Having retired to a hospital to sulk, Jane remained there. The family came and sat by her bed uncomfortably and smoked, and finally retreated with defeat written large all over it, leaving Jane to the continued possession of Room 33, a pink kimono with slippers to match, a hand-embroidered face pillow with a rose-coloured bow on the corner, and a young nurse with a gift of giving Jane daily the appearance of a strawberry and vanilla ice rising from a meringue of bed linen.
Jane's complaint was temper. The family knew this, and so did Jane, although she had an annoying way of looking hurt, a gentle heart-brokenness of speech that made the family, under the pretence of getting a match, go out into the hall and swear softly under its breath. But it was temper, and the family was not deceived. Also, knowing Jane, the family was quite ready to believe that while it was swearing in the hall, Jane was biting holes in the hand-embroidered face pillow in Room 33.
It had finally come to be a test of endurance. Jane vowed to stay at the hospital until the family on bended knee begged her to emerge and to brighten the world again with her presence. The family, being her father, said it would be damned if it would, and that if Jane cared to live on anaemic chicken broth, oatmeal wafers and massage twice a day for the rest of her life, why, let her.
The dispute, having begun about whether Jane should or should not marry a certain person, Jane representing the affirmative and her father the negative, had taken on new aspects, had grown and altered, and had, to be brief, become a contest between the masculine Johnson and the feminine Johnson as to which would take the count. Not that this appeared on the surface. The masculine Johnson, having closed the summer home on Jane's defection and gone back to the city, sent daily telegrams, novels and hothouse grapes, all three of which Jane devoured indiscriminately. Once, indeed, Father Johnson had motored the forty miles from town, to be told that Jane was too ill and unhappy to see him, and to have a glimpse, as he drove furiously away, of Jane sitting pensive at her window in the pink kimono, gazing over his head at the distant hills and clearly entirely indifferent to him and his wrath.
So we find Jane, on a frosty morning in late October, in triumphant possession of the field--aunts and cousins routed, her father sulking in town, and the victor herself--or is victor feminine?--and if it isn't, shouldn't it be?--sitting up in bed staring blankly at her watch.
Jane had just wakened--an hour later than usual; she had rung the bell three times and no one had responded. Jane's famous temper began to stretch and yawn. At this hour Jane was accustomed to be washed with tepid water, scented daintily with violet, alcohol-rubbed, talcum-powdered, and finally fresh-linened, coifed and manicured, to be supported with a heap of fresh pillows and fed creamed sweet-bread and golden-brown coffee and toast.
Jane rang again, with a line between her eyebrows. The bell was not broken. She could hear it distinctly. This was an outrage! She would report it to the superintendent. She had been ringing for ten minutes. That little minx of a nurse was flirting somewhere with one of the internes.
Jane angrily flung the covers back and got out on her small bare feet. Then she stretched her slim young arms above her head, her spoiled red mouth forming a scarlet O as she yawned. In her sleeveless and neckless nightgown, with her hair over her shoulders, minus the more elaborate coiffure which later in the day helped her to poise and firmness, she looked a pretty young girl, almost--although Jane herself never suspected this--almost an amiable young person.
Jane saw herself in the glass and assumed immediately the two lines between her eyebrows which were the outward and visible token of what she had suffered. Then she found her slippers, a pair of stockings to match and two round bits of pink silk elastic of private and feminine use, and sat down on the floor to put them on.
The floor was cold. To Jane's wrath was added indignation. She hitched herself along the boards to the radiator and put her hand on it. It was even colder than Jane.
The family temper was fully awake by this time and ready for business. Jane, sitting on the icy floor, jerked on her stockings, snapped the pink bands into place, thrust her feet into her slippers and rose, shivering. She went to the bed, and by dint of careful manoeuvring so placed the bell between the head of the bed and the wall that during the remainder of her toilet it rang steadily.
The remainder of Jane's toilet was rather casual. She flung on the silk kimono, twisted her hair on top of her head and stuck a pin or two in it, thus achieving a sort of effect a thousand times more bewildering than she had ever managed with a curling iron and twenty seven hair pins, and flinging her door wide stalked into the hall. At least she meant to stalk, but one does not really stamp about much in number-two, heelless, pink-satin mules.
At the first stalk--or stamp--she stopped. Standing uncertainly just outside her door was a strange man, strangely attired. Jane clutched her kimono about her and stared.
"Did--did you--are you ringing?" asked the apparition. It wore a pair of white-duck trousers, much soiled, a coat that bore the words "furnace room" down the front in red letters on a white tape, and a clean and spotless white apron. There was coal dust on its face and streaks of it in its hair, which appeared normally to be red.
"There's something the matter with your bell," said the young man. "It keeps on ringing."
"I intend it to," said Jane coldly.
