“Miss Kexter,” Miss Kerr still bore her rump and bust inflated, “this is
the new patient for Ward B.”
Beside her stood Rose Standish. She wore a plain blue coat suit and a
small black hat pulled down to her gray eyes.
Miss Kexter turned from Miss Kerr and looked at her.
“Hullo, Miss Standish,” she said. “You sick?” and reached for the small
“Hope not … much,” Miss Standish’s ivory face was somber. “Dr.
Sterling thinks I may have a bum lung. In for observation.”
They walked into the ward and Miss Kerr observed, “Two vacant beds. Oh,
yes, that patient in 21 went home, didn’t she? Put Miss Standish in that
Miss Standish looked upset. Trained nurses haven’t much use for a member
of their profession who has the chicken-heartedness to succumb to
physical ailments. And Miss Kerr’s manner plainly said so. But Rose
Standish had not been head nurse in the accident room three years
without being able to think quickly.
“Oh, please, Miss Kerr, mayn’t I be put in that vacant bed over there,
by the window?”
Miss Kerr, who had suspected something from the first and thought that
the vacant bed she had forgotten had forestalled Dr. Sterling’s plans,
“Certainly not. Any patient with a suspected lung should not be near a
window … and a nurse ought to know better than to want to be.”
The patients, who were too sick to be wheeled out upon the porch, looked
on with interest. Mrs. Witherspoon, who spent most of her waking hours
with her bed curtains drawn and upon a bed-pan, peeked out from between
the curtains. She leaned too far, and then exclaimed:
“Lan’ sakes, nurse! Nurse, come quick!”
Miss Kexter vanished behind the curtains and Miss Kerr stood stiffly
looking out of the window, and Miss Standish placed her suitcase upon
the assigned bed and prepared to open it, but footsteps … male
footsteps … were coming up the corridor, so she hesitated. Dr. Mattus
spoke before he was in the ward. In fact he began speaking when he saw
Miss Standish standing by the bed.
“Hello! How are you feeling? Any weaker? You are not to sleep in that
bed. I want you by the window.”
Then he saw Miss Kerr, and smiled. That smile always saved him verbal
battles. It was delivered straightforward and deep into the eyes of the
avenging female, whatever her age. Miss Kerr moistened her lips and
prepared to resist it, but Miss Kexter had returned from Mrs.
Witherspoon’s disaster and Dr. Mattus turned to her quickly.
“Please get Miss Standish undressed immediately, I want to do a physical
“I can undress myself, Dr. Mattus.”
“You cannot. Until we can definitely locate your area, the more rest,
the better. Remember that, young lady, and be a good patient.”
He smiled at her … and she returned it … and Miss Kerr went down the
corridor and into the medicine closet door.
Dr. Mattus went for his stethoscope, Miss Kexter went to an insistent
telephone and Rose Standish drew the curtains and undressed. Then she
folded her best pink rayon panties and undershirt, her chiffon stockings
and silk blouse with the rose-point and her plain suit and put them into
the small suitcase. On top she placed her hat and patent leather pumps.
She put her hairbrush … the ivory one with heavy bristles which Tony
had given her (he had bought it with five dollars an Italian pressed
upon him when he delivered the man’s wife in externe-obstetrics) …
onto the bedside table and laid her tooth brush and paste beside it.
She re-opened the suitcase and took from a pocket in the top the same
volume of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” she
had been reading at luncheon.
She put her purse in the bedside table, closed the suitcase, dropped her
black satin bedroom slippers from her feet, slipped off her black rayon
kimona and got into bed.
She wore her only silk nightgown and it felt soothing upon her small
round breasts. It caressed her thighs. She opened her book, pulled back
the curtains and began to read.
A student nurse came on the floor and took the suitcase and brought the
bed-pan for a specimen. Then she asked if there was anything else, and
Mrs. Witherspoon, who had completed her operations for the moment,
emerged from her curtains.
“Good evin’, dearie. Hope you feelin’ fair?”
“Yes, thank you. How are you feeling?”
“Better, dearie. You don’t remember me, do you?” Her small murky eyes
fastened themselves upon Rose’s near cheek.
