Lurana Waterhouse Sheldon.

My Queen: A Weekly Journal for Young Women. Issue 3, October 13, 1900 online

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Try as they would, they could not keep it from Kittie. There was too
much to be done, too many to be cared for, to go into any extraordinary
effort at secrecy. As the stretcher was carried out with the still,
cold figure upon it Kittie almost sprang from her bed and tried to peer
over the screen to look at it.

Marion caught her in her arms and pressed her firmly back. The girl was
screaming with horror, and as strong as a lioness.

“She is my mother, I tell you!” she shrieked over and over. “I saw her
face once. I am sure she is my mother!”

Miss Williams came to Marion’s help and together they laid Kittie on
her pillow. There were shrieks and groans all over the ward, for Kittie
had excited all the other patients.

Marion would have gladly put her fingers in her ears to shut out the
sounds, but one glance at Miss Williams’ face made her ashamed of her
cowardice.

In a few minutes the head nurse and an assistant were moving about the
ward—they went from bed to bed, quieting and soothing their patients.

Kittie was lying back exhausted on her pillow now, and as she lay
staring at Marion her eyes seemed suddenly to emit a brilliant lustre.
Marion was fascinated by the glance and sat staring back mutely. She
held one of Kittie’s hands and was stroking it absently.

Suddenly Kittie leaned a little toward her and began to mutter. There
was a fierce intensity in her manner, as though she had determined to
impart something which must be divulged.

Marion divined the poor girl’s message at once. It was clear that she
was about to speak the forbidden name, and in spite of herself Marion
could not help feeling a deep interest in the secret.

Over and over again Kittie struggled to speak distinctly, but her
throat seemed parched and her tongue and lips unruly.

Marion held her head and gave her some water, trying with wonderful
self-control to lay her back upon her pillow.

“I must! I must!” whispered the poor girl, distinctly. “I must tell it
to the world for my baby’s sake. You shall know, every one shall know
my baby’s father.”

“Not now, dear,” said Marion, soothingly; “another time. Lie down,
Kittie, and be calm. You will be better to-morrow.”

“To-morrow!” murmured the girl, hoarsely. “To-morrow I shall be dead!
To-night I must speak! To-night or never.”

Marion saw that she could do nothing, so she leaned sadly over the bed.

“If it will relieve your mind, Kittie, you can whisper it to me softly.
I will never tell. It shall always be your secret.”

The burning eyes of the sick girl were searching her face, and the
claw-like fingers which Marion held twitched and trembled convulsively.

“No, no. I can’t speak it,” she said at last, “but there is a
picture—his picture—in the bosom of my dress: the head nurse has it—ask
Miss Williams for it.”

She sank back upon her pillow completely exhausted now. There was a
change passing over her face that even Marion noticed.

In a second Miss Williams was standing beside the bed.

“Poor thing, it will soon be over,” she said, sadly; “put the screen
around her and go to Miss H——, Miss Marlowe. She is suffering greatly,
and I am too busy.”

“What! Leave Kittie now?” whispered Marion in horror.

“She is dead,” said Miss Williams, with a quick glance at Kittie. “The
living first, Miss Marlowe, the living and suffering.”

Marion went mutely across the ward, mastering her grief as she went. In
that one short week she had learned to love Kittie.

“It will soon kill me at this rate,” she reasoned to herself. “Oh, I
must learn not to sympathize so deeply with my patients.”

At sunrise the next morning Marion stood by one of the windows of the
hospital, looking out upon the water, that glinted and gleamed all
around her.

A group of convicts were busy mending a broken spot in the sea-wall,
their two guards standing idly by, each armed with a rifle.

“Here is the picture Kittie spoke of,” said Miss Williams, coming up to
her. “You can look at it, Miss Marlowe, and then you must go to bed.
It is not necessary for you to work day and night, even if you are a
‘probationer.’”

She slipped a picture into Marion’s hand and went away. She was too
busy herself to think of sleeping. A great beam of the golden sun fell
upon the window panes at that instant and Marion’s eyes were slightly
dazzled as she looked at the picture.

Then with a stifled scream Marion dropped the bit of pasteboard from her
hand.

It was a picture of Reginald Brookes—frank, blue-eyed and handsome!


CHAPTER XII.

A DESPERATE CHANCE.

For a few hours that day Marion remained quietly in her room. She was
not expected on duty, and it was fortunate for her that they could
spare her.

