At nine o’clock Dr. Harrison entered the hospital through the accident
room door and started up the main corridor. The last of the nurses and
internes were returning from breakfast, the morning sun as they passed
the occasional windows was picking each face out of its oblivion and
then throwing it back again.
Dr. Harrison shivered. The faces looked as the faces did upon the
streets of every city in the United States the morning after the
Lindbergh baby had been found….
The cynically young, the frightened vacant, the intelligent, the eager,
the stupid, all reflected the knowledge that Rose Standish was dead.
“A nurse died last night,” the stupid faces, the childish faces, the
vacant faces reflected, and as the intelligence increased, the horror in
the eyes grew….
Upon the internes and residents they showed:
“A nurse was murdered last night.”
And with an increasing frequency he saw eyes which knew:
“She was murdered in Cub Sterling’s Clinic.”
He passed the entrance to his own clinic, and then retraced his
footsteps. His duty was to MacArthur, but his first duty was to suppress
as much staff hysteria as possible. With the staff in such a condition,
it was only a question of hours before the patients, all over the
His resident was standing beside the elevator upon the first floor. He
turned and Dr. Harrison noted the first, second, and then a third horror
in his eyes.
“’Morning, Wheeler,” his voice was calm and measured.
“Good morning, Doctor Harrison. Do you know?”
“About the nurse? I do.”
“No, sir. About Doctor Bear.”
Dr. Harrison turned his searching brown eyes into the man’s gray ones.
The resident met the glance and responded:
“Pneumonia. Bilateral. Cub is with him. Diagnosis confirmed. Brought him
into hospital on a stretcher about two hours ago. He’s in Medicine
Clinic now … hopeless….”
Dr. Harrison staggered for the first time in his medical life.
“They murdered him! The dogs!”
He turned from the elevator and walked out of his clinic and down the
corridor toward the Medicine Clinic. He walked calmly, like a man going
to his execution and convinced of his innocence…. That heart attack
was responsible, as sure as death itself, Hoffbein, Peters and Paton had
killed … his best, his very best friend….
His agony was so acute that the passing faces with their increasing
hysteria seemed natural.
Turning to Mattus, Cub Sterling said:
“I’d better look in on Miss Merriweather, in case her father telephones
today. Then you can find me with Dr. Sterling, if you need me.”
He turned from Ward B and walked into Room Two and closed the door. That
shade onto the Ward was still lowered. He had lowered it himself the
first night he brought the cigarettes.
He and Sally Ferguson were completely alone.
She was smoking a cigarette. The room swam with pinking air and Cub
leaned against the door jam and snapped:
“How’s the leg since they took the bandages off? All right?”
She ignored the question and said:
“I just woke up! Why did you give me those pills last night?”
He walked toward the bed, and the horror of the night receded and a wild
happiness suffused his features.
“Don’t you know, Salscie?”
“To make me … sleep?”
“Would you have slept … without…?”
He leaned over her and kissed her twice. Completely and reachingly.
She burrowed her head between his collar and his neck and whispered:
He laid the weight of his head upon hers and she moaned and brought her
lips within reach again.
Cub drained them a third time and tucking his head between her breasts
“God I need that, darling! I’ve been through hell … hell … red hot
Then he jerked his head up and bored his eyes into hers. His voice was
wild and heavy.
“Whatever happens, whatever anybody tells you, whatever comes … you
must promise me, Salscie, that you’ll believe in me … that you’ll
trust me … and know that I’ve wanted you all my life … and when all
of this works out … I’m going to … live with you….”
Her body stiffened and she snatched her eyes out of his. Her voice was
hard and narrow.
“Cub Sterling, I wouldn’t … ever … live with you! At last I see why
women have children … why they want to belong….”
All the angularity went out of him. He reached over and gathered her
into his arms. His voice curled and nestled in her ear.
“You’ll have them, Salscie! Lots of little Sterlings!”
Outside the loud speaker began:
“Docterr Ste-earling, Junyior, Doct-terr Eth-err-ridge Ste-arling,
Junyior. Calling Doct-terr….”
They wilted apart, but their eyes still held and Cub said, softly and
“My father’s ill. Very ill. The hospital’s in a terrible stew. I may not
get to see you for a couple of days. Be good until I do! Take care of
yourself! Don’t be ferocious to anybody, Salscie! Promise? I’ll tell
Mattus to let you have your clothes, and try sitting up if you like.
Think you’ll need some more pills tonight … darling?”
She blushed and smiled slowly. Cub took a box from his pocket and gave
her two veronal tablets.
Then he leaned over and ordered:
“Kiss me quick, Salscie! Sophie’d better kiss me, too!”
