Mary Roberts Rinehart.

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under its breath. But it was temper, and the family was not
deceived. Also, knowing Jane, the family was quite ready to
believe that while it was swearing in the hall, Jane was biting
holes in the hand-embroidered face pillow in Room 33.

It had finally come to be a test of endurance. Jane vowed to stay
at the hospital until the family on bended knee begged her to emerge
and to brighten the world again with her presence. The family, being
her father, said it would be damned if it would, and that if Jane
cared to live on anæmic chicken broth, oatmeal wafers and massage
twice a day for the rest of her life, why, let her.

The dispute, having begun about whether Jane should or should not
marry a certain person, Jane representing the affirmative and her
father the negative, had taken on new aspects, had grown and
altered, and had, to be brief, become a contest between the
masculine Johnson and the feminine Johnson as to which would take
the count. Not that this appeared on the surface. The masculine
Johnson, having closed the summer home on Jane's defection and gone
back to the city, sent daily telegrams, novels and hothouse grapes,
all three of which Jane devoured indiscriminately. Once, indeed,
Father Johnson had motored the forty miles from town, to be told
that Jane was too ill and unhappy to see him, and to have a glimpse,
as he drove furiously away, of Jane sitting pensive at her window in
the pink kimono, gazing over his head at the distant hills and
clearly entirely indifferent to him and his wrath.

So we find Jane, on a frosty morning in late October, in triumphant
possession of the field - aunts and cousins routed, her father
sulking in town, and the victor herself - or is victor feminine? - and
if it isn't, shouldn't it be? - sitting up in bed staring blankly at
her watch.

Jane had just wakened - an hour later than usual; she had rung the
bell three times and no one had responded. Jane's famous temper
began to stretch and yawn. At this hour Jane was accustomed
to be washed with tepid water, scented daintily with violet,
alcohol-rubbed, talcum-powdered, and finally fresh-linened, coifed
and manicured, to be supported with a heap of fresh pillows and fed
creamed sweet-bread and golden-brown coffee and toast.

Jane rang again, with a line between her eyebrows. The bell was not
broken. She could hear it distinctly. This was an outrage! She would
report it to the superintendent. She had been ringing for ten
minutes. That little minx of a nurse was flirting somewhere with one
of the internes.

Jane angrily flung the covers back and got out on her small bare
feet. Then she stretched her slim young arms above her head, her
spoiled red mouth forming a scarlet O as she yawned. In her
sleeveless and neckless nightgown, with her hair over her shoulders,
minus the more elaborate coiffure which later in the day helped
her to poise and firmness, she looked a pretty young girl,
almost - although Jane herself never suspected this - almost an
amiable young person.

Jane saw herself in the glass and assumed immediately the two lines
between her eyebrows which were the outward and visible token of
what she had suffered. Then she found her slippers, a pair of
stockings to match and two round bits of pink silk elastic of
private and feminine use, and sat down on the floor to put them on.

The floor was cold. To Jane's wrath was added indignation. She
hitched herself along the boards to the radiator and put her hand on
it. It was even colder than Jane.

The family temper was fully awake by this time and ready for
business. Jane, sitting on the icy floor, jerked on her stockings,
snapped the pink bands into place, thrust her feet into her slippers
and rose, shivering. She went to the bed, and by dint of careful
manoeuvring so placed the bell between the head of the bed and the
wall that during the remainder of her toilet it rang steadily.

The remainder of Jane's toilet was rather casual. She flung on the
silk kimono, twisted her hair on top of her head and stuck a pin or
two in it, thus achieving a sort of effect a thousand times more
bewildering than she had ever managed with a curling iron and
twenty seven hair pins, and flinging her door wide stalked into the
hall. At least she meant to stalk, but one does not really stamp
about much in number-two, heelless, pink-satin mules.

At the first stalk - or stamp - she stopped. Standing uncertainly just
outside her door was a strange man, strangely attired. Jane clutched
her kimono about her and stared.

"Did - did you - are you ringing?" asked the apparition. It wore a
pair of white-duck trousers, much soiled, a coat that bore the words
"furnace room" down the front in red letters on a white tape, and a
clean and spotless white apron. There was coal dust on its face and
streaks of it in its hair, which appeared normally to be red.

