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and remembering the different sorts of sutures the Staff likes, and
receiving the Ladies' Committee, and conducting prayers and
lectures, and knowing by a swift survey of a ward that the stands
have been carbolised and all the toe-nails cut. Because it is
amazing the way toe-nails grow in bed.

The Head would probably never have come out flatly, but she had a
wretched cold, and the First Assistant was giving her a mustard
footbath, which was very hot. The Head sat up with a blanket over
her shoulders, and read lists while her feet took on the blush of
ripe apples. And at last she said:

"How is that Probationer with the ridiculous name getting along?"

The First Assistant poured in more hot water.

"N. Jane?" she asked. "Well, she's a nice little thing, and she
seems willing. But, of course - - "

The Head groaned.

"Nineteen!" she said. "And no character at all. I detest fluttery
people. She flutters the moment I go into the ward."

The First Assistant sat back and felt of her cap, which was of
starched tulle and was softening a bit from the steam. She felt a
thrill of pity for the Probationer. She, too, had once felt fluttery
when the Head came in.

"She is very anxious to stay," she observed. "She works hard, too.
I - - "

"She has no personality, no decision," said the Head, and sneezed
twice. She was really very wretched, and so she was unfair. "She is
pretty and sweet. But I cannot run my training school on prettiness
and sweetness. Has Doctor Harvard come in yet?"

"I - I think not," said the First Assistant. She looked up quickly,
but the Head was squeezing a lemon in a cup of hot water beside her.

Now, while the Head was having a footbath, and Twenty-two was having
a stock-taking, and Augustus Baird was having his symptoms recorded,
Jane Brown was having a shock.

She heard an unmistakable shuffling of feet in the corridor.

Sounds take on much significance in a hospital, and probationers
study them, especially footsteps. It gives them a moment sometimes
to think what to do next.

_Internes_, for instance, frequently wear rubber soles on their
white shoes and have a way of slipping up on one. And the engineer
goes on a half run, generally accompanied by the clanking of a tool
or two. And the elevator man runs, too, because generally the bell
is ringing. And ward patients shuffle about in carpet slippers, and
the pharmacy clerk has a brisk young step, inclined to be jaunty.

But it is the Staff which is always unmistakable. It comes along the
corridor deliberately, inexorably. It plants its feet firmly and
with authority. It moves with the inevitability of fate, with the
pride of royalty, with the ease of the best made-to-order boots. The
ring of a Staff member's heel on a hospital corridor is the most
authoritative sound on earth. He may be the gentlest soul in the
world, but he will tread like royalty.

But this was not Staff. Jane Brown knew this sound, and it filled
her with terror. It was the scuffling of four pairs of feet,
carefully instructed not to keep step. It meant, in other words, a
stretcher. But perhaps it was not coming to her. Ah, but it was!

Panic seized Jane Brown. She knew there were certain things to do,
but they went out of her mind like a cat out of a cellar window.
However, the ward was watching. It had itself, generally speaking,
come in feet first. It knew the procedure. So, instructed by low
voices from the beds around, Jane Brown feverishly tore the spread
off the emergency bed and drew it somewhat apart from its fellows.
Then she stood back and waited.

Came in four officers from the police patrol. Came in the Senior
Surgical Interne. Came two convalescents from the next ward to stare
in at the door. Came the stretcher, containing a quiet figure under
a grey blanket.

Twenty-two, at that exact moment, was putting a queen on a ten spot
and pretending there is nothing wrong about cheating oneself.

In a very short time the quiet figure was on the bed, and the Senior
Surgical Interne was writing in the order book: "Prepare for
operation."

Jane Brown read it over his shoulder, which is not etiquette.

"But - I can't," she quavered. "I don't know how. I won't touch him.
He's - he's bloody!"

Then she took another look at the bed and she saw - Johnny Fraser.

Now Johnny had, in his small way, played a part in the Probationer's
life, such as occasionally scrubbing porches or borrowing a half
dollar or being suspected of stealing the eggs from the henhouse.
But _that_ Johnny Fraser had been a wicked, smiling imp, much given
to sitting in the sun.

Here lay another Johnny Fraser, a quiet one, who might never again
feel the warm earth through his worthless clothes on his worthless
young body. A Johnny of closed eyes and slow, noisy breathing.