"You can't make a racket like that round here, you know," he asserted, looking past her into the room.
"I intend to make all the racket I can until I get some attention."
"What have you done--put a book on it?"
"Look here"--Jane added another line to the two between her eyebrows. In the family this was generally a signal for a retreat, but of course the young man could not know this, and, besides, he was red-headed. "Look here," said Jane, "I don't know who you are and I don't care either, but that bell is going to ring until I get my bath and some breakfast. And it's going to ring then unless I stop it."
The young man in the coal dust and the white apron looked at Jane and smiled. Then he walked past her into the room, jerked the bed from the wall and released the bell.
"Now!" he said as the din outside ceased. "I'm too busy to talk just at present, but if you do that again I'll take the bell out of the room altogether. There are other people in the hospital besides yourself."
At that he started out and along the hall, leaving Jane speechless. After he'd gone about a dozen feet he stopped and turned, looking at Jane reflectively.
"Do you know anything about cooking?" he asked.
"I know more about cooking than you do about politeness," she retorted, white with fury, and went into her room and slammed the door. She went directly to the bell and put it behind the bed and set it to ringing again. Then she sat down in a chair and picked up a book. Had the red-haired person opened the door she was perfectly prepared to fling the book at him. She would have thrown a hatchet had she had one.
As a matter of fact, however, he did not come back. The bell rang with a soul-satisfying jangle for about two minutes and then died away, and no amount of poking with a hairpin did any good. It was clear that the bell had been cut off outside!
For fifty-five minutes Jane sat in that chair breakfastless, very casually washed and with the aforesaid Billie Burkeness of hair. Then, hunger gaining over temper, she opened the door and peered out. From somewhere near at hand there came a pungent odor of burning toast. Jane sniffed; then, driven by hunger, she made a short sally down the hall to the parlour where the nurses on duty made their headquarters. It was empty. The dismantled bell register was on the wall, with the bell unscrewed and lying on the mantel beside it, and the odour of burning toast was stronger than ever.
Jane padded softly to the odour, following her small nose. It led her to the pantry, where under ordinary circumstances the patients' trays were prepared by a pantrymaid, the food being shipped there from the kitchen on a lift. Clearly the circumstances were not ordinary. The pantrymaid was not in sight.
Instead, the red-haired person was standing by the window scraping busily at a blackened piece of toast. There was a rank odour of boiling tea in the air.
"Damnation!" said the red-haired person, and flung the toast into a corner where there already lay a small heap of charred breakfast hopes. Then he saw Jane.
"I fixed the bell, didn't I?" he remarked. "I say, since you claim to know so much about cooking, I wish you'd make some toast."
"I didn't say I knew much," snapped Jane, holding her kimono round her. "I said I knew more than you knew about politeness."
The red-haired person smiled again, and then, making a deep bow, with a knife in one hand and a toaster in the other, he said: "Madam, I prithee forgive me for my untoward conduct of an hour since. Say but the word and I replace the bell."
"I won't make any toast," said Jane, looking at the bread with famished eyes.
"Oh, very well," said the red-haired person with a sigh. "On your head be it!"
"But I'll tell you how to do it," conceded Jane, "if you'll explain who you are and what you are doing in that costume and where the nurses are."
The red-haired person sat down on the edge of the table and looked at her.
"I'll make a bargain with you," he said. "There's a convalescent typhoid in a room near yours who swears he'll go down to the village for something to eat in his--er--hospital attire unless he's fed soon. He's dangerous, empty. He's reached the cannibalistic stage. If he should see you in that ravishing pink thing, I--I wouldn't answer for the consequences. I'll tell you everything if you'll make him six large slices of toast and boil him four or five eggs, enough to hold him for a while. The tea's probably ready; it's been boiling for an hour."
Hunger was making Jane human. She gathered up the tail of her kimono, and stepping daintily into the pantry proceeded to spread herself a slice of bread and butter.
"Where is everybody?" she asked, licking some butter off her thumb with a small pink tongue.
Oh, I am the cook and the captain bold, And the mate of the Nancy brig, And the bosun tight and the midshipmite, And the crew of the captain's gig.
recited the red-haired person.
"You!" said Jane with the bread halfway to her mouth.
"Even I," said the red-haired person. "I'm the superintendent, the staff, the training school, the cooks, the furnace man and the ambulance driver."
Jane was pouring herself a cup of tea, and she put in milk and sugar and took a sip or two before she would give him the satisfaction of asking him what he meant. Anyhow, probably she had already guessed. Jane was no fool.
"I hope you're getting the salary list," she said, sitting on the pantry girl's chair and, what with the tea inside and somebody to quarrel with, feeling more like herself. "My father's one of the directors, and somebody gets it."