Rose laid down her book and smiled at her kindly.
“No, I’m sorry, but I am afraid I do not remember. I’ve been sick and
tired and my memory isn’t very good, Mrs….”
“Witherspoon, honey. I come through the accident room a week ago comin’
Sunday. My insulatin’ was low. Too much sugar you know, honey … and
you was so kin’. I could scarce speak and you was so kin’. I’ll never
forgit how kin’ you was, showin’ me the labatory, an’ all.
“You done me so nice that I thinks I ought to tell you, dearie, ’bout
thet bed. Three people … countin’ the one … _they_ seys was operated
on … and Miss Kerr knows was daid … three patients done died in thet
bed sence Thursday. Miss Frisby, an awful nice girl with a goitre, and
Mrs. Overlea … she was a heart attacker … and then last night, Miss
Tuck. It looks suspicious, I seys. If I was you, dearie….”
She was interrupted by the reappearance of Dr. Mattus and Dr. Sarah
James. They pulled the curtains to Miss Standish’s bed and Mrs.
Witherspoon tucked her chins into her breasts and went back to her
Rose Standish noticed her feet felt like icicles.
When their examination was over she was frightened. You could not go
over any human being that thoroughly without finding something wrong,
and her nurse’s disdain for a person who allowed herself to get sick
disturbed her considerably. Suppose they really did find something and
kept her in bed here a month? A lot more than she had bargained for …
Mrs. Witherspoon laid down her crocheting and peered at the little
nurse’s pale face.
“They did you up kinda bad, dearie. All them blood tests and things.
Severe I calls it. A body can’t even keep her corns nowadays!”
Rose Standish laughed in spite of herself.
“Oh, I didn’t mind. A nurse gets used to things.”
“I reckin’ you right. I reckin’ you right. It’s pow’ful sad the amount a
body can put up with, whin you is used to it. Take me, dearie. I had
eleven children. Four breeches presentations, three feet, three dry, and
one nat’rul. And would you believe it, the nat’rul was the wors’! It
lef’ me kinda flat fo’ months. A body gits prepared to put up wid things
… thet hurts … now things like this sugar business … no pain, nor
nuthin’ … you can’t get resisted fur.”
“Relaxation, Mrs. Witherspoon, is the best weapon with which to fight
disease. I’m tired. I think I’ll take a nap.”
“Do you good, dearie. Excitement and all, and then puttin’ you in thet
bed, too. Death-beds is weakenin’. It takes a sunnin’ every day and a
good six months to make a mattress lose a death struggle.”
Rose Standish turned her face to the window and closed her eyes, and
shivered. “Lose your heart, lose your appendix, lose anything, but don’t
lose your nerves,” was what Tony always said.
Ridiculous to be feeling like this. Crazy. Perhaps if she tried to think
about something else, then her feet would quit perspiring. Think about
the way Dr. MacArthur had looked when she offered to come … Galsworthy
said that your mouth was what you had become but your eyes were what you
were…. Dr. MacArthur’s eyes were like wave crests against a blue, blue
sky. Clean and deep and clear, when he had turned them into her, stood
up, and said:
“You have done more for me in fifteen minutes than anybody in the
hospital has ever done. You have picked me out of despair.”
She began to tremble again and then she realized that it was the way he
had looked when he said it that made her tremble. That look was the
grandest thing that had happened to her since Tony kissed her the day he
Of course she must expect to be jumpy, to feel fidgetty, to get dry in
the throat; good heavens, all of that was perfectly natural under the
circumstances! Dr. MacArthur had even told her to expect it, and he had
“If you get scared, shift your mind to something else. You are like a
doctor observing an operation, you are like an important actress
watching a play of which she knows all of the lines being enacted by
amateurs. Remember what you used to do as a student nurse and see,” and
then he smiled wryly, “if the routine has changed one second’s worth. I
bet it hasn’t.”
She opened her eyes and felt better. She looked at her watch and found
it was four forty-five. Time to bring the patients in off the porch and
prepare for supper. Behind her she heard a voice and turned over. The
woman, whose bed stood next to Mrs. Witherspoon’s, had been rolled into
She was as insignificant as a dried corn stalk. Heart case probably.
