Mary Roberts Rinehart.

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That night the Senior Surgical Interne went in to play cribbage with
Twenty-two, and received a lecture on leaving a young girl alone in
H with a lot of desperate men. They both grew rather heated over the
discussion and forgot to play cribbage at all. Twenty-two lay awake
half the night, because he had seen clearly that the Senior Surgical
Interne was interested in Jane Brown also, and would probably loaf
around H most of the time since there would be no new cases now. It
was a crowning humiliation to have the night nurse apply to the
Senior Surgical Interne for a sleeping powder for him!

Toward morning he remembered that he had promised to write out from
memory one of the Sonnets from the Portuguese for the First
Assistant, and he turned on the light and jotted down two lines of
it. He wrote:

"_For we two look two ways, and cannot shine
With the same sunlight on our brow and hair._" -

And then sat up in bed for half an hour looking at it because he was
so awfully afraid it was true of Jane Brown and himself. Not, of
course, that he wanted to shine at all. It was the looking two ways
that hurt.

The next evening the nurses took their airing on the roof, which was
a sooty place with a parapet, and in the courtyard, which was an
equally sooty place with a wispy fountain. And because the whole
situation was new, they formed in little groups on the wooden
benches and sang, hands folded on white aprons, heads lifted, eyes
upturned to where, above the dimly lighted windows, the stars peered
palely through the smoke.

The S.S.I. sauntered out. He had thought he saw the Probationer from
his window, and in the new relaxation of discipline he saw a chance
to join her. But the figure he had thought he recognised proved to
be some one else, and he fell to wandering alone up and down the
courtyard.

He was trying to work out this problem: would the advantage of
marrying early and thus being considered eligible for certain
cases, offset the disadvantage of the extra expense?

He decided to marry early and hang the expense.

The days went by, three, then four, and a little line of tension
deepened around Jane Brown's mouth. Perhaps it has not been
mentioned that she had a fighting nose, short and straight, and a
wistful mouth. For Johnny Fraser was still lying in a stupor.

Jane Brown felt that something was wrong. Doctor Willie came in once
or twice, making the long trip without complaint and without hope of
payment. All his busy life he had worked for the sake of work, and
not for reward. He called her "Nellie," to the delight of the ward,
which began to love him, and he spent a long hour each time by
Johnny's bed. But the Probationer was quick to realise that the
Senior Surgical Interne disapproved of him.

That young man had developed a tendency to wander into H at odd
hours, and sit on the edge of a table, leaving Jane Brown divided
between proper respect for an _interne_ and fury over the wrinkling
of her table covers. It was during one of these visits that she
spoke of Doctor Willie.

"Because he is a country practitioner," she said, "you - you
patronise him."

"Not at all," said the Senior Surgical Interne. "Personally I like
him immensely."

"Personally!"

The Senior Surgical Interne waved a hand toward Johnny's bed.

"Look there," he said. "You don't think that chap's getting any
better, do you?"

"If," said Jane Brown, with suspicious quiet, "if you think you know
more than a man who has practised for forty years, and saved more
people than you ever saw, why don't you tell him so?"

There is really no defence for this conversation. Discourse between
a probationer and an _interne_ is supposed to be limited to yea,
yea, and nay, nay. But the circumstances were unusual.

"Tell him!" exclaimed the Senior Surgical Interne, "and be called
before the Executive Committee and fired! Dear girl, I am
inexpressibly flattered, but the voice of an _interne_ in a hospital
is the voice of one crying in the wilderness."

Twenty-two, who was out on crutches that day for the first time, and
was looking very big and extremely awkward, Twenty-two looked back
from the elevator shaft and scowled. He seemed always to see a flash
of white duck near the door of H ward.

To add to his chagrin, the Senior Surgical Interne clapped him on
the back in congratulation a moment later, and nearly upset him. He
had intended to go back to the ward and discuss a plan he had, but
he was very morose those days and really not a companionable person.
He stumped back to his room and resolutely went to bed.

There he lay for a long time looking at the ceiling, and saying, out
of his misery, things not necessary to repeat.