The red-haired person sat on the radiator and eyed Jane. He looked slightly stunned, as if the presence of beauty in a Billie Burke chignon and little else except a kimono was almost too much for him. From somewhere near by came a terrific thumping, as of some one pounding a hairbrush on a table. The red-haired person shifted along the radiator a little nearer Jane, and continued to gloat.
"Don't let that noise bother you," he said; "that's only the convalescent typhoid banging for his breakfast. He's been shouting for food ever since I came at six last night."
"Is it safe to feed him so much?"
"I don't know. He hasn't had anything yet. Perhaps if you're ready you'd better fix him something."
Jane had finished her bread and tea by this time and remembered her kimono.
"I'll go back and dress," she said primly. But he wouldn't hear of it.
"He's starving," he objected as a fresh volley of thumps came along the hall. "I've been trying at intervals since daylight to make him a piece of toast. The minute I put it on the fire I think of something I've forgotten, and when I come back it's in flames."
So Jane cut some bread and put on eggs to boil, and the red-haired person told his story.
"You see," he explained, "although I appear to be a furnace man from the waist up and an interne from the waist down, I am really the new superintendent."
"I hope you'll do better than the last one," she said severely. "He was always flirting with the nurses."
"I shall never flirt with the nurses," he promised, looking at her. "Anyhow I shan't have any immediate chance. The other fellow left last night and took with him everything portable except the ambulance--nurses, staff, cooks. I wish to Heaven he'd taken the patients! And he did more than that. He cut the telephone wires!"
"Well!" said Jane. "Are you going to stand for it?"
The red-haired man threw up his hands. "The village is with him," he declared. "It's a factional fight--the village against the fashionable summer colony on the hill. I cannot telephone from the village--the telegraph operator is deaf when I speak to him; the village milkman and grocer sent boys up this morning--look here." He fished a scrap of paper from his pocket and read:
I will not supply the Valley Hospital with any fresh meats, canned oysters and sausages, or do any plumbing for the hospital until the reinstatement of Dr. Sheets. T. CASHDOLLAR, Butcher.
Jane took the paper and read it again. "Humph!" she commented. "Old Sheets wrote it himself. Mr. Cashdollar couldn't think 'reinstatement,' let alone spell it."
"The question is not who wrote it, but what we are to do," said the red-haired person. "Shall I let old Sheets come back?"
"If you do," said Jane fiercely, "I shall hate you the rest of my life."
And as it was clear by this time that the red-haired person could imagine nothing more horrible, it was settled then and there that he should stay.
"There are only two wards," he said. "In the men's a man named Higgins is able to be up and is keeping things straight. And in the woman's ward Mary O'Shaughnessy is looking after them. The furnaces are the worst. I'd have forgiven almost anything else. I've sat up all night nursing the fires, but they breathed their last at six this morning and I guess there's nothing left but to call the coroner."
Jane had achieved a tolerable plate of toast by that time and four eggs. Also she had a fine flush, a combination of heat from the gas stove and temper.
"They ought to be ashamed," she cried angrily, "leaving a lot of sick people!"
"Oh, as to that," said the red-headed person, "there aren't any very sick ones. Two or three neurasthenics like yourself and a convalescent typhoid and a D.T. in a private room. If it wasn't that Mary O'Shaughnessy----"
But at the word "neurasthenics" Jane had put down the toaster, and by the time the unconscious young man had reached the O'Shaughnessy she was going out the door with her chin up. He called after her, and finding she did not turn he followed her, shouting apologies at her back until she went into her room. And as hospital doors don't lock from the inside she pushed the washstand against the knob and went to bed to keep warm.
He stood outside and apologised again, and later he brought a tray of bread and butter and a pot of the tea, which had been boiling for two hours by that time, and put it outside the door on the floor. But Jane refused to get it, and finished her breakfast from a jar of candied ginger that some one had sent her, and read "Lorna Doone."
Now and then a sound of terrific hammering would follow the steampipes and Jane would smile wickedly. By noon she had finished the ginger and was wondering what the person about whom she and the family had disagreed would think when he heard the way she was being treated. And by one o'clock she had cried her eyes entirely shut and had pushed the washstand back from the door.
Now a hospital full of nurses and doctors with a bell to summon food and attention is one thing. A hospital without nurses and doctors, and with only one person to do everything, and that person mostly in the cellar, is quite another. Jane was very sad and lonely, and to add to her troubles the delirium-tremens case down the hall began to sing "Oh Promise Me" in a falsetto voice and kept it up for hours.
At three Jane got up and bathed her eyes. She also did her hair, and thus fortified she started out to find the red-haired person. She intended to say that she was paying sixty-five dollars a week and belonged to a leading family, and that she didn't mean to endure for a moment the treatment she was getting, and being called a neurasthenic and made to cook for the other patients.