At the door he turned and barked:
“Remember! This place is full of tales…. Trust me?”
“Till death us do part, Cub darling!”
Dr. Henry MacArthur sat at his desk and awaited the arrival of the
staff. He sat perfectly erect, dreadfully calm, with the hopeless
heroism of the stone blind. His hands were relaxed upon his knees.
Lifting them to cradle his head would require such an enormous effort
… mentally and physically….
He was as changed from the man who had lain in bed two nights before and
enjoyed scotch highballs as if he had spent twenty years in Siberia. The
hair at the temples looked grayer and the face was marble in its
emotions. They came separately, and filled its furrows. Bitter self
recrimination. He had sent a perfectly innocent woman to her death. A
mere child. He had allowed her to go up, pass through hell and die …
for his honor, Cub Sterling’s reputation, and the Elijah Wilson
Hospital. And to die so uselessly, so bravely, so quietly.
And the self-recrimination was followed by a nobility which made him
beautiful, as the world thought King Albert beautiful while he was
bleeding over Belgium.
Bleeding over the tremendous heroism of human beings. Over the cool
straight bravery of quiet people. Over the fragile littleness of her
still body. Over the sense of still living that her small ivory face had
held when he and Cub Sterling and Dr. Bear’s assistant were leaning over
her body, under the glaring light of that autopsy table.
It had been like bending over a plucked magnolia blossom, on a summer
morning. There was a spiritual fragrance about her as poignant as the
perfume of magnolias. A feeling of sheer beauty, wasted….
If he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget the exquisite curve
of that child’s small rounded breast and the nauseating sense of having
stuck a knife in it, which came over him!
An Edith Cavell, a Florence Nightingale, a Jeanne d’Arc, and he had
stood in her presence alive … and dead….
And all of it had been so futile. But as certain as death itself was the
knowledge … within his own mind … that Cub Sterling had had nothing
to do with it. That Cub Sterling could not have stood beside him in that
autopsy room a few scant hours ago and the sense of horror and
helplessness have so entirely gripped them. And it did grip … both of
He started to telephone for Cub to come to him now and then he
remembered about Bear, and his head … for the first time since he had
been Director of the Elijah Wilson Hospital … fell into his cupped
hands, while the door into the corridor stood wide open.
Caesar was dead, Napoleon was dead, Osler was dead, Socrates was dead,
Halsted was dead and Bear Sterling was dying….
Dying because of overwork and a bad heart. Sacrificed to his profession
by his colleagues! That heart attack yesterday, coupled with the cold
had done it.
All the great men were dead or dying…. Coniine….
He turned over Cub Sterling’s testimony concerning the death of Miss
Standish, and stared vacantly at the words. Somewhere, at this very
minute, there was walking, still free, about the Elijah Wilson Hospital,
probably laughing and talking with other patients, a nurse, a doctor …
a man … a woman … a murderer….
Dr. MacArthur rose and walked to the far window through which the warm
spring sun was shining. He must pull himself together. His duty was not
to his emotional beliefs concerning men and their motives. Above all
things he must be fair. His duty and theirs was to the hospital and
within the next five minutes he must get himself in such perfect control
that he could compel them to see it.
The opportunity of the hospital to be of benefit to humanity for the
next fifty years depended entirely upon his ability to hold his staff
together this morning. To force these exceptionally capable men to think
calmly … and wisely.
He closed his eyes and allowed the sun to penetrate through the lids. A
soft spring breeze floated in the opened window. A living, gentle breeze
which foretold all the wealth of future living in flowers and
fragrances; which expressed as clearly as Chopin might have, how he felt
about the small, slim body of Rose Standish.
It seared him like a sirocco. Yesterday morning, she had stood there
with just such a breeze blowing. Yesterday morning it had promised her
summer, too … and today…. He turned his back resolutely to the
window and still stood with his eyes closed.
The sun began relaxing the muscles at the base of his brain and then he
seemed suddenly sane. Her death had been like those of the officers in
the Great War who had jumped out of the trenches and walked up and down
to give their men courage….
He returned to his desk and calmly began planning what must be covered
at this meeting, and what witnesses must be called. Cub, if he could
leave his father, otherwise his testimony must suffice. The day white
nurse, the night pupil nurse, Miss Kerr’s niece, and Mattus’ impression
of the patient when he last saw her. Then it would be wise to ask Dr.
Heddis to come over and report upon the autopsy findings.
The lack of sleep was telling upon him. He had entirely forgotten about
questioning the orderly, William. He rang for his secretary and gave her
When Dr. Barton’s squared frame filled the door it brought with it a
sense of relief. Queer how sane associating with children made a man.
