The First Doll

Bear Sterling hurried back to take a look at his brain tumor. He had
stopped for a few words with Cub, but Cub had insisted that he must get
back to his clinic and relieve Mattus. So after finishing with the brain
tumor, which was coming along nicely, Bear went to his own office, shut
the door, lay down upon a couch and went to sleep.

There was a crisis ahead. He needed a nap.

Dr. Barton did his rounds, discussed three unusual children with his
resident, did as much work and appeared as natural as possible for an
hour, and then filled his pipe and began the process of elimination on
the evidence.

Dr. Harrison had a fifteen minute survey with his resident; afterward
locked himself up in his laboratory and settled down to a “thinking
through.”

Hoffbein returned to his clinic and tried to behave as though nothing
had happened. His consultant and resident nearly died of excitement.

Dr. MacArthur cleared his desk and endeavored to clear his mind. He had
just rung for his secretary and prepared to go upstairs and lie down in
a vacant interne room and get some rest, when Prissy Paton and Princeton
Peters slipped in and closed the door behind them.

“Can you give us a minute, MacArthur?” Peters’ voice was sepulchral.

Prissy stood in the background and looked as if he were going to cry.

“Certainly. What’s on your minds? Sit down.”

They sat upon the edges of the chairs.

“Well?”

“Go on, Peters, and tell him,” Prissy prompted in his treble.

Princeton’s eyes took on their purple mist and he began:

“Dear MacArthur, what we are about to tell you is drawn out of us by our
great love for the Elijah Wilson … and for you. We feel you must know,
and we could not tell you in front of Bear. It would have killed him.”

“What is it? Get to the point.”

“Last night at midnight, Dr. Paton and I were coming up the corridor
from Woman’s Clinic … I had been to see about the eyes of the
president of the Woman’s College … sudden attack … and Ethridge came
out of the door of Medicine Clinic just ahead of us.”

Dr. MacArthur put his hands under his desk and gripped his knees. His
voice, however, was perfectly calm, as he replied.

“You must have been mistaken, Dr. Peters. Ethridge said he was in his
rooms.”

“That is the saddest part. We heard him say it! And we could not both be
mistaken about Ethridge’s back. His queer walk, MacArthur. One shoulder
higher than the other…. And we both saw it.”

“But you say yourself that neither of you saw his face, Dr. Peters.”

“You are quite right,” Prissy purred, “we did not see his face … but I
would swear upon my mother’s Bible that it was he.”

“I’ll ask him,” MacArthur’s voice was decisive.

“Please, MacArthur, don’t act hastily! It would be futile to ask _him_,
and if it were not for the horrible slur upon the hospital….”

Princeton’s pleading was so intense that he did not note Dr. MacArthur’s
silent anger, but Prissy sensed it.

“You must get some rest, MacArthur,” he soothed. “Come on Peters,” and
at the door he finished. “Great decisions must be made and we shall not
meet them unprepared.”

Miss Evelina Kerr, student nurse, lay prone upon her bed, sobbing
bitterly, silently, rackingly. Outside her door a supervisor from
Medicine Clinic, off duty at the time, sat erect in a straight back
chair, reading one of Edgar Wallace’s novels.

Up and down the hall of the Nurses’ Home voices rose and fell. The
nurses on night shift were awakening. Miss Roenna Kerr, head nurse in
Medicine Clinic, sailed down the polished floor and as her reflection
preceded her, a loud whisper sung.

“Foots!”

The voices ceased, and the doors filled with blond, black,
straw-colored, yellow and red heads in all degrees of disarray. Thirty
pairs of eyes saw her switch her stern to a halt in front of the
supervisor and smile.

“Mattie! How sweet of you to stay by my child!”

Mattie said deferentially:

“Miss Kerr, anything … anything that I could do!”

Miss Kerr knew Mattie was playing policeman on orders from the
Superintendent of Nurses, but she also knew that Mattie was accustomed
to taking her own orders. Her lips drew to a beautiful firming and she
said huskily:

“Having you in training and upon my staff, Mattie, has been one of the
really great joys of a very trying life!”

Mattie began disintegrating, and Miss Kerr put her hand upon the knob of
her niece’s door and was inside before the supervisor could moisten her
lips.