She went slowly along the hall. The convalescent typhoid heard her and called.
"Hey, doc!" he cried. "Hey, doc! Great Scott, man, when do I get some dinner?"
Jane quickened her steps and made for the pantry. From somewhere beyond, the delirium-tremens case was singing happily:
I--love you o--own--ly, I love--but--you.
Jane shivered a little. The person in whom she had been interested and who had caused her precipitate retirement, if not to a nunnery, to what answered the same purpose, had been very fond of that song. He used to sing it, leaning over the piano and looking into her eyes.
Jane's nose led her again to the pantry. There was a sort of soupy odour in the air, and sure enough the red-haired person was there, very immaculate in fresh ducks, pouring boiling water into three tea-cups out of a kettle and then dropping a beef capsule into each cup.
Now Jane had intended, as I have said, to say that she was being outrageously treated, and belonged to one of the best families, and so on. What she really said was piteously:
"How good it smells!"
"Doesn't it!" said the red-haired person, sniffing. "Beef capsules. I've made thirty cups of it so far since one o'clock--the more they have the more they want. I say, be a good girl and run up to the kitchen for some more crackers while I carry food to the convalescent typhoid. He's murderous!"
"Where are the crackers?" asked Jane stiffly, but not exactly caring to raise an issue until she was sure of getting something to eat.
"Store closet in the kitchen, third drawer on the left," said the red-haired man, shaking some cayenne pepper into one of the cups. "You might stop that howling lunatic on your way if you will."
"How?" asked Jane, pausing.
"Ram a towel down his throat, or--but don't bother. I'll dose him with this beef tea and red pepper, and he'll be too busy putting out the fire to want to sing."
"You wouldn't be so cruel!" said Jane, rather drawing back. The red-haired person smiled and to Jane it showed that he was actually ferocious. She ran all the way up for the crackers and down again, carrying the tin box. There is no doubt that Jane's family would have promptly swooned had it seen her.
When she came down there was a sort of after-dinner peace reigning. The convalescent typhoid, having filled up on milk and beef soup, had floated off to sleep. "The Chocolate Soldier" had given way to deep-muttered imprecations from the singer's room. Jane made herself a cup of bouillon and drank it scalding. She was making the second when the red-haired person came back with an empty cup.
"I forgot to explain," he said, "that beef tea and red pepper's the treatment for our young friend in there. After a man has been burning his stomach daily with a quart or so of raw booze----"
"I beg your pardon," said Jane coolly. Booze was not considered good form on the hill--the word, of course. There was plenty of the substance.
"Raw booze," repeated the red-haired person. "Nothing short of red pepper or dynamite is going to act as a substitute. Why, I'll bet the inside of that chap's stomach is of the general sensitiveness and consistency of my shoe."
"Indeed!" said Jane, coldly polite. In Jane's circle people did not discuss the interiors of other people's stomachs. The red-haired person sat on the table with a cup of bouillon in one hand and a cracker in the other.
"You know," he said genially, "it's awfully bully of you to come out and keep me company like this. I never put in such a day. I've given up fussing with the furnace and got out extra blankets instead. And I think by night our troubles will be over." He held up the cup and glanced at Jane, who was looking entrancingly pretty. "To our troubles being over!" he said, draining the cup, and then found that he had used the red pepper again by mistake. It took five minutes and four cups of cold water to enable him to explain what he meant.
"By our troubles being over," he said finally when he could speak, "I mean this: There's a train from town at eight to-night, and if all goes well it will deposit in the village half a dozen nurses, a cook or two, a furnace man--good Heavens, I wonder if I forgot a furnace man!"
It seemed, as Jane discovered, that the telephone wires being cut, he had sent Higgins from the men's ward to the village to send some telegrams for him.
"I couldn't leave, you see," he explained, "and having some small reason to believe that I am persona non grata in this vicinity I sent Higgins."
Jane had always hated the name Higgins. She said afterward that she felt uneasy from that moment. The red-haired person, who was not bad-looking, being tall and straight and having a very decent nose, looked at Jane, and Jane, having been shut away for weeks--Jane preened a little and was glad she had done her hair.
"You looked better the other way," said the red-haired person, reading her mind in a most uncanny manner. "Why should a girl with as pretty hair as yours cover it up with a net, anyhow?"
"You are very disagreeable and--and impertinent," said Jane, sliding off the table.
"It isn't disagreeable to tell a girl she has pretty hair," the red-haired person protested--"or impertinent either."
Jane was gathering up the remnants of her temper, scattered by the events of the day.
"You said I was a neurasthenic," she accused him. "It--it isn't being a neurasthenic to be nervous and upset and hating the very sight of people, is it?"