She had returned the picture of Reginald Brookes without a word to
Miss Williams, but the revelation it had brought to her distressed her
beyond expression.

“It must be a mistake,” she whispered over and over. “The thing is
impossible! It is too utterly horrible!”

Then the dying girl’s words came back to her distinctly. On her
deathbed it was not probable that Kittie would have told a falsehood.

Marion was glad when the batch of letters was handed to her. They would
serve to take her mind from this dreadful subject. The first letter was
from Dollie, telling of her success as a typewriter.

“I am getting on famously,” she wrote, “and as my employer is old and
bald, Ralph has not yet become jealous. Miss Allyn and I love our
little flat better every day, and the only thing we miss that would
make us perfectly happy is the daily companionship of my darling
sister.”

Marion smiled very happily as she folded the letter.

“Dear Dollie! She is perfectly happy, and, oh! I am so glad for her.
Not for worlds would I darken her life with so much as a glimpse of the
misery I am witnessing!”

The next letter was from her mother, and Marion opened it eagerly. She
was almost sure to hear some news of Sallie. As she read the first page
her brow grew dark, and at the end she crumpled the letter angrily in
her hand.

“Silas Johnson is a brute! Oh, how I despise him!” she cried. “To think
that he received my letter and paid no attention to it! He did not care
enough about his wife to even go and get her. Poor Sallie! I wonder if
she died in Bellevue, after all. Oh, I almost wish I had followed the
ambulance, and I would have done it if I hadn’t promised to take the
_Thomas Brennan_.”

She paced the floor for awhile in great perplexity. If Sallie was
living she felt that she must know it.

After a time she opened another letter. It was from Mr. Ray, and her
cheeks crimsoned as she read it.

“After all, there is at least one good man in the world yet,” she said,
bitterly: “and they are leaving England to-day, he and his sister, and
how happy I shall be to renew their acquaintance.”

As Marion went to pick up the last letter she shrank back in alarm. The
handwriting was not familiar, but nevertheless she could guess who was
the writer.

“I won’t read it! I won’t even touch it,” she thought, indignantly.
“How could he write to me, the cowardly fellow!”

Then a feeling of shame passed over Marion’s soul. She was condemning
this man unheard, which was not like her just nature.

“There must be some mistake,” she whispered slowly. “Kittie may have
found that picture, or perhaps she was still delirious when she told
me. After all, why should I believe so absolutely in a dying girl’s
word? Is not the brain sadly clouded and perhaps entirely irresponsible
at such a moment? No, I will not convict him until I have heard his
story! It is only just, and I shall read his letter.”

It was such a pleasant, jolly letter, yet Marion almost shivered as she
perused it carefully.

It was not until she was putting the letter back in the envelope that
she discovered an extra scrap of paper.

The doctor had thought of another word to say, apparently, and there
was not room to add it to his already overfilled letter. Marion read
the slip of paper with dilated eyes. The news it gave her was, to say
the least, extraordinary.

“By the way, Miss Marlowe,” the postscript read, “a little maid servant
of mother’s ran away a couple of weeks or so ago, and both mother and
myself have worried considerably about her. The cause of our worry is
simply that the child had been betrayed and we had hoped to help her
in her hour of trouble. I mention this, knowing that such cases land
frequently in ‘Charity,’ so please keep your eyes open for such a young
lady. Her name is Kittie, and she is about sixteen, and very pretty.”

Marion passed her hand thoughtfully across her brow. She was, if
anything, more mystified and astounded than ever.

“If he is guilty, then no words can describe him,” she said, finally,
“for he must be a fiend incarnate if he could wrong the girl and then
sit down calmly and write such a letter.”

Marion was glad when the hour for duty came. She hurried back to her
ward as to a haven of refuge.

That night, after sunset, Marion went out for a walk about the Island.
She went alone from preference, as she wished to do some hard thinking.

Young Dr. Brookes had said that he would see her the next day, as he
had found an excellent excuse for running over to the Island.

“What shall I say to him?” Marion asked herself as she stood on the
sea-wall and gazed out over the water.

A squad of convicts passed near her as she stood there. They were
marching with the prison “lockstep,” which was now becoming familiar to
Marion.

The young girl did not turn her eyes, for she dreaded to see them. A
look at their rough faces always made her heart ache sadly.

As she stood in her simple frock, with her big white apron, she made a
picture of beauty such as had never been seen on the Island.

