Big Mary was sweeping the ward with a broom muffled in a white bag. In the breeze from the open windows, her blue calico wrapper ballooned about her and made ludicrous her frantic thrusts after the bits of fluff that formed eddies under the beds and danced in the spring air.
She finished her sweeping, and, with the joyous scraps captured in her dust-pan, stood in the doorway, critically surveying the ward. It was brilliantly clean and festive; on either side a row of beds, fresh white for the day; on the centre table a vase of Easter lilies, and on the record-table near the door a potted hyacinth. The Nurse herself wore a bunch of violets tucked in her apron-band. One of the patients had seen the Junior Medical give them to her. The Eastern sun, shining across the beds, made below them, on the polished floor, black islands of shadow in a gleaming sea of light.
And scattered here and there, rocking in chairs or standing at windows, enjoying the Sunday respite from sewing or the bandage-machine, women, grotesque and distorted of figure, in attitudes of weariness and expectancy, with patient eyes awaited their crucifixion. Behind them, in the beds, a dozen perhaps who had come up from death and held the miracle in their arms.
The miracles were small and red, and inclined to feeble and ineffectual wrigglings. Fists were thrust in the air and brought down on smiling, pale mother faces. With tight-closed eyes and open mouths, each miracle squirmed and nuzzled until the mother would look with pleading eyes at the Nurse. And the Nurse would look severe and say:
"Good gracious, Annie Petowski, surely you don't want to feed that infant again! Do you want the child to have a dilated stomach?"
Fear of that horrible and mysterious condition, a dilated stomach, would restrain Annie Petowski or Jennie Goldstein or Maggie McNamara for a time. With the wisdom of the serpent, she would give the child her finger to suck--a finger so white, so clean, so soft in the last week that she was lost in admiration of it. And the child would take hold, all its small body set rigid in lines of desperate effort. Then it would relax suddenly, and spew out the finger, and the quiet hospital air would be rent with shrieks of lost illusion. Then Annie Petowski or Jennie Goldstein or Maggie McNamara would watch the Nurse with open hostility and defiance, and her rustling exit from the ward would be followed by swift cessation of cries, and, close to Annie or Jennie or Maggie's heart, there would be small ecstatic gurglings--and peace.
In her small domain the Nurse was queen. From her throne at the record-table, she issued proclamations of baths and fine combs, of clean bedding and trimmed nails, of tea and toast, of regular hours for the babies. From this throne, also, she directed periodic searches of the bedside stands, unearthing scraps of old toast, decaying fruit, candy, and an occasional cigarette. From the throne, too, she sent daily a blue-wrappered and pig-tailed brigade to the kitchen, armed with knives, to attack the dinner potatoes.
But on this Easter morning, the queen looked tired and worn. Her crown, a starched white cap, had slipped back on her head, and her blue-and-white dress was stained and spotted. Even her fresh apron and sleevelets did not quite conceal the damage. She had come in for a moment at the breakfast hour, and asked the Swede, Ellen Ollman, to serve the breakfast for her; and at half past eight she had appeared again for a moment, and had turned down one of the beds and put hot-water bottles in it.
The ward ate little breakfast. It was always nervous when a case was "on." Excursions down the corridor by one or another of the blue-wrappered brigade brought back bits of news:
"The doctor is smoking a cigarette in the hall;" or, "Miss Jones, the day assistant, has gone in;" and then, with bated breath, "The doctor with the red mustache has come"--by which it was known that things were going badly, the staff man having been summoned.
Suggestions of Easter began to appear even in this isolated ward, denied to all visitors except an occasional husband, who was usually regarded with a mixture of contempt and scepticism by the other women. But now the lilies came, and after them a lame young woman who played the organ in the chapel on Sundays, and who afterward went from ward to ward, singing little songs and accompanying herself on the mandolin she carried with her. The lame young woman seated herself in the throne-chair and sang an Easter anthem, and afterward limped around and placed a leaflet and a spray of lilies-of-the-valley on each bedside stand.