The room was inky, the dark blue window shade was pulled even with the
sill. Miss Kerr whispered, involuntary, “Evelina!”

Two sobs inverted their explosion. The girl sat up beating the air. Miss
Kerr ignored her agony and began relentlessly:

“This is no time for hysterics. Come on and tell me! What did you tell
them…?”

“Who, Auntie?”

“The General Staff.” Each letter of each word came bitingly.

“Nothing, Aunt Eeenie!”

Miss Kerr threw out her chin, and enunciated carefully:

“No woman can talk to that many men about nothing for half an hour. You
fail to realize Evelina that everything you have you owe to me. Your
training, your education, your clothes, even the straightening of your
teeth I paid for!”

The girl cringed in the blackness. Her voice was subservient:

“I … I … know it, Auntie. I swear … to God … I didn’t tell them
… and I never will! I’d get thrown out of training … before …
I’d….”

Miss Kerr’s words sealed her lips. They beat into her brain:

“A private who accuses his general … is always court-martialed!”

Then she turned upon her heel and closed the door after her.

For ten minutes the student nurse sobbed dryly. Complete exhaustion then
smothered the sobs. She fell asleep.

In the nurses’ cafeteria the first group were beginning to choose their
lunches. The white uniforms of the graduate nurses and the blue uniforms
of the student nurses with their white collars and cuffs reflected the
glare from the thin curtains at the sunlit windows.

Near a table occupied by four student nurses sat Rose Standish, head
nurse in the accident room. Her small ivory face was buried in a volume
of “Sonnets from the Portuguese” and she guided the teaspoons of
gelatine and whipped cream into her mouth by a sense of feeling, not
sight. Her outer eye was transferring to her inner one the charm of a
mind drenched in the world’s great love.

The student nurse with a raucous Kansas whine was saying:

“What’s happened to ’Lina Kerr?”

“I don’t know. Why?” responded a flat Alabama drawl.

“I saw her in the corridor with two supervisors at ten o’clock and
Minnie says they’ve got her locked in her room and won’t let anybody
talk to her. She … she … looked frightful.”

“Where have you been for the last week?” a Virginian purred. “Three
people have died on the ward where she has night duty and they all are
trying to blame it on her.”

“Have you lost your mind, Lizzie?” sneered the Alabamian.

“Well, if you don’t believe me, why did you ask me? They had her up
before the General Staff this morning.”

“Honest?”

“Yes. Honest! That’s sweet for her, if you ask me.”

“Jumping Jehosophat! You think she did it?”

“No. Of course not. Dr. Cub Sterling was the doctor on all of the
cases.”

At the mention of his name the conversation she had just been hearing
re-echoed in Rose Standish’s mind and she looked up just in time to
catch the shrug of the girl’s thin shoulders and her smirk.

“Did he?”

“How should I know?” the girl shrugged again.

Rose Standish closed her book and rose. She wanted air, and plenty of
it. Ever since the second year of her training she had had a very secret
passion for Cub Sterling. Ever since that time he caught her on the
stairway behind the pharmacy kissing … she blushed when she thought
about it … Tony Watson, one of his internes … and never told
anybody, and then when Tony had pneumonia and died, he had let her help
to nurse him and … be with him … at the last.

She reached the sun-parlor of the Nurses’ Home and collapsed into a
chair. After all these five years the thought of Tony could do that to
her! After all these five years … and it was because that thought
could turn her body to liquid soap that she still was so deeply grateful
to Cub Sterling. He was white as chalk and always had been. Gold through
and through … and those student nurses suspected him of murdering
patients. The dirty cats! The rotten little worms! The nasty pigs!

Why, when he found her in Tony’s arms halfway down that pitch-black
stairway, he had pretended he didn’t recognize either of them. He had
laughed and said, “My mistake!”

And then when he had reached the lower doorway, before he opened it, he
turned … she could hear his voice, even now….

“It’s a disease worth having. Good luck!”

Good luck … good luck. She was looking out of the window at the
sunshine; she had long ago quit crying. The grating voice of a furious
woman came up the corridor toward her:

“And I think, Miss Williams, that the nursing staff should request Dr.
MacArthur to cast his attention upon other departments, if you know what
I mean.”

The voice reached the sun-parlor. It came from the firm lips of Miss
Roenna Kerr.