"Bless my soul!" said the red-haired man. "Then what is it?" Jane flushed, but he went on tactlessly: "I give you my word, I think you are the most perfectly"--he gave every appearance of being about to say "beautiful," but he evidently changed his mind--"the most perfectly healthy person I have ever looked at," he finished.
It is difficult to say just what Jane would have done under other circumstances, but just as she was getting her temper really in hand and preparing to launch something, shuffling footsteps were heard in the hall and Higgins stood in the doorway.
He was in a sad state. One of his eyes was entirely closed, and the corresponding ear stood out large and bulbous from his head. Also he was coated with mud, and he was carefully nursing one hand with the other.
He said he had been met at the near end of the railroad bridge by the ex-furnace man and one of the ex-orderlies and sent back firmly, having in fact been kicked back part of the way. He'd been told to report at the hospital that the tradespeople had instituted a boycott, and that either the former superintendent went back or the entire place could starve to death.
It was then that Jane discovered that her much-vaunted temper was not one-two-three to that of the red-haired person. He turned a sort of blue-white, shoved Jane out of his way as if she had been a chair, and she heard him clatter down the stairs and slam out of the front door.
Jane went back to her room and looked down the drive. He was running toward the bridge, and the sunlight on his red hair and his flying legs made him look like a revengeful meteor. Jane was weak in the knees. She knelt on the cold radiator and watched him out of sight, and then got trembly all over and fell to snivelling. This was of course because, if anything happened to him, she would be left entirely alone. And anyhow the D.T. case was singing again and had rather got on her nerves.
In ten minutes the red-haired person appeared. He had a wretched-looking creature by the back of the neck and he alternately pushed and kicked him up the drive. He--the red-haired person--was whistling and clearly immensely pleased with himself.
Jane put a little powder on her nose and waited for him to come and tell her all about it. But he did not come near. This was quite the cleverest thing he could have done, had he known it. Jane was not accustomed to waiting in vain. He must have gone directly to the cellar, half pushing and half kicking the luckless furnace man, for about four o'clock the radiator began to get warm.
At five he came and knocked at Jane's door, and on being invited in he sat down on the bed and looked at her.
"Well, we've got the furnace going," he said.
"Then that was the----"
"Furnace man? Yes."
"Aren't you afraid to leave him?" queried Jane. "Won't he run off?"
"Got him locked in a padded cell," he said. "I can take him out to coal up. The rest of the time he can sit and think of his sins. The question is--what are we to do next?"
"I should think," ventured Jane, "that we'd better be thinking about supper."
"The beef capsules are gone."
"But surely there must be something else about--potatoes or things like that?"
He brightened perceptibly. "Oh, yes, carloads of potatoes, and there's canned stuff. Higgins can pare potatoes, and there's Mary O'Shaughnessy. We could have potatoes and canned tomatoes and eggs."
"Fine!" said Jane with her eyes gleaming, although the day before she would have said they were her three abominations.
And with that he called Higgins and Mary O'Shaughnessy and the four of them went to the kitchen.
Jane positively shone. She had never realised before how much she knew about cooking. They built a fire and got kettles boiling and everybody pared potatoes, and although in excess of zeal the eggs were ready long before everything else and the tomatoes scorched slightly, still they made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in ability, and when Higgins had carried the trays to the lift and started them on their way, Jane and the red-haired person shook hands on it and then ate a boiled potato from the same plate, sitting side by side on a table.
They were ravenous. They boiled one egg each and ate it, and then boiled another and another, and when they finished they found that Jane had eaten four potatoes, four eggs and unlimited bread and butter, while the red-haired person had eaten six saucers of stewed tomatoes and was starting on the seventh.
"You know," he said over the seventh, "we've got to figure this thing out. The entire town is solid against us--no use trying to get to a telephone. And anyhow they've got us surrounded. We're in a state of siege."
Jane was beating up an egg in milk for the D.T. patient, the capsules being exhausted, and the red-haired person was watching her closely. She had the two vertical lines between her eyes, but they looked really like lines of endeavour and not temper.
She stopped beating and looked up.
"Couldn't I go to the village?" she asked.
"They would stop you."
"Then--I think I know what we can do," she said, giving the eggnog a final whisk. "My people have a summer place on the hill. If you could get there you could telephone to the city."
"Could I get in?"
"I have a key."
Jane did not explain that the said key had been left by her father, with the terse hope that if she came to her senses she could get into the house and get her clothes.
"Good girl," said the red-headed person and patted her on the shoulder. "We'll euchre the old skate yet." Curiously, Jane did not resent either the speech or the pat.
He took the glass and tied on a white apron. "If our friend doesn't drink this, I will," he continued. "If he'd seen it in the making, as I have, he'd be crazy about it."
He opened the door and stood listening. From below floated up the refrain:
I--love you o--own--ly, I love--but--you.