She was escorted around the ward by Elizabeth Miller, known as "Liz" in Our Alley, and rechristened Elizabeth by the Nurse. Elizabeth always read the tracts. She had been there four times, and knew all the nurses and nearly all the doctors. "Liz" had been known, in a shortage of nurses, to be called into the mysterious room down the hall to assist; and on those occasions, in an all-enveloping white gown over her wrapper, with her hair under a cap, she outranked the queen herself in regalness and authority.
The lame mandolin-player stopped at the foot of the empty bed. "Shall I put one here?" she asked, fingering a tract.
Liz meditated majestically.
"Well, I guess I would," she said. "Not that it'll do any good."
Liz jerked her head toward the corridor.
"She's not getting on very well," she said; "and, even if she gets through, she won't read the tract. She held her fingers in her ears last Sunday while the Bible-reader was here. She's young. Says she hopes she and the kid'll both die."
The mandolin-player was not unversed in the psychology of the ward.
"Then she--isn't married?" she asked, and because she was young, she flushed painfully.
Liz stared at her, and a faint light of amusement dawned in her eyes.
"Well, no," she admitted; "I guess that's what's worrying her. She's a fool, she is. She can put the kid in a home. That's what I do. Suppose she married the fellow that got her into trouble? Wouldn't he be always throwing it up to her?"
The mandolin-player looked at Liz, puzzled at this new philosophy of life.
"Have--have you a baby here?" she asked timidly.
"Have I!" said Liz, and, wheeling, led the way to her bed. She turned the blanket down with a practised hand, revealing a tiny red atom, so like the others that only mother love could have distinguished it.
"This is mine," she said airily. "Funny little mutt, isn't he?"
The mandolin-player gazed diffidently at the child.
"He--he's very little," she said.
"Little!" said Liz. "He holds the record here for the last six months--eleven pounds three ounces in his skin, when he arrived. The little devil!"
She put the blanket tenderly back over the little devil's sleeping form. The mandolin-player cast about desperately for the right thing to say.
"Does--does he look like his father?" she asked timidly. But apparently Liz did not hear. She had moved down the ward. The mandolin-player heard only a snicker from Annie Petowski's bed, and, vaguely uncomfortable, she moved toward the door.
Liz was turning down the cover of the empty bed, and the Nurse, with tired but shining eyes, was wheeling in the operating table.
The mandolin-player stepped aside to let the table pass. From the blankets she had a glimpse of a young face, bloodless and wan--of hurt, defiant blue eyes. She had never before seen life so naked, so relentless. She shrank back against the wall, a little sick. Then she gathered up her tracts and her mandolin, and limped down the hall.
The door of the mysterious room was open, and from it came a shrill, high wail, a rising and falling note of distress--the voice of a new soul in protest. She went past with averted face.
Back in the ward Liz leaned over the table and, picking the girl up bodily, deposited her tenderly in the warm bed. Then she stood back and smiled down at her, with her hands on her hips.
"Well," she said kindly, "it's over, and here you are! But it's no picnic, is it?"
The girl on the bed turned her head away. The coarsening of her features in the last month or two had changed to an almost bloodless refinement. With her bright hair, she looked as if she had been through the furnace of pain and had come out pure gold. But her eyes were hard.
"Go away," she said petulantly.
Liz leaned down and pulled the blanket over her shoulders.
"You sleep now," she said soothingly. "When you wake up you can have a cup of tea."
The girl threw the cover off and looked up despairingly into Liz's face.
"I don't want to sleep," she said. "My God, Liz, it's going to live and so am I!"
Now, the Nurse had been up all night, and at noon, after she had oiled the new baby and washed out his eyes and given him a teaspoonful of warm water, she placed Liz in charge of the ward, and went to her room to put on a fresh uniform. The first thing she did, when she got there, was to go to the mirror, with the picture of her mother tucked in its frame, and survey herself. When she saw her cap and the untidiness of her hair and her white collar all spotted, she frowned.
Then she took the violets out of her belt and put them carefully in a glass of water, and feeling rather silly, she leaned over and kissed them. After that she felt better.