And it settled Rose Standish’s fate.

She rose, respectfully slipped out of another door and into the main
corridor of the hospital.

Doctors Peters and Paton closed the door to Dr. MacArthur’s office
softly behind him, and Dr. MacArthur was too weak to get up and open it.

He felt like a man ordered to fit a jigsaw puzzle during an earthquake.

Somewhere among the group of people he had seen this morning there had
been a liar. Out of them some person … in whom the hospital had placed
a trust … had lied to him, face to face. Coniine….

Malice and all uncharitableness, deceit and hate, murder and meanness.
Coniine….

He cradled his head in his arms and moaned. Cub Sterling, his godchild,
almost his own son, and with the exception of the old orderly William,
every witness…. And now two members of the staff.

How in heaven’s name could Cub ever clear himself … now….

He was so deep in his misery that he did not hear the door open and
quietly close. It was the voice which roused him.

A small nurse with an elfin face and large gray eyes was standing beside
him. She said:

“Please, Dr. MacArthur, may I speak to you, suh?”

He lifted his head and motioned her to a chair. She remained standing,
her upright little body with its slim legs and small, finely arched
feet, motionless.

Dr. MacArthur recognized that she had something tremendously important
to tell him. He smiled.

“What can I do for you, Miss … er…?”

“Rose Standish, suh,” she supplied.

When the staff re-convened, Hoffbein was irritated. He had gone about
his routine and lunched in the doctors’ dining room. While he was there
no other member of the staff entered and it had made him out a fool to
all the internes. Looked like he wasn’t “in” on the decisions. Prissy
and Princeton had had ample time to repent their rash disclosure and
were afraid; MacArthur might face them with it before Harrison and Bear
Sterling. Dr. Harrison and Bear Sterling looked tired and uncertain. Dr.
Barton’s open face had assumed its judgmatical mask. Dr. MacArthur eyed
each man carefully.

It was plain that all of them were ready to talk. He sat erect in his
chair and prepared for battle. The small chatter died out, and the seven
men silently awaited Cub Sterling.

At four minutes past two he entered. His bushy, curly hair was rumpled,
his left shoulder was hysterically high. In his right hand he carried a
small doll in a pink organdie dress and bonnet that continued crying,
“Ma-Ma, Ma-Ma.” He seemed unaware of the noise; but it pierced the other
men like a jigsaw. They all jumped and Dr. MacArthur’s face for the
first time appeared blank. Bear Sterling was the first to regain his
equilibrium; after all he had dealt with the man as a child.

“Cub. What in the hell have you got there?” he growled.

But Cub strode obliviously past him and Dr. Barton took the doll. She
stopped crying immediately. That and Dr. Barton’s action brought Cub to
a halt.

“Dr. MacArthur, that doll was found by Bessie Ellis upon the foot of her
crib in Ward B when she awoke this morning. Evidently a present someone
had put there during the night. Nobody on the ward knew anything about
it. It must have been left by….”

“Who is Bessie Ellis, son?” Dr. Harrison soothed.

“She’s a nephritis case we have had on the ward for several months. Six
years old and cute. Barton and Father know her.”

“Quite a pet,” Bear affirmed.

“Sinister!” Princeton Peters murmured.

“No. Real evidence,” Bear’s brows were thunderously low. “She must bear
the finger prints of the murderer.”

“Impossible,” Cub barked. “She has been handled by at least ten people
since Bessie found her.”

And then everybody began talking at once and Dr. MacArthur rapped for
silence.


“Gentlemen,” his voice was commanding, “each of you has had two hours in
which to think over the situation. I need not remind you that our
decisions must be the sum of our wisdom, and reached without emotion.
Therefore it is my suggestion that we, one at a time, state our
conclusions, beginning as we are sitting. Dr. Peters what is your
opinion?”

“I should rather, MacArthur, reserve….”

“No. Out with it. We’ll never get anywhere that way.”

Princeton’s lavender eyes paled with uncertainty. Cub’s sensational
entrance had wobbled his mind.

He moistened his thick lips and his voice lost its usual certainty. It
actually contained a tremor when he began:

“I have always, as you know, gentlemen, deferred to you upon any
question about which I was uncertain. I have always valued the opinion
of specialists above the opinions of … even of friends … where any
patient, whether dear to me or not, was involved.”