"Why, Johnny!" said the Probationer, in a strangled voice.

The Senior Surgical Interne was interested.

"Know him?" he said.

"He is a boy from home." She was still staring at this quiet,
un-impudent figure.

The Senior Surgical Interne eyed her with an eye that was only
partially professional. Then he went to the medicine closet and
poured a bit of aromatic ammonia into a glass.

"Sit down and drink this," he said, in a very masculine voice. He
liked to feel that he could do something for her. Indeed, there was
something almost proprietary in the way he took her pulse.

Some time after the early hospital supper that evening Twenty-two,
having oiled his chair with some olive oil from his tray, made a
clandestine trip through the twilight of the corridor back of the
elevator shaft. To avoid scandal he pretended interest in other
wards, but he gravitated, as a needle to the pole, to H. And there
he found the Probationer, looking rather strained, and mothering a
quiet figure on a bed.

He was a trifle puzzled at her distress, for she made no secret of
Johnny's status in the community. What he did not grasp was that
Johnny Fraser was a link between this new and rather terrible world
of the hospital and home. It was not Johnny alone, it was Johnny
scrubbing a home porch and doing it badly, it was Johnny in her
father's old clothes, it was Johnny fishing for catfish in the
creek, or lending his pole to one of the little brothers whose
pictures were on her table in the dormitory.

Twenty-two felt a certain depression. He reflected rather grimly
that he had been ten days missing and that no one had apparently
given a hang whether he turned up or not.

"Is he going to live?" he inquired. He could see that the ward nurse
had an eye on him, and was preparing for retreat.

"O yes," said Jane Brown. "I think so now. The _interne_ says they
have had a message from Doctor Willie. He is coming." There was a
beautiful confidence in her tone.

Things moved very fast with the Probationer for the next twenty-four
hours. Doctor Willie came, looking weary but smiling benevolently.
Jane Brown met him in a corridor and kissed him, as, indeed, she had
been in the habit of doing since her babyhood.

"Where is the young rascal?" said Doctor Willie. "Up to his old
tricks, Nellie, and struck by a train." He put a hand under her
chin, which is never done to the members of the training school in a
hospital, and searched her face with his kind old eyes. "Well, how
does it go, Nellie?"

Jane Brown swallowed hard.

"All right," she managed. "They want to operate, Doctor Willie."

"Tut!" he said. "Always in a hurry, these hospitals. We'll wait a
while, I think."

"Is everybody well at home?"

It had come to her, you see, what comes to every nurse once in her
training - the thinness of the veil, the terror of calamity, the fear
of death.

"All well. And - - " he glanced around. Only the Senior Surgical
Interne was in sight, and he was out of hearing. "Look here,
Nellie," he said, "I've got a dozen fresh eggs for you in my
satchel. Your mother sent them."

She nearly lost her professional manner again then. But she only
asked him to warn the boys about automobiles and riding on the backs
of wagons.

Had any one said Twenty-two to her, she would not have known what
was meant. Not just then, anyhow.

In the doctors' room that night the Senior Surgical Interne lighted
a cigarette and telephoned to the operating room.

"That trephining's off," he said, briefly.

Then he fell to conversation with the Senior Medical, who was rather
worried about a case listed on the books as Augustus Baird,
coloured.

Twenty-two did not sleep very well that night. He needed exercise,
he felt. But there was something else. Miss Brown had been just a
shade too ready to accept his explanation about Mabel, he felt, so
ready that he feared she had been more polite than sincere. Probably
she still believed there was a Mabel. Not that it mattered, except
that he hated to make a fool of himself. He roused once in the night
and was quite sure he heard her voice down the corridor. He knew
this must be wrong, because they would not make her work all day and
all night, too.

But, as it happened, it _was_ Jane Brown. The hospital provided
plenty of sleeping time, but now and then there was a slip-up and
somebody paid. There had been a night operation, following on a busy
day, and the operating-room nurses needed help. Out of a sound sleep
the night Assistant had summoned Jane Brown to clean instruments.

At five o'clock that morning she was still sitting on a stool beside
a glass table, polishing instruments which made her shiver. All
around were things that were spattered with blood. But she looked
anything but fluttery. She was a very grim and determined young
person just then, and professional beyond belief. The other things,
like washing window-sills and cutting toe-nails, had had no
significance. But here she was at last on the edge of mercy. Some
one who might have died had lived that night because of this room,
and these instruments, and willing hands.