She bathed her face in hot water and then in cold, which brought her colour back, and she put on everything fresh, so that she rustled with each step, which is proper for trained nurses; and finally she tucked the violets back where they belonged, and put on a new cap, which is also proper for trained nurses on gala occasions.
If she had not gone back to the mirror to see that the general effect was as crisp as it should be, things would have been different for Liz, and for the new mother back in the ward. But she did go back; and there, lying on the floor in front of the bureau, all folded together, was a piece of white paper exactly as if it has been tucked in her belt with the violets.
She opened it rather shakily, and it was a leaf from the ward order-book, for at the top it said:
Annie Petowski--may sit up for one hour.
And below that:
Goldstein baby--bran baths.
And below that:
I love you. E.J.
"E.J." was the Junior Medical.
So the Nurse went back to the ward, and sat down, palpitating, in the throne-chair by the table, and spread her crisp skirts, and found where the page had been torn out of the order-book.
And as the smiles of sovereigns are hailed with delight by their courts, so the ward brightened until it seemed to gleam that Easter afternoon. And a sort of miracle happened: none of the babies had colic, and the mothers mostly slept. Also, one of the ladies of the House Committee looked in at the door and said:
"How beautiful you are here, and how peaceful! Your ward is always a sort of benediction."
The lady of the House Committee looked across and saw the new mother, with the sunshine on her yellow braids, and her face refined from the furnace of pain.
"What a sweet young mother!" she said, and rustled out, leaving an odor of peau d'Espagne.
The girl lay much as Liz had left her. Except her eyes, there was nothing in her face to show that despair had given place to wild mutiny. But Liz knew; Liz had gone through it all when "the first one" came; and so, from the end of the ward, she rocked and watched.
The odor of peau d'Espagne was still in the air, eclipsing the Easter lilies, when Liz got up and sauntered down to the girl's bed.
"How are you now, dearie?" she asked, and, reaching under the blankets, brought out the tiny pearl-handled knife with which the girl had been wont to clean her finger-nails. The girl eyed her savagely, but said nothing; nor did she resist when Liz brought out her hands and examined the wrists. The left had a small cut on it.
"Now listen to me," said Liz. "None of that, do you hear? You ain't the only one that's laid here and wanted to end it all. And what happened? Inside of a month they're well and strong again, and they put the kid somewhere, and the folks that know what's happened get used to it, and the ones that don't know don't need to know. Don't be a fool!"
She carried the knife off, but the girl made no protest. There were other ways.
The Nurse was very tired, for she had been up almost all night. She sat at the record-table with her Bible open, and, in the intervals of taking temperatures, she read it. But mostly she read about Annie Petowski being allowed to sit up, and the Goldstein baby having bran baths, and the other thing written below!
At two o'clock came the Junior Medical, in a frock-coat and grey trousers. He expected to sing "The Palms" at the Easter service downstairs in the chapel that afternoon, and, according to precedent, the one who sings "The Palms" on Easter in the chapel must always wear a frock-coat.
Very conscious, because all the ward was staring at his gorgeousness, he went over to the bed where the new mother lay. Then he came back and stood by the table, looking at a record.
"Have you taken her temperature?" he said, businesslike and erect.
"Her pulse is strong?"
"Yes; she's resting quietly."
"Good.--And--did you get my note?"
This, much as if he had said, "Did you find my scarf-pin?" or anything merely casual; for Liz was hovering near.
"Yes." The nurse's red lips were trembling, but she smiled up at him. Liz came nearer. She was only wishing him Godspeed with his wooing, but it made him uncomfortable.
"Watch her closely," he said, "she's pretty weak and despondent." And he looked at Liz.
"Elizabeth," said the Nurse, "won't you sit by Claribel and fan her?"
Claribel was the new mother. Claribel is, of course, no name for a mother, but she had been named when she was very small.
Liz went away and sat by the girl's bed, and said a little prayer to the effect that they were both so damned good to everybody, she hoped they'd hit it off. But perhaps the prayer of the wicked availeth nothing.
"You know I meant that," he said, from behind a record. "I--I love you with all my heart--and if only you----"
The nurse shook down a thermometer and examined it closely. "I love you, too!" she said. And, walking shakily to one of the beds, she put the thermometer upside down in Maggie McNamara's mouth.