"There's something the matter with your bell," said the young man.
"It keeps on ringing."

"I intend it to," said Jane coldly.

"You can't make a racket like that round here, you know," he
asserted, looking past her into the room.

"I intend to make all the racket I can until I get some attention."

"What have you done - put a book on it?"

"Look here" - Jane added another line to the two between her
eyebrows. In the family this was generally a signal for a retreat,
but of course the young man could not know this, and, besides, he
was red-headed. "Look here," said Jane, "I don't know who you are
and I don't care either, but that bell is going to ring until I get
my bath and some breakfast. And it's going to ring then unless I
stop it."

The young man in the coal dust and the white apron looked at Jane
and smiled. Then he walked past her into the room, jerked the bed
from the wall and released the bell.

"Now!" he said as the din outside ceased. "I'm too busy to talk just
at present, but if you do that again I'll take the bell out of the
room altogether. There are other people in the hospital besides

At that he started out and along the hall, leaving Jane speechless.
After he'd gone about a dozen feet he stopped and turned, looking at
Jane reflectively.

"Do you know anything about cooking?" he asked.

"I know more about cooking than you do about politeness," she
retorted, white with fury, and went into her room and slammed the
door. She went directly to the bell and put it behind the bed and
set it to ringing again. Then she sat down in a chair and picked up
a book. Had the red-haired person opened the door she was perfectly
prepared to fling the book at him. She would have thrown a hatchet
had she had one.

As a matter of fact, however, he did not come back. The bell rang
with a soul-satisfying jangle for about two minutes and then died
away, and no amount of poking with a hairpin did any good. It was
clear that the bell had been cut off outside!

For fifty-five minutes Jane sat in that chair breakfastless, very
casually washed and with the aforesaid Billie Burkeness of hair.
Then, hunger gaining over temper, she opened the door and peered
out. From somewhere near at hand there came a pungent odor of
burning toast. Jane sniffed; then, driven by hunger, she made a
short sally down the hall to the parlour where the nurses on duty
made their headquarters. It was empty. The dismantled bell register
was on the wall, with the bell unscrewed and lying on the mantel
beside it, and the odour of burning toast was stronger than ever.

Jane padded softly to the odour, following her small nose. It led
her to the pantry, where under ordinary circumstances the patients'
trays were prepared by a pantrymaid, the food being shipped there
from the kitchen on a lift. Clearly the circumstances were not
ordinary. The pantrymaid was not in sight.

Instead, the red-haired person was standing by the window scraping
busily at a blackened piece of toast. There was a rank odour of
boiling tea in the air.

"Damnation!" said the red-haired person, and flung the toast into a
corner where there already lay a small heap of charred breakfast
hopes. Then he saw Jane.

"I fixed the bell, didn't I?" he remarked. "I say, since you claim
to know so much about cooking, I wish you'd make some toast."

"I didn't say I knew much," snapped Jane, holding her kimono round
her. "I said I knew more than you knew about politeness."

The red-haired person smiled again, and then, making a deep bow,
with a knife in one hand and a toaster in the other, he said:
"Madam, I prithee forgive me for my untoward conduct of an hour
since. Say but the word and I replace the bell."

"I won't make any toast," said Jane, looking at the bread with
famished eyes.

"Oh, very well," said the red-haired person with a sigh. "On your
head be it!"

"But I'll tell you how to do it," conceded Jane, "if you'll explain
who you are and what you are doing in that costume and where the
nurses are."

The red-haired person sat down on the edge of the table and looked
at her.

"I'll make a bargain with you," he said. "There's a convalescent
typhoid in a room near yours who swears he'll go down to the village
for something to eat in his - er - hospital attire unless he's fed
soon. He's dangerous, empty. He's reached the cannibalistic stage.
If he should see you in that ravishing pink thing, I - I wouldn't
answer for the consequences. I'll tell you everything if you'll make
him six large slices of toast and boil him four or five eggs, enough
to hold him for a while. The tea's probably ready; it's been boiling
for an hour."

Hunger was making Jane human. She gathered up the tail of her
kimono, and stepping daintily into the pantry proceeded to spread
herself a slice of bread and butter.

"Where is everybody?" she asked, licking some butter off her thumb
with a small pink tongue.

