AUNT JANE ***
Produced by Annie R. McGuire. This book was produced from
scanned images of public domain material from the Google
AUTHOR OF "UNCLE WILLIAM,"
"THE WOMAN IN THE ALCOVE," ETC.
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
GERALD STANLEY LEE
"Aunt Jane, what are you thinking of?" The young man turned his head a
little on the pillow to look inquiringly toward the door.
It was the door of Room 24 leading into the Men's Ward. Aunt Jane had
been standing there for five minutes, gazing intently before her into
space. The serene face framed in the white muslin cap had a rapt,
waiting look. It reminded the young man of a German madonna that he had
run across last summer in an old gallery corner, whose face had haunted
him. "Aunt Jane, what are you thinking about?" he repeated gently.
She turned slowly toward him, the placid look breaking into twinkles. "I
was thinking I'd better turn Mr. Ketchell's mattress the other end to,
and put a bolster under the upper end. It kind of sags."
For a moment the young man on the pillow looked a little bewildered.
Then he lay back and laughed till the iron bedstead rang and the men in
the ward pricked up their ears and smiled in sympathy.
Aunt Jane smiled too, stepping leisurely toward him.
"There, there," she said as she adjusted the sheet and lowered his
pillow a trifle: "I don't know as I'd laugh any more about that. 'Tisn't
so very funny to change a mattress the other end to."
He raised a hand and wiped the laughter from either eye. "But you looked
as if you were thinking of angels and cherubim and things, Aunt Jane."
She nodded placidly. "I generally do," she responded, "but that doesn't
hinder knowing about mattresses and bolsters.... I wouldn't laugh any
more for a day or two if I was you. The bandages might get loose." She
slipped a careless hand along his forehead, gathered up a cup and plate
from the stand beside him, and slid plumply from the room.
His eyes followed her through the door, down the long ward as she
stopped here and there for a word or a question. Once she raised her
hand sternly at a bed and sniffed. The cap strings bristled fiercely.
"He's catching it," muttered the young man from the private room. "I
knew he would. You can't keep a baccy-pouch in the same room with Aunt
Jane." He sighed a little and glanced, without turning his head, toward
the window where the spring clouds sailed and filled with swelling
whiteness. A breath of freshness stole in softly. On the sill was a bowl
of pansies. He lay looking at them idly. His lids fluttered and
closed - and lifted again and fell shut.
Out in the ward the men were laughing and talking. Sanderson, robbed of
his baccy-pouch, was sullen and resentful and the men were chaffing him.
Aunt Jane drifted through the swing-door at the end of the ward. She
placed the cup and plate on a dumb-waiter and crossed the hall to the
Women's Ward. A nurse met her as she came in the door. "Mrs. Crosby is
worse. Temperature a hundred and four," she said in a low voice.
Aunt Jane nodded. She went slowly down the ward. White faces on the
pillows greeted her and followed her. Aunt Jane beamed on them. She
stopped beside a young girl and bent over to speak to her. The girl's
face lighted. It lost its fretted look. Aunt Jane had told her that she
was to have a chop for her dinner if she was a good girl, and that there
was a robin out in the apple-tree. She turned her gaunt eyes toward the
window. Her face listened. Aunt Jane went on.... A nurse coming in
handed her a slip of paper. She glanced at it and tucked it into her
dress. It was a telephone message from Dr. Carmon, asking to have the
operating-room ready for an appendicitis case in ten minutes.
The girl with the gaunt eyes called to her:
"Aunt Jane!" The voice was weak and impatient.
Aunt Jane turned slowly back. She stood by the bed, looking down with a
The girl thrust an impatient hand under her cheek: "Can I hear him in
here?" she demanded.
Aunt Jane glanced toward the window.
"The robin? Like enough, if he flies this way. I'll go out and chase him
'round by and by when I get time."
The girl laughed - a low, pleased laugh. Aunt Jane's tone had drawn a
picture for her: The robin, the flying cap strings in swift pursuit, and
all outdoors - birds and trees and sky. She nestled her face on her hand
and smiled quietly. "I'm going to be good," she said.
Aunt Jane looked at her with a severe twinkle. "Yes, you'll be
good - till next time," she remarked.
The nurse by the door waited, impatient. Aunt Jane came across the room.