The Junior Medical went away with his shoulders erect in his frock-coat, and his heavy brown hair, which would never part properly and had to be persuaded with brilliantine, bristling with happiness.
And the Nurse-Queen, looking over her kingdom for somebody to lavish her new joy on, saw Claribel lying in bed, looking at the ceiling and reading there all the tragedy of her broken life, all her despair.
So she rustled out to the baby-room, where the new baby had never batted an eye since her bath and was lying on her back with both fists clenched on her breast, and she did something that no trained nurse is ever supposed to do.
She lifted the baby, asleep and all, and carried her to her mother.
But Claribel's face only darkened when she saw her.
"Take the brat away," she said, and went on reading tragedies on the ceiling.
Liz came and proffered her the little mite with every art she knew. She showed her the wrinkled bits of feet, the tiny, ridiculous hands, and how long the hair grew on the back of her head. But when Liz put the baby on her arm, she shuddered and turned her head away. So finally Liz took it back to the other room, and left it there, still sleeping.
The fine edge of the Nurse's joy was dulled. It is a characteristic of great happiness to wish all to be well with the world; and here before her was dry-eyed despair. It was Liz who finally decided her.
"I guess I'll sit up with her to-night," she said, approaching the table with the peculiar gait engendered of heel-less hospital carpet-slippers and Mother Hubbard wrappers. "I don't like the way she watches the ceiling."
"What do you mean, Elizabeth?" asked the Nurse.
"Time I had the twins--that's before your time," said Liz--"we had one like that. She went out the window head first the night after the baby came, and took the kid with her."
The Nurse rose with quick decision.
"We must watch her," she said. "Perhaps if I could find--I think I'll go to the telephone. Watch the ward carefully, Elizabeth, and if Annie Petowski tries to feed her baby before three o'clock, take it from her. The child's stuffed like a sausage every time I'm out for five minutes."
Nurses know many strange things: they know how to rub an aching back until the ache is changed to a restful thrill, and how to change the bedding and the patient's night-dress without rolling the patient over more than once, which is a high and desirable form of knowledge. But also they get to know many strange people; their clean starchiness has a way of rubbing up against the filth of the world and coming away unsoiled. And so the Nurse went downstairs to the telephone, leaving Liz to watch for nefarious feeding.
The Nurse called up Rose Davis; and Rosie, who was lying in bed with the Sunday papers scattered around her and a cigarette in her manicured fingers, reached out with a yawn and, taking the telephone, rested it on her laced and ribboned bosom.
"Yes," she said indolently.
The nurse told her who she was, and Rosie's voice took on a warmer tinge.
"Oh, yes," she said. "How are you?... Claribel? Yes; what about her?... What!"
"Yes," said the Nurse. "A girl--seven pounds."
"My Gawd! Well, what do you think of that! Excuse me a moment; my cigarette's set fire to the sheet. All right--go ahead."
"She's taking it pretty hard, and I--I thought you might help her. She--she----"
"How much do you want?" said Rose, a trifle coldly. She turned in the bed and eyed the black leather bag on the stand at her elbow. "Twenty enough?"
"I don't think it's money," said the Nurse, "although she needs that too; she hasn't any clothes for the baby. But--she's awfully despondent--almost desperate. Have you any idea who the child's father is?"
Rosie considered, lighting a new cigarette with one hand and balancing the telephone with the other.
"She left me a year ago," she said. "Oh, yes; I know now. What time is it?"
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Rosie. "I'll get the fellow on the wire and see what he's willing to do. Maybe he'll give her a dollar or two a week."
"Do you think you could bring him to see her?"
"Say, what do you think I am--a missionary?" The Nurse was wise, so she kept silent. "Well, I'll tell you what I will do. If I can bring him, I will. How's that yellow-haired she-devil you've got over there? I've got that fixed all right. She pulled a razor on me first--I've got witnesses. Well, if I can get Al, I'll do it. So long."