Almost immediately he was followed by Hoffbein, Peters and Paton …
together. They had just settled themselves when Dr. Harrison strode in.
There was an armor of righteousness about him that dazzled. Dr.
MacArthur had never seen Harrison this way before. Like some great
patriarch of Biblical fame girded for battle.
When they were all seated, Dr. Barton and Dr. Harrison exchanged
monosyllabic diagnoses upon Dr. Bear and Dr. MacArthur read their faces.
Peters, Hoffbein, and Paton missed the discussion. They were funereal,
self-righteous and pious, respectively.
A nurse was dead. They had gone on record opposing placing her in the
position where she might be murdered. Dr. MacArthur had sacrificed her
to save Cub Sterling’s reputation.
At half-past six when Dr. MacArthur had notified Dr. Peters, Dr. Peters
had telephoned Dr. Paton right away and intoned “The sort of thing that
purifies a man,” and after that their conversation had been long,
gossipy … and horrified. Princeton had been propped against his
pillows, his feet glued to a white rubber hot water bottle and a deep
purple corded silk dressing gown thrown over his still firm shoulders.
His wife was abroad with Mrs. Paton.
Prissy, whose telephone was as much a part of his bedtime equipment as
his nightshirt, had lain perfectly flat upon his bed and with their
decisions his “seven months gone” bay-window rose and fell. Cushioned
upon what had once been his chest was a French telephone.
Their first decision had been to tell MacArthur “right out” that they
had to have a private meeting without either of the Sterlings present,
and decide something.
As Prissy’s upper teeth and Princeton’s lower ones were removed for the
night, their vehemence had seemed awfully mushy to the telephone
operator when she cut in for Paton’s resident.
But when the discourse was resumed Princeton had said:
“I shell inten’ to shay, at the meetin’ we are demandin’, Paton.”
Prissy’s front had given a proud heave.
“That we cannot have our poshishun jepodized any longer. Action” … the
bay-window rose … “must be taken immediately. The powice—”
Five minutes had been lost over that word. Neither of them could
persuade the telephone to accept it.
“The law to intervene,” Princeton finally substituted.
“I agwee entirely, Peshurs. I’ll stan’ behin’ you, straight through.”
Prissy’s offer even in the noontide sun would have come in a high treble
and over the telephone and under the circumstances it didn’t sound very
However, after they had both bathed, both felt her death had purified
them, both inserted their teeth, both had called MacArthur and requested
a meeting minus the Sterlings.
It had left them a little shaky … but now that Dr. MacArthur was
beginning to speak, Prissy nodded to Princeton who tiptoed to the door
and closed it. They felt they had been justified in the action they had
Neither Sterling was present.
“Gentlemen,” Dr. MacArthur’s voice was measured and low, “Rose Standish
is dead. She was murdered last night while a patient in Bed 11, Ward B,
of Medicine Clinic. An injection of coniine. She went on that ward to
save your reputation and mine. To lift the hospital out of terror …
and she is dead, and we are….”
“I was against it from the first,” Princeton began clearing himself with
the rapidity of a condemned schoolboy.
Nobody paid him the slightest attention. Prissy blushed, and Hoffbein
“We are faced,” Dr. MacArthur’s blue eyes had taken on their fighting
steeliness, “with the blackest day the Elijah Wilson has ever seen. With
the fact that no patient anywhere is safe in any bed of the institution
… with the responsibility of catching a murderer within our walls. A
person who has committed two untraceable, two traceable murders.
D’y’see? Gentlemen, I ask your advice.”
Princeton Peters and Prissy Paton stared at Dr. Hoffbein and he nodded
… with his eyelids, and Princeton rose.
“To put it plainly, straightly and to the point, MacArthur, it is one
thing to protect your professional colleagues, but after all our
Hippocratic oath binds us _first_ to the protection of our patients.
“I’m glad you called this meeting as we advised, and have given us an
opportunity of speaking frankly. Murder, automatically, cancels loyalty!
Call in the police immediately is the advice of myself, Dr. Paton and
His peach-blossom face was brick red and it was the fury with which Dr.
Harrison rose that, at a distance of ten feet, scared Dr. Peters into
“You might just as well know, Dr. Peters,” his brown eyes were live
coals, “that this meeting was not called without the Sterlings
purposely. Barton and I were dead against it, as was MacArthur. Dr.
MacArthur was intensely kind in his opening speech about the number of
murders which have been committed in this hospital within the last week.
They are five.”