That queer revived look a wilted flower has when you stick the stem in
hot aspirin water. She was saying:
“The air was swell! It’s comin’ on cool and ’pears like we may get a
thunder shower by bed-time.”
Across from Rose Standish’s bed had been rolled that of a tremendously
fat woman. Some sort of thyroid insufficiency. The outlines of her obese
legs were visible under the sheets. Rose shivered. Nice job bathing a
hog like that. She had seen one in the accident room last winter with
secondary burns. Fat, layers and layers and layers. Awful to operate
The woman smiled at her and began speaking:
“Yes. Miss Standish,” Mrs. Witherspoon supplied.
Rose bowed politely.
The fat woman whispered loudly:
“I seen her, Mrs. With’spoon!”
“Seen … Her…!”
“Who is ‘Her’?” Rose asked.
The fat woman toppled with knowledge. Mrs. Witherspoon snatched the
words from her parting lips.
“The patient in Room Two. They say she was hurt in a bus acci-dent. But
thet was Thursday, an’ she ain’t daid yit. The windie shade is always
drawed and the nurses acts like she ain’t no sicker then the rest….”
“She’s awful prutty,” the fat woman tried to interrupt.
Mrs. Witherspoon continued:
“Callin’ thim dyin’ patient rooms an’ puttin’ thim ’tween the ward an’
the porch! I ain’t no hosbittle fixer, but it ’pears to me, I’d a put
’em closen onto the nurse’s dest….”
Rose Standish laughed softly.
“For a dying patient, Mrs. Witherspoon, the Head Nursing Office sends a
general duty nurse to do ‘special charting’. So dying patients have
private nurses. It doesn’t matter where the rooms are.”
“She ain’t got no privett nurse!” the heavy woman hissed.
“Perhaps the hospital was full and they put her there when she came in
and can’t risk moving her. Have you been here long?” Rose said.
The woman lifted her pendulous breasts and swung them out from the body.
“Whew! Hot today! Three weeks goin’ on Monday, mam. Long enough to know
thet I wouldn’t sleep in thet bed, you is in, not for a million
“What’s the matter with it?” Rose inquired demurely.
“It’s … it’s …” her breasts rested upon her bed as she leaned
forward, “It’s a death….”
But Miss Kexter’s appearance on the ward brought her speech to a sudden
halt. She flopped her body back upon the pillows and smiled weakly.
“When I think of all the clothes I got to wash whin I get outa here. I
prides myself my chillun is the cleanest goin’, and the teachers always
seys so, too. In all the health campaigns at School 17, Willie is always
But Rose Standish heard no more. Miss Kexter was standing beside her bed
and saying, “When did you decide to be sick?” Miss Standish caught the
sarcastic banter in her voice and replied lightly, “I haven’t. And I
hope I aren’t.”
Miss Kexter stood perplexedly by for a moment, pondering that phrase. “I
aren’t, I am not, I aren’t,” she kept saying it over and over to
herself. Rose Standish had been to college. She couldn’t be wrong, yet
that didn’t sound right, somehow … “I aren’t.”
“Sorry this happened to you when the infirmary was closed. You must hate
it on a ward. Hard as we work, I must say in spite of the depression, I
think the nurses ought to be allowed to be sick in private, don’t you?”
“Don’t know,” Rose’s voice had taken on its accident room clip, but the
tone was conversational. “Came so suddenly hadn’t thought about it.
Awful jolt in a way. Glad to be put anywhere, just so it’s the Elijah
“How did you find it out?” Miss Kexter’s voice had lost the skepticism.
“Oh, I don’t know. Been running an afternoon temperature, and then
yesterday I spit a little blood, so I went to Dr. Cub Sterling.” She
shrugged her shoulders despairingly.
“That’s a shame.” Miss Kexter’s voice, like her face, was shallow and
flat. “You don’t mind that bed, do you?”
Rose’s “No. Why?” was casual.
“Oh, nothing. Just that three patients went out in it this week and they
put us on the spot about it.” She had leaned forward and her whisper was
flat, also. “There’s been holy hell around here. They were all patients
of Father and Son.”