"Get 15 ready.... Find the new nurse," she said. "Send her to the
operating-room.... Send Henry to the ambulance door.... Tell Miss
Staunton to have things hot, and put out the new ether cones. It wants
fresh carbolic and plenty of sponges."
The nurse sped swiftly away.
Aunt Jane looked peacefully around. She gave one or two instructions to
the ward nurse, talked a moment with one of the patients, smiled a kind
of general benediction on the beds and faces and sun-lit room, and went
quietly out.... At the door of the operating-room she paused a moment
and gave a slow, comfortable glance about. She changed the position of
a stand and rearranged the ether cones.
The next minute she was standing at the side door greeting Dr. Carmon.
The ambulance was at the door.
"It's a bad case," he said. "Waited too long."
"Woman, I suppose," said Aunt Jane. She was watching the men as they put
the trestles in place.
He looked at her. "How did you know?"
"They're 'most always the ones to wait. They stand the pain better'n
men." She stepped to one side with a quiet glance at the litter as the
men bore it past. "She'll come through," she said as they followed it up
the low stairway.
"I wish I felt as sure," responded Dr. Carmon.
Aunt Jane glanced back. A man was standing at the door, his eyes
following them. She looked inquiringly toward the doctor.
"Her husband," he said. "He's going to wait."
Aunt Jane spoke a word to a nurse who was coming down the stairs, with
a motion of her hand toward the man waiting below.
The little procession entered the operating-room, and the door was
It was a current belief that the Berkeley House of Mercy belonged to
Aunt Jane; and I am not at all sure that Aunt Jane did not think so
herself - at times.
The hospital had been endowed by a rich patient in gratitude for
recovery from a painful disease. She had wished to reward the surgeon
who had cured her. And when Dr. Carmon had refused to accept anything
beyond the very generous fee he had charged for the operation, she had
built the hospital - over which he was to have absolute control. There
was a nominal board of directors, and other physicians might bring their
patients there. But Dr. Carmon was to be in control.
The surgeon had not cared for a fortune. Dr. Carmon was not married; he
had no wife and children to tie him down to a fortune. But a hospital
equipped to his fingers' ends was a different matter and he had accepted
Dr. Carmon had not always found it easy to get on with the surgical
staff of his old hospital; partly perhaps, as Aunt Jane always
maintained, because he was "too fond of having his own way"; and partly
because he was of the type that must break ground. There were things
that Dr. Carmon saw and wanted to do. And there was always a flock of
malcontents at hand to peck at him if he did them.
He accepted the Berkeley House of Mercy with a sense of relief and with
the understanding that he was to be in absolute control. And he in turn
had installed Aunt Jane as matron of the hospital - not with the
understanding that she was to be in absolute control, but as being, on
the whole, the most sensible woman of his acquaintance.
The result had not been altogether what Dr. Carmon had foreseen.
Gradually he had awakened to the fact that the hospital and everything
connected with it was under the absolute control - not of Dr. Frederic
Carmon, but of Aunt Jane Holbrook. Each member of the white-capped corps
of nurses looked to her for direction; and the cook and the man who ran
the furnace refused to take orders from any one else. It was no unusual
sight for the serene, white-framed face, with its crisp strings, to
appear among the pipes and elbows of the furnace-room and leave behind
it a whiff of common sense and a series of hints on the running of the
hot-water boiler. Even Dr. Carmon himself never brought a patient to the
House of Mercy without asking humble and solicitous permission of Aunt
Jane. It was not known that she had ever refused him, pointblank. But
she sometimes protested with a shrewd twinkle in her eye: "Oh, I can't
have that Miss Enderby here. She's always wanting to have her own way
about things!" Then Dr. Carmon would laugh and bring the patient.
Perhaps he gave her a hint beforehand. Perhaps the fame of Aunt Jane's
might had reached her. Perhaps it was the cool, firm fingers....
Whatever the reason, it is safe to say that Miss Enderby did not once
have her own way from the day that she was carried into the wide doors
of the House of Mercy, a sick and querulous woman, to the day when she
left it with firm, quick step and, turning back at the door to fall with
a sob on Aunt Jane's neck, was met with a gentle little push and a quick
flash from the white-capped face. "There, there, Miss Enderby, you run
right along. There's nothin' upsets folks like sayin' good-by. You come
back some day and say it when you're feeling pretty well."