“Need I say, my dear MacArthur, that the Elijah Wilson is dearer to me
than a beloved patient, even? The condition is so horribly serious that
I am against delay. It should be referred immediately, in my opinion, to
a specialist, namely, the police. I feel it should be turned over, I
repeat, immediately.”

His speech fell upon them like descending plaster. Somewhere physically
they all jumped. Bear grit his teeth and snorted, Harrison scowled,
MacArthur gripped his knees….

Nobody spoke, except Barton.

“I’m against it!”

His voice was flat and final.

“Why?” Paton purred. “I, personally, am for it. Wholeheartedly.”

“Nonsense!” Dr. Harrison exploded before Dr. Barton could reply. “Sheer,
childish nonsense. Are you out to kill the hospital or the murderer,
Peters? I repeat, some linen is too foul to wash in public! It has taken
forty years and more to build up the reputation of this place and you
are planning to destroy it….”

“Why, Dr. Harrison, I’m not ‘planning’ anything. Dr. MacArthur asked me
for an opinion and I gave it. That’s all!”

“Beg your pardon, Peters. No offense.”

The antagonism stiffened.

Dr. MacArthur intervened, “Your opinion, Dr. Paton?”

“I agree entirely with Dr. Peters. Men trained in the detection of
criminals are the men to catch murderers.” Prissy folded his hands
righteously and sat in a waxy pose.

Dr. MacArthur ignored his silent disapproval and passed on.

“Barton?”

“Against the police, suh. Entirely against them. Their intervention is
the way, to my thinking, to muddle the whole thing … and take an awful
chance of making the story public. Something must undoubtedly be done,
and done quickly, but what, suh, I frankly do not know.

“One thing which seems to me possible is to have every person connected
with the affair given a psychiatric examination by Dr. Hoffbein.”

Hoffbein’s back straightened and he smiled deeply.

“That’s in his line, it seems,” Dr. Barton finished.

“I’m against that … flat!” Bear Sterling mumbled. “In the first place
the only hope of ever catching the murderer is to pretend we are not
looking for him. At least twenty people are under suspicion as
possibilities. Remove any one of those twenty people and you may be
removing the murderer. Every person in connection with that ward in any
capacity whatsoever must continue there until the murderer is caught.
Otherwise … we senselessly throw our needle into a hay stack!”

“You’re right, Bear,” MacArthur replied. “Absolutely right!”

“What about the medical student doing routine tests on this ward?”
Prissy interposed. “Dr. Heddis said anybody could, with medical
knowledge…. What type of lad is he?”

“False clue,” Cub snapped. “He’s been home with the mumps for ten days.
The interne on the floor has been doing his work….”

“Well, what about Dr. … er…?”

“James. Sarah James,” Cub defied. “The doll rules her out of the last
one, at least. She was out of town yesterday.”

Dr. Barton who had been considering Bear’s statement replied:

“I see your point, Dr. Sterling, and it is an excellent one … but I
failed, evidently, to express myself clearly.” His voice was perfectly
even. “I was thinking of an examination of that student nurse.”

Cub Sterling sat forward and clipped, “So was I.”

His father turned his searching eyes into him and demanded, “What about
her?”

There was a knock at the door and it opened almost immediately. The
erect figure of the Chief Pharmacist shifted their attention. Baldy
Rathbone held in his hand a sheaf of telegrams.

Cub Sterling’s eyes followed those of the other men.

“I’m very sorry to interrupt, gentlemen, but this, Dr. MacArthur, is the
report about where coniine may be obtained.”

He held out the yellow sheets toward Dr. MacArthur.

“Where, Baldy?”

“It is available in gram quantities at the United Wholesale Drug Company
in New York, Parke Davis in Detroit, and the Burroughs Welcome Agents in
San Francisco.”

“Anywhere else?”

“No, sir.”

MacArthur took the telegrams. Baldy hesitated, massaged his shiny spot
and finished:

“They report no recent sales, sir.”

“Blind alley!” Bear Sterling grunted.

“I’m afraid so, Doctor. Anything else, Dr. MacArthur?”

Dr. MacArthur looked over his glasses and shook his head.

“Not that I can think of. Thank you for your promptness.”

