Eleanor Hallowell Abbott.

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The White Linen Nurse

By Eleanor Hallowell Abbott

Author of "Molly Make-Believe," "The Sick-a-Bed Lady," etc., etc.

1913




TO MAURICE HOWE RICHARDSON

WHO LOVED ROMANCE ALMOST AS MUCH AS HE LOVED SURGERY, THIS LITTLE STORY
IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED IN TOKEN OF TWO PERSONS' UNFADING MEMORIES




THE WHITE LINEN NURSE




CHAPTER I


The White Linen Nurse was so tired that her noble expression ached.

Incidentally her head ached and her shoulders ached and her lungs ached
and the ankle-bones of both feet ached quite excruciatingly. But nothing
of her felt permanently incapacitated except her noble expression. Like
a strip of lip-colored lead suspended from her poor little nose by two
tugging wire-gray wrinkles her persistently conscientious sickroom smile
seemed to be whanging aimlessly against her front teeth. The sensation
certainly was very unpleasant.

Looking back thus on the three spine-curving, chest-cramping,
foot-twinging, ether-scented years of her hospital training, it dawned
on the White Linen Nurse very suddenly that nothing of her ever had
felt permanently incapacitated except her noble expression!

Impulsively she sprang for the prim white mirror that capped her prim
white bureau and stood staring up into her own entrancing,
bright-colored Novia Scotian reflection with tense and unwonted
interest.

Except for the unmistakable smirk which fatigue had clawed into her
plastic young mouth-lines there was certainly nothing special the matter
with what she saw.

"Perfectly good face!" she attested judicially with no more than common
courtesy to her progenitors. "Perfectly good and tidy looking face! If
only - if only - " her breath caught a trifle. "If only - it didn't look so
disgustingly noble and - hygienic - and dollish!"

All along the back of her neck little sharp prickly pains began suddenly
to sting and burn.

"Silly - simpering - pink and white puppet!" she scolded squintingly,
"I'll teach you how to look like a real girl!"

Very threateningly she raised herself to her tiptoes and thrust her
glowing, corporeal face right up into the moulten, elusive,
quick-silver face in the mirror. Pink for pink, blue for blue, gold for
gold, dollish smirk for dollish smirk, the mirror mocked her seething
inner fretfulness.

"Why - darn you!" she gasped. "Why - darn you! Why, you looked more human
than that when you left the Annapolis Valley three years ago! There were
at least - tears in your face then, and - cinders, and - your mother's best
advice, and the worry about the mortgage, and - and - the blush of Joe
Hazeltine's kiss!"

Furtively with the tip of her index-finger she started to search her
imperturbable pink cheek for the spot where Joe Hazeltine's kiss had
formerly flamed.

"My hands are all right, anyway!" she acknowledged with infinite relief.
Triumphantly she raised both strong, stub-fingered, exaggeratedly
executive hands to the level of her childish blue eyes and stood
surveying the mirrored effect with ineffable satisfaction. "Why my hands
are - dandy!" she gloated. "Why they're perfectly - dandy! Why they're
wonderful! Why they're - ." Then suddenly and fearfully she gave a
shrill little scream. "But they don't go with my silly doll-face!" she
cried. "Why, they don't! They don't! They go with the Senior Surgeon's
scowling Heidelberg eyes! They go with the Senior Surgeon's grim gray
jaw! They go with the - ! Oh! what shall I do? What shall I do?"

Dizzily, with her stubby finger-tips prodded deep into every jaded
facial muscle that she could compass, she staggered towards the air, and
dropping down into the first friendly chair that bumped against her
knees, sat staring blankly out across the monotonous city roofs that
flanked her open window, - trying very, very hard for the first time in
her life, to consider the General-Phenomenon-of-Being-a-Trained-Nurse.

All around and about her, inexorable as anesthesia, horrid as the hush
of tomb or public library, lurked the painfully unmistakable sense of
institutional restraint. Mournfully to her ear from some remote kitcheny
region of pots and pans a browsing spoon tinkled forth from time to time
with soft-muffled resonance. Up and down every clammy white corridor
innumerable young feet, born to prance and stamp, were creeping
stealthily to and fro in rubber-heeled whispers. Along the somber
fire-escape just below her windowsill, like a covey of snubbed doves,
six or eight of her classmates were cooing and crooning together with
excessive caution concerning the imminent graduation exercises that were
to take place at eight o'clock that very evening. Beyond her dreariest
ken of muffled voices, beyond her dingiest vista of slate and brick, on
a far faint hillside, a far faint streak of April green went roaming
jocundly skyward. Altogether sluggishly, as though her nostrils were
plugged with warm velvet, the smell of spring and ether and scorched
mutton-chops filtered in and out, in and out, in and out, of her
abnormally jaded senses.