“Anybody know what killed them?” Rose’s voice was curiously inquiring.
“The Angels, darling. How the hell should I know? Even ‘Foots’ hasn’t
seen their charts since autopsy and is she mad? ’Bout to bust a
Rose Standish laughed in spite of herself. The thought of Miss Roenna
Kerr bursting a brassiere fitted in perfectly with her own suppressed
Her laugh was high and thin and flutelike. It saved her tears. It
cleared her system. All of her accumulating fear escaped into it.
Miss Kexter’s common face expanded into a grin.
“Shut up, Standish,” she begged, “or _you’ll_ bust a lung.”
Rose didn’t wait to simmer down. She hushed immediately. She had, for
the moment, forgotten she was ill.
The woman with the pendulous breasts swayed forward and said, “Let a
fellow in on the joke, sister.”
But Mrs. Witherspoon’s raucous voice demanded, “Tend to me, Miss Kexter.
A pan, quick!” And as she ran from the ward Miss Kexter turned and
ordered, “Don’t talk to Miss Standish, now. She’s got to be quiet.”
Rose turned upon her side and looked out of the window. She put her thin
little face against her flattened hands and lay completely still. That
laugh had made her realize how tired she really was, and how silly she
had been to let the superstitions of these women frighten her. What she
needed was a nap and then she’d be all right. She closed her lovely eyes
and snuggled into the pillows.
It wasn’t coming to the ward that had made her so awfully tired, but
remembering all … all everything … about Tony again. For two years,
now, she had taught her mind to close up as suddenly as a four-o’clock
when she began to remember. Remembering was no good, it only made you
ache in your back and sting behind your eyes.
Still if she was afraid again, it wouldn’t hurt to make believe. Make
believe, as she used to do when she first knew Tony and wished she could
get sick and nearly die and have pneumonia, and heart trouble and …
and then she smiled to herself at the funny child she had been. If she
had ever come down with a combination of any two of the diseases she had
desired in trios and quartettes, she would have never recovered … and
the object of those imaginary illnesses had always been to get well and
She was aroused from her reverie by a student nurse saying, “Miss
Standish, are you ready to wash? Here’s your basin.”
She looked at her watch and smiled at the child.
“Right on time, aren’t you?”
The girl laughed merrily.
Rose threw her head to one side and inquired, “And supper will be along
in a minute?”
“Yes, mam. I’m going to begin bringing it in, right now.”
Rose sat erect and wrung her wash cloth out and ran it over her small
face. The water felt good. She wrung it again and laid it behind her
ears. That felt good, too. She took a small comb from her hand bag and
slid it through her short black hair. Then she wrung the cloth out
carefully, folded it as she had been taught to do when a pupil nurse,
and brushed her teeth into the basin.
This was nice. It was fun being in bed in a ward of perfectly strange
women, rather than in a stuffy infirmary with six or seven nurses
talking shop and telling jokes all the time. She looked down the ward at
the rows of beds, and the glass partition which separated them from the
other fourteen beds; at the place where the partition stopped in the
center of the ward to create an aisle and then at the white beds beyond.
Through the far windows was a perfectly glorious sunset, and out of her
own window just the feathery beginning of new leaves upon an old tree.
She had never seen the ward from this angle. It was really a very pretty
sight, when viewed from bed and with nothing to do. Perhaps it was
because she had been through so much emotionally today that it looked
especially pretty. Things did, after such days.
Or perhaps it was because she wasn’t rushing to get everything in order
before the duty changes, rushing to remember this and do that. For once
her day was ending with the sun’s setting.
It was a good feeling. She stretched her toes and the covers swelled
with her rising breasts. And now in a few minutes supper would be along.
The ward was full of chatter, but she didn’t hear it. A voluptuous
relaxation was upon her. In bed. At sunset. Awaiting supper, and
watching the ugly faces of old women bloom, with the softening light …
and the new leaves on the tree taking on that clear green which hurt.
“You are the last in line, so I’m a half minute late in bringing it to
you,” the student nurse apologized, poising her tray. “Want to sit up?”
“Please, nurse,” Rose responded in a very helpless voice.