"Listen to that!" he said. "Stomach's gone, but still has a heart!"
Higgins came up the stairs heavily and stopped close by the red-haired person, whispering something to him. There was a second's pause. Then the red-haired person gave the eggnog to Higgins and both disappeared.
Jane was puzzled. She rather thought the furnace man had got out and listened for a scuffle, but none came. She did, however, hear the singing cease below, and then commence with renewed vigour, and she heard Higgins slowly remounting the stairs. He came in, with the empty glass and a sheepish expression. Part of the eggnog was distributed over his person.
"He wants his nurse, ma'am," said Higgins. "Wouldn't let me near him. Flung a pillow at me."
"Where is the doctor?" demanded Jane.
"Busy," replied Higgins. "One of the women is sick."
Jane was provoked. She had put some labour into the eggnog. But it shows the curious evolution going on in her that she got out the eggs and milk and made another one without protest. Then with her head up she carried it to the door.
"You might clear things away, Higgins," she said, and went down the stairs. Her heart was going rather fast. Most of the men Jane knew drank more or less, but this was different. She would have turned back halfway there had it not been for Higgins and for owning herself conquered. That was Jane's real weakness--she never owned herself beaten.
The singing had subsided to a low muttering. Jane stopped outside the door and took a fresh grip on her courage. Then she pushed the door open and went in.
The light was shaded, and at first the tossing figure on the bed was only a misty outline of greys and whites. She walked over, expecting a pillow at any moment and shielding the glass from attack with her hand.
"I have brought you another eggnog," she began severely, "and if you spill it----"
Then she looked down and saw the face on the pillow.
To her everlasting credit, Jane did not faint. But in that moment, while she stood staring down at the flushed young face with its tumbled dark hair and deep-cut lines of dissipation, the man who had sung to her over the piano, looking love into her eyes, died to her, and Jane, cold and steady, sat down on the side of the bed and fed the eggnog, spoonful by spoonful, to his corpse!
When the blank-eyed young man on the bed had swallowed it all passively, looking at her with dull, incurious eyes, she went back to her room and closing the door put the washstand against it. She did nothing theatrical. She went over to the window and stood looking out where the trees along the drive were fading in the dusk from green to grey, from grey to black. And over the transom came again and again monotonously the refrain:
I--love you o--own--ly, I love--but--you.
Jane fell on her knees beside the bed and buried her wilful head in the hand-embroidered pillow, and said a little prayer because she had found out in time.
The full realisation of their predicament came with the dusk. The electric lights were shut off! Jane, crawling into bed tearfully at half after eight, turned the reading light switch over her head, but no flood of rosy radiance poured down on the hand-embroidered pillow with the pink bow.
Jane sat up and stared round her. Already the outline of her dresser was faint and shadowy. In half an hour black night would settle down and she had not even a candle or a box of matches. She crawled out, panicky, and began in the darkness to don her kimono and slippers. As she opened the door and stepped into the hall the convalescent typhoid heard her and set up his usual cry.
"Hey," he called, "whoever that is come in and fix the lights. They're broken. And I want some bread and milk. I can't sleep on an empty stomach!"
Jane padded on past the room where love lay cold and dead, down the corridor with its alarming echoes. The house seemed very quiet. At a corner unexpectedly she collided with some one going hastily. The result was a crash and a deluge of hot water. Jane got a drop on her bare ankle, and as soon as she could breathe she screamed.
"Why don't you look where you're going?" demanded the red-haired person angrily. "I've been an hour boiling that water, and now it has to be done over again!"
"It would do a lot of good to look!" retorted Jane. "But if you wish I'll carry a bell!"
"The thing for you to do," said the red-haired person severely, "is to go back to bed like a good girl and stay there until morning. The light is cut off."
"Really!" said Jane. "I thought it had just gone out for a walk. I daresay I may have a box of matches at least?"
He fumbled in his pockets without success.
"Not a match, of course!" he said disgustedly. "Was any one ever in such an infernal mess? Can't you get back to your room without matches?"
"I shan't go back at all unless I have some sort of light," maintained Jane. "I'm--horribly frightened!"
The break in her voice caught his attention and he put his hand out gently and took her arm.
"Now listen," he said. "You've been brave and fine all day, and don't stop it now. I--I've got all I can manage. Mary O'Shaughnessy is----" He stopped. "I'm going to be very busy," he said with half a groan. "I surely do wish you were forty for the next few hours. But you'll go back and stay in your room, won't you?"
He patted her arm, which Jane particularly hated generally. But Jane had altered considerably since morning.
"Then you cannot go to the telephone?"
"Higgins has gone," he said. "He slipped off an hour ago. We'll have to manage to-night somehow. Now will you be a good child?"