_Oh, I am the cook and the captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And the bosun tight and the midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig._

recited the red-haired person.

"You!" said Jane with the bread halfway to her mouth.

"Even I," said the red-haired person. "I'm the superintendent, the
staff, the training school, the cooks, the furnace man and the
ambulance driver."

Jane was pouring herself a cup of tea, and she put in milk and sugar
and took a sip or two before she would give him the satisfaction of
asking him what he meant. Anyhow, probably she had already guessed.
Jane was no fool.

"I hope you're getting the salary list," she said, sitting on the
pantry girl's chair and, what with the tea inside and somebody to
quarrel with, feeling more like herself. "My father's one of the
directors, and somebody gets it."

The red-haired person sat on the radiator and eyed Jane. He looked
slightly stunned, as if the presence of beauty in a Billie Burke
chignon and little else except a kimono was almost too much for him.
From somewhere near by came a terrific thumping, as of some one
pounding a hairbrush on a table. The red-haired person shifted along
the radiator a little nearer Jane, and continued to gloat.

"Don't let that noise bother you," he said; "that's only the
convalescent typhoid banging for his breakfast. He's been shouting
for food ever since I came at six last night."

"Is it safe to feed him so much?"

"I don't know. He hasn't had anything yet. Perhaps if you're ready
you'd better fix him something."

Jane had finished her bread and tea by this time and remembered her

"I'll go back and dress," she said primly. But he wouldn't hear of

"He's starving," he objected as a fresh volley of thumps came along
the hall. "I've been trying at intervals since daylight to make him
a piece of toast. The minute I put it on the fire I think of
something I've forgotten, and when I come back it's in flames."

So Jane cut some bread and put on eggs to boil, and the red-haired
person told his story.

"You see," he explained, "although I appear to be a furnace man from
the waist up and an interne from the waist down, I am really the new

"I hope you'll do better than the last one," she said severely. "He
was always flirting with the nurses."

"I shall never flirt with the nurses," he promised, looking at her.
"Anyhow I shan't have any immediate chance. The other fellow left
last night and took with him everything portable except the
ambulance - nurses, staff, cooks. I wish to Heaven he'd taken the
patients! And he did more than that. He cut the telephone wires!"

"Well!" said Jane. "Are you going to stand for it?"

The red-haired man threw up his hands. "The village is with him," he
declared. "It's a factional fight - the village against the
fashionable summer colony on the hill. I cannot telephone from the
village - the telegraph operator is deaf when I speak to him; the
village milkman and grocer sent boys up this morning - look here."
He fished a scrap of paper from his pocket and read:

I will not supply the Valley Hospital with any fresh
meats, canned oysters and sausages, or do any plumbing
for the hospital until the reinstatement of Dr. Sheets.

Jane took the paper and read it again. "Humph!" she commented.
"Old Sheets wrote it himself. Mr. Cashdollar couldn't think
'reinstatement,' let alone spell it."

"The question is not who wrote it, but what we are to do," said the
red-haired person. "Shall I let old Sheets come back?"

"If you do," said Jane fiercely, "I shall hate you the rest of my

And as it was clear by this time that the red-haired person could
imagine nothing more horrible, it was settled then and there that he
should stay.

"There are only two wards," he said. "In the men's a man named
Higgins is able to be up and is keeping things straight. And in the
woman's ward Mary O'Shaughnessy is looking after them. The furnaces
are the worst. I'd have forgiven almost anything else. I've sat up
all night nursing the fires, but they breathed their last at six
this morning and I guess there's nothing left but to call the

Jane had achieved a tolerable plate of toast by that time and four
eggs. Also she had a fine flush, a combination of heat from the gas
stove and temper.

"They ought to be ashamed," she cried angrily, "leaving a lot of
sick people!"

"Oh, as to that," said the red-headed person, "there aren't any
very sick ones. Two or three neurasthenics like yourself and a
convalescent typhoid and a D.T. in a private room. If it wasn't
that Mary O'Shaughnessy - - "

But at the word "neurasthenics" Jane had put down the toaster, and
by the time the unconscious young man had reached the O'Shaughnessy
she was going out the door with her chin up. He called after her,
and finding she did not turn he followed her, shouting apologies at
her back until she went into her room. And as hospital doors don't
lock from the inside she pushed the washstand against the knob and
went to bed to keep warm.