“Stop, Harrison. Please stop!” Dr. MacArthur had risen from his chair,
but he might have been a fly upon the distant mantelpiece for the effect
“Sorry. I can’t stop. They might just as well know it! Call in your
police! Call them in now! And as sure as Christ was crucified I’ll swear
out a warrant for each of you, Hoffbein, Peters and Paton, for the
murder of Bear Sterling, now dying of pneumonia complicated by the heart
attack which you, famous colleagues and a world-renowned psychiatrist
caused by your foul insinuations yesterday.
“If you value your international reputations as much as your
self-exhibitions in the last fifteen years indicate, the police are out
of the question.
“Now let’s get down to business.”
For fully four minutes after he had finished no man in the room spoke.
No man could. For fifteen, twenty, perhaps thirty years none of them had
ever heard Dr. Harrison raise his voice above a conversational tone,
never had seen him for one-quarter of a split second lose complete
control of himself or of a situation, never had heard him judge a man
And the three he condemned were too seared to be angry, too frightened
to be resentful, too dazed to be amazed.
He had spoken the truth … and they knew it.
Dr. Barton, as a nurse might work upon children upset by an explosion,
took his pipe from his mouth, and began speaking. He said:
“Dr. MacArthur, I think it is your advice that we need, suh.”
The thing that cowed Dr. Peters, Paton and Hoffbein, was that Dr.
Harrison had suffered no relapse. He sat firmly stroking his beard and
looking alternately at each of them.
Dr. MacArthur, his blue eyes firmly defiant, began:
“The hospital has never been in so delicate a situation. I repeat that
the matter must be handled with secrecy, tact, and sanity.
“You see, gentlemen, this hospital was endowed, it has been perpetuated
for, and is famous as, a great teaching institution. When through any
clumsiness of ours we have more beds than patients the hospital is
doomed. Its great advantage has always been more patients than beds.
Prissy’s green, Princeton’s lavender and Hoffbein’s liquid eyes were
glued upon his face. Dr. Barton’s shoulders were hunched attentively.
“Now if we were to turn this situation over to the police, regardless of
Dr. Harrison’s statements, we would automatically spread into every ward
of every department, every newspaper in the country, the superstition of
every negro within a thousand miles, the means of ruining, absolutely,
your work, mine and that of all the medical men now resident and student
“Murder is a very horrible situation, but dooming the future of at least
a thousand capable men is, in my opinion, worse, all oaths,
“Whatever hysteria is manifested must not come from the staff, nor the
blunders which so horrible an occurrence makes us likely to fall into.”
“You’re absolutely right, Mac!” Dr. Harrison’s voice was placid, and
Prissy and Princeton automatically exhaled the breath they had been
inhaling preparatory to argument.
Dr. Harrison said:
“Do you know how many rabbit feet I’ve seen on dispensary patients in
the last six months? Sixty-three! The cancer cases love ’em. How many
patients we’ve lost because they moved when another negro sprinkled salt
upon their doorsteps? Eighty-one! Within three blocks of here I’ve
counted fifteen chiropractors, ten optometrists, five osteopaths, and
“Superstition, witchcraft, voodoo, dynamite! We’ve _got_ to keep our
face no matter if all of us are murdered. Matter with you three is just
a touch of hysteria.”
Hoffbein squirmed and replied:
“Fear psychosis is a most contagious disease, but like all contagious
diseases most debilitating. It has only one cure: to remove the cause of
His voice was precise and his words, he felt, showed how he stood and
yet were dignified.
“From which I understand you are suggesting we scrap Cub Sterling,”
MacArthur’s angry eyes bore into him like a hot poker, and his mouth
drew to a tight line as he slapped his hand upon his desk and stated, “I
won’t do it without _ample_, _complete_ and _convincing evidence_. Have
you any to offer?”
Hoffbein squirmed acutely and he replied evasively:
“Nothing … tangible…. Only those small and very personal signs which
to a man in my branch are so revealing. His hands, the hysterical set of
his left shoulder, the peculiar light which comes into his eyes….”
“That’ll do!” Dr. Harrison barked. “If I knew any of you had cancer, I’d
tell you so to your face. If Bear Sterling had found any man here
suffering from an incurable brain tumor, he would have told that man. We
are not asking you for symptoms, Hoffbein. Have you any evidence, yes or
Hoffbein’s eyes lost their whites. “No.”
“Then let’s get on to people who have. Read Ethridge’s testimony,
Dr. MacArthur picked up the long white sheet of paper and began in an
“Complying with the decision of the General Staff of the Elijah Wilson
Hospital, I admitted Rose Standish, graduate nurse of this
institution, as a patient in Medicine Clinic, Ward B, Bed 11,
yesterday afternoon. The diagnosis, for the benefit of the nursing
staff, being a possible tubercular effusion.