Taken all in all it was not a propitious afternoon for any girl as tired
and as pretty as the White Linen Nurse to be considering the general
phenomenon of anything - except April!

In the real country, they tell me, where the Young Spring runs wild and
bare as a nymph through every dull brown wood and hay-gray meadow, the
blasé farmer-lad will not even lift his eyes from the plow to watch the
pinkness of her passing. But here in the prudish brick-minded city where
the Young Spring at her friskiest is nothing more audacious than a
sweltering, winter-swathed madcap, who has impishly essayed some fine
morning to tiptoe down street in her soft, sloozily, green,
silk-stockinged feet, the whole hob-nailed population reels back aghast
and agrin before the most innocent flash of the rogue's green-veiled
toes. And then, suddenly snatching off its own cumbersome winter
foot-habits, goes chasing madly after her, in its own prankish,
vari-colored socks.

Now the White Linen Nurse's socks were black, and cotton at that, a
combination incontestably sedate. And the White Linen Nurse had waded
barefoot through too many posied country pastures to experience any
ordinary city thrill over the sight of a single blade of grass pushing
scarily through a crack in the pavement, or puny, concrete-strangled
maple tree flushing wanly to the smoky sky. Indeed for three hustling,
square-toed, rubber-heeled city years the White Linen Nurse had never
even stopped to notice whether the season was flavored with frost or
thunder. But now, unexplainably, just at the end of it all, sitting
innocently there at her own prim little bed-room window, staring
innocently out across indomitable roof-tops, - with the crackle of glory
and diplomas already ringing in her ears, - she heard, instead, for the
first time in her life, the gaily dare-devil voice of the spring, a
hoydenish challenge flung back at her, leaf-green, from the crest of a
winter-scarred hill.

"Hello, White Linen Nurse!" screamed the saucy city spring. "Hello,
White Linen Nurse! Take off your homely starched collar! Or your silly
candy-box cap! Or any other thing that feels maddeningly artificial! And
come out! And be very wild!"

Like a puppy dog cocking its head towards some strange, unfamiliar
sound, the White Linen Nurse cocked her head towards the lure of the
green-crested hill. Still wrestling conscientiously with the
General-Phenomenon-of-Being-a-Trained-Nurse she found her collar
suddenly very tight, the tiny cap inexpressibly heavy and vexatious.
Timidly she removed the collar - and found that the removal did not rest
her in the slightest. Equally timidly she removed the cap - and found
that even that removal did not rest her in the slightest. Then very,
very slowly, but very, very permeatingly and completely, it dawned on
the White Linen Nurse that never while eyes were blue, and hair gold,
and lips red, would she ever find rest again until she had removed her
noble expression!

With a jerk that started the pulses in her temples throbbing like two
toothaches she straightened up in her chair. All along the back of her
neck the little blonde curls began to crisp very ticklingly at their
roots.

Still staring worriedly out over the old city's slate-gray head to that
inciting prance of green across the farthest horizon she felt her whole
being kindle to an indescribable passion of revolt against all Hushed
Places. Seething with fatigue, smoldering with ennui, she experienced
suddenly a wild, almost incontrollable impulse to sing, to shout, to
scream from the housetops, to mock somebody, to defy everybody, to break
laws, dishes, heads, - anything in fact that would break with a crash!
And then at last, over the hills and far away, with all the outraged
world at her heels, to run! And run! And run! And run! And run! And
laugh! Till her feet raveled out! And her lungs burst! And there was
nothing more left of her at all, - ever - ever - any more!

Discordantly into this rapturously pagan vision of pranks and posies
broke one of her room-mates all awhiff with ether, awhirr with starch.

Instantly with the first creak of the door-handle the White Linen Nurse
was on her feet, breathless, resentful, grotesquely defiant.

"Get out of here, Zillah Forsyth!" she cried furiously. "Get out of
here - quick! - and leave me alone! I want to think!"

Perfectly serenely the newcomer advanced into the room. With her pale,
ivory-tinted cheeks, her great limpid brown eyes, her soft dark hair
parted madonna-like across her beautiful brow, her whole face was like
some exquisite, composite picture of all the saints of history. Her
voice also was amazingly tranquil.