“Dr. Heddis asked me to say, sir, that he has just checked the Medical
Library. There have been no reference works upon the subject out for
several years. He, therefore, feels that the student body is cleared.”

“Thank you again, Baldy.”

“May I ask a question?” Cub Sterling was clipping his words. “Will it
keep long?”

“What?” Baldy was resentful of his superior tone.

“Coniine.”

He turned and looked Cub Sterling full in the eye.

“I don’t know, Doctor. We have never handled it in the pharmacy.”

He was gone before Cub could reply; but his parting speech brought an
involuntary nod from Doctors Peters and Paton, and Hoffbein pierced Cub
with a barometer stare. Bear Sterling appeared to have missed the stab.

“Murderers always have motives. If we could find the motive…. What
about that girl and Hoffbein’s examining her. Where’s the harm?”

“The harm, Bear,” Dr. Harrison pulled his beard, “is (you will pardon
me, Hoffbein, and correct me if am wrong, please?) that presuming she is
the murderer, any examination different from that given any other person
might frighten her into a temporary respite, but it would not put us any
nearer a solution.”

“That is true. Perfectly true.” Hoffbein’s words were enunciated with a
finality, though Cub Sterling thought he hated to say them.

“And in view of the paper I found upon my desk when I returned at two
o’clock such an examination would seriously hinder our apprehension of
her … if she is the murderer.”

“What paper, Dr. MacArthur?”

“Haven’t I told you? I’m sorry. A typewritten sheet … here it is …
which states, Dr. Hoffbein … that because of two low marks she
received in a course in which Ethridge was lecturing last month, she has
dropped from seven to seventeenth in her class and will not be in line
for a staff job upon graduation. She cried straight through for three
nights afterward.”

The paper was still shielding the pudgy faces of Doctors Paton and
Peters, so Barton, the man furthest from them asked, “Who brought it?”

“I don’t know. My door was open and I found it upon my desk. It is
signed … also upon the typewriter … ‘A Student Nurse.’ Gentlemen, we
will never accomplish anything … unless we come to some conclusions.
Will you please give us your opinion, Dr. Hoffbein?”

Dr. Hoffbein’s eyes turned a liquid black. He folded his precise head on
one side and each word settled itself upon the air before its successor
was spoken.

“Gentlemen, I am not in favor of the police. A mental criminal is a
mental case. A murder of this type is undoubtedly a mental criminal. A
very clever, otherwise normal and possibly brilliant intellect. A man
… er … a person quite out of scope of … a police.”

He shrugged the police, with a final hiss, off his thin shoulders.

“What are your personal impressions, Dr. Hoffbein?” Bear Sterling
rumbled.

“I … I … er … as a psychiatrist … I cannot afford to have
personal opinions, Dr. Sterling.”

“Aw, for heaven’s sake! What d’y’_think_?”

Dr. Hoffbein’s little pigeon breast heaved. His eyes had completely lost
their whites.

“I … I … I … think,” he hesitated, and Bear cut in—

“Don’t be so damn slow about it!”

At that Hoffbein flared.

“It is my impression that action … drastic … and terrible should be
quickly taken to apprehend this dangerous man … and that action should
come through the psychiatric service.”

At last Bear Sterling caught the insinuations which hovered thunderously
over the room. He turned too purple for speech, so Dr. Harrison laid him
upon a sofa and murmured:

“Remember your heart, old timer. Remember your heart. Nothing to be
alarmed about. ‘Just a symptom of your disease.’”

And then he laughed heartily, and Dr. Otto Hoffbein ducked like a beaten
boxer. “A symptom of your disease” is a psychiatric term.

Cub Sterling got his father a glass of water. His hand trembled as he
held it. Barton eased a pillow under his head. Peters and Paton sat like
frightened schoolboys in the corner. Hoffbein was still cowed.

“Better, Bear?” Dr. MacArthur asked leaning over him. Dr. Harrison
turned and said:

“Here is the situation. It has to be met. You are going to accomplish
nothing by fighting. Every man in this room knows that between last
night and this morning a woman was murdered in this hospital. As a
result there have been some near murders since….” he gave Hoffbein
another look and his eye lit upon Dr. Paton and Dr. Peters…. “Actions
speak louder than words. If you love the Elijah Wilson, as you have
spent the day saying you do, then quit ‘emoting’ and begin to think!