It did not occur to the Nurse to deprecate having used an evil medium toward a righteous end. She took life much as she found it. And so she tiptoed past the chapel again, where a faint odour of peau d'Espagne came stealing out into the hall, and where the children from the children's ward, in roller-chairs and on crutches, were singing with all their shrill young voices, earnest eyes uplifted.
The white Easter lilies on the altar sent their fragrance out over the gathering, over the nurses, young and placid, over the hopeless and the hopeful, over the faces where death had passed and left its inevitable stamp, over bodies freshly risen on this Easter Sunday to new hope and new life--over the Junior Medical, waiting with the manuscript of "The Palms" rolled in his hand and his heart singing a hymn of happiness.
The Nurse went up to her ward, and put a screen around Claribel, and, with all her woman's art, tidied the immaculate white bed and loosened the uncompromising yellow braids, so that the soft hair fell across Claribel's bloodless forehead and softened the defiance in her blue eyes. She brought the pink hyacinth in its pot, too, and placed it on the bedside table. Then she stood off and looked at her work. It was good.
Claribel submitted weakly. She had stopped staring at the wall, and had taken to watching the open window opposite with strange intentness. Only when the Nurse gave a final pat to the bedspread she spoke.
"Was it a boy--or a girl?" she asked.
"Girl," said the nurse briskly. "A little beauty, perfect in every way."
"A girl--to grow up and go through this hell!" she muttered, and her eyes wandered back to the window.
But the Nurse was wise with the accumulated wisdom of a sex that has had to match strength with wile for ages, and she was not yet ready. She went into the little room where eleven miracles lay in eleven cribs, and, although they all looked exactly alike, she selected Claribel's without hesitation, and carried it to the mysterious room down the hall--which was no longer a torture-chamber, but a resplendently white place, all glass and tile and sunlight, and where she did certain things that are not prescribed in the hospital rules.
First of all, she opened a cupboard and took out a baby dress of lace and insertion,--and everybody knows that such a dress is used only when a hospital infant is baptised,--and she clothed Claribel's baby in linen and fine raiment, and because they are very, very red when they are so new, she dusted it with a bit of talcum--to break the shock, as you may say. It was very probable that Al had never seen so new a baby, and it was useless to spoil the joy of parenthood unnecessarily. For it really was a fine child, and eventually it would be white and beautiful.
The baby smelled of violet, for the christening-robe was kept in a sachet.
Finally she gave it another teaspoonful of warm water and put it back in its crib. And then she rustled starchily back to the throne-chair by the record-table, and opened her Bible at the place where it said that Annie Petowski might sit up, and the Goldstein baby--bran baths, and the other thing written just below.
The music poured up the well of the staircase; softened by distance, the shrill childish sopranos and the throaty basses of the medical staff merged into a rising and falling harmony of exquisite beauty.
Liz sat on the top step of the stairs, with her baby in her arms; and, as the song went on, Liz's eyes fell to her child and stayed there.
At three o'clock the elevator-man brought Rosie Davis along the hall--Rosie, whose costume betrayed haste, and whose figure, under a gaudy motor-coat, gave more than a suggestion of being unsupported and wrapper-clad. She carried a clinking silver chatelaine, however, and at the door she opened it and took out a quarter, extending it with a regal gesture to the elevator-man.
"Here, old sport," she said, "go and blow yourself to a drink. It's Easter."
Such munificence appalled the ward.
Rosie was not alone. Behind her, uncomfortable and sullen, was Al. The ward, turning from the episode of the quarter, fixed on him curious and hostile eyes; and Al, glancing around the ward from the doorway, felt their hostility, and plucked Rosie's arm.
"Gee, Rose, I'm not going in there," he said. But Rosie pulled him in and presented him to the Nurse.
Behind the screen, Claribel, shut off from her view of the open window, had taken to staring at the ceiling again.
When the singing came up the staircase from the chapel, she had moaned and put her fingers in her ears.
"Well, I found him," said Rosie cheerfully. "Had the deuce of a time locating him." And the Nurse, apprising in one glance his stocky figure and heavy shoulders, his ill-at-ease arrogance, his weak, and just now sullen but not bad-tempered face, smiled at him.