The nurse wound up her bed, took away the wash basin and Rose began her
It fitted in exactly with her mood, and seemed, at the moment, much
nicer than the meals she had in the nurses’ dining room.
Cream of tomato soup, and batter-bread and liver with bacon and lots of
gravy, and lettuce salad with thousand island dressing, and then for
dessert stewed pears … the only stewed fruit she liked. How utterly
She began “tasting” and discovered that her milk had real cream in it,
too. That was sumptuous!
She ate with a dainty grace which captivated Mrs. Witherspoon, who put
down her soup bowl from which she had been drinking, and announced
“Birdlike! That’s what you are! Set a body wondering soon as I seen you.
Lift your fork as refined as a canary does his foot. Pleasure to watch
you at your victuals, dearie.”
Rose laughed and blushed simultaneously.
Ward women made you feel so nice, somehow….
At seven Miss Kexter and the student nurse went off duty. They had both
come to her and asked if there was anything she specially wanted before
they left. But, of course, there wasn’t, and Miss Kexter had said,
“Please be alive in the morning, Standish.”
And they had both laughed.
After Miss Kexter had gone Mrs. Witherspoon looked over her spectacles
“I hearn what she said, dearie. Guess you feel like the clown who was
sick and the doc said, ‘See you in the morning,’ and the clown seys,
‘Sure you will, doc, but will I see you?’ Brave, them circus people. An’
loyal, my soul! They are paying for you, ain’t they, Woodsie?”
She turned to the shrivelled woman with the bad heart. The woman’s face
outshone the sunset.
“Payin’ my pension like I done for many a trouper before me. Circus
folks never let each other down. Never!”
“Who did you travel with?” Rose, who had been “letting her supper down,”
a new and delightful experience, turned and asked.
“I done the back somersault in Barnum and Bailey’s up to 1906. Then I
fell … I ain’t ever known how, but the ringmaster seys the horse
slipped … in Minneapolis that August … and I ain’t ever been right
“You must have had a wonderful sense of balance and courage.” Rose’s
voice carried awe.
“If you ain’t got guts you’d better stay outa circuses, and nursing,
too, I guess.” The woman’s voice had a note of admiration.
The two student nurses who had the seven to nine duty began preparing
the ward for the night. One brought around the bed-pans and tooth-mugs.
Mrs. Witherspoon, and the woman who had been a bareback rider, extracted
their teeth and placed them in their mugs.
The other nurse came around with the thermometers and started counting
The conversation ceased.
Rose Standish put forward her wrist for the child to count her pulse.
How young this pupil nurse looked. How young and frightened!
She was trying to think of something to say to her when the negroes on
the floor above began singing. Through the melody of their voices …
she had been in the accident room so long, she had forgotten about their
singing after supper, she lost touch with the student nurse. A high
soprano fluted: “Swing lo … o … Sweet Char … ee … ot.”
And suddenly she knew their plaintive harmony, the admiration of the
patients, the sense of work ceasing with the day, had left her
tremendously happy and glad to be here. Glad she was part of the Elijah
Wilson! And she was part of it! Dr. MacArthur had said:
“We are planning to enlarge the accident room. You are the first person
I have told about it. And while you are lying in that bed, I want you to
decide what changes you think it would be wise to make. You can be a
great help to me, if you will.”
A great help … and every head nurse in the hospital would give her
eyebrows to have him say that to her! As soon as the ward quieted down,
she’d have to begin to think about it … or perhaps it might be best to
wait until tomorrow and let the singing of the negroes lull her to
She wasn’t afraid any more. And anyhow Dr. MacArthur had said, so far as
evidence was concerned, she had nothing to be afraid of, except
hypodermics, and she would like to see the person who could give her a
hypo now! She would like to see two people try to give her….
Down the corridor she caught a glimpse of Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Senior,
and Dr. Sterling. Was Dr. Bear shrinking or did he just look so little
and chubby because he was walking beside Dr. Cub? They both looked
worried; when they entered the ward, they were smiling.