“Police as a solution! Out of the question, entirely. Impossible to
catch the criminal if he, she or it, knows it is shadowed, let alone
what police would do to the reputation of the hospital.

“Suggestion number two. Turn the night student nurse over to
psychiatrists. Impossible, for the very good reason given by Dr.
MacArthur. Let alone the cruelty of the situation should she be
innocent.

“Suggestion number three. Turn the whole thing over to the
psychiatrists. Understand perfectly, gentlemen, that I am casting no
slurs upon psychiatry, when it stays within its limits. Hoffbein points
out this is a mental criminal. That’s within its limits. Suppose we
turned the whole thing over to you, Hoffbein? Had you thought how long
it would take you and your entire force to examine twenty people? Thirty
new patients a month is all you claim you are equipped to handle and
give them the proper attention, and these twenty which the hospital
would turn over would have to have a great deal more than just that.

“It would take you … every man working day and night … and nobody
seeing to the clinic … two weeks to give us any kind of a report. Two
weeks sitting upon dynamite!

“Not on your life. Our problem is this, as I see it:

“To catch the murderer, quickly, quietly, and without creating any
suspicion whatever throughout the institution. We have got to keep our
face, or ruin the hospital.

“How to catch the murderer, I frankly do not know. But that is the
situation, as I see it now. I suggest we take it as such and work it out
here….”

Bear Sterling was sitting up again, and Dr. MacArthur was back at his
desk.

“I have the solution, Harrison,” he said calmly. “Put a nurse in the bed
in which the three patients have been murdered.”

“Are you crazy, MacArthur?” Hoffbein’s voice was at last hysterical.

“No. I hope not,” Dr. MacArthur’s voice was deadly calm. “But today I
have had the privilege of seeing such cool, calm courage exhibited by a
person who really loves this hospital as to make me proud to be here …
even … now.

“A nurse came to me after the meeting this morning … one of our
graduates … and volunteered to go into that bed as a patient. Think it
over, gentlemen. That’s a solution, d’y’see?”

Dr. MacArthur’s words lay over them like spring rain. Some men they
heartened. Some they chilled. All they impressed.

Only Dr. Harrison spoke.

“I hope I’m a friend of hers,” he said.

They were silent so long it upset Dr. Peters.

“Suppose she is murdered, Dr. MacArthur? We couldn’t _allow_ it!”

“Dr. Peters, this nurse knew of the murders, that is why she offered to
go there. Can’t you understand … that? I brought out that she might be
murdered and she countered with” … he put one hand in front of his
mouth … “that her life was a small thing compared to the reputation of
the Elijah Wilson Hospital and the Medicine Clinic.”

Cub Sterling lifted his wild head and snorted.

“She shouldn’t take those chances … for us.”

And then Dr. MacArthur sat perfectly straight and lied.

“She’s not. She’s taking them for the hospital. _She_ wants to take
them. Suppose we vote upon it, gentlemen?”

“Dr. Peters?”

“I am against subjecting any nurse to danger.”

“Dr. Paton?”

“I … I … agree with Peters.”

“Dr. Barton?”

“She seems to me … the solution.”

“Dr. Hoffbein?”

“I should like to be allowed to give her an examination.”

“Sorry. But if she goes on the ward, she must be in bed within an hour.
Do I take it you favor her offer?”

Hoffbein acquiesced hesitantly.

“Dr. Harrison?”

“I regret the danger, but I agree with you, MacArthur.”

“Dr. Sterling?”

“I agree, MacArthur.”

“Ethridge?”

“It’s too much to ask….”

“Nobody asked it, son. She volunteered. And with my vote, and Heddis’
advice, I take it that your decision is, gentlemen, that this nurse
within an hour becomes a patient in Bed 11, Ward B, of Medicine Clinic
… and God willing … catches the murderer.

“Make it as natural as possible, Ethridge. Have your father and Mattus
look at her.”

“Any hypodermics?”

“I think not. You agree, gentlemen?”

When they had risen Princeton Peters’ eyes had purpled and he asked
reverently:

“Who is she, MacArthur?”

“Rose Standish, gentlemen.”

Cub Sterling, who was standing in the doorway, turned as though someone
had slapped him upon the back. His left shoulder was high.