So Twenty-two went to bed and sulked, refusing supper, and having
the word "Vicious" marked on his record by the nurse, who hoped he
would see it some time. And Jane Brown went and sat beside a
strangely silent Johnny, and worried. And the Senior Surgical
Interne went down to the pharmacy and thereby altered a number of
things.

The pharmacy clerk had been shaving - his own bedroom was dark - and
he saw the Senior Surgical Interne in the little mirror hung on the
window frame.

"Hello," he said, over the soap. "Shut the door."

The Senior Surgical Interne shut the door, and then sniffed. "Smells
like a bar-room," he commented.

The pharmacy clerk shaved the left angle of his jaw, and then turned
around.

"Little experiment of mine," he explained. "Simple syrup, grain
alcohol, a dash of cochineal for colouring, and some flavouring
extract. It's an imitation cordial. Try it."

The Senior Surgical Interne was not a drinker, but he was willing
to try anything once. So he secured a two-ounce medicine glass, and
filled it.

"Looks nice," he commented, and tasted it. "It's not bad."

"Not bad!" said the pharmacy clerk. "You'd pay four dollars a bottle
for that stuff in a hotel. Actual cost here, about forty cents."

The Senior Surgical Interne sat down and stretched out his legs. He
had the glass in his hand.

"It's rather sweet," he said. "But it looks pretty." He took another
sip.

After he had finished it, he got to thinking things over. He felt
about seven feet tall and very important, and not at all like a
voice crying in the wilderness. He had a strong inclination to go
into the Superintendent's office and tell him where he went wrong in
running the institution - which he restrained. And another to go up
to H and tell Jane Brown the truth about Johnny Fraser - which he
yielded to.

On the way up he gave the elevator man a cigar.

He was very explicit with Jane Brown.

"Your man's wrong, that's all there is about it," he said. "I can't
say anything and you can't. But he's wrong. That's an operative
case. The Staff knows it."

"Then, why doesn't the Staff do it?"

The Senior Surgical Interne was still feeling very tall. He looked
down at her from a great distance.

"Because, dear child," he said, "it's your man's case. You ought to
know enough about professional ethics for that."

He went away, then, and had a violent headache, which he blamed on
confinement and lack of exercise. But he had sowed something in the
Probationer's mind.

For she knew, suddenly, that he had been right. The Staff had meant
that, then, when they looked at Johnny and shook their heads. The
Staff knew, the hospital knew. Every one knew but Doctor Willie. But
Doctor Willie had the case. Back in her little town Johnny's mother
was looking to Doctor Willie, believing in him, hoping through him.

That night Twenty-two slept, and Jane Brown lay awake. And down in H
ward Johnny Fraser had a bad spell at that hour toward dawn when the
vitality is low, and men die. He did not die, however. But the night
nurse recorded, "Pulse very thin and iregular," at four o'clock.

She, too, was not a famous speller.

During the next morning, while the ward rolled bandages, having
carefully scrubbed its hands first, Jane Brown wrote records - she
did it rather well now - and then arranged the pins in the ward
pincushion. She made concentric circles of safety-pins outside and
common pins inside, with a large H in the centre. But her mind was
not on this artistic bit of creation. It was on Johnny Fraser.

She made up her mind to speak to Doctor Willie.

Twenty-two had got over his sulking or his jealousy, or whatever it
was, and during the early hours, those hours when Johnny was hardly
breathing, he had planned something. He thought that he did it to
interest the patients and make them contented, but somewhere in the
back of his mind he knew it was to see more of Jane Brown. He
planned a concert in the chapel.

So that morning he took Elizabeth, the plaster cast, back to H ward,
where Jane Brown was fixing the pincushion, and had a good minute of
feasting his eyes on her while she was sucking a jabbed finger. She
knew she should have dipped the finger in a solution, but habit is
strong in most of us.

Twenty-two had a wild desire to offer to kiss the finger and make it
well. This, however, was not habit. It was insanity. He recognised
this himself, and felt more than a trifle worried about it, because
he had been in love quite a number of times before, but he had never
had this sort of feeling.

He put the concert up to her with a certain amount of anxiety. If
she could sing, or play, or recite - although he hoped she would not
recite - all would be well. But if she refused to take any part, he
did not intend to have a concert. That was flat.

"I can play," she said, making a neat period after the H on the
pincushion.

He was awfully relieved.