"I'll go back," she promised meekly. "I'm sorry I'm not forty."
He turned her round and started her in the right direction with a little push. But she had gone only a step or two when she heard him coming after her quickly.
"Where are you?"
"Here," quavered Jane, not quite sure of him or of herself perhaps.
But when he stopped beside her he didn't try to touch her arm again. He only said:
"I wouldn't have you forty for anything in the world. I want you to be just as you are, very beautiful and young."
Then, as if he was afraid he would say too much, he turned on his heel, and a moment after he kicked against the fallen pitcher in the darkness and awoke a thousand echoes. As for Jane, she put her fingers to her ears and ran to her room, where she slammed the door and crawled into bed with burning cheeks.
Jane was never sure whether it was five minutes later or five seconds when somebody in the room spoke--from a chair by the window.
"Do you think," said a mild voice--"do you think you could find me some bread and butter? Or a glass of milk?"
Jane sat up in bed suddenly. She knew at once that she had made a mistake, but she was quite dignified about it. She looked over at the chair, and the convalescent typhoid was sitting in it, wrapped in a blanket and looking wan and ghostly in the dusk.
"I'm afraid I'm in the wrong room," Jane said very stiffly, trying to get out of the bed with dignity, which is difficult. "The hall is dark and all the doors look so alike----"
She made for the door at that and got out into the hall with her heart going a thousand a minute again.
"You've forgotten your slippers," called the convalescent typhoid after her. But nothing would have taken Jane back.
The convalescent typhoid took the slippers home later and locked them away in an inner drawer, where he kept one or two things like faded roses, and old gloves, and a silk necktie that a girl had made him at college--things that are all the secrets a man keeps from his wife and that belong in that small corner of his heart which also he keeps from his wife. But that has nothing to do with Jane.
Jane went back to her own bed thoroughly demoralised. And sleep being pretty well banished by that time, she sat up in bed and thought things over. Before this she had not thought much, only raged and sulked alternately. But now she thought. She thought about the man in the room down the hall with the lines of dissipation on his face. And she thought a great deal about what a silly she had been, and that it was not too late yet, she being not forty and "beautiful." It must be confessed that she thought a great deal about that. Also she reflected that what she deserved was to marry some person with even a worse temper than hers, who would bully her at times and generally keep her straight. And from that, of course, it was only a step to the fact that red-haired people are proverbially bad-tempered!
She thought, too, about Mary O'Shaughnessy without another woman near, and not even a light, except perhaps a candle. Things were always so much worse in the darkness. And perhaps she might be going to be very ill and ought to have another doctor!
Jane seemed to have been reflecting for a long time, when the church clock far down in the village struck nine. And with the chiming of the clock was born, full grown, an idea which before it was sixty seconds of age was a determination.
In pursuance of the idea Jane once more crawled out of bed and began to dress; she put on heavy shoes and a short skirt, a coat, and a motor veil over her hair. The indignation at the defection of the hospital staff, held in subjection during the day by the necessity for doing something, now rose and lent speed and fury to her movements. In an incredibly short time Jane was feeling her way along the hall and down the staircase, now a well of unfathomable blackness and incredible rustlings and creakings.
The front doors were unlocked. Outside there was faint starlight, the chirp of a sleepy bird, and far off across the valley the gasping and wheezing of a freight climbing the heavy grade to the village.
Jane paused at the drive and took a breath. Then at her best gymnasium pace, arms close to sides, head up, feet well planted, she started to run. At the sundial she left the drive and took to the lawn gleaming with the frost of late October. She stopped running then and began to pick her way more cautiously. Even at that she collided heavily with a wire fence marking the boundary, and sat on the ground for some time after, whimpering over the outrage and feeling her nose. It was distinctly scratched and swollen. No one would think her beautiful with a nose like that!
She had not expected the wire fence. It was impossible to climb and more difficult to get under. However, she found one place where the ground dipped, and wormed her way under the fence in most undignified fashion. It is perfectly certain that had Jane's family seen her then and been told that she was doing this remarkable thing for a woman she had never seen before that day, named Mary O'Shaughnessy, and also for a certain red-haired person of whom it had never heard, it would have considered Jane quite irrational. But it is entirely probable that Jane became really rational that night for the first time in her spoiled young life.
Jane never told the details of that excursion. Those that came out in the paper were only guess-work, of course, but it is quite true that a reporter found scraps of her motor veil on three wire fences, and there seems to be no reason to doubt, also, that two false curls were discovered a week later in a cow pasture on her own estate. But as Jane never wore curls afterward anyhow----
Well, Jane got to her own house about eleven and crept in like a thief to the telephone. There were more rustlings and creakings and rumblings in the empty house than she had ever imagined, and she went backward through the hall for fear of something coming after her. But, which is to the point, she got to the telephone and called up her father in the city.