He stood outside and apologised again, and later he brought a tray
of bread and butter and a pot of the tea, which had been boiling for
two hours by that time, and put it outside the door on the floor.
But Jane refused to get it, and finished her breakfast from a jar of
candied ginger that some one had sent her, and read "Lorna Doone."

Now and then a sound of terrific hammering would follow the
steampipes and Jane would smile wickedly. By noon she had finished
the ginger and was wondering what the person about whom she and the
family had disagreed would think when he heard the way she was being
treated. And by one o'clock she had cried her eyes entirely shut and
had pushed the washstand back from the door.


Now a hospital full of nurses and doctors with a bell to summon food
and attention is one thing. A hospital without nurses and doctors,
and with only one person to do everything, and that person mostly in
the cellar, is quite another. Jane was very sad and lonely, and to
add to her troubles the delirium-tremens case down the hall began to
sing "Oh Promise Me" in a falsetto voice and kept it up for hours.

At three Jane got up and bathed her eyes. She also did her hair,
and thus fortified she started out to find the red-haired person.
She intended to say that she was paying sixty-five dollars a week
and belonged to a leading family, and that she didn't mean to
endure for a moment the treatment she was getting, and being
called a neurasthenic and made to cook for the other patients.

She went slowly along the hall. The convalescent typhoid heard her
and called.

"Hey, doc!" he cried. "Hey, doc! Great Scott, man, when do I get
some dinner?"

Jane quickened her steps and made for the pantry. From somewhere
beyond, the delirium-tremens case was singing happily:

_I - love you o - own - ly,
I love - but - you._

Jane shivered a little. The person in whom she had been interested
and who had caused her precipitate retirement, if not to a nunnery,
to what answered the same purpose, had been very fond of that song.
He used to sing it, leaning over the piano and looking into her

Jane's nose led her again to the pantry. There was a sort of soupy
odour in the air, and sure enough the red-haired person was there,
very immaculate in fresh ducks, pouring boiling water into three
tea-cups out of a kettle and then dropping a beef capsule into each

Now Jane had intended, as I have said, to say that she was being
outrageously treated, and belonged to one of the best families, and
so on. What she really said was piteously:

"How good it smells!"

"Doesn't it!" said the red-haired person, sniffing. "Beef capsules.
I've made thirty cups of it so far since one o'clock - the more they
have the more they want. I say, be a good girl and run up to the
kitchen for some more crackers while I carry food to the
convalescent typhoid. He's murderous!"

"Where are the crackers?" asked Jane stiffly, but not exactly caring
to raise an issue until she was sure of getting something to eat.

"Store closet in the kitchen, third drawer on the left," said the
red-haired man, shaking some cayenne pepper into one of the cups.
"You might stop that howling lunatic on your way if you will."

"How?" asked Jane, pausing.

"Ram a towel down his throat, or - but don't bother. I'll dose him
with this beef tea and red pepper, and he'll be too busy putting out
the fire to want to sing."

"You wouldn't be so cruel!" said Jane, rather drawing back. The
red-haired person smiled and to Jane it showed that he was actually
ferocious. She ran all the way up for the crackers and down again,
carrying the tin box. There is no doubt that Jane's family would
have promptly swooned had it seen her.

When she came down there was a sort of after-dinner peace reigning.
The convalescent typhoid, having filled up on milk and beef soup,
had floated off to sleep. "The Chocolate Soldier" had given way to
deep-muttered imprecations from the singer's room. Jane made herself
a cup of bouillon and drank it scalding. She was making the second
when the red-haired person came back with an empty cup.

"I forgot to explain," he said, "that beef tea and red pepper's the
treatment for our young friend in there. After a man has been
burning his stomach daily with a quart or so of raw booze - - "

"I beg your pardon," said Jane coolly. Booze was not considered good
form on the hill - the word, of course. There was plenty of the

"Raw booze," repeated the red-haired person. "Nothing short of red
pepper or dynamite is going to act as a substitute. Why, I'll bet
the inside of that chap's stomach is of the general sensitiveness
and consistency of my shoe."