"Good," he said. "You know, I like the way you say that. It's
so - well, it's so competent." He got out a notebook and wrote "Miss
Brown, piano selections."

It was while he was writing that Jane Brown had a sort of mental
picture - the shabby piano at home, kicked below by many childish
feet, but mellow and sweet, like an old violin, and herself sitting
practising, over and over, that part of Paderewski's Minuet where,
as every one knows, the fingering is rather difficult, and outside
the open window, leaning on his broom, worthless Johnny Fraser,
staring in with friendly eyes and an extremely dirty face. To
Twenty-two's unbounded amazement she flung down the cushion and made
for the little ward linen room.

He found her there a moment later, her arms outstretched on the
table and her face buried in them. Some one had been boiling a
rubber tube and had let the pan go dry. Ever afterward Twenty-two
was to associate the smell of burning rubber with Jane Brown, and
with his first real knowledge that he was in love with her.

He stumped in after her and closed the door, and might have ruined
everything then and there by taking her in his arms, crutch and
all. But the smell of burning rubber is a singularly permeating one,
and he was kept from one indiscretion by being discovered in
another.

It was somewhat later that Jane Brown was reprimanded for being
found in the linen room with a private patient. She made no excuse,
but something a little defiant began to grow in her eyes. It was not
that she loved her work less. She was learning, day by day, the
endless sacrifices of this profession she had chosen, its
unselfishness, its grinding hard work, the payment that may lie in a
smile of gratitude, the agony of pain that cannot be relieved. She
went through her days with hands held out for service, and at night,
in the chapel, she whispered soundless little prayers to be
accepted, and to be always gentle and kind. She did not want to
become a machine. She knew, although she had no words for it, the
difference between duty and service.

But - a little spirit of rebellion was growing in her breast. She did
not understand about Johnny Fraser, for one thing. And the matter of
the linen room hurt. There seemed to be too many rules.

Then, too, she began to learn that hospitals had limitations. Jane
Brown's hospital had no social worker. Much as she loved the work,
the part that the hospital could not do began to hurt her. Before
the quarantine women with new babies had gone out, without an idea
of where to spend the night. Ailing children had gone home to such
places as she could see from the dormitory windows, where the work
the hospital had begun could not be finished.

From the roof of the building at night she looked out over a city
that terrified her. The call of a playing child in the street began
to sound to her like the shriek of accident. The very grinding of
the trolley cars, the smoke of the mills, began to mean the
operating room. She thought a great deal, those days, about the
little town she had come from, with its peace and quiet streets. The
city seemed cruel. But now and then she learned that if cities are
cruel, men are kind.

Thus, on the very day of the concert, the quarantine was broken for
a few minutes. It was broken forcibly, and by an officer of the law.
A little newsie, standing by a fire at the next corner, for the
spring day was cold, had caught fire. The big corner man had seen it
all. He stripped off his overcoat, rolled the boy in it, and ran to
the hospital. Here he was confronted by a brother officer, who was
forbidden to admit him. The corner man did the thing that seemed
quickest. He laid the newsie on the ground, knocked out the
quarantine officer in two blows, broke the glass of the door with a
third, slipped a bolt, and then, his burden in his arms, stalked in.

It did not lessen the majesty of that entrance that he was crying
all the time.

The Probationer pondered that story when she heard it. After all,
laws were right and good, but there were higher things than laws.
She went and stood by Johnny's bed for a long time, thinking.

In the meantime, unexpected talent for the concert had developed.
The piano in the chapel proving out of order, the elevator man
proved to have been a piano tuner. He tuned it with a bone forceps.
Strange places, hospitals, into which drift men from every walk of
life, to find a haven and peace within their quiet walls. Old Tony
had sung, in his youth, in the opera at Milan. A pretty young nurse
went around the corridors muttering bits of "Orphant Annie" to
herself. The Senior Surgical Interne was to sing the "Rosary," and
went about practising to himself. He came into H ward and sang it
through for Jane Brown, with his heart in his clear young eyes. He
sang about the hours he had spent with her being strings of pearls,
and all that, but he was really asking her if she would be willing
to begin life with him in a little house, where she would have to
answer the door-bell and watch telephone calls while he was out.