"Oh, Fudge!" she drawled. "What's eating you, Rae Malgregor? I won't
either get out! It's my room just as much as it is yours! And Helene's
just as much as it is ours! And besides," she added more briskly, "it's
four o'clock now, and with graduation at eight and the dance afterwards,
if we don't get our stuff packed up now, when in thunder shall we get it
done?" Quite irrelevantly she began to laugh. Her laugh was perceptibly
shriller than her speaking voice. "Say, Rae!" she confided. "That
minister I nursed through pneumonia last winter wants me to pose as
'Sanctity' for a stained-glass window in his new church! Isn't he the
softie?"

"Shall - you - do - it?" quizzed Rae Malgregor a trifle tensely.

"Shall I do it?" mocked the newcomer. "Well, you just watch me! Four
mornings a week in June - at full week's wages? Fresh Easter lilies every
day? White silk angel-robes? All the high-souls and high-paints
kowtowing around me? Why it would be more fun than a box of monkeys!
Sure I'll do it!"

Expeditiously as she spoke the newcomer reached up for the framed motto
over her own ample mirror and yanking it down with one single tug began
to busy herself adroitly with a snarl in the picture-cord. Like a withe
of willow yearning over a brook her slender figure curved to the task.
Very scintillatingly the afternoon light seemed to brighten suddenly
across her lap. _You'll Be a Long Time Dead!_ glinted the motto through
its sun-dazzled glass.

Still panting with excitement, still bristling with resentment, Rae
Malgregor stood surveying the intrusion and the intruder. A dozen
impertinent speeches were rioting in her mind. Twice her mouth opened
and shut before she finally achieved the particular opprobrium that
completely satisfied her.

"Bah! You look like a - Trained Nurse!" she blurted forth at last with
hysterical triumph.

"So do you!" said the newcomer amiably.

With a little gasp of dismay Rae Malgregor sprang suddenly forward. Her
eyes were flooded with tears.

"Why, that's just exactly what's the matter with me!" she cried. "My
face is all worn out trying to look like a Trained Nurse! Oh, Zillah,
how do you know you were meant to be a Trained Nurse? How does anybody
know? Oh, Zillah! Save me! Save me!"

Languorously Zillah Forsyth looked up from her work, and laughed. Her
laugh was like the accidental tinkle of sleighbells in mid-summer,
vaguely disquieting, a shiver of frost across the face of a lily.

"Save you from what, you great big overgrown, tow-headed doll-baby?" she
questioned blandly. "For Heaven's sake, the only thing you need is to go
back to whatever toy-shop you came from and get a new head. What in
Creation's the matter with you lately, anyway? Oh, of course, you've had
rotten luck this past month, but what of it? That's the trouble with you
country girls. You haven't got any stamina."

With slow, shuffling-footed astonishment Rae Malgregor stepped out into
the center of the room. "Country girls," she repeated blankly. "Why,
you're a country girl yourself!"

"I _am_ not!" snapped Zillah Forsyth. "I'll have you understand that
there are nine thousand people in the town I come from - and not a rube
among them. Why I tended soda fountain in the swellest drug-store there
a whole year before I even thought of taking up nursing. And I wasn't as
green - when I was six months old - as you are now!"

Slowly with a soft-snuggling sigh of contentment she raised her slim
white fingers to coax her dusky hair a little looser, a little farther
down, a little more madonna-like across her sweet, mild forehead, then
snatching out abruptly at a convenient shirt-waist began with
extraordinary skill to apply its dangly lace sleeves as a protective
bandage for the delicate glass-faced motto still in her lap, placed the
completed parcel with inordinate scientific precision in the exact
corner of her packing-box, and then went on very diligently, very
zealously, to strip the men's photographs from the mirror on her bureau.
There were twenty-seven photographs in all, and for each one she had
already cut and prepared a small square of perfectly fresh, perfectly
immaculate white tissue wrapping-paper. No one so transcendently
fastidious, so exquisitely neat, in all her personal habits had ever
trained in that particular hospital before.

Very soberly the doll-faced girl stood watching the men's pleasant
paper countenances smooth away one by one into their chaste white
veilings, until at last quite without warning she poked an accusing,
inquisitive finger directly across Zillah Forsyth's shoulder.

"Zillah!" she demanded peremptorily. "All the year I've wanted to know!
All the year every other girl in our class has wanted to know! Where did
you ever get that picture of the Senior Surgeon? He never gave it to you
in the world! He didn't! He didn't! He's not that kind!"