Pretty faces and sweet faces had been seen there from time to time, but
this willowy girl, with her mass of chestnut hair and her splendid head
set on such graceful shoulders, would have attracted attention from any
man in the land, then how much more the attention of these imprisoned
unfortunates.

Not one convict alone, but a dozen of them glanced at her.

There was a sharp command from the guard, followed by a sullen answer.
The next second, before Marion realized what was happening, there came
a splash in the water. One of the convicts in desperation had leaped
into the river.

“Forward! March!” cried a guard, in almost furious tones.

The squad moved on toward the penitentiary without so much as turning
their heads, while one of the guards, rifle in hand, stepped quickly to
the wall beside Marion.

“Come back, or I’ll fire!” he called out, sternly, as a smooth shaven
head appeared slowly above the surface.

Marion reached up instinctively and grasped the guard’s arm.

“Don’t! don’t!” she gasped, “He will come back: I am sure of it!”

The man’s gaze never wavered from the bend above the water.

“If I had a boat I could save him,” he said, very coolly, “but I
haven’t, and I must get him. That’s all there is about it!”

“You mean he must not escape?” said Marion, in agony.

“I lose my job if he does,” was the sullen answer. Then he raised the
rifle, with one finger on the trigger.

“Once more, come back or I’ll fire!” he bawled, distinctly.

There was a little splash in the water as the swimmer turned around.

“You can fire and be d—d!” he shouted, hoarsely.

Marion covered her eyes, so that she could not see what happened.

There was a report of a rifle that echoed across the water.

“Hell Gate” or its vicinity had received another victim.


CHAPTER XIII.

MARION FINDS SALLIE.

As Marion rushed back to the hospital a boat moved slowly away from the
little dock. It was the boat from Bellevue and had left its usual quota
of patients. The horrible scene which she had just witnessed was one
which she knew would remain with her always and which she would almost
have given her life to have prevented.

“Oh, how terrible his life must have been!” she thought, “if the poor
fellow preferred death in such a horrible manner.”

Then, curiously enough, on the very steps of the hospital she came face
to face with the “Bible reader.”

“What has happened?” asked the woman, as she read Marion’s horrified
expression.

“A convict shot and drowned,” was the young girl’s low answer. “Another
victim has paid the penalty of sin or weakness!”

“Unrepentant, unforgiven,” murmured the woman, in horror.

The young girl turned upon her with an agonized countenance.

“We cannot say that—we do not know,” she said very sharply; then she
fled hastily up the steps and into the building.

In order to reach the floor Marion had to pass the reception ward, and,
as usual, she glanced in at the door in passing.

There was something going on that was out of the ordinary, but she was
too upset to inquire into its meaning.

All that night the scene that she had witnessed haunted her, and she
arose the next morning looking pale and haggard. As she left her room
the Superintendent of Nurses met her. She was a middle-aged woman,
rather stout and very dignified.

“I am going to transfer you to the medical ward for awhile, Miss
Marlowe,” she said, briefly. “You can go in there at once and report to
Miss Franklin.”

Marion bowed and turned in the direction indicated. It was a sad
disappointment to her to be obliged to leave the “Maternity.” “I
almost love Miss Williams,” she said to herself, “but as I seem to
have a faculty for loving almost everybody, perhaps I shall love Miss
Franklin.”

As she reached the entrance to the ward she stopped a moment. There
were several new patients being put to bed, and Miss Franklin was busy.

Suddenly from the direction of the patients’ elevator there came a
fearful shriek.

Marion’s face turned pale and her knees trembled as she heard it.

Miss Franklin darted past her just as the elevator stopped and let out
an orderly and two doctors, who were all struggling with a patient.

Marion shrank back against the wall to give them a chance to pass her,
and as she did so she overheard the house physician saying something to
Miss Franklin.

“It developed yesterday as she was coming up on the boat. I’ll have her
transferred to Ward’s Island to-morrow.”

“And meanwhile we’ll have all the other patients standing on their
heads,” was Miss Franklin’s curt answer. “It seems to me that all the
lunatics are brought straight to the ‘Medical’!”

“Can’t help it this time,” said the doctor, smiling, “and you know you
can manage her the best of any one, Miss Franklin.”

The head nurse flushed at this genuine compliment. She was as
conscientious as she was exacting, and such words were her recompense.

For the next few minutes everything was in commotion, for with a sudden
effort the new patient sprang from the orderly’s arms and, rushing the
length of the ward, bounded up on a table which held some charts and
glasses.

“Quick! before she secures a weapon!” said the doctor to the orderly in
a low, fierce tone.

The orderly sprang forward, but he was a minute too late. The woman had
snatched a couple of glasses and cracked them together. With a piece of
jagged glass in each hand she stood, alert and waiting.

Just at this very moment Marion took a step into the ward. She opened
her eyes wider as she stared hard at the woman.

“Come on, Sile, and I’ll finish you!” shrieked the poor, crazy woman
defiantly. “Jest strike me ag’in, yer coward, an’ I’ll kill yer, Silas
Johnson!”

“My goodness! It is Sallie!” cried Marion with a gasp. “Oh, be careful
of her, doctor! It is Sallie! Poor, dear Sallie.”

Before Marion could say more Miss Franklin stood before her.

“Hush! you simpleton!” she said, sternly.

“Don’t you see what you are doing? Is it any reason because you know
her that you should frighten all the patients!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” cried Marion, who was scarlet with embarrassment.
“I will not make another sound—only do let me go to her.”

Miss Franklin smiled in a sarcastic way. “Certainly, go to her if you
wish and quiet her if you can. She evidently takes the orderly for some
other person.”

“She thinks he is Silas Johnson, her husband,” said Marion, as she
started down the ward. “Oh, can it be possible that this is poor
Sallie!”

“Don’t go near her yet, miss,” said the orderly, as Marion approached.
“She’s ‘as mad as a March hare.’ She’d cut your face open with that
glass in a minute. We’ve got to do a little planning to capture the
lady.”

Marion looked at Sallie as she crouched on the table. Her face was
ashen, her eyes red and glaring, and her hair, which was always
poor Sallie’s one beauty, fell in unkempt masses over her back and
shoulders.

Not once did she take her burning gaze from the face of the orderly,
and fierce, undying hatred was stamped upon her features.

“If you will only go away, I am sure I can calm her,” said Marion,
bravely. “Sallie will not hurt me—even if she is crazy.”

“You can go, orderly,” said the physician, who was close to Marion.
“I think this nurse can quiet the girl, and I don’t wish to resort to
force if it can be avoided.”

Marion thanked him with a smile, and the orderly backed away with a
grin of delight.

It was not always pleasant to be taken for a crazy woman’s husband.

“Sallie! Sallie! Don’t you know me?” asked Marion, softly, as she
walked up slowly and stood beside the table.

The maniac did not notice her until the orderly had disappeared, then
with a sigh of relief she dropped the sharp weapons that she had been
clutching.

“He’ll never strike me again now, Marion,” she cried, shrilly, “I’ve
done jest as yer said. I’ve defied him at last, an’ now I’m goin’ ter
run away an’ go tew the city.”


CHAPTER XIV.

MARION’S FIRST PROPOSAL.

It was several days before Sallie recovered her senses, but she had not
been transferred, much to Marion’s satisfaction.

With the last disappearing trace of fever her reason was slowly
restored, and her delight was unbounded when she found herself with
Marion.

“I’ll never go back,” she said over and over. “I’ll learn tew do
nursing and stay right here, Marion. Do beg them tew let me stay! I
know I can be useful.”

But Sallie was destined to go back to Silas, although not exactly in
the manner she had imagined.

A letter from Deacon Marlowe informed Marion of Silas Johnson’s death.
He had been killed by a fall on the ice in his own meadow. Neither
Marion nor Sallie said much about the news, but they were both too
frank and honest to express any sham sorrow.

Marion’s first leave of absence was to put Sallie on the train and send
her back to Hickorytown, a weak, wasted woman. Before they started
down to the boat Miss Williams came out in the corridor and handed
something to Marion. It was a small, flat package done up in brown
paper. “I found them pinned to poor Kittie’s one frock,” she said,
sadly, “and as the child had no friends and the baby is dead, I thought
perhaps you would like to have them.”

Marion took the parcel with a curious feeling of horror. It seemed a
dreadful way to become possessor of Reginald Brookes’ picture.

“I’ll keep them,” she said, slowly, “for I did love the girl, and
perhaps I may be able to learn something about her some day.”

On her way to the little flat Marion mailed a note to Reginald Brookes,
for she had decided at last that she must settle the matter of the
picture.

He had called at the hospital twice, but she had been too busy to see
him. Thanks to her work, the excuse was genuine in both instances.

“Oh, Marion! I’m so glad!” cried Dollie as she admitted her. “That dear
old ‘baldy’ of mine has given me a day’s vacation. If he hadn’t I would
have missed you, and that would have been awful.”

Miss Allyn came in and hugged Marion enthusiastically, and in a very
short time they were all seated at a cozy dinner.

“I want you to tell me something, Alma,” said Marion, after she had
heard all the news and both girls looked at her quickly, there was so
much seriousness in her manner.

“What is it, dear?” asked Miss Allyn, curiously.

“I want you to tell me what you know of Reginald Brookes,” said Marion,
quietly. “There is a reason why I should know all that I can possibly
learn about him.”

“Oh, Marion, he hasn’t proposed to you already, has he?” asked Dollie.

“No, indeed,” said Marion, laughing, “but I have another reason for
wishing to know all I can about him. I will tell you both what it is
just as soon as I think I am right in doing so.”

“Well, I will tell you what I know,” said Miss Allyn, blushing a
little. “I’ve known Reginald Brookes ever since he was born, so I
think I can speak with some authority.”

Marion held her breath and bent forward to listen, and the eagerness in
her manner did not escape Miss Allyn.

“Regie Brookes is one of the best and noblest fellows that ever lived,”
she said, distinctly, “and on a certain occasion, several years ago, I
was fool enough to refuse to marry him.”

“Oh, Miss Allyn!” gasped Dollie, “was Dr. Brookes in love with you and
did you throw him over on account of that—that Mr. Colebrook?”

“I guess those are about the facts in the case,” said Miss Allyn,
bitterly. “Some women are big geese where men are concerned, but I
wasn’t simply a goose, I was a whole flock,” she added, laughing.

“Do you suppose he is all over it?” asked Dollie, who was beginning to
feel sympathetic.

“I hope so, I am sure,” said Miss Allyn, quickly. “Why, that was years
ago—we were almost children.”

“You would not believe him guilty of wronging a poor girl, would you?”
asked Marion, her cheeks tingling as she said it.

“Never!” cried Miss Allyn, emphatically. “He could not do it! Regie
Brookes is the soul of chivalry and honor!”

“Then, I will tell you what I mean,” said Marion, slowly, and she
repeated the sad story of Kittie’s death and the subsequent detail of
the photograph now in her possession.

When she had finished her story, Dollie looked bewildered, but Miss
Allyn’s expression of absolute faith had not changed an atom.

“Let me see the picture,” she said at once.

Marion drew the little package from her pocket and started to open it.

“I suppose it is in here; Miss Williams said it contained all of poor
Kittie’s treasures,” she said as she tore off the paper and laid the
contents on the table.

There was a handkerchief, a bit of ribbon and a brass locket in the
package. Then Marion caught her breath as she discovered two pictures.

“This is his!” cried Miss Allyn, snatching up the one of young Brookes.

There was a glad cry from Marion at the very same minute. She was
staring hard at the other picture.

“Oh, how wrong I was! How unjust!” she cried, remorsefully. “See! here
is the picture of another young man, and Kittie has left no doubt as
to who he is, for she has scrawled across the back of it, ‘This is the
father of my baby.’”

The girls both looked at the picture and the words which were written
on it, while Marion censured herself in the most vigorous language.

“He is a common-looking fellow, almost brutal,” said Dollie, looking
again at the picture. “Oh, what a pity Miss Williams hadn’t found this
first! I can see by her face that Marion has suffered!”

“I have, indeed,” said Marion, honestly. “It nearly killed me to think
so badly of the doctor.”

“Well, you were not altogether to blame,” said Miss Allyn, consolingly.
“The circumstances were startling. It would have convinced almost any
one.”

There was a peal at the bell as Miss Allyn spoke, and the next moment
Dollie had ushered a caller into the little parlor.

“It is Dr. Brookes,” whispered Marion to Miss Allyn. “I asked him to
come, but do you know I almost dread to face him, now that I know how I
have wronged him.”

“Nonsense!” said Miss Allyn, sensibly. “Just put that out of your mind,
Marion. You did him an injustice and have regretted it sincerely. There
is no use in torturing yourself by telling him about it.”


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Online LibraryLurana Waterhouse SheldonMy Queen: A Weekly Journal for Young Women. Issue 3, October 13, 1900 → online text (page 4 of 6)