Jane Brown felt something of this, too. For she said: "You sing it
beautifully," although he had flatted at least three times.

He wrote his name on a medicine label and glued it to her hand. It
looked alarmingly possessive.

Twenty-two presided at the concert that night. He was extravagantly
funny, and the sort of creaking solemnity with which things began
turned to uproarious laughter very soon.

Everything went off wonderfully. Tony started his selection too
high, and was obliged to stop and begin over again. And the two
Silversteins, from the children's ward, who were to dance a Highland
fling together, had a violent quarrel at the last moment and had to
be scratched. But everything else went well. The ambulance driver
gave a bass solo, and kept a bar or two ahead of the accompaniment,
dodging chords as he did wagons on the street, and fetching up with
a sort of garrison finish much as he brought in the ambulance.

But the real musical event of the evening was Jane Brown's playing.
She played Schubert without any notes, because she had been taught
to play Schubert that way.

And when they called her back, she played little folk songs of the
far places of Europe. Standing around the walls, in wheeled chairs,
on crutches, pale with the hospital pallor, these aliens in their
eddy listened and thrilled. Some of them wept, but they smiled also.

At the end she played the Minuet, with a sort of flaming look in
her eyes that puzzled Twenty-two. He could not know that she was
playing it to Johnny Fraser, lying with closed eyes in the ward
upstairs. He did not realise that there was a passion of sacrifice
throbbing behind the dignity of the music.

Doctor Willie had stayed over for the concert. He sat, beaming
benevolently, in the front row, and toward the end he got up and
told some stories. After all, it was Doctor Willie who was the real
hit of the evening. The convalescents rocked with joy in their
roller chairs. Crutches came down in loud applause. When he sat down
he slipped a big hand over Jane Brown's and gave hers a hearty
squeeze.

"How d'you like me as a parlour entertainer, Nellie?" he whispered.

She put her other hand over his. Somehow she could not speak.

The First Assistant called to the Probationer that night as she went
past her door. Lights were out, so the First Assistant had a candle,
and she was rubbing her feet with witch hazel.

"Come in," she called. "I have been looking for you. I have some
news for you."

The exaltation of the concert had died away. Jane Brown, in the
candle light, looked small and tired and very, very young.

"We have watched you carefully," said the First Assistant, who had
her night garments on but had forgotten to take off her cap.
"Although you are young, you have shown ability, and - you are to be
accepted."

"Thank you, very much," replied Jane Brown, in a strangled tone.

"At first," said the First Assistant, "we were not sure. You were
very young, and you had such odd ideas. You know that yourself now."

She leaned down and pressed a sore little toe with her forefinger.
Then she sighed. The mention of Jane Brown's youth had hurt her,
because she was no longer very young. And there were times when she
was tired, when it seemed to her that only youth counted. She felt
that way to-night.

When Jane Brown had gone on, she blew out her candle and went to
bed, still in her cap.

Hospitals do not really sleep at night. The elevator man dozes in
his cage, and the night watchman may nap in the engineer's room in
the basement. But the night nurses are always making their sleepless
rounds, and in the wards, dark and quiet, restless figures turn and
sigh.

Before she went to bed that night, Jane Brown, by devious ways,
slipped back to her ward. It looked strange to her, this cavernous
place, filled with the unlovely noises of sleeping men. By the one
low light near the doorway she went back to Johnny's bed, and sat
down beside him. She felt that this was the place to think things
out. In her room other things pressed in on her; the necessity of
making good for the sake of those at home, her love of the work, and
cowardice. But here she saw things right.

The night nurse found her there some time later, asleep, her
hunting-case watch open on Johnny's bed and her fingers still on his
quiet wrist. She made no report of it.

Twenty-two had another sleepless night written in on his record that
night. He sat up and worried. He worried about the way the Senior
Surgical Interne had sung to Jane Brown that night. And he worried
about things he had done and shouldn't have, and things he should
have done and hadn't. Mostly the first. At five in the morning he
wrote a letter to his family telling them where he was, and that he
had been vaccinated and that the letter would be fumigated. He also
wrote a check for an artificial leg for the boy in the children's
ward, and then went to bed and put himself to sleep by reciting the
"Rosary" over and over. His last conscious thought was that the
hours he had spent with a certain person would not make much of a
string of pearls.