She hoped she would always have willing hands.

She looked very pale at breakfast the next morning, and rather
older. Also she had a new note of authority in her voice when she
telephoned the kitchen and demanded H ward's soft-boiled eggs. She
washed window-sills that morning again, but no longer was there
rebellion in her soul. She was seeing suddenly how the hospital
required all these menial services, which were not menial at all but
only preparation; that there were little tasks and big ones, and one
graduated from the one to the other.

She took some flowers from the ward bouquet and put them beside
Johnny's bed - Johnny, who was still lying quiet, with closed eyes.

The Senior Surgical Interne did a dressing in the ward that morning.
He had been in to see Augustus Baird, and he felt uneasy. He vented
it on Tony, the Italian, with a stiletto thrust in his neck, by
jerking at the adhesive. Tony wailed, and Jane Brown, who was the
"dirty" nurse - which does not mean what it appears to mean, but is
the person who receives the soiled dressings - Jane Brown gritted her
teeth.

"Keep quiet," said the S.S.I., who was a good fellow, but had never
been stabbed in the neck for running away with somebody else's wife.

"Eet hurt," said Tony. "Ow."

Jane Brown turned very pink.

"Why don't you let me cut it off properly?" she said, in a strangled
tone.

The total result of this was that Jane Brown was reprimanded by the
First Assistant, and learned some things about ethics.

"But," she protested, "it was both stupid and cruel. And if I know I
am right - - "

"How are you to know you are right?" demanded the First Assistant,
crossly. Her feet were stinging. "'A little knowledge is a dangerous
thing.'" This was a favorite quotation of hers, although not
Browning. "Nurses in hospitals are there to carry out the doctor's
orders. Not to think or to say what they think unless they are
asked. To be intelligent, but - - "

"But not too intelligent!" said the Probationer. "I see."

This was duly reported to the Head, who observed that it was merely
what she had expected and extremely pert. Her cold was hardly any
better.

It was taking the Probationer quite a time to realise her own total
lack of significance in all this. She had been accustomed to men who
rose when a woman entered a room and remained standing as long as
she stood. And now she was in a new world, where she had to rise and
remain standing while a cocky youth in ducks, just out of medical
college, sauntered in with his hands in his pockets and took a
_boutonnière_ from the ward bouquet.

It was probably extremely good for her.

She was frightfully tired that day, and toward evening the little
glow of service began to fade. There seemed to be nothing to do for
Johnny but to wait. Doctor Willie had seemed to think that nature
would clear matters up there, and had requested no operation. She
smoothed beds and carried cups of water and broke another
thermometer. And she put the eggs from home in the ward pantry and
made egg-nogs of them for Stanislas Krzykolski, who was
unaccountably upset as to stomach.

She had entirely forgotten Twenty-two. He had stayed away all that
day, in a sort of faint hope that she would miss him. But she had
not. She was feeling rather worried, to tell the truth. For a Staff
surgeon going through the ward, had stopped by Johnny's bed and
examined the pupils of his eyes, and had then exchanged a glance
with the Senior Surgical Interne that had perplexed her.

In the chapel at prayers that evening all around her the nurses sat
and rested, their tired hands folded in their laps. They talked a
little among themselves, but it was only a buzzing that reached the
Probationer faintly. Some one near was talking about something that
was missing.

"Gone?" she said. "Of course it is gone. The bath-room man reported
it to me and I went and looked."

"But who in the world would take it?"

"My dear," said the first speaker, "who _does_ take things in a
hospital, anyhow? Only - a tin sign!"

It was then that the Head came in. She swept in; her grey gown, her
grey hair gave her a majesty that filled the Probationer with awe.
Behind her came the First Assistant with the prayer-book and hymnal.
The Head believed in form.

Jane Brown offered up a little prayer that night for Johnny Fraser,
and another little one without words, that Doctor Willie was right.
She sat and rested her weary young body, and remembered how Doctor
Willie was loved and respected, and the years he had cared for the
whole countryside. And the peace of the quiet room, with the Easter
lilies on the tiny altar, brought rest to her.