“She received a routine examination from the house staff and from
seven-ten until seven-thirty last evening my father, Dr. Sterling, and
I went over her. We found her lungs in excellent shape, her heart
slightly enlarged, but not seriously so, her general physical
condition splendid, with the exception of the fact that she was
somewhat thin and underweight. There were no signs of any malady of
any kind whatever. Her temperature was normal, her pulse good, though
a little rapid, which, considering the circumstances was not
surprising, and her spirits commendably calm.
“We both felt most reassured by her mental and physical condition,
though my father, Dr. Sterling, in case she might discover herself too
fatigued to sleep advised a sedative. We told Miss Standish of the
order and suggested she call for the potion if she felt the necessity.
“There was some vague hysteria in the ward, which both Miss Standish
and ourselves sensed, and I understand from the seven-to-nine-student
nurses that she calmed it by conversation.
“The prescription for the potion was, later, removed from Miss
Standish’s chart and is in the possession of Dr. MacArthur, as is,
also, the testimony of a patient who claimed to have seen Miss Kerr,
student nurse, standing over Miss Standish’s bed for several seconds
during the thunderstorm which extinguished the lights at nine-forty.
“From the time we walked off the ward at seven-thirty, until Mattus
notified me of Rose Standish’s death at one-ten, I did not see Miss
Standish. Mattus saw her around ten and reported her in practically
the same condition in which Father and I had left her.
“After seeing my father, Dr. Sterling, to his car at seven-thirty, I
went to dinner in the doctors’ dining room, took a short walk, and was
in bed by eleven-thirty.
“When Mattus notified me of Miss Standish’s death at one-ten, I
immediately called Dr. MacArthur who ordered an autopsy, tried to get
my father and learned that the cold he had complained of was settling
in his chest and his temperature was 101. At his orders I got his
assistant, Dr. Withers, who in the presence of Dr. MacArthur, Mattus
and myself, performed the autopsy, the findings of which will be given
by Dr. Heddis, who came in when it was half finished and later took
the organs for examination.
“Because of the excellent forethought of Mattus, we borrowed an
operative patient from Surgical Clinic and rolled her bed into the
place where Rose Standish’s had stood and left orders to say to the
patients that Miss Standish had hemorrhaged and been put in a private
room. From the time the ward awoke until the operation was called, the
new patient was in the process of preparation and did not realize the
“From the time of the discovery of Rose Standish’s corpse, until
Mattus and I had rolled the bed toward the elevator, the deportment of
William, the orderly, was most praiseworthy and the demeanor of Miss
Evelina Kerr astonishingly calm.
“While the autopsy was still in progress, my mother called to say that
Dr. Sterling’s temperature had risen to 103, his breathing was labored
and he was requesting I come to him. Dr. MacArthur insisted that I go.
I found him with a definite case of pneumonia, both lungs seriously
involved, pulse irregular, and breathing labored, semi-delirious. I
immediately called an ambulance and brought him into the hospital for
“The response is disheartening. His heart is weakening. I have
remained by his bedside, again through the advice of Dr. MacArthur.
“Dictated to Dr. MacArthur’s secretary, outside room 511, Medicine
Clinic, at 8:30 A. M. Wednesday, May 18th.
“(Signed): Ethridge Sterling, Jr., M.D.
The Elijah Wilson Hospital.”
Dr. MacArthur laid the paper down and looked from the window.
“Questions?” his voice was old and heavy, and he brought his eyes back
to the men with an effort.
Dr. Harrison shot a glance around the room and insisted:
“Let’s continue with the evidence.”
Dr. MacArthur pushed a button upon his desk, the door into the corridor
opened and Miss Evelina Kerr, night student nurse on Ward B, entered.
It was Princeton Peters who escorted her to the chair beside Dr.
MacArthur’s and Dr. Hoffbein who would have liked to question her, had
he not felt Dr. Harrison’s eyes judging his every thought; so Dr.
MacArthur turned to her and said:
“You have been through another dreadful night. I’m sorry. Please tell
about it carefully.”
She sat as she had sat yesterday, her hands primly in her lap and her
flat feet carefully together, her stubborn defiance breaking through her
She looked carefully around the large room before she began to speak,
and to Dr. MacArthur, Dr. Harrison, and Dr. Barton, there flashed a
realization that her eyes were still too close together, and that
somehow she was enjoying her importance.
But her survey did not escape Dr. Harrison.
He barked, “Dr. Sterling is not here because his father is desperately
ill. Will you be so kind as to tell your story, now?”