The first message that astonished gentleman got was that a red-haired person at the hospital was very ill, having run into a wire fence and bruised a nose, and that he was to bring out at once from town two doctors, six nurses, a cook and a furnace man!
After a time, however, as Jane grew calmer, he got it straightened out, and said a number of things over the telephone anent the deserting staff that are quite forbidden by the rules both of the club and of the telephone company. He gave Jane full instructions about sending to the village and having somebody come up and stay with her, and about taking a hot footbath and going to bed between blankets, and when Jane replied meekly to everything "Yes, father," and "All right, father," he was so stunned by her mildness that he was certain she must be really ill.
Not that Jane had any idea of doing all these things. She hung up the telephone and gathered all the candles from all the candlesticks on the lower floor, and started back for the hospital. The moon had come up and she had no more trouble with fencing, but she was desperately tired. She climbed the drive slowly, coming to frequent pauses. The hospital, long and low and sleeping, lay before her, and in one upper window there was a small yellow light.
Jane climbed the steps and sat down on the top one. She felt very tired and sad and dejected, and she sat down on the upper step to think of how useless she was, and how much a man must know to be a doctor, and that perhaps she would take up nursing in earnest and amount to something, and----
It was about three o'clock in the morning when the red-haired person, coming down belatedly to close the front doors, saw a shapeless heap on the porch surrounded by a radius of white-wax candles, and going up shoved at it with his foot. Whereat the heap moved slightly and muttered "Lemme shleep."
The red-haired person said "Good Heavens!" and bending down held a lighted match to the sleeper's face and stared, petrified. Jane opened her eyes, sat up and put her hand over her mutilated nose with one gesture.
"You!" said the red-haired person. And then mercifully the match went out.
"Don't light another," said Jane. "I'm an alarming sight. Would--would you mind feeling if my nose is broken?"
He didn't move to examine it. He just kept on kneeling and staring.
"Where have you been?" he demanded.
"Over to telephone," said Jane, and yawned. "They're bringing everybody in automobiles--doctors, nurses, furnace man--oh, dear me, I hope I mentioned a cook!"
"Do you mean to say," said the red-haired person wonderingly, "that you went by yourself across the fields and telephoned to get me out of this mess?"
"Not at all," Jane corrected him coolly. "I'm in the mess myself."
"You'll be ill again."
"I never was ill," said Jane. "I was here for a mean disposition."
Jane sat in the moonlight with her hands in her lap and looked at him calmly. The red-haired person reached over and took both her hands.
"You're a heroine," he said, and bending down he kissed first one and then the other. "Isn't it bad enough that you are beautiful without your also being brave?"
Jane eyed him, but he was in deadly earnest. In the moonlight his hair was really not red at all, and he looked pale and very, very tired. Something inside of Jane gave a curious thrill that was half pain. Perhaps it was the dying of her temper, perhaps----
"Am I still beautiful with this nose?" she asked.
"You are everything that a woman should be," he said, and dropping her hands he got up. He stood there in the moonlight, straight and young and crowned with despair, and Jane looked up from under her long lashes.
"Then why don't you stay where you were?" she asked.
At that he reached down and took her hands again and pulled her to her feet. He was very strong.
"Because if I do I'll never leave you again," he said. "And I must go."
He dropped her hands, or tried to, but Jane wasn't ready to be dropped.
"You know," she said, "I've told you I'm a sulky, bad-tempered----"
But at that he laughed suddenly, triumphantly, and put both his arms round her and held her close.
"I love you," he said, "and if you are bad-tempered, so am I, only I think I'm worse. It's a shame to spoil two houses with us, isn't it?"
To her eternal shame be it told, Jane never struggled. She simply held up her mouth to be kissed.
That is really all the story. Jane's father came with three automobiles that morning at dawn, bringing with him all that goes to make up a hospital, from a pharmacy clerk to absorbent cotton, and having left the new supplies in the office he stamped upstairs to Jane's room and flung open the door.
He expected to find Jane in hysterics and the pink silk kimono.
What he really saw was this: A coal fire was lighted in Jane's grate, and in a low chair before it, with her nose swollen level with her forehead, sat Jane, holding on her lap Mary O'Shaughnessy's baby, very new and magenta-coloured and yelling like a trooper. Kneeling beside the chair was a tall, red-headed person holding a bottle of olive oil.
"Now, sweetest," the red-haired person was saying, "turn him on his tummy and we'll rub his back. Gee, isn't that a fat back!"
And as Jane's father stared and Jane anxiously turned the baby, the red-haired person leaned over and kissed the back of Jane's neck.
"Jane!" he whispered.
"Jane!!" said her father.
Return to the Mary Roberts Rinehart library , or . . . Read the next short story; Locked Doors