The Probationer went to Doctor Willie the next day. Some of the
exuberance of the concert still bubbled in him, although he shook
his head over Johnny's record.

"A little slow, Nellie," he said. "A little slow."

Jane Brown took a long breath.

"Doctor Willie," she said, "won't you have him operated on?"

He looked up at her over his spectacles.

"Operated on? What for?"

"Well, he's not getting any better," she managed desperately.
"I'm - sometimes I think he'll die while we're waiting for him to get
better."

He was surprised, but he was not angry.

"There's no fracture, child," he said gently. "If there is a clot
there, nature is probably better at removing it than we are. The
trouble with you," he said indulgently, "is that you have come here,
where they operate first and regret afterward. Nature is the best
surgeon, child."

She cast about her despairingly for some way to tell him the truth.
But even when she spoke she knew she was foredoomed to failure.

"But - suppose the Staff thinks that he should be?"

Doctor Willie's kindly mouth set itself into grim lines.

"The Staff!" he said, and looked at her searchingly. Then his jaws
set at an obstinate angle.

"Well, Nellie," he said, "I guess one opinion's as good as another
in these cases. And I don't suppose they'll do any cutting and
hacking without my consent." He looked at Johnny's unconscious
figure. "He never amounted to much," he added, "but it's surprising
the way money's been coming in to pay his board here. Your mother
sent five dollars. A good lot of people are interested in him. I
can't see myself going home and telling them he died on the
operating table."

He patted her on the arm as he went out.

"Don't get an old head on those young shoulders yet, Nellie," he
said as he was going. "Leave the worrying to me. I'm used to it."

She saw then that to him she was still a little girl. She probably
would always be just a little girl to him. He did not take her
seriously, and no one else would speak to him. She was quite
despairing.

The ward loved Doctor Willie since the night before. It watched him
out with affectionate eyes. Jane Brown watched him, too, his fine
old head, the sturdy step that had brought healing and peace to a
whole county. She had hurt him, she knew that. She ached at the
thought of it. And she had done no good.

That afternoon Jane Brown broke another rule. She went to Twenty-two
on her off duty, and caused a mild furore there. He had been drawing
a sketch of her from memory, an extremely poor sketch, with one eye
larger than the other. He hid it immediately, although she could not
possibly have recognised it, and talked very fast to cover his
excitement.

"Well, well!" he said. "I knew I was going to have some luck to-day.
My right hand has been itching - or is that a sign of money?" Then he
saw her face, and reduced his speech to normality, if not his heart.

"Come and sit down," he said. "And tell me about it."

But she would not sit down. She went to the window and looked out
for a moment. It was from there she said:

"I have been accepted."

"Good." But he did not, apparently, think it such good news. He drew
a long breath. "Well, I suppose your friends should be glad for
you."

"I didn't come to talk about being accepted," she announced.

"I don't suppose, by any chance, you came to see how I am getting
along?" he inquired humbly.

"I can see that."

"You can't see how lonely I am." When she offered nothing to this
speech, he enlarged on it. "When it gets unbearable," he said, "I
sit in front of the mirror and keep myself company. If that doesn't
make your heart ache, nothing will."

"I'm afraid I have a heart-ache, but it is not that." For a
terrible moment he thought of that theory of his which referred to a
disappointment in love. Was she going to have the unbelievable
cruelty to tell him about it?

"I have to talk to somebody," she said simply. "And I came to you,
because you've worked on a newspaper, and you have had a lot of
experience. It's - a matter of ethics. But really it's a matter of
life and death."

He felt most horribly humble before her, and he hated the lie,
except that it had brought her to him. There was something so direct
and childlike about her. The very way she drew a chair in front of
him, and proceeded, talking rather fast, to lay the matter before
him, touched him profoundly. He felt, somehow, incredibly old and
experienced.

And then, after all that, to fail her!

"You see how it is," she finished. "I can't go to the Staff, and
they wouldn't do anything if I did - except possibly put me out.
Because a nurse really only follows orders. And - I've got to stay,
if I can. And Doctor Willie doesn't believe in an operation and


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Online LibraryMary Roberts RinehartLove Stories → online text (page 3 of 17)