“Yes, Dr. Harrison, I will.” The stupid definiteness in her voice was
maddening. She turned her eyes upon Dr. Hoffbein and told her story to
him. She said:
“When I went on duty at nine I found Miss Standish a patient in Bed 11,
Ward B. She said Dr. Sterling thought she might have a tubercular
effusion and she was in for observation. I gave her her thermometer and
ran to close the windows as the rain had started.”
“And when the lights went out, you were standing by her bed, Miss Kerr,”
Dr. Barton announced pointedly.
Her eyes did not leave Dr. Hoffbein, and she replied:
“I had come back for the thermometer.”
The answer crashed like a broken plate, and Dr. Harrison insisted:
“Then I counted her pulse,” her voice was wooden, “gave my medicines.
Put out the flowers and called Dr. Mattus about a woman with a heart
“Why didn’t you give Miss Standish her sleeping potion, when you were
“Because, Dr. Barton, Dr. Mattus came up to the heart case and said not
to give it to Miss Standish unless she called for it.
“After he went, I dimmed the lights, went to work on my fever charts,
made up the midnight medicines, and began studying my nursing manual.
William, the orderly, came up the hall twice to ask me about some dishes
and the breakfast trays, and then about eleven-thirty, Miss Standish
rang and asked for her sleeping potion, and I gave it to her.”
“Are you sure you gave her the right prescription?” Dr. Harrison’s eyes
had bored past Dr. Hoffbein and into her.
She pouted her thick lips and lifted her ugly chin.
“Yes, sir, I’m positive. She went to sleep right away. You don’t think,
“What I think does not concern your story, Miss Kerr. Please continue.”
There was a slight tightening of her jaw, and had she had sense enough
to cry then, every man in the room would have felt beaten. She continued
“After I gave Miss Standish her medicine, the next patient had to have
her linen changed, and when I had finished with that, Miss Standish was
asleep. I could tell by her breathing.
“It was then almost midnight and I went to boil my syringes for the
midnight hypodermics, and while I was boiling them Mrs. Witherspoon, the
patient whose bed I had just changed, rang again, and I ran to see about
“And as I reached her bed, I found Dr. Cub Sterling leaning over Miss
Standish. He looked up and nodded, and….”
“Repeat your last three sentences, Miss Kerr. Repeat them twice! And
look at me while you do it.” Dr. Hoffbein’s voice was mesmeric.
Miss Kerr repeated them … twice….
They filled the room and permeated the senses of every man present like
Dr. Harrison shot his gimlet-like brown eyes into the narrow, close ones
of the student nurse.
“You are wrong, Miss Kerr. Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Junior, was in his
“I’m not! He was bending over Miss Standish. I know it. His bushy hair,
his funny shoulder….”
“Did he speak?”
“No, Dr. Harrison. He just nodded. Like he always does.”
“Why didn’t you _make_ him speak?”
“I couldn’t stop to. We had no more clean linen and I had to run for a
bed-pan for Mrs. Witherspoon.”
MacArthur’s hand beat upon his desk … hopelessly….
“Go on, Miss Kerr.” His voice was like a death-knell.
“And when I came back he was gone. He had hurried off the ward while I
was getting the bed-pan. And I went to Miss Standish as soon as I could.
She was still asleep. And I ran to William. He was asleep. And then I
started to ’phone the night supervisor, but it was time to give my
medicines … and Aunt Roenna always told us even if the building were
burning down, the medical patients must have their medicines on time. So
I began giving them their hypodermics. And when I could, I went to look
at Miss Standish. She was still sleeping.
“And then I finished the medicines and fever charts and called in the
rounds … I forgot to mention about Dr. Sterling because the supervisor
rung off so quickly … and I had to hurry from the ’phone to give out
three bed-pans. When I had finished the bed-pans I went to look at Miss
Standish again and she was dead … and so I called Aunt Roenna….”
“Why?” Dr. Harrison’s word hit her like a brick.
“Because she had told me to.”
“Last night before she went off duty.”
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘All right, I’ll come over.’”
“Then you both _expected_ Rose Standish to die, Miss Kerr?”
All of this dialogue had gone on so swiftly that the girl had failed to
make her brain control her speech. It had come out … spontaneously….
“We didn’t either, only….”
Dr. Harrison decided that this was not the time for the truth. He passed
off her reply with, “What happened next?”
“I called the night supervisor and Dr. Mattus, and waited until they
came. And then….”
“From that point forward we have several eye-witnesses.” Dr. MacArthur
interrupted. “Thank you, Miss Kerr.”