Their arrival created a nervous tension just the same. A sense of dread
filled the air. Dr. Sterling began doing his rounds and talking briskly
to his father about each patient. But Dr. Bear put his famous hands
firmly across his back and looked solid. Rose Standish frowned. He
looked just that way when a bad accident came in. Like it hurt him …
all over … too.
Finally they reached her bed and Dr. Sterling barked, “Good evening,
Miss Standish. Want Father to look you over. This condition sometimes
comes from effusion and is operative.”
The student nurse hovering in the background ran for the instrument
basket, and Dr. Sterling began drawing the bed curtains.
Dr. Bear was already leaning over and looking straight into her eyes
with his measuring ones.
Her bloodless lips turned a pinkish red. They accentuated the ivory
pallor of her peaked face.
“Perfectly, thank you. But if I get examined many more times, you are
bound to find something wrong, somewhere. How are you, sir?”
It was fun to be talking to Dr. Bear this way. He was accepting her as
an equal, sort of….
“I’m tired. Did two bad carcinomas this morning. Breasts. Two ruptured
appendices, and a gall-bladder, and I’ve a cold.”
“Then why not wait and go over me in the morning, sir?”
“Because I’m the parent of an electric dynamo,” he growled and the nurse
and Dr. Sterling, Junior, reappeared.
“What are you waiting for?” Dr. Bear frowned at the pupil nurse.
“To hand you what you want, sir.” she replied woodenly.
“You can’t. What I want is rest. My son will hand me what I need. You go
back to the ward.”
The nurse backed out hesitantly. Miss Kerr had said every nurse in the
building must permit no doctor to approach any patient without being
present all of the time … but … but….
Mrs. Witherspoon’s, “Nurse! Tend to me….” and then “Hurry, nurse!”
sent the girl running.
Dr. Bear put his stethoscope carefully to his ears and listened to Rose
“Do everything you ought to. Don’t make me ask you,” he ordered.
She inflated, deflated, said “A … A … A….” held her breath, turned
so that he could listen through her back. Repeated it all for Dr.
Sterling, Junior, who listened carefully to her heart.
Dr. Bear winked at her.
“‘Two physicians at the oar will row you to the Stygian shore,’” he
Miss Standish laughed, and Dr. Cub Sterling gave both of them a harassed
stare. They sobered obediently.
The examination was thorough, painstaking and consumed almost half an
hour. At its conclusion Dr. Sterling, Junior, said a very clipped,
“Thank you, Miss Standish,” and vanished. And Rose knew how deeply
grateful he was, really.
His father lingered long enough to say:
“He’ll explode some day. Thank you, my dear. Thank you very much.”
He took her thin little hand in his capable one and growled:
“You are nervous, aren’t you? I’m going to tell Mattus to give you a
bromide, if you need it.” And then he squeezed her hand gratefully and
uttered, for the edification of the ward, a very professional, “Good
night, Miss Standish.”
“Good night, Doctor.”
Her reply was professional, but she put her hand under the cover and
squeezed it herself.
Dr. Bear was a darling. It had been sweet the way he had explained Dr.
Sterling’s attitude and then thanked her himself.
When this was all over, how many real friends she would have gained. But
she mustn’t forget that she was here for a purpose. Perhaps if she took
a short nap now, she would be in better trim for the real thing … if
She turned over and tried to sleep, but the tension on the ward was so
overpowering that she thought perhaps if she entered the conversation
she might discover … or maybe she was just imagining things and the
thunderstorm which was brewing was causing that feeling.
If only they would all begin to talk of something they were interested
in and not to cover up what they were thinking.
There came a lull and she asked Mrs. Witherspoon:
“Do you think the flavor is better when you cook pork with sauerkraut,
or without it?”
“Without it!” chimed in the woman with the enormous legs. “I give it to
my children since they was babies and I always cooks it thorough …
four to five hours … and then….”
“You do?” Mrs. Witherspoon laid down her crocheting, inserted her teeth
and became emphatic.
“Thet saps all the taste. Mr. Witherspoon likes hisn so ez the pork and
kraut is mixed flavored, if you know what I mean. Ain’t it awful
leathery, yo’ way?”
“It ain’t the cookin’ time, as I was about to say,” the fat woman drew
up her chins, “it’s the _cookin’_ way.”