"Indeed!" said Jane, coldly polite. In Jane's circle people did not
discuss the interiors of other people's stomachs. The red-haired
person sat on the table with a cup of bouillon in one hand and a
cracker in the other.

"You know," he said genially, "it's awfully bully of you to come out
and keep me company like this. I never put in such a day. I've given
up fussing with the furnace and got out extra blankets instead. And
I think by night our troubles will be over." He held up the cup and
glanced at Jane, who was looking entrancingly pretty. "To our
troubles being over!" he said, draining the cup, and then found
that he had used the red pepper again by mistake. It took five
minutes and four cups of cold water to enable him to explain what he

"By our troubles being over," he said finally when he could speak,
"I mean this: There's a train from town at eight to-night, and if
all goes well it will deposit in the village half a dozen nurses, a
cook or two, a furnace man - good Heavens, I wonder if I forgot a
furnace man!"

It seemed, as Jane discovered, that the telephone wires being cut,
he had sent Higgins from the men's ward to the village to send some
telegrams for him.

"I couldn't leave, you see," he explained, "and having some small
reason to believe that I am _persona non grata_ in this vicinity I
sent Higgins."

Jane had always hated the name Higgins. She said afterward that she
felt uneasy from that moment. The red-haired person, who was not
bad-looking, being tall and straight and having a very decent nose,
looked at Jane, and Jane, having been shut away for weeks - Jane
preened a little and was glad she had done her hair.

"You looked better the other way," said the red-haired person,
reading her mind in a most uncanny manner. "Why should a girl with
as pretty hair as yours cover it up with a net, anyhow?"

"You are very disagreeable and - and impertinent," said Jane,
sliding off the table.

"It isn't disagreeable to tell a girl she has pretty hair," the
red-haired person protested - "or impertinent either."

Jane was gathering up the remnants of her temper, scattered by the
events of the day.

"You said I was a neurasthenic," she accused him. "It - it isn't
being a neurasthenic to be nervous and upset and hating the very
sight of people, is it?"

"Bless my soul!" said the red-haired man. "Then what is it?" Jane
flushed, but he went on tactlessly: "I give you my word, I think you
are the most perfectly" - he gave every appearance of being about to
say "beautiful," but he evidently changed his mind - "the most
perfectly healthy person I have ever looked at," he finished.

It is difficult to say just what Jane would have done under other
circumstances, but just as she was getting her temper really in hand
and preparing to launch something, shuffling footsteps were heard in
the hall and Higgins stood in the doorway.

He was in a sad state. One of his eyes was entirely closed, and the
corresponding ear stood out large and bulbous from his head. Also he
was coated with mud, and he was carefully nursing one hand with the

He said he had been met at the near end of the railroad bridge by
the ex-furnace man and one of the ex-orderlies and sent back firmly,
having in fact been kicked back part of the way. He'd been told to
report at the hospital that the tradespeople had instituted a
boycott, and that either the former superintendent went back or the
entire place could starve to death.

It was then that Jane discovered that her much-vaunted temper was
not one-two-three to that of the red-haired person. He turned a sort
of blue-white, shoved Jane out of his way as if she had been a
chair, and she heard him clatter down the stairs and slam out of the
front door.

Jane went back to her room and looked down the drive. He was running
toward the bridge, and the sunlight on his red hair and his flying
legs made him look like a revengeful meteor. Jane was weak in the
knees. She knelt on the cold radiator and watched him out of sight,
and then got trembly all over and fell to snivelling. This was of
course because, if anything happened to him, she would be left
entirely alone. And anyhow the D.T. case was singing again and had
rather got on her nerves.

In ten minutes the red-haired person appeared. He had a
wretched-looking creature by the back of the neck and he alternately
pushed and kicked him up the drive. He - the red-haired person - was
whistling and clearly immensely pleased with himself.

Jane put a little powder on her nose and waited for him to come and
tell her all about it. But he did not come near. This was quite the
cleverest thing he could have done, had he known it. Jane was not
accustomed to waiting in vain. He must have gone directly to the
cellar, half pushing and half kicking the luckless furnace man, for
about four o'clock the radiator began to get warm.

At five he came and knocked at Jane's door, and on being invited in

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Online LibraryMary Roberts RinehartLove Stories → online text (page 5 of 17)