He picked up his telephone and asked:
“Nursing office, please. Miss Merrill, will you please come for Miss
Kerr, student nurse, and put her to bed, and follow the orders given you
this morning. Thank you.”
The girl turned to speak and Dr. Harrison motioned to Dr. Peters to open
the door. He did so, as Miss Merrill appeared.
“Before we discuss this, let’s have the other witnesses,” Dr. Harrison’s
voice was relentless. But it failed to puncture the
self-righteous-I-told-you-so posture of Doctors Peters, Paton and
Dr. MacArthur said, “I think we might dispense with the orderly,
William, and with the day white nurse. According to the testimony of
everybody William slept through the murder. He is useless either to
condemn or confirm the girl’s statement. And the day white nurse seems
to me completely out of it. Here are Dr. Heddis and Rathbone.”
They entered and sat down quietly. The mental heat of the room stifled
them. They drew their handkerchiefs quickly and Dr. Heddis mopped his
leonine head and Rathbone his bald head furiously. Dr. Heddis felt
himself sinking into the tension. He spoke immediately:
“The findings upon the organs of Rose Standish, gentlemen, are that she
was murdered by coniine in such a quantity that it took effect in about
thirty to forty minutes. The left arm bore a hypodermic puncture; the
injection was larger than that administered in the other traceable case.
Her liver, spleen, lungs and stomach were suffused with the odor and the
substance. Because of the enormity of the dose, indications are that the
death was painless. She died of the customary respiratory paralysis.”
At least the testimony of these two men was definite and sane. The staff
sat forward attentively. Dr. Harrison asked:
“Ethridge mentions a sleeping potion in his report…?”
Dr. Heddis turned toward Peter Rathbone. Baldy’s wide straight shoulders
squared. His delivery was impressive:
“The potion was … bread pills. Dr. Sterling, Senior, came by the
pharmacy, around six, and left the order himself. It was his idea that
if the student nurse was doing the murdering and administered the
potion, without knowing its content (the copy upon Miss Standish’s chart
was for an intricate formula), she would create a trap for herself.”
MacArthur groaned, involuntarily. Hoffbein stated:
“He overlooked the psychic effect upon the patient.”
“It seems so, Doctor.” Rathbone’s words were slow and measured: “Dr.
Heddis is unable to trace a potion in the system, and I understand the
student nurse insists she administered the potion, so the obvious
assumption is that she is telling the truth and the effect was
“Bear’s endeavor to prove his son….” Barton ventured and Hoffbein
realized suddenly that he had been in temporary acquiescence with the
theory of Cub Sterling’s innocence, and hastened to add:
“Who, Baldy … er, Rathbone, except yourself and Dr. Sterling, Senior,
knew of the contents of the potion?”
“I can’t say, Doctor.” Rathbone’s mouth closed tightly, and Heddis
lifted his heavy body, as Barton inquired:
“With our methods of cadaver handling is putrefaction possible?”
Rathbone repeated the question to Dr. Heddis, who answered:
“Perfectly. Clip off a small portion of an arm or leg, before embalming,
and keep it….” He threw out his hand, “To a toxicologist the synthetic
possibility seems increasingly unfeasible. Formulas are too intricate,
and the discovery of the murderer that way would be worse than looking
for a penny in quicksand. Mean checking every organ of every cadaver….
“Look for the administrator, not the manufacturer. Someone with access
to the patients in that bed. Time enough after that person is found to
He turned to Dr. MacArthur and said, “Any hour night or day, Mac….”
Rathbone, too, rose; his clear baritone filled the room:
“The medicine closets of all floors of Medicine Clinic were searched
again today. They reveal no coniine. The syringes check as to number but
are useless; the routine boiling eliminates any hope of tracing that
way. Is there anything else we can do, sir?”
“No, Rathbone,” MacArthur’s voice was hopeless and affectionate. “I wish
there were. Thank both of you, gentlemen.”
They were followed by Dr. Mattus, who came, as Cub had done the day
before with a doll tucked under his arm. This time the dolly wore a blue
dress and frilled bonnet and said, “Pa-pa. Pa-pa.”
Every man in the room shivered.
“For heaven’s sake turn that damn thing over!” Dr. MacArthur ordered.
“Where did you get it?”
“Found it in the desk of Miss Roenna Kerr.”
“Whew!” It was Dr. Barton who expressed the combined sentiments.
“When?” Dr. Harrison’s face was eerie with hope.
“When she was at Head Nurse Conference, and I went into her office
looking for some case reports.”
“Did you face her with it?”
“No, Dr. MacArthur, I did not. I brought it to you. Only first, I
happened, casually, to learn that her niece won a similar doll at a
street fair last week. She went with a party of nurses during her P. M.”