"We have a little girl here who will be glad to see you," she said, and took him to the screen. "Just five minutes, and you must do the talking."
Al hesitated between the visible antagonism of the ward and the mystery of the white screen. A vision of Claribel as he had seen her last, swollen with grief and despair, distorted of figure and accusing of voice, held him back. A faint titter of derision went through the room. He turned on Rosie's comfortable back a look of black hate and fury. Then the Nurse gave him a gentle shove, and he was looking at Claribel--a white, Madonna-faced Claribel, lying now with closed eyes, her long lashes sweeping her cheek.
The girl did not open her eyes at his entrance. He put his hat awkwardly on the foot of the bed, and, tiptoeing around, sat on the edge of the stiff chair.
"Well, how are you, kid?" he asked, with affected ease.
She opened her eyes and stared at him. Then she made a little clutch at her throat, as if she were smothering.
"How did you--how did you know I was here?"
"Saw it in the paper, in the society column." She winced at that, and some fleeting sense of what was fitting came to his aid. "How are you?" he asked more gently. He had expected a flood of reproaches, and he was magnanimous in his relief.
"I've been pretty bad; I'm better."
"Oh, you'll be around soon, and going to dances again. The Maginnis Social Club's having a dance Saturday night in Mason's Hall."
The girl did not reply. She was wrestling with a problem that is as old as the ages, although she did not know it--why this tragedy of hers should not be his. She lay with her hands crossed quietly on her breast and one of the loosened yellow braids was near his hand. He picked it up and ran it through his fingers.
"Hasn't hurt your looks any," he said awkwardly. "You're looking pretty good."
With a jerk of her head she pulled the braid out of his fingers.
"Don't," she said and fell to staring at the ceiling, where she had written her problem.
"How's the--how's the kid?"--after a moment.
"I don't know--or care."
There was nothing strange to Al in this frame of mind. Neither did he know or care.
"What are you goin' to do with it?"
Al considered this a moment. Things were bad enough now, without Claribel murdering the child and making things worse.
"I wouldn't do that," he said soothingly. "You can put it somewhere, can't you? Maybe Rosie'll know."
"I don't want it to live."
For the first time he realised her despair. She turned on him her tormented eyes, and he quailed.
"I'll find a place for it, kid," he said. "It's mine, too. I guess I'm it, all right."
"Yours!" She half rose on her elbow, weak as she was. "Yours! Didn't you throw me over when you found I was going to have it? Yours! Did you go through hell for twenty-four hours to bring it into the world? I tell you, it's mine--mine! And I'll do what I want with it. I'll kill it, and myself too!"
"You don't know what you're saying!"
She had dropped back, white and exhausted.
"Don't I?" she said, and fell silent.
Al felt defrauded, ill-treated. He had done the right thing; he had come to see the girl, which wasn't customary in those circles where Al lived and worked and had his being; he had acknowledged his responsibility, and even--why, hang it all----
"Say the word and I'll marry you," he said magnanimously.
"I don't want to marry you."
He drew a breath of relief. Nothing could have been fairer than his offer, and she had refused it. He wished Rosie had been there to hear.
And just then Rosie came. She carried the baby, still faintly odorous of violets, held tight in unaccustomed arms. She looked awkward and conscious, but her amused smile at herself was half tender.
"Hello, Claribel," she said. "How are you? Just look here, Al! What do you think of this?"
Al got up sheepishly and looked at the child.
"Boy or girl?" he asked politely.
"Girl; but it's the living image of you," said Rose--for Rose and the Nurse were alike in the wiles of the serpent.
"Looks like me!" Al observed caustically. "Looks like an over-ripe tomato!"
But he drew himself up a trifle. Somewhere in his young and hardened soul the germs of parental pride, astutely sowed, had taken quick root.
"Feel how heavy she is," Rose commanded. And Al held out two arms unaccustomed to such tender offices.
"Heavy! She's about as big as a peanut."
"Mind her back," said Rose, remembering instructions.