Deeply into Zillah Forsyth's pale, ascetic cheek dawned a most amazing
dimple. "Sort of jarred you girls some, didn't it," she queried, "to see
me strutting round with a photo of the Senior Surgeon?" The little cleft
in her chin showed suddenly with almost startling distinctness. "Well,
seeing it's you," she grinned, "and the year's all over, and there's
nobody left that I can worry about it any more, I don't mind telling you
in the least that I - bought it out of a photographer's show-case!
There! Are you satisfied now?"

With easy nonchalance she picked up the picture in question and
scrutinized it shrewdly.

"Lord! What a face!" she attested. "Nothing but granite! Hack him with a
knife and he wouldn't bleed but just chip off into pebbles!" With
exaggerated contempt she shrugged her supple shoulders. "Bah! How I hate
a man like that! There's no fun in him!" A little abruptly she turned
and thrust the photograph into Rae Malgregor's hand. "You can have it if
you want to," she said. "I'll trade it to you for that lace corset-cover
of yours!"

Like water dripping through a sieve the photograph slid through Rae
Malgregor's frightened fingers. With nervous apology she stooped and
picked it up again and held it gingerly by one remotest corner. Her eyes
were quite wide with horror.

"Oh, of course I'd like the - picture, well enough," she stammered. "But
it wouldn't seem - exactly respectful to - to trade it for a
corset-cover."

"Oh, very well," drawled Zillah Forsyth. "Tear it up then!"

Expeditiously with frank, non-sentimental fingers Rae Malgregor tore the
tough cardboard across, and again across, and once again across, and
threw the conglomerate fragments into the waste-basket. And her
expression all the time was no more, no less, than the expression of a
person who would infinitely rather execute his own pet dog or cat than
risk the possible bungling of an outsider. Then like a small child
trotting with infinite relief to its own doll-house she trotted over to
her bureau, extracted the lace corset-cover, and came back with it in
her hand to lean across Zillah Forsyth's shoulder again and watch the
men's faces go slipping off into oblivion. Once again, abruptly without
warning, she halted the process with a breathless exclamation.

"Oh, of course this waist is the only one I've got with ribbons in it,"
she asserted irrelevantly. "But I'm perfectly willing to trade it for
that picture!" she pointed out with unmistakably explicit finger-tip.

Chucklingly Zillah Forsyth withdrew the special photograph from its
half-completed wrappings.

"Oh! Him?" she said. "Oh, that's a chap I met on the train last summer.
He's a brakeman or something. He's a - "

Perfectly unreluctantly Rae Malgregor dropped the fluff of lace and
ribbons into Zillah's lap and reached out with cheerful voraciousness to
annex the young man's picture to her somewhat bleak possessions. "Oh, I
don't care a rap who he is," she interrupted briskly. "But he's sort of
cute-looking, and I've got an empty frame at home just that odd size,
and Mother's crazy for a new picture to stick up over the kitchen
mantelpiece. She gets so tired of seeing nothing but the faces of people
she knows all about."

Sharply Zillah Forsyth turned and stared up into the younger girl's
face, and found no guile to whet her stare against.

"Well of all the ridiculous - unmitigated greenhorns!" she began.
"Well - is that all you wanted him for? Why, I supposed you wanted to
write to him! Why, I supposed - "

For the first time an expression not altogether dollish darkened across
Rae Malgregor's garishly juvenile blondeness.

"Maybe I'm not quite as green as you think I am!" she flared up
stormily. With this sharp flaring-up every single individual pulse in
her body seemed to jerk itself suddenly into conscious activity again
like the soft, plushy pound-pound-pound of a whole stocking-footed
regiment of pain descending single file upon her for her hysterical
undoing. "Maybe I've had a good deal more experience than you give me
credit for!" she hastened excitedly to explain. "I tell you - I tell you
I've been engaged!" she blurted forth with a bitter sort of triumph.

With a palpable flicker of interest Zillah Forsyth looked back across
her shoulder. "Engaged? How many times?" she asked quite bluntly.

As though the whole monogamous groundwork of civilization was threatened
by the question, Rae Malgregor's hands went clutching at her breast.
"Why, once!" she gasped. "Why, once!"