Aunt Jane was thinking, as she went along the wide corridor to Room 15,
that the new patient was not unlike Miss Enderby.
It was an hour since the operation and Aunt Jane had been in to see the
patient two or three times; as she had stood looking down at her, the
resemblance to Miss Enderby had come to her mind. There was the same
inflexible tightening of the lips and the same contracted look of the
high, level brows.
A nurse coming down the corridor stopped respectfully.
"Dr. Carmon has finished his visits," she said. "He asks me to say he is
in your office - when you are ready."
Aunt Jane nodded absently. She went on to Room 15 and looked in at the
door. The patient lay with closed eyes, a half-querulous expression on
the high brows, and the corners of her lips sharply drawn. Aunt Jane
crossed the floor lightly and bent to listen to the breathing from the
The eyes opened slowly. "It's you!" said the woman.
"Comfortable?" asked Aunt Jane. She ran her hand along the querulous
forehead and straightened the clothes a little. "You'll feel better
pretty soon now."
"Stay with me," said the woman sharply.
Aunt Jane shook her head: "I'll be back by and by. You lie still and be
good. That's the way to get well."
She drifted from the room and the woman's eyes closed slowly. Something
of the fretted look had left her face.
Aunt Jane stepped out into the wide, sun-lit corridor and moved serenely
on. Her tall figure and plump back had a comfortable look as she went.
One of the men in the ward had said that Aunt Jane went on casters; and
it was the Irishman in the bed next him who had retorted: "It's wings
that you mean - two little wings to the feet of her - or however could she
get along, at all, without putting foot to the floor!"
However she managed it, Aunt Jane came and went noiselessly; and when
she chose, she could move from one end of the corridor to the other as
swiftly as if indeed there had been "two little wings to the feet of
She was not hurrying now. She stopped at one or two doors for a glance,
gave directions to a nurse who passed with a tray, and went leisurely on
to the office.
Over by the window, Dr. Carmon, his gloves in his hand, was standing
with his back to the room, waiting.
Aunt Jane glanced at the back and sat down. "Did you want to see me?"
she inquired pleasantly.
He wheeled about. "I have been waiting five minutes to see you," he said
"The man in Number 20 is coming along first-rate," replied Aunt Jane. "I
never saw a better first intention."
The doctor glared at her. His face cleared a little. "He _is_ doing
"I want you to put Miss Wildman on the case," he added.
"She's put down to go on at eleven," responded Aunt Jane.
"Humph!" He drew out his note-book and looked at it. "I suppose you
knew I'd want her."
"I thought she'd better go on," said Aunt Jane serenely.
"And Miss Canfield needs to go off - for a good rest. I shall need her on
Tuesday. There are two cases" - he consulted his notes - "a Mrs.
Pelton - she'll go into the ward - after a few days."
"Poor," said Aunt Jane.
"Yes. And Herman G. Medfield - - "
"He's not poor," interposed Aunt Jane. "He could give us a new wing for
contagion when he gets well."
The doctor scowled a little. Perhaps it was the unconscious "us."
Perhaps he was thinking that Herman G. Medfield had scant chance to give
the new wing for contagion.... And a sudden sense that a great deal
depended on him and that he was very tired had perhaps come over the
Aunt Jane touched the bell by her table. "You sit down, Dr. Carmon," she
Dr. Carmon picked up his hat. "I have to go," he replied brusquely.
"You sit down," said Aunt Jane.
He seated himself with a half smile. When Aunt Jane chose to make you
like what she was doing...!
The white-coated boy who came, took an order for meat broth and
sandwiches and returned with them promptly.
"You're tired out," said Aunt Jane, as she arranged the dishes on the
swing-leaf to the desk. "Up all night, I suppose?"
"No." The doctor nibbled at a sandwich. Then he broke off a generous
piece and swallowed it and drank a little of the hot broth.
She watched him placidly.
He was a short, dark man with a dark mustache that managed, somehow, at
once to bristle and to droop. His clothes were shabby and creased with
little folds and wrinkles across the ample front, and he sat well
forward in his chair to eat the sandwiches.
There was something a little grotesque about him perhaps.
But to Aunt Jane's absent-minded gaze, it may be, there was nothing
grotesque in the short, stout figure, eating its sandwiches.... She had
seen it too many times roused to fierce struggle, holding death at arm's
length and fighting, inch by inch, for a life that was slipping away. To
her Dr. Carmon was not so much a man, as a mighty gripping force that
did things when you needed him.