Dr. Harrison’s fringe of white hair haloed his face. He looked like a
man coming out of torture.
“Tell what you know about last night, Mattus.”
“Dr. James, interne, and I examined Miss Standish yesterday afternoon.
Found her normal in every respect and in good spirits. By Jove … when
I came on the ward, Miss Roenna Kerr was trying to put her in another
bed … and I ordered her into Bed 11. Did not see Miss Standish again
until around ten when I was called to the ward for a heart case. She was
still awake and cheerful; told her Dr. Bear had ordered a sleeping
potion and to call for it if she needed it.”
“What was the potion?” Dr. MacArthur interrupted.
“Veronal, sir. He handed me the prescription as he left Medicine Clinic,
The men stirred and Mattus continued:
“When I saw Miss Standish again, she was dead.”
“Did you see Miss Roenna Kerr on the ward after the murder?”
“Yes, sir. She arrived soon after I did and I presumed Dr. Sterling,
Junior, had sent for her. That’s all I know, sir. Except that Cub, Dr.
Sterling, Junior, left his father and made rounds on that ward to calm
the hysteria this morning about nine and had the heaven-sent sense to
say his father was ill. The women are wallowing in sympathy and have
almost forgotten the death of Miss Standish.
“Dr. Bear is sinking, gentlemen.”
When he was gone, Dr. Peters suggested calling Miss Roenna Kerr, but Dr.
Harrison opposed it.
“Not on your life. You are out to convict Cub Sterling. I’m out to save
him. Let’s have it out in plain words. Bear is on his deathbed.”
Princeton interrupted abruptly, “Harrison, isn’t there some hope? Dear
Dr. Harrison turned on him coldly.
“No. No, dear Peters. His eyes will not be better, tomorrow. They will
“Then don’t you think we had better wait until after the funeral?”
“Hell, no!” Harrison snorted. “Bear Sterling is the best friend I ever
had. He dragged me out of the gutter and made a doctor of me. Either his
son is cleared, or I’ll not be caught at his funeral with you skunks!”
His anger was so intense that nobody dared object. Princeton wiped his
brow clean with a lavender silk handkerchief and Harrison continued:
“He cannot defend his son who by his own murderers is accused of
murdering patients. Well, I know his son is innocent!”
“How do you know it?” Hoffbein hypodermicked.
“By a method that none of you three could ever comprehend. Because I
trust the man. Now let’s get down to tacks. If Ethridge is innocent he
ought to be cleared before sunset. If he is guilty he ought to be hanged
before then. Clearing him or convicting him with the police is out of
the question. But cleared he has got to be, and therefore I propose that
we instruct MacArthur to hire the best private detectives in the United
States to become patients on B Ward and orderlies throughout the
building, with the right to question any or all of us….”
“But why … why … Harrison…?”
“Shut up, Princeton…. I beg your pardon, Peters…. How do MacArthur
and I know that Miss Roenna Kerr and her niece are not working as
accomplices for you or Hoffbein in murdering patients in Ethridge
“Oh, oh, oh! Harrison you _don’t_ mean that!”
“I do, Peters.”
“You can’t realize what you are saying, man,” Hoffbein was soothingly
“I do, Hoffbein! I realize quite thoroughly that Bear Sterling’s son’s
reputation is as dear to Dr. Barton and Dr. MacArthur and to myself as
that of any world-famous man who ever had a patient in the Elijah Wilson
Hospital. I would sooner, much sooner, see the reputations of you three
scraped in the mire and flung away across the world by the tabloids than
to see the name of a man who cannot be present to protect himself
slurred by your nasty insinuations.
“His good name is just as valuable to us as yours are … more so …
and so far as we are concerned your honor needs cleansing a great deal
more than his does. The only way to cleanse any of our reputations now
is to quit treating every person … _whatever his rank_ … involved in
this matter … as innocent, and consider all of us guilty until the
criminal is caught.
“Do any of you suspect MacArthur? Well, that’s something in your favor.
MacArthur, you hire the detectives, and instruct them to consider all of
us guilty … until we are proved innocent….
“And in case any of you have any scruples whatever about talking I wish
you to remember that Barton’s brother is the Attorney-General of this
state and at one word from MacArthur he will have all of you _made_ to
talk … to save your own reputations, let alone that of the blessed
“Miss Roenna Kerr, working through her niece as accomplice, outside of
Ethridge Sterling, Junior, is the other suspect. She has been a patient
of every man sitting in this room with the exception of Dr. Barton, Dr.
MacArthur and myself. Consider your position, gentlemen….”