Convulsively Zillah Forsyth began to rock herself to and fro. "Oh
Lordy!" she chuckled. "Oh Lordy, Lordy! Why I've been engaged four times
just this past year!" In a sudden passion of fastidiousness she bent
down over the particular photograph in her hand and snatching at a
handkerchief began to rub diligently at a small smouch of dust in one
corner of the cardboard. Something in the effort of rubbing seemed to
jerk her small round chin into almost angular prominence. "And before
I'm through," she added, at least two notes below her usual alto tones,
"And before I'm through - I'm going to get engaged to - every profession
that there is on the surface of the globe!" Quite helplessly the thin
paper skin of the photograph peeled off in company with the smouch of
dust. "And when I marry," she ejaculated fiercely, "and when I
marry - I'm going to marry a man who will take me to every place that
there is - on the surface of the globe! And after that - !"

"After what?" interrogated a brand new voice from the doorway.




CHAPTER II


It was the other room-mate this time. The only real aristocrat in
the whole graduating class, high-browed, high-cheekboned, - eyes like
some far-sighted young prophet, - mouth even yet faintly arrogant
with the ineradicable consciousness of caste, - a plain, eager,
stripped-for-a-long-journey type of face, - this was Helene Churchill.
There was certainly no innocuous bloom of country hills and pastures in
this girl's face, nor any seething small-town passion pounding
indiscriminately at all the doors of experience. The men and women who
had bred Helene Churchill had been the breeders also of brick and
granite cities since the world was new.

Like one infinitely more accustomed to treading on Persian carpets than
on painted floors she came forward into the room.

"Hello, children!" she said casually, and began at once without further
parleying to take down the motto that graced her own bureau-top.

It was the era when almost everybody in the world had a motto over his
bureau. Helene Churchill's motto was: _Inasmuch As Ye Have Done It Unto
One Of The Least Of These Ye Have Done It Unto Me_. On a scroll of
almost priceless parchment the text was illuminated with inimitable
Florentine skill and color. A little carelessly, after the manner of
people quite accustomed to priceless things, she proceeded now to roll
the parchment into its smallest possible circumference, humming
exclusively to herself all the while an intricate little air from an
Italian opera.

So the three faces foiled each other, sober city girl, pert town girl,
bucolic country girl, - a hundred fundamental differences rampant between
them, yet each fervid, adolescent young mouth tamed to the same
monotonous, drolly exaggerated expression of complacency that
characterizes the faces of all people who, in a distinctive uniform, for
a reasonably satisfactory living wage, make an actual profession of
righteous deeds.

Indeed among all the thirty or more varieties of noble expression which
an indomitable Superintendent had finally succeeded in inculcating into
her graduating class, no other physiognomies had responded more
plastically perhaps than these three to the merciless imprint of the
great _hospital machine_ which, in pursuance of its one repetitive
design, _discipline_, had coaxed Zillah Forsyth into the semblance of a
lady, snubbed Helene Churchill into the substance of plain womanhood,
and, still uncertain just what to do with Rae Malgregor's rollicking
rural immaturity, had frozen her face temporarily into the smugly
dimpled likeness of a fancy French doll rigged out as a nurse for some
gilt-edged hospital fair.

With characteristic desire to keep up in every way with her more mature,
better educated classmates, to do everything, in fact, so fast, so well,
that no one should possibly guess that she hadn't yet figured out just
why she was doing it at all, Rae Malgregor now with quickly readjusted
cap and collar began to hurl herself into the task of her own packing.
From her open bureau drawer, with a sudden impish impulse towards
worldly wisdom, she extracted first of all the photograph of the young
brakeman.

"See, Helene! My new beau!" she giggled experimentally.

In mild-eyed surprise Helene Churchill glanced up from her work. "_Your_
beau?" she corrected. "Why, that's Zillah's picture."

"Well, it's mine now!" snapped Rae Malgregor with unexpected edginess.
"It's mine now all right. Zillah said I could have him! Zillah said I
could - write to him - if I wanted to!" she finished a bit breathlessly.

Wider and wider Helene Churchill's eyes dilated. "Write to a man - whom
you don't know?" she gasped. "Why, Rae! Why, it isn't even - very
nice - to have a picture of a man you don't know!"

Mockingly to the edge of her strong white teeth Rae Malgregor's tongue
crept out in pink derision. "Bah!" she taunted. "What's 'nice'? That's
the whole matter with you, Helene Churchill! You never stop to consider
whether anything's fun or not; all you care is whether it's 'nice'!"
Excitedly she turned to meet the cheap little wink from Zillah's
sainted eyes. "Bah! What's 'nice'?" she persisted a little lamely. Then
suddenly all the pertness within her crumbled into nothingness.
"That's - the - whole trouble with you, Zillah Forsyth!" she stammered.
"You never give a hang whether anything's nice or not; all you care is


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