"I suppose I _was_ hungry," he said.
He picked up the last crumb of sandwich and smiled at her.
Aunt Jane nodded. "You needed something to eat."
"And some one to tell me to eat it," he replied. And with the words he
The next minute Aunt Jane, sitting in the office, heard the warning toot
of his motor as it turned the corner of the next street and was off for
the day's work.
In the reception-room a man was waiting. He was thick-set, with dark
hair and eyes and an obstinate chin. He looked up with a doubtful flash
as Aunt Jane came in.
"How is she?" he demanded. He had sprung to his feet.
Aunt Jane descended into a creaking chair and folded her hands quietly.
"Sit down, Mr. Dalton," she said; "I'm going to tell you all about it."
The words seemed to promise limitless details.
He sat down, chafing a little and looking at her eagerly.
She smiled on him. "Hard work waiting, isn't it?" she said.
His face broke a little.
"Has she come out of it?"
Aunt Jane nodded. "Yes, she's got through." She rocked a little in the
big chair. "She's standing it pretty well, considering," she added after
"Will she get well?" The question burst at her.
She looked up at him slowly - at the dark eyes and obstinate chin. "I
don't know," she said. She waited a minute. "I suppose you'd rather know
the truth," she asked.
"Yes - yes."
"I thought so." The muslin strings nodded. "When my husband died they
didn't let us know how sick he was. I've always thought we might have
saved him - between us - if we'd known. They wanted to spare my feelings."
She looked at him inquiringly.
"Yes." He waited a little less impatiently. The world was a big place.
Everybody died.... Would Edith die?... He looked at her imploringly.
She returned the look with one full of gentleness. "I don't see how
she's going to live," she said slowly. The face under its white cap took
on a trance-like look. The eyes were fixed on something unseen. She drew
a quick breath.... "But I guess she will," she said with a tremulous
The man's lips parted.
She looked at him again. "If I were you, Mr. Dalton, I'd go home and
feel pretty big and strong and well, and I'd hope pretty hard."
He looked at her, bewildered.
She was on her feet. She ran her eye over his face and person. "I'd wear
the cleanest, freshest clothes I could get, and I'd look so 'twould do
her good just to set eyes on me."
He flushed under the two days' growth of beard and ran his hand
awkwardly across his chin. "But they won't let me see her?" he said.
"Well, I don't know," responded Aunt Jane. "It'll do her good - whether
she sees you or not," she added energetically.
He rose with a smile, holding out his hand. "I believe you're right," he
said. "It gives me something to do, anyway, and that's worth a good
"Yes, it's something to do," she responded, "and I don't suppose any of
us knows just what cures folks."
"Could I see her to-morrow, perhaps?" he asked, watching her face.
She shook her head emphatically. "Not till I think best," she replied
His face fell.
"And not then," she said, "unless you're feeling pretty well and strong
He gave a little abrupt laugh. "Oh, you've fixed that all right. I
shan't sigh - not once - in a dark room - with the lights out."
Aunt Jane smiled serenely. "That's good." At the door she paused a
moment. "I wouldn't reckon too much on seeing her," she said. "I shan't
let any one see her till she asks. She won't pay much attention for
three-four days yet."
A peculiar look crossed the man's dark face. "That's all right," he
said. "I can wait."
Outside the door he lifted his face a little to the fresh breeze. His
eyes stared absently at the drifting sky. "Now, how did she know Edith
wouldn't want to see me?" he said softly: "how did she find that out?"
Aunt Jane bent her head and listened to the heavy breathing. Then she
spoke softly to the nurse in charge, who listened obediently and went
away. It was not an unusual thing for Aunt Jane to assume control of a
case at any moment. Perhaps she was most likely to do this about three
or four o'clock in the morning when all the hospital was asleep and a
chill had crept into the air. The nurse in charge of a critical case
would look up to find Aunt Jane standing beside her, fresh from a cold
bath, with a smile on her big, restful face and a whispered command on
her lips that sent the tired nurse to bed with a clear conscience.