It was when prayers were over that the Head made her announcement.
She rose and looked over the shadowy room, where among the rows of
white caps only the Probationer's head was uncovered, and she said:

"I have an announcement to make to the training school. One which I
regret, and which will mean a certain amount of hardship and
deprivation.

"A case of contagion has been discovered in one of the wards, and it
has been considered necessary to quarantine the hospital. The doors
were closed at seven-thirty this evening."


II

Considering that he could not get out anyhow, Twenty-two took the
news of the quarantine calmly. He reflected that, if he was shut in,
Jane Brown was shut in also. He had a wicked hope, at the beginning,
that the Senior Surgical Interne had been shut out, but at nine
o'clock that evening that young gentleman showed up at the door of
his room, said "Cheer-o," came in, helped himself to a cigarette,
gave a professional glance at Twenty-two's toes, which were all that
was un-plastered of the leg, and departing threw back over his
shoulder his sole conversational effort:

"Hell of a mess, isn't it?"

Twenty-two took up again gloomily the book he was reading, which was
on Diseases of the Horse, from the hospital library. He was in the
midst of Glanders.

He had, during most of that day, been making up his mind to let his
family know where he was. He did not think they cared, particularly.
He had no illusions about that. But there was something about Jane
Brown which made him feel like doing the decent thing. It annoyed
him frightfully, but there it was. She was so eminently the sort of
person who believed in doing the decent thing.

So, about seven o'clock, he had sent the orderly out for stamps and
paper. He imagined that Jane Brown would not think writing home on
hospital stationery a good way to break bad news. But the orderly
had stopped for a chat at the engine house, and had ended by playing
a game of dominoes. When, at ten o'clock, he had returned to the
hospital entrance, the richer by a quarter and a glass of beer, he
had found a strange policeman on the hospital steps, and the doors
locked.

The quarantine was on.

Now there are different sorts of quarantines. There is the sort
where a trained nurse and the patient are shut up in a room and
bath, and the family only opens the door and peers in. And there is
the sort where the front door has a placard on it, and the family
goes in and out the back way, and takes a street-car to the office,
the same as usual. And there is the hospital quarantine, which is
the real thing, because hospitals are expected to do things
thoroughly.

So our hospital was closed up as tight as a jar of preserves. There
were policemen at all the doors, quite suddenly. They locked the
doors and put the keys in their pockets, and from that time on they
opened them only to pass things in, such as newspapers or milk or
groceries or the braver members of the Staff. But not to let
anything out - except the Staff. Supposedly Staffs do not carry
germs.

And, indeed, even the Staff was not keen about entering. It thought
of a lot of things it ought to do about visiting time, and
prescribed considerably over the telephone.

At first there was a great deal of confusion, because quite a number
of people had been out on various errands when it happened. And they
came back, and protested to the office that they had only their
uniforms on under their coats, and three dollars; or their slippers
and no hats. Or that they would sue the city. One or two of them got
quite desperate and tried to crawl up the fire-escape, but failed.

This is of interest chiefly because it profoundly affected Jane
Brown. Miss McAdoo, her ward nurse, had debated whether to wash her
hair that evening, or to take a walk. She had decided on the walk,
and was therefore shut out, along with the Junior Medical, the
kitchen cat, the Superintendent's mother-in-law and six other
nurses.

The next morning the First Assistant gave Jane Brown charge of H
ward.

"It's very irregular," she said. "I don't exactly know - you have
only one bad case, haven't you?"

"Only Johnny."

The First Assistant absent-mindedly ran a finger over the top of a
table, and examined it for dust.

"Of course," she said, "it's a great chance for you. Show that you
can handle this ward, and you are practically safe."

Jane Brown drew a long breath and stood up very straight. Then she
ran her eye over the ward. There was something vaguely reminiscent
of Miss McAdoo in her glance.

Twenty-two made three brief excursions back along the corridor
that first day of the quarantine. But Jane Brown was extremely
professional and very busy. There was an air of discipline over the
ward. Let a man but so much as turn over in bed and show an inch of
blanket, and she pounced on the bed and reduced it to the most
horrible neatness. All the beds looked as if they had been made up
with a carpenter's square.

On the third trip, however, Jane Brown was writing at the table.
Twenty-two wheeled himself into the doorway and eyed her with
disapproval.