“I got one of them steamer cookeths. It doz gran’,” lisped the ex-circus
Mrs. Witherspoon gave her a frivolous glance, and replied positively:
“I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout workin’ them new fangled things. But I’ve et
from them. Eddie May, Sammy’s wife,” both of her listeners nodded, “the
one what come to see me Satd’y has one. And Mr. Witherspoon seys after
we went to Sammy’s Easter dinner, ‘Jennie, the only way to cook victuals
is to cook ’em with the eye. Baste ’em, and taste ’em, and it’s jes’
like stokin’ an ingine,’ he seys, ‘you got to keep yo’ eye to it.’ If
you know what I mean….”
This precipitated a hot argument upon washing machines, with the fat
woman as the defendant. So Rose Standish shifted her attention to the
clouds. If the women kept up for fifteen minutes more … and if she
knew wards they were good for hours … the thunderstorm would be here,
and they would be quieted down for the night.
She looked at her watch. It was almost nine. Time for the night nurse to
be coming along, in just a few minutes. And while she was waiting for
her to come and bed the ward down, she might as well begin to think
about the accident room.
Those scrub-up basins should be moved across the room and as far away as
possible from the door in which the accidents were brought. And then,
too, some arrangement should be made to equalize the lighting over the
two tables. And also to give the nurse at the instrument table enough
light to see what she was handing. And in some of the badly mangled
cases, it would quicken things considerably if a passageway was built
directly into the elevator corridor, so that they might be hurried up to
the operating room.
Then, of course it was a little thing, but awfully important nervously:
the girl who took the doctors’ dictation onto the typewriter ought to
have a noiseless machine. And it would be terribly hard to convince the
Superintendent of Nurses, but she was going to tell Dr. MacArthur that
she needed another student nurse on duty there. After a football game or
a big race meet when the automobile accidents began to pour in, it was
frightful. There was nobody, except the girl at the typewriter who
couldn’t stop, whose hands were not all gory and spotted every paper
She was distracted by a flash of lightning, Mrs. Witherspoon’s, “Lan’
sake, nurse, I’ve wet my bed,” and Miss Kerr’s niece, the night student
nurse leaning over her and purring:
“Miss Standish, are you better? Here’s your thermometer.”
Perhaps it was her voice coming so soon after the flash, but there
seemed something too saccharin in its tone to Rose Standish. She
shivered before she turned to take the extended thermometer.
Of course she knew Miss Kerr’s niece was the night student nurse they
were watching, but somehow she didn’t associate the name and the girl.
She had never liked this girl when she had been in the accident room. No
real heart, and stubborn and cattish … and then her eyes were too
With barely a fleeting smile, Miss Kerr thrust the thermometer into Miss
Standish’s hand and ran to close the windows. It had begun to rain.
While the windows were being closed Bessie Ellis, the child down the
ward who had received the toy in the night, began crying in her sleep.
She had been disturbed by the lightning, and her moans made the women
Several of the women called out to her and Mrs. Witherspoon’s lisping
(her teeth again removed), “Alwite bavvy, don cwy,” struck Miss Standish
as highly amusing. She slipped her thermometer around and laughed. Miss
Kerr, the student nurse, flopped down the last window and went to the
While she was walking down the ward there came another flash of
lightning, a sudden hissing, and the lights went out. It was followed by
a panicky silence and then the hysterical laughter of Mrs. Witherspoon.
Rose Standish ducked as if she had been hit, and as she ducked something
began choking her about the neck. She spit her thermometer upon the bed
and began tugging at the horrible pulling. A thing, like a brick, hit
her upon the head as she tried to sit up, and she thought, “it can’t be
the murderer, he only uses hypodermics,” and the lights went up, while
Mrs. Witherspoon was still laughing, and she saw Miss Kerr standing
between their beds, and reaching for her thermometer.
In a moment she understood that the sash of her kimona had become
twisted about her neck, and it was the book she had been reading and
stuck upon the edge of her pillow which had fallen … and it was all
absurd. All, that is, except the look in Miss Kerr’s eyes.