The patients that Aunt Jane assumed in this peremptory fashion always
recovered. Perhaps they would have recovered in any case. This is one of
the things that no one knows. It may be noted, however, in passing, that
the patients themselves as they came into the new day, holding fast to
Aunt Jane's hand, cherished a belief that had it not been for that
firm, plump hand, the new day would not have dawned for them.... They
had no strength and no will of their own. But through the cold and the
darkness, something held them; and when the spirit came creeping back
with the morning, the first thing that their eyes rested on was Aunt
The woman's eyes opened suddenly. They looked for a moment, dull and
unseeing, into Aunt Jane's. Then they fell shut. Aunt Jane's fingers
noted the pulse and passed once or twice across the high, fretted brow.
Slowly a look of sleep passed over the face and the strained lines
relaxed. Aunt Jane, watching it, gave a nod of satisfaction. Out in the
orchard the robin sang his twilight song, slow and cool and liquid, with
long pauses between, and the dusk crept into the white room, touching
Aunt Jane sat passive, waiting, the eyes under her white cap glowing
with a still, deep look. All the threads of life and death in the
hospital gathered up and centred in the quiet figure sitting there. Not
a pulse in the great building beat, or flickered and went out, that
Aunt Jane did not know it. But she sat waiting while the twilight
deepened, a look of restfulness in her big face. Now and then she
crooned to herself, half humming the lines of some hymn and falling
silent again, watching the sleeper's breath.
The night nurse paused outside the door, and a little rush of gaslight
flickered in. Aunt Jane rose and closed the door and shifted a screen
noiselessly to the foot of the bed. The long night had settled down for
its sleep. And Edith Dalton's soul was keeping watch with death. Slowly
it sank back into the grim hold ... only a spark left, with Aunt Jane
keeping guard over it.... So the night passed and the day, and another
night and another day ... and the third day dawned. Edith Dalton would
have said, as the spark glowed higher and blazed a little and lighted
her soul, and her eyes rested on Aunt Jane's face, that the figure
sitting there had not left her side for three days. Down through the
deepest waters, where death lulled her and heaven waited, she had felt a
touch on her soul, holding her, drawing her steadily back to life; and
now she opened her eyes and they rested on Aunt Jane's face and smiled a
little. Then the lids fluttered together again and sleep came to the
face, natural and sweet.
Aunt Jane's eyes grew dark beneath the white cap. She touched a bell and
gave the case over to the day nurse that came. "She will be all right
now," she said. She spoke in the low, even voice that was not a whisper
and not a tone. "Give her plenty of water. She has been very thirsty.
But there is no fever. Don't call me unless there is a change.... Then
send at once." She departed on her rounds.
No one would have guessed, as the fresh, stout figure moved in and out
among the wards, that she had not slept for two nights. There was a
tradition that Aunt Jane never slept and that she was never tired. Dr.
Carmon laughed at the tradition and said that Aunt Jane slept as much as
any one, more than most people, in fact, only she did it with her eyes
open - that it was only a superstition that made people think they must
shut their eyes to sleep. The Hindoos had a trick worth two of that.
Aunt Jane knew the trick, and she might tell other folks if she would,
and save the world a lot of trouble.
But Aunt Jane only shook her head, and smiled, and went her way. And
when the fight with death came, she went with each one down into that
other world, the world of sleep and faith and unconscious power, on the
border-land of death, where the soul is reborn, and waited there for
life. She had no theories about it, and no pride; and if she had now and
then a gentle, imperious scorn of theorists and bunglers, it was only
the touch of human nature that made the world love her.
It was late Monday afternoon that a card was brought to Aunt Jane - a
thin, slim bit of card, with correct English lettering in plain type on
Aunt Jane read it and glanced up at Miss Murray who was on door duty for
"He's in the front room," said the nurse. "And there's a woman - came the
same time but separate. I put her in the back room."
"Tell Miss Crosby and Miss Canfield to be ready to go on duty in Number
5 and Suite A," said Aunt Jane.
She said the last words almost with a sniff. If Aunt Jane had had her
way, there would have been no Suite A in the House of Mercy.
For Suite A was a big, sunny, southeast room, with a sitting-room on one
side and a bath on the other - a royal bath, with overhead shower and
side sprays and all the latest words in plumbing and fitting, all the
most luxurious and costly appointments of nickel and marble and tile.
Aunt Jane always went by Suite A with her head a little in the air and
her nose a trifle raised. And woe to the man or woman who occupied Suite
A. For a week or ten days he was left severely to the care of nurses and
doctors. It was only after he had experienced to the full what a