"What do you mean by sitting down?" he demanded sarcastically.
"Don't you know that now you are in charge you ought to keep
moving?"

To which she replied, absently:

"Three buttered toasts, two dry toasts, six soft boiled eggs, and
twelve soups." She was working on the diet slips.

Then she smiled at him. They were quite old friends already. It is
curious about love and friendship and all those kindred emotions.
They do not grow nearly so fast when people are together as when
they are apart. It is an actual fact that the growth of many an
intimacy is checked by meetings. Because when people are apart it is
what they _are_ that counts, and when they are together it is what
they do and say and look like. Many a beautiful affair has been
ruined because, just as it was going along well, the principals met
again.

However, all this merely means that Twenty-two and Jane Brown were
infinitely closer friends than four or five meetings really
indicates.

The ward was very quiet on this late afternoon call of his save for
Johnny's heavy breathing. There is a quiet hour in a hospital,
between afternoon temperatures and the ringing of the bell which
means that the suppers for the wards are on their way - a quiet hour
when over the long rows of beds broods the peace of the ending day.

It is a melancholy hour, too, because from the streets comes faintly
the echo of feet hurrying home, the eager trot of a horse bound
stableward. To those in the eddy that is the ward comes at this time
a certain heaviness of spirit. Poor thing though home may have been,
they long for it.

In H ward that late afternoon there was a wave of homesickness in
the air, and on the part of those men who were up and about, who
shuffled up and down the ward in flapping carpet slippers, an
inclination to mutiny.

"How did they take it?" Twenty-two inquired. She puckered her
eyebrows.

"They don't like it," she confessed. "Some of them were about ready
to go home and it - _Tony!_" she called sharply.

For Tony, who had been cunningly standing by the window leading to a
fire-escape, had flung the window up and was giving unmistakable
signs of climbing out and returning to the other man's wife.

"Tony!" she called, and ran. Tony scrambled up on the sill. A sort
of titter ran over the ward and Tony, now on the platform outside,
waved a derisive hand through the window.

"Good-bye, mees!" he said, and - disappeared.

It was not a very dramatic thing, after all. It is chiefly
significant for its effect on Twenty-two, who was obliged to sit
frozen with horror and cursing his broken leg, while Jane Brown
raced a brown little Italian down the fire-escape and caught him at
the foot of it. Tony took a look around. The courtyard gates were
closed and a policeman sat outside on a camp-stool reading the
newspaper. Tony smiled sheepishly and surrendered.

Some seconds later Tony and Jane Brown appeared on the platform
outside. Jane Brown had Tony by the ear, and she stopped long enough
outside to exchange the ear for his shoulder, by which she shook
him, vigorously.

Twenty-two turned his chair around and wheeled himself back to his
room. He was filled with a cold rage - because she might have fallen
on the fire-escape and been killed; because he had not been able to
help her; because she was there, looking after the derelicts of
life, when the world was beautiful outside, and she was young;
because to her he was just Twenty-two and nothing more.

He had seen her exactly six times.

Jane Brown gave the ward a little talk that night before the night
nurse reported. She stood in the centre of the long room, beside the
tulips, and said that she was going to be alone there, and that she
would have to put the situation up to their sense of honour. If they
tried to escape, they would hurt her. Also they would surely be
caught and brought back. And, because she believed in a combination
of faith and deeds, she took three nails and the linen-room
flatiron, and nailed shut the window onto the fire-escape.

After that, she brushed crumbs out of the beds with a whiskbroom and
rubbed a few backs with alcohol, and smoothed the counterpanes, and
hung over Johnny's unconscious figure for a little while, giving
motherly pats to his flat pillow and worrying considerably because
there was so little about him to remind her of the Johnny she knew
at home.

After that she sat down and made up her records for the night nurse.
The ward understood, and was perfectly good, trying hard not to muss
its pillows or wrinkle the covers. And struggling, too, with a new
idea. They were prisoners. No more release cards would brighten the
days. For an indefinite period the old Frenchman would moan at
night, and Bader the German would snore, and the Chinaman would
cough. Indefinitely they would eat soft-boiled eggs and rice and
beef-tea and cornstarch.

The ward felt extremely low in its mind.


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Online LibraryMary Roberts RinehartLove Stories → online text (page 2 of 17)