The surprised look, when she saw Miss Standish was still alive! Her
tongue was so dry she couldn’t speak and a horrible nausea began rising
within her, but Mrs. Witherspoon drew the girl’s evil eyes when she
demanded that her bed be fixed _now_.
Miss Kerr went for the sheets and Miss Standish lay down and turned her
face toward the window and tried to forget it all. She placed one of her
thin hands at the base of her brain and began massaging her neck. This
was no way to do. Get frightened at a little thing like a book hitting
you. A person who lost her nerve over such things wasn’t fit to look for
mice in a dark pantry let alone clear the reputation of Dr. Cub Sterling
and solve the terror of the Elijah Wilson. Forget it all for a few
minutes and remember the routine a student nurse should be following,
Of course the changing of Mrs. Witherspoon’s bed was throwing everything
slightly behind time, but that should be finished in a minute, and she
turned over to watch the girl make the bed. Her technique was excellent
and she was a swift worker. Seemed sure of herself.
Even from the back, Rose knew she didn’t like her. And never would. Miss
Kerr turned to finish the pulses. Then she began taking the flowers out
of the ward for the night. She took the pink roses which the clowns had
sent to the circus woman, and the nasturtiums the children had brought
the fat woman, and Mrs. Witherspoon’s tube rose … thank goodness …
and then she came back and gave out the final round of bed-pans, the
final glasses of water, and went for her medicine tray.
The little girl had gone back to sleep, but down the ward a gray old
woman, whose face was like cracked rock, was breathing with the horrible
labor of a heart attack. Rose Standish started to call the student nurse
and tell her to get Mattus right away, and then she decided that it was
about time she began to remember that she was a patient on the ward and
not a nurse.
Miss Kerr returned with the medicine tray. She gave Mrs. Witherspoon her
hypodermic, and almost as a sponge does water, the withered body soaked
it up, and she fell into a deep slumber. The woman with the thyroid
insufficiency had her sleeping potion and began the long slow breathing
of a laboring body.
The rain had broken the tension and the women were drifting off before
the lights were dimmed. It, with the aid of the drugs, of course, was
soothing and lulling them into oblivion. The long, slow torrents fell in
strips outside the window and drowned out the labored breathing of the
woman with the heart attack.
Rose lay perfectly still, so still she was almost drifting herself. Miss
Kerr had reached the bed in which the heart patient lay and at last
realized her condition … a tuned ear could have noted it down the
corridor … she turned and walked prissily off the ward … not
hurrying, and with her hips flat … and called Dr. Mattus. Rose could
hear her cooing out the dying woman’s condition, and gathered that he
was coming up.
In a few minutes he appeared and after a quick glance began pumping
digitalis into her … Rose could have told the nurse to do that! Then
when she rallied, and after the lights had been dimmed, he came by her
bed and said:
“All right, Miss Standish?”
“Perfectly. Thank you.”
He took her pulse and said:
“Good heart you’ve got. Dr. Sterling, Senior, said you could have a
sedative if you buckle. Ring for it, if you want it.”
“What’ll it be, doctor?”
He crinkled his long nose and sniffed, “Poison! Little nurses mustn’t
ask big questions! ’Night!”
His smile was broad, and forced.
By ten … Rose looked at her radio-light watch … the ward had “bedded
down” and the rain had diminished to occasional drippings. Everything
was cool and still. Miss Kerr had settled down to doing her fever charts
at the desk. Occasionally, she turned and peered into the darkened ward,
and Rose felt her looking at her bed, inquiringly.
She lay on her back, stretched her legs, put her arms at her sides,
little girl fashion, and began to breathe deeply. Perhaps if she did
that for thirty counts, she would drift off to sleep. If she buckled.
… she’d show ’em. Begin to get some rest … plenty of it … it had
been a long day … a trying evening … now everything was peaceful and
everybody was beginning to sleep.
But if she dared to go to sleep, why couldn’t the person … whoever it
was … come while she was asleep and … and….
She reached for her glass of water and took a drink. Her lips were so
dry it hurt to open them. This was foolish. How was her heart doing? She
took her pulse and discovered it was 106. Perhaps she had better have a
potion after all.
She looked toward the desk. Miss Kerr wasn’t there!