After her first glance Claribel had not looked at the child. But now, in its father's arms, it began to whimper. The mother stirred uneasily, and frowned.
"Take it away!" she ordered. "I told them not to bring it here."
The child cried louder. Its tiny red face, under the powder, turned purple. It beat the air with its fists. Al, still holding it in his outstretched arms, began vague motions to comfort it, swinging it up and down and across. But it cried on, drawing up its tiny knees in spasms of distress. Claribel put her fingers in her ears.
"You'll have to feed it!" Rose shouted over the din.
The girl comprehended without hearing, and shook her head in sullen obstinacy.
"What do you think of that for noise?" said Al, not without pride. "She's like me, all right. When I'm hungry, there's hell to pay if I'm not fed quick. Here,"--he bent down over Claribel,--"you might as well have dinner now, and stop the row."
Not ungently, he placed the squirming mass in the baptismal dress beside the girl on the bed. With the instinct of ages, the baby stopped wailing and opened her mouth.
"The little cuss!" cried Al, delighted. "Ain't that me all over? Little angel-face the minute I get to the table!"
Unresisting now, Claribel let Rose uncover her firm white breast. The mother's arm, passively extended by Rose to receive the small body, contracted around it unconsciously.
She turned and looked long at the nuzzling, eager mouth, at the red hand lying trustfully open on her breast, at the wrinkled face, the indeterminate nose, the throbbing fontanelle where the little life was already beating so hard.
"A girl, Rose!" she said. "My God, what am I going to do with her?"
Rose was not listening. The Junior Medical's turn had come at last. Downstairs in the chapel, he was standing by the organ, his head thrown back, his heavy brown hair (which would never stay parted without the persuasion of brilliantine) bristling with earnestness.
"O'er all the way, green palms and blossoms gay,"
he sang, and his clear tenor came welling up the staircase to Liz, and past her to the ward, and to the group behind the screen.
"Are strewn this day in festal preparation, Where Jesus comes to wipe our tears away-- E'en now the throng to welcome Him prepare."
On the throne-chair by the record-table, the Nurse sat and listened. And because it was Easter and she was very happy and because of the thrill in the tenor voice that came up the stairs to her, and because of the page in the order-book about bran baths and the rest of it, she cried a little, surreptitiously, and let the tears drop down on a yellow hospital record.
The song was almost done. Liz, on the stairs, had fed her baby twenty minutes too soon, and now it lay, sleeping and sated, in her lap. Liz sat there, brooding over it, and the last line of the song came up the staircase.
"Blessed is He who comes bringing sal-va-a-a-ation!"
the Junior Medical sang.
The services were over. Downstairs the small crowd dispersed slowly. The minister shook hands with the nurses at the door, and the Junior Medical rolled up his song and wondered how soon he could make rounds upstairs again.
Liz got up, with her baby in her arms, and padded in to the throne-chair by the record-table.
"He can sing some, can't he!" she said.
"He has a beautiful voice." The Nurse's eyes were shining.
Liz moved off. Then she turned and came back.
"I--I know you'll tell me I'm a fool," she said; "but I've decided to keep the kid, this time. I guess I'll make out, somehow."
Behind the screen, Rosie had lighted a cigarette and was smoking, sublimely unconscious of the blue smoke swirl that rose in telltale clouds high above her head. The baby had dropped asleep, and Claribel lay still. But her eyes were not on the ceiling; they were on the child.
Al leaned forward and put his lips to the arm that circled the baby.
"I'm sorry, kid," he said. "I guess it was the limit, all right. Do you hate me?"
She looked at him, and the hardness and defiance died out of her eyes. She shook her head.
"Do you--still--like me a little?"
"Yes," in a whisper.
"Then what's the matter with you and me and the little mutt getting married and starting all over--eh?"
He leaned over and buried his face with a caressing movement in the hollow of her neck.
Rose extinguished her cigarette on the foot of the bed, and, careful of appearances, put the butt in her chatelaine.
"I guess you two don't need me any more," she said yawning. "I'm going back home to bed."
Return to the Mary Roberts Rinehart library , or . . . Read the next short story; The Return; or, Who is It?