Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Love Stories online

. (page 1 of 17)
Online LibraryMary Roberts RinehartLove Stories → online text (page 1 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Janet Kegg and the Project Gutenberg Online
Distributed Proofreading Team (



Publishers NEW YORK


Copyright, 1919, By George H. Doran Company

Copyright, 1912, 1913, 1916, by the Curtis Publishing Company
Copyright, 1912, by The McClure Publications, Inc.
Copyright, 1917, by The Metropolitan Magazine Co.












The Probationer's name was really Nella Jane Brown, but she was
entered in the training school as N. Jane Brown. However, she meant
when she was accepted to be plain Jane Brown. Not, of course, that
she could ever be really plain.

People on the outside of hospitals have a curious theory about
nurses, especially if they are under twenty. They believe that they
have been disappointed in love. They never think that they may
intend to study medicine later on, or that they may think nursing is
a good and honourable career, or that they may really like to care
for the sick.

The man in this story had the theory very hard.

When he opened his eyes after the wall of the warehouse dropped, N.
Jane Brown was sitting beside him. She had been practising counting
pulses on him, and her eyes were slightly upturned and very earnest.

There was a strong odour of burnt rags in the air, and the man
sniffed. Then he put a hand to his upper lip - the right hand. She
was holding his left.

"Did I lose anything besides this?" he inquired. His little
moustache was almost entirely gone. A gust of fire had accompanied
the wall.

"Your eyebrows," said Jane Brown.

The man - he was as young for a man as Jane Brown was for a
nurse - the man lay quite still for a moment. Then:

"I'm sorry to undeceive you," he said. "But my right leg is off."

He said it lightly, because that is the way he took things. But he
had a strange singing in his ears.

"I'm afraid it's broken. But you still have it." She smiled. She had
a very friendly smile. "Have you any pain anywhere?"

He was terribly afraid she would go away and leave him, so, although
he was quite comfortable, owing to a hypodermic he had had, he
groaned slightly. He was, at that time, not particularly interested
in Jane Brown, but he did not want to be alone. He closed his eyes
and said feebly:


She gave him a teaspoonful, bending over him and being careful not
to spill it down his neck. Her uniform crackled when she moved. It
had rather too much starch in it.

The man, whose name was Middleton, closed his eyes. Owing to the
morphia, he had at least a hundred things he wished to discuss. The
trouble was to fix on one out of the lot.

"I feel like a bit of conversation," he observed. "How about you?"

Then he saw that she was busy again. She held an old-fashioned
hunting-case watch in her hand, and her eyes were fixed on his
chest. At each rise and fall of the coverlet her lips moved. Mr.
Middleton, who was feeling wonderful, experimented. He drew four
very rapid breaths, and four very slow ones. He was rewarded by
seeing her rush to a table and write something on a sheet of yellow

"Resparation, very iregular," was what she wrote. She was not a
particularly good speller.

After that Mr. Middleton slept for what he felt was a day and a
night. It was really ten minutes by the hunting-case watch. Just
long enough for the Senior Surgical Interne, known in the school as
the S.S.I., to wander in, feel his pulse, approve of Jane Brown, and
go out.

Jane Brown had risen nervously when he came in, and had proffered
him the order book and a clean towel, as she had been instructed. He
had, however, required neither. He glanced over the record, changed
the spelling of "resparation," arranged his tie at the mirror, took
another look at Jane Brown, and went out. He had not spoken.

It was when his white-linen clad figure went out that Middleton
wakened and found it was the same day. He felt at once like
conversation, and he began immediately. But the morphia did a
curious thing to him. He was never afterward able to explain it. It
made him create. He lay there and invented for Jane Brown a
fictitious person, who was himself. This person, he said, was a
newspaper reporter, who had been sent to report the warehouse fire.
He had got too close, and a wall had come down on him. He invented
the newspaper, too, but, as Jane Brown had come from somewhere else,
she did not notice this.

In fact, after a time he felt that she was not as really interested
as she might have been, so he introduced a love element. He was, as
has been said, of those who believe that nurses go into hospitals
because of being blighted. So he introduced a Mabel, suppressing her
other name, and boasted, in a way he afterward remembered with
horror, that Mabel was in love with him. She was, he related,
something or other on his paper.

At the end of two hours of babbling, a businesslike person in a
cap - the Probationer wears no cap - relieved Jane Brown, and spilled
some beef tea down his neck.

Now, Mr. Middleton knew no one in that city. He had been motoring
through, and he had, on seeing the warehouse burning, abandoned his
machine for a closer view. He had left it with the engine running,
and, as a matter of fact, it ran for four hours, when it died of
starvation, and was subsequently interred in a city garage. However,
he owned a number of cars, so he wasted no thought on that one. He
was a great deal more worried about his eyebrows, and, naturally,
about his leg.

When he had been in the hospital ten hours it occurred to him to
notify his family. But he put it off for two reasons: first, it
would be a lot of trouble; second, he had no reason to think they
particularly wanted to know. They all had such a lot of things to
do, such as bridge and opening country houses and going to the
Springs. They were really overwhelmed, without anything new, and
they had never been awfully interested in him anyhow.

He was not at all bitter about it.

That night Mr. Middleton - but he was now officially "Twenty-two," by
that system of metonymy which designates a hospital private patient
by the number of his room - that night "Twenty-two" had rather a bad
time, between his leg and his conscience. Both carried on
disgracefully. His leg stabbed, and his conscience reminded him of
Mabel, and that if one is going to lie, there should at least be a
reason. To lie out of the whole cloth - - !

However, toward morning, with what he felt was the entire
pharmacopoeia inside him, and his tongue feeling like a tar roof, he
made up his mind to stick to his story, at least as far as the young
lady with the old-fashioned watch was concerned. He had a sort of
creed, which shows how young he was, that one should never explain
to a girl.

There was another reason still. There had been a faint sparkle in
the eyes of the young lady with the watch while he was lying to her.
He felt that she was seeing him in heroic guise, and the thought
pleased him. It was novel.

To tell the truth, he had been getting awfully bored with himself
since he left college. Everything he tried to do, somebody else
could do so much better. And he comforted himself with this, that he
would have been a journalist if he could, or at least have published
a newspaper. He knew what was wrong with about a hundred newspapers.

He decided to confess about Mabel, but to hold fast to journalism.
Then he lay in bed and watched for the Probationer to come back.

However, here things began to go wrong. He did not see Jane Brown
again. There were day nurses and night nurses and reliefs, and
_internes_ and Staff and the Head Nurse and the First Assistant
and - everything but Jane Brown. And at last he inquired for her.

"The first day I was in here," he said to Miss Willoughby, "there
was a little girl here without a cap. I don't know her name. But I
haven't seen her since."

Miss Willoughby, who, if she had been disappointed in love, had
certainly had time to forget it, Miss Willoughby reflected.

"Without a cap? Then it was only one of the probationers."

"You don't remember which one?"

But she only observed that probationers were always coming and
going, and it wasn't worth while learning their names until they
were accepted. And that, anyhow, probationers should never be sent
to private patients, who are paying a lot and want the best.

"Really," she added, "I don't know what the school is coming to.
Since this war in Europe every girl wants to wear a uniform and be
ready to go to the front if we have trouble. All sorts of silly
children are applying. We have one now, on this very floor, not a
day over nineteen."

"Who is she?" asked Middleton. He felt that this was the one. She
was so exactly the sort Miss Willoughby would object to.

"Jane Brown," snapped Miss Willoughby. "A little, namby-pamby,
mush-and-milk creature, afraid of her own shadow."

Now, Jane Brown, at that particular moment, was sitting in her
little room in the dormitory, with the old watch ticking on the
stand so she would not over-stay her off duty. She was aching with
fatigue from her head, with its smooth and shiny hair, to her feet,
which were in a bowl of witch hazel and hot water. And she was
crying over a letter she was writing.

Jane Brown had just come from her first death. It had taken place in
H ward, where she daily washed window-sills, and disinfected stands,
and carried dishes in and out. And it had not been what she had
expected. In the first place, the man had died for hours. She had
never heard of this. She had thought of death as coming quickly - a
glance of farewell, closing eyes, and - rest. But for hours and hours
the struggle had gone on, a fight for breath that all the ward could
hear. And he had not closed his eyes at all. They were turned up,
and staring.

The Probationer had suffered horribly, and at last she had gone
behind the screen and folded her hands and closed her eyes, and said
very low:

"Dear God - please take him quickly."

He had stopped breathing almost immediately. But that may have been
a coincidence.

However, she was not writing that home. Between gasps she was
telling the humours of visiting day in the ward, and of how kind
every one was to her, which, if not entirely true, was not entirely
untrue. They were kind enough when they had time to be, or when they
remembered her. Only they did not always remember her.

She ended by saying that she was quite sure they meant to accept her
when her three months was up. It was frightfully necessary that she
be accepted.

She sent messages to all the little town, which had seen her off
almost _en masse_. And she added that the probationers received the
regular first-year allowance of eight dollars a month, and she could
make it do nicely - which was quite true, unless she kept on breaking
thermometers when she shook them down.

At the end she sent her love to everybody, including even worthless
Johnny Fraser, who cut the grass and scrubbed the porches; and, of
course, to Doctor Willie. He was called Doctor Willie because his
father, who had taken him into partnership long ago, was Doctor
Will. It never had seemed odd, although Doctor Willie was now
sixty-five, and a saintly soul.

Curiously enough, her letter was dated April first. Under that very
date, and about that time of the day, a health officer in a near-by
borough was making an entry regarding certain coloured gentlemen
shipped north from Louisiana to work on a railroad. Opposite the
name of one Augustus Baird he put a cross. This indicated that
Augustus Baird had not been vaccinated.

By the sixth of April "Twenty-two" had progressed from splints to a
plaster cast, and was being most awfully bored. Jane Brown had not
returned, and there was a sort of relentless maturity about the
nurses who looked after him that annoyed him.

Lying there, he had a good deal of time to study them, and somehow
his recollection of the girl with the hunting-case watch did not
seem to fit her in with these kindly and efficient women. He could
not, for instance, imagine her patronising the Senior Surgical
Interne in a deferential but unmistakable manner, or good-naturedly
bullying the First Assistant, who was a nervous person in shoes too
small for her, as to their days off duty.

Twenty-two began to learn things about the hospital. For instance,
the day nurse, while changing his pillow slips, would observe that
Nineteen was going to be operated on that day, and close her lips
over further information. But when the afternoon relief, while
giving him his toothbrush after lunch, said there was a most
interesting gall-stone case in nineteen, and the night nurse, in
reply to a direct question, told Nineteen's name, but nothing else,
Twenty-two had a fair working knowledge of the day's events.

He seemed to learn about everything but Jane Brown. He knew when a
new baby came, and was even given a glimpse of one, showing, he
considered, about the colour and general contour of a maraschino
cherry. And he learned soon that the god of the hospital is the
Staff, although worship did not blind the nurses to their
weaknesses. Thus the older men, who had been trained before the day
of asepsis and modern methods, were revered but carefully watched.
They would get out of scrubbing their hands whenever they could, and
they hated their beards tied up with gauze. The nurses, keen,
competent and kindly, but shrewd, too, looked after these elderly
recalcitrants; loved a few, hated some, and presented to the world
unbroken ranks for their defence.

Twenty-two learned also the story of the First Assistant, who was in
love with one of the Staff, who was married, and did not care for
her anyhow. So she wore tight shoes, and was always beautifully
waved, and read Browning.

She had a way of coming in and saying brightly, as if to reassure

"Good morning, Twenty-two. Well, God is still in His heaven, and
all's well with the world."

Twenty-two got to feeling awfully uncomfortable about her. She used
to bring him flowers and sit down a moment to rest her feet, which
generally stung. And she would stop in the middle of a sentence and
look into space, but always with a determined smile.

He felt awfully uncomfortable. She was so neat and so efficient - and
so tragic. He tried to imagine being hopelessly in love, and trying
to live on husks of Browning. Not even Mrs. Browning.

The mind is a curious thing. Suddenly, from thinking of Mrs.
Browning, he thought of N. Jane Brown. Of course not by that
ridiculous name. He had learned that she was stationed on that
floor. And in the same flash he saw the Senior Surgical Interne
swanking about in white ducks and just the object for a probationer
to fall in love with. He lay there, and pulled the beginning of the
new moustache, and reflected. The First Assistant was pinning a
spray of hyacinth in her cap.

"Look here," he said. "Why can't I be put in a wheeled chair and get
about? One that I can manipulate myself," he added craftily.

She demurred. Indeed, everybody demurred when he put it up to them.
But he had gone through the world to the age of twenty-four, getting
his own way about ninety-seven per cent. of the time. He got it this
time, consisting of a new cast, which he named Elizabeth, and a
roller-chair, and he spent a full day learning how to steer himself

Then, on the afternoon of the third day, rolling back toward the
elevator and the _terra incognita_ which lay beyond, he saw a sign.
He stared at it blankly, because it interfered considerably with a
plan he had in mind. The sign was of tin, and it said:

"No private patients allowed beyond here."

Twenty-two sat in his chair and stared at it. The plaster cast
stretched out in front of him, and was covered by a grey blanket.
With the exception of the trifling formality of trousers, he was
well dressed in a sack coat, a shirt, waistcoat, and a sort of
college-boy collar and tie, which one of the orderlies had purchased
for him. His other things were in that extremely expensive English
car which the city was storing.

The plain truth is that Twenty-two was looking for Jane Brown. Since
she had not come to him, he must go to her. He particularly wanted
to set her right as to Mabel. And he felt, too, that that trick
about respirations had not been entirely fair.

He was, of course, not in the slightest degree in love with her. He
had only seen her once, and then he had had a broken leg and a
quarter grain of morphia and a burned moustache and no eyebrows left
to speak of.

But there was the sign. It was hung to a nail beside the elevator
shaft. And far beyond, down the corridor, was somebody in a blue
dress and no cap. It might be anybody, but again - -

Twenty-two looked around. The elevator had just gone down at its
usual rate of a mile every two hours. In the convalescent parlour,
where private patients _en negligée_ complained about the hospital
food, the nurse in charge was making a new cap. Over all the
hospital brooded an after-luncheon peace.

Twenty-two wheeled up under the sign and considered his average of
ninety-seven per cent. Followed in sequence these events: (a)
Twenty-two wheeled back to the parlour, where old Mr. Simond's cane
leaned against a table, and, while engaging that gentleman in
conversation, possessed himself of the cane. (b) Wheeled back to the
elevator. (c) Drew cane from beneath blanket. (d) Unhooked sign with
cane and concealed both under blanket. (e) Worked his way back along
the forbidden territory, past I and J until he came to H ward.

Jane Brown was in H ward.

She was alone, and looking very professional. There is nothing quite
so professional as a new nurse. She had, indeed, reached a point
where, if she took a pulse three times, she got somewhat similar
results. There had been a time when they had run something like
this: 56 - 80 - 120 - -

Jane Brown was taking pulses. It was a visiting day, and all the
beds had fresh white spreads, tucked in neatly at the foot. In the
exact middle of the centre table with its red cloth, was a vase of
yellow tulips. The sun came in and turned them to golden flame.

Jane Brown was on duty alone and taking pulses with one eye while
she watched the visitors with the other. She did the watching better
than she did the pulses. For instance, she was distinctly aware that
Stanislas Krzykolski's wife, in the bed next the end, had just slid
a half-dozen greasy cakes, sprinkled with sugar, under his pillow.
She knew, however, that not only grease but love was in those cakes,
and she did not intend to confiscate them until after Mrs.
Krzykolski had gone.

More visitors came. Shuffling and self-conscious mill-workers,
walking on their toes; draggled women; a Chinese boy; a girl with a
rouged face and a too confident manner. A hum of conversation hung
over the long room. The sunlight came in and turned to glory, not
only the tulips and the red tablecloth, but also the brass basins,
the fireplace fender, and the Probationer's hair.

Twenty-two sat unnoticed in the doorway. A young girl, very lame,
with a mandolin, had just entered the ward. In the little stir of
her arrival, Twenty-two had time to see that Jane Brown was worth
even all the trouble he had taken, and more. Really, to see Jane
Brown properly, she should have always been seen in the sun. She was
that sort.

The lame girl sat down in the centre of the ward, and the buzz died
away. She was not pretty, and she was very nervous. Twenty-two
frowned a trifle.

"Poor devils," he said to himself. But Jane Brown put away her
hunting-case watch, and the lame girl swept the ward with soft eyes
that had in them a pity that was almost a benediction.

Then she sang. Her voice was like her eyes, very sweet and rather
frightened, but tender. And suddenly something a little hard and
selfish in Twenty-two began to be horribly ashamed of itself. And,
for no earthly reason in the world, he began to feel like a cumberer
of the earth. Before she had finished the first song, he was
thinking that perhaps when he was getting about again, he might run
over to France for a few months in the ambulance service. A fellow
really ought to do his bit.

At just about that point Jane Brown turned and saw him. And although
he had run all these risks to get to her, and even then had an
extremely cold tin sign lying on his knee under the blanket, at
first she did not know him. The shock of this was almost too much
for him. In all sorts of places people were glad to see him,
especially women. He was astonished, but it was good for him.

She recognised him almost immediately, however, and flushed a
little, because she knew he had no business there. She was awfully
bound up with rules.

"I came back on purpose to see you," said Twenty-two, when at last
the lame girl had limped away. "Because, that day I came in and you
looked after me, you know, I - must have talked a lot of nonsense."

"Morphia makes some people talk," she said. It was said in an exact
copy of the ward nurse's voice, a frightfully professional and
impersonal tone.

"But," said Twenty-two, stirring uneasily, "I said a lot that wasn't
true. You may have forgotten, but I haven't. Now that about a girl
named Mabel, for instance - - "

He stirred again, because, after all, what did it matter what he had
said? She was gazing over the ward. She was not interested in him.
She had almost forgotten him. And as he stirred Mr. Simond's cane
fell out. It was immediately followed by the tin sign, which only
gradually subsided, face up, on the bare floor, in a slowly
diminishing series of crashes.

Jane Brown stooped and picked them both up and placed them on his
lap. Then, very stern, she marched out of the ward into the
corridor, and there subsided into quiet hysterics of mirth.
Twenty-two, who hated to be laughed at, followed her in the chair,
looking extremely annoyed.

"What else was I to do?" he demanded, after a time. "Of course, if
you report it, I'm gone."

"What do you intend to do with it now?" she asked. All her
professional manner had gone, and she looked alarmingly young.

"If I put it back, I'll only have to steal it again. Because I am
absolutely bored to death in that room of mine. I have played a
thousand games of solitaire."

The Probationer looked around. There was no one in sight.

"I should think," she suggested, "that if you slipped it behind that
radiator, no one would ever know about it."

Fortunately, the ambulance gong set up a clamour below the window
just then, and no one heard one of the hospital's most cherished
rules going, as one may say, into the discard.

The Probationer leaned her nose against the window and looked down.
A coloured man was being carried in on a stretcher. Although she did
not know it - indeed, never did know it - the coloured gentleman in
question was one Augustus Baird.

Soon afterward Twenty-two squeaked - his chair needed
oiling - squeaked back to his lonely room and took stock. He found
that he was rid of Mabel, but was still a reporter, hurt in doing
his duty. He had let this go because he saw that duty was a sort of
fetish with the Probationer. And since just now she liked him for
what she thought he was, why not wait to tell her until she liked
him for himself?

He hoped she was going to like him, because she was going to see him
a lot. Also, he liked her even better than he had remembered that he
did. She had a sort of thoroughbred look that he liked. And he liked
the way her hair was soft and straight and shiny. And he liked the
way she was all business and no nonsense. And the way she counted
pulses, with her lips moving and a little frown between her
eyebrows. And he liked her for being herself - which is, after all,
the reason why most men like the women they like, and extremely

The First Assistant loaned him Browning that afternoon, and he read
"Pippa Passes." He thought Pippa must have looked like the

The Head was a bit querulous that evening. The Heads of Training
Schools get that way now and then, although they generally reveal it
only to the First Assistant. They have to do so many irreconcilable
things, such as keeping down expenses while keeping up requisitions,

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryMary Roberts RinehartLove Stories → online